Chapter 30 can be read below the cut.
1 January 506
Veitlen squinted down at the map in his hands. Even for an area that had only been surveyed recently, it was crudely drawn. “I wish you’d had more time to fine-tune this, Ussuri,” he said. “But these people…they’re not doing a good job of hiding.”
Ussuri Remura had been a student in Riskiara’s squad at the Military Academy at the same time as Veitlen. They’d never met until Veitlen had proposed going to the furthest reaches of Tsurennupaiva to search for the seventh Avatar. Ussuri had been paired up with him due to zem being a surveyor and zer magic alignment and spirit weapon being entirely useless for combat – light magic and cinnabar crystals.
Veitlen stood up and brushed a loose strand of hair behind his ear. He’d finally decided to start growing it out again, and was starting to remember why he hadn’t had it long since he’d been a teenager. Even if he could keep most of it tied back, it was still annoying.
“Isn’t that right?” said Ussuri.
“Who was it who used that terminology to begin with?” said Veitlen, rolling up the map. “I’d like to have a couple of stern words with them.”
“One of the soldiers from the scouting party. I don’t think I ever caught their name,” said Ussuri. “I can definitely tell you what they looked like, though.”
“Oh well,” said Veitlen. He stuck the map back in his satchel and walked to the top of the hill. It overlooked a small village and beyond that, the ocean to the south of Tsurennupaiva. Just like the land in the Southwestern and Southeastern District, there were few trees in the area. Most of the gently rolling hills were covered in grasses, with patches of flowers here and there.
“Ready to find this Avatar child?” Ussuri said, planting zer hands on zer hips.
“Yeah, let’s go,” said Veitlen.
Ussuri kept zer eyes on the ocean as they walked down to the village. “Every time I look at the ocean, I’m bewildered,” ze said. “I never thought we’d expand this much in my lifetime.”
“But it just looks like a lake where you can’t see the other side,” said Veitlen. “It’s not-”
Suddenly, Veitlen clapped his hands over his nose and mouth. “What is that smell!?” he exclaimed.
“Probably decaying seaweed. Isn’t that all over the beaches?” said Ussuri.
Veitlen still had his hand over his mouth and nose when they got to the edge of the village. Ussuri glanced at him and rolled zer eyes. “Stop that,” ze said. “It’s not that bad.”
“I don’t think I could ever get used to this,” said Veitlen. He dropped his arms to his sides reluctantly, still grimacing.
“It’s not really proper behavior for an Avatar, is it?” mused Ussuri.
There were a couple of villagers outside. Veitlen decided to ignore Ussuri’s comment and headed toward the group. “Hi, I’m Avatar Veitlen. I was told there was a kid here who people think might be an Avatar. Can I talk to them?” he asked.
A man stepped forward and held up his hand in greeting. “It’s my child you’ve heard about. Please follow me. I’ve managed to keep zem indoors for now.”
He gestured for them to follow him. “That’s suspicious,” said Veitlen. “What do you mean by that?”
“Hallion hates staying indoors. It’s almost impossible to keep zem inside this time of day,” said the man.
“Hallion?” Veitlen questioned. He tried and failed to suppress a smirk. “You really named your kid that? After the sun?”
“You’re one to talk, White Moon,” said Ussuri.
The man opened the door of his house. “Ze won’t be happy to talk to you,” he warned.
“Honestly, I’m not that happy to be here,” said Veitlen. “Good to know we’re both in the same situation.”
Hallion sat at the dining table with zer arms crossed and a scowl on zer face. Ze had long, curly dark hair that at least fell to zer waist. It reminded him of both Rahka and Morgaine.
“Hey,” said Veitlen from the doorway. Hallion remained silent.
Veitlen walked forward and set one hand on the dining table. “How old are you?” he asked. “You’ve manifested your spirit weapon already, so you can’t be that young. You have to be eleven or twelve at the youngest.”
Hallion remained silent and scowling. Veitlen sighed and shook his head. “How about going outside?” he asked. “We can go outside and talk there.”
Hallion’s expression changed immediately, zer eyes shining and an awestruck look on zer face. “Really!?” ze exclaimed.
Veitlen grinned. “Yep!” he said.
He exchanged a few words with Ussuri and Hallion’s father, telling them to wait for a couple of minutes. Veitlen let Hallion walk him to a hill to the east of the village. It was apparently a good place to find bugs.
“So why bugs?” Veitlen asked.
Hallion gave him a wide-eyed stare. “Why not bugs? Bugs are great!” ze exclaimed.
Hallion immediately went back to searching through the grass for insects. Veitlen sat down cross-legged next to zem and absently ran his fingers through the grass. It didn’t look or feel any different from the grass in Senna or Tivadshy. “So…do you know what an Avatar is?” he asked.
“She’s the person who runs the country. Her name is Chanda. And there’s some others, but they never do anything so no one ever talks about them,” said Hallion.
“You’re partially correct,” said Veitlen. He waved to get Hallion’s attention and summoned his sabre into his hand. Hallion’s eyes widened. “To simplify things a lot, an Avatar is just a person with really strong magic. And a certain kind of spirit weapon. Chanda’s one of them, but everyone knows that.”
Veitlen patted his chest with his free hand. “I’m Avatar Veitlen. You might have heard of me. I’m the one who convinced the demons to stop attacking us. My cousin Nymue is an Avatar, too. And so is this weird old lady from my village, and two people I know in Tivadshy,” he said. “According to scripture, there are supposed to be seven of us. We only know about six.”
“According to scripture?” Hallion echoed.
“Yeah…we don’t really know how accurate it is, but everything we’ve found fits what was written previously. It’s weird. I don’t actually know that much about it. It’s not really my thing,” said Veitlen. “So your spirit weapon is made of red coral, right? Can you manifest it for me so I can make sure?”
“Does one of the Avatars have a red coral spirit weapon?” Hallion asked.
“Yeah. The one we haven’t found yet,” said Veitlen.
Hallion held out zer hand. A staff about a meter and a half long appeared in it a couple of seconds later. “Here,” ze said. “It’s red, but I don’t know what coral is.”
“It’s a kind of animal that turns into a rock when it dies, or something like that,” said Veitlen. He tapped the staff. “This really does look like the coral jewelry I’ve seen.”
“Coral jewelry?” Hallion asked.
“Yeah. In the museum in Tivadshy, there’s some bead necklaces and sculptures made out of the same color of coral,” said Veitlen. “All made by Old Humanity, of course. We didn’t have access to any coral until recently. I heard there’s reefs just a few hundred meters away in the ocean.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” said Hallion. “You should probably ask the fishers. They’re the ones who actually go out on their boats every day.”
“That’s not what I’m here for. Someone else’ll do it,” said Veitlen. “Hallion, do you know what time of magic you have?”
“Magic?” Hallion asked.
“Yeah, magic!” said Veitlen. “Everyone who has a spirit weapon can use one type of magic. There’s light and dark. Let me get them out for you.”
Veitlen pulled the shards of light and dark magic out of his pocket and separated them, light magic in his right hand and dark magic in his left. “Put your hands over mine and concentrate. Try to visualize…something happening to it, I guess.”
“Something happening to it?” Hallion questioned.
“Yes,” said Veitlen.
Hallion frowned, wrinkling zer nose. “That makes no sense,” ze said.
Veitlen sighed. “I know I’m not good at explaining this. Put your hands over the magic and…think. Try to imagine it moving, like you’d move your hands. But don’t actually touch anything. You could hurt yourself with the dark magic.”
“Okay,” said Hallion. Ze still looked skeptical, but started reaching toward the shards of magic. When Hallion was still about ten centimeters away, the light magic shards in Veitlen’s hand started melting. Alarmed, Hallion pulled zer hands back to zer chest.
“Ah!” said Hallion.
“Light,” said Veitlen. He pocketed the dark magic. The light magic continued melting, dripping onto the ground. “That makes four Avatars with light magic, and three with dark. Light magic is more common in general. I think about two-thirds of people with magic have light magic-”
“So who are you gonna tell about this?” Hallion interrupted.
The light magic was starting to re-solidify, so Veitlen picked the pieces up off the ground and put everything back in his pocket. “The only person I need to tell is Chanda,” he said. “No one else needs to know. You can live your life like a normal person.”
He stood up and stretched, then offered his right hand to Hallion. Ze stared at it for a moment, then grabbed it. Veitlen pulled zem to zer feet. “By the way, what do you want to do with your life? I know you’re, like, twelve or something, but some people keep the same interests their whole lives,” he said.
Hallion grinned widely, zer eyes shining. “BUGS!” ze exclaimed.
“Bugs?” Veitlen said, much more quietly.
“I like insects!” said Hallion excitedly. “Did you know what most insect species died in the Cataclysm? There are only 2% of previously-existing species left in the present day! Bugs are rare! It’s so exciting when you find one!”
Hallion continued rambling about bugs, barely pausing to take breaths and not letting Veitlen get a word in. Veitlen managed to get zem to walk back to the village with him. Hallion kept talking the entire time. By the time they got back, Veitlen had learned more about insects than he had ever planned to.