Jack

fallsilently


Fall Silently

A fantasy story by Itsasu Deauxnim


Note to Readers (And especially to myself)
Jack
fallsilently
Welcome to Fall Silently. Thank you for looking around and maybe--MAYBE consider reading the material. Lord knows how little you kids read these days.

My name is Itsasu Deauxnim (if you stretch the French in that name a little bit you can hear the slight pun), some also know me as Metacifer, the eloquent house.

Anyway, I would like you all to recite the MST3K mantra before reading.

" It's just a show, I should really just relax. "

Well, except that it's not a show but a story... but... you get the idea. Basically, there WILL be errors in this story, whether science-wise, history-wise, technologically-wise, magic-wise...

Magic-wise? Hey, if by some off-unlikely-chance people in the future still read this shit (Hi, future people), maybe they WILL develop magic. And maybe they'll read my stuff and say "THAT'S NOT HOW MAGIC WORKS!"

I can totally sympathize.

But come on, it's just a story, it's not gonna totally resemble real life. I am not all-knowing, I cannot be all-knowing, and at least I tried. Seriously. This advice is also for myself. You see the word "arquebus" down there? They used to be "musket." After research, then, I realized in horror that there were probably no or few MUSKETS in the time era, but ARQUEBUSES...arquebi? Uh...

Whatever.

"But Itsasu, that's kind of ridiculous. The setting isn't even Earth, but some weird fantasy planet with magic and weird naming systems that combine European cultures altogether. I mean come on. Andrej Wulfingard? Is he Slovenian or Nordic?"

Point taken, imaginary questioner, and this obsession with reality is what drives me to recite the MST3K mantra over and over. You should too. Seriously. Hey, if you are a forensic scientist and is actually reading this (unlikely, but...) raise your hand.

Okay, do you cringe when watching CSI? Yes? All right.

So, MST3K mantra. MST3K mantra. MST3K mantra...

Thank you for coming!

Update: I am a hypocrite, and I cannot do what I just said. I keep rewriting some existing chapters and the one I'm writing now because I'm not sure about accuracy.

Update Deux: SWEET FSM, if you guys spend half the time complaining about 'I DON'T WANT TO READ THIS STORY WITH THE CRAZY FORMAT WHERE THE FIRST CHAPTER IS AT THE BOTTOM' and spend some time considering solutions, you might figure out that you can just go to the prologue here and click that cool little "Next" button good Gods.

Chapter 9
Jack
fallsilently

Andrej worked with William Masterey for the time being, studying the art of tinkering and the new alphabet, while in return, helping Masterey in his work. The pure scientific pursuit of the tinker was amazing to Andrej, because it worked on such a different philosophy to other studies like magic.

“You mean,” Andrej once asked, “that this study does not strive to manipulate reality?”

“No!” Masterey answered. “By gods, no. In fact, the opposite! We strive to follow the current reality.”

“What do you mean?”

“We study the laws of the natural world and build according to those walls. We don’t alter the natural balance of the world. In fact, we just follow it. If you’ve dabbled in magic like you said, you won’t understand this easily. Mages and tinkers think in such different ways.”

“For… example?”

“When you need a heavy object lifted to a tall building, mages think of rewriting reality by making the object float up instead of down.”

“Yeah.”

“But tinkers make use of the fact that things go down by making pulleys!”

“A pulley? I see! So you make use of the fact that it’s easier to pull down than push up.”

“Exactly.”

“That’s an interesting way to think about it. Instead of thinking about sigils, you think of machines.”

“I guess you can put it that way.”

With this new philosophy that forced him to think not against nature but with it, Andrej worked in Masterey’s tinkershop for food and inn money and studies. He’s a smart person, Masterey thought, and he can adapt fast to this foreign philosophy.

He just wished the boy was stronger, physically but you do with what you have. At the very least he is thankful that he is able to learn so quickly and willingly, though he is not without suspicion.

The boy professed interest in the machinations of a musket. William denied the knowledge at the current moment, claiming its machinations to be too complex for an apprentice of the craft. That part is half-true, though another was a matter of trust.

The fact that the boy knew how to read the runic language from the beginning alarmed William. Most of the time, only nobility and royalty are able to read that well. Even Masterey learned to read runic only through hearsay and inference, and it was nowhere near perfect even now. But this boy read it so fluently and without flaw that he sometimes had to teach Masterey certain runes.

But that would not bother him as much if he did not know magic.

Magic, to the tinker, is a perversion. It is a childish art to his kind. The warlock does not desire to follow the laws imposed to them by The Great Builder, yet instead choose to fabricate their own temporary reality to meet their ends. Horrifying accidents have happened to those who were arrogant enough to shape their own laws, eldritch and dead things.

So no, he said to Andrej, for he does not know where the boy’s loyalty lies in the current war. Never trust a warlock, anyway. He will only teach him common engineering things, those the upper class would have no idea about. He needed the help anyway.

Though he did not want to admit it, he hopes to bring the boy from the dark side of magic to the noble builder’s cause.

 

Andrej said goodbye to William for that day and went across the street, back to his hotel room. He paid the innkeeper, which he now knew as Linda, and walked back to his room.

Andrej lay on his bed and felt it hard to sleep—these new thoughts stirred in his mind. The machines, the new written language, the philosophy of the tinkers.

And yes, especially that philosophy, that seems most important to him to think about. He had so many questions on the matters. He forced himself asleep so he could be up quick to fulfill his thirst for knowledge.

 

That night, a knight with a devil’s helm broke open the door to Masterey’s workshop and pierced the tinker's skull with a halberd before he had a chance to reach for his gun.


Chapter 8
Jack
fallsilently

“Conrad,” Natasha said as she knocked the door to his shack. “Conrad, are you there?”

“Yes, m’lady,” Conrad swung open the door. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Did you do what I asked you to?” Natasha asked. “You know. The matter?”

“The… oh oh oh! Yes I did! I did, actually. I didn’t forget. Old McCullen doesn’t forget stuff like this, no he doesn’t.”

“Very good,” Natasha said. “Where is she?”

“Come here,” Conrad said. He walked out of his shack, closed the door, and led Natasha out the gates. He walked about five blocks, right into the peasant’s community. Conrad, with his dirty peasant garb looked right in place here.

Natasha, however, looked out of place with her colorful flowing robes, decorated with runic calligraphy and beautifully woven sigils. What’s more is the clean, expensive long leopard fur sash, the symbol of nobility, a definite contrast against the shacks made of mud and wood in the area. The civilians cast a look at the oddity with suspicious eyes and conversation. What is a woman like that doing in a place like this? Led by an old peasant, no less?

Natasha just ignored their stares.

“Here we are, m’lady,” Conrad said. He stopped near another shack, undistinguishable from the rest.

“Thank you, Conrad. Would you accompany me in?”

“Of course, m’lady. I was going to do that anyway.”

Natasha knocked the door gently, afraid to ruin the frail-looking structure, only to be pleasantly surprised to see the building more sturdy than she thought. A woman opened the door, her skin darker than the brown Natasha sees in the nobility. The woman bowed.

“Um… good afternoon, uh… madam. How can I help you?”

“It’s me, it’s me,” Conrad said, waving his hand at the woman. “This is the woman I was talking about. Rania, meet Lady Natasha. Lady Natasha, Rania.”

“Good to meet you, Rania,” Natasha said, giving a more subtle bow to the peasant woman. Not subtle enough, however, for the other peasants to not take notice. “May I come in to discuss our matters more… privately?”

“Oh, oh, aye, of course, Lady Natasha! Please, please come in!” Rania stepped out of the way to let Natasha and Conrad come in.

“So, Rania,” Natasha said after she closed the door. “Did Conrad inform you of the matter?”

“Aye, madam. He told me you needed a maid. But isn’t it usually… that I am supposed to be the one coming to your mansion for interview?”

“Aye, that’s how it’s usually done,” Natasha agreed, “Yet my father is far from usual.”

Conrad didn’t say anything. His mouth twitched, but then he just nodded.

“He’s not right in the head,” Natasha continued. “He does not like his mansion cleaned because he cannot let things go. It has been this way since Mathias died.”

“I see.”

“Yet I cannot stay forever, you see,” Natasha said. “I cannot take care of him forever. I must go back to battle, now with both my brothers gone or dead, someone must avenge them.”

Natasha’s fists tightened and shook while her face remained calm, unnoticed by Natasha herself.

“And may the gods damn me,” she continued, “If while this battle rages all I do is play the gutless civilian.”

“I see. But your father, he does not want a maid?” Rania asked.

“Aye.”

“Then you would hire me as a maid of someone who does not want one?”

“Aye.”

“How would that… how would you explain that to your father? I don’t imagine he’d approve.”

“He won’t. He wouldn’t approve. He won’t like a maid.”

“Aye, ma’am so…”

“Except if she is his wife, maybe.”

Conrad and Rania widened their eyes and placed their looks on Natasha. For a single moment, looking at both people’s expressions, the smile on the lady’s face was one of mad satisfaction, yet it disappeared just as fast.

“What are you saying, m’lady?” Conrad asked.

“Exactly as I just did.”


Chapter 7
Jack
fallsilently

Andrej dragged a sack stolen from a nearby farm. It used to contain animal feed, several nibbling rats, and a dead rat. Now it contained his armor and his runic sword. After flipping through the book, he wrote the rune ‘relief’ on the heavy sack, tapped energy from the Gods, and channeled it.

That seems to be the fundamental difference of Sigil magic and Rune magic, Andrej thought. He felt exhaustion after casting sigil magic since the energy came from him. Rune magic, however, was used by tapping energy from the Gods. He does not know why each energy type is not interchangeable, but nevertheless, he doesn’t ask questions. Not now, at least.

That’s just how it works.

Now he was only dressed in the itchy, uncomfortable peasant clothing he acquired in Camellia’s house. The clothes he wore as he lay on the ground for months as he studied magic and Camellia studied the runes.

He’s never changed. Not even once. He smelled the clothing, and now does he realize its offense to the noses.

He eyed around the area and reluctantly set his eyes upon a clothesline, all with hung shirts and pants and undergarments, drying under the sky, fluttering with the fresh scent of eastern winds. He eyed the ragged clothing, looked at his dirty cloth, and exchanged them.

It feels better, he thought. A little looser, yet the same itchiness and now slightly wet. But it’ll do.

He began to drag the runed sack of armor towards the near village. It was still kind of heavy, but much lighter than a normal sack full of heavy plate.

*****

Andrej dragged the sack into an inn (first floor, he requested). When the innkeeper asked if the payment was up-front, Andrej realized he had no gold in him.

“No,” Andrej said.

“Hm,” the innkeeper, a rather intimidating and muscular woman, said. “And how long are you staying?”

“I uh…” Andrej thought. “I’m not sure.”

“That’s fine,” the innkeeper said. “However, I’ll be asking for payment every two days.”

“F… fine with me.”

“Good.” The innkeeper took a piece of paper and wrote strange symbols.

“Excuse me,” Andrej said. “What are you writing?” He pointed at the paper.

“Oh, this? This is just that new way of writing.”

“New writing?”

“You haven’t heard?”

Andrej shook his head.

“It’s a whole new system of writing that’s not based off words, but of sounds.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s… it’s uh… Look. Put your luggage in your room and go to that tinkershop across the street.”

“Why? What’s over there?”

“The tinker over there was the one who taught this writing to the village. Go, go, go!” As Andrej caught the key the innkeeper tossed, he dragged his sack toward the number, looking at people standing patiently in line behind him.

“Oh,” he said.

 *****

Andrej walked over to the tinkershop. It is like most tinkershops he has seen before the king banned their presence in the capital. Odd steam machines, furnaces, small metallic things he never learned the name of.

He loved it. He was curious of it all. He wanted to learn more about it.

Among the strange contraptions and tools, he saw a short, bearded man, smashing a piece of metal on anvil. “Excuse me,” Andrej said.”

The bearded man raised his goggles and set his eyes on the young man by the door. “What do you want?”

“I’m here to ask you about the new writing?”

The bearded man looked at Andrej, set his work into a pool of water, and placed his goggles on a table. “Since I brought this language to the village, I have never been able to work on my craft.”

“Well, um,” Andrej inched away, “If this is a bad time…”

“No, no, no.” The tinker said. “You’ve bothered me already, might as well go do it now. What’s your name?”

“Andrej,” he answered. “Andrej… Milovich.” Suddenly he remembered the royal ancestry in his last name.

“All right, Andrej Milovich. My name’s William Masterey. Tinker. Well let’s get this started.”

William opened a shelf and handed Andrej a parchment. “Straight from the printing press,” he said.

“From what?”

“New invention here. Got it from the lower world. Apparently they’ve had those things for centuries.”

“Huh.” Andrej took a look at the parchment and can only see the strange symbols. “What do these all mean then?”

“Those also come from the lower world. A writing system based not on words, but on sound!”

“The innkeeper told me that,” Andrej said. “But I don’t really understand what she’s talking about.”

“Ah, okay, let’s give an example here.” William took a piece of carbon and etched out the rune ‘clever’ on paper. “You know what this reads? Can you read?”

“I can read, yes. That says clever.”

“Now, in the new system, I write this.” William then drew those strange new symbols in succession. “That also reads clever.”

“How?”

“Well, this part in the beginning symbolizes the loud ‘k’ sound, the next symbolizes the ‘lah’ sound… are you understanding this? Andrej?”

Andrej stared at the strange writing of ‘clever’ on the piece of paper. Then he turned his eyes on the parchment on his hand. Then back to ‘clever.’

“By the Gods…” Andrej understood instantly what this new writing system was. “By… God Wisdom.”

“Are you getting it, Andrej?”

Andrej did not have to answer. William understood by the boy’s amazed look that he has just understood the power of the new language.

In Andrej’s mind, the possibilities of this new language are endless.


Chapter 6
Jack
fallsilently

“That was a hell of a fight, huh, Tristan?” Anton asked. “Hell of a battle.”

“Aye,” Tristan answered, eyeing the infirmary tent behind Anton. “It was quite a battle.” Bodies, living and dead poured wheeled in and out of the tent, the dead laid evenly near a stack of bags. “It’s a good thing we survived.”

“Aye,” Anton answered, “I’ve been fighting for a month and this is the bloodiest I’ve seen. Those rebels are getting better.”

“There’s been more and more of them. It’s not just about battle tactics,” Tristan took a sip from his cup. “It’s much faster to train people to shoot a gun than to train them the sword, spear, or especially magic. That takes months just for the theory, I hear.”

“Yeah!” Anton said. “You’re right, you’re right… that’s clever.”

“Thank you,” Tristan said, “It was something my friend said though, not mine.”

“Where is he now?”

“Missing. Possibly dead. Maybe both.”

“Oh.” Anton said. “I see.”

Tristan put down his cup. “I’ve been away from home for three months. Been in the war total for four.”

“Much longer than I have.”

“Aye. But this is still the bloodiest day I’ve seen.”

“When are you going to go home again?”

“Not in awhile.”

“Why? Don’t you have family?”

“I do, but recall that Cain and Abel were also family.”

Tristan thought about this metaphor a bit and quickly added, “No, actually I worked pretty well with my brother, but…”

“You have a brother huh? I have a sister in the Fulrin. She’s covering for us in the back lines.”

“Really now?” Tristan asked. “That’s kind of like Andrej.”

“Who?”

“That friend I told you about.”

Anton nodded, but before he could say anything, Commander O’Nim stood in front of them and yelled, “Attention!”

*****

“What?” Tristan rose after the announcement, while commotion arose among the ranks, he noticed several people getting up to object.

“That is unnecessary, Commander!” another soldier said.

“Who issued this decree?”

“My sister is a tinker! Will I have to execute her too?”

“Aye.” The Commander answered coldly. “All of them. King’s orders.”

“Are you sure this is the only way?” Tristan asked. “I thought the empire’s soldiers were supposed to be everything good! Why do we kill civilians then?”

“Save the idealism for poets, soldier,” O’Nim answered, “The men you kill in the battlefront is the same worth as any peasant or tinker.”

“But soldiers are ready to die! Doesn’t that make any difference?”

“Everyone that thinks realize that they’re all going to die anytime, even when they don’t realize it, soldier. Whether they’ve ever gotten ready to face the inevitable is their business.”

“But… but…”

“If it’s that hard for you, then think theology. The Goddess Fate must have already made whatever comes to be as an outcome. Death is one of her inevitabilities. You are simply the agent of her will.”

“This is not a topic of philosophy! This is…”

“Enough, soldier! No more questions! From anyone.” O’Nim walked back to his tent, leaving behind outraged yells of the soldiers. Some other soldiers rose up to defend the King’s decision with rebuttals and some with fists. Tristan walked away in horror to his tent, leaving the messy fight behind him. Anton followed.

“Hey, don’t get so worked up,” Anton said. “They’re just peasants. What’s more, they’re supplying rebels.”

“Let me go.” Tristan walked faster.

“You’ve been killing rebels for four months. If you’ve had an aversion to killing, you should’ve realized it before now!”

“I thought we were on the side of honor and good, Anton. I really did. Tomorrow we’re going to kill tinkers that might have nothing to do with this war.”

“Yet they may have everything to do with this war. You never know.”

Tristan kept quiet.

“Did you ever for a second think war is honorable?” Anton asked.

Tristan did not answer as he entered his tent. Anton did not follow or wait for an answer. He walked away and headed toward his own tent, sighing.


Chapter 5
Jack
fallsilently

“How could we lose to these barbaric rebels!” King Francis of Lerciveu pounded his fist on the table and his eleven council members reflexively leaned backward.

“Well, my lord,” General Duzheny said, “As I’ve said, these peasant firearms are simply faster and much more efficient! Our soldiers fall like flies in their presence.”

“We have magic!” The King yelled. “Magic! The teachings of the gods! Why are we not razing their front with fire?”

“Once again, my lord, they are simply too fast and destructive! While the Fulrin mages prepare their rituals, the peasants blast through our ranks with guns and cannons. They are simply too fast.”

“Unritualized magic, you say?! Our magic is from the gods themselves! How could their magic stand up to ours?” He turned towards Lord Gibran, leader of the mages guild. “Explain this, Master Gibran!”

“I have nothing more to say, my lord, the General has told everything! Their tools are just too quick! Our magic just cannot compete with such firepower! Such speed!”

“You Fulrin mages are supposed to be the best in your field! How can your magic lose to the magic of those illiterate peasants?!”

Everyone looked at King Francis for a moment, all of them quiet and too afraid to speak.

“Well?” More quiet followed the uncomfortable meeting room.

“My lord,” Headmaster Teresa, head of the Anavale University spoke up and broke the silence. “General Duzheny bought me a gun he captured from an enemy musketeer…”

“Oh?” King Francis’ mood changed. “And how about it?”

“The scholars took it apart for research and well…”

“Well? Out with it then!”

“We have no idea, my lord. It may be hard to believe, but these weapons have no magic in them whatsoever!”

There was quiet again as the king—and everyone present processed this information in their heads.

 “I don’t understand,” King Francis said to Teresa. “Are you saying that our mages have been completely outdone by something completely nonmagical?”

“Aye, my lord,” headmaster Teresa said, carrying with her the musket she examined with her colleagues. “None of us can find a trace of magic in the thing.”

“But it shoots metals from its snout! It makes holes in armor! It blasts fire! How could you say that it is not magic?”

“We know, sir. But this is no sorcery! Rather, this seems to be the work of… well…”

“Of what, of what?!”

“This seems to be the work of a tinker, my lord.”

“A tinker!” King Francis’ eyes widened at the thought. A tool made by one of those dirty oil-slicked barbarians. Those who refuse to bow to the teachings of magic; teachings of the gods, and decide to live inside the cold, hollow world of steel and steam and fire. “How could our mages lose to dirty tinkers?!”

“I… well… it’s just…” Lord Gibran stammered.

“Answer, Gibran! You and your worthless guild…”

“My lord, I know the situation is dire, but you must not take this out on Master Gibran!” General Duzheny rose from his seat.

“Then what do you suggest we do, good general?”

“Well, if what Teresa says is correct then, well, we might need the help of other tinkers!”

“A tinker in the royal castle! Helping us?” The king laughed, but quickly straightened his face again. “Are you mad? No!”

“What other choice do we have, my lord?!” Teresa stood up. “We are losing the fight! We need the opinions of experts in this field!”

“They built these accursed machines! Why would they help us?”

“My lord, you’re being unreasonable.” Gibran even spoke up. “I’m sure not all of them…” he stopped talking as King Francis stared him down.

“Why are you all defending those heretics?” King Francis asked. “You all know what they did!”

“Just because of one event, my lord…”

“Their little accident killed dozens!”

“They didn’t…”

“They killed my son!”

Silence broke through the cracks again, after those feared words escaped the king’s mouth.

“They didn’t mean to, my lord.” Lord Gibran said, “Your son just loved those tinker creations… he was just… too close and…”

“Enough! Those tinkers have done enough damage in my empire! Duzheny!”

“W…what?”

“Order the extermination of all tinkers in Lerciveu,” said the king, followed by the outraged yells of most council members.

 “My lord, be reasonable!”

“Why, lord Francis?”

“This isn’t like you, my lord, please reconsider!”

“This way no more of those accursed weapons will be made!” King Francis said again.

“That will not solve anything, my lord!”

“What about the weapons out now?”

“That’s right! We still need to find a way to stop the current wave of firearms!”

“If I know tinker creations,” said King Francis, “It’s that they need proper and constant maintenance. Who else but the tinkers?”

“King Francis, stop! Be reasonable!”

“This is needless cruelty, my lord!”

“Out!” King Francis yelled. “Out of the room! This meeting is over!”

“But—“

“OUT!”

Seconds later, all eleven of the council members stood up and walked through the door. Duzheny, Gibran, and Teresa stayed longer, but wordlessly decided to follow the other eight. After Duzheny, out last, closed the door, the king sat there alone.

They’d never understand, he thought. What has tinkers brought to us but destruction? Death? Explosions? Steam abominations, dirty smells, and now these guns?

He turned his chair back to look at the large painting of his great-great grandfather, King Farris, founder of Lerciveu, displayed with full royal regalia and a runic sword in his hand. He opened a locket that hung from his neck, showing his son’s picture. He scowled.

And just as swiftly, he left the room and closed the door.


Chapter 4
Jack
fallsilently

Months after Andrej first went inside this house, he woke up in the late of night, surrounded by pencils, papers, an easel, his scrapped armor, and books. Books that were planned to be for Camellia’s education, but now found a new purpose for Andrej.

Camellia brought books in at the beginning of their teaching. Hard, difficult books which Andrej told to return. Not suited for a beginning reader, he thought. Useless. Until he found that one book, that is.

The Basics of Magic by Maerlyn, Grand Warlock of the North.

As he opened the pages, read the introduction, skimmed through the content, closed the book and reread the author’s name, he had to ask.

“Camellia,” he asked, “Where did you get these books?”

“The priestess of the God Wisdom,” she said. “I don’t think she was using these books.”

What luck, he thought. Is this the Goddess Fate’s intervention?

While Camellia studied alphabets and pronunciation, Andrej studied the theory of magic and practiced drawing sigils. He practiced coursing energy, memorizing sigil shapes, and etching them carefully onto his equipment.

Months later, after studious work and teaching, he was finally ready.

He took out a piece of paper with a drawn sigil under his pillow. He put his hand on it and coursed his energy to the sigil.

The room suddenly appeared dimly bright to him. Not as good as the sun, but it was better than the natural dark of night. In his mind, he danced at the thought that he was able to cast his first spell without a major mistake.

He then grabbed another piece of paper with another sigil drawn. This one he placed on the floor. He concentrated on the sigil and transferred his energy to it, which gave him energy back in the form of warmth. He placed that warmth on the broken leg and closed his eyes, fearing nasty results.

He felt his bones shift as the warmth took over. It was a strange feeling, he thought. IT was not painful, but he did feel something moving in there. But seconds later, the feeling was gone.

He slowly stood up, tried his newly recovered legs, for the first time in months he walked without the help of a staff.

Amazing.

Carefully, attempting to not make a sound, he donned his armor, all etched with new runes to help him escape without the outside village assaulting him, the Lerciveu dog, the soldier, with a barrage of gunfire. While other soldiers liked the rune of speed on their boots, Andrej carefully wrote the silence rune. While others preferred the rune of protection on their breastplate, Andrej wrote in the rune of stealth.

Andrej also etched in sigils on his gauntlets, one was that first spell of his, the one that makes him able to see in the dark. The other for more offensive uses.

One he hopes he is never forced to use outside the battlefield.

Though ashamed, he took a bag from Camellia’s house and stored his magic book inside. Looking around for anything he might’ve missed to bring, he saw Camellia’s musket laying on a table.

Should he take it with him, he thought?

Andrej looked at the sigil carved on his left gauntlet. No need.

After equipping the full set of armor, he tested his silence rune on his boots. They work. Thankfully.

Andrej stepped out of the house when suddenly something poked him in the back.

“Leave the sword,” Camellia said behind him. “It was part of the deal.”

“How did you…”

“You taught me to read, Andrej, remember? Not perfectly, but it was functional. You kept reading that Maerlyn magic book, I was suspicious.”

“Very good. I know now I should’ve been a teacher rather than a soldier.”

“Drop the sword and I will lower my weapon.”

Andrej thought of what to do. She was intelligent, that he can infer through the speed in which she learned new letters, words, and concepts. She was quick and deadly, as thieves ought to be. Most importantly, right now, however, was that she was armed and pointed her weapon at the Andrej’s back.

Discreetly, he turned his left hand, palm facing behind him.

All he saw was a faint flash of light that disappeared as fast as it came. He turned behind him and saw Camellia on the floor.

A weak shock spell. That worked too, Andrej thought.

Quickly, he ran outside the house, activated the sigil on his right hand to see better, and followed a road westward.

He ran towards Langlar grasslands, the only place he knew in this strange part of Lerciveu.


Chapter 3
Jack
fallsilently

Tristan Steinheim walked out of the Wulfingard manor, having informed Andrej’s father of his disappearance—maybe death.

“I’m sorry, Natasha,” Tristan said to Andrej’s sister. Natasha Wulfingard, still in her mage regalia, nodded.

“I’m sorry I had to drag you out of the Fulrin Guild headquarters so I can tell you this news with your father.”

“Nay,” Natasha said, her tears clearing up. “Think not about it. I appreciate the thought.”

“Should I stay awhile longer?”

“No, but do tell the Fulrin and the guildmaster that I will be on leave for some time.”

“But why?”

“Andrej used to take care of father inbetween his education in the Academy. He planned to take care of father too inbetween his deployment, with me to keep him company once in awhile. But now…”

“I understand.” Tristan nodded. But something else had also been bothering him at the time.

“But then,” Tristan continued, “Why not hire a servant? A butler or a maid? Surely you can afford their wages.”

“Aye, but father does not trust commoners to work in his house,” Natasha answered. “He worries for his precious heirlooms.”

“I see.” Tristan answered. “Well, Natasha, I must be going now. Once again, my condolences.”

“Goodbye, Tristan, may we see each other again.”

“I’ll relay your message to the Fulrin.”

“Thank you, Tristan, goodbye.” As Tristan walked outside the beautiful garden, Natasha locked the gate behind him and walked back to the mansion.

He got on his horse and sped to the Fulrin Mages Guild, informed Natasha’s situation, and sped back to Steinheim Mansion.

The horse whinnied as he stopped suddenly in front of the gates. “Alan! Open the gate!”

“Yes, sir.” Alan the butler unlocked the gate and opened it wide. Tristan rode his horse inside and dismounted while Alan locked the gates again.

“Welcome home, Master Tristan. Shall I take Percival to the stables?”

“Yes, Alan, thank you.” Alan took Percival by his reins while Tristan ran back inside the mansion.

“Oh, welcome home, Tristan.” His mother greeted him the moment he stepped inside. “Is the war over so soon?”

“I’m on leave,” Tristan answered. “I was sent here to relay Andrej’s disappearance to House Wulfingard.”

“Andrej has disappeared?”

“Aye.”

“So sad,” Nell Steinheim did not show any emotional weight to her words. Tristan dared not to comment.

“Is Grigori in his room?”

“As always. Won’t you take your armor off first before seeing him?”

“Nay.” Tristan walked toward the room on the far left of the hallway.

“The boy never learns,” remarked his mother.

“Grigori,” Tristan said as he opened the door. “How are you? Did they treat you well?”

“Tristan!” Tristan’s little brother lay on his bed. “I’m okay. Mother and father have been kind. How about you?”

“What?” Tristan asked. “Nothing can hurt your big brother! I’m all right!”

Though Tristan will never tell him about that bullet he had to catch with his thigh.

“I’m glad, brother. I was worried.”

“You don’t need to worry about me! I’m Tristan Steinheim, holder of the great Steinheim blood! We’re invincible!”

“I’m not,” Grigori coughed. He took a drink from the bedside table, drank a pill, and smiled.

“Of course you are! You’ll get better. Hey, and when you do, and this war is over, we’ll play together again, okay?”

“Okay.”

*****

“Here,” Andrej handed Camellia a piece of paper after writing on a stack of books Camellia brought. “These are basic runes you need to memorize.” In it contained the symbol for basic actions like 'eat, drink, sleep, and phonetic morpheme symbols.

“To me, these are nothing but chicken scratch.”

“Aye, but…”

“They look like chicken scratch as well. Are you sure you know how to write?”

“Do you desire to read or do you not?”

“Fine, I will be a good student.”

“Anyway, once you are able to read everything on this paper, we will consider your first lesson complete.”

“There are a lot of things here for me to memorize!”

“Hey, that's nothing. Do you realize how many symbols this language has? One for each word. You're barely scratching the surface. Get to it." Andrej began to rummage through the books while Camellia grudgingly memorized each chicken scratch symbol.
 

*****

“Do you have to go today, brother?” Grigori asked, seeing after three days, his brother donned again his full armor.

“Aye, a knight’s job is never done.”

“Will you come here again?”

“Of course I will!”

“Will you come back soon?”

“That I cannot promise, Grigori.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll try to come back as soon as possible.”

“Good luck, brother. May the God Power protect you.”

“And may the Goddess Mercy heal your illness.”

Tristan closed the door behind him upon seeing his parents, Gerard and Nell Steinheim face him. “What do you two want?”

“Son,” Gerard began. “Don’t come back here for awhile.”

“Why?”

“Stay in the battlefield. Slay peasants and carve a good name for the Steinheim family.”

“Nay, father, I’d rather be here than in that accursed, bloody place.”

“If you make us a good name and become the King’s successor, you can hire the best of clerics to cure your brother!”

“Father, there are at the very least ten families striving for the king’s favor.”

“Do you not understand, son,” Nell said, “That this benefits us all, including your brother?”

“I am going, mother.” Tristan said, walking toward the front door.

“If you keep going forward and not turn back, you might find the cure to your brother’s ailment in distant lands. Better chances of so than coming back here every month or so.”

Tristan stopped dead as his hand touched the knob.

“Carve the peasants and stay alive for long. Maybe a miracle would happen. Think about it, Tristan dear.”

“Do you expect me to trust you in his matters after what you’ve done?” Tristan asked.

“Tristan! We…”

Tristan walked out the door and slammed it shut


Chapter 2
Jack
fallsilently

Camellia’s house—if one could call it that, is a wooden shack on the outskirts of a bigger village. He lay in a corner of the house, with bandages wrapped around his shoulder and leg. His armor scrapped beside him—and with his sword somehow still kept tightly in his hand. To see a wounded man, bandaged, hurt, and ultimately vulnerable fiercely refuse to let go of a sword was bizarre, Camellia thought. But to Andrej, the sword was his only bargaining chip. Without it, he could be thrown out back to the cold, unnursed and unable to move.

“Camellia,” Andrej said.

“What?”

“Do you not have a healer or a cleric in this village that will speed up my recovery?”

“Nay.”

“Why not?”

“Few people are educated enough in this village to be able to read and study magic.”

“Ah.”

“And even then, those who do will not take a liking to your kind.”

“My kind?”

“Soldiers. Dogs of Lerciveu. You must remember what war you fight, do you not?”

“The peasant rebellion. Aye.” Andrej sighed. “So you do have a cleric in this village?”

“Aye,” Camellia answered. “A priestess of the god Wisdom.”

“And she will not help me?”

“Nay.”

“Damn.”

Camellia sighed and walked outside the straw house. As she left, Andrej began to imagine his days as an academy student, running to the library inbetween his training to read books. Mostly novels, fictional tales of the great wizard Maerlyn or tales of the other round table members. Sometimes, though, he scanned through books of magic, read of its rituals or the magic sigils needed to cast certain spells while comparing it side by side to the descriptions of Maerlyn’s spells in the fiction books.

Most were incredibly inaccurate.

While this could’ve made an interesting anecdote about the realization of the falseness of childhood heroes, he focused more on the spells he read in those magic books.

How did a basic healing spell go again?

He attempted to trace a sigil on the dirt floor, constantly rethinking the page he read in the book.

Andrej traced a circle on the ground, carefully making it as perfect as he can. He moved on to make a smaller circle in the middle, then straight, symmetrical lines from the center circle to the outer.

It looked like some strange sun. Or eyeball.

To tell the truth, Andrej has never casted a spell in his life. He read those magic books only for the enjoyment of his Maerlyn books, and never really figured out what to do next. According to the Maerlyn books, all he needed to do now was place his hand over the sigil and concentrate.

Then again, fiction was not always truthful to him.

What is the difference, then, he thought. The medics he saw in the academy did the same thing. Take a piece of paper with a sigil drawn on it and concentrate. What could be so different from what they were doing?

As he moved his hand to try for himself, another thought occurred.

What if this is the sigil for the wrong spell? What if it’s a fire spell? Or an explosion spell? Or a spell that releases toxic mist?

All of a sudden, Andrej decided to draw his hand back and not touch the sigil.

“What are you doing?” Camellia walked back in the house. She saw the sigil marking on the ground. “What is that?”

“Not a thing.”

She stepped on the sigil and covered the traces with dirt. “Were you trying to cast a spell so you could escape?”

“I do not know how to cast a spell. I have never done so.”

“I expected as much.”

Andrej turned his head quickly toward Camellia’s direction. “What? What do you mean?”

“Scholars learn to read. As do clerics. Mages learn to write and draw mystic sigils. But our kind, knights and thieves have no use for reading.”

“Hm.” Andrej replied with the only thing he can think of. “Is that so?”

“Aye.”

“I’ll have to disagree.”

Camellia scoffed. “Then tell me, knight, what use do I have for reading?”

“For one, you can be anything but a thief.”

“I am not of noble birth. I will not be able to enter any academy for any education.”

“You can be a merchant.”

“Nay. Why question me so? Can you read?”

“Aye.” Andrej said. “I can read.”

“Is that why your frame is small?”

“What?”

“Did you spend your time reading books rather than training?”

“I… well…”

“Aye?”

“Aye.”

Camellia smiled. She shook her head while eyeing the small frame of her captive/patient. “So then,” she said. “You’re the fool. Your hobby has cost you proficiency of your actual job. If you like to read so much, why not become a scholar?”

 “It’s a long story I’d rather not repeat.”

“Hm.”

Again, the trailing silence followed.

“Hey,” Camellia said.

“What?”

“Can you teach me to read?”

“Huh?”


Chapter 1
Jack
fallsilently

As the battlefield dust blew away, Langlar grasslands revealed itself, green grass stained red and yellow from blood and vomit alike. Andrej lay bloody, down in the field. A broken leg, a shot at the shoulder threw him off his horse and into his leg—the impact of his heavy armor crushed his frail lower frame and down he went tumbling down a hill. A bloody body, a twisted leg, battered armor. This pitiful combination made him like a corpse. A blood-soaked corpse in a field full of countless others.

Andrej’s sword, its blade adorned with three magic runes remained in his hand, one of the enchantments being strength; a great grip, and never slip. Even through all the ordeals, it remained firmly on his palm, and Andrej, who carved the runes himself, felt some pride at that. The other two runes, however, symbolized protection and power—and those he knew it didn’t help him in that regard. He sighed.

Not far by he heard rustling. Clangs of metal. Dainty footsteps on the blood-soaked earth. Someone is coming by him, and Andrej wondered who.

Could it be the fabled Valkyrie? The warrior of the gods descending to earth, taking the souls of the fallen to high Valhalla? The dainty steps came closer, and though in pain, Andrej can still use his eyes quite clearly.

If it was the Valkyrie, then, Andrej thought the stories were highly exaggerated. Rather than the tall, intimidating, armored goddess of war he expected, she was a girl wearing simple clothes, carrying stacks of armors, swords, belts and assorted items on a cart.

Ah, Andrej thought, a corpse plunderer.

Abominable work, he thought. But it says something about this peasant rebellion. If conditions are as bad that mere children need to loot dead soldiers in a battlefield, a rebellion is actually quite expected.

What interested Andrej more was that the girl was holding a firearm. The very symbol of the peasant rebellion. A new way. New technology. A new path that seems to symbolize freedom from the chains of serfdom and from a government system oiled by the blood of the workers.

Their manifesto, anyway.

The weapon she was holding seemed to be the most common; a musket. The armed girl looked around the battlefield for anything of value.

She came closer to where Andrej lay, looked down…

Oh no.

She sat on her knees examined Andrej’s sword. Andrej knew of this sword’s value. Its blade still sparkling new with freshly-etched runes inscribed on the blade. Runes she might not able to read, but runes are quite the symbol of a quality. A sign that a scholar or a mage (or an overeducated knight) has touched the blade and blessed it. Moreover, it did not have the haunting red stains of blood on the blade. Though ashamed, Andrej admitted he never got to kill anyone. While each and every Lerciveu soldier around him died with their blade stained red, his blade was still shining clear—save for the runes, that is.

As she tried to pry the sword off of Andrej’s rune-strengthened grip, Andrej had no choice but to speak.

“Cease, commoner.”

The girl quickly stepped back and pointed her weapon at Andrej’s head. “Are you human, soldier? Or but a lich?”

“I am human. Lower the weapon. I am defenseless.” The girl, however, did not lower the musket. “You’ve taken a fancy to my blade, it seems.”

“Aye. Even I can tell it is well-crafted.”

“Can you read the runes inscribed on it?”

“Nay.”

“One of the runes etched there symbolizes strength. It gives the wielder of this blade a strong grip of the hilt. You cannot pry my sword off that easily.”

“That’s a crying shame, isn’t it?”

“However, I am willing to make a deal.”

A deal? Andrej chuckled in his mind. Funny, it seems he’s the one lying helpless on the ground while she’s the one with a musket and several swords in her cart.

“Do tell.” She’s listening!

“If you free me and nurse me to health, I shall give you this sword in return.”

In Andrej’s view, there were only two things that could happen now. She could either shoot his head, letting the enchantment die with him, or chop his hand off and leave him to a grisly death. More unlikely, she will not take the deal and leave him dying in the cold night with a bloody shoulder and a broken leg.

But what he’s hoping, however is that she will take the bait and take him to whatever dwelling she resides in. Very unlikely, but with such pain in his leg, it is the best plan he can think of.

As she thought over the offer, he came up with other plans, less plausible plans than his current one.

“Fine,” she says in the middle of his thoughts.

“What?”

“I’ll take you home.”

Oh gods, yes, Andrej thought. Happy was he that the plunderer was a mere child. If she was a bit older, the less naïve mind might kill him on the spot. He thanked the goddess Fate for her kindness.

Yet he shouted curses at the sky upon feeling the sharp pains in his broken leg as the girl dragged him to the cart. Later on, Andrej would remember this ironic time and laugh. But now, he was too pained to not shout profanities to the gods.

When he landed on the hard cushion of metal armor, he screamed even harder. The girl propped up his broken leg on the cart edge, still eyeing the rune-etched sword in Andrej’s hand.

“Are those real runes? Not just random scratches?”

“Yes.”

“They look ugly.”

Andrej opened his mouth to reply, but has nothing to say.

As the girl picked up the cart and rolled eastward, Andrej asked for the girl’s name.

“Camellia. Yours?”

“Andrej. Camellia… sounds awfully nice for a commoner.”

“You’re awfully light and skinny for a soldier.”

“Oh, hush.” Andrej lay on his metal pillows and rested at those words, attempting to sleep.


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