The ancestors wanted their Magics back safely in their own corporeal arms. And that meant that the Book of Pattegon had to be stolen from the Inner Council itself. Which in turn meant that a little bit of chaos had to be created.
(Rating: 15, Warnings: violence, graphic imagery, Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure) Featured Image Credit: Panoramas, Flickr
Everald watched as the Raels and their cohorts filled into the Inner Sanctum, and wishes she knew how to kill someone.
Maybe not kill, Everald thought, just knock some sense into them.
Today was the day of the Inner Council, where the Raels of all the Regions, both Inner and Outer had come together to see the presentation of the Book of Pattegon, one of the books from the Old Age which taught the user how to tap into the Magics that had not been seen for years. Many Raels had been taught the basics of Magics, like those to tell them that their food had been poisoned or a person was telling a lie. However, those Magics were nothing like the Book of Pattegon, which had secrets from the Mysteries which told of humans who could talk to one another via their minds and people who could resurrect the dead. Many of the books had been lost in the Region War, which had caused the fractious split of a once great kingdom into hundreds of smaller Regions, each one governed by its own Rael.
“Looks like we’ve got a good turnout today, M’lady,” Hogap commented next to her, his nasally voice distinct against the background of murmuring discussion that echoed through the cavernous sanctum. Hogap was one of the few Politicians that Everald trusted in the Sanctum, having trusted his advice and guidance since she had applied to be a Politician all those years ago.
“Please don’t call me that,” Everald said, “my name will suffice.” She hated the epithet that came with being High Speaker, because even though she was born into one of the higher families of the Aale Region there was a strength in knowing one’s place in the world. She was no daughter of a Rael, and so she was no Lady.
Hogap, however, disagreed.
“We’re formal today, M’lady,” Hogap reminded Everald, “don’t forget this is one of the main chances we have to salvage the greatness of the Old Ages once more.”
Oh Hogap, Everald thought. He was her trusted advisor, yes, but there were so many things that she could not tell him, even after all these years.
One of them was that the Book of Pattegon which stood proudly on display at the head of the table was a fake. A fake that Everald had swapped in only a few nights before.
“I know that,” Everald remarked, probably too sharply. Hogap didn’t note the comment, he probably thought her nervous because this would be the event that would make or break Everald’s Politician career.
However, all thoughts stopped when Everald saw Nettlie walk into the room.
It wasn’t the Nettlie that Everald knew, with a her half shaved head and tight topknot of hair. However, even the emerald green dress and the stacked beehive wig on top of her head couldn’t make Everald miss her. She still walked with the slight hint of the swagger that all the members of the Assassins Guild seemed to bear. It was almost a hallmark of their trade, more so than the shaved insignia down the side of their skull.
She was here undercover, a last minute adjustment to the plan. Everald had only been informed of this change by a small paper crane that had been waiting for her on her desk the previous evening after Supper. Even though Everald had read the note at least twenty times and now knew its contents by heart, she still fought the urge to unfold the crane and re-read the note again.
Plans have changed. Trust me on this, I’ll be fine – N.
“Who are you looking at?” Hogap asked.
Hogap’s comment broke Everald from her thoughts. The wiry little man looked at Everald expectantly, his calculating eyes wondering what had made Everald get lost in her own thoughts.
Sometimes, however useful he was, Hogap was too smart for his own good.
“That gentleman in the corner,” Everald said, pointing past Nettlie and to a young man who was in deep conversation with the Rael of Bwelfold.
“That’s Leot Tegg,” Hogap said, “third son of the Rael of Eraw. He’s representing his father today, after that awful coach attack that happened a few weeks back.”
Awful my arse, Everald thought. Even though she knew Twale who had committed the attack, it was public knowledge that the Rael of Eraw was slowly losing control of his Region. The faster someone more stable took control of the reigns the better, in Everald’s opinion. Not only would it do some good for the populace of Eraw to have someone competent governing their Region, but it would mean Everald wouldn’t have to swat away political conspiracies twice a week from the Eraw Politicians who wanted to gain control of the Sanctum in order to capitalise on their own Rael’s weakness.
The final Raels and their entourages filtered into the Sanctum and took their seats. Hogap nodded to the doorpeople, who closed the heavy oak doors, ornate with painted pictures of the Mysteries and other historical events. The sound of the doors shutting echoed high up into the vaulted ceiling, which was even more ornately decorated than the doors, with pictures spanning every square centimetre of ceiling. Everald had to squint to make out some of the painting in the highest part of the dome, and even then she could only make out the outline of the paintings. After all, the Sanctum was one of the great achievements of the post-war Regions, and as such was still an impressive fifty feet tall space.
Somewhere up there, Mae is hiding, Everald thought. Everald had let the quiet, mousy girl into the building only last night. Even though Everald was well aware that most of the Assassins feats of impossibility were merely ‘tricks’, she had still been amazed when Mae had looped a piece of invisible tread around one of the uppermost beams with a crossbow contraption, and then proceeded to scamper up it like a spider.
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Everald strode towards the Book of Pattegon. The room quietened as they recognised her golden fringed robes as that of the Speaker, the one who would begin the proceedings.
The circular table in the centre of the Inner Sanctum was supposed to represent that the Raels were all equal to one another, and here they could debate issues as equals and find solutions that would benefit all.
It was a relic of a time that was lost in history. Now, it was nothing more than a centrepiece around which the Raels would fight tooth and claw for every advantage they could get.
Everald rounded the table, standing next to the pedestal with the Book of Pattegon on it. She forced herself not to look at the book, not wanting to give away the fact that it was a fake.
“Welcome,” Everald said, “if you would please be seated for this session of the Inner Council.”
The Raels scraped their gilded chairs away from the table, shuffling thick clothes into the small seats that were designed in a time where there was barely any wood to make furniture from.
“We are here today to discuss the finding of the Book of Pattegon,” Everald said, her voice travelling across the room with ease. Speaking in front of others was a talent that came naturally to Everald, something that had been noted during her schooling and drove her towards the career of a Politician. She glanced at Hogap across the room, who smiled supporting at her.
She smiled back.
“This Book starts the discussion that the Regions could begin to solve the problems of their Regions together. This session has been called today by Rael of Ebaet, who wishes to discuss the implications of this discovery on the interests of all the Regions in Pangeium,” Everald nodded towards the man sitting immediately to her right, Iegot Pemnwe, the Rael of Ebaet, who had discovered the tome in one of his archaeological digs in the Ruins of the Castle of Kings that lay on the coast in the South. He was a serious man, heavy set, with a bald head and a thick moustache that was normal in his Region.
“I would like to hand over to Rael of Ebaet now, to discuss this motion further,” Everald said. She stepped back from the podium, gesturing to Iegot to take the space.
Iegot scraped his chair back, lifting himself out of the chair with the struggle of a man who was entering his twilight years. Everald forced herself to focus on her breathing as the awkward silence settled on the room, as the other Raels waited for Iegot to take the floor.
“I have discovered the key to the history of Magics,” Iegot began dramatically.
Don’t undersell it, Everald thought dryly. The whole Sanctum was packed with people, as the Rael’s entourages hung around the edges of the room, all listening intently.
“This will be the key to the future,” Iegot said, picking the book up from the pedestal and holding it aloft above his head, “this will be the way that we recreate the powers of old!”
The Raels clapped politely.
Out of nowhere came a flash of light.
People screamed, and it even caught Everald by surprise even though she knew that it was coming. From high above, a figure dressed all in black tumbled downwards like an angel of death, until she landed lightly on the middle of the council table. Her hood fell back to reveal the topknot and shaved head of the Assassins Guild, which was enough to cause most of the Raels to begin to panic in their seats.
However, none moved. No one wanted to be the first to let it known that they were a coward who ran away from the Assassins Guild.
“I want that book,” Mae said, hand flicking dramatically. Another flash of light bounced off the walls, even brighter than the torches that lit the room. Everald was surprised at the change, gone was the timid mousey girl who had apologised for standing outside her window and now was a true master of the art of murder.
This was the person who had killed her brother with a simple knife to the throat. Even the Rael of Bwelfold had paled in terror as she recognised the Assassin who had killed her new husband.
“It’s not yours to have,” said, holding the book casually as if trying not to look terrified by the Assassin standing in front of him.
“Says who?” Mae asked. Her voice had taken on a darker tone, more threatening than anything Everald could imagine coming from the young slip of a girl. Mae’s cloak billowed out on an unknown wind, another trick no doubt to add to the dramatic and eerie effect that Mae was trying to protect.
“The Council here,” Iegot replied, almost patronisingly, “your betters.”
“The only one better than me is Iga, herself,” Mae replied, invoking the name of the death goddess, “and that’s only because she will kill the lot of you, but I’m only here to get that book.”
“You’ll have to kill me to get to it,” Iegot said, like a buffoon. Everald forced herself not to roll her eyes at the stupidity of a man who wanted to invite an assassin to kill him on the spot.
“Not yet,” Mae said, a wicked smile appearing on her face.
She turned to the side, striding across the huge expanse of the table towards the corner. Everald watched in confusion and panic as she stepped onto the backs of the Raels of Ugga and Ofert’s chairs, pointing towards a particular individual in the crowd.
“You,” she said. It was a command, not a question.
Everald followed Mae’s finger and found in shock that it pointed directly at Nettlie.
“What?” Nettlie said, sounding convincingly terrified, “I’ve got nothing to do with this – I’m just here to hold the papers.”
“Did I ask you a question?” Mae asked, “come here, girl.”
In any other situation, it would have been amusing watching Mae play someone who was the older woman and Nettlie play the younger girl, even though in reality they were the other way around. However, in the Sanctum where they were performing an incredibly complex and dangerous heist, it was nothing short of breath-taking.
Nettlie shuffled towards the table, which Mae had inadvertently turned into her impromptu stage. Mae stepped back as Nettlie approached the table, grabbing her by the shoulders of her dress and roughly pulling Nettlie onto the table. Nettlie cried out in pain as Mae dragged her to the centre of the table and pulled her head roughly upwards by the ridiculous beehive wig that she was wearing.
Then she put a knife to Nettlie’s throat.
Up to this point it had been planned, to an extent. In the original plan, Mae would have just grabbed anyone who ‘looked like a weasel’, and held them hostage until the Book was handed over. However, in this iteration of the plan, for some reason they had changed it so Nettlie was the one dragged onto the stage.
I hope to Io you know what you’re doing, Everald said. She even considered making a short prayer to Io, the Goddess of Life, to keep Nettlie safe.
“Hand over the book or she dies,” Mae hissed. Iegot’s face paled as the tip of Mae’s knife bit into Nettlie’s neck and drew blood.
I hope you know what you’re doing, Everald thought. It was like a chant, running through her mind. The whole atmosphere was thick with tension, and even Iegot’s knuckles where white with the force that with which he clucked the Book.
All eyes were on Iegot now, who held the balance of Nettlie’s life in his hands. Everald felt herself drawn with the rest of the room to the sweaty face of the Rael of Ebeat.
“This Book will save the Regions,” Iegot said, looking frantically at the rest of the Raels and their entourages for support, “it will save us all.”
Everald held her breath, turning back towards Mae and Nettlie. This was something new, something totally unplanned. What had started out as a heist had turned into something greater by this performance.
A way to fracture the Regions, Everald thought. The Sanctum had been awash with rumours that the Assassins Guild were trying to actively destabilise the Regions in an attempt to overthrow the Raels and implement their own power structure. And however much Everald trusted Nettlie, she knew that the Assassins had motives of their own for their actions.
Everald looked at Nettlie, pleading for some sort of reasoning behind this stunt. Nettlie caught her gaze, just for the barest moment, and gave her a wink.
I’ve got this under control. That’s what the wink said.
In the silence of the room, Mae chuckled evilly. It was a sound that would have made Mae sound mad if Everald didn’t already know that this was a performance. Mae had even apologised for walking mud across Everald’s office the previous evening, saying that she would find a way to clean up the cream carpet as soon as she cold.
“Last chance,” Mae whispered, pressing the knife deeper into Nettlie’s throat.
“Go fuck yourself,” Iegot swore back.
Mae slit Nettlie’s throat.
Panic spread like ripples through a calm lake. It seemed to wash outwards from Nettlie’s bleeding neck, towards the seated Raels who begun to try and work their heavy clothes out of their chairs, movements frantic and desperate. It then broke over the assistants of the Raels, those stood around the edges of the tables, who turned and fled towards the doors, screaming and crying in terror that they too would have their necks slashed.
Everald was almost caught up in the panic as well, until a strong arm grabbed her wrist and forced her to stand still.
“It’s a trick,” Twale whispered in her ear.
Everald wanted to turn to face Twale, but he had pinned her arm behind her back so she couldn’t move.
“What are you doing?” Everald hissed, her voice lost in the cacophony of panic that had filled the Sanctum up to the brim of its highest dome.
“A demonstration of power,” Twale whispered back, “and saving your skin. Don’t worry your Nettlie is in good hands.”
In any other circumstance, Everald would have tried to get away from Twale, the political backlash alone from conversing with a member of another Region’s retinue was enough to destroy her career. However, the rest of the Raels and their entourages were currently crushing their way towards the only exit of the Sanctum, the main doors.
However, in the panic, it seemed like everyone had forgotten that the doors opened inwards to the Sanctum. Instead of providing their route to freedom, the panicking Raels and their cohorts begun to realise that their combined mass was what was preventing the doors from opening.
Another flash of light filled the air, as Mae caught the crowd’s attention again. Nettlie was lying motionless on the table in a pool of blood.
It’s a trick, Everald thought, shaking with panic and confusion. Her mind wanted her to flee, her heart wanted to jump onto the table and check that Nettlie was indeed alive.
That it was indeed a trick.
Mae stepped over Nettlie’s motionless form, walking towards Iegot. He was the only one who hadn’t moved in panic, seeming to think that the Book of Pattegon would keep him safe.
It wouldn’t, Everald knew that. It was a forgery made from one of Nettlie’s denser books on chemistry, one that was so old and had handwriting so cramped that it would take the Justices another few years to work out what it said, even with expert help. At the moment, they were still stumped with how an entire pub had been poisoned with no trace of the assailant apart from a trail that led down from the cellar into the sewers.
“Hand it to me,” Mae commanded, holding out her hand to Iegot like a parent demanding something from their wayward child. Iegot swallowed, eyes flicking backwards and forwards from Nettlie’s motionless form to Mae and back again.
All eyes from the crowd that had stampeded on the doorway were on the Book of Pattegon. It was as if Iegot held the balance of power of the lands in his hands.
But he does, Everald thought.
“I will not hand it over,” Iegot said, raising his chin in defiance.
“Your choice,” Mae said, almost casually. Then a knife came out of her sleeve and embedded itself in Iegot’s forehead.
Everald had never seen a person die before. Nettlie didn’t count, it was a trick, but this. No this was for real. Iegot’s face was locked in a permanent contortion of fear and pain as his legs buckled from underneath him, crumpling forwards onto the table with sightless eyes.
“Far less bloodshed could have been caused if you had just given it to me,” Mae said, projecting her voice like an actor would to her audience. Mae slid the book out of Iegot’s limp hands, heafting it as if to demonstrate that it was indeed a heavy tome, and swung around on her heel towards her expectant audience who stood in stunned silence.
“Shall we see if this works?” Mae said, unfolding the clasps on the book and opening it at its first page. She made a show of running her finger down the contents, picking what Magic she wanted to conjure up from the ages of old to perform before her audience today.
“How about resurrection!” Mae said, sounding delighted. The blood drained from Everald’s face as she realised what kind of trick that the Assassins were playing her tonight.
This wasn’t a trick of the light, or a sleight of hand. This was a proper Magic trick, that called upon powers that had laid dormant for centuries.
And it meant that Nettlie was really dead.
“What have you done?” Everald said, turning towards Twale, “you-”
“Someone saw you replacing the copy,” Twale hissed, pressing Everald’s arm tight against her back to stop her moving. It was only the heat of the moment and adrenaline that meant she didn’t register the shooting pain up her wrist from the lock.
“They don’t matter,” Twale said, his voice grim enough to suggest that the Assassins had already dealt with the problem, “it’s if they had told anyone before we got to them.”
“Then what’s this about?” Everald asked.
“If we take responsibility no one will guess you’re involvement,” Twale said, “Nettlie took the risk to guarantee your safety. Bloody stupid what young love will get you into.”
They both turned back to the spectacle that was unfolding in front of them. Mae was chanting now, eyes unfocussed, one hand supporting the tome and the other pointing towards Nettlie.
“It’s a fake,” Everald said, “it doesn’t work.”
“We’ve already returned the original,” Twale’s voice had a hint of dark humour about it, “and you don’t need the book to perform Magics.”
The torches in the room flickered ominously as Mae’s chanting became more rapid, words tumbling over one another as she invoked powers that had never been seen before. Nettlie’s body twitched on the table, fingers tapping along with the rhythm of Mae’s chanting.
The whole room was entranced as Mae walked towards Nettlie’s body, finger pointing directly towards Nettlie’s head. The torches begun to sway with some unseen wind, flames lengthening as they were all blow towards the left, circling upwards towards the spire of the dome above.
Then Mae stopped her chanting. The whole room was silent, save for the tapping of Nettlie’s fingers.
“Return,” Mae said.
The torches flared suddenly, and Everald felt a hot air rush past her, almost sucking the air out of her lungs. Obviously she was not the only one to feel it, the Rael of Bwelfold’s retinue screamed in terror.
Then the light returned to its usual level once more. On the table, Nettlie’s body shuddered back into life, as she struggled up from the sticky pool of blood onto her knees.
“What have you done,” Leot Tegg whispered into the silence.
Mae smiled, triumphant.
“I’ve started something new.”
She moved suddenly toward Nettlie, scooping the dazed woman up in her arms.
Everald was blinded by the brightest light yet, one that seemed brighter than the sun itself. She had to turn away, shutting her eyes to protect her sight.
The light went out.
When Everald had turned around, Nettlie and Mae had disappeared.
“Good luck with dealing with this,” Twale whispered in Everald’s ear. He released her arm, but before Everald had turned around to punch the smug bastard in the face, he had disappeared.