“Dad, dad, what’s out there, beyond the sea?”
Little Elwin exclaimed excitedly, perched like a baby bird on his father’s shoulder.
Before the father and son lay the great ocean, whose waves danced and broke about on the bow of their sailing ship, the sea-mist painted golden-orange with the rays of the setting Sun.
Carl adjusted his spectacles and spoke.
“Incredible things.” He took a deep breath of the sea spray, savoring a symphony of flavors carried by the wind. Each fragrance of salt, seaweed, fish, and coral had a story to tell to those who could understand, and beckoned them to the great places that lay beyond.
Seeing his father, Elwin did the same. The scent of the sea was indeed wondrous, unlike the smell of burnt metal and charcoal that was often the trade of large cities.
“Can you feel the stories they’re trying to tell us?”
“Philosophers say the ocean is older than the earth, and has its own dreams and memories.”
“What kinds of dreams and memories?” asked Elwin.
“Memories of a time when we were not here, and great beasts and spirits roamed our world.”
“What about before those beasts and spirits?”
“A time further back still? Well, that’s what dad’s trying to find.”
Carl smiled, and raised his son into the air with his hands, for all the sea to take notice.
“Okay, ready to be on the falcon’s nest?”
Elwin responded enthusiastically. “Yeah! Let me up!”
His father Carl’s Element of choice was Ayu, or Air in the modern tongue, and he was an explorer by trade, and an experimental philosopher. Just like the Element which he used and defined him, and the FOUNDER that had made its Art, Carl was a man of ideals, always in search of something beyond frivolous thrill. To Elwin, his father seemed to be driven by a resolve greater than any in the world. Perhaps this is how everyone thinks of their dads when they’re little – a superhuman being, of superhuman strength, and superhuman ability – someone to aspire to. In many worlds such a view wouldn’t have amounted to anything beyond illusion, but in theirs it was real. At least for Elwin.
“Alright, hold tight!” Carl held his son close on the shoulder, and with careful movements of his hands and chants commanding the currents of air to his will, he propelled the pair up some ninety feet with powerful gusts of wind.
“Woohoo!” Elwin shouted, closing his eyes to feel the accelerating air against his face. It didn’t take more than a few seconds for them to reach the altitude of the falcon’s nest. Carl unfurled his cape and gently whispered to the air, letting it carry him to the wooden post.
“Wow, I can see everything from here!” exclaimed Elwin. He craned his head back towards his city and republic of birth – The Republic of Ascension – which was growing smaller. Even then, he could make out some thousands of ships and the bustling streets animated with light. The gleaming spires of marble, hammered into the hills and the mountains of this great port-city, were turning golden in the bloom of sunset.
“See those seagulls on the horizon out to the west?” Carl tapped his son’s knee.
“There must be something big and fishy for those seagulls to gather like that.”
“Fishy? Like, in suspicious or fish-y?”
“We can say both. I think this is where we will find the great catch of the week,” said Carl, adjusting his circle-rimmed spectacles. “Hold still.”
He set Elwin down onto a safe spot on the falcon’s nest. Elwin tiptoed to peer his head above the wooden railing, his tangerine, cream-colored hair fluttering in the wind.
“Ready to see it again?”
“Yeah!” exclaimed Elwin, eager to witness the Quan upon his father’s wrist, which would glow like a star in a short moment. Few people in the world ever got to have Quans, and even fewer who forged their own, as his father did. But above all, Elwin wanted to hear his father’s great spellsong again, which could do all sorts of incredible things.
“Alright, here we go.”
Carl stood tall, his left arm outstretched to his side, the disk of his emerald-colored Quan on his wrist beginning to hum. Elwin watched as his father closed his eyes and opened them again, upon them an expression of absolute focus.
“To the winds I speak, towards the Sun I sing.
To the bridge I bow, and to the stars I vow. Hear me thus, and ignite–
His words struck the world like clarion drum, and the Quan upon his wrist shone and spun to life. Radiant chartreuse light scattered from its center to the four winds, sizzling and vibrating the very air it touched. Elwin shielded his eyes, but peeked through his fingers as quickly as he could.
“AIOLOS, VIS ARTAIA, ASTRAE NUM SUILMARIA,
MELOS, SUR AEFENIAD! IANNAE INCANTAERA!”
Elwin saw his father’s voice pierce the clouds and stir the wind; all the world, including the rays of the evening Sun, seemed to ripple as the spellsong weaved its meaning into the air.
And then it came.
The breezes ran away from Elwin’s face; and before he could blink, the winds shot forth like a mighty gale behind him, so mighty that it sheared the very waves on which it rode and rattled the fastenings of the sails it filled. Elwin was knocked back towards the mast, but Carl was there to cushion him; father and son watched as the accelerating ship parted the heavy sea like knife to foam, propelled to its destiny by the force of a hurricane his father could command.
So this is the Art of Air, Elwin thought to himself. He never grew tired of watching his father perform its repertoire, which seemed limitless.
Everyone who was born in this world held some power to command the Elements of nature to their will. Although everyone could control all Four Elements to varying degrees – fire, water, earth, and air – most excelled at only one, the one they received from their divinity at their first coming of age, which they called Maht. But with practice, they could become equally adept at everything, and it was something to aspire to. Naturally, children couldn’t control any Element before this first rite into adulthood, which occurred around age 11, so it was still some 4 years off for Elwin.
“Dad, what do you think my Maht is going to be?” shouted Elwin over the rushing winds.
“Your First Element?”
“Yeah.” Elwin peered out into the great sea, pondering in deep thought.
“You like the sea, don’t you?”
“Mmhmm,” Elwin pondered. “So... water?”
“Yes, I think. It’s a great Element with unprecedented adaptability.”
He winked. “Just as you’ve shown.”
“But it’s not as awesome as air,” cooed Elwin. He wanted to do all the incredible stuff his father was able to do, like moving entire ships with nothing but the lyric of his songs and the will of his thoughts.
“Don’t underestimate water, Elwin. Water can do just as great things as air can, and more,” reassured Carl.
“When calm it is deep and unfathomable as the deepest ocean. When furious, it is able to sweep away everything in its path. It can raise great palisades of ice, melt glaciers off from ancient mountains, entomb entire cities in frost, and carve canyons across the continents.”
“But it doesn’t end there. It nourishes the crops we eat, and helps us cook. It also helps us do all manners of things imaginable that makes any chore or duties of life a breeze.”
“Like drying yourself instantly after coming out of a shower, instead of using a towel.”
Elwin laughed at the image playing in his head.
Carl continued. “While air is cool, it can’t do all those things.”
Elwin’s face lit up.
“So water can be even more awesome than air?”
“Absolutely. And look,” said Carl, as he drew out a thin strand of water from the vapor of the air.
“It can also do this.”
It was a sight to behold. A traveler from a world quite unlike would have considered it ‘magical’, perhaps! But in this world, the world of Aeternitas, the Elemental Arts were ubiquitous and all-encompassing, used for everything from mundane everyday purposes to feats that could rival those of mythologies in other worlds. To Carl, Elwin, and the peoples of this world, the Elemental Arts were something that could be tangibly grasped, studied, and improved.
“Are you thirsty?”
Elwin, wide-eyed, cupped his hands, and Carl dropped the rivulets of water to form a crystal-clear pool in Elwin’s hands.
The water was refreshing to drink.
“Who invented the Art of Water?” asked Elwin, curious. The person who invented it must have been a wondrous being.
“The FOUNDER named MANASURA, some ten-thousand and two-hundred years ago.”
“Is it a ‘he?’”
“How did he figure out how to control water?”
“People tell of many tales. But all of them share a common story – that an epiphany came to him when the land of his people was struck by an otherworldly drought.”
“What’s a ‘drought?’”
“It’s when there’s no rain for a long time because of strange weather, and people become very thirsty.”
“Oh,” said Elwin, sympathizing with the people in his head. How their parched throats must have burned!
“But then, the chieftain at the time – Manasura – came to the wondrous realization that water isn’t just in rain or in rivers and lakes. Water is all around us, in places we can’t see. Places where if we are observant, we could draw it out...”
“Like in clouds and plants and air?”
“Correct. And this inspiration helped Manasura draw water out of unlikely places to feed his people, and found civilization proper with crops they could grow for the very first time. With this feat, his people grew in number, and with their strength, he founded the first kingdom, becoming the first king of all.”
“That’s amazing!” shouted Elwin, slurping up the last of the water in his cupped hands.
“But how did he found ‘civilization’? What does ‘civilization’ mean?”
“Civilization means various things. But if dad could define it, it would be where human beings no longer had to be at the mercy of nature. Civilization is a place, a thing, where people could be unburdened from the dangers of the wild.”
“This meant gathering together in many numbers. Growing various crops and fishing at length, so that even if the hunts failed, people would have enough to eat and no one had to go hungry.”
Elwin felt warm. Manasura must have been someone who cared deeply about his people.
“FOUNDER MANASURA created the Art of Water from his ingenuity and will. With water, he carved out great canyons to irrigate the lands so that crops could grow under our hands, and not just in the mercy of the wild.”
“So without him we wouldn’t be around?”
“You can say that. But remember, each Element is important in its own right, and gave their contributions to make the world we know. We should respect all Elements.”
“What contributions did the other Elements make?”
“Fire, the first, gave us fire, cookery, and the ability to stand our ground against terrible monsters and spirits that meant us harm.”
“Then came water, which dad just explained.”
“Earth, the third, gave us the discovery of writing on clay tablets, allowing knowledge to be preserved. It also gave us the means to construction, metallurgy, and art itself.”
“Air, the fourth and the last, gave us medicine, music, and song.”
“Water was the second Element found?”
Elwin had so many questions. What were ‘clay-tablets’? How did air give us medicine and music? What sort of monsters and spirits did the ancient peoples have to fight that we no longer know about? He could go on and on, and knew that his father would answer him with all the patience and rigor like an experimental philosopher would. But his stomach growled with a loud complaint, and he was too hungry to ask those questions clearly.
“Promise to tell me all about them when we get back?”
“I promise,” said Carl.
By now the Sun had almost fully set on the horizon, and the clouds were painted lilacs and reds. They were almost there; the seagulls circling overhead were very close, and the city they left behind was obscured beyond the horizon.
And there, Elwin saw it. A pack of fast-moving blue fish were breaking the waves every now and then to hunt the school of flying fish that had dived among their midst.
“Marlins,” Carl said, “looks like we will get a magnificent catch to bring back home to mom and Andre. Let’s get down to the deck.”
Elwin held his father’s back as he dived from the falcon’s nest in freefall, and the ground drew close. With a quick gesture of his arms, the currents slowed their descent, and both of them landed gently upon the wooden deck. Carl commanded the remainder of the gale, which had quietened to a whisper, to help glide the ship through the water and circle the school of fish as stealthily as it could afford.
The feeding was accelerating now, and the surface of the ocean was dyed with violet foam as the fish jumped, kicked, and clashed with one another, cooking up a chaos in Elwin’s ears. The marlins seemed not to take notice of the craft gliding around them amidst their feeding frenzy, or at least, not yet.
“Oh? Very curious indeed.”
“Is something wrong?” said Elwin, looking up.
“Not at all. It’s just that dad hasn’t seen this many marlins gathered in one place. It is rare to find more than a pair, as you know. Perhaps this could mean...” Carl surmised, brief panes of light reflecting off of his circle-rimmed spectacles.
“What is it?”
“Depending on how this goes, our hunt will either be easy, or we will have the adventure of a lifetime.”
“You’ll see. For now, we’ll do just as we practiced. Are you ready?”
“Yeah!” Elwin exclaimed, high-fiving his father.
“Then let our HUNT BEGIN!”