Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘fiction’


Zakal the Terrible

Zakal spent the first half of the night coughing up green-black blood and listening to the wind hurl sand against the side of the mountain fortress. The cavernous chamber was windowless and dark, save for the feeble light emanating from the initiates’ room, but Zakal had seen enough sandstorms to picture this one clearly in his mind’s eye: a huge, vibrating column of red sand that blotted out the sky until nothing remained but moving desert. Any creatures foolish enough to venture unprotected into the storm would be found the next day, mummies leached of all moisture, their skin crackling like parchment at the slightest touch.

Around the middle of the night, the stains on his handcloth changed from dark green to bright, the color of a d’mallu vine after a rare spell of rain. Shortly thereafter, the healer left him, a sign that there was nothing more to be done, no more easing of pain possible; a sign that he would be dead before sunrise. The relief on her drawn face was all too evident. She was not of the Kolinahru, and had attended her charge with a mixture of loathing and terror. For this was Zakal the Terrible, the greatest of the Kolinahr masters, with a mind so powerful he had twice used it to melt the skin of his enemies into puddles at his feet.

He said nothing to stop the healer from going, merely closed his eyes and smiled wanly. It was fitting to lie here and listen to the roar of the storm on the last night of his life. Eight hundred and eighty-seven seasons ago, he had been born in a storm like this one, and so his mother had named him Zakal: the Fury, the Desert Storm.

He was drowsing off when an image jolted him awake. Khoteth, lean and young and strong, furling himself in his black traveling cloak, his expression severe, brows weighed down by the heaviness of what he was about to do. Khoteth was crossing the desert, Khoteth was coming for him. Zakal knew this with unquestionable surety, in spite of the three initiates in the next room who stood guard, not over his aged, dying body, but over a far more dangerous weapon: his mind. Even their combined efforts to shield the truth from him could not completely sever his link to the man he had raised as his own son. Khoteth had sensed his master’s impending death, and would be here well before dawn.

The new High Master was risking his life by crossing the desert in a sandstorm…and oh, how Zakal listened to the wind and willed for Khoteth to be swallowed up by it! He tried in vain to summon up the old powers, but fever and the continual mental oppression caused by the initiates made it impossible. Zakal contented himself with cheering on the storm as if he had conjured it himself. Even so, he knew that Khoteth would complete his journey successfully.

So it was that, a few hours later when Khoteth’s soft words drew Zakal from a feverish reverie, they brought with them no surprise.

“Master? I have come.”

Outside, the wind had eased, but still moaned softly. Zakal kept his face toward the black stone wall and did not trouble to raise his head. The sound of his former student’s voice evoked within him a curious mixture of fondness and bitter hatred.

“Go away.” He meant to thunder it with authority, but what emerged was weak and quavering, the ineffectual wheezing of an old man. He felt shame. Could this be the voice of the Ruler of ShanaiKahr, the most powerful and feared mind-lord of all Vulcan? He had known more of the secrets of power than the rest of the Kolinahru put together, but fool that he was, he had entrusted too many of them to the man who stood before him now. He turned his head—slowly, for any movement made him dizzy and liable to start coughing again—and opened fever-pained eyes to the sight of the one he had loved as a son, had chosen as his successor, and now despised as his mortal enemy….

J.M. Dillard, Star Trek: The Lost Years, Prologue

A Ruthless Model

“The selection of a primary disciple is not an easy thing. It is often marked by blood.”

[My master] looked at me significantly. The founder of his style, Ittosai, dealt with this issue centuries ago and had left his successors through the generations a ruthless model. The master, blessed with two remarkable students of apparently equal skill, had brought them together. He had placed the scrolls of the style and the document of succession on the ground, along with a ceremonial sword. Then he had calmly informed the two disciples that the individual who left the room alive would be his successor.

John Donohue, Sensei, Epilogue

The Game of Arts and Powers

The prior of Bec…waved away her honest respect. “I’m a man like any other, lady.”

She arched a brow. “Truly?”

“Truly,” he said.

“There is the matter of…” She flicked her hand. The lamps went out. In the sudden dimness she bade a light grow, shimmering over her fingers, unfolding from them like a strange flower.

He quelled her working with a gesture. That same gesture, completed, restored the lamps to their former condition. “This too is God’s gift,” he said.

“Surely,” she said, “but it’s given to few, and to precious few in such measure as yours.”

“Or yours, lady. You will be stronger than I.”

“But not yet.”

“You are young,” he said, “and while not foolish, perhaps not granted such judgment as will be yours with greater age and maturity.”

She had had enough of dancing around the point. “Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I know what mistake I made. And what part do you play, Father Prior, in this game of arts and powers?

“A small one,” he said, “by the grace of God.”

That was disingenuous. She swept it aside. “So. You’re a Guardian of Gaul. Have you come to impose sentence upon me for dereliction of duty?”

“If anyone is to do that, lady” he said, “it should be your father. No; I came to offer such aid as I could….”

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 10

Emphasis mine.

Too Much Power Expended Too Quickly

He was all alone in the empty land, surrounded by people whose souls he could not sense at all. He was in hell, with no hope of earthly salvation.

He lashed out, still in a fit of panic—even knowing it was folly; knowing he hovered in delusion. Fire surged up out of the earth and poured down from the sky.

In the last instant he flung it away from the crowd, but he had neither the strength nor the speed to unmake it. It plummeted into the midst of the city. Blood-red flames roared to heaven, then sank down into mortal gold and blue and the black of smoke.

The crowd fled in a chorus of screams. The few with their wits about them surged toward the flames. The rest scattered in panic no less mindless than Henry’s, but far less perilous.

Only the monks were left with the king’s body, and Henry with the drawn and empty sensation of too much power expended too quickly….

Judith Tarr, King’s Blood, Chapter 7

Emphasis mine.

The Lady of the Lake Had a Secret

The Lady of the Lake had a secret. It was nothing mortifying or dangerous, but it might have caused difficulties if certain persons discovered that behind the veils was a maiden younger than Mathilda. Mortals, especially men, needed to see an aged face before they would believe in either power or wisdom.

Her name was Etaine. It was not something she shared with the world, any more than her face or her manifest youth. When she walked abroad from the lake of Avalon, she walked veiled, stately, and mantled in mystery.

Mathilda did not make the mistake of discrediting her wisdom because she had, at the most, fifteen summers on this side of the Otherworld. She remembered who she had been. Her knowledge passed from world to world, life to life, Lady to Lady, back beyond Morgaine and Rhiannon to lives so ancient that even bards had forgotten them.

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 29

Conversing With the Dead

Robin sank down where the shade had been sitting. With its passing the air was noticeably warmer, but Robin had begun to shudder. Even for one of his arts and powers, it was no easy thing to converse with the dead.

Judith Tarr, King’s Blood, Chapter 12

Emphasis mine.

Ignorance Is Deadly

“…We are no friends to the prince below,” she said, “or any other force for the world’s destruction.”

“Including me?”

You are no more or less dangerous than ignorance ever is.

“That’s deadly.”

“It can be taught,” she said, “and will. I am bound to it….”

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 8

Emphasis mine.

You Must Know How to Undo

“Tomorrow I will teach you how to undo what you have done.”

“That’s not possible.”

Her brow arched. He did not quite see what she did. It had something to do with a gesture of the hand, and some part of it was a slant of the eye and a turn of mind.

The charred branches stirred and cracked. Black scales fell; ash blew away in a sudden swirl of wind. Living branches unfolded, sprouting leaves as bright as the first morning of the world. They glowed in the night. Blossoms budded and bloomed, a cloud of white and palest rose. Their scent enveloped him in sweetness.

William’s mouth hung open. He could barely muster wits to shut it.

“You are meant for more and better than this,” she said, “but whatever you have done, you must know how to undo. It’s a law of our order.”

“‘Our’ order?”

“You are born to it, and reborn, for ages out of count.”

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 8

Emphasis mine.

To Pass Through Shadow and Fire

Mathilda sat where she always sat, among the oldest students, young women who would be passing through the shadow and the fire come the dark of the year. A few would emerge as Ladies [of the Wood] of full power and learning. Many would die in the testing.

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 17

Every year at Beltane, one or more of the young women in the acolytes’ house passed through darkness and fire. Then they were Ladies of the Isle; or they were gone.

Judith Tarr, King’s Blood, Chapter 33

Emphasis mine.

Why Wizards Do Not Rule the World

“You can’t leave me in this condition. What if I blast the king, or one of his courtiers?”

“You won’t,” she said.

“How do you know?”

Magic costs,” she said. “Go to the kitchens first, before you sleep.”

“I’m not—”

“Do it.”

She had laid a binding on him. A fugitive memory told him what it was. Then the griping in his belly bound him more tightly still.

He was ravenous—starving. He was dizzy with hunger. If the cooks were not awake, he would raid and pillage on his own. Then he would sleep like the dead.

Not the worst battle he had ever fought, on the field or in lordly hall, had taxed his mind and body as this little bit of magic had. Small wonder wizards did not rule the world, if this was what it did to them to try.

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 8

Emphasis mine.

Not a Delicate Art

“Wouldn’t it be easier to teach me to read? Then you could go off and do whatever you do when you’re not torturing me, and I could see this blasted nonsense laid out on a page. Writing’s like a map, isn’t it? Only it’s words instead of castles and rivers. Give me a map and I can learn this.”

“Writing would catch it on parchment,” she said. Her knuckle rapped his much-abused forehead. “You need it in there. The powers you’ve been facing, and will face, won’t wait for you to run to a library before they crack open your skull and suck out your brains.

William realized he was gaping. He did a great deal of that when he was with Mathilda. “You are the most indelicate noblewoman I have ever met.”

This is not a delicate art,” she said….

Judith Tarr, Rite of Conquest, Chapter 8

Emphasis mine.

Playing With Fire

It was still broad daylight, though the shadows were lengthening. The warmth of early spring was giving way to a creeping chill. Turpin shivered. Roland tossed a new log on the fire, feeding it till it swelled to a respectable blaze. He stayed there on one knee….

…Roland seemed lost in a dream, or in contemplation of something very far away from this royal assembly of the Franks. The fire cast ruddy light on his face and lost itself in his eyes. Such odd eyes, yellow as a hawk’s. Sometimes he did not look human at all.

He raised a hand idly, slipping it in among the flames. They licked his fingers. He stroked them as a woman pets her cat. They purred as a cat purrs, leaping, curling about his hand, arching under his palm.

Turpin set his lips together carefully. Equally carefully, and with an effort, he turned his eyes away. Roland was not as other men were. All the Companions knew it; and none of them said a word. Roland was their brother, their comrade in arms. They would not betray him….

Judith Tarr, Kingdom of the Grail, Chapter 1

Emphasis mine.

Luck is a Possession

[In The Hobbit, Bilbo] has two other qualities besides [the Ring]. One is luck. The dwarves notice this more than once, with Thorin for instance saying, as he sends Bilbo down the tunnel to the dragon, that Bilbo is ‘full of courage and resource far beyond his size, and if I may say so possessed of good luck far exceeding the usual allowance’ (chapter 12). Earlier on, after Bilbo had rescued them from the spiders, ‘[the dwarves] saw that he had some wits, as well as luck and a magic ring – and all three were useful possessions’ (chapter 8). This belief that luck is a possession, which one can own, and perhaps even give away or pass on, may seem to be characteristically dwarvish, i.e. old-fashioned, pre-modern: it is a commonplace of Norse saga, for instance, where there are many lucky and unlucky cloaks, weapons, and people.

Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, p. 27

Author’s emphasis.

The Art of Axe-fighting

Axe-fighting was a complex and demanding dance. It looked much more brutal and simplistic than sword-work, but in some respects it was vastly more subtle than the ballet of the swordsman. The killing edge of an axe was in a position to harm an opponent for a much smaller percentage of engagement time than the killing surfaces of a sword. Axe fighting was about swinging and circling, moving and evading, choosing the moment to land the blow. It was about seeing that opening coming three or four steps ahead, like a good [chess] player, and then taking advantage of it without telegraphing the stroke. It was about predicting the interface between swing and moving target. Misjudge that, and you’d lose the fight.

Dan Abnett, Prospero Burns, chapter 12

Haragei

The nonverbal elements of communication and perception are highly valued by the Japanese; they prize their ability to grasp the essence of people and things using methods we can only guess at. They call this ability haragei. Yamashita has it. He can cross swords with a complete stranger and know the skill level of his opponent before they’ve begun. You can argue that it has to do with subtle physical clues people give off: a look in the eye, posture, breathing rates. The longer I train, the more I tend to agree. But there’s also more to it than that.

On days when he’s really cooking, it seems as if Yamashita can actually read your mind. What’s scary is not that he knows what you’re going to do before you do, but that he does it by getting inside you somehow.

I’ve experienced hints of it. The feeling is a weird, emotive certainty that washes up from the base of the neck and creeps over your scalp. It is often totally unexpected. And distracting.

John Donohue, Sensei, chapter 7

Any Sensei is a Bit Mercurial at Times

Any sensei is a bit mercurial at times—they do it to keep you guessing. Part of the mystery of a really good martial arts teacher is the way in which you’re perpetually surprised by things, kept just slightly off balance. I had a karate teacher years ago, and every time I thought, OK this guy has shown me just about everything he’s got, he would waltz in and do something I had never seen before. Then he would look at me like he could read my mind.

John Donohue, Sensei, chapter 4

Dojo Storming

“In the old times…a young warrior would learn all local sensei could teach and then seek out ‘instruction’ at another dojo. A truly skilled fighter could go from school to school, challenging the best students and even the masters.” A sip of air as he paused. “It was known as dojo arashi.”

Dojo storming. I could imagine what it must have been like: hard young men clomping down the packed dirt roads of Japan with battered armor and well-kept weapons slung over their backs. They churned up the miles like hungry predators, hunting down new masters to defeat and new towns to prove themselves in. The good ones earned reputations. The less skilled, in the best of situations, learned to limp away quietly. Sometimes, only their ghosts moaned in phantom processional down midnight crossroads….

John Donohue, Sensei, chapter 17