Thursday, July 12, 2018

Aftermath, Part I

Random bit of fiction I wanted to get down while it was fresh in my head.

Aya lay on the bed and shivered, listening to the voices outside and feeling thoroughly ill. Her left arm was a pulsing mass of pain, ending in the bizarre silver thornbush that had taken her hand and seemed to be trying to grow down her arm. She wasn't entirely sure where she was, only that she was far from home and hurting almost too badly to think.

"You have to turn her over to us," said a voice, deep and rough.

"I have to do no such thing," said another voice, softer. "And if you push past me, like as not you'll set the weapon off again."

There was a long silence, and Aya fell into a dreamless, not-quite-sleep again.

She came back to consciousness knowing that someone else was in the room, and that she was trying to offer a cup of water. Ava reached for it, remembered her hand was gone, and tried to reach with her other arm. It was slower, weaker, but she grasped the cup and lifted it to her lips.

"There," said the woman in the gray robe. "The soldiers have gone. For the moment, you're safe."

The thing that had taken her hand seemed to think so, too. It had retracted back into a solid block, with only three stray branches and a couple of spikes extended. Useless, even for grasping a cup. Useless for anything Aya might want to use it for.

"I'm called Shimmer," said the woman. "I'm told that you are Aya. And this," she gestured towards the silver extrusion at the end of Aya's arm, "is one of the Great Weapons."

"I don't see what's so great about it," said Aya. "It can't even hold a cup."

Shimmer nodded. "In that," she said, "You're right. It's only powerful, merely lethal. But you found it, and it chose you, and as far as I know there is no getting rid of it."

"...And no getting my hand back." The pain was still there, but it was slowly receding. As it did, Aya found that she could think more clearly. "You're that ascetic," she said. "The one who comes through twice a year, talking to people and checking their health."

"Just so," said Shimmer. "I belong to a nameless monastic order, and you strike me as someone who might find it useful to be nameless for awhile."

Aya looked away. "I want to go back to my family," she said.

Shimmer nodded. "I won't try to stop you." She gestured towards the weapon. "As I said, you're safe here, for now. But would you be safe there? Would your family?"

Aya didn't answer, but she squeezed her eyes shut. The Great Weapons were legendary. Their presence had turned battles, driven back horrors from beyond the passages, changed the destinies of nations and peoples. But she'd grown up on a farm; she couldn't do any of that. She needed her hand to help with the planting and the harvesting, with gathering eggs and milking cows, with stroking the dogs and bathing her siblings. Only...

She pictured old man Sowre, standing in the market and watching to see how each interaction, each bit of gossip, could be turned to benefit his shop and his family. She remembered Bisko, during her brief time at the school, talking about Jarib Niss, whose parents had come here to escape the Empire, and how he and his family didn't belong in their town. She remembered her own father, grumbling about how that lazy old thief master Wyrdlees always charged twice as much for the tools in his shop as it cost the blacksmith to make them, but agitated against the business of anyone who went to another town to buy their tools cheaper. Her father would never ask her to threaten the shopkeeper, of course, but he wouldn't mind mentioning his daughter's Great Weapon and making the man sweat over a discount, either. And that wouldn't be good for her, and that wouldn't be good for her father.

Those aren't the sort of people we're supposed to be, Aya thought. "...And if I go with you?" she asked reluctantly.

"There is a place," said Shimmer. "It's merest chance I know about it, for all that it's run by my order. You'll be safe there, beyond the reach of anyone who wants to use you, and in the company of some others who might understand your struggles, at least it part."

"What would you want to use me for?" asked Aya, still half-angry from the pain, and desperately suspicious as well. "Or your order?"

But Shimmer shook her head calmly. "It isn't a prison, or a recruiting center," she said. "It's a school. And its purpose isn't to exploit people with the sort of power you now carry; it's to rein them in, to teach them consideration and control. My... the ones in charge of this, they are trying to make a world where if someone like you uses something like your Great Weapon, they do so with as much understanding of the consequences, and as much concern for the common good, as we can give them." Shimmer looked away. "Too many disasters have grown from people with too little responsibility being given too much power."

Aya didn't want that to be her. Still... "Alsom Trent used to throw dirt clods at me between classes," she said. "Are you sure I can't put a fist-sized burn on his rear?"

Shimmer tilted her head, regarded Aya with wary amusement for a long a moment. "You can," she said. "As I said, I cannot stop you and I won't try. But I am absolutely sure that you shouldn't."

Aya sighed, handed the cup back, and settled back on the bed. "Fine. I'll visit your school. I can't promise I'll stay, but I'll look at it."

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