Chapter 22: Distant VisionsAugust 31, 2018
The roar of desert winds and echoes of Talir's sudden prophecy faded from the throne room. Eilyn stood slowly, staring at her opponent. Kaleb blinked, looking around warily. Across the room, the crowd of witnesses stirred, distressed. They are waiting for us to finish the duel, she realized.
“The Arch-Magister’s warning is dire,” she said, keeping her voice steady despite the adrenalin. “I believe we must heed it.” In a slow, deliberate motion, Eilyn dropped her blade. It rang as it hit heavy flagstone floor. “The question of rulership can wait until we have assured the city’s safety.”
She watched as Kaleb’s grip tightened on his gun, but then the young man nodded, throwing his weapon down. “I’ve never seen my aunt so riled up.” He turned and addressed the crowd with a lazy command. “Y’all can return home. The duel is on hold. There are other matters to discuss.”
There was a snort of disapproval from the duel’s judge, but the crowd began to disperse with a rumble of tense conversation. Eilyn caught the eye of her royal guard and nodded. Daraka returned the nod and left. He would make sure the Queen’s wishes were known. Kaleb’s not as rash as rumored, Eilyn mused as she strode towards him. He may have the making of a king yet.
The young man had been watching a senior Praxis mage, but turned warily as Eilyn neared. Before either could speak, a third figure hurried forward. The girl was young and obviously nervous. Her armor and clothes were heavy, even for the Argenport autumn, and her hair was a brilliant gold beneath her hood. She curtsied, her hands shaking, and addressed them both.
“M’lord, M’lady, I am Svetya Katarina Stomhalt-Kurtz, the princ- er, the Orene of Kosul. Our capital has been seized by a dangerous cult. My… my family did not survive the coup. But,” Svetya looked up at Eilyn and Kaleb, a hint of tears glittering in her green eyes, “I did. And so I am here to beg your aid, as promised in Argenport’s treaty with Kosul.”
Eilyn shot a look to Kaleb, who rolled one armored shoulder in a shrug. Eilyn turned to the young Orene. “I know of this treaty, but not these developments. I am truly sorry for your loss. Argenport is happy to offer you sanctuary, and—”
“No.” Svetya interrupted, eyes flashing. “I will not hide. I am here for troops. An army. I mean to retake my homeland.”
We don’t have time for this! Eilyn wanted to shout. Talir’s command had been urgent. And the city’s armies—both Clan and Crownwatch—had hacked each other half to pieces when Eilyn took the city. What forces Argenport had, like the surviving Valkyrie, were working to root out the Cabal, and—
“Miss Svetya… Orene.” Kaleb stepped forward. “As I am sure you saw today, Argenport has struggles of its own. We will honor this treaty in full, but we have pressing business to attend first.” He punctuated the rejection with a quick grin.
“Well put,” Eilyn murmured as the two walked away, leaving the girl behind, angry and staring daggers.
Kaleb responded with the same clanking shrug. “We need to get a handle on what this is about. Then we settle our differences. What’s the quickest way out to the Arcanum?”
Kaleb had braved the jagged heights of the Skycrag mountains in his search for answers. He had learned much up there, including who he truly was and what he would do to take what was rightfully his. He had hurtled down those slopes too, dodging dragonfire and worse weather. And in all those travels he had never been as high up, or traveled as fast as he was now.
Wind whistled through his hair, numbing his face and fingers. The ground spiraled farther and farther away as Eilyn coaxed her mount higher, whispering. The serpent wound through the sky, and Kaleb wanted to laugh for the thrill of it, but restrained himself to a question. “How fast are we going!?”
Eilyn, bent low over her mount’s crest, shouted back, “Fast! Very fast! I can call the winds to our aid too, if you think you can take it.” Kaleb didn’t miss the challenge in her voice.
“Ha! Try me!”
“When should we expect your, ah, family, Arch-Magister?” Brenn asked, the scritching of quills giving texture to the calm around his pool. He sat in a palm-dotted oasis near a corner of the Arcanum campus, where gleaming buildings of stone and glass sat on the edge of the Amaran desert.
“They’ll be in the air now,” Talir said, her voice distant.
Brenn sighed quietly. Talir had been the head of the Praxis Arcanum for ages, but after her research into the waystones ended in disaster, she had been increasingly distracted. One did not question so powerful a mage—certainly not to her face—but there were those in the Arcanum that had been… talking. Perhaps a change of leadership was needed. A more steady hand on the staff.
From a seat in the shade, Talir watched one of her brightest pupils. Notebooks and scrolls hovered around Brenn, their pens and quills jotting down the visions of his scrying pool in a sharp shorthand. There is unrest, she thought. They are right to worry, but they can barely imagine what I have seen…
The army of one marched, lead by grief. A gun, pointed at the Throne. At him. Why? Deep snow beneath cold stars as the palace burned. Poor child, she does not know what is to come. Caiphus on the Throne, proud and adamant.
The thrum of ancient power, awake. His choice, but no choice. Yes father, I’ll watch out for my brother, I promise. The roiling dark paths. Lost beings clawing their way through lit only by flickering stones.
I have seen Beyond.
With an effort of will, Talir pushed the memories away. Or were they premonitions? Either way, they were growing stronger. Her shoulders and jaw ached, and—
“Arch-Magister!” The cry woke Talir, who looked up to see one of her more troublesome students rushing across the sand. Eilyn paced behind her, as stern as ever. Behind Eilyn was Kaleb, windblown and grinning through chattering teeth.
“My student is a master augur,” Talir said as soon as introductions had finished. “His pool can scry across the land, though guiding it is a delicate art. Brenn, your observations?”
Brenn cleared his throat. “Yes, Arch-Magister. I was surveying the edges of the Shadowlands, to see if any horrors were approaching the campus, when…” he trailed off, something in the pool catching his eye. A shrouded figure beneath a sunless sky.
“When what?” Eilyn prompted, frowning.
“My pool is scrying.” Brenn stammered. “But I’m not directing it… Arch-Magister, it’s happening again!”
Talir rose from her chair, alarmed. Kaleb, brow furrowed, joined her and Eilyn as they leaned over Brenn. “What can you see?” Talir breathed, her eyes searching the pool.
“A figure in darkness” Brenn muttered, dipping his fingers into the glowing water and closing his eyes. “It’s obscured, Talir, just—” Before the mage could finish, a shockwave exploded from the pool, hurling the watchers back with a crack of thunder.
Kaleb was the first on his feet, hand on his sword. Brenn hung in front of his pool, hovering, his body arched like he was in pain. Eyes dripping with shadow, the mage hissed, “Find me, child. . . follow the Shadow” and collapsed, hitting the ground heavily.
Kaleb rushed to his side, looking back towards Talir and Eilyn. Both were frozen, their faces pale in shock. “What was that!?” Kaleb shouted. “Who was that?”
“You didn’t recognize it?” Eilyn asked, shaken.
She glanced over at Talir, who nodded, eyes wide as she said, “I know that voice. We all should.”