Once In a Dabárian Night

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Once in a Dabárian Night is a short-story from the Seeds of Ascension universe.

In the north of Araktéa, young members of the Dabárian fortress' Secret Academy sneak out to witness the Aragáti's eclipse ritual. Though their fortress have firm ties to the tribe, an ancient artefact is about to turn things in an unexpected direction.

ONCE IN A DABÁRIAN NIGHT

 

“I have a bad feeling about this, Devus. I’m pretty sure we’ll get into trouble…”

“It will be fine.” Devus said, quick and nonchalantly as his slender fingers picked the lock of the mold-clothed door. He’d placed a torch there, in the tiny room, but once on the other side, all light would diminish. Redric didn’t fear the dark. He didn’t think he was particularly afraid of anything, but he still sensed that this - whatever this was - was a bad, if not a terrible idea. 

“I hope you’re right.” He mumbled. More often than not, and mostly to everyone’s annoyance, Devus Teague was. And so, despite a wary gut feeling, Redric followed him through the door and into the tunnel. The assurance was perhaps stronger than it should’ve been, because the more Devus calculated the variables of their quest, he knew the chances that they’d get into some sort of trouble were in fact quite large. There was still time to turn around. Postpone it for another night - plan things more thoroughly. But instead, he persisted. Walked into the darkness as if he owned it, not much minding the dirt, the stench or whatever potential trouble they might encounter. 

“I think I can hear someone coming…” Redric hissed, after they’d taken a blind and clumsy bend around a third corner.

Quiet.” Devus whispered firmly. He knew his own steps had been nearly inaudible, but Redric and his physique were not made for sneaking around. The boy was fifteen and only one year his senior. Yet, he was at least twenty pounds heavier. Though inconvenient, Devus reminded himself that it was this weight (mostly made up by premature muscles, many - not Devus - envied him for) was the reason he’d brought him in the first place. He would need it in order to get through the door he’d found at the end of the passage. No more than a few hundred yards away now, if he’d calculated correctly - which he knew that he had. If they’d already been caught however, it would not matter how close to it they were. Both doors would either be guarded or closed forever. The idea made Devus’ heart beat almost as fast as his peers’, as the two of them stood still for a few terrible moments. Holding their breaths, they listened.

“That’s my father’s footsteps.” Devus said finally, and though it was too pitch black to see anything, he could feel, hear and imagine every muscle and nerve in Redric, as he bounced towards the left wall behind him. It was a cruel joke but Devus smiled and had to keep himself from breaking the perfect, tense silence that followed the movement. He cleaned his throat and Redric flinched again. 

“Father, it was Redric that made me come, I swear I... ”

“What? No, that’s not...I” Redric protested, looking around desperately for Nicholas, but then Devus couldn’t keep his chuckles back. 

“Son of a witch...” Redric half-whispered. 

“We’re currently right underneath his office.” Devus explained. Redric sighed and then listened to the sound of the Commander’s steps. Firm, slow paced and determined right above their heads. 

“I had no idea you’d be this jumpy.”

“I know I heard footsteps and I know they came from down here.” Redric insisted. He wasn’t usually nervous, but being in a tunnel on a cryptic night-mission with the Commander’s son wasn't particularly common to him either - and luckily so. 

“Not to worry, everything is going according to plan.” Devus assured – partly to himself. After many hours of Strategy lessons and rounds of Rajah (A Dabárian board game) both his peers and teachers knew he had the potential of an excellent strategist. Devus knew this himself better than anyone, but whenever boredom grew too big and an opportunity arose, he had an unfortunate tendency to improvise. Redric didn’t know that this was the case on this particular night, of course, and Devus figured it should remain as such. At least till he’d completed his part. 

“You said we wouldn’t be out for long, correct?” Redric asked and Devus felt himself wishing he’d gone alone and didn’t need to respond to the pressing concerns of the overgrown, manling.

“You’ll be back in your bed in no time, Redric. Long before sunrise.” He sighed. It was the midst of winter, so the sun rose late and left early in the north of Araktéa. There were no clocks in the Dabárian fortress, and so people mostly followed the natural cycles. The winter-routine allowed them to sleep longer, which was something most Dabárians took advantage of. Most, but not all, and it was often the fortress’s commander and his son, who were up long into the night time. Usually in separate rooms and with very different thoughts and plottings spinning through their heads. 

“Good.” Redric said, feeling it safer to speak in a moderate volume again. “And this Aragáti girl, do you… do you like her?” He asked, sounding casual if not even comradely now, though the two of them hadn’t been friends since they’d been too young to understand how little they had in common.

“Yes. Her father is one of the elders – one of three leaders of the tribe -  thus, she has a lot of knowledge about their customs and origins.”

“I know what an elder is. And I meant…” Redric began, and Devus knew what he meant of course, but he hadn’t seen Avrá since last winter. It’d been the summer before that the Aragátis (he assumed there’d been a mutual agreement with the fortress’ council) had decided it was “inappropriate” for them to spend time together, now that they were coming of age. The fortress’s relationship with the natives was of great importance and as his father had stated “it is crucial that we don’t do anything that might offend them.” Devus had been clever to pretend he hadn’t cared much about this new restriction and the first year he’d found ways to see Avrá once every full moon – when the path leading to their village was clear and most Dabárians were much too wary of loons to be out. It was only on his fourth quest that on of his uncles had caught him. He’d then been scolded and denied library access for three whole moon spans - a punishment only appropriate for a boy like himself, that had only resulted in an intensifying desire to leave the fortress for good.

“If I remember correctly, she’s quite a beautiful girl.” Redric continued, thinking he might have found a non-provocative tone. 

“It has nothing to do with that Redric. Is that all you people think about? This isn’t some romantic hero tale – now, would you focus on the task ahead please?”

“Alright then, Teague...” He sighed. Conversations with Devus always tended to turn sour or disharmonious, and so he’d mostly come to avoid them altogether. This was more than just small talk however, as he was genuinely interested to know about Devus’ potential enchantments - the reason being entirely due to his own. Nicholas had pleaded that he’d make an effort to include Devus outside of academic activities, but he doubted this was what he’d had in mind. It was first and foremost due to Philomena Cades that he’d said yes to come with him. He’d wanted to ask him about her, but he now sensed there was no chance for it to come out the right way. There was no “right way” with Devus, which only made the fact that he and Philomena spent so much time together, even more incomprehensive. Redric had hoped she’d been invited tonight too, but he was never so lucky.

“We’re here!” Devus announced, his heart jolting as he finally felt his hands meeting the cold, wooden door. His portal to freedom. 

“Finally, the end of the tunnel...” Redric said, blindly stumbling towards it. The temperature had lowered and the ground had turned from stone to soil. He knocked the door cautiously, though suspecting there was no need for them to be quiet anymore. 

“Now we’ll just need to push it open. After that’s done you can be on your way back if you like.” Devus explained.

“I thought we were going outside.”

I am going outside, you’re free to return to your bed and get your beauty sleep. I’m sure you’ll need to prepare for your Fencing exam.” He said, almost kindly now that Redric was right where he wanted him. 

“Alright.” Redric said hesitantly, but relieved. He’d been given little detail on what was to occur and was glad this was all he’d agreed to do. Though he’d trained hard and diligently for the exam for the past moon spans - meeting all the requirements and more - he wanted to bring his best foot forward. If he stayed persistent, his mother (a council woman) said there was a chance he might be considered to go to the Parda already by next year. 

“Did you try pushing it open already?” Redric asked.

“Well, of course, but it’s stuck. I could’ve just bought an axe but I don’t want to break it. This is the greatest exit point from the fortress I’ve found so far. I can come and go as I please now…”

“Do you really think it’s possible that nobody else knows about the tunnel?”

“The Dabárian fortress is very old – even older than our records and it’s been under my father’s control since 48 After Amnos - only twenty five years. I would’ve never found it myself, unless the book shelf hadn’t fallen and I’d discovered those loose bricks behind it.” 

“Lucky...” Redric said, rolling his eyes, though Devus couldn’t see him. He was about to ask what had made that huge bookshelf fall in the first place, but held his tongue - wanting to know as little as possible about what was going on behind those large, brown eyes of his.

“As you’ve seen already, it’s not maintained in the slightest, and well, I took most of the spiderwebs with me on that first evening. If the council knew about it, they’d be using it for something and I doubt aunt Liv would permit it to smell like old rat shit.” Despite its stench and strangeling air, Devus thought the tunnel was the best discovery he’d made in years. He’d calculated its length and direction using his father’s compass, and it should lead just far enough for the watchmen not to give their silhouettes any attention. 

“Don’t you think we should inform them? It’d make an excellent exit if we were ever under attack or needed to hide from the Kadoshi or other invaders.”

“We have an agreement with the Realm. The Kadoshi doesn’t have any business with the Dabárian fortress.” Devus snorted. 

“Times are changing, Devus. We need to prepare as well as we can. If nothing else, we could use it for storage or...”

“Redric, we - and you in particular - won’t tell anyone about this. You’ve vowed to keep it between us. Now, would you be so kind and light up that candle you brought? We don’t have all night.” Devus said impatiently. They’d avoided any sort of light due to the slim chance that there might be someone down in the tunnels already. Redric had seen it as a necessary precaution – demanded it –  but now he too was just as eager to see again and so, rather than arguing, he fickled for his matches. Holding the little stick in between his fingertips, he noticed his hands trembling a little. His hands never shook, and then an even stranger thing happened. Before he’d gotten the chance to strike the match, yellow light illuminated behind him. Right next to his own shadow, he saw Devus’ wild eyes widening. First, in surprise and then in that same fury that shot through them, whenever he’d used to strike him while fencing. 

“What in Araktéa are you doing here, Phee?” He demanded. Hearing her name, relief came over Redric first but the panic soon turned into a very specific kind of nervousness, which he tried his best to hide, as he turned towards her. The candle in her hand lit up her plump, fair face. Her lips were red, her brows high and she had that awfully triumphing look upon her face. It was not exactly an expression he liked. It even disturbed him at times, but she was beautiful nevertheless, and he smiled. Grateful that she was there, and grateful it wasn’t anyone else that’d been following them.

“You really think you fools can sneak around without even inviting me? Without even telling me?” It was clear to Devus that rather than her being offended, this was an act she’d prepared. Phee never really got hysterical in the way so many of the other girls in the fortress did, but she often made a great show out of acting it – seeming to feed off of the surprise or disorder it could cause. 

“You can’t keep a secret, Phee.“ On occasion he would invite her on his after-dark missions, but this one in particular was not one she was suited for. Her narrow, girly shoulders and weak arms would hardly be of any help in pushing the door open. Not to say, he felt certain that she and Avrá wouldn’t get along anymore now, than they had in their younger days. Phee tended to take up a lot of space, whilst Avrá spoke of space as something sacred and profound Devus was yet to fully wrap his mind around (ancient knowledge, as she said, demanded time to be understood). Phee was loud whilst Avrá spoke silently - her words slow yet steady, clear and intentional. 

“I’m perfectly capable of keeping one, but If you don’t bring me to wherever it is you’re heading I’ll most definitely tell on you.” Devus made something in-between a grunt and a roar. He wanted to yell at her, but he knew from experience that this wouldn’t result in anything but making her giggle at best, and somebody discovering them at worst.

“I really do hate you sometimes.” He said instead. Phee smiled contently, dimples showing on both cheeks as she turned her lively, hazel eyes to Redric.

“Are you certain you’re suited for this sort of thing?” He shrugged as casually as he could, his hand reaching for his neck and a half smile crossing his face. 

“I’m at least quite sure I can get this door open.” He’d been glad Devus hadn’t expected him to come see the Aragátis, as he didn’t share his passion for illegal excursions, and of course - there was the exam. Now that Phee was there however, his normal sense of responsibility seemed to be loosen ever so slightly. Perhaps he could break the rules with them, just this once. 

“Well, let’s see it then.” She said, her tone challenging as she stroked a stray of auburn red hair from her face. A curl or two always seemed to escape the wide variety of her hair styles. 

“Very well.” Redric said as he started pushing towards the door. Though there were many girls who’d shown interest in him, he was in no illusion that his physical strength would truly impress her. She was too bright for that. His hopes had been to accelerate in their Negotiation classes, which he had, and which he hoped she’d noticed.

“Now, you might want to let me in on the plan in the meanwhile, Dev.” Philomena said and Devus bit his full lip and rolled his eyes. The little of a plan that existed, wasn’t something he felt much like including her in at all, but it did have the potential of her losing interest. 

“I sent a letter two days back for Avrá to meet me some time before moon-rise.”

“That’s all?“

“Not exciting enough for you?”

“Surely, but I thought with bringing a body-guard with you there’d be something a little bit riskier involved.”

“He is just here to break the door open.” Devus stated, just as Redric made a third attempt, beating his body towards it. Devus had already picked the lock, but it was still heavy and rigid, having most likely been closed for decades. 

“I seem to remember you indicating that  I could come if I liked, Teague. I’m helping you after all.” He was more than helping. In fact, he was the only one making any effort at the moment. 

“Yes, but it’s quite obvious that you wouldn’t like, and I’d much prefer that you didn’t.” 

“Teague - I’m coming. Whether you like it or not.”  He assured and on his fifth try, the door (damn his right side would be ill-beaten the next morning) slammed open. A small gust of wind distinguished Philomena’s candle. Once again It was pitch black around them, but only for half a heart beat, as the whiteness of untouched snow threw a faint light over them. 

“And how exactly do you know that The Princess of Aragáti will find us?”

“I left her coordinates in the letter. As for the time, she has an inkling about when the moon rises.”

“And how would you know the coordinates? The maps we have are awfully inaccurate.” He held out the compass and Philomena’s red painted lips parted ever so slightly. It was hardly a good idea to expose it, but it was a great way to shut her up – at least for a few moments.

“Bloody hells Dev… now, that’s ballsy – even for you!” She sounded impressed - a state she rarely found herself in these days. 

“Devus… please tell me that’s not your father’s compass.” As Devus turned towards Redric, he had to suppress a laugh. He looked as if someone had just punched him in the guts and he wasn’t sure if it had to do with the door or the presence of the compass. His hair, that was usually so perfectly combed to the side, clung like golden straws on his forehead. There was sweat on his brow and his face’ symmetry had a subtle, but noticeable, edge to it. 

“If it eases your mind Redric, I’ll break my Vow of Honesty and tell you that it isn’t, but that will be your only request for the rest of the night.” Compasses were not common tools in Dabár and though Devus on occasion took freedoms to borrow things, he’d felt an ever so slight sense of hesitation this time - almost stopping himself as he’d picked the drawer in his father’s study. Though all the youth in the fortress knew the existence of Nicholas’ compass, it was only Devus who’d ever known its whereabouts. He’d discovered it during his days as a much tinier spy, when there’d still been space for him behind the heavy curtains that covered the high shelves of his father’s study. He’d spent many nights there, along with old maps of Araktéa and books of incomprehensive languages. Other than the occasional glimpse of Nicholas’ letters, it was rare for anything truly interesting to occur, but it’d been an excellent place for him to be alone. He’d also learned that his father (when he thought nobody was watching and he didn’t need to bring assurance to everyone) would occasionally look very troubled. When he did, he would open that drawer and stare at the compass, as if asking it questions. It was now in his own hand and though bringing it with him was a risk, Devus didn’t feel worried in the slightest. He felt alive. 

“Devus – I can’t believe you sometimes. Don’t you have any… morals?” Redric knew he should run back upstairs and tell Nicholas, his mother – anyone – what was going on that very instant. The exact origins of the artefact was uncertain, but it was invaluable. Some said it would be used as a part of the Dabárian’s revolt against the capital. A plan that the council had been preparing for years before the three of them were even born. Others claimed it would be given to the right student once they started sending them to the Parda again. Redric had always wanted to seek the mysteries of these enchanted woods – just like their parents and the rest of the council had done in their youth. But here was Devus Teague, grinning that wide, white, careless grin of his, and he’d just taken it. As if it’d been nothing. As if somehow it was his right, just because he was Nicholas’ son. The children of the council weren’t meant to be any more privileged than their peers, yet, Devus’ shenanigans never seemed to bring any great consequences to Devus himself. 

“Avrá wrote that she’d take me - or us, should I say - to see their moon ritual tonight. But we have to find our way back ourselves. Thus, we’ll need this. Once we’ve returned, I’ll put it right back where it belongs.” He said easily and Redric swallowed hard, still unsure of what to say exactly. It was as if Devus was trying to provoke him on purpose, and he simply didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. 

 “And how did she communicate all of this? Did she make drawings or did she whisper it to you in a dream?” Phee chuckled and Redric momentarily forgot about the compass entirely. Instead, he wondered whether there was any jealousy in her voice. Wondered what she could possibly see in such a self-entitled and arrogant person like Devus Teague.

“Actually, she both reads and writes very well, Phee. I taught her.” Philomena’s eyes narrowed. She found the Aragáti culture interesting enough, but more to observe than to make friends with.

“Very well then, as long as we’re not on some “love-quest”, I’m certainly coming.” She decided. Devus was tired of explaining things he might or might not feel for anyone, so rather than protesting he said (as a final attempt to scare them back to their beds), “The Aragátis believe that the veil separating them from the dead is thinner during these rituals. There happens to be an eclipse tonight, which intensifies it. There will quite possibly be some loons out too.”

“Now, that’s a cock and bull story if I ever heard one.” Redric was quick to say, and then added, “and even if it had been true, why would the Aragáti want to speak with the dead? The dead are meant to stay dead, no? This almost sounds like…” he stopped himself from saying the last word as he met with Devus’ eyes - intense, hard and challenging. Redric straightened his back, suddenly remembering certain rumors they’d been warned from speaking about. 

“It sounds like sorcery, Dev. My father has told me that no matter what stupidities I might get entangled in, there are two things he will not forgive me for: getting pregnant and getting involved with sorcery of any kind. You can’t even trust the alchemists these days...” Unlike Redric, there was a cool, causality to her tone. 

“And since when do you listen to your father, Phee?” Devus asked, for he couldn’t stop himself. There was a lot to be said of Lord Cades, but for now, Devus didn’t want to say anything. He wanted to be on his way - without the two of them whining and embarrassing him. 

“Look, if you would rather not witness a cultural phenomenon, you ought to stay back. In fact, I’d be delighted to go on my own. I’ll make a pretty drawing for you tomorrow, how’s that?” Redric quite liked the sound of that. He looked in Phee’s direction and she could, of course, tell what he was thinking. They could stay there, talk about things that had nothing to do with any of their classes or exams. No worrying about sorcery or Devus and his loony plans. They wouldn’t even have to practice their roles. Instead, they could just be themselves. A part of her wanted this too, as she found Redric handsome, well-spoken, charming and even funny on occasion – at least after a glass or two (and she’d made sure to bring some of her father’s “hidden” Nagárian wine). It was unfortunate perhaps, that it was more so the high-risk sports, that tended to have a stronger pull on her – and that she wouldn’t allow Devus to go by himself.

“We’re coming with you, Dev. But if I die, you’ll be the first one I’ll come back to haunt – and I won’t be the sort of dead that’s patient enough to wait for full moons or eclipses.” She said and Devus sighed. 

“Oh, I know you won’t be…” 

 

*

 

As the three of them walked outside, the almost windless, cold air bit their faces. They turned back to see their fortress, grey and dark some three hundred yards behind them. The snow wasn’t as heavy as it’d been the previous winters, yet, it reached to just below their knees and illuminated the landscape ahead. Half covered with wood and hills and half open - empty, white and full of horrific opportunities. The moon was yet to rise above the Khantalin mountains in the north and Devus felt relieved. He’d at least arrived in time.

“I’m freezing!” Phee complained, regretting not having brought any of her woolen garments. 

“The next time you decide to infiltrate an excursion, you might want to dress accordingly.”

“I waited for you in the tunnel since the morning.” She said, smiling proudly. “I thought you’d take the left turn after the door. There’s a tunnel that seems to lead deeper down rather than north.”

“To a dungeon you say?” Devus asked and she nodded eagerly. He was about to ask if she’d gone down herself, but then, in between the pines, they could see an animal making its way towards them. Reindeers became rarer and rarer each passing year, but the ones left, the Aragátis used for dragging their sleds and filling their bellies. The one approaching them now was pulling Avrá – not in a sled but a pulk that certainly wouldn’t fit the four of them.

“Burru!” She said (the tribe’s way of greeting) while waving her hand, clothed in a thick, brown mitten.

“Behold the princess and her beast.” Phee commented. The girl was dressed in animal hide and her coal-black hair was shining underneath her large hood. The Aragáti looked very different from the other tribes of Araktéa. Their skin much fairer, their faces flatter and their eyes dark and narrow. This one in particular, had rosy cheeks much like Phee did. Avrá’s had obviously not been painted on however but were more like little, cold kisses from the winter air. She smiled easily as she stepped out of the pulk.

“You said you’d come alone.” She said to Devus, non-accusingly. Her voice, as low and as soothing as the winter breeze. 

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t shake them off, but I assure you they won’t be any trouble.” Avrá looked towards the girl, who she remembered (possibly as trouble in human form) from many years back. Her arms crossed around her body. Fiery curls framing her face and a pretty, but much too thin, dark blue cloak wrapping the rest of her. 

“You’ll be cold.” She commented. “May I offer you a coat? I’m wearing several layers.” Phee lifted her chin up and smiled stiffly.

“No thank you.” She said, suppressing an urge to tremble and after meeting with Devus' warning gaze she said no more than that. Avrá’s narrow eyes wandered over to Redric’s bright blue ones. He smiled kindly and she recalled him as the boy who’d offered to help her father carry hides, while the other children had been singing and listening to hero tales from when the world had been young. 

“We won’t fit in the pulk. Are all of you prepared to walk for the next four miles?” The most earnest and rational answer would clearly have been no. Devus hardly ever got cold, but the snow went deep and he’d successfully negotiated himself out of most physical classes for the past two semesters. 

“We are.” He said, nodding eagerly, his dark curls bouncing up and down and his white teeth in perfect contrast to his cinnamon skin. 

“Hold on now. From what I’ve learned, your moon rituals are usually not performed very far from your village.” Phee commented.

“There’s an eclipse tonight. If you do not trust me to bring you to the right place, it is better that you return back home.” Avrá responded calmly. Phee uttered a sound of offense raising her eyebrows at the girl who’s expression didn’t flinch. She then looked from Devus to Redric.

“I’ll walk you back.” Redric offered, and she looked as if she was about to say yes, but then she raised her chin and shook her head fiercely.

“No. I’ll manage.”

“But it’s dark and…”

“The tunnel is only a few stone throws away, Redric. I’ll be fine. Besides, I never cared much about going anyways. But you wanted to see it, remember?”

“Yes, but....”

“Redric,” she lowered her voice and touched his arm now, leading him slightly to the side. “Make sure Devus doesn’t go off dying or doing something too impulsive, would you?” She didn’t like admitting to it, but ever since they’d been little she’d felt an unexplainable need to protect him - mostly from himself. He could seem crude and insensitive at times, she knew that, but deep down, she thought he just felt things double as much as everyone else. There were things she felt as well, what exactly it was right in this moment she wasn’t sure of, but the Aragáti girl gave her the chills in a similar way that the snow and the ice did. Avrá was so composed - so motionless she was practically unreadable to her. 

“Okay, Phee.” Redric agreed. She smiled and thanked him and though he didn’t want to go with Devus, it all seemed worth it to him within that moment. It was over soon enough. As Philomena turned on her heel, it felt about as disappointing and abrupt, as if the sun suddenly had gone down in the middle of the day. 

“Let’s get going already.” Devus said, and so they did. The reindeer walking beside them, the compass pointing north and buried safely in his chest pocket. 


 

*

 

As the moon rose behind the Khantalin mountains, the brightness of the stars dimmed down. Avrá had once told Devus that her people originated from there. That all peoples did in some way, and she’d told him a beautiful tale about how they’d arrived in Araktéa a long time ago. That first, they’d come down from the stars in another world - a mirror world to theirs, as she’d called it. They’d then entered through a portal in Khantal and spread all across Araktéa. Some of them had made it all the way to the far south – beyond the Unnamed mountains, where they’d planted the seeds of the Parda. But the Aragáti had stayed closer to the stars. Defying the cold to protect what was left of the original, sacred knowledge – their true roots and origins. Passing it down through songs and tales. Though Devus enjoyed most of her tellings (be them true or not), this had reminded him a little too much of the stories loons would tell you. Loons were exiles from Khantal – Araktéa’s neighbour country and sworn enemy for centuries. No loon had ever come to their fortress, but they were known for being mad at best and lying, cunning and devious at worst. Some even claimed they possessed magic. Though he’d love to meet a real loon one day, Devus preferred to believe that Avrá and the Argátis were a very different kind of people - wise and well-intended people.

 

“I assume your father doesn’t know we’re coming?” Usually, he wouldn’t need to bother with the inconvenience of initiating conversation, but Avrá was far more comfortable with silence than anyone else he’d ever known. It was something he respected, but he was also curious about exactly what would be occurring. 

“He does not. You’ll have to watch it from afar. This ritual isn’t meant for outsiders.”

“May I ask, why you want to show it to us, then?“ Redric wondered, hoping he wasn’t sounding offensive or ungrateful for her invitation.

“Because I believe in union and Devus is my friend. His interest in our culture has always been genuine. He’ll be the Commander of the Dabárian fortress someday, and how can you properly protect a people you do not fully understand?” Redric didn’t know the answer to this and so he smiled diplomatically. Nodded, though he knew there was no certainty at all that Devus would be their next Commander. He was Nicholas’ son and would likely take a part of the council in a few years’ time, but it had long been clear that the choice of a future “Patron” was likely to come from a vote. Devus knew this too of course, but allowed her assumptions of such a dynastical structure remain as it was. Whatever her reasoning for bringing them, the last thing he wanted was for her to change her mind. 

“We’re both honored and we promise to be discreet.” He assured and Redric made sure he was walking a bit behind, keeping an eye on their trail and the placement of the stars, whilst giving the two of them some privacy. He had expected there might be some initial shyness, but their conversation soon flew by. For the first mile, Redric half-listened while trying to memorize the movements he’d need to perform on the next day. Seen away from Devus (who was a class on his own and whose subjects had become more and more personalized over the years), he was currently considered the best student in the Secret Academy. His strongest subjects included Negotiation, Fencing and Character-development. However, his results came from continuous practice and discipline, rather than having a mind that seemed to remember every tiny detail of their curriculum. Redric refused to give this up for this one, mistaken night.

 

They’d been taught about Aragáti culture some years before. One of his roles (he had three that he’d been practicing since he was six of age) was that of an anthropologist who specialized in the Dabárian tribe. The Capitalers rarely made it this far north, and so one of their insiders in Nagár had predicted there soon would be a demand for scholars within this field. Though the Secret Academy had increased in both sophistication and knowledge, most subjects had more to do with refining their student’s “appearances'' than obtaining any profound expertise. Mostly, it was a game of pretend as their main mission was, to someday soon, infiltrate the Capitaler’s own Academy - overthrowing the Realm’s unholy system from the inside. Once this was done, they’d create a new and better world, free of corruption and cruelty. Someday – some day very soon – this would happen, Redric prayed, but there and then, with a real Aragáti some feet ahead of him, he sensed his knowledge of her people was embarrassingly superficial. And, as he’d been taught in Character-development, silence could sometimes be the safest way to hide ignorance, as well as worry. Both of which he was feeling increasingly. He’d become a fine pretender of many things, but the further they strayed from the fortress, the more apparent it became just how real and how gravely serious the current situation was growing. With this increasing uneasiness, he surprised himself, as he stopped and looked around the thickening woods. Even now, far out there, he still felt more occupied about being caught by the council, than to be killed by some sinister thing. 

“Teague?” Redric asked, after they’d been walking for a few miles, too similar in appearances. 

“What?” Devus asked crassly. He’d almost forgotten about him, all-consumed by Avrá’s explanation of the cautious details of tonight’s ritual. Apparently, the dead, the loons and all the ones that walked in what she called the space “in-between”, would be loud and powerful tonight and he was eager to hear them.

“Are you sure we’ll find our way back? I’ve completely lost count of steps and trees…” He’d done fairly well in Navigation, but he hadn’t used it for some time and the stars were positioned differently in the winter. If it snowed – for some reason he felt it would most definitely snow tonight despite the cloudless skies – they might struggle upon returning. 

“I brought the compass – remember?”

“Yes, but are you certain it’s completely accurate?”

“Well of course it’s accurate Redric, that’s the whole point of the thing.“

“How can you be so sure if you’ve had no other compass to compare it with?“ Devus snarled and wanting to continue his conversation with Avrá, he fetched it from his pocket and passed it to him. Redric looked surprised if not outright startled, and within the moments that followed the sudden act, he briefly met with Avrá’s eyes – more expressive now than they’d been, looking at the compass with subtle alertness, then softening again as she smiled. 

Do not lose it.” Devus barked.

“Of course not...” Redric said, feeling both honored and terribly responsible now that it was laying in his own hand. He removed his glove just to get a real feel of the thing. That it’d be there in his palm was a silly dream he’d always had, and though it looked nothing like he’d imagined it would – no golden needle and far smaller and simpler than what the rumors claimed, he couldn’t help but grin like a fool. “You’re a leader at heart Redric.” Nicholas had told him that last summer, and though he was lagging behind in the snow just then - though he’d allowed himself to be pursued on this outrageous quest - he knew in his heart it was true, and so a new sense of purpose came over him. If nothing else, he would make sure the compass was taken back safely.

 

As the three of them continued walking north, he was about to put it in his inner pocket, but just then, its needle started moving.

“Devus…”

“What now?”

“The compass is behaving quite strangely. I think we’re lost…” The needle spun in rapid circles, and suddenly the arrow was pointing further west than it had before – though Redric hadn’t changed direction.

“That makes no sense, Redric.” Devus sighed. As precious as it was, the compass was a fairly simple tool. He could say many ill-meaning things about Redric – his need to please, his excessive politeness and the fact that his mother had him by the balls. Not to say, this foolish enchantment he had with Phee and his superficial charm – the list went on. He was not, however, a complete idiot.

“Come and see for yourself, then.” He presented it and Devus took the compass back. Just as it laid in his palm it started spinning again. 

“This is… peculiar.” Devus admitted and both of them stared at it, then each other.

“Try holding it again.” Redric did, and just as surely the needle redirected west, though they were standing in the very same position.

“It’s the different magnetism from your hands that affects it.” Avrá explained somewhat cautiously.

“You know about compasses and magnetism?” Devus asked.

“You told me your father had one when we were five. Remember – we Argáti never forget. This is the compass that you spoke of, no?”

“Yes. I had almost forgotten the fact that you never forget.” Devus admitted.

“I didn’t think you ever forgot about anything, Teague...” Redric remarked, his eyes still fixed on the needle – pointing west and straight towards the fortress. Oh, how he wanted to go back. 

“I never forget an image or anything written on paper. Dialogue tends to be a bit less accurate in my mind… anyhow – this is fascinating. And strange – I can’t recall having read about any compass behaving like this…”

“May I hold it?” Avrá asked.

“No.” Redric was quick to say.

“What do you mean, no?” Devus barked.

“What if she… breaks it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Redric sent Devus a warning look. “Give it to her, I want to see what happens.”

“No, Teague. I’m putting my foot down. We’re not giving her the compass.” He did not like the way the girl was eying the thing, nor how long this walk seemed to be taking them.

“That’s not for you to decide, Redric.” Devus was still calm enough, but his large, wild eyes certainly weren’t. 

“Nor is it yours. I’m making a decision as a student of the Secret Academy and on behalf of our council.” He stated formally, finally sensing his presence was truly needed there. He could tell that Devus was close to getting a little hysterical. Mostly, he’d stopped having the tantrums that had once made their teachers miserable, but it always seemed to be lurking right underneath the surface – explosive, irrational and to some people terrifying. But Redric wasn’t afraid of Devus Teague. As much as he might consider himself an outsider, he was just a bully with a vicious tongue.

“It is alright, Devus. I don’t need to hold it.” Avrá assured him “but perhaps it is better that the two of us continue on our own. My rein can bring Redric back to the tunnel. It knows the way. My people will sense his mistrust and judgement from afar, and you won’t go undiscovered.” Yet again, Redric found the opportunity of return tempting, but as much as he disliked him, he’d promised Phee he would keep an eye on Devus. He couldn’t leave him out there without the compass, and he refused to give it back to him.

“I’m coming. Even if I have to stay on the side, so far away they can’t sense me.” Though the girl looked completely unsurprised and unaffected, something about her air seemed to shift, and the tension all around intensified along with it. Devus turned his back on them, his bones restless with aggravation, as he looked towards the moon again. It had grown larger and more bloody red than he’d ever seen it before. 

“Is there a long way left, Avrá?” he asked, making an effort to stay calm though blood was flushing through him like the new river streams that were escaping the ice of the massive mountain range.

“There’s only a few miles left. They’re close to the wall. Soon, we’ll be able to hear the drums.” She assured him.

“Hold on – “ Devus said, sensing, perhaps for the first time in his life, that female charm had gotten the best of him. That he’d lost track of both time and better senses. “Didn’t you tell me before that to respect the borders with the Khantalins, your people always stay at least three miles away from the wall?” he looked towards it. Tried to listen, but there were no songs – no chatter from dead nor living. All he could hear were the fadest gusts of wind, low, obscure and perhaps warning. 

“It seems your memory is remarkable after all. If you wanted to, I’m sure you could remember and retell everything I’ve ever told you if you tried...” Before Devus could comment on this, Avrá had pulled a knife from her leather belt. He held his arms before him in defense, but she did not aim it at him. Instead, she placed it in Redric’s right side and, in utmost surprise by the sudden attack, he moaned and fell to the ground. Devus turned towards them as Avrá – moving as quick as a shadow – bent down next to him. Redric screamed in pain, but all the while it was the compass Devus had his eyes on. Before he’d blinked, Avrá had snitched it from the snow and now she was standing still and steady some steps away from them. The knife in her right hand in front of her, the compass resting in her left.

“I am sorry for hurting you. Forgive me.” She said to Redric, and turning towards a gaping Devus she said. “And I’m sorry that I lied, but you said you would come alone. Certain details change things...” She explained, just barely out of breath and her face not completely free of shame. The Aragátis were not violent people. 

“Give it back Avrá – my father will be furious if you don’t!”

“This compass doesn’t belong to your father. It doesn’t even belong to this world.” She said, and in her mind she heard “andevery thing belongs to itself. Are you certain this one wishes to remain in your hand?” 

“Then where does it belo...” Devus began, but was interrupted by Redric who screamed in pain again. His blood was dripping all over the snow and Devus hissed at the mess. He’d chosen many roles over the years, and as much as he’d been wanting to forget most of the pointless classes of act and play, he clearly recalled the ones where they’d been studying modern medicine. He suspected Redric’s wound wasn’t deadly, but then again, if left unintended – most things could be.

“You should help your friend.“ Avrá suggested, slowly backing away from them, but not in a direct rush to flee. For such a rapid-moving creature, Devus thought she was able to remain impressively calm. Even now, after breaking one of her tribe’s foremost rules (never to harm another creature, if not to survive yourself) she seemed quite unshaken. Despite his impulse to leap towards her and force the compass from her hand, he crouched down by Redric’s bleeding side. He ripped a piece of his own undershirt, and, as best as he could, he covered the wound with about as much care and caution as one of the fortress’ heedless barberers. It was long, but not very deep. A mere scratch. 

“What will your father say of this?” Devus asked, surprised Avrá was still close by watching them.

“What will your father say about you sneaking out and stealing something he believes to be his?“ She replied absently, while looking down at the compass. Its needle was spinning like a wheel of fortune, but it seemed it wouldn’t stop as fast as she’d expected it to.

“What he’ll say or think of me won’t matter much. He’ll do anything to get the compass back. It has true value to him. Don’t you understand? There’s a lot for your people to lose here.“

You don’t understand. This has far more value to us than the support of your council.”

“How?”

“The stars reveal there are rough times ahead. We must protect ourselves... there’s a fear that the Kadoshi might start coming north again.” 

“And how in all the hells will a compass protect you from them?”

“In the case of trade. Currently we have nothing to offer but our own flesh. We might not have any coin or metals - but other precious things matter to the Realm too. Like this.”

“A Collector from the Kadoshi wouldn’t care for that kind of trading, Avrá. If they started making their way up north again and you didn’t have the fortress’s protection, they’d rape every woman in your tribe and take the compass as well. Don’t be naive.”

“You don’t know that. And you don’t know the value of the compass.” Avrá said. She was still calm but her rosy cheeks had started flaring - like two, little bloody moons rising on her face. Devus was about to make a rude remark but bit his tongue, for he saw he was in no position to challenge her.

“Enlighten me then.” He pleaded, an attempted humbleness in his voice that he’d never quite bothered mastering before. He didn’t think Avrá was naive -  he thought she was lying and that there was a far better story behind what she’d just done. 

“Avrá…” he sighed when she didn’t respond and he turned from Redric to kneel in her direction “Please. I beg you.” He had no weapon on him, which was probably a reason she seemed utterly unthreatened. Even if he’d had one, it seemed it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. 

“Did you trick me out here? Was this your plan all along?” He asked and her dark eyes took on a subtle but complicated sorrow. 

“No, but when a rare opportunity occurs, only a fool would refuse it.” It seemed honest and he hoped that it was. 

“I truly tried coming alone.” She was about to speak, but then the needle stopped moving, as if it’d made up its mind about her fate. It pointed directly north, towards that star that had always shone the brightest to her - fade, far but promising in the nearly endless distance above the high hills. 

“You should take him back now and you should both find peace within yourselves.” She stated. 

“At the very least tell me about the compass first! You know more than you say, and I’ll go mad if you don’t tell me – that’s hardly peaceful for anybody!” For once Avrá seemed to be battling herself. Guilt washed over her face, and her narrow eyes narrowed some more before closing entirely. She took a breath of air and a moment later, she started to walk away from them. As if to leave that small piece of herself behind for good. She hymned on an Aragáti song, feeling its sounds moving something through her - something that was old and new all at once. Devus got to his feet and started stumbling after her. 

“Devus!” Redric yelled, his hand reaching for his wound where hot, sticky blood was flowing through the rough binding that was meant to hold him together. 

“I’ll be back for you!“ He promised, though he was by no means sure that he would. Avrá turned her head to look back at him. He was light on his feet, but she was used to the snow in a way that he never could be.

“It is said this compass can show the right person the way to the Mirror World.” She explained, as if this small piece of information would be enough to soothe him. Devus recalled her mentioning this world many years back. Back when he’d still thought “other worlds” to be just as possible as alchemy or science. These days, he wasn’t quite so sure anymore. Age and boredom seemed to have caged such vivid images, painted them into far blander, more distant and unlikely places he might never reach. Araktéa was an old land of many tales, but the more he read from newer Litterature smuggled from Nagár, the more the legends he’d once found so captivating, had been disproved. 

“Your friend is in pain. He’ll be losing consciousness and possibly his life if you leave him for too long.” Avrá said, stopping as she turned to look back towards Redric. He’d gone silent and though she’d done her best not to cut him too deep, she’d never meant for it to come to this. Devus had two thoughts as far as Redric’s consciousness went. First of all -  if he passed out he wouldn’t be in pain, which was a good thing as far as time was concerned. Secondly, he would have no idea how to get his massive body back home.

“That’s hardly my fault, is it now?” he said. 

“You can bring him back with my rein. I prefer that he lives. He is kind, if not as pure as he might wish to be.” Avrá said distantly, as if between worlds and nearly empty of opinions that belonged to this one, already. Though this seemed a rational choice and a bearable solution, something in Devus refused to comply. This same something was telling him that this would be the very last time he’d ever see Avrá, and that though he could confess his error and have the council speak with the Aragáti elders, she and the compass would be far gone by dawn. If she was willing to defy their laws, she’d be just as willing to leave them for good. Go and seek this Mirror World that she’d once spoken about with such hunger in her eyes.

 “Tell me everything you know of the Mirror World and I’ll forgive you for taking the compass. We’ll forget it ever happened – Redric won’t tell a soul either, he’s too embarrassed. And if he’s not, I’ll make sure he will be.” He knew his bargain was thin and wasn’t quite sure if he could keep the promise entirely, but it seemed forgiveness was all he had to offer her just then. Whether he’d actually feel it or not was another story. 

“The Mirror world is a place where our species made different choices.” Devus waited for a continuation and when there wasn’t one and he felt himself lagging behind he asked, “What kind of choices?”

“This is all I know for now. It’s been hidden knowledge - even for us. Not even the dead will tell me…” she said and looking down at the compass she saw it was turning once again. She stopped in her trail.

“Do not lie to me Avrá! You’re being selfish!” Devus yelled. He realized that perhaps this carelessness was something the two of them shared. That, as well as a restless curiosity that this world never seemed to fully satisfy. Pulling them towards the forbidden so strongly, that any scheme and risk seemed worth it. Making every person a tool first and foremost, and a human second.

“It’s no lie.” She said finally, hoping the needle would settle again, but it did not and she feared it doubted her heart and devotion. Devus was unarmed, yet the fire in his eyes - getting closer and closer now - had started to trouble her. His rising heat even scared Devus himself sometimes, and now it had expanded so viciously that not an inch of him was cold. 

“You’re going there tonight. I know you’re going there – just admit it!” Avrá’s lips tightened and she pulled her knife again. The compass still spun rapidly and as she looked from him to it, she wondered just how wrong she might have been about this boy. Whether the compass had come to her as an opportunity to make a better choice, or if it was a cruel lesson that would cost more blood and ache.

“Just… take me with you.” he pleaded. Now a stone-throw away, he could both see and sense that growing disappointment in her eyes. It seemed to say he was no longer worthy of her company, nor to be trusted with her secrets. It felt like an even worse betrayal than theft and deception. 

“I wanted to…” she half-whispered. A breath of wind tickled through some thin strays of hair veiling her face. “But you have too many storms in you and The Mirror world can’t have more storms. It needs… peace, just like this one.”

“You just stabbed someone and left them in the snow and you believe you will bring it peace?” Devus laughed whilst stumbling forward (only some feet away now), though he knew there was no humor in any of this – that there should be certain limits, even out there where things were meant to be wilder and freer. Even for him. 

“You’re the one letting him bleed. And peace is far above and beyond questions of morality and rules.” Avrá said, wondering whether her tribe would agree. If they’d learn of this and shame her name, or if they’d understand that what she’d done was intended for the highest good of all. If nothing else, it brought new clarity. Wounding Redric hadn’t been intended as a test of what was - or what was not - inside of Devus’ heart, yet, this had always been the piece of him she’d most wondered about. It was as her father always said, “Some answers might come late or in unpleasant ways, but they will always arrive at the right time.” 

“Don’t come closer, Devus.” She warned him. Looking at her knife, he held himself back with all his force. His upper lip trembling with fury. 

“Have you always been deceiving me? Pretending to be my friend, just so that I might bring you the compass someday?” Devus thought there was nothing he despised more than feeling a fool, but spending the rest of his life wondering would be far worse. Regardless of how cruel the truth might be, ignorance was - and would always be - the true enemy and he could never permit himself to ignore this fact. 

“My mission has always been to bring peace and harmony to our land. The elders told me this since I was a child. When your council brought you and the other children to our village all those years ago, you were the only one singing as if you’d been born an Aragáti yourself. That was the first day that I saw any true hope for the future. Your father is a good man, but it takes more than a good man to restore all that has been taken from us. To regain balance…”

“What has been taken from you? The fortress has given you protection, food – medical aid when needed…”

Nature has. But I told my people not to worry. That you’d bring it back someday. That you were more like us than you were like them. That you’d come to fully understand the ancient ways rather than just accepting them. Bring them back to your own people. I believed true unity would be possible but… you cannot even care for your own.” A hot tear escaped her eye. She felt a need to confess and to forgive herself. If she were to go, she could leave nothing there undone or unsaid. The compass wouldn’t allow it. With the heated state Devus was in, she thought it wouldn’t be possible to ease nor to educate him. He would remember every word, but remembrance was as different from understanding as knowledge was from wisdom. She saw that without her there, he might have to learn everything the long and the hard way - if he was ever to truly learn at all. The dead, that were meant to be so loud and clear on this night, were all silent to her questioning. The compass needle was still spinning and once again she found herself in the thickness of doubt. 

I am different from them, Avrá. I might not want to be the Commander of my people, but I’ll do what I can to influence things for the better. How can you just leave yours? Those who cross over to the Mirror World never return – you told me that. And if the portal is in Khantal, how will you even pass their borders without being caught and imprisoned?” Though closer, it was suddenly as if his questions and remarks were coming from far away and Avrá could finally hear the whispers of her ancestors. Though the needle hadn’t completely settled, it was finally pointing north towards her star as it had at first. 

“Perhaps our paths will cross again in some other place.” She said and then she started walking rapidly, for the dead said the boy was dangerous and unpredictable and she needed to get away wherever away might be. Devus observed. Her steps were so light and weightless now, it seemed the rules of gravity no longer applied to her. 

“You can’t just walk away from me, Avrá! You can’t just leave the world! I’ll bring it all back – I swear to you...” How he’d manage to bring nature and balance back to the world and the Aragáti, he did not know. But if anyone, he knew he’d be able to find a way. Devus always found a way. 

“I’ll be watching from the other side.” Avrá said and decided these would be her last words to him. There had been far more she’d thought she ought to say, but they all seemed to be fading from her mind and she favoured the hymn of a song that had come to her three nights before.

 

“They were two

Two walking through

Through an invisible war

Cold, and in bliss

Looking for more

 

Together,

forever in a dream

Both hungry

both freezing

both yearning

One burning

 

For some God

Or all the stars

Shining brighter

in the north

The north beyond Dabár.”

 

 Though she was only one, she knew it was true that night-visions and prophecies were seldom as they appeared to the mind, and so, she chose to put her trust in a far older legend that night. One that said this compass led each person home to their star. That a chosen few would find it in the Mirror World, and that once the compass was brought to its original placement, the disturbances and imbalances between the worlds would dissolve. Before she sat down in her pulk, she thanked the dead for showing her what she’d been blinded from seeing. For as much as she’d hoped that this boy, one she’d thought she might love, would be coming with her, it was all too clear to her now, that Devus Teague did not search for stars or gods. Not for peace and not for balance. No, he was still much too distracted with knowledge and with himself, to crave for both higher and deeper truths. 

 “I curse you Avrá. I curse you! You are more terrible than I am for what you’re doing!” Her rein started running and was pulling her forward towards the mountain. Devus stumbled forward a few steps more, though it was and felt utterly pointless. As she became a shrinking dot in the far, he started screaming. It was such a loud sound that he for a moment thought they’d hear him all the way to the fortress, but he did not care. He yelled vicious curses her way. Damning her both in common Araktéan and her tribal language. Damning every moment they’d spent together and every single tale she’d told him – calling them lies and delusions. Calling her a loon and a sorceress. He cursed her past and future and wished her to go through all the seven hells of Araktéa and whatever hells this Mirror World might have in store. His rage was so strong that his limbs and heart were hurting by the end of it. 

 

At last, he lost his breath – his throat bloody from all the damnation and the cold air’s response to it. Falling to his knees in exhaustion, he heard a cracking sound. The ground started bouldering in a similar way he remembered it once had, when the council had taken them to see a herd of wild buffalos. “When they feel a storm coming, they run straight through it to reach the other side faster.“ His father had explained. Now, as Devus raised his heated head, he saw the whiteness of the Khantalin mountain moving in the distance and out of the perfect silence of the Dabárian night, a huge block of ice fell to the ground. Then another, and yet another. What was coming, was by no means a storm that anyone could run through, and so Devus got to his feet and he ran straight south. He ran as fast as his feet could carry him through his past footprints. Finally reaching Redric’s body (pale and half-conscious) he was gasping for air.

“Redric!” He demanded, as the avalanche was coming closer and closer. He’d spotted a small hillside with an opening eighty yards away or so. Maybe, if they were lucky and inhumanly quick, they’d be able to get there in time. 

“Wake up!” Devus yelled, slapping his stupid face and finally his eyes opened.

“Damn you Teague. Damn you for damning us all.” Redric muttered, for though still barely conscious, he sensed that whatever was coming, it was something ruthless. Something that did not care for mortality, or to spare the innocent. For once, Devus had no cunning reply for him. Instead, he gathered all his remaining strength and did what he could to pull him up. Redric stumbled and with their best efforts, they started moving towards the hillside. Next to them, the large masses of snow and ice increased in speed and were soon out-roaring Redric’s moaning. A few sluggish steps, and it was as if every last bit of noise had been removed from their ears. They’d been taken by a long, endless high-pitch sound, unlike any instrument, bird or girlish outburst any of them had ever heard. It seemed like something of a passage to an absolute void,  and they both wondered if this was how death or hell or the end of all things might sound. With his sight focused on every shaking step, Redric couldn’t know how close they were - not to their salvation nor their death - but Devus hadn’t ceased to see or to calculate. As the white masses approached, faster and hungrier every moment, any other person with such an accurate logic, might have given in due to what seemed to be a complete impossibility. But Devus was far too furious to die, and so he used all his heat, all his anger and ferocity, to keep moving. Screaming, pushing and cursing words that couldn’t be fully heard by human ears, he leaped forward. Redric’s large body, lagging just next to him like a grand burden of morals and ethics. Just as the huge, white wave washed the landscape, and all the marks they’d left behind them clean, they both fell forward into the hill’s shelter they observed, breathing heavily as the avalanche rushed like a great ocean next to them. So white it was nearly blinding. Ferocious, vicious and gorgeous all at once. The relief lessened their pains and fears for a short while, but only until nature had stilled and the night had silenced once again. The air still seemed tense and cruel, like an ice cold warning and a reminder that they were no longer welcome.

“Now, we need to get back home before we freeze to death. Can you walk?” Devus asked and Redric sent him a miserable and angry look. 

“Can you stumble then?” He nodded, and so this was what they did. Step by step, through the white dunes, with Redric’s leaving a thin stream of red behind him. “A great sacrifice to the mighty Earth.” Devus sensed Avrá would’ve commented had she still been among them. He’d dared to look back as he’d ran, to see whether her rein could get her out in time, but they’d been too close to the wall. It seemed to him their world had claimed both of them before they could leave it. 

“You’re a bastard Teague.” Redric broke the silence after some time. 

“Yes.” Devus said, then considered whether he meant a common bastard or if this was the best he could do in insulting him. His parents had never wed – that was common enough knowledge. Something people seemed to have forgiven if not outright ignored. Perhaps it was just the pain, but Redric’s face looked more hostile than Devus had ever seen it before and though it seemed the wrong time for it, it felt like a small accomplishment.

“You wanted to leave me there for good – didn’t you?”

“As for the now, I’m saving your life Redric, so that’s hardly fair… we both wanted to get the compass back - remember?”

“At this pace, I’m actually quite sure I’ll die. If so, I need you to know, if you can’t understand this with that brilliant brain of yours –  all of this is on your conscience. If you have one, that is.” He said, sounding more aggravated than in despair by the fact that he might die. Devus on his end, thought he was being a bit dramatic.

“Don’t be such a child, it’s just a scratch and you came with me willingly. Besides, I haven’t even given you a hard time about losing my father’s compass, so you better watch your tone.” Redric made something in-between a snarf and a laugh.

“You… you son of a witch.” He said between tight lips. “You don’t care about anyone do you, Teague? I know we might not be friends but…” There was a pause.  Both of them panted as they made their way through the thickness of winter and ancient pieces of ice. Aching in limbs and bones they’d never given much attention to in their young lives, and to Devus’ surprise it didn’t bother him much. In fact, having escaped death with such elegance thrilled him somehow.

“I’ve always defended you. Devus. I always came to your defense whenever someone made cruel claims about your mother, but from what I saw and heard tonight, perhaps it’s all true…”

“Oh, well thank you Sir for defending my fine reputation.” Devus said, not bothering to guess which rumor he might be referring to. He despised common gossip, and cringed by Redric’s need to showcase just how damn noble he was. The truth was that there was a hatred inside of him. One he was refusing to admit too, even now, in what he seemed to think would be his final hours. 

“Many say she was a loon, Devus - an actual sorceress. That she took Nicholas under her control, made him fall in love with her and give her a child. One that would corrupt the movement and create chaos. And tonight you...” 

“Ha! Now, that’s a proper cock and bull story, Redric. I might be a bastard in all other aspects, but if you think I can control the snow and move mountains...” Devus chuckled.

“How would you be so sure of what malice you might be capable of, if your mother never lived to teach you?“ Devus snarfed again. She had passed before he’d gotten the chance to even remember her face, so he did not know. But it seemed ridiculous. Out of all the things he’d ever wanted to know about, his mother’s origin was something he’d given up on quite early. Nobody ever talked about her, and it seemed such a small and irrelevant subject compared to everything else there was to learn about. 

“I’ve read through all the council’s records from that period. There’s not a word about any sorcery and my mother’s name is barely mentioned. She didn’t even take part in the council.“

“Our records don’t all need to be accurate. What if you….”

“Bloody hells, Redric. You’re seriously suggesting I’m an actual son of a witch. And here I’ve been, thinking you have no sense of humor or imagination.” Devus laughed now, and this only made Redric more superstitious and infuriated. Devus had always been different. Redric had figured he just felt a little misplaced and he’d even felt for him, but there seemed to be more to it. 

“You called for death and all sorts of hells upon that girl. I might only have been half-awake but I heard it.”

“I was furious with Avrá - so I screamed. At worst, the avalanche was a natural effect of the sound waves. Also, I’d love to hear more of your hero tales, but if you want to survive so badly, you might want to focus your energy on walking.” Redric bit his lip. There was a genuine part of him that wanted to warn Devus about what he might be capable of. He was always so bloody observant, yet he almost seemed untouched by what had just occurred. And then there was another part of Redric. One that was angry, and mostly wished Devus would feel bad about what he’d done, if not even who he was. 

 

For the final miles leading to the tunnels, none of them spoke a word. Phee awaited them there and since she’d suspected they’d get into trouble, she’d brought all kinds of aids and remedies. It was quite possibly due to her efficiency that Redric didn’t end up bleeding out that night, for his wound had both stretched and deepend and the cold hadn’t been merciful. “I told you this wouldn’t go well, you fools.“ She didn’t say it as viciously as she’d planned to, and Devus observed as Redric’s eyes turned bright and so full of gratitude towards her, it seemed to have been worth a night of unpleasantries. Observing his peers, Devus wondered whether he’d ever feel such an intense affection towards another person. He thought of Avrá. Of how she might be buried out there, deep under the snow bed - too deep for him to dig out. She could’ve survived it – everything was possible - but it was unlikely. Perhaps the compass was still out there too. Frozen into her little hand. But he sensed she was gone from this world, and as the thrill of having escaped death wore off, he for once felt himself on the very edge of exhaustion.

 

He and Phee got Redric to his bed and then each went to their own, just in time before dawn. All the while their peers slept heavy and clueless in their beds. None of them would learn of the vile adventure on the next day or in the years that followed. The very moment Devus felt himself fading into sleep he could hear a voice merging from his own mind. “You called upon the forces tonight and now Avrá is gone.“ It was not a memory of Redric’s accusation (his opinions usually went in one ear and out the other), no, this was quite another voice. A familiar one that had always seemed to be occupying a space inside of him. It’d been quiet for some time, but he always trusted it’d return, and it wasn’t entirely unwanted. Though sometimes cruel, he could always rely on its honesty and so, he’d long since decided that he respected it. It went on to say that he had not loved Avrá. Though he had momentarily (while they were walking and things had seemed good), wished that he could, he now felt relieved to hear this. You should grieve the loss of loved ones. Instead, he was filled with fury about the many ways she might have deceived him and wondering who could possibly tell him about the Aragáti now that she was gone. That could not be love. If so, love was such a cold and deceiving thing, that he wanted nothing to do with it. 

 

The last thing he thought as he turned to his back to sleep was: “What if I’m truly less human and more something else...” Finally, deep asleep he could hear the Aragáti's ancient songs and drums - like long, heavy sounds of grief. The world seemed to know it had lost something treasurous that night, and that there was no easy way of getting it back. But the sadness that entered him there, in the best in-between he could currently access, was mostly like a distant breeze. One that couldn’t be grasped or even remembered when he awoke. In the morning they all gathered for breakfast as usual. Everyone but Redric, who said he’d been practicing his fencing at night. That’d he’d been uncareful, and that in the darkness he’d managed to pierce himself. Though his eyes had flickered and the tale seemed strange, their teachers had believed him (Redric never lied after all) and they brought all kinds of herbal remedies to heal the wound. His recovery would be slow and painful, but not worse than his worry about being confronted, punished and shamed for what they’d done that night. For what they’d lost.  With far less care and anxiety, Devus awaited similar events - the chase that would always follow when something precious went missing in the fortress, but they would both be waiting long and in vain. 

 

Never would they learn that Nicholas Teague had discovered the missing item, as they’d been right below his feet. It had taken him less than an instant to suspect his son. As he’d sighed, shut the drawer and walked around his study for what seemed an eternity, unusual ideas had come to him. As unacceptable as he considered the theft, any mention of the compass would bring about far more complications than resolutions. Questions he had no desire, nor enough understanding to answer to. There was a deep guilt tied to the thing, and he was at part relieved it was out of both his sight and possession. It did not belong to him. It had never been his, and though he didn’t believe it had fully belonged to that woman (one he’d falsely called Delilah Bailey) either, she had both brought and left it behind there. Nicholas Teague seldom found any counsel in Araktéan law, but for once, on that strange night with a blood red moon glaring at him through his window, the law of inheritance eased his conscience. Perhaps it was not completely wrong to interpret that the compass belonged to his son - or that he’d taken it. For all he knew, it was meant to lead him wherever it was that he needed to go. Perhaps to find that missing piece, just like the Parda had once told Nicholas that he would, all those years ago. “Time will tell.” He’d thought, and his decision had been made and his head finally met his pillow. He would think the very same thing, each time Devus walked by him in the hallways. Every time their eyes met and on the rare occasions that they spoke - as his strange son would smile, and not a single shade of guilt or concern touched his features. As many moons passed, they’d both be relieved to see less and less of each other, as Devus would resume reading his books and wandering through his tunnels at night. Thinking hard and deep of many things that were simpler to grasp than the secrets that might be buried within his veins. Dark secrets that he’d someday -  some day soon -- would be dying to learn. 












 


Submitted: October 12, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Victoria M. Steinsøy. All rights reserved.

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Rob73

A wonderful fantasy story.

Wed, October 13th, 2021 6:06am

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Thank you so much, glad you enjoyed it!

Thu, October 14th, 2021 4:16am

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