I have a lot of comments about this story, and it's origins, but I don't want to bore all of you to death. Expect a few comments tho, as our tale develops.
Content warnings for the overall story: strong violence
The story of her birth and the story of her planet's birth were achingly similar.
But, like any good myth, the latter tale was archetypical enough to theoretically apply to most births. So there were parallels, yes, but they in no way meant that she was destined for greatness.
For her, there was a mother and a father. For the planet, there was the earth and the sea. The two fought and fought until they created new life, and then the earth left to create peaks where the sea could not reach her. And the sea was left to lap at her shores, creating worn grains of sand- repeated phrases he could not move past. In the legends, this is when the sky came in to watch the earth and the sea, and force them to live in harmony, protecting the fragile earth below them.
In her tale, there wasn't a sky until she was four years old.
And unfortunately, this is where the legend and her story begin to cross- ever so worryingly- into one.
Her name was supposed to be Ixai, but her father thought it was too formal. Then it was going to be Xalai, but her father thought it was too religious. Then it was Kixlei. Then Axiis. Then Xigh. Her parents knew two things- they wanted her to have an X in her name, and for her name to end with a strong 'I' sound. In a way, they were sort of hyping the poor child, or really fetus at this time, into something more than she was. An X for the crossroads she represented. An I for the sky god, the overseer of the land and sea.
Her father was named Linson. Her mother was named Kala. And back then they did not get along, in so many different ways. If their daughter had grown up properly, she would have almost been jealous of their classic love story- enemies, falling in love despite the odds and having a child as they ushered in a new era. Except, well, they never really stopped being enemies. They just had a kid, and that was one more thing to fight over.
The girl's name, it might as well be said, ended up being Aster. But before that, it was Tai. A T is also a crossroads. Just three ways instead of four, which sort of made it more holy since there were only three gods anyways. Plus it sounded better than Xai.
Tai was named Tai until she was four years old, but she barely knew it. Her mother liked to call her Tala, and her father never met her. She was raised in the Kout mountains with little real influence of her mother's Stemalian heritage- in fact, she had only been to the nearby city of Haveninkout twice. Her life was simple, really. She played in the cold hills around her. Her mother would paint more than she would talk, so Tai grew to be mostly silent as well. Maybe not out of choice, but perhaps because she never learned what words to speak.
Her mother tried to kill her when she was four, and it happened really quite unannounced and gathered the attention of absolutely no one. If Tai had been properly self aware at this age, she would have learned this: her mother was very unhappy to have a child, and very reluctant to give that child up to the father. So she was at a sort of standstill that lasted four years.
There was no tipping point, presumably because there never had been- Kala had been long, long gone. She took her daughter to the sea one day- the first time the girl had ever seen it- and threw her off a cliff.
And then. Well. Then there's a sort of pause. A gap. Tai didn't end up dying, of course. But there is a sort of question about how she survived- and what she became after she did. And that question can be solved in two different ways- an examination of the planet-wide mythology, or by skipping ahead five years to a Tai that has learned to speak and has finally reached that wonderful time in her life when she can't shut up.
And, speaking of-
"Where does thunder come from, Uncu-sil?" The girl asked, watching a thunderstorm take shape off in the plains.
The man who answered her was not named Uncu-sil. His name was, in fact, just Silan. Long ago he had told this girl he was not her father. And at some point, she had learned the word uncle instead.
"The sky." He answered.
"What about the snow then?" When she had lived in the north, there had always been ice on the peaks and the grass had always been dead. Now, in the south-west region that she had yet to learn was named Sved, it was too hot for any to form.
"The sky." Silan said again.
"What about plants then? And birds? And fire? And rainbows?"
"Everything comes from either the earth, the sea, or the sky. Working together or fighting."
"You could at least try to teach her some science while she's still is curious." Said a woman behind the two of them. She hadn't been expected. Silan frowned, taking as much effort as possible to look as unhappy as he could.
"Auna-lai!" The girl exclaimed, running up to hug the woman. Of course, like Silan, she was not the girl's aunt. And her name was Laila. But unlike Silan, she was very fond of the child, and took her into her arms.
"When it rains, and the sun shines while it does so, light can reflect through water and create a rainbow." Laila said, taking the girl on her lap and pointing off at the sky like she could a summon a rainbow herself.
"You don't know science." Silan said edging away from Laila's stretched out legs.
"Then you explain it."
"I don't know science." Silan said, irritated. "Obviously. But you don't either."
"Well, I vaguely remember what she taught us. And she said that-"
"He now. Today." Silan said nervously, looking over at the girl.
The both of them had their qualms about each other. There were few times the girl even got to see both of them at once. "Who is she-he?" The girl asked.
"They." Liala quickly corrected.
"He today." Said Silan.
They were both looking behind them. Waiting. So when the man did appear, the girl wasn't very surprised. But her uncle and aunt were terrified.
He was an odd looking man. That's what got the girl in the end. She wasn't scared or surprised. But she thought him weird.
And here's where it's necessary to take a couple steps back. Zoom out a little, so to speak. Laila was long limbed, light footed and largely lovable. Her hair was an august auburn to match her red-brown skin. Her eyes were white though. Not blind. Just white. She usually wore her hair up in a plain bandana, and her clothes had a sort of northern suggestion to them, thin sleeved, tight, and warm. The patterns on them belonged to no real culture, however, similar to the dark markings that coated her skin.
Silan was less elongated. He was stout. Larger than Laila in every real way, but all together less elegant about it. His hair was the color of slate, though perhaps less blue, and his white skin had a sort of dull grey hue to it, as did his freckles and markings. His eyes, also white, were rarely wide open. He always had a sort of look on his face like he was trying determine if someone was making a joke or not. His clothes were from Sved, the region the three of them were currently living in, and they were loose and light and could be separated into many layers.
The man who had appeared on the plain behind them was tall, slim and wore clothes with more angles than the girl had ever seen in his life. His eyes were sharp and large, rare to narrow, leaving his brow the only indicator of his mood. His hair was blond. Today.
Silan and Laila stood up as tall as they could, and the girl clung to her adopted aunt's leg.
"Happy birthday." The new man said. "Ten years old?"
The girl was not afraid, remember, but the fear of her guardians echoed into her speech. "Maybe." She said at half volume.
The man laughed, and it was a surprising thing to hear, his laugh. He hadn't looked capable before. "It is, it is." He said, and it wasn't so much a repetition of a phrase than an echo. "What is your name?"
His laughter had woken to the girl to her normal mind. "Tala." She said, only semi unsure.
"Wrong." He laughed again, touching her once on the forehead. "Your name is not always what you are called."
"We never named her." Laila said, seemingly ashamed. She gathered the girl into her arms with ease, holding her like a toddler.
"Didn't really seem necessary." Silan said.
"We just call her 'you' or girl', most of the time." Silan seemed less ashamed, but still tense, like he was expecting the odd man to lash out at this decision.
"She's not a pet." The man offered, twisting his jaw until the joints cracked. "She's leaving today. She can't be nameless among her own kind. They will be confused."
"I'm not very good with names." Silan offered.
"Agreed." Laila. "I can try… though. Will you be taking her to Sved? She could be called… Kefla."
Something in their voices indicated neither had known the girl would be leaving today. But they also carried a hint of acceptance. The strange man was known for this behavior, dreaming and almost expecting others to know his thoughts.
"That is a name for a man about a century ago." The stranger said calmly, like reading from a book. "I was thinking Aster. What do you think?"
"What kind of name is that?" Silan sounded alarmed.
"The you in my last question was not you, Silan." The man leaned down to stare at the girl, never bending his legs but still meeting her eyes.
"My name is Tala."
The man sighed. "Your name is Tai. But I'm calling you Aster."
It was a definitive order. One that made Silan and Laila quiver and sweat, but only served to frustrate the girl. She did not like this odd man and his angles. But he had no interest in leaving her alone.
Laila knew to place the girl on the ground in the same inborn way she knew to walk away from her. And that instinct of obedience was lost on the girl, but the assumption of authority still hung in her mind. The man did not take her hand, but she walked after him like he had, head to the ground.
"Your name is Aster." The man said, reaffirming what would soon be ingrained in her mind. "I have a few things in mind for you. Later."
And the girl, Aster, watched her bare feet next to the black shine of the man's shoes in response.
And she did know when that time came, but it took a lot of convincing before she believed it.
By the time Aster was seventeen, she had rearranged her memories into a more sequential pattern: A government man had taken her from her parents when she was younger. Maybe they had beaten her, and that's why she had blocked out all memories of them. The man had taken her away from the house- a place she never remembered beyond the grass plain that had to have been her backyard- and walked her to the city. To an orphanage. To her new father.
There were many problems with this analysis, and it irritated her. Her old father had worn clothes she could have sworn were Svedian, loose and layered brown cloth. Except she had a long and clear memory of walking for an hour and arriving in Baased, a city on the other side of the planet.
Other things didn't match up either. She remembered mountains from above and eyes without pupils. And once or twice, strange monsters haunted her mind, chasing her footfalls like ducklings, but with jaws like demons.
Aster was logical, and these muddled memories were the scorn of her schoolwork's margins. Instead of classes on history and war, all she could think of was how wrong her mind was. She found the only way she could really disappear into nothing but the lines of facts she defined herself as was if she drew pictures in class and relived memories in her dreams.
"We live in a time of peace…" A teacher was saying, though the thought was left unfinished in Aster's mind. She wrote 'peace' down on her notes, then erased it a moment later. She didn't need notes on things everyone knew.
She was sitting by the window, and it was raining out. The dull sound of the rain at least carried the blessed scent of pavement through the screen. Rain was her favorite thing- a presence she still unused to, missing from her memories. Sved was a country of desert and plain. But she couldn't have been Svedian. Most ethnicities were separated by borders of war and she- with her red hair and lengthy body- didn't match the dusty and steady features most typical in Sved.
She didn't really look Renen either. The fishers of Renen were strong and callused, often with skin ranging from from old wood to literal blackness. Aster had dark olive skin, close enough that she did not stand out, but there was something off about her- her jawline, maybe, or her thin shoulders- that brought on second glances. Baased was a large city, but there were few children.
Today had been a relatively typical day, though Aster did have the opportunity to call it 'slightly noteworthy'. One of her good friends was being exalted today, a boy named Wren, and the class had taken a somewhat somber view of the event. Most of Aster's classmates had been together as a single group since they were twelve, and it was rare for anyone to leave.
The school didn't take time to acknowledge it though, meaning Aster had to sit through all her usual courses- mostly on frivolous things like music and dancing- before having a chance to speak to Wren at the end of the school day.
"You don't seem the type to quest anywhere. I wouldn't trust you to make it to your front door on your own." Aster was joking around, but she was a quiet sort of girl, and had yet to master the light-hearted tone needed to convey this well.
Wren understood, of course, as they were good friends and both rather withdrawn. He was a tremendous artist, but that was rarely a favorite trait for boys "It's my parents. They already have my older brother."
"You should write me." Aster suggested. She had intended to say goodbye to him, but found herself unable to pronounce the needed words.
"I'll be dead." Wren said, shaking his head slightly. His hair, once a pale violet, had long dark roots up to his ears. Likely he had given up on dyeing once he realized he was going to die.
"I mean. Not right away, you'll be dead. You have to journey first."
"You said I wouldn't make it to the front door of my house. Trust me, I will fail to scale a mountain any day."
It was somber to walk with her moribund friend to the gates of the school with his hand sweaty and tight in hers, but typical. Most parents send their kids on this sort of quest when they were twelve. Most of the kids left, the only childs and the dearly loved, had had to say goodbye many times before.
Aster had as well. But she had never been close to the kids who were leaving, and often her involvement had been a card, with something like 'I didn't know you very well, but I am sure you were nice' written inside.
At the gate, Wren had two bodyguards waiting for him. They would walk him the rest of the way. Before he left, Wren signed out with his hands 'Pray for me.'
Aster did not pray, but she did not explain that to him. 'I will', she signed back.
Her father was waiting at the gates for her as well. She did not actually know his name, or much about him besides his appearance. She did know he was the sort of man that would never exalt his daughter, primarily because he was the sort of man who never would have to. He was the head of the committee of exaltation, or at least, Aster vaguely believed he was. She did not know much about his job besides the fact that he often traveled and left her home alone.
"How was school today?" He asked. Despite the existence of cars, and his apparent wealth, he walked everywhere. Aster's feet hurt.
"He is?" Her father looked over to judge her expression. "I'll look out for him. Make sure he gets a good set of equipment. He'll be-"
He wasn't going to be fine, and Aster's father knew it. Aster knew it. Anyone who was over the age of five knew it. But Aster's father, though a seemingly distant man, could read his daughter's untelling facial expressions better than anyone.
"He will be hurt. But if we're lucky, he'll only be hurt. And then someone might find him, and he might come home, and if we're very lucky he'll only have gone deaf and lost a limb or two. You two learned sign language for this exact reason, didn't you?"
The school had required the course, actually. There were a number of times exalted children had come back alive, but often they were so damaged it was like they hadn't come home at all- and indeed, their parents would many times lock them away from society in shame of their failure. But the luckiest ones were the children who simply went deaf, and were allowed to returned home with familial shame but unharmed.
"I have to pray for him."
"He'll... maybe be fine, Aster. But prayer won't change that."
They arrived at their house, a large three story building entirely empty besides them. It was in the center of the city, away from the docks where the poorer families lived.
"I said I would." While her father walked through the door, Aster stood still. Then she turned and continued down the street in the direction of the nearest altar.
There was no need to doubt the legends and the gods, but Aster was a logical sort of girl, and generally settled on a sort of apathy towards them. Her father was not tremendously religious either, sans for a home altar to the sky god Ikina. They celebrated all the holy days at school, but at home these days consisted of little more than an extra desert.
Baased, and the whole country of Renen, worshipped only Silanah, the god of the sea. His altars were designed after the caves he was said to call home in the ocean's trenches, so they were dark and wet. Baased, as the richest city in Renen, housed the largest temple to him, consisting of many rooms, including an aquarium.
Electricity and technology were banned at holy sights, and the only light in the altar came from candles and moonstone.
Aster had never actually prayed before, besides repeating the same group prayers at school once a week. When she kneeled at a stature of Silanah whose details were missing in the dark, she was utterly speechless.
When Aster was younger, it was hard to keep her quiet, but at some point over the past seven years, someone had told her to shut up. And she had. So words were not her strength. Her only strength, actually, came from her mind, and even that had faltered as she kept silent. She was always curious, but without words, no one knew to answer her.
Someone with a candle walked past her, and for a moment Silanah's stature was illuminated, revealing a shape like a fish and a six-legged goat mashed into one, with the cold and empty eyes of a man.
Aster got up immediately, more or less jumping to her feet. The image of the gods was not allowed outside the doors of an altar, and the shock of seeing his apparent true form had startled Aster. But a second later she calmly reminded herself that, obviously as a god, Silanah was not going to look like a human. She kneeled again at the stature's feet and closed her eyes, breathing in the damp air around her.
She tried to word a prayer in her mind, wishing Wren safety and to return home minimally injured or else, somehow, a hero of the country, but the words would not form.
Aster knew logic, and logically Wren was going to die. No one lived. Few got away intact. Exaltation was an honor and an inevitable outcome, and it really wasn't her business to protest it.
A man sat next to her while she was failing to pray, a stout and stiff sort of man who didn't seem lost in prayer himself. He looked over at Aster, once, and she immediately got up and left the altar. As much as she'd like to stay, the moment someone payed a little extra attention to her she knew she had to leave. It wasn't unheard of for people to kidnap children and exalt them to the city, reaping the rewards before the police determined the kid hadn't been theirs.
She walked home quickly. Baased was not an unsafe city, and indeed a rich one, but there were few children and many things to keep it that way.
While it is all good to focus on Aster for the rest of the day- when she returns home to speak curtly to her concerned father, for example, or later after dinner when she finally allows herself to cry- Aster left an important sort of person behind when she left the altar of Silanah: Silan. Ah.
The 'Ah' was not actually part of his name, but an old sort of suffix that had latched on at some point in the last few centuries. It probably came from the 'a' sound at the end of Ikina- and while he was honored to have his superior's suffix on his name, he would have preferred it if people got his name correct.
Laila like being called Lailanah though. Figures.
Silan had roughly left Aster behind years ago, back before she really had a name, but gods have many powers and one of them is pretty close to omnipotence. He was fairly aware of everything that occurred in his domain. Not fully aware, of course, but nearly. So it wasn't impossible for him to check in on the girl every so often.
Of course, he wasn't watching over her purely out of his own interest. If he had that much freedom over his powers, he would have been spying on Laila (as an enemy, that is. To learn her secrets). Ikina was his source of energy, and it was their will that he had to check in on Aster. They liked Aster for reasons Silan could understand less than the poor girl's name.
Aster was such a bizarre name.
Ikina was actually and honestly omnipotent as far as Silan knew. They appeared without the slightest tremble of energy behind him, and without words seemed to know what had transpired that day.
"If I stop one child from being sacrificed, I'll have to stop them all."
"No." They said. They were wearing a feminine form today- daringly- buxom? Was that the term? Er. It was a very feminine form, but as always, their eyes were the same soft and pure gold. They never really seemed to wear their body more as posses it, and features of the face and hair were left untouched, giving the impression they might as well have been painted on for all Ikina cared for them.
"If I stop one child sacrifice, other parents will think I don't want them anymore. And I do want them. I want them so much."
"Your hatred of children is not a flattering trait."
"The only person I have to flatter is you. And if you dislike anything about me, you can always remake me."
"I want Aster to be happy. She was crying."
"Didn't see that part." Silan said. An instant passed and the two of them were standing in Aster's room while she curled up near the television and cried. "Oh."
They shifted back to the altar. The scene before had been nothing more than a temporary illusion of a past event. After all, nothing can travel through time.
"You won't spare the child." Ikina said. "I will."
Silan knew not to say a word until Ikina had explained themself. They rarely enjoyed interruptions, but only those gods such as Laila and Silan could tell when they were thinking and when they were finished.
"It's about time we find a chosen one. This planet's been going on for a little too long." They sighed at this idea like they were hearing it, not speaking it. "I'll miss them though, when they're all dead."
This might as well be said now- This story and it's characters are based on a story I made up when I was maybe 12 or 13. It was a ridiculous and dumb tale with little sense to be made, and Aster(ix) was the world's greatest mary sue.
This story is my attempt to take the same plot, roughly same characters, and tell that story with a straight face and little room for perfection.