"Sing the Wind and Rain" by Leslie Fish
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Author's Notes:
Standard fanfic disclaimer. This story was written in answer to the "Fire" Mid-Week Challenge at Holy Ground Forum. The Great Arizona Fire was very recent memory just then, and besides, I thought Lisa Carp was too much fun of a character not to use again.

by Leslie Fish

What am I doing here? Duncan MacLeod asked himself for the hundredth time, as he swung his pickaxe in a steady rhythm. The roar of a nearby chainsaw played steady harmony to the ringing of his strokes. I was just driving back from Phoenix...

He'd had to go there in person; setting up an ironclad new identity took a lot more these days than just forging a birth-certificate. Of course he chose to drive back to Seacouver; after the trouble he'd had on the flight down here, he'd decided to avoid commercial airline flights hereafter, thanks to the necessity of keeping his sword with him. The passenger trains no longer ran through the major city of Arizona, and a bus-ride from Seacouver to Phoenix and back was unthinkable misery, so drive he must. And of course he took the secondary state highways, the better to avoid harassment from bored police, which was how he'd wound up on the road to Show Low...

...Where the biggest forest fire in the state's history was burning, out of control. Where he'd run into the fire-fighting crews, pulling back again, desperate for help...

Methos, I can already hear you calling me a Boy Scout again. How apt. I think they even have the real Boy Scouts out here, digging firebreaks...

Then he heard the crew-captain run past, shouting: "Shift north! Shift north! It's flanking us again!"

Duncan cursed, shouldered his pickaxe and ran with the others - all indistinguishable in hardhats and dust - northward across the flat and narrow valley. They reformed their line, Duncan at the northward end, and began digging and cutting again. At least the problem here was only the scrubby desert brush, not an overpopulation of Ponderosa pines. Duncan remembered that this was Indian land, immune to the wavering policies of the Forestry Service or the lawsuits of more-passionate-than-informed environmentalists, and the Indians allowed selective logging of the dangerous pine trees. Still, it took a pickaxe to dig into the hard adobe-clay soil, and the work was backbreaking.

Duncan dug out and dragged away a particularly stubborn mesquite stump, and stood up to rub a cramp out of his back. He could smell the taint of smoke on the treacherous easterly wind, and almost hear the distant roar of the oncoming fire. If only they could scrape the ground bare in time... The low but stark mountain peaks were allies, all bare stone, reliable walls channeling the fire into the narrow valleys where there was a fighting chance to contain it. He glanced up at the peak on his right.

Hell, somebody's up there!

That much was easy to tell: bluejeans and blue T-shirt against salmon-pink stone. He couldn't be sure at this distance, but the form seemed odd: bulging, as if carrying a bulky object...

A guitar! he recognized the shape. Who the hell would be playing a guitar on a bare mountaintop in the middle of a forest-fire?!

Duncan looked quickly from the figure on the mountain to the patch of ground before him. Yes, he'd scraped bare a good wide stretch, maybe ten yards long, and the others were still digging and cutting. He had time, he could scramble up there and get that fool down before the line had to move again. He slammed the point of his pickaxe into the ground, handle high where any volunteer could see and grab it, and ran for the peak.

The sharp desert mountain stood less than a thousand feet high, at a fairly shallow slope, and the very roughness of the sandstone ground made for easy climbing, affording plenty of handholds. As the scree grew coarser the plant-life grew thinner and smaller, finally fading out altogether as he reached the ragged boulders. A hard but fast climb brought him up the bare stone slabs toward the peak, and he began hearing snatches of guitar-chords, wind-flung bits of song.

He recognized that voice. Twangy-alto, heard recently... Yes, just a few days ago, down in the city.

Lisa! What the hell is she doing here?

Duncan scrambled up over the last wind-smoothed slab and came to the rounded peak at last. And yes, there she stood: Lisa Carp, all right. Same long blue-black hair and red bandana-headband, different T-shirt and jeans, and no simple thong-sandals this time; she'd put on what looked like army-surplus combat boots, of all things. Sensible, on ground like this.

Even so, how had she hiked up here carrying that guitar? It was, he saw, a heavy 12-string. It was strung with silver-colored wires, light gauge, but their collective tension must have been considerable. He remembered the surprising strength of her grip, and saw where she'd earned it. She was, he noticed, wearing finger-picks on all but the last finger of her right hand; in the harsh desert sunlight they glittered like claws.

She was facing southeast, halfway toward him, and surely saw him coming - certainly recognized him - but gave him no more attention than a flicker of an eyebrow. She was concentrating on her song with an intensity he'd rarely seen, even from Joe at his best. What the hell was she doing, and why here?

Then he came close enough to catch the words of her song, and began to understand.

"Hail Thor, Lord of Thunder,
Master of the winds of the western world.
Hail Thor, hammer-wielder,
Lord of the lightning, Lord of Storms."

It's a rain charm, Duncan realized. How desperate could she be? How much does she really believe? He took a cautious step forward, and felt a subtle pressure pushing against him. The sound-wave? he wondered. She had a strong voice, but it didn't seem to be that loud.

"Draw the drops of the sky together,
Master of the winds of the western world.
Break the back of burning weather,
Lord of the lightning, Lord of Storms."

Damned if the rhythm wasn't getting to him, making him tap his feet in time. He couldn't think of any reason not to; obviously he couldn't talk to her until she'd finished that song.

"Fetch the flock of cloud-sheep grazing,
Master of the winds of the western world.
Lift the lash of lightning blazing,
Lord of the lightning, Lord of Storms."

What the hell... He joined in on the chorus as it came around again. It was a simple minor-key tune, easy to sing, easy to learn, catchy. Lisa gave him a quick nod of acknowledgement and thanks, and sang on.

"Bring the wind that bears the waters,
Master of the winds of the western world.
Call the cloud and all it utters,
Lord of the lightning, Lord of Storms."

This time when the chorus came around, he added a simple harmony. It felt right. He couldn't help noticing that the odd sense of pressure, like a static charge, was growing. He could see Lisa's ribcage working like a bellows under the loose T-shirt, as if she were putting out more effort than simply breath for singing. It made sense to breathe along with her.

"Join our joy of feast and singing,
Master of the winds of the western world.
Set the sky with laughter ringing,
Lord of the lightning, Lord of Storms."

Something shifted. There was a definite sense of triumph and satisfaction in that verse, a feeling of something accomplished... Or of the old god having done his job and sitting down to his jolly reward.

By watching her breathing, he guessed that she meant to hold the last note of the chorus. He breathed and sang as she did.

Sure enough, she held the last note - and then jumped it up a full octave: a paean of triumph, like an ancient battle-cry. It made him shiver in the heat.

Right then, he felt his ears pop.

The air-pressure's dropped, he realized.

Lisa slumped on her feet and stood panting for long moments, throwing Duncan a weary grin. "Thanks," she managed.

Duncan shook the ringing out of his ears, noticing that the sense of pressure was gone. The temperature seemed to have dropped too. "Nice try," he acknowledged. "Now don't you think we should get down off this mountain while the getting's good?"

Lisa glanced over her shoulder, toward the west. "Too late," she said, pointing.

Duncan looked. Oh hell, yes, there it was at the far end of the valley: the tall column of smoke with the glowing base. He couldn't judge its speed from here, but there was all too good a chance that if they climbed down now they'd walk right into it.

"We're safe up here," Lisa explained calmly. "We'll catch some of the smoke, but at this height it shouldn't be too bad."

Duncan wasn't so certain. That ugly gray oncoming pillar looked taller than the mountain. Then he noticed the canteen at her belt. She could always wet down her shirt or bandana and wrap it around her face. For himself, smoke-inhalation was a painful death, but not nearly as bad as others he'd taken. How much cloth would she, or he, need? "You may have to loan me your shirt again," he considered.

Lisa only nodded, looking again at the advancing fire. "If I didn't turn that wind," she muttered, "Or at least slow it..."

"I thought you were trying to bring rain."

Lisa grinned sourly at him. "There are three steps to summoning rain," she said. "First, make a low-pressure zone: an invisible sinkhole in the sky. Second, call water-bearing winds into that sinkhole. Third, make the vapor molecules cluster together and form drops heavy enough to fall. I think I managed the first. Don't know about the others."

Duncan remembered feeling the air-pressure drop, right on the song's last note. The timing was too good for coincidence, and he'd seen enough psychic phenomena to know they were real.

"If the air-pressure drops, wind usually flows into the...sinkhole," he temporized.

"Yes, but which wind?" Lisa gloomed. She pulled the guitar-strap up over her head and sat down, looking spent. "The reason I faced southeast was to call wind from the Gulf of Mexico. That thing-" She pointed over her shoulder. "-is riding the winds from the west. I don't know if the wind from the southeast would still have any water in it, after coming this far across the desert, but if it can come at all it will turn the fire back, over ground it's already burned. That may be enough."

Duncan glanced at the approaching fire. It didn't seem to be coming any slower, though it was hard to tell at this distance.

But then again, he didn't feel any wind at all: not from the southeast, but not from the west either. At this elevation, he should have felt something.

"What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" he couldn't help asking, wondering why she inspired him to corny old-movie jokes like that. "I thought you joined the Watchers the same night I met you, back in Phoenix."

"They want to send me off to Switzerland, to their training academy. I'm due to fly out tomorrow." Lisa shrugged. "I figured this was my last chance to do anything about the damned fire. And what the hell, it's my desert too."

"How did you get out here, anyway? I ran into a roadblock..."

"I went down to the map-shop and got a Geodetic Survey map; it shows all the little one-lane dirt roads that nobody else knows about." She pointed to the eastward foot of the mountain. "If you'll look, you'll see a rusty old 1979 Thunderbird parked down there in the scree, where the dirt road ends."

Duncan looked. Yes, there was a beaten-up old car down there. It might have been abandoned for years. Rust and sun-bleaching had turned it almost exactly the color of the surrounding rocks. It was neatly parked where the fire, if it got this far, would pass by to either side. Duncan suddenly wondered if his own rental car was safe.

"Damn! I may have to hitch a ride with you back to Phoenix. If the fire gets to where I parked my rental..." Hell, I shouldn't have changed my mind, should have taken a flight out that same night I met her, stuffed the sword in my check-on baggage and hoped for the best.

He looked again at the column of smoke rising from the mouth of the valley. It was just as tall, just as menacing...

In fact, it hadn't changed size at all.

"It hasn't moved!" he realized, scrambling to his feet. "It's stopped! The wind- The west wind's died down, stopped driving it! It's just creeping, at best."

Lisa turned to look, and heaved a deep sigh of relief. "Maybe slow enough for the crews to finish the firebreak," she said.

Duncan opened his mouth to say "You did it!", but then stopped himself. Yes, psychic phenomena were real, but so was self-delusion. Lisa seemed to be a remarkably levelheaded woman in everything else; if this was her one irrationality, he'd do her the honor of not encouraging it.

"This is just part of the leading edge," he pointed out. "The fire's front is several miles wide. Maybe it won't come down this valley, but there's still the rest of it."

"Let's hope the rest is slowed too," Lisa shrugged. "Every little bit helps."

"It's slow enough now, we can make it to your car and drive out of here."

Lisa peered at the fire, then down into the valley. "Very likely," she said. "Look: the crews have finished the firebreak."

Duncan looked. "So they have," he admitted, a little guilty that he hadn't been there with them to finish what he'd started. But then, he'd done his part in that. A little, but it was enough. "This valley's safe, at least."

"Yep, and most of the town of Show Low, beyond. I've got a buddy who lives there, and he'd be mightily pissed off if his house burned down."

"We've all done our part," said Duncan, clasping her shoulder. All of us: the Indian land-managers, the firefighting crews, maybe even your song. "Come on, Lisa. Let's go on down."

"Right." Lisa stood up, put paused to pull off her finger-picks, link them together and stuff them in her jeans' left front pocket. The right front pocket, he saw, still held the clip-holster - and, doubtless, the little gun inside it. He wondered how she expected to take that into Switzerland. He expected she'd try. A marvelous mix of the deadly practical and the wildly fanciful, was Lisa.

"Let's get out of here," he urged, reaching out a hand to her.

Just then he felt the wind rising at his back. It was steady, strong, and held the slightest cool hint of water.

It was blowing from the southeast.