The festival's smells were always the best part of it. It'd been that way since Ace was a kid, and it meant scraps being dropped by careless revellers and crowds brushing by stalls laden with enough food that the seller wouldn't notice if one or two disappeared into the hands of a skinny waif. The heady scent of spices, meats and incense mingled in the air, and not even the sweat of the unwashed masses could overpower it. Even now that he didn't have to worry so much about when the next meal would be, it was a smell that promised it would be a good one.[break][break]
Most people in the crowd gave him a wide berth. Even with the half-assed mask he wore - a jagged thing of scrap metal and weld-lines - it was obvious enough who he was by the oversized cannon strapped to his back. His reputation wasn't city-wide, but you didn't go around shooting lasers out of a fuck-off huge length of glowing pipe and not have people talk. Even those that didn't know were smart enough to steer clear of someone so openly and heavily armed. It wasn't that Ace particularly tried to be intimidating, he just didn't trust letting his cannon out of arm's reach. Someone would only try and steal it, and probably ash themselves in the process. It wasn't worth the trouble.[break][break]
Still, at least it made wading through the crowd easier. He whistled to himself as he approached one of the food stalls, selling some fried and battered balls of nonspecified meats stuck onto sticks, and flashed a smile to the vendor - a middle-aged man with olive skin and impressively dense, dark eyebrows - who returned it uneasily. "Gimme a couple o' those," he waved a hand at the snacks. The man nervously nodded, his eyes flicking to the cannon on Ace's back, and plucked two of the sticks from the frier, holding them out. Ace took them with a nod, reaching into his pocket and fishing out a couple of coins, that he flicked over. "Thanks! Smells great," he said, taking a bite and basking in the rush of fragrant spices over his tongue. "Mm. Tastes great too," he added through the mouthful.[break][break]
The vendor's smile broadened a little when it became clear that money was in fact changing hands, rather than this being a shake-down. "Ah, I am glad you enjoy them! Many find the exotic foods to be too much for their palettes, and I cannot blame them - many know little more than bread and water if they are lucky! But to those of fine taste like yourself, some spices make all the difference!"[break][break]
Ace nodded distractedly, not exactly looking for a lengthy conversation with the man. As his eyes wandered, he spotted a small figure in the crowd - a girl perhaps twelve years old - creeping closer to the stall while the vendor was distracted. A grimy hand was stretched out for one of the sticks, tentatively grasping, but before she could claim here prize, the man's gaze followed Ace's eyes to her. "Hey! Keep your hands to yourself, vermin!" the man spat, snatching her wrist and pulling it away from the food. She shrieked, panicked, as the man caught her. "Thieving rat, I ought sell you to the scientists for parts!"[break][break]
"Hey," Ace interjected, calmly but firmly placing a hand on the man's arm. "Two more sticks. For the girl," he instructed, his glare making clear he wasn't going to be arguing.[break][break]
The man shot him an indignant look, eyes flicking between him, the girl, and the gun with trepidation, before he nodded. "V-very well," he muttered with clear distaste, plucking another two of the kebabs from the frier and proffering them to the child - holding them out as far as he could, contemptuous of the idea of touching her.[break][break]
The girl, wide-eyed, looked between the food and Ace, hesitating. Ace grinned. "Take 'em. 's on me."[break][break]
Still looking like she expected the food to be snatched away at any moment, the girl did reach out and take a stick in each hand. "H-how come?" she whispered, barely audible over the festival's din.[break][break]
Ace shrugged. "Been where you are, kid. And unlike most, I haven't forgotten it." He smiled again, reaching over to ruffle her hair. "Off you go, then, 'fore too many people see your haul, right?"[break][break]
The girl nodded quickly. "Yeah, uh... thanks," she mumbled, before turning and running into the crowd. Within a few seconds, she was far enough gone he couldn't see her anymore.[break][break]
Taking another chomp of one of his own sticks, Ace idly tossed the vendor another couple of coins, before moving on himself. He hadn't gotten more than a few steps before in the distance, he heard a gunshot, followed by screams. He quirked an eyebrow, but like most people this far from the site of the 'assassination', he didn't think much of it. This was the Citadel, after all. Shit happened. He was curious, but not enough to go looking for trouble on what was supposed to be a nice day off from the usual dog-eat-dog life of a mercenary. And so with one fried-snack in each hand, occasionally taking a satisfied bite, he meandered through the crowds, peering at stalls and not paying too much attention to the stares his weaponry got him.[break][break]
People at least seemed to be a little disarmed by the fact he was paying more attention to his snacks than to them, so that was something.
I made myself hungry with this post >:c
[attr="class","youfalljacebot2"]"Some people call me a loose cannon. I'd say I have a pretty firm grip on it."
Amidst the slew of ridiculous and flashy costumes present at the Festival, even a clearly alien intruder blends into crowds of passersby. One such intruder bore the same shades of turmeric as the stalls and banners, complete with poofy segments of excess silks and a tasteful framing of sleek charcoal. Both the ebony feather atop her hat and the curled bouquet of hair below it flowed listlessly with each step as if underwater. A pair of shimmering golden irises punctuated a face shadowed by the massive hat's brim and served as one of the two visible features not covered by gaudy fabric and lace. She glided between the crowds silently, noting who was and was not in attendance, but paid little attention to the bulk of the festival. Many of the attendees were simply extras and offered little significance to Epilogue's diet nor her master's plans. What truly caught her interest, however, was the crack of a gunshot. Perhaps there truly was dramatic importance for Epilogue's attendance.
Epilogue quietly seethed as she stood a head above the crowds to watch the assassin's life cut short. It severely limited the usefulness of her attendance. Even then, the pile of meat and bones wasn't completely useless, not yet. A narrow tendril of ink snaked along the pavement until it could mingle with the blood of the would-be assassin. From there it diffused into the slowly drying crimson, and Epilogue remained in place mulling over what meager sparks of life, intelligence and memories might have still remained in the meatbag's synapses, any last neurons that hadn't run out of energy. What came was a chaotic barrage of incomplete memories. Names, faces, pulling the trigger. Even for a being of thought, the pieces were muddled and disorganized. She would have to investigate more traditionally until the mortal experiences could be gathered together and arranged into a legible narrative.
The ink withdrew after a minute or two, and Epilogue turned about-face on her heel to start walking away. She wanted nothing to happen without the Cartel knowing about it, and this was no exception. Even if the investigation provided no advantages, no dirt and no secrets in the end, she wanted to know. She was beginning to hunger, and intrigue was on the menu.
For the lapine, it was almost like being back home. The noise and chaos, the exotic foods and rampant crime. All they needed was a few more wildborn, a sprinkling of wererabbits like herself and prevalent scent of mushrooms, and they might as well be on a street in Wynder instead of this 'Citadel'.
For once, 'Susan's' long brown ears were not concealed, standing up and proudly quivering, bracketing a battered red velvet top hat. A series of crystal raindrops flashed on one of the fur coated spires, while a cluster of garnets hung at the bottom of the other like a bunch of grapes. The soft loops of her brunette locks concealed that the tall ears were the only ones she had, since freaking out the locals would probably be a poor choice at this stage of the game.
The hat matched the theatrically styled dress with trailing sleeves as the Storywalker stood at the door to her booth and shuffled a deck of tarot cards. Above her swiveling ears, a sign proclaimed that she would read palms, divine with the cards, contact spirits, or sell charms and trinkets.
The practice was surprisingly lucrative, the population being shockingly gullible, but gulling the common folk was unsatisfying at best. Pulling their stories out of them, and even adding a twist or improving their lives was boring to the wanderer. Still, it was not her primary purpose here.
The booth was an excuse to watch the crowd, to learn the secrets of her competitors in the Cartel while they bought and sold mindlessly within her field of awareness. The majority of the 'council' were just greedy fools, with no grander purpose in sight.
They thought they were the leaders, and yet it was her plans that always ended up in motion. A suggestion here, a quizzical look and hint of distrust, a careless comment, and in the name of profit they did her bidding without even knowing it. Setting up the coils of the big end of business took mere hours out of Susan's week, leaving her free to hunt for the things she actually wanted, and keep her fingers firmly embedded in mesh of the day-to-day running of the city.
From the council's point of view, the rabbit was the most expendable of them. Officially, she was just a book dealer and enforcer, as well as the most junior member of the council. It meant that she could attend the summit without interference as they concerned themselves with the things they found more pressing. Mistresses and vices for the most part, but their sins did keep men out of her way.
In the back of the booth, where it was attached to a building, there was a door hidden under a curtain. It lead to crooked hallway, and then a windowless room set up with an expansive table that glistened under a dozen lit candles. Three grand chairs, and a dozen smaller ones, waited among many locked doors, attached to many hallways with hidden entrances.
Each of the attendants would bring their own guards, if they felt the need. Next summit, they might use a different location entirely, one set up by a different hand than that belonging to the Cartel. This one had many advantages though, including the fact that the entire set-up, dust on the decor included, had not existed at all the day before the keys and directions had been given out in secret to the principle parties.
Both of the Storywalker's ears swiveled sharply at the sound of a gunshot, making the crystals flash in an arc as they swung out from the speed of the turn. She reached into her booth and put down the oversized deck of cards, then hung a "Closed for Lunch!" sign on the curtain that she unhooked to conceal the contents of the booth.
Only one witness, a small child, was looking as the Storywalker vanished from the doorway. Someone else noticed as a figure in a long red dress and tophat appeared, clinging to a window frame of a tall building. Before they even opened their mouth to shout in alarm at the apparent suicide attempt, the rabbit vanished again, walking out of a doorway near where Epilogue had stationed herself.
“Something interesting happened, my friend?” The wererabbit asked as she paused by her ally. A faint smile of greeting almost hid the air of satisfaction that this little drama was apparently known to two factions, while the group that claimed to be focused on knowledge seemed to be ignorant.
Ah, festivals. A place of magic and fun. A wonderland of colours and scents. A place where imagination runs wild and dreams come true. That is, if you believe in them strongly enough!
People went on about their day in one way or another, each one trying to hoard more wealth or power of any kind, oblivious to the fact they all already had the keys to a gift like no other. The power of immagination.
The power to Create.
A single mind is capable of incredible feats. Vast worlds, compelling stories and characters. Novels and Plays. But when more minds join in on the effort that's when miracles happen.
And this is how this story began. It began with a miracle.
He had no idea how he got there. Well, he had no idea who he was. First there was nothing and now there was everything. He looked around at streets he did not recognize yet understood. There he was, standing there. No memories. No ideals, yet he knew about them. He was sure about nothing but one fact. Where he once wasn't, now he was. A powerful shift in the Noosphere. A sudden overcast followed by a light breeze. A single lightning, striking on the ground and roaring it's power away.
He turned around, then looked up. He could pick out sounds in the distance. More were coming, the shock and gasping of the already present bystanders dragging more in. Kids pointed and tugged their parents. The adults just as surprised as their descendants.
Where once there was nothing, now stood a dragon. A dragon of deep blue scales, slightly taller than the average man. Not too big not too small, standing up in a digitigrade stance, looking lost...
The youth was dressed looking like a young nobleman of old, he wore white dress trousers, white shirt, ice blue waistcoat, white coat, ice blue neck tie, black shoes. His blonde hair tied back in an ice blue ribbon with small bells on the end that almost looked as if they were made from some sort of crystal. He looked at himself in the mirror for what seemed like was an eternity bit it was only a few minutes, internally he was pleading that he would look like a boy with how he was dressed but alas, he still looked like a girl. People had no idea how much of an issue that was for the youth, he could still hear the "Aww, such a cute girl." he has heard time and again from many different people, it was one of the other reasons he didn't really like leaving the library that he seemed to have taken as his bedroom at this point since he rarely left it unless he was forced to. Today just happened to be one of those days. It had finally arrived. The day of the festival that everyone had been harping on about for weeks on end, if he could have lied he would have likely have pretended to be sick to get out of it. That unfortunately wasn't going to work, he had never been able to lie no matter how much he tried.
The best he could do was omit the truth and even like that he felt like he'd get in trouble if he did and it was found out later, still he wanted to fix that not being able to lie thing but there was much more to study before getting to that most likely. The ones he seen as family where happy to see that he took his studies seriously, they were of course concerned that he didn't really get out much and so insisted that he go to the festival to have a little fun. He didn't want to. He was happy staying at home being surrounded by books, besides, if he wanted to have fun he could play a boardgame or ask if he could have a pet. Not like a cat or a dog they were messy, noisy and demanded a lot of attention on their own schedule, perhaps a hamster or a fish would be good for him though. Contained, quiet and go on his schedule, he decided he might visit the pet shop on his way back and see if anything took his fancy. "Ruvel it's time to go." he heard an older female called from the otherside of his door. "Just a moment Willow" he called back grabbing his messenger bag and throwing it over his head before going to the door and leaving with the one who was charged with his care and protection, at least for the moment. "There better not be a book in there Ruvel." the woman said when she seen the bag.
Ruvel looked to the woman wearing a beautiful royal purple dress with black lace on some of the hems, her raven black hair done up expertly with silver pins with all sorts of symbols inscribed on them, around her neck she wore a silver necklace that had a silver teardrop with a moonstone one inside it. To look at her she looked around her mid twenties but Ruvel knew she was older than that but spoke nothing of it. "I have a few." he admitted "Ugh, what are we going to do with you?" she asked him shaking her head a little frustrated but smiling "Love me for who I am?" he said with an innocent grin, she couldn't help but chuckle and nod at his response "I guess that is true. Just don't read them today, you're out to have fun." she said almost like a maternal figure. Well, to him reading was fun so there was a slight conflict of interests there but nodded to her request. "I'll do my best." he said, he couldn't promise he wouldn't read them because they both knew he would but he would try to at least do a few things before he cracked open one of his books and that is all that the elder woman could really expect from him at this point.
It was a short time before the two got to the thick of the festival, he was already annoyed by the chaos that it had brought him. The streets were busy, the music was loud and the smells of all the different kinds of food made him feel the need to hurl. "I don't know if I can do this, it's to much." he said looking up to the one that was chaperoning him for the moment, he had no doubt that he would be passed to quite a few of his family members during the day as they wanted to do things or had things that would need their attention. He didn't mind this in the least bit as it was something that had, happened a few times and as the entire faction looked after him to him it was something that was natural. "Willow..." he started before the woman could respond to what had said before "Hm?" she looked down to him as he looked nervous "What were my parents like?" he asked sheepishly "Oh child, this isn't the time or the place for such conversations. For now I will say they cared for you deeply and that's all that should really matter." The woman said caressing his cheek lightly trying to reassure him, she took note that she would need to tell the others he was now starting to ask questions and it would mean answers would need to be given at some point, this however would be something she was sure that the council would take care of.
"How about I get you something a treat." She offered pointing to a close by stall selling all sorts of sweets "I'll pass, I don't have much of a sweet tooth, thank you though." It was clear to him that she didn't want to really talk about the subject he brought up and was trying to distract him with something else, it really wasn't working. He however forgot all of that as he heard a bang in the near distance and started looking around to determine where it came from "Did you hear that Willow?" he asked and without another word he was running off to find where it came from before his guardian could stop him. He had no idea what had just happened but there was always that fear that someone could be in trouble and he might be able to help them. "RUVEL! WAIT!" Willow called after him as she started to follow him and somehow lost him in the alleyways "This isn't good." she said to herself trying to figure out which way he might have taken.
"That bag is likely littered with books how could he have run so fast?" she was beside herself because she knew she would be the one accountable if anything happened to him right now but there was nothing that she could do but look around. When she was unable to find her young ward she knew she would have to fess up on her blunder and sent out a mental message to any of the Weeping sisters inside the city. 'There was some sort of commotion, Ruvel ran off to see if he could help and I lost track of him. I can't find him anywhere.' she let them know so they'd be on the lookout.
Ulzaz had only been within this universe for a few months, not exactly long for learning all the basics. It was one of the weird things about ending up in a new world, your old skills are useless. All the lore he had learned meant nothing in a place where they were never written. The history of this land was clearly different and the technology was vastly superior here. Math here wasn't different, but it had clearly reached levels that his own universe hadn't. The only languages that matched had been ancient, making Astralias wonder if his people originally came from this universe a long time ago. He could see why if the land was in poor shape back then like it was now, his home world was on a far healthier planet. He should be upset about being somewhere so unfamiliar, but even a few months back when he appeared? It was still better than home. In the end his universe would have meant his father, making it far preferable to be even an ignorant nobody above being the heir that nobody would save. Being locked in a room was something that they would rather not ever experience in their entire life ever again. The Weeping Sisters felt more like family than his father ever had. It reminded him of his mother, the warmth and femininity. He didn't look looked down on for being short, having feminine features, or a quiet voice. Then again it was a group where women were typically the highest ranked, so that made sense. It wasn't a bad thing that he had female type holy magic from his mother. Part of him still felt that it was bad, but the group didn't treat it as bad. When you have a gift, you learn to use it. They were why he had been allowed to study so hard, why he was able to learn this worlds common tongue as quick as he did. He wanted to learn everything that could be learned, to catch up on all the information their eyes hadn't yet met with. Their mind had a wild craving for knowledge that felt unquenchable, ever book consumed by their thoughts leaving him ever the more curious. The exercise routine he went through now stopped before he could get hurt. The young man actually felt healthier, despite how unclean the air was outside. He felt like a young boy, despite being a full grown man. A magic he never thought existed until waking a statue that had a book.
It seemed everything had been changed by that book, a piece of ancient technology that made itself seem like a book. It had tied itself to him because he activated it. It didn't matter that it was by accident, machines don't understand what an accident is. Maybe if he knew how to use it, the object would do more than stick nearby and sometimes glow and make noises. At this point Ulzaz couldn't see it as anything but a broken magical book that should have picked someone else. Yes he knew it didn't pick anyone, but wouldn't that make more sense? Maybe if he knew more about the item he could learn how to use it, or what it was even for, or how to give ownership to someone else. But that wasn't why he was here today. A teacher had told him about a festival, he may have said something about not seeing the point in going because he never celebrated anything anyway... Somehow that lead him to the festival happening that day. It felt a bit like he had been convinced into something that he hadn't even considered as an option. Their black colored sclera held bright yellow irises. While the eyes color didn't glow, the black and its bright color helped it to stand out. It probably didn't help his case that the scaly individual had been found by and joined the group almost immediately after coming into this world. Apparently his commenting of socializing enough in the organization was almost like a cue for her to near to get him dressed up and pushing the boy out with something for snacks. At least they trusted him enough to go out alone, even if they didn't see the mans current schedule as very social or doing anything fun. Honestly the first and last time he even considered doing anything fun was confessing feeling to a boy when he and the other were both teens. Oh that had been such a horrible idea. Well, Ulzazs mother tried her best, but she had worked too hard and ate too little to help him with 'fun'. By the time she had given in to wedding, she was too physically ill to even get up in bed. How did nobody see anything wrong with that? He sipped on a tea after buying it, their eyes being ever without rest.
Festivals weren't new to him, but it was the first time actively participating, even if it was by walking around and taking in what was essentially a cool flavored water. Tea and coffee were ways of processing water that made it safer to drink. This was not likely to be the extinct plants of the past, but tea only needed dried plants that tasted good when steeped in warm water and didn't kill you. It was the act of cooking the water that helped it become a bit safer, as well as mixing it with something else that wasn't deadly. It would be nice to know how 'green tea' tasted, but that sounded very unlikely to ever happen. Hydration was important, especially while out in the open like this. There was a lot of people, and dehydration could cause headaches and a light headed sensation; the symptoms of not drinking enough fluids were essentially the sort of things to trigger his magic. It was like it had been growing in him quietly their entire life, waiting for an opportunity to blossom within. That sounds nice until you think of the type of magic he had, something likely to cause dizziness and lightheaded sensations or headaches. Yes, the symptoms popping up on their own could still cause the magic to trigger. It was hard to learn how to get it under control when it was still wildly growing and had only started showing in recent times. Knowing how to make it less likely to trigger on its own was at least one of the steps to getting it under his own control. “Why couldn't I inherit the high priest magic from my people if I were to inherit any type of holy magic... they can use it in fighting and destroying things, the high priestess magic can only heal, mend, and protect. Maybe there's some other magic in me or possible...” Somehow just having some form of self defense just sounded nice, probably because he knew how physically weak they were. It was easy to lock Atraliaz up, to grab and hurt and carry away. It was the cost of not eating much in his early life, along with the cost of his father pushing him too far in exercise many times. All thoughts and walking stopped at the sound of a pop going off in the distance, though not far enough away to not be unnerving. Many seemed to be closer towards where the sound had occurred, but honestly?
As soon as the shock wore off enough, the reptile like individual started quickly walking further away. That was the plan, but sometimes life doesn't work out the way one expects it to. One moment he saw a small person zoom by faster than he could imagine going, the next he got a mental message. Wait, was the zoomy kid Ruvel? Well maybe, but maybe not. He didn't know the other all that well and that kid sped by so fast. Should he follow? Though he himself was just a student and... there was no way this man was going to be able to catch up with that tiny person. He could try? But the boy had already vanished from sight. If he did nothing than how could he call himself a member? Letting out a heavy sigh, the scaly thin man started rushing towards were the loud sound had gone off. Since he spotted them going in that direction, maybe they were going this direction? But he also had no idea what to do when or if he found them. By the time Ulzaz reached the location their legs were quivering and his lungs were nearly gasping. This stupidly frustrating body!
Sol moved thru the streets of the citadel with a rather bored look on his face. Despite the energy that the festival brought to the city the young man seemed indifferent to it as he had his nose in a book. The man was garbbed in simple clothing a pair of black jeans and black steel toed boots along with a red shirt and a fur collar jacket. His slitted red eyes were constantly flicking from left to right as he read his book and moved avoiding most people as he did so. As he moved thru the food stalls in the area the mans ruby orbs peered up to see what was being cooked. Hearing his stomach growl Sol moved over to a stand selling pepper buns.”see anything you like young man?” the stall owner asked as Sol glanced at the buns that were being cooked.”Yeah can I get two of the pepper buns please?” he asked as he placed the money on the counter. The stall owner nodded before he got the two buns and placked them in a small bag so Sol could eat them while he walked and the doctor nodded before he took a bit of one and walked off .
With the first bite Sol enjoyed the crunch of the bun before he tasted the sharp flavor of onion and rich pork and white pepper. “not bad should keep me full till dinner later tonight now back to these formulas” he muttered to himself as his attention turned back to his book filled with mathematical equations and scientific theorys. As he turned to round a corner a Gunshot rang in the air and Sols eyes shot up in the direction of where it happened and he sighed before irritation set in. he knew what was going it but it still bothered him. Turning the corner he bumped into somebody but not enough to knock himself over. He glanced at who he bumped into and narrowed his eyes. A gaudy metal mask and a cannon strapped to his back among other things the Alchemist kept his narrowed eyes on the man. “do watch where your going you could hurt someone with your carelessness” he stated bluntly pocketing his book and staring at the man before him. ‘great first that gunshot now I have to deal with this idiot could this day get any worse’ he thought as he watched the younger man like a hawk in case this escalated into a brawl. Sol wouldn’t back down if it came to that.
while his right hand had shadows slightly shifting around it Sol Suddenly heard a voice ring out in his head alerting him and most likely any of the other members that Ruvel had run off to check something and now he couldent be found and it made the red eyed man fight the urge to growl. it was becoming one thing after another and the doctor and mage knew what his next task was.
The sun had not yet fully risen, and already the nave of the cathedral was full of people. Sisters and neophytes alike filled the air with chants and litanies. The sweet scented ash of lavender and sage incense billowed from censors hanging from the ceiling. The raw stone of the building seeped an unearthly cold. Above everything, where in a christian church would sit the sanctuary, an intricately carved fountain stood, the center was the likeness of the holy Mother. Two streams of water poured from her eyes and fell into her cupped hands before bubbling over into the basin below.
Hazel stood before the fountain, covered head to toe in full regalia. It was a good thing too, as while she looked down on the congregation no one could see her scowl.
It’s only once a year. She thought to herself. And it’s good for recruitment… Silently, she tried to convince herself that this whole ritual was anything but a waste of her time. She would do anything for the great Mother, of course, but she could serve her much better from inside her laboratories. Still, it was her duty as Soothsayer to lead the mentors in teaching the masses. That, she could not avoid. So after taking a deep breath, she raised her arms and the hall fell silent.
And She spoke.
“Sisters and brothers. Today is a sacred day. One year ago, our great Mother blessed the land entire, one year hence she shall do likewise. So too today does it fall on us to renew her everlasting concord with the people of the Citadel!”
In a single voice, the congregation replied,
“Her will through our hands!”
Behind Hazel, the water in the fountain seemed to glow faintly in reaction to the chant.
“Indeed. For though our divine Mother can work miracles, she has not the hands needed to lift us all. Only through devotion can we raise our will to hers, and in so doing extend her blessings.”
The congregation repeated
“Her will through our hands!”
and the water grew brighter.
“We are all stewards of the land, and in these times of rot and decay it falls to us to heal the scars of the past. It is by our hands, and thus by our Mother’s will that the city remains fertile and strong. It is by her will that its borders shall expand!”
“Her will through our hands!”
and the water grew brighter.
“It is on this day that we renew our vow to the land and to the people! It is on this day that the rivers shall run pure! It is on this day that all who seek knowledge and power shall be blessed by the hands that belong to the Mother!”
“Her will through our hands!”
and the water grew brighter.
By now, the fountain shone a brilliant, neon blue. Hazel drew a jeweled chalice from her robes and turned to fill it in the stream that poured from the stone Mother’s hands.
“It is her will through our hands and her tears in our lands that allows for miracles to be done.” She said, holding the chalice up at chest height. “Chant with me, sisters and brothers. Let our sacred Mother know the strength of our unity so she might work her will with confidence.”
At the end of each row of pews, on either side, mentors in ceremonial garbs carried staff chimes. As Hazel finished speaking, they tapped the floor in unison, their bells ringing a clear, resounding chord. Hazel began to chant, her voice like singing glass. As she chanted, she walked off the dais where the fountain stood and down through the center of the nave. After one round, the mentors with chimes joined in, after that the congregation.
More and more voices added to the hymn, and each addition made the chalice shine brighter. Before Hazel had even left the Cathedral, the water inside was a brilliant, blinding white. But onwards the procession marched, the trail of mentors and followers joined by even more who were lined up along the street, each adding their voices and chimes as the chalice passed them by. They continued all the way to the banks of the river, where all along the shores yet more sisters waited, staves ready. Hazel reached the edge of the water. While the rest of her procession broke along its banks, she kept walking. Floating above as though the river were frozen over, she waded out into the center, where two figures stood already.
They watched Hazel approach with a steady gaze, though one shook beneath her regalia. The other held unwavering, posted just as firmly in the river as any bank or boulder. The staff at her side was at least seven feet in length, and she stood just as tall. Larger than life, yet her face seemed entirely human. Radiant perhaps, but worn, and creased with an exacting gloom.
Around the tip of her staff the current slowed to stillness, calm only in a circle around the three. This water reflected the now rising sun, and as Hazel drew closer a perfect triad of glassy river mirrored back its image. It seemed closer in the water somehow. More vibrant, more real. Heat flushed the air, rising with the chanting of the Sisters, and as both reached a fever pitch Maive plunged her staff into the triad’s center. At once the river grew still, consumed fully by the image of a vast and shifting sun.
Before continuing, Hazel took the moment afforded by the awe of the crowd to pull her silk veil down to her neck. While her hood shielded her from the sunrise, her transparent, crystal visage still caught the gleam of the glowing chalice before her. The banks of the river far enough away that, without magical amplification, they could speak plainly.
“I just love festival time.” She spoke to the other matron, rolling her eyes. “How are things here?”
“Different, this year. You feel it?” The general gloom of Maive’s face gave way to a faint, restrained smile. Her eyes fell to the smaller form between the two, and shone with something akin to pride. “Someone’s quiet for once, but doing well. I lift barely a finger, and the ritual springs into place.”
“Is that so?” Hazel followed the sister’s gaze down to the apprentice at her side. Her hood was still up but she half-waved, as if unsure she were allowed. She’d heard rumours about the keeper’s new little project, perhaps she’d get to see her potential first hand. “Such a shame to keep her locked away in the archives if that’s the case. I could help her reach her full potential, if you would let her visit sometime.”
Maive tilted her head, entertained. “Perhaps-- but it sounds like you know where to find her.” It was difficult to tell if she was joking, and she seemed content to leave it that way.
With a raise of her staff the sun in the river flared, and her voice rolled out over the fervent crowd. A brutal quality entered her tone. Strong, almost threatening.
“Three hundred years ago, our Mother entrusted us with secrets from beyond. Through time, we have endured. Now we celebrate Her gifts, which are endless still.”
Song poured forth from the crowd, various chants bursting with hymns and prayer. Their voices were one in adoration, and as Maive lifted her hand to the sky, the Sisters along the banks of the river lifted theirs.
“On that same day she made us Sisters! Through her, we are connected. As long as I am your Sister, my bond will not break. My will will not bend.”
The cult cried out, a cacophony of voices. Some shouted, and others sang. “My bond will not break! My will will not bend!”
Maive lowered her hand to the water, and the Sisters lowered theirs. Those close enough touched the surface with their palms, then fell back into the crowd to share. They chanted all the while, and with each iteration the water shone brighter. Maive recounted the Mother’s history, a litany of their strength, until her voice began to break. Visions of dewy thread shimmered in the air, as if held taut between them all.
“Today we share kinship with strangers, as She once shared with us. May seed spring, sky open, flower bloom, and river flow -- this is the will of our Mother!”
“Her will through our hands!”
Their energy seemed to pool, their cries filling the air with tension. It smelt like atmosphere and ozone. Even Maive could feel prickling at the back of her neck. Charged air filled her lungs.
The figure in the center pulled back her hood, revealing white hair and a thin veil adorned with intricate metal sigils. They clinked as she lifted her hand to the sky, and then dipped her fingers into the river. They trembled. The sheer veil occasionally exposed her unsteady smile, all too aware of a thousand eyes. She looked out of place. Flimsy even, between Maive’s colossal frame and Hazel’s shining form. But near her the sun in the water blazed and threads glinted brightly.
As the chanting peaked, Hazel stepped forward again, into the center of their water-bound triad. She raised the chalice up above her head. The water within glowed brighter than ever now, so much that it rivaled the suns in the sky and in the river. When she took her hands away, it remained in the air. She struck the rim with a crystal finger as she stepped back into position, and a sharp, clear tone rang from the little cup. It silenced the congregation, ringing much louder and longer than it should have naturally. But eventually, even it’s ringing died out and the river bank was silent and still. All eyes were on the chalice, spinning slowly as it hovered above them. The silence lasted for a minute and then, the chalice fell out of the sky.
It did not meet the river so much as the river rose to meet it. Water bubbled upwards, rose high into a rippling pillar. The chalice fell into it with an audible plop. It sank slowly for just a moment. Then light shot down the tendril, and before long the river was suffused with its glow. Clapping and cheering from the banks broke the silence, followed by exultant song. The current brimmed with bright bubbles, ivory eddies. Opal fish emerged from their light, schooling in intricate patterns near the surface. Where they brushed earth the mud split open, sprouting bundles of silvery reeds.
Maive paused. Her eyes wrinkled with pleasant surprise as the first drops of pearly rain began to fall. The emotion seemed out of place on her face. Meanwhile, Hazel gazed at the little apprentice. It seemed she’d have to bump a few things down on her priority list.
Ritual now complete, the trio walked back to the river-shore without bothering to fish out the chalice. It would find its way back to the monastery on its own, or more likely they’d just make another one. All around them, the mentors holding chime staves waded into the river, flocks of un-initiated following after them to receive the Mother’s blessing.
“I must put up at least a show of following along for the rest of the morning, I’m afraid. What are your plans?” Hazel asked Maive as they touched back on solid ground. The sand felt loose and flimsy compared to the spelled water behind them. Maive gestured forward loosely. “Pity. I’ll be in the city, if you’re free later. I should check for new libraries, collections”.
“And vendors!” Wren piped, her voice bright despite a lingering tremble. Maive arched a brow. “Hoping to find baubles for the Archive?”
Her apprentice looked earnestly hopeful. “...Yes?” But she didn’t sound like she meant it.
Maive frowned. “Well.” Her eyes cast over Hazel, then Wren, and settled on the glowing river behind them. “Make sure you enjoy yourself first.” The words were commanding, if pained. ”It’s a festival, after all.”
“Oh?” For a moment Wren just blinked, looking towards Maive. Then she beamed, “Oh! Yes! Thank you!”, went for an awkward half-bow in Hazel’s direction, and scampered off into the crowd.
Hazel stared after her, not turning back to Maive until the girl disappeared completely into the crowds. “Collections indeed.” She mused, tapping a transparent index finger against her pursed lips. “Tell me, where did you find that one again?”
Maive grunted and frowned. “Breaking into the Archives.” Then she smiled, almost playfully. “I think she’s part of your family. Chrysanths?”
“Is that so?” Hazel paused. “I thought for sure I had plucked that tree bare by now… Seems some branches hid their blooms better than I expected.” Perhaps a visit to some of my cousins is in order. Smiling, she stepped back towards the water, waving at Maive as she went. “Fair play to you, though. Happy hunting.”
Maive waved as Hazel disappeared from view, shaking her head. Happy hunting. Knowing her former apprentice, perhaps Wren had been lucky to escape her notice.
Hazel waded out, sinking into the water this time. She walked the length of the riverbank, following its current downstream. As she passed, she feigned a cursory inspection of the mentors’ performance as they blessed the gathering crowds. It was a simple procedure, barely a spell really. All that mattered was the ceremony, and any sister who’d reached the rank of mentor knew well enough already to take ritual seriously.
The further she walked out, the thinner the congregation grew, and she found her gaze drifting to the on-lookers by the shore, either too shy or too skeptic to wade in with the rest. Her eyes landed on one man in particular. Thin, plain faced and seemingly unaffiliated, the only thing that stood out about him was the scowl he held as he observed the ceremony. She waded towards the shore, catching his eye right away.
“Tell me young man, does the rite of renewal offend you?” She asked.
“No.” The man glared at her. “Keep your stupid dances or whatever, I’d just prefer that you stay out of the drinking water.”
Hazel smiled, a sharp and predatory grin. “Do you think we soil it? Tell me, young one, do you know what keeps this river flowing?”
The man rolled his eyes. “The river’s always been here, and it’s not your Mother or whoever that keeps it clean, they have a filtration plant!”
“Machines may clean the body, but only the Mother can clean the soul.” Hazel cupped her hands together and offered them like a bowl to the man, palms already full to overflowing by the time they left her cloak. “See for yourself, little skeptic. One drink is all I ask.”
The man looked from her hands to her face, and then to the crowd around them, who’d started to stop and stare. “F-fine.” He scowled at her, but leaned in anyway.
He took the lightest sip he could, barely touching his lips to the water. But when the first drop touched his tongue, his posture changed completely. Once standoffish and tense, he now relaxed and leaned in, drinking deeply from Hazel’s palms. When the water was gone, she patted his cheek and turned his face to look into hers.
“You contrarians are all the same.” Her smile seemed softer as she pet his cheekbone with her thumb. “All it takes is a little demonstration and suddenly all your explanations falter. The Mother is generous indeed to remind the likes of you of her power from time to time.”
Somewhere off in the distance, a loud bang rang out. Those who were familiar with the noise would recognize it instantly as a gunshot. Hazel’s smile only intensified.
“You are doubly lucky, little one. Today you will witness miracles.”
Wren relaxed into the throng and let hours of tension melt from her body. It was easy to be in a crowd, when she didn’t have to stomach their attention. They were just a current. Celebration in the Citadel flowed through all its streets, and she was blissfully carried along with it. The young apprentice stepped along to the sound of Festival drums and tried to shoo the river metaphors from her head. There would be plenty of time to fret over how the blessing had gone later. Maive was impressed with her, maybe? And if Maive was pleased, and possibly Hazel too, then…Well. That was all that mattered. [break][break]
Now was the time for deep breaths. Time to let the savory smell of the festival food wash over her. Baked apples, pepper pastry and fresh fish rode on the breeze. She must be near food carts. Nothing would clear her mind like one of each. With new resolve, she turned to press herself through the crowd. [break][break]
“Excuse me! Pardon me, sorry--” [break][break]
Metal rings and ornaments on her robes clinked loudly as she was jostled. A few people seemed to hear her, but even more continued right on their way, bowling her along. By the time Wren finally made it out of their path, she had long left the smell of food behind. [break][break]
Instead the air was more languid here, fresh, and slightly floral. A small courtyard filled most of the block, equipped with shade and picnic space. People slowed, filling benches and tables with their food haul from down the street. Some rested against stony bricks or around the nearby fountain. Not at all a bad place to end up; even if it hadn’t been what she wanted. [break][break]
A couple of carts skirted the outside of the resting crowd, small enough to fit between the courtyard and the sparse treeline. They looked out of place, and at a distance she couldn’t tell exactly what they were selling. Not a problem, since she had no idea what to buy. One of the carts was attended by a splay old man with a frown on his face. [break][break]
Reminds me of someone. Several someones. [break] The whole Council, maybe. Wren smirked and made her way over. [break][break]
It was a sagging brown handcart, more of a pile with a tent over it, really. The old man sat inside, glowering at passers by. When he noticed her his eyes widened a little. He got out of his chair and came to the front of the tent. [break][break]
“Anything catch your eye? We got one of a kind shit over here! Real artifacts, pieces of history. Cheaper than the garbage on main street.” [break][break]
His voice was hoarse, and shaking. The rings of Wren's veil jangled as she nodded. “I could tell from across the courtyard.” [break][break]
He snorted at her, but stood a little taller, and she made her way into his tent. It didn’t look like he was selling anything specific -- more like anything he could get his hands on. Something small stuck in the largest pile stood out to her. It was an object she’d never seen before, wedged between a rusty shortsword and splintered violin. It was thin, about the size of her hand. Kind of square, with rounded corners and a sheet of horribly cracked glass. A couple empty holes and protrusions dotted its sides, but their shapes were oddly exact, even through all the damage. Its lower third sported only a single, rounded inset: about the size of a finger. [break][break]
The merchant caught her pouring over it and plucked it up, then held it out to her. [break][break]
“I told you we had good taste in artifacts. This one’s straight magic.” [break][break]
Wren tilted her head and moved her veil to get a better look. It didn’t feel like magic. She felt no pull to it, no gentle presence. He seemed so certain, though. [break][break]
“Oh? Can I see?” [break][break]
He pushed his finger against the inset and it flickered. The glass lit up in bands of pink, white,, yellow, green around the fractures. Wren gasped. The object’s body shook violently and buzzed, just for a second, then went dark again. It took all of the her willpower not to yank it from him. Her heart was pounding, and the old man dropped the strange thing smugly into her eager hand. It definitely wasn’t magic. She knew magic, felt magic intimately. Whatever this was was not magical at all, and yet she’d only seen such reactions powered by spells. [break][break]
Curious, she pressed the button down a couple more times. It buzzed occasionally, sometimes flickered, but mostly did nothing at all. She tried looking into the glass, but it was dark, and it was surely too thin to be a machine. [break][break]
Wren looked up at him, eyes wide. “How does it work?” [break][break]
He shrugged. “I told you. It’s magic.” [break][break]
“What does it do?” [break][break]
“What I showed you, and maybe more? It’s yours for five irons.” [break][break]
She turned it over in her hand, noting how cool it was to the touch. Light too, but solid. There were several holes in its side. They were dented, but the shapes were still exact, almost perfectly round. [break][break]
The vendor leaned heavily against his wagon and began drumming his fingers against the surface, one after the other. Whatever patience she had earned for stopping by was clearly drying up, though she seemed not to notice. His eyes traveled her up and down while she studied the artifact, lingering on the decor of her river gown. [break][break]
“What goes in here?” She motioned towards the holes. [break][break]
There was a pause before he responded again, and a heavy breath. “No clue. One of a kind. Do you want it or not? ” [break][break]
She didn’t even know what it was, and the old man didn’t seem to either. Of course she wanted it. Wren nodded and reached into her cloak, grasping for her coin pouch. Or, well, the Council coin pouch Maive had given her to hold onto. Was five a lot of irons? [break][break]
She weighed out her metal coins, and when she’d finished the sack still felt heavy. Maybe the Matrons wouldn’t mind? Yeah. Maybe they wouldn’t even notice. [break][break]
The apprentice handed them over with a big grin on her face, and he chuckled shortly as they clattered into his palm. [break][break]
“You probably owe me an extra five, for all the questions.” [break][break]
Wren's face went hot. Was that how this worked? She didn't mean to impose.
“Sorry! Sorry. Of course!” [break][break]
The pouch reopened, and soon another five coins were clinking clumsily into his palm. The man opened his mouth to speak, seemed to think better of it, and then just looked confused. [break][break]
“Yes-- well. Thanks for your service.” [break][break]
“And thank you! It was nice talking to you. Thank you for the thing.” [break][break]
She stopped herself mid bow -- this wasn’t the Council, after all -- waved, and backed away. Some habits died hard. At least the fumble was behind her. [break][break]
Now Wren excitedly tucked her find into her gown, making her way back towards the main street. The courtyard was still a bit too crowded for her liking. Perhaps further down she’d find a better place to study in more detail. [break][break]
She took two, maybe three steps before the crowd burst into uproar. [break][break]
A loud crack tore through the happy festival chatter. Shouting in the distance, only a few voices at first, but growing rapidly. Wren just barely made it back into the courtyard, anxious to escape the startled people. Fireworks? It wasn’t dark enough for fireworks. Gunshots? The crowd faltered and started to scatter, either heading towards the sound, away from it, or trying hard to be on their way. [break][break]
Something felt wrong. [break][break] She should find Maive, maybe, or another Sister, ask what happened. Where would they be? Hesitantly, she started in the direction of the river. Would they still be there? How big was the Citadel? It couldn’t be long before she ran into someone she knew. [break][break]
The second boom struck before she had a chance. Thunder rang in her ears. A surge of energy rolled through her bones like a shockwave. [break][break]
Wren staggered as the force hit her, caught off guard. It felt like the ground was tilting under her, steep, pouring her forward. Her feet fell one after the other along the path of least resistance. It was as easy as heading downhill. [break][break]
Around her the crowd swelled and poured away quickly, but all she could tell was that everyone seemed in a rush. Nodes and ley lines of energy she was used to sensing faded until the gentle presence of magic she knew was barely palpable. They hadn’t vanished, though. They were still there, but diminished. Dwarfed in comparison to something new. It weighed heavy in her skull, almost dizzying to think about. [break][break]
“There was some sort of commotion…” [break][break]
She could hear Willow’s voice in her head, but it was impossible to parse through the chaos. Wren took a deep breath, turned with some difficulty, and staggered over to the corner of an alleyway. She needed to stop, to focus. There wasn’t enough room in her head. She leaned against the brick gratefully, and peered out at the scene in front of her. It was difficult to stay put -- the ground still seemed to urge her forward. But she forced herself to regain her bearings. [break][break]
The air smelt like pastry again, but tinged with ozone. She was back by the food carts. They’d been left empty, cooks and customers alike jogging or pointing in the direction she had been headed. The whole place felt...strangely new. [break][break]
Wren shuddered and tried to shake the notion. She knew she'd passed by the food carts earlier. Still, the feeling remained. It wasn’t just the carts, either. Every so often a brick, a person, a color, even the sky would just...they seemed entirely new. Like she was seeing for the first time. [break][break]
The crowd settled in the distance, all gathered around a single point. Quiet helped tremendously. Wren realized she’d been holding her breath, exhaled it steadily, and pushed herself up. Towards the big commotion, then. It could end badly. She knew Maive would scold her for moving closer to what had nearly knocked her off her feet, and she’d have a point. But the thought of staying back while everyone else knew what was going on felt far worse. [break][break]
Wren followed the more hesitant stragglers past the carts and down the main road, regaining some confidence as she drew close. This she knew was magic. Big spells weren’t usually so sustained, but it could be a summoning. Or a relic, maybe? [break][break]
As they approached the gathered crowd Wren hopped up and down to see over their heads, strained her neck. Fought the intensifying feeling that she had never seen people before. [break][break]
For such a large gathering the street was quiet, this part of the Citadel collectively holding its breath. Wren pulled her hood down and dismantled her veil to get a better look. [break][break]
There, standing in the middle of it all, was a brilliant blue dragon. [break][break]
The blonde child, pulling along a red wagon loaded with a standing rack of cotton candy, could not resist coming into the crowded streets. Such activity was simply uncommon from her experience when she had previously come into the city. It was almost as if the city was trying to return to its pre-apocalypse days, with people donning their fanciest attires, some even in costumes, and filing past street vendors working from stands set up along the sidewalk. The number of people was boggling compared to what was normally seen, and the contrasting aromas from food booths would have drawn her in if all of the noise and colors hadn't.
Betty-Lou saw many, many booths she hoped to circle back toward. Some she stopped at, such as for a fried dill pickle she was still chewing on. There were some carnival games she wanted to try for the sake of a giant stuffed animal, but until she emptied her wagon, she had nowhere to carry such a prize. She had desperately wished to stop at a booth that advertised palm reading, tarot fortunes, spirit communications and the sale of charms and trinkets. There was absolutely zero interest in her for the rest, but that last was surely her weakness. Unfortunately, the booth had a "Closed for Lunch," sign out front, and she could only hope they would be back later. Even as she reflected on the booth, she reached down to twist her most recent acquisition from that very addiction, a ring carved of solid emerald that rested on her ring finger of her left hand. The merchant she had bartered with for it would surely enjoy this event. Had she known about it, she would have stopped by to bring the ginger along.
A shot rang out from some distant alley and the child's gaze snapped immediately in that direction. Given the layout and the construction of the surrounding buildings, the volume of the shot and the reverberation that distorted it, she was confident she could pin precisely where in the city the shot had been fired and even the caliber that had been used. However, everyone around her seemed to completely ignore it as if this were nothing out of the ordinary. So she followed their lead, pulled her pickle out a little further from its wrapper and began walking again, the wheels of her wagon popping and rumbling on the asphalt behind her.