Witches & Knights & Unicorn Fights by BB.Butterwell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
A reminder on the Author’s style, from the Editor:
Let the Reader be reminded:
Every fourth chapter, the Author apparently intends to take us altogether elsewhere to some other place in some other plot – and in a differing style entirely – in spite of my repeated attempts to convince them to do otherwise. It is a common error of certain new authors, in my own humble experience, to feel they need to try everything all at once, and in one place: every theme, every voice, every tense, and every idea. This is especially so, it seems, of those ones who have had too long to form opinions and thoughts of what things they might wish to say, prior to finally getting up the gumption to say them. An Editor can only intercede so much, and so, here we are. We shall call it an experiment, and move on. -Ed.
To Dagnett Bookniird,
Second Twosdaii, Autumn, WoM 121
Hello, my friend. I hope the Archive is treating you well. I dropped by the upper level to see if I might catch you before you descended into the depths for however many days or weeks you tend to spend down there, but I was an hour too late, and so I am leaving you this letter to let you know where I have disappeared to. I will likely be gone for a while.
I have been given a new assignment. I am not permitted to divulge where in the Realms I am being sent at this time, but they have said nothing in particular about staying tight-lipped as to the reason. In fact, the rumour, I believe, is being allowed to spread gradually within the halls of the Observatory and the Arbitorium both. We might be in luck. Our careers might not be destined to be for nought, as once we had so solemnly thought.
A mysterious benefactor has recently come forth, offering a great sum of silver to the Executors – on the condition it be used solely toward the production of a single update to the Short Account of Known Heroes. Perhaps you will have heard this news already, but I was too excited not to tell you myself, as well.
Although it is commonly understood that the Owlic Code is, under the right conditions, open to modification, no Minister I have ever discussed this with has been able to clarify what those conditions might be, and the occasions of it happening in the living memory of any of them can be counted on a single hand. It seems to me that, regarding this secret, only the Executors themselves hold the key.
Apparently, a good deal of coin, in some cases, is sufficient enough to warrant an update to our City’s Code. I am, on the one hand, a bit disillusioned by this realization – and on the other, not terribly surprised. One can’t, in any case, look a gift-mule in the mouth. [noHorses] We have been reactivated, if only for a single new issue. Perhaps, if our job here is done well, other issues may be permitted to follow. Even if not, then this new issue of ours will forevermore remain the most recent one, for future generations to regard as, perhaps, the last example of the noblest work of interpretative history which the World has ever known: that of the definition of a True Hero, as regarded through the all-seeing eyes of Owl.
I cannot imagine a greater calling for us, than to help revive the Realmic zeal for the uncommonly courageous character, of whom so many are so sorely needed these days, as you know.
I am quite eager to get myself on the road. I have yet to be issued my traveling maps or mule, but once I have those, I will have all that I need to locate our primary subject.
Curiously, they present to the scrying crystal in a most common and unassuming form: that of a common hooded rat. I believe we may be dealing with a Green Wizard of great craft, here, or perhaps one of the Fey-blood, rumoured still to lurk in some Hedgewilded places, far from their own shrouded Realms.
I was entirely underwhelmed when first viewing the creature in the crystal, I must admit. This can only mean that I am in for a great surprise, when I finally meet them, face-to-face (even though they may well never see mine).
I have been asked to update existing records of Last-Known Heroes along the way, as well – whether they still live, if they are still quantifiably Heroic, and what additional deeds are to be appended to their respective registries, if any. I have been issued two items from the Stores, to aid me in my travels abroad, which I might tell you more about in a future update.
I look forward to meeting with you upon my return, old friend, though I can’t say when I might be back within the walls of Owl again. As you know, in years past, the Account was updated every second year, and so I will endeavour to complete the entire task well within that time frame, to increase our chances of being reinstated into active service, for good, once again. You have my oath that I will do my very best.
Take great care in the Archives. I have heard rumours of Gnomish unrest, and a recent surge in the populations of Nether Slugs, ascending from the Depths. Watch your surroundings, and seek fresh air frequently, although I know the Bookniird clan is quite famous for needing surprisingly little of that. You are nonetheless still flesh and blood, my friend. Do see the sun now and then – the books will all be there when you return, I can almost assure you.
Until some other time, soon,
Unofficial Traveling Journal,
Observator, 5th rank, HHOO
Second Moondaii, Autumn, WoM 121
I am a single day’s mule ride out of the Capital, traveling with a contingent of soldiers tasked with patrolling the Kings Road, left-wise, through the Norlund Wood, to the Cape of Gareth, along the Iced Coast, and eventually back again, the long way. They will be gone a good number of fortnights, but I will not be following them for long – I part ways with the company in the town of Somedruthers, some two day’s ride from here.
I have never been out of the Capital, even one step. I have envisioned it in my mind, every day of my life, at least for a few moments, when I can spare them. From the town, my mule and I will head Seaward through the Norlund and bend right, until we cross the trail known as the Hillsnake. This begins a long and winding upward journey, and protocol does not permit me to document further where I will go from there, at this time, so as not to unduly endanger – or forewarn – my quarry.
I have brought two enhanced items from the Stores with me, to aid me on my journeys. I can only believe that I have chosen wisely. The rest is with the Fate. [theGodAndTheFate]
This endeavour cannot be dismissed as a frivolous expense, as some have already seen fit to call it openly, within the halls of the Trunk. They are either afflicted by jealousy, or else a lack of vision. I am aware, like most of my colleagues in the twin Ministries of the Observatory and the Arbitorium, of the significance of the task, even if others are not, or can ever be.
There are none in the Realms, I will wager, who do not in some measure inwardly aspire to the ranks of True Heroship – though more than most of us consider the road too long, and the cost and risk of walking it, far too great. Known Heroes, since the Dawn of Records, have been drawn from those select few who both possess, in the first place, the rare mettle to aspire to that calling, and then proceed to do so, boldly.
Yet without the adoration of the masses, and the recognition of the State, even these are as likely to remain wallowing in obscurity, as they are apt to rise to their own potentials. This is the nature of Folk, as we know it – to be driven or coerced toward this way of action or that, by the balance of forces within and outside of themselves.
Owl itself was founded upon that surest of insights: that the deepening of our knowledge of the inner workings of the hearts and minds of Folk will lead us, invariably, toward a final, perfect, self-reflecting Law, which will best govern societies of mortal hearts and minds, at scale. The carrot and stick of Adoration and Contempt are of such fundamental function to this Law, that they bear oft-repeating, for being so obvious and uncontroversial as to be in danger of easy dismissal – and forgotten altogether, at our great and collective peril.
Put plainly, a Person will act to be less a Villain than a Hero, if there is known to be, in essence, some things in it for them, one way or the other. This is a good thing – it gives Owl all levers, and the means to pull them as well, in order to produce a better citizenry, which will in turn create a better Owl, for All.
I consider this the perfect age and assignment to have been created for! I am fortunate to bear witness to the unlocking, perhaps in my own lifespan, of every remaining secret of the Spirited Beast, and the keys to its right management. Owl is the Alchemist that will concoct within itself a new age of peace upon this World – its citizenry is both the reagents, and also the afflicted subject, seeking to be made whole again, through its own self-ministry.
May the Fate guide me in the choices which must now follow all others made to date,
B. Noonstar, In avid search of the next Known True Heroes of the Realms.
Bardlii Noonstar puts a flourish on the final point of his latest self-inspiring journal entry, and places his travelling quill carefully back into its leathern case, snapping it closed. He has propped himself cross-legged upon a large, flat stone, well removed from the bustle of the soldiers, who go about the business of securing the mules and drawing lots for who gets to post the first watch that night, and who gets to start their drinking early.
The Pale Eye is still over the horizon, though it is now just kissing the tree line, and will soon dip the World into twilight. Somewhere far beyond the Norlund Wood, the Seas await it – the World’s sun will need a good bath by then. Travelling the Sky each day is hard and sweaty work, for such an aged Star.
A young soldier has wandered close to the stone where Bardlii sits. The man does not acknowledge the Observator, but begins relieving himself in the grass close by. Bardlii watches the man silently, considering what town he has hailed from, and whether he chose his profession, or whether his profession chose him. The soldier has won the right to first ciders, and is getting his drinking and pissing in early, knowing he’ll need to be sober by the time the Burning Moon winks at them over the distant mountains at midnight.
For most of the deepest nights in Allegoriia, at least in the Autumn season, the only light one can see by is that of the stars, and then, at times, that of the Burning Moon, always low to the horizon, if even above it at all. When the sky is clear of clouds, this can be quite enough.
Otherwise, the night here is as dark as darkness itself. There will be fires lit along the perimeter of the camp, though the real dangers for this company will not likely materialize until they are well away from the City’s protective and hovering gaze, and further along the road to the Norlund Wood, unseen.
Bardlii shakes his head, attempting to dismiss an errant thought.
“Fenrii, please stop, I’m trying to think”, he says, brow furrowed.
The soldier does not even react to the Observator’s voice – but finishes his business, and quickly stuffs his -“
“Fenrii. Enough.” Bardlii is looking at me now, and I suppose I had better stop. I put away my parchment, which politely ceases its self-scribery.
Though hidden behind a suitably large ironiioak, and also a good two-dozen strides away from Bardlii – far enough, he had assumed (incorrectly) to be able to go unnoticed – Fenrii had nonetheless become unfortunately Storied. So he slunk from behind the tree, and tucked his Scroll of Self-Scribery back into his belt – now unsure where to stand, or what to do with his hands. He had not planned to be put on the spot, and so far into the plot. But it had happened again, and so.
Bardlii regarded the young Observator from his sitting stone. He had been trying to ignore the young man’s presence for the entirety of the trip from Owl (which was still quite visible in the near distance, being such a towering sprawl upon such a mountain as it was), but could not bring himself any longer to pretend Fenrii was not there, narrating all of the movements of the men and he. It was too much mental work, to block out all that fuss. He had tried to be polite, but the Junior Observator was doing everything wrong, and Bardlii was apt to say something less polite, the longer he let it go. He motioned for the young man to come over, but Fenrii stood by the ironiioak, among the tall grass, hanging his head, and feeling a bit defeated, and hoping he might, somehow, still slip himself back into obscurity.
“Well, what are you slouching there for? I’m not about to un-see you, you know. Not now, clearly.” said Bardlii, “You’ve stepped squarely your own narrative, again, so you might as well come over, into the thick of it. You look silly standing there. Besides that, you are standing directly beneath an Elder Bees nest… unwise.” Bardlii pointed up.
Fenrii looked up, and only then noticed the large, perfectly round, leathern sphere hanging in the lower branches of the great tree, precisely above his head, sagging with Elderbee honey. It was not so much the Elder Bees one had to worry about – at least this time of year – as the great weight and velocity of their nest when it finally chose to fall, which they invariably did. Larger men than he had perished from falling nests such as those. It was not very common, of course, but there were certainly one or two verified reports, from over the years.
Fenrii quickly shuffled away from the danger, through the tall grasses toward Bardlii. How long had the Middling Observator known he had been standing there, and under that?
“I knew you were in the company as we were leaving the main City gate.” Bardlii said, as he motioned for the man to sit on the flat stone next to his. It was considerably more squat, so Fenrii was not much further off the ground than if he had been sitting on the ground itself, once he sat himself down. He looked up at Bardlii, a pained expression on his face.
“Please stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Bardlii frowned, as another, older soldier strode past him, carrying a heavy saddlebag, nodding curiously, only to Fenrii, on the way by. “Several of the men have noticed you at one point or another, though all so far have forgotten a few moments later, to your good credit.”
“I am a failure as an Observator.” Fenrii, head in his hands, had cut right to the heart of his matter.
Bardlii sighed. “No, you missed my compliment. I said that I knew you were in the company as we were leaving the main City gate. I had not known how long you had been with us prior to that point. Would you like to tell me that, or do you prefer to keep it to yourself? I understand either way. I am offering to give you feedback on your technique.”
Fenrii had in fact slipped into the company’s presence just after they had left the city gate, which meant either Master Noonstar had known Fenrii’s intentions of joining them prior to his having acted on them himself, or else the Middling Observator wished for Fenrii to think that.
“I have no reason to lie to you, Fenrii, especially about my own powers and limitations. It would serve no purpose.” As he said this, Bardlii was considering if he had seen a sliver of the future then, back at the gates – had he detected Fenrii’s joining their company a moment before it had actually happened? This would be a new wrinkle in his own development… but he pushed this from his thoughts, for the time being.
“Are you always in my mind, like that?” Fenrii asked. Is that how our world is? he added, sorrowfully, in thought.
Bardlii felt sorry in that moment, and withdrew from the surface of Fenrii’s mind. “I apologize, it is an occupational hazard, to invade another’s thoughts, without meaning to. I will keep out of your thoughts from now on, as a professional courtesy – unless it’s a matter of security, of course. You may, if you wish, continue to attempt to glean mine. It’s good practice for you. I am a bit harder to read than most, you’ll find, but I am not bothered at all with being a practice subject. It helps me hone my detections and defenses.” After a pause, Bardlii added, “And no, our thoughts and actions are not continuously under the scrutiny of others. There is such a thing as true privacy in the world.”
In truth, Bardlii wasn’t so sure that this was correct. Still, he kept his doubts to himself, for his Junior’s benefit.
Fenrii had noted a subtle change in how the air felt around his neck as the Middling Observator spoke, and wondered if that was a clue that Bardlii was now no longer hearing his thoughts. He tried to read Bardlii’s expression, to determine if Bardlii had heard him think this too, but Bardlii simply met his look – as if challenging him to answer that for himself.
Bardlii’s face broke into a grin. He had a good smile – it was genuine, and not condescending, unlike his words might sometimes sound. “It’s hard, isn’t it? ‘Wizardry’, I mean. I remember. You’ll get there.”
Fenrii picked idly at the dirt, flicking tiny stones into the air. “How many of the soldiers have seen me then?”
“Nine, maybe ten. About a quarter of the company. What does it matter? Your aim is for not one to see you. Until then, even one is too many. It might as well be a thousand, then.” He leaned forward and restated, “You’ll get there.”
“I am not so sure. I believe this calling is for those who are made with the gift.” Fenrii caught himself, and added, “That is, I don’t have the same gift that you do. I might have been meant for something else.”
Bardlii shrugged. “Maybe so. Perhaps you were made for something greater. Had you thought of that?”
“Something greater than being an Observator?” Fenrii gave Bardlii a curious look. “That’s a curious thing to say, from you. Isn’t ours the greatest calling there is?”
“I will not dignify that question with a response. I am frankly surprised you ask it.”
Fenrii thought about it for a moment. “Of course, I meant after being a Known, True Hero. I meant ours is the second greatest calling, after that, surely. To observe and to write about them.”
“Is that what you meant?” Bardlii scratched his chin. One of the company’s more inquisitive burros had been slowly sauntering over to where the Observators were sitting, and it began to sniff around Bardlii’s sitting stone. Bardlii gave Fenrii a look, and did not move or turn to regard the beast. He merely held a finger slowly to his lips, signalling his Junior to be still. The burro began to nuzzle the stone next to Bardlii’s leg.
Fenrii’s made no sound or movement. The two waited as the burro continued to examine the rock with its nose, nostrils flaring, and then to dig a bit at the dirt around it with its hoof, prodding, its tail swishing as it attempted to solve some mystery in its burro mind.
Fenrii gave Bardlii a wide-eyed, questioning look. Bardlii just shook his head, ever so slowly, and waited.
At last, the burro heard one of its kin whinny, and it turned lazily, its tail hitting Bardlii full in the face as it sauntered away.
At last both Observators let out a slow breath, watching it go. Bardlii spoke first, “None in this company has yet to notice I have been with them all this time – even for a moment, as far as I’m aware – except for that damned burro, right there. It has been able to see me twice now – and it is continuously curious as to where I’ve gone, even when it has lost track of whether or not I even am.”
Fenrii looked incredulous.
“Don’t be so surprised. And no, I am not in your mind now, you just wear all of your thoughts everywhere, all over your face. Why does it surprise you so much that the baser beasts are more in tune with their surroundings than we, the thoroughly thought-afflicted? That is their sole occupation, after all – to know their own environment. They are not much concerned with when they will be able to next get drunk, or how many silver coins their neighbour may have hidden in their boots, or who they hope the next Regent might be, or not be… or whether they’ve chosen their career well, or else have made a grave mistake.”
Fenrii wondered if his flushing face was visible in this light, which was now approaching dusk. He imagined that it was. He was overwhelmed at times with the questioning of himself. “Still, you have been at this profession for – “
“Twenty-six years. Yes. I fail too, Fenrii. More than you might think. It may not be in my professional interest to make that well known, but it happens, I’m telling you now. You are in for a lifespan of learning. Don’t fool yourself that you will ever have mastered anything. You never will. Mastery is not a burden for mortals to bear.”
“But you are -“
“- also mortal, as are you.” Bardlii’s tone and look made it known that that subject was closed.
“I’m sure you feel that you understand some things, at times. Let me know what it feels like, if you ever know for certain that you understand anything, all of the time. I should like to know what that’s like.”
The two sat for a moment, the younger uncertain what question was most needed next, and the somewhat-older, waiting to see what that might be.
Then the fireflies alit, all at once. [fireflies]
Bardlii startled. He had never seen fireflies up close before – only ever vaguely, as glowing clouds upon the ground, and only through the strongest of spyglasses, and always from a great distance… and only twice in his whole life, at that. He looked about him everywhere now, as the thousand flitting lights rose as one from the tall grass, and the soldiers nearby shouted in greeting, many considering it a sign of good Fate to have the fireflies visit them so early in their journey. One of the younger men began trying to catch a firefly in their helmet. The company had not really entered the dangerous part of their journey, and were still relaxed, and easily amused.
Fenrii considered Bardlii for a while, as the Middling Observator watched the fireflies wandering lazily about, winking in and out, at times alone, and other times in patterns, as though they were telling stories, or sharing news.
“You have never seen fireflies before.” Fenrii observed.
Bardlii continued to follow their patterns – they were more intricate and meaningful than he had imagined. There seemed to be several independent groups, and a hierarchy, he felt… though it had nuance.
“No, not up close like this. I have never left the City gates, until this journey. Sometimes I have used a spyglass to catch glimpses. I have only watched fireflies from afar, until now. Distance does them no justice.” Bardlii’s face was lit by the glow of the fireflies slowly winding about them both. He looked entirely entranced.
Fenrii had suspected that Master Noonstar was an eccentric of sorts – many Observators were – but he hadn’t considered him to have been a proper City-bound shut-in. “You have never once left the Capital… in twenty-seven years? I… I am…”
“Shocked? Disillusioned?” Bardlii smiled again. He was taking out his field notebook, and wondering where he had put his drawing coal. It would be difficult to sketch things so bright with a thing so dark. He would have to sketch the night and the trees and the mules and the soldiers instead – the fireflies themselves would just be the absence of any darkness, among all of that. “I understand. I have been training all of this time for this opportunity.” Bardlii opened his sketchbook, and gave Fenrii a stern look. “I am not ever fully ready, Fenrii – but I am ready enough, all the same. I am ready enough, now. We have our assignment, and it’s a very worthy one. We are ready. I trust us both. I trust you do as well.”
Bardlii unwrapped his sketching coal and began to capture skies, and horizons, and treelines, and soldiers… and fireflies – a wandering absence of darkness, among all those other things.
Fenrii had seen fireflies fourteen times in his life by then. Maybe fifteen. His memory was not perfect, which was a shame to him, as it would need it to be. Wouldn’t it? He was an Observator; his purpose was to observe – for the Owl to bear witness, for the All. He would need to recall things accurately. Wouldn’t he? Things like, exactly how many times he had seen fireflies before, and which one of the mules he should be most careful to conceal himself from, and where not to stand in case of falling nests.
And what qualities to watch for, to know whether one had seen a True Hero, for certain.
Fenrii chose though to put aside his too-many concerns for that evening, and simply observe his mentor for a while, as Bardlii attempted to capture the essence of fireflies in flight, seen by mortal eyes for the first time, by night.
The Burning Moon, called Tear, was at its low zenith, and the clouds had all departed, and every star there was appeared to attend to the firefly ball, and the distant glow of Owl wavered warmly, observing it All.
And it was the brightest and clearest night that Fenrii would ever know.
noHorses: The Reader, depending on where they are from and familiar with, may wonder where the references to horses have gone. In Allegoriia, there are none, and never were. [noRavensEither] Instead, there are mules, and those mules fill most roles one familiar with horsekind might expect, given that they are not so un-alike… save, of course, for matters of war. [war-mules]
noRavensEither: Much like horses, there has never been a raven spotted anywhere in the Isles, either. Were you to inquire about one, you’d be asked what the word meant. You might then have to say that it looks a lot like a crow. Allegoriia is full of crows. Crows know all about Ravens, incidentally, along with many other animals which do not exist, both here or there. [otherMissingAnimals]
war-mules: War-mules certainly do exist, and though stalwart enough, are a bit too cantankerous to order into actual battle – the knight or whatever is as likely to be thrown off by their own steed as unsaddled by some foe. War-mules in any event are not so fast when charging, and can’t jump very well over obstacles, either. Mules of military persuasion are mostly employed to transport warriors to and from battles at a measured pace – not here and there into the harried midst of them.
otherMissingAnimals: I could go on at great length about other common animals which are common to both your World and Allegoriia (Deer, Hens, Unicorns) and those which are not (Giraffes, Dodos, Tingrets, Running Wuggers), but this, for the most part, won’t do much to advance our plot.
theGodAndTheFate: The Fate – also known as The Story of Stories – is that which is forever written beyond the reach of mortal mind. While there are those who believe in The Very God – which is thought to be inscrutable and wild – there are as many others who believe in The Fate, which is said to be the pattern of how things must naturally proceed. [theFateOfTheGod] Adherents of the former believe in beseeching the Very God (to be precise, its servants) for favour, while those of the latter feel prayers are naturally ineffectual, and what is called for is acceptance of what was, what is, and what must be. There are also your sundry Pagan beliefs, of course; all your old gods and goddesses and nature sprits and so on. Who can say what is true? In any event, if you hear an Allegoriian speaking of The Fate, you are hearing a Fatalist trying to come to terms with their apparent lack of agency. In Allegoriia, they are not so hung up on the notion of freedom, as much as experience; most of the citizenry and denizens have a deep-seated understanding that they are in a story, of sorts, and are not in fact the principle authors of things. The Reader might be surprised to learn how little this bothers the common creature to contemplate.
theFateOfTheGod: A somewhat more obscure branch of theology observes that The Very God, being commonly thought to be wild and unpredictable, must therefore exist within its own realm of possibilities, and so might well have a Fate of its own. This implies that either The Very God is subsumed by The Fate as well (a theory which is quite blasphemous to some), or else possesses a higher destiny of its own. Some call this notion The Divine Fate. [theGreatMystery]
theGreatMystery: Mystics simply refer to all of this uncertainty and division about Gods and Fates and so on as The Great Mystery, and their religious texts tend to be quite a bit more succinct, having nothing tangible to argue, aside from the impossibility of making tangible metaphysical arguments at all. Mystics rarely get around to persecuting one another over religious disputes regarding differences in belief, given one can’t readily calculate differences in beliefs, when the beliefs have no specifics to subtract from one another.
fireflies: In Allegoriia, this is how fireflies work – when they come on, they all come on at once. Some say it is Tear, the Burning Moon, [theBurningMoon] who tells them when to do this. It’s quite a lovely display, really, though often startling as well, at times, as one might imagine.
theBurningMoon: The Burning Moon, known as Tear, shimmers a silvery light, as though aflame, or else weeping. Theories as to the cause and meaning of this phenomenon, of course, depend on whom you ask. [theGodAndTheFate]