World in Flames
A young girl on the run from her powerful family
The Chantons are a family that resides deep in the marshland, cloistered away in a muddy hollow where blighted things squirm in the mud and strangers never tread. The children are taught that their acre of choked trees and thick water is representative of the rest of the world; that they are among the last survivors in a world that needs to be revitalized by means of a half-understood ritual that has been passed down in the family through generations, only wanting for enough participants.
The truth is worse. The insular family is the final product of an extinguished cult that produced a murky, complex ritual for equally opaque and sinister purposes. Only a few members of the outer circle escaped the eventual reckoning with the law, clutching the arcane manual containing directions for executing the rite as they fled into lawless territories.
The ritual requires more than twenty participants, and even in populous areas the cult had problems finding enough spellcasters to accommodate it. The former cultists decided to raise their own children as sages so as to have enough resources. But the swamp claimed many, and even to the third generation the venture continued. There were children who questioned what they were told, but they were swiftly corrected.
Eventually, there came one who escaped. There is a saying that courage is simply being more afraid of something else. At age fourteen, Mary Chanton was scared plenty by her family, and slightly less by the all-consuming swamp. So she fled; fled past magical traps, past things that chewed the feet, past limbs that moved without owners. After days of frenzied running, she came upon something that wasn’t supposed to exist: civilization.
The next few years were a confusing blur. After acquiring an apprenticeship with a clockmaker in the Craftsman’s Guild, Mary tried to put the past out of her mind while applying herself to her work. However, the harsh arcane training of her earlier days shone through in her most creative handiwork, despite the best efforts of craftsman and apprentice. Mechanisms would “stick” in the air with no visible means of propulsion, dials would run backwards when not being watched, clocks would shed feathers instead of chime.
In the end, when her time as an apprentice could be prolonged no further, and it was clear she could not stand on her own as a mundane craftsman, Mary left her second home in search of someplace where her talents would be of use.