Field Trip Pt 2

From the Story Arc: Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Previous Story in the Arc: Field Trip Pt 1 by Victoria Victrix (Saturday, January 10, 2009)

Next Story in the Arc: Field Trip Pt 3 by Victoria Victrix (Saturday, January 10, 2009)

(posted Saturday, January 10, 2009)

"Put the belt on, babe," Vickie said, "It puts a big fat 'no kill I' sign on you." She considered what he didn't know...

... everything, actually. Gah. Now she was going to have to reset her brain back to the moment she'd first entered the Gate back at St. Rhiannon's. Info-dump time.

"OK. You are a virgin knight," she said, and rolled her eyes at his expression. "Stop smirking. It means that you haven't been tried in combat as a knight, okay?"

"So... uh... what's this mean for me, Vic? I'm expected to go off and kill dragons or something?" He thought about that. "Huh, that'd be pretty cool actually..."

"Not if the dragon happens to be a friend of mine, it wouldn't." She grinned to take the sting out of the words. "No worries, if you really want to haul out and kill monsters, there are plenty in the Chaos Realms that need taking down, and they haven't got the brains of a chicken, so no guilt either. Just...think of them as land-sharks."

"Bulettes?"

Hooboy. A gaming reference. Well... in context... that could be useful. Very useful. A form of shorthand she could use to warn him about Bad Things. And Good Things, actually. "Yes, it looks like a Beholder, but it's my drinking buddy." "More like... ah... let's put it this way. Some have been known to have their own postal code."

"I'll pass," he said dryly. "Still... cool deal. A knight. Lessee... got my belt..."

He put the belt on.

Nothing happened for approximately a minute. Then...

They were both used to seeing auras on people. Red was just not used to seeing an aura quite like this one. It extended to roughly six feet in all directions. It shimmered. In fact, it looked a bit like that "curtain of silver threads" effect on the Portal. Gate. Whatever she called it.

"You can turn it down now, babe," Vickie said dryly. "That's Robin's mark on you."

"Wonderful, I've been branded."

It occurred to her at that moment that having a mind stuffed full of useless trivia was not entirely helpful. Not when you now had the theme song to the eponymous TV series stuck somewhere in your cortex.

Great. Now I'm going to have to think about Barry Manilow to get that out.

"Nah. It just means that anything in Silverthorn or the other Seleighe Elfhames will ask courteously if you really meant to offend before they try and kill you." She chuckled at his expression.

On that note, he concentrated, and the aura diminished somewhat.

"Keep trying. You're just taking it out of visible range, that's all. Unless, of course, you want to be a shining beacon." She smiled. "S'okay, I know you aren't used to doing this magic stuff. It responds to will, here. You have to train your will so that it becomes a weapon, in effect. Like... oh..."

She held out her hand. There was a sword in it. Just... there, responding to her will saying "And I will have my sword now." Oh dear gods, that felt good. No wonder she'd gotten into trouble when she'd gone up against that Hellion boss.

"Now that, I can do," he smirked, as a fire sword erupted in his hand.

"True enough. But mine would hurt you if I used it." She tapped on it. It rang like a bell.

"I'm pretty sure this would hurt you as well..." he began, and stopped. "Aw, hell. I'm sorry."

How... strange. He had fire in his hand. That, combined with the off-hand remark, should have made her wince, something large. And all that it did was --

Great good gods. She was reacting like "old" Vic would have to a cocky first-year. When did that happen? When did she start taking it for -- not just for granted, but for fundamental gospel truth that he would never hurt her or allow her to come to harm?

"Actually, love, it would hurt me a lot more here," she said quietly. It was mage-fire here, after all. Something she was now acutely sensitive to. "Assuming I didn't counter it."

"You know I would never do that," he said quietly.

She smiled. There was something... different about her, with that sword in her hand. She took a combat stance. "Do me a favor. Try. Go ahead, I want to show you something."

"No," he said, and the fire sword disappeared. "I... know you can defend yourself, but not even in sparring, would I take fire to you."

She blinked. The sword-point dropped. She reached up to hold her free hand along his jaw-line. "Love..."

Should I tell him? He had just effectively told her aloud that he could not and would not ever hurt her physically... well, emotionally and mentally too. Words had power here, and that was a Pledge if ever she heard one. Is this the time and place to tell him about the geas?

Maybe not. No, not now and not yet. But... someday.

"Here. Take this." She handed him the sword she had conjured, and called another into her hand. "I just want to prove something to you. To your gut. Your head knows that I was -- still am here -- a warrior. Your gut still thinks of me as the crowd-control gal. So go ahead and give me your absolute best shot and don't stop coming until I've disarmed you."

He hesitated, then took the sword by the hilt. She was deadly serious, but it didn't reach him. She was asking him to do something absurd. His eyes ran along the razor's edge in fear. This was the sharpest sword he had ever seen, and so light, if she didn't block it, it would run clean through her. His imagination was good, it ran away from him sometimes, playing out entire productions in his mind before he could rein it in. He saw her, the sword stuck in her, her on the ground, his hands weakly shaking as they fought to hold in her blood...

Weakly, he levelled a soft, hesitant blow at her sword arm.

His sword went flying. To his eyes, she hadn't even moved.

"Again," she said quietly. "And this time make it real." She paused. "Red. Love. This blade is a part of me, an extension of me. I don't even have to think to use it and use it well. Now commit yourself."

Something she didn't do often -- it was pure showmanship and about as useful in real fighting as -- baton twirling. Still.

Hollywood, here I come. She took one good, long deep breath -- and Sword-danced. Elven Sword-dancing; which was to fighting what capoeira was to martial arts.

And now, he saw it. The dance was pretty enough, and she certainly seemed skilled, but it was her eyes... so sure, confident. And they never, for a second, left his.

This was another side of her; a side that hadn't existed for him until this moment. Slowly, deliberately, he stepped back and retrieved the blade. Elven steel, almost weightless in his hand, so like his own fire sword...

Red had come a long way with a blade. From a street punk to crimefighter, he had learned any number of techniques. He moved fast, and struck hard, before his foes usually had any chance to react. Always moving, a dervish, he kept them off balance, graceful and deadly.

She wants my best... alright...

He leaped at her, the sword a blur, his heart racing as he fell upon her with flashing steel. She stood her ground, sword point low, and merely watched as he closed the distance.

She'd watched him fight. She knew his style. It wasn't unlike that of other foes she had faced Underhill, most notably the Springjacks. He was good. She was better.

She waited until the last second, engaged, bound his blade, locking it hilt to hilt, closing completely so that the two blades were trapped between their two bodies and they were nose-to-nose.

She kissed him, a darting, hard kiss over crossed blades. Then she sprang away, grinning. "You can do better than that," she taunted.

She loved it, the shock in his eyes. And she hadn't even begun to show him what she could do. But she needed to. Because life was dangerous down here.

But Red could surprise as well. His shock turned to a smirk, then an open grin.

My girl can fight... c'mon Red, you know she can, and she's home. She's Amberiel. Not Vickie. Not even Victoria Victrix. Not here. Not now.

He relaxed his stance, drew his sword up, and charged. He wasn't holding back, well, not that much, anyway.

Heh. Yes, she'd seen this pattern before too. Overhead strike, which, if countered, led to a sideswipe, full turn, sideswipe, full turn, undercut, overhead again.

Not this time, my love.

She ducked under the overhead strike and it whiffed past her by an inch, caught his sideswipe with one of her own, full-turned in the opposite direction, repeated on the other side, and then moved in for the "kill." She caught his undercut and assisted it up, aikido-style, so that his own momentum became a balance-break and he couldn't stop himself as she "assisted" him right down onto the ground on his ass.

"Ow," was all he said, but in the moments that followed, what sounded like a low growl became... laughter.

She stepped -- lightly -- on his sword-wrist, and leveled her point at his chin. "Do ye yield to me, Sieur Djinn?" she asked.

He waggled his brow. "Every chance I get."

That was far, far too good an opening. She tossed the sword up in the air, where it winked out of existance, and pounced. She pulled the scarf down from his face and kissed him, pinning his arms down just below the shoulder. "An ye shall pay the forfeit of yielding!"

Oh it was perilous down here. Glamories were the least of it. Rory knew, it was why he was worried about her bringing Red down here. Still, her love had to know, truly know, that she could defend herself. So that he could concentrate on his own defense and not on covering her. So that, in time, they could be swordmates as well as...

Well.

It was a special, special bond, when swordmates became heartmates, or vice versa.

In Paragon, she needed protection. Down here....

That could be a problem, if he carried that over to Paragon. But she could fix that too. Later.

"Wow," he mumbled, his mouth still on hers. "What would I have gotten for winning?"

"We-ell..." Briefly she considered conjuring a pavillion around them. But -- no. Not yet anyway. "Winner declares the forfeit. And I'll claim the real prize... later."

He brought his fingers up to her face, and held them there. "Vic... why am I a knight? I mean... really, why? You ask for this?"

His heart was still racing... the flash of steel, her soft embrace... but through it all, he was still in Wonderland. It was still like a dream, and the question remained: How on Earth was he a knight? One of his greatest fantasies now realized, so unexpected, and... he had to laugh... by elves! So much like a dream. He, who had failed so often, who had made so many bad choices... how could this be happening?

She looked deeply into his eyes. This was important. After all the hits he'd been taking to his spirit lately, this was important. He had to understand that he had earned this, earned this not by a tally of conquests and mistakes, but by the sum of a life. Two lives. Hers as well as his.

"I came under to talk to Robin and thank him for -- keeping me on under altered circumstances. I thought you could use a little break, and I asked him if you could come under with me and visit Fangorn. A one-shot visit, what we call an 'oak, ash and thorn' visit, because that's the 'no kill I' token you carry with you."

The memory would remain with her as long as she lived. Robin sprawled over his throne like a teenager watching television in a lounge chair. Not his full trickster-form, but the "prince off-duty" mode of casual pseudo-Robin-Hood gear. And in the blink of an eye --

He had gotten to his feet. And despite the casual attire, he was truly her liege and there was no jesting in him.

"This Red Djinni," he'd said, holding her eyes with his. "He is your life. He gave you your life again. I look to you now and I see Amberiel once more."

She had taken a deep breath. "Yes," she'd said. "And yes."

"I have been watching you, and him, in the world above. I have Seen his life. The Knight-Guardians could well benefit by a puissant warrior on your side of the Gate. Eloraniel agrees."

She'd held her breath, shocked. He'd smiled. "Knight and knight together. It is a fine thought. Bring him here and I will dub him myself."

All this she condensed into a few simple words. "They keep an eye on me, actually, and when your life intersected with mine, they made it their business to find out about you. It was Robin's command, his request to Eloraniel. His decision to give you this, and his alone. He -- you impressed him, lover. You earned it all on your own. By what you are; by what you gave and give back to me."

He blinked. By what I am? By what I give to you? "Darlin', you gave me back the world. You're why I'm back, why I'm still fighting, leading... breathing..."

"You gave me back my life. If I hadn't met you back in Azuria's office that day...I'd have gotten a taxibot to get me home, nailed the door shut and never come out again. You gave Robin back his knight. You... If it hadn't been for you, Thea would probably be dead because no one would have found her in time to save her."

"No," he reminded her gently. "That was all you."

"Not if I was still a recluse hiding in my apartment, too afraid to work a single spell, too defeated to remember how tiny magics can be as powerful as big ones. You did this. You. I was only existing. Now I'm alive again. And that doesn't even begin to cover all the things you've done that had nothing to do with me. Robin judged your worth as well as your accomplishments. That's the life as well as the lifetime."

"Can't be..." he said. "Most of my life, I was..."

He fumbled for the words. "I was an asshole."

"The lifetime is the process, and the achievements. The life is what you are. My noble, gentle knight."

"Well..." he mumbled, his hands moving awkwardly, "I guess it's different now. Things seem clear, and what I'm doing feels right. Finally. I guess that counts for something."

"Don't forget how wretchedly I fouled up, and Robin never dismissed me as his knight. It's all a process, babe. You've more than earned your belt and spurs." She kissed him again, long, deep, and lingering, then sprang to her feet and stood there with her arms crossed and eyes twinkling. "Fangorn. Remember? Door closes soon."

"You're not really serious, are you? Fangorn forest? You realize you're talking to a bit of a fanboy here. I'm sure I've got a 'Peter Jackson is my master now' t-shirt somewhere."

"Elves have this little problem. They're fantastic at elaboration and copying but not good with original creation. It's why they need us. I think I told you about some of it. Most of Tolkien in all of its iterations is somewhere down here. So, sadly, is Graceland, home of a thousand Elvii." She grinned. "But Fangorn is done and done right, though the creatures there aren't really ents as such, they're dryads, role-playing ents and entwives."

"Roleplayers? How weird is that?"

She shrugged. "Even supernatural critters have to have a hobby. Or an obsession. Or a passion, or all three. Lucky them, they don't have to use a table and dice, or a monitor and keyboard. Or costumes and foam-covered PVC pipe. So. You up for Fangorn Forest?"

"Lead on, beautiful," he said, offering his hand. He felt her hand slip into his, and they flew. The air here was so crisp, so clear, that Red felt his doubts, his uncertainty at all that had happened today, begin to wash away. Here it was, more responsibility, and again his stomach churned with panic at the thought he would screw it up, in that fine old Red fashion. But the belt didn't have quite the same dread weight as the mantle of leadership Alex had placed on him. The spurs that he gripped so tightly in his hand were not the burden he'd come to associate with responsibility. These felt like a gift. And the air, flowing around him, so clear, and seemingly through him, was energizing.

He felt baptized.

Vickie was leading this flight, since she knew the way. Gates only had eight possible destinations, and no one was going to put a protected destination like Fangorn on a public Gate like the one just inside the Atlas Park Node-Gate. Fangorn was a preserve. a place where some of the more delicate inhabitants of Silverthon could live without having to worry about real-life Sarumans showing up with hordes of orcs with axes.

They broke out of the mist and into the manicured "forest" that surrounded Robin's Palace. There was wilder land elsewhere; this was for the High King and Queen's pleasure. Oberon cherished order as well as chaos, and had as many Elizabethan knot-gardens in his Domains as wilderlands. They flew at just about tree-height; no snipers here, not in the heart of Silverthorn...

For Red, the view was impossible. It spoke of magic on a grander scale than he had ever imagined. Here was an entire forest that was... manicured.

Eat your heart out, Louis XIV...

Nature was meant to run wild, to creep and grip footholds into every crevice it could find. Red saw none of that here. This was growth and wonder and light arranged in a beautiful symmetry. Every leaf seemed to be placed with a purpose, every tree limb and bough guided in shape and form.

And done, with joy.

When they landed, they landed in a perfectly round clearing in the center of the perfectly groomed forest. The entire glade was carpeted with millions of thumbnail-sized white starflowers that gave off a spicy scent when trodden upon. And in the center, a Great Gate, four of the moonstone arches placed in a square, each with its eight gemstones.

And it was guarded. Yes, even here, in the heart of Silverthorn, it was guarded. One of these led to St. Rhiannon's, and never, ever, would Robin let peril come upon mortal children, no matter who they were nor how well schooled in self-protection. Another led to the sheltered domain of the Elven Healers and Farseers. And one, of course, led to Fangorn.

"Like outta a freakin' fairy tale," Red said softly, his voice in awe. He had been impressed, upon first seeing what Portal Corp. had come up with. There, men had scavenged together what they could out of Rikti technology, bringing something good out of the war that had ripped Paragon City apart. State-of-the-art, bristling with almost violent energies, the portals were constructs of beauty.

But these... gates of another world, crafted with magic no less foreign to Red than the technology of Portal Corp... these gates spoke of forever.

She approached. The four Knight-Mages were in full battle-plate, visors down. Each suit of armor was different, reflecting his or her arms, and she knew most of them by their plate-mail alone. This one, with its crest of a swan with mantled wings and chasing of silver vines and gold leaves was one of the Knight-Mages with whom she had a little contact, but all of that had been friendly.

She spread her arms, showing enpty hands. "I see you, Tomasieran. We seek passage to Fangorn, by approval of Prince Robin."

The answering voice did not emerge from the helm, but from the very air around them. "I see you, Amberiel, and welcome your return. The Gate is still open to you. And your companion is -- ?"

"Sieur Djinn, new-made Knight-Guardian of Paragon Overhill."

The helm bent a fraction "Thrice welcome, Sieur Djinn. Pass on, to come and go, look and know."

"Uh, thanks dude," Red said with an awkward salute.

Vickie stifled a chuckle, as Tomas stepped aside. And just as they approached the Gate itself, added, "Next time you come down here, can you bring me some Black Eyed Peas and New Model Army MP3s? I haven't gotten anything new for a year, World Above time."

"I think I can manage that, Tomas," Vickie said with a smile. "Does Meliasander still want Indigo Girls?"

"Nay, he's collecting the Janis Ian backlist." Tomas nevertheless watched her with care as she identified herself and her companion to the Watchstone of the Gate and they passed. It would not be the first time that a sufficiently clever enemy with an astoundingly good glamorie had gotten this far.

She waved her had at the emerald, and whispered the keyspell. The Gate shimmered to life, and they stepped through--

-- into Fangorn Forest.

((Co-authored by VV and RD, MoonEdit-style, peppered with plenty of OOC banter made better by impromptu chats with Infurno))