◈ A Child in the Woods
A warm and gentle breeze blew softly through the woods, rustling the sleeping child's hair. The Chief of Florin stood over her, smiling softly at the child. It lay, no bigger than a newborn squirrel, amongst the calmness of the forest floor. Valentine looked around, perhaps for a hint of where the child came from, but between the birds singing in the trees and the deer prancing through the forest, there were no signs of anyone. So he carefully picked up the baby Shai, and held her against his chest as he headed back towards the village. The child reached out with her tiny hand and touched Valentine’s beard. Her dew-like eyes opened, and Valentine knew then that the child would be his to raise.
“The first time I laid eyes on her, I thought she was the gift of dawn…”
Valentine poured his affection onto the girl, and instilled one of the primary qualities of the Shai: curiosity. However, the child was different from other Shais. Whereas most Shais take great interest in potions, mixing new herbs together and giving them to unsuspecting travelers, this girl’s curiosity was more about the world around her. Her innocent curiosity was the cause of many headaches for the Chief of Florin, as Valentine saw the child he raised turn into a carefree spirit intent on causing trouble.
The girl climbed Karanda Ridge and took as many harpy eggs as she could carry. As she was chased from the ridge she howled with laughter, the harpies’ sharp claws not even fazing the youngster. She sang and danced on the herb gardens, destroying the precious herbs beneath her feet. She even stole Valentine’s prized donkey, riding it around the village until its tiny legs gave in and they both ended up in the dirt. Despite the trouble that always followed in her wake, the villagers adored the little Shai.
“A Coming of Age”
Shais do not age like humans. They age considerably slower than humans of the world, and even Valentine, the oldest of the Shais, still looks like he is in his early 20’s even though he is 110 years old by the Elionian Calendar! And as the years passed like a leaf floating down the river, the young Shai reached 15 years. This is a special age for Shais and marks the first test of becoming an adult.
The alchemy test is one that all Shais must pass, and the young girl was no different. She decided to try and make cookies that cause white leaves to sprout from your head by mixing rare herbs together. So she set off towards the forest, looking for the rare herb.
“Curiosity killed the kitty.”
As she wandered through the trees and thick overgrowth, she stumbled upon a cave. Although Valentine had given strict orders never to enter, the mischievous Shai had no second thoughts. She put one happy foot in front of the other, and danced through the dark cave. A dim light far from the entrance of the cave marked her goal, as she danced past the stalagmites and dived under the stalactites. It was then she stumbled upon Caphras’ hidden laboratory.
“What are all these things?”
Her eyes grew big as they looked upon all the things she had never seen before. Her hands brushed over the tools, across huge jars and tiny vials. A pile of books on a table caught her interest. The book on top seemed to sparkle and illuminate the room. The young Shai climbed up onto a chair, then onto the table. As she reached for the book, the table gave way beneath her feet, everything flew into the air, and as she landed she saw a jar come crashing down.
The jar smashed on the stone floor, and a black mist flew towards the girl. As she reeled back attempting to protect herself, she was surrounded by flames. Florin, her home, was engulfed. Men, women and children lay bloody and fallen all around her. The smell of smoke and burning herbs filled the air, almost suffocating the Shai girl. She stood in the middle of all this destruction, and uttered a blood-curdling scream. Like a lost kitten, she stood motionless, the fear of what she was witnessing filling every inch of her body.
“Shai... the first light...”
She turned to the warm voice that she heard. The sound of the burning village almost melted away as she spotted a small orb glowing on the floor. Fighting the fear that gripped her body, she reached out a hand. When she laid her hands on the glowing orb, the sounds of the burning village raced past her ears, and the black mist vanished without a trace.
Despite the horrors that melted away around her, the orb glowing with the light of the world remained.
She was freed from the darkness, yet the panic remained. As she turned to run she dropped the orb behind her. In her haste, she didn’t even hear the orb as it clanked on the floor. She continued to run as fast as her legs would take her, and the light of the orb became engulfed in the darkness of the cave.
The young woman who was so full of life, so full of innocence, grew dark. Where the valley was once filled with her laughter, it now rang with a deafening silence. The villagers were worried about her, trying to get her to at least talk. The girl stayed silent, as if muted by some new illness. She could not shake the images she saw. Nightmares kept her awake at night, and picking herbs brought no joy. Everything she enjoyed slowly lost its draw, and she withdrew to a small hut.
Time passed like the pages of a book, and after 15 years, it was time for the Shai’s second coming of age ceremony. In those years she shook off much of the horrors she witnessed, yet she could not erase the images of the orb from her mind. The radiant light, the small world within. The less the nightmares plagued her, the more visions of the orb shone through. The light of the world, she thought to herself.
For their second coming of age ceremony, a Shai must collect the most precious of treasure. For many Shais, this includes collecting incredibly rare herbs, or a Flondor goose egg that appears once in a while. But for the Shai girl, now 30 by the Elionian Calendar, there was only one precious treasure.
“I can face it once more”
She unlocked the door of her hut, grabbed the florang next to the frame, and ventured once more to the cave. This time she walked through the cave, making sure that the florang, a rather large boomerang-like weapon, didn’t hit the roof. With each step, her heart raced, knowing that what she once saw could soon haunt her once more. Each step could have brought her face to face with her deepest fears.
As the faint light of the lab grew closer and closer, she could feel the warming presence of the orb. Yet as soon as one foot touched the lab’s cold floor, she was surrounded by darkness. Her breath stopped; once again fear had consumed her.
“You need to leave, I’ll be right behind you”
As she stood in the darkness, she began to hear the sounds of a conversation from two Shais in front of her. As she reached out towards them, to stop them, to find more about this place, the darkness moved to block her. Face to face with an entity of darkness, the Shai felt trapped. Yet in the corner of her eye, she could see the orb. This time shining brighter than she remembered. She shook off the fear, diving towards the light. The darkness hastily pursued as she reached out. Each moment felt like an eternity, as her hand eventually grasped the orb.
“My head feels like it’s been cracked open. Where am I? I’m hungry… soooo hungry”
How much time had passed? She contemplated as she stared up at the sky, watching a white fluffy cloud float by. The leaves rustled softly in the warm spring breeze, birds sang wistfully to each other. It all felt unfamiliar. Everything she saw was new, every sound was a surprise, even the feeling of the soft ground beneath her was foreign.
She met that darkness twice, and it had devoured all her memories.
A beautiful song echoed around her. She stood up to try and find the source of the sweet melody. The orb dangled gently from her waist, and as the Shai girl looked at it, it glowed and sang a happy tune. The Shai girl was calmed, as if the warm spring breeze had wrapped itself around her. She skipped her first steps towards her new fate with glee.
◈ The Talented Shai
The light of Florin shone bright with curiosity. The young Shai who lost her memories traveled around the world to make new ones. From the lazy coasts of Velia to the sprawling expanse of Valencia, she traveled. Yet when she heard the name Florin, she felt an insatiable need to return there. She packed up her belongings, placed them on her trusty donkey companion, and set off towards the sleepy village of Florin.
As she neared the village, she took a turn up into the mountain side and stumbled upon a familiar cave. She didn’t understand why she was pulled to that place, but her natural curiosity pulled her in. Each step on the cold floor caused shivers to run up her spine. Then she came upon the lab once more. Memories flooded her mind as a darkness encompassed her. This time it seemed hungrier than before. The malice seemed insatiable, and the descent into darkness was filled with more dread than the Shai had ever experienced before.
Yet at that point where the darkness tried to consume her completely, a radiant light burst forth from the Shai again.The light seemed to stun the darkness, and the Shai, realizing her escape window was short, fled from the cave and ran straight to the nearby Florin.
She was confused, as those around her seemed to know who she was. They welcomed her back from her travels, but she could not remember ever being there before. It wasn’t until she bumped into Valentine that some of the memories began to come back to her.
“So you have returned, sweet child of light. And it seems you have had another run in with the darkness…”
The young Shai, who was almost torn apart by the darkness, felt comforted. Valentine, the chief of Florin, seemed to understand her situation. He sat her down, and explained that light and darkness are inseparable, that the brightest lights cause the darkest shadows. He talked at length about his experiences with the darkness, and how his light had helped him escape. They talked for a long time, and as the sun began to set over the valley he told her that he overcame that darkness after studying music with Artina. The young Shai immediately wanted to find the maestra, and rid herself of the nightmares.
The next morning she set off to find Artina. With haste she climbed mountains and explored forests until she heard beautiful melodies filling the air. The young Shai listened intently, the calming highs and lows of the tune capturing her attention, and before long, she was face to face with what would be her ill-tempered teacher.
“Who’s trying to distract me from my work again?”
Although they were almost polar opposites, Artina was captured by the innocence and enthusiasm the young Shai displayed, and the young Shai was captured by the beautiful melodies that Artina could pluck from thin air. Their lessons began awkwardly at first. The young Shai could not keep time, nor could she hold a tune. This was shaping up to be Artina’s most difficult task.
Yet slowly but surely the darkness in the young Shai’s heart began to fade, and the music began to fill her being. She learned rhythm, how to pull nature’s melodies from around her and amplify their natural beauty. More and more Artina taught her the healing properties of music. It could not cure cuts and bruises, yet it could help soothe a troubled mind and bring clarity in chaos.
When Artina had finished teaching her young protege, the young Shai had learned to play a myriad of instruments. She developed an affinity to the lute, the flute and the djembe. The Shai was content with her new abilities, but unlike her teacher, she wanted to play music to the masses and help ease the trouble of the people.
Leaving behind her teacher was hard, but the young Shai had discovered a new purpose. She left the area and began to search for the darkness in the world, and with her music-loving companions, could hopefully shine light on the good of the world.