Crystalline Flaws

Nikerym 'Ksherea



The day was bright, almost cheerful but for the biting cold that made even the most stalwart of the nobles gathered hide their faces behind muffs. Teyren hid a yawn behind his, secure in the knowledge no one could see him do it. He was bundled well, with fur lined gloves and boots, a thick outer robe, and the half-decorative, half-warming fur-lined scarf wrapped around his head.

It almost made him feel sorry for the captive, shoved out onto the ornate platform in nothing but a tattered shirt and knee-length pants. Almost, but the caramel-skinned captive with the pale, pale hair didn't deserve his pity.

Teyren yawned again. The executions were becoming a weekly affair, so he supposed the king's men were finally doing their jobs. The whole thing was rather gruesome though, and he didn't like having to put off his lunch until he could stomach it late in the afternoon.

Teyren turned to watching the crowd instead – it was always a bit disturbing to watch the live captive before hand, and then to see the scattered pieces afterwards. Lady Dencia was here again, he noted with wry amusement. She stood sedately at the forefront of the crowd, as she normally did. She was one of the few ladies in the crowd, and most of the others were brought by their husbands, not under their own recognizance.

The rest of the nobles were dressed too much against the cold for him to recognize – though he did catch a glimpse of that scarlet cloak of Lord Brixton's and the Characid's family seal. Teyren sighed, he hated waiting. He never had been patient, and the king never showed up to oversee the execution until half an hour after it was scheduled.

Glancing back at the captive, Teyren blinked in confusion. The captive was staring straight at him. Teyren frowned and narrowed his eyes at the ill-kempt creature, thrown off entirely when the captive bared his teeth suddenly at him. It looked like a feral attempt at a smile, and Teyren wouldn't have been surprised if to hear him growling.

One of the prisoner's two guards abruptly turned and delivered a sharp cuff to the back of the captive's head, knocking him to bare knees. The abrupt sounding of the horns announced the king's arrival, and distracted Teyren easily. Turning with the rest of the crowd, he clasped his left arm across his chest and bowed his head as the procession rode by, horses moving slowly through the wide aisle afforded them.

Teyren, on the edge of the path, watched as the brown horses of the guards walked by, followed by the white of the heir, and then the black of the king. The horns stopped their blaring after a moment, and Teyren hoped it went quickly as he turned with the crowd back to the platform.

The pale-haired captive didn't seem the least bit cowed, oddly. Usually they were either defeated or defiant, crying or fighting to free themselves to the last. This one just stood there, eyeing the king without a line of defiance or defeat in him. Teyren frowned, he had a bad feeling –

The captive moved swiftly, so swiftly that Teyren wasn't sure what had happened. One moment, the captive's hands were securely bound behind him, the next he was free and stealing a sword from the guards. Frantic shouts filled the air, as the king's men surrounded the royals, not troubling to be cautious of the crowd of nobles.

Teyren got a glimpse then, of the captive, crouched expertly with the sword, the two guards still and unmoving at his feet, before he was shoved back, people panicking. Teyren wasn't too worried though – the king's men would contain him. Maybe they'd give him a quick death too, so they wouldn't have to hang around.

Teyren moved with the crowd, trying to be careful of his robe – it was expensive, and muddy footprints would send his maids into fits. There was a scream behind him, and then people were diving out of the way as a white horse thundered towards the exit – white for the heir, but the pale-haired savage atop the horse was not the heir.

Teyren barely had time to realize that the horse was headed towards him before there was a hand bunching his collar, pulling him with surprising strength over the horse's back. Teyren clutched at the horse's side, the saddlebow digging into his stomach, painful even through the thick layers of clothes he wore.

Shocked, he just clung to the horse's side for a long moment, hearing the scattered shouts and cries for doctors. A low growl, and he was suddenly hyper-aware of the savage's thighs, pressed against his side and chest. Teyren moved suddenly – if he fell now, he'd be a bit bruised, maybe a broken bone – the horse wasn't moving that quickly.

Teyren gasped out a pained breath as he was shoved back into place, the saddlebow painful against his stomach. He had half a second's awareness that this was bad – and if the heir was injured, the king's men would be looking to that instead – before a sudden sharp pain split across the back of his head and everything went dark.

☼☼☼

Teyren woke up slowly, his head throbbing and his fingers gone numb. There was a thick, metallic taste in his mouth and he groaned, blinking open his eyes slowly. The ground was cold beneath him, even through the thick robe, and his hands were tied together tightly. Teyren stilled immediately, remembering the white horse and the pale-haired captive.

His plan to stay still and quiet didn't work out though – the dark-skinned man walked in front of him, and Teyren jerked back. The man's footsteps made no noise against the snow, so his sudden appearance jolted Teyren.

The savage snorted, apparently amused, bright red eyes smirking at him. Teyren let out his breath in a soft hiss, wondering what torture the pale-haired barbarian had planned for him. He'd heard tales of skilled knife-tortures and sizzling lightning that came from no storm.

Teyren shifted agitatedly, wiggling his fingers. It wasn't pleasant, laying down and looking so far up at the savage. He froze though, when a sword sliced through the snow in front of him, burying a few inches into the frozen ground.

"You try to escape and I'll kill you, no matter how much you're wanted."

Teyren just stared. He was wanted? Baffled, he met the savage's hard stare, jerking back when the sword was yanked roughly from the ground. The man laughed, turning back to the horse, tethered across the clearing to a small tree. He'd fashioned boots, it seemed, from Teyren's scarf, wrapping his feet to mid-shin.

Teyren felt mildly affronted at the mistreatment of the cloth, but decided the savage really could use them. Frostbite was rather painful. The man checked the saddle straps, absently soothing the tired looking stallion with soft strokes down his neck. Teyren frowned – it was getting dark out, which meant he'd been unconscious all day.

"Up." He was ordered abruptly, fingers hooking in the ropes tying his hands together. Teyren followed orders, in no hurry to lose his head or spill blood. He stumbled awkwardly, his legs half-numb from cold. Night would only make it worse though – and it seemed his captor meant to travel through the night too.

Fingers pulled at the ropes again, unknotting them swiftly. Teyren frowned, wondering what the man had in mind. "Take off your robe."

"What?" Teyren took a step back, freezing when the sword jerked towards his neck.

"You heard me." The savage smirked at him, but Teyren still hesitated.

"I'll freeze." He protested. "I won't be of any use frozen."

The bright red eyes really were unnerving. Teyren flinched when the man rolled his eyes. "Take it off, or I'll take it off for you."

Teyren sighed, his fingers starting to tingle, and he noticed his missing gloves for the first time. His fingers were pale, and it hurt when he flexed them. Fumbling at the buttons, it took him a good minute to get the first of the three carved wooden buttons unclasped.

"Useless." The savage muttered under his breath, stepping close and yanking the last two buttons open. Strong hands flung the robe open, knocking it off his shoulders. Teyren gasped as the shock of the cold hit him. Unable to muster a protest, he wrapped his arms around himself after being summarily stripped.

"Get on the horse." He was ordered, and Teyren stumbled, yanked towards the beast. Mounting awkwardly, his teeth already chattering, he tensed as the man mounted behind him. Strong, horribly warm arms wrapped around his waist, and Teyren wanted to be at home, inside and away from the cold and his captor as he reluctantly let the savage wrap the thick robe around both of them. It barely reached, and Teyren had to hold it closed.

Then they were moving, and Teyren had to admit – it was warmer with both of them there, and he tried to think of some way to get out of this. But he didn't know where they were, let alone which direction they were going in. He'd never left the city, since travel was arduous in the winter and he was always so sick in the summers.

He couldn't wrap his head around it though – what would a group of savages want with him? He wasn't anywhere near related to the king, he wasn't important politically or economically. He was mostly a wastrel noble – he didn't do anything but putter around in the libraries or meeting social obligations.

Teyren frowned, it didn't make any sense. "Why me?" He asked, not seeing any harm in asking. The worst it could get him was a bit of pain.

Fingers jabbed sharply into his stomach and Teyren flinched. "No questions."

Teyren managed a nod, sitting stiffly in his spot, earning only a chuckle from his captor.

☼☼☼

Keir sighed, running a hand through his hair. Glancing back at the brazier forlornly, he ducked out of his tent into the frigid cold and across the main path. It only took a moment, and then he was in the large main tent, shivering despite the warm furs wrapping his arms and legs.

"Jain!" He called, grinning as he darted past the roaring main fire. His brother looked up, and Keir's smile grew – Jain was wearing one of the odd robes the southerners preferred.

"Keir." Jain's tone was warning, but Keir ignored him, laughing delightedly and throwing his arms around Jain. Jain caught him, barely, and Keir hugged him tight, before letting go and studying him.

"You're okay?" Keir confirmed, and Jain nodded.

"Yeah, I'm good." Jain looked tired though, and Keir smiled gently.

"Thank you." Keir kissed him on the cheek. "Get some rest."

"You can handle it?" Jain asked, glancing to the side, where the pale southerner stood, looking ready to pass out.

"Yes." Keir laughed. "How wouldn't I?"

"Right. I'll see you later." Jain kissed him briefly on the forehead, clasping his shoulder before ducking away, the vividly colored green robe trailing behind him.

Keir turned and studied the southerner, offering a smile. Pale, pale skin, but that was to be expected. There were circles under his eyes, a soft brown color, and his hair was a shockingly dark black, unruly from the wind and travel.

"Hi." Keir greeted cheerfully, approaching slowly. "I'm Keir." He introduced himself, waiting for signs of bolting. Though where the southerner would go was the question.

"Teyren."

Keir blinked, confused until he realized that Teyren was the man's name. "Nice to meet you, Teyren. I hope your journey wasn't too uncomfortable?"

Teyren stared at him, and Keir laughed. "Come on, let's get you settled with some food and fresh warm clothes. Perhaps a bath?"

Teyren didn't move.

"Are you okay?" Keir reached out, touching Teyren's arm. Teyren startled, tripping backwards and landing hard, arms shooting out to catch himself. Keir's eyes widened, and he dropped down next to Teyren. "I'm sorry!" Keir apologized. "I didn't mean to startle you."

"What are you going to do with me?" Teyren asked, staring at him with his odd pale eyes.

"Help you with your magic." Keir shrugged.

Teyren just stared at him blankly. "I don't have magic."

"Yes, you do." Keir confirmed, almost reaching out to touch Teyren again, hoping to impart comfort, but then he remembered Teyren's reaction before, and aborted the movement.

"No, I don't." Teyren protested, looking paler. Keir frowned, concerned.

"I can see it, it's fairly bright." Keir shifted closer, ignoring the curious who were loitering about behind them. "Don't worry." Keir implored. "I only want to help."

Teyren looked at him in disbelief, and Keir laughed, reaching out to brush his fingers across Teyren's cheek. "Come on, let's get you fed and put to bed."

Teyren stared at him, then seemed to give up. "Okay."

"I'm sorry, it's not some weird dream." Keir smiled cheerfully, standing and helping Teyren to his feet.

"Right." Teyren agreed without realizing it, and Keir flushed. He hadn't slipped in almost a month.

"Keir."

Keir jumped, whirling to face the frowning man who was stalking towards him. "Hey, Shalei."

Shalei sighed, frown not budging one stubborn inch. Keir offered a hand, which Shalei took reluctantly, clasping it loosely. Keir tucked his free arm around Teyren and smiled disarmingly. "We were just off to get Teyren settled for the night."

"Where's he going?" Shalei asked, distracted as Keir had hoped.

"He's going in your spare space." Keir tightened his grip on Shalei's hand.

"Why didn't you come get me when you realized Jain was back?" Shalei asked, and Keir sighed. So much for Shalei being distracted. Keir started walking, tugging them both into movement, before the odd conversation could overwhelm Teyren more.

"It's Jain." Keir shrugged.

"Right." Shalei squeezed Keir's hand, pulling him from the worried thoughts he'd had when Jain had disappeared for his mission. "So why isn't he going in the tent between us like we planned?"

Keir stopped abruptly, eyes wide. "I'm so sorry! I forgot introductions." Keir apologized, wide-eyed, to Teyren.

"I… it's okay?" Teyren offered, rather shell-shocked, between the ride and the cold and Keir was just… effervescent.

"No, it's not." Keir fussed. "Teyren, this is Shalei, he's a mage too. He'll be helping me with your magic lessons."

"I don't –" Teyren cut off, frowning. Keir sighed, slipping his hand from Shalei's.

"Tey." Keir cupped his face before Teyren could think to move away. "You've got it, and if we don't help you tame it, it could destroy you." Keir frowned sadly.

"I… but it's not possible." Teyren shook his head. "It just… no one has magic in the south. Both my parents were pure-blooded southerners."

"It wouldn't have mattered, Tey." Keir let go, clasping Teyren's hands. "Blood has nothing to do with it."

Teyren subsided, his brain whirling chaotically. Keir smiled sympathetically, and hugged him suddenly. Teyren stiffened, glancing past Keir to where Shalei stood smirking slightly. Keir let go after a moment, and smiled at him.

"Jain wasn't too mean to you, was he?" Keir asked, snagging one of Teyren's hands again. Shalei rolled his eyes and stepped closer, letting Keir take his arm before they began the procession towards the opening of the tent.

"Gruff." Teyren answered after a moment, shrugging.

"That's how Jain always is." Keir confirmed, smiling. "Okay, it's really cold out. Jain took your coat, didn't he?" Keir fussed, frowning. "We'll just have to make a dash for it."

Shalei twisted his hand free and Keir grinned at him briefly.

"For?" Teyren asked, frowning.

"Shalei's tent. You'll be staying with him for a bit." Keir smiled. "Just follow my lead okay?" Keir confirmed, slipping the soft, long scarf from around his neck and wrapping it around Tey's.

Teyren nodded, and Keir grinned. "Let's go." Keir ducked through the thick tent flaps, pausing only to make sure Teyren got out before darting across the wide path. Luckily, the tent he shared with Jain was right across from the opening, and Shalei's was right next to that. Keir ducked into Shalei's tent, shutting the flap behind Teyren.

"Okay, so Shalei can answer anymore questions you have." Keir bounced on his toes, feeling Jain in the next tent over. "He's probably arranging for a meal and some fresh clothes for you. Um… don't try and leave? It's ages till the nearest southerner's city, and you'd freeze in the meantime." Keir smiled brightly, standing on his tip-toes to plant a kiss on Teyren's cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Teyren just blinked at him, looking rather perplexed. Keir grinned, and ducked out of the warm tent and over to the one he shared with his brother.

"Jain!" Keir exclaimed loudly, taking the time to kick off his shoes before jumping into the mound of blankets that hid Jain from sight.

Jain let out an 'oof,' though Keir hadn't landed on him, and Keir laughed, burrowing in to curl up next to Jain. Jain obligingly wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pressing another kiss to his forehead.

"I missed you." Keir whispered, blinking dark red eyes at Jain. "I was worried."

"I missed you, too." Jain reassured. "There was nothing to be worried about."

"Says you." Keir sulked, poking Jain in the ribs. "Did they starve you too?" Keir looked at him mournfully, running a hand over his ribs.

"Yeah, a bit." Jain shrugged. "Nothing I won't be able to get back."

"We should've found another way." Keir frowned. "Why in the world do you have Tey's jacket still?"

"It's soft." Jain defended, not moving from where he was laying on the vibrant green jacket.

"It's Tey's." Keir protested.

"He's not objecting." Jain smirked, and Keir rolled his eyes, tugging the blankets closer around them.

"That's because he's slightly scared silly." Keir sighed. "And I left him alone with Shalei." Keir frowned at him. "You know, you could've told him something. I swear he thought we were going to use him for some sort of pagan ritual sacrifice."

Jain laughed loudly, smiling at him fondly. "Good."

"Jain!" Keir protested. Jain just frowned.

"Keir." Jain sighed. "Do you know what they do with their captives?"

Keir blinked, then froze, tears filling his eyes. He nodded a bit. "It's terrible."

"They watch." Jain spat, sitting up. "Like it's some great form of entertainment. Teyren was in the crowd."

Keir made a distressed noise. "He… he didn't want to be." Keir protested, shaking a bit. "He didn't want to be there, they're required though, and any who don't go are thought treasonous."

"Keir, don't." Jain frowned, tugging Keir across his lap and hugging him. "Just, be wary, okay?"

Keir nodded, brushing at the tears leaking down his cheeks. "He'll have to be near me or Shalei all the time."

Jain snickered, playing with Keir's pale silver hair. "Poor Shalei. No, wait, poor… Tey?"

"Teyren." Keir corrected, smiling a bit. "You had him for almost two days and you didn't even get his name?"

"Wasn't important." Jain shrugged, then frowned. "How are things here?"

"We lost Ven, and Laie." Keir's face crumpled. "Do you think he'll be willing to help?"

"You would know better then me, Kree." Jain murmured, hugging Keir close and pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. Keir sighed.

"You need to sleep." Keir detangled himself, tucking the furs back around Jain.

"Keir." Jain frowned, snagging Keir's hand before he could wander off. "Don't go anywhere."

"I – alright." Keir smiled sadly, his dark mahogany eyes haunted. Jain tugged him under the blankets, wrapping his arms securely around his brother.

Keir settled, burying his face into the front of the soft robe, and Jain frowned. If that southerner brought Keir any more distress, he'd give it right back without qualm.

☼☼☼

Teyren sat down, after staring at the tent flap for a long moment. Then he got dizzy and had to sit down. The warmth of the tent barely registered – odd warmth, since tent was synonymous with drafty in his admittedly limited experience.

Feeling rather overwhelmed, he just glanced around the tent woodenly, wondering idly if he would ever get back to the manor and familiar surroundings. The tent was dimly lit, a lantern turned low at the peak. The sides sloped in gently, meeting in the center, and there was a large, messy pile of furs taking up most of the room to his left.

The tent was otherwise empty, and Teyren frowned. He didn't understand it – they said he had magic, but that made no sense. Everyone was tested when they were young for magic, and he'd never come up positive. Teyren sighed, he felt light-headed, but that could've been because of the lack of food for the last day, or the blow to the head Jain had given him the day before.

The tent flap opened then, sending a cold breeze chasing over him. Teyren frowned, glancing up at Shalei, who let the tent flap slip shut behind him. Shalei was balancing a bowl in one hand and a bundle in the other, some faintly spicy scent filling the air.

"Here." Shalei gave him the bowl, dropping the fur-lined pile onto the blanket nearest him. "Eat." Shalei frowned, and Teyren nodded, letting his fingers absorb the warmth from the bowl for a minute more.

"Why are you bothering?" Teyren asked after a moment, Shalei moving slowly around the tent straightening things.

"Why am I bothering to do what?" Shalei asked impassively, turning around from where he'd been sorting through a small bag.

"If it's true, and I have magic –" Teyren wasn't willing to admit to it yet, it still seemed impossible. " – why didn't you just leave me there to rot?"

"Keir." Shalei shrugged. "He could sense you – he's got a huge range for that type of thing and you're the first he's felt more than an inkling from in ages."

"But-" Teyren frowned, stirring the contents of the bowl. He'd been hungry, but he wasn't really anymore.

"But?" Shalei crossed the tent and sat down in front of him, staring at him with impassive, dark violet eyes. His skin was a few shades lighter than Jain's was, and he had a short braid of dark silver hair.

"We're at war." Teyren frowned. "I'm a southerner. You're a – you're not."

Shalei smiled wryly. "Keir doesn't care about that. He just saw a soul in need, though he's passed it off as not wanting magic to fall into the south's hands. You'll need to be careful until you can defend yourself. There are many here who have lost relatives to the tortures of the south."

Teyren paled, nodding.

"Eat." Shalei told him, standing up. Teyren glanced down at his bowl. The wood had cooled rapidly, and he frowned.

"I'm not hungry." Teyren frowned, letting the spoon slip from between his fingers.

"Eat it anyway." Shalei ordered, frowning. Teyren's stomach gave a lurch, and he took a deep breath. It wouldn't do though, he didn't want to anger his keepers. Taking a bite, he watched as Shalei went back to the bag, sifting through it's contents with a few rattles and clinks.

The stew was lightly flavored, with bits of what was probably rabbit meat in it. Teyren took another bite of the lukewarm stew, ignoring the way his stomach was protesting. Teyren set the spoon back down, biting his lip and wondering how the hell he was going to get out of this.

Magic was checked for in every child when they turned seven, and again when they turned ten. Teyren had had both of his checks done and come out clean. Frowning, he set the bowl aside and hunched up, resting his chin on his knees – something his etiquette teacher would have a fit about if she could see. Letting his eyes slip closed, Teyren sighed. He just wanted to go home.

"Look." Shalei frowned, sitting down next to him. "I understand you don't want to be here, but you don't have any choice."

"What?" Teyren opened his eyes, startled. Shalei rolled his eyes.

"Watch." Shalei ordered, holding out his hand, palm-side up. Teyren blinked, glancing at him uncertainly, but Shalei was frowning in concentration, and little sparks of light were gathering on his hand. They sparked and crackled, current running in streaks of color around his fingers and palm.

Teyren smiled faintly. "Neat."

"Give me your hand." Shalei ordered, and Teyren frowned, but let Shalei take his hand. Shalei stroked down the center of his palm lightly before abruptly frowning, eyes snapping open.

"What?" Teyren stiffened, half-afraid he'd done something wrong – or that Shalei had figure out that he didn't have magic after all. He would probably just be killed off when that happened.

"You're an elemental mage." Shalei frowned.

"Is that bad?" Teyren asked, frowning.

"It's not bad." Shalei answered vaguely. "Just… rare."

"What's the difference? Between an elemental and normal?" Teyren asked, suddenly curious. All he knew about magic was that it wasn't looked upon well, and that anyone with it generally disappeared. 'Into the king's service' or something.

"Magic generally lends itself to a specific bend." Shalei let go of his hand, and Teyren tucked back into his sleeve. "Keir is of a healing bend, I'm light and energy, and you're elemental. There's dozens of different types, and a bunch of different strengths. There's shadow mages, weather mages, fire mages, almost anything you can think of. About half of us up here are mages in some form or another, though most are so weak that barely anything comes of it."

Teyren nodded. "What does an elemental do?"

Shalei smiled a bit. "It's rare, like I told you. You, I think, are a winter elemental. Cold doesn't bother you as much as it should? Summer makes you mildly ill or depressed?"

Teyren shrugged.

"You'll probably be able to control ice and snow, if not form it yourself. Depending on how strong you are, but Keir did say you were bright, so there's probably a chance." Shalei shrugged. "The most important thing you need to learn is how to shunt away energy. It's naturally formed, even by something as simple as breathing, and too much will give you seizures that will impair your brain."

"Oh." Teyren frowned.

"Strength is based on that – how much energy you can store before you're in danger." Shalei told him. "It won't take long to establish something like a shield to constantly draw on it."

Teyren nodded, staying quiet as his mind processed. "How does the healing work?"

Shalei smiled. "Keir can sense those who are sick or hurt, and he's rather compelled to help them. Which is why we went after you." Shalei's smile flickered for a moment. "But he basically pours his energy into a wound, speeding the healing. A minor healer can do lacerations and surface wounds, but Keir can strip poisons from a person, and head off impending conditions like the seizures."

"Ah." Teyren frowned. "And you?"

"I can light up places." Shalei answered wryly, forming a quick light ball and tossing it in the air. It stuck, hovering, about a foot below the tent's top. Teyren watched it curiously. "I can also do things with lightning, when I have the energy." Shalei smirked. "And everything in between."

"And you and Keir are going to teach me how to use this?" Teyren made an oblique gesture.

"Yeah." Shalei yawned.

"But what if I use it to get back south and then use it against you?" Teyren frowned. Shalei smirked.

"You're barely learning. You don't have the stamina to use magic for the long bursts of time it would take to get back. Especially on foot." Shalei grinned, pushing to his feet and stretching. "We don't have horses here."

"Oh." Teyren filed that away for further thought, and watched, slightly anxious as Shalei stripped off his boots.

"Time for sleep." Shalei announced. "You may as well change into those." He gestured to the pile of clothes he'd brought in. "It'll be warmer than those thin rags you're wearing.

Teyren frowned, but stood up, slipping off his boots after a moment's hesitation. He stripped out of the admittedly-thin shirt, picking up the thick, hide-based shirt Shalei had brought. It was lined with soft fur, and felt slightly cool. His pants were next, though the fur felt odd, brushing against his skin as he pulled it on.

Shalei had rearranged the blankets into some semblance of order, and Teyren sighed, deciding that he could use some sleep. Shalei slipped under the covers, and Teyren wanted to smack himself – one pile of blankets. But Shalei wasn't making a big deal out of it, so he wouldn't either.

Sliding under the blankets, Teyren curled up slowly, letting his eyes close and his breathing even out. He didn't fall asleep though – too many worries ran rampant through his head. It was nearly an hour before he managed it, not realizing that Shalei's eyes were on him the entire time.

TBC…