Authors: Julius St. Clair
Last of the Sages V
Julius St. Clair
Copyright © 2014 by Julius St. Clair
All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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“You did it all wrong,” Tillian said, bursting into the bedchamber. The rotting wood splintered and groaned against the hinges, but Tillian was in no mood for apologies. He needed answers. Startled, Veer sat up in his bed and flailed wildly, having come out of a nightmare that he had been reliving far too often as of late. He cursed under his breath once his eyes fell upon the sheets, soaked once again with sweat. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he also smelled a hint of urine.
Tillian spoke louder to garner Veer’s attention. “You did it all wrong.”
Wha—what? What are you babbling about?” Veer grunted, throwing the sheets off of him violently. He wiped the palm of his hand down his perspiring face and brushed his fingers through his slick black hair. He was a young man, and pleasant to the eyes, but he still refused to have anyone follow him home into his bed. If there were to be any late night rendezvous, it was always in an alley or some obscure inn, hidden under the black of night. No one could know what he truly thought about when he was surrounded by his thoughts. Not a soul.
Tillian, that is.
“What time is it?” Veer whined, standing up and searching for his robe.
Tillian averted his eyes to the ceiling, though he had wanted to keep his disapproving glare upon his friend. As Veer rummaged around his drawers, Tillian sighed and continued.
“The stones were too powerful.”
“Well, of course they’re powerful. They’re not ordinary artifacts.”
“We’ll have to alter the next batch so that the effects aren’t as strong. You made a mistake in your calculations.”
“That’s impossible,” Veer snorted and Tillian closed his eyes.
“No, it’s impossible that you did it right this time. I don’t even know why we bother anymore. This isn’t going to work.”
“You know why,” Veer muttered, slamming the last drawer shut. “Saying he doesn’t know why. How silly…ah ha!” Veer bent down and grabbed the silk robe from under the bed and threw it over him. “You can look now.”
stared into his friend’s eyes, and Veer’s face sunk in concern. He even forgot about the cold stone beneath his bare and clammy feet.
“Till,” he said, his brow furrowing. “You’re worried.”
“I am, Veer. More worried than I’ve ever been in my entire life.”
“But why? What have we to be afraid of?”
“You made the stones too powerful.”
“Perhaps they did it on their own,” Veer replied, unsure of his own words. “They are alive, after all.”
“This boy—Thorn. He’s rash. Egotistic.”
“Oh,” Veer said. “Is that who found a stone? A boy named Thorn?”
“Not a stone, my friend. He found
all of them.
Didn’t you spread them out?”
“I had a prior engagement,” Veer winced. “I had to be quick about it.”
“Well, I hope this mistake of yours doesn’t cost us. There’s no telling what this boy will do with them all. That’s not how they’re supposed to be used.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Veer replied, walking toward his friend with a smile plastered across his face. “We’ll remedy the situation once this set of stones is destroyed. We’ll make sure the next batch isn’t as strong, and all will be right with the world.”
“What makes you so sure this set will be destroyed?”
“Because it’s in their nature,” Veer replied, putting a consoling hand on his friend’s shoulder. “That’s what we’ve counted on all this time, and they haven’t failed us yet.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Two months,” James whispered to himself, or at least he thought he did. Bastion swiveled his head to the right and faced his mentor, studying his face meticulously. James looked at his student out of the corner of his eye and gave him a curt smile.
“Sorry,” James replied. “Didn’t realize I said that out loud.”
“You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” Bastion said, his eyes fixed hard upon James, studying him for signs of mentally cracking. James let out a short chuckle under his breath.
“Eh, it’s only been a couple times. Nothing serious. Everyone talks to themselves every now and then.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Bastion said, stretching his neck out and unintentionally pulling at the hood of his black robe. They were both laying down on a couple of large tree branches, so high up in the air that they were only a few feet below the canopy of the forest. Streams of blue and silver moonlight navigated through the treetops like a sieve, spreading apart and providing a great hiding place for James and Bastion. In the midst of darkness, people often focused only on the light.
Bastion lifted the back of one of his legs
, and then he let it fall down slowly, so that he wouldn’t make any noise beyond what was necessary. They had already been laying there for hours, and from the looks of it, it would be hours more. It was hard to see the target’s movements from so high up, and they didn’t want to release their eidolons to see for the light would be too bright, even if it was only partly unsheathed. All they could go by was what they saw through the branches below, and the minimal sounds that were carried up to them—as if they were attached to a pulley system.
Bastion suggested that they should have unleashed their eidolon for a second
, to confirm the target’s location. Just a second. And then they would go in and do what they had to do, but James was adamant about them staying quiet and hidden. He said that there was a chance that the Quietus could be integrated into Allay in the future. Therefore, it was best to keep relations with them as cordial as possible. Considering who the target was, Bastion didn’t see how that was possible, but he was willing to try James’ method of approach.
“What’s two months?” Bastion asked, and James gave him a weary look. The branch James had chosen to rest upon was smaller than Bastion’s so he had been quite uncomfortable, but he
also had no desire to switch or find another scouting spot. He didn’t want to risk the Quietus noticing the movement from below.
“It’s been two months since we left Allay,” James whispered. “Or…Catherine and the others left Allay. I was just thinking about how much
has changed, and so quickly.”
“It’s changed less than I thought,” Bastion said, and James glared at him angrily.
“How can you say that? Everything’s changed.”
“Depends on how you look at it, I guess.”
“We shouldn’t be talking. They might hear us.” James put a finger to his lips, and Bastion sighed and waited some more. He thought about that day, when James, Daisy and Kent had returned to Allay, giving him hope and companionship again. He could never repay them for making such a sacrifice, and especially knowing that it was because of him that they had come back—to save his soul from Lakrymos’ corruption, and to guide him into becoming the powerful Sage that everyone knew he would one day be.
Strangely enough, as the weeks
went by, he was unsure if their “help” was even warranted. Looking back, he realized that maybe he had just been angry or scared. After all, why did he have to stay behind in Allay when everyone else was free to go? Why was he boxed in and caged? What he didn’t know at the time was that under Lakrymos’ tutelage, it was actually quite the opposite.
He was free.
Lakrymos gave him permission to do whatever he wanted, and no harm would ever come to him. As long as he didn’t commit mutiny against the King, or leave Allay without the King’s blessing. If he adhered to those two rules, he could do whatever he pleased, and he didn’t know what to do with himself after hearing that. Like before, he thought it best to wait things out, and see what happened until he formulated a goal. Observe. Take notes. And then act.
t was strange having a new King and not seeing Catherine on the throne, but not much had changed. He didn’t know if it was because Lakrymos was waiting for something, or that was how he intended to rule all along, but Allay never felt more at ease. The village went about their business. The Orders went about their arguments, and the people themselves felt a sense of peace, knowing that that the Sage of Legend was watching over them. No one dared to cross him, and not just because of fear. In a sense, Allay had finally been restored to its former glory. And was that such a
“This is wrong,” James whispered, stretching forward to look below. “We shouldn’t be doing this.”
“Do you want me to do it?”
,” James practically growled. “I will do it. I’m required to bring you along, but that’s it.”
“The King would prefer if I carried out the mission.”
doesn’t always get what he wants, and besides, you
to do this?”
“No,” Bastion said, averting his eyes away. “That’s not what I meant. It’s just…”
“Listen, Bastion. Just because Lakrymos says we have to carry out an order, it doesn’t mean we actually have to.”
“But he’s the King. How is this any different than if Catherine gave the order?”
“She would never do this.”
“But she did have the Quietus jailed. That was pretty extreme. You could argue that our relationship with them was ruined from that moment on. I’m surprised that the King even allowed them to have space in the forest at all
“Can you not refer to him
as the King?” James said. “He tricked the people into giving him his position. That doesn’t make him worthy of the crown.”
Well, that’s not entirely true, is it?
Bastion thought. Catherine was the one who left the fate of Allay in the people’s hands. She had resigned, and Lakrymos had been crowned King before he strolled through Allay’s borders.
“Sorry, it’s habit,” Bastion said. “That’s how I have to address him when we’re talking to one another.”
“Anything new to report?”
“Not really. Just that he hopes this mission will go smoothly.”
“He doesn’t care for the Quietus,” James said, glancing back down to the ground. “He’s simply observing them. You know what I overheard him saying to Orchid? He said that he wanted to watch the Quietus because he had much to learn about those with an uncivilized and animalistic nature. He said it will get his mind all set for when he has to deal with the Yama.”
“Then why assassinate
Hakin?” Bastion asked. He had never met Hakin, but everyone that did spoke highly of the leader of the Quietus. Hakin was ready to die for his people, and they were undoubtedly his first priority, but that didn’t mean he lacked manners, or that he wasn’t willing to work with others. The village was still afraid of the very thought of Quietus, so they didn’t talk about it much, but they saw Hakin every other day within the Kingdom walls in his human form, buying from the merchants, and making small talk with the citizens. What threat was he to Lakrymos when all he wanted was for his people to survive?
If Hakin’s dead, Lakrymos will have the Quietus people to himself,” James replied. “They are already grateful to Lakrymos for freeing them from the tyrant Queen Catherine and giving them their place in the forest. If they lost Hakin, they would be desperately searching for someone else to guide them. Lakrymos would step right in.”
“And if they see us killing
Hakin? What then?”
“If you do it, he’ll write you off as being young and brash, and you did it of your own free will. If I kill
Hakin, then they would already have expected it, since I was tied to Catherine. He has his bases covered.”
“And if we leave this mission alone altogether?”
James looked at Bastion in shock.
“And do what, exactly? You know that if we don’t kill
Hakin, we can’t go back to Lakrymos. Or at least I can’t. He’ll still keep you around.”
“I want the kill,” Bastion said finally, and James eyes narrowed in the darkness. He could tell that his mentor was studying him, but it didn’t matter. The decision had already been made in his mind. Ever since he spent time in Quietus as a child, he had been afraid of his own power,
and especially taking a life. James wanted to keep him pure and innocent, but Lakrymos wanted him to embrace what he said Bastion was deep inside—a killer.
knew that if he was going to protect the ones he loved, he would have to be someday. Whether it was with Hakin now or the Yama later, he would have to fight to the death at some point, or else run away and be alone—and that, was something that he could not do. He would lose his mind if he was forced into complete solitude.
When James had come back to Allay, declaring that he was going to fight
Lakrymos for Bastion’s soul and future, it had been a moment of honor and awe. Bastion realized that he had never respected James more than in that moment. How could this Sage, knowing what Lakrymos was capable of, come back against all odds to preserve the future of Allay?
it didn’t take long for reality to set in.
The first time they had gone on an assassination mission together, to kill one of the Sage Academy students because they were holding back the class
as a whole—James was a wreck. Bastion saw Lakrymos’ reasoning—the students in the young man’s class were spending too much time coddling him, and showing him how to re-release his eidolon. It was easy to see that there was little hope for the boy to succeed. He had even been given a letter from an anonymous source, asking the boy to leave before he hurt himself. It was okay if he couldn’t cut it as a soldier. It wasn’t for everyone.
Maybe it wasn’t for James either. After the young boy refused to leave the Academy, Bastion had said he would go through with it. He didn’t want to, but he knew that only more suffering would follow if the wrath of
Lakrymos was allowed to kindle. There was already so much harmony in Allay, and Bastion knew that Lakrymos could take that away in an instant. So why not give the villagers a little joy and peace for just a little while longer?
He was willing to accept that burden, but James had stepped in, taking the boy’s life before he could even move a muscle. It was brutal. Messy. Amateur. It was supposed to look like an acc
ident, but there was no way the scene wouldn’t raise some kind of suspicion. James hadn’t thought the stroke through. He had just cut the boy.
Bastion had looked to his mentor
afterwards, wondering what it would do to him. It had been the first time James had taken a life in cold blood. Without reason. Without justification. But James didn’t react. He actually
at Bastion, saying that the job was done, and they should report back to Lakrymos right away. At the moment, he must have forgotten how powerful Bastion was.
Because Bastion could see
right through him
It was like years had been taken off his life on the inside. Bastion couldn’t figure out how, but it was as if his breaths had become shorter, and they never reached full maturation since. His blood pressure had dropped. His skin wasn’t as bright. His voice was weaker
, and his eyes had lost some of its shine.
He was sure that James had pr
epped himself for the kill, like he was trying to do now. He probably told himself that nothing would change within him, as long as he willed everything to stay the same. That he was taking a life, yes, but it was for the end game. Taking one innocent soul to save countless others. To live one more day. To survive until tomorrow. To be granted one more precious hour. An hour needed to figure out the enemy—the Legendary Sage that had taken the crown. He had no reason to kill the boy, but he was sure going to find one.
But it was all talk. In reality, it damaged him more than any wound he had ever received.
James lost a piece of himself that day, and he didn’t have the time to go looking for it.
The difference between James and Bastion though, was that Bastion was the opposite. While James had been a completed puzzle—torn apart piece by piece, Bastion was already broken. He was still being put together, and it was interesting to w
onder what the final picture of the puzzle would look like when it was done.
Perhaps that was why
Lakrymos was content with sitting back and allowing James to mentor Bastion for now. He knew the Sage wasn’t as seasoned as he thought, and it was only a matter of time before Bastion came to Lakrymos all on his own, begging for someone to properly show him the way. Bastion didn’t want to see that day come, and certainly not so soon. But it was approaching…
“I want the kill,” Bastion said again, and James sighed heavily.
“No,” he said again, but Bastion reached out, and grabbed his mentor’s forearm.
“You can’t take another,” he said. “This would only be your third, and from the looks of it, it could be your last. Let me share the burden.”