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Chapter 1

In the world of Astronomous

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Chapter 1

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         Somewhere in the southern hemisphere of an unfamiliar globe, Lys awoke on her back and her arms spread wide across the grass, the wind rushing through the branches of the rain touched oak trees, the light just barely reflecting off of the soaked and moss covered tombstones and pillars and onto her unwilling face, the intense smell of petrichor filling the air, some birds or other chirping peacefully in the bright golden glow, the sun, which was beating down onto the pale girl lying on the grass, still wishing that the big gilded circle would wait just an hour or longer… she could feel almost nothing. The wind, despite rustling the grass and shaking the trees, fell numb against Lys’ body. So did the smells of the dirt and stone, and the supposed warmth from the bright sun above, and the cold from the wet dirt below. Although light touched her eyes and sound pierced her ears everything else was numbing.

         She tried to sit up with her hands as support but soon fell back down as they too couldn’t even feel the ground they touched. ‘Just a dream…’ she said to no one in an attempt to reassure herself, ‘A lucid dream… just a dream…’ she repeated as she failed to grasp at the tufts of grass again and again in hope of feeling their blades. A young finch, perhaps brave, perhaps naïve, but certainly curious at the pale girl laying on her back, flew over and began hopping around her hand, every now and then stopping to inspect her ethereal hair which drifted off into what appeared to be stars. Lys didn’t notice the finch until it plucked at her hair and fell over for a second before quickly flying away back to its mother. For an infinitesimal moment, Lys felt the tingle of grass against her hands and head and the warmth of the sun and everything else in the graveyard. In a delayed reaction she gasped at the rush of feeling throughout her body, like a diver resurfacing from a quiet ocean to gasp for air only to be pulled down once again before they could take a single breath.
         Hundreds of questions grew into her mind, each instantly replaced by a hundred more. Lys tried to remember what had happened last, where she was, what she was. And as she tried, she began to cry, overwhelmed by her thoughts and the hollow feeling that now encompassed her being once more, longing for even a touch of life. It was choking to be the only thing she could feel move, the only thing she could ever feel. Slowly, she began to whisper to herself, but all that came out was a horrible choking sound. Although the tears fell to the ground, they did not mix with the dirt like the rain did before, they merely sat there, still like stone, not even reflecting the light of the sun. She sat like this until eventually she passed out from exhaustion.

         However many hours later and the sun’s orange lights had begun to cast shadows from the looming castle as Lys awoke for the second time. Her eyes were still weak from before but at least her mind was clearer, for the most part. Even though she had calmed down, she was scared to move, scared to interact with things, scared to see how things would react to her, if they even could. Curiosity eventually got the better of Lys and she cautiously moved to stand up as she moved her arms out to balance, only to move up faster than she anticipated and she fell backwards. Lys was like a feather, infinitely light and in a constant struggle to control its own movement. On the second attempt she half crawled half crouched over to a fence and held onto it, slowly climbing up it akin to riding a bike for the first time.

         When Lys began to look around the ancient and wilted graveyard, she noticed grass springing up from the cracks in older tombstones, a few of the rusted fences were bent or chipped while some others helped held up the edges of the odd spider’s web. All around lay oak trees that filtered lines of light and glimpses of white streaks across the sky. And as she saw all this, she didn’t notice that she had begun walking on her own, free of the rusted fence she clung to not a moment ago.

         Her mind moved on, partially involuntarily as she began looking at the tombstones around the yard and remembering her own predicament. Slowly reading the epitaphs as she went.

… Kurt Rogers… Keldon Eira… Amber Jackson… Vivian Requira 1253-1315…       

         ‘Vivian Requira…’ she said to herself just to sound it out. Lys’ full name was Lysandra Requira making Vivian a relative of some kind, but one she’d never heard of. Her grandfather had been adamant about teaching Lys the history of their family and all their ancestors up to 200 years ago when history was poorly kept. By the date on her tombstone Vivian would have been around during the founding of Totok, estimated by scholars to be around 400 years ago which would also explain why Lys had never heard of her. Looking at some of the other tombstones Lys realised that everyone here had died in the same year, 1315. There was nothing else was displayed on the graves, no epitaph, no relatives. They were all completely empty besides the year and name.
         She came up with all sorts of creative reasons why they all died so suddenly, it helped take her mind off of the numbness. Perhaps they all died in a war? Wars were common back then, often started because of religious quarrels and envy. Maybe that’s when they discovered explosives? She’d heard of the destructive power of gunpowder through her grandfather who taught her about the weapons of war in hopes that she’d respect her parents more. There was always the possibility of magic. There were tales of magicians from Fomonoff who could do wondrous things with nothing. Lys’ favourite tale was the story of a Viran war prisoner who supposedly escaped imprisonment by phasing through the walls. Of course, Lys had never seen magic like that and had no way to tell if the story was true so she kept speculating.

         From the corner of her eye Lys noticed something small and vaguely humanoid hobbling in the rubble of the castle just up the hill. When she turned to look at it, it quickly scurried out of sight under a fallen battlement. Curious, she ran up the hill to find it. Lys would have called out to the thing but by the time she was at the foot of the rubble she could hardly breathe so she took a minute to recuperate herself. While she was admiring the scale of the walls up close she noticed the thing again and once again it ran away. She knew the thing wasn’t trying to get away from her as it was too curious about the ethereal girl. In no particular rush now, Lys calmly walked after it and awed at the castle so old that it told stories of every person who ever passed through. Although the castle was dark Lys gave off a faint blue light which, so far, was the only practical benefit of being dead. If she ever lost the thing she would simply wait around for a minute or so and she would soon see it’s outline in between the cracks of a wall or peeking over a piece of debris. Each time this would happen Lys would quietly chuckle to herself at the affable movements of the creature. She had observed the entity to be a humanoid of some sort but far too thin to be human. As she moved past small rooms and through dark hallways Lys eventually arrived in an enormous room which must have taken up most of the castle’s back end. Six stone pillars stretched up the ceiling on either side of a barely visible tattered carpet that led up to a broken throne which sat just in front of a shattered rose window, almost as tall as the room itself.

         Lys finally got a clear view of the thing as it moved up the carpet to the throne and the setting sun shined its final orange glow, illuminating the skeleton who know stood at the end of the room as it looked up, violently shaking. Lys thought that it was going to fall apart. Wailers. There were folktales that every few centuries, skeletons would wake up from their eternal slumber and become part of a sort of hive mind collective to accomplish something often beyond normal comprehension. No one in modern times believed these stories as it had been far longer than a century since there was any physical proof of the Wailers. But one was here now, and it had stopped the brutal shaking. The Wailer began moving unnaturally, turning its head this way and that, grinding its neck, turning its spine, and eventually it stopped, resting its hollow eyes on Lys and unhinging its jaw with a crack. Then there was a groan, irregular, unnatural, loud enough to be heard all throughout the castle. She would have ran had she not fallen to her knees and clutched the sides of her head as she began sobbing in pain. Soon, the wailing stopped and Lys scrambled to escape in this interlude.

         Outside the castle, Lys heard more Wailers inside, all screaming at something. They were quieter now but Lys still wanted to get away from them. She wasn’t sure where to go from here, darkness was creeping onto the sky and although she didn’t feel cold, a chill was sent up her spine every time she thought about the skeleton in the castle. Lys soon found herself walking. To where? She didn’t know.

 

Night had fully set and clouds had covered the majority of stars, the rest were concealed by the trees. It would have been cold and Lys would have wanted warmer clothes but even under the night’s cold gaze she couldn’t feel cold. As she lived this false life longer and longer, everything became more distant. At first, time scared her. She had no need for time now. She was worried how her grandfather would feel. It didn’t matter, she was dead, he was alive. Even emotionally she felt disconnected from the world. Of course she would, she wasn’t even really there.

         Without knowing it, Lys had walked home, to Totok and she stared across the unlit town to her house at the edge and watched as it’s one last light turned off. She should’ve felt sad, knowing that she can never truly return home but she didn’t, she only felt as if she had never lived there in the first place. She entered the lightless town and walked down the cobbled paving, moonlight painting the stones with a slight shimmer. She passed the bakery and her mind moved to the time the old woman who worked there offered Lys a free pastry. She respectfully declined as it had spinach but she always wondered why. They had never met before, wasn’t the old lady supposed to be making money? In fact this had happened several times throughout her life, in different stores each time. One time the bookseller gave Lys a popular book for no obvious reason. Another time the local piper offered her free music lessons which he appeared to do for no one else in town. Maybe they all wanted to get on good terms with her family?

 

Lys’ family was supposed to be important, rich, a symbol of status. But so far it was only a symbol of misfortune. Lys’ mother was drafted into war when she was only two and her father died overseas a year or so later, leaving her sole grandfather to take care of her. Lys hated her mother, her father even more so. Neither of them had to leave in her eyes they could have stayed and maybe they would have all been happy, maybe she would still be alive. Her grandfather was the only person she could remember even being mildly fond of. He wasn’t perfect, far from it, often being more of a nuisance than a help, but he tried far more to make her happy than her parents did. Often telling her stories from long ago or showing her exotic flowers from this very graveyard. The problem being that he never understood how Lys felt and could never tell her mood, despite how obvious it might have been.

Lys looked up at the perfect steel gates that closed off the garden pathway which led up to the house, her home. Solemnly and slowly, she moved a hand to the bars and tried to push it open with a depressing amount of effort. The gate did not budge and she moved her hand away. Lys sat there on the pavement under the moonglow, she couldn’t even feel the texture of the stones. She wanted to go to sleep and awake as if it none of this had never happened but she wasn’t tired so she just sat there.
         Then there was a scream, loud and sharp, coming from not far away. Lys thought she just imagined it and then she saw the shadows dance their way across the street. There was a man running from a dog? A wolf? Lys wasn’t sure, nor did she care much, but she was interested so she stood up and moved over to the alley she saw them dart into. When she got there, blood touched papers were scattered all over the alley, the hound-like creature was nowhere in sight, and the dying body of a young man lay there, hardly breathing.

         He saw Lys and looked up in some kind of awe, then he spoke, “Are you… an angel? …Am I dead?” Each word spoken with great effort. Did this man deserve a death any better than her own, believing that there’s something beyond the wilting flower that is life, even if what lies beyond is far worse than what we know to be true? Or should he experience what she felt, dying without knowing you were even dead? Lys felt that she had no right to decide either of these things. This was not her problem to deal with and by the time she had come to realize that, the man had drawn his last breath and his body lay limp as blood streamed around him. Curious as to what killed him, she walked deeper into the barely illuminated alley, stepping over the bloodstained papers and the freshly made corpse. The brick walls were tight and only just allowed Lys to walk freely through. Once she reached the end of the alley she found that it was empty and whatever had killed the man was no longer here. There was no clear exit out of the alley other than the way Lys had entered but somehow the creature had disappeared leaving no visible trace. She was disappointed there was nothing to satiate her desire for… anything at all. Disappointed, she headed to leave to alley, stepping around the corpse. On her way out she noticed the papers the man had been carrying, one was a sort of letter from a university in… the blood had blotted out the location, date, author, and part of the first paragraph but Lys tried to read it through the vague moonlight anyways.

         ‘… from Ovanse, has crafted said machine. They mentioned they bought the schematics from a Sunderan merchant in New Leir about a month or so ago on a business trip. Recently they’ve been adopting young children (none older than 15) likely to Manifest…’

         The rest of the letter had been blotted out so she looked to the other papers, likely scholarly articles. The title for one of them remained intact,

         ‘Polar Flowers and Their Manifestations, Morgan Cylcis, Published 1763, University of Telaron,’

Lys’ grandfather would have loved to read this, he always praised the scholars of Telaron, despite their blind and uniform behaviour in accordance with their religion.

         ‘The majority of flowers are known for their colour, scent, shape, what they represent, or even their thorns. These flowers all eventually wilt and die in a tragically brief period of time before their true nature can ever become close to being understood. There are a selective few flowers that defy these short-lived expectations that I have dubbed the ‘Polar Flowers’, referring to their opposition of the ordinary flower’s traits. These flowers are characterized by their common lack of saturated colour, indescribable smell, and unusually long lifespan. The first recorded discovery of a polar flower was in Ovanse an recorded poet around 350-400 years ago who wrote a poem titled ‘Astronomous Elements’. The exact meaning of the poem has been lost to time, likely due to the different ways of life at the time, but mentions the “wilting flower,” with “petals of inky nothingness,” drawing the same polarizing characteristics mentioned earlier…’

         The article wasn’t covered in blood but the lack of light made it impossible for Lys to finish reading. Ovanse is one of the few agnostic towns that remained in the world. The line between religion and politics had become so thin that cities and towns had divided each other based on religion rather than country continent. Each major religion worshipped a celestial body, Sunkil for the glorious sun, Munkil for the graceful moon, and Stakil for the infinite stars. Lys herself didn’t believe in any of the religions despite Totok leaning heavily into Sunkil traditions and philosophies.

         Lys looked around the alley once again. Still nothing of interest. The rest of papers were either too far into darkness or too steeped with blood to be readable. Lys was beginning to feel a tingle of intrigue now. Ovanse always had an air of mystery around it, especially to Lys who had only ever learnt the dull politics of the area but always heard rumours of strange things. Thoughts filled her head, Ovanse was relatively close to Totok only about a day or so walk, likely two for Lys, on the Calling Road. The road itself was clear enough and not hard to follow. Something about the idea of finally leaving her hometown had entranced her and before she knew it she stood before the Calling Road. The moon was still high and its light reflected on the dark blue stones, making them glow and giving Lys a sense of celestial awe at the sight of it all. The whole world seemed illuminated as a calming blue luminescence shone forth like a guide. Lys took stepped onto the road and for the first time since she woke up on that morning the numbness was bearable.

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