Sunday, 21 July 2013

Avan Weatherstrong, The Storm and the Owl of Wisdom

When the time of the Vanishing swallowed the whole of the Terra Draconis the castle at Turbae had, built into its base upon the eastern side, a whole section of foundations that showed clear signs that they had been rebuilt from underneath, in a hurry. The beginning of this story details how it was that such rapid and essential repair work had become necessary.

It had all started when the ward of the travelling prince Avan Weatherstrong, a girl known only as Anna, or, more often, Hell Child, stole a cart and attempted to drive it at some speed across the limits of the Kingdom to evade the justice of the guard. The ins and outs of that particular situation were subsequently lost in a nest of contradictory data and half-remembered anecdotes, none of which settle down until the point at which Prince Weatherstrong was cast into the dungeons beneath the castle for fraternising with a suspected Hell Beast.

News of the prince's impending execution spread rapidly. Many were of the opinion that Lord Turbae had been rash in his summary judgement over the visiting prince. There were some who were concerned about Prince Weatherstrong's abilities as a worker of powerful magic, still more were concerned about the possibility of inciting a diplomatic incident.

As it turns out nobody needed to worry on either score because the night before the execution the aforementioned Hell Beast engineered a jail break as lacking in subtlety as it was efficacious. Not long past midnight bell the night before the execution the sound of a mighty explosion rocked the castle on its foundations. A potion of elemental destruction had disintegrated a large portion of the foundations on the eastern side of the castle whilst leaving everything not made of stone entirely unharmed.

The prince emerged, choking on the remaining clouds of dust, to find Anna sitting upon a broom that she had flown in on to pick up the prince. The account of the incident that resides in the main archive at Sommerslip does not include dialogue. To find the actual words that passed between the Prince and his ward at the point directly following the explosion one would have to travel deep into the dark and perilous stacks in one of the archive's sub-basements. In the region where the leatherbound scrolls scratch themselves into a dense and dangerous existence you could read, if you were brave or foolish enough:

"What is going on?" asked Prince Weatherstrong, his ears still ringing from the sound of the explosion.

"I'm not having any stinky lord execute you because of me," Anabyl replied. "Besides, rescuing you meant I got to play with your alchemy book. I think I did quite well."

"I thought I told you to leave my alchemical journal alone," Avan thundered, his temper getting lost easily in the drifting cloud of powdered rock that surrounded them.

"As I have explained," Anabyl replied calmly, "you are my travelling companion, you don't tell me what to do, if you fight me you will lose."

"In all of my travels..." Avan began, but his tirade was swiftly cut off by the sound of keys opening the jail cell door behind him.

"So, are you going to stay here and get decapitated?" Anabyl asked. "Or are you going to take your seat on this broom I made using the notes in your Druidic Journal?"

"I told you..." Avan began but it was no use. He did not relish the idea of killing Turbae guards, his name in these regions was already black enough. At the same time he did not want to be executed.

When he had presented himself before Lord Turbae asking for the mercy of his court, only to have that mercy declined, he had been angry and afraid. Maybe not angry and afraid enough to cause severe structural damage to Lord Turbae's castle in retaliation but this appeared to be the consequence of defying Princess Anabyl.

"We are going to have a very serious conversation about this," Avan assured Anabyl as he took his seat upon the broom. Anabyl coaxed their wooden steed into life, soaring up into the air, putting some distance between them and the scene of chaos below, speeding towards the edge of Turbae, away from immediate, painful and drastic retribution.

"Boring," Anabyl replied as the broom sped through the dark night sky. "Why don't we just put this behind us and try to have some fun?"

"Anabyl," Avan said, he used her real name now that they were flying through the night sky, well out of earshot of anyone who might record the girl's real name and enter inconvenient paradoxes into any subsequent record. "This can't continue."

"What can't?" Anabyl said. "Me rescuing you? Don't worry, it's fun. You get into trouble you can count on me to get you out."

"You've nearly destroyed that castle!" Avan objected.

"They nearly decapitated you," Anabyl pointed out.

"Because you stole a cart, set fire to a village and turned a flock of chickens into..." Avan found himself out of concrete descriptions. "Well, a herd of some kind of carnivorous lizard. It was only purest chance that no one got hurt."

"I didn't think that you would actually turn yourself in over it. Didn't you get my note?" Anabyl asked crossly.

"The one advising me to run for the border because you believed Lord Turbae to have shifty eyes?" Avan asked.

"He likes to throw his weight about that one. I know the type," Anabyl said darkly. "If we didn't have to leave I have something I'd love to put in his bed, that would teach him."

"Anabyl!" Avan shouted. "This is no way to live your life. One day all of this... this... chaos it will catch up with you."

"Catch up with me?" Anabyl asked. "I thought you'd have noticed, it's all about me, right now. I live in it. Oh and in case I didn't mention it earlier: boring."

"You can't evade the consequences forever," Avan said. "It's a basic principle of the Wheel. The longer it takes to turn the worse it will be for you in the end."

"It's a wheel, right?" Anabyl said. "I guess I will just have to find the brake."

"The... brake?" Avan echoed, his voice faint. "Anabyl, I don't want to have to fight you."

"Why?" Anabyl said. "Are you a bad loser?"

"You're going to make me, aren't you?" Avan asked. "You're going to force me to fight a little girl."

"I'm not forcing you to do anything, the same way you're not forcing me to do anything, even if you try."

"Very well," Avan replied. "If the one thing I can accomplish in the universe is to give you purpose and discipline then I imagine that mine will be a life well-lived."

"We can put that on your gravestone if you like," Anabyl said merrily. She turned around to flash him a grin.

Avan Weatherstrong did not smile back at his small companion. His face grave and serious he muttered a single word under his breath. The name of an elemental, a gift given in return for a service once rendered.

"What was that?" Anabyl said. "I didn't quite catch- oh."

The princess stopped talking, noting that the sky around them had gone from clear and cold to cloudy and charged with brooding electricity.

"You might want to land the broom," Avan said.

"What did you do?" Anabyl demanded.

"Something that means you should land the broom," Avan replied.

Avan's face lit up for a fraction of a second all pale white skin and deep shadow. Following the light came a dangerous rumble that appeared to shake the very air surrounding the broom.

"Alright," Anabyl grumbled. "There was no need to be such a grump about it."

By the time the broom had reached the ground the storm clouds had started to loose a downpour that was more like a deluge. Anabyl and Avan ran for cover in a cave that Avan had spotted from the air.

"So you can make it rain?" Anabyl said, looking out from under the sheltering rocks, wet and a little miserable.

"One way or another all things are possible," Avan replied. He muttered a minor cantrip he had devised for occasions when there was no wood to make a fire. A ball of heated white-orange plasma formed in the palm of his hand and then floated downwards towards the floor. About six inches away from the dusty rock at the mouth of the cave the ball stopped moving. Heat filtered up and out from the ball, filling the cave mouth.

"Fire too," Anabyl said. "You're a much better at magic than daddy's alchemist, and his warlock."

"I have a repertoire suitable for travel," Avan said. "I'm sure that your father's magicians have their own specialisms."

"One snores so loud the entire castle can hear him and the other is so deaf that many swear supernatural intervention," Anabyl shrugged. "Aside from that I couldn't tell you."

The pair sat either side of the plasma ball and looked out at the rain.

"This storm is awful," Anabyl said. "Can't you make it stop? I've landed now."

Avan shook his head.

"I had the power to call down a storm quickly," he said. "I have no power to make one stop."

"That's a bit rubbish," Anabyl said. "Why would you do something you can't undo?"

"Why do you?" Avan asked.

Anabyl shot Avan a peevish look and said nothing.

The prince and princess sat for a long time, staring out of the cave mouth. They sat so long that it began to appear as if dawn should be breaking. The whole sky was so filled with dark clouds that no light was allowed through.

Out of the dark woods west of the cave there came the flutter of wings. A shape darker than the dark clouds, as shadowed as the tree trunks but in motion. became visible. Eventually an owl came into view, its flecked brown feathers picked out in the light of the plasma ball.

The owl swooped in towards the cave and landed at the cave mouth. It stepped back and forth a few times dripping onto the stone at the cave entrance. Then it swivelled its head to look at Anabyl, after a moment seeming to dismiss her and turning his attention to Avan.

"You did this?" the owl asked.

"I'm sorry if the storm has inconvenienced you, I can only apologise," Avan said.

"I was soaring in the sky, following my thread," the owl said. "Then the clouds came down, and the pattern changed."

"The pattern?" Avan said. "Do you mean the Weave?"

"What other pattern could an owl of wisdom see?" the owl asked. "You changed the pattern, I don't think you intended to."

"I certainly didn't," Avan said. "A storm should not have the power to alter fate."

"And you complain that I break things," Anabyl said. "I've never broken destiny."

The owl spun its head again, studying Anabyl once more.

"No, indeed you don't," the owl said. "You are tightly woven, this is exactly where you are supposed to be."

Anabyl instantly looked uncomfortable. Avan had come to know his ward well enough to understand that if the princess found out that she was anywhere near where she was supposed to be she would want to be somewhere else as soon as possible.

"Strange for you to say," Avan said. "For my companion is a very long way from home, lost, trying to find a way to return."

"Well, I can't tell you anything about that," the owl said. "All I can see is that her road leads from here to the Academy at Dracopolis, after that I cannot see further."

"The Academy?" Avan asked. "That is where they train Dragon Warriors."

"What's a Dragon Warrior?" Anabyl asked in a tone of voice that said she was guessing what it was and hoped she wasn't wrong.

"Dragon Warriors are the elite armies of the Dragon Empire," Avan answered. "Some are draco, some folk, there are even goblins, sprites and trolls among their ranks. They have a fearsome reputation. It was the first Dragon Warriors that turned the tide of the Great Conflict in the opening verses of the Dragon Song."

"Indeed," the owl of wisdom chipped in, "Some say that the banishment of the Dragon Lord Decaroleth to his castle of eternal slumber was the completion point of the Weave's first pattern. Since that time the Dragon Warriors have pledged vigilance in the face of all evil for the growth and prosperity of the Terra Draconis."

"Well," Anabyl muttered. "They obviously didn't do a very good job."

"Anabyl!" Avan said. "We have talked about you keeping your knowledge of the shape of the Weave that we do not know to yourself."

"Besides," the owl said. "You are wrong about that. The Dragon Warriors play a vital role in some of the Weave's most intricate patterns. No great catastrophe or turn of the Wheel can dilute or fragment them, they are the most tenacious fighters in the entire land of Faerie."

"Well that doesn't sound so rubbish then," Anabyl said.

"Not rubbish at all," Avan agreed. "The Dragon Warriors, as I understand it, have martial powers allied to both the Weave and the Wheel. According to this owl we are supposed to travel to their Academy at Dracopolis. You have some business there, something destined to be."

"You mean I'm going to be a Dragon Warrior?" Anabyl asked. "Is that why fate brought me here?"

"I can't answer that," Avan said, he looked down at the owl.

"All I know," the owl said. "Is that your path leads to the Academy. My path leads the other way. Oh look, the rain is stopping."

As Avan and Anabyl had conversed with the owl of wisdom some grey light had started to filter through the clouds and the rains were abating.

"I must be on my way," the owl said. "And so must you."

The owl flapped its wings and made its way up into the cold morning air. As the moment of dawn ended the night Avan's plasma ball faded and died with a small pop.

"I'm going to be a Dragon Warrior," Anabyl said, a grin plastered across her face.

"The ranks of the Dragon Warriors are known for their unwavering discipline," Avan said. "That might be something of a stumbling block to your ambitions."

Anabyl stuck her tongue out at Avan: "You're just a grump," she said. "We'll see who becomes a Dragon Warrior and who doesn't."

Indeed they did, but that is a story for another time.

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