Chapter 10: Exodus
The journey back to Aureus was even more arduous than their journey out. Baroque, still tightly bound, was lying relatively subdued in the middle of the carriage and at the feet of the young novices. A pregnant silence hung in the air, like the ominous silence that preceded the rumbling of a distant storm.
After the initial shock and concern about the attack on Auriel and Rose, a deep sense of foreboding had developed in the group. This had become intensified by De Lille’s noticeable impatience to return to the Oratory and his heightened level of vigilance throughout the journey.
The Whyte cell had been seated together, at the front of the carriage. De Lille had insisted that Rose sat behind him and the driver, and between the other novices. This had the effect of further emphasising, not only her importance in relation to the other students but also the peril that they were all now in.
As they entered the Oratory’s courtyard, their mood lifted slightly. It was elevated mainly by the relief of being back under the protection of the Magisters, but also in the knowledge that they would soon be able to stretch their limbs.
However, their solace was short lived. The carriage was met by Lord Golden, who was worryingly flanked by a contingent of heavily armed Centurion guards.
As the wagon drew to a halt, Ash smiled at the row of long faces sitting beside him.
“Hey people, cheer up,” he said. “Our fame is spreading. Look they’ve sent us a welcoming committee.” He nodded towards the guards.
“I believe the welcome is for him” corrected Lee as two large Centurions reached into the carriage.
Roughly, they dragged the much-diminished figure of Baroque out onto the ground. Then lifting him up, they carried him off towards the Pyrus accompanied by four other guards. Most of the remaining Centurions took up positions around the perimeter of the Oratory buildings. Six remained behind at the wagon to act as escorts for the novices. Lord Golden hurried to the carriage, speaking briefly to De Lille as he alighted and then solemnly instructing the novices to line up beside the carriage. De Lille, though an epitome of calm, appeared uncharacteristically sombre as he spoke to them.
“I understand that you have had your own problem to deal with, but I am afraid that there has been another serious incident, the severity of which is still unfolding. Lord Dux has asked that everyone is assembled in the atrium, where he will be addressing you presently. Prepare yourselves; it appears the Sooth has some grave and disturbing news from Hydrargyrum.”
He signalled to the guards, who immediately surrounded the novices.
“Do not be concerned,” he said, “the guards are here only for your protection. They will escort you to the Atrium. Please do not dawdle.”
With restrained murmurs, the novices fell into step with their escorts. Rose became acutely aware of the stares of the other novices and the way they averted their eyes whenever she glanced in their direction.
“They think that you know what Lord Dux is going to tell us, Rose. You do, don’t you?” asked Lee, nonchalantly petting Sloley, who was perched comfortably on his shoulder. “They watched you when you were talking to De Lille after he received the apis. It wasn’t difficult to work out that it was not good news and that whatever it was, it also involved you. I cannot believe it’s the prophecy, surely the Bloods can’t be invading Ferrum?”
Rose grabbed his arm, stopping him for a second. She waited for the others to pass around them.
“No Lee. It’s not the Bloods invading Ferrum. It seems that the scholars made a mistake. They got the interpretation of the prophecy wrong and unfortunately it’s much, much worse than they thought.”
The rear centurion guard prompted them to move on into the Atrium.
As they entered the chamber, they were marshalled to the benches. Lord Dux was standing at the lectern next to the Impluvium. The other Magisters were at his side.
There was a loud hollow thud as the gigantic doors were sealed and the murmur of the novices gradually abated. The chamber became so still and quiet that they could almost hear each other’s heartbeats.
Dux’s hands gripped the sides of the lectern as his eyes wandered over the expectant faces before him. The whole of the Oratory was there, three-year groups of novices. Forty pairs of young eyes looked to him for reassurance, for protection and to hear him say that everything would be well. Their collective apprehension sucked in all sound, all movement, it was as if the room itself had held its breath. His voice, though barely a whisper, found each reluctantly attentive ear.
“Novices of the Aurum Oratory, It is my sad duty to tell you, that early today we received some grave news from Hydrargyrum. This information has now, unfortunately, been confirmed by the high council of Ferrum and, more recently, by the Aurum Sooth.”
Dux raised his potens ring towards the Impluvium mirror.
“Praeteritum prodere,” he said.
A shaft of light sparked and jumped from his potens ring and into the mirror, which rippled instantly to life.
“Generations of our most learned scholars,” Dux went on. “All of them highly accomplished Memorix have, without exception, interpreted one passage within the Prophecy of Eldwyn the Whyte, in exactly the same way. Each and every one of them took the words ‘when the Bloods swarm over Ferrum fields’ to mean that the Bloods of Hydrargyrum would someday move to conquer Ferrum. However, it now appears that the Hydrargyrum Bloods are swarming over Ferrum, but not as aggressors, as refugees; refugees who are fleeing from a far more formidable enemy.”
Lord Dux motioned towards the image in the mirror.
As the ripples dissipated, an image of the rolling fields and thick forests of Ferrum came into view. It was as if the novices were looking through the eyes of a soaring fyre hawk as it banked, swooped and finally hovered over the scene.
“This clearing,” said Dux “Is the Mapledale plain, between the Blackfyre River, which borders Hydrargyrum and the Parikkala forest.”
The novices watched transfixed as crossing the river and the plains, hundreds, maybe thousands of Bloods were fleeing; old, young, native and ascendant. Hundreds were crossing the river in a flotilla of tiny boats and others swarmed over the plains on foot, many of them carrying children.
On the plain, slightly ahead of the main group, was a family of native Bloods. Like the others, they were running towards the forest. The father carried a small girl, the mother a swaddled babe in arms. As the novices watched, the woman stumbled and appeared to cry out. The man set his daughter down and ran back to help her.
Along the edge of the forest on the other side of the clearing, were some wooden rondavels; small round Ferrish dwellings. Local mud crofters were milling around the buildings and tending to their chores as their chickens, geese and goats grazed nearby. All of them seemed unaware of the impending danger.
A young crofter looked up towards the oncoming refugees, he shouted and pointed. Two others followed his gaze and started to jog across the clearing towards the Bloods.
The little Blood girl saw them and raising her arms she began to toddle towards them with anxious excitement. Then, seeming to sense the urgency of her situation, her tiny legs quickened.
Something stopped the Muds in their tracks. Covering their ears with their hands, they fell to their knees, looking upwards. Out of the sun swooped a cloud of red men, their reptilian wings spread out above them like dragons. Each of them carried a rapier headed spear. Then, as if the gates of Erebus themselves had opened, those spears spewed out fountains of fyre that rained down on the defenceless refugees.
Watching his fate fast approaching, the young Blood father grabbed his wife and held her and their baby tightly to his chest, shielding their eyes. He turned towards his daughter seconds before the fyre engulfed him and shouted with all his might ‘RUN!’
The little girl ran, but her mass of red hair was like a beacon to her pursuers. She ran on, she did not look back, she ran as quickly as her tiny legs would carry her, she ran towards the crofters.
“Run,” said Rose softly, holding tightly to Ash’s hand “ Run!” she shouted.
The other novices joined her in a chorus of cries urging the little girl on. They got to their feet, all of them gripped by the plight of the red-haired child in the mirror.
“Run! Little girl, run!”
The crofter was on his feet and hurrying towards the child. The novices held their breath.
“She’s almost there. I think she’s going to…” Auriel’s words were ripped from her lips as the mirror was filled with the evil beauty of orange and red as the flames consumed them. The vision of the searing flames gave way to one of black, billowing smoke, and finally to nothingness as the image dissolved.
The novice’s screams of horror saturated the air, reverberating around the walls of the atrium, but their shocked cries were soon followed by a stunned and sorrowful silence, broken intermittently by tearful sobs.
Lord Dux raised his downcast eyes and regarded the anguished faces of those around him.
“I am very sorry that you had to witness that,” he said sadly “but it was imperative that you did. The creatures that you saw in the mirror are Afreet, a cast of Djinn, bred for the sole purpose of combat. As you can see, they are extremely effective in this role. I wanted all of you to understand what we are up against. We do not know how, or why, but it appears that the seal on the Gate of Tollen has been breached. As a result, the Djinn of Erebus are now free to realize their ambition, to conquer the Afterlands and enslave us all.”
A hand rose slowly from the huddle of novices in front of him. It was Rose’s hand. He nodded, conceding his permission for her to speak.
“Is this all connected to what happened today, at Ferndell?” she asked.
“I do not believe it was a coincidence, Rose. Do you?” said Dux, gently and with a pensive sigh.
Rose shook her head, pursing her lips. She wondered whether to ask the one question that shouted out to be asked. She took a gulp of air.
“Could Baroque be telling the truth,” she said, “is it possible that Lord Ka has been resurrected?”
The gasps from the novices seemed to suck the air from the room, leaving a immense vacuum, and one that Dux was expected to fill.
Hesitating for a moment, he lifted his arms, shrugged and shook his head.
“I would not, until recently, have thought it to be possible,” he said. “However, I cannot ignore the evidence that something catastrophic appears to have occurred in Hydrargyrum. The Djinn have undoubtedly been liberated, and it is well known that Lord Ka had intended to free them and certainly would have done so before, had Lord Eldwyn not prevented him. In any case, whether Ka is returned or not, this does not alter what I am to about to say to you….. All of you.”
He looked up, and raising his voice, he addressed the rest of the room.
“The high council is to convene presently, and the likely result of this will be to declare that a state of war now exists. It is clear that we are all now in very great danger. If the Ophites are indeed, in league with the Djinn, then it is very likely that they will try to repeat their attempt on Rose’s life and the possibility of an imminent attack on the city cannot be ruled out.”
There were subdued murmurs as all eyes fell on Rose.
“It has come to my notice,” said Dux sternly “that there has been some antagonism towards Rose and the novice Whyte cell. This is to stop.”
Rowan displayed a sudden preoccupation with his shoes, glancing sheepishly at Lord Dux as he went on.
“It may be, that the freedom of these lands.” Said Dux, as his eyes and their fixed stony glare, fell on Rowan, “ and indeed, all of our lives, lie in the hands of Rose and her Whyte cell. It is, therefore, the duty of every one of us to ensure that we give them our support and our loyalty.”
Dux waited as quiet mumbles of agreement grew to a crescendo. He raised his hand quietening them.
“You will have noticed that the Oratory and indeed, all of the magisterial buildings in the city are now under guard.” His voice became grave. “Until further notice, the city is at a state of emergency and under curfew. In a moment, you will be instructed to return to your dorms, and you are to remain there for the remainder of the day. I will treat very severely, anyone who flouts these orders. Do you understand?”
There were nods of silent compliance.
“Good,” said Dux, “then you will go now with your advocates. Refreshments have been laid out in your dorms. When the morning bell rings, unless you hear otherwise, you should congregate in the refectory as normal, where I will inform you of the outcome of the high council meeting. Finally, please, try not to worry too much. You can rest assured that the high council have your safety at heart, you are very much our priority.”
As he said these last words, his eyes remained solidly focussed on Rose.
Back at their dorm, Rose and the others quickly settled in around the roaring log fire. Hugging their knees, they picked at the veritable feast that had been laid out for them.
They all took up, what had become their usual positions. Auriel was curled up in the centre of the largest cushion with an enormous pile of books at her side. Picking up each one, in turn, she flicked leisurely through the pages, reading through them in seconds. Ash and Lee played noisily with Sloley, while Rose and Arjan sat staring sleepily into the flickering fire. No one seemed to have much of an appetite for eating, despite having eaten nothing since breakfast.
“I guess this is it then,” said Rose turning to Arjan and breaking the uneasy silence. “This is why we are here, and now we’ll be expected somehow, to sort all this out. I wish I had some idea of how we can possibly do it” she paused, taking his lack of a response for agreement. “I mean, how can we possibly take on Ka and the Djinn, when we haven’t even finished our induction classes? Surely they’d wipe us out in an instant and without even breaking into a sweat. How can Dux or anyone, in fact, have any faith in us at all?”
Arjan laid a large log onto the dwindling fire.
“According to the prophecy,” he said, adding some smaller pieces of wood as the flames leapt and spit around the first. “Eldwyn the Whyte cast an incantatio that everyone, including Lord Dux, believes will enable you to combat such an occurrence. You are the incantatio’s procurator Rose, the power originates from Eldwyn, but he has chosen that it acts through you. You will know what to do when the time comes, just as you knew what to do today when Baroque attacked you. You are the embodiment of Eldwyn Rose. People trust in you because they have confidence in him.”
Rose frowned “You said before that the incantatio will seek me out. What did you mean; how would I even recognise it if I saw it?”
Arjan shrugged. “I, wish I could tell you that Rose. Incantatio are exceedingly rare spells, they can only be cast by very skilled and powerful wizards. To be honest, I am rather weak in Cognito, so I’ve not progressed on to the more advanced history of spells volumes.”
Auriel lifted her eyes from her book, its stream of golden, shimmering letters, falling and dissolving into the air.
“I have read quite extensively on the incantatio, actually,” she said with a hint of superiority. “The spells are usually cast in three or four parts, each of these is concealed within a different object. In the presence of a powerful ascendant, these enchanted objects emit some sort of luminosity. Apparently, its pull is so irresistible that anyone with strong Magica potens, such as Mage ascendants, would be driven to possess it. However, the spell itself will only reveal itself to the incantatio’s procurator and will do so as soon as it enters their possession, provided they recount the correct command.”
Closing her book, she leant forward, warming her hands by the fire.
“As to how it seeks you out,” she said, her brow furrowing slightly, “well apparently that depends on the precognitive skills of the wizard who casts it in the first place. They have to be able to foresee a future chain of events so accurately that they can ensure that the procurator will not only encounter each object but that they will encounter them in a precise order. On the positive side Rose, after today, I don’t think that anyone can doubt the precognitive skills of Eldwyn the Whyte. So don’t worry about it, be patient, I am convinced that sooner or later, the incantatio will most certainly find you.”
“I have a suspicion that patience is not one of my strengths,” said Rose with a sigh. “Why is the incantatio broken up into pieces anyway? Why not just present it all to me in one go? Surely it would be quicker, and safer.”
“No,” said Auriel with a brief shake of her head. “It would be quicker, yes, but it would be much riskier. If you receive the spell in one object, then the moment you receive it, both you and the incantatio become vulnerable. The entire spell would be revealed for all to see, and you may not have the facility to cast it right away, there may be items you would need to acquire. This way you can uncover each piece of the spell, commit them to memory and then destroy each object before you receive the next one. This method ensures that you, and only you, will know the entire spell and consequently only you can cast it.”
“It also explains,” said Rose “why the Ophites want me out of the picture. If I’m not around to cast the spell, then the spell doesn’t get cast, and Ka succeeds.”
“That’s one of the many reasons you are so valuable to us Rose.” Said Arjan, his eyes holding hers for a long moment as a soft, enigmatic smile played on his lips.
A ripple of laughter broke out from Ash and Lee, who were teasing Sloley by throwing a piece of fruit to each other, just out of the little lorises reach. Consequently, the loris was becoming increasingly frustrated as he trundled between the two of them, trying in vain to catch it.
“Hey, you two,” said Auriel, with a reluctant chuckle, “don’t be so cruel.”
Laughing; they ignored her and continued with their game.
“Have you ever played Potens tag?” Arjan asked suddenly.
Lee looked up with interest, just as Ash tossed him an unusually large tayberry. It hit Lee in the face, and with some force. The red berry dropped to the ground and Sloley, clicking his tongue excitedly, picked it up and then sat nibbling contently at the soft fruit.
Lee rubbed at his stinging cheek, shooting a sideways look at Ash through narrowing eyes.
“No, Arjan,” he said, his voice terse “I haven’t. Does it involve killing anyone?”
They soon discovered that Potens tag was an extremely addictive game. It had few rules, was quick to learn and moved at an incredible pace.
The game made use of two spells; the marking spell ‘Tago’ and the blocking spell ‘Obsepio’. Ducking and diving they raced around the room attempting to avoid or to block Ash as he tried desperately to tag someone. Chasing Auriel, Ash spun around and caught Lee unprepared.
“Tago!” shouted Ash as his hand shot out, a streak of red energy flying from his potens ring.
It hit Lee squarely in the chest before he could react. The red tag circle instantly faded from Ash’s shoulder and reformed at the centre of Lee’s chest, like the bloodstain from a mortal wound. Lee immediately attempted to tag him back.
“Obsepio!” Ash commanded, performing a faultless block.
“Very impressive, Lord Ash” No one had noticed Dux enter the room. “I see that your Magica skills are much improving.”
Out of breath and red-faced, the novices stood looking at each other apprehensively, expecting to be chastised.
A faint smile crept onto Dux’s lips.
“Sit,” he said, indicating the soft cushions surrounding the now smouldering fire.
“I am here to bring you news of the high council’s decision, which was unanimous. As it primarily involves you five, I wanted to speak to you first before I address the remainder of the novices’ tomorrow morning.”
Dux hesitated momentarily, his eyes taking in their suddenly anxious faces and finally coming to rest on Rose. Her chin was raised, and her eyes were tentatively challenging, like those of a petulant child. He wondered if she had guessed at what was to come.
“We have decided that your cell will be withdrawn from classes from tomorrow,” he said, swiftly brushing away their protests. “You will instead, receive an accelerated programme of study. This will be designed to provide you with the skills we believe you will need, as quickly as possible. The programme will be overseen by me, Lord De Lille and Lord Goldin. You will also each receive additional private lessons with your potens Magisters, which will be tailored to your individual strengths and requirements.”
“Yes!” said Ash, pumping the air with his fist.
Lee lifted his eyes skyward and shook his head.
“I am not yet finished...” Dux said brusquely. “You are now under a total curfew. You will no longer be allowed to move freely within the Oratory, and you must never venture outside, not for any reason. There will be two centurion guards with you at all times.”
“Are we…….. Prisoners?” asked Auriel.
His voice softened. “No, Oh no, my child, of course, you are not.”
His eyes creased as a sympathetic smile softened his face.
“All of these measures are for your protection, but even they may not be enough to keep you safe. I am relying on you all to be afraid, to be afraid every minute of every day, never ever become complacent because if Lord Ka is returned to these lands, then no one is safe. If he has retained the power to fractionate the vapours of ascendants, then he has the ability to destroy us, in the same way that he eradicated the people of Rhodium.”
Turning to Rose, he tilted her chin with his hand, looking deep into her eyes.
“This is why you are so precious to us Rose. Lord Eldwyn is within you, and you are the procurator of his incantatio. He prophecied that you will ascend, and you ascended, he prophecied that the Djinn would be freed from Erebus, and now they walk amongst us. More significantly, though, he predicted that the incantatio would come to you and that you would free and unite our people. It is our honour and our duty Rose, to assist you in ensuring that Eldwyn’s prophecy is fulfilled, in its entirety.”
Arjan laid his hand on Rose’s shoulder.
“I am with you Rose, we all are, every one of us,” he said.
Auriel murmured her agreement. They turned to look at Ash and Lee, who remained silent. Dux raised an eyebrow.
A broad crease grew between Lee’s eyes as he drew his brows together into a troubled frown.
“Okay, Okay, I am with you,” he said, with a sigh of discontent, “but I still think that this could all be down to coincidence. There is no hard evidence that Ka has returned. As yet there is no incantatio and as for the prophecy, well, the idea that someone could accurately predict a chain of events that will occur thousands of years into the future well… seriously?”
Ash nodded, appearing to agree with Lee, his head was bowed as he seemed to be intent on studying the pattern on the tiled floor.
“Err, yes,” Said Ash “what he just said. Plus, if all this actually does turn out to be true, then we are all really screwed.”
He traced the pattern of the tiles with his foot.
“I suppose it’s too late to ask to change to another cell?” He said.
His words were so soft and stilted that they were almost inaudible.
Dux hesitated, his brows creasing in surprise.
“Well, it is rather unusual,” he said, with obvious disappointment, “but if that is what you wish Lord Ash, I am sure it can be arranged.”
Ash remained silent, though his shoulders were shaking uncontrollably. He lifted his head and a broad grin creased his face.
“Are you kidding!” he said, laughing, “I wouldn’t miss this for all the purple pastries in Aurum. Of course, I’m in.”
His ears were ringing for days from the slap that Arjan planted across his head.