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Author's Note:

"One could say, in fact, that no story really has a beginning, and that no story really has an end, as all the world's stories are as jumbled as the items in the arboretum, with their details and secrets all heaped together so that the whole story, from beginning to end, depends on how you look at it.

-Lemony Snicket (The End)

"Where do we find Maxwell?" Mithos asked Origin one night, a mug of tea warming his hands. "Does he actually exist?"

Origin sat cross-legged beside him, looking every bit the strong-backed warrior from the stories. "Why do you doubt his existence?"

"I've never heard of any rituals for him, or prayers. He's always kind of—in the stories, he's been a mix of either an incredibly powerful mage, or an actual Summon Spirit. Most stories tend to lean towards the former."

"Why can they both not be true? Why are they exclusive to each one another in your mind?" Origin had a deep, calming voice that rumbled with the warmth of a summer thunderstorm on the horizon.

Mithos narrowed his eyes at Origin suspiciously. "Where do Summon Spirits come from?"

A small, proud smile curled Origin's lips. Not many mortals thought to ask that question without looking for a philosophical or religious answer. Purely by his tone, however, Origin could tell that Mithos wanted a proper answer.

"An excellent question. One that I don't have a proper answer for."

A frown furrowed between Mithos' eyebrows, an expression reminiscent of Yuan. "How do you not know?"

"Do you remember your own birth?" Origin countered.

"Well, no."

"I do not remember mine. But I have a theory."

Mithos shifted in the grass, making himself more comfortable, his sharp gaze intent on Origin. The boy was voracious in his appetite for knowledge. "Go on."

"All of the Spirits I have known came from someone else. A mortal of some kind. And all were found in rather…dire situations."

"So you're saying that when people die, they become spirits?"

"Not all. Ones with enough will left to live. It is how many creatures are created such as ghosts. Shadow lays claim to most of them. He has always been something of a mother hen in adopting people."

"But Shadow had to come from somewhere."

"It is my theory that those close to death with particularly strong wills in a location rich in mana become Summon Spirits. We are simply concentrations of mana, after all. If the natural mana converged on a dying soul and merged with it—I believe that is how we are born."

Mithos hummed in thought, tapping his fingers against his mug. Behind them, the fire crackled and spit. Kratos shuffled in his sleep, but didn't wake.

"And the world has been low on mana for—what, a few centuries? There hasn't been a concentration of mana strong enough to produce a Summon Spirit since then."

"Just so."

Mithos fell silent for a long while. He was good company, Origin thought. Most summoners never bothered to talk much with the Spirits, but Mithos—and the others—liked to make conversation with them, asking opinions and debating on a frankly astounding variety of topics. Ratatosk, Origin knew, favored Martel since she'd been so thoroughly unimpressed with his displays of power, and Kratos because of the duality of his nature, a duality that Ratatosk shared.

Celsius was oddly fond of Yuan, for all that she didn't like other beings in general. Perhaps it was because Yuan could match her word for word in venomous arguments; Celsius always did like the rebellious types.

"Origin?" Mithos murmured, looking up at him.

(Origin sees all times at once. He sees the boy before him as a thought in his mother's mind, as a man grown, as a memory told to children at their bedsides. Whatever Mithos Yggdrasill will become—and the future is an uncertain thing, with millions of branches of possibilities—he will do great things)


"You said that all of the Spirits were near death when they were created."

Origin waited for a question.

"Do you remember dying?"

The truth was that Origin did not remember the things before this life. He knew them, the same way he knew the stars in the sky and the movement of the earth. But he knew them as facts, not memories.

The answer that Origin settled on was, "Sometimes."

"…Do you wish you didn't? Remember?"

A child of Mithos' age should not have such shadows behind his eyes. Indeed, many adults should not have had them either. Mithos had seen many horrors; perhaps he wished to forget them?

"No, I do not. These memories made me what and who I am."

(One day, several millennia later, Mithos Yggdrasill would come to sit at the foot of the Sword which Origin would forge for him in his grief. Mithos sits in silence for a long time, hours which pass like minutes to an immortal.

Finally, Origin hears him ask, "Do you regret becoming a Summon Spirit? You could have simply died and been at peace rather than live through so many millennia."

Origin does not answer. It has been several thousand years since he has responded or spoken to Mithos, since Mithos reneged on the vows of his pacts and locked them away in a spun web of power and legend.

It is many hours before Mithos stands and disappears in a rush of power. In another time, Origin thinks Mithos Yggdrasill could have become some kind of Spirit too)

The next hour, Mithos slipped down the rise, prodding Yuan awake for his turn at watch. Yawning and pouring himself a mug of tea, Yuan asked Origin, "Are you sticking around, or do Spirits need beauty sleep too?"

Origin snorted. "I will leave you to your watch."

The next morning, Mithos remembered his original question of the night before.

"Maxwell does exist," Origin told him. "He is most often found in the ruins of the old city." Origin pointed to a spot on the map that Mithos had rolled out.

Martel peered over her brother's shoulder. "That's in the human capital!"

Kratos and Yuan set the cooking pot and mugs down to take a look. Yuan swore. "Great. 'Cause that's all we need is another complication in that Spirit-forsaken place."

"Technically, be definition, it's not Spirit-forsaken if Maxwell's there."

Yuan shoved Mithos good-naturedly. "Oh, shut up, smartass."