Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘fiction’


There Comes a Time

King Osric:
There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle. When the gold loses its luster. When the throne room becomes a prison. And all that is left…is a father’s love for his child.

— “Conan the Barbarian” (1982)

Our Swords Against Their Swords

Jack Gretsky:
Remember that night in the hills of Mae [Hong] Son, when the Hmong warlord sent his assassins? They had us cornered in a temple…like this one. And we lay there waiting in the dark…and the air was so thick and ancient, you couldn’t breathe it. And when they came, we stood in the middle of the floor; leaning with our backs to each other. It was our swords against their swords.
We shoulda died then.

— “Bushido” – Miami Vice, Season 2

The Demon Who Makes Trophies of Men

Anna:
When I was little, we found a man. He looked like…like butchered. The old women in the village crossed themselves, and whispered crazy things—strange things: “El diablo cazador de hombres”. Only in the hottest years this happens…and this year, it grows hot. We begin finding our men. We found them sometimes without their skin; and sometimes much, much worse.
El que hace trofeos de los hombres” means “the demon who makes trophies of men”.

— “Predator” (1987)

Dwarves of Belegost

Last of all the eastern force to stand firm were the Dwarves of Belegost, and thus they won renown. For the Naugrim withstood fire more hardily than either Elves or Men, and it was their custom moreover to wear great masks in battle hideous to look upon; and those stood them in good stead against the dragons. And but for them Glaurung and his brood would have withered all that was left of the Noldor. But the Naugrim made a circle about him when he assailed them, and even his mighty armour was not full proof against the blows of their great axes; and when in his rage Glaurung turned and struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, with his last stroke Azaghâl drove a knife into his belly, and so wounded him that he fled the field, and the beasts of Angband in dismay followed after him. Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them….

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter 20

From the account of the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, also known as the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in the First Age of Middle-earth.

True Masters Are Both Brutal and Refined

In the martial arts, the really good teachers cultivate in their students an acute sensitivity to various stimuli. Your nerve endings are teased and jolted, your reflex actions made more subtle, and, for some of us, the result is a change in the ways we see the world and exist within it. The true masters are both brutal and refined, compassionate torturers, and guides who lead you to places where you will stand alone, confronting age-old fears that snarl in the abyss.

Once you’ve gone into that void and come through to the other side, it changes you. You glimpse it sometimes in people who’ve had a similar experience. I see it in my teacher’s face in his rare unguarded moments. And I see it in the mirror. It doesn’t make us better than other people, just different.

John Donohue, Tengu, chapter 2

Shone Like a River of Steel in the Sun

“…[And the war host of] the Noldor of Gondolin were strong and their ranks shone like a river of steel in the sun, for the sword and harness of the least of the warriors of Turgon was worth more than the ransom of any king among Men.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin

The Weapon That Could Not Miss

T’Thelaih woke up cold and alone. “Mahak?” she said, confused, and sat up on the couch, looking around for him. There was something wrong at the other end of their bond: he was upset—then she froze.

Sitting at the end of the couch was the Lady Suvin. She looked at T’Thelaih, and the look was cold and terribly pleased. “You are a foolish child,” Suvin said, “but it does not matter. I have what I want of you.”

“Madam,” T’Thelaih said, holding on to her manners, “what do you mean?”

“The child,” said Suvin. “This will be your home now: you need fear no interference from your own house, poor thing though it be. I much regret that Mahak may not join you again until your confinement is done. But you will be given every care … so long as you take proper care of the child.”

T’Thelaih felt her head beginning to pound. “What good can our child do you?” she said.

Suvin leaned closer, looking even more pleased. “Fool. You have the killing gift. Imperfect, at best: you did not kill my grandson, for some reason. I suspect it is the usual problem, that one must feel her life to somehow be threatened. But did you not know? His great-grandmother had it as well. When two with the gift in their blood, so close in degree, engender a child, it will have the gift as well.”

TThelaih shook her head, numbed. “A weapon,” she said at last.

“Such a weapon as none will be able to defend against,” said Suvin. “Trained with the Last Thought technique, raised under my hand, obedient to me—those who resist me will simply die, and no one will know the cause. How much simpler life will become. I have much to thank you for.”

She saw T’Thelaih’s glance at the table. “Forget your little bodkin,” she said. “You’ll not lay hands on yourself: if you try, Mahak will suffer for it. I shall see to that. Resign yourself to your confinement. It need not be uncomfortable.”

“Bring me my husband,” T’Thelaih said. “Now.”

Suvin’s eyes glittered. “Do not presume to order me, my girl. You are too valuable to kill out of hand, but there are ways to punish you that will not harm the child.”

The pounding was getting worse. “My husband,” T’Thelaih said.

“Folly,” said Suvin, and got up to go. “I will talk to you when you are in your right mind.”

And from the courtyard below came the sound of swords, and the scream.

“T’Thelaih!!”

And nothing else…except, in T’Thelaih’s mind, the feeling of the bond, the connection, as it snapped, and the other end went empty and cold.

“My husband,” she said. Suvin turned in shock, realizing what had happened. An unfortunate accident—

She realized too late.

T’Thelaih was getting up from the bed. The pounding in her head she had felt before, at her first binding, and remotely, in the heat of plak tow, at the second. Now she knew it for what it was, and she encouraged it. Yes. Oh, my husband, yes

“Old woman,” she said to Suvin, getting out of the bed and advancing slowly on her, “beg me for your life.” Suvin backed up, slowly, a step at a time, coming against the wall by the door. “Beg me,” T’Thelaih said, stepping slowly closer. “Bow yourself double, old lematya, let me see the back of your neck.” Her teeth gleamed. Suvin trembled, and slowly, slowly, began to bow.

She didn’t finish the gesture: she came up with the knife, poised, threw it. T’Thelaih sidestepped it neatly and replied with the weapon that could not miss: slid into the hateful mind, cold as stone, reached down all its pathways and set them on fire, reached down through every nerve and ran agony down it, reached down into the laboring heart and squeezed it until it burst itself, reached down into the throat and froze it so there should not even be the relief of a scream. From Suvin she turned, and her mind rode her gift down into the courtyard, and wrought death there, death—left minds screaming as a weight of rage like the whole universe collapsed onto them, in burning heat, pain, blood, the end of everything. Her mind fled through the house, finding life, ending it, without thought, everywhere.

Finally the rage left her, and she picked up the little knife that Suvin had taken, thought about it … then changed her mind. “No,” she said aloud, very softly: “no, he is down there.”

She went to the window. “Child,” she said, “I am sorry.”

The fall was too swift for there to be time to start an argument, even with a ghost.

Diane Duane, Spock’s World, pp. 176-78

Guarding the Balance

“…I am the chosen of Barong. I’m the White Tiger, a force for good, and I guard the balance. When a black magician does something like create a jenglot or unleash a tuyul, it creates an imbalance and I correct it. It would be the same if I tried to use my power for something unnatural, like stave off a normal illness in my relative. I could save them for a time, but a chosen of Rangda, the Demon Queen, would appear and undo what I had done. The balance must be maintained. Right now there is no champion of Rangda in the community. He went to live with his daughter in Orlando, because he is elderly and she is worried about his health. And if there was a new one, he or she would come and talk to me. It would be my business to know about them and their business to know about me.”

“You would talk?” Jim asked.

I nodded. “We would both be guardians of balance. Do you remember that Russian, the one who is the priest of the God of All Evil?”

“Roman?” Jim asked. “Yes. Nice guy.”

I spread my arms. “It’s like that. I could have a nice, civil meal with the chosen of Rangda. Not that we would like each other and some of them do go nuts and become aggressive in her name, but it’s about balance….”

Ilona Andrews, Magic Steals

To Argue With Your King

…There was desperation in the man’s face. Terror. And something else Sargon had had no hope of, which drove a common man to put a shoulder between his king and a door and argue with him….

C. J. Cherryh, Legions of Hell, Chapter 11

Being Tough

“Winning fistfights means being good at fistfighting,” Susan said. “Being tough means looking at something ugly, and saying ‘That’s ugly; I’ll have to find a way to deal with it.’ And doing so.”

Robert B. Parker, Sixkill

From the last Spenser novel completed before the author’s death. 🙁

The Dominance and the Crease

There were two terms Master Thomas had taught her in her first week of training. “The dominance” and “the crease,” he’d called them. The “dominance” was the clash of wills, the war of personal confidence fought before the first blow was struck to establish who held psychological domination over the other. But the “crease” was something else, a reference to the tiny wrinkling of the forehead when the moment of decision came. Of course, “crease” was only a convenient label for an infinite set of permutations, he’d stressed, for every swordsman announced the commitment to attack in a different way. All fencers were taught to look for the crease, and competition fencers researched opponents exhaustively before a match, for though the signal might be subtle, it was also constant. Every swordsman had one; it was something he simply could not train completely out of himself. But because there were so very many possible creases, Master Thomas had explained while they sat cross-legged in sunlight on the salle floor, most swordmasters emphasized the dominance over the crease, for it was a simpler and a surer thing to defeat your opponent’s will than to look for something one might or might not recognize even if one saw it.

But the true master of the sword…was she who had learned to rely not on her enemy’s weakness, but upon her own strength. She who understood that the difference between the salle and what Honor faced today—between fencing, the art, and life or death by the sword—was always in the crease, not the dominance.

Honor knew she’d taken longer to grasp his meaning than someone with her background should have. But once she had, and after she’d studied the library information on Japan, she’d also realized why—on Grayson, as in the ancient islands of the samurai—a formal duel almost always both began and ended with a single stroke.

David Weber, Flag in Exile, Chapter 29

Emphasis mine.

There Is No Pain

Honor watched [her opponent] with the eyes of a woman who’d trained in the martial arts for almost forty years, and the hard-learned, poised relaxation of all those years hummed softly within her. She felt her weariness, the pain of broken ribs, the ache in bruised muscles, the stiffness of her left shoulder, but then she commanded her body to ignore those things, and her body obeyed.

David Weber, Flag in Exile, Chapter 29

Quite a run-on sentence. 🙂

Walls of Air, Bars of Light

There were things that Merlin had taught him. Defenses against dark things. Walls of air. Their like had imprisoned the enchanter in the wood; but in lesser strength they could protect a man—or a woman—beset by ill magic.

…[Roland did not need] to go into the tent for this. He had simply to know what the boundaries were….

True magic was quiet, a thing of the spirit. It had no need for extravagant displays. He spoke the words softly, without drums or trumpets, magic gestures or sleights of the magician’s art. He raised the walls as Merlin had taught him, secured them with bars of light, and bound them with the chains of the earth. He delved deep in his strength for that, but there was enough. He even kept his feet after, bowed to Sarissa without falling over, and walked away.

Judith Tarr, Kingdom of the Grail, Chapter 8

The Armour of Contempt

Chaos claims the unwary or the incomplete. A true man may flinch away its embrace, if he is stalwart, and he girds himself with the armour of contempt.” — Gideon Ravenor, The Spheres of Longing

Dan Abnett, His Last Command

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.”

Yamashita 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.