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 Post subject: Gifts [Story][Public]
PostPosted: Mon Aug 04, 2014 6:13 pm 
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Gifts
by Barinellos
Status: Public :diamond:


It begins with a breeze, blowing softly across the bay, carrying with it the smell of the sea and warmth of storms. It whispers across her cheek and caresses her palm, tugging gently upon the tiny seed resting in her hand. A stronger gust pulls it from its perch, lifting it to the skies and taking it far from here. Days later, it lands softly upon a hill, bare save the waving grass still rustling with the wind’s passage. There the seed will stay and grow over the years, a beautiful tree rising from atop the lonely zenith. Its serene vigil will draw the attention of dryads seeking to ease its forlorn solitude. They gather in numbers, sisters reveling under the shadow of the leaves, and stars will shine in its branches for the affection of the dryads. It becomes a sacred place for all the land bathed in magic. From atop this hill, the tree’s fruit will sprout golden from the dryad's love and one silent night a young man will take a single piece of that miracle.



In doing so, he will earn the ire of the dryads, and they shall pray to the gods for retribution. One of the capricious gods shall listen and send her magic to curse the man who simply wanted a piece of that magic. For his crime, he and his family shall die under the capricious spite of a god's magic.



Alessa closed her hand over the seed and the future she had watched withered to nothing, now never to be from that simple act. Lives spared and destinies unwoven for the want of a seed. She sighed and leaned her head back against the stone column, frowning despite the preordained breeze that stirred her hair. It wasn’t difficult for her to cast her sight so distantly, but it felt strange in her head. She released the mana drawn from the bay and the storm beyond, letting her vision drift back to normal. The future still echoed in her eyes, but it was her own and not that of some foreign possibility.



The rumble of thunder from the distant sea-bound storm roused her and she looked out over the twinkling fires of the city below and the lagoon further out. It was peaceful tonight, for now at least. The weather was warm, a summer’s night more calm than most even with the tempestuous herald of the storm growling in the distance. The darkened shadow of the colossus overlooking the waters stood its silent vigil, ready for the storm to break upon his visage and for a moment Alessa felt an odd kinship with the statue.



Far above, the stars danced in ways alien to any other world and her eyes were drawn to them. Theros was not her world, but she thought if she could find a home anywhere in the breadth of the Eternities, it might be here. The weather was fair most of the year and the fashion was much more relaxed than elsewhere she’d been. Everything was much more relaxed.



The party inside was proof of that. Most of the places Alessa had travelled through would frown on the decadence and indulgence of the celebration, but in the throes of the music and passions inside, there was no shame or judgment. They embraced their desires and wants instead of hiding from them. That’s what had drawn her here, to lose herself in the pounding drums and the pulse of the crowd, but somehow she’d felt more alone in the crowd than on her own.



For as much as she enjoyed Theros, there was one facet of its nature which she could not bear. It blew in tonight upon the zephyr winds of the bay. That storm brooded above the surf and it, in turn, had put her in a morose mood. Alessa normally loved the fierce abandon of a storm, but on Theros it bore more than mere rain or thunder. The tempest blew thick with omens, futures crackling across her mind like the lightning jumping the clouds. Some were thick threads in her sight, solid and substantial. Others were gossamer strands, thin and fragile as a spider’s web.



The storm’s interference had pushed her to seek the solitude of the night air instead of enjoying herself with her companion inside. The thought of him made her smile, albeit weakly. Dion was a satyr, a beautiful and primal man. Unlike most of his kin, he was clean shaven and had lovely eyes, though most of the time you could hardly see them through the mop of hair that hung in his face no matter how much he brushed it out of the way. He was young enough that he seemed around her age, but satyrs were known for living hard and fast, so he might very well be younger than her. She’d never thought to ask and he’d never brought it up. He just seemed to enjoy her company and that was all she could ask. She’d heard you could tell their age from their horns, but she had few examples to compare, so she let it go. It didn’t really matter anyways.



“Alessa? There you are… You never made it to the bathing pool.” Dion said, stepping from the door. His hooves clicked lightly on the stones as he came to sit next to her and she leaned against him. “Some of the others noticed you were missing. Normally we can hardly keep up with you, but you’ve been quiet this time. Is there anything bothering you?” he asked, sliding his arm around her as he did. He followed her gaze out over the city and the pair sat for a moment just watching the city.



“Something is always bothering me Dion.” She sighed distractedly, and he glanced over at her, uncertainty plain on his face. “You know why I like visiting you?”



“Besides the parties you mean?” there was a bit of levity in his voice, and he was obviously trying to cheer her up, but he frowned when it became apparent she wasn’t in the mood. “Alright, tell me why.” He lightly rubbed her shoulder and she laid her head on his, closing her eyes as she did.



“It’s because you don’t ask anything of me. You and I can just spend time together and you don’t want anything from me. You distract me and for a little I can forget everything and just feel.” She groaned, emotion thick in her voice.



“Hey…” He brushed her hair and pushed her away from him a little, meeting her gaze and giving her a lopsided smile. “If you ever want to talk, you just have to ask. I might not understand, because… well, you’re honestly a little weird, no judgment.” He chuckled, raising a hand to forestall her protests. “I’m here if you want to get anything off your chest. Hopefully that’ll include your tunic.” He smiled rakishly and she rolled her eyes, but a small smirk dammed the flood of emotions that had threatened to wash over her.



She pushed away from him and leaned against the column, staring at the stars all the while. They silently watched the constellations drift across the sky, clashing against each other far above. She briefly wondered if he realized how unusual that was, but knew what answer she’d get. This was normal for him.



But it wasn’t for her.



“I’ve seen stars that never move. I’ve seen suns that dance in the sky around each other. I’ve seen the shores of oceans you could never imagine, but mostly… all I see is the future. There are times I feel blinded by it.” She frowned and watched the stars’ silent egress. Neither of them spoke for a while as her confession sank in. Finally, he pushed the hair from his eyes and glanced at her to see if she was serious.



“Huh….” He shrugged and looked back to the sky. “You’re an oracle?”



“Yes. I have been since I was a little girl.” She looked over at him and silently fiddled with the pendant around her neck. “Honestly surprised that’s the question you chose to ask.”



“Like I said, you’re weird.” He reached out to punch her shoulder affectionately. “I honestly have no clue what you’re talking about. Out of everything you just said, that was the only thing I could make sense of.” He turned to face her and crossed his legs. “What’s it like? It seems like whatever is bothering you obviously must have something to do with that.”



“What’s it like? It… it isolates you. You can’t imagine what it’s like. I’ve lived with it my entire life, but there are times when I envy people that don’t have to deal with it.” She sighed and drew her legs up against her chest, resting her arms across her knees.



“This… this has been bothering you a while, hasn’t it?” Dion asked, concern evident in his voice. “When did it start?”



“When I was small, all I wanted to do was play. My parents worked most of the time, so that just left me with other kids. It was their parents that noticed first.” Alessa grimaced and picked up a stone, hefting it before throwing it down the steps where it clattered out into the dark. “I knew things before I should have, never seemed to get into accidents, other small things. It made people nervous.



“Adepts from the academy came to see us soon after that. My parents were thrilled. There was a lot of prestige in having someone from your family accepted to the academy, and in their own way… I think they thought it was what was best for me.” Alessa recited, her eyes gone distant, lost in the past. “They visited regularly, but I don’t think they understood what they’d done.”



“The academy had never had a natural before and they studied me more than they taught me. They kept me shielded from the world, sequestered away from everyone else, but they weren’t used to handling anyone as young as I was. The youngest initiates were still twice my age and so young Alessa had no friends.” She sighed and leaned back again, brushing her hair behind her ear. “I begged my parents to take me home, but they thought I was just homesick. They didn’t understand what it was like.”



“On top of that, the older I got, the more powerful my vision became. Things started to get confusing and it took more and more focus to try to sort it all. It was obvious that I needed better guidance and private lessons seemed to help very little. The maestros decided I should study with their youngest initiates, even though I was still a few years younger than them. They took me to group studies, usually under supervision, and I made some progress. They were hoping I’d bond with the other students, but that turned out to be a mistake. The others resented me, the preferential treatment, how young I was, how hard they had to work when it just happened to me… they hated me.” She said, her voice laced with bitterness. “When you’re that young, all you want is to be liked. I thought being alone was bad, but being shunned like that, it’s the worst pain you can imagine.”



She shook her head, pain etched across her features. Dion looked as though he was going to say something, but didn’t. He looked away and just nodded, encouraging her to go on.



“I did whatever I could to make friends. I played jokes. I acted out. I let the others take advantage of me. I made a fool out of myself more times than I can count, but it was better than being ignored. I think the maestros finally started to realize they hadn’t done me any favors by keeping me away from others, but I was just too important to them. They still kept me in my own rooms, but they stopped trying to control my life, let me do as I please. Ironically, I think they chose the worst possible time for it. If I thought my feelings before had been confusing, they were at least straightforward.”



“You… came of age around then I take it?” he surreptitiously offered.



Alessa’s eyebrows rose dramatically and she nodded. “Oh yes. That’s a delicate way of putting it,” she said. “Not like you to dance around the dirty details.” She chuckled, a mischievous smile coming to her lips. Even in the darkness, Alessa thought she could see his cheeks redden.



“I wasn’t trying to be coy,” he said with a cough. “Growing up changes you – for the better, I might add. But, at the time, I know it can cause difficulties.”



“Yeah, ‘difficult’ is putting it delicately too.” She snorted and shook her head. “Despite how inept the academy was in dealing with younger children, they had plenty of experience dealing with young adults. They told me what was happening, but it was all very clinical. It answered all my questions without helping one damn bit…” she rolled her eyes. “The worst of it came from the fact that I didn’t have any friends to talk about it with. Most of the initiatives weren’t willing to talk about regular things with me, let alone anything as awkward as this. Everything I learned came from rumors and gossip. It all added up to a pretty shoddy understanding. Of course, I’ve never been the type to let something lie when I don’t understand it. So I started experimenting here and there…



“Oh, I bet that was a fun time to be around you. Speaking of which…” As he spoke, one of his hands slid beneath the back of her tunic, where he ran his fingers lightly across the small of her back. It was a gesture which, under different circumstances, would have served as prelude to something more, but just then it merely drew a shameless smile.



“You’d lose that bet,” Alessa chuckled. “Trust me, I gamble enough to know those odds. I barely had any clue what I was doing. I kept at it though, since I was pretty sure that the maestros didn’t approve. It made me feel like I had some control over my own life. People suddenly wanted to know me too. I know they didn’t care, but… the intensity, the immediacy, the sensuality. It was hard to care so long as I didn’t feel alone. It made me feel too good.



“Of course, that stopped when they caught me sneaking into the boy’s dorms.” Alessa smiled ruefully and laughed a little. “I developed something of a reputation, but I didn’t care. It was getting harder to deal with being alone. So I started sneaking into the girl’s dorms too. It took them longer to figure that one out. They… really didn’t approve once they worked it out though. In fact, I think it was worse than before. They weren’t taking any chances by then. They moved me to the other side of the academy altogether, and started private lessons exclusively. I couldn’t stand it."



Dion’s hand stopped moving across her back, and his face fell. “You make it sound like they held you prisoner,” he said.



“Near enough to it. They isolated me from the rest of the world, cut me off from everyone. Most of the initiates didn’t even like me, but being alone again was worse than I can admit. After that, I stopped caring so much about what the maestros wanted. I was through playing their games, so I started playing some of my own. I started showing them just how little control they had. I’d break out and ransack their libraries, leave their vaults open and their relics exposed, anything to prove their control was an illusion.” A satisfied smile, and not a pleasant one, cracked her face. “The more I fought them, the more frantic they became. Eventually I think I pushed them too far and they stopped caring quite so much about my welfare. I think that, after all that, they were panicking. They realized they might have sculpted a tool they couldn’t use, and they decided to try to salvage whatever they could.” she fell silent after that. When she continued, her voice had changed slightly. It was a little colder, almost distant even, as though emerging from depths of her memory she rarely dredged.



“There was an experiment they’d thought of trying for years, but had obviously been too worried what effect it might have. The higher ranked adepts had a draught that could force them to enter a trance. It amplified everything they saw. It was the only way most of them ever saw anything to speak of. The maestros had never known would happen if I took it, but I was causing so many problems at that point that they were getting desperate for some way to justify the effort they had put into me. So they decided the risk was worth it, to get something for all the trouble.



“Several of the highest ranked seers gathered in the auditorium. They led me in and I should have known something was wrong then. They put me up on the stage and gave me something to drink, but I didn’t know what it would do. I had no idea what it was and by the time I did…” Alessa hesitated for a moment, not sure how to continue. Finally she just kept going.



“It was like seeing everything at once. The potion ripped away my control and suddenly I could see everything, endless variations of every twist in my sight. My mind couldn’t handle it, I was overwhelmed, a flood of sensation from hundreds of possibilities. I think I had a seizure at some point. They made sure I survived, but something inside broke. Some limit meant to protect me. The maestros were enthralled. I could see more clearly from then on, but I had to learn to do everything over again. It was harder, and I couldn’t sift what I saw, there was just so much more.” She huddled in on herself, not at all the brazen person that Dion knew. The rumble of thunder seemed to punctuate the change and the crash of waves, still soft from this far away, seemed as troubled as Alessa.



“There was no denying the effect it had. They decided they had to try a different tincture, a more carefully measured potion. They took more precautions, but they didn’t stop…” She shivered and squeezed her eyes shut. “They didn’t use it often, maybe a dozen times, but each time they came with something more pure and refined. I stopped fighting it. I stopped doing anything. I was too lost in the paths I could see, barely aware of the present.” Her voice was empty and she opened her eyes. Dion looked away though, afraid they might be as empty as words. “The last tincture they tried was the most powerful and they had no clue what would happen. They gave it to me just like the others. It didn’t take long to work, I felt a pulse that rippled across my mind and then I saw the end of the world.”



Dion jerked, wide eyed at her as she spoke. He swallowed hard as she stared hollowly into his eyes and a chill shook him. She was serious.



“There was fire, so powerful that I felt it in my bones. The ground split, came apart, and storms raged over the seas. There was no sky, only the clouds and ash and lightning. In that moment, I saw the death of my world and in the vision I felt a like I was being torn apart. I was pushed out of the world and into chaos itself, colors I can’t describe woven into an infinite geometry of amazing complexity. My sight ran, a thousand lines of possibility springing to realization in that moment, each as realized as the other. It was the rampant potential of the Eternities and it might have been the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.



“The future abruptly changed when I saw that. The sight of my ascension caused my spark to ignite and that moment when I stood on a dying world could no longer happen. It was a paradox. I ascended because I would ascend when the world died.” She sighed and shook her head, rubbing her neck like it was stiff. “It’s confusing, makes my head hurt to think about it too long.” A weak smile and the first spark of life came back to her face.



“When I woke, I was on Theros. I didn’t understand what had happened, but I never looked back.” Alessa brushed her short hair and stood up, stretching as the first patter of rain started to fall around them. “I’ve just sort of drifted the eternities since then. Picked up a few tricks, stole a few more, but mostly I just don’t worry about the past or future. I try my best to stay in the present, to feel and just do what I want. It’s just too hard to face my past and way too easy to get lost in the future.”



Alessa felt raw and vulnerable just having heard herself speak of what had happened. She let the taut cord of light drift from her mind, and the future faded into the haze of the myriad threads she saw when she opened her mind farther than the moments of her immediate future. She sat there and shivered despite how warm the Theran night was.



“Alessa? There you are… You never made it to the bathing pool.” Dion said, stepping from the door. His hooves clicked lightly on the stones as he came to sit next to her and she leaned against him. “Some of the others noticed you were missing. Normally we can hardly keep up with you, but you’ve been quiet this time. Is there anything bothering you?” he asked, sliding his arm around her as he did. He followed her gaze out over the city and the pair sat for a moment just watching the city.



“Nothing to speak of,” she answered, putting on a brittle smile that was enough to fool him. She stood up and let the future she’d glimpsed unwind, fading beyond memory like so many others. She couldn’t tell anyone, couldn’t open herself like that no matter how heavy a burden she walked with. “Let’s go back in. I think you said something about a bath?”



Dion gave her a bawdy smile and offered her his hand. She took it and laughed as he led her back inside, away from the impending storm. The laughter helped, helped her escape her thoughts and forced her to forget everything, even for just a bit.



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