Raised in far northern Caskentia, Octavia was orphaned at age twelve when a Waster airship crashed atop her village. She has been plagued ever since by memories of fire and the screams of blood and death that her attuned ears could hear.
Soon after, she was taken in by Miss Percival and trained as a medician at an academy for girls with an aptitude for healing magic. Octavia excelled--perhaps too much. Her connection to the Lady and her Tree isolated her from her peers, and eventually, Miss Percival as well. Her formative years were spent working in medical wards at the front line of Caskentia's most recent conflict with the Waste.
Octavia is now twenty-two. Armistice has been declared. She is yet another mouth to feed at the academy. It's time for her to set out on her own as a business-woman, but this is not be a relaxing jaunt by airship to her new employer.
All she wants is a place to call home.
All she needs right now is to stay alive.
Alonzo Garret is a man of mystery in some regards, but other facts are plain to see. He's missing half of his right leg; Octavia can hear that absence with her keen medician's ear. His nutmeg skin sets him apart from the paler tones of most Caskentians. He doesn't hide that his father was Solomon Garret, a famed Caskentian general who met a tragic end some ten years before. Solomon Garret had come from Tamarania, a city-state to the far south known best for its technology and logic. Alonzo's accent, however, is pure Mercian--from Caskentia's own capital of Mercia--and quite posh with its lack of contractions and stilted formality.
Why is a man with such a background working as a steward aboard a tattered old passenger airship like the Argus?
Why is he always so strangely close when Octavia is most in need of aid?
And why is she daft enough to trust the man, even as someone--or someones--are trying to kill her?
Octavia's roommate aboard the Argus is a friendly older woman brimming with non-stop chatter. Not only is her voice loud, but so is her hair with its bold dye streak, her colorful attire, and a corset that is certainly a feat of modern structural engineering.
Her behavior is peculiar as well. She already seems to know things about Octavia--things that no one aboard should know. She has a keen eye for detail, and keeps a pencil and writing pad at ready.
Why would a children's book make her so upset?
Why is she on board the airship?
Who is Mrs. Stout, really?
[Artwork by Darryl Knickrehm]
The Fair Valley of Caskentia occupies the west coast of the continent. Much of the terrain is wilderness or farmland to support the burgeoning capital of Mercia with its half million souls. Caskentia has suffered under fifty years of almost constant war. Its recent generations are dead, maimed, or contagious with any number of dread illnesses. The economy has collapsed. The populace squabbles and starves, even as Queen Evandia resides in luxury within her palace.
It was not always this way.
Decades before, Caskentia knew its Golden Age beneath the benevolent rule of King Kethan. The kingdom's technology rivaled that of Tamarania to the south. Mercia's libraries were known across the world.
Then the Waste attacked. Settlers from across the mountains wanted independence from Caskentia. To make their point, they infiltrated the palace and stole the ten-year-old princess. She vanished. King Kethan declared war and desperately sought the return of his daughter.
A year later, Wasters struck an even mightier blow by using infernal magi to obliterate the palace. King Kethan died, and with him the Golden Age.
The high mountains of the Pinnacles form Caskentia's natural eastern border, though the plains beyond have been claimed by Caskentia for centuries. These plains--the Waste--are called such because plants struggle to grow and settlers die so young. People say the land bears a magicked curse. People say all sorts of fool things.
The true name of the land is the Dallows. The settlers of such a place are tough and stubborn; they must be, to survive. They want independence from Caskentia. They want to divert water from the Pinnacles to irrigate their land. Dallowmen want, want, want.
Fifty years ago, they tried to prove their point by absconding with Caskentia's Princess Allendia. The mission failed, and the war has not truly ended since.
Medicians are a healing class of magi. At some point in childhood, the skill will manifest when a child feels incredible pressure and pain in their forearms. This is the beginning of the need to bloodlet. Once a small amount of blood strikes the ground, small sprouts will emerge. This is a sign of the Lady's receipt of the blood.
Trained medicians maintain an incision in their arm to expedite this process. It's kept sealed in cantham wax, which prevents healing, and bandaged. Bloodletting must occur once or twice a week, or the pressure grows unbearable.
The Lady herself is a peculiar entity. She was said to be a medician, a human, who lived many centuries before in the land now known as the Waste. She begged God to be able to heal more people, and so she was planted in the ground and became the Tree. The Lady's Tree is the source of a medician's power, and the overseer of all life across the continent.