NaNoWriMo 2012: National Novel Writing Month, 2012
Goal: 1700-2500 words/day
The Theory of Magic
It is vitally important to note that while the working title of this piece is The Theory of Magic, that the author is fully aware that there are, in fact, many theories of magic. It is not necessary for you, the reader, to send out letters, email, text messages, or otherwise contact the author in order to point this out. Aforenmentioned author intends the title exactly as it is worded. In fact, while the author may not appreciate constant harassment on this note, they fully enjoy the fact that so many individuals have found it necessary for the justice and moral of the fantasy-reading-community of the 1st and other world countries to go out of their way to contradict the alleged implication that only one such supernatural theory could or does exist. If you, like many others, found it necessary to send such notification ahead of reading through the above information and content of the novel, then the author invites a rambling apology letter accompanied by a preferably alcoholic gift to indicate the extent of woe you feel at having so offended the above party. In fact, even if you did not commit such folly, the author still invites you to offer tribute of a similar nature.
"Who can tell me which event spawned the growth of the arcane era?"
Silence rolled over the full auditorium. First year students were only in their first week, but they had already deduced that there were consequences to displaying knowledge of the homework material.
A long, slender hand raised above the rest. Satan bless the slow kids.
"Yes, go ahead."
"Why, the opening of the hellgate by mortals, sir~." The words rolled off her tongue like so much honey. Professor Maxwell stirred uncomfortably.
"The hellgate, yes, but how did they manage that?"
"The- the half prince, of one of the great houses, shared the knowledge with another," she rebounded.
"Just 'another'? Someone random, up off the street?"
"Erm.." The honey slipped from her tone, the veil shaking with her confidence. "The prince wanted them to be able to contact him. In violation of the early accords."
"The prince wanted her to be able to reach him, yes." He turned to the giant sheet of bone and raised his charcoal, marking out the summoning chant for each spell. "But mortals make mistakes. As do their half-blood brethren. What is the key difference between the gate and message spells from mortal to demon world? Girl?"
"Ah..." The whisper of lust remaining dripped off the end of her speech. "I'm- ah, I'm really not sure, sir."
"Is it a rune, word, or gesture?"
She shifted from one side of her seat to the other. "I think it's a gesture."
"Good. As you should all know, mortals, particularly humans, are quite clumsy and oafish, and have difficulty mimicking the elaborate physical components of our magics. I'm sure it helps that you had a one in three chance of getting the right answer. Why, then, is it relevant which part of the spell was mistaken?"
Rosy cheeks shook side to side beneath the flame-colored hair, which covered most of the rest of her downturned face.
"You don't know?"
Her chin dropped another marginal amount. "No, sir."
"Hm. It matters, students, because your physical movements are how you anchor your spells." He nodded at the board, covered in scribbles from top to bottom. "I don't care how spherical and lovely your fireball may be, or how low below zero your ice rays get. If you can't direct it, you shouldn't use it." Quills scribbled furiously for a few moments, scratching out the spell directions. "The mortal meant to direct the air and speech from her lips to the prince's own ears. Instead, she managed to target the spell towards her own lips, and from..?"
Her voice rose as a whisper through the room. "From the Dire Straits."
The professor took a quiet pause to straighten his notes on the desk. "Yes. Lacking the willpower to pierce the walls of the castle to the prince, the spell's strength emptied into the wastes around the northern wall. A path was opened for a span of a few minutes between the humans on their plane and the most saturated, corrupt, infectious beings of our dimension. Hundreds of beings, corporeal and not, spilled through that woman's perfect pale throat. She was, of course, torn to bits in the process, and humans experienced their first low-tier demons. Having never experienced such dissolving hate, the first half dozen or so kingdoms fell within days of being touched by our kind."
A few students murmered excitedly in low voices towards the back of the steeped chamber. A snicker escaped one throat a little to loudly.
Maxwell felt is nose twitch involuntarily.
"Silence, you twisted monsters. It is hardly a victory if invalids swarm a beggar and slaughter them begging for the coins unpossessed."
A hand raised openly into the air. "Not if the invalids get to feed on the body. Then the invalids get stronger, and maybe recover a bit, so they can find someone more likely to have coin."
"You are referring, I presume, to Faere Doausche, who is known for comsuming five souls at each of the five castles?"
"He did the rite. It was fair and square."
Rosy cheeks chuffed distastefully.
"He completed the right, not on infants or orphans or women, but on the drunkards, the elderly, and cultists running out to meet them. Furthermore, the creatures he commanded went far out of their way to avoid any religious establishments, thereby removing even the possibility of orphan consumption."
"It was tactics! By taking souls not drawn to the temples, he minimized casualties of his troops and guaranteed completion of the rite."
"Doausche reinforced the faith of hundreds. He confirmed their belief in the sanctuary of the church, the existence of white magic, and more importantly, rallied them to the Celestial side of the playing field. While he wandered their streets seizing anyone who hadn't fled immediately to the holy ground, those of even minimal faith doubled their support for the opposition. He didn't even bother to light the buildings on fire. So many dozen of each city survived the smothering. Even in terms of soul value, he took only creatures with the least life remaining. Though he received the full bonus for each pentakiell, he took only the lowest level of experience for each."
"He still achieved full high circle status."
Rosy cheeks snapped her head back angrily, "But at what cost, you dolt!"
An eery, whining moan throbbed through the walls. The student higher in the back lowered his gaze in a mock bow of acquiescence. "Of course, princess."
More low snickers crept from the back row around the student as princess glowered down at her notes for the day.
Professor Maxwell cleared his throat. "That's the end of class today. Get to your next class before the next moan."
The hoard leaked out the doors of the classroom with low, anxious voices. A few, like the back row, didn't miss the chance to tell crude jokes about Rosy Cheeks in whispers barely too loud to sound hidden. Even with the threat of demonic arcane tortures, a few students left scattered quills and parchment beneath tables.
A sigh parted Maxwell's lips as he lifted the boar-hair brush to clean the bone slate. "I never will understand children."
A light, quiet voiced peaked from behind him. "That's because you're three millenia older than us."
"Ah, you again."
"I disapprove of all of my annoying childish students equally."
"I could report you to the inner circles for that."
"That wouldn't help your bully problem very much, child."
She crinkled her nose beneath bronzed cheeks, recovered from earlier.
"You'll receive no special treatment in my class. Nobody does. I've taught thousands of high circle bloods like you, and we won't get anywhere with thousands of polite deferences and gestures. In point of order, you'll learn more my way, and it may save your life."
One corner of her mouth curcled up. "You mean like not giving spells away to mortals? Even lovers?"
"Especially lovers, in your case."
"Oh.. Um, about that..."
He waved a hand dismissively. "You're within your rites to practice fey magic in any classroom, but you might note that such nerdy inclinations will not get your gold star from the brutes in the back row." The brush clonked heavily against the wall a few times as he tried to loose most of the charcoal out. "I would suggest you work on minimizing the power of the veils, and focus more on the subtletey of them. They wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't fluttered the power in the second little suggestion your mouth deigned appropriate for my classroom."
"I've got the highest marks in Fey Charms."
"Highest marks among idiots like that back row?"
Cheeks snorted. "Two of them. The females, of course. They're just taking it as an elective, though."
"Not many demons value fey magicks when they could blow something up or draw a blood contract instead."
"Not many professors write our sixth-year runes for their first year class."
"It was necessary to illustrate the point of the lesson."
"Even the most simple can master 90% of a spell. The other 10% is divided between focus, power, mastery, and eloquence of delivery, dusted with a knowledge of far more complex spell components."
"I was going for more of a moral lesson."
"Don't try to help people you love?"
"For from love is where all good, charity, and grace emerge."
"Which cloud judgement."
He nodded curtly. "And give humans crazy notions, such as 'Maybe I can cast spells too.'"
A toothy grin spread accross her face.
Maxwell gathered up the rest of his things and prepared to head to the faculty pit for lunch. Another low, eery moan filled the halls. He flicked his gaze to the young hybrid clutching her copy of "Demon History: Influence of Mortal Kind" and frowned. "You're late."
Her smile softened to one of pained serenity and walked towards one of the desks. "It's my lunch now. The mess chamber invites too much- Ah. Well, I think I'll stay here, since it looks like there's not a next class in this room. If I try to veil through the halls, the Knight could still detain me."
"Ah. Fine," he nodded, striding towards the door loaded down with books.
Her lips glistened warmly with the very faintest dust of fey charm. "Thank you."
Maintaining the area around Ground Zero was a bitch and a half.
The elf crouched low to inspect the glistening trail of dew leaving the glass crater that filled most of the valley. Delicate, well-tended fingers brushed the drops into the earth, observing the twinge of arcane residue that dissipated into the mud. The long blond braid collected dust on the earth.
"Tadpoles, it looks like," the second elf murmered from her position halfway up a towering blackened oak.
"You can tell that from up there?"
She shrugged. "There's a colony in the lake to the north, and not many other things around here that could have left such an impression.
"Mm." The blond elf raised up and traced the trail heading to the east, likely turning northwest a short distance into the black forest. "Diplomacy isn't my strong point."
"Don't worry, dear," the second sang as she swung down. Her burst of platinum strands swarmed her cheeks and barely brushed the nape of her neck. "I love nymphs. They're so raw, so lovely... So interesting."
"Only because they can't write books from the water's depths."
"They kill anything that broaches their stupid self-claimed, undocumented or varified lands."
"Mm but they kill them with grace, beauty, and magic. In fact, most of them can probably equal or best our teams of rangers."
The younger sister shifted uncomfortably. "That's assuring. If we're to be killed for scolding their tadpoles, at least we know it will be pretty, and done by people better than us."
"You worry too much."
"I just haven't slept with any of them before."
Laughter rang like bells through frosted lips. "Dear Mel, you really don't know what you're missing."
"Mm but a happy, experienced, knowledgeable nut, honey roasted with a gooey caramel drizzle."
"You- ah fine, whatever. I'll take lead." She carefully notched an ash arrow. The pale iron tip pointed towards the ground, and she crept forward.
"Yes. If any terrifying, simple, luscious nymph bachelors leap out, you can shoot them full of holes." Despite complaining, the second elf fell into formation, flitting carefully from tree to tree without a sound
Melaeria rolled her eyes patiently. At least Daphnae could keep herself stealthed. More of a utility and peronsona ranger, really. The older brat can barely manage the throwing knives she carried. The last time they had gotten in a scrape with a wild bear, Daph had hurled her blades and skittered straight up a boulder. The cuts had been meddlesome but hardly lethal, and the bear had raged towards herself instead. Well, at least briefly. As soon as it had turned those lived eyes towards her, Melaeria had planted an arrow straight through its skull. At the end of the day, the pelt would have been worth twice as much if Daphne had never mangled the beast's face.
Finally optimistic, a fresh bounce entered Melaeria's stride.
Matilda Irene Gazelja IV enjoyed knitting. Her antique iron needles clicked, clicked, clicked. She also enjoyed tea. A cup sat tepid next to her withered elbow, faintly shaded by cream. Tea and milk: that was the proper way to do it. In fact, some knitting yarn looked very good when it was soaked and stained by tea. Without the milk, of course.
The front room of her small cottage was arranged with several worn but tidy and clean shelves lined with yarns of all kinds. One side of the room featured scarves, cloaks, doilies, and other items easily produced by manipulating fibers. A single rocking chair creaked back and forth next to a dying fire at the back wall. Matilda's hunched form could not rise or walk very steadily from the chair, but rocking it was just fine. So that is what she did.
The little rusty bell at her door chimed lightly. Her greying eyes lifted to the door, though her needles clicked, clicked, clicked away. "What a sunburn, my goodness. Your skin looks nearly orange."
The door chimed again as it swung shut behind him.
She lowered her gaze back to the needles. Click, click, click, they said. The tea was still almost warm. "Take your time. I'm not going anywhere."
The blur where his head should have been nudged vaguely downward, then he turned to the cloaks.
"Not used to the cold, eh? There's a sturdy grey one there. Long, warm, should fit you well."
Wood scraped against its stand, and grey covered most of the reddened fuzz in her peripheral.
She smirked with tightened lips. The clicking stopped so she could pick up her teacup.
A low voice came from the reddish grey fuzz. "Your eyes are grey, but your sight is keen. The grey cloak fits perfectly." The fuzz grew larger and the faint scent of copper mixed with the smoldering coals. "How much?"
"Leave something on the counter. I've no use for coin, since I never leave." Clunk went the teacup as it sat back upon the wooden table.
The fuzz stopped growing for a moment, and there was rustling like canvas against stone. The grey covered more orange and it grew smaller. When it stopped shrinking again, more cloth rustled against wood by the door. The bell chimed again, and then the grey disappeared from her house. The room seemed slightly cooler. Must have been a draft. It's not as though the man had been warming the room when he came in. Really, it was comfortable now. She hadn't noticed how oppressive the heat had felt before.
The cup clicked lightly against a needle as it rose to her lips. The cup warmed her fingers, which was all wrong. The coals must have been closer to the edge of the fireplace than she recalled.
Fire burned hotly on wood in the fireplace. She must have forgotten she had added that. Or brought it in the house. Or cut it.
She frowned and set the cup down. Low creaks echoed through the room, bone and wood alike, as she uncurled from the chair to her feet. The floor didn't chill her slippered feet the way it should have. Waddling with squeaky bones, she made her way over to the counter where the stranger had left his sack.
The bundle was larger than she had thought from her distant view of fuzz, but felt light and oozed slow warmth. Inside there was bread, a small bottle of milk, and a simple wooden box of tea leaves. She crushed some leaves between her fingers, admiring the spiced scent. Black, cloves, and cinnamon.
Last in the bag was a small, carved wooden coin on a slender iron chain. Though the metal was crude, the links were impossibly fine and well crafted. She squinted in the firelight at the coin. The chain winked back, but the symbol in the wood was hard to see clearly. A gift was a gift, though.
The chain and its charge found their home in a warm pocket. Near the door, the sack seemed to be bulging again, still fuzzy across the room. She must have forgotten to put the bread away.
Long, low moans escaped the chair as a wrinkled, bony figure sank back down.
Click, click, click went the knitting needles.
"His power is increasing." The wormy, scraggled catfolk slithered away from the scrying board. "Lord Oblivion is moving swiftly towards the dwarven mines."
“That’s a brilliant idea,” dryly commented the lone human boy from his cage.
“It is,” scratched the catfolk. “The dwarf kind are drinking to the moon week now. If he has gathered enough to his cause, he can take them while their beards are soaked. And if he has control of the tunnels through the mountain..”
Smoke gnarled and curled up from the central fire towards the opening in the yurt above. A few sparks kicked up from the green wood. Stray yips kicked from the cub tent, where the young rested while the old discussed their futures.
“Those tunnels lace through the earth farther than the northernmost reach of our hunting grounds. Half the caves in the south have tunnels that touch dwarf territory.” The speaking black catfolk wrinkled his forehead until his eyebrows nearly touched. “If Oblivion’s men take the dwarves, then we’ll be the strongest power beyond the river.”
The scraggled cat nodded with a flick of his bare chin. “We can not contain his presence.”
From his cage the boy rolled his eyes. “Please. Going after the dwarves right now.. That’s suicide. Nobody goes after them during this point in the moon. Even with all your ‘wisdom’, Seer, you should be able to understand that much.”
Seer snorted at the whelp. “You humans think you know so much. But while an intrusion of violence during the moon will spawn a hundred-fold more violence from them, their judgement is clouded and emotions are fickle.” He flicked strands of oily mouse-brown hair away from his yellow eyes. “Carry them black drink. Dark beans, crushed with sweet and oil. Gifts that sparkle or shine. You know, some of them shave their beards at festival. To keep the ale from gunking it up.”
“Do they? Why would you cut it?”
“More fur is just so natural.”
“Most humans trim it, too, I hear, and elves keep themselves very clean.”
Another cat-eared presence nodded in consent. “What you call coffee, chocolate, gems. Some of them, sex. Others exotic wine or liquor. These things appease them. Though the violence is inevitable, such gifts can sway them for a time. Enough of them at a steady rate may even last the whole week.”
“Nothing can keep them happy a whole week.” The boy shuddered. “I’ve been there, with one. During that week. Everything- EVERYTHING- I did to please it, was thrown back in my face. I was screamed at, beaten, even had dwarven ale thrown at me to show me ‘what it was like’.” He crouched down and hugged his knees. “The fourth day, they got rid of me. It was supposed to be punishment, but I felt so relieved. No matter what the punishment is, I always make sure a dwarf doesn’t have me when they reach their moon festival.”
A golden-haired, well-curved catgirl purred at the cage. “Don’t worry. I’ve no intention of letting you go.”
Seer rolled his eyes.
A lion-maned-mountain coughed into his fist. “Pahrisu, did you really need to bring your- your pet, dear?”
Luminous violet eyes blinked up at him patiently. “Father, dear headman. You know he’s more than a pet. Of course I had to bring him.”
The headman shifted uncomfortably.
“The human voices several concerns probably already in the minds of some here,” Seer dismissed with a wave of his vein-pimpled wrist. “Even if he does yip like a cub about it.”
One of the attending nodded at the dying fire. “I’m heading out for a fag.”
Of all of the hundreds of vile, stinking, evil monstrocities that taught in the halls of Daemon-Black High, Princess Lucidia liked Professor Maxwell the most. He was lusciously cruel, tacful to a feather's smoke, and capable of spreading such an overwhelming weight of despair that whole kingdoms were rumored to have fallen to his presence. He was even mean to herself, which no other instructor had the will to try. Though she was technically the daughter of the Lucifer's nephew, a member of the inner circle, she had only obtained her status as the questionable illegitimate heir through a series luck. Badt Lucke, specifically: a masterfully malicious curse imbued by a master fey sorceress from Japan. That sorceress happened to be Princess Lucidia's mother.
But Professor Maxwell stayed out of politics. He was shrewdly conscious of the laws and bypasses at the school, and was widely respected for his ability to inspire a thirst for vengence in his students. One year a senior had nearly bested him in the dueling yard. Now that student was immortalized in a melted profile against one of the obsidian yard walls.
She frowned in thought. Maxwell was a fine aged sample, supple and strong. He maintained a hard veil to contain his size in the classroom, which coupled with his history, indicated a strong talent for The Art. She wasn't entirely sure what kind of demon he was, but he was a big enough number to be blacklisted from the circles, and that made him horribly attractive to her.
Kitsune blood was rather difficult to control. Even a half-dose usually drove their carrier insane within a century. Most kitsune reverted to their animal nature and were not unlike common beasts on the mortal plane. Like vampires, kitsune clans would only teach their techniques to those strong of will and beautiful of form. If you lived through your first hundred years without being trampled by a horse or adopted by a monk as a pet, then you were welcomed into the family with open arms.
Except for Princess Lucidia. Returning from the mortal world with one of hell's messengers, she had been taken promptly to her uncle's castles. Dressed and primped for display, most of her first half dozen centuries in hell had passed with aching slowness. Boredom is a powerful motivator for creativity, so she had started to try her hand at fey charms. The first Taking had been a disaster. Too young to change shape, the young kit had pursued a common beastfolk slave belonging to a guest of the castle. Unbeknownst to her, mortals age very quickly on their plane. One of her appearance(barely over her first century, still with only a single tail) would have been a mere dozen or so years old. Carnal appetites were more or less nonexistant at this age, and pursuing a cub so young carried some sort of ridiculous taboo. Something about "Morales", which wouldn't be covered in her mortal history class for a few more weeks.
First, she had found him at the Obsidian Well of the central gardens. "Dear slave, mine thirst is but strong. Might thy strong hands fetch thy pail hither?"
"I- erm," he stuttered, still growing accustomed to the appropriate communication standards between immortals and those of copper blood. "Mine- mine hands may do as thy- er, thou- commands, oh mighty goddess."
He filled the bucket, and brought it to her.
"Are mine lips to touch such crude things? Nay, slave. Bring it by thy wrists, that I may partake rightfully."
He stepped back a pace. "You're going to drink my blo- ah, art thou- doth thou intend to partake of my being? Or self? .. or something..." He squinched up one cheek, fumbling for a good term to use in leue of 'blood'.
"No, no," she cut impatiently. Breathe in, breathe out. Ok. Maybe a touch of fey glammer. "Nay, child," she whispered, stalking carefully towards him. "Behold, I wish thee no harm." Her eyes twinkled carefully back from the reflection in the water. "Bring the essence to thy hands, form a cup thereof. From thence will I quench mine thirst."
"Ah... Hm." His tail twitched a few times. "I... Mine possessor forbids such interactions, mighty being."
"What happened to goddess?"
She raised one eyebrow. "What happened to 'mighty goddess'?"
"Oh... Well, mine owner said not to move from here, and not to talk to the other inhabitants."
"Oh?" Her lips curled craftily upwards. "Thou hast already discarded the latter."
"And you've moved. A few steps here and there."
"Perhaps your master is a forgiving one?" Slender, bronzed shoulders shrugged at the maze of thorns around them. "Though as she resides here as a guest, I highly doubt that."
"You're- you're blackmailing me into giving you water?"
Her face remained open and unconcerned, gaze unwavering from his own.
He shifted his hips, ever so slightly, and locked one leg. Then bolted off. There one moment, hurtling away in a panic the next. She had never felt so insulted in her entire life.
Anyways, the Taking hadn't proceeded in the eloquent, lustful, delicious manner she had envisioned. It actually ended rather violently, bloodily, and sweatily, because beastfolk are obnoxiously fast when they want to be, on any of the major planes. She had gotten so caught up in the slaughter, she had even forgotten to drain his soul first, and got the barest dribbles from his barely beating heart in his last unconscious moments. Plus, she had to pay the stupid diplomat from fifth circle for the slave. How irritating.
But anyways, Professor Maxwell. That there was a potentially interesting series of events.
Beth's Blessed Bagels received customers by the dozen. Smoke poured out of her chimney every night from midnight to 13 o'clock- commonly known as one o'clock. On Sundays she sent bagels to the clergy free of charge. On the 13th of the month, she sent bagels to the orphanage three towns over.
Traditionally, bagels symbolize eternal life. They began their long history as a horseshoe-shaped roll of specially prepared, springy, steamed dough intended as a gift to a king. The king had loved the gift, even though it rose in the oven to form the sealed-circular shape we associate with bagels today. Later the bagel became a traditional gift for a woman who recently gave birth or had her own bun in the oven. The eternal life symbology behind the gift was intended to wish long life to the offspring.
So Beth offered free delivery for a dozen or more bagels sent to pregnant and recently delivered women. If you bought a dozen bagels, you got a 13th bagel for free. If you bought a dozen dozens, a thirteenth was included for free.
Included in every dozen, you got a special wooden token. Collect a dozen wooden tokens, and you got a thirteenth silver token, beaten from an actual silver coin. A dozen silver got you a gold. Supposedly, a dozen gold tokens got you some sort of grand ellaborate prize, but since that had never happened, nobody but Beth really knew what it was. Still, though, the wooden tokens tended to prove lucky. A silver one was rumored to have saved a man's life from an ill-aimed arrow during a hunting trip. The head priest had a gold token, which he wore proudly in support of the little shop every day, even when there were services.
"Gracious ruler, generous patron of the arts, angel of justice, harbringer of serenity, celebrated youth of the earthen spirits, considerate judge,
Some Other Chapter
"Did you hear about the Lucifer?" a harpee whispered excitedly to her shapely green friend. "He's taken a turn," she confirmed without waiting.
"Really. I heard it from the Cerberus' keeper's son, in third period."
"Ooooh, he's so handsome! I don't know how many of those horns I could handle, though."
"Mmmm you know he's got to be so violent when it's time to get down."
"Oh yeah, anything with that many edges and muscle must know how to use it," she tittered excitedly, continuing past Princess Lucidia on their way to the front. She absently watched them walk down the stone steps, noting the swing in their step. The goblin seemed palatable, but harpees had never managed to grab her attention. She vaguely wondered if it was the harpee's inclination towards the orphaball team players' chariots that turned her off, or if she was just racist.
The information about the Lucifer was mildly curious to her. Normally, if there was a family problem, especially with the Lucifer, her family would have let her know. Maybe called her home. Not that she had ever been particularly interested in the goings-on of the family that loathed and ostracized her, but usually their first step in maintaining public image in a crisis was to make sure that their damned foolish princess was incapable of making things worse through any means. A nice, locked iron room usually did the trick. If they hadn't dragged her home yet, then either the situation was unimportant/nonexistant, or they thought it was locked up tightly enough that nobody knew yet.
Obviously people knew. The Cerberus was the last-defense-monster set about the Lucifer's private chamber, and his keeper pretty much constantly stayed close at hand in case of bowel movements or accidental maulings. Cerberus' keeper was a fairly well-screened position, but it was simply not possible to cut out the tongue of every single castle servant with the new union rules. So, some stuff got through the filter. Including, apparently, the ill health of the Lucifer, ruler over the hellplane. Mortals had taken to simply calling their plane "Hell," according to her professor of mortal history. In fact, mortals were so simple, they actually thought the hellplane existed beneath the mortal world, and that celestials resided above them, in the clouds or some such nonsense.
It was probably nothing, then. Obviously even the Lucifer and his blood of the first circle of hell were just fine.
Her quill twitched, just a little, as that reassurance fled through her mind.
"Damnit all to motherfucking hell," she muttered, gathering her things and raising her hand. "Professor, I know class hasn't quite started, but I think I need to go."
Yet Another Chapter
Matilda Irene Gazelja IV enjoyed knitting. Most of her days, her needles clicked, clicked, clicked all day in her little shop to the south of the village. But she also liked tea. And since her fire had been burning warmly all season, her limbs had stopped creaking quite so much, and today she set out to the market to trade things she had enjoyed knitting for some tea she expected she would also enjoy.
Some of her customers had ranted and raved about Beth's Blessed Bagels. You get a lucky wooden token with every dozen, they said. Get a dozen wooden tokens, get a silver one free, real silver. So today she went to try to get a second wooden coin to go with the first one the nice traveler had left her. And tea, of course.
Her knees felt good, and everything wasn't quite as fuzzy at it used to be, which was just as well, because the south of town had gotten bigger. So had the north. The middle had gotten sort of knotted, but mostly stayed the same amount of small, just more confused. The streets to the north were mighty well cleaned, too, she noticed with snub to her thoughts. Almost "Besides," her customers had all praised, "her tokens are lucky." And they sure had been. Matilda Irene Gazelja IV felt more limber and warm and lucky than she had in years with her new token tucked safely in her pocket.
But she didn't feel lucky as she approached the freshly expanded bagel shop. In fact, a cloud seemed to loom over her hip, right near the token, as she tried to go towards it. She wrinkled her deeply wrinkled nose and plodded stubbornly out to her bagels.
The smoke curdled palely from the chimney, until a gust of wind blew it straight down her street.
Matilda Irene Gazelja IV felt so very insulted by that pale smoke that she kept walking straight towards the building. How dare that smoke try to tell her she wasn't welcome.
Then a pale golden palimino horse bolted from its ties outside the shop, and hurdled straight down her street, too!
Well, Matilda Irene Gazelja IV stood her ground. She stomped her stubborn wooden walking stick into the ground and grasped her lucky wooden token, glaring at the horse who had so rudely charged her. She just felt so very mad that, on her first outing in goodness knows how many years, a horse should flee its staked position and run down her street.
The horse ran around her.
As was natural, of course.
It isn't as though horses will go and trample over little old knitting ladies of their own accord.
She nodded tersely at the empty road before her, and determinedly stalked towards the old newly renovated but still antique bagel shop. She strode hotly into the looming bakery and crisply entered the line. Several bits of clothing and pocketbooks and hair whisped annoyingly in her direction, and she ignored them with the fiercest silence she could manage. When a mouse ran over her foot, she quietly glared it into a state of submission, and sent it smoldering out the door. The nerve, my goodness.
"Anyone can get bagels here, yes?" she commented cooly to the plump woman ahead of her.
"Of course. Anyone is welcome. Beth has the best bagels for many days travel."
"Oh? Even with the mice?"
"Oh yes. One just ran across my foot."
"Yes. And just now, a horse ran at me, loosed itself from its stake!"
"Are you alright? And how is Angel?"
"I'm- Angel? The horse?"
"Angel is that horse, yes, the one who takes bagels to the temple."
"The temple orders bagels from a place with mice? Oh my, I hadn't realized they were doing so poorly."
The middle-aged man who had gotten behind her in line tsk'd discouragingly. "No no, there are no mice here. They have excellent cats, I hear, every night from that temple she takes bagels to. That's why she does it."
"No, they give her the cats because she's so nice to send them bagels."
He frowned. "Then why do they get those little tokens? I thought that came with their dozen, as a gift."
"It does, but she's just being nice."
Matilda nodded shrewdly at the bagel baskets as they got closer. "You'd better be careful, I bet those ones on the bottom row got mice'd already."
"Oh!" She inhaled sharply, eyeing the baskets with care. "There are plenty up top, though."
"Assuming that the mice never got that far," mumbled the fellow in back.
"And that the cats never knocked their paws into them while she baked last night."
The lady in front of Matilda reached the front of the line. "Oh... Um.. I take it the mice haven't been too much of a problem?" she asked politely, as she pointed out bagels least likely to be affected by either mice, cats, or annoying ladies behind her in line.
Matilda strode proudly to the front of the line, having overcome all obstacles in her path. "Why is your damned horse named 'Angel'?"
Totally Different Chapter
Maxwell entered the staff room and sighed out of his bipedal veil. He stretched his massive glossy black wings, and shook out each of his four hooves.
"I don't know how you manage that shapeshift for so long," bubbled an ooze from his glistening black stool. "The coffee's fresh, by the way."
Maxwell nodded his thanks, and clopped as gracefully as he could in the cramped quarters towards the breakfast nook. Well, not really that cramped, but clearly not designed for an 18 foot centaur with a 30 foot wingspan. The room itself had fairly reasonable dimensions for the majority of the bipedal devils that taught in the school. And free coffee, which was a great perk. Even demons can appreciate coffee.
He downed a cup black, then poured a cup with cream and sugar to nurse more slowly. "So," he started, "how's your class going, Jeff?"
Jeff the ooze demon bobbed one of the higher bulges of goo. "Pretty well. Most of my students are genuinely interested in learning about traps and arcane snares, if not the history behind the rituals appropriate to set them. What they lack in understanding they make up for in enthusiasm on the field."
"Any chance to set the class president on fire with school approval, eh?"
"You got it."
Steam rose in the faintest wisps from his cup. "At least they're learning something, then."
"And they say you can't teach a spoiled teenager new tricks."
"Hardly new. Millenia old. When you were young, what runes were you learning?"
"Me? Hell, Max, none." Jeff ignored Maxwell as he twitched involuntarily. "I was just trying to fill the smallest rooms I could to trap adventurers at their age." He nodded towards the door. "Not all of those kids would have been as lucky as you. Most of them would have been trapped by another demon for another age or two before figuring out how to kill them while they fed."
"Like the Lucidia girl."
"Yes." He glowered at the cup, and steam rose more viciously from its depths.
"Well," he bubbled lightly, a gesture, Maxwell got the impression, that was supposed to resemble a gentle cough into one's fist. "The first circle probably would have arranged a private tutor for her."
"Have you met her?"
"Erm- well, she tried to take the ritualistic cooking class I run in the 8th class period, but she had to leave school early so many days, for family business..." He raised on glob a few inches in a roughly shoulder-shrugging-like gesture.
"She dropped out."
"Her family decided to just nudge her study period to the last period. Just as well, though." He leaned over his own cup, dripping a gooey wad down onto his knee-like-bulge.
Jeff didn't suggest anything more on the matter, and Maxwell let the pause end the conversation. A class that invited students to try traps on their classmates, with a prime target in their midst. Lucidia would have been the recipient of many enemies in that setting. She would never bend to ask for help, and make the students hate her even more. After enough singed body parts, the family probably thought it would be better for their image if they had her in a less dangerous class.
The door banged open, "Professors! The circle, the circle!"
Maxwell blinked up at the wrinkled figure, then turned to the silver-encrusted rune circle in the central table, setup to receive arcane messages cast throughout the school. He blinked at the circle of coffee his cup had left on the inscriptions, and hurriedly wiped it away, letting the signal come through.
"- am very sorry to announce that the Lucifer is, in fact, experiencing a difficult time at this moment." The voice crackled low through the runes, inciting an array of flashing sigils from white and yellow through orange and bloodred, varying by the pitch of the speaker. "We are unaware of the extent of the situation, but have been instructed to continue our day as planned, and to hold all students and faculty on the grounds until things have been resolved or more information is received to the contrary." The speaker took a deep breath, slowing the flashing embers to a nauseating peachy pink. "That is all, students. Faculty who are not in a class right now, I will be in the lounge shortly to go further. Written minutes will be taken to be delivered to each instructor currently in a class. Capable instructors are invited to Listen via arcane, fey, or other means to the information as it is delivered. This concludes the announcements." The runes sizzled and smoked out, leaving glowing white metal rings in the table.
Jeff dripped another glop onto the floor.
"At least we'll have something better to talk about than snot-nosed kids," Maxwell murmured, taking a sip of cold coffee.
The nymph tadpoles tailing them absolutely and completely represented the quintessence of 'obnoxious'. They also successfully conveyed the ideas of 'braying-donkey-silence' and 'dwarven sublety'. Really, Melaeria felt supremely impressed by them. That such an assortment of parents as could produce offspring with the mental capacity of the creatures behind them had figured out how to mate without killing off one or the other partner must have been rather amazing. Although, in point of fact, Melaeria noted that the male could have easily been killed during the process. Only the female really needed to figure out how to live through pregnancy for a child to be born. And on top of that, the female didn't need to live through childbirth. Maybe some other, mildly close to sentient nymph had managed to raise them, and they were morally torn day in and day out by whether it would be kinder to simply kill the tadpoles than to let them continue to have to live with such a hopeless condition.
Melaeria flicked her eyes up to the trees. The foliage this far from Ground Zero was considerably more dense; the vegetation fed greedily off the charred nutrients of their fallen brethren. Though Melaeria couldn't see her, she knew her sister was up there, pacing her through the trees as natural as a monkey. What a twit.
A gurgling cluster clucked up from behind her near the trunk of a hollow oak. Melaeria focused her eyes carefully forward again, pacing confidently along the forest floor. Most water nymphs wouldn't pursue prey across the land, nor so closely behind. They were either announcing their presence, or thought that they were impenetrable to mortal eyes. Many of the elder nymphs could easily swing such a simple green magic casting, without bumbling along like a raging moon-festival-dwarf.
If the tadpoles didn't think they'd been noticed, that gave the elves an advantage. She kept her bow taught but easy, arrow low to the ground. Hopefully it wouldn't come to shooting one of them, but obviously they knew a little something about magic, and Mel preferred living whole quite strongly to having a root or icicle snap through her bones. An ill-aimed prank could even take her life, if their raw willpower counterbalanced their intelligence.
Ahead in the trees, a sliver of sky flashed among the trunks.
No, not sky.
The foliage above was far to thick for that. Besides, as she kept going, it should have appeared as a larger patch through the trees.
Another sliver of sky-blue set with blooming white clouds swished ahead of her. About six or seven feet from the ground, too, Melaeria noticed with a scowl.
She slowed her pace and tried to whimsy out a green Listening spell. The foliage above rustled gently, and slender limbs swayed lightly without the wind's aid.
She heard water, further ahead, maybe a quarter of a mile. Flowing, slowly, towards her.
A delicate yellowed oak leaf drifted lazily down onto her shoulder. She nodded up towards the foliage, trying to look like she was looking for a patch of sky through the trees. Yellow. Caution. No shit, bitch.
More gurgling belched from about twenty feet to her left, suckling up from a batch of fighting saplings. The thicket quieted briefly, as the saplings grappled with a sudden new player in their midst. No, make that two, maybe three. Probably the tadpoles, wrapped around from behind her.
Mel glanced around for an easier climbing tree, noting a curdling oak a few more strides than she'd like ahead in the path. She aimed for that, steadily, slowly. The easy glut of flowing water matched her pace, looking to meet her at the tree.
Her pace quickened.
So did the water.
Tickling her shoulder, an orange leaf brushed past her.
A few more flashes of tall sky strode ahead, swinging widely around the tree. Intentionally, annoyingly wide, she noted. Gods, she hated being predictable, but c'est la vie. Elves had probably come into their territory before. Hell, they might have green runes laden around the inviting tree, ready to snap out and catch hold of unwary rangers approaching their tribe too closely.
She could see the water now. It rippled gently along the surface of the earth, slowly going towards Ground Zero and feeding the trees around her.
But not the gnarled oak.
Melaeria blinked at the sight.
The water flowed as wide as her vision across the landscape towards her, except for about 20 feet from the oak tree in any direction.
She ground her teeth and strode quickly that way, fully aware that she was no longer fooling anyone into thinking she hadn't noticed them. If it was just the tadpoles, that was one thing. But now their were adults. Adults, pacing her. Aware of her. Leaving a specific area untouched for her, inviting her there.
A red leaf launched towards her shoulder, missed, and nicked her cheek with a thin slice as she snaked forward.
As she reached close enough to leap to the lowest branch, her left foot swamped with the cool, active water. She clenched her bow firmly and leapt swiftly upwards, bracing herself for the flash of green energy to be unleashed.
Not that anything ever went as planned, of course, but Gods did this shit make her stomach churn.
The water pooled up her boot about an inch or two above its actual surface, touching, tasting her, letting her know that it knew she was there. Then it glided back down, and permitted her to swing into the territory she so longed for. She swung to a higher perch and wrapped her knees around a thick fork, letting her foot drip down the thick trunk. Momentarily, an angelic creature with short-cropped frosted hair glided beside her, walking easily along the knots of branches, complete with a flourish of her light cloak. She brushed annoyedly at the draps as it clutched suggestively at her side, whisking it over her shoulder with a flick of her wrist and blush of wind. Stray leaves brushed elegantly through her hair, and she let the wind cool the beads of sweat trickling along her brow.
"Mm," she smiled languidly. "Well, since we're to have guests, I thought it only polite."
Melaeria frowned out at the forest. That might be true. When that water touched her, the nymphs had had her. If they wanted, they could have snaked it up her body and down her airway, choking her at the foot of the tree she had thought would save her. Instead, they were announcing their presence, their power, and letting her feel solace and safety. They wanted to talk.
But unlike the nymphs, Mel was willing to bet her life that they had never seen that damn squerrely elf in the trees. She had used a blush of green magic effortlessly to aid her arrival in style, which would have made a wood nymph growl in frustration. We were now properly announced visitors. Visitors of unknown potential power, displaying ourselves openly and calmly, behaving politely in the reception room of our hosts.
And out came the hostess.
She rose in shape up from the flowing water, about ten feet from the edge of the land around the tree. Elegant, slender elven features, slightly longer of ear and more angled in the eyes and lips than elven kind, transluscent shoulders rising up gracefully before moderate nude breasts and slender stomach. The legs were long and well toned for swimming, her wrists intentionally open and out to the side. She bowed gracefully, and slowly gained a milky blue through her figure as she solidified from the water. Her hair weighed long and light from the water like so many violet webs, wafting carelessly along the drafts of the landscape they had summoned. Deep, gracious pools of dark sapphire twinkled up at the two elves, and she rose from her bow. Her posture remained open and receptive, but not passive. Her hips angled noticeably towards them, and her shoulders stayed confidently level.
"Greetings, landlings," she rippled. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
Melaeria frowned. "Who are you?"
A ripple flowed down from her right cheek down her body through her legs. "Why, I believe I asked the first question, dear creatures."
"Shush, Mel," Krystaal shoved her sister to the side, striding confidently down the length of one branch to within a few feet latitudinally from the nymph. "We are of the Rangers, to the south, who keep Ground Zero."
Darkened blue raised high on her forehead in a creased line. "And you are here because?"
"Your damned tadpo-"
"MEL. Please." Krystaal smiled graciously. "We were following the path of some small magical presence, that had recently come to the valley. Out of concern for those nearby, who we serve to protect, we came to see what presence had traveled there, that they haven't drawn anything they shouldn't have from the gateway."
The sapphire pools narrowed above an unmoving smile. "Your protection," she hissed, "is unneeded here."
An arrow flashed in front of her feet, cutting through the clear flowing water with a searing splash.
"Oops," she cooed lightly, sitting up straight and stretching wide. "I had just been holding it for so long, I guess it slipped. See, there was something following us most of the way from Ground Zero, so I had to go through the woods with the bow drawn. Poor Krystaal here had to go all ninja on us and go through the trees. You know, in case the things behind us tried to attack us, even though we're two rather full frown, well-formed rangers, more or less capable of taking care of ourselves in case something wandering where it shouldn't be comes to play."
Krystall dropped her forehead into her palm, in a rather unserene manner, Melaeria noticed with a smug grin.
The nymph cooly trailed her gaze on the archer's own blue eyes. "You realize that this is as close to a diplomatic meeting as you were going to get."
"This?" She tossed back her long braid and laughed. "Aggressive negotiations, I believe, is more adequate as a description. You've effectively surrounded us with weapons, pointed right at our heads. How are we supposed to react?"
The nymph raised her chin high enough to hurt her neck. "With composure, dignity, and a civil tongue, as we have strived to do."
Melaeria raised one golden eyebrow. "Compusure I'll give you, and maybe the others, too. But gods, you can't expect us to act so proposterously in the face of a blazing flame. Well, so to speak," she noted, nodding towards the watery boundaries. "Flame of water."
"What fascinating creatures you landlings are," scoffed the nymph, waving her hand dismissively and turning away from the pair. She began to wade out into the water, sinking slowly and turning transcluscent a few fingerwidths above the water surface as she parted. Another flick of her wrist, and the water relaxed around the tree, slowly pooling closer to it. Nearby, more gleeful gurgling splurged through the forest from a half dozen locations.
"Really, Mel, you have got to learn to keep your mouth shut," Krystall scolded, stretching her hand out to the tree's nearest limb and gathering her willpower in preparation for the fight to come.
Another Lucidia Chapter
Her tail frisked back and forth violently across the floor. The bushy, pointed orange ears twitched irratically, checking and rechecking each wall for sound but coming up increasingly void of response. Even as Lucidia drummed her fingers against the floor, the tatami mats absorbed the sounds breathlessly, leaving her empty and silent and alone.
Hatred did not cover the feelings she felt for this room. Nor loathing, or any other form of anger. Trapped.
Mourning, and sadness, and emptiness weighed heavily and agitatingly against her spirit, writhing inside her like so many frigid eels.
It was fear that fed on her.
Somehow, point A through point F had led her again to the confines of The Room. Her room. The room where she had spent so many hours, days, months, years. Screams and tears alike were absorbed without reason by the walls and their runes. She would be ever safe within it, but no soul would ever know she was there unless they opening the room to find her inside. Unlike the Lucifer and other adult members of the first circle, it was presumed that their princess would never be able to defend herself. So, she was made safe. Against anything. Against everything. Even against herself.
Many years ago, she had tried that path. The room had brought her back.
Sickly, even grey walls surrounded her on all four sides. Once closed, the walls had no door. Beneath the tatami mats she rested upon, more of that neutral, washed-out grey rested solidly. Above her, supporting one everburning lamp, sat one more, glowing faintly with the bare flame beating uselessly against it. A single long, low table rested on the floor, piled with nothing but textbooks, spare parchment, and an everquill.
Really, there was just one thing to do while she waited to hear what was happening.
She buried the twitching feeling of psychosis and directed her attention to the books.
The bagel is a fascinating little creation. It's not even made the same way that bread, or tortillas, or c'batta are made. Nor challa, nor scones, nor cookies or cakes. Of all of these, most unique about them is that the bagel is actually boiled before it is baked. Ever wonder abou the texture? Go buy a bagel somewhere. Not a cheap off-grocery-store brand, but from a bakery. About two hours after it gets baked, or thereabouts, so it's had time to settle but not get stale. Feel that texture? Thick, and slightly chewy, but springy, which should really throw your ass off. Let your teeth sink slowly, oh so slowly, into your next bite. It should have a delicate but firm outside with a moderately soft and butter-knife-cuttable inside, scoopable with a severe metal spoon but not quite with a plastic one. Have you ever had a scooped bagel? Try asking for one next time you hit a bakery. They pull out about 50% of the inside of the bagel(not the hole-part, just the inside of the outside bits), then toast it, then fill it with cream cheese or butter or shmear or something. A supremely well done dozen of those could replace many appetizers at a high-to-do function of whatever kind. Top off with a little garnish, and voila. Tasty, luxurious bites of creamy fattening goodness. Oh, also note, that if your topping isn't fattening, you're doing it wrong. No, I mean actually doing it wrong. Remember earlier in the book when it was mentioned that bagels were modified for pregnant women? They're fairly high-calorie, and intentionally so. The bagel was not designed to be topped with a damned vinegarette or other fruitsy womanly bullshit. The bagel needs to be topped with cream cheese, peanut butter, cow-style butter, or something else that would make a pregnant woman eat a whole dozen and keep up enough energy and sarcasm for the two of them. And we're not even going to pretend that 'bagel thins' exist in this book, because frankly, they don't. Not real bagels. Seriously, ask your baker about how they make the things. Totally different process. Probably ordered from a goddamned factory, shipped frozen, presliced for convenience and because the heavens forbid there be too much variety in choice in the stupid things. If you want half the calories, cut your fucking bagel in half, and give half to a hobo. That is how it is done.
Professor Maxwell nodded contentedly at the mortal cashier and took his lovely toasted pumpernickel bagel and plain cream cheese to a seat in a corner of the shop. He vaguely noticed that the celestially dusted horse that had been sitting outside had bolted off, but ignored it. Bagels were far more important. Besides, his coffee had been sitting for almost two minutes, lonely and unaccompanied by it glorious bagel companion.
He rotated the top half of the sliced heavenly(or hell-ly) bagel, carefully contemplating where best to begin his journey. Some schools of thought supported starting at the seam of the bagel, where the two ends of dough are joined. Contrary to popular thought, a bagel is not a circle of dough with a hole cut in the middle. It is a length of dough joined to form a whole circle. A beautiful metaphor of the importance of death in a universe so intently focused on life. Without morbidity and sorrow, there can be no joy. Without hell, there can be no heaven. With water, you must have fire, for a boiled but unbaked bagel is but a flaw upon the mortal earth, and a fired circle of dough unboiled is just... Huh. Maybe a circular cookie? See, because after boiling, it still has to rise, so... If it's fired at the point that it would normally be boiled, it would be really small. The yeast and stuff wouldn't have had a chance to do anything. Maybe a biscuit, or a scone, would be a more appropriate descriptor.
Professor Maxwell tried very hard to picture his luscious pumpernickel duchess as something flatter and less perfect.
Eventually he shrugged off the idea, and began with a first bite through the youth portion of the lifeline, not severing the circle but partaking of a number of years farther around than it was deep. Earthy flavors of grain and salty creamed fungal substance filled his mouth and spread erotically across his tongue. Say what you will about mortals, but at least they know how to cook more than just virgins and freeze-dried embers.
Across the Planes, the runes he had left in the office picked up the conversation as it continued past the schoolday.
"""Professor Maxwell has left at his own discretion, I see,""" mumbled the voice (likely) belonging to headmaster Marquise. """How typical."""
"""Typical, but irrelevant,""" suggested a low, sultry female, probably the headmistress of the fey school of thought. That sentence alone, combo'd with her natural but unintentional fey charm, would probably save Professor Maxwell from a rather awkward conversation later between himself and his younger cousin twice removed, the headmaster of the school. """What news of the Lucifer? The students have long began to grow restless."""
"""True,""" he murmured. """Still no new information. They withdrew their thrice blessed princess, then cut us off entirely, other than to tell us to keep everybody still."""
Thrice-blessed. Maxwell could scarcely contain the laughter threatening to erupt past his fiercely-veiled throat. What a concept.
At the front door of the bagel shop, an elderly woman strode in, supporting herself unnecessarily on her walking stick. Professor Maxwell absently noted the heavy presence reverberating from her pocket, laden with black magic and probably associated with some odd devil or other.
"""If the princess is withdrawn, I suppose this isn't a hoax."""
Dry silence followed the comment. Maxwell closed his eyes, carefully hiding his exhasperation from the ignorant mortals around him. Of course the first circle had started the stall, very few others could have put a full stop on The Academy.
He took another long, luxurious sink into the dark brown goodness upon his palm, quite sufficiently grateful that he had played hookie for the evening.
"""We'll separate the staff into teams. One to work with the students, keep them calm. Avarice, can you work with them, identify the leaders for our advantage? Good. Heard them into the great hall. And you three, you instruct wards and traps, start working on a first line of defense on the outer sections of the school. Don't dally too long, just whip up something crude and get more careful and elaborate as you approach the center of the school grounds. Fey witches, you're to tinker with the students' minds, but listen to Avarice's instructions. You lot there, send off messages to parents and the other circles, announce that The Academy is secure and all of that. I'll compose something lengthier for you to broadcast shortly. And you, Kheiron, find that great-godsforsaken-brat of yours, Imperius Maxwell.""" There was a pause that gave Professor Maxwell inclination to shift his legs for the other knee to cross on top of the other. """Those are obviously his runes. Track him down and drag his blessed ass back here."""
A few snickers and a hearty gurgle transferred across the runes' lines. Ass. Donkeys. Maxwell, his parents, and his great-grandfather all had horsey butts. Hah.
Professor Maxwell kept his smile quiet and focused on his bagel. Might as well leave the runes up, because his uncle would find him even if they were dissolved right now. He probably had enough time to polish off the mortal treat and anchor the runespell to the bakery. Then his great grandfather would arrive, hopefully soon after Maxwell had started off back into hell, and maybe buy a bagel of his own. Say what you will about grandparents, but the cool ones can appreciate life.
That was about the time when the old lady who had entered the shop began to glow with hell embers.
"Bloody heavens," Maxwell snarled, bolting down the bagel and rising to his feet.
On Melaeria and Krystall
The elves leapt up to the nearest branch, and the one above that, and the one above that. Casting glances off to the side for nearby cross-trees, they focused primarily on increasing the distance between themselves and the slowly rising water.
Green magic usually isn't super fast. It focused more on working with the life-energy of the earth, and suggesting different flows. Many elves and farmers would use it to try to coax more out of their produce, or locate the nearest springs with drinkable water. Shifting a creek's overflowing waters to circumvent a campsite was usually enough work for ten average users. Moving a whole landscape of water, against gravity, up the length of a fucking tree, with obvious intentions of violence, was way too damn much willpower for Melaeria to be inclined to face. So, they moved up. Fortunately, even Krystall seemed to have figured out that they were at best even in a fair fight, and was pacing her a few steps ahead.
Most of the trees around them were too far away for Melaeria to reach, so she started focusing her willpower together. It would be nice if she could touch her target, but moving the energies through the air would have to work. She muttered steadily and added gestures where she could, coaxing the farthest branch of her own tree and a nearby limb to stretch towards one another.
On cue, Krystall advanced more rapidly through the tree, and tossed herself lightly across the distance to gain contact with the target. Melaeria strived not to comment that Krystall really needn't show off quite so much.
The fracture in her focus cost her dearly, and the wood beneath her feet fractured violently along the length, incapable of storing such a fluxuation of energy.
Krystall's eyes began to grow darker and greener, until her very soul seemed evergreen of purpose. The (goddamned, stupid, obscenely overtalented) elf sank her fingers ever so slightly into the bark, and the tree shuddered beneath her. The ground groaned unhappily, quaked in about as light a manner as the earth can quake, and the roots inched up from their soil bit by bit.
Clods of dirt and mud splattered through the water, contaminating it and throwing off the energy nudging it along, forcing gallons and gallons of water into the freshly forming hole in the floor of the forest. The tree stepped forward sluggishly, leaning its branches out as Melaeria finally reached the end of her splintering limb.
It was with far less grace and distance than her sister, but the movement of the tree had closed the distance enough for it to be successful, and she gripped ahold of the branch above her and raced down past her sister to the trunk.
Melaeria reached for the heart of the tree. The cool, steadily pumping energy at the center of the life form felt electric to the touch, far more charged up than the tree was designed to contain. She carefully stretched her fingers of that soul, and soothed the creature, whispering breaths of lavender and spring rain with dusts of energy flow, encouraging it to be bold, strong, and hold out. Meanwhile, Krystall barrelled raw energy into the thing, urging its roots to wade through the muddy water towards the more fertile Ground Zero soils.
Grow out, Krystall urged, nudging the roots closer to the promise of more food. Grow farther, faster, reach for it. As she coaxed its roots to grow out, so too did they bend, and lift, and grapple, struggling towards its goal. A tree knows no sense of time, only its direct feelings at any given point. So while Mel, and Krystall, plus probably a group of young tadpoles could see the tree lurching across the forest at a pretty good rate for an inanimate object, the tree was chuckling in good spirits that it knew no other trees would steal its food.
Careful not to lose her focus quite so badly this time, Melaeria continued her soothing chant but watched the trees around her, too. The nymph witch could have been anywhere in the water around them, which seemed to hold no end as they strode out on so many deep slides. Krystall was starting to sweat more profusely now, fresh beads mingling with the stale drops from earlier. Each time the tree swayed, its roots would sink deeply into the earth from the mass, balancing the weight so that other roots could slide forward. Forunately, when these lifted, the water would rush back to fill the divets in the earth, buying them more time.
But perhaps not enough time was bought. For as the great tree moved steadily along the path, behind them, spots of sky-blue speckled Melaeria's vision. She couldn't ever quite seem to focus on them, but it was definitely the tadpoles, flashing along and trying to skim invisibly through the water like their cozy little butt-naked diplomat. Gods, nymphs are a pain in the ass.