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As promised, the last of my portfolios...

It's been a very, very long time since I've written anything narrative. RPing does that - you get used to writing description and your storytelling instincts drop out. So while I knew that ideas would come more slowly for the poems, I also knew that I might be a bit rusty writing the short story. Not to mention having a strict page limit, and writing about a much-loved character of mine, for whom I have to resist the impulse to spill backstory onto the pages like some sort of literary bukkake.

Oh, well. It's done, it's submitted, and I hope it doesn't suck. :D

Ascension

The traveller was up on the hill again. The sun was hardly bright on the cool, cloudy fall afternoon, but it was easy enough to tell that much, even from the low, rolling meadow where a small group of children argued – or, perhaps more accurately, one child held a running verbal duel with a succession of others, taking breaks from their work under the eyes of their village’s expert foresters.

“I’ll bet it’s a ghost!”

“No, silly, ghosts float, they don’t walk!”

“It’s a vampire for sure. Why else would they never take off that hood?”

“If it’s a vampire, why hasn’t it eaten anyone yet? Must be getting hungry. Feel like volunteering to be its dinner?”

“I’m sure it’d rather eat you, Salar!”

Taunting and catcalls rang out from all over the meadow as the others scattered to their afternoon tasks under the fading light of the autumn sun. Salar lingered triumphant atop the hill, and cast her eyes one last time to the object of all that curiosity. Tied bundles of auburn hair danced about her in the breeze as she stood and watched.

The traveller had always been a mystery to the villagers of Kovra. She – or he, for the slim form defied easy identification, and there were rather lucrative bets being taken as to the traveller’s true gender – had first been seen one night a few weeks ago, in a farmer’s field outside the sleepy hill town. In the intervening time, they had only been seen roaming the wilderness, never coming into town, speaking to anyone besides themselves, or even lowering their ever-present, black hooded cloak. All she could tell even now was the direction of their gaze, uphill towards the chaos of toppled stones above the town.

The lanky youth turned and strode downhill, the pouches at her sides full to bursting with herbs for her mistress Frika, the village sage. She was still new in her apprenticeship, and still remembered the glee she had felt at being chosen, taken into the old woman’s confidences and mysteries, into the village’s dark secrets.

The first, at least, had happened.

She gave the telltale knock before slipping into the wise woman’s low house. The venerable-looking Mistress Frika sat comfortably in a finely crafted chair by her back window, a long stone table before her laden only with a bowl of soup and some old papers.

“Mistress Frika, I have what you asked for,” Salar called politely from the doorway. “A pouch of carlith leaves, another of attanar stalks…and a laurel branch?” Her tone arched quizzically, even as she knew in her heart that she would never know why the sage had requested the last item.

“You have all those, child. It remains to see whether they are what I asked for.,” came the reply from Frika’s chair, in that maddeningly superior tone her apprentice had come to quietly loathe, but endured as she laid out the items in question. The old crone hummed an almost mocking tune as she scrutinized the sacrifice, peering and sniffing at the leaves and stalks, and even running gnarled fingers along the length of the branch. At last, she nodded and almost grudgingly spoke. “You have done well, child. Exactly what was needed.”

Salar, having learned exactly how often Frika praised people, beamed with pride and boldness. “Mistress,” she asked, “may I ask you something?”

“Certainly, child.”

“What have you told the village council about the traveller?” How, after all, could they do anything but ask the wise woman about such an arcane mystery?

“Exactly what I know. Nothing.”

Salar was mildly disappointed by the answer, but something in it urged her on.

“And what have you told the village council about the stones on the hill?”

Frika offered a thinly pleased smile to Salar. “Exactly what they have asked for. Nothing. Apparently, they lack the wits of a just-flowering maiden.”

The adolescent’s eyes seemed almost to flash with joy in the twilight as she pressed on. “And what could you tell them about the stones if they did ask?”

“That once, they stood. That once, there was more than one reason this village is where it is. Did they think we had trained our foresters so well merely to protect wayward children from wolves? No. The stones, when they stood, could be used to leave this world entirely…or to enter it. Kovra was founded here to watch the circle – or so my ancestors taught me.”

As the explanation rolled forth from her wizened teacher’s lips, Salar grew more and more shocked and agitated. “Why…why didn’t you tell them, even if they didn’t ask? How could we watch something we didn’t know about?”

The sage replied, more calmly than just a moment ago. “There was no threat any more. The stones were toppled ages ago, and nobody alive since then has known how to arrange them to their proper function. Now, child, light a fire for me and run along home. I will send for you if I need you.”

By the time the fire had been lit, and the sage’s house prepared for her to take her rest, twilight had turned to dark, shrouding Salar as she emerged from the home. Late days working with the demanding and inscrutable sage were hardly new. Nor did there seem any harm in making this one a bit later, she thought to herself.

After all, if there was no threat from the stones, there was no reason not to see what the traveller wanted with them, was there? And if the traveller was a threat to the villagers…something would have happened already, wouldn’t it?

* * *


As Salar’s footsteps faded from earshot, Frika rose from her chair with a knowing smirk, gathering the ground remains of the leaves and stalks into a pile, holding the branch upright. Her voice was almost a purr as she lit a taper from the fireplace, guiding it to the mound of dust, setting it to smoulder.

“You will spy in your way, child, and I will spy in mine. And together, we will learn the truth of this traveller. Quila, Lord of the Eyrie, I call upon thee! Let me see through your unsleeping eyes!”

Her voice crested as she called upon the spirit, and the herbs sparked and burned, casting a veil of smoke over her table, through which the glow of embers could barely be seen. Frika’s harsh cries rang out from the house, entreating the spirits to her will, until finally the smoke began to coalesce into an image, the plateau above the town and circle of topples stones, seen from treetop height. Frika cackled in triumph and thanks as she began to observe.

The black-cloaked traveller ascended the hill and came into view before her eyes, standing before the stones, staring at them. After a long, pregnant moment, slender arms rose to the traveller’s hood, first lowering it and then beginning to trace patterns in the air above them.

The sage’s eyes narrowed, peering at what she could see of the traveller’s features, and then she gasped in shock and belated recognition.

* * *


Salar was panting heavily as she first clambered up to the top of the winding path above the town, but quickly covered her mouth to hide the noise. The circle was just a few hundred feet ahead, she judged, and the traveller’s back could easily be seen, even covered as it was by the long, flowing cloak, and shrouded as it was by the starry night. She would never know what they were up to if she gave away her presence now.
She crept nearer to the circle, footfalls light and near silent on the grassy hill, fighting to keep awe inside her. The fallen stones loomed, growing in her eyes from the size of a hand, to the size of a man, and larger still, a stark white backdrop for the traveller before them, dwarfed by them yet still seeming to stand tall.

She stalked onward, closer and closer, close enough to see shining dark hair spilling out of their hood, close enough to see willowy arms stretch above their head, close enough to hear the rising melody of their voice…no, his voice, beautiful but unmistakably male, a rich baritone ringing out in the night, calling out imperiously, in a language not heard under this sky for aeons.

She stood, captivated and frozen by the wonder. And then it got worse.

There should have been rumbling. There should have been drama. There should at least have been evidence of effort in his body. Against all odds and all she knew, the far end of one of the immense stones began to lift, silent as death, from the ground, blocking the sliver of moonlight that reached the ground this night and draping Salar in shadow as it rose.

A gasp and a scream shattered the silence, and it took the girl far too long before she realised they were hers. There was a colossal thump as the traveller’s concentration broke, and the stone he was guiding gently to its place settled into it violently instead. Her feet refused to move as the traveller whirled gracefully around on his feet, finally showing his nearly human face. Smooth as a boy’s, framed by waves of raven hair down to his shoulders, but with an angular, alien cast to his features, pointed, vulpine ears, and ancient jade eyes alighting and lingering on her as he approached, angling down towards her as the full advantage he had in height became evident.

A hovering piece of solid starlight winked into being above his shoulder with another negligent gesture, and she whimpered, shaking her head and standing stock-still with panic. She managed to speak, forgetting herself.

“Who…what are you? How do you do,” she gestured helplessly at the stones, “...that?”

“I,” came the reply in cultured, languid tones, “am called Arethian. I am an elen-dar, a Star-Child, as I am told your people might have called mine. That, on the other hand, is my birthright.” He paused, then, regarding her carefully. “Yours also, perhaps, in time. Power sleeps in you, as it does in your world. It could be unlocked. No, it will be unlocked. Whether it stays that way is up to you.”

Salar flushed with surprise at his comprehension– she must have looked so lost, so star-struck, in the face of unfamiliar names, unfamiliar concepts, unfamiliar beauty. Kindness and indulgence were written on the ethereal face before her as she struggled to get words out.

“I’m…I’m Salar, the sage’s apprentice. What do you w-want here?”

“I just want to go…home,” he answered with a pause and a wry smile. “Believe me; I have seen the hornet’s nest my arrival stirred up amongst you. Allow me to open this portal and I will pass from your world and bother your village no more.”

Salar’s breaths slowed, young chest heaving as she calmed down and caught her breath, reassured by the traveller’s…Arethian’s...demeanour, fear and panic slowly being replaced by sympathy for his expressed plight, and her trademark enthusiasm at the novelty.

“What do you need to do? Can I help you?”

He laughed, like distant ringing bells. “No, I do not think you could help me. Or at least, not until I was done and gone. Likely not for a while even after that. I need to move these stones, you see, align them properly to unlock the Gate, and then cast the ritual to open it. No, the most you could likely do is keep your people from disturbing me at my work until tomorrow night. I would prefer to avoid crushing people who haven’t earned it.”, he added with sparkling eyes.

With his last words, she glanced up at the towering, now-standing stone she had seen him move with bare hands, shuddered visibly, and stiffened again, only able to move at the sound of the Star-Child’s kindly voice. “Go home, child. I will still be here tomorrow, and someone probably misses you.”

She could still hear the voice in her mind as she scurried down the hill towards home.

* * *


The next morning saw Salar stumbling wearily into the sage’s home, wincing visibly at the sound of the closing door.

“Long night, child?” Frika called out, smirking. “Out visiting a suitor?”

Salar blushed briefly and then nodded. “You knew I would go, didn’t you?”

“I was your age once, odd as it might seem,” the sage retorted with bitter laughter. “You were talking for a while. What did you learn from him?”

“He just wants to go home, Mistress. He knows how to open the stones again, and he thinks they will lead him there.”

“Of course. He is Star-Born, his people made the stones. They are no strangers to power. And they are dangerous, child. We know what he is, we know what he wants. We have no quarrel with either. Let him leave. Do not go back to the circle.”

“But-“

“No, child!” barked the sage. “This is in your best interests. I did not know, when I let you go last night, that the Star-Born had truly returned. It has never been safe for us to involve ourselves in their affairs, and it will be even less safe for you.”

“We could learn so much! His people cross worlds and move mountains! What’s the use of safety if you’re ignorant?”

“What is the use of learning if you are dead? Your place is here, child. Do not waste your energy reaching for what you will never hold. I need an apprentice with her feet on the ground. If you go to see the traveller tonight, I will find another. Now, go find me these healing herbs before dark.”

Salar left, grumbling under her breath.

* * *


Arethian sighed in weary relief, releasing his unearthly hold on the last of the once-fallen Gate Stones and glancing up at the rising moon, a silvery crescent casting light down into the circle. He almost didn’t need to look down at his notes to be assured of the proper pattern, the hum of power from the stones was almost deafening to his senses. All was ready, waiting only on the height of the crescent moon, the height of the Goddess’ power.

Even distracted, he managed to hear his name being called tentatively from behind him, turning around to face the auburn-haired village girl from yesterday, glad in leathers and a bulging rucksack.

“Salar,” he remarked, happily. “I am glad you came. I wanted to thank you for my privacy. Well, as much of it as you could supply. I wish there was time to repay you.”

“Can’t…can’t you take me with you?” she asked quietly, already knowing the answer. “I have nowhere else to go, now that I have come to see you off.”

“I cannot, Salar. This is a gate only the elendari may pass. But as to the second…you are wrong.” He lifted a slender arm, tracing a sweeping gesture over the sky. “Each of those stars is a world like this one. There is everywhere else for you to go.”

Stepping closer to her, the wizard reached into his pack and handed her a map. “There is the way to the Gate I arrived through. With the Gate to my people’s home opened, power will flow into this world once more. If I have seen your potential aright, you will at least be able to open that Gate by then. If that is what you wish.”

“It is,” murmured Salar, her face upturned to look back into Arethian’s, eyes watering. “Thank you, Arethian.”

“It is nothing. I wanted us to be even.”

“We aren’t even yet,” she shot back, smirking. “You still need to tell me about the stars. And their children.”

“If you insist, Salar,” laughed the wizard, lowering himself to sit on the grass in the shadow of the circle. “We have some time.”

Hours passed, as the moon rose nearly to its height above the plateau, and the traveller regaled Salar with stories of his journey and its stops, accounts of the City of Doors, cynosure of the universe, tales of his people, and family, and, finally, advice. She ate up every word and every moment of his presence, greedily and happily, but soon enough “some time” turned to “no time”.

The traveller rose to his feet, and then bent to her brow with a feather-light touch of lips. “Travel safely, Salar. May the stars smile on you.” he whispered, turning his back on her with a sweep of his cloak and striding into the circle. She watched him go, watched him walk to the centre of the circle, and vanish in a brilliant flash, his final call to his Goddess echoing in her ears as she cried out, just as loudly, “Fare well!”

She almost thought she heard an answer, but after an endless moment standing alone outside the circle, even she had to concede there would be none. Her heart still full of hope, she turned, hefting her pack onto her back, and walked down the hill and into the endless night.

For completeness' sake, I'll also post two of the last three poems I submitted - the third is the poem at the left of my main page view, which you may notice is slightly extended. The title for that one is Singularity and Infinity. These two...I can't help but think of them as cop-outs. Rhyming couplets? So cliche. :)

Modern Angels

At our worst, at our most alone
The messengers come, not always known,
The voices of joined humanity,
For we have not left its memory.

Wondering where the Gods have gone?
Whether or not they have moved on?
Then hear the voice proclaiming love,
From here on earth, if not above.

And remember, as you call your thanks,
That you, too, may join their ranks.
When the angels of yore do not hear,
The modern ones are always near.


Always Be My Baby

Immortal and invulnerable,
Eager and unstoppable,
Anxious to see new things,
On untried, wobbly wings

Watching, I cannot help but see,
You as you used to be,
A helpless egg, blind and deaf
Plummeting to certain death.

I cannot save you anymore,
I know that you must learn to soar,
Lest your fledgling flight be marred.
But old habits surely die hard.

Goodbye, my child: carry my love,
To uncharted lands above,
And remember how I passed this test,
When you earn your own empty nest.

There, all up. Now to watch some more House before bed. Nine more episodes and I can cross it off the top of my summer list! :D

-D.

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Comments

( Walk in the shadow — Cast a shadow )
chantillary
May. 31st, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
Suckitude?
Nope. Doesn't suck. In fact, I want more. I want back story. I want front story. I even want side story (but not side story like Robert Jordan does).

After all, you know what they say... A novelist (and worse, a serial novelist) is a short story writer that can't come up with an ending.

My problem is, I've written a very nice short story, but I don't have a middle for it, although since my life has been getting nicer, I've given more thought to going back and working on/finishing it. I think I'll go and post the portion I've got done at my LJ.
( Walk in the shadow — Cast a shadow )