|Strangers Among Us: Lost Souls
Author: JKatrin PM
A century and a half after the Mage Storms,there are strangers to Velgarth once more.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 13 - Words: 47,724 - Reviews: 22 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 01-09-09 - Published: 01-23-08 - id: 4029041
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Strangers Among Us: Lost Souls
A/N: This is a work of fantasy that piggybacks Mercedes lacky's Valdemar series. I do not own the setting. Also mentioned is Glen Cook's Black Company setting. I also own none of the characters from that setting, except for Squeaky. Dave owns Knuckles and No. Brandon more or less is Maul, as Joe is Topper. And Daniel Montes breathed life into One. Thanks boys, for letting me borrow that crazy bunch for this little adventure.
Part 1: Glittering Stone
There is a place, called the Plain of Glittering Stone. It exists in and on sixteen different worlds at once, and touches the Plane of Shadow as well as the spirit world. Strange dangerous shadows roam its pale surface, barred from the roads that traverse the Plain by pillars of dark basalt that glitter as if splashed with golden coins. There are sixteen of these roads, perfectly preserved and jet black, wide enough for two wagons. Each proceeds from one of the sixteen shadowgates that are spaced along the rim of the Plain; each ends in the center, at a crumbling palace where the guardian golem Shivetya sits pinned to his increasingly unstable throne.
It has been millennia since anyone has used the Plain. But there are travelers on it now, a score of hardened men in armor and leather masks. They are riding hard, having been herded onto the plain by an army that seeks to destroy them. These men are mercenaries, the last survivors of the company known as the Tears of Blood. They know that they are going to die, that they cannot stand for long against the army that hounds them, an army that believes it is their holy duty to destroy the Tears to the last man and erase their existence from history.
But the Tears of Blood are, above all, survivors. They know this will be their last stand, and they are determined to make the enemy's victory a costly one. So they have ridden hard, through the crumbling palace, and taken a position at the end of another road with their backs to the shadowgate there. They know the enemy will not dare leave the road to surround them. They will force the army to come to them, and they will die on their feet.
Part 2: The Dhorisha Plains
Vir'hada shena Pretera'sedrin watched with pride as her student Darrim deflected the levin-bolts she threw at him without losing his concentration on the ley-line he was re-routing to the clan's Heartstone.
For the last century and a half, the nomadic Shin'a'in had been gradually incorporating magic into their lives. They had learned many techniques from their cousins, the tree-dwelling Taleydras, but saw no need to copy the Taleydras methods exactly. The Shin'a'in had made several innovations of their own suited to a life that changed with the seasons, including a very important one to the Heartstones.
Each clan's Heartstone could be induced by an Adept of that clan to produce several smaller versions of itself. Each smaller stone retained its connection to the larger, and so to the ley-lines that fed it. Thus, a Shin'a'in Adept never had to fear traveling too far from the power of his Heartstone.
Now, under Darrim's direction, the Cat Clan's stone did just that. Vir'hada saw the green striated surface ripple like water. The old shaman Felt the energies of the stone gather, and push, and her eyes observed the fist-sized chunk emerge from the greater mass. Darrim plucked the small stone from its parent, and placed it in the pouch around his neck, turning to his teacher with a grin of pride.
Vir'hada smiled as well and removed the shields she had placed around the Heartstone's glade. "Very well done," was her only comment, but the boy—no, she corrected herself, the Adept—beamed even brighter at the rare compliment.
"Have you given any thought to your Adept contribution?" Vir'hada asked.
"Yes, ha'shin," he responded promptly. His chin came up, and he looked his mentor in the eye. "I wish to attempt to re-activate one of Urtho's great Gates," he said firmly.
The old woman cocked her head to fix him with a look from her better eye. "One of Urtho's Gates?" she repeated. "When it has not yet been proven that it indeed, safe to gate at all? When we do not fully understand the principles behind the greater Gates? When we are not even certain where those gates lead?"
Darrim's gaze was steady as he answered his teacher. "It is true that it has not been proven safe yet," he said. "Which is why I will test it first with a crate of minor items. If it is undamaged, I will send a bird. If it arrives safe, then I will step through myself."
"As for the principles behind the permanent Gates…as you know, I have been studying with the Hardornen mages as well, and they have gone to great lengths to preserve their knowledge of such things. I believe I understand them as well as anyone can, who has never tried to use them. That same knowledge, together with the knowledge of the An'desha, the Shin'a'in First Mage, is what has given me the idea that once activated, I can set the destination of the Gate."
"Think of it, ha'shin!" Darrim's eyes were bright with enthusiasm. "If this works, what an advantage it will be for the Alliance! For the first time ever, we would have free travel between Hardorn, Valdemar, Rethwellan, and the Plains. It could be one of the Alliances greatest advantages."
Vir'hada folded her hands into the sleeves of her scarlet shirt. Obviously, the boy that given the matter a great deal of thought. And if he could pull it off, and the Star-Eyed allowed it, than it was meant to be. And if not…well, Kal'enal had Her ways of dealing with fools. Or rather, of letting them deal with themselves.
And so it was that she found herself three weeks later, at a pile of ancient stones that stood at the edge of the Plains. At one time, this had been Taleydras territory. But they had moved on, as was their habit after cleansing an area of dangerous magics and creatures that lived there. But others had moved in, and Vir'hada looked up as a cry like a raptor's echoed down to her ears. A dark dot in the sky quickly gained form, resolving into a creature something like an eagle, and something like a great cat, swift and sleek and magnificently dangerous.
The griffon backwinged and landed neatly before Vir'hada and Darrim. "Ho, brrotherrss to horrssess!" she trilled in excellent Shin'a'in. "I am Shestryl, of the Silverr Grriffonss. The Kal'ad'in have ssent me to observe this little experiment!"
Darrim nodded respectfully to the griffon. "Yes, Frostfire said someone would meet us," he said. "I am glad to find it was someone as charming and lovely as you."
"Flatterrerr," she answered, pleased. She was a pretty thing, a sleek falcon type with slate gray plumage and dark malar-stripes. The last three handspans of her primary feathers had been bleached and then painted in red stripes, denoting her position among the Silver Griffons. She wore a harness of smooth and shining leather, which had several pouches and cylinders attached to it. And her talons, though impressive enough, were not as large or as prominent as those of most other griffons. They looked a great deal like human hands, actually, and were just as dexterous as she reached for one of the cylinders and unclipped it, handing it to Darrim with a gaping grif-grin.
"Herre," she said. "A message from Frrosstfirre. He said that since I wass coming herre anyway, there wass no rreason I couldn't brring it with me!"
Darrim unrolled the message inside and read it carefully. Vir'hada waited patiently; this was Darrim's endeavor after all. If he thought she needed to read it, he would show it to her.
Apparently not, though, because he only smiled and tucked the message inside one of his fringed sleeves. "Was it a long flight?" he asked courteously of Shestryl. "Would you like to rest before we begin?"
The griffon only puffed out her feathers and clacked her beak. "No one else in the Silverr Griffonss can fly as farr and as fasst ass I!" she boasted. "I ate well before I left the Vale—I am rready when you arre!"
"Very well, then," Darrim. "Let us begin."
On the Plain of Glittering Stone, the Tears of Blood gather around their standard. The standard-bearer spies a depression in the ground before the shadowgate, and plants the base of her staff there, unfurling the company banner.
A subtle change thrums through the road and the gate, nearly imperceptible, and certainly ignored by the Tears. But the wizard-prophet who commands the army knows what has happened, and he howls his frustration as the very event he hoped to prevent comes about.
"KILL THEM," echoes the command through the ranks, and the holy warriors surge forward, each of them determined to earn his place in Paradise.
Darrim picked his way to the center of the ruins, where a half-fallen arch marked the location of Urtho's ancient Gate. He grounded his power deep into the earth and created a shield between himself and the observers with an ease that made Vir'hada proud. Then he reached for both the power of Pretera'sedrin's Heartstone, and for the node that lay deep beneath the earth. Vir'hada was conscious of the shimmer of power that played over the arch. Suddenly she both saw and Saw the arch as it must have been before, a ghostly overlay on the crumbled reality. She realized she was holding her breath, and made a conscious effort to breath normally. Next to her, Shestryl muttered in the musical griffon tongue.
Darrim raised his hands, directing energy gathered from Heartstone and node into a portal of crackling light. The center became black, and Vir'hada Saw tendrils of seeking energy, spinning out, searching for the destination that Darrim struggled to hold clear in his mind. She sensed him weaken physically; this was why gates were, traditionally, so draining and difficult to build. Only one mind could guide it, because no two people ever had exactly the same perception of the same place. But the young Adept did not falter, and suddenly Vir'hada had that sense of "rightness" that any mage feels when a spell is properly completed.
In the next instant, she felt as if some giant hand had picked up the earth on which she was standing and shaken it violently. She fell to the ground as vertigo overwhelmed her, and as her vision blurred she heard Darrim's exclamation and Shestryl's panicked scream. She looked up in time to see the portal glowing incandescently. Dim shapes seemed to move beyond the light. But Darrim was outlined against the mage-fire of the portal, desperately trying to keep it from overloading.
Dear Lady, thought Vir'hada frantically, he's going to channel it all through himself! He'll never survive that kind of—
She could Feel the power fluctuating as Darrim tried to control it, but she couldn't tell why. What had happened to make this go so horrifically wrong? Vir'hada struggled to her feet, determined to get through the shields, but before she could even raise a hand, Darrim cried one last word—
And the gate exploded in a searing burst of energy. It ripped through the shields as if they were so much gauze, catching Vir'hada and Shestryl in the blast. As the old shaman staggered and finally fell, she caught a glimpse of several other figures scattered around Darrim, silent and unmoving.