Chapter One Hundred and Thirty Three – 133
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It was late, and the halls were only filled with a bare minimum of light. Conjured magelight sat atop tiny sconces, each one worked from a reddish metal with a small white yellow light glowing in a near perfect orb. Felix could pick out tiny sigils etched around where the sconce met the wall, and again around the indented portion below the floating orb.
He saw the markings for light and for circle, but the sigaldry got more complicated from there. Felix also spotted force and what looked like diffusion or something similar. He was leaning on his Skill for the brunt of the identification, those bits and pieces of knowledge that seemed jammed into his brain by advancing Sigils of the Primordial Dawn. Following the patterns and flow of the sigaldry was easy, but parsing exactly what it was doing was another thing altogether.
It's likely drawing power from...ah yeah. Felix's fingers found a small, misshapen orb beneath a metal panel. It was about the size of a pea, and glistened with white and yellow light. A tiny monster core. Why not draw on the ambient Mana?
Felix could sense a great deal of Mana floating in the air, exuded like breath from everything around them. Why wouldn't a simple device like this pull from that source? It was thick as soup, yet as transient as the thinnest cloud. Mana was weird. The nature of it eluded him, but that was another purpose for his walk.
Quickly, Felix and Pit found their way back down to the parlor and opened the door. Within were the numerous built-in bookshelves chock-full of tomes of all shapes and size. A fire still crackled in the hearth, and his sharp eyes picked out Zara, still in her seat.
"The strange one is back," piped a voice before a flutter of wings announced the jewel-colored kingfisher. It alighted on a small side table and regarded Felix and Pit with a dark eye.
"Uh, good evening, Keru," Felix said, not quite sure how to greet the little bird. He settled for a tiny wave before shifting his attention to Zara. "I've slept enough for today, so I thought I might do some reading. Would that be okay?"
Zara stood, gracefully, as she had done everything else. "Reading is well and good, but I feel you have other questions that I may answer more directly. Hmm?"
Felix inclined his head.
"Tell me about Chanter magic."
Two men, minor nobles by their dress, stumbled down the Boulevard of Rising Truth on the outskirts of the Sunrise Quarter. They clung to each other, as if both were afraid of drowning at sea, their teetering forms only contested by their rambling, slurred conversation.
"Merrik, you know, Ostwin's boy? Says he's lookin for a---" the darker one belched. "--new breed a defenders. Fer the Wall."
"An' you're thinking of volunteerin'?" The other fixed his friend with an unsteady, watery eye. "You can't hit the broad side of a, a, what do they call em? A horse house."
"Stables," the lighter one finished. "Pony--? The Wall! Next you'll say you wanna wade into the Foglands itself..."
The darker man pulled himself straight, though his shoulders wobbled with the effort. "I'm a blooded citizen of the Heirocracy, Sellens. We've a duty."
"To die to monsters?"
"To fight to--to defend our way of life," the man's thatch of dark hair was frizzy with the summer humidity, but he smoothed it down as best he could. "To be a hero."
"A hero," a patch of shadow whispered, and both men nearly tripped over themselves. A lithe form materialized from the darkness, patches of light fleshing out into a shapely woman with full red lips and tight armor. "I could use some heroes, right about now."
Hands like claws of darkness reached out and gripped their doublets, bringing them both to their knees without any effort at all. A face half covered in a black mask loomed from the shadows, and those red lips smirked with contempt. The two men couldn't scream, couldn't breath, as if her hands gripped their hearts instead.
"Muster your courage, heroes, and tell me everything you know about this damn street. Or else you'll find that monsters are far closer than the Wall."
Keru let out a shrill note and fluttered over to a bookshelf. Pit echoed it back at him, but kept his much larger form still. The kingfisher trilled again, going deeper by an octave, and Pit copied it exactly.
"What are they doing?" Felix asked.
"I've learned not to ask," Zara said with a sharp smile.
The two of them were sitting in chairs facing one another. Zara had, at some point, found a chair made of Avum leather and had placed it the only place furthest from the hearth. His discomfort with sitting in chimera leather, close cousins to Pit, had been noted and acted upon in less than a few minutes. How she had known he'd come back here was a mystery he didn't bother to unravel; Felix had far bigger questions than that.
"As I was saying, all of creation is music." Zara said this and, very faintly, Felix could hear a distant echo to her words. Like they were reflecting off something both nearby and impossibly distant. "The mythology of the old gods says one day a great song arose from the Void, a powerful, primal surge of complex tremors that competed against one another for dominance. Yet they were too equally matched. Instead of dominance, what was established was a powerful balance, a harmony of chords that echoes to this very day."
"But what's the real story?" Felix asked.
"Truth lies in all stories, whether they be legends or histories. Just as all records are tainted by the perceptions of those who write them, so too are they informed by some intrinsic truth that cannot be purged." Zara spread her hands. "The real story, is that the Grand Harmony has existed for all of known time."
"And how does a Chanter work into this?" Felix drummed his hands on his thighs. "How would I tap into this power?"
"That you have sensed it, attuned yourself to it, speaks well of your progress, Felix. To reach deeper however, one must come to an understanding with the Wild Song. Immerse yourself in its flow. Listen to the rhythms of the world, the vital vibrations in our very souls and in everything around us. Then, when you grasp the fundamental truths you seek, it is restructured, turned to a new purpose by our Will and Alacrity."
"Mind over matter?" Felix asked, somewhat skeptically.
"If you like," Zara shrugged. "Mind over Spirit, over Body, is perhaps more accurate. To be a Chanter is to harness the Chant, which is, simply put, a codified set of rules for moving the Grand Harmony to your Will."
"So a new power source? Independent of Mana and Stamina?" Zara nodded and Felix chewed the inside of his cheek in thought.
"Don't mistake me, boy. It's not an infinite resource. The amount you can accomplish with the Chant is equal to the strength of Mind and Spirit you can bring to bear."
Felix's thoughts skipped a track as questions raced through his brain. He leaned forward. "What is the Void?"
"The Void...it is the absence of creation. And yet it birthed our reality, if the myths are true. It is the flipside realm to this, the Corporeal Realm. Some, in their wisdom, have called it the Cognitive Realm. I question the soundness of their own Minds, however, to so closely relate a representation of 'nothing' with cognition." Zara shook her head, her eyes flitting across her bookshelf.
The Naiad's description matched the old sage's mad ramblings, back when he'd been stuck within the Void. He had said the Void was the space between the Minds of gods. Cognitive Realm, huh?
"Then what of the Desolation?"
"How do you know this word?" Zara's voice snapped, like a flag in stormwinds. Felix even felt a jolt of fear at her bright blue gaze.
"Let's say I'm well-traveled," he managed. Zara was quiet a while longer, long enough that Felix began to feel uncomfortable with the silence. Yet just before he spoke up, she sighed.
"The Desolation...it is the confluence of all things. The meeting point between the Cognitive and Corporeal. Ethereal, one might say," she clucked her tongue. "But these are academic subjects. They are useful for conceptualizing what we consider the Grand Harmony, but are not intrinsic to it. They lie outside the Wild Song."
"So what is the System, then?" Felix leaned forward again, his hands on his knees. "If the Void and the Desolation are beyond the Grand Harmony, then this whole magic music seems to lie outside of the System as well."
"It does, which is one of the reasons it is so reviled by those in power. The System empowers and establishes a set order to the world. The Wild Song disrupts that; anyone with the knack can access it's might."
"Why don't people teach everyone they can?" Felix asked.
"It's harder than you might think to access and harness the power of the Wild Song. Hard on the Body, on the Mind, on the Spirit itself." Zara let out a little growl from the back of her throat. Felix felt the heavy weight of anger and sadness pulse out from her for only a moment before it vanished. "And it's doubly hard to survive exposing yourself to someone who, with but a word, could end your life. An entire phalanx of Inquisitors waiting in your home, perhaps informed by someone you thought you had trusted. Inquisitors that will end you, but not before putting you to the question."
The force of the emotions that escaped the Naiad's rigid control had nearly pressed Felix into his seat. It was a terrible, maudlin caterwaul, a sadness that he had difficulty shaking from his thoughts. Whatever had happened to Zara was not something Felix had ever come close to experiencing.
"The System promotes strength," she continued, her voice firming with each word. "The strong accrue more power; power begets power, on and on, into infinity. The Heirocracy, like most nations on the Continent, rely on that superiority to rule. Buck those rules..."
"Yeah," Felix whispered. "You get crushed."
The weight of the moment threatened to drag the conversation down, but Felix couldn't allow that to happen. He had too many questions.
"Why does the System exist, though? It's natural?" he asked.
"Born of the Grand Harmony, we believe. Those few of us who have delved into the realm of myth and legend that passes for true history can point to many places where the System was extant. Ages upon Ages ago, it was here." Zara smiled without showing a single tooth. "But the Chant appeared not long after."
"So it's been around forever? I'm not a statistics guy, but I would think if the Chant has been around that long, there would be more people using it. Right?" Felix asked.
"There were, once upon a time. The origin of it is more shrouded in mystery than even the Lost Kingdoms."
That piqued his interest.
"Long ago, there were some who were blessed with the ability to sense the discrete Harmonics of creation. They were quickly labelled dangerous, and for good reason." Zara conjured a flickering light from the hearth, weaving it through the air to form a series of shapes between them. Tall humanoids stood upon a field, statuesque. "Their coming was, at best, a mixed blessing. Records are sparse, but a relative few of them were responsible for entire empires falling to Ruin."
"Ruin? The mythical force the ends Races and stuff?" Felix asked. He'd been curious about that quirk of this world for a long while. "What is it?"
"As far as I can tell, it is far more than mythical. It is cataclysmic, and I believe very much real." Zara's image shifted, and now the figures were leaping through the landscape, each out bringing to bear mighty abilities. One shattered a mountain, another crushed a city, more burned forests or froze the sea. Wild, incomprehensible disasters that any one person should have no ability to affect.
"And these...born Sorcerers were harbingers of Ruin then?" Felix gestured to the figures woven of fire Mana. "I mean, obviously, right?"
"Nothing so dramatic as that. And nothing so complete." Zara waved a hand and the fire Mana returned to the hearth, where it began crackling once more. "We're operating on snippets of third, fourth, even fifth-hand accounts for our information. True wheat among the chaff has always been nigh impossible to find."
Zara stood up and walked to a side table, one Felix hadn't noticed before. It opened up and revealed a set of glasses and bottles of dark amber liquid. The Naiad poured herself a drink as she continued speaking.
"You'll find stories of them in nearly every culture, every religion. Echoes of what was once a great truth known to all and sundry."
She poured a second glass and walked back toward Felix. "The ancients had a word for them, of course. And that, at least passed through the Ages unmolested."
She handed him the drink.
"They called them the Unbound."
Felix felt his stomach drop to his ankles.
Deception is level 15!
He looked up to see Zara studying his reaction. Luckily, he'd managed to keep his face stuck on 'fascinated but neutral.'
"That's...remarkable. I've heard of the Unbound before, but only as monsters in old stories."
"Precisely what I mean. They've survived in the minds of people precisely because of the power the Chant contains," Zara laid a hand on Felix's shoulder. Her skin felt hot through his tunic. "And that is another reason why I must train apprentices. One way or another, knowledge of the Grand Harmony cannot end with me."
"Are you the only Chanter in Haarwatch?" Felix asked carefully pulling from her touch. "What about the other choristers? Wouldn't they help you with the Domain?"
"Oh, they have a rudimentary grasp of it. Enough to be dangerous." Zara waved her hand in the air and returned to her seat. "They're strong, don't mistake me. Each one easily an equal to any Silver Rank in the Guild. However beyond their desire for religious freedom, they are fractious, chasing their own causes. They would not help me in this were I to ask, and I don't trust them enough to do even that."
"Yet you trust us," Felix said, not quite a question.
"Why? Maybe you know about Vess through her mother and family, but I'm some nobody off the street," Felix breathed out a confused huff. This had been weighing on him. "Why trust me?"
Zara was quiet a moment as she sipped her drink. A log popped and shifted on the fire, and the two feathered creatures were sitting on the floor cooing at one another.
"We don't know a lot about chimeras," Zara finally said. "We know they are dangerous, and that they would attack our Wall relentlessly and in great numbers. But why did they hate us so much? Why were they all so different? These were questions we never had answers for; now that they've retreated into the Foglands, I doubt we'll get them any time soon."
Zara shifted her attention back toward Felix. "What I do know, however, comes from ancient legends. The chimera were said to be born of a great magic, Ages ago, during the era of the Lost Kingdoms. What few records exist depict them as proud, strong, and intensely loyal. Until now, that loyalty has never extended to anyone beyond the Foglands. Until you."
Felix glanced at Pit, who was moving his foreleg around, playfully swiping at the bird. His big bushy tail wagged rapidly.
"I find animals to be a great judge of character, Felix Nevarre. Not only have you begun to attune your senses to the Grand Harmony, but you have formed a powerful bond with a creature out of legends. Both speak well of you, in my eyes." Zara gave him a tight smile. "Not to mention, I too have unlocked Affinity."
"Ah," Felix opened his mouth and smiled. "Of course."
She could feel his emotional state, just as he had started sensing others. Likely, she was far more adroit at it. As far as Felix knew, she could read him like a book. He opened his mouth, intending to ask more, but the Naiad forestalled him.
"Before you ask more, I believe we should wait for Lady Dayne. I'd rather not repeat myself more than necessary," Zara smiled gently.
Felix nodded reluctantly, before making to stand up.
"Feel free to stay and peruse my collection," she said, gesturing to the books all around them. "I daresay I've a finer collection here than in my shop. Much more...focused, you might say."
"That would be amazing, honestly," Felix breathed out a sigh of relief.
"Though, please," she said with an arch look. "Don't go rearranging it."
Felix flushed and let out an embarrassed laugh. "Ah, sure."
The Naiad left, her kingfisher Keru following closely after, leaving Felix and Pit alone with the soft crackle of firelight. Felix leaned back in his chair, letting the high back cradle his head as he felt several layers of unease fall away. New anxieties waited in the wings, but for the moment, he had accomplished a goal and learned more about Chanters and even some about the Unbound.
And if the Lost Kingdoms are what I think they are, then I've also got a new angle on Nym lore. Felix lifted his head and stood. Time to begin.
The next eight hours had Felix perusing as much of Zara's private library as he could; much of it was difficult, if not impossible for him to parse at first, but the more he read the faster the mysteries of vocabulary, syntax, and structure were revealed to him. His Godeater Mind was powerful, and though he didn't know what else it might offer him, it had a voracious appetite. Information poured into him and he found himself sorting it all into neat columns, easily retaining everything thanks to his Born Trait.
He'd started the night with a preschooler's handle on the common language, but by the end of it, Felix had a stranglehold on it. He blazed through books, his Perception letting him easily read an entire page in seconds, and his Dexterity letting him flip the pages quickly and smoothly without ripping the books in half. He devoured tomes on myths and legends, on Mana and various Skills, and even found one about the Lost Kingdoms. He had been right in his assumptions: the Lost Kingdoms was the collective name for various nations that were beset by the Ruin. That included the Nym, who were even called out by name.
Strangely, the records of the Lost Kingdoms were all centuries or millennia after the fact. He'd read two or three written works by various scholars, most of whom relied on the testimony of adventurers who encountered ruins of said kingdoms in the field. Felix doubted people traveled the dangerous wilderness and spent much time excavating ruins for the history of it. Now, if those ruins held treasure, Felix was sure they'd at least be investigated. But what would treasure-hungry adventurers ignore during a violent foray into undoubtedly monster infested ruins? Probably a lot, was Felix's guess.
All he could do on that front was sort the information in his mind, holding onto the useful theories and rumors until he could verify it all someday. Honestly, Felix wasn't entirely sure why he cared. He was Nym in name only, and that only if this bloodline thing didn't change that on him. Why did it matter? Still, thoughts of Vvim, the Geist back in Shelim reappeared. The wizened creature had a high regard for the Nym, which made sense based on the history of the two Races. Felix knew his curiosity would force him to find out more before long.
He found very little on the Unbound, either. Or rather, nothing that wasn't a child's fairy tale or recounted in books on religious myth. As he'd been told before, the Unbound were considered boogeymen, especially in the religious texts. Monsters meant to scare people into doing the right thing. Little to no concrete information existed, and nothing regarding what Zara herself had mentioned. He'd have to ask her more about the subject when he could; she likely knew a great deal more than she had said.
Regarding Mana and scriptwork, however, the library was a goldmine. Discussions on the nature of Mana, where it came from, what it was capable of, and a categorization of the types. Felix ate all of it up, and even tried some of the exercises described to increase one's control over internal and external Mana.
Fire Within is level 39!
Fire Within is level 40!
Mana Manipulation is level 15!
Mana Manipulation is level 19!
Scriptwork was similarly effective. While the Primordial Dawn style sigils he used were different than the standardized sigladry in Haarwatch, they shared a common core. Both utilized a sort of manufactured Intent by creating a network of sigils around a primary glyph, each subordinate marking acting as a filter through which the purpose of the array would be realized. Mana was channeled through the array, and the network of sigils created the effect. Simple enough in concept, though quite complicated in execution.
Felix had no scripting tools, which would include a metal stylus and a suitable media to etch onto, but he poured over any examples he found. He had even run into a thin book that contained a limited selection of common sigils that he immediately set about memorizing.
Sigils of the Primordial Dawn is level 24!
Sigils of the Primordial Dawn is level 25!
Congratulations! You Have Achieved Apprentice Tier with Sigils of the Primordial Dawn!
That, in particular, was extremely satisfying result of his efforts.
The dark progressed to light faster than Felix realized. Having had plenty of rest before and his advanced Endurance meant he wasn't tired in the slightest. So when he heard a banging on the front door, Felix stepped out from his ever-expanding collection of stacked tomes and poked his head out of the parlor. The sun was far brighter in there, as the main entry was flanked by large, full body windows that let in the growing light of morning. Felix blinked at the sunlight, clearing his vision in time to see the Hobgoblin servant Melle step forward to answer the door.
Two figures strode in, and even slightly distracted, Felix could tell that both were equal parts anxious and pissed. It fairly sang from their chests.
"Cal! Harn!" Felix called before stepping out of the parlor completely. "What are you doing here?"
"Felix, Noctis wept, you're alive," Cal looked as taut as a piano wire. "Is Evie here?"
"She's upstairs, probably asleep," Felix said. "She's totally fine."
"Thank the gods," she muttered, and turned to the Hobgoblin. "Take me to her, now."
Melle sputtered a moment. "Ma'am, I was told to have you wait here while I--"
"Take me to Evie Aren, or I will rip this place apart brick by brick," Cal hissed.
The Hobgoblin paled, her red skin turning an interesting shade of pink, before she nodded. They both quickly headed up the stairs.
"Did she just use her aura, or--" Felix began, but Harn just laughed.
"No, that's just Cal," Harn's blocky hand clapped Felix on the shoulder, pushing him down just a little bit. "It's good ta see you alive, kid. We thought you had been caught up in that mess down Crafters way."
"Almost. I'll--" Felix's stomach made an alarmingly loud gurgle at the same time he noticed a tantalizing scent in the air. "I'll tell you everything over breakfast."