• Graded • A spark of kinship

Part II

With the escalation of hostilities between Etzos and Rhakros, a series of small walled towns is being established as a network of early warnings and defenses against Rhakros' reprisals. Only the very bravest and most formidable of characters should risk themselves on the Witches' Wilds frontier.

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• Graded • A spark of kinship

Postby Zipper » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:33 am

20th Zi'da 717

Finn stared at her like he was truly seeing her for the first time.

Was this one of her ploys? One of her ‘gotcha’ moments to make him feel stupid? No, it didn’t seem like it, and yet he couldn’t shake the last lingering bit of doubt from his mind. He scooted over to the side a little and cocked his head at her, unsure if she was really, truly offering to share her spark with him. “Will it hurt?” If his initiation into defiance had been anything to go by, the process would demand some sacrifice or another.

“Like a bitch.” she said. “Oh, so fuckin’ much. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 13 in metaphysical agony. I’m not going to lie to you: you will never forget what will be done to you here today. Should you want to continue, of course.”

Finn swallowed. “I’m… I’m not sure sis.” He knew exactly what she meant for he still remembered the floating and tumbling and drowning, and even the thought of it made him nauseous. “D’you think I can take it?”

She shrugged. “You’ll need something to bite down on.”

His eyes widened and for a moment it appeared he would shake his head, stand up, and leave. Instead, he remained, searching for the faintest clue that this wasn’t some bizarre dream. “How long for?”

“Until the energy runs its course.”

“How will I know?”

“You’ll know.” Zipper said, her voice still small and quiet. “You will definitely know. Last chance to back out. I’m not gonna judge you. Really, I’m not. It doesn’t end with the initiation. You’ll spend your life hiding it, fighting it, letting it hurt you, embracing it - but when the alternative is going through the world blind, finite, weak, human…” she trailed off. “We could be so much more, but the immortals keep us weak, keep us wanting narrowly defined power to compensate for a weakness they inflicted.”

“Will I have to eat the stuff you do?”

“Which stuff?” she asked, her eyes narrowing a little.

“The burnt stuff. The weird stuff. I saw what you did with that sword once. Do I have to do that all the time?”

“Not always. It’s called a mutation. It varies between every mage.”

He breathed a sigh of relief. “So how does it work? You can alter things but… how? What are the limits? Could you change yourself? How you look?”
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The spark of kinship

Postby Zipper » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:35 am

“That would be the Padfoots of the world, the… you remember the huge bloke terrorizing the streets a few seasons back? The one that could turn into a butt-ugly super croc?”

“I've met the Hyx,” he answered plainly. “Or did you mean the Lothar?” He frowned a moment. “Fridgar. I saw him change skin.”

“We are going to have a talk.” she said, her voice raising over the soft mumble she had been putting out for the last 5 bits to a hint of the usual Zipper fare that he was more accustomed to. “About meeting, greeting, and not running from dangerously empowered strangers on the street.”
“Don't talk to them, I know,” he groaned. “But I'll be safer now! If you teach me…” he sounded almost hopeful.

“They’re called Becomers, the art of shapeshifting. What Stark can do is called Defiance, which is incidentally his general attitude towards me. It involves whining to the elements and hoping they’re in a good mood.”

“It’s not whini-” Finn caught himself just in time and was quick to course correct. “He told me. It's not whining. It's like a-”

“Conversation.” she said, the eye roll evident in her tone. “A relationship.”

“Exactly!” He beamed. “Did he tell you too?”

“Only as a retort everytime I question his mental stability.”

Finn narrowed his eyes as he thought of a way to change the subject and get the answers he needed. “So how is Transmutation better?”

“In-built lack of mental illness aside?” she said. “Transmutation is ether itself. It works with the raw energy inherent with everything to build, destroy, transform, shift, and suppress. The Becomer finds himself with a thousand faces and one, none of them his own. The Defier calls the elements. But the etherist? The etherist commands power in Idalos itself. Everything that is sensation is yours to command once analyzed: the heat of fire, the chill of winter, the swirl of the wind. It’s like-” she seemed to be reaching out for an analogy.

“Like feelings?”

“That’s Empathy, the starchild of the narcissist and the vainglorious. What the etherist deals with is always tangible, physical. Real. Definite.”

“So Transmutation is the only good magic?”

She gave him a pitying look. “There are no good magics. Just sacrifices we have to make to excel in this world. Some choose slavery under the tyrant immortals, some choose power under their own terms - Transmutation’s just the best horse to bet on.”
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The spark of kinship

Postby Zipper » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:37 am

He had one more question that needed answering, but he couldn't ask it plainly, no matter how unusually nice Zipper had been these past few bits.

"What if I wanted Defiance instead? Would that mean I can't learn any other magic?" A worried frown come to his face. What if Zipper would notice that he already had a spark? The wind whispered comforting words into his ears. It was there to help, to protect him against this snake that imposed her unnatural magic on the world.

“You can have more than one.” Zipper said. “I have two.”

“How many can I have?”

She shrugged again. “I’ve never seen anyone go over three.”

“Why?”

“Because even one comes with its own share of problems. Three’s the most a soul can take, I guess.”

He nodded in rare agreement. If only she knew just how much he understood what she meant. But he couldn't tell her. She could never know.
“What if I die? I mean… can it go wrong? I know Defiance is pretty dangerous to learn.”

“It won’t go wrong,” she said. “I’m here”

“You sound like mom.” In truth he didn't know what mom sounded like, but he imagined it wasn’t so different.

She shrugged again, strangely lethargic, strangely somber, equal parts subdued and serious in a way he had never seen her before.

“She had it too, didn't she?” All doubt vanished now. This wasn't just about learning a new skill, it wasn’t just about creating a bond with Zipper, it was about connecting with his mother too. “You got it from her, didn't you?” His tone was neither accussing nor excited, but relaxed, as if some missing piece had now fallen into place.

“She was my mother twice over,” she said, tapping her chest as if the spark was there. “Yet somehow still incredibly absent.”

“Does that mean that, if you split your spark with me, I'll have part of her spark in me too?”

“If you’re sentimental, sure. You can look at it that way.”

“It matters.”

Another shrug. It was starting to seem like, if it went on any longer, Zipper, rather than himself, was the one that was going to have to be talked into this.

“It matters to me anyway,” Finn restated, a little more gently this time as he tried to lock eyes. “If you'll do this for me, for us I'll… I'll be better. I promise.”
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The spark of kinship

Postby Zipper » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:38 am

“Ground rules.” she said. “Tell no one. Not Molly, not Robin, not anyone. An etherist’s place is in the world - not in this bird cage of a city. And if they -if the wrong kind of people- find out, it’ll be a bird cage for you too. I’m… I’m doing this for me too, in a way. Once you reach out to the world, they have nothing on me. I’ll have the option too.”

He was starting to think she was a shrug factory at this point. She was usually far more assertive with her denials. This was serious, he thought, this was really, really serious. They were really going to do it. “The pull will find you, like it or not. The hunger to take in the world - which beats losing your identity or giving in to imagined elements either way.”

“Only you,” he smiled, “only you can talk like a crazy person and still make sense.”

She gave him a tired smile. “Tell no one.” she said. “Something I should have done.”

“Not a word,” he swore solemnly. “It'll be our secret.”

There wasn't much left to be said, nothing that wasn't already implied anyway. The cool of the twilight wind was like a gentle, caressing touch to him as he undid his jacket so he have something to bite on. He shifted around until he sat opposite to her on both knees and dusted off the leathery bit of his sleeve while his arms hung loosely at his sides. When he was satisfied, he looked up, his sea-green facing off against her icy-blue. No final words were needed as the voices of the elements receded and his world narrowed to just him and her.

Him and her

Him and her…

He placed a trusting hand on her knee and nodded.

Then…

“Take off your shirt and sit up straight.” she said. “And bite hard.”
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The spark of kinship

Postby Zipper » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:39 am

There was the slightest hint of hesitation, but he did as asked regardless. He was not so thin and bony and helpless anymore, nor was he blessed with great strength,he merely looked healthier than an Etzori orphan had any right to be. His stomach rose and fell steadily, except for the slight shiver that passed through him. Zipper took a position somewhere behind him, sitting or kneeling so she was facing his back. He looked over his shoulder, or wanted to, but then remembered to sit still and waited, in dreadful silence, for what was to come.

The first step to what was probably the worst day in his life began with a rising, metallic sizzle of power that he had heard only a few times before.

“Don’t turn around.”

He turned around.

He wished he didn’t.

And in her right hand she held a surge of pewter colored energy so massive it was taller than she was wide. The energy mass crackled and fluxed, growing and shrinking at random with each passing second before deciding on the latter, steadily compressing the sparking mass of energy itself to the size of a melon. A horrifyingly volatile melon made of raw ether.

His eyes widened “What's tha-”

“Turn around and bite down.” she said. “This is going straight into you.”

She had to be joking. She had to be absolutely joking about this. There was no way on Idalos that that thing was going into him unless she planned to cleave him head to toe like a-

“It’s not going up your anus,” she said, reading his fears entirely wrong… and opening up the possibility of a new one. “You’re going to see things, Fi. You’re going to see an entire expanse of possibility in the shapeless void of Emea as this thing turns you into me. It will seduce you, it will attract you, it will beckon you to stay, it will even feel like home - do not. A whore is a whore is a whore and there’s a price to pay for short, base gratification. Are we ready?”

He bend a little as he reached for the jacket and stuffed part of it in his mouth. He heard the earth again, the wind, the sea, even the heat buzzing around that fookin thing. They all shouted stop, they all told him to stay and stop and shake his head and-

“Dwo iwt,” he said as he braced himself the best he could.
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The spark of kinship

Postby Finnegan O'Connor » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:41 am

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Finn O'Connor :: 20th Zi'da, 717
She did.

She pressed the sizzling melon-spark into his shoulder, then through it, and suddenly the memory of drowning wasn't so bad anymore. His jaw clenched and his teeth dug deep into the leather. His nostrils flared wide open and he fell forward onto his hands. Except his hands weren't there anymore, there was only the sensation of a violent, burning ember being forced past his screaming, shriveling innards. There was only the feeling of a roaring flame inside him, eating at his inside, boiling his blood. A hundred nails fired from the core of the spark, stabbing at his insides, piercing his guts inside out, and then they fired again, and again, and again as he fell, yet didn't fall and convulsed and yet didn't. His teeth tore through the leather and he tasted the coarse and dry fibre in his mouth.

He heard what could have been his sister’s voice - if it had been an echo of an echo, stripped of every bit of whatever original message had come with it and reduced to a ghost of what could have been a plea or an admonishment or a scream. She could have been laughing at him or crying or screaming strength into him and holding him tight and he would never, ever know because the nails were the only world he would ever know. Could ever know. She had warned him, she had warned him good, but he could have never known that the pain would be his only company.
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The spark of kinship

Postby Finnegan O'Connor » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:42 am

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Finn O'Connor :: 20th Zi'da, 717
When he'd drowned, he'd floated, now he was flying, soaring upward into the dark, emptiness of space with nothing to hold onto, not even himself. He moved too fast. There was no air, no light, no life, not even a sound. There was only the impaling pain at what he knew to be his core. Where was he going? He had to get back!

His saviour. His killer. His love and his hated rival. The dark in the shadows and the cold light that he swore, in a distant land and a distant time, had once been warm. Everything that once made sense in the world seemed absurd in the face of such agony, and everything that called out a name that wasn’t his didn’t deserve life. He was rife in the throes of all there was and all there would be now.

And then it was over. He lay flat on his stomach in the sand, still shaking with from shocks rippling through his frame, but they were distant now, like a calling voice. He rolled over onto his back, expecting to see Zipper, expecting her to tell him how well he'd done and that he'd succeeded and that he was the best and sweetest brother she could've wished for.

“It didn’t work,” Zipper said. He couldn’t see her, but her voice was there all the same. “The spark rejected you. Because it had another occupant.” He could feel the sting in her voice, the sheer accusation in it. “It didn’t work and nobody can save you now.”
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The spark of kinship

Postby Finnegan O'Connor » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:44 am

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Finn O'Connor :: 20th Zi'da, 717
“But-” and then he was soaring again, and then he fell again, smacking violently into the earth. He was flat on his belly and he expected Zipper to be right behind him, to welcome him back, to embrace him, to wrap her hands around his throat and laugh as she would choke him. “Fi!” He cried out, but he had no voice left, he'd screamed too much and too long. He rolled over onto his back and saw Etzos in the skies above, the dingy houses that littered the streets upside down, rooted within the clouds.

A line of orphans marched toward him from Etzos above, walking through air as if it was the solid earth itself. He recognized their twisted faces, and he recognized hers most of all. “Molly!” Tears poured down his cheeks. He was so relieved to see her!

She smiled at him and helped him up, but no sooner than she had done so, she held his arms in a lock as the first Orphan approached. Melan. They'd been friends a long time ago. The little blond swung back his arm and struck his jaw like a hammer hitting an anvil. Next came Zora. She had never liked him and her hatred was felt with a punch to the gut. Finn gasped for air, but already the next Orphan stood before him, ringing his ear with another blow to his head. The line stretched around the corner of the cloud city, and he sunk deeper and deeper onto his knees until blood streamed from his mouth, and nose, and ears, and yet there was no end, no blisful unconsciousness. Every next hit was as real as the one before it until he finally fell.

He landed flat on his belly in the sand.

He pushed himself up to his feet, with an ease that suggested the last round of beatings never happened.

There was a door right in front of him.

With an inevitability that didn’t seem wholly his, he grabbed the doorknob and opened it.
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The spark of kinship

Postby Finnegan O'Connor » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:45 am

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Finn O'Connor :: 20th Zi'da, 717
He took a step into the sunlit house, then a second, then a third. Laughter filled the rooms and he stepped aside just in time as a young boy zipped past him into one of the other doors, followed by an older girl. They seemed familiar. And then a woman walked in and called for them to come for dinner, and the two kids hurried out and everything was well, though he wondered why he couldn’t stay.

He could stay. He would stay. The woman turned around and he couldn’t catch her features in the shadows, but she beckoned with one arm and gestured for him to come over, to stay
“Oh you're finally here,” she said. “will you set the table please?”
He remained frozen in the door opening. “Mom?” he almost choked on the word. And then he was lifted up and as he turned his head he saw a blur of his father's face as they spun around and around while the handsome man laughed and laughed before setting him down again. “Now go on, do as your mother says,” his father encouraged with a playful kick to his behind. There was no pain anymore, except for a slight itch in his belly, but he dismissed it as being hungry.

“Oof!” His mother said as he flung his arms around her. “Oh mum, I had the weirdest dream, I was… there was an orphanage and you’d left and…” his eyes fell on his younger sister Fiona, and his little brother Narav, playing with wooden toys in the corner. “I don't remember Narav being there but Fiona, she was older and…”

“And what?” Fiona piped up from the corner. Her hair was neatly braided. “Well,” he resumed, “you were a little mean to me but-"

“That's a stupid dream, I'd never be mean to you.”

He frowned. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“I'd never be mean to you,” she repeated innocently, though there was something strange to the way she said it. Her smile was just a little too wide and Finn felt the burning gaze of his parents drill into his back. Bewildered, he lowered himself to her height. “You'd never…”

“I'd never be mean to you,” she said again, “but you've got to stay."

“Stay?”

“Yes, stay here,” she said as she tugged his sleeve. “You keep running off and making mommy worried, and you make me and Captain Peg worried too,” she said as she waved the wooden toy soldier in his face.

“But you don't like toys,” he muttered as he glanced around the house for support. “Toys are for children.”
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The spark of kinship

Postby Finnegan O'Connor » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:46 am

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Finn O'Connor :: 20th Zi'da, 717
“What toy?” Fiona said. There was no Captain Peg anymore. Finn stood up. “I have to go.” He marched toward the door despite the incessant tugs at his sleeve by Fiona. “But I made your favorite food!” His mother said. Just as he turned around to answer her, something stabbed into his back.

“You'll stay,” the gruff voice of his father sounded as he pulled the dining fork from his back, dragging red tendrils of meat along with it. “You must stay.”

He no longer hesitated and ignored the nails of Fiona, his mother, and Narav’s tiny little nails scratching at his back as he ducked between his father's legs and charged into the garden.
“STAY!” His father roared as he ran through the garden with the wild roses. Something heavy whooshed through the air. The chopping axe struck right between his shoulder blades. He fell, and landed flat on his belly in the sand.

He rolled over onto his back and crawled back on his elbows like a panicked crab. Cold sweat trickled down his face, his neck and pooled near his collarbone is while his nostrils flared with frightened breaths as her face loomed over him. A little golden sunray had broken through the leaden sky above.

“Hey,” Zipper was shaking him hard, making his teeth chatter in his skull. Zipper was shaking him so hard and she wouldn’t stop - until he weakly noted that she wasn’t even touching him yet. It was he that was shaking and bathing sweat.

“Hey, focus. Focus, okay?” She was keeping him at an arm’s length, as if he could have caught on fire at any trill. “We fine? We still here?”

“I'm not staying, I'm not staying, I'm not staying!” He cried out. “Get away from me!”

“Hey!” Zipper said, she clapped her hands in front of his face. “Hey! Fuck you! Focus! We’re here!”

He blinked, still not trusting his senses. She was a figment of his imagination, he was sure of it. The real Zipper would never use such a weak swear. “I just keep coming back here,” he choked out with tears in his eyes. “You're not real! Nothing’s real, I have to- I have to…” he looked around, searching for help that would not come. “Mom! Moooom!”

“Still bereft of responsibility, sadly.” she said. “You’re done. You made it.”

“That's what they all say.” he didn't even know why he was answering the phantom. “I should never have done it!” This time he threw himself toward the ground and curled up into a pathetic, snivelling ball, furiously rubbing his arms in some attempt at comfort.

He heard her walk away, and even though he was absolutely positively sure she wasn’t real, he panicked. This was a trick to get him to follow, to make him run after her so she could gather her fellow shades and beat him up again. He wouldn’t fall for it this time. He was going to lay there, all curled up, until the world made sense aga-

Fiona returned and dropped a pebble before his face.

Shocked, he scrambled to a sitting position, his bronze skin still glistening with cold sweat. The earth was worried.

“Touch it and tell me what you see.”

He hesitated, but couldn't see any reason why the spectre would have him touch a pebble. Perhaps there was a chance, however small, that he'd returned. He rolled his aching shoulders before reaching out with a trembling digit and touching the cool surface.

At first, there was nothing. Then Defiance’s usual song took root, whispering the tale of the pebble to Finn - but there was something at the back this time, a smaller voice, a quieter voice asking for attention. He pushed past the pebble’s plea, digging deeper, his hands closing around the pebble until… until he knew it. Until he understood it as a mother knew her child.
He looked up at Zipper in wonder and she smiled back.

“Welcome to the club, Finnegan.”
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