When Asire was discovered, it was considered a gift from the Gods. Not only was it a glowing crystal that erupted from the ground in various places around the world after what scholars called The Awakening, but was otherwise known as the worse earthquake ever experienced by mankind before or since; it was found to be a power source of incalculable potential, and even after a century of experimentation it was still common for new limits to be found and then shattered by the wonderous rock structure. The technological revolution brought about a baby boom...and the first of those to claim it was a curse. It was discovered that exposure, and even in some cases simply close proximity, to Asire, causes what is either the spirits of the world escaping to the mortal realm through an unprotected babe or a result of the radiation given off by Asire when in use causing mutations in unborn children, depending on your source.
Regardless of the source, though the results are clear. Children with animal traits were born en mass, worldwide. Giving a surprising amount of weight to the world spirit theory is that the majority of this first wave of non-humans had either a fully human twin, even in families with no history with twins, or were born to women who previously were unable to give birth. It didn't take long for the...enterpenure Charles James to come up with a solution to pitch to their government. A pitch so good, it was adopted by neighbouring countries and exploited to humanity's best. Simply take all those embarrassing...extras, and raise them to know their place as sub-humans. The nobility was generally glad to be rid of the competition for an heir, and the companies that were pushing it forward offered a financial incentive that most of the peasantry couldn't ignore, especially with the working poor who were more likely to be exposed in their work to high amounts of Asire and couldn't turn down money to raise one child, rather than starve two. Honeyed words, quiet money and even polite threats won out in the hundreds of thousands. It wasn't until those same babies were six and were called old enough to work that most people, peasants and nobles alike thought about those children and by then, it was too late. More than half of the children sent away had died and those that were left weren't much better. Then the bidding began on those healthy enough to be paraded around. Features of the "products" were subservience and obedience as standard and had specialised skills besides. Did the nobles and the wealthy want a mindless soldier to guard sensitive things without question? Perhaps a totally loyal servant?
The auction lasted 3 full days and made the government-run auction house a lot of money and made several of the upper class very happy with their new toys. Upon seeing that the nobility was okay with it, the sub-human attitude began to filter to the peasantry and those lucky few kids whose parents raised them despite everything now went from isolated in their communities to ostracised. And following that shift of public perception the companies greenlit workhouses filled with the still thousands of children leftover from the auction. That workforce went into either indentured workers or a mercenary force loyal to the company's interests. Competitors scoffed at the six-year-old soldiers but after another couple of years and a string of sabotage done by children with animal features, a lot of those mocking voices got real quiet. By the time that those rivals started getting desperate, most loyal parents were now suffering under years of social pressure for that loyalty and were talked into parting with their grown children. Unfortunately for those without James' foresight, training soldiers and loyal worker bees took years and required reeducation of around eight years of childhood to be useful. James' solution had spread through the continent and on to the known world. Either a merchant further along the trade routes or government officials hearing spy and ambassador reports would spearhead a similar program with similar success.
Our tale begins 100 years later, on the Southen island nation of Bozia. The young principality had a better-than-most attitude towards the Leder, as they were now known, as its founding had been aided by slaves bought from the Diocese of Meunria that had ruled the islands at the time. When the slave trade spread to Meunria, the Arch-Bishop applied the sub-human dogma to such severity that after the largely Leder rebel army pushed the Diocese back to the mainland, they were considered to some to be demons given flesh. Despite that and the current Arch-Bishop having been a veteran of that war, he was outspoken in his defence of Leder since during his service having permission and even occasional encouragement from higher-ups to be as cruel and merciless to any Leder on the field of battle, no quarter for non-combatants in some cases. Even faced with atrocities, Leder who captured humans refused to return the favour. Only a handful of instances did a Leder ever torture a human and those were known by the international community and those responsible, even the officers who ordered it, requested to die in suicide missions with the intel gained from such extremes. Seeing that alone would have been enough to cement his support of Leders but what drove him to climb to a position to make a difference was what the Leder had asked for as a boon from the newly crowned ruling Princesses: They simply asked for safe living conditions provided by those who owned them and for Leder children, peasant or noble, be allowed to spend time with their biological mothers for several years before separation, as it is healthier for the mother and child both. Whatever it is that results in Leder children, something stays behind in the mother and unless the baby reaches a certain age near their mother, the child's growth will be stunted and Leder traits may appear on even a fully human mother when removed from very young, though that was rare and in many cases, fatal. Those mothers who perished in such a way were said to have died of their shame. It was a slow, painful death, as a body no longer ready for major change attempts a massive shift it no longer has the energy and is no longer naturally growing to compensate for.
Our story starts with the brilliant but somewhat reclusive Doctor Jean-Paul Deloran; a man of some renown for having developed a pain relief effective enough to be used in cases of women should they have fallen prey to the condition. It was not a cure, but an easing of burdens. Although it has allowed some of those struggling to pull through as they weren't drowning in pain. Should a case be too far gone it is merely a way to leave the world in peace, rather than pain. His move from the Diocese to the Bozia Islands came as a surprise to colleagues and even those who knew him from his university days when he'd been his most public and outspoken in his work. Even more surprising was the fact, seen by few and known by not many more, that he fled with a wife and child. A teenage daughter even. The 45-year-old not-really-a-bachelor sailed under the cover of night, relying on his strong build to put himself between his family and the criminal element he had to entrust his wife and child too, and his knowledge of medicine and especially pharmaceuticals to bargain for asylum. It bought his family an estate on the outskirts of the port capital of Moon's Grotto and a clinic in the inner city. He would be on hand in case of a medical emergency at the castle and the government officials won't look too hard and keep the 'how's, 'why's and and 'why now's to a minimum.
So what was a famous man in hiding doing outside a Leder store? Looking for someone to help his daughter outrun the mistakes of his past...
About the author
Hey there, my name is Lee McDonald and I've been a huge fan of all things fiction for as long as I can remember and writing as a hobby since I discovered I could do it on a keyboard instead of a pen and paper.