My apologies for the recent inactivity here. The last month and a half has seen quite a bit of stress and unavoidable craziness on my end. Starting today, I intend to get back on track. – BHS
15 Jul 2015 1 Comment
A raucous outing
Treasure in the back alley
Bonds beyond distance
“When it comes to the foxes, I regretfully inform the reader that this next chapter may lose its objectivity and sway into personal opinion. I have no doubts that some foxes are fine, upstanding citizens who are decent in their morals, obedient of the law, and respectful to other sentients. Unfortunately, I have yet to personally encounter any who meet most of those criteria, so I must therefore relate my information regarding the fox culture based only on research and hearsay.
“I theorize that the entire race centers on the twin concepts of excess in consumption and excess in expression. Foxes eat too much, drink too much, mate too much, celebrate too much, and above all, talk too much. When using the word ‘gluttonous’ to describe them, one demonstrates the versatility of the word; they overindulge not only in food, drink, and self-gratification, but in every kind of experience, especially of the debauched and depraved variety. They explain themselves to other species by claiming that they are, and I quote, ‘living passionately’. To which I counter thus: living passionately is one thing, and constantly debasing oneself for one’s own pleasure is quite another.
“However, though it pains me to admit, the foxes are talented at expressing themselves in a variety of ways. More art, music, literature, theater, and dance comes from their species than from all the others combined, as if creativity swells inside each one and might burst their bodies should they not let it out. The content of their creative works is… varied, shall I say. For every great and meaningful piece that they produce, there are ten pieces which tend to make decent-minded folk recoil in disgust.
“In the words of their noted philosopher, Maurier: ‘Life is beauty. Beauty is life. We are the most beautiful of all sentient species, and our beauty must be shared with all.’ My response to Lord Maurier’s words is to point out that foxkind shares quite enough already without his encouragement, thank you very much. One only hopes that the next great fox philosopher introduces them to the concept of self-restraint.”
[An excerpt from Parts of the Whole: A Guide to World Cultures, by Ash Caeruleus]
One constant in every species’ portion of Unify was the layout. In all eight of the great city’s walled-off districts, the richest and most powerful lived closest to the Marketplace, in the Inner Rings. These were the oldest sections of the city apart from the Marketplace itself, housing noble and influential families that dated back centuries. As one traveled outward from the center, one saw a steady decrease in signs of luxury: simpler clothes, smaller dwellings, and shabbier surroundings. The newest areas of the city and its subdivisions were by extension the poorest; those on the Outer Rings didn’t have much of anything at all.
Hanami thought of this as she walked behind Faun, two overstuffed wicker baskets of bread, meat, and vegetables under her arms. The vixen had offered to let her use one of her compression bombs to carry the load, but Hanami declined; they made her nervous.
Not helping her nerves was the fact that the same principle that applied to the rest of Unify seemed to apply to the Marketplace at a smaller scale: the further you strayed from the Shinju at the center, the dirtier, poorer, and more ominous their surroundings became. She shivered… she had always been taught to avoid these places. “Faun, if you don’t mind my asking…”
“I never do, kitto.” Faun turned and smiled, walking backward with her arms behind her head. It seemed she knew the way well enough that she didn’t even need to look where she was going. “Go ahead.”
“Um, two questions, actually,” the doe admitted. Her eyes darted back and forth… every alley seemed a prime place for someone to jump out and attack them. “First of all, just where are we going?”
“You’ll see. You’ll have a great time when we get there, I promise,” said Faun, grinning widely. “What’s your second question?”
22 Jun 2015 2 Comments
Go across the plains
To the divided city
Sheltered by the boughs
“To understand why our civilization fractured as it did, it is important to know the differing beliefs that the Three Gods inspired. The only common element between them is the presence of the Three themselves. In all other aspects, each species’ culture and worship differs greatly from the others.
“Squirrels, for example… The smallest in stature of the eight sentient species, but far from the least among us, the squirrels developed a culture based upon the virtues of loyalty, honor, dignity, and strength. Their Godlore focuses on the great heroic deeds of the Shogun, their God of Time, and the boundless empathy and grace of their Goddess of Life, Tsuchi-megami-sama, whose name was later simplified in New Standard as ‘Lady Terra’.
“The Shogun (whose name is Old Standard for ‘General’, though it may be argued that ‘Warlord’ is a more appropriate translation) is said to be the perfect embodiment of a warrior: unrelenting on the battlefield, upholding honor at all times, protecting those weaker than himself and challenging those stronger. Unafraid of death, he is always willing to lay down his life for his cause. A wild, untamed, bloodthirsty beast of a buck at first, the Shogun was eventually tempered by his love and devotion for Lady Terra. It is unsurprising that the squirrels so encourage their young bucks to emulate the Shogun… core tenets of the faith are his sacred Seven Virtues: Loyalty, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honor, and Justice. These Virtues were written for his first band of loyal samurai followers, and passed down through the ages from father to son.”
[An excerpt from Godlore: Our Sacred Legacy and Foundations of Society, by Ash Caeruleus]
It’s too hot.
Hands pressed against the glass, the soft pads on the tip of each finger and thumb blistering from the inferno outside. Pulling away, seeing the reflection of wide, frightened eyes, and a face bathed in a flickering orange glow.
Someone stop it, please…
Shadows on the wall behind, twisting and contorting like demons in a frenzied dance. The smell, sharp and acrid, scouring, overwhelming everything else…
Stop it! It’s too hot!
And then a familiar sharp crack, a stinging pain… and the glass broke under the pressure of flaming black vines lined with thorns, reaching in through the empty frame to grasp her and crush the life out of her…
Hanami sat bolt upright, her short, sharp scream echoing in the small space. It was dark, too dark to see, and something was wrapped around her, stiflingly hot. In a cold panic, she bared her claws to tear at it, she couldn’t breathe… “Huh?”
Whatever was wrapped around her, it didn’t fight back. Stopping short of ripping it to pieces, she paused and ran the pads of her thumb and forefinger over it… it was soft and warm. Fabric. A blanket. This isn’t mine! How? Where-
An enormous, rumbling noise from somewhere to her right was enough to prompt another scream. Where am I have to run have to get out… Her thoughts were a desperate stream as she resumed her struggle with the blanket, a second, even louder noise setting her fur on end…
Wait. She stopped, heart hammering in her breast and tail ramrod straight, and listened carefully to the noise from the right. It was loud, but regular and even… snoring. Hanami took a steadying breath, and caught a dusky, playful scent, traces of a campfire, and a scant few nuts, seeds, and berries on the sleeper’s breath… it was Faun. Hanami supposed that she must have fallen asleep staring into the fire, and this dark place must be the vixen’s den. Calm settled over her.
She took me back to her home. Yes, that made sense. It was all right now, she didn’t need to run anymore. The doe smoothed down her fur and smiled in the dark, more grateful for Faun’s kindness than she had words to express. Out of habit, she reached up to touch the flower tucked behind her left ear, and found it still in place, as always. I wonder…
02 Jun 2015 6 Comments
Under the moonlight
The strangers become new friends
“So it was… we heeded the words, and change and new life flourished throughout the world. From our savagery, we were uplifted into civilizations, each one based upon the Gods that so awed and terrified us. We reclaimed the land, healed it as best we could, and made it our own. We tamed the animals, the goats, sheep, pigboars, and fowl, nurturing them as if they were our own children. Where there was once only ruin, we built homes, towns, villages… and Unify, our capital city.
“Built in a circle around the Shinju, the great tree that the Goddess of Life raised in the world’s center and named after part of the message that the Gods gave unto us, Unify spread as our numbers grew. Among the Shinju’s roots we mingled, sharing our stories and our knowledge, and under her boughs we slept in peace. When it came time to lead ourselves, those chosen by each species took to meeting high up in her crown, where the Representatives could see all of Unify spread out before them.
“For a while, it was paradise… but then, to our sorrow, our belief in the Gods led to more conflict than ever…”
[An excerpt from Godlore: Our Sacred Legacy and Foundations of Society, by Ash Caeruleus]
“Well, kitto, there it is!”
A gasp left Hanami’s lips as Faun pulled aside the underbrush blocking their view of a grassy clearing. At the clearing’s center, under a canopy of stars, there stood a huge slab of natural granite. Ten meters across, it was low enough to the ground that one could step up onto it without having to climb. Its surface was almost perfectly flat, smoothed and leveled by who knew how many centuries of rain, and so polished that it reflected some of the light of the late summer moon above. In the center of the rock there were a half-dozen logs, each large enough to sit on and covered by a hand-woven blanket. The logs surrounded a shallow dip in the rock’s surface, in which lay a pile of blackened timber and ash, the remnants of a fire. All around, the air glimmered with tiny, lazily drifting yellow lights blinking off and on… there was a company of fireflies out tonight, engaged in a courtship dance.
“It’s beautiful,” said Hanami in a hushed tone as she climbed over the edge. The place was like an illustration out of an old storybook, the kind she used to love as a child.
Faun shrugged and grabbed a blanket, wadding it into a rough ball shape before she sat down on it. “It’s not much, but we like it.”
23 May 2015 Leave a comment
“The ferrets are indisputably the most gifted mages in the world; they perfected the art long before the other species had even begun to unravel its mysteries. While they initially kept such gifts to themselves, a thousand years of relative peace have seen my kind share their knowledge with the world. Reproduced here is a chart showing the different types of magic and their relations with one another.”
THE 13 TYPES OF MAGIC AND THEIR USAGES
EARTH: Control over soil; gravity and movement; magnetism; defensive spells
WIND: Control over air; weather- or climate-changing spells; improving physical performance; control of sound
FIRE: Control over fire and heat; offensive spells; explosions and fireworks; demolitions
WATER: Control over water, ice, and fog; boosting mental acuity; relaxation and therapy techniques
DUST: Improving or impairing vision; gradual destruction, disassembly, and reconstruction; fine manipulation; sleep and stasis.
LIGHTNING: Control over electricity; teleportation; improving speed or reflexes; light sources.
MIST: Illusions and misdirection; hypnosis; stealth and invisibility.
WOOD: Plant life manipulation; construction.
ROCK: Control over rocks, minerals, and ores/metal; defensive shields, barriers, and protection; reflection/deflection; ink for message scrolls.
STORM: Heavy offensive spells; enhancing weaponry; cutting and slicing techniques; combining offensive and defensive capabilities.
CREATION: Growth; healing magic; mystical wards and protection
CHANGE: Temporal control; divination; transformation and shapeshifting
DESTRUCTION: Injury, sickness, and death; immediate destruction; blood magic and ritual summoning; emotional manipulation
“As you can see, the four basic elemental forces form the core of nearly all spells. One core element can be combined with any other except itself to create one of the six sub-elements. Three additional elements which encompass and overlap with all the others exist outside the chart, due to their association with the Gods. Only the most powerful and skilled of mages can learn Creation, Change, or Destruction spells; some sentients have spent their entire lifetimes attempting to master even one of these.
“For the most part, mages are born, not made… an ordinary sentient can be taught, but the process can take years if not decades. Evidence of an aptitude for magic will usually present itself when the sentient comes in contact with a focusing object; that is, an object which helps to channel and regulate the user’s power. This contact will usually reveal which style of magic the potential mage is most suited for. From there, a mage may specialize in that style, or attempt to learn others to compliment it. Only a handful of mages in history have ever achieved mastery in more than two styles, however.
“Be warned, reader. Though curiosity is always understandable, knowledge of any magic can be a dangerous thing. To cast spells is to do no less than affect the natural order of the world… it is entirely understandable why the squirrels prohibit its usage. Any study of magic must be undertaken with great care and caution, if the caster should have any hope of surviving long enough to truly earn the title of Mage.
[Excerpted from Basics of Elemental Magic, by High Mage Malachite of Clan Esprit]
04 May 2015 4 Comments
A new arrival
Dusk upon a frigid lake
A flash of scarlet
“Every sentient is taught the story at an early age. Ask any cub, pup, or kit old enough to speak, and they will tell you. It is the story of our world, how it rose from a state of violence and chaos to become the society we know today. They may tell you different names, or different motives, but at its heart, the story is always the same… and it always begins like this:
“Long ago, the world’s eight sentient species were locked in endless war with each other. So brutal, savage, and lengthy was this conflict that all recorded history prior to its beginning was irrevocably lost. All reasons for the fighting, any knowledge to who or what had started it or why, we now have no way of knowing. This tragedy came to be called the Species War. Countless numbers wept… the atrocities committed by every side during that era still haunt us all, even centuries removed from those dark days.
“The lore tells that the last battle was held on a spring morning. What was the spark that ignited into the inferno that followed? No one knows for certain… theories abound, but whatever vile action triggered it, it was enough to awaken something from deep within the earth… a monstrous being, an entity far beyond our understanding. Was it always there, waiting for the day it could reveal itself? Or was it called into existence by our long history of bloodshed? Again, no one knows…
“On that morning, it erupted from beneath us, vast enough to block out the sky, black as night and boiling with hatred… With pitiless eyes of white-hot flame, it looked down upon our multitudes and spoke in a voice that split the skies and cracked the earth: “You fools” it said, and every living creature heard its words and trembled, “This world with all its beauty and promise was given to you, and you have squandered it. You have stained the earth with blood and darkness for far too long. Now, your retribution is at hand. Heed my words, for I am DEATH, and all shall wither before me.”
The God of Death breathed, and all that its breath touched began to burn…”
[An excerpt from Godlore: Our Sacred Legacy and Foundations of Society, by Ash Caeruleus]
For the past half hour, there had been no words between them. Nothing save for the dry leaves crinkling underfoot, the sighing of the breeze, and a few birds up in the branches, singing to warn of the encroaching twilight.
Numb… Hanami felt numb, disconnected from herself. Cold, despite the lingering heat of the late summer evening. It was shock settling over her, she supposed. Shock at not only her new status as an exile (or Outcast, rather), but that what she had been taught and what she had been told about this forest for her entire life had been lies. Deliberate lies, according to the buck called Zero. The foundations of her world were shaken apart… how and why anyone would go so far to distort the truth, she didn’t know.
She found herself wondering what else she had been lied to about.
“So,” said Zero next to her, giving her a start.
“Kya! Y-yes?” Hanami stammered as she ran her hands through her tail fur, trying to smooth it back down.
“It’s my turn to ask a question… if you don’t mind my asking.” He looked back over his shoulder at her, smiling a sad little smile.
“I… I s-suppose not…”
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” said Zero. “It’s just sort of… a custom. When we get a new arrival, one of us asks them why they’re here.”
Hanami froze. Her ears pressed down flat.
“No one comes to Tasakeru without a reason,” he said. “Every one of us made a mistake, or angered our people somehow… we all did something they couldn’t forgive us for.”
Shaking like a leaf in a gale, Hanami’s hands closed tight around her tail. A few dry sounds came from her mouth, but she couldn’t seem to form words.
20 Apr 2015 1 Comment
BOOK I: WITHOUT A NAME
A maiden escapes
To the place where no one goes
Falling summer leaves
“Hanami. That’s my name, my only name. No one knows who I really am… or what I did, or why I ran away. Honestly, sometimes I’m not even sure myself. Maybe the reason I’m writing this is to try to figure it out. Not because I think someone will read it, but for me, just me.
“On the day that it began… I wasn’t sure they were coming after me. I didn’t think, I didn’t plan, I didn’t know where I was going. I just started running, as far away as I could. The running itself… it’s all a blur, I barely remember it. There was pain, of course. My feet were screaming at me to stop, my eyes were burning… but I just kept going, until I found myself in the forest…”
[An excerpt from the compiled journals of the Outcasts, translated from New Standard]
Had they been able, the ancient oaks would have blinked in surprise. Here she was, stepping on leaves and pushing aside branches in the deepest heart of the forest, their forest, paying no attention to any of the beauty around her. Not only that, but she was running down the narrow, winding path between the mighty trunks, her panicked flight at odds with the tranquil atmosphere of the late summer afternoon. Bizarre, to say the least. However, even if the oaks were aware, they paid her no notice. High above, a sparrow alighted on a high branch. It watched the girl for a few seconds and flew away, its attention on other things.
Time passed. The girl ran on.
“As far as I can remember, my mother and father never mentioned the forest, and it never came up in my lessons. I had caught glimpses of it before, though; you could see it clearly if you stood on top of Unify’s outer wall. Maybe I asked about it at least once when I was small, but I can’t remember them ever answering. I heard things from other kits, though… strange and awful things. They said that it was haunted; that monsters lived there that could kill you just by touching you or looking at you. One girl told me what her parents had told her, that it was where the ‘bad people’ went. That if you disobeyed or got into trouble, you would be sent there and never come back. It wasn’t a place I ever thought about going, in any case. But maybe on that day, some part of me realized that if I went to the forest, no one would follow…”
When she finally stopped and leaned against the cool trunk of an oak, her legs and side burned white-hot, protesting the distance she had run. Even so, she was prepared to flee again, to force her exhausted body into action should she need to. Every muscle tensed as she listened carefully for sounds of pursuit… nothing. The forest was deep and silent, save for a few singing birds, the sound of her own breathing, and the frantic hammering of her heart.
It was all right. She was alone. Then, and only then, did she feel safe enough to press her slender body against the bark and weep.