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This is cheating, sort of. After that entry three or four days ago, where I explained the lack of drive and attempting to overcome it, I sat down and wrote this, and it felt good, and fresh, and things came together. I think part of it is that I'm hammering on the doors of Jack's world, and I've hit a wall; it's not coming. I am going to leave that story alone for a while, and do other things... like Huan and the djinn. With any luck, I'll have something more for you tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy!

Huan strolled through the village market carelessly, stroking the chain at his side. He was quite happy with it - solid gold, and made especially for the baron of the territory he walked through, it was more or less his passage through. He'd taken precautions to avoid being waylaid by bandits again - that was an experience he certainly did not intend to repeat - and this gave him access to some of the more extraordinary sights he'd seen, at least within civilization. He wished, on occasion, that he could discuss them with someone - that he had a girl with him, to point out that glass vase, so masterfully blown and dyed, or the beautiful ivory dragon on the other side of the stall; the alien furs that were shown on the other alley, or the strange and vibrant fruits being hawked here. But all for naught - save his djinni, he had no companion, and would take none; there was no one he could trust with his secret, and he knew better than to try to hide his servant from a traveling companion. His mother's advice had not fallen on entirely deaf ears, he mused wryly.

Back in the safety of the inn, he retrieved his lamp, and called forth the spirit of flame within. After a moment, the djinni stood before him in his usual guise, with the disconcerting eyes he'd grown so used to. "You called?"

He surveyed the spirit's form with a critical eye for a moment. "Aye, I did, djinni. Is there - I know this may be beyond your powers - would you be capable of giving me a companion, or, I mean, showing me someone who would be trustworthy, who I could travel with, commune with, and not risk betrayal?"

The eyes watched him for a moment in kind, across an infinite chasm, it seemed. He did not shiver, even for the long moment of silence before the djinni shook its head. "That is a thing that is... not entirely beyond my power, master," it told him. "But it is a task of tremendous foresight; to ensure that you will not be betrayed, I must scry forward, into the paths of each of your companions; it would take a fortnight for each person you wished me to attend my powers upon, and I suspect you do not have the time for such an endeavor."

Huan sighed, and turned back to the window. "You are correct, spirit, more's the pity. This is - I did not expect this to be a lonely journey, but since-- well, since that girl, I find I have no stomach for companions, and none certainly to travel with me from place to place." He realized he was speaking more to hear a voice than to tell - surely the djinni of the lamp did not need to hear his troubles. He waved a hand, shrugging. "I suppose I called you forth for nothing, then. Conjure me some salt, and you may return to the lamp. I do not wish to pay with my eyeteeth for a savory meal - half a pound should be sufficient, I will trade the remainder to the innkeep, as she seems to be sadly lacking in the stuff."

The spirit bowed, and waved a hand. A small sack appeared next to him. Huan thought he saw the man - the djinni hesitate for a moment before dissolving once more into smoke, and dissipating. With a frustrated snarl, he pounded the bed, nearly upsetting the salt - he had to dive to catch the stuff. He could call the djinni back to fix the problem, but the thought gave him a moment's pause, and that ...bothered him, for reasons he found hard to fully verbalize, even in his own mind. It was a tool, a thing of magic and energy, and if freed, a monster. So why did he still have to make himself bite back greetings, or apologies?

Jof

Apr. 28th, 2012 11:37 pm
thulcandran: (Default)
Another Tale from the PPC Cafeteria. This one's the story of how our intrepid team of cooks and foragers managed to wind up with an Enderman as their third partner.

"No, it's cool, see? He added new mobs, new everything. There's even a thingie to grow pumpkins now!"

"Even still, I'm reasonably sure this is abuse of portal technology, Lyn. There's no way you're supposed to use it to portal three days ahead to get the newest Minecraft update."

The human glared at her partner over her shoulder - but only for a moment, lest the night grow dangerous while she turned. "Oh, come on, Mohan. It's just a game! What could possibly go wrong?"

He involuntarily cringed. "Why on EARTH would you say that? Good grief, sometimes I think you're actually trying to make an enemy of the Ironic Overpowers."

Lyn, eyes glued to the screen, shrugged. "Um. Force of habit? Anyway, check this out! Survival, so the meters all work, and --Ah! There's one of the new mobs!" She leaned in, maneuvering carefully towards the tall shape. Its back was turned, so she probably had some time...

Intrigued despite himself, Mohan leaned over her shoulder to look. "Do you know what it is?"

"Nah. I haven't checked the Wiki in ages, been too busy-- here, though, let's look." Her cursor centered on the back of the tall black shape, sparking an immediate reaction-- it whirled, staring at her with luminescent purple eyes. As they watched, the mouth began to gape, and the form shook, emitting smoke in black and purple.

"Ye gods, that's creepy." Mohan took a step back, slipped on one of the cordes, and tripped. "Aaah!"

"You alright?" His partner turned in the chair, glancing over her shoulder-- and then everything happened at once. There was a buzzing, a zap, and a zombieish moaning noise, and both of them screamed.

The eerie black monster - very nearly as tall as Mohan - was now glowering at them from the portal, and moving, rather menacingly, towards Lyn. She leapt out of her chair, taking several steps to put distance between herself and the... Thing, and gibbered noiselessly. Mohan merely stared.

Finally, Lyn managed to find her vocal cords, as she stumbled backwards, and the thing moved closer. Unfortunately, the only thing that she could think of was "AAAAAAH!"

Mohan, thinking slightly more beneficially, grabbed the nearest object - a paperback copy of Anathem, and flung it at the creature's head. It didn't seem to notice. He leapt up, grabbed his partner by the arm, and tugged her towards the RC door. "Let's go!"

Together, they sprinted out of the RC, down the hall, and, aiming in no particular direction, through HQ. After three or four turns and a few minutes of running, Mohan grabbed Lyn's arm to stop her, and turned around. The coast was clear - they seemed to have lost it.



Purple and black smoke first, then the tall thing, leering at them from about ten feet away.

"It can teleport?!"

"Don't talk, just RUN!"

“We can’t outrun something that teleports! How do you kill it?” Mohan flung himself around the next turn, past the Escher room, where purple sparks were already falling.

“You don’t have to run! It’s after me, and it can't follow both of us-- go find someone who’s seen the Wiki from that time period! Or portal to Earth and ask Notch, or something!” Knocking over a Ragweed in haste, Lyn barreled through the next narrow doorway, towards another long stretch of hall. Mohan stopped, nodded, and turned back, running in no particular direction - hopefully, he’d find himself back at the RC, or somewhere helpful.

It wasn’t exactly the RC, but the swinging kitchen doors were unmistakable, and about as close to home as he was likely to get in the middle of an equally unmistakable, twice-cursed and thrice-damned chase scene. Mohan went through them at a sprint, sending a four-foot tower of cast-iron skillets flying across the freshly-waxed floor.

“Who waxes these -- argh -- floors?! Have I stumbled unwitting inGAH-- to a Benny Hill sketch?” Mohan swore, shouted, and slid over another ten feet, among the clatter of innumerable pots, pans, woks, and, inexplicably, several iron helmets.

“...Er, hi?”

Mohan blinked. “Hi.” He pushed off the floor and stared down at the agent. After a moment to keep himself from exploding, he spoke. “I ask this with, you realize, great care and no wish for any sort of dangerous and violent misunderstandings. Now. Since we're clear--” He paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and did not quite bellow so much as roar-- “What in the nine hells are you doing in my kitchen?”

Cadmar looked around. “Eating,” she replied, after a brief pause.

The tall Cafeteria worker opened his mouth, took a deep breath, and closed it. More important things, he reminded himself. “I don’t... but you. I.” With another deep breath, he closed his eyes, counted to ten, and managed to stop glaring at the agent. “Do you play Minecraft?”

She blinked. “Yes...”

“Excellent! You may redeem yourself yet. How do you stop the... tall... black... portal-monsters?”

Rolling her eyes, Cadmar reached down to retrieve her cleaver and sandwich, and took a bite before responding. Mohan fought the urge to strangle her. Agents, he recalled, did not react well to threats. At all.

“They’re called Endermen, first off,” she said around a mouthful of meat and bread, “And you can either kill them - which is hard, since they teleport away from danger - or put on a pumpkin.”

He stared. “A pumpkin.”

Cadmar swallowed and glared at him. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

“The deadliest monster in the game so far--”

“--That’s debatable--”

“And you can stop it with a pumpkin.” Mohan took a deep breath, cursed his partner, her games, the agent, her sandwich, and the maker of this infernal universe, wherever they were.

(Somewhere in Finland, a single slice of toast popped up inexplicably burnt.)

Then, setting aside the insanity of his situation, he moved around the agent, carefully out of cleaver-reach, and headed for the pantry, at a slightly less dangerous pace. Cadmar raised an eyebrow, shrugged, grabbed the other half of the sandwich, which had been knocked out of direct eyesight (fortunately) by the collision, and wandered back out into HQ, munching.

Elsewhere in HQ...

“Ohgodohgodohghodohgod I don’t even-- AAAH” Lyn dove under the outstretched arm of the monster, rolled past the Bleepka fountain, and sprang up to continue running. The creature lumbered after her, making ominous noises. “Mohan you had better, I don’t, this is...”

“Lyn!” A long, furry arm snaked out from a doorway, grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, and yanked. “Quick, put this over your head!”

She stared at the object, then back at her partner. “Mohan, have you lost your mind? This is a pumpkin!”

“Just do it!”

Lyn raised an eyebrow, opened her mouth to argue, and noticed purple sparks forming in the corner of the room. “Give me that!” Scrambling with panic, she grabbed the hollowed vegetable and yanked it over her head. There was a hollow clunking noise, and then silence. Fresh-smelling, orange-colored silence.

“...Did it work?” Her voice echoed weirdly around the... helmet, of sorts.

“I don’t know. Are you dead?”

She kicked him in the shin, and received a solid thump on the back of the pumpkin in return. “There were purple sparks in the corner... careful, don’t look directly at it.”

Mohan risked a glance towards the ceiling; out of the corner of his eye, a tall black shape meandered aimlessly towards the opposite corner. It paused for a moment, about halfway, and extracted a single cube of material from the floor before continuing. Breathing a sigh of relief, he glanced down at his partner.

“...You’ve got it on backwards.”

The pumpkin swiveled towards his voice. “How can I possibly have it on backwards? It’s a pumpkin, Mohan!”

“I put eye-holes on one side. Here.” He reached down and twirled it by the stem, carefully looking only at the top of the vegetable.

“...Oh.” She surveyed the tall shape. “You know, it's kinda cute, actually...”

Fin
thulcandran: (Default)
This is, as the title suggests, a random selection from a work in progress. I've had jack shit in inspiration lately. I'm struggling with depression (as the subtitle suggests, I am schizophrenic-bipolar, but suddenly things went boom into the depths), and work is absurdly stressful, and real life is basically kicking my ass. I'm still trying to write. Most of it just never makes it A) onto the typed page, or B) out of my head. Which sucks. So I'll try to pick this back up, and in the meantime, have a piece of story.

As the voice behind him had finished its list, the man had straightened, as if taken by surprise; a moment later, he turned sharply, and with surprising speed for his build, closed in on Jack. He stared, terrifyingly fierce, at the figure behind him. "Leon and Davan both had a hand on this?"

Aside from momentarily clenching around his shoulder, Jack's captor made no sign of fear. Jack was somewhat impressed - if he'd had control of his muscles, he would've been backpedaling with everything he'd got.

"And Xerxes, as I said, and as he'll tell you if he ever actually walks all the way over here. What else would you have expected, Erik?"

Erik's eyes flashed, and he gestured at Jack. "Your thoughts on the key aside, does this look like a Baron, or one of the Powers? Do you really have no concern for what Davan's work, combined with Leon's, could do to a mortal caught in the crossfires?"

Jack felt Caun shrug. "I think they had enough people looking over their shoulders to keep them in line - as do we," he finished, pointing to something off to the left. Before the man could respond, the newcomers were on them, talking, asking questions, pointing in his direction, and generally causing a ruckus. After a moment, one figure separated himself from the group and walked towards him; he waved Caun towards the crowd, and the creature released its iron grip on Jack's shoulder and walked away. It looked something like a lizard, an elf, and a man, crammed into one body, though the result was less disturbing than it might have been.

The man who approached then could only have been Xerxes, Jack realized. He looked to be about sixty. His skin was leathery and wrinkled, his hair white, and his eyes were an electric blue. His beard was trimmed neatly an inch or two below the chin, and his manner denoted a great deal of power. Rather at odds with the rest of his impression, he wore a loose collared shirt and pants - and, all garments being askew, appeared to have dressed in some haste.

He reached up towards Jack's face, an unsettling glow around his hand. After a moment, he released the glow, and nodded to Jack. "You are unsilenced," he said, reaching for a flask clipped to his belt. "I sense no power in you; you understand, our preparations had to be very thorough. We all of us have enemies, in your world." After a swallow from the flask, the glow swirled once more around his hands, and Jack felt his knees buckle.

A pair of strong hands caught him around the armpits and held him up for a moment, until his legs felt solid enough to stand again. "It can take a little time for control of the nervous system to return," Erik said, behind him. "Are you alright?"

Jack shifted his weight a bit, experimentally, and nodded. "I-- yeah. Yeah, thanks."

The man gave his shoulder an encouraging grip (from which he nearly fainted) and walked around, to where the rest of the small crowd stood. Caun glanced at him and said something sarcastic-looking, and he grinned and responded.

"Are you quite awake?" Jack snapped to, and realized that the wizard standing across from him was giving him a rather caustic glare.

"Ah - yes. Sorry. Yeah." He didn't seem to be able to reach any of his usual reserves of sarcasm.

"Well, excellent. Shall we continue, then?" Clearly, no such affliction pursued the wizard. "You arrived here with a key in your hand that is of great interest to us; raise your hand, please, and show it to me."

Jack blinked - briefly, in the back of his mind, he remembered what would happen to him if this key did not arrive safe and sound in his boss's hands by the morning. Something told him, though, that the possibilities of that ever happening had been all but erased. He sighed, and held up his right fist; it took a moment to open, having been clenched shut, and the blood on the key dried.

Xerxes looked at it for a long moment; Jack realized very quickly that he was seeing more than the little metal piece he had pinched from the lamp. After he'd apparently learned all he needed, he looked back up at Jack. "How did you come by this key? How did you know to use it - and how did it bring you here?"

Jack opened his mouth, blinked, and stammered a few nonsense syllables. The wizard sighed and rubbed one hand over his eyes. "You can answer them one at a time," he explained, in a rather overly patient voice. Jack merely nodded.

"The lamp, it was a dinner, and I set the fire," he said finally, after thinking a long moment. Xerxes blinked at him. "Um. Sorry. I took the job, the slippery - lamp in the not on fire, all the cops and the gates. Key in study not found, last found, my skin all - all hung, dead."

Xerxes sighed, looked back at the key for a moment, and grimaced. "Okay," he said. "We'll leave that question off for now. How did you know to use it?"

Jack shook his head. "I no, it shadow. Cops, shouting, gates, shadow and I ran."

Frowning, Xerxes looked closely at him. "Do you know what you're saying?"

"No! It, things, talk... can't."

After a long moment, the wizard snarled something, stooped down to the ground, and drew a hand across the ground in a slitting motion. "Come here," he said, taking a step back.

Jack took a hesitant step forward, and the whole world around him seemed to explode for a long, long moment - sounds, music, notes stretched on like taffy, birds warbling like thunder, and the light of a thousand thousand colors pierced his eyes. He clapped his hands over his ears, and everything stopped.
thulcandran: (Default)
Thanks to JulyFlame for the beta.

In which we join the Cafeteria Team (sans Jof) in the midst of a transaction in the Potterverse, gone more-or-less-normally awry.

"Get down! Get down!"


"I can't move the - ARGH!"


"Well, then duck!"


Mohan scrambled to the ground just in time; the missile cleared his scalp by about half an inch. There was a loud thwacking noise behind him, followed by shouted cursing. He leapt up, grabbed the heavy wooden door, and threw all his weight behind it. The door finally slid closed, and amid low swooshing noises, he sank down behind it, safe, for now, in some ornamental hall or other in the Ministry of Magic, with a magnificent balcony overlooking them on either side, and a spiral staircase going directly through the floor and ceiling on the far end of the room.


His partner stood set in some fighter's stance or other, her next missile arcing in steady circles in the makeshift slingshot. There was a mad gleam in her eyes, and he watched warily for a moment to make sure nothing was aimed at him before commenting - in his own shape, he was more than a match for her, but the portal had disguised him as human, and he didn’t trust this body to get him out of deadly, partner-initiated harm.


"I'm reasonably sure that's not on the list of canonical weapons for this 'verse, lethal or otherwise."


The short, maniacal blond grinned at him, her slingshot never slowing. "Ostensibly this series takes place on Earth - therefore, it's a canonical material, so there must be a file for it."


He glowered at her, ignoring the loud, furious mob pounding on the other side of the door, for the moment. "There's no file to explain why a Cafeteria worker had to use a lethal weapon!"


"Circumstances were dire! I had no choice - would you have preferred the alternative? And besides, it's classified as a fruit, not a lethal weapon."


Mohan climbed to his feet, still glaring. "We're going to have to neuralyze them anyway, if we even have a neuralyzer. Since - again, Cafeteria Workers don't exactly get field equipped for combat. And if it's not listed as lethal, it damned well should be, and... are you even listening?"


Abruptly, the twine end of the slingshot was thrust into his hand, and his partner sprinted off, towards the staircase. "Man the slingshot, I'll be back!" she called, over her shoulder.


"But you haven't - damnit, Lyn," he muttered, as she sprinted down the stairs. "Sure, take the rest of the ammunition with you, it's not like I'm holding a mob of angry protesters off with a single door and a fruit." Mohan silently thanked the Powers that they'd had the common sense to leave Jof back at HQ - this could certainly be much, much worse.


There was a loud clinking sound, and the hinges dropped off the door, glowing anvil-hot. He looked at them, swore, and leapt away from the door about half a second before it crashed to the ground amidst a cloud of thick, menacing smoke. A bit awkwardly, he hefted the slingshot and began to whirl it around over his head. With his other hand, he groped blindly for the pocket in his vest that held the wand prop. He had absolutely no experience with the Potterverse, and even if he had, any powers he could've accessed were several dimensions away, but in previous adventures, he and Lyn had discovered that weapons, even useless ones, went a long way to raising respect.


As the smoke cleared, a man in a deep blue robe stepped forward, peering around through very thick gray bangs and even thicker spectacles, and pointing his wand a bit less carefully than Mohan would have liked. "Oi! You there!"


Mohan fought back the rising fear in his throat, concentrating on the heft of his missile, whirling steadily at his side. He adjusted his grip on the stolen wand slightly, and swallowed. Summoning all the languid arrogance his cousin had ever taught him, the agent offered a grin. "You - er, knocked?"


A small crowd began to push through behind the wizard, in robes of various colors, several splattered with a yellowish, custardy flesh that was beginning to smell, even from ten feet off; quite a few of them were looking ill, and he counted three, at least, with what looked like sustained injuries - the thorns still scattered over their robes were a dead giveaway. It would have been funnier, but they were all either glaring directly at him (and his fruit-slingshot), or shouting, and he suspected all of them were moments away from drawing their wands.


"Knocked? Knocked?! You're under arrest, boy! You and that little ruffian, which - where did he go?"


If his hands had been free, he would've probably gone Picard, but being (technically) armed, Mohan held his ground. "We didn't start anything," he replied, his voice steady. "Your receptionists  were tangibly hostile from the beginning."


"Our-- our receptionists? You dare!" The wand hand was quivering, Mohan noticed uneasily.


"Well, yes. From there, it was merely a matter of escalation. You see, my partner was merely attempting to negotiate for food - you didn't leave her much choice but to find an alternative route, and when your guards went after us, we were left with no alternatives whatsoever - really, if you want to be technical, this all could have been avoided if you had any decent procedures in your front desk." He took a breath; the man was beginning to turn an ugly shade of red, and three of the people behind him had also drawn their wands.


"We don't have time for this! I order you to drop your weapon - weapons - and surrender, or you leave us no choice!"


Mohan shook his head. "I'm afraid I cannot do that, sir. Without my partner here to consult, that is a tactical decision to which I simply cannot commit."


"Oh, don't worry about that," the wizard sneered, drawing back his wand. "We're not really giving her a choice, either." With a slashing motion, a spark of red light appeared on the end of his wand, aimed directly at the Agent, who, in a moment of sheer panic, let the durian fly into their midst. The spell caught it about two feet out from their crowd, and he threw an arm up to cover his face as it exploded with a loud 'bang,' showering all and sundry with electrically-charged, strong-smelling goop, and heavy thorns.


"Nice shot, dude!"


It took him a moment to find his partner (the knotted end of the rope smacking him in the face was a dead giveaway). She grinned down at him from the balcony, about fifteen feet overhead. "Lyn! Where were you? We've got troub--"


"I know! Don’t worry about that, just close your eyes!"


Without further warning, she hefted something that resembled an enormous layer cake, with the addition of a biohazard symbol and a fuse, off the balcony, towards the wizards. With an ear-splitting crack, the object exploded into a ball of red light, blindingly bright even with his eyes shut; the wizards collapsed to the floor, in slow motion, and, as he blinked away the spots, his partner grinned at him from her perch atop the railing.


"Catch!" A bag that felt like about thirty pounds of cannon balls slammed him in the chest, and he staggered back a step, lacking the breath to put his curses in full volume.


In short order, they had three enormous bags of pumpkins - just a head shorter than Lyn, actually - on the floor, and all was in order, more or less. He'd even managed to avoid swearing at her!


"So, do we have any durian left?"


...so far. He gave his partner a Look. "If you'd like to wring out their robes before they come to, then we can use what's left of that. Otherwise, no, thank God."


Lyn shrugged and hefted one of the bags. "As per Department Code, I left adequate pay - I think we might even make our budget this month!"


"Payments, you say? Does that include payments for damages to property and person?"


"Bahahaha! Oh, you crack me up, dude. Ready to go?"


Sighing, he flicked the portal activator, and the big purple doorway snapped to. "As long as you're sure that's covered..."


His partner swung the bag over her shoulder and stepped through the portal, calling over her shoulder, "They're wizards, Mohan! Stop worrying and t--"


Mohan shook his head, grabbed the other two bags - surprisingly heavy - and, after a quick and futile attempt to get the splatters off his vest, followed her through the portal.


Sarah

Apr. 16th, 2012 01:54 am
thulcandran: (Default)
The box spun in the air between them, for just a moment, and then it flew, with a comfortable heft, into her hand, as though it had meant to land there for destiny's sake. Her fist closed around it, naturally, as though catching a juggler's ball, or an apple. The weight seemed like the world itself had settled around her arm.

"Everything changes now," her brother told her, from across the flames. "You're going across the ocean, and you'll wear the cloak, and carry a staff, and walk through legends."

Sarah wanted to smile at him, but the coals drew her eyes, as they always had, the darkness drawing and fading over the intense brightness beneath the surface. Fire was beyond magic, or perhaps the only magic, or - she didn't know. But she would. With all the effort she could manage, she looked up at her brother, and saw his smile behind his eyes, in the waning firelight.

"I know, Derek," she said, turning the box in her hand. "Though they don't write legends anymore, really. But - I'll write. I'll figure out a way to do better than mail, I'm sure there's something like that out in America." She grinned, suddenly, and shook her head. "It's funny, this is supposed to be the old world, the place where sorcerers and legends come from. I guess... maybe the New World is older than we thought."

Derek laughed quietly, and kicked an errant twig into the slowly dying embers. "That's something they'll never have," he told her. "Americans pretend they're older, but whatever history they have was in the trees, and they cut those down - they don't like the history they do have. Always trying to forge newer tales, newer paths."

She answered his laugh, recognizing their uncle's words, and they both fell silent for a while; an easy silence, there in the glow of the coals. "There are birds out there," she said suddenly, looking out into the dark. "Birds I've never seen, tiny jeweled ones that drink from flowers, and great herons, and the bald eagle, with the white head. And with the metals they're finding... oh, Derek, anything is possible."

He was staring into the last dying flames, or perhaps at the embers, as they flared and faded, flared and faded... Sarah bowed her head, and slowly, the night drew in around them.
thulcandran: (Default)
This fountain is dry as a bone, and wishing into it makes no difference at all.

My heart thirsts for a rain
the laughter of rain in rhythm
the way the whole world shines therein

I miss the look of rain
how it can't decide what color to be
the drawing, pulling light of rain

The way it falls, the way it moves
the weight of it against my skin
the clean of it, and the joy

Rain understands my soul
and I am in love with
the rain.

Powers

Mar. 7th, 2012 11:56 pm
thulcandran: (Default)
It's funny, I seem to write in here a lot from love, both romantic and platonic. This is, I think, the first time I've written something dealing with - or attempting to deal with - platonic love when it tangles with power, if not power struggles. I'm not entirely ready to take on the character balance of friendship between the Fierce Independent and the Organized Overlord. If I can figure out how to make it work IRL, I'll consider taking the struggle to a page. Meanwhile, there's this. I'm not entirely satisfied with the ending, but it'll do for now, I guess.

(It wasn't written in Write Or Die, nor in ten minutes, nor from a three-word prompt. It was written after a show sparked an idea that worked better in my own world than as fanfic.)


Liron shrugged as she pulled the last knot tight.

"A shrug is hardly an adequate answer."

Half smiling in the gloom, she stopped herself - barely - from shrugging again, and stood. "What do you want me to say?"

Basir cocked his head slightly, a dangerous smile playing about his face. "If I wanted my own answer, dear," he said, "I would not have spoken aloud."

The easy grin on her face faltered, just a bit. She tossed the rope behind her, guiding it to wind around her shoulder.

"I mean it, though," she said, grabbing the trunk with both hands. "Pick a reason of your own, it's bound to have more rationale than mine."

Basir watched her from the ground, his arms folded, tilting his head as she climbed higher. "I mean it as well," he replied, in deceptively cheerful tones, "And that is rather more important, as you know."

Easily ten feet off the ground, with one arm wrapped around her next perch, she winced; the bundle hanging from her other arm shifted, though her grip did not. "Well I do, at that," she muttered, and swung up onto the slimmer branch.

"You still have to fetch it in the morning, you know," he called, shaking his head.

She grinned down at him like a cat from about twenty feet up, and pointed to a crooked limb, two or three strides out from the trunk along a branch the width of her neck. Basir shook his head and deliberately turned away, a small pouch appearing in his hands. He didn't exactly need it, but keeping up appearances was a good habit to be in.

When he'd fixed the perimeter, he turned to find his bedroll laid out on the wind-sheltered side of the fire, and Liron kneeling over the fire, engaged in something in the coals.

"So," he said, walking over. The fire, as always, was just a bit aside from the center of their camp - an old tradition, part superstition by now.

She glanced over her shoulder at him, briefly. "So?"

The rock sent up sparks, and a loud clap from the ground where it struck - where her head had been, a moment prior. She looked up, still sprawled on her back from a very sudden reflexive roll, to see Basir tossing another up and down, his expression completely blank.

"Sorry," she muttered. "Am I allowed to get up?"

He gestured to the fire with the remaining stone, and she pushed off the ground and moved back to the fireside. "Speak, girl," he told her, his voice low and dark. "I do not ask questions unless I want answers, and your gambols are treading dangerous waters."

Liron took a deep breath. "I don't flatter," she began, her arms huddled around her knees, her gaze fixed on the flames. "So it's just a fact, you know, that you are the most powerful force of our time."

A few strides off, Basir tossed the rock into the fire before sitting down, rather more gracefully, across from her. "I am aware, yes."

"Caius, he doesn't come close, I know; even traveling his watched seas was fairly simple work for you, and would be doable for Rhia, and maybe Arran. But to the rest of that region, he's all but immovable; a despot, old as the hills, solid as the stone beneath their feet, and he's crushed at least two different rebellions in the last decade. He's terrifying, say the Tyran folk; they've got songs about his footsteps, Basir, songs they don't sing but in the more quiet towns, on the borders.

"Rhia has strung up two people in the past year for trumped-up offenses, because spellwork in their name began to attract notice. Three winters back, she had someone drawn and quartered for teaching that kind of power. On charges of 'threat to the realm,' just short of treason. Not even half-breed changelings travel through her roads if they can avoid it, and you're the only one I've ever seen enter and leave her borders uncloaked. And Arran's just as bad - you know better than I how much blood can be traced to his doorstep.

"As you may recall, Erlan has spent the past ten years in hiding after his spell won that fortress for Caius. The story goes that he found a dagger behind a curtain, and fled in the night, but from what I know of their intrigue, once the victory wine had been passed around, he probably didn't need to wait for a signal that obvious, or deadly." Liron looked up from the fire at him, her face drawn, entirely stripped of its usual laughter. He watched her for a moment, before she shook her head and looked back down at the dying flames.

Basir pointed at the fire, stirring it up a little. The warmth spiraled out around them - an unnatural effect, but they were both used to it. "You're with me," he said quietly. "You've been with - here, a servant, a squire, a student, for longer than Caius has watched the seas. Rhia is the only name you have there, in fact, that would remember you as mortal at all." The girl opposite him continued to stare at the fire, but his eyes remained on hers. "You cannot fear a dagger in the night from any of those jumped-up horse thieves; none of them would dare to breathe in your direction, if only for the implied insult to myself. But we both know that. Do you trust me so little, then?"

Her shoulders slid, and she seemed to shrink, to twist down into the shadows, but he knew her shape had not changed; no magic save his could be worked here, not after his perimeter had been set. "No," she said finally, her voice barely audible above the crackle of the fire. "Of course I trust you, Basir."

"Speak up, girl," he growled, pushing on the fire again. "If I was to kill you, it wouldn't be over this, and whispering and trying to burrow into nothing would hardly stop me."

Straightening a bit, she bit back a habitual laugh; he suspected it might have come out as a sob. She cleared her throat, and her voice was nearly steady when she spoke again. "Having that much power fucks with people. Maybe not with you, I don't know. Most likely I just don't see it, being not quite whole myself - and given the amount of time at stake. I don't know what you were like before you came into this - all of this.

"But power - it changes things. If it hadn't been a mage who won the battle, Caius would've promoted them. And Arran, he spent years under Garth before his training. It was only after he returned with the arsenal of a wizard that he turned on his liege. I don't think you'd put a knife in my back if I started learning how to throw fireballs around, or turn lead to gold. Even aside from the - from..." she trailed off, and was silent a moment before continuing. "Aside from - from all else, I could spend another century in deep meditation and I'd be about as much threat to you as a gadfly's sting, and you know that better than I do.

"It's a game for those with the mind for it, Basir. It's a game that leads an honest steward to incinerate his king's bedchamber, a path that leads to a dagger in the back, and it's a noose I don't want around my neck." She paused, a smile echoing the raised eyebrow he'd pointed in her direction halfway through the last two sentences. "Yes, I know. I have power over my own shape, and that is all the power I want. More than, sometimes, but it comes in too handy to leave. And - before you point out the error, there, how often have I used it to your benefit?"

Basir smiled then, a slight and quiet expression, as he kicked an errant spark back into the coals with a toe. "I'm hardly going to demand your neck in cold iron for the tricks you do know, Liron. If it's any comfort, I'd be considering the eventuality of you committing self-destruction in some ridiculous fight or vainglorious stunt more than I would any attempt on my own life."

"You know me too well," she told him dryly, curling up on the ground. He grinned at her, and blew the fire out with a word. The night descended around the camp, and the coals between them hissed softly before growing cold, dead, silent.
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Thanks to Doctorlit, for the prompt: fright, metal, chorus, and to my sister for having the same dream I did last night, three months ago. (It was not this dream. It was about a baby dragon small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, all spaghetti-thin limbs and fragile webbed wings.)

It was Katie who had it first, that summer, one of those long, breathless nights. She woke me up in the early hours of the morning, shaking my arm, her face panicked. I held her tight and told her it was a dream, mommy and daddy were safe in the other room, we were safe in our room, and everything was fine. Daylight was still a few hours off, but neither of us went back to sleep after that; both of us pretended for the other's sake.

It wasn't so bad of a dream, really, from what she said. I had a lot on my mind, but this weighed curiously in the back of it, like an echo - the hazy, confusingly juxtaposed images of a half-remembered dream. She probably stayed awake out of fear. Katie had strange dreams sometimes, but she was not usually incapacitated by them.

Falling, she said, and then-- no, not falling. Being pulled down, or up, out of the world by a horde of angels, all clad in steel armor and shouting with great voices as they flew. A pretty frightening dream, I would give her that. But I didn't really give it enough thought until it came back three months later, as the sticky summer heat began to give way to the more calming nights of frost, in autumn. Things were hectic, as they always were in September - getting John and Katie ready for school, and making sure I was ready for school, our parents always had their hands full at the start of the year. (No matter how hard you try to remember that the year starts in January, for a kid it always starts in September. Things begin again, and there's a freshness to the air that's entirely lacking in the raw moistness of that winter season.)

When I had the dream, I didn't wake anyone up. Even when it cut off abruptly, those eyes staring into my own as we watched the empty void swallow our old home entirely, and I felt myself jolted back to waking in a cold sweat. Panic was always silent for me; when I fell off my bike, no one knew what had happened until they found me in the kitchen, having fallen in my attempt to find the bandaids. Katie lay sleeping in the bed across the room, so I sat up quietly and slowly, trying to hide the gasping terror in my breath - possibly from myself. The dawn was still long hours off, but I could not have fallen asleep then. I slid out of bed, padded across to the window, and, pulling my jacket on over flannel pyjamas, climbed out onto the first-story roof to look at the night sky, reassuringly far away and full of stars.

The day before Christmas Eve, I overheard Daddy telling Mommy about it. "I don't know, Mary," he said quietly into his coffee. "It's been a long time since a nightmare took me by surprise like that." She said something back to him, but I didn't hear that part. I don't know why I didn't tell them Katie and I had had the same dream - the same legion of angels in that terrifying cold metal, the same falling-by-flight, the same roaring as we awoke.

Little John probably had the dream too, but he couldn't really talk yet, so we did never find that out.
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For the record, and I am sorry for the confusion, Huan is the name of the character formerly known as Xi. Xi was, in honesty, the first two random characters I pressed in a hurry (Write or Die will do that to you), so I'd kind of been keeping an eye out for a better name for him. Huan seemed to fit the bill, and so I'll be going back and changing the former stories in this line when I get a chance. (And thanks to Dann for catching 'divulge' instead of 'diverge.')

Huan smiled winningly at the girl, and proffered his quill. She took it, smiling back at him, and signed her name beneath his. The candles were burning low, by then, and most of the patrons of the inn had retired to their rooms; the serving girl was too well-trained to be giving them dirty looks from her rounds, but the woman behind the counter had no such qualms. With a few quiet words, the girl stood, took her pack, and walked arm in arm with him up the stairs to his own room. The lamp, as always, never strayed from his side.

"It is a shame that our paths must diverge," he told her, his voice formal, his manner subdued. This was, of course, the tricky part.

She smiled back at him, and shook her head. "It would be a shame indeed," she said, "If either of us had held intentions beyond the one night. But I am no fool, and neither are you, and I wish you well on your own path."

He didn't say a word, not until he was half a day's journey, at least, from the inn, and his temper had subdued just a bit. His scar was not paining him - it did not, really, at all, he'd found. Whatever method the spirit had used to heal the wound had been all but miraculous. The mark was left - that was a trial of the metal and blade - but his limbs were sound, and his life uncompromised, and every so often, a girl would comment on the fine and brave warriors and their intriguing scars, only fully visible from... certain angles.

She had not commented, only traced it briefly with her hands. And he thought he had been a better judge of women than that, to fall into bed with, with...

He grabbed the lamp around his neck, viciously, and immediately there was a manlike form walking beside him, looking for all the world like a fellow traveler, a companion, though something about the eyes always threw him. He did not look at the eyes now.

"Spirit, I know that you cannot do magics with human emotions or feelings, and you cannot grant true love - but tell me, can you tell me when it is present?"

The avatar's head turned to regard him for a moment before answering, carefully, "I cannot. I can tell you when infatuation is present, but love is a thing entirely beyond my powers, in most measurable ways - for it is an immeasurable way of itself."

Huan nodded, still glowering at the horizon before them. He gritted his teeth, spat at one point, into the dirt beside the path, and finally shook his head, as if to clear away the webs. "Spirit," he said finally, "Why did the girl not wish to travel with me?" He had to fight to keep his voice from sounding plaintive, or too young. It didn't matter, of course; the djinni was not human, would not mock him for his manhood.

Still, he imagined he caught a glance from the form beside him that had a certain flash to it that he rather disliked, a flash, he thought, of amusement.

"The girl did not wish to travel with you for the same reasons you did not wish to remain with her," it said, and when Huan looked over, he realized it had not been his imagination; there was something akin to a smile around the eyes of the djinni's face.

He bit back his irritation. "Go on."

"Aside from your desire to keep the lamp secret, you value your privacy," it told him. "The girl's manner said much the same; she spoke little and smiled much, as you have done with-- with others you have met. Your demeanor was not your true face, but a winsome mask for enticing - hers was a mirror of the same. You had no wish for lasting companionship, or an obligation, and neither did she. If she had thought you the sort to cleave, she would have ignored your advances, but your behavior, as I said, mirrored her own. She was expecting your parting words."

Huan looked back at the form, realizing for the first time that this avatar, the djinni's most favored, was half a head taller than him; on a human, he would have thought the face and manner full of mischief. He glowered for a moment longer, then smiled. The spirit's face softened, smiling back at him. Shaking his head, the traveler shoved his hands through his belt and continued on the road, pondering the odd turn his fortunes seemed to have taken.
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Thanks to Leareth of the PPC for the prompt "Corrupted blood pool," though I rather doubt this is what you were going for.

Erik grinned at him from the parapet, shaking his head. Jack bit his lip briefly, and turned back to the little stream. He'd bet money he knew what was going on in the knight's head; for all Erik's high-minded sense of morals and straighter-than-sunshine spine, the man had quite a twisted sense of humor, in his own right. Part of it, apparently, included things like this. Though... perhaps it was understandable. His cooking skills were at stake, after all. Setting his teeth, Jack turned his back to the fortress and set off down the brookside, his steps light and, to an outside viewer (he hoped), carefree.

Erik had gone from snickering quietly to outward guffaws by the time Jack had slid into the little brook the third time. From the watchtower, he had an excellent view of the proceedings, all the way down to the dip behind the first hill - more than enough time. As his comrade slipped his footing and soaked his head yet again, he leaned helplessly against the wall and gasped for breath between laughs.

Footsteps behind him, quiet, steady, very familiar indeed, sounded around the bend, and Xerxes leaned up on the ramparts beside him, watching the scene below with a raised eyebrow. "Fates preserve us," he commented after a moment. "He really is hopeless at the tracking."

Catching his breath, Erik grinned at the older wizard. "Oh, yes," he said, pointing to the wood on the opposite hill. "I'll be surprised if he comes back with aught more than frogs, at this point."

Xerxes chuckled and glanced past the view, to the farther hill. "What did he bet you?"

"Ah, he seemed to have some sort of problem with the meal of the last night," Erik explained ruefully, turning back to the tower to retrieve his stave, which he'd set aside with some foresight when Jack turned out onto the path. "I believe the words exchanged were 'roadkill,' which is some slight, I gathered, on lean, rangey, and unsavory animals killed by accident, in his tongue, 'charred excuse for a casserole,' and 'a child could do better,' in that order, more or less."

The wizard winced. "Oh, dear. He hasn't had your cooking before, has he?" Upon the immediate glare Erik turned his way, he raised a hand, laughing. "Don't try it! I accepted one of your bargains for the last time ten years ago, master camp-cook."

Erik gave him a slightly miffed look and leaned back. "Well, we shall see. My watch is up at noontide, and I'm for the cots-- for better or worse, it's his supper tonight."

"His -- no! Foolish knight, you've doomed us all!"

* * *

And so it was that Erik came to be leaning against the doorframe, brows drawn in some amount of shock, as his young apprentice, with several nasty cuts along his arm already bound, handed across a bowl of something that, he had to admit, rather resembled stew. Jack couldn't help but laugh at his expression.

"Did you know there's an old trout pond halfway through the wood?" Erik shook his head wordlessly. "Ah, I thought not. Did you know that a tunic bound at one end makes a passable net for trout?"

Erik grimaced. "Your point then, I'll concede." Curious, he gestured at the bandages with his free hand. "Did the trout draw first blood?"

Jack coloured slightly and turned back to the pot; Erik had to strain to hear his mumbled reply. "...the carrots did."

On Anger

Feb. 15th, 2012 11:25 pm
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As opposed to trying to talk myself out of belief, which I know is more or less impossible.

When will these scars heal?
When will our joy be not mixed with bitter pain?
When will you send me a fight I can win,
and not the wounds that none can mend?

We aren't all bruised in the heel,
but our struggles hurt no less.
Perhaps her wounds weren't all inflicted
in battle for all mortal man,
does that make them less worthy?
Does that make her less worthy?

When will these scars heal?
When will our joy not be mixed with pain?
When will you cease to torment me with beauty,
while around me love, tortured, struggles on?

When will his eyes smile again,
and cease to hold back tears of pain?
When will words return to my lips,
to heal in moments of need?
Why do you strike me voiceless,
when my voice is all I have to hold?

Why are we alone here, in this world?
Where are you, while the stars shine down
on bruises in the dark, and stabs in the heart?
Where are you now, while she's too far to hold?
Why do you linger far away,
while my shoulders fail to bear his load?

When will his scars, her scars heal?
When will our joy be unmixed with pain?
When will you give us the comfort you promised,
in this cold and cruel world?

Riverbanks

Feb. 6th, 2012 05:48 pm
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Haha. Oh, childhood. You never fail to tweak my triggers. Thanks to Tray-Gnome, for the prompt: Duck, Milk, Hubcap.

When we stumble through the world, wondering at the ruins astride our paths, there are certain images that stand apart, clear like a reflection on the puddles that litter this road, darkling in the orange sodium lights, undistorted.

The night is not cold, the rain has long passed, and there is a fresh, vivid cleanness to the air that betrays my mood and pierces the gloom I seek to gather around me, moving through the streets and crowds like an angry shadow, cloaked in silence and bearing the fallen messages I have sown like weapons in the dark.

It's not quite dark yet, either; the sun is but lately set, and the darkest parts of the sky are still behind me, as I walk, quite unintentionally, towards the sunset, into the dying light. The only part of this image, I think, that I might choose - the dying light, as the night gathers at my back.

The banks of that mighty river stand before me, the wind rushing loud and swift through the riverside trees, roaring in the near-empty branches, soft though it falls on my shoulders; the surface of that great water is not so clear as the puddles I avoid, and no image shows but the scattered, broken lights of the bridge upon its waves.

The banks, though, the banks are strangely lit, in my mind's eye - the image is, I know, not one that truly exists, only in memory. A pond, far off, a dirty blanket to hide the cleaner grass beneath, the gaggle of violets scattered between the trees, the stone wall, built by cunning stonework and the thrift of pioneers, rather than mortar or binding joints, and the shallowness the shade has hidden, in the pond itself - though still, in our innocence and wonder, we avoided its edges for fear of drowning, and the scolding of the fowl who watched us on their banks.

A clean drink, what now would cloud my throat and fog my voice, to wash away the bitter thoughts, the worry of dark crusted bread, the fear of the thinness it hid, the thoughts that came unbidden and could not be hidden, the laughter none can hear, the prayers that none can utter, and further glances to the feathers and their filth beneath, the unclean that I now seek out in the shadows, on the banks of this great river, in the twilight of the early night.

The feathers are now nowhere to be seen, washed away by an errant wave, gathered by a watchful fisherman, trodden off by beaching canoes, and all that is left, beneath the unwanted nostalgia-tainted image, is the flotsam, silt-gray and melting against the power of wind and water, engine bits and towers that could be, hubcaps fractured and unknown things, cast-off bones of the city beyond the bridge, whose lights now scatter across the broken waters.

Images of the night that now surrounds me are uninvited, as the last folly of a shadow falls from my eyes, and no less welcome, if more real, than the nostalgia that tauntingly wafts around the images of still water, and clean feathers.
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Thanks to Maslab, for the prompt: Fallout, Stallion, Bell. I suppose you could say it's about the fall of Carthage. In a way.

It was after, that things narrowed. It was after, that things made sense again. It was after, that things began to make sense for me, because nothing made sense, and I found my way in the vacuum. When nothing made sense, you worked with what you had. If that was nothing...

I walked from building to building. I walked to places where I could find food, and keep food, and I found food outside the walls. I slept in sheltered places, where I found them, and I spoke no words aloud. What was there to say?

When the wind blew, things shifted, and it scared me, for reasons I had no way to understand, anymore.

It was a different world, after. And I needed a different way to understand it.

The sky was a void; the ground was complex, and I learned to read it-- how to figure out where I was, based just on the radial cracks that flowed through the pavement, where it was. I learned to follow them, to break them, to navigate the ruins that had been a city world-renowned, a city where emperors had been blessed and saints had lived and oh, the gardens, and-- and I learned to walk, in the emptiness, to walk and to be silent in the silence around me.

I remembered, sometimes, and then I forgot how to live for a while, and stayed, standing, for more than parts of a day, smelling the smell of burned straw, where a stable had been, where I had seen the soldiers, and the sun upon their steel, where my brother had ridden his fine stallion when he rode it out the gates and the hooves on the ground made a sound in my chest where the hard was...

And then an eagle would pass above, or a lion somewhere, or simply the sound of the wind, maybe bringing the soft leaves together, maybe echoing in the now-empty bells on the towers, a soft sound like the ghost of a ring, and it woke me, and I remembered.

The walls were dust. They had come with Greek Fire, never used on land before, and they had come with seige weapons and they said that they had salted the land.

(It wasn't true. But they salted the cropland; that was enough for most.)

It wasn't a city anymore, and that was good, because I didn't need a city. I knew how to live; how to make things make sense. How to walk from place to place, and gather food for a day, and hide from the rain and the lions, and how to forget. How the rocks fell, how the trees grew, how long it took for grapes to grow how long, the flowers, how long they bloomed there before falling to the ground, and bringing there the insects...

How long I wandered there, I do not think I shall ever know, or seek to know. I remember the day the bell rang, and I remembered against my hardest tries, and I remember how the hoofbeats sounded, as the world changed again, and the sense of the world after was shattered.

Love

Jan. 31st, 2012 06:44 pm
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It's short, but it's honest.

I walked in the djinni's cave, and saw all that he wanted me to see, and more: trees spun of glass, colored brighter, it seemed, than reality - the joy in making a work so detailed it takes on a life of its own; fountains of water lit from beneath, sparkling like a fairy story come to life - eyes that saw what the light shines through, above the light itself; a forest lit with smokeless flame, songbirds filling the clear air with their bright chimes - and the delight of one who took a life and made of it an art to fill eternities with joy.

His eyes watched mine, all the while, I saw; he never seemed to so much as glance at the intricate details, nor the grand expanses around him. There was life in the cave, pouring out - an eternal fountain of something that could not quite be expressed in words; in his eyes, there was a devouring hunger, gentler and more fierce than I'd expected, and infinitely unsated by the craft of his own hand.
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I had this in a personal journal, but it was more... personal. So I've trimmed it and chopped it and polished the rough bits off, and here it is-- for your irregularly unscheduled dose of hastily constructed fiction, see next post (as soon as I finish it, that is).

Read more... )

The more I look back, the more sense it makes that pushing OBEY. OBEY. OBEY. on kids for their whole lives-- it ends with rebellion. It ends in loss of trust. It ends with adults with an endless need to question and tear down authority. Teaching kids to mindlessly accept authority-- it's a self-defeating philosophy. And for that, in the end, I am quite grateful.
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This is easily the corniest thing I have ever written. It started with taking three words from my sister's still-life display-- mask, fire, castle-- and before too long, I realized my subconscious had thrown a wrench in the works. So I gave up on subtlety, ran with it, and this is the result. Don't hate me.

He grinned up at the balcony, knowing she couldn't see. It didn't matter - she'd know he was grinning in the middle of a blizzard, though walls thicker than the world itself stood between them, and know she did. She grinned back, and bowed, her silhouette showing with the firelight behind her.

He did not drop a rose on the snow-covered ground; he had no rose, for none could have survived the climb, the swim, and the possibility of pursuit. She smiled, though, and dropped one from the balcony - she preferred to do things backwards, anyway. And he bowed, deeply, and removed his mask; the darkness, in the new moon, was enough to hide his face behind it. And taking the rose, he hid it in his breast, and turned to flee across the courtyard once again, leaving the mask below.

The lady in waiting smiled again; this was a dangerous game, and surely if he discovered, all things would change. But for now, she enjoyed it, and when her duties to her mistress were done, she walked daintily down the stairs, to where a mask lay, careful, on the snow. She felt unsure, sometimes, after these new moons; it was not as if she had lied to him. He was not, in any case, openly pursuing a princess - unless that was what he intended, all this time. She sighed, took the mask into the folds of her cloak, and returned to the castle, towards her own chambers.

Next time, she would leave him a song. The bard had been teaching her how to write the songs; it was a script she had not dreamed existed, before coming to the castle. They did not hold with such things, in the distant holds of the West, and their songs changed by the generation. But the mysterious prince was clearly from an educated land; his masks were done in the art of the Capital, near where this castle stood, and she had known this for some time. He deserved a gift in kind, she thought; a rose would not do forever.

She tried not to wonder if she thought this because a song was the gift you'd expect, from a real princess. She simply wanted to give him an art equal to his own.

This was how it happened: a prince in hiding, for his throne had been lost by intrigue and deceit, and his bloodline had been thrust out of sight for his own good. And of course, he met in throes of deep romance a young and beautiful princess, and they fell in love, and he wooed her in secret - for a princess can only be wooed by a prince, which he could not openly declare - and when he reclaimed his throne, the first thing he did was mount a quest, with his loyal knights, to capture the hand of the fair lady. (Of course, this also involved a great deal of persuasion, as a prince never resembled the bandit or ruffian who had captured her heart.)

She had several problems with this world. For one, how was it that a man's face could change so much by claiming his throne that his One True Love didn't recognize him, scant months later? After a supposedly legendary courtship, it seemed so trite. That, and the princess seemed to exist solely for the purpose of being wooed in a tower - to prove, through subversion, that royalty was made for royalty.

In this world, their world, the man could only be a prince. He was noble, true, strong of heart and clever in art and mysterious in his pursuit of a woman in a castle. She should have alerted the princess to his designs immediately, and been the knowing sidekick. But her mistress, the princess of the castle, had fallen two years prior for her father's captain of the guard, young and strong and, as long as he'd been there, stoic and grave, rather like the princess. They talked sometimes, she and the princess, about the world around them, about the captain of the guard, about the gardens and the footsteps and the strangeness of the full moons, out on the moors. And she knew fair well where her lady's heart was, and she knew full well where hers was-- it was a betrayal of him that she feared, not of her lady.

The first song she left him vanished, as the roses had, into his shadow. When the new moon next came, he left her a mask whose designs matched perfectly the song; the song she left him that time was less perfectly captured. She had tried to write the notes of a tune that she'd only heard sung in her own heart. And the mask that he left, when she saw him next, felt very much the same - as though the shape he had conceived was more than could be made with hand and earth. The winter wore on, and the snow melted, and brought mud, and the sun came, and brought new flowers on the boughs, and mockingbirds from the South.

The mockingbirds sang at night, for the first weeks of the season, in the cooler nights, and so she and her lady often sat up later than they should, to hear the new trills they returned with.

When she nearly swooned, one such evening, she told her lady that the lengthening days had worn her, with all the chores preparing for the sowing - she grew stronger in the Spring, but tired, too, and perhaps it was not fully a lie. But she knew that next new moon must bring a change, for the birds would give her away, and so she waited by the walls when next her masked prince arrived, and sang him, softly, from the arch, a song of another world, where princes were allowed to be more than dashing rogues, and princesses were allowed to run away with the captains, and he smiled beneath his mask, and the dark space in the skies hid their escape, and the eloping of the brave captain and rebelling princess from the gate.
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Additional Characters:
PIETR: Son of Solon, and heir to the throne of Dochren; tall, comely, and rather hotheaded, if not what you'd call thick.
DAAN: An architect; on the royal purse, and has designed many of the newer roads and cathedrals. Cheerful, clever, and betrothed to Dilys.
WULFRIC: A minor noble of the Islands in the north - come to court to ask for counsel on a curse that has befallen his lands, involving the slow transformation of every firstborn child into a unicorn. Stop laughing!
BJORN: A guard; often present for courtly doings, as he's quite good at intimidation. Stolid, friendly, and quiet.
TORIN: A guard, and a knight; privvy to much that happens at the court, and has the ear of both Julius and Solon, many times.

---

Scene: A garden path, winding between trellises and ponds and a few small trees. Edan, his hands gesturing gracefully as he speaks, is wandering alongside Dilys, who seems less restless than in other scenes, listening mainly.

EDAN: We just know so little about them! It’s good for the bard in some ways, but for me, I’d rather have something to sing about, instead of simply drawing my songs from the air!

DILYS: Ah, an honest troubadour - will wonders never cease?

EDAN: [rolling his eyes at her] Tact, child! Even southern barbarians should learn things, every other moon.

DILYS: Ah ha, indeed. Will you next teach me the ways of the warriors, o poet mine?

EDAN: Speaking of Southern Barbiarans, in fact, I had a question for you.

DILYS: [suddenly just a tad wary] Ah, did you?

EDAN: I did indeed. It is said, in the songs of Pwyll, of Westron, that the fair Southlands are so fruitful by way of a devil’s bargain - that on your royalty, and some of those common, there is a grave curse.

DILYS: Sounds rather like folly, from here, Edan. And if ‘twere true, I would not be here, would I? The drought is beginning to pass, but it stands as evidence nonetheless.

EDAN: H’m. [thoughtfully] I suppose you are right; a shame.

DILYS: [laughing] A shame indeed?

EDAN: ‘Twould make a lovely epic, m’dear. The fair Southern Lands, under an evil curse, and the tragedy of those caught ‘twixt fate and desire.

DILYS: Hah, trust you to make a curse sound romantic, fop.

[Enter DAAN, from a fork in the path, hidden by dense thickets of holly]

DAAN: Ah, discussing fops, are we? I nominate myself, by dint of debauchery and tomfoolery!

EDAN: Debauchery! You? I think Fool would serve you more as a title.

DAAN: Debauchery! [pulling DILYS towards him by one hand]

DILYS: [pretending to beat him off] Alas! Alack! I am ravished!

EDAN: [cough] Ah, the gardens are so diverting this season. I could spend... hours, staring at these holly bushes. Simply divine.

DAAN: [grinning at him] Ah, poor foppish Edan. Will you come along? The day is fine for riding.

EDAN: I suppose so, if only to keep you two from mischief. The court entire knows you cannot be trusted.

---

Scene: The forest, in early afternoon. A very small clearing by a brook-side; a deer is dead, wounded bloodily by the water’s edge, and the foliage much disturbed and broken. The company rides up, hard and fast - consists, this time, of DARIUS, with a lot more gray in his hair than the last time we saw him, SOLON, as in the scene with Julius and fire-stoking, PIETR, looking exhausted but triumphant, and EDAN, sporting a beard and a semi-fresh scar across his left cheek.

DARIUS: Wait, Sire! Something is not right. [dismounts, beckoning the company wait, and goes to the deer]

DARIUS kneels by the dead deer and surveys it for a moment, before turning to where it looks like the underbrush has been crushed away. He pushes his way through, following the trail, and is not entirely surprised to find an enormous bear lying dead in the midst of the trail, gaunt, bleeding, with reddened eyes and foam around its jaws. Approaching with some caution, he is rather more surprised to note that its throat appears to have been cut-- the blood is still warm, and has not yet dried. He looks around, sees nothing, and after a moment’s quiet thought, returns to the company.

DARIUS: Sire, we should not touch this animal - ‘twas killed by a mad bear in her death throes; that body lies in the bushes beside. We may come upon better game in the course of the hunt.

PIETR: A shame we arrived no sooner! I had looked forward to the kill, and would have welcomed the challenge of a mad bear!

DARIUS: [hiding his expression, one of perplexity and some annoyance] Begging your pardon, Prince, that is spoken folly. Even if we could have taken the bear down - doubtful, as they are hardy fighters at their worst, one wounding blow from its claws would infect you with the madness as well. It is... providential, in fact, that we did not follow the deer into a death trap.

SOLON: Aye. What he says is wisdom, son; you would do well to listen. Let us ride on, then!

DARIUS: I will catch up, Sire - the deer as it lies may leak the bear’s poison into our water.

SOLON: Ride quickly, then! We may all be outstripped by this young devil of speed, but you should not be last among us!

The company kicks their spurs and rides off, at the same hard pace, clearly set by Pietr. Darius lays a hand on his mount’s neck and speaks softly to it before turning to the scene once more, setting carefully to the deer, avoiding any open wounds.

DARIUS: I will not fault you for hiding your face, for we’d both be in danger to meet - but that was a neat piece of work. [carefully pulling the deer - he is much, much stronger than he looks]

DILYS appears on a limb above him, watching silently. As in the first scene, she is gaunt and ragged, holding a wild sort of air.

DARIUS: I cannot help but wonder how long you’ve been shadowing this forest, against all counsel and decree. But today, and ever after, I am glad of the fact. [mounts, having removed the corpse from the stream’s radius, and exits]

DILYS: [drops to the ground] Since the day he had me exiled, of course. The mad bear, perhaps, was a coincidence. But you are no fool, Darius, and I don’t doubt you know, somewhere, why my shadow lies across the land. Would that we could speak! I shall depend on your loyalty, when this reaches its peak, as we both know it will. [reaches down, closes the deer’s eyes, and exits as well]

---

Scene: SOLON’s court. He sits, at attention, on a spare and simple throne, with three wide steps leading up, and Julius and Edan on either side. A guard, TORIN, enters with DILYS, who he escorts up to the foot of the stairs.

TORIN: Dilys, of the Southron Forests, the court of Dion and Edgar, and the line of Cania, for an audience with His Majesty, King Solon, of the throne of Dochren! [having said his piece, takes a step back and stands at attention]

SOLON: [gesturing] Speak, Dilys, of Cania. I will hear.

DILYS: Your Majesty, I come with the message of Dion and Edgar - a plea. Our lands have been seized with great drought, and as we speak, our people dwindle away into nothing. The people of the Lands Cania beg you remember that we have never been slow to join your armies in battle; that we have always been forthright in fealty, and in tribute; that when the need was great, we have never been lax in answering. If it please your majesty, we would have some assistance - any aid that can be sent will be a boon in keeping our people alive. [bows deeply, and kneels at the steps]

SOLON: You were sent by Dion and Edgar, personally?

DILYS: Aye, Sire.

SOLON: I sent them a courier some months ago, inquiring after their lands. I had long required that some representative of the Canian territories be present in court; had I known your peril was so dire, I might have been more quick. Tell me, Dilys of Cania, why have they sent no word until now?

DILYS: The people of Cania are proud, Sire. We had no reason to suspect the drought would continue for as long as it has, and had hoped to stave off famine ourselves - we have always set great stores, remembering the droughts that have come and gone.

SOLON: Aha, their pride. Foolish, Dion! I could have done much to spare this. Dilys, what position of Cania are you?

DILYS: Cousin to Dion, Sire. The second daughter of her aunt, the Duchess Serai.

SOLON: That is well. Aid shall be sent, and quickly - Julius, arrange for stores to begin transport as soon as it can be managed. Dilys-- you shall stay, and hold a place for Dion and Edgar in my court. All is settled; Torin will take you back to your quarters. You are dismissed!

DILYS: [clearly startled] Th-- thank you, Sire. [stands, follows Torin from the room]

EDAN: Interesting - you have heard what they say of the Southern royalty?

JULIUS: Edan, as nothing of import is forthcoming from your mouth, you may as well store your lute there.

[Second guard, BJORN, enters with a tall, gangly man, who seems to have a small, curling horn sprouting from his forehead]

BJORN: Wulfric, of the Island Territories, to seek audience with His Majesty, King Solon, of the throne of Dochren! [as before, takes a step back]

WULFRIC: Your Majesty, I come with news of a curse that has befallen our firstborn...

---
thulcandran: (Default)
Many thanks to Caddy, of the PPC, for the totally original prompt: Pride, Rock, Scar. Fortunately, I haven't seen that movie in years.

"And I don't care what you have to say," the guard snapped, his position as solid as stone in the narrow arch. "The time is past-- your time is past. Begone, before I take action, fool."

Remus drew a breath, tried to force the fire from his heart, and turned, allowing the wind to whip his cloak aside - he needed something cold right now. He needed a bloody glacier, but those were hard to find in deserts; the night wind would have to do.

He knew what they'd be saying behind those thick stone walls. He'd lost the battle, he'd lost the war, quite possibly - now came the cleaning effort, with any luck.

"You're a fool," he muttered, passing the outer spear-wall. "You're all-- fools!" The wind carried his shout into the empty sands, and he kicked vainly at a piece of the wall as he passed. It had been three days since the failed council...

"...You don't seem to understand, Julian. We don't have any options - what he's advising is sheer madness - folly would be too weak a word!"

Caiaphas simply raised an eyebrow. "Folly, my lord? Folly, to hoard our honor, the honor that our people have upheld with their blood for so many generations? See, how the coward plies for more time, for more time to hide behind walls! He will not rest until the world entire laughs at our cravenness!"

Julian leaned back in his chair, looked between the two of them, and towards the end of the small table, where the third member of that ill-fated council sat. "And what say you, Ronin?"

The battle-worn general shook his head. "I say this war has gone on too long," he said, turning a small knife over and over in his hands. "I say that whatever move we choose must end it, once and for all."

Remus ground his teeth, clenched his fist beneath the table. Did they not understand what was at stake? How could Julian be so blind? "My lord - Ronin," he said, addressing both of them, "The war has been falling to the wolves at both of our heels; we need not act in aggression, to end it - and not there, of all places!"

"Not there? Not there!" Caiaphas turned, his eyes glinting in the sheer and minimal candlelight, to their rightful king. "He wishes us to yield the rock! Leave our most sacred ground to the wolves and the barbarians, my lord! Surely you will not let this monstrous fool stand the point!"

It had been a mistake to mention the rock, he'd realized later. It was high ground, tactically unassailable in most ways, a beautiful piece of land, contested violently for decades, with both sides of this eternal conflict claiming birthrights, there. Personally, he favored their own country - of course - but to attack the place was madness, especially when this drought was calling for an end to the battles anyway. They didn't even need to attack, they had winter stores untapped! If they could only have waited... The drought would've destroyed their enemies, forcing a withdrawal, and the war would be more or less ended.

Now they were wasting their stores, throwing men at a position doomed to fail, for foolish, utterly foolish pride. Remus spit, once, onto the dry ground, and turned into the stables. It was a long journey through to their enemies' capital, but on horseback he'd make it before the winter was out. Diplomacy had failed; damage control must fill the gap.
thulcandran: (Default)
In keeping with my resolution to add more diversity to writing style, a script. I can't write this story in prose form, it doesn't like that. So here, have a script-shaped story, or at least a piece of one. I will write more, later-- for once, I actually have a full formed plot in my head.

Dilys: a minor noble from the forests in the South, of which many tales foul and fair are spun, full of laughter and wit, and becoming a favorite of the king, to the bemusement of some and the displeasure of others.
Solon: the king of the land in question, has moods fey and terrifying, and lively joyous; favors troubadours, and has played a fair harp in his time as prince; demands complete loyalty from his guard and courtiers, and as a rule, gets it.
Darius: master of the hunt in Solon's court, a strong-minded lord from the West, and close friends with Solon's late father.
Julius: advisor to the king, after an unsuccessful attempt by his father to send him to a monastery; trusted and quite wise, though he rarely has the stomach for the more hearty pursuits of his king.
Toma: strong and lively duchess of a territory just over the border in a neighboring country, a courtier of the king in part to foster diplomacy, as opposed to warfare, and quite good at it.
Edan: resident troubadour of Solon's court, full of jests and wit, and very good at hiding the clever and thoughtful interior that his position does demand; the court has been not infrequently surprised by some of his more solemn songs.

---

A few degrees past sundown; a small hamlet on the edge of a great forest - the old sort, pre-industry, trees well into their second century, rather dark on the inside. The small cottages are one-storeyed, lights shining through cracks in the thatching, and makeshift windows where they are. From the boughs of one of the trees, a lone figure watches the nearest house with clear interest. As darkness settles, the figure drops from the tree and approaches the house, creeping towards the window. The spilling light reveals a woman [DILYS], clad in rough tunic and trousers, hair cropped and shaggy, face dirty, and features slightly uncanny - ears a bit too pointed, eyes a bit too wide, teeth a bit too long. Through the window is a man of the same relatively young age, working on something written in the light of a hung lantern. Every so often, his eyes flick to the window, towards the forest, almost reflexively. As he moves to put the book away and douse the lantern, the girl whirls, and flees back into the trees, from whence she watches the house a while longer.

---

A party of men and women riding through a forest path; present in the company is the girl from the preceeding scene, though looking much younger and cleaner-- and more human. One man [SOLON], towards the front, is clearly marked with respect from the rest of the party, as well as a coat of arms worn on his cape and saddle. All are armed with bows, laughing, talking quietly. Baying of the hounds sounds farther up, and talking in the main gives way in favor of speed.

SOLON: What odds do you give, then, Dilys?

DILYS: [laughing] I am no seer! I tell you, I give no odds, majesty, leave me be!

SOLON laughs; the party seems, for the most part, to take no notice, but JULIUS, riding nearby, casts a frown in their direction. SOLON notices, and shoots him a smile in return; DILYS rides on oblivious. The hounds are found at a stream, perplexed.

SOLON: [dismounting, to laughter] Ah! It seems the foxes are too clever for our hounds once again! The wild tricks even as it pleases.

JULIUS: I'd mind the tricks less, were they more to our liking, and less to our dismay.

DARIUS: [dismounting as well, to hand off a piece of chew to a hound] 'Twas a fine day for a hunt, in any light. Shall we ride on, sire, or make for the stables?

SOLON: [pausing, looks across the stream] Oh, I think it's time we turn back. I don't see a single track; most likely, the beasts are leagues away by now.

DARIUS: As you wish! [whistles, piercingly, for the six or seven dogs, who're still attempting to find the trail]

SOLON: [casually, to DILYS, as he remounts] And that is why you'd cast no lots with me; I see it all! You knew the hounds were lost.

EDAN: [cheerfully] Ah, Sire, would you trade your dear courtier in for an oracle? I fear you will find few on this side of the veil-- though if you will, we'll put her eyes out as the heathens do-- the hounds are beginning to hunger!

SOLON merely rolls his eyes as the company rides on, and gives EDAN a mock chastising look; behind him, DILYS pretends to faint with horror, to EDAN's amusement.

TOMA: Oh, do at least try for dignity, Edan. Dilys, don't play along, you'll only encourage the ruffian.

DARIUS: Hoi, if we don't pick up, we'll be late on their dust-- shall we ride, my lovelies?

EXEUNT, following Solon and Julius.

---

A bare and dim room in stone, with a large window and desk on one side, and a dying fireplace on the adjacent wall; an overshadowed doorway in an alcove is directly opposite the window. SOLON, looking somewhat older-- and significantly more troubled-- than in the previous scene, sits brooding at the darkened window, staring into the distant hills, and the forest beyond. His hand is on his bearded chin, and his sigh is heavy. A howl sounds distantly, and he suddenly scowls and looks in, where the fire is dying slowly. He stands, and goes to stoke it up again.

JULIUS: [from the door, where he is suddenly unshadowed by the firelight] Sire, there are servants for that, you know.

SOLON: [unstartled, continues to stoke the fire] Not in this wing, Julius, and not at this time of night. Why are you not abed?

JULIUS: [dourly] Sleep? It's half a candle past midnight, Solon.

SOLON: [half-smiles over his shoulder at him] There's tension and unrest to the Southwest, on the shores. There's drought in the South-- again-- and a fever spreading on the mountain borders. [pauses] Though I'm sure you knew all that before I did, if anything.

JULIUS: [licks his lips, says nothing for a moment] All of this will pass, you know it. It always has. You have only to contain the rebels, to show force-- the fevered plains quarantined-- as you always have. Why the unrest?

SOLON: [shrugs] The fever is a passing thing. All the physicians and wise men say it is like the Foundling Summer. The drought, too, will not last forever. But I tire of rumors, Julius. I tire of rumors from the south.

JULIUS: [lips thinned, shakes his head] Nothing good ever struck this kingdom from the South, Sire.

SOLON: [turns back to the fire, his form suddenly tight and his expression closed] As you keep reminding me.

JULIUS: Ah-- I will leave you to your thoughts, then. [EXIT]

SOLON waits until the footsteps have entirely faded, then quietly, and with enough force to be rather frightening, stabs the smouldering log all the way through. Repeatedly. Gnashes his teeth, beats the embers once more, and turns from the fire, his face still in shadow, to look back out of the window.

---

Around the same time period as the first scene. The same chamber as formerly, but with daylight in the window rather than a fire, and holding a long study table, at which SOLON is lounging, casual, leonine, and utterly relaxed. DILYS is nearly his opposite in every way-- unable to be still for more than a moment, pacing back and forth between the window and the empty fireplace, nearly glowing with happiness.

SOLON: Aha, aha, aha. And now it comes out!

DILYS: [momentarily taken off guard, turns to look at him] What comes out?

SOLON: [laughs-- a veritable roar] Oh, you are so... [gestures vaguely] You've no idea, do you? [at a blank look from her] You've been glowing like a forest fire and bouncing like an India-rubber ball for weeks now, my dear.

DILYS: Oh... that. [looks momentarily sheepish, then goes back to, as described, bouncing] You can't deny I've got cause! [pausing for only a moment] ...my liege.

SOLON: [laughs again] That's cause indeed. Why are you only telling me now?

DILYS: Well, I wanted to wait until things were a bit more settled; and I've only had an idea of this all for a little while, yet. Just, chaos in every particular.

SOLON: [grins at her for a moment] Ah, young love-- chaos in every particular sounds about right. So, was I correct, then? Or do I owe young Edan a drinking song?

DILYS: [stops suddenly] What?

SOLON: [raising a single eyebrow at her] Who is he?

DILYS: --Oh! Dagr!

SOLON: Hah! I shall enjoy Edan's performance tonight, then.

DILYS: [looking at him a bit curiously] Majesty-- how did you know?

SOLON: You've all the concealing power of an empty gust of wind, Dilys. If you weren't carefully pretending to avoid him - quite transparently - then you were either following him at what you considered a subtle distance, or leading him at what he considered a subtle distance.

DILYS: [groaning a bit] I'm not sure whether to be amused that you know me so well, or frightened that you know my movements so well.

SOLON: And what manner of liege pays no attention to the trivial and lesser emotional winds of those beneath his -- [glances up] Ah, hello, Julius. We were just talking about you.

JULIUS: [finishes pushing the door ajar, steps in] So I see. The reports from your province, Dilys?

DILYS: All is well in the sultry South, dearest Julius. [performs a deep and dignified bow, at which SOLON cannot help but smile]

JULIUS: [dryly] For once. My lord, if all is well in the South, I believe Toma has some pressing matters to discuss as well.

SOLON: [suddenly, very much all business] Ah, yes. Of course. Show her in, then, Julius.

[Exit JULIUS]

DILYS: And that, I believe, is a dismissal.

SOLON: [rising] As friendly a one as you'll get, so don't push for a second.

DILYS: [bows once more, more seriously and less facetiously, despite the words] But of course, Sire.

SOLON: [reaches forward and embraces her, briefly] Run along then, girl; I believe you've an anxious architect in the wings, somewhere.

[Exit DILYS]
thulcandran: (Default)
Unconditional love is terrifying.

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