The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Twenty-Five
Posted April 7th, 2018 by maxi
in Erissa, Erilea, Westeros, The New York Institute, Roshar, Scadrial, New Chicago, Eye of the World, Metallica and Questeria
A/N: It's coming so close to the end of the book! I've still got a bit to write. I'm sure that my "a bit" will turn into 70,000 words but I'm trying to keep this book a bit shorter than Book 2's 260k, which was just insane.
Darren Gramsion still hadn’t gotten used to the fact that he was now residing in a tower of magic-users that had been debased and degraded—and all because of their powers.
Most of the Gifted had hailed from neighbouring nations, Clessa claimed, and had been introduced here by Queen Laina. King Casmir wasn’t so sure about having his Craitish Empire full of magic-users—which was reasonable, considering his history of such people—but the Queen had persuaded him to let the Tower belong to them as a sanctuary. A haven. A home.
And so it had been for the past five years. For five years, the Gifted had reigned in their Tower, always putting their magic to use in some way. Whether it be in battle, in research, or in speculation of the War to come, the residents’ Gifts most always were useful to the empire—and empires beyond.
Darren also hadn’t gotten used to the fact that Aegalsi was a mammoth. The island wasn’t as large as the mainlands, but it was favourable to magic-users, trade routes and other fascinating suppliers. With its lush forests, huge mountainous steppes covered with grass blades as high as the knee, and its preferable ramshackle towers and castles and strongholds, Aegalsi slowly began to feel like a familiar visit to the king. Whether or not he enjoyed the view, however, was not of great importance.
What was of importance—to both him and Hujin, who was now working in the kitchens as a mistress with Clessa and Leanor—was the legendary legion of soldiers King Casmir had brought. They were contained in the Craitish Empire itself while the lands beyond in Aegalsi were home to foreign tribes, long-lost people and other refugees from the king’s childhood.
It had been a sudden realisation to Darren that he’d better get used to the people, culture, coinage and other resources of the land. Ever since arriving in Aegalsi, it had taken a turn for the worse what with the Decaywrought’s invasion, the battle thereafter and the hurried steps they’d taken into the Tower. After some time had passed, Darren mulled over the recent events and began to settle in.
While Hujin handed out plates of meals to passing visitors, Darren bent over a voluminous book. He was seated in the desk adjacent to the four-poster bed that was propped against the bluestone wall. He’d had his head stuck in the book for some time, but it never became implanted in his head like other books had.
Perhaps there was just too much on his mind.
He sighed, his head full to the top with questions, as he studied the rough pages before him.
The page he studied spoke of the aspects of Aegalsi. There was a town called Guardskeep where all the finest soldiers trained, educated themselves and taught others. Far beyond was a distant tribe known as the Winds of Varene. He didn’t particularly think either of these subjects would help him delve into the political aspect of the Craitish Empire.
The two of them—he and Hujin—had been in a position of desperation and need for some time now. The need to reclaim the remnants of peace that remained. And the need to make a form of it.
Simply put, the Allegiance needed an army to back up what they already had. And, if King Casmir was willing to hand over at least one legion of his men, then perhaps there was some hope for them all.
“Bah,” Darren spat. Over his head with the knowledge coursing through him, he stood up from his seat and twirled around.
In front of him stood one of the Gifted. A female. Her shoulder-length auburn hair was the colour of copper, of rusted blood. Her eyes, night-black, were almost hidden by the cowl of the voluminous black cloak she donned. In her hand was a dagger. Although, upon seeing him, she sheathed it.
Her motions were too quick for Darren to see where the weapon had gone.
“You’re new,” she grumbled. Oh, that tone in her voice. It was sleek and dark and holding nothing back, nothing but viciousness and cruelty. He could definitely see her on the battlefield, on an expanse of death.
“And you’re observant,” he countered.
She scowled, “What are you doing here?” Cold and determined—he couldn’t put a finger on what her powers could consist of, however. Perhaps something to do with Death.
“There’s no need for you to find out. You’re new to me, and I don’t believe you should expect me to give you any answers.” He smirked, the corner of his mouth tugging upwards.
“You’re quick on your words.” She licked her lips. He could tell, in her eyes, in the way she strode slowly towards him, that she wanted a fight. And she wanted it now. “Perhaps you’ll reside well here in the Tower.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have any magic in me. Therefore, I might as well be as useless to you as the kitchen-hands.”
“At least you’re right on that part,” the girl said. Because she wasn’t a woman—no, she was a girl. Perhaps in her teenage years, this was a girl that he fought with. Verbal daggers hurt just as much as physical, however. Maybe even more so. And he would be careful. “Now get out of the Tower before I throw you from the balcony.”
But it didn’t necessarily seem like she would be.
“I’m sorry, but that’s not going to happen,” he said in response. This girl was really pushing his limits. His boundaries. He gritted his teeth, hatred pouring through every inch of his body. At some point, his Fury would leak through and erupt. He just hoped Hujin was in the clutches of someone safe when it happened.
At that moment, another woman slipped into the room. It was Clessa, her long, unbound dark hair shimmering like a wave of night. Her eyes were side as she took in what was before her.
Darren, suddenly cognizant of her arrival, bristled as he adjusted his tunic. Baggy, loose pants hung on his legs—courtesy of the scullery maids who’d given him the fine material.
“Well,” Clessa began, nodding her head to Darren. “I see you’ve met Giselle.”
Giselle, as if offended that Clessa had introduced the girl to the king, scoffed at her fellow Gifted friend. She made to turn for the door—but Clessa yanked down on Giselle’s arm, eliciting a growl from the mysterious girl.
“Get your hand off of me, Clessa,” she growled, rage rumbling deep in her eyes, “or I’ll let my shadows chase you out of the tower. Out with the man.”
“The man is a visitor of ours.” Clessa looked to Darren, then to Giselle. “A guest. I pray you don’t make the same mistakes I would’ve made in your youth, girl. It’ll be a world of hurt otherwise.”
“What are you saying?” Giselle seethed, gritting her teeth against the vehemence undoubtedly threatening to spill from her mouth.
“She’s saying,” Darren informed her, “that you shouldn’t hate me just because I’m new to this land. I am sure, truly sure, that there had been days where you were new to this land also, Giselle. Don’t let that memory fade away.”
Perhaps it was just a figment of his hopeful imagination, but the king saw a flash of golden light splay across Giselle’s murderously calm face. That was, of course, before she pulled from Clessa’s grasp and exited the room in the same sullen silence with which she’d entered.
“I’m sorry about her,” Clessa apologised, setting her gaze fixed on the King of Gramsion Island. “She doesn’t deal well with… strangers. If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you—”
Darren walked over to a nearby glass window. The window overlooked the large, grassy knolls beyond the empire as well as the mountains that lurked before him. He could see the mountainous statue of Ralryia, weapon pointed skyward, steel gleaming in the burnished light of day.
He observed all of this as he replied, “There’s no need to do that. I’ll be fine.” He smiled briefly at her. “I just needed to evaluate some of the history of your island, but… I’m not finding anything that’ll be of much help.”
“Much help to what?” Clessa asked, her light brown skin dull in the chamber’s light.
He sighed. “My companion and I—Hujin, her name is—we’re trying to build up an army of some sort. What with the Shadow King advancing the mainlands, we’re praying to all the gods that we’ll be safe but… Without an army, it doesn’t seem like that’ll be happening any time soon.”
“Ah,” Clessa said. Knowledge gleamed in those bright eyes, so unlike Giselle’s—the darkness in hers was unquestionable. “Well, I’d be glad to help but I haven’t any association with the Craitish Empire. And, ever since their dark ages, I don’t think I want any association.”
“Aren’t there any other kingdoms or rulers on the land?” Darren inquired. As he watched the horizon, arms braced on the windowsill before him, he stretched his back every which say.
Beside him, the woman shook her head. “There’s only King Casmir and his trustworthy queen. Of course, there are some lower lords—Lord Yazhu and Lord Saaga—but, as they reside near the tribes, they aren’t as… Well, they’re considered to be quite savage. Their domains are brutal and unyielding, some say.”
Wonderful. Well, there wasn’t as much chance shining for him in containing some of their armies in the mainlands of Questeria. As for Casmir, he’d see whether or not the king of the Craitish Empire could rely on him and Hujin to protect his men. Yes, Casmir would certainly know of the consequences of heading into war.
But there was some feeble challenge in the idea—the idea that there might be darker things ahead.
“Lord Yazhu and Lord Saaga don’t have alliances with one another, do they?” he asked of her.
She simply shook her head and answered, “No. Why do you ask?”
He lay his head down between his forearms as he pressed against the wall more firmly. “It’s not going to help the Allegiance,” he mumbled, “if our armies are not allied together. A divided nation is a nation that cannot survive.”
Clessa blew out a long breath, almost as if she had understanding of this lodged into some secret part of her mind. “I can agree to that. Well, Darren, if it wouldn’t bother you… I’d like to show you around to the mess hall. Maybe there you can meet some residents who are more… close to Aegalsi. Get some advice?”
“How can I know they trust me with my plans like you do?”
She answered, with a wink, “Who ever said I trust you?”
And with that, she turned around and headed out the door, not even glancing back to see him trail behind her.
The moment Giselle Davis strode into the mess hall—the third level of the Tower—she noticed the newcomer sitting at the end of the left long column table.
Rage—burning and cataclysmic—poured through every inch of her body, but she soaked it up and willed it down into her bones until it was nothing but a smouldering crater.
Even looking at him sent chills down her spine. Not of fright. No. Of wickedness.
To be faithfully honest, she wasn’t particularly sure what it was about him that unnerved her. They always had foreigners come in from distant lands, but never ones as brave and flawless as he. Perhaps that was the reason for her unending horror—Darren’s flawlessness.
There was not one speck, not one splatter of dishonour on the man. If there had ever been such a thing upon him, it would’ve been too soon for her to leap out of the top floor of the Tower. Straight down to the warm embrace of Death.
The mess hall was a simple room—two long column tables set on either side of one another. To the far left was a bar where the barkeep was wiping down any stains that had been left by staggering near-drunks. On the far right was a section where the Gifted played billiards in their spare time. It was a useless excuse for a room, however. Why would they focus on billiards when they could focus on the Gifts, the main reason they were here?
Inwardly, Giselle shook her head. Especially as Leanor sat down adjacent to her with the same meal they had every day for midmorning lunch: a hunk of blue cheese, two piece of chewy flatbread and a goblet of water from everywhere the gods pissed.
Leanor leaned forward and whispered, “So, what do you think of him?”
Giselle was contemplating hauling her cutlery across the room and into Darren’s self-righteous face, but she merely said aloud, “No need to whisper. He knows damn well what I think of him.”
“Oh, it’s like that,” Leanor said, a light chuckle on her breath. “I didn’t expect such violence from you today.” Testing her—she was testing her.
“Don’t use your wit on me, Leanor,” she grumbled back. “I’m not in the mood today… Have you seen Aldrik at all? I haven’t caught a whiff of him.”
“You’re worried for Aldrik?” the woman snapped in exasperation. “You have feelings today, you’re violent. You’re changing. What has the world come to?”
That was it. That was enough. She kept a tight, tight leash on her temper, but… “If you push me one more time, Leanor, I’m going to make sure Clessa makes you run Stagnant. Maybe that’ll teach you to keep your mouth shut around me.”
Leanor sucked in a breath, annoyance and anger passing through her teeth. It was one of the foulest things Giselle had ever said, but it had been worth it.
Stagnant—the term that any Gifted knew… and feared. It was undeniably possible for a teacher of the Gifted to pull the magic away from the user. They merely had to chain the user to the Ralryian Steppes on the coast of eastern Aegalsi and, from there, let the gods do their work. Let them pull, pull, pull the magic from the soul.
It was torture in its brutal, dark ways—and it had killed many Gifted before them, before their generation.
Face crimson, Leanor swallowed, then said, “Aldrik is in the infirmary.”
Shit, Giselle thought.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
What had he done now? Had he gone to hunt down the demons just to intentionally infuriate her? Had he gone to visit his father for his monthly wages and come back with bruises?
Seeing as she had every right to find out, seeing as she was the only one who gave a gods-be-damned shit about Aldrik, she pushed from her seat at the table and stalked out of the mess hall.
As she left the mess hall, entering the ascending staircase in which torches were held in steel braces, she left with thoughts on her mind. Thoughts of Darren, the way he’d yelled at her, the way she’d yelled back. Thoughts of how he’d looked at her, taken her in like some dark enemy.
Good. It was good that he thought of her as a threat. At least then she wouldn’t have to be afraid of any monsters lurking in the darkness of Aegalsi. Although Lordsgate was full of light, there was always the sense of something watching you.
Her steps were heavy as she made her way up the stairs. The sound of her boots slapping against stone echoed throughout the staircase. Firelight flickered against her hair, casting it a bloody orange.
She’d lived in the Tower long enough to know of its mysteries and anarchies. However, the origins of the immortal building… She’d never deigned to know such things, for fear crept through her. The fear of not being good enough to understand. To know all that there was to know of the past—and how it would influence the future.
By the time she came to a mahogany door, marked with the word Infirmary, she could already hear the hissing, the groans coming out of Aldrik’s mouth.
Her heart thundered in her chest. Gods. Gods, he was alive. If he hadn’t been, she would’ve made damn sure she plummeted him into the fiery realms of Hell.
She opened the door, leaving her rage checked and abandoned. Calm poured over her face, an emotionless glance as she swept her eyes over the room and to the three beds on either side of the room.
Since there weren’t many of the Gifted, there had been no reason to let too many into the infirmary. In fact, the only person in the room was Aldrik. Automatically, Giselle assumed the healer—Salimah—was in one of the herb rooms, cooking up some poultice or rather for her ever so foolish patient.
His green eyes glimmered, gleamed as she came closer to him.
The infirmary was set up like the mess hall—in the middle was an aisle; on the left and right sat three beds. At the end of the room was a stand where a desk sat with scattered papers, poultices, herbs and other vital ingredients.
Aldrik lay upright in the far left bed, a silent smirk on his face. He didn’t seem to be in much pain, but there had to be a reason why he was here.
Or perhaps fate led Giselle here, twisting on their threads so she wouldn’t have to face Darren once more.
But, as Giselle sat on the end of his bed without a word, he hissed in pain. It didn’t appear to be excruciating, but it was pain nonetheless.
The boy, merely fifteen, had been sent to his father once every month. His father, Lord Saaga, was their main coinage supplier and had made Aldrik flee from the family’s house once he realised Aldrik had magic. But that was what the Tower was there for—pained, injured, newfound magic-users coming from distant or near lands to seek refuge. To have shelter for both themselves and their magic.
And, since Lord Saaga had not a kingdom but a court to look after, he always had some bout of coin in his coffers. It seemed that Aldrik had attempted to sway his father into supplying the Tower with more money than necessary, receiving Aldrik with a solid blow to the face.
While Giselle wasn’t all that surprised at this turn of events, her heart swelled for the boy who she’d been told to help, to guide, to follow in his footsteps. A companion. Something that Ca’daren would never have.
She groaned underneath her breath before leaning over to prod and assess the stringy fabric pressed upon his eye.
“Stop that,” he ordered, his voice untamed and wild. He had always been such a fierce, passionate boy. The passion in his voice had seemed to darken every time he wound up flat on his ass in the infirmary after a trip to Lord Saaga.
“You cannot let him bully you around anymore,” Giselle said, her own voice straining at the sight of him. “Gods be damned, Aldrik, you’ve got to stop doing this. Send someone else.Anyone.”
“The only person he trusts in this Tower is me, Giselle. I can’t let him think otherwise.”
“Why?” The question lingered on her lips, leaving a dark stain that she didn’t think anyone could wash away. “Why not?”
“Because I don’t want anyone to get hurt the way I do,” he admitted, pushing away from her grasp. “Because I don’t want to see you or Clessa or even Leanor hurt the way I do. It’s too much for me to bear already and, if it happens, I can’t promise you that he’ll let me stay in the Tower.”
“He banished you from his home. Your home.” As much as he winced and cringed at those dark memories, she continued, “He wouldn’t let you come back after that.”
“He would if it meant corrupting everything I live for. Everything I work for. My magic doesn’t run as deep and as powerful as yours. It can easily be Stagnant. Anyone can do it to me—even my father. I just haven’t seen the true potential he has.” Pain shone in his eyes, the smirk wiped away along with the remnants of happiness that had been there when he’d seen her. When he’d seen Giselle walk through the threshold of the infirmary.
“What about Lord Yazhu?” she asked. “Can’t he help us? He’s got to be as wealthy as your father if they both keep up similar tribes in their courts.”
It seemed that way. It truly did, indeed. But everything was changing.
Hope only grew as long as you had faith—and, once that was lost, there was no looking back from the darkness ahead.
“I’m not sure,” Aldrik responded, twisting his mouth to the side. “Lord Yazhu and I haven’t the best relationship. Of course, I’m certain it’s a better relationship than with my father. But we can’t trust people we don’t completely know, Giselle. We just can’t.”
It was settled, then. The decision nestled into her mind as she said, “Then that’s that. We invite Lord Yazhu over to the Craitish Empire. I have to visit the empire, anyway. King Casmir informed me of the mystic threat hanging over Aegalsi, over Questeria. A storm is coming, Aldrik, and I must attend to it.”
“So, what? You’ll do the King’s dirty work, match up to his standards, and then we’ll convince Lord Yazhu to be our moneymonger?”
“It seems that way, doesn’t it?” Light pulled on her chest, burning and relishing in happiness. Somehow, Aldrik’s joking sense of humour and his darkness always brought wonderment into her soul. “I’d best be off to tell Clessa of the journey I intend to begin. Although I have a feeling she might want me to bring Darren and his friend along—if not to either aggravate me or to let them get a feel of Aegalsi. Of the empire.”
“Darren?” he asked, raising a brow.
“Have you met him?”
“I’m not sure. Father’s meddled with my thoughts after the brawl I got into with him,” he confessed. Another blow right to his, to her heart.
Murder. She was going to truly murder him the next time she got her hands on Lord Saaga. It would be benign enough to end his existence—but it would be malevolent enough to make him suffer whilst it happened.
“I want to join you,” Aldrik added. “You and whoever comes along.”
“Aldrik…” Her voice trailed off, implying that there was danger in him coming along after a true beating.
“I’m not going to let you go off without me there. Ca’daren. You promised her that you would take care of me, that I would take care of you. Do you really want to anger her rotting carcass?”
The thought of it sent a spear of nostalgic pain right through her heart, ramrod straight. And yet, her back stiffened and slumped as Giselle said, “Alright. But if you mess this up, it’ll be me going to the butcher’s block, all right? The next time you get yourself hurt, I’ll come running to whoever pounds your ass.”
He chuckled and replied, “Yes. Of course, Your Majesty.”
She rolled her eyes. “Just be ready before noon tomorrow. If I’m any later than that, Casmir will be dragging my ass to the grave.”
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