|A collection of concept snippets
. . . (01). . .
It's all in the little things. It's the small lines that appear around his mother's eyes. The sidelong glances from his brothers and sisters. The frustrated muscles in his tutor's back. He ignored the thin trickle of sweat sliding under his strict, high collar and tried again. He bit his lip between his teeth, the muscles around his eyes tensing until he was practically squinting. He thought maybe, just maybe, there was blurring around the edges of color-- the trees and grass and flowers taking on a heat fuzzed appearance-- but otherwise...
Astnor winced slightly as he looked up at the tall figure standing over him. His negative shake of the head even slighter, but the frown on his tutor's face told him that he'd seen. Astnor ducked his head. To his left, his sister's hands twitched towards him, but he pulled away, shooting a warning glance at her. Their tutor caught that as well, but didn't make any mention, as she hadn't had any problems with this particular exercise.
The silence stretched long and uncomfortably heavy but he was used to it. He'd come to expect it with every tutor, every test he'd failed. As he turned his head towards the window, unconsciously wishing he were elsewhere, a small fluttering leaf landed lightly on the window ledge. He frowned as the leaf seemed to twist and turn from within....spidery black lines streaking through it, out it to flatten and spread around its edges onto the stone it sat on.
He blinked and turned back to his tutor and sister who were eyeing him curiously. "Yes?"
"Are you well?"
"You weren't ignoring us?" His sister was smiling at him. He smiled back, the same minimalist lift of the lip.
"No. I wouldn't. I am just a little tired."
"Where were you?" The tutor tapped him gently on the shoulder but his face was still serious.
"Nowhere in particular."
When he turned back to the window, the leaf was still swirling with black lines.
. . . (02). . .
Summer was nothing but the extension of spring to Astnor. Strange heat, and bright colors that he could appreciate aesthetically but could never connect to. The only saving grace was that by the time spring ended, he'd have gotten used to the draining effect the season had on him. He weakly brushed a sweat-slicked strand of hair from his face. He'd already taken off his cloaks and outer coat, which lay in a neatly folded pile beside him next to his boots. The crisp white shirt he was left in was mostly unlaced, sticking uncomfortably to him in places. The low slung, loose, black pants were rolled up almost to his knees, baring the reddening skin of his long, thin legs.
"You don't look very happy." He could hear laughter in the voice that came from above. Astnor didn't bother to open his eyes. The purpose of his near boneless sprawl, of course, was to move as little as possible. He felt a toe nudge none too gently at his ribs.
"I think he's dead," said a second voice.
"Yes, I am. Leave me to rot in peace," he said, then added as an afterthought, "Please."
There were more gentle snickers. Astnor's eyes cracked open as he suddenly felt breath on his face. His cousin, Tanis, crouched over him, face peering at him so closely their noses almost touched. He scowled.
"This isn't what I call 'leaving me in peace'." His cousin's twin crouched as well, their identical faces looming over him with varying expressions of exasperation and amusement. Astnor closed his eyes, trying to banish his rising urge to squeeze his fingers around a slender neck and squeeze, and turned his face away.
"Do back away a little," he said. "Your breath leaves much to be desired." There was a loud snort a little from the left. "You too, Belanis."
"My breath is like the heavens."
Astnor opened his eyes again. At this point, any hope that they would leave him alone was gone. The twins, considering their irrepressible personalities, knew that they finally had his attention and wouldn't think of leaving now. They seemed to thrive on irritating him. He glared at both of them with as much energy as he could spare. From the way they steadily ignored it; it probably wasn't enough.
"If it is like the heavens, then I find that I prefer this earthly hell."
"But you're miserable!" Tanis protested.
"My point exactly."
It was now Tanis's turn to glare at him. To his left, Belanis laughed. "Our cousin is as cranky as ever. If it weren't for the sun sapping his strength, his tongue would have sliced you to ribbons by now."
"One would think I would be used to it by now," said Tanis, rubbing the back of his neck ruefully.
"One would think you'd be smarter by now." Astnor grunted as he propped himself up on his elbows. A minute amount of air shifted, cooling the skin at the open sections of his shirt for all of half a second, before settling back to sticky heat. The twins immediately settled themselves gracefully on either side of him.
"What were you doing on the ground?"
"We though bandits--"
"--But your clothes were folded neatly."
"And you still had your boots."
"And your tongue."
Astnor pulled himself up further, tucking his legs under him to sit cross-legged. At his sharp gesture, the twins fell silent. "Bandits? How would they enter into the-- no, never mind. I was laying in the shade. But then it moved and your wonderful sun left me too immobile to move with it."
"The sun?" asked Tanis.
"The shade." Belanis answered for him. Tanis nodded while Belanis reached out to the side to poke at the pile of clothes on the ground.
"You are remarkably underdressed," he said. Astnor's eyebrow rose. "So many layers in the summer? And in such thick materials!"
"And in black!" this in outraged tones from Tanis. Astnor shrugged one shoulder slightly.
"Rather than the sight destroying colors that you wear." He rolled his eyes at his cousin's current ensemble. "Neither tactical nor practical, and bright enough to make a person go blind." Tanis looked as if he wished to say something scathing in reply, but instead leaned over Astnor to say something to his brother.
"At least... at least we can now say that our cousin is not made of clay." He poked at Astnor's stomach through the loosened lacings of his wide-open shirt. "Bone and flesh. I think we have lost." Belanis nodded in patently false mourning.
Astnor smacked at Tanis's hand. "Lost what?" he demanded.
"There have been rumors that you were a golem. We thought wood, but the Ci'ciasrens thought such an icy disposition could only ever come from clay."
Pulling his shirt closed, Astnor snapped, "Well, as you can see, I am very much flesh."
Belanis bumped shoulders and tugged his shirt open again with a light pull on the laces. "Lial'in would be so pleased." If Lial'in was pleased, then Astnor was the opposite.
"She still believes I need rescuing?"
"But you do..."
"From her!" finished Tanis with an amused crow.
He couldn't argue with that, so instead, he pulled his things closer to his feet. He'd only finally (finally!) begun his second growth so he'd solved the problem of too small clothing by wearing overly large clothing. He picked a small rock from off his coat and threw it into the small stream a few paces away. Ripples fanned out across the surface as it sank.
. . . (03). . .
Pound. Thunk. Pound.
Astnor stood at the table, up to his elbows in flour and dough. He kneaded the ball with the same hypnotic concentration he afforded ward setting, or even spell constructing. Heat radiated from the hearth, casting a deep reddish glow on one side of his face. His hair hung down in his eyes. A few strand stuck to the corner of his mouth but he didn't bother trying to brush it away. He hair liked to do whatever it wanted, anyway.
Pound. Flip. Tuck.
Repetitive rhythms. Carefully modulated exertion. He's always liked the feeling of fresh bread; not so much the taste, but rather, the smell, the sound, the heat of breaking open a newly baked loaf, and the steam rising from moist and crunchy insides, its crust crumbling under his fingers.
. . . (04). . .
He grimaced, sweat dripping, stinging his eyes. The lines were tense, vibrating and his grip, while strong, could still be easily be broken. He felt, rather than saw, a surge of power as men broke through the first layer of defenses. His cousins quickly let loose a volley of arrows at the dark figures just cresting over the hill. Tanis tugged on his sleeve.
He shrugged him away irritably. He could see the lines. He reached out, thin treads twining about his fingers, hardening. They crisscrossed, delicate shiny black wires slicing across the open space in precise grid work. A slight mental nudge and they seemed to shimmer, wavering with a barely perceivable vibration that thrummed along his skin like singing lute strings.
There was another tugging on his sleeve.
"Astnor! Come on, we must go, NOW!"
He could hear the shouts of the others as they began to retreat. The roiling dark mass of riders would be on them soon. Astnor grit his teeth and pulled again- the lines finally obeying, falling slack. As they gave under his hold, the air blurred and warped strangely. The tugging on his arm stopped, astonished cursing taking its place.
"What? What are--"
But he didn't have the time to answer. The riders had already plunged straight towards them, the bulk of them streaming through once they realized the warping, distorted air did nothing.
Heart in throat, Astnor waited, one breath...two. The vanguard rider had green eyes, he noted absently. Green like clear crystal. He released his hold with a whispered command and opened his tightly clenched fist. The lines snapped back in place with a nearly audible crack; he felt as his cousins who had come up beside him flinched in reaction.
And then the riders, and the horses, and the creatures they brought with them burst apart. Astnor stood very, very still as limbs flew past him in neat slices as their momentum continued to move them forwards even though their owners were very much dead, their blood and gore splashing everywhere.
He remained frozen there for a long, silent moment, and then jumped at the twang of multiple bows. Arrows streaked towards and found their mark in the few remaining riders Astnor had completely forgotten about.
A silence fell again as the thudding hooves of the riderless horses faded.
Tanis placed firm hands on his shoulders and gently spun him around to face him. Astnor dazedly noted that his cousin was soaked, red streaking everything as if he'd bathed in red. His face had none of the good humour it normally held, the lines around his mouth were more grim than anything.
"Come on, we'd best be going."
He nodded and trailed silently behind him with the others.
. . . (05). . .
His father paced in hard, measured steps before him. His uncles sat in chairs across, while his tutor stood beside his seat. Astnor smoothed at a fold in his lap. He prided himself in his ability at reading people, but he found that he wasn't quite sure what was about. He only could figure that the clan heads were not angry. They weren't happy, but neither were they angry.
"When did it start?"
Astnor raised his head. "Start?"
"These..." his father gestured with a hand. "Lines."
"Since before first growth."
There was a subdued murmuring before the room fell silent once again. His tutor shifted beside him.
"And there were no...?"
His tutor shifted again. "Tanis reported that he felt nothing when it happened and I have never noticed anything at all. He has always consistently failed nearly all his tests." There was more quiet murmuring as his father nodded.
"You may go now. We will speak with you later."
Astnor stood and bowed stiffly at the waist. "I'll be in the library."
His father waved dismissively and Astnor smoothly left the chamber. The door shut behind him without a sound.
. . . (06). . .
He pulled his feet back from the shouting bundle of cloth that had crashed through the underbrush to land in a tangle at his feet. When it finally sorted itself out and climbed gracelessly to its feet, muttering and brushing at itself-- Astnor was faintly surprised to see that it was a boy. A human boy. Astnor mentally divided his own age and decided that the boy's was somewhere between seven and ten turns. He had a bright mess of red-orange curls; his clothing was of an extravagant cut and cloth. Perhaps he was noble born, then. The boy hadn't seemed to notice him, yet, so Astnor carefully closed his book and was about to slip silently away from the rock he sat on. It was at the moment he was half standing, half sitting that the boy suddenly realized that he wasn't alone, spinning around and looking Astnor full in the face with wide, grey eyes.
There was shouting from the bushes and another human boy, this one dark haired, burst out with a wooden sword in one hand. He jumped between the screaming boy and a bemused Astnor with a growl. In the following pause, a frog croaked and a rabbit jumped through thee bushes. Then the black haired boy growled again, though Astnor wasn't sure why, (it was really a pointless gesture) or what he planned to do with the ridiculous stick of his.
Astnor raised an eyebrow.
The two boys stared at him, dirt covered faces shifting from fear to, well, another sort of fear. Neither seemed to be looking at him directly. He frowned and hazarded a quick look behind himself just in case. There was nothing there.
"You're not human!" At this, Astnor turned his head back and realized that they had been staring at his ears. He moved to finish standing but the boy with the wooden sword waved his stick menacingly.
"Don't move!" he shouted, obviously trying to sound intimidating. He failed.
Mentally sighing, Astnor seated himself again and settled for glaring frostily at the two boys. They both looked at each other and then edged closer.
. . . (07). . .
The prince lay sprawled at his feet, chewing on stalks of grass as he stared up at the clouds, shooting the occasional contented look in his direction. Astnor, for the most part, remained perched oh so properly on his stone and read. This time, the small, leather-bound volume he held in his hands had been a gift to him by the Prince who brought it with the insistence that he read it that very moment. The book, appropriate to the Prince's very typical taste, was about kissing.
Astnor's face revealed nothing, as was usual, but anyone could already guess that he was not very interested at all. When he looked up from the text he was rapidly skimming to satiate the human sprawled at his feet, Astnor found a pair of grey eyes focused on him with an intensity he found mildly disquieting.
Astnor barely acknowledged the question with more than a slight flutter of the eyelash and purposefully placed all his attention on the book, making a great show of turning a page. The Prince seemed to take delight in deliberately nettling him, so he returned the favor by ignoring him. After all, he had never been known to be particularly obliging.
"Well?" the Prince repeated, raising himself up on one elbow.
"I'm afraid I cannot say much on the matter, though my cousins do seem to enjoy it."
"With each other?"
He turned a venomous glare onto the human who was now focused on fiddling with the buckles on Astnor's shoes. He pulled his feet away.
"Nevermind," said the Prince laughingly.
Astnor only shrugged and closed the small book with a snap. There was silence after that, as there often was, unbroken except for the occasional bird call and croaking toad.
"May I touch them?"
Astnor looked down at the tanned youth with confusion.
"I'm not sure that I--"
"Your ears. May I?" It was a request Astnor had expected much earlier in their acquaintance, which had never come. So it was with a small amusement at the predictability of man that he slowly nodded his assent. The Prince lost no time in scrambling up onto the rock beside him, moving in so closely that he was literally leaning up against Astnor's side. Fancying that he could feel warm puffs of breath across his cheek, he turned his head away under the guise of allowing access to his ear. He began to lean away as well, but the movement was checked by the large, brown hand that snaked around and pressed on his waist, easily spanning his ribcage. Humans, Astnor mused, grew much faster than the elven did.
There was a faint tickle at the tip as a finger lightly played with the tapered point, then when he grew bolder, delicately tracing down and along the shell of his ear. It tickled and Astnor fought against pulling away. His uncertainty must have shone, as one of the Prince's hands slid up his side to cup the back of his neck, his other arm coming to wrap around his back, effectively pulling him in tighter. Astnor jerked as a wet warmth replaced the finger. It was a...a tongue? The Prince was sucking on the tip of his ear.
"Prince?" Astnor asked in a clear, cold voice, meaning to disrupt whatever...air, energies were blanketing the both of them like liquid sun seeping through his body and making him lean ever so slightly back into the human's touch. His voice seemed to have the opposite effect, however, as he was pulled closer and up against the Prince's chest. The book in his lap fell to the ground with a light thump, its pages flipping and riffling in the mild breeze filtering through the trees. He ducked his head, the human's lips just missing his mouth and landing in his hair instead. Unperturbed, the Prince merely set to nuzzling him, hot breath huffing against his hair, his neck where the high collar didn't quite cover. Astnor found himself squirming as large hands ghosted over his ribs, his hips, his back.
"Prince!" He tried again, and for his efforts, he only found himself shoved down and flat on his back in the grass, the young Prince sprawled heavily on top of him, his greater weight easily pinning him down.
"Hold still," mumbled the Prince. And that was all the warning Astnor got before a hot, wet mouth came down on his.
It felt odd. Not unpleasant, and disconcerting enough that Astnor let it continue without protest. The Prince's fingers stroked and tangled themselves within the silvery strands of his once immaculate hair that was now tousled and shiny amongst the long blades of grass. Soft, yet hard all at once, tasting of spice and venison and mulled wine. Astnor tilted his head back at the touch of fingers on his jaw and the thumb pressing on his throat. Allowed, just this once, the gentle glide of mouth across his features-- there was an odd sort of comfort in physical touch.
It was the fingers tugging at the many buttons on his coat that made him focus again, his hand snapped up and caught the Prince's wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. He twisted his face to the side. "What are you doing?"
The Prince froze, panting down at him, eyes dark as he hesitantly licked his lips. "What do you think I'm doing?" He pulled his hand free and rubbed his thumb against the curve of Astnor's jaw, then, as he pulled away from his touch, he let his hand fall to comb through Astnor's strictly cut hair.
"How old do you believe me to be?"
The Prince frowned. "You said fifty turns? I don't see how--"
"And elven kind lives five times longer than humans do. How old would this make me?"
Astnor raised his eyebrow, putting his sternest look on his face while glaring up at the human boy. The Prince narrowed his eyes.
"What are you saying? That you are too old? Or too young?" Snorting, he brought his mouth down on top of his again. Quickly. Like a striking snake. Hard. Astnor had the inane thought that perhaps the human's tongue intended to chip its way through his teeth like a pick through rock. When the Prince pulled back again, they were both gasping for breath. "Or perhaps you mean that I am one or the other? You could just say you wished to wait." the Prince said, his voice low, with a hint of what Astnor could have sworn was amusement.
Astnor blinked up at him, searching for something appropriately cutting to say and found that he couldn't; for once, he was at a loss for words. The Prince smiled down at him, then jumped up, pulling him up with him. Pecked him chastely on the mouth and turned to brush at the grass and dirt clinging to their clothing. Shaking himself, Astnor finally murmured, "I'm just beginning my next growth period. I'll be completely different."
The Prince pause, bent halfway down as he reached for the fallen book Astnor had completely forgotten about. Grinned up at him, widely, the sunlight glinting off his eyes turning them a bright silver for a moment. "We'll see," he said.
Astnor tugged at the cuffs of his sleeves, refusing to quite meet his eyes. "Perhaps."
. . . (08). . .
The following summer, Astnor contemplated the fickle nature of humanity as he listened to the Prince extol the virtues of his new bride to be. Astnor looked up from the book he was reading when the Prince broke off suddenly into silence, and found that he was staring at him with a strangely unreadable expression on his normally animated face.
"You've... really changed."
Standing, Astnor would be a few finger lengths taller than the Prince, all awkward joints, long limbs and a severe thinness. Gone was the delicately soft creature he had been the summer before.
"I said I would grow." Astnor said with a stiff shrug.
"Yes. You did."