Friday, August 30, 2013

Just when things were going so well. That's the proper time to knock the protagonist on their butt. Here I inject another tiny clue of the impending climax, but for now it is still not even noteworthy. As the lesson on plots pointed out, there is a need to stack the plots like a set of nesting dolls. Each one carries a theme to connect them all, but each is unique as well. I'd tell you to find more of the clues within Uiyah's Paw, but I keep tearing that book apart to rebuild it. I just love it too much to shred it and start over.
So, here is rest of chapter 5.

     The men knew their task, and had rested all afternoon as she worked. Now they had a visible goal to spur them. Soon they began pulling bodies from the snow. Human bodies. Every one of them displaying the marks of a violent demise. Horses and Humans alike had been slaughtered by some large beast. Both wagons had been smashed, and the large chest in the lead wagon, had been torn open. The prize was stolen.
     As the search widened beyond the massacre, one of the scouts found a line of tracks heading Northward. Here the snow was a mere foot deep, as though the subsequent storms had missed this part of the trail. All they could tell from the tracks was that several Humans had gone toward the summit of the pass. Lightly burdened.
     Spurred on by the tracks, a score of soldiers charged forward before one of them thought to look back to the foreman. The foreman started to voice his command, then stopping mid-sentence he cast a glance at his prince. Prince Moffatt waved his hand at them, giving them his permission, though they seemed ready to go regardless. Seemingly an afterthought, he called one last directive.
     “Bring me word of the relic.”
     Aeriona looked up at the prince. “Just what was this relic?”
     His eyes had lost much of their warmth as he looked down at her. “That’s an affair best not meddled with by the Crystal Towers. Herrin, had deciphered enough of the tablet to know that concerned Dragons talking to Humans. I need that tablet to secure peace with the Northern realm.”
     A thrill went through her that such a tablet existed. She had spent years searching for clues such as that, and very few seemed to still exist. Everyone knew that Humans had crafted the runes, Elves had copied them, and Dragons were just some rare beasts that caused great problems. Everyone that is, except for the authors of some ancient scrolls that she’d found by accident.
     If a clever student dug deep enough into the restricted shelves of the vaults, she could find one that clearly stated how a Dragon named Delienth drew the bending shape for a group of Elven earth sensitives. Of course the student also had to be fluent in ancient Elvish to get that far. In all, Aeriona had found five such notations of Dragons being there for early magic; a time before Humans could wield the power.
     “Could I talk to Herrin?”
     The prince gave a short laugh. “You could, if he hadn’t vanished at the first sign of trouble. I sent him off to clear this mess, and he never reached the camp. I’m not sure how much a dirt mage could do against this, but I had just as much doubt about your abilities too. Thank you for showing me different.”
     Aeriona found herself pacing back and forth at the edge of the snow, anxious for the first news of the soldiers. As she rounded about on one of her transits, she nearly bumped right into the cook holding out a bowl of potato chowder. Thoughts swirling in her head about Dragons, and missing soldiers, and thousands of years old tablets had kept her from realizing how hungry she was. The bowl served the second purpose of warming fingers that had grown painfully stiff in the frigid night air.
     Returning the bowl gave her a chance to sit and talk with one of the soldiers that had remained to guard the camp. She lost track of the words somewhere between his favorite horse, and the drudgery of walking the wall. His words distracted her from fretting over the soldiers that had gone ahead, and let her exhaustion creep in.
     The world was a little brighter when the shouts woke her. Blinking helped to clear her eyes enough to see the returning soldiers making their way into camp. Her spirits rose as she realized that there were more faces returning than had marched out last night. The early dawn’s light showed them carrying about half a dozen wounded and starving survivors.
     Aeriona grabbed a bowl, and filled it from the still simmering stew pot quickly carried it to the men stumbling into camp. A shiver went down her spine as she looked closely into these faces that bore the blank look of exhaustion. Most of them sported make-shift bandages. Unsure where to begin, a thought struck her.
     Glances back and forth between the faces. “Kyle? Kyle?”
     One of them coughed. “Here.. Sir..”
     Aeriona stepped over to the man leaning on a returning soldier, and held the steaming bowl out to him. It was only then that she realized his free arm ended at the elbow. A wad of cloth wrapped the stubby end. Unsure what else to do, she helped the soldier guide Kyle to a rock he could sit on. Free of his burden, the soldier rushed to help another of his comrades, while Aeriona held the bowl out to Kyle.
     He started to reach with his stubby arm, forgetting that it wasn’t whole. He switched and took it with his remaining good hand, to stare at it a moment. The good one shaking so badly that it threatened to dump the stew in his lap till he set the bowl on his knees.
     “Sorry, back in a moment.”
     Embarrassment washed over Aeriona as she realized that she’d forgotten to grab a spoon when she’d filled the bowl. She dodged around and between other soldiers getting stew for the ones they’d brought back, and grabbed a spoon. She got back to Kyle, sticking the spoon into the thick meal, like a pennant pole.
     Twice he let go of the bowl to grab at the spoon, only to have to grab the bowl again as it came close to tumbling off his knees. Seeing his trouble, she knelt and scooped up some stew, bringing it to his mouth. For the first time he looked into her face that had been shielded by the cloak’s hood, and lurched backward, nearly falling off his perch.
     “Ice Giant? No, can’t be. How did you know my name?”
     “Your mother asked me about you. I’m a mage from the Crystal Towers.”
     “How? Mum’s a maid in the keep; what’s this costing her? From Twillingspire? She hasn’t the money to pay for this.”
     “Relax, I’m here at the behest of Prince Moffatt. I just happened to meet her, and she asked me to find you.”
     “She must be worried to the bone to ask that.”
     “What happened anyway? I know you were taking a relic over the pass, but it’s too early for snow, and your arm. I mean it’s gone.”
     “It just started snowin’ thick out of nowhere, so the Sergeant pulled the wagons up close to wait it out. Like you said, too early for snow. It was ‘bout a foot deep when them guys came charging right out of the blizzard, swinging at everything. We turned for them, and two big red demon beasts hit us from the other side.”
     “Demon beasts?”
     “They gotta be. I ain’t heard tell of nothing like that, ever. Spawn of the Deep Roads for sure. Tore my horse in half while I was sitting on her. Bit my arm clean off as I were fallin’. Once they’d about killed everything, them beasts busted open the strongbox for them Black Bloods. I played dead with the horse’s head on top of me.”
     “Ebonite Elves? But they usually don’t like the cold.”
     “Ever now and then you see one come through the city, but nah, they like to stay South. There was about thirty of ‘em. They grabbed them jade tablets, and… Wait, gotta tell the Prince. They handed ‘em off to Herrin! I’m sure it were him that brung this storm down around us. Or it were you! Who else could do it, but a frost witch? Get away from me!”
     Kyle shoved her away, flinging the now empty bowl after her. Aeriona turned seeking help from anybody else, and found herself facing the Prince. The look on his face told her that rescue was not coming from him.
     “My cloak.”
     Aeriona slowly slid the cloak from her shoulders, holing it out to the Prince. He took it from her, only to hand it to the foreman standing next to him.
     “Men, seize her, but be gentle.”
     “I didn’t. I couldn’t have. I…”
     “A gag. Now!”
     Soldiers grabbed her from both sides, and a piece of rope jammed across her mouth, to be tied behind her head, muffling any further protests. A few more directions from the Prince had her mounted on her horse once more, with hands tied to the pommel. The horse’s lead rope was passed to the Sergeant that had led the way up the hill.
     In short order, the Prince was leading a small group down the hill, with one wagon full of the wounded men. The rest of the soldiers stayed to load the dead on the other wagon. Aeriona’s mare was towed along behind the sergeant as he rode beside the Prince. They were nearly at the gates of the keep before Prince Moffatt dropped back to talk to her.
     “Two things keep you from spending a very long time in a deep dark hole. First, you came as an emissary of The Crystal Towers. Everything points to their involvement here, but I’d need more than supposition to sever ties with Twillingspire. Second, those men owe you their lives, and I won’t taint that with your death. Jardelth will cut your bonds at the border. The next time a mage sets foot in my land, it better be to deliver the head of Herrin, and my relic.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Many aspects of the story can affect the dialog, Here I've added some stuttering to account for shivering in her voice. I hope this adds to the flavor of the story.

It took an effort for Aeriona to convince her fingers to curl around the mug he offered. As soon as it felt solid in her grip, she looked at him. A young man, barely as hold as herself. His brown eyes locked onto her own, carrying a message of shame. He didn’t fit the mental picture she’d built up of a soldier.
She had seen men like him tending livestock, or working the fields. He wasn’t much different than the one who tended the melon stand where all the students liked to fondle the produce while staring at him. The girl students at least. Aeriona had spent her share of time pretending to be interested in mint melons.
“I..I..I..d..don’t think I heard any of those.”
“It’s just as well. Some of it wasn’t so nice. Let me get you a spot by the fire.”
He led her over close to the fire, where the other soldiers were milling about. Everyone was trying to get their own share of the heat; a few started to protest her intrusion, until spotting the prince standing close by. The cloak around her shoulders helped trap the heat coming off the fire, taking the chill off her skin. The mead did its share of warming her from the inside.
The soldier that had led her to the fire had been glancing at her a few times before he found the courage to speak up. “What’s your name? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking. I’ve never had the chance to talk to an Ice Giant before. I… I didn’t mean to call you that.”
The warm mead had taken the edge off her shivering.”It’s Aeriona. I come from Colonsky. Have you ever seen one of the Ice Giants?”
“Colonsky? Like in Kanasas?”
“That’s the one. My father has an estate there, but I haven’t seen it since before I was ten.”
“And no, I never saw one. I just heard they were big. They tore up the Griffin farm two years ago; killed the whole family. I joined up to keep that from happening again.”
“They’re big,like eight foot tall or more. I just never thought about why my hair was white.”
“You never had problems with them in Kanasas?”
“I was little. I knew the servants, and some of the kids around town, but nobody tells a kid what’s happening. And none of them were Ice Giants.”
“Do you think they did this?”
“I’ve never heard of one coming to the Crystal Towers. Speaking of it; I need to get back to work.”
She drained the last of the mead in a gulp, and handed him the mug as she turned back toward the wall of ice. Spurred on by the thought of more young soldiers, like the one who’d brought her mead, she lashed out with Zaphyri’s Claws as she stepped close. Chunks of snow went flying, to be sucked up moments later as she shifted to the cyclone.
Twice more she had to pause for warmed mead, though the cloak kept most of the chill from her. The shifting routine cleared the snow rapidly, and kept her from completely draining her energy as the flux funneled through her, guided by the runes. It had become such a steady cycle that she let her mind wander down the path of curiosity concerning the large thread of flux running under the mountain.
Such a thread could easily give even a Journey Mage the strength to call up a storm, though this pile of snow would have taken a few Masters to lay down. Not to mention that the water to make the snow had to come from somewhere. By the end of her third stretch of carving the path, it was getting too dark to tell where the path actually lay.
She walked back the few hundred yard to the latest placement of the camp, where the young soldier was waiting with a bowl of stew in his hand. The smell of it woke the hunger in her belly that she’d shoved aside in the rush to find the missing men. She needed no urging to start spooning the hearty meal in to quell the pangs.
“I nearly ran into that tree a bit ago.”
“I saw that. It looks like a wood cutter tried taking vengeance on it.”
“I can’t tell where the trail is before I clear it.”
“Just go for the widest part between the trees. There aren’t any trees in the middle of the path.”
“I’m not sure I can even see that much. Wish I had a couple orbs. They could mark the trail till I got to them, and then move them further along.”
“There’s some back at the keep, but that would take most the night to get them and return. Wait, I got an idear.”
He ran off, leaving her to finish off a second bowl of the stew. The man made rounds through the waiting soldiers, asking for help. A few turned aside, but most were willing to go along. The eight of them strapped the snow scouting shoes onto their boots, and headed out with torches.
The snow shoes let them walk across the top of the drifts, and soon the first pair stopped about thirty feet ahead. One to each side of the trail. Within a short time there was a torch-lit path heading off through the trees. All she had to do was aim between the lights and she wouldn’t lose the trail again.
As her winds grew close enough to snuff out the first set of torches, they headed further up the path to ignite them once more. This way her clearing could progress as fast as it had under the light of day. Back in the repetitious groove again, her thought wandered back to speculating on the flux thread.
Her passion for studying the Dragons, and their magic, had led her to speculate that Dragons sought out these very threads to make their lairs near. The few Masters that she had mentioned this to, had either scoffed at the idea, or kept their silence. Her line of thoughts shattered as a big brown Dragon poked its head out of the swirling winds of her cyclone. It stared straight into her eyes for a moment, almost touching noses, before the winds flung it away once more.
Aeriona collapsed to her knees with shock. The spiraling winds died to near calm, at odds with her nerves, which were shaking like an autumn leaf. The sight had sent an icy spike up her back that resisted her attempts to shake it off. She stayed on her knees for a few deep breaths as she strove to get the shaking under control.
Over the ragged sound of her gasping, she realized the men were scrambling over the snow to where the thing had landed. The logical part of her mind knew that there was no chance of it being a Dragon, still she wanted to call out a warning. Before that impulse could win out, one of them shouted that he’d found it.
“A horse! Or part of one anyway. That witch’s spells tore it up bad.”
A horse; not a Dragon. Still, the relief of the discovery failed to thaw the chill running down her back that had nothing to do with the frozen landscape in which she knelt. With a bit of mustered will, she gained her feet once more. She wanted a second look at the Dragon that had mocked her from the cyclone.
She feared their claim had been right until she got a closer look. The poor animal had been torn apart by large claws. The tears were rough and jagged, with a triple pattern. Despite the few dissenters still clinging to the claim that she’d killed it, most agreed that was an animal larger than any known to roam these mountains.
The foreman stepped into the escalating argument, and bellowed orders to grab the shovels. To mark his words, he kicked a horse hoof poking out of the cut face of the snow wall. Most likely the other half of the one that had played Dragon to her distracted mind. He turned his glare on Aeriona.
“Your work is done. Now get out of our way so that we can get the bodies out right away.”
“What about survivors?”
“Be grateful it were only a horse ya carved up.”
Without even waiting for her response, he turned back to the task of pointing his finger with shouted orders.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

 A good story needs characters. Some we like, some we hate, and some that just send a shiver through our sense or decency. These are the literal lifeblood of the story. Readers shouldn't like all of your actors.


Magic won’t solve your dilemma. It will only lend strength to your method.
Roveena Lei’ku…

It was two hours of hard riding later, that the mountain road became clogged with snow. Little roadside piles that had lined the trail in increasing numbers turned into a wall that rose above her head. The crew had cleared a path into the wall for a several hundred feet, creating a steep walled canyon of ice.
They dismounted in a make-shift base camp at the beginning of the cut. A score of men had been working at shoveling the path for a week, and needed someplace to rest between shifts. Their arrival brought a halt to the work as the foreman related the latest report to his prince. Like all the ones so far, it was merely a confirmation that nothing had been found.
Two of the men that had been resting, traded shovels for bows. Aeriona caught the low mumblings from that direction as they tried to act casual about the change. The crisp air carried their voices well as they spit out words like ‘Frost Witch’, and ‘saboteur’. She was unaccustomed to such anger from the people she was trying to help. A chill crept up her back from the glares that matched the chill in the air.
“Maybe I should start clearing this snow, your Prince, uh.. Princeiness.”
Even the prince lacked a smile with the stiff reply. “Just Prince will suffice, and yes, we shouldn’t waste time when men’s lives hang in the balance. Begin.”
“You might want to get those men out of the way.”
With a single word from the prince, the foreman in charge bellowed orders to pull all of the men out of the cut. His words lashed out like whips to hurry their pace, and goad even the couple that had armed themselves, into clearing all the tools from the end of the cut. In ten minutes Aeriona found herself staring at an eight foot tall wall of snow where the shovels had been working, with the onlookers standing several paces behind her.
A little testing would giver her an idea of how to handle this task. She pulled from the pool of flux within her, and wrapped it around runes that were so familiar that it took less than a though to know where they were. The surrounding trees howled briefly as she pulled all of the nearby wind into a single push.
The fist of wind slammed into the snow wall with a mere thud, and knocked some of the top layer free. Undaunted by this meager result, she changed the course of it, and sent the push downward into the top of the wall. The result was even less encouraging as the snow compressed several inches, but failed to give the crack she had hoped for.
This was nothing like sending a constant breeze through the forge of a craftsman. Or nudging a few stray clouds of a parched field. She was going to have to devise a new solution; one to chew through this wall. Of course. Zapyri’s Teeth.
Aeriona murmured softlty. “Zaphyri, my oh so familiar wind god, help me with this.”
The weave was an easy one, that she had learned several years earlier. She let her senses fan out, feeling for the threads of flux that wound through the mountain under her feet. She didn’t have to reach far to find a good one. Two such threads crossed under the Crystal Towers, lending an easy time for young mages still learning to feel for them. Having the power so close at hand would help greatly.
Aeriona pulled some of the magical power up to pool in her belly as she tied the runes she needed, together. Zaphyri’s Teeth was a weave that froze the moisture in the air around her into tiny hailstones. With a wave of her hand the icy pellets flew into the wall of snow before her. Thousands of little puffs marked where each one collided, riddling the wall with holes, but little else.
One of the men standing in a rough circle behind her called out. “Great ya daft witch. Just what we needed was more snow to shovel.”
His comments inspired a few more. “Why don’t ya try hitting it with hot water?
“Or conjure us up a Dragon to breathe fire on it.”
“I told ya she were a frost witch. She ain’t here ta help us.”
Several other comments died as the foreman bellowed out. “Men! The next one I hear gets scout duty for a week.”
The prince spoke his own comment; whether it was meant to encourage or ridicule, Aeriona couldn’t tell. “Alright Mage. You’ve shown us some power, now make it work.”
Redness from embarrassment colored her cheeks; thankfully camouflaged by the redness from the chill in the air. She needed something that could actually carve out the snow. Zaphyri’s Teeth had shown her that. Perhaps the claws would do better. A single thought snapped the tie that had bound those runes together.
Keeping the freezing one in her thoughts, she wound the tie around the blade rune. As the flux was fed into the weave, nearly invisible blades formed. With every swing of her arms the blades carved through snow a dozen feet in front of her. The wall was quickly crumbling to fall in chunks at her feet. She carried this on for thirty feet before the pile was getting so deep that there was no place for the snow to fall to.
She paused for a breath, and to ease the fatigue setting into her arms. At least with the flux thread so large and close she wasn’t tiring from the energy drain, but weaves like Zaphyri’s Claw took its toll on her arms from swinging them. It was silly really, she had learned how to control the blades without her arms, but she liked the way it looked.
A moment’s rest and she was back with the next spell weave. This one pulled the winds down off the mountain tops, and set them to spiraling around her. If ever there was a showy spell for the wind walkers to use, this was it. The winds circling her turned into a grey funnel as they sucked the snow off the ground to throw it a hundred feet into the air.
Aeriona stood safely in the eye of the storm, where the air was like a gentle breeze. A gentle freezing breeze. Controlling this spell was simple, it went where she did. Every step forward sent more snow flying upwards. This also took far more energy, and she had to keep switching back to Zaphyri’s claws to take a small respite from the heavy drain on flux. It took a lot of her personal energy to keep it going. And she could only keep it up for about twenty minutes before feeling her grasp on the power begin to slip.
She fell to her knees as the circling winds died down to a gentle breeze. Every movement brought with it the stinging feel of skin that was near frost bitten. She was only numbly aware of the men coming up behind her, until the heavy weight of a cloak fell on her shoulders. The extra burden threatened to knock her completely over, but she used it as a focus to gather strength once more. Looking up she found the prince standing there with just his heavy shirt for protection.
“Not a bad start my young mage. You may well have earned that title you laid claim to.”
“I j..j..just need a moment or t..t..two of rest. I d..d..didn’t feel the cold creeping up on”
“The men did not sit idly by as you worked. They have the fires going once more, and mead is already warming.”
“I.. I.. b..b.. blew out the”
He chuckled slightly. “They know how to bank a fire against the winds of these mountains. No, I had them move the camp to keep up with you.”
“Come. You need some mead. The cold seems to have slowed your thinking as well. Didn’t you even pay attention to how far you’d cleared?”
Aeriona looked over her shoulder, and beheld the men still in the process of unloading supplies from a wagon. The depth of the snow walls behind them only reached up about four feet, as though the deepest part had been right at the beginning of the trail. Looking past them. The carved path stretched much further, vanishing from sight around a turn of the trail.
“You cleared more than thrice what it took them a week to accomplish.”
“M..m..maybe I c..c..could have a m..m..mead. W..w..warm you said?”
The prince held his hand out to help her back to her feet. “Your Ice Giant blood isn’t doing much to hold out the cold, is it?”

They were met halfway to the fires, by a soldier bearing two mugs. He knelt before them with the mugs held out to them. “My Prince, and… and I fear I don’t know your name, though I offer apologies for the things that were said.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

     Morning came later than he’d been accustomed to, with the mountain at his back blocking the sun for a bit. It had been a long night for him, with every shift of his body sending pain through his chest. At least Marrow’s wound had quit seeping through the bandages. He stood patiently as John redressed the bundle, and they continued the slow trek down the mountain.
     Late afternoon saw the last of the mountain dropping behind them as the rocks gave way to a few hills, and the walls of Pebbleton. The town sat close enough to the mountains that predators were not uncommon. Where the trail penetrated the wooden walls, a gate barely wide enough for a small wagon was watched over by a bored looking town guard.
     Except for the color of the pennant flying over his head, he could have been a mirror of his counterpart on the other side of the pass. He perked up noticeably at the sight of John and his horses coming around the last hill. As they drew within earshot, he stood taller, pulling his jerkin straight, with a pat to the ‘P’ lettered on the breast of it as though emphasizing his official position.
     “What brings you to Pebbleton? We don’t get many coming over the pass these days.”
     “I have need of rest and a few supplies before continuing onward.”
     “Where are you staying?”
     “Not sure yet. Where do you spend your time?”
     “At the Bear’s Growl, but you’ll need to unstrap that blade from your back before you go riding through town. We don’t like trouble around these parts.”
     John unbuckled the scabbard from his back, and rolled the sword and bow into a blanket that he strapped behind Marrow’s saddle. The actions had drawn the gaze of the second guard, and he lazily watched from his perch in the wall-top platform. Once he had the bundle tied  in place the guard lifted the bar from the gate with a parting comment.
     “Ya might want ta get that horse put down. He’s looking sick.”
     “You would too, if you had your neck torn open from a Wyvern claw. He’ll live. Just needs a little rest.”
     “What? You didn’t know there was a Wyvern camped out in the pass?”
     “I’ll have to tell the Captain. He can get some men to go after it.”
     “I’m not sure how much will be left after the scavengers pick at the carcass. Should be easy to find though; I left it in the middle of a clearing.”
     “You killed it? Is that what happened to the other riders?”
     “Like I said, moving onward to meet someone. The extra saddle is for them.”
     “But you killed it?”
     “The head’s on its way the other direction I think. Something about a bounty on it.”
     John passed through the gate under the astonished eyes of the guard, who was still trying to grasp the thought of a Wyvern in the pass. A now dead Wyvern.
     The town inside the walls looked much like any number of towns along the roads of the Northern lands. Everywhere he looked there were  signs of the impending harvest that dominated life in these farming towns. Pebbleton’s claim to a fame that probably extended as far as the borders of Huyroil, seemed to be honey.
The biggest building in town was shared by the Potter’s Guild, and Pebbleton Nectar. A seemingly perfect match, with the potters crafting every urn to be filled with honey. As he watched, a wagon passed by full of the urns cradled in straw-filled crates.
     About halfway down the main street John found his first destination. The sign on the door carried just the simple mortar and pestle, with not even a name to denote the owner. He pushed through the door into the dimmer interior, where the scents of so many herbs greeted him like a rainbow of smells. Each one unique, and yet not overpowering the others.
     “What is it? Bee sting, sun blisters, queasy belly?”
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust enough to focus on the shape walking out of the back room, turning it into an elderly man drying his hands on a small towel. The man showed a bit of patience, and waited for John to answer.
     “Uh, no. How much coin do you have?”
     “You would have been better off walking into the bank to inquire about robbery. At least there you stood a chance of grabbing a few coins before they caught you.”
     “Sorry, misspoke. I have something that I’m sure you’ll be interested in, though they tend to be valuable.
     “As you can see and smell, I’ve got plenty of everything worth harvesting. What I don’t have is a lot of coins for someone trying to take my life’s savings.”
John pulled one of the dull yellow spikes, that measured as long as his hand, from the pouch at his waist, and laid it on the polished wood counter. “Wyvern teeth.”
     “Lots of people try faking those. Some get pretty close too.”
     “Like you don’t have coins to be tossing about on wild claims, I don’t have time to craft forgeries. I have a horse outside that took a claw to his neck, and I need a poultice to heal him. I trust you can verify this is genuine.”
     “You have more of these?”
     “Heal my horse and we can talk.”
     The apothecary followed him out to the hitching post where the three horses stood patiently waiting. It took a few soft-spoken words before Marrow settled enough to endure the poking and prodding from the stranger. Finally satisfied that he could tend the wound, the man turned back to John with a question.
     “How fresh?”
     “Two days.”
     “No, I meant the tooth. I can see this is only a few days old. You did a good job with the willow.”
     “The tooth came from the Wyvern that clawed him.”
     “I’ll give you five gold Roils for it.”
     “We both know it’s worth twice that much, but work your craft on Marrow, and I’ll let you have it for the five.”
     The man set to work plucking a few leaves from this plant, or that, around his shop, dropping them into a mortar reminiscent of the one on his sign. After adding a few more dashes from some powders, he ground the whole mess together. A dribble from a bottle marked as Razorjaw oil turned it to a thick paste. After spooning it into a small clay jar, he set it firmly on the counter.
     “He’s not going to be too happy when you smear this into the cut, that’s why I’m going to let you be the one to get kicked. Twice today, then cut them stitches out. After tomorrow you won’t know there’d been a cut, except for it being bald.”
     The apothecary stepped into the back rooms for a minute, before returning to carefully lay five shining gold coins minted in the country’s treasury. Each one would buy a night’s lodging in a fine inn, complete with meals and the stable. In some places it would pay for an entire week. Beside these he set a stack twice as high.
     “Another ten if you have a second tooth. It’s all I can manage; this isn’t a big town you know.”
John nodded, laying a second dull yellow spike on the counter. “If you hurry and beat the wolves to it, you can probably still get the liver.”
     Marrow snorted and danced away as John uncapped the jar of salve. The whinny of pain sounded worse that when he’d packed the willow bark and bitterroot in place, as he spread the paste across the red edges of the cut.
     By the time he got to the Bear’s Growl, there were already stories starting to circulate about a grand hunter coming through their town. Over a bit of roasted chicken dinner he listened to tales that grew with each telling, until the Wyvern had carried off a horse in each claw. He just nodded every time someone tried to draw him into the conversation about how the grand hunter had saved them all from a rampaging Wyvern.
     John spent the next day in Pebbleton as well, though he was itching to get moving onward. As predicted, Marrow displayed a great dislike to having the stitches cut loose so that more of the salve could be rubbed into the wound. Most of the swelling had gone down, and reopening the stitches allowed the rest of the infection drain away. John himself spent what time he could, holed up in his room to avoid the Wyvern conjectures that still dominated the idle gossip of the tavern.
     By the second day he was passing through the gates with the rising sun. He still chose to walk, giving Marrow the time to finish healing. The open fields that extended past the town were dotted with the hive boxes amid the grain and clover. The smell brought with it memories of home, like it always did. He spent the night camped under a small stand of trees, with dreams shifting between Velimina and Nicquey. Three day’s ride later he had crossed from Huyroil into Saffon., just a day short of Lake Mergen and Twilling City.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I didn't know how I should end the time with the hunters. This is a part that I'll probably change a bit on the re-write.

The first hunter was easy enough to find, having landed only a short distance away. He’d also worn a mail shirt, though the teeth had torn it so badly that it was near useless now. He’d gotten away with a few broken ribs, and a broken arm to go with a dozen holes from those teeth. At least he’d live to remember this day, perhaps even embellish it for grandchildren. John winced from the pain of his own cracked rib as he helped the man to his feet.
The other hunter hadn’t been so lucky. Staying in the Wyvern’s claws would have been certain death. He’d rolled the bones of chance and chose falling. The little fox pendant still hung from his neck. Hasituur had laughed and let him miss the trees. The god of fate and fools for a fool hunter. He might have done better to follow Kamika, though the hunter’s wolf rarely favored fools.
John took the time to bandage the wounded hunter, and find Marrow. The horse had only run as far as the two mares before stopping. The wound on his neck was deep. What was left of John’s shirt became a bandage to wrap some bitterroot and willow bark to the gash. Marrow had been through a lot with him, and he’d do his best to save the stallion if he could.
With the bandaging complete, he set about cutting the arrows free of the Wyvern. It was grisly work to carve out enough of the body to get the three from there. The one that had dropped it from the sky was nowhere to be found. He completed the chore by hacking off the head so that the lone hunter could claim his prize, though he pulled a couple teeth loose for his own trophy. Marrow wouldn’t come close until he had scrubbed the blood from his hands with sand.
“I’ll take that bow if you don’t mind.”
John looked over his shoulder from where he was fixing the pack on Ryndell’s saddle. The hunter was a few paces away, with his sword pointing at John. He’d managed to find it after being tossed by the Wyvern, and now held it in his left hand.
“You don’t want to do this.”
“And I’ll be taking them two horses too. Gots ta ride one, and the other for the trophy head.”
“Walk away now and you live. You have your prize. You know there’s no way you’ll win if you attack me.”
“I can’t make it down without a horse.”
“You can if you leave that thing behind. It isn’t worth your life.”
The hunter launched himself at John, wildly swinging the sword in his off hand. The blade didn’t even come close before John knocked it away. Turning his own blade sideways, he used the hilt to punch the man’s stomach. As he fell to his knees in pain, the sword reversed again to point at his chest.
“I’ll not anger whatever god counts you among their devoted by killing you. I’ll leave you to bury your Friend alone. Your horse is likely not too far off, if the Wyvern didn’t kill it first.”
“Wyvern? A special kind of Dragon?”
“You thought that was a Dragon?” John let out a soft chuckle. “For starters, Dragons have scales, not hide. Plus they have four legs and wings, not just two. I for one, am very glad it wasn’t a Dragon, or none of us would still be alive.”
“How am I supposed to get my bounty then?”
“I don’t know, and don’t care. Little advice though; Another difference is that Wyverns aren’t solitary like Dragons. Best be gone when the mate comes looking.”
John sheathed his sword, and led the group of horses off the other side of the clearing and down the trail leading to the higher pass. He wanted to put as much distance as he could between himself and the dead Wyvern. Even if there wasn’t a mate, there were still other predators that called the mountain home.
His spirits rose a bit as he crested the higher pass, and started the descent down into Huyroil. The Western facing trail gave him more daylight before He’d be forced to camp.
When he crossed the small stream he decided to call it a day. Walking uphill had been bad, but every step down sent a jarring pain though his cracked rib. Riding would have been just as bad for John, and it was asking enough of the wounded stallion to handle the pack. Marrow wasn’t looking much better either, with the blood having soaked through the bandage and leaving a trail down to his chest.
The stallion was skittish, and tried backing away as John worked to pull the bandage loose. After a few tries he managed to tie the lead to a nearby tree. This let him get close enough to pull the ragged shirt loose, and pour some of his whiskey over it. Letting Marrow finish off the bottle gave him the distraction he needed to sew the gash closed with simple stitches. John even got most of the blood washed out of the cloth so that he could wrap the medicinal leaves in place once more.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Battle scenes are always major points in writing, yet they actually occupy little space on the page. There is the lead up to the battle, which prepares the reader for this emotional scene that pits a beloved character against the possibility of death. Follow this with a few quick strikes back and forth. End draw out the aftermath to let the impact sink home with the audience. I learned before that trying to stretch out the actual battle made it lose the impact, and people got bored with it. Got bored with a BATTLE!


If you can't tell the difference between a cow and a bear, you ain’t no hunter. That’ll be seven silver for the cow.
Yyintil, Bean farmer…

The sun was still angling toward the Western peaks when he arrived at the base of the pass. There was plenty of light, but it would be gone before he could get halfway to the top. Thankfully, in the years since he’d las been here, a guard tower had been built. The attached barracks looked big enough for a hundred men, though currently he saw just two.
One was leaning on the post next to the trail, while the other tended a small fire cooking their dinner. Neither seemed overly concerned with his approach until he was too close to shout at.
“It’s a might late for the trail, and you’d do better turning around.”
“Aye, I can tell it’s too late to start up, so I’ll camp here for the night.
“You can camp over there for five silver.”
“That’s open land. Why the charge?”
“This be a might far from the palace, and they sometimes forget about us. So, there’s a traveling tax. You go through the pass, you pay the tax.”
It was a high price, but with few travelers on this road, the soldiers would still barely scrape by. For another two coppers they let him pen the horses in the vacant corral. John setup his camp near the corral, laying out his packs like he did every night on the trail. Twenty years of living on the road had taught him a few things, like making sure packs stay tight and dry.
An hour later saw his packs re-bundled, and fire started. He already had a haunch sizzling when the hunters arrived with the setting of the sun; the darkness crept in rapidly, as it always does in the mountains. After stumbling around in the dark for a bit they asked if they could share his fire.
The night was filled with tales of hunting trips. Magnificent elk, and charging boars had been conquered. This was their first trip to be more than a day from home. By the time the bottle of wine had run dry, the hunters were falling over to sleep, and the bear had grown to at least fifteen feet tall.
The first glimmerings of pre-dawn light woke the travelers for a day that promised to bring fortune for the hunters, or safe passage over the pass for John. It seemed unlikely that both could happen. Over the sparse breakfast they planned for the future.
“When it comes down for the packet of nip, you get its eye. Of course you got to watch for those teeth.”
“I’m using my share of the gold for that farm next to Kersol’s place. Maylene will quit schmoozing up to Hasfid for that.”
“Hey what about you Joe? John? Something with a J in it. Why don’t you help us? Splitting the bounty three ways still leaves us with near a hundred gold each.”
“Yeah, you could buy yourself a better sword, with like gold inlay on the handle.”
“I just need to get over the pass into Huyroil, and then on to Saffon. There’s somebody I need to meet there.”
“I say you’re a fool to pass up an easy hundred gold, but we got to get going.”
At least their horses looked rested as the hunters rode out. The thrill of the hunt barely dimmed as they handed over the five silver to the soldier. They soon disappeared behind a few trees, but the singing could be heard for another ten minutes.
John left about an hour behind them. He had taken the time to get the latest news from the soldiers stationed there. They confirmed tales of missing travelers, and Dragon cries heard echoing from the mountain side. At least the slide was cleared enough to get through if he could keep from getting eaten.
The trail wound up the mountain, often following close to the small river. At times it passed through crevasses that were barely wide enough for the packs on his horses. Most of the meandering trail was shaded in the low trees. As he was nearing the first ridge the quiet of the mountain was broken by shouting voices.
John quickly tied his two mares to a nearby tree, and spurred Marrow ahead. He topped the rise just as a large gray-green shape flew over his head. One of the hunters was dangling from the clawed feet. As he watched, the hunter managed to pull himself free, and dropped into the trees below. The flyer jerked for a moment, as though tempted to follow its lost meal, but circled back the other way, toward the second hunter.
The Wyvern looked like a Dragon only to extent that it had large wings, teeth, and claws. Still, the Wyvern was more than a match for the hunters. As he cleared the trees, John saw the other hunter standing on the far side of the clearing wildly waving the satchel around while holding his bow in the other hand.
If nothing else, the movement drew the beast’s attention to him. Said hunter was smart enough to drop the satchel, and was in the process of emptying his quiver as John pulled out his own simple-looking bow. Most of the hunter’s arrows missed the mark completely. Of the few that scored, only one penetrated the thick hide. It flinched enough from the pain in its neck, to swerve and miss him.
John dropped off Marrow and got the string pulled tight as it curved up to swing around for another try. It took another moment to get the strap loose from the quiver, that kept his arrows from rattling around as he rode. The dark ash shafts looked almost like steel in his hand, seeming to meld right into the iron tips that never dulled or rusted.
He had other arrows in his quiver, made by modern fletchers. Those were for his normal hunting; he saved the ash ones for things like Wyverns. He’d never broken one, but it was just as bad should he lose one.
John's first arrow caught the beast in the side, burying itself to the flight. That was enough to grab the Wyvern's attention off the hunter it was bearing down on. It turned the massive head to glare at John as it swooped upward once more. The eyes held anger in them as though it hadn’t even contemplated a chance of its mortality.
This time as it skimmed along the tree tops, it was aiming straight for John. The last three arrows from the hunter’s bow proved no more effective than his previous ones, doing nothing to distract the Wyvern’s attack. John managed two more shots; one each for its chest and belly. The only sign they had been felt was the narrowing of the beast’s eyes.
Even Marrow was snorting nervously as the great beast came closer. Just as the claws snapped at John, Marrow lurched in fear, knocking him off his feet. The claw caught Marrow along the side of his neck, opening up a hand-span long gash. The horse took off back down the trail at a run.
John climbed to his feet with a single arrow in his hand, the rest were still in the quiver tied to Marrow’s saddle.There wasn’t time to fret over a runaway horse as the Wyvern swooped in for another pass at the hunter. John took a deep breath, and let it out slowly as he concentrated on the spot where the heart should be. The previous three arrows had hardly slowed the beast; he had one chance to stop it now.
The arrow flew straight, even as the Wyvern shifted with the wind, and it scored right in the wing joint. Suddenly unbalanced, the broken wing caught the ground, dropping the Wyvern into a crashing, rolling, angry ball of flailing limbs. It was momentarily lost in the cloud of dust spreading across the clearing toward the hunter. It seemed to pause just short of him, and the tail flipped out of the cloud to land with a thud on the rocky soil of the ridge.
With a wild cry, the hunter dropped his useless bow, and ran to the quickly settling dust cloud, pulling out his sword as he went. John’s shouts to stop went unheeded. The beast was struggling to untangle its limbs as the hunter bore down on it.
The hunter arrived just in time to meet a badly damaged, and very angrily snapping jaw full of sharp teeth. The jaw clamped across the hunter's shoulder and chest, lifting him up in an arc that flipped him on his back a dozen yards away. The broken wing was twisted under it, keeping the Wyvern from bounding after the hunter.
Time is never a luxury when fighting for your life. The distraction as it untangled its feet from the broken wing gave John the chance to meet it with his own drawn sword. Even wounded and off balance, the beast circled about. It used the advantage of a long neck to strike at John while keeping out of reach of his sword.
The mistake came when it tried to claw at him. The claw shredded the shirt across John’s chest, and even tore a few links from the underlying chain mail. John was knocked backward once more, to where the jaw was waiting to bite a mortally wounded prey. Fortunately the mail kept his guts from spilling out, and experience had made him careful of such tactics. His sword found a mark in the Wyvern’s eye. The point drove deep.

The beast’s head rose up one last time with a wheezing sound, before falling back to the ground in a dead heap. The hilt of his sword still protruded from the eye, in a mimicry of a tavern sign he’d once seen, complete with tongue hanging half out of the mouth. Only that had been a Dragon on the sign. John pulled his sword loose, and went looking for the others.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Even familiar characters can bring surprises. The revelation that came out of this part was totally unplanned until it flowed out on the page. When it did, it seemed only natural considering her background. So... The remainder of chapter 3.

     The breezes lifted her skyward in the blink of an eye. The colorful spires of the towers were dimmed in the darkening sky, but still sent a thrill through her heart. Orienting on the yellow tower, which looked roughly brown in the twilight, she called the winds to send her northward. The Earth Tower stood on the toe of a mountain, with only sheep pastures beyond. A few campfires marked where their tents stood guarding the flocks. Behind her the lights of Twilling glowed bright as people enjoyed the evening repast. Food was far from the top of her list though.
     She was experiencing the thrill that every airwalker dreamed of. What was the point in walking on air if you could soar? Twisting, turning, thrilling to the feel of breezes that carried her along on the playful course. Past the mountain toe that spread eastward, she was soon high above the open rolling plains of the middle country.
     Excitement swelled in her, bringing with it the desire to experience it all. Down she went, to skim along the tops of grain ready for the harvester’s scythe. A few of the taller stalks brushed the tips of her stretching fingers. This would soon be filling the bakery with the sweet smell of spiced breads. Aeriona’s smile broadened even more with the imagined aroma.
     Upward, through the chilling air with a spiral that threatened dizziness. The lights of a few scattered campfires seemed so very faint on the grassy plain below her. It took her a few circles to orient back on Heike, the bringer of color. That star always shined brightly in the Northern sky when it was harvest time.
The stars were all coming out now. Even Autahory, the white, though she was still low in the east. It wouldn’t be long before she chased Heike off to sulk. For now she could rely on him to take her toward Prince Moffatt’s realm.
     Within a few hours she could feel the sagging feeling as her body coveted the softness of a hay pile. It was nearly flying into a tree that woke her to the exhaustion. The urgency of the scroll rolled through the back of her thoughts, and she dared not tarry on the ground to rest. Taking a bite of the first journey loaf woke her hunger, and in a few moments she had eaten half of the ones in her pouch. Several sips on the stim-draught tube diverted her thoughts from eating the rest of them for now. The bitter tasting liquid renewed her energy, and sent her back up out of the reach of branches.
     Thrice more during the night flight she had to revive her energy, though the journey loaves were gone after the second. It was still dark when the last of her stim-draught gurgled in the tube. This was the time of night when the stars have dimmed, leaving only the small moon for company. She knew it was a fickle guide though, and tried to compensate for its rapid sky crossing.
     Luck favored her with another guide, this one not rooted to the soil. Pale light glinted from the road below her. It took only a small change to keep that silvery line below her. A few times she lost sight of it in the dark masses of trees, but they were sparse. The big problem came when the shining road below her twisted around a hill.
     She knew the road to be fairly straight, and nowhere did it make such sharp curves. Descending for a closer look revealed her mistake. Cleared roads of bare earth shouldn’t sparkle the way the Ganboat river did. She only knew the highway crossed the river twice between the towers and Frospire, not where it wandered at other times. Had it already made those crossings? Her only hope fell back to the small moon.
Dawn's early light revealed she had strayed just a few miles off course, despite the detour. The king’s road lay off to her right, marked by the few homesteads bordering the bare ribbon among the oat fields. Aeriona corrected to follow it, watching as the light brightened to bring lights to a few windows as farmers woke early for the hard work of harvesting.
     The sun was coming up about the time she spied the city in the distance. She had enough energy to bring a smile to her lips, though not much else.Her stim-draught had given out more than an hour earlier, and it was sheer will that kept her going. Part of her mind was trying to convince the rest that it would be reasonable to land and beg a ride from a farmer heading into the city.
     Manoga’s capitol, Frospire, claimed the top of one of the rockier hills, surrounded by rolling fields of hearty grain. Only a few leagues away lay the base of the Razor mountains. They cut like a steel edge across the Northern border of three lands. Beyond them lay the cold reaches of the Sky Bowl, a land gripped in ice for most of the year.
     The highway she was following topped the hill, straight into Frospire, and continued out the other side. Her eyes followed it into the clouds blanketing the Razors. Involuntarily she shivered, knowing that was her destination. First she needed to meet with the reagent, and rest a bit. Her strength was so far gone that Aeriona doubted she could pull off a lady-like landing.
     She dropped back to the ground outside the city gates, startling a dozen farmers waiting to pass through the checkpoint on their wagons loaded with the freshest produce. Her legs shared the same exhaustion as the rest of her, and crumpled with the sudden demand on them. Aeriona fell to her knees. Grasping the pike held by the gate guard.
     “Miss? Are you alright? Where did you come from?”
     She struggled to her feet. “I need an audience with the prince. Right away.”
     “Easy now. Just who are you?”
     As she turned her face up to him, he caught a glimpse of the rune etched into her cheek. He quickly wiped his palm across his eyes. It was a gesture she’d seen many times. Wiping the magic from his eyes. Well, it was better than a sword. The other guard, that had been poking the bales on the wagons, joined his partner to face her.
     “Ice Giant! Hold right there, you can’t get in.”
     “You’re… easily half a head taller, and you call me giant? I come from the Crystal Towers. I need to see the prince immediately.”
     It had taken a lot of energy to keep herself aloft, even with the magic of the sky suit. The winds had drained her energy near completely,though concentrating on them had given a focus for her will. Now that solid ground pressed into her feet, a deep weariness was settling over her mind and body.
     “My name is Aeriona; your prince called for me. I must see him, please.”
     “I’m not going to spend my next month walking the spire because of this. Get her into the wagon while I send Bejorl ahead to let em know she’s coming.”
     “Yeah, but she’s one o’ them mages. Turn ya into a goat if you look at her funny.”
     “If she turns you into a goat you can have all the free grass ya want. Now git moving.”
     She heard the rapid clomping of hooves as the rider sped off ahead. She nodded thanks to the guard as they helped her into a waiting carriage. It was a simple affair, designed more for moving drunks than visiting guests. At least the rail at the side of the seat gave her something to hold onto as the wagon bumped over the cobblestone paved street.
     The streets were lining with people gathering for the autumn market. This should have been an occasion of celebration, but she could feel the undercurrent of tension in those they passed. Muted comments about early winter, and unseemly storms reached her. Occasionally there were even comments about her white hair. Those comments carried with them a note of anger.
     There was barely a pause at the grand entrance of the keep as the house guards made to block the way. Bejorl had done his job though, and the appearance of the guard captain cleared this obstacle easily. He even assumed the role of escort, leading her straight into the audience chamber, where she stood waiting for only a few minutes before the arrival of Prince Moffatt.
     “So, you come to us with a claim that I sent for you. Quite a bold move for one such as you.”
     “I am here at the behest of the Crystal Towers.”
     “You bear the blood of Ice Giants, though slightly less than their tall stature. Surely it has not escaped your notice that we are oft at odds with them. As for that mark on your face, many have forged such markings to garner favors; some even had a touch of power to aid the deception.”
     “No mage would dare to invoke the authority of the Magi Council  falsely. The Sonath Tumolt may have been a few hundred years ago, but it is still pounded into us as a lesson.”
     “Firstly, you have not proven yourself either a mage, nor the authority of the Magi Counsel. This is my domain.”
     “You sent a request for aid.”
     “I sent that request four days ago. It is a four day ride each way.”
     “Three days of hard riding brought your messenger to the gates of the towers. I am their answer.”
     “This borders on utter insult! To answer a request for aid when the Ice Giants have ambushed my gesture of peace, they send a girl?” Not just any girl mind you, One with the ice blood so strong in her veins that size is the only marker to say that she isn’t. You would be what? A Journey mage?”
     Aeriona unfastened the flap of the sky suit enough for it to fall open, revealing the twisted rune of her council brooch. “My name is Aeriona Liff, Third Master Air Mage, and council member. The Magi Council was moved enough by the plea of your messenger to send me. I was granted use of ancient magics so that I could arrive in time.”
     “I must apologize; the claim seemed too wild to accept. Still you bring as many troubles as you bring possible salvation.”
     “Right now I bring you an exhausted mage who needs a bit to eat and a few hours rest before I could summon a breeze strong enough to snuff a candle.”
      "My breakfast is getting cold as we speak; come join me at my table while a room is readied."
     She followed the prince through the side door, and down a short hall to the more private rooms of his home. A second plate was set for her as the prince whispered instructions to his chamberlain. A serving girl roughly her own age stood by to see to her needs, leaving Aeriona a little nervous at the unaccustomed attention.
     Aeriona emptied two platefuls of the food under the astonished eyes of the Prince, and his chamberlain. She filled a third, taking two bites before falling forward. She was asleep with her face in the eggs.
Aeriona awoke to the gently shaking of her shoulder by a woman dressed in the uniform of a servant. Her eyes still felt the grittiness of exhaustion as she glanced around slowly. She had been moved into a bed; her clothes were hanging from a stand across the room. Her body wanted nothing more than to roll over and try to find a dream.
     “What time is it?”
     "I'm very sorry to have to wake you so soon. You've been asleep a bit over six hours. They have horses waiting in the courtyard, and… My Kyle is one of those trapped. Please…"
     Aeriona nodded slowly, still trying to clear the sleep from her brain. She had another stim-draught in her pack, but using it like this would drain her completely in a few hours. She had to get up despite the protesting muscles all through her body. The words had reminded her of just how dire her mission was.
     She dressed back into the clothes she had worn for the party yesterday. They weren't the sturdiest clothes for adventuring, but she needed to protect the sky suit. The cloak Lilja had packed snugged close around her shoulders bringing a bit of comfort. The air here was noticeably cooler than her room in the white tower.
     When she dug deeper into her pack to pull out the journey bread, the maid interrupted her. "Oh, no. Put those away. I had them make you some of these."
     She indicated a tray resting on the dresser that had several soldier pockets stacked upon it; small loaves of bread that the middle had been scooped out, and filled with an egg and vegetable mixture.They didn’t last as long as journey bread, but the taste was far better. They could be fixed at the morning fire, and soldiers could eat them as they marched.
     Aeriona grabbed several of them as she headed out of the door. A squire waited in the hall to lead her down to the courtyard. She pulled the cloak tighter as they descended the stairs. The door opened into a wide courtyard with several men already mounted on horses. A mare stood near the front with an empty saddle, the lead passed to another squire waiting patiently.
     Already her strength was returning enough that weaving the whispering wind runes was a breeze. With Gadrielle in mind she sent the whisper across the intervening leagues. They would be anxious to know she had arrived.
     “Gadrielle, I arrived this morning, safe and tired. We are heading up the trail now. I think you would have loved the flight. I did.”
     The keep was on the Northern edge of the city, and so there was very little riding before they had passed through the gates. The few people they passed were better at hiding their whispers, though the fingers still pointed. By the time they reached the base of the mountain trail, they passed three loaded wagons driven by some of the prince’s soldiers. Supplies for those trapped in the snow.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

When this part of the story came out, I was thinking at first that it was too easy. Nothing had been shown to prelude this. Then all sorts of subtle possibilities popped up. This has points that will come back as big conflicts in a few chapters. Things are not always as simple as they first appear. This part was three times as big when I wrote it, but trimmed down a lot of redundant garbage.

The seal puffed away into mist without destroying the scroll, and Aeriona began reading the details it contained. Part of her brain that was beginning to think clearer again, wondered how it was that she was getting an assignment from the very council she’d just become a part of. The rest of her brain was stumbling over the scrawled details of council authority, and finally getting to the heart of the matter. Prince Moffatt had sent two hundred soldiers over Quintiliss Pass.
Her hand dropped to the side, with the scroll banging her leg, as anger overwhelmed her thoughts. In an instant she rounded on Rees Garath, standing there with his hands clasped in front of him like a prayer arch. Serving time for the towers was not slavery. There were agreements and contracts to cover all of it, and he had known her limits. Her voice would have rattled the windows were it not for the ward seal Gadrielle had placed.
“I thought it was clear that I would never take part in a war?!”
“This is different. Lives are at stake. I know you like to work with crafters and scholars.”
“But soldiers fight. They kill people. You want to give them magic to make that easier.”
“This isn’t about him. Read on. Soldiers are people, with families that care about them.”
Aeriona held her glare on him for several heartbeats before the curiosity drove her to open the scroll once more. The men had been transporting a relic to the Ice Giants as a token to negotiate. Manoga and Skybowl had been bickering back and forth for ages. Prince Moffatt wanted to bring on another period of peace. Despite the efforts of the court Journey Mage, a storm had struck the mountains. His soldiers were trapped beyond reach in deep snow. His court mage had fled, leaving them without any hope.
“But the first snows shouldn’t happen for another month! Why would his mage run?”
“I don’t know, and I’ll be sending someone to see about that. The rescue would really be beyond a journeyman anyway. That’s where you come in.”
“Manoga is like three days away, maybe four! His men could be dead by then.”
“Two and a half if you ride without sleep. Just ask his messenger that arrived a few hours ago.”
“That happened three days ago?”
“Seven. Twice he’s sent crews to dig them out, only to have more storms hit that pass. Nine men have died trying to dig through. One group of diggers was buried under an avalanche.”
Gadrielle reached to pluck the scroll from her hand. Aeriona watched with mouth hanging open as the older mage slipped the rolled scroll into a leather tube. She was still trying to grasp the magnitude of the situation. Thoughts of Carandell, and the missed party had been replaced with visions of waist deep snow. Gadrielle laid the cased scroll on top of a pale green leather pouch decorated with the Elvish script. Ancient Elvish. She took a deep breath, and paused before extending the two items to Aeriona.
"It's just the sort of thing you like. Help people, rescue ancient artifacts, storms. Really though, you're the best one to get there in time to do some good, and the only way to do that is…"
Aeriona gasped at the implications. Could this really be one? She slowly opened the flap on the pouch. Inside was a folded gray leather piece with silver thread pattern. Not the thick rough leather like John wore; this was as soft as velvet. Knowing the Elves though, it would protect just as well as thick stuff.
She held her breath with anticipation as the sky suit pulled free to dangle from her grasp. Reading about such artifacts is far different than holding one in her hand. The color was a soft grey that shifted even as she tried to look right at it, causing her eyes to sort of slide off. Intricate leaf patterns were picked out in the finest silver thread. It was questionable if even the modern elves could duplicate the work that went into it.
The long sleeves, and legs had ribbed sails connecting them; It turned the whole body into a sail with arms stretched wide. At the tips of the sleeves were the glyphs that bound the whole suit together. The tomes in the deep vaults had spoken of such suits, with their elemental counterparts, being special even in the first era of runes. Long before the cataclysm. Only a handful had survived the intervening millennium. She had spent countless hours delving through the tomes searching for such things.
“I know you missed a lot of your own celebration party, and that you’re desperate to get back to Carandell, but time is critical here.”
“I’ll get some things right away then.”
“No time for that. I’ve…” A knock sounded on the sealed door. “Speaking of such. I think this is her.”
Gadrielle’s hands burst into the green fire as she traced the breaking line on the ward. All of the magic lines flared to life, and sucked back into her hands in a mirror mimic of when she’d set them. As the last of the green fire seeped back through her fingers, Zumas pulled the latch on the door. Imediately it swung open,admitting a breathless student carrying a stuffed pack. Aeriona had seen the girl before, but couldn't recall her name.
Between pants the girl waved, and held the pack out to her.
"I got…the cloak, and… some other…stuff…Got some…journey bread too. Ran all the…way." Her eyes grew suddenly wide and locked onto the pin on Aeriona’s chest. “Council?”
Now Aeriona remembered her name, Lilja, one of the few Elven mages in the towers. Lilja was a fifth-year fire mage of some talent. They had met only a few times, but she had liked the girl. Any chance that familiarity might grow into friendship had just vanished though. Ristalli had woven her fate thread in the most twisted manner she could think of.
Zumas stepped up to lift the pack from Lilja’s hand while turning her back to the door. "Thank you young one, now go ahead and join the group on the third floor. I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
“Is she really?”
“I know that Ji’Lin is there. He might show you some tricks with fire.”
Rees led Aeirona into the inner office, which looked more like a private library, so that she could change into the sky suit. The legs were crafted for the limbs of the Elves, and what should have come to her calves came to her ankles. It bunched a little at the shoulders to fit the elbow joints right. The sail spines left the lower arm free for use without disturbing the flight.
Aeriona spent a few minutes marveling over such fine details in a suit she’d never thought to even see, let alone wear. The legs had enough give in them to actually walk without trouble. With the straps adjusted right it snugged around her leaving barely any ripple to disturb the wind. She filled the little breast pouches with a few journey loaves. That meant she could snack in flight. Such ingenious designs. A knock on the door startled her from inspecting the collar fastening which had a tube rising from it.
Gadrielle’s voice. “Is everything alright in there?”
She grabbed the pack from the floor, slinging it over an arm as she opened the door on the elder mage. “Yes, ready.”
“Actually my dear, the straps for the pack go under the sail here. Snug it tight. You don’t want it shifting when you’re a few thousand feet up, trust me.”
“Wait, you used it?”
“Not I, though I wish it had been possible. I’m not strong at all in the winds.”
Rees took her hand to pull her along toward the window. "I know it's late, but lives depend upon you. You should be able to make it there by morning."
Gadrielle stepped up handing her a flask. "Here"
Aeriona took a swig, expecting water, or at least the mild wine. "Gahh!"
It was nearly like swallowing a bit of Gadrielle’s fire. The stim-draught would rid the wine from her body and keep her alert for several hours. She'd pay for it later, but she needed a clear head now. She grimaced as the bitter tasting liquid coursed down her throat. Like stepping from the water on a hot day, she felt the warmth spreading outward.Within moments her mind was sharp. Her awareness of the wind stretched out feeling the shifting breezes.
Subtle magics wound up through the suit calling to the wind, and bringing near visibility to the air currents. Gadrielle fumbled a little, and strapped the flask to her side. The other end of that mysterious tube pulled loose from a pocket near the flask to stick in the top of it. She could drink with a slight tilt of her head, if only it were something tastier than Stim-draught.
The excitement of the moment drowned out any last minute reservations. This was the chance of a lifetime for her. She bid them all a good night, and stretched her arms wide. Aeriona called, and the winds came like a faithful hound. She hadn’t planned for this when dressing for her party, but braiding her hair kept it from blowing wildly like the rest of the mages in the room. The strings of beads felt chilled against her neck.