Magic

The Satyr’s Tale

“She is…exquisite,” Lord Ricard Dafaar spoke, almost in a whisper. His hand reached gently, reverently forward, before finding rest on the cool marble statue that stood before him. “Never have I seen such mastery in stonework; it is almost as if she were alive.”

Baeyn smiled lazily and gave a slight bow to the aged, portly man, the bells woven into his long tangled hair jingling lightly at the motion, his ribbon adorned horns dipping. A human gesture, but one he had adapted to with little effort. He approached the man slowly, his cloven hooves clicking against the stone floor.

“My people sing the song of stone, “he said, his voice a strange, melodic harmony, “our talents passed from generation to generation. Masters of masonry and sculpture, our works beloved and demanded by kings and priests and all great men.”

Baeyn paused, and turned his square pupiled eyes towards the masterpiece that stood before them. She truly was awe inspiring – every detail, every curve, every feature a mark of perfection. An illusion so expertly wrought that the coldness of her stone betrayed the warmth in her image.

“But yes…she is a masterpiece even amidst masterpieces. Lady Aileen Dafaar…an ancestor of yours, yes?”

Lord Ricard nodded but did not turn his head. His eyes felt unable to blink, his mouth agape but speechless. Again, Baeyn smiled.

“She was not easy to obtain. The mountains are more dangerous than ever, the caverns of my people infested with dark things I shudder to mention in such…refined company. It was a costly expedition, in more ways than one.”

The human lord’s mouth closed, his stance straightened. His awe, though it had not completely vanished, was shadowed by his greed. His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly as he cleared his throat.

“I am sure we can come to an arrangement. What is your price?”

“Can there be a price placed on such a piece?” Baeyn replied. “Could you place a value on something so perfect? My ancestor, blood of my blood, shed that blood, and tears, and sweat, to capture her likeness. Wars have been waged over lesser works than she…”

Lord Ricard’s face hardened. He’d heard such tactics before.

“Come now! Don’t play games with me, satyr – your kind always has a price. Name it and stop this foolishness.”

Baeyn’s horns tingled, skin flushed. He forced a nonchalant chuckle.

“For anyone else, she would be beyond price. But you? You can have her for a song.”

The lord’s face collapsed into confusion.

“A song?”

“Yes,” Baeyn answered, “a very specific song. Sing it, and the Lady is yours. No further price.”

Try as he might, Rickon could not conceal his glee. He made sure that he was known as a patron of the arts, and prided himself on his knowledge of all the popular tunes, which he loved to sing. Badly.

“Name it then!” he cried. “Name it and I will serenade you more sweetly than any lover has ever been serenaded!”

“Sing me the Song of Shattering,” Baeyn said, his voice low and suddenly mirthless, the music gone.

Lord Rickon frowned.

“I don’t know tha…”

“You know the song,” Baeyn interrupted, “It’s been sung to you many times.”

“I…”

“With every brick that was laid in your courtyard, it was sung. With every stone that was placed in your manor, it was sung. With every rock and stone and sculpture you’ve commissioned, it’s been sung.”

Lord Rickon’s face paled, trembled. Had he? He tried hard to recall. He’d hired plenty of satyr stonesmiths over the years, and yes, they were always humming in their strange double voices, but the song…what was the song?

“I’ll remind you,” Baeyn said, as if he read the nobleman’s mind. He closed his eyes, and began to sing.

In truth, no one can sing like a satyr can. They are born with two sets of vocal cords, and through them, sing harmonies unimaginable to any other race. They sing with every task that has meaning, with every moment they wish to mark. They sing their histories, their memories, their wishes and dreams.

This song was a memory and a promise. A memory of lands once held by his people. A dream of a better time. An anguish for what his people lost. The bitterness of betrayal, when they sought help from allies that failed to give their aid. Even ancient allies…like the noble line of Dafaar.

Lord Rickon found himself paralyzed by the sound, the voice. His heart pounded, his body shook. He felt to his core the weight of his family’s past, of their use, abuse, and abandonment of the stonefolk who had sought their aid. As the song grew in fury and tempo, he fell to his knees.

And with a final, trilling, mournful note, the marble statue shattered. The flawless image of the matron of his line, a work of art so perfect its like would never again be known, crumbled to dust. Sobs overtook him. He buried his hands in the dust. He felt lost, helpless. He had not realized how much this connection to the past had meant to him.

Until it was gone.

Baeyn left him there, weeping in the rubble. His hooves clicked on the stone floor as he left, beating a rhythm that pleased his ears. A breeze caught his hair, his bells jangled, and a weight lifted from his soul. He sighed in satisfaction. It was a costly vengeance, but it was worth it. This debt had spent a long time building interest.

A tune came to his heart. He smiled. And sang.

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Aim true, my dear…

The stars grant wishes, this is true;
And yet, they are such tiny spots
Of light, that when you’re wishing, you
Must carefully aim your dreaming shots
Lest they should tumble to the void
Of black and empty wish-less space
Where no wish granting is deployed,
So wishes vanish there, erased.
The brighter stars are closer, dear,
So when you aim, those ones must be
The ones to shoot, for I do fear
The duller ones, so hard to see
Will take too long, will make you wait
To see your dreams as truth become,
So when you wish, the dull, berate,
And sight the brighter with your thumb
And then, with all your heart and mind
Whisper your wish, and shoot the star,
And then, my love, I hope you’ll find
Your heart’s desires, what e’er they are.

“The Measure of a Man” – Turn-a-trope #4, #WOEGTTT

This one was incredibly tough! Were it not that I refused to be beaten by my own challenge, I would have tossed in the towel. That said, I think the following tale does a decent job of skewering the trope, “A Man is Not a Virgin.”

Enjoy.

Tomas rode with the fury of a man possessed. The gates of the ancient temple of Kalziban lay behind him, and in his wake, the bodies of a legion of slain hellions. Ahead, he could see the door that lead to the inner temple, and the Pool of Tears. He knew that he would find her there. Lillian. His sworn ward.

As the Knight of the cloak, it has been his responsibility to protect her. And he had, through countless dangers, countless attempts on her life. She was the last of the purest bloodline, and her death would profit many an evil man. He had fought dozens to defend her, and bested them all. Sir Tomas of the Cloak was, perhaps, the greatest knight who’d ever served.

She had vanished in the night, despite all precautions. Tomas knew this time would come, had since the moment of her birth. Tonight, the moons above aligned with the Dread star, the Blood Eye of Kalziban. He knew that whoever took her, would take her here. His horse stumbled, fell. Tomas leapt from its back as it went, tumbling to the ground in clash of steel and leather. He cried out as he struck a stony pillar. His horse, ridden far beyond exhaustion, cried out, and expired. He rose to his feet, and ran up the stairs and through the temple’s doors.

“You’re too late,” Alcyon cackled. The dread summoner held up his hands, dripping with blood. “Too late, hero, too late to save her, too late to stop the summoning!”

Tomas fell to his knees with a sob. Before him, splayed across the pentacle carved into the ground, was Lillian. Sweet, innocent Lillian. The last of legal heir to the kingdom of Tancreath. The Virgin Princess. The Keeper of the Barrier. His sworn ward.

Tears fell from Tomas’ cheek. He cast away his shield as he took her hand in his own, felt the cold lifelessness therein. Her body, a ruin of blood and savagery, her thighs, a spectacle of disaster and debauchery.  Tomas’ sword slipped from his free hand, and reached, tenderly, for her cold staring eyes, unfocused and staring into the void. He closed them, softly, and brushed away a lock of coal black hair.

“It would have been enough,” the knight croaked hoarsely, “to have just killed her. ”

“Oh,” the summoner spoke, his voice filled with sarcastic mock pity, “yes, it would have. But then I would not have gotten to see this, would I have? The undefeatable Sir Tomas of the Cloak, brought to his knees? Not by a sword, not by a lance, not by an army of men…but by a man. A single man, with nothing in his hands…but blood.”

Alcyon continued to laugh madly. Tomas felt his head swim. A strange, numbing wave crashed against his nerves, his face, his limbs tingling. He rose, slowly, a final sob given to his fallen ward as he raised her up in his arms. He turned, looked to the Pool of Tears. Slowly, he walked towards it, heedless of the summoner and his madness. Around him, lights began to grow, strange, glowing, otherworldly emanations that rose from the ancient runes and sigils carved and cast throughout the hall.

“Too late!” Alcyon cried, sobbing in mirth, “She is dead!”

Tomas didn’t listen. He continued to the pool, till he stood overlooking its pale, milky waters. A drop of blood fell from Lillian’s outstretched arm, and slipped into the pool, an angry red swirl on a sea of pearl.

“She is dead,” Alcyon repeated, but his laughter cracked, slowing, “It is over, fool! And besides…”

The summoner nodded at the pool.

“It takes the life of a virgin of royal birth to halt the summoning of the Dread Lord Kalziban. She was the last. It is over!”

Tomas, silent still, lowered the girl’s body to the pool, then watched her slip beneath the surface. He stood then, turned to the mad summoner.

“Do you know the measure of a man, summoner? Do you know why I took up the Cloak?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. Alcyon’s grin faltered.

“The Cloak is not an easy burden to bear. Its wearer must be good and strong. Generous and just. Compassionate and merciful. Swift of blade, swift of defense. Trustworthy and…pure.”

The knight turned and looked at the summoner, his eyes rimmed with red, stained with tears, but cold, so cold.

“Pure. Untouched by the hands, the lips, the body of a lover.”

Tomas ran a hand through hair as black as pitch, the same color as Lillian’s.

“I took the Cloak because I was born a bastard. And now…”

Tomas stepped to the edge of the pool. Alcyon stumbled forward, slipped in blood. He crashed to the ground, then looked up, his eyes wide with something they had never known.

Fear.

“…now I will see my sister safely to the Underworld.”

Tomas dived into the pool. Alcyon shrieked, raged, as the knight’s heavy armour pulled him quickly downward. The summoner scrambled to the pool, plunging his arms in, staining the water pink with blood. But the knight was gone, the pool empty.

Around him the walls began to shake. The sigils began to glow a violent red.  A sharp smell of ozone filled the air, and the crack of the barrier, the gateway between worlds, slammed through the air. Alcyon howled as the dissipating energies tore about the room. The ceiling quaked, and pieces began to collapse.

Then bitterly, he laughed, as the temple collapsed around him.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 26 – “A Subtle Streak of Red”

Image

Howdy all! Time for week 26 of the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! This week, I return to a world I touched on briefly in “A Little Bit of Magic…” with this week’s theme, ”Do you notice anything different about me?”.  I thought it apt! Here we are, right at 500 words, with “A Subtle Streak of Red.”

Magic is a squirrely thing. The universe doesn’t like it, but it’s willing to accept it, so long as it stays quiet and unobtrusive. Kind of like that weird kid who sits in the corner and hums all the time; you can pretend he isn’t there, until he does something shocking.

But there’s nothing wrong with him. His reality is just different from yours, the two don’t agree with each other. He does little things; rearranging the pieces on a chessboard repetitively. No one cares. He stacks books on each other. No one cares. It’s not till he’s jumping on tables, flinging objects and howling at the top of his lungs that we react. Depending on the intensity of his outburst, we don’t do anything at first. We sit there, shocked, watching as he screams obscenities and beats his chest.

It may take a moment but eventually, someone snaps, tries to settle him down. They straighten up the mess, shush him, and guide him back to the corner, humming. Then, everyone pretends it didn’t happen, and goes back to doing their thing. But things have changed. The books he threw are damaged, torn. The plates, shattered. The nick-knacks all unbalanced and rearranged. Everyone pretends like it’s back to normal, but it’s not.

That’s magic. Either you work your casting carefully, making tiny changes that the universe will ignore, or you do something drastic, and accept that parts will fade as entropy forces itself upon reality. If you know what you’re doing, things won’t be the way they were before the reset. You’ll make big changes, even if they weren’t what everyone thought they were. Like a stage magician, it’s distraction, making a big show with one hand while carefully doing the real work with the other. It’s harder than it sounds. Or, wait…maybe it’s exactly as hard as it sounds. Because it doesn’t sound easy, does it?

So I’m practicing. A subtle change, a streak of color in my hair. The kind of thing that someone will look at and double-take, but then make excuses for having missed. Small magic, to get the hang of the basics. I close my eyes, concentrate. I recite softly the incantations that let me exert my will over reality…and there. A streak of red sprouts from my bangs.

I turn to the guy next to me on the bus. He doesn’t know me, but I made sure to chat him up when I got on, made sure he got a good look at me. That’s important. I get his attention.

”Do you notice anything different about me?”

He looks at me, friendly at first, then his brow furrows. His eyes glaze slightly. I can smell the faint hint of ozone, that indicates that the universe is about to rebel. Damn it!

And then…

“No, sorry. Should I?”

I breathe out, just becoming aware I’d been holding my breath.

“No, thanks man.”

He nods, turns back to his book.

The color stays. Just like magic.