The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 22: SINS OF WAR

The door crashed open against the stone wall of El-on-ah’s cell. Ka entered the chamber like a thunderbolt.

“Stay there,” He screamed at the Afreet guard who had been about to follow him in. “If I wish your presence, I will order it!”

Grabbing the edge of the heavy wooden door he slammed it shut, the officer jumped backwards, barely managing to avoid being hit in the face. Ka’s chest heaved, his eyes filling with a mien of fury so intense that El-on-ah realised that her luck had finally run out, he would destroy her now for sure.

“They were gone. All of them,” he spat, “not one body in that forest, not even the servants that you abandoned. The Whyte remains a threat to us all because you did not do your job!”

El-on-ah leapt up from her seat on the crude wooden bed. It was the only thing in her cell, but for a threadbare blanket and a slop bucket.

She grasped tightly to the sleeves of her robe, it prevented her hands from shaking as she fought to control her fear. Who is this reptilian monstrosity standing before her, seething with untethered emotion?

She had known Ka to be a ruthless leader, he had struck her more than once, but this display of unbridled emotion was so alien to a Blood. It terrified her, and yet, he was not the only Blood to be gripped by emotion.

El-on-ah had a right to be scared, it would be unnatural not to be afraid of what this monster could be capable of, but her fear was dwarfed by another emotion. A spark of hope kindled within and, like hot soup on a cold day, its gentle heat growing, warming her ashen features. Che is alive. The thought restored her soul, renewing its strength and forging her fear into fury.

“I have risked my life to do your bidding!” she hissed. “Risked the life of my servants. I have pledged my allegiance to you my Lord and my loyalty is sound. Why else would I come here? How can you treat me with such disrespect?”

Ka appeared surprised by her sudden reproach. He hesitated for a second, his anger seeming to subside. Maybe he too battles to control his emotions, she thought, or maybe he is just deciding how best to dispose of me.

“You craft a valid argument, my dear,” Ka’s tone became more subdued. “Maybe I do underappreciate your efforts, but our success lives and dies with the fate of Rose the Whyte. If she survives, then all that we have worked for is lost.”

“It is for that very reason that I am here,” said El-on-ah. “I came back knowing that I would have to face your wrath. I returned because I believed our cause is worth fighting for, but now I am here…” Pointedly she allowed her eyes to roam around her pitiful cell, “Well frankly, I wonder if any of it was worth it. All your noble intentions seem to be forgotten now my Lord, or am I mistaken?”

“Not forgotten, never forgotten,” Ka appeared pensive, his words hesitant, “I promised to give you and the rest of our brethren the world that we craved, a world free from prejudice and discrimination, and I intend to keep my promise. We are fighting for what is rightfully ours, fighting to ensure that Blood children will no longer die in the bowels of the Treymaneor mines nor will their parents perish from the effects of working an entire lifetime below ground. I have never forgotten what we fight for though the means to our success is so much more complicated than I had foreseen. We will realise our dreams El-on-ah, but first, we must win.”

El-on-ah recognised many of these words, they came from ‘The Unification’ Lord Ka’s autobiographical manifesto, the seminal book in which he outlined his ideology and vision for the future of the Afterlands. The book on which the Ophites movement was built.

Written before the Great Dragon War the book was structured around his central thesis, ‘The Whyte Plague’ in which he voiced the existence of a Whyte conspiracy intent on gaining total control of the Afterlands. Ka accused the Councils of Aurum and Ferrum of complacency, he announced his intention to win power and dismantle the system, a system he and many others believed to be corrupt. The book was immediately banned by all of the high councils of the Afterlands, even in Hydrargyrum’s Chambers. They called it incendiary and provocative, and they were right.

The book was a catalyst. It rapidly went underground where its popularity grew, primarily amongst the Bloods. Copies of the book were prized, hidden and smuggled throughout the Afterlands. Ka gained a fanatical following, giving birth to the Ophite movement amongst whom he became known as the Great Lord Ka.

Sometime later El-on-ah had begun her service under the great Lord Ka. Ascension after ascension, descent after descent, she had served Lord Ka and his cause for many lifetimes, never questioning, never wavering in her loyalty. Regarding him know, she realised that for the first time, her loyalty was in question, she knew it, and so did he.

Ka did not seem so ‘great’ to her now, he no longer looked or even acted like a Blood, and until uttering those last few words, he had not sounded like one either. Could she be making a terrible, unforgivable, catastrophic mistake?

“How do you intend to win anything,” she said, her voice quivering, “when your support is dwindling, when you are assimilating and imprisoning Ophites as we speak?”

Ka’s jaw tightened, his lipless mouth forming into a grotesque scowl.

“I should not need to remind you,” He snapped, “that it was your incompetence that resulted in the release of the Djinn. I had little choice but to respond in the way that I did. If I had not, then we would all have been assimilated, or ended up as slaves cowering at the feet of Fyre Meister Phlegon. I took the only option open to me. Reversing the assimilation process has enabled us to take control of the ruling Djinn without the Afreet becoming over suspicious. The assimilations have been generally successful, but for the evident aesthetic insufficiencies.”

As he talked, Ka methodically clenched and unclenched his fists.

“Are you sure those are the only inadequacies?”

“Certain,” his eyes met hers with a penetrating glare. “I admit that my plans were somewhat hindered by the appearance of the Djinn. However, this may yet work in our favour. We now have an army with the capacity to reach anywhere in the Afterlands within hours.”

“But what good is an army against Whyte magic?” She blurted, “More than anyone, you should know that only powerful magic can defeat a Whyte.”

“Indeed,” Ka’s mouth twisted into an ugly grin, “and that is why I am sending you to Rhodium. I want you to collect the minerals required to create fractionation venom.”

El-on-ah gasped, surely he can’t intend to...

“You intend to use a confractio charm?”

“Well, I think you will agree that last time, I was rather successful in ridding our world of the Whyte plague,” he clenched his fist once more. “Indeed, if it were not for the meddling of Lord Eldwyn, we would not be in this position now. This time, we will not be facing the likes of Lord Eldwyn, just one female novice who has not yet completed her first year at the oratory. Disposing of her should hold as much challenge to us, as swatting a fly, should it not?”

El-on-ah’s mind raced, how could he even consider using the confractio again?

When Ka had first used the spell, he could not have known the vast devastation that it would bring, but now everyone knew. The confractio charm had the capacity to inflict death and destruction indiscriminately and on a colossal scale. How could he, how could anyone, boast about the obliteration of an entire race? She could not allow him to do it again, could she?

He towered over her; his eyes examined every nuance of her expression. Could he sense her doubt, her disgust? A pang of fear shot through her body. If she refused to obey his orders, he would have her assimilated. El-on-ah feared that more than anything else; descent was one thing, eternal imprisonment within the body of a reptile was entirely another. She had only one option left. She had to eliminate Rose the Whyte before Ka wiped out millions.

“So El-on-ah,” said Ka, continuing to study her intently. “Can I rely on you to do what needs to be done?”

Her answer came in a heartbeat, “Yes, My Lord, you can.”

“Good, then I will send a list of instructions down for you presently. You are to locate the items listed and bring them to me at the Aureus Oratory, where I am to take up my rightful position as Prima Magister. From now on, every new ascendant will be schooled in accordance to The Unification. We are witnessing the birth of a new world El-on-ah, a better world, the world that we have long imagined, and you should take great pride in your role in its creation.”

He rapped his fist on the door, three times. The guard swung it open, standing to attention as Ka made to leave.

“This ascendant is now in my employ. Provide her with whatever she needs.”

El-on-ah caught the fleeting look of suspicion on the face of the guard, but even so, he was not foolish enough to question Ka’s order, and El-on-ah was left alone.

Later, the guard reappeared carrying her occultus and two saddlebags crammed with supplies. Hesitantly she took them from him. Inside her occultus was a rolled parchment. She recognised the manuscript instantly from its gold scalloped edge. It was a single page ripped from a volume of The Grimoire, the rarest and most ancient book of magic known in the Afterlands. El-on-ah had only ever glimpsed its pages once before; there was a copy in the Oratory library, locked in a glass-fronted vitrine.

Her hands shook as she opened the parchment and as it unrolled, her potens ring slid into her hand. Hurriedly, she slipped it back on her finger letting out a long moan of relief. It was true what they said, separation from your potens ring was worse than losing a limb.

El-on-ah’s eyes skimmed over the document’s text. Each word was breathtakingly beautiful. Hand-illustrated letters were decorated with brightly coloured images, symbols, flowers and intricately drawn animals including dragons, leopards, and birds. The script outlined the procedure for brewing fractionation venom. The original print had been heavily annotated, and El-on-ah had no trouble in recognising the hand.

Between the lines of the script and in all four margins, Lord Ka had carefully modified the confractio’s original formula, together with much of the process of brewing and casting the charm.

El-on-ah shuddered as she read the list of ingredients, it was a recipe for evil, one tiny drop, enough to annihilate an entire city. Here in her hands, lay the means to commit the ultimate sin of war.

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