Descent Into Darkness: His Own
The room moved violently. Ba’tvian braced himself as best he could, reaching for his notes on the ritual. He could all but smell the fear from the rats. The sour-sweet scent quickened his pulse. He licked his lips as he read.
He had to survive. If he died, he would never achieve greatness. If he succeeded, he may yet still be stripped of everything. It was the way of the world, to hold down and oppress those meant for more. He’d learned this long ago. Yet he might receive leniency for saving everyone. It was a thin hope, he knew. Still…He gave a hollow laugh. Even if they stripped him, he’d come back greater, more powerful, than before. He was certain that he would find a way.
With the words he needed burning his mind, he flung out an arm. Magic surged through him. He heard the rats screech as the carvings on the floor flared with a sooty red light. He chanted the words even as the earth bucked. Rock strained, whined, cracked like a whip. Pieces of the ceiling fell as he determinedly finished the incantation. A section of stone from above broke to fall on the rats.
The world tilted, and he was tossed into darkness just as the last word was said.
BA’TVIAN awoke slowly. Grit dusted his face and his body felt stiff. How long he had lain sprawled on the floor, he didn’t know. He couldn’t even remember what had happened before opening his eyes.
All was quiet. Above him the stone ceiling had cracked, the fissures running out from the walls in a crazed spider web. Acrid, smoky air filled his nostrils. Something was burning nearby. The light illuminating the space was the wrong color to be from a fire. It was too bright.
A chip of ceiling fell to land on his shoulder. With it came his memory. An earthquake…the rats…the dim surge of power at the end…the violent dance of rock …
The world had stilled.
He listened to the rush of the wind. Turning his head, he could see the damage by the sunlight pouring through the massive rift in the stone wall. Part of the ceiling had collapsed in the far corner of the basement. By the new opening, a section of the floor had broken off into the sea far below. He saw that the rest of the basement floor was buckled, a fact that baffled him. The basement was at the top of huge tower of natural stone. He would have thought that the stone – was it granite? – would sooner topple than heave up and down as it had.
Well, he was no expert on the matter of earthen quakes or rock.
With a grunt, he levered himself up into a kneeling position. Pebbles cascaded off him. Shaking out his brown hair to dislodge more of the debris, he looked around. He wouldn’t be able to use this place again. The privacy this long-forgotten basement had provided was now compromised. All of the inscriptions, the symbols, and lines he’d carved into the stone facing were fractured or demolished. Useless they might be, they were evidence of what had transpired here, evidence that could be used against him. He should have thought of this eventuality before.
He would next time.
Someone would come looking soon, if only to inspect the damage. He had little time to cleanse the room.
Squashed rats, rubble, pieces of the whicker cages littered the center of the casting diagram. Reminded by them, he took another glance about the chamber then grinned. Heavy debris was everywhere – except the spot he had lain in. Elation filled him. He had survived. He had succeeded!
Still he could not be careless. Picking his way towards the carved pattern, he determined that he could easily throw most of the sacrificial evidence out the large hole into the water below. That, at least, would simple. However, the blood staining the rock and the carvings could not be so easily remedied. Discovery was inevitable.
Ba’tvian curled his lip at the thought. A circus of accusations and trials would follow, he knew. He needed a plan, an escape. He knew the laws of the Trinity, in particular the laws concerning mage-craft. While he was certain that he wouldn’t be executed because of his youth, he wasn’t sure what the consequences would be. Exile? Incarceration? Maiming? The laws were not specific for blood mages below the age of eighteen. He wasn’t about to wait around to find out.
Now that he had succeeded once, he wanted to see what else he could do.
At sixteen, Ba’tvian was a five-year student at the College of Magery of the Trinity. Called the Red Tower for the color of the rooftops, it was one of three schools here. Scholars studied in gold domed buildings, while artisans learned their craft under blue capped structures. They had held little interest to him. It had always been magery – magic – that had called to him. Magic, and secrets. The more closely guarded the secret, the more insatiable his need to know it.
With power added to the mix, he found it irresistible.
He was already suspect. His mentor at the college knew of his curiosity, knew that he’d been researching things in the libraries that were best left alone. Master Oknare had warned him away from the more fascinating practices, informing the librarians that he was not to go unmonitored when going through the texts. The man hadn’t known that Ba’tvian had already concluded his research there. What he’d sought then could only be found in the protected caches at the heart of the college; he knew that he was not yet able to crack into them.
Still, he’d had enough to start experimenting.
Thinking of what lay ahead soured his mood. Scowling, he began to clean up. Perhaps, if he was lucky, he might be able to find his way into the docking caverns, then steal a boat. Food and water would be a problem, but he didn’t think it insurmountable.
“Damn earthquake,” he muttered as he gathered the rats to throw them away. “I should have planned for this, for when I had to leave…”
No matter what his options might have been, he knew that the time of learning was essentially over. The college was no longer a shelter. Returning home was not a choice he would even consider. The former was now an enemy, while the latter…
His parents and siblings despised him. The feeling was mutual.
All of his young life, they had tried to drag him down. They toiled in fields that weren’t theirs, tended crops they wouldn’t eat, looked no further than the work that was expected of them or each other. Instead of thinking of ways to improve their lot in life, they were grateful for it. They didn’t own a thing, not even themselves, yet they were grateful. Ba’tvian found it pathetically sickening.
He had determined early on that he would be no one’s slave. He had known that he was different, that he was gifted, that his destiny lay somewhere outside the life of his family’s serfdom. They had ridiculed his belief, riddled his tiny soul with holes until whatever affection he’d felt for them had been drowned in defiance and pain.
He had thrown off that yoke when he’d been sponsored to the college. An accidental, harmless manifestation of power when he was eleven had caught the notice of their master. He had elected to have him trained so that he might serve as a full-mage when he reached adulthood. There would be no fields, no crops, no stabbing remarks of disapproval.
Yet he would still be obligated to – owned by – someone else.
Grimly, he tossed the rats out as he defied the thought.
Mage or not, Ba’tvian would be no one’s serf, no one’s servant. He’d studied hard. He’d achieved in five years the accomplishments of eight year students. His zeal had not gone unnoticed. Such prodigious talent had warranted a personal mentor so he had been charged to Master Oknare. He had been encouraged, guided – restricted.
He hated restrictions.
He hated cages. The image of himself being locked away in the cells to await punishment made his skin crawl. He wouldn’t bear it. There had to be an alternative. Something. Anything. That meant leaving, somehow. He liked the idea of running about as much as he liked the idea of being caught. Of the two, however, it was the best choice.
Provided he could get out of the basement, then find a way off the Trinity and onto the mainland.
A serf didn’t have money. A half-trained mage didn’t much in the way of power. A trio of stone towers standing in the middle of the ocean didn’t have many ways out. There had to be a way…there had to be…
First, he needed to get out of the ruined room.
Turning, he started through the debris. The stairs that led up to the concealed trap door he’d fashioned were still intact. He just hoped that the floor or ceiling of his room hadn’t given way to obstruct the door in some way. Reaching the bottom step, he heard a sound and looked up.
He stared into the shocked face of his master.