The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 2: Rose The Whyte

The girl looked out from the glass of the cubicula and into the eyes of a group of strangers, regarding her with expressions of astonishment and awe. She did not know who they were. She did not recognise them or the room, with its high domed white stone ceiling and elaborately carved gold and red hawks. She did not recognise any of it. In fact, she had no memory of anything. She had no memory of her name or where she was from, no memory of family, friends or of ever being Sara, a young girl out shopping for a gift for her friend’s birthday. Her past was an empty landscape, containing nothing but faint outlines, ghosts within the mist.

As she felt herself tipping upward, she became suddenly afraid. In an attempt to regain her calm, she focussed her concentration on the cubicula’s glass doors. They were misting up as she breathed on them; their gilded lights had worn thin and were covered in a mass of tiny scratches from centuries of constant polishing. She jumped, startled, as the glass doors of the cubicula swung open and her silence was violated by a cacophony of sounds. Her head rattled with the gasps and cries of the flamboyantly dressed, observers though she caught only snatches of their rapidly spoken, muddled words and phrases.

“...a Whyte,” “... does this mean?” “Prophecy...”

Realising that she seemed to be the focus of all this excitement, she felt the back of her neck prickle. A wave of anxious panic engulfed her. Her heart pounded in her chest and then, from somewhere deep within, a voice reassured her that all would be well. Calm washed over her. She felt bewildered, she felt afraid, but something felt right.

Marcus approached Baroque “We have no robes for a Whyte ascendant.” He said nervously “The only Whyte robes we have are in the vitrine.”

Baroque took an ornate golden key from the key chain on his girdle and handed it to Marcus.

“So bring them to her,” he said.

Marcus hurried to the vitrine, a large glass and gold display case mounted at the entrance of the basilica. For over a thousand years, it had housed the silver white robe, silver slippers and a girdle strung with silver, five petal Rhodium roses. Until today, they had been a mere tourist attraction. Visitors had travelled from all over the Afterlands to get a glimpse of the robes that, to them, were the last remaining vestige of Eldwyn the Whyte and the ancient Rhodium cast.

Marcus put the key into the lock. Turning it, he glanced down at the inscription on the ornate gold plate on the base of the vitrine:

’This robe was created from remnants of the garments of Eldwyn the Whyte, the last Master Wizard of Rhodium. Lord Eldwyn cast the powerful petrification spell, binding the Blood Alchemist, Lord Ka-ek-tal, into stone. By this act, Eldwyn prevented Lord Ka and his Ophites from breaking the seal on Tollen’s Gate and unleashing the Djinn of Erebus. If it were not for the actions of Eldwyn the Whyte, the Afterlands would have fallen on that day, as did the Rhodium people.

Lord Eldwyn, struck down by fractionation venom, laid down his prophecy and constructed a potent incantatio spell. However, he did not survive this final battle. Eldwyn’s prophecy foretells of a day when the Afterlands will again be threatened and when a Whyte will, once more, ascend to these lands.′

With some reverence, Marcus lifted the beautiful white silk robe and accompanying garments from the display. Then from the store cupboard, he collected the appropriate clothes for the other three ascendants of the Whyte quarter, one for the Blood, one for the Mud, and one for the Gold.

When he returned, the atmosphere in the chamber was tense with excitement. The new ascendants, appearing to have forgotten their earlier trepidation, had congregated around the central plinth to get a better view of what, evidently was an immensely important occasion.

However, they were unaware of how important. Never before had an ascension quarter held ascendants of more than one cast, there was no precedent for it. Never had a mixed cast cell ascended, let alone one comprised of all four races.

As they stepped out of their cubicula, Marcus assisted them into their robes. Not only was there a generally excited hum in the chamber, but the news of the Whyte ascension had spread. The fourth sounding of the bell had generated curiosity in many inhabitants of the surrounding areas of the city. Students from the adjoining Oratory jostled and chattered excitedly as they began to arrive and congregate with the new ascendants. It was not long before a crowd had also gathered outside, in the basilica’s courtyard, between the two buildings.

Dux stepped up onto the central plinth. The room fell silent almost instantly.

“Welcome to you all. We are honoured today to bear witnesses to a unique and historic event. Many of you will know of the prophecy of Eldwyn the Whyte and be aware of the implications of its fulfilment. However, this is not the hour for speculation. We must continue with the initiation of the new ascendants as usual for the prophecy speaks of the naming ceremony, and this may shed further light on the situation. Therefore, I will ask you all to proceed through to the Atrium, where we can begin the induction of the new novices ascended this day. Lord Baroque, will you lead the way?”

Baroque bowed respectfully and then turned to address the assembly.

“Ascendants you will follow me to the Atrium. Please stay with those in whose quarter you ascended.” He turned to the onlookers, “Make way for the new ascendants.”

The spectators dutifully parted, and the ascendants made their way to the doorway. All eyes remained fixed on the young Whyte ascendant, as she followed Baroque and the others out of the ascension chamber and into the courtyard, now teaming with people.

The noise of the crowd was deafening after the relative quiet of the basilica. As the small procession entered the courtyard, the crowd quietened almost in unison, giving a muffled gasp as they saw the young Whyte.

As she passed in front of them, questioning voices rapidly grew to a crescendo.

“Is she the Whyte foretold in the prophecy?”

“Lord Dux, does this mean war?”

Dux, ignoring their questions, continued to lead the procession of novice ascendants, High Councillors and Oratory students across the courtyard. Eventually, they disappeared through two majestic golden gates held in place by giant golden fyre hawk statues.

The Aurum Oratory, where the novice ascendants were schooled, was an ancient, ornate building constructed from polished goldstone and marble. Inside the building was the Atrium; a large oblong chamber with pillars and walls of stone and golden veined marble. At its centre was an opening in the roof, situated above the impluvium, a sunken pool filled with golden coloured liquid and surrounded by four large marble columns. There were steps down into the pool on one side and a large oval golden mirror towered above. The mirror slanted downwards at an angle, which enabled it to reflect the image of the rippling liquid, towards the people seated on the surrounding marble benches.

The room was humid and warm, and the air hung heavy with a dissonance of strong scents. It was as if they had entered a walled garden filled with tropical flowers and herbs... lilies, roses, lemon balm, sandalwood, and bergamot. It was a heady aroma. Baroque made a motion towards the novices to indicate that they should sit.

“You are required to be seated for the soothing.” He said, adding, “Please sit with the rest of your cell.”

There was a murmur from the new ascendants as they began, tentatively, to converse with one another. The young Whyte regarded her ‘cell’ with curiosity. They appeared to be an incredibly eclectic collection of individuals. There was a tall, scarlet-haired boy, with skin so pale and grey that he looked like death. Next to him sat a shy looking girl with long golden hair, who seemed so delicate that she might break apart in the slightest breeze. Then there was the tanned, muscular framed young man to her left. With his thick nut-brown hair, broad shoulders and angular features he looked robust enough to lift the heavy marble benches on which the four of them sat.

“What’s so special about you then?” The boy asked. He eyed her curiously, but his voice held no malice, and his lopsided smile was warm and droll.

“I don’t know, I don’t remember anything, not even my name, do you?”

“Not a thing,” he said, still smiling as he unconsciously rubbed at his temple “It’s weird, the most bizarre thing ever. It’s like we just got born, only not in the maternal, screaming infant way naturally!”

The golden-haired girl sitting on her right joined their tentative conversation.

“Yes, I feel that way too,” she said. Her voice had a soft melodic lilt. “I keep having this strange feeling like I should be somewhere else, but I can’t remember where I can’t remember a thing. I keep thinking that this must be some crazy dream.”

The pale boy with the scarlet hair sitting at the far end of their bench spoke without turning to look at them, his eyes fixed on Lord Dux and his tone flat.

“Well, if it is,” he said, “then we are all having the same one, which is extremely unlikely.”

He stopped talking when Dux stepped up onto a small podium in front of the impluvium, and it became evident that Dux was about to speak.

The second and third years assembled directly behind the novice ascendants. Behind them was a raised platform supporting five large chairs carved from marble, in which the high council were seated. The central chair, evidently reserved for High Councillor, Lord Dux, remained empty.

“New ascendants of the Afterlands,” said Dux, who had a distinctively soft, hoarse voice, which was surprisingly captivating and almost impossible to ignore. “Now begins your induction into the Oratory of Aurum. This will include your soothing, in which your names will be bestowed upon you. This will be followed by the Ascension feast, and then finally you will be shown to the dormitory of your cast where you will be housed for the next three years.”

Pausing, Dux shot a stony glare towards the cell of new Muds who were intent on chattering to each other as he was speaking. Sensing his silent chastisement, they quickly quietened, bowing their heads and flushing in embarrassment as they glanced around self-consciously.

Dux proceeded with the induction. The speech was one that he had made many times before, but this year was to be different. This year, he would have to take great care what he revealed, to these unique and very vulnerable, young novices.

“I am Lord Bertram Dux, the leader of the high council of Aurum and Prima Magister of the Oratory in which you are to study your potentia. You have, I am sure, many questions and I will endeavour to answer as many of them as I can during this induction oratio.”

He turned and waved his hand towards the large oval gold framed mirror.

On the index finger of his right hand, he wore a gold ring. It had been forged into the shape of a hawk’s talon that grasped a large yellow stone. With his arm outstretched, Dux pointed this ringed finger at the mirror.

praeteritum prodere,” he said, casting an incantation.

The yellow stone on the ring glowed. A shaft of fiery light shot out from it, striking the mirror and bringing it instantly to life. The mirror became almost fluid, transforming into a giant shimmering map. Dux turned back to the ascendants, their eyes wide and unblinking, and he smiled; now he had their full attention.

“What you see before you in the Eye of the Sooth is a map of Afterlands. This world you now inhabit. You can see here the four Afterlands; Ferrum in the West, Aurum to the East where you are now, Hydrargyrum to the south and Rhodium in the north.”

As he spoke, the image in the mirror rippled and transformed, zooming in on each area, in turn, showing landmarks, rivers, mountains, cities and woodland.

“The ancients named each land after the most common metal ore found within their rocks and on which they built their economies. The land of Ferrum is, therefore, named for its iron and steel, but it is also known for its abundant forests, wildlife and agriculture.”

Images of a fertile green land, rivers, forests, birds and fields filled with herds of animals swam into the mirror. Then the picture changed to one showing a land of golden fields and mountains, with hawks flying high above cities built from marble and gold.

“Here you see Aurum, rich in gold and marble and whose people are renowned for their wisdom and intellect. To the South is Hydrargyrum.”

The mirror instantly filled with flames and yellow smoke. Views of cavernous volcanoes soared into focus, showing lava-scarred mountainous landscapes, pitted with mines and pools of dark water lit with wisps of blue fyre.

“This land, although relatively inhospitable, is rich in mercury and other rare metals and minerals. Hydrargyrum is also home to the most extraordinary creatures of the Afterlands; including, of course, our dragons.”

“Awesome!” said the Whyte cell’s young Mud, as he watched the image of a red-winged dragon soar into view in the mirror, rising at speed, its red eyes glaring menacingly.

The dragon was heading straight towards them and appeared to be about to fly straight out of the mirror. The front row of ascendants shrieked and ducked, lifting their arms as the monster leapt out of the mirror, exploded into a mass of flames and showered them with sparks.

Nervous, embarrassed laughter followed as the novices brushed away the tiny golden droplets of fyre that settled on their robes like beads of water on wax.

The scene in the mirror transformed once again, now they could see a vast landscape of snow and ice, with a beautiful castle crowning the skyline. It’s great white, and silver turrets reached high into a cloudless sky, but as the scene came into closer focus, they saw that although it remained hauntingly beautiful, the castle was in ruins. A collection of deserted, snow covered, ruins were all that remained of the city. Its gatehouse and barbican walls swam into view and miraculously, these were intact and smothered with the brambles and blooms of thousands of large white snow roses.

“Finally, we see the land of Rhodium,” Dux said.

He paused, a wistful smile playing on his lips as his eyes met those of the young Whyte.

“Rhodium is a land rich in one of the rarest of ores, but it is known most for its people. The Whyte ascendants of Rhodium were endowed with the strongest and most powerful magical potens of all of the Afterlanders. All of the great wizards of the Afterlands were Whytes, the last, and most famous, of these being Eldwyn the Whyte, the wizard whose magic brought an end to the great Dragon War. Unfortunately, though, in the end, even his power was not enough to save Rhodium or its people. Until today, Eldwyn was thought to be the last of the Whytes of Rhodium.”

The young Whyte flushed as she realised that he was speaking about her. Breaking her gaze away from his, and seeing that every pair of eyes in the chamber now rested upon her, she shuffled self-consciously in her seat. Everyone looked so different from her, and she felt utterly alone.

Dux turned back to the rest of the ascendants and continued his Oratio.

“I am certain you are all aware, that you have ascended to these lands, with no memories of your previous lives in Terra Coram, from whence you came. It has always been this way and prevents you from mourning for your earthly lives. However, you will be curious about your ascendance. Therefore, I shall tell you a little more about this and about these lands and their people, the people to whom you are and will forever be kith and kin. Here in the Afterlands our peoples are comprised of mortal and immortal souls. The majority of the population are native mortals, however, each year four immortal souls are ascended from Terra Coram for each of the Afterlands.”

He waited for the hubbub of excited whispers to abate before he continued.

“Each of you will have ascended with one of four natural potentia; magical skills or talents, which will be developed here at the Oratory, through the teachings of the Magisters. After three years, you will graduate and travel to your lands, where you will take up the positions for which you will have trained.”

A hand shot up from one of the Muds in the front row. Dux lifted his brows and nodded his permission for the boy to continue.

“Sir, err... My Lord... if we are immortal, does that mean that we cannot die?” He asked.

Dux seemed to relish this interaction; his eyes sparkled, crinkling at their edges as he smiled.

“Ah,” he said “A valid question young Mud, which I am happy to answer. As Immortals, we do not die, in the same way, as mortals. When our physical bodies are spent, we transform once more into vapour and descend to Terra Coram where our vapours are absorbed into a new human life. This human form envelops us, and there we remain, protected until it is time for us to return. When this time comes, our vapour arises from its human form, like a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, ascending once again to this land, and so the ascension cycle repeats.”

The hubbub restarted, and Dux waited again for their excitement to settle before continuing.

“Each one of you, therefore, is born of an ancient soul, an embodiment of the essence of an immortal who has returned to us in a new form. Presently the Sooth will reveal your ancestral name, together with your potentia. It is then that you will discover the path that has been chosen for you and officially become a novice of the Oratory of Aurum. This is all a great deal for you to take in at one time, but you will learn much more tomorrow when you begin your classes. Does anyone have any questions that cannot wait until then?”

A single hand lifted above the heads of his audience. It was a young male gold, the first to ascend. He was sitting on the second bench in front of Dux.

“Excuse me, my Lord,” he said, “I was just wondering if you could tell us a bit about the magic skills you speak of, oh and what is the Sooth?”

There were murmurs and nods of accord from the audience.

“Of the Sooth, you will soon be intimately reacquainted,” Dux said, his eyes crinkling in amusement. “The impluvium that you see here before you,” he waved a hand casually at the pool in front of them. “This is what accommodates our Sooth, our most infinitely wise seer, and the prime oracle of the Afterlands. The Sooth has the ability to see through the eyes of others, both humans and animals, over vast distances and occasionally through time itself. The mirror above the impluvium enables us to see what he sees; past events, present happenings and at times, visions of events that are yet to be.”

Dux warmed to the enthusiasm of his captivated audience.

“During the soothing,” he went on, “the Sooth will enter your spirit vapour. Then, from its aura he is able to reveal your ancient name and tell us which of the four potentia you are gifted.”

He looked down at the boy who had asked the question and whimsically raised an eyebrow.

“As for magic young man,” he said, “well, of course, magic does seem rather fun, doesn’t it? There are four magical potentia. Magica is the ability to control the most powerful magical energy. This is usually found to be strongest in Mages and Wizards. Cognito is the talent for reasoning and remembering, which most substantial in the Memorix. Morphos; the ability to shape-shift and commune with other life forms, is only really well developed in Metamorphs. Then finally there is Alchemy, the skill to create and synthesise charms, venoms and potions to promote healing, for instance, a power located primarily within the realm of the Alchemist. You will all have some ability in each of these potens but will be stronger in one or two of them, than in others. Your prime potentia will be the one in which you are the strongest, and this will become your major area of study.”

Again, Dux was interrupted by the excited chatter of the new ascendants enthusiastically debating the relative merits of each potens and discussed their preferences. However, they rapidly quietened as the young Whyte slowly raised her hand. Dux nodded his consent for her to continue.

“I think, I mean... from what you have said... I am a Rhodium Whyte? ”

“That is what we believe,” Dux replied softly, “soon, when you have completed your soothing, things should become clearer.”

He made to turn away.

“Excuse me,” she said, getting to her feet “I don’t understand. If ascendants are immortal, then how can Whytes be extinct? Surely there must be other Whyte ascendants in Rhodium who survived the war?”

“I am afraid not my child,” he said, his voice tinged with melancholy. “There is a terrible charm, cast by using fractionation venom; it is called the confractio charm. It can be cast only by an extremely knowledgeable and skilled Alchemist. The confractio is powerful enough, not only to kill mortals but to fractionate the spirit vapours of immortals for eternity. It was the confractio that caused the annihilation of the Rhodium people. Only one being has ever survived this charm long enough to retaliate, and that was Lord Eldwyn the Whyte, but alas, he was only able to slow down the process, ultimately he did not survive.”

The young Whyte’s eyes brimmed with tears, blinking them away she swallowed hard.

“So I, as a Whyte, have no land, no home and no people. What then am I doing here? What use can I possibly be to anyone?”

“I do not have a solid answer for you at present my child.” He said, with a small sigh. “All I can tell you is that it was prophesied by Lord Eldwyn that a Whyte female would ascend again. It is not yet clear if you are, indeed, the Whyte of whom he spoke. Hopefully, the Sooth will enlighten us. So be patient my child, time tends to reveal its intentions sooner or later.”

With a kind but dismissive smile, he returned to the impluvium. The young mud to her side placed his hand on her arm as she sat down next to him, looking rather despondent.

“Look at it this way,” he said, grinning irreverently, “at least you’ll be the only girl at the party wearing white.”

The Gold girl at her side shot him a brief look of disapproval and put her arm protectively around the young Whyte.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’re your people now.”

The scarlet haired boy frowned.

“I am sorry,” he said, “but we evidently are not her people. Your people are the Golds, his are the Muds, and apparently, mine are Bloods. None of us is her people, are we? She is a Whyte.”

The three of them responded to this with a collective withering glower.

“On the other hand,” he said, seemingly confused by their hostility. “I suppose we did all ascend together in the same quarter. So that could suggest that we do, in fact, have something in common, but we are certainly not her people. She is evidently one of a kind.”

The Whyte girl lifted her head and wiping her tears she glared defiantly into the boy’s slanted black eyes.

“You’re right,” she said, her jaw tightening. “You are not my people, but it can’t be a coincidence that our cell is made up from one ascendant of each cast. I think that means something, and judging from the councillors’ reactions, they believe that it means something too; something important. We are here for a reason, probably something to do with Lord Eldwyn’s prophecy. So, although you may not technically be my people, I suggest that we try to get on because I’ve a feeling that sooner or later, we are all going to need each other.”

The Mud whistled through his teeth.

“Well, I’ve no objection to being your people,” he said, “after that little outburst I’d rather be with you than against you, that’s for sure!”

Dux called Baroque to his side before addressing them once more.

“We will now begin the Soothing,” he said. “Ascendants, you will come forward in your cells, commencing with the Aurum cell. Please form an orderly line at the top of the steps of the impluvium and then wait until you are called forward. Each of you, in turn, will enter the Sooth, and you are to remain in the centre of the impluvium until the Sooth bids you leave.”

Baroque motioned to the four Aurum ascendants to rise, before leading them to the top of the steps.

“Just step in,” he said as the first Gold ascendant hesitated on the top of the steps. “You will find that it feels like water although it does not cause you to become wet. Don’t worry there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Nervously the slender, blond girl stepped down into the sweet-scented, fluorescent amber coloured liquid. It rippled around her, making a pleasantly melodic sloshing, bubbling sound. When she reached the centre of the impluvium, the liquid began to bubble, rising up around her like the petals of a giant flower. It formed into long thin tendrils, like blind fingers that stroked, caressed and explored her body.

The tendrils plunged beneath her skin, disappearing inside her and glowing brightly as they merged with her spirit vapour.

Within a few seconds, the tendrils emerged, descending back into the liquid with a small splash. The liquid swelled and rippled before transforming into a two-dimensional image; the face of an old man. The young Gold flinched as he spoke to her, his loud echoing voice seeming to emanate not only from the impluvium but from all around. The audience became instantly mesmerised by the face of the ancient Sooth as it spoke to them, through its reflection in the mirror.

The Sooth am I, as Sooth I see, who you were and who you’ll be. A child of Aurum, spirit essence of acclaim, Mage be your potentia, Saffron be your name. Go now child of Aurum, a quarter to your cell; tend to your magic, and learn to use it well.”

Her soothing complete Baroque reached out a hand to steady her as she climbed the steps out of the impluvium. Dux went to greet her, a young native boy carrying a jewelled box, stood at his side.

“Welcome Saffron,” said Lord Dux, “please give me your right hand.”

Saffron did as she was bid. The page opened the lid of the box, and Dux picked out a gold ring from the selection within. The ring he chose was similar to his own; a golden hawk’s talon grasping a yellow stone. He slipped it onto her right index finger.

“Saffron, I induct you into the Oratory of Aurum as a Novice of the Mage. Do you swear to strive to be greater and better than before, to honour the Oratory and the Magister’s Law, to defend the Afterlands from all enemies without and within, until your descent? Do you so swear?”

The boy held up a card on which was written four words. She read them, then, after a slight hesitation, she looked up into Dux’s gold speckled eyes and in a clear, steady voice said, “I do so swear.”

“Then we welcome you Saffron the Gold. You are now a Novice Mage of the Gold cell twenty-two, twenty-seven. They are your blood, your kith and your kin until your next descent.”

The remainder of the Gold cell Soothed in turn, Gladwin the Gold a Metamorph, Joel the Gold an Alchemist and finally Sani, who would be the Gold’s Memorix.

The Mud soothings followed, revealing names born of the forest; Cedar, Willow, Rowan and Tamarix. Then came the Bloods, whose strange sounding names, Tor-el-van, Mai-li-sax Jar-sur-tan and San-tin-lo, seemed eminently appropriate for this striking and seemingly dispassionate cast of people.

Finally, it was time for the Whyte girl’s cell to sooth. The atmosphere in the Atrium became instantly charged.

The high councillors, seated at the back of the hall and who had previously appeared somewhat bored, now watched with unwavering concentration, their eyes fixed on the Sooth.

Baroque led the extraordinarily eclectic group to the steps of the impluvium.

“I think we’ll maintain the traditional soothing order.” He said cautiously, explaining, “normally it’s the cells that are ordered, not novices within a cell, but we have no precedent for this. So I think it’s sensible that we preserve the generally accepted order.”

He led the young female Gold to the front, moving the young Mud, after some resistance, into second in line. The Blood boy stood behind him, with the Whyte girl at the back of the line. She would be the last to Sooth as had been all of the Whytes before her.

As the young Gold stepped into the impluvium, she turned to the others, letting out a long breath she gave them a brief smile of relief.

“It’s fine,” she said, “it’s warm and sticky, and it smells like honey.”

She quietened as tendrils of the golden liquid rose up and completed their exploration before falling back and forming into the face of the Sooth once again.

The Sooth am I, as Sooth I see, who you were and who you’ll be. A child of Aurum, spirit essence of acclaim, Memorix be your potentia, Auriel be your name. Child of these Afterlands, quarter to a binding cell; tend to your power, and learn to use it well.”

A thunderous silence was followed by a buzz of hushed conversation rising from the senior novices and high councillors. The Sooth had referred to their cell as a binding cell, and it was a name that had never been used before. They knew that the prophecy of Eldwyn had spoken of the power of one to unite and bind. Most scholars had interpreted this to mean ‘the ascension of one who will unite all of the casts of the Afterlands under one powerful leader’. Many worried that this could only be accomplished by way of another great war.

The room quietened again as Dux presented Auriel with her gold fyre hawk potens ring and inducted her into the Oratory. Though the questioning whispers began again as the young Mud boy entered the impluvium.

“Hey!” he shouted, slapping the golden liquid with his open palm and splashing about as its tendrils rose up around him, “This is so awesome!”

He flicked some of the liquid at the red haired boy, standing next in line at the top of the steps. The Blood’s only reaction was to brush the substance off his robe with his hand.

Dux, however, gave the Mud a glare that could have withered a forest, causing the young Mud to flush and shuffle self-consciously as the Sooth began its exploration.

“Please Mister Sooth,” he said under his breath. “Give me a really awesome power, oh, and a really un-embarrassing name.”

The Sooth am I,” said the Sooth sounding rather terse, “as Sooth I see, who you were and who you’ll be. A child of Ferrum, spirit essence of acclaim, Metamorph be your potentia, Ash be your name. Child of these Afterlands, quarter to a binding cell; tend to your power, and learn to use it well.”

As he stepped out of the impluvium, Ash turned to Auriel, who was standing next to Dux.

“Could be worse,” he said with a wink, “I could have been an Alchemist called Yu-An-Ass.”

Auriel snorted, trying with difficulty to subdue a laugh as Dux greeted Ash in the customary manner. After the Oath, he presented Ash with his native Ferrum bear claw ring. Fashioned out of Ferrum steel it was shaped into Ash leaves which were entwined around a curved bear’s claw. Within this was set a green turquoise nugget. A small piece of green coral tipped the head of the claw.

“Wow!” said Ash as Dux placed the ring on his finger “Now that is Awesome.”

The Blood boy went next. The sooth pronounced him to be Lee-Con-Tu the Whyte cell’s Alchemist. The Blood reacted little to this revelation and left the impluvium swiftly without comment. He accepted Dux’s welcome and took the oath clearly and calmly with no display of emotion or even a change of expression. Lee’s ring was forged of pewter and set with a red Dragons eye stone which had a spindle-shaped sliver of black at its centre. Thanking Lord Dux, he took his seat back on the marble bench with the other three ascendants from his cell.

The level of excitement and anticipation in the Atrium built to an almost tangible level as the young Whyte girl descended the steps into the Sooth.

Gently the tendrils of amber liquid arched around her and slowly began to explore her face and limbs. As with the others, the liquid began to bubble, gently at first but then furiously. It leapt high, splashing out of the impluvium like the waves of a storm-driven sea. Thick tendrils danced around the Whyte, falling back into the pool and then rising again, ferociously repeating their exploration of the girl numerous times.

“What’s happening?” said Auriel turning to Ash. “Should it be doing that? It seems really angry.”

Ash shrugged “I think it’s more like frustration,” he said “like it can’t figure her out. I don’t think it will be boring being in this cell though that’s for sure.”

A look of alarm sparked in the Whyte girl’s eyes. She turned to Dux for reassurance. Though his smile was reassuring, she could sense his unease. ‘It’ll be alright’ she told herself. ‘I am here for a reason, it’ll be alright.’

This frenzied exploration went on for some time, then abruptly, the tendrils returned to the liquid with a loud splash and the pool became still. After what seemed an age, the face of the Sooth appeared reflected in the mirror.

The Sooth am I, as Sooth I see, not who you were, but who you’ll be. A new child of Rhodium, fragmented spirits now reclaimed, Mage be your potentia, Rose be your name. New child of these Afterlands, from the four, take heed; tend to your powers, and harness them to lead.”

The looks of astonishment on the councillor’s faces and the long, unbroken silence that followed caused Rose to hesitate. Unsure of what was expected of her, she stood in the impluvium and waited, her heart fluttering in her chest.

Baroque hurried to Dux’s side. “My Lord,” he said breathlessly “Did the Sooth just imply that we have ascended a newborn immortal?”

Dux stared thoughtfully at Rose. “There have been no new immortal souls ascended since the genesis of our civilisation,” he said, “but you and I know Baroque, the Whyte cast has been extinct for over a thousand years. Yet today the Sooth speaks a new Rhodium name, one never before bestowed an ascendant. There can only be one explanation, a new immortal Whyte has ascended.”

Dux pulled Baroque to one side. “The Sooth has named her Rose,” he said, with a pensive frown. “Rose; the colour of Rhodium and a name fashioned from the initials of the four great wizards of Rhodium, Ruzha, Ogin, Sevti and Eldwyn. ’Fragmented spirits being reclaimed’?”

Baroque and Dux exchanged knowing glances as the significance of the Sooth’s words came to them both, almost in the same breath.

Composing himself, Dux went to the steps of the impluvium and proffered a hand to the young girl who stood there with eyes as wide as the ocean and a troubled frown on her brow.

“Welcome Rose,” he said as she emerged from the impluvium. He smiled and nodded reassuringly as he led her forward.

“Your other hand, please Rose,” said Dux, taking her right hand in his.

The young native opened the box, there was only one Whyte ring; the ring of Eldwyn the Whyte. Cast from Rhodium silver, its five petal rose was set with one of the finest Rhodium crystals ever cut.

“Rose,” said Dux, his solemn voice trembling with a note of barely concealed excitement. “I induct you into the Oratory of Aurum, as a Novice of the Mage. Rose, do you swear to strive to be greater and better than before, to honour the Oratory and the Magister’s Law, to defend the Afterlands from all enemies without and within until your descent. Do you so swear?”

Rose’s beleaguered violet eyes scanned the faces that watched her so intently; each one so different from her own. She wondered if she actually could be destined to lead all these people. The thought struck her as being so incredible that she almost laughed. Then as her eyes met Dux’s she realised that however ridiculous she believed this to be, his belief in her was apparent. Swallowing hard, she looked steadily into Dux’s reassuringly calm, amber eyes and with an air of resignation, replied: “I so swear.”

Dux placed a hand upon her shoulder and smiled. “Then we welcome you Rose the Whyte, you are now novice mage of a Whyte cell like no other we have known. They are now your...” he hesitated, unable to recite the usual induction closure, “...they will now be bound to you as your kindred until your decent.”

Ash shuffled along the bench, making space for Rose as she re-joined them.

“Fascinating!” said Lee incredulously. “You do realise what this means of course?”

“That we’re all going to be famous,” said Ash, “and will, therefore, get the best of everything and everyone will have to do what we say?”

“No,” said Lee. “It means that if there really is a personification of evil out there and they hear anything about Rose and this prophecy nonsense, then they are going to be heading straight for us...”

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