"Did you hear? They said Brummunn's been spotted in the countryside again."

"Impossible. It's been a hundred years, they're certainly dead by now. Probably some merchant telling stories to get everyone riled up."

A soft groan announced Aleen returning to the waking world, disturbed by the two men talking outside of her window. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, glancing out at the both them. One, the grocer, pushing a cart of vegetables, the other just a farmer, probably taking a break when he shouldn't be.

"Morning miss Aleen!", the Grocer waved, noticing her sit up.

She offered a little wave of her own, head still pounding. She'd had one of her dreams again, and they always left her tired and with a migraine. "Morning Thein, mister Baellon."

Both men waved before dispersing, probably to carry on their conversation elsewhere. Aleen forced herself out of bed, grumbling to herself all the way. She could tell it was nearly noon by the sun outside, and she never understood how she could sleep so long and wake so utterly exhausted.

Stumbling her way into the kitchen to find a chair, she slumped against the table with her head in her hands, drawing a worried glance from her mother, cooking lunch. "Another one of your dreams, Aleen?", she offered while working her way to the table, a mug of hot tea already in hand.

"Yeah. Felt like... everything was disconnected... so much space. I could see... something. Like little stars. I don't know what any of it means."

Her mother gently brushed her daughter's hair behind her long ears, running a finger over the points. Red again, probably from being pushed up against the wall. "You should talk to your Uncle about it. You know he knows a lot more than I do about all this."

"I know. But you said I shouldn't go see him. Learning magic's illegal, remember?"

"Yes, I remember. Your poor sister, Gods bless her soul, shouldn't have been held responsible. All she did was sneeze."

"And turned three barns and a chicken coop to ash." A snort from her mother signalled she should probably change the subject. "So why should I go see him?"

"Because I know you do anyway."

"Mom!"

"I'm your mother, dear. I know more than you think." Her mother joined her at the table, pushing the mug of tea toward her so she could reach it. "Have some tea. We both know it helps."

Aleen sighed quietly, brushing her long hair out of her eyes before taking the mug into hand to begin to sip. "Really though, why should I go see him?"

"He knows more about all this magic business than I do. He's retired, but you learn things as a court mage, and I know he's been training you anyway." She continued despite the noise of protest from her daughter. "Listen. You know I just want you to be happy. I know you keep going see him instead of going work in the field with Thein. It's illegal, but you've been careful so far." Her mother gave her a soft little pat on the shoulder. "I'll get you some food, and then you go talk to him. Okay? See what he has to say about everything."

The elf girl sighed, blowing a puff of air that dunked a few strands of hair into her tea. "Alright."

A meal and another mug of tea later, and Aleen closed the door to her home after kissing her mother goodbye. She was young for an elf, only in her 30s, but hadn't picked a career yet like most of the others in the village had. Thein, a boy only two years her senior, already almost had enough coin saved up to buy his own farm. Her sister had left home at 27 to go study magic, and returned home six years later only to have her unfortunate accident with the sneeze, which had prompted the governor to outlaw magic in all the outlying villages. If you want to study, you had to go away to the city where they had better protection against that sort of thing.

Aleen snorted. Protection. Huh. More like they drained your coin to teach you nonsense, and sent you home none the wiser. That's why she trained with her Uncle, Kethvm. At least he'd been a real mage.

She waved here and there as she passed other villagers on the main street, feeling her skirt brush against her knees with every step. Even though she still had a headache she couldn't help but bounce a bit as she went, going to see her Uncle always raised her spirits. He'd come home a few years ago after he retired, rich and mildly famous as a successful Court Mage in Valhallom. She'd been seeing him almost as long, every few days, learning what little bit he dared teach her.

"Aleen! Dear! Good to see you.", always jolly when she went to see him, her Uncle practically ran, robes and all, to give his neice a hug when she arrived. He was a portly man, round in the middle and not quite old enough for grey, but always happy to see everyone. He held her at arm's reach for a moment after releasing her from the hug, and she could see the frown dawn on his face. "You had another one, didn't you?"

She nodded, brushing a few free strands of hair out of her face. "Yeah. A new one."

"A new one? Well, come on inside and we'll have a chat. Did you have any tea?"

"Yeah, Mom made me some."

"Oh good old Merrin, she's always on top of things. My sister always did have the maternal touch, you know."

"I know, you've only told me at least a hundred times.", she smirked a bit as she settled into her customary chair, near the window with the view of the river.

"Well, it bears repeating! She's a wonderful woman, and you're lucky she's your mother." He smiled as he pulled a chair from his table, turning it around backwards so he could lean on the back and watch her closely. "So, tell me everything you can remember. Quickly, before it fades!"

Aleen sighed, closing her eyes and leaning back, letting the bubbling sound of the river help soothe her so she could better recall, just the way he'd taught her. "Space. Lots of space. Everything's dark. I feel like I'm floating, distant. Like I'm everywhere but nowhere. There's a thrumming sound, like... a cat purring, but monotone, constant. I can see lights, like stars, distant, everything distant. I feel like..." She let out a frustrated sigh, leaning forward again. "I felt like someone was trying to talk to me. But I don't remember any of the words."

Her Uncle put his hand on his chin, tapping a finger against his lips. "Hmm... That's a good one. I have no idea what it means." He stood, starting to walk around his little home. Despite his money, most of which he gave to the village when he returned, he lived in a little one bedroom hut near the river. Almost everything he owned he'd returned from Valhallom with, from his little model machines to his globe of the known world. "So you're... floating? In space? Or were you..."

"Just kind of... floating. I don't remember feeling like anything was holding me up, just like I was able to float there naturally." She let her elbow rest on the window so she could watch the river outside. "You know Baellon said that Brummunn was spotted."

That got a reaction from him instantly, drawing him out of whatever daydream he might have been inhabiting. "BRUMMUNN? Really!? Where!?"

Somewhat alarmed, Aleen sat up straight again. "I don't know! Out in the countryside. He didn't believe it, said it'd been-"

"A hundred years, that's right. That scaley bastard hasn't been seen since I was a little boy. He came to town for the Merging, looking for candidates."

Aleen raised a finger. "Uncle-"

"Ate almost every cow we had. Paid in gold, of course, but I've never seen anyone eat that much."

"Uncle!"

"He was pink then. I wonder if he was molting? No mane, so he couldn't have been old, so it could be him..."

She finally stood, tugging on his sleeve. "UNCLE." When he stopped pacing and looked at her, startled, she asked the question she'd been holding since he started rambling. "What's the Merging?"

He suddenly put his hand to his lips. "What? Nothing!"

She frowned, drawing her brows into a scowl. "You said no secrets!"

Kethvm let out a little squeak, like a teapot that had gotten too hot. "Oh, balls."

"Uncle!"

"Sorry! It's just... well, the Merging's dangerous. Three elves died." He let out a sigh, plopping back down into his chair, right way around this time.

Aleen joined him, pulling a chair from the table. "Uncle, what's the Merging?"

He sighed again, long and hard. "It can drive you insane. Or outright kill you. And it's been forbidden since before I was born."