Chapter 28: THE SOOTH
Flanked by a battalion of Afreet and trailed by seven coaches containing his entourage, Ka’s carriage entered the deserted city of Aureus. A herd of goats, disturbed by their approach darted into a small alley, their bells clanging jarringly as they disappeared from view. Ka’s gaze followed a clump of hairy weeds, tumbling ahead of them in the empty roadway. Soon these roads will be lined with cheering crowds kneeling before the Ascendant, who freed them from tyranny.
Ka’s eyes ate up the beauty of the city, each marble and gold clad building, every corner bringing forth a new vision for him to savour. There were ornate statues, fountains that leapt high into the air conjuring mini rainbows from the sunlight, and stores brimming with exotic foods, wines, colourful fabrics and precious jewels. It had been over a thousand years since he had last roamed these streets. Little had changed, except now they belonged to him.
The carriage rumbled to a stop in front of the Oratory. An Afreet officer pulled down the steps, and swung open the door, giving Ka a curt bow as he exited the vehicle.
“No,” Ka snapped at the guards as they moved to his side, “I shall enter alone. I will return presently, and until then, please ensure that everyone remains here.”
He did not look back to confirm their compliance, never questioning for one moment that they would.
As he crossed the threshold of the building, a wave of pleasure surged through him. This ancient seat of power, this bastion of the social elite was now his alone to shape. His ambitions, so long in the crafting, were about to be realised. From this day, the students passing through these gates would be known as young Ophites. They would be versed in the doctrine of The Unification and become fervent followers of his teachings.
Ka took in a long breath of air. He smiled. He was on the cusp of realising his dream, a victory so close that he could taste its sweetness. The Afterlands would be transformed into the world that he had long envisaged. But first, he had one or two small irritations to deal with.
Urgently, Ka headed towards the Atrium. His head swam as he entered its great hall, his senses overpowered by the room’s pungent aroma. It was just as he remembered, the heady mix of perfumes; bergamot, lemongrass and jasmine. Like entering a humid tropical garden after a rain shower. As scents often do, it brought forth an old memory, his final soothing. He was unprepared for the accompanying feeling of nostalgia. I was so naive, he thought, this world had seemed so perfect. He pushed the thought from his head. I did not come here to reminisce.
The chamber echoed with the sound of his footsteps as Ka made his way towards the impluvium and the jewelled box resting on its adjacent pedestal. Lifting its lid, he let his fingers hover over the neat rows of rings before pulling out the large band of a Blood ascendant. A ribbon of sunlight streamed down through open rooftop lighting its dragon’s eye stone. He slipped the ring onto his finger, giving a brief smile of satisfaction as the gemstone flared at the touch of his skin. It glowed, burnished radiant red, embers rekindled.
The sense of relief Ka felt from this action astounded him. The sensation was of returning home, of salvaging a lost limb and regaining its control. It was the first time he had felt this way since Phlegon’s assimilation. Confidently he stepped towards the impluvium, its golden liquid quivered, rippling as he approached. Ka smiled wryly, the Sooth trembles at my presence.
“Praeteritum podere,” he cast the incantation boldly, as if in no doubt that he had the right to summon the Sooth, but, in truth, his bravado was a facade, a challenge to his contaminated body. He dared his potens not to respond.
El-on-ah’s words tormented his thoughts. She had suggested that his assimilation would leave him impotent, but he need not have worried, the dragons eye stone blazed blood red.
A shaft of its crimson light struck the great mirror, bringing it instantly to life. The glass transformed into a fluid, shimmering map.
“I summon yea Sooth,” he said, “and bid that you provide me with the location of Rose of the Whyte.”
The image of the map dissolved into a pool of molten gold twisting and swirling in three dimensions as it formed the face of the Sooth.
“The Sooth I am, the Sooth I be.” The clear, distinctive voice of the Sooth rang around the auditorium. “What right have you... to question me?”
“You know well who I am,” Ka scowled, “do not toy with me Sooth, or I will decant your essence into a thousand flasks and scatter them throughout these lands.”
“Within the potens beneath your skin, I sense the spirit of a djinn.” The Sooth continued dispassionately. “A djinn has no right to command my support. So do what you will, I have nought to report.”
“Sooth, you know well who I am. I Lord Ka, blood ascendant, alchemist and leader of the Ophites have imprisoned the Djinn you sense within me, I own him. By right of my ascendancy, I order you to comply.”
“Ka-ek-tal you may well be, yet who is imprisoned is not so simple to see. I have only to comply with an Ascendant’s decree when I am in him, and he is in me.”
He had been afraid of this. The Sooth wished to examine Ka’s potens, and if he sensed for a second that Phlegon had retained even the merest fraction of control, he would reject Ka’s request. The Sooth could not be coerced or threatened and would repudiate anyone but an ascendant. But there may be a way to deceive him yet...
For the first time since his ascendancy, over a thousand years past, Ka waded into the thick golden liquid of the impluvium. The spiced, honey scented liquid bubbled, the aroma taking him instantly back to that day when he, a young naïve blood ascendant, had stepped into the pool for the first time. He recalled his eagerness to become a part of the strange world opening up before him. It enticed him, beckoning like a cave brimming with mystery and treasure.
Sinuous tendrils leapt around Ka’s frame before plunging deep into his body, mingling with his potens, appraising its power and weighing it against the essence of the Fyre Meister Phlegon.
Ka’s breath stilled, his ears thumping with the sound of his heart as it pounded furiously within his chest. I am in control, I am in control. Silently he repeated the mantra over and over again. Ka’s words did not lie, he was in control, and yet each day his grip grew ever more tenuous.
If the Sooth were to discover this, there would be no prize for him today and no quick solution to the irritation that was Rose the Whyte.
Then it was over, the tendrils slipped out of his body and returned the waters of the impluvium with a hollow pop. The face of the Sooth reformed, swirling into being as if the writhing golden liquid had spread its legs and given birth to the face of an old man.
“The Sooth I am, as Sooth I see, who you are and who you’ll be. Ascendant Blood Alchemist, Lord Ka-ek-tal by given name, and in whose being this potens remains. Make now your request and the Sooth will give reply, for a plea from an ascendant the Sooth cannot deny.”
Drawing in a deep breath Ka’s thin slash of a mouth twisted into a smile, his taught crimson skin contorting into a bizarre grimace, like a grotesque clown at a Ferrish circus.
“Tell me Sooth,” Ka cooed, delighting in this small victory, “where I can find the Whyte Ascendant?”
The golden liquid swirled, the map reforming around him. Reflected in the mirror, Ka’s body rose from its lands like some colossal, hideous monolith. Stretched out before him was the image of a frozen tundra, acres of snow and ice and beyond this, a turreted castle framed the skyline.
“O’er snow covered desert of Rhodium’s land,” the Sooth’s voice shook the room, “in Isingwilde the Whyte doth stay. Soon to die, by her own hand, beside the waters of Knucker Bay.”
Ka’s smile dropped from his face. The Sooth is incapable of lying, but how can this be true? Maybe the prophecy is flawed? Ka pushed the thought from his head. No, Lord Eldwyn was too good a wizard to have made such an error, but if my position is to be secured, then the Whyte’s demise must be beyond all doubt.
Ka twisted the potens ring around his finger, making the decision in an instant. When Lady El-on-ah returns, I will brew the fractionation venom. If one casting the charm enabled me to wipe out an entire population of Whytes, then a single female should give me little cause for concern.