Window of the Sun
This is a funny little keyhole shaped place. Well, little compared to the vast bulk of the Katahdin massif -- the roofless opening is in fact several stories high. To the east and west rise the walls of the Window -- Chimney Peak and Pamola Peak, with you, very tiny, in the gap between them. The floor is almost flat, and in the little sheltered nooks of the wind's lea grow tufts of hardy alpine plants. For the earthbound, getting here and getting out again both require something of a climb -- massive tumbled boulders form the walls of the notch, and while they offer various climbing surfaces, they are in places nearly vertical.
West, over Chimney Peak, lies the challenge of the Knife Edge; East over Pamola is Keep Ridge, the southeastern shoulder of the massif. To the north and south is nothing but sky, and, if the weather is good, some more nice views.
Keep Ridge Knife Edge
"Well," he mutters, wiping his forehead and looking out over the landscape so beautifully visible from here. He checks the sun one more time with his sundial, then picks up his staff and walks to the center of the circle. Planting the heel of his staff firmly upon the ground, he wraps both hands around it, closes his eyes, takes a breath. On the exhale, he begins to speak.
The wind starts to pick up more, and the atmosphere in the circle becomes somehow denser, heavier as Justin starts to draw power up through the earth. Sweat beads on his forehead as he speaks, commanding the power to come out for his use, drawing up through his staff and gathering around him.
With a sound like a slamming door, a freezing wind slaps across the bare rock in front of the Window of the Sun. As suddenly as it arose, the wind ceases, and the sound of shuffling footsteps - just behind Justin - is eerily clear in the abrupt silence.
Straggling white hair, full of tangles and rats'-nests, frames a face wrinkled tight by frown lines around the mouth. She is gaunt, with hands like bird claws, draped in a threadbare, torn black dress with grease stains all down the front. Nearly bent double with her stoop and with a dowager's hump on her back, all she needs are warts to supply the last remaining cliche. However, the warts are absent; still, the nasty glitter in her eyes more than makes up for the lack. Around her neck hang strange objects on strings - a withered root like a tiny hand (surely that's a root), a very dirty bag, a cracked quizzing glass, and a gray stone with a hole in it. A gold chain also hangs about her neck, but if there is a pendant on it, it is hidden in her dress.
Justin flinches badly, his voice rising almost to cracking, but he holds on, letting the magic settle to a level point instead of continuing to take energy. He turns around slowly, hands tight on his staff, and eyes wide.
A voice like fingernails on slate - but much louder - issues from the less-than-pleasing apparition. "Meddling little THIEF!"
Justin stares at the ...person in utter disbelief, and it's a moment before he can find his voice. "--What?"
The... old woman shuffles a little closer, moving like a broken lizard over the stony ground. Despite her obvious age, she is not leaning on a cane or a staff of any kind. Her deeply wrinkled, malicious face turns a burning gaze on the younger mage and she does not answer.
Justin blinks owlishly, still stunned into silence, then finds something to say. "I ...didn't know this land belonged to anyone." He hangs on to his staff and the energy he's already drawn, to keep it from lashing out.
"It's not the land you're tampering with," she grates.
Justin's back stiffens, his eyes going unfocused, and he gasps out, "Stop!" trying to stiffen his mental shields against intrusion. "You--who ARE you?"
She narrows her eyes at him, folding her arms. "I'm Miss Alison," she says, with grim deliberation. "And that there" - nodding her head towards the staff, or rather, towards what it contains - "belongs to me. By rights."
Justin shakes his head, partly in negation, partly to clear it. "It's not yours," he protests, "any more than the air is." The wisdom of arguing, especially with someone like this, and while caught with his pants down, may be escaping him at the moment.
"I've fought for it for three hundred years," hisses Miss Alison. "What have /you/ done to earn it, you arrogant snotnosed leech?" One hand dives down the slack front of her dress and emerges with the ornament which occupies the end of the anomalous golden chain - a silver wand no longer than her hand.
Justin flinches again, automatically raising a hand in a warding-off, placating sort of gesture. "I--I'm sorry. Madam. I am taxed with the flaw of speaking before I think. My apologies." Recovering a little dignity, he bows his head to Miss Alison.
She pauses, actually in the act of preparing the wand, and directs a sharp, birdlike glare at Justin. Then she extends her withered hand and points the wand directly at Justin's staff. "Tell me why I should not take that back," she says, "And use it to make an example of you to all future thoughtless wandering thieving mages."
Justin lifts his head, making an excellent effort to be calm, although he's quite tense. "My need is to contact my home Chantry," he says, carefully, "which is in a hidden pocket of the Umbra, a Horizon Realm. I would not have drawn on the--your Quintessence if I could have provided it myself, but my power is not so strong. Again, my apologies, and I will release it freely, you've only to say the word. I would, however," he adds, quite humbly, "appreciate not becoming an example."
Miss Alison shrugs. "I don't care what you needed it for," she says harshly. "As long as you know not to do it again."
Justin takes a deep breath, then dares to ask, "Madam, might I have use of what I need, if I can offer you something in exchange?"
She looks him over slowly and suspiciously, from his expensive boots to his glasses. Still fiddling with the wand in way that might (might) make lesser mortals nervous, she tilts her head and says, in a tone of deep mistrust, "What?"
Justin clears his throat. "I don't know what you can best use. I'm open to suggestions." He considers. "Knowledge, perhaps? A Lilith moon bridge opened nearby, recently."
Miss Alison snorts and flaps a hand. "That's none of my business." She eyes the young man speculatively. "I collect things," she rasps.
Justin asks cautiously, "Anything in particular, or things in general?" He -does- have things.
Miss Alison folds her arms again. "/Expensive/ things."
Justin considers this, and Miss Alison. Then, ducking his head, he lifts his sundial from around his neck and offers it to her, swinging from its black silk cord. "It's adjustable," he says. "You can turn the dials for latitude and longitude anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, and it'll tell the time accurately, and the degree of the sun." The sundial's bright brass glints in the light as it turns, hanging. "It was... costly," he adds, with a slight wince.
She considers for a long moment. "Already have a clock," she says grudgingly, as she reaches out to take it. She looks at the little device for a long time, turning it over and over in her clawlike hands.
"It's very portable, never needs winding, and..." Justin pauses, searching for another good selling point, "it's -shiny-."
A glare darts out at Justin as the withered old fingers tighten on his little treasure. "Don' matter. It'll do. Finish up your work and don't take too long about it. And don't go taking what's not yours again. Not around here." With that, Miss Alison summarily turns her back and starts to shuffle away.
Justin bows his head to Miss Alison, all respect, until she turns away. "Thank you, madam." Then he lifts his head again, heaves an inaudible sigh of relief, and puts his right hand back on his staff--his other hand never left it.
A click like a key in a lock and the sound of a closing door, and Miss Alison is gone.