Read Asunder Online

Authors: David Gaider

Tags: #Magic, #Insurgency, #Fantasy Fiction, #Dragons, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Imaginary Wars and Battles, #Epic, #Media Tie-In

Asunder (10 page)

BOOK: Asunder
4.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

            Cole considered the idea. For over a minute he idly drew lines in the dusty floor, frowning. "They didn't see me," he finally said. "Nobody can see me, except for you. And the ones I . . ."

            "The ones you killed."

            Cole nodded.

            "Was that why you killed them? You thought they would tell the templars?"

            "No. They didn't see me until I went to them. But I knew they would." Cole chewed his lip, an expression that Rhys had seen before whenever the man was trying to put a difficult thought into words. "Have you ever been underwater?" he finally asked.

            "Of course."

            “There's a pool in one of the lower halls. I go there sometimes." He seemed lost in thought. "You can float when you're underwater. If you close your eyes, it's like you're floating in nothing. You're surrounded by darkness, and all you can hear is yourself. Everything else is far away."

            "I don't understand."

            Cole sighed in frustration. "Sometimes I feel like I'm underwater, and I won't ever get out again. I just keep sinking and sinking, and there's no bottom. The darkness is going to swallow me up." He stared at the floor, embarrassed. "I'm falling into the cracks between what's real and what's not real, and if I don't stop myself I'll be lost there forever. The only way I can stay is to . . ."

            Rhys backed away. Just a step. He didn't mean to do it, but Cole noticed nonetheless. The grief that twisted on his face at that realization was difficult to watch. Rhys found himself torn between fear and concern. He liked Cole, and always had, but it was too difficult to reconcile the harmless young man he knew and a murderer who had stabbed six helpless mages in the heart. "The only way you can stay," he said, his voice small and strained, "is to kill someone?"

            "I know they'll see me," Cole whispered. "I don't know why, but I do. So I go to them. The moment they die, they look at me. They know I'm the one that's killed them, and that makes me the most important thing in the world." His face became wracked with grief again. "I've never been that important to anyone." The words came out as a hoarse croak.

            "And . . . being important makes you real?"

            Cole looked up at him with wide, uncomprehending eyes. "Doesn't it do that for you?"

            Rhys didn't know how to respond. There was a more important question that lingered in the back of his mind: Would Cole kill him, too? He could see the man, after all, just like his victims. If Cole became convinced that killing Rhys would somehow make him real, wouldn't he do it? As much as Rhys wanted to help this young man, it was becoming clear he was delusional. He was beyond help.

            "Cole," Rhys said firmly. "You have to listen to me. You're not going to disappear. Murdering innocent people isn't going to change anything."

            "You don't know that. You once said you had no idea what was wrong with me."

            Rhys stepped forward and grabbed Cole by the shoulders, lifting him to his feet. The young man's eyes went wide in shock, but he didn't struggle. "Cole, you have no idea what kind of trouble this has caused. Not just for me, but for all of us. They think a blood mage has been killing everyone. You
to come with me."

            "No!" Cole struggled to break free, but Rhys held him.

            "We have to
them see you! Tell them what ever happened to you is affecting your mind, that it's not your fault. I don't know, something! This is the only way you're ever going to get help, Cole!"

            "They can't help me!" He twisted out of Rhys's grasp, quickly retreating to the far wall. "They won't!" His look was one of abject terror and betrayal.

            Rhys hesitated. Of course Cole was right. Even if the templars could be made to see him and not forget, they wouldn't help. Chances are they'd consider him someone who'd fallen under the sway of a demon. The mages, meanwhile, would see someone who had murdered six of their fellows . . . and Rhys wasn't sure he should try to convince them otherwise. Cole was sick. He killed people in order to help himself. Didn't that deserve punishment?

            He put up his hands to forestall Cole from running. "You can't keep doing this," he warned. "One way or another, this has to stop."

            "Please," Cole sobbed. He looked so agonized it was difficult not to feel sorry for him. "I never meant to make you angry. I don't want you to stop talking to me, too."

            "Then come with me."

            "I can't!" Cole darted toward the door. Rhys lunged, but with one hand holding his staff he could only grab on to the edge of Cole's leather jerkin with the other. It wasn't enough, and he almost toppled over as Cole escaped into the dark hallway outside.

            "Blast!" He didn't want it to be like this. He ran after Cole and stopped just outside. His staff illuminated a passage that went straight ahead, as well as winding stairs to the right. If he remembered correctly, ahead eventually led to the dungeons, but the stairs went deeper into the Pit. Down below, there was a labyrinth of old corridors that included the templar crypts. He couldn't see which way Cole had run, and the echoes of the man's footsteps came from everywhere.

            Rhys raced down the stairs. There would be templars at the dungeons, and while they wouldn't see Cole, he doubted that would make a difference. He took the steps two and three at a time, careening off the stone walls each time the stairs turned. Part of him feared taking another tumble, a more serious one this time, but he didn't care.

            Finally he got to the bottom. Within moments he caught a glimpse of the young man in the distance, running as fast as he could. "Stop!" He channeled mana through his staff , unleashing a bolt of white energy that lanced down the corridor. It struck the wall near Cole, causing the stone to explode with a crack of thunder. Rocks flew everywhere.

            He heard Cole cry out in fear. Rhys covered his mouth, coughing at the deluge of fresh dust, but kept running. He found the young man cowering near a pile of loose stones, with smaller ones still crumbling from the ceiling. He was filthy but otherwise unhurt. Good. Rhys hadn't intended to kill him.

            "Cole, don't make me do this," he shouted as he drew close, trying to catch his breath. "You have to come with me. There’s no other choice!"

            Then he slowed to a halt. Cole wasn't cowering. He was crouched low to the ground, eyes glinting dangerously. In his hands was a dagger with a jagged blade, a killing weapon. And it was clear he knew how to use it.

            "I don't want to hurt you," Cole warned, his voice low and threatening.

            They locked eyes, neither willing to give. It made Rhys angry, to think of all the time he had spent worrying about this young man, only to discover he was a wolf in sheep's clothing. Even if Cole had never claimed to be anything else, Rhys still felt betrayed.

            "Why not?" he snapped. "I can see you. Won't killing me make you more real?" He may as well have slapped Cole across the face, considering how the man flinched at his accusing tone. Rhys didn't regret it. He was done with coddling. "This is your last chance." The orb on his staff crackled with white energy.

            Cole's eyes narrowed, and for just a moment Rhys thought he might attack. Then he suddenly leapt in the opposite direction. Startled, Rhys unleashed a blast from his staff , but Cole nimbly dodged to the side and it missed its mark. More rocks flew, spreading an even thicker cloud of dust, and Rhys staggered back, coughing.

            When he recovered, wiping his eyes, Cole was gone. Grit trailed down from large cracks in the ceiling. He would have to be more careful— the last thing he wanted to do was cause a collapse down here. He wasn't going to stop, however. While Rhys loathed the idea of bringing anyone to the templars, this had to be done. The only way to prove that the murders weren't done by mages was to have Cole in hand and pray to the Maker the young man's strange ability wouldn't mean they'd forget he'd done so five minutes later.

            Steeling his nerves, Rhys rushed through the cloud and chased after Cole. He held his staff in front of him, already channeling mana into it. He wasn't going to miss again.



            Evangeline felt exhausted. Had she stayed asleep in her chambers like she'd planned, then she wouldn't have discovered Enchanter Rhys missing from his quarters. Not knowing would have absolved her of any responsibility to act, and chances were the mage would have been back in the morning with nobody the wiser. She knew very well how the mages snuck around this tower. Like rats they managed to sniffout every dark corner and secret passage where they could find some privacy. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't consider this an issue.

            But these weren't normal circumstances, and she did know. One last check on the sentry she'd posted in the mages' commons and then she'd rest— that's what she'd told herself. The man at first had stammered and insisted he hadn't left his post, which of course meant he had. He tried to sound dismissive when he mentioned the light he'd seen on the stairs, someone carrying a torch, or so he thought. She knew right away what had happened.

            After so many years of watching over their charges, one would think templars would be used to the idea that mages could use their spells to do more than fling lightning bolts. Evidently imagination wasn't something the order could train. Considering Enchanter Rhys possessed a facility with spirits, it wasn't difficult to piece together who was responsible.

            So now she followed First Enchanter Edmonde up the long flight of stairs that led to the phylactery chamber. He lit the way with his staff , although the shadows still pressed in from all sides. The old mage stumbled on every second step, stopping to wipe the bleary fatigue from his eyes. She sympathized, but they had little alternative.

            It wasn't long before the stairs finally opened onto a foyer. A single stone room, holding only a massive vault. The door was an elaborate mechanism of dwarven construction, a series of interlocking circles made of brass and steel and other alloys Evangeline couldn't begin to name— strong enough to withstand even the most concerted magical attack. The entire tower could be brought crashing to the ground and it would remain intact. Everything inside would be destroyed, of course, which made her wonder why they hadn't put it underground instead. She imagined the order liked to keep the phylacteries high out of reach from the mages, like a shiny bauble dangled over a desperate child's head.

            On each side of the vault door a glass plate shimmered with a faint reddish glow. Two keys for entry: one for a templar and one for a mage. That was the only way inside, as dictated since the Circle's inception.

            A guard in templar armor stood in front of the vault, his posture so erect there was little doubt he'd been asleep only moments before. "Knight- Captain!" he saluted smartly. It deserved a reprimand, but this
the most boring post in the entire tower. It hadn't even required a guard until after the Kirkwall rebellion; Knight- Commander Eron decided prudence demanded it. One wouldn't normally expect the chamber to be needed in the middle of the night, even so. The guard's lucky day, she supposed.

            "Hard at work, I see?" she said as she approached.

            "Yes, ser!" The guard blinked hard, a sheen of sweat on his forehead. He had the soft face of one noble- born, some second or third son from a forgotten corner of the Empire who no doubt despised the fact that rising within the order wasn't as easy as he'd hoped.

            "Stand aside." She waved her hand at him irritably; he almost yelped as he scrambled out of her way. She turned to the First Enchanter beside her. "Shall we?"

            The mage looked almost as if he'd topple over from exhaustion. "Is this really necessary, Ser Evangeline?"

            "One of your people is missing, the night after an attempt on the Divine's life. It was also not long after we questioned him regarding the murders. I think that warrants suspicion, don't you?"

            "Questioned, but not accused."

            "If you prefer, we can wake Lord Seeker Lambert and ask for his opinion."

            The First Enchanter's shoulders sank. Letting out a laborious sigh, he shuffled over to the plate on one side of the vault and placed his hand on it. The red light reacted to his touch, shifting and swirling until it became blue. Nodding, she strode to the other, removing her gauntlet and touching her bare hand to it. She channeled power through her skin; it tingled as the plate slowly changed to blue as well.

            The vault began to shudder, letting out a resounding groan that echoed throughout the chamber. Gears turned, and the metallic circles that were part of the door began to slide in different directions. She watched, fascinated, as each layer slowly lined up one by one . . . until the lock emitted one final clank and was done. A small panel in the center of the door slid open, revealing a handle.

            She marched over to it, waving at the gawking templar to stand back, and pulled. The entire door opened far more easily than its weight suggested, making so little sound its great hinges might have been oiled yesterday rather than centuries ago. Those dwarves certainly knew their business.

BOOK: Asunder
4.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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