Authors: David Wells
Tags: #Epic, #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction
Mason nodded yet again. “I suspect there is as well. The contents may prove quite useful. Blackstone Keep itself is a treasure. It’s a near impregnable fortress with powerful constructed magic built into its walls.”
Isabel was sitting next to Alexander, listening quietly. “So when do we leave?” she asked.
Alexander thought about it for a moment. “I’d like to have a few days with Mason to see what the mana fast did to me. After that, we should be on our way. I’d say by week’s end.”
There were little pockets of conversation around the room that all dwindled when they heard Alexander’s plan. Alexander went to the table and took his seat. Everyone else joined him. For an hour before dinner was served they discussed their plans, evaluated their options, and explored the threats they knew were waiting beyond the barrier mountains of Glen Morillian. By the time dinner arrived, Alexander felt the sense of order he always got from having a plan. He knew what he intended to do for the foreseeable future and that was half the battle. Now all he had to do was go out and do it.
He spent the next several, very frustrating days working with his parents and Mason, trying to learn more about magic and his connection to the firmament. He attempted all of the mental exercises they taught him but was unable to make a reliable connection to the firmament. He read a few minor spell books that Mason offered him as starter spells but was unable to make them work at all. He didn’t understand and, to make matters worse, no one else did either. Mason and his parents talked about how they worked with the firmament to manifest their desired outcome but when Alexander tried to follow their instructions, he got absolutely nowhere.
He was starting to wonder if the mana fast had been for nothing. It had been a trying ordeal. In some ways he felt like it had been a trauma but in other ways he felt like the experience of the trials had prepared him for what was coming. He had a better understanding of his limits and just how far he could actually push himself when he had to. If for no other reason, he was glad he’d endured the trials of the mana fast for the confidence he gained as a result.
Three days later when he’d all but given up on mastering the spells Mason had recommended, he was sitting on a cushion on his balcony just after sunset, practicing a meditation that his father suggested. It was supposed to hone a wizard’s ability to visualize the outcome he wanted the firmament to manifest. But Alexander was tired and he let his concentration slip and allowed his mind to wander.
He thought about Phane and the struggle that lay ahead, wondering how he was going to face such a powerful wizard, let alone defeat him. Abruptly, he felt his awareness separate from his body. For a moment, it felt similar to the sensation he’d felt at the end of his mana fast. He was adrift in the firmament, experiencing the moment of now from every perspective all at once. It was disorienting and confusing. The cacophony of events, thoughts, and voices were too much to assimilate or understand.
But a moment later, he was rushing impossibly fast toward one point in the present moment. His awareness coalesced in one single location. His vision was free of his body. His eyes were closed but he could see as clear as day. He found his awareness floating near the ceiling in the corner of a strange room. He looked around and saw a long table with nine men sitting along the far side with their backs to a stone wall that was stained with a large dark splotch. Eight of the men wore armor with a gold-embossed, stylized letter R emblazoned on the breastplate. The man sitting in the center chair was dressed in a simple brown robe with delicate gold filigree lining the hem, collar, and sleeves that looked like writing in an ancient and arcane language. Alexander thought he recognized some of the symbols from the magical circle in Mason’s tower room. The man’s wavy brown hair was shoulder length and his face was almost too handsome. He looked perfectly proportioned in every way. But it was the eyes that caught Alexander’s attention. They reminded him of the last time he looked in a mirror. They were soft brown with gold flecks glittering in the irises.
Alexander focused more intently on the scene and started to hear the voices of the men in the room. The men in armor were reporting to the man in the brown robes on the status of an army. He was listening politely while he sipped dark red wine from a fine crystal goblet.
The man to the right of the robed man was speaking. “We’ve set your plan in motion, My Prince. The attack will begin on the night of the new moon. Karth will finally be ours!” He spoke emphatically and with enthusiasm as he made a triumphant fist with his gauntleted hand to punctuate his pronouncement.
The man in the robes smiled so honestly and with such genuine joy that Alexander began to think he would like him if he met the man. Then the man suddenly stopped smiling, cocked his head for a moment like he was listening for some faint sound, turned and looked directly at Alexander.
Alexander’s heart skipped a beat. The man in the brown robes stood abruptly and the look of murderous glee that ghosted across his face was enough to make Alexander’s blood run cold.
He waved to Alexander as if to say “I see you” before he stepped up on the table and cocked his head with a smile. The men in armor were all standing and looking for the threat, but the man in the brown robes ignored them as he peered more closely at Alexander.
“I see my nether wolves have failed,” he said. Alexander felt the icy tingle of cold dread flood into every recess of his soul. The man in the robes shrugged. “No matter, what I sent next will succeed.” He chortled impishly and then a look of comprehension overtook his maleficent glee. A broad smile slowly spread across his face and he tipped his head back and laughed. Still smiling in pure joy, he pointed at Alexander. “You don’t even know what you are,” he guffawed again before his unwholesome elation turned to joyous malice, “but I do.”
Alexander’s eyes snapped open. He was sitting on a meditation cushion on his balcony but he could still hear the laughter of the man in the brown robes. His heart hammered in terror. He reeled in confusion. It was so real. He felt like he was actually there in the same room with Prince Phane. He was certain beyond doubt that the man in the brown robes was Phane. Alexander focused on the experience, trying to recall every detail. He went to his sitting room and found a pen, some ink and a piece of parchment, and started writing every detail of the experience in rushed, hurried strokes. He played it back in his mind over and over, searching for anything he hadn’t yet captured on paper.
Whatever the experience was, however it had happened, Alexander was sure the information he’d learned was valuable. He went over his notes again. When he was satisfied he’d recorded every salient fact, he put on his boots and headed for Mason’s workshop. Alexander knew from the past few days that Wizard Kallentera slept very little and could usually be found in his chaotic-looking laboratory late in the evening working on something or other. The man was as bad as Lucky. He always had a dozen projects in progress and would flit from one to the next at a whim.
When Alexander entered in a rush, he found his parents and Lucky sitting around the fire with Mason, sipping tea and talking quietly. All turned at his unannounced entrance and stood quickly when they saw the look on his face.
“What’s happened?” Duncan asked in his calm and reassuring way.
Alexander held up the scrap of parchment covered with his hastily scribbled notes. “I saw Phane,” he said, hurrying across the room.
Everyone was speechless for just a fraction of a moment before they all started asking questions at once, then stopped talking just as abruptly.
Alexander took a seat and put his notes on the table in front of him. His mother poured him a cup of hot tea and stirred in a dollop of honey and a shot of cream just the way he liked it. He took a moment to gather his thoughts and slow his breathing.
“I was meditating like you suggested,” he said to his father, “when my thoughts wandered off and I started wondering about Phane. Suddenly I was outside of my body, floating in the firmament. It was confusing and overwhelming. A moment later, I was just there in a room with Phane and eight men in armor.”
Mason leaned in. “When you say you were there, how do you mean? Were you physically in the same room or where you just aware of the room?”
“I guess I was just aware of the room,” Alexander said. “I could tell my body was still here on my balcony, but I could see the room and hear what the men were saying. It was like I was floating against the ceiling in the corner.”
Mason nodded in thought.
Duncan took up the questioning. “What did you hear?”
“They were discussing an attack against Karth,” Alexander said. “The men in armor were reporting to Phane on preparations for a battle. They seemed confident that they would win.”
“It makes sense that Phane would go to the Reishi Army Regency,” Lucky mused. “It’s the largest standing army in the Seven Isles that still claims any loyalty to the Reishi line.”
“Can you describe the armor they wore in greater detail?” Mason asked.
Alexander nodded and took up his notes. “It was polished silver with a big gold letter R on the breastplate. It looked ornate and well crafted like the men who wore it held high rank.”
“That’s the Reishi Army Regency, all right. Phane isn’t wasting any time,” Mason said.
“What else did they say, Son?” Duncan asked gently but intently.
“The men in armor didn’t say anything else because Phane suddenly looked right at me.” Looks of alarm passed all around the room before Alexander continued, “He said he could see that his nether wolves had failed but what he sent next would succeed. Then he started laughing maniacally and told me that I don’t even know what I am, but he does. That’s when I came back.”
The room fell silent. Alexander tried to school the trembling in his gut with a sip of tea.
Duncan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “All right, let’s take this one item at a time. You had a clairvoyant experience without casting a clairvoyance spell, or even knowing how to cast a clairvoyance spell, for that matter. You saw the council chamber of the Reishi Army Regency in Karth and heard their battle plan to attack the House of Karth. Phane knows his nether wolves failed to kill you and he’s sent something else to finish the job. And he knows what you are, but you don’t.”
Alexander nodded at his father’s summation. Duncan Valentine was a man who valued facts. He often stated the facts of a problem as a starting point for discovering a solution. Alexander was familiar with his father’s way of thinking and it set him at ease. Mason stood and started pacing in front of the fireplace.
“The claim that you don’t know what you are may shed some light on your inability to learn any of the spells that Mason’s had you study,” Lucky offered. “There are many ways that a person can interact with the firmament. For example, I can’t cast most spells to save my life, but I can imbue my concoctions with potent magic. Perhaps you have a more narrow connection to the firmament. So far, you’ve demonstrated an ability to see a living aura and you’ve just had a clairvoyant experience. Both of these things are acts of magic. Other wizards would have to cast a spell to accomplish either. You’ve demonstrated an ability to use aura reading and clairvoyance without using the normal process of spell casting.”
“All things considered, I’m more concerned with whatever Phane has sent to kill my son.” Bella was angry and frightened all at once.
“I agree, Bella, but Alexander should be safe behind the circles of protection guarding Glen Morillian. Nothing from the netherworld can get in here.” Duncan tried to reassure his wife despite the look of grave concern clouding his own face.
Mason stopped pacing abruptly and turned to them. “Perhaps we can warn Karth.” Before anyone could respond, he rushed off to one of his shelves and started looking for a book.
While everyone was watching Mason shuffle off to his books, Alexander refocused the conversation. “What do we know about Karth?”
The three looked at each other and Duncan nodded to Lucky. Lucky took a moment to order his thoughts before beginning his lecture. Alexander smiled slightly at his old tutor’s familiar mannerism.
“The House of Karth sided with the rebellion during the Reishi War. Toward the end of the war, the bulk of the Reishi army was sent to Karth by the Reishi Sovereign to crush the House of Karth, but the Reishi fell shortly thereafter, stranding the Reishi army without support. They had nowhere to go and no way to get there, so the generals and wizards leading the force decided to conquer Karth and bring it under their rule. The House of Karth proved to be more difficult to subdue than they anticipated. They’ve been at war for the better part of the past two thousand years. The Reishi Army Regency rules over the southern half of the island while the House of Karth rules in the north. By all accounts, the place is a nightmare. Both sides rule their people with fear and violence and with no respect for the Old Law. The war flares periodically but both sides are pretty evenly matched, so the land holdings have remained more or less stable for many centuries.”
“Phane just tipped the balance of power in favor of the Reishi Army Regency,” Alexander said. “Once he consolidates his hold on Karth, it’ll give him a base of operations and establish his credibility throughout the Seven Isles.” Now Alexander stood and started pacing. “If we can stop him there, or at least slow him down, it’ll give us more time.”