To visit this place was to enter another world entirely.
An inky blackness fell over Maedoc as he stepped inside. Cynwrig poked his head out, scanned the area, then closed the door behind them.
“What a surprise, you smell like dirt. Wash up before you touch anything, you hear?”
Maedoc couldn’t see an inch in front of his face, but he could feel the weight of the man’s stare upon him.
“Of course! I was just about — I wouldn’t dare…” the boy stammered as he heard Cynwrig chuckle and continue inside.
Maedoc composed himself, blinking hard. Sometimes he thought the man enjoyed watching him squirm.
He wiped his feet upon the roughly hewn wood-fiber mat, being careful to scrape off every bit of mud and debris. Looking up, he was now able to see a faint, orange glow peering around a corner. Maedoc let a secret smile stretch across his face.
He paused to admire the moment, for the ride was about to start.
Cynwrig bellowed from the depths of the mill, “Stop staring at that corner like a darned fool and get in here, Lassie!”
Maedoc jumped. Was he that obvious? Come to think of it, he did this same ritual each and every time he was permitted entry.
Silently saying goodbye to the terrestrial, he crept to the corner and, holding his breath, stumbled past it.
Air breezed its way back in as he slowly unwrapped the scene before him.
A long, dark hallway drawled to his right, which Maedoc slowly brought his gaze to. He kept his eyes low, doing his best to save the end for last.
With great skill of avoidance, he let his vision slide down the walls and ceiling. They were simple, unadorned, and previously nonexistent. Cynwrig built the hallway himself after moving in, though Maedoc was uncertain as to why.
Privacy, perhaps? The prying eyes of people eager to steal the colorful secrets inside were denied by these walls, where before, the entirety of the mill’s first floor was clearly visible from the doorway.
Or maybe it was for the very same reason Maedoc enjoyed it so. This delightful ride from reality to dream.
Satisfied with the perimeter, he permitted himself to center his sights onward, to the source of his excitement. It’s what was to be found resting at the end of the hallway.
And that’s precisely what it was.
The end of the hallway.
What most utilized as a simple entrance, a most basic necessity for a room to function, Cynwrig took a different route and instead displayed a man-made cosmos.
Dazzling swaths of gold and fiery red stretched themselves across a diminutive rectangular sky. It appeared a broiling oasis, an island only possible in feverish fantasies, flowing over with glittering stars in a shadowy sea.
The wisps of sunset pink and silvery white did not go unnoticed. They were peppered in for good measure.
He approached with steps unhurried, for this was no ordinary cosmos. It was a forest, too.
Better phrased, it was a “jungle,” as Maedoc had heard described by the rare Southern merchant. Nothing else described it better.
He made his way forward, and as he did, the scene before him began to shift.
The soft points of golden hue became clear as they grew out into narrow offshoots, elongating into delicate stems of the metal brass. These composed the multiple sets of scales, plates and pipes Cynwrig scattered about his tables and bookcases, sprawling out into some invasive, incomprehensible ecosystem.
The points of fiery red? Copper. The man had a special yearning for copper. Any item he came across, if copper, he had to acquire. These blips of light leafed into bulbous curves and shapes difficult to generalize.
Vases, carved faces, cutlery and coins littered every surface they could find. The occasional strange spiral presented themselves also, red rings spinning outward as a snail shell would. The boy had no clue what those were. Must be new.
The pink he couldn’t yet make out, but the silvery white was always ever one thing: water.
Flasks of fused glass, wrought iron cups and saucers – the containers varied wildly in their natures, yet their sparkly contents are what stole the spotlight. Cynwrig had a thing for water, too.
Cynwrig has an excess of things, Maedoc mused. Maybe it would be nice, to have a thing? Being bereft of things must make a man boring to the world.
A timeless trek later, his feet found their way to the threshold.
No matter how much effort he put into readying himself, arriving at the entirety never failed to leave him dumbstruck.
Time after time, the sprawling desks and mountainous mahogany shelves were, to him, a confectionery of wonders. All of which orbited the massive grinding stone of the mill sprawled in the center of the room, the shaft of which pressed upward through the ceiling and beyond.
Maedoc supposed he would never outgrow it at this point. This spectacle before him.
“Only you could get lost in a hallway so simple, Lassie. It’s inspiring!” Cynwrig laughed, leaning backward on a table hosting a small village of pitchers and glasses.
“Brilliance strikes most eagerly when one can’t make up from down. My experience, anyway,” he shrugged.
Sipping from a copper mug nestled in his hand, he continued. “If I could get half as lost as you, I’d be four times brighter than I am now, minimum.”
The boy’s brain hiccuped. Was he being insulted, or honored? As usual, Maedoc hadn’t a clue.
“Uh… you’re welcome? And can’t you call me anything else?” he muttered, admiring the milky quartz cups housing the flames on either side of the entrance. “I have enough names out there.”
Mad Duck. Trinhead. The Maed. This town had a real knack for nicknames.
“You’re right, my boy! Nothing can top the original. Maedoc Alastrine,” the man sang into his mug. The metal reverberated the words into a tinny choir. “Maaaedoc Alaasstrine — it just rolls right off the tongue.”
As his eyes fully adjusted, the pink slowly became apparent. He identified a number of haphazard piles of what seemed to be short, squat roots.
“Radishes.” Cynwrig clarified, following the boy’s stare. “They just arrived a few days ago. They’re going to be huge.”
“They… look promising.”
Maedoc had a sudden fear that Cynwrig, eager to test his whimsical cooking, would have him choke one of these down. Or worse, drink them in some sordid cocktail.
Cynwrig straightened up like a soldier called to rank, racked with a sudden sense of duty.
“Well! No use standing around. I’ll get us situated.” His eyes surveyed the area.
“Give me a moment, kiddo,” he said with a wink. Cynwrig then scooted off towards the kitchen.
Maedoc widened his gaze. Alone. For the first time ever, he was alone amongst all these exotic oddities.
Without missing a beat, the lad turned to pour himself over an endless wilderness of curiosity.
The table to his left hosted a bizarre metallic display which confounded him. A delicate metal grid lay below an assortment of shiny iron cubes, all of which appeared to be floating in midair. As anyone would, Maedoc extended a finger and poked at it.
The chosen cube, when pressed, rotated once.
All cubes then shifted, globbing onto one another in one swift motion before falling back to Aunios, clattering loudly.
Maedoc coughed in a clumsy attempt to cover the noise, managing about as well as one might expect.
“Maedoc! Magnetism’s Bane!”
The metals in the room resonated with the outburst. Maedoc jumped, turning to receive his due justice.
He saw Cynwrig’s back as the man stood there, head cocked, facing a cozy arrangement of two comfortable looking armchairs and a small, square shaped serving table.
Distancing himself from the crime scene, Maedoc began shuffling over to join the man in whatever this evening ended up being. Four steps in he stopped, for the man was already shifting the furniture around and muttering to himself.
The boy shrugged. “I thought the first arrangement was just fine.”
“I don’t get to do this often. I’d like it to be perfect. Ah-hah! I know what it is…”
The small table was hoisted into the air. He eyed it with evident dismay.
“This is simply unacceptable. It won’t do. What am I thinking…”
He shook his head as he and the table together traveled across the room and back into the kitchen.
This was shaping up to be an odd visit. Cynwrig never once cared about appearance or neatness. The positioning of furniture normally meant nothing to the man. As the maze of benches and clusters of crooked bookcases could attest.
Maedoc let his gaze wander to the desk to his right.
Swirling water occupied a shallow bowl. Small patches of moss are spotted creeping out of quartz test tubes. Assorted crystals and minerals sit around a funneled flame. Maedoc traced the blaze to a rubber tube, which sprawled off the table to a wrought iron cylinder on the floor. He assumed it was filled with a flammable gas, took a moment to think, and decided against touching anything on or near this fixture.
A plate breaks in the background. A guttural grating noise emanates across the room.
Something heavy was being moved across the floor.
A subtle foreboding grows slowly in Maedoc’s gut.
The scraping grows louder as Cynwrig emerged from the kitchen doorway, back first, dragging a solid oak desk. Easily weighing double what he did, the desk was proving to be a strain. His breathing forced, face reddened, he inched it towards the commode ensemble.
Upon arriving he took a step back, became still as a statue, and stared at the arrangement with his head cocked. The cacophony of creaks and squeaks continued as he moved to shift the items once more.
Not this again.
Maedoc shifted back to the table, his gaze falling upon a rag in shallow bowl of water.
Eyes widening, he stuffed his hands inside it with bated breath, stealthily scrubbing with a fury he hoped would turn back the clock. He’d entirely forgotten to wash up. Whoops…
The concerto behind him finally came to a full stop. Maedoc paused and turned around.
“Here we go,” Cynwrig beamed, smiling to himself. “This is it.”
Maedoc stood his ground. He knew better now. He had become so very wise in these past five minutes.
The man turned towards him. “Come over here fool, we don’t have all night.”
With a smile, the boy wiped his hands on his shirt and dashed over. He promptly plopped his bottom on the chair nearest to him, before the geezer could change his mind.
“I love this chair placement, it’s great! Wouldn’t change a…”
He looked up. Cynwrig was gone.
This must be some awful old-man prank, Maedoc concluded.
“Oookaaaay!” echoed the kitchen as the gray one emerged with bottles in tow.
“Sorry. I had to grab these. It’s a celebration, after all. Of the finest nature.”
“I know I’m 14. I know I can. But I don’t drink that poison. It tastes horrible.”
The village of Donnegal had the generously low drinking age of 13, and it had been this way for quite some time. Everyone worked hard, even the youth. After a day’s work, most would enjoy a small glass of spirits to celebrate their shared efforts. Most, but not Maedoc.
Cynwrig’s eyes widened with shock. “Blasphemy. You’ve never tried THIS poison. I think you’ll really quite like this one.”
Unlike furniture, the man was lightning when it came to a potent beverage, and he delivered a drink almost immediately to boy’s hand. A flurry of glasses and fluids had taken place before Maedoc could think to blink.
“It’s celery infused! With a touch of onion! Who’d of thought it would turn out so good? Go on, just a sip.”
Celery and onion and enough alcohol to strip paint off a fence, no doubt. The boy sniffed it.
“I’ll, uh, catch the next sip.”
“Oh, fuff.” The man plopped down in the chair across from him. Leaning forward, he gazed upon the youth with no small sense of wonder.
“So! What did you think of it?”
Now it was Maedoc’s turn to cock his head. He looked down at his cup, then back at Cynwrig.
“I… Well. It smells… vegetable-y? There isn’t much ‘celery’ to it, but the onion is certainly—”
“No, no, not the drink, the Aether! How was it?”
The boy froze. Aether. That green thing?
“How was it? Well… it’s a pretty green. Sturdy, too. Nice and solid.”
The old man nodded. “Sturdy and green, sure. Always good. And?”
“And… it’s not too heavy. But also not too light.”
The smile fell slowly from Cynwrig’s face.
“And… did I mention… how pretty the green was?”
A cube of ice cracked in the glass. The man was stunned.
“You didn’t notice anything… out of the ordinary? Anything odd, puzzling, that you couldn’t explain?”
Maedoc shuffled in his seat uncomfortably.
“…was I supposed to?”
The man’s eyes felt like lead blankets upon him.
Cynwrig suddenly laughed to himself in a single loud exhale.
“Haaawh! You know what…”
The man jumped up in excitement, his mug magically retaining its contents as it rose along with him. Maedoc, startled, physically jolted in response.
“I rather prefer it this way!”
Cynwrig’s eyes shot off far into the distance, his face gushing gratitude and awe.
“This way I’ll see it happen firsthand…”
He paused to look down at his shirt. There was a tendency for Cynwrig, upon encountering excitement of a notable nature, to leap from his seat and shout. Oftentimes it left him with broken lamps, littered entrees and dirtied apparel.
No drops this time. He flashed Maedoc a smile and eased himself back into his chair, looking satisfied.
Maedoc took the initiative. He presented the item a second time, eyeing it with newfound interest. He wondered if this was some sort of mystery to be solved. What was he expected to see? What made this thing special?
He turned it over and gave it a look. Turned it again. Didn’t weigh much.
He shook it next to his ear. Nothing rattling inside.
Maedoc blinked. He had no idea what this man was talking about.
“I don’t understand, Wrig. What am I supposed to see? And what is this, anyways? It’s a weird material. Neither wood, nor metal—”
“Oh, right, right. It’s actually something familiar to you. You’re aware of the resin the sailors use?” Maedoc nodded. Who could forget the smell?
“They apply it to the hull of their ships. This allows them to be strong, lightweight, and waterproof. Curiously enough, its origins are biological in nature. I personally believe this is what allows Aether to perform its unique function…”
Silence saturated the air. Cynwrig looked off, musing to himself. Maedoc was only further perplexed.
“Function… is this meant to do something?”
“Yes, my boy. It performs the same function every living being does. Be it plant, animal, or a person much like ourselves.” Cynwrig leaned in close for dramatic effect, almost falling off his chair. The man was clearly unable to hide his excitement.
“It’s a gatherer of energy.”
Poor Maedoc had no idea what that sentence meant, and did his best to hide this fact.
“Ah. Well. Good!” he chimed in with a nod. “That’s great—”
“Do you know what energy is, Maedoc?” Cynwrig questioned, bemused. Maedoc wondered how to fake a sincere nod, was unsuccessful, and instead settled on a discordant shrug.
“It’s okay if you don’t. I haven’t met many in this town who do. Luckily for you, there’s an easy way to learn all there is to know about energy. All you have to do is take that Aether and feel it.”
Cynwrig reached forward and wrapped Maedoc’s fingers around the item.
“For starters, don’t squeeze it. Everyone thinks they have to squeeze it. I’ll never understand. Don’t hold your breath, either.”
Cynwrig paused a moment, finding his words. He then locked eyes with the youth as he continued.
“Another thing. Don’t overthink this. Subtle energy is not so mysterious. With Aether, it becomes outright tangible.”
The man softly closed his eyes and began dreamily gesticulating with his hands, a small bobbing of his palms and fingers, as if playing a invisible instrument no one on Aunios had ever known.
“There’s a unique sensation you’ll pick up on, it’s unmistakable. Give yourself a moment of liberated perception. Barr both prejudice and distraction from your mind — for a minute or two, tops. With an honest effort, you’ll feel it. Subtle at first, yes, but once it lands, you’ll never forget it.”
Maedoc was stunned. What is all this? He had never heard mention of anything of this nature. Not once in his life.
Taking notice, Cynwrig smiled and leaned back into his chair. “I know, it’s a little much. I would normally never rush this sort of thing upon anyone. But you, Maedoc… I have a special feeling about you. I think you’ll be a natural at this.”
If Maedoc had a moment to think, he would have felt bashful and a little proud, but he was currently occupied with an ocean of confusion and a slight spritzing of stupor.
“Your hand,” Cynwrig stated, pointing at the boy’s enclosed fist, “what’s it feeling now?”
Maedoc was starting to grasp what was going on. This item gathered some sort of something called “energy.” By holding it, he would be able to feel it, make the geezer proud, and finally figure out what this was all leading to.
Unfortunately, he felt nothing out of the ordinary.
“I’m sorry, but all I can feel is my own pulse. I don’t think I can feel what you’re describing.”
In addition to his confusion, Maedoc now felt a vacant defeat. He’d failed before he even knew what was going on.
“A pulse?” Cynwrig smirked. “Are you certain it’s yours?”
This constant toying was starting to have an effect on the guest.
“Of course it is!” Maedoc snapped. “I think I’d know my own pulse! I’m not stupid!”
Cynwrig furrowed his brow. Maedoc felt his eyes go wide. Where was this anger coming from? He took a breath.
Cynwrig’s eyes softened with mirth as he raised his hands in reassurance.
“It’s okay! It’s okay. Sometimes it’s a rough departure, into the unknown. Here, I’m going to make you something to sip on. I suppose I’ll omit the alcohol, criminal as it might be.”
The man rose from his chair.
“Just try and feel that pulse a little more closely, okay? I suppose it might be easier if I’m not staring bullets into you…”
He then excused himself from the room, vanishing into the kitchen.
Maedoc followed him with his eyes. Relief slowly ebbed over him.
Whenever anyone had their eyes upon him, all he could feel was the weight of their stare.
He truly didn’t want to disappoint. It was an honor to be here, doing whatever this was, even if the circumstances were beyond mysterious.
Maedoc wrinkled his brow. He would give it his best.
Breathing in, he flexed his hands, stretched his arms and rolled his head upon his shoulders. It was the same ritual he did before he plowed a new plot of land, dug irrigation ditches, or any long and grueling activity. Stretch the muscles, release the tension, increase blood flow and circulation. It helped make any task a little more doable.
Now then. Reveal your secrets, Aether.
Maedoc closed his eyes and tuned into the pulse.
Beat. Beat. Beat.
That’s a pulse, alright. The youth was a little confused, however, at why he was feeling his pulse. When he would grip a shovel with all his strength, he was able to feel his pulse much like he could now. After a day of toiling in the fields with his hands, he could feel his pulse up until the moment he fell asleep.
And yet, he could feel it just as strongly while he sat there, barely gripping the item at all.
Maedoc chalked it up to a lack of attention on his part. Maybe it happened when he held any item? A shovel, a mug, the Aether…
If this was the case, he was surprised he had never noticed it before.
Sadly, this did not bring him any closer to what he was supposed to feel.
He sat there a moment, stumped, until inspiration struck. Utilizing his free hand, he placed a finger upon the inside of his wrist.
The pulse he felt had to be his. But to be certain, he only needed to measure and compare.
Beat. Beat. Beat.
That’s three for three. They were precisely matched.
Maedoc sighed audibly.
He couldn’t tell if he was disappointed or relieved. Disappointed he had to break Cynwrig’s enthusiasm. Relieved this was all a prank or some ruse. This was all just too strange. Maybe it was for the best, that it didn’t end up true.
He was about to set the item down when, all of the sudden, it began to feel… different.
It was speeding up. The tempo slowly picked up pace, with no end in sight.
He paid special attention to the finger on his wrist. Had his heart suddenly began to race?
Beat, Beat, Beat.
A little, yes, due to the surprise. But nothing like what his hand was perceiving.
The sensation whirled higher, faster and faster, until it was almost a hum.
No, not a hum. It was a feeling Maedoc could never misplace.
This is a heartbeat.
Some sort of wild, sublimely alien heart, packing more chambers than the boy could count. Five, six, seven or more, all pumping in some otherworldly, dissonant unison.
Yet it was soothing. Dreamy. Maedoc found himself dipping into a subtle sort of slumber.
Free of thought. Free of physicality. Free of time.
He floated there, no longer believing himself a brain inside a skull.
No belief was left to be had. All that could be done in this shapeless, timeless space was to feel.
Some incomprehensible message was being delivered. A story in another language. A song in a long forgotten key.
The song was then splayed out into a hazily visible branch of a fern. Each long, slender leaf was both a single beat and a kaleidoscopic world unto itself. These leaves then spun off into other, entirely sovereign ferns, all instantly woven by invisible hands hailing from some higher Nature. A Nature many leagues beyond his comprehension.
On and on this fractal display whirled until—
“Neat, ain’t it?”
Maedoc creaked his eyes open.
A knotted, roughly hewn slab of wood was found inches from his nose. Pressed against the side of his face was the most bizarre wall he’d ever seen. One which seemingly stretched out in all directions.
“You want to stay down there a little while, or…?”
He blinked. The wood was revealed to belong to the chair he once sat on, in another lifetime. The infinite wall, simply a crumb-infested floor.
When did this happen?
Standing up, Maedoc rubbed his eyes with his fists. He unfurled his right hand to see the Aether still nestled safely inside.
“It’s rare I see anyone knocked to the ground by it. I assume you had a good trip?”
Maedoc stared at the man with incredulity.
“What IS this thing?”
His eyes fell back to the Aether with no small sense of awe and fear.
“Is… is it alive?”
Cynwrig laughed, setting his concoction down on the table.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t a clue.”
End of Chapter Two
Perceive (LVL 1)
“Give yourself a moment of liberated perception. Barr both prejudice and distraction from your mind — for a minute or two, tops. With an honest effort, you’ll feel it. Subtle at first, yes, but once it lands, you’ll never forget it.”
Prep (LVL 1)
“Stretch the muscles, release the tension, increase blood flow and circulation. It helps make any task a little more doable.”
-Aether is a “gatherer of energy”
-Every living being is a gatherer of energy. Be it plant, animal, or human
-The foundation for Aether is a resin used to waterproof the hulls of boats, as well as strengthen them against impact. The origins of the resin are biological in nature
“Brilliance strikes most eagerly when one can’t make up from down. My experience, anyway.”
“Subtle energy is not so mysterious. With Aether, it becomes outright tangible.”
Cynwrig, Chapter 2