- Written for (and a winner of!) the April-May challenge at the Tamora Pierce Experiment: Writing Challenges forum.
- 3rd Place in the Summer 2010 Circle of Ficship competition.
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A Matter of Time
Of Frostpine and Earthquakes
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There was an old saying in Mbau that rang through Frostpine's mind then, Lark's gasp of terror still echoing in wooden rooms.
It said, in the voice of his sister who had whispered it into his ear, "You can run, but a horse runs faster, and earthquakes faster still."
- : -
He had told no one the truth, not in any detail at least.
He had not known it then, in the early years of his youth, but that unfathomable substance-tool-gift had defined him ever since birth, or perhaps even before that. His magic had been drawn away in thick ropes to sate another man's greed for power - iron-hot and burning enough to frighten away all competitors for his place. His magic had been a source of income for the family, but to Frostpine, it had always meant so much more.
It had placed food in his belly, yes, as a child. But then, with the death of his village's shaman, the power flowing back meant sickness, fever, heat, and ancient ores and delicately worked jewelry alike singing - or shrieking - beneath his fingertips. Afterwards had come the isolation, from the family who had betrayed his very being for little more than comfort, and from the rest of the world, who treated the priceless heat within his soul as a gilt-covered toy, or a treasure they could own.
He had whiled away the years, waiting - always waiting - although he hadn't realized it until Niklaren Goldeye visited him in his forge, oddly out of place with his angular, ill-defined frame and expensive clothing. "I've found someone," Niko had said, "who will then find you." And something in Frostpine had stirred, that small part of himself that had never really moved past the isolation his extraordinary power represented.
Frostpine had known that Niko did not lie, but he also knew the future was always in motion, so he dared not believe until a small (to him) dark-skinned girl with her solemn face and grieving eyes stumbled across his forge, untrained, but the same special, shining power blazing from deep within.
Daja Kisubo was not his first student, but she was the first in so much else; in power, perception, and the way metal sang when she picked it up, just like they did in his.
Now the earthquake was upon them, unstoppable and terrifying, and this girl who was becoming his daughter had disappeared without a trace.
He did not gasp, as Lark did, the initial tremor past. He remembered the words. Running had been his solution as a boy. Long years had passed since he believed in it, but he was still fast as he raced out of the cottage in an undignified manner, falling to his knees onto the ground and pressing down on his palms.
He could not quite admit his fear, because Frostpine's jokes about his personal perfection were not always jokes, but it clogged his throat, and he swallowed hard - for himself, and for her - as he spread his magic through the ground beneath his hands and feet. It was probably a futile hope, because unless she was actively using her magic, which seemed unlikely, he would have absolutely no sense of her, no clue of where to go. Worse, the anchors of Winding Circle had been filled with so much magic through the centuries it would probably give him false answers.
There was desperation as he searched, that cloud of fear making his heart beat so fast he was certain it would do what the returning of his magic could not - make his heart stop - but even deep in his locating, the hand atop his shoulder, and the quiet warmth, seemed like a draw back to sanity.
"Have you forgotten about spells?" Lark's voice was calm, but her eyes trembled as she spoke.
"No time," muttered Frostpine.
"Then find Niko," she countered. "He will find them faster than you can."
Them. His worry for Daja had almost made him forget the three other young, bright souls with whom she was slowly recovering from being a cast-away. Lark had not.
They were fortunate to arrive at the Hub when they did. There were horses outside the doors, whinnying in terror as they perceived with acute senses what humans could not, as riders talked, or argued, in furious voices beside them. One of the group clung white-faced to the horses, which despite their instinctive urge to run were steadier than he, terrified beyond belief.
You can run, but a horse runs faster, and earthquakes faster still.
You could run, but you would never be faster than a man with good sense - a horse - or the calling of something overwhelming: disaster, or change, or death.
The suggestion he would arrive far too late sent a chill down his spine, so he blazed his way into the group, to where Niko was arguing with another man.
"Sandry's gone," Lark beat him to the punch to announce. "Daja too, and Briar and Tris. Can you find them?"
Niko broke off immediately, looking all too grateful for the excuse to leave... until the words sank in, at least, and then he was as white as the pale-faced man who stood only with the support of his horse.
The ground beneath Frostpine's feet tingled even though he was shod, and he paused at the sense of familiar magic, but Niko had run back into the Hub - as undignified as Frostpine's earlier performance. He had run, Frostpine would later learn, for the first mirror he could find, and stared into it with a ferocious frown of concentration as he searched, everything else forgotten.
Outside the Hub, Frostpine was blocking out voices as he thrust his magic deeper, searching for that illusive wisp of...
Daja. She was alive.
Copper and fire had been diluted with silk and vines and winds, but she was alive.
He was rushing in to tell them at the same time Niko found him, and their initial attempts to talk over one another terminated abruptly when they realized they both knew.
The plan had been to race to the closest possible place, the Heartfire, to bring them up, but to Frostpine's eternal frustration, they needed permission. Luckily, Lark managed to calm the men down ("They're still alive.") and ordered him to find Rosethorn as she marched grimly to Dedicate Moonstream to demand permission to use magic so close to the anchors.
So much could have gone wrong, he would think, later that day. It might have taken too long to find Rosethorn, or Lark might have needed to be more convincing (though it seemed unlikely), or Niko and Frostpine might not have located the children at all. The earthquake could have overtaken the runners, even if they were not running away from men or from natural disaster.
So he wasn't sure which deity to thank when his magic, twined with Rosethorn's, brought the four young mages back up alive.
He had not been too slow.
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R & R, please