Chapter Twenty - alone
The bitter town Kasall was in bothered him. He felt uncomfortable about how sterile everything was. There must be something in the distance, he found himself thinking on a daily basis. The inn may have been dull sometimes, but at least it held the hope of something new, and the companionship he had within. He didn’t know if he was allowed to go out and see if there was anything on the horizon, but he worried that a’Tellor or one of the life mages would punish him.
He found himself alone most days in the new city – Alida was spending much of her time with Rin or Kim. Kasall spent the days lounging around the new inn, wishing he could be back with Jere, where his solitary life would at least be filled with tasks. Somehow, this inn remained supplied all the time without anyone going and gathering wood or food. Kasall yearned for his simple life to come back.
Though Kasall heard Rin say that much of Alida’s training could include him, he had yet to be invited to any of it. He so desired to participate in magic even as a witness. Alida had stopped asking if Kasall could come with her to train. Kasall found himself only spending time with Jade – time that wasn’t incredibly meaningful to him.
The cat was kind, though. He spent much of the daylight the strange city provided brushing the cat with his hands, dragging the shedding hair off of her. It was a beautiful cat – its long hair a miasma of grey and black, its face with long, white whiskers that tickled Kasall whenever Jade forced its face against Kasall. The cat had a habit of doing that, rubbing its face violently against Kasall’s arm or leg whenever he would stop brushing him.
On this day, Kasall found himself doing very little. The cat was out hunting, and Kasall was doing little more than staring at the wall. Once again, Alida was taken away by Rin the moment the twisted light of the city filled the halls of the inn.
Once again he was alone with his thoughts, and the voice that endlessly tormented him. Ever since the trial within the forest, the deathly voice remained in his head. Whenever he was alone like this, he heard the booming, haunting voice speak riddles into his ears. Kasall wanted to tell Alida about the voice, and ask if she heard it too, but he feared her answer.
ONCE AGAIN YOU ARE ALONE, BOY. The voice called to Kasall. It always called him boy, and once it had referred to Alida as "mage". HOW DOES THE DAY TREAT YOU?
Kasall tried to avoid speaking to the voice, he had no reason to trust something like this, and didn’t want the intrusive force to exist within him. He did, however, find that the voice was able to converse with him without Kasall speaking. No matter what it said, he would have a reaction to it within his mind, and the voice always knew how Kasall reacted.
MISERABLE STILL? ALONE? HOW PERFECT. I, TOO, HAVE KNOWN SOLITUDE. DO YOU FIND PEACE IN IT?
Kasall continued to ignore the voice.
OF COURSE YOU DON’T – YOU NEVER COULD. YOU’RE NOT GROWN ENOUGH TO ENJOY SOLITUDE.
Kasall got up from the table he sat at and began to walk away. The voice followed him, taunting him as he moved toward the room in which he slept. Kasall planned to work on reading some of the books Alida had been given by Kim.
He opened the cover of the book on magical history. He began to read, stumbling over a few words as he went.
YOU CANNOT READ, BOY?
He ignored the voice, continuing to read and work on his understanding. He began to slowly learn about the mysterious origins of magic. The book detailed a massive wave of disease covering the kingdom. From there, it went on to mention a time wherein no historical information was recorded. The book abruptly commented that “after this, mages began to exist within Olander.”
That’s it? Kasall thought. That tells me nothing. Kasall wanted to understand magic. He knew he wouldn’t experience it for himself, but he loved the idea of knowing what affected Alida and the rebel that rode through the inn.
DON’T BELIEVE THE BOOK, BOY. THERE IS A TRUTH OUT THERE. I KNOW IT, YOU KNOW.
“I don’t believe you. I don’t need to listen to your lies.” He called out to the voice, finally fed up with the noises it was spewing at him.
COME, BOY. FOLLOW ME AND FIND THE INFORMATION YOU SEEK.
A cold wind blew in through the window beside Kasall’s bed. This was the first wind he’d felt since they entered the city – everything was so still. The wind swirled around in front of him, bringing in shards of mist that began to form a smoky creature like the three had encountered in the woods.
DO NOT FEAR ME, CHILD. I AM NO DIFFERENT THAN A’TELLOR, REALLY. I AM SHAPED AS A MAN.
The mist formed the outline of a man, and as it stretched its hand out to Kasall, the hand glowed a silver colour. Though there were no clear features to the body, one finger of the hand wore a ring with a grey stone.
COME, AND LEARN NEW TRUTHS.
Kasall couldn’t resist the offer of the newly formed body. He was led back to the inn’s dining hall.
MOVE THIS TABLE, AND SEE THE TRUTH.
Kasall did as he was beckoned, pushing the table out of the way and revealing a trapdoor.
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN, AND BECOME WHAT THE MAGE WOMAN WANTS YOU TO BE, JUST FOLLOW MY COMMANDS, KASALL. FOLLOW MY COMMANDS AND BECOME THE MAN YOU WANT.
He opened the door and crawled down into the cellar below as the specter followed him. There were no books of truth in the dank cavern. There was an audible dripping sound in the corner, and as he walked through the seemingly winding cellar. At the end, all that remained was a table with a phial on it.
THIS PHIAL IS WHAT YOU NEED FOR ALIDA’S LOVE. A DRINK BREWED LONG AGO – MUCH LIKE SHE DRANK WHEN YOU ARRIVED. I WATCHED HER DRINK IT, YOU KNOW. THIS WILL MAKE YOU A MAGE. DO YOU REMEMBER THE SORROW YOU FELT WHEN YOU WATCHED HER BECOME BETTER THAN YOU?
Kasall stood with his hand stretched toward the phial. He knew well that his decision to drink it wouldn’t end well, and yet he found himself pouring the liquid into his mouth. He didn’t want to drink it, but the voice compelled him. Do it, do it, the voice spoke directly to him. It no longer boomed through the room, it was now within him. Or perhaps it was his mind speaking to him. Become the mage you want to be.
The liquid in his mouth tasted metallic. Just like Alida described. It coursed across his tongue and filled him. A weird feeling filled him – moving across his face, behind his eyes and slowly down his body.
GOOD, MY SON. The voice spoke. SOON, YOU WILL BE THE MAGE YOU WANT. SOON YOU WILL BE ALL THAT THE GIRL IS. NOW GO BACK, KASALL. GO BACK UPSTAIRS AND MENTION THIS TO NO ONE. SOON YOU WILL SEE YOUR POWER, AND YOUR PART TO PLAY.
He clambered back up to the hall of the inn, sitting at the table and going back to reminiscing on his time within the strange town. He wondered how much longer they’d be there and, more importantly, how long it would take Alida to see the new strength within him.
Not long after he sat down, Alida barged into the inn. For once, her arms weren’t full of books on magic and mystery, and instead she was escorted by Rin and Kim. Eir was there as well, the mage Kasall hadn’t seen for days.
“Kasall! They have great news for us,” Alida said, smiling and running over to him when she saw him sitting at the table. “There is somewhere that needs us! Somewhere we get to leave to immediately. Where’s mother?” Somewhere that needs you, Kasall thought, or the voice within him kindly chimed in.
“That’s great, Ali,” Kasall said, trying to muster up a smile. “Where? And how do we get there?”
“Skyhull,” Eir said. “I’ve been looking everywhere. I saw a fire overwhelming the city, and I saw a wave washing away the king’s town.” Dawnsend. Everyone knows the name of Dawnsend, Kasall thought, bemused with the homeliness of the out of touch mages.
“Either way, there is a clear need for Alida in Skyhull, the death of a mage is the greatest loss to the world, she can help them,” Rin said, walking over to Alida and rubbing her shoulders as she boasted.
“When do we leave?” the figure of Catherine now stood in the doorframe. Kim gasped as she turned around to see the woman. “Tonight – or today I suppose, we still have a few hours of sunlight.”
“You have as many hours of sunlight as you need today.” Rin said in a solemn tone. “Get your things organized. Alida, take all of the books we’ve given you, and go. Skyhull won’t wait and you could save many lives.”
Kasall could feel the focus being ripped away from him again. Before they came to the town, he never minded Alida holding the focus. At the inn, Alida was always treated better than him – but Kasall was never looked down upon. Jere and Catherine loved him nearly as much as her, he’d always felt, but the mages in the lost town always seemed to look past him. You don’t need their gaze, the dark voice inside him spoke. Soon you will be stronger than them all.
Kasall went into his bedroom and pretended to spend time packing his bag. It had never been unpacked – he’d worn the same clothes for most of the time he’d been in the inn, and nothing else from the bag had been needed. When he walked into the hall a few minutes later, he was surprised to see that Catherine and Alida were already ready, too. I guess no one was that comfortable, he thought.
Eir held Kasall’s hand and began to lead him away from the town. Rin did the same to Alida, while Kim took Catherine's. Jade scampered around Kasall, following the group toward the outskirts of the town.
They kept walking along the vast nothingness outside the town.
“Just a little further,” the mage girls kept reassuring the party. “We’re almost at the place.”
They walked for what seemed to be days, but Kasall knew that time within the realm of the life mages wouldn’t give a true indication of day and night. Eventually, a line of white and purple trees began to appear before them. They were led toward one, and when they reached it, the three were told to kneel before it.
“Close your eyes and think of the cold. You must eat a leaf from the tree, and you will be taken to its match.” One of the mages told them. Kasall couldn’t tell which had spoken, as he already had his eyes closed.
Kasall felt a leathery leaf being placed upon his outstretched tongue. He thought of the winters around the lodge - of the time they’d ran out of firewood during a cold night and everyone lay in the same bed, holding each other for warmth. He kept thinking about this, and felt his mind start to slip toward the warmth of Alida’s and Catherine’s body, and yet as he opened his eyes, he found himself on the side of a mountain.
A loud wind whirred beside Kasall’s ears. He looked to his side and saw Alida and Catherine both kneeling next to him still. Jade was purring beside him, mewing once to say hello to him. He felt the new strength within him, and the voice mumbling words in the back of his mind.
“Alida, Kasall – don’t move,” Catherine said. She pointed wordlessly toward the snowy road the wrapped up the mountain. Vague footprints lined it – several from goats, and as Kasall looked closer he saw the light, faded prints of horses. “We may be too late – or just in time.”
They began to climb up the mountain to see what was happening. In the east, the sun was rising slowly. As expected, Kasall thought. Time in the strange town wasn’t accurate. It had been far in the west as they left the town, nearly the end of the day. Morning was breaking, and their trek once again began.