**Read author's note below this post
It had been two weeks since Kehnt the Worthless had set out to find the portal to Zerothea. After failing the fateful test, he did not think things could get any worse.
Zei trekked through the dense forest, alone, with nothing more than an old backpack, a lantern, and a sheathed sword at huir** hip. It was getting late—the bird calls were becoming sparse and the sky through the foliage above showed dark blue while the horizon glowed deep red and orange. A chilly breeze broke the prior heat of the late spring day.
Kehnt took off the green hood covering huir messy, reddish-brown hair, and looked up at the impending dark. Zei reached behind and was about to grab the lantern attached to the bottom of huir backpack, but then remembered the mysterious stranger zei had met at the entrance of the forest. Instead, zei reached into the pocket of huir cloak and retrieved a smooth, iridescent stone.
“They like fire? What was that all about? Gosh, I hope I find the portal soon. No more weird strangers giving me suspicious gifts, please.”
Zei continued to walk, all the while turning the stone in huir palm, lifting it to the sky, and shaking it a few times. Zei grunted.
“Well, that’s useless. Why did I even consider trying this?” zei mumbled.
As zei reached back to retrieve the lantern again, the stone began to glow. Zei jumped, almost dropping it. “It works?!”
It was almost like the stone had a mind of its own because it flickered twice. Kehnt smiled in disbelief. “Wow, I wish these were in my land.”
Darkness continued to shroud huir surroundings, but the stone grew brighter and brighter. The light was unlike firelight and more like extremely concentrated moonlight, and zei wondered what creatures were attracted to fire that could be so dangerous.
Zei listened to the crickets chirping. “Crickets, maybe? Maybe the crickets are dangerous here.” Zei chucked at the speculation. “Yeeeaah, Kehnt. Of course they are.”
It was then, as zei walked two more steps, that zei noticed huir surroundings change suddenly. The bushes and trees surrounding en disappeared, replaced by large boulders and… large blades of grass? And right when zei thought things could get no stranger, a giant cricket landed in front of en with a skeleton-rattling thump.
Kehnt yelled and jumped back, then tripped and fell on huir bottom.
Huir surroundings returned to normal. The cricket was gone. Zei looked around frantically as zei sprawled on the ground.
Standing up, zei brushed enself off and cautiously looked around. “Okay…?”
Zei walked forward again, another two steps. Huir surroundings changed again, back to the large boulders and blades of grass.
“Wait… what? Is this…?”
Zei turned around. There appeared to be nothing there, but when zei reached out huir arm, the air rippled and huir hand disappeared. Zei reached huir other hand with the stone out as well. When zei noticed the glow coming from above, zei looked up and saw what looked like two large, dismembered hands floating in the sky.
Zei exhaled in exhilarating disbelief and started to laugh.
Zei jumped back and forth across the portal a few times, chuckling to enself. “This is trippy. So this is the portal, huh?”
Zei stood in the portal, the left side of en on the small side and the right side on the large. After a while, zei grew dizzy from the perspective distortion. Zei had heard of these legendary size-changing portals, but never thought zei would ever encounter one.
As zei continued to walk, zei noticed no signs indicating where zei was, let alone trails to guide en. The map zei had had (which was mysteriously lost) had not accounted for traveling within the portal.
“Well, this is inconvenient, being small. What’s the point?” Zei lifted the stone, trying to get a better view of the monstrous trees but to no avail.
The stone suddenly lifted itself out of huir hand. Zei looked shocked as it floated around en to huir backside.
Zei felt the stone touch huir back—well, it was not quite huir back, but something there. Zei turned huir head only and caught sight of a translucent green wing that the stone illuminated.
“Wings?!” Zei exhaled. “Wait, oh… My species does have wings.”
Zei took off huir backpack and adjusted the straps so that there was only one long one, then struggled to fit it over huir head and one wing.
“Okay. How am I going to do this?” It took a while to get used to the sensation of huir new appendages by moving them slowly. As they progressively got faster, zei felt a little lighter on the ground. Pretty soon, zei was airborne, laughing as zei watched the ground move farther away.
“Wait, I’m flying. I’m actually flying!”
It was like instinct, almost, the way they just naturally flapped without a conscious effort. In huir previous land, flying was unheard of. Well, at least it was treated like a legend. They always mentioned how being small was an unfortunate downfall to being able to fly, and also to how changing was so portal-dependent.
Kehnt began to believe flying to be an inconvenience as zei attempted to move from one spot to another.
“Uh, I just just need to—er—direction.” Zei twisted in the air for a bit, then attempted to fly forward. Zei yelped as zei lost huir balance, and then face planted in the dirt. So much for flying being instinct.
Zei coughed. “Ugh, well that worked.”
Zei begrudgingly collected huir belongings that had exploded all over the ground. And unsolicited thought appeared in huir mind.
“At least the enchantment worked… No use being small with big stuff.”
Kehnt continued on foot having been overcome by pride and embarrassment. “Well, this isn’t so bad. Just fifty times slower, but mom always said ‘as long as you’re getting somewhere.’” Zei made a hook-fist motion and laughed sardonically.
Right then, a voice came from nowhere. At first Kehnt thought of the stranger from before, but its accent seemed foreign, like that of a jay dweller. “Nah, mait. You ain’t gettin’ nowhere.”
Kehnt swerved around, almost falling on the ground again. “What the—who—?!”
Sitting on a large blade of grass was a fierce like en. Nei had a female appearance, long, frizzy black hair tied in a ponytail, medium-dark skin, and piercing black eyes. Neir ears were unmistakably crescent, unlike most fieries’ upside-down teardrop-shaped ones, yet nei had wings just like a fierie. Nei looked fierce, and this was only reinforced by neir long orange-red tunic over loose dark-brown pants.
“What? No way,” nei said. “You can’t fly, now, can you?” Nei hopped off the blade of grass and began to walk towards en.
“Not…that I know of…?” zei said, taking a step back and blushing slightly. “Are you…from Zerothea?”
“Yep. Just move ‘ere a moon.” Nei held out a hand, grinning. “The name’s Solraye. And yours, mait?”
Zei was taken aback by neir bold, straightforward demeanor. People in huir land were warriors, but far from as brutish.
“Um. Kehnt.” Zei cautiously took neir hand. They shook.
“And where might you be comin’ from?”
“Arentaria, the land of warriors. We don’t really fly, you see.”
Nei laughed heartily. “A fierie that ain’t flyin’? You haven’t lived, my friend! Always time to learn.”
“Well, I was wondering if maybe you could give me directions to Zerothea.” Huir attempt to divert the subject proved futile.
Solraye took huir wrist, grinning, then with a surprising amount of force, pulled en off the ground. “Let’s go! I ain’t lettin’ you walk. That’s precarious for a fierie.”
Kehnt wobbled in the air as zei let nem drag en up towards the tree canopy. Zei barely listened to neir monologue as zei anxiously stared at the ground getting further and further away.
“Birds, oversized beetles, lizards, what have you. You could get et!”
“I’m from the land of warriors, I—.”
“Warriors are nothin’ to them skievin’ skorlows! Might make a scratch, but without powers, might as well offer yourself to the gods. And if that land’s so great, why’d you leave anyway?”
Kehnt lurched. “Leave? Haha, nah…” Zei diverted huir eyes and scratched the back of huir head. “It’s a—vacation?”
Solraye did not reply but looked clearly amused.
They continued to fly towards Zerothea, or…
“We are going to Zerothea, right?” Kehnt asked
“Yeah, yeah. Patience, will ya?”
And officially heading towards Zerothea, they wobbled through the air. Mostly Kehnt.
From this point on, I will be using a pronoun system in this novel you may not be familiar with. Instead of your typical he/she system, I will use a different pronoun system that differentiates people by a "fourth person" system, also known as an "obviative/proximate" system. (I will explain that shortly and provide brief examples).
Now, there may be two different versions of the system that I use for this novel, however, they both tie together in that they both use the obviative/proximate aspect that I mentioned. One version is completely genderless while the other uses the genders, but only in the subject pronouns. I will clarify that shortly. In this particular version of the novel, I use the gender modified version of the system.
Basically, the system goes that there are two basic pronouns, or singular genderless pronouns:
zei, en, huir, huirs, enself
nei, nem, neir, neirs, nemself
The way they are used is in an obviate/proximate system where “zei” is generally the first person mentioned who is more in focus or the one doing the action upon another person (the proximate person), and “nei” is generally the second person who is less in focus or is being acted upon the obviate person). In more complex sentences or passages, this is not always the case as long as the subjects are still clear. Essentially, this is a “second person” system.
“Zei found huir notebook at neir house.”
So what’s going on? Basically:
“Zei(PROX) found huir(PROX) notebook at neir(OBV) house”
The first subject found first subject’s notebook at second subject’s house.
Now, it gets a little more complex when adding gendered versions of these two basic pronouns to the equation.
For the proximate pronoun:
Feminine: she, her, her, hers, herself
Masculine: he, him, his, his, himself
And for the obviative pronoun:
Feminine: sie, sier, sier, siers, sierself
Masculine: vi, vir, vir, virs, virself
Presumably, these gendered versions aren’t used much, if at all, in normal conversation, unless someone is telling an extensive story. As well, they serve well for written narratives. Basically how they’re used is that when a subject is unknown, you may mention huir name and then a gendered version of the obviate or proximate pronoun once. However, when continuing a sentence with the same subject, you change the pronoun to the default genderless version.
Here’s a fairly simple progression in which this occurs:
“When Madelyn decided to finally head out on the road trip, she packed huir belongings and called all huir friends to inform them that zei was leaving”
^ You can see above that Madelyn is referred to as “she” once but “zei” the rest of the time.
Now let’s try a more complex progression with two subjects:
“Orion didn’t remember where he placed huir bag, so zei asked Madelyn if sie knew. However, nei didn’t know either.”
^ In this sentence, Madelyn is the obviate subject. Madelyn is referred to as “sie” first and then “nei” the rest of the time, just like in the first example sentence.
Why this system, you may ask? Unfortunately, I have no short, simple answer. But what I can say for now is that it came to my mind after years of mind wars and various iterations of what would someday become what I have now. And so I wished to use my artistic license to execute it. It is meant as a thought experiment and not intended for forcing on people to use in our own reality. If you believe you can have an open mind and handle this seemingly significant difference in English language use, then by all means, I hope you enjoy this book.