Compulsion

Nov. 26th, 2010 01:32 am
zodiacal_light: The most merciful thing in the world ... is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. (the most merciful thing)
He has no idea how he ended up in bed with Duke Roger. He has no idea why, or what he was thinking, he has no idea where this sudden deep craving for the other mage's presence has come from. Deep in his mind, he might know that Roger isn't simply meeting his eyes to be polite, but that awareness, if he has it at all, will never rise to the level of consciousness.

Eventually, in some twisted, desperate form of self-defense, his mind will interpret the compulsion as love. But for now, all Thom knows is that he is now Roger's, and there was nothing he could do about it.
zodiacal_light: AU: Because everything's better with zombies. (AU)
"What is this?" Thom asked, poking the stuff in the bowl with his spoon.

"Soup," said Numair, giving Thom a funny look. "Good soup," he added when Thom glanced at him.

Thom looked at the bowl. Gingerly, he stirred the liquid, watching as even more random unidentifiable bits rose to the surface. It didn't look like any soup he'd ever had; it looked, rather, like someone had run mad in a vegetable garden.

***

Numair only seemed to be able to cook three things: soup, which never looked like any normal soup; rice, which was never just rice; and these weird little meat things wrapped in flatbread. None of them ever turned out the same way twice.

Of course, that wasn't all Numair ever brought him. Frequently, he'd show up in Thom's office with a barely-cooling bundle of something from one of Legann's food stands - a turnover, maybe, or dumplings, or a cup of yet more soup held gingerly in long fingers, or whatever new food Numair'd seen that he'd wanted Thom to try, bustling in all excited like a child with a clever treasure. Sometimes, he'd crash into Thom's office at a rush, somewhat late and a bit disheveled, sheepishly setting down a plate of something clearly swiped from the palace kitchens or whatever lunch he'd been forced to attend.

At first, these midday interruptions had annoyed Thom, as much for what they implied as the interruptions themselves. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, he'd finally ranted one day to his sister, he didn't need the court's newest darling mage taking pity on him. Alanna had raised one pointed eyebrow, for once not yelling back, and said tartly that maybe if he didn't consistently skip lunch people wouldn't feel so inclined to feed him.

It wasn't until a day four years later, when Numair actually failed to stop by, that Thom realized he'd gotten used to the mage's noontime interruptions whenever they were both at Legann. But then Daine scrambled in, bright and cheerful and completely out of breath, and set a bundle smack in the center of Thom's desk.

"There," she'd said, absently tucking a flyaway curl behind her ear. "Numair said to give that to you, and to say he's sorry he couldn't drop by himself, but some idiot student - not me! - just blew up his classroom."

A heaviness Thom hadn't noticed until then fizzled away, and he opened the bundle.

"Those're fish pasties," Daine said, pointing. "I taught him my ma's recipe. Oh, almost forgot." She leaned forward and pressed a quick kiss to Thom's cheek, grinning. "That's also from Numair, even if he didn't say it."

She skipped out of the room, leaving an utterly flabbergasted Thom and two cooling pasties behind.

***

Thom caved to Numair's expectant gaze like he always did, and gingerly tasted the soup. "It's good," he pronounced finally. Better than Alanna's cooking, he didn't add. That was a low hurdle to jump.

Numair's wide smile, sudden and brilliant as the sun through rainclouds, warmed Thom more than the soup did.

Never

Nov. 26th, 2010 01:00 am
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
He never asked Numair what he saw in the charms. He knew the mage could see magic - could see it all too easily, to the point that Thom wondered sometimes how he managed to walk around the palace without going flash-blind. Thom knew how many magical artifacts were kept in Legann.

Thom never asked, because he was never sure he wanted to know the answer. He'd had one dream ripped away from him already, and so he'd stubbornly keep at his charms and runes and paints, and if they were mere shadows with no substance, well, he didn't really care as long as they gave him purpose.

So Thom never asked Numair if there was any actual magic to his lucks, but Numair believed in them anyway, and that was good enough for him.

Old Ghosts

Nov. 26th, 2010 12:59 am
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
He understood why Thom never stayed the night. He could read the story, mapped out in scars Thom never seemed to remember, written in the way Thom always stood, rigid, with his back to the wall, in the way Thom still fought not to flinch when the king looked at him with those famous blue eyes. He could see the shape of it in the way Thom shivered, the motion there and gone again in the blink of an eye, whenever he did magic around him, and in the way Thom still saw an old ghost when they were together.

Which is why, no matter how much he wanted to, Numair never, ever looked Thom in the eye.
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
He laughed, now, when people asked him if his lucks were magic, when people looked at him askance when he explained what he did. Numair made it a hobby, now, to throw some wild theory about his luck-working at him, usually over breakfast, and would grin when Thom spluttered his juice across the table or choked on his porridge.

Thom rather liked the theory that the lucks were compensation for growing up with Alanna, himself. It was wrong, but it made Alanna turn a lovely shade of purple whenever he brought it up.

No, Thom no longer questioned whether his lucks were magic or not. He was a luck-worker, that was all, and all good luck-workers know the secret of luck:

You make your own.
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
There were plenty of people who wouldn't consider it magic. It was hardly flashy, no shining colors of the Gift, no otherworldly eeriness of the Doi seers, no dramatic bloody rituals like the Scanrans and even the Bazhir had. Whether it worked or failed, nobody noticed. Not really. It smacked of superstition, and trickery.

Sometimes, he thought that was all it was.

But, Thom reflected as he crafted the tiny charm for his sister, when you had lost your Gift and all you had left was the luck that had allowed you to scrape through by the skin of your teeth, you found ways to spread that luck around.

Humility

Nov. 26th, 2010 12:52 am
zodiacal_light: West of Arkham the hills rise wild... [stairs to the forest] (arkham)
Humility was not something that came easy to Thom.

When it came, it came in blood and particolored fire, in manifold raging elementals screaming down on his head, in the heat of Jon's wrists where Thom gripped them, hard enough to burn.

It came in the darkness that was all he had left, after, and it came in the light that he saw when he woke, Giftless and broken, months later.

But when he stood, twenty years later, leaning heavily on a stout carved stick and looking at the bright pages who sat before him, arrogant and so, so young, he thought it might have been worth it.
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
Master Thom was glaring daggers at the tall man leaning smugly against the paddock fence. Numair, entirely unrepentant, murmured something to him and cocked his head, raising a jaunty eyebrow.

Daine watched with wide eyes, too far away to hear the words, as Thom bristled like an offended hedgehog and turned away from the mage, oh-so-casually leaning on his stick - on Numair's toe. Numair winced and jerked his foot back, flailing about dramatically and nearly falling over the fence backwards. Thom, now the one sporting a smug smile, shot an amused glance back over his shoulder at him.

As the mage and cunning man continued their melodramatic exchange, Daine called back to the stables, "Hey, Onua?"

Onua emerged from the stables, dusting off her hands. "Yes?"

Daine resettled herself on the fence, and nodded at the men. "Remember how I asked you, back when we was coming here, what Master Thom's type was? It wouldn't happen to be tall, dark, and magely, would it?"

Onua looked at the two men, who were both now staring at Daine, and grinned. Daine followed her glance and blushed; she hadn't meant to be that loud.

Thom had frozen and stared at Daine, face pale, before turning his head almost involuntarily to look at Numair -

- Who was grinning down at him with the faintest traces of pink in his cheeks. Numair raised an eyebrow in silent query - Well? - and Thom went beet red - which, Daine noted in amusement, clashed horribly with his hair - turned on his heel, and stormed off towards the palace as fast as a man with a bad limp could storm.

Numair watched him go, shaking his head and grinning like any smitten fool.

"I'm sorry," Daine said, voice tiny. "I didn't mean to upset him."

Onua laughed. "Don't worry about it, Daine. It's about time our resident curmudgeon caught a clue."

Bitterness

Nov. 26th, 2010 12:23 am
zodiacal_light: AU: Because everything's better with zombies. (AU)
Thom decides, before they even actually dock, that he hates Carthak. His opinion never changes for the better.

He hates it for what it does to Numair; even before they entered Carthaki waters, the mage had gone brittle and oddly quiet, and his attempts at faking his ordinary fool's mask fail miserably, at least for Thom. Daine, too, seems to notice a difference; Thom catches her shooting concerned looks at Numair whenever he has his back turned.

Uncharacteristically, Numair never notices.

***

The decadence of the Emperor's court is oppressive. The old palace in full glory was a cheap glass bead to the Empire's flawless gem; the new palace at Legann doesn't even compare.

But Thom is, at heart, still a country child and a border lord, raised in the foothills of the Grimhold Mountains and trained for years smack in the middle of them, and he is used to old stone and worn tapestries, faded leaves and the cold biting north.

Besides, he has learned to be wary of too-perfect things; flawlessness is merely a mask for deeper flaws.

***

The Emperor has the disturbing habit of wandering his halls invisible, spying on his people and his guests alike, a simulacrum set up where he is expected to be, to keep the unobservant from knowing and the observant from saying.

Thom recognizes it for what it is the first time he sees one; he is not so far gone from his magic that he fails to recognize the telltale stillness of the double. But without his Gift, it is much harder to tell where the real Emperor is, and the Emperor has had long practice at leaving no trace of his presence.

Thom sticks close to Daine and Kitten the whole time.

***

It is hard to leave bad lucks in the great palace; they must be unnoticeable, so any of the brighter inks or obvious designs are out.

Thom is, still, after so many years, not sure if there is anything to this luck-working, but if there's any place that desperately deserves some bad luck, it's this poisoned heart of a bloated empire.

He thinks, once, that he hears a soft, dark chuckle after he taps out a bad-luck beat on a random section of wall. But when Thom turns, no one is in the hallway.

He knows that, in Carthak, that means absolutely nothing.

***

It is unwise to refuse the Emperor, especially when you are a guest from a country trying desperately to avoid a war - a war that could start at the Emperor's merest whim.

So when the Emperor manages to get him alone, Thom just smiles, grimly, and accedes with a nod and a bow.

And Thom's smile is at least a little amused, because he has learned the power that comes from breaking himself, and has learned to bend. His pride, after all, is nothing in the face of what the Emperor could do to his country, his sometime student, his sister, Numair, if he refuses. And besides, Thom knows what the Emperor does not: it is horribly unlucky to cross a luck-worker.

He clings to that as his hands rise to remove his formal Mithran robes, and it no longer matters whether he believes it.

***

This is why he hates Carthak: for being the rotten fruit that it is, poisoning the whole southern continent and the Sea and even Tortall, for being an insatiable, unholy monster, worse than anything the Carthaki meddlers released from the Realms, and how ironic is it that one of the only bearable people in this whole stinking court is an abrasive Stormwing?

He hates it, most of all, for breaking young Daine, and as he leans on a piece of wall that's about to collapse under the battering of her ancient beasts, he reflects that he has never, ever wanted his Gift back as badly as he does now.

He won't make it out of the building on his own; his stick is missing and he cannot walk far without support. And he knows a thing or two about raising the dead, and destroying a palace, and the hollowness both leave in you later.

Thom staggers off to find his student, at the heart of this madness.

Carthak is a bitter place, and he will be glad to be rid of it.

***

(This is the bitterness: Ozorne's hands on his skin, Ozorne's lips on his lips, Ozorne's body pinning him down.)

(And Numair's kiss, later, is too gentle, too kind, and too understanding.)

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zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
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