Authors: David Wells
Tags: #Epic, #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction
His mother handed him a cool damp cloth for his burn. He took it with a forced smile.
Darius was dead.
It didn’t seem real. Every time he tried to face it, he felt an abyss of pain rise up from the pit of his stomach and threaten to claim his sanity. He simply could not make his mind comprehend a world without his big brother in it. How could such a thing be possible?
He’d felt the warning spell wash over him. He knew without question that Phane Reishi was walking the world again. He couldn’t explain how he knew, but that didn’t change his certainty. He also knew that Prince Phane would not stop until he ruled the entire Seven Isles. All of the dark stories of the last Reishi Sovereign and his sadistic son now seemed real. Until now, they’d been nothing but bedtime stories used to frighten unruly children into sleeping quietly at night.
And then there was the issue of the burn on his neck. Everything about it was unsettling, but especially the timing. He had been burned, marked with the glyph of the Reishi, only a moment after the warning spell had washed over him. The spell that had just warned the whole world about the coming of Prince Phane had marked him.
Alexander didn’t know the significance of that but it worried him greatly.
Duncan sat at the head of the table, Alexander to his right with Abigail next to him. His mother, Bella, sat across from him at his father’s left. Lucky sat next to her.
Alexander looked up as Anatoly came to the table and took the chair next to Lucky. “The room is secured. I barred every door myself and posted a man outside each entrance. Horses and a fast wagon are being prepared. Your traveling gear is being made ready as well.” Anatoly was a soldier before all other things. He was in his element in a way that Alexander had never actually seen before. He had a certainty of purpose about him that projected an almost infectious confidence.
“Thank you, Anatoly.” Duncan took a deep breath.
“Listen well, Alexander, there may not be much time.” Duncan was all business in spite of his red and swollen eyes.
Bella sat still and straight, her face etched with pain and purpose. Abigail hadn’t stopped crying since Darius died. She took Alexander’s hand under the table. He returned a reassuring squeeze and gave her a quick look.
“This is the story your grandfather told me in the last hours of his life.” Duncan paused for a moment to let the words sink in before continuing. “Two thousand years ago, at the end of the Reishi War, Prince Phane Reishi cast a spell of desperation. His family had been defeated, the Reishi Isle was overrun and he knew the castle would not hold. So he fled. He hid himself inside a magic obelisk located somewhere on one of the islands of Tyr. Within the obelisk, no time would pass, allowing Phane to escape justice and flee into the future.”
Duncan stopped as Alexander began shaking his head. “What does any of this have to do with me?” He was exhausted. Nothing made any sense.
“Be patient, Son,” Duncan said quietly. “The Rebel Mage discovered Phane’s obelisk and tried to destroy it but failed. He realized that when Phane woke, the world would be totally unprepared for his power and ambition, so the Rebel Mage placed a magic circle around the obelisk to warn the future, to warn us. That magic circle was what we just felt. The Rebel Mage’s magic circle warned everyone alive that Phane Reishi walks the Seven Isles again.”
Alexander interrupted again, “That still doesn’t explain the burn on my neck.”
“No. The burn on your neck is the result of a curse.” Duncan stared at Alexander for a moment to emphasize his words but spoke again before Alexander could object.
“The story my father told me says that an ancient bloodline was cursed. Our bloodline. We have remained hidden for centuries to protect our line for this day. The Rebel Mage feared that the Reishi Protectorate would discover his curse and eliminate our entire line, so our family went into hiding many centuries ago. The story says that the eldest son of our line would be marked when the Arch Mage Prince awakes. You’ve been marked, Alexander. It’s no longer just a story.”
Alexander sat slack-jawed and looked at his father. Abigail’s hand tightened around his.
“You are the one marked by the Rebel Mage. The old story says that you must defeat Prince Phane or the world will fall into darkness and tyranny for a thousand years.” The calm, quiet pronouncement fell like a sentence on his life.
He was cursed.
Who was he to even think about picking a fight with an arch mage? He didn’t want to fight. He didn’t even want to be heir to Valentine Manor. He just wanted to live his life.
He started laughing without any humor at all, then stood up abruptly, knocking his chair over. “This is crazy.” He walked several steps from the table, running his hands through his hair and then stopped in front of a mirror hanging on one wall of the great hall. He hadn’t actually seen the mark on his neck yet. When he looked at it for the first time, his blood ran cold as ice. It was the ancient Glyph of the House of Reishi. He’d seen it in history books from his father’s library, but to see it burned into his flesh was a shock.
“None of this can be happening,” he said while running his hand through his soft brown hair.
Anatoly stood and said, “My Lord.”
Alexander whirled on him. “What did you just call me?” The world of sanity was spinning dangerously out of control. Anatoly had helped raise Alexander. He’d been his friend, mentor and protector for Alexander’s whole life. And now he was calling him, “My Lord.”
“My Lord,” Anatoly said deliberately and looked firmly at Alexander in the way he always did when he wanted to drive home an important point in a lesson.
“Anatoly, I am not ‘Your Lord’ so stop calling me that. I’m Alexander, nothing more.” He was getting angry. Nothing about this day made any sense. He shook his head, turned and left the room.
Bella looked to Abigail and motioned for her to follow after her brother. “Give him some time, Anatoly,” she said. “He’ll come to understand his responsibility.”
Anatoly sat back down. “We may not have time,” he said flatly. “The assassin that killed Darius was sent to kill the Marked One. The Reishi Protectorate knew Darius would be marked by the curse. He represented a threat to their charge. What do you think they’re going to do when they find out Alexander bears the Mark?”
“We should leave in the morning at the latest.” Lucky sounded resolute and forlorn at the same time. He relished the comforts of home and the cooking of his own kitchen, but he was loyal without fault and he knew the peril they now faced.
“Agreed,” Duncan said as he took his wife’s hand. She nodded. “We’ll make for Glen Morillian. The Rangers will swear loyalty to Alexander on the strength of the brand on his neck alone. They’ve been waiting for him for millennia. He’ll be safer there than anywhere.”
The second part of the legend was the Rangers. They had been created by the Rebel Mage as well. Their purpose was to serve as protectors of the bloodline until this day arrived, then to serve the Marked One in his quest to preserve the Seven Isles from the ambition of Prince Phane. Anatoly was a Ranger.
He nodded, “I’ll send word to the Forest Warden and the Wizards Guild in New Ruatha.” He started for the door. “My birds will make better time than any horse and have far less chance of being intercepted.”
“I’ll prepare what potions I can for travel and store the rest,” Lucky said as he stood to leave.
Bella caught his hand briefly. “Lucky, would you look in on the children before you attend to your lab?”
“Of course,” he said.
“It’s been a long time since I wore my armor. I hope it still fits.” Duncan tried to smile at his wife but it faded too quickly.
“We’d best get ready,” Bella said with a mixture of sadness and resolve.
Duncan took her hand. “He’s strong. The Old Rebel Wizard chose well.” He squeezed her hand to get her to look up at him. He hated the pain he saw in her eyes; it made his chest hurt. What he had to say didn’t help matters.
“Phane is loose on the world. Our son is marked. All we can do now is support him and guide him with all we have.” He held her eyes with his commanding gaze until she nodded acceptance of the world as it was.
They had the kind of relationship that often involved complicated and esoteric discussions. One topic of interest was people’s propensity to see the world as they wished it to be, rather than as it actually was. Bella and Duncan both emphatically agreed that reason depended on accurate facts. And accurate facts only came from an honest and unbiased assessment of the situation. Deal in what is, not what if.
She was tough. He knew that better than anyone. They were holding hands as they left the great hall.
Jataan P’Tal stood facing the obelisk not ten feet from the edge of the magic circle that surrounded it. He stood straight with his feet shoulder width apart and his hands clasped loosely behind his back. About a month ago, the surface of the obelisk had begun to swirl and flow as though it were alive.
Since then, Jataan P’Tal, General Commander of the Reishi Protectorate, had posted a senior officer to greet Prince Phane when he emerged. It was his turn to stand watch. He believed that a good commander should be willing to do any duty he asked of his men.
He was a soldier. He didn’t complain.
The sun had set an hour ago and the clear sky was fading from a deep luminescent blue to sparkling black.
Abruptly, the obelisk shot through with cracks and fissures running all across its surface. Jataan stiffened. The cracks glowed white, then the obelisk began to crumble. Starting slowly from the top, chunks of black stone broke away and crashed to the ground. They shattered into powder on impact, leaving little more than a dark stain where they fell. In a matter of seconds the entire obelisk was gone. Prince Phane Reishi stood in the center of a black stain on the ground surrounded by an ancient magic circle. For a moment, he was completely motionless.
With a sudden gasping breath he became conscious, staggering slightly to keep his feet. At the very moment that he sucked in his first breath in two thousand years, the magic circle glowed brightly, increasing in intensity for a few seconds before it detonated with a wave of magical energy.
Jataan was struck full in the face and thrown flat on his back from the impact. The magic circle was gone. The wave of magical energy spread out across the entire Seven Isles. Every living soul would feel it.
The last Reishi Arch Mage was awake.
Jataan shook off the shock and bounded to his feet. He took three purposeful strides toward Prince Phane, stopped abruptly, stood at attention and gave the traditional Reishi salute—fist to heart.
Jataan P’Tal was a little man. He stood only five and a half feet tall and looked a little soft, even slightly portly. His hair was black and close-cropped. His complexion was swarthy. His eyes were black and he wore clothes to match. No weapon could be seen on his belt but he always had a knife somewhere.
“I am Jataan P’Tal, General Commander of the Reishi Protectorate. I am at your service, Prince Phane.” Jataan spoke with complete calm assurance and punctuated his oath of service by going to a knee and bowing his head deeply. He waited.
A moment passed. Prince Phane assessed the situation and grinned. “Rise, General Commander P’Tal.” Phane’s grin turned into a broad smile.
Prince Phane stood just over six feet tall and had a perfectly proportioned build. His wavy brown hair reached to his shoulders. His face was strong and handsome and his smile was almost ridiculously charming. But his eyes did not smile. They were soft brown with glittering flecks of gold in the irises and they looked like eyes that had witnessed unspeakable atrocities … and liked it.
“It is very gratifying that you’ve kept this little piece of the Great Reishi Empire intact for so many centuries,” Prince Phane said with ever-so-slight mockery while he gestured around at the tent.
Jataan P’Tal stood passively. They had retired to a set of command tents set up on a small hill near the site of the obelisk. Phane was eating with enjoyment and gusto. He praised the food between mouthfuls. After he’d eaten his fill he took up a bottle of dark red wine and emptied it into a large flagon, patiently shaking out the last drop. He inhaled the bouquet of the wine deeply, lifted the huge cup with a shameless smile, and took a long pull.
He set the cup down and sighed with delight. “I haven’t eaten in ages, you know,” he said with a conspiratorial wink. When Jataan didn’t react, Phane sighed. “Very well, General Commander, report.” Phane sat back with a smirk and waited.
Jataan cocked his head, “My Prince, I command a force of intelligence assets spanning all of the Seven Isles and numbering approximately twenty thousand. I also have about fifty thousand total combat forces at my command but it will require some notice to assemble them.”
Phane looked at him and waited silently.
“The Reishi Protectorate controls this island within the Isle of Tyr. Our purpose for the past two thousand years has been to wait for this day. Our sworn duty is to protect the Reishi Sovereign and his line. We are currently aware of one threat to your life and we have taken measures to eliminate it.” Jataan was a general officer giving his report. He spoke matter-of-factly and without emotion.