On Power(s)

Jan. 9th, 2013 07:04 pm
thulcandran: (Default)
Continuing last piece, here's the one involving the battle-scarred Fae in rune-engraved armor.

The view was longer than wide, the sun beating down on the waving grass. Liron bent to examine the object that lay there, in a hollow of the dried grasses, where the sun glinted off of it, reddish and shining. It was the head of a javelin. She glanced back up at Basir, whose lips were tight, watching. He shook his head - don't touch it - and continued. There were signs of a grave struggle everywhere, subtly. Here, a place where someone had thrashed, in struggle or death throes; here, a splash of blood on a waving thistle stem. There were more weapons, too, all broken pieces - a long sliver of cold iron, which puzzled her for a long moment. No one made weapons out of cold iron, unless they were fighting faeries or gods, but it had clearly come from an edged weapon.

A short, sharp whistle split the ear, and she stood quickly - Basir was standing on the edge of the meadow, where the grass ended, and the trees began. There was a shape there, something that looked human, on the ground. She sprinted towards him, touching the hilt of her dagger briefly, just to confirm it was there. He gestured, shaking his head, as she approached, and she slowed - no danger. The body was smaller than a man's, and if it were not for the many old scars, and the scene behind them, she would've thought him a boy. But this was no child, nor even a youth - the face that looked up at them was young, fair, but the eyes... the eyes were that of an ancient. She frowned. He had not moved.

"There is some weirding on this place," Basir told her, looking around again. "I had a feeling, but - I think this battle was many years ago. He," waving towards the fallen Fae warrior, "is still alive, but can neither move nor speak." The sorcerer looked around. "I think there may be something on the other side - see what you can figure out, examining him." He walked off, leaving Liron with the unnerving warrior.

She knelt, looking down at the fallen form. The helm had been removed, and lay under his arm, and his hair was tousled, fair, and looked as though he'd been working hard. The armor was all of some fine metal, and shone brightly in colors hard to discern when the sun flashed on it - some copper, she guessed, and some silver, and most definitely some kind of magick. She leaned closer, and the sharp lines she'd taken for scratches stood out more clearly - engraved, so fine it was hard to read, was a swirling runic script. Written in a style she'd only seen once before, it filled every inch of the metal. She whistled under her breath, taken aback by the handiwork on display. It must have taken years, decades, for even a smith of the Fair Folk to craft something with such fine detail and skill. The lettering extended to the helm under his arm, she saw, and all over the armor. It was beautiful, and probably quite deadly. She tried to remember if Basir could read such a script, and stood, rubbing her eyes, to call him.

He was standing behind her, a smooth stone in his hand, a curious expression on his face. "Liron, I need a bird's eye view of this," he said, rubbing the stone absently. "Can you tell me what stands out to you?"

Liron nodded, and shifted her shape, reaching for the fine feathers of a hawk, the sleek shape, the control - as a kestrel, she looked back up at Basir from the ground. He smiled, and stooped to pick her up from the ground. She nodded once in thanks, and he gave her a quick thrust into the air.

For only a moment, the scene was quite normal - the weapon pieces flashed, standing out to her sharp eyes - and then she saw it. The wild had crept in on the east and the south sides of the meadow, and what had once been grassland was now underbrush, some trees, old and gnarled, and weeds. The east faded, she saw, going downhill, where rain and wind and time had worn the land away into a steep hillside. In the north, a dry riverbed stopped short at the end of the meadow; where it had gone, she could not tell. Perhaps underground, perhaps around to the hillside. On the west alone was more grassland, but even that side bore a strange, marked difference to the land Basir now stood on. The few trees inside the circle - clear, now that she looked for it - were far, far younger than the forest beyond them. She finished her last circle, and descended, letting her shape return to the girl's as she landed.

Basir raised his eyebrows in query, and she shook her head.

"It looks... odd. As if time had set a circle around this place, and progressed everywhere but here. A river was turned away, to the north, and landslides took the east away, but stopped short at the edge of it - even the way we came, the land just doesn't look the same."

He nodded. "Almost a perfect circle, with a few flat spots on the perimeter?"

"Exactly. What is it?"

He looked thoughtful, and turned towards the wood. "Let's step out of here - do you still have that javelin?"

She nodded, tapping the stone, where she'd stuck it through her belt.

"Good. I want to be sure we can get back in, if need be - but I don't think talking about this in the circle is a good idea."

They walked past the fallen soldier, through the trees; on alert, Liron sensed it immediately when they stepped through the edge of the circle, a tangible shift in the air around them - lighter, somehow. The sun shone, still, but the light wind that had stirred the grass in the circle was harsh now, whipping at the treetops. Basir led her about a hundred paces through the trees, following a narrow deer path, and stopped at a small open space, about as wide as two men lying head to toe. He sat against one of the great trees, leaning back against the thick roots.

Liron prowled the perimeter of the small clearing, more out of habit than any real sense of danger, before sitting down opposite him, on a root the size of her torso that twisted briefly out of the ground.

"Do you know the ballad of Tomán?" he asked, fishing his pipe out of his vest.

She nodded. "The son of Raegar, who led the charge against... ah, I don't remember now, but it was very gallant, his charger white as the pale snow and just as deadly, and there were several lines detailing the blue of his eyes." She chewed this inside of her lip, trying to remember it. "There was something that went badly wrong, ah, let me see... his own son betrayed him, that was it. He'd been compromised somehow by the enemy, a love affair with their general's squire, I think?"

Nodding, Basir drew breath through his pipe, and pulled a flask out of his vest as well. He took a pull and passed it across to her. After a long drink, she handed it back to him, thoughtful, now.

"So let's see. The battle was lost, but Tomán escaped with his life, grievously wounded. He turned to dark and evil magicks," she paused, sketching half a bow in his direction from her seat, "And swore revenge on, for some reason, the general whose squire had eloped with his son. Can you say willful ignorance?"

Basir laughed aloud, and cut her off with a sweep of his hand. "That's about the gist of it, aye," he said, adjusting his pipe. "Now - do you know who that was?"

She blinked. "I'd assume not Tomán..."

"You'd assume correctly. Tomán still lives, somewhere; legend has him holed up somewhere deep in the bowels of the earth, in fiery darkness."

Liron raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Fiery darkness?"

He flicked ash at her. "You're getting sidetracked by poetic turn of phrase, dear," he pointed out. "The point is, that was not Tomán, but there is clearly a deep magic about the place, and the boy lives - but cannot be moved, nor move himself, and the entire place is set about with spells of ancient protection, even against Time herself."

"His son," she breathed. "He couldn't kill his own son, but he couldn't let him go free - oh, gods, that is so much worse than death."

Basir nodded silently.

"There's nothing we can do."

"I'm glad you've come to that conclusion," he replied, drily. "Once upon a time, you would have demanded we save the lad."

She made a face at him. "What, and die in the ensuing explosion as Time unwound itself? Once upon a time, I was an idiot, Basir. How did you ever put up with me?"

The sorcerer laughed, sliding the pipe back into his vest. "We may never know," he intoned, standing. "The javelin, if you please."

She stood, made as if to toss it to him, and thought better, and handed it across the gap. He flashed a smile as he pocketed it, and she grinned in return.

"One more odd puzzle piece," she mused, running a hand over her hair. "Now. On our way?"

"On our way."
thulcandran: (Default)
I have a conundrum! I like this story, but I dislike the characters' names. Ronin is a cool name, but for a sorcerer old as the hills? I need something far more dramatic. And did I really name his companion after my cat? Groan. I was really reaching, there... Anyway, I have an inspiration to continue it, or draw on it, anyway, and I never claimed to be anything but a work in progress, on this blog - so I think I'll change them for this story, and maybe go back and shift those, if these seem to fit better. Once I find them.

Anyway! firemagic, of the PPC, posted something very like the three-random-word prompt: a three-description prompt. The given three were
A gorgeous sunset over a sparkling waterfall, A battle-scarred Fae warrior in rune-engraved armor, and A sacrificial costume. So, with the little piece involving my characters here in mind, I'm going to post something along those lines - one for each, I think. Enjoy!

Basir looked around, took a deep breath, and hummed a long, low note. He focused on the pitch, the exact tone he was looking for, and kept his eyes closed, forming the picture in his mind - the resonance must be exact. The road shimmered before them, seeming to flutter through multiple world-narratives before settling on the one that he held it to. Behind him, Liron kept watch, her eyes flicking back and forth in the twilit wood where the road had led them. It still took her some effort to keep from watching the spell take hold in wonder - this one fascinated her more than most, as the nature behind it always seemed so very subtle. Basir had explained it to her, somewhat - the idea that this exact spot, due to ley lines, if she remembered it right, had several different potential gates. Different sorcerers used different methods to open them; his was a specific pitch. That was keyed to the same energy that some opened with light, or a spell, or a temperature or elemental powder. His way seemed more elegant to Liron, more essential - how would a wizard with no supplies open a gate if they were used to using sulfur or iron filings? How would one down on their energy reach the right light shade, or temperature, if the fire was too hot? She admired Basir's technique - though it could be admitted, she supposed, that there was a bias at work there.

The gate finally opened, and he nodded with satisfaction. "Ready?"

She turned around, nodding. "The way's clear behind us - no pursuers to speak of," she told him, tapping the hilt of her dagger. "Is that all?"

The sorcerer nodded again. "Aye, the way is now open. After you, then."

Once upon a time, she would have been terrified to step through a gate and leave the sorcerer on the other side, citing examples of the most renowned treacherous mages the world had ever known - it seemed that once someone reached a certain level of power, they decided they no longer needed their humanity. She'd been convinced that Basir meant to trade her life away to some demon or other, and held her breath, and her weapon, tightly when she stepped through the gate. Two hundred or so years later, they still stepped through gates in the same order, and he had never failed once to materialize behind her. Liron had been valuable, she supposed, in his many quests and searches: her abilities were limited to shape-shifting, but as one who registered as a low-level threat, she was often able to go places he could not.

She grinned at him as she passed through the strangely jelly-like fog that clouded the road ahead. He kept concentration, rolling his dark eyes slightly in a sort of acknowledgment. Basir was of average height, wiry in build, and kept his silvered hair and beard cropped close, framing his dark, leathery face, save the pale scar that crossed his hairline to the right, breaking the border. He looked deceptively youthful - one would've guessed perhaps fifty, or sixty. Most people tended to look a bit older, when they'd been around half a milennium, but then, Basir was not most people.

The other side of the portal was sunny, bright, and smelled vaguely of sweet grasses and wildflowers. There was no road, only the suggestion of a deer path or something of the sort, winding through the highland meadow in no particular order. She shook her head and took another few steps; Basir tapped the path once, and the swirling fog behind them disappeared. He smiled down at her and bowed slightly.

"Shall we?"

She bowed back, elaborate and courtly, with a flourish, and turned towards the road.

She wasn't entirely surprised when he tripped her, but didn't bother catching the fall, and landed headfirst in the grass.

"Dammit, that's going to stain," she grumbled, reaching for the hand he held out. He laughed - the tunic she wore might once have been a single color, but their long travels had left it a sort of marbled green, reddish brown, true-brown, and a few other colors, relics from other permanently-staining adventures.

"We're going the other way," he explained, pointing. The road she'd been about to take led down into a set of rollicking meadows, brilliant green, dotted all over with points of bright colors and more subtle pastels; a ways off to the East, a stream crossed it, light sparkling off of every rippling facet.

She turned, looking back towards where the gate had been. The meadow rose steadily up to a sloping hillside, and beyond it were more hills, smokey grays and purples, rising up to more impressive mountains, snow-capped in the distance and quite forbidding. She groaned.

"Of course we're going the other way!" Dusting off the bits of grass and heather from her clothes and hair, she glared at him. "Why would I ever think we were headed down into a beautiful and pleasant meadow when there are impressively ominous mountains in the neighborhood?"

Basir laughed and shrugged, turning towards the road, his staff plunking down along the way. "I have no idea, Liron. I would honestly have thought you knew better by now!"

The afternoon wore away, pleasantly warm, if tiring, and they made good progress up the hill. It wasn't quite as daunting as it had seemed - they were headed up the range, rather than through it, and going over a ridge was much easier than days of descending and climbing. When sunset found them, they were near the source, she presumed, of one of the charming meadow streams - rather more impressive than homey, at this distance. The sunset before them, just barely hidden by the mountains, left the sky reddish, and the few clouds gold. Liron sat on the edge of a fairly steep cliff, watching the waterfall roar down, a ways ahead of them. The mist, too, had a golden tinge, over the entirely different rushing quality of the water beneath - it was so... dynamic. So powerful. Beautiful, dangerous, like a sword, or a song. She breathed deeply, taking in the scent of the mosses that thrived around it, the special quality of water coming down off the heights - much of it snowmelt, at this point, and run-off, and the faint smell of pines and junipers, nearly universal in the mountains, but always welcome.

"Liron? It's about that time," Basir called from the campsite, where he'd begun preparations for setting up camp. She nodded, and tore her gaze away from the waterfall to return to their site; division of labor, for them, meant that he did the safety-through-magic stuff, and she did the comfort-through-labor stuff. It generally worked pretty well.

* * *

Basir looked down from the stars; he'd gleaned all he could from this night. Liron was fast asleep by now. It wasn't always easy to tell, with her, but he'd had a lot of practice. He smiled, as her arm twitched across the bedroll. The shifter had to be the only person he'd ever known who used a rock for a pillow and sincerely enjoyed it. Crazy girl. She was a head and a half shorter than him, springy and sharp-angled. He had suspected, once upon a time, that they were related somehow, but that hadn't panned out. She was from his first homeland, though, one of the few that had made it out; they shared the same dark skin and hair, though her eyes were lighter. It had come in handy, knowing the little-used tongue, usually in mercantile situations. He frowned, now, looking back up towards their road, ahead on the hills.

He wondered if Liron had any idea what was in store for them there - and if she'd still be along with him, if she did. Probably. The shifter was a stubborn kid, and any attempts to dissuade her from a given course usually only resulted in disaster, and occasionally, mutual bruises. He sighed, and stretched back out on the ground. They'd make it through. They always did.

---Fin---

(No, I have no idea why I called it Sorcerer and the Squirrel. Liron reminds me a little bit of a squirrel, I guess? In the first bit, where she was called Tina, anyway. But I'll post the second one tomorrow.)

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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