“Zoraya. Is that you? Come closer.”
“Zoraya has gone home, Reverend Mother.”
“Ah, I thought you were Zoraya. Hmm… Zoraya! Is that you? Come closer.”
“Zoraya… has gone home, Reverend Mother. I am Casya, remember?”
“Ah, I thought you were Zoraya. Hmm… Zoraya! Is that you? Come closer.”
“Reverend Mother… I am not...
“Hmm… Zoraya! Is that you? Come closer.”
“Mother, I am not… yes, I’m here, Mother. I am Zoraya. What can I do for you?”
“Come closer, child. Yes, closer. I must tell you something, Zoraya.”
“What is it?”
“Your death. I saw it as well. Tonight. Do not go home. You must stay in the temple. Blood and fire and death. You will stay with me, won’t you, Zoraya? Do not leave. Do not die. Stay, show me that prophecies don’t always come true. Please, Zoraya… Zoraya… Zoraya… Zo…”
“Mother, please, don’t you remember? I am not Zoraya, I am… Mother? Mother? Help! Someone! Help! She’s not breathing!”
- Transcript: The Heresy of Mother Darain, Final Hour
“Demon! Attend me!”
The red skinned imp jumps and looks at me from its corner. It creeps over, slowly, glancing occasionally towards the body of Sa’sholi.
“The master is ready to return?” Its voice makes me want to stab myself in the ears.
“No. I have somewhere else I wish to go first. You will take me to the crypts beneath the city.”
It hisses and bares its fangs. “Not in the agreement! Mafu’ron is to take the man where he wants to go, and then back to the surface! That is what the lady said! Not to crypts!”
“What vow did you make, exactly?”
“Mafu’ron will take the man where he wants to go, and then back to the surface!”
“I want to go to the crypts. I want to go to many places. Once I have visited them all, then you may take me back to the surface and you will have fulfilled your vow.”
It blinks at me, and then narrows its eyes and growls. “Not nice. Not nice! You bend the rules! Mafu’ron did not mean to agree to take you to these places!”
“You should have been more careful about the vow you made, demon. Now obey me and take me to the crypts!”
I silently give thanks that Marj found a demon so apparently inexperienced at dealing with humans. I pity the next mage who summons this one.
The demon fumes and sputters but reaches out and grabs me by my right wrist. Almost immediately, the room around us begins to fade from view.
So I leave the traitor to his chronicle, to his living spell. Goddess, for all I know, all of this demonic nonsense is being recorded in that damned book of his right now, along with Darsé and Medros and even Babaiya. I’m through trying to wrap my mind around the implications of it. She's following along with it, swept up in it, sharing in the knowledge of events as they unfolded, or as they unfold, or WILL unfold for her... I can't keep all of this straight. I mean, she had information far beyond what any of us knew. I was angry, so angry, thinking of how she might have stopped my own pain, but what of everyone else? Goddess, I’m nothing! What about the razing of the Hyth Tao? When Medrosa fell, she might not have had time to intervene, but she could have easily swept in and saved Medros and South and Radzik from the terrible march north with the Kyzanthe. She might have at least saved those other villages that fell afterwards; even a single dragon could have held back the invaders long enough for the villagers to flee and regroup. Why didn't she act?
How much else did she know? She had to have known about my brother's treachery. How many innocent lives might she have saved if she had spoken? This entire city! Why didn't she tell me? Could she have prevented…?
I know that Erinnius is practical, but I can't think of her as being that... cold. My brother: yes. Babaiya: no way.
She is silent. I know that she could respond if she wished. Is it remorse, or defiance? I care not. We’ll discuss it another time.
I’m done thinking about these things. I have more important things to consider. I take a last look at my frozen brother, seated and writing within a glowing circle of power, before he fades from view completely. I can feel us moving, not downward, but sideways now, and moments later, I am in a tunnel.
The demon releases my wrist, and sinks to the floor, pouting. “Wait here,” I say, probably unnecessarily.
Behind us, stone stairs lead up to the surface, coming out far above in a side chamber of the Temple. I know this because I have been down here before. Unlike my brother’s hideaway, this place can be reached without demons or magic or passing through solid stone. I’ll keep the demon around for a while longer, though. At some point, I am going to have to go back to that chamber, and face my brother. For now, I do have other matters that call to me. My brother is not the only reason I came to this city.
The tunnel I am in is small, roughly hewn from earth and supported by rotting beams. The walls are featureless, but for the occasional torch casting light on the uneven floor. Who lit them? Who cares? I hear the drip of water from ahead.
I walk away from the stairs and quickly reach the end of the tunnel. I stick my head out into the gloom beyond. There's another tunnel here, running crosswise, but this one is made of stone, and it’s larger. It's both a sewer and a crypt: I'm on a stone sidewalk above a deep channel cut into the bottom of the tunnel, made to divert water, a good seven or eight feet deep. The water flowing down there currently is no more than ankle deep though, and slowly trickling along. Another walkway runs on the other side.
There are bones buried throughout the caverns beneath the city of Kazio: the graves of warriors, merchants, beggars and nobles, all consecrated to the earth and to Gorgus' hideous, watchful eye. This place is different, special. This crypt was set aside for the kings who ruled this city, the mages who advised them, and the heirs to the Sword. The deeper channel in the floor was cut hundreds of years after the first bones were laid here, when the leaks and rising water were discovered. To protect the bones of their ancestors from the rising flood, the later kings carved drains and channels to divert the water further underground, into dark places far beyond the reach of the sunlight. The air here remains damp, and rank, and some water still trickles along the floor of this place, but the bones will not be washed away.
There are no torches here, so I liberate one from the wall of the tunnel I just left and carry it with me as I walk along, straining in the gloom to see the occasional cracks in the stone before I trip over them. I avoid looking into the carved niches in the walls, stuffed with bones and jewels and the tattered remains of fine linens. These catacombs are vast and I pass several small side tunnels leading to more private burial chambers. Thousands of years of history lie here, but I'm more concerned with what's happening now.
I finally reach the tunnel I'm interested in, and leave the sewer behind. I note that the water below has risen here: it might be waist high now, though I'm not about to jump down and test it. I turn away from the tunnel and move down another one; this is made of smooth, gray stone, rounded and curved.
It's another short tunnel, just a round passage into another room, yet already the air is somehow drier here. The stones of the walls themselves glow with a soft orange light. I leave my torch in an empty sconce on the wall, and move forward into the room. It's a magical place, a place of storage, of memory, of waiting destiny. The sword rack in the center of the room is empty, its charge long since liberated and put to better use. Memories assail me: of Tara, of the Sword, of Darsé and Medros and Kiron and Scnadra and all of them...
I'm... narrating all of this. Why am I thinking so prosaically?
Goddess above, you ARE recording me in your thrice damned book, aren't you? Your idiotic spell has me mentally describing the most inane minutia of my movements. Do you want me to describe each breath, while I'm at it? I'm inhaling now. I'm exhaling! I have the sudden urge to break wind!
Idiocy, all of it. Hello grandmother. I assume you're listening as well.
I came here to discover something, but I am not going to dance for your amusement. Go away. Stop looking at me. I'm not moving until you get out of my head. Nothing interesting is happening here! There is nothing to see!
I feel the watchful eyes of the spell continuing to observe me, anticipating, feeding on the potential for moments and deeds and events. It is the only reason for its existence, the only thing it understands, an instinct it will indulge as long as it can, as long as it has a book to write it all down in and a body to channel it through. It is powerful enough, and somehow intelligent enough, to know when and where to look (and that, finally, gives me a thrill of pure terror.)
I don’t care. My brother was not the only one to learn to harness the power of blood. I have learned more than any of you can ever hope to know. Search elsewhere for your story. My mind is a wall. My mind is a wall. My mind is a wall. M
"I'm telling you, she wasn't human! She was something… else. Something powerful!"
The falcon continues to ignore me, and slashes me across the face with a talon.
I grab at my nose and pull my hand away, covered in blood. Her wings beat, and she sails up, lost in the glare of the sun.
"Damn it, aren't you listening to me?"
She cries out, a high keening cry, as she pulls in her wings and dives towards me again. The world explodes in pain and she rakes me across the face again, and quickly flaps away. I sink to one knee, summoning my power and readying a fire spell.
She floats on the currents of air high above, wings spread, watching, out of reach. Her feathers are dark but her talons and beak glisten in the bright sunlight.
We hold our places for a moment, tense. My face burns and throbs, and I'm dripping blood all over my new shirt.
I drop my head, defeated, the fire spell discarded and the gathered power sputtering back out of my fingers as harmless sparks. "Fine, you win. I'll buy you lunch."
Marjorique drops to the earth like a stone, returning to human form as she lands. "You're forgiven," she chirps, gleefully, gathering her robes about her. "Now, let's see what we can do about that face."
We're sitting in the Union, my new skin is itching like mad, and Marjorique is loudly devouring the bacon sandwich I was forced to buy for her to replace the breakfast I stole earlier. I watch while she chews. She ignores me. I will never understand people who choose birds as their animal form, especially falcons.
She finally puts the sandwich down for a moment. "So she was powerful? And she wasn't actually an instructor?"
"No! She doesn't work here! She just showed up, and no one has seen her since!"
"And how does that make her inhuman again? And why do you have to leave?"
"I don't know... I just... know! She was something greater than human. Something powerful. A queen of the Fair Folk, or a dragon, or a spirit or something! She spoke to me, directly. She wants me to follow her. She wants to teach me."
Marjorique raises an eyebrow, and lifts her sandwich again. “How, exactly, do you know that? A new teacher, or maybe someone playing a prank flirted with you and you’re going to run off and follow her? How do you know where she went? How do you know any of this?”
I don’t answer. I know she’ll laugh. I look away. I might as well have shouted it.
She actually laughs so hard she rocks back in her chair and drops the sandwich. I catch it. Everyone else turns to look at us, and I try to sink under the table. Marjorique wipes literal tears from her eyes and tries to catch her breath. “You? PROPHECY? After a thousand years you think YOU are the Seer reborn?”
“Shh, goddess, don’t shout it!” People are muttering, and I can already feel the rumor mill beginning to churn. Yes, everyone else here is a freshman, but still.
She’s doubled over at this point, wheezing and giggling and red-faced. I hope she has a stroke.
I glare at the other students while she composes herself.
She finally grabs my shoulder, firmly, and I turn back towards her and hand her the sandwich. She places it carefully on her plate. “Seriously, Kiron, think about it. No one else noticed this? Not your classmates? Not the wardens, or the other professors, or any of the other people who must have seen her? Some inhuman being cloaked itself and wandered on campus without setting off any of the alarms or defensive wards, just to talk to you, and disappeared just as easily as it appeared?”
Her words make sense and fill me with doubt, but then I open my inner eye again for a moment and see nothing but arrows and lines and feel the inexorable pull, all leading southwards. And like an afterimage, her ghostly form hovers at the corner of my vision, always keeping just out of sight.
I close it firmly again, because it terrifies me.
“I know what I saw. I know what I can see.”
“You, Kiron, have been chosen by fate to return the power of Prophecy to the world of men? You have been chosen by the queen of the faeries to go off on a mad adventure and learn the great secrets of the universe? You, of the massive gut, he who treats punctuality like a cardinal sin?"
I slouch in my chair and turn away. "You don't have to believe me. She's someone important, and she wants me to follow her. I have to travel south."
"To where, exactly?"
"I... don't know. Just south. There are tons of caravans passing through here every day! I could travel with any one of them! They always need good mages."
"Good mages, not students who haven't even graduated yet."
"I have enough credits to graduate!"
"Not with a patent."
"I don't... need a patent. Plenty of mages do fine without them."
She chews her bacon and doesn't dignify that with an answer.
"Are you coming with me, or not?"
She starts coughing, loudly, choking on her sandwich. "Are you insane?" she rasps, grabbing for her wine. "I'm not throwing away my future to go chasing some woman you've gotten all hard for."
"It's not like that," I whisper. I shift in my chair. "I'm not..." I adjust my pants.
"Goddess, you are an idiot."
"I thought you'd... I just thought we'd stay together."
"Oh, Kiron. You really are an idiot. No, don't look like that. I do care about you, and you are powerful, and we have lots of fun together, but we've had this talk before. You’re going to marry someone and carry on your noble line, and I’m heading north for combat training."
“But now that’s all changed! I’ve got something more to do, something greater, and maybe that means your plans can change too!”
“We both agreed that you and I… that this was only until graduation.”
"I know." I mutter.
"You can't go running off and throwing away everything to chase some fantasy, and I certainly can't throw away my future to go with you. We’ll be done in a semester, and we both have good careers planned for us, and it would be stupid to run off and throw all of that away!”
“Don’t be petulant. Come on. Why don't you come back to my room with me and we'll sleep on it and everything will be clearer in the morning."
She holds out her hand and rises from the table. She’s right, and she’s making perfect sense. I should go back with her and focus on my studies, and a year from now she’ll be making a name for herself up in Regotia, while I’ll be starting to establish and expand my family’s influence beyond the political realm and into the magical one. We’ve talked about those plans every night for a year now.
And suddenly, I don't care about all of that anymore.
I can’t believe that I’m really going to go through with this.
"Sorry, Marjie. I have to know. I have to do this."
And I'm a wolf again, and I'm out the door, and Marjorique is standing there in surprise and annoyance.
And I have the rest of her sandwich.
We're finally moving.
I can't believe it has taken me two days to find a caravan willing to let me ride with them. This one has three wagons, but they only have one guard, a mercenary from Kazio in the north, which means they are short on defenders. The roads have been safe these days, but having only one guard is still foolish beyond measure. I demonstrated a few offensive spells I'd learned to the caravan master, and he hired me on. Without a patent I won't be getting more than food and lodging for the trip, but it's the journey I'm after, not easy money. I'll manage. I just have to make it south.
I feel the pull, the odd itch leading me in that direction, and now that we're actually moving towards it, I feel a sense of elation. The part of me that has been insisting for days that I start moving seems to have nodded in satisfaction, and fallen silent. But I can still feel it lurking there, within my mind, seeing paths and potentials and possibilities. I know how stupid it sounds! I’m arrogant, but I’m not that arrogant. Prophecy? The Seer reborn? I might as well stand in the city square and declare myself the second coming of the TempestHawk.
At any moment, I expect Ranyam himself to appear and smite me for my effrontery.
I can’t deny what I’m feeling though… but I can ignore it for now, while it’s quiet.
The wagons are all open, flat with low sides. The first wagon is driven by the caravan master, Jyog, and his wife, and it has two mules. They're carrying some linen from the famed dyers of my city. They'll fetch a very good price below the Great Wall.
I'm sitting in the second wagon next to its driver. I don't know his name. I introduced myself as I climbed up into the wagon and he merely grunted. I occupied myself looking over our payload. There are some barrels. I'm not sure what is inside them. They're lashed to the sides of the wagon, and between them are three long, flat boxes labeled with the mark of the gnomes of the Darkhome Mountains, up around Lake Archus. If I’m right, they’re gnome-produced spears, and if they're genuine, they'll sell extremely well once we get to Fort Cyrint. Those alone would be worth the trip south. Two more mules are pulling us along.
The third wagon has boxes of salt from the mines at Kazio. That always sells well, wherever you go. It’s not the most expensive commodity, but it’s reliable, a nice moderate profit. The single mercenary guard for our group is driving that wagon himself. His axe and sword are beside him in the seat. A single mule pulls his wagon and strains to keep up.
I had shuffled impatiently as the three wagons began moving, slowly, in a single file line, out of the great market in the center of Orb's Rest. The great marble pillars and temples gave way to the stone and wood buildings of the main road. Somewhere out behind us was the University. I could hear the Great Bell, even as we started off, clanging the start of classes and the end of my academic career.
I was near to bursting by the time we reached the wall of the city, and the southernmost gate; we had to stop for a few moments while Jyog showed his papers to one of the city guardsmen. Soon enough, though, the papers were stamped, and we were waved through, and now we are outside of the city, on the long dusty road leading south-east along the banks of one of the tributaries of the river Hinneus. On the far bank is the great Plain of Hinneus, sometimes called the Battle Plain. Kazath made his last stand there, along with the last of his great trollish army, and they fought to the last troll. The reddish grass that grows there pops up all over the place in the northlands, not just on the Battle Plain, but the legends still say it gets its color from the rivers of blood that flowed that day. I'm just glad we're on the other side of the river. There are far darker legends about that plain than just the color of the grass.
That insistent tug, that itch in my mind, grows silent as we leave the city behind. There’s not much to do as we slowly roll along the road, so I practice some mantras, and when I get bored of that, turn to look at the scenery. The winding road should eventually turn due south, and take us into the southern kingdoms, past the ancient capital at Carthia, the abandoned royal palace near Cyrint, the fortress there and eventually on to New Synon. That is where the caravan's terminus is, and if I still feel the need to continue further south, I'll have to find another caravan there.
It's been years since I've been out of the city, since I left my family home to study at the University. Our manor was just beyond the walls on the northern side of the city. I wonder, for a moment, what my family will think about my dropping out of school. I won't be able to explain this to them any more than I was able to explain it to Marjorique. Unless I can actually find this mysterious woman with the green hair, and unless she really did want me to follow her south, I don't think I'll be welcome back home.
A robed and hooded figure is standing next to a sign post a few hundred feet ahead. It moves towards the road as we pass, and walks alongside the lead wagon. The driver next to me tenses, and I hear the scrape of metal from the wagon behind. Jyog leans over towards the hooded figure without stopping the wagon, and they talk for a minute or two as the wagon slowly rolls on. Finally Jyog laughs, and nods emphatically before waving towards us and signaling that all is clear.
I turn around. The mercenary gently puts his sword back on the seat beside him.
The robed figure slows and turns, and waits for our wagon to pass, before grabbing on and jumping into the back. I turn around as the figure pulls back its hood.
"You really are an idiot, you know. You forgot to withdraw from your classes, didn't you?"
I stare, speechless.
"Close your mouth, you'll catch flies. So, I withdrew us both from classes so we won't fail, and put us on leave of absence, so we can re-enroll when we get back. So, where are we going?"
She sits between the barrels, on the boxes of spears, and tugs on her hair until it's free from the confines of the hood and the robe. It streams back in the breeze. "Well? Do you have anything to say?"
I don't. I just stare while the driver beside me begins to laugh uproariously.
The campfire is dying down, and we're sitting together on my bedroll.
It’s warm still, but the ground is cold enough that it’s nice to be next to someone. Marjorique and I settled down and watched as the stars came out, while Jyog sang a slow song in some other tongue. I can't place it, and I know old Carthian, Hythian, and even a little Horav. The accent, and some of the words, sound vaguely Horavian, but it's different. Maybe some remote dialect?
I don't know what it is about, but something about the song makes me sad. There's history attached to this song. I can sense it, and I don’t even have my mystic senses up. Despite myself, I feel emotions welling up: loss, and a terrified despair. Unbidden, tears well up in my eyes. Marjorique senses me tense up. "What is it?"
I wipe at my face and don't answer. Jyog finishes his song, turns and stalks away from the fire. A silence falls over the camp, but I can hear the echoes of strings and pipes, chords and notes. Jyog sang unaccompanied, but this was a powerful song. The echoes of the history of the song ring through the campsite for another few moments before fading, and the noises of night animals come back. It's a complicated thing, musical magic. I'll explain it later, if I have the time.
I'm a little surprised Marjorique cannot sense it.
The drivers rise from where they were sitting and begin laying out their own bedrolls. Jyog and his wife are moving over beyond the campfire, putting away plates and cups, and boxing up supplies. I pull my blanket up over myself and lay down, trying to get comfortable on the bedroll.
Marjorique sits there for a few minutes, and I can feel her eyes on me. She's waiting for an answer, but I say nothing. Finally, she snuggles up behind me, pulling her blanket over us. It's very quiet in the camp.
I can still feel her eyes upon me.
"You really don't know where we're going?"
"We're going south, like I said before."
"You still feel this... pull?"
"Yes. I know which way I have to go. I feel it."
"You're feeling a lot of things lately." She says this very low, and I'm not sure if I was supposed to hear it.
She shifts, turning away. We lie there for a time. I feel myself finally drifting off to sleep.
After some more time, she turns back.
"How long do we have to travel?"
"I'll know... when I get there..."
I feel her settle back down behind me, and her arms snake around and pull me close. She nuzzles her nose up against the back of my neck.
KAL'BARRE RO MYLHA DUR MEDROSA
We're shoved to the ground again, and the sun sets. The Kyzanthe move off to prepare their cooking fires. I don't know how many days it has been since the attack on my village, but it's been three days without food or drink since I joined this march.
This morning, when they feasted upon the dead, I caught myself salivating. Oh, please let me die.
The southern woman with the painted face crawls quietly over, as best as she can manage with her hands bound, and motions to the Easter behind me. He slides nearby, eyes on the wandering Kyzanthe outlined against their fires.
She glares at the two of us, and whispers in her almost unintelligible accent. "We leave. Now."
I look at the Easter and shake my head. "We can't escape. We'll be run down like dogs. There's no cover in this grass."
She spits. "You, Medros, you Radzik, you still strong. You still can run. You stay with stoneskin, you walk, you grow weak, you die.
The Easter looks over at the stoneskins. "This may be our only chance. Can you cut these ropes?"
From somewhere beneath her belt, the southern woman produces a knife. It's small, no use in fighting, useful only for its ability to be concealed. It's sharp enough, though. She quickly cuts my bonds, then the Easter's. He frees the southern woman's hands in turn.
"No use staying now," he says. "If they find our bonds cut, they'll kill us anyway. We have to run."
"Radzik is right! You come too, Medros!"
"Firstly, lady, my name isn't Medros. It's Kal'Barre Ro Mylha dur Medrosa. Remember it well."
"Medrosa is gone. Kal'Barre blah blah blah is dead. Name is dead. You are last Medrosa. You are Medros."
The Easter puts a hand on my shoulder. "My name isn't Radzik, either. She's using the old words for East and Town. She might as well. I'm the last of my village too. I don't want my old name. It makes me think of my children."
I frown. "Fine. You're Radzik. I'm Medros. So what do we call you then, lady? South?"
She grins. “Close enough.” Then she frowns. "Move."
We don't rise, but begin to crawl away from the fires, slowly. It's too slow. Without needing words, we rise together and run, still stooped over and low to the ground. In the darkness, there is no outcry. South runs first, Radzik next, then me, Kal'Barre Ro... I mean, Medros. We move southwards, following her lead, but something nags at my mind. I stop, and stand up straight.
Radzik moves back towards me. "Move, Medros! We must be gone before they notice!"
I shake my head. "I have to go that way. I can't explain it... I had this... dream..." I point off towards the north. Radzik mutters something, but South moves up close. She grabs me by the chin and stares deeply into my eyes.
She stares for several moments, and then sees something that makes her step back and release me with a gasp. She turns to Radzik. "We follow him."
Radzik shakes his head. “Are you sure?”
She nods, slowly. “He is led by the gods. We will follow him.”
She turns and points northwards. "Lead us."
Radzik looks about to argue, but at a glare from South he seems to think better of it. He nods, silently, and we begin running again.
The three of us move back towards the Kyzanthe fires, skirting them well out of sight in the shadows, moving past them and continuing to the north. Radzik takes up the rear, South is behind me, and I lead. We run for hours until the sun begins to light up the eastern sky. The line of prisoners is far behind us, and we straighten up and begin to jog, stretching our aching backs as we continue to move.
"No stopping today," South shouts from behind me. "Keep moving. Tomorrow we rest."
From somewhere far behind us, I hear the high, long sound of a horn. Another one answers to the west, and then another from somewhere ahead, to the north. The pursuit has begun.
We stoop again, and continue running as best as we can low to the ground. My back aches. My legs burn, my lungs are on fire. My stomach growls, loudly.
"Tomorrow," I whisper to it. "Tomorrow, we rest."
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