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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Chapter 12 Epilogue

The king rubbed his eyes. He hadn’t slept for days. Ohincink was supposed to be an easy target. That’s why he had chosen it. His seers had foreseen a quick and decisive victory, but now that wasn’t the case.

“Explain it to me again.”

“Yes, Sire.” The seers’ representative shifted uneasily from foot to foot. “The future is shifting m’Lord. At a rate we’ve never seen before. Every time something seems certain, it changes.”

“And you believe this being caused by that girl? The one Kahoz let escape.”

“It seems that way, Sire. Of course, we cannot be certain since we can’t actually See her.”

“Yes, yes.” The king waved his hand, as if pushing the thought aside. “You’ve made your uselessness in that matter abundantly clear.” He stood and looked the seer in the eyes. “Contact Kahoz. Enough of waiting on omens. Tell him to get in contact with our allies in Ohicink.”

“And then, m’Lord?”

“Then we attack.”


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Chapter 12: Blood Magic


The two groups had rejoined the evening before, and decided that Edo and his group would enter Griffin first, during the day, so he could meet up with his contacts there. The others would follow in the evening, as precaution in case anything went wrong, or this turned out to ne a trap. The last time Silay had approached Griffin, she and Riya had tried to enter publically, but had been turned away like thieves. This time, they, and Talis, would purposely sneak in like thieves, hidden under their magic disguises.             

“Last call for the night!” The Griffin gate-guard called out to the empty road. Silay, Riya, and Talis, who were crouched behind a rock just barely in earshot of the guard, exchanged looks.
           
“That’s our cue.” Riya wiped the dirt off her hands onto her pants and stood up. Silay followed suit, and after a moment’s hesitation, Talis joined them.

            Silay stepped out, trying to appear confident. After all, in this guise, she was the responsible adult. Leading the way, she approached the gate. The guard stopped them.

            “It’s late to be on the road.”

            Silay dropped her voice, trying to make it sound older. “Which is why we wish to come in.” She gestured to Riya and Talis, hoping that to the guard they looked young. “My children are tired. We need a place to stay for the night.”

            “Where are you travelling to?”

            “Welis.” Jarlen’s hometown. It was the first name that had popped into her head, and Silay immediately regretted it. While they hoped Griffin was safe, they were trying not to leave any clues the Sojanites could use to locate them. The guard seemed to be waiting for more information, so Silay added “I have family there. An aunt.”

            The guard looked the group over, and seemed to decide they were harmless. He held up a small pendant. “You may enter, but first you have to touch this. It will show if you have any symptoms of the plague.”

            Silay hesitated. She wished she knew how it was spelled. Was it meant to react in different ways depending on whether or not one had the plague, or did it only react to plague symptoms? Because if it was the former, she was in trouble. Whatever spell was on the object wouldn’t react to her. But there didn’t seem to be a choice. She reached out and touched the pendant. Nothing happened. She looked up and the guard nodded. Relief flooded over her. She turned and waved Riya and Talis forward, the way she assumed a mother would. The two approached and each touched the pendant. The stone showed no change, and the guard put it away.

“Welcome to Griffin. There’s an inn just down the road a little ways on the left.”

Silay nodded her thanks, and led Riya and Talis down the road while the guard closed and locked the gate behind them. As they walked, Silay felt sense of shame and anger wash over her. She had been frightened at the gate. Frightened of the guard, and frightened of what she was when he’d asked her to touch the pendant. She was getting sick of that feeling. It was one thing to feel useless, but she hated that people kept making her feel scared. No one had the right to do that.

            When they reached the end of the first block, Riya grabbed Silay’s arm and tugged her into an alleyway between two buildings. Talis squeezed in behind them.

            “Where to?” Silay asked.

            Riya pulled out the bondstone Edo had given her, looking at the glowing line inside of it. “It’s pointing straight down this road.”

            Talis poked his head out of the alley then ducked back in. “Looks like a town hall is down there.”

            Riya stepped out into the street, looking at the stone. “That’s where it’s pointing,” she confirmed when she returned.

            Silay bit her lip. “So either they’re in trouble, or the Griffin Council is helping us.”

            Riya met her eyes. “I hate to say it, but…”

            “I know. It’s my call.” Silay sighed. “Know what? I’m sick of running and hiding. We take the risk. Between you, Edo, and his mom, we can probably overpower any magicians, and every except me is fairly good at fighting.”
            “I don’t know about that.” Talis shrugged. “You can hold your own.”

            Silay blinked, surprised at that unexpected compliment. Where had that come from? “Thanks, I guess.” She looked at her two companions. “So, we go?” They both nodded their agreement, and Silay shrugged off her cloak. If she was going to do this, she was going to it right. And she wasn’t going to be afraid. Or, at least, she amended, she wasn’t going to show any fear. “Riya, drop the spells. We’re going as ourselves. We need help, and this is our best chance to get it.”

            Riya nodded again, and Silay smelled her magic at work. Then she stepped out of the alley and into the street, Riya and Talis just behind her.
***

Silay marched through the door of the town hall. The man at the desk in the entrance way stood to greet them, but Silay interrupted him.

            “I’m looking for my friends. Edo, Jarlen, and Amata. Are they here?”

            The man took a step back. “They’re upstairs.” He gestured to a staircase off to the left.

Silay nodded and headed for the stairs. Behind her, she heard Riya give the doorman a rushed ‘thanks’ before her footsteps caught up with her.

“What has gotten into you?” She hissed.

“I’m tired of being pushed around.”

“That’s fine. But it doesn't give you the right to be pushy yourself.” She put a hand on her arm. “Silay, listen to me!”

Silay turned, her left foot on the top step. Riya was step below her, and Talis was behind Riya, leaving Silay as the tallest in the group. Riya looked up to meet her eyes. “I know this has been hard for you. And what has been asked of you isn’t fair. But life isn’t fair. So you have to deal with it. Be better than your circumstances.”

Silay stared at her for a moment, then dropped her eyes. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m just so tired.”

Riya smiled. “You don’t have to apologize for that. We’re all tired. Now, lets go find Jarlen and the others.”

Silay nodded and led the way through the door at the top of the stairwell. There, in a large dome-ceilinged room, sat Edo, Jarlen, and Amata, along with a woman and an older man Silay didn’t recognize.

“Silay!” Edo stood to greet them. He smiled as the group entered the room, but his cheerful expression quickly changed to one of concern. “Wait until you hear what has happened.”

 Before Silay could reply, one of the strangers, the woman stood up.

“Before we jump into things, I’m sure you’re all tired. Please, sit down and have something to eat.” She spread out her hands, indicating the table, which Silay just now realized was covered with food.

“Thank you.” Silay, Riya, and Talis joined their friends at the table.

The woman smiled. “I’m Olivia Laternae, the Superintendent here in Griffin. As Edo said, there is much we need to tell you. But there is no reason we cannot eat first. The news is the kind that can wait, and is probably best not heard while hungry.”

Silay considered pushing the matter, but when she saw everyone else was already piling his or her plates with food, decided she was hungrier than she was curious. Platters passed around the table, and Silay helped herself to bread, fish, and roasted vegetables. “Thank you, again. Everything looks delicious.”

The others nodded in agreement. Riya passed another platter of vegetables to Silay. “What is this room used for? It’s rather unusual.”

Silay looked around. Riya was right. The wood-paneled room stretched the length of the building downstairs, but was only a quarter of its width.

Olivia laughed. “I suppose it is. Too small to be a dance hall, too narrow to hold court or a conference. I don’t think many towns have a space like this. We use it for smaller, private gatherings, but that are still continued legal affairs. Like weddings or,” she looked around at the group, “meetings that are better kept secret.”

Riya swallowed the bite of roll in her mouth. “With words like that, I think I would like to know what it is you have to tell us.”

“This.” Edo passed a piece of parchment to her. “I honestly don’t know if I should be horrified or amused.”

Riya glanced at the parchment and nearly choked on her bread as she started to laugh. “Here, Silay. It seems you and Talis are continuing Dagrosa’s tradition of producing famous people.”

Silay took the sheet and blinked in surprise. She looked at Jarlen. “Can they do this?”

“That,” he commented drily, “is rather a moot point, seeing as they have already done it.”

Silay looked at the parchment again. Looking back at her were sketches of herself, Talis, Riya, Jarlen, and yes, even of the yellow donkey. Beneath the sketches was a text proclaiming them enemies of Ohicink and offering a reward for their delivery to Sojan. “I meant, do they have this kind of authority? Declaring us enemies of Ohicink.”

“Sojan likes to think it does.” It was Olivia who answered.

“Some might say the same about Griffin,” Edo retorted.

“Some might.” Olivia nodded. “But they would be wrong.” Edo opened his mouth to reply, but Olivia held up a hand. “This is not the time to open old wounds. I would be happy to address your concerns, but first, there is something else I need to show you all.” She held up another sheet of parchment paper.

“What is it?” Amata’s voice was quiet.

“It’s a letter from Sojan that arrived just before you did. We haven’t opened it yet.”

Jarlen held out his hand and Olivia passed the letter to him. He turned it over and investigated the imprinted wax on the back. “That is certainly Sojan’s seal.” He passed the letter on to Edo.

            The young magician brought his right index finger a few inches from the seal, an Silay saw a spark jump from his finger to the wax. “It’s genuine. And it hasn’t been opened,” he confirmed. He turned to Jarlen. “Would you read it?” Jarlen nodded and took the letter back. Breaking open the seal, he unfolded the paper, cleared his throat, and began to read.

“A letter from the City of Sojan to the distributed peoples, cities, and townships of Ohicink. Greetings! In this time of great uncertainty and fear, we believe powerful action is now necessary. The plague that threatens our land, while less severe than once believed, has served as a terrible reminder of the precarious nature of our beloved country’s disparate systems of governance.
“Though many seers saw the onset of the plague, and though the Seers’ Council and the Healers’ Guild worked together to determine a course of action in limiting its effect, there was no such consensus among the various cities and townships. Instead, each governing entity chose to handle the news of the plague in it’s own way. This resulted in unnecessary panic, spread in part by rogue, would-be Heroes, and a complete halt in trade, travel and commerce. Had the multiplicity of governments in Ohicink worked together, such disasters may have been avoided.
“But now there is a second threat facing our country, granting us an opportunity to right our previous errors and handle the situation correctly. You have already received our warning about the four would-be Heroes. We need to elaborate and explain. There are now five people we believe to be in conspiracy against the State.  They are Silay and Talis, of Dagrosa, Jarlen, an Alchemist from Welis, and Riya, a thief known to have been responsible for the theft of our own Wardstone. Finally, the newest member of the conspiracy is Edo, a powerful magician and a former member of Sojan’s Council. While on their own these five would not be a threat, we have evidence that they are working with a man called Kahoz, a spy from S'vael sent to learn of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
“As the strongest city in Ohicink, we humbly offer our services in the capture and containment of these five and their S’vaelian conspirator. Furthermore, we would offer to host a Grand Council. This would be a meeting of all the Heads of State in Ohincink, designed to determine if our current system of governance is best, or if there is a need to develop a more centralized government in order to better address the external threats that we currently face, and those we might face in the future.
“Please send a response to this letter within a month.”

           Silay had stopped eating while Jarlen had read, shocked by the letter’s content. “But that’s ridiculous!” she exclaimed. “Kahoz attacked us. We’ve been trying to stop him.”

            “We know we aren’t working with the S’vaelians.” Edo too had stopped eating during the reading. “But that doesn’t mean they aren’t planning an attack. The seers have been seeing signs of war.”

            “Yes, but war with whom?” Olivia looked at the gathered group. “Who is it we are going to be fighting?”

            The older man who had been sitting next to Olivia spoke up now. “Nothing that specific has been seen yet. War is a possibility that is becoming stronger, but who will be involved in such a war is still unclear.”

            Olivia pushed her chair away from the table and stood. She paced in silence across the room, and it seemed to Silay that something was bothering her. Finally, Olivia sighed and stopped at the head of the table. She looked at each person in turn.

            “I think…” Olivia paused and took a deep breath. “I think we need to consider the possibility that S’vael might not be the real threat here.”

            Talis shook his head. “I know S’vael is a threat. Kahoz implied as much when I was working with him.”

            Olivia held up her hand again, and Silay decided that was her preferred way of asking for silence. “Please, let me finish. I did not mean S’vael was not a threat, but that they might not be the most immediate threat.” She paused and Silay saw her gaze drift towards Edo and his mother. “I think it is possible that Sojan is behind this.”

            At Olivia’s suggestion of Sojan’s involvement, Silay glanced over to Edo, expecting him to be upset. But even though his neck and face were flushed, he didn’t say anything. Amata also just silently studied the table. Instead, it was Jarlen who broke the silence following the pronouncement.

            “I know Sojan would not be opposed to heading an Ohicinkian Alliance, but do you have any evidence to support your theory?”

            “Only that they have tried this before.”

            Edo looked up at that. “When would that have been?”

            “About 10 years ago.”

            “The mercenary attacks?”

            “Yes.”

            Silay had never seen Edo as focused as he looked now. “And you have proof of this?”

            “We have…” Olivia glanced at Jarlen. “Evidence. Not quite proof, but enough that we believe we are correct.”

            Silay furrowed her brow. “But why would Sojan have their own city attacked? A lot of people died that night.”

            “Think about it.” Jarlen’s voice was low. “You heard the Consul when we were there, and you’ve heard the letter now. Sojan wants power, power it can only get if the other cities give it to them. The attack created sympathy for Sojan. Afterwards, there was even talk about creating an Alliance to prevent such a disaster from happening again.”

            Now Edo did speak. “But most people think Griffin was responsible for the attacks.”

            “I assure you, we weren’t.”

            “And can you prove that?” Edo’s words were challenging, and before anyone could react, Olivia grabbed a knife from the table and ran it across the palm of her hand.

            She held up the wounded hand, blood welling in the shallow cut. “Yes. I can. If you are willing to do a truth spell.”

            Silay saw Edo’s blush deepen. “I--I--” he glanced at his mother, but Amata just shook her head.

            Edo looked back at Olivia, who was still standing at the front of the table with her hand held out.

            “I want to know. It’s just...I mean...blood magic…”

            “You aren’t the only one with a stake in this.” Riya stood up suddenly, startling Silay. “If Sojan planned the attack--” she looked at Olivia, who finished the thought.

            “We believe they were also the ones who arranged to have the Wardstone stolen, yes.”

            Riya glanced at Edo. “You’ve been pushed far enough this journey. No need to get your hands dirty. I’ll do the spell.”

            Edo looked up, and Silay could see the relief in his eyes. “Do you know how?”

            Riya nodded. “Had truth spells done on me enough times. I know how they work.”

            She walked around the table to Oliva, who sat down. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

            Olivia nodded. “If Sojan is trying to force Ohincink into an false alliance, we need to be able to work together. And that means trusting each other.”

            “All right, then.” Riya reached out and touched the wound. The scent of magic filled the air as she used the blood to trace a shape on Olivia’s palm. Olivia sighed and leaned back in the chair, her eyes half closed.

Riya placed her hands around Olivia’s. “What was your position in Griffin when the attack on Sojan occurred?”

“I was a member of the Council and Head of Defense.”

“Would you have been aware of any plans to attack Sojan?”

“Yes. I would have been in charge of any such plans.”

Silay, along with the rest of the table, sat in attentive silence. Riya continued her questioning.

“Do you swear that Griffin had no involvement with the attack on Sojan?”

“I swear it.”

Riya glanced at Edo. “What else should I ask?”

“Ask what proof they have that the attack was staged by Sojan.”

Riya nodded, and turned back to Olivia. “You said you had evidence that the attack was staged by Sojan. Explain.”

“Sojan had connections to the mercenary group that attacked. It was the group they would hire when their Merchants’ Guild had trouble with trade in other countries.”

“You can prove this?”           

“We have documents showing that Sojan had hired them before.”

“And the theft of the Wardstone?”

“Our Spy Guild noticed Sojan reaching out to Kade, a well known thief-for-hire in the months leading up to the attack. We didn’t realize why until later.”

Was it Silay’s imagination, or had Riya flinched at the mention of Kade?

Riya raised an eyebrow. “Spy Guild?”

“Ahem!” Everyone jumped when the older man next to Olivia cleared his throat. “I believe that is enough questions?”

Riya looked at Edo, who nodded. Then she swiftly drew a line across the symbol in Olivia’s hand.

The woman blinked and sat up. “Were your questions answered?”

“They were.”

“Good.” Olivia dipped a cloth napkin into her water cup and used it to wipe off her hand.

Returning to her seat, Riya did the same. Jarlen leaned over and whispered something to her, but the only word Silay heard was ‘disinfectant’. Riya rolled her eyes, but nodded.

Olivia looked at the group. “Thank you all for your patience. Your friends from Dagrosa should arrive in a few days. In the meantime, we have prepared rooms for you at the inn. I think everyone here could use a good night’s sleep.”


There were murmurs of agreement, and Olivia led them out of the Council House and to the inn.
Check back Wednesday for the Chapter 12 Epilogue!