Chapter 8: Thole
“These ravagers are becoming bolder and more ferocious every day. We need to know why. We need answers!” Magister Cormin stated. “We have lost two apprentices in the last month. This is unacceptable! We must form hunting parties to reconnoiter the desert and find out where they’re coming from!” A loud cheer of approval rose up in the audience room. Some of the Magisters from the Capital were in Darmycia to see the trouble for themselves. The Darmycians needed to show the delegates from the Capital that the need for a change was dire. That the encroaching threat was approaching so rapidly that they must push back in earnest.
Thole was among the throng of people listening from the antechamber. She was unable to be inside during the debate because she was not a Magister. Not according to the visitors from the Capital, at least. After the incident with the group of Ravagers and saving Magister Laner’s life she had been counted among them in Darmycia. Once Magister Laner and Branson told everyone what had happened she was tasked to help with training other apprentices in the Saviors. She was also consulted on how to best deal with the Ravagers. She suggested that they form four parties of two Magisters and four mages each. These hunting parties would divide the desert in four sections. Each group would patrol a section for half a day, killing any Ravagers they find and attempting to discover their point of origin. Once some of the other mages were better trained they could form four more parties to man the temple’s outskirts to defend against invasion if it came to that.
That was why they were all gathered here now; to decide how much of a threat the Ravagers were, and how they would be dealt with. Magister Cormin was a staunch supporter of Thole’s plan and insisted that he be the one to speak to the Capital Magisters.
“We understand your feelings, Magister Cormin, but we fear that sending out these hunting parties would result in even more death. Tell me, is it better to send people to their deaths out in the desert, or to stay and defend the surrounding area and not provoke the Ravagers?” Magister Wells was a stubborn man who didn’t like taking risks. He would be a hard one to convince.
“It is better to take action than to sit and wait to be overrun. These Ravagers are multiplying and we still don’t know where they are coming from. We need to know these things now if we are to survive.” The color in Magister Cormin’s face was rising, his frustration mounting.
“We will consider all you have said and bring your proposal to the Archons. Until then you will maintain a vigilant watch here in Darmycia and at the temple, nothing more. We will return once the matter has been voted on. Good day.” With that the three Magisters from the Capital stood and walked out of the audience chamber.
With the meeting officially over, Thole walked into the room to talk to Magister Cormin. “That seemed to go alright, at least. How do you think they’ll vote?”
Cormin shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. With that worm Wells bringing forth the proposal to the Capital our plight will be understated and ignored. I believe we are on our own, Thole.”
“So what do we do about it?”
Cormin looked around the room. “Meet me in my chambers in one hour. Bring two of your fellow apprentices that are adept in a Savior. Tell no one else.” He turned and left the audience chamber as if on a mission. Thole sighed and followed after him. Bring two that are good in a Savior, huh? What’s this old man plotting? She thought for a moment on which two she would bring. Branson would be her first choice. Since that day out in the desert Branson had redoubled his efforts and had shown vast improvements in his control over the Saviors. She would go to him first and think on a second.
She arrived at Branson’s room and knocked on the door. Branson swung the door open and smiled. “Thole? What a nice surprise. What brings you here?”
“Can I come in?”
Thole strode through the door. “So Branson, how’s it going?”
“Well you know. Only a little while left in Darmycia. I can’t believe it’s gone by so fast, but I can’t say I’m not looking forward to moving on. How about you? How did the meeting go?”
“Not great,” Thole admitted. “The Magisters are headed back to the Capital to put it to a vote. Are you busy right now?”
“No, I’ve got nothing going on for the rest of the day. Why?”
“I need you to come with me to Magister Cormin’s chambers.”
Branson looked at her with uncertainty. “Cormin’s chambers? What are you two plotting?”
“I don’t know exactly. He just asked me to bring two people who were good with Saviors. I need your help deciding on a second.”
Branson’s quick answer surprised her. Gray was indeed very good in a Savior, but he was also very cocky and unpredictable. She had never grown fond of Gray in her time here, but she couldn’t deny his abilities. “Can he be trusted?”
“I give you my word. Make no mistake, I know who and what Gray is. I’ve known him nearly my whole life and he’s never let me down when I needed him. If we both ask him I’m certain he will agree. Especially if we don’t tell him why.”
“Why do you say that?”
Branson smirked. “Because if you make it sound like a secret he won’t be able to resist.”
“Fair enough. Let’s go get him.” They left Branson’s room and started down the hall towards Gray’s room. It wasn’t far down the hall from their position and as they approached they saw Gray step outside.
“Gray!” Branson yelled. “Where are you going?”
Gray looked up at the approaching pair. “Nowhere, really. I just can’t stay cramped up in this room any longer.”
Thole gave a final look at Branson for reassurance. “Gray, can you come with us? We need someone who’s good in a Savior.”
Gray looked at Thole quizzically. “Maybe. What’s this about?”
Branson answered. “We don’t know yet. We have to go see Magister Cormin.”
Understanding appeared on Gray’s face. “Ahh, so the meeting didn’t go well, then? I see what’s happening. Sure, I’ll come with you guys. Should be exciting. It’s a shame my father wasn’t one of the delegates, they might have had better luck.”
Thole looked at Gray, surprised. “You’re father’s a Magister?”
“Not just a Magister. He’s the First Sight.”
Thole could hardly believe Gray was the First Sight’s son. The First Sight was just an honorary position these days, but back in the days when the Archons were awake it was a position of power. The First Sight would carry out the most important of commands from the Archons, heedlessly and without question. They were the most trusted of the Magisters surrounding the Archons. Now, with the Archons dormant, the First Sight was basically just another Magister.
The three walked towards Cormin’s chambers together. It was three floors up and on the opposite end of the hall. Thole spent the walk trying to think about what Cormin could be planning. She had an idea, but it would be risky. She would just have to wait to hear it from Cormin himself.
Arriving at the Magister’s chambers, they rapped on the door. “Yes, come in, come in.” Thole opened the door and stepped inside. Cormin sat at a desk writing some letters. As they approached he put his quill down and looked at the three of them. “These two? Are you sure about this?”
Thole looked behind her at Branson and Gray. Branson had a look of trepidation on his face, a look that must have been as close a friend to him as Gray. Gray on the other hand looked quite amused by the situation, or maybe apathetic, she could never tell with him. That mocking smirk that always crept across his lips was part of the reason she was unsure about involving him in this, whatever this was. She looked back at Cormin and said “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Fine then. We need to discuss our next moves. The words spoken in this chamber must not leave the room, do you understand? Good. Now to the matter at hand. The meeting with the Magisters did not go as well as I had hoped. The stubborn, foolish Capital Magisters that they are fail to see the situation as we do. It falls to me to decide the best course of action. Thole, you and your team will venture into the desert and try to find where the Ravagers are coming from. Any Ravagers spotted along the way will be eliminated. What say you?”
Thole imagined that this is what Magister Cormin had in mind. He had always been more willful than the others here, choosing to act on his own accord more often than not. Thole liked that about him more so today than before. “I agree. Just us three though? We might have better luck with at least one more person.”
The Magister developed an evil grin and flashed it Thole’s way. “That’s why I’m coming with you. Our first patrol begins now.” Cormin stood up from his desk, pushed his way through Branson and Gray, and marched towards the door. Magister Cormin was middle-aged, well built, and quite short. The type of man you would expect to see standing in front of a large group of people giving them a piece of his mind. He was also very accomplished with a Savior, one of the best of the Magisters here in Darmycia.
“Is that wise, Magister?” Branson was always a voice of reason. He would see all the angles that nobody else had. “If you come with us some of the other Magisters may inform the Capital that you are acting without the leave of the Archons.”
“The Archons can bugger themselves for all I care. If they have any apprehensions about my plan I would be delighted allay them in my chambers. Since I don’t foresee them deigning to remove their decrepit asses from their seats in the Capital, I suggest you keep your apprehensions to yourself, young man.” Cormin continued out the door and into the hallway.
“Ye…yes, Magister!” Branson tripped over his own feet in his haste to follow the spry Magister. Thole followed behind, grabbing a snickering Gray by the arm as she passed.
“I didn’t know the old coot had it in him. I’m kind of impressed.” Gray admitted. “We would have been fine just the three of us. You’re a legend here now and the two of us can hold our own easily.”
“Oh, shut up, Gray. I don’t need your cockiness getting us killed, alright? Be thankful he’s coming with us. You don’t know how bad it’s gotten out there.” Thole did, though. She had been patrolling out in the desert with a few of the Magisters along the temple’s borders for the last few months. The Ravagers were starting to appear in groups of ten now, sometimes a dozen. They were getting much closer to the temple than they ever had before. They hadn’t attacked the temple itself yet, but it almost seemed as if they were watching the activity there. Thole had started to wonder if they were sizing the place up for a large scale invasion, but why? What did the Ravagers want? What were they?
These were pointless questions to ask, however, as there were no answers to be had. They reached the entrance hall together and carried on to the courtyard, through the streets to the air lock, and finally in to the Savior hangar. Inside the Saviors was a safe haven from the heat, or the cold for that matter. They weren’t affected by temperature but they did seem to like it the higher in the sky the Coil was. It was thought that the Coil somehow reinvigorated the Saviors, making them more responsive and efficient.
Inside the hangar they each went to find a Savior. Thole found the Savior that she had claimed as hers. All Magisters have a designated Savior, and they had deemed that Thole should have one to call her own as well. Thole had become so in tune with her Savior that she could change its color. The plating that comprised the Saviors armor was normally black hole-like dark. Thole’s Savior had changed to a vibrant yet menacing blue in some places and a deep purple in others to match her hair. It gave her Savior a fearsome look and that’s just what she wanted.
Once the Saviors were awakened they headed out north towards the desert. Magister Cormin took point and Thole brought up the rear. “For now let’s head northwest. I want to see the specters.” The specters are what they had named the strange figures that appeared across the canyon. Nobody knew what they were or why they appeared. The only thing anyone knew was that a dozen or so had appeared three years ago, and all they’d done is stand perfectly still, never moving, never shifting. Just watching.
As they traveled they came upon a smaller group of Ravagers that they dispatched without much effort. For two centuries any time a Ravager would be killed they would be buried in the desert where they fell. The past few years had seen an end to that. It had become too risky to take your eyes off the surroundings even for a moment, let alone the time it took to dig a hole to bury a Ravager. Hundreds of shelled corpses now littered the desert. As they traveled northwest they would see a large, black egg laying in the sand. The eggs, Thole new, were the result of the unusual projectile the Saviors fired from their cannons when it struck a Ravager.
They continued on their course to the canyon. The wind was steady Thole lamented. It was a furious tempest of sand and pebbles blasting against them with no reprieve. Visibility was poor, even in the Saviors. If anything it almost seemed worse from fifteen feet in the air. Magister Cormin trudged forward, relentless in his desire to get to his destination. The Magister seemed to change once inside a Savior, Thole deduced. He became very quiet, determined, and almost robotic in his behavior. She had noticed that even Gray seemed to become more serious seeing the way the Magister was behaving. He was a man on a mission.
“We’re almost there now. We should come upon the large pack of Ravagers we killed a few nights back on a patrol. Once we find them it’ll be a short distance to the canyon.”
“What are we going to do once we’re there?” Thole had kept her questions to herself until now, preferring to continue to walk without distraction.
“We’re just checking on the specters, making sure there has been no change. Once we’ve confirmed that, we will take a different route back to the temple and hope to kill some more Ravagers before dinner time.”
Thole was satisfied with that. She didn’t like the way the specters made her feel. She remembered her brother telling her about them for the first time. He had been a mess that day; shaking in his bed, spouting something about finding a host before they killed him. She figured that he had just had a fever like he said, but it still left her feeling unsettled.
“HALT!” Cormin screamed. The party slowed and stood next to the Magister. “Something’s not right, they should be right here…” Cormin looked all around him looking for answers. “We’ll keep moving. Maybe it was closer to the canyon than I remember.” The group moved forward and before long Thole could see the canyon directly in front of them. She looked across to the other side and saw the specters through the sandstorm. She wasn’t sure how many there were but she thought there were more than last time. Cormin was whirling around, cursing the sands. “This bloody desert! Nothing ever looks the same from one day to the next. I must have veered us off track somewhere. Damn it!”
“It’s alright, Magister, calm yourself.” Branson eased towards the Magister. “We all know this desert very well, especially you. Even if we’ve moved off track we still accomplished our first mission. The specters are still standing over there, see?” Branson pointed towards the opposite side of the canyon. Cormin looked back across and studied what he saw.
“No, that’s not possible…” Cormin stumbled backwards, tripped in some loose sand and crashed to the ground.
“What is it, Magister?” Gray asked.
“That tree. That dead, mangled tree.” Magister Cormin pointed at a tall, dead tree that stood between two of the specters. “This is the same spot as before. This is where we killed all those Ravagers.”
“Alright, so where are they then?” Gray looked around. “It’s crazy windy out here, maybe they just got buried.”
“No, you fool! Don’t you see what’s happening?” Cormin stood back up and looked at Thole. “Would you say there are more of them over there than the last time you saw?”
Thole thought for a brief moment. “Yes, I would.”
“Do you see anything else over there? Anything different?”
Thole returned her gaze across the canyon. She saw the shapes of the specters like she did before. She saw the tree that Cormin had mentioned. And something else. She couldn’t quite make out what it was. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again, refocused on the scene on the other side. There were more shapes now, smaller ones beside the specters. Shorter, wider, there were two between each specter. The gusting had died down just enough for Thole to get a clear picture. The new shapes were large, oval shells. One of the specters, as if waiting for an audience, knelt down and placed a palm on the black egg. Within moments the large oval shell liquefied, spilling off to the sides, revealing the Ravager trapped inside. The Ravager lapped up the fluid that once was its prison, then moved beside a specter who just stood there, watching. The specter lowered its arm towards the ground. The Ravager nuzzled its hand and sat down, peering across the canyon. “That’s not possible…”
“We need to get back to the temple. Everyone must be told what is happening here.”
Branson was awash with confusion. “Wait, what’s going on here? Can you two fill us in, please? What’s over there?”
“Ravagers…” Thole looked over at Gray and Branson. “And Ravager corpses. The specters are controlling them, and….well….”
“What?” Gray and Branson asked simultaneously.
“…It looks like they’re reviving them…”