Over The Hills And A Great Way Off

Title: Over The Hills And A Great Way Off
Author: Camile_Sinensis
Author’s email: teapot@doramail.com
Website: http://red-shellac.livejournal.com/
Characters: Starring Caeru, Cal, Pellaz, and a noisy and intrusive Original Character. Supporting roles by Tharmifex, Ashmael, Velaxis and other members of the Hegemony, plus An Innkeeper of Kyme and Various Other Hara Of That Town.
Spoilers: The story takes place just after the end of “Shades”, so the gentle reader is assumed to have a working knowledge of all the shit that has gone down up until then.

Over The Hills And A Great Way Off

“I lost somebody once, I know how it is…” – Caeru Meveny, “The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit”

Chapter 1

“I assure you, Tiahaar, the package is on board. I myself saw to its loading, and I have been keeping a close eye on it throughout the journey. A very close eye indeed! It will be found any minute now, I’m sure. There is absolutely no need to worry.”

The Captain forced a weak smile, which was obviously intended to reassure Ashmael, but which had precisely the opposite effect. A long and interesting career in both the Gelaming army and as a member of the Hegemony had led Ashmael to the conviction that any announcement regarding the lack of need for worry was an indication that worry was almost certainly exactly what was called for.

Ashmael gave a dissatisfied grunt, which the Captain took as permission to leave, and he hurried back to his ship, the Despina, which was currently moored at the harbour edge, tight ropes wrapped around stanchions holding her firm against the stone sides, while her white sails were neatly furled and stowed in the masts above. Her crew were currently swarming over and beneath the decks, like so many busy ants, searching for the missing cargo. The Captain shouted some choice insults at them as he approached, with the presumed intention of motivating them to increase their efforts, although Ashmael found himself wondering exactly how casting aspersions upon the dimensions of a har’s male aspect would spur him on to greater things.

The Captain and his crew were, of course, not Gelaming. No Gelaming would resort to such base and unproductive methods. If the Despina and her crew were Gelaming, their best efforts would be assured by their own desire to elevate their personal spirituality and work for the common good of the city of Immanion and the entire Gelaming tribe. It was a wonder, Ashmael occasionally thought, that any of these object examples of selfless virtue ever stooped to anything so coarse as actually being paid.

He realised that there was nothing for it but to wait until the ship’s crew located what he had come for. The ship was a good-sized vessel, but not so large that searching it would take forever. He sighed heavily and sat down upon a capstan, pushing his hair out of his eyes and squinting at the ship, as if staring at it would speed up the process.

It was a beautiful morning, although beautiful mornings were entirely commonplace in Immanion, so this one did not announce itself as being in any way outstanding, rather it stood modestly in line with all its predecessors and contributed to the general air of loveliness in and around the city in a manner that was somehow self-effacing yet inviting of open-mouthed admiration. It was a very Gelaming morning.

The only unusual thing about the morning was its short-lived duration. It had not been morning for any great length of time and the air still carried the coolness bequeathed to it by the recently-departed night, although that would change as the sun rose higher over the hills surrounding the city to the landward side. The city itself had not yet fully awoken from its slumber; shops and stalls and businesses still awaited their proprietors and customers; sleepy hara were still rising from their beds, or not, depending upon temperament and an unusual peace lay over the harbour, normally a busy, bustling area during the daytime, full of comings and goings and noise and activity.
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The Garden

Challenge WinnerThe Garden
by Camile Sinensis (Teapot)

Title: The Garden
Author: by Camile Sinensis (Teapot) (teapot@doramail.com)

Characters: Astarth and the Kanenes of Fallsend

Spoilers: Cal’s profession before he got to be Tigron (oh noes!)

Disclaimers: Disclaim! Disclaim! Fanfic for external use only. Do not boil or overheat. Dispose of carefully.

Summary: What, I’ve been typing my little fingers off all day trying to get it finished on time, and you want a summary too? Er… Fallsend… kanenes… Astarth… stuff happens… rocks fall, everybody dies. (I lied about the last bit)

The Garden

One day Jafit simply disappeared and was never seen or heard of again. Astarth assumed he was dead, and none of the other residents of Piristil saw fit to disagree with him, for there were many ways a har could perish in Fallsend — a knife between the ribs in a crowded tavern, a wire pulled tight around the throat in a dark alleyway, a deadly substance slipped into a drink, an unexpected nudge from behind in a high place, a length of lead pipe to the head, a pillow over the face, a twist of the neck, a gunshot, a spell, a curse — and for each of these methods and more there was undoubtedly a har in Fallsend who would have been more than pleased to employ it on Jafit. Or perhaps the Gelaming finally caught up with him.

Even those hara who did not consider themselves to be his enemy did not count themselves his friend. Astarth lit no candles and performed no mourning rituals for Jafit, he simply moved into his former employer’s office and reflected upon his own good luck in inheriting the position as overseer of Piristil.

For a certain interpretation of luck. Nohar in Fallsend could consider himself to have been smiled upon by the Dehara of Fortune, or he would not have been in Fallsend in the first place, and yet Astarth knew that unpleasant as his existence was, it was still a step up from the wretchedness of the kanenes who earned their living within Piristil’s walls. If they resented his sudden and unexpected promotion, they said nothing. For them, it was simply business as usual.

After he had sold Jafit’s personal possessions and used most of the money to placate various disgruntled creditors, Astarth found that he had a small surplus, and he decided to use this windfall to buy something to decorate his own room at Piristil. The house was furnished in what was supposed to be a style evocative of luxury and hedonism, although due to the general standard of living prevalent in Fallsend, and the less-than-lucrative nature of the business run from within, this attempt at opulence left something to be desired. The carpets were worn, the curtains faded, and the silken tassels adorning cushions and pelmets had long since lost their lustrous sheen and vibrant colours.

Astarth himself eschewed these gaudy touches; his own room was a haven of austerity and simplicity, with a simple linen bedspread, once white but now yellowed from age, a straight-backed chair and a dressing-table with the few grooming implements he owned arranged neatly on one side. It was not attractive, welcoming or seductive. It did not need to be. Astarth was not required to bring anyhar here for intimacies, either paid or otherwise, and he did not.

Nevertheless, as befitted his new position of owner of Piristil, he decided to add something in the way of a personal touch to his space. There was a shop in Fallsend which sold second-hand bric-a-brac; ornaments and objects d’art, tall candlesticks and silver-framed mirrors; coloured glass perfume bottles with faceted stoppers reflecting the light, and banded crystals with healing properties. At the very back of the shop there was a painting. Not a crude work, as was commonly found in these parts, but something which spoke of an artist with some skill and affinity for his subject. It depicted a white palace on a hill, whose soft, water-colour spires seemed to merge with the hazy, cloudless sky. Up close, it was an abstract smudge of pigments — whites and greys and ochres and blues. It was only when viewed from a distance that the outline of the palace appeared and took shape.

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Exposure

Thevina Editor's Pick
Exposure
by Teapot (Camille_Sinensis)

Story Notes

Author’s email:  teapot@doramail.com

Summary:  Ashmael goes to Arahal for some lessons in self-examination, but learns more about Arahal, and the origins of Wraeththu, than he expects.

Characters: Arahal and Ashmael

Spoilers:  Nothing serious.  References to Ashmael’s history as revealed in “Enchantments”, and also draws heavily upon the short story “Paragenesis”.

Exposure

i Arahal

“I, too, killed someone once.”

Ashmael searched in vain for some nuance, some inflection of emotion, to tell him if Arahal was proud or ashamed of his admission. That he could find none did not surprise him – Arahal was a har who spurned the excesses of emotional incontinence; aloof and ascetic, he embodied the very essence of Gelaming philosophy.

To hear him announce that he was a murderer was almost like discovering that that world really was flat, after all, or that water flowed uphill, or the Tigrina was a modest, self-effacing individual who enjoyed a purely casual and offhand relationship with his looking-glass.

“It was a very many years ago.” Arahal picked up a long, ivory candle and set it in an ornate holder upon the altar. He encircled it with both his hands, not touching it, but seeming rather to caress it from a distance. A pulse of rainbow-coloured light arced across the space between his curled fingers, and a flame blossomed on the candle’s wick.

“Things were different. In the beginning.”

Ashmael stared into the heart of the flame, the pale blue centre where the light was in the process of being born before it rose to become the yellow corona above. The flame undulated in response to some small current of the air, moving in a way that suggested life. Ashmael knew it was simply an artifact; the complexity of numbers could explain it. Sometimes things were simpler than they appeared to be.

“It must have been difficult,” he said, not taking his eyes from the flame, “in the beginning.”

In the small halo of brightness, he could almost see the burning cities. The paroxysms of fear and destruction attending the collapse of human civilization. The violence and terror. A new type of creature arising from the ashes of the old, beautiful and deadly. Born in the heart of the flames. Wraeththu.

“No,” Arahal lit another candle by more conventional means, touching its unlit wick to the already burning one. “It wasn’t. At least, not until much later. In the beginning – in the very beginning, there was still order and civilization. There were still things of beauty.”

Ashmael wondered to himself how many were left who remembered those days. Very few, and fewer still who would speak of them. There was one har who would know and remember everything, but Thiede was a closed book, and even Ashmael’s legendary and reckless courage did not extend to demanding answers of The Aghama.

He was suddenly curious about Arahal. Curious to know why a har of his abilities so often seemed content play a supporting role. Not for him the glamour of Immanion, or a position on the Hegemony, although Ashmael knew he would have been a better choice than some of those currently serving on that august body.

“Tell me about it,” he demanded. “Tell me what it was like.”

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All That Is Left Of Us Is Love

Thevina Editor's Pick

All That Is Left Of Us Is Love
by Camile Sinensis

Story Notes

Title:  All That Is Left Of Us Is Love
Author:  Camile_Sinensis
Author’s email:  teapot@doramail.com
Website:  http://red-shellac.livejournal.com, http://www.mudsharks.org/stuff.htm

Author Notes:

Characters:  Seel, Swift, Thiede, Cobweb, Pellaz.   Terez, Raven, Caeru and Darquiel. Spear-carrier-har No 2 (they also serve who only bring plot devices from Immanion!).  And Cal.  Even though he’s not actually in it…

Spoilers:  Some for Shades and Ghosts.  And the story assumes that the reader is familiar with the… er… more interesting aspects of Seel’s career, as detailed in Wraiths.

Disclaimer:  All characters belong to Storm Constantine, and she writes ‘em so much better too, dammit!

This story was was written for the Forever Wraeththu Fanfic Challenge.  When Wendy posted the theme, my black little fanficcing heart rejoiced!  Seel and Swift’s Big Sparkly Romantic Interlude At Imbrilim has always been one of my favourite bits in Bewitchments.  It is a well-thumbed chapter in what is undoubtedly a well-thumbed book.  I have read it and re-read it many times, delicately dabbing the corner of my eye with a tiny handkerchief each time, and being positively drenched in Warm And Fuzzy Feelings. (At least, I assume that’s what it is…)

And yet…  -wavy lines, indicative of the passing of time – much later,  it occurred to me that there was something very wrong with the whole scenario.  That it was not at all the sparkly, sugar-coated True Love of which girlish (harish?) dreams are made. And that instead of being a lovely tale of love and romance, there was actually a great black gaping hole at the centre of it, waiting to swallow the protagonists whole.

Which is actually a lot more interesting than sparkly romances, when you come to think about it!

All That Is Left Of Us Is Love

Once, it must have had another name, but now the house was Forever.  Cobweb had named it so, through some arcane and mysterious circumstance that Seel had never quite understood, and if he could not find it within himself to give Cobweb credit for anything else, he could at least acknowledge that Swift’s monstrous hostling had bestowed a fitting title upon the mouldering pile.  The house had an air of stubborn permanence; its roots and foundations had burrowed deep into the ground, and it clung there tenaciously.  It had outlived its human masters, and Seel was in no doubt that it would outlast him too.

He was not, in any case the house’s master.  Neither had Terzian – dead these thirty years and more – been able truthfully to claim that position, although Seel was quite sure that the late Varrish leader’s pride and egotistical nature would never have conceded such a possibility. Nor even his son, currently encumbent as head of the Parasiel tribe. The house obeyed one har only.  Forever belonged to Cobweb.

The house reminded Seel of a particular horse that he had once had the misfortune to encounter.  A beautiful, thoroughbred creature, a long time ago, in a place called Saltrock.  The horse had been bred in captivity, but some strange throwback or quirk of nature had given it a wild temperament.  Whenever anyhar approached the creature, its eyes would roll and flash wickedly and it would lash out with hooves and snaking neck and unexpected teeth.

Only one har could approach the horse.  The har’s name had been Colt – a fitting name, chosen to invoke the horse-nature of his soul – and when he came close to  the stallion, the wildness and the fear in its eyes would vanish, and its restless  movement become still. Colt could ride the horse.  It permitted him to mount upon its back and would gallop for miles, tireless under the hot sun.  Any other har who attempted this would either find himself with bruised and bleeding shins for his pains, or lying face down in the dry, salt-crusted dirt, having been summarily ejected from the horse’s back.

Seel knew that this house did not want him any more than the horse had.  The horse would be dead now, its bones lying bleached by the sun somewhere, but Forever endured.  Sometimes, when he was sleeping, he dreamed of riding away from Galhea, on the back of a tireless horse, on and on, towards a horizon that would never come any closer, his long braids flying freely behind him, but then he would wake and it would be early morning, just after dawn, and the house would be still and quiet, filled with a cathedral hush as its occupants slept on.  Seel would listen for the clock in the hall to strike the hour – which it always did, unless Cobweb forgot to wind it up, which he never did – but he could not rise from his bed.  The house did not want him.  It wanted to be alone, in these private, early hours.  Only after the clock had struck again, and the house-hara begun to stir, and the sun had risen over the roof of the gatehouse at the lower end of the grounds would the house grudgingly allow him to occupy its inner space.

Seel knew that Cobweb could walk the corridors of Forever at whatever time of day or night he chose, and the house would tolerate his presence; more than that, it would cocoon him and protect him, like a hostling caring for a harling. In fact, Seel harboured suspicions that Cobweb prowled the house nightly, casting runes and protective spells to ward off evil spirits and repel malign influences – such as himself.

Swift had laughed at this notion, calling it fanciful, but then Swift always sided with Cobweb.  No – that was not quite true – Swift attempted to be impartial, and sometimes even succeeded, but it was difficult for him, caught between two warring factions.  Cobweb and Seel ground together like heavy millstones.  Sometimes Swift could be the chaff and grist that would keep them separate.  Sometimes the weight of it all simply crushed him.

Seel heard the clock in the hall strike.   He turned over carefully, closing his eyes and patiently hoping for sleep.  Beside him, he could feel the warmth and solidity of his consort’s body.

At least you don’t snore, he thought.   Cal had snored.  Especially when he was drunk. Which was often.

He knew he wouldn’t sleep again now.  The very though of Cal was enough to set his teeth grinding and his blood pressure rising.  There was no har in the entire Earthly realm that he despised more than Cal.  Cal, his erstwhile lover, murderer, seducer, iconoclast, usurper, and, currently, Tigron of Immanion.

You don’t deserve that, he thought, bitterly.   You deserve to be locked in a dungeon, or a tower, and tormented by the very demons of Hell for the rest of your unnaturally long life.  You deserve to be strung up by your guts, humiliated, destroyed, abandoned and crushed.  You deserve to have the one thing you want most in life taken from you.  You deserve all of these things, and more, and I… I sold my soul to God or the Devil, or whatever he is or was, in order to inflict some of these things on you.  To let you know how it felt.  I sold my soul, and I got my reward.   I lost my soul, and you gained Immanion.   You won, Cal.  You always do.

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In A Dark Place

Thevina Editor's PickIn A Dark Place
By Camile Sinensis (Teapot)

Story Notes

Characters: Cal, Velaxis.

Spoilers: At least Fulfilments.

Author’s email: teapot@doramail.com

Website: http://red-shellac.livejournal.com, http://www.mudsharks.org/stuff/

In A Dark Place

In the heat, he finds it impossible to sleep.

Inside the cabin it is claustrophobically dark. There is a window – a porthole, to be accurate – but no light enters though it. Outside the full moon is hidden behind cloud.

He swings his legs carefully over the edge of the narrow bunk, hearing it creak with his movement, and sits on the edge. He is naked, but the still, dead air within the cabin does not cool his skin. He can feel the slight but ever-present motion of the ship traveling through the wooden structure, like the vessel’s own heartbeat, up through his feet, his groin, his abdomen, his chest, his head, making him feel slightly giddy and off-balance.

He would open the window if he could, but it doesn’t open. A practical measure designed to keep the ship from being swamped by a high wave if some careless passenger were to leave it open, but tonight, on this calm ocean, on this airless night, it seems pointless and vindictive.

You’re an idiot, Cal, he tells himself, and his self does not disagree. You didn’t have to be here in the first place.

Since he has nothing better to do, and he feels he deserves it, he decides to torture himself by dwelling on the fact that it was his own insistence which has put him in this situation. There is no need for either him or his traveling companion to be making this journey by boat. They are both capable of travelling via more exotic means, either with or without the help of a sedu.

You thought it would be fun. An adventure. Excitement. You’re a fool. He takes a calculated delight in rubbing his own nose in his stupidity, enjoying the process of humiliating himself. And you’re a masochist too, he concludes savagely, but his inner humiliated Cal does not reply. He sighs. He knows himself too well these days.

He wipes a hand down his own throat and chest, There is a thin trickle of rank perspiration running down his breastbone, and he smears it over his skin, feeling a moment of coolness before the stifling heat returns. He could do with a drink, but in the dark he cannot see where the flask of water is.

“Some light would be useful,” he mutters up at the dark circle of the porthole, and as if on cue, the clouds part and the full moon makes its triumphant appearance. The cabin is filled with a cold, silver light. Cal grins slowly. Even the universe loves him.

He reaches over to grab the flask of water, which he sees tucked down between the two bunks. He gulps down about half the contents, and pours some of the remainder over his head, feeling it soak gloriously into his short, sleep-messy hair.

Belatedly, he wonders if he should offer some to his companion, and he looks across at the other bunk, but its occupant is sleeping soundly.

Of course, thinks Cal sourly. A Gelaming is never bothered by trivial things like heat or cold or physical discomfort. They are above all that. Smug bastards.

Cal looks at the har lying on the bed. He is naked also. Plainly he is not completely impervious to the cabin conditions. He is lying on his back, with his hands folded lightly over his stomach, long silken hair draped fluidly around his body. Cal can see no movement to indicate breathing. He could be dead, for all the signs of life he is exhibiting. He reminds Cal of one of those marble effigies atop the coffin of someone who had been important in life. An unexpected memory surfaces – a graveyard at night; himself and another har; the fierce passion of aruna, the smell of the damp earth, the stone slab under him, and the marble angel looking impassively down at them, all blind, carved eyes and petrified wings. Aeons ago. He cannot even remember the har’s name, but that is true of most of his couplings.

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