Authors: David Gaider
Tags: #Magic, #Insurgency, #Fantasy Fiction, #Dragons, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Imaginary Wars and Battles, #Epic, #Media Tie-In
"Oh." The way Cole twisted in place, like a guilty child eager to find any excuse to leave but unable to tear himself away, told Rhys everything he needed to know. Cole knew exactly what he was going to ask. He knew and had come to find Rhys anyhow, because he couldn't help himself.
"It's you, isn't it? You're the murderer."
It had been nearly a year since Rhys had first seen Cole.
He remembered the time well, because the White Spire had just received news of the rebellion at Kirkwall. The mages buzzed with fear, templars present in the halls in force. Amidst all that, Rhys caught rare glimpses of a stranger lurking, a young man who wasn't running about like everyone else but instead simply . . . watched. Although this stranger was oddly dressed, Rhys didn't give it much thought. A new apprentice, or a visitor sanctioned by the templars. No one else seemed to pay this stranger much mind, after all, so why should he? Back then strangers weren't a common sight in the tower, but they weren't unheard of.
Later, during a lecture in the great hall, Rhys saw him again. Sitting in the back of the chamber and watching the proceedings with a perplexed expression. The young man seemed entirely out of place, so Rhys turned to Adrian and asked who she thought he might be.
Adrian looked to where he indicated, and frowned. "Who are you talking about? There’s nobody back there."
"Are you sure?"
"Is this a joke? What are
That shut Rhys up. If he was seeing something Adrian didn't, then it was either his imagination . . . or worse. It might be a spirit, or even a demon, and that meant trouble. Still, he was a medium. If this young man was a demon, why didn't he sense him as such?
So Rhys passed it off to Adrian as merely a misunderstanding, half convinced that was the case. Afterward he did some asking around— carefully. Had anyone seen something strange in the tower? Someone who didn't belong? That's when he heard about the Ghost of the Spire.
It was ridiculous, of course. Everything his research had told him said ghosts didn't exist. At best they were spirits masquerading as the dead, or confused. When people died their souls went . . . somewhere. If the Chantry was to be believed, they went to reside with the Maker in some realm beyond the Fade. Even the spirits themselves claimed not to know, if the word of such beings could be relied upon.
Yet these rumors caused him even more concern. So he watched carefully for the young man to reappear, determined to confront him and find out for certain. Like the old saying about watched pots, waiting for a sighting of the young man meant there was suddenly no sign of him anywhere.
So Rhys went down into the Pit to look for him. That's where anyone who mentioned this mysterious ghost agreed it could be found. If it was a spirit, Rhys owed it to his research to find why he couldn't sense it— and owed it to himself to prove that he wasn't being influenced by a rather clever demon.
He looked in the archives. He poked around some of the forgotten areas of the tower, even places that were technically forbidden. Just when he started to suspect the entire thing was his imagination, he had stumbled upon Cole. Or, rather, Cole had stumbled upon him.
Rhys remembered turning a corner and nearly running into the young man standing there, watching him. When Rhys spoke to him, the young man jumped as if struck. The shock of finding someone who could see him had been considerable, evidently, and it took more than a little convincing to calm him down. He'd been drawn by Rhys's search, but never once considered that it might be because Rhys had seen him previously. He'd long ago stopped watching for other people noticing him, because it never happened.
That first conversation was . . . illuminating. According to Cole, he'd been brought in by the templars and thrown in a cell. He didn't remember when, and he didn't remember clearly how he got out— but now he found himself lost in a world that couldn't see him. Rhys had never heard of such a thing. In fact, he had to touch the man to be certain that this was, in fact, a real person.
"How can you be invisible?" he'd asked.
"I don't know."
"But . . . people
seen you. Fleeting glimpses, anyhow. I've heard the stories."
"Sometimes. I don't know why."
Cole's answers were evasive. He was uncomfortable being questioned, and frightened of what Rhys was going to do with the knowledge of his presence. He begged not to be turned over to the templars, to the point of becoming frantic. Rhys had reluctantly agreed— who would believe him, after all, if he said an invisible man was stalking the tower halls? Especially if that man did not want to be seen.
So he left Cole there, promising to return in the future, and didn't understand why the young man's response was silent incredulity until he found him again several days later. At that point, Cole was startled once again. He said he'd managed to get people to notice him before, he could do it if he really tried. But they always forgot about him again soon after. He just slipped their mind completely, and he assumed the same would happen with Rhys.
But it didn't. Rhys kept coming back, at first because he was intrigued by this strange puzzle. If he could figure out what was making Cole invisible, perhaps it could be undone. Perhaps there was something to be learned by this power. Rhys was no scholar, but interesting research had always attracted him— especially if it could help someone.
And Cole needed help. The young man never spoke of it, but it was obvious he was desperately lonely. As much as companionship was strange and frightening to him, the fear was never enough to keep him away. Eventually it stopped being about helping him; Rhys still wanted to find out the truth, of course, but now it was because he liked Cole. The young man was slow to talk, but had a sharp mind and a curious nature. He was also a perfect example of why the Circle didn't work. What if mages had been there to greet his arrival at the tower, with understanding rather than fear and scorn? What if he had been made to realize his talent wasn't terrifying, but unique and fascinating?
So they met as often as Rhys dared. They played card games by the light of a glowlamp, and Cole showed him some of the mysteries he had uncovered in the Pit— things Rhys hadn't even suspected might be down there. They talked about anything, as long as it was inconsequential. Questions about how Cole became like he was, or even the possibility of helping him often led to him withdrawing back into the shadows.
They were discovered exactly once, by a templar guard patrolling the archives. The man came into the room unnoticed, startling them both as they mulled over a chess board. The guard stood there, staring, and then asked if Rhys always played games by himself. Rhys stuttered through an excuse that he was working out strategies, and the guard moved on with a bewildered shake of his head. Until that moment, Rhys had privately wondered if Cole wasn't simply hard to notice, if someone presented with direct evidence would see him normally. But that wasn't so.
And then the College of Enchanters was shut down.
With that came increased scrutiny on every mage in the tower, and thus less opportunity for Rhys to go anywhere without his absence being noted. His visits became infrequent, and when he did come he found Cole withdrawn and listless. The young man was convinced each time that Rhys had forgotten him, despite assurances to the contrary. Afterward he would be sullen, expressing a doubt that if Rhys hadn't forgotten him now, then he no doubt soon would.
So Rhys redoubled his efforts to find an answer. His search in the archives turned up little. He considered broaching the subject with Adrian— but what would she say? What could anyone say? Ignoring the possibility of the templars discovering his secret, what advice could anyone offer regarding someone Rhys couldn't even prove existed? Being unable to help made him feel guilty, as did the notion his visits were making Cole feel worse rather than better.
The last time Rhys came down to the Pit, he had to search for hours to locate Cole. It was unusual, because normally the young man found him first. Rhys dared not call out, instead combing the forgotten corners where Cole lived, half dreading that he might come across a lifeless body.
Eventually he found Cole in the templar crypts, perched atop a massive sarcophagus like a sad raven. The young man seemed unhealthy and pale, like he hadn't slept for weeks. He didn't say hello as Rhys approached, just watched warily, and then asked out of the blue if Rhys thought he was dead.
"You're not dead," Rhys insisted. "You're as real as I am."
not real. You could be a demon sent to torment me."
"Is that what I do? Torment you?"
Haunted eyes. "Yes. No."
Rhys reached up to touch Cole, to reassure him, but the young man only scrambled farther up the sarcophagus. "Leave me alone," he muttered, although it didn't sound convincing.
"Is that what you really want me to do?"
"Cole, come with me. I need to bring you to the First Enchanter,
him see you. We can write things down, so nobody forgets. Then we can get you help. I'm sorry, but I just can't do it on my own."
help?" he asked.
"I don't want anyone to hurt me." Cole was a grown man, but this was the frightened plea of a child. Rhys stood there for a long time, staring helplessly up at him.
"You could leave, you know. You don't have to stay in the tower like I do."
"Where would I go?"
Rhys didn't have a good answer for that.
Nowhere. Anywhere but here. If I were you I would walk past those templars, leave the tower, and go somewhere they could never find me.
But he wasn't Cole. The young man avoided the upper floors of the tower because people frightened him. The city outside the tower was an impossibility, so terrifying in its chaos that he probably couldn't even imagine it. And what sort of life would that be, watching a world bursting full of excitement in which you could only be a spectator?
So Rhys reluctantly left him there, walking out of the crypt with a pair of eyes boring into his back. That was a month ago, and until he'd sat in the Knight- Commander's office today he'd never once made a connection between this sad young man and the murders. The idea that he might be anything more than a victim never even entered his mind.
Now Cole crouched there before him, staring with that same sullen expression as the last time they'd met. Was Rhys in danger? He thought he'd known what this young man was capable of, but he was wrong. More than wrong; he was an idiot. Part of him clung to the notion that there
be an explanation for this.
"Tell me this isn't true," he demanded. "Tell me you didn't actually kill those people, that there's some other explanation."
"Was it blood magic? Were you trying to . . . cure yourself with some ritual you found? Something in the archives?"
Cole looked perplexed. "I don't know any magic."
? Tell me that much."
"I needed to."
"You needed to kill them? How can—" Rhys stopped short, a terrible idea coming to him. "Was it Jeannot? Did he find you, speak to you? Did he tell you to do this?"
"I don't know who that is."
"A mage like me, but older. Less hair. I know he comes down here . . ."
"Does he eat peaches? There’s a man who looks like that who goes to the archives. Sometimes I see him in the crypt, but only when he's talking to the others."
"Others? What others?"
Cole shrugged. "They talk in the dark, about boring things. He leaves peach pits on the floor. That's how I know he goes there."
Rhys thought about it for a moment. Secret meetings in the crypt? If Jeannot was part of that . . . then the Lord Seeker's assumption about there being a conspiracy in the tower might not be far off. A chilling thought. "Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" he asked.
"I didn't know you didn't know. Or that you wanted to."
"Could they have seen you? Maybe they cast a spell to force you to do these things. For all we know, they might be the ones who made you like this in the first place."