• Maira Galabard

#1 The Hero of Flames

The idea of Alor started with a poorly drawn sketch on a piece of cardboard back in 2009, and continued to develop in several unfinished notebooks, scattered papers, digital files, drawings, maps, imagining and re-imagining races and factions, plotting thousands of pages only to start anew with something hopefully more compelling.


Alor revolves around the history of nine races with faces made of bone ("masks"), united under the Osvirian nation. Their masks are covered with symbols that tell the person's story, and each osvari inherits and develops a unique path known as mahrym. As a path of knowledge, even if an osvari dies, the next will inherit their unique power and continue their journey.


This world is the result of years finding small chunks of time to write and draw here and there, and putting them together. The first book is still in the making and will be published when it's ready.


This site intends to be a small window to Alor and its lands, races, bestiary and a glimpse of its tales and history. Contents will be revealed little by little on a no-rush basis. I can't promise frequent updates, but I can promise interesting ones when they happen.




The tavern is not very crowded for an evening. A group of apprentices here, a drunken man there, the innkeeper eyeing me from behind the ale-splattered bar.


I salute him discreetly and try not to draw too much attention to myself. “May I entertain your guests tonight”, I ask, “for a warm meal and a place to sleep in?”


He snorts. His hand moves in circles as he cleans an already spotless mug. “What’s it you do to entertain?”, he asks. He squints his eyes as he looks at me, trying to ascertain who’s hiding under the hood, but he only sees bone and wrinkles covering every trace of my face. An average osvari, after all.


“Oh, I tell stories”, I reply. “Most people enjoy a good story over a drink or a meal.”

“Right, well”, he says, clearly disinterested; “you may sleep in the stable and have the scraps, but you leave tomorrow.”


Though I’m quite certain most of the lodgings are empty, I thank him profusely. Generosity isn’t quite rewarded in that part of the desert, and Vasrnarii always lean toward preservation — their own, and their coin’s. Primarily the latter.


He pulls a colourful cushion from a pile and throws it in my direction. My old hands fail to catch it and it hits me in the face instead. He laughs, but his laughter is soon cut short, for somebody else claims his attention.


The people in the tavern are sitting on cushions too. The limestone tables are low, too low for me, I think as my back aches. I try to sit upright, and I remove my worn backpack to hide it under the table. Realising I forgot to ask for a drink, I signal the man I assume is the owner.


He does a good job ignoring me for a while, until he reluctantly approaches me with a jug of brown water. “That’s the free water we have”, is all he says before getting behind the bar again.


I take a sip. It’s as horrible as I expected. I take a deep breath and gulp it down. It’s lukewarm, probably kept under the two suns all day. I can only think of the water in the troughs, where muuren drink from when merchants come here to rest.


I clear my throat four times in a vain attempt to demand the six people’s attention. One glances in my direction, another one scoffs. Well, that’s my crowd tonight, and I have just the story for these folks.


***


The Hero of Flames


Samsieg Seragast had always been a fortunate man. From the very moment he was born he was showered with affection, gifts and coin. He grew in a loving family, and was raised to be a role model for the community, an example for other nobles in the province, but most of all, an important member the world’s Council.


His face was that of any osvari: bone covered his dark skin, and a plethora of crimson marks and symbols appeared on it as he grew older, each holding a unique meaning. The only symbol that matters to us, however, is his mahrym.


Samsieg could manipulate any form of fire at will. He could generate a spark where there was none, turn a river of water into a sea of flames, crown a rock with fire, or burn down an entire barbarian village. Barbarians found him a fearsome enemy, whereas almost every osvarii saw him as a hero and saviour.



However, as Samsieg travelled the world, he found that not every osvarii found him worthy of such mahrym.


There had been many candidates to fire elementalism, some of them preparing for as long as thirty years, but he had been the one chosen by the gods. And at the age of fifteen, no less.

It was the only thing people spoke of every time he crossed a gate: not his feats, not his beautiful long hair as dark as the night, not how he had gotten himself the perfect family and a palace.


There was no other osvari with the same mahrym, and there wouldn’t be until he died, Samsieg was well aware. It wasn’t long until he surrounded himself with personal guards, close friends, his spouse and children, a circle that grew smaller every year, for fear of being killed. For if an osvari was killed, their mahrym was liberated, ready for someone else to inherit.


One night, he woke up feeling terribly ill. His robes were soaked with cold sweat, his lungs ached, his hands shook. Had it been dinner? Could one of the cooks have poisoned his food? He fell to the ground as he sent for his personal medic.


The next day, all of his cooks had been fired, and from then on he would prepare the meals himself, sometimes with the help of his family.


It was months later, when he was attending a Council meeting, that his heart began to burn. The cloth over his chest curled as ember devoured it like a puddle growing in the rain. No matter how he tried to stop the flames, they wouldn’t obey him. The ache stopped the moment he realised it was a very well-made illusion. Though everybody inside and outside the Council was interrogated by the guards, the culprit was never found.



Samsieg decided to stop attending Council meetings outside his homeland, but soon new accidents happened: collapsing in the middle of a family dinner, losing his gorgeous hair, losing his sight in one eye. Were those illusions, too? Several times called he for a medic, but he was only offered short-termed solutions. He dismissed one medic after the other, until he became his own medic for lack of one able to provide him with an answer.



The fire elementalist came to realise that misfortune had always struck him when in the company of others, and so he slowly isolated himself from friends and distant relatives. Maybe — no, surely, they had intentions other than being in his company, he thought. After all, most of them had children old enough to inherit a mahrym. Samsieg was convinced they wanted him dead. It was the only way to release the mahrym he possessed.

All those fake smiles, all the envy boiling in their hearts, all those enticing words. Poison. All of it.


And yet, he thought, how did they do it? They were working together, no doubt, but none of his close friends held any mahrym that could possibly do him harm. Transforming sand into apple seeds? Morphing into an ape? Talking to palm trees? Bending copper? Harmless.


Samsieg spent countless nights listing all the osvarii he knew, their mahrym specialisations, the places they had been together or crossed paths, the children they had. He spent a fortune to send spies after those envious people, and read the transcripts of their conversations.


Years went by as Samsieg grew older, only in the company of his spouse. His children had been sent to different lands, one of them as far as the other end of the world. It had often crossed his mind that one of his ambitious sons, or his astute daughter, could’ve been poisoning him, manipulating him. It was best to keep them far, far away. He also erased them from his will.



However, his health continued to worsen. His breathing became wheezy and his nose runny, and he could even see his own breath in the middle of summer. He relocated many times in the hopes that, whoever wished him dead, would soon lose track of him.


And as the only people left by his side were his wife and guards, he got rid of both. He asked her to go back to her family in the distant plains of Nariv, a request she was happy to comply with. The guards were stationed at the main gates, far from where he ate and slept, and would only do a routine check during the morning. He then burnt his will in flames, for there was none he wished to leave anything to.

Shadows would haunt him at night, and he’d drive them away with flames. During the day, he was exhausted and had a hard time staying awake — but he had to. He had to make sure nobody entered the palace. It was a matter of time until the Council offered him an early retirement, which he gladly accepted.


Messenger birds began to bring him countless messages. Osvarii from all over the world would wish him a prompt recovery, and would take the opportunity to introduce their almost-of-age, mahrym-less sons and daughters. Some even dared to ask for a referral, to fill his prior position at the Council as War Minister. He sealed the windows so that no more birds could get through with their messages.



It was during one of those haunted nights that the Mrygat came to take him. After all, Samsieg was no longer fit to hold a mahrym as important as fire elementalism, and the Mrygat always made sure to track every form of mahrym and each holder.


Samsieg felt his heart pound loudly in his chest. Louder than any other time before. Some cumberworld must have paid the Mrygat a fortune to ensure they could inherit his mahrym.


But the gods had found him worthy. Him alone. Him, over thousands of others who had hoped for the same mahrym. No osvari could take this by force.

And if he were to leave his mahrym behind, he would do so out of his own volition. Not shamed, not executed and ditched in the depths of the desert, and certainly not at the hands of the Mrygat.


He piled the curtains and feather pillows in the centre of the room as the Mrygat envoys hammered the door, ripped his bed open and poured out its contents. He then stood on top of the pile.


Before the door burst open, he cast a flame onto his chest.

Flames engulfed his body and hurt him for the first time. Feathers, silks and cloths became a whirlwind of embers and sparks as he laughed manically. Nothing could stop the might of a mahrymic fire. None. Even water would turn into steam. The desperation on their faces was a delight to see as the flames engulfed him.


He fell on his back and continued laughing, thinking of the writings he left behind, his story, the one that would be passed on to the lucky osvari to inherit his mahrym.


As he slowly drifted away, his heart leaped in realisation. His writings! His journals! Everything he had written was right there, in that very room, on the shelves.


He tried to stand but his legs faltered. His mouth and lungs burned with every inhalation. His skin became pools of red, his veins throbbing against his temple. He yelled and tossed and turned, but the flames wouldn’t extinguish.


He gasped for air. He tried to hold onto a thought, any thought, his last one, but all he could think of was that he had been betrayed. Set up by the ones he had loved, admired, feared. They had turned their backs on him the moment their greed had blinded them. The only thing he regretted was not having found a worthy heir.


He closed his scorched eyes, and expired.

The next morning, his corpse was found by the guards. Samsieg lied down on the floor, his jaw wide open, his hands on his stomach and chest. His face was no longer covered in bone, and a mask lay right next to him, perfectly preserved.

When the guards were asked how the hero of flames had died, they looked at each other.

“I don’t know, but he was laughing”, they said.


The undertaker smiled.

“I’m glad he died a happy man.”



***


I’ve been kicked out of the tavern. The apprentices laughed, granted, but the innkeeper didn’t quite like the somber ending. After all, Samsieg Seragast did exist and was a well-beloved hero in Vasrna and beyond. He drove vasarigæ away three centuries ago, and he’s still held in high esteem.


The drunken man is approaching me. Odd enough, considering he dozed off halfway into the story. He offers me to stay at his home, possibly planning to use me as an excuse for arriving late. Evidently, I accept.


He introduces me as a poor lost soul to who I presume is his partner in life. Their names are of humble origin, I can tell this much. They offer me warm soup and bread crumbles when they barely have any for themselves. Paying them with another story isn’t much, but it’s all I have.


At long last I rest my head on a pillow and cover myself with a thin blanket. The floor is hard and cold, and my bones creak as I try to find the least uncomfortable position. Winter in Vasrna isn’t deadly, of course, but the migratory beasts that come with it are.


Unless one is born and raised in Falkor, a storyteller doesn’t earn much in Alor, this world of ours. I’ve told my tales at inns, streets, noble houses, crossroads, taverns, on horse, atop a tree, under a mountain, underwater, in the dark of night, in caves, humble homes, ships. If I told you how many places I’ve been to, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But that hasn’t earned me fortune or fame. Fortune and fame bind what you tell, after all.

These are the tales I have lived, and which I hope will entertain those whom I have the fortune (or misfortune) to cross paths with.