Elliot was angry. This was supposed to be HIS day! Instead, everybody kept staring at the Illuminator in the middle of the room. The wooden box, about one by two meters, had been open all morning. The organism that grows out of it, once released, shape-shifted rapidly as always. But today, there were particularly many dark spikes materialising. Elliot knew them already. Theses black spikes were not uncommon. But while they tended to be surrounded by colourfully glowing waves of goo, today, the spikes had taken over almost the entire organism. Elliot had wondered often how these organisms worked. They were created by great Magicians, his parents had told him. People, they could never fully understand. Whenever Eliot asked why they would never understand them, if they couldn’t just talk to them, his parents waved him off. Having had Eleanore as a mother has taught him to ask questions. But some questions were just not for them to answer, she would argue.
Today was a day of lacking answers. Elliot’s parents wouldn’t give him as much of a glance, every time he wanted to point out that his Oyster had finally opened. At first, they gave him a brief, faked smile. Then they turned away again, to stare at the Illuminator. It seemed as though they hadn’t even heard what he had said. They could at least have listened to him! Given him some appreciation of this big life event! Everybody knows you did not have to look straight at the Illuminator anyway. You didn’t see particularly much, except for the big, shifting blob, that took up almost the entire half of the living room. It also made noises, that were just as wobbly and unrefined as the organism’s shape. Sometimes it made you think of the crashing of ocean waves. Sometimes you heard something that could be bird singing. Today it sounded a little bit like grandpa’s heavy breath when he forgot to take his medicine. It was never about the actual things you saw or heard in it. Whatever the blob did, the true meaning of its shapes and sounds was somehow projected into your head. You just had to be close enough. Looking at it was impressive and often helped interpret the meaning, but you did not have to look at it. As soon as it was on, it put you into some sort of waking sleep, that made you dream about the world. Everybody had the same dream. So people could talk about their experience afterwards. Why couldn’t they just turn around for a few moments and celebrate with him?
Elliot knew that something big was happening when he woke up this morning. His family had tried to keep the Black Eruption from him as long as they could. They even tried to keep it from themselves for a long time. But eventually, Elliot noticed, they were sitting in front of the Illuminator more and more often. In the beginning, they brushed it off, rolled their eyes. Then, Elliot started noticing debates within his family. The more the dark spikes on the Illuminator took over, the more agitated the entire household seemed. One day, Elliot dared to ask what was going on, as his mothers were getting particularly loud with each other.
Esther had been at the market early that day while Eleanore prepared her teaching material. It has was a somewhat free day, so Elliot was allowed to sleep in. At least that was the plan. He got woken up by loud shouting from the hallway. When he abandoned his sleeping matt to wander to where the angry noises were coming from, he found Elenore by the hoist window, shouting down at Esther: “And where do you plan to put all of this?! It’s just going to spoil!”
“Mum?”, Eleanore turned around in haste and stared at her teenage son. She almost let go of the rope. At first, she looked shocked, then she noticed, she was still pulling a heavy weight. Elliot slowly rubbed away the little slime that glued his eyelids together:
“What’s going on, Mum?”
“Nothing, Elliot. Go back to your room!”, she got a little louder, still trying to not be rude to him. It didn’t work that well. In a last attempt he said:
“Can I help you, Mum? Is everything o…”
“GO TO YOUR ROOM!”, he could see the instant regret in her face. But he obeyed.
Esther and Eleanore were very loving parents. While Eleanore was a little more strict, due to her career as a teacher, Esther was the personification of love. Both of them were forever grateful to have him in their life and they did not hold back, showing it to him. Eleanore loved spending time with him to show him facts about the world. Elliot appreciated the time they spent and the knowledge she passed on to him. Esther was originally from the countryside where she grew up with her grandmother, Laura. It was here where she learned her kindness and trust in other people. Sometimes Eleanore let Esther know she was too naive. Ester never denied that. She always answered with a big grin on her face: “Maybe I am naive. That’s okay. It keeps me content.”
Whenever one of his parents’ emotions exploded at him, he knew that something had to be very wrong.
It was this morning when Elliot finally learned what was wrong. He was a little surprised how well Esther and Eleanore could hide it from him. All the world talked about it already. Only Elliot had been protected away from the harsh realities.
This time it was not his mother’s shouting that woke him up. It was a series of Herders that flew around the neighbourhood. They were similar to the Illuminator in their living room. However, Herders didn’t have a permanent box and they were much smaller. A grown hand full of goo-blobs, with wings. Eleanore once told him, they were kept in huge facilities that fulfilled the same function as the wooden box in their living room: it stored them away safely when they were not needed. And usually, they were not needed. This morning was the first time Elliot saw a real-life Herder. Because they were so limited in their size to enable them to fly, the Herders were very simple. They couldn’t convey complex meanings like the Illuminator. The shapes they produced, were much smaller. But because they were so small and fast, you couldn’t make out much of these shapes anyway. Also, they could apparently only manifest one colour at a time: Today the all were red. To make up for that lack of meaning, they were very loud and bright. Elliot watched them through his elevated window, as they bolted through the streets of Veiluria. He could not distinguish whether the shrill noise they were making was produced by their wings or by the organism they carried. Or both? Where the wings part of that miniature-Illuminator? Or were they attached? Who were the Magicians who created those creatures? What was their secret?
He didn’t want to sit right next to the Illuminator as everybody else. But at least he knew what’s been happening in the last couple of days. His parents hadn’t allowed him to meet his friends for a while now and they had taken away his illuminator. Supposedly as punishment for not listening to them initially, when they’d told him to stay home. Now he knew better.
He had heard of Black Eruptions before. They happen all the time. The bigger they were, the more seldom they happened. Small Black Eruptions were somewhat normal. People complained about them all the time. But the big ones… The big ones could kill hundreds, thousands of people. They seemed to happen randomly, all around the globe. The Seeers could predict some of them, but the ones that struck the hardest seemed unpredictable. The Illuminator projected these big Black Eruptions almost daily.
But they were never here.
Never in Veiluria.
Veiluria was a somewhat safe city.
Not anymore, it seemed. As he shoved his breakfast into his mouth, Elliot had to learn what his parents had been so secretive about. A small Black Eruption in a country called Eukromia. At first, it was so small, people didn’t even notice it. But the more people did, the bigger it grew. It took over all of Eukromia within a few weeks. And as with any Black Eruption this one, too, brought destruction. Many people were just swallowed by it. Some of them were great Magicians. The reason they couldn’t see it coming was the slow nature of this Black Eruption, Esther told him when she finally opened up to Elliot. Instead of the fast explosion-like spread over a limited area, this Black Eruption seemed to explode in slow motion. So slow in the beginning, people couldn’t even see it, let alone take it seriously. Nobody knew where the radius of this explosion would end. And today it reached their small country, Cagosia. Even the most powerful Magicians seemed clueless. Some Seeers had been talking about an event like this, but they also only had hypothesis’ about its nature. These hypothesis’ were what they tried to sell people as realities via the Illuminator now. None of these hypothesis’ added up completely. Some kept saying, that people should have listened to them. That they had been talking about this for decades. And how foolish people were to not listen to their particular theory.
The most powerful Magicians in the country decided to announce a national emergency. The Herders were sent out to let people know something big was happening. And now, Elliot’s parents and his grandfather were glued to the Illuminator, just like the rest of Cagosia.
Elliot felt angry. And he felt guilty for feeling angry. Today was supposed to be his day. He had been waiting for it almost all his life. In the morning, as he slowly turned away from the screaming, red blinking windows, he saw it. His Oyster had opened!
There was almost nothing more important in the life of a teenager than the opening of their Case. The Case looked a little different in every country. Cagosian kids got a Case in the manifestation of an Oyster. In other countries, they had hollow stones that hatched like an egg. Others did actually have eggs. There were as many different Case manifestations as there were national traditions. Elliot’s Case Oyster had a beautiful wash of purple and yellow that changed a little bit, depending on how the light touched it.
These Cases were presented to every baby shortly after they were born. It was a big ceremony with a Magician and the entire family present. Often friends of the family showed up as well. They all ventured to their local community palace to watch this one baby receive its Case by the Magician. Magicians came in all shapes and forms, but these Magicians tended to wear wide, shining robes in light colours. Often they wore golden chains on their heads, that had little symbols hanging over their foreheads. These Magicians were known to be very powerful within their local communities. They were also usually known to be very kind of heart and tried to convince the people around them to carry their kindness on to others.
Elliot knew very well, what his ceremony looked like. Esther had shown him through the Illuminator in the local community palace. These Illuminators could only be accessed with the permission of the Magician. Looking at it has been a very special moment when Elliot was about seven.
In his ceremony, his young parents – Esther holding him – were standing in the centre of the palace, which was marked by a big fountain. It was a beautiful fountain. A lot of it was made of white stone, some of it covered in gold. The fountain was usually calm, with saltwater, slowly running and dripping down the faces of stone-carved people, Magicians, and gods. His entire family and their friends were kneeling on their small carpets, arranged around the fountain in many rows. As Esther did her best to keep little Elliot calm in her loving hands, the shallow parts of the fountain started to bubble. Music filled the magnificent hall. As the bubbles increased, the Magician slowly rose from the waters. He spoke to the community about the importance of this moment. When told so, Esther passed Elliot to Eleanore, who, in turn, passed the baby in the direction of the Magician. The old man stomped his staff into the water, causing the fountain behind him to become more playful, as the baby slowly started floating away from Eleanore’s hands. She and Esther were so proud. This was the moment, their son got recognised by the rest of the world. The fountain erupted in beautiful, high sprinkling rays of water and started glowing in purple and yellow shades. Elliot slowly floated right in front of the Magician’s chest. Holding his white staff, he seemed concentrated and yet at peace, his long, white hair and robes floating in the air as if he was underwater. Elliot, too, seemed very much at peace. With some inaudible words from the Magician, a new fountain started shooting out of the basin in front of him. It slowly raised a bowl in the shape of an oversized, white Oyster. In this oyster was more water and swimming in this water was HIS Oyster. Elliot’s Oyster. One day this Oyster would open. And with it, an entirely new world would open up to Elliot.
He just never expected this world to look the way it did now.
As he saw the open Oyster on the night table next to his matt, pulsating in the reflected red lights, his heart jumped. He ran right over to look at what it held inside. The content of the Cases looked a little different for every human. They all had about the size of an eyeball and they all had the same symbol engraved on them. This symbol was followed by another rune that was unique to every human. The contents of these Cases were called Zaks and they were, in and of themselves, yet another case of sorts.
Zaks were artefacts, capable of carrying magic within them. Every human had one. Losing them meant losing your identity within society. They carried the knowledge about your essence. And you could use them to collect and store Magic.
This was the moment, that turned Elliot into a man, into a functioning part of society. Having a Zak gave him power as he had never known it before. With the help of a Zak, he could start his own life, if he wanted to. It gave him the option of independence.
Elliot’s Zak seemed to consist of some special mineral. Just like the Oyster, it reflected purple and yellow, depending on how the light hit it. It had smooth bumps, no sharp edges. And on a flatter side, it showed the Zak rune, followed by the Elliot rune, he had never seen before. This was his rune. Nobody else had it. It was very round, with an elegant swoosh in the end. This was now the representative of his identity. It was his access to at least a little bit of the Magic, the great Magicians where using.
Usually, the opening of the Case causes a big celebration within the family and circle of friends. It’s a day, people celebrated every year, just like their birthdays.
And nobody cared. Because of this stupid Black Eruption, that had to creep up on them for months without his knowledge. But people were swallowed by this Black Eruption. And that meant, people were dying. Elliot’s head sunk towards his cereal bowl as fast as it had risen in anger. The Illuminator bounced with more and more dark spikes. It’s noises becoming louder and louder. Elliot didn’t want to receive its projections. They were harsh and inconsistent. His parent’s eyes had gone completely blank. He had already given up begging them to close the box. They didn’t care. They were hypnotised, said, it was for his own good if they knew what was happening. And as the noises grew louder and louder, Elliot got up and wandered blankly into the hallway. Unnoticed by anyone, his Zak in a firm grip, he put on his grey jacket and closed the apartment door behind himself. He didn’t think about where he was going, what he was going to do, let alone what was waiting for him out there. It didn’t matter. Anything to get away from the madness of their living room. Anything to have a moment to himself to appreciate this magical moment of his life. Even if nobody else did.
When Elliot arrived home after dawn his family swarmed around him. Esther let her arms fall around his shoulders. Her eyes were a little shinier than usually and the skin around them redder. Eleanore was stopped about two meters from them, leaning against the wall, watching them with an expression that Elliot could not quite pin down. Either she was annoyed or relieved. Through the living room door, he saw grandpa Theo sit in his armchair, looking over with the same, neutral face he always showed.
“Where did you go?”, Esther whimpered into his ear a little too loudly.
“Just for a walk…”, he replied.
“You scared us to death, Elliot.”, Eleanore said with a strict tone, then followed up with a warm smile: “I’m glad you made it home safely.”
Esther grabbed him by the shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes: “Something really bad is happening out there, Elliot…”
“I know, but it’s really not that…”
“Please don’t scare us like this anymore.”
He nodded against his will. He knew his mothers. Esther would not stop until he said yes.
As he slowly moved towards his room, he realised that this walk had been life-changing for him. There was no way he could regret it. Too much had happened. He would never be the same person again. And he could never tell them. They wouldn’t understand.
In front of his room he stopped and felt the pressure of his Zak in his fist. This was something he wanted to tell them. He wanted to tell them ever since this crazy day started.
As he turned on his heels to present the shiny artefact, he started to hear loud crying from the living room. His steps gained speed. Grandpa Theo was staring at the Illuminator, one hand by his heart. A quiet tear running down his cheek. Behind him, Esther, with her face buried into Eleanore’s shoulder. Eleanore was crying herself, but holding Esther tightly, who had trouble breathing, as she kept gasping distorted ‘no’s.
Elliot slowly walked towards the living room door. When Eleanore saw him, she raised her index finger high into the air and shook it calmly. Esther noticed, though and slowly caught some breath while tuning to Elliot. She wiped the tears from her read face. As her breathing relaxed, she whispered to Elliot: “Your great grandmother Laura…”, she started struggling again and with her last strength she finished: “She died last night…”
As she fell back into Eleanore’s arms, Elliot walked a step into the living room. His gaze slowly shifted from his parents to the Illuminator.
It was the Black Eruption. It had swallowed the kind woman.