The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 29: DECEPTION

Rose thought she heard muffled voices as she knocked on the door of Dux’s accommodation, but only one voice answered, bidding her enter. Despite her anger, her heart leapt as she heard those familiar, dulcet tones, and then again as she caught sight of him sitting at his desk, quill in one hand and a nugget of crystallised fruit in the other.

A large fire leapt and spit in the stone hearth next to a painted wooden screen, which partitioned Dux,’s sleeping area from the rest of his quarters. The room reeked of Dux, the sugary aroma of cinnamon and freshly brewed mint tea intermingled with the stale odour of old parchment, ink and candle wax. Rose had not believed that she would ever see him again and yet here he was, sitting at his desk, in the glow of the fire and surrounded by the sweet scent of confectionary as if the whole world were made of candy and spun sugar.

He smiled warmly as she approached. Rising to greet her, he placed his quill in its stand and gestured to the chair on the far side of his desk.

“Rose, my dear child,” his familiar soothing tone seemed a little strained and yet still he managed to effortlessly convey both his pleasure and relief at her presence, “I cannot tell you how pleased I am that you and the others have made it here relatively safely. Please take a seat and help yourself to some refreshments. You must be ravenous after your journey.”

Rose glanced down at the tray, which contained a silver teapot, two cups and a large platter overflowing with figs, dates and an assorted collection of sugar-glazed fruits.

“No,” Rose’s tone was much sharper than she had intended, “…thank you, Lord Dux.”

Dux’s brows lifted, his puzzled and faintly disparaging expression made her feel like a naughty, petulant child. Her cheeks grew warm.

“What troubles you, Rose?” Dux asked.

“Much,” Rose heaved a weary sigh, “much, troubles me, Lord Dux, though ‘troubled’ is a vast understatement of my feelings. I am both furious and ashamed of what I have discovered about these lands and the people that rule over them. People such as you, Lord Dux. I come to you for clarity, for reassurance. Tell me that I am wrong, Lord Dux, that I am mistaken and that we have not built our world, our society, its customs and laws, on a foundation of calculated deceit.”

Can I really have been so wrong about this man?

Rose hesitated “I do not want to believe that you have lied to us Lord Dux because I am not talking about small insignificant lies. Untruths that you might murmur to protect a child from a painful reality. No, I’m talking about great, big, noxious lies that once injected spread like venom, poisoning the hearts and souls of our people. I yearn for you to tell me I am wrong, because if you can’t...”

“Rose…” Dux narrowed his eyes; he looked pained. “I have no idea what you are referring to, in what way…”

“Our world is broken.” Her voice cracked, her tone was reproachful, though she felt her rage ebb as she took in his look of bewilderment. Surely, he must know. “We exist in a land of illusion where we see only what we are taught to see, and believe only that which allows us to assuage our conscience. You teach us that each cast is equal, but I’ve seen that they are not. You tell us that ascendants and natives are valued equally and yet they are not. We learn that our laws forbid ascendants from procreating to avoid diluting our potens, but even this is based on a lie.”

His eyes widened, and she heard his sudden intake of breath. How could he not know?

“You taught us that our potens are comprised of magical energy,” Rose said, “and the laws of physics still apply Lord Dux. Energy, in any form, is forever conserved; it cannot just evaporate into nothingness. There is no legitimate reason why ascendants should not love, marry and have children. Though their children may indeed be mortal, the potens they inherit cannot die with them. It merely returns to the bodies of the original ascendants, just as the power of the four have passed into me.”

“Wherever have you got all of this nonsense from Rose?” Dux gave a dismayed shake of the head. “The ascension manuscripts are clear. There is no way to restore diluted potens. A fractured potens cannot coalesce outside of the ascension chamber. This assumption is the basis of all our celibacy laws. As far as I can recall no one has ever questioned this before, these edicts are unequivocal and sacrosanct.” He hesitated, his expression pensive, “and yet… as you point out, here you are…”

“Demonstrating quite indisputably how flawed your assumption is,” Rose nodded gently as she watched a spark of enlightenment ignite behind his eyes. “I have spoken with the Fae, and they have no illusions about what they are. The spirits of my Whyte ancestors resides within them. The indestructibility of potens energy is more than a concept to them, it is tangible, and they feel its torturing effect every day. Each of them is doomed to live on for eternity as fractured spirits, wraiths, never to find rest, never again to feel the warmth and security of a physical body. Their leader, Gydion explained all of this to me in excruciating detail.”

“You conversed with the Fae?” Dux arched his brows.

“Indeed, they would do me no harm,” said Rose, “they are my kin, all that remains of the Whyte ascendants of Rhodium. Each of their bodies assembled from the fragmented potens of the Whyte ascendants ravaged by Lord Ka. A thousand years have past, and yet their tattered souls still roam our lands. Ka may have shattered their essences and ripped their hearts into a million pieces, but their spirits, though mangled and redistributed, remain. Each Fae is a fusion of the dismembered potens of many ascendants, in that way, they are rather similar to me.”

Rose glanced down at her hands; her fingers were trembling. “We differ only, because somehow, I was able to ascend and take physical form. Lord Eldwyn must have known all of this. It is how he was able to prophesize my Ascension. Though I doubt that he understood all of the implications of bringing me here…”

Dux shuffled uneasily on his feet, raising his hands in a gesture evidently designed to underline his sincerity.

“I find it hard to believe that Lord Eldwyn could have been unaware of anything Rose,” said Dux, “He was a wise and incredibly gifted wizard, in all probability the most talented ever to ascend, but I assure you, I had no knowledge of any of this.”

Dux cast his eyes downwards for a second. Placing his fingers lightly on the desk. Uncharacteristically he stumbled for words. “I know it may appear that I have been less than honest with you on this and other matters, and maybe you are right to think that. Perhaps in appeasing our consciences, we unconsciously close our eyes to the many injustices of our world. I, like many Ascendants, have lived my life for many hundreds of years. Perhaps a new pair of eyes is required to see our world as it truly is.”

“I not only see it, Lord Dux, but I also intend to change it,” said Rose.

“Rose, the path to Erebus is scattered with objectives such as yours. Indeed, many would argue that Lord Ka’s intentions were just as noble when he set out on the path ultimately leading him to commit genocide.”

“I am not Lord Ka, and I am in no doubt about what needs to be done. Though sometimes I question the right I have to do it.”

“Why else are you here?” Dux leant forwards and placed his hand over hers. “Rarely have I met such strength and wisdom in one so young. I have no doubt that you will do what is necessary. It is in your nature, my child.”

“No Lord Dux, you are mistaken,” Tears sprang to her eyes. She ripped her hand out from under his, “I assure you that it most certainly is not!”

Dux recoiled. “Rose, what is it? What are you not telling me? What else did this Gydion say to you?”

Rose leant forward over the desk, her face within a breath of his. For a moment, she struggled to find the words. They came suddenly, like a ruptured dam, its vast black waters surging out and engulfing everything in its path.

“The Elder Witch is not merely a child of two anonymous and insignificant Whyte ascendants Lord Dux; she is Ruzha and Sevti’s child. The spirits contained within her are factions of those buried within me. According to Gydion, if I ever hope to defeat Lord Ka, then I will need to take those fragments back.”

Rose watched the pain and compassion course through Dux’s eyes through the brimming pools that were her own. However, his hesitancy in responding displayed an awkwardness that she had never witnessed in him before. Did he think her naïve, a child who lacked the courage to do what had to be done? Maybe he was right. Her jaw tightened. “I am not prepared to take the life of my friend Lord Dux. I am bound to her in a way that I am bound to no other; she is my family, as much a part of me as my fingers. Elder is a child born of my very essence. I will find another way.”

“Then we must look for one,” Dux appeared on edge, glancing briefly towards the fireplace where the flames had begun to dwindle. “However, we have little time. The Sooth not only foretold of your journey here, but he also predicted that Lord Ka would travel to Aureus. If Ka were to ask it of him, the Sooth would be bound to reveal our whereabouts and he will not hesitate to attack the moment he has the means. I gather from Vega that the incantatio is yet to complete?”

“One piece remains to be found, but as Lord Eldwyn has planned everything else so scrupulously, I have to believe it will be located in time.” Rose watched as Dux lifted one of the jellied sweets from the small dish on his desk, examining it before returning it to the bowl. He did this several times. Why is he so on edge?

“I expect that everyone is rather nervous of what may lie ahead, I know I am.” Said Rose, “That is why I doubt that I can provide much reassurance. However, I would like them to know that we are not alone, the Fae will fight with us. Could you arrange for me to see everyone in the great hall early tomorrow morning?”

“Indeed, my dear,” said Dux, “indeed I will.”

“Oh, and please Lord Dux, say nothing to Elder of our conversation. I wish to speak to her myself when the time is right.”

Dux’s eyes fell briefly to the ground.

“Of course, Rose,” resolutely, Dux met her gaze, “I will say nothing, you have my word.”

* * *

As the door clicked shut, a willowy figure emerged from behind the tall painted screen beside the fireplace.

“All becomes clear,” A wistful glow lit the old woman’s eyes. “Lord Eldwyn has to be congratulated for planning everything so meticulously. His power of reasoning and prophecy is indeed truly legendary. You realise what this means of course?”

Dux held Elder’s gaze for some time though he did not answer.

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