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Ruins and Explorations

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Songs of Summerset and Midwinter". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Sharshall was a city of wonders before the Fall. Many of those wonders remain - but these days even simple sightseeing can be dangerous ...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Dungeons and DragonspythiaFR131945,468179734,8257 Feb 0926 May 09Yes

Chapter Two - Part Two

Disclaimer in Part One.



“… so I thought you could wear one of my spare tunics over your gown, and then, if we belt Cullie’s spare surcoat – the padded one – over that, and you take Flux’s spare cloak …”

Willow wasn’t really listening.  She nodded and smiled, and moved her arms as Ashley directed, letting the elfkin wrap her in a makeshift outfit better suited to travel than her flimsy dress – while her eyes and her attention remained firmly fixed on the familiar figure currently engaged in quiet discussion with Meldew.  There was a grin so broad on her face that her cheeks were hurting, but she couldn’t have reduced its width, even if she wanted too. 

It wasn’t just that Giles had managed to figure out how to pack all that solid, sculptured dragon stuff  - wings and talons and tail and fins and all the rest of it - into six foot of seemingly human flesh, although that was a pretty impressive start.  Nor was it because his figuring had included how to use some of that stuff to construct clothing – practical clothing, at that, shirt and jeans, Doc Martins … and, inevitably, a leathery wing coloured version of his favourite coat.  The one that had determinedly remerged from his wardrobe the moment he’d set foot back on English soil.  Buffy had mistaken called it a duster, since it held some resemblance to Spike’s ubiquitous leather trademark – and Willow remembered Giles immediately launching into an indignant lecture over the differences between some high street fashion house’s attempt to cash in on ‘western’ styling, and the genuine practicalities of the Australian drover’s coat.  As interpreted by a very expensive English tailoring company apparently … although that might have been less ‘interpreted’ and more ‘original designer’ shipped out with boatloads of would be colonists.  Or criminals.  Or something.

Buffy had been reeling for days.

Even so, the coat wasn’t the reason for the grin, although seeing it stirred some odd feelings that might have included a touch of homesickness and a tugging sense of how much they’d sacrificed – just how different this world was from the one they’d left behind.  No, the grin had been utterly inspired by the man who’d emerged from the dragon he’d become – because, given most of the night to work out the how, and the little that was left to work on the what – Giles had somehow managed to avoid all the potential pitfalls of self perception and recreated himself almost exactly the way he’d looked the last time she’d seen him …

Well, okay ... exactly was a teensy exaggeration.  This version of him looked a lot less stressed for a start.   And his previously pale and somewhat worryingly pasty complexion – the one developed over endless late nights, long days buried in his office or the Council library, and months of an uncertain English winter – had been upgraded to a far more healthy glow.  Not quite a tan perhaps, but definitely an improvement in both colour and quality; that – together with the loss of the pinched and slightly strained tenseness that had come to haunt his features in the past couple of years – had brought back the Giles she knew and hadn’t realised she was missing.  Confident, competent Giles – the one capable of stern admonition, measured statesmanship, forbearing patience, Ripper backed intimidation, or Rupert inspired warmth and affection.  Her Giles; Scholar, Scooby, Warrior, Watcher – and … something more.  

Because, wrapped in that familiar, almost heart-aching guise, he still managed to present echoes of the breath-taking creature he’d become.  Something in the timbre of his voice, perhaps - some hint of draconic quality –  or maybe in the sheer solidity of his presence, truly dwarfing Flux, looming over Cullie, and even managing a good inch or two over Meldew’s lean height.  There was something else, something in the depths of his eyes that spoke – to her, at least – of power and strength and something coiled inside him.  He may have taken on a more recognizable shape – but he was still the Dragon, and still very much wrestling with what that meant.

“Boots,” Cullie declared firmly, appearing directly in front of her.  She was holding up exactly that – a pair of soft ankle boots, made from what looked like amber suede.  “My … dancing boots, actually, but they’re Elven crafted and made to fit the feet that wear them.  I don’t.  Much.  My father gifted me with them … back when he was trying to make a court lady of me.  But they’re better than nothing.  For rough ground, I mean.”

Willow frowned for a moment, and then glanced down; the gleam of copper touched toenails glinted at her from beneath the hem of her dress.  “Oh,” she realised, lifting one heel up and round so that the flimsy fabric fell away and the sweep of her scale patterned leg was revealed.  Her anklets jangled softly as she moved.  “Ah.  Okay.”

She’d hardly given a moment’s thought to her lack of footwear; the polished marble of the enclave floors had probably been designed to be walked about on with bare feet, and she’d been so comfortable with it that it had felt perfectly natural to do so.  Perfectly natural to scramble up soft dragonhide, too … a sudden memory of silky warmth beneath her toes, her feet digging in to get purchase as she climbed, brought an embarrassed smile to her face - although, if your friend and mentor did invite you to treat him like furniture, it was probably better to do so shoe or boot free. 

Not so much the outdoor travelling thing though.

“Thanks,” she said, taking the boots, which were kind of neat; they had slightly pointed toes, and gold stitching around the top – just enough to hint at decoration without being flashy about it. 

“You’re welcome,” Cullie smiled, and moved away again, nodding at Flux as he carefully folded up the now closed and returned-to-a-sheet-of-fabric hole.  Willow had been really, really impressed with the magic the device required, and she was even more impressed now, seeing several cubic feet of space – and all the items in it – being nonchalantly tucked into a belt pouch.  That was part of the wonder of this new world of theirs – that, while the sort of technology she took for granted seemed remote and unimaginable, there were marvellous enchantments and sorceries being used with the same kind of matter-of-fact confidence with which she’d once turned on lights, run herself a hot bath, or heated up TV dinners in the microwave.

Magic as technology, she pondered, trying the thought out for size and wondering if it really was as simple as that.  It made a kind of sense that – having magic, people would find sensible and timesaving uses for it, rather than just throwing flashy spells about on battlefields – but she knew that power inevitably came with a cost, and had learnt – the hard way – that it should always be respected, rather than abused. What was it Cullie had said?  When the mages of the Moonborn sought to steal the power of Wisdom and Destiny, they wrought havoc among the stars …  A civilisation build on magic – and magic as convenience, taken for granted every much as electricity and computers and plastic – might well have forgotten the need to temper the acquisition of power with the wisdom to not use it … and if there truly was an equivalent of the First Evil lurking about to tempt darker appetites and power hungry ambitions …

What you got was apocalypse.  And she was standing in the results of that, in the ruins left over from a world destroyed, a civilisation overthrown by its own hubris – or at least the hubris of a few, very powerful, ambitious men …

“Very fetching,” Giles said, eyeing the boots that were still dangling from her hand.  “I understand they work much better if they’re actually applied to the feet, rather than carried in the hand, but – uh – whatever works best for you, I suppose.  I’m not exactly an expert in the – um – fashion business.”

Willow nearly jumped.  She’d been so distracted by her thoughts that she’d totally failed to spot him walking over to her – and he’d done so as quietly as a cat, almost as if he’d been the one walking barefoot across the stone.

Her eyes involuntarily darted down to check, and then up again, her thoughts leaping around like jumping beans.  There were boots on his feet, but were they actually boots, or bare feet pretending to be boots?  And if the latter, why would he be able to walk so quietly, because his actual feet were big enough to stomp Flux flat and cover him completely afterwards… did he still weigh the same as the Dragon should, or did the magic shift all that too – and if it did, where did it go ..?

“Willow?”  His question held concern.  “Are you alright?  You seem a little –distracted.”

“Hmm?  Oh.  Oh – ah, yeah, I’m fine.  Just fine,  Just … well, you’re you – but you were you before, and you’re really still the you you’ve become, but you’re you disguised as you – that is, a person shaped you, which is really dragon shaped you being you, and … you …”  She paused to throw him a chagrined smile.  “Sorry.  Zoned out for a moment, trying to figure how all that worked, which is so not the point, because – well, magic, right?  I - I guess.”

He looked bemused for a moment, probably working through what she’d said – and then shook his head, probably deciding he wasn’t going to make sense of it, no matter how he examined it.  Willow wasn’t entirely sure she’d understood it either.  “Yes, well … I suppose that’s one way to look at it.  To be perfectly honest,” he admitted, shoving his hands in his pockets and gazing at some point over her head, “I’m not sure I could explain how it works, but … it’s more a matter of belief and will, than an application of power.”  He looked down at her again with thoughtful consideration.  “I suspect that matter – and for that matter energy – is more mutable and interchangeable than you and I are used to perceiving it as.  More things in heaven and earth … so to speak.”

She gave him a long, considering look.  “You have no idea how you do it, do you?”

“Well … no,” he admitted after a beat.  “Not really.  I suppose it’s a … dragon thing.  As Buffy might say …”

Had Willow not known him so well, she might have missed the undertone in his words.  As it was, the message it conveyed was hard to read.  “Still freaking in there?” she asked sympathetically, and he sighed.

“A little.  Only to be expected, I suppose.”

“Yeah, well … saving the world, sacrificing ourselves to do it, rescued by gods, changed to serve their cause, coming here – and the whole, you dragon, me dragonkin thing?  Reason for freaking.  Me too.  A little.  Well,” she added for honesty, “freaking quite a lot actually.  But in a good way.  Kinda.”

Giles’ lips twisted in a wry smile.  “Oddly enough,” he said.  “I know exactly what you mean.”  The smile twitched, half in self amusement and half in uncertainty.  “First day jitters, perhaps.  New place, new job …”

“New us?” Willow interjected warmly.  She earned herself a classic glare – one he could only hold for a moment before the smile sidled back, all chagrin and reluctant agreement.

“Quite.  But – new friends, new … opportunities.  New world to explore – oh … and new magic to learn.”  His hand dipped inside his coat and re-emerged with a folded piece of paper- one that he flipped open and handed to her with a flourish.  “Meldew’s given us some study material.  This list is yours.  I have mine – “ He patted a spot on his chest – a hidden pocket, presumably, because thinking anything else was going to start up that whole how does that work thing again … “And if we’ve both managed to memorise every spell by the time we stop for lunch, we can exchange papers and study the other set too.  I don’t think,” he confided, leaning a little closer, “that he thinks that either of us will get past the first two or three.”

Willow glanced at the paper.  There were a series of neatly scribed paragraphs written on it, each headed up with a single word, and marked with some sort of symbol at the start and end.  “Okay,” she said.  “let’s see … Sharpen.  Spark – that might be useful -  Salt, Spice and Sweeten … Well, they all look simple enough.  What did you get?”

“Clean, Crack, Mend, Colour, and … um … Candle light.  All very straightforward.  Practice spells, really.  Cantrips, he called them.”  He paused, his expression becoming momentarily distant.  “Fingerclicks.”  He echoed the thought with the action, an abstracted click of his fingers that sent a crack of sound echoing through the air.  “The kind of thing you teach children with a touch of talent.  Ethan used to …”  he tailed off, and recalled himself to the present with a quick intake of breath.  “Yes, well … good idea to start with the small things first.  Less chance of things getting out of hand.”

Willow nodded in agreement, well aware of how that could happen – and knowing better than to ask about Ethan Rayne’s youthful indiscretions, no matter how curious she might be.  She put her newly acquired boots on the floor instead, stepping into them while she took a closer look at what the neat, angular writing had to say.  “Small things?  Baby walkers with training wheels,” she concluded, having more or less got the first incantation on the first read through.  “Giles, I could cast these kinds of spells without needing to be awake back home.  And I got that mojo-glow thing almost instantly last night.  You did the whole – umm - “ Her hands flew wide to indicate something dragon sized and dragon shaped.  “- into – uh - “  Down again, collapsing him to human height.  “Almost without thinking about it.  Shouldn’t we be starting with something a little more advanced than these?”

“I can assure you,” Giles said archly, frowning at the way Cullie’s boots had somehow tugged themselves tight so that they settled into a perfect fit, “that I thought very long and hard about it.  And beginners need to start with beginner’s exercises.  Even spells like these have their uses.  Just take one step at a time.  You’ll be taking large strides before you know it.”
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