As They Seem by Steph T, Chapter 1 of 2

As They Seem

Starring Milo Pulsar and Shaula Bluestar

It began with a dream.

For night after night I had walked the halls of my crystal home, unable to sleep. Something was not right; something was… out of tune, perhaps, is the best way to say it. I walked, and I looked into the black; I spoke with the stars, and I thought careful thoughts.

By midway through the second day, I was seeing spots at the edge of my vision, I was so tired; but I still could not sleep. Finally, at the end of the third day, I fell into an exhausted stupor, sprawled across the top of my bed; I didn’t even remember to relax the gravity, I was so weary. And I had the dream.

I woke with hot rivulets of sweat running down my back, shivering uncontrollably. My core was fluctuating; if I was human I suppose my heart would have been racing, in panic and terror at what I had seen.

I am not prone to nightmares. I knew this was something more, something different and deeper. It had that shape to it, that sense. And I knew, too, what I had to do- there was only one Diviner in the galaxy I truly trusted.

I had to speak to Marcus Xan.

Xan was the Temporal Sorceror of the Order of Paragon, and ever since Milo and I had saved his life a few years back he’d had a particular fondness for us both. He was the only Diviner in the Tower of Deepsight- in the whole Order, actually- and he kept the other wizards and us quite busy running around the galaxy averting various disasters he’d foreseen.

It had only been a few months since my crystal home had finished growing and I’d moved out of the Tower of Deepsight, and there was no hesitation in me at all as I snatched up a robe and strode towards the stables.

My tetrapteryx Tau was resting, and it took a moment to rouse her to full wakefulness. She blinked at me sleepily as I ran my hands over her Runic flight-controls and rocket boosters, checking all the pieces individually and then together. “All right, girl,” I murmured, sliding into the flight strap and pulling it snug, “Let’s go home.”

(Oops. I suppose that told you how close I’d grown to the Wizard Order during the few years I’d lived among them, that part of me still called the Tower home.)

I extended my atmospheric field. The bay doors opened. We leaped out into the black of space.

It was a quick jump back to the Tower- the Order had given me a Key to their Astral Gate Ring before I’d left. In minutes I was spiraling down through the atmosphere of Paragon towards the Deepsight.

Apprentice Thom was waiting for me on the landing platform. And no longer an Apprentice, I noticed from his tabard- at some point while I’d been away, he’d been graduated to Journeyman status. “Good day, Journeyman,” I murmured with a half-smile.

“Lady Bluestar,” he ducked an awkward bow. “The Sorceror told me you’d be coming. He’s expecting you in his tower; I can take Tau, if you like.”

“Thank you, Thom,” I said simply, and, pulling on my robe, headed into the Tower.

Nothing had changed, I was happy to note, in the time I’d been gone. My feet found themselves pointed towards my friend and partner Milo’s rooms without me even thinking about it; with effort, I turned them away, and up the spiraling staircase to the Sorceror’s study. A number of wizards gave me smiles and kind words when they saw me pass, and would have stopped to speak to me; but I nodded kindly to them and moved on, and they understood.

“Shaula,” Marcus Xan greeted me as I breezed into his study. “Please, sit.” He was seated before his fireplace, wrapped in a blanket and cradling a cup of hot tea. A second empty chair was placed beside his.

I sunk down into it. “Sorceror,” I said in a low voice, then stopped. Blinked in confusion. The Temporal Sorceror looked… different, somehow, from how I remembered him. There were wrinkles on his face I did not recall seeing, and his eyes and hair had grown paler. His hands shook, very gently, as they clutched his tea.

He noticed my concern and laughed softly. “Time catches up to all of us eventually,” he said gently, “even those who dabble in its magics. Perhaps especially us.”

“But surely it has not been so long?” I asked

“Not all of us live as long as stars, dear Shaula,” he said kindly. “But please, enough of that; why have you come? I knew you would come to me, but not the why; speak, child.”

I smoothed my robe down over my legs, a nervous habit that calmed me. “It was a dream, Marcus-” I began.

The door flew open, and I blinked in surprise. Milo leaned in the doorway, breathing heavily. His hair was mussed even more than usual, and his robes were twisted at the waist as though he’d donned them in a careless hurry. “Shaula,” he said with a mixture of concern and irritation. “Where were you yesterday?”

I just blinked at him.

“You missed our cribbage game?” he offered. “I was worried?” A note of annoyance crept into his tone. “Why are you staring at me?”

I was gazing at his face, searching for any signs of age. Was that a wrinkle appearing in the corner of his eye, or was he just squinting at me strangely? “Nothing,” I murmured, and turned away. “I am sorry to have missed our engagement,” I apologized, meaning it. “I was… troubled. There was a dream- I could not sleep, my mind was so… I forgot. I was just preparing to…”

Milo nodded, understanding my jumbled fragments. “Sorry to bust in so rudely,” he apologized to Xan belatedly.

“Quite all right, Pulsar,” the Sorceror said tolerantly. “Come in then, and shut the door. You may well wish to hear this.”

Milo did so, and dragged a third chair over beside us to listen.

“I saw a stone hanging in the sky,” I began. “It was polished but not yet cut; and then I saw it fall to the earth below.” I frowned. “Where it fell, it destroyed all around it; many died, and much was burned. There was…” I shuddered, uncontrollably. “It was very violent,” I apologized.

Milo and Marcus both nodded. “You don’t have to…” Milo began, and Marcus murmured something in agreement.

I took a moment to clear my head. “When I awoke,” I continued, “I knew I had to find the place where the stone fell. I think… I think I have some tie to it. It seemed personal, somehow, if that makes sense?” I was unsure of myself; divination and auguries have never been things I entirely understood.

“It makes sense enough,” the Sorcerer said kindly. “These sorts of things are often given to us in feelings, not words or even images.”

I nodded. “And so I came to you, Sorceror; I knew I would need your help to unravel this.”

The Sorceror gave me a sad little smile. “But I am afraid,” he said gently, “that I cannot give you my help; at least not directly.”

Milo stood up so quickly his chair wobbled and nearly fell over. “What do you mean, you-” he began, anger rushing to flood his face.

“Sit down, Pulsar,” Xan said patiently. “I received a missive this morning,” he continued, passing me a rolled-up scroll. “Take a look, Shaula.”

Milo gave the Sorceror a dirty look, and, instead of sitting down, peered over my shoulder as I read.



The girl doesn’t need your help. And should you give it to her, you will find the consequences for your family will not be to your liking. I am sure that you can foresee my words are true.

There was no signature, but the words were enough to chill me. I sucked in a deep breath; if I hadn’t been sitting down, I think I might have fallen.

“I looked into the timestream,” Xan said gently. “I saw several things. The first, is that his words are true: should I help you, many, many innocents will suffer.”

“These sorts of demands are unreasonable-” Milo began.

The Sorceror cut him off with a patient look. “But I also saw something else, and it is this: you don’t need my help.”

I frowned. “Don’t need your help?”

Xan shook his head. “All the pieces you need are before you, Shaula; with or without my help, you have the same chances of success.” He smiled tolerantly. “Threatening note or no, I think your foe has learned to fear you, a bit.” He meant his words as a compliment, and I nodded slowly in acknowledgment of their truth.

Milo shot Xan an unfriendly look. “You better not try to tell me I need to stay out of this, too.”

“There was no future I could see in which you did not accompany the Lady Bluestar,” the Sorceror replied with a smile that crinkled the corner of his eyes.

“Good,” Milo said, sounding barely mollified.

Marcus turned to me. “I wish I could help you,” he said wistfully. “It is not in my heart to cave to his demands. The Order has never been cowardly.”

“But neither are you too proud to be rational,” I said gently. “We will handle this, Milo and I.”

We made our goodbyes and left, heading back to Milo’s rooms to plot out our course. My partner was angry; he paced back and forth, his face screwed up with upset.

“Milo?” I asked carefully. We had known each other many years; he was quick to anger, yes, but I had rarely known him to hold onto his anger longer than the moment of the altercation.

“Cowardice,” he spat. “The Order of Paragon, held off with a scrap of parchment?”

“It’s much more than that, Milo, and you know it,” I said reasonably. I touched his shoulder lightly. “We can do this, you and I. You know we can.”

He blew out a frustrated breath. But he didn’t calm down, like I expected. “You missed our cribbage game,” he changed the subject suddenly.

I blinked. “And I’m sorry for that,” I said cautiously, not really understanding his upset. It was unlike me to miss a commitment, yes, but cribbage was hardly a world-shaking event… I frowned in sudden realization. “Why didn’t you just come visit when I didn’t show up?” I asked. “You have a Gate Key to my home, you could have-”

“I don’t,” Milo shook his head. “You never gave me one.”

“I never gave you your Gate Key?” A piece of the puzzle started to come clear in my head.

MIlo raised an eyebrow. “You gave the Temporal Sorceror one in case he needed to send someone or a message for you.” But not one for your partner, he did not have to add.

Oh, I realized, suddenly understanding. Of course.

“But I made two,” I said to myself. “One for the Tower, and one for you.” I patted my pockets. “Ah!” I pulled out a second Key- a thumb-sized sapphire with runes engraved on each face.

Milo’s face was a study in surprise. “You made me a Key?”

“Of course I did,” I said patiently. “You’re my partner- and my best friend,” I added. I handed him the sapphire. “I really thought I’ve given this to you already.” And I miss you, too, I did not have to say.

Milo took it from me in a daze. He looked at me for a long moment. Then he started to laugh, loud and long; he pulled me into a fierce embrace. I endured it, smiling faintly; after a moment he pulled away. “Shaula, you are ridiculous,” he gasped out around more laughter.

“I think you’ll find it’s you,” I murmured, but with a smile. “Can we talk about the mission now?”

“Right, right, of course,” he agreed, sitting down at his workbench and gesturing me to join him. “Can you tell me more about where the stone fell? Did the dream have any of those sorts of details?”

I thought about it for a moment. “I remember… some,” I said hesitantly. “A low walled city. Rolling fields, blue and gold grasslands. Um. Three moons that I could see.”

“Then let’s start from there.”

* * *

A day later we had a list of ten possible planets; with another two days we’d narrowed it to three.

“I feel like we’re running out of time,” I said to him over a stack of books. I ran a hand through my hair, unhappy frustration bubbling up inside me. “I feel… I’m not sure how to explain it.”

“Another touch of prophecy?” Milo inquired.

“Flare, I hope not. Probably.” I sighed deeply. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this… divinatory development. I’ve never had this sort of thing happen before.”

“But this is different,” he mused. “And we need to figure out why. Hmm.” He leaned back in his chair, looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “Let’s just go,” he finally suggested.


“To each of the three systems. We can make quick jumps- I’ve plenty of mana stored in my Tome- and you can just speak to each star in turn.”

I smiled. “How did I deserve such a brilliant partner?” I asked warmly.

He laughed. “Excellent luck and years of good behavior?” he offered.

“I think we both know better on the last one.”

“That was one time-”

“We got barred from two Sectors of the Galaxy.”

Milo made a face. “…small Sectors,” he muttered.

I laughed in turn, and pushed my chair back from the desk. “I’ll get our bags, you get Androsus and Tau.”

An hour later we were climbing into the skies, roar of the engines a welcome familiarity; and then we were through the Gate.

The first system was a mild-mannered little yellow star called Lauso. He was a sleepy one, but friendly enough; we spoke for a few minutes on the usual pleasantries. Local radiance, a passing comet of interest, that sort of thing- likely not interesting to any but a starbeing and star.

Your humans, I finally asked. Have they been at peace?

Peace, he agreed. The small ones are at peace.

Good, I said warmly. Watch over them well.

“It’s not here,” I said, turning to Milo.

He was looking at me with a tolerant and amused expression. “You were gossiping, weren’t you?” he teased.

“I’ll have you know, there was a very interesting comet,” I defended myself.

He laughed. “Let’s hit Myyr and then Wenther; and if neither of those works, well, back to the drawing board.”

I nodded; Tau swung away from Androsus, and we headed back towards Lauso’s Astral Gate Ring. With our atmospheres separated again I couldn’t make out his words, but could see him make a grand gesture of opening; and the Ring lit up with the Gate-runes for Myyr. He waved at me, and Tau and I dove through.

Myyr was a white star, and a mature one at that. I felt his mind touch mine the moment I came through the Gate, and I felt urgency in the reaching.

I am here, I whispered gently. Speak to me, White One, I am here.

Bluesister, Bluesister, he whispered back, The Terrible One was here!

The star’s core was surging in upset; I shuddered as a wash of solar discharge battered against me. Peace, peace, I soothed.The Terrible One, who?

The star sent me a phrase that cannot quite be translated into the common tongue; a sense of iron will and a certain magical brightness.

I paled. A Wizard had been here.

Is he still here, the Terrible One?

Gone, gone through the Roaring Door, with Her.

Her? Who is Her?

But the star flinched away from me and went silent; and try as I might I could not convince him to speak again.

I turned away in frustration. Milo had come through the Gate behind me, and was waiting patiently for my report. I just gestured towards the planet; he read it on my face.

This was bad.

Milo’s Etheral Mask glittered as he turned his arcane vision on the planet. After a few minutes of scanning, he waved me over.

Tau drew carefully closer to the big pteradon, and I extended our atmosphere to overlap theirs. “You’re not going to like this, starprincess,” he warned me.

“I know it’s another Wizard,” I said cautiously. “Are you saying…”

Milo nodded. “Definitely Order of Nogg. I don’t know if it’s him, but it might be.”

I closed my eyes, let the dull ache roll over my heart. Even years later, thinking of that day stung me. The worst day of my life.

It was the day my family died. Was murdered, in fact- by a Wizard of the Order of Nogg, in pursuit of the heartcrystal of my home star. Milo had saved my life; and in the years since, we’d sought the Nogg Wizard on dozens of systems with little to no success. We’d caught word of him a few times, and bumped into him just once- on accident, really, while pursuing something else.

There was no time for this emotion, though; not now. With excruciating care, I packed up all that sadness and anger; packed it up neatly and stored it in a corner of my mind, for later. I opened my eyes and met Milo’s gaze levelly. “What do we know about Myyr?” I asked with renewed calm.

“Small agri world. Only three settlements of note- and the one that’d match up to your vision is on the world’s southern continent, their capitol city.”

“Capitol, hm? What sort of government?”

“It’s actually a reigning local monarchy, if you can believe it.” Milo smiled crookedly. “A bit old-fashioned, but it works for them. They’re technically part of the Agricultural Council, but you know how loosely they govern their colonies.”

“Mm.” I looked down at the planet speculatively. “Hard to say what he’d want here. Any local legends, artifacts of power?”

“I skimmed,” Milo admitted. “But I brought the books. We can check it out later, if we need to?”

“Skimmed,” I teased.

Milo made a face at me, then grinned. Touching Androsus’s flight runes, he pulled the pteradon away and gestured for me to follow him down into atmo.

We spiraled downwards. The cloud cover was thick; I grimaced and pulled in another burst of stellar rays before Tau and I dove down through them after my partner and broke through to the city. And the city…

The city was burning. I stared in horror for a long moment after we broke through the clouds; even with my dream to warn me, the scope of the damage hit me on a visceral level. Everywhere I looked- and it was a broad one, far-reaching- I could not see a block that did not have at least one building aflame.

Milo was already in action, shouting out an incant; the clouds around him swelled, and then burst into a torrential downpour. He wheeled Andry in a wide arc, and wherever they flew, the rain followed.

I urged Tau to land; touched down in the a large open square in the center of the city. She made an unhappy squawk when her talons touched the wet pavement. Tetrapteryxes are fairly sensitive to the damp; I left her rain-shields up and headed towards the largest crowd I could spot.

Despite the sudden heavy rain, a fire was still blazing merrily in what looked like a tavern or inn. As I watched, a man tried to pull away from the crowd and run back inside; but a pair of others held him back.

“Who’s still inside?” I demanded, weaving my way through the crowd as quickly as I could. “You, please, tell me; who is still within?”

“My nephew,” the man moaned. “Was working for me, he was in the attic gathering… who are you?”

I didn’t stop to explain. It’d take a fire a whole lot hotter than this one to burn even one of my Redstar cousins; and I was a Bluestar. I pulled my personal atmosphere close around my skin, not wanting to let add any more oxygen to the mix, and headed in to the building.

It was chaos within. The building had been solidly built, some time ago, which was the only reason it wasn’t in pieces; but a huge oddly rounded chunk had been gouged out of the central support beam by I-don’t-even-know-what, and the ceiling was creaking and tottering. I headed upstairs, hugging close to the wall and offering a silent prayer that the staircase wouldn’t come tumbling down with me still on it.

I found him in the attic, a youth on the cusp of adulthood; half-buried under a pile of timber, and gasping for air already. I heaved the beam off him with a delicate shove of starforce; then put my face close to his and extended my breathable atmosphere to wrap around him. He gasped the air in gratefully, coughing and wheezing and sucking in great breaths.

“I can’t carry you!” I shouted over the roar of the flames. “Can you walk?”

He nodded mutely, scrambled to his feet with a grimace. I eyed his ankle; the way he was favoring it, it was likely sprained but not broken. I let him lead the way out, clinging carefully to his side so as not to overextend the atmosphere.

We were within arm’s-reach of the front door when a beam gave way above us. I didn’t think, just shoved the boy through the door with one arm; and with the other, threw a wall of starforce at the beam to keep it from crushing me. Void and black, it was heavy! Starforce is good for short sharp bursts, not for sustained intervals; in the time it took me to stumble out the front door, my arm was shaking with effort.

My vision grayed out for a moment; but I made it out of the building before it came down around me. I took a moment to compose myself- even on backwater planets like this, professional appearance can be crucial- then looked around for the boy I’d saved.

He was with his uncle, in the midst of a fierce embrace. A knot of people- relatives, it looked like- surrounded the two of them, looking on in relief.

And everyone else in the crowd was staring at me.

My being stared at isn’t particularly unusual. There are something like a hundred billion humans in the galaxy, and under a hundred thousand starbeings. Most of us never even mingle with human society; all in all, I’m usually the first and only starbeing they ever see. So I get a lot of curious stares.

This wasn’t curiosity, though. This was fear.

I looked back at them, utterly bewildered. I had been to a hundred worlds or more, from the crowded streets of Sargas to the remote forests of Skyroot. I had been greeted with wonder, interest, disdain; I had been ignored, from time to time. But I had never before been feared.

“Is anyone hurt?” I finally asked, as cautiously and gently as I could.

They flinched away- they actually flinched. One woman pushed her child behind her in a protective manner.

“I don’t understand,” I whispered. Their eyes upon me, pressing into me; too heavy, too much. I swayed in place and wondered if I should just sit down.

“Shaula!” a voice shouted, and to my great relief, Milo pushed his way through the crowd and made his way to my side. “Shaula, there you are- I saw Tau, and… what’s wrong?” He looked at the crowd, looked at me; frowned. “What’s happening here?”

“I’m not sure,” I said faintly.

The crowd began to murmur among themselves; I saw fingers point to Milo’s tabard, and whispers of ‘Paragon’ and ‘Wizard’.

“I just pulled him out of the building.” I touched my forehead, covered my eyes for a moment. “And then they all… I don’t understand, Milo.”

Milo placed his arm around my shoulders gently, supporting me; I accepted his help gratefully. “Hmm,” he wondered out loud, “Do you think you-”

Whatever Milo was about to say was cut off by a sudden violent tremor in the ground, followed by a loud explosion. We stumbled against each other but kept our feet. “What was that?” I shouted over the terrified wails of the crowd.

“North!” Milo shouted back, grabbing at my sleeve. “Let’s go!”

Androsus screamed and danced back and forth as we tried to mount him; Milo gave him an impatient swat on the flank, and he stilled long enough for me to scramble up. I called for Tau to follow, and we were off to investigate the sound.

We didn’t have to go far to find the source. Just on the edge of town, a number of outbuildings had been smashed into a field of rubble some two hundred yards across. And at the center of it, a pair of clouds of whirling dust and debris so thick I could barely make out a figure at the center of each.

“Milo!” I shouted, pointing at the ground. Near the edge of the rubble, a third figure was struggling to rise, pushing part of a column to one side with great effort.

“I see it!” he shouted back, and banked the pteradon hard right. We landed as near to the figure as we could manage and hurried to assist.

As we got closer, we could make out more; a young woman, dressed in some kind of reinforced leather armor, was half-pinned under part of a carved wooden arch laying across her middle. “Thanks,” she gasped out as we shifted it off her carefully.

“Good thing you were armored,” Milo said with relief, examining her midsection. “This could have crushed you, or the splinters could have pierced a lung.”

“True as Delphi, that,” she wheezed. “Wizard, please, I don’t know who you are, but I beg you,” she pleaded between gasping breaths, “please help my father!” She pointed at one of the two battling figures. “I swear, the reward will be-”

“Of course we’ll help,” Milo waved his hand in a distracted way. “Just tell us what’s going on here.”

Her forehead wrinkled in confusion at the “we”, and I moved to offer her a hand up. She took it without hesitation, then nearly dropped it in surprise when she looked at my face. “Oh! Oh, you’re… oh, I’m sorry.” She gripped my arm again, rose to her feet. “I thought you were… never mind.”

Frustration burned at me, but I held my tongue; there would be time for questions later. “Please, what’s going on?” I asked again.

“Right, of course,” she replied, still dazed. “That’s…” and she pointed again, “my father, King Otis of Myyr. And that’s…” she pointed at the other, “some Wizard, I don’t know his name… Order of Nogg, I think…”

“Shaula,” Milo interrupted, putting a hand on my arm. “Is he…”

I looked, reached out with my other senses. “No, or at least if so, he doesn’t have the crystal.”

“Right,” he nodded in relief. “Go on, then.”

“Um.” She shook her head, blinked a few times. “Right. I’m not sure what the Nogg wants, something to do with our planet’s elemental forces I think, I don’t know why…”

Something lit up in Milo’s face. “Princess,” Milo inejcted urgently.

“Luccah,” she said, nodding.

“Princess Luccah, is this a traditional monarchy?” Milo peered excitedly into her face.

She hesitated. “I’m not sure what that… I mean, yes, I think so, my father’s said…”

“Good enough,” Milo cut her off with a grin. “Come on, Shaula, we need to break this fight up before it gets even uglier!”

I nodded and followed him. We scrambled over rubble as fast as we could towards the fight raging in the center. “Care to give me the quick version?” I panted.

“Ummm. Fertile planet, strong native magics. Elemental powers, et cetera. King and his land are traditionally one. Oof.” He slid down a fallen stone slab, catching himself hard at the bottom.

I knew enough arcane theory to fill in the details. “Mmm. Some sort of power theft?”

“You got it, starprincess. Okay, this seems close enough.” He pulled his wand from its belt-sheath. “Let’s see if we can do this the easy way,” he muttered, and gave the wand a sharp slash.

A huge wooden beam rose up off the ground; Milo gestured with the levitation wand once more, and it went sailing through the air towards the Nogg Wizard’s dust-wreathed form.

It looked as though it were going to be a direct hit; but at the last moment, it veered wildly away, flung sideways by the incredible force of the wind surrounding him.

It did get his attention, though. The windstorm lessened, barely, and a gout of flame lashed out at us. Milo quickly interposed a spinning water-shield; and I ducked to one side and cracked my laser whip, sending a searing lance of light and heat back at him.

“Nice one!” Milo crowed. Still keeping his shield up, he scrambled to tuck his levitation wand back into its sheath and pull out his own laser whip- a twin to mine. But then, he’d given me mine, years ago.

Another gout of flame came my way, but sloppily; King Otis- a Wizard-King, I belatedly realized- was giving as good as he could while the wizard was distracted. I sidestepped it neatly, not particularly minding the wash of heat as it streamed past me, and sent another laser lance back his way.

I have to give him due credit- fighting three foes, two of them wizards, he did better than most would have. I had to scramble to take cover as a spear of ice whizzed through the air above my head. It almost clipped me, too, but Luccah had caught up to us; she grabbed my arm and managed to yank me down next to her, behind half of a toppled statue.

“My thanks,” I gasped out, breathing hard. “Is he-”

“ENOUGH!” the Wizard of Nogg roared, taking a step back and lowering his arms. The wind around the King and him stilled.

Milo paused too, lowering his arms partway but not quite dropping his shield. “Ready to yield, Nogg?” my partner called mockingly.

“Hardly,” the wizard sneered back. His polished metal skullcap gleamed, turning his expression even more menacing.

For a sudden shocking moment, I saw a different face under that signature Nogg skullcap; coldly glittering eyes that had never known mercy. No, I realized, no; this wizard was much younger than my old enemy; less powerful, too.

“…should have given me what I asked long ago,” the Nogg Wizard continued, and I came back to myself with a start. “All of this could have been averted, all of this damage, these deaths!”

“The people of Myyr, my people, are not for sale at any price,” King Otis replied in a low and angry voice. “No bribe, no blackmail, no threat would change my answer, Wizard.”

“I thought you would say that,” he replied grimly. “And for your arrogance… the Princess will die.” He made a sudden gesture- activating a sleeping spell, I realized stupidly- and then a ball of roaring black energy was racing towards Luccah, who stood frozen in place, eyes wide…

“No,” I spat, and threw myself at the Princess, tossing her aside with a surge of starforce…

…and the ball of black energy smashed into me, lifted me off my feet…

…and I heard Milo yelling, and I felt tendrils of magic creeping over me, prodding and testing me…

…and I felt it hesitate for a long moment; and then, with a horrible wailing sound, the tendrils plunged into my body.

I screamed. I couldn’t help myself. You try taking a death-curse for someone and not screaming. I felt all the air rush out of me; I struggled for breath. I felt my body’s core temperature rising, hotter and hotter. Had I been human, my blood would have been boiling; instead, I was struggling not to set the stone around me aflame with heat I could not contain.

“Shaula!” I heard a voice cry, from very far away. Milo. I felt a hand touch my forehead; heard Milo swear and jerk his hand away from the heat. “Don’t touch her, she’s going to…”

Heat raced through me, building up hotter and hotter; I thought my skin was going to split. “Milo,” I whimpered. “Back!”

At least, I think I managed to say that; either way, though, my partner understood, and I heard him urging the King and Princess away from me. Good enough; it had to be good enough.

I opened my eyes and let it all go. A beam of blue-hot plasma tore out of me, sending a column of furious light and heat towards the heavens.

I couldn’t tell you how long it lasted. But at the end, I lay exhausted and… depleted, I suppose was the best word… on the broken stone slab. My limbs felt too heavy to move; one of my arms was dangling awkwardly over the edge, but I could not find it in me to pull it back up onto my chest.

“Lady star?” a voice- Luccah?- asked me cautiously. Her face came into my field of vision; concern and fear were written clear across it.

“Is she alive?” I heard the King ask.

“Move over,” Milo snapped. “Shaula?” He shouldered the other two aside and crouched next to me.

I managed to blink. “Ergh,” I articulated.

“Oh, thank the Dragon, you’re alive,” he sighed. “How do you feel?”

“Tired,” I mumbled. “Drained. Everyone…?”

“Alive. The Nogg jumped out on a Gate Key.” Milo grimaced. “Can you move?”

“Nnng.” I couldn’t even find the energy to shake my head.

“That’s all right.” Milo flicked his levitation wand, and I rose into the air.

“Hate when you do this,” I whispered.

“Yes, yes, undignified, just relax and let me handle it, okay?” Milo made a face at me; I smiled faintly and closed my eyes.

I heard the party begin to move; back towards the palace, I assumed. “How is she?” Luccah asked faintly.

“Alive, but the curse hit her hard.” Milo paused. “Still not quite sure how she managed to interpose herself- that was a very targeted sleeping spell.”

“A sleeping spell?” she asked curiously.

“It’s when you set a spell in waiting,” Otis explained. “A held spell, or a sleeping spell, activated later. It usually has to be something fairly simple, or it loses shape.”

“Right,” Milo agreed. “Or, if it’s something more powerful, it has to be bound in some way. Certain strictures applied to it.”

“The Princess will die,” Otis mused. “It should have only worked on Luccah- she’s the Princess.”

I smiled a faint smile. Technicalities.

“What’s funny, Shaula?” Milo asked, amused.

“Bluestar,” I whispered. “Technically…”

Milo laughed. “Are you serious?”

“What?” Luccah asked.

“Evidently starbeings have a spectrum caste system.” Milo snickered. “How long have we been partners, and you never mentioned?”

“Thought you knew,” I smiled faintly. “Starprincess.”

“I never meant-” Milo grinned. “You realize there’s no way I’m ever letting you live this down.”

“Mm,” was all I could manage.

By the time we reached the palace grounds I was feeling strong enough to walk on my own. I was tired, though; and hungry. I lifted my face to soak in some stellar rays; but to my surprise, I felt nothing more than warmth on my skin. I stopped, pushed up the sleeves of my robe to bare a larger patch; but nothing.

“Lady star?” the King inquired.

“Too quiet,” I murmured. Concerned, I tuned out the sounds around me and opened my other senses, trying to hear the star’s whispers. Or rather, I tried to- but encountered a sudden blockage. “Milo,” I said, a note of alarm in my tone, “I can’t hear the star.”

“The curse,” he understood at once. “You aren’t human, so it didn’t kill you; but it sealed you off from your powers. Do you have the others?”

I turned my gaze to a pile of leaves. “Let’s see,” I said grimly, and tried a push of starforce. “Nothing,” I muttered. “Nothing, nothing.” I tried my plasmabeams, and my starsong; all of it was gone, sealed away somehow.

“That would have killed me,” Luccah whispered, staring at me with wide eyes. “I… I’m so sorry. And thank you. And we’ll do what we can to help you, of course.” The words spilled out of her like water overflowing.

“We will,” the king affirmed. “The honor of the Belknap family demands it.” He turned to Milo. “Wizard,” he said formally, “I would like to contract your services for a duration, until this curse is overturned and the Nogg Wizard driven away from Myyr. Is this acceptable?”

Milo nodded. “If I have your word that you’ll protect my partner here,” he said grimly.

I shot him a grumpy look.

He smirked. “Don’t give me that look, your starhighness- I know you can normally take care of yourself, but not right now.”

I didn’t like it, but what could I do? It was true. I made a face, but didn’t complain.

And so it was that Milo and I ended up as guests of the Belknap royal family of Myyr. Milo and the King spent their days traveling through the city, rebuilding where possible and at least making the ruins of buildings safer where they couldn’t. Luccah busied herself arranging food and shelter for the Myyrans displaced by the fires.

I found myself with little useful to do. I generally found this sort of situation intolerable; and this time was no exception. I busied myself as much as possible in research, poring through the books Milo had brought as well as the Belknap royal library.

I also made one trip back to the Tower of Deepsight; the Temporal Sorceror examined me, but was reluctant to try to lift the curse. Possible complications, he explained; much easier to get the curse’s original caster to lift it, through choice or through death, if I wasn’t in immediate danger. And I wasn’t; though my powers were cut off, I was still able to take in at least enough starlight to keep myself functional, if not happy.

On the evening of the fourth day of this, Luccah found me atop an abandoned tower of the palace, gazing up at the too-cold, too-distant stars. “Good evening, Lady Bluestar,” she greeted me politely, formally.

“Princess Luccah,” I dipped my head. “A beautiful night.”

She took a careful step closer to me; I watched her from the corner of my eye. Was she being careful from fear, or simple courtesy? I relaxed my pose a hair, and a bit of tension drained out of her; courtesy, then.

“Does it sorrow you greatly?” she asked hesitantly, gesturing at the stars. “Being… removed from them?”

“It is difficult,” I replied gently. “It is as though a part of me is blind. But I do not suffer overmuch; please, do not trouble yourself.”

“But I must,” she replied, surprising me. “You took my death from me; there is a debt between us that I have not yet begun to repay.” She sighed, leaned on the balcony’s edge. “Though we’re trying all we can.”

“I have every confidence that this curse will be broken, one way or another,” I said soothingly. “I have no worry there. I suppose my only wish is that I might be more useful to these proceedings.” I sighed. “I’m used to doing a lot more than I am now. But without my strength…”

She looked away, her body tensing ever so subtly. Ah, there was the fear.

“Luccah,” I said softly, “please, I must know. Why do they fear me?” Why do you fear me, I did not ask.

“No one has told you?” She didn’t sound surprised. “I suppose not. Ah, how to begin,” she let out a sigh. “It was… when the Wizard of Nogg was here, before. All the damage he did to the city…” her voice trailed off.

“Milo mentioned that your line is directly tied to the elements of the planet, and that in the conflict the Wizard managed to disrupt the balance such that the fire…” I stopped. “But that’s not what you’re talking about, is it?”

She shook her head. “He had… someone? Something? …else, with him. And she… She did almost all of this.” Luccah gestured over the city below us. “With great beams of… something, from her eyes.” She looked at me sidelong. “Like you have.”

“Had,” I mused. “You are not saying she was a starbeing?” I eyed her skeptically. “My people are entirely peaceful.”

She shook her head stubbornly. “I saw her,” she said defensively. “She was robed and hooded, but I saw her. She could have been… he called her Blackstar.”

I smiled tolerantly. “And that seals it,” I shook my head. “There are no Blackstars. We are Bluestars, White, Gold, Red; but there simply is no such thing as a Blackstar.” I tried to wrap my head around it, but failed.

“She looked like you,” Luccah whispered. “Her skin glowed… so eery, like shifting dark water. And her eyes… so dark they were, and when she was angry they filled with black, and spinning with stars…”

I felt a chill settle over me as the woman’s words took hold on my mind. That sounded entirely like a starbeing; like me, when rare anger came over me and I unleashed my plasmabeams. But I’d seen the destruction done to the city; I couldn’t have done this, and I’m among the strongest of my kind. I thought of the support beam in the tavern, the hole gouged out of it, and wondered.

“Look,” Luccah changed the subject, pointing. “My father and your wizard are returning.”

I followed her gesture; King Otis and Milo were indeed trudging up the road towards the palace. “My partner is his own wizard, not mine,” I smiled wryly, amused by her choice of words. “It’s late for them to be returning, is it not?”

She didn’t seem to be listening to my last words. “He is terribly handsome, is he not?” she said, half to herself.

“Is he?” I considered it. “I suppose, for a human?” I finally said doubtfully. “I don’t know that I could tell.”

She shot me an appraising look; smiled after a moment. “Let’s go down and meet them,” she suggested.

I wasn’t sure what in my words had pleased her, but at least it was better than fear.

* * *

Next Chapter

One Response to As They Seem by Steph T, Chapter 1 of 2

  1. Pingback: Hooray, A New Adventure! « Astroarcane

Add Comment Register

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>