Allistair sat, cross-legged, in front of a low circular table made of some unidentifiable hardwood. In the center of the table sat a shallow, unadorned black bowl filled with water, and regarding this bowl from the other side of the table was Allistair's host-slash-captor, Eilan i'Rukath.
The Faerie mage looked up at Allistair with his catlike smile. "What do you see?" he prompted.
"Nothing. Just... water." The former vampire watched his benefactor, wondering what he was supposed to be seeing.
"Hmph. As I thought." Eilan's brow furrowed as he fell into contemplation, presumably over how to address Allistair's apparent ignorance. Allistair watched him curiously, wondering if they were finally going to discuss the mysterious purpose the mage seemed to have for his son's lover. He had been in the realm of the Undying Ones for several weeks now, recovering his strength and getting reacquainted with his mortal body, having to eat and the like. During that entire time, however, Eilan had not said a word about this grand plan of his that was preventing Allistair from going home. As it was, the blonde man suspected that the Faerie was having at least a little fun dragging this out.
"This is a very elementary exercise for a mage, one of the first things most are taught," Eilan said finally, breaking the silence. His smile had stretched into an expectant grin, and Allistair hated it.
"Er... I'm not quite sure how that's relevant to me, sir."
"What would you think," the Faerie said musingly, "if I told you that both men you've been in love with as of late have lied to you?"
Allistair looked at his captor through narrowed eyes. "It's no surprise or secret that Jason Garamond lied to me frequently and easily. And Devin..." He trailed off. Devin had a hard time admitting the truth to himself, but had Allistair ever caught him in an outright lie? What would he have lied about?
Eilan seemed to read his sudden confusion in his expression. "Ah, I suppose they were lies of omission, rather than falsehoods. But what possible reason could either of them have for not telling you that you have latent magic ability?"
The man's grin widened further at Allistair's shocked look. "But I — I can't do anything like —"
"You're simply untrained," Eilan said with a shrug. "It takes a little work to break the thin wall blocking latent powers, but it's not dangerous or particularly difficult. Either of them would know how to help you do such a thing."
The younger man struggled to not clench his fists, laying them flat on the table. He knew Eilan was trying to provoke him, but his questions were bothersome ones with no convenient answers. He did have "mage-sight", as Devin called it, the ability to see and feel magical things that normal people could not; it was sporadic and unreliable, but perhaps it was a sign of other powers he had yet to unlock. Again, Jason not telling him such a thing was not a terrible surprise, but Devin...? Or Luciel, for that matter? Why had no one said anything...?
"Well, regardless," the Faerie continued, seeming to callously ignore the other's distress — even though Allistair knew he was eating it up — "I will teach you. In theory, since you've seen a variety of magics at work, understanding the principles should be a little simpler, hmm?"
"I suppose, sir." He was going to learn magic? Suddenly, a lot of Eilan's past comments made more sense. But what he would give to have Devin for a teacher, rather than his capricious father...
Eilan's answering smile was thin. "All right. Your first lesson, then, will be this — scrying. You will learn how to see distant things within the water's mirror."
Allistair nodded a little uncertainly. That didn't sound too outlandishly complicated...
"You will need to do two somewhat conflicting things at once," the sorcerer explained, gesturing for his new student to look into the bowl of water. "First, you must clear your mind of extraneous information, to let the vision come to you unhindered. But at the same time, you must concentrate on what it is you wish to see."
That did sound a bit tricky; Allistair always found "clearing the mind" to be difficult. But to him, this sounded more like focusing intently on a single thought, and that didn't sound so hard. He nodded attentively.
"For the first few tries, you will simply concentrate on clearing your mind. In theory, what you will see will come from the strongest feelings in your heart." The sorcerer said these last words with a little disdain; Allistair could imagine Devin saying the same thing, in the same tone, while making little quote-marks with his fingers. "Now. Close your eyes and purge all thought from your mind."
Obediently, Allistair closed his eyes and breathed deeply, concentrating on an image of blankness. Mentally, he stared at it in the same way that one could stare at something with their eyes, until the thing lost focus and was, in fact, no longer being looked at.
"Now," Eilan said in a low, almost hypnotic voice, "look."
The younger man opened his eyes to gaze into the bowl of water, trying to maintain that blankness. Clear water, black bowl... nothing...
"Gather your power, and reach for the water," the sorcerer murmured. At some other time, Allistair would have protested that he had no idea how to do such a thing, but right now it seemed to make sense. With some extension of himself that he had not truly been aware of until now, he reached, caressing the water's surface without creating the slightest ripple.
"Look," Eilan repeated coaxingly. As Allistair watched, an image began to form on the water, slowly coming into focus.
It was no real surprise that the vision was of Devin; Allistair thought of little else. But what was this?
Devin sat in a comfortable-looking den or living room, leaning forward slightly as he spoke with a young man with long red hair, a few shades more orange (and therefore more normal-looking) than Eilan's. There were bottles of Corona and a small dish of lime wedges on the table between them; it looked like they had certainly been relaxing, and their expressions seemed cheerful enough — or in Devin's case, at the very least he wasn't frowning. It could have been just a discussion between friends or peers, except... why was Devin's shirt off?
The young mage was incredibly self-conscious, and in their time together, Allistair had never seen him shirtless except in the privacy of the bedroom. Sitting around chatting with someone that way...
Maybe Devin acted differently at home — and surely, that was where he was, in that tastefully expensive room with bookshelves reaching to the ceiling — than he did in an unfamiliar place. Maybe his companion was a trusted friend. Maybe the mage was too drunk to care, although that, in itself, would be strange, as Devin did not drink to excess and preferred to be clear-headed most of the time.
Or maybe Allistair was just grasping at straws and Devin had already moved on.
At one point, Devin seemed to wince and hunch his shoulders, as if being struck on the back. His companion's expression changed to concern, but Devin shook his head ruefully and took a drink. Curious and almost afraid now, Allistair willed the "camera" to move around behind the mage, to find out what could be causing him pain.
That answer, at least, was clear enough. Emblazoned across Devin's shoulders in black ink was a caduceus, one of more unusual design with the snake heads rising above the spread wings to stare at each other across the top of the staff. The skin around the tattoo was peeling, and that was likely the cause of both Devin's shirtlessness and his discomfort. Surely the sign was some sort of reference to the mage's last name, Mercure, but what had prompted such a drastic action? Did it have some other significance besides an interesting allusion? Knowing that Devin appreciated complexity, his former lover could only wonder at what lay behind the symbol's use here.
Allistair could hear nothing of the conversation, so that question would remain unanswered, for now. A new companion, a strange new tattoo — what did it all mean?
Of his own free will, he "let go" of the magic, bringing his mind back into full awareness and banishing the images from the surface of the water. After a few more deep breaths, this time to prevent himself from shaking, he looked up at his new teacher.
"Well." Eilan's smile was almost vicious. "That was quite impressive for a first try."
Why is he enjoying this? Allistair thought, appalled. "I suppose..."
The Faerie mage looked at him in bright-eyed interest for a moment longer, like a cat watching a five-legged cricket, then relented. "Perhaps it would ease your mind somewhat if I told you Devin's companion is a childhood friend."
That might have been more reassuring if the "friend's" gray eyes had not been watching Devin the same way Allistair imagined his own had... The man shrugged, not wanting his feelings to be casually examined by someone who was virtually a stranger.
While Eilan did not laugh out loud, the amusement was clear in his expression. "The caduceus, staff of the messenger-god. Do you know, in his duties, Hermes frequently made journeys into Hell and back?"
Allistair's eyes widened. Devin's most hated enemies were the demons who killed his teacher and tortured Devin himself. "To Hell and back" was an expression the embittered mage could take to heart, Allistair was sure. Was that another layer of the tattoo's meaning? Or was Eilan just tossing that out as a random, academic tidbit? It was impossible to guess at the man's motives.
"Perhaps we'll take a short rest before trying again," Eilan was saying, rising to his feet. "Next time we'll try looking for something specific, as you clearly have a grasp on the technique."
The pale young man nodded distractedly, his eyes resting on the black bowl.
"Do not attempt that again in the meantime, Allistair. I will know if you do." Somehow, the sorcerer managed to convey the potential weight of his displeasure in those few words, and it seemed foolish to risk crossing him.
With a resigned sigh, Allistair stood, stretching a little to relieve his muscles' complaints. From the corner of his eye, he noted Eilan watching him quite deliberately, and as he looked over at the other man, he was met with a decidedly predatory smile.
Lord have mercy. Devin's father is trying to seduce me. The revelation hit the man like a lightning bolt, and his sudden comprehension must have been readable on his face, because Eilan laughed, the sound simultaneously melodious and cold. Allistair restrained a shiver; what sort of father...
But was Eilan really Devin's father in any way besides genetically? Devin didn't even know the sorcerer, and they were hardly alike besides in appearance. For that matter, the Faerie didn't have the same sort of moral standards as humans. Maybe pursuing your son's lover was a perfectly allowable thing here. But what did that mean in light of what Allistair had just seen in the water? Was it even really a true vision, or could Eilan have created an illusion to turn him away from Devin? Even if it was a true seeing, could Eilan have set him up to see something so potentially awkward? It was no surprise that Allistair's heart had gravitated towards Devin, after all...
What was Eilan thinking? What did he have in mind for the former vampire, really? The younger man looked away, his insides churning in nervousness. He felt, more than saw, Eilan's smug smile as the sorcerer turned to leave the room, passing through the soft, sheer blue curtain that served as a door. Only when the man had been gone for several long seconds did Allistair feel safe letting out a weary, despondent sigh. There had been no answers to any of these questions in the other's foreign, yet achingly familiar, stormy-sky eyes, only the seeds of more questions.
--- The interesting thing about doing these short-takes is that while they weren't in my grand plan, they allow me to get into the secondary characters a bit more, and that helps me considerably. Hopefully it's interesting for the readers, too. ^_^;
Hmm, Allistair seems to have a problem or two. ^_^;
The interesting thing about doing these short-takes is that while they weren't in my grand plan, they allow me to get into the secondary characters a bit more, and that helps me considerably. Hopefully it's interesting for the readers, too. ^_^;