Chapter 32: Tempus Armenti
“Sine Tempore,” Rose spoke the incantation without hesitation.
The magic she cast was not learned at the Oratory. The words leapt from her lips spontaneously, without conscious thought. The spell belonged to Elder. Rose cast the charm without potens action or ring. It was magic in its purest form, the sorcery of the ancients.
Clasped in her hands, the Elder Witch’s green gemstone burst into light as a glowing bubble of energy spread around Rose and the others, enveloping them in its emerald glow.
Time stilled. Ash and El-on-ah stood like living statues, motionless, unblinking, paralysed at the moment. The crimson streak of potens energy from El-on-ah’s descent spell hung in the air, impotent, a fiery rainbow - frozen in time.
Rose regarded the scene through a finely jewelled curtain as droplets of sea mist floated, suspended in the air, drifting in time and space. The roar of the waves faded into the distance as if she had slammed an airtight door on the outside world. Rose had stalled time.
Setting Elder’s stone on the ground, Rose approached El-on-ah who was frozen in the act of casting the descent, one arm outstretched towards Ash.
This was not the first time El-on-ah had attempted to dispatch Rose in this way. The last time Arjan intervened and took the full blast of the spell. Then, in the commotion, El-on-ah had escaped. This time, she will not.
Taking hold of El-on-ah’s hand, Rose pulled the potens ring from her finger and gazed into the woman’s face.
“I should hate you for what you did to Arjan, and what you are attempting to do now,” Rose’s breath misted in the cold air, forming tiny ice crystals floating around her like fine glitter. She sighed, “However, I am beginning to understand your motives only too well. Maybe in another time we could have been allies.”
Rose removed El-on-ah’s dragon leather belt, coiling it tightly around the woman’s thin wrists, securing the restraint with a wicker loop. It seems knot tying is another skill I have inherited from Elder.
Returning to Ash, Rose lifted Elder’s crystal from the ground and turned to face El-on-ah. When restoring time, she would have less than a second in which to act.
“Sileo tempus,” Rose spoke the charm, the crystal clenched in her hands as she lunged forward, pushing Ash to the ground at the very moment El-on-ah’s fiery bolt of energy exploded at the spot they were standing an instant before.
Sand and shingle shot into the air and showered them with tiny pieces of shrapnel, stinging their skin like a cascade of icy needles.
“Rose, what… how?” In a daze, Ash brushed the sandy grit from his face as he glanced over to where El-on-ah was standing. The Blood’s face was a picture of confusion as she frantically struggled against her bonds. Ash’s mouth fell open, “how the heck did you do that?”
“A little charm I picked up from Elder,” said Rose, “I inserted a tiny stitch in time, stalling it for a few seconds while I immobilised our uninvited guest. Then, I merely unpicked it.”
“If you value your people Lady Rose,” El-on-ah lifted her chin, “you should stow your pride and surrender to Lord Ka before it is too late.”
“Says the lady with bound hands and no potens ring,” Ash smiled wryly as he got to his feet and shook the remaining sand from his clothes. “If I were you El-on-ah, I would think carefully before threatening an Ascendant wearing a potens ring and holding some kind of kick-ass time-shifting crystal.”
“I was not addressing you, Lord Ash.” El-on-ah glared at Rose, “Lord Ka intends to use fractionation venom. Even Lord Eldwyn could not prevent Ka from obliterating a whole race of Whytes. You are no Lord Eldwyn Rose, do you really imagine you and your insignificant band of vigilantes will fare any better?”
“I have no intention of discussing my plans with you El-on-ah,” said Rose, as Ash pulled her to her feet, “and I am sure you understand why you would be the last person I would ever take advice from. However, Lord Dux will undoubtedly wish to talk with you at some point. So, if I were you I would save your breath until then.”
They were interrupted by the sound of approaching feet crunching through the snow. Auriel and Lee came hurrying towards them, their faces flushed.
“Thank goodness you’re okay Rose,” Auriel said panting breathlessly, “we went to your room and saw you had gone and then we heard the explosion. We thought… Is that… El-on-ah? How on earth…”
“This is very worrying,” said Lee, “the chances of her finding us by accident are small - less than one million seven hundred and fifty thousand to one. A logical conclusion is we have been betrayed.”
“I don’t think Rose needs to use mathematics to work that one out,” said Ash, “though there is still a chance that she could have stumbled upon us, even if it is a small one. She could have followed us here maybe?”
“There will be time to discuss that later,” said Rose, “now, we have more pressing things to attend to. Ash, would you escort El-on-ah to Lord Dux,” she turned to Lee and Auriel, “and I’d like you both to accompany him.”
“No,” said Ash, “I will not risk leaving you here alone. El-on-ah may have accomplices.”
“Ash, If there were anyone else, we would be too busy to have this conversation.” Rose rested a hand on his arm, dropping her voice to a whisper. “There is something important that I must do, and you know that I cannot do this with El-on-ah here. We cannot risk sending Auriel and Lee alone with El-on-ah. She is proving a rather too resourceful an adversary - don’t you agree?”
“Okay,” Ash shrugged his shoulders, “but as soon as she is secure, I’m coming back for you.”
“There will be no need, I will be right behind you. Trust Eldwyn Ash, it is written that we will get through this. I believe that our time will come…”
“I hope so Rose,” Ash smiled wistfully, “I really do hope so.”
“It is not me that you should be worried about,” El-on-ah flinched as Ash took her arm, “Lord Ka has an army of Afreet, and when I don’t return he will know exactly where to look for you.”
“Then we must be sure to arrange a suitable welcome for him.” Said Rose.
The Final Piece
Rose looked on as Ash and the others disappeared into the distance. Soon, all that remained of their presence was a trail of footprints in the snow. The salty morning breeze dampened her face as Rose turned towards Knucker Bay and walked down to the shore. Fingering Elder’s crystal, she felt it’s cold hardness as she placed it down on a flat rock beside the edge of the shoreline.
As dawn approached, Rose stood back, looking out over the Bay. The Lights of the North had faded becoming faint wisps, smudges of vermilion and gold against a purple sky. Her eyes brimmed as she dropped her gaze to focus on Elder’s crystal. Once this is done, there will be nothing left of her, it will be as if she never existed. There will be no Ascension for Elder. No matter how much I promise equality, we can never truly be equal. Ascendants are immortal, and Natives are not.
The voices in her head returned once more, urging Rose onward. Elder did not die, Rose of the Whyte, she lives within you. Elder gave her life for us because she understood the stakes. Do not squander her sacrifice. You must do what is written.
Rose’s face, lit by the green glow of the crystal, revealed a look of deep concentration. Her heart leapt, seeming to catch in her throat as she felt a surge of panic.
Soon, the final piece of the incantatio would be revealed, and with it, the formula for completing the spell. Then she must face Lord Ka.
Ever since that last Ascension Dawn, from the instant Rose, had stepped from her cubiculum, her fate had been sealed. Eldwyn’s masterfully orchestrated series of events swung instantly into motion, as the first in a long line of dominos toppled, each one, so deliberately placed. Dutifully, Rose had followed this trail of catastrophe until the last domino fell, but now she hesitated. What if Eldwyn got it wrong? He got it wrong last time. What if we lose?
The four responded as she knew they would, though Eldwyn’s voice rose above the rest, his natural resonant tone hardening as it reverberated around her head.
If we are defeated, then the Afterlands will be lost to us forever. Ascendants will ascend no more, and so will commence the era of the Djinn. Lord Ka deceives himself. The Djinn will not be subdued indefinitely. If the Fyre that runs through their veins is not completely extinguished, it is destined to reignite.
Another domino tumbled. Rose let out a long sigh as she pointed her ringed finger towards Elder’s crystal. My path forward is clear, Lord Eldwyn leaves no alternative routes for travelling this road…
“Incantatio secretum tuum,” Rose spoke the words of the incantation.
The crystal burst apart, the explosion giving birth to a shower of tiny sparks as lines of shimmering silver letters were expelled into the air. Like liquid silver, the letters floated towards each other, forming words and then sentences until a quivering script danced before her.
’In cauldron, boil your Knucker’s spew,
Add the powdered hair of Rougarou,
With a finger of ice of silvery hue.
Speak the Grimoire spell in mirrored view,
One sip of Ice Potion empowers to disarm,
Fyre in the form of the Confractio Charm.’
As Rose memorised the words they quivered, then all at once, they faded into nothing, their magic extinguished.
Taking in the implications of the words of the last Incantatio, Rose’s heart sank. Somehow she would have to acquire the hair from a creature found only in the swamps of Aurum and, impossibly, a page from one of the rarest books in the Afterlands. Our war is lost before the first battle is begun.
Despondently, she gazed at Elder’s crystal, dulled now, it’s energy spent. Rose knew it had to be destroyed, yet she struggled with her conscience and the guilt of obliterating the last remaining monument to her friend.
The only tangible evidence that Elder ever existed. Everything else that the woman had built had been destroyed. Voices murmured, swelling up from within.
“Enough!” Said Rose, “I am aware of my duty… I do not require constant reminders.”
Rose stepped back, her hand outstretched.
“Occillo,” Rose cast the spell, watching as the white bolt of energy shot from her ring, fracturing the crystal into a cloud of tiny splinters that floated to the ground. Most came to rest as small green specks amongst a billion grains of sand, others drifted out over the waves, falling into the sea and quickly being dispersed by the churning waters of Knucker’s Bay.
Rose wiped the salty water from her face, pushing her wet hair back behind her ears, she looked out over the bay at the rapidly lightening horizon, her heart aching with a growing sense of realisation. If we are to have any chance of stopping Lord Ka, Ash has to go to Aurum. Perhaps all this is his destiny as much as it is mine. First though, first… I will deal with Lord Dux.