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The Nightwatcher's Gift


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As he walked through the forest, Nod could feel himself dying. At this point, his body was more stone than flesh, an unfortunate consequence of continuous soulcasting. Every action was stiff as his joints ground against each other; it wouldn’t be long until they couldn’t bend at all. 

He had known the risks when he had first volunteered to be a soulcaster, but back then, he thought he’d be making a difference, doing something that mattered. Better to build barracks on the Shattered Plains than farm a field in a town no one cares about. Turns out noble ideals didn’t matter when your organs were slowly turning to rock.

But the Nightwachter would save him.

He liked to think he was on the right path, mostly because there wasn’t one. Supposedly the Nightwatcher found you and not the other way around. Nod was definitely lost, but he was sure he could make it worse if he just kept going.

It wasn’t hard to do. Everything looked the same to him. It was all trees and bushes that tried to trip you. They all wove together into a collective mass that blocked out the sun like grasping hands at a beggar’s feast.

This was his second day of hiking, technically longer if he counted the weeks of travel it had taken to get to the Valley. He could feel time slipping past him as his condition worsened and his supplies began to run low.

Nod eventually came to something that could pass for a clearing if that meant enough space to swing your arms around without hitting anything. It was as good a place as any.

He tried to fix his appearance; it wasn’t a very difficult process. His robes were a simple muted red; they’d become duller each day he’d spent in the wilderness and he kept his head shaved. It was typical for an ardent, but for him, it was more practical. These days he could hardly raise his hands above his shoulder, let alone fix his hair. 

And finally, on his right hand was his soulcaster; the large topaz at its center almost made it look like jewelry. He felt a strange mix of wonder and hate towards the device. It was the entire reason for his condition, but it had the ability to do so much. With it he could turn anything to stone; it was a relic of a forgotten age and not easily cast aside.

Most of all, he felt guilt for bringing it, but it had been necessary. Without it, he would have been defenseless, and this journey wouldn’t have been possible for someone in his condition. He figured the consequences for “borrowing” the soulcaster couldn’t be worse than the fate that awaited him if this didn’t work. 

Once he was done with his appearance, he knelt down on the edge of the clearing and raised his hands as if in prayer. “Oh, radiant spren, I beg of you, appear to me and grant my desire.” He hated the sound of his voice; it was deep, like stone scraping stone. 

His words were met with a long pause, so he kept going, “I have traveled for many days to reach your glorious valley… it is very nice and has a lot of… trees.”

Silence. As a breeze moved through the branches, it almost sounded like whispers, like when you misspoke during a prayer, and everyone had to make sure their neighbor heard it. He shook his head. He was probably just hearing things. 

Nod tried again. After all, what was the harm? It’s not like you could scare away something that wasn’t there.

After several failed attempts (each with varying levels of flattery), Nod slowly got up; it was a long, slow process too similar to an old man’s for his liking. He would have to keep going. If he didn’t find her, he might as well pose and resign himself to becoming a statue. 

Had he been misled? Those guides must have lied to him; he was in the wrong spot. Or maybe he wasn’t worthy enough? Anger boiled inside him, summoning angerspren out of the ground, like small pools of blood. The Nightwacther had condemned him to death without even meeting him!

On impulse, Nod swung to the nearest tree and thrust his rocky palm into it, sending splinters flying. Become stone, he thought. At first, he felt pressure, as if the tree was refusing his command. Nod hummed angrily, a common trick used by soulcasters. Become immovable, become unbreakable, become stone.

hat did the trick. Rapidly from the point of contact, the tree’s bark shifted into a pale gray stone extending all the way up the trunk and disappearing into the canopy.

At the base of the tree, a spren emerged out of the rock. It looked vaguely humanoid but without any intricate details, like someone had been trying to sculpt it but had given up. It wasn’t a type Nod was familiar with, although ones like it had been appearing around his soul casting for the last several weeks. It looked at Nod’s work before shaking its head as if in disappointment.

"Why did you do that?” Asked a voice from behind him; it was distinctly feminine but wrong somehow. It sounded more like a chorus, with each voice a  slightly different pitch and barely out of sync. Nod froze, he was… well petrified.

He turned slowly, and there she was, the Nightwatcher. No amount of stories or descriptions did her justice. Her face was normal enough; it was smooth, almost like porcelain, but after that, you noticed how wrong the rest of her was. Her eyes contained nothing but darkness, as if it were a mask and something else was looking through it. Her body was a green mist that extended into the forest seemingly without end. She extended an arm nearly as tall as he was towards the tree as if she thought his confusion was in regards to her question and not her sudden appearance.

Nod dropped to his knees. Despite his stone shins, it still hurt, but he hardly noticed. “Oh, radiant spren, I apologize. I let my anger get the best of me. I didn’t mean to disrespect you or your valley.” Shockspren had sprung up around him like small yellow triangles breaking and reforming continuously.

The Nightwatcher hardly reacted to his words and kept her eyes on the tree. Nod awkwardly shuffled to the side as she passed him; he didn’t want to risk touching her both out of respect and a healthy dose of caution.

Once she finished examining the tree, she turned back to him. “And what of you?” She eyed him up and down. “You are unlike the other humans that seek an audience with me. What boon do you desire?”

Nod kept his eyes on the dirt. “My life grows shorter by the day, radiant spren. I am a soulcaster, and slowly I am becoming the very substance I command. I ask that you return my body to the state that it was in three years ago.” He worded that last part carefully lest the Nightwatcher twist his words and turn him into a child.

"I see.” She moved her face low as if to look into his eyes. “You could ask for anything, riches, strength, nobility, but you merely wish for something you once had.”

"Yes, more than anything.”


Was this some sort of test? “Nightwatcher, I am dying. I’m sure any man in my situation would ask the same.” 

She didn’t respond, and now that Nod was up close, he could see that the mists that created her body were forming tiny grasping tendrils, like hands reaching for something he couldn’t see. 

His answer must not have been sufficient. Why did he want to live? What would he do if he had a second chance? “My people spend every day fighting a war that seems impossible to win while I can hardly dress myself. I’m tired of being a burden.”

"Interesting," the Nightwatcher mused. “I take no interest in your conflicts, but I will grant you your boon.” She then reached out with a hand as if to touch his face.

Nod couldn’t help but pull back almost instinctively. “Great spren, do I get to know what my curse will be?”

She drew her hand back, but her expression remained unchanged. “Will that change your decision?”

Another test? Perhaps he was overthinking things. But the question was worth asking. What wouldn’t he be willing to give up? Nothing. So long as he got his body back, he could do something, anything. He gritted his teeth. “It won’t. I will do what has to be done no matter the cost.”

The words are accepted, said a voice. It didn’t sound like the Nightwatcher’s.

The Nightwatcher tilted her head slightly. “Very well.” She then reached out and cupped his cheek. 

Nod felt a cold sensation that went deeper than his skin, like cold water coursing through his veins. Bit by bit, he began to feel lighter as clumps of rocks fell off his body. He closed his eyes. The sensation didn’t hurt so much as it felt fundamentally wrong. Like his very being was being stretched.

When he opened his eyes, he was alone, his arms braced against the ground. He breathed out ragged gasps. He raised one hand and completely closed his fist for the first time in months. He reached up to touch his face, and his elbow didn’t lock up. He smiled and burst into laughter; he couldn’t help it. A single laughterspren, a long line, did a loop-de-loop before vanishing. 

Storms, that had been terrifying, but he’d done it.

He did a quick evaluation of his body. He still had all his limbs, all of his fingers; he could still smell, hear, and see. Everything seemed to be in order, so his curse was probably something not physical. That was both a relief and extremely troubling.

He fell on his back and looked up at the canopy above him. In all of his planning, he hadn’t ever gotten farther than this. He’d have to find his way back home somehow. His mind went beyond that. Briefly, he realized he didn’t have to go back. He could sell the soulcaster and live somewhere in moderate comfort for the rest of his life. Just as quickly, he knew he couldn’t do that. He had people depending on him, and he couldn't let them down. Still, what would he do when he actually got back?

Something came into view- the rockspren from earlier. It was taller now, barely able to lean over him while he was on his back. He realized it was more defined than he first thought, almost humanoid; while it didn’t have exact facial features, the rock was shaped in a way as if to suggest cheekbones, eyebrows, and a nose.

"You better not be dead.” The spren’s voice was feminine but fairly deep. “That’d make this real awkward.” 

Nod's good mood made it easy to overlook why a spren was talking to him. Maybe it was an effect of the valley?

"No, strange spren, I am alive. Perhaps more so than I have been for a long time.” 

"Good." The spren made motions for him to get up. “I’m Ko’nina, by the way. We should probably get moving. I think you have something you need to return.”

Nod couldn’t help but glance at his soul caster. He suddenly felt a sinking feeling in his gut. “Are you perhaps my curse?”

"Curse?" The spren hesitated. “I don’t think so. This is something different, a bit more… mutually beneficial. You’ve only just started, but I think you’ve got potential.”

Nod's heart fluttered as he got up. Could she mean… no, it wasn’t possible. The nightwatcher had already granted his boon. 

Ko'nina began to lead the way out of the valley, and Nod followed.

Maybe, Nod considered, just maybe, noble ideals had some value after all.

A soulcaster pays a visit to the Nightwatcher. 

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