Wayland closed his eyes and concentrated on the metal staff that he was holding. Actually, "concentrated" was not entirely the right word to describe what he was doing. It was a concentration so intense, that it almost became a complete lack of concentration - a total losing of the self - that allowed him to perform the art of metalshaping. After a few moments, he seemed to feel the nerve-endings in his fingers begin to grow into the staff and continue extending until every molecule of metal had become part of his mind. His merging with the staff was complete. Just as he had done countless times before, he imagined a tiny groove being etched into the surface of the staff. At that same moment, he could feel the magical energy flowing from the image in his mind, down his arms, through his fingers, and into the staff - etching its way across the staff's surface in reality as well as imagination. The last groove was now in place.
Wayland opened his eyes and smiled in satisfaction as he looked at his completed work with it's intricate patterns of parallel grooves covering its entire surface. He had lost track of exactly how many grooves he had etched millennia ago. He ran his fingers along the surface of the staff. It was perfectly smooth. The grooves were too small and too close together to be perceived by the hand or eye, but the light knew that they were there. For whenever it touched one of them, it was not only reflected back, but slightly refracted as well. This resulted in there being an ever-changing spectrum of colors dancing over the surface of the staff as he slowly turned it between his fingers. He heard a gasp at the door and looked up to see his cousin, Welkin, standing there with an expression of pure delight on her face.
"It's finished, isn't it?" she said as she hurried across the room to get a better look at the staff. Wayland's smile increased as he savored each one of her compliments. When he had first begun his work on the staff, many of the Travelers would come to marvel at the work-in-progress, but Welkin was the only one who had continued to give him encouragement during the millennia that followed, long after the others had lost interest. There were even some who were amused by his almost obsessive spending of so much time on such a seemingly frivolous project - not that time really had any meaning to a race of immortals. But Welkin didn't think that the creation of beauty was frivolous. Nor did he, and he planned to keep this staff forever as a symbol of his mastery over metalshaping.
Welkin, herself, should have been a very powerful selfshaper - according to the experts, but she was never able to manifest this ability no matter how hard she tried. This always saddened her, and Wayland was one of the few who didn't look down on her for not being able to do anything more than simple sending.
Her lovemate, Hallam, was another - even though he was one of the few who kidded Wayland for making the staff. Hallam didn't care much for magic or frivolous pursuits.
"I told Valdi that I'd find you here, Welkin," said a smiling Hallam from the doorway. He started toward them. "Finally finished, eh, Wayland?"
Welkin gave him a playful poke. Hallam and she were
living proof that opposites attracted, Wayland thought. As a
matter of fact, Hallam was the opposite of just about everybody.
His magical skills were said to be quite formidable, but he never
used them. He felt that a person should do things for himself,
rather than rely on magic. Not only that, but he also disapproved
of the life of comfort that everyone lived and would actually go
out of his way to make things difficult for himself. Wayland could
never figure out why Hallam believed these things and had
stopped trying to long ago. He much preferred working on his
As soon as the Travelers had emerged from the starcraft, those savages had attacked them. Many were already lying frighteningly still on the ground. They had no way of defending themselves because - for some unknown reason - magical energies would not flow properly on this nameless world. Welkin clung to Hallam's hand as they ran for the cover of a nearby forest. Wayland had been right behind them a moment ago, but she could no longer hear his footsteps. Without breaking her stride, she turned just in time to see him fall beneath the club of one of those creatures. ("Why are they doing this to us?" she thought.) Wayland's blood flowed indifferently into the dirt and onto the staff, still clasped between his fingers. The savage was fascinated by the dancing colors, and Welkin saw him begin to reach for that magnificent staff into which Wayland had placed so much of his time, self, and love - a staff that was possibly one of the greatest achievements of a world and a life that she had now lost forever.
Something inside her snapped. Nothing could make her leave that staff behind for those creatures to keep. It belonged to her people. She broke free of Hallam's grasp and started running back toward Wayland's body. It took only a moment for Hallam to realize that Welkin had done more than let go of his hand, but it was time enough for a considerable distance to form between them.
"Welkin! What are you doing?" he shouted as he ran back after her, but she didn't hear him. Already he could see several other savages approaching from the distance. He saw that his friend, Valdi, was still close by and, knowing that Valdi's loyalty was unquestioning, called to him for help. Putting aside his fear, Valdi joined Hallam's race toward the creatures.
Welkin reached Wayland's body and grabbed the staff just as the savage was about to take it. The creature swung his club, hitting her on the shoulder. Her hand involuntarily dropped the staff as she fell to the ground. The savage raised his club to finish her off.
Hallam saw her plight but was still too far away to help. Without thinking - or even stopping to consider the implications of what he was about to do - he picked up a stone and hurled it at the savage, striking true. The creature fell, momently stunned, but the other savages were still approaching. Hallam and Valdi lifted Welkin to her feet and started pulling her toward the forest. But the staff was still on the ground, and Welkin was trying to break free of them to retrieve it.
"We can't leave the staff!" she shouted.
Hallam looked at the blood running down her arm, staining her tunic. He thought of all of his friends who had also fallen before these creatures.
"I'll get it for you," he said with a tone of voice that none of them had ever before heard. "You two run to that forest and keep going. Don't stop for anything. I'll cover your escape."
They hesitated, but he gave them such a fierce command to get moving, that they had to obey. Hallam returned to Wayland's body.
The savage regained consciousness. He saw Hallam standing there, holding his club. It was the last thing he ever saw.
Hallam dropped the bloody club and stared, horrified, at what he had just done. He would have stood there for hours, trying to understand the emotions that had caused him to do it, if it were not for the fact that the other savages were almost upon him. Picking up the staff, he ran toward the forest. Welkin and Valdi were nowhere in sight. Still not understanding the change in himself that a few moments on this new world had brought about, he headed in the direction he thought they might have taken.
Hallam never saw Welkin again.
Many a hearth upon our dark globe sighs after many a vanished
Many a planet by many a sun may role with the dust of a vanished race.
He listened to the others' conversation. Once again they were trying to figure out why magic flowed so poorly on this world and what their best options were. Hallam shook his head. They still refused to accept that there was only one course of action open to them.
"Perhaps, in time, we could learn to control magic again," said Lemann with a frozen tear on his cheek.
"Perhaps, in time, we could all be dead," Hallam snapped. "Magic just will not work here." Lemann bowed his head into his hand. They had heard this from Hallam many times before.
"Please, Hallam. Aren't things bad enough already?"
"Yes, and they will continue to get worse for as long as you continue to deny the truth. We need present certainties, not future maybes. If we are to survive on this world, we can survive only on this world's terms, and those terms do not include magic."
"You can't be certain."
"Nor can you."
"We can try," said Lemann.
Hallam hesitated. Maintaining confidence in his convictions was becoming more difficult with each passing day on this world. He had never before realized how much of his courage came from the knowledge that - if the need ever really arose - he would have had his magic to help him out. Now this world was forcing him to live by his life-long philosophy, and he was starting to worry that it might have been wrong. But he had no choice. The control of magical energies was impossible here. He had tried. He had given up trying. This world was what this world was, and he knew that it was going to reshape them into what it thought they should be. Every time he closed his eyes, he could see the human that he had killed lying there - an image that he knew he would see for the rest of life. He hated this world; he hated what it had made him do; and, most of all, he hated himself for doing it.
But there was something in Lemann's almost defiant tone that seemed to give him a glimmer of hope that they might yet be able to regain control of magic. He had thought that he was no longer capable of feeling hope. Perhaps a different path was possible. Perhaps he could someday make that image go away. His face didn't betray any of these thoughts as he looked at the others.
"Then we shall try," he said.
Everyone - including Hallam - gathered in a circle around some dead branches that they had collected and cleared their minds of all thoughts, save those of creating fire. Once again, they summoned up energy from deep within their minds, and, since they all secretly knew that this would be their last chance, they summoned up more than they had ever before dared.
A flame leapt to life.
Then it died.
They all felt unusually drained. They accepted the truth.
Hallam stood up and turned away from them, closing his eyes. The human was still there. He was more disappointed than any of them, but he knew that he could not let them know that. He was their leader now. He clung to the staff for strength.
"What do we do now, Hallam," said Lemann after a pause. Hallam didn't turn back to them. He didn't open his eyes. Finally, he spoke.
"We will travel far from here - to someplace warmer and more habitable. We will live there. And if any humans try to stop us, we will fight them." He looked at the human in his mind. "And kill them."
He opened his eyes and took a breath. Without turning
back to see if the others would follow, he began to walk away.
They followed. And none of them ever knew that the magic they
had released that day, had remained behind to hang in the air like
a pool of stagnant water.
They turned and ran along the edge of the cliff. But they knew that they were doing nothing more than buying themselves some time because all the humans had to do was change the angle of their pursuit to be sure of eventually intercepting them. Welkin and Valdi exchanged glances, nodding in agreement. They both knew what would happen to them if they were captured. They had seen the remains of others who had been captured by humans, and they also knew that any other form of death would be preferable. So, when the humans were almost upon them, they jumped off the edge of the cliff.
Welkin watched the ground that was rapidly approaching her. She felt helpless. She had always felt helpless, even before she had arrived on this world. She knew that she was going to die soon, but she didn't want to die. She didn't want to give up. She knew that Hallam would never give up. Hallam would do something, but there was nothing that she could do.
The ground continued its approach.
She didn't want to be helpless; she didn't want to give up; she didn't want to die.
Her mind concentrated on these thoughts and wrapped itself around them until all other thoughts were driven from it. Then she felt the pain - a pain beyond comprehension. Welkin was sure that she had hit the ground but knew that she could not have. It was too soon, and death couldn't possibly hurt as much as the agony that she was now experiencing. The pain surged through her mind, through her body, and, when she thought that it couldn't possibly get any worse, it concentrated in her back and became a thousand times worse. She felt her flesh tear open, her muscles twist, her bones divide. She screamed, and her scream drowned out the sound of the ocean.
When the pain had finally reduced to a level that was bearable, Welkin opened her eyes to discover that she was now hovering halfway up the face of the cliff. She looked down and saw Valdi falling away from her. Without stopping to think about what she had just accomplished, she dove after him. Upon reaching him, she grabbed Valdi in her arms, only to find his weight pulling her down as well. Valdi's eyes were wide with wonder. She strained to their limits muscles only moments before she hadn't possessed until, gradually, the speed of their fall began to diminish.
Then, with a powerful downsweep of her wings, they began to rise - slowly at first, but then faster. Higher and higher they climbed: up the cliff-face, past the gaping humans, and beyond - until Skye Selfshaper was able to look down on an entire world. Valdi finally found the words that he was searching for and looked up at her smiling face.
"Welkin, you've grown wings!"
He immediately realized what a stupidly obvious thing this was to say, but he couldn't think of anything else. Skye threw her head back and laughed a full and hearty laugh. It was the first laugh that this world had ever heard coming from one of her people. It was not the last. This experience gave them both a feeling of hope and optimism about the future as Skye followed the sun in search of the perfect haven that would be their new home.
Skye was never able to use her selfshaping powers again, but she didn't mind. She had used them once.
And it was enough.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are -
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Next story: Brightblossom and the Gleam
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