Author: Lora Redish
Plotline: The Shape of Things to Come
Title of Post: Research. It had to be research.
Heart hunkered with Rhynwa and her team in the shadow of the alien mountains. Dragons were bad news, from everything Heart had heard. She wished she were back in Kaltur defending her thesis.
Of course, she didn't have anything to defend yet. The purification spell was interesting, but she couldn't draw any valid conclusions from it because she had no way of ascertaining whether the water had been contaminated in the first place. That would be a good spell for a laboratory experiment--contaminate some water with something well-known and non-lethal, purify it, feed it to some test subjects and identify how the spell affected the subjects. Unfortunately, spellcasters never wanted to waste their spells on matters they considered so pointless. It worked, and that was that, they'd say. The details didn't seem to interest most mages, and asking the question at all struck some as sacrilegious or at least annoying. So Heart was left to observe natural use, and draw what conclusions she could. A few polite inquiries about the intention of each spell and its expected effects were all Heart allowed herself; Rhynwa seemed impatient with those, but not actually offended.
"So you're gonna get us all outta here, right?" Akron asked 8T. "Cause this armor's pretty good and all dat, but it ain't gonna proteck my beautiful features from one-a dem flyin' death machines up there."
"Patience, Akron," said Rhynwa. "It doesn't seem like they've noticed us yet. Perhaps creatures our size aren't typically that interesting to them."
"Or mebbe Kurt's invisibility just works better than it looks like."
"Can I open my eyes yet?" Carter beseeched, stumbling over another alien rock.
Author: Alyssa Gulledge
Plotline: Shape of Things to Come
Character(s): Rhynwa, Heart
Title of Post: Don't Fear the Reaper
Rhynwa sighed. “Really Heart, I don’t know. I implore Arawn, or in other places, the local embodiment of Death, to allow me to cast the spell. I don’t know *how* it happens.”
Heart, trying to get anything useful from this interaction tried another tack. “Well, mages usually have a set of gestures and words to make their spell go. You seem to have a similar requirement, do you not?”
Rhynwa smiled. “Yes and no. I have to speak, and there are ritualised gestures, but generally the speaking part is a little more freeform, as it is really a prayer. Generally one starts with getting attention, giving a compliment, thanks for previous help, do you think you could spare me a moment now, and then you say the name of the spell. Now, while that may sound callous, it is sincere when you say it – or else you don’t get the spell you very badly need. On the other hand, in a combat, those prayers are often condense to ‘Arawn, you are very nifty. Help, please?’ and then you name the spell. So there is an invocation every time, but clerical magic depends on individual god’s requirements, and individual style.”
Heart was keeping notes of this, even though the conversation was not going the direction she expected. “And the gestures?”
“Generally the appropriate gestures of supplication, specific to each god. And pointing out the person to be blasted in the case of a damaging spell. Also, we often have the material component of our holy symbol. Part of the prayer, supplication set. Sometimes there is a material component as well, but this is really just a polite gesture. All gods can make whatever material is necessary to have the spell work, but demanding that in addition to asking for the spell is just plain rude.”
“This is quite interesting but can we talk about how it actually happens?”
“I am sorry Heart. I would if I could. You may as well treat clerical magic as minor miracles. We ask for it, and if we have pleased God, we get it. Can I take a break and eat my dinner?”
“Of course.” Heart continues to take down some of the notes.
Rhynwa chewed her food, and thought about a deeper question. Since Arawn had passed, all the other clerics in her order were limited in the spells they could cast. Just the concept of Death could power those spells. However, she still had access to the highest level of spells – the ones that required a sentient, active god to power them. She knew Arawn had moved on to the next level of perfection, as she had been communing with Him as He died. A shuddered passed over her features. On the other hand, she felt like there was still a piece of him deep within her.
In fact, as she sat there thinking about it, she realized that that sense of His presence was stronger than on the day after the Madness. She was unsure of what it meant. Maybe it meant that she was getting closer and closer to her own demise. Now that was a pleasant thought, although she would miss Luthien and Gordon very much. Maybe she should ask Luthien if he had the same feeling. She smiled slightly. That would be nice. I wouldn’t like to be separated from Luthien for too long. Perfection wouldn’t be the same without him. Maybe I could get him to hurry up if I tell him Farstalker is giving me the eye…
Rhynwa laughed quietly. Heart looked up from her notes, and quirked her eyebrow-ridge.
Heart nodded and went back to her notebook.
Rhynwa continued to amuse herself with pleasant thoughts of being dead.
Author: Lora Redish and Kristin L'Kar Andersen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami, Rissa, Alexke
Title of Post: When You're A Brick, You're A Brick All The Way
"Gee, Sashami, I thought you were doing great," Rissa offered, as Dr. Huxley cast a power word, mend at the Society of Science lounge. "I mean, I spent most of the fight hiding under a table and getting rescued from things."
"You're not a warrior." Sashami realized too late that might sound like she was diminishing the non-fighters in the group, and hurried to elaborate. "Combat is a collaborative art... for a unit to succeed, everyone must do their share. As a War Woman--" Sashami hoped she'd be good enough to make War Woman-- "my job is to stand between the lighter fighters and the front line, so that they can use missile weapons, spells, or other skills to our best advantage. Today, I let the front line give." It wasn't just Sashami, of course, but Jason had dropped his end of the combat because of courageously taking a blow meant for Rissa, which was a fair reason to be distracted. Sashami had no excuse; the monster just beat her, fair and square. It didn't help that an apparently gravely ill spellcaster had then wandered over and dispatched the beast as if it were a 5-hp rat, making flippant jokes the whole time. Sashami's face burned with the memory of that. "Anyway, I didn't fulfill my role, and it disrupted the harmony of the battle. Berryn and Alexke overextended themselves covering for my failure, and we found ourselves without healing or teleportation when we could have used both. I must work harder, so that I do not let the group down this way again."
Rissa looked thoughtful at that. "Well, we're a very new group, you know," she pointed out. "And most of us are young. We don't know our own limitations or our own potentials yet, most of us... And the balance and cohesion as a unit that we'll need, we just haven't had a chance to achieve yet. We should probably all practice more, and practice together as much as possible. That way we'll learn each other's abilities at the same time as we improve our own."
"That is wise," Sashami nodded.
"Could we practice against some kobolds or something next time?" suggested Jason, testing his healed arm gingerly.
"I wish I had some control over that," Rissa said sadly, looking at the scroll. "I feel badly over involving everyone in this, now. People are getting hurt protecting me from something that probably wouldn't harm them if they weren't with me." She sighed. "But I can't defend myself very well from these things. If they had minds, that would be different... or if--" She paused very suddenly, bit her lip, and went on. "Well, my abilities just don't work very well against animated objects. I'm very worried. I mean, we could be attacked by our own belongings, and I haven't even figured out what triggers these things to animate."
"Nonsense," Melissandra said firmly. "Why, what are friends for if not to face attacks by strange animated monsters together?"
"I wouldn't have, uh, put it quite that way," said Alderon, "but yeah, we got your back, Rissa."
Alexke was coming around now, mumbling something garbled with way too many consonants in it. "Are you all right?" asked Jason.
She shook her head as if suddenly realizing where she was, and sat up. "Yes," she said.
"What were you talking about?"
"Nothing. Let's go."
Author: Eric Gasior
Plotline: Coming of Age
Title of Post: Secrets
Alexke's mind raced as she got enough energy to wake up. Unwanted memories flooded in.
She saw her father again, the way she last saw him. Dying. Her mom had stabbed him. They had been fighting, all the grownups were fighting. She never found out if he was coming to protect her or hurt her as mom turned on him. And then there was the look in her mom's eyes. Something terrible was in them, worse than the monsters under the bed - the ones she knew didn't exist. Her mom had turned on her. She knew her life was in danger. She didn't know how she knew, her life had always been peaceful and safe. She ran.
She ran as far as she could. Farther than she knew she could go. That day she learned always find your limits in an emergency and something will happen. She ran into the planes. Her control wasn't good, she was just learning and didn't know what she was doing.
Luck was with her. Mother found her. The woman looked strange to the girl's eyes but also peaceful and friendly. Alexke knew she was safe when mother picked her up and carried her. Picked her up...
She had just been put down. She knew she had said something. This couldn't be good.
"Are you all right?" It was the boy who didn't like girls asking.
"Yes." She tried to maintain composure but involuntarily shuddered and shook her head.
"What were you talking about?"
She didn't know what she had said, maybe it wasn't in Dalen. "Nothing. Let's go."
Author: Jonah Cohen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Jimmy & the SB
Title of Post: Hall of Mirrors
"Really, Jimmy," Melissandra said, "you needn't keep apologizing. It was an unlikely accident, and I am quite fine. Then after a moment's thought, she returned his earlier gesture by giving him a friendly slap on the back. He was knocked forward a few steps.
The scientists were already hard at work. An ill-shaven archaelogist was looking at the toppled globe, muttering. Dr. Tyndall seemed fascinated by the dust that still hung in the air. Many of the junior scientists were either fascinated by identifying which bones were from which creature's bodily part, or by the bodily parts of Margot. Dweebs.
Alexke came to, mumbling in what Jimmy realized was some incomprehensible foreign language. She briefly looked alarmed, then confused as Jason helped her to her feet, then back to her normal composed self. "You alright, Obi-wan?" Jimmy asked. She took a second to try and figure out what he meant then calmly nodded. "Slick moves, as always," he told her.
It struck Jimmy then that he had regarded Alexke at first as a sort of junior thief, soimeone he could be a big brother figure to, show her the ropes. That had probably been self-aggrandizing thinking. At 14, he himself had been a typical teen spaz. Alexke, on the other hand, was confident, self-reliant, assertive enough that she'd flatly turned down Sashami's advice, could do all kinds of crazy tricks using some power Jimmy couldn't hope to comprehend, and some kind of gibberish was her native tongue. Not like me at all.
He watched Sashami and Rissa talking, trying to avoid recalling an image of the two of them from his dreams. Sashami was apologizing, repeatedly, for her performance in the fight, her eyes downcast with shame. She spoke of being a war woman like it was the fufillment of a desperately desired, lifelong dream.
Or like a desperate attempt to win somebody's affection and approval.
Jimmy had a sudden memory of himself, much younger. He was lying face down on his bed, weeping bitterly after another failed attempt at approval-gain. I hate them! I don't care what they think! Petulently, Jimmy's younger self had stuck to this vow, and his life had gotten a lot better because of it.
Then Rissa was talking. She had started by trying to complement her teamate's performance, and when that failed, switching to a more tactical, practical response. The kind that Sashami would be likely to appreciate. Trying to prop up her spirits.
Another flashback, another Jimmy, only a few years younger this time. He was thrown to the floor, again, getting sore and getting frustrated. Cuz was sparring with him, teaching him how to fight, and Jimmy was beginning to think he was simply no good at this. "Ya need to anticipate and react quicker, kid," Cuz told him. "You've got the speed, it just takes practice." Offering him a hand up. "Nobody wins every fight. No matter how tough you are, there's always someone tougher."
"And that," Mary said from the sidelines, "is why you avoid fights if possible." By the end of the day he was doing better. He suspected Cuz might have been holding back a bit to bolster his confidence. Instead of feeling patronized, Jimmy felt heartened to know that his tutor had made the effort.
He felt the sudden desire to give both of the women a big hug.
"Uh, right," he said instead. Then louder "Fun as this science stuff has been, are we ready to pack our toothbrushes and head to this Hantzu penisula?"
Author: Lora Redish and the far-too-busy Sylvia Rudy
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Thalia and the Silver Bullets
Title of Post: Curses, Foiled Again
Thalia wandered through the "260" shelves of the Society of Science reference library, glancing through everything she could find even vaguely related to familial curses. Not much of it had to do with "removal of," unfortunately, and what mentions of it there were had to do with propitiating the angry fairy.
"Okay, she's dead," Thalia muttered aloud, "which rules out reasoning with her... unless we get a necromancer, I guess. Hey, isn't Berryn a necromancer?"
There was a loud crash and a lot of commotion from the lounge beyond.
Thalia, however, was already on her way to the "220" shelves, the Necromancy ones. "Now where do they keep the books on undead fairies..." she said to herself.
"Geez," Jimmy was saying. "I never thought I'd be having a fight with a bunch of magic bones."
"Hey, we are, after all, adventurers," said Alderon. "You ok there, Berryn?"
The apprentice necromancer was starting to come round now, but still looked very disoriented. "He'll be all right," said Rissa, and lowered her voice to a hush. "What do you guys think of this Tyler fellow, anyway?"
"I like him," Alderon volunteered. "Kinda geeky, but he seems all right to me."
"Why?" Sashami said worriedly. "Do you have misgivings about him?"
"Well, not per se, but... I mean, I hate to sound paranoid, but there are people trying to kill me. And Tyler did sort of show up from out of nowhere and for no real reason, wanting to join our group."
"So did Jimmy and Alexke." Alderon shrugged. "So did Melissandra for that matter. Hell, you haven't known any of us longer than a week."
"That's--true," said Rissa, choosing not to share her suspicions about Alexke at this time. "But you're in this because I came to you asking for help," she said instead, "and Tyler sought us out on his own. I just wish I knew what he wanted with us, that's all."
"Maybe you should ask him," Sashami suggested. "It seems most reasonable to me that a young man like Tyler should be seeking his fortune, as we are... but it could only help if we knew more about him. Particularly if we are to work on improving our team dynamics as you suggest."
"I don't think our team dynamics are that bad," Alderon said, with another shrug. "Okay, so it wasn't the prettiest fight in the world, but combat's not everything. We've been doing pretty darn good with the investigative stuff, got a good mix of specialized skills going. And besides, we survived. That's the most critical thing in any combat, right?"
"Yes, at least we didn't lose anybody," Sashami agreed, as optimistically as she could.
"Hey, guys?" Jason wandered over, still feeling the scar on his arm. "Has anyone seen Thalia?"
The Silver Bullets looked at each other. "Oh, shit," Alderon finally said.
"There you are!" Melissandra burst into the library stacks. "Goodness, we've been looking all over for you! We were starting to think something terrible must have happened!"
"It already has," Thalia muttered, and put The Afterworld of the Sidhe back up on the shelf. She looked around at the worried Silver Bullets, and sighed. "So, guys, next quest, after we rescue Chloe... we're working on this curse thing, okay? Oh, and what was all that racket? You guys knock over an exhibit or something?"
Author: Lora Redish
Plotline: The Shape Of Things To Come
Character(s): Heart and the Rhynwa Brigade
Title of Post: Things that go bump in the night
It was Heart's watch.
The alien planet they were on was so desolate that even she, who had lived her entire life on the bleak steppes of Kaltur, found it depressing. Some strange hopping lizard creatures went by once, but didn't seem the least bit interested in the group. Heart amused herself by sketching pictures of them in her research notebook.
I should have studied xenobiology, she was thinking. Of course, her luck being what it was, she would then doubtlessly be stuck in a wizard's pocket plane or something right now. Maybe animal husbandry.
It was too late to change her field of study now, though, or at least too late to do it without some much more substantial reason than a field trip to some distant planet with dragons flying overhead. Heart did wonder how such a huge animal could possibly stay airborne. Even if their bones were hollow, the things couldn't possibly weigh less than a ton. She wasn't looking forward to the chance to examine one more closely, though. Dragons were bad news. Even Heart knew that much.
That was when the noise started. Skree-skree-skree. Skree-skree-skree. At first Heart tried to ignore it, but it was too persistent, too urgent to be alien planet background noise. Then she tried to ascertain whether it could be a threat, but from this vantage point she could see nothing.
Skree-skree-skree. Heart sighed. The others weren't going to thank her for this, but it could be something important. She leaned over and shook Rhynwa awake. "What is it," growled the priestess sleepily, as if she'd been rudely interrupted from a very pleasant dream.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but there's something out there."
"Hmm," said Rhynwa, and sat up. "So there is. Well, perhaps we had better investigate."