Hazelnut eyes flickered open, witnessed the bright light blazing in through the window and into her room and then shut tightly once again. Wake up Aida…the mumbled thought wandered through her mind, accompanied by its wondering companion, is this really the day? Realisation caused her eyes to flash open again and she sat bolt-upright in her bed.
Her hands drifted towards her face, gently rubbing the remnants of sleep from her eyes in miniscule dust particles. This was the day! “You’ve been waiting nineteen years for this Aida,” she mumbled, “Hooray…” Sarcasm dripped from her lips like soft and buttery honey.
Steadying her thoughts, Aida’s nerves began to buzz in anticipation. In a few hours time she would begin the trip to her own once in a lifetime experience. This day would be the first time as a Speran youth she would be permitted to enter the royal courtyards, and the first and only time she would behold the Sacred Fires within. Then would come the rebirth – the Changing. From the fires we walk anew.
Aida rose from the bed, bracing against the sudden cold that reached through her soft satin bedclothes and reached for a fur-lined woolen robe hanging from a hook by her bedside. She hesitated in that moment as she touched the lining of the robe, and considered: This is the last time I put on a robe this way.
When she walked into the Sacred Fires, her old life would be burned away. And a new life would take its place. A shiver ran across her skin, worry leading her to wonder about the possible powers she might possess following the Changing. Would she be mutilated, her skin twisted into rock, her blood turned to ice? Will I still look like myself? She touched her cheeks, caressing them possessively.
Speran legends stated that the First Emperor himself had been cursed by the Sacred Fires. His right arm forever mangled into a claw – a reminder from the god Prometheus that power unchecked was an abomination. Other rumours implied that this claw was the result of his long struggle to defeat the Fae people – that one of their own primitive gods had cursed him.
Entering the flames, to become transformed in a more innate sense was Aida’s great hope nonetheless. Her deepest fear was that Prometheus would withdraw his blessing from her, cursing her body in beastial and unnatural ways. There had been dark nights, when she had woken in a silent scream from yet another nightmare in which some aspect of her being had been twisted into a morbid form. Nights in which she had woken dripping with sweat, and terrified of the monster her magical powers had transformed her into, chased and tormented by the Inquisition Staff.
The thought of the Inquisition Staff and their abilities gave Aida another reason to shiver. Anyone gifted with the ‘blessing’ of the Allsight – that ability to know a person’s soul through the normal senses – would automatically become a part of their ranks. She dreaded the thought of gaining that power. Aida’s dream had always been to live a quiet life, powers that lead to a life in the Inquisition Staff would never allow her that freedom. She would not be able to pursue study, romance, work or a family. Yet, this was
Wrapping herself in her robe, Aida strolled from the room, letting out a yawn as she narrowly missed tumbling downstairs and into the front door. Correcting her steps, she continued on down the stairs and past the oak-frame door – into the kitchen where the warm, toasty smell of bread rose from the oven.
The oven, like all technology inside Merusaem’s walls drew energy from the Sacred Flames as a powerful energy source. Aida smirked privately, I guess I am going to become yet another human battery after today.
Aida’s mother Therisa stood watching her bread baking, with her simple sapphire robes fluttering and shimmering in a breeze that whispered around her. Therisa’s back was turned to Aida, her dark hair floating gently around her as she focused on her cooking. Baking was a simple task most noblewomen would leave to their personal chefs. However, Therisa was not the same as most noblewomen. She believed strongly in creating food and comfort with her own hands. She claimed that Prometheus would want life to be lived in harmony with the world, and that the gifts and talents given to Sperans were indicative of this godly desire.
“Aida,” her mother spoke softly, allowing the breeze to wrap around and carry her words, “Breakfast will be ready shortly. I do not want you hungry today, of all days.”
Therisa turned slowly, extending one arm, and the air rustled as she pointed towards a pair of cloth gloves sitting on a steel basin. The gloves stirred and then leapt to her hands sporadically through the air. That, Aida marveled, is what I want. To her mother, a skilled aeromancer, the very atmosphere was like an extension of her soul.
“Good morning mother…” Aida started, watching curiously as her mother used the air as a second pair of hands to open the oven. Therisa smiled in reply, “Good morning my dearest.” Her voice was soft and lyrical, with the faintest lilt. Aida swallowed a lump that had built in her throat, summoning words from her nervous energy, “Mother can I ask you a question?” Therisa nodded in reply as she reached into the open oven. “What was the Changing like for you?” Aida asked her question haltingly, quite unsure about herself.
Therisa turned around, holding a steaming hot loaf of bread, and floated over to a table in the centre of the kitchen. “Are you nervous? It is fine if you are, I certainly was.” Without looking she stretched out her left arm towards a knife block set beside Aida. Aida gulped as a bread knife broke-free and galloped through the air into her mother’s hand. Her mother caught the handle with the ease of practice and in the same motion sliced down into the bread.
“Not nervous Mother. I just… Well, does it hurt? Will I remember everything exactly as it is now? Everything is just so…uncertain.” Aida stopped, falling into a listening rhythm with the sawing of the bread.
Therisa finished slicing the loaf and turned, gazing into her daughter’s eyes. Liquid blue depths of emotion drowned Aida and she stood there, four years old all over again. Therisa smiled, brushing a strand of hair behind Aida’s ear as it tumbled forward. “Remember what I once told you? From the fires we walk anew. Everything you have experienced has been part of a wonderful life. Yet, nothing will ever compare to the experience of Changing.”
“Yes…but I mean what if I’m destined to become something horrible like a necromancer, or -” Aida swallowed, “Mum, what if I have to join the Inquisition Staff!”
Therisa handed Aida a slice of the freshly cooked bread, “Careful the bread is hot. So are you worried about joining the Inquisition Staff or about what the Changing feels like?” Therisa paused, her lips puckering slightly, “Well I will tell you how the Changing felt. It was a heat burning into my bones, burning into my very essence. It was like living to the very extent of my being and realising I was previously in death. It was pain and it was pleasure – falling asleep and waking again refreshed all rolled into one singular moment.
“I have been waiting for this moment your whole life Aida, dear. I only wish that as your mother I was permitted to be there in person. To see that moment once you realise your true power as an adult in Merusaem.” Therisa opened a cupboard, and poured the blue contents of a small canister into two separate drinking glasses. She passed one of the glasses to Aida and took a sip from her own. “You will see, however, that what you possess now in your adolescence is only a glimpse of reality. Onward, before you, lies an eternity of truth. You will find a job befitting of your stature amongst the nobility, you will meet someone and fall deeply in love…”
Smiling secretly, Therisa took a slice of warm bread for herself, “Indeed, the only emotion I have to compare it to, is seeing your father for the first time. Well, the first time I realised I loved him.” Aida’s eyes rolled in embarrassment as her mother continued, “Before he joined the Ministry, before the accident, he was the most beautiful spirit I had ever known. Yet now,” the smile hid itself in the corner of her mouth, yet her eyes filled with sorrow, “he is the most honorable man I will ever know.”
Therisa turned to Aida, “Now it is almost time for you to leave, so I want you to remind me, and remind yourself, why is the Changing so important?”
Aida straightened her back and placed her left hand above her right breast, “A thousand years ago when humanity first came to Spera we were set upon by the terror of the Fae. The Fae with their black magic drove humanity into hiding and slavery. And so we remained until the First Changing, when the First Emperor arose.
“Upon instruction from the god Prometheus, our First Emperor was lead to a spring of fire which erupted from the earth. As he entered the fire he was transformed into humanity’s greatest weapon against the Fae. He would lead the rest of humanity to freedom, driving the Fae back from the edges of human civilisation. The First Emperor built his palace upon the Sacred Springs of fire, establishing the boundaries of the greatest city of human civilisation around it – the city of Merusaem.
“Yet in their defeat, the Fae unleashed a terrible and dark curse upon the remnants of Spera, forcing humanity to remain in their city walls or face certain death. The city of Merusaem was cut off from the rest of human civilisation, as the Fae destroyed human settlements cut off from the Sacred Springs. Now, to ensure that humanity no longer lives in fear from the threat of the Fae, all Sperans undertake the Changing – to become men and women of power capable of protecting Merusaem from the Fae should the need arise. And from the fires we walk anew.”
Aida stopped her rough storytelling as Therisa provided gentle applause, “While that may not be quite the ‘correct’ recitation of our legend, you certainly know the material my dear Aida.” She stepped forward and reached out for Aida’s hands, “This is your turn to become a part of our story – the story of Spera!”
Stroking her soft fingers along Aida’s brow, Therisa gently coaxed Aida into a welcome embrace. “Go and enjoy your special day today, your father and I will see you later.”