"Almost..." she whispers, fingers shaking. Even with her entire mind focused on the task, it's pointless. The book does little more than shift off the shelf and flutter to the floor in a fall of pages.
"You should be a little more responsible with the books, Marcha," a thin, reedy voice calls from behind her. Marcha pushes back the urge to hide in the hood of her cloak. She had forgotten it was Master Brahm's shift in the library that day. She watches sullenly as the scarecrow of a man sweeps past to scoop up the fallen tome, ruffling the pages to make sure none of them have torn.
I-I'm sorry, Master Brahm," she mutters back, casting her eyes down. It's not the first time the librarian magi has caught her being irresponsible. Her downcast eyes miss the smile that slides across the elder man's face as he reads the title of the volume in his hand. Tapping the sullen student on the shoulder, he lays the book down in front of her.
"I won't report you to Naomi this time, Marcha," he scolds, his eyes remaining friendly though his voice is stern, "But as an apology to this poor and defenseless book, I ask that you spend your time here today reading what it has to say. I would say you owe us both that much."
Marcha nods quickly, avoiding looking up at her elder as she flips the volume open. A few hours spent reading is nothing compared to the Head Librarian's lectures on responsibility of the Keep's most treasured property. Tuning out Master Brahm's raspy chuckling, she focuses on the words in front of her, allowing the story to unfold
A chapter from Lives of The Magi: Nythe of Silva & the Great Fever
Any magi worth their robes knows that journeys have a way of going awry. Those who travel in search of knowledge often make discoveries they didn't plan on making. Such is the nature of the world we all adore.
High Mage Sundra is well known in these times for her work regarding the documentation of the illusive farir, but her discoveries range far beyond the habits of those enchanting leaf-like creatures. It can be argued that her most important contribution to the Keep's legacy had nothing to do with farir at all, but entirely to do with the child she found on the beaches of the Forest early in her adventures.
The event unfolded completely by coincidence. This was long before magi had once again gained favor with the clans of centaurs living in the Forest, and Sundra's presence was not welcomed by these natives. They mistook the magi for a hunter, rather than a peaceful scholar, and Sundra was forced to flee the woods atop her pegasus, pursued by angry spearmen.
The wild chase led the young magi to the beach, where the forest gave way to the rocky shore of the West Ocean. Had Sundra not paused to allow her mount to catch his breath, she would not have seen the small body of a child hidden amongst the rocks.
The girl was unconscious and showed no sign of injury. Healers back at the Keep could find no physical wounds or traces of magic on the child and ultimately ruled that her state had been afflicted by starvation. Most speculated that the girl had been abandoned on the shore.
The healers were successful in nursing her back to health, but their efforts led to no greater understanding of the girl's origins. She was nearly unable to speak, able to understand and use only a few words of common language. She was mistrustful and wild, easily frightened and half feral. All attempts to learn her name or story were thwarted by her inability to communicate.
The healers assigned specifically to her case nicknamed her "Nythe," a Silvan word meaning "home," because in this way, at least, the orphan child could lay claim to something as her own.
Nythe recovered quickly, growing hearty within weeks of her arrival. Her abandonment had little lasting physical effects; she was readily able to run away from and fight against the caretakers assigned to watch over her. She proved to be a slow learner, seldom willing to cooperate or communicate. The only times young Nythe ever showed any promise was amongst the plantlike creatures of the Keep gardens. Inside the Keep, she was undomesticated and fierce, yet would become docile and calm away from the magi, more willing to socialize with the rose imps and ariessa than with her fellow human beings.
Little Nythe spent less than a year at the Keep, becoming more or less domesticated by the end of her stay. Her language skills improved only enough to allow simple conversations. These conversations reinforced the caretaker's suspicions: Nythe remembered little to nothing before waking up in the healers' care. The decision was made to send the girl away to a children's asylum in Synara City, away from the Keep, as she was still too young yet to become a student.
Little is known of Nythe's time in the Synaran orphanage. It was a pleasant place, well-funded by the wealthy philanthropists of the city, and Nythe was able to flourish there. Her enduring quietness and dislike of the other children earned her a great deal of solitude. Her slowness to learn both language and arithmetic led the caretakers and teachers in the orphanage to deem her unteachable. Sometime during her stay in Synara, she found employ as an ariessa shepherdess. This is all that can be written for this chapter of Nythe's life.
Nythe was an unpromising student by all accounts, but nevertheless, she arrived at the Keep several years later with the latest influx of students. The magi recognized and tentatively welcomed her, but they need not have worried. A childhood spent in solitude amongst the ariessa had done Nythe a great deal of good. She showed little skill in anything but those activities concerning plants and plantlike species, but her difficulties were paired with a powerful determination. She struggled to learn, but learn she did.
For the entirety of her schooling, Nythe did nothing of high note. She proved thoroughly competent in earth magic, but was not spectacularly talented. She spent her time tending the gardens and garden creatures alike. She was a homely girl with halting speech, unshakably serene, often alone. Nythe was remarkable only in her unremarkability. Her time as a student and subsequent advancing to become a full magi passed without notice.
If the rest of her life passed in obscurity, Nythe would not have a chapter in this book.
A few year into the beginning of her magidom, tragedy befell the Keep. The trouble crept up on the magi overnight, silently, arriving with no fanfare greater than a cough.
The Great Fever.
The first stage of the illness was a debilitating malaise, a loss of energy that confined many a good scholar to their quarters, ruined with weakness and melancholy. This weakness would sever the magi's connection to their magical abilities, leaving them completely helpless. Having been consumed thusly by the illness, the afflicted magi would suffer a short but intense fever that would burn away the last of their life force, leaving the victim a wasted husk. Within the first week alone, dozens of magi were taken. No one affected survived.
Nythe, being an earth magi and a plant magi in particular, was assigned to a contingency of herbalists and healers in order to find a cause and a cure to the Fever. It was during this time that Nythe began keeping a journal, a habit she would keep for the rest of her life. The entries, written in the same simple language she always spoke in, tell a story of hopelessness and fear. The healers labored day and night, and could not reverse the tide of the illness. The few afflicted they could save remained unable to reconnect to their magic, and still many dozens were dying each week. The future seemed dark.
The healers pressed on, Nythe among them. The determination and serenity that had propelled her through life until this moment did not fail her, and made her a valuable asset to the cure effort. The ravages of illness and death did nothing to disturb her constant calm. When many of the healers began to catch the Fever, and when many of the herbalists began running out of cures to try, Nythe pressed on.
It was entirely by accident that Nythe and her small group of assistants found a treatment: ruby somniant vemon and white aculeus honey, combined carefully and administered in the correct amount, could stall the disease in the first stage, delaying the fever that gave the illness its name.
It was a full month into the epidemic that Nythe found the full cure.
Her journal entries tell nothing of how she came about the idea. Perhaps a comment by one of her fellow herbalists inspired her, or perhaps one of her habitual nighttime walks in the Keep gardens led her to the answer. Regardless, no one else had considered the mold of a rotting cukurba. The ornery pumpkin tortoises were omens of misfortune, after all. The mold from their shell, however, used in tandem with an obscure opposition spell, was exactly what was needed to reverse the tide of the disease.
Within days of Nythe's discovery, all those afflicted by the Fever were cured. Those who lost their magic could regain their abilities with practice. The Fever fell from threatening the very existence of the magi to a nuisance no more threatening than the common cold.
Nythe was upheld as a hero of the greatest proportions, a savior of the magi. However, the celebrations held in her honor did little more than drive the secretive woman further into her shell. She dodged the accolades with desperation, diving further into her work in an attempt to return to the solitude and obscurity she so loved. There was still a great deal of work to be finished.
Further reading into Nythe's journals show that she believed the Fever to be the work of dark magi, though why she came to this conclusion is unknown. What is known is that the Keep rallied around her, with magi flocking to work in her employ, united by a desire to find who was responsible for the death of their comrades and loved ones. Their enthusiasm drove them more than Nythe's leadership; she remained mysterious and distant as ever, always few of words, always secluded.
The magi who devoted themselves to Nythe's cause took on her name, calling themselves Nythens. Gathered together, the Nythen acolytes grew in number and in purpose. No longer dedicated simply to finding the origins of the Fever, the members of this pseudo-guild became dedicated to eradicating the Keep of the effects of improper use of magic. The members took vows of simplicity and honesty, and their continued research into the effects of dark magic have since proved invaluable. The library and garden alike continue to flourish under their care to this day.
Nythe never did adapt to her sudden notoriety, nor did she ever reconcile with the fact that so many magi were following in her footsteps. As time went on, she became a near-complete recluse, leaving her quarters only to care for her creatures late at night, when there were fewer other magi about to disturb her. She spent her time amongst the ariessa, just as she had in childhood. She tended the aculeus hives, tended the cukurba patches, surrounded herself with the creatures she had always adored. During this time, it is said that she stopped speaking entirely.
Her journals, kept faithfully during this time, record her downfall.
Nythe began writing more and more frequently of intense nightmares and vivid hallucinations, experiences that, for the first time, shook the unusually serene magi to the bone. It was paranoia just as much as a desire for solitude that drove her away from Keep society. Her writings would sometimes spiral into pages of impenetrable code, many of which have yet to be deciphered. She wrote of an ominous presence that hung over her, an unending dread that pursued her day and night.
The strangest writings, perhaps penned in a fit of madness, rave about the Silva Forest, about a voice from the trees calling her home.
Despite never having shown any prior interest in her mysterious origins, Nythe suddenly emerged from her solitude a decade after the Great Fever, organizing a journey back to the Forest. Against her wishes, the high mages of the Keep made arrangements for a small group of other magi to accompany her. Otherwise, she took only a kirin as her mount, leaving the rest of her creatures at the Keep. Perhaps it was this lack of responsibility that led the high mages to believe her unfit to travel alone.
Sometime during their first night camped in the Silva Forest, Nythe vanished.
She left all of her belongings and creatures behind, including the kirin she had taken as a mount. Her body was never found, and her traveling companions returned the Keep shortly after, frightened by the heavy disquiet that surrounded them in the wake of the disappearance. For some time, rumors of dark sigils being found carved into the underside of her quarter's furniture circulated, and then there was nothing. The Keep moved on to other things, and Nythe's end remains as mysterious as her beginning.
Theories abound about Nythe's life, as is common when a magi is so shrouded in obscurity. So much is still unknown or not understood. Who was she, and where did she go?
Was she a changeling of some species yet unknown, replaced and disposed of on the rocky Silvan beaches?
Were her suspicions of the origin of the Fever correct, and could her madness have been a revenge wrought by dark magi? Was her disappearance, then, a shadowy assassination?
Is it possible her madness and misfortune were just the result of prolonged exposure to the rotting cukurba from whom she extracted the drug?
Or was there really something among the trees of the forest, a connection between her and the woods just as deep as the one she shared with the plantlike creatures she so loved?
Every magi has their opinions, but the answers will likely never truly be found.