The Rites of Inheritance (Book 1)

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The Consulate of the Order

The next day dawned bright and clear. There were even birds chirping away in the courtyard. Cassie looked out at them and didn’t recognize a single one, a thought that wasn’t exactly reassuring. There were two new dresses that Ferdi had already made for her to wear once she was queen, but Cassie pulled on her same old pair of jeans. They were a little stretchy after three days and she wasn’t wearing a shirt under her sweatshirt, but somehow Cassie was drawn to the idea of attending the Consulate at her most casual.

Finn claimed that she was cold in her workout gear, but Cassie got the feeling that she donned a crisp white dress to impress the council members. She hadn’t said anything, but Cassie knew that Finn hadn’t exactly gotten the same warm reception as Cassie after the coronation. Still, she wore her Second’s brooch proudly around her neck and seemed cheerful enough when Morris came to get them.

The Consulate was held in the administrative wing of the Palace. Its chamber and many of the other important offices there were open to the public so the laypeople could watch their government at work. It was a little unnerving, finally standing before the people Cassie was claiming to protect.

“Everything’s going to be just fine,” Morris assured her as they waited in the small anteroom behind the queen’s podium. “The Councils have already been briefed on the situation, this is just an official forum to facilitate a vote.”

“I still don’t understand why that’s necessary,” Finn said. “It’s not like Cassie’s trying to pass a law or something. This is about the fate of the world.”

“And you don’t think that’s a matter for the people to decide?” Morris countered. “Each Council represents a different aspect of the commons, and they speak with one voice for all.”

“You have to admit, it’s a little convoluted,” Cassie said. “On Earth a Consul is a single person. Rome only had two. But here each Council is a Consul…it’s like a bad pun.”

“Maybe in English,” Morris sounded a bit sullen.

“I’m just saying that too many voices is as bad as too few. If I want to go on a research trip, there shouldn’t be a federal case about it.”

“The Ultimate Power is something that we all face,” Morris said. “As Queen it is your duty to announce your plan to deal with it. Besides, if you and your Second leave the seat of office, you have to put someone in charge.”

Cassie shrugged and turned away. There was no use arguing when he had a point. She’d done her best to read up on how this Consulate was supposed to work, but it wasn’t exactly straightforward. Each Council was supposed to speak with one voice, but apparently they spent days in deliberation just to come to a majority decision. Then a two-thirds vote between the three Councils usually took weeks of argument. All of which they did not have time for. Her only chance was to outsmart them—a feat she wasn’t exactly confident about.

Finally it was time. Morris went in first, to call to order and introduce Cassie. Finn put a hand on her shoulder. “You ready for the show?”

“Not in the least,” Cassie said. She sighed heavily. “Remember when we were little and wanted to be princesses and we thought royalty could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted?”

Finn shook her head. “When I was little I wanted to live in a house made of marshmallows. I don’t think that would have turned out so well in practice either.”

When Cassie and Finn entered the Consulate chamber it was to complete silence. The eyes of every council member watched them up to the podium, and the public balconies were full to bursting, everyone jostling to the front. The chamber itself was the largest room Cassie had ever seen in her life. It was perhaps what the UN General Assembly would look like if some of the representatives were the size of small houses.

Shaped like an amphitheater, with the balconies in a ring around the back, the floor was mostly filled by the three long Consul tables. They were placed in a loose V-shape facing the Queen’s podium at the top of the room. There was a small table for her and Finn to sit at behind the podium. The chairs seemed smaller than everything else in the room. The Sages, one representative for each of the Craftling races, were on the left. On the right were the Lords, one for each of the powerful families of the Realm. Many of them were Archdukes: the appointed guardians of each of the realm’s sectors. They supposedly represented the interests of whole planets and the needs of the common people across the galaxies. Directly across from Cassie sat the scholars: the Realm’s wise men. Several priests and a handful of the most learned men in the universe, including two unicorns and a phoenix who sat quietly flaming at the end of the table.

Morris stepped aside when the girls entered, bowing his head and standing at post at the back of the room. Finn took her place at the table, clutching the black book of Elysiaa’s prophecies tightly in her hands. Cassie passed her and stepped up to the podium. She looked around at the councilors, all staring at her expectantly. There was something she’d planned to say, a whole prepared speech, but now for love or money Cassie couldn’t remember a single word of it. She touched her forehead to remind herself that she still wore the crown. It was now or never. She cleared her throat.

“I’m not very good at this,” she announced. “You are all older and wiser than me, and I admit that. I wasn’t raised to be a queen. Or a Craftling for that matter. But I was raised to always do the right thing, and to help people as much as I can. So I have to ask you all to bear with me, because I am your Queen now, and I’m just trying to do what’s right.” There was a bit of murmuring, especially from the balcony, but mostly Cassie had their attention. She had brought Aingath with her, part of her proof of office. She took it out now, gripping it very tightly to keep her hands from shaking. Somehow though, her voice never wavered.

“Now, I’m told I have to open with the agenda. I know a lot of you want to discuss my appointment of Finnia Morgan as Left-Hand of the Queen. I don’t wanna do that. And that’s my right. Finn is the smartest person I have ever met, and I’ve met most of you. She may be a Malcoh, but it was her ingenuity and fresh perspective that allowed us to come up with the plan I’m presenting to you today. So she’s staying. And I don’t want to hear a word against her.”

This provoked several noises of anger from councilors and one Lord even stood up to object, but Cassie had the floor. “Moving on,” she said, loudly enough to produce an echo, “I think we can all agree that there is something much more important that we need to discuss. There is a threat out there to not only us as Craftlings, but to all the people of the universe. And right now we need to be united against that threat. So the only item I’ve brought to the agenda today is the Ultimate Power and what we need to do to combat it.”

This seemed to subdue most of the Councilors. Cassie took a deep breath. She would only get one shot at this. “Lord Kenneth, if you would present the initial evidence.”

He nodded to her and flashed her an encouraging smile. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” Kenneth said. He cleared his throat. “Two weeks ago, Her Late Majesty Queen Audrey came to me with a proposition. She’d had a vision suggesting that the Dacruum were on their way to summoning the Ultimate Power. Such a thing had only been the stuff of legends before, and she did not wish to call to arms over a nightmare. So she wanted me and a couple other soldiers to come with her on a reconnaissance mission. It was highly unorthodox, but she was insistent. And yes, that was how she was discovered by the enemy and killed, but before that she was able to confirm what she had Seen. Through a communication spell, Audrey described what she saw and heard to me. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the Dacruum’s spellwork is yielding results, and they are not far away from discovering the actual Ultimate Power.”

The councilors were all silent, watching Kenneth back into his seat, but the balconies were stirring with whispers. Cassie said loudly, “Thank you Kenneth.” She picked a point just below the balcony to stare at so that it looked like she was looking out over the whole assembly. “I think we can all appreciate the sacrifice that my grandmother made. Now that we know what we’re up against, we can take action before anything bad happens. Which brings me to the plan I’ve come here to discuss. Now I know that some of you have already heard about it, but I would like to take this opportunity to outline it in my own words before we open up the floor.”

Now Cassie looked down at the podium, at Aingath clutched in her hands, wishing she’d written down some of what she’d wanted to say. “We recently managed to translate some writings by the prophet Elysiaa, thanks to Finn here. And she, Elysiaa that is, predicted that this power would come. And she said that it could be prevented. All we have to do is discover the secrets that Mercutio knew, learn what he learned, and reverse what he did.” She put up a hand to stop the sudden burst of talking. “I know it sounds impossible, but the Rite of Origin can be undone if we just try. I believe that the time for Elysiaa’s prophecy is now, and that if we move quickly we can stop the Dacruum and ourselves from killing anyone.

“So,” Cassie touched her head again; the crown was still there. “I move that we cease all military and political activity until this situation is completely assessed. I wish to look into the fulfillment of the prophecy myself, and learn everything I can about how it can be done. And then, hopefully, do it.” Now came the scary part. Cassie thumped the butt of her wand on the table three times as Morris had taught her. Its bang echoed like knolling of a bell around the amphitheater. “This topic is now open for discussion.”

The Consulate meeting took over five hours. As the councilors began to trickle out of the room and quiet finally descended, Cassie dropped her head onto her table with a thump. Kenneth came up to the queen’s seat. “Is she dead?” he asked Finn, only half jokingly.

“Yes,” Cassie said into the table.

“It wasn’t that bad,” he tried.

“Not that bad?” Finn said. She held up a pile of papers in front of her. “They made me draw all the glyphs in the prophecy and translate them into like three languages in every possible way. I know the prophecy so well now that I could probably say it backwards in Daeorian right now.”

Cassie lifted her head. “They made me agree to do at least two weeks of basic training before I can leave the palace. I wouldn’t last a day in an Earth boot camp. You really think I can handle Craftling training?”

“I do,” Kenneth said. “They just want you to be able to defend yourself. Besides, is there a downside to learning the basics of magic? The rite is more complex magic than any of the scholars could handle even with all their training.”

“I guess that’s true.” She took a quick deep breath. “It’s not so bad, right? They voted yes. We get to go on our ‘epic quest’. Still, they don’t seem to have much faith in me. It’s like they’re letting me go so they can get me out of the way while that general or whatever guy takes over.” One of the provisions for Cassie taking on this task full time was that she appoint someone to do her job while she was distracted. Normally it would automatically be Finn, but she was going to be with Cassie. So the Consulate had elected a man named Darrell Farand for the position.

“Technically, he’s a Captain,” Kenneth said. “But I guess the Captain of the Royal Guard is higher than any officer in the other branches of the military.”

“It still means they want a fighter,” Cassie pointed out. “Someone who won’t be afraid to go to war while we’re off looking at treasure maps.”

“That’s not true,” Kenneth told her.

“You know it is,” Cassie said. “Maybe they believe I’m Mercutio’s heir, but that doesn’t mean anything if I can’t figure out what the Rite is. Elysiaa wasn’t exactly specific about that.”

“Maybe that phoenix was right,” said Finn, “and we should be focusing more on the Ultimate Power itself. Finding the ‘secret of the fallen’ and figuring out what all that means.”

“The Archivist?” Kenneth said. “He just likes secrets. All phoenixes are knowledge junkies.”

“Well, maybe we should be more like them then,” Finn said. “Mercutio spent years figuring out how to perform the rite. And maybe months just doing it. It’ll be a tall order to accomplish all that before anyone summons the Ultimate Power.”

“I think we have time,” Kenneth said. “Audrey’s last communication said that the current summoning spell they were trying had failed. They’ll take some time perfecting it. The prophecy said you’ll stand against the evil in order to reverse the State. If they’re connected, I’m pretty sure whatever steps we take will lead us to the same place.”

Cassie shook her head, remembering what the Watchers had said about destiny and ending up where she was supposed to be. Whatever would happen in that clearing, it was there waiting for her, waiting to see which type of bloodshed she would choose. Cassie stood. “Either way, it doesn’t matter. We do whatever we have to to protect the people. Whatever the cost.” She turned to Kenneth. “Thanks so much for your help. We’d never have pulled this off if it wasn’t for you.”

“I’m not done yet,” Kenneth said indignantly. “You think I can translate an ancient prophecy and then just step away? Don’t forget, I’ve been a part of this since Audrey dragged me off to listen to her death. I know more than anyone what’ll happen if your quest doesn’t work; I won’t abandon you if there’s even a chance I can help.”

Cassie caught Kenneth’s gaze and held it. His eyes were a dark, dark blue, almost black, with streaks of grey in it. From the little time she’d known him, it seemed these colors meant he was serious. Or angry. Either way, he seemed sincere. “Thanks, Kenneth. I’d be happy to have you with us.” She held out her hand and he shook it.

The DeRenneas brothers were waiting outside in the hallway. Kenneth felt a little guilty at the sight of them. Together they’d worked so hard to find the prophecy and figure out a solution and here Kenneth was with the deus ex machina, running away on a quest without them.

“Kenneth, we need to talk,” Tom said.

“Right,” he glanced at the girls. “Can you two find your way back without me?”

“Sure.” Finn gave him a questioning look, but made no complaint as she and Cassie made their way back alone.

Kenneth pulled his friends over toward the side of the hallway. He leaned against the window frame. From up here there was a great vantage over some of the central features of the palace. There was the dome of the temple and the beggars’ fountain. Kenneth could even see the roofs of the library and the small courtyard that held the Star of Rhiath. “So what is it we need to talk about?” Kenneth asked.

“Well first of all, the girl has the book of prophecies and I promised Duncan that he’d have it back soon,” Carlton said.

“No that’s not it,” Tom shoved his brother. “We need to talk about the plan.”

“Why?” Kenneth said. “I thought the plan was settled.”

“Maybe for you and your new girlfriend, but we still have a problem. You didn’t bring up Audrey’s death at the Consulate.”

Kenneth avoided Tom’s gaze. “I mentioned it.”

“Barely. And you didn’t tell them what really happened.”

“I didn’t think it was relevant anymore,” Kenneth said.

“How could it not be relevant?” Carlton said. “You’re the one who said that her dying words were a sign from the gods. You’re the one who told me that we needed to be willing to die for it.”

“I know what I said.” Kenneth snapped. “But I didn’t know then what Elysiaa’s prophecy would say. With things as they are now, we may not have to do anything. If Cassie is the heir of Mercutio and we can go back to the State of Creation, then Thanas can’t summon the Ultimate Power.”

“Are you sure of that?” Tom said. “I heard the prophecy too, and it’s pretty definite that to do any of that, she will have to face off with the summoner at the very least. That girl is not strong enough to stand against the Dacruum Emperor. Thanas will destroy her and the universe with her. I say we go on with the plan. We might even be able to get the girls on board if we just explain what we know. They’re not stupid, and I don’t think they’re suicidal. With things they way they are with the Consulate, they’ll trust our judgment over Cassady’s. If we want the power, we can definitely take it. Especially now—”

“Don’t say it,” Kenneth begged.

Tom finished anyway, “Especially now that we know the blood rights can be transferred.”

“By sacrificing an innocent life!”

“It’s blood magic! What did you expect, hugs and kittens?”

“Tom, we’re not killing anyone,” Carlton interjected. “Like it or not, that girl is our queen now and we have to trust her. Maybe Kenneth’s right and Elysiaa’s prophecy does make our plan unnecessary. I mean, she was more powerful than Audrey. And Cassady does seem to be the heir. She has Mercutio’s wand and the crown. She’s his blood. Maybe that’s what Audrey meant when she said only blood will redeem us.”

“You really think that?” Tom asked scornfully.

“I’d prefer it over the alternative.” Carlton said. “Look, she has to go through training, that’ll take at least a couple of weeks. If they have no leads into Mercutio’s rite by then, maybe we can reconsider going through with the plan.”

“The Dacruum aren’t going to wait for us. If they move ahead…”

“Cassady is still obligated to stop them,” Kenneth said firmly. “We’re all working toward the same goal here. And if Audrey’s prediction does come true then we’ll do as we said and fight. But…I don’t know, I want to believe in these girls. Maybe war isn’t the answer this time.”

“I like them too,” Tom said, “I never said I didn’t. I just don’t like this plan. The queen should be here and we should be out there. ‘In many ways and with much bloodshed’,” he quoted. “That is what Thanas is up to. Are we just going to ignore that?”

Kenneth looked back out the window. The sparkle of the Star of Rhiath was visible even from this distance. He remembered what he had told Cassie about its origin, and how as long as it stood here there would be peace for the Craftlings. It was a pretty legend. Finn’s theory about the relationship between Origin and Creation made a pretty legend too. Kenneth sighed. “I’ll talk to Farand. Tell him what really happened to Audrey. Maybe he can go through with the plan while I’m gone.”

“You’re really going with them?” Carlton asked.

Kenneth remembered Finn’s smile, her excitement as she deciphered the Daeorian Glyphs. He had seen that smile once before. “I am. I have my own role to play here.”

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