The gentle coastal breeze from the Siren Sea blew through the grasslands on the outskirts of Meletis, disturbing the leaves of nearby trees before reaching into the star-filled night sky. Without a sound, Liya’s spectral form faded into the plane. She was struck by the intensity of the night for a moment before resolving herself to her task. First: reach out to sense a compatible host that could be reached before her time was up. Second: assess any abilities she might temporarily gain as a visitor to this place. Third: find out her host’s personal details so to better fit in as their replacement.
She closed her eyes and felt the odd sensation of her consciousness spread out into the immediate area. If there was no one near enough, she would waste too much time in flying around to find someone. There, on the edge of her periphery. It would be close, but she could make it. Liya willed herself forward, towards the essence she had sensed. Over the hill, a small house appeared as she traveled, humble and surrounded by farmland. It was familiar in a way, and completely different in others. As she got close to the house, Liya felt the familiar pull in the core of her being; she was at the limit of how long she could stay without a host. With the feeling of a lunge, her vision went dark.
Liya opened her eyes, and stared at the ceiling. Her entire body felt heavy and ached in a way she hadn’t felt in a long time. Just sitting up took an extreme effort, but she persisted. The room was simple, but felt massive, as her sense of scale was out of alignment. Concentrating on the smoky feeling inside her, she summoned her Spectral Mirror.
With a shock, she realised her host body couldn’t be more than three years old! Blonde hair grew past her shoulders, and her features still bore the puffiness of baby fat, but despite this the young girl she had control of had the buried looks of someone who could be a real head turner in a few years. Liya contemplated finding a new host, but previous experience had taught her that even if there was another compatible person within her range, she was never as strong as she could be with her initial choice; their magic never worked quite right, or they would suffer physically from Liya’s presence.
On that point, she decided that it was time for the next step: testing abilities. Gingerly, she tried to get down from the bed. In her current form, it felt like climbing a mountain! With the unsteady wobble of someone unused to the act of walking or standing unaided, Liya made her way to the door. It was as simple as the rest of the building, without a lock or even a handle, so she quietly pushed it open, pausing for a moment to maintain her tenuous balance.
The new room kept the same rustic simplicity as the one she had just exited, and Liya couldn’t help but be reminded of her own home a lifetime ago; a pair of wooden chairs around a hearth, with a simple cooking area next to it, and a wooden blanket on the floor, presumably for her host, all magnified to her eyes due to her diminutive form. Another bare door to the side concealed a tandem of snoring sounds, one rough and one more petite. My parents, I suppose, Liya thought.
The door to the exterior had a handle the others lacked, and her limited strength proved it to be closed. Liya thought for a moment before toddling over to the blanket. Dragging it towards the chairs was a hard task, but she was committed now. Using all her strength, she pulled back on the chair, lifting the front legs just enough to land on top of the blanket. Her breathing quickened by the labour, she repositioned the blanket to repeat the act with the back legs, which would be harder. Every part of her was begging to stop, but she couldn’t leave things in the state they were in, though she did allow herself a brief rest, rubbing her arms and legs to help relieve the ache.
Now, pushing the chair would not only be easier for her tiny frame, but would also not scrape against the floor, waking her caretakers. With no small amount of effort, Liya moved the chair to the door, climbed up to the seat, and reached for the handle. Luck was with her, as although it was closed, there was no lock, and it swung open with the barest creak. Letting go before losing her footing entirely, Liya scrambled down and stumbled outside. The night air was crisp with the chill of early spring, and Liya regretted her choice of expediency. Barefoot, she made her way down the path to put some distance between herself and the house. From experience, some abilities could be more impactful than others.
Feeling both confident in the distance and too tired to press on, Liya concentrated and focused within. She raised her hand to the sky, and channeled magic, like she had done years prior in the fortress of the Knights of the Hallowed Order.
No torrential storm answered her call. No gouts of flame or blasts of ice. Not even a spark of light. She could feel power within, she just couldn’t unlock it no matter how she tried.
Is there something I’m missing? Is whoever she is not old enough yet? Liya thought, puzzled. Maybe I can only use magic on Melenas, like I can only be free there?
Which is when the shimmering rope wrapped around her waist, and pulled her upward towards and into the night sky. She tried to scream, but no sound came out. The ground below quickly disappeared beneath clouds and starry blackness. Gradually, her momentum slowed and stopped, leaving her suspended in midair. Coalescing from the darkness around her was the remainder of the rope, followed by an ethereal hand. She could see now it wasn’t a rope, but a golden-handled whip. The hand wielding it led to an arm, and so on, revealing a giant figure, even by the standards of Liya at her normal size.
The figure appeared masculine but made of stars, with horns extending from their head and armoured pauldrons. It pulled the whip in and grasped Liya in a firm hand. An awful noise filled her mind as the figure spoke. If there were words there, Liya didn’t understand them. The figure shook her in its hand and there was more painful noise. After a moment of no answer the figure turned and waved its free hand in a circular motion, and a spiraling portal opened in the field of stars like a whirlpool. Through it, Liya could see a hooded man bent over a metal bowl on a pedestal. The man stood up straight and faced the portal, and she could see his eyes had the blank stare of the blind.
“My Lord, what do you require of me?” he asked, addressing the giant figure. Liya could hear no response, but after a moment, the man spoke again.
“Mortal, you bear witness to Erebos, God of the Dead, and keeper of the Underworld. He says that you are one of His, yet not, and you contain multitudes. In accordance with the laws than govern, the one addressed will now be divided.”
The giant’s other hand moved over the top of Liya and pinched nothing. The hand then pulled up, and with intense screaming pain, Liya was removed from her host. The girl started to stir in the giant’s grasp, until the man in the portal waved his hand, which shimmered with silver light, and she went limp.
“Now, you will explain yourself. How is it you cannot hear the words of the gods?”
Liya tried to will herself to pull away, but she remained in place. With resignation, she spoke, addressing the god. “I’m not from here. I don’t even really know where here is.” Her words had the ghostly echo she had come to recognise. “I’m just a visitor to this place, and if you let me go, I promise I won’t come back.”
The god spoke to her again, more painful noise, and the man translated.
“Interloper. You have gall to boast of unearned freedom to the God of the domain you rightfully belong to, and His humble oracle. It is by Erebos’s will that you remain here for now, and not condemned to the Underworld which is your place. You say that you come from another place, yet He has no knowledge of you throughout all of Theros. How is this?”
“I’m honestly not sure. When I was killed...” Liya hesitated a moment, caught by a flash of memory. “When I was killed, I found myself thrown across a wide sea of stars without meaning, in the form you see me now. After years of practice, I was able to travel this sea, and this place is one of those stars.”
Both the god and the oracle were silent for a time in private discussion before the oracle addressed Liya again.
“What you claim is impossible, but there is no deception in your words. You could traverse to these stars again?” Liya simply nodded. “My Lord Erebos has a task for you then, star-wanderer. You will be allowed to leave as you wish, if you guide all lost and lingering souls you encounter to His embrace, be they long departed or new to the... situation.”
“Absolutely yes. Whatever you need.
“Your task will commence when it is your time here. This will be known to you. Until then, I suggest for your sake, you take it upon yourself to learn what it is you must do in service, for once your task begins, there will be no leniency for one who has escaped death’s clutches.”
With that, the god released the hand restraining Liya, and fighting the pulling sensation of her spirit trying to return home, she pushed her way into the young girl again, eyes fluttering open as she assumed control.
“I’ll do my best.” she said, her speech slightly slurred by the infant mouth.
“Do better.” The oracle replied with a smirk that bordered on a sneer as the portal closed, leaving Liya in the god’s grasp. He turned in the direction they had come from, and threw her. Screaming from the sudden velocity, she passed out.
“...ka! Myka! What in Heliod’s name are you doing outside!?” Liya was shaken awake with a start, facing a woman who could be her mother. Similar nose, and eyes.
“Wha... my name...?” Liya started, confused before her vision suddenly jerked to the side, and pain bloomed across her cheek, as the woman slapped her.
“I told you Myka, you’re not well! You can play when you’re better, but not now!”
Liya clenched her jaw, trying not to cry even if her host body really wanted to. “I wasn’t...” The woman raised her hand again, but it was caught by a man standing over her.
“Kalliopi, don’t. She’s only three, what will this accomplish?” The man asked with a calm, yet firm tone.
“I don’t want to hear it, Mynos. She should learn!” The woman answered, still with the vigour of anger, but starting to temper.
“And she can do that in her time. Now though, we should get her inside before it gets worse.”
As she was led back to the simple house, Liya looked behind her at the night sky. No looming figures chased her, but when she looked hard, she thought one of the stars blinked at her.
Sure, Setessan wine is hard to get this side of Phoberos.
Are you sure?
Well that’s mighty kind of you friend! What’s the occasion?
I was wondering when this might come up.
Yes, okay, look, it’s a very nice drink, I just...
No, wait. ...Come back.
Okay, fine. I know I shouldn’t be using it, but...
Oh, you mean...?
...Right. From the beginning. It’s been a while though, so I might not get everything right. But I remember enough.
Not like I could forget something like that.
So, this? This all started when I was a kid. Like, about as far back as I can remember. I must have been about five or six, I think? She was a couple of years younger.
Myka, yeah, that was her name. You know her?
Guess not then. Anyway, where was I? Yes, so Myka caught the Bloodfire, and I remember everyone was worried that it might spread, but mostly they'd already written her off for dead, you know? So...
What? Oh, Bloodfire is a kind of fever. It makes you weak, then burns you out from the inside. Hard to cure, even if you have the money for the medicine. The worst part is others can catch it too, so most of the time it's easier to just lock someone away and forget about them until... you know.
Yeah, it's pretty bad. Anyway. So there's Myka, only three, and already in her last days from the fever. One night, she gets outside which is just remarkable given how sick she was, and she wanders into the fields, right? Next thing, she's screaming and on the ground, which attracts attention. Her mother and father picked her up, and took her home. This is when it starts getting weird. Well, weirder. The next day, no sign of the Bloodfire. Like she'd never been sick a day in her life.
Now, me being a kid, of course I got told to stay away, but do you think I'd listen? I was around asking her to play whenever I could! Still one thing that sticks at me. Myka was always a bit of a crybaby, but after that, she was more... with it, I guess? She still didn't want to play at first, but the first thing she wanted was a book. Ha, it seems so silly now looking back, but I made her swear she'd play the next day if I got her a book. I think she was going to cry when she realised that she didn't know how to read! But being the gentleman that I am, even back then, I volunteered to teach her. Sure, I didn't know much myself, but all I had to do was stay one step ahead of her, and I'd sound like a genius, right?
So that didn't work. Well, at first it did, but she was so much smarter than me! She started asking her father for help, and when that wasn't enough, she was asking to go to the library like every day. She tried to get me to go with her a few times, but I wasn't the most diligent student. I had my own goals in mind, even then.
Learning to read was harder than she thought. There hadn’t been much opportunity to do so when she was alive, because what good would reading do when you need to harvest the fields? She had managed to pick up enough to get by, but she wasn’t what you would consider fluent. And now she had to learn a new language at the same time? Luckily she could understand the verbal part, otherwise it could very well be impossible.
The neighbour boy, Spiros, kept asking her to play. It was annoying, but she was supposed to be a child as well, so she begrudgingly cooperated from time to time. There was a lot of running and chasing, but after hearing Spiros talk about his dreams of being a hero in the army like his grandfather, it made sense. As long as she could find what she needed, helping him worked in everyone’s favour.
Not that she had expected to find anything, but there was no mention of other worlds anywhere she looked. Either no one like her had ever come here, or more likely, they just didn’t make it known. It made sense, who knows what people would do if they knew about other worlds besides their own. Liya had seen war over a fraction of land, no one deserved to have that at the scale of multiple worlds. What she had learned among other things was the mythology of Theros. Or is it closer to history, given gods are real? Liya wondered, pouring through countless words.
Between her studies, and her playtime with Spiros and other local children, Liya had also discovered how her host, Myka’s magic worked. The trick was making it work where it counted. Normally, Liya would remain aware and present while her host rested, but she had learned of the realm of Nyx, home of the gods, and its link to dreams. It had been so long since she had slept, it took a few weeks to learn how to do it again. It was a surreal feeling, because she could she herself in her ghostly form tied to Myka’s sleeping form by a golden light. When Liya moved, Myka copied it as best she could, but had no presence of being there herself. When asleep, Myka’s magic paired with Liya’s imagination to conjure fantastical creatures. But until recently, she had no luck making it work in the waking world. Focusing on the feeling of using magic, Liya managed to bring one of these creatures with her, although nowhere as impressive as it had been in her dreams, and lingered but moments before fading in a sparkle of stardust. She also discovered a similar ability to imbue objects with magic, but it lasted less. Unsure of how people would react, she kept this information to herself, resolved to practice as best she could while keeping up her studies and disguise appearance.
Ah, my thanks friend. I was getting a little parched.
Are you alright? You look a little unwell.
Okay, okay! No need to bite my head off like a hydra or something! I was just concerned.
Anyway, so where was I? Oh yeah. So there’s Myka with her nose in books, and there I am playing around. Not that I never learned to read or anything, but it was around then I insisted I wanted to be a soldier like my grandpa. He was a hero, you know. The local garrison took a bunch of us in for some training to eventually move up once we were of age. Nothing too hard, you know, just some basic stuff that kids could handle. So this went on for a couple years. I would’ve been 9 I think? It was the coronation.
Myka? Around 5 or 6. Weird to ask, but fine...
Anyway, from what we were told, there were so many declarations and things to scribe that the royal service was stretched thin, so they grabbed a group of us that could read and write, and for pretty good coin, put us to work transcribing all sorts of things. Letters mostly, but anything that fell through.
We were talking and having fun as we could, because we’re still kids, then out of nowhere Myka goes dead quiet. It took me a moment to notice, but I asked her what was wrong. She showed me the letter she was working on.
“So happy to hear about your son, I hope he enjoys the hat we sent! It should be quality enough to last the rest of his life. Per your last letter: yes, Aunt Phera can get Gavriil some more oil if he needs it, but you know her back, she’d need some help making it. If he’s fit enough for it, next feast day would be fine. Bring wine! - N.”
So I asked what her problem was. She pulled me aside and said that the king was in danger, and we had to do something. I guess I looked confused, because she got very annoyed with me and went through it bit by bit. Turns out all that reading was good for something. If she was reading it right, she said, someone was going to poison the new king at the coronation, probably with wine, in Pharika’s name. I tried to get a word in edgewise, but you know how girls are, right buddy? She kept going on about how that’s not Pharika’s intent, and anyone who believes it is going against the teachings, and so on.
I tried to stop her, but she showed the letter to the head scribe who was overseeing our group. He didn’t believe it, saying we were trying to get out of work, or that we were just uneducated children so what could we know. Myka stormed out, practically dragging me with her. I wanted to fight her about it, but there was just something to her. Gods help me, I believed her. She told me to grab a sword and meet with her on the coronation day. Now I hadn’t handled anything stronger than a wooden practice blade at that point, so I was unsure, but again, just something there. So I did it. I borrowed...
No, not stole, BORROWED, I gave it back, borrowed a sword. The crowd had gathered, but that’s a useful thing about kids is that we could get through and around them. From the archways, we watched the whole thing: the old king abdicating to his son, the new king swearing oath, and receiving his retainers in turn. Even for a kid, it felt grand.
Look, not that I’m talking myself up, but I spotted it before she did: the table of gifts from visiting dignitaries. A single bottle of wine among the jewels and everything, hand-sealed. I tugged on her dress and pointed at it, she put a finger to her lips and entered the room. I followed her, trying to be as quiet as I could, but she was as silent as the grave. Ooh, maybe a poor choice of words. You get what I mean though.
We got about halfway before it was presented to the king, with a glass poured offering a sample. Myka screamed out “No!” and then did something. I don’t know what exactly, but suddenly an armoured man, but made of stars, appeared and attacked the tray with a sword that was also stars.
I swear it, I’m not making it up. As soon as he appeared, he was gone. Myka was breathing heavy. She said “Can you keep a secret?” and I said “Sure.” She closed her eyes for a moment and held her hands out to my sword, it was hard to see, but there was a glow to the edge of it. Dark, but still glowing. "Just in case." she said. Like she knew.
Amidst the chaos that had erupted, a man grabbed us, and hissed “What are you doing!? That was my gift!” And without a shred of fear, Myka asked if his name was Gavriil. That scared him, to the point that if this wasn’t a true story, this would be where I'd say his eyes popped out of his fat little head!
“How did you...” he started, but Myka was already calling out, speaking to the whole crowd. “This man is an assassin, sent to kill the king!” The crowd burst into shouts and talking and all that before the king called for silence.
“Do you have proof?” he asked, but Myka shook her head. “Not really, but by his own admission, he provided that gift. That wine is poisoned. Let him drink some first to prove his guilt.”
“That’s absurd! I would never...!” Gavriil started before the king and Myka cut him off at the same time with a “Quiet!”. The king looked at Myka sadly. “These are serious allegations to level at one in power, little one. How sure are you?”
She looked back at me for a moment, and whispered something. To this day I still don’t know what it was, not for sure, but part of me thinks it was “I’m sorry.” Turning to face the king, she said “This sure.” and with a speed I can’t imagine where it came from, she grabbed the bottle and took a drink.
You know how in stories they say time slowed down? That’s what it felt like. Looking back, it’s like a series of paintings: I see the king jumping to his feet to stop her; I see Myka, clearly in pain, clutching her stomach; I can see myself pulling out of Gavriil’s grip to weave through the crowd to help.
She was bleeding from the mouth and coughing when I reached her, even in such a short time. I could faintly hear commotion of the crowd, and the king calling for guards as Gavriil tried to flee, but that wasn’t where my focus was. All I could see was my friend, dying.
“I hate the dying part.” she said between laboured breaths. “What do you mean?” I asked. She coughed again, spraying me with blood I didn’t notice. “Doesn’t matter. I’m going now, but in a second I’ll be very confused. Just stay with me, alright?”
“What’s going on, I don’t understand!”
She just smiled as her eyes closed. “You want to know another secret?” She opened her eyes and looked straight at me. “You can do it too.” And there was a mischievous knowing in her smile.
Of course, I didn’t know what she meant then. But at that moment, and I see this in my dreams still, I could almost see another person, a woman laid over her, faint and slightly blue. Whoever she was disappeared slowly, and I felt a crushing sadness, but I don’t think it was just because my friend was dying. See, I talked to some of the other people that were there that day. Nearly everyone felt that sadness, and some said that they saw the woman in Myka, but not everyone.
She blinked after that and asked what was going on, and she sounded younger. Like she said, she was confused, but she didn’t have long. Another cough, and that was it.
...Sorry, needed a moment. Anyway, long story short, we were both commended by the king for saving his life, though Myka’s was posthumous. Her parents got a hefty sum for Myka’s efforts and for their loss, and I got a good word or two put in for me with the army. Basically, I got what I wanted, but I still feel bad.
Huh? Oh yeah! So I wondered about that too. The “You can do it too” thing. I felt it when she did it, but only a little. I tried doing it like she did, but it didn’t work right. But with some practice...
Yeah, impressive isn’t it? That’s a genuine enchanted sword. It’s supposed to be like gold or silver, but I can’t get rid of that black bit. But maybe I don’t want to.
Hey, where are you going? I’ve got some other stories if you like, or...
Okay, fine. Half-dead looking…
She hated leaving him like that, but at least her gift would find its way to him in time. She hadn’t noticed the wine, because she was listening to her god. “Come to me, my servant.” he said, whispering on air. “The time has come for you to commence your duties as my shepherd among the stars.” After that, the pieces fell into place, and even though Liya hated every part of it, that was the only way it could work. She had learned that Myka had died the night she came to this world, of the fever she had "recovered from", persisting through Erebos's will for Liya to do what was needed. Even then, at the end she considered disregarding her word, jumping hosts, and staying around to help Spiros, but there was part of her that pulled her away. Not in the manner she was used to, but in the sense of a job done and yet to do. So she left, to attend her task in whatever new destination would follow.