Main Entry: cru·ci·ble
Etymology: Middle English corusible, from Medieval Latin crucibulum earthen pot for melting metals
Date: 15th century
1. A vessel made of a refractory substance such as graphite or porcelain, used for melting and calcining (drive off volatile matter or to effect changes) materials at high temperatures. 2. A severe test, as of patience or belief; a trial; A state of pain or anguish that tests one's resiliency and character: ordeal, trial, tribulation, visitation.
(Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 2000)
Ian wandered the woods, listened to the wind blow through the trees and feeling the surrounding wildlife. His old teachers from The Foundation would have considered it a waste of their telepathic abilities. He used it now to keep track of his 'visitors'. If either were psychic, then they might be able to sense a direct scanning of their minds.
So far he had met only hostile metas, but one never knew. Besides if they were hostile, better they know nothing about him. If not, it would do no harm to watch them this way.
Since the death of Martek and the routing of other Warlords from this area by The Rebels, Ian had allowed word to get out and he was getting petitioners every now a then. It had started with a hunter, James Rigden, who had tried his hand at hunting in his wood. According to some books he had studied, had been Buescher State Park. Ian had discovered the man hurt after a fall down a bluff. In return for the healing, James had agreed to provide information to the wizard about the outside world and anything of interest. The side effect of this was that stories began about 'The Wizard of the Wood'. A side effect that Ian had counted on. If he was going to be able to help people, word needed to get out that he could. James had unknowingly become his first public relations agent.
People had come petitioning The Wizard Argent. Although he wasn't sure he liked the title of 'Wizard', but he guessed that it was all right for this shadow…um...world. He would never be as good in sorcery as some of his cousins; especially Keiran or heaven forbid Auntie Fionna (bless her little stone of a heart), but here he would be a wizard.
Most of the petitions were for legitimate problems; Restoring the maimed or sick, granting vitality to crops or herds and locating those who had vanished. He only had one frivolous request. One pompous old Oil Baron wanted an army. Nothing much, just an army. Ian didn't even have an army himself, but for a wizard of his caliber, conjuring an army should be no feat. Ian had seen to the old man's...education, and now he was a member of the tower's staff, working off a debt of ignorance.
He was dressed today in his gray poet shirt and black leather breeches and soft gray boots. He wore the silver amulet with a phoenix on it as well as silver signet ring with a rose on it. Not terribly "wizardly", but it was what he felt most comfortable in.
Ian felt a familiar touch in his mind, which signified the petitioner, had arrived. He moved as silent as a cat through the forest and arrived at the location to see a woman in her middle thirties looking around. A large black wolf regarded her with disinterest and held a goodly portion of her attention.
The wolf, whose name roughly translated as 'Chases-the-Wind', touched his mind again letting him know that all was well. "The female is nervous and frightened, but is safe. She carries a heavy need." Ian nodded; he could feel that coming off of her as well. He sent back a mental query "What about the other that had come with this female?" The she-wolf replied "He is...dangerous. He has a darkness burning inside him." Chases could not explain this any further. Mentally he sighed. They were vastly smarter than any of their own kind, but even communicating mind to mind there were still language barriers especially when they tried to convey instinctual things.
He would have tried to fathom Chases message further, but the woman started to radiate an even greater level of discomfort. Ian decided to make his presence known. He moved silently as he approached, leaned against a tree behind her and cleared his throat. The woman jumped and squealed with a start probably believing him to have materialized there.
He kept his face bland and studied her as a scientist would a bug under a microscope. The woman perhaps had been pretty at one time, but her red hair was already showing streaks of gray. The work-shirt and jeans that she wore had been mended a number of times with great care and she appeared to have tried to keep as clean as one could living off the land. Ian scanned her surface thoughts. This woman was afraid, for herself and especially her son. They were from 'Rebel Lands' or as they referred to themselves as, the SUSA. Most likely they were decent people. Though like most from that area, she carried a pistol, but he had little concern about conventional firearms.
During this process Ian walked around her and seemed to study her intently. When he had completed his circuit he stood with crossed arms watching her. Finally he spoke. "What is your name?"
She swallowed several times before she spoke "Delilah, Delilah Cole...sir." She seemed uncertain as to what title to use.
"You may call me Argent. Why have you come petitioning me?"
She was eager to divest herself of this information, as it came out in a rush. "It's my son, Marcus. He would have been here, but we were stopped by a couple of wolves. We didn't attack them or anything but they wouldn't let him pass. I guess they can tell about him. Anyway he needs your help, he needs to be cured, or healed, or whatever it is you do." Her string of words ended as she realized that she wasn't sure to say next. Ian gestured for her to sit with him on a large boulder.
"What is so bad about you son that needs healing and requires my warders to protect me from him?"
The woman sat down, looked around as if to see if anyone was watching and whispered "He's a Meta!"
Ian didn't move, staring at her as if trying to fathom her statement. The woman began to practically give off a fog of discomfort. Though it wasn't part of his nature to be this cold, if he coddled everyone that came to him, soon everyone would expect him to solve his or her problems. Delilah spoke in a whisper. "The powers of Metas are evil." She swallowed the emotion in her throat. "I have raised my boy to be a good God-fearing man, but this thing is going to take him over." She promptly broke into tears.
His features softened and he sent Chases-the-Wind away with a thought and thanks. "Delilah, is the gun you carry evil?"
The question shocked her out of most of her crying. She sniffed and wiped at her face. He reached into his belt pouch while conjuring and produced a clean white hankie for her. She gratefully took it, dabbed at her face and looked down at the pistol she had on her hip. "Of course not. Guns are not evil, only what can be done with them is."
Meeting her gaze Ian said plainly "The power of almost any Meta is the same." Delilah opened her mouth to speak, but he interrupted her with a gesture. "Meta powers can be very powerful, but they are no different than the gun. Will is required to use both. If someone is angry at their neighbors they can pick up a gun and kill him to resolve any conflict, but the gun is a conscious choice. Yes, I know that things can happen in the heat of the moment, but it is still basically the same. With a Meta it is only different because their abilities are internal and can't be seen. There is nothing inherently evil about them, only how they are used."
"But can't you just do something to take his power away?" she asked.
Ian sighed. “That might prove more difficult than it sounds. His power is a part of him now, mentally, if not physically. Changes have taken place within him and his powers may have physical manifestations inside of him; new internal organs and such.”
“This presents a wide variety of problem. There is physical intrusion into the body to remove various glands and organs, but the brain may continue to try and access these parts of the body, causing stress to the subject. The organs may even grow back. There is the possibility of sealing off those parts of his mind but if there is trauma of some sort it could break through the blocks. The safest way to try and keep him from accessing his power would be to remove the pieces of his mind that allow him to access that power. This would most likely cause any organs to go dormant as well, but you know what this would mean? I will have to cut into the mind of your son, just as if I were performing surgery."
Delilah nodded but not really seeming to understand. "Just like conventional surgery during Mental Surgery I will be causing a limited amount of damage to the surrounding sections of your son's mind. Memories are the sum totals of who we are. In this process, pieces of who your son is may be cut away. The human mind cannot be mapped in the same way the human body is. Memories and thoughts interconnect in ways that seem to defy logic. Removing or even sealing off memories may damage interconnecting memories; so pieces of his past, his experiences his likes and dislikes, facets of those things which make him who he is today may vanish."
The woman wore a dazed expression trying to grasp was he was trying to explain to her
"Then there may be side effects. With sections of his mind gone, it will have to resettle itself. His personality may shift or change. He may go through various mood swing until he settles on a slightly new personality."
"What do you mean, new personality. You said you would only keep him from accessing his powers, not mangling his mind." She said.
"Delilah, if I performed this, I would try my utmost to keep this from happening, but the mind is not something that is the same for everyone. If you take two people with similar back ground and upbringing and put them in a greatly stressful situation. One of them may pass through it just fine, while the other one breaks down. There is nothing that can be pinned down as to why this happens. It can be the same with altering someone's mind and until I run tests I won't know how deep the control over his meta abilities runs. It might require very little conscious or unconscious control. Then again it may require a lot. The more control it takes, the more that will need to be removed." He spread his hands wide and left it at that.
Her expression began to change as she began to grasp the ramifications of what she had proposed. The young man that she knew as her son might come back exactly as she left him, slightly changed or with a drastically changed mind. She hesitated and then finally spoke. "What other option is there?"
Ian smiled, breathed a sigh of relief inwardly and took her hand. "I can open the way to help him ease into his gift. I can help reinforce his desires to be the man he wanted to be before this happened. Guiding him away from the wanton destructiveness. Most of all listen to what he wants."
The anxiety that Delilah was radiating began to fall away. Ian stood and began to walk back the way she had come. With a thought he sent a message to Chases-the-Wind and the other Warders of what was happening. Turning back to Delilah who was just beginning to rise. "Let's go get your son. Along the way we can discuss the what your price for the petition will be."
She turned and looked questioningly at him.
“Do not fret. It will all be in your son’s best interest…”
Marcus sat on a fallen tree waiting. His mother has insisted on him looking good for this meeting. He had worn his best, which meant his least worn, cleanest work clothes and boots. His red hair was tied back under his cowboy hat.
The Wizard Argent arrived. He had come back with his mother, looked at the wolf that had been 'standing guard', dismissing it and just said, "follow me".
Marcus followed the dark headed man through the woods. The youth wasn't quite sure what he had imagined that Argent would look like, but he sure it was this. First the wizard looked a lot younger that one might have though. He also looked like something out of one of the pictures in a medieval book that he had once seen, but there were no robes, staves or wands. What was there was a presence. A feeling of power he couldn’t quite explain.
The trek through the woods was fairly quiet. Well Argent was quite for the most part. The creatures in the woods ‘chattered away’ in the distance but the man was silent. Except that every so often the wizard would warn him away from stepping on some plant or herb. Marcus had the distinct feeling that he was being judged.
Stopping at a stream Argent stopped. Marcus was glad, because the wizard had set a pretty quick pace. "Is the stream good. Can we drink from it?"
Argent raised an eyebrow and looked at the youth. Marcus mentally chastised himself; of course the water would be good. Since his coming the woods seemed to gain vitality that it had lost. The wildlife had returned and not sickly creatures. He had seen deer that, if he had brought it back to the community, would have brought him some notoriety.
Argent reached out and a water canteen materialized in his outstretched hand. "Here fill this. You may want to drink some more before we get to our destination."
The youth filled the canteen as the wizard watched. "Have you every killed anyone before?"
Marcus was taken aback by the sudden question. "Well, yes." These were desperate times and if he didn’t defend his family, no one else was going to.
The wizard watched him with an intensity that made him uncomfortable. "Do you remember them? The people you killed."
He thought to himself. “If you mean, have I killed and forgotten them; no I have not. I don’t regret it because I had a choice of stopping them or having them kill my family.”
Argent’s face was unreadable. He seemed to ponder something. Marcus began to get nervous, things moved in the woods out of the corners of his eyes.
Suddenly the wizard seemed to come to a conclusion and without a word took off again.
Not wanting to be left behind Marcus quickly followed.
He did notice a couple of things as they continued. The first was that Argent didn't seem to make any noise walking through the woods. The second was that he didn't have any twigs, stickers, leaves or anything sticking to him. It was as if the woods respected the guy and protected him. This both impressed and frightened him slightly.
The trek continued for most of the afternoon, until he came to a hill in the forest that was bare of trees. They began to walk up the hill, as they came closer to the top of it and the air shimmered like summer heat, then a structure began to take shape. It was a tower of stone, like one he had seen in an old book. It was of fitted gray rocks with windows of glass. The top was turreted and the whole thing make him feel like he had walked backward in time.
During the trek, he discovered that the shapes in the forest were the wolves that had been following them. He could feel their gaze on him and it made him nervous, as if they were waiting for him to make some sort of mistake. Breaking the silence he said "Argent, why are the wolves continuing to follow us?"
The wizard turned around; "They are my warders. They have chosen to guard the forest and my person."
Marcus thought a moment. "Why? That wouldn't be their natural instinct."
Argent smiled and raised an eyebrow in apparent amusement. "I made them an offer and gifted those who accepted. For their service they have gained physical prowess, increased intellect as well as the ability to communicate by will."
The young man stared at a black wolf with a white stripe down his right side. He was Lightning-in-the-Dark, who was Alpha Male to Chases-the-Wind's Alpha Female. "You mean they are telepathic?"
"Something like that. Don't worry about them 'reading your mind'. Most of the things in your head would be of very little interest to them. Besides they don't trust you."
The door to the tower opened at Argent’s approach. Marcus asked. "Why should they not trust me if they can read my mind. I haven't done anything wrong."
Turning back to the Argent said "It's not what you have done it's what you might do. They don't trust you because you have the power to hurt me." The wizard entered the tower once more leaving Marcus with the wolves who seemed to be drawing towards the tower. He quickly stepped inside and closed the door.
Marcus had gone to his room and Ian pondered the boy. For one so young, he had a quick mind as well as a goodly amount of courage. He seemed to fear his budding Meta powers, but that was probably due to his upbringing.
The boy wasn’t afraid to do what it took to protect others. That was good. This would be a good base to work from. His loyalty to others would be another great asset. Ian had been scanning his surface thoughts and a little below that for most of the walk. Marcus seemed to be a stable personality with a good head on his shoulders.
Ian just hoped this ‘piece of steel’ would be able to survive the forge of his awakening. If so it would go a long way in continuing his recovery program.
Storm clouds blew across the sky. The dome of rock on which they stood was enormous, like a granite ball half-embedded in the earth. Marcus looked around. His father had visited here as a boy and talked about this place, Enchanted Rock. People used to rock climb up its face. The Native Americans believed the place to be magical. Ian had teleported them to its top from his tower. He stood surveying the stunning view of the countryside and took the transportation across Texas in stride. In comparison with the last two weeks it seemed almost normal.
After arriving in the tower he was given a room and a tour of most of the structure. It was more fantastic than anything he could have imaged; rooms dedicated to books and art, an enormous kitchen, beautiful chapel and an indoor garden with more flowers and plants than he had every dreamed existed. Then began the testing. Most of which consisted of sitting in a 'meditation chamber' across from Ian, for that is what the wizard's name truly was, and allowing him to 'lay mental safeguards' as well as improve his 'interface' with his power. Not quite the terms he would have expected out of him, but then again he had the power to back up his words.
He also had spent some time in the lab. That was amazing! Except for the computer terminals along one wall, it looked very much the way he imagined a wizard or alchemist's lab would look. They had spent the better part of a day tattooing his left biceps with Celtic knot-work. He had always wanted to get one, but never had the nerve, nor could find anyone who could do it. This, he was told, was required.
"What I am doing is laying an enchantment that will allow you to contact me if needed." Ian had said. He has asked how it worked. "You will find out how. I try not to dictate all the details of the enchantment, but allow it to work through you, through your own channels so it will be uniquely yours." He would say no more about it.
The cry of a hawk or something brought him back to himself. “Ok Ian,” he said to himself. “You tell me to wait here and we would finish his training, then vanished in a flash of white fire. Now what?” Marcus felt that most things the wizard did had more than one reason behind them. He would just have to be patient
Suddenly the cry was louder; it was came from the rocks below. There were some large birds that flew very quickly towards him. They began to whirl and dive about. Without any thought he enacted his meta powers and a force field surrounded him. He ducked as one of the birds made a dive for his face.
It was then he realized these were not birds, that they were part bird and part cat. He had seen a picture of this at the tower. Ian had said they were mythical creatures, Griffins. These definitely weren't mythical. These were the side of large house cats and not horse size as Ian had indicated. For this he was very grateful. He needed to figure out what to do with these things. They were obviously agitated, but he needed to scare them off.
A sharp pain across his back shattered this train of thought. Damn! Though his personal shield could stop bullets, it seemed that the claws and beaks of these creatures could penetrate it!
He felt the blood run down his back. Marcus tumbled and spun as he began to try and dodge the attacks of these creatures. At the same time he opened up his mind to the power within himself and it roared to life. What the wizard had helped in awaken in him was what had been called Pyro and Cryokinesis the power to generate and control heat and cold.
He spun and bathed the incoming griffin in flame. It let out a wail, shrieked and fell to the ground writhing.
At this the other half dozen or so griffins then began to attack in earnest. He drew unconsciously on the training and programming he had received from Ian and fought the creatures all out. There began a dance of ice and claws, feathers and flame. He was not sure how long this continued.
Marcus bled from a number of wounds and had just flash frozen another griffin when he realized that there were no more attackers. He stood panting, then heard a deafening noise behind him, something between a roar and a shriek. He whirled around, fire blazed blue in his right hand and stared into the eyes of another griffin. This one was the size of a horse. Its golden eyes bore into him and he was barraged with its anger and hatred. Stunned by the sheer size and it force of will, Marcus struggled to continue standing under its emotional onslaught.
Then as sudden as it started it stopped. The griffin landed and began to wail. Marcus rolled away and came up in a fighting crouch only to see that the griffin had gathered several of the little ones and seemed to be nuzzling their bodies. The blood still pounded in his ears, his adrenaline pumping, his mind still in the fight or flight mode, when something he had seen in the fight with the things came back to him. There had been a ledge below with sticks and leaves and a variety of objects that could have been a den or nest.
With the suddenness of a lighting strike he realized that the little creatures were babies and the large one was the mother. He had slaughtered her children. Despite this she didn't even seem to notice him.
Shame poured through him as emotions warred within him, denial, guilt, anger, sorrow and the need to do something about all of this.
Riding this tide of emotion was the realization that he had the power to destroy the evidence of the massacre. If he killed the mother he could burn the bodies to ashes and no one would be the wiser. The urged pushed at the back of his mind, stronger and strong.
The youth struggled with the impulse, his emotions roiled. Sweat ran down his face, he grew lightheaded and his stomach knotted up. He had killed in self-defense but would not in cold blood, not after he had slaughtered her children. His worst fears began to manifest. Like all the other metas he had heard of, they were controlled by their power, instead of controlling it themselves. The power would take him over and he would have all the moral instincts of a rabid dog.
His vision swam as the emotions and desires pulsed like a living thing in his head trying to claw free of his control. Marcus dropped to his knees pressed his hands to his eyes and screamed in a ragged voice. "Nooooooooo!!!"
He would not let this happen, for his own sake and his family's. He threw himself forward, clamped down on that part of his mind that controlled his power. Despite the raging of his emotions to kill, he drew upon everything within himself, shutting down all of his power and defenses and waited for the griffin to attack him. He resolved that he would rather be dead and in control than live and not be.
He lay there panting and suddenly there was nothing. No wailing griffin, no smell of charred flesh, just the wind and the stone. Birdsong started up in the distance again.
He looked up to see that someone in a dark gray cloak stood silently in front of him. It was Ian who impassively watched him.
Marcus was confused. The relentless pressure to kill had faded almost immediately after he had shut down his power, but his head and body hurt. "What the hell just happened?"
Standing with his hands behind his back the wizard replied in a pleasant tone. "You just took your test."
Marcus slowly got to his feet. "What do you mean? This was my test? You were going to check and see how well my power worked."
Ian watched the forest below and said, "You assumed that we came here to test your power. That was never in question." He turned back to Marcus and said, "We came here to test your moral strength."
The youth looked around confused. "But what happened to the griffins; the mother and the babies?"
"Marcus, please, sit. I will explain, but you are hurt, let me help." The youth turned and saw two carved wooden chairs had appeared out of nowhere. The wood was stained black and there was thick gray padding on the back, seat and arms. Ian helped Marcus back into one of two chairs and sat down in the other.
Reaching into his doublet he drew out a vial of glowing amber fluid. "Here, drink this. It will help restore you."
Marcus took the vial and as he opened it, smelled its contents. The smell was rich and earthy. Its flavor was a not unpleasant combination of spices that he couldn't identify and it seemed to warm him on the way down like a very smooth whiskey.
Ian leaned back into his chair and steepled his fingers and looked over them at Marcus. "First the creatures that you fought were simple conjurations, short lived simulacrums. They only had a temporary reality and then were gone. The mother on the other hand was real, but...enhanced." At this, a small griffin, like those that had first arrived peeked out from below Ian's chair. "This is Gwenneth, I placed an enchantment upon her to make her seem larger than she is and gave her the forceful will. She is one of a new species that has recently...returned to the forest in what was know as Bastrop and Buescher parks. I have made sure they do not get any larger than this. Anything larger would unbalance the ecosystem. Like the warders they can 'communicate' with others, but only simple things. Most can be clever, but not terribly complex. Some few like Gwenneth can be."
Marcus nodded in fascination. The medication that he had taken was taking full hold. It had relaxed him and numbed the pain. He had watched a cut on his hand scab over, scar and then the scar faded. "All right, I get what those things were, but why the whole moral test?"
Ian leaned forward slightly "To make sure you psyche was strong enough to handle your power. Until recently there was a...force, I have no better word for it, that touched your world and influenced the minds of people. It brought out all the darker inhibitions in them. Then for some reason that I have as yet be unable to fathom, it left. But its touch is still here. Seeds of corruption planted far and wide. I had to be sure that none of that remained in you."
"Remained? You mean even though whatever it was is gone, I was...corrupt?" The young man looked worried.
"No, I don't believe it had fertile ground to take root in. Much of your own personality and how you were raised stood against it, but I did not want to take the chance, especially since men seem to have been especially susceptible to it. To insure this, during our 'training sessions' when I was working on the interface with your power, I 'routed' your defensive skills and abilities through the more instinctual parts of your mind. That would make them nearly instantaneous. Your offensive talents, the dangerous part of your powers, were 'routed' through your...moral sectors...Super Ego...Higher Self, whatever you might want to call it. You won't be as fast with your attack powers as you can with your defensive, but I felt it would be better for you when starting off with so much power so quickly"
Marcus leaned forwards, his back still stiff. "Then why did I feel so...driven to kill the mother griffin, um, Gwenneth?"
Ian said nothing, leaned back and picked Gwenneth off of the ground where she had been rubbing against his leg and began to rub the feathers on the back of her head. She made a chortling sound in her throat. He looked up at Marcus and said simply. "That was me."
The young man shook his head as if trying to make sure he had heard correctly. "You?"
In a clear voice, the wizard spoke slowly, as to make himself understood, "Yes, I pushed you to try and kill Gwenneth."
Marcus stood and ignored the pain in his still healing back. "You, What?! How dare you do that! What right do you have putting me through that sort of hell! Invading my mind, and trying to force me to do something against my will!"
Ian sat impassively and continued to watch and study Marcus as the youth continued his tirade. The boy's aura did not show even a flicker of power, just pure old-fashioned outrage, very good. He stood and the chairs vanished, Gwenneth as well. Marcus stopped his rantings and glared at the wizard warily.
In a dry voice the wizard interrupted the others flow of derision. "I don't know if you have noticed, but your world has gone to hell." He began to walk in a circle about the red head. "You have power-mad metas that struck and sundered the world's governments, you have suffered a Nuclear War. Both Meta and normal Warlords control most of the land and people take what that can through force. Even the planet is altered, with radical shifts in the climate as well as changes in the plants and animals." Ian paused a moment and looked at the youth.
The anger on Marcus' face lessened as he considered this.
"Once the combat with the baby griffins ended I transported myself back here unseen and prompted both the fictitious memory of the nest and the driving desire to kill the 'mother griffin'. Just now, when you felt angry and manipulated, you considered pounding me with your fists instead of your power. Both of these were tests and you passed with flying colors. The only way to test you true metal was in a situation where you couldn't truly contemplate. You had to react on instinct. One of the best way was in the heat of battle."
Marcus began to calm, but still did not look happy. He understood what was said, but wasn’t pleased about being manipulated. Ian walked over to him and held his open palm in front of the young man, after a moment his clothes were repaired, clean and appeared new. The wizard placed his hand on the youth's shoulder. He half-heartedly began to pull away. Softly Ian said. "Please. Let me show you something." Marcus relaxed and quit trying to draw back.
White fire seemed to move through him and his left arm throbbed around the tattoo he had received. Then he flew through the air. He seemed to have no real body, but non-the less; he soared above the community where his family lived. Ian's voice sounded in his head. "That was your world; A small community in central Texas. Now," and the scene changed as they seemed to climb higher in the air. Soon they had achieved a height where he could make out the coastline of Texas and possibly all of the state and still they climbed. Soon he realized that he was seeing the shape of North America.
Ian continued "You have now entered a much larger world and now THIS is your world. The rules have now changed" Pausing he allowed Marcus to ponder this. "People will now treat you differently. Those things that were expected of you before will change. Being heroic before would have been saving someone from a burning building or protecting children from wild animals. That will be no real challenge for you now. People will begin to expect more of you. You will be held to a different standard than everyone else. You are no longer the young man you were two week ago. Though you will not feel any changes other will perceive you as different and no matter what you do, you cannot change that. You have passed through the fire and emerged as something new. You can return home but must decide on what your life will now be. I cannot tell you who to be or how to be but I can give advice."
With this the vista of the earth vanished. Marcus blinked and they were once again back at The Tower. For a moment Ian's eyes danced with white fire, then they returned to their vibrant green. He turned and began enter the tower. "You must be careful of those who seek to control you. You must decide if you want to submit to them or keep your own council. Think first before acting and speaking..." The two entered the tower and the door closed behind them.
Ian splashed in the water of the pond enjoying the quiet of the forest. Floating on its surface he allowed himself a brief moment of relaxation. There were no thoughts invading his 'space', no requests for assistance and no more politicking. Birdsong echoed around the woods
He had just returned from assisting Marcus in becoming his community's first Meta. Fulfilling her part in the petition, his mother Delilah had been paving the way for Ian and Marcus' arrival. The people had been very leery and some has been down right hostile, but the reputation of the Wizard Argent had begun to reach here and it helped. Delilah was respected in the community, being the only trained medical personnel and her vouching for them didn't hurt either. Neither did discovering (actually creating) a new source of water for the community, restoring some vitally needed hospital equipment and modifying some of the farming equipment for the larger farms to run on alternate power sources.
Even with all of that, it had taken quite a bit of talking and useful demonstrations of the lad's power as well as observing that he hadn't gone power mad to convince most that he could be allowed back into the community. He had eventually received a new 'name'. They had started calling him Frost-Fire.
The next even more tedious step had been ironing out a way of having him work with the local military in dealing with meta or unusual threats. Sergeant Cole had taken even more convincing than the community had, that this wasn't some sort of ploy to infiltrate The Rebels. Eventually he was granted a tentative position until he could be shown to be trusted with 'real responsibility'. This was not before some veiled threats had been made that if it were a ploy, The Rebels would come into what was becoming known as The Argent Woods looking for its Wizard. Sigh. If they did they would be in for a rude awakening. Their commander, the legendary Col. Buddy Raines, would most likely hear about this.
If they began to treat the boy like a resource they were going to have a rude awakening, Marcus would not be as easily manipulated as he first thought. He had proven that a couple of days earlier.
Marcus had taken a free moment to ask the eventual question, his bill. He had said "Ian, I know you did not do all this for me out of the kindness of your heart. Though that may be a factor, I wanted to know how much of my soul I have sold to you."
For a moment Ian said nothing, surprised. "Don't consider it so much as being sold, consider it more as…having a lien against it." He smiled. "I only ask a couple of things. One, always act with honor and integrity because you are considered to be an 'apprentice' of mine and your actions reflect up me. Two, let people know about Argent Woods, the changes taking place in it and about the creatures that live there. They won't always stay in the woods and can be a great benefit to people. If the people don't fear them they can learn much from them. And three, you may call on me if the need arises and I may call on you if the need arises as well."
Marcus studied him for a moment. "That last 'clause' is kind of open ended, and I think you're not answering all of my question." He crossed his arms and met Ian's gaze. "You spent a lot of time in my mind during training. I don't believe with your skill and strength that you needed to spend as much time as you did."
Ian had paused before his reply. The boy was much quicker than he gave him credit for. "What I did was for protection, for both of us. It will cause no harm, but it will keep others from forcing you to betray any trusts or being forced to harm others."
Marcus continued watching him and finally nodded slowly, smiling slightly. "And that would also include you as well?"
Ian simply spread his hands and said "That is true."
"OK, I guess my soul isn't sold, it just been heavily mortgaged."
They had laughed at this,. The youth had realized that there was still more that Ian hadn't told him but let it rest.
Rising from the water he returned to the shore. Lightning-in-the-Dark watched him from the shade of a tree, inquiring if he had enjoyed his swim. Ian smiled. "Yes. I found it particularly relaxing, now run along. I know you are hungry and I will be fine here. I'm returning home shortly by way of fire." The warder nodded and rising trotted off into the woods.
Drying off he considered what he had been telling the youth. Well he had not lied to Marcus. That was one of his cardinal traits or failings as his father Corwin had told him on more than occasion. He had been honest with Delilah when the first met. He may not have told her the whole truth, but he never lied and what he had done was for both of everyone's protection. If he had not spun the story in such a way to give her consent for Marcus to be trained, he never would have come to Ian. Who know what would have happened to the youth after that.
This world needed a lot of help and he wasn't going to be able to fix everything, but this was a start. The beginning of something better, he hoped. Gathering his things from the shore he immersed himself within the White Flame and vanished, returning home and back to work.
End of Amber Shards - Chapter Two.
-- Story written and copyrighted (C) 2001 by Michael Liebhart, and may not be
-- reprinted without permission.
-- Otherverse as an apocalyptical setting is an original creation of Dylan Clearbrook
-- Some characters in Otherverse stories are original creations of Dylan Clearbrook,
-- Jason Froikin, Michael Liebhart, Jason Gasper, or Eddie Cunningham and may not
-- be used without express permission of the respective author
-- Supergirl and some other characters are property of D.C. Comics
-- Dr. Doom and some other characters are property of Marvel Comics