goldarrow: (Stephen-Ryan)
[personal profile] goldarrow
Title: Cold and Lonely
Author: goldarrow
Word Count Total: 2194
Characters/Pairing: Stephen Hart, James Lester
Rating: 12
Warnings: none
Disclaimer: Primeval belongs to Impossible Pictures, not me. I will return them when I’m done, slightly mussed but in superb spirits.

Unbetaed, so all mistakes are my own :)

For the August 2016 Monthly Challenge, Prompt 1:
"It was lonely on the hill, and cold. And all you could do was keep going. You could scream, cry, and stamp your feet, but apart from making you feel warmer, it wouldn’t do any good. You could say it was unfair, and that was true, but the universe didn’t care because it didn’t know what “fair” meant. That was the big problem about being a witch. It was up to you. It was always up to you."
— Terry Pratchett (Wintersmith (Discworld, #35; Tiffany Aching, #3))

Sequel to the Magick AU Next Step
You probably should read that one first (it's short).

Cold and Lonely

Stephen Hart was not pleased. Not pleased at all.

He'd studied. He'd practised. He'd worked hard with every one of the Initiates of Magister Lester's Inner Coven. He'd learned that there was so much more to real Magick than he'd ever dreamed. It wasn't just spells and potions, desire and hope. It was hard work and determination, inner strength and discipline. It was elation and frustration.

And right at this moment, the elation was being overridden by the frustration.

After a year of study and practise, he'd been informed that he was ready to be fully initiated into the Inner Coven. Thus the elation. The frustration, on the other hand, was based on the fact that in order to join as a full member of the Coven, he would be required to go on a Vision Quest. Lester described it as a journey of discovery, travels through a portal to a land that would lead him to his own inner truth. Everyone who passed through the portal ended up in a different place, the only thing he could be sure of was that he would find there a creature that matched his spirit, an elemental life-force to call on that could strengthen his spells.

Of course, being Stephen, when informed of this he'd protested that he wasn't about to bring some creature back from its home to here, to live a lonely life away from its own species. Lester had raised an eyebrow, but Stephen refused to back down. If that meant he wasn't eligible, then so be it. When he stood fast, Lester had smiled, which in many ways Stephen found even more frightening.

"You will meet the creature, and if you survive the meeting, its strength will become your strength. You will not physically need to bring it back with you."

Lester stepped across his office to the cupboard in the corner, a cupboard that Stephen had never seen opened. After studying a number of vials, Lester removed one and placed it on the desk in front of Stephen.

"This potion, when sprinkled on both of you, will join your strength with that of the creature you meet."

Stephen paled. He didn't really want to lose any of himself. "But…"

Lester shook his head, seeming to know exactly what Stephen was frightened of. "You will not lose anything. The creature will not lose anything. It will simply enable you to call upon the same elemental life-force that the creature holds.  It becomes a conduit, as it were, between you and the origins of power itself."

"That… That's amazing," Stephen whispered. "And a bit frightening."

"Good. Anyone who feels only desire for this kind of power but no trepidation about its danger has already failed the first step." Lester turned and stared straight into Stephen's eyes. "The power you will gain is too strong to not be uneasy about controlling. This final journey, this quest, is the most dangerous test you will ever take. You will meet many creatures, and you will be tempted to join with one quickly. But you must be certain. There is no time limit on the quest. Be absolutely sure of the creature you join. Its strength will be part of you forever. Do not rush this."

Stephen nodded, swallowing hard. "I understand. But how will I know?"

"You will feel it, in your heart."

"That's not really much help," Stephen replied grumpily.

Lester actually laughed. "I'm afraid that's all you're going to get. Believe me, you will know. Now, find Cutter, he will assist you in your preparations." He started to turn away, then turned back. "And don't bother questioning him on what you 'should' feel. He knows not to tell you anything." At Stephen's silent snarl, he cocked his head. "Honestly, Stephen, everyone feels the connection in a different way. I wouldn’t want you to fail in your quest by telling you to feel for a shiver up your spine and instead for you have it be a ringing in the ears. Or any other reaction your body might manifest."

Sighing, Stephen nodded. "I understand." He grinned wryly. "I don't like it, but I understand."

Two days later, Stephen adjusted his rucksack and stepped through the glowing, glittering portal, shivering as the cool knife-like shards slid through him without cutting.

On the other side, he dropped the rucksack and stared, mouth agape and eyes wide, at the scene in front of him. What had been tilled fields was now open land, what had been an overcast grey sky was now a clear bright blue, and the trees were types he didn’t recognise at all. It really was a portal. In spite of everything he'd learned, in spite of everything he'd been told about this quest, he hadn't really believed. Now he did. Completely and utterly, to the depths of his suddenly jumping stomach.

"Fucking hell," he whispered, and shivered as the words were eaten up by the distance and the silence. No bird song, no dogs barking, no traffic noises or people talking as they walked down roads, heels clicking against the pavement.

Stephen took a deep breath and stepped forward into the unknown. He was ready to find his power, ready to become fully Initiate. After a fortnight passed, by mid-afternoon of the first day of the third week Stephen was ready to just curl up in a cave and hibernate for a while. Or maybe forever. He was alone, cold, tired and very hungry.

The silence around him, even though he could hear more now that he wasn't constantly expecting the noises from his own time and place, was really getting to him. He'd always been a bit of a loner, but now he was completely engulfed in a harsh solitude. There was no one to talk to, no one to discuss what he was seeing with. For the first time in his life, he was lonely. Surrounded by people, he'd always kept to himself, but now, knowing that there was no other person there at all, he knew that he wanted people. He wasn't completely self-sufficient, he was part of the human race and he needed to actually be part of it. These solitary days had taught him that, at least. Talk about an inner truth – Stephen Hart, the self-sufficient one, was ready to admit that he missed his friends.

The days might be hot and steamy, but the nights were dank and chilly. Every morning it seemed to take him longer to warm up than it had the day before. The constant need to keep watch for danger and yet not accidentally run away from his power animal was exhausting him.

And now he was out of food.

He'd brought enough meal bars to last a week if he didn’t eat carefully and two weeks if he did, and he had been careful, but last night he'd finished the last one. He still had plenty of water purifiers, and even if he ran out of those the cleansing of water was one of the easiest spells he knew. It was the food situation that bothered him most. He'd expected to be able to forage for any extra food needed to extend his time here, to see animals he knew, and plants that he knew were edible. These creatures were foreign to him, and he was handicapped by the fear that he might possibly kill someone else's power creature without knowing it. And as for the plants, they were completely unknown. He could just as easily eat the current version of a toadstool or yew as he could a mushroom or blackberry.

Sitting on the high bank of the river, looking down the overhang to the slowly drifting water beneath him, he sighed. He'd hardly seen any animals at all, and those few he'd seen had given him a wide berth, or he'd backed away from them when they showed aggression as he came close. He might be looking for his spirit animal, but he knew damn well he wasn't going to find it in the stomach of something that was hungry.

He'd been nervous about leaving the area of the portal, but now he was regretting not having searched the more distant areas before his food ran out. It was time to make a decision. Should he expand his search now, or just go back through the portal and confess his failure? Nothing had been said about a second chance if he failed this one, so perhaps that wasn't a good idea.

So immersed in his own thoughts that he didn't hear the sounds as the creature moved up behind him, Stephen nearly jumped out of his skin and straight over the edge of the riverbank as warm breath blew across the back of his neck. After the initial start, he froze as the creature skittered back.

Turning slowly, Stephen gulped as he got a good look at the creature. It looked like a cross between a very large bird and a lizard standing on its hind legs. Feathers covered its body and forearms, but the beak – or muzzle – was more like that of an iguana than an ostrich.  It would have been almost two metres tall if it stood up straight, but in this case it was bent over, using its long tail to balance its neck as it stretched out to sniff his hair.

Stephen stared into the eye closest to him, watching as the pupil widened and contracted. His terror gradually gave way to a feeling of fascination as he stayed still, just looking. The creature gave a cry that sounded like a cross between a frustrated parakeet and a soaring eagle, with a slight undertone of an angry owl's hiss, and Stephen couldn't help but smile. Such a silly sound from such a big creature.

The bird/lizard thing grabbed a hank of his hair and tugged. He laughed and it stepped back, squawking again. It was obviously a predator, but he must be so far removed in looks and scent from its normal prey that it wasn’t sure what he was or if he was edible or a danger to its territory. If he made no threatening moves, it should leave him alone. But it didn't. It moved closer, reaching out with one feathered forearm to stroke him curiously. Stephen counted himself lucky that the creature's talon raked down his rucksack strap rather than his arm. Those claws were big. And sharp. He followed the line of the scratch down the leather then looked at the creature again when its tone softened.

Meeting its gaze one more time, Stephen gasped. He fell forward, catching himself on his hands before going completely flat on the ground. His skin was roughened, his stomach flipped over a few times then tied itself into a knot. The creature staggered, then spread its arms – wings – out and flapped them, screaming loudly. Unable to look away, feeling trapped by the depth of the darkness and the glint of sunlight reflecting off of the eye fixed on him, Stephen started shaking.

This had to be his power. Nothing else he'd seen or been close to had made him feel even slightly like this. Without looking, Stephen yanked the vial Lester had given him from his pocket and, hands shaking horribly, he spilled half of the contents on himself before throwing the rest onto the breast of the magnificent creature.

Please let this be the right one, he thought desperately as he dropped the empty vial onto the ground. It was. The moment the fluid touched the creature's breast, Stephen felt a surge of strength, a wave of power washing over him that sent him completely flat this time. He barely noticed as the creature screamed again, opened its wings and soared out over the river before coming back to land beside him once more. It nosed his body and chittered as more of its kind came close and gathered around him.

Stephen shook his head as the flock surrounded him, sitting up slowly and carefully with one hand bracing him on the ground and the other dipping into his rucksack to feel for his knife. He looked around nervously, not wanting to hurt the creatures, but ready to defend himself if he had to. But he didn’t. The creature he'd joined with stepped in front of the rest. It was larger than any of the others, stronger and brighter. It screeched, and the flock scattered. After one last long look at Stephen, which made him shiver again, it dipped its head for a moment before following its flock down the riverbank, moving slowly and majestically along the edge.

Staring at his shaking hands, Stephen gasped a few times then started giggling. Not a very dignified reaction to a wizard finding his spirit creature, but he didn't care. He'd done it. By all that was living, he'd done it!

After a quick look around, Stephen scrambled to his feet and headed back to the portal at the best speed he could muster.

He was still cold, tired and hungry, but somehow, he wasn't lonely any more.

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