Authors: Mercedes Lackey
Tags: #Science fiction, #Fantasy, #Epic, #General, #Science Fiction - General, #Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy fiction, #Valdemar (Imaginary place), #English Science Fiction And Fantasy
Book Three of the Mage Storms
by Mercedes Lackey
Dedicated to the memory of Elsie B. Wollheim
Karal lay as quietly as he could, keeping his breathing even to avoid jarring his head.. He kept his eyes closed against the light, hoping that the snow pack across his brow would eventually ease his throbbing headache. It was hard to think through the pain that stabbed from both temples and seemed to meet just above his nose. He was only vaguely aware of the rest of his body, muffled as it was in blankets, with hot stones packed all around to keep him from getting cold. The Shin'a'in who tended him seemed particularly concerned that he not take a chill from the clammy stone floor or the snow packs on his head. If this had been Valdemar, or even Karse, there would have been other recourses to ease the fiery lances stabbing through his temples—but unfortunately it wasn't. This half-melted ruin of an ancient tower held no such amenities as Healers or herbal pharmacopoeias, and he was going to have to make do with whatever their Shin'a'in allies could come up with, at least for the present. That meant willow tea and snow packs, and hope for the best.
I can always hope for the best. It could be worse
. How much worse, though—that was something he was not prepared to contemplate at the moment.
It was a headache of monumental proportions, which was only to be expected, considering that he had personally been the nexus-point for all of the energies of a weapon so powerful and unpredictable that not even the Great Mage who had ended the Mage Wars had dared to use it. It had required a magic-channel, a living channel. Either no one in Urtho's contingent of mages happened to be a Channel, or else the Mage of Silence hadn't wanted to risk the life of such a person in the use of this weapon—in either case, it had remained unused with a warning plaque advising against its use.
Or else he couldn't get any volunteers
. Not that Karal could blame anyone for not volunteering. His first experience at being a Channel had been singularly unpleasant, but the second had been of a different order of magnitude altogether. He honestly didn't remember too much of what had happened to him, once the weapon had been activated. Both the Hawkbrother Adept Firesong and the half-Shin'a'in An'desha had assured him that was all for the best, and he believed them.
When both An'desha and Firesong agree on something
... He had the shivery feeling that he really didn't want to know exactly what had happened. If he knew, he'd have to think about it, and that gave him a very queasy feeling.
It was much easier to lie in his bedroll and deal with pain than to think.
Occasionally the sounds of the others, moving about in their daily chores, made their way past the pain, oddly muffled or magnified by the strange acoustics of the place. An'desha and the Shin'a'in shaman Lo'isha were talking softly, their voices blending together into a meaningless murmur, as oddly soothing as wind in leaves or the whisper of water over rocks. Someone, probably the Kaled'a'in
Silverfox, was cleaning cooking utensils; soft metallic clinks punctuated the soft sounds of conversation. Nearer at hand, the Hawkbrother Firesong sang absently to himself; Firesong was probably mending something. Firesong always sang when he was mending something; he said it was to keep him from saying something he would regret. He didn't much care for mending, or for any other chores—the Tayledras Adept had been used, all his life, to being waited on. Having to fend for himself was an experience that Firesong was not enjoying. On the whole, Karal was of the opinion that he was bearing up well under these pressures and added responsibilities.
So much for the human members of the group. And as for the ones who were not human—well, Karal knew where Altra the Firecat was. The furry, vibrating blanket covering him from neck to knee was Altra, not some arcane Shin'a'in cover let. Somehow, unlike mortal cats which would inexplicably
their weight when lying on a human, the Firecat had decreased his, making himself no heavier than a thick woolen blanket. Only the steady radiating warmth and the deep, soothing purr betrayed his presence.
Somewhere beyond the chamber where Karal was lying, one of the horselike creatures known to the Valdemarans as a Companion, the one called Florian, listened attentively to An'desha and the shaman. If Karal opened his mind a little, he would "hear" the voices that were only a vague music to his real ears, but he would hear them through the senses of the Companion. The bonds between himself and the Companion and Firecat were stronger now than only weeks ago. He had only to think of them to sense the whisper of their thoughts, and he was aware of their presence in his mind as a constant warmth. Something had happened during the time he could not remember that bound the three of them even more firmly together. Anything they saw, heard, or felt, he could experience himself if he chose. He didn't know if the reverse was true, but he rather thought it wasn't.
was the one who'd been changed, not them.
That was another thing he didn't want to think too closely about. The Firecat was not entirely a mortal creature, and the Companion, while mortal enough, like the Firecat was a human reborn into a body of magical nature. So if something had happened that bound
—and so very tightly that he no longer had to work to reach their minds—
He shivered, and the cold he felt had nothing to do with the snow pack on his head.
Oh, no. I can't have changed that much. This is probably just temporary, something that will go away when I'm stronger
He redirected his thoughts and noticed that at least now he
That's an improvement anyway.
Now where was everyone else? He kept his eyes closed and listened carefully, trying to locate them all by sound alone rather than take a chance that opening his eyes would wake the pain again.
The remaining nonhumans, the two gryphons, were busy packing up their few belongings. They muttered to each other with little hisses and beak clicks, and their talons scraped against the leather of the saddlebags they had borrowed from the Shin'a'in for their journey north. They had decided that they had been away from their twin offspring long enough, and no one in the group was heartless enough to insist that they stay. The thrill of walking where the fabled Black Gryphon had once walked was probably beginning to pall in the face of being away from their beloved little ones for far too long. And with the Gates down, it would be a long trip back, even for creatures that flew.
And it could very well be that coming as close as we all did to getting seriously hurt, Treyvan and Hydona have decided that they don't want to leave their little ones as orphans. Who could blame them for that?
Yes, he was definitely able to think more coherently now.
Coherently enough to notice my neck muscles are in knots. Hardly a surprise
. Karal sighed a little, and relaxed tense shoulders into the embrace of his sheepskin-covered pack, which was now serving him as a pillow.
It's a good thing that I have clothing in there instead of books
. The snow pack
working after all; if he noticed that his shoulders hurt, that meant the headache wasn't overwhelming everything else.
Grand, so now I get to enjoy how much the rest of me hurts!
But as the pain behind his eyes eased, so, too, did the tension in his muscles, which were probably contributing to the pain of the headache in the first place. So annoying how all these things managed to feed back on each other!
Well, I'd be a poor Sun-priest if I couldn't make myself relax, now wouldn't I?
Such relaxation techniques were part of every novice's training. You couldn't pray if you weren't relaxed; how could you keep your mind on the glory of Vkandis if you were being nagged by a cramp? He patiently persuaded his rebellious body to behave itself, getting muscles unknotted that he hadn't even known were tight. As he did so, the ache in his head ebbed further, thus proving his guess that part of the headache was due to muscle tension.
That's better. That's much better
. If his head would just let him be, he might actually begin to enjoy this invalid state, at least a little. For once he felt completely justified in lying abed and letting others take care of him; the depleted state of his entire body had convinced him that he had actually
And after all, it wasn't every day he had a Tayledras Healing Adept waiting on his every wish. How many people could boast of that? He couldn't even sigh without having Firesong ask him if he needed anything, a rather odd turn of events given that Firesong was the one used to being waited on.
He wasn't at all certain what prompted Firesong's attentiveness—there were others who would certainly have played nursemaid if the Adept hadn't insisted on taking the duty—but the Hawkbrother did make a very good and considerate nurse.
I certainly wouldn't have expected that from him. It just doesn't seem like him at all.
Well, maybe it wasn't much like the Firesong
knew, but such a thought was as shallow as the flippant surface that was all the Hawkbrother would ever reveal to him, given a choice. He immediately chided himself for
That was unworthy as well as unkind. There is far more to Firesong than I will ever see. We are all trying to cope with extreme situations, and if that is the way he chooses to cope, he has a right to it.
Just at the moment, even when his head wasn't splitting, Karal was in no shape to do anything other than wonder and enjoy the attention. He could hardly move his hand without tiring himself, and simply getting to his feet to go to the privy area left him so exhausted, he could only lie in his bedroll and doze for marks afterward. That worried him; unless he regained his strength soon, he would not be able to travel. If he couldn't travel, he wouldn't be able to leave with the others when they returned to Valdemar. The impatient gryphon parents were not going to wait for the others, but the humans could not wait much longer either. If they didn't leave now, they might be caught and trapped here by winter storms.
On the other hand... it might already be too late. The Gate that brought us here is down, and if I were a mage, I wouldn't chance reopening it. We might be stuck here until spring. Even under the best of conditions it's going to take an awfully long time to walk back.
So long, in fact, that returning home might be the very worst thing that they could do at this point. The solution to the problem of the mage-storms he had depleted himself to provide was, once again, a temporary solution only. This might be the very best place for them to work on a permanent answer. They certainly had resources here at their disposal that they wouldn't find anywhere else.
For one thing, the ancient weapon that they had used to cancel the Storm-waves had been only one of several available to them, and it hadn't been anyone's first choice, only the one they understood the best. Perhaps one of the others would provide a better chance. The Kaled'a'in had promised to provide a historian, a specialist in their own languages and the ancient writing they alone had preserved out of the Cataclysm. Perhaps when he arrived, he would be able to provide better translations than the gryphons.