Like many boars, Luke was given a modest public education in his youth – reinforced by the cultural traditions his family taught him about sacred divinities and ancestral magic. As a young boar, Luke has been learning more about the underlying nature of both magical and mundane subjects – balancing a full course load with his responsibilities as a barista.
When Luke met Hayden his first year of college, he was impressed by how knowledgeable she is about the world around her, so it was unsurprising that they continued dating long after their shared class was over. When Luke started working at the café, the two of them would spend a lot of time there – both during and after his shift. Today was no different.
Hayden is a slender, elegant young boar – with slender features and piercing, alluring eyes. Even now, her eyes are enough to distract Luke from behind the counter. When she looks up from her study materials to smile at him during his shift, Luke gets just as flustered as a young teenager – his bristly fur getting quite rustled for a moment before he returns to making drinks.
Sometime later, Luke grabs a drink and a small snack – taking a short work break as he slides into a chair across from his girlfriend Hayden.
“What are you studying?” Luke asks.
“I’m working on a personal project for my history class” Hayden replies.
“What’s it about?” Luke inquires as he takes a few bites of his food.
“It’s about the Roman Empire” Hayden replies. “For my project, I am outlining the reasons for the fall of the empire and the historical developments that followed after it.”
“What is your core thesis?” Luke asks.
“To begin with, I’m establishing that the Roman Empire fell because of aggressive expansionism and reckless magical experimentation” Hayden says. “Because they spread the empire so thin, a lot of the beneficial magical and mundane knowledge from that era was lost for many centuries.”
“What about religion?” Luke inquires.
“It’s believed by most historians” Hayden replies, “that although ancestral pagan traditions continued, the loss of imperial power destroyed state religions and caused a lot of chaos in the generations that followed. The argument I’m making is that the dissolution of state religion was a major catalyst for the cultural and religious reforms of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that followed more than a millennium later.”
“There are definitely temples now” Luke says. “My parents are always trying to get me to go to theirs – especially during festivals.”
“That’s certainly true, but things are far less centralized and a lot freer than they were during the late empire and the dark ages that followed” Hayden replies grimly. “I’m just glad that monotheism never took hold. I shudder to think how authoritarian the world would have been if a centralized religious authority arose after the fall of the Roman Empire.”
“I see some pretty zealous monolatrists occasionally” Luke replies. “It makes me glad that proselytization is illegal in America. There’s still awful advertising though.”
Both Luke and Hayden share some laughter as Luke finishes his food. They talk a little more about how Hayden is going to structure her college paper before Luke’s work break ends.
“I’ll see you after I’m done with my shift” Luke says. “Make sure to take breaks, okay?”
“I will sweetie. Thanks” Hayden replies with a smile.
As early dusk approaches, free from study and work at the café, Luke and Hayden take a stroll across the street – hand in hand as they enter the Oasis bookstore. Eugene quietly waves to Luke and his girlfriend as they make their way back through the door into the study. As they walk through the red hallway into the furnished seating area, they both see Chase sitting down with his girlfriend Valerie – having quite a boisterous conversation.
“It’s already been a few months since I introduced your brother to Leela” Chase says. “Jeffrey has been pretty quiet about it since then. Has he told you anything?”
“Jeffrey likes to take his time with things” Valerie says. “Because of you, she already knew that he was interested, but she was still rather guarded at first.”
“Hey you two! Are you talking about Jeffrey’s girlfriend?” Luke says with interest.
“So they are definitely dating, then?” Chase replies.
“I saw them at my café a couple of times, and they looked quite friendly with each other” Luke says. “When Jeffrey introduced her, her snout movements told the whole story.”
“Luke and I were actually considering asking you and Valerie to join us for dinner. Maybe we can get Jeffrey and his girlfriend Leela to join us” Hayden says.
“That sounds like a great idea” Valerie interjects. “I’ll text him now.”
Valerie: Luke and Hayden invited Chase and I for dinner. Hayden wanted to know if you and the girl you’ve been seeing would like to join us.
Some moments later, Jeffrey replies.
Jeffrey: She’s with me right now. Let me ask her.
“He’s gonna ask her” Valerie replies. “Let’s see what Leela says.”
Jeffrey: She’s down. She actually has a restaurant suggestion.
Valerie: What kind of food?
Jeffrey: Indian. Her parents run a restaurant nearby.
After talking amongst themselves, they all agree to meet at the Indian restaurant on the edge of town. Valerie knew that Leela comes from an Indian background, but she was delightfully surprised that he was comfortable enough to have a group date at her parents restaurant. This excitement was shared by her boyfriend – as well as both Luke and Hayden; their faces were full of joy when they saw the colorful, vibrant décor in the restaurant as they all sat down in a large booth in the back.
After making a bit of small talk to ease the tension, Leela says with a beaming look on her face, “My parents make very filling food, so be prepared.”
Sure enough, all of their plates arrive – piping hot and waiting for them to feast upon the flavorful and heavily spiced foods they hold. With great appetite and eagerness they all enjoy the various dishes – served family style with generous helpings of meat, sauce and steamed rice around the table.
These vibrant flavors are greatly appreciated by everyone sitting there, and despite the variety of cuisine they enjoy in a Californian city like Rancho Duna, the quality and love Leela’s family puts into their food is something none of them take for granted.
“So I heard from Jeffrey that you acquired a giant salamander familiar” Leela says.
“Yes I did” Chase says.
“That is quite impressive” Leela replies. “My parents helped me when I acquired my own golden, draconic familiar. It’s a wyrm, as I’ve sometimes heard it called. Eugene and his boyfriend Magid helped you with yours, right?”
“Absolutely” Chase says. “Why do you ask?”
“Jeffrey told me that Eugene wants to host an expedition in the wilderness for people to better harness their familiars” Leela replies.
“He also believes that summoning familiars doesn’t have to be a rare ability” Jeffrey says. “He wants to help all of us achieve this ability.”
“Why is that?” Hayden replies.
“He wants to prepare us” Leela says.
“Prepare us for what?” Hayden says.
“Magic is getting ever stronger and more people have access to ancient wisdom than ever before. We need to be ready for what comes next.” Jeffrey replies.
“What comes next?” Chase inquires.
“We should all expect the wilderness to be wilder and magical weather to be more unpredictable” Jeffrey says. “It’s already crazier than when we were children.”
“But what this also means is that our own abilities have grown stronger as well” Leela interjects. “Now is the time for us explore our abilities and our latent curiosity.”