The town of Fallsborough really was in the middle of nowhere.
Set at the edge of a lake which was itself flanked by hills, including a rushing falls which Andy assumed was the reason for its given name. In spite of the lack of a road to it, the town itself had a well-developed infrastructure, complete with streets, plumbing, and all of the modern conveniences that people had come to depend on, even if they took them for granted.
It was even connected to the outside world, with a connection to the internet and cell towers also.
Aunt Lily’s house was a modest cabin at the edge of the lake. It had her room and a guest room as well as a single bathroom and a common area. There were definitely larger houses, and more normal houses as well, but his aunt’s place wasn’t the only cabin by the lakeside. Andy wondered if she had a house elsewhere, or if she preferred the minimalism of the cabin.
There was a computer in the cabin, though it had the smallest, bulkiest monitor Andy had ever seen. It also seemed to run an older version of an operating system and moved about as fast as a snail at the end of a marathon.
Still, his aunt was nice and there was something about not waking up in the empty house where he was constantly reminded of what he had lost that was refreshing. Andy was starting to lift out of his sadness and misery. But, while his aunt’s cabin wasn’t empty, the town sort of felt like it was.
“Where is everyone?” Andy asked after a couple days of wandering empty streets.
He saw the occasional person and there were certainly a few families in town. The only kids he saw were older or younger than he was, though. That thought made him miss the neighborhood kids. They played almost every day after school, and most days when there was no school.
School was another thing he was missing right now. Yet, somehow, he didn’t feel the loss of that quite so keenly. Andy actually liked going to school, unlike many of his classmates. But with everything that happened, school just didn’t really feel as important.
“This is a town we can fall back to in a time of need. However, it will be getting busier soon.”
At the end of the first week in town, Andy’s aunt began to instruct him in the basics of the spiritual arts.
“Remember, I will be testing you on the forms at the end of the week.” She said to him.
His aunt smiled, but Andy felt only the frayed nerves of someone anticipating hell. His sister and father were missing, he wasn’t sure why remembering spiritual poses were of any importance to finding them. Yet his aunt was insistent. She was fair, but stern, and he felt that things would go badly if he didn’t perform well on the test.
“The first thing we must do is awaken the animal’s spirit that dwells within you.” His aunt explained, grabbing his sketchbook and flipping to the large bear-ish creature in it.
With that, his aunt grabbed another book from the bookshelf entitled, Creatures of Althon: a Study. This one took a bit longer for her to flip through, but she found the page she was looking for after a few moments and turned the book over, handing it to Andy
“A… Baerex…? This thing is real?” Andy asked as he looked at the artist’s rough depiction of the creature. They had definitely gotten some of the details wrong, but beside the image was a thorough revelation on the creature and what it could do.
The Baerex, or King of Bears, is an incredibly rare creature in the wilds with a sort of legendary quality to it. They can grow up to twenty feet at the shoulder with a body length equal to or exceeding that total.
It is said that the roar of a Baerex can flatten trees and deafen foes. Their incredible strength is unmatched in the animal kingdom. Their natural enemy is the Manticore...
There was more as well, at least three or four pages worth. Andy read it without reading it. He saw the words, but didn’t fully absorb the information. He wanted to know everything he could about the creature that had been taking over his dreams, but it didn’t feel right learning about all of it without Dani there.
“The essence of the spiritual arts is in drawing strength from your spirit. That means everyone’s spiritual arts work just a bit differently. For example, your spiritual arts would be able to gain you some of that monstrous strength that the Baerex is known for.
“But there are other advantages to be gained as well. The fierce roar, for example. While you won’t be flattening forests, you will probably be able to knock down foes and strike some fear in the heart of your enemies.”
While his aunt talked, Andy found himself doodling the Baerex in his sketchbook a little bit more. Small things, a little extra muscle definition in some areas, a bit more bristle detail on its fur. Its eyes seemed to gaze back at him knowingly, eventually he grew flustered enough that he shut the book closed. That drew a look from Aunt Lily.
“Done already?” She asked.
“How do I… find my spirit within me?”
“Ah, well. That’s a more difficult point. Some find it through combat. Others, study. Still others find it after challenging themselves in some meaningful way.” His aunt responded. “But that is why we must practice your forms.”
“Control your breathing, we will go through the basic forms once more.” His aunt urged.
Andy wondered if Dani would have enjoyed practicing the forms. They were slow exercises, similar to yoga or tai chi, perhaps, but they were different. Andy had tried both of those before, but found he lacked the patience for it. So did Dani, she’d tried Kung Fu and Karate, but she lacked the patience for those as well, in spite of her athletic inclinations. She was a rather good boxer, though.
It was much later when Andy found himself in bed, stretching his muscles and knowing they’d be sore in the morning.
Andy wondered if anyone had found their spirit animal in their dreams. His had shown up in them so often that it felt like it should have been the most likely place.
Yet when sleep took him, he found himself in a long hallway lined with doors.
The first door he checked was locked, but the door across from it opened up into his room at home. It was dark in the room, it was night there. Everything was so vivid and detailed that for a moment he wondered if he’d merely woken back up at home–that everything was just part of some cruel nightmare.
However, when he stepped back out into the hall, it was the strange, well-lit hallway from before. Not the hallway of his home.
“Dani?” He called out.
There was no response. Perhaps one of the doors would lead to her room. In that moment he knew, more than anything that he wanted to see her. That he wanted to see his father. Even if it was just a dream, seeing them might ease some of the pain he was dealing with.
He’d never been so long without his sister, and, despite their differences, she was still his best friend. Perhaps the locked door represented the barriers he felt in his path. How could he find his spirit when half of it was somewhere else, possibly in great danger.
Andy tried the door to the left of the one that led to his room and found it locked also. He pressed his back against the door, sliding down it as tears came unbidden. He hadn’t allowed himself much time to grieve. Part of him felt as though grieving would be admitting something far worse would happen. Above all else, Andy knew he had to keep hoping his sister and his father would be found.
The door behind him opened up suddenly. It caused Andy to fall back and startled him out of his moment. He looked around wildly, but no one exited, and he saw no movement from inside.
The room he fell into seemed to swallow him into darkness. Andy stood up slowly and reached out his hand. The darkness seemed to swallow that too, just a mere foot or foot and a half in front of his face and his hand disappeared. The door slammed shut behind him.
A primal fear seized him, terrorized him. He wasn’t afraid of the dark, but this darkness was something else entirely. It wasn’t natural, more than that it felt… supernatural. However, he knew he was in a dream–a nightmare. That which was unnatural could merely be an element of his imagination.
Everything in him told Andy to back up and leave, but there was nowhere to run to. Something, a small voice, perhaps, told him that the answer to where Dani and his father were was in here. That tiny voice urged him on, in spite of his shaking knees and the terrified pounding of his heart.
Andy stepped forward tentatively, but with each step he took, his resolve deepened. There was nothing behind for him to go back to, but there wasn’t anything ahead for him to walk forward to. At any moment he might simply walk into a wall, but he didn’t.
He walked for what felt like forever, perhaps he needed to stop, or change direction. Just as Andy was on the verge of doing just that, he heard crying. Andy whipped his head around trying to locate the source, but nothing was visible. He headed to the right, locating the sound by ear. After a few moments, he began to make out something from the darkness. It seemed to recede around a dim spotlight, he was able to make out his hand again and noticed that the crying figure was a girl.
He wondered if she was dressed for Halloween because she appeared to be wearing a pink poodle skirt with a ruffled top. There was something oddly familiar about her, though…
Andy was pretty sure he’d never seen his sister in a skirt before. She hated them. He walked over and crouched beside her, placing a hand on his sister’s shoulder.
“Dani?” He whispered. “Is that you?”
The girl sniffed and turned an eye to look at him. The ponytail on her head danced with the movement, swinging back and forth.
“An-andy?” She choked out his name between sobs, “is that you?”
“It is- I’m here.” Andy felt tears spring to his eyes. He’d found them, or, at the very least, he’d found his sister.
“Where are you- where are we?”
Dani sniffed a little but rubbed her eyes and sat up, looking around. “Um, I’m in a bedroom, there’s bars on the window though. And everything is…” Dani made a face, “girly.”
Andy giggled, then covered his mouth. In spite of the seriousness of the moment, something about Dani’s face broke all of the tension and stress that had built up in him. All of a sudden it was like none of it had happened and they were back in one of their bedrooms.
The moment didn’t last, however.
“They put me in this.” Dani said. She gestured to the outfit. “They put me here. Everything was strange though. The cars were old, all of the girls were wearing dresses. Even the air felt different, more… clean. But I’ve only been outside once since I arrived here. It was like they wanted to show me I couldn’t go home.”
Andy wondered, but the thought seemed so utterly implausible. Then again, Dani in a skirt was rather implausible too.
“What happened before that?” He asked, perhaps there was something else that might clue him in.
“Honestly… I don’t… know.” Dani looked like she was going to cry again. It was so strange to see her like that.
It was usually Andy that was the one prone to crying. The last time he could remember Dani crying nearly as much was when their mother died. He used his thumb to wipe Dani’s tears, he noted that her hands were bound with rope, behind her back, expertly knotted.
“…I went to sleep and then… woke up… here.” Dani whispered, appearing incredulous. “I swear… I woke up and everything was different. They gave me something to drink, it was ice cold.”
“You didn’t wake up in the same place?”
“It was the same, but… different. I- I don’t know.” Dani shook her head and went silent.
Andy wrapped her up in his arms. He could still hardly believe it. Dani should have been the one to save him, not the other way around. She was the brave one. His sister wouldn’t have hesitated to step in the darkness. But, for the moment, she needed him and he could be there for her, so he was.
It took a little bit before he realized that something- someone else was missing.
“What about… dad?” Andy asked.
Dani shook her head as she drew back. She wiped her eyes on her forearm. “Haven’t seen him, since I… woke up.”
There was a cold feeling in Andy’s gut at that, but he took in a breath and continued to hold his sister. He couldn’t let himself fall into despair. He’d found Dani… sort of. Andy knew it was all a dream, it was too surreal to be reality. However, there was something about it… even though he couldn’t see the room that Dani was describing, he just knew she was there.
In a burst of inspiration, Andy wanted to try something. He scooted around Dani.
“What are you doing?” Dani asked.
“I’m trying…” Andy let his fingers do the work, feeling the contours of the rope and began to unlace the knots. “There.”
The rope slid down Dani’s wrists as Andy tugged at them and helped them slip off.
“I think I got it,” He said, grinning a little in spite of the moment. “Take that, Scouts.”
Dani jerked her wrists a little and freed them from the loose coils of rope that still hung there. “You did. Ha! Now those wackos are going to feel my wrath!”
“I think they said the year was 1952.” Dani continued, “I thought they said they took me to Shrewsbury, but it might be a place called Independence Falls.”
Both of them stood up. Dani’s skirts swished around her knees as she did. She glanced down and away in clear embarrassment. Andy placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled.
“It’s fine. You don’t look silly.” Andy watched his sister for a few moments as she adjusted herself to the moment. “I mean it. Don’t let what they did get to you, you’re still Dani.”
She nodded once, setting her jaw.
“You come get me, okay? I’m going to give them hell, but I’m not sure I can get out.”
Then Andy woke up.
Breakfast was oatmeal. It was seasoned, sweet, but not too sweet, but Andy hardly noticed. He went through the motions. Somehow, he managed to go through the forms with minimal complaint from his aunt.
He finished reading about the Baerex, learning everything he could about it. It being the King of the Ursae family wasn’t just someone being cute in describing it. The Baerex was a creature of myth and legend. Far more was not known about it than was. On a hunch, he searched the book for another creature and found it.
Dani’s spirit animal was a Wulvex. Also an “-ex”, a king, this one of the Canide family. It was lithe, fast, and just as regal and majestic as the Baerex in its own right. When he read about it, he immediately thought of Dani.
“Aunt Lily?” Andy asked while putting the book down.
“Mmm?” She was reading a book of her own but put it down.
“I think… I talked to Dani last night.”
Andy’s aunt blinked and turned to face him now. “You what- how?”
“I’m not sure. It was a dream- but wasn’t a dream.” Andy wasn’t entirely clear on what it was himself, which made it difficult to explain.
“I think that means your spiritual power is developing nicely, if a bit strangely. Typically astral projection doesn’t come until after you’ve formed the appropriate bond with your spirit animal.” His aunt said, pushing her book aside and taking the one he had been reading, “but things are reportedly different with twins. As exemplified by this example.”
“Even other twins? Non… umm… special… twins?” Andy wasn’t sure how to refer to himself and his sister. It was still strange to think of himself or his sister as different, as… chosen.
His aunt smiled, “even normal twins can be… abnormal when it comes to powers of the spirit. Yes.”
“Even twins of a more mundane origins often have reported connections. Though it’s stronger in some than others. Some twins report little to no connection. However, among our kind, twins always have some bond or another. But the prophecies state that the chosen twins, such as you and your sister, will have an especially powerful bond.”
Andy thought about it a bit. He and Dani were certainly close, perhaps closer than other twins. He supposed that made things make more sense. Andy and Dani had run into twins who denied every twin stereotype. But, for them, many of those things were true.
“I think it’s time for the test.” His aunt said.
Andy looked down at the sheet of paper in front of him and furrowed his brow.
1. Which of these spells can be cast by any Maba? (a) The Audir Furant Spell (Also Known as Stolen Ears Spell); (b) The Viris Augere Spell (Also Known as the Mighty Strength Spell); (c) The Celes Augere Spell (Also Known as the Mighty Speed Spell); (d) The Morde Maxe Spell (Also Known as the Maximum Bite Spell).
Andy considered that one for a moment. His pen hovered over D, but as it did he realized that not all creatures bite. As such, while it was a common spell for Mabas, it didn’t apply to all of them. Strength and Speed were fairly common attributes, but he knew there were forms which didn’t have access to those spells either.
By process of elimination, it had to be A.
“The stolen ears spell,” Andy whispered to himself. Contrary to what the name suggested, the spell didn’t tale anyone’s ears, or even their hearing. Instead, for Maba it increased their hearing significantly, letting them hear whispered words at a greater distance. For Summoners it also allowed them to borrow their Spirit Animal’s hearing temporarily, which was an even greater distance.
2. Which is more important for the casting of spells? (a) Mind; (b) Body; (c) Spirit; (d) All of the Above.
That one was easy. All of the Above, Andy thought, remembering some of his aunt’s rules. Perhaps one could argue that one over another might be more important. However, in the end, it was close enough as to make no difference. One needed a sound mind, body, and a connection to their spirit.
3. What is the primary attribute for a Baerex? The secondary attribute?
Andy thought about that question for a long moment. The primary attribute was strength, no, that wasn’t quite right, it was athleticism. Its secondary attribute was endurance. And… Andy wrote in next to them, it’s tertiary attribute was cunning.
Andy thought about the attributes of one’s spirit as he wrote down the answer. Athleticism encompassed strength, speed, and endurance, which themselves comprised a number of stats. Then there were the mental stats which were intelligence, cunning, and insight.
4. What is the primary attribute for a Wulvex? The secondary attribute?
This one was a bit tougher for Andy. Why should he have to know the answers for his sister’s spirit animal? He rubbed his face and thought about it. Primary attribute was definitely athleticism, which meant his secondary attribute was one of those… speed made the most sense. However, if he was going to answer it, he might as well shoot for the tertiary as well. Insight seemed familiar, he checked it off.
The rest of the test went well, Andy felt. He was rewarded on his confidence with a perfect score. In spite of knowing he did well, Andy couldn’t help but feel his heart hammer away as he watched his aunt’s eyes flick over the page and her pen make the marks. She was the perfect sort of teacher, her face a mask of inscrutability as she revealed nothing of his progress. Andy picked up the Beastiary of Althon and flipped over to the page on Wulvex to make sure he was correct about their attributes.
Finally, after what felt like forever, his aunt handed him back his test. Each answer was checked off with a checkmark and in a circle at the top was “100%”
“Oh my gosh.” Andy let out in a sigh of relief. Only then did his aunt smile.
“Almost feel like we should have had you come for the summers after all. You would have done very well. You and your sister have a lot of catching up to do, but I don’t think you’ll have much of a problem with it.”
As accomplished as Andy felt with his first perfect score, he was far more worried about Dani. He knew better than to bring it up with his aunt though. He could tell by the occasional anxious look in her eyes that she was just as worried. But, as of yet, they simply weren’t ready.
It was time to be ready though, they knew where Dani was. They just had to find a way to get there.
Love the worldbuilding and lore