Element of the Abstract: Chapter One
Between the hills and mountains, in the creeks and meadows of the valleys, the greatest powers in the universe hide their deepest secrets. These secrets, not easily discerned by the average human, are desperately sought after by a handful of dedicated individuals. Osryn Seld, poring late at night over an old, crinkled scroll, was one of these individuals. Thunder rumbled outside the window of his old, creaky home, but his focus on the scroll did not waver. He had been staring at the thing for hours and made negligible progress. In fact, he had been trying to decipher this particular scroll for three whole years to the same end. Really, he had not been trying all that hard at all. Yet it, like every other listless project before it, had its grip on Osryn. It kept him focused, and keeping focused kept him distracted.
The rain had been persisting, pouring relentlessly for the last several hours. In Mistlorn Valley, it was rarely clear or sunny. Fog, rain, and cloud cover dominated the region, and most of the residents were known for their equally dreary demeanors. Osryn was no exception to this dismal rule, and this evening in particular, he found himself aching to forget about the raging storm outside. Osryn sighed, realizing his eyes had glazed over and he was no longer even looking at the words that remained ever-confounding to him. The Cerulean Scroll, as he had taken to calling it, had been given to him by his close friend Daniela years prior, and he had been intrigued by it since the moment he rolled it open. The scroll was written in a strange, unrecognizable language, in ink that shimmered as blue as a clear summer sky–– not that Osryn had seen a clear blue sky in a long, long time. Perhaps that was why the bright azure color of the writing captured his attention so much. Perhaps his younger brother Nygel had the right idea in fleeing their hometown of Lunora to the sunny, prosperous west across the Sea of Rata, but he tried not to dwell on it. Osryn did not care much to think of family.
This eve, the scroll’s allure had been broken, and Osryn’s mind was steadily deteriorating as the night dragged on. He glanced at a nearby clock, but huffed when he remembered it was long-stopped. Well, he figured it had to be long past midnight. A drawn-out yawn escaped him and he rubbed his dry, tired eyes. Perhaps it was as good a time as any to call it a night.
After three years of sporadic analysis, there were only a few things that were clear to Osryn about the Cerulean Scroll. First, the ink was magical. Whoever had penned this had done so with an ink that held remarkable magical properties. When Osryn attempted through any means, physical or magical, to alter the text–– to smudge it, or dull the shimmer ––it remained shining and sparkling, almost effervescent. Osryn had never seen anything like it. Second, the language of the scroll was absolutely incomprehensible to him. Admittedly, linguistics had never been his strong suit, but in his few vague attempts at looking into it, he couldn’t find any specific language that made the words on the scroll in front of him make sense. The letters looked the same as in his own language, but the structure of the words and sentences resembled nothing he had ever seen. Whoever had designed the magical ink was likely the same one who wrote the scroll, and Osryn had endless curiosity regarding what it might say.
Outside, a gust of wind rattled the window adjacent to his desk, and Osryn found himself shuddering with the pane. The storm tonight was making him uneasy, and it was hard to know why, due to the common nature of such weather in his area. Osryn knew well that there was a reason for these seemingly sourceless energies–– a sudden shiver, causing you to turn around and realize someone’s following you, a gut feeling that you’ll win a lottery right before they call your name, or of course, an abnormality in your mood that you simply can’t attribute to anything that happened. That reason, Osryn had learned, was ‘the abstract.’
The abstract is defined in common language as “the intangible flow of magic in an otherwise scientific world,” and it was the discovery of this property in university that sparked Osryn’s interest in the arcane in the first place. Osryn had always been a logical-minded person, having started university many years ago with the intention of pursuing a science degree. His parents, particularly his father, had not been thrilled with the notion of their son taking an interest in something so… unfounded. They were devout believers of a common local doctrine that the sun and moon controlled everything, and that there was no foundation to anything that the numerous scientists throughout history had proven to be true. This infuriated a young and curious Osryn, and in an act of rebellion and discovery, he opted to go to college for biology.
Despite his love of science, and his dislike of the doctrine his parents subscribed to, there was always something incongruous to him about the way the physical world worked and the way his own intuition guided him. It was in his third year, in a Philosophy of Science class, where he was introduced to the idea of the abstract–– a concept that would guide him for the rest of his life.
Tonight, with its blustering winds and torrential downpours, felt particularly abstract to Osryn. Maybe it was the sheer archetypal power of the “dark and stormy night,” or maybe it was simply a shift in air pressure–– he did live in a valley after all. Nonetheless, he was unable to shake the feeling that something was amiss. The first time he had felt this way was when he was a small child, finally old enough to realize the disconnect between the science they taught him in school and the bizarre religion his parents preached. It was this same feeling that had later spurred him to drop out of college and seek a new kind of knowledge with the only person he could think of–– the local wizard, Cornellius.
Cornellius, now passed, had occupied the house Osryn now resided in for his entire adult life. Before him, there had been another sorcerer, and before him, another. Unlike religious radicals such as his parents, lone practitioners such as Cornellius had a unique take on the way of the world. Magic did not rule him, nor did science–– instead, they both lived together in harmony. It was an abstract union, and one that had provided him with worlds of knowledge. When a young Osryn Seld showed up at his doorstep, headstrong, determined, and willing to learn, Cornellius knew this was the boy he was destined to teach. And so he did.
Fifteen years had passed since that day. Osryn was now the sole resident of the old, eerie cape in the valley, and that solitude took its toll on him. Cornellius had warned him of this suffocating loneliness when he was aging and his health began to decline:
“It is a lonely life, the life of a wizard… don’t let it break you. Someday, someone will come to you like you did to me, and you will teach them, as I did you.”
Osryn had been losing faith that anything like that would happen to him. Every day, he woke up, slumped into his desk chair, and studied the numerous artifacts he and his predecessors had collected over the years. These artifacts were strewn haphazardly around the room, as well as books and scrolls, many opened, many more untouched.
Understanding–– it had always been what Osryn sought. Yet, he understood nothing about the mess that always surrounded him. So much knowledge and history within this one room, and yet as much as he studied, as much as he learned, he never felt as though it was enough. When would he understand why he’d walked down this lonely path? What benefit did he ever see from having taken the road less traveled?
Osryn became aware of a tightly clenched jaw and loosened it, rubbing his chin and exhaling in a huff. Having worked himself up into an anxious flurry yet again, Osryn abandoned the scroll and rose from his chair, catching a glimpse of himself in an enchanted mirror he’d found and dropped to the right of his desk. Catching sight of the dark circles under his eyes, and the five o’clock shadow ruining the aesthetic of his carefully kept goatee, Osryn sighed and scratched at his cheek, picking at an area where an ingrown hair was forming. He looked at the scroll, then out the window, then around at the dozens of piles of arcane artifacts and journals. They seemed to loom over him, as though they knew he would never find the answers he sought in any of them. A resigned grumble rose from Osryn’s chest and he decided–– he would go downstairs and have a glass of mead. That would calm his nerves. Maybe, if he was lucky, he could sleep before dawn.
The hallway, like his study, was dimly illuminated by oil lamps, mounted in even intervals on the walls. They weren’t burning oil, however, but were sustained by magical plasma Osryn himself had synthesized. It was his greatest skill, the spell he’d spent the most time honing over the years. He made his way downstairs to the den, where he fished a bottle of mead out of the cabinet beside his fireplace. This particular brew had not come out particularly well, but his newest batch wasn’t done fermenting, so reluctantly, he would finish it. As he poured himself a glass, he listened to the sounds of his old house shifting in the wind. The gusts howled through his gutters. Wood creaked. Raindrops fell. A lone ant crawled across the dust on his bookshelf, but Osryn couldn’t be bothered to kill it.
Osryn stopped pouring and narrowed his eyes. In the distance, beneath the sounds of the storm, Osryn swore he heard a strangely familiar sound: the crying of a baby. He had not heard such a sound since his brother was an infant. He put down his glass and listened harder, again hearing the sound. Was he hallucinating? It was probably just the wind; or maybe he had tripped over a psychedelic amulet in the hallway. He lifted the mead to his lips and heard, clearer this time, the anguished cry of a child.
Fear struck through him and he placed the glass on the table, rushing around and listening for the source of the noise. When he reached the foyer, it became clear that the sound came from beyond his front door. Sure now that there was a child in danger outside, Osryn swung open the front door with vigor... and found two.
Two blankets, swaddled around what Osryn knew now were most certainly children, in a bassinet there on his doorstep. Their cries overlapped each other as Osryn whisked them out of the rain and into the foyer, letting the door bang a few times on its frame before shutting. He ran them into the den and rushed to remove the children from their soaked blankets, unwinding one quickly to reveal the first child’s head.
There, squeezed shut and streaming with tears, were six small eyes.
Osryn froze. The child’s sobs continued as he attempted to gather himself, but he couldn’t stop staring at the child’s face. Was this real? No. He was definitely hallucinating. Shaking now, Osryn ran to find… something. He wasn't sure exactly what, at first, but he ended up digging through a linen closet and scurrying back to the den with two blankets. They were oversized, but they would do. Osryn removed the child, a boy, from his wet blanket, swaddling him in a clean, dry one. Six tiny eyes blinked and gazed up at Osryn as the child settled into the comfortable warmth and dryness. Osryn shook his head, dissociating from the oddity he had just seen. Absolutely unsure what to expect, Osryn unwrapped the second child. A normal, two-eyed face greeted him and Osryn exhaled softly, relieved. Then, he unwrapped the torso and was immediately met with more confusion: the child had four arms.
“What in the name of…” Osryn pulled away from the child, shuddering. Beings like these children were absolutely unheard of, even to someone as well-read as Osryn. They were some kind of mutant or magic, either or both, and Osryn had no idea why they were on his doorstep. Having taken a moment to reconcile that this was reality, Osryn shook his head and removed the girl from her soaked blanket, swaddling her next to the boy. Osryn stared at them as they settled and their cries softened. To his right, on the table, was his glass of mead, which he readily grabbed and took a hearty gulp of.
The storm raged around the home as the children, finally free from its grasp, relaxed into their blankets and cooed softly. How long had they been out there before he noticed them? Osryn worried that they would not warm up quick enough, but he had just the spell for that. Focusing in his energy and channeling the abstract, Osryn synthesized an orb of glowing bluish-purple plasma in the air in front of him. Using his hands like a conductor, he directed the orb to levitate slightly above the children, where it would radiate a small amount of heat, safely out of their reach.
He realized he would need to find a way to feed these children… what did children even eat, anyway? He had never really wanted kids, so he’d never put too much thought into the idea of taking care of one. However, the children were remarkably calm for two who had been left out in a storm for who knows how long. Osryn gazed at them, taking in the reality of the pale little boy’s six eyes, and though the girl’s arms were nestled in her blanket, there was a soft smile on her tiny brown face. Osryn had never known what to say when asked how cute a baby was, but he could say with absolute certainty that the two in front of him now were the most beautiful and precious he had ever seen.
This was no hallucination, and as he downed the rest of his mead, he realized the gravity of his situation–– these children were officially his responsibility, whether he liked it or not. What was he to do, drop them on another doorstep? Whoever had left them with him likely knew he was a sorcerer, and believed that he would know how to handle their… differences.
Well, he didn’t know. Osryn hardly knew how to take care of himself, never mind two orphaned children with bodily abnormalities never before seen on this planet. Head swirling, Osryn picked up the bottle of mead and poured another glass. Maybe this didn’t have to be so bad. Maybe he could be kind to these children, raise them in a way that they could thrive and be happy despite their condition… but how could he possibly show them to the world? The residents of Lunora were known for their relative intolerance of those who disturbed the status quo. His best friend, Daniela, ran an antique shop, and even she faced discrimination for supporting art and history in this heavily industrialized town.
How, then, would the general populace react to children who looked like this? It was out of the question, really. The spiritual fanatics would declare them cursed, or the scientists would snatch them away to experiment on. No matter what, he was stuck with these children. He would need food. He would need toys. He would need to teach them, raise them, care for them. Maybe, he truly began to believe, this wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe he could be the father he had always wished he’d had. Lightning illuminated the sky outside and Osryn sipped his mead again, settling on the couch next to the children and tenderly stroking the girl’s head. As Osryn’s mind whirled with the uncertainty of their fate, the unnerving power of the storm that once disturbed him had faded, and the familiarity gave him comfort now. All else seemed unknowable, but one thing was archetypal and sure: it was a dark and stormy night.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins