Author’s Note: Well, here we are, the long awaited chapter one. This is a serial fiction, and chapters will be posted once a week until series completion. There are precursors to this series, and if you haven’t read them, that’s where you should begin; start here.
Genres (so far within the totality of the universe): Romance, Slice-of-Life, Drama, Fantasy.
Tags (so far within the totality of the universe): F/F, M/F, Mature Sensual Content, Mild Fantasy Violence.
Totality Rating: This serialized content is “Mature” due to romantic overtures between adult women and use of hard language (cursing/swearing). No severe warnings currently apply to this fiction. Warnings will be added on an as needed basis.
Thank you to our official artist, Ruka. She provided the artwork for Blair. More concept artwork and other details have been provided to patron members, who also receive chapters early. If you enjoy our efforts, please consider supporting this fiction.
Blair often dreamed of that wedding when she closed her eyes. In the haze of sleep, she was swept away to that effervescent celebration she so heavily envied. She could expertly replay the events hosted by the Cadfan kingdom to the north. It was like magic to recall that night so fondly, and she wanted a union like that for herself.
It had been a splendorous night. She enjoyed the feast and danced all night long. Her body rocked to the ceremonial drums that pulsed amidst waves of flowing embers. That was the moment that an Advar and a Cadfan had joined together beneath the full moon sky. Sweat covered the bodies of the practitioners calling upon their own elements, the Advar among them paying tribute to the momentous occasion.
She remembered offering her own element of shadow to the festivities. Penumbra casting a silhouette, even where the fires flickered the brightest. The places that shadow normally couldn’t prevail found their existence in that utmost important ritual. Nightfall ebbed into the gray skies of morning that way, amidst the snowy northern reaches of Basa.
That night, she had watched her cousin become wed in the Cadfan ceremonial way, and joined herself to that Cadfan woman under Advar ritual. Her cousin, consort to a warrior queen… who would have guessed?
Blair never would have.
To her surprise though, that was not the detail clinging to her mind. It was not the thing she dreamed of most. No, that honor went to the touch of a dainty hand in hers, and that small squeeze. Affectionate, if withdrawn. It was within that single moment, on that very night, she knew…
She had found a suitor of her own. The queen’s younger sister, no less…
That had been a special moment. As the sun caressed the sky and the ceremony came to a close, life as she knew it had changed for Blair. It had been such a small thing, but it had meant the world to her. A weekend spent with that acerbic woman called to Blair’s own desires and designs, and Valda was all that she could hope for.
She was stunning in her beauty, crimson hair a shocking hue, viridian eyes like gemstones. With a tongue lashing out intellect like a whip, it was hard not to take notice of her. Valda was small stature, lacking in pure physique. She had a desire for simple finery, an exquisite taste for food and drink. For all of that, she was neither cowed by the Arvad surrounding her, and hardly intimidated by Blair’s tenacity. She would willingly bicker at every turn, and yet, she was softer for the moments partaken in observation.
A gentleness beneath it all…
Dreams were fickle things, although Blair was loath to admit that. When she awoke to a cold bed, inevitably colder thoughts drifted the hours by. Reaching out to the darkness surrounding her, she began to draw into the air, almost as though she was drawing upon a canvas. Tendrils of white void began slicing beyond the very darkness itself, beyond the living realm.
The image was so clear to her mind’s eye. She followed the patterns, traced it out. The spectacle took form in front of her, until the door to her room opened and the light from the outdoors banished her drawing back into the shadows… erased entirely.
Finally, the door closed, casting the room back into darkness. The sounds of footfalls permeated the air as the well-meaning intruder rounded the corner. The thick velvet drapes were drawn shut against the open window, cool air flowed in, the light stayed out. Even amid what had to be daylight, it was as dark as pitch, just the way she liked it. She rolled her eyes as her father made himself comfortable in a chair resting within a corner of the room.
“Good, you’re awake,” the man chuckled softly, voice full of warmth. At his side there were two small orbs of midnight, one nestled upon each of his shoulders.
“I’ve been awake for a while now,” she said, watching as a small flame came to life. It settled upon a candle to light the room dimly. “I couldn’t sleep…”
The only light that came sparked from the dark corner, a small flicker of that flame moved until a shadowed face came into view against it. The man lit his cigarette, perching it there between his lips. Meanwhile, one of the small orbs darted to her. The tiny little orb was one of her baby brothers. He began bouncing around in the air curiously, as if to inspect her. The baby Arvad still lacked meaningful physicality, no more than a wisp of essence.
Until he had a physical vessel, he was incapable of feeling pain. He could do no more than observe the world around him. That made for endless trouble, particularly for those who couldn’t understand him. She caught him, cupping her brother in her palms. “What do you think you’re doing? Stop that and go back to Dad,” Blair grumbled dryly, opening her palms.
Instead of heeding her request, her brother darted around her head once more. She swatted at him just to get the point across, although it didn’t do much good. He continued to float around haphazardly, trying to keep her attention.
“He’s a playful youth,” Blagden said to her. “A talkative little one, too.”
Blair nodded at that. “Have you named them yet?”
“We thought it wise to wait a little. Your mother and I are still getting to know them after all…”
Blagden merely took in the sight with a pride only a father could. If he were honest with himself, so many of his children returned to the elements soon after adulthood. Unable to find their value and usefulness, they returned to the shadows from which they were born. It was the natural order for them, the way things ought to be. Still, he would be entirely remiss if he didn’t wish for a child he felt worthy enough to take his place one day.
Firmly, he felt it within him and he looked upon his finest protege. His daughter, Blair. She would be a wise choice. The first that lacked a particular ruthlessness, and the first to wish for the position out of belonging instead of greed… but, she had much to learn before she could do that.
“By the way,” he began, drawing deeply from his cigarette. “We leave in three hours for the final leg of the journey to reach Vamon Coast. The way I see it, we can continue the shortcut upon the Black Causeway, exiting off northeast once we reach the Vamon Valley. It shouldn’t take too long.”
“Perfect, just what I need right now,” Blair said unhappily. She sat up in her small cot with a groan, stretching languidly. “More rain and the reeking scent of sulfur… what time is it?”
“Noonday… or thereabouts,” the Arvad man said to her. His voice was deep and warm. “Look lively now, you know what awaits us the very moment that we get there. Well, assuming it isn’t too late of course.”
“You don’t need to tell me twice. I want to see Valda the moment we arrive if that’s at all possible…” Blair said to him. Her thoughts were already upon the small pup sleeping in the basket in the corner. A gift she intended to offer the moment that nuptials were arranged. “Furthermore, I do not intend to leave without Valda at my side. I will make the fight for her if I must, you should know that upfront. Honestly, we should have left earlier..”
“I’m sure you will,” he said, sighing softly. “We would have left earlier, but your mother decided to frolic amid the town. I cannot seem to find her anywhere.
“Did you try the seamstress?”
“That was the first place I checked,” he muttered in return.
“And just where is it that you believe I’ve wandered off to?” A womanly tone asked both of them, causing father and daughter alike to startle at the words. A hand shoved the thick drapes aside, leaning in through the open window. “I was shopping for goods, not gallivanting around… get up Blair, the innkeeper wishes to speak with you about something important.”
The Aasa were a tender folk, placidity was a trait favored often among them. They were also keen, known for brilliance and ingenuity. Yet, they were also somewhat strange people, at least by Blair’s understanding of them. They had been born from the whims of three elemental graces, that of Light, of Land, and the mortal man turned elemental, Advar himself. The Aasa were not kindred spirits to her… not as an entirety.
Aasa were shifters of animal kind, able to blend into the wilds they called home… but to Blair’s recollections, those old ways had been sacrificed. The Aasa had cast them aside. The Cadfan were to blame for that. There was once a time, long ago, when Cadfan and Aasa lived side-by-side. A time now sullied and spat upon, by the mortals of this world.
The Aasa could shift to animalistic nature, like the fauna surrounding them. The Cadfan could commune with that nature directly. Controlling the mortal beasts of the lands was their utmost ability, but such a power came with the awful reality of using the Aasa for tools of their primal desire for war and conquest.
These days, the Aasa hated the Cadfan for years of mistreatment. The Cadfan saw the Aasa as little more than cowards, and beneath them besides. After all, the Cadfan believed that if they could tame down the creatures that walked this mortal realm, why not be able to tame and control the Aasa as well? To them it was a simple fact that they were the greater race among them.
The Aasa disagreed.
“So, let me get this straight. You want me to take Kiki along with me on my travels?” Blair asked curiously, surprised by the request. “That’s an odd thing to ask of an Advar, one like me especially.”
The innkeeper nodded, setting down a large wash basin in front of him. He had bedding to wash, one of his many daily chores. “My daughter spends all day cooped up within the shed concocting nonsense unless you happen to be around. She’s taken a liking to you, for what little that’s worth. Ever since her uncle left to wander, Kiki keeps the hunger to see the world as well. She’ll leave for greener pastures one day, Blair. I’d rather she did that with those I can trust.”
“I assume that you want me to take her to him,” Blair said passively. “You should know, he isn’t within Vamon anymore. Last I saw him, he was settled with a small Aasa village in the north.”
“So say his letters,” the man said with a nod. He spent his time running the sopping wet cloth heavily against the uneven bumps of metal, releasing the impurities from the cloth. The clear water in the basin turned murky, just like his thoughts upon the matter. “I can only give her the same fate that I have now. The daughter of an innkeeper doesn’t have much to look forward to, not in these parts.”
Blair considered that, sitting upon the hillside with a loaf of freshly baked bread in hand. She watched the large dogs that made their home upon the hillside. They meandered along with the shepherds and the sheep. The elderly man among the livestock paid no mind to them. She wondered what sort of animal he could shift into, there was no way to tell just by looking at him.
The flowing markings upon his skin did nothing to tell what he could shift into.. Only that he could at all. Ancient coloration against skin tone aside, in this form he was merely human looking. There was no other hint to his nature. If someone was lucky enough to decipher the markings, they might have a clue, but Blair was not so skilled.
Blair took a bite of her meal, washing it down with water. She looked away from the shepherd and back to the man at her side. The innkeeper’s request seemed so odd to her. She knew of the man’s brother in passing, but not enough to know the bond of the family. “It isn’t as if your brother’s inn to the north is any different from your own… aside from passing Advar like myself, I doubt he sees much in the way of business these days.”
“We’re simple men who settled with simple women, he and I. These days, that’s fine for us, but Kiki isn’t so easy to please. She’s a restless one, and I will be honest. I just don’t believe these small outpost villages suit her whims. She would be happier in a large city someplace, I’d say.”
Blair sighed softly, she could already feel the headache brewing. “You believe handing her to the Arvad guarantees that she’ll be given the opportunity to settle someplace else?”
“Once she’s ready. Perhaps she’ll be taken in-hand by one of your own kind once she comes of age… she may distinctly prefer that, for all that I know… Kiki is a strange girl that way.”
“Thankfully for us, enough of you are strange that way. Otherwise, we Arvad would be out of luck… but the Arvad life can also be a life of hardship too,” she said to him. “A life on the road is a life that lacks luxury.”
“She’ll have no harder a life than the one she already lives here. The truth is, she has little in the way of options for her future. I can hardly make ends meet some days,” he replied. “I’m a poor man Blair. The girl rarely listens to me these days, but she admires you.”
“Why not leave for greener pastures yourself?” Blair asked him then. “You could simply pack up and move.”
“This is my home, and it’s all that I know.”
“Hmm, she would do better with those of Land’s influence, or perhaps those of Light… the Arvad they cultivated are temperate minds, and they’re highly favored. They keep many mortal oddities among them. It wouldn’t seem so out of place for an Aasa to walk among the gentle Arvad nomads.”
“I don’t know them, and they don’t pass by this area often. They’re not known to come this far into the inhospitable wilderness. I wouldn’t entrust my daughter’s safety to those I hardly know, to me she’s still just a child. That’s why I’m asking you to do me this favor… I do know of you…”
Blair raised a black eyebrow, curious and skeptical. A favor begot one in return. This man had nothing to offer, and nothing that she particularly wanted. “I’m not one to take a plea for help. It sounds as though you don’t want me to drop her somewhere, but to be her keeper… I’m not so interested in that.”
“I’m not asking this with the intent to send her away for good. The opposite is true,” he said, licking his lips thoughtfully. “I’d hope on your next pass through, she’d choose to stay put.”
“If she doesn’t?”
“Then at least I see my daughter on the occasions you stop here to rest. I thought you enjoyed spending time with Kiki. Is looking after her upon the road truly that too great a burden to you?”
“If I found her a burden, I’d chase her from my sight,” Blair said, rolling her eyes as she continued to eat her meal. It had little to do with the young teenager. She could keep the girl safe. That she knew, but even so. The man had obviously lost his mind. “She’d be ridiculed for traveling with us, we shadow folk aren’t well-liked.”
“I like you…”
“We pay you for goods and services, what isn’t to like?” Blair questioned. “Outposts tolerate us because without us, you’d starve. The same isn’t true for the Aasa in the cities who have no value for the Arvad passing by… least of all an Arvad like myself. You’re just lucky that I find your daughter favorable to me, or else I’d have declined the notion outright.”
The man sighed at length, deflating so heavily that Blair almost felt bad for him. Almost, but not quite. More than anything, she found him pitiable at the very least.
“Just take her with you, Blair. Promise me that you will…”
A promise was a promise, even if she did feel a little dubious about it. If she had thought Kiki entirely useless, she wouldn’t have made the agreement, but she knew the girl had her own skills. Preparing to leave, she thought about how best to use the girl’s skills to her advantage.
Gathering supplies was the least of Blair’s concerns. The routine came second nature. It was the same as taking great care of the creatures tainted by the element of shadow. She could have done it blindfolded. Preparing to leave took days on occasion, just as the journey itself could take even longer.
Vamon wasn’t too far away now, and she felt the clock ticking. Still, it was better to keep busy than to restlessly worry about a possible proposal decline. She needed a distraction, and found it amidst the chores needing to be completed.
An aircraft slowly passed by, a young teenage girl pedaling the contraption with great effort.
She began circling around before she slowed her speed, coming in for a landing. The Aasa were a wise and industrious people, gizmos and gadgets aplenty to compliment their forest dwelling nature. They deeply respected the lands, and found ways to aid in protecting it. Aircraft was a new industry, but a monumental one.
The impish Aasa teenager lifted the set of shaded goggles from her face. She was easily excitable, always curious. “So, what do you think? Do you like it?”
“I don’t dislike it, but you won’t be able to take it with you,” Blair replied. She was hardly interested in a machine meant to soar. That was meant for birds, not people. “You’ll have to leave that with your father if you intend to join us.”
“Aw, you’re no fun, Blair.”
“If you were meant to fly, you’d have been born with wings.”
“You’re just a big party-pooper. Even my parents say so. The shadow-folk are always so grumpy. That’s what Mom says,” the girl said, untying the two lines of rope. They were fastened to the seat, to keep her safe. She hopped off of her newest flying machine with a grin. “I want to see everything from up high.”
“Not even we Arvad fly, Kiki…”
“Not even just one?”
“Never that I’ve heard of,” Blair said, pouring a bucket of water into a nearby trough. With one hand resting upon her father’s beloved steed that came to get a drink, she took a brush to his coat with the other. “Obviously, with the aid of great winged beasts we could fly, if we so wished. None of us can fly upon our own merits though.”
“Have you ever flown on one?”
No… I haven’t, and I won’t unless I must. I was born to walk the lands, not soar above them,” Blair told her. “Why do you want to follow us around so badly, anyway? This is a nice little village, and it’s where you belong. Your family resides here.”
“Dad said that I could go with you to see Vamon,” Kiki replied. “I’ve never been to a big city before. I’m old enough to go now, aren’t I? I am thirteen now, after all.”
“Yet compared to the vastness of the world, you’re still a baby,” Blair said as she watched Kiki collect her belongings from the back of the flying machine. It was a good thing the girl wouldn’t have to carry her bag by her own power, or she would tire quickly. “I doubt you’d be very impressed. Vamon isn’t a large city at all.”
“It isn’t?” Kiki asked, sounding disappointed. She nearly stumbled with her heavy rucksack before Blair caught her, holding her upright. “I thought you were going because the princess you really like has a castle there. She does, doesn’t she?”
“No, Vamon is only a farming and fishing town for the northern kingdoms. It isn’t as big as a major city,” Blair said. Then she took hold of the girl’s belongings, placing them beside her own. “It is rather large and prosperous, but it remains mostly rural settlements for cultivation. Sorry to darken your day with sour news, but the Birendra Citadel is just that. It isn’t a large castle by royal standards.”
“It has to be way bigger than this place at least,” Kiki replied with a small shrug. She settled down beside a gigantic black lion, plucking leaves out of his furry mane before picking up a small wolf pup of the same color. “Our farm is really small. We get most of our food from the traders.”
Blair rolled her eyes, the girl had her there. The small outpost villages were nothing compared to a town. The innkeeper here was a friend of the family. Blair could recall when Kiki had been little more than a diaper clad baby, sucking upon her thumb. She had come a long way since then. The Aasa people weren’t known to go on great pilgrimages often, they were not the wandering sort. Once they settled, they stayed, but Kiki was a wild youth.
There were exceptions to every rule, after all, and Kiki was a great many of them. She wanted to be a voyager of the lands, to leave and see them. Perhaps the diminutive teenager was much more of a kinfolk to the Arvad in that way, mortal soul or not. The mortals were inclined from time-to-time, if rarely so.
Even so, Blair still didn’t think it wise to take the girl along. She had agreed because more hands among them meant more work done, and Kiki would be an asset, not a hindrance. “Vamon is a quiet place, generally speaking,” Blair spoke idly as she cared for the horses and oxen. “The Aasa’s very own Colm Citadel rests there too, to be exact. All of the Vamon Coast rests upon neutral grounds…”
“Do you think I can see it?”
“As we pass by, but you wouldn’t be permitted inside… never mind that for now. Be mindful of that wolf pup, Kiki.” Blair said then, grabbing the small creature by the scruff of his neck. She gently placed him back in the basket he belonged in. “He’s a gift for Valda, I don’t want him bonding with anyone.”
“Oh, okay…” The girl nodded emphatically before she paused. Brown eyes blinked slowly, narrowing curiously. “Hmm, Blair, what’s a-”
“A very tall tower,” Blair interrupted. “It isn’t their primary residence. Merely a property royal families keep to please the Grace of Light. Each one overlooks the lands they keep in Vamon… those lands are protected by light-aligned Advar, Kiki. Every prominent ruler is expected to keep a residence there.”
The girl nodded, she had heard a little bit about Vamon from the travelers passing by. She had always been curious about it, but so few of them would talk to her. Blair did, the shadow Advar always told her stories when they stopped here. For the lonely teenager on the hillside, that meant the world to her. “I don’t understand why that’s a rule Grace of Light has. The Cadfan have never liked us, and the animals they command are all super mean. Why do we have to have a… what was it again?”
“Citadel, Kiki… Citadel…”
The girl nodded. “Yeah, that. Why do we all have one?”
“Grace of Light demands it, her desire is for peace and prosperity for all. Her elemental fountain rests there which is why it remains so peaceful and the land there never dries or becomes inhospitable. That’s why there are no beasts tainted by Light’s element. She wishes for visitation by all who walk upon Basa’s soil and she doesn’t cast hardship onto others. No one is allowed to wage war on her lands, that is absolutely forbidden…” Blair said, sighing then.
“But we always fight and that never changes.”
“That’s because you mortals don’t live long enough to see how useless conquest truly is.”
“Conquest my butt, he was just mean. Get this, the last time a Cadfan passed me by in the forest, his bear actually tried to eat me and chased me right up a tree!” Kiki complained, letting out an annoyed huff as she crossed her arms over her chest. “He thought it was funny too… stupid Cadfan… those guys living by the volcanoes are such big jerks.”
“It serves you right for wandering around outside the village… I don’t mind if you come along, but mean spirited Cadfan would be the least of your worries. There are all kinds of animals out there. There are monsters too,” Blair said to her softly. “Twisted mutations of the flora and fauna gone berserk by elemental influence aren’t to be ignored.”
“They don’t scare me,” Kiki said to her. She had absolutely no fear of the tainted creatures the Advar almost always kept beside them. She liked Blair’s animals most of all though, particularly the overgrown shadowy lions. They tended to follow their master around and laze in the sun. “Yours are all really cool, the cubs aren’t little anymore though.”
“They’ll grow larger, that male will too. These ones are pacified by the influence of those around them. We’re kin in a way, these creatures and I. The same isn’t true for the creatures tainted by other elements. If they had been twisted by any other element, we’d all be in very grave danger. These creatures aren’t like the Advar, Kiki… those stories the travelers tell, they speak the truth.”
“My dad says they’re lying, though.”
Blair shook her head. “Your father was born and raised here, same as you. He doesn’t know much at all. Mortals were not made to withstand elemental essence. This is true for all of Basa, creatures great and small. Even Aasa and Cadfan can be twisted and tainted by the elements in unnatural ways if they manage to piss off one of the graces. This is why mortals should never wander to an elemental fountain uninvited. Even we Advar are not permitted to wander to the fountains outside of our nature, not without express invitation…”
“What about that Grace of Light person?” Kiki asked. “They say she’s super nice.”
“Grace of Light… she’s different, an outlier among them. She is the only element that welcomes all beings without question, and without retaliation. We would become grotesque monsters ourselves if we were to encroach upon a fountain without the ruling power’s blessing. Grace of Light is merely of the mind to greet everyone…”
Kiki’s curiosity aside, the fact of the matter didn’t sit so well with Blair. She felt a sense of entanglement when it came to the way their ruling bodies operated. She didn’t care for it. The beings and their fountains weren’t godlike in the truest sense, merely spurned elemental powers seeking praise they hardly deserved.
“Have you ever met her?”
“Hmm?” Blair asked, being pulled away from her thoughts, casting her gaze to Kiki.
“That girl… Grace of Light. Have you met her?”
“I have met all of them once or twice. When called upon, we must answer,” Blair said to her. “That’s just the way it goes… more importantly, if you’re going to be staying among us, you need to earn your way. You need to find a job to assist, you’re good with your hands. Go over to the wagons and find my mother. She’ll put you to work.”
Go to Chapter 2 (Does not release until May 11th)
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