Chronicled by Dro'gan NiteFlier
Disclaimer: Some characters copyrighted by Naoko Takeuchi, Toei Animation, and Kodansha. I'm still not idiot enough to claim them. Some elements were taken from the game Lords of Magic, copyright Sierra Games and Impressions Studios.
The scratch of the quill sounds out loudly in the silence of the study. I mark out points on the diagram, pinpointing crystal placements. This is the eleventh time I've marked it out this year, and I have lost count of how many times I've done it over the past five. The Storm Ritual must be precise; seasons, moons, and the supplicants themselves must be taken into account when there is so much that can go wrong.
No one has ever died by a misaligned placement, but none who suffer such are ever quite… there, anymore.
I've never seen it, and I hope I never will.
This current placement diagram is for Alocil, one of my friends. I've not made a mistake in these placements since I began, and I've no intention of starting with one of the few people who respect me.
I was tempted, when Mugsil came up for the Storm Ritual, to make just one little error, but when I was staring at the parchment trying to decide, Sandoval came in to check on me. He didn't say anything, like usual, but he gave me a look of understanding, and I nodded, and drew the correct placement.
I make the final few marks, and look it over. I don't see any errors, so I reach up and put it onto Sandoval's desk, for him to check.
I stand up and stretch, loosening my muscles after their rest. It is almost time for me to go down to the practice grounds and work on my spells, new and old.
I look over when I hear a scratching on the door. One of the younger novices stands there, a nervous look on his face. I smother my smile as he tries to speak, but catches himself.
"I don't bite," I call out to him. "Say what you need, lad."
He stops and takes a breath. "Apprentice Krystal, you have been summoned to the C-C-Council Chambers…" his voice trails off.
The Council? Why ever for? I think, but cannot remember anything I have done to require their attention. I have had no problems, and have heard no complaints of the spells that I turned over to them recently. "Did they give a reason?" I ask.
The novice shook his head violently. "I was told only to inform you of the summons."
I sigh, and close my eyes. So much for practice. "Thank you. You may go." I hear the rustle of his robes, but it stops before he could have gone too far. I crack my eyelids and look. He has stopped halfway in his turn, curiosity warring with caution on his face. "And what would you ask, lad? Any one question, I'll grant you."
His voice catches in his throat, and I see curiosity winning out. "Ah, is it true… is it true that you are the one who…"
"Who makes spells?" I finish for him. "Yes, it is true. Many, many spells over the past five years have been mine. Not all, to be sure, but a great deal." I smile. "I started with the Breeze Blade, and have kept creating since then."
I slip past the stunned giant and down the hall to my room. Meeting the Council should not be done in casual clothes.
"Apprentice Krystal," intones the guard, "you may now enter the Council Chambers."
I nod to the pair of guards, and push open the great doors to the Chamber. Thankfully, they are weighted and hung so that even the weakest of giants may open them easily, so I have no trouble. I am stronger than even the average Storm Sorcerer, now, in both magical and physical power.
The doors close behind me, as they were designed to, and I stand before the Council.
I approach and bow to the Chairman, who is still the same aged giant that accepted me into the Tower more than half a decade ago. He nods, then clears his throat. "Lady Krystal, you have been through trial and temperance in your stay here at the Tower, both learning spells and creating them, and branching out, keeping your body as acute as your mind, studying under your father and the WarMasters of the Warrior's Guild. Your master, the Sorcerer Sandoval, has acquitted you well, and has proposed your ascension from the level of apprentice to that of a fully-fledged sorceress."
I blink, and attempt to keep my mouth from falling open in shock. This is something I did not expect in the least! I thought that I would have to spend a full decade or more before being allowed to attempt the Storm Ritual, for even Sandoval cannot force the Council, which is still set almost completely against me!
I hear the soft noise of a throat being cleared, and I glance to see my master looking at me askance. I close my eyes and mouth, and collect myself.
"My lord Chairman, this is an unexpected honor. I had not anticipated this summons for quite some time yet." I bow to him again. "May I request the reasoning behind this advancement, so out of place?"
The Chairman nodded sagely. "Too true, most apprentices to this Tower could expect another decade or more to their training, and there are certain parties on this council that disbelieve the evidence put forth of your competence as one of the Way. But as a whole, we have ascertained that you would do better learning and discovering out in Urak instead of here at the Tower. Indeed, some of us are quite eager to see you away." The Chairman looked pointedly at Erath, and the sorcerer flinched. "Be that as it may, if you are willing to take up your staff, we shall set the date now. Lord Cirrus will go about with your interview."
I bow to him again, but hesitate with my answer. Several of the sorcerers look at me oddly, knowing, perhaps, that I should be overjoyed to receive my staff. "My lord Chairman, I… I believe the Storm Ritual is to be performed when the supplicant is 'At one with themselves and the Way'… Correct?"
The Chairman frowns slightly. "Yes, that is how we have done it for centuries, ever since the War of Balkoth… But then, I should have known that it would not be so with you. What condition do you not fill, Lady Krystal?"
"My lord Chairman, Council members…" I bow again. "On the occasion of my first competition in the Spring Games, I created a spell of elemental summoning—"
"Yes, yes, the Thunder Dragon," growls Erath. "You have since given it to us, and no one has had any problems with the spell itself, once learned."
I nod to him. "Yes, Lord Erath, but the spell I gave to you was not the same as the one I cast that day. It was a less complete, less dangerous version. I had to alter it, for I could not allow what happened to me to occur with others, for I was nearly driven mad by it, and I would not wish such upon my bitterest enemy." My voice grows low. "I would rather kill them and be done with it."
The murmur is quickly silenced by the Chairman. "Ahem. What lasting effects are there, Lady Krystal? You have not shown any adverse effects in the time since, and have, indeed, cast the spell several more times that I am aware."
"My lord, what times you have seen me cast, excepting the first, were of the altered version I gave unto the Tower. Of the first…" I pause. "Of the first, there is only one real lasting effect. I gave a piece of myself unto the dragon, and she exists to this day, a part of me, yet not."
The murmur is louder this time, and the Chairman strikes the gavel to quiet the noise. "Lady Krystal, this Council appreciates your honesty in this matter. Lord Sandoval…" The Council Recorder looks up from his parchment. "…has the Lady Krystal informed you before this of her condition?"
Sandoval nods. "Indeed, my lord. You will recall that it was I who approached the Thunder Dragon on the day of its birth, and gave a restorative to my student. It was then that she told me of it, although she was still somewhat delirious from the exhaustion of her magic. Too, I have given her leave many times to go to the untamed lands to the west to meet with the dragon, and renew their bond. She has shown no adverse effects from the relationship, and indeed, has often come back from such meetings with new insight and peace." He gives a small smile. "Several of those insights gave way to spells that have come to be of great use to the Tower, and others of the Way."
The Chairman nods. "As well, then. I can see no realistic reason to postpone or cancel the Storm Ritual. Let us set the date, then allow Lord Cirrus and Lady Krystal a time."
"Well, young one, do you have any more surprises that you can amaze me with?" Cirrus smiles down at me. "Even I had not expected that you had given a piece of your soul to the dragon. I suppose I should have seen some involvement on your part, once reports began to creep in about a dragon in the west."
We walk to the practice grounds, a place where a dragon will not be out of place, for I have called her here, as Cirrus wants. "You are a bit mistaken, my lord. I did not give a piece of my soul to her. I do know that she was made as a sort of… alter-self. I am still not sure, and neither is she."
"She? The dragon has a gender? But you summoned it out of lightning, did you not? And all the rest that have been cast are genderless." Cirrus asks, confusion in his voice.
"True, my lord," I reply, thinking of her. "But remember that I gave a piece of myself unto her, imprinting a few basic characteristics upon her. And too, she has grown since that day, living off of the animals of the land and air and rivers, becoming a true dragon, instead of one summoned."
Cirrus nods in thought, and nods to the Keeper as we pass him. Shortly we come to the grounds that are like our lands, snow-covered and mountainous. I step away from the sorcerer and open my mind, calling out into the ether.
She must have been near, for not a minute passes before I hear the beat of wings and smell the ozone that heralds her presence. I open my eyes as she lands, and go to her. She lowers her head, and allows me to encircle my arms around her neck.
I told Cirrus the truth; my dragon has grown greatly since the day of her birth. Where once she topped my father, Talapin, by three times, her shoulders now stand nigh to six of his heights. Her wings can give shade to a legion of fairies, and she is long enough from tip to tail to stretch over the entirety of the practice ground.
She nuzzles me, reminding me of Cirrus's presence. I turn, one hand still on her snout. "My lord Cirrus, I am pleased to introduce you to my daughter-self, Ahrida. Loverly, this is the sorcerer Cirrus, who shall help me attain my staff."
Cirrus bows deeply. "I welcome you with honor, Great One, and wish you to prosper."
Ahrida bowed her own head in return. Give him my greetings, Mother-self. He smells nice.
"My lord Cirrus, Ahrida gives you her fondest greetings, and wishes me to tell you that your scent is pleasing." I nod to him, and both he and Ahrida rose out of their bows simultaneously.
"It is well, Lady Krystal, Lady Ahrida. Shall we begin?"
It is a few nights later that I lie in my bed, unsleeping. It can be called a blessing or a curse, but a part of my mind is always occupied in solving mysteries, be they of spells or other things. Cirrus has shown Sandoval and me the placement diagram that he has drawn up, to make sure it is proper. Sandoval has approved it, and has placed it upon his desk to remind himself to make copies in the morning.
That diagram keeps running through my mind.
What is it about? What does it remind me of?
I rouse myself, pulling on a robe and moving to the study. I climb up upon Sandoval's desk, and trace the lines of the diagram. So simple, yet a single crystal placed wrong can spell disaster for me. It is not inked in, merely chalked in graphite, so it is the work of moments to change the placement of three crystals out of the four dozen.
I lie back down in my bed a few minutes later, and sleep peacefully.
The WarMaster's cry looses the rage of the first-year before me. His anger and sword are both easily blocked and averted by my cool movements and maul.
In less than half a minute, the young giant no longer towers above me, but is flat on his back, his sword well beyond his reach. I sigh, and hope the poor warrior-in-training has learned his lesson.
"Well, Krystal, I'd say ye've answered his challenge well enough." The WarMaster is not a Storm Giant, but a grizzled Barbarian of Chaos. The Beastrider retired, and chose to come and teach his trade to those of the Air, instead of trying to beat it into the rock-hard heads of his own Faith. "Now laddie, two bouts out of three, ye said, and I've seen ye on your back twice now. Now do ye see why ye shouldna underestimate a smaller opponent? 'Specially one as quick an' strong as Krystal. But another thing: how many times do I have to tell ye? Never let your anger control ye! I'm training ye to be warriors, not idiot berserkers!" he huffs, and his aged tiger snorts, its graying fur ruffling. He turns and looks at the group of young giants. "Now all of ye, break out the practice blades an' pair off!" He turns to me, rolling his eyes. "Ye'd think they'd hae learned by now, watching ye fight is how they got this far!" He shakes his head ruefully. "But on and on… I've heard that ye've completed your training on the Mount, yea?"
I nod to him, smiling at his gruff manner. "Yes, I'm to attend the Storm Ritual within a week, and after that, I'll set out for other lands."
He nods, and scratches his beast's ruff. "Yea. Ye've learned much here, and I'm of no doubt that if ye ever decide to give up tha hammer, ya'll do well with blade or ax. I know it ain't much, but I'll see to it that yer name is well known among my people, if ye ever go by that way."
I grin, and throw my arms around the oldster's neck. "Thank you! And thanks for all you've done and all you've taught." I kiss him on the cheek, then loose my arms and kneel to hug the tiger. The old cat nuzzles my face, and then pushes me to the gate, as if telling me it is my time to be moving.
And he is right. Soon the final preparations will be in place, and I shall see if the Temple will give me its blessing.
A full day before the Storm Ritual, I arrive at the Great Temple alone.
The caretakers, various giants, faeries, and elves, have been warned of my coming, and will not interfere with my solitude, as they have done for other supplicants. It is thus that I see but two as I work my way across the plazas and paths to the central altar. Here, at the very center of the Temple, is a fountain of crystal, a reverse waterfall frozen forever in time. I walk up to it, and pace its circumference, watching the light play across the outer facets and inner flaws.
Leaving the altar, I look up at the great twin spiral of the Temple reaching high above me, and sigh in wonderment. The sun is just reaching apex, and I catch my breath as its rays slowly come into contact with the altar. For over half a minute, the altar fills with sunlight, then flashes brightly before dimming, the sun once again falling away from its height, leaving the altar.
I sigh again, at the remembered beauty that was the altar filled with light.
My musings are interrupted, however, when I hear the whistle of wind on wings and the scent of ozone drifting near. I look up at Ahrida as my daughter-self lands above me, her shadow draping the altar in darkness. I shiver at the sight, and she immediately moves away and lies down.
Feeling reassured at the altar once again being filled with light, I sit by my daughter-self's head, and stroke her eye-ridges. I wonder to myself if I will feel as unnerved when night falls, and the altar is once again bathed in darkness.
I think not, Mother-self. My shadow created an unnatural darkness, not one caused by the resting of the sun. But truly, both moons shall be in the sky tonight, so it should not be darkened for overlong.
I smile. "True, loverly, but right now I'm afraid I'm particularly susceptible to omens and such…" I pause, and look around at the plaza. "Is it truly right for me to do this…? I'm not like them…"
Ahrida shifts, and I can feel her reassurance. I know this: like or dislike does not matter. Only the purity of faith, in both oneself and the Faith. She blinks slowly, and I feel my glamour fading, revealing my elven heritage.
"You've been having one of your non-talks with Master Sandoval again, haven't you? Where you just sit by each other and understand one another…" I stop as I look at my hand. While it shows the calluses that I have gained by training physically, it still looks all too delicate and frail, a clear reminder of my noble elven blood. I raise my hand to frame it against the paired helix of the Temple, and frown as I line of three of the great balls, eggs really, hanging from the wires near the summit of the Temple. "'At one with oneself and the Faith…'"
Mother-self… Ahrida begins.
I lower my hand and place it upon my daughter-self's head, wondering and unsure at the difference from when I wore my human guise. "Yes, Ahrida?"
Ahrida opens her mind to me, and I feel my own confusion and remorse reflect off her mind. I cry out softly, as I lean down and embrace her head, weeping for my fractured life. I thought that I was finding completeness in becoming a Storm Sorceress, in finishing my training in the Way of Air, but the mirror of my daughter-self's mind shows me the truth, that I am just denying the abilities I already possess as one of those of Life.
"I can't, Ahrida!" I sob out. "I can't become a follower of Life! My family outcast me and the Priestesshood tore me to bits. The only good that is of Life is that of my sisters, and I don't even know if they live!"
I can feel her thoughts still, and the completeness of her own mind. Why did I not notice her perfect self, when I am so fractured?
I am one wholly with the Air, born to it, with only your gift of self to aid me. But you, Mother-self, you are more than just one of the Air. You can attain something greater than what I know. You can go beyond the wholeness you and I have with the Air, for the Light of Life still flows in and about you… She pauses, hesitant. Mother-self, you know why you can create spells, work diagrams, change the ways of thinking. These things are a part of who you are, and in rejecting their source, you would reject your completeness. Mother…
I slowly shake my head. "Daughter, I cannot be an elf now… for you know why I am shattered until I have the source of my injury restored to me. But perhaps… perhaps…"
Perhaps you can be one with the pieces that you stand as. She hesitates again, and her mind closes off from mine. Forgive me, Mother-self… I don't want that to happen soon, for I fear when it does, the gift that you gave unto me, my uniqueness, shall be restored unto you. I want to live.
I gape, this new unknown troubling me. "Daughter-self…"
Mother, when you become whole once more, do not think of me first, but reserve that place for yourself. Ahrida blinks slowly again. Promise me, Mother-self.
I reach down and embrace the great head once more. "I promise, daughter of my mind and self…"
“So in this time and place, do you, Crystal, Daughter of Talapin, swear in all binding, to keep the Faith and the Way until you no longer exist upon Urak?”
I open my eyes after the end of Master Sandoval's long speech about the duties and purposes of those of the Way. I can feel Ahrida's amusement as she stands over me, her head high above, her shadow ever so slightly behind me. Three other members of the Council are here, making sure that all is as it should be in the Ritual.
I nod slightly at Master Sandoval. “I shall endeavor to uphold the Faith and the Way, for as long as I exist upon Urak. So do I swear by the very Air upon my breath.”
Master Sandoval nods and steps aside, revealing the Altar, the sun still waxing. I take seven steps forward, placing myself where a giant would be had he taken two. Ahrida also moves forward, and I can feel her breath upon my back, as I set my maul's head upon the ground before me, holding the butt of the handle in my hands.
I too, take a deep breath, as the sun begins to fully shine upon the Crystal Altar, the flaws and facets reflecting light about, until the sun stands for one moment at apex.
The altar flares, light reflecting up and around, striking the prepared crystal placements around and above, all of them reflecting their light about until it finally sets upon me, bathing me in its glory of aurora that I feel upon me for that one instant.
But that one instant stretches onward, and I can feel a presence about me, as if the corona of light upon my form is itself weighing and judging me.
I catch my breath as I feel something settle around my neck, and the aurora disappears.
Time marches on now, and in another minute, the sun moves on, the altar stands no longer in its direct light. I sigh, and turn, looking at Ahrida and the others.
Master Sandoval nods slowly, his eyes upon my neck. For a moment, I switch my vision for Ahrida's, and see that the weight upon my chest is a beautiful crystal pendant. I return to my own eyes, and reach up to touch the crystal.
It is smooth, but filled with power. For some reason, I can feel only a small bit of this power offered to me, as if the Temple's gift were holding back the majority of its boon.
Master Sandoval nods once more. “Well done, Sorceress Krystal. Let us return to the Tower, and to the celebration awaiting us.”
In the three days since completing the Storm Ritual, I have been the favor of everything from congratulations to rejection. The sorcerers of the Tower, even those that favor women among their ranks, do not quite know how to treat me anymore.
The Great Temple has never shown its favor in the way it did for me. But then, I was already different from those who have gone before me.
It is good then, that the Council has decided to send me with a journeying group, set beyond our lands. It will be the first time I have left these mountains since I arrived, blizzard-borne and with broken legs.
With me I take a Warrior from the fighter's halls, a faerie Thief fresh from the Mound, and their escorts, a trio of Windriders and StoneSlingers. We are all new-come into our status, but that does not make the elders of each of our guilds easy upon us.
No news has come from the Elven lands of Life for almost a year. It is our task to go down to the plains and discern why.
I am returning to my homeland. It is there, that I shall find that which is so precious to me, and retake it.
I am the Storm Sorceress, whose soul was stolen.
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