Beyond the Void

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Three moons and three tens since the Mark of the Other One blossomed.

“Look here! I am telling you he is not well enough. Even if he is, how are you going to talk to him? Yell at him, like you are doing right now?” This village and its people were really getting on Cynric’s nerves these days.
“He needs rest! A little more and he will be much better.” Layla pleaded. “Ior. Please. Talk some sense into your idiot old man.”
“Layla get back inside!” Cynric barked. He did not need the girl here right now.
She made a shocked face, but went back inside all the same.

“Listen mage, you might have an imperial mandate to meddle in our lives as you please, but that does not mean you get to take my village away from me. That house belongs to the people here. The criminal is awake. If you will not try him, then I will, as the Empire’s laws demand.” The village elder scolded with impressive outrage, considering the man’s age. With every word he seemed to shudder and Cynric wondered if Gaven might do him a favour a drop dead the next moment.
“How are you going to send a man on trial without knowing whether he is guilty of anything?” Cynric retorted.
“The bloodseal, mage! Why would an unknown person hold such power? I know what you two are calling him. Northman.” The village elder looked towards Sethian and spat on the ground.

Sethian did not even flinch, but stepped on the mess Gaven had made. The idiot’s grandson looked on in silence. Cynric secretly hated the child. Headstrong and too stuck to his grandfather. It was the trouble with these small country places.
“Believe me when I say this Gaven, I take no pleasure in this. With my mandate, I am entitled to a residence among other amenities. Foremost, it is a sanctuary for ailing people. Don’t worry. You’ll get your house back. But as long as I remain in this village it is mine. Don’t interrupt me, please. How are you going to judge a man who can’t even understand why he is being tried? If you are spouting the Empire’s laws at me then, you should first know all of them. If the defendant can’t speak our language, we must provide him with aid.”

“Then why have you not found anyone?” The man raged.
“He does not speak eldertongue, nor Alyar, not even D’yer or the languages of the Ereko! I do not know which language he is talking in!” Cynric shouted. He was panting. Old men. Old stupid men, so convinced that only they are right. How many of those idiots he needed to fight. It was the only reason he had taken this job, roaming the Empire. To escape the hell of old, conservative people.

“There is no such thing as a human language that no one knows! Our patience is wearing thin, mage!”
“My patience with you has shattered a long time ago! Stay out of this house until I tell you to come!”
“You are not taking my village from me!”
Before Cynric could organise his thoughts Sethian intervened. “He might do that, you know. As the saying goes. Do not push a mage, elder. They always push back.” Damn it. He was not a mage. Stop calling me that, Sethian. I am a healer.

The damage had been done. Gaven threw one especially nasty look and marched off. Hawthorne and his boy shouted more threats and curses as Cynric retreated inside. Please. Please do not do anything stupid, Gaven. He wanted to shout at Sethian, but Cynric could not bring himself to do that. He was afraid of her although she would have laughed. Sethian had been a battlemage in Shadowwatch over Tristen.

“And where is my thank you?” Sethian casually yawned. Cynric flinched and spun around on the spot to glare at Sethian. “What? Stop giving me that look. You know you can’t reason with old farts like Gaven and Hawthorne. Especially Hawthorne. He is a dick.”
Cynric sighed and landed in the first chair in his path. “I hate you Seth.” He mumbled. “What am I going to do? I can’t keep them out of here forever.”
“You don’t have to. Until the northman gets better.”
“He is better! That’s the problem! He is a monster I am hiding in my second bedroom!”
“The hospital. This is the healer’s residence, not your house.” Sethian had her annoying smirk on her face as usual.

“You are not helping at all.” He grumbled.
“Here’s what you do. You let Gaven yell all day at the northman. Two things will happen. Either Gaven will scream himself to death or he will go insane. I tell you. The northman is actually the politest and modest person I have seen in this entire village. He even wanted to help wash the dishes these couple of times.”
“Modest? We can’t talk to him! You have no way of knowing what he is like!” Cynric felt an angry poke in his head and lost control of his voice.
“And now you sound like our dear village elder.” Sethian crossed her arms. She was right, damn it.

“Sethian?” Layla’s small voice interrupted Cynric’s thoughts. “I think he wants a needle and some thread.”
“Oh. I forgot. Gaven always comes at the worst possible times.”
“What is he going to do with those?” Cynric asked, dumbstruck.
“Fix his pants. He kept showing me the holes and moving his hands like he wanted to sew them shut.” Sethian started rummaging through drawers in the kitchen.

“How is he actually?” Cynric sighed. He had just returned to the village after having spent three days away again.
“Legs still look wobbly, but a lot more colour has returned to his face.” Sethian was rummaging through drawers, looking for that thread.
“He still looks pale to me. Is it all right?” Layla commented.
“Less sun in the north, no wonder he is so white.” Sethian smirked.
“Is he really, Seth?” Cynric interrupted the two.
“Is he what?” The mage asked, puzzled.
“A northman? An Iordurian survivor! It’s one man!” Cynric still had trouble keeping calm, but a nagging part of him did not care. He was tired of this ordeal.

“You know you could easily find all of it out. You’re stalling, Cyn. And for the first time in my life I can’t figure out why.”
“Easily!” Cynric gasped back a shock. “I know what you are thinking of, Seth. I have no desire to go lurking around in that man’s mind nor let him anywhere close to mine! Gaven has been a nuisance, but the village has been treating us nicely. If we want to carry through a ritual, I don’t think the villager’s patience will last.” But Sethian looked as if she was bored.
“You are an idiot. Really? The village’s patience? You are worrying about the wrong things. And why would you need a ritual? Let the northman carry it on his own.”

“Believe it or not, but it matters to me, Seth.”
“Right. The evaluation, regulation, or whatever. Feedback from the local populace about how well the healer mingled with their daughters or something the like. Blah blah blah. Your life is boring. And it’s entirely your fault too.”
“Sometimes, Sethian. Sometimes.”
“Don’t push the mage or they will push back. Only, you’re a healer. Now, are you going to talk to our guest?”

“I have no way of...” He began with a shout. But Sethian faked a loud cough, which drowned most of Cynric’s unhappiness. “I don’t want him in my head!” He slammed his fist on the table. Sighing, he realised, Layla was still there. “You can go home, Layla. I will teach you another day.”

The girl scurried outside and Cynric was left alone, at the mercy of Sethian. “What?” He finally said.
“You. Are. Wasting. Time. You will get nowhere trying to teach him our language. All that waving with the hands nonsense and “you”, “me”. It hurts to watch. Swallow that pride or whatever it is that is stopping you and try to be a human for once. He might be beyond any mage we have ever known, but that does not mean he is not a human. He will know what you are trying to do.”
“It is not a lost cause! His language is not entirely unfamiliar. I had a chance to look at some Iordurian texts. Some of it is similar to what he is speaking. Ow!”

Sethian had pricked him with a needle. “Here. He asked for these. You can take those to him. I will be resting tonight. You can mind after the northman.”
“Damn it, Seth! He is beyond me!”
“I fail to see the problem with it. Enjoy your evening.” Sethian threw on a cloak and opened the front door.
“Sethian! Seth, damn it! Where are you going?”
“Out.” She slammed the door shut.

Now what am I supposed to do? Cynric looked at the small drop of blood on his hand. His left hand. He wiped away the blood and stood up. Sethian’s attitude was annoying him more and more these days. The idea had crossed his mind several times. In fact, the northman already knew what it would take to solve this problem. He had offered his left hand to Cynric many times.

But it was a trial being in the same room with him. Sure, the man was actually quiet and calm. He never lost his composure. Cynric had left the room too many times in a pretend hurry for the man not to have noticed. The house was quiet without Sethian around. He could hear the man in the other room, putting down the water pitcher given to him. Cynric looked around in the kitchen and spied an old map of Tavran folded up in one of the shelves. He had no idea, who had lived here before him. A lot of the things found in the house were not Cynric’s.

Why not, after all. He had to try something else. He grabbed the map from the shelf and made his way to the other room. The door was already open. He did not feel like hiding behind the corner, but he did not want to step inside. The man was always wearing one of those devourers, yet the house always felt oppressive these days. A presence had seeped into the walls.

“Hello again.” Cynric said, uncomfortable. The northman had already been looking at the doorway. He had to be able to read presences. More than the average person who had been blessed with this already rare gift. “You wanted these.” He handed over the thread and needle. But the northman put the two items aside and sighing, looked straight at Cynric again. His gaze wandered to the map in Cynric’s other hand. There was a tired look to him. These days his eyes seemed to be more grey and green. Slowly the northman reached for the small pile of papers at his bedside. On them were countless scribbles, random words and drawings from both Cynric and the northman. Their attempts at communication thus far.

“Hello.” The northman said with a hoarse voice. The small success of Cynric’s efforts. It was obvious this had been tiring and even annoying for the northman. Cynric himself was not much happier about the situation. The northman was smart. Intelligent enough to learn bits and pieces of an entirely unknown language with an inept teacher.

But Sethian was right. He was wasting time. The northman had been awake for three tens now. The snow was melting rapidly and the sun rising higher with each day. Soon enough Cynric would have no more excuses not to write or even ride to Shadowwatch or other, more annoying places.
“Right.” Cynric mumbled. “Let’s see if we can make a little more progress today.”

He sat down in front of the northman and laid down the map on top of all the other papers the northman had been organising. I am so sorry, Cynric thought. It was an old map. Much had changed since this had been drawn, but it would serve its purpose. Briefly looking at the northman Cynric could see a new spark of interest in the northman’s eyes. The man adjusted his long hair into a new bun and reached for his tattered pack of belongings. He brought out a compass. He carefully set it next to the compass rose on the map and started eagerly exploring.

Cynric followed the northman’s eyes and hands for a little while. The man had leaned over the map and was following the shorelines. Then he settled on the Iordurion peninsula. For a good while Cynric could see him looking at the terrain markings and following the rivers ever northward.
“We are here.” Cynric finally said and made a small dot on the map around where Farstam should have been. Then he placed one finger on the Bitternest on the western coastline and his other hand on his chest. “Home. My home.”

Cynric kept repeating the word home and drew a small house mark on a piece of paper. After a few moments of consideration he added three small stick figures next to the house.
“Where are you from?” Cynric mumbled. Then he placed his finger on the home mark and pointed at the northman.

It might have been too difficult, Cynric thought. Because the northman looked at him, suddenly perplexed. This stumped Cynric. How could he explain what the word meant? Warmth, security, comfort. Birth. A dozen ideas swam before his face. Should he draw a baby? How do you even begin to explain this idea? Again, the same wall in front of him.

As Cynric pondered this problem, the northman slammed his hand on the map. “No.”
“No?” Cynric could only repeat the word. “Home.” Cynric repeated. And placed a finger on Bitternest and the marking and finally on himself. The northman considered something. He looked to his belongings at first and then very slowly, but deliberately replied.
“No.” He said. Clearly and without hesitation. Then the northman placed a hand on himself, then drew a cross on the home marking and placed his hand on the unfolded map.

“No, me, no home, Tavran.” Cynric could only mumble and ponder. What did that mean? The man kept staring at Cynric. Almost as if he was expecting something to happen. “I do not understand.” Cynric said and shook his face. The northman’s head fell on his chest and he looked really disappointed for a moment. No, me, no home, Tavran. His home was not here? How did that make any sense? There were the great islands of Falls under the Moon and Falls under the Sun. Both not marked on this map. But he was no Alyar or Pelesian.

Four more continents were said to lie over the seas far to the west, more legend than reality. No, that would be absurd. Then where was this man from? Cynric repeated the question, pointing to the house and the northman. The man had started biting his nails. It was rare to see him upset.

The man sighed and looked around. He said something in his own language again, clearly upset. The man stared at the map and simply sat there. That is that, Cynric thought. But his patient had had an idea.

He pulled out a rolled-up piece of leather from his ruined pack, then he got on all fours and turned the map of Tavran around. Then he turned the map back again and scrambled to Cynric’s side. The healer pulled aside more from sudden fear than anything else. The northman ignored it. He grabbed another piece of paper and pulled the pencil from Cynric’s hand. He rolled open the leather piece and laid it right next to the Iordurion peninsula. Cynric was not sure what he was looking at. The outlines of the Iordurion peninsula were there, but only the river Yal and its nearest surroundings were mapped.

The northman made a box over the Iordurion peninsula with his hands. And pointed to the leather map. Cynric nodded in response, interested to see where this was going. A single path had been mapped on the leather roll, from the Empire’s territories west of the Shadowwatch to the middle of nowhere below the Tolhm mountains far in the north. The northman then drew a swirl on the paper and surrounded it with nine pillars. He then pointed at the drawing and then at himself and then to the end of the path on the map, far to the north.

Nestled in the foothills, there was a small village or town marked on the leather map. Had there ever been something there? Iordurian maps were scarce. If something was there, it was not deemed an important enough settlement to add to the larger maps. Cynric drew a new home marking and pointed at it, shrugging.

“No.” And the northman pointed to the crossed out home mark and laid his hand on the map of Tavran again. Cynric felt his expression grow grim and his heart suddenly started pumping. The man’s home was not here. It was a myth. No, even less than that. It was an ancient folktale from a forgotten tribe. Some had gathered around the idea and claimed there were forgotten truths hidden.

“Wait here.” That was stupid. Not like the northman would go anywhere. Cynric needed to be sure. There had to be a map of the known world somewhere in here! He had lived here for two years now and he still had no idea what he could find in here. Cynric rushed from the room and opened drawers and closets.

It did not take long to find what he was looking. It was a grand old map, big enough to cover a wall. Cynric did not need to worry about getting it back into the room. The northman had already come out to see what the commotion was about. Cynric left the man to regard the map and rushed to the other room, for paper and pencil.

Coming back, he immediately pointed to the home marking again and this time on the other great islands, the archipelagos between the islands of Sun and Moon and even the vague shorelines far to the west. The northman’s gaze turned back to study the map. There was a sombre look to him now. No, me, home Tavran. The thought kept repeating in Cynric’s head. If such a thing was actually possible, how would one feel when they found out they had crossed the void.

“No. No home.” The northman shook his head. A rough attempt, but Cynric got the idea. No home. Not here.
“Where are you from?” Cynric asked.

He remembered the legend. How humans were not born in this world. They were brought here from beyond the void. Supposedly, the old world crumbled and died, but something extended its helping hand and pulled the last survivors here. Gave humanity another chance. Some say it was the Six Makers of Light. Cynric looked at the drawing of the nine pillars. Those ancient constructs dotted the landscape all over Tavran. All of them in remote and foreboding places. Humans rarely ventured to them.

But it was a myth. It had to be a myth. It was an idea for cults and fanatics. Crazed people. Cynric pointed to the home mark and at the northman again. The man did not see that. Cynric carefully patted the man on the shoulder and repeated the motion. The man quickly turned his attention back to the map and crossed his hands. It did not look like he was even looking at the map any more.

Eventually he sighed and turned to Cynric. The man held out his left hand. He said something in his own tongue. Calm, but determined. Cynric backed away and raised up both of his hands. Again. This is not a good idea, Cynric thought. The man did not follow. He stayed there, still holding out his left hand. He was looking Cynric straight in the eyes. Again, he said something in his own tongue. There was no other way. That was probably it.

Hesitant, Cynric ambled closer. The northman still did nothing. Cynric pulled back the sleeve on his left arm and grabbed hold of the northman’s wrist. What now, he thought. Usually there was a nexus involved. He did not understand how one could bridge two minds through power alone. His heart was pumping full speed. He could even feel the blood pumping in his arms.

That was not his blood! The vines on the northman’s arm had begun growing. They were now entangling Cynric’s own arm. Without warning, reality was shattered into a fuzzy mess and cast aside. A coarse thread was pushing itself into Cynric’s mind and a pressure in his head was building.

Then it all vanished, and he was standing on a lone patch of land surrounded by waterfalls. This could not have been real. Yet he could feel the cold water mist on his skin. He could feel his heart pumping and his ragged breathing.

Looking up, he could not see the tops of the waterfalls. Only an endless shower of cold water. His mind was already reeling from the experience. This was all power. How could a single human contain such a flow? The stories of the first human mages who were able to move mountains did not seem so laughable now. It was frightening. Cynric wanted to curl up into a ball and hide from all of this.

A sudden voice forced him to turn around. The northman was standing right there and someone else was there too. A woman! A woman clad in the black and red ceremonial armour of the old empire.
“It has been a while since I have had to speak eldertongue.” She said stiffly.

Cynric was too awestruck to say anything. “And not a soul cares who I am. Who I was.”
“Who. I am sorry, who are you?” He stammered.
The woman snickered. “Merely one among the last Six Guardian Deities of the North. At least you can provide something in the way of conversation. I am afraid he doesn’t talk much.”

“How are you here?” Cynric felt his mouth fall open. None of this made sense. Although he had enough sense left in him to realise that. Another part of him was in awe with the looks of the woman. She had even paler skin than the northman. Even at this distance he could see the scars on her neck and around her mouth. Her brown hair had been cut short except for a two long braids that reached her shoulders. And her fierce blue eyes were staring a hole into him.

“I believe he bound my soul to my trusty blade. For good. He took it with him. As bad as that sounds I am grateful. The void did not get the chance to devour me. If such a feat is possible, then there might still be a chance to regain my life. After all, I am not dead.”
“Bound your soul.” Cynric mumbled.
“I think he wants to apologise for what is ahead. He needs to learn your language.”
“Why can’t you teach him?” He pleaded.
“I am not alive.”
“But you said you weren’t dead.”

“You remembered!” The woman looked pleased suddenly. “At least half of it. Usually men tend to forget even the simplest of things. But that there is the problem. I am not dead. Nor am I alive. At its core, language is a structure. Speaking is not. Instincts can draw on concepts from a structure, but the opposite is not possible. Instinct is not a structure. The basics of the flow. I cannot help here.” The woman looked at the northman and stepped aside.

The water all around Cynric’s tiny island immediately churned and grew restless. Pillars of water rose like tentacles from the depths. Cynric was shaking, his breathing restless. Whatever was about to happen, an inevitability. An unpleasant one, most likely. He had severe regrets taking the northman’s hand.

“Try not to kill me. I like my life. As boring as it is, I prefer to live.” He looked straight into the eyes of the northman, hoping he would understand. But it was the woman who replied.
“Do not worry, tiny healer. He will try his best.”

The world shook, and the illusion faltered for only a moment as Cynric felt the northman place his other hand on his head. What he returned to was a torrent of power close to swallowing everything. His small island of dirt was barely out of harm’s way. The stoic woman had disappeared into the raging waters. The waterfalls were now flowing backwards. All around him, water rose towards the sky in endless streams.

Small streams gathered on the island and the pressure returned. Streams of water reached his boots and clung onto Cynric. Flashes filled his vision. Brief glimpses of light at first, then images ran through his head. Humans. Hundreds of them. Tens of thousands in a single space. Castles with no windows built of shining metal and glass. Fruits of light on top of trees of metal. Moving paintings on large sheets of glass and fabric. Paintings so lifelike, every artist would die from envy seeing those.

Those were the memories of the northman. Cynric tried his best to concentrate on the images, he wanted to see it all. And suddenly he was standing in the middle of a crowd of humans bustling in all directions. Towers of glass surrounded him and carriages without horses or eaglestriders were roaring past. The scene changed and Cynric saw the same city from the sea, towers of glass pierced the clouds and turned all the humans below them into ants. A roaring lump of white metal sped past his head and headed towards the city.

The torrent of power and its pressure were making it difficult to think. The images stopped and everything was dark. Humans, now chained to a pulsating heart. The chains shattered. And all was green. Forests, greenery, then snow and faces. Boats and a large river. Men and women. One among them stood out. A man slightly older than the northman.

Demons came. Awakened ones too. Hulking beasts. Cynric could focus no more. He was gasping for breath and the taste of blood filled his mouth. Was that not enough? Still not enough? Slowly he sunk on his knees. His hands were around him. The cold streams of water flowed all around him. There was barely any place left, not covered by them. He was cold. So incredibly cold. The flashing images continued but he could not focus on them. Please. Let it end.

There was a scream of agony stuck in his throat. He wanted to scream above all. No more. He fell face first to the ground. The wooden floor of his kitchen snapped into reality to meet his face. Gasping and so incredibly weak, Cynric found the northman the same as he was. On all fours on the kitchen floor, gasping and huffing. Already he could feel his strength returning. Somehow that was an even more uncomfortable feeling.

“Is. This it?” Cynric gasped.
“Still need learn. No solve all.” The man said in broken eldertongue. “But idea now. Understand. Tiny.” The man grunted without looking up. The northman laughed without warning. And continued to do so for a while.

Cynric slowly stood up and examined the mess that was now the kitchen. Flow had burned into the wooden floor, charring it. There was a faint smell of burning wood. He would need a carpet. And hope that the village elder would not come by again, soon.

The northman had stopped laughing. “I rest.” The man mumbled as he rose to his feet.
“Wait. We must talk.” Cynric held the man back. “I have so much to ask.”
“What would tell I you? I no idea have. Worlds travelled, but knowledge furthest dream. Tired. Tired of all. Forget me, go when well. Not bother you. Compensate I you. Rest now.” The northman ambled into the other room and fell silent.

Cynric wanted to follow, to bother the man no matter how tired or weak he may have been. Yet, he stayed in the kitchen. There was truth in the northman’s broken words.

By the time Sethian returned the sun was casting its last rays over the horizon. Cynric was sitting in the kitchen trying to remember the dream-like memories. The seared paths in the kitchen floor did not help make this situation any more real. He had checked on the northman twice, but the man was sleeping like a rock. Cynric did not dare wake him.

“Hey! You here?” Sethian waved his hand in front of Cynric’s eyes. He had barely even registered that Seth was there. He did not care much at this moment. “I said, busy evening? What happened here? What is it with the maps and this mess? Hey, Cyn? You all right?”
“Mhm.” He only grunted.
“What’s that burning smell? It’s power. Only not any kind of power I have ever smelled.”
“I did as you suggested.” Cynric mumbled.

“What? Are you insane?” Sethian raised her eyebrow. “It’s a start but you still have a long way to go before there is any hope to make a decent human out you.” She grinned wildly. “How was he?” That spark returned to Sethian’s brown eyes turning them orange. That same spark whenever she was excited. Whenever power was around her. She was an old burnt out battlemage, who had come this close to awakening, yet she constantly sought those strong in the flow and it held her in awe. Cynric could not understand her. Eagerly, she landed in the chair opposite Cynric.

“Beyond.” Cynric mumbled.
“A bloodied mage.”
“More than a mage. This made things a lot more complicated.” Explaining this to Sethian would not be an easy topic.
“Did you at least find out where he is from? Seeing as you created this mess.”
“I might have.” Cynric drawled with a grim voice.

“Well! Come on then!”
“For once, humour me, Seth.” Cynric was playing with the northman’s leather map. “What do you think of this?”
“Oh, come on.” She rolled her eyes and was about to stand up again. “If this is how it’s going to be, you can forget it.”
“It was on him.” Cynric said with a stern voice.

Sethian threw an annoyed look at Cynric and the map. She did pick it up after a moment. “This was on him?” She said with a disbelieving voice.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing. Leather, treated with oils and waxes to keep it weather and age proof, but with a mixture of oils that make it easy to burn, should it be necessary. A pretty standard map given to scouts and other operatives.”
“You mean, it’s an army map?” Cynric raised his eyebrow.

“I mean spies and the like get these. It looks to be standard imperial-issue. But I do not recognise the remains of this crest in the corner. Looks like a cut off wing. And judging by the symbols, this dates back to the war with the draig.” Sethian rubbed a remnant of a crest in one of the corners. “Really, Cyn. What are you playing at?”
“What’s at the end of this path marked on the map?”
“I think you better tell me.” Sethian shrugged.

“Our northman isn’t a northman. He came from the north. I figure he must have followed this route south.”
“How did he end up there?” Sethian’s face had been slowly losing it’s luster and a concerned look was beginning to take shape.
Cynric sighed and pushed forward the northman’s drawing. Sethian stared at the piece of paper as if it had offended her.

“I hate you!” She mumbled. And slammed the leather map on the table. “I hate you and our idiot Archmage! You know, I thought he was perfect. Then I hear these rumours and the next thing you know he is crying because me and a couple of other fellows incinerated some ancient scrolls and texts. By accident, I might add. I was there!” Sethian was really heated all of a sudden.

“The man was missing an arm. We all expected him to be furious at us. However, he was crying, Cyn. I mean tears running down his face. Talking about how he will never be rid of a curse. And how we did not realise what we did. How we destroyed what was left of the true history of humanity. And then he starts talking how we came here from beyond the void.” Sethian rolled her eyes. “And he kept talking and talking and none of us knew what to do. We were surrounded by demons and awakened ones and he was ready to give a pile of ashes a funeral. Having lost his entire arm only moments ago. Please, I am begging you Cyn, not you too. Do not look at me like that! You have the same look as Furos did.”

Cynric looked out of the window and sighed heavily.
“Come on!” The battlemage pleaded, aghast.
An amusing thought popped into his head and Cynric allowed himself a little laugh. “You know, there is only one way to know I am right this time.”
“What? Oh.” Looking at Sethian’s face Cynric realised, this was one of the best moments of his life. “Well, it’s only fair I let you have this little victory. A healer, but a mage after all.” She mumbled, voice full of bitterness.

“I can’t blame you for not believing, Seth. The man bridging two minds through flow alone. The flow that hides inside him. The state this kitchen is in. I have had dreams more lucid than what happened today. At first, I was excited. Think of all the questions I might be able to ask!” Cynric halted, looking at Sethian and waiting for her reaction.

Sethian did not answer, but still stared at the drawing of the nine pillars. Then she let out an odd sound. Like a stuck cow, Cynric mused.
“What did you expect?” He asked quietly.
“Not this!” She shouted.
“He speaks a language we do not know. There is no such thing.” Cynric felt oddly satisfied saying that and he crossed his arms.
“There are the elder races!” But her voice died and Sethian remained silent for longer than Cynric would have liked. It was difficult to talk about anything.

“What did he show you?” Sethian said suddenly. There was a distressed look on her face. But the spark had reappeared in her eyes.
“It’s hard to put into words. They will fall short. I saw things beyond me. Beyond any human alive right now. Then, darkness. Darkness and chains. And. I think he was not the only one to pass. I saw faces, but I don’t know how many.”

“Has he said anything at all?” Sethian picked up the leather map again and pulled the outlander’s crude drawing closer.
“As much as I could understand he wants us to forget him. Let him leave. He talked about compensation.”
“It might be the best thing to do.” Sethian said quietly.
“Gaven will not let it happen.”
“We can say he ran away.”
“If that’s the case, so should we.”
“Hah! That’s the first sensible thing you have said in all the time I have known you!” Sethian laughed nervously.

“Some novices I studied with used to call these constructs the Pillars of Creation.” Cynric said after he noticed Sethian still playing with the drawing and map.
“Yeah. I heard that one too. Cradles and Lifegates. World engines was another one. The Iordurians take credit for that last one. Always out of the way places. You never end up there unless you really wanted to go there. Some of us did once. As a dare. I can’t take it.” Sethian’s voice suddenly changed. “Is this really it? Maybe you got too drunk, and he has been asleep for all this time and... and and all of this is a huge fever dream you are having and I am not actually a real person.”

Cynric snorted and snickered. The next moment both he and Sethian were laughing at the top of their lungs. It did not matter who heard it or if the northman would wake up. This was too much.
“Oh, by the Six Makers this is not looking good for you, Cynric, my boy.”
“Hey! I am no novice anymore.” Both gasped for breath as the next wave of laughter descended on them.

“I am older than you are by at least twenty years, you brat. I could be your mom! Your little boring dream has been shattered and you need to move on. To the other side of the Empire. These small villages keep in contact you know. If you’re lucky, it will take a few years before the rumours reach that far.” Sethian stammered between fits of laughter.

“Well, then I just need to keep moving. Hey! Maybe I’ll join up with the northman. Go on an adventure. If he is as powerful as it looked like, then I am sure he can unlock my powers more.”
“Of course!” Sethian was hysterical. “The one to unlock the mysteries of Argent Blood. This small village healer that ran away from his job!”
Cynric laughed and laughed, but his face turned sour. The mood was dying quickly. Sethian was still chuckling, but her face told otherwise.

“Abandon all that you know. Abandon hope and wisdom. Only the strongest of hearts will prevail. Abandon all reason. Here, the shadow looms. Remember the light, but do not call upon it to keep you safe. Here, the shadow looms. Your hearts are the key to both doom and salvation. Here, we watch. And beyond, the great void stirs.” She said with a sour face.
“Shadowwatch.” Cynric said.
“The oath you take, when you enter service.”
“The mark blossomed. It’s funny. I forgot. I hope I wasn’t the only one.”

“No, you were not.” Sethian stood up and opened two particular cupboards. “Well, I suppose this is the only reasonable thing left to do tonight. One of the many upsides to your mandate.” Seth said as she put several bottles of wine on the table and uncorked the first. She froze for a moment, staring at the wine-bottle, seemingly reading the label. The next moment she shrugged and took a good sip straight from the bottle. Cynric was about to argue, but stopped at the last moment. But Sethian had already noticed. “What?”
“Give me that bottle of white!” Cynric sputtered. “The red ones burn my insides.”

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