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“Do you think my mother will be alright with your parents?” Alessi asked.

“They’ll take care of her,” I nodded. “Dad might have tried to rip off our wings, but he does care for Belassi and mom got used to bossing her around the house.”

Alessi sighed. She didn’t enjoy leaving her mom with my parents but we had big plans and bringing Belassi with us would be too problematic as the silver-haired chimera was still mute and unresponsive unless ordered directly.

We started to prepare for our expedition. As I was a pro urban explorer and urban exploration was a little bit like illegal camping I made a list of the required supplies and planned out the potential routes, asking Alessi relevant questions.

I set my sister to start working on a large glider as I didn’t trust the smaller flying-squirrel wings to take us all 17 rings down safely. It was a fair distance down and I wanted to make sure that we would survive the trip with our limbs intact.

The most important thing to do before heading out on an urbex trip was to consult an expert on the location on the Uer forum and also to tell someone about where you were going in case you ended up getting buried underground in some ruin.

The closest thing to an expert on the Chasm and also the only person who seemed to care for my well-being with the exception of Alessi, was Eunice.

Thus, I left Alessi with instructions on paraglider design. I trusted her to grab the right skins from storage and start sewing them together while I was gone.

I climbed to the top of my workshop, ran towards the edge and leapt, letting the wing carry me forward, heading towards the home of the high-cendai.

 


 

As I often did, while waiting for Eunice to show up from wherever she was at, I picked up a random book from the living room’s many shelves.

The book that I selected looked a bit plain, featuring a gray leather cover. I sat down on a couch and flipped it open.

[The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cole

Nemendias Arcanarium Art History Research thesis by Initz Aerheart.]

The logo of Nemendias was stamped onto the left side of the interior of the cover. It was made with faded gold paint and featured a simplified drawing of a fanciful gothic building with star-tipped towers, surrounded by the words “Nemendias Arcanarium - Illatius Academy of Magic Library”.

A lot of the books in Eunice’s library were like this - completely unique, hand-written journals.

I flipped the book to the next page, and slowly trudged through the words. It wasn’t as hard to understand as many other books I’d gone through, as the handwriting was very tidy.

[Thomas Cole was a renowned artist in Illatius, known for his children’s book series called “The Mimmins” which was greatly enjoyed by the nobility. The Mimmins cards, painted by famed Depictomancer Bovalk Cindera featured the Mimmins cast, a group of Adventurers made up from odd magical creatures.

Not many know this nowadays, but Thomas Cole's real name was Ignis Vox and he was a lowborn from Illatius Undertown who had started out as a debitor and rose to prominence through deceit, trickery and lies masquerading as a talented highborn from a small, distant estate of Justim Mire.

How had he done it? Ignis had convinced a very corrupt constable from a small town to give him the status of a Free Agent and then misused this status to infiltrate and modify several official records in Illatius.

Throughout his life as Thomas Cole, until his tragic end, Ignis was staying one step ahead of the Illatius Constabulary. Unfortunately for him, in the end, the stairwell of lies that he had built had become too rickety and unstable.

Arch-Judge Loomiss Gregor sentenced Ignis Vox to death by execution at the Paragon of Justice and the price of the Mimmins limited edition cards valued at ten thousand gold plummeted overnight. The exposure of Thomas Cole as an Undertown denizen had brought great shame to the highborn families that had invested substantial amounts of money into his products and workshop. Thomas Cole became a forbidden name, his workshop shut down. He faded from history, his books and collectible game cards of no value to the Illatius aristocracy.

For my Thesis project, through a year of research and scouting across all of Illatius’ districts I was able to assemble whatever I could find of Thomas Cole and his legacy. It wasn’t easy as one hundred and sixty two years passed after his execution.

. . .

The Mimmins were a completely unique idea and a product of the highest quality of Depictomancy and Animancy. Bovalk Cindera became a friend of Thomas Cole at the Nemendias Arcanarium as they shared a few classes since their first year. Their mutual project was a child of their combined efforts of study of rune-magic and art.

The Mimmins were a colorful cast of five mini-monster Adventurers classified as Chimera, [see attached card on the right for reference] a whimsical mixture of human and monster archetypes.]

Hey, this thesis actually seemed pretty interesting and for once I could get through the text without a massive migraine. I wondered if the Eunice’s apprentices had stolen the book from Nemendias because it featured chimera.

An old, faded card was attached to the right page. It was a drawing of a forest. There were no chimera to be seen in it.

“Where are my chimera, Thomas?” I asked the card, feeling confused. “I was promised whimsical chimera.”

I read the text beneath the card.

[The card activates by pressing a thumb into the thumbprint circle rune below the drawing. It is a simple exercise that teaches children how to push their mana into an artifact.]

I pressed my thumb against the round rune on the bottom of the card. Nothing happened. Right… mana. I pushed the tiniest bit of my mana into the circle.

The painting on the card became alive. Five adorable-looking, almost chibi-style chimera girls painted with watercolors emerged from the forest and waved at me. Big smiles were painted on their faces. My mouth dropped. Holy crap!

Depictomancy made living drawings, animated by the user’s donation of magic!

As I moved my finger to the right side of the card, the big, wide eyes of the Mimmins had followed it. I slid my finger to the top of the card and the mini-chimera looked up at it and then at each other. Their mouths moved as if they were excitedly discussing what to do about the friendly incursion of my finger into their painted domain.

I smiled, playing with the card for a bit. I heard soft footsteps coming down the polished bone stairwell. My Master was here. I snapped the book shut, put it down on a gothic table next to me and looked up at her.

“Ah, monci. I heard you had a disagreement with your family,” the high-cendai said.

The news sure traveled fast across the chimera village.

“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve moved out to my workshop.”

“It is unfortunate when disagreements happen between families, but you are determined and stubborn just as I was once,” Eunice nodded. “I too, left my family long ago to pursue the research of magical arts as the chorus-bound rarely understand broken chains. So, what brings you here so early if not to complain about your family situation?”

“I’d like to go on an excursion to the Twisted Forest,” I said. “I don’t know how long it will take and I might not make it back on the seventh day for our lesson.”

“Can’t wait to try out your magic against the Chasm? Why the Twisted Forest, specifically?” She asked.

“My sister suggested that the seeds there might contain bigger monsters,” I replied.

“They do,” Eunice nodded, confirming what Alessi told me. “The Folding Trees are able to fold and stretch space. Their seeds are bigger on the inside while being small on the outside. Will you be able to navigate the labyrinth? It is easy to get lost there because the trees stretch their branches and roots and lengthen the paths.”

“I believe so,” I said. “My sister’s chorus has a memory of a chimera that lived there.”

“Very well,” the high-cendai said. “Let's go over your ten Soul-Branches. Show me each one and I shall tell you how they can be changed to increase your chances of success in the Twisted Forest. I would not recommend growing your spiritual branches alone because of the phantom that stalks you, but you are safe in my domain.”

“Thank you, Master,” I bowed. Eunice knew about leveling up! I was extremely worried about leveling up on my own since the ill-fated day when the hollow abomination sliced my soul apart.

It was a bit hard to focus on a specific thread without the System guiding me, but I relied on Chimera synesthesia to bring a certain color and the power it represented to the surface of my soul. I willed my red-colored Michell Shield shield to manifest by pouring a bit of mana into it.

“This is a shield I’ve made,” I said, feeling like I was revealing all of my cards to the high-cendai. It wasn’t like she hadn't seen my spiritual-threads for the past years with her magic eyes, but I still felt weird talking about them to her.

“The branch of Fortitude.” Eunice’s eyes flashed as she observed my Strength thread. “You can strengthen your bones with it so that they will not shatter when you fall from a Folding Tree.”

She seemed pretty confident that I was going to fall.

“I can compress air with this one,” I flexed my Agility thread, showing off my compressor. It compressed a bit of air which I immediately let go of.

“The Folding branch,” Eunice nodded. “I would recommend shaping it into the shape of a sharp whip. You could use it to carve your way out of a Folding Seed if you get trapped in one. If you stay in the Twisted Forest long enough, you’ll figure out how the trees and their children use Folding magic.”

“Children?” I asked.

“The Folding Seeds do not always become trees. They slowly digest the souls of whatever prey they capture. If they eat enough clever monsters, they can become… creative, alter their growth.”

I nodded. I suspected that Eunice wasn’t telling me everything. She wasn’t the type of a teacher that gave all of the available information. Usually, she’d give me a few guiding notes and let me figure out the rest with a whole lot of struggle. I suspected that it was a strategy of extracting new, creative ideas from broken chains.

I flexed my fingers, pouring mana into my Pneumasomatic Actuators.

“Five Dominion branches,” Eunice noted. "You've reinforced better Dominion over your own muscles. If you grow more, you can eventually use them to command weaker creatures.”

"What?" I blinked in surprise. Was she implying that Dexterity could be used as some kind of mind control?!

"Using a soul-cutting artifact knife, a Dominion branch can be snipped off your soul and planted elsewhere, allowing you to forcibly dominate the muscles of the creature in question. These are the exact branch types that you'll be planting in the body of the human you capture."

"Oh," I said. "But, you said that I can't put my soul into a monster like the nightcrawler?"

"Indeed," Eunice said. "Your entire soul will not synchronize with a completely different body, but many Dominion Soul-Saplings can be used to make a monster obey you if its own soul and body is sufficiently weakened. The Fold Seeds trap all sorts of creatures within themselves, slowly draining their soul to grow. Make sure to grow many Dominion branches. If you get lucky, there will be a weakened flier inside a Seed. Dominating and riding a large flying beast from the Twisted Forest will allow you to return home with ease and impress your fellow chimera.”

I nodded, momentarily imagining myself as a dragon-riding warrior-princess. Wasn't there a scene like this in the Avatar film?

Eunice stepped to her living room shelf and pulled out a sharp, silver knife covered in runes that left gray imprints in my eyes. I had been dreading this exact knife for three years because the high-cendai was using it to cut off random bits of my soul to empower my anti-phantom shield.

“You may borrow this soul-cutting blade for your trip,” she said with a smirk. “The Fold Seed’s poison will keep a creature docile and paralyzed for a few days even after it is freed from the stinger. If the beast’s soul is intact, strike it with the knife and plant more Dominion saplings until it obeys you.”

"Right. Um… thank you Master." I nodded with a bow, feeling a little freaked out by the future prospect of physically torturing some beast with Dexterity threads and draining its soul if it refused to submit to me.

 

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A note from Vitaly S Alexius

So many Easter eggs:

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/972564269390503976/987835620997083146/Untitled-3ccr.jpg

The Mumintroll [Moomins in English] are a series of illustrated books and comics by Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson, originally published in 1945. It was one of my favorite books as a child that my grandfather got me when I was a smol myself.


Thomas Cole : the Voyage of Life IV Old Age 1842 Giclee | Etsy

Thomas Cole (February 1, 1801 – February 11, 1848) was an English-American painter known for his landscape and history paintings that worked in the style of Romanticism. Romanticism is a painting style featuring epic, wide landscapes, stormy clouds and people facing them, evoking the feeling of trepidation, fear and awe - the exact style which I am working in as well, but with modern tools in 2022.

 


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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
  • https://www.rom.ac

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was dislocated 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 cathedral and partake in writing and drawing things.

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