I had been clinging to the ship's wreckage for three days, watching as one by one, the other sailors grew weary and let go, slipping into the ocean's embrace. At first I wept, but eventually no more tears came--for what good are tears when the sea itself stretched from horizon to horizon?
The sun was merciless by day, but the nights were worse. The temptation to close my eyes, to rest just a little--that temptation consumed me. Only the sure knowledge that the current would pull me away from the skeleton of our ship kept me clinging, arms locked around the spar.
I don't know why I started breathing so deeply just then. But with each breath I took, I felt like I could breathe even deeper--like I could just keep inhaling forever. I heard the splashes behind me, but it was several minutes of impossibly deep breaths before I realized that the splashes were my wings. The breaths--of Aether itself, I suppose--sustained my exhausted body as the pearl-feathered wings lifted me skyward from the sea. After a moment's prayer for the other sailors, I flew toward the rising sun.
--Kartellos of Elysea
To become a Daeva is to become power incarnate--to become a power your people desperately need. Ascension--the sudden, mystical evolution of an ordinary human to a winged Daeva--is a rare gift that brings with it tremendous responsibility: protecting the humans of Atreia from those who would destroy them. The Daevas are the first line of defense against invasions from the monstrous Balaur--and against incursions by Daevas from the other side of the world.
The people of Atreia revere their Daevas almost as demigods. Many dream all their lives of ascending to join the fight in the Abyss, a chaotic dimension created by the Cataclysm. But only a scant few attain that dream.
Ascension occurs when Aether, the invisible lifeblood of Aion and the source of all life in Atreia, infuses a human--often someone undergoing trauma or pain. Feathery wings emerge, and the new Daeva breaks free from the bonds of gravity and mortality to become something more than human.
With the power of flight comes the power to control Aether. After diligent practice, a Daeva learns to use Aether to enhance learned skills and natural abilities--everything from the swing of a sword to the casting of a magic spell. During this adjustment period, new Daevas learn all the ways that ascension has changed them.
The most painful task for the new Daeva isn't learning to master Aether, however--it's leaving behind the friends and family from the Daeva's human life. Most break those human ties quickly, avoiding the drawn-out tragedy of watching loved ones grow old and die. Daevas can die in battle, but they stop aging once they ascend.
When newly ascended Daevas have become proficient in bending Aether to their will, they are ready to travel to the Abyss and fight beside Daevas who ascended before them--centuries before them, in some cases. Until either the Elyos or the Asmodians win the Abyss War, the Daevas will heed the call of battle, fighting to protect both their part of Atreia and humanity itself in the name of Aion.
That morning, we all knew Master Tauvrig was going to test us. But even the master didn't know that the Mau were lying in wait, ready to ambush a band of recruits sent up the mountain that day.
The climb was exhausting enough. First we ran, then we clambered over the stones and scree of the foothills. Then we reached arm over arm, handhold to foothold, to conquer the cliffs near the summit. I was the fourth soldier to reach the clifftop.
Beyond the corpses of the first three climbers were nearly a dozen dark-furred Mau, weapons already dripping red. Though tired, I managed to shout "Blood for blood!" before charging into them. My life was forfeit, but a moment's delay might be enough for my brothers and sisters to reach the clifftop and make it an honest battle, not a slaughter.
I must have surprised the nearest Mau, because we tumbled to the side in a clinch--then off the clifftop completely, plummeting to the rocks below.
My next memory is floating there, just a few feet above the rocks, my ebon-feathered wings bearing me aloft. The bloody ruin of the Mau lies below me, and I hear cries of battle above. There was a sharp stillness to the air and a rapid flickering in the shadows. But in that moment, I blocked out all the strangeness--all the implications of what had just happened. I had Mau to slay. --Hjerovane of Asmodae