I am lost beneath a heavy shroud of unconsciousness when surrounding me a nauseating perfume harshly grasps me. Tearing through the haze, intoxicating hooks grip me and yank my mind through the fog. Constricting my breath sickening sweetness, each inhalation carries the scent deeper into my lungs, mercilessly piercing my skull with great vicious talons. Great wracking convulsions pummel me I am left gasping from the intensity of waking.
Sweating, and blinking desperately, I find myself lain upon an unfamiliar bed. Clutching weakly, I find my dagger still on my belt. The sight of sunlight shining through a window tells me someone moved from the chapel while I was out. Casting around, I see that I am in a vast richly adorned study, and observing me from beyond a large wooden desk sits Grandfather. I felt panic rise, did he know about Cormac? If we failed and he managed to tell…
Focus! Cormac is dead, you delivered the poison perfectly. The only on who knew of the plan, other than you, is Mother and there is no way to distinguish the poison from the ritual. Without a confession, they cannot prove anything.
The deep baritone of my grandfather’s voice fills the room as he addresses me using the holy tongue.
“Join me, Daesach, we have important matters to discuss”
I shot to my feet, obeying as quick as thinking. Crossing the sunbeam, I caught a glimpse outside and across the vast manicured lawns of a significant estate I recognised the city beyond as the Baron’s hold. I knew my mother kept ties to the nobility in Falke from her life before, and I wondered how Grandfather fit into the world beyond. Taking a seat across from him, I prepared myself.
“You have distinguished yourself within the order these past sixteen years, Daesach, Adaliz has undoubtedly taught you well.”
“Thank you, Grandfather” I reply as casually as I can muster, watching Grandfather for clues, finding none.
He regards me with I suspect with the same intentions, “What drives you in this life, Daesach?”
“I seek only to do you, and our ancestors proud” I answer by rote.
A glimmer of reflected sunlight catches my eye, I notice between Grandfather’s fingers a string of emeralds absently is being drawn purposefully through his fingers.
“Daesach, I am not so old I have forgotten what it was like to be a young man within the order,” the emeralds continue to turn, shine and wind along his knuckles, “Young men are driven by ambitions unique to his own heart. Now tell me, what it is that drives you?”
It is such a small request, I think as I try to catch my reflection in the surface of the emeralds, no harm could come of answering such a simple question, “I suppose I want to be loved and to have those I love be proud of me. I try my best to do as Mother wishes so I can be a son she can be proud of, that father would have stayed for and to prove to you that I am the best.”
Grandfather finally finishes drawing the emeralds into his palm and clenches them in a soft fist. My attention returns to him and I see he is nodding, seemingly pleased with my answer.
“I am old Daesach, I have lead our family for a long time and fewer years now remain ahead of me than what lie behind you. In my youth I fought for our freedom with blade, word and spell, but now I am too old for such things.
I’m sure Adaliz has taught you, Daesach, but that there are many who despise us simply for who we are. For the crime of sharing our ancestors blood, cowards who lack the strength to grasp true freedom would lock us away like cattle, and slaughter those of us who they cannot dominate.
The Arcanists of Anrhydedd suffer beneath the wrathful sunlit gaze of jealous gods, they need for shelter and the branches our family tree grow thicker and wider with every generation.”
Again he pauses seemingly to allow his words the chance to carry their weight. I consider that this may be the first time Grandfather has been so open with me and it does fill me with a powerful sense of pride. Lowering my gaze slightly I conceal as much of my emotional response as I can and continue to listen.
“The novices, you amongst them, have learned near as much as you are able to here and are nearing a journeyman’s age, however before you may graduate there is one last trial to overcome.”
Raising his hand and reciting a spell I recognised as part of the Illusion school, an image appeared above the palm of his hand. A cloaked figure was shown moving quickly and quietly through an alleyway in the town. I recognised the cloak the figure wore, they were of the style family members who lacked the magic used to conceal our true nature amongst ordinary people.
I watched as the figure approached an individual who seemed to be waiting. The figure was adorned with a familiar heraldic symbol that I knew represented one of the many orders who hunted us. In silence the figure in our attire handed the mysterious waiting person something that may have been bound paper. A symbol I did not recognise emblazoned upon the document.
“A member of our order has made a deal with our enemies, selling information to men who murder and imprison us, and those like us. This will be your final trial as a Novice of the order, your fellow novices have received the same information.”
Grandfather closed his fist and the scene vanished. Once more his eyes fixed on me and I could sense the immense power radiating from him, filling me with dread and awe. I could see more in his appearance that reminded me of the vigor of a young man than the weariness of an elder. The smooth scales that plated his flesh kept any wrinkles at bay and shone like emeralds yet seemed to swirl like mist.
“You may go now Daesach,” Grandfather dismissed me with an eagerness that made me nervous, “Do me proud”
I made my way rapidly back through the town, winding my way through the back streets to avoid the attention my robes brought. Grandfather’s words weighed heavily on me, the thought of a traitor filled me with rage, that one of our order would sell out their family to those monsters.
“Daesach” my Mother’s voice catches my attention from the alleyway. I quickly check that I am not being followed before ducking down the alleyway.
“Oh sweet predictable Daesach,” a familiar voice that did not belong to my mother greets me as I step inside of the illusion of an empty alleyway covering the reality. Waiting within, hoods back with their draconic flesh on full display stand Deirdre and Scáthach, who continues, “Always so blind for Aunty Adaliz, you never even thought to be suspicious when she called you.”
“Well I think it’s sweet,” Deirdre quips back at him, her sensually deep green lips smiling seductively as me. Rather than waste time mincing words, I slide my blade from it’s sheath.
“Put it away, brat,” Scáthach sneers, “We’re not here to fight, and if we were you know I’d gut you before you could even scratch me.”
“Actually we want to talk to you about Cormac and Adaliz,” Deirdre interjects, her tone is that soft tone that is intended to keep one calm, “Cormac is dead. We’re pretty sure you killed him and it was your Mother’s plan”
I met her gaze stalwartly, so what if they suspected us. Without proof, their suspicions cannot harm us. Not receiving the reaction she seems to have been expecting, Deirdre continues, “Someone sold out the order Daesach.”
I feel a flush of heat up my neck, “Are you suggesting it was me?”
“No! Of course not,” Dierdre answers hastily, “But someone did, someone who can benefit from selling us out.”
I glare at her, daring her to just say it. Finally with a groan of frustration Scáthach interrupts, “Wake the fuck up, Daesach, there’s only one sponsor who’s not blood. You think someone who looks like this could benefit from any deal with those bastards?”
With a bark of rage I leap at him, in an instant his blade is drawn and blocks mine. Almost casually he reaches out with his free hand and grasps my wrist and with an Arcane word sends electricity coursing through my body and I am unable to stop him as he steps casually away from my blade.
“Daesach, please, stop and think about it,” Dierdre pleads, he voice is so lovely, “It’s common knowledge she only came to the order to learn magic. Rosalind knew your father never loved her, she tricked him into getting her pregnant so that he couldn’t turn her away.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks as she continued to speak, with every passing word I knew. I knew that she was not lying, that she her heart was breaking for me, that she cared and wanted to help me. I slumped to my knees, dropping my dagger and clenching my fists over my knees.
“I know this is hard for your Daesach,” she whispers, running her soft hands across my shoulders and pulling me towards her chest comforting me, “No-one would ever ask you to be there, all we need if for you to tell us where she is. Then you can wait here, and we’ll come back for you when it’s resolved. I’m so sorry Daesach, but this has to be done, for all of us.”
I nod through my sobs, I know she is right, I know I can trust Dierdre. Pulling back from her caring embrace I whisper the answer to her.
For an hour I waited in that alleyway and sobbed. Cursing my fate and hating myself, knowing that in all the world even my patents have betrayed me, and only Dierdre cared for me. For a whole hour I believed her lies and then the spell broke.
She had charmed me. Deceived me with magic to betray my mother, and it had worked. I had told them where to find her, told them where she would be waiting for me thinking she was safe.
Knowing already that it was hopeless, that I was too late, knowing it and praying I was wrong, I ran.
Without bothering to return my hood and mask, without wasting time to the back alleys I ran with every ounce of stamina I could muster. Until my lungs burst and my muscles ripped I ran.
Time seemed to distort and slow, the feeling growing more distinct as I made it to the safehouse. The plume of black smoke overhead told me of it’s fate long before I arrived.
The fire was still young, I ran into the building. The heat was intense and overpowering, the smoke made it impossible to breath, but I could see her, my mother, sprawled on the ground, face down in a puddle of her own blood. Running to her side, I rolled her over and pulled her up onto my lap cradling her lifeless body in my arms.
My mother was dead, I realised even as the wood of the house cracked and groaned around me, as the fire roared and the smoke grew. My mother was dead and I had killed her as sure as Dierdre or Scáthach.
Lowering her onto the ground I raised my hood and mask and I ran again, this time I ran with no destination and no plans to stop.
Now, less than a month since my Mother’s death, I find myself sharing a campfire with a saviour who should be my enemy. My rescuer’s name is Caitlyn Stant. I recognise by her uniform she was a member of the Order of the Purple Dragon, and by her pin and cape she at least an Oversword in rank. Unlike most of the militant orders The Purple Dragons, while undoubtedly enemies to my family, treat Arcanists with respect unusual to Anrhydedd.
I had fled from my homeland of Tiarna across the border to Ddreig since leaving my family. Seemingly I was not being let go so easily, as I had found myself being tracked my Arcanists that served the order. I had evaded them for many days before they finally caught sight of me. The chase had led me into the path of Knight Stant, who had dispatched my pursuers handily, with deadly efficiency. My mask was long lost in the chase, and I had expected her to kill me as soon as she saw my face. Instead she demanded my story.
I was far to tired to lie, so I told her. Everything.
The silence that follows my recounting is heavy. Though she saved me before, now that she knows me, it is her duty to arrest or slay me, and having seen her fight, I know I stand no chance against her.
Perhaps I could have lied to her, or run from her, but I am tired. I no longer wish to run, to hide or to lie. Perhaps Arwen has heard my prayers and guided me here, so she may grant me my just death.
Awaiting my judgement, the Knight sighs in frustration, shaking her head. Sitting heavily by the first, she laughs at the absurdity of the situation and addresses me, “Alright Daesach.”
“What is your plan now?”
I stare at her in confusion, wondering how she plans to trap me with such a question, “I have no plans left. No family, no plans, no-where to go.”
“Why don’t you travel with me for a while? I’ve got a long road ahead, someone to talk to would be a welcome addition”
There was no way I could have expected this offer, I must have stared at her for several minutes considering how it was a trick or how she might have been trying to hurt me when at last I realised that she had no angle. No way to benefit from me, no reason to deceive me and that’s what took me most by surprise.
Finally, I nodded. The best answer I has left.
Far away in Tiarna, an ancient man watches the image of the boy and the woman reflected onto the pool of crystal water until they turn in for the night to sleep. Gesturing his hand over the pool the image coalesces into another, a fractal collage of seven faces appear.
“The journeymen have begun their pilgrimage,” he announces. The seven, a mixture of Arcanists and Holy Blooded listen, “You have served them well, pray they retain the strength of conviction to repay you in time.”
The image fades back to the clear pool, the last echoing syllables of the draconic prayer offered by the seven, the only companion for the old man.