Isa – Standstill

One casts runes in the same way one casts dice, with much the same implications. If you believe in Fate, the runes were fated to land where and how they did. Reading them is reading Fate itself, fully aware of all the pitfalls that go along with that.  However, if one does not believe in Fate, but in Luck, then the casting of the runes puts you entirely within Her domain. She may give knowledge and insight, or She may take away hope. The only way to know which is to play.

I lean to the latter view, though maybe talk of Luck takes it too far. Then again, maybe not. There is no reason to anger a divine-like being who might exist. Still, I have never seen any evidence of Fate. Or at least, I have seen no point in believing in It. If Fate exists, our beliefs do not matter. And if It does not exist, why believe at all?

In front of me was a single rune from my casting. A straight vertical line, a rune which cannot be reversed. And yet Isa was always reversed. It represents a freeze in activity, a standstill. It requires letting go of something that prevents progress. It is a lone person, in the cold, trying to drag something too heavy. In order to move forward, in order to get to safety, the burden needs to be released no matter how important it seems.

Unless one enjoys the cold. That is Fate’s problem, It cares not a whit for individuals. It assumes we all want the same things. The cold is my home, and I can move freely in it. Perhaps Luck, if She is real, intended to freeze my pursuers so that I could escape. That is how I chose to understand this casting, at least at that moment.

Trapped

With a practiced hand, he drew a large circle with chalk and inscribed several runes within it, two for strength, three for protection. It was not sufficient; it never was. But it was all there was time for. Taking his place inside, he mumbled a few syllables under his breath and the lines began to glow.

The door swung open with some force, and a man stepped through. “On your feet, mage!” It seemed obvious he had practiced that.

“No.” Ice allowed himself a tiny smile.

The Terrgat drew his sword. “Get up, or I will run you through right here.”

“You intend to do that anyway. I have no interest in making it easier for you.”

As if that had been the sign he was waiting for, the Terrgat thrust his sword towards Ice. It glanced off of the barrier he had erected.

“I have studied that medallion you wear. It protects against magic cast directly at you, but it does not let you circumvent barriers. You cannot touch me.”

After a few more swings, the Terrgat appeared to accept Ice’s claim. He sheathed his blade and glared at the mage. “So you are protected in there. But for how long? I will wait. You cannot escape.”

Ice said nothing; he simply watched the man pace about the room. The Terrgat had a point about being tramped, but his impatience was evident. How long would he be willing to wait for Ice to lower his barrier?

Only a few minutes went by before he spoke again. “Why delay this? Are you hoping to be rescued? By whom? End this now.”

“I think I will stay right here.” Ice decided to try to force the issue. “But it is rather warm in here. Perhaps you would be willing to open the window?”

“No, I…” He caught himself up short. “That is a good idea.” The Terrgat left the room and returned quickly with a lit log from the fire in the public room. He tossed it on the bed. “Perhaps you are safe from my sword. But if heat still bothers you, you may want to come out now.” He stood smirking, pleased with his own cleverness.

Ice smiled again. “Do you know me?”

“Just another mage that people need to be protected against.”

“Well, I suppose you are correct after a fashion, but I am not just any mage.”

The flames had gotten higher and begun to spread, engulfing the entire bed. The Terggat was beginning to look worried. “If you are not eager to be burned alive, you should come out now.”

“I will be fine. But I think your medallion will offer you little protection.” The room was fully ablaze now. Ice could tell that the heat was nearly unbearable; only his magic kept his small circle safe. Fire magic had always eluded him, but it was a simple matter to protect against mundane heat. “Perhaps you should go now.”

The Terrgat scowled at him, but the fire was already pushing him out of the room. His departure  was timely, for the room itself was beginning to come apart. With his would be captor gone, Ice cast a version of his heat ward that would travel with him.  While the Terrgat was explaining the situation to the owner and trying to clear out the inn, Ice was able to sneak out the window and into the night.

Alone in the Woods (part two)

After a day and a half, he finally stirred.  Rian had tended to his injury and waited.  It had been an anxious wait.

“You are awake.  Good.  How do you feel?”

“Confused.  Sore.”  He sounded groggy.

“That is not unexpected.  You have been asleep for at least two days.”

His hand shot up to his neck.  “Where is it?”

“Where is what?”

“My medallion.  It was around my neck.”

“What does it look like?”

He scoffed.  “You took it off.”

She feigned ignorance.  “I did no such thing.  Is it a family heirloom?  There was no medallion where I found you.”

He did not look convinced.

“So what happened to you?  I found you unconscious in the woods, but how did you get there?”

He stared at her intently.  “Do you really not know who I am?”

She was trying very hard to appear relaxed and unconcerned. Luckily false appearances were her speciality.  “I have never seen you before.  How should I know who you are?”

“And my clothes?  They mean nothing?”

“They are very nice.  Since you seem so concerned about this medallion, I assume you are from a wealthy family.  But I know little of such things.”

Doubt began to creep across his face.  Had he begun to believe that she might really not know anything about the Terrgat?  When he spoke next, he sounded less rough, more cordial toward his host.

“I had been riding.  Something must have startled my horse, and she threw me.  I assume I hit my head, and that is where you found me.  Perhaps I lost the medallion in the fall.  I apologize for accusing you.”

She waved her hand.  “It is alright.  I can take you back where I found you when you feel better.  We can look for it.  I saw no sign of your mount, however.”

“Thank you.”  His eyes closed and his head sank back into the pillow.

She needed to know more.  Was he in the woods because of her?  Did others know where he was?  In the end, did it matter?

She sat and watched him sleep.  What should she do?  Even if he was not looking for her before, he knew she was here now.  How long would it take to suspect her of being a mage?  Could she really be safe anymore?  If he were to disappear, would others come looking for him?  And is that something she could even do?  She had never killed before.

This Terrgat, he and his, had killed nearly everyone she had ever known.  If he found out who she was, he would certainly try to kill her.  But could she kill him to save herself?

Maybe she should just leave, go somewhere else.  Now that she had been found once, it could happen again.  It would be safer to quit this place.  But she was tired.  Too tired, she thought, to start again.  She would not run once more.

That decided it, then.  What she had to do.  He was defenseless; it would be a simple matter to stop his breathing.  A kinder death than he would give her, she was certain.

The shadows had grown long during her deliberation, and everything had taken on an orange hue in the late afternoon sun.  The Terrgat’s eyes were open once more and looking at her.

“Could I have something to drink?  I did not want to interrupt you, but I am very thirsty.”

“Oh, of course.  You need liquids to recover properly.”  She poured a glass of water from the pitcher and handed it to him.

“Thank you.  You have been very kind to me.”

“You are welcome.”  She smiled.  “I could not just leave you to die.”  As she said it, she knew it was true, and she could not bring herself to make it false.

Alone in the Woods (part one)

Rian was walking back to her small cabin from the village when she found him.  The woods around her home were inhabited only by small animals.  It was more than a day’s walk to the village and there was no road or other path, so she had never seen another person out here.  Yet it was the fact that he was wearing the green and black colors of the Terrgat that truly unnerved her.

Ever since she had had to flee from her last home, this day haunted her thoughts.  She had refused to form new ties because of it.  Only making trips to the village when she was desperate for supplies, no one there knew who she was or even where she lived.  Just another crazy hermit in the woods or the caves.  She had offered her services to no one, so there wasn’t anyone to depend upon her.  All of this was to make it easy to run again.  And running is precisely what she should do.  If there was one Terrgat – even if he was unconscious and perhaps injured – there would be more.

Despite all of that, she did not relish the idea of leaving.  Why was the Terrgat here?  She had been extremely careful; there was no reason for them to suspect her presence.  Maybe his presence was merely a coincidence.  Perhaps they weren’t looking for her.  Could she stay after all?

It was foolish, she knew.  Even if he was here by accident, she should not take the chance.  And yet the mystery intrigued her.  It was probably the isolation.  The ideal mage life of solitary study, unimpeded by social obligations, had never quite fit her.  Rian always enjoyed contact with others, cooperative endeavors.  These past several years spent almost entirely alone had worn her down.  Finding out why this Terrgat was here, and how he had gotten injured, excited her far more than it should.

She could see he was still breathing.  Getting closer, blood was evident on his brow, but it was not much.  He might have hit his head on a rock, but that still didn’t explain his presence.  If she wanted answers, she would need to ask him.  That meant bringing him back to her cabin where she could tend to his wound properly.

He was not a very large man, maybe not even as tall as she was, though it was difficult to tell while he was prone.  Still, she had no intention of carrying him.  The levitation spell was simple.  It would make him light enough to pull without much effort at all.  However, though it was one of the first spells she had learned, it would not work.  Only after several attempts did she remember the medallion, the Terrgat’s secret weapon against mages, making them immune to magic directed at them.  Secret, that is, until word spread about them after the catastrophe that brought down Cepheus’ kingdom.

She pulled the chain over his head and stared at the circular piece.  Gold, emerald, and onyx, just as it had been described to her.  Holding it made her feel a little dizzy.  The magic that normally infused her was silent, she realized after a moment.  Its absence seemed to unmoor her from the world, and she dropped the disk.  Having one of these, studying how it worked, was tempting.  But it frightened her as well.  She wished she could send it far away, but she had no means to do so.  She left it where it lay.

The levitation spell worked easily now, and she resumed her journey home, the unconscious Terrgat in tow.  It was almost certainly a mistake.  But it was also a chance at information she might never have again.  And anyway, life had gotten too boring.

Movement, Reversed

Impatience was not a virtue, he knew, but it was part of his character.  The rune before him seemed aware of that, seemed to mock him.  Movement reversed.  Motion that is blocked.  It was counseling him to wait, that now was not the time to act.

How could he sit still?  A great wrong had been committed, and it must be set right.  To wait meant to invite even more wrong.  No, the rune’s counsel had to be set aside.  Even as he formed the thought, misgivings arose.  The runes were never wrong.  Open to interpretation, yes.  But not wrong.  And this casting was clearer than most.  What’s more, he had anticipated this reaction.  His anger, however, required something else.

The runes, he told himself, did not understand, could not fathom his need.  He knew it was not about setting things right; it was about revenge.  Blood demanded blood.  And at this moment, right and wrong held little meaning.  The runes could not account for his anger, so they could provide no useful advice.

Winter howled around him but could not reach inside.  He began to move.

Wholeness

Perhaps survival is my punishment.  When I set out to destroy Cepheus and his Terrgat, I expected to die as well.  Somehow, I was spared.  And now I must live with the fact that I devastated an entire city, an entire corner of the world.

The rune Sowelu, wholeness, stares up at me from my casting.  I had to face what I had done.  Own it as part of myself.  Only then could I be reconciled with myself.  Only then could I be whole.  But how to do that?

Everyone seemed to know that a mage – or, on some tellings, dozens of mages – had wreaked such terrible destruction.  I even heard my name whispered now and again.  Rather than save my comrades, I have confirmed all the suspicions planted by the king and his soldiers.  Mages were hated, and the Terrgat had the support of the people, more than ever.  They should have been finished, but those away from the capital now had the people’s sympathies.

All of this because of me.  And that accounting does not include the loss of life that I brought about with the ritual.  Was it grief that drove me?  Or vengeance?  Or maybe merely an overconfidence in my own ability to control and predict the forces I unleashed?

The temptation to wallow in my failure, even to swear off using magic ever again is great.  Though it would undo nothing, my conscience might be eased by such an empty gesture.  Sowelu warns against that course, however.

I am a mage.  Denying magic would mean denying part of myself.  Preventing wholeness.  Magic is but a tool, and one I have used carelessly.  But giving up the tool solves nothing.  Being more thoughtful on how the tool is used is what is called for here.

I cannot save this world from itself.  I know that now.  But I am not helpless, and my survival has made it clear that I am not done here.  I may need to learn how to live with myself, but I gain nothing from denying who I am.  I am a mage.  Now I need to find out what that might mean in this new situation I have brought about.

The End of Cepheus

“I must object to this, your majesty.”

“You have made your feelings quite clear, Sur Tipan.”

“He is a Mage.  Not to be trusted.  You should execute him before he can do any harm.”

The king looked at his Sur.  The man showed no indication of humor or irony.  “You are a Mage, Tipan.  Should I not execute you as well?”

The Sur’s face paled.  “Surely I have proven myself loyal.  I do not plot against you as the others have.  I even revealed to you information that has helped you against them.”

The king waved his hand in dismissal.  “Yes, yes.  You serve me well.  But this mage was discovered near the castle.  I will discover his intent.”

Tipan bowed, obviously eager to maintain his good standing.  “As you will, your majesty.”  He turned to the soldiers near the entrance of the throne room.  “Bring in the prisoner.”

Two Terrgat came through the door, a rather disheveled man between them.  He appeared to be  in his middle years, but looks were rarely to be trusted when mages were involved.  King Cepheus looked at his Sur, and wondered how old he really was.

“Well, Tipan, do you know him?”

Tipan had been studying the mage closely, but shook his head.  “I do not, your majesty.  Just another mage.  To be dealt with like all of the others.”

Cepheus nodded.  Every since elevating the man to Sur, he had been loyal.  Justified or not, he could not help but feeling suspicious.  But that was something to be considered at another time.  At this moment, however, he needed to deal with this unknown.  “Where did you find him?”

“Your majesty,” the Terrgat on his left bowed, “he was just outside the gate.  He was waiting there.  Perhaps hoping to ambush…”  He cut himself off.

The king nodded.  “What is your name, mage.”

As the king addressed him, he looked up, a startled expression on his face.  “Me?  You are talking to me?”

“Yes.”  Cepheus was already bored.  “Who else?”

“Ah.  Well, those who know me call me Ice.”

“What sort of name is that?”

“The name others have given me.”

His ire rising, Cepheus struggled to keep his voice in check.  “What is your real name?”

“Ah.  True, true.  That is not the name I was given at birth.  But it is the only name you will get.”

Tipan took a step forward.  “Terrgat, kill this man!”

The king immediately held up his hand.  “Sur Tipan!  You do not give orders here.  Do not forget yourself!”

“But your majesty…!”

“Enough!  Why are you so intent on silencing this mage?”

“I am not…”

“If I may, King Cepheus.”  The mage Ice had stepped forward.  “What the traitor is trying to do is warn you.”

“Warn me?  About what?”  As he spoke the king watched his Sur slump to the ground.  The guards fell, too.  Only he and the Terrgat remained upright.  “What is this?”

“That is me.”  Ice took another step forward.  “You will feel the effect soon.  I believe your slaughter men already are.”  Both Terrgat seemed to be straining to stay upright.  One of them turned and ran out of the room.  “Whatever you use to protect yourselves from magic will not last long.  All life in this castle will soon be snuffed out, fed into the vortex I have created in this room.  Do you not feel it?”

Cepheus did.  The medallion around his neck acted as anchor, but he was being pulled at from all sides.  The magic of the medallion was already having trouble keeping up with the assault.  “Tipan was right.  I should have killed you.”

“It would not make any difference.  The runes are inscribed on the walls of your castle.  I am merely the trigger.  Alive or dead, your reign ended the moment I was brought inside.”

He felt heavier in his chair..  “You will die, too.”

“I never intended to live.  You and your Terrgat have already taken everything.  I will be content to watch you die.”

“My family… The servants…”  He struggled to find something to reach the mage before he slipped away.

“They should have killed you before I had to.  They accepted you as king.  They have earned their fate.”

“Children…!”  The remaining Terrgat had already fallen.

“What concern have you shown for the children your men have killed?  I bring you the harvest you have sown.  Goodbye, King Cepheus.  May you rot.”

The world went dark.

*     *     *

As the king slumped down and stopped moving, Ice just stared.  It had worked.  Yet he needed to be certain.  He searched the body, but the only thing unusual was a medallion around the king’s neck.  As soon as he touched the disk, the runes on his arms went silent.  He pulled the chain off of the king’s neck.  Then he searched the Terrgat and pulled off his chain as well.

The runes protected him, but they should be reaching their limit.  Still, he felt no effects from the ritual.  He had accepted his own death as the price for putting an end to Cepheus, but perhaps he had been spared after all.  Placing the medallions in a pouch, he left the throne room and began making his way to the front gate.

As he turned down a hallway, he found a maid on the floor, the linens she had been carrying were strewn about.  More of the price he knew had to be paid, though it was difficult to remember that when it lay in front of him.  On his way, he found several more scenes like the first.  Each one struck him.  Each time he reminded himself of the horrors he had sought to prevent.

Every step he took, he expected to feel the pull and succumb to the ritual, but it did not happen.  Finally he made it outside the castle.  In the courtyard, he saw others collapsed, including animals.  A mother sat against a wall holding her young son.  He forced himself to keep moving.

Outside the gates, the scene did not get less disturbing.  Bushes and trees were dying.  The effect was spreading.  This was far more than he had expected.  He had researched the ritual for months, and spent more than a year preparing it.  Nothing suggested it would spread beyond the boundary of the runic circle.

He felt for the magic, and it was not hard to find.  It was a tremendous storm centered in the castle and spreading outward.  There was no hope of stopping it.  He had a better chance of halting the sun.  All he could hope to do was get beyond it, assuming it would not envelope the whole world.

Over the next few days, as he moved further south, the blight seemed to slow.  It was still moving, he knew, but he got ahead of it.  It would eventually stop, though he did not know how long the storm might last, nor how much damage would be done in the end.  Damage he had caused.  Cepheus was dead.  That was the main thing.  Few mages remained, but they would be free from the tyranny of the king.

Ice had no idea what to do now.  He had not expected to live.  Perhaps he could find an apprentice and rebuild.  For now, he needed to put even more distance between himself and the horror he had brought about.