24th of Ashan
Jonathan had some idea of where he wanted to go after acquiring his Harvester, Daeva. He wanted to go to Ne'Haer. The city was one of the largest in Idalos, and rumor was it had mages aplenty even if the people hated and feared them. Being an idealist, Jon wanted to change their ideas. He was so enchanted with Daeva he couldn't even think of how other mages and people couldn't be. How could they look on Aberrants with nothing but fear when having an Emean so closely bonded to you was a blessing? He was enjoying it, at least, even if he hadn't had her for that long. They were on the road to Ne'Haer now, using Jonathan's cart and horse as transportation. It was slightly faster than walking, and Jonathan enjoyed lounging a bit on the cart while the horse plodded along.
Next to the horse was Daeva. She was fluid in motion, her shoulders higher than the withers of the horse, her head looming above even Jonathan on his seat. Her footsteps were graceful, and Jon found himself mesmerized by them. Every way her paws spread as she hit the ground, then delicately picked themselves up. Since Harvesters couldn't physically manifest on the world, only aesthetically, she left no pawprints. No scent, no nothing. Jonathan was told he would have to go into a Fracture, or manifest a conjunction, to interact with her physically. Until then she was left with the brunt of his questions. He had to give her credit; she was answering them patiently. In fact his Harvester seemed to treat it like a woman with an overenthusiastic child. She answered the questions that pleased her and ignored the others, and did so at her whim. Jon found himself considering his questions a little more before asking them.
"So you can appear and disappear whenever you want, and nothing can touch you?"
'That is correct. Harvesters are not here, not present in the way that humans are. They are illusions, mere dreams and nightmares until their mages give them conjunctions to act through. It is how I will flay souls. You are the bridge between us. Every time you open it, I can step through temporarily and flay.'Daeva said simply.
"But how do I do that?"
Daeva paused for a moment, and glanced around. Jonathan pulled the horse to a stop, hopping down off of the cart and letting the horse rest. He patted her neck, letting her browse the foliage to either side of the road. The Harvester glanced through the trees, lowering her head a little bit and tilting it. She could see something, even without her eyes. It reminded Jonathan of watching a large housecat. She moved the same way, rolling her shoulders slightly. The way she crouched a bit, her folds pouring over her elbows. Her tail twitching, ever so slightly. Even the way she tilted her head to one side to absorb the noises of the thing she was focused on. Jonathan quietly picked his way over to her and tried to match what she was looking at; a challenge when it concerned a creature with no eyes. He wanted to put his hand on her, but he'd already tried. Touching her outside of a conjunction just made his hand pass right through.
A deer browsed in the forests, just between two ash trees. She was hard to pick out. Does were so well camouflaged with their subtle browns and hints of grey that Jonathan didn't see her until she moved to nibble at a patch of coltsfoot. 'This is what Aberrants do. I want you to look at her, but really see her for what she is. Not a deer. But a life. There is ether inside of her as there is all living things. It is wasted upon her. She exists to be mounted by males, raise other deer, and die in the clutches of a predator. We could put that ether to a much better use.' Daeva said quietly.
Jonathan rubbed the back of his neck. He wasn't so sure. He could see something other than what Daeva had described. The deer was beautiful. She wasn't harming anything. Minding her own business, browsing the forest as was her wont. Wasn't it his duty to uphold the balance of nature as well? Her body might eventually be killed by a wolf, but that wolf would persist and use her body as fuel. 'Just as you are a predator, and ether is fuel. This is our pact, Jonathan. You need not flay her yourself, not yet. The first flaying a mage does is a very intimate thing and I wish it to be a target worthy of your efforts. But for the purposes of demonstration...let me kill her. It will be instant. As painless as you can imagine. Reality will simply stop for her.' Daeva settled her haunches on the ground, and looked down at him. 'We must get closer, and you must be quiet. You are new to this. Sneak through the trees, then focus your ether in your hand. Form it. Shape it, like a ball. Control it, or it will leave...and do not expend too much energy. It will touch her, and that is all the bridge I need.'
Jon bit his lip, and nodded. He slowly pushed branches out of the way, settling his bare feet as carefully as he could place them. He stayed low, picking his path with utmost care. The slightest snapped twig could make the deer jerk her head up, and leap off into the trees without a moment of hesitation. His eyes were focused on her, flicking back and forth between the doe and the ground before him. Sliding his bare feet around sticker brushes, stones and fallen twigs. He had to be so careful, and progress was slow. He tried to control his breathing but adrenaline was kicking in and making his heart thrum in his ears. His first flaying. He would witness an Emean tear a being apart. He would see ether being torn away from a living thing to serve another in the dream world. It was beyond anything he'd imagined...he wished he had a sketchbook to capture some of it. His eyes would have to do for now.
He drew closer, and closer. He was a few yards away from the doe, protected by a large sycamore trunk, when he focused his attention on his ether. He extended out in his palm. He pushed himself forward, out, forming and shaping his will. To his disappointment it was only the size of a child's ball, fitting comfortably in his palm and pulsing a low, slate grey. He found he had to keep it in check, reforming it the longer it stayed in his hands. It wanted to stray, to fritter out and die. He had to control it. He glanced around the trunk. The deer seemed delighted at the discovery of a wild blueberry, and was in the process of tearing it to pieces. She wasn't being observant at all.
'Send it toward her.'
Jon couldn't think of how exactly to get it off of his palm. It seemed like such a delicate thing...maybe...his mind wandered back to picking up weeds in the grass and blowing the seed pods away. He lifted his palm to his lips, and blew. He felt it leave. The bubble wandered, aimlessly, toward the deer. Jon watched it, not daring to blink. Time slowed down. Nothing else in the world mattered to him than watching that little orb wander through the brush...and graze the deer's hind leg. The bridge was open just in that moment, and Daeva pounced. Jonathan got to see her, truly see her, as she leapt out of the conjunction. Her mouth was open wide, both vertically and horizontally, and enfolded the deer deep into the nightmare that was her throat. Jonathan saw the deer tense, as if to bolt, then wither. Daeva was gone just as quickly as she appeared, and the deer was a gray statue that was swiftly crumbling to ash with the breezes.
Jon tentatively approached it. He could feel a little surge of power in his veins. He could feel the deer's life pulsing. They'd stolen it, and it was a part of them both now. He touched the deer, and ashes crumbled to nothing under his fingertips. She had simply ceased to exist. He could even see where the ashes were sticking to her saliva on the unfortunate blueberry. It had been instantaneous. Everything that deer was, everything she was going to be, was gone.
'Feel it within you. She is enfolded now into everything we are. Into our power. Soon it will be cities and empires that will rest there. Formless, shapeless. Their lives, children, histories forgotten. Only fading faces in the stream of ether that flows in your veins. This is your power. To steal life itself, the soul itself, from others and use it to your own ends.' Daeva said, proudly. 'It comes with a whisper, and leaves only silence.'
Jon looked up at her with a smirk. "I don't suppose we could work on birds?"
She laughed, and turned away from the ashes to head back to the road.