The Withering

The Shaper came out of mother's bedroom, re-adorned his ceremonial vestaments in front of us and the family. We dipped our heads as he exited and closed the door, but eldest sister did not wait; she drew to him first. He held up a hand, nodding, but then stroked his beard, glancing at the door. With a gentle pause and a light flapped of his outstretched palms, he moved us outside.   Outside, the afternoon was fairly cold, and those that had wanted to hear him shivered slightly.   "How many years of service, had you said?" The Shaper's hoarse voice attempted to whisper.   Eldest inhaled, her tongue behind her teeth as she inwardly hissed and thought. "Scores. Two score?" The Shaper shook his head. "How long will she be with us?"   He gazed at them all firmly, "She won't make the night. She's ashed up to her elbows and her extremedies veins are pitch. She's lost feeling. If her body doesn't go quietly... well, there's that chance. --But you've all made preparations?"   There was a collective nod amongst the family members.   "Good," and he put his hand on my shoulder. "Stay strong, little one. Your mother has done a brave thing. Remember her for that." I nod, but I can't see him through my blurry eyes, past my face as it heats up. I look down, nodded, hiccupping. Tears fall. Eldest has her hand on my shoulder. She rubs my back.   "I'll see to it to send the Shaper Paladins your way, in case she starts a fire."   "Thank you, Shaper. -- Yes, Thank you. -- Bless you, Shaper."


Long years of service at The Summoner's Circles are unkind on the body. It is said that those who serve for as long as they've been alive are pulled into the other realms they guard against. It is a gradual pull, but the soul becomes off-balanced, no longer perfectly overlays as it should, such that when the body begins to wane, nothing can tether it properly lest by some painful binding ritual.   While not thought of as transmittable, but genetic, the separation of the soul from the body is passed down to children, who begin to ash at a very young age and do not tend to make it past their adolescence.


Skin flaking and peeling: like after a terrible sunburn, the skin will begin to seem to dry out and peel. This is painless, on the majority, and only causes real harm when paired with other skin conditions. Usually, peeling occurs on the extremedies: hands, fingers, the top of one's head, etc.   After a while, areas where the skin has flaked will seem to soften. The bone becomes more durable, or flexible in this case, but muscles lose their strength overtime. Weakness, not muscle atrophy, is present here.   In these same areas, a grey coloration will become evident, regardless of diet or exercise. Overtime, this causes bits of skin to peel on their own, creating flakey or scaley texture, like ash, hence where the condition gets its name.   They coloration will deepen and spread, the skin growing softer. The skin will flake to the touch. Muscle atrophy can be present in this stage.New areas affected will have a lighter color.   Near the end, the area's veins that presided in the first area of the condition will blacken. At times, skin may peel so completely that the veins will break open. Dried blood is inside. The body can react by causing the person to have a heart attack, but more often than not, the body will simply seal those portions of the body off in a effort to save itself, prolonging the experience. Touch will now be painful, and there will be difficulty moving and breathing if there were none before.   Finally, two outcomes will occur. In one, the body has not fully ashed, and it will burst into fire as though in some kind of defiance. The flames last no more than 2 minutes and are said to not be painful. Any screaming present is due to shock. No residue is left, no body is left. Nothing can be buried or given to the families who mourn. In another, the body will fully grey and will simply cease to hold a form, collapsing where it was in a pile of ash. This is all that can ideally be given to families.


While there are no physical treatments, treatments that put one in a community of people willing to help in everyday tasks, among friends, or among family tend to stave off any stages of the effects currently in place. Otherwise, this is yet another issue that Shapers research.


The course of this condition is slow. Nothing exacerbates it, though as one grows weary of life, the condition tends to crop up more. For those with a love of life, the condition seems to wait.

Cover image: Art Chimera by Madeline M


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Connor Shearwood
11 Jul, 2019 00:33

I really like tradeoffs like this. Society needs people to guard the circles but it costs those who do dearly. The withering sounds like a really bad way to go, but the fact people keep doing it helps show how bad things would be if they didn't. Your article does leave some questions though:   You say that it's hereditary, children of sufferers also suffer but at an accelerated rate. Is this only if they also guard a circle or are they born suffering from the disease. Are those who protect the circles discouraged from having children? Conversely, are the children of people who don't succumb valued as shapers for their resistance to the withering? Finally, are there any superstitions around the ashes left behind? Do people ever kill sufferers before they would die naturally to cause them to burst into flames, rather than leave ashes behind?

11 Jul, 2019 00:58

Indeed! Those who serve along a Circle are encouraged to take an oath of celibacy. This occurs after a length of service, however, since the separation of one's soul from the body is noted to be due to one's length of service in conjunction with one's time on Tara already. (If you are 14 years old, you can serve at a circle for 14 years and nothing will happen. IF however, you serve longer, the soul yanked toward the portal, basically, and cause the seperation--begin The withering). I will add this. Thank you for that.   And I haven't thought of children not being infected, but that makes it all the more interesting. Let's say, yes, children who are resistant could potentially become Shapers. I would see them as among the High Paladins of the order, or some honorary title, if they were both to join and grow through the ranks. They might also be fine mages since they'd have a more steady soul. That could be an effective measure the Shapers might employ to try to close the circles. Hrm. Food for thought.   Oh Yes, Loads of superstitions. The most sane tradition is that their body's strong will connected them to Tara and refused to perish. Family's will see this as a boon; some will thusly cover their feet with the ashes to stay "grounded", and others will drink the ashes dissolved in water. Now, this is still totally a form of cannibalism, but the effects are not as adverse. Because of the cultural thought behind the ash, some mages may ask for them to use with their magics (which is why not all are killed; it is seen as a last service to these types). Some will take "The Long Walk", as a means of going out on one's own terms instead of... well, you know. Now I have not gone as much in depth into what kind of magic system I'd like there, but I'm getting there~. but, I will also add a bit about superstitions.   Thank you so much for your comments and allowing me to log my thought here. I appreciate it!

11 Jul, 2019 03:19

This is creepy and cool! Like the previous commenter, I was wondering about the children, since in the story, it appears to be the children of the ashed who are mourning outside. Are all of them doomed?   In the Symptoms section, I see a lot of similarities between paragraphs 1 & 2, and paragraphs 3 & 4. Similar discussion, different wording. I was almost wondering if that was leftover from editing, where you had two versions next to each other and left them both in.   It took me a couple of minutes of close reading to realize that the name of the affliction is not The Withering, but 'ashing'. For me, that would be more clear if you included it as a header, or even just made the name bold the first time you used it to call it out.   I love the note at the end about one's emotional state affecting the progression of the disease. That's a really nice touch! Thank you for posting this for review, I enjoyed it!

11 Jul, 2019 04:53

I always like articles that start out with prose, and it's perhaps something I should do more often. You've got a unique condition here, one that makes you dry up like a raisin. I have a few things to say about it.   First, this quote here in the prose:

The Shaper shook his head. "How long will she be with us?" He gazed at them all firmly, "She won't make the night. She's ashed up to her elbows and her extremedies veins are pitch. She's lost feeling. If her body doesn't go quietly... well, there's that chance. --But you've all made preparations?"
  If you ever write stories, you'll soon find out that interactions happen like this: action, reaction, action, reaction, and so on. You give the Shaper an action, but then skip the reaction as he says something else in another paragraph (at first, I thought it was a stranger saying the second comment). I recommend adding a reaction between the two to produce more reading clarity.   Also, as a small note, it's always good to let people know to spellcheck, because you'd be surprised how something that simple can liven up an article. For instance, under "Causes," you say:
It is a gradual pull, but the soul becomes off-balanced, no longer perfectly overlays as it should.
  I'd recommend either adding an and after off-balanced, or changing it to, "no longer perfectly overlayes as it should be."   Lastly, be direct in your exposition. For example, under "Symptoms," you mention, "It will begin to seem to dry out and peel." It seems? This gives me the impression something else is happening entirely. It'd have much more impact just to remove the "seem."   I hope this all helps! Have a great summer camp!

~ Tristan
15 Jul, 2019 23:46

Oh this is absolutely wonderfully horrific. I love magic that takes toll on the body. And this... This is something so severe. And yet there are people who would go through with it. How are people suffering withering viewed in society? Is it considered a honourable sacrifice? Or something that people bring onto themselves and therefore do not deserve any kind of sympathy for it? Is it something that scares some younger mages away? Oh man, it's so good!