Authors: David Gaider
Tags: #Magic, #Insurgency, #Fantasy Fiction, #Dragons, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Imaginary Wars and Battles, #Epic, #Media Tie-In
But they didn't have all the facts, did they? As Rhys stood there in the commons, watching the crowd roil in its discontent like a sea before the storm, he felt only guilt. He was keeping a secret, from the templars as well as his fellow mages. He couldn't tell anyone the truth, and the chances he would be able to do anything about it were looking slim.
Adrian marched over to him, already working up another head of steam. What was this, now? Her third wind? The talk in the commons had gone around in circles, and it was no closer to going somewhere productive now— though that certainly wasn't for lack of Adrian's effort. "Aren't you going to
something?" she snapped.
He grinned at her. "I am doing something. I'm watching."
"Do something else!"
"Dearest Adrian," he chuckled. "What would you have me do, exactly? You seem to have the outrage covered. It's taxing just to watch you."
He tried to take her by the shoulders, calm her before she did something rash, but she pulled away with a resentful look. "Don't give me that. You know as well as I do they'll listen to you before they'll listen to me. They always have."
"That's not true," he demurred. But it wasn't entirely false, either. Some of the younger enchanters had approached him already, probing with hopeful questions. Others were watching their exchange even now. They were waiting for him. He could see it in their eyes. It was an uncomfortable feeling.
"The First Enchanter is doing nothing," she said, just loudly enough for the man to overhear. Edmonde stood not far away, gazing listlessly out a window. He'd spoken to no one, and his only reaction to Adrian's statement was to close his eyes with a pained expression. Rhys felt badly for the man and the position this entire affair had placed him in. Couldn't she see that? Rhys raised a hand to urge her to keep her voice down, but she knocked it out of the way. "The other senior enchanters are no better.
can do something, Rhys. Take charge!"
It was always the same demand. Adrian was headstrong and thus made enemies. Rhys was more charming, she said, and thus better liked. He could get her point across to those who wouldn't listen, despite his protests that this would put him in the same position as she was in. "That's not going to help," he told her.
She sighed bitterly, her shoulders sagging. It was just one more time he'd disappointed her, after all. Adrian had been his friend for a long time— in fact, for a while they'd been more than friends, as much more as their life within the confines of the Circle would allow. But he would never be the leader she expected him to be, and so friendship was all they were left with.
"At least tell everyone about the murders," she muttered. "You know they're dying of curiosity, and I didn't even get
far with the Seeker. Pompous, arrogant bastard that he is."
Rhys hesitated. The murders were the very last thing he wanted to talk about. It turned out that he didn't need to make a decision regarding that anyhow, as a moment later several guards entered the commons and ordered everyone to retire to their chambers. He wasn't surprised. In normal circumstances Rhys and Adrian would be in the dungeons by now, along with anyone else who'd so much as greeted Jeannot in passing. Thankfully, the templars weren't interested in provoking the mages further.
Adrian, of course, felt no compulsion to return the favor. Rhys saw outrage flash in her eyes, and waited for the inevitable scene to follow. Thankfully, the First Enchanter chose that moment to intervene. Edmonde turned from his window and quietly suggested everyone do as the guards asked. Tomorrow would be another day. That took the wind out of Adrian's sails, and slowly everyone in the commons dispersed.
Rhys was relieved. This might give him the chance he was waiting for.
He spent the next several hours in his chambers, staring up at the ceiling from his cot. Occasionally he heard the footsteps of guards passing his door. It was fortunate that senior enchanters got their own rooms. As spartan as they were, they allowed privacy the dormitories didn't. One could sneak out of a dormitory easily enough— apprentices did it all the time— but not without being seen by others sharing the room. Where Rhys needed to go, he had to be absolutely certain nobody else knew about it.
By the middle of the night, an utter stillness had crept over the tower. There had been no footsteps for well over an hour.
It's now or never,
he told himself. Slowly, he sat up in the darkness, listening intently for the slightest shuffle outside that might indicate a sentry. Nothing.
Feeling around blindly, Rhys found his staff leaning against the wall. The wood felt warm to his touch, awakening from its slumber. The crystalline orb greeted him with a soft glow that filled the room, but Rhys darkened it again with a wave of his hand. Light was the last thing he needed.
Then he jumped. Something in the room had moved, just as the light went out. Steeling himself, he willed the staff to glow once more— and sighed when he realized it was only his reflection coming from the ornate standing mirror in the corner. A gift from Adrian, something she'd bought for him years ago when outings into the city had still been permitted. "You can admire yourself in it," she'd laughed, and she so rarely laughed that he couldn't refuse. It was the one extravagant thing he owned, however, and he still wasn't used to its presence. Peevishly, he wanted to kick it over.
Calm down, you idiot, or you'll do the templars' work for them
. He allowed himself to chuckle, and the fear drained out of him a little. The emptiness that remained left him shaky and feeling more than a little foolish.
Rhys darkened the staff again and crept toward the door. He worked the latch, trying to press it slowly, and was rewarded when the door cracked open with only the softest click. He peered out into the hall. A glowlamp was hung by the central staircase, but that was quite far away. Everything nearer was swallowed up in shadow. There was no one in sight, but that was difficult to trust.
Gathering his magic, he reached his mind across the Veil and summoned a spirit through. It was tiny, a wisp of a creature with barely any consciousness to call its own. The shimmering orb hovered over the palm of his hand, its magical hum tickling the hairs on the back of his neck.
"I need you to be quiet," he whispered. "You can do that, can't you?"
The wisp bobbed excitedly and dimmed. He barely even saw it now. Tossing it up into the air, he sensed its excitement as it floated out into the commons. Even such a small spirit took great joy in coming into the real world. They found the oddest things of endless fascination: a wooden chair, a piece of steak, a feather. Left to its own devices, a wisp would bob around random objects for hours, making strange trilling noises as it explored its environment.
The templars frowned on the use of even such benign spirits, although it was not strictly forbidden. The best healers, after all, summoned spirits of compassion to assist them. Such spirits did not linger and immediately returned whence they came, but the Chantry looked upon any who had the talent to contact them with suspicion— such as himself. Still, it had its uses.
Rhys waited. Just as he was beginning to fear the wisp had become distracted, he sensed its return. It came to rest on his open palm, emitting an odd set of excited sounds. He closed his eyes and tried to gather what impressions he could from its memory. The first images he saw were confused, and made it seem like the commons was filled with a dozen or more templars. Then he realized it had been looking at the statues, and couldn't tell the difference. Typical.
But one of the figures had moved. He focused on that one sighting and received enough impressions from the wisp to figure it out. A sentry on the far side of the staircase. The hall was being watched after all.
"I need you to do one more favor for me," he quietly asked it. The wisp floated off his hand, already quivering with anticipation. "I need you to lead the man away. It doesn't matter where. Just a few minutes and you're free to return to the Fade."
It was a fairly complex command. The wisp twirled in place, shimmering slightly as it considered, and then floated off once again. Within minutes, Rhys heard a muted swear from the unseen guard. Footsteps followed, heading down the stairs at a rapid pace. Good. That would give Rhys the time he needed.
Slipping out into the hall, he turned not toward the staircase but toward the darker part of the commons. A tiny storage room lay hidden next to the dormitories. He crept there as quietly as he could, letting himself inside.
It was pitch black within, the air thick with the stench of stale smoke. He stifled a cough and willed his staff to glow. The light revealed a room barely deeper than his arm could reach, lined on both sides by rickety shelves filled near to bursting with the things the Tranquil used to ser vice the mages' chambers. There was also evidence that the apprentices frequented this storage room: the floor was a mess of breadcrumbs, ashes left by illicit kohl pipes, and depleted glowstones.
Funny, then, that the apprentices hadn't discovered the loose stone on the back wall. If they had, they would have realized they didn't need to hole up in a closet. Pressing the stone opened a hatch, and that led to a crawlspace beyond. From there, one could climb unseen past the kitchens and into the tower's underground levels. There were many such passages in the White Spire; the few mages who knew about them guarded their secret jealously, lest the templars seal them up.
The next hour was spent crawling through interminable darkness and dust to find his way. Near the kitchens he had to shuffle between the walls, trying not to choke on the fetid air. Then the crawlspace finally turned into an exceedingly steep staircase. He could stand, but the walls were so narrow he could barely squeeze through. Everything felt closed in. Stifling. Suffocating.
His relief was palpable when he finally felt the air change. He knew the stairs led to an open chamber below, a room that belonged to one of many unused portions of the lower floors, and he was getting close. Rhys eagerly made his way down— too eagerly, in fact. One of the last steps crumbled under his weight, and with a cry of alarm he pitched forward.
The staff flew out of his hands, its light winking out as it landed below with a clatter, and he was not far behind. Trying to slow his descent by clutching at the walls, he only managed to make his fall more awkward. He twisted and bumped, smacked his head against the wall, and then finally met the ground at full force.
Rhys lay there in the darkness, getting used to the pain. There was a lot of it, sharp and throbbing. Slowly he tested the extent of his injuries. Hand flexed fine. His feet moved. Nothing was broken, though his body begged to differ. A relief, to be sure.
There were no sounds of footsteps, nothing to indicate someone had heard his fall and come to investigate. That wasn't surprising. This place wasn't far from the dungeons, but the way sound traveled in the Pit, it was unlikely someone could find the source even if they overheard it. The guards didn't generally roam this far anyhow, but there was always a first time.
Groaning, Rhys pulled himself to his knees. He felt around for his staff . His hands encountered dust, dust, and more dust. There were loose stones, as well, and rotten pieces of wood. Once this might have been a storage room, although how long ago was anyone's guess. There were a few ancient crates and barrels, long empty and now just purchase for spider webs. Was there still a stool? Some intrepid mage had brought one down ages ago, but it wasn't safe to sit on any longer.
Finally he found his staff . Closing his hand around it, he willed the orb to shine . . . and gasped in shock. Someone was in the room with him.
A young man sat on his haunches not five feet away, staring with haunted eyes from under a mop of unkempt blond hair. He was clearly neither a mage nor a templar, dressed in worn leathers near covered in dust and grime, and hadn't seen a bath in ages. There was a furtive tension to the way he crouched, like a cellar rat caught out in the open— paralyzed by fear and yet desperate to run.
"Cole," Rhys breathed, taking deep breaths to slow his racing heart. "You scared the life near out of me!"
The young man bit his lower lip, squirming uncomfortably. "I haven't seen you in a long time," he said. His voice had a raspy quality, no doubt from lack of use. "I thought you'd forgotten."
"I haven't forgotten. I told you it was becoming more difficult to get away, didn't I?" Rhys stood up carefully. He brushed off some of the filth, frowning at the tears and bruises that would be more difficult to explain later. Then he stopped, remembering the reason he had gone through all this effort in the first place. He turned to look at Cole, wary of just how he should broach the subject. The young man was nervous enough as it was.
"There are some things I need to ask you about," he began. "Important things."