CHAPTER ONE: Leviathan
Avarice. Extreme greed for wealth or material gain. Did the Mad King of the Gods name himself? Or did the word come to be after his brutal and bloody rise to power? A simple, trivial question, but it has plagued me for years. Do I proclaim myself to the world? Or do I let the world find new meaning through me?
I suppose it doesn’t truly matter. The world knows my name now. Yet ‘Kavion’ has not become a word. Perhaps in a few more centuries.
Not even Granddamme Yjasmin could have predicted the path my life would take. To be quite honest, she could not even predict my rotten conception. My mother was Galea, prize of the Talo de Leviathan, while my father was a stud with an excellent pedigree and natural healing gift. I should have been born a gentle master of the mysteries of water, able to bring rains to parched lands or tempests to calm seas.
How Avarice must have howled with laughter that night. None of the Skywatcher’s warned Talo de Leviathan in time. My birth star chose that delightful moment to explode, casting down my cruel fate. And yet still my mother held on to hope. Perhaps it was simply a sign of how great a Mage I was to be.
Oh how right she was; and yet so very, very wrong.
I, Kavion, came into this world howling like the monster I was. When Galea lifted her babe to her chest, she saw eyes of coal, skin as pale and shimmering as the moons, and a shock of hair the color of blood. These were the dark marks of Avarice’s hands upon me.
Poor, pretty, weak-willed Galea. Would that I could have been born of a strong mother, one who would have laughed at the madness of our gods, and relished in the coming power of her offspring. Or even a pragmatic mother, one who would have slit my throat before my first cry entered the world.
Instead, Galea, baffled Galea, refused to nurse me, handing me off to a MUTED milk-mother. Granddamme Yjasmin, head of Talo de Leviathan could do nothing to change her grand-niece’s mind. But Yjasmin was made of sterner stuff, and ensured I was cared for, even as she sent word to Talo de Avarice.
The babe is Avarice touched, we shall send her to you at the appropriate hour. That was all the note said. And with that, my fate was evermore sealed. Looking back, I see so many branching paths. Moments, choices that could have saved me, softened me. Instead, at every opportunity, I was hardened, made more keen.
My first childhood memory is of my mother’s displeased face. It was normally a very pleasant face. Galea’s sea-blue eyes were lovely, and her soft blonde hair tumbled fetchingly around her brown cheeks and the delicate blue third eye crystal embedded in her brow. Her lips, normally full of smiles and serenity, were tightened to a nearly invisible line as she listened to the MUTED servant’s report.
“Kavion,” she said sternly, “You shame this Talo! Why in Leviathan’s name did you lay your hands upon Esjamin?”
I looked down at my hands, still balled into fists. I was fascinated by the tiny bruises along my knuckles. I remembered the thrill of power, the joy of victory. I looked up.
“I wanted his whale doll,” I said, my young voice as sweet as chimes, “It was bigger than mine. So I took it.”
As I spoke, I saw my mother and the MUTED both suppress a shiver. Even as a child I sensed their fear, licking it off my lips. The action disgusted them even more. I could taste the bitter tang of salt in the air.
The fear of a Leviathan born Mage.
I am what I am. I have no shame in this. As the Dark Mage saying goes: If it bring ye delight, do as ye please.
My mother, as a Light Mage, of course ascribed to ‘If it harms none, do as ye will.’ The very notion of violence in these sacred halls was forbidden. And here, her own daughter failed even this basic tenant of humanity.
“Kavion, we do not take things from others. We do not hit others. We do not harm others,” she whispered, shame dripping from every word. She looked at the MUTED.
“Get her out of my sight. And schedule her for private lessons. We can’t have her influence poisoning the other children,” she said, mouth twisted unnaturally as if the words were foreign beings escaping her lips. I was taken away.
Another choice. Another path. They all made it so easy for me to walk the dark path. What if my mother had took me in hand, in that moment? What if, instead of turning away in fear, she had held me even closer, fighting my nature with her love? We’ll never know.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: I am who they made me.
My childhood at Talo Leviathan was painful and lonely. I was not an easy child, and inspired no love or loyalty in the MUTED, those without magic, who served the house. And I was no longer allowed contact with the other children. For four long years I interacted only with the MUTED and my tutors, seeing my mother and the other Mages only at meals and special occasions.
On a day like any other, I sat in my room on the floor, working on my heraldry assignment. I was to match the various crests with the Talo to which it belonged. The first device was easy. Twin water snakes on a sea-blue background, Talo de Leviathan, house of water. The next was a midnight stallion, rearing against a darkened sky. I pondered. The stallion was the clue. It was male, like Noch, the god of the dark side of the moons. I assigned that device to Talo de Noch, haven of spies and assassins.
The third device was puzzling, until I realized the shimmering points of light represented the constellation around our brighter moon. This then must be the Talo de Selene. Selene, whose moonlight represented death and the staving off of death, was the bright twin to dark Noch.
The Talo de Light was easy, a lovely rose growing in a green field, a standard that represented life and growth. Their patron goddess was Mana, mother of us all. The mages of Talo de Light
The final crest made my heart beat harder in my chest. I felt my blood crashing noisily in my ears. This Talo called to me, and my soul returned that call fiercely. The device was black as the void, with a mad dash of light in the center, seeming to swirl and dance the longer one stared.
Talo de Avarice, home of the Dark Mages.
I jumped, startled, as a knock sounded at my door. Without waiting for my answer, the door swung open.
It was my mother. I hid my shock and rose to my feet, bowing the exact amount a Mage child should bow to one of the great mages of her Talo.
If I’m very good, maybe she’ll love me I thought, childishly. Such a vain hope. I swallowed my bitterness and even mustered a smile for the woman I called mother.
She did not return my smile, nor did she seem impressed with my protocol. Her hair was tied back into a severe bun, an unusual style for my free-flowing mother. Her mouth was the thin twist she reserved only for me, and her blue eyes were like two flint chips in her taut face.
“Come,” was all she said, turning and walking down the hall at a stately pace. I scrambled to follow her.
My mother led me to the bathing room, where attendants awaited. At her direction, they bathed me in milks and oils until my soft, alabaster skin shown like the bright moon. They dried me in towels as soft as wave froth before sitting me before a mirror. They dressed my hair carefully with pale tortoiseshell combs, pinning my long hair into a delicate pile atop my head. I stared at myself as they applied light touches of blue kohl to the corners of my eyes, and stained my lips the color of my hair. As the finishing touch, my mother herself sprinkled the holy water of Leviathan lightly onto my face, giving the effect of morning dew, as if I was just newly risen to the world.
I stared at the beautiful child in the mirror. I tried to imagine what my third-eye crystal would look like when it grew. Would it look delicate and ephemeral, like my mother’s? Or would it be thicker, more pronounced like Mage Emblem’s?
I realized that Galea was staring at my reflection as well, sorrow shadowing her begrudging smile.
“At the very least, let none say my daughter is not beautiful,” she said, reaching her hand towards my head. I leaned towards her, craving the affection, but she turned and moved away. A MUTED helped me down from the stool.
I refused to let myself cry. It would ruin my makeup.
Following my mother to the next room, I was clothed in a sea-blue dress, the common attire of a Talo de Leviathan initiate. The delicate and layered cloth roiled and tumbled like the sea in the slightest breeze.
“You may not be of my Talo, but you will represent us well, won’t you Kavion?” my mother said, more a statement than a question.
“Yes my lady,” I replied, unsure of what she meant. She sighed lightly, and then took a breath.
“As I’m sure you have noticed by now, you are not like the other Mages of this house,” she began. “We have done our best by you, but now it is finally time for you to go to the Talo to which you were born.”
I hardly dared to breathe. My ears were ringing with laughter. Mad, hearty laughter. I didn’t dare look for the source. More troubling, no one else in the room seemed to acknowledge it, or even to hear it.
My mother was still speaking. “Today you join Talo de Avarice, if they will have you,” she said.
My answering smile seemed to shake her to the core.
The carriage ride was strained, as my giddy excitement warred with my mother’s taut fear.
The night rose around us as the horses’ hooves clapped on the cobblestone streets. Galea let me look out the window. Outside Magi went about their business, dressed in the colors of their Talos.
On one corner MUTED dancers jumped and somersaulted in ribbons of gold and silver. A fire dancer twirled around them, blowing her flame breath at laughing Magi. A Mage in a violet dress stepped forward at the urging of her friends and I turned in my seat, face pressed against the carriage window to keep her in my sight. She sucked in a breath and exhaled roughly, shooting a great plume of fire into the air. The fire dancer picked up an unlit stick with a bulbous end and stuck it into the edge of fire. Amid laughter and clapping she bowed her thanks and flipped, spinning the flaming stick around her. The chime of my laughter filled the small cabin of our carriage.
I turned my head quickly, but my mother was staring straight ahead, and could not share in my joy. I sobered, trying not to drown in my bitterness. This was to be our last night together. Shouldn’t a mother want to share in these last moments with me? Instead she treated the ride like some errand, some duty she must conduct before finally being free of her burden.
I sunk into my misery, until we both sat like beautiful statues, staring at nothing, with no words to say.
Hours ticked by as we left the territory of the Light Magi, Crescent, and entered the land of Aegis, home of the Beastmasters. Though I was still mired in misery, I glanced out of the windows, noting the strong wooden and stone structures that rose around us as we passed men and women in leather and armor. I sighed, disappointed that no dragons were in view. I turned to ask my mother if she had ever seen one, but again I was quieted by her stern mien.
I suppressed a sigh, as the land of Aegis rolled by, but the views no longer brought me joy. At some point I must have fallen asleep, because I awoke to a view of a massive body of water surrounding us on all sides.
Terrified, I leapt to the window to have a closer look, and felt the carriage roll slightly beneath me. I looked to my mother for reassurance, and she finally deigned to acknowledge my existence.
“We’re on a ferry. At the other side of this bay is Dracion. We’re almost there,” she said calmly, before turning her face away from me again.
I marveled at the huge expanse of water. Though raised in Leviathan’s Talo, I realized I’d never even seen the sea. I drank in the sight, praying for a glimpse of a sea creature. Sadly, those prayers went unanswered.
Another two candlemarks went by before the carriage reached the other end of the bay, and disembarked from the ferry. Two small statues to Charon, god of the Soul and of the Dead, patron god of Soul Magi, guarded the exit from the ferry. I shivered as we rode past, and noticed my mother also averted her gaze.
Just past the statues, the territory of Dracion, home of the Dark Magi, rose before me. Whereas Crescent was white, full of bright, rainbow colors, Dracion was dark, with slashing glimpses of dramatic reds, fiery oranges and deep purples. But overall, the predominating color was black: silver-washed or left pitch ebony. The buildings loomed and lumbered by the carriage in dark majesty.
The carriage turned down a broad lane, and Talo de Avarice, for what else could it be, rose into view. The building was all bold lines and curves, with curling archways, pointed towers and a large, central dome.
The horses came to a stop at the foot of a large statue. I leaned against the window, trying to look up to see the full statue, but it was too large.
The MUTED came and opened the door, and I hopped out excitedly, forgetting in my haste that my mother should have been allowed to exit first. I heard an annoyed sound escape her, but I was too busy staring up, open mouthed at the huge statue of the Mad King of the Gods.
My king. My patron god. Avarice. I felt the rightness of that thought; it tickled against the back of my throat.
The statue was carved of onyx, and rose seven man-heights, dark and imposing. In one hand he held aloft his great flaming sword. The other rested against his face, as if he were holding in a guffaw. He was clothed in his sacred robe of the Great Beyond, and his eyes held starbursts and nebulas.
It was beautiful and disturbing. My mother hurried past it, glaring at me as she passed. Behind her back, I blew the statue a kiss and turned to follow my mother. The long, silent walk slowly reminded me of the solemnity of the occasion. My normally graceful mother looked as if her feet were leaden, and her shoulders were hunched as if against the cold. This place frightened her.
But then again, so did I.
The doors opened before us, and a silent initiate, dressed in black and red, led us to a grand receiving hall. It was empty, and the only place to sit was the sparkling stone throne at the end of the hall.
The room was dark, with plush purple drapes hung at intervals along the walls. There were no paintings, no soothing watercolors to calm the mind. The floor and walls were dark onyx, polished until they reflected everything back like a dark second world.
Just as my mother turned to me, about to break her silence, Granddame Voltira swept in past one of the purple drapes at the end of the hall. She stood before the diamond throne, but did not sit.
My heart began to beat hard, and my mouth became intolerably dry. I didn’t risk a glance at my mother walking beside me to see how she fared. Granddame Voltira was the most intimidating woman I’d ever seen in my life.
The woman before me looked ageless, though her snow-white hair betrayed her age to be somewhere over a century. I would later learn that Voltira’s mother, the former King’s Mage, had lived one thousand years before her magick could no longer sustain her.
Voltira wore a dress that appeared to be made out of the same material as the floor and walls. The fabric did not sway or rustle. It stood immovable, yet that illusion was broken as she moved slowly towards us. Like blades of stone, the dress appeared to sink into and rise from the floor with each step, sheeting up to cling to her body, ending just under her chin and sliding down her arms to two ringed fingers.
But it was her third-eye crystal that trapped my gaze. It started in the center of her forehead, between her eyes. The stone rose up in a V, the thick bands covering her brows and rising up the form two horns above her head, before looping back down and twisting into her hair. The stone was onyx, the mark of a Dark Mage.
It made my mother third-eye crystal look like a child’s bauble.
The larger the crown the more powerful the Mage was. I wanted that power for myself. Granddame Voltira was as far above the other Magi I knew as a hawk was above a rat. I wanted to know that power. I wanted to feel that strength, and force others to acknowledge me as their superior.
I wanted to make someone quake with the same fear my mother was quaking with, as Voltira stopped before us.
I looked up into her cruel, cold eyes as she swept them over my small form. Contempt oozed from every line of her being. So, even here I was to be despised. The familiar bitterness poured over me, and I fought down tears of frustration.
We two fragile, ephemeral children of water did not belong in this hard, cold void. The very movement of our soft dresses marred the stillness of this ancient, hallowed hall. How could I ever think I belonged here?
My heartbeat felt so loud I was sure Voltira could hear it. I was sure she would turn away from me, in just a moment, and relegate me to my silent life amongst the MUTED.
No. A voice whispered in my mind. And then, skittering across my nerves, I heard it. That laughter again. It reminded me of the emotions that swirled around me when I stared up at the statue of Avarice.
“Are you sure you are of this Talo, child?” Voltira asked, her voice throbbing through the empty hall. It was a voice that was used to power, a voice that could seduce men or women into relinquishing all control.
This was true power. I drank it in, heady with the taste. To hold the life of a young girl in my hands… what would that feel like? To know my word could ruin or bless someone’s life?
I stood near the shadow of Avarice, the most powerful god in the pantheon, in the most powerful Talo in the Closing Fist, before the most powerful Mage in the kingdom. It was everything I wanted. But I also wanted more.
Braced, I no longer felt like crying. I no longer felt afraid. I felt… hungry. I wanted.
Holding my head high, I took a step towards Voltira, just as my mother took a step back. Galea’s eyes were wide and terrified. Where I felt drawn, like a climber to the edge of a cliff, she felt horrified. It was madness to jump. But madness was my destiny.
“Teach me,” I said then, my hand rising to touch the stone of her gown. It was as cold as ice. “I want to be like you.”
“Ah,” was all she said, but a smile swept across her face like the sun, and the cold stone of her dress warmed beneath my fingertips.
Her eyes spoke more eloquently than any words could. They said “Welcome, Sister.”
As a child, I was puzzled by the swift change in her demeanor. Over the years as I got to know Voltira, I looked back upon that moment and realized it was our fear, our fear of falling that caused the contempt writ on her face. She did not actually wish Galea or myself any ill, she just could not stand the weakness polluting her halls. The ephemeral power of the sea was as nothing compared to the void of the Great Beyond. Leviathan’s children were not welcome at the house of Avarice.
With one last glance towards my mother, Voltira reached out and took my hand.
“Come, little one. Leave all weakness behind,” she whispered to me.
The jolt of her touch rocked me on my heels. Looking into her eyes, I did not hear the shredding of my gown, nor the chime of my eye-crystal pushing into place. I did not feel the cold of the onyx rising from the floor to surround me in its embrace. Nor did I hear my mother scramble out of the hall, disgracefully running from knowledge beyond her ken. It was the last time I would ever see her.
None of that mattered as I fell into the blackness of Voltira’s fathomless eyes. Power curled through my bloodstream.
Knowledge poured into me. Here I was accepted. Here I would not be cast aside, or a nuisance, or a burden. The ones who should have loved me hated and feared me, but here I would start anew. I would be cherished. I almost laughed aloud, giddy with this new feeling.
I was home.