Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Other Witch; At the Frost Queen's Table

"You're the lost princess, and the greatest villain of all time?"
"I'll take that as a no on the sandwich then.  Can we take this to the dining room?  I'm starving."
"I can't see why not."
"Thank you."  She motioned towards a room on the other side of the hallway that Salvia had come in from.  Salvia shuffled out of the way and followed the pale woman into the surprisingly simple dining room.  The table had stains and pencil marks and the chair that Arcania sat down in was clearly loose.  "I was once both of those things, now I'm just me.  I can't say I'm displeased by the change, being a villain is tougher than most people think."
"Well, for the record, you were quite good at it."
"Oh, not the...not that part; that's kind of...personal.  I don't want to talk about that.  I just meant the whole princess thing.  Working with mom and all, being a professional villain."
Whatever her rehabilitation had been, it had been incredibly effective.  Even the feelings she associated with the Frostbourne war were nothing short of terrified.  Salvia could only remember two or three times she'd run into quite that same level of raw fear and..helplessness.  Now that was an interesting thing to associate with a time when one ruled over most of the known universe.  She would have thought that stress or pride would be more likely.  But there it was, Arcania associated the height of her power with utter helplessness, despair, and sheer terror.  Perhaps there was more to this than she'd thought.
"Please, don't empathize me.  Just because you don't know what I think doesn't make it any less reading my mind."
"Oh!  I'm..uhm..I'm sorry about that.  I don't even really think about it."
"Most people wouldn't even notice, I don't blame you.  But I've seen things that even Petra and Rea couldn't imagine, and even if you know how I feel, you can never understand.  You trying to understand why I felt helpless would be like me trying to understand what it's like to be an orphan, or a witch, or mortal.  I may never be able to be any of those things, but I certainly hope the things I've been through remain as alien to you as they are to me."  Salvia realized that while she'd been listening to what Arcania felt, Arcania had probably been able to read through her entire life.  And she'd never even noticed her normally staunch mental defenses breaking.
"Yes, breaking defenses was always one of my strongest suits.  I can teleport almost anywhere in the universe, and I've peered into the minds of stars."
"What was that like?" Salvia suspended her fear at having her mind totally exposed to a mage of power she knew she would never be able to hold herself.  There were a thousand more vulnerable things she could have probed, but she seemed to linger on only the surface thoughts, which seemed rather sporting of her, considering.
"Boring, they're basically just really smug, the nicer ones are happy to provide lifegiving energy, the more cruel ones just like to screw up telecommunications equipment and give people sunburns.  Now cats, cats are interesting.  They're almost all prideful, vain, and selfish; but they're also curious, clever, and intelligent.  Did you know that Cats have been secretly plotting the downfall of sentient life for nearly fourteen millenia?"
"No."  But it did make sense, they were always sitting on important documents, blocking screens, and sleeping at the tops of stairs.
"They'd have probably done it too, except that no two of them can agree on how to do it.  Apparently every cat is taught four things by its mother; how to hunt, how to clean yourself, the inferiority of other races, and the history of cats.  I've actually been comparing accounts of cats from various parts of the universe in an attempt to compile an accurate history."
"Let me guess, none of them agree?"
"No, its just that they're all very dramatic about the strangest things, so they remember the strangest things, or in the strangest ways.  Four hundred  accounts from various bloodlines around the universe; they all agree that the main problem with the Frostbourne war is that nobody turned on the heat for several generations.  Their accounts regarding Dracula were much more productive, 'Pets softly at night' as they call him, was quite a big hit in the feline community, between his nocturnal habits and his tendency to treat them as fellow sentient beings."  Arcania looked around, setting down her sandwich.  "Alright, she's gone now.  What were you here for?"
"There's a message.  It's all wibbly-wobbly when I try to read it, so you must have gotten it from someone who was Astral Projecting.  Since I'm the only one who knows how to do that, I know you got it from someone in the future."
"There was this voice, a girl of some sort I think.  She was kind of excitable, like a Mad scientist or something."
"That'll be Isabella.  She's one of Cyssie's twins.  We've..communed is probably the best word.  What did she have to say?"
"Uhm..you have a purpose.  you're supposed to pass on your knowledge or something?"
"Bugger, Witches are supposed to be great at this sort of thing."  Arcania furrowed her brow.  "Dad's here, isn't he?"
"Is he?"
"Funny cloak, probably got a bunch of unsuspecting people on some crazy adventure he hasn't really explained but could probably be solved really easily if someone just dropped Witch's Nocturne on a pistol and used it on the baddie.  I can tell by that look you're already travelling with him."  Salvia hadn't even been aware she'd been giving a look.  The realization that her new weapon had an enchantment that made adventure as silly and pointless as she'd always thought it was anyways was all the news she needed.  And it also explained the 'Witch' part of the enchantment's name.  Witches and adventure got along like trying to drink from a skull: you ended up with lots of adventure all over your new dress and everyone was left wondering why they'd ever thought it was a good idea to begin with.
"He said to call him Hack.  I just wanted to find Father Krell."
Arcania froze, then smiled.  "You don't know his full name?  Ah well, not going to spoil it for you; with as important as he is to you, he ought to be the one to say it anyhow.  Yes, I know where he is.  Dad probably does too.  Right now he should be at the annual Fashion Awards show with Rea.  They'll be late, but well dressed.  No one will recognize her and they'll end up just getting dinner instead.  Linguine with a Garlic and olive oil sauce, at a little Restaurant she knows just up the street."  She sighed.  "He'll see you when you speak with Hariel.  But you won't see him until you meet with Toln.  I'll be there when you do."  Arcania looked to the door, then checked her wrist, even though there was no watch to be seen.  "Dad'll be here in a bit.  If he asks, we fought, I won and forced you to listen to smooth Jazz while making me delicious sandwiches."
"I don't like jazz."
"Really?  I love it, never the same thing twice and no two people ever do it quite the same way.  Its like listening to someone try and explain why the chicken crossed the road, or build a perpetual motion device."  Arcania spun around, a pair of loose, light manacles appearing over Salvia's hands as she did.  The door swung open and suddenly she could hear Hack's voice.
"..poor kid couldn't apologize fast enough."  Braga and James broke out laughing, and it sounded like there was another man, tall from the sounds of it, and young, as well as a woman.  She sounded strong, exotic, and elegant.
"Hello Old Cloak.   Here to rescue your intrusive witch?"  Arcania's entire tone changed.  Suddenly the casual, intelligent young woman was replaced by a haughty brat who delighted in cruelty and enjoyed anything that could be decorated in lace, including other bits of lace, or barbed wire, especially other bits of barbed wire.
"Yes Old cloak, it is I.  Katherine, Princess of Gravaga!"  There was a purple flash, but with no effect to follow it was clearly nothing more than a flourish.  "Here to thwart you in the name of the..."
"Katherine, there are no cameras this time."
"Oh thank God."  She snapped and the manacles vanished.  "Sorry I made you make me all those sandwiches.  I just assumed he was up to his old tricks again."  Apparently that bit wasn't for the cameras.  Salvia decided to do her best to play along.
"I didn't mind the sandwiches so much.  But was that cacophony really necessary?"
"It's called music, cretin."
"Music is not a weapon Katherine.  And that's not music, music is a set work intended to be performed by a particular array of instruments.  Sorry about that Salvia, Kate is an old nemesis.  I'm sure she didn't mean it personally."
"I'm sure."  She looked up at Arcania and caught a glimpse of ZeeGee winking at her from under the white tresses of hair.  Whatever she'd just done, it must have worked.  But she'd have to try to remember that prophecy for later.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Other Witch; Living at her Parents

The Spring Palace, as it was known locally at least, was generally considered to be the least of Thalia's numerous homes.  It took up less space, and it was important to note that it also contained less space, than any of her other properties.  However, it was also disproportionately well cared for.  The Gardens, which were easily twice the size of the house itself, were all watered daily, and mowed no less than weekly.  The hedges were trimmed, the trees were pruned, and while the pond at the center of the garden contained a tasteful amount of lily pads, there wasn't a speck of scum to be seen.  Indeed, with the exception of a somewhat rusty bench, the entire garden seemed to be perfectly manicured, as if nothing had changed since Thalia had last visited.  Longer still, thought Salvia, as the Empress of Gravaga no doubt had better things to do than pull weeds and trim hedges.
"That's the Princess's bench.  She used to spend hours reading there.  The Library is the only enchanted room in the whole house, and that's just to connect it to the family library.  Tala didn't give them an awful lot of space.  But she didn't really have to give them any at all, so I dare say they were quite grateful for it."
Liss, the Ghoul, was giving Salvia a full tour of the grounds.  Since she was the caretaker this didn't seem particularly odd, and she was impressively well informed about the living habits of the Gravagan Royal Family.  But then Stormguarde was the City of Immortals, Liss had probably been around since before the Forstbourne war anyways.
"And this is the Patio."  The patio was a little brick area at the back of the house.  It was raised about four half-foot steps from the ground, and was occupied by two rocking chairs.  They were nice rocking chairs, but they struck Salvia as being sort of old-people-y, and not once had Thalia been mentioned as being particularly old, or even inclined towards behaving as though she were.
"It looks...retired."
Liss gave the chairs a longing gaze.  "Yes, I think that was the idea.  Thalia and Hal never really intended to be in the epics business their whole lives, that's what this house was.  The Palaces, the Empire, the Show; those were all for the Universe at large.  But this was their house, just for the two of them, with a garden for her and a study for him.  Would you like to see the kitchen?"
That bit seemed a bit too intimate for a mere maid, but Thalia hadn't really been a private sort of person.  Hal, she assumed, was the nameless husband that was always sort of known to exist, but never actually seen or mentioned publicly.  Everyone knew there was one, princesses didn't happen on their own, but he'd never really been much of a player in the grand stage.  Apparently, he liked to do things that were done in a study.  Salvia imagined a weedy, bald man pouring over tax returns, and decided that there was probably a reason he was never seen.
The Kitchen was lovely, and more loved.  The cabinets were painted a peeling periwinkle.  The fixtures were tarnished silver.  And the refrigerator was being held open by a young woman who seemed to have dyed her hair white at some point, and was now growing it back in as a shade of brown almost exactly two shades more red than Hack's.  
"Miss, there's a visitor here, would you kindly reconcile your dishabille?"
There was a glow of magic, then the woman turned to face her.  "Sorry Liss, not used to company."
The ghoul tittered like a mother hen.  "Well it certainly wouldn't do you any harm to make a habit of getting dressed in the morning, whether there is or isn't company."
"Don't mind her, she just likes telling people what to do."  The woman finally looked Salvia in the eyes.  She had bags under her own, most likely sleep deprivation, although dark magics were known to cause similar effects.  The eyes themselves were nearly bleached white, with only the pupils standing out, and a pale blue iris surrounding it.  Her skin was likewise pale, but unlike the rest of her pale features it seemed natural, judging by the slight tan line at her shoulder, and the presence of scattered freckles.
She held out her hand.  "I'm Salvia Hex, Witch..."
"Errant, yes.  I've heard of you.  Had a bit of a run in with a Lych some years back, it worked out in your favor I believe?"  She paused for a second as she closed the refrigerator.  "Yes, I should think so.  Lych are not prone to mercy, and it seems unlikely you'd have survived had it not worked out."
She was wearing a white robe with little gold stars and purple moons all over it.  It was the sort of thing a mage would wear if they wanted non-magic users to know that they were a mage.  It was gaudy, silly, and didn't work well with her complexion, although Salvia did become much more aware of the woman's roots.  She also, Salvia noticed, wasn't wearing shoes.
"I wasn't alone."  Salvia hadn't been.  The Lych had been her first mission.  The mission really, just a few seemingly unrelated dead witches that she'd been investigating when all of a sudden a fully armored, demi-immortal mage had jumped out of a back alley and tried to kill her.  Father Krell had turned up out of nowhere and just said 'Come now, let's get you somewhere safe'  Then the Lych had charged them.  She'd never really seen him move like that, not even when he'd been teaching her magic.  He'd always held back, whether it was racing, dueling, or casting, he'd never moved so fast.  He caught the Lych from behind and slammed him against the ground before he take a second step.  She'd never been able to repeat his signature spell, but she'd also never seen anyone else use it.  She'd also never seen anyone survive it.  Not even one of  Arcania's dark knights.
"No, but no one ever is.  Liss, leave us please?"  The ghoul curtsied politely and tiptoed out of sight.  "Zeej, you can come out now."  A chill emanated from somewhere behind the woman and a small, ferret-y creature peeked out from behind her shoulder.  Except that it wasn't a ferret, or even a creature, it was made purely of an icy vapor, and the chill seemed to be almost an extension of its being.  Father Krell had told her of Elementals, but she'd never met one like this before.
"What is it?"
"He is the embodiment of a single point of absolute zero.  And his name is, for your purposes anyways, ZeeGee."
Then it clicked.  Liss had called her the Cold Girl.  She was pale with pale features.  And she was accompanied by a powerful frost elemental.  Salvia stepped back, imagining how wide her eyes must be.  She was face to face with the greatest threat to the universe since the Shade Invasion, Arcania, queen of the Frostbourne!
"Oh bother."  Salvia caught herself and looked the villainess over.  She hadn't made any move to attack, or even to defend herself.  She was tired, distracted, and generally out-of-sorts, or at least she would seem to be.  What's more, the only activity that she could be verified to have done in the last thousand or so years was browse the refrigerator.  It may not have been anything she knew of, but Salvia was sure that there had been some form of punishment administered for her past actions, and she was surely observed to prevent future plots.  Simply put, this woman was no more threatening than any other gaudily dressed sandwich bearing mage.
A moment passed.  Arcania sighed and set her sandwich down.  "You're the first person in a thousand years to realize who I was without trying to kill me.  Would you like a sandwich?"
"So you're really the dread frost mage?  I always though you were more...evil."
"That'd be my mother.  I was just spoiled and power mad.  I've...mellowed out over the years."
"Your mother?"  The prospect of history's greatest villain having a mother had not occurred to her.
"My name is Katherine Immersfeld, I am Arcania, and I'm still wondering if you'd like a sandwich?"

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Other Witch; Ghoul Guide

Stormguarde was the city of immortals.  Ever since the Frostbourne war, when the legendary storm mage, Tala, had expanded her private, wandering space station and accompanying magical nebula to house refugees from the onrushing hordes of undead, Stormguarde had been a beacon of culture, civilization, and magic to the universe.  Its current ruler, Countess Courtney Yellsdana, had been a hero of the same war.  Not many people knew exactly what she'd done that was so heroic, but Salvia had heard rumors of everything from slaying Arcania, slaying the Lich Queen Sarah, and slaying the rebel Empreror Jor to simply being the next most powerful immortal following Empress Thalia Immersfeld of Gravaga and the Storm Mage Tala, both of whom had died during the war.  What was certain was that the Countess was a snappy dresser, capable diplomat, and the matriarch of the most powerful clan of vampires in the universe.  In any case, she'd done a fine job, and Stormguarde had continued to flourish under her guidance.  Although, it was a bit dark for Savlia's tastes.  
The Gravagan district was one of the oldest.  It had been built as a private retreat well before the War, a sort of spare room for those times when Thalia came to visit.  There was one in any major city, she'd been quite wealthy after all, and no one was fool enough to refuse the most powerful woman in the universe.  Not that it really made sense, seeing as the only full-time occupant of the nebula at the time had been Tala, if it could even be called 'full-time'.  Thalia's Gravagan servants had built side structures and, in time, a small town of sorts to tend to their own needs while they took care of the needs of their mistress.  When the war had broken out the Gravagans had welcomed many additional military and diplomatic personnel to serve in the new capitol of the Free and Mostly Living.  Even now they maintained a healthy portion of the city, and were a common sight in any district, although this one was the most distinctively theirs.  
And it was distinctive.  Being themselves a silicon being, the Gravagans had a peculiar connection with the earth and the things that grew upon the earth.  Although they were, for the most part, rather fond of the trees, shrubs and grasses that had proliferated across the district, they also had an uncanny drive for order in all walks of life.  Salvia was sure, as she walked under the gentle green bow of particularly gnarled tree, that if she took the time to measure it, every branch would end at the same exact length, and every leaf would turn in the same direction.  In the same way, each of the perfectly cut bricks that made up the street was perfectly equidistant from each of the surrounding bricks, and the grass that grew between them couldn't have grown more than a hair past the edges of the paving. She could picture a squad of the purple, crystalline folk patrolling the streets with razor sharp scissors, trimming every stray blade of  grass or overgrown hedge in sight.  But then she saw just such a squad and was reminded of the superior technology they had in their possession.  What would have been done on Gasca with pruning sheers was done here with a chilled plasma auto-trimmer, or so the label said.  
"They're very proud of their machines, did you know?"  Salvia spun around and found a young woman in a somewhat flouncy dress rather more within her personal space than she felt strictly comfortable with.  Salvia went to pull back but found that their was a hedge in the way.  Such a terribly great number of hedges around here really, almost like an alley in fact.  
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.  The Mistress isn't terribly keen on my talking to strangers, please, don't say anything?"
"Your mistress?"  Then Salvia recognized the pale skin tone and milky eyes; a Ghoul.  That made her one of the more benign forms of undead, a Vampire's servant.  Most were mortals who'd attracted the interest of a true vampire, and a truly powerful ghoul might even become a vampire themselves one day, if they were allowed to feed on mortal blood themselves.  But even without it, many were mistaken for a true vampire.  Ghouls were fast, and strong.  If a vampire fed them and sustained them properly they could even be cunning and independant, as this one seemed to be.  
"Her Ladyship has me watch over the house while the family is away.  The rest of the time I'm free to do as I please for the most part, like tonight."
"What family?"
"The one that builds the machines, and keeps the books, and even the nice man who gave me this."  She pulled her brown cloak tighter over her shoulders.  It was worn, very worn, yet it seemed warm and safe.  Salvia could almost smell the magic from which it was woven.  "But right now it's just the cold girl, and her little..well I'm not rightly sure what it is, but I should think the only thing colder than it is that poor girl.  Would you like to meet her?"  The query came as a slight shock, but Salvia got the same sort of 'just follow along' vibe from this ghoul that she got from Hack, and something about that cloak did make her seem more trustworthy.  
"Alright, but I need to find someone.  I know she's in the city, or I think she is anyways.  Maybe you know her, her name is Katherine Immersfeld."
"Katherine, Katherine..." something in the Ghoul's eyes flickered beneath the milky murk, like a blade of ice tempered in flame.  She seemed almost livid, and she mouthed the name again silently.  Then it faded as fast as it had arisen.  "Some relation to the Empress perhaps?  We could ask the Cold Girl, she knows lots of things if you can convince her to talk.  But I'm afraid I don't have a daughter."  The ghoul paused.  "Now why would I say that?  Of course I don't have a daughter, I've been dead since I was Twenty-Two!"  She laughed, but it was only the dismissive chuckle of someone who doesn't want to think about what's just been said.  And so Salvia followed her guide up to the door step of the second oldest house in the city, the Spring Palace of Empress Thalia.