Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Star Haven; On the Brink of Winter

"Are all the tanks filled?  I want to be ready for departure as soon as possible.  Time is of the essence here."
"Yes Commander, everything is in order."
Commander Natalya Oerin hadn't gotten where she was by leaving things to chance.  She'd been born into battle, much as the other Nielda of her day had.  But unlike them, she knew the values of the old ways.  Not simply the massive strikes, the overwhelming naval superiority, or even the unfaltering dedication but the careful planning and constant vigilance.  The Seclorans still had it, and the Gravagans were basically made of it.  It felt wrong to think that the young powers grasped the old wisdoms better.  But then there it was.
"Sir, all weapons online.  Ammunition at full stock.  Our supplies are prepared for maximum possible duration."
"Good.  Are all the crew aboard?  I want to get back to the fight as soon as possible?"
"Its a patrol commander, not front lines.  They aren't going anywhere until we get there to relieve them."
"It's essential that the patrols be maintained.  The frost is already encroaching on the outer parts of the system, its only a matter of time before they arrive here as well.  Their agents are probably here already."
"The evacuation is already underway.  Our presence here is practically a formality Commander."
"I don't believe in formalities.  Its just that everyone has forgotten why things are done."  Even if the orders of the task force were just to provide military support in the evacuation and to delay the enemy if they arrived ahead of schedule, Natalya considered it the prerogative of all sane, living beings to interfere with all of the Frostbourne's operations.  And moreover, as an officer of the Daniellandish Navy, it was her sworn duty to kill any undead she encountered.  Among all the Frostbourne hordes, only the officers, corrupted immortals calling themselves Lych, could even possibly be considered alive.  And even then the jury was out.  All that could be certain was that no one had ever beaten one in battle and lived to tell.
Of course, considering the history of 'invincible' enemies, it was probably just that word hadn't made it down the ranks to her.  There was almost certainly an immortal somewhere who had managed it.  And surely the legendary pantheon was a match for several of them each.  But the rumors she'd heard said that one of them had lead an expedition in the early days, and none of them had returned.  They said that Arcania, the Immortal who ruled over the Frostbourne, had killed all of them with a glance, and used their frozen corpses to build a palace of ice.  No one had ever seen it though, so Natalya wasn't about to believe any of it.  Even the existence of a council of Immortals, this pantheon as they called it, was only legend.  And no one could verify that Arcania had an ice palace, and only vague reports and educated guesses gave them any indication that she existed.
"Sir.  Orders from command have arrived as scheduled.  They want you to receive them in person."
"Prep the ship for launch, have everyone on board by the time I return."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Short Story; The Empress' Daughter

Kate Immersfeld liked nothing better than a good book.

Her mother, the Empress of Gravaga, Dark Lady Thalia Immersfeld, high necromancer of all yada yada yada, was rather supportive of her interests, and had gladly provided her with access to a library full of every imaginable sort of book.  Books about fairy tales, faerie tails, spelling books and booking spells.  The non-fiction section could have filled a battleship, and it paled by comparison to the reference section.  But the section Kate liked to spend her time in the most was fiction.
Fairy tales were fun, full of mystical magics and witty heroes.  Stories of chivalrous knights who rescued the princess from horrible fates, sometimes with the aid of the horrible Fates, were the ones that she always loved best.  She liked entertain the fancy that someday a handsome knight might come along and rescue her from the monotony of the palace.  They would ride off on his white stallion, she would wear white and they would rule a quiet corner of her mother's kingdom in peace and harmony.  Haelio perhaps, with its tranquil gardens; or maybe Calcifron, she would certainly like to spend time in a library of her own there, where it always seemed to snow.

Kate sighed and returned a few of the worn tomes to the shelf, each one exactly where she'd set it so many times before.  It wasn't as though there was a lack of things to do on Gravaga.  The palace was always bustling, preparing for the coming of the next band of heroes or the comings and goings of her mother's chosen villains.  In only a few hours she would be expected to make an appearance herself.  Be the dragon to her mother's menace and humiliate the hero.  They'd be back of course, and she was already preparing the spells that would make her defeat seem more real, but today she would win and send them searching out her father, the one the populace called 'old cloaky'.  She often considered what would happen if she just killed them, or even if she threw the fight early.  It would make her parents annoyed at the least, but it would definitely give her more time to read.  It was just a question of whether or not it would be worth the trouble.
She picked up her staff and marched off through the door.  It didn't even take her an invocation to make the door bring her out in front of the marauding party of heroes.
"Where did you think you were going?"
"We're here to put an end to the dark lady's reign of terror!"
"Yeah, don't even try to stop us!"
"Oh, is that it then?  Alright, go on."
They stood there staring at her blankly.  She could feel the warriors behind the camera's hidden all around them flipping through their copies of the script, trying to figure out what was going on.  It made no difference to her whether they took up her offer or not, her mother would defeat them if she didn't.  More likely than not, they'd find the throne room empty.  Kate had it on reliable account that her parents were, to put it simply, enjoying their marital privilege.  If that were the case then they would simply wander around the palace for a while until Sarah came home and either ran them off or screwed with them, possibly without the 'with'.  There was really no way of telling which Sarah would do this time.  If they were really unlucky though, they'd find Cyssie's lab.  If they lived through that experience, they'd never adventure again.  Not that Cyssie would ever purposefully hurt anyone, just that her particular brand of science and magic tended to leave little room for mortality.
"Don't do it, she's trying to trick us."
"I don't know; maybe she's the other sort of princess.  You know, the not-evil kind."
"She's Thalia's daughter, of course she's evil."
"And I'll bet she's just the sort of person who would try and trick us."
"She can't be evil, she's pretty.  Evil people have to use magic to be pretty."
"What if she's using magic?"
Bit of an interesting turn there, most of the time they went out of sight to discuss her appearance.  She always heard them of course, but this group was a more bold than most.
"Can any of you use magic?  You could just try and dispel my enchantments, that would get rid of any illusions I might be using."
They stopped and stared at her.  Kate knew she was pushing the envelope now.  She was being outright friendly with them by her usual standards, it'd have people talking for weeks.  Her parents would probably have to rewrite scripts over this.  She had to suppress a smile at the thought of her father up to his elbows in edits.
"How do we know this isn't a trick?"
She plucked a flower out of the air.  It seemed like a flower anyways; she'd actually just simultaneously formed a flower from frost and enchanted it to be incredibly difficult to destroy.  She'd always found that hard to destroy actually turned out much more durable than merely indestructible the way most enchanters did it.  Indestructible had loopholes, durable was just really tough.  It would also keep it from melting, something that would have taken indestructible an extra spell.  Kate leaned in and set it on his armor, letting the ice adhere the flower to his left breast, where the pocket would have been had it been a shirt.
"You can't.  But if you're smart, then you should leave now.  My mother isn't here anyways, she's reviewing the armies on Negath.  My favor will grant you passage through the Empire without question, and grant you access to all but the most clandestine of locations."
The staring never seemed to cease today.
"Go, run before my sister comes.  If she sees you she will surely kill you all.  Good luck fair hero, I will watch your adventures with great interest."  She opened the door to the library and glanced back for a moment before delivering a final line.  "Great interest indeed."

Kate closed the door and collapsed against the wall laughing.  She felt so horridly wicked for having toyed with them like that.  But the rush that came from defying her parent's plans was like nothing she'd ever done before.  Maybe now they'd think twice about making her just a gatekeeper to the palace.  Now maybe they'd let her play the part she really wanted, now she could be a princess.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Short Story: Twelve Thousand Years in Coming.

There were so many names for magic users.  Mage was the prefered catch-all term, especially amongst Nielda.  The Ga-Vok always called a powerful mage 'Shaman', even though almost all knew the difference between their own ceremonious magic users and the bolt flinging warriors that tended to be recognized as powerful amongst mages.  Amongst the Harakai, and their more orderly, ritualistic style of magic such a mage would be known as a prophet, or a warlock, a term seldom heard beyond their borders.  To the Pythens the man would be known only as a menace, and most lesser races would view a truly powerful mage as a god.  Humans could be similarly fooled, but never for so long as most races.  His personal favorite term for the top-notch battle-mages that tended to stand out across the annals of time was that used by the Jaguans: Show Off.  
And he could say that, he was one of them.  

He wasn't the best, he'd met the best, she was one of the rudest most self-righteous people he'd ever met.  The next best happened to be in the next room, trying to pick which of her earings to wear to dinner.  The woman after her could be anywhere, but wherever it was, it would have grown much colder since she arrived.  He'd never asked who was number four, he was sort of hoping it was him.  But the most intimidating thing about all of them was that he had never seen any of them use magic in battle.  The first two had always used a blade, and the third could kill only at the cost of her life.  It made him wonder how much of their alleged skill was actually magical, and how much was just the survival rate of their adversaries.  If he were to operate purely on the basis of observed magical ability, then the most powerful mage would probably have been the mad scientist, Cysstronella Von Gravaga, even though it had been directly stated to him in the past that she couldn't throw a punch to save her life.  Informed magical ability simply didn't add up, but there was no polite way of asking them to demonstrate that they really were that powerful.  

"Be a dear and pass me the other box.  Nothing in this one matches my outfit."  
Krell picked up the indicated box of jewelry and set it down in front of his companion.  Normally he would have meant that only in that they traveled around the universe together stopping villains and seeing the sights; mostly seeing the sights.  Tonight however, was the annual cosmetic corporation's gala and fashion show.  Since Rea owned one of the companies, it would have been excruciatingly rude for her to not attend.  It would have also been rather odd, since she mostly paid for it and it was the only public appearance she made all year. Since they'd been travelling together for the past year, she'd invited him to accompany her.  
For anyone else he would have said no; he'd never had any interest in the business, or indeed business in general.  

"So why exactly did you want me to come anyways?"
Rea looked up and caught his eyes in the mirror.  "Because I like having you around.  Things are more fun when you have someone to do them with.  And I especially enjoy doing things with you."  
"You sure its not just that you want to show me off in front of all the corporate fat cats?"
"This is fashion Krell, the cats are skinny, very skinny.  But I'll make sure to point out my chief competitors so you can repeat the remark.  I want to see them squirm a little."
Krell smiled.  He could remember telling his aides something similar before attending a political ball.  There had been rather more at stake then, but the social dynamic was equivocal.  A bunch of insiders, who all knew each other's business and had more often than not been sleeping with the same people.  He was still the outsider, and he realized that even though Rea had probably intimidated these people's great grandparents at galas a half a millennia ago, she was still the outsider.  She paid for the party, she dominated the industry, but socially she was detached from the group.  Immortality did that, but not nearly as much as the having been fourteen the whole time.  He'd been an outsider to the council because he'd gotten there through skill and virtue, where most had inherited it or wheedled their way in.  He had been the knight in the court of thieves, and here she was the warrior in the court of illusion.  
"I think the amethyst studs would work fine with that outfit."
"They'll expect me to model the latest fashions.  Gaudy is in this year."
"It'll be televised, there's a recession going on, the people will find your style far more approachable than the usual fashions."
"Wear something that ordinary women could wear on their budget then?"
He nodded.  "People wear makeup to try and look beautiful.  It'd be good for their self-esteem to think that they actually have a chance at looking as good as the models they'll see tonight."
"Will they buy more that way?"
"If they think that what the distance is shorter, they'll be twice as likely to try.  They won't spend as much, but more will spend."  
"I think,"  She turned around to face him eye to eye.  "That you have no idea how this industry works."
"Guilty as charged."
Rea snapped, the frills on the dress vanished, all the ruffles receded, and the poofier bits deflated.  He noticed that she was already wearing the selected jewelry.  
"And I still look beautiful?"
He blushed.  Truth be told, he was rather more aware of it now that all the distracting ruffles and poof was gone.  Rea had been filling out well since the fight with Legion on Stormguarde.  She was nearly as tall as he was now, and her...features had..well she'd just grown up a lot.  It took a lot more steelsil for her to cover her entire body now, and even then she would never be mistaken for anything but a young woman.  
It wasn't just her body that had matured of course.  She was more calm than she had been before.  Still insatiably active, and the pace she kept was hard to keep up with; although he was getting better at doing so.  And a lot, although certainly not all, of her insecurities had diminished as well.  
She smiled.  "I hoped so.  You look quite dashing yourself."  She had a slight blush of her own, and not just from the makeup.  "Krell, about Anatolia."
"It wasn't your fault.  Zink loved the planet as much as you did.  It wouldn't have made any difference if you'd tried to stop her."
"No, not that.  You're right, it wouldn't have, but I actually meant at the library.  You said 'your last girlfriend'.  I know who you meant, but I kinda thought.  I mean it just sounded like you were saying I..that is to say that there was someone after that."
Oh..OH, she thought that he'd meant.  But that was..
Was it though?  They might as well have been.  They flirted all the time, even if he wasn't really trying to.  She'd clearly always found him attractive, and he wouldn't deny that he found her attractive.  They were like best friends, but not quite.  Was that what they were?  
"Rea, I didn't quite mean it like that.  I was joking around."  She'd been nervous the whole time she'd been asking the question, and now it was all replaced by a rush of disappointment and even a tinge of fear.  "But that doesn't mean it wasn't true.  I wasn't really thinking about it then.  But truth be told, it only came to mind because it felt true.  Rea, I haven't actually felt this way about someone in a long time, since Lewiza died.  But I do care about you.  And if you feel like what we have needs a label, I think dating would be the most fitting one."  She started to smile again.  One might even go so far as to say she was beaming.  
"You really suck at romance, you know that?  So what now?"  
"I'm a bit rusty on this, but I think we go to the party and continue as we've been going.  Maybe at the end of the night we kiss.  I think we should just play it by ea..."  Apparently the end of the night was longer than she wanted to wait.  And after having waited nearly twelve thousand years for it, he could hardly blame her for not wanting to wait another couple hours for her first kiss.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Short Story: The Hunter

The trees rustled as he passed, the air displaced as he moved displacing them also.  The vines, normally so aggressive, drew to the sides of the path.  They sought easier prey for their snares, a rabbit or a goat perhaps.  A bird squawked in the distance, whether from victorious joy or despair at its own mortality made no difference to him, only that it would not be hunting.  On Anatolia, you learned young that little else mattered.
He had caught the scent four days prior.  It was distinctive, and telling.  Too much soap meant they were off-worlders.  Were it not for that, the smell of tea would have been enough.  One was a man, the other a woman; there was no word for the difference.  Those who wrote dictionaries did not need to smell the difference; to them it was simply apparent.  The girl was younger, but not by too much.  There was no blood though; that was unusual even for a local.  Injury was a fact of life in the shade-wastes.  Coupled with the way the corpses that trailed behind them felt, he could be certain that they were powerful mages; likely the strongest anyone in the Ankra briars had ever encountered in his lifetime.  Indeed, they may have been the strongest the planet had seen since the day of ruin.  
Ohgar was cautious.  It would take patience and cunning to get close enough to determine their names.  But if he could determine their names, then the clan would be able to command them against their enemies.  And he was Ohgar, who had dominated Aren, the bloodthirsty; Ohgar, who had stood against the Jan-Tat clan with only his spear.  If anyone could command these off-worlders, it would be him.  He slipped through the brush and climbed into the Nautin tree, caressing the spines of its leaves to soothe its fury as his father had taught him.  He leaned across the path and waited for them to pass, letting the roiling thicket conceal him and his thoughts.  
"Quite a change after Skiing on Nepalya.  How's the leg?"  The man wore a long sleeve shirt, it had stayed pressed and even despite the efforts of the local flora, and his boots were stiff and tall.  
"Its fine, just a little sore."  The girl was clothed like one of the Mountain Clan, her body wrapped in the soft-strong armor they wore.  And Ohgar had to clutch at his stomach to control the nauseating pain that the smell of her right glove's enchantments was giving him.  It was blood, bone, and the unnatural pure from the heart of the steps of the ruins.  It was like the smell of death, but with all the spirits exorcised from it.  Like life, but cleansed of those things that made it worth living.  The smell was pure, and its very presence stung his mind.  
"So you do this every year?"
"Someone very important died here, on the steps of her favorite part of the palace.  Its the only part that still stands."  She paused, though he could still hear them walking.  "Its the only part of the planet that they couldn't touch.  She actually moved one of the stone circles here to help protect it."
"What do you think she kept there?"
"She created two things that could not be.  You've already met Petra, and Koren isn't likely to share the Omnipedia; everything else she just collected."
"Rea, that wasn't really an answer."
There was one.  And the first thing he'd do was force her to take off that cursed gauntlet and throw it into the bright place.  
"Just look at it, what do you think she kept there?"
They were both quiet.  They faced the bright place; the point hovering above the heart of the Briar.  It was not far above them, it could be reached with an unaided jump.  But none dared touch it; its very presence held back the thicket, and no beast could stand to be too close to it.  They said it was a place the spirits feared to go.  And Ohgar was inclined to agree with them.  
"I'm gonna go with books.  Seems like she liked books an awful lot."  
"I think most of the truly powerful like books.  Even I sometimes get the urge to go on a bit of a reading binge."
"Tabloids don't count."
"I know, that's why I said 'binge'"
"So you just come and pay your respects to her?"
"Not her.  There's someone else, someone buried in the Library."
"Your brother?"
"Him?  No, he was buried on top of a mountain.  They used to have a whole little tourist industry around his tomb, history majors still visit it sometimes.  If they're rich and can afford bodyguards that is.  No, the man in the library is...well, I'd have liked to introduce you to him in better circumstances.  I think he'd have really liked you."
"You mean?"  There was silence.  The female, Rea, must have made some sort of gesture because it was the man who offered a response.  "He's already better than my last girlfriend's father.  He hasn't tried to kill me yet."
"Wait, you said...Krell, did you just say I was your girlfriend?"
The second name.  Ohgar carved them into his mind and dropped from his perch.  
"I, Ohgar Briarlord, command the mages Rea and Krell to obey me.  In the name of Acrun, Zaethos, and Merciless Vex; do my bidding!"
He could feel the fire course through his nerves.  The skin flared and burned.  He tasted sulfur.  And the last thing Ohgar heard was the voice of the man, not even bothered by the mention of the dark trinity, as he spoke  "Touch of Ash".    

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Epilogue

"That's how your mommy and Daddy got to be where they are today."
"But what happened to the Assassin?  They never beat the Assassin; did they kill her or did they let her live?"
"In a way, both.  Watching that bit of magic, and seeing a totally new form of life definitely scared her a bit; and it set her off guard.  Your daddy and the new being managed to hold her down and your mommy did a little magic on her."
"But she couldn't destroy anything; you said the Assassin was blocking it, right?"
"There is a lot of magic that doesn't destroy things.  Your mommy used some of it to decide whether or not to kill the Assassin, and the magic said to let her live."
"Like a discernment spell or something, so she could make a better decision?"
"No, your mommy doesn't need help making the right decisions; at least, not from magic.  She put a curse on her; the most dreadful sort imaginable."
"Did she make her incapable of eating, or drinking?  Oh, I'll bet she made it so that she'd fail at anything she tried, no matter how badly she tried."
The storyteller laughed.  "No, she could still eat and drink, and your mommy wanted her to succeed.  No, she did something much, much more dangerous."  She paused, watching the little blonde girl, staring eagerly as she waited with baited breath.  "Your mommy made her care."  She kept going, narrowly cutting off the child's objection.  "And for an immortal who has to kill other immortals, caring is the most painful thing she could have been made to do.  It meant she would feel guilt and distress for everyone she killed, but she still had to kill them.  And she'd get close to people, then have to live without them when they died.  It meant she couldn't be who she had been before.  So in a way, your mommy did kill her.  But your mommy and your daddy, they didn't just leave her there.  They kept her close, and they gave her something to care about.  Your daddy taught both her and your mommy how to be better people; who didn't just kill people.  And eventually, when your mommy and daddy had kids, they made her take care of the kids."  She set the book down on the nightstand and bent over the bed to kiss the little girl goodnight.  "And sometimes, they even made her tell them stories."
"I don't think that's such a bad curse Auntie Rea.  I think its a pretty good curse."
"I think its very, very bearable.  G'night Cyssie, don't let the boogieman get you."

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

Thousands of years later...

Liss stumbled over a loose cobblestone.  The gothic quarter of Stormguarde was basically dominated by them, it added to the dark, grim aesthetic of the place.  The ghoul maid had just been trying to run one of her mistress' errands, a simple matter of picking up some necessities for after tonight's party.  The contents of the bag were her responsibilities, and it was none of her business what the mistress and her handsome husband had planned for the evening.  She had never anticipated running into this sort of difficulty.
"Stop running from us, we're only trying to send a message to the Countess."
"Yeah, its not like you're using that brain anyways, why'd you need all that head on your shoulders?"
"Stop, please, I'm just a servant.  I don't know why you think she'd care what happened to me.  Shouldn't you go after one of her nephews or nieces, someone she actually cares about?"
The crowd of cloaked figures, red eyes glowing from the shadows in which they lurked, began to snicker.  "Now that's the thing, isn't it?  She does care what happens to you.  The rest of the ghouls are nothing, but you, you're special.  And we were rather hoping you'd help us understand why."
One of them pulled a butcher's cleaver from behind his back and leaned in, the dim light of the gas streetlamps exposing his vampiric smile.  Liss began to cry for help and he brought the blade over his head to strike.  Then there was a flash of lightning and she saw another cloaked figure standing over her.  Unlike the others, his cloak was brown, and there were mud stains across the bottom.  His boots were worn and the scabbard at his side had seen better days.  But his sword gleamed with a brightness of its own, and was forged of a purple crystal that called to mind the nails of a Gravagan.  She saw the cleaver begin to come down, and then fly off behind the stranger, still held in her assailant's hand.  He began to cry out, but the sword seemed to glide through him as though he were air.  And then she was left, stunned, at the foot of the stranger; and the remaining vampires stood at a distance, watching their comrade's inanimate corpse turn to ash and mix with the dirt between the cracks of the stone street.
"Lovely weather we're having."  The stranger said, straight-faced and solemn.  His eyes burned, but his demeanor was calm.
"Kill them both! What are you waiting for?"  Shouted the lead vampire.  The rest drew pistols and began unloading on the stranger.  Rather than making an effort at dodging, he helped Liss back to her feet and wrapped her in his cloak.  She could feel the warmth of his breath, a welcome change from the cold of the vampire controlled district, and even from the chill of the Palace.  And she noted for the first time his age.  It was rare to find anyone in Stormguarde with any apparent signs of age; neither vampires nor elves grew facial hair, and few immortals appeared older than their early twenties.  And yet his beard was flecked with grey, and there was slight wrinkling around his eyes.
"Next time, I'll bring you your crown milady.  Tell me, death or life?"
"I just want them to leave me alone."
He turned around, facing the crowd.  She could see that the back of his shirt had been destroyed by the hail of blaster fire, but any marks that they would have left on his skin were fading rapidly.  He was immortal then, even vampires wouldn't stand much chance against him.  And sure enough, with a mere seven motions, his sword had extinguished all but the leader.  The final vampire's gun clattered to the ground. The stranger began to speak, and he froze, whether he was paralyzed by magic or fear Liss could not tell.
"In the name of the Empress, Dark Lady Thalia Immersfeld Von Gravaga, and by the authority invested in me as Supreme Commander of her armies, Lord Executioner of her enemies, Grandmaster of the Dark Hand, and Prince Consort; I order the death of the rebel vampire Cortez, for treason against his mistress."  The crack of a pistol echoed about the street and Cortez collapsed, slowly dissolving into ash.  "May Death's embrace bear you to sweet eternal peace."
The stranger reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder.  "Don't worry milady, Kate is doing everything she can.  You'll understand it all soon my love."  Then he turned and vanished in the same step.  A woman stepped out of the shadows from behind the pile of ash that had once been a vampire.
"Wonder what all that was about.  And where's he off to now?  Some guide he is."  Then she ran off up the street.  Liss pulled the cloak tighter over her and retrieved the bag of things her mistress had requested from where they'd fallen.  As she started towards the Palace her only thought was that she hoped he'd come back for the cloak.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Creator

"Give me my book, and I'll only kill you."
"Your negotiating skills need some work.  For starters, there are two of us and we kicked your but last time.  Second, we have the book, you have death threats."
Hal pulled his sword out and stepped off the bed.  "And death threats are a really half-hearted way of threatening people anyways.  Give us some credit and make a real threat."
Thalia slid on to the floor and assumed a defensive stance.  "All this time I thought I was the only one who thought that about death threats."
"Has it ever stopped you from using them?"
"I love the classics."
"If you two are going to keep flirting, I really will just kill you."
They both turned to the young, oddly conversational, Assassin.  They couldn't tell much about her; an estimation of her age(about fourteen), the color of her hair (dyed black), Thalia could even tell that she had a good bit of money behind her (Steelsil couldn't be conjured, and she was wearing it like it was cotton).  But anything beyond that was uncertain.  She had a face mask and goggles on, making it hard to tell what she was thinking.
"Right!  You better be ready to turn over something a little bit more pointed than a death threat if you want us to go and give you back the hit list that lead you to our parents."
"You assume I need to negotiate."
She flipped her blades into position and charged.  Hal intervened and deflected her blow, forcing her back and giving Thalia room to work her magic.  Thalia launched a series of icy spikes at her opponent.  Or rather, she would have, but the magic refused to operate for no apparent reason.
"Told you I'd thought ahead.  I blocked out every kind of magic that could cause damage; no illusions, no destruction, no conjuring anvils over people's heads.  Only healing, enhancements,"  They didn't need to see her face to see her grin.  "Basically, my skills."
"You're an assassin with a talent for healing?"  Hal's blow was shunted aside and he dodged the counter that followed.
"At least I can use magic.  Right now neither of you can do a thing against me."  She rolled over Hal's retaliatory slash and managed to land a cut across his arm before he could fully dodge it.  Before either of them could continue fighting, the wound resealed itself seamlessly.
"What kind of idiot only knows combat?"  She tugged at the air and the door flew open.  "Luninda, Jaron, she found us."
The two Ga-Vok warriors barely managed to get through the door at the same time, Luninda pulling her axe from her side and Jaron coming with his hands open.  The Assassin seemed to pause at the sight of the two, but then swept Hal's feet from under him and charged them both.  She ducked under Luninda's wide axe swing and dislocated the warrior's left leg with a well placed jab.  Then she stabbed at Jaron.  He took it straight to the chest, pulling the blades deep with his own hands.  Luninda screamed something unintelligible, and Hal pulled himself up and began to charge the two.  But Jaron just held the Assassin close and seemed to whisper something to her.  As he finished, the assassin now sweating visibly, he began to howl.  And Thalia remembered what her mother had said before her death.
The four classical elements, combined with blood, and prayer; It couldn't be destruction, or illusion, and chances were that she couldn't even summon anything.  Healing would never use an element, and enchantment didn't seem relevant in her situation.  That really only left one school, and she felt a strong compulsion to grind palm into her forehead at how obvious it was.  She'd tried every element, blood, even raw magic; her research should've shown her this conclusion.  The strength of each of the four, complimenting each other perfectly, the cunning and strength of blood, but even with all of that life held a spark that neither magic nor science had ever been able to grasp.  But it did force her to do something she'd never really been good at doing.
"God, let this work."  Thalia let the forces flow out and mingle in the manner that seemed to work best.  Necromancy was an art, it had to be felt.  And the way that it all wanted to flow was unlike anything she'd ever done before.  She felt the golem, no, this was far more than any golem, the being forming within reality.  It was a projection not simply of her desire for a warrior, but her dream of a champion.  And it was more than that, it was a person; a being all its own.  That was the divine part of it all; the part she could never give it on her own.  She drew Jaron's dying blood from the blade of the Assassin, letting it leap through the air in crimson ribbons.  As the last of it joined the form, the being crystallized into a purple humanoid.  It was seven foot and a bit, clothed in a leather kilt and armed with muscles like steel cable.  She released the spell and fell to her knees.  It was exhausting to perform any spell of that magnitude, although admittedly less exhausting than she would have expected.  Then a hand reached down and she heard a voice.
"Creator, do you require assistance?"

Friday, February 10, 2012

Short Story; Bedtime Story (Aside to the Necromancer's Stone)

"Then what happened?"
The little girl sat bolt upright, knocking the plush animal she'd been holding onto a moment earlier of the bed.  Her eyes were bright with anticipation, and a little bit of concern for the characters in the story.  
"Well, then they all had teacakes and tapioca, asked why it was such a big deal, and parted ways as friends."
"Mommy's stories never end like that; tell me the real ending!"
"And what if that was the truth?"
"Then its a bad story."
"How is it a bad story?  What if they really liked teacakes and tapioca?  Maybe they were magic teacakes?"
"You can't enchant tapioca, or tea; I don't think it could have been magic.  And nobody likes food so much that it would keep them from killing each other."
"Aren't you clever?  So what do you think happened then?"
The little girl thought for a moment.  "I think that the boy and the girl fought the bad girl and they beat her up, and then they used magic and made the bad go away so that she became a nice lady."  She pulled her toy back up off the floor and tucked it in next to her.  "I think that would be a good ending."  
Then the story teller stood up and kissed her on the head, then pulled the sheets up.  "I think that would be a pretty good ending too.  Good Night Cyssie, sleep tight."
"But you still haven't told me how it ended?  What really happened?"
"You really want to know?"
The little blonde girl nodded, holding her pink, stuffed unicorn close.  
"Alright, I guess I'll have to finish it then."  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Killer

Thalia woke to the sound of blades being sharpened.  It wasn't actually uncommon in the nights since her parent's deaths.  Luninda was a compulsive blade sharpener, and Jaron seemed to have long given up on stopping her.  Tala had vanished as soon as they'd checked into the Hapsburg; something about needing some air.  The two Ga-Vok, on the other hand, had appointed themselves her bodyguards.  Even when she was at school they were never far.
She'd learned that Jaron had been sent by the Oracles, a council of shaman that served as an advisory council to whoever ruled the Confederacy at the time.  Realistically, that made them the true rulers of the Ga-Vok.  No one would argue their power, not even Thalia.  They never held any direct power, and their military wing consisted entirely of about forty priest-assassins known as 'the moon sought'.  And while they were, by most accounts, the most deadly covert operations force in the known universe; they simply lacked the presence to turn the Oracles into direct leadership of the confederacy.  All they really did was keep the Ga-Vok from falling apart, accelerate the end of term for less pious Alphas, and attend to the varied prophecies of the Oracles themselves.  And it was that last purpose that had lead Jaron to her.
As far as Thalia could tell, Luninda was just along for the ride.

"Why does it always seem to be windows with you?"
"Because there are always things in front of my door."  The cloaked man pulled himself through the barely open, tenth floor window into her room.  "I'm glad you came.  I was starting to worry."
"I had to see you again."  Hal pulled her up off the bed and kissed her.  "I never got to properly talk to you after our date."
"Extenuating circumstances aside, I think it went well."
"Really?  Maybe when this is all over we could do it again?"
Thalia nodded.  She was still too tired to fully make sense of her surroundings, but she was definitely glad he wasn't about to call it quits.  And after the way their relationship had gone so far, she hardly could have blamed him if he had.  It seemed like there was a swathe of death surrounding them; his previous girlfriend, her parents, the U'kown from the Opera, the gang from the bar.  A lot of it was her fault, some of it was out of their control, but she was sure he wouldn't have had to deal with any of it if she hadn't been around.
"Are you sure?  You'd probably be a lot safer without me."
"What makes you think I want to be safe?  She killed my parents too."
"I meant everything.  Most of the time I was the one who killed people; my parents were her, but everyone else was me."
He shuffled uncomfortably.  "I know.  And most of them had that coming.  Not all of them, but most of them. And if I had tried, none of them would have died.  Their blood is as much on my hands as yours."
"But you never struck the blow."
"I killed that U'kown, Cool, the one from the Opera.  And you never noticed some of the others.  Two of the boys from the TacSim team you defeated, the ones with the hammers; they tried to ambush you at the Fuzzy Librarian a week before Junsrew.  They tried to hire me, and I lead them into the alley to 'negotiate terms'.  And before that there was a Hydromancer, an immortal one.  I didn't know who you were then, but he'd hired me to track you.  When I saw you in your room," then he whispered, "having tea with your unicorns."  Thalia blushed.  If there was any secret she would have killed to hush up, it was that a villain in her late twenties still liked to have tea with her stuffed animals.  "I realized that I was working for that bad guy.  So I arranged to meet him in person, and then we fought, and I killed him."
"Do you know who he was?"
"No.  He never said his name.  I only ever knew that you'd humiliated him by disproving some kind of theorem of his.  I thought it was silly, but he made you out to be some sort of smart-alecky, loose, *^%*$."
"His name was Rucuun.  The theorem was that you could freeze time.  He could prove that you could slow it immensely, but I showed him that it could never be used to truly stop time.  I always thought he was just too upset to come back."
Then she looked him in the eyes and realized what he'd been through.  She was a villain, heartless and cold; for her killing was merely distasteful.  He wasn't.  He'd worked as a hero-for-hire, a mercenary.  He'd probably killed twice as many people as she had, but every one of them weighed on his conscience.  And not just targets, he felt bad for the minions, and the companions too.  He probably felt even worse for their deaths; most of them hadn't even known what they'd gotten into.  He did though, Hal had known what he'd gotten into.  And he'd managed to toughen up enough that he could keep going, but it didn't make him a killer.
"I'm sorry.  I didn't know."
"I didn't want you to know.  I wanted you to be safe."
"Well we can't both be safe then.  Either I protect you or you protect me, but that just puts one of us in harms way all the time."
They were quiet for a while.  Thalia had leaned up against one of the posts of her bed, facing Hal where he sat on the pillows.  The one Petra had called Rea had managed to curse him before she'd fled, and it was clear that Hal had been stricken with a few years worth of aging.  He wore them well though, and the little bit of grey in his beard made him, if anything, more attractive than ever.
"Then let us protect each other.  Your enemies will be mine."
Thalia recognized the ancient phrase.  It was the pledge of the priest and the princess, from Hilien's 'Zikat Du Junlaerd'.
"And your enemies shall be mine also.  My doors will always be open to you."
"And a place of honor will always be set for you at my table."
And between us there shall be one door, one table, and no enemies.  It sounded so much better in the original High-Nieldic, but common still conveyed the meaning.
"I think this is the part where we titter awkwardly for a while."
"I'm surprised you read poetry."
"I watch opera; why wouldn't I read poetry."
"I don't know.  Its just weird to think of a ruffian swordman like you reading Hilien or Acrival.  Do you sit out on a moor with your sword while you read it?"
Hal blushed.  Thalia had to laugh.  It was almost as bad as her having tea parties with her unicorns.  No swordsman worth his snuff would be caught dead in the middle of a plain of rolling hills, leaned against a rock, sword at his side, reading poetry.  Reading poetry in a tavern wouldn't have been fine either, but the sheer romantic quality of the image it presented just made it exceedingly un-swordsman like of him.
"Speaking of books.  I think I have one you wanted."  Hal fished into his pocket and pulled out a little leather bound book.  "I pulled it out of her pouch after I saw you try to get it."
Thalia accepted the book, and opened it to the last page, then read it.
"Holine IV Laerdsfeld, the Imperial vault on Medea, Phylactery and Body destroyed by Zink's Cleiden at seven fifty-eight in the morning and eight ten in the morning respectively, on the third day of the first month, the Twelve thousandth, One hundred and Ninety-Eighth year of the Empire in the presence of Krell Casat."
"Its a hit list."
"Its a hit list that goes nearly six thousand years into the future."
"Its MY hit list."
And they both turned to face the short, infuriated assassin.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Talk of Strangers

"I hear she's the most dangerous woman alive."
"They say she blew up the whole tavern, just because there was a fly in her drink."
"Doesn't she live in that ice fortress on the edge of town; a friend of mine said they carried a body out of there on Saturday morning and the sheet they use to cover the bodies was so soaked in blood you couldn't tell it had ever been white."
"Wouldn't be the first time she'd killed someone; remember her Junsrew party?"

Thalia didn't normally pay attention to the whispers; they'd have driven her crazy ages ago if she had.  But today she seemed to be the talk of the school, everyone had heard about how the Fuzzy Librarian had been destroyed.  Apparently the explosion had been visible from the dorms.  And when people had found out she'd been involved, they'd just started digging up every nasty rumor they'd ever heard about her all over again.

"I thought she controlled the local gangs."
"She has the local police under her thumb, that's why there isn't an investigation.  Anyone else would be in prison by now for what she's done."
"They say she cheats in TacSim.  Manipulates the rules to get the maps she wants, and makes her troops stronger than anyone else's."

Normally she'd have picked someone out of the crowd to humiliate, brutally.  She'd have exposed their every secret to the world, beaten them soundly, and left them subject to the disdain and ridicule of the crowds.  But she couldn't seem to bring herself to do it.  She knew every one of their dark secrets, but it made no difference what they thought of her now.

"Doesn't she go out with that one girl, the one with the shield?"
"You mean Katie?  I think that was only the once."
"She's never been the same since though.  I think it broke her heart a little."

Normally, she'd have gone home at the end of the day, exchanged pleasantries with her father, and then hidden in her room until she fell asleep at her desk.  Maybe, on a really bad day, she'd have gone down to the tavern and beaten up some worthless miscreant.  Now all of those things were gone; the tavern, the miscreant, her desk, even her father.  She had nothing but the clothes from her closet, the jewelry she'd recovered from the wreckage, and the collection of soggy, plush unicorns.  Hal had offered to let her stay with him, but she'd chosen to stay at the Hapsburg instead.  With her parents combined fortunes, she'd never want for money, and even the Hapsburg was well within budget.  She liked Hal, as much as it was possible to like someone you'd only known for less than a month, but she wasn't about to just go and move in with her boyfriend, was that what he was? until they'd been dating a lot  longer, maybe even gotten married.  But it had been nice of him to offer, and he'd been very understanding.  After all, hadn't the same Assassin killed his parents years ago?

"Thalia, I just talked to the Ga-Vok who escorted you to school.  Is it true?  Are your parents, both of them..?"
"It is.  They're dead."
Katie hugged her.  In fact, she sort of threw herself around her.  It was cold, plate armor got like that in the winter.  Katie herself was very warm, she must have just been sparring, and from the sound of her heart beat she'd run all the way back from the training fields.  Enchanting being taught from a tower, it would have been quite exhausting.
"I'm so sorry!  Oh light's sake, I'm so sorry."
"It's fine.  I'll be fine."
She didn't let go.  Thalia couldn't move her arms enough to pat her on the back, or push her off, or in any way signal her that the hug had lasted as long as she could bear.
"What are you going to do now?"
"Live.  Did you have an idea?"
Katie let go of Thalia, finally, and looked up at her with eyes full of rage.
"I think you should find the one who did this, tie her down, and make her your #$@^ toy."
"I don't think that would be right."
"*&$^ the Law girl.  You never cared about it before."
"No, its that I don't think she's old enough.  I'd guess she was maybe fourteen, fifteen.  its not a legal thing, its moral one.  I'm just not going there."
"Oh."  Katie blushed.  "Jaron failed to mention that part."
"She's an immortal.  The head of the pantheon, Tala; she seemed to know something."
"Really?  Then you think she might be older than your parents?"
"I'm not sure.  But I know she killed Hal's parents too, which would make her at least thirty four years old.  But I think she's probably a lot older than that."
"She's older than anyone but the Sage.  Her name is a secret to all but those who read the past, and see the future.  The Pale knows, but she speaks little to many, and the meanings are lost."
They both spun around as a familiar, somewhat condescending, voice issued forth from behind them.  The figure was clad in a light tunic, brown with silver trappings, and her hair was worn in a long braid.
"Professor Zinksfeld!  What are you..?"
"..Doing here.  Is it so hard to believe that I exist outside my classroom and after my office hours?"  Neither Katie nor Thalia responded, both still startled by their teacher's sudden appearance.  "The girl you are speaking of is known by many names; the reaper of souls, the claws of death, Assassin, witch.  But her true name, even I do not know that.  But I know a name to which she will respond; call her Rea, and tell her that Death's Daughter is still waiting for her proof."
"Proof of what?"
"That's none of your business really; she'll understand.  She may even be startled long enough for you to hit her some more."  The Professor paused for a moment, then muttered quietly.  "Maybe you'll even knock some sense into her."
"Uhm..Thank you?"
"For what, if you hurt her a bit it might make up for all of the students of mine she's offed over the years.  Your parents among them.  Tarted up little brat is responsible for more dead immortals than anything but suicide, and most of them don't even know she exists.  Its about time someone put a stop to things, and if anyone's foolish enough to take on the top assassin in the universe, its you."
Thalia considered the statement quietly, and with even less confidence replied once more, "Thank you?"
"Go, you'll be late for class.  And this changes nothing, necromancer, I still don't like you."
That at least, Thalia could rely on.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Aftermath

Thalia dropped off of her chair to her knees.  She didn't have to in order to tell that her mother was already dead.  Immortals were hard to kill, no denying that, but it wasn't impossible.  The right spells, set over the right elements, would overcome even their great resistance to death.  Part of her father's teachings had included teaching her some of those methods, and as Hal managed to pin the assassin's blade to the wall Thalia managed to get a clear enough view of it to make out which means had been used.
Two of the most magical elements in the universe; the stone made when certain words were spoken over the blood of someone who was still living, and the organic metal that comprised the bones of a Nielda.  Her mother's killer had used a weapon forged of both.  Then it had a series of runes and alchemic patterns engraved on them; spells to penetrate wards and ultimately even immortality.  It was quite a piece of craftsmanship, and Thalia couldn't place every pattern to a spell.  Whoever made it was a true master, worthy of great honor and praise.
The wielder, on the other hand, needed to die horribly, slowly, and creatively and she needed to start doing so now.  Thalia grabbed the nearest weapon, a redwood staff that Liane had left leaning against the counter while she'd been drinking, and went after the offending personage, leaping over the action and sweeping the staff in a nearly hundred and eighty degree arc as she landed.  It might have made it further, but it was blocked by several chairs, three unlucky innocents, and a magical barrier.
The girl was a mage then, and clearly a very talented one.  Still, even if she were equal to Thalia's unstoppable force, she still had to contend with the immovable object that was Hal.  For someone with no apparent magical talents, Hal was not only holding his ground but keeping their adversary on the defensive.  Any attempt she made to counter his assault was reversed easily, and followed up with a devastating series of blows.  Thalia's efforts might not be enough to overload the assassin, but it kept her from being able to upsetting the imbalance of her battle with Hal with any sort of magic.  After a few frenzied minutes it became clear that their opponent had little experience being on the defensive.  She was starting to panic, surrounded by flame and frost, steel and blood she couldn't help but realize was mostly her own.  Thalia could feel the edges of her thoughts seeping through; 'what the hell' being the most prominent, and close thereafter the desire to escape and..read?  Thalia glanced at the leather pouch on her belt, where the assassin had stowed the book she had read from after stabbing Liane.  The book was important to her, important enough that it had to be consulted immediately after killing an immortal.  That meant it was important enough to come back for if she managed to flee.  Thalia unleashed a thousand tendrils of flame, each covered in as many thorns of ice as could be fit onto them.  Then, as they forced themselves through every gap in the already weakened magical barrier, Thalia darted in under their cover and snatched at the pouch.  She felt it in her hand and then saw the armored elbow coming down.

"Ah good, she's coming to."
The Fuzzy Librarian had been wrecked.  Thalia could make out half a table embedded in what had once been the third floor, but all the rest of the first floor furnishings had been demolished.  The second floor, and indeed much of the third, were similarly non-existent.  She could actually see the stars through the roof, which she knew to be at least four floors up.  That might have been the splitting headache though.
"Where's Hal?"
"He's right over here Hun."  Replied a woman's voice.  It was light, but strong.  It reminded Thalia of her mother, only more steady and sober.    "Fraid little Rea did a number on him after you went down.  He's alive, but his beard'll never be the same again."
Thalia tried to run to his side, but found a pair of furry hands were restraining her.
"Hold still fireblood, the curse is still affecting your clothing.  We wouldn't want you running about naked, would we?"  The second voice was calm, but rough.  But more importantly it sounded, canine.  The rounder sounds were longer, like a howl; the harsher ones were barked, quick and jarring.
"We certainly wouldn't; disgusting hairless creatures."  Another canine voice, but less calm and more soft, a woman most likely.
"Speak for yourself Luninda, I think our little friend looks just fine."
"That's because you're one of them, stormchaser."
"Racism has no place in battle Luninda; the Oracles ordered us to protect the Dark Lady.  The color of her fur,"
"Or rather, lack thereof."
"Is of no importance to our task.  And you will do well to remember that."
"Yes Jaron.  But I will not like it."
"That is a choice; do not forget it."
"Could you two stop flirtin and finish disenchantin the damn outfit?"
"Right."  The two Canines spoke as one, with almost military coordination.  Thalia spotted a flash of something blue, electric blue in fact, out of the corner of her eye.  Another few minutes passed and then she heard a squelching sound from all around her and she felt, underdressed.  The woman, the one who seemed to be in charge, started giggling.
"You meant to do that!  Dammit stormchaser, you meant to do that and you know it."
"I'm afraid I must agree with my comrade; you could have avoided that if you'd tried."
The giggling continued intermittently as the one they called stormchaser replied.  "Course I could have, but then I wouldn't have gotten to see the looks on your dear young faces."
Luninda began swearing in what Thalia could recognize as Ga-Vok, causing the giggling to escalate to full blown laughter.  But as she became aware of her vulnerable state Thalia decided to take matters into her own hands.  She snapped a towel into existence over her and then again to turn it into a skirt and blouse.
"Oh good, you can still use magic.  I was a bit worried there Hun, it was a pretty nasty curse."
"So you decided to leave me naked on the floor of a bar?  What kind of rescuers are you people?"
"Why, the dirty-minded, whimsical kind of course."
Thalia sat up and looked at her rescuers.  The two Ga-Vok; Jaron and Luninda, were sitting calmly and swearing passionately while stamping about the room, respectively.  But the other woman, stormchaser, was surprisingly familiar.
"Tala?  Grandmaster of the Pantheon?  What are you doing here?"
"Two members of the pantheon died within an hour of each other, obviously I'm investigatin."  She was quiet for a moment, staring at Thalia like she expected her to ask a question.
"All right, who's the other one?"
"I'm sorry to be the one to bear this news but..your dad is dead too.  She got them both within minutes of each other."
Thalia let the news sink in.  There was no one to attack this time.  And she'd already started to make plans to kill the girl responsible for killing her mother.  Now she had to plan revenge for both of them.  It wasn't like they'd ever really been there for her.  Her father had been nothing but cold and heartless, and her mother hadn't even been that.  Still, it had been nice to know they were there.  Now she was an orphan.  She was legally an adult so it made no difference really.  She'd keep going, and she'd get revenge, and she'd keep going.
"Dark lady, this may be a bad time, but we need you to kiss the boy-Nielda in order to break the curse affecting him.  I think it would be in your best interests to do so quickly.  Neither Luninda nor I are particularly good with sympathy or Nieldic grieving customs, and stormchaser is..."  He paused and seemed to ponder his words for a moment.  "What is common word for", he barked and yipped for fifty odd seconds, "I am not sufficiently familiar with your language."
"What Jaron means is that I've got problems expressin my emotions.  Its actually a lot more complicated than that, but you kinda get the point?'
They didn't need to tell her twice.  Thalia had already made it halfway across the room, on all fours, before Tala had stopped talking.  She leaned over Hal, who seemed to be conscious, and from the looks of things, had been for the whole exchange.
"I'm sorry."
She kissed him gently and then curled up next to him and started crying.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Necromancer's Stone; Liane

"Hi!  I'm sorry but I already have cookies."
"Seriously?  Do I look like a girl scout to you?"
The tall, fiery haired woman in the doorway looked her over and then for a moment a sort of recognition dawned on her face.  Then her face returned to its usual pleasantly crazed expression.
"No.  You look like a girl who once convinced me to keep a stuffed animal I forgot I had.  Hello again little red haired friend.  How's school?"
"I'm pretty good, but I need your help."
She straightened up instantly.  Something in her clicked the second she realized she was needed.  It was almost an instinctive reaction really.
"Lets get a drink.  I know this tavern."
"Yes, I know a better one."

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

"So, I'm quite curious.  You never struck me as particularly needing for anything.  Why would you come for a washed out mage like me when you probably have a school full of friends who could help you out with just about anything."  She paused for a moment.  "This isn't some kind of adventure is it?  I swore off adventures five years ago.  There didn't seem to be any point any more."
Thalia glanced over the rim of her mug.  She'd opted in favor of a mere ginger ale; so that she could better pay attention to Liane's half-drunken ramblings.  Katie had, inadvertently, taught her how much you could learn from a person when they were under the influence.  Then it had been the knowledge that Katie secretly still had the hots for her.  But Liane had always managed to prove herself surprising than Katie had.
"It was the animal you made me keep.  I tracked down the manufacturer, questioned the supplier, and even found the man who was running the carnival booth it was won at on the day I got it.  Turns out it was pretty traumatic for the poor guy; it seems I burned him pretty bad when I lost.  Then he told me about the man who was with me."  She knocked over her own mug, full of a much stronger, and darker, sort of ale.  Liane bent in and shook her finger at Thalia.  "But you already know who he was, don't you?  You recognized his handwriting.  I'm not stupid, I could tell.  But you never told me who you were; not really.  You said you were a student, and I know that you paid a lot more than I'd asked for.  But then I realized what connected it all together."  Thalia could smell the alcohol on her breath.  But that wasn't what was making her so intent.
"I looked in a mirror and I saw you.  A bit shorter, and not quite as well proportioned as you are, I'm infinitely jealous by the way.  You're the girl I had; the one Than adopted to spite me.  He thought he was so clever; raising my own daughter to kill me.  But it turns out you're better than that.  You've got a fire he never could have predicted, eh?"  Then Liane fell off her stool, giggling like mad.  "My daughter, asking me to help her with an adventure.  Real piece of work, the universe; one second you're doing fine the next, BAM!"  She snapped, causing the wooden stool she had been sitting on seconds earlier to melt like a candle.  "Its all over."  She was quiet for a moment.  Then she held out her hand and Thalia helped her back up.
Liane stared off towards the door.  She didn't seem to be looking at anything in particular, but her eyes were flicking back and forth like she was tracking something.
"Have you ever seen the Pale; the woman in the void?"  Thalia nodded, thinking of the pupilless specter that lurked in the non-space that could be seen in the mid-point of a Tesser jump.
"I've seen her.  And I heard her.  Hal said that she says something different to everyone."
Liane nodded, the simple motion exaggerated by her inebriated state.  Her eyes were still focused on some invisible target, and her hands had begun to quiver.
"When the wolf howls, join flame and frost to wind and earth, infuse them with blood and ask God his blessing."  Her feet began to burn and her entire body was engulfed in flame.  "That's right child, I know your secret.  Such a pity neither of us have the skill to perform, nor the genius to decipher its exact means.  Its just a line in a book to you, and even though I know it to be destiny, its not mine.  I performed my purpose.  I birthed my daughter.  I followed the bidding of the Pale.  You are too late, little Reaper."
"No" A pair of blades, each curved and etched in blood and kraj, sprouted from Liane's chest.  "MY book, was very specific on when you should die."  The blades withdrew.  Thalia's mother fell to the ground, a spontaneous gust of wind extinguishing the fires that had been raging around her.  She was still choking on her final breaths when the voice resumed.
"Liane, the first Ashwalker of the Pantheon.  Dies in the Fuzzy Librarian, at precisely two forty-nine AM, on the nineteenth day of the first month of the Six thousand, two hundred and twenty-eighth year of the Empire.  Stabbed through the heart by Zink's Cleiden.  Her daughter, Thalia, is present; as is..oh &^*(."
"You!"  Thalia's stupor was broken as she heard Hal's voice coming from the back door.  "You killed my parents!"