Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Other Witch; A Father to his People

Ga-Vok society was nothing at all like those of Nielda, or even of humans.  Machines had a greater role in the economy, and sharing came fairly naturally, if not exactly perfectly translated, to the canine race.  As such, the economy was self sustaining.  Agriculture, industry, manufacturing, and even maintenance were simply non-existent career fields to them.  Instead, they were simply warriors, traders, skilled craftsmen, and teachers.  What was more, no single Ga-Vok was any one of those things, but instead they were all, all of them.  It was in many ways an ideal society; one propelled by a desire for communal well being, and personal excellence.  The later drive was at the forefront of Ga-Vok politics.  The Alpha was understood by outsiders as the head of the Ga-Vok Confederacy much as an Emperor or a President would rule over any other state.  To the Ga-Vok, he was more of a respected voice; in times of war they looked to him to lead the charge, and in times of peace he set an example to all the people of strength and wisdom.  
Becoming the Alpha, Braga explained, was a life's work, and one that most Ga-Vok knew to be beyond them from an early age.  But for those strongest members of their clans, those warriors with the guile to outwit their enemies as much as overpower them, and for those who's clan's had the ambition to propel them into the highest competition of all their people it was the ultimate aspiration.  
Not for personal glory, Salvia was surprised to hear, but because for the honor of being accepted as worthiest of all the people.  An Alpha gave up his name when he ascended to that rank, and even his accomplishments from before he became Alpha were attributed not to him, but to the Ga-Vok people as a whole.  In order to rule his people, an Alpha had to give up his very identity.  Only the Oracles, guardians of Ga-Vok traditions and an order of magic users as powerful as witches and respected even by immortals for their insight, kept records of an Alpha's true identity, stored along with all the other secret records of their people.  

It came as no surprise to them when they came unto the Hall of the Alpha that it was neither grand nor particularly old.  In fact, it was barely distinguishable from the other more or less dome shaped buildings that made up the city.  Their were no guards at the door, but all the Ga-Vok of the city were armed, and they seemed to communicate with little more than body language.  The Alpha had been forewarned of their coming, Prince Curt had seen to that, but Salvia had expected more of a carpet, or even suspicion than they were now receiving.  
"Wait here, I will speak with him.  The Ga-Vok respect Immortals, and especially accomplished warriors like myself.  Do not cause another commotion, understood?"
They all nodded, James grunted an affirmation.  A small crowd gathered around them as the doors closed behind Hack.  Then a single, fairly tall Ga-Vok stepped out of the crowd and raised his muzzle at them.  
"Hail Braga Pageturner, Hail Salvia Spiderskirt, and though I do not know your name young human, I welcome you also to our beautiful planet."  
It was, though the buildings were a combination of concrete and gray stone, the streets were soft grass and there were trees towering all about the city.  The sun shone uninterrupted by fog or haze, and a cool wind blew from the southeast.  It was high summer, but the air was light and Salvia felt much cooler in her newly blue dress than she would have in black.  
"Hail friend, We have come seeking your aid in a battle to come."
"Yes, Curt Brightsword of the Nielda contacted me a few weeks past.  He told me that Old Cloak is building an army.  I have already begun to prepare our fleets and our men.  Any foe of True Gravaga is a foe of the Ga-Vok."  He looked back over the assembled crowds.  "Let it not be said that the Ga-Vok have forgotten those who lent us shelter in the time of Bitter Frost.  A warrior repays his debts, and aids his friends without thought of his own gain."  The crowd vocally approved, some drawing blades and shaking them at the sky, others howling or chasing their tails in fits of what Salvia could only hope was some form of strange patriotic ecstasy.  The tall Ga-Vok turned back to them and said more quietly, "Although, I anticipate we will gain much by our actions, though how much can only be determined by time."  
Hack burst through the door, a fury on his brow, as he heard the sounds of the assembly.  Then he stopped and saw the tall Ga-Vok and said only, "You are late."
"Nonsense, the Office of the Alpha is wherever his people have need of him.  I should have thought as experienced an adventurer as yourself would be sympathetic towards the wandering called for of a Ga-Vok leader."  
"Of course, I should know better than to expect otherwise from you.  The Alpha is, as always, a servant of his people."  
Salvia noticed that both Braga and the Alpha's tails stopped moving, and began to stiffen.  James clearly didn't notice, but she could tell that he and much of the crowd were becoming uncomfortable as well.  
"I see you have chosen to bring Braga with you, and the Spell-Fan from Gasca, who has spared the Falling-leaves much embarrassment.  These two are of my warding; I am sure you will take good care of them both."  
"It is in your power to do so, if you send your troops at..."
"Oh get off it."  The sheer mundane quality of the phrase through Salvia for a loop.  "You will have your army, and a fleet.  But know this, your crusade shall not meet with the end you claim to seek.  I do not come to aid you, I come to honor the alliances of my ancestors and to honor my own commitments.  You, Old Cloak, are but an afterthought in the mind of the Ga-Vok.  And so also your schemes.  The Oracles have told me of you, and your conspiracy, and I will not see my...my people thrown away to serve a bit part in your games.  When we come, Braga will be our contact, and I will lead the battle with my own axe.  And when we are done I shall spit on the vacant throne and our debt shall be re-payed.  Is that clear, mange-mutt?"

Hack turned silently and headed to the ship.  Braga caught Salvia before she began to follow.  "The Alpha wants a quick word with you."  
"I do actually.  I have owed you a personal thanks for some time now.  Although it is..not permitted for me to do so."  
"I mentioned how I was from the same tribe as the warrior who's murder you investigated?  I failed to mention, he was my nephew, the girl you saved, she is my brother's daughter."
"She has begun to dtudy spellcraft with the Oracles today,"  The Alpha stated quietly.  "I just dropped her off in their care.  She hopes that someday she can serve the Oracles much as you serve the Witches."  He took out a pendant and handed it to her.  "She wanted you to have this.  It isn't much in the ways of magic, but it will identify you as favored by the Oracles, and by the Alpha.  On the behalf of Braga's brother, a thankful father, may it bring you fortitude and insight in all your travels."  
The Alpha raised his muzzle in the traditional sign of respect between one Ga-Vok and another, and Braga joined him in it.  Salvia bared her own throat in response, then hurried back to the ship.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Other WItch; Situation on Seclora

"Other than there being a lot more aliens here, what makes this Empire any different than the last one?  I mean," James continued, despite the very obvious increasing threat of Salvia doing unthinkable things to everyone in her vicinity who wasn't either Braga or blatantly foreign.  "Your all the same species, right?"
Braga put a hand on Salvia's shoulder and whispered, "Cut the boy some slack, he is only Human after all."  Then he swiveled towards the only human member of their little party and addressed him directly.  "Let us simply say that there are significant ideological differences.  The Nieldic Empire, or 'old Empire', is made up of traditionalists, the old nobility, those who wished to defend what they had some thousands of years ago, and for the most part is happy to stay behind the defenses they've built around themselves over the ages.  This Empire, the Secloran Empire, is the descendants of people who wanted to expand, to be free of the old ways, and to exercise their power over the universe.  But since then things have taken very different routes.  The Seclorans have a strongly religious, fluid nobility, and the nobility is ten times as large; where the Nielda have a very strong, respected, and generally ancient nobility.  That said, the Nielda have less nepotism, since even nobles are expected to fight for the highest ranks, and yet even the lowest Secloran can achieve nobility."
"Also," Salvia broke down and declared in low, bitter tones, "The Seclorans consider witches an affront against God and like to burn us when they can find us.  This, along with their tendency to treat other magic users, anyone else they have religious differences with, and their 'client' races as second class citizens makes them the most bigoted, self-righteous smegheads in the known universe."
Braga sighed.  "Yes, While I can't comment on their views of other religions or magic users, the fact that they assume I lack both is indicative of the third.  Be glad Humans look so similar to Nielda, or they'd probably be passing you a bunch of pamphlets with messages like 'submit yourself to the authorities, and sin no more', without actually finding out what you'd done first."
"I have no idea what either of you just said, but I definitely liked the other Empire's clothes better.  These people seem so stuffy and formal after the cool cloaks and below the shoulder dresses.  No offense Sal."
Salvia never wore dresses that low-cut, mostly because she didn't own any, but also because she had no occasion to wear them.
"None taken, I agree with you actually.  This whole place puts my hair on end."
It did.  Seclora lacked the same levels of magical saturation that the homeworld had, but Salvia hated to imagine what it would have been like here if they were.  The magic was tainted here, like thousands of warlocks working in unison to rip open gates to hell.  She had heard rumors of, while certainly not so many warlocks nor so foul  deed, shadowy deeds and deals with dark powers to gain the power of nobility, or even the emperor's ear.  Part of making power fluid, was that such deals could be struck at all, no member of the Imperial Nobility had done anything worse than necromancy since the Frostbourne wars.  Sure there were rumors about the late Empress, but they were nothing more than rumors.  Not that anyone could have been sure they weren't; everyone alive from her Father's era had been necrotized during the Death Cult attack.  It meant they were all still around, unless they'd fallen in battle, and stood as an eternal reminder of the consequences of a lapse in security.  It also meant that Toln was the first Emperor in over three hundred years who looked alive.  A fact that the Seclorans found not only abhorrent, but reason enough to have waged war across the deep parts of space between the two Empires, and even, at times, to outright invade.  They'd never suceeded, Salvia's sister witches had been influential in that matter several times, but it still left a burning hatred for the self-righteous outsiders in every Imperial citizen.  And nothing confirmed her preconcieved prejudice like the palor of evil magics that sat over the palace.
"I suspect dark magics.  Braga?"
"I second your outlook, supernatural forces are at work here."
James looked back and forth at them.  His limited experience with magic made him uncertain of the significance of their suspicions, but the presence of supernatural forces seemed obvious to him, his companions were a Witch and a short canine with a mind and reflexes like a steel trap.

"Quiet you three, the Seclorans are very formal.  Wait here, and don't get into any trouble."
Hack closed the door to the throne room behind him, leaving the rest of the group in a large room full of men who were all, from the looks of things, trying to get something from the Emperor.  There were guards, indistinguishable from one another in their massive, powered armor.  The amount of firepower in the room was probably equivalent to that of a normal Nieldic company of footsoldiers, and that was just the clearly visible, and absurdly large, rifles strapped to each soldier's back.  As Salvia surveyed the room, she quickly realized that those were the only defenses present.  There were no enchantments, no magic wielding elite, or even a few carefully hidden shock panels; only the garrishly garbed gentlemen, and the massive armored guards.  It was no wonder Emperor Kvald the Fourth had been able to singlehandedly fight his way into the throne room and slay their emperor; any true warrior could have done so with ease.  Clearly, it was only their unchecked aggression that had kept them from falling to every new threat the universe faced; any force that could get a handful of mages within sight of the palace could have rent the mundane defenses asunder before simply walking in, and the wards that prevented teleportation and scrying had the tattered feel of a flag in the aftermath of battle.  Perhaps they had more defenses in the past, a mage of Katherine's reputation alone could have swept the defenses they had now with a brush of her hand and with the next gesture struck entire buildings from the surface of the world.  Salvia actually began probing the defenses mentally, checking their strength against her own, just to see if it was plausible for a mage of her own limited power to penetrate them.
"Well golly folks," said James, "don't suppose I could get a drink or a chair perhaps?"
Everyone in the room gave him scathing, and in certain cases incredulous, glances, but neither spoke nor acted beyond the courses of their own affairs.
Braga snorted derisively, "I can see why the Alpha appoints only his weakest ambassadors to this place; it would test a warrior beyond his measures, but to a fool it is paradise."  That got more of a rise out of them.  A few of the more haughty looking solicitors turned up their noses and looked pointedly away from the strangers.  Salvia snickered, it was actually, to her knowledge, entirely true.  The Ga-Vok considered this a dead-end posting, and most warriors would have sooner been exiled outright.  The Nielda had no post here, for obvious reasons, but had in the past shared the opinions of the Ga-Vok.  Secloran politics was dull beyond measure, full of grandstanding and false patirotism, but they managed to make the system work well enough.  It was still a pain for the rest of the universe to deal with.
Salvia found a crack in the wards.  On any Nieldic world, or home, or base, or even ship, she would have mended it with a few words and been on her way, but this was a fairly considerable crack and in a hostile palace.
"Braga, can you hold their attention for a moment, I'm going to try something."
"Be careful."  He faced the group and said in a less than quiet voice, "Say James, did you know that the Secloran Empire has been shadowruled by no less than five seperate demons?  And they say that the Empress likes..."  Braga got hit in the nose by the nearest of the mob that had begun to form around him.  Even the guards were starting to move from their posts, and their focus was all focused on the irate throng.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime.  She stretched out her will and pictured another place, chanted a short incantation, and opened her eyes again.  The fight had vanished.  In its place was a little basement office she knew all to well.  The cobwebs in the corners had grown more noticeable, and the desk gotten dusty, but the nameplate on the desk was still legible, and there were still books on the shelf.  Salvia stretched out her mind and found the crack in the wards again, and pulled herself back through, with only seconds of absence.
"I thought I told you not to get into trouble."
"My apologies Old Cloak, I was indiscreet.  Next time I will be more quiet."
"Just be glad no one important was here today.  The emperor has agreed to send his fleet, and a number of troops.  But they are a pittance compared to what we will need.  I hope the Alpha will be more generous."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Other Witch; Cleavage

The Palace of Seclora, on the planet of the same name, was alike to the palace of the Nielda in only two regards.  The first was that it was incredibly secure, the second was that it was full of powerful Nielda.  But that was all the commonalities shared between the two.  The Seclorans had rennovated, expanded, and outright built new palaces every five or six decades since their empire had been founded.  There were no gardens, no magical lore, and no dashing, handsome princes in sight.  The building was nothing like the imposing, ivy covered mega-bunker they had just visited.  The Seclorans had built a palace with more towers and turrets than could be found on all of Gasca, and it had windows and parapets where any reasonable Nielda would have put armor plating and structural reinforcement.  They displayed their defenses openly, and even as they flew in to the landing pad built in a part of the grounds that would have looked much better with a large pond and some willows, Salvia could see droves of servants and soldiers moving across the walls and through the outer hallways.  It was obvious to her that they relied more on a strong offense and open display of force to win their wars than did her own people, who had adopted a policy of critical strikes and persistent defenses.
"Salvia, you ought to change into something more...well, less witch-like really."  Braga stated quietly as they made their final approach.
"What?  Why would my clothes be a problem?"  Other than being cut a little low in the front and not covering her ankles, she couldn't imagine how even the most prudish sort of person could have a problem with her outfit.
"Seclora doesn't allow witches.  They believe you're a satanic influence forbidden by God, and should be burned at the stake.  Or at the least, that is the tradition I have been led to believe is practiced here."
"No wonder they've never been able to conquer us, all they have is mages.  I don't suppose you have anything else suitable to wear?"
Braga stared at her for a second.  "Are you asking me, the four-foot eight canine male, if I have any clothes that would be suitable for you, the six-foot six nieldic female?"
In retrospect, Salvia had to admit it was kind of a stupid question.  Hack probably had some stowed in a back cabin somewhere, but she didn't feel overly inclined to ask him for anything.  She'd seen what women on those adventures usually wore, and she'd seen what the ones who'd been on those adventures wore now, there might be things in her size, but nothing in her style.
"Just conjure something up, anything you'd wear on a date would be fine, I'm sure."
"I generally wear one of these on a date, or would if I did."
"How about something formfitting then, or anything with a corsets; you humanoids seem to like corsets for some reason."
"It relates to cleavage, and I'll not be demeaned in a foreign court by looking like something out of a fetish catalog."
"I have heard some of the male students and professors refer to this, 'cleavage', perhaps when we have more time you could explain it further.  But if you will not wear one of the more popular clothing styles, perhaps you could simply disguise the trappings of a witch?"
Salvia snapped and her dress fluttered for a moment, changing from black to blue as though soot had been scrubbed from it.  The embroidered spider web mark she placed on all her dresses, to identify her to other witches as a Witch-Errant, shifted about and took on the appearance of a purple flower recognizable to only a scant few Nielda as belonging to the Bane Vine.
"As easy a spell as that was, I can't help but feel this entire conversation was completely unneeded."
"Except for one thing, it can't be changed back.  Witch magic isn't like your magecraft, it lingers far longer and is nearly impossible to undo.  I just ruined a perfectly good dress, and I do all of that embroidery myself, so it'll take time to replace it too."
Braga wrinkled his nose.  "I am sorry for your lost effort, but I fail to see the importance.  Do you not have many more outfits just like it?"
"I hate to interrupt your lovely little conversation," James interrupted, "but we've landed, and I think we should all head down to the ramp."  He ducked back out of the room momentarily, then popped his head back around the corner and said, "That's a really great color Sal, why didn't you wear that when we went to the other palace?  It would have matched that Prince guy's cloak perfectly."  Salvia blushed and brushed out her dress.  She thought she'd recognized that color blue from somewhere, apparently her subconscious was lingering more than the rest of her was.
"James is right, it is a nice color blue.  And a very original flower design too, I'm sure that all the Nielda men will stare at something other than your cleavage."
"Braga,"  Salvia stated as the ramp began to lower.  "Never use that word again."
"At least,"  Hack said as he rode the descending ramp to the ground.  "Not while we're dealing with the Seclorans.  They tend to be more prudish about this sort of thing than Nielda do, and this is a diplomatic mission at heart.  Now everyone keep your minds out of the gutter, and Salvia,"  She up at Hack.  "Don't start any fights."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Other Witch: The Gardens

The Gardens were, in all actuality, the oldest gardens in all of history.  They had been planted in the late years of the Junlaerd's reign, and had stood for more than twelve thousand years.  Some of the plants had stood since before the Frostbourne war, the family tree of the Spielgan clan, the bane vine, and the pond lilies were most prominent on the list, but hardly the only flora to reside within the gardens for so long.
The family tree, Curt explained, had been planted by Alfred Spielgan, Captain of the Guard during the reign of the usurper Zink, in honor of his father, who had given his life to defend the palace.  The tree always bore a flower for each member of the family born, and the flower persisted until that same family member died.  It had ensured that the clan always knew whether one of their kin was alive, no matter how dead they might seem.  Of course, only members of the family knew which flower was which kinsman, so it was useless to others.
The bane vine, he continued as they edged past it carefully, was originally given as a gift to the Junlaerd by one of his vassals.  To the best of anyone's knowledge, it was the only one in existence.  The poison it produced had two properties, the first being that it affected anyone, no matter their state or nature.  Lycans, vampires, and immortals alike had their normal immunities to death and pain pierced as though they were mere mortals, and it was said but never confirmed that it would work upon demons and the undead as well.  The second was that the poison was never lethal, not directly.  It did not damage flesh or bone, stone or steel, far worse, it stripped a mage of their access to magic until the proper antidote was administered.  However, Curt pointed out, while a file existed on the net for the antidote, and could be seen with a simple keyword search, access was restricted to only the highest admin, an entity known only as the_witch. As such, it was best to stay clear of the plant and have machines handle it, since they couldn't be affected by its effects.
"And here we come to my personal favorite, the pond lilies."  Prince Curt stopped and turned to Salvia.
"And what makes them special?  To they eat people, or predict the future using a careful positioning system?"
"No, they're just ordinary, non-magical lilies that happen to have survived twelve thousand years dwelling in an increasingly magical environment without mutating, adapting, manifesting magical tendencies, or simply dying outright."  A frog jumped off the side of the little pool and disappeared under the beautiful white flowers.  "Marvelous, aren't they?  To survive, prosper even, in circumstance that should have changed them a very long time ago.  There aren't many that can say as much."
"No magic at all?  You sure?"  Salvia had been to a lot of gardens over the years, they were very popular back on Gasca, but she'd never seen one where residual magic hadn't been permeating the fabric of localized reality.  Places where great feats of magic took place, where sprites had been known to live or to have died, anywhere battles had been fought, and a wide radius around the dwelling places of magic users tended to have a level of residual magic that affected the plant and animal life in them.  At several thousand years of Nieldic residence, there wasn't a spot in the Empire that wasn't saturated with magic by now.  The Homeworld, and the palace especially, were nearly as bad as Anatolia when it came to magic levels.  Things like the bane vine and the family tree didn't survive in non magical places, but something like an average pond lily shouldn't have been able to survive in the same garden.
"How does it do it?"
A chill breeze came in from behind them.
"They weren't always normal.  There was a powerful mage, who called herself Kate, that came here when I was young.  She set she was looking to give something back to all the places she'd been when she was younger.  I think she was trying to purge the old wounds of battle from the world, and herself I suspect.  She sat," He glanced around, then indicated a stone bench, green with moss.  "There, for quite some time.  Then she touched the pond and said 'Accept my small token, and my apologies.'  Then she left, right through the wards.  Didn't break them mind you, just stepped right out as easily as if she were moving through a curtain."
Salvia thought for a moment.  It was obvious he knew who she was, but he, like herself, was waiting to see what she knew before saying anything.
"I met Katherine on Stormguarde, in private, alone.  I would say she feels honestly bad about what she did and is genuinely repentant."
"She was there when my Grandmother died, my father and several of the guards confirmed this.  But I know she did not kill her, that was the work of others, ones who I believe had good reasons to do so.  Do you know if she is involved in Old Cloak's plans?"
"You know that she is his daughter, right?  And the lost princess of Gravaga also?"
"The second part yes, but not the first.  Doesn't surprise me though, if either he or Thalia had ever really wanted the other dead they had ample opportunities.  I always did feel like their encounters were far too scripted."
"She is involved in his plans, more so than I think any of the rest of us are.  I overheard her...arguing with someone."
"The Guards and I have been tracking her activities for some time now.  Did she mention some sort of ritual, or rite?"
Salvia thought back to the stairs in the little cottage on Stormguarde.  "I'm not sure, she was going to try and work a very difficult piece of magic, that much I'm certain of.  Something that was only accomplished once before, twelve thousand years ago by someone she called Rea, and it was at great cost."
Curt sat down,  brushing his cloak to the side to keep it out from under him.  "The records get foggy at that point.  There are a few works of fiction, and scattered reports; but the early years of the Empire, before the net, are hard to track.  Perhaps the Witches have some resources that would be helpful?"
"So you'd like me to help you find out what Old Cloak's doing, while offering him troops and your own sword in the same day?"  There was something fun about this whole conspiracy thing, much better than adventuring was.  Or maybe it was just working with him that she liked; unlike Hack and his closed doors and old friends, Curt seemed willing to tell her what he was up to and had this dashing way about him.
"Think of it as, when things go down I want to be there to prevent the worst of it.  I have a correspondence with one of the chief members of the Gravagan Military Command, and she tells me that there are going to be some political upheavals soon.  As a prince, it's in my best interest to be on the winning side; as a Nielda, it's my responsibility to see to it that things work out for the best."
"The spell was called 'Re-installation', Katherine's companion, whoever he was, thinks Hack's lost it, I think he's right."
"I agree with you.  But for now, we should go along with him until we know his plan.  Where will you go next?"
"Seclora, then to the Alpha, and finally the Harakai.  He's building an army."
"Have fun with Seclora; I'll send word ahead to the Alpha.  He's a wise and strong leader, and will probably know much of this already.  But I'll be certain of it.  Try to slip him whatever you can learn of the spell and the plan, and he'll forward it to me."  He stood up and looked back towards the palace.  "They'll be wondering where we are by now."
Salvia had a wild thought, something from one of Krell's stories about espionage and secrecy.  She leaned in and kissed the prince, briefly, he tasted a bit of peaches, probably from dessert, then broke off and whispered, "Then tell them the truth."
He blushed.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Other Witch; The Feast Hall of Emperor Gastron IV

Despite his Father's insistence, Prince Curt had invited the entire party to a feast in the palace.  Something about, a soothing bath and a softer bed than that of any starship, as befit such noble guests.  He hadn't taken his eyes off her the whole time he'd spoken, and it would have taken quite the spell to have convinced Salvia that he'd been thinking of anyone but her when he spoke of the luxuries that would be available to them.  She'd never been much for luxuries, not that she'd ever had the option, but after soaking in the fresh, enchantingly warm waters of the spring that bubbled up out in the gardens, specially piped in to enrich and fortify the travelers with the strength they would surely need for the coming battle, she couldn't help but feel like she could get used to it.  
They called it the Spring of the Maiden, one of a scant few sources of pure water on all the swampy world that had birthed the Nieldic race.  The Witches had said that it was home to the last of the nature spirits of the world, a truly ancient entity indeed.  Being the case, for Witches rarely told such stories idly, Salvia made sure to perform the proper rituals before setting so much as a hair in the water.  
Father Krell had told her another story, one he said had been taught to him by a member of the Imperial Family he'd met once.  He had called it 'the Font of Zink', and said that soaking in its waters enhanced the natural magical power of a mage.  But once, long ago, a young Empress had taken her bath in it and it granted the child she bore power unlike any of her age.  But that child had turned her power towards domination, and in the end claimed to be Death Incarnate.  
"Of course, it's not quite as effective once its come through the pipes, but natural magics like these have a particular tendency to work in exactly the manner they wish to, and rarely in the one we would choose."  
At dinner, a magnificent, lavish affair that used the feast hall of Emperor Gastron the fourth, who was known for his feasting but had actually been a highly competent Emperor and by all means a likable fellow, the prince had chosen, to Salvia's delight, to sit between her and Hack.  Ostensibly, this was so that he and Hack could discuss details further, and from the increasingly frustrated look on Hack's face, at least one of the three of them had failed to notice the word 'ostensibly'.  "But nevertheless, there hasn't been a child born in the palace without at least slight magical prowess since the Frostbourne war.  The Guards still use the spring itself for their rites and rituals, but then they are an order as much steeped in tradition as your own."
"You seem quite familiar with the lore of the palace and its grounds, as well as that of the guards.  Please tell me you make it outside of the Library from time to time?"
"I'm a bit hurt."  the prince jested.  "You really haven't seen the newsreels from Mejji yet?"  
She had seen them, of course, typical sort of propaganda.  Nieldic propaganda tended to be more honest than most, simply on account of the fact that neither the people paying for it nor those watching it were at any point fooled into thinking it was anything but the truth they wanted you to hear.  So at a certain point the media had just started telling the truth, steadfast in the knowledge that no one believed a word they said.  When they started believing it again, the people in the editing room had decided that it didn't really matter what was being said, and kept telling the truth because it was easier than coming up with lies.  That didn't mean the newsreels had gotten any less tacky and absurd, it just meant they were nice and accurate in the process.  
"I don't think they quite got the right angle in some of the stills, but overall, they painted you as quite the hero.  And I daresay, you strike me as the sort to play a mean game of TacSim."
"Never much of a taste for sports actually, I learned most of my strategy following Gran around Realm.  Her mastery of Maneuver and Logistics are really quite good, even for someone as experienced as she is."  Realm was the virtual reality preferred among the major nations; it let anyone become the hero of their own adventures, and was generally considered to be an excellent measure of international politics.  The Emperor's grandmother, Chasia Laerdsfeldair, had retired to the position of regent of virtual affairs following her husband's death.  On account of her unfortunate undeath, she was expected to hold the position for quite some time.  As Curt mentioned her, Salvia glanced over and saw the Laerdsfeldair talking in hushed voices with a rather pretty red-haired girl and a young man who seemed strikingly familiar, but whom Salvia could not remember having ever seen before.  
"My old mentor, Father Krell, used to talk extensively of his time in Realm; before the plague of course."
"Gran mentions a Krell sometimes, a strong, just warrior.  Perhaps they're related?"
"I doubt it, Krell never spoke of his family, except to say that he'd had one and still checked in on his descendants at times.  Unless your Gran spoke of his being a priest, I doubt they are the same."
"Not a priest, but religious at least.  But tell me this; aren't all witches orphans raised by the coven?  How is it that you came to have a Priest for a mentor?"
Nothing in her drink had indicated use of magic, and yet she still felt like she could trust him.  If she had not been sitting at a crowded table, with both Braga and Hack so nearby and the room full of guards, or more truthfully, if they were alone somewhere and she could secure the doors and windows, she would have told him the whole truth and prayed for an understanding reaction.  This was not the case however, and so she told him only what was simple.  
"He found me in the wreckage after a battle.  My parents had shielded me from the rubble with their bodies, and he almost didn't notice me.  But after that he always made sure to provide me with a place to live, things to read, and once a week he would take me out to teach me to fence or to counter-spell, all the while telling me tales of heroes, villains, and perfectly ordinary folk doing perfectly ordinary things.  When I first began to manifest, he moved me into the care of the coven.  He still came, and the matrons seemed to understand that even though they were the ones who raised me, he was the one responsible for me."  She paused and gauged his reaction.  A sort of half-smile, and sympathy; she had the feeling, perhaps from her witch's training, that he regarded his gran in much the same way; not exactly a parent, but certainly the one who'd always seen after him.  
"I'm actually here today because he went missing a month ago.  There was a scuffle at the Monastery on Gasca, and I lost his trail.  Hack,"
"Sorry, Old Cloak, says he knows where I'll find him."  She took a moment to consider the risks, calculated her chances, and took them.  "If you'd like, we could talk about this more later, elsewhere, but I don't feel like this is the time or place for certain subjects."  She glanced across his shoulder, both from the concern that Hack might be listening more closely than she wished him to, and to indicate to the Prince the cause for her concern.  Hack had given no indication of having heard, and seemed to be focusing his attentions on the activities of Chasia and her companions.  Curt seemed to get the cue and replied simply, "I'm sure a Witch such as yourself would like a chance to meet with the sprite of the spring.  If you'd like, I could come by your room around seven or so and give you a tour of the grounds?"
"I'd be delighted."  And Salvia meant it.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Other Witch; Heir to the Throne

"My sister say's that you're the legend himself, Old Cloak of..well, of old."  Emperor Toln the first had never been an especially awe-inspiring speaker, not even in public addresses or prepared speeches.  He was a great swordsman and powerful mage, and quite the looker, but he was just never going to be the sort of person who rallied the Empire to turn the tide in a war.  For all her faults, and there were many, his mother had been the sort of war-time orator the Empire needed.  Of course, none of his siblings were any better, and he was unquestionably the most level headed of them, but that didn't mean they wouldn't have liked someone who could deliver a punchline without laughing.
"I am."
"And rumor among my councilors is that you're here to request use of my army."
"This," Hack had this abrasive dominance about him that was clearly not helping the inexperienced Emperor.  "Is also true."
"Alright, then why are you talking to me?  The one's who run that sort of thing are the council, I'm still planning my coronation tour and mourning my mother's passing."
Salvia, and she suspected several of the Guards as well, had to fight every overly-dramatic, warrior, Nieldic instinct she had just to keep from rushing the throne and gutting the lazy cur where he sat.  The Imperial Guard captain, who looked to be fairly recently promoted himself, actually smacked him in the back of the head.
"Because it's your job Father."  Salvia spun to see where the voice had come from.  A lightly armored man of about her own age had come out of one of the side passages while they'd been speaking.  His cloak, a regal shade of blue, fluttered behind him, as much from his own speed than from the ages worth of overly-dramatic spells that lingered in the room.  Clearly, this was one of the Emperor's sons, a fact that could have been determined as easily from his bearing as from his clothing, but was most obvious in his bright blue eyes and the fact that he had just referred to the formentioned lazy cur as 'father'.
He was also, Salvia hoped no one would notice, at least as handsome as his father, and had managed to draw from her a rare blush with a gaze that lingered just long enough to be noticed, but not so long as to seem ungentlemanly 
"My son, Curt."
"We have war at hand already.  The Seclorans seek to end us for breaking the Non-Involvement Pact, and with the Empress dead they see us as weak.  You have to at least pretend you care about running the country.  It is exactly this sort of weakness that lead to their exodus in ages past."
"That won't be a problem."  Hack managed to break both of their concentration with a sharp tap of his sword against the faux-marble floor.  "I intend to convince them to join me as well."
"Work with the Seclorans?!"  Toln, it seemed, had at least one strong feelings regarding working with the enemy he had devoted much of his life to fighting, as had most all citizens above the age of sixteen.  Life proceeded as normal in most of the Empire only because so many were willing to serve and fight for the dead space and scattered star clusters that separated the two great Empires of the Nielda.  As a Witch, Salvia had been exempted from service, but Father Krell had spoken often of the trials the war subjected all Nielda to and he'd told many personal accounts of fighting.  He'd never hated the Seclorans the way many did, but he also seemed quite certain that he had fought on the right side when he had.
"Yes, the enemy we face wields nearly half the armies of Gravaga, it will take all the galaxy's legions to defeat her.  I know of your dispute, but it must be set aside for the greater good."
Toln launched into a blundering tirade about how he would never work with those monsters, no matter what the danger.  But while everyone else's attention was focused on the Emperor's ire, Salvia saw a roguish smile creep up the prince's cheek.  And as his father began to wind down, he stepped up and spoke his piece.
"I will speak with the councils.  My own men and I will join in your assault, and I will persuade those who I can to join me.  I do not relish the thought of fighting beside those cretins, but when my Great-Grandmother tells  her stories about facing down platoons of Gravagan soldiers, she tells them with the same voice as she speaks of facing dragons at the side of her friends.  My father and his generation may think her memory false and her stories nothing more, but I know enough to respect her wisdom.  Any enemy who would wield so much as a fraction of the Crystal Army, is an enemy worth guarding against by every means.  And so," he drew his sword and offered it towards Hack, Braga, James, and Salvia could feel the creeping blush once more, herself.  "You have my sword in the coming battle."
Toln spluttered about insolence and loyalty, but the Guards all nodded silent approval of the young prince.  Salvia couldn't blame them, he was half the age and twice the man, but that could have just been the blush talking.

This was post 400! yaay!