Fortress Fantasy

1 – The eastern gate

The city of stone was used to rain.

The spring was always the rainy season, where for weeks on end the unceasing drizzle would occasional whip itself up into a frenzy of excitement, of thunder and lightening and deafening bellows that shook the sky, before pattering down into the faithful rythem that asked the very simple question “is my roof waterproof”.

The giant gate that lead out of the city to the east had many properties. The gigantic counterweighted doors designed to stop anything short of an imperical army, and ideally that as well, were large and stone. The gatehouse itself, hewn from the rock of the mountain that protected the northern border of the metropolis, was imposing. The small hut built into the gatehouse walls to shelter the guards from the wilds of nature was light and friendly. None of of the properties listed, however, involved waterproofing. In fact, Watch Sargeant Richard was compelled to wonder at the nature of a city guard who, faced with the yearly monsoon that flooded anything not protected every year for the five hundred it had stood, still did not have an annual note in its budget to ensure that the roofs of the damn buildings didn’t leak. Watch Sargent Richard was of a mind to do something about it, something decisive and compelling. Watch Sargent Richard decided to attempt to shift from cold and wet to cold and wet and having a smoke, and with any luck the kid would have fixed the tea by then.

Standing in the lee of the archway out of the wind, Richard located his last remaining pre-constructed rollup and set fire to one end of it, almost daydreaming. When the girl landed in front of him, he nearly swallowed his smoke. After coughing and spluttering to a standstill, he recovered his voice and presence enough to ask
“Who the hell are you?”

“I am Sapphire Elise of the Academy.”
“Well, it’s after curfew, so you’re going to have to… wait. I’m sorry, miss. Did you say Sapphire? of the Academy?”
“Sorry miss, but I’ve met Sapphire, and you’re not him. For starters, you’re a her. For a second, you’re at least a foot undertall and underwaistband.”
“That is my associate, he is Sapphire Kael. I am Sapphire Elise.”
“It’s not his name?”
“It’s his title. And mine. These papers say I should report to the palace on arrival?”
“Miss, it’s just past three in the morning. The palace is locked up tighter than a maide… tight. I can let you in, but the palace – at the end of this road, you could see if if not for the rain and the fact it’s still just past three in the morning – won’t let you in until daybreak at the least. Do you have somewhere to go before then?”
“Then welcome to the city of stone.”

The winds in the city were unpredictable, and Elise opted to walk down the rutted streets, her memorised map of the city pointed into the merchants district, indistinguishable from anywhere else in the dark and rain in its current closed and locked state. Elise took a turn down a less well-used street towards her destination, but hadn’t got far down it when a dark figure detached itself from the wall and stood in the road.

There was silence, briefly, aside from the soft white noise of rain on cobblestones.

“Good evening, my lady.” the dark figure twisted in a mockery of a bow, not shifting his eyes from hers.
“I don’t think I am your lady. Please get out of my way” Elise spoke politely.
“Ah, but you will be. A bad night to be alone, I think.” said the the figure.
“You mistake yourself”, said Elise, her eyes flashing like lightening.
“I believe the mistake was yours.” The man drew a knife and pointed it at her menacingly.
Elise looked at it, and then back to the man’s face.
“Are you entirely sure that is a good idea?” she spoke in a voice that carried distant thunder.
“Entirely.” he advanced and swung the knife. Elise drew her own dagger from her belt and pointed it like a teaching aid.
“Then may the storm take you” said Elise, reaching her arm to the sky. And it did.

Lightening hit her upraised hand and travelled down to the dagger, sparking over to the brigand’s own and sending him into spasms of electric shock, but instead of the brief strike of a storm, this was a continuous line. From the sky, to the sorceress, to the man whose bones, skin and mass burnt to mud before he had time to scream. Nothing remained but a small, steaming stain.

“Miss Elise, I presume?” The voice was ahead of her, and male, but any details of the figure it came from were obscured by his waterproofing.
“Stand back, or you will suffer as your friend.” retorted Elise sharply.
“Not my friend, but I do hope yours.” he kept walking. “I am Mister Clockwork, and I’ve been told to expect you. I run the Kael’s business here.” Closer up, he was an older man of average height, a little shorter than Elise, cleanshaven and with an honest face.
“Your identification?”
“Here? I suppose it is necessary.” Clockwork fumbled with a zip until he presented a broach whose back featured the symbol Elise remembered from the paperwork. She shifted her perceptions until the broach glowed softly, covered it with her hand, lifted it, and it was gone, back in Clockwork’s hands.
“That will do for now”. she said. “I should report this…” she gestured to the empty space where the altercation had been.
“Not really. I don’t expect he’ll be much missed, and the watch are wet enough as it is. Come back with me and we can talk. I’ve never really understood that identification thing, anyway. Surely any tin-pot hedge wizard could move it?”
“The gems feel different. Specifically so, and we’re trained to recognise the signature. How far is your place?”
“Not far. Impressive display, by the way.”
“I think I overreacted. The storms are so.. energising, and it’s hard to resist overpowering a spell.”

Silence reigned, the storm rained, and the patter of raindrops washed the bandit’s remains into the cracks of the cobblestones.

Fortress Fantasy

Elise of the Storm

In the centre, where the four fields met, the house stood in the darkness, a single candle in the window the only sign of life. Ten paces beyond the front door the house was undetectable, the wind picked up all the dust on the road and danced an impressive eternal waltz as it swirled and howled around the farmland, picking up the remains of equipment previously hammered to the ground by this very storm minutes, hours, days ago. It was noon, but you couldn’t tell.

Though the storm staggered a figure. Dressed in leathers against the wind, her slim frame little help against the gusts and dust. The wind blew across the path, and she walked at a diagonal against it, each step a victory against the air itself, a step towards the house. She hammered on the door, trying to hear the noise above the relentless noise of the wind. The door was opened soon enough by a tanned giant of a man who let her inside before slamming and baring the door behind her.

“Who are y’?” he demanded, not unkindly.
The girl, who seemed to be somewhere around eighteen, drifted to a chair and fell on it heavily, out of wind.
“I am Elise.” she managed, “You sent a letter to the Academy.”
“I did. This storm is unnat’ral. It’s been like this for somewhere near a week, not that y’ can tell inside this damned cloud. If I don’t get the corn in soon, it’ll spoil. My family’il starve.”
“Family?” the man appeared to be living alone.
“At another farm some miles away.” the Farmer pointed vaguely in a direction.
“My son was hit by the blunt end of a hoe the second day. After that they took anything they could. Will y’ help me? Can y’?”
“I have been sent to.”
“I don’t mean to doubt y’, miss, but you don’t look like y’ could lift a log. ‘ven if y’ can, what’ll it cost me?”
Dark clouds crossed Elise’s expression
“I would recommend not doubting me. It will cost you nothing. The academy will do this for free.” Elise summoned her last reserves of strength and stood up. “Please open the door.”

Elise walked calmly into the storm and walked around the house, occasionally ducking and weaving to avoid flying tools and plants, until she reached a calmer point deep into one of the fields, the central eye of the storm. There she sat cross-legged, invisible under the waving stalks of corn, very still for a minute or so.

Eventually, she breathed in, slowly, but without pause. On the outside edge of the farmland the cloud began to fade and shrink, and the circular spin of air around the storm’s border began to shift and redirect, not around its well-worn whirlpool, but towards the centre, towards Elise.

The storm howled and fought, desperately resisting the centre, but it had now turned from a stable, albeit large scale, tornado into something subtly different, a whirlpool spinning into the central void, a black hole with the slim mage at the centre, still inhaling the storm.

Light broke though as the storm dropped the dust, and a gentle dawn broke on the farmland, travelling from the very borders in towards the centre, as the farmer gazed in amazement at his ravaged – but now calm – lands and the ever-shrinking storm, now only a few metres across, centring in on Elise’s button nose. With a final howl, the storm was gone, and his nightmare over.

Showing nothing of the fatigue she had exhibited moments before, Elise strode though the corn – which seemed to bend out of her way – towards the house. The farmer watched with increasing amazement as she looked at her dusty, dirty leathers, turned up her nose, and summoned a dainty rain cloud which proceeded to rinse them off. A heavy, sustained gust of wind that didn’t affect anything within half a metre of her then dried her off. She approached the house and knocked.

“Thank y’, Miss Elise.
“It was no problem” said Elise somewhat breathlessly. Her eyes sparkled like lightening, “I really needed the power boost. But you were right, that storm was not natural. Someone set you up for that. I would recommend finding out who. If you can not salvage enough from this” she indicated the wind-torn fields around them, “I have been told to recommend you ask the Academy, and they will ensure you don’t starve merely because we did not arrive fast enough.”
“I can’t thank y’ enough.”
“Then do not. I shall go tell your family it is safe to return. This way, was it not?”
The farmer nodded.
“Then farewell.” and Elise sprinted off, her ponytail streaming ahead of her, as if she was being pushed by some huge tailwind, down the road though the fields and towards his neighbours lands.

Within moments, the mage of storms was gone.