THE SAGAS OF KRISTALA
"TIES THAT BIND"
The nettles lived up to their name: they stung, slicing like dull knives through his flesh as he spent another day working slowly, meticulously at the tattoo scrawled across his back. Fresh blood met dried in warm, crusted rivulets, dripping in thin lines down yesterday’s stains and dropping to the ground by his feet.
It was arduous work, but with each day’s physical agony came increasing mental clarity. The more he worked at removing the tattoo trapping his natural abilities, the more he felt the world open up before him. It was as though he had been born amidst the obscuring rain of a summer storm and only now were the clouds beginning to clear.
And oh, how bright the sun was.
Pressing against the thorn- and nettle-covered tree trunk, he straightened again, tearing away new strips of flesh. The pain was exquisite and consuming, his back ragged and swollen. At first he’d remained stoic through the pain; then he screamed with each press of the nettles against his back. On the third day he began to hallucinate. On the fourth day, he began to see the truth.
You were right, the pain whispered to him, a searing voice crashing against his mind. The tattoo is not to protect, but control and suppress, and only through freeing yourself can you know what’s right, and what’s wrong.
“But what is right?” Svar asked, gasping as the nettles bit into him again and again. One fell from the net he’d woven them into before wrapping it around the tree, and he kicked it away. “Are we monsters or not?”
This time the wind brought him his answer. There are no monsters, only those with power and those without. The Kristalans, they are the ones with power. And no one wants to give up power.
Svar considered the truth of this. “The Kristalans are charlatans. They speak for the Kristals, but who can prove what they say is true? Other Kristalans?”
Other Kristalans, indeed. The voice wafted through him, and he felt its bemusement. A curious system, devoid of checks and balances, don’t you think?
Svar snarled, bright white bolts of pain crossing his vision. “And what would you suggest, then? Crack open the kristals and ask the dust to speak for itself?”
The voice came back strong. No. Think harder, Sykomanan. You are missing the point.
“Sweet mercy of kris, just tell me.”
The voice chuckled, unforgiving, but continued as bidden. Why have there been so few of your clan anointed as speakers? Why is your kind feared without your mark? Why is your greatest ability—your ability to understand all minds that cross your path—taken from you as children?
Svar’s eyes crossed as he pulled himself free from the nettles, then closed as he took a deep, steadying breath. “Because our minds are potential,” he replied. “Potential for pure power.”
And the Kristals require a blank canvas on which to scrawl their truth.
“The Kristalans tell us the Kristals taught them the magic tattoos that silence our minds. Without them...we can all speak with them?”
You are vessels; you don’t need words. The Kristals, they act through you. Every move, every vision, every motivation comes from them, Svar Ekat of the Sykomana. The voice paused, as though waiting for its words to sink in. And we couldn’t have that, could we? If all have power, then no one does.
With a great heave, Svar threw himself against the net of thorns, shrieking as they bit once again into his haggard flesh. He pressed down, then up, then down again with the last of his strength, until he could feel the skin tear off in chunks. With it, like the snap of a puzzle falling at last into place, his mind opened.
Svar fell forward to his hands and knees, blood and sweat soaking his raw skin. He blinked his bright yellow eyes, his mind clear for the first time. He could feel the thoughts all around him, small minds of the forest, inaccessible without consent but no longer hidden behind a wall of stupefying magic. They were connected to him by the magic of the Kristals: the ancient magic the Kristalans swore belonged only to them, and them alone.
Freed of his shackles, Svar straightened and smiled. Oh, he would show them. He would show them the true will of the Kristals, and the nature of his own designs. After all, as a pure Sykomanan vessel, they were one in the same.
Svar’s first stop was a Tandaran leatherworker, just about to close up shop but eager enough to engage Svar in conversation. His mind was a jovial thing, but there was a curious darkness lurking within it that Svar latched onto immediately like a starving cat catching its prey.
It was easy enough to convince the Anagativa to finish the job he had done in the forest, slicing away at the skin along his back and using a mixture of magic and healing salve to close the skin in big, angry knots. The Tandaran had always been curious about what it would be like to work with catskin. Would it be like other animals, or would it be different?
He never voiced this blasphemy, however, and had never pursued it either. But now, with a willing participant and free from prying eyes, convincing him to remove the latticework of torn ink and flesh from Svar’s back was as easy as asking for a glass of wine to wash down his supper.
The Tandaran worked his magic on skin and cloth alike, only too happy to spend the rest of his evening creating his masterpiece: a cloak made of sheepskin with Svar’s own wretched hide as the centerpiece.
Svar killed the Tandaran merchant when he was done, of course, just to be safe. This clarity was new, and he would need time to understand it; time to learn how best to wield it. He couldn’t be sure how long his suggestion would last, and it wouldn’t do to have an angry Tandaran telling stories about the flayed Sykomanan making a playground of his mind.
Slipping his cloak over his shoulders, Svar took his leave. The voice was gone; a messenger of truth born of pain and departing like an exhale once that pain abated. His connection to the Kristal magic was true, and did not require words.
His reason to be, the decree grafted into his very spirit by the Kristals themselves, was simple enough. He had a purpose, and no barriers between him and the subjects that would hear it.
He grinned, all teeth and no soul, and began his journey to the Kotakayan Queen.