The morning light in Ashe's bedroom.

The morning light in Ashe’s bedroom.

The soft light of the early morning sun filtered through the thin, white curtains of Ashe’s bedroom. It was only just dawn, but the mirror-flowers growing along the walkways outside reflected rainbows of light into the apartment. Ashe remembered, as she did every morning, that she had planned to buy a pair of darker curtains to block out the sun, but somehow she always forgot by the time she had gotten out of bed. This was the hazard of being neighbors with a botany enthusiast.

After rolling around for a bit, hiding under the blankets, and thinking about her dreams from the night before, Ashe sat up, slid on a pair of bright blue slippers, and got out of bed. Grabbing an assortment of clothes from the nearby closet, she headed to the bathroom and tapped the small, slightly crooked, hand-inked square on the plain, white wall. As she did so, a few of the tiles on the ceiling began to glow, illuminating the room.

Runic Circuitry

The world of Ennaeth is built of magic. Although the people of this world are not spellcasters themselves, they have found ways to use the energy contained in the landscape around them to bring great innovations and “technology” to everyday life. This is done primarily through the four core magical arts: Alchemy, Focus Scripting, Aura Scripting, and Summoning.

An individual’s home makes use primarily of Focus and Aura Scripting. Scripting is the process of taking magically-imbued inks and writing long strings of text with them, like the lines of a circuit, originating from an activation box. Whenever the activation box is touched, the effects of the magic begin to take place.

A focus’s effect is immediate and instantaneous, pointed in a specific direction and resulting in a permanent change. An aura’s effect is timed such that it ends after a certain amount of time. When the aura turns off, the effects stop, making them temporary.

In your average household, activation boxes will power everything from the water and plumbing to the lights, oven, stove top, elevators, and much more. In more elaborate workspaces, an individual may be faced with hundreds of these hand-drawn boxes, each with a unique effect.

After taking a shower, brushing her hair and teeth, and changing into a white tunic with bright aqua stitchwork and matching leggings, she was finally ready for the day. Ashe stepped out of the bathroom to find herself face to face with a ghostly blue fox. The little creature, made of smoke, yipped and bounced, hopping up and down and running in circles. The fox, called Whisper, was Ashe’s familiar – a small magical being that is summoned from enchanted smokes and serves as an individual’s companion, helping them in their day-to-day life.

Although Whisper was incorporeal, it was perfectly good at its job – which was to help Ashe notice things. Whisper would watch as Ashe worked on her inkmaking and give her a little bit of a nudge if she was about to forget something. Little Whisper was always on the look-out, and Ashe was thankful for it.

Ashe followed the fox into the second room of the tiny, three-room loft: the day room. Most lofts for single young adults in a big city like this were only three rooms: an open kitchen/living room for working, socializing, and spending the day, a tiny bedroom, and a bathroom. The rent in a place like this was inexpensive, and it was well-maintained, being in need of very few repairs. It was perfect for a new apprentice who had just finished trade school.

Ashe touched the hand-drawn box on the side of the stove to light the fire and set an iron pot on the burner. While waiting for the water to boil so she could make some tea and oatmeal, she went over to the large glass panel on the far wall of the room, which was much like a mirror or window, but did not look out at anything but the wall behind it.

After activating the panel, a number input appeared in the glass. Today was a good day and Ashe had earned a few extra credits at work yesterday, so she decided that she would treat herself and tune in to a one-way link. Tapping in the 7-digit code for her favorite public window, a ripple of lights bounced across the glass before the image settled on a beach-side concert.

Magic Mirrors

Although letter-writing is still the core method of long-distance communication as it is free of charge, those who are lucky enough to have a magic window can pay one credit to link their window to any other window in the kingdom.

When two windows have linked, it is almost as if you are looking and listening straight through the glass to that other place. The broadcast is live and vivid, making it an incredible way for individuals to see new places and events, attend meetings, and reconnect with friends and family without having to travel.

Windows can be linked up both one-way and two-way. A one-way link is where you can see the target window through yours, but the target window does not see you. This turns out to be much like a livestream. A two-way is where both you and the target can see each other.

Every window has a 7-digit code that is used to tune in to it, and all requests to tune in to a window must be accepted by the receiving party. That is, with the exception of public links, which are always one-way and always open for anyone to tune in to.

This method of linking through windows has a vast number of potential uses in everyday life. It can be used for anything from family chatter and security watch-keeping to council meetings, the presentation of media and much, much more.

The slow and flowing sounds of the string instruments echoed through the loft, almost as if the glass pane were a window that really did look out onto the beach. Now pleasantly accompanied by music, Ashe took the opportunity to sweep the white tile floors, water the houseplants, and eat her breakfast.

When she had finished with her household chores, she took a bit of time to read before turning off the link, grabbing her backpack, and heading out to work.

Ashe's kitchen and living room.

Ashe’s kitchen and living room.

It was a sunny day made even brighter by the white stone that the city of Summering had been built of. Because the area was touched by Sun and Flora, the skies were almost always clear. Prisms built into the winding stone walls and towers reflected multicolored lights across the pavement, and the bright, reflective bushes that lined the walkways glowed with the late morning sun. Glimmer roses, tiny flowers that appeared to be coated in glitter, grew like pests between the cracks in the sidewalks and, no matter how hard they were stomped upon and how faithfully they were plucked, they never seemed to truly go away.

The City of Summering was built in a bit of a twisting and vertical manner. Lofts and businesses with curving stone walkways were connected with similar buildings above and below via square, flat elevators. Hovering stone platforms carried crates full of goods from the monorail stations to the marketplaces and businesses across town.

Ashe’s walk to work was relatively long, but she didn’t mind. She could pay a tenth of a credit to take the intercity rail, but it would only save her a few minutes and she liked to walk past the grand open windows of the flowershops and candy stores.

As she passed a little bookshop, she stepped in and asked to buy the day’s newspaper. The old man running the shop smiled, a ghostly dove on his shoulder, and asked if Ashe would like to pay in runic or paper. She prefered to pay in cash for small things like this, with the exception of the monorail, where paying in runic was always faster.

Credits and the Monetary System

The unit of money in Ennaeth is Credits (“c”). Individuals can pay in cash, which they can get through their bank, or in runic, which is a small ceramic disc and works like a debit card. An individual’s “credit disc” is configured such that it will only work for the owner, meaning that it is not only more secure, but also tends to be faster.

That said, people still often pay in paper for little things, especially when traveling. Businesses in villages where there might not be a local bank often tend not to accept runic payments as it is a huge hassle for them to take the monorail to the city for their money.

Ashe took a few minutes to scan the headlines of the newspaper. The crown princess, Caroline of Ebb, would be turning 23 tomorrow, and storms in the city of Amberhold continued to wreak havoc. Ashe had nearly moved to Amberhold, and it’s a good thing she didn’t. The city, which had previously been touched by Earth and Growth, was crumbling as Sky began to move in, tearing down the towers and lifting entire blocks of houses up into the air. It was utter chaos, and Ashe only hoped that the people there would be okay.

They would, of course, be okay. It was not unusual for the aspects to shift and move and, despite it all, the people of Ennaeth always moved on.

The streets outside Kelling's Magic Emporium.

The streets outside Kelling’s Magic Emporium.

When Ashe arrived at work, she was greeted by the familiar storefront and sign: Kelling’s Magic Emporium. The Emporium offered all magical services and employed nearly 50 different specialists. Ashe was employed in the Inks Department as an apprentice to Inkmaster Emma Mackay. In total, there were 6 people in the Inks Department: the inkmaster, two inkmakers, and their three apprentices.

Ashe made her way through the shelves of tonics to the inkmaking room, where the walls were lined with shelves of ingredients and the counters full of inks, boiling and cooking away. It is said that Inkmaking is the most important of magical services, despite it not being included in the technical list of core magical arts. The quality of the ink and its ingredients are what determine the quality that a scribe can achieve when scripting focuses and auras. That’s nothing to scoff at, and most inkmakers were just the slightest bit bitter about their lack of appreciation.

Ashe set her pack down on the bench in the corner of the room and started to put on her apron when her supervisor called out to her.

Inkmaster Emma explained that Kelling’s was honored to be receiving an order from the Duke of Summering himself: a present to bring to Crown Princess Caroline’s birthday ball tomorrow night. He was a bit last minute, but he wanted something special, something custom. And what he requested, well, they didn’t have the ingredients for it in stock. After paying for a two-way with every greenhouse in town, it became very clear that there were no evergreen orbs in Summering.

The inkmaking room at Kelling's.

The inkmaking room at Kelling’s.

It seemed that Ashe would not be able to work on her projects today. This was an important job, and someone needed to go to Gardenhome to pick up the rare evergreen orbs. Her supervisor handed her four hundred credits in paper and a business card with the address of the greenhouse she would be headed to. Gardenhome was a three hour monorail ride in each direction, so the sooner she left, the better.

Scurrying off with Whisper trailing behind her, Ashe made her way to the nearest intercity rail station, which was half a mile from Kelling’s. Getting out her credit disc, she touched it to the scanner as she entered the station. Taking the intercity only cost a tenth of a credit, no matter how far you went, but the cross-city monorail would be quite a bit more expensive.

Ashe made her way to platform three at the intercity station and waited for the eastbound rail that would take her to the central station, where she could catch the cross-city to Gardenhome. The platforms were crowded with people headed in every direction, going to work and to school, for a bit of shopping in the market or even to visit their families. Nearly 1.5 million people lived in Summering, which was no insignificant number. The warm climate, sunshine-y days, and general tranquility made it an extremely popular living and vacation destination.

When the monorail arrived, Ashe boarded and found a seat by the window to sit in. As the railcar moved, Whisper stood up on its hind legs to peer out and watch the city as they glided over the buildings. Ashe was glad now that she had bought the newspaper. The ride to central station was about 25 minutes long, and the quiet whir of the rail, accompanied by the occasional cough and quiet chatter of the passengers, made for a comforting trip.

Riding the monorail.

Riding the monorail.

Each stop was marked by the gentle toll of a bell and a woman’s voice announcing the location: East Mirror Street, Twenty-First Avenue, Silvergold Park. The locations on the monorail always blurred together as Ashe became lost in her thoughts. It was not until she heard the words “Central Station” called out that she was shaken from the day’s news.

Central Station was perhaps the busiest place in all of Summering. Thousands of people, many pulling rolling suitcases and luggage behind them, gathered around the dozens of platforms that would lead to a huge variety of villages and cities across the kingdom. Ashe made her way to the ticket station on the east side to purchase her tickets. A three hour trip would cost 3 credits, and the next rail would not be arriving for another 30 minutes. Fortunately, the return rail ran until midnight, so Ashe would have plenty of time to get the items she needed and make her way back to the station.

While waiting at the platform, Ashe desperately wished that she had brought one of her books to read. If she hadn’t been in such a rush, she might have stopped at home to get one on the way, but it hadn’t even occurred to her. Fortunately, she was always prepared with a pad of paper and a box of pencils. Watching all of the people coming and going at the station, Ashe began to sketch the scene.

At the inter-city monorail station.

At the inter-city monorail station.

When a voice called out that her rail was about to arrive, she gathered up her things, held her ticket tightly in her hand, and waited for the car to glide into the station.

The monorail that would stop at Gardenhome was not nearly as busy as the intercity had been. The largest city on its route was Whitewater, and not many people liked to go there because of the cold. Ice and Magma do not make for a particularly popular combination, to be quite honest.

When all had boarded, the rail departed and the long journey had begun. At first, the trip was entirely through the city of Summering, but soon the rail had passed the area and moved into the wilderness surrounding it. Open fields of mirror flowers and glimmer roses reflected rainbows into the sky and, as the monorail traveled, the landscape began to shift and change. It made stops at a number of  villages, moving through sunny fields, evergreen forests where the trees grew thousands of feet tall, across a massive lake with green and red crystals jutting out of the shores, and on and on. It was at about this time that a man came around to check the tickets of all the passengers and sell tickets to those who did not have them.

At some point, the monorail entered the lava flats, an open sea of molten rock with obsidian spheres floating in the skies above. The crumbling, black remains of what was once a city were built up around the monorail line, and several ruined railway platforms had been abandoned years prior.

A ruined city.

A ruined city.

This was the nature of a changing landscape such as that of Ennaeth. Although there were many villages and cities, there were even more ruined villages and cities, each holding past secrets, hosts of strange and unusual creatures, and even long-lost treasures. Some individuals liked to explore these areas, searching for magical components to use in inks and alchemical tonics. The rarest of materials were always found in the most dangerous of places, but that life was a bit more adventurous than the one that Ashe wanted to live. She was content to be an inkmaker, using the ingredients grown and gathered by others

The lava flats came and went and soon Ashe was traveling through a thick, temperate forest with fruits and berries lying heavy on the trees and bushes. It was not too far into this landscape that a voice called out “Gardenhome Village” and the monorail came to a stop at a tiny, two platform station in the middle of nowhere.

The village station was not worked by an employee of the rail system. Those who boarded here were expected to pay for the ticket while on the monorail itself, since so few people boarded that it was not worth hiring a ticketmaster.

Ashe passed a single bench and took a look at the local map on the platform. There were foot paths headed in three directions, and the village center of gardenhome was to the south.

The Gardenhome monorail station.

The Gardenhome monorail station.

The road was lined with oil lanterns that were not magically powered. When night fell, a lantern-keeper would walk the paths, lighting the lanterns to guide any late travelers to their destination. As she walked, Ashe noticed the rustling of strange creatures and wildlife in the bushes – something that she had been accustomed to in her childhood days growing up in the village of Forestheart, but had not experienced much since moving to the city.

The roads in a village were always dangerous for a lone traveler, especially at night. The creatures in the woods could be large and powerful, wielding magic at their will to attack and kill their prey. In Forestheart, legends told of a great deer that once grew four hundred meters tall, crushing people beneath its hooves and knocking entire buildings to the ground. This tale was not unbelievable. An overgrown frog once wreaked havoc on the city of Ivory Port, leaving hundreds dead and even more homeless… but these were not the thoughts Ashe wanted to have while walking alone through the woods.

Fortunately, the walk was not too long. After about 15 minutes, Ashe began to pass beautiful farmhouses set into flourishing orchards and fields. Food crops grew incredibly well in Gardenhome, and the little village was able to provide an entire city’s worth of food each year. If not for the land’s greater potential as farmland, it would probably have been an excellent place for a city.

The Gardenhome farmlands.

The Gardenhome farmlands.

Ashe took out the business card with the greenhouse’s address. She was quite near to the village center now, and soon came to a place lined with little businesses. A general store, inn, pub, and marketplace were the first she came across, but a magic shop soon followed.

Ashe did not have a map of the village with her, and couldn’t quite recall exactly where her destination road was, so she decided to stop at the magic shop for directions. If anyone was to know the location of a greenhouse that specialized in rare magical supplies, it would be the local magical artist. The bell on the door gave a little ring and a young boy, perhaps 10 years old, jumped up from behind the corner.

“Hello!” he called out. “How can I help you?!” The boy’s enthusiasm brought Ashe back to her days working in the family business before and after school as a child. When her mother was out of town gathering seeds, Ashe and her siblings would often come home from school to watch the shop during lunch time so that her father could take a break. Speaking of lunch, Ashe realized that she was getting quite hungry…

She asked the boy if he could give directions to Nightwitch Greenhouses, and he nodded enthusiastically, pointing to the west and saying that it was just down the road. Thanking him, Ashe left the store and headed to the pub nearby for lunch.

The pub was crowded with farmers and shopkeepers who were taking a break from their stores for a good meal and a few drinks with some close friends. The light inside the tavern was surprisingly dim – but it certainly wasn’t dark. Ashe figured she had simply been spoiled by the bright lights of Summering and was unaccustomed to locations that weren’t coated in glitter.

The waitress made small talk with her, asking her where she came from, what she was doing around town, and things like that. She ordered a hearty vegetable stew, which was made with the freshly grown crops from the village itself and seasoned just to her liking. When Ashe had eaten her meal, she grabbed her things, paid, being sure to leave a tip on the counter, and left.

The walk to Nightwitch Greenhouses.

The walk to Nightwitch Greenhouses.

It was then time to head towards Nightwitch Greenhouses. The slight breeze kept the afternoon sun from being too hot and the gentle rustling of the trees above reminded her of home. It was only a few minutes before Ashe came to a series of massive greenhouses with a large crooked house between them all.

Nightwitch was full of gardeners of varying ages working away beneath the glass domes. A number of younger folk, likely students, were taking a break, playing games in the fields beyond the house. At the front of the house, an older woman holding a clipboard held her hand up to her face to block the sunlight and called out a couple of requests to the workers in the gardens.

Ashe approached the woman and introduced herself, saying that she was from Kelling’s in Summering and that the Inkmaster there had called earlier that day to see about getting some evergreen orbs. The woman nodded and introduced herself as Vivian Nightwitch.

“Of course, of course, I made sure to get the best I had when I heard the news. Follow me, ” she smiled, turning around and heading into the crooked house. “I prepared these just for you this morning. They should be exactly what you need. Three hundred credits for the lot.”

Inside the crooked house.

Inside the crooked house.

Vivian held out a small, wooden box wrapped in a dark green ribbon. Ashe opened it up and saw three small, glowing glass orbs with a swirling green smoke inside. The orbs were carefully packaged in a thick brown cloth to prevent them from breaking. The shards of a broken orb could be used in an aura, the dust in a tonic, and the smoke that released could be used for summoning if captured just right, but only the full, intact orb could be used in making a focus.

Ashe handed her the credits and turned to leave, when Vivian spoke again.

“Inkmaking is a noble profession, you know.” She smiled, “I admire young apprentices in the field. Most see the beautiful scripts and final products and want to become a scribe, but we all know that inkmakers are the heart of the magical arts.”

Ashe thanked her for her kind words and encouragement before holding the box carefully to her chest and heading back towards the station. The old woman’s words would stick with her for weeks to come. It was easy to be discouraged when you had chosen a profession that was often overlooked – but deep down Ashe knew that what she did was incredibly important.

The walk back to the station was uneventful. Leaves blew across the dirt path and plum rabbits hopped between the bushes at the side of the road. Deep green horses pulled carts full of foods and goods to the markets and back, and farmers and their families walked the dirt roads to travel between their homes and Gardenhome.

Of course, the day was not yet done. There would be another long monorail ride, time spent at work putting the inks together for the next day, and by the time all those things were finished, she would be walking home to the lights of the streetside lanterns, looking up at the stars as the colors of the aurora spiraled against the sky. That was the beauty of the night. Where the magical aspects were invisible during the day, at night they could be spotted dancing amongst the stars, twirling and mixing together, existing, as they would, to change the lands beneath them.

The events of the next day were never certain. Sometimes the aspects did what we least expected, and sometimes they did exactly what we wanted them to do, but whatever happened, the people of Ennaeth would carry on, and so would Ashe.

The nighttime aurora.

The nighttime aurora.