Hues of pink and purple streaked the skies as Aliene walked to the center of the village. She stared up, lost in wondering what challenges the world would give her. Hunters hunted, builders built, and so on, but what could Aliene do? The center was prepared with lanterns and a dozen or so people, including the seven elders.
Beside a small table stood her mentor and surrogate mother, Hafwen, her rigid arms folded across her chest. Like the elders, she wore formal clothing—soft silks and a coat of hide—and her hair was braided tightly and decorated with beads. The handful of villagers who had come to see her stood off to the side. Some seemed almost sad. This day had been arranged shortly after her birth. Aliene’s illumination marking had forced the elders to exile her. The saving grace was that they had let her learn the hunter’s skills, allowing her to survive on her own.
The elders gave a speech on her accomplishments—all halfhearted—but Aliene didn’t pay attention. She had no idea what to do. Where would she go? Aliene stared at Hafwen, who stood rigidly, but her trembling arm told Aliene the truth. Hafwen didn’t want her to leave. Aliene came back from her thoughts as one of the elders handed her a short sword. Aliene bowed and thanked her. Her second gift was a bow. The elder who gave it to her wore a sneer. Some had not approved teaching Aliene, but they were out-voted. Most ended up civil as Aliene grew, but she had accepted leaving long ago.
Before they could give the sending-off speech, a horn was blown—the tone used for an approaching stranger. Men and women ran along the tops of the walls with bows and magic at the ready. As the gate opened, a lone figure dressed in rags trudged through the waters. A guard approached the stranger, who collapsed into him. After catching him, the guard dragged him up and leaned his ear towards the stranger. Whatever he said seemed to make the guard uneasy as he stared back towards the gate.
Two men carried him in and handed the stranger off. After reporting to their captain, his eyes were wide with anger. “What did you do?” the guard asked Aliene, who only stood, not understanding. The elders all looked at her now.
“The only thing that man said was he needed to find the eight-pointed star.” Aliene was unable to speak as every head turned to stare at her, all eyes asking questions she couldn’t answer.
Sometime later, the guard captain was pacing around the floor of the healer’s home, arguing with Celestaon and Hafwen. His concern for keeping outsiders away from the village was making him frenzied and beginning to anger Hafwen. His claim that Aliene wanted to destroy all the customs and even the safety of the village got more outlandish by the moment.
“Of course she doesn’t respect them. Dissent is in her nature. Her mark was a sign of that from the beginning!” the Captain said in a voice that edged towards screaming. He quickly lowered his voice, remembering who he was talking to. The Constelari Head of Hunting had chosen Hafwen as a disciple a few years back, her position outranked him, and she demanded he remember that.
“If you two are finished, he is awake,” the Healer said from the back room’s doorway.
Celestaon eased up from her chair, refusing the guard captain’s aid. “This man walked up to a village that is not on a map and asked about a secret the other clans are not aware of.” The molten look of anger made the others shiver; she hadn’t had a look so fierce in decades.
Hafwen and the Captain flanked their Elder as she walked into the back room. On the bed was the man without his ragged clothes. His satchel was in a chair beside him, looking just as beaten as he did, and the stranger lay there breathing heavily. He tried to rise as they approached. He smelled of sweat weeks old, with bruises and cuts marring an unusually fair complexion. His left side had rough scrapes oozing pus.
“He was repeatedly beaten by animals, most likely; some bruises are days old. He has new scars and a few older fractures. He collapsed from the injury on his side, though. It came from the daydreamer thistle. He barely made it to us before the fever took over.”
The guard captain stepped closer to speak, but Celestaon held up her hand, telling him to wait. “Who are you?” she asked, her gaze conflicting with her natural tone.
The stranger tried to push himself up, but collapsed in a huff. “My name is Jacobus. I am a monk of Eternus. Well, I was until three years ago.” His words were strained and punctuated by rasping gasps.
The Elder put a hand on Jacobus’ side, and the subtle fluctuations in the air signaled her Reach expanding, then focusing on him. She poured raw magic from her palm, and the glittering yellow substance encased the injury and seeped in, making Jacobus cry out. The Elder kept hold of him; she was not patient enough to allow nature to take its sweet time. She needed answers, now. The process was agony, but only for a few moments.
“Tell us why you are here.” The Elder swayed on her feet, drained from the healing.
Once he caught his breath and patted his healed side, he sat up smoothing back his black hair. “Three years ago, I received a revelation. A star fell towards me as I was meditating in the gardens. It came directly at me, but I couldn’t move. Just before it impacted, I saw an image: an eight-pointed star. The symbol wasn’t part of the eternal books, but I knew I needed to find it, and so I left. I wandered north to Copia, then south until I was led here.”
The three simply looked at him, weighing his story. Hafwen asked, “So what is this star you’re looking for? A relic, a person, maybe a place?”
Jacobus shrugged and sighed. “I have no idea.”
Celestaon finally broke the moment of questioning silence and looked to Hafwen. “Go get the star.”