Princes of Purt:
It was a game, a demonstration of power that Shannon had no choice but to play. It had worked this way when he had taken back Norwood and again when he had returned from the barrier lands. He simply could not be awake and working long enough to rule on his own. Most of his time was spent in traces, woken up only when he had to be.
Umren had proven himself capable and trustworthy to handle things and he continued to do so. Not even Oirion knew how much Shannon had to lock himself away, but the emperor certainly felt it when he wasn’t locked away inside his own mind. It was where he should have been right now, certainly with Oirion in the city, but he kept slipping from his sanctuary to dreams and those were filled with nightmares that he had to force himself to wake from.
He slipped from the palace down to the tavern. There he could recover without being bothered by the politics of the court. More than once Tyra’Ara had pushed his temper dangerously close to the breaking point. She was lucky to be alive, and yet she did not understand that. She challenged him at every turn; he was getting very tired of her. Her manner would not be tolerated much longer. If she was not exactly who she was, he would have sent her away at very least.
Having felt her coming near, he had simply slipped away. He changed into the clothes of Rellen and tried to calm his nerves as he made his way to the tavern. There was a storm brewing; it would come soon.
Oirion’s attack on the Guardians meant Shannon was not under threat of an attack from them, but it had not removed the shields built on the wells or repaired the lines of Kingship magics. As long as the lines were not broken, light and heat flowed for the people of the city, but where they were broken they were like bleeding holes.
Under Tavia’s direction, the lines of magic had been steadily repaired, which helped, but it seemed too little too slowly. Power had been restored to many courtyards, helping to maintain gardening temperatures. Many estates and inns had made gardening yards with this new option. It had taken a hint of burden of the food needs off of the trade lines, but Ulam Bac had over a million civilians living full-time in the city, plus visiting nobles, the army, and whoever was in the harbor.
More people came in every day, desperate for safety and homes. The calming of the storms had slowed the exodus from the outlying villages, but still people flowed in and there was no more trade than there had been. Food was scarce and going to get worse. Shannon had to bring the Barrier down and that thought, that drive, haunted him wherever he went.
A gust of charged wind rushed through the yard and up the street he followed. Pulling his hood up, he tried not to respond to the storm or to the crisis that the empire was slipping into. He could not hope to hold onto the entire empire. Even as kingdoms, one by one, began to turn to him, civil wars still went on. He didn’t have the great army of emperor past. Even with the lost army returned, he was short. Those of that generation still able to function were not really able to be in the military. He had made most of those former soldiers into teachers or trade route guards. His own parents were among those not able to be used by the empire. He had put them both in a small estate outside the city. There they could hide away and recover or not, but to do it in peace. There, at very least, his small brother was safe to be a child and not be under the watch of the court at all times.
He entered the tavern and made his way through the evening crowd to the bar. Mia nodded to him through her work. He waited quietly while she served the last few drinks and set to making his. He took it, slipping the coins into her hand. She smiled and moved away from him, back to work.
He tried not to notice the hint of emotion from her or the strength of her energy. Like many, she had been born to be a wizard, but due to Gerome’s laws, she had to work to hide it. Now, as an adult she was learning to master her ability, going to classes every other day. It was the best he could offer… there were so many, with so few teacher and fewer he dared trust.
He could still feel the energy of the girl whom he had touched with his bare fingers. He moved to a seat that had become empty at the bar. He kept his hood up. It was crowded tonight and he didn’t want anyone to come over and mention how like the emperor he looked. He might cast up a bit of magic to make himself seem to vanish or to appear as someone else, but he was already running low. He didn’t know the full extent or the limits of what Travis had done besides healing his flesh into true skin and organs again… and he didn’t want to know fully.
The assumption so many made was that he was a mortal man again… and that was wrong. He knew very well he was still a vampire, among other things, but at least his skin was flexible and no longer a mass of scar and pain. Physical pain was all but gone, but it just left him able to be aware of the emotional and mental pains he endured.
He sipped the drink that would help quiet some of the main worries in his head. The liqueur would help numb the discomfort of the storms and silence the energies about him. Unable to stop thinking about the touch to his bare fingertips, he had to wipe his hand on the bar to be rid of the temptation.
He needed a Von Armond, the blood of a von to open the doorway into the chamber with the barrier stone, and there just weren’t any. With his father being denounced, his brother didn’t hold the Von Armond blood and his own son was a Von Shannon. Dave might work, but there was just no way Shannon could do that; he simply could not risk the chance that Dave might work and find out that he didn’t. He took another drink, held it in his mouth a moment, then swallowed.
Elliott had given up the bloodline and all its powers to save his son and hide him from the elves who had come for his wife. There just was no Von Armond. Armond himself had likely lost his divinity. If he returned ever again, it would most likely be as a man like all others. How many of the angels had slipped away into history in the same way? How many were left? Shannon took another drink as thoughts spun about in his head, straining and wearing him down, but sleep and dreaming was even worse. He stood from his seat, leaving the cup on the counter. He turned to go and slipped past several people before he was stopped by Mai.
“Can I talk to you?” she asked.
He wanted out, but she seemed troubled and like she truly needed to talk to someone. He let her lead him from the thickest part of the crowd to the foot of the staircase that led up to where the workers lived. It was quieter there and cooler. She drew a deep breath and let it out. “I know that you know a lot about magic. I can’t see your shields, but I can’t see your aura, either, so…” she took a deep breath again, “I asked my teacher and she just sort of played it off and ignored me.”
“What?” he asked her.
“When it is quiet here, mostly in the early afternoon, a woman comes in. She is very pretty in an almost human sort of way, but I think she is fully Purtan. She is wearing an old style uniform of a naval officer – I looked it up – and she orders a drink. She seems to be in a good mood and almost as if she is expecting someone. The first time I thought she had slipped out to use the privy or something. But the next time she left her drink again, and every time after that. She just vanishes and leaves the drink. There is no formal navy right now. All we have is the enlisted navy under King Tydavrelle. I began to think that she was playing a trick on me, that someone had put her up to it. A few times she even talked to me of things a little. It was always when I was alone, though, until recently. I have seen her in the crowd, talking to others, but they don’t seem to see her and she is still wearing her uniform. I feel like I’m going crazy.”
“I can think of three things that might be happening,” he said to her honestly. “One is that one of the Lost Army is projecting themselves into old habits and things familiar and you are seeing that projection. Another is that you are seeing a ghost or phantom. Third is that you are being messed with. I seriously doubt it would be by anything really dangerous.”
“Should I worry about it?”
“No,” he said. “I think that you should just play along and treat her as anyone else. Find out who she is; maybe it will aid her in whatever condition she is in. There is a branch of magic within what is grouped as telepathy that allows some to see the emotional projections of souls as the souls were. Often that is to see the death or torture of another replayed, or moments of great passion, but I am not sure this is what you are seeing. If it was, she would be replaying a moment of great emotion.”
“What if she was waiting for a lover and that was what she kept thinking about while in stone?”
“Possibly. Don’t be afraid. If it is something dark, your lack of fear will make you less interesting.”
“I have another question,” she said after a moment. “I have heard a rumor that the Elites are not forbidden the normal activity of people. They are allowed to have partners and can do all the things every one does… eat, drink, all that. Is that true?”
“There are four levels; if you reach the top two, your freedoms increase. Yes, they can, at that point, choose to do certain things within very strict rules.”
“But the Elites here are of that level… right?”
The fact the Elites were all vampires was not a widely known truth, but it was true. Having a dark power in his control was not something he needed the people to know about. The less they questioned him, the better.
“Most any Elite in Ulam Bac would be of extremely high a level. Few would choose to cross those lines. Lines are in place for a reason. Why?”
“I’m just trying to understand things. I need to understand what is real, what is just my mind, and what is magic, and where it falls in the lines of holy or not.” She drew in a deep breath and let it out. “Ever since she showed up, as close as I can recall, I have had dreams… of a vampire,” she said with implications of what sort of dreams. “Is that part of her or just chance? Is it magic or is it just stray thoughts?”
He moved her to the closest table so they could sit down. He could feel her true and deep concern. She was a little excited about it all, but more scared than not. She needed help and didn’t know who else to talk to about it. He could taste her frustration and that was never good. They sat at a small table in the back corner.
“How many of these dreams do you have?”
“Almost nightly now,” she admitted. “They scare me; it’s not at all scary during the dream, but…”
“Ever about anyone else?”
“Oh, sure,” she tried to laugh, “but not so often now. Everyone has dreams, but these are different.”
“Does he change or is he the same one every time?”
He leaned back thinking about it. “Could you describe him?”
“If what you are seeing is a replay, she might have met him here and died at such a meeting. If that is true, it needs to be dealt with.”
“I doubt that is the case,” she said.
“Why?” he asked her.
“It’s you,” she said.
He leaned back in the chair, not expecting that. She had no reason to think he was a vampire, let alone know it. That was very odd. Why would she dream such a thing; he might understand stray dreams, but not the sort that would leave her so upset. He didn’t know what to think about it at all.
“That’s odd,” was all he could think to say. He wiped at the stubble he had grown, trying to think. “I hate to ask, but can you tell me any other details? Anything stand out?”
She scowled a little, trying to think.
“Same place? Same time? Is it an exact dream?” he asked her.
“It’s always different,” she said. “Different places, different times… why would I dream you were a vampire?”
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Have you told anyone else about it?”
“Not about the dreams. After being ignored about the woman, I thought it would be pointless. Maybe there is an Elite who has a leaky shield? Could that be it? Might his actions be so strong that I am just sort of empathically picking them up?”
“Maybe,” Shannon lied. There was no way. Such things were about a vampire drawing in energy; nothing was left to leak out. “For now try to think of them as separate things. Don’t be scared of either. If you dream again, try to see things, anything that can help you have clues to it all. I will have someone come and look to see if you have a hidden branch of magic – someone who can help you if that is the case.”
She nodded. “Thank you,” she said with a hint of relief. “It’s early though; you don’t have to go.”
He smiled at her hint. “I don’t think my wife would be so happy if I stayed,” he said standing. “I’ll do what I can to help you figure out what is going on,” he promised and turned to go. He was brought up short.
“There she is…” Mai said even as he saw her. His heart stopped as he saw her standing in the crowd. She saw him, smiled and moved to make her way over, but from behind one person to the next, she was gone.
Mai grabbed his arm. “Did you see her?” she asked. “She was right there.”
“I saw her,” he said softly.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “She certainly didn’t die here. If you get a chance, talk to her. I’ll be back later.” He left at once, feeling ill. He needed to get away, away from all the people, all the noise, and all the thoughts. He rushed out the door and right into a storm.
Lightning cracked down with so much power it made his hand feel as if it was set on fire. He swore and slammed up more shielding against the magic storms. He jerked his hood up more and moved. He knew his hand was bleeding and if his blood escaped his gloves it might react with the storm. Holding it inside his coat pocket in a fist, he moved up the street as fast as he could.
Another bolt struck so close it, made his eyes burn and skin prickle with the heat. He had no choice but to run for the nearest sacred place. He cut up an alley and down a street, raced across a park to a small church. He ducked inside the door and closed it behind him.
At least here his blood would burn away and not add to any warping. He moved though the inner doors to the sanctuary. He took a seat in a pew at the back of the church. It was a small poor church with painted windows that showed clerics and Hunters.
At the back of the inner sanctum was a statue. Lit by candles, he saw himself portrayed as Saint Tyredelle. It made his stomach twist a little. He bowed his head and wished his hand would stop bleeding, that the pain would go away. He remained with his head bowed until a monk came and sat beside him. He looked over at the man.
He was a cleric clearly. His hands were callused with weapon work, his body thick and strong from long training. He drew a slow deep breath. Slowly he looked over to show that his eyes were scarred white from a magic attack. The man was blind.
“When I was a young man I served God in Northern Dacan. I skirted the Wilder Lands and fought monsters that were of nightmares and protected those along the borders. Then people began to come to me for aid. They were being arrested, taken, attacked. I moved to aid them and found it was the church who was doing it. I tried to pull my ring off. I was mortified to be any part of what was happening, but it didn’t come off,” he sighed heavily.
“I turned against the church. I fought for the innocent and helpless and against all forms of darkness, often killing those who claimed to priests. They called me rogue, sent demons to hunt me. I fled south to the jungles and found even there the church had a grip… a dark grip…” He was quiet a moment. “They caught me. They sought to break me and make me into something dark. Of all to aid me, it was a Ta’Zan caravan. They attacked and they took me from there. They healed me and allowed me to recover. I slowly learned to use magic to see. I made a life as a beggar by day and a hunter by night. Then Gerome was dethroned and I came home. The abbot put me here. I was to hear confessions and such.” He folded his hands in his lap. “I have tried to get to the palace. I have tried to get to the pontiff to tell him what I have heard. My friends from Dacan have kept in touch with me and for it I have given them gifts that can only be gained in Purt by a priest.” He smiled a little. “Seems God is not upset at what I have done.” He lifted his face to a strike of lighting that struck so close it made several windows rattle in the walls. “I prayed for a way to relay the information. It seems that whatever angels we have left helped to guide you here.”
“And who I am to be guided?” Shannon asked.
The priest looked over. “I see you clearly, in the way that I now see everyone,” he looked at Shannon. “Only one soul is going to appear that way to me. I know who you are. I know what you are,” he added.
“Raz has awaken,” he went on. “The temple fires have been lit. The tribes of priests have begun to try to honor her, but without understanding and many false cults have begun to appear. The holy places are being overrun by serpents. Sand storms pour out of the dessert, covering the cities and killing jungle lands. A prophet has begun to cry out for peaceful prayer unto Raz. To call her by the name of ‘Mother.’ He says she is angry and hurt, but still loves, that they must just remind her of that.”
“Lovely,” Shannon said softly. Things were going bad to worse.
“The prophet sends you word.”
“Yes, you,” the cleric smiled. “I was told you would come here. I have been waiting and praying. He says it is not Raz who shows him, but a goddess of the ocean that he does not know. He says to tell you that you must go before the elven attack on Ulam Bac. If you are here when they arrive, you will fail to bring the Barrier down. He says that you know this in your heart, but fear you have lost the needed element.”
“The line of Von Armond is dead. I cannot open the gate.”
“He says something will be taken from you. You must leave Ulam Bac and follow it. Resolution will come. Go where you need to go; many gods work to bring to you that which is needed. You must find faith again and surrender to trust.”
Shannon actually laughed. “Find faith? I never lost faith; I am well aware of the powers that be.”
“You lost the faith that the Powers That Be love you and that it has all happened for a reason. Oh… and he said something about the… face of the lost will be revealed and the namesake shall be the name… what ever that means,” he shrugged.
They sat together in silence as the storm pounded and rain lashed down on the church. The little candles burned and they waited. It was nearing dawn when the storm slacked off and Shannon rose. The priest stood as well and stepped out of his way.
The blind man looked at Shannon a long moment. “Many magics and many powers work toward the end of the age and toward the next. The last age ended, not by the mortal deaths of the angels, but by the death of Malkazadon. He was killed in the desert by Kufrah. His death was what shattered the glass fields and created the white sand. The power was so terrible it turned Kufrah into the gatekeeper of the dead. Malkzadon was denied heaven, his heart put on the altar of Raz. She took it up and put it in the chest of a monkey and sent him out. Immortal, he was trapped in the flesh of a beast. That is what they say in Ta’Zan. That is also why the priesthood of Ta’Zan will eat monkey meat raw, but dry the hearts and put them in potions. It is also why elves will not kill monkeys.
“The priesthood of Raz have the monkey tattoo on their left wrist. It is the left hand she used to put the heart into the monkey. If the priest is true the tat will be red, if not it will be but ink.”
Shannon looked at the blind priest and nodded. “I don’t know how much that will matter to me, but it’s interesting.”
“All magic has good and bad. You of all souls know that. I honor that…,” he pointed to the statue at the front, “not for the books and efforts of a man five thousand years ago, but for the efforts and actions of the man today.”
“Well, maybe we shall pray that what is needed is provided. I must go home now.”
“Follow what is stolen,” the cleric pleaded. “You will know.”
Shannon left the man to walk home in the cold drizzle, wondering how Raz was going to react when she came fully awake and knew he was the emperor of Purt. It promised to be ugly. Maybe he should talk to Kelly.
“Who is Kufra?” Shannon asked Kelly. Kelly looked up from the very odd lunch they were having. Shannon had never joined her for meal. He was having a meal of several shrimp and clams with a bit of green something. She had chosen to eat as the farmers would, a thick cabbage stew, full of roots and bits of dried meats.
Today the young guards known as Derek and Hunter were there, serving the meal in some sort of training effort Jamie had set for them. Tavia was there with Valen, her focus on the child alone. She didn’t say a word at all or even look at Shannon. Salma was there as well, just picking at her food.
“Kufra is said to be an Aveh Ren orc god. He started the war, or it is hinted at. That when Raz turned him down, he got angry and found the man that Raz was taken with and killed him. Cut his heart out and gave it to Raz. To save him, she stuck the heart in the closest body, that of a monkey. When she looked away, though, she lost track of what monkey he was and when the priesthood was tricked into slaughtering monkeys for her, she thought him dead and flew into a rage and launched the war against Avah Ren.”
“You say that like you don’t believe it,” Shannon said.
“I don’t,” she said. “I think it is neither that simple nor that innocent. I think he may well have killed some one and she likely made him a monkey, but out of grief and love? I don’t think so. I know that wasn’t why the war started.”
“Why did it?”
“Malkazadon told her to stop teaching things or he would be forced to stop her if she didn’t. She killed him, or had him killed. She would not be told ‘no’ and wanted to make all the world hers. She hated the angels and what she deemed arrogance, and she wanted the whole world to know the ‘truth’ of their lacking powers. No great love involved.”
“Could it be Malkazadon she killed and turned into a monkey?” he asked.
“It could be,” she said.
“Who would know if not you?” Salma asked.
“The Old Ways hold truths that were not taught. Some things were just not spoken of and as for the relationship between her and the other powers of old, it was not a thing of the moment. It was the magic of day and the needed magics for current wars that was important.”
“The monkey tat on the left wrist,” Shannon said softly. “When do you gain it?”
Kelly shifted uneasily. “Why? Does it matter?”
“I would not ask if it did not matter.”
Kelly took a bite, clearly uncomfortable. “When a sacrifice made by your hand is accepted by Her, the ink turns red and shimmers in firelight.”
“What does it stand for?”
Kelly looked at him and setting her fork down she studied him, trying to put it all together as to why it would matter.
“The priesthood of old was turned into several sorts of monkeys and banished from her temples when they failed her. It means you are a priest, but also warns you that she has little mercy for the weak and no compassion for those who fail her.”
They ate a bit more with the young men serving them. Both mothers tried not to look at their sons or see how much older they looked. In the few months they had served Jamie, they had been changed from young teens to men. They both seemed strangers to their mothers.
“The temples are awake,” Shannon said softly. “The holy places are filling with serpents. Cults are buildings out of fear and desperation. Self-proclaimed priests are making sacrifices in her name.”
Kelly looked up at him. “That is a very bad idea.”
Kelly wiped her bowl with a bit of bread and ate it slowly. She took a deep drink of wine.
“I can go back, appeal to them, something… I don’t know, Shannon. It is not a blood cult; she will be furious if they are murdering in her name.”
“You can’t go back. I need you for the Barrier,” he said. “You know that.”
“If they anger her further….”
“She will take it out on you the moment you are not within my protection and you know it. You can’t go.”
She took another drink of wine. “She will attack Purt. She will crush the false and throw them at us. She will use the storms and any enemies we may have to crush Purt.”
Shannon nodded. “What if a truly devout man appealed for the priesthood?”
Kelly shook her head. “No man. She will take no man as a high priest.”
“Hmm. I think she is petty and has changed her stories, seeing how pathetic a goddess she is.” Shannon pushed the plate away. “She is a greedy little princess. She needs to have her own heart ripped out. She needs to fall in love and be betrayed by her own rules.” He stood.
“I really am not impressed with her at all. It is just not a good time for me to take on another war. I am losing my tolerance for politics and that is not a good thing for anyone.” He turned and left the room, a bit annoyed.
“He is upset,” Salma said.
“Very,” Tavia said softly, gathering her son into her arms.
“That’s not a good sign, Tavia. The last time he was this upset, he was about to warp an entire chunk of a map. He is going to get real violent real soon.”
“He knows,” Tavia said, not looking at her friend.
“Can’t you do something to help him?”
“Like what?” she asked.
“I don’t know… make him a cup of tea.” Salma said, frustrated herself.
“What’s wrong with you?” Kelly asked the little woman.
“I’m… I haven’t had enough affection,” Salma almost pouted.
“Well, go get some,” Tavia said. “Your moodiness is not going to help Shannon, either.”
Salma huffed. “I can’t. It’s against the rules here. I can’t just change clothes and become someone else. I can’t just go play around.”
“Go ask the regent,” Tavia said. “He’ll give into you with enough effort. It’d be good for you both.”
She huffed and stood up. “Maybe I’ll go ask Gallus.”
“Maybe,” Kelly chuckled.
“Dave is in the harbor; he’ll help you out if you explain.” Tavia said.
Salma turned and stormed out.
Kelly sighed heavily and leaned back in the chair, tossing her napkin to the table. “I don’t understand why it matters? He pulled in a lot of very small things.”
“The full honor of priesthood is not a small thing,” Tavia said.
“If she did kill Malkazadon, why wouldn’t she claim it and be proud of it? Why also would other races have prophesies about him?” Kelly tried to understand.
“Why would she allow her high priestess to be betrayed, brutalized, and crushed? Why would she punish her chosen and thus her own religion? I imagine the motives are the same, or very similar.”
“Hmm,” Kelly grunted. “I’ll have to think about it. It’s been a long time since I kept up on such stories. Maybe I am just forgetting something.”
“Or maybe she made you forget things you once knew.”
“Maybe.” Kelly stood up, looked at her son a moment, bowed her head to him and left the room.
Tavia stood with her son. “You two did very well,” she said to them.
They stayed to clean up and then reported back to Jamie. They barely got back when Jamie took them to another cellar in need of purifying.
Zou couldn’t sleep. He just needed to walk. He went back to the imperial side of the palace grounds, wanting to look closer at some of the ancient lines carved into every walls. There was a place on a section of lower wall where endless knots were carved in far deeper than other places. They were not where the light flowed, but were just art. He wanted to look at them again.
He walked along the section of the hall wall until he found them, then knelt down to look closer and trace the lines with his fingers. It was oddly comforting and reminded him of the time he had spent with his mother in the deserts of Dacan. As he was looking, he saw something he had not seen before. All of a sudden, in the knots and lines, he saw what looked like an artistic style monkey trapped in the cords of a rope. His heart was clearly cut out in the center of each set of three knots.
He was thinking just how odd that was when he felt something out of place. He turned to see three men walking up the hallway. One of them had two small boys and another carried a third child. Each boy was slumped in far too deep a state to be right. Zou rose to his feet, every bit of him going on alert at once. This was wrong, very wrong. It took only a moment to register that they had the three boys: Keeden, Valen, and Rajak. Valen tried to lift his head, but failed.
Zou had little choice but to step in the way and put his hands on the hilt of his sword.
“I seriously doubt those belong to you,” he said.
The third man moved at once to attack him. Zou threw an elemental at him and ducked past to drive his sword into the gut of the man who held Keeden. He grabbed the boy, jerking him away as he forced the sword sideways to spill guts over the floor. The man screameddoubling over in pain.
Zou slipped on the guts he had spilled, kept the prince out of it, but hit hard. He swung his sword at the ankles of the man who held Valen and Rajak. The man shouted, stumbled, but kept going. Shouting for guards, Zou gained his feet and ran after the man. He knew there was no way these men had planned to take the boys out the gates, so they had to have a Gate or some such thing on the palace grounds and close.
He slammed his shoulder into the man as they reached a garden door. The man stumbled and fell, both boys under him. Zou let go of Keeden to grab the man by the hair, jerking him back and slitting his throat, without putting the two boys in danger. All three of them started to cry. Zou pushed the man aside to gather up the three boys, trying to comfort them. He was just standing up when three more men rushed out of the palace halls. They didn’t even slow at the sight of the dead men. Zou scrambled back, unable to redraw his sword with the boys in his arms.
Behind him he felt a power begin to grow. He shouted as he saw a wolf streaking across the yard. He expected her to spin and aid him, but she didn’t. She leapt right into him. The magic that hit him was staggering and left him blind and breathless. He was grabbed and then he was staggering back onto uneven ground. He was slammed to a wooden floor. Still blind, he struggled to focus, but everything was black. He felt a sharp prick to his arm and then silence swallowed him.
End part 8 edits