"Everyone thinks I'm weird." he groaned out the words, as though it was an excuse for something.
"That's not true. And even if it were, you shouldn't worry yourself about what everyone else thinks." his mother said, looking out across the gently rippling waters.
"Even the seers said I was weird!" he retorted. "They said they haven't decided what to do, and that I have to stay home. It's not fair." he added, a bit deflated now.
A motherly chuckle came from her throat. "Oh Azar, they didn't say you were weird. They..." she paused for a moment, a thoughtful expression finding its way to her face. She slid the handle of her fishing pole down into a small hole in the ice, allowing it to remain propped up without being pulled into the depths if something decided to take the bait. Her head turned to face Azar a little better. "No-one knows what has happened to you. You know that, love. We only want to keep you safe, and we don't want anything bad to happen by accident."
She paused and let out a small sigh, lowering her back down onto the ice. Long, orchid black hair that wasn't constrained within the fur lined hood of her woolen parka cradled the sides of her face, forming little black trails on either side of her. She coaxed him into laying down with her with a casual beckon of her hand, allowing him to rest the back of his head on her upper arm.
"It may not seem fair, and it may be difficult for a time, but you are a strong boy, Azar... You used to train with Valynard daily. You have endured so much. Think of it as another challenge." she gave pause for him to respond, tilting her head a little to look at him.
"That's different though!" he argued. "This is boring and training with Val and the men is fun. I can't even do that anymore." he said, recalling how he had hurt Tovran a week prior.
The confinement. The waiting. The wondering about what the council would decide. The boredom. The alienation. His own confusion surrounding his affliction. All these things weighed heavily on his heart, and his mother was well aware of it. She could only provide so much comfort though. As cherished as he was to her, she was painfully aware of and limited by her responsibilities as a mother, and as a member of the village.
"It's just a different kind of challenge. You used to train your mind each day as well. What do you think old Yarro would say if he saw boredom get the best of you? He will lend you any book you want until you can study at the hall again with the other children." she began to rapidly pinch the side of his belly with her fingers and thumb, causing him to squirm and curl up a little on the ice.
He didn't want to laugh- he was still going to be displeased. Despite the numerous times he'd seriously considered the events and the resulting actions the adults had taken, he always arrived at the same conclusion-- that each precaution was indeed reasonable. He just hated the fact that it was him. Why couldn't it be someone else?
"Huh? Huh?" she was sort of goading him as she attempted the diversion. "What book do you want to read? Huh? What are you gonna do?" she was relentless in her deftly executed manipulation.
Of course it worked. He erupted in laughter, squirming and trying to maneuver his torso away from her fingers.
"FINE!" he managed to blurt out between laughing and trying to breathe. "Fine fiiiine! Stop!"
"Hey! What are you doing to that boy?!" he heard a mans voice boom out from behind him. He and his mother both craned their heads back to see who was there.
With his shoulder leaned up against the side of their abode, looking smug, stood Valynard. Flowing down from his shoulders like a silken waterfall was the Watchers robe. Ivory with fine golden trim on the edges of the hood, the loose cuffs, and the bottom. Sewn into the chest of the robe was the Crest of the Emissary and the great shadow of their world behind it. He wondered how many shoulders it had rested upon during its passage through the ages.
"Val, you imbecile." his mother retorted and sat up, her lower legs still hanging over the edge of the ice where she was sitting. She uttered a brief incantation and the fishing line at the end of her pole began to reel itself in, forming a neat coil on a small hook fixed to the top end of the handle.
Valynard didn't seem offended and merely shrugged, as if to admit he probably deserved being called an imbecile.
"I suppose I've been called worse things, Yvaine." he replied.
"We'll be ready in the council chambers in half an hour. They're in recess now." Val said, shifting his attention to Azar. "Well lad? Did you catch anything?" he asked.
"Just a few hardfish." Azar replied. "I put them back though... Why do all the fishers kill them? They don't even eat them." he asked.
Valynard had sauntered over to where they were sitting and stood nearby, arms crossed as he looked out to the boats on the horizon.
"Well... They didn't always. I think it's because we no longer need them, and they'll eat anything, including the bait meant to catch the fish we do need. The fishers have important tasks, and some feel that time wasted pulling in a hardy is time that could have been spent catching something better." he sighed a little, figuring in advance that his words wouldn't change Azars mind. "Honestly, I don't think there's any way to prove killing them helps anything though."
"Well it's n--" he was responding when Val interjected. "Not fair, I know. Many things don't seem fair sometimes, like what has happened to you, for instance." he said.
"Keep at it for a while, and if you catch any more hardies, keep on throwing them back." Val smiled with a wink and a tap on the shoulder, trying to avoid the topic of what had happened to Azar, before glancing over to Yvaine. "I have a few more things to attend to before they reconvene, but I'll see you at council. Good to see you both."
"Alright Val. See you there." she replied. "Va'rel, Val." Azar replied. Val offered a slight bow of his torso to them both before turning on his heel and strolling off.
"I'm going inside to start the boil. We'll have dinner when I return from council." she said, leaning over to kiss the top of his head before she grabbed her pole out of the ice and stood. "And--" she started to say. "I know I know, don't leave home." he moaned. She flashed a motherly smile and started to walk away.
"WAIT!" he shouted back to her. "What is it love?" she asked.
"What about the book?" he'd almost forgotten.
"I will ask Yarro at council. What book would you like?"
A sly grin slid onto his lips. She had told him any book. Deep down he knew there were limitations, but he would certainly, at the very least, attempt to use this to his advantage.
"Uhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmm..." his eyes shifted upwards so to appear deep in thought. "Codex Nibiru." he said, trying his best to appear serious.
Yvaine let out one solid "HA!" and smiled at him as though she was aware of his hastily concocted scheme.
"Perhaps you should think of another, you know they don't let the codex leave the library." she suggested.
"Fiiiine... The one with the animals from the southern regions-- but ask about the codex anyway please!" he said.
"I will, and I'll see you at dinner." she said and finally made her way around their abode to go about her tasks.
Azar fished for a while longer while Yvaine went inside. It was a couple of hardfish returned to their homes and an hour or so later when he'd finally decided to retire. Plus, he expected his mother to return from council soon, which filled him with anticipation, as well as anxiety. He wondered what they had decided. If they could make him normal again. If he could go back to life as he knew it before.
When Yvaine returned home from council, Azar was seated at the table in the middle of their home. Head down, staring intently at a drawing he'd started.
"Va'lal mother." he said, but didn't turn his head away from the page.
"Va'lal, love." she replied in kind, rubbing the top of his head with her hand before she started to remove her heavier layers of woolen clothing. After hanging the garments on hooks near the entrance she moved over toward the boiling pot of water that was hung above a small, gently glowing mound of stones. She stopped for a moment to look over his shoulder at the drawing.
The tip of his tongue was poking out from between his lips at the side of his mouth, occasionally shifting to the other side while he concentrated on translating the details in his mind into details on the page.
"What is it?" she asked, her hand resting on his shoulder while she peered down onto the page from above him. "It sort of looks like a hardfish."
"Sort of. She has 12 little eyes and spikey teeth and thick plates like hardies." he tried to explain. There were no other objects illustrated on the page to bring its size into context for an observer. "She's REAAAALLLLYY long, and big as a mountain. She's magic, and people can live inside of her body and travel through the sea, or even the sea beyond the skies, like Nibiru does."
"Is that so?" she replied and moved over to the boiling pot. She'd added the main ingredients before leaving for council, but sprinkled in some extra spices before beginning to stir and occasionally taste the stew.
"How will she live in the sea beyond the skies? Nibiru is a world of great, and very smart beings." she said.
"She's magic mom." he reiterated that fact bluntly. "Yarro says it's everywhere, and all around us. Why couldn't she be magic too?" he asked.
Yvaine laughed a little bit. "Well, I suppose I don't really know. Either way, it's a fine drawing."
He drew for a few more minutes before hearing the sound of a sharp suckle from behind, that of a finger being cleaned off by her lips. "It's ready Azar. Please clear your pencils and paper off the table and wash your hands." she said, getting the necessary utensils and bowls ready as he did as he was asked, sliding the small tray everything was on beneath his bed in the adjoining room.
When he returned, two large wooden bowls were on the table, steam rising from the contents of each. She'd already been seated, and he pulled up a chair beside her.
"Sooooo... did they figure out how to make me normal again?" he asked the burning question.
"No love. Not yet. There is much we discussed, but that is a bigger conversation for tomorrow, yes?" she replied, bringing her spoon to her lips and slurping down some of the hot broth.
"Great... I'm going to be bored forever..." he sort of whimpered before taking in a mouthful of the stew. It was delicious, and his enjoyment of it was painted on his face.
Yvaine watched him for a moment, feeling the weight of being so helpless to him. She knew it was no-ones fault, but as a mother, it was a great burden to bear. The fact that he so clearly enjoyed the stew warmed her heart a little bit though.
"The caravans from the southern regions were here last week, so I traded some of our seal pelts for some elk meat and other spices." she said, figuring that the use of different ingredients may have been what lended itself to the fresh experience. There were various sources of meat and spices in the far north, but certain things required trade with far off nations. Things that were simply in lack of abundance in their region.
"It's really good mom. I wish the traders would come here more often." he replied, stuffing his face again after he was finished speaking.
She chuckled. "Me too." was her reply.
"Oh!" he said before swallowing his food, almost drooling out a little stream of broth from his lips. He swallowed it down, but Yvaine was looking at him, aware he had something to say.
"Diiiiid you get the book?" he asked over to her.
She sighed, "No, love, sorry. Not the codex, but Yarro did lend you the one with the various animals. It's in the bag by the door. You can read it after supper before bed."
He shrugged, and didn't seem too distraught over the fact he hadn't got the book he wanted. He knew it was probably out of the question from the very start, so there wasn't much to be upset over.
"Oh.. Well thank you for asking. I haven't read all of the animal book yet anyway." he said, as if to convey to her that he wasn't upset. "Plus, it gives me ideas for things to draw." he added.
"See? You won't be bored." she smirked over at him, trying to be somewhat comforting anyway. She knew that a boy his age needed more than drawing, reading and fishing to stay occupied, but it was something at least.
"You can draw giant, magical, vicious cats and berry bears and cliff boars and all of the other animals we never see here." she said with a tone of intrigue and wonder in her voice, as if to say she'd be interested to see what his imagination came up with. "Then you can show all your friends when you go back to study."
He was eating like any boy would be, but he seemed preoccupied with whatever was on his mind. Perhaps the animals in the south. Or the sea beyond the skies. It could have been any number of things. A 13 year olds mind would have the tendency to wander, after all.
Before he knew it, they were done and his mother was asking him to go clean out the bowls and utensils while she picked things up inside.
Valynard had strolled up while he was outside scrubbing the bowls with shaved ice and ground herbs. Val wasn't wearing the robe any longer, only his knee length gambeson, kratornus scale armor, chausses and greaves.
"Well lad? How was the elk?" Val asked. Azar turned to face him, looking a little confused. How could he know?
"I can smell it across the village!" he said, picking up on the boys look.
"You can?" he asked. "..You can smell really good, Val. Is it from being the Veil Watcher?"
"I was just spinning a tale. Your mother had mentioned it in conversation at council." he chuckled a little. "I had you though!" he added, gently wagging his finger at Azar.
"Ha ha, very funny." Azar sort of grumbled.
Yvaine parted the thick curtains of leathery seal pelt and wooly hides to see Val and Azar. "Can't you see he's trying to clean up, Val?" she asked.
"Yes, yes. I'll leave the boy alone." Val said to her. "May I come in?" he asked. She nodded and held the curtains to the side for him.
When Azar was finished, he brought the bowls and utensils back in to find the two of them sitting at the table. Val had brought along his pipe, and was passing it to Yvaine who smiled and took it from him.
"Yuck!" Azar pinched his nose with his free hand as he walked past them to put the dinnerwares away.
Yvaine and Val both laughed.
"You may enjoy the starkelp too when you're older, Azar." Val said, but something in Vals eyes betrayed his words. Azar couldn't quite place his finger on what it was though, and simply chocked it up to the effects of the kelp.
"Can I get the book from your bag mom?" he asked.
"Of course." she replied. Azar walked past them again and rummaged into the bag, finding the book after a couple moments. The way he pulled it out and regarded it caused a bit more laughter from Yvaine and Val.
"WhaaAAAttt?!" he faced them with a furrowed brow. He wasn't offended though.
"Nothing." Yvaine said. "You. You're cute." she added, smiling like an idiot at him.
Val had caught a glance of the book amidst their brief back and forth.
"You know Azar, there are even more animals in the south than are shown in that book. So many more. I couldn't remember them all when the librarians asked me about my travels though." he said. "Once you are better, you may be able to accompany me on an expedition. Having another person to help remember would be great." he added. There it was again. Something was off about his words, but again, he couldn't quite make out what it was. Perhaps due to his young age and lack of wisdom.
"I'd love that, Val." he said.
Yvaine was smiling. "Go on and read in the other room, love. I'll be to bed in a while when Val and I are finished speaking."
Val nodded as kindly as he could with a smile on his lips. "Don't get lost in that imagination of yours." he said.
Pelts and furs separated the small bedroom from the main living area, which he parted and disappeared behind.
Azar started poring through the pages, trying to find the things he wanted to know more about, and things he'd not arrived at yet. He could hear the murmur of Val and his mothers conversations and the occasional bout of laughter, but his attention was in the pages. They were probably talking about something boring anyway, like gossip regarding new mates in the village, or someone neglecting their communal duties.
Eventually, his eyes closed and he drifted off with thoughts of his magical hardfish and other animals on his mind.
He felt conscious though, but it was dark. As dark as anything he'd ever seen. "Hello?" he felt his lips move, but he never heard a sound.
"Weird." he added. He didn't feel scared though. He didn't feel cold, or warm, but he knew he was somewhere.
After a moment he saw twinkling little specks of light around him. He tried reaching out to touch them, but they seemed too far away. More and more bright little specks appeared. No matter which direction he looked, little shimmering specks of light.
He started waving his arms and kicking his legs, as though he was swimming. He couldn't think of any other way to move himself.
"It's the sea beyond the sky!" he shouted without a sound, coming to this realization after his attempt at swimming.
He knew he was lucid, and that brought him to the conclusion that he was also dreaming.
He wanted to devote a bit more attention to the thoughts surrounding what was happening, but the eruption of a bright, undulating mass quickly caught his attention. It was so close. He couldn't see anything but this object. He wanted to back away, and the object grew smaller just as he'd desired until it was a little smaller than his fist, just floating at arms length in front of his face.
He extended an arm, index finger first, to reach out and touch the object. He could feel the object as the tip of his finger barely touched its surface, but it wasn't hot or cold. He could see its surface sort of buckle with strange elasticity, gently pushing back against his finger as he applied a little more pressure, and this exacerbated the strange undulations on the object somewhat. It felt akin to the clay they used in study one day. He pulled his finger back just a little and reached out with his other arm as well, fingers wrapping around the glowing orb. Its brightness lost a bit of intensity when he took hold of it, giving off only a soft glow then.
He squeezed it, only to watch as the orb was forced out between his fingers and the sides of his hand.
He started to shape it. His initial squeeze had already given it a somewhat elongated shape with small ridges on the top where it had tried to squeeze out between his fingers.
He used the edge of one finger nail to carve a little dot in one end, and then another, and another. The initial shape he'd given it had given him an idea.
"Twelve eyes." he said to himself, adding more little dots until there were twelve.
He started to shape the ridges into the form of the segmented shell of a hardfish.
He used his finger nail to form the maw and carve the spiny little teeth.
After a time, it was a fairly good representation of the drawing he'd been working on earlier in the day.
Bigger. It needed to be bigger.
If he'd moved away from the bright mass earlier, surely moving towards this would increase its size. At least, that was how he'd reasoned things out. He let go of the figure and simply tried moving his arms like he would have had he been trying to swim forward.
It worked, even though it shouldn't have. He wasn't aware of that though.
As he got closer, the fine details that should have remained rough seemed to take form. Creases on its face, the jeweled finish on its beady eyes, the mild translucence of its teeth, the sharp edges between each segment of its shell, the texture of them, the short spines at the ends of its pectoral and dorsal fins. While most of it bore the semblance of a hardie, it was many times longer than one would be, similar in length and general shape of an eel or a snake.
"Shes huge!!" he shouted. There would have been a look of bewonderment on his face, but he was alone here.
"Heh. No-one will ever be able to catch you." he said with a sense of satisfaction.
The closer he got, the bigger she seemed. He started 'swimming' around her, looking at all the finer details that had come into focus.
When he was next to the maw exploring all of its little crevasses and the eyes, he thought she needed a name.
"Golgo-- no." he interrupted himself. "Hmm.." he was mumbling to himself pointlessly, coasting around her facial features, examining the sharp ridges and the reflections of starlight in her glassy little eyes. Well, they were't really little, but compared to the sheer size of her they might have seemed that way.
"Anantaboga. You're Anantaboga." he said, extending his arm to point at one of the eyes before him.
"NO!" he heard his mothers voice shouting, followed by grunting and the clattering of objects.
His eyes opened only to be greeted by Valynard hovering over him and a sharp pain in his side.
"AHHH!!" he shouted, seeing the dagger rising above him again. Val had missed an immediately fatal stab, but he was seriously injured. His mother must have done something to knock his blow off the mark.
"Ana..nnt.." he coughed in a panic, and in immense pain, trying to invoke the name of his new friend. "MOM!" he shouted, his body reflexively curling into a position where he could try to protect himself from a second blow. Valynards figure blocked his sight. There were 3 streaks of blood on his face, like those left by the scratch from finger nails.
Just when he thought he was done for he saw the glint of polished steel from over Valynards shoulder as it came down into his back, followed by the shriek of fury and anger from his mother. He saw her fingers on the side of Vals face, trying to claw his eyes and fleshy cheeks and pull him away while he reeled from the knife in his back. Trying to do as much damage as she could to the man. She sounded like a vicious animal.
Val winced and turned to face his assailant, bringing the dagger away from Azar to turn it on his mother. Azar heard her whimper, and then her voice was gone. He could hear the slight shuffling of the clothes she wore rubbing on the ground near the table just outside the bedroom though. She was moving.
While trying to see from his defensive posture, he saw a glint of light on something at Valynards hip. The hilt of his sword. The white, polished handle reflecting light from the living area. Before Valynard could turn his attention back to Azar to deliver the final blow, Azar had taken the opportunity to reach for the handle and pulled.
He'd expected to hear the gentle slide of steel, but instead heard and felt a cacophonous eruption of sound and pure, blinding light. He didn't know where any of it came from, but he shouted as loudly and as fiercly as he could.
"STOP IT VALYNAAAAAAAA---" as the blade emerged further from the hilt at Vals side, the sound and the light grew louder and brighter until he couldn't even tell whether he was still screaming or not, and everything went dark.
And then he awoke, coughing and shivering. There were no dreams he could remember. Opening his eyes took some effort. His eyelashes had frozen together, it seemed, but after a moment of rubbing them, he succeeded.
A storm must have passed through. Fresh snow covered the ice, and it had drifted up against his body. It wasn't snowing any longer, but the winds howled across the cold plains with ferocity he'd never witnessed before, carrying the snow that had fallen with it. He didn't know how long he had been laying there, or how he came to arrive.
His side was covered in frozen blood, but there was no pain. He lifted his garments to check, only to see a scar. The only pain he felt was in his muscles. Every single one.
He tried to stand up, but was unable to just yet.
His stomach growled at him. His lips were cracked and tasted of blood.
He had no food. Only his clothes... and Valynards swords?
He didn't understand. Had Valynard tried to kill him and, thinking he was successful, dumped his body out in the wastes? That had to be where this was... The wastes to the west. The mountains in the south were still where they should have been though. That should not have been so.
There were no markers for anything either, which was strange. Even the wastes had markers.
"Uhhnn..." he sort of groaned out and gripped his head, just sitting there for a moment. "Mother..." he whispered.
He felt was going to die here if he didn't find a village soon. With every last bit of strength he had, he rose to his feet, using one of the swords as a prop and slinging the other one over his back. The winds ripped at his loose sleeping garments, which only worsened his chances of balancing.
He still didn't understand why the swords would be here with him if Valynard was successful in overpowering him. It was too much to take in. He took a few steps and fell to his knees, exhausted. Tears streamed from his eyes. He felt so helpless.
His final attempt to cover ground ended the same as the previous one. He made it a few steps and collapsed.
He rolled onto his back, looking up at the clouds. He could barely catch his breath, and succumbed to the small comfort of simply laying there.
It was difficult to keep his eyes open. So tired... So cold... So sore... So weak... So comfortable.. Just another minute to rest, that's all.
Each time he closed his eyes to blink, the closures lasted a little longer than the previous one.
Finally, he let them close. Not because he wanted to, but because it was too difficult to stop it.
"Just... an..other min.." his voice faded.
A loud, deep groan echoed out around him. It was akin to the sound of hot metal bending and straining and under great duress while it cooled, accompanied by thunder crackling and rumbling across the sky.
The sudden shock of such a disturbance let his eyes open.
A pattern of lights taking up nearly a quarter of the sky rapidly twinkled from within the clouds above. The pattern repeated, and eventually the clouds heaved down toward the ground until they were finally pierced and displaced by the colossal, silvery visage of beady eyes, jagged crevasses, and a maw filled with rows of needle like teeth, steam gently billowing from its hard plates. The flashes of light continued as it hovered there. He couldn't see beyond its face, but he'd have guessed the rest of it was still in the sea beyond the clouds that obscured the blue sky.
"Bigger...than a... moun...tain.." a faint smile slid onto his lips, and his eyes closed one last time, the last things he felt being only warmth and the sensation of sudden weightlessness.