Fallen Abodes and Wizard Robes
conclave / kɒn.kleɪv / (n) 1: isolated elven society 2: Kingdom’s toy
A scattered pile of wooden shambles rested at the foot of the towering irontree. Some parts bore resemblance to chairs, a table, or a wall; likely a home before its fall. The contours of the wood retained their polished facade and offered a glimpse at the quality of craftsmanship; the time taken to perfect each edge. Someone from centuries long past carved the ironwood panels and beams with loving care, joining them with the precision found only in an expert's craft made for family, not profit. This heap, and a dozen like it, did no justice to its maker.
This was all that was left of Aeleatir.
Elven colonies suffered such fates across Turan. Treating themselves as self-exiled from their culture, colonists hewed to tradition in opposition of their kin. While initially given economic support from Xanthun and treated as diplomats by their neighbors, they rarely survived. Xanthun elves, prone to changing direction or reversing course in traditions, technology, and diplomacy, would grow tired of supporting "defectors" they neither cared to remember nor bothered to think of. Left adrift, a colony was an easy target.
Aeleatir managed better than most, owing to the efforts of Aele the Explorer, whose name remains carved into the obelisk at An'Xan Aiki, having never returned to erase his name from its long list of lost or forgotten captains. The expedition learned from history and brought the seeds of mighty irontrees, magical expertise to stir growth, and craftsmen skilled in canopy structures. With such tools and knowledge, a bustling settlement of elves hidden by height and dense foliage blossomed into existence nigh overnight, taking over a portion of the Singing Forest. For one hundred years, the local humans of Aemark treated them as an annoyance at worst and a convenient source of well-made tools at best.
Then came Markus the Fourth in 640 PoA.
It took little more than a splash of ink, the swish of a quill, and kingly seal of wax to whisk away Aeleatir's hopes of living in quiet happiness. To their credit, the elves staved off the Aemark Kingdom's attempts at sabotage for nearly a year. Irontrees are notoriously hardy against all manner of conventional and arcane assault and elves kept knowledge of their weaknesses close. Supply lines tracing through the treetops even sustained them through a months-long siege, but it was all for naught. Whatever concoction the Kingdom's alchemists dreamt up ate away at the irontrees, rasping and steaming as it wormed its way through root, trunk, and branch.
Aeleatir surrendered after the first boughs fell. Though the massive trunks of the trees stood proud, the branches were dying. Slowly but surely every walkway, every home, and every memory of the elves' home would fall into slovenly heaps on the ground, moss inching its way over their forms and erasing the mark laid upon the world. A treaty was signed, granting conditional citizenship in exchange for their loyalty, their dignity, and their lives.
Three and a half centuries later, in the shadow of Aeleatir's glory, a modest and subdued Elven village remained. The Old Man would tell tales of Aeleatir, the "jewel of the east, most noble of its kind" while the children matured under the heel of Aemark's boot, knowing not the alternative. The Elven Conclave, as it was so named, did not bustle; it did not blossom. It endured by pledging its offspring to their King. Not every child, but every magical one; fledgling wizards pre-indoctrinated and ready to serve.
A bunny! Its tail is so floofy!
Of course, none of these thoughts crossed Shikya Enellami Aeleat's young mind, occupied as it was by the emergence of a cute brown critter from one of Aeleatir's collapsed homes. Perhaps the centuries-old Elven craftsmen would've appreciated their rubble becoming a haven for rabbits, but more immediate concerns prevailed in Shikya's head. What should I name it...? Maybe Fluffy-Buns. Other appropriately flamboyant names, such as "Lord Wiggly-Nose," flicked across her consciousness as she lay prone on the grass, sunlight dancing between the remnants of the canopy city and falling in shafts to the forest floor.
Master Hoppy-Foot progressed through the underbrush surrounding its home, scouting out the expanse between it and a particularly tasty set of leaves. Shikya having gone unnoticed, her new companion edged further away from its makeshift home, preparing a dash to its favorite munching bush. Shikya, holding her breath, silently cheered Whiskers on as it thumped its rear foot, testing and loosening the powerful muscles in its flank. C'mon Whiskers! You can do it!
"What're you looking at?" asked a too-near voice. Startled, Shikya spasmed inelegantly and flipped her head back to find her best, and only, friend crouching and straining her eyes toward the fallen Elven home. Sheyla Enellami Aeleat had always been light-footed in much the same way that a drunkard wasn't and gifted in the art of surprise. Or perhaps Shikya was simply oblivious. Annoyance at the interruption faded into excitement at the prospect of sharing her fuzzy friend with Sheyla. We'll finally have an ayleth to play with!
"Whiskers," Shikya stated matter-of-factly while pointing towards the shrubbery hiding the rabbit. Sheyla's eyes scanned the ferns and obscuring leaves for signs of movement or animal life.
"Whiskers...?" Shikya's eyes swung back to the underbrush and spied a distinct lack of fluff. Gone. Whiskers whisked away... She harrumphed, hanging her head into the lush grass and sighing. Sheyla raised an eyebrow in response. "Hunting rabbits again?"
Shikya rolled over to her back, propping herself up on her elbows and replied, "I don't hunt them. I watch them. At least until somebody scares them away..." The mock edge in her voice dragged a smile out of Sheyla, a mirthful and fitting expression on an Elven youth.
Then the smile shifted to a smirk; similar but distinct in its surety. To an adult, it would seem out of place on a child, but to Shikya, it was just Sheyla... and an indication she was going to lose an argument. "How do you know it was me? You were flopping around like a fish a moment ago."
"Well, I wouldn't have if you didn't sneak up on me!"
"Wouldn't it have run away if I didn't 'sneak' up? Should I snap a few branches on my way over next time?"
Shikya pouted at the logic, willing it to change. It didn't. "Maybe..."
Sheyla poked Shikya on the forehead, claiming victory, as she was wont to do after pushing Shikya into a logical corner. Doubling-down on the pout, Shikya rubbed her forehead while Sheyla dropped to her knees, smirk morphing into a wide grin.
"Guess what? I've got something to show you!"
"Is it another puzzle? You know I'm bad at those...," Shikya mumbled.
"No, it's much better than a puzzle." Sheyla held out her right hand in front of her, as though holding a large ball from the bottom. Curious, Shikya sat up and examined her friend's hand. There was nothing there; only skin and air. Is this a trick? Is it invisible? She thought Sheyla's skin unnaturally bright, like her own, but that was expected.
"What are you d-" Shikya started to ask before she noticed a small purple wisp rise out of Sheyla's palm. As the tendril of smoke coalesced into a sphere hovering inches above her hand, Sheyla narrowed her eyes and held her breath, concentrating harder, pushing more of whatever power she had into her hand. Shikya watched, enchanted by the softly rotating and shifting mass of energy, when a quiet rustle emanated from the ground between them. A few fallen leaves rose slowly, lifted by an unseen force and drawn to Sheyla.
She continued her efforts while her hand shook slightly and the tips of her fingers turned an incandescent red. Shikya could feel the heat coming off them, briefly worrying that her friend might burn herself, but she seemed to not notice. The floating sphere pulsed, growing to twice its size. Below, the grass began to singe as the magic intensified. Magic! Sheyla's a wizard!
"Ow!" Shikya yelped and snapped her hand back as a leaf brushed her hand. The fluorescent ball dissipated into nothingness as Sheyla broke her focus, rose, and stammered out an apology.
"Shikya! Oh-my-g-...I'm so sorry... I didn't..." Sheyla, noting the embers from the charred greenery, hastily stamped out the remnants with her feet. "I-I shouldn't have..."
"That's so amazing! You can do magic!" Too excited to care about a small burn, or the possibility of a brush fire, Shikya asked, "How did you do that?!"
Happy that Shikya had sustained no permanent harm, Sheyla smiled, sighed, and slumped back to her knees. "Remember those humans in robes that came by last year? The ones with magic and all those stories?"
"Yeah!" That was a special day, despite the Old Man's grumbles about Kingdom interference. They wore expensive-looking black, gray-sleeved jackets with golden adornment and cloaks of different colors. They told tales of wizardry, of great battles with dragons and orphics, and how magic could heal the sick and create objects out of nothing. One evoked a pile of snow, the first time that Shikya had seen it and even threw her first snowball (with high accuracy, to which the evoker's hair could attest). Another conjured illusions of cities and vistas of which neither Sheyla nor Shikya could have dreamed.
"They came back today! One wanted to do an 'attunement test' and I passed! They're going to teach me magic!" Hardly able to container her exuberance, Sheyla clapped her hands joyfully and bounced on her knees. "C'mon, let's go back and you can do the test too! We can be wizards together!" The mood was infectious and Shikya found herself grinning as they ran all the way back to the Conclave.
These people are boring.
Shikya flicked at a chip of bark that had ungraciously attached itself to her pants, idly wondering how long she had been sitting in Old Man Aele's ceremonial room. When Sheyla and she came back from the woods, the robed humans immediately ushered Sheyla into a different room, whispering excitedly and promptly ignoring Shikya. The Old Man shooed her over to sit on the side, hastily shushed her, and returned to talk with the two men. They both wore jackets of black and gray, but one's cloak was colored a deep violet on one side and red on the other while the other's was jet black everywhere.
Shikya eavesdropped on the first portion of the conversation, which consisted of gushing about Sheyla's remarkable talent, but lost interest as it veered into political topics. After about five minutes of chatter, she flipped her feet up and laid lengthwise on the bench, comfortable despite the lack of cushioning. Elven carpenters were that good.
Too young to understand what "treaties" were or what "citizenship" meant, Shikya thought they may as well have been speaking Kaokutian. Grown-up stuff is lame. Her attention shifted back to Sheyla's magic; to the purple orb and heated fingertips. Shikya held her own hand aloft and examined it, first the back and then the front. She scrutinized it, but found nothing new except a chipped fingernail and a bright red spot where the singed leaf fell. I wonder what kind of magic I have...
"You know she's going to have to come with us sometime. The earlier, the better." That pulled Shikya away from her musing, and she turned her head to listen more carefully, dropping her hand to her stomach. Sheyla's... going away?
The Old Man's shoulders lifted and then sagged as he sighed deeply. "I am well-aware of that, but Sheyla is still young. Aemark may be our Kingdom, but the Conclave retains certain rights. As you know, one of those rights is caring for our own until they come of age." She couldn't see his face, but from the tone of voice, Shikya could easily imagine the consternation on the ancient elf's face. She was quite familiar with it, having been scolded for her wanderlust more than once.
The righthand human with the jet-black cloak frowned as his eyes turned hawkish, which sat well with his overall demeanor. "I'd rather not remind you of your position, Aele Enel-la-mal Aeleat." Shikya found it weird to emphasize the third syllable in Aele's mid-name, the significance of it lost on her. "Do you even know how rare a dual-attunement is? Every day outside of the Academy is a day wasted. We need to teach her." To punctuate the statement further, he gesticulated with finality, slapping a fist into his opposing hand. "Now."
Old Man Aele pulled his hands behind his back and clasped them, drawing in a breath as he did so. Ordinarily, it would appear a genial gesture filled with patience and calm assurance, but Shikya recognized it as his signature 'you are in so much trouble that I'm going to throw you out the nearest window and on your ass' stance. Kick him out on his butt, Old Man. Sheyla's not going anywhere. Despite being over four hundred years ago, the elf managed well enough, though Shikya doubted he could toss a grown man. He began to growl a response, but the one on the left interrupted.
"Now hold on, Yal Harlick, I'm sure we can come to some sort of agreement. We wouldn't want to separate so young a child from her family." In contrast to his companion, this one, middle-aged and turning a smidge gray in the hair, wore a soft and inviting expression, full of empathy. "What if we were to instruct her in the fundamental concepts while she continued to live here, at the Conclave?" Harlick glared daggers at him but remained silent. "The Academy is not terribly far, and we'd still start much earlier than we normally would with a new student."
Shikya breathed her own sigh of relief as she saw the aged elf's posture slip back into calm. "Yes, I suppose that could work..." Even though the tension between them lessened, she sensed that the wizened elf felt that he had bargained for the lesser evil rather than claiming a victory. "Shall we dis-"
Another human, a younger redheaded woman with a yellow-and-black cloak and noticeably brighter sleeves than the others, entered the room from an adjacent one, with Sheyla in tow. Sheyla gave a wave and grinned, while the woman clapped her hands and exclaimed, "Medias! She's-got-a-lot-of-potential-we-should-really-see-what-we-can-do-to-teach-..." She drifted to a halt as the kinder of the two men, presumably Medias, held up his hand while Harlick's eyebrow twitched out a quick tempo as he harrumphed haughtily. Jerk! I bet he smells funny! Shikya had the good sense not to voice her opinion.
Medias smiled with grace. "We were just about to discuss that, Kel," he said as he turned towards Shikya, who had thought herself forgotten, and invited her to come with a small wave. "Meanwhile, why don't you take young Shikya here and test her."
When Shikya approached, Kel adopted a crouch, meeting her at eye-level. "Hey, Shikya. We're going to do a little test in the next room. It'll help us determine if you have magic or not. You want to find out?" Like Sheyla, her smile was kind and Shikya grinned back, nodding. Kel stood and gently pushed on Shikya's back to lead her to the side room. Somewhat nervous, she glanced back at Sheyla, who cheerily mimed poking Shikya in the forehead as support.
The room was well-lit by the afternoon sun and the discussion in the ceremonial room quieted both as the room's curtain was drawn and the others moved towards another part of the home. "Sit, sit," Kel all-but flopped the floor and crossed her legs, eschewing the actual seats entirely. Shikya sat down likewise, and she continued with a grin, "I'm Kelindra Elnamalyel Cuthridge, but you can call me Kel; Kel Yel if you want to be formal."
Having found her voice, Shikya responded with formality, as she had been taught when speaking with humans, "My name is Shikya Ennelami Aeleat ov Conclave. I am pleased to meet you, Kel Yel." She grabbed and shook Shikya's extended hand in the awkward human way of greeting.
"Pleasure to meet you Shikya, but you don't need to be so formal... unless-you-want-to. I-mean... don't worry so much about it..." Shikya nodded warily, unsure whether the shifts in cadence were intentional, unique, or a weird quirk that afflicted all human women. "Anyway, Sheyla mentioned she already showed you what she did for her test, so you know the kind of thing we're looking for: glowing colors, changes in temperature, moving stuff. But I'm going to teach you how to do it." She extended her hand out, palm up, just as Sheyla had in the forest.
"Start with your hand out, facing up. ... Good." Holding the position, Shikya eyed Kelindra as she pointed to several points on Shikya's hand: the center and tips of her fingers in turn. "Each of these spots is what we call a 'mana vector.' These spots are where it's easiest for wizards to imbue mana, that's magical energy, into a 'structure.' That structure gives rise to..."
She shook her head. "I always do that. Ignore what I just said. Think of these spots as little holes for your magic to shoot out of. What you're going to do is concentrate and focus as much as you can on your palm and your fingertips." Shikya, nodding, furrowed her brows and focused hard, forcing her mind to think of nothing else.
A few seconds passed. Then another minute before Kel interrupted.
"Okay. It's not an easy thing to do. I mean, I-was-twenty-before-I-managed-anything-magical-so-I-can-emp..." She breathed in, calming herself. The admission did little to ease Shikya's disappointment in herself. "Let's try again, but this time I want you to imagine that there's a... light in your stomach and heart..." She tapped Shikya's torso a few inches above her belly button and then right in the sternum. "Think about that light moving to your shoulder..." Another tap. "Down your arm.." Yet another tap... "...and then to your hand." A gentle squeeze this time. "Keep repeating that image in your head."
Frowning a little, but determined to try again, Shikya brought the image to the forefront of her thought. Long moments passed, but nothing happened. Longer moments came and went while Kelindra waited patiently. I have to do this. She's going to leave someday. I need to be a wizard!
A soft, ringing emanated from nowhere and Shikya saw... something. It was quite unlike Sheyla's purple wisps and sphere or her glowing fingertips. Instead, looking past the air where the magic should be, the wood grain on the wall seemed... distorted, as though it were on the other side of misshapen glass.
She tried to focus on the strange and shifting space, but the effect vanished. The quizzical thoughts that arose distracted Shikya from the task at hand, and she dropped her hand. Examining it front and back, she was unsure whether she had seen the distortion at all. Kelindra put her hand on Shikya's shoulder, startling her out of reverie. "Hey, don't get frustrated. Let's try once more."