Adventures in Vanoree: V. 1, July Issue 1
There was a curious asymmetry to the lives of the folk of Vanoree, those toolmakers that the realmborn called the Vath—City builders and ship sailors, puzzlers of things and namers of others. The asymmetry was this: That often they knew when they were about to do something for the first time, but rarely did they ever know when they were doing something for the last time. So, they celebrated their firsts, and counted them up in sequence as they went, and many of them left worrying about the lasts to the folk that would come after them, if they considered the lasts at all. No one knows what the last city of Vanoree was, or the name of its last hero; but the first city of the Vath was Melythis, secured by ruddy brick and burnished bronze on the banks of the river Elyth, and the name of its first hero was Felfet Lynns.
She was not the first hero in the whole of Vanoree, the world was vast and old and the title of first hero likely belonged to Rodu, Lady of Shapes, the matriarch of a temperamental pantheon.
Neither was Felfet the first hero of the Vath, that honor belonged to Vathaal, the first king of Melythis—at least according to the Melyni folk of the kingdom he founded. His foresight and deference to the power of the river Elyth had given his people a commanding hold on trade between the Duvali folk of the mountains and the Faslyni folk of the coast.
Nor was she the first hero of the Colloquium, the great temple of learning where Melyn’s noble children were taught in the arts of courtesy and magic. The Colloquium had stood for more than a century and had many heroes to its legacy.
No, Felfet Lynns was not the first in any of the ways that Vath enjoyed counting firsts. Yet, she was the first magician to discover the pattern of the great sieve. She was the first to walk among the frozen ruins above the clouds. She was the first to discover the secrets of lightning, and how it likes to flow. She was the first to learn the dreadful secrets of the dihga, those mischievous little gremlins. She was the first to do, and to learn a great many things.
Or, rather, she will be.
First, the story must begin, on a quiet night in a swamp called Ornery, on the banks of Lake Lychorn. Nighttime in the Melynish countryside was a chorus of crickets and frogs no matter which of the provinces one happened to be in, but the orchestra was especially vibrant in Elyth. In the dark, under the waning moon, the field magician Felfet Lynns sat and listened. Behind her the smothering canopy of the Ornery swamp hung low, its mosses and branches draped like curtains over black water blanketed in carpets of green. Ahead of her lay the wide expanse of the lake, reflecting the night sky. She could just make out the faint glow of Trethis over the horizon to the west, but the town itself was well beyond the magician’s sight.
This was fine with her.
She laid back on her perch atop the giant king turtle shell, a wool matt laid between the spikes for some minor comfort. To her left on a wooden plate was her partially eaten dinner, three hundred and sixty days in the swamp plus the prospect of receiving royal orders to return to the city had made the idea of finishing the dried rations less than appetizing. The red tea that sat with them in its delicate wave-patterned cup deserved to be finished, however. Without bothering to sit up or redirect her gaze from the moon, Felfet held her left hand over the cup and, in a movement practiced with precision to the point of boredom, struck the gold band on her thumb against its copper counterpart on her first finger. A tiny spark of ephemera fell from the exchange into the tea cup. Felfet held her palm over the liquid until the familiar sensation of rising steam kissed her skin. Now it would need to cool. Just slightly, but the night would take care of that in a moment. Absent-mindedly, she reached for the piled scrolls on her right side, which sat in the flickering light of a candle in a bronze holder, and fished for the one with the open clasp. Curator Convame’s Reflections on Ephemeral Dispersal.
Thus were her six cardinal directions laid out: behind, the swamp; ahead, the lake; left, to tea; right, to research; below, the turtle shell; and above, the moon, which had yet to return her familiar. True, that the matters of the living were not the emergencies of the dead, and Felfet had seen frequently enough the oracle and the king left waiting for hours on end, but for her own familiar to keep her waiting half the night was more a subject of courtesy. In another few hours the moon would be below the horizon, and the way to the afterlife with it. The waning crescent was nearly new on this night, if Mifeal didn’t return now it would be another day or so at least before Felfet could get news from the capital. She briefly considered packing up her little boat without an invitation and rowing the eight miles across the water to Trethis to get the news in person, rather than waiting for Mifeal to bring her the oracle’s words through death’s realm.
Then the breeze picked up from over the water, and the chorus of voices in the woods sang to the tempo of the lake. The pale light of the moon sliver reflected off the gently pulsing water, and Felfet remembered the busy streets and hard brick paths of Melythis. The pressure of deadlines from her peers in the Colloquium, the reading material for review that she was certain had piled up across her year in the field, and she thought perhaps Mifeal could take his time.
Felfet sat up and took the teacup in her hands. She held it under her nose briefly and breathed the steam in, the pleasant floral aroma a momentary escape from the damp earthiness of the swamp. Hot tea and long-sleeved robes were not the best in combination with Melyn’s endless summer, but the cool night air made it bearable, and it was better than being eaten alive by mosquitos, and better than cold tea. She was about to unfurl Reflections and read over the long dead curator’s musings for the thousandth time when a movement in the water caught her eye. Mossy spikes rising from below the surface of the lake, the slightest ripples from broad webbed paddles, and the subtle raised ridges of nostrils and eyes—the only indication of a head roughly the size and thickness of a boulder. It was difficult to tell through the night-black water, but Felfet thought the shell might approach the size of the ancient fossil she had been using as shelter. A fine specimen of a king turtle in any respect.
Quietly, she sat the cup and scroll down, and slipped off her perch, the earth gave under her boots. In the year that she had been out in Ornery the field magician had cataloged half a dozen unique king turtles, at this distance in the dark she couldn’t be sure if this was one of hers or a new one. Certainly, if the water wasn’t playing tricks on her, distorting the size, it was larger than any of the ones she had tagged thus far. The turtles were a superb and troublesome challenge to study. They could stay underwater for days at a time, and no one knew where they went, why they got so big, or how long they lived for.
Felfet’s peers at the Colloquium in Melythis were engaged in some debate over the creatures, notably whether they were natural, or realm touched, or some primeval remnant of the lygian age that managed to survive the Reaving. Felfet was of the opinion that they were an offshoot of snapping turtles that had been infused with lyr, ephemera from the realm of substance. This position, however, faced stringent objections from archivist Meva. Meva’s point of contention being that it made no sense for turtles in a lake to be larger than those found in the Kingdom of Faslyn on the coast if their size was due to a lyr infusion, since the ocean was a significantly more potent source of that ephemera. Felfet had countered that the archivist wouldn’t know anything if it wasn’t written on a scroll, and asserted that there must be some unique source of lyr within the lake. The argument had ended with Meva, red faced, uttering the most sacred challenge among magicians of the Colloquium: Prove it.
Since field research was not usually granted funding for what amounted to an academic dare, Felfet had convinced King Vathaal that she was exploring weather and current patterns on the lake related to shipping efficiency. Thus had she spent the last year, camped out in Ornery splitting her time between studying the turtles and studying the lake itself.
With her copper capped hickory rod retrieved from inside the shell and secured to her looped belt, Felfet eased her way to the shore, and slipped into her little boat. A year of experience in the swamp had taught her exactly where to step, where not to step, and where to use a paddle as the shore and lake seamlessly merged into one. The pine rowboat slid across the water with practiced grace, disturbing the lake no more than the turtle itself. Still, about fifteen feet away from the beast she noticed it noticing her, the round bright eye catching the scarce moonlight. Felfet aligned her oar perpendicular to the water’s surface, and the boat arced to a stop.
As she strained her eyes to count spikes and patterns in the dark, the familiar scent of spectral ash and the sound of feathers called her attention to a creature perched on her shoulder. A squat round wren with charcoal-colored feathers that trailed out into evanescent smoke. The stub of a little white candle sat melted on its tiny head, the little light flickering as it looked around.
“Mif, good,” the magician whispered to her familiar, “make a note of this. Seven spikes, two outer rows of two, and a central row of three, swirled patterns on the shell sections and…”
Felfet stared at Mifeal for a moment.
“Oh! Mif!” her voice carried across the lake, and the chorus of frogs and insects quieted momentarily. The turtle’s nostril ridges and eyes dipped below the water, but any sense of disappointment was overwhelmed by anticipation for the news. Felfet brushed the gold ring on her thumb against the little bird and watched as her familiar retook his form. Faslyni features in the ash grey tones of the dead, a rapscallion’s garb, and a dark line around his neck where the noose had written his life’s last mark. A small candle orbited around him where he floated in the air above the lake. He hung there, arms crossed as if leaning against a wall.
“You know, Fel, when we get back to the city, you’re going to have to stop letting me do this.”
“Drafting met ephemera to communicate with you telepathically when you’re perfectly capable of speech is a waste of magic,” Felfet snapped, “if it makes people uncomfortable to use criminals as familiars, then they shouldn’t do it.”
“And drafting met gives you a headache.” the ghost added.
“Yes, and that…but my reason sounded more heroic.” Felfet laughed at herself, “Alright, though, what’s the news?”
“You are to return to Melythis and make a report to the King. The oracle also wishes for you to know that King Vathaal’s condition has continued to deteriorate in your absence. Archivist Meva’s familiar adds, ‘Betcha didn’t find nothin’,’ end quote. Lastly, Chief Curator Allyn would like for you to speak with Siha upon your return. It would seem that the princess has elected not to attend the Colloquium, despite her natural aptitude.”
“Alright, let’s see,” Felfet held out her hand, fingers extended and counted them off, “one, report done I just have to deliver it. Two, that’s sad but not surprising. Three, yeah well…these things take time. And, four, I’m not shocked and I told them she wouldn’t, but fine. Is that it?”
“That is all.”
“Well then. Time to go home.”
Felfet looked back to where the king turtle had been and saw only the gently rolling surface of lake Lychorn reflecting the night sky. As she headed back to the turtle shell which had served as her home for a year, she made the necessary mental preparations. Checking off lists of things that she needed to pack, notes on scrolls that needed to be sealed and watertight before she made the journey to Trethis. A ceremony to perform that her mother had taught her, a Felyni tradition to appease the fae and ensure that the site did not fall prey to the dihga.
What Felfet did not consider, was that after more than three hundred days of taking shelter in the old fossil, she never would again. The night before had been the last, and she hadn’t even noticed. In fact, it would be many years before this thought occurred to her, in quiet contemplation, over her last cup of tea.