The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 36: Inquisition

Metal bolts screeched, clunking against the return as they were drawn back and the heavy wooden door swung open. El-on-ah, crouched on a straw mattress on the wet, stone floor, looked up as Che entered. She felt her heartbeat quicken. Lord Dux spoke the truth - he’s alive.

Accompanying Che was a female Blood Ascendent wearing the pin of a Metamorph. El-on-ah looked upon the woman’s horribly scarred face and was overcome by a wave of repulsion, and yet she felt compelled to stare at the girl’s bizarrely grotesque beauty, revelling in its freakishness. The woman glared right back at El-on-ah, her dark eyes were narrowed… challenging. El-on-ah felt an instant admiration for the young Blood. Whoever you are, you have spirit, I have to give you that.

“My Lady?” Che’s words pulled El-on-ah from her reverie.

“Che…” Feeling suddenly breathless El-on-ah got to her feet, rushing towards Che, before hesitating in an attempt to compose herself. “I thought… I’d assumed that you’d been executed.”

Che’s eyes smiled, holding hers for much longer than would be deemed appropriate for a servant. El-on-ah was surprised to find that she no longer cared about protocol. It was evident that Che still cared about her. He missed me… Instantly El-on-ah chided herself for responding to the jolt of emotion that invaded her consciousness.

“El-on-ah,” Che summoned the slanted smile she found so annoyingly irresistible, “I am pleased to see you too.”

By addressing her so informally, Che had committed an indiscretion that she could not overlook, not with another Blood Ascendant present.

“You take liberties Che-vah-ra,” El-on-ah’s voice hardened as she flicked a glance towards Ro-eh-na, “and you have neglected to introduce your friend.”

“Of course,” he said, “El-on-ah, may I present Ro-eh-na…”

“Have you completely forgotten your station?” El-on-ah’s eyes widened.

“If you are referring to my failure to use your title,” Che’s lips formed a slow smile. “It seems we have little use for those anymore. No longer am I your servant, everyone here is equal. Surely you must approve, isn’t that what The Unification is all about, what we were supposedly fighting for - The Ophite way?”

El-on-ah felt a stab of alarm. What has happened to him? Che would never address me like this in front of another Ascendant. There’s something new in his tone. I have grown used to his sarcasm, this I could overlook, but hostility?

“You betray your people with those words Che-vah-ra,” El-on-ah felt his slap of rejection and quickly attempted to push the resulting pang of hurt from her mind. “You were born an Ophite. You took an oath to serve Lord Ka. You aided me in returning him to us. How can you choose to desert us now, when we are so close to victory? What have they promised that makes it so easy for you to betray us?”

“They have promised me nothing,” said Che, “they convinced me.”

“You have been brainwashed,” El-on-ah felt her fury building. “How can you betray me, Che?”

“I’d never betray you El-on-ah,” Che took her hands in his. “Nor have I been brainwashed, but I’ve lived and worked with these people, watched them struggle, experienced their kindness and generosity, and I’ve learned that our beliefs were wrong. Lord Ka is not the leader I once thought him to be. I have had doubts since he struck you down at Enisfrae. Ka is one with the Djinn, he offers us only that which we have long become accustomed - prejudice, discrimination, injustice, inequality, cruelty and hate. The only difference is the colour of the robe worn by the one who wields the power. Rose offers something else; true equality, democracy and unity. Look into your heart El-on-ah, and you will see I am right.”

“No Che, you are wrong,” El-on-ah felt suddenly confused. It is true, El-on-ah had her doubts about Ka, but in the words of The Unification, she had found a sacred creed, a covenant that all the Ophites had lived by. She had worked so diligently to bring about its global ratification.

When El-on-ah replied, her words sounded hollow, even as she voiced them.

“Lord Ka is building a new world, just as he promised. The first novices to ascend to his New Order are to be inducted within weeks. Preparations are underway for their arrival.”

“So Ka is in Aurum?” Che raised a brow.

El-on-ah cursed herself. What is wrong with me?

“Ka sent you to collect the ingredients for fractionation venom didn’t he?” Che’s tone had hardened, his words piercing her heart like shards of ice. “I am ashamed that you even considered it. You are an alchemist El-on-ah, you know what the confractio can do. Do you really want to be responsible for the annihilation of another race, and very possibly our entire world? Ka couldn’t control the spell before, what makes you think he can this time, when he is half the Ascendant he used to be?”

“You don’t understand Che…”

“No, El-on-ah, I do not, and neither do you.” Che glanced towards Ro-eh-na and nodded.

In response Ro-eh-na dropped the hood of her cloak, revealing the full extent of her disfigurement.

“You see this,” Said Che, brushing back a tress of hair from Ro-eh-na’s cheek, “this is what your great Lord Ka does to his own people. He doesn’t care about us El-on-ah, he never has. Ka cares only about winning, even if it means sacrificing his own citizens to the Djinn. Look El-on-ah, see him for what he is. Join us, help us stop this madness.”

El-on-ah could not have felt more pain if Che had driven a knife into the pit of her stomach, twisting it with each word that he uttered. What hurt, even more, was that El-on-ah knew he was right. Her eyes burned. By now, Lord Ka must know I’ve been captured. He’ll have replaced me already. Whatever decision I make will be too late… we are all dead.

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