A History of the Witch SaiJayani, Shaper of Souls and Iron

I. SaiJayani Akhadi of Selchis

Fate is ever crafty in her design.

Once there was a girl who lived in a peaceful island village by the sea. Her father was a renowned artist and calligrapher, a daydreaming scholar who loved his children and treasured his books. Her mother, the village blacksmith, forged items intricate and fantastical, as well as those sturdy, strong, and plain. Her two older brothers were fishermen whose brash strength was second only to their kindness and compassion.

On her island in the sun, the girl grew strong and was happy. From her father, she learned magic: the weaving of essence into toys, tricks, and other small distractions, as well as the more mundane magic of escaping into a good book. Her mother taught her the ways of the forge: the skill of shaping iron to her will, and the secret of creating shining ethereal works of glass. The girl spent her days filled by the heat of the forge and the smell of hot iron, the sound of her brothers' teasing, the vibrant ink of a scroll newly opened, and the taste of salt on the wind.

She wondered what the future would bring; would she be a wise scholar like her father? Or would she someday take her place before the forge? Or perhaps join her brothers at the helm of a small fishing boat of her own? None of these paths felt quite right, but she couldn't bear to give any of them up either, and so year after year, as her friends married and settled into a trade, she did a little of this and a little of that, and her heart was her own.


II. The Smith Zayana's Final Secret

Of the day I saved some when I could not save all, and the story of a hammer forged in the dying fire of a mother's love.

Shall I tell you then, of how I took my second breath? It was a beautiful day, like days before uncounted, the cold of winter giving way to the warmth of spring. The ships were blessed for a prosperous fishing season, and every home in Selchis was cleaned and brightened for the spring festival. This year, my father convinced the Heaven's Song Circus to perform, even though Selchis is a small and out of the way place. The Circus set up a large tent just outside of town, banners floating crimson in the bright sunshine. Townsfolk and more than a few strangers flooded the streets. Scraps of blessings and prayers fluttered in the blossom-scented breeze.

It was a tempting delight, but too many people and too much noise for my tastes. So I kissed my mother goodbye as she stood before the forge, hard at work even today. Father had left hours ago, to ensure that everything was just right for the entertainers of Heaven's Song. Following the well-worn path from the forge into Selchis proper, I took a moment to marvel at the crowds and the brightly shining tent at the other end of town. When the moment was gone, I turned and made my way against the flow of the crowd to find a quiet place on the beach. I passed Vishal and Amira, Rahul and Sefanya, each dressed in their most colorful robes for the performance that was soon to start. My brothers (predictably) teased me for my antisocial behavior, but they know better than anyone how a quiet stretch of beach glittering in the sun can restore the soul. I kept on my way until I found the perfect spot, a secluded place on the shore not far from town, and I sat down and got comfortable. I closed my eyes against the blazing sun, and listened to the soothing roll of the waves. If I really concentrated, I could hear the music of the circus, through the murmur of the crowd, and the far-off clang of mother's hammer against the anvil. I got lost in the sounds of Selchis, and memories of the beautiful, useful things mother had crafted over the years. In all my time at the forge, I never used her hammer. It was just too personal somehow, intimidatingly heavy, and well worn from her years of crafting.

For just a moment, the wind changed, like the first hint of a storm rolling in. But the sky had been clear moments ago…even now I could feel the heat of the sun on my skin and closed eyelids. Though the quality of the light felt different somehow. And that was when I realized I couldn't move. I couldn't even open my eyes. My heart began to pound. In that same moment, the sound of the music faded away. Then the sound of the waves disappeared. Last of all, the beat of my heart fell silent. The temperature dropped suddenly, and I was battered and sliced by what felt like cold shards of glass. The seconds became minutes, and still I sat, stunned and bleeding, unable to rise, alone in the quiet dark.

Sound was the first thing to return— no reassuring waves, just screams of pain and terror now. Finally, I opened my eyes. I saw things in that moment that haunt me to this day. I could still hear the circus music, eerie and disjointed now, as it played over a scene of death and madness. The sea lay frozen and shattered around me, on me, under my skin. It reflected a sickly unnatural green from no obvious source. I got to my feet shakily, and removed what shards I could as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. Spires and buildings of brass had uprooted the homes and shops I knew, demons of every description walked and slithered and flew through the formerly peaceful streets, and everywhere— people I'd known and loved my whole life wailing, screaming, fighting…dying. I tore my eyes away, to find the hill where my home and our forge lay— only to find it engulfed in flame.

I don't remember the race to the forge. I remember my heart twisting in fear for my mother alone at the forge. And then I remember hiding behind the short wall that encircled our well, for my home was full of danger. With my eyes, I followed a trail of dead demons to the forge. And my mother…she blazed with the glory of the stars as she lay waste to all before her, with forgehammer and fiery breath. She gestured at the flames and they did as she bid. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before.

She was decimating their ranks. Until a demon-lord appeared.

It was a huge thing, and it towered over my mother Zayana with skin that seemed made of stone and shards of volcanic glass, but oozed a trail of blood and pus behind him. You would fight me, little ifrit? he laughed. I like your kind. A treat in this town of pathetic, stupid mortals. Your blood will taste of fire and spice, and I will feast until all of it is mine. She prepared to slam her hammer into him, a mighty blow, just as he reached for her belly with claws of glass and tore deep. But her strike was already in motion. As it hit, her hammer shattered. But so did his body.

All was quiet as she fell. I reached her before she hit the ground. "Mama, no…" I cradled her close and tried to slow the bleeding. So much to say, so many questions, and no time left. Her hand brushed my face as I leaned closer to hear what she was whispering, "…meant to tell you and your brothers someday, not like this. Aureus, find him. He can protect you now." Her voice was fading as she placed my hands under hers, around what remained of the well-loved hammer that saved my life, but would not save hers. "One last…present…from me…..love…" I felt the fire stir around me, and that was the only warning I received as she used the last of her life to weld that hammer back together with her very essence.

The hammer was not the only thing reforged in that instant. Fire flared around me, roared through my veins as the unfairness and the horror of my mother's death and the destruction of my home undid me. And then suddenly, I was made new, blazing with the light of the sun, and with the power to take what I dared from these foul invaders. My mother was gone, but it would not be for nothing. My family, my friends, everyone I ever loved was out there right now, fighting for their lives, waiting for me to claim and protect them. And now I had the means to do so. All that remained of my mother was the essence suffusing this humble tool, now a weapon beyond compare. I swung that hammer up onto my shoulder— cracks glowing with ghostly fire, but stronger than ever— and made my way out into the chaos. Gods help any demon unlucky enough to cross my path.


III. The Only Way Forward Is With A Broken Heart

The sorrowful sound of a tungana over moonlit desolation, and where I went from there.

The flow of demons stopped, sooner than I feared. I did not stop fighting until every last demon lay dead. Still, the light of Malfeas shines from our water, and the streets are full of dead demons and brass spires, and what remains of those I failed to save. So many are unaccounted for, as if they simply vanished. Others, including my father Amanth and both of my brothers, are confirmed to be taken by the demonic host for unknown purposes. So few of us still live. But we are together now, and stronger for it.

After every demon was killed, after I helped build a scavenged camp for the survivors, I fulfilled my obligation to the dead. I identified who I could, but many were unknown, or in no condition to be identified. The demons were cruelty unbound. I burned every body further down the untainted shore and let the waves take their ashes, with a prayer that they be cradled by the sea and carried by the currents far from this monstrous place.

In those days of salvage and clean up, I met a handful of survivors from the circus. One of the musicians joined me in my work. As we spent time together in silence, doing what must done, I felt the call of like to like. He, like me, was refined and remade in the Malfean fire of this break.

When we had done all we could, we crossed over to the opposite shore and surveyed the wreckage in the moonlight. The remnants of his family and mine grieved together what was lost. The next morning we went our separate ways, all wanderers now, but not before I pledged to return to this spot in a year's time to share what progress I had made in retrieving the taken.

That night as I sat before the fire, further from home than I'd ever been, I watched the flames curling, and I thought about the future. There was much to do. The other Selchians and I had decided that we must band together and do all we can to prevent this from happening anywhere else. But if we were to be effective, we'd have to be settled and organised. A tiny band of refugees fleeing from place to place was unlikely to accomplish much.

Questions plagued me in the night. My mother— an ifrit? A whole branch of the family I've never met, sure to be stranger by far than the family I just lost. Aureus. Who— or what— is Aureus? But perhaps that was a mystery for some other day, after I'd found us a home, even a temporary one. My father, my brothers and their wives— do I dare hope they live? Or would it be kinder by far to hope for their deaths? What am I now, with divine fire raging through my veins? Where do I go from here?

My father taught me magic to amuse and delight. How can I blame him for not teaching me magic that rends and bleeds and kills? Even so, I am haunted by the fact, that perhaps if I knew such things, I might have been able to save him in time. I might have been strong enough to save Mother. And maybe Vishal and Amira, Rahul and Sefanya would still be here.

I have heard of a ritual used by sorcerers to pull demons from Malfeas, and I will track it down and learn it. I will bind demon after demon, and take what knowledge I can. I will shred them, and scatter their essence to the winds. I am SaiJayani, a witch and the shaper of both souls and iron. The demonic host may not know my name today. But, by the might of Sol Invictus, one day soon they will. And when they hear it, they will tremble.

The Lost of Selchis

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