Author's Note:

(10/21/2012) Miscellaneous edits to grammar and punctuation. Removed many extra em-dashes.

As MocYorrin and his carriage made their final approach toward the village of Molan, the bureaucrat made an effort to get a glimpse of what was in store for him. Looking out through the window of the carriage—to the extent that MocYorrin could even do so, given the crates in front of him—the bureaucrat could make out the dusty roads, the wood-and-sod houses that made up the village, though they looked more like crumbling shacks or dilapidated huts than like genuine homes. Everything reeked of rotten earth and of the aftermath of livestock. And then, the people: they formed a quivering crowd that, to MocYorrin's eyes, resembled a congregation of flies, buzzing noisily with chitter and chatter. Quite an apt metaphor, he thought, considering that that was probably what the villagers thought of themselves in relation to their Magi lord—and, what their Magi lord thought of them.

The villagers were a mass of hats and cloaks; of calloused hands and faces; their skins, tanned amber from years of laboring under the shining sun. MocYorrin didn't speak Gaddeonese; to his ears, the many simultaneous conversations sounded like little more than very serious gibberish. Even so, none of the peasants appeared to be at all eager to approach the bureaucrat; through subtle motions, they managed to keep their distance from him. If the peasants were trying to hide their state of mind, though, then they were wasting their time; looks on their faces gave it all away. MocYorrin could see a wide swath of emotions in the crowd: anxiety, bemusement, apprehension, fear, curiosity, and suspicion—the list went on. There were even some expressions that MocYorrin simply couldn't identify. Yet, above all, there was a smell of expectation in the air. Implicitly, everyone seemed to realize that something important was about to happen—whether it would be good or ill though, waited to be seen.

To their credit, the villagers had no way of knowing how to react to any kind of bureaucrat, whether they were a messenger from the king, a servant from the Mage, or, in this case, a slightly-dandy, urbane foreigner. Living each day was enough of a struggle without having to worry about the affairs of governments; such matters were of a world apart from the concerns of the Gaddeonese peasantry.

The approaching carriage was not the first that the villagers had seen. Several days before, a similar one had come, carrying three mysterious men. They must have been Spirits, [1] or three Magi gone mad. They had been dressed in unusual robes—colored blue and red and gold; robes, the like of which the people of Molan had never seen before. One of the men had carried a statuette, about half the size of a man's arm, and made of a flawless piece of gorgeous, blood-red crystal. The statue included a small disk base made from the same crystal, with a large spike of crystal stick out from underneath—like the spike to hold down a tent, but with a statue of something on top of it. The statue depicted a strange creature—the kind that the villagers might have heard about in stories or travelers' tales, but had never actually seen with their own eyes—neither in the flesh, nor even in an image. The creature was rendered with the utmost detail, more than the mere sculpture that it actually was, like a living creature frozen and shrunk into a crystalline form. The creature was shown lying on its furry, muscular belly, its catlike hind-legs lying along either side of its haunches. One catlike foreleg rested on the ground, while the other was raised up, the paw hovering over a large, opened book. Its head was raised as well; its aquiline features—beak and head and eyes—were all clearly engrossed in the tome. Its sharp ears—atop either side of its head—and its thin tail were all tipped in tufts of fur, but, the closer to the face and chest of the animal, the more the fur seemed like feathers—or, maybe, they were feathers that just seemed like fur. And, of course, there were wings, those majestic, full and feather-fledged things that sprouted above and behind the creature's—the griffin's—shoulders. It was a beautiful thing, but very, very strange in the villagers' eyes.

Indeed, only a handful of the townsfolk had been brave enough to overcome their fearful apprehension and watch the three figures perform their strange ritual. The men had walked to the center of the large, open, hut-encircled space that served as Molan's town square. There, without saying a word to one another, they had formed a circle. The first man raised his arms, and then a small podium of stone had risen—grown—up from out the ground. There was a deep, indentation at the top of the podium. If the villagers had been close enough to see, they would have realized that the spike underneath the statue was intended to fit in it. Then the second man put his hands near to the stout column of stone; after a few seconds, it had begun to glow red hot, and then white hot, as pressure and heat metamorphosed the rock into a far more durable—and beautiful—marble like substance. A few minutes later, it was somehow cool enough for them to have touched; working together, the three men slid the spike of beneath the statute into the podium; when they were done, there was no trace of the spike left—only the disk-like platform, and the griffin atop it. Last, the third man had touched the statue for but a moment, and it had glowed mysteriously. Then the strange three left—as suddenly, and silently as they had come. Needless to say, during the ensuing days, all of the villagers kept to sides of the town square—keeping their distance from the mysterious statue.

Today, though… today was different: the townspeople—all of the townspeople; they were gathered around the statue. They had to be: the day before, Dan Norilla had sent a messenger to Molan. The message was simple: at such-and-such a time in the early morning, the people of Molan were to gather around the statue, for there was a person coming to meet them—to tell them things. And, no matter how fearful of the statue the villagers were—or, of the strange men that had… made it—the townsfolk were far, far more terrified by the thought of displeasing their Magi Lord. Dan Norilla had willed that they be there, and thus, they did it; it was as simple as that.

With a single tug on the reigns, the carriage driver brought the horses to a smooth halt. They pawed hooves against the ground, sending up dust and pebbles from out front of the carriage, almost balancing out the huge cloud of dust that rose up from behind the vehicle as it had come to a stop. The villagers waited with great anticipation as the dust slowly cleared away. Their excitement, however, was dulled a hair by the somewhat comical noises coming from inside the carriage: the sounds of stifled curses, of struggles and grunts, and of limbs hitting against wood. A few of the younger boys and girls snickered at the implied physical comedy.

Soon enough, though, the door of the stagecoach swung open; a man's arm stuck out, carrying a large, bumpy bag, followed by legs that warbled a bit as they struggled to find their footing on the three embarkation steps attached near to the ground on that side of the vehicle. The other arm followed soon after—a paper scroll rolled up in hand; the arm brushed aside the purple curtains that covered the upper corner of the doorway. Two steps later, and, after gently plopping the bag on the floor beside him, Gridge MocYorrin was on the ground, and ready for action. MocYorrin took a few steps forward before he adopted the 'position' that he'd practiced: he spread his legs out ever so slightly, just to look more confident and imposing. But, then—just his luck—he had to fumble with the scroll as he tried to untie the damned knot that kept the thing from being unfurled.

During the interim, the villagers had plenty of time to take in the appearance of this most unusual man. He was just under your average height for a man nearly fifty years of age; his head and face were somewhat cube-ish, and what was left of his black hair proudly bore the timeless signs of intense, male-pattern baldness, although, MocYorrin's short, well-kept sideburns seemed to make up for it somewhat. The villagers were puzzled by the peculiar, yet somehow attractive-looking robe that the bureaucrat wore. It was colored a simple blue, with a red trim surrounding a gold one; its shape was like that of the wings of a bee, folded against the back of its abdomen, and, like an apron, the robe came down only in front, and behind, of MocYorrin's body. If they looked at him from the side, they could see the tan-brown of his trousers and the poofy, somewhat folded layers of his red, patterned top, held together, firm, by the clean whiteness of a buttoned-up vest.

Finally, though, Gridge succeeded in opening that blasted knot; he unfurled the scroll, and began to read aloud—his voice, surprisingly strong, considering his minimally threatening appearance.

"Hello. I am Gridge MocYorrin, Fifth Tier Bureaucrat Adjunct of the Dahrian Republic; Department of Foreign Affairs, Northern Branch, Kelda Province. The Department has appointed… appoint—" MocYorrin cut himself off mid-predicate; he realized the villagers had no idea what he was saying—they simply stared at him; their faces perplexed, bemused, and irritated. They couldn't understand MocYorrin's Keldane any more than he could understand their Gaddeonese.

{Ugh… idiot!} MocYorrin thought, barely managing to keep from slapping himself; he'd forgotten to activate the Translation Spell.

MocYorrin pulled several crystals from out the pocket of his robe, all of them identical. Of a ghostly shade of white, the crystals were slender things— flawlessly formed hexagonal prisms, each about the length of his hand. The surface of each was etched with magical filigree—geometries and runes. Grabbing one in his left and putting the rest in his right, MocYorrin focused his thoughts. Silently, squeezed the crystal as much with his mind as with his hand, MocYorrin commanded the magic sleeping within the crystal to come alive. And almost instantly, the spell took effect; MocYorrin could feel it beginning to vibrate slightly, as it should. For a moment, he eyed the griffin statue. For everyone's sake, MocYorrin hoped that the enchanter who had shaped it had done his or her job well.

Once again, he began his speech: "Hello. I am Gridge MocYorrin, Fifth Tier Bureaucrat Adjunct of the Dahrian Republic, and Department of Foreign Aff—" only to be interrupted by a stir of panic from within the crowd. From the moment he started speaking, it was evident that the peasants now regarded MocYorrin's words in a very different light. Surprise and fear grazed through the faces in the crowd like lightning strikes. Some of the older fellows yelled at MocYorrin; their words loud and incomprehensible—sometimes, even violent.

The bureaucrat tightened his grip on the crystals.

"Please, calm down. There is nothing to be afraid of." MocYorrin spoke as gently and collectedly as he could.

"These crystals I hold," MocYorrin said, raising his arm above the crowd, and pointing a crystal at the ruby-griffin statue, "they work in conjunction with the statue. Their magic allows you all to understand my words, even though we do not speak the same tongue."

A few of the villagers seemed to respond to MocYorrin's words, words that registered in their ears as perfect Gaddeonese; these villagers motioned toward their fellows, trying to quite the rabble.

One of these placators caught MocYorrin's attention: he was a somewhat elderly gentleman—slightly portly, with a grizzled beard—clothed in brown and wearing a small, rounded fur hat. He was trying to calm some young men—a task that he met with obvious difficulty. MocYorrin approached him; the people around the fellow took several steps back in response, moving like the receding tide.

"Here, sir… take this," MocYorrin said, handing one of the crystals to the older gentleman.

The man grabbed it, albeit hesitantly; the villager held the crystal as gingerly as he could, trembling as he did, afraid of what might happen. Then, he looked MocYorrin in the eye, with an expression similar to "Now what?" written all over his face.

"Squeeze the crystal in your hand—not too hard. Feel the carvings with your fingers; picture them in your mind and focus on that image."

Everyone watched as the old man closed his eyes—presumably following MocYorrin's instructions.

"Has it started vibrating?"

The villager nodded twice—slowly each time.

"Good; now tell me something; something that I couldn't possibly know."

"Sir Gridge, I am Romé, son of Koñar. I work the wheat fields for Mage Norilla." Romé's voice was steady, but with a worn out air—doubtless the voice of a man who had spent many a year working in the fields, tilling soil and tending the crops.

"Well then, greetings to you, Romé, son of Koñar, who works the wheat fields for Mage Norilla."

There was a collective gasp from the crowd. This strangely dressed man—this foreigner, MocYorrin—he had made one of their own speak in tongues.

Yet there were other surprises in tow. Again, MocYorrin focused his thoughts. This time, though, he was working a spell of his own. As he'd been trained to do, MocYorrin willed a magical field into existence; with his mind, he weaved invisible strands of mana from himself to each and every one of the townsfolk.

"Now, everyone, take a crystal—" MocYorrin said, as he held the bag out at arm's length. And sure enough, a few members of the crowd did begin to move toward him—but at that very moment, to everyone's surprise, the bureaucrat tossed the bag into the air. MocYorrin cast his spell, releasing a burst of mental energy along the field he'd just created. As the energy flowed along the field-lines, it altered reality: for a second, the jumbled collection of crystals simply froze mid-air. Then, following the energy's pull, the crystals went their separate ways as the bag that once held them fell down onto the dirt floor below. Each and every gem took its own path, floating smoothly through the air and the crowd, making a swish as they flew, until finally reached their peasant target. Like an angry bee, the crystal would hover in front of a peasant, waiting to be taken in hand, humming with energy all the while.

"—I insist," MocYorrin said, finishing his sentence.

He had to speak louder to be heard over many noises: the humming of the expectant crystals, the screams of astonished, fearful peasants, and the thud made by several fainting women as they collapsed onto the dirt beneath their feet.

A young woman—one who hadn't fainted—spoke up: "Please, Sir Gridge: what is going on? Are you a messenger sent by the Spirits?"

"No, I—" Gridge said trying to respond, but, the young woman wouldn't take "No" for an answer:

"—But, we speak in tongues! How is this possible?" she said, in an outburst.

"Let him speak, Bannenda!" Romé said, glaring at her. "You are not the only one who seeks an explanation," he added—his voice calmer this time.

"Indeed… thank you, again, Romé," MocYorrin said. "I… I am a man, just like you, and—although I doubt that the Spirits personally ordered me come here—you are right to call me a messenger, Bannenda."

MocYorrin then looked up at the crowd; prepared to address everyone at once. "Now, if you all wouldn't mind, I have a message to read." MocYorrin paused—"Ahem"—to clear his throat, and then, for the third time, the bureaucrat began to read the message written on the scroll:

"Hello. I am Gridge MocYorrin, Fifth Tier Bureaucrat Adjunct of the Dahrian Republic; Department of Foreign Affairs, Northern Branch, Kelda Province. The Department has appointed me as the Temporary Transitioning Liaison for your village of Molan. It is my duty, and my pleasure, to inform you, here and now, that today is the day of your freedom!"

"Freedom?" asked one of the villagers from within the crowd. It was an inevitable outburst, but MocYorrin continued on, regardless. He wasn't going to allow himself to be interrupted. Not again.

"A treaty has been signed between your kingdom and my Republic; Gaddeon is now a province of the Dahrian Republic. We welcome you with open arms. As a testament of the Republic's good will, my superiors have sent me here to make this village's transition easier."

"A transition? A transition to what?" a man asked.

This… this was the moment MocYorrin had been awaiting, and dreading. Now was the time to shine the light of truth on the lives of these humble folk.

"Tell me, Romé," MocYorrin said, turning to face the man, "what comes into your mind when I say a word like 'magic,' or 'mage'?"

"The Magi: obedience to Dan Norilla. The ceremonies: when the Magi choose to bless our crops, or to curse them if we have angered the Dan. I… I fear it: I fear their magic, Sir MocYorrin—as do we all. Only the Dans—the Magi—only they can wield magic, for they have been chosen by the Spirits to live and act from on high. It is not our place to question such things."

"And the rest of you… do you agree with what Romé says?" MocYorrin addressed the crowd.

"Good, but then, how do you explain what is happening right now? What else, other than the magic of the crystals and the statue—magic made and realized by you, and me, and other ordinary people, all across the land—what else could explain how we are speaking in each other's unknown tongue?"

There was silence for a while. It ended only when a woman near the back of the crowd mustered enough courage to provide an answer. "This is the work of the Spirits," she said, "it must be. There can be no other way…"

"And yet," the good bureaucrat replied, "there are no Spirits involved—at least, not here. I do not sense them; I do not see them, and I do not hear them. This magic… this is solely the work of men and women such as yourselves."

Despite MocYorrin's words, many of the eyes that looked out at him were still filled with fear.

"Am I a Mage?" he asked Romé, "Are you a Mage?"

"No," Romé replied.

"Correct, there are no Magi here—there are no Dans here."

"If there are no Magi here, then… how…?" someone asked.

"People of Molan" MocYorrin announced—he was starting to get tired of this… "I am telling you the truth. It is because of you, and me; it is because of these crystals, and because of these statues. That is where all of this magic comes from—magic wrought and worked by ordinary hands. No Magi; no Spirits… just people."

A few scant murmurs of approval—grunts, yeses, and nodding heads—filtered through the mass of people. However, this was all shattered by a violent young voice from within the crowd.

"I have had enough of this madness. Ordinary man does not work magic!" It was a young man who spoke, his voice, loud and strong. "What you say is blasphemy!" he yelled. "Only the Magi, through the Spirits' power, can work these miracles! We are the weak, and they are the strong; it is our place in life to serve them—such is the law of the land since times beyond memory!"

Then, another villager joined in: "He is right, Sir Gridge. This is a waste of our time! We must return to the fields—we must work, otherwise, we shall surely suffer at Dan Norilla's hands."

And another: "Yes, please, leave this place Sir Gridge, and take your strange powers with you. Go back to your Republic. Leave us in peace."

And another: "I bet these crystals don't even work—he just pretended to be a clueless foreigner."

Yet again, the murmurs of approval filtered through the crowd, but this time to stormier ends. The agitation these dissenters voiced had spread through the crowd, transmuting the people's apprehension into outright resentment—into resistance. A few even threw their crystals down to the ground—shattering them.

{Time to be a little more persuasive,} MocYorrin thought. {I just hope Mina is awake by now…}

"What if I told you that each and every one of you could, in a single month, grow more crops than you do in year?!" MocYorrin yelled the challenge with great vehemence, and the words flew all around the village square—going through every ear, and around every corner.

No matter how fearful the peasants were of this man from the East, it was impossible for them to ignore a claim as utterly, absolutely outrageous as this. The anger of the crowd suddenly gave way to raucous laughter, jeering, and insults of the most vulgar kind. Loud, crass waves of noise, spit, and cursing rushed through the air to barrage poor Mr. MocYorrin. Many a villager—having been made cynical to the core after years of hardship—stayed, and made animals of themselves: they acted no better than beasts, the way they brayed, roared and cussed at the flustered official. Meanwhile, in the background, some of the more tired among them quietly made their ways back homes—back to the fields. They had heard enough noise for one day; life was hard enough without all that noise and hardship. The madman, this trickster—or whoever he really was—they thought he should just leave and be done with whatever it was that he was trying to accomplish.

So many of the villagers were caught up in their reactions to MocYorrin's words—their fears of Norilla's retribution, their taunting of the 'deluded' bureaucrat, their desire to return to the farms—that few of them, if any, noticed the grin dawning on his face.

{Now, to show them the truth…}

Quietly, MocYorrin made his way around to the other side of the carriage. He was in no rush. Yes, the crowd was breaking up, and, yes, they were ignoring him, but, Gridge knew that the moment they saw Mina, the crowd would come running back—and, with a vengeance.

{I really hope that Mina is up…} he thought, as he stepped onto the embarkation stair on that side, and opened the carriage door.

{Damn!} MocYorrin cursed at himself.

Mina was still asleep—her head tilted to the side, and he arms lax as she lay there in the comfort of a dream. Gingerly, MocYorrin moved his hand toward her—bracing himself for the worst. But, the worst didn't come: instead, as soon as MocYorrin motioned toward her, Mina stirred. She blinked her blue, blue eyes and looked up at the kindly bureaucrat with a drowsy, sheepish, and ever-so-charming gaze.

"Mina?" Gridge asked, sweetly.

"Yes?" the little girl asked, yawning. As she did so, she stretched out her arms; the soft white fabric of the slightly oversized gown MocYorrin had given her hang loosely from the Mina's arms; in its slack, the gown stopped covering the bandage on her right forearm. Mina looked up at the kind man who stood in the open carriage doorway, hovering over her petite form.

"I need your help now; we're going to need to show some villagers the thing we practiced yesterday evening, okay?"

"Okay!" she said, smiling—showing the gaps where her in-bound adult teeth had pushed out the baby ones.

"And, Mina," Gridge added, "I'm going to need to take off the bandage, okay?"

"But… won't that make the people mad?"

"That's the plan," he answered, with a grin on his face.

Then—holding back the sleeve of Mina's gown—MocYorrin undid the bandage on her arm. There wasn't any blood or pus coming from underneath; no, the bandage had been there just to hide the tell-tale triangle scar that had been branded into Mina's skin a little over a year ago—before the treaty had been signed, and before MocYorrin had been sent there to set things right.

Mina looked up at the bureaucrat once more as he bent over and lifted her out of her seat, and carried her off the carriage as he made his way back down the three small—but steep—steps of the embarkation stair. Gently—shaking, and with a groan—MocYorrin lowered her back to the ground, so that she might stand on her own two legs, putting quite a bit of strain on both his arms, and much of his back. Bending over once more—but his time, just a little—MocYorrin clasped Mina's left hand in his own. He made sure to hold out his–and thus, Mina's—arm in such a way that her scar was egregiously visible to anyone who bothered to look. And then, slowly but surely, the two made their way back round the carriage, ready to face whatever was left of the crowd….

[1] The inhabitants of Aurhìm do not believe in deities, per say. Rather, a great deal of their religious practices revolve around the beings that they call "the Spirits." The Spirits are sentient, (mostly) non-corporeal entities that wield influence over luck—over general randomness, quantum randomness, and so on; the point being that they keep the force of chance in balance within the universe. The "Deimos" are those Spirits that control/spread/allot bad luck and misfortune; the "Anae" (sometimes referred to as the "Fée") are the Spirits that control/spread/allot good luck and good fortune.