We Aren’t There Yet

Theo stared into the fire, bandages covering a fresh gash in his side that would certainly scar and his thoughts continued to race from the fight the previous night:

It should have been enough to have Primus help him!
Either I’m too weak to help, or Primus is too weak to help in any way that matters.
It can lead Suzette through a maze of meat, but refilling the pie plate or actually protection from the servants of its enemy, that’s too much to ask just yet.
Drugs were better than that, they helped me kill another one of those monsters and save the others with me.
It guided my blade just fine, but I felt no safer as it came for me.
Maybe thats why it hated me so much, why it was so intent on chasing me down-

It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t enough.
We must feed it, honor it for what it must become, give it strength that it may give us strength.
The handful of us isn’t enough to steer it quickly and the time seems to be coming sooner than we might want.
We need the others to do the rites, to make the offerings, to make it powerful enough to protect us.
I don’t know enough about ritual to do that, maybe Cole can explain some of it? Alphonse is probably better at it, but he is far too distracted to be helpful.
What can we do with that….memory, truth, legacy, a defender of the downtrodden, and avenger of wrongs. Something that will defeat the adversary.
I feel like I’m just waiting for the elf to betray us and yet I no so little about making a god that I can only screw it up I think.
Funniest thing about belief I’ve learned, thinking you’re going to screw it up is probably just as bad as actually screwing it up.

Fuck.

I guess we’ll get everyone to something and see where that goes.
I do believe that my family will be safe, that we will figure it out in the end, it just comes all too quickly and damned does this still hurt.
Who knows if another sacrifice would have made the difference.

Nadja and Family

As the sun begins reach the western horizon, Theo paces through the woods as Aryeh checks his traps for rabbits and fowl. Cole continues to find mushrooms here and there along the hill as they continue far off the path.

Theo’s rant at the others can be heard from some distance,
“Should I even be treating Nadia like family? The more I think about it, the more I don’t think she even really cares about us. She just wants a family, friends, people to care about her after what the way her family treated her. She wasn’t really willing to turn her back on Zakhar, a man whom had wanted and tried to kill me while betraying her orders when he had given his word to her…

She isn’t really committed to this. Nadia was freaking out over Vecatrans even being in town, and yet managed to talk herself into going along with their plans so that they could make the mists expand and still couldn’t bring herself to hate Zakhar. She won’t be ready for Primus either. And you know…if she was committed to embracing us as family, that would be fine. There’s plenty of people who are Vecatrans whom I still call family and still love or don’t give a shit at all, but I just don’t think she understands what we go through. Her pain is different, our suffering is no different than anyone else’s in this place as far as she seems to be concerned. She just likes being snarky.

Maybe its the gaslighting the Benelians did to her. Its great to give up your total desire for power, but caring about the community of Luisant probably means you can’t even really bring yourself to take sides, even when you see people being wronged. I guess if you wanna be a goodie goodie and have lost your edge in the world, you probably don’t want to be like us, you probably were never one of us…

Someone will be happy to tell her stories about how its great that we are all a community of equals through their lying teeth-Ouch!”

Theo rubs his head as Aryeh points down the hill to where a large shadow seems to be. Cole shakes her head and leads them deeper into the forest, away from whatever creature may have been waiting for them.

“We should find a Willow tree soon, I gotta pee.” he mutters under his breath.

Zakhar’s End – A Roast

Theo stands before the others of the House Chanceux, formerly the Undesireables, as they eat what food they have been able to acquire, a couple of birds that Aryeh was able to hunt, some berries that Cole was able to pick, and a few bottles of wine that Theo had grabbed from a cellar.

“Zakhar, the Fallen Knight is dead. Someone might try to give him last rites, maybe they even did, but let me say a few words about him.
Some would have him believe that he was a man of many virtues, Faith, Honor, Justice, Mercy, and Courage, but the world came to know better.
A Betrayer of his Faith – He betrayed the faith he openly adhered to in order to support a Spider Crone and do its bidding.
Dishonored – Betrayed the oaths of Knighthood he had sworn to his Lady in disobeying her orders.
Cruel – Tortured and beat a man for trying to steal food for his friends because they had none.
Deceitful – When caught and imprisoned for his crimes, commanded those loyal to him to attack members of the community, nearly killing Henri.
Cowardly – Kidnapped children to lure their minders into an ambush.

Zakar, Failure of the Kruzmores Knights, we are not sad to see you go. You were long a blight upon this place and may your failures be long remembered.

Let us also take a moment is to welcome back Cobalt and Frank after a harrowing experience of being taken by this creature. Nothing about what you went through was ok, and only through his death can we see that righted. I am sorry Frank that we couldn’t get you a new leg.

This moment through is truly about Cole, the one who ended Zakhar’s miserable existence. With Primus watching, we celebrate her for standing up for those who could not defend themselves and taking that moment of opportunity rather than leaving it to chance. Here here.”

The group toasts, with the kids hooting and hollering and Frank and Cobalt smile to one another excited to have finally gotten to see a monster die.

Not Enough

There are creatures and monsters greater than I which lurk in the night and seek to kill me and mine, or worse. In these moments, I recognize a need for aid.
Drugs, magical though they are, are not enough.
Magic, though powerful, is insufficient to stop Chiropoler, Rat Wizards, and whatever else the world will put in front of us.
The spirits of the Vecatrans are weak, only capable of using their followers to their own ends.
The god of the Benealians is strong, but only seeks to conquer.
Much as I deride Alex for failing to embrace his role in this world, I cannot help but see myself in him.
I am a blade in the night, I have no place fighting a monster that can see me.
Cadence, Milo, Alphonse, Hugo, maybe even Fabron and Henri. They are the warriors who will stand in front of whatever lies at the end of this, but they are not champions of my family. They pretend to care for those who choose to live apart from them, but they are not a part of us.
Just as Isabel and Marionette refused to leave as the rat wizards came ever closer to cutting them down, I cannot help but feel like leaving is giving up, but staying is in its own way, foolishness, if we are only awaiting whatever fate others would find for us.
These are desperate times, and if I am too weak to protect my family, then I guess we will have to find a way to change that; even if it means looking outside of myself.

A Community Apart

Theo: A Community Apart

Why do we even try? Etienne was right. Peace is a lie. They will never truly welcome us as equals.

Recently they had been kind, caring, or at least giving. They consider us better than the outsiders, better than the malefic. Such praise! Maybe someday we can aspire to be as appreciated as the animals in the forests and swamps! They’re just bribing us into not being a problem for them later. Whatever. Do they actually like us though? Do they really believe we are part of their community? Of course not.

Some try to convince us that we can join them, that we will be happier if we were part of their community. I’m not even sure what that even means. Seems like just another way people try to make us go away, to put us under their thumbs. One more group for them to balance. They don’t really know us, they don’t really care. Maybe someday they’ll actually explain it to Cole. I bet now that Etienne and Aryeh refuse to come to market, they think we are easy to break off from the group and consume. To fix us like those priests did to Nadja.

One minute you torturing an elf for information is wrong and you should talk nicely with it instead. The next talking to it makes you evil and someone no one should trust.
You can listen to them about how to do a thing, but they will use it as a weapon against you.

They might seem happy to hear your opinions, the next they will reject you for trying to give advice they don’t like or don’t understand. Clearly your advice was meant as an attack upon someone they liked better. An apology is too much to ask of them.
You can pretend to include yourself, but they will turn their back on you in favor of anyone else at the first opportunity.

They might ask you for information about something, and you might give it to them. You might expect them to include you in whatever is going to happen. You would be wrong.
You can try to be part of their community, but they will make their own plans behind closed doors and exclude you. They don’t really trust you.

You can give them the tools and encourage them to find a solution, but somehow there is malice in your hear
We are just a cog in their machine that never really fit or worked the way they wanted.
Always one step away from being thrown away.

On Nobility

Theo turns on his ward Sherry as the rain begins to fall around their firepit. His finger wags at her as his voice rises in anger,

“Yes, Sherry, they do have shiny fucking armor, new pretty dresses, people to ferry them around, and personal chefs but don’t think that the nobles care who we are or what we want. The fact that the town is willing to feed us isn’t about the nobles, that’s about other people doing that work, collecting those things. They don’t organize or contribute to it. You owe them less than nothing. You owe them so little that whenever they want something you should think, ‘How are they trying to fuck me over?’

Nobles serve no purpose in the world other than to maintain their power over others, pass that power on to their children, grow their wealth by using that power, and ensure they are remembered. That is what noble blood means; to be a line of slavers and predators whom have done that for generations.

They are ultimately people, and do not have to be self serving, power hungry fools, but it turns out if you give a man power he will use it. She will find ways to maintain and grow it. They will do whatever they can to secure it for their future so that they are never at risk.

Henri and Abella stole food to ensure their power would not be threatened while their son watched. They demanded taxes that they knew the population could not fulfill. They paid someone to have the local priest murdered when he tried to stop their abuses. They failed to teach their son anything about how to look after the city. Ambrose refuses to speak to me, or anyone else he considers below him. Jean Luc is happy to send others off toward danger in his stead, but never risks himself. Thora actively plots and connives to achieve her ends, killed Nadja’s husband, and is willing to do whatever the spiders require of her. Zakar is a torturer who fails in his duty often and has made secret deals with the spiders. Nadja can barely tolerate our backward ways and is devoted to achieving greater power for herself.

The issue isn’t just about them individually though, but also about why the town fucking puts them on a pedestal so that they don’t have to take responsibility for their own actions. They literally give them whatever they ask for, whether they truly need it or not. Clean their own messes? Trap their own fucking food? Walk across town instead of having Tellis give them a carriage ride in the rain?

Sure, Ambrose and Nadja are living as peasants now, but what does that even fucking mean? Half the town still seems to want to suck them off at every opportunity because it turns out they know that ‘peasant for a year’ is the same thing as ‘noble in a year’. And even if somehow they learned something resembling responsibility, humility, or whatever words Cole would use to say they fucking get it, that doesn’t change that they don’t deserve to be given free reign to make us slaves all fucking over again. Respecting someone as a person doesn’t give them permission to think they have control over you and yours.

Our ancestors survived that shit and we will never go back. With the town council, maybe that’s almost possible. You know, if they aren’t just puppets too.”

Water Guild Seeks Laborers

Citizens,

The Water Guild of Stragosa seeks laborers to assist with a local project in improving their Magician’s Tower.

Should you find yourself able to assist, please make arrangements with Kaykavoos. Compensation available.

Kaykavoos
Emissary to the council of Stragosa

A Path of Reflection

Magic is a poor solution. That isn’t to say it isn’t a solution. That isn’t to say that there aren’t problems that it is necessary and useful to resolve. Rather, that is to say that rarely is magic the best solution.

Briefly consider this, suppose that we lived in a world where everyone was a mage, a magocracy as it were. What a wondrous world that might be. A highly educated world where Earth Mages brought in resources; food, minerals, lumber, and meat with a casual thought and buildings took shape from nothingness. Air Mages might create mechanisms for improved understanding of one another and communication. That world could have Fire Mages which could enable mechanics even Bakara had not previously fathomed. We might make it so that in that world, disease and insanity would be banished with a casual thought, no one would go hungry, and travel would be reliable and fast.

In a world where that magic was casually available, people would not fear it as much. They would understand that magic is a tool which can be used or not and that it is the wielder that is the problem rather than the tool itself. They would understand that those who used and abused their power for their own personal gain would be taken to task and held responsible for their actions.

That is not the world in which we live, as the truth is no where near so positive. People fear mages, not only because of the tools that they wield, but because of what the means by which they acquire those tools says about them. Mages are thought of as those who claim power because they can, for their own ends, at any cost, and that these tools give them the ability to dictate what is right or acceptable. They simply have tools which are beyond the ability of others to contest, or are so indispensable that the cost of doing so feels unacceptable.

People aren’t even wrong to believe those things. It is easy to ascribe the problem to the idea that those who are able to successfully join a guild rarely lack drive or determination, that those who lack such will crumble before their initial testing. The issues though are so much deeper.

Once you have broken through into a guild, time is rarely your own. Someone else will make decisions about what the guild needs from you and you are expected to obey. Some might joke that they could be asked to slay their loved ones, but comments like that come from a place of truth. Even if a guild probably wouldn’t do so directly without knowingly testing their commitment, that is in fact the level of commitment the guild expects. This corrupts one’s ideals, for you aren’t really in control of your life as completely as you might be and so you rationalize behavior you might personally not perform under the guise of being for the greater good or to help the guild along its path. How can those outside an organization like that trust you completely when they know you might be compelled by the guild to act against them or their interests, to betray their secrets, or the like?

If you are bright, you will then have to make decisions about what you want for yourself. Magic teaches people to want control over their environment, to subvert their weaknesses and enhance their strengths; that nothing is beyond their influence and power. For many this drives them to seek rank within the guilds, either to increase that power for themselves and to ensure they have autonomy to encourage others to seek out the particular interests of the mage in question.

Power isn’t a direct relationship to authority within a guild, but as a member of a guild, you have abilities that most do not. As such, you are expected to assist the guild in ways which are beyond what most would be capable of through mundane means. If you are studying magic most of your life, and you have a problem that you cannot resolve with your mundane abilities or would take an exceptionally long period of time or a large number of people, you are inevitably drawn to solve it with magic. If your current skill is not up to that task, you might push yourself to obtain more power. Thus the cycle continues of seeking power to solve problems to meet the demands of others, to gain authority, to obtain autonomy in your life.

We are then left with the fact that in gaining that rank by wresting that power from others who would seek to keep you from it, you will have already taught yourself how to take advantage of the talents of those below you, and so the cycle continues.

The mirage of the guilds is much more sinister than the truth. The Water Temple is foundational for the Sahirim for many reasons, but the most important is the lesson of knowing who you are and walking the path of Atma. Corrupting yourself and your Atma in service to the Temple is in fact a betrayal of the Temple and its ideals. You must make your own choices and follow your own path rather than blindly expecting others to make those decisions for you. Without centering yourself, you are left to float with the current, sucked in by the undertow of power, and will suffer at its whim. Instead you must learn to swim against these eddies.

As someone who lives in the Stragosa valley, it is difficult not to be tempted by the power that magical tools allow. These tools have allowed me to save many lives, and so the cycle continues. Seeking tools to aid those upon their path toward Atma while permitting them the ability to solve the problems for themselves .

Magic is not inherently evil, but giving up your path in its pursuit is to lessen yourself.

The Path of Inner Peace

Kaykavoos nods to Davyn as they sit on the temple floor, for their second discussion of the week.

“On the path to enlightenment, we all face moments that challenge us. Often when we talk about such things, we focus on the significant life-changing moments which are grand. Perhaps you choose to risk your life to save a child by giving her the last of your food. Perhaps you choose to stand up to a bully who has wronged your family. These are not the things I speak of today. Instead I speak the way you think of yourself.

Let me speak of myself for context. In my youth, I was offered the opportunity to use a pottery wheel with a master for an afternoon along with a small class. I had not done it before, but it seemed like an enjoyable opportunity. Seeking to impress the master potter, I spent all day, missing dinner even to complete my work. After it was fired and glazed, I realized it was not as beautiful as many of the bowls I had seen from other students, but I was still proud of the work I had done.

As the master appraised it, he made a simple comment about how it was middling at best of the efforts he had received. I was crestfallen, I had invested myself into that work and thought that I had made a valiant effort for one who had not been trained. Yet the master’s words indicated that I lacked potential in this area. Today I look to the skills that Dame Kirsa, Lady Shamara, and Lady Alexandria have to craft in their own ways and am in awe of their work. I do not seek to find a craft of my own though, for you see, I have no potential at such endeavors.

This is of course a lie that I tell myself. A lie that some part of me believes because of the trauma I felt on that day. A reasonable person would say that the master only said that my effort was middling, not that I lacked potential. A reasonable person would say that I was middling at best because I had never received training or applied myself significantly to that task before. A reasonable person would say that even if I did particularly poorly, that as the Principle goes, ‘Nothing is impossible with sufficient will.” Yet I still hear this voice inside of me whenever I attempt the most basic elements of certain topics. I am not comfortable with the skill I possess, and am seemingly afraid of repeating the experience of judgement for being poor at the form.

Each of us has such a voice inside of us. It may not speak to you about being poor at crafting, but instead focus on a matters of mathematics and the market. Perhaps it causes you to distrust your leadership of others or even your judgement about life in general. Each of these thoughts is entirely common and undoubted is something that you have observed in others before. These thoughts reflect your self-doubt. and draw you away from your highest self. To banish these voices is not a simple ritual you might perform with a priest to remove your fear, but a persistent trial we face each day.

These voices are of our own construction, crafted to protect us from the world we have endured. They are not maelific to be vanquished in a moment with a blessed weapon or resolution, for to destroy them is to destroy who you are. Rather we note when we hear them, to recognize the fears that we still must work through, and rather than listen to them, we move past them and in so doing, we remake the image we have of ourselves.

I may never choose to be a potter, and I acknowledge in this moment that I am not skilled at such, but that is a path that is not closed off to me.

Think upon this, what paths have you closed off to yourself? What do the voices tell you?”

The Path of Hubris

“Yes, Jehan, I know I didn’t have to bring you the evening meal, I just felt like spending some time with you after Chant. This land of Stragosa is a wondrous and frustrating place for me and I thought I might share stories about it with you.”

“Stragosa..? …It’s a place in Gotha, far west of Sha’ra and our mountain homeland. We’ve been here for almost a year now. Very complicated to describe its history. It has seemingly existed as a town for hundreds of years off and on, only to seemingly be ‘rediscovered’ time after time as a new place to come to full of ruins. Who knows how many expeditions have come here…”

“Why do people come here if no one thinks there is anything here? Well, there is thing thing called the Miracle, it’s one of the primary reasons why I and many others came here. You see, it is a stone which can bring people back from the dead once per day.”

“It does sound pretty incredible to talk about. I guess that’s why so many people come here despite the fact that so many people are suffering in the streets from disease, or simply unable to find joy in their daily lives…anyway, I wanted to talk about someone named Akim ibin Haqim though.”

“No I hadn’t expected you would have known him. He was a part of the Temple of Water, of the Second Circle when he lived in Sha’ra. Was because he apparently has come to live here in Stragosa, among a group of thieves and other renegade mages called the Hollow Men. They’re a group of dissidents in the city these days with a complicated history it sounds like.”

“No, I’m not sure why they’re called that. Maybe because they are hollow inside with all the terrible things they have done to distract themselves from the path. Anyway, Akim used to be part of the guild until recently, but notably he seems to have turned to darker methods of pursuing his primary goal in life, personal power.

“So that was my question too. Why would someone whose primary goal in life is personal power be accepted within the Temple. Either someone of particular significance permitted it or, and perhaps more likely, he turned from the Temple because of some spell he performed beyond his abilities and lost his mind and path. That would also explain his turn toward darker methods as well.”

“Why am I telling you this? I guess…I don’t know. You know how much ti-…I spend a lot of time in the lab tower working on spells. There are a lot of problems here. I could easily accidentally do something wrong, push myself too far and end up insane as a result…and without some pretty immediate help, could I guess end up in a similar situation to this guy. Or if you’d rather, I met an air mage last week, like just sitting at a wedding feast he just says out loud to the world, “I’m an Air Mage” as if it wasn’t a thing. And my first thought after sighing was, “I’ve been needing an air mage to do these various Navigator things for me.” And so, here I am probably taking too many risks with magic invention, casting spells to cure disease to the point where one of the District Magistrates carried me to bed, and wanting to use hubristic magic to accomplish my goals because I don’t see other options, so I guess I feel like I’m not too many choices different than Akim and that makes me uncomfortable considering that he’s likely to get murdered and clearly has fallen so far from his path.”

“You’re right, I should be more careful and I will try to be in the future. It feels like we only have a few months until Stragosa may turn back into a ruin which has to be found again and so it would be wrong not to try to whatever I can to salvage it, despite the risk and people whom I have to work with. I guess, that doesn’t sound very much like ‘and I will try to be in the future’ does it? Hmm, I guess careful doesn’t mean changing your path so much as taking precautions, maybe that’s something I can work on more easily.”

“Stragosa? Oh…its the city in Gotha we’re in, far to the west of Sha’ra and our mountain homeland. We’ve been here almost a year now. Anyway, it seems like you’ve finished your food. Is there anything else I can get you tonight before bed, Jehan?”