The Human Myth
By Richard Paul
It was a Tuesday, and by the grace of the Allmother Tuesdays were always sunny on the isle of Y’mir.
Located near the western coast of this island was a great university which was the size of a city. It was the oldest of its kind in the world, founded in the first recorded century of Elven existence. As new knowledge, magics and sciences had come to the Elves, the university had expanded to accommodate them.
After nine centuries of growth however, the university and the tide of discoveries that fed it seemed to be taking a well earned respite. It had been almost seventy years since a new research building, transit portal or even a student dormitory suburb had been required. The focus was, for the moment, on the preservation of old knowledge rather than the capture of the new.
The one exception to this came in the form of Humanity, the greatest mystery of all. For as far back as the records went, Elvenkind had been searching for answers to such questions as ‘Who were the humans?’ ‘What dealings did they have with the first generation of Elves?’ ‘Where had they all gone?’ and a whole host of similar questions for which there were no answers.
From all the lost cities and ancient artefacts that had ever been uncovered, studied and later examined by soul-scriveners, the only thing that could ever be confirmed was the actual presence of humans; hazy black and grey clothed figures with no apparent ears. Often they had appeared in scriveners’ visions, standing in open fields staring at the stars, or huddled together and weeping for reasons unknown. There were a whole host of other scenarios that had been witnessed over time, but always they lacked any explanatory context.
Behind all these vague scenes however, from the dark alcoves of the world’s own memory, was whispered the word ‘human’. The world had decided to preserve this name in its memory, and weave it around such relics to be discovered by the scriveners.
Beyond this, no information could be gleamed. There were no actual writings, no tapestries or chiselled figures on cave walls, nothing. The Allmother also refused to shed any light on the subject, for reasons known only to Herself.
Successive generations of historians and archaeologists had dedicated their lives to this mystery, each hoping to be the one to finally shed some light on these elusive creatures.
Yithralia, second daughter of Iehren and Lazaei, was one of these people. She was a student of ancient history at the Great University and furthermore, she possessed the innate abilities of a soul-scrivener, a gift bestowed by the Goddess upon only one in a thousand children.
On that Tuesday, she got out of bed early, having not slept at all. This was the day when she would take her first glance at the faded soul of a human artefact, one which had been shipped in from Jahanasbath, the city which bordered the cursed metal-lands, specifically for her to examine.
From what she’d been told, this particular relic was a human helmet. It had been swept clear across the cursed metal-plains by sporadic winds for Allmother only knew how many years until finally it came close enough to the edge for one of the border guards to notice it and hook it with a long gaff.
Written on this helmet were the words ‘Wild Hearts’, which as ever made little sense out of context, whatever that context was. Written also was the unknown word ‘Csatlos’, which may have been a name or an anagram or anything at all for all anyone knew. Humans always tended to be discourteously cryptic in these matters. Nothing they left behind could ever just be a clear and perfect mirror into their past and culture, it always had to be shrouded in mystery which, in this instance, it would be Yithralia’s task to investigate.
It was hard not to feel proud already at this great privilege, not to mention the rare opportunity to glimpse ancient secrets, no matter how vague or inconsequential they would undoubtedly turn out to be.
At the same time however, Yithralia was understandably nervous. All her tutors and friends would be expecting her to perform a rare feat of magic today, and it was something she had never done before. To soul-scry meant to depart one’s body for a time, it demanded an utter focus of mind and no matter how many times she heard that it was not dangerous or nearly as difficult as it seemed, she couldn’t help but feel as if a huge obstacle awaited her.
Still, what was there to do except to do it, and get drunk afterwards of course?
Yithralia dressed herself and made her way downstairs to the kitchen. To her surprise, her housemate Isnaka was already up and in the middle of breakfast. It was a rare thing to see her awake before midday. By some unfair luck, her university schedule included no lectures or seminars during the morning hours.
“Guhhd mornhhig” She said cheerfully through a mouthful of Linak flakes.
“Good morning.” Yithralia replied, scanning the bread rolls, fruit and dwindling boxes of cereal on the kitchen counter, trying to encourage her appetite from any of them. Thanks to her nervousness however, the prospect of food was far from appealing.
“Eat something.” Isnaka stressed, recognising her reluctance. “You can’t soul-scry on an empty stomach.”
“I don’t think it makes any difference.”
“Well eat something anyway.”
With effort, Yithralia managed to force down a single roll which, she told herself, would just have to do.
“Hanikar called for you earlier.” Isnaka said after she’d finished her own breakfast. Yithralia’s already troubled stomach felt no better for the mention of his name, and she rolled her eyes out of habit.
“What did he want?” She asked.
“Wanted to wish you luck on your quote, ‘day of destiny’. Bastard got me out of bed for it.”
“Oh, sorry,” Yithralia replied quickly. “I didn’t hear the door.”
Isnaka shook her head, not a day went by it seem when Yithralia didn’t apologise for fifty things that were not her fault. Such was her kindly nature, which was in turn why insufferable idiots like Hanikar always seemed to fall for her. It was also said nature that kept her from telling such cretins as him to take a hike. As much as he hung around her and pestered her however, and as much as she wanted never to see him again, she couldn’t bring herself to be cruel to him. It just wasn’t who she was.
“Tell him you’re not interested.” Isnaka said anyway, hoping against hope as her friend stared gloomily at the ceiling. “It’s the only way you’ll ever get rid of him.”
“Or I’ll do it for, if you prefer. I’ll tell you this, if he gets me out of bed again I’ll stab him in the crotch with the coal scuttle.”
“Maybe that would solve all our problems.”
Isnaka sighed and stood up to take her plate to the sink.
“Anyway, we should celebrate your scrying success this evening. I’ll try and round up Jhator and Williak. We can head to the outskirt vineyards maybe?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, I actually have to get this done first, without screwing up.”
“You won’t screw up, from what I’ve heard I don’t think it’s actually possible to screw up.”
“I guess we’ll see.”
“You’ll be fine, the Allmother wouldn’t have given you this gift if you couldn’t use it would she?”
Even Yithralia’s egoless mentality found no way to weasel out of that logic, so she simply shrugged.
“I’d better get going.” She said, standing up and pocketing her coin purse.
“Good luck.” Isnaka said, moving back over to her friend and giving her a farewell hug.
“Thanks. I’ll call you when it’s done and let you know how it went.”
With several deep methodical breaths, Yithralia made for the front door and stepped out of her rented student house into the warm daylight.
* * *
The hall of Human studies, as well as the courtyard it stood in, were all but empty that morning. On any other day it was often filled with busy students or just curious wayfarers looking to catch sight of one of the recorded artefacts released to public display.
Whenever a new artefact arrived however, the University made sure to clear the building and surrounding area of anyone who did not need to be there. Human relics were precious cargo until they had been studied, scryed and catalogued.
When Yithralia arrived, she found her tutor, professor Benral, a kindly greybeard and fellow scrivener himself, waiting for her at the entrance. There were also two university prefects standing with him.
"Hello my dear," his voice boomed, starting some nearby turnstones. "Are you well rested and ready to peek into the world’s memory?"
"I'm not at all rested and feel anything but ready sir." Yithralia replied with a lightness that was only slightly forced.
Benral laughed and nodded.
"It's always the same the first time you do it. You worry that you won't be able to see anything for trying, or that your mind will become sealed inside the artefact somehow. Don't worry though, you'll do fine."
Yithralia had not yet considered that her consciousness might become stuck, and the prospect did not do anything to ease her nervousness. Of course the tutor was only joking, probably.
"As you can see," Benral continued, "The University saw fit to provide you with an honour guard, of sorts." He stopped and sniggered to himself. "These are Vanwé and Fanaji."
The two prefects nodded courteously. One was a tall male and the other a taller female. Both bore the looks of people torn from their beds far too early for a purpose that made little sense to them.
The University was the most secure premises on the continent, boasting security which no thief had bested in over two centuries, and the most trouble scriveners ever usually faced came from people bombarding them with the same question; 'what did you see?' While it might be tempting to see the on-campus security shoo such people away, Yithralia felt their presence was probably not vital, and made an effort to look sympathetic as she returned the nod.
"Right then, after you my dear." Benral said, holding open the door to the hall.
There was much preamble and busy work to be seen to before Yithralia could get to work. Her identity had to be checked and confirmed by the University's Dean, as well as Professor Benral, the student accommodation officer and an independent agent from the archaeologists' ministry. This same agent was then required to check that Yithralia was indeed a soul-scrivener, a task which took almost an hour due to her official certificate of confirmation having gotten misplaced somehow.
This done she was required to wash her hands thoroughly before entering the chamber where the artefact lay. She was also asked to remove her shoes, just in case she kicked it accidentally.
With this all finally taken care of, she was permitted to enter the chamber. The relic was placed in the centre of a mat which lay against the far stone wall. It was flanked by two guards bearing the ministry's seal upon their tunics. They both bowed at the sight of Yithralia and then made for the door.
"Good luck." One said pleasantly as he walked passed her. This cheerful well-wishing seemed somewhat at odds with the truncheon strapped to his belt, but it was doubtful that it had ever been needed before for an occasion such as this.
"Thanks." Yithralia said to the man's back as he left the room. When the door closed behind her, she made her way slowly to the mat, her hands almost trembling.
The helmet looked harmless enough; it was mostly white with a black visor, just like Benral had told her last week. As she sat down beside it she noticed the letters spelling out both 'Csatlos' and 'Wild Hearts'. The lettering was faded, but on the whole the helmet seemed well intact. It was made of materials that no Elf recognised and felt smooth to the touch. It seemed to be made to fit a head about the size of an Elf’s, but as was typical with the humans, by all accounts, there was no allowance of space for one's ears.
She examined the helmet for several minutes, trying all the while to push back her fears and focus on the task before her. She had been practising the necessary incantations for weeks now and as a result they had started to repeat themselves in her head in the same way a catchy song might.
Now however she repeated each word of the spell silently to herself, checking it once, then again and a third time before finally forcing her eyes closed, placing her right hand on the helmet and saying the words aloud.
Nothing seemed to happen initially, but soon enough Yithralia could feel her consciousness moving away from the chamber in the university where she had been a second ago. The cool air seemed to become warmer, and somehow she felt as if everything around her was moving whilst she stayed perfectly still.
It was a little disconcerting, but she knew full well that her body was safe and stationary within the chamber, and so she forced herself not to open her eyes until the incantation was finished, just as she’d been taught.
Finally she uttered the last word, by now she could not feel the helmet beneath her hand, in fact it now seemed as if she was wearing it. Her clothes had changed, whatever it was she wore now felt somehow heavier, and she might have been holding something in one hand, something metal perhaps.
Realising that she’d not learn much with her eyes closed, Yithralia opened them slowly.
Stars, it was a night sky but it seemed to surround her. She was looking at them through a window. Strange angles, metal frames, face so very close to this window and…is…
Black and grey sleeves, black gloves. Larger Human hands, male, working at so many small machines. There were lights outside the window, streaks of red and orange in rapid succession. Fireworks maybe.
The sky turned, or the window, and there then was a great metal box with something written on the side in utterly huge letters. The image was too fuzzy to make out what it said however, though the first letter might have been a ‘Y’.
The window moved again, the stars whizzed by at a speed that seemed somehow wrong.
There was something else, as large as that last box, larger perhaps. It was orange and brown and grey and had things at its front which looked almost like teeth.
Something screamed, it wasn’t a sound, just a fact.
In the next instant the vision ended. Reality came flooding back to Yithralia with uncomfortable abruptness and she slumped forward, barely managing to catch herself in time.
Questions and reactions began to form but she forced herself to ignore them for the moment. Now that the task was done she had to act quickly to make sure none of what she had learned was forgotten. It wasn’t long before the inevitable feeling of disorientation passed, and with the images still fresh in her mind she made her way back out of the room to report what she had seen to Benral and the others.
Cataloguing her discoveries turned out to be another cumbersome affair. First she had to relate all that she had experienced to the gathered academics, who each wrote down everything she said word for word. After this she was required to write down her own transcription of her findings, and then there were no less than fifty legal documents to sign, most of which were from numerous academic journals and magazines, stating that she gave permission for her findings and name to be (potentially) used.
When Yithralia had finally finished all these tasks, listened to assorted words of congratulation from Benral, answered and re-answered persistent questions from the ministry’s agent, reclaimed her shoes and left the building, she found it hard to focus on the images and feelings she had experienced whilst searching through the helmet’s memories. They had been distant, fuzzy shapes and half-felt sensations, no more real than any dream.
And yet it was real, as real as the helmet which Yithralia had looked into. Those were the memories that the world’s soul had chosen to preserve in that vessel.
Sadly, these findings were no more illuminating than any of the others which had been found in 900 years of searching. The mystery endured, and as much as Yithralia had been expecting this, she could not help but hope that it would be her who would finally discover some vital clue which would help answer the eternal question; ‘just who were these damned humans?’
Yithralia’s apprehension had turned to disappointment, as had been the case with the countless generations of soul-scriveners that came before her.
But at least it was over, at least she could eat now and get drunk later tonight.
- - -
I am a 22 year old, currently unemployed graduate currently looking to get my foot in any number of doors in the bookselling or publishing industries. I am also a writer of prose, poetry and scripts and have an almost-respectable collection of rejection letters from writing magazines. I also enjoy baking and drawing.
Labels: Richard Paul