Outer Flower, 47

The accused acolyte

Shock of Shadows

Suddenly, a clear picture of a young man with red hair and blue eyes invaded his mind. The warning shock that accompanied this visage caused him to sit bolt upright. How could he have forgotten the acolyte from Larnes?

Elymas had detested him on sight. The boy still believed in something, that much was clear. Oh, they all believed in something, these young men who came pouring into Casoria every seven years from every conceivable spot on the map, but what they believed in mostly was the privileges they’d have as a Skyll, or the spot they’d occupy in the minds of men. Dreams of glory beckoned them: the mythical, sacred city, a backdrop for their soon to be realized goals.

However, the reality of the present Casoria, a kingdom defined by crumbling walls and maze-like streets filled with slop and raw sewage, was enough to shock anyone into skepticism, and by the end of the first month, most acolytes had adopted the cynical attitude of the court.

But this boy was different. He walked among them with a purpose, his eyes taking in the decay yet losing none of their drive. He’d troubled Elymas to the point that the wizard had actually considered slipping him a potion, the precious green liquid that would make it possible to delve his mind. He’d decided against it, for the potion was precious and he didn’t relish another trip to the Nevers. He’d tested him with rulla dice instead.

A mistake. He’d known it the minute the boy stood before him and he’d felt the tremendous power, raw and as yet unrealized, but present all the same. The boy had not come into his own but when he did, if he did, he would cause the Earth Skyll’s downfall.

And as he treated all things genuine, Elymas posed him as a fraud.

It was a simple game, rolling dice, and all the acolytes rolled against one another as soon as they were handed a set in the small brown pouch by the solemn, straight backed King. Owning rulla dice meant they’d been accepted for testing in the Journey Room. Even the Skylls had their original sets and played against each other. His own rulla dice were charmed; even so, they’d been no match against the boy’s, and Elymas had been out-rolled three times. After that, it had been easy to call him a cheat and liar, easier still to convince the rest.

He’d walked away, not even bothering to learn the boy’s name. Durrin and Strout might learn it, if they took a notion, before he was killed. They could do it any number of ways as long as the body wasn’t found on the palace grounds. Throat cut, face down and in a ditch was their usual method, and he’d never found fault with it.

Enough about the boy. Enough drinking wine and watching shadows. He must tend to the homunculus now.

He tried to rise and fell promptly back onto the throne. His knees were shaking and his head was spinning as it never had before. Once more he tried and suffered the same result, croaking out an unintelligible curse.

Now, the shadows, as if waiting for his unintentional command, came pouring out of the walls, the corners, leaping from the stones at his feet. Grotesque shapes joined in hideous ways converged around the throne, their shrills and shrieks more unearthly than any he’d loosed in the torture rooms.

The shadows fell back, however, as a mysterious presence coalesced before the throne.

Screamed and screamed again.

Elymas screamed — and screamed again.

This time nothing disappeared.

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