Monday, January 30, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; A Night at the Opera

After that, Thalia couldn't bring herself to say much.  Her cheeks were flush with color through the entire first act. The second act proved little better, as any attempt to start a conversation with Hal ended as soon as she glanced over.  He'd been even more surprised than she was.  Every now and then she spotted him begin to say something, then stop and look away.  It was a complete disaster, and she'd never felt so strong a desire to throw herself off the balcony in her life.  Not that it would have made any difference, it would take more than a forty foot drop to kill an immortal.  Besides, the audience folk below her were all very cushion shaped, and would have broken her fall without even suffering more than indignity.  She glanced over and saw Hal's grip on the railing and knew he wasn't thinking about the mediocre performance either.
And it was mediocre.  No one forgot their lines, but to anyone who spoke a romance language, you could hear pick up the way the primarily Nieldic cast was tripping over the syntax.  They were singing right, if not especially well.  But they seemed to have to focus harder on the words than the emotions they should have been conveying.  It was kind of a shame really; and it made Thalia wonder if they'd been given enough time to practice their parts.  The little brochure they'd handed out at the entrance, which she'd been reading discreetly so that Hal didn't get the impression she was bored, said that the Opera's troupe presented a new Opera every month.  Anyone could have told you that wasn't much time to commit a two to three hour play to memory, let alone an opera.  You needed at least twice that; three months would be desirable.  Its not as though there were that many avid opera goers on Krove.  Immortals found their own entertainment, or often as not inflicted upon others.  And Mages were more of the party hard or boring scholar types.  The Opera was just not to their interests.  And since the only other group of people on Krove were craftsmen catering to the needs of the first two groups; there wasn't really much of an audience present in the area.
Oh, but there was another group.  The one who's meeting room they'd used earlier.  The sort of people that existed anywhere that things were illegal.  The most pervasive force in the universe; corrupt officials and criminals dedicated to controlling them.  Which meant that someone in the audience was guaranteed to be on her 'to hit' list.  She scanned the other boxes for any familiar face.  There were politicians and upper bureaucrats in no short supply, most of them probably deserved it, but none high enough to be worth the time.  Then she spotted a real prize; a man she recognized from wanted posters as being a top U'kown operative.  His moniker was 'chill', and he was a graduate of the Academy.  He was one of the most powerful hydromancers in the universe, and in any other room the most dangerous.  But in this one, he was outmatched.
"Didn't know he'd be here; and look, he bought a date."  Hal was talking very quietly, and clearly not to anyone in particular.  Still, only Thalia was close enough to hear so that made her the audience.
"The blonde, short hair, check the back of her dress."
"Welts; she's not here because she wants to be.  And that cut is far too low for a girl her age; what's she, like fifteen?"
"I vote we liberate her, and leave him out to dry."
"I vote we kill him, and help her get back to her family."
"He's a hydromancer.  I've seen him on the school registry; even then he had a pretty rough reputation.  Let me do it, you should take her and run."
"And leave with a strange girl.  That would be rather ungracious of me; especially after dinner."  They were both quiet and struggled to meet each other's gaze for a few minutes.  Finally Hal reached across the table and brushed his hand across her cheek gently.  "Don't get the wrong idea about it; I'd been hoping the night would end like that.  Just, I was expecting to have to wait until the end of the night."  She reached up and caught his hand and held it there.
"Sorry, I did say I've only ever been on one date before.  I guess I need to work on my timing a bit."
"No, well, maybe a little.  But that's irrelevant now, you stole my kiss and that's that."
"You mean that was?"
He nodded and stood up.  "I'll sneak up behind him.  You should distract him.  Try a speech, your oratory is always captivating.  And dare I say, you won't find it hard to out-project the folks on stage.  Once I kill him, you should vanish and meet up with us at the Fuzzy Librarian.  Have someone meet us there who can get the girl to safety.  Then I'll walk you home, maybe show you how to kiss properly."  He smiled and turned the handle to leave.
"Wait!"  She flicked her wrist and caught the cloak that appeared.  A heavy brown travelling cloak, like the one he'd been wearing the first time they'd met.  Then she spun it over his shoulders and draped it there, fastening it with a clasp of purple crystal fitted in a gold setting.  "Keep the hood up, and don't make eye contact.  I don't want you to bewitch her the way you did me.  And no side tracks, I don't like to be kept waiting."
"You have my word, it shall be so milady."  He gave a mock bow and pulled the hood up as the door closed behind him.
She waited a few tense minutes, considering everything she knew about Chill's track record.  Anything she could use to make this moment truly show stopping.  There were cameras around, recording the show.  Stage lights, and spotlights, even a few colored lights just for the mood.  The spotlight operators would do their job on their own once she started talking, but the stage lights would need to be disabled to drop focus from the performance.  The mood lights she'd keep to add tension, but she needed to make them a harsh blue; that way the ice she'd be using to reset the background would stand out better.
As the actress portraying Rosina began a particularly long note, Thalia jumped across the audience, snapping the stage lights into darkness.  She rolled to her feet and snapped again to change the color of the remaining lights.  Then as her final preparation, a wall of ice, formed from icicles the size of a grown man, bridged the space between the curtains; with several additional icicles of equal size scattered before it.  Dozens screamed, many began to panic, and one very heavyset individual lounging towards the back fainted melodramatically.
"Behold!"  Always a good way to set the tone for this sort of thing.  "I am Thalia, Dark Lady of Krove.  I am come to judge the quick in the name of the dead.  Lamesh, son of Calcion, cries out to me for vengeance.  He cries out for all those who's lives you have stolen; Alernon 'Chill' Rodericio."
She pointed across the crowds at Chill, the second spotlight following the cue and settling on his box.  She could see the mark of the U'kown on the front of the box from here, and realized why the actors had been glancing this way more often than not.  The performance was for him.
"Blood shall be had for your misdeeds.  And in the name of the dead, I shall take it from you."
Chill stood up, throwing the chair to the ground and knocking the poor girl aside.  He hurled a shard of ice at the spotlight, rendering it inoperable and darkened.  So he didn't want to be seen?  That would work just fine for Hal.
"Coward!  Face Destiny!  Face Justice!  Face Truth!  Face Death!"  She hurled a pittance of frost bolts, all impacting harmlessly within the box.  He'd shielded himself anyways; but only to the front.  He was focused then.  And Thalia knew she was doing her job right if he hadn't even considered the possibility that she was not working alone.  She saw the door swing open behind him as he unleashed a blast of hail, which she easily brushed aside with but a wave of her hand.  She pulled shutters of ice over the opening of the balcony, then pulled harshly towards herself.  There was no spell in her last motion, but to the audience watching as a spurt of blood stained the cold barrier she'd erected, it was her doing.  She let two beats pass then released the barrier.
"Justice, justice for all your victims."  And she pulled a cloak of her own from the ground, putting it on with a spinning motion that also teleported her to the home of the only person she knew to be impulsive enough to take a total stranger in and help them escape, without asking a lot of questions along the way.  And as she spun to a stop, Thalia found herself on the singed welcome mat of Liane, the Ashwalker; her mother.

The Necromancer's Stone; Chateau de Nouilles

"I hope you didn't mind my using the window.  Dad's annoyed because the snow melted and I didn't want to hear about it twice."
"He's annoyed because the..Thalia, even for an immortal that's a weird thing to be annoyed about."
"They don't call him the frostbringer for nothing; he's got this freaky affinity for cold stuff."
Hal paused for a moment.  Thalia saw a snicker lingering behind his smile and rolled her eyes.
"So, how does he stand having such a hot daughter?"
It was cheesy, but she laughed anyways.  It was hard not to have a sense of humor when you'd just climbed out of the window of an ice fortress in a knee length, regal indigo dress and matching stilletos to go to the opera.  Besides, it was cute the way he hesitated before he said it.  He knew it was cheesy when he said it, but he'd said it anyways.  And if there was any one thing Thalia liked, and there were many, It was a proper one-liner.
"So, what's the deal with your mother?  I've seen your dad coming and going from time to time, but there doesn't seem to be any woman living here but you."
Thalia glanced towards the the fireplace in her father's study.  It was a cold flame, specially enchanted to act like firelight without the heat.  Ironically, firelight was much colder feeling than most artificial light was.  It was the shadows; seeing them flicker reminded you how weak the fire was.  Or that's how Than always said it anyways.  When she was little, Thalia had always looked at that fire in the frozen palace and thought of how weak her mother must be compared to her father.  Now it just made her wonder if, like the fire in the heart of his fortress of ice, there was a little flame in his heart, burning for the girl who warmed his heart.
"That's kind of a fourth date sort of question."
"I'll keep that in mind when we get to our fourth date."
Awfully confident of him, but he'd have to screw up pretty bad to avoid there being a second date, so a fourth didn't seem out of the question.  And considering her list of peeves and his past behaviors, it seemed unlikely he'd manage to screw up in a significant manner.
"So what're you thinking of for dinner?"
"Chateau de Nouilles"
"Who named that place anyways?"
"Some human trying to be clever and make his restaurant sound classy.  I mean, with the design, waitstaff quality, and food presentation style 'house of noodles' just wouldn't cut it, now would it?"
"Good point.  Will the host be snooty?"
"You'll be able to see his sinus'."
"And the waiters, will they judge us on first sight and recommend cheap wine since they see we're young and have unrefined taste?"
"No, they'll wait and see how long it takes for you to laugh, and how elitist my jokes are; then they'll judge us."
Thalia grinned as she spotted a sleepy looking valet in a red vest.  
"I think I'm going to enjoy this place."
"I hope so, your bribes make up the secondary income of most of the clientele.  This place would be dead if you weren't so intent on controlling everyone."
Thalia was half insulted.  But she could tell from the gleam in his eye that he was jesting.  Hal didn't mind her criminal activities as much as most 'good' people did.  And clearly, there was a definite benefit to her activities.  The money she liberated from the wallets of corrupt officials and other, more direct, crooks was almost all cycled directly into local businesses and more naive officials, and to a lesser extent the arts.  She didn't horde it the way many criminals, and indeed most legitimate businessmen, tended to.  It kept the economy in motion, and when it slowed down she saw to it that additional weight was added to investing in continued growth.  Hal was smart enough to know that, even if he didn't particularly like the means she used.  In all fairness, she could have done just as much, probably more, good if she worked inside of the law.  But then she wouldn't have been able to act as quickly or decisively against the problems she found, and Thalia was not interested in dealing with lawyers.  
"Glad to see my money is well spent.  We should probably discuss who's going to pay."
"I favor a joint venture; seventy-thirty, favoring the speaking party."
"I appreciate the chivalry, but fifty-fifty. I'll let you cover the tip."
"Only if you do the math.  I'm crummy at math."
"Deal."  She planned to pay for it all anyways.  There wasn't a chance in low hell that he had the fiscal resources she possessed and the Opera tickets had probably set him back more than he'd ever admit.  Then again, perhaps she wasn't giving him credit.  He was a travelling swordsman, gentleman adventurer, and immortal, if a rather young one.  He could have any size fortune and it wouldn't make any difference how poor he seemed.  Still, as the local villainous overlord and criminal mastermind, besides the trust funds that her father had carefully managed and her mother had carefully paid someone else to manage, she was almost certainly wealthier than he was.  
"Table for two; somewhere other people can't hear us, if you catch my drift."  Hal winked at the host, who merely raised his eyebrow and lead them to an out of the way side room.  It had one round table in the center, made with a dark wood that matched the room's fixtures.  
"Will this do?"  Hal hadn't been kidding about the sinus', the man had his nose turned so far up she could have tied a sail to his face.  
"We'll make the best of it."  Thalia spoke with enough derision as to make it clear that there was only one person in the room with any class to speak of, and they weren't male.  The host managed to bear it with more confidence than she had hoped for.  
"I should warn you in advance, there is a party coming through later that has booked this room in advance.  Your waiter will be with you shortly."  The host turned and departed, closing a door behind him.  Hal laughed and switched his utensils around.  
"This is the room the U'kown use when they have their meetings."
"The Guild?  Why don't I already know this?"
"You have better things to do than track down the Nieldic mafia.  Besides, you're out of their league."
"I'm out of their league?"  Thalia did not count many people on her 'not to be messed with' list, but the U'kown, a guild formed from the pirates, thieves, assassins, and smugglers of the Nielda, had a history of matching their might against that of the Imperial Guard.  She could hardly dream of the sort of power they wielded.  She did dream of that level of power; but only hardly.  "How the hell am I out of Their league?  They rigged the game so that they have their own league; membership: them."
"Yeah, but none of them have ever fallen hundreds of feet onto a stalactite and then walked away.  And none of them have tickets to the Opera tonight."
"How can you be sure of that?"
"Because I killed one of them and took their tickets."  Thalia let a beat pass to see if he laughed.  If he did, then it was funny; if he didn't, it was scary.
He didn't.  

"You killed a U'kown guildsman?"
"I was wondering if you'd buy that one.  No, I actually did buy the tickets.  But I've crossed paths with the guild before, I'm not bothered."
"They'll find you.  They will find you, and they will kill you.  They will find you, and kill you, and kill everyone you hold dear."  She paused a second as it sunk in.  "I'm dear to you, right?  That means they'll kill me too!"
He'd been smiling up to that point.  He was not bothered by the thought of them coming after him, but seeing her frightened did bother him.  
"If they do, I swear to God, I will kill them first.  No matter how many of them their are; if they so much as touch you, I will end them."
Resolve, no other word for it, just absolute, unshakable resolve.  He really did mean that.  And not just a retributive, kill the offender, sort of resolve.  He said them and he meant all of them.  He was offering to destroy the oldest criminal organization in the known universe for looking at her funny.  
No, not offering; he was promising it.  She didn't have to accept it to make it a certainty.  
"You're kinda scary right now."
He relaxed instantly, slumping his head into his hands.  "Sorry, I overreacted a bit."
"I appreciate the thought.  I'm glad you want to protect me and all, but a simple 'I won't let that happen' would probably have worked just fine.  In any case, I'd rather you didn't try and take down the U'kown single-handed."
"Why not?"
"Well, its just a little..over-ambitious is all.  I don't know that one man could do it."
Silence fell.  The night continued.  They both selected their preferred pasta plate and told the waiter, a pleasant if somewhat androgynous young Pythen named Ss'silia.  And they navigated small talk until food arrived; how's school?  What did you do all week while I was in school?  What's your favorite weapon class?  That sort of thing.  And as they finished their plates Hal's turn for questions came round again.  
"Have you ever been on a date before?"
"Let me guess.  Some guy you met at school; he asked if you wanted to go out, you said yes.  Then he took you to the bar and regaled you with stories of his prowess in magic and combat.  Then when you were drunk enough to be susceptible, he took you back to his room and tried to get into your pants."
"Really, really close; but a few flaws in your version."  Thalia blushed as she thought about the night.  "I was a freshman, and this older student picked me out of the crowd and offered to show me around.  We did go to a bar, but the stories were about school history; who built what statue, why that hallway doesn't go anywhere, et cetera.  I did get tipsy, but not drunk.  And my date did try and get in my pants."  
"I'm feeling an and here."
"She kind of, possibly might have succeeded."
"Wait, She?"
"You know most of the people who've heard that story are more interested in the getting into my pants part."  It was a half-hearted attempt to change the course of the conversation.  Hal wasn't the sort of person to be dissuaded from the line of interest he'd already drawn.  
"Don't get me wrong, I'm still interested in the pants part of your revelation, and I fully hope to thoroughly explore them at a later date.  But I'm much more concerned with the gender of this fortunate forbearer."
"Her name was Katherine.  We're still friends, really good friends, but nothing really came of it.  I just don't have any interest in being...why would I talk about this on a first date?"
"U'kown place enchantments on their meeting places that make it difficult to not reveal any information relevant to the questions asked within them.  Although in my defense, it had not occurred to me that they would have enchanted this room until after you started to answer.  I expected you to just stop at 'Once', and I am truly apologetic for having unwittingly made you reveal more than you're comfortable with."

Thalia drew a series of runes onto the table and activated them.  Hal watched with intense discomfort as they began to glow in a singular shade of red.  Finally, after rearranging them several times and reactivating them, Thalia smiled and looked up across the table.  
"Four questions answered; want to know?"
She lifted the first rune into the air and pointed at it.  "Is the room enchanted to force you to tell the truth, the whole truth, and only the truth?  The answer of course is 'yes'."
She lifted a second rune into the air, positioning it beside the first.  "Is our waiter Pythen?  So that I can be sure the enchantment doesn't change the answers of detection spells."
Thalia swept the third rune into position below the first two.  "Would you have told me the truth if the room hadn't forced you to?  I'm happy to know that you would have done so of your own free will."
Finally the fourth rune joined the others.  She walked around the table and stood over him.  He was still waiting for the fourth question, the inevitable "Did he use the enchantment to his advantage?  Can he resist the effects of the enchantment?  The one that would condemn him and cut short their entire evening.  But Thalia had wanted the answer to a rather different question, one she'd been wondering since she'd met him.  So to his surprise; she leaned in and kissed him.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Origin

"How were your Holidays?"
"They went well Father, how were yours?"
"Satisfactory, it snowed while you were gone.  Unfortunately your mother's meddling prevented it from lasting the duration of the season."
Thalia sighed.  Her father, Than, representative to the pantheon of the elemental forces of frost, had been trying to convince her that her birth mother, his equivalent for fire, was a danger to society and a menace to common decency since she was two.  Thalia had met her mother, Liane, and while she was definitely far from good, and was often rather indecent, she was certainly not as bad as her father made her out to be.
Of course, popular rumor among her father's friends, mostly other immortals, was that he had only adopted her so that he could turn her against her mother.  It was cold-hearted, and if it had worked it would have been tragic.    It hadn't, clearly.  Thalia was too curious to kill anyone who wasn't either completely deserving, or trying to kill her at that very moment.  Although, she didn't always kill the latter, and clearly that policy was working for her.  And luckily, her curiosity had gotten the better of her.  She could remember it quite well actually.  Her mother had put together a yard sale; selling the charred bits of several things from her own house, and the charred yards of everyone who had been stupid enough to buy land in her general vicinity.  Thalia had learned about it, having put out word through the usual channels that she wanted to meet her.  It wasn't that Liane was secretive or anything, it was more that it was hard to tell where she'd be in advance.  Thalia had made her way to the yard sale, and after placing solid bids on several adjacent lots she'd made it up to the table where Liane was selling some of her valuables, jewelry she had no further interest in, books she'd gotten bored halfway through, a stuffed animal she'd forgotten was hers.  Thalia had asked her questions until she could calculate the actual value of everything (to put it simply, vastly more than it was being sold for), then she purchased it for twice the asking price (Still an amazing bargain).  She'd learned a lot from that conversation.  The jewelry was all enchanted, and when the occasion arose Thalia wore some of it.  It didn't fit because it was magical, it fit because they had the same measurements, or most of them anyways.  And she'd found out something she doubted her father knew; Liane still had a few memories about the night of Thalia's conception.  For a woman who was normally couldn't give you the time of day, or for that matter what year it was, being able to recall the morning after getting completely smashed was incredibly impressive. It would have been impressive for anyone really, but coming from her it was nearly unthinkable.  It had been the stuffed animal that had made her remember.  Thalia had asked why she had a stuffed animal, since it seemed like an odd thing for an immortal to have.  Liane had replied that she'd woken one morning after a really intense party to find herself in a strange bed, with the stuffed animal as her only company in the room.  There had been a note with it, in an elaborate script.  'For the girl who warmed my heart.' it read, but there was nothing telling her who had written it.  Liane had let Thalia see the note, and it had told her more than either of parents ever had.
As her father concluded his diatribe against the nightmares of fire mages, Thalia nodded respectfully and headed up to her room for the night.  Everything her mother had been selling that day was hidden away there, save the stuffed animal, which Thalia had convinced her to keep.  It had been something in the way she remembered it, a gentle calm that was not typical of a woman normally dominated by fiery passions.  And something in the way her father had reacted when he'd seen her bring home a similar creature, like a warm glow from the heart of a glacier, had confirmed her discovery.  Neither could remember the night, but both could remember the feelings that it had brought out.  And that was why Thalia kept her collection of unicorns where she could see it from the bed; to remind her that one fateful night, two enemies had made peace.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Chain Mail Embrace

Most of the time Thalia managed to settle right back into her routine; menacing the local jerks, blackmailing corrupt local officials, and passing all her classes with flying colours.  She was still doing the last one, easily, but somehow the rest just wasn't coming back the way it normally did.  It had been an exciting holiday, no denying that, but her holidays were usually fairly intense.  Why was this time different?
"You're alive!"  Her train of thought was interrupted by a shorter woman in light chain mail barreling into her.  Normally this would have been a surprise, but it was nearly as traditional as the walk up the eighty-four staircases.  Although admittedly this year it was a bit more deserved than usual, the last time she'd been seen she was falling into Honour Glen from the Imperial ski lodge.  That she was alive really was incredible.
"Hey Katie.  Yeah, I'm alive.  How're you?"
"I'm good.  Holidays were pretty boring after you left.  But lets not get off topic; what happened?  Last I saw that dude with the sword had just thrown you off a cliff."
"Well, it turns out he was only dating that girl because he was sick of people thinking he was gay.  Actually, he's really nice.  A bit quiet, but still really nice."
"So, did you kill him?"
"No.  And clearly he didn't kill me.  We managed to work things out peaceably."
"That's it."  Thalia had this funny feeling that Katie wouldn't be nearly as happy to hear about her date on Friday as she would pretend to be.  There had never really been any question that Katie liked her, even if she did date other people.  And even though Thalia didn't share the feeling, she did hold Katie in high regard, and didn't want to hurt her.  It did seem to be a growing inevitability that her lesbian best friend would find out about her and Hal eventually though.  Maybe she could wait a while, but it was only a matter of time really.
"You look like you have something on your mind?"
"His name is Hal, and we ended up spending the rest of the holiday together.  He walked me home, took me out for a drink, we went to Appeni to talk to someone he thought could help with one of my projects."  She paused.  "We're going to the opera on Friday."
Katie was speechless.  In fact, Thalia noted with some surprise, she was so stunned by the news that her normally incredible mental defenses were utterly dropped.  There wasn't any of the heartbreak that she had feared; it seemed the entire scenario was just that unlikely.  It was actually somewhat frightening to realize how certain Katie was that she would never engage in an actual romantic relationship, even at a preliminary level.
When she finally began to reassemble her thoughts, after well over a minute's delay, Katie sat upright and let Thalia crawl out from where she'd been pinned since the blonde mage's arrival.
"What's he like?"
"Noble, strong, and just; he's like a knight from a fairy tale."
"Where's he from?"
"No clue, but I think I know how to find out."
"What does he do?"
"Throws people out windows."
"How old is he?"
"About two years older than me.  That one at least I'm pretty certain of."
"Does he like you?"
Thalia didn't hesitate to reply with a firm "Yes".  It wasn't as though she had any real reason to be certain of it, all she'd done was ask.  Still, Hal didn't seem to be the sort who'd lead a girl on.  And since she'd already offered him any of the things men normally wanted, she couldn't see any reason for him to have lied.  the only thing he gained from dealing with her was dealing with her.  Anything else he'd have been getting anyways.  It certainly made it hard to manipulate him, but that was part of being in a real relationship, not manipulating each other.
"Do you like him?"
"Yes.  At least I think so.  He's the most handsome man I've ever met.  He's honest and kind, and I can tell he's not putting on an act.  I feel..comfortable around him.  Like nothing else matters."
Katie started to move and Thalia put her hands up defensively.  But found herself ensnared in a tight, armor-clad hug before she could react.
"I always knew you'd find someone.  I'm glad you didn't kill him before you figured it out."
Thalia glanced around uncomfortably.  It wasn't Katie's affection that bothered her, although the cold, hard links of her chain mail weren't exactly welcome.  It was that a small crowd had gathered around them.
"I'm going to have to do something really, supremely evil to make up for all this."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Back in Session

After the past few weeks the prospect of returning to school seemed dull and boring; even more so than it normally did.  Still, the stability of her old routine would inevitably help give her a better perspective on the events of the holidays.  Help her get a healthy understanding of what she was dealing with.  Thalia still barely knew Hal, and besides the business relationship he'd proposed she was hoping they'd be able to build a romantic one as well.  She'd have to be on her best behavior on Friday, and if she wanted to look her best too than she'd need to avoid picking fights as well.  Makeup only went oh so far after all.
Thalia shouldered her bag of books, reagents, and the other miscellaneous implements of a mage-in-training.  It was a post Holiday tradition.  Most of the year these things would have been kept in the school's vast, meticulously enchanted lockers.  Over the Holidays though, the students were expected to keep their valuables at home, where the school couldn't be held responsible for their loss.  It was a good policy, and had lead to a noticeable decline in break-ins over the holidays by forgetful students and enterprising thieves; all too often other, less forgetful, students.
The path leading up to the Arcane Academy from the neighboring town, the creatively named 'taxable citizens say what' although most people preferred to call it 'what', was a series of eighty-four staircases that winded up a mountain.  Each staircase consisted of precisely eighty-four steps, and each step was eighty-four inches across.  Rumor had it that the figure had some higher magical significance.  They were also an even foot deep, and rose six inches a step.  No one could figure out if that had any importance at all, but a lot of people insisted it must be important somehow.  Thalia just assumed that it was because the last person to remodel the Academy's staircase, the infamous Necromancer Petra Laerdsfeld, liked to mess with people.  It was one of the few things that she and Professor Zinksfeld agreed on, alongside of such great truths as 'cats are evil' and 'the school restoration teacher doesn't know what they're doing.'.
The school had built the dorms to the right of the staircase, and then wrapped them halfway around the facility.  Room assignment was random; but everyone knew that the richest kids got the closest rooms.  Which worked out fine, the poor kids were usually more used to walking anyways.  The only ones who really had to suffer were students like Thalia who actually lived in What and had to walk the stairs every day, instead of just once a semester.  Wards against teleporting into or out of the school grounds meant that she could either learn how to fly or never worry about exercise.
Thalia had resolved to learn how to break teleport wards back in her first year, and was still working on it.

First class of the day was the much dreaded Enchanting.  Professor Zinksfeld was, by reputation and observation, the best enchanter, teacher, and swordswoman in the known universe.  At least part of that was experience, it was a poorly kept secret that she was an immortal.  Not like her Father and his friends were immortal, a real immortal.  She hadn't stumbled upon some well of eternal youth, invincibility, and general not-dying-ness; the way most immortals had.  As best as anyone could tell, she'd just been around forever.  Thalia remembered that both Hal and the Sage from Appeni had mentioned the Professor.  Perhaps she knew where the Professor was from, or more importantly, when she was from.  One of the books she'd read about the Shade Invasion referred to 'Death and her Daughter'.  Zinksfeld, translated properly, meant 'Death's Daughter'.  Literally it was 'Daughter of Death', but that lacked a certain poetic sound.  Death, Zink, had been long rumored to be the very same Petra Laerdsfeld responsible for the two hour staircase Thalia suffered through every day.  That would mean that both the Professor and Death had shared a first name.  The possibility occurred to Thalia that they were one and the same, but the books were pretty clear about the death of Death.  It was, well, hard to overlook; especially since Anatolia's ecosystem had yet to recover.  To say nothing of the shade of black that its star now shone.
"Miss Thansfeld, nice of you to join us.  I heard about your episode at the Hapsburg."
"Thank you for your concern, but I assure you, I'm quite healthy."
"Oh good, then you should have no problems making it down to the police to help them return the girl's body to her parents?"
"I assume they want me to turn myself in as well?"
"They don't have a case, sadly.  Local law makes it clear that killing is permitted in self-defense, and several witness have come forward to attest to that.  I'd slap your wrist but I don't think it would do any good.  Now if everyone could open their books to page Eighty-Four."  Thalia saw a faint flicker of surprise fade from Petra's face as quickly as it had appeared.  "My apologies, perhaps this would be a good time to discuss tracing the origins of an enchantment.  Seeing as some, infinitely mischievous, student has enchanted my book so that all the pages are page Eighty-Four."
Thalia smiled.  It was good to be back to normal.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Witch Apples

"I can't believe I couldn't talk."
Thalia stopped and walked over to the large, neatly trimmed rose bush and inhaled deeply.  She paused and took a mandatory full minute to savor it and reflect on how beautiful the scenery was and how perfectly it fit in with its surroundings.
"As I was saying; how did she even do that?  I mean, I never even noticed the magic invol..."
Thalia stopped again and walked over to a much smaller bush that had sprouted under an overhanging rock.  The shade had made it flourish, and you could see the difference between the roses still under the rock and the ones on the parts of the bush that had grown out into the light.  It was really quite impressive.  Thalia smiled, satisfied by the fragrance of the flowers.
"The magic involved in the spell.  It must have taken a truly powerful enchantment in order to pull it off."
Thalia broke away from the path and headed directly towards the vine that had grown up a nearby tree.  She couldn't remember anything about roses growing on vines, but sure enough there was a little pink rose at the top of the thorn-laden vine.  She breathed in its aroma and considered what else she might not know about roses, or indeed any other parts of the world.
Then, rather than returning to the road, she sat down at the base of a neighboring tree.  Since it seemed like she had stopped at nearly a hundred rose bushes so far, all of them as pretty smelling and perfectly placed as the last, this one, lone rose seemed to be worth an extra moment.  Why was it that this was the only rose not surrounded by other roses?  Or for that matter, why was this one more briar than rose?  Sure, every rose had its thorns, but this one had more thorns than leaves.  In fact, it seemed to have almost no leaves at all.  Thalia leaned forward and gently traced the length of the vine from the rose to the root, and found, to her surprise that it did not end at the ground, but rather at a knot in the tree.  The rose, and she was not entirely certain it was a rose after all, was acting as a parasite, drawing its strength from the tree.
Then she noticed something else.  This tree was the only one in sight that had fruit hanging from its branches.  All of the other trees, none of them close enough to touch this one, were surrounded with half devoured apple cores.  Not only had the rose been draining the tree's energy, but it had also prevented its fruit from being eaten, as intended.  The fruit was, Thalia noted with some irony, forbidden.  She reached up and severed one apple from the branch with a single muttered word, and caught it as it fell.  Forbidden fruit from a unique tree in the garden of an immortal; eating it seemed like a risky proposition, and Thalia glanced around on the chance that there was a nearby snake, about to convince her to try it.  Instead she chose to bring it back to the path, and offered it to Hal.
"That's not a.."
"I got it off that tree over there.  Doesn't it look great?"
"Thalia, I'm not going to.."
"Fine, I'll try it first.  I swear it isn't poisoned."  She took a bite and chewed it quickly before continuing.  "I mean, honestly, I'd really rather you didn't die.  I kind of like having you around."  His expression shifted from concern to surprise as she spoke.  She paused, still chewing, then realized what he'd heard.  "No, no, not like..I mean I like you and all, but.."  Then the world sort of did two different sorts of twists and the trees stretched out while the ground seemed to rise up under her very suddenly.  Then the sun went out.  Then everything else did too.

Thalia woke to the feeling of something slightly scratchy on her chin, something smelling slightly of sweat in front of her nose, and something feeling skin on her lips.  It didn't take her long to make the connection, but before she could react Hal sat back up.
"What the hell was that?!"
"Witch's Apples; I tried to tell you before you ate it."
"Oh.  So you mean its like one of those things in a fairy tale where only true love's kiss can break it?"
Hal blushed and ran his hand through his hair nervously.  "Yeah, something like that.  I'd have asked if you had been awake; I don't make a habit of this sort of thing."
She never would have guessed.  It certainly wasn't the first time anyone had kissed her, and she could say with some confidence that he was well ahead of the curve.  He'd never been very open to her flirting with him before.  Admittedly for good reason, she had only been trying to manipulate him at the time.  Still, she had to wonder if he, maybe, did actually regard her in more of that general manner.  It was certainly a more welcome prospect than her previous idea concerning his sexuality.
"Then I guess you're just a natural."
Hal's blush deepened.  She could tell he was ready to say something in response, but then he looked away and turned back towards the road.
"Witch's Apples dispel all enchantments when their effect is broken, you should be able to walk without having to stop at every rose now."
"Hal."  Thalia pulled herself to her feet, brushing a bit of dirt off of her clothes.  "Do you like me?"
He turned around.  "You were saying before you fainted that you liked me, but not like that, right?"
Thalia tried to recall her thoughts from right before she fainted and couldn't quite manage it.  She did like him. He was good and kind and smart and was he ever so handsome, but she was a villain; harsh and cruel and ever so slightly hard to get along with.  Did she like him?
"Hal, I do like you.  You're a great guy.  You're a little weird, and you know things about me I find disturbing.  What color underwear am I wearing?"
"Trick question; if I know I'm a creeper, if I don't I'm lying."
"So you do know?"
"Didn't say that."
"But you do know."  There was a pause, Hal continuing to refuse to answer.  "Alright, I promise not to hurt you."
"Hurt me all you want, just don't hold it against me."
"Fine.  Tell me."
"Pink, they're all pink.  And before you say anything." Thalia caught her words before she could speak.  "People who wear dresses should make a point of not high-kicking people."
"I guess I do kick people a lot, but I don't remember ever kicking you."
"You also own a lot of pink, it was a safe guess."
"Wait, you mean you didn't know?"
"Your dad did all of the shopping, if you ever wanted something you'd conjure it.  Since you have no reason to conjure interesting underwear its safe to assume that he bought you mundane, pink underwear."
"Interesting underwear?"
"Not discussing it."
"Did your last girlfriend ever wear 'interesting underwear'?"
"No one ever explained no to you, did they?"
Thalia shrugged.  "So?"
"Probably, I never had much interest in finding out.  Can we go now?"
"You still haven't answered my question."
"Remind me what question this was?"
"Do you like me?"
"Thalia, you're beautiful, stylish, brilliant, and charismatic.  It would be difficult not to like you."
"No, that's all you're getting today.  Come on, lets get you back in time for school."
"When can I see you again?"
He cocked his head to the side and stared at her inquisitively for a second.  She had to smile, it made him look like a confused puppy.
"You mean like what, a date?"
"Yeah, something like that."  She hadn't quite realized it when she'd asked, but that was more or less what she'd been hoping for.  She rubbed the back of her neck anxiously while he mulled it over, a mercifully short wait.
"I'll pick you up on Friday.  Maybe we can get dinner, see a movie.  That sort of date?"
"We could see a play, or go to the opera if you'd prefer?"  She could hardly contain her eagerness.  It had been a long time since she'd actually been out.  Normally she had to throw a party, or hit on Katie, to get this particular sort of attention.
"You like Opera?  Never met a girl who wanted to go to the opera before.  Barber of Seville, Friday Evening, I'll pick you up at six and we can get dinner beforehand.  What color will you be wearing?"
"Purple."  She didn't even have to think twice about it.  She could still picture the ribbon he'd left on his note, and the shade of his mother's crystal pendant; there was no question he'd have something to match it already and it was no challenge for her to come up with an outfit to match it.
"I look forward to it."  And he smiled.  He had a wonderful smile.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; The Eldest Sage

"Do we seriously have to walk the whole way?  We could have rented a speeder, or heaven forbid, landed a little closer."  Hal began to reply, but Thalia continued before his response could be made known.  "I mean really, who'd have stopped us, customs?  They barely stopped us at the starport.  Is there some kind of barrier, preventing the use of technology?  I'll bet you I could banish it if there is."
"Or even horses, I could summon a horse or two and we could just ride there.  But no, we just had to walk."
"Well?  Aren't you going to say something witty or insightful that would never occur to me?"
"No.  I'm just going to stand right here while she explains it to you."
Thalia's breath caught in her throat as she realized that the Sage herself was right behind them.  She swallowed nervously and turned around.  
"Hi!  Come on in, I made cookies."

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

"So," began the sage as Thalia finished her little china plate of fresh, gooey chocolate chip cookies.  "Hal sent ahead that you two would be coming."
Thalia quietly mumbled an affirmative.  If what Hal had said was to be believed, she was face to face with the oldest immortal in the known universe.  The fact that her father, and none of his fellow members of the pantheon, had mentioned her, she was probably also stronger than any of them.  And nothing, nothing, made it clear how much stronger than you someone considered themselves than how good the food they served you was.  And there was nothing to be said of those cookies if you couldn't call them outright divine.
"He tells me you need to know a way to create a better golem, one that is nearly sentient."
Thalia nodded again.  The sage was so calm; serene even.  It was the way she'd always imagined a grandmother, only much younger.  She had to be immensely powerful, but nothing about her bearing or demeanor indicated aggression, or even impatience.
"But, despite your silence, I get the impression you want more than near sentience.  That I can not give you."
Thalia had the feeling that wasn't it, but that didn't seem to stop Hal from gasping out of apparent shock.
"But if you can't, who can?"
"Have you asked Professor Zinksfeld, at the Arcane Academy?  She used to have quite the knack for necromancy back when she was in school."  The sage picked up a cup, that spontaneously filled itself with a brown liquid that smelled somewhat of raspberries and dark chocolate.  "Not that she would ever admit it.  Stupid paladin, Nothing but healing, combat, and enchantment and honor forbid you do anything else.  But that's nothing important.  The one you need is the Reaper."  The Sage took a long sip of her drink and then set it down.  "Hal, this is going to be difficult, and you'll only be able to do it with her help.  Defeat the one who killed your parents, bind her, and make her tell you the secrets of the Stone-Laerds.  There is no other way, and even with that knowledge it will take a major feat of magic to pull it off."  She took another sip of her chocolate.  "Oh, and wear something snappy, she'd appreciate it.  Traditional armor, your most intimidating dress; you know, that sort of thing."
Thalia bowed a bit and stood to leave.
"Oh, and its because I put a lot of time into those fields, and I don't let anyone talk unless they take the time to appreciate it.  You'll find your confidence return when you make it back into town.  Smell the roses along the way please, I've spent the last fifty years getting them just right."  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; The Pale

Thalia made a point of never telling her dad where she was going.  For starters, he'd never asked.  Beyond that though, she usually preferred that people didn't know what she was up to.  Most of the time, she was the most dangerous thing in a ten thousand kilometer radius.  The rest of the time she was within ten thousand kilometers of Professor Zinksfeld, and even that she only had on nothing more than here-say and whispered legends.  And the Arcane Academy was hardly a bastion of stupidity and weakness; so that meant she was generally safe anywhere she went.
Traveling with a relative stranger, who had only a few days prior had her at the tip of his sword, was probably the scariest thing Thalia had done in upwards of twenty years, twenty-seventh come August actually.  Not because she was afraid he'd try anything unseemly, or attempt to kill her, but because she wasn't sure what to expect, why he was doing this, or why she was going along with it.  It was uncharacteristically impulsive of her.  Not that she didn't normally act impulsively; it was more that she was normally better informed than this.  She never randomly did anything; no matter what it seemed like.  Everything she did was done with information, planning, and confidence; but here she was acting with no knowledge of what she was getting herself into, no plan for how to get out, or even in, and any confidence she had was limited to her own abilities.  She was running on trust, and she didn't even know anything about the man she was choosing to trust.
Hal's ship was small; barely even a yacht.  He'd taken good care of it though; polished hull, clean windows, and even though there was only three rooms; a cockpit, a living room, and a bedroom with attached bathroom, he'd managed to keep it from feeling claustrophobic using  properly sized curtains and a few well placed mirrors.  Other than a lone cushion, she couldn't spot any more purple.  Maybe the ribbon had been an isolated case.  She shuffled into the cockpit and took up the empty copilot's seat.
"Have you ever been off Krove?"
"On a field trip once, never needed anything off world."
"That'd be Zinksfeld then; most of the professors up at the school only leave when they have to get something or attend a funeral.  A lot of immortals are the same way, like your parents."
"When you have a fortress of ice, why would you leave?"
"To get inspiration, find a new book, maybe even do a little good in the world."
"Point taken.  How long should this take?"
Hal reached down and pulled a lever back, then pressed a large blue button.  Thalia felt space shift and for a split second, saw the absence of existence that was between them and their destination.  She'd read that most ships only made the jump with their windows closed, because the sight of the true void could drive men insane, but she only glimpsed strands of gleaming white, almost like hair that had been purged of any color.  And behind the white was a pair of death-pale eyes, and a whisper of 'Mother'.  It seemed strange to her, and as space restored itself, and they passed back into reality, she turned to Hal.
"Did you see that?"
"The Pale?  Every time I travel; and it always says the same thing.  Takes some getting used to I'll admit, but I can't get the shutter to work."
"The Pale?  The void is a woman?"
"Yes, or sort of anyways.  No one really knows what the void is.  Many have tried to explore its mystery, but since everyone hears something different its impossible to pin it down."
"What does it say to you?"
"My mother always used to say it told her to fear the reaper.  My father said it told him that the void is cold."
"But what does it tell you?"
"It just says, Father.  But it says it with sorrow, remorse even.  Like its ashamed to say it."
"It called me Mother."
They were both quiet for a while, Hal still quietly working the controls to bring them to a safe landing in a remote Appeni starport.  At last the silence was broken as he looked up and stated simply, "We're here."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Hal's Plan

"Nice of you to come."
Thalia spun around as she felt a hand on her shoulder.  She'd made it to the Fuzzy Librarian in record time and, being uncertain where to search, had taken a seat at the bar.  Luckily Hal, the handsome young man who had invited her for dinner today, had good enough reflexes to catch her hand before she could release the frigid bolt she'd reflexively formed as she had spun around.  He spun her back towards the bar and sat down next to her, motioning to the bartender for a drink.
"I'm sorry I fell asleep last night."
"Funny thing to apologize for, falling asleep during an hours long silence in what wasn't even really a conversation.  You're forgiven."
"Thanks.  Would you like to get a table?  Somewhere more private?"
"Remind me again, how many of the candles around here have you bugged?"
How did he know that?
"Right, I thought so.  That's why we're eating at the bar."
The barmaid set a bottle of red wine and a pair of glasses down in front of them, smiled at Hal, and walked off.  Thalia stared at her back for a moment and then turned to flash Hal a smile of her own.
"So tell me, how is it that you know so much about me and the candles I may or may not have bugged?"
"Besides the fact that I've had your surveillance system tapped?  I come here a lot and eavesdrop."  Before she could make the accusation, he waved his hand.  "I know, its creepy.  I'm sorry I've been tracking you like this.  But considering how much power and influence you have, I'd wager that I'm not the only one who's been keeping an eye on your activity.  I've already spotted a Secloran agent, a Ga-Vok espionage team, and a very attentive Jaguan in this bar alone."
"No one from the Daniellandish?  I'm insulted."
"You see the Vampire in the corner?"
Thalia nodded, still facing the bar.
"The woman he's making out with is an Imperial Guard's daughter.  They don't send spies because most of the people here would willingly tell them whatever they needed to know anyways."
"So they're just lazy?"
"Try frugal, experienced, and understanding; The Empire has seen the potential threat you pose, and would rather wait until you become an actual threat before acting."
"That seems foolish to me.  If they were smart they'd be ready to stop me at the first sign of a rise to power."
"Why would they do that?  Just because you have potential doesn't mean you'll use it against them.  The universe has bigger problems then a young necromancer with a penchant for extortion and drama; The Seclorans certainly do, and everyone else is gearing up to join them in the war effort against the Harakai.  But none of them are perfectly focused on it, they're all still trying to guard their flanks against any new threats.  The Daniellandish have faced enough threats to know better.  They'll cut you slack, give you a chance, and wait for you to make your move.  If you're a threat, they'll deal with it; if not, then they won't waste their time."
"Maybe I want to be seen as a threat."
"I don't really believe that.  I think what you really want is to be the center of attention."
"I've met your father, icy doesn't just describe his job.  I don't hold that against you.  What I'd like to do is offer you a chance to make something better of yourself than just a two-bit villain with a castle and a scheme."
"I'm listening."  She wasn't sure why she was listening.  The conversation was hardly flattering.
"I can help you be a sixty-four bit villain, with a volcano lair, a castle, and a moon base.  The sort of villain they send real heroes after, not just little nobodies with a wooden sword and a vague prophecy."
"How do you propose to do that?"
"Well, you already have the business acumen to finance it all, and you're a talented enough commander to defeat armies in battle.  You even have the genius to come up with the schemes.  What you don't have is a rival; someone to fight you, to bring people to your moon base or to storm your castle."
"And what, you think if someone just starts attacking me then people will actually pay attention to me?"
"Come out of the shadows; stop extorting caterers and local bands and start extorting governments and major corporations.  Not at first obviously, they'd just have you killed.  We'd start small; you try to destroy a town and I come along to stop you.  Maybe you terrorize a village until I come along and fight you off."
"And what does that accomplish?  So we get rich, if I wanted money I'd already have it."
"Yes, but you could target corporations that were corrupt, and you'd need to have dark government secrets to extort them, right?  Because you'd done it, and they'd had no choice but to call in a hero, their secrets and corruption would be exposed and purged by the hero while he chased after you.  The world would be a better place."
"Like at the bar yesterday; I draw them out into the open, then you expose their immorality to the world and between the two of us the cancer upon society is removed."  Thalia liked it, a lot.  She'd always tried to target the corrupt and cruel anyways, but she'd never tried to do it on a scale like he was proposing.  It was ambitious, no doubt about that.  But with him as the hero, and her as the villain, most of the personal risk was removed for both of them.  It wasn't perfect though, there were two flaws in the plan.  "I'll need an army though; or at least some very loyal minions.  And I'll need you to show me how to defend myself better, in case they don't go straight to you to fight me.  If someone sent an assassin or a hero of their own I wouldn't stand much of a chance."
"Don't sell yourself so short, you're actually quite good.  I'll still help you train, but I think you need less help than you realize.  The army though, that one's going to have to be on you."  Thalia had been working on that for some time though, and worst come to worst, she always had skeletons.  Still, since he'd been so clever this far, maybe he could help her with her longstanding project as well.
"I might be able to make an army actually.  I've been working with golems and necromancy; experimenting with the classical and periodic elements to try and create an effective, independent soldier.  I'm close, I know it.  I can give it endurance, skill, and strength, but I can't seem to make anything with enough free will to solve problems as they're encountered, or plan ahead.  And I don't want to make something that will just stand around aimlessly when not in use; I want something that can contribute to society when I don't need it.  Something that can create as well as destroy."
"You want to create a person?"
Thalia considered it for a moment.  When it came down to it, that was what she wanted really.  Someone who could follow orders, but also interpret them; do as told, but didn't always need to be told.  But she wanted something stronger than a person, a superhuman being that could take punishment like a glacier and was as unstoppable as a wall of fire.
"Sort of, I guess."
"Have you talked to Professor Zinksfeld, the enchantress?"
"She abhors necromancy.  She'd probably have me expelled if she knew about this."
Now it was Hal's turn to consider the situation.  Thalia watched him think; you could tell by the way he drummed his fingers on the counter, while stroking his chin absentmindedly with his other hand.
"There is said to be an immortal, older than any other.  The Gardener of Apeni, The Eldest Sage, and Tender of the Henge; If anyone knew, it would be her.  I can take you to her, if you'd like?"
"I barely even know you.  I'm not sure if I want to go and spend a week in space with you.  Besides, school starts back up in a month, I should really be studying."
"What shall I do to prove that you can trust me?"
"Bring me a patch of fur from four giant rats, and the bell that the largest rat wears."
Hal laughed, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a necklace.  It was a crystal, like blue tinted ice with a small red flame burning within it, suspended on a fine gold thread.
"Not quite the chief rat's bell, but smells better."  He lowered it over her head, brushing her hair back over the thread as the crystal settled just bellow the nape of her neck.  "It was my Mother's.  Nothing too fancy, enhances your spells a bit, keeps your temperature steady in any climate, and won't break.  I want you to keep it.  If nothing else, take it as a sign that I trust you.  I'll leave for Apeni on Friday, if you want to come, meet me by the Gardens outside the spaceport.  If not, I'll bring back anything the sage will share about your problem."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Invitation

Thalia woke up with a thump, or possibly because of it.  After recovering command of her senses, and rubbing the new bump on her head, she glanced around the room.  Last thing she could remember was Hal sitting next to her.  She was wearing the same clothes she had been the night before, and considering which part of the bed she'd fallen off of it wasn't likely he'd moved her; so she felt rather safe assuming nothing had happened.  Not perfectly safe, but enough not to dwell on it.  The room looked equally untouched, except, and it took her a moment to notice it, a folded note on her nightstand.  She walked around the bed and picked it up.  The lettering was precise and elegant, and he'd tied it with a purple ribbon.  She didn't remember having had any purple ribbon, but it was odd thinking of a swordsman as having purple ribbon in his pocket.  The letter was short and to the point, reading simply:

I'll go ahead and answer your questions in the order I think you're most likely to ask them.  
About five in the morning, no of course I didn't, and through the window.  
The questions being; when did I fall asleep, did you do anything ungentlemanly to me, and how did you get out?
I'd like to apologize for the way I spoke to you earlier, I suppose its probably last night to you now.  I was overly harsh, and I shouldn't have brought it on so suddenly.  But I'm not taking back what I said. I'd like to believe that you know, and on some level agree with, what I said.  If that's the case, then I want to be a part of what you're doing.  If you want to stay where you are, doing what you do, treating people like pawns; then I'm happy to have met you, and will carry on with my life.  
If you want to talk futures, meet me at The Fuzzy Librarian for dinner.  Don't worry, believe it or not they actually do a pretty good burger.  

Thalia looked over at the clock.  It was nearly six, the time when the Arcane Academy's cafeteria served dinner.  She grabbed a cloak out of her closet and started heading to the door.  She stopped as she reached it and picked up the ribbon and tied her hair back.  She wasn't sure what she wanted, but he had been right about her behavior.  All of the acting, being a villain, threatening people all the time; it wasn't what she wanted, not really anyways.  What she really wanted was to make the world a better place.  And she had the feeling that was what he was talking about.  They may have gone about it in different ways, but they did both want to make the world a more orderly, wholesome place.
Besides, she'd never really had a guy invite her to dinner before.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Walked Home

The house of Than, immortal member of the pantheon representing frost, water, hydromancy, and such like, was, to say the least, huge.  Turrets of ice, gardens of rime, and this strange stained glass window made entirely out of ice, Than took a great deal of pride in the house he'd built.  Took him fifty years to put the finishing touches on it, even though the basic structure had been done in a matter of minutes.  Thalia had actually put a few touches of her own on it, although she'd been careful not to make it anything he'd notice.  The pink wallpaper, sheer curtains, and fuzzy rugs hid the fact that she'd managed to turn the local ice into crystal, a noticeably warmer material.  If her father ever noticed, she'd have been kicked out before she could draw breath.
Her father's penchant for disproportionate retribution, one she shared in all fairness, was exactly the reason why they had to be so careful.
"Are you certain you need me to actually go in with you?  This seems an awful lot like how you lead us into that mob hideout."
"No, this is much worse than a couple of thugs."
"Or the way you tried to get me to follow you into that restroom?"
"I promise I won't make you watch me try on dresses."
"I wasn't saying I didn't enjoy it.  Your taste in textiles is excellent by the way.  I just mean I feel like you're trying to, I dunno, seduce me or something."
"I would never."  A deaf mole could have seen otherwise, and considering the Krovian fauna, probably had.  Thalia wasn't really sure why she was so intent on having him, but their was no denying she was.  Maybe it was just the amount of challenge he presented.  She'd never met anyone so stubborn.
"What do you have against just being honest?"
"You're always..putting on a show.  You have to look right, say the right things; you never just, talk."
"I talk.  I talk all the time."
"No, you pontificate, you give speeches, you argue and debate and..and its all just so controlled."
"Where's all this coming from?  Did I do something to offend you?"
"I've been watching you for a while now; not to be creepy or anything,  and you always do the same things.  You dress up.  You crush anyone who gets in your way.  To most people you're just a power hungry, ego-maniacal villain, but I know you aren't.  You're just so determined to control your surroundings that you pretend to be something else just so that you can shape people's perception of you.  But in the process of building that persona you've completely forgotten about the you under it all.  I mean, you're so determined to manipulate me that I can't even tell what you actually think of me.  I don't know if you're trying to seduce me because you find me attractive or because you find it entertaining to play with me.  More importantly, I don't know if you know either.  What I want to know is; who are you?"
Thalia was dumbfounded.  Besides the fact that no one had ever talked to her like that, she still wasn't sure what had brought on this outburst.  He was right; she did like to control her circumstances.  And she did put on an act, she was still aware of that, although she was afraid that statement held the doom of 'still'.  But she knew who she was, right?  She was Thalia Thansfeld, daughter of an immortal, raised by another.  She was the finest student in the Arcane Academy; the most talented Hydromancer since her father and the greatest necromancer since Zink.  She was the villain other villains feared, and heroes spoke her name in hushed voices across the planet.  But she knew that wasn't what he was asking.
"Would you like to see my room?"
Hal rested his head on two fingers and sighed.  "The first time you start baring some skin I'm throwing myself out the window."
She pushed open the door and listened.  She could hear a page turning in the study.  Even though it was debatable whether or not he was sitting with it in his lap, he would doubtless be in the room, and preoccupied.  Thalia waved Hal in, and moved silently to the stairs.  She had much practice in managing the frozen stairs, but she was impressed that Hal navigated them with as sure of foot as she did.  The door was white ice, and the walls were too opaque to be seen through, but their was red wording on the door denoting it as hers.  Her father hated the color, but he'd never attempted to change it, to the best of her knowledge.  She turned to face Hal and smiled weakly, still uncertain after his lecture.
"This is my room.  If you want to see what I'm like when I'm not in public, this is about as good as it gets."  Thalia pushed the door open gently and showed him in.  He was quiet, even his breathing only apparent by the mist that followed.  He started to take in the whole room, lightly grazing the walls with the ends of his fingers as he walked its full circumference.  He finally stopped next to the bed, where she had seated herself.
"Its very."
"My father's decorating tastes for a girl's bedroom are rather traditional."
"And did he buy all of the makeup and unicorns?"
"No, and he didn't hang the drapes or curtains either.  Those were me."
"I thought so.  I'm not surprised by the makeup, but the unicorns are..fluffy."
"I always liked them.  Ever since I was a kid.  I hear there used to be real ones."  Hal glanced at her incredulously.  "Wild ones anyways, not the fat, lazy ones they keep for ingredients."
"You mean you've never seen a wild unicorn?"
"They're officially extinct, died out thousands of years ago.  Even my dad isn't old enough to have seen one."
"Mine was."
"My dad.  He told me stories about seeing herds of unicorns when he was young.  And Chimera, and Buffalo, and he even saw a dragon; the real kind, not just a summoned one."
"A Dragon?  But they were ancient history even before the Shade Invasion, and that was hundreds of years ago.  How old is your dad?"
"He'd be two thousand and forty-nine this spring.  Mum would have been too, if they weren't dead."
"Your parents were..?"
"Same as yours, although not quite so powerful I should think."
Thalia stared at him for a moment and then forced herself to ask the question.  "How old are you then?"
"Twenty-Seven yesterday; makes me a year older than you."
"A year and a few months, my birthday was back in August.  So you're not.."
"We both survived that fall; I think its fair we assume we are.  Even the undying were born once, I don't see why you'd have to be in your hundreds to be any more immortal than someone born that way."
They were both quiet for a while.  Hal clearly had more to say, but was waiting for her to speak first.  She had plenty of questions, but was still afraid to talk.  So out of fear and consideration, silence fell.  Darkness, the inevitable result of two people sitting quietly and motionless on a bed as night approached, fell soon thereafter.  Finally Hal decided to speak up.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier.  Its been a very stressful day, what with your killing my girlfriend, our falling to our apparent deaths, not actually dying, and then taking down that gang so you could change clothes.  I'm not apologizing for what I said, it was all true and I think you know it; I'm apologizing for not leading into it better.  I'm also going to apologize for the tone I used; I shouldn't have been so harsh about it.  Its just that.."  And he stopped to look over.  Thalia had slumped against the nearest post of the bed and fallen asleep.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Frank's Hideaway

Thalia linked her portals home into a back street two block from her father's house; where, much to her dismay, she still lived.  Hal was right behind her, sword safely sheathed and clothes still stained by blood.  Her own clothes were noticeably worse for wear, with a massive hole in the dress from where she'd landed on the stalactite.  She found herself happy she'd picked red, since it concealed most of the blood that had dried onto it. Definitely could have been worse, but they'd have to change before they showed up on her doorstep.  She made a left at the end of the alley and headed towards the hideout of a local gang, one with a particularly nasty reputation, one that would think nothing of an armed man escorting a disheveled young woman into their backrooms.  It was really just a question of how Hal would feel about changing in the same room as her.

Hal stopped at the door of the hideout, a seedy looking bar with rather explicit neon signage.  Unlike the local taverns, which were smoky and full of drunken adventurers, the bar smelled sleezey and was almost certainly full of people who dressed better than they behaved.  At a guess, Thalia would have to say that Hal wouldn't be comfortable somewhere like this.
"Thalia, I'm not sure exactly why you feel the need to take me to..well one of these places, but if you insist then this probably shouldn't be it."
"Ah.  So you know about the gang that hangs out here?"
"Should have seen that one coming.  Thalia, do you know what these men would do to you if they saw a girl with your looks in that state of dress?"
A girl of her looks?  She wasn't sure how to take that; did he think she looked like a skank or something?  State of dress she could accept, but Thalia was pretty sure she still looked fine.  She'd have to find a mirror while she was in there.
"Yes, I can handle them."
"You couldn't get off a decent slowing spell while I swung a sword at you."
"We were falling thousands of feet at hundreds of feet per second; those are hard enough circumstances as it is."  She retorted.  "How many people do you know who could pull that off?  Could you pull that off?"
Hal fell silent.  She felt a little bad about it, but he was questioning her ability to use magic, not to mention to defend herself.  She pushed the door open and walked in.  He followed close enough to keep track of her, but far enough away that she could tell she'd struck a nerve.  Thalia ignored most of her surroundings; quickly identifying known criminals in the room and paying close attention to their activities.  She actually had made it to the door before anyone noticed her, but once they did things escalated.  The door locked in her hands and a large man at the other end of the room began to laugh.
"Now now Ginge, you didn't expect me to let you just walk in after our last encounter?"
Frank, no last name, was the illusive head of the gang.  By illusive she meant 'he managed to keep enough of his name secret from everyone that she couldn't track down his public records'.  He was an academy drop-out, killed a little too publicly for the faculty to ignore, and had been a thorn in the town's side since.  Anyone important on Krove was so far out of his league it wasn't funny, but he was strong enough and enough men followed him that students and commoners had to watch their step.  Great as she was, Thalia was still in that category.  Not that it had stopped them from tangling before, she'd shut down several of his operations when they'd begun interfering with her own interests.  The last time he'd shown up in time to bite her dust and hurl his oaths in her direction.  She'd hoped he had family out of town to spend the holidays with, apparently this wasn't her day.
"Alone too.  Did you just need to use the bathroom?  Figured we wouldn't remember?"  Several of his thugs began moving up around her, more than she could count on hands and feet.  Thalia shuffled nervously, trying to plan out a series of spells that would deal the most damage before she made a run for it.  "Well we did Ginge, we did remember.  And my boys, they've got special plans in mind for the girl who robbed them blind, shut down their entertainment, and left them without their dignity."
"Don't beat around the bush Frank, say it like it really is."
"Like it really is; fine.  You froze my drugs, killed my enforcers, terrified my girls so bad they all ran off-world, and then, and I don't even know what you stood to gain by doing this, you stole all of my clothes from the laundromat."
Thalia stifled a laugh.  She'd sold the clothes and donated the money to the local policemen's widows and orphans fund.  It really didn't gain her anything, but it annoyed the snot out of him and the sight of twenty gangsters fighting with each other over who would tell the boss that they'd lost his clothes had been worth it.
"You missed the part where I put dead fish in your hubcaps, jello in your toilet tank, and attached microphones to all of your light fixtures."
"That's what that smell is?!?"
Thalia glanced around the room to see if anyone had heard that last bit, no one had noticed.
"Boys, get he-urk!"  Frank was cut off mid sentence as a hand closed around his larynx.  The figure wore a dark cloak with the hood up, and a sword at his side.
"Lets make something clear.  I've just been through your files, and I don't like what I see.  The Police have been sent the full contents of your hard drive, all the contents of your hard drive.  You have about a day to get off world my friend."
The men had frozen when Frank had stopped talking, and all eyes were firmly locked on the hooded man.  Thalia had to admit, this was going much better than even her best plans.
"Now, I say we let your minions have a choice.  Fight the lady, or go buy their tickets."  Nearly three quarters of them ran out of the room, pushing and shoving as they did.  The rest were still confused, although the one most resolute thug charged her.  She pinned him to the ceiling in a floe of ice, making it clear to the remaining men what their choice should be.
As the last of the room's occupants fled, the hooded man dropped Frank back into his chair.  Thalia made her way around the stage to face him personally, although she wasn't sure which one she was there to face.
"You'll pay for this, b#^&h!"  He formed a bolt of energy in his hand and began to thrust it in her direction when his attack, and indeed his entire arm, were cut short by a sword drawn so quickly Thalia never even saw it leave the sheathe.  She froze the stump over, preventing blood loss and numbing the pain enough to keep him talking.
"Probably, but I think I'll get dressed first.  Hal, I'd like your opinion on some dresses."
"Seriously?  I expected you to kill him."
Thalia thought for a moment.  "Honestly, I was just going to ask you the same thing.  Come along, dresses."
"I said no."
"I'm giving you a chance to come and watch me try on clothes.  After everything you've done for me today I think that seems fair."
He flicked his sword twice, then picked up the piece of fabric that had once been the better half of her dress and tied it around her waist.
"Next time you need to change, just tell me so we don't have to take down a major criminal organization in the process, please?"  Then Hal turned and began to head for the door.  Thalia paused a moment to check her new outfit in the mirror.  Satisfied, she jogged to catch up with him, leaving Frank still frozen to the chair.