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Yuletide 2014: Dear Santa…

October 22, 2014

Dear Santa,

 

I come to write this and it’s surprisingly hard. I want to say: “Wow! You’re writing something just for me! Write anything!”

So if you wanted, you could just stop reading this and go and write – but if you do want a little more in the way of suggestions, feel free to read on!

When I read I mostly enjoy the people. The world and indeed the plot I mostly tend to think of as, well, a setting for the gems that are the characters.

I’m not especially fond of sex for the sake of sex; but anything that feels true to the character is fine – and I do mean anything.

 

Valdemar Series – Mercedes Lackey: Kantor

Mercedes Lackey is probably my favourite author, even if I wouldn’t say she was the best writer in the world! Why? Because her characters are real people. They screw up, and when they do, they suffer the consequences. Bad things happen to them, and when they do, they affect the character!

Valdemar, of course, has the Companions. I admit – at least half of why I love the books is a wistful wish that in another world some other me heard bells one day and…

Kantor is a really interesting character. The way he Chooses Alberich is morally dubious and it’s one of the few times we see a Companion make that class of mistake.Also, he’s not Grove-Born, but he’s different. I’d love to see more of him, possibly when he’s younger, or if Alberich is not around.

 

Starfire Series – Various Authors: Uaaria’salath-ahn

I think the thing I love most about this series is the ways in which the different species we encounter interact with each other. I especially like the fact that the way one species thinks about issues isn’t always at all comprehensible to another; they aren’t humans with fur.

The drive of most of the protagonists to do what they believe is right no matter what and the comfortably stereotypical self-serving politicians help, of course, and I also like the cool space battles (yay, strikefighters!)!

Uaaria is a fascinating character; in a fundamentally still patriarchal and misogynistic culture, she’s chosen a military career – but clearly not because she’s seeking glory, because she’s a spook. Why is she there? What’s led to her choices? Something exploring her interactions with other Orions – whether in the choices she makes that take her to where she is, or in what happens to her after the Bahgs when things are returning to normal – would be really interesting.

 

Old Man’s War (series) – John Scalzi: Jane Sagan

I’ve only read the first two books – but don’t worry about spoilers for the later ones!

I found it hard to articulate why I chose this. I think the answer is that the characters all have to explore both what makes someone human, and what makes them them. The Ghost Brigades, indeed, have never had a ‘human’ life, their bodies are not, in fact, human…

The way Jane deals with learning about the person that she was made from makes her a particularly endearing character to me. There’s plenty of later-Jane to come, but I’d love anything about Jane before she meets John!

 

All of that, though, is entirely optional, and only there to hopefully be slightly helpful if you want it. Mainly, I’d like to reiterate what I said at the start:

“Wow! You’re writing something just for me! Write anything!”

 

The Shadowlover

Like a Bat out of Hell (part 4)

July 9, 2014

Brightsong was deaf and dumb now, his mind whispering incantations and prayers that he could not speak and perhaps never would again. Only the dreadful pressure to check if that was the case told him that he had not yet failed his lady.

Either of them.

****

“I don’t understand.”

“How can a half-elven ranger hope to throw bolts of magical force?”

The half-elf pondered for a moment only before her mind, far more agile than her body even in this form, caught up.

The gnome hurled energy at the imp and blasted it to shreds. “A warlock needs neither bow nor arrow”, she half-exulted, half-mourned as her next blast caught another and hurled it across the sky.

None of these minor devils came within arms reach of the warlock who channelled the powers of hell with growing assurance and authority.

“Hurry child!”

She grimaced. Despite the ease with which she had stopped the band of imps, she knew she was no match for more powerful devils. And if she ran as a ranger, she would be seen and slowed by the combat. What she really needed, was not to be noticed.

Concentrating now on stealth and not speed, she found herself lightening and becoming more refined. An eager, almost cruel light entered her eyes even as horns and a tail sprouted. Soon a Tiefling girl, perhaps the descendent of long ago cambions brought to the Hells by their parents, slipped into the shadows and began to work her way onwards.

It was not exactly quick but it was sure. Twice weariness forced the young Tiefling to find a nest and take a snatched and fearful rest. But she made it to the ruined castle and slipped in.

The portal was not, precisely, difficult to locate. A wide glowing purple circle of tangible light, seemingly unsupported by anything.

No the problem was, as her sponsor had so helpfully hinted, that it appeared to be in the favoured room of a vast devil. An arch devil in fact, if he had not been lying and looking at the beast, she did not think he had been.

She wished he had.

Senuchs was huge and repulsive but to the young rogue’s fear-widened eyes, an impregnable barrier. He lay, scaled and fat enshrouded muscle and bones rolling onto the floor, on a bed of skulls and bones mounded up like a dragon’s hoard. Every so often he threw a blast of corrosive magic at one of the huge pile of corpses lying around which scoured away stone and flesh but seemed to ignore bones. Soon after, the more complete
sets of bones would get up and join the serried ranks of skeletons that were everywhere. Other, more shattered ones continued to lie still, apparently unharmed by whatever magic the devil was using.

‘Great,” she thought to herself sardonically, “all I need to do is not have any skin or muscle.’ She paused in mid-mutter. ‘Or is it?’ She mused, serpentine eyes narrowing in thought.

****

“Don’t you want to know how your little protege is doing?” The thought was inesacapable but Brightsong did not answer it.

Unfortunately he did hear it and, as he had always known, that was enough. Because, of course, he did want to know and the word “yes” was in his mind.

****

The rogue darted from shadow to shadow, desperately hoping that her skills would be enough to keep her alive for long enough to reach her objective.

The arch devil watched with some amusement through slitted, serpentine eyes. Every so often he spat magic near enough to her for her to be nearly caught but was careful not to actually hit her. This promised to be amusing .

****

“You do? Then I had better go and check on her.”

Brightsong sagged wearily and looked at the empty summoning circle.

“I am sorry, My Lady, I tried.”

A comforting radiance fell upon him and his long nose shone in the moonlight as his Lady healed his mind and spirit and moved his body to where she needed it.

****

The rogue reached the shadow of the dragon’s skull she had seen and cowered within it, trying to pluck up the courage to make the final dash. The portal was only yards away but there was no more cover. She had to hope that the ancient bone would shelter her.

But there was no point in being a rogue now. Stealth and skill would be no help and with this thought, and growing confidence in her abilities, the frame of the young girl thickened and strengthened into that of a muscled half-orc who lifted the skull with a shrill bellow of exhilarated fear and anger and ran towards the glowing blue oval of the portal home.

The arch devil bellowed melodramatically and a huge glob of viscous slime soared towards Shadefire and spattered off the skull. With triumph, she realised that although drops had seeped through, spattering and paining her, she was still alive. Her improvised shield had held.

Another blast and another yard gained. There were only feet to go now, the huge and ancient skull seemed to be growing heavier by the second but she would make it.

Then as she tensed to jump, the skull crumbled violently into a spray of razor sharp, stinging fragments that cut and pained her and the half-orc found herself unable to move.

“Did you really think I only had one type of magic available to me?”

The arch devil’s voice was a deep rumble that vibrated unpleasantly in Shadefire’s head. But that was nothing compared to the despair she felt at how close she had been and how useless being mere inches was when a paralysis spell held her immobile.

The arch devil laughed in pleasure when he felt her despair and drank it in. It was a heady enough draught that he even look the effort to heave himself from his comfortable bed of bones and pat the little barbarian’s head. “It was a good attempt,” he said consolingly and laughed again at the wash of emotion this elicited.

“It was indeed.” A silky voice agreed and if Shadefire had not been so terrified, she might have been amused by lurching fear of the arch devil as he swing round, power boiling around him as he looked for whoever had managed to enter his lair undetected.

It was not a difficult feat though; the Lord of Evil was not trying to conceal himself as he leaned against the pillar, his ruby rod held negligently in his hand.

“Lord Asmodeus.” The ancient devil gasped. “What…”

“What am I doing here?” The God of Evil inquired theatrically. “I am protecting my investment.”

“What?! She is yours? Lord, she does not bear your mark.”

The silvery voice spoke urgently. “Quickly child, take your first form.”

“Really?” Asmodeus’ beautiful voice sounded intrigued? “Did you look?”

“Of course!” Senuchs said defensively but his voice trailed away as the little gnome shook off his paralysis and he saw the unmistakable mark of a pact with Asmodeus himself upon her.

“She is my Warlock and I have plans for her.”

“Lord, I did not know.”

“Do you really think that is an acceptable excuse?” The Lord of Evil sounded amused. “None may lay a hand on what is mine withing the Hells. You know the law. Now feel the punishment.”

The rod moved slightly and hellfire leapt from it.

“No!!” A shield of corruption encompassed the fire and swept it back towards Asmodeus but powerful as he was, the ancient arch devil, who had been cast down once by The Lord of a Evil before that being had even been a god, was no match for the other.

“Now child!”

The voice was like a scalpel, cutting through the webs of fear and despair that held the young gnome despite the removal of the magic binding her.

“Selune aid me!” She screamed and leapt for the glow of the portal. Light enveloped her and she stumbled into the ancient, undead ridden ruins of Harlanthoon Keep and the soothing arms of Brightsong.

****

When the two gnomes reached Silverymoon finally, Brightsong found a note within his summoning circle. In elegant calligraphyinscribed with elven blood on gnomish skin, it ran “Your protege is safe. Since you never set a price for this information, I’ll do so myself.”

The High Priest and Archmage looked at the note and shuddered, then set it aside, what mattered was that the Chosen of Selune was no longer in hell. Compared to that, all else was immaterial.

Like a Bat out of Hell (part 3)

January 10, 2014

“She did what!?”

The Worshipful and Revered Brightsong, High Priest of Selune, Master Illusionist, Master Harper and many more titles to boot, was normally seen as a cherubic and kindly gnome whose affability was only barely exceeded by his vast power. At this moment, he did not look it and the teenage human shrank back despite being nearly a foot and a half taller than the diminutive high priest. “It wasn’t my fault!”

“Then whose was it?” The gnome growled dangerously. The boy’s mouth worked feebly and the gnome sighed in exasperation. “That doesn’t matter. What happened? Tell me again and use short words!”

Jimmy looked at him hopelessly and began to repeat the story. He only hoped that his mother would rescue him but judging by the set of her lips, she was more likely to suggest some horrendous punishment to the priest.

***

“So, we are agreed then? You will renounce Selune and be my warlock but in exchange I will help you leave here and not require any specific service from you although I am free to watch and come to you with later proposals?”

“No way! I never said I’d renounce my goddess.”

“But darling girl, of course you have to if you want to be my warlock. I can’t share you know.”

“No, you never said that.”

“Oh very well.” The devil said with annoyance. “No conversion necessary. But you must agree never to be anyone else’s warlock then!”

“Ok.” The young gnome said bravely. It wasn’t that she wanted to do this. But she did not really see any choice and she had already agreed that it was better than the alternatives.

***

“Lady, I have failed you and your chosen one. I pray for your forgiveness and the light of your knowledge. What has become of her and how may I recall her to us.”

As his divinations proceeded, Brightsong’s face went whiter than his hair.

***

The devil’s eyes flashed with cruel fire and suddenly the young gnome felt those flames catch her soul and brand it forever. It was not precisely agony, more a deep knowledge of spiritual degradation that was in its own way worse.

The gnome clung to the caveats that she had made, the hope that she would survive, the desperate prayer to her goddess for forgiveness but somehow she knew that it would not be enough, that she had made an irreversible step towards darkness that she would never be able to renege on without greater penalty.

Even as she struggled to recover her mental balance, the image of the devil tormenting her disappeared again and the hellcat that had been slinking around in fear of his presence leapt.

This time, however, the cat faced, not a wizard’s apprentice with no spells but a fully pledged and packed warlock who met the hellspawn’s charge with a scream of frustration and a dark bolt of dark fire, seemingly drawn from shadow as much as fire. The hellcat screamed and ran, its tail smouldering, pursued by more of the hellish blasts as the gnome poured her rage and hatred out at it.

Once it was out of sight, the young and pretty gnome looked at her hands, devoid of any trace of the energy they had just channeled and wept bitter tears.

****

It is not easy fora priest of a goddess of light and goodness to contact the lower planes. Not that Brightsong was using clerical magic. Instead, he was weaving arcane ritual magic and hoping it would not go wrong.

It wasn’t that he was a poor ritualist. In fact he was probably a more powerful wizard than he was a cleric. But he specialised in illusions and devils, unfortunately, were notoriously hard to fool with these.

So conjuration it was. Lady Selune had blessed him with every protective spell he had asked for and these warded him now, shimmering fields of glowing moonlight that would protect him from every energy and attacking spell he could think of.

Still, he feared what he was about to do. For the one that he proposed to summon was as much a God as his own lady was and that was not something any sane person would do.

****

“So, you seem better prepared to face the world now.”

The gnome looked up from her spot blackened hands and scowled.

“You promised to let me out.”

“No, my dear girl, I promised to help you.” He purred. “And I shall. There is an exit from here that will take you straight back to that dreary little plane you call home. It is about a hundred miles north of here. You cannot miss it, it lies in a ruined fort where the archdevil Senuchs lives.” He smiled with cruel mirth. “There, isn’t that helpful.”

Even as the gnome opened her lips to retort, arcane chains of bright blue limned in silver moonlight enveloped the gloating devil. His eyes opened wide but before he could say anything, the bonds flashed and he and they were gone.

The Gnome looked at the space wide-eyed. Then silver tones rang in her head, “Quickly child. You must get to the portal before Brightsong loses control of him.”

“Lady?” She gasped.

“Yes but hurry. I cannot do much to assist you here without causing all kinds of trouble. Enhancing slightly the gifts you already have for the duration is about it. Run, child.”

Run she did, not thinking of the hundred miles that she had to cover, just responding to the urgency in the Goddess’ voice. So focused was she that she barely noticed when the change came upon her and her limbs lengthened into a half-elven form, lithe, dexterous and enduring.

Still it was not exactly something she could completely ignore, but despite her urgent questions there was no further answer from Selune.

***

Brightsong was faltering. Sweat ran down his balding forehead and beaded in his beard, which was no longer well-groomed. He had blinded himself, deafened himself, distracted himself in every way he could imagine but the temptation to pay attention to the god in the summoning circle was overwhelming.

He knew it would be a mistake, that the only thing allowing him to maintain the spells he had woven was his refusal to acknowledge what he had done.

The trouble was, it was like not thinking of pink elephants. Not concentrating on something was something, not noticing it was harder.

Still, he was a master illusionist and a high priest of Selune and he would not fail her. From somewhere the venerable gnome found a reserve of strength. He might not succeed but he would hold to the promise he had made his Lady and do his best to give his poor, misplaced apprentice the chance to escape.

He only hoped it would be enough.

****

She was still a half-elven ranger, running flat out through the sulfurous fumes of hell when she saw them, terrifying demons floating on bat-like wings through the turbulent skies.

Instinctively she crouched down and tried to hide, skills at stealth she had never before had coming to the forefront of her mind. In the shelter of a sharp-edged stone pillar, she cowered, fearing to move and wishing she had a weapon.

“You must move, child.”

She shook in miserable terror. “But, they will see me.”

“Trust in yourself. You have the capacity to do this.”

The half-elf shivered and moved; slowly, tentatively, stealthily. Sheltering in shadows and fogs, she slipped onwards but to no avail. One of the imps saw her and swooped with a scream of glee.

She ducked, grabbing a sharp stone and throwing it hard and accurately at the base of the imp’s spine. It equalled and fell but there were more of them coming and stones would not be enough. She wished for a bow and vowed never to fail to have one by her again.

Then she cursed to herself, how could she have forgotten the pact she had sworn. She concentrated on summoning the hellish energy se had wielded so devastatingly before. It was not there. She could not feel the pact that had seared its mark so conclusively on her soul.

“Silly child,” spoke the voice, breaking into her amazement, “it was a different you that swore that oath.”

Like a Bat out of Hell (part 2)

December 19, 2013

The gnome who wanted to be Brightfire coughed frantically to clear her throat of the choking smoke that had enveloped her and waved her hands in passes that she really wished were mystic enough to summon wind.

Then she sat up in bed screaming until her mind cleared: she was not Brightfire. She never would be.

Lying back against the pillows, she allowed a single tear to trickle down her cheek as she remembered.

***

She had coughed frantically on the smoke, her eyes tearing over and her lungs wracked by caustic fumes. As a result, when she could finally see again, her startlement to find herself looking at cracked, rough basalt rather than cobbles.

“What… Where… How…” She exclaimed feebly, looking up finally as she came back to her knees.

A low chuckle was all that answered her. When she saw its owner, the gnomes eyes went wide.

He was a handsome devil, she would give him that. Almost like a gnome except for the red wings, the small horns and the eyes that had little flames dancing in them. He lounged on a rocky spur, the flames of hell his back drop and toyed with a foot long sceptre that appeared carved from a single ruby.

He also wore a simple crown made of gold, rubies and fire. She noted abstractedly.

But mostly what she noted was the fact that he was a devil. And that the backdrop wasn’t a quiet residential street but a curtain of steam, smoke and lava.

In short, she was in hell. Or a reasonable facsimile of it.

The devil’s chuckle turned into a broad grin that split his handsome face with predatory fangs.

“I’ll give you one answer for free.” He noted dryly. “But that was three questions and the other two will cost you. Do you really want that?”

Young as she was, the Gnome was not stupid and she shook her head quickly.

The devil sighed theatrically, “In that case, which do you want answered.”

Her mind raced. “How can I get home?”

He chuckled again. “I don’t think that was the question you were asking.”

“It might have been,” she replied pertly despite her fear. “It starts right.”

“So it does. Very well. You can get home with my help.”

“I meant safely.” She snapped.

“Manners, manners.” He chided gently, waving a puff of scalding smoke over her. “Besides, surely my old friend taught you to be clear when bargaining with fiends.”

“Your old friend?”

“Your former master, a certain Brightsong.”

“That’s a lie. Master Brightsong would never deal with beings like you.”

“Oh? Then why are you here?” He asked mildly. The little gnome set her lips firmly and he laughed again. “Well no matter. But to return to what your previous comment. I can transport you back perfectly safely so even if you had taken sensible precautions the answer would be the same.”

“Oh.”

“So, you had your freebie. What now?”

“Nothing,” she said stoutly. “I’m perfectly fine here. I have no intention of selling you my soul.”

“Darling girl, I have no desire for your soul. I am sure it would be nauseatingly sweet and horribly difficult to hold on to.”

He sounded sincere, horribly so and she was tempted to believe him. But while her master had not wasted much time in instruction in the wiles of fiends, he had been clear that they should never be believed. She shook her head.

“Well, then I don’t have much to offer you do I. So you might as well leave me alone and let me be.”

“Really?” The chuckle was back in his tone and then he was gone. She peered around cautiously and with rather more than a little terror. All was silent, which made her feel not the slightest bit better.

Finally, she remembered to rise fully and planted her legs sturdily behind her. Not that she saw any hope beyond her master rescuing her before she died. If even he were capable of that.

A blur of motion to the side caught her attention and she spun, catching her foot and stumbling again. Her clumsiness was lucky for her though as the claws of the spined, flame shrouded, leonine thing that had pounced on her, caught and shredded her dress not her flesh.

She screamed, already off balance and knew that she was dead. Then He was there again, catching the thing by the tail and throwing it twenty feet into a stone pillar where it twitched once and was still.

“Are you sure you want me to leave you alone?” He inquired wryly. She could only sob, trying to still her racing heart and cursing her reaction.

Still, when he made as if to disappear again, the word “Stop!” was dragged from her. He paused with raised eyebrow. “Why did you save me?” She asked with what composure she could muster.

“I said I did not want your soul. I never said there was nothing I wanted that you had.” He responded with a grin.

She blinked at him and found herself near to responding before she kicked herself mentally. He was handsome true, and just the right height her worser self insisted on reminding her, but she was fairly sure that flirting with a devil was a bad idea. Even if her lessons had never actually covered that one. Still, that rogue part of her mind noted, it had been a very long time since she had had anyone noticing her. Silverymoon had a fairly large Gnomish population all things considered, but her studies had not exactly been conducive to social events and all the othe acolytes and apprentices in the temple were of human or elven origins.

As a result, her “no” was nearly as gruff as it was curt, busy as she was stamping on this inexplicable attraction. He seemed to pay no mind.

He laughed again, “You misunderstand. If you want me in your bed then it will be for you to ask not the other way round.” Her eyes went round with outrage but, before her indignant protests could find vent, he had continued. “No, what I had in mind was simply an exchange of favours. I send you back and, in exchange, when I want something you can do for me, you will do it.”

“Really?” She asked disdainfully, her indignation subsumed by his apparent assumption of her stupidity, “so you do me one favour that is clearly defined and easy for you to do and in exchange you get an open ended ability to ask me to do something. I think not.”

“What would you suggest then?” He asked affably.

“If, and this is only hypothetical,” she added hastily, “IF I was to accept it, it would be only in exchange for a similarly well defined favour.”

“My darling girl, what on earth could you offer at this stage of life?”

“That’s not my problem, I’ve stated what I want.”

“You have to be reasonable though. Otherwise the fun goes out of this.”

She shivered as she perceived the threat behind the light words.

“Well, you can’t expect me to accept something so open-ended.”

“Some conditions might be reasonable.” He conceded.

“Like.”

“Oh, the favour cannot involve genocide or the destruction of the world. How would that suit?”

She gaped at him in sheer disbelief. “Well that would be a start but I’d have said no harm to anyone or anything.”

“Be serious. How could I possibly predict if there was going to be harm. That would be ludicrous.” He paused. “How about something totally different.”

“Such as?”

He grinned at her tone; it was clear that she was hooked and had completely forgotten the theoretical nature of the discussion. “Well, perhaps an ongoing arrangement with this thrown in as a signing on bonus.”

“You have got to be kidding! What could possibly make me want an ongoing arrangement with you?”

The devil smiled cheerfully and settled down to bargaining.

Like a Bat out of Hell (part 1)

December 15, 2013

Shadefire had never intended to be a warlock. As a young apprentice in Silverymoon, She had heard of them of course, dangerous mages who sold their souls in exchange for deadly power. But she had wanted to be a wizard. Like all Gnomes, she had something of a knack for illusion and had apprenticed herself to one of the most revered gnomes in the city, High Priest of Selune and Master Illusionist, the Worshipful and Revered Brightsong. She had even chosen the mage name she would take when she finished her apprenticeship; in honour of her master, and to celebrate the mastery she fully intended to possess of illusions of flame, she would be Brightfire.

But it had all gone so horribly wrong since those bright, happy days she thought broodingly.

That day still had the feeling of a nightmare, possibly because it followed her in dreams so often.

***

The young apprentice skipped along the street, swinging the basket of spell components merrily. It was a sunny day and she was feeling happy. For the first time in her apprenticeship, she thought she was near to mastering her first spell. There had been definite light flickering around the edges of her fingers that morning.

She wondered what her master was planning on casting. He had looked tired and grim, for the last two days, unlike his normal cheerful self entirely. Even his congratulations, though heartfelt, that morning had seemed undercut by some worry. Still, she thought, there was no point in her getting bothered by it. Anything that was capable of causing even mild nuisance to her awesomely capable teacher was not something for a gnome unable to cast a cantrip to concern herself about.

But she had nearly cast one, she reminded herself, and once she had managed to master one then others should be much easier. She have a happy skip at the thought and it was then that disaster struck.

“Watch out, miss!”

As she came down, her foot landed on a small ball, that had come cannoning from the small group of human children playing at the side of the street, and the gnome went tumbling, her basket shooting up into the air, tossing expensive and rare spell components and potions around with gay abandon. She only had time for one cough.

The young boy who had shouted the warning stared in astonishment at the sudden cloud of purple smoke and green lightning that had enveloped the apprentice wizard. He heard something that might have been a scream or a cough and then the smoke cleared again with magical speed. A basket and small litter of glass was lying on the floor, but there was no sign of any gnome.

Jimmy Yolland looked at his friends wide-eyed. “Oops.”

Footsteps 4

April 4, 2013

The next time Jeraint is in the Lazy Turnip, as well as serving him a mug of delightful beer and a really nice carrot-based dish, Lei Lan picks a quiet moment to pass on a request.

“The young one from before?” she says to him. “Asked if you would meet with him again.”

“I’ve made you honey cakes; you should eat more! People will think my food is poor if so regular a customer is thin as a rake!” she adds more loudly, and bustles off, leaving the cakes at his table.

Jeraint eats the cakes appreciatively. They are definitely a better flavour than his own conjured pastries. “Thank you.” He says as he leaves the innkeeper.

He returns to where he last met the young mage to see if he is there.

He is; probably has been since he left the message, Jeraint would guess. The young Mage is clearly afraid and unhappy, but seems much less troubled than the last time they spoke. He is staring out of a window, when Jeraint arrives, but turns and offers a graceful bow.

“Magister, thank you for coming,” he says simply.

“A pleasure,” Jeraint says simply.

After a brief pause in which he obviously seeks to organise his thoughts, Feanáro says:

“I have concluded that I cannot know what Garrosh has already done and seeks still to do and not oppose him.”

“Nor can I pretend to agree, pretend to serve, all the while working against him in secret. It is not in me to do so.”

“So I would choose to oppose him openly. And for that to mean more than my death, I must leave the Horde and seek to join those who are allied against him.”

“I cannot do so as I am. But I lack your skill, Magister. Even knowing what you have done, I cannot see how to do it. You offered to teach me the spell you used, before. I beg that you do so, if you are still willing.”

Jeraint looks at him and nods. “I can and will. For that matter, I can teach you the knowledge I lacked on how to draw power from the tiniest sources of the world rather than the biggest. Or I can introduce you to my own teacher, Morthil, if you prefer.”

The younger Mage for all he still looks afraid, seems, more than anything, relieved, as he replies: “Thank you. And if you are willing to teach me, also, I would count it a great honour.”

Jeraint simply nods. Then seats himself. “So, I will go and speak for you to the Silver Covenant. You will need their sponsorship if you wish to do this. They are listened to and especially after the Purge, you will need that. Many will not trust you, just as they do not trust me. While I do, you should study the ritual itself.”

Feanáro swallows, but nods. “I understand that no matter what, there will be many who will never trust me. I… that you will speak for me to the Silver Covenant,” he bites his lip and shrugs, unable to find any words at all. “I will study the ritual diligently,” he says in the end, hoping the other will understand.

Jeraint nods and with a gesture turns the top of the nearby pond into a sheet of ice. He starts melting hasty but elegant figures in the improvised chalkboard with the tip of his sword. “As you can see, it is difficult. You need to isolate each connection to you, using this formula and then sever it like this. I also found it unbalanced my emotions for a long while, the Sunwell is tied to our souls and disrupting that is painful in ways I cannot explain. You must be careful not to act hastily as a result.” He pauses. “You won’t have access to any magic other than your own lifeforce can sustain once you have done this so make sure you are somewhere safe. If you wait, I will see if Dalaran is safe for you and then we can go to Darnassus if I can get agreement from Tyrande.”

Feanáro studies the diagrams and notes intently, his expression a blend of respect and fear, overlain with fierce determination.

“Part of me wants… to be done, and now. But I am not such a fool. This,” he gestures admiringly at Jeraint’s figures, “will take all the skill I have.” In the privacy of his own head, he adds to himself ‘If I can do it at all’. “I will wait,” he says, adding with sincerity, “I do not know how I will ever repay all your kindnesses.”

Jeraint shrugs. “Others were kind to me. One never pays such things back but forwards.”

With that, he casts a teleport spell and disappears, to Dalaran from the coordinates of the spell cast.

Feanáro studies the diagrams until the jungle heat starts to affect them. Then, with a whispered word, he heats the pond until no trace of the ice, let alone the sketched notes, remains. He then retires to the quietest depths of the Temple, to study the ritual further and begin preparing himself to undertake it.

It is several hours before Jeraint returns from Dalaran. He goes to have a good meal in the Inn and mentions that if anyone is looking for him, he will be in the public inn in Dalaran.

Lei Lan teases him about other inns not having food half so good, but he knows she will pass it on if it seems appropriate.

He agrees and notes that the climate is not as good either but that he hopes it is warming slightly.

After his meal, he returns to Dalaran, takes a room and waits.

It is not the shortest of waits, but eventually, a very nervous Sin’dorei Mage knocks on his door.

“Come in.” Jeraint welcomes him. “I have spoken with Vereesa and she is willing to accept you as a member of the Silver Covenant under my sponsorship. Which largely means she is likely to kill me if she decides you have betrayed the Kirin Tor. We are to report to the battle front as soon as possible.” He sighs. “I suspect it will be hard. They are likely to watch both of us closely and to purposefully give us tasks that bring our loyalties into conflict. I hope you can deal with it.” His voice hardens. “But realise this, I will completely understand feelings of emotional distress and anger, but as my master told me and I have slowly come to understand, they must be mastered. Especially if you serve in Pandaria, there is no room for anyone who cannot discipline himself. I will not teach you how to draw power unless you can accept that.”

The younger Mage looks back steadily. “I have spent enough time helping the Shado Pan to understand. And to accept it. I cannot expect to succeed at once, but I will strive to do so as fast as I can.” He looks away. “And I will do everything in my power to be worthy of your sponsorship.”

Jeraint nods. “That is all I ask. I have done my best to ward this room and Eleiana has spoken with the spirit of place to make it sympathetic to our needs.” He shrugs. “She says it will help. The ritual should be done alone but I will be next door in case of need.”

Feanáro nods gratitude, eyes gone distant as he fixes his mind on what he must do. Once he is alone, he kneels on the floor, forcing everything but this moment away. His eyes close, as he seeks to centre himself. When he is ready, he musters all of his skill, and attempts to carry out the ritual the older Mage has taught him.

It is not that any individual component spell is difficult. Indeed the spell to remove each tie bears a pronounced similarity to the remove curse spell he knows well, mixed perhaps with a peculiar twist on that for cautery and an inversion of evocation.

The real difficulty is twofold. Firstly, that no magery deals particularly well with the spirit and so finding the ties requires extreme self-knowledge. Secondly, that each spell is a wound to the spirit. Self-inflicted but none the less painful and debilitating. After the first, Feanaro has less power to cast the second and must do so with the nagging distraction of the wound’s spiritual pain. Not much less power, nor vast pain. But there are hundreds of such spells to be cast in the ritual and Jeraint’s figures had shown clearly that the ties would start to reflow so long as one existed. The roots of the Sin’dorei were tied to the Sunwell and like the roots of many plants, they would regenerate if they could. He had to complete this in a single sitting or fail, for he would not have the power to complete it a second time.

As he found and severed the first ties, Feanáro found himself grateful to Jeraint; the other had not tried to describe the pain and sense of loss. Setting himself to the task, he sought the next tie, and the next, working methodically. He would do this. He must.

Much, much later, he looked for the next tie, and found nothing. Guarding against hope, he searched himself for any last missed connection. He could find none, but he knew his concentration was fraying, and he found himself unable to trust his own judgement. He had so little left, but he drew on that little ruthlessly to search, determined that he would not fail for want of trying.

Finally, he knew he could do no more. If there were any tie left, it was beyond him to find. Either he had succeeded as he thought, or he would not. Empty and exhausted, Feanáro opened his eyes, but could not find the energy to rise.

“Magister?” he called, tentatively. He hardly recognised his own voice.

“Drink!” Commands a voice. The smell of his favourite tea from the Halfhill Inn wafts to his nose.

Slowly, he complies.

The tea is highly restorative and he soon feels able to think. But the sheer lack of power is disturbing. He is not sure he could light a candle let alone engage in battle.

“How do you feel?”

“Helpless,” he says, his discomfort plain in his voice. “But… I think that it is done.”

Jeraint nods. “That is probably a good sign. Do you have access to any external power at all at the moment, or are you limited to your life force?”

Feanáro frowns, and concentrates. After several long moments, he shakes his head. “Nothing outside myself,” he tells him.

“Good. You should rest now, we will start your training tomorrow.”

He nods acquiescence, letting the lightening of heart that that gives him bring a grateful smile to his face.

Tempting though the floor looks, he will, he decides, use the bed. He is asleep almost before he is on it.

His sleep is deep but disturbed. Although he is exhausted, nightmares chase him and he is too tired to wake. When he wakes, he feels refreshed but harrowed.

He does have enough energy to clean the filth of the previous days exertions from him. The mirror shows a scarily different being, taller and coarser featured. The same pains and travails as have graven themselves on Jeraint have marked him. He looks older.

His hair has gone pure white and lost its vitality. It looks not just as if it had never seen conditioner but as if such had never been invented.

Hardest is seeing his hair. The other changes, that shocked him when he first saw Jeraint, he was braced for. He had never thought of his hair as being important to him; the shock to his sense of identity is sharp and unexpected; the flash of anger it sparks is swift and hot.

“How,” he asks himself, not realising he’s speaking aloud, “can I be angry with Lor’themar because of my hair?” The mocking tone is intentional, as he adds “And with so many things to be legitimately angry about!”

The mirror, wisely perhaps, does not answer him.

He finishes his ablutions, doing his best not to dwell on the changes. He then looks for Jeraint. He might hesitate, but he did take note that they were to report as soon as possible, and he is also really quite eager to begin to learn for himself.

Jeraint is in the next room, meditating. He seems to have a new sword, one with a blade of pure fire that is resting besides him. He looks up and waves to Feanaro to sit on the other chair.

“Right,” he says. “The chief difference in the teaching I was given as a Magister of Silvermoon and a Highborne mage of Darnassus is this. Magic should never be used for a minor purpose.” He pauses and eyes the other mage. “Why do you think this is?”

Feanáro sits and looks thoughtful. It was not a question he had expected. “I suppose… if you have no power source, wasting magic would be unwise?” he half-asks, eventually.

Jeraint nods. “One reason that you will seldom see the same level of arcane usage even somewhere like Dalaran as you do in Silvermoon is that most mages are much more limited in power than the Sin’dorei are, that is after all what caused the problems when the Sunwell burnt out. The power there was corrupted beyond the majority of most to use so they took to drawing power from other, lesser but more personal sources: the Naaru in the case of the Blood knights and, in the case of weaker magisters, from demons.

“You now feel why. It is unsettling to be so powerless.

“All of us have to find power sources, but few are either as potent as the Sunwell or as linked to you.

“The mages of the Kirin Tor tend to draw power from ley lines, which is why Dalaran is still here when the Lich King is gone. Malygos draw many of the most potent leylines to Northrend and so their powers are greater here.

“Others store power in items or power pools that they can draw on later.

“I can teach you both techniques and they are useful.

“But what Morthil taught me that I have found most useful by far is this.

“There is no shame in tiny amounts of power.

“If you try, you can sense power in everything that lives.

“Try now.”

Feanáro frowns with concentration. Used as he is to drawing on power outside himself, he finds himself struggling to function without it, even when it is possible. Still, he will persevere until he can see what the Mage asked him to

It is difficult, the trace is so faint by his standards that he keeps overlooking it. Then he feels it, a trace, a whisper of power that is not his.

He looks at Jeraint with a frown. “It’s so faint. But I feel it.”

“Now try to draw it in.”

That takes many more attempts, but eventually he nods.

Jeraint holds out a candle. “Light it. Use only that power, none of your own.”

A wry smile crosses his face. He had, after all, been thinking he was not sure he could even light a candle with his own power. This comes to him more easily than the other instructions; when he succeeds, he feels a warmth that has nothing to do with the tiny flame.

“Good,” says Jeraint, “now repeat that for the rest of the day.” He rises and leaves.

Footsteps 3

April 4, 2013

At some point, not a dramatic point but simply a moment in time when the slog is getting to him, Feanáro sees a Draenai fighting besides him. She wields lightning and lava as her weapon although on occasion she switches with barely a pause to heal badly wounded Pandaren. She nods to him cheerily as he catches her eye.

Feanáro looks away. The work needs doing, and every hand helps. And if the Draenai changes her mind and attacks him, it hardly matters.

The Draenai does not say anything but a couple of times distracts yaungol that are charging Fea with well timed lightning bolts. When the savages retreat, she nods to him and observes in orcish that is almost accentless but infused with a melody of tone that no Orc has ever had; “Sad work this.”

He starts at the Orcish, surprised enough to actually respond. “What do you mean?”

She raises a sculpted silver brow and slings a shield shaped like a dragon over her shoulder where it breathes a smoke ring. “Do you not think it so? These poor things, driven to their deaths by a greater foe. We cannot stop them by peaceful means and so we must slay them.”

He sighs. “I suppose so. But… if I were they, I had rather be dead than so driven.” He looks at her with a flicked of curiosity, then, saying “I’d not think to hear this tongue from one of your people.”

“A kind Orc let me shelter in his spirit once. I learnt much there.”

He nods thanks, the curiosity flickering out. “I should see what needs doing next,” he tells the Draenai, wearily.

“Stay awhile. I do not often get the chance to talk with one of the Sin’dorei.”

Feanáro looks at her wryly. “It’s not so surprising that you don’t; more surprising that you would want to.”

“Why not? The Prophet himself purified your Sunwell and,” she points at the hammer strapped to my side, “I have visited it myself. This was my reward for my part in the reforming of Quel’Delar.”

Feanáro looks at her evenly. “Because our peoples are at war. No matter what you feel, that is enough for almost anyone, is it not?”

“I am not at war with you. People tend to see the realm and miss the individual. I try to avoid that.”

The young Sin’dorei had begun to turn away, but the blend of weariness, loneliness, and something about the Draenai are too much to resist. He checks and turns back with a faint shrug. “What would you discuss, then, my Lady?”

“Why are you so sad?” She says bluntly but in a kind voice. He gets the impression that she cares.

“Because there is nothing left to me but this,” he says, gesturing gracefully at the piles of corpses, “and much though doing what little I can do to help is only meet, well,” he shrugs, “I confess I find no pleasure in it.”

She shakes her head. “Nothing? That cannot be true. You always have choices.” Her lips twitch in a smile. “Sometimes they are very limited but it seems to me that yours are less so than most.”

For a moment, anger trumps anguish in Feanáro’s eyes, but it dies before it’s more than a flicker. “Doubtless true, my Lady,” he replies courteously.

“But you don’t think so,” she observes, “Why? What would you do if you could?”

He looks at her with bitter humour. “I was about to say that as I was not able to do it, it were better left unsaid. But I suppose it does not matter.” He sighs. “If I could? Kill Garrosh. I can’t,” and there’s no humour allaying his bitterness at all as he adds, “I have not the skill.” He sighs. “Likewise anything I might do. I lack the skill, the wisdom, the age, the experience. And lest you chide me that I could gain them, there’s little point. I cannot bear what is now. I would sooner die. And I would. And since I can achieve nothing but more harm by dying in any other way, I choose to do so here, striving to mend at least some harm, not by bringing more harm pointlessly to my people. It is the only choice I see.”

She nods thoughtfully. “And it is a reasonable one, likely to do more good than harm. Although I note that your death might hurt those who love you more than you think. May I suggest some others?” She settles down into the crook of a nearby tree and looks at him expectantly.

He looks at her, sadly “I expect it will hurt my family. But it is not a choice of dying or living, as I see it, but of choosing how to die.” He sighs. “Meaning no offence, my Lady, for if there are other answers, I would be glad to find them. Why?”

“Why would I suggest them?”

“That, too, I suppose. I meant why do you care?”

She chuckles throatily. “Partly because a friend of mine asked me to see what was worrying Jeraint and while I was not able to get much from him, it was apparent it was you. But more because the darkness of any spirit saddens me. You should be light hearted and your spirit sing in my sight. Instead, you are sad. Why should I not try to help? Even were we enemies I would not want that for you. None should bear sorrow to my mind. Many do.” She notes wryly. “But none should.”

He looks away from her. “I should not have troubled the Magister,” he says. “But I did not know that before I spoke to him.”

“No, that is not correct. I think in the long run it will help him. But cautery may be a tool for healing but it is also painful.”

Feanáro offers her a small but sincere smile. “Thank you. That’s some comfort.”

“But tell me, why do you think it so impossible to deal with Garrosh?”

“I don’t think it is. What is impossible is for me to. What am I to do? Walk into Grommash Hold and start casting spells? My own people’s envoy would stop me before I could harm Garrosh, let alone his guards.”

“So why do it that way?”

“Because I can’t wait long enough to do it any other way. I’m going to do something or say something ‘disloyal’, and then, well. I’ll be dead. The question is how many others are.”

She nods. “Well, it is a wise man who knows his limits.”

He sighs. “I just get so angry. And I’ve never been very good at subtlety.”

Her lips twist wryly. “Mmm, but is that a reason to refuse to learn it? You are young yet. I doubt your mind is so inflexible as to be able to learn something if you decide to.”

“To wait means giving my support to all that is wrong now. And even if I could bring myself to, the consequences of a mistake are death, and not just for me.”

“There is such a thing as considering long term good. Not all of what the Horde does is evil just as here are things the Alliance does thy I do no support.

“But if that is not for you, then why to leave? You wold scarcely be the first to do so.”

“When I heard about what Magister Jeraint had done, I… wondered if it was the answer. But… He is a better Mage than I,” the elf admits with painful honesty, “and he, what he did was so brave. If even he wonders if death would have been the better option…”

The Draenai nods. “It was, in one sense. But you seem to have listened to his words and not his emotions. What do you think his real pain is about?”

He looks at her blankly for a moment before saying, “I… don’t know.”

“He feels he was a coward.” The shaman says quietly. “He will never admit it I suspect, nor is it entirely accurate. But a little part of him knows that he ran away from confronting the problem.”

Feanáro stares at her. “But…” He stops, and shrugs. “He would have died if he did. Is that cowardice?” He looks at her. “I think I am willing to die for my people. To die for nothing…” He sighs. Abruptly, he asks “My Lady? What is your name?”

“Eleiana”

“Eleiana,” he says, as if the name were a gift. “I don’t know what to do. I… I only just finished my studies. I just… I…” He swallows. “I want the world to be what all the Elders said it was. It isn’t fair!”

She manages not to laugh. “The Elders of the Horde?”

He nods. “Yes. They sent me to speak to them, after I completed my training.”

She nods. “Did your training contain the concept of perfect forms?”

He blinks. “Well, yes. But that’s different.”

“Not really. Why should the pure concept of fire be any different to the pure concept of honour. Both are to be strived for.”

“I can agree with that. But I would not call water fire, and that’s the difference. Not only is it wrong, to say so will get you killed, and perhaps your family and all your people with you.” He looks at her wistfully, “There is no one I could have had this conversation with, you know. I do not know how to thank you.”

“Is that my cue to go? Well, if so thank me by thinking things through. Virtues can be nurtured and the one thing you are wrong about is your comparison. The Horde has its own honour, strange to me but extant. It may have been tangled and overgrown but it can only be preserved through people trying day by day.”

“Please… don’t go. I will think, I promise. But will you not stay, for a while? And talk… Perhaps talk of other things?”

She nods. “Of course, but perhaps we should go somewhere slightly less filled with carrion.”

He nods. “Of course. But… where can we?”

“There is a pool nearby. Let us seek peace and calm there.”

The Mage nods, and mounts his fiery hippogryph. “Lead on,” he says, gratefully.

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