Understanding is the basis of all human life. There can be no peace without understanding, and consequently, war is a common result of some misunderstanding. Many scholars write of the importance of harmony, but what is harmony without understanding? Little more than a discordant excuse.
I nodded to myself, closing the book. On Peace and Understanding. It was by a scholar that always impressed me- D’var Seerkin. I was constantly studying his texts.
I picked up another book, but lowered it when I saw the author. Edwin Varkist. I thought I didn’t own any books by him anymore. He had little scholarly knowledge, and, in my opinion, could hardly be counted as a ‘great philosopher’. He made plenty of claims, but with little reasoning.
I was about to open another book, when Mixel, form third class, entered the library.
“Master?” it said.
I looked up. “Yes?”
“There is someone here to see you, master. Shall I show them in?”
“Of course, Mixel,” I nodded.
It bowed, and left. A moment later it returned, accompanied by a man in a long deep purple robe.
“Râegan Castaldi?” he said evenly, approaching me with a dignified pace.
“That would be me,” I replied.
“Good. I wish to speak to you.”
“Very well.” I stood.
My eyes were drawn to the strange markings on the back of his hand, as he laid one upon my ever-changing stack of books. It was a strange pattern, one I didn’t recognize immediately- a rare occurance for me. The second rune was a helm, with blue runes inlaid over where the eyes would be.
Putting the two together was easy then. This was an Ironblood.
Ironbloods were peculiar types. They were the result of a particularly strange and dangerous ritual that less talented trainees would undertake instead of graduating to become a Sivva. I had heard that it was dangerous- and also incredibly painful, if not for the aid of magic, and other, more mundane things. First, the runes were cut into their skin, then filled with molten iron. Then the helm rune was inscribed, inlaid with an iron brand. The fortunate future Ironblood would be unconscious for all this, while powerful spells were cast over him or her, permitting the newly created Ironblood a rare gift- immunity to magic of all types. Ironbloods were highly important in the political world of Simar, acting as the Sivva’s main enforcers, and secret policing force.
So what was one doing here?
The answer presented itself quickly enough when I rose to find a nexus spear aimed almost casually at my face. The barbed tip glowed with an unnatural green light. Electricity crackled around the blade- a sign of the elementals trapped within the spearhead.
“Sit, Râegan,” the Ironblood ordered.
I complied, though my pulse was racing. What could he want? How could the Sivva’s anger have suddenly been turned against me for a second time- harsh enough to cause them to send someone- and an Ironblood at that?
“You,” he said calmly, “are under arrest by charges of treason by the Sivva council of Shivax. You will report there immediately for your subsequent trial, after which a reasonable punishment will be issued. Resist, and you will automatically be considered guilty, and I will be forced to kill you on the spot.”
“That… that won’t be necessary,” I said, regaining my composure enough to speak a little more calmly. “There is no reason to resist- after all, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“The council will determine that,” the Ironblood smiled darkly. “But if you are speaking the truth, then perhaps this all will be an unnecessary procedure, and you will be allowed to continue your studies with no hard feelings.”
“Of course,” I nodded.
“Until then…” he gestured for me to hold out my hands. I complied, and he locked two iron cuffs around them. A strange emptiness settled inside me- an emptiness that I had come to associate with the loss of my magic.
The Ironblood lowered the nexus spear, and gestured towards the door.
I nodded, keeping my head up- it would make my position even worse to appear afraid, or even slightly concerned.
Outside, there were four other Sivvas waiting, each armed with nexus spears. They were second year graduates- I had briefly educated each one of them.
“Karsha, Ievale, Mari, Ran, what’s all this about?” I asked.
Each one looked away as I spoke their names. They seemed ashamed, and I wondered if they believed that I really was a traitor- though for what I couldn’t imagine.
“I’m sorry, Râegan,” Mari murmured. “Please don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
“Silence!” The Ironblood ordered.
Mari fell silent again. None of the other Sivvas spoke, so I was left in complete silence, unable to speak to anyone, and unsure of what lay ahead.
The Ironblood took a single amulet of transportation and muttered the necessary activation word. As a bubble materialized around us, everything outside the bubble seemed to blur, then the colors ran together, dripping like paint. I experienced briefly the dizzying sensation of falling, then the world outside solidified, and we were standing in the entrance to the court building- a building that I was not incredibly pleased to be seeing again so soon after my past trial. I had hoped that I would not have to be tried again, but apparently new evidence had come to light.
There were quick footsteps and Miraza appeared, surrounded by another guard of Sivvas, plus a second Ironblood. She dismissed the four second years, and made a gesture to the other Sivvas. They spread out, ringing me, each one holding nexus spears level. There was no pity or shame in their eyes. Their eyes were cold and hard with hatred.
Miraza strode right up to me, so that her face was inches from mine. Out of all of the Sivvas, her face was the most enraged. But beyond the rage was something else- betrayal.
“I should have known it would be you,” she snarled. “Curse our sympathy for letting you get away before! We should have seen it coming! Seen what you were becoming.”
“I-” I started. I hardly got further than that.
“Silence!” Miraza ordered.
I obeyed. I feared her now- feared what she could do in her anger. Feared what she would do. Because I knew something was horribly wrong.
“You never were happy just staying in your place, were you, Râegan?” she demanded. “Always having to be greater, always wanting more power. But for Åethril’s sake, Râegan, I never thought it would be you! You weren’t one to go for power- you were a scholar! I never would have imagined that you would betray us. You’ve never put so much as a hair out of line before. Why would you now? We trusted you. But then again, the most trusted are the best liars, aren’t they?”
“A liar?” I demanded.
Miraza’s fists clenched and unclenched- I had never seen her so furious.
“What did he promise you?” she hissed. “What could he possibly have promised you? You know he’ll never keep his promises. You’re too powerful for him to have as an ally- or an enemy. He’ll kill you as soon as he is done with you. How has he convinced you?!”
I froze, my blood going cold. So that’s what she believed. She believed that I was allied with Karnax. She thought I was helping him. But how?
“Karnax?!” I demanded. “He hasn’t promised me anything- except perhaps to kill me,” I replied. “He’s no ally of mine.”
“Then explain this,” Miraza hissed. She held her hand out to one of the Sivvas behind her, and they placed a gleaming cage in her hand. She opened it, and a glowing ball of light- a whisper- shot from it, before settling in front of me.
Dreading what it might say, I reached out and took it in my hand.
Instantly, Karnax’s voice echoed in my head.
Well done, Râegan. He sounded pleased. You’ll be pleased to know that everything has gone perfectly. Stand by, and be prepared for the next stage. I will await you at the Nest of Gems. Our victory is close- remember your part in this, and you will gain your share in the end.
The whisper fizzled out.
“Now, what do you suppose that was about?” Miraza asked.
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “It must be a ruse. Something to throw us off. I’ve done nothing to help him.”
“Have you?” she hissed. “Well hear this! When we brought you back, afterwards we found out that there was a strange magical aura around you, that vanished as we passed through the barrier. A day later, the barrier was gone. There was a spell attached to you, or your cloak, rather, that dismantled our barriers.”
I shook my head in disbelief. This was a possibility I had never expected. The barrier down. The Hâfléngs were free to return to Simar. Karnax was free to return.
This is what he wanted all along! I never would have seen this. How long has he been planning this? Why else would be have wanted to capture a Sivva? It’s all so simple now.
“Do you know this place?” Miraza persisted. “This ‘Nest of Gems’?”
The worst part? I did.
I couldn’t decide what to do. If I lied, I could be convicted further. But telling the truth was equally risky.
In the end, the truth won out.
“Yes,” I confessed, dropping my head and preparing for the following questions.
“You have a way to prove your loyalty then,” Miraza replied sharply, her eyes narrowing. “Tell us the location. Betray Karnax.”
“I was forced to swear an oath by the guardian of that place,” I explained, my voice somehow strong despite my fear. “I can never reveal its location to anyone. I am sorry, I cannot.” I began to speak again, but Miraza’s expression darkened, and she turned away.
“Then you have no way to convince me. Let us go.”