Five moons and three tens since the Mark of the Other One blossomed.
“Are you listening? You cannot understand any more than I ever could. My memories are limited. But don’t you think you are more fortunate than the others?” The guardian shouted at Andaris. He was sitting in his world of oceans and glaring at the two dull hilts floating in front of his eyes. “Nor will you be able to gain any sense of understanding if you keep fighting me and my memories. You need to focus, not prance around wherever your heart thinks you want to go!”
“Then why did you talk of the heart before that?” Andaris mumbled.
“The heart ignites this flow inside us. The mind brings it under control. If you let your heart run wild, then there will be consequences.”
“Then why did you say I cannot awaken. That it is impossible for me.”
“It is impossible. You are not listening! You are not trying to understand what I am trying to teach you!” The guardian shrieked.
“I don’t believe you.” Andaris stood up and approached the guardian. She was standing her ground. “After what happened those four days ago you have become awfully talkative. But you still refuse to talk about what I suddenly know. What I suspect. Things do not add up. Your memories are yours, incomplete and biased.”
“You have been nothing but obstinate and hostile towards me. I am on your side, yet you were ready to let the blades of my Emperor devour me! The guardian of the north who served the Iordurian all-King. As if I could be a traitor. I swore my life to the kingdom that birthed the Empire.”
“Again, then. Why do I know that those Akresh and Balaar are not just swords?”
“You mean the memories of the glaive. Those two combine to make the glaive. The power to summon it faded after the wars with the draig’yar.”
“It is related, but it isn’t!” Andaris shouted. “Those are not mere weapons. Nor was their purpose the power to chain souls. If your memories are to be trusted then those swords should have been able to withstand an eternity. If this world ended, then these would still be left.”
“That is all I know about them!”
“No! There is more to them! Slowly some bits and pieces have been returning. Yet I can’t place them. Are those my memories? Are those the memories of the dead boy or are they of the elder of Dark? Or is it still that something else? Something that pulled the veil over my mind before you did.”
“You are the elder of Dark, you halfwit!”
“Am I? I thought something was taking over me when I was in the north. Then you came, and I am being told that I am dust given life and this elder of Dark. And now I was told I am awfully like a boy who died in this world the day the mark blossomed. With whom I should be, I count six different entities!”
“You are still you, this world has only brought out your hidden qualities. I will not deny that since the mark blossomed, the death of that unfortunate brat may have affected your soul somehow, but you are still you. You have always been the same person.”
“It’s all a mess. I know things from you. I know things. I know things.” Andaris repeated, and he chuckled as his mind drifted away for a moment. “I know and I have little context behind that knowledge. And I know things I do not know I actually know!” He was laughing out loud now. “Either your memories or something else’s suddenly turn up in my head. Just like that.” Andaris snapped his fingers.
“I know. And I do not understand. Next problem. I know what you think the Mark of the Other One to be. And I know it is not what you know it to be. But I don’t know what it is supposed to be and I don’t know what those voidstones are supposed to be either. But I do know the voidstones and the mark are the same in nature. There is no void and darkness, those two are the same.”
The guardian shrugged and sighed.
“Moving on to problem number three!” Andaris shouted.
“Enough! These are the wrong things to focus on.”
“No these are the correct things to focus on!” Andaris interrupted the guardian.
“We should be thinking about getting my body back. Preparing for that. Instead you keep wandering around the town and doing unnecessary things.” She interrupted him in turn.
“Who was it that told me check out that cathedral under the city?” Andaris laughed.
“I admit, that was partly a mistake.” She growled with a stiff jaw.
“Not your only one! Did you think coming here would free me? That coming to Ironcourt would... I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” Andaris grabbed his head and paced around the ocean. “I can be this elder you think I am, but I am a puppet. Like the others gathered in this city. And my friends and that girl. And so are you!” Andaris looked the guardian in the eye and pointed at her.
The guardian glared at him. “If we would focus on one thing, then we might be able to avoid most of the trouble. When are you going to visit the repository again?”
“I am not going to. I remembered something in that cathedral and now I can’t remember anymore. Why do I know, but do not know what I know and how this knowledge fits together?”
“Fine! What do you know then?” The guardian shouted.
“That thing in my mind before you. What did it taste like?” Andaris’ thoughts had already strayed to another path.
“Taste?” The guardian’s eyes bulged, and she looked disappointed.
“It’s presence. What was it like? I know you used to be able to read presences. You still can.” Andaris shouted, impatient and upset.
“Nervous.” She said after a while. “Jittery. It was unhappy and did not dare hope. And my question. What do you know? What do the two of us know then?”
“I don’t actually know why I came to Ironcourt.” Andaris mumbled suddenly. “If we want to pursue the path of getting your life back, then it might have been the right thing to do. If I would not have come here, there would not be a path past this point. I wonder if this is what Becca felt like? No wonder that kid was a fucking bitch. She is messed up in the head. So am I. A complete basket case.”
“We appeared in the north. I found you in Yalthar. I took the voidstone. I survived the north. The awakened ones are not coming south even though they should be able to. I killed an immortal, and I headed towards Ironcourt because I imagined that I would gain some idea what to do next. What do you think farming or riverboats? Settle down or see new places?” He looked expectantly at the guardian. She only rolled her eyes.
“Now I am here. And my friends. Do you ever wonder why I call them friends? I know a lot about them after those few moons, but it doesn’t feel right calling them friends. Acquaintances is such an uncomfortable thing to say. There is a power struggle in this city. The Empire is on the verge of a civil war, it looks like. And two other notable presences are in this city. They met up that day when I arrived. They are constantly meeting. And one of them is carrying something familiar but I can’t understand what it is. And I found these two things. I know they relate to the voidstones. That’s it so far.”
“Those things.” She rolled her eyes again. “Akresh and Balaar were made using the voidstones, and they helped bring the void under control. They were created alongside. That’s how they relate to them.
“And I know that once again, you are wrong. You only know half the picture. Someone has hidden the truth a long time ago. There’s nothing to do here, until whatever is about to happen, happens.”
“You could still look into my problem.” The guardian pleaded.
“I know everything there is to know about the arcane arts and flow from your memories. I can draw a burn node and a nexus and create a sacrifice. The tool we require is not in this city. It’s beyond.”
“How can the flow not be the answer to my problem? So, we enjoy the sights? We sit around and do nothing.” The guardian was upset. “The humans alive today must have made new discoveries about the arcane since I was alive!”
“Look at those embers in this city!” Andaris shouted. “A handful of smouldering flakes are all that’s left. It is all about to run out and this pathetic shimmer cannot be compared to the glorious blaze of flow from your memories. These humans have abandoned their power. Patience is the way to go. You held back a voidstone for how many years now?”
The empty ocean faded and Andaris opened his eyes. He ignored the angry thoughts coming from the back of his head. He let his gaze run around the city. After being confronted by the thief, he had moved to another part of the city. To another abandoned block of flats. Another balcony. The weather was pleasantly warm. He had spent one night at an inn. It was midsummer, and the nights had become too stuffy and warm. He had gotten too used to sleeping outside.
The stars were so much bigger in this world. They moved around in the night sky. Not only passing from one end of the sky to another, but twisting around each other and drawing waves with their paths. That fascinated Andaris. Not a single speck of light stayed still. You could easily follow each one’s movement through the night sky with your own eyes. And each night they were coming closer and closer. He could not have imagined it. One particular star that always travelled in a circle in one corner of the sky, had grown from the size of a tiny seed to the size of a small pea, during the last moon and a few tens.
Andaris thought the condition of his wounds improved while outside as well. Some of the larger cuts had still not fully healed. He wondered if he should find a healer or someone who could tell him what was going on. Shouldn’t these wounds have healed already? Large parts of his body were covered with pink and red cuts and the few stubborn scabs.
The guardian’s memories told him about a taint that was sometimes left inside the victims of a demon’s attack. There had to be poison inside of him. The guardian said he would not awaken. Could he trust her knowledge when she did not know the truth?
Loud banging on the door, inside the apartment, interrupted his thoughts. He could not feel a thing. He let the banging continue. They had pushed him away after he had helped them. There was always the question if they had needed the help. Although Kauri was not known to overreact. He was one of the more level-headed people in the group. But thinking back on the day in the old town it seemed the others had needed courage more than anything else. Who had come for him now and why?
"Open the damned door, Andrew! We know you’re here!" Eric’s voice was loud, even through the couple of doors and up a flight of stairs it was easy to hear him. He sighed and slowly ambled through the apartment.
“Can I help you?” He said as he opened the door. Becca was there along with Eric and Mai. Andaris had just thought of a joke and his mouth twisted in an odd grin. “I know. How many people does to take to bring a basket of my size along?” The joke only made sense in eldertongue and had come unexpected for Mai who snorted an awkward chuckle.
"You could try not to spout this gibberish at us!" Eric was fuming, as was usual of him lately.
"He can’t help it. He is an idiot, and he chose the idiot’s way of learning the language." Either Eric’s anger had rubbed off on Becca or the other way around. The brat in turn angered Andaris every time he saw her. She did not need to say a word. He turned away from the doorway, but the three did not enter.
"Let’s go." Eric nudged his head reluctantly.
“Where?” Andaris demanded.
“We need what you might know.” Mai said. “We are having a slight disagreement. Will you come, please? Andaris?”
"Why do you keep calling him that?" Eric sighed. ”You told me he is from our world, but you keep calling him by that name. Did you lie to us?"
"He’s been through a lot. Alone. Shut up, Eric. While we were together, he had to find his way through demons and the wilderness, alone. That would have left a mark on any of us."
"He ran after us. A lunatic shrieking throughout the forests. And then he killed Sten. You told me he admitted it. There are so many unanswered questions about this thing! You know what Sten said!"
"And how many times did you argue with Sten, that we should give Andrew a chance?" Mai argued. Becca kept glaring at Andaris and would not stop, despite the fear in her eyes.
“You know I am right here. I can understand you fine.” Andaris said with an icy growl.
“I am sorry. Will you come, we need to talk things through. Andaris, please?”
“What good will...” He started to argue. He wanted their company but when the others were arguing around him, they tired him. But there was little point in giving them reason to be upset with him. It was an even bigger waste of time.
“Give me a moment, please.” Andaris sighed. He ambled back upstairs and took his two scrolls. He did not go anywhere without those. He picked up the cloak for a moment and then threw it back on his mattress. He had gotten some new clothes meanwhile. After the night in the cathedral, his only good shirt had been close to being one huge bloodstain.
“Black and grey, white and blue.” Mai’s voice came from behind him. “I am noticing a trend with you.”
“Even my hair is turning white now.” Andaris turned around and pulled back his hair. “It’s hard to see, but the roots are slowly turning white.”
“I am glad it’s not all black. At least you have some sense in clothing yourself. Where did you get another one of those sashes? I like the blue.”
“It’s the old one actually. I had a smith cover it with new fabric.” And more armour, but I am not going to tell you that. “Doesn’t matter what I put on, it all feels wrong. I am not used to this at all. It all feels too old or overtly fancy. There’s no middle ground.”
“Clothes should be the least of our worries right now. It’s not like we are planning to stay in this world. That’s the hope at least.”
“That’s what you want to talk about.” Andaris called over the blood-red blade from a corner and Mai flinched.
“Do you really need that?”
Andaris ignored that question. “What does Becca think then? There’s a way back?”
Mai nodded on response.
“It cannot be that easy.”
“She will not tell us the details. She and Eric have been fighting. It was actually Eric who demanded we ask you. He won’t tell us why. Sarah knows bits and pieces and she won’t talk either.”
“Sounds ominous.” Andaris quipped.
“It’s not funny. We’re worried. I know what you said, but you can’t be serious about staying, can you?”
Andaris ignored Mai again.
"Care to let us in on your secret conversation." Eric had come up the stairs.
"I was telling him why you want to talk to him. I am not the one hiding things." Mai hissed.
"Make sure you tell him that if possible I would listen to Becca’s advice and not have anything to do with him."
Andaris turned away and headed down the stairs. Mai and Eric argued behind him as they followed. He didn’t wait for any of them to take the lead, but marched out of the apartment and down into the bustling street.
"It’s this way." Eric grabbed Andaris’ shoulder and pointed him into the right direction.
"I still say we don’t need him. Don’t you trust me?" Becca demanded with an angry voice.
"He knows things you do not! You admitted it, Becca! Only after I had to pry it from you, but you admitted it! Don’t argue with me." Eric was as angry as she was.
"We can’t trust that knowledge! He killed Sten. I was right about that!"
“I stopped a monster!” Andaris growled at the brat. “I took the life of a monster, tell them that!” He looked Mai in the eyes for a moment. Although reluctant, she started translating. “Sten let go of the reins. He let that power run wild and drown his mind. This world works that way. If you do not stay in control, you cease to be who you were. If Sten had accepted this power within us, then he would be alive. Sten killed himself!”
"How can we trust you? You always kept to yourself and you came up with solutions to our problems right when we needed them. There were many moments when Sten’s suspicions seemed right even though I argued that my friend had to be wrong! Then you killed him. He said dust was brought to life in front of his eyes. You didn’t emerge from the gateway. You came from the inside of one of those pillars."
“I can show you!” Andaris stopped and turned to face Eric. “This power that courses through us carries many reflections of us within it. Anyone who has mastered this raging flow can use it to create lies and illusions, but you, Airik, you are the last person I could lie to. I can show you, right here, right now.” Andaris held out his left hand, but even before Mai could finish Becca jumped forward and pushed Eric away. She was white as chalk.
"Why did you do that?" Eric growled at Becca.
"You can’t! You can’t trust him! And like this in the middle of the street! We would be attracting all the wrong attention!"
"Of course I wasn’t going to take his offer right here and now!"
"You can’t take it at all!"
"Why?" Eric demanded.
"You can’t trust him!"
"Why can’t I trust him! Those are not answers, Becca. You need to tell me everything! Could he lie to me with this power?"
"You can’t trust what he shows you, please. I am trying to protect you."
"Can he lie to me? You never told us about this second awakening, about these demons inside us."
"Eric, stop, people are looking already." Becca was right. A few of the passers-by were showing an interest in the scene.
"I will call this city guard on us if I have to. You will answer this one question. Can he lie to me? Will I know what the truth is?" Eric was shouting now.
"No. He can’t lie to you. But you can’t accept his hand. You can’t let him bridge your minds!" There were tears in her eyes now.
"That is my choice, Becca. Not yours. Sten was my friend. Now hurry. We have wasted half a day arguing."
It was lunchtime when the four of them finally reached their destination. It should have been lunchtime in Andaris’ mind. The sun was high in the sky and he was hungry. His mood had not improved thanks to Becca who had been fighting with Eric and Mai the entire way. The four of them were approaching an overgrown manor near the city’s edge. Andaris could see glimpses of huge ramparts behind the trees and thick vegetation far in the distance.
"Finally!" Kauri had stuck his head out of a window on the second floor. ”At least you brought Andrew. You were gone the entire morning."
"Is everyone around?" Eric asked.
"Not like we have anywhere to go. They’re all on the back balcony."
“Do you have anything to eat?” Andaris poked Mai on the shoulder.
"Hey, Kauri, did you cook anything today?"
"Just finishing. I don’t know what these are, but they are good enough for a hotpot. Meat and vegetables like any other once you cook them."
Eric led Andaris through the dusty house. Here and there were small signs of attempted cleaning. Mai followed the two of them, but Becca had rushed ahead the moment they had entered. When they reached the balcony Andaris found the brat between Sarah and Jess. Lenna hovered around the trio.
Sarah and Jess still held a fear in their eyes. But Lenna was more curious. Anna smiled as soon as Andaris’ eyes found her gaze. Robert had a wary look to him, but he approached Andaris and shook his hand in an all too formal way. It almost made him chuckle.
Kauri waltzed onto the balcony and slammed him on the back as if nothing had happened. Everyone wore new clothes and the women’s haircuts were steadily returning to their previous length. The men had decided to keep their hair short. A familiar warmth spread throughout Andaris’ body. He craved their company; he did not need their thoughts or attention. It would have been nice to have friends like that. Sten should have been here too.
"You got Andrew, can we talk now? Becca has found a way out, right? I can help only to a certain point if I do not know the full background. Having me draw all these circles and whatever." Robert complained.
"Don’t we want to eat first?" Kauri asked.
"Yeah, but we may have a way out of this hell. You four have been at each other’s throats for four days. Becca won’t say anything because Eric keeps shouting at her and Sarah won’t say a thing because Jess needs consoling all the time." Robert was clearly annoyed.
"I don’t need consoling! You make it sound like I am a cry-baby."
"Sometimes." Robert mumbled next to Andrew. Jess could not have heard, but she narrowed her eyes at Robert.
They filled the balcony with lounging sofas and chairs. Small tables were all around the place and many scrolls and books covered them. It looked like someone was learning about the basics of the flow and arcane arts. Kauri was handing out plates with stewed vegetables and meat and Andaris felt as if he belonged there once again.
"Right. Mai, you’re alright with translating our resident basket case? Not that you have any other choice. Becca thinks we might have a way out as many of you have guessed." Eric rolled his eyes.
"We have a way out. I am sure of it." There was a determination to the brat’s voice.
"With that monolith? That thing that drove Jess insane?" Eric demanded. ”Nice of you to bring it along, by the way." Eric nodded at Andrew. His voice was filled with sarcasm.
“The voidstone? You think you can use the voidstones?” Andaris said. He was unsure if he should laugh or be horrified. After the first shock was over, the urge to laugh became overwhelming. His face twisted into a weird grin.
Everyone looked at him, confused, some slightly worried. ”Mai, what was that?" Lenna asked cautiously.
“A void- what?” Mai blinked sheepishly.
“Voidstone.” The urge to laugh was too strong. He chuckled slightly.
"That thing is called a voidstone, apparently. He is asking why we think we can use them. Them? There’s more of them?” Mai’s head was turning between Andaris and the others.
“One is in the heart of this city. Atop the spire in Narris’ Citadel. The others...” He was drowned in the guardian’s memories while Mai was translating his thoughts and her questions. “Across this entire continent. Some were last known to be across the Greater Spine to the east. In the lands lost to the demon horde.”
"Demon horde!" Eric exclaimed. ”You did not tell us a thing about a demon horde to the east. Not just the north, the east too. And if we need those stones, we have to go there, right?" Eric seemed to have forgotten Andaris. His attention was all on Becca.
"I didn’t tell you because it was not important." Becca crossed her arms
"So you admit that you have kept things from us. It is important to talk about everything. I might know this language, but I can’t just ask the people who live here!" Mai scolded Becca.
"Will you let me talk! I did not tell you because it was not important. We want to go away. That’s all that matters and I know of a way now. Everything else is irrelevant. I would never have chosen a way that meant marching off into the wilderness again. We need only the one stone. We can use that one to call all the others to us."
“What makes you think you can even use the one?” Andaris chuckled.
"Why wouldn’t we be able to?" Becca demanded.
“Those things will fight you. They have a will. If you falter, it will devour you whole. Remember the scene from Yalthar? All those humans, suspended in time. And six very brave and very stupid souls who held back a single voidstone for a thousand years or more. You want to use all of them. They will extinguish you in moments.”
"I will figure out a way! It’s possible. Mai and Robert have been helping me learn about the way this magic works. Robert is really good at learning this stuff. We will find a way."
"Can you? Can she find a way? What are those stones, really?" Eric asked Andaris and Becca, constantly looking from one to another.
-She can not.- A distant voice echoed in Andaris’ head.
-Are you sure?-
-They should be bound to Akresh and Balaar. Those are the keys. Whoever is in command of them and the glaive, holds power over the constructs. You know the truth. Those things do not accept even an idea of a master.-
-You were wrong about the nature of the stones. I remember something else. Blood binds the stones. The keys are for another purpose.-
-Your blood. No one else’s. Only those who carry my Emperor’s power in their veins.-
"Andrew?" Slowly, his gaze focused on Eric. ”What are you looking at?" Eric took worried glances towards the overgrown garden.
“I am consulting a local.” Andaris mumbled, and he shrugged and shook his head.
"What does that mean? A local? Are you sure that is what he said? Mai? You’re shrugging." Eric barked.
“There is no clear answer. There are keys to the stone.” Andaris said loudly, as he ignored the fuss around him.
"If there is a key, there are locks. Locks can be picked. Or broken." Becca shouted, impatient.
“But those aren’t the only things binding them.” Andaris let his gaze rest on Becca. The aura around the girl had changed drastically. He could only catch tiny slivers. Before, it had been a flickering ember. Now, it hid in the shade of a gigantic tree.
"My other question. You didn’t answer." Andaris caught Eric’s gaze. ”Those void stones. What are they?"
“They are... Alyar.” A dozen thoughts of the guardian entered Andaris’ head. “There are other races in this world. Besides humans. And others before them.” That last thought was not from the guardian. That was strange. But the image was gone as quickly as it had appeared. He knew he had seen something again.
"We know that. Is this relevant?" Eric interrupted Mai, who looked cross.
“I thought you were unhappy, that you were not getting the full picture. That others are keeping things from you. You wanted to know it all, didn’t you?” As Mai translated that, Becca looked extremely unhappy.
"He’s right Eric. Besides, you were the one who wanted Andrew to come." Mai stopped translating and scolded Eric. The man closed his eyes and sighed. Andaris took that as the sign to continue.
“There was a war sometime after humans appeared in this world. Long enough ago for most to have forgotten the truth, but everyone still knows of it. It has become one of defining events of this world. When humans first appeared in this world another aided our kind. Those humans quickly surpassed those Alyar and were no longer content being the second. Humans conquered Alyar lands and took nine arcane constructs from them. The Alyar worship light in all its forms and they had made a construct to record all their past and future. Shards of light that made up a whole.” Andaris realised he was looking at the guardian’s face. He looked at the countless memories swirling around them in the endless ocean.
"Light, shadow and dark." Andaris opened his eyes and stared at Becca. ”That’s part of what I found in the passages under this city. That the power running through us comes from three origins. Light, shadow and dark or the mind, the heart and the outside."
Andaris narrowed his eyes at the girl before continuing. “It was an accident. Someone brought together two energies that were supposed to be the antithesis of each other. It lay the foundation for the voidstones. Light and Shadow should not be able to exist side by side in a single container, but that is what the voidstones are. Shadows were poured into the Alyar light shards, creating something new. Two clashing energies bound into something that mimics the darkness outside. A facade of the great nothingness between all creation and beyond the void. This energy was volatile and yet it opened a new realm of possibilities. When this war occurred, the humans still held dear the thoughts of returning to their home world. They thought this power might help them break through the nothingness even if it was a pale reflection of the true Dark.”
-Mind the girl!- There was a sudden thought from the guardian. -Let me be your eyes.-
That was the first time the guardian offered to let Andaris into her mind. Hesitant, he accepted the guardian’s hand. She let go almost immediately again, but it was enough to convey an image. Someone had covered this entire mansion with a veil. Its existence was hidden from everyone and so were the presences inside. Why had Andaris not felt that?
“These voidstones are a broken reflection of something beyond you. Bound to something else entirely and not enough to achieve what you desire. That’s what they are.” Andaris crossed his arms and adjusted himself in the chair. “Even I do not know their complete story. Yet.”
"Becca?" Sarah and Lenna began, but the girl interrupted both.
"He is wrong!" She was looking straight at Andaris. ”That void inside those stones is the same as the nothingness beyond everything. It was no accident! They are a perfect piece of the flow that runs through the Mark of the Other One and the world engines. They are all connected! What he told you, is wrong! Trust me! What the humans thought then, is wrong! They thought they failed, but they succeeded, by accident. They just did not know!"
"I don’t even know where to start. What is this?" Robert exclaimed.
"Are we about to mess with nuclear physics? Origin points? What are those?" Lenna shouted.
Suddenly everyone was shouting at Andaris, Becca and each other. But Andaris looked at the girl and his thoughts went beyond.
-How could she know?- There was a demand from the guardian.
-What does that veil remind you of?- Andaris growled at her. -You have my memories, tell me.-
-It’s not quite the same. The one responsible for this could not have been in your mind, I would know to look for the signs.- The guardian pondered.
-Similar enough. Bits and pieces are coming back. The smell of last autumn’s leaves rotting beneath a great tree has always been there, in my mind.-
“How do you know? How could you have known the truth about the voidstones?” Andaris growled. The brat only angered him further.
"Hold on!" Eric shouted as soon as a very puzzled Mai had stopped translating. ”You said truth. What she said, is true? Did he use the word truth?" Eric demanded from both Mai and Andaris.
"I think so." Mai looked at Andaris and he nodded in response.
"Then how do you know it to be the truth?" Sarah stood up. ”If you knew? Did you lie to us?"
“Of course I knew, you twat.” Andaris spat. He was angry now. “When I broke the idiocy that had been conjured in Yalthar, I accidentally bound the soul of the last person still holding the voidstone back. What I spoke of before were her memories. How she remembered the voidstones.”
"Wait. You have someone inside you? A woman?" Kauri had stopped eating his food, Andaris noticed. This entire time, Kauri had been the only one who had been eating.
“Should this really surprise you?” Andaris demanded. “We are casually having a conversation about harnessing the flow running through everything this world is made of and this surprises you. It is not important.”
"But you kept things from us again!" Jess shouted. Everyone was looking cross. All eyes were on him again.
“None of it matters!” Andaris bellowed and stood up. He marched towards Sarah, who was still standing. “Most of my knowledge comes from her. From the guardian inside me. But there are fragments of something else. Something else was in this head before her.” Andaris hit the side of his own head with a flat palm.
"Something else?" Sarah sounded nervous, and she backed away from Andaris’ path.
“Maybe that cold thing we let out. That Becca said, went everywhere. Maybe that something was constantly there. Playing with us. Something that pulled a veil over my head and took my thoughts! Maybe it has pulled the veil over you. Or helped lift the veil off others? Something that has pulled a veil over this entire mansion and its lush gardens, perhaps?”
Andaris turned away from Sarah and rounded on Becca. “The last time we spoke in the north, you said you cannot see beyond these stones. You cannot see beyond me. What opened your eyes suddenly? Who let you peer beyond?” Everyone was listening to him and Mai. No one said a thing.
"Becca?" Eric demanded with a stern voice. ”What is he talking about? Come clean. What did we let loose from that gateway?"
"No." The girl said with a small voice. ”It wasn’t her. It’s not her. She helps us. She is like the cool shade under a tree. She is not the bottomless chill that oozes from you. I don’t know everything, but the longer I think about it, the more I am convinced that Sten was right about him."
"She, who?" Lenna asked sharply.
"Our biggest worry is this abomination hiding in human skin." Becca kept pointing at Andaris.
"Answer us, Becca. Please." Sarah pleaded.
“I can make her talk.” Andrew growled with a certain satisfaction. “None of you here can stop me, should I choose to save us the trouble. She knows I am right.”
"Eric can!" Becca spat spitefully through teary eyes.
“That depends on how far he is willing to go. Stop wasting our time.” Andaris could feel Eric’s gaze on him. He did not dare answer it.
"Will the two of you stop? This is not you. The both of you. What has gotten into you? We may have not known you two before this, but this was not how you two were around the countless camp-fires in the north." Anna pleaded and Mai nodded fervently.
"I will tell you what has gotten into them. It’s this power. This power that Sten warned us of." Eric stood up and pushed Andaris away. ”It’s in their heads. It’s in all of our heads. Something has taken a hold. I constantly keep hearing chains somewhere in the back of my head." Andaris could have imagined it. But he too, felt a slight tug and a metallic clang somewhere near him again.
"We have to try something! We want to go home! Don’t you want to go home? What other choice do we have?" Jess shrieked. ”I can’t stand this place. It reminds me of home. All those familiar human faces make me sick because they also remind me that this is not our home. We do not belong here. Sten was right about that too."
"At what cost? What will it cost us and others to leave this place?" Lenna argued.
"She is helping. She shows me little things, but most of the time she is hidden. I only found out it’s a she by accident." Becca now cried.
"Since when." Lenna asked with a deadpan voice.
"Since always. All of that knowledge I have is hers. I did not find out about her until we made it past that awakened one and her swarm."
“And you have followed her help blindly.” Andaris shook his head.
"I asked for help. I constantly asked her if she is really helping us. This is all she shows me. It has to be help. What other choice is there?"
"We settle down and live a quiet life. Grow crops, children! It is not a bad choice."
“Airik is right.” Andaris said loudly, while pointing and nodding at Eric.
-That might be impossible for them.- A sudden thought came from the guardian. -Some of them hold too much power within them. That girl has been touched by something equal to you.- The faint whisper faded quickly in his mind.
"I told you before, Eric!" Jess was furious. ”I will not accept this world. I did not suffer half a year of hunger, filth and terror to settle down and deal with filthy animals and back-breaking labour. I want my life back. My family, my friends, my lousy job."
"We can’t give up. We must try to follow this trail of breadcrumbs. There would be too many unanswered questions. We have to see what happens." Sarah stood up and confronted Eric.
"Like we tried to use the gateway?" Eric shoved his left hand in front of Sarah’s face.
"That was a rushed decision. It was desperation. We have a chance to think this through and we can retreat. And not go through with our plans if it turns out to be dangerous." Sarah would not let up.
"If this way fails, we will find another way. I will not accept this place." Jess shouted again.
"You say that, Sarah, but we have two problems. Neither Becca nor Andrew are saying enough. No offense mate, but you are not telling us all of it." Kauri peered cautiously at Andaris.
This forced Andaris to pause before answering. What would be the best answer here? “I am stumbling around in the dark. I do not have all your answers. I told you all about the voidstones. The truth of what Becca’s invisible friend showed her as well as what the tenant in my head remembered. There are gaping holes in every bit of knowledge I discover.”
"Why did you come to this city?" Anna ventured cautiously. ”When we found each other again, you said something about following your own clues. Did you really mean it? You are moving on? Just like that? Without doubts or regrets?"
"Yeah. What she said!" Eric stopped glaring at Sarah and turned his attention back to Andaris. ”You offered to show me the truth of what happened with Sten. I am ready. I can take it. So grab my head or whatever it takes. Do it!"
“I killed him. What else needs to be said here?” Andaris shifted uncomfortably. “I can show you, if you insist on it.” The idea had lost its merit suddenly.
"Eric! Do not let him in your head!" Becca pleaded with a calm voice this time. ”He can’t lie to you, but the emotions that come with his memories will not be your own and those will affect your judgement." Eric looked into Andaris’ eyes for a long time. There was anger in them but it might not have been directed at Andaris.
"Are you really leaving?" Andaris nodded at Eric’s question. ”Why did you come here then if not to find us?"
The first words came with difficulty. “Maybe Sten was right about it all. Maybe I am dust given life. Maybe I am a remnant of some boy who was killed in this city the night the first of us came through the gateway. I came to see what would play out in this city. All I know is that only after that a new path will open. I am simply waiting, killing time here. If I am lucky I can leave before I am caught in a mess.” Andaris considered something.
“I said I would help the guardian get her living body back. She saved me. Probably saved us all from that awakened one. I cannot give you an answer as to why I am running away. My family was not the worst. My lousy job was fine, compared to the horrors in the north. I made ends meet each month, and I had people who supported me. I miss my girlfriend. If I knew for certain that these voidstones would help us I would gladly help you use them. This world promises a new kind of future for me. An open future, where nothing has been written in stone, where I do not have to fear any more.”
"I got nothing." Kauri exclaimed. ”I don’t fancy staying here. I don’t fancy our odds with these void rocks."
"As much as I hate it, it is still a fair idea to see what we will achieve by making use of those voidstones. None of us would not want to go home." Mai sighed. And saying that her gaze lingered on Andaris.
"She wants to help us. Please. I know she does. She is afraid that we will run straight into trouble. She is afraid for our safety and wellbeing. She wants to help us go away." Becca pleaded once more.
"I don’t want a repeat of the disappointment when we tried the gateway. We don’t even know the full consequences, what happened to us or what we did. But I want to go home. I really do. All of us want to go home." Lenna looked unhappy, saying that.
"This time might be worse." Anna added quietly and Robert nodded in agreement.
"Are Sarah, Becca, Mai and me the only ones who want to go home? Are the rest of you really this cowardly? After all that we have been through?" Jess growled through gritted teeth.
"I will not have my family taken from me. I haven’t had my first kiss! I remember all that I will never have a chance to experience. I want to go back! Why are you letting yourself be influenced by this liar?" Becca shouted and pointed her finger at Andaris. ”He killed Sten. She tells me he is dangerous. She is terrified of him. You remember what he did to those demons. Fear in the eyes of terror itself."
“I can show you the truth of what happened to Sten. He killed himself.” Anger came from nowhere and Andaris’ voice filled the balcony.
"You had every chance to help him!" Becca’s voice drowned his. He would not let a brat treat him like this.
“Were you there?” Andaris spat.
“Stop! This is going nowhere. I can translate if you have something reasonable to say but save your anger and sputtering.” Mai interrupted Andaris.
"She says you can halt the awakening." Becca ignored Mai and continued. ”That’s what you did to Jess. At the fort on the high cliffs. You stopped Jess from awakening. Don’t tell me you and Sten were constantly being hounded by demons. I could sense a long time when you two were walking side by side. Having a leisurely walk. You led Sten to slaughter. One touch from you would have been all that was needed. Just the presence of your flow would have been enough to keep him from harm for the longest time. Why did you not leave your mark on Sten? You should have realised the situation you were walking into!"
“Did you think I was in any condition to know what I did to Jess in Drenchfort? In any condition to realise the consequences an unawakened person might face in the company of awakened ones? I had not even realised that I carried another soul inside me at that point. All I knew was that something tried to take over me.” Andaris hissed.
He threw a nasty look at Mai. She did not translate until Andaris repeated his sentence with a calmer voice. “I can show you the truth.” Andaris added after the second time. He held out his left arm and looked around. He did not want to. Don’t take my hand, he thought.
"You can show us your excuses. Sway our mind. It might be a truth, but it is still the truth from your point of view. It carries your emotions. It is easy to sway the heart, especially our hearts, because we have little experience with this power. We have little to resist you. I will not let you cloud our minds anymore." Becca jumped up from her sofa and marched towards Andaris.
"I will not let you deceive us. You did not come through the gateway. You came from within it. You tell us what exactly we let loose from the gateway. Something cold and unforgiving. Something that hides beneath a jet-black surface, a violent and uncaring power that will drive any living person near it insane. Will make them want to gouge their own eyes out." Andaris’ gaze ran quickly across everyone else.
They all had doubts and fear in their eyes. The brat’s words held a frightening possibility. He could not call them a lie. ”No more!" She shrieked at Andaris’ face. All of a sudden, she had a silvery dagger in her hand. All Andaris could do was raise his hand in its path. She cut his palm good.
Rage bubbled forth and the blood-red blade settled in his hand. What was he supposed to do here? Andaris had retreated from her assault, but he had wanted to lunge at the brat right after. She had cut him, nearly stabbed him in the stomach! Already Eric was facing him with a blade of his own. Andaris did not dare put away his only defence.
“I don’t hide myself behind a power that is not my own! I don’t spout lies about forces I do not understand.” He could only sputter in defence. The way Mai passed his words on sounded awkward. She had not said what he really thought. Meanwhile Becca was busy getting droplets of Andaris’ blood into two small glass bottles.
Her face bore a mocking grin when she answered.
"You don’t deny it then. That cold power is your own. That is what you are. The same as the heartless power inside the stones of void? Dust given life." Andaris could not think. He wanted to hurt the brat. Really hurt her. With words and deeds. But Eric took a menacing step forward.
“You think you can use that power! Let’s see if you have what it takes.” He thought about letting the voidstone out of its prison. They wanted it, did they not? The next moment he was storming through the mansion, away from this place. Someone called his name. He was at the end of the path approaching the house now. He ran. Andaris threw a fearful look behind him. There were vague figures at the front of the mansion. He could not discern their presences.
-I told you to be careful. You let your guard down, thinking she was just a brat. She has been touched by a power equal to you.-
-I do not need a lecture. I need help. Ideas!- Andaris barked. He had made it to more crowded areas. He was breathless for some inexplicable reason.
-You need help, do you?- That was all the guardian had to say. But her presence was still there.
“I need to disappear. What did she do to their devourers? I know you remember something. An idea.” Andaris said with a loud voice. He got a few odd looks from the passing people. His gaze, however, was drawn to the countless spires and towers in the city centre. His thoughts went deeper than that.
-Start from there. From those warrens. Fight your way in if you have to.- The guardian’s voice exploded inside him.
Andaris did not want to say anything.
-Your thoughts talk more than you do. Now it is imperative you and I see what plays out here. No one plays with the heritage of the Pureblooded Emperor! None not of his blood and might shall sully these relics with their filthy paws.- The guardian’s words were full of contagious fury.