Spirits of the Broken Lands

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Kevin Wabaunsee’s fiction has previously been published by Strange Horizons, PseudoPod, and Escape Pod, where he is also an associate editor. He is the managing editor for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop. He is a Prairie Band Potawatomi. 
Content Warning(s):
Classism, Racism and/or racial slurs, Violence

Shoppers at the Thersian Grand Market jostled to haggle over tanned eelskin baubles labeled as Shawdese good luck charms, unaware that actual Shawdese neither made nor used such objects. The only regular Shawdese presence in the Thersian Grand Market was the crematorium ash that made up most of the hard-packed earth under those very shoppers’ feet. That, and the occasional traveler from the Southern Wastes.

On a sun-drenched morning, one of those rare travelers, Gwisen Oxendine, spread a similarly counterfeit Shawdese prayer rug in the dirt next to the mossy stone walls of the market and set out a donation jar. He wrapped thin leather straps up and down his forearms, which, like his eelskin pants, were painted with crude parodies of Shawdese spirit-lines. While his red curls and deep ochre complexion marked him as a full-blood Shawdese, all of his clothes and props were cheap imitations.

Gwisen pulled out his jewel-beetle flute and improvised a slow and mournful tune. A few marketgoers drifted over to watch. A few slivers fell into his jar. Like a proper noble savage, Gwisen bowed and scraped at each passerby who dropped coins into the jar. But coins could never erase the knotty ropes of scar tissue written across his back. Nothing would bring back his sisters, dragged screaming from their home by Thersian irregulars. Coaxing donations from gullible Thersians was his only meager rebellion.

No time to waste; Gwisen had been watching this corner of the market for weeks and knew he only had an hour before the Shades made their patrols. He didn’t want to be anywhere nearby when they arrived. As he played, Gwisen spotted a lean, tall man dressed in an authentic shade-leopard cloak. Good to keep an eye on that one. A lucrative mark.

As he played, Gwisen could almost hear the clucking tones and see the look of disapproval his mothers would give at the sight of the gaudy prayer rugs and fringed eel pants. They bore no resemblance to the textiles his family labored for months to create back in the southern wastes. Still, the Shawdese from Thersian histories and children’s stories all wore eelskin and sat on brightly colored rugs. So Gwisen gave them what they expected.

Once a small crowd had gathered, Gwisen brought his meaningless tune to a close. He surveyed the crowd, making sure to make quick eye contact with the tall man in the expensive cloak.

“Honored Thersians! Lords and ladies!” Gwisen called out, pronouncing every consonant and vowel with care as if the Thersian language was strange and unfamiliar to him. In reality, the covenant school he’d been kidnapped and sent to as a child had beaten Thersian into him until it was more familiar than his mother tongue.

“I have traveled across the wastelands to share stories of magics whispered in the ears of my mothers and their mothers. Come, hear of my people’s spiritual connection with the land. See as—”

“I thought Thersia wiped out all of the dirt-eaters!” came a drunken shout from the back of the crowd. “Are you sure you aren’t just a ghost? Like all the other sad, dead dirt-eaters?”

Gwisen gave his most placid and beatific smile. He dipped his head toward the heckler, as though he hadn’t fully understood the mockery. “Your concern for the welfare of the Shawdese tribes is much appreciated, honored sir. Truly, your lordship is too kind.”

At that, even more laughter. The status-obsessed Thersians laughed at Gwisen, for his naïveté, but even more so at the drunken fool who’d been shamed by Gwisen’s honorific. The rich man in the back remained unmoved.

“I am no ghost!” he said, falling back into the rhythm. “The Thersian Empire came across the boiling seas to claim this land and so many of my ancestors sadly fell to unfamiliar diseases. Those remaining ancient Shawdese wisely yielded to the superiority of Thersian magic! We made a gift of these lands. With the benevolence of the Thersian crown, we are allowed to persist in our new homelands in the southern wilds.”

Gwisen maintained his routine, the primitive granting forgiveness with every sweet lie to the colonizers. It felt like ashes in his mouth.

Gwisen suppressed a shudder, remembering his family’s tales of what really happened. The immolation camps. Crematorium ash clouds blotting out the sun with the corpses of his people. Thersian slave markets, stinking of piss and shit and decaying corpses. Cages filled with Shawdese he couldn’t rescue.

He could never speak of those things here, not among the Thersians. Cityfolk wouldn’t throw moons or slivers into the donation jar unless they were being flattered. So Gwisen kept the truth to himself and gave them what they wanted.

“But the Shawdese have some small magic of our own. To us, all things—the earth, the sky, the stones—are alive.” A few gasps and whispers. Thersia worshipped empiricism and the scientific investigation of magical phenomena. Animism was the closest thing the empire had to heresy.

“I’d like to share with you a bit of Shawdese magic. Would you like to see the spirits of the land given form?”

The grand market was filled with counterfeit Shawdese prayer rugs and birthing shawls: of course, they wanted to see Gwisen’s demonstration. Still, he waited for that first hesitant clap, which was followed by another, and finally, peals of applause and encouraging whistles. Gwisen even saw the rich man clapping demurely, his long-sleeved spider-silk shirt flowing lightly under his cloak. A mark worth watching, indeed.

Gwisen swept forward across the prayer rug. With a flourish, he knelt and plunged both hands into the dirt. “Thersia may have forgotten the spirits, but the spirits remember us: our passions and our joy.”  And our pain, Gwisen thought but dared not say, even if Thersian folk found it so much more convenient to forget. “Even the city spirits whisper if you know how to listen.”

Gwisen pulled up a double-fistful of dirt and dropped it onto the middle of the pristine prayer rug. A gasp from the crowd. Prissy Thersian city folk.

Gwisen walked a fine line. A bowing and scraping Shawdese was fine, but one who thought too much of himself or showed a hint of too much power? That could turn a crowd ugly.

He closed his eyes and listened. The whispers of the spirits drifted into his consciousness, not through a hearing beyond hearing, like the twinkling of sand skittering across a dune on a windy day. Gwisen whispered an invitation into his silent words, a bargain to be struck. Spirits hungered for the energy of human emotion. Gwisen offered up a tiny sliver of his wit. He did not, however, offer even a speck of his anger. That was his alone, and far too dangerous to bargain with, here among the colonizers.

The tiny spirit accepted his terms. Gwisen’s eyes snapped open. He took a sip of wine from the waterskin at his hip, knelt and pressed a thumbprint into the pile of dirt, then spat a mouthful of wine into the depression.

Gwisen smiled, waved his hands in wild and looping gestures, accompanied by a lilting tune, sung without words. Utterly meaningless, but exactly what a Thersian wanted from a Shawdese savage.

Gwisen exhaled a single syllable, his breath embroidered with the terms of the spirit’s bargain. Gwisen felt the spirit step sideways into the physical world and slip into the mound of mud and wine like a hand into a glove.

The dirt shifted back and forth, and with no hand touching it, smoothed itself into a featureless sphere. The Thersians’ skeptical laughter gave way to a confused silence. The rich man in particular was rapt, his eyes wide and fixed on the movements of the ball of dirt.

Out of the mound of dirt, as if waking from a deep sleep, the spirit—just two hands tall—stretched and clambered onto two shaky feet. Lifeless dirt had become a tiny homunculus. The spirit took one unsteady step across the prayer rug—now pristine and free of dirt or stain. Then, it gave an exaggerated bow and leapt into a somersault across the prayer rug.

The Thersians burst into applause.

“Though they may not speak to Thersia any longer, the spirits still live, moving through the air and the earth and the plants and animals that sustain you.”

With nothing more than pantomime and tumbling, the spirit worked the crowd with far more aplomb than Gwisen could have ever managed. The rich man didn’t laugh, but watched with obsessive interest, his eyes never leaving the movements of the little spirit.

A tinkle of coins fell into Gwisen’s donation jar. At first just slivers, but then, as the crowd grew, crescents and a few half-moons, and even the dull thud of a gibbous.

Then a drumbeat of heavy footfalls shattered the carnival atmosphere.

The laughter stopped, replaced with sharp intakes of breath, and a sudden hushed silence from the marketgoers. For an agonizing moment, Gwisen couldn’t believe what was happening. The Thersian police—the Shades—had arrived. At least half an hour early. They shouldn’t have been anywhere nearby, but the heavy footfalls and belligerent shouts didn’t lie.

The Shades wore outfits stained in black and gray and spread like an inkblot of violence through the crowd, swinging cudgels and fists alike. Quickly, Gwisen closed his eyes and whispered the word of release, closing his bargain with the spirit, evicting it from the mud-and-wine body, and settling the remainder of his debt. He felt a wrenching tug as a tiny piece of his deepest self was torn away.

Distracted, Gwisen didn’t see the Shade’s cudgel swing down and slam into his temple. Just a flash of pain and the impact. Gwisen cried out. He stumbled and fell to the ground, dazed. The Shades kicked over his counterfeit rug and ground it into the dirt. His jewel-beetle flute was crushed under a heavy bootheel. His hard-won audience was beaten and dispersed with the butts of the Shades’ cudgels.

One Shade stepped onto the rug, smashed Gwisen’s donation jar, and picked all of the slivers and moons out of the pile of broken pottery, shoving the currency into his pockets.

Then, with the crowd scattered, the Shades merely walked away. They hadn’t said anything, hadn’t even tried to deliver a message. They didn’t need to. This was Thersia, and he was Shawdese. The message was clear enough, the same one he’d been taught from his earliest days: this isn’t your place, you aren’t welcome here any longer. This all belongs to us now.

Gwisen clambered to his feet and began to gather up what little could be salvaged. Not a single coin had been left. His flute lay in a hundred pieces and the counterfeit rug was torn, mud and dirt ground into every stitch. Most valuable, his hard-won audience was long gone.

Until soft footsteps announced one straggler. Gwisen looked up and saw the tall man—the rich man wearing a fortune on his back and in his voluminous sleeves, who had watched Gwisen’s performance with such rapt attention. Perhaps this day wouldn’t be a complete failure, after all. If Gwisen could wheedle an invitation to this man’s home, to ply him with tales of Shawdese nobility, he might be able to convince him to part ways with—

“I have a proposal for you,” the man said with no introduction or preamble.

“Sir?” Gwisen said, keeping his gaze lowered before the noble.

“You will accompany me to my home where we will discuss the Shawdese and your performance. You shall be compensated for your time.”

Gwisen blinked. With a mark like this, he would normally have to speak in circles and spirals, hinting at the possibility until the unsuspecting noble was convinced they’d come up with the idea themselves. This rich fellow seemed more than happy to follow the script without Gwisen’s intervention. Perhaps his luck was changing.

“Yes. Yes, sir, that would be just fine.”

§

Gwisen rested on a chaise longue upholstered in rich purple velvet. The cavernous room he’d been taken to defied easy description. It wasn’t a library, even though the walls were filled with books. The huge tables covered with blown-glass tubes and distillation flasks suggested a laboratory. The corner, however, with its tiled floors and drains set into the floor beneath a hammered bronze autopsy table, suggested a darker purpose.

“You were quite lucky, young man,” the rich man said as he swept into the room carrying a glass of wine. He closed and latched the door behind him, slipping a key into the pocket of the cloud-leather housecoat he now wore. This man’s clothes alone could pay for every treasure and bobble in the entire Grand Market. He spoke with the elongated vowels and hint of a lisp that marked the accent of Thersian aristocrats.

“Is that so, sir?” Gwisen said, keeping his voice and gaze low, still using the faux-savage accent from his performance, that of a simple traveler from Shawdese lands.

The rich man nodded, taking a sip of the wine, the seven thick braids of his hair tinkling quietly with the precious metals woven into them. Even a passing trifle from a person like this could alter Gwisen’s fate forever.

But an ant does not cheat a lizard so easily, Gwisen thought. Nor the boot of the man who could squash the ant so easily and without a second’s thought.

“Quite lucky,” the rich man answered. “The Shades are not always so merciful with beggars and street performers.

This aristocrat’s keen gaze reminded Gwisen of market-day shoppers, hungry for a certain bauble, their eyes flitting at any approach, refusing to allow other marketgoers to scoop up their chosen treasure. This man wanted something, and he was worried he wouldn’t get it.

“I suppose I am lucky. But the show’s over now, my lord,” Gwisen said, “And I thank you for your hospitality, though I am not sure if I have much to offer to a man such as yourself.”

“I don’t think that’s true at all,” the nobleman said, a hint of amusement creeping into his voice. “I think you have quite a lot to offer me.”

Gwisen’s eyes narrowed. The nobleman was playing, and it wasn’t at all clear what game had been engaged.

Gwisen nodded, slowly. “My lord would like to learn more about the customs of my people? A blessing from the mother of earth and soil, perhaps?”

The nobleman’s face remained impassive until Gwisen trailed off. Then, his lips curled into a cruel smile and Gwisen knew that he’d miscalculated. “Let’s start again. And this time, none of your huckster’s tricks. Drop the accent. You’re a magician. So am I, and I want to speak plainly, one practitioner to another.”

Ah. An amateur magician. Here was his opening. This rich man was a different sort of hobbyist than the bauble-collectors at the Grand Market, but still a worthwhile mark. When Gwisen spoke again, it was plainly, without the affected accent or the tortured pronunciations. “Understood. Introductions, then? My name is Gwisen Oxendine.”

The barest hint of a nod was all the approval the nobleman had to offer. “Much better. My name is Aldeen Dinsmere. I don’t imagine that name means much to you, but I’m sure that you can infer from your surroundings what sort of influence I wield in the empire.”

Gwisen nodded, slowly, hoping that acknowledging the obvious wouldn’t provoke some offense.

“Then you must understand that material wealth, all of this gold and frippery, the buildings and the lands, they matter very little.”

Gwisen’s surprise led him to speak without thinking. “Perhaps it is easier for one who has everything to say that such things matter nothing than for those who’ve lost everything,” Gwisen said. He regretted it as soon as the words were past his lips.

But Dinsmere didn’t seem to mind the gibe. Instead, he nodded thoughtfully. “Indeed. My passion is to seek after knowledge. But of a specific vintage—a precious and rare variety—knowledge of the magical arts.”

Apparently feeling more at ease, Dinsmere shrugged out of his housecoat, revealing the sleeveless tunic he wore underneath and his bare arms. A shock like ice through his veins hit Gwisen as he took in the nobleman’s appearance. A spiderweb of gold and silver lines were embossed into Dinsmere’s skin, covering nearly every inch of his arms in looping, alchemical patterns.

This was no mere noble. Those rarest of tattoos, laced with precious metals and coursing with magical power, meant only one thing: Dinsmere was an Empiricist.

Gwisen shuddered; his own scars blooming with pain at the memory of the fire and lightning that had burned him during his tortures. Gwisen had never seen an Empiricist face-to-face, but every violation he’d endured, every mass grave he’d seen, and every Thersian slave-market were designed and directed by an Empiricist’s will. The Empiricists were the magician-lords who ruled the Thersian Empire’s bloody reign from the shadows.

Worse, Gwisen understood that it was no accident that had brought him here. A Thersian Empiricist would scarcely need to lift a finger to summon a brigade of Shades to roust a Shawdese street performer. Dinsmere had engineered this meeting, and Gwisen wasn’t a guest—he was a prisoner.

His heart raced with senseless panic. He’d made a terrible mistake. He had to get out, get away, run, and never stop running. He glanced around the room in mute panic. The single door into this room was closed and latched. No escape. This monster, one of the architects of the Shawdese genocide, had enough magical power coursing through him to burn Gwisen to cinders. And he would certainly not be deceived by Gwisen’s lies.

His only chance to get away would be to convince Dinsmere that he was too insignificant to harm and utterly without value. “I’m not sure—” Gwisen ventured carefully, haltingly, before trailing off. “I’m not sure what knowledge I could offer. My magics are merely a trifle—I’ve never studied nor been taught.”

Dinsmere’s smile was broad. “On the contrary. I saw the precision you wielded in moving that little manakin. I’m not too proud to admit that that level of dexterous movements of a telekinetic hand are beyond even my own powers. I must know the technique. Even a puppeteer with a score of joints and strings couldn’t make a doll dance with such convincing movements.”

Gwisen frowned, feeling confused even as he panicked. This Empiricist seemed to think that the spirit he’d animated in the Grand Market was a trick. Ironic, since that whisper of magic was the only authentic thing he’d demonstrated for the crowd.

“My lord,” Gwisen said, his heart thudding in his chest, trying not to remember the tales of Empiricists passed down by five generations of Shawdese, the torture they had suffered in the name of knowledge. “I am flattered by your attention, but I must plead ignorance. I do not—I could not—make an inanimate object move in the way you describe.”

Dinsmere scoffed. “Then how do you claim it moved? Not by itself.”

“Forgive me, my lord. Not by itself. But not by my manipulations, either. I merely enlisted the assistance of a spirit who was willing to barter a few minutes of animation in exchange for—”

“Enough!” Dinsmere roared. “I’ll hear no more of this nonsense. I brought you here out of the goodness of my heart. The Shades would have treated you much worse, I assure you. And you repay my benevolence with more of this trickster’s flim-flam? Come clean now, or I assure you, I’ll share the full weight of an Empiricists’ investigation.”

Gwisen shrunk back, an involuntary shudder making his voice tremble. “My lord, I wish I had a different answer for you, but I simply do not. My people can hear the whispers of the spirits. And with the right bargain engraved upon our words, a spirit may consent to do some minor service, for the spirits are always hungry for—”

Dinsmere waved his hand in an irritated gesture while Gwisen was talking, cutting him off mid-sentence, and raised his hands sharply. “This is magic. Only the peasants scraping in the dirt still think magic is the realm of gods or monsters.”

Dinsmere then drew a complex shape with the tips of his fingers. His movements trailed a line of fire that hung in the air. “It’s energy, a force that surrounds us. And with the right training, with the correct influence, that energy can be manipulated, shaped, and redirected.”

An intricate alchemical symbol inked in flames hung suspended in the air between them. Then, Dinsmere muttered a series of incantations, and the flaming sigil was consumed by flickering green light and was snuffed out.

“Now, Shawdese, stop lying to me. You aren’t my equal. You aren’t worth more than what you can teach me. You’re a remnant, chaff from the empire’s harvest. Your people are only allowed to exist by my people’s leave and consent. You belong to us. So, show some respect and answer my questions, you pitiful savage.”

Anger like a grip of stone seized Gwisen’s chest. His heart thudded with frustration. Every muscle in his body tensed with the effort of not showing his anger. The Thersians had taken everything. The land they stood on was soaked with the blood of Gwisen’s people, countless Shawdese families burned, their ashes blown all across the birthplace of their ancestors. The Thersians had denied Gwisen his own history, outlawed his language, and their residential schools had scarred his childhood. And they still weren’t done. They’d never be done.

But even knowing that, Gwisen didn’t let that anger show. He dipped his head low, closed his eyes in a gesture of supplication he hadn’t used since he’d escaped from the Thersian boarding school years ago. “A thousand pardons, lord. Perhaps my lord would prefer another demonstration with the benefit of his tools and equipment to better observe the process?”

Dinsmere looked skeptical, but that hungry look crept back across his face. “Yes. Yes, that will do just fine.”

Gwisen nodded, and Dinsmere led him to an empty steel table. “What supplies do you need? Dirt, wine?”

Gwisen shook his head. “No, those materials would be of little use here. Here, I think a pen, some paper, and a small bottle of ink would suffice.”

Dinsmere produced all three from a drawer, and one by one, handed them to Gwisen. “The paper is Vrinthian cotton-weave. The ink is imported from our holdings in Meltenios—a rich blue-black with flecks of copper to shimmer upon the finest papers. The pen is a from a block of wood reclaimed from an ancient Thersian shipwreck and topped with a solid gold nib.”

Gwisen nodded. The stationary he was about to destroy would have purchased the freedom of a score of his ancestors. He shredded eleven sheets of the paper into a pile of fine confetti on the table. He seized the pen by the nib and yanked it out of the body, spilling ink onto his hands and the table alike. Dinsmere sucked in a sharp breath and gave a look of disgust. He knew enough not to interrupt a practitioner mid-stream, however. Gwisen buried the gold nib among the shredded paper.

Then he unstopped the ink bottle and dumped its contents over the pile of paper. He slammed the empty glass bottle against the table and sprinkled the broken shards over the ink-soaked paper. Finally, he closed his eyes and listened for the spirits of this strange place.

Instead of a whisper, Gwisen heard a cacophony. Spirits everywhere, so many of them Shawdese, but also from Vrinth and Meltenios and other places he had no name for. They battered his perceptions, screaming with rage. Gwisen had never seen, never felt anything like this before. The sheer frustration and rage swirling around this place surged like a raging sea, unthinkable fathoms deep. A stiff wind began to swirl around him.

Gwisen had barely thought of his desperate and reckless offer when he was battered by spirits clamoring to take him up on the bargain. Gwisen offered his rage, his pain and anger, and his desperate hope for retribution. More than he’d ever offered before, so much that he didn’t know what would be left of him afterward.

“How are you doing this?” Dinsmere called from behind Gwisen. “Such a swell of energy. Explain it to me, Shawdese! Are you drawing ambient magic from the environment? Do you understand what you’re doing?”

Gwisen ignored Dinsmere’s prattle and focused on one voice thundering above the din. The spirit bore the shape and texture of a Shawdese spirit, similar to one of the ancestral guardians that had once watched over and protected his people. But this ancient behemoth was like nothing he knew existed—no stories told of anything like this. Then again, so many stories had been lost when the Shawdese were forced from their lands. Wind battered Gwisen’s face, but he held fast.

Gwisen chose the ancient guardian and dismissed the others. The bargain was struck.

“How?” Dinsmere shouted above the winds that had suddenly engulfed the room. “Such forces! This shouldn’t be possible. Tell me, Shawdese, how do you do it? “

Gwisen’s eyes snapped open. His rage and frustration kindled themselves within him. Some of his earliest memories were lessons his mothers had taught with a fire-sap switch—always remain deferential to Thersians. Never show emotion, never provoke them, and in doing so, risk no retribution. The smell of ash and lightning filled his nostrils. He couldn’t do it any longer.

“I don’t owe you anything,” Gwisen said, his voice clear and filled with all the anger he’d never allowed himself to express. Now, it flowed through him, and he wove it into his breath. He exhaled, and the spirit awoke.

The wind spun and swirled and gained speed, and whipped the pile of ink-soaked paper and broken glass into a dust-devil with a roughly human shape, as tall as Gwisen himself. Lightning flickered under its paper skin and when it moved, the sound of glass shards grinding filled the room. It took a step toward Dinsmere, and the empiricist backpedaled.

“How? Tell me, Shawdese, how do you do it?”

Gwisen shrugged. “It’s beyond your grasp.”

The spirit seemed to draw in breath and the winds whipping around the room gathered speed. Now, everything in the room shuddered. Books flew off their shelves, only to be torn into ragged chunks by the razor winds. The delicate assembly of blown glass vials and tubes shattered and the dust and broken pieces were whipped aloft.

The debris spun around the room and like a drain emptying, were drawn into the spirit, adding to its bulk. In a span of seconds, the spirit grew to gargantuan size, its featureless head brushing against the rafters twenty feet above.

Dinsmere began waving his arms in complicated gestures, shouting words that were lost in the wind. Flashes of light and energy flared from his fingertips and were snuffed out on the skin of the guardian spirit.

Gwisen watched but did not intervene. There would be so little of himself left after this smoldering rage—perhaps nothing at all. He’d offered up his hate, and the thirst for revenge he’d refused to admit, even to himself. It had all flowed into the spirit.

The spirit smashed walls and bookshelves and the debris accumulated within it, fueling it and growing its bulk. 

“Make it cease. Dismiss it,” Dinsmere called out over the roaring winds.

Gwisen felt no desire to stop it, even if such a thing were possible. There was nothing in his people’s legends about this. As the spirit reduced the room’s contents to splinters, he wondered what else the Empiricists had eradicated from the Shawdese’s collective memory. What else had been hidden from them? Perhaps after generations, the Empiricists had themselves forgotten. Perhaps they now believed their own lies about the dirt-eating savages, forgetting what dangers lurked beneath the surface.

“Please!” Dinsmere screamed as the winds buffeted him, as hunks of wood and shards of glass cut his skin. “I can pay you. I can give you whatever you want! Make it stop!”

“I don’t want anything you have to give,” Gwisen said, and they were the truest words he’d ever spoken.

Gwisen closed his eyes, and he felt the sting of the whips and the beatings he’d endured over the years. He saw the faces of starving Shawdese children, of a line of displaced families stretching to the horizon. He smelled the acrid stench of branding irons pressed to flesh. He wove his story, and the story of his people, into his breath. He exhaled, and gave even more to the spirit: the pain, the anger and the memories, but especially the hope and determination to survive. And then he set it free. 

As the room crumbled, as the guardian spirit fed upon the empty Thersian words and stolen artifacts and built a vast and terrible skin for itself, Gwisen smiled. He’d come back to Thersian lands to swindle a bit of the empire’s coin to send back to his people, and in his darker moments, he’d wondered if Thersia was more of a home to him than with his mothers in the southern wastes. But now, he understood.

He had seen both sides of the world, he had been branded with both the stories of his people and the indoctrination of the empire. Gwisen stood at those crossroads, finally able to unleash this whirlwind. Rippled with lightning and fire, the guardian spirit began pulling down the stone walls of the Empiricist’s stronghold, and in the destruction, Gwisen saw hope.

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© Kevin Wabaunsee

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