Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Other Witch; Messenger

The ship was dark.  Everyone else had gone to sleep hours ago.  Salvia, as she often did, was sitting on the Observation Deck looking out across the stars.  Suddenly she heard a voice, not from outside of the ship, as was said to occur during Tesser jumps, but from close beside her.  She glanced around, feeling at her surroundings with her mind in the hopes of deciphering the source of the voice.
"Don't look so hard, you'll hurt your eyes sweetie.  Besides, I'm not really...not sure what the right noun for that would be.  Here?  Alive?  Present? Existent?  Suffice to say, you won't find me, feel me, smell me, or taste me, although I'd certainly get a kick out of it if you tried that last one."  The voice giggled.  It was feminine, young, and strong.  "Don't tell Dad I said that, he's always so straight-laced and melodramatic.  Or Mom, she'd tease me for it."  It paused.  "You can call me, 'Sparta', for this is not madness.  Or you can call me 'Alice', because I've been to wonderland and back."  Salvia wasn't sure if she believed the first one, but was quite sure she did believe the second.  
"Who are you really?"
"Right now, a glimmer in my parent's eyes.  But soon, a person.  A person you'll meet in fact.    Look, just now you did, isn't that wonderful?  We've finally met."   A peel of laughter echoed about the room, seeming to come from the walls themselves.  
"I need to sleep, this is making me crazy."
"I'm sorry, Astral Projection is new to me and I'm afraid the non-corporeality is making me somewhat giddy.  Well, more giddy than usual anyways.  I'm here to deliver a message."
"Can it wait, I really just want to go forget this ever happened."
"Always so serious, alright then.  The message is for Katherine Immersfeld."
"Who?  I don't know a Katherine Immersfeld."
"You'll meet her on Stormguarde, that's why I'm giving you the message now.  'You've been spared death so that a lesson might be taught.  Seek out the daughter of shadow and light, the child of priest and witch, and the heirs of life, the universe, and everything.  Let you who possess the knowledge of ages share it with those that are to follow, and mourn not your innocence, but be willing to give all in protection of these your wards.'  She says she'll understand.  Something about a book she read once, she kind of muttered about the title 'something pedia' or whatever.  I'll see you in a bit Sals, toodles!"
The silence was only slightly less disturbing than what had proceeded it.

The next morning found her still on the observation deck.  It wasn't as though she especially disliked her room, although it did bother her for some reason, but the observation deck just had such a lovely view.  That and she'd been a bit too bothered to move after her encounter.  Prophecy was part of the coven's training program, and she'd definitely received one last night.
"We're getting ready to land.  Stormguarde awaits."
"Do you know of a Katherine Immersfeld?  You seem familiar with the powers that be, so I thought you might."
Braga paused and stroked his beard.  The fact that Ga-Vok were naturally furry made it more difficult to notice, but he actually had a fairly decent beard, considering.  It was clear that he knew a great deal on the matter of great and ancient people, which only made it more difficult to remember the right one.
"Yes.  She was the Princess.  Daughter of Thalia Immersfeld, and a rather capable villainous in her own right.    She left mysteriously a few centuries before the Frostbourne war, had a fight with her mother about...something.  No one ever talked about her after that, but you can catch the Gravagans talking about her some times.  All trace of her sort of drops off after that.  The war put an end to life as they'd known it.  Thalia was dead, and there still hasn't been a succesor.  There are rumors that she had other children; a son who runs a library that no one has heard of, a daughter who had been building all the devices for her, and another who'd signed up with Arcania during the war.  There's even a rumor that Old Cloak was her consort, but nothing verifiable.  Why do you ask?"
"I had a...let's call it an inkling.  I think she's on Stormguarde, and I need to talk to her."
"Our priority is talking to the Countess obviously, but if you think there's a chance the lost princess of Gravaga could be here, then we certainly ought to find her.  James and I will accompany Old Cloak to the palace.  You should begin your search in the Gravagan district, they would be the most likely to have noticed her.  Try and join up with us this evening in the palace, I'll explain things to Old Cloak."
"Thank you."
Braga sauntered off towards the door.  Salvia grabbed her cloak and made for the side airlock.  First things first, she had to figure out how to get to the Gravagan district.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Other Witch; The Circumstances Worsen

"Oh yes, nice man."
"Even the monster in the closet was afraid of him, so we figure he must be at least as powerful as Dad."
"What kind of monster fits in a closet?"  James was the only one to say it, but Salvia knew she and Braga felt the same way about that statement.  Mad scientists, yes; but they weren't really supposed to be this particular sort of dysfunctional adult.  Still, the news that Krell had made it off world, and encountered this couple, and apparently was familiar enough with them to have been one of the handful of people aware of their pregnancy, was quite welcome to her.
"James, if I encounter a monster in a closet, I'll answer that question.  Until then we're both just going to have to suspend our disbelief."
"He and Rea were headed to Stormguarde last we heard.  They haven't been back since."
"And then when that sorceress showed up, we decided to wait things out here.  I doubt they even know there's a problem."
Hack brushed Salvia's question aside as he stepped to the front of the group.  "You mentioned her in your message.  What do you know of this sorceress?"
They both shrugged.  "She was wearing the crown, came down to the elevator and told Sharon she was in charge.  Sharon came downstairs and told us we should go somewhere safe, then she left.  We just reset the portal to come out here."
"You don't think she could be in trouble do you?  Sharon's such a good receptionist, never lets anyone in without a proper warning."  Despite her being mad and all, the concern Cyssie was showing for her employee seemed honest.  It was more than could be said for some, or even most, of the mad scientist's Salvia had met.
Hack bowed his head and thumbed the handle of his sword.  He considered the situation with the same stoic patience that he regarded all situations.  "I think that Gravaga is in great danger.  I am glad that Sharon has fulfilled her duties with such dedication and selflessness, she served House Immersfeld well for many years.  It would be a pity if an ill fate were to befall her."  He turned to face Salvia, Braga, and James.  "It is worse than I thought.  Our enemy already wears the crown, she has claimed the throne and cast the Gravagan people into disarray.  Some will follow her as their ruler, others will stay loyal to their creator.  Still others will use this situation to wrest autonomy from the Empire proper.  There is no telling what horrors could occur if this is allowed to continue.  We must consult with the Countess of Stormguarde, the Warring Emperors, the Alpha, the R'abuut Council, and the Earl of Star Haven.  If we are to wrest the control of Gravaga from one who wears the Dark Crown, then we shall need the strength of nations."
Salvia shuddered to think of what magics must be in the crown to make it so powerful.  She had always been told, by Father Krell as often as not, that there was no force as strong as Gravaga at war.  Not since the Frostbourne war had any army been marshaled to meet it in battle, and even the unrelenting dead that Arcania's Lych had set against it had only broken against the might of Thalia's armies.  But to marshal the army of even one of the nations Hack now sought would be an act of Mythic proportions, to say nothing of uniting the Warring Emperors.  Theodisus the fourth of Seclora had spent all hundred years of his reign trying to exterminate the plague-touched Nielda of the Old Empire.  And Toln the first, only recently coronated, had served on the front lines since he was old enough to wield a sword.  Neither would welcome the prospect of cooperation.  The others would be a little easier, but none of them could field as large of armies as those of the Nieldic Empires.
"The 'R'Abuut' council?  So that's like, a council of rabbits or what?"  Again, James's caustic insight reared its head.
"Yes," Braga replied, stepping in before the others could respond, "The R'abuut council, or as properly translated 'Clerical and Religious Governance council', is the supreme leadership of the Harakai people.  It takes the form of a semi-democratic Presbytery, using religious officials in place of political ones.  The Harakai operate on a form of Theocracy, rooting in..."  Salvia tuned out when she realized Braga was about to deliver a lecture on Harakai history and politics.  Clearly he was missing the point, that R'abuut sounded suspiciously like 'rabbit', which was basically what the Harakai were once you boiled away the rigorous code of honor and piety, third-party enforced birth control laws, and tradition of meditative martial training.  Since they were basically rabbits, albeit eight foot tall rabbits, their primary assets were a four month gestation period, the ability to consume any and all vegetation, and well practiced self defense techniques ranging from running faster than anyone else to jumping a three-story building.  And that was before you counted their offensive capacities.  Only reason they hadn't taken over the universe a few thousand years ago was a deeply ingrained fear of predatory mammals, such as Ga-Vok.  Most Humans, and many Nielda, found this fact hilarious, on account of a tall Ga-Vok, such as Braga, being eye-level with the bellybutton of your average Harakai.  But such was the way of things.  
Stormguarde and Star Haven would be easy sells, and their troops, though few in number, were heroic in strength.  What was more important was that both had long standing ties to Gravaga and would have few objections to joining their crusade.  Countess Courtney Yellsdana, besides being rumored to be a bloodline descendant of Count Dracula himself, was a longtime ally and sometime thrall of Thalia Immersfeld.  Earl Hariel of Storm Haven was a hero of the Frostbourne war and was known even now to be dedicated to the well being of the Universe at large.  Both were known to have traveled with Thalia's enemy, the one Braga called 'Old Cloak'.  
The Alpha would be rough though.  The Ga-Vok were never truly at peace, and sending an army abroad would place not only his people but his hold on the confederacy at great risk.  Alpha's ruled through strength, physical strength more often than not, and if he committed to many forces abroad he would not have the strength to fight off attempts to take his...Whatever the Ga-Vok equivalent to a thrown was called.  James probably would have called it 'the warm spot by the fire and the spot at the end of the bed', and honestly Salvia wasn't sure that it wasn't.  If Braga's tastes were any indication, Ga-Vok really did like those things, even if there were chairs and whole beds to rest on.  
In any case, they had quite a road ahead of them.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Other Witch; Mad Science

The inside of the castle was a perfect reflection of its outside.  Entire walls had been blown out, leaving individual stones hanging in midair and piles of them scattered along the walls.  The lights were dim, and all seemed to be in a different room of the castle, or very high above them.  And to round out the affect, there were random bolts of lightning that streaked across the hall.  She couldn't tell if they were from outside or inside of the building, and she was starting to wonder if the ones from outside were also from inside of the building.  Lightning generators were standard equipment in mad scientist's lairs anyhow, and this was certainly shaping up to be one of the maddest.

"Did that blonde girl call him 'dad'?"  James was visibly uncomfortable, shivering periodically and glancing around at every sound louder than a whisper.  Still, this was his first mad scientist's lair, and he was fairing better than she had in hers.  Of course, these were a much nicer sort of mad scientist; hers had greeted her with zombies.
"I believe so.  I knew that Old Cloak had a family, but I was not aware that any had taken up this...Lohm'nekt."  It was a high Nieldic phrase, Braga pronounced it fairly well, but dragged out the 'O' a bit and clearly found the 'EK' difficult.  The closest translation was 'mad science', but it was more like 'creative madness' or 'psychopathic experimentation', with a bit of 'things that us decent, reasonable people know better than to meddle with'.  Although many of the most useful things in the universe had been invented by such people, they had rarely done so on purpose, and fewer still actually made a profit on them.  Mad scientists were notoriously bad at merchandising.
That said, there was that one guy who'd built a media manipulator and found all his other inventions spontaneously advertised on every third channel.  He was regarded by most mad scientists as a failure, and most corporations as a genius.  None of this had saved him from the John, the disgruntled newscaster from channel 7 and his trusty sidekick, Stabby the kid.
"She seems nice enough.  And so does her, erhm, are you her lab assistant or her boyfriend?"
The man with the skunk striped hair pushed open what was left of a grand wooden door and held it open for them.  "Husband actually.  And I'm a well respected Mad scientist in my own right, thank you very much.  As it so happens this is my castle."
"Sorry, its just that you seemed so much more.."
"Sane?  Yes, I get that a lot.  People have been mistaking me for a lab assistant most of my life.  But then again, most people assume my wife is ditzy and manic, rather than recognize her for the mad genius she truly is.  So we've learned to ignore the insinuations of others and focus on our work."
Salvia spotted the large wooden operating table and vast, impressive array of Tesla coils and Jacob's ladders, none of which were attached to anything or served any purpose.  It didn't take a genius to realize what 'our work' was.  It was really only a wonder she hadn't figured it out from the lightning alone.  James, on the other hand, had less experience with either mad science or the arcane arts.
"So, what exactly is this work of yours?"
There was a dramatic flourish, the table spun around to face them, and the blonde woman vanished from Hack's side to pull off the heavy brown cover from the inevitable experiment.
"We're building a superior...Cyssie, where's my flesh golem?"
"Oh, he wandered off a few hours ago so I decided to use the table to hold up the framework of my Hyper-Crib while I installed the repulsor field emitter and the education subsonic pulser."
"Oh Cyssie, you should have said something!"  Salvia braced herself for the row of the century.  "I'd been waiting to put the Harmonic Lullabizer in until you'd gotten the subsonic pulser installed.  I've been waiting to use this for a Harakai's age!"
"Is that a..crib?"
Salvia was still stunned that they weren't fighting, or bothered by the absence of Flesh Golem.  But she managed a feeble "I wouldn't put a child in it, if that's what you're asking"
"Is it just me, or is there a Flesh Golem loose in Transylvania, and the people responsible are completely unaware of it?"
"Wait."  Hack motioned for them to hold.  "Cyssie, is there something I should know?"
The two mad scientists looked at each other, pausing their semi scientific banter to do so.  Then they looked back at Hack and grinned.  "Cyssie's pregnant, we're having twins."  Said the skunk striped scientist.
Hack sat down on a nearby pile of rubble.  "Who else knows?"
"Rea of course, and Krell; Arcania's known since the first morning.  We've been keeping it quiet."
Salvia perked up as she heard a familiar name.
"Did you just say you know Father Krell?"

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Other Witch; In Transylvania

"So let me get this straight.  We're going to walk up the hill to the scary castle with the constant lightning strikes, which the villagers have warned us 'don't go there' and make the sign of the cross in the general direction of every time they mention it, so we can learn more about the threat you've assembled the three of us to face."
Hack didn't even bother to dignify Salvia's comment with a response.  In fact, there was no evidence he'd even heard her, and the amount of progress he'd made towards the fore-mentioned spooky castle indicated that he likely hadn't even tried.  She looked at Braga, who, ever the stoic, simply shouldered his axe and followed.  A glance over at James at least merited a response.
"Hey, I'm with you.  Man wants to go up to the scary-%^& castle with only one entrance and a bad reputation, that sounds like a personal problem to me.  But I'm certainly not staying in this pile of #$@! town on my own either.  Soon enough they're going to start trying to sell me on some watered down...whatever they call booze here, and then try to seduce me or something.  And much as I like that idea, I'd also like to wake up alive, sane, and in possession of my wallet.  That doesn't seem likely here."
Salvia looked around for a moment.  Admittedly, Transylvania wasn't exactly the way books had always shown it.  The streets were cleaner and less made of dirt.  The villagers were more snappily dressed.  The churches were...more or less equally old, but somewhat less used.  And she'd already spotted three werewolves and a vampire wandering around, but none of them were locals, the werewolves were history students from the Arcane Academy and the vampire seemed like a tourist, complete with Hawaiian print shirt and sandals worn over socks.  It seemed odd that a resident of the Svelheim Nebula would choose to wear what was officially deemed 'the most garish look in all fashion', but it did make the excessive sunblock and pasty complexion seem less suspicious, by nature of already being blatantly out of place.
In fact, the most suspicious looking thing in the town was probably her.  Braga, likely through use of magic, had been more or less ignored by the locals, despite his small stature, large axe, and the fact that he was essentially a bipedal canine.  Hack seemed to have a mystic ability to be ignored by anyone he didn't want to draw the attention of.  And James was perfectly normal, and would have been no less normal in nearly eighty percent of the known universe.  Humanity was a natural camouflage.  Salvia, with her black dress and Nieldic height, stood out in a crowd.  It was mostly the height.  She hoped it was the height.  If it was the dress then she'd have to burn it, or something within sight of it certainly.  
"I just wanted to tell you that you have an excellent...I mean to say, your dress is most..."
"Just say it."
"Will you go out with me?"
"No.  What was that about my dress?"  But he just sort of muttered an apology and walked off.  Salvia turned and saw that James had started to follow the other two up the castle.  She quickly followed suit.  

The castle was every bit as spooky as it had seemed from the town.  For starters, it had a permanent thunderstorm hanging overhead.  Lightning occurred frequently enough to prove to her that it was magical in nature, and the rain came down at a steady pace at all times.  This lead to it being perpetually dark around the castle, and was likely responsible for the level of erosion the surrounding mountain had undergone.  The bridge leading to the castle from the road was old, probably older than any of the local towns, and far older than any of the planet's scientists would be able to accurately tell.  If they tried though, they'd probably say it was about four, maybe five hundred years old.  They'd also say it was a miracle it was still there, and also how was there still a thunderstorm over only the castle, and had it ever not been there?  
It was rumored to have been the castle of Vlad Teppes, which was why the vampire tourist was in town.  This wasn't true, and most Nielda knew this.  Vlad was actually from a remote part of Armenia, and only lived in Transylvania later, when he was visiting some female friends of his.  Vlad's real castle was on Tara, where people didn't ask questions, the weather didn't require magic to always be like this, and nobody thought of vampire as a reason not to attend your neighbor's masquerade.  The Lycan nobility of Tara considered terror to be a natural part of life, and the Taran peasantry had learned not to have windows, not to talking to strangers, and not to cheat on their taxes.  Vlad liked those qualities in peasants, but like most Taran nobles he'd preferred Gascan women.  It seemed the locals here would have agreed.  
"It's Friday.  I'm here for dinner."  Even Braga was confused by the coarse greeting.  
"Is that how you say hello in your land?"
"No, that's rude in any culture."
"We bare our throats and request a place at the host's table for the night, but even by our standards stating the day and our desire to be fed is considered impolite."  Braga shared freely.  Salvia wondered to herself if there was a more polite way of saying it even by Ga-Vok standards.  
"So is it the fact that he stated the day or that he stated he was hungry the part that was more rude?"
"The day, it implies that the occupant is a fool and cannot manage his own sense of time."
"I think its just the general attitude that's rude."
The door creaked open ominously, accompanied by a crack of what was probably thunder.  An unrelated flash of lightning revealed a figure coming towards the door at breakneck speed, and before the next flash of lightning a tremendous force struck them all.  Salvia had never witnessed so much power at once, and went for her weapon on base instinct.  But she couldn't reach it fast enough to react to the newcomer.  A tan-gold flash struck Hack full in the chest and bore him to the middle of the bridge before coming to a halt.  Braga planted his axe in front of the ground Hack had stood upon but a moment before, and then glanced back to where he lay now.  Salvia spun and assumed a defensive stance, fan spread wide and a hand at the ornate pistol on her hip.  
"So you guys must be his new party?  Come in, I've been expecting you guys."  The voice was calm, troublesomely so for the occupant of so obviously evil and terrifying a castle.  Salvia spun to deflect any potential attacks from this new entity and was met by a tall, rather handsome man.  He wore a white labcoat and had a streak of white running through his otherwise black hair.  Both were oily, bloody, and yet in no particular state of damage or decay, although he seemed to have inadvertently sewn two of his fingers together, with several other pieces of flesh attached to them which were decidedly not his.  
"Hi Dad!  I made food, built a auto-cradle, and Igor lost his flesh golem again, want to see the scars?"  The voice from behind them was every bit as troublesome, yet every bit as strangely nonthreatening.  She seemed sweet, innocent, and endowed with an overabundance of enthusiasm.  There was only one possible conclusion, and she wasn't sure what it was.  James on the other hand, seemed pretty certain of it.  
"Tell me more about this 'coming inside', and also of 'food'?  This idea of 'food' intrigues me.  Is it perhaps accompanied by sitting, and not being rained on?"

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Other Witch; Training

Hack had said simply 'show him how to fight' over dinner the previous night.  Neither Braga nor Salvia had any interest, and only minimal experience, teaching anyone how to fight, much less a human thief who had thus far only managed to insult the former and disgust the latter.  So they'd settled it the way Ga-Vok and Nielda traditionally settled important discussions, mixed martial arts competition, best two out of three doesn't have to do it.
Now, after spending three days recovering from her injuries, Salvia was preparing to show the young twerp how to hold a sword.  She'd have sooner gone another round with Braga.
"Its very simple, pointy end faces away from you, pointy end goes into the other guy."
"I've seen movies, I know how to hold a sword."
"Great, then you've already got lots of bad habits and no idea what its like to hold an actual sword.  Pick up the sword, then try and stab me with it."
He looked at her like she was some sort of talking tomato.  Admittedly, considering the angle of his gaze, he thought she was a well endowed talking tomato, but a talking tomato none-the-less.
"The safety is on in here, that's not a real sword.  It's a holo-repulsor representation of a real sword that can, at worst, cause indigestion.  Usually, it just goes through me and the computer counts coup.  My weapons are the same, only I've got the safety turned a little lower for my weapon."
A very scary, but no less attractive, talking tomato.
"You'll learn to dodge the easy way, by being afraid of pain.  Just like the rest of us did."  This wasn't true, Father Krell had used telepathy to hurl paint-soaked cotton balls at her, and counted on her deep and abiding hatred of being dirty to teach her the same basic lesson.  Traditionally, Ga-Vok and Jaguan's both learned to dodge by being forced to run obstacle courses with very tight spaces, dodging around them was the only way to do it in the alloted time, and failure resulted in social shame.  Harakai preferred slow motion training, letting you grow accustomed to the actions until you could dodge anything from a feather to a sniper's shot.  Gravagan's didn't dodge.  When it came down to it only Nielda, the Seclorans were particularly brutal about it, and humans used pain as a motivator.
"Can't we just do this in slow motivation and gradually increase the speed until I'm good enough to do it properly?"
"That assumes I don't want to cause you pain,"
"Just stab me already."
He grabbed the sword and immediately charged her.  Maybe he'd meant to take her off guard, and most people probably would have been, but she'd had a few people try this on her before.  He made a wide, horizontal slash at her, which she didn't even bother to block.  Salvia stepped inside of the arcing blade and delivered a sucker punch with the butt of her own sword.  His sword went flying out of his hand and he collapsed.
"Hold onto your sword next time, then at least you can cut at my legs."
"That was harsh, don't you think?"  Braga came into the room and keyed in his weapon.  He'd opted for a standard quarterstaff, an excellent training weapon, as it allowed for effective blocking and a variety of attack angles.
"What, are you going to gang up on me now?"  The human had better endurance than she'd anticipated, he'd managed to crawl to his knees and was now leaning on his sword.  "Real sporting you are."
"More sporting than our enemies will be.  You think us harsh, but you have not seen what evil looks like."
"You shouldn't be so quick to judge.  I know what evil looks like; evil is a man who'll sell anything for profit. Evil is someone who'll kill a boy's father before his eyes.  Evil is a society that'll leave an orphan to fend for himself in the streets with nothing but snipes and gutter folk for company.  Trust me, I know what evil is."
Salvia had to catch herself.  She had judged him too quickly.  She'd written him off as just another human, and not even considered that he had his own life and his own story.  And now she knew that they had at least some common ground, and he hadn't had the benefit of Father Krell's guidance.  Braga didn't seem to have been affected by his words, but he hadn't felt anything more than a bit insulted to begin with.
"What's your name?"
"James, about time somebody asked.  You drag me to your ship, hand me a sword, tell me I'm supposed to help you fight some evil, and then punch me in the kidney.  Least you could do is ask a man his name."
"I'm sorry James.  Truth be told, we don't know what evil we're supposed to be fighting either.  We joined a bit more willingly, and nobody punched us in the kidney, but we're all in the dark here.  I signed up because I'm looking for a man who went missing and Hack says we'll run into him.  Braga signed up because he recognized Hack from a TV show that went off the air thousands of years ago.  But you didn't get a choice, you probably never have."
James was quiet for a moment, "I got over that a long time ago.  Why are you both willing to follow him over so little?  What if he's lying to you?"
"Old Cloak is the Harbringer of Adventure.  To travel with him is the opportunity of a life time."
"All the evidence I'd found when I met him told me that the man I'm looking for is beyond the knowledge of mortals, Hack doesn't strike me as mortal.  Its not as though immortals are a vast organization, they basically all know of each other.  He says he knows, I can't prove otherwise, so I go along with it.  Braga seems fairly confident, and I trust him."
"And that's good enough for you both?"
"No, but I don't know a better way."
James poked her in the knee with his sword.  "Stab.  I win.  What do I win?"
"Proper safety protocols and slow motion drills.  And if we ever get one, an explanation."
"Sounds like I hit it big, You'll have to come up with something really special if you need to reward me again."  He smiled roguishly and she started wondering if he'd really been all that hurt in the first place.
"Not even in your dreams."
"You just try to stop me."
Salvia teleported in front of him, a bit closer than she'd intended actually, and poked his forhead.  "Any time you dream of me, you will wake up on the sight of any skin you've not actually seen."  She pulled her finger back and continued, "Don't tempt a witch."  Then she left as gracefully as she could.  Curses tended to leave one weak in the knees.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Other Witch; Cultural Differences

"So this is your ship, huh?"  The thief had made no attempt to escape after Hack had arrived, and was still compliantly following as they neared his vessel.  "Don't recognize the make, what part of the galaxy did you say you were from?"
Braga and Salvia both stifled the urges to either tell him they hadn't said, or laugh at the sheer stereotypical nature of the comment.  It was a line uttered thousands of times by the same few dozen stock human characters in movies and television they'd grown up watching.  Or that Salvia had grown up watching certainly, she couldn't really speak to Ga-Vok media presentations of humans.  He did seem to display similar ideas about the situation though, a slight wag being especially indicative.  Hack, on the other hand, seemed determined to play out the conversation.  
"We didn't, but it will become clear in time."
"Ooh, mister mysterious, the mysterious man, won't say where he's from."
"The name of my birth-world is unpronounceable in your tongue."
"I'm from Gasca, If you've heard of it you're better informed than I thought."
"I hear the women there are beautiful."  He winked.  Salvia rolled her eyes and looked over at Braga.  His ear twitched, maybe it was just a twitch, but she felt her mental groan echoed in it.  "'course, I'm not certain whether you're a female or even how I would tell.  Do you just know, or is there some more measurable quality?"  The thief still seemed bothered by Braga, but less in fear as in outright disregard now.  She'd have loved to call it a human trait, but she'd met plenty of Nielda who felt that way too, and brought some of them to justice, of one form or another, on occasion.  But humans were definitely unique in that they were one of the only species to do so internally based on minor genetic traits.  Part of that was simply the number of variations within humanity, no other species had the same level of internal variance.  Part of it was just that humans had a much smaller concept of locality than most races, and their 'not us' classification rarely made it off-world.  A Ga-Vok would consider any member of their own clan, family; where a human would consider only parents, spouses, siblings, and children to be that same level of family.  Ga-Vok might fight between clans, but it was like a rivalry between the fans of two competing sports teams, only better armed and less expensive.  
Nielda had only one such quarrel, and that was between the old Empire and the newer, Secloran one.  It was more bitter than any human rivalry, and flared up every generation or so.  The Seclorans had set themselves up as 'protectors of the universe' and insisted that the other major powers not set to their normal behaviors, the periodic border skirmishes between the Empire and the Ga-Vok (nothing harsh, or even deadly, just a war game out of hand or a dispute between civilians escalating), Harakai heretics seeking shelter in foreign lands (always friendly, heretics were usually trying to destroy some part of the universe anyways), or the regular extermination of human worlds for fun and profit (Even the Harakai didn't try to write that one off, everyone knew that humans had the potential to become greater than every other race in the universe if they tried.  Killing them wasn't just good business, it was downright necessary for the good of every non-human in the universe.  Everyone still taught the shade invasion in schools, and even if no human remembered  it, everyone else had seen what they did in the Frostbourne War.)  But that didn't fly with the Seclorans, and so they'd started a war.  And it escalated.  Then there was peace, but obviously that didn't last.  And the cycle continued.  Only the Gravagan's were exempt, and only because they were an immortal race of super-soldiers designed by an ultra-powerful necromancer with an ego matched only by power.  Nobody was stupid enough to get them involved.  Usually.
"I am male.  But I doubt you would be able to tell if I were not.  If you're truly interested in the anatomy of my species, read a book!"
Salvia conjured up a book and passed it to him.  "I bookmarked the relevant pages and provided helpful notes on how to not get on the bad side of creatures more voracious than you.  I'd pay close attention to the part about asking rude questions of creatures carrying weapons longer than your forearm, its highly relevant to your situation."  Salvia ducked down the corridor leading to her room.  "I'll be in my room, it has a lock.  Before you try picking it to see what I've got that's worth stealing, read the part about taking things that belong to witches, its a doozy."
Braga let out a snort of laughter and headed off towards his own room, leaving the thief in the middle of the hallway alone.  Hack peered out from the cockpit and in a surprisingly clear, yet quiet voice stated simply, "Read the chapter called 'how to recognize when the powerful sorceress you're talking to wants you for you, for your body, or just for a human sacrifice' You're going to need it."  

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Other Witch; The Thief

On a Nieldic world, being identifiable as a witch made you all but untouchable.  That was why she'd stitched a spider web onto all of her outfits, to make sure people knew.  There were other ways, but fewer people knew of them so the effect was less pronounced.  The spell-fan she carried, for instance, marked her as a witch errant, one of the coven's troubleshooters and messengers.  She also had a magical tattoo that would show no matter how badly her body was damaged, and which would linger as a part of the magical aura left if her body was destroyed by any means; enabling other witches to identify her or her body if she were ever lost.
Of course, Humans had no knowledge of such symbolism, or even of the reality of witchcraft.  To most it was no more than a myth, at best.  Which made it unsurprising when one of them attempted to slip off with her wallet.
Hack had stopped and was leaning against the wall of a street so low that above them was only more streets, and the air was a light smog.  Magic was heavier here than in the city above, but still less dense than in even a Nieldic sewer.  It was enough to produce minor magic users and even to sustain an artifact for a few centuries of dormancy, but not enough for either to flourish.
Braga caught the thief before his hand could leave her pocket.  At first she thought she was being assaulted, but her companion's intimidating snarl told her it was not so dire.
"Keep your hands on your belongings, and your hands will remain your belongings."
"I wasn't doing nothin! I swear.  Lady, tell your dog to let go of me?"
Salvia glanced towards Hack as she swiveled to face the miscreant, and saw that he'd slipped off.  She took this as a sign that they'd found their man.
"He's not mine, nor is he a dog.  Braga is a member of a proud people, and if you want him to let go, a little respect would hardly be out of order."
Braga snorted, then nodded aggressively.  Salvia quickly reminded herself that the canine race bared their throats much as other races bowed, and that nodding as he did was much the equivalent of looking down his nose at the poor, or so he appeared certainly, man.
"Whatever, dog-person then, just tell him to let go of me."  He was wringing at his own arm in an attempt to free it from Braga's claws.  It was a waste of time, if he did get his hand free Braga would just grab him by the neck.  Compared to her Nieldic stature Braga was small, but he wasn't so much shorter than this human that he couldn't lift him off the ground if he wanted to.  And all of that assumed Braga wanted him alive, which the man really didn't have any way of knowing.  Salvia felt fairly certain of it; Braga was at least as quick on the uptake as she was, so he'd most likely picked up the same hints from Hack's disappearance as she had.
"Did you know that Ga-Vok have a consumption instinct stronger than the human mating drive?  He basically thinks about eating more often than you think about sex.  And Ga-Vok are also the only species in the known universe to have developed a method for safely eating Nielda, a drop of whose blood can strip flesh from bone in a matter of minutes.  Do you really want to keep calling him 'dog'?"  She'd embellished two of those three facts.  Ga-Vok were actually more interested in hunting than in eating, and Nieldic blood actually took several days to strip flesh from bone, it was simply near impossible to remove once it had begun.  She had not been kidding about their knowing how to properly consume a Nielda; it was one of the facts heralded in primary school as an achievement of the Empire's long time ally's ingenuity and persistence.  Given enough time, a Ga-Vok would figure out how to eat anything.  They wouldn't eat anything, but they certainly know how.
The man stopped and looked at Braga for a moment.  Braga smiled.  It didn't require her explaining the gesture to the poor man for him to realize this was not a nice thing, the sharp fangs did all the explaining anyone needed.
"Please don't eat me?"
Braga let go.  "You didn't have to be so hard on him Salvia, the poor man would have wet himself if he had any digested liquids in him."  The man began to scurry off, but Salvia caught him by the shirt.
"Did we say you could leave?  Among other things, I still want my wallet back."
"What, this?  I just found it on the street."
"You won't deceive them, Alan.  Salvia and Braga are already accomplished in their own right, they've faced down men who could make you quake in fear with a mere whisper."  Hack had walked up in front of the thief and was now addressing him directly.  "But I can teach you to use your talents for greater ends, if you desire.  Follow us, and you will pick the pockets of beings you could not dream of in your wildest fantasies."
"And you won't eat me?"
Salvia couldn't tell what Hack saw in him, but then again the companions of Old Cloak had never been normal by the time he was done with them.  Not in the old tales anyways.  If there was anything you learned as a witch, it was that people always surprised you.
She just hoped it was a good sort of surprise.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Other Witch; A Gray World

It was a little gray world.  Salvia had learned to expect a few things of gray worlds over the years.  The first was that they rarely believed in magic, even if you used it on them.  The second was that the traffic was horrible.  And lastly, any hotel worth staying at cost twice what it would anywhere else.
And there were never taverns.  Planet-wide cities rarely had the sort of adventurous atmosphere it took to support a decent tavern.  Bars, cantinas, and if you knew where to look, diners filled the same mundane purposes that a tavern would elsewhere, but the social and higher roles simply didn't exist.  A good diner or the right sort of bar could handle some of the social roles, but odds were you wouldn't be welcomed into the local group even if you found the place.  But besides that disadvantage planet-cities were just downright unpleasant.  They smelled bad, were always corrupt, and the population was almost always human dominant.  If they weren't human, it was because some minor alien race had lacked the common sense to keep their planet's environment self-sustainable.  Planets like this were monuments to arrogance, ignorance, and excess.  The Nielda had only two planets even close to being like these, Rhinsla and Mejjan, and even they could mount the agriculture to sustain their populations if need be.  But a gray world was one without any natural surface visible from space; even the oceans had been built over.  Many of their inhabitants wouldn't have known grass if they'd fallen into it.
"A gray world?  What good would a grayworlder be in an adventure?  They're all smooth talking, pale-blooded, thick-legged fools."
"We need someone who can move unseen.  There is a man in the depths who can do so.  We are going to find him."
"I expect that one who can move unseen will present a particular challenge in tracking down."
"To most, but not to those who do not rely on mere sight.  The two of you should have little difficulty in spotting him."

The ship set down in what Salvia could already tell was a bad neighborhood.  For starters, the smell was even worse than she'd anticipated.  Braga wrinkled his nose and made a series of sounds that could have as easily been an allergic reaction as a curse, though she suspected it was the latter.
Hack wasted no time in heading off into the depths of the city, moving through the crowd like it were a maze rather than simply a lot of oblivious, uninterested people.  Salvia resisted the urge to create a sphere of force or similarly force the crowd apart before her, Although Braga's presence, and that of his great-axe, certainly seemed to have the desired effect.  Even though he was shorter than the average human, the reputation of his species was such that even here, deep in human space, he was perceived as the most dangerous thing on the streets.
Salvia glanced about, observing the patterns of life around her.  It was mundane, more mundane than any Nieldic world she'd ever visited.  Even where she could see a hint of magic it was nothing more than a lingering aura from a long past battle or powerful artifact having passed by.  Technology was everywhere, street lights and flying cars abounded in an environment such as this, as did the vermin creatures, flies, rodents, snipes of all varieties, and, of course, pigeons.  The sewer's were out of sight and out of mind for the locals, but for a proper, cleanly Nielda like herself, it was downright foul.  She could only imagine how Braga must have felt.

"How do the human's deal with this filth?  It smells like snipe mating season, a pile of manure, and an amateur alchemist's lab all at once.  And those clouds?  That's all steam, smoke, or worse.  That street?  Its gum, bodily fluids, and a nearly infinite number of bacterial colonies that will likely gain sentience before anyone gets around to cleaning this place."
Salvia felt a sudden intense need to bathe, in fire.  "And people hold it against us that we like to slag gray worlds for resources whenever a real war breaks out, I'd say we're doing people a favor by forcing them to move out of this filth."
Braga chortled, "My people have never held that against yours.  It is a practical solution, and a functioning Imperial battleship is cleaner of both body and soul than is, I suspect, any inch of this planet."  He coughed.  "And they certainly smell better."
Salvia pulled him into a side alley and muttered a chant to clear his senses.  Not fully of course, but it would remove the persistent background that all senses were aware of, the color of streets and the sound of stranger's conversations, that sort of thing.  For a Ga-Vok it removed the smells that permeated the surroundings and left only those of people and their belongings, the weather, and anything else they might focus upon.  In someways it was dangerous, but in a place like this where he could barely move for the overwhelming sensations it would give him the clearness of life that he was accustomed to.
"Thank you, madam Hex."
"Just Salvia will do.  Hex is as much a title as a name anyways."
"Well then thank you, Salvia.  I should be of much more use now."  He sniffed at the air again.  "I believe I was wrong before, the bacteria may already be sentient."
"That's disgusting.  Do you smell Hack?"
He nodded.  "Old Cloak is below us, two levels.  There is a diner, I believe we should meet him there."

The Other Witch; Past and Presence

Mostly, the voyage was quiet.  Hack, as Salvia still chose to think of him despite the implications that Braga seemed to have made about his true nature, stayed in the cockpit, locked, for most of the trip.  Since she only saw him at meals, it may as well have been the whole trip, but she sort of assumed he also used the rest room once or twice.  Braga seemed to be determined to learn every inch of the ship, and probably knew as much by the end of the first day as Salvia knew about every starship in existence.  He was, especially by the standards of the notoriously non-intellectually inclined Ga-Vok, brilliant.  It didn't seem to bother him that Hack didn't show himself except at meals, in fact he seemed to have anticipated it.  Any time he had any sort of question, he'd scamper off to the kitchen and start cooking.  He was rather good at it too.
Salvia had set to composing a letter to the Coven, explaining her findings and activities so that they wouldn't come looking for her.  Between edits and rewrites of her letter, she meditated, prayed, and practiced some of her less dangerous magic in the gymnasium.  She found herself thinking of her first magic instructor, the very priest she was now looking for, Father Krell.  He'd taken her in off the streets when she was scarcely five.  She couldn't remember much from then; lots of fire, loud noises, people screaming.  Her mother had been tall, she remembered that much.  Her father wore glasses, and he wasn't home much.  His chin had been itchy, somehow that always stuck with her.  Maybe it was just the contrast between the father who'd never been there when she was little and the Father who had that made her remember it so vividly.  She remembered him kneeling in front of her and saying simply, "Come now, let's get you somewhere safe."
He'd said it three times her whole life.  The day he found her, the day she'd first manifested magic, and her first assignment as a witch; and every time her life had changed.  The first two were obvious, and he'd been there for his own reasons.  He'd never spoken of the day he picked her up off of the rubble, only that he wished he could have done more.  The second time he'd been visiting her at the orphanage, as he had every sunday so he could teach her and offer support.  It had always marked her as special, and she'd gotten picked on a lot by jealous kids.  It wasn't quite the same as having parents, but it still made her feel loved.  Then one kid decided to pull her hair, and she stopped him.  No mage could say that their first time was 'under control' but her intent was certainly expressed clearly.  That was also the first time she'd ever realized what Father Krell was.  He always wore concealing clothing, but the speed he moved with had knocked back his hood.  At first she was scared, then she was just curious.  Most of the Nielda in the Empire were afflicted with the plague, but the plague preserved what it rotted.  Father Krell was a true form, a proper undead.  He'd explained later what had happened, as best he knew, but Salvia was content to know that he was good, and wasn't going to kill her.
The third time she didn't like to think about.

"So you know the good Father?  Nice man, not enough men like that in the world."
Salvia instinctively released the weights from one end of bar and swung the remaining hundred with everything she could muster.  The dark man blocked it with an open palm, and the resulting reverberation shook it from her hand.
"Sorry 'bout that, not used to dealing with people yet.  Haven't really had a serious dialogue with anyone but my Old Friend for...longer than is strictly anyone's concern."
Salvia recovered, although her hand was still twitching uncontrollably, and recognized the man.  He'd been with the Enchanter back on Krove.  Something about him had startled Hack, but other than his ability to teleport onto a moving ship in the middle of subspace, she couldn't tell why.
"What are you doing here?"
"You can't really tell out here, but it's the middle of the day back on Krove.  Honeysuckle is taking a class on one of her field trips, so she asked if I could deliver your weapon."  He presented a good sized medium case, she couldn't tell what kind of wood it was, only that it was very expensive and likely magical.
"Trueshot to make it more accurate, hits where you want it to instead of where you point it, within reason of course.  Variable Element to add versatility, just focus on the desired effect and it'll make it happen.  Bottomless quiver, with a modification to make it automatically reloaded, all you have to do is ready the hammer and pull the trigger, never worry about running out of shots.  Witch's nocturne is a rather potent enchantment, allows your shots to act as though they were silver against Lycanthropes, wooden stakes against vampires, or similarly properly enchanted to deal with whatever your adversary."
"What's that have to do with witch's?  I've never known a witch to be ready for those sorts of things, or even connected to nocturnes.  Most witch's prefer pop and rock to any classical piece."
"It's a really old enchantment.  I don't know who named it, only that i'd have called it sure-kill or 'divine dirge'."
"You didn't know, but you could probably stand to complain of names a bit less.  The last one I did help name; TransAstral summoning.  Even if it has been visibly destroyed, or thrown within the event horizon of a black hole, or otherwise made unusable, you can call it to hand.  And only you can do so."
Handy, Salvia decided not to point out the problems this would create were she to die.  It was unusable by anyone else, but indestructible.  Still, its not as though she planned on dying anyways.
"What do I owe you?"
"Personal favor, don't mention it."
"Well thank you."
"For what?  I haven't told you the favor yet."
"Oh, its just.."  He'd already mentioned he wasn't used to talking to people, and done so in the most suspicion provoking way possible, so she decided to just cut him some slack.  "Go ahead, I'm listening."
"When you meet Father Krell, tell him that Lewiza would want him to be happy.  Tell the Assassin that her mother died well.  And when you meet the Dark Lady, tell her..well played.  She'll know what it means; I doubt the other two will be quite so happy when they hear their news, but it'll do them a lot of good in the long run."
"That's it, pass along personal messages?"
"At our level, that's an epic quest.  Now for you; large red buttons work exactly when they are supposed to, and never sooner."  And then he vanished.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Other Witch; Honor among Wolves

Hack had a nice little ship, there was no questioning it.  Cushiony seating, tinted windows, showers that worked, and most importantly of all, locking doors.  It wasn't as though Salvia was worried they'd do anything, Hack seemed fundamentally above such things and their new found, wolfish friend seemed both highly principled, it was just that she felt safer knowing that the door wouldn't just open for anyone.
But for all that the ship still felt like it was missing something.  She was sitting in the lounge,  looking out across the vacuum of space, pondering the sensation when the answer came to her.
"In all my studies of Old Cloak and his adventures, I always assumed that his ship was..bigger."
Salvia wasn't startled, Ga-Vok didn't have the advantage of retractable claws like Jaguans did.  But even if the floor had been made of dirt or snow she'd have known he was coming.  He hid his thoughts as well as any she'd ever encountered, save Father Krell and Hack, but she could still detect the patterns of it; slow and deliberate as they were.  It was like hearing a chanted hymn as you walked by a church; she didn't know the words, but she certainly knew the tone.
"You've hoped for this moment all your life, haven't you?"
"My people have never been represented well over the ages, and even now it is more likely that a shaman seeks his own power over the good of others.  Old Cloak has always sought out the best of us, and shown our more worthy side to those who would watch.  It is a great honor to travel with him."
"Is that the only reason you chose to come?"
"No, but it would have been enough.  And even were Old Cloak's goals such that they held me back from my own, I would still follow."
Salvia knew she wasn't going to get much more of his goals, but she did feel comforted by the implication that his goals did indeed line up with their current objectives.  She hesitated and then asked one of the other questions that had been on her mind.
"Why do you call him that?"
"Who?  Old Cloak?"
"Yes, when I met him he told me to call him Hack.  I know it isn't his real name but Old Cloak isn't anymore than a name than 'Axe guy' or.."
"Spider Witch?  Cleanhand?  What would you call yourself if your name was what you truly were?  That is why I call him Old Cloak, it is who he is.  He may wear another's cloak, but the burden of his own still weighs heavily upon him."
Salvia looked down and noticed the white, needlepoint spiderweb she emblazoned all of her robes with.  It was really just their to make what was otherwise just a regular, women's medium, black robe look more witchy.
"And what are you?  Ga-Vok philosophy student?"
"Scholar.  I graduated from the Academy some years ago, but have stayed on to use the library and study more advanced techniques with those instructors willing to provide me with their time.  My name is Braga, of  the Blowing Leaves Clan.  And I have not yet earned a," he made a sound like he was sneezing backwards, then a short yowl, Salvia knew only enough Ga-Vok to know it was a word and not an injury.  He paused and continued, seeing her confused expression.  "I believe the closest word you have is 'title'.  It is much more than that, but there is no proper translation of the concept."
"So then, now that I have introduced myself, I believe the traditions of your people..."
"Right," she extended a handshake, politely if hastily, "Salvia Hex, Witch-Errant."
Braga took her hand in his own.  It was rougher, but more padded than that of a man, but she was relieved to find that the claws were far less sharp than they appeared.  "It is an honor to meet you Miss Hex.  You probably are not aware of how much good you have done for my clan."
"I have no recollection of your clan whatsoever, if you'll pardon my ignorance."
"Some years ago you investigated the disappearance of a young whelp named Shano.  Your findings prevented considerable disgrace from falling upon the Blowing Leaves Clan."
"If I remember correctly, Shano was disintegrated by a rather bigoted mage.  How exactly did that prevent disgrace?"
The full case had actually been rather more complex.  She'd only even been involved because his young sister had shown up on the doorstep of the local witch's guild crying hysterically about how her brother had abandoned her, mistaking the covenhouse for a police station.  The attendant witch had begun to panic herself, neither speaking Ga-Vok nor being sure whether to report it to the police or go looking for a fully grown Ga-Vok warrior in the dead of night.  Salvia had been in town, she couldn't quite remember why, only that there had been a lot of pasta sauce, porcupines, and a tribe of very small people who communicated by making clicking noises, and was quickly assigned the case.  After hiring a translator, she'd discovered only where he'd last been and that it was unthinkable for a Ga-Vok to leave a female relative unattended in a strange land, especially a young female relative.  Long story short, rascism, occult activities, she'd had to shoot the mage, and the little Ga-Vok girl turned out to be...Oh, that's where he got the disgrace part from.
"Oh right, cause he was a prince or whatsit?"
"The son of the Chieftan, but you grasp the concept.  Not actually the cause of disgrace though, had he been alive and abandoned his young sister he would have been shirking his duties and casting the values of our people into the gutter.  Instead you displayed that he was honorably defeated by a wielder of power beyond his own."
"He was disintegrated, how is that honorable?"
"He did not forsake his duty, even when it was in his best interest to flee.  It is expected of all warriors, including those of your own people."
"I guess.  Never really cared much for honor myself."
"And yet you are known to my people as a one who possesses it.  Perhaps you will come to know this better in the coming days."  Braga rose and departed.  Salvia turned back to the stars and whispered a prayer that she'd never have to meet an 'honorable death' herself.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Other Witch: The Wolf Under the Tree

What few people ever mentioned when they described the Arcane Academy, was that the only way to get to it was to climb the God-only-knows-how-many-steps to the top.  The enchantments laden upon the Academy prevented all but the most powerful immortals, and school faculty, from teleporting into the grounds.  Now Salvia was a pretty strong witch, not to brag, and she could feel enough loose fibers in the invisible weave that made up the enchantment to know that it had been pierced a few times before, but she could also tell that none of the gaps would have been big enough for her to slip past without considerably more power than she could muster with forty days rest and meditation.
Hack probably possessed the needed power, but he'd given no indication of having any prowess with magic thus far.  Salvia doubted that he had any magical power beyond that of the magical items he carried, and a few ancient wards.  Not to say he was any less for it, she wouldn't have staked her life on a fight with the man.

At the top of the stairs there was a little clearing, a sort of rest stop before further, fewer stairs leading to the school itself.  There were benches, a restroom facility, and a few tall, older trees.  Under one of these trees, towards which Hack was now advancing, was an almost humanoid figure.  Though it was some distance away, she could make out the long muzzle and mottled grey and brown fur of a Ga-Vok.  His ears rose to sharp points, neither sagging nor scarred, a sign of youth and having not been on the bad end of a battle yet.  Since none but students had any cause to be at the top of those god-awful stairs, Salvia felt she could assume it was by prowess that such battle had been avoided.  Physical Combat was a required course at the Academy, or so she'd heard.  There was a book, too small to be a textbook but too hard to be a notebook and thus most likely for his own entertainment, closed in his lap.  Beside him, leaned against the side of the tree, was a great-axe, double bladed and reaching a point on both sides.  Like most weapons of the Ga-Vok, it was etched with scenes of wolves and other symbols that bore no significance to those not of the canine race.
"I expected you to wear your own cloak."  His voice betrayed him as a male, though it was not so readily obvious to her Nieldic ears as would have been the gender of a human speaker.  "After all, how else would one know the face of the bringer of great destinies?"
"It rests on the shoulders of one who needs it more than I, and shall be recovered at such a time when it is no longer needed.  Such is the nature of these things."
"Perhaps you shall tell me further of the nature of things later, Old Cloak.  For now let us focus on the purpose of your visit.  To what adventure is this one called?"
Hack laughed and looked back at Salvia.  "This is why I have always loved the Ga-Vok, nothing is without purpose to them, and they are always so true to the point of things, in their own fashion."  He turned back to the Ga-Vok and continued, "A great threat is rising, and it is of a nature that garners my action.  The crown of Thalia Immersfeld, my ancient foe, is in danger of being stolen by the fell enchantress, Elda, the Maelstrom.  If it were to fall into her hands, even the strongest of immortals could not hope to land a blow against her and all would be helpless in the face of her power."
"Really?  Because I've heard tell of Immortals greater even than the pantheon, assassin's who tread beyond time, and Petra, the Paladin.  You mean to say that even they could not harm her?"  Salvia realized that she was operating on little more than rumors, but rumors about immortals had a bad habit of being true.
"If such immortals were to exist, then yes, even they.  The enchantment upon the crown is unlike any other, Thalia vested the might of the Gravagan race itself in that crown, that it would grow in strength as they grew in number.  It is an enchantment of fortune, and there is only form of power greater.  No blow of sword, no bolt of spellfire, or blast of cannon can strike the wearer, for by some contrivance of circumstance their aim will be thrown.  Even should all the fleets of the universe take aim upon her, they would find their shells both duds and off course, or worse.  It is the sole reason I never defeated her, and I am ashamed I did not keep a closer watch upon it."
The Ga-Vok raised his axe to his shoulder and let the book vanish into slip-space.  He turned to face them and spoke softly, "Well then, Old Cloak, we must be off.  There is little time to waste and I doubt I am the only hero to whom you are extending this call."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Other Witch: The Tavern At Which Adventure Begins

Hack had recovered several hours later, and proceeded directly to the nearest tavern, where he proceeded to buy the strongest drink available, down it without stopping for breath, then buy a round for everyone present proclaiming loudly, "Its finally happened.  I never would have believed it.  I always hoped for it, but I still don't believe it.  Gentlefolk, hell is officially frozen over."

Salvia had woken up the next morning in a room on the tavern's upper floor.  Hack had fallen asleep in the bathtub, and from the looks of things had managed to miraculously not throw up even once.  She found herself wondering if he'd slept their to be gentlemanly, or if he'd just cleaned up after himself.  She couldn't see herself having cleaned up after him, one bad boyfriend back in secondary school had been all the cleaning up after drunks she could handle.
The room was nice; high ceiling, wallpaper that wasn't peeling, and a bed that passed her sanitation test (no living creatures, bacteria, or bodily fluids detectable by magic).  The whole place was well lit, even the closets.  Fixtures in the bathroom were all brass.  Sink, toilet, and tub were fiberglass treated to look like porcelain.  The curtain was an opaque cream color with a pattern of all six of the classical elements of magic.  Normally a place this orderly and clean would have seemed a bit suspicious, but this was Krove.  No doubt the whole place would clean itself once they checked out and could be redecorated on a whim and a will by the owner.
What couldn't be changed was the view.  The window was non-magical, but needed no such enhancement to offer a grand sight.  The Arcane Academy, wrapped around Mount Hadougal, dominated the horizon.  The magics that had become embedded within the school, mountain, and even the very atmosphere of the planet, caused it to be surrounded by a perpetual pocket of prismatic vapors, giving it the appearance of being seen through a rainbow colored fog.  The Academy itself was a collection of sandstone structures, gorgeous gardens, and decidedly dangerous crypts.  During the school year, it was in session currently, students only left the grounds to carouse with the locals or go on questionable field trips with their professors.  Exactly what made these field trips questionable varied from teacher to teacher; the enchanting teacher often took whole classes out to hear obscure legends from distant locals, while several years back their had been a scandal involving the 'field trips' the former healing instructor had taken several female students on.
As Salvia stood admiring the view and reflecting on what it must be like to go to school at the Academy, she heard Hack roll out of bed, metaphorically speaking, and, after attending to his hygiene, he came out into the bedroom.
"I received some interesting news while we were sleeping.  Dire news, the sort that makes me re-plan my year."
"While you were...Are you psychic or something?"
"More of an ability to be more than one place at a time, its complicated, end of discussion.  Point is, I'm putting together a team, and you're on it.  We will most likely still run into your priest, considering the nature of the adventure, so none of your particular plans will be delayed substantially."  He paused a second to let it sink in a little before adding.  "If you've ever seen my adventures, you'll know that they are always worth your while."
"Your adventures?"
"You still don't know who I truly am, do you?  Has it even crossed your mind?"
Before Salvia could collect enough thought to be crossed, Hack pushed open the door and began walking towards the academy.  She followed silently as she began to wonder what sort of adventure she'd never actually quite signed up for.  Whatever it was, the pace was all wrong.  For starters, there still hadn't been a single fight, not even to set tone or establish someone as being powerful.  All she had were a vampire's assurances that the man she traveled with could outmatch an imperial guard as well as she could an angry bunny.  Whatever it was, she hoped they'd find someone who could properly explain what was going on, and soon.