After his father’s capture, Mirohirokon spent almost three full days in the Sun Etherium, waiting for word he knew would not come, soliciting aid he knew he would not find. By afternoon on the third day, he’d endured all he could stomach. He gathered his aether, made sure all his enchantments were fully charged, and returned to the Broken Lands.
This time he headed southwest, for Try Again, a barbarian hamlet over a hundred miles from the Sun Etherium.
Here, the Broken Lands were hospitable, even pleasant. The barbarian farms of the fey shard were on gentle, terraced slopes. Some were already harvested and bare save for broken stalks littering rich dark loam, while others had crops still ripening. This developed landscape contrasted with the wilderness of the Old World, the mortal plane that the fey shard overlay. The Old World here was a rolling prairie of tall grasses and scrubby bushes. Although it had been a hundred years since the fey shard had last overlain this particular world, the mortals here still considered these lands cursed.
For most of the journey, Mirohirokon stayed on the roads of the fey shard and didn’t interact with mortal land. But when the gentle fey hills became steep, he shifted to the flat underlying mortal world and walked the prairie wilderness instead of following the winding fey road. Even with that shortcut, if he’d had to make the journey unassisted by aether, it would’ve taken five days.
Equipped with his walking boots, Miro reached the outskirts of Try Again in little more than an hour.
The hamlet was a farming community, with single houses set apart on several acres of cultivated crop lands and fenced pastures. A few of the homes had been built entirely of natural materials, or at least pretended they were: little cabins of logs, plain off-white stone, and hard orange-brown bricks. Others must have been made in the Sun or Moon Etherium, and relocated or assembled on site: an elegant ivory pagoda; a translucent palace made in miniature, perhaps a hundred feet long with towers no more than thirty feet high; a marble dome raised on columns, with crystal windows between each. Most were somewhere between: small, tidy structures made primarily of wood and stone, but with glass windows and fused-tile roofs that would never leak or sag.
Well shy of what passed for the heart of Try Again, Miro stopped. From an inner pocket of his jacket, he produced a scrying mirror and a notebook with a leather cover, both about the size of his palm. With one finger, he sketched the rune for “person” in the air above the mirror. It showed him the nearest other fey: a beefy squirrel-tailed man clinging to the side of a house as he fixed a crooked shutter. Miro opened the notebook to a page of sketches and names, and set it in the air before him, where it hung unsupported. He flicked his fingers over the mirror, switching from one person in Try Again to the next. Many of the barbarian fey of Try Again were emigrants from the Moon Etherium, where tastes in shape and size were far more eclectic than in Sun Etherium. In the Sun Etherium, most fey wore human-like shapes with elongated ears. They were taller than humans, granted, and more muscular. God-like versions of the race, perhaps, who wore the occasional affectation of horns or tails, and came in a variety of colors and hues, but still recognizable as all the same species. Here, Miro saw a tusk-mouthed ogre; two different small, slim centaurs – one more equine and the other more cervine; a six-armed naga with fey upper body and a snake tail in place of legs, entwined about a tree as she implanted cuttings; a chubby aquatic-adapted fey with webbed feet and hands fishing in the river; and more: an astonishing variety, especially for individuals who had to have trueshifted into such forms.
It did make it easy to locate the specific fey he sought, among people so wildly different. While there were a dozen or two fey in the human-like shapes of the Sun Host, there was only one man with the head and tail of a horse, and while there were three different satyrs, only one of them was a towering female figure with rich, warm brown skin. Miro made a rune-mark on the scrying mirror over both the horse-headed man and the last satyr, as he came to them. After he reached the satyr, he closed the notebook and tucked it away.
Miro scrutinized the final figure, still shown in the mirror. She sat on a bench in a small park at the heart of Try Again, with a few buildings visible in the background. A naga was with her, this one with only two arms, and three nervous-looking mortal men stood before them. Even seated, she was almost as tall as the mortals. Her hooved, goat-like legs were bare of adornment save their fur, and too long for the bench. They stretched before her, crossed at the ankles. She wore a sleeveless off-white chiton draped over powerful shoulders and covering a copious bosom. The garment belted at the waist and ended at her thick-furred thighs. She had masses of curly black hair held back by gold combs, and two small horns on her forehead. Gold crescent earrings adorned her caprine ears, and a wide gold necklace encircled her throat. Her expression was open and kind, smiling as she talked to the nervous mortals. Miro watched her for a few moments. The mortals relaxed as they spoke to her. Miro lifted one hand to make the gesture to let him hear their conversation through the mirror, then aborted the motion. He shook his head and snapped the scrying mirror’s cover closed over the image. He squared his shoulders, oriented himself, and crossed the remaining distance to the village park.
Mirohirokon halted in the lee of a house near the village center, and clicked his heels to disable the walking boots’ enchantment. The satyress was taking pains to put those mortals at ease; no need to throw unnecessary magic in their face and alarm them all over again. Besides, walking the last twenty yards at a normal pace would give him a moment to evaluate the woman with soulsight and adjust his plans accordingly.
He turned the corner of the building with determined strides, looked to the group, and staggered to a halt.
Mortals’ souls appeared ordinary enough: radiant, translucent shapes primarily in healthy colors. But smears of sickly yellow-green marred them, suggesting issues with greed on one, and a struggle with laziness in another. Nothing Miro would condemn anyone for: everyone struggled. The oldest of the men had a wide streak of gangrenous corruption, indicative of cruelties he’d enacted, slashed deep into his soul. Miro didn’t like the look of it, but he’d seen worse. Far worse, and recently. The naga looked solid and likeable: his soul’s radiance wasn’t strong, but it had few dim parts and only modest fragments of sickly green in it.
But the satyress…
She was glorious.
Her soul had a sparkling radiance he’d never seen before on anyone. It was a bonfire of red and orange that refracted like a rainbow. No wonder she made the mortals more relaxed: their souls bent towards her glow like flowers turning to the sun. No sickly colors smeared streaks into her soul, no dull spots, no corruption. In the forty-four years he’d had soulsight, he’d never seen a soul so shockingly clean, so astonishingly beautiful. He wished he was not the only fey who had soulsight, that he could share this wondrous vision with someone.
“Well, hello, stranger,” she drawled, and Miro flushed at how long he’d been staring at her. “You all right?”
He forced himself to nod, to look away from her magnificence. “…yes.” He moved to her, drawn to that glow. Even the obligations of her soul that flowed from her nape floated in crisp and regular lines. Even the strings her soul held in her hands glittered. This isn’t possible. No one can be that perfect. “You are Ardent Sojourner?”
“Sure am, sugar. You needing something in particular? Kinda in the midst of sorting a few bits and bobs with these folks, here.” She gestured with a little wave to the mortals. The naga was giving him a flat stare made more effective by yellow eyes with slit pupils.
Miro stopped himself short, and drew back into a bow. “Of course. My apologies for the interruption. I am Mirohirokon of the Sun Host. If I might beg for a moment of your time, whenever is convenient for you?”
“Sure you can. Afraid I don’t have a fancy parlor for you to wait in, sweetie, but you’re welcome to have a looksee around our little park while I take care of things. Be with you in a whisker-twitch. Oh, stop glaring at the Sun lord and be nice, Relentless,” she added, poking the other fey’s serpentine lower body with the tip of one cloven hoof. Relentless made a face at her, but did stop glowering at Miro. Ardent added something in apologetic tones to the mortals. They answered in their own tongue, rapid not-quite-alien sounds that Miro could make no sense of. Her warm contralto voice made the language sound like music; even without knowing what she said, he itched to stay and listen.
Instead, Miro delivered another bow and murmured his thanks to avoid interrupting her again, then moved to the far side of the park. His mind churned with an internal argument. This changes everything.
No, it changes nothing.
She’s perfect. The Guide must have sent me to her.
She is not perfect. Good, yes, obviously she’s a good person. Obviously she’s a great person. That’s not the same as being flawless. Take another look, you’ll see. No, not right now, you idiot. Let her alone for fifteen minutes. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if she’s got great judgment and an excellent moral compass and the courage to act upon it. It’s probably worse that she has those things, because why would she trust you?
But if she will help me… It didn’t matter what his reason said. His heart felt a dozen times lighter in his chest. For the first time, what he planned to do next felt like not just something he had to do, but something that he could do.
Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print soon!