In this world, there are two competing ecologies. There's something we call "fain," and something we call "trune." And in this region, humankind, they basically can't live in the fain ecology. There's something called skullmoss that grows over everything and changes the plants; they become poisonous. And the animal flesh, humans can't survive on. We are in a city that is surrounded entirely by fain life. It's grown around, and there's a ring around the city; no one knows why it hasn't taken over the city.
And into this comes Midius, an apprentice Lightweaver who has been tasked with helping the people of this city by a mysterious mentor figure that you're not gonna find out about, but there will be some little clues. And he is brand new at this, barely knows what he's doing, and has been tasked with figuring out the mystery and trying to save the city before it falls to the fain.
He has entered the city, shown off some of his powers, had a different response from what he expected, and now he's found kind of a home in basically a soup kitchen for the poor that is run... they're the people who let him in.
This is from The Liar of Partinel.
"I want an opportunity to perform a story for these peoples," Midius said.
<Razal> snorted. "Like you performed for the king with that dragon today?"
Midius frowned. They stood in the kitchen, amidst <Razal's> bubbling pots, <Kale> dutifully stirring one to the left. The man hadn't needed to be asked. Already the room was beginning to fill with unemployed people. They sat, staring at their tables, waiting to be fed.
"How do you know about the dragon?" Midius asked.
<Razal> dumped a handful of spices into one of the pots. "It's all over the city, Jesk. I think it was incredibly poor taste to make the image eat an illusionary soldier."
"I did nothing of the sort."
"But you did create an illusion of a monster."
"Yes," Midius admitted."
"And now you want me to let you do something similar in here?"
"Nothing so drastic," Midius promised, "just a simple story."
"Why? I thought you were here to save the city or something."
"I'm working on that," Midius said. "In the meantime, I'd like to tell a story. I think it might help these men, lift their burdens.
<Razal> stopped pouring spices. She folded her arms, looking up at Midius. "Look, Lightweaver," she said, "you think your lies are gonna make these men happy? You think you can feed their children with a story? The Jesks failed us. Your master: he failed us."
"Wait, when was this?"
"Before," <Razal> said, waving a hand. "When <Torag> took control form Theus's father. The Jesks tried to placate the people, tried to tell them that a new age was coming. They spoke of art and beauty. And you know what? Their king couldn't feed us. People starved by the hundreds. Why do you think we turned to Theus?"
Midius's frown deepened. He knew the story, the history, differently. <Torag> had killed Theus's father, true, but it hadn't been the Jesks' influence that had caused the problems during <Torag's> single, tumultuous year of rule. It'd been the lack of alliances, poor trade instincts, and general unsettlement in the city.
And yet, the Jesks had supported him. And that was part of the reason Theus had exiled them. Still, <Razal's> version was skewed. Or perhaps Midius's was. His master had taught him the past was very difficult to pin down. "As fluid as river waters," he'd called history. "What paints on a tapestry, mixing and melding in liquid form, creating images and scents that never remained stable.
"<Razal>," Midius said, "you suffer the philosophers, even though I can tell you think their talk is frivolous. Well, even if you see my stories as frivolous, I ask you to let me tell them."
"Bah. You're as bad as that godspeaker, always pume to do things. Fine. Tell your story. But only after you serve food during the big eating rush."
"Very well," Midius said, "though I do wonder why we even do it this way. Wouldn't it be faster to have the men line up and pass through to get their soup?"
"These men spend all day waiting in line, Jesk," she said. "They wait for hours, standing in the sun and hoping to be one of the few that gets a chance to work. I don't intend to make them wait here, too. Get to work."
Midius took a stack of bowls and moved over to <Kale's> cauldron, filling two of them. "You're good at getting what you want, Jesk," the soldier said. Midius shrugged. "I would have thought that you'd be poor at that, after living so long alone in the forest."
"I wasn't alone in the forest," Midius said, taking the bowls and turning. "I had my master." Wasn't really an answer. But Midius didn't feel like giving the real answer. He'd always been good at making things he wanted happen. It was just the way that life was. The world worked as he wanted. Save for the notable exceptions.
Midius didn't let him indwell on that, however. He'd mourned over his master's death enough.
He moved about, delivering bowls of food to the men. Even after only one day in the kitchen, the work became rote to him. That left him to think and consider, trying to decide the best story for the situation. His opportunity came soon, the tide of hungry men slowing. Midius approached <Razal>, setting down an empty bowl, and met her eyes. Behind him, the sounds of dozens of wooden spoons scraping ceramic bowls echoed in the chamber.
<Razal> turned away and waved an indifferent hand. So Midius turned and felt the increasingly familiar flutter in his chest. He grimaced. A man who had killed as many shouldn't feel such nervousness. And yet, there it was. Perhaps a sign that he was more human than he'd often give himself credit.
"I've tried speaking about history," he announced to the room, "and I was ignored." Some of the eating men paused, glancing at him. It was easy to make his voice carry with so few people talking. "I've tried showing a monster. But I got the wrong reaction from that. I've caused enough fear in my life, and I did not come to Partinel to bring more."
Midius put his hand up to the side and dropped a handful of dust. He wove the light into an image of a beautiful blonde woman wearing a blue crown. "So," Midius said, sitting back on a stool, "today, I'll try a romance."
Many of the men perked up at the appearance, though not a few muttered instead. "I honestly don't know a lot about romance, myself," Midius said, tossing a handful of dust to the other side, weaving the light into the image of a princely man with a copper crown. "But then, neither have I ever met a dragon. But I can craft one from light well enough. Besides, I do know one thing. When it comes to romance, women are fickle, but men are fools."
He smiled to the audience. Most of them watched him. However, they didn't respond as his master had indicated. When he called women fickle, he expected grunts of assent. And when he called men fools, his intonation should have garnered a few chuckles. He got neither.
Midius moved on, throwing a handful of dust behind himself, weaving the light and blocking the sight of <Razal> and her pots, instead creating an image of a richly decorated room, complete with a bronze-rimmed looking glass and deeply dyed rugs.
"Now, this was a time before the coming of the fain," Midius said. "Many of my stories are from that time. It does us good to remember that our lives were once more than they are, now. <Lily> was known in seven cities as the most beautiful to be born in some hundred years' time. Wives spoke of her when they washed clothing in rivers. Laborers passed news while they cut wheat in the field. Even children knew of <Lily>.
"Eventually, news reached Prince <Helius>, heir to the throne of Lion's Hill. Now, <Helius> was not a vain man, nor was he particularly demanding. He was, however, an inquisitive man. This news troubled him. What would the most beautiful woman in the world look like? How would she dress? What color were her eyes? How would she keep her hair? He asked after these things, but no one could give him a detailed answer."
Another handful of dust produced a group of scribes and scholars speaking with <Helius>, who stood to his left. <Lily>, however, continued to comb her hair in the room to his right, looking into her mirror. It was a challenging illusion, and Midius felt himself being drawn into the image, transfixed by it. He found it hard to pay attention to the audience as he continued to speak.
"<Helius> determined that he would have to discover <Lily's> beauty for himself. Though his father, the king, objected, <Helius> left that day to ride for <Nanhell>, the fair woman's reported home." <Helius's> room dissolved in a shimmer, transforming into an image of a prince riding on horseback. Even focused on the illusion as he was, Midius could hear cries of surprise from the men at the tables as they saw the prince riding atop a full-sized horse.
The illusion remained steady, the horse staying in place despite its galloping, and Midius carefully added the faint sound of hoofbeats. "<Helius's> road was long and hard," he continued, giving a slight image of rainfall to the illusion washing over the prince. "And as he approached the city, <Helius> began to encounter crowds and large troops of men. He was not the only one who had come to see <Lily's> beauty. Indeed, from the processions he soon began to pass, he wasn't even the only prince who had come. Though he certainly was the most poor and the most humble. He hadn't even brought a single manservant. His only companion was his trusted and aged bodyguard.
"What's more, so many had come to see this princess that they crowded in tents along the walls outside. Every inn in the city was completely full. But Prince <Helius> was clever as well as inquisitive. He found an empty nook on the street, and there he began erecting a fine, extensive tent. The beggars who lived there were surprised to see one so rich pitching there, but the prince did not acknowledge them, instead chatting with his bodyguard and making up a story about how this street was the perfect location to view the princess when she went on her secret morning rides.
"Within a few hours, news had spread, and all imaginable kinds of people had crowded the streets to stake a claim on space. <Helius> retreated to an inn and was able to get a room from one of those who had left in order to sleep on the street.
"As his faithful bodyguard bedded down down on the floor, <Helius> sat by the window, pondering. Then he spotted an old woman walking among those in the street, saying something that seemed to make people there angry. Her attitude intrigued <Helius>, and he sent his guard out to fetch the old woman."
Midius threw out dust in front of him, creating the image of the old woman. He was completely engrossed in his own telling, prepared to move on to the old woman's warning that Princess <Lily> was cursed. As he began this part, however, the illusion wavered, <Razal> cautiously poking through, causing a shimmering of sparking dust to fall to the ground and shattering the back of <Helius's> room.
Midius blinked, bought out of his own story enough to again become aware of the audience. Many of the men were muttering loudly, and some had left the room, leaving their soup behind. Midius shook his head, coming conscious again, his illusion disintegrating. People, objects, rooms, melting down into bits of dust.
"You've had your chance, Jesk," <Razal> snapped. "Stop frightening these men away."
"But the story..."
"They don't care about your story, Jesk. Lies and fain illusions; what good are they?"
"Fain illusions? You think what I do is fain?"
"Well, it's not natural, I'll say that."
Midius looked around, sensing the hostility in the faces of the watching men. Embarrassed, he stood, last of the illusions exploding into dust behind him. Then he rushed from the room, moving to his chambers. Once there, he threw a handful of dust against the wall, summoning his master's figure. Midius's room was dim, since he'd brought no candle. But yet the ancient Lightweaver formed from the dust, sitting on Midius's bed.
"You lied to me," Midius said.
"Well, I am a liar," the master said. "So are you."
"We don't lie about important things."
"All of our lies are important, you know that."
Midius turned away. "They were supposed to welcome my stories. How often do you mention the joy that men finding in storytelling? How often do you talk of lies and their power to bring emotion? They're supposed to love me, not revile me."
"Is that why you're here, Midius? To find love?"
Midius glanced at his master. "So I should stop? Focus only on the Corrupted?"
"Ah, lad. Saving Partinel involves so much more than simply stopping the Corrupted. These people, they live, but they no longer remember why. They eat with dull stares. They work the fields without laughter. They return home to their families worried and frightened that they'll get sick, or that they will lose a child to the Year of Sacrifice, or that the trune ring will finally collapse and leave them all without a home."
"There is little I can do about that."
"You can remind them that there is more to life than pain, fear, and sorrow. That's the true calling of a Jesk. You look to give them stories that have meaning, but the most important meaning of your lies has nothing to do with a moral. It has to do with the way that it makes people feel, not the way that it makes them think."
"They don't want to feel. If they can't see how it'll feed them or bring them wealth, they don't want it. They revile it and call it superstition or foolishness. They care nothing for what I offer."
"No," his master said. "They do care. But they're afraid. Midius, this thing that you do, this is a noble and grand work. When you tell a story, you make men see through the eyes of someone whom they've never known. When they hear the tale of a widow's pain, for a moment they are that widow. When they hear a child's play, they remember what it was to be a child themselves. When they see a hero win, for a short time they succeed, as well. They may have forgotten what this means, but that is part of being human. Your duty, then, is merely to remind them."