Written by Aaron McQueen
Illustrated by Jennifer Lange
Copyright May 17th, 2018
This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.
The long night.
They were into the fullness of it now.
Selapak lay behind them, lost in the dark distance. Their humble wagon rumbled into the black. It was as though they had entered a cave. Their tiny stove offered the only lasting light.
Nathanius called a halt to rest the animals.
“We have to stop here.”
“Is it far enough?”
Nathanius examined the empty countryside.
“If it isn’t, there’s nowhere else to run.”
Asterious dismounted and began to dig in the snow.
“There isn’t much brush for wood.”
Nathanius shook his head and looked out into the field. The light of the moon cast a ghostly pall over the endless plain. Shadows were moving in the darkness. His half-elven eyes picked out the dim silhouettes of other refugees in the gloom, fleeing the city in fear and desperation. Some had animals. Some had carts. Most had nothing. They probably wouldn’t make it.
He turned to Asterious.
“There won’t be any fuel. We’re in the middle of the plains, but the stove will be enough to keep us warm.”
He waved him over and they got into the wagon. The others were huddled around the stove. Azarelle’s spell was burning brightly. The iron fixture glowed in the dark.
He turned to Ellyn. She was going through the supplies.
“So, how much food do we have?”
“Not much. As you know, most of the stuff we got from Valis is only good for magic.”
Azarelle chimed in.
“Sorry about that.”
Polly shook her head.
“It’s alright. You were planning to stay, after all.”
Azarelle pointed at a few of the crates.
“Some of those reagents are edible, but they probably won’t taste very good.”
Nathanius went to the pile. They had enough for a maybe a week, if they rationed. He didn’t recognize most of the spell reagents, but one presumed that they had value. It would be better not to eat them. They would be useful for trade once they got to Hane.”
Asterious raised his hand.
“We could try hunting. I could make traps. There’s got to be some kind of wildlife out here. The only problem is you have to give them time to work. It will slow us down.”
Nathanius looked at the others.
“Any other ideas?”
Polly put up her hands.
“Don’t look at me. I’m a city girl.”
Ellyn raised her hand. So did Azarelle.
Nathanius sat down. He looked at Asterious.
“It looks like we’ll be depending on you for a while.”
“We’re all going to die.”
Valis opened his eyes.
Something was wrong. He felt…empty.
The last thing he remembered was being on the roof. Generosity had been killed, blown aside by some strange spell produced by Asterious and the professor.
She’d turned the magic on him…
His eyes snapped open. He was lying in a cold stone chamber. The walls were pure white.
He sat up and looked himself over. The robe he’d taken from Azarelle was gone. His body had been wrapped in linen, and there was a bone amulet dangling from his neck.
He checked his arm. His hand had been reattached.
The door opened and a man came into the room.
He was wearing the uniform of the Tormar chancellery.
Valis squinted. He recognized him. It was General Hightower, the leader of the expeditionary force.
The general came forward.
“They weren’t sure you were going to make it. Whatever magic they used against you seems to unravel the power of the god-angel creatures that brought this tower to the city. Luckily my clerics were able to fill in the gaps.”
“Dead? I’m afraid so.”
“But my mind…”
The general nodded.
“The gods’ magic. It didn’t work at first, something about magic in your blood. Luckily, we were taking it out anyway. After that, they were able to bring you back in a way that preserved your faculties. We don’t know how long it will last, but as long as you keep yourself in one piece, you should have at least a few good years, until the embalming begins to wear.”
Valis looked around. There was no telling how much he knew or didn’t know about his involvement with the gods, but it seemed like Tormar had submitted to his masters.
That wasn’t the plan. Something must have changed.
He turned to Morgan.
“I need a mirror.”
The general put up a hand.
“We’ll get to that, but I warn you…the process is never perfect. Don’t worry, you’re not disfigured, but your pallor is going to be a little…wane.”
“I suppose there are worse fates.”
“Indeed. You could be dead.”
Valis stood up.
“How did you get here?”
“It’s a long story.”
“You were captured?”
“Okay, not that long.”
“What news of the city? Are we prisoners?”
The general shook his head.
“Not precisely, and you can drop the charade. The situation has been explained clearly enough.”
“The city has been secured. Our new benefactors are in control. When it was over they offered the officers and clerics positions in the new order. We saw fit to accept. For the moment the chancellery is supporting the field’s decision. They’ll be sending an envoy in a few weeks.”
“And the Jaspers?”
The general shook his head.
There was a grey robe hanging on a peg driven into to the wall. Valis put it on. Ordinarily he might have felt hungry or thirsty, but in his new…condition, he felt neither. It was an odd feeling, but Morgan was right, it was better than being dead.
“What of Generosity? Did he survive?”
The general shrugged.
“They found the body and took it to some central chamber. That’s all I know.”
“Central chamber? We’re in the tower?”
Morgan crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.
“For the moment. They gathered all the VIPs here. I think they wanted to keep an eye on us. I’m sure when the envoy arrives we’ll be let out and given assignments.”
“How do you feel about all this?”
The general shrugged.
“Meet the new boss. Not quite the same as the old boss.”
“Simple as that?”
Morgan stood up.
“I’m a general in exile. I’ll serve whatever empire feeds me, and while I must say I didn’t appreciate your little subterfuge when I heard of it, in the end it’s all very much the same.”
Valis went to the door.
“We can move about?”
“Only the outer rooms and corridors. There’s no entry to the central chamber without an audience. So far no one has been granted one.”
Valis shook his hand.
“Thank you for your help.”
Valis went out.
Hightower watched as the sorcerer’s form retreated down the long hall. He hated double-agents. Once a man revealed that he was willing to betray, he could never be trusted again.
Valis disappeared around a corner.
Hightower left, returning to his quarters. There was nothing they could do now but wait. These god creatures had their own plans, and Selepak was only the beginning. Clearly Tormar was the next, but could only guess at the gods’ true intentions.
As a general he had always been a keen student of history, but history revealed very little of the beings that once ruled the world; only that they had been brought down by the mortal races in a revolution known as the Iiari. He couldn’t help but wonder what had driven them to revolt, and how it had been accomplished.
He needed answers, and he was unlikely to find them here. There were no libraries on Kalkonu.
There was one thing he knew for certain: the angel Generosity had been brought down, anything that could be injured could be killed, and someone out there already knew how it could be done.
He had to find them.
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