Chapter 9: Rox
AI 9172:04 Astral
Alevenia was quickly receding away from Rox’s sight. He had completed his final Pursuit and now journeyed to the Capital for the Ascension Ceremony. The final year in Alevenia had been one of the best years of his life. Magister Renzo’s death had been the beginning. Rox had fallen unconscious as the gem took it’s hold of him. When he awoke, he saw several faces looking down at him. The faces asked him if he felt alright, if he had a headache, any pain at all. When he answered no, they asked him what he remembered. He told them that he remembered Magister Renzo coming into his room. They talked for a little bit and then an ominous ringing began in his head. He told them that it seemed as though Magister Renzo started to suffer the same unknown affliction. They lay on the floor together for a time and that was the last thing he could remember.
Upon hearing Rox’s story, some of the Magister’s conferred on the situation. Since Rox’s story was consistent with what they had heard from the mage who went for help, they decided that Rox was innocent of any foul play. They surmised that they were both victims of some unknown malady. Rox survived but Magister Renzo succumbed to anomaly due to his advanced age. An investigation had been undertaken, but Rox was allowed to continue his Pursuit.
From that point on Rox had been a model apprentice. He was still watched closely on account of the prior escape attempts, but those days were over for Rox. He would never need to run again now that he had given himself over to the gem’s will. Rox had become an adept and confident apprentice once he had submitted to the voice in the gem. He no longer sat around for hours at a time staring at it. The gem was in his head now. The gem was Rox and Rox was the gem.
The Ascension Ceremony would be delightful, Rox anticipated. He was not likely to be chosen as a Magister after everything that had happened. He was destined for magehood, traveling around to different villages throughout the continent to see to the commoner’s needs and wants. That suited him just fine. As a simple mage he would be able to travel all around the continent in search of the host. Rox would be expected to report to the Archons occasionally with requests from the people, but he cared not for the petty needs of farmers. He would tear the continent apart to find the host, and once he did, nothing else would matter. The shell that once was Rox would no longer be needed.
Rox and his traveling companions arrived at the Capital. They all left their Saviors at the Savior hangar outside the city. The gates were open in anticipation of their arrival. The mandatory escort waited atop the large staircase to bring them to the Marble Towers for the feast. It was a long and monotonous walk through the city, despite the illusory nature of its design. Every building looked the same; two stories of white polished marble, gilded facades lining every one of them. Translucent cobbles of red veilstone ran throughout the city. When the Coil’s light hit them it reflected in all directions, making the entire city appear as if it were aflame.
Rox had decided on his first visit that he did not like the Capital, and his decision had been reinforced upon his return. The city he grew up in, Inquilaris, was much more diverse in it’s construction. Despite being constructed on the dark side of the planet, the layout and architecture brought the city to life. The opposite was true of the capital. The structures here were so bland that any slight variation to it made it look out of place, like it belonged somewhere else.
After walking through several identical blocks of the city they arrived at the Marble Towers and were ushered inside. Once in the great hall, Rox caught sight of all the food that was laid out before them. He couldn’t imagine needing this much food for the group that accompanied him, but at the thought a hunger took hold of him that he had never known. He sat down at the nearest available seat and started shoveling. He wasn’t even sure what half of the things were that he was swallowing, but it didn’t matter.
Once the savagery at the dinner table was complete a few Magisters walked into the room. They went to the podium at the front of the large room. One of the Magisters stepped forward and spoke.
“Apprentices! Welcome to the Capital. I trust the food was more than sufficient for your needs. I am Magister Nikulas, First Sight of the Archons. It is on their behalf that I congratulate you all on completing your Walk of Wisdom. Once the apprentices from the other cities arrive we will conduct the Ascension Ceremony, where one of you from each group will be ordained as Magister, replacing the Elder Magister who accompanied you here. You are all welcome to spend the time in between as you please, as long as you are present for the ceremony. Anyone who is not here will be expelled and will not be accepted into magehood. Is that understood?”
The feasters nodded their heads in approval. “Excellent. With that I will take my leave. Enjoy your time in the Capital and I will see you all in a few days.” Magister Nikulas and the others stepped down from the podium and left the great hall.
Rox liked that he was part of the first group here. The extra time would be a welcome respite from the last sixteen years of training he had endured. It would also give him some time to search the Capital for the host. Although he had been absolved of any blame for Magister Renzo’s death, they had kept a close eye on him afterwards. They told him it was to monitor any symptoms that could reoccur, but he knew better. After everything that had happened the two years prior the Magisters never completely trusted Rox. None of that mattered now, though. He had made it through Alevenia with the help of the gem. He stood from the table and calmly walked to his room with a satisfied smile on his face.
On the morning of the Ascension Ceremony Rox woke up feeling better than ever. The last few days of rest had done wonders for his aching body. The last year had seen immeasurable improvement in his mental state. He no longer suffered from the migraines that had plagued him for years. His tremors had steadied and the buzzing in his ears became no more than a breath of air. His body had not been so fortunate. His back ached constantly and his feet roared with complaints at every step. It was almost more than he could bear. But a reassuring voice always strengthened him, gave him the resolve he needed to march forward.
When Rox gave himself over to the gem, he let it see his entire mind. Every memory was now a part of the gem. As a side effect the gem also imparted its memories to Rox. Rox had learned of the stone’s cataclysmic past, right from the very beginning of its time all the way to its arrival here. Those memories were extremely hazy, however. The stone’s most vivid memories started about thirty years ago, in some small ruins north of Raxid. Alone it sat there in darkness for millennia, lonely, waiting for its host to come back for it. Finally, one day someone had found it in the tower in the ruins. The stone had no recollection of him, and it could tell that he was no friend. The stranger picked it up and held it up towards the light of the Coil, watching it turn from a bleak stone into a natural wonder of colors spread throughout the tower. It manifested then, feeling the warmth return and the electricity begin to flow between them. A fierce rage took hold within the stone, transferring its wroth into the helpless stranger. It had taken hold forcefully, and because there was no consent, it had been an uncomfortable union. The man had struggled mightily against it, fighting it all the way to a nearby farm where he finally lost control. The gem was trying to find its host. Once it realized the host was nowhere on the farm, it was consumed with rage. It made the stranger do to several villagers and farmers what it made Rox do to Magister Renzo: Ignition. With the touch of a hand a current began to flow through their blood, causing them to burn from the inside. After the slaughter, the gem commanded the stranger to find the nearest village. A short while later, however, the gem’s energy stores depleted and the stranger collapsed. Its next memory was in a tunnel with the stranger, just before getting tossed away. With neither the close contact nor light from the Coil it quickly fell back into dormancy.
Then one day Rox came. He picked it up and the power returned, albeit gentler than the last time. It had been able to develop a mutually dependant relationship with Rox. It had taken longer than it thought to break Rox, but submission was inevitable. The last year had been the greatest in the gem’s memory. It had also put Rox’s mind at peace after years of struggle. They had made it here together, although the gem knew the relationship would not last forever. Rox’s strength was waning more quickly than anticipated. It would need to find the host as quickly as possible.
Rox dressed and prepared himself for the ceremony, donning the new robes that had been left for him the night before by one of the apprentices he had spent the last sixteen years with. “What do you want? Why are you bringing me this?” Rox had asked at the knock on his door. “The Magisters selected me for this task. Apparently they always get one of the apprentices to deliver the new robes. They even gave me a master key, just in case.” They were much nicer robes than the ones he had been wearing. The best part was all the small pockets that riddled the inside of the robes. He placed the stone in an inner breast pocket, tied the belt, and headed towards the Apex Tower. Many others were already waiting and a few more had followed behind Rox. They entered and stood in their designated spaces and awaited the Magister’s speech.
Rox looked around the room. On his left were the team from Darmycia. They would ascend first. Then it would be Rox’s group from Alevenia, Raxid to his right, and further still the team from Inquilaris. There were four groups of four Magisters, each stood atop a dais directly in front of each team. On the tier above was the audience seating area, for mages or commoners who wished to observe the ancient tradition. Finally, on the highest tier sat the eternal Archons, the deified beings that ruled the continent. Their genders were a mystery. Their robes that surely fit at one point were now grossly oversized on their frail, timeworn bodies. Their skin puckered and sagged like an overripe orange. The only feature that gave any hint of life were their eyes that stared blankly ahead,
The sight of the Archons made Rox feel uneasy. No, something about them made the gem feel uneasy. Rox shifted in place just as the Magister began his speech to the Darmycians. He would appoint one of them as Magister and the Elder Magister would be sacrificed to the Archons. The others would be dubbed mages to travel the continent and help the commoners with their troubles.
The Magister completed his speech and sent for the Elder Magister. When she arrived she knelt on the altar and presented herself to the Archons. “Immortal ones, I gladly become one with you, giving you the knowledge I have gained in my many years. A younger Magister will serve you better in these dark times in Darmycia.” The Elder Magister walked over to the altar where four spheres were placed. She felt the smoothness of the grapefruit-sized spheres with her fingertips. She took a deep breath and selected two of the spheres. She placed the palm of each hand on a sphere and immediately her whole body stiffened. She felt no pain, but Rox could see by the look on the Magister’s face that it was an unpleasant experience nonetheless. The two spheres sparked with the energy of the Elder Magister as her life force absorbed into them.
This isn’t right, the voice inside thought. There’s something wrong with this. Rox shifted positions again and stole a glance at the Archons. The four of them sat there, motionless, watching the Elder Magister. He could also see the Magister from the feast, the one that referred to himself as the First Sight, standing on the other side of the altar that held the spheres. He looked back at the Archons and noticed that they were all looking at him now. He flinched, looking away from them as if he had not noticed their staring eyes. The Elder Magister’s life force was completely drained now. As the sparks within the spheres receded the First Sight caught the Elder Magister in his arms. He carried her away into a side room with the help of another Magister. They returned a few moments later and the ceremony continued. The Magisters turned their attention to Rox and his group now.
“Congratulations, apprentices. You have successfully completed your Walk of Wisdom, and today you will be recognized as mages. With the power entrusted to me by the Archons…”
The eerie whisper stopped everybody where they were, no one quite sure where it had come from. Rox looked around the room at all the confused faces. He took another look at the Archons and nearly fell over. One of them was standing up, and staring right at him. This was the first time any of them had moved in hundreds of years, and as the others in the room started to notice you could hear gasps of surprise. He could not tell if it was joy or fear that filled the room, but whichever it was became palpable within the Apex Tower.
All four were standing now, all staring directly at Rox. They started down the staircase to Rox’s right, the white marble steps curving around the perimeter of the room. Moving appeared to be difficult for them. On a few occasions Rox noticed one of them stumble but the First Sight, a position of renewed importance, was right there to steady them. They reached the ground floor, walking slowly, working out the stiffness that had set in over the last two centuries. Their eyes were fixated on Rox throughout their entire descent, and as they approached he could feel their penetrating looks pierce right though him.
The Archons stood in front of Rox now, their eyes never leaving his. Rox looked back at them nervously. “Rox, you need to get out of here. I sense malevolence within them, and something else. Something sinister.” Rox was glued in place, unable to move. He watched as the Archon’s eyes collectively moved down to his chest. Rox was compelled to take out the gem and offer it to them. “Don’t do it, Rox! Turn around and run!” The voice was a negligible breeze to him in this moment. He reached inside his robes and pulled out the gem, held it in his open palm, and offered it to the Archons. The four of them stared, watching the light emerge from the gem, entranced by its beauty. One of the Archons grabbed for the gem, its fingers clumsily fumbling about. Once it assumed possession of it, something crept onto all of their dehydrated faces then, a realization of something long forgotten. Their faces slowly changed from the calm and wise Archons that everyone knew to an image of sheer madness and hatred.
Before he had time to react, the Archon grabbed Rox’s head with both hands. The Archon broke his neck with such force that his vertebra severed his brain stem. A sharp and severe pain shot from his neck all the way down to the base of his spine, but was quickly replaced by a numbness that permeated through his whole body. Rox slumped to the floor heavily, watching the room whirl with eyes that still saw the world that was soon to be lost to him. He stared, unable to move, as the Archons stood and watched his final moments. There was nothing he could do as they slowly turned and started back up the curving stairs. Rox’s vision was finally starting to give way just as the Archons made it back to their seats. Darkness took its final hold on Rox, swallowing him into the bottomless pit that would never release him. He had one last thought before he was erased from the world, a final cry for help to the only person he could ever truly trust. She was a memory returning unbidden from his recent past, a loved one that the gem had repressed.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, M.W. HudsonWrite a Review