I came to exceedingly slowly, for myriad reasons. First and foremost was the blinding light that filtered through the heavy darkness, dredging my half-witted consciousness out of its black pit. Secondly was the gentle female voice that peeled off all the layers between me and the waking world. I groaned as sunlight assaulted my eyes through my cracked-open eyelids, dragging one lethargic upper limb over my face in a meager attempt to shield myself against the striking brightness.
"Are you alright, darling?"
I looked up at the kind, gentle voice. It held a faint warble in its feminism, giving one the impression of a kindly aunt. The light still waging war against my hypersensitive eyes, I forced my eyelids open, blinking for all I was worth until an unfamiliar face, and unfamiliar surroundings filled my vision. Confused, I frowned, my lips struggling to form articulate words. "Who… where…"
I tried to sit up, but then my head violently expressed its disagreement. Losing my sense of direction for a moment as my head swam, I fell back on my pillow with a thump. Nausea surged at me, a groan escaping my chapped lips.
"Easy, sweetheart. You've been out for days." Something cool came to rest upon my forehead, and, swiveling my eyes as best as I was able, I squinted at it and discerned it to be a wet washcloth. Blessed kindness, for it cleared my head some.
A woman, with bright blue eyes and a mop of haphazard auburn curls, peered down at me. "How do you feel?" she asked, motherly concern in those azure orbs.
I contemplated briefly, trying to find the suitable words to describe my condition. Suffice to say it was hardly an easy task, since I myself knew not how I felt as of then. "… Not too bad, I think," I answered carefully. The woman tutted, hands deftly feeling my skin for signs of heat.
"When your fever showed signs of breaking, I had Ethan here watch you and tell me when you were about to wake." A steadying hand on my shoulder as I forcibly pulled myself up into a sitting position, ignoring the screeching protests from my overtaxed body.
Fever? Out for days? I turned my head to see a dark-haired child hiding behind his mother, large hazel eyes full of curiosity. I managed a smile, and he timidly returned it.
"What happened?" I asked hesitantly. "Where am I?"
"You're in my guestroom, dear, here on Akarios Plains. My husband Kales is probably out fighting off those pesky snufflers again. He found you on his rubashi patch a couple days past, out cold and all busted up." The woman handed me a small bowl of soup, which I gladly drank. "But enough about that. My name's Ester. What's yours?"
I parted my lips to answer, but my reply died on the tip of my tongue. Name. I had a name. What was my name…
Alarm assaulted me when I dug deeper and found that my recollections featured nothing articulate, nothing comprehensible. Snatches of memory filtered through the veil of my hazy mind, but more of it slipped out of reach, divulging the puzzle of numerous essential pieces. Separated, the tidbits of memory made no sense. A hall, a swan, grass and birds and sky. I remembered nothing that led up to my current situation here in Poeta, living on the kindness and generosity of a country family who likely had, in effect, saved my life.
It was a relieving consolation when I discovered that I still had my wits about me, the basic knowledge instilled in me in my youth still present. I could speak, I recognized the word 'Akarios', and when I had calmed down slightly, I found that I could, in fact, recall my name.
"Kaolin," I said after a lengthy pause. "I…don't remember anything other than that."
Ester tutted again. "That seems to be a nasty knock on the head, I'd say. Maybe you could go to the village and see Polinia when you're feeling better. That woman has a cure for everything, I tell you." The auburn-haired woman didn't seem too concerned, and I decided that, if my apparent amnesia didn't concern her that much, then I wouldn't overly concern myself over it either.
Like all mothers, the one thing Ester was most concerned about was my physical wellbeing, then after that, my personal hygiene. Once she was sure that my dietary needs were sufficiently satisfied, she sent me off into the washroom with a basin of water and a towel.
Left to my own devices, I stared down at my reflection in the water, lost in thought. A young woman with alabaster-pale skin gazed back at me, a neat bob of hair the shade of rich ultramarine framing her face. Vibrant turquoise eyes stood out like bright gems, almond-shaped and, I supposed, beautiful in a way.
Although it was hardly an issue demanding of concern as of the moment.
I scooped up some water in my palms, spreading it over my face and scrubbing it as best as I was able. Stripping, I sat on the little stool in the washroom and cleaned myself, ridding my body of the sweaty stickiness that prevailed in the several days or so that I had been unconscious. It was a welcome relief, the coolness and the sense of being free of dirt and filth. Reflecting on that, I supposed I ought have been a woman well-accustomed to cleanliness.
Staring down at what remained of the water, I studied my reflection with some measure of helplessness. How terrifying it was too see yourself and yet not know who you were, to wonder at the life mysteries of your own person. I felt… lost.
With a swipe at the water I destroyed the image of my confused face, deigning not to cause myself disquiet, be it due or otherwise. I would leave that for later, when I would bring up the matter with the patron priest of Akarios Village.
Dressing in the simple ruko-woven dress Ester had left for me, I left the bathroom for the living room, where said matriarch was preparing lunch for the family. Ethan, darling child that he was, was playing with a wooden sword likely carved by his father, making soft noises and brandishing the mock-blade as he slew an imaginary horde of beasts. It brought a wry smile to my face. No warrior truly wishes upon himself an existence filled with death and suffering, save those twisted of mind and sick of heart, but children may dream, for warriors are noble themselves in their sacrifice to protect those dear to them.
Ethan seemed startled for a moment to see me, and his stick-sword slipped from his little fingers to clatter on the ground. I raised my hands to show that I wouldn't disturb him, nor would I mind, and when I had pretended to look away he resumed his game quietly by himself.
The path of the warrior oft gives the impression of bravery and skill, the image of a valiant, honorable fighter defeating lesser foes. Not to mention that the requirements to be a sword-wielder do not include affinity for aether-manipulation, and requires little study by the way of the mind, unlike magework that demands years of schooling. Not a surprise, then, that most young males opt to be warriors, the fast track to glory with a bright blade.
Others say scouts have less by the way of honor comparing, considering their way of operation, of hidden blades and backstabbing. Their efficiency is undeniable, however. Unlike warriors with their showy performances and flashy blades, scouts defeat their foes swiftly and silently, with no spare energy or time wasted in unnecessary display-oriented exploits.
I made my way outside, into the sun. I found myself in a wide farmland area, rows of plowed earth and sprouting plants like dado and rubashi poking their green shoots out of the soil into the air. The occasional sprout of young aria defied what must have been a back-breaking effort to control the landscape, dotting the corners of plowed lands and fence-bases. Looking across the farm, I saw many young men working the fields, shirts soaked through if not omitted completely. I scanned the land for the owner of said farm, finding it in the form of a weathered old figure near one of the sheds, leaning on his rake taking an apparently much needed break.
I picked my way across one of the rubashi patches to him. He looked up when I approached, one bushy grey eyebrow lifted questioningly. Offering him a smile, I held out a hand for him to shake.
"Kaolin," I said of myself as his wrinkled but strong fingers caught mine. His piercing hazel gaze lessened somewhat as he sighed and leaned more heavily on the handle of his rake.
"Long years hard on the body," Kales said quietly in his rough baritone, gazing into the horizon. I nodded emphatically, wondering how many years had he toiled like such, building his farm empire to such vast expanses. I could see that he was successful throughout Poeta as one of the largest producers of crop, but what price had he paid to achieve so much?
"I found you nigh on three nights ago," he started softly. "T'was twilight and I was on my way back home to Ester and Ethan. Been a hard day. Thought I was seein' things when I saw you crumpled on my rubashis like a bird fallen from the sky."
I listened silently as he spoke, eyes still on the sky yet unseeing as he recalled the events that had happened that evening.
"You had blood all over you, and you'd fallen hard enough to spray my shoots in all directions. What was funny was that I found no injuries on you, at least none I could see, even under all that blood. Oh yes, your clothes were torn and ragged all in the right places, but I saw no wounds. I didn't even think you'd be alive until I looked closer."
I saw a brief shudder course through him as he watched the image unfurl in his mind. "It wasn't normal. But you were still breathing. I couldn't just leave you there. So I brought you back, and Ester took care of you. You caught a fever right after."
Silence reigned as I tried to absorb what he had said. From what he described, I had fallen from a great height. But from where? From the sky itself? There were no trees here high enough to cause an injury of such proportions. And as for the injuries themselves, they posed another question entirely. I should have had major lacerations, even several broken bones at the very least, but Kales had said I had not a barest scratch on my person. It was mystifying and more than a little unnerving. What had happened?
Kales shrugged. "I'm not one to divine the mysteries of such freak happenings. Me, I'm a man of the earth. I don't have the time nor the interest to puzzle over these things. Good old ground's always best." He jiggled his rake for emphasis.
I nodded, thoughtful. "Since you've saved my life, I wish to be able to repay you in some way."
Kales waved me off dismissively. "No need, miss. T'was an act any decent man would have done."
"If you would have me help out in any way, just say the word," I insisted. He hesitated briefly, then turned to look at me.
"Perhaps you would be able to help with the snufflers plaguing my farm," he said slowly. "They're destroying my crops and I don't have enough men to spare to rid my farm of them. Some help would be a godsend."
I nodded. "Alright. I'll try and help as best as I can." Kales only grunted in reply, and, hefting his rake, he set off for the fields once again.
I wandered back towards the cottage, looking out for any of those snuffling pests along the way. If I were to fight them off, it was hardly to be with bare hands… I needs must acquire something that could function as a weapon.
I entered the house, and asked Ester if she had anything that had the slightest potential to be used as a club or anything of the sort. With a shake of her head she said no, they wouldn't have anything like that here, since they were farmers and hardly barbaric fighters. In the end, I could only wander back out and try to figure out some other way that I could fight off those pests.
If I were a mage then I would have no need for physical weapons… I stared down at my hands, wondering if I could bend aether to my will and exert it as a form of weapon. Some time passed as I contemplated the possibility. It would be a great trouble-saver, however unlikely it was that I could harness aether without prior study. My brows furrowed together as I attempted a half-hearted foray into the art of magic, pulling together all the imaginary particles of energy from within to collect within my fingers-
A roiling sphere of chrome-yellow aether swirled into existence over my palm, glowing and pulsing faintly with tightly-bound energy. My surprise overcame my concentration then, causing my control to slip and the glowing aether-sphere to dissipate.
So I did have at least some mage blood inherent in me. I studied my palm with avid interest. Though I would hardly peg myself a mage, my ability to manipulate aether did seem passable. Now that I knew what to expect, control came easier the second time round. The faintly misty globe swirled back into existence, humming faintly as it hovered over my palm.
I lifted my gaze to the nearest snuffler, which was at the moment obliviously digging up a dado from its earthy home, and looked back down at the aether power in my hands. Acting on instinct, I flung it at the four-legged pest, which promptly emitted a high-pitched squeal-grunt as the aether-sphere slammed into it.
It didn't immediately disintegrate, nor show any obvious signs of injury other than being winded, which was rather less than I'd expected. I'd irritated it, however – the emboldened farm-pest turned on me with its claws and snapping teeth.
Alarmed, I summoned more aether-spheres. Using both hands, I repeatedly threw them at the snuffler clawing at my knees, until I managed to knock it out. It keeled over, and with a final twitch, lay still – although whether the condition was permanent or not I was yet unsure. It was the least of my worries, as I examined the scratches rewarded me for my effort. They were numerous, and while not deep enough to be a cause for concern, the wounds were bound to be infected if not dealt with in haste.
I hesitated. It would be nothing short of embarrassing if I were to run crying for help after dispatching only one snuffler, something I was hardly inclined to carry out. Perhaps there was some other, quicker way of dealing with the issue at hand. Healing, perhaps? It was an absurd idea, for aethelings were rare enough in themselves, and fewer still possessed the ability to grasp the delicate magicks of Healing as opposed to destruction.
It didn't stop me from giving it an experimental shot, however. Completely surprisingly, once I had set my mind to it, the gist of how aether functioned in repairing the body came to me as naturally as breathing itself. I could sense my blood, coursing through my veins – my heart, beating a steady tempo of life within its cage – the small tears in the skin that encompassed all, gaping and exposing the tender flesh within. Prompting my innate aether towards the wounds, I guided the skin in knitting together, holding fast, encompassing all that lay within-
And before I knew it, it was done. My gaze could not leave my hands – so filled with wonder I was that I could barely believe it, even though the evidence lay right under my ruko-fibre dress hem, where no signs of its previous abuse remained. I could heal. I was one of those rare aethelings who possessed the ability to repair a broken body, to bring health and recovery to the wounded around me. A healer I was, a fledgeling priest.
It was no wonder that my offensive might was well below par – my forte was healing, not destroying – and now that I've actually stopped to think about it, raw mage potential oft manifested in the form of fire, whereas mine, whilst undistinguishable as of the present, was clearly no daughter of all-consuming flame.
Heartened with my new-discovered ability, I pressed on with my task, continuing my assault on the great population of snufflers, doing what I was able – slowly, but surely.