This is part of the Astraeus Collection. Though these stories won’t be chaptered or written in chronological order, they take place within the same narrative.
The stone walls of the barracks carried the echoes of brusque voices plotting slaughter. It was strategic massacre, and Yao Yu was the architect.
The war had already taken so much from him but he knew that without it he would be dead. The Lord Commander held a special appreciation for divination; when others wanted to cut the captive Dragonborn down where he stood, Ser Michial said that doing so would be a waste of talent.
Slipping into his chamber, Yao Yu dropped down onto the desk chair and rubbed between his eyes. Arguing with a hardened general was not a pleasant thing, as Searlas never did appreciate having his authority challenged. The general’s mood had soured rapidly after Michial sided with Yao Yu, yet he held his tongue and accepted his Lord Commander’s decision with practiced obedience.
Such disagreements were becoming more common.
Sighing softly, Yao Yu began gathering up his divination deck, the cards still tingling with magical energy from the recent reading. Also scattered about the top of the desk were hand-drawn maps of the constellations, books with pages so worn they threatened to tear, a quadrant lying next to an assortment of quills and rulers, a sighting tube, and a gold-trimmed planisphere with a small sapphire at its center. Yao Yu may have been forced into the role of a strategist, but nothing could deny him his calling as a scientist.
Just as he was putting the deck back into its pouch, there was a harsh knock at the door. He glanced over his shoulder.
The door shoved open.
A tall, imposing man with graying hair, sharp facial features, and scars that betrayed his impressive military record stepped inside without permission. When he yanked the door shut behind him, Yao Yu felt his stomach dip.
“General Searlas,” he said, springing up then bowing his head in obligatory reverence, long hair falling past his shoulders, “why this sudden visit?”
“Spare me, Dragonborn.”
The focused hatred in the general’s eyes hadn’t left, and Yao Yu felt cold as it targeted him once more. Searlas scanned the room with that venomous gaze, eyeing very book, every tool, every map with spiteful scrutiny. A sneer curled his lips.
“Such a comfortable station you’ve been afforded. The Lord Commander is forgiving to a fault. You ought to have his thanks on your serpent tongue every day until you draw your last breath–unless you have forgotten that you deserve to be rotting in a cell.” He paused before adding, smirk in his voice, “Or buried beneath Rimeguard’s frozen wastelands.”
“General,” Yao Yu said slowly, anger washing over him, “if this is about Ser Michial’s decision… Remember that you and I fight for the same cause. We are allies–”
“You steal his favor with your sham magic!” Searlas snapped, causing Yao Yu to jump. The man looked dangerously mad as he closed the distance. “You monsters break into our ranks, whisper your vile suggestions into the Lord Commander’s ear, pushing those of us out who have been loyal to this nation since birth.”
This was not a general insult, this was specific prejudice. Searlas alluded to Lalliesra, the only other Dragonborn in the guard and too adored by the Lord Commander. She had proved more than formidable thanks to the almost otherworldly power of her draconic bloodline. Any soldier who fights that magnificently catches Ser Michail’s eye.
It was then, with Searlas no more than an arm’s length away, that Yao Yu tried to decide if he should fight or talk. If he were to strike an esteemed general… It might spell grave trouble.
“Stand down, General,” he said finally. “I bear you no ill will. What happened earlier was no personal matter. I was only fulfilling my duty, as were you–”
The blow came hard and fast.
Searlas struck Yao Yu across the face, and the ornamentation on his armor cut deep–steel ripped through flesh and scales, carving a thin gash from the bottom of Yao Yu’s left eye down to his jaw. Blood splattered across the floor. The shock and force combined had him reeling.
Searlas snarled. “We are nothing alike, beast. You think us equals because you look more like a man than the dragons who scorched our villages and slaughtered our people in scores? You may have been able to conceal your monstrous form, but you can never hide your true nature–your thirst for destruction and chaos. Your kind will never be more than snakes that we must crush beneath our boots.”
As he was battered by insults, Yao Yu touched his wound. Crimson stained his fingers and the white silk sleeve of his robes. He stared down at the blood on his hands. It was red–red like Searlas’ blood, red like any man’s blood, red like the fury now burning in his chest.
We were not driven from our homes, beaten in the streets, imprisoned without justice, and hunted and killed like game to be called snakes.
He looked directly at the general as, unbeknownst to Searlas, the planisphere on the table began to come alive with the glow of magic.
“General,” Yao Yu said, voice chillingly calm, “have you ever witnessed the death of a star?”
For a split second, Searlas’ brow wrinkled in confusion, but then the anger came back in full force. He raised his arm to strike again when a gale-like force threw him back against the wall and knocked the breath from him.
Yao Yu moved his hands as if he were shaping an unseeable ball of clay between his palms. As he did so, wispy trails of fire began to spin together in the center of the room to create a flaming sphere.
“When a star loses the power to sustain itself,” he explained, “the core of the star collapses.” The flaming sphere–the “star”–began to surge and ripple painfully, as if something inside was trying to tear it apart.
“Then there is a final, cataclysmic eruption. You see, this happens terribly far away–farther than I can imagine and farther than you could ever hope to comprehend–but we can see it because the light is so brilliant. And what this violent, radiant death leaves behind is… utter beauty.”
The star began to swell and burn brighter until suddenly the room was consumed by a wash of splendent white light. It faded as quickly and it had come. Then in the place of the raging star was the mark it left upon the Heavens–wispy, shimmering clouds of the softest reds, greens, and blues, sprinkled with shining specs of light.
Searlas could see none of it.
Tough seemingly unscathed by any sort of magic, he blinked furiously and groped around the room. “What have you done to me?” he howled. “To my eyes?”
Yao Yu paced around the room to avoid the panicked, stumbling general. “We have discovered,” he said, “that the same elements created when a star dies also appear naturally in our world. In our own bodies, even. General, we have stardust in our blood. Is that not lovely?”
The diviner twirled his wrist and the door came open. General Searlas spat curses even as he was thrown by a harsh force once more. Yao Yu could hear him shouting desperately from the hall: The serpent witch blinded me!
A surge of pain ripped through Yao Yu’s face as the excitement faded and his body remembered the fresh wound. He held a hand over his planisphere and the sapphire glowed once more. A trail of cosmic aether, not unlike the dazzling clouds of color he had just conjured, gently drifted up from the gem then sprinkled across the gash like powder.
The bleeding flesh began to seal and scar over just as the sound of rushing footsteps and clanging armor drew near.
Science benefits quite a bit from magic. Though the telescope that we know doesn’t exist yet in the Astraeus universe, telescope “prototypes” like Yao Yu’s dioptra (sighting tube) certainly do. And with powerful enough magic, it is possible to glimpse far, far into the cosmos and view phenomena with the same level of clarity that our Hubble gives us in the real world.
This may be because there’s so much celestial aether up in space; it is a wealth of power that mages like Yao Yu have been able to connect with and tap into. This rings true, in some ways, to our reality. Supernovae, hypernovae, and gamma-ray bursts all create a ridiculous amount of energy. If we could harness even a fraction of that, we would probably develop superpowers–or just die.
Finally… PLEASE check out this gallery of supernova remnants because they are so! damn! pretty!
A little bit of Dragonborn lore:
Even though the war against the dragons took place a century (or more) before this story, prejudice still runs very deep in some places. Clearly.
Not all Dragonborn are Chinese-coded, and one thing to remember is that representations of dragons vary across cultures. This significantly shapes the way each Dragonborn looks; Yao Yu’s horns, eyes, and other features will look very different from Lalliesra’s, and so on.
I realize Dragonborn is a D&D/Pathfinder term but it’s also in Skyrim (so I’ve read). If it’s used in two different media sources does that make it fair game? I guess I’ll keep using the term until someone tries to sue me.