Circle of Stone


The Story

Page 6

Abby - 1999-5-3

Keleos grimaced, legs complaining loudly and bitterly. No, leaping onto the roof from the window of my room was not the best idea I've had today. I seem to have a death wish.

Nevertheless, there was no way she'd have gotten down the stairs and through the gathering crowd in time to do any good. And though the stablehands were frantically dragging out animals and a bucket chain was in the process of forming, there was no way they were going to save all the horses in the stable before the roof fell in.

Unless, of course, somebody did something stupid. Keleos felt somehow qualified for the role.

A Shenmiri pyromancer could have killed the flames, as could have a hydromancer, a cryomancer, an aeromancer, or even a clever geomancer. Keleos, of course, was none of those things; though she could start a fire, she could neither control it nor put it out.

Short of blasting it to the tenth darkness. Not the best option here, even if I did think I could pull it off.

The growing roar of the flames and the acrid scent of smoke greeted her inside the burning barn, underlaid by the whickers and restless shifting of the nervous horses. At the far end of a row of stalls, Swift neighed, rearing up briefly on her hind legs to thump her forehooves on the door of her stall.

Keleos seized a long-handled coachwhip from the wall and sprinted down to the mare. "All right. Time to show how good you can be, my new friend." She flung open the stall door and, as the grey mare leaped out into the aisle, caught hold of the silver mane and vaulted onto Swift's bare back.

The mare tossed her head, dancing sideways, hindquarters bunching up beneath her. "Oh, no you don't," Keleos muttered, sitting back heavily and wrapping her legs around Swift's barrel. "We've got a job to do."

Swift didn't seem concerned by the long, unwieldy whip, despite Keleos's initial fumblings with it. The best pattern became clear quickly; smash open the stall-door latches--horses cost more than latches by far--with the hard heel of her boot, spook the beasts out with the whip, then drive them out of the barn with Swift's aid. She hoped someone outside was catching the animals once they emerged; the last thing she needed was panicked horses fleeing mindlessly back into the burning barn.

The grey mare behaved like a born cutting-horse, chivvying her larger kin with nips and once or twice application of hoof when they stalled. Wheel, leap, and dodge--it was a dizzying ride, all the moreso because of the thick smoke that filled the air. Once or twice Keleos had to lean precariously over to cut loose a tied animal with the knife from her belt, but luckily none decided to put up a fight while the barn burned around them like a huge, hollow pyre.

Finally the last animal was loose. Hands buried in Swift's mane, Keleos chased the dark gelding through the great doors, then kneed an extra burst of speed out of her mare as the hayloft above began to sag ominously.

Too late.

The loft began to collapse, with a great cracking and groaning. Swift shied sideways, leaping forward and unseating Keleos, who clung doggedly to the smooth flank before hitting the floor with a jarring thump. Instinctively she half-rolled, half-scrambled forward, ending up sprawled on the dirt with the soles of her boots being scorched by the flames that had almost buried her.

They don't come much closer than that, Keleos reflected, lying still for a moment and panting. Soon she picked herself up, getting out of the way of the bucket chains--several had formed while she had been playing 'blazing hero'--and retreating from the burning building. Swift was nowhere to be found.

Lovely. Well, the mare probably wouldn't be inclined to take off running and leave all the horses here behind. Horses were, by nature, herd animals. As long as Swift hadn't been outright terrified by the collapsing loft, she'd be nearby. Keleos just had to find her.

Alexia - 1999-5-5

She drew even further back as she saw this, terrified at the thought of her fire killing someone. If she thought she could have controlled herself, she would have gone to help, but it was more than likely that she'd just make the fire spread faster, or set fire to something else. Frozen by fear of worsening the blaze, she stayed where she was, hoping desperately that the person would get out unharmed. She clasped her hands together at her chest, breathing fast and trying to squint through the glare of the fire to see inside the stable. Suddenly, a frightened horse ran out of the barn, breaking through the bucket chain, people throwing themselves out of the way of the panicked horse but quickly regrouping to carry on trying to douse the fire. Her heart shrank within her. She wasn't suited to be near people. She could have killed all the horses there and everything else. She wasn't fit to be among normal people but without Redel... Tears blurred her view of the burning barn as she reached out a hand, sending out a brief ray of comfort to the horse which was evading attempts to catch it. The animal jerked around, knocking the man, who had thrown a rope around its neck, of his feet and then quickly trotting over to her, two other horses that had just cleared the fire coming with it.

She reached out with blind thoughts of comfort and safety, trying to calm the animals as a vain apology for what she had done, the feelings sending stronger and stronger as sorrow and despair rose within her. Soon, she was quite surrounded by milling horses, all trying to nose at her as she scratched an ear here and patted a neck there. Tender wasn't impressed and was considering being very jealous but his mood was redeemed by the fact that there were now plenty of females for him to show off to. Unfortunately, they seemed much more interested in his rider than they were in him. He snorted with disgust and pushed through to Elexa and blew a warm, disgruntled breath onto the back of her neck, leaning his head over her shoulder.

The horses circled, gently jostling each other as they quieted, keeping as close to her as possible. A pretty grey mare pushed through the rest and immediately started nuzzling her hand. Tender jerked his head up and tossed his mane at the mare, who gave him not the least bit of attention. Gently patting the mare's shoulder, she saw the terrible scarring and paused, before leaning into the horse, one hand under its mane, stroking gently. Horses. She was OK with horses but people. She shook her head quickly before she started crying. There was no Redel here to wipe away her tears, no Edex to carry her and tuck her into bed when she was worn through with the tears that wouldn't stop once they came. With the effort, sparks started at her feet again and the rest of the horses backed off anxiously, torn between fear of the little flashes of fire and the comfort that the stranger was sending. The mare didn't budge, probably because she couldn't see the fire as her nose and pushed into Elexa's chest as she scratched behind an ear. She'd have to take this one with her. No sentient creature deserved to be treated like this horse's owner obviously did. Elexa was all too well aware of how that felt and be damned if she didn't try to do something, including burning the man (it had to be a man to behave with such cruelty to such a sweet creature) alive if she ever saw him. Maybe she should go now before she made more trouble for the town. and before the mare's owner came looking for his horse.

She was just trying to decide what was best when someone rolled out of the stable, just as it collapsed. She closed her eyes with relief. The horses were safe and the person who had gone in for them. And now she had better go before she did more damage and endangered further lives. But now she was too scared to move. What was she going to do even if she did leave? What good would she do the mare? What good was she for anything? How she wanted someone to step out of the crowd: Redel, or someone just like her--someone to look after her and to keep her safe and keep others safe from her. Her exhaustion was starting to catch up with her too, leaving her a shaking, scared, useless wretch and she couldn't face being back on the road again, in the dark. She just wanted Redel and Edex and her bed. But all those were gone, just like the stable in front of her. She had to leave; she knew that. She just had to remember how to move her legs and push away the pain in her chest that was making it hard to breath. Over the mare's ears, she saw the figure that had saved the horses slowly rise to its feet, quickly moving out of the way of the bucket-chain and then looking around slowly. A woman. Redel had been a woman just like that- she would have gone rushing into a burning barn too, not caring that it was a man's job to be brave and do things like that.

'Stop!' she ordered herself, biting her tongue to try and distract her. She had to stop thinking about Redel and had to start thinking about leaving. Then she saw the woman spot her, pause and then start in her direction. Her heart leapt into her throat. She was still sparking- the woman had seen and was coming to get rid of the danger to the town and maybe it would be better to let her.

Abby - 1999-5-5

It wasn't hard for Keleos to guess where her horse had gone to. Most of the loose animals were grouped close together, milling about nervously but staying more or less in one place. Keleos caught a flash of pale silver-white between the darker steeds. So she's a born lead-mare. I shouldn't be surprised.

But as she shoved her way between the sweaty, fidgeting horses, Keleos realized that Swift wasn't quite the center of the knot. Standing beside the mare, throwing off fitful sparks and looking like she hoped the ground would swallow her up, was--an Avarel?

A rather strange, unhealthy-looking Avarel at that, with much-streaked hair and blue-tinted wings. And I think I know how this fire got started. Huh. I didn't think the Avarel could work magic. Well, you learn something every day. This one's in desperate need of some training--probably got spooked and started throwing sparks everywhere. Unfortunately they're probably not really keen on that sort of thing around here...

Dammit, Keleos grumbled to herself, I was looking forward to another good night's rest. Oh, well. Someone's got to take this child in hand before she gets anyone else hurt.

She shoved her way through the horses, getting her foot trod upon once and grimacing at the pain of several stone of horse grinding down on her toes, until she reached Swift's flank. "Well," she said dryly to the mare, "you certainly do make friends in a hurry." She regarded the Avarel girl thoughtfully, then queried, "And who are you?"

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The World
The Cast
The Rules


Copyright (c) 1999-2000 Abigail Laughlin and the members of the Circle of Stone.