You need to identify the signals your body gives you that it’s trying to release energy, or disperse spirit. They are well-known to those who meditate, to seasoned warriors, to athletes. Your pulse will quicken, you will become conscious of your breathing. As soon as you recognize these signals, you need to find a way to stop whatever pattern is building inside you.

All feelings occur in your body. That’s what you’re sensing, what you’re trying to monitor. All actions and intentions, on the other hand, all acts of will… you start those in your head. Starting today, you will never treat a thought or a decision as something that happens… it always needs a subject, and for our purposes, that subject is you. Your body, on the other hand… you can treat that as an object that’s connected to you, a surface that you’re always up against, your field of input and output that connects you to the world.

For what you’re trying to do, the key is to use your head… use your thoughts, your ability to execute acts of will… to interrupt the processes that occur in your body. Your mind has an incredible ability to disrupt the unruly energy as it flows through your body and tries to disperse itself into your words and behaviors.

We’ll learn to achieve this through a Caesura practice that goes back to the earliest studies of our Order. There are two things that we all learn to do: we learn to find our bodies’ tonic, its base rhythm, whose variations can tell us a great deal about our mood and awareness. Second, we each develop a single word… a focus word… to amplify and disrupt that baseline resonance, so we can institute our own rhythm in its place.

I am a student of Viscitae, the avatar of silence, so I can teach you to find your tonic. This will be a great boon in your quest to control your emotions. However, I haven’t the time, or the experience, to teach the other aspects, so your focus word will remain out of reach for now. Perhaps some day, you will know our Order well enough that you can find one.

Stray went to Mistra Septa’s sessions throughout the winter, learning various disciplines and techniques to better manage his temper. It was hard for Edzie to gauge his progress… Boyle and Ghada were the most common audience (and targets) of his eruptions, and they avoided complaining to Edzie, not wanting to cause trouble between Elkansa’s children. Edzie’s only indications were occasional, fleeting moments when Stray seemed to be wrestling, silently, with some inner beast, his gaze smoky and disturbed, focused intently on nothing.

Elkansa had no intention to replace Edzie’s custom-made katsun, but she devised another solution to the loss, both a consolation to her daughter and an excuse for her own self-indulgence. She would have Rodra fashion her a new katsun, she decided, and Edzie could inherit her current weapon when it was replaced. It was a hardy instrument with more than a decade of nicks taken out of its shaft, balanced for an adult, fit for a soldier.

Elkansa made this request to Rodra herself, and to Elder Idilya, who handled inter-tribal trade and distribution. The tribe would gladly mediate the exchange: Rodra would create the weapon as a tithe to the collective, and Elkansa would take on tribal labor to earn ownership of the new katsun. There was always a surplus of necessary labor – goods to be delivered, structures to be maintained, food to be prepared, artifacts to be crafted – and most of Elder Idilya’s days were spent apportioning these jobs to tribeswomen who needed capital for their own sundry uses.

Idilya delegated Elkansa the task of traveling to Resine, a small city 200 kilometers to the west. Resine was situated along the Vertacross Road, halfway to Horizon, the gateway to the Pastures. Because of its large population of ex-tribespeople and Concordance kin, Resine was a healthy hub for Concordance trade: with Horizon, with the River Kingdoms, and between the various tribes themselves. Elkansa was to bear as many materials and deliveries as she could carry, and a sizeable amount of currency, and distribute them to the tribe’s merchants and contacts. She was also assigned to retrieve several shipments of raw materials, tools, and personal artifacts, fulfilling various Denorians’ requests for supplies and imported goods.

Elkansa had never particularly liked the city. It seemed too interdependent, too fetid and obscure, to be anything but a suffocating offense to her sensibilities. This trip, however, she could share her misery: Stray and Edzie were finally old enough to take the trip with her, and they were ready to see something of the world outside the settlement. The journey would take them ten days each way, and they would remain in Resine for three days and three nights to handle their errands. Rodra would have the new katsun ready for them when they returned, and as a favor to Elkansa, she offered to refinish the older katsun, as well.

By the time Elkansa was ready to take her trip, it was mid-winter, only a few weeks from Stray’s birthday. He realized he would be spending it on the road, or in an unfamiliar city, and was wracked with mixed emotion: curiosity and excitement for the drama of travel, but also regret that he wouldn’t be able to celebrate with Boyle or Ghada. Elkansa, who didn’t put much stock in birthdays, reassured him that it would make it more memorable, and that he could celebrate with his friends when they got back at the end of the journey.

It took Elkansa a single busy day to equip for travel. She packed up her old katsun, noting that this would be its last adventure in her service, and she folded and bound two outfits for each family member. She retrieved her cargo – a very heavy pack consisting of four smaller, tightly-organized parcels – from Elder Idilya’s private storage, and she made a special request, while she was there, to borrow three traveling coats with heavy cold-weather brivsas, accoutrements lined with leather and Huskin fur, better suited to longer journeys.

When the three Denorians set out to traverse the Pastures, it was a frigid winter morning. The weather along the Prospect River tended to swing between oppressively overcast and blindingly sunny, and this was one of the latter days, where the light from the sky cut through the little clouds of fog that issued from the travelers’ mouths. They walked southwest, crossed the Splitmouth where it met the Prospect, and entered Docktown. Edzie saw Pithri Afekt through her window as they passed and tried to wave at her, but Pithri wasn’t looking. Elkansa remained fixed and purposeful, nodding cordially to fishermen but maintaining a protective aura of privacy around herself and her bundled-up children.

In Docktown, they hired an oarsman – a greasy, pock-faced teenager with a jaunty smile – to ferry them across the Prospect River. He left them on the steep southern bank and waved to them as he departed, and they climbed and scrambled over wild earth, through brambles and dried-out underbrush, until at last they emerged from between two trees and found themselves at the edge of the Cragstep Road, wide as three Denorian dromos, trampled and frosted to the soundness of mountain stone. There, they paused, Elkansa’s comforting hand on their shoulders: Edzie on her left, Stray on her right. Edzie noted that this was the first time she had left the settlement to the south, and soon, she would be further from home than she’d ever been.

The Cragstep passed up and down mild inclines, past big empty fields on the left side, always keeping within hearing distance of the Prospect on the right. The troupe passed a few groups of travelers going the other way… pilgrims and traders, with small horses pulling wagons of supplies. Each time they saw a pack animal – a horse, a donkey, an old southern cow pulling a cart – Stray stared at it, enamored, wishing he could stop and pet it and hear the noises it made. Elkansa kept the group moving hastily, not wanting to get into the habit of sightseeing, so they passed one unfamiliar sight after another, and Stray had to content himself with Edzie’s clumsy attempts to impersonate the animals’ voices.

Edzie and Stray each carried one of the parcels of cargo, and Elkansa carried the other two, along with their luggage. They made excellent time, and the first night, at the tail end of dusk, they reached the fork in the Cragstep where one branch led north along the Tenebre River. Edzie recognized the spot from Mistra Septa’s maps: this road, to the north, eventually led to the Hunter’s Roost, the secondary Denorian outpost where Bellaryn was being trained. Unfortunately, Elkansa and the children were continuing west.

There was a small inn at the fork in the Cragstep, and the three Denorians slept there, soaking up the warmth around a small hearth in a tiny room. Elkansa slept in the bed, and Stray and Edzie shared a large fur rug next to the fire.

The travel was rougher on the second day, descending a rocky slope that threatened the children’s balance. Edzie was shocked at how much exertion it required going down a rough incline, and she pitied the pilgrims who had to cajole their carts up the hill in the opposite direction. They camped out that night, making a small fire in a clearing along the road, and another small caravan joined them, a gaggle of pilgrims from Tarrytoil who were eager to trade food with Elkansa and bring some variety to their meals. By the end of the third day, they crossed into the territory of another Concordance tribe, the Aerimus, who were reputed to be the first of the eight tribes.

Travel was easier in Aerimus territory… the tribe had posted guard stations along the Cragstep Road, and the women who staffed these stations were kindly and talkative. The Aerimus allowed a few semi-permanent travelers’ encampment sites along the road, and these were managed by experienced traders and explorers, well-stocked with meat and lean-to’s for sleeping. For three nights, Elkansa took advantage of these waystations, accepting the company and resources of a dozen or so other travelers with dignified gratitude. Elkansa was clearly more bothered by the austerity of the travel arrangements than her children, but she bore the discomfort with absolute, stone-cold stoicism, so Stray and Edzie knew not to complain. They remained in high spirits, kept warm by the fire, surrounded by strangers, their adventure now fully underway.

In the early afternoon of the fifth day, the three Denorians reached the Range River, a swollen artery of freezing water that plowed through the center of the Pastures. The Range was the main stem of the river system that nourished all eight of the Concordance tribes… the Denorians’ river, the Prospect, was one of its larger branches. Here, where the rivers met, the banks faltered on the east side, forming an area of wetlands as large as Edzie and Stray’s settlement, and the three travelers struggled across it, their feet making nausea-inducing noises in the caked mud of the main road. To Edzie, this looked familiar – she had occasionally explored the chartreuse marshland south of the Denorian settlement – but Stray had never seen a landscape like this, a fecund green ocean, chunky with floating wood and algae and lillypads, presided over by massive trees standing perfectly straight, like the Witherleafs back home.

The three travelers had passed through the swamp by dusk – much to Stray’s relief – and reached Thwarted Crossing, a massive bridge that had been half-built by early settlers, but had been abandoned with an uncrossable gap in the middle. At the foot of the bridge, protected from the weather by its wooden frame, there was a busy outpost – Thwartopia – where travelers could rest, eat, and take a ferry across the Range. Elkansa called for their day to end, and they slept an anxious nine hours, dreaming of muddy water and trees that blocked out the sun.

Elkansa, Edzie, and Stray took the first ferry the next morning, and by the light of dawn, they surveyed the west bank of the Range. It was shockingly different from the previous territory… the bank was a rock face, too sheer to climb, too hard to support even the sparsest of vegetation. It took half the day to walk around it to the south, where the incline was more gentle, and where perhaps fifteen different parties of travelers could be seen climbing a network of narrow, rocky trails. The Denorians reached the summit of the ridge and could see for leagues ahead: a harsh, irregular landscape of anemic grassland, supporting only an occasional tree, sculpted into folds and ridges and outcroppings by the rough hands of time.

There was a road to follow, at least: the Downcross Follow, a dry, flat bed of gravel that made sounds like eggshells breaking as the travelers walked. They gathered their patience and pressed onward, sometimes sheltered beneath a ridge, sometimes making a wide swerve around a bluff or a fissure. As the day wore on, they found the landscape beautiful, in its stern way, but absolutely unchanging. Stray lost his patience by the early afternoon, and Elkansa had to institute a measure of deterrence: any time he asked how far they had to go, or how long until they stopped, she would take a small object from her luggage and add it to his. By the time they reached an appropriate campsite, Stray was carrying most of the group’s personal effects.

The next day – the seventh of their journey – the road sidled up alongside the Downcross, a branch of the Burburine River that wove playfully – almost gracefully – through the rocky landscape. The stream made the travel more pleasant, as Edzie and Stray could walk along its bank and listen to its whispers, but it was still a monotonous stretch of landscape, feeling more gray than green, and in the depths of the cold, there weren’t many other travelers passing. In the early afternoon, the Downcross Follow converged with its twin, the Upcross Follow, to become the Vertacross Road, a minor commercial route that would eventually lead to Resine and the Settlers Road. The three tribespeople were lucky enough to find a homestead that night, a residence on a small farm that had an annex set aside for guests and travelers.

The next day, the eighth, was more of the same scenery, except that they started seeing small herds of sheep being corralled by their shepherds. Elkansa, Edzie, and Stray were tired… tired of this humorless landscape, tired of carrying parcels for people they didn’t know… so, to Stray’s dismay, they pressed on as far as they could, covering perhaps a dozen more kilometers than usual. At last, shivering and shuffling under a merciless moon, they reached a small village dominated by an inn, run by a family of shepherds with a merchant son.

They set out early again the next day, and to their chagrin, that small, nameless village seemed to have broken a seal on civilization: they passed through another village by late morning, and a larger town by mid-afternoon, providing a nice spot to stop and take a meal. In the late afternoon, they passed through another village, this one awkwardly situated on a steep hill. They didn’t bother stopping – Elkansa’s indomitable work ethic set a fire at their backs – and finally, as the daylight was fading, they neared the summit of the hill they were climbing. At its peak, the road turned sharply left, and the grassy earth gave way to a hazardous drop-off. There, the three travelers found themselves overlooking an altogether alien sight: two rivers converging, their rendezvous encrusted with a gritty texture of streets and buildings, as small as sand at this distance, with the lamps and hearth-fires just beginning to light. Elkansa guessed that it was another ten kilometers out, but they might reach it that night, if they pushed themselves.

That, she said, is the city of Resine.

Elkansa woke Edzie and Stray uncomfortably early the next morning. They had not had the most hospitable night… not only had they gotten in very late, but their host – a sister-in-law of one of the Denorian tribeswomen – didn’t have much room to spare, so they had slept on the wooden floor of a store-room in her house. Of course, in their excitement, Edzie and Stray had also stayed awake for much of the night, whispering about all their new experiences. When they woke to Elkansa lifting them to their feet, they were struck with poisonous annoyance, and it took a full half hour to dissipate.

Edzie remembered, the previous night, her palpable exhaustion as they trudged down into the main street of Resine. Inside the city limits, the gravel of Vertacross Road gave way to cobblestones, and rows of small houses floated by on either side, glowing with an invigorating inner light. Edzie, at the time, had been struck by the regularity of the community – the road was so straight, with such an even slope and contour, and the houses seemed to be standing at attention, spaced out at a perfectly regular interval. Aside from their regularity, they didn’t look too exotic to her eyes… they basically looked like Denorian dromos, squat and fashioned of earth and wooden supports, though a few were much larger. She wondered if there would be something more interesting to see this morning.

Edzie and Stray made a hasty effort to clean themselves up, brushing off their clothes and drawing water from a basin that had been supplied to them. Satisfied that they wouldn’t trigger Elkansa’s rebuke, they entered the main gathering room of the house, and found Elkansa and Esterelle – their host – eating a breakfast of bread, cheese, and a pungent soup with the taste of fermented berries. Edzie and Stray both appreciated the bread, which was softer inside than their Denorian blusterwheat loaves. Stray couldn’t endure the potent soup, so after Edzie devoured her own, she ate his portion, as well.

Elkansa explained that she was going to take care of her errands on her own – the children would slow her down, and probably preferred to rest after their travels – and she would return late in the evening. In the meantime, Edzie and Stray were remanded to Esterelle’s care. She told them that she would show them around the city, eliciting a theatrical display of excitement.

The street outside Esterelle’s house, which had been so quiet the previous night, was now alive with pedestrians. Edzie’s observations of the previous night were confirmed: these were essentially Denorian dromos, but with a wider range of sizes, and with a layout that seemed so perfectly regular that it was downright unsettling. Each house had a designated space, suggested by its proximity to its neighbors, and nearly every one of these spaces included a small private garden and a few personal belongings. Vertacross Road, which was known as Shephardhome Street here in the city limits, was a hazardous channel of horses and carts, families walking hand-in-hand, and merchants carrying precarious stacks of merchandise on their backs and shoulders. The traffic only slowed at the edge of the street, where some of the merchants hovered and harassed passers-by. For a few minutes, Edzie found the whole thing dizzying, to the point where she wanted to close her eyes and sit down on the cobblestones.

Luckily, Estrelle kept Edzie and Stray in her grip, holding one of their hands in each of hers, hustling them along in the flow of foot-traffic. Edzie marveled that she always seemed to find a gap between other pedestrians, as if she had a repulsive magnetic field around her, such that the children were never quite in danger of being trampled. She wasn’t repellent, certainly… in fact, the very opposite: she was a charismatic young adult, probably near Genefre’s age, with creamy skin and thick sculpted hair that Edzie tended to associate with foreigners. If anything, Edzie thought, she should be attracting people, not repelling them.

At the same time that she sensed this quality in Estrelle, Edzie looked around the road at her feet, and discovered a whole separate, discreet world below the adults’ eye level. The cobblestones were dry from the cold, smeared with a frosty stew of litter and excrement, and above this bottom layer, she caught a glimpse of an inconspicuous ecosystem: the scampering feet of a pair of children, a stray animal staring at her from behind a wagon wheel, piles of produce stacked on palettes for display to potential customers. Edzie twitched, momentarily, receiving a vivid mental image of these children and small animals being crushed, these pieces of fruit being knocked over by a careless boot. She was baffled by their elusive durability, but didn’t have time to reflect on it… the scenery above her was changing, and she discovered a whole new milieu to absorb.

Edzie could see, now, that the familiarity of the houses in the previous neighborhood – their similarity to the dromos of the Concordance tribes – was purely incidental. They were now passing near the center of the city, leading to a dramatic change of scenery: the buildings here were many times the height of an adult (as large as mountains, it seemed to Edzie and Stray) and they were made from stone blocks larger than a human head. They varied in color, from the warm brown of clay and brick to the stern gray of granite, and to Edzie, these buildings, pushed up against one another into a single jagged facade, looked like a tawny mineral rainbow, stitched together with florid decorative wooden trim.

Estrelle had pulled Stray and Edzie over to the side of the road; now, in a stationary pocket in the foot traffic, she spoke to them about their well-being in the city. She said that they had just come from Shephardhome, a neighborhood of Concordance relatives and immigrants, which was a bit more gentle and friendly. But now, she said, they were passing into the city proper, a busy commercial district, and Stray and Edzie would have to be very careful to stay close to her, and not to talk to anyone… if someone seemed to want very badly to talk to them, she explained, it was probably a sign that they were dangerous.

Edzie made a show of listening, but she only gave Estrelle the slightest part of her attention… mostly, her mind was on her surroundings.

Estrelle asked if there was anything either of them wanted to see. Edzie said she just wanted to see the houses and shops. Stray reflected a little longer, and then asked an unexpected question. “Do a lot of travelers come through here on the way to Horizon?”

Estrelle was confused by the question, but recovered quickly. “Yes, if they come from the Delta, or out east, where you folks live.”

“Can we see where the travelers would go, if they were heading in that direction?”

“Well, they would probably take this very road… the Vertacross… right through the center of town here, and then leave on the west side, where the markets are held. If they stopped over, they would stay in one of the inns… those are all in this part of town, actually, down those streets behind you.”

Stray looked up, his eyes alight with awe and curiosity. Finally, he said, “Can we see those parts of town? The inns, and the road that goes west?”

“That sounds like as good as plan as any,” Estrelle answered. “We can go to the markets, if you can make it that far without getting tired, and then we can eat supper at one of the taverns on the way home. We can do all that, and still get home before Elkansa, I think.”

And so they continued, traveling slowly enough that Edzie could look around, but quickly enough that she always felt like she was falling behind Estrelle. For a few blocks, they stayed near the north side of the street, and the buildings – vertical walls of a density and impermeability that Edzie had never imagined – seemed poised to fall on their heads. Every time they passed under a wooden sign, larger in both dimensions than she was tall, she would cower involuntarily. She caught sight, as well, of narrow corridors and obscure crawlspaces, some cleaving between two buildings like a fissure from a butcher knife, others burrowing into the stone exteriors, venting stale air and traces of lamplight. If it wasn’t for Estrelle’s insistence, she would have stopped at every one and tried to see inside.

Presently, they veered left into an open square at an intersection, heading straight toward the Vertacross just south of their position. Here, out of the shadow of the buildings, Edzie’s focus shifted to the people flowing around her. She was struck, first, by the sheer variety, this blossoming garden of distractions. She had never realized how narrow the Denorian fashion sense had been: its simple, snug silhouettes, wool and leather rarely bleached or dyed, were a badge of ascetic honor for her people. Here, there were few leggings and overcoats that weren’t, at the very least, bleached a pale yellow or a porcelain gray, and many were dyed in reds and yellows, turquoise, ochre, lavender, and emerald. In the cold weather, most villagers – perhaps two adults in three – wore headwear, and among the simple caps and coifs, there were some genuinely exotic headdresses of folded felt, fiery plumage, and dried flowers. The brivsa, so ubiquitous in every Concordance settlement, was here a rare and distinguishing feature, clearly indicating a tribeswoman submerged in the cosmopolitan throng.

They passed through the northeastern section of downtown Resine, its central court surrounded by hotels, taverns, and restaurants, and crossed the southern branch of the Burburine River by way of a large paved bridge, keeping to the right side to avoid wagons and carriages. This was called the Durnbray Bridge, Estrelle explained, and it connected the hospitality sector in the northeast with the founders’ quarter just across the river. Here, Edzie found, there was more generous space, a network of plazas and spacious, straight city byways. Curiously, despite the open air, it seemed even more alien than the commercial district… there was no flora anywhere in view, and all the earth was surfaced with gravel and concrete. The concrete and marble served as the tissue between the buildings, which were freestanding and conspicuously self-conscious, contrived shapes that folded around themselves and protruded in angles and ridges. Edzie stared at each building in turn, getting lost in its architecture, forcing Estrelle to drag her along.

These strange, conspicuous buildings – mostly administrative plazas, theaters, monuments, and temples – eventually gave way to a few kilometers of high-end housing, large white villas and bungalows perched on terraces and protected by stone walls. Here, the street seemed fully dissociated from the architecture: the foot traffic on the Vertacross was still a medley of merchants and couriers and laborers with their animals and children, and these were visibly excluded from the housing partitions, locked outside of closed gates and wooden doors. At last, as Edzie was growing tired of the pristine repetition of these ivory houses, the neighborhood changed again, transitioning into a crowded commercial landscape.

Of all the sections Edzie had seen of downtown, this seemed the most familiar from her storybooks. It looked like the market in her settlement, except multiplied several times in area, and many more in liveliness and density. Swirling around her, flanking the channel and splitting off into eddies and vortexes, merchants called out names of produce and supplies, grasping at pedestrians’ sleeves as they passed by. They passed whole blocks that were entirely taken up by long tables and vast towers of vegetables and handmade furniture; then, the next block would be a canyon of brick storefronts, boutiques draped in tapestries and illustrations of specialty products. Estrelle thoughtfully asked her if she wanted to go inside any of them, but she was so overwhelmed that she couldn’t formulate a response.

When Estrelle slowed down to wander through the market stalls, Stray urged her on, eager to see, at the very least, the western edge of town. Estrelle marveled at her charges’ reserves of energy, but she pressed on, and eventually the merchants thinned out and gave way to a quieter residential neighborhood. Finally, at the western edge of Resine, they came to a public park along the Burburine River, complete with a four-story observation tower perched above a massive watermill that provided grinding and textile services to the workshops in the southeast.

When they reached the top of the observation tower, exposed to the piercing wind and shivering in their winter coats, Stray got to look over the road heading west. He surveyed the woodlands that clung to the banks of the Burburine, and he saw a tiny groove in the distance, the only visible trace of the Settlers’ Road that led north to Horizon. Finally, with this, he pronounced himself satisfied. The three of them lingered for a few minutes in the shelter of the watermill, and then they returned to the road and started the walk back to Estrelle’s house.

The walk through the cold had drained the party’s energy and enthusiasm, so that they were reduced to sullen wraiths by the time they crossed the Durnbray Bridge. Their dinner – a generous portion of arriboar meat, served up at an inn called the Swollen Withers – refreshed them significantly, though it filled Edzie to the point of discomfort. Finally, as the dusk became darkness, they returned to Estrelle’s little village dromo. They lit the thresh-lamps, put a small log in the hearth, and retired to the gathering room to talk about the city while they waited for Elkansa.

Edzie was barely conscious by the time she and Stray headed for their ad hoc quarters in the store-room. As she drifted into sleep, she saw the smooth, sculpted, and assembled cityscapes of Resine, passing like firelight inside her closed eyes. Her last feeling, before she departed the waking world, was one of blissful approval.

One Comment

  1. Jesse M

    Note to self: 2nd to last paragraph, section 3: used “chagrin” to mean the opposite of what it actually means. Use “relief” instead.

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