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Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Mage And Her Friend

Okay, that's it, I'm forcing a two story moratorium on myself on writing depressing stories.  My next works will be wacky adventures, I swear.

Anyway, I just wrote this while the internet was down here, and because I promised myself I'd finish at least one story before going back to college.  It's in a high fantasy setting, but you won't be seeing any dark lords here.  Really, it has more in common with Touhou than it does Lord of the Rings, but hey, if it works, it works.

*This story will be subject to frequent edits.  'Cuz that's how I roll.

Ifekas walked quite calmly.  Yet, she might have been jogging for how swiftly she moved, even more than any other elf Fern had met in her travels.  Fern had to take very long strides to keep up, but she too was in no hurry.  The elf's cloak billowed blue and shiny with mud behind her, Fern's grey form sauntering aside.  The monsoon season had been very mild so far, and it was always nice exploring new towns.  Her eyes found the signs by the high windows above the street.
"Hey, look, another pub."
"Fern, the sarcasm, it gets old."
"Oh, no, I was just pointing out that even in this city, there's more pubs here than...than..."  She saw Ifekas gazing absent-mindedly into the dark shop window on the right and fell silent.
"Mmm, hmm."  Ifekas started in her stride.  "Oh, hey, no, really, I was listening.  I just felt something on the air here.  Too much electricity."  Ifekas licked her finger and felt the air with it.  Her hair perked up ever so slightly on an invisible wind, and her ears shivered a moment.  "Magic user, maybe users."
"Eh now?  You think elves?  Or yondák?"
"No, probably not elves, much too...oh, what's the word...human languages...  No, I think there must be a long history of a yondák proprietor here.  Lots of magical repairs.  Pretty strong magical reactions going on somewhere around here too.  Right now, even."
Fern cocked her head to the side as she thought.  "Yeah...yeah, that makes sense, really.  I guess what I was about to say was that there seem to be lots of very fancy pubs for an area like this.  I bet all the old immortals just love the idea of being here on the barrier islands as the rest of civilization dies back.  All those pretty sunrises on the water, contemplating the transience of shit."
"Hey!"  Ifekas grinned a cat-like grin.  "You ever see one of my kind try to pull that shit? No, Fern, you haven't."
"Contemplating the transience of shit?"
"Hell no, we do that all the time.  I mean just give up and open a quiet country café and let the world pass by.  When we elves get like that, we don't fade with the world, we become mages and screw shit up before we go!"
"Or you commit suicide."
"Yeah."  Ifekas shrugged.
It was Fern’s turn to grin.  "Man, I still don't understand you, Ife.  Nobody becomes a mage because they have a life wish."
"I dunno where you people get these ideas, seo.  Isn't being a mage enough?"  Ifekas gazed upwards.  "There's a good fight to be had here.  I feel like pulling my blade right here and jumping on that steeple over there, and calling out, and seeing what happens.  I'll fight them if they come, seo, and I'll destroy them all."
Fern eyed her wearily.  "You'll do it too.  Don't though; I don't want any more needless massacres.  They tend to follow you, even out here, even these days."  Ifekas still stared tensely off into space.  "Besides, old yondák communities have lots of old books and artifacts.  I want to see how many I can liberate and pass on to the institute."
"Oh yeah, I forgot you're still doing that."
"Well, not really.  I think they've written me off already."
"Cool, now you don't have to worry anymore about your job.  We can just roam and rob and roam and r..."
"I do get paid for that job, you know.  It's honest work, not like raiding old estates with you."
Ifekas was silent.
"You up for some food?"
"The next shop on the right."
"Sure."  Fern repeated quietly.  "Sure."
Ifekas stopped just short of the door.  She shivered slightly.  "You have good senses, Fern.  There's a lot of residual static clinging to this building.  The proprietor here is very strong, I think."
Fern shrugged.  "I guess.  I'd like to say I picked it because it looked important, but I actually overheard the tea is good here.  Nothing like some good tea to go with burglarizing."
The bricks of the building were grey, either made of an uncommon material or saturated by dye, forming a perfect face with the tall glass windows stretching many meters beyond the roof of the buildings around it.  The tall elf receptionist stopped fiddling with his unruly long-jacket collar as Fern stepped in.
"Afternoon, misses."  The Elf's accent was new to Fern.  "Are you both here for afternoon tea?"
"Yes." said Fern.
"Would you mind putting us at a window?"  Ifekas stepped closer.
"Not a problem, ma'am."
The table was silhouetted against the window now wet with the passing shower.  Fern's eyes traced the corners of the room as Ifekas willed her tea to cool faster.  Fern had plenty of experience with yondák art, but for all that, she couldn't tell what tribe the muted murals were from.  She didn't worry: she didn't have to know.  "Ife, I think these guys were on the wrong side."
"In the battle for existence."
"Sure.  Do I get to kill them?"
"No, but it makes me feel better, I guess.  I don't recognize the style of these murals, so I'm thinking they must have been on the other side of the Dentaras valley for the duration."  Fern tried her tea again.  Mint and yçhefor.
Ifekas stared absent-mindedly out the window.  "Fern?"
"Why do you do this?"
"You mean rob?"
"I guess I like it.  Lots of books about interesting things, lots of fascinating shit I don't even know what does."
Ifekas stretched her arms out.  "You don't like it though."
"No."  It was Fern's turn to stare worriedly out the window.  "I guess I don't at that."
"Well then why the hell do you keep doing it?"  Ifekas was leaning very far forward in her seat.
"I don't know.  Maybe I just do it because I get to do it with you."
Ifekas was tense and her eyes inscrutable.  "You don't like what I am though."
"No."  Fern thought.  "No, but I do like who you are.  What we do is horrible, but maybe that's enough."
The rain picked up again outside.  Its racket on the window made the silence more comfortable.
"So you already have a plan in mind?"
"Yes."  Fern pointed up the staircase in the back.  "We walk up there, take what we want, and leave."  Fern took another sip of tea.  "Well, probably we'll be running, but I don't suppose that matters too terribly."
Ifekas took another sip of tea, and her eyes fell on Fern.  "Well, shall we?"
Together, taking their cups and saucers with them, Fern and Ifekas rose from their seats and walked calmly up the flight of stairs, textured with the shadows projected from the massive window.  Fern's blade gauntlet was a matte grey outline against the soft glow of arcane heat and electricity Ifekas cast on her right.  The elf receptionist glanced at the monolithic sundial in the square outside and continued fiddling with his collar.
The top floor gave the impression of narrowness, though really it was a very large space with lines that converged at the end and drew the eye to the horned yondák woman standing and sketching at the window.  She was tall, and though sturdily built, gave the suggestion of the grace mortal races found so fitting to both the immortal ones.  "Good afternoon," she said.
Ifekas called her scythe and snapped it into readiness.  "Hey, we're here to rob you and kill you."
"Well, Ife is here to kill you.  I'm just here to rob you."  Fern wasted no time leafing through some of the old books the yondák proprietor had left open.
The yondák glanced back at the pair.  "Really?  Go away, don't you have anything better to do?"
Fern eyed her coldly.  "Oh come on, we know we're not dealing with just some restaurateur, lady.  I've seen a lot of yondák art in my time, but I've never seen anything like what I've seen downstairs, meaning you and your friends must have been on the wrong side of the..."
"Meaning I have no interest in other peoples' styles.  I'm an artist and entrepreneur.  You're one of those institute people, aren't you?"
Fern put a large volume on chemistry in her sack.
"That's a shame, I always liked their idea.  You must know then, they don't have every tribe on file, and they certainly don’t have me."  She turned back to her art.  "I’ve never been very noticeable."
"Well, yeah, but I'm no paladin.  I'm only robbing you because it's a challenge and I need the money."
Ifekas took another sip of her tea.  "I'm only here because I like fighting."
"Well great, doesn’t that makes you two sympathetic now?  I'm going to go to bed tonight feeling bad about killing you two.  Isn't the rest of civilization declining depressing enough?"
"Don't mind me, I'm just trying to help fix the world, not contemplate the transience of shit for the rest of my life."
"Where did you pick up that phrase, seo?"
"But you're robbing me because you like the challenge."
"Well, no."  Fern added a gyroscope in with the books.
"I hate you guys."  The yondák set down her charcoals.
A wave of blue light and heat rippled from Ifekas, stunning Fern a moment.  She couldn't be sure if Ifekas ran or flew at her opponent.  All she saw was a bolt of blue light slashing down with a scythe at the yondák, who was suddenly a meter away, and in her hands were two swords.  Many sparks arced high, though Fern couldn't tell if they were from steel striking steel, or the collision of arcane forces.  Though the blast of wind blew out the windows and opened giant holes in the roof, Fern stood tensed to engage; yet she knew she would be struck down in an instant.  This was not her battle.
Ifekas shot through the roof, high into the sky beyond, landing on nothing but floating on, blasts of heat and energy streaking back at where the yondák had been but milliseconds before.  In the air, they clashed in bursts of fire and lightning and arcane power, illuminating the grey bottoms of the monsoon season clouds with an impossible purple light.  Such unmitigated basic power was the true nature of magic; was why the sorcerers that walked beyond were no less than gods.  The yondák fought with such unexpected understanding and grace that even a mage, even the unrestrained abandon to destruction that darted and swung her scythe in great arcs, was given a worthy match. 
Down below, the streets were bathed in the phantasmic illumination.  It diffracted and refracted in the rain, on the tip of Fern's blade, and in the blood of the town's guard which now swarmed her below.  As she fought, she wondered at the light.  Her blade came around in quick jabs and slices, tracing in the rain never repeating patterns, flickering in the pulsing lights never in response, but in its own dancing ways.  No fight had seemed to her so pretty.  Fern wondered if Ife felt the same way.
Now in the sky, both fighters were slowing in their strikes, their blows less vigorous, and their attacks more circuitous.  Ifekas kept up the assault, watching the yondák move, calculating her energy, waiting for a chance.  And then she was there, her scythe a blue streak against the sky.  The heat and energy of the blow caught the yondák mid gasp, dead before the scythe's arc was complete.  Ifekas watched her tumble, and almost immediately, in victory, she herself started sinking downwards, the sandy earth below falling in closer.
She landed in a heap in a clearing near the town, naked and completely exhausted.  It was out of the corner of her eye that she saw Fern stumbling into the clearing after her, the grey blade red on its leading edge, loose at her side.
"Ah, there you are seo."  She propped herself up on her knee.  "I couldn't see you down below."  She saw Fern’s blade.  “You weren’t bored?”
"Oh, you would have loved it, Ife."  Fern knelt down next to her.  "It was very pretty from down here."
"It was a good fight, seo.  I'm glad you enjoyed yours.  It’s always different fighting with you there.”  She grinned.  “I have an excuse to use my cooler moves.”
"I’m glad, then, and I’m glad for my battle too.  Well, that’s not really true, I didn’t want my fight.  I didn't want to have to kill anyone, you know that.  But as they came, it seemed a little less sad, with you up there.  I had a good fight too, but in the end they killed me, Ife."  She turned to her and smiled.  "The bastards used poison blades."
Ifekas didn't even look at her.  She stared forward, stone.
"Fuck you."  Ifekas still didn't move.  "Just, fuck you.  Don't you remember what you said about doing this because you got to share the adventure with me?"
“Don’t you remember why you even do this?”
“I know.”  Fern nodded her head.  “I know.”
"I'm almost four millennia old now.  I barely even remember my mother's name.  All I know is that these last seven years have been the only years where my life has had any sort of relevance outside my own existence."
Fern chuckled.  "That's horrible, Ife.  And here I thought you elves don't live for anyone but yourselves.  That's why I liked you guys."
Ifekas tightened her grip against her knee.
"There's nothing stopping you now, is there?"  Fern was visibly shivering now, but somehow her voice came clean and normal.
"My life had context before, but only in the art of destruction.  Maybe these seven years gave it something more.  No, I know they did, and I liked it.”
“So I was right about you.  I didn’t give you a reason to fight, I gave you a reason to create.”
 “But I guess that too shall pass."
Fern smiled as her eyes started to glaze over.  "Then I feel sorry for the world."
Ifekas sat as the rain fell around her in the steadily strengthening gale for many minutes, unmoving, without tears, simply staring forward until slowly, naked to the world, she picked up her scythe.  Even as she walked calmly towards the town, her strides took her very swiftly.  She would be there before the storm.

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