1: The Last Son Of House Vhael
Salt spray smell
Of forgotten tombs and lost gods
A place of cobwebs and dead whispers
Old songs growing heavier.
Tongues of fire blossom on a barren bush,
by grasping, disembodied hands.
Dreams of peace are forgotten:
The world awaits.
- ”Into Eternity”
Book 1: Landred
There was no truth here. Landred knew that well, but as he walked in silence in this cavern, he reflected on all that he was to sacrifice this day.
Paleflies – little creatures that seemed like glowing butterflies, but which truly were living motes of energy – fluttered all around him, giving light to the darkness. Stalagmites jutted up from the earth near the rear of the cavern, and each of them marked a small pile of gold. This was the ancient treasury of the Vhael household, the only remains of their once-proud dominion. Well, apart from himself, he mused. Long ago, his family would have posted a small garrison to guard this wealth. Many wondered why the Vhaels simply did not move their precious items to their castle. They could not guess at the truth of this place. Castle Vhael, the abode of a most noble house, descended from an ancient line of kings, had fallen over two centuries ago, but this seemingly unobtrusive cavern remained, untouched by the ravages of time or the greed of men. The old Vhaels understood. Seats of power changed. Circumstances changed.
This treasury was protected by a dozen enchantments, and hidden from the prying eyes of the havarr and arcane academies alike. Most of the relics here had remained untouched for well over a century.
Until now. Landred, surrounded by the glowing light of the paleflies, regarded the monstrous, smoking corpse before him - a relict of terrible power, a conjuration that wreaked havoc in two towns until two havarr tracked it down to this cavern. or rather... lured to this cavern.
A powerful ward lay upon this place. Only those of Vhael blood – and those given leave by them – could walk unharmed in this place. His gauntlet, the Theus Phantasma – which had a black tourmaline set into it – tingled with the latent magic of this place.
‘Sad isn’t it?’ came a voice from behind him. Landred didn’t turn around. ‘To see the great Vhaels brought so low. Now all that remains is their treasure.’
‘Gilvern,’ said Landred, without turning around. ‘I should have guessed that you’d be here.’
The man named Gilvern was taller than Landred and had fiercer and sharper features. His hair was a dark waterfall, and his eyes were like charcoal. His hand rested lightly on the hilt of a longsword. He wore a black travellers cloak with a fur-lined collar, covering a boiled leather jerkin.
‘You don’t have your bow?’ asked Landred.
‘Am I going to have to shoot anything? It’s in a safe place,’ Gilvern assured him. ’You put some nasty wards here. For a moment, I was worried even I would have some trouble getting in.′
Landred smiled. The Red Archers of Calima were famous for many things, but most of all they were famed for circumnavigating any security – perhaps even the deadly wards of High House Vhael. Of course, that was not the reason why he’d managed to come through unscathed, though Gilvern had long since abandoned the old tie to their past, and Landred supposed that it was best left forgotten.
‘I suppose you can justify your training at Calima then. Your master would be relieved.’
‘As am I. Necromancer or no, I don’t fancy dying just yet,’ said Gilvern, but he stopped, the smiled fading from his face.
He just noticed two bodies at his feet, and his eyes widened. ‘I suppose they did, though,’ he noticed the gauntlets on their hands. ’Those are Theus Phantasma. The havarr were here?′
‘I’ll take care of them,’ said Landred, stooping over their gauntlets. Removing a dagger from his belt, he prised the crystal free of both their gauntlets. He stared at his own Theus Phantasma. He wondered if his adjustments would work.
‘How?’ asked Gilvern. ‘You’re one of them!’
‘Let me worry about that,’ said Landred. ‘I thought you went to the Necrohol.’
‘I did,’ Gilvern replied, still distracted by the sight of the two dead havarr.
‘I came back,’ he said, with a wry smile. ‘You know there’s precious little to see there. They don’t call it the Dying Lands for its good cheer and tourist attractions.’
‘Gilvern, stop playing games,’ said Landred, sighing. ‘You went north for a reason.’
‘Yes,’ said Gilvern. The light in his eyes burned low, and he pressed a hand over his chest, gingerly, as though touching a wound. He winced, and all the playfulness was gone. In its place was a man haunted by horrors and revelations beyond that experienced by any one lifetime.
‘It turns out that you were right,’ said Gilvern. ‘I think we might be in trouble. Mara might just be our last hope.’
He looked up at Landred.
‘Are you sure we shouldn’t have made any more overt moves?’
‘We’ve acted as openly as I dared. Suffice it to say the next step is the riskiest one of them all, purely because I can’t calculate the precise reaction of the Archons.’
‘This is a very dangerous game,’ Gilvern agreed. ‘I’m not sure it’s worth it.’
‘It is,’ said Landred. ‘For those trapped in the mire of endless repetition, being able to escape would require power beyond mortality. Escape means everything. Escape would make us gods.’ He turned to Gilvern. ‘You’re welcome to walk this road with me.’
Gilvern shook his head. ‘I’m not a madman, Landred. You can take all the glory. Assuming you survive what’s next.’
At that point, he heard voices shouting at the entrance. He grimaced. He raised his hand and the black tourmaline emitted darkness that covered his hand. Then all around him the paleflies starting dancing frantically. The ward had been temporarily dispelled – but then leapt back to full force again.
‘They’ll break through soon,’ Landred noted. The havarr would circumnavigate the protections of this place. They would not make the same mistake twice.
‘Just as you expected?’ Gilvern guessed. ‘I imagine it’s why you sent them a message about this place.’
‘Indeed,’ said Landred. ‘Remember the worst-case scenario.’
‘I will,’ said Gilvern. Then he grimaced. ‘It’ll be a real pain, though.’
‘Stop complaining,’ grinned Landred. ‘I wouldn’t have asked you if you couldn’t.’
‘Even if by “could” you mean “by the skin of my teeth”.’
‘That’s more than enough.’
‘You’re a terrifying person, Landred Vhael.’ Gilvern paused, then more somberly he said. ‘Landred, what exactly are you doing?’
‘Gambling,’ admitted Landred, grimly. He smiled for the first time at Gilvern. There were very few people in the world he truly trusted, and the Red Archer was one of them. ‘Just don’t worry. You should get moving,’ he told Gilvern. ‘This will most likely be unpleasant.’
‘Are you going to explain this?’
‘Maybe, when we’re both in the clear,’ replied Landred. Then he removed his gauntlet.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Gilvern.
‘They won’t let me keep this,’ said Landred, tossing it to him. ‘And I’m going to need it later. Keep it safe for me, will you?’
Gilvern nodded, then made to a stalagmite, where an illusory exit was hidden.
‘Gilvern,’ Landred said, as the voices and footsteps grew ever louder.
Gilvern paused, looking back quizzically at him.
‘Three weeks,’ he said, waiting for Gilvern’s assenting nod. ‘I’m counting on you,’ he added.
Gilvern hesitated for a moment, then nodded, rushing away. The wall shimmered where he disappeared.
Landred sighed. Abandoning this much, he could but hope that the nightmares would come to an end.
Landred bowed his head and waited for the havarr overpower him.
The Chrysalis is one of the great wonders of Amarith. A white crystal jutted from the grey and brown stone of Nemuria like a pearl, shimmering lights splaying across its surface like something alive. Within its fragile-seeming walls was delusion and aether cavorting in rainbow hues, taking form in the shape of predators leaping and flying across its crystalline skies. But the splendours splaying across its surface paled in comparison to what lay beyond it. Walls moved and changed shape, aligning itself with forgotten constellations in time with the seasons. There were rooms within, full of crystals and fountains in subtle arrangements that spoke of strange artworks, where not only the work itself but its positioning was a soft working of subtle knowledge. There existed within one of the strange galleries a peculiar emptiness, but which, if one positioned oneself in the centre of the room, one could hear the ocean and smell the salt-spray of it. A vast library existed that seemed larger than nearly every room combined, filled with the collected lore of the Esoterics. Elsewhere were other rooms of statues of ancient and forgotten gods, as well as aviaries, laboratories, gardens and places of meditation, an infirmary outfitted by the wizards of Maritania itself, museums, gymnasiums, the mysterious alteratorium – where crystals of every kind were formed by the latent magic of the Incanta - and rooms set aside for less-specific purposes, and rooms forming the living spaces of those who lived within.
The Chrysalis was far larger on the inside than it was on the outside. This was not a trick of the eye – architects (by special invitation of the lord of the Chrysalis) have torn their hair out, trying to understand its dimensions and how its vastness could be contained within the relatively small outer shell.
The answer was to be found within the highest mysteries of the Esoterics – that of folded dimensions, yielding geometries not available to traditional mathematics. Of all the wonders built from the impossibility of the Esoteric’s dream, the Chrysalis was the greatest.
One hundred people occupied this wonder. Ninety-nine were the havarr, the legendary ‘crystal warriors’, grim in bearing, yet gentle, and the one residing at its apex was the Archon.
Forneus Blackthorn had grown in fame as the gentle Crystal Archon. The weight of it was heavy – a snowy white beard fell down his chest, and his face was lined and wrinkled. Yet there was still a youthful twinkle in his eye, a kindliness not worn down by the passage of years. On this day he sat alone within the observatory, with the sky sphere refracting the noonday sun into a myriad of twinkling lights, examining that which give him his name.
Incanta. The rose-shaped gem fit easily into the palm of his hand, yet its structure made it nearly impossible to grasp. There was something of the folded dimension about it, which made it seem larger or smaller when viewed from different angles, and at times holding it tightly made it feel as though it moulded its shape to fit the clenched hand, but upon opening it, the crystal would appear, again, in its rosaline shape. It was an artefact of the old Tyrants, he knew, but Forneus felt that it was something that the True Esoterics must have had a hand in.
The door opened and two havarr walked in, stirring him from his contemplations. One was tall and handsome in the classical sense of the word, with icy blue eyes and long dark hair. This was Azarel Solidor, the finest blade in Nemuria. Fittingly, the one close on his heels was none other than Terenas Gage. The second son of the Gages of the Eastwold barony, Terenas was vilified and ostracised for his red eyes and his white hair. He had been all but legally disowned by his father, but he had found a place among the havarr. Forneus had always wondered why the world looked down on men like Terenas. His face and his eyes hid a gentle heart.
‘You sent for us, Lord Forneus?’ asked Terenas. His voice was soft. A lifetime of being ignored had caused him to retreat into himself. He spoke as though he did not expect anyone to listen to him.
‘Just Forneus will do,’ Forneus said, without much hope that Terenas would listen. The man was formal to a fault sometimes.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘There’s something I need to discuss with the two of you, in private.’
‘It’s been a while since you sent for anyone,’ Azarel noted. ‘People were wondering if you were still alive.’
‘And who wondered that?’ Forneus asked.
‘I may have started a betting pool on the matter,’ said Azarel, shrugging easily.
Terenas’s mouth twitched.
Forneus ’s eyebrows went up at that.
‘There was a time when you looked at me with a certain awe, Azarel.’
‘Yes,’ said the flippant knight. ’Many, many years ago. Gods have come and gone since that was relevant.′
Forneus tried to look admonishing but just ended up laughing. Terenas looked on, wistfully. Azarel and Forneus had always got on well together. The relationship was less commander and subordinate and more... father and son.
‘But I assume that you haven’t called us simply to catch up on our doings,’ said Terenas.
‘Sadly not,’ said Forneus, and the smile faded. ‘In fact, I need the two of you to summon the Adamant Council.’
Azarel raised an eyebrow at that.
The Adamant Council was a group of the seven most powerful havarr, who presided over the order in the Chrysalis, and who was often called upon to mediate law and disputes in the city of Nemuria. To put it plainly, while Nemuria lacked a sovereign ruler, they were, regardless, its kings and queens. Lately, they had been so busy that they were rarely in the Chrysalis at all, and very rarely were they called to preside over internal matters these days.
‘If you are calling them together in the Chrysalis, then that can only mean-’ Terenas began.
Forneus removed a small black orb from his robes. Azarel and Terenas looked at it like a viper, coiled to strike.
‘It cannot be,’ said Azarel.
‘Yet somehow, it is,’ said Forneus. ‘Call the Council. Landred Vhael’s hearing will now begin.’
Seven havarr sat in silence before Forneus – the Adamant Council. It was a name given in hearsay and rumour, with the masses correctly guessing that the seven who aided in the justice of the city were also the ones who passed judgement within their own courts. The friendly greetings were out of the way, and the room had fallen into a cold silence, as each member now embraced the stern duty ahead of them. They each wore blank white masks – an old Nemurian tradition that hearkened to an ancient myth about a Faceless God of Justice.
Forneus imagined what it must have been like for the rare few who sat in the judgement seat of the Chrysalis. Seven black robes, with featureless white masks, cold and unyielding eyes behind each one.
He himself sat at the head of the table, wearing not black but the white of his usual vestment. They sat in an oval chamber, with each member of the seven lining the hall, leading up to Forneus sitting at the very end of the chamber. Hanging over the room was a crystal growth, jutting downwards like a crude spear. The prisoner would be made to stand, in his shackles, in the very centre of the hall, with the eyes of his judges on him from every angle.
Beside the Adamant Council, there would be the bailiffs who would escort the prisoner in and out of the chamber, and the Records-Keeper, who sat prepared to chronicle the events of this hearing.
It must be intimidating, he thought.
He put his mask on, sighing as he heard the footsteps of the bailiffs, bringing their prisoner with them.
Landred Vhael, upon first inspection, bore a face much like anyone else’s. He was fair to look upon, though a coppery complexion distinguished him from the otherwise fair-faced people of Nemuria. His hair was black and somewhat messy, and his eyes were large and brown. There was an innocent quality to his face that belied a subtle intelligence. There was a strange light in his eyes and the shadow of a sneer on his face as he looked at each of the Adamant Council in turn.
Forneus looked at him and saw a man who was not intimidated. Perhaps he had even been expecting this.What is this one hoping to do? he wondered.
He stood in silence, but his defiance radiated from him.
‘Let us come to order,’ said the main speaker and head of the seven. Jaina was beautiful and kind, but there was ice in her voice as she addressed Landred Vhael. Justice must be hard. Forneus suppressed a pained sigh. At the end of the hall, the Records-Keeper dipped her quill in ink and began to write.
‘Adamant Council Hearing number thirty-three, on the matter of Landred Vhael’s Tyrant Sphere.’
Jaina looked up at Landred. ’This is hardly your first offence, Landred. You are responsible for seven prior hearings, more than any other havarr in history, and you’ve been cited for disciplinary infractions over a dozen times.′
‘Well, I do enjoy challenging myself to do better,’ said Landred, with a slight sneer. Despite himself, there was the shadow of uncertainty playing across his features. Subtle enough that the Adamant Council would miss it, layered as it was beneath this defiance, but Forneus, having grown wise to the hearts of men, could see things differently.
Jaina’s voice was cold. ’But this enchanted vault of yours, and this ‘Tyrant Sphere’ has brought about your most serious offence yet. Two havarr lost their lives circumnavigating deadly warding spells of your devising. What have you to say?′
‘Extreme measures were warranted,’ replied Landred. ’The Vhaels have defended those vaults for thousands of years against tomb-raiders, and underground cabals and covens. The wards in the vault did what they were supposed to do, so I see no offence in that. What I find offensive is that the havarr saw fit to invade the ancestral treasury of the Vhael household.′
‘The Vhael household is no more,’ Terenas replied, his voice coming softly from the side of the chamber.
‘I beg to differ,’ sneered Landred. ’As their last scion, what is in that vault is my birthright, and I will not let it be plundered by petty thieves. The Vhaels once commanded armies in the Western Dominion and could post guards, day and night to protect its vaults. With the fall of my house, all that remains is my lineage, and I am of the last of them. I am havarr. I do not sit upon the throne of my forefathers, but I walk among the people, protecting them, serving them, as a worthy heir should.′ He held up his hands, and the chains rattled between them. ‘The house of Vhael has fallen, as have so many of yours,’ he said, including all of the council with a sweep of his hands. ‘I have no armies,’ he said. ‘But I have magic. Magic that can protect the treasure that belonged to my family for thousands of years. And now I am to be punished for wards working as they should?’ He scoffed. ’This ‘hearing’ is a farce.′
‘We take no issue with warding your treasury-halls,’ said Jaina. ‘What we take issue with is the lethality of those wards. As you know, Landred, we are forbidden from taking lives unless it is explicitly necessary. Your wards completely flout that restriction. We have found evidence to suggest that several people without magical protection have fallen victim to your traps.’
‘And now I stand trial for killing criminals,’ said Landred, shaking his head.
‘Not just criminals,’ Azarel spoke up for the first time. ’Your spells left two of your fellows vulnerable to potent magic. Regis and Aida were havarr in good standing. Regis chanced upon the ward and died almost immediately. Aida, after calling for help, attempted to shut down the magic with her Theus Phantasma, but her gauntlet was overwhelmed. You infused your wards to protect against the Theus Phantasma, knowing full well that only we wield them.′
’What can I say? I suspected that one day the havarr would find those vaults. I had no idea if it would be in my lifetime or not, and so I chose to protect my family’s treasure. From any interloper. Would any of you not do the same for your family?′
’For some of us, the havarr are our family, ′ came a booming voice. Uvenk Gwanyu was larger than anyone else present, in both his form and his voice, which seemed to boom in this chamber.
’Upon joining this order, we swear to live together, to fight together, to die together. Many families would not do this for their own blood. We are your brothers and sisters, Landred Vhael. Why do you not trust us?′
Landred’s eyes had narrowed as Uvenk spoke, and he turned to fix a glare on the big man.
‘I don’t expect you to understand, Uvenk Gwanyu. Your parents died when you were young, and so Forneus and the order became a surrogate family for you. You wouldn’t understand about conflicting loyalties when you’ve only ever had one family.’ He turned away from Uvenk, dismissing him out of hand.
‘Yet Uvenk makes a good point,’ said Azarel. ’When you took up your Theus Phantasma, you pledged allegiance to us, over and above your allegiance to anyone and anything else.′
‘Is that what I did?’ Landred looked surprised. ‘I thought we were pledging ourselves to a vision of Forneus’s – a world of lasting peace and prosperity, without the threat of the black storms ravaging our lands. A pledge to guard against the horrors of the night and the imagination, to assert balance. I did not pledge allegiance to an organization. I pledged allegiance to the ideal.’
Landred looked directly at Forneus. ’To your ideal. When did you content yourself with merely sitting in the Chrysalis and letting these hounds of yours chase rats into the night? We were meant to seek out the truth, and the purpose of the universe. That’s what the Theus Phantasma is meant to be, our conduits to looking upon the faces of the gods, and to seek answers from them. Instead, we’re glorified policemen and executioners. When did you give up on everything, Forneus? When did you give up on us?′
Forneus folded his hands as he looked upon Landred. Oh, yes. This defiance was genuine, but the words masked the truth of the matter – a truth he intends to keep hidden. What has this Landred Vhael uncovered? For a moment, dread seizes Forneus, a slight chill that forces him to suppress a shudder from wracking his body. No. No, he did not know that, at least. The Tyrant Sphere, from what he could understand of its arcane workings, did not lend such insight into the nature of the world and the Archons.
‘You’re a very intelligent man, Landred. It pains me to see you as you are, wounded and conflicted by what you think is my failure,’ Forneus stood up. ‘When the Archons bested the Tyrants, we knew that we needed to forge a new world. With the Arch-Cities, we knew that we could assert ourselves in a perilous world. What does that mean if not a new justice, a new city, a new world? We must all play our parts.’
’And you have played it very well, haven’t you, Archon?′ said Landred.
‘Enough,’ said Jaina, standing up. ‘I concur with Lord Forneus. You are very intelligent, and you have successfully managed to divert us from the matter at hand. But we are not the ones on trial here. You stand accused of the deaths of your two peers. Regis Valar and Aida Frodon’s blood is on your hands. Do you deny it?’
‘No,’ said Landred. ‘And I did not intend for them to die, either. I protected the treasury of my family, using extreme measures, and that I will admit to, readily. But I believe that, in the absence of my family’s former strength, that I was justified in doing so. That is all I have to say on the matter.’
‘Your reasoning on the warding is suspect,’ said Terenas, resting his face, on one hand, seeming almost bored with the proceedings. ‘There are several warding spells that do not kill but keep intruders out. With all the resources of the havarr at your disposal, how do you justify using such extreme measures to protect your treasury?’
Looks like Terenas has already made up his mind about Landred, thought Forneus. Landred seemed to sense it as well.
‘Dead men tell no tales,’ said Landred. ‘Had I used a lesser ward, intruders would have found a way to circumvent it in time. You’re the scholar here, Terenas. You know, more than anyone, that no ward is impenetrable, given enough time and skill. My ward simply removes the factor of persistence.’
The Adamant Council accepted that statement, and Forneus could feel the weight of their judgment turn, irrevocably, upon Landred. Landred, for his part, did not seem to be suing for any clemency.
‘Do you have anything else to say in your defence?’ asked Jaina after a long moment.
‘Not particularly,’ said Landred. ‘Are we done?’
‘It would seem so,’ said Jaina. ‘We will decide your fate.’
For some reason, Landred seemed to find that amusing, judging by the smile that spread on his face. Forneus, who was watching him very closely, saw something empty behind his flippant defiance.
One by one the seven havarr rose and left the chamber, to confer on their final verdict, leaving Forneus alone in the chamber with Landred.
’Isn’t it strange that you are not included in their decision-making process? You are the founder of the havarr, after all.′
‘Their founder,’ said Forneus. ’Not their leader. I decided that the havarr should govern their own. I serve as merely their adviser, nothing more.′
‘That’s one of the things I just don’t understand about you,’ said Landred. ‘How you claim power, then relinquish it so easily.’
No, thought Forneus. I suppose you wouldn’t. He thought he was beginning to get the measure of the man before him. Power. Was it as simple as that? And yet... to what end?
Landred stood in silence for a little longer. Then,
‘I heard you found my father’s treasure.’ There was a curious light in Landred’s eyes.
Forneus looked at Landred for a long time, trying to discern what was in this man’s mind. Eventually, he drew out the strange orb he had shown to Azarel and Terenas. The smooth stone was translucent, though within it there seemed to be a storm of darkness and lightning, swirling within. Holding it seemed to fill Forneus with strange coursing energy, as though lightning darted up from his hand to his shoulder and back down again.
‘It is a strange thing,’ said Forneus, holding the orb before him. ‘An artefact of congealed rage. I have sensed such strength once before. Centuries ago, when I battled the Tyrants. I heard rumours of many artefacts, claimed by powerful families over the years. Many were destroyed, as the lust for power and possession incited wars. I heard the Vhaels were among them.’
‘A sordid history, to be sure,’ said Landred.
‘Yet if the Vhaels possessed something like the Tyrant Sphere all along, I wonder why they sought another. Was it merely to gain more power than anyone else?’
‘That would be the obvious reason, wouldn’t it?’ said Landred. ‘But if merely procuring power is the rhyme and reason of the succession wars, then it was all remarkably short-sighted.’
‘All wars happen for short-sighted reasons,’ said Forneus. ‘It is precisely that past which we found so hard to transcend, even with the example of the Tyrants before us.’
‘War is our nature, Forneus. Not even the wisdom of the Archons can hope to circumvent that.’
‘You have a pessimistic view of your fellow human being. By all accounts, Kaiden was an idealist. How has his son developed such a pessimistic outlook?’ said Forneus, shaking his head, placing the orb out of Landred’s sight. He did not care for the way Landred’s eyes never left the thing.
‘My view is the realistic one,’ said Landred. ‘It is what my family believed.’ Landred’s eyes narrowed. ‘And I think my father came around to my way of thinking, in the end.’
‘And now you are the last of your lineage,’ Forneus pointed out.
‘And that is all the proof that I require to tell me that we were right,’ replied Landred.
Forneus stared at Landred.
I see. Though we both receive the same evidence, we come to different conclusions. When did he become so jaded? Or was he always this way, and I just never saw it?
He had had few dealings with Landred Vhael, but he had come across as something of an underachiever to him. He was a skilled swordsman, but not at the level of Azarel or other members of the Adamant Council. He was not an academic, at least not as much as Terenas, and, before this infraction, had done almost nothing in the field of magic worth mentioning. But Forneus looked on his works and saw a man not living up to his own potential. He had come across as almost suspiciously average.
But there’s no such thing as an ‘average’ Havarr is there? Only the worthy are accepted.
His gaze drifted down to Landred’s gauntlet – and saw it was missing. He frowned.
What happened to your gauntlet?′ asked Forneus.
Landred’s eyes widened momentarily, then looked down at his empty hand. ‘I- yes,’ he said. ‘I damaged it when I altered the ward on my vault. It seemed dangerous to keep it on, so I removed it in the vault.’
He smiled. ’Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps the warding was too dangerous.′
‘I see. If you will disable the vault’s magic – or tell us how to – we will retrieve it for you and see what repairs might be made,’ said Forneus.
Landred nodded non-committally.
I’m missing something here. This doesn’t feel right.
At that moment the Adamant Council filed back in, their masks cold and expressionless. They moved stiffly, and whatever emotion had boiled over before was now absent.
The Adamant Council all took their seats, casting imposing shadows on the centre of the chamber, where Landred stood. Their shadows converged on him, as though threatening to swallow him up.
‘Landred Vhael,’ Jaina announced. Her voice was powerful in this chamber. ’For the crime of murder, we find you innocent. However, your reckless actions and decisions constitute wilful endangerment, not only of the havarr but of all who stumble upon the treasury. Although the logic of your reasoning on its defences is sound,′ here she shot a sideways glance at Terenas, ‘we find fault with its method. Deadly enchantments are not in the spirit of our code of law and protection.’
‘Well, as long as you find fault in something, I suppose,’ said Landred, shrugging.
‘You seem to show little remorse for your actions,’ said Jaina, and her voice was notably colder. ‘While we do believe that you did not intend to kill them, the fact remains that you are responsible for the loss of our brother and sister in arms. Your very attitude is so apathetic as to seem indecent.’
’So what is to be my fate?′ asked Landred. ‘Death? Will you take my life in recompense for the ones I cost you?’
‘Were we on the field of battle, I would drive my blade through your heart without a second thought, if only for the contempt you seem to show for human lives,’ Jaina stated acidly. ‘However, since you surrendered to your judgement willingly, we will simply do the very next best thing.’
‘Adamant Council, please rise and bear witness,’ Jaina said, and as one the Council rose from their seats. ’By the consensus of the Crystal Council, we hereby remove you from your office as one of the havarr. For the deaths of Regis Valar and Aida Frodon – now granted vaenatari status in honour of exemplary service – it was submitted that your punishment should be exile, forever banished from both the Chrysalis and Nemuria, on pain of death. However, in light of your service to the havarr – and at the appeal of one of the Adamant Council -′ Landred’s eyes narrowed at this – ‘we have decided to rescind that punishment in favour of another. You will be imprisoned within the Caelatium from now until the end of your days. So have we decided.’
‘So it shall be,’ said the Council together.
Landred said nothing as the bailiffs came forward to take him.
But Landred looked at each of the Adamant Council in turn, and at last, he stared at Forneus. His eyes smouldered like hot coals, and he dragged everyone across his terrible gaze, even as he was pulled away to serve his sentence.
And in that moment, to Forneus’s ever-increasing perplexity, he believed that he saw within those burning defiant eyes, the tiniest glint of triumph.