Dark Magic Rising - Book One in the Sisterhood Trilogy

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Chapter 3 - Misinformed

The observation deck gave the guests a good view of the increasing greenery. Up ahead towers brightly coloured in blues and silvers shimmered majestically as the avenues of a lush oasis city approached. Leaning on a railing and looking down at the huge wheels, Lynwen noticed a cobbled pathway, half concealed by sand, that ran along side the ship. A bank of coarse, thick grass grew between path and track. The speed which they approached slowed to match the gallop of the carriage ahead, at this angle she could just see the horses pulling and straining on their harness.

“The Imbhane Temple is known as the Gateway to the South. It’s a shame we won’t have time to explore, it has a lot to offer.” Colbon leaned in next to Lynwen.

Dark hair fell over his eyes and Lynwen took a moment to study the golden flecks dancing in the metallic grey, which lent him a mischievous air. She could well imagine those eyes smoldering with passion or as cold as the desert at night.

“Like what you see, Sister?” He smiled, his beard lifting at his cheeks. It wasn’t thick enough to hide his skin tone, nor the contours of his mouth and it hid a square chin that was slightly off in proportion to his face. Nevertheless, he was a very handsome man, despite being well into his prime and greying at the edges. With the life expectancy of one hundred and twenty, Lynwen guessed he was around sixty sil’hna; aged like a fine wine. Lynwen licked her lips. “Well?”

“Oh, I do apologise. It’s just…” Lynwen looked away, feeling mortified at being caught gawping at him. It wasn’t as if she was innocent; far from it. At forty she’d had many lovers, time away from the Order always quickened her libido. “You have intriguing eyes. I was wondering, has your life been as full as their depths suggest?”

He laughed, “I guess it has.”

“And?” She stared at him in the hope he would expand on his reply.

“I have worked for many people, Torian, Leian, Free Landers, even the Shamans of the north from time to time.” Turning around he took in the approaching scenery. “I have done things, jobs, that some would say were dishonourable.”

“Have they been?” She lifted one eyebrow in curiosity.

“That all depends. I support no particular faction, so I can’t see how. Like you, I suppose.”

Lynwen looked at him before answering. It was hard to read his expression, the facial hair and the glint in his eye was somewhat confusing. “I beg your pardon?”

“The Clar’han Sisterhood align with no one. Neither do I.” His teeth shone bright amid the dark hair, his smile telling of his lack of ethics.

“Not the same, I can assure you. We work to benefit all. You work for your own benefit. Tell me, how much are you being paid to take us north?” This man may be visually appealing, his arrogance, however, was a different matter. They seemed to be in abundance on this journey.

“I do what I need to keep me happy. I suppose that may appear selfish. As to how much I’m being paid, that is none of your business.” Leaning forward he whispered into her ear. “One more thing. My cabin door is always open to a pretty thing like you.” He winked and headed inside, leaving Lynwen spluttering.

“Don’t fall for his charm; his abilities in the bedroom do not match his bravado.” Lady Yvonne spoke from her place on the thick rug, her blonde hair falling over the dark purple cushion she rested on. With pale blue eyes, a pert nose and full, red lips she had an obvious beauty that was somewhat spoiled by her brash attitude.

“I have no interest in his bedroom prowess, thank you very much.” Both laughed, even Priest Moseh joined in. After a cheerful sigh Lynwen asked, “Tell me about your brother.”

“Please, call me Yvie; I hope my manner on our meeting will not stop us being friends.”

Surprised by the Lady’s remark, Lynwen extended the offer. “In that case, call me Lyn.” She sat down between her new colleagues.

“Then it’s only right that you address me by my first name. I am plain, old Moseh.”

“With all that out of the way.” Yvonne sat up and crossed her legs. “My brother’s name is Stewart, never Stew and definitely not Stewie; he hates that. He’s been serving in the south waiting for a place at the Alhan’enna castle. Once this adventure is over that’s where we’ll be heading.”

“It would have been nice if our host introduced us correctly when we all arrived. We could have discussed our own requirements.” Moseh sat back, his hands rubbing his full, expansive stomach.

“And what exactly would a shadow acolyte require?” Lynwen probed, the lift to her voice adding a challenge to her words.

“My counterpart and I have our own agenda. I…”

“What; more surprises? I find Kendrich’s secretive approach towards this endeavour rather annoying; now you?” Lynwen crossed her arms over her chest and huffed.

“It appears only you have been kept in the dark.” Yvonne patted Lynwen’s shoulder. “I know of the Ostar acolyte’s desires to study the effects of this new dark magic.”

“Yes, that is correct. Though dark magic has been dabbled in for centuries, there is much we do not know.” A sad expression spread over Moseh’s face. “Dark magic is hard to heal, this we’ve known for centuries, we now have reports that strange creatures from the north have magic that cannot be healed. It is necessary that we study this in more detail.”

“And how do you plan on doing that? Do you expect someone to volunteer to get injured by said beasties?” Lynwen’s eyes opened wide, for full, sarcastic, dramatic effect.

“Not on my watch Lyn, no. What we intend to do is for more dangerous, unfortunately.” Yvonne stared at Moseh; a look of disdain on her face.

“Then what?” Lynwen looked between her two companions as Moseh inspected his hands.

“There is no need to worry, once Kendrich and yourself have completed your work. With the aid of our soldiers and a potion.” He paused theatrically and brushed some nonexistent dust from his knee. “The plan is to capture a living specimen; for further study, you understand.”

“You’re mad!” Was all Lynwen managed to say. These new creatures had not been seen in full. Only hearsay had painted a picture of them. Wolf-like, possibly even bear-like, with muzzles, standing tall on back legs. Stories of black, soulless eyes and poisonous claws had been rife. No one had truly seen them so how could they know how to capture one or that their magic could subdue one? “How can anyone be part of such madness?”

“The priestesses of the temple here are paying a good price for a specimen. If it’s alive, well the price will be doubled.” Pouring herself a drink, Yvonne took a sip and watched Lynwen try to take in the situation. She handed her the goblet and watched as she took a few gulps. “Are you all right?”

“What is the purpose…?”

“Surely, you see the need for such a specimen? There is much we need to know. Mostly out of the need to defend ourselves against them.” Moseh sat forward as if imploring Lynwen to understand. “We need to know more about the dark magic that has changed them. You should understand the need for this study more than most.”

“So you can harness it for yourselves?”

“If that is the only way to defend ourselves, then yes, of course.”

“What of the prophecies? That dark magic will never be harnessed by woman nor man. It is not natural; not of our world. Surely you know what you’re doing is blasphemy?” Lynwen’s anger over spilled, standing, she declared. “I will not be part of an expedition with such distructive purpose. I have been misled from the start and will wash my hands of it.” Shaking her head, she headed for the steps. “Expect to hear from my superior.”

“Please, Lyn, you need to hear this.” Yvonne stood and took her arm. “Kendrich has misled you. We all found that out this morning. I refuse to go any further until you know the full truth.” Leading them to the rug she sat and paused until Lynwen followed.

Her mind reeled from what she had heard. What more could they have to tell her? Nothing on this trip had met her expectations.

“Over the past five sil’hna the beast from the north have grown in number and strength. Shallow Oaks is the northern most inhabited island. It has become deserted. Most people have left. But,” Yvonne took another sip of brandy. “There have been many kidnappings, mostly of men. None returned. Sightings of beasts were plentiful. I myself have been there and seen such a creature. Not that I got a good look, it ran off, on two legs, like a man. It had pointed ears like a wolf or cat.” It was becoming obvious that the amount of brandy Yvonne had consumed was affecting her. She began to gesticulate in an inappropriate and drunken fashion. “I saw no fur.” She sipped her drink. “Or face.” Another sip. “Or even a tail!” She slurped the last of her drink and belched loudly. “Beg pardon.” She turned to refill her glass, sloshing the amber liquid onto her boots. “The foot prints were huge.” Another noisy sip. “Like paw prints.” She sat back down as the others looked on in silence. “I can assure you; the threat is very real.”

Yvonne took Lynwen’s hand and looked tipsily into her eyes as Lynwen forced back her laughter. “I know you feel deceived, those instigating the beast capture believe this has nothing to do with the Clar’han Order. It was only by chance the monoliths were found. You and Kendrich are an added component on another’s expedition. Your involvement is due to the Imbhane temple knowing the importance of what the monoliths may contain. Anything else you need not worry about.”

Silence fell heavily. Yvonne and Moseh looked at Lynwen, as the shock showed on her face. Struggling to lower her eyebrows and close her gaping mouth, she wasn’t sure whether to be angry, amused or honoured! The look on her companion’s faces were that of compassion and understanding and, in Yvonne’s case, indignation at her once again empty glass. Lynwen nodded her head, finally coming to an understanding. Yes, she was angry. “I was invited to ease someone’s conscience about letting the right people know.” It was a statement. She was there as a scapegoat. Simply so they could say the Clar’han Order was aware of their expedition. How could they not be, when one of their own was involved?

“It would seem so.” Yvonne said, followed by another loud belch.

“Who is behind all this?”

“The Sisterhood of the Beast they call themselves. They reside at the temple here. Acolytes that feel these beasts are a thread to all Alhanassii magic.” Standing up and leaning on the railing, Lady Yvonne pointed to the temple before them. “This is where they live and learn. Every bit of evidence is brought here for study. Torian, Leian, Free Landers, all people are represented.”

“Except the Clar’han Order?”

“No, we have a couple from the Clar’han Island who are here to make sure all that is learned is given freely to everyone. They gave Kendrich your name so you could search the monoliths.” Yvonne wobbled and turned her back to Lynwen.

“This is a lot to take in. I agree we have to protect all from the dark magic but this, what you’re planning…” Sighing heavily, Lynwen finished. “But I have no choice do I?” Joining the Torian warrior, she looked at the spectacle they approached. It was huge!

The wall that surrounded the temple was around a hundred feet tall, the stone work of a curious workmanship with some parts reflecting the sun with a blue green haze. The windowless expanse stretched in an arch and out of sight. The only entrance was the massive wooden and steel double gates, powered by steam, which would be produced by chaos acolytes and their fire.The opening of the valves released clouds of white vapour into the clear sky. The prolonged, sharp sound of the steam and the groaning of the wood could be heard from their location. During their discussion the ship had come to a halt outside the wall. From this position the temple spires poked over the battlements. Thin towers topped with onion shaped roofs glistened and shone, their swirling patterns made their way to the pinnacle, the colours were spectacular in the sun light. Lynwen felt dizzy as she looked up at the scene but was unable to take her eyes from them.

“We will be disembarking in half an hour if you would all return to your cabins to collect your belongings, we can have you on your way.” Kendrich smiled at them as he approached. This time Lynwen found returning his smile impossible. Knowing he would have kept her in the dark did not sit well with her. If she had known their intent she would have refused to go.

~~~

While packing, Lynwen thought back to the first time she heard of the expedition. A letter from a well known priest, a man of great learning, who often corresponded with the Order had been enthusiastic about the monoliths. The language of the goddesses was hard to master and the priest had insisted the inscriptions spoke of “yeh edhin”; “the one”. It was the assumption that this could lead to knowledge of the rejoining of their magic. The ancient language of the goddess predated the split so it was a safe bet that it somehow held the key to returning them to their full magical potential; their birthright.

Such carvings were usually found purely by accident, that’s just how things go. From time to time the Goddess Bodelia would enlighten her children by leading them towards a new discovery. Carvings on ancient monuments and altars, especially in the sanctuary, have been known to change, revealing some important future happening.

All such things are governed by the Order. When they were given their sacred duty, many expeditions were embarked upon and the treasures found, now protected. Unfortunately, it is a hard aspect to keep track of. Those with money and power often found keeping such artifacts gave them status, which was fine; as long as they let others study them. Luckily for the Order the Torian queen was also willing to share.

So then; why, from the start, have they chosen to keep her in the dark?

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