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The Bell Tolls

Urthen looked out the window of his tower that overlooked the grounds of the Aracum and from here he could see almost every area of the school and the city surrounding it. He had been back for a few months now and was adjusting to fatherhood better than he anticipated, given that he had many hands to make light work of it. The child had been brought to the school a few days after his return from Viirdan by one of the priests from the local temple of Belaria. Many thought it strange he had been so willing to take the child on himself but they had not questioned his decision.

He had hired wet nurses to feed him and care for him during the day and Urthen himself cared for the boy at night, waking when the wet nurse did to feed Kaylen and change him. He had never thought he would be in this position but now that he was, he had grown accustomed to it quite quickly. Fatherhood was something he felt all men should experience and given the child had come to them in such unusual circumstances, he saw it as a sign.

He could hear Kaylen, playing in the next room with a very loud rattle. This had been a gift from Master Asher Vale, a long-time friend of his, but he was convinced the man had bought the thing purely because of how much noise it made. It seemed Kaylen would be raised by the whole school over his life there and whilst Urthen was yet to see any signs he was gifted, he and others could sense that the boy had some kind of connection to Hala. That would be enough to keep him here as a potential student.

Urthen didn’t like the idea of his adoptive son working as an assistant to one of the other Guardians but neither did he relish the idea of him lounging about like a nobleman, contributing nothing. That was all many years away though and, for now, he was content with raising the boy as best he could. There was a light tapping at his door and he invited whoever it was to enter.

“I see Kaylen likes his present.” Master Asher said as he closed the door. “My boy has one of those Vishanti teething wands too. I’m not sure why they were made to make such a racket but it seems to help.”

“Oh yes, it’s a great help. Especially at two hours passed high moon.” Urthen replied sarcastically.

“Did you hear about the incident in the Summoner’s Room?” Asher asked in a far more serious tone.

“No, I’ve been in here trying to finish this proposal for the Mage’s Circle. What’s happened now?”

“One of the students achieved a full summoning, but what she summoned wasn’t a spirit or a demon. It was a book.”

“A book?” Urthen said with a raised eyebrow. “That’s got to be a first. What was it a book on?”

“No one is sure, we haven’t opened it yet.” replied Asher. “We thought it best to bring it to you.”

Urthen noticed for the first time that Asher had an object under his arm, wrapped in black linen. He placed it on Urthen’s desk and unwrapped it, revealing a moderate sized tome bound in blue leather. It wasn’t in anyway unique in comparison to any other leather bound book, although the color of the leather was unusual but when he touched it he realized why Asher had it wrapped.

It was cold, almost icy to touch and he had the distinct sense that this was something dangerous. He looked at Asher who met his gaze and looked like he had expected Urthen to be as shocked as he was by it. Urthen wrapped the book up again and thanked Asher for bringing it to him, the Guardian leaving him to decide what to do with it.

After trying to go back to finishing his proposal, Urthen gave up and unwrapped the book again. His let his hands sit just above the surface and he could feel that icy cold again, surrounding it like an aura. Bracing himself, he laid his hand on the cover and opened it to its first page which was filled with a strange writing made up of a mixture of symbols, shapes and hieroglyphic style pictures. He’d never seen anything like it before and he was certain, given it had been summoned, this had come from somewhere other Helliom.

He turned a few of the pages and they too were covered in the strange script, the lines of which were written perfectly straight. In all his studies of ancient and modern cultures he had never seen this form of writing that combined so many aspects of written languages. Without some kind of reference point he had no idea how to begin trying to decipher the code, if it was one, so he decided to try a different method.

Urthen slowed his breathing and embraced Hala, drawing it from within himself as he had since he was a child. All Mages were born with access to a certain amount of Hala from pool within themselves called their Chian. A Mage’s Chian dictated how powerful he or she was and Urthen’s was one of the strongest and deepest in all Helliom. He felt the warmth of the Hala but as always had to control it, bind it to him or it would just escape once he drew it out.

Unlike the Ishmah, Mages struggled with Hala and had to force it to do their will, their founders being able to commune and work with it in perfect harmony. Urthen had often wondered if that was why Mages were restricted by their Chian, the natural connection limiting their abilities. He focussed, willing the Hala to enter the book and speak its words to him as he had with many other texts. Normally he would need very little Hala to do this and what he drew was barely noticeable.

At first nothing happened. The book absorbed the energy and the cold aura around it seemed to warm a little, the pages taking on the faint glow of his Hala which was a pale green. He drew more, pushing it harder and harder in to the book, bearing his will down on it. Suddenly there was a flash and the book snapped shut, the icy aura seeming to become a tempest surrounding it and making it float a few centimetres above the desks surface. Then it just dropped back down with a dull thud, still closed and still emanating the chill it had before but no trace of the tempest. Urthen sighed and wrapped it up again.

Clearly Hala was not going to be of any use so he would take the book to the library and begin his research there. It would be a nice distraction from politics and dealing with the Mage’s Circle, even if it was short lived. He went to leave his rooms for the library when he heard something he had not heard in his whole life. The Unnrayl, a large bell kept in a tower at the centre of the Aracum and charmed to raise alarm if the school was invaded, rang loudly across the grounds. This was quickly followed multiple by screams of fear and panic from somewhere below.

One word was clear amongst it all. Unari. That was impossible though, given that the Aracum was hours from the nearest ocean or sea and the Unari couldn’t travel more and a few kilometres without access to sea water. He left the book on a chair beside his door and instructed the wet nurse to lock the door behind him and not open it for anyone other than him. He saw the fear in her eyes but watched as she drew Kaylen to her like she-wolf protecting her cub. The woman, like all the wet nurses, loved their charge like one of their own and would likely give their life to protect him.

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