The One from the Red Shoal

After his last arrangements ended on bad terms, astronomer and sorcerer Haltolomos returns to his home city Terscepolos to recover his reputation and find a new patron for his research. However, upon his return, he happens upon an unlikely child; a twenty year old girl named Ryu masquerading as a younger boy at a slave auction. Intrigued and in need of good help, he purchases her, but finds that she is far more than the scribe he bargained for. A person of sharp intelligence and strong resolve, she may also be skilled in the same occult magics he has studied for years.

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A standalone novel set seventy years before the events of The Third Son, which is available on wattpad.com


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5. Chapter Five

 

Ryu chewed on a small piece of sweet bread, sitting at a small table in the street. The sun was rising over the horizon in streaks of red and white.

Across the street, she could see Haltolomos through the windows of the store. She watched him look over shelves of newly printed books, wondering how long she had before he returned. She leaned over the small table, looking down the end of the street, then the other. Barely anyone was out at this hour. But if there was anything she'd learned from her previous owners, it was that a poorly timed escape was worse than no escape at all. She sat back.

The shop's door opened with a small chime. Haltolomos walked across the street and sat beside her, a book in hand.

"Ryu, if there is one thing true of all scientists," Haltolomos said, "it's that we will jump at any excuse to discuss our work. Ask one a question concerning his data or his conclusions or his new, improved flashy methods, and he will go on and on. He doesn't give a shit who you are, where you're from, or what you could possibly want."

As he spoke, he opened his new book in his lap, thumbing through it quickly.

"How much did that book cost?" Ryu asked. The cover was new leather and the binding was thickly stitched.

He flipped to the next page. The paper crinkled beneath his hands. "I don't need dinner tonight."

"Sir, I could--"

"You're too small. You need some fat."

She frowned. She would never complain about being well fed, but the idea of her appearance changing disturbed her. Would she start looking more like a woman? With a round stomach and hips and breasts? She couldn't even imagine what that might look like.

Her bread tasted like ash and dirt. She forced herself to swallow and take another bite.

"Ah, here," Haltolomos said, pressing his thumb into part of the book. "This is the man we're looking for."

Ryu looked at the page. She could make out a few of the words, but not enough to make sense of the sentences. She recognized one of the names.

"Fascius Noreim?" she asked. "That was on the..."

"The list you took from the temple, that's right." Haltolomos turned the page, eyes darting back and forth as he scanned it quickly. "This is the most recent Light and Optics journal. Noreim has privileges at an esteemed Tasallapiem but in order to have gotten this data, he would have had to utilize a microscope, which you won't find anywhere else but a well established Orriepiem."

With a tired sigh, he slipped the scientific journal into his pack and rose. "We should get moving. According to those contacts," he said, "Noreim works at the temple just down the street. I'm not entirely sure when. I may need to come back after I bring you to your lesson with Nikureh."

She stood and followed him down the street. "You're going to sit out here and wait for him?" The day was already getting hot. The sunlight fell on the dust in the air. Sand clung to the sweat between Ryu's toes.

"Do you have a better plan?" he asked. This Tasallapiem was smaller than the one they had been to before. It sat between two other buildings, rising into a sloped red-stone roof. The stain-glass windows were lit from the inside with a display of candles.

"You can't talk to the overseer?"

"Temples are terrible gossips." Haltolomos rolled his eyes. "If this temple was on the contacts list of the other, no doubt their overseers and clerics have spoken before."

Ryu leaned against a nearby streetlamp. The iron was already hot. She shifted her shoulders so her toga lay between her skin and the metal.

"Sometimes my last master would make me and other boys stand in the sun for hours," she said. "But this is better, I suppose."

He turned to her, brow furrowed. "Your master didn't know?"

"That I'm a girl?" The sentence fell bitter on her tongue. "No."

"It wasn't his idea? To make extra money?"

She tilted her head to the side. Her short hair fell against her ear. "Do you think he would be that clever?"

"But he never inspected you?"

You mean saw me naked? Ryu snorted. "I was smart about it."

"Are you telling me," Hal said, "of your master and all of the people in that crowd, I was the only person who noticed you're a girl?"

"Yessir."

"Doesn't that strike you as strange?"

Her eyes narrowed. "You sound like the odd one out here, sir, not me."

"Has it always seemed to you," Hal asked, "that when people look at you, they don't really see you?"

"I'm good at making people see what they want." She shrugged.

"Why do you think that is?"

"Wouldn't it be easier to assume that I'm a boy, than that my master has come up with some grand plan to make more money? Or that if I act confident it's because I have a reason to be, rather than trying to figure out why I might not? It's less work to believe a lie."

"That is only true if the lie is more believable than the truth. Ryu, you weren't even wearing a shirt."

She wasn't sure if he was smiling for frowning, but the intensity in his dark eyes made her shrink back. "I don't look like a girl," she insisted. She felt like her skin was crawling.

"Ryu, when I was young," Haltolomos said, "I ran my hands over lit candles in temple. My parents thought I was hurting myself. There was no reason for me to think that other people weren't similarly connected to fire as I was. When something is so normal to you, it is hard to consider that it is in fact, an incredibly rare gift."

"I don't understand what you mean."

"This would be better explained elsewhere."

"Don't you need to wait for Noreim?"

He took her shoulder, pulling for forward. "That can wait."

---

The Klennopiem was small and dark. The walls and ceiling were painted in designs of varying blues and silver and the floor was lined with ceramic tile. The shade was refreshing and the air felt full of water. A quiet breeze made the air on the back of her neck rise.

"It's quiet in here," she whispered. She let her hand run along the wall, tracing the silver lines. The rise and fall of the motifs symbolized the cycle of the moon. She wished she was literate enough to decipher the hidden calligraphy in the designs.

"Services don't start until sundown." Klenno was the goddess of the moon and Her temples typically served as secluded sanctuaries.

A ray of sunlight hit Ryu's face. She blinked and looked up. The domed roof had a hole at the top. Some rain from last night still clung to the edges of the intricate ceiling in small drops, lit like small gems in the morning sun.

He sat on one of the benches by the wall. "Here." He patted the space beside him.

She sat beside him, tucking her legs beneath her. The tiles made a chill shiver up her spine. The sensation reminded her of running water and the taste of silt.

"Why are we here, sir?"

"It's private," he said. "And it's one of my favorite Klennopiems. Feel the walls."

"I can."

"Some temples are different than others," he said. "I think it depends on the location, but the walls of this temple quite literally contain energy from another plane. Energy without direction naturally dissipates. But this temple acts like a magnet, so everything seems to.... linger, significantly longer than it should. You can hear it the same way you could see what I summoned. Honestly, I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier."

Ryu shifted her weight so her skin was no longer touching the tiles. She gave the decorated walls a dubious side-glance.

"Some people are the same. Your attunement," Haltolomos explained, "is how the energy of your soul is connected to the energy of another plane. This connection isn't perfect. It leaks, even if we aren't summoning energy, and this energy acts according to its primary passive direction--innate behavior--and its secondary passive direction--your attunement."

"Innate behavior?"

"All energy has a set of behaviors unique to its plane. For example, energy from the plane of fire is converted into heat. It makes sense."

"Then what would active direction be?"

"Spellwork. More complicated." He shook his head. "I'm more concerned with what plane you might be connected to, and how."

"Sir?"

"If we consider the possibility that your attunement contributes to your disguise, it would answer a lot of questions. And knowing your attunement is the first step to summoning."

Ryu frowned. She could still feel energy through the walls of the Klennopiem and she felt small compared to its vastness. "You're assuming that I'm blessed by the Gods."

"Because you are abnormal, Ryu," he said, "and exceptional, and there's a reason for it." His eyes caught hers, burning for a moment in the fleeting sunlight that spilled into the temple. She remembered how fire appeared at his fingertips as effortlessly as breathing. Surely he could raze cities with power like that, so close to the Gods. Her words, her lies and her suggestions--they couldn't be the same.

Could we be?

He stood, holding out his hand. She peered up at him.

"Come on. We're going to be late for your lesson with Nikureh."

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