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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Swooping to Landward

Editor's PickSwooping to Landward
by Thevina

Story Notes

Title: Swooping to Landward (from “Tristan and Iseult” by Matthew Arnold)

Pairing: Chithra/Lemuel (OCs)

Rating: adult/rooning

Word Count: 13,800

Warnings/Alerts: double penetration

Beta: Elfscribe. With this story in particular I’m indebted for her astute observations and recommendations. Thank you for your guidance so it became a more impassioned story.
Disclaimer: Were it not for Storm Constantine and her creation of the harish world, this wouldn’t exist and I’d be the poorer all around. I’m grateful to continue to play in the Wraeththu sandbox.

Summary: Opposites attract because they are not really opposites, but complementaries. (Sydney J. Harris) When a trio of Colurastes spend a few days in Orense, one particular Froia finds his life forever changed.

A/N: First and foremost, this is a gift for Rainwish, who was such an affirming anchor for me during this past spring and early summer when my life seemed to be imploding and/or exploding around me. I said I wanted to write something for her as a way of saying thanks, and she asked for a fic about the potential interaction between a Froia har (I began calling them Froian as plural) and a Colurastes. This is for you, my dear heart.

Lemuel, his hostling and father, and Cloudblaze are OCs who came to life in “Maelstrom and Mage, Desire Thine Darkling,” as did the location of Castlegar; they’re all in this story. If you’ve read that story, it will give this one a bit more depth, but it’s not necessary. This is set sometime in the Ai-cara 30s, I suppose.

I created several words in Froian vocabulary since it’s from a Froian’s POV. When Swift, Cal and Leef visit, mention is made to instruments and robes and the like, but without particular vocabulary. I’ll list them here so as not to be confused with Storm’s marvelous canon, though in fanon, especially Wraeththu, sometimes new characters and concepts do become part of the extended canon!

  • oulla= Froian traditional robes
  • barbol= a lute-like instrument (not included in canon, but I thought they’d go well with the flutes and drums)
  • surist= one of the musicians in the Braga’s court who plays for the theruna [and while we’re here, I created an additional theruna OC, and decided the plural is ‘therunans’]
  • nedbriar= outsider, non-Froian

Swooping to Landward

Rexines strummed and plucked at his barbol while I waited to hear a familiar tune. As the lilting, sinuous melody rose like incense smoke, I realized this was something new he’d been crafting. Given its sensuality, the modulations slithering one to another in a provocative series of quiet, daring combinations, I was certain that it would get transcribed and given to one of the surists. Still, it was just the two of us in this moment, both infected with the spirit of impromptu. I crooned a melody without words and let my body hold sway as I told a tale of aruna taken at dawn, a gold anklet given in affection. When Rexines brought the song to its close I ran my fingers through my hair, easing my hood back over my head and wiping at the beads of sweat that had formed at my temples.

“That was inspired,” Rexines said, taking a cloth to rub down the strings on his barbol.

“I could say the same,” I retorted, pouring us each a cup of sweet wine from a nearby jug. “Pity neither you nor I will ever actually get to perform anything like that.”

He looked over at me, one dark eyebrow raised. “And why do you say that?”

I fidgeted with one of my bracelets. “Because it’s too good. If you play it for Hephas, he’ll fall in love with it and only the therunans will get to dance to it. You know I’m right,” I said, strangely irritable given the joy I’d felt in our unchoreographed duet.

All at once the reed-door was pulled open and one of the young hara from the Braga’s court stood silhouetted in the mellow sun of mid-afternoon.

“There are some foreign hara near the southward docks,” he said excitedly. “The Braga sensed them three days ago, and he’d like for you two to go and bring them in. They seem to have much to trade, and are of a tribe he’s never seen before.”

I glanced at Rexines, trying to cover my disquiet. As Froia, we did have our share of hara from varying tribes — or hara without tribes — who wished for our assistance to navigate the swamps of our home. We’d not had visitors for a while, however, and my curiosity soon overcame my unease.

“Chithra, do you need to make any preparations?” Rexines asked me as he stood, putting his instrument in its handcrafted case.

“No. Well, I should get some water for the travel jug.”

The young har appeared to be satisfied with our response and he gave me a wide grin. “You’ll bring them directly to the court, of course,” he enthused. I didn’t doubt that the fact that it was an unknown tribe made him giddy with anticipation. Our people don’t interact with other Wraeththu all that often, so novelty of this type was exceedingly rare.

“Yes, we do know protocol well, Lunul.”

I noted the edge of irritation in Rexines’ voice, but the youthful court-har only made a gesture of thanks and closed the reed-door again. Rexines let out a sigh, adjusting his robes with the elegant fingers that could produce such evocative music from his instrument.

“You really don’t mind?” I said as I padded over to him.

“No,” he admitted, welcoming my lips to his with a low murmur of pleasure.

We shared breath for a short time, a token gift of flesh to accompany the gift of artistry. He was a not-infrequent rooning partner of mine, but neither of us felt drawn to become chesna. As we headed to the raft, I pondered that in silence.
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Fated Obsession

Monthly Challenge SubmissionFated Obsession
by Oshun

Story Notes

This is a story written from the POV of Seel that attempts to explore how he might have struggled to come to terms with his initial attraction to Swift. In Bewitchments Swift tells us his side of the story in poignant detail, but I was curious as what Seel endured during that same pre-Grissecon period. It is neither flagrantly AU nor austerely canon and is influenced by, but not necessarily entirely faithful to, Thevina’s interpretation of the relationship between Ashmael and Seel in her story “Interpret Me the Savage Whirr.” I want to thank Elfscribe for her sympathetic and encouraging Beta. Any remaining failings are my own.

Author’s Email: heartofoshun@aol.com

Web page: http://heartofoshun.livejournal.com/

Pairings: Ashmael/Seel, Cal/Swift, Chrysm/Swift, Seel/Swift (none explicit, all implied or foreshadowed)

Overall Rating: R

Word Count: 2,344

Spoilers: The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure

Disclaimer: The characters, plot and setting all belong to Storm Constantine.

Fated Obsession

Seel stepped out into the last bright rays of sunlight as Imbrilim slipped from late afternoon into early evening. Looking at the banners and flags wafting in the summer breeze and the undulating movement of the multihued sides of the tents and pavilions of the encampment, he wondered how all of this appeared to Swift the Varr. He tried to imagine himself as a newly incepted har viewing Imbrilim for the first time through the prism of his own childhood. To Seel, this entire scene, part military outpost, part fantastic carnival or bazaar, would have conjured up dreamlike settings from a tale of exotic Arabian nomads or perhaps a gathering of fair knights and heroic kings.

Swift, however, was nothing like him: a pureborn, most likely woefully lacking in education and with no comparable cultural references. He wondered what Swift’s home had been like. What depravity had he participated in or witnessed? When they had come upon him at the edge of the Forest of Gebaddon, filthy, grey with exhaustion, skinny, and filled with fear, he had responded with courage. Swift had stood up to the Gelaming force that confronted him, not as the snarling half-feral harling Seel had expected, but as an intelligent young har concerned more for the welfare of his companions than for himself. In spite of everything, an air of entitlement hung over Swift, poignantly mixed with wistful hopefulness and a desire to trust. The presence of such qualities would generally reflect that one’s upbringing had included loving care and attention. None of these observations matched what Seel thought he knew of Terzian or of the Varrs in general.

Seel could not guess what lay behind those wide-set dark eyes: innocence or corruption. One thing he did know was that they had nothing in common. Seel perpetually sought peace and enlightenment while Swift surely had been schooled in violence. Seel cultivated a near-ascetic self-control while the Varrish youngster fairly crackled with arunic precocity and unselfconscious sensuality, undoubtedly encouraged by Cal. They did have Cal in common, Seel thought, but that ought to drive a wedge between them rather than bring them closer. What could Thiede be thinking to put the two of them in this intolerable situation?

As Seel drew near to the pavilion dedicated to the use of the Hegemony, Ashmael sauntered forward to greet him, his handsome face opening in a genial smile only lightly tinged with humor.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t show up.”

Seel grunted noncommittally. Ashmael laughed and slapped him on the back. “Cheer up. It’s only a small gathering, an opportunity for everyhar to view our much-discussed visitor. I thought you would like to get a better look at him yourself: rested, fed, and all cleaned up. He actually is lovely.”

“I could see that well enough before.” Seel remembered Thiede telling him that Terzian’s heir was presentable. That had proved to be another of Thiede’s sardonic understatements.

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Choosing Sides

Choosing Sides
By Camile Sinensis (Teapot)

Story Notes

Editor\'s Pick A sequel, or follow-on, or something like that, to “Command Structure”. Or, rather, it was all orginally conceived as one story, but I knew if I wrote it out it would expand , rather like one of those sponges that are tiny when they’re dry, but swell up enormously when you put them in water. How right I was! (but I did it anyway)

Set in Imbrilim, shortly before Swift and friends arrive.

Characters: Velaxis and Ashmael. With guest appearances by Arahal, Thiede, Chrysm, some Varrs and a pair of handcuffs.

Spoilers: Minor ones for “Bewitchments”, if you squint hard enough.

Summary: A Varrish defector is brought to Imbrilim, causing Ashmael to reflect on the dual nature of Wraeththu, and which side is the stronger.

Author email: teapot@doramail.com

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

– 1 –

“In the words of humankind, Velaxis is merely a whore. It’s his choice… If you asked Ashmael for Velaxis’ company for a night and Ashmael said “yes,” Velaxis would have to agree, because that’s the role he’s taken on…”

– The Bewitchments of Love and Hate

For such an impermanent structure, Imbrilim had a very solid air of permanence about it. The tents and pavilions and canopies which made up the encampment were laid out in neat, ordered rows, their colourful silk walls forming the boundaries of streets and avenues; the avenues converging at crossroads, and giving way to open, public spaces where hara and humans would congregate.

The Gelaming were famous for their attention to detail and their planning skills, and no doubt considerable time, effort and expertise had gone into the construction of the camp to allow it to function as efficiently as it did, but to Ashmael, it felt as if the small town – which the settlement was rapidly becoming – had taken root of its own accord, and grown organically; as if this arrangement of private dwellings and communal areas had an inevitability about it.

It felt as if it had always been there, and in that respect it was very true to the Gelaming vision. The last remnants of human civilisation was still convulsing in its death throes, but already the new lords of the earth had smoothly taken possession of their inheritance. The transition had been almost obscenely brief.

They should have waited until the old world was cold and buried, at least, Ashmael thought, watching the bright pennants fluttering in the brisk morning breeze. But there had been no time for that. No time to look backward, only forwards, to the dazzling new future. Imbrilim itself was a symbol of that, its bright pavilions as clean and new-minted as the morning itself. All around the old towns and villages and settlements were being abandoned or destroyed. Chaos and disorder were spreading across the land, but here in the heart of Megalithica a small piece of the hopeful future had taken root. A light to push back the encroaching darkness. A refuge for all those seeking sanctuary from lawlessness and fear.

Also, a strategically useful outpost, militarily speaking.

Ashmael had little time for the social engineering aspects of Imbrilim’s development. He was a soldier; he was in charge of the Gelaming army, and he knew the problems facing the new Wraeththu civilization better than most. Humanity was a spent force – a more sinister adversary now threatened the Gelaming’s new world. Their own kind. The Varrs.

The Hegemony had hesitated to act against this threat. Some of them had argued that no Wraeththu tribe could sink to the level of human barbarity. Wraeththu were too spiritually advanced for that to happen. Ashmael was of the opinion that most of the Hegemony had led very sheltered lives, and that they had little or no experience of what Wraeththu were capable of. He had informed them of this in no uncertain terms and the ensuing debate had been vigorous. It had resulted in several small breakages in the Hegalion debating chamber, and the founding of the settlement of Imbrilim as a refugee camp and Gelaming Embassy. The military presence was low-key as yet. Many still hoped that a political solution could be found, but Ashmael did not delude himself.

Too much too soon. We are not so far removed from human kind and human nature.

He raised one hand and shielded his eyes from the brightness of the early morning sun. In the distance, beyond the woods to the north of the camp, a low pall of smoke made a dirty smear across the clear blue of the sky. The small town had been put to the torch three days previously, and a steady trickle of homeless and displaced hara had been arriving in Imbrilim ever since. The town’s leaders had refused to offer allegiance or assistance to the Varrs, and the community had paid the price.

Ashmael sighed and turned away. It would come to a fight, in the end. He knew it. The old human vices lived on; the desire for power, for status, and for control.

It will take more than an interesting addition between our legs to purge us of those, he thought glumly, kicking at an innocent rock in the middle of the otherwise smooth and level ground.

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Maelstrom and Mage, Desire Thine Darkling

Maelstrom and Mage, Desire Thine Darkling
by Thevina

Story Notes

Editor\'s PickAuthor’s Email: thevina33@gmail.com

Web page: http://www.thrihyrne.net

Pairings: Ashmael/Vaysh, Ashmael/OC

Overall Rating: NC-17

Word Count: 49,000

Spoilers: The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit

Summary: Genesis. Paradise. Illumination. Exodus. Before they went to Immanion, before Thiede manipulated their destiny, before death and despair, Ashmael and Vaysh knew and loved each other. This is one way their story may have been told.

Disclaimer: Ashmael, Vaysh, and the harish world all belong to Storm Constantine; I’m merely playing with great abandon in her sandbox.

Author’s Notes: I fell in love with the tragedy that is Vaysh/Ashmael; the desire to write a gap-filler from Ashmael’s POV up through the point of Vaysh’s death became overwhelming, and these are the fruits of that obsession.

Sequel: Down the Whispering Well

Maelstrom and Mage,Desire Thine Darkling

Vaysh burned.

I’d watched him ride into our collective, and steered away as any sane sentient being, whether human or har, should do around open flame. He would burn and scorch; he was seared into the very marrow of this mutant blood that flowed in my veins; from sight alone my cells were branded. Of course I briefly tried to keep my distance, knowing as instinctively as a plant turns to the sun, or a drowning man clings to anything to keep him from dying in watery depths, that to get close to him would cause an elemental transfiguration.

I was stone: solid, yet porous when necessary.

But you know what happens when rock is punished by relentless heat. Lava. Liquid, destructive, transient.

Could anyone ever look back at our lives and not marvel at our exploits, our so un-refined, un-controlled, Wraeththu-anathema love for each other?

* * * * *

My first thought when the small entourage came riding in was that some har, somewhere, had made a grave error in judgment. All of us, we Wraeththu, are this mutated amalgam of the sexes, two combined into one, yet presumably not both at once. Ever the enthusiastic pioneer, however, I’d vowed to myself to try and find out, which I did, successfully.

The hara who approached wore leather of rich chestnut, designed scored into them that resembled constellations. They looked heavenly, quite easy on the eyes, but also as haughty and distant as the stars, radiant and far off. We’d known they were coming, as the one who seemed to be their leader had sent out a thought-call. Our clan head, Monarch, had replied and warily bid them approach. Wraeththu hadn’t been in existence all that long then. We were still actively hunted down though of course we fought back with deadly vengeance.

Their horses were as well fashioned and groomed as their masters. I wondered if they had some kind of occult or spiritual connection to equines. Each tribe and splinter group I’d come across or heard about appeared to have taken on its own unique personality, passion, and/or perversion. I didn’t know, philosophically, what I thought of that, as it reeked of humanity to me. We all came from different backgrounds, though, had been incepted in myriad ways with tales of bliss and horror (or both), so I supposed it made sense that each small stronghold would have a very different culture shaped by their respective leaders.

A willowy har with long hair the colour of burnished sand dismounted, his presence commanding despite his fetching, sinuous body movement. Before I had become har, I’d of course been a human male, with raging hormones that had churned and bruised me though I’d not had an outlet aside from solo release. My fantasies hadn’t involved men, back when the decaying world still boasted of its male and female polarities. I’d had a love affair of sorts with the insatiable creature between my legs, dreaming of burying it in a silken heat of some secretive, foreign darkness. A flare of my former self, the insipid human part I’d hoped had been scoured away forever, raised its regressive head when confronted with Vaysh, as I soon learned this compelling har was named.

“He’s flaming.”

The ancient slur blindsided me, some dormant, pre-har wire in my brain tripped by the sight of him. Perhaps back in the past this Vaysh had favoured his own gender, and been flamboyant about it. It wasn’t for me to ferret out of him, or care. We were Wraeththu now, beyond such banal and reductive concepts of she and he. This har evoked more of the feminine in outward display, but I soon discovered he had balls of steel. Vaysh was a sword, clothed as a sylph.

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