The Constellationist pt. 3

Henry reveals to Arielle what he has been working on, filling her mind with the daydreams to help her through working on her birthday.

“This is something that my son found before the storm came” Henry’s voice is steady and a little too controlled, I could tell the memory was hard for him, though time enough had passed for him to accept it. Father said that Henry’s two sons, Jonas and Elias were like night and day, each taking after their fathers distinctive character traits. Jonas had his father’s practical cunning and down to earth realism, while Elias shared his fathers imagination and boundless energy. I assumed then that it was Elias, who had taken up with a team of like-minded people his own age and pursued a career in exploring the ruins of lost cities that had been reclaimed by the forest, that had brought this strange construct to his father.

I stepped up to the strange, brightly lit table where the hand lay in ceremony.  There was a strange energy around the hand, like how the air hums in the hours before a large storm breaks. The hand was sheared off at the wrist seemed almost like twisted metal, but a closer inspection showed there was an bizarre pattern of softness and rigidity that was unlike any material I had known. Carefully I reached out and caressed the material of the wrist, it was soft like flesh until the last inch before the shear where it rapidly transitioned to a glass-like harshness.
Enthralled I began inspecting the individual fingers, bending them and testing their flexibility. They twisted with as much flexibility as my own hands, though the sensation of the workings beneath the “flesh” seemed fascinatingly alien. I had almost completed my cursory inspection when suddenly the hand twitched unexpectedly, startling me into leaping backwards with a half-shriek, knocking the hand from its pedestal where it lay on the table, motionless once again.

Turning to Henry I fixed him with an embarrassed glare in response to his quiet laughter. Stepping away from the table, so I could address him while keeping the hand in my line of sight I lent against the wall, arms crossed.
“What the fuck, Henry?”
Returning with an exaggeratedly innocence, Henry teases,”It still twitches on occasion, I would have warned you if you hadn’t been so eager to start poking and prodding,”
“Fine,” I pouted while attempting to redirect the conversation, “Go ahead and give me your rundown then, I’m done prodding for now”

His deep booming laughter echoes around the room before he returned his attention to the hand,
“This hand belonged to a larger creature that my son, Elias, and his companions encountered in a Home, quite unlike The Spire.  Far to the south they found it at a crossroads in The Road, Elias told me it appeared unclaimed from their approach so they decided to explore to see what they could find and were attacked by the construct after entering. This hand is the only treasure they were able to retrieve before they escaped. I’ve been tinkering with it ever since but haven’t been able to make hide nor tail of it.”

“At least not until last night,” he concludes proudly beckoning me over he turns towards the table and unhooks one of the tubes that connects to the roof. The head of the tool is shaped like a pin and as Henry pulls on a section of the tool the head of the pin begins to crackle and arc with lightning. Placing the sparking needle within the hole of the wrist and touching it to the hanging material within causes the fingers to twitch and spasm with greater certainty than the minor movement that startled me earlier. With several failed attempts Henry successfully managed to cause the hand to touch its fingers to its palm in sequence before returning the tool to it’s hook and turning to face me expectantly.

“Henry, that was incredible, how did you do that?” I asked, not even sure if I was asking about the lightning tool or the gauntlet any more.

“The lightning rod is a tool of The Spire, I don’t know how exactly that works, though I assume it is run by the same magic that quickens the Homes. As to the hand, inside the design seems reminiscent of on of The People’s hands beneath the skin. Elias called it a construct, and I suspect he was not far off, my theory is that the creature was a golem powered by elemental lightning. Fascinating and incredibly complicated magic, I can’t even begin to fathom the expertise of the one who built this.”

I was speechless, this was exactly like one of Francis’ stories. A man made of Lightning, Flesh and Glass, defending one of The Homes from outsiders. I couldn’t wait to tell him and hear what story he would come up with to explain it all. Recently Francis liked to say that The Homes were grown by “True Elves”, an ancient species he made up who preceded The People on The Continent, I didn’t like them quite as much as the Star Children who came from the stars to created The People in his stories last year, but they were still pretty cool.

A loud ringing from the store front woke me from my daydreaming, reminding me that we had been open for some time now and I had work to do. Dashing back through Henry’s workshop and living space, leaving him to his bizarre forge table, I fastened my apron and smiled widely greeting the mornings first customers, but my mind remained on stories of elves, lightning men and star children for the rest of the day.

The Constellationist pt. 2

As Henry led me through the storage room towards the workshop, I was struck once again by the way he carried the past with him in those boxes. Unlike the storefront, the back room was a dark and musty place. Against the walls, stacked crates from our home before the Spire, I could only guess as to what he’s kept locked away in them for so long. Their wooden exterior bore the scars of our exodus from the storm. The sight of them inspired bittersweet nostalgia, what once was a mundane sight, wood had grown rare in years living in the Spire.

Henry placed his palm on the Hearthstone, it shone with a gentle blue glow which clicked green in recognition. The door sighed an internal breath and withdrew into the wall allowing us access to the stairwell. Inside Henry had a portrait of himself as a younger man with who I assumed to be his wife and two sons. I had been hardly more than a baby when we had come to the spire so I could hardly remember the village. My knowledge of life outside came mostly from the stories my father had told me. I had been told that Henry had lost his family in the storm, though he chose not to talk about it. Before the storm he been the town smith which had made him a very important man within the community. In those days we lived or died by our horses, so a quality of a horse’s shoe was worth more than any trinket or treasure.

But even then, it was wrong to think of Henry as just a smith. Mother called him an artisan, and Francis insisted he was a warlock and trafficked with demons for dark knowledge, but it was Father’s stories from when they were young men that most described him. Endlessly curious and tireless in pursuit of his curiosity, the way Father spoke of Henry convinced me to work in his store. In the time I had known him I had come to respect his practical wisdom and single mindedness when set a task that challenged him. Unfortunately, he was as aloof and introverted as he was interesting, this was the first time I had been allowed into the workshop.

Daydreaming, I had forgotten to pay attention as we walked through Henry’s living space I think it was neat and unceremonious, but the workshop immediately captured my entire focus. It was completely unlike the forges I had heard of in Father or Francis’ tales. A large flat table made of the the same material as The Spire stands in the centre of the room, a semi-translucent hood overhangs the table from the ceiling above with numerous mobile tubes which run from the ceiling to hang from hooks along the hood. Resting in the middle of the table held up by a frame lay what looked like a hand made of a shimmering ebony material.

“Henry,” I whispered, watching him eagerly approach the table, “What is this place? And what is that hand?”

The Poisonous Blood of my Ancestors pt.3

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.

The Poisonous Blood of my Ancestors pt.2

My birth was hard for my mother. As a brilliant and beautiful noblewoman of Falke, she had entered the fold at a very early age. She had been the daughter of someone very powerful, I was never told which family specifically, but I suspect they were not too far removed from the royal family. Being that she was neither the eldest child, not a son, my mother was destined to be married off for political convenience, but such a petty fate could never have contained one such as her.

My mother was very aware of the advantages and limitations of her station. Never convinced by the justifications of her peers for shunning the power of The Weave, instead she realised the possibilities. However, the Arcane is no easily realised dream, especially for a woman of reputation. My mother required a teacher. With her mind, education and her familial access to  people, not even so jealously guarded a secret as my family could elude her for long.

My father, though I never met him, I am told, was a powerful beneficiary of our ancestral lineage. She discovered him long before he thought to reveal himself to her. A popular member of court, he bore the deep ethereal charisma that was necessary to catch my mother’s attention and his blood was thick with the sorcery required to keep her.

Unfortunately, he was also an arrogant and cruel man. His place in my family gave him power in his relationship with my mother, she needed him to further her ambitions, he only desired her for her beauty and his ego. In less than a year she was pregnant. My father had intended to dispose of her, having taken his pleasure. And given the uniqueness of out bloodline, without the protection of the family, my existence would have been a death sentence for my mother.

This part of the story is still mysterious to me, but somehow Grandfather knew. The family Patriarch, dedicated to the bloodline like my father never was. He spirited my mother away before she was harmed and kept us until my birth. I never heard of my father after this, I assumed my mother or Grandfather had removed him to protect us but I admit such a dream is not based on any evidence.

But as I said, my birth was difficult for my mother. She was young, and as clever as she was, she was a novice at the poison laced games of succession within the family, if it were not for Grandfather we may not have survived. Under his tutelage my mother swiftly became a formidable Arcanist. I must stress, my mother was a truly brilliant woman, she was a skilled enchantress and far more, I have no doubt with time my mother could have become as great as Morgan Le Fay. But Grandfather was truly a monster.

Not a monster like my father, he was never cruel to my mother and as I grew he was distant, but paternal towards me. After my birth he did not intervene again in family politics to keep me safe, he ensured my mother and I received the skills and education we would need to survive on our own, but no more. When I say Grandfather was a monster, I mean he was more like Ancient Dragon or Vampire than a man. When Cormac’s knife first tasted my blood, when Deirdre stole a secret from me with her soft flesh and lips, I knew fear as any man knows fear. Grandfather, who has never struck, or spoken in anger to me, inspired a deeper emotion, the way only truly powerful individuals can.

Our branch of The family was led by Grandfather. I know we were not the only one, so logically Grandfather must have had peers and possibly even superiors I never heard of, though it is hard to imagine. My childhood was of two worlds, my mother was an influential woman in Tiarna, my peers were the children of wealthy merchants, artisans and even nobles. That world feels like a pale reflection of my true life within the family. Lessons dominated my life, rituals and trials took the place of history or arithmetic. If the children in my daylight life were playmates, my cousins were my peers, rivals and my greatest threat.

Deirdre, Cormac and Scáthach were the ones I was most involved with. At my earliest memory there was eight of us, but after I slew Cormac that night there was only five of us left. There were of course other children around, those of the Arcanists or their apprentices, but we were the children of the Dragon and that made us special. The inheritors of a legacy as old as The Weave itself.

That legacy is what drove us to fight between us, as mighty as Grandfather is, he is old and only one of the blood could take his place. The family didn’t inherit through the backward order of succession used by the nobility, we were lead by the greatest of a generation. The one who could survive and subjugate.

Cormac was just the most recent step towards my place at the head of the family, but unlike the others… his death is where everything began to fall apart for us.

The Poisonous Blood of my Ancestors pt.1

With arms raised wide above his head my grandfather begins the chant. His low reptilian rasp rumbles upwards through his chest, growing steadily in power and volume until even the high claustrophobic stone walls that envelope us tremble.

Around me the dimly lit chapel swells and fills with the draconian hymns. Cloying green mist snakes from the braziers evil green flame seeking out the desperate lungs of the congregation. Beneath my hood I chance a moment to glance away from the altar to observe the gathered Acolytes.

At my side my mother sings her praise, her formidable figure cloaked in zealous rapture as the first tongue of green mist crept into her nostrils causing her emerald eyes to shine with otherworldly power.

Shifting my gaze I locate several of my rivals amongst the lay. Under the shadow of my Aunt Róisín I spy Deirdre the beautiful, a silver tongued seductress who whispers sickening lies and poisonous truths. Useful but dangerous to know.

Barely visible beneath in the shadows of the alcove, Scáthach, the Viper. Seemingly on his own, I know his older brother Treasach wouldn’t be far. They prefer to negotiate with a poisoned blade across a sleeping throat. I despise them most of all.

Unwilling to risk any more time, I switch back to observing the sermon as grandfather’s hymn reach its peak. The sickeningly sweet smelling mist brushes my nose and obediently I inhale deeply. I feel my scales resonating with arcane power as my consciousness fades and I am lost to the ritual.

***

“Wake up” my mothers voice breaches the barriers of my mind and carries with it a cacophony of horrendously distracting noises which banish the fog of ritual sleep from my mind and anchoring my mind cruelly to my body. My body seems to weigh many tonnes crushing me deeply into the cold floor. My face and palms drag against the stone floor as I push myself up to my feet.

“Time to move,” her voice causing me to squint and grimace in pain, piercing my skull. I look cautiously around but I can’t see her in the chapel, just me and the torpid bodies of my cousins. My muscles scream as I begin to move, the rituals aftereffects demand my submission as the poison mist creeps like thick thorned vines through my veins.

My feet drag step by torturous step towards the alcove where I’d been told Cormac would have been concealing himself. My back siezes painfully and I drop to one knee at the entrance, my jaw clenched in a soundless scream for what feels like hours as I wait for the pain to end and just as I’m sure I won’t be able to last another second it passes. Gasping deeply for ragged breaths, I open my eyes and relax my jaw, beneath me, Cormac lies helpless.

Rolling Cormac onto his back I steady myself over him and focusing on the twisted emerald power in my blood, I feel the torment in my form draining from my muscles, my veins, my psyche, pulled into a roiling point in the pit of my chest. In a low, steady breath, I release it. The poison from my lips plunges greedily into Cormac’s.

Crawling back to where I woke, the sorcerous power now gone I feel weak, exhausted and hollow. “It is done,” I whisper to my mother before the spell fades, and as she fades I smile imagining she is proud of me.