From The Caster's Hut
The sun hung low, spitting a warm orange mist across the horizon and through the towering company of grand trees and hilltops. Pink arches of cloud cast over the skies like steeds dashing over crystal waters as valleys of life began to stir in the fresh morning air. Leafy trees gave birth to calm flocks of singing Chittit birds, sending them forth into the heights to join the prancing clouds. Beauty envied mornings such as this.
Cassel was abuzz with eager, hard-working Taipe, an intelligent race with a focus on tradition, renowned for their admirable building skills and their welcoming nature. Not to mention some of their legendary Orble players.
Under the cover of luscious, emerald trees, fathers waved goodbye to their families as they each left their rustic yet homely wooden shelters to begin another day of graft. Be it in the mines, the farms or in the many small merchants and trades that allowed the village to thrive. One’s trade was dictated by the sacred process of Tal Feltah, The Selection.
As fate would have it, today was the day of Selection, an annual and mandatory process for each and every Taipe entering their twelfth Summer. Those too young to have yet been assigned a calling were required to stand witness, observing and learning the rituals so that they would be prepared when their own time came.
The duty of preparing the candidates for their ceremony fell to the mothers, who had been pardoned from their duties especially for this reason. In each of the woodland houses hair was being fashioned and ears cleaned, clothes scrubbed and words rehearsed, all for the sake of perfection. Though most importantly, as means of tending to the Better nature of the Elders, the overseeing council who governed life within Cassel.
However, in one small house, a hut in fact on the borders of the village, under the shelter of a grand Erkwood tree, no such preparation was taking place. Instead the air rang with the grating snores of an elderly couple, happily dreaming in their bed, shuffling occasionally to better their rest upon the fresh mattress of purple straw. Though in a corner of the hut away from the draughty doorframe, lay a soft bed of cushion, the blanket tidily folded atop it.
This small bed belonged to a small boy, a Taipe named Kitt. Now entering his Twelfth Summer, today was to be the day for Kitt to finally have confirmation of his calling, his destiny. A promise such as this made sleep impossible for Kitt, who sought a purpose more than most.
To spare his grandparents the hardship of seeing him off to Selection, Kitt had taken it upon himself to bathe and groom alone, to take his first step towards independence and maturity.
Unlike the other younglings, Kitt had no father to wish him good luck and no mother to ready him for the day ahead. Were it not for his mother's own parents, he would have been left homeless. An orphan.
His grandparents did not have much to their name, even a bath was beyond their affordability, yet even in this Kitt saw the good. With something as simple as a bath at the hut, he would not have the privilege of bathing in the slowly sliding stream, under a beautiful sunrise on a potentially sour day.
This is something he smiled gratefully for as he stared up towards the waking sky, his long, amber red hair dancing with the flow of the crisp waters. With a deep breath, he plunged himself underneath, rubbing at his bulging cheeks and tall, pointed ears, being sure to wipe away any trace of dirt from the floor of the hut.
A bucket of water, heated by the blacksmiths flames, fizzed and bubbled with the remainder of the soap which Kitt had bought with his allowance, three days past. It had not been cheap, relatively speaking, and a small childish voice niggled within his mind.
'I could have bought a new Blaze Orble for the same price.'
He scrunched his brow with mild disgust for himself.
'No, today I'm a man, I don't have time for a boy's game.'
As he lathered his bushy sideburns with foam, his thoughts both saddened and empowered him. He loved the game of Orble, always had, but after today it may no longer play a part in his life.
"Pardon me, lad." A husky voice startled Kitt, interrupting his thoughts.
His expression turned soft, almost apologetic as he turned to see the visitor. "Y-yes sir?"
'Wait, did I just call him Sir?'
The visitor was barely more than a silhouette, a tall, cloaked figure of deep blue, hooded so that all Kitt could see was a stubbled chin and tight lips. A heavy golden mane hugged tightly to the shoulders of the silhouette, supporting an odd, cross-like medallion from a silver chain. Nothing about this stranger was familiar. Neither was the creature he rode upon.
A tall beast, at least twice Kitt’s height, with four strong legs. From a distance it would have been easily mistakable for a stallion, though a hound-like snout and paws along with a webbed fin the length of its neck set it apart. Varying shades of turquoise streaked along the creature’s short, silky coat as its nostrils flared heavily. It was clear that the beast had been riding hard.
"I hoped to attend the Tal Feltah. I'm not too late am I?" The figure asked clearly.
Kitt hesitated. Strangers were a rare sight in Cassel, though he knew that any who kept their faces hidden usually meant trouble. He recoiled slightly, unsure whether to give an answer. Cassel was a distant village, far from the main road, making it almost impossible to stumble upon.
‘He’s here for the ceremony, but why? Could be here to see the Barlad twins, they’re taking part today and Grandpa says they’ve got powerful cousins in the cities. Probably one of those.’
The steed shuffled its stance with restlessly, mimicking the rider’s impatience.
'Come on Kitt, pull it together! Just tell him how it is, man to man.'
Holding his head high, with dripping shoulders back, Kitt curled his fists. "Nah, you've not missed it. Selection is today. The village doesn't like trouble though, get me?" His voice was forced into a lower, false tone.
The stranger paused for a moment, astonished. Finally, his pressed lips parted to show a strong, gleaming smile, amused by the boy's odd response.
From Kitt's perspective, the smile did not look friendly and his imagination seemed to run away with that thought.
'Why the heck did I say that? Maybe I should call for Grandpa. No, I suppose I could swim for it. Wouldn't dream of coming in the water and getting those robes all wet. Would he?'
Before Kitt had to take action, the stranger had turned his back, slowly carrying on his way towards the village. A hand raised in the air. "Much obliged, kid."
"Kid? Jerk." Kitt hissed quietly through gritted teeth, insulted due to his newly imagined state of adulthood.
Suddenly the trotting on the yellowed walkway stopped as the creature jarred to a halt and a narrowed eye seemed to peer back from under the lip of the hood. Kitt froze, wide eyed and ears pinned back.
"You say something?" The stranger grumbled.
"No, no sir." He squeaked quickly with his natural pitch.
"Thought not. Just concentrate on your bath. You've missed a spot."
Part of Kitt was thankful to the stranger, as far as he was concerned, the bath was over and he was all clean and ready. He looked down to the water, hunting for leftover suds in his reflection. Though the longer he looked, the fainter his reflection grew. The water seemed to have dropped from his knees to his ankles, and before long he was standing on bare, slippery riverbed.
The river's flow, it had stopped. Kitt turned to look upstream, only to find that the water was collecting into what seemed like a wobbling, great bubble. In the distance, Kitt head a snap, the clicking of the stranger’s fingers, he imagined, and in an instant the water came crashing down uon him, knocking him on his back and swirling him several paces from his cleaning bucket.
The water rushed along the riverbed, and before long, everything was as it had been. All except Kitt, who was once again left holding his breath before breaching back to the surface. He hastily brushed the water from his eyes, striving to look once again towards the stranger.
By the time his vision was clear, the hooded man was gone, long gone.
"An aqua mage." He gawked to himself. "Had to have been."
Kitt's obsession with Orbles had given him an uncanny knowledge of magic and elemental control, though he himself had no such talents. Perhaps with some luck, he would be able to find the mage at the ceremony, ask him a question or two about his powers.
It was then that something caught Kitt's attention, something close by though tumbling further down the river. Soaking white cloth scraped along the riverbank, muck building on it with every second.
"My tunic!" Kitt screamed, bounding clumsily through the river until he could pluck his tunic to safety.
'Soaking.’ He cursed to himself. ‘I'll have to see the blacksmith again, see if he can dry it out. Can't bother Grandpa now, he'd kill me.'
What should have been a steady morning had now become a mocking dare to get to Selection on time while looking presentable. Kitt quickly sprung to shore, wringing his tunic as tightly as his slim fingers would allow. He grabbed the rest of his clothing, glad that is was dry, slipped on his shoes and headed back towards the blacksmith's workshop.