Title: Aftershocks (Chapter One)
Fandom: Heralds of Valdemar
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Characters: Seth Wilshire, Sara Wilshire, Companion Tanay, Companion Chaice
Disclaimer: Valdemar and concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey; this fic and original characters belong to their author.
Summary: An earthquake rocks Haven, and from the rubble Seth Wilshire is rescued and taken to the Collegium for Healing. There, he must come to terms with the loss of his parents, the sort-of death of his twin sister, Sara, and the fact that not one, but TWO Companions seem absolutely dead-set on Choosing him.
Chapter 1: On Silver and Smithing
The middle-to-high-class section of Haven was by far a step up from where Seth Wilshire had grown up. That didn't necessarily make it better, though. Seth had liked his family's old home in Doe Run. It had been comfortable—not to mention where all of his friends were.
But, his parents had pointed out, Haven wasn't that far from Doe Run, so he could always go back and visit. That was what horses were for. And on top of that, Sara was of course still with him—as his twin sister he would never be rid of her even if he wanted to be.
In fact, Seth and Sara were practically inseparable. Sara had been born half a candlemark before him, and they would both be turning sixteen years old in the fall. The two of them shared a kind of bond that one else seemed to understand or comprehend—one where they always knew what the other was feeling, where they were and what they were doing, and could practically read each other's thoughts.
This meant that even though they had been forced to leave their school and their friends behind, they at least had each other. The downside to it was that they could never get away from each other, no matter how much they might want to at any given moment in time. Luckily for them, they rarely fought and even more rarely craved Alone Time.
"You missed a spot. By his shoulder."
"Quit it. Do you want to do this?"
"Just pointing it out." Sara was standing by the doorway to the small stable that was attached to the side of their new house, watching Seth groom one of the family's two horses—a gentle gelding called Stone—and, of course, adding her two coppers as well. "By his ribs there, see?"
"Yeah yeah," Seth rolled his eyes and slid the brush down to catch the invisible bits of dirt that Sara was somehow, magically seeing, then returned to Stone's shoulder. "You could brush out Brooke, if you've got the time to stand around and critique my grooming abilities."
Sara laughed at that, but pushed off the doorframe, moving over to pick up another brush and then settling herself in the next stall along with the young mare who called it home. Brooke perked noticeably at the sight of the comb.
"She knows how to look grateful."
"So does Stone, in his own way."
The reason their family had moved to Haven in the first place was for their father's job. While they had been young he had been a simple tinker, working for the people of Doe Run and nothing more. But the last couple of years he had been learning new skills and putting them to the test. Now he was an accomplished silversmith.
The problem was that the market for a silversmith in Doe Run was nonexistent. If they had stayed there, their father would have been resigned to being a tinker for the rest of his life—and that was clearly not what he wanted. So after much discussion, it had been decided that the family was going to move to Haven and open a business there.
Despite all the negatives that Seth and Sara saw in the move, they both had to admit that there were positives as well.
Haven was amazing. Huge and bustling with activity and so different from where they had grown up that it boggled the mind. Sara had found the shopping district in record time. She had practically gotten lost there, only coming home when their parents had sent Seth to find her and drag her back.
As for Seth himself, he had very quickly located a nearby park where he could go riding, and now made it a habit of taking either Stone or Brook there each afternoon for exercise.
And of course, soon they would have to start school again, this time at the Collegium. Normally, going to school wasn't something either of them would be all that excited about—but this was the Collegium, where there were Healers, Bards, Heralds and, of course, Companions. Neither of them had ever seen a real Companion before and they were both looking forward to it.
"Hey, do you think it's the same as grooming a horse?"
"A Companion. Do you think it's the same?"
"Hm. I don't see why not." Seth shrugged, then chuckled when Stone craned his neck around to snuffle at his hair for a moment. "They look like horses, right? They'd still need combed and curried and everything. Especially since they're white." Stone was chestnut and Brooke was roan—and Seth was glad that it was that way. White horses were a pain to keep white. He wondered if it was the same with Companions, of if something about them helped keep them the bright silver-white they supposedly were.
"You looking forward to school?"
"What do you think?"
Seth lapsed into silence for a long moment, then sighed. "I'm good with school, I just hate maths."
"You suck at maths, too."
"Gee, thanks, sis." Grumpy.
Sara gave a grin, then stuck her tongue out, the motion cheeky. "I dunno, Seth. I think it could be fun, seeing the Collegium and making new friends."
When he thought about it, Sara was right. He had to look at it like a new chapter in his life, a new adventure. That didn't mean that he was necessarily happy about all the recent changes, but Seth figured he could probably deal with them, one way or another.
A snort from Stone brought him out of his thoughts. Seth blinked, eyes focussing again. The horse was shuffling—one foot stamped restlessly, and his ears swivelled back and forth. Seth's hand, the one holding the brush, slowed and then stopped. Stone was acting strange.
Another snort, this time from Brooke, made him frown and look toward the next stall. Brooke was rattling around too, stamping and whuffing and looking uncomfortable, maybe even anxious. Sara was watching her with a confused expression, obviously wondering what was wrong.
And then the ground began to shake.
Startled, Stone whinnied sharply and Seth quickly backed out of the stall, currycomb still clutched in one hand.
Next door, Sara quickly made her way out of Brooke's stall, too. "What's—?" She began—then stopped herself before she could finish the question. The stable was trembling, rocking on its foundation—and it was obvious what was happening, even though they had never lived through one before.
Dust and dirt from the roof rained down on them—and Seth reached quickly to grab hold of his sister's arm, then dragged her toward the nearest doorway. Even though they were twins and she was older, Seth was still taller than Sara, and once they were beneath the doorframe he pushed her back into it and brought his arms up to shield them both from the debris falling around them.
In their stalls, the horses were flat-out panicking now. Stone, normally calm and complacent, threw himself forward against the door, attempting to get out—
And that was when the ground beneath the stable ripped open.
Seth watched, horrified, as Stone tumbled into the widening chasm and Brooke followed close after him. Suddenly the thought that they weren't any safer in the doorway than they had been by the stalls entered his head—and he grabbed hold of Sara again, intending to pull her out of the stable entirely.
"We've got to get out of—!"
His sentence was cut off when the ground at their feet shuddered again—and the next thing either of them knew, they were falling. Everything happened quickly after that.
Seth fell for what felt like forever, and when he landed he wished momentarily he was still falling.
He collided with an outcropping of rock partway down the chasm that had once been their new home, hitting hard and fast enough to drive the breath from his lungs and shatter bone. The landing left him dazed, and he clung to his little patch of ground as everything around him continued to quake violently, more rocks and timber, pieces of buildings and roads tumbling down around him and on top of him.
When it finally ended he was half-buried in debris, barely able to breathe through dirt-clogged lungs. Once his head cleared, he took a moment to take stock of himself before he attempted to move: he had inhaled a lot of dirt and dust, but that wasn't much more than a minor annoyance.
What was more concerning were the probably-broken ribs and his left leg, which was bleeding profusely. When he finally did move, it screamed at him for the effort, leaving him to believe that something was seriously broken there, too.
Both arms and his other leg, however, seemed alright. Otherwise he was covered in cuts, scrapes and bruises, but he would live.
His next thoughts turned to his sister.
"Sara?" His voice came out rough and weak as he pushed himself up on his elbows to look around. "Sara!"
There was no answer at first—just silence, and his own rough breathing. Leaning up on his elbows was forcing air from his lungs and making his ribs throb, so he finally let himself fall back again.
How long he was there after that, Seth wasn't sure. It could have been minutes, hours or days as far as he was concerned. He drifted in and out of consciousness the entire time, still losing blood from his various wounds and edging closer to death the longer he was stuck there. And there was still no sign of Sara. He could only hope she was in a better situation than he currently was.
:There you are!:
The voice was bright and sharp and sounded strange to his ears. Seth struggled back to wakefulness, swimming up from the darkness until he was conscious again, albeit still hazy. "Who…?"
:I've been looking for hours!:
Seth's eyes cracked open. Twenty feet above him, at the edge of the rift he was trapped in, a pair of bright, sapphire blue eyes stared back at him. They weren't familiar—belonged to someone he didn't know.
:But you do know me.: The voice again, sounding warm and comforting and welcoming. :Of course you know me… Chosen.: