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Aerysius, The Rhen
THUNDER RIPPED THE SKY, amplified to a throbbing din by the stone walls that rimmed the square beneath the Hall of the Watchers. Meiran Withersby felt the sound of it physically in her chest. Sheets of rain poured from blackened skies, pounding down on the roof of the cloistered passage above her. She glanced out through the narrow arches that lined the walkway but could make out nothing. Just a thick, choking blackness so complete that it seemed as if a dark pall had been draped down over the entire city, perhaps the entire world. The only light was the dim glow of the lantern that dangled from her fingers.
Lightning crackled, and for the briefest instant Aerysius winked into existence around her and then disappeared again as abruptly. Meiran hastened her pace, wrapping the black cloak she wore more tightly about herself. Her feet moved with a pressing urgency, motivated by more than just the desire to find shelter from the elements.
In her right hand, she fingered a small strip of parchment she’d found on the pillow in her bedchamber. It was written in the same bold script as other, similar notes she had received in the past. The last one had been two years before and had contained an almost identical message: Meet me in the greenhouse. Fourth Watch. There had been no signature; there never was. But Meiran didn’t need one to know who the author must be.
She couldn’t wait to share her secret with him, the one she’d been waiting two long years to whisper in his ear.
Finding that note had filled her with a dizzying thrill of anticipation. Her stomach had been in knots all day; she hadn’t been able to concentrate on the simplest task. She had walked around feeling giddy, catching herself daydreaming at the worst possible moments. She couldn’t help it, even though she knew it was no way for someone of her station to behave. She was, after all, the most powerful Grand Master in all of Aerysius.
She was also a woman in love.
Lightning strobed the sky, followed immediately by a peal of thunder that shook the air. Meiran was almost running now. The wind was at her back, pushing her forward with icy fingers that rippled her cloak out before her. Her dark hair spilled like a fan before her face, whipping at her skin.
She reached the end of the cloister and burst through a massive, iron-shod door. It was not more stone, or even cold marble, that greeted her feet. Instead, Meiran found herself standing on a narrow path within a warm and verdant forest.
There were many greenhouses in Aerysius. Most were used to grow food crops, some for herbs or even flowers. But the enormous structure she found herself within was the duplicate of a northern rainforest. A complete miniature environment filled with ponds and rivers, vegetation and animals.
It was not dark within. Soft magelight glowed from behind stands of trees, filtered up from the ground, filling the forest with a silvery glow. Overhead, rain beat distantly on the shutters that had been drawn over the glass rooftop to protect it from the storm.
As she moved deeper into the forest, it became almost impossible to tell that the environment was artificial. The air was warm and heavy with humidity. Meiran followed the trail along the lakeside to the far shore.
A small meadow confronted her, aglow with silver magelight that moved like mist over the dark blades of grass. As she stepped out onto the spongy lawn, Meiran stopped with a sharp intake of breath.
He was there, at the far end of the meadow. Standing with his back to her.
Heart pounding, she crossed the meadow in quick, soft strides. She was so excited; it was hard not to giggle as she dashed through the swirling tendrils of magelight on the grass. When she reached him, she put out her hand and laid it on the soft fabric of his shoulder, her touch hesitant. Slowly, he turned toward her.
She recoiled her hand in shock.
“Were you expecting someone else?” uttered a cold, malicious voice.
An intense feeling of horror overwhelmed her as Meiran shook her head in confused disbelief. She turned, wanting to run away, but froze instead. The lantern slipped from her limp fingers.
Twin shadows moved toward her over the grass. Not shadows; something much, much worse. As they neared, the dark forms coalesced into shapes that were vaguely human but utterly featureless, like demonic silhouettes.
Meiran tried to scream, but her throat constricted instead. An intense pang of dread spasmed her stomach. The feeling intensified, became choking, immaculate terror. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe.
A shadowy hand rose toward her, dark fingers groping upward to touch her face.
Instinctively, she reached within. Even as she did, she knew the attempt was pointless. There was only silence inside. The constant rhythm of the magic field was absent, as if it had never existed at all. She was powerless against this enemy.
When the chill shadow of the necrator touched her, Meiran collapsed.
Acolyte of Aerysius
The Vale of Amberlie, The Rhen
FOG ROLLED IN OVERHEAD, gray wisps groping with nebulous tendrils across the indigo sky. Darien Lauchlin measured its progress against the jagged slopes of mountain peaks. The fog appeared to move at an impossible rate when viewed against the mountains’ snowy summits. It spread misty fingers across the face of the sun, lending a chill stillness to the air that made the early morning shadows grow even deeper.
It was a strange time of year for such a heavy fog. In Amberlie, late summer days usually dawned clear and bright, redolent with the fragrance of pine and honeysuckle. But this day a chill wind had greeted the graying east, and the air felt heavy with the promise of rain. Another storm was coming, Darien suspected. But what kind of storm, he couldn’t guess. A peculiar storm, both out of place and out of season. He only hoped it wouldn’t arrive today.
Today, he was coming home.
The only thing Darien heard was the sound of his own footsteps as he trudged up the dusty path. His worn-out boots made scuffing noises as he walked; he was too tired to pick up his feet. He squared his shoulders wearily and drew himself up under the weight of his pack. As he did, something inside it clanked as it rattled against the scabbard of the longsword he wore slung across his back. The sound grated on his nerves. Swords were not looked upon favorably here under the shadow of Aerysius.
Ahead, he could see a crossroads. As he drew nearer, the noise of other travelers made it clear that he wasn’t the only person awake in the gray stillness of the morning. The trail topped a low rise, and then he saw them. They came from all directions, every day of the year, to converge at this place. They brought with them their troubles, their sick, their hopes, even their dead, and usually left with nothing. There were many more pilgrims than he remembered.
Darien stepped onto the road in a space between two groups of travelers. The people in front of him seemed one family. The man had the look of a farmer. He was flanked by two boys and a woman who carried a small child in her arms. The babe’s weak cries were heart-rending, as was the sight of the small, blue-tinged face. Darien felt a knot tighten in his stomach, but there was nothing he could do about it. The feeling of frustration was something he had become all too familiar with.
He directed his gaze back at the dirt of the road and tried to ignore the child’s wheezing. Ahead, the forest was thinning out. The sight fed him with hope, and he picked up his pace. Through a break in the trees, he caught sight of a narrow ramp over the riverbed.
Striding forward, he reached out and clutched the mother’s arm in a firm grasp despite her exclamation of surprise. Darien saw her eyes widen in hope as they took in the color of his cloak. Determined, he pulled her along after him as he thrust his weight forward through the press of bodies gathered in front of the gatehouse above the river.
The heavy pack lent him momentum, so they quickly reached the forefront of the throng. Darien glanced around, his eyes falling on the gatekeeper seated behind a small wooden desk. Trudging toward him, Darien insinuated himself at the front of the line.
The man behind the desk stared up at him with unfamiliar features. Darien was mildly surprised; he thought he knew every mage of Aerysius. But the man before him with thinning white hair and a face cobwebbed by wrinkles was unknown to him. Then it dawned on him: the summons. All Masters had been recalled, including some who had never passed beneath the ancient arches since the moment of their Raising.
Name and business,” the old man said in a monotonous tone. His mouth barely moved. It was almost as though he were unused to the most fundamental mechanisms of speech.
Darien took a deep breath before he supplied his name and title. “Darien Lauchlin, Acolyte of Aerysius.”
As he spoke, he pulled back the fabric of his shirtsleeve, exposing the intricate markings that encircled his left wrist, forming what looked like a heavy metallic chain. The emblem was the mark of the Acolyte’s Oath. It symbolized the first vow taken upon acceptance to the Assembly of the Hall. To serve the land and its people. With his life, if possible. If not, then by death.
The man took note of the markings and simply nodded. “You’re late.” He gestured behind him toward the ramp. “Get on your way, boy, and better pray that Emelda goes easy on you.”
Darien suppressed a grimace as he heard that. He’d gotten off to a late start after receiving the summons to return home.
“We have to go.” He applied a slight pressure to the woman’s back. The mage who guarded the gate would have no knowledge of healing; such study was reserved for specific orders, and no Sentinel or Querer would ever condescend to such a lackluster duty.
The gate had a small sally port. As Darien guided the woman and baby through, the crowd surged toward the opening. Immediately, guards stepped forward to press the throng back away from the gate.
They had to step over a slight gap where the ramp ended and a wood platform began. The people already gathered there were forced to shift back to make room. Darien ignored their stares, stepping sideways to position himself against the platform’s railing. He could feel the almost palpable tension of the people that surrounded him, noticing how they backed away from the sight of his cloak.
The woman beside him dropped to her knees, gazing up at him with wide and imploring eyes. Tears spilled freely down her cheeks, her mouth constricting in grief.
“Please,” she begged, offering her child out toward him. “Help us. You can save him. Please. Oh, please.”
Darien could only look down at her helplessly. She had mistaken him for a Master because of the color of his cloak. It was not the first time the error had been made.
“I can’t,” he admitted. “I’m just an acolyte. The only thing I can do is get you up there.”
The woman collapsed forward over the small form in her arms. He knelt down, reaching out to comfort her. But his hand froze an inch away from the tangled mats of her hair. He clenched his fist instead, closing his eyes against a redoubled surge of frustration.
Darien helped the woman regain her feet, steadying her with a hand on her shoulder as he leaned against the platform’s rail. The wood beneath them jolted. There was a sudden wave of panic as feet scrambled for better purchase. Then the entire platform abruptly seemed to take flight, surging backward and up. The gap between the gate and the ramp widened, exposing the swift waters of the river below.
He looked up and saw the ropes that held the platform aloft. Far below by the river, many teams of horses labored in their traces to lift the platform up the cliff. The ground below drew further away and the air took on a slight chill.
He closed his eyes and reached out from within, tasting the flow of the magic field around him. He had to be careful. Though only an acolyte, the wild cyclone of power below Aerysius was violent enough to hurt him. For a Master, such an exercise would be fatal. Which was why the lift relied on horse power until it was well above the surging flux of magic.
There was a sharp jolt. And then the platform sped upward at a dizzying pace. They had passed the point where the vortex ended and magic took over as the means of lifting them up the mountainside.
He looked to the woman beside him and noticed she was hugging the babe so hard that he was afraid she might crush it.
“Can I hold him?”
The woman nodded, offering the bundle out toward him.
Darien received the small life softly into his arms, swaddling the child in the folds of his cloak. He held the babe close against his chest, seeking to revive it with the warmth of his body.
The platform slipped silently into a bank of fog. Then, miraculously, the mist parted and warm sunlight streamed from a brilliant blue sky, revealing the foundations of Aerysius above.
The city was carved from the side of the mountain, etched right into the vertical wall of granite. The spires of Aerysius seemed wrought from millions of glistening crystals, tendril-thin bridges arching between them thousands of feet above the Vale. To Darien, the sight was no less breathtaking than the first time he had seen it, and this time there was added meaning.
He was finally home.
The platform slowed to a stop, halting beside an arching foundation. Above, a waterfall spilled down from the top of a soaring spire, birds diving in and out of the mist created by the spray.
But the sound of the woman sobbing beside him dampened any joy he might have felt over his homecoming. Looking down, Darien saw that the child in his arms lay completely limp. He patted the small body with his hand, trying to prod any type of life out of it. But the babe didn’t stir.
He stood dazed as the woman removed the small bundle from his grasp. Then the gate opened, the crowd shifting toward it. Darien started forward automatically, feeling numb as he gazed down at his empty hands.
♦ ♦ ♦
Aerysius, The Rhen
As he walked through the streets of Aerysius, Darien noticed people staring at him and moving out of his way. He didn’t care. He wasn’t in the mood to care and, besides, he was used to the looks. They plagued him everywhere he went.
He supposed he made an intimidating sight. Wearing the black cloak of Aerysius with the Silver Star emblazoned at his back, the hilt of the longsword thrusting over his shoulder, Darien conveyed a sense of strength and authority that was uncommon even among most mages. It was the contradiction of the star and the sword. Masters of Aerysius swore the Oath of Harmony. They didn’t walk about bearing weapons.
He climbed the wide steps in front of the Hall of the Watchers, passing beneath the ancient arches that stabbed upward into the sky like twisted spears. Inside, the circular Hall was filled with a hazy amber light that filtered down from stained glass windows high above. It was enormous, one of the largest structures ever built by man. Great pillars carved to resemble massive stone trees with spreading branches supported the weight of the domed ceiling. There were hundreds of them, row upon row.
He took a flight of steps that descended into the base of the Hall. There, a woman was seated behind a small desk, scribing something with a feathered quill. She continued to write, appearing completely engrossed in her task. Only when he stood across the desk from her did she slide her spectacles off her face, looking sideways up at him with an irritated expression.
Darien nodded. “I left a week after receiving the Summons.”
He wished he’d stopped at the Acolytes Residence to clean up a bit. The way the woman was staring at him made him conscious of every speck of dust from the road, of the week-old growth of beard on his face. He saw her eyes come to rest on the hilt of the longsword at his back. The woman’s eyebrows flicked upward, her look incredulous. Not many people had the gall to come armed to an audience with the Prime Warden of Aerysius.
“I see you’ve grown too big for your britches, Darien Lauchlin. It might be wise to put off your Raising until you can remember that you are still yet an acolyte. You may be the prime warden’s own son, but that does not excuse you. If anything, it means you must be seen as an example for others.”
He didn’t know whether she referred to his late arrival or the unsubtle insult of the sword. If she wanted him to remove the weapon, then she was mistaken; he had no intention of doing so. His mother would have to get used to the sight of it.
He waited as the woman merely stared at him. When it became obvious that he wasn’t going to budge or offer apology, she shook her head and made a tsking sound with her tongue.
“Well, if you insist on acting like a child, so be it. Let your mother deal with you. Have no doubt, she will.” She stood up, tossing her quill down with an air of finality.
She turned her back on him, opening a door beside her desk. He followed her at a good distance as she led him along a hallway. Darien had been here before, many times. He really had no need to be shown the way. But his mother expected—or, rather, demanded—formality at all times.
At the end of the passage was a white door. The woman opened it and gestured for him to wait. Darien paused just long enough to hear her announce him before brushing past her through the opening.
The room inside was filled with brilliant white light. The entire chamber was encased with windows that had scarcely a pane between them. The prime warden’s solar looked out from within the mountainside, the view an unspoiled panorama of the white-capped Craghorns and the Vale of Amberlie below. Everything was white in the room: the rugs, the wood, even the marble floor and the fabric of the furniture.
Emelda Lauchlin was seated on a raised dais before the panoramic widows, her face impatiently expectant. Darien did not forget his manners. He went instantly to his knees, abasing himself until his hair was spread out on the floor beside his face. He dared not move from that position until he was bid. So he waited, listening to the sound of his own breath. A long minute dragged by, followed by another. By the third, Darien had no doubt that his mother was angry.
After five minutes, he knew she was livid.
Darien swallowed as he pushed himself off the floor. He felt the blood rush out of his head, and for a moment felt terribly dizzy. He saw that his mother had risen, as well. She was glaring down at him imperiously from her position on the dais. She wore her ebony hair pulled back severely from her face, which only served to augment the stern set of her features.
For a long moment, they stood staring at each other across the distance between them. Then, more graceful than a queen, the Prime Warden of Aerysius descended the steps of the dais. She stopped before him, having to look up to meet his gaze. Her blue eyes burned fiercely, her full lips pressed into a frown of barely-controlled rage. Then, abruptly, she swept forward to embrace him.
Darien was taken sharply aback. He moved awkwardly to return the gesture, which was made more difficult by the baldric he wore and the pack still slung across his shoulder. When they separated, he was surprised to see the anger on her face replaced by a warm smile of affection. Looks were not the only thing he had inherited from her; Emelda Lauchlin had a temperament that was just as unpredictable as his own.
“My son,” she said, gazing up at him with wonder in her eyes. “You have changed a great deal.”
Her gaze lowered to fix on the leather strap that crossed his chest. This was the critical moment, he knew. She would either accept him for what he was or reject him utterly, and it all hinged on whether or not she accepted the sword.
She chose to ignore it.
Taking him by the hand, she led him to a white chair and claimed the one beside it. Darien struggled out of his pack and leaned his sword against the chair’s armrest. He tried to analyze his mother’s body language as she sat leaning forward slightly, arms open and resting on the cushions at her sides. It was a welcoming posture, one that invited him in instead of shutting him out. He took it for a good sign.
“Tell me,” she pressed, “how fares the Front?”
It was time to make his case. Darien had rehearsed this speech all the way down from the Pass of Lor-Gamorth. But now, when the moment to deliver it was upon him, the carefully chosen phrases eluded him. Shaking his head, he decided that honesty was the best thing he could offer her.
“We’re dying,” he said, staring down at a smear of mud on his knee.
As if sensing his struggle, she set a hand lightly on his arm. The touch strengthened him enough to continue.
“The Enemy is massing in numbers never before seen. We don’t have enough soldiers. We’re facing a critical shortage of weapons and supplies. We’re running out of ideas and, frankly, we’re running out of hope. There’s been precious little support from the South. The last group of men we received was a pack of criminals up from Rothscard, and that’s been months ago. We’ll all be dead in another few months, either by the sword or by hunger, but it doesn’t matter which. The fact is, you’ll have Enemy hordes pouring down on top of you, and your only line of defense will be feeding the crows.”
As he let the last words die, Darien felt an instant pang of regret. He had not meant to raise his voice. Silence followed as his mother only gazed at him, her expression impossible to read. He felt drained, as if the flood of words he’d let pour from his mouth had sapped his strength.
“So, you are suggesting that the might of Aerysius should turn the tide of this war?”
Her words, though softly spoken, were deliberately chosen. She was trying to probe him to find out where he stood on the issue. It was a test, of sorts. Whether or not she approved of his Raising might even depend on how he chose to answer. But Darien didn’t care. There was only one way he could answer her, and it was with the conviction of his beliefs.
“I’m suggesting that there may not be an Aerysius if you don’t Unbind the Sentinels. The order exists to defend the Rhen against this very threat. I understand the need for the Oath of Harmony, but it has served its purpose. Times change, Mother. The time for the Oath has passed. If we don’t Unbind the Sentinels, then there will be no hope. The Enemy will slaughter us.”
Her blue eyes dropped to the leather scabbard leaning against his chair. Very carefully, she asked, “What then, Darien?”
Here was the crux of the test. Darien feared to step across this threshold. But he had already pressed too far to stop now.
“Let me receive the Transference from two Masters. Give me the strength to establish a Grand Resonance. Then we can lure their forces southward and annihilate them.”
His words were met by utter silence, as if they had fallen on empty space. Darien knew he’d gone too far. It was a very long time before his mother spoke again.
“Tonight you shall be Raised to the Order of Sentinels, as your father was before you.” Her voice was cold, as icy as the mountain wind. “You will accept the Transference from Grand Master Ezras Nordric, who has decided to pass beyond and leave the trials of this war to the next generation. To you. You shall swear the Oath of Harmony in front of the full Assembly of the Hall. Before you do, you will take that thing at your side and cast it over the cliff. I will never hear the words ‘Grand Resonance’ out of your mouth ever again. Do I make myself clear, Darien?”
“Aye,” he answered, feeling the last of his hopes dashed by his mother’s resolve. Darien bowed his head, accepting defeat.
He would take the Oath, as she asked. Only, he didn’t believe he could keep it.
There was a harsh penalty for Oathbreakers. They would strip the power from him, which was tantamount to a slow and painful execution. Then they would hang his body from the arches as a warning, and also as a statement. The world needed to know that the justice of Aerysius was without mercy, even for its own. That was the price of betrayal, the price of Oathbreaking. Yet, if such an act could stop the war…
There was a text Darien had read once. The manuscript had been part of his curriculum: The Mysteries of Aerysius by Cedric Cromm. In it was a short biography of Grand Master Orien, who had stood on the crag now known infamously as Orien’s Finger to bring the vast power of a vortex to bear against an invasion long ago. Orien’s desperate act had turned the tide of battle and driven the Enemy from the North. Then Orien had calmly knelt and surrendered himself to his punishment. Orien’s face was among those of the Watchers in the Hall, his image graven severely in stone. He had been an Oathbreaker, and had died a cruel death for his actions. Yet, he had also been a savior.
“You may go.” The prime warden dismissed Darien curtly, waving a hand in the direction of the door. “Spend the rest of the day in solitude and reflection.”
As he stood to leave, her voice stopped him. “It’s good to have you home. You remind me of your father so much. He would have been very proud to see the man you have become.”
Darien nodded somberly as he gathered up his things. His father had been a formidable Sentinel, and a part of him was pleased at hearing his mother’s words. But he also found them bitterly ironic. Gerald Lauchlin had despised the Mage’s Oath, yet had died preserving it. Darien had always aspired to follow the example set by his father, but he had no wish to meet such a similar, hypocritical end.
He walked quickly back down the hallway, taking lengthy strides to put some distance between himself and his mother’s solar. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears, almost as loud as the sound of his ringing footsteps. Ducking through one of the open doorways, he mounted a flight of stairs that took him up into the spire of the Hall.
He paused to catch his breath at a landing, cursing himself silently for the way he had mismanaged the interview. Heat rose to flush his cheeks as he clenched and unclenched his fists in anger. Darien stood still, taking slow, deep breaths until the throbbing of his pulse subsided in his ears. He started to move forward again, but a familiar voice stopped him short.
“So, the prodigal son finally returns.”
Darien sucked in a sharp breath between clenched teeth. He closed his eyes, wondering just how many tests the gods would throw his way in one day. Then, opening his eyes, he slowly turned to face his only brother.
Aidan looked just the same as Darien remembered. He stood leaning casually against the carved railing of the stair, his black cloak flipped back over one shoulder in the manner he was accustomed to wearing it. It lent him a polished, aristocratic appearance. He stood with one hand tucked neatly behind his back, the other resting on the rail as if it were the armrest of a throne. He gazed upon Darien with narrow eyes that were a perfect copy of their mother’s.
“Still playing with your toys, I see? You should’ve abandoned them years ago.” Aidan arched an eyebrow, strolling forward down the stairs. He circled Darien slowly, eyeing the leather scabbard with an expression of distaste. “Or is it your intention to swear the Oath of Harmony upon that sword?”
Darien sighed, shaking his head. He’d hoped things might have changed between them over the two years of his absence. Meeting Aidan’s gaze, he said, “I was thinking maybe we could just be brothers again. Perhaps it was too much to expect.”
Aidan blinked, a gallant smile springing to his lips. “Not too much, I assure you. It was only a jest.” He clapped his brother on the shoulder with a soft chuckle. To Darien, the act was condescending, and the smile on his face seemed forced. “Really, Darien, you always take things much too seriously. Here, let me get that for you.”
Aidan swept the pack off Darien’s shoulder and into his own grip without waiting for a reply. He held the dusty leather away from his body, as if afraid some of the grime might smudge off and mar his appearance. He extended his hand in invitation and then strolled ahead.
As they walked, Aidan made an attempt at conversation. “I trust your journey was safe?”
Darien nodded, thinking he didn’t have breath to waste on a response as he considered the spiraling staircase still above them.
“Oh, I just remembered,” Aidan announced pleasantly. “I have a message for you from Grand Master Meiran. You do remember her, of course?”
Darien glared at his back. His brother was taunting him under the infuriating guise of politeness. Aidan knew all about the scandal that had hastened Darien’s departure two years before. Everyone knew of it.
Darien had pursued Meiran for months, even though she was well above his station and he had no business even being around her. There were no laws forbidding Masters and acolytes from associating in private, but the traditions of Aerysius were more stringent than formal laws.
His mother had quickly caught wind of the affair. Darien had been packed up and shipped off to the Front in all haste, without even a chance to say goodbye. Meiran had received a demerit, unheard of for a Grand Master of her status.
Aidan went on as if completely ignorant of the whole ordeal. “She sends her regards, but regrets that she won’t be able to meet with you before the ceremony. Really, Darien, you must have made quite an impression before you left. It usually isn’t considered proper for a Grand Master to be seen chasing around after acolytes.”
“I won’t be an acolyte much longer.” Darien fought to control the anger his brother always had a way of provoking. Then he silently berated himself. He was feeding right into Aidan’s ploy. Not wanting his brother to get the better of him, he added in a lighter tone, “Besides, I was the one who did all the chasing.”
They arrived finally at a level high up in the spire. Aidan led him down a broad, well-lit hall with polished marble tiles, stopping at a mahogany door about halfway down the passage. He reached out and swept the door open with a gallant swirl of his cloak, exposing the chambers within.
Darien stood in the doorway, surveying his new quarters with a feeling of trepidation. This was not the stark cell of an acolyte. The room was almost as large as his mother’s solar, decorated lavishly enough to suit a nobleman. There was a warm fire already blazing in the hearth on the far side of the room.
“Well, here you are,” Aidan announced. “I trust you find your quarters adequate? I chose the location, but Mother made all the arrangements.”
“I guess it will do,” Darien said, still feeling stunned and more than a little overwhelmed. He took a step inside, wondering if it would even be possible to get used to so much space after spending the last two years freezing in the cramped cellar of Greystone Keep.
At last he collected himself enough to say, “My thanks, Aidan. It’s wonderful.”
His brother set Darien’s pack down by the door, hesitating a moment as if uncertain whether he wanted the dirty thing to soil the polished tiles. “I’ll see you again tonight, then. Don’t get too comfortable, now; you’ll not want to miss your own Raising.”
Darien barely heard the sound of the door closing as his brother took his leave. He stood gazing around the chamber, feeling too exhausted to even think. Moving awkwardly, he leaned the longsword against the wall by his pack. Then he slumped down into a heavily-cushioned chair and found a goblet of wine already poured and waiting on the table beside it.
His hand trembled as he raised the goblet to his lips and took the liquid into his mouth in thirsty gulps. As he set the spent glass back down on the table, his head suddenly felt too heavy to hold up any longer. He snuggled back into the soft cushions and dazed up at the painted ceiling as a soft ringing sound filled his ears. The ceiling blurred, growing darker, the colors melting and running together.
He never remembered falling asleep. The drug in the wine acted swiftly.
End of Free Sample.