In which Lóren and Draymûc traipse through the woods. Continue reading Freewrite #5
I believe this is the fourth freewrite I’ve featured? Anyway, back to our friends from Apollas.
Her hydromantic salve was warm against my skin. A very relaxing sort of heat … I stared up at her, towering above me, her features collected and proud in the flickering firelight shadows.
My mind went back to when I first met her, nearly a year ago now. Riz and I had been journeying together for a while then — I had met her in far western Kavaleth, not far from the marcher forts — bouncing from town to town, never really satisfied, never really finding our place in the world.
That day, we had made camp by a glittering little pool in the Forest of Ydds. Rizzeína had gone off trapping, and I was gathering firewood (she was a fair bit better at hunting than me; I preferred fishing). And then, as I dropped the wood by where we had set up a campfire ring, I glanced up and looked at the pond.
A lone female figure stood out in the middle of it, wearing the loose white tunic favored by casters. Her skin was pale, and her hair dark. Her fingertips flicked along the surface, and then as she raised her arms above her head in some yogic pose, the water followed: two mean-looking fins jutting out from either side of her.
She extended her arms straight out, and the fins followed the line of her arm. A couple of swinging motions sent the water far out across the mere, and then, as she slowly turned, she raised a hemisphere around her.
She kept practicing out there, in the middle of the pond. She was beautiful.
“Hello there!” I shouted. “You’re excellent!”
But my words didn’t have the intended effect. For a moment, she froze up, losing control over the water around her. Then, with a rapid wide-draw motion and a flick of her wrist, she drew up several spears of ice out of the tarn. “Who’s there? Who’s been spying on me?”
I strode forward, my hands splayed in a gesture of submission. “Easy, now. I was just gathering wood for my campsite when I saw you in the water.”
“Ha! And why should I believe you?”
I wasn’t in my battle gear, and she had the advantage of distance on me. If she loosed those icicle spears, I would die. I weighed my options. “Come spend the evening with us! My friend’s off looking for food. You look like you could use a little company, is all.”
Her cold sneer echoed off the tarn’s clear water. I didn’t know sneers could do that. “Really now.”
“Look, we’re just strangers in a strange land. And by the looks of it you’re like us — another stranger. We need to band together.” I paused for a moment, hoping the air would clear between us. It didn’t. “Oh, and by the way, my name’s Rolkler. What’s yours?”
“As if you need to know!”
It was at that moment that a fireball flew past my face and slammed into one of her spears, melting it. “You! In the water! That’s my friend you’re threatening!” A hand on my shoulder as she padded forward, lowering herself into a battle post. From Riz, that’s rare.
“Are you really going to be so cavalier towards another’s hospitality?” she continued, kicking up a flame with her foot and wrapping it around her opposite arm, holding it in an open yet fundamentally defensive posture, her intent clear in her body language. “I don’t know what you’re going through, but we oughtn’t fight like this.”
Another strangely audible sneer. “You say that, yet you’re standing there kicking up flames like nobody’s business. Are you threatened by me, little miss?”
“Hardly! I’m just defending myself. Now, we can stand here trading barbs all day or we can drop things and talk.”
“Or we can fight!” She flung an ice spear at Riz, who almost dreamily swung her arm out, the fire a natural extension, catching it and turning it to steam midair.
“I do not want to fight!”
“I do!” And then she flung all her spears at Riz, rapidly summoning up a half-dome and icing the edges as Riz swooped down and kicked a fireball from her foot to the bunch of incoming spears, and then with an open-palm gesture threw her inner fire into a heat shield. Out in the water, her opponent threw ice points at her, which simply evaporated in the shield, concave and invisible save for subtle lensing. Riz was too skilled to inadvertently cause a forest fire.
Meanwhile, out in the middle of the tarn, her opponent called up a hydrosphere and rolled it around her back into a pair of tentacles extending from her arms, swinging one up, freezing its tip into a wicked supercold knife, the warm late-afternoon spring air fogging around it as she swung it down onto Riz’s heat shield. For a moment, cracks appeared in the air as the shield became translucent — and then it shattered, and immediately behind it was her other water-arm, turned into a grabbing hand, but managing to catch … only air.
In the instant when her shield broke, Riz had cartwheeled back. Now, she threw two quick punches, fireballs flaring from her fists into the maw of her opponent’s grabbing hand, turning it into steam. She kicked up another fireball with her foot and held it in front of her fist in a ready position as her opponent’s left flank was suddenly left bare. “Are you ready to quit? Is that out of your system?”
And with that, she threw her arms out wide, summoning a great circle of water tentacles some three feet out, their chaotic up-and-down and left-and-right movements preventing any openings. Inside the circle, she brought up another attack dome and began firing ice missiles away. Riz lowered her fireball and with a long flattish motion drew it out into a fire wall, catching and steaming her opponent’s ice. Then she stepped towards the wall and punched it dead center, sending it out towards her opponent as, with a circular motion, she drew fire out from the air and sent it into the wall, augmenting it into a larger and larger construct as it crossed into the open water of the tarn.
With a gigantic whish sound, the firewall made contact with her octopus defense and vaporized it, and Riz was immediately there, kicking up three fireballs and punching them towards her waterborne opponent, who had to bring the half-dome down in front of herself and freeze it solid to avoid a direct hit, and even then it sublimated into steam as the third fireball hit it.
Riz then kicked some more fire up, and, running towards the tarn, shaped it into a cylinder. She pulled a spear off of it, and with a flick sent it hurtling towards her opponent, who caught it with a water tentacle, steaming everything. And a second and third and fourth spear — all blocked — as Riz engulfed her body with fire, burning her tunic away, steaming a path into the tarn itself as she hurtled into it, a heat shield projected in front of her flaming body. Even as the water filled in behind her, I could see its level had dropped ever so slightly.
Her opponent touched the pool’s clear surface, and from her touch webbed out ice — she was glaciating the entire tarn to catch her opponent! Riz’s heat shield began to sputter and fizzle, energy leaching out into the harsher and harsher cold surrounding it. Her opponent smiled, jumping on top of the ice, pulling out two blocks of it and pushing them towards Riz as her heat shield gave way against the mighty glacier.
Riz jumped. The ice blocks slammed into each other, their report thunderous. The hydromancer frowned, knowing she had just missed.
And then, out of the sun and drawing its fire down, circling the fire she had gathered around her and creating a lance of it as she landed hard enough to shatter the ice underfoot. Its point grazed her opponent’s chin … but then, so did hers: an ice spear she had conjured up at the very last second.
Adrenaline crackled in their eyes as they stood staring at each other, a dead heat. I stepped out onto the ice, pleasantly cool underfoot in the warm spring weather.
“Ladies, please, you are both exactly as good as each other,” I said, ducking under Riz’s lance and pushing them apart. “Now stop fighting.”
Between their exhaustion and the tone of command in my voice, they drew down — Riz’s fire dissipating, the hydromancer’s ice spear melting. The tarn itself melted, leaving just the ice we were on and a path back to shore. “All right, Rolkler,” she said, “I accede.”
I threw their arms around my shoulder and hauled them both back to shore, the ice path melting back into the tarn once it stopped supporting our weight. From there, we made our way to the fire pit, where they both just slumped out on the ground, dozing right off and leaving me to make the fire. I sighed and got my flint out, sparking it against my armplate, watching the blaze burn bright as it consumed its kindling and caught on the fuel before turning my attention to the pair of rabbits and squirrel that Riz had left on the prep stone before she’d hurried off to help me.
+ + +
It was much later at night, the animals nearly spit-roasted to perfection, when they finally began to stir. Riz woke first, and she looked at the hydromancer intently as her eyes began to open, holding out her hand and introducing herself.
“Well then,” the hydromancer said, “I suppose I have to introduce myself. I’m Vellis.”
I’ve been a busy beaver lately! This tale is set in an alternate history timeline, and I paid a fair bit of attention to the place names — I want them to sound right for Quashquan’s inhabitants. Continue reading Freewrite #3