Authors: David Gaider
Tags: #Magic, #Insurgency, #Fantasy Fiction, #Dragons, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Imaginary Wars and Battles, #Epic, #Media Tie-In
She took the hand of a curtsying elderly woman in an elegant bronze dress, and the woman practically shook as she lifted her mask and kissed the Divine's rings. Smiling gently, the Divine walked forward into the crowd; they parted readily before her. They practically recoiled, in fact, and Evangeline pictured them as a sea of hissing serpents despite all the wigs and fancy dresses.
Belatedly, she remembered her purpose and edged closer to fall in behind the Divine. Her eyes scanned over the crowd, which kept its distance even as it pressed in. Despite the horror behind those masks, it was easy to tell their curiosity had been piqued. An advantage, perhaps, of having a younger woman wearing the holy mantle?
"We should not allow fear to cloud our reason," the Divine continued. "We must remember all of those who have defended us in the evil times of ages past, who allowed us our prosperity through their sacrifice. We owe them a debt, and yet we have been shamefully forgetful of that fact."
The Divine paused dramatically, her eyes scanning over the hushed audience. "I speak of mages. The Chant of Light says, 'Magic exists to serve mankind, and not to rule over him.' And so it has been. The mages have served us well, in many wars over many centuries, yet in times of peace how well have we served them? We mean them no harm, yet have we not harmed them even so?"
"You lie!" The cry rang out from the crowd. For a moment, it seemed as if nobody was sure who had spoken. There was a murmur of shock, and quickly the nobles parted once again as a new man stepped forward. He looked no different than many of the other noble guests, a balding yet distinguished- looking gentleman in a black velvet surcoat. When he tore off his mask, however, it revealed a face twisted by grief and rage.
"You mean us every harm! It's the Chantry that teaches them to fear us!" he continued. "You keep us under your thumb, reminding us again and again how you let us live only because we're
The people on the floor continued to back away, giving the man a wide berth until he stood practically alone with the Divine, Evangeline only a few steps behind. She placed a hand on the hilt of her sword. If this man was a mage as he claimed, that meant he was dangerous. If she drew her blade, or if the guards outside clued in to the disturbance, then the Divine's life could be placed in jeopardy.
To her credit, the Divine remained calm, raising her hands in supplication to the crowd. "Please, everyone," she called out. "There is no need to be frightened. There are better ways to get an audience, I'll grant you, but I'll happily hear this man speak."
The audience twittered nervously, not entirely convinced. Neither was the mage. "You'll hear me speak? You've disbanded the College of Enchanters, silenced our leaders! You've done anything
listen to us!"
"I am listening," she replied, "but order must be kept; surely you realize that. If there is to be peace, it cannot be accomplished through threats and demands. The lives of many more than just the mages are at stake."
Evangeline watched the mage carefully. The man shouldn't be here. From his words, he belonged to a Circle— perhaps even the White Spire, though she didn't recognize him— but he had clearly escaped his templar watchers to come. She doubted it was merely for a chat.
He was trembling, seemingly only moments away from breaking down into tears— yet his fists remained tightly clenched at his sides. "We see no peace being accomplished," he spat. "If Kirk wall was any example, it showed us that nothing will be accomplished unless we fight for it."
With that he raised his hands, and bright red power began to coalesce around them. The chamber filled with an electric charge that tickled the skin, a thrumming that reverberated deep in one's skull. Magic. The dam that had kept the crowd's panic at bay suddenly broke. People screamed in alarm, and some began to rush to the ballroom doors. They pushed down whoever was in their way, trampling them if need be, and the panic gave way to cries of terror.
Evangeline leapt in front of the Divine. In a flash she drew her sword and brandished it at the man. Their eyes locked: templar and mage, the oldest of enemies. "Stand down," she warned him. "You know what I can do. There is no need for this to end in blood."
He let out a sound that was half laugh, half desperate sob. "And where else should it end? I'm dead already."
The mage extended his hands, a wide arc of flame bursting forth, but Evangeline was already moving. "Get back, Your Eminence!" she cried, hoping the Divine would hear. She charged into the path of the fire, feeling the heat of it lick against her cheeks, and brought her sword down onto his chest.
She had power of her own, the same power that all templars shared. It was a power the mages feared. As the blade struck him she channeled it forth, feeling it surge through her and into her weapon. There was a bright flash as the mage's flow of mana was disrupted, his flames guttering to a halt.
"Bitch!" he cried, staggering back. There was blood where his surcoat was rent. He ran his fingers in it, staring at the blood as if shocked to see it there. Then he looked at Evangeline, his face twisting into blind hate.
She rushed at the mage, realizing what he was about to do, but it was too late. The blood on his hands sizzled and evaporated as he drew mana directly from it. The blood on his chest smoked, and his eyes burned with a dark and evil power.
Evangeline felt the wave of force hitting her before she reached him. She attempted to raise her aura of protection, but the magic shattered it as if it were thin glass. It knocked the breath out of her, and she felt herself flying back through the air. She crashed to the marble floor, tumbling end over end as she slid. Her head hit something hard.
She lie there, the world spinning dizzily around her as she tried to push herself up. Her arms didn't seem to want to cooperate. The screams in the ballroom were deafening, seeming to come from everywhere at once. She could also hear the shouts of the guards trying to get inside, but there were too many nobles trying to push past them. Somewhere behind her the priests were shouting, begging the Divine to run.
Evangeline felt the blast of heat before the flames struck her. She only barely managed to summon her aura once again, and this time it held. Even so, it buckled under the assault, and the pain as the flames seared her skin was agonizing. She screamed. Her vision dimmed, and she felt the last vestiges of power inside her ebbing away.
It might have been a moment or an hour later when Evangeline reopened her eyes, she wasn't sure. She was crouched low on the floor, her blistered hands covering her head. Her sword was gone. She must have dropped it in the fall. The air was filled with the acrid smell of smoke— something in the ballroom had caught fire, and it was quickly spreading. The panic had redoubled, reaching a fever pitch as the guests tried to get out in what ever manner they could. Someone threw a chair through one of the vaulted windows, and it shattered with a resounding crash.
Then she looked up. She saw a pair of black boots. They belonged to the mage, and he was walking toward the Divine. Her headdress had fallen off, but her red robes were unmistakable even through the haze. She had retreated to the far side of the ballroom, backed against the wall like a cornered animal. She watched the mage approach her warily, refusing to give in to terror as everyone else had.
Evangeline saw the mage hold up his fist, power forming around it. "They already fear us," he snarled. "Now let them have a reason."
With a great cry, Evangeline pushed herself up. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she lunged toward the mage and just barely caught his surcoat. As she yanked him back, he attempted to twist around. Flailing hands sent a gout of flame hurtling upward. For a single moment it seemed as if the entire ceiling was awash in ribbons of red and black, a sea of fire that roiled and bubbled as it spread.
She threw the mage down to the floor, hard. He snarled at her, attempting to push her away. One of his hands caught her face and she felt his fingers digging into an eye, but she refused to be dislodged.
Her gauntleted fist came down on his face— once, twice, three times . . . and then something made a cracking sound. She stopped. The ballroom was still aflame, but none of it was the mage's any longer. He was still, his features twisted in a mess of blood, vacant eyes staring up at her in silent accusation.
And then everything went black.
When Evangeline came to, she found herself seated on the floor of the terrace just outside the ballroom. Normally it was where the palace's guests might have come to take in the evening air, a place of tranquility, but at the moment it was pure chaos. Swarms of people milled about, some weeping on the ground, some shouting. A noblewoman in a tattered dress wandered nearby, close to hysterics as she called out a man's name. A fat nobleman sat on the ground nearby, his expensive surcoat blackened with blood as a guardsman tried to tend his wounds. In the distance she could spot the city guard running into and out of the palace, desperate to restore order.
How long had she been out here? Was the Divine safe? It was all too much to take in, the confusion flowing around her in a sea of random voices. She tried to get to her feet, but the pain slammed into her like a fist. Gritting her teeth, she eased back down and tried to maintain consciousness.
Smoke billowed out from the palace windows, and only now the fire brigade arrived with buckets in hand. With any luck they would get the flames under control before half the palace burned down. If that happened, the Empress might be less than impressed when she returned from Halamshiral.
That was, Evangeline reminded herself, if the Empress wasn't somehow involved in the attack. Her absence the very night a mage slips into the palace to attack the Divine seemed more than coincidental. If that were the case, there was little the templars could do about it. If it wasn't, someone would pay.
She was wracked by a spasm of coughing, and her vision blurred. "Are you all right, Knight- Captain?" someone asked her.
It took several blinks before she recognized Leliana, the red- haired woman she'd spoken to earlier. She knelt down next to Evangeline, a look of sincere concern on her face. "What?" Evangeline responded dumbly, feeling as if a fog seeped through her mind. She rubbed her forehead, and only belatedly noticed the blisters on her hands were gone. Her skin was whole.
Leliana smiled, reassured. "There are mages here now. I had one of them heal you, but there will still be pain. You inhaled a great deal of smoke, I think. I was worried . . ."
"I'm fine. Thank you." Evangeline shook her head. The shouts around her were much clearer now, like the world was coming into focus. "The Divine . . . she wasn't hurt, was she? Did she get out?"
"She did. She's been taken to safety." Evangeline breathed a sigh of relief. One less thing to worry about, then. "I want to thank you," Leliana said. "I should have been here. If something had happened to Justinia while I was away, I would never have forgiven myself."
"Her Eminence is extremely grateful as well, I want you to know that. If there is ever anything you need . . ."
Evangeline nodded, but couldn't bring herself to do more. Satisfied, Leliana squeezed her shoulder and then left. Already more templars were arriving. Order was being restored. Taking a deep breath, she got to her feet and straightened her armor. Despite the healing magic, it still felt as if her bones were covered in bruises and her lungs filled with soot.
Magic can't do everything,
she reminded herself.
Rhys sat in the Knight- Commander's antechamber, waiting for
the inevitable summons into his private office. It was a bare room of grey stone, furnished only with a pair of wooden chairs, little to recommend it beyond the enormous bay window that dominated the far wall. From there one could look down at the entirety of Val Royeaux, even as far as the port district at the sea's edge. It was a spectacular view of the capital, one that few mages got to see; they were rarely invited into the upper levels of the White Spire— unless something had gone wrong, of course.
Which it had. None of the templars would actually say what had happened, but their grim faces spoke volumes. There had been another murder.
He glanced over at Adrian, grinning as she stormed from one end of the small room to the other. Back and forth, back and forth, like she was just getting going when a wall balked her and forced her to turn around. Then she would spit angrily and glare at the Knight- Commander's great oaken door, as if willpower alone could command it to open. In all the years they'd served together in the Circle of Magi, he'd never known her to back down from a confrontation, imagined or real. Some people said it wasn't very mage- like of her, a comment that could get her frothing at the mouth.