Friday, May 19, 2023

Dark Armor: Nightfall and Smoke

The small retiring hall served a variety of purposes; padded chairs and small tables were placed beside the walls, and a love seat was positioned near the fireplace at the back. Amedin was already there, tracing a line of ash across the floor as he described a particular design. "Stand there," he directed absently. "Not the central circle, but the wave-edged triangle beside it. Disturb nothing."

Pallian didn't bother to nod, and crossed the half-finished design carefully to stand in his appointed place. He waited patiently, shifting his weight in small movements to keep his joints and muscles from growing tired and his mind from wandering.

The half-dead finished the design, nodded decisively, and rose smoothly to his withered feet. He turned to Pallian, and said: "I'll need your blood." 

Pallian nodded, drew his dagger, and made a small slice along his fingertip. He squeezed the finger as Amedan extended one desiccated hand, fingers cupped, and let the blood fall. 

"Good," said the half-dead. "Now spit." He nodded towards the same hand, so Pallian spat into the half-dead's palm. He shifted his own grip to apply pressure to his wounded finger, and felt the faint itching that suggested the cut was closing already. 

"Yes, that should serve..." The half-dead priest turned away, stepping out of the design and crossing to one of the small tables, where a small bag sat with its mouth open. He reached inside, pulling out three small censers of delicately-hammered bronze, and spilled a bit of the mixed blood and spittle into each of them. Returning to the design, he placed them carefully, then lit them with a muttered word and a snap of his fingers. Wisps of incense-smoke began to curl upward immediately, wandering towards the obsidian ceiling. 

Pallian watched as the half-dead crossed to his bag again, and returned with nothing more complicated than a handful of dried leaves. He placed those in the central circle, then paused, watching as the narrow streams of incense rose and began to gather into a faint cloud. After a moment, he stepped forward again, dipping a hand into the small pouch of ash he carried. He touched his fingertip to Pallian's forehead, and Pallian once again held himself still against the urge to flinch away. Four quick movements sketched some particular design, and then the half-dead stepped back, taking himself out of the design on the floor. 

He spoke the same word and snapped his fingers, and the leaves caught fire as well, pouring a great cloud of smoke towards the ceiling. "When I tell you," said Amedin, "Speak these words." Safely outside of the place of the initiation, he spoke. 

For a moment, Pallian's mind refused to process. Then he recognized the language, and caught the meaning: 

Smoke borne at the speed of wind
Smoke become one with me
I become the smoke
Smoke carry me

The last of the leaves crumbled into ash, and Amedin nodded. 

Pallian spoke the words. 

For a moment, impossibly, the smoke slowed in its currents of movement. Standing there, just beside the center, Pallian could feel the moment when something came to invest it. Then he inhaled, and the smoke rushed into him. 

It should have choked his lungs, so much smoke at once, but instead it continued on, spreading out through his limbs, filling him and settling into place. For a moment, he could see how to direct it, and he did so immediately. He needed to lock that knowledge into place before it faded. 

For a heartbeat, the world turned a hazy gray and the sound of rushing wind filled his ears. Then he was standing behind Amedin, faint swirls of smoke dissipating around him. His clothing was still in place; better still, his weapons were as well. 

He tried it again, taking himself back to the place beside the three bronze censers, where everything  -- all the smoke, and even the ash that had formed the design on the floor -- was gone. He stopped there, trembling and suddenly weak. That was all the initiation was good for just yet: two short jumps, and it would have been better and safer to stop himself at one. Still, even newly implanted and as far as possible from its eventual strength, it would serve. 

"Success," said Amedin, sounding deeply satisfied. 

"Success," Pallian acknowledged, forcing himself to breathe slowly and hide his sudden exhaustion. His other initiations were already working to restore him, and he now had his first initiation that was more than a simple physical enhancement. For a brief moment, he allowed himself to be pleased. "Will I see you at the greeting?" 

Amedin shook his head. "The Wizard-King wishes me to attend to the security of the libraries. If you wish further counsel, we can meet later."

Pallian did not, under any circumstances, wish for the half-dead's counsel; but it was important, on several levels, to be seen to seek it. So he nodded and said, "I will set aside time for that when I can."

"Until then," said Amedin, and turned to gather his bag. 

Pallian took that as his cue to depart. He would be expected in the throne room before too much longer, and he did not intend to be anything other than punctual.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!