Chapter Twenty-two - Incomplete
The back of a horse was unfamiliar to Kasall, but Inge insisted that Alida and her family ride at the front with him. I’m an afterthought, a voice Kasall knew sadly to be his own whispered into his mind. The words never slipped past his ear, they lived and died within his mind. But I will be so much more, the other voice spoke.
The army had been riding east for a short time, but Kasall hadn’t found a moment of that time to speak with Alida. His friend was too busy discussing the information she’d learned in the city in the woods with Inge. Jade was sitting on the back of the horse with Kasall, somehow managing to stay seated better than he could.
It had been a strange morning. The sound of a loud horn had woken them, and the king Inge’s friend summoned the group early.
“Everyone from Honeysuckle inn is to ride up front with me,” Inge had proclaimed to the audience of inn workers. Kasall noticed that Sim was at this meeting as well. He seemed far more distant than when he left the inn – his hair was shorter, and seemingly singed to become that length and his face was caked in dirt. What hell could’ve consumed the inn to turn him so? Kasall found himself wondering, but realizing that asking this of his former friend would do nothing productive. “The road to Dawnsend won’t be too long, I suspect. It should only take us two days if we travel swiftly. The king should know we’re coming, and be prepared with an army of his own.” Inge now spoke to the whole army. “Mages will need to be sure to have their reagents ready, soldiers make sure your armour is unharmed and prepared.”
“And be prepared,” Elyse Gringolet butted in, “for an ambush. We’re surrounded by woods some of the way, it would be easy for the king to have placed men out here waiting for us.”
“Yes. An ambush could happen, though I doubt it will,” Inge said, dismissing everyone to prepare their horses and weapons. “We march within the hour.”
“This is crazy, Alida,” Kasall began talking to her. Those were the only words he had time to exchange with her before Inge called “Alida! With me, if you would. We have much to discuss about your powers.”
Since then, Kasall has spent the ride eavesdropping on what Alida was saying to the bold mage. She mentioned the books she’d read in the city, and the nature of life magic.
“I never believed in it, truly. I always assumed that it was just death, fire, water – nothing more, besides the magic of stone.” Inge told her at one point. His face seemed to light up since seeing her. Alida seemed to be warming up to the wet man as well, no longer scarred and tormented by the wounds supposedly on his face. She likes him more than you, Kasall found himself thinking. She likes mages more than you. You're inferior to them.
But Kasall also found himself thinking that Inge was serving as a replacement for Jere, and he found himself considering the mindset Alida was in at the moment. From time to time, Alida would glance back at him and smile, and these little interactions kept him going through the ride.
Elyse tried to speak with Kasall sometimes, but she was far more focused on discussing magic and the loss of it with Catherine. He overheard her ask how Catherine lost her magic – a question that was dismissed quickly with a sly “you may find out later,” and a quick turn of the head. Kasall wondered if it was rude to ask a mage such a question – if it would be like asking how someone got so fat or how someone’s child died.
As the day went on, the sun began to beat down on the army. It stood at its peak in the sky, and Kasall could feel it burning his scalp. Inge continued to occupy Alida’s time and Kasall found himself less and less interested in the goal they were riding toward.
“Inge, might I have a moment of your time?” Catherine spoke now, interrupting the mage from his talk with Alida.
“Yes, of course.” He rode his horse carefully in front of Kasall and sneaked beside Catherine. Kasall felt completely removed from the situation. Jade was the only living thing that seemed to notice that he was there – even Sim wasn’t interested in conversation. Sim’s eyes seemed to be looking, but they were distant and his gaze was vague.
He heard Catherine begin to speak quietly to Inge. LISTEN TO THEM, the voice spoke, more boldly and directly. LISTEN TO WHAT SHE HAS TO TELL HIM. Kasall did as he was told – unable to do anything else in his current state.
“- who I am,” was the end of the sentence Kasall first heard Catherine speak.
“I see,” Inge said. “What, then, do you know of the city? I fear I know not its layout well.”
“More, and enough. It is divided into four main areas, aqueducts run through it. You need to focus only on the castle, but the castle is in the back of the city.”
“And you hold no love for the king?”
“I’ve held no love for the king my whole life. Who I am is inconsequential – you can rule for all I care. As long as you will promise to give us home and keep Alida safe within the capital, Kasall too. Those are the terms, and you can be my king.” Catherine said. “The Norsom family can die with Gerod – I denounced it long ago.”
The king looked interested. “Is that where you lost your magic? I’d heard that was possible with death mages – I trust you were one – but I never knew one who did it.”
“Well, with death mages, it’s rare to find one after their magic fades. They tend to die before they can use it up – reckless, foolish. Both are traits of my old kind, I fear.” Catherine said, a slight frown growing across her face.
“And he will not know who you are?”
“No, nor does he remember having a sister."
“Does your family?” Inge asked.
“I trust they do now – we’re not speaking overly discreetly.” She glanced over at Kasall, who quickly moved his head toward the road in a hopes they wouldn't notice. “Yes, Kasall heard us. It’s out now.” So much for being ignored, Kasall thought. Inge brought his horse back over and beckoned for Kasall to come forward. He now rode between Kasall and Alida.
“Alida, did you hear what your mother has said?”
“Some of it, yes. I heard what was important.”
“Will you, then, treat yourself as a Norsom or do you support my cause? This is directed at you, too, Kasall.” Alida told him that she was on his side. Kasall thought on the matter, though. What is his cause? He found himself thinking, realizing he didn’t really know what the new king was after. He agreed, though, trusting Alida.
Kasall considered what he’d learned about death magic. What is possible with death mages? Killing yourself? Is that what Catherine did?
“Ilya,” Inge called out. To Kasall’s surprise, Catherine responded to her.
“Yes, my king?”
“Your family has chosen wisely, and we shall have life magic on our side when we reach the city. We must establish a camp before then, though. Sleep will serve us well before a siege.” Kasall had hardly noticed that the sun had begun to set. How long has it been? He wondered. He found his grasp of time to be misled since his time in the odd city. “The castle walls are not far – we will camp here tonight, and the tide will wash over Dawnsend with the first light of the morning!” Inge shouted to his army.
“The king had three siblings,” Catherine began, after retreating to a tent with Kasall and Alida. “I feel you both must know this, if we are to keep moving, and if we are to become powerful. She looked at Alida when saying the last part.
“Three siblings Gerod had, none he has now.” Alida said. She began to recount the names of the siblings, but found herself only able to name two – Damien and Thomas.
“The third sibling died at a young age. A sister, king Gerod had. He had this sister, and yet no recollection of her existence. I, of course, was that child – a girl who discovered her magic far younger than anyone would’ve expected. Alida, did any of the books you read over the past few days taught you about death magic? I always hated that term, but did you learn about death magic?”
“I learned nothing flattering about it – only about its destruction of life magic.” She replied. Don’t believe them, the voice in Kasall’s mind spoke. There are two sides to every battle - the heroes of one side of a battle are no different from the losers on the other, it’s all decided by who wins. The voice was beginning to waver for the first time. It seemed to be offended by what Alida said, and Kasall began to worry about the parasite within his mind.
“And generally, there isn’t much that is flattering about it. The magic is similar to your life magic, Alida, except it places the curses your magic heals. Anything a death mage resurrects is surely an abomination – a shambling skeleton, a monster. The mages and teachers in Dawnsend tried hard to teach me about death magic, but the death mages in the city were constantly being judged or chained at my father’s paranoia – he feared my kind, said they couldn’t be trusted. Unfortunately, this meant that any teaching I received about the matter of magic was all learned through secondhand sources – friends and family of death mages bringing books from their homes to the castle, my father having soldiers raid the homes of death mages to find such books, more often than not.”
She seemed mournful telling her life story. She seemed uncomfortable, and less like the Catherine that Kasall had known growing up. She stopped being the woman that would skin a rabbit in a hopes of teaching Kasall the most efficient way of doing it, and more like a young child who would squirm at the idea of a skinned rabbit.
“My family taunted me, too. My brother Damien, he was furious toward me my whole life, seeing the mages losing their homes on suspicions of being death mages. My father wasn’t much of a mage, so he took no mention of death mages in the city lightly – any information received led to an investigation of the house in question. Do you know the burden that puts on a child? To know that your father, in his immense power, is tearing apart families with the hopes of finding information for you to study? I didn’t want to study it, I swear. But as the years of studying went on, I one day found my father at his worst. I stood outside his door late one night, peering into his room and I heard him speak. ‘One more,’ he was saying. ‘Each house we turn, we bring her closer to being the only one.’ He was trying to filter out death mages – remove them from the world so I would be the only one, so I would have all the power.”
Kasall looked over at Alida, she seemed sad, looking away from her mother, down at the ground beneath her instead. “I can’t count the number of mages my father killed to make me special, but the reading I did from the books he stole taught me one important element of my magic – the power of death. There was an old spell, scrawled between lines in a page of a dank old book. The spell to kill someone, a simple idea – really the premise of most spells. Flame spells that kill you burn water spells drown. Death spells just kill. There’s no interesting element to it – you just die, and so I did. I killed the woman I was - Ilya Norsom. I felt the emotion described in the book, I thought of Ilya Norsom, after spending a few days considering myself as being Catherine. It’s a common name, that’s why I chose it. I hated being Ilya – hell, I always felt bad for Damien and Gerod, getting such absurd names – names you never hear shouted in the streets, names you only hear scrawled at the bottom of a law or decree from the bell tower of a city on the birth of a prince.”
She looked over at Alida. “Sorry, Alida, about you name. I realize it’s one of those, I suppose. Maybe I missed the life.” She had become distracted and struggled to find her spot again. A rustling could be heard through the grass behind them. “Inge? I trust it is you, only you would be curious about this.”
“Not quite,” the voice of the blue man called. “Yes, it is Inge, but I have with me Elyse – my wife’s sister. I trust this story could be heard by us too, yes? It is one of utmost interest to us.”
The two sat down with the rest of the group without a further invitation or validation. Catherine found her place again, beginning to regale. “I’d taken on the identity of Catherine, the identity I still hold. As I performed the spell, I consumed all of my reagent, I burned every vein in my face. The book said that if you did this, it would kill more than the person intended, but the memory of that person. It was meant to remove Ilya Norsom not just from existing, but of ever having existed. It worked, too. I went down to the fountain in the center of Dawnsend, took the reagents and performed my power. My veins faded away, they didn't exhaust. I figured that was because I wasn't truly Ilya. I woke up the next morning to the shouting of the common people, yelling at me for dirtying their water by laying in it. No one knew who I was, no one still does. I met your father a few years later, after I ran away to Shalsonbury on the back of a delivery cart. After the assassination attempt on my brother, we moved away from the city. He fell in love with me, and I told him this same story years later.” Her eyes began to tear.
She’s remembering Jere – what happened to the inn. Kasall had forgotten about it, somehow. He’d spent all day on the road staring at the deathly gaze of Sim, and somehow the dead guardian he’d lived with his whole life had slipped his mind. He was sad about it – he was sure of it. He couldn’t find the emotion right now, but it was certainly sorrow. You father is dead, Kasall thought. Feel something – anything. Yes, feel anything, boy. You may not be able to soon.
Catherine lay down between Kasall and Alida and told them to join her. Elyse and Inge took this as a hint to leave, making their way back to their own tents. Kasall lay down beside his mother and sister, and slept, able to view them now as what he should have seen them his whole life. The sacrifice Jere made came into his mind, and he concluded that this was how he felt about it – regretful. He felt waves of regret sweeping over him, memories of time he could’ve spent with Jere and even Lor in the inn, helping them, forming memories with them.
He held only those of the laborious work he’d done at the inn, and few of the times Jere would take him behind inn and spar with him with swords made of tree branches. He could hardly remember being taught to parry or riposte from Jere, and instead was being constantly reminded of hauling dead logs from the field of dead bodies surrounding the inn, cursing under his breath about the lazy retired guard that lurked inside the inn’s stone walls brewing beer instead of aiding the boy.
The more self-loathing Kasall became, the quicker sleep swept over him. He’d spent the whole day trying to remain balanced on a horse – he was exhausted. Soon he found his eyes closing, sleep coveting him as Catherine’s arm wrapped around him. In his faintly awake state, he could lightly hear Alida breathing across from him – slipping to sleep in much the same way he was. In that moment, Kasall felt content – he felt the relief of all the hell the group had experienced in the past week: the twisted city, the burning of the inn fading away from him, and he became one with his family.
Kasall could hear the cackling laughter in the back of his mind, the intruder’s voice growing louder and more prevalent and he began to understand how large a mistake he had made in that hellish city.
Sadly, the peace of that night faded quickly as morning felt the need to emerge again the following day. With morning, came chanting, with chanting came war horns. Too soon after the sleep, Kasall found himself on the back of a horse again, riding toward the white walls of Dawnsend. The closer they got to the city, the worse he felt.
His stomach was twisting within him, he could feel himself growing pale. I FEAR MY GIFT TO YOU MAY HAVE BEEN A TRICK, BOY. The voice spoke again. YOU SEE, I WAS A MAGE OF DEATH. YOUR MOTHER SPOKE MUCH ABOUT MAGES OF DEATH, DID SHE NOT? I HEARD THE WORDS SHE SPOKE LAST NIGHT IN YOUR TENT. I HEARD WHAT THE NEW KING LEARNED. WHAT GOOD IS A MAGE OF DEATH, I MUST ASK? YOUR MOTHER SEES NO PURPOSE IN ONE, NOR DO I. DEATH IS SIMPLE, DEATH IS OBVIOUS.
He closed his eyes, a shadowy figure filled his mind as the horse led him, trotting toward their destination. THERE ARE TWO STATES – LIFE AND DEATH. I HAVE DEALT IN DEATH THROUGHOUT MY EXISTENCE. I KILL, AND WITH IT, I FIND POWER. BUT YOU SEE, BOY, POWER ONLY MATTERS IN LIFE. IF I AM PAST LIFE, BUT STILL ALIVE, WHAT GOOD IS DEATH TO ME? WHAT PURPOSE DOES DEATH SERVE, WHICH COULD NOT BETTER BE SERVED THROUGH, SAY, CHAOS? CHAOS AND CONFUSION ARE THE TRUEST POWERS TO TORMENT THE LIVING. CHAOS MAKES THE LIVING WISH FOR DEATH.
He opened his eyes again, seeing the gates of the city on the horizon. He looked around at his traveling companions, expecting no reaction from them with regards to the shouting in his mind. He was correct in the belief, no look of concern covered their face. THAT SHOULD BE CLOSE ENOUGH, I BELIEVE. The voice spoke one last time.
Kasall died before he reached the ground, with a severe misunderstanding in his mind as to what chaos truly was.