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Chapter Two: A Will of Steel
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:48 am    Post subject: Chapter Two: A Will of Steel  

And the winner is...Alasdair. Enjoy.
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Chapter Two: A Will of Steel

He was almost packed, his things laid out before him so that he could ensure nothing vital was forgotten. And then slim arms had wrapped around his waist with surprising strength and she'd buried her face against his back. They'd stood there like that for a moment before Alasdair had turned and returned the embrace.

"I don't want you to go. No good is going to come of it. They're going to pick at you and poke at you and take small pieces of your flesh with every barbed word they speak to you."

He'd stroked her hair, closing his eyes and breathing in the scent of the wildflower wash she used to clean it. "Gods I wish that I could just stay here. But this isn't just something I can say no to Kyrie. I can't just push my head further down into bed and plug my ears like a petulant child that doesn't want to wake."

The silence had hung in the air between them for a time and he'd moved to the edge of the bed, sitting on it and drawing her up onto his lap. "You'll just have to have faith in me love and trust me when I say that nothing will keep me away for long. I'll be home before the baby comes, no matter what I have to do."

She'd looked up at him, her emerald eyes bright with tears that would not fall, and had given a soft smile. "I know you will...it's just...all the time in between. All those times that I'd just like to speak to you...all those questions I want to ask. And you just won't be here. And I can't go with you." Her head had rested back against his chest with a bitter sigh.

"Kyrie, it's too dangerous for you to come with me. Even if we weren't going to travel hard, I don't want you there where that court of insects and vipers would see you as an easy target to get to me. But, I have something that will ease the pain of separation."

He'd stood, setting his wife down gently, and crossed the bedchamber to a set of shelves that hung on the wall. Reaching all the way up, quite a stretch considering his height, he'd pulled down a package and returned to where she sat. Unwrapping the cloth carefully, he'd removed one of the pair of objects within, setting the other aside. It looked like it was made of obsidian, the leading edge trimmed with a dusting of gold, slightly curved and oddly shaped. About as thick as the depth of a man's hand and light as a slender book.

"Alasdair...you shouldn't have. This is dangerous. If anyone gets a hold of this you'll be-"

"You have one and I have one. Watch, I'll show you how they work." He'd breathed on the polished black surface, his breath fogging it over. At the same moment he did so, the one in Kyrie's hands fogged in an identical way and when the fog faded they were staring at each other through the curved surfaces. "It was the only thing I could think of to bind the spell into. I needed something strong, something unlikely to break during travel, something reflective, and something personal. I know the danger, I know the risk, but yours will be safely here and mine...well who's going to steal a shaving mirror this unique?"

And she'd hugged him again, laughing and calling him an idiot, her tears not forgotten but certainly put away as she'd looked over the things he was packing with a critical eye, suggesting things he'd forgotten.


"You're thinking about her again lad."

The voice at his shoulder broke Alasdair's thoughts away from the wife he'd left in the north and brought him to the hear and now, turning his head to stare at his too silent traveling companions. "I suppose I was. The closer we draw to Eresinne the more I wish we were going in the opposite direction." He lifted his nose to the wind, smelling the city now even stronger than he had the day before. And if he strained his ears he could just hear the noise of it. "Can you smell it yet Ranaulf?"

"Aye. And such a stink of cess and fouled things I've never experienced outside of the leech fields back home." The man at Alasdair's shoulder shook his head. "And they call us barbarians."

Alasdair laughed, urging his mount forward. The sooner this journey was over, the soonest he could get all the matters that prevented his return home settled. As one the small group picked up speed, moving through the tame forests where King Astor hunted tame game, finally catching a road that would lead them into Eresinne proper.

Alasdair's first impressions of the city were not favorable. The hill had been made by man, over great time, with earth hauled from the surrounding landscape. As a result it looked very much out of place and exposed. The walls were thickest at the base, growing more grand as they traveled from the common districts toward the palace. And yet, aside from the outer wall, the lower walls were in ill repair. There were even a few places where it looked as though people had stolen away stones to build their homes.

If Eresinne depended on it's walls to stop invasion, then once the first wall was breached, it would loose all of the districts between it and the sixth wall that gated off the homes of the people from the market district. Half the city would topple without too much effort. The half of the city where most of the people lived and worked. The nobles would be safe, the diplomats, but the people would suffer. And in Alasdair's thinking that was unacceptable.

Crowds had gathered along the road as they'd climbed toward the palace, ten barbarian warriors, three carts of things, and one massive man who rode at their head. Whispers had gone out, people turning away from Alasdair...he wore the face of a dead man that these people would have preferred stay dead. Their hard-eyed stares were like stones hurled at him, darts stabbing his broad back long after he and his companions had passed.

It was actually a blessing to reach the palace, despite the fanfare that went up at his arrival. He merely angled his mount where the grooms directed, sliding off the beasts back and leading it out of the way for the others to dismount. Rubbing the mare's nose, he fished a slice of dried fruit from his pocket and fed it to her, giving her a kiss and a pat before retrieving his saddle bags and handing her off to a stable lad.

The man that came to show them to their rooms did so with all the skittishness of an unbroken colt and the group from the north pretended not to notice how he kept a scented cloth near his nose. They smelled no worse than any other group that had been on the road for an extended period of time. The case could be argued that they smelled better since they had taken the time to bathe when they could.

The rooms were...more than Alasdair needed. He'd been given several rustically decorated rooms, with things that had obviously been brought from a hunting lodge somewhere. Still, the wooden tables and chairs had intricate patterns of gold and silver hammered into them and jewels winked from the eye sockets of the hunting trophies. "That's one runt of a deer." Ranaulf observed dryly as he stared at the mounted head of a buck who's antlers spread larger than the average man.

"Peace Ranaulf, things grow smaller here in the south, but are more plentiful. I want all of you to rest. Sort out your things in your rooms, make sure nothing goes missing out of the wagons. I should likely get cleaned up before someone truly important makes an appearance."

They saluted him smartly, closed fists slamming into left breasts in near unison. Then with much laughter and joking among themselves, they headed out to find their beds, the baths, and the kitchens. Alasdair shook his head with a wry smile after them and proceeded to unpack his things.

He was about halfway through when he noticed a presence in the room with him. "You might as well come in. Skulking in doorways gives people the wrong impression most of the time." Standing and straightening, he turned to lock his eyes onto a wiry youth with a shock of copper colored hair. The instant sense of kinship struck him though there was very little in their looks to suggest relation. "You must be Lukan."

His youngest brother crossed the open threshold and across the carpet, looking slightly chagrined that he'd been caught. "I wasn't spying, I mean I wasn't prying. I saw you all arrive from my window and was just a little curious is all." He stopped a few feet away from Alasdair, glancing around the room before craning his head upward to look Alasdair in the eye. "You're a lot taller than I imagined you'd be. Do you ever hit your head on doorways?"

Alasdair laughed, shedding his winter cloak and draping it across the back of a nearby chair. "Only when I'm not paying attention. And you should be careful about idle curiosity. I've got nothing to hide...but that doesn't mean our sibling and cousin will not. Besides, I have ways of making sure that people who do spy on me regret it."

Lukan paled under his freckles and Alasdair laughed again, lifting a hand to forestall whatever action the boy would have taken next. "Peace little brother. I'm not going to turn you into a frog."

"How did you know I was thinking that?"

"Because everyone assumes that I'm going to turn them into a frog or spider or something else easily dispatched. The truth is I cannot turn a man into something he doesn't already want to be. Each spirit holds kinship to an animal form. You, little brother, would be easily turned into a falcon or perhaps a hawk...a kestrel, the laughing bird...but I could not turn you into a frog."

Lukan cocked his head to the side and Alasdair waited for him to speak again. But they never had the chance. The sound of guards was the only warning they had before King Astor himself swept into the room, bringing with him a sort of...ominous aura. Lukan flinched out of the way, retreating as their Grandfather came forward into the room, his Guards waiting on either side of the door.

The old king paced once around Alasdair, evaluating him the way a man would a horse much to the irritation of the younger man. But the King of Leyond was the first one to say anything, his face a stern mask. "You may wear Caur's face but you keep yourself in better condition than my son ever did. I suppose that barbarian is a term subject to interpenetration. I would, however, suggest that you refrain from filling Lukan's head with idle nonsense. There was a time when your magics were powerful to affect a man but that time is long past."

Alasdair's jaw clenched, never had he met a man so rude or educationally ignorant. Then he realized something...the crafty old bastard was baiting him. So instead he smiled, chuckling a little. "Well then you keep believing it's nonsense and we'll both sleep easy tonight. Of course, if you're going to start my time here by calling me a liar then I shall gather my companions and we shall be quit of you by sunset."

He picked up his winter cloak again, fastening it on his shoulders, and lifted his saddlebags. "I don't want your throne, I don't want your nation, and I will not stand here and let you disrespect me. Get out of my way old man or I will move you."

The Guards came away from the door, pikes lowered, and Alasdair raised his hand. There were shouts of alarm as both men dropped the wriggling serpents their pikes had suddenly become, then froze in place as the metal plates of their armor became stone. From his corner, Lukan's eyes were the size of saucers, his copper eyebrows lost in his copper hairline as his head twitched back and forth between Alasdair and King Astor.

Astor stood his ground, showing no reaction to the display. "You wouldn't make it past my boarders young man. You would be struck down and hauled back before you'd lost sight of Eresinne's walls. And then I would hold you in the dungeons until you'd gained a more reasonable tongue in your mouth and a wiser head upon your shoulders."

"I will not compromise myself for you. I refuse to be molded and shaped by a frightened old man. Your two sons were failures, one a cruel tyrant and the other a book mouse afraid of his own shadow. And you have yourself to blame for that Astor King of Leyond. Now you would turn the same influence upon your Grandchildren, you would make us as you made them. And I will not have your blight on me."

And Astor laughed, truly and warmly, his stern mask cracking and his blue eyes twinkling. "By Gods you're a refreshing person Alasdair. Put your damn bags down and get off your high horse Grandson. Your opinions have been duly noted." The old king shook his silver gray head. "If respect is what you want, you'll get it as long as you continue to earn it. Release my Guards if you will."

Alasdair watched the old man for a moment, then gestured again. The armor became metal plates and the serpents became pikes again. "You are...an odd man Grandfather. But I believe we've come to an agreement. I'll remain, for now. But I tell you this, I will leave by midwinter, whether you have chosen or not."

"You have a will of steel Grandson, but you hold few of the cards. If you want to play this game, I suggest you keep those few you're still holding well hidden. Because now your move has been made...it falls to me to make the next one." And with that the King of Leyond was gone, leaving Alasdair alone in the room with an awestruck Lukan.

Idly Alasdair slumped in a chair, pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers. "Lukan...tell anyone what you saw today and there will be a new falcon in the mews. Are we clear on that?"

The young man nodded but Alasdair was no fool. Even if Lukan didn't tell anyone, word of what had happened here today would spread. By tomorrow everyone would know that the abilities he possessed were not mere wives tales. How that would shape court opinion of him, Alasdair didn't really care. What he cared about was how many people would suddenly think that he was a weapon and if they couldn't wield him...then they would have to destroy him. It was only a matter of time now...
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How does the confirmation of Alasdair's magical ability effect the opinions of the Leyondese court...and how long before someone tries to assassinate the obstinate barbarian? Up to you...
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I hope you enjoyed.
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Shillelagh



Joined: 11 Mar 2010
Posts: 398
Location: Kansas

Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 1:06 pm    Post subject:  

I'm amused by Alistair's personality, but I must confess that I find him a bit overpowered. Without knowing or seeing any limits to his magical powers, it seems like he could do anything he wanted. Okay, sure, there seems to be some limit on his choice of transformation, but that has nothing to do with how often he can use his magic. And he did create those mirrors. Not that I demand we stop the story to have a lengthy discussion of how magic works in your story... I just hope that it's consistant and reasonable. Otherwise Alistair and company could just turn this whole kingdom into a zoo and be back home with his wife.

On a side note, I was distracted by the number of times you described Lukan's hair using the word copper. This might just be me, because I had a creative writing professor who hated cliched descriptions. Hair is either a metal or a plant. It's kinda weird, when you think about it.

I'm really not sure what you're looking for with the DP, but I'll give it a shot anyway. I would guess that four people does not make for a confirmation of his powers, but that doesn't really matter because of the way rumors work. I'm sure that by the end of the day the castle staff is going to be talking about how they were transformed into newts or charmed or fireballed or whatever. I'm sure the guards will be getting a lot of free drinks as they make up a story about how the king was turned into a toad until they stood up to that fierce barbaric warlock. I don't know if his rumored powers warrant an assassination... but he does seem like the most stable candidate, and the king does hate him. I'd still give it a few weeks though- it either needs to look like an accident, or be timed to cause the maximum amount of chaos.
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 2:23 pm    Post subject:  

There are five types of magic in my world Shillelagh.

There are the Beguilers. They create illusions that fool the senses and they can muck about with your emotions. Example, a local merchant always seems to get the best of his customers because every deal he offers seems to be extremely reasonable and generous...even if it's not.

There are the Evokers. Evokers do all the flashy magic and are all combat oriented. They are the mages that toss fireballs around, they are the mages who shatter walls with a shouted command and pull meteors of force out of the heavens. Example, three bandits accost a young man on the road and are sent running when lightning shoots from his outstretched hands.

There are the Transmuters. Transmuters understand how a man might be like a bird and how steel might be like stone. Their magic is a fundamental understanding of the nature of the world and the workings of the things that inhabit it. This allows them to both return a working to it's proper configuration, or to reshape it into a similar one. Example a Transmuter is hawking flowers he's turned to stone in a market place when he sees a child get hit by a cart, if he so chooses he could go over and heal the child's injuries, restoring his structure.

There are the Summoners. Summoners are masters of transportation and translocation. They can bring anything from anywhere at anytime and send it right back again. Their power allows them to fix either a location or an object in their mind and either bring it to them, send something there, or open a gateway between the two. Example, the documents proving who owns a fertile field have been lost, a Summoner can bring them to the magistrates desk in a few quick minutes.

Then there are the Conjurers. Conjurers practice workings both small and great with varied results. Need a stone that always casts light, ask a Conjurer. Want a box that when opened, always plays music, ask a Conjurer. Want a belt that makes you stronger, want a hat that makes you smarter, want some shoes that make you faster...ask a Conjurer. They specialize in imbuing objects, empowering defenses, and doing the few hundred minor spells that weave a tapestry across the land.

Magic, in my world, is powered by three things each of which is important but some more than others depending on the magic.

Willpower. Willpower is like physical strength for mages. The more you have, the bigger and better a spell you can cast. If you have a strong will, your also less likely to have your spells go wrong.

Conditioning. Fat mages don't get very far as spellcasting is physically taxing. It's common practice to starve enemy magic users, preventing them from having the physical resources to do more than a few faint sparks.

Natural Talent. Some people are just born with more magic. However, just having all the power doesn't matter...you've got to know how to use it right. And some people just do that instinctively. It's the difference between someone who's good and someone who's great.

As for Alasdair...what stops him from making a zoo and wandering out. His magic, Transmutation, is the easiest to resist, especially by living things. People don't normally resist being healed...but a man will certainly resist being turned into a dog. That makes the spell doubly difficult as he needs to have the willpower not just to make the spell work, but to overcome the opposition.

Also, he's limited by the physical strain such spells put on him. The mirror for example, Alasdair has a limited talent at Conjuration. He had to use something highly personal to him to prime and charge the spell so that it would take and even then those mirrors are a pair...they're not going to work with any other device. Most Conjurers would laugh at him for that and yet it took more effort out of him than the transformation of the Guards arms and armor.

Spells take less effort and power if they're being cast on oneself or on something connected personally to oneself.

To answer your question Shill, Alasdair's simply not strong enough right now to throw that much power around. He'd die of a heart attack from the physical strain or have a seizure.
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Lilith



Joined: 10 Feb 2007
Posts: 1597
Location: Happily curled up in a Daemon's lap

Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 6:33 pm    Post subject:  

Well, well, well... a leading male that'll quickly become a Rai classic. ;) And I'm not talking about Lukan. Too bad he's married. :(

Anyhoo... off on the DP of your magic-infused tale... why not have the first assassination attempt occur before the other two arrive... at the hands of one of the guards who had his pike turned into a snake? Taking Alasdair's magic as a threat to him, and his King?
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Muaddib



Joined: 31 Dec 2004
Posts: 1765

Posted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 8:43 pm    Post subject:  

Another well written chapter! So far both the candidates introduced so far have been very nicely fleshed out. Although Alisdair seems like the archetypal "good guy".

I still like Lukan better though... :D

Again, as Shillelagh mentioned the DP is a little strange. But nonetheless I think news of Alisdair's abilities obviously catches the imagination of the court. I think the jealous Court mages are the first to try and assassinate him to prove the primacy of their own magic.
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Thunderbird



Joined: 13 Sep 2009
Posts: 2139
Location: Rising from the ashes

Posted: Sat Aug 20, 2011 5:28 pm    Post subject:  

What the hell have you been doing to sharpen your writing skills during your down time away from IF Rai??? This is not only some of YOUR best writing, this is some of the best writing I've ever READ! I'm truly envious of the masterful quality you're infusing each paragraph and every chapter with here. Loving the setting, the setup, the characters and greatly looking forward to what more you have to share with us here!

I'm thinking that rather than wanting to KILL or assasinate the newcomer, there would be many who would be seeking to capture his power, learn it, master it so it can be theirs to wield. He'd be surrounded by haters and admirers alike. Groupies would form swarms wherever he goes. He'd be like a rock star to the women and a wall street guru to the guys. And yeah, there'd be some out to just injure him to show that even 'gods' can be killed and others who feel he'd be a serious threat. But annoying as the throng surrounding him may be, they'd be inadvertantly protecting him from much more harm.
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Sat Aug 20, 2011 8:36 pm    Post subject:  

New poll is up, vote if you please.

Also thank you very much T-Bird, I've just been trying to approach this story from a different angle than my usual ones. So far, so good.
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PopeAlessandrosXVIII



Joined: 10 Oct 2010
Posts: 1858
Location: Surrounded by many beautiful naked men

Posted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:33 pm    Post subject: I Think.......  

I am really likeing this story. Both of the boys thus far are pulling at my happy strings. The premis is very easy to follow, and the personalities of each character are coming through clearly.

I will have to say that when he was thinking about his wife the tense was very confuseing. A lot of " 'd " in there, but I suppose that's just me being an anal ass again.

I had to vote for the guard getting back his honor. I kept envisioning him all drunk and unreasonable and going off to "Regain his honor" while I was reading it, so I'm glad it was an option.

Sorry for taking so long to get to this, I haven't had much reading time lately. I can't wait to see more!
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Lost Omega



Joined: 18 Dec 2010
Posts: 88
Location: West Haven, CT

Posted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 7:25 pm    Post subject:  

I'm all caught up and I am really liking this story so far. Alisdair (did I spell that right?) is my favorite character so far and I really want to see how he responds to a carefully planned out assassination attempt.
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