Sin - By Firebrand, Chapter 24

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Sin - By Firebrand, Chapter 24

Post  Firebrand on Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:06 am

Chapter 24

“And then I just… open myself to the magic?” Lisana asked.

Ivan sighed. “You’ve done it before. Why is it so difficult now?”

“Before, my friends were in danger, and it was in the heat of the moment. And those other times, here, I can barely detect a trickle.”

The wildmage closed his eyes, and immediately felt the power of the Dark Forest all around him. It was in the trees, the earth, and the sky, all of it connected. Why was it so hard for Lisana to do? For as long as he could remember, he could harness this power. Solomon lowered his massive head. “Do you think it is because you have relied on demons for so long?”

Lisana shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

The dragon growled at Gwythr, and the Holly King came to their side. The forest demon sat cross-legged across from the two sorcerers, and picked up Ivan’s untouched earthenware mug of tea. He took a long sip, and then raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

“I… I don’t know what you want me to do.”

“Well, you’ve always been able to feel the flow of magic around a demon. I’m a demon. Do it.”

“Well, it’s usually been my demons. Still, I’ll give it a try.”

Lisana closed her eyes, and calmed her breathing, as Ivan had taught her. She tried to open her mind to the ebb and flow of magic, waiting for that same feeling she had felt back in the Capitol. Suddenly, in the black of her eyelids, she saw a spark of light.

Focusing in on it, it grew and spread, forming a vivid mental image. A shape roughly the form of Gwythr blazed in the darkness, seemingly composed of green and blue fire. “Do you have something?” Ivan asked.

“Yes!”

“Well, try and build on it!”

The sorceress nodded, and soon, the shapes of Ivan and Solomon appeared, pulsing with their life energy, the magical force that flowed through them. The darkness fell away, becoming a tide of bright lights. The trees, the stones, the earth, the small animals scampering through the Forest. “I see it. I see it all.”

“Open your eyes,” Solomon rumbled.

Lisana did, and the vision fell away. Gwythr nursed his tea, and looked at her. “Now try again, and don’t focus on me.” Lisana complied, and with considerably more effort, made the vision appear. This time, the colors were less vibrant, and more pastel.

When she explained this to Ivan, the Forester stroked his beard. “I see. That’s very strange. I never thought of using demonic energy as a focus. Then again, there isn’t much information on how to do this. I’ve known how since I was a child, and I’m sure other sorcerers have their own methods. If they do, they must think it simply natural, and don’t write it down.”

Solomon nodded slowly. “I believe that is enough on that subject for today. Ivan, what else do you need to teach her?”

The human furrowed his brow. “Lisana, can you channel the power you just saw? I suppose that is the only other wild magic skill I can teach you. Most else has to be learned by you. I simply cannot explain it.”

The young woman placed her palms on the dirt, as Ivan instructed her. She closed her eyes again, bringing the layered vision up. “I can feel it, thriving underneath me. Uh… I don’t know if I can use it.”

Ivan waved his hand. “I suppose we can try again later. There are other things I can teach you, about sorcery itself. Your education is rather raw in all regards, except for practical spells Harrison taught you?”

“Right,” Lisana sighed, once again confronted with the gaps in her education. “I know a fair few battle spells, and I can change the weather a little. Enough to help the crops grow at least.”

Solomon perked up. “Ah! Can you change the wind? I once knew a shaman who was rather adept at that. She taught me how, though I could never do it myself.”

“I’d like to learn that. Thank you, Solomon.”

The dragon flared his neck membrane, and settled back on his haunches, looking as satisfied as a hundred-foot long dragon with a face that was carved of a material as hard as stone could. Gwythr rolled his neck. “Girl, have you ever done a Great Working? In my time, that was a rite of passage for young shamans.”

Ivan spit out the mouthful of tea he was about to swallow. “Gwythr! I don’t think that… Things aren’t done that way anymore!”

“Well, why not? How will a sorcerer know their worth if they have never done a Great Working?”

Ivan shook his head, pulling anxiously at his beard. “Because they are deadly, that’s why! I’m rather glad that particular tradition has fallen from practice! With all the greedy, power-hungry sorcerers around in this epoch, I don’t want them wielding infinite power from their majority!”

Lisana held up a hand. “Now wait a moment. This Great Working… it sounds like it could solve a lot of problems!”

Ivan shook his head. “Believe me, you do not want to try a Great Working. The Price is much too high. I would know…”

Solomon leaned in. “Now my interest is piqued. Please, Ivan, tell on.”

The Forester glanced uncomfortably back and forth. “Lisana, a Great Working is when a sorcerer directly channels the power of the Magic itself. I do not mean like I do through nature, but direct communion. The Magic fills you, and you become a part of it. Your magic becomes capable of impossible feats, for a short period of time.

“The catch is, that power comes at a price. The Magic will demand a task of you, or some form of collateral. It’s never something out of your reach, so for example… you would never be asked to lead a herd of five thousand cattle from the sea to the Western Mountains. Plus, a sorcerer can only perform three such Workings in their life. The price of the first two is always something the Magic determines. But the third… the price of the third Great Working is your life.”

“Have you ever done a Great Working, Ivan?”

“Yes,” the wildmage muttered. “I’ve done three.”

Lisana raised an eyebrow. “So why are you…?”

“Not dead? Because the Magic works in mysterious ways. It will not immediately call your life forfeit if it has a further use for you. However, as soon as the Magic calls me, I will die. Until that point, however, all my prices are paid. I will never again feel the strain of exhaustion after a particularly taxing spell. I am filled with the Magic, and need only supplement that power with the wild magic. There are accounts of sorcerers who perform their three Workings to reach this point, but in most cases, their greed costs them their life immediately.”

Lisana gulped. “What where your first two prices? Or is it not polite to ask?”

Ivan shrugged. “I don’t think it’s impolite. Well, my first price was to protect the wild places of the realm, a duty I think Signe and I have upheld rather well, considering. The second was… forgive. I do not know who or what, but deep in my heart, I know my end is not yet fulfilled.”

Solomon lowered his eyes. “What a terrible burden…”

Ivan was silent. Gwythr cleared his throat. “Solomon, why don’t you go teach Lisana that wind spell? I would like to talk to the shaman privately.”

***

The wooden swords clacked as Damin pressed his offensive maneuver. Sin quickly parried, slipping away to gain precious breathing space. Damin’s longer reach allowed him to continue on unhampered, and Sin felt himself losing ground. He gritted his teeth against Damin’s relentless assault. Sweat poured down his face, and he dug in his heels, preparing for the ideal moment.

The moment never came.

Damin swept up in a diagonal strike, disarming Sin. Then, he swung out with his opposite forearm, sweeping Sin off his feet and sent him sprawling into the dirt. The younger man spat as he climbed to his feet. “You got me.”

Damin raised an eyebrow, and leaned against the practice sword. “You’ve improved, and you have good instincts. But that doesn’t mean you can forget the basics.” He stretched, and pointed at Sin’s left leg. “Okay, that one is far too rigid. Bend it. Relax a little.”

Sin obliged. “Now, assume the ready position.” The younger man took a deep breath, and held his sword out in front of him. Damin shook his head, and used the flat of his own practice sword to slap Sin’s limbs into place. “Too rigid. Stand ready, relax. Not that relaxed! Come on, look me in the eye. Half the battle is mental.”

Sin blinked, and turned his gaze on Damin, unconsciously narrowing his eyes, and letting everything fall away but his mentor. “Ah!” Damin laughed. “Now that’s a warrior stare!”

Sin sighed, and let his sword drop. “Damin, why do we bother? We’re safe here. So why should I keep learning how to fight? The Wall is gone, so I can’t be a guardsman. Lisana isn’t in danger, so she doesn’t need a champion. I can understand staying in shape and condition, but there’s other ways to do that.”

Damin led Sin to a fallen tree trunk that had become the training ground’s bench. “Sin, we can’t stay here forever. Lisana has a duty to all the demons in the realm. And where she goes, I’ll follow. You have a choice to make. Will you continue on, along a road that will certainly not be easy? Or will you stay here in safety, in peace, at least until the Chancellor and his followers seize control of the entire kingdom?”

Sin jumped up. “Well, that’s a stupid question! Of course I’ll follow Lisana! Harrison charged me with it, and by the Light, Lisana’s my friend! I don’t care how hard the road is, I’ll be there by her side!”

Damin stood, and clapped a hand on Sin’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t have expected anything less. So now, back to training?”

Sin twirled his sword. “All right. If it keeps Lisana safe.”

***

Thalia glanced at Kelrick. “She’s improving, isn’t she?”

The Hellhound watched Lisana waving her yew wand like a conductor’s baton, summoning the wind around her. The fire demon nodded slowly. “I haven’t met many sorcerers, but I’m willing to bet my freedom that most sorcerers can’t do that, not after hearing the spell just once. Elementals, Anjaru even says that it took him years to master his powers, and he’s the damned Air Master.”

Lisana closed her eyes and took a deep breath. A green aura flared around her as she channeled the magical power of the Dark Forest. Vines burst into flower, even in the chilly early autumn air. Now the young sorceress was laughing as a trail of violet light flared behind her wand like a banner.

Anjaru stepped out of the forest to join them. “Soon, I fear, we will have to move on from this peaceful place. But where will we go?”

Kelrick growled low in his throat. “The only place we have left.”

Thalia sniffed. “West? What’s west?”

“Well, Stardust Lake and the Banshee Moors. Some feral demons. A couple old fortresses.” The Hellhound shrugged. “But it’s either that or go south, back to the Capitol. And as it stands, I don’t think any of us want to risk that.”

Anjaru nodded. “Kelrick’s right. West is all we can do, should we need to leave this place. And I fear that may come sooner rather than later. For reasons unknown to us, the Chancellor is after Lisana. I’m surprised we’ve had this respite, for after his past actions, I think the only reason we have been able to live like this is he has been unable to find us.” He shifted in his cloak. “Come what may, we must protect Lisana. It’s our duty, both as Bonded demons, and as Artos’s retainers, Elementals bring him peace.”

Kelrick held out his fist. “For Artos.”

Thalia placed her hand atop his. “For Artos.”

Anjaru nodded. “For Artos.”

***

Ivan knelt next to Signe as she carved a new arrow. “Sister… we need to talk.” He waited patiently as his sister’s silver knife sent little slivers of wood fluttering to the ground.

“All right. Speak.”

Ivan sank back onto his heels. “Signe, when our friends move on, we must remain here in Darkrest. The Magic has shown me that our place is here, for an impending evil will soon come upon these people.”

“The Magic showed you all that, did it?”

“Sister, you know of my charge.”

Signe sighed, and began fletching the arrow. “Yes, and you know I’d follow you anywhere you must go.” She gingerly placed her hand on her younger brother’s. With another sigh, she glanced at her arrow. “Looks like I’ll need some more of these.”

***

Sin slowly brushed down Dusty’s coat as Lisana picked burrs out of the black mare’s tail. The big bay draft horse snorted and shook out his mane as he once again nosed Sin’s hand. “No, you big silly beast!” Sin laughed. “I don’t have any food!”

Dusty glared at him, and once again nudged Sin’s hand. Sin sighed, and held his open palm in front of Dusty’s face. “Look. No. Food.” Dusty licked Sin’s hand, just to be sure. Sin took the horse’s long, narrow face between his hands. “I don’t have food, you giant stupid brute.”

Dusty blew out a long sigh, making Sin collapse into laughter. Lisana looked over and shook her head. “Don’t tease him! He has no idea what you’re saying!” Dusty snorted again, walked away from Sin as far as his harness would allow, and began cropping the sparse grass that remained. The black mare suddenly shied away from Lisana, prancing around and straining against her harness.

“Hey, easy, easy!” Lisana cried.

Kelrick burst out of the cabin, brandishing a pan like a club. “I hear someone coming!”

Anjaru leapt off the roof, lighting down on the ground with barely a sound. “Which direction, Kelrick? Your ears are keener than mine.”

Kelrick pointed. “That way. From Darkrest.” He whistled, and the other members of their group ran over. Thalia dashed out of the Forest, an icicle spear already forming in her hands. Signe and Ivan looked up from the arrows they were making, and Singe was already stringing her bow. Damin barreled out of the cabin on Kelrick’s heels, holding his broadsword.

A horse charged down the forest path, stumbling and foaming at the mouth. Sin seized the reins as the beast came to a stop, praying that the horse wouldn’t keel over. The rider slumped off the horse’s back, and Damin caught him before he fell to the ground.

Miika Winterhold hurriedly fixed his glasses and straightened his clothing. “You all… have to hurry…”

“What’s the matter?” Anjaru snapped.

Miika tried to compose himself. “The Regent’s army… they’re only a day’s march away. A messenger just came to Illiya, demanding the return of the rogue sorceress with the red mantle.” Here, he turned to Lisana. “You wore a red cloak in the battle against Masgard. It must be you.”

Thalia glanced at Kelrick. “It came sooner than we thought.”

Damin grabbed Miika’s shoulders. “Has Illiya done anything yet? And why is the army outside Darkrest?”

“Illiya is stalling for time. The army has issued an ultimatum. If we don’t turn over Lisana, they’ll destroy Darkrest.” He sighed. “I don’t see a way out of this. There has to be at least three hundred soldiers and fifty demons. No way the garrison can hold them off. If Masgard hadn’t leveled our castle, maybe we could have held out. But now? I doubt it.”

Lisana took a deep breath. “It’s all right, Miika. I’ll give myself up.”

“The hell you will!” Gwythr spat as he emerged from the Forest.

Solomon leaned his head over the trees. “Lisana, we can give you the cover you need to escape. And protect the humans.”

Miika nearly fainted. “Is that… a dragon? My, what big teeth you have…”

Solomon pulled his lips back in a grin, and this time the man cowered behind Damin. Ivan turned to Miika. “How long does Illiya have?”

“Hours, maybe. And that’s if we’re lucky.”

Anjaru nodded to his demon comrades. “Pack the bags, quickly.”

Lisana glanced at Sin. “I’m going to see the army. And you’re going to come and protect me.”

Damin started to protest, but Signe held up a hand. “Ivan and I will go too. She has all right to see what she is running from.”

Miika glanced at them. “Well, we’d best hurry. I don’t think Darkrest will hold them for long.”

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Firebrand

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