52th day of Bäkkos, 3rd Year of the nansylwed na’Flayþis in the 101st generation.
A’enaisgar, near the border of the Cukolon’kos region, 17th Bell.
I’ve never actually been this far from Kærûn since I moved to the city to study. It took me nearly half a day to get here on a Krekou, which I got to borrow from Cerafaïn. I’m surprised they let students take Krekous for a trip this far! Then again, it would’ve taken me at least two or three days to get here on foot and again that long to get back… I suppose I would’ve missed quite some classes if I hadn’t taken the Krekou.
You can actually see the foothills of Mount Skundr from here. Not quite the peak, though, at least not with the current weather. The people in A’enaisgar told me you can actually see the peak when the weather is great, though. I’ve never been this close to it before. Not that I want to… for obvious reasons. But I digress.
This is my first assignment that Akasar Laþa sent me on by myself. But after asking the villagers about this “anomaly” they had called the University for help for, I’m… not so sure if this is something an inexperienced student like me can handle on their own…
The villagers say that in the last few years, around the time of the autumn equinox, they start perceiving something strange in the forest. Faint, not quite tangible, at the edge of their perception. And when there are two or more people present to perceive it, their descriptions of what they hear or see strangely differs. Some don’t see or hear anything at all. Some say they see something like a distant shadow in the far off forest, in between the trees. Blurry and flickering, like a mirage. It seems to be walking on all fours, is larger than a person, yet not quite as tall as the trees. Others say they hear calls, wails, howls. Some describe them like bird chirps, others like the sound of some kind of Therion, but one they have never heard the call of before.
This doesn’t… sound like a spirit, at least not one that I’ve dealt with in my studies before. It honestly sounds more like the descriptions of the Khorpan’Bælaþaris to me. But that is just folklore… right? The Corpse collector can’t possibly be real… right…?
I really wish Akasar Laþa was here…
Especially knowing that the thing makes odd noises. Though I suppose if this is a spirit after all, then this assignment is a good opportunity to put my new enchantment to the test. I got the runes burnt on my nose and cheeks at the end of last year. Auril had some reservations about such a permanent enchantment though, but… I heard from some students that graduated last year that having permanent enchantments like these prove your conviction to really be an evoker or a patcher, or an Akasar in either field. And I know that this is what I want to do after I graduate.
I am walking through the parts of the forest the villagers had pointed me to. It is still light out, yet a light haze hangs between the ancient trees.
“Fiyar’ta- what was that? Just… the creaking of one of the trees…“
I think… It’s hard to tell… I haven’t been this far out in the forest since getting the enchantment… are the sounds I’m hearing… real?
“Or… are they spirits…? Or maybe…”
Just a figment of my imagination…?
I look around, my eyes focusing wildly in all the crevasses between the trees, looking for movement, shadows, flickering of the air.
Did that shadow just move?
Just the wind in the leafs…
No, there! A shade! I’m sure I saw it!
I try to stay calm. Take deep breaths, and look around. Akasar Laþa has taught us to always fall back on our teachings of the natural world first. Only when we can rule out that what we see belongs in the realm of the natural world can we make the next logical step and discern if what we’re seeing is evidence of the presence of spirits. The haze could easily be explained- let’s see… there is a thick layer of moss at the foot of each tree, draped over all exposed roots and run along the forest floor. Humidity trapped under the canopy, warmed up by the mild autumn sun, both together generate mist… right?
Wait… I can’t *see* spirits. That’s not what my enchantments do. I can’t possibly have seen something… right?
“Where is Akasar Laþa in a moment like this…?”
I shouldn’t have agreed to come here on my own…
“A circle! That’s right…”
No matter if what I saw or thought I saw was real, a circle will help. Spirits can’t enter or leave a circle without a proper gateway and an invitation, right?
… But what if this thing is not a spirit…?
“What am I doing?!”
What am I *thinking*?!
“I have to stay focused.”
After all, this is what I want to do when I graduate, right? This is the entire reason I studied – so I wouldn’t be helpless and ignorant anymore.
Bellow one of the giant trees, between two of its gnarly roots, on a lichen-covered stone I find a space that has level ground, large enough to draw my circle on. I kneel down and free parts of the stone from the early autumn foliage.
I pull a piece of chalk out from my backpack and begin to draw the first rune of my circle.
“Ronturi, the torch.”
“A fire rune. Is that too aggressive for the first rune?”
We are supposed to start with a rune of the elements we have connections to, right?
“Torch, a Rune that guides. To guide the spirit to me.”
That is a good sentiment, right? It doesn’t indicate ‘Torch’, the fire starter, right?
“Maybe I should’ve started with a water rune instead…”
I stare at my rune for a few long heartbeats. But the rune has been written, there is no taking it back now.
“It’s less about the choice of each individual rune, and more about the sentiment they form when used together.”
I’m sure that’s something what Akasar Laþa had told us once…
I take a deep breath and draw the next rune. An earth rune. And then a Water rune. And then a Wind Rune.
And then I start again. And again. And again. With each rotation, I let my intention guide me on the choice of each rune:
“To guide a spirit to my circle. To strike a deal with them.”
“Myr. Mar. Vus. Wyv.”
Until my circle is done.
A breath I didn’t realize I was holding left my lips. A puff of white dances on my breath.
The first circle I had done without supervision. Without guidance. Without judgement. Without criticism.
I wasn’t sure I liked that.
“What if one of my runes upsets the Vær?”
What if I called a spirit and it did not care for communicating with mortals at all? If anything happened to me… how would the University of Kærûn know?
“How could they-“
-just send a single student to deal with this on their own…?
I could still leave… A circle without an evoker in it is nothing more than an ornament on the ground. I could return to Kærûn, let Akasar Laþa know what I had managed to find out about the situation. Let a qualified evoker or patcher deal with this. Surely this wasn’t something a student should be doing on their own… right?
“But this was an assignment I was given…”
They had seen my enchantments at the beginning of the year, they know I had resolved to doing this. Could this be one of Akasar Laþa’s tests?
I take a deep breath. When I breathe out, the white puff dances around my nostrils again. It is getting colder. I drew the edges of my coat closer around me.
I take a step into the circle, then another into the center of the circle. Then I take a step back to leave space for the spirit.
I sit down. Is my posture alright…? I shift, trying to appear less… threatening. Is this too demeaning… ? Spirits value confidence and dislike insecurities… right?
Fiyar’ta… I hope I’m doing this right…
Then I remembered something: Sometimes spirits become slightly visible in the circle, even when you don’t have enchantments that allow you to see them. I have to admit, the slight visibility is more uncanny than not being able to see them at all… I close my eyes.
I take a deep, quavering breath, and open my mouth to begin the summoning. My voice is shaky, with no traces of confidence.
I finish the call. Nothing happens. My heart sinks. Did I say something wrong? Is it my posture? My circle? Where did I go wrong?
I’m almost tempted to open my eyes again, see if a spirit had manifested after all and chosen not to make a noise.
A gentle breeze bristles through the canopy, and through my closed eyes, I can feel that it has gotten darker. A dark cloud must’ve veiled the sky. I notice a musky smell in the air. And there is a wafting, a breeze that moves, back and forth. Like a breath. A chill runs along the fur on my shoulders and upper arms.
Slowly, I can start to hear a deep, rumbling drone, in rhythm with the back and forth of the breeze. Like a tree creaking. Like a therion howling.
There seems to be something more to the drone. A deeper meaning. Like a thought that isn’t my own, filled with words without a sound.
“You are not like the little ones…”
I think that is the meaning of the rumble…
“My name is Vuro- no, my name is just… just Raka”, I introduce myself. “I came to speak with you peacefully, if you are willing.”
As I say that, I shift to let my hands rest palms up on my legs, as I bend forward slightly in what I hope to be a humbling gesture.
I’m still too scared to open my eyes.
What follows is silence.
I can still feel its presence, the wafting in the air. Frightened through I am, I am tempted to open my eyes, take a look at the spirit before me.
Then, slowly there is another slow rumble, the intention, the meaning increasing with every moment it persists.
“The little ones. They are not here anymore”, it seems to say.
“What do you mean? What little ones?”
Then, the rumbling changes, replaced by a series of what sounds like yelps.
“They make noises. Fast. Musical. Talking to each other”, are the meanings I manage to gather.
I try to understand. Are they talking about people? The villagers have indeed left the forest since whatever this Spirit is has started roaming it.
The spirit probably noticed my pause and another rumble emerged.
“Fly…?” I mutter.
Most Rontar in A’enaisgar were not avian. Which means that the spirit might be talking about… birds?
“Do they make sounds like this?” I ask, then do my best attempt at whistling. I’m not very good at it.
Yet, to my surprise, the spirit responds with a series of yelps that sound strangely similar to chirping of birds.
I listen carefully. Not just to the spirit, but to my surroundings. I have not noticed this before, but the sound of birds was absent in this forest. They must’ve started migrating north already, right?
“The birds fly north when the weather starts to get colder”, I explain. Don’t spirits usually know about the turning of the season? They are the very creatures that direct the flow of all workings of this world, aren’t they?
There is a long silence again.
Then a deep, sad drone emerges from the shadow before me. A strange sense of longing and nostalgia overcomes me. These are not my feelings, but I can sense them nonetheless.
I’m not sure what to say in response…
“L- listen”, I begin with uncertainty in my voice.
“The people in the village say that they can sometimes see and hear you roaming this forest. They are too scared enter the forest anymore.”
A long silence follows.
Gradually, I can sense the shadow before me grow darker. I can’t tell if this is due to the day ending, or if the spirit has shifted.
Then a creaking warble fills the air, and in my minds eye, I can see a space deeper in the forest, so far from any village that no mortal has set foot in these woods in several generations. I don’t know how I know this. But I instinctively understand.
The air is filled with the song of birds, and my senses are filled with a childlike joy. The same kind of joy I felt when I saw my first Spirits – the ones that looked like Fara’fyrderin, and when I learned to use water runes for the first time.
But then, the song of birds ceased, and in my mind’s eye, I started to wander further out of the forest, to places where mortals also roam. As I wander, the canopy of the trees open up a view of the sky, cloudy and grey. And as I look back down to the forest, the ground is filled with white. And after a while, green little needles poke out from the white and unfurl into underbrush, as the white gradually clears up in the same way the canopy did before. And then, slowly, the song of birds begin to fill the air again, and I can sense myself slowly retreating back to the deeper parts of the forest, where the song of the birds fills me again with child-like joy.
As the vision leaves my mind, I slowly open my eyes unconsciously- but realizing this I immediately shut them close again.
“I understand. You wait here for the birds to return in spring, right?”
Unlike before, the answer comes almost immediately, with a series of chattering yelps.
“Have you thought of migrating with the birds?”
There is that pause again. Thoughtful this time.
Then the spirit slowly begins to warble again, and my mind’s eye is again filled with a new sense of place. This time, it seems to be a memory of myself. I am standing in my aunts orchard, reaching up to the Alyaku trees to pick the last fruit from the branches. A yellowing leaf sails down onto my hand. I muster it, as a glimmer of the low autumn sun on the horizon is caught through the delicate veins in the leaf. A chill runs through the fur on my neck and shoulders. The season is turning. I look around, and I seem to be taking all these details in with a heightened awareness. Like a child, seeing these things for the first time.
And I understand that these feelings are those of the spirit. They have touched my mind in order to convey a sense they themselves do not share.
“You… haven’t migrated with them because you don’t know when the season is turning…”, I mutter.
The answer comes in a long, sad wail.
“If you could sense winter approaching, would you follow them?”
There is a short hesitation, but then an affirmative chattering yelp.
This time, it is I who pauses. I try to think, try to come up with a solution for this problem.
The villagers in A’enaisgar want to feel safe. They need this part of the forest, to gather supplies and make trade with the nearby other villages to survive the winter.
The spirit will not be able to catch up with the birds now. No matter what the solution is, they will have to wait for the next year to follow the birds.
Can I convince them to return to their part of the forest and wait for the return of the birds there…?
Nervously I lift my head and open my eyes.
The space before me is empty.
“Will you return to that forest you came from and wait for the birds to return, if I give you my sensibility for cold?”
There is a long pause. Uncomfortably long. Longer than the pauses had been before.
I begin to question if my opening my eyes had caused it to leave the circle.
Then, slowly, I can feel the rumble, in my body, in my chest. I feel gratitude. I feel joy, at the prospect of being with the birds again in the next year.
I breathe out, a puff of white dancing on my breath.
What I don’t feel is the wintery chill filling the air.