Return to Chapter VI
Nathan hesitated with his hand raised to knock on the door of Kulsin’s office. Even inside the tower, he could hear the roar of the crowd outside. It had fallen into a chanting whose words he couldn’t make out, thousands of voices united in hatred. The people had heard what had happened in the Hollow Hills. Whether it was the senseless slaughter of the children, or the murder of a widely respected Captain of the Guard, Seth’s story had incited an anger the people had never had the courage to act upon before. None of the Domini could leave the tower. When Rodun had tried, he had been mobbed and killed. He had taken a number of his attackers with him — some of the rumors said over a hundred — but that had only increased their anger.
Taking a deep breath, he rapped on the door. “Come in,” Kulsin said immediately.
Nathan opened the door. Kulsin’s office was less organized than before, filled with crates to hold his many precious belongings as he prepared to leave the tower. He paused while wrapping a golden idol in cloth and gestured to a hard wooden chair, the one surface that wasn’t covered with crates or items to be placed in them. Nathan sat, and Kulsin finished with the idol and placed it gently in its crate before turning toward him and leaning back against the desk.
“How are you doin’?” he asked.
“Fine,” Nathan said, trying not to think about the pendant he still wore around his neck. He had tried leaving it in his room this morning, locked up in his chest, but the moment he got out the door, he had felt physically ill. He had had to go back and get it. It felt as if a piece of himself was trapped inside.
“Well, the Senate has heard my case, and they decided not to declare Aulus renegade.” Kulsin was frowning as he said that, but Nathan breathed a sigh of relief. Being declared a renegade was an instant death sentence.
Kulsin noticed his reaction, and his eyes narrowed. “Don’ think he’ll be unpunished, though,” he said. “He’s sure to be censured. They’ll probably require some penance.”
Nathan tried to look concerned, but there were few punishments between a reprimand and death, most of them much closer to a reprimand. Aulus was still trying to convince the Senators that Kulsin deserved punishment for his actions, but even if some of them agreed, the Kairnin Senator had too many allies in the Senate to be in any danger.
“But I didn’ ask you here to discuss Aulus’s situation,” Kulsin continued. “I wanted to discuss yours.”
Nathan swallowed hard. “Uh, mine?”
“Yes, yours. You and Aulus have been friends for years, and you were a part of his activities from the beginnin’. That does warran’ some punishmen’.” Nathan was beginning to sweat. Aulus’s possible penance didn’t seem so trivial now that he might face it himself. He had heard of Domini forced to spend a year as slaves for defying the Senate. “However, you were captured before the worst of Aulus’s transgressions began, and Aulus says you were reluctan’ to participate in what he did before then. Just as importantly, your help when the wraiths came was invaluable. For these reasons I’m willin’ to overlook what you did. This time.”
“Yes. Thank, thank you, Kulsin.”
“You would be wise to choose better friends in the future,” Kulsin said, his wide eyes staring at him.
So that was it. Kulsin was asking him to abandon Aulus. Not to betray him, not yet, but to leave Aulus’s side and, eventually, join Kulsin’s own. Nathan had to admit that he and Aulus had been wrong about the magical threats the Domini defended against being gone. If the Necromancers had survived this long, who knew what else was out there? But this wasn’t about philosophy; it was about power. Kulsin’s was waxing while Aulus’s was waning, and Kulsin was giving him the opportunity to be on the winning side.
“I, uh…. maybe you’re right,” Nathan said, surprising himself. Since when had political calculation been more important to him than friendship? Perhaps since friendship had nearly gotten him killed. It had surely done something to him. “If I may ask, Kulsin,” Nathan said. “Did any of the teams find that missing box?” In all, fifteen Domini had died when the wraiths attacked, on top of the twelve who’d been killed in the battle beforehand. It was a heavy toll, over a third of those Kulsin had brought with him, but ultimately they had come through in good order. Kulsin’s two teams had hunkered down and waited out the wraiths, before resuming their sweep of the Necromancers’ lair, eventually finding Nathan and the others.
“No,” Kulsin said, frowning. “And now we cannot go back.”
They had found the Necromancer called Morana, at least, dead with a dagger in her chest. Nathan himself had identified her as the one who had Awakened the wraiths, although the Domini still weren’t sure what that meant. Aulus had theorized that the wraiths were usually kept dormant for some reason. It had only later occurred to Nathan to wonder how he had recognized the body at all, when he had never actually seen her. He also wondered if Seth had been the one who had killed her. Nathan had seen the burn on the side of Seth’s face when the guardsman addressed the crowds in the marketplace, and he was certain that a Dominus hadn’t put it there. “Do you know, know when we will be able to explore the Necromancers’ Sanctuary again?” Nathan asked.
“It will probably be years before we return to this city,” Kulsin replied. He looked angry. “When we leave, we’ll destroy the Doorways behind us. There’s no sense riskin’ our home if the tower is overrun.”
“I understand, and, um, I’m sorry.” Nathan lowered his eyes, unable to meet Kulsin’s stare. He wasn’t certain that he had anything to apologize for, but it didn’t hurt to stay on Kulsin’s good side.
“You should go and pack now,” Kulsin said with less heat. “It’ll only be a few hours.”
It was still hard to believe, Nathan reflected as he left Kulsin’s office. In just a few hours, the Domini would be abandoning the city of Quian, fleeing from the wrath of its people. Granted, they could level the city if they chose, but they could no longer do what they had come here to do, recruit boys with the ability for magic. That loss would hurt, and he hoped that destroying the Necromancers had been worth it.
Nathan paused, leaning against the outer wall of the spiral staircase as he fingered the pendant he wore, a phoenix of gold and garnet and emeralds. Reaching into the robe’s hidden pocket, he pulled out the identical pendant he’d found in the inner sanctum. They were Anchors, but there was something different about them. There was no wraith bound to them, but there may have been something else. Whatever had happened to him, he had to keep it quiet. If he told anyone, there’d be an Inquisition, and he didn’t think much of his chances for surviving that. He wished he could trust someone with it, maybe Aulus, but… Aulus couldn’t protect him, and while Kulsin could, he wouldn’t if he thought Nathan might be a threat. Nathan knew he wasn’t. He was just as dedicated to the Order as ever. He closed his eyes and tried his best to forget his fears, using a calming exercise he’d been taught as an Initiate.
Guylen opened his eyes. This was interesting. He looked down at the black robes covering himself, at the hands which were the only part of his body visible. Even now, one hand was pressed against a shape hidden beneath the robes, a shape that was more familiar to him than this body: the Anchor which bound his soul to this world. His other hand held a matching pendant. This one wasn’t his Anchor, but he recognized the sigil embedded in the magic as the one he’d made for Nathan. How had this body ended up with it? Morana should have placed it with the other Anchors. He’d have to find a safe place to keep it.
At least the rest of the plan had worked. His soul now occupied the Dominus’s body… but something was off. He shouldn’t be aware yet, with his memories and personality intact, but only vague recollections of the body’s life. That wasn’t how it worked. He should still be thinking that he was this Nathan, complete with his memories and his personality. Only gradually would the soul’s memories emerge, and it could take as long as a year before the soul was fully integrated with the body, absorbing the former occupant’s memories and personality into the dominant identity. He had done it many times over the centuries, and this was the first time he’d ever awoken early, before the integration was complete. But then, no Necromancer had ever taken a Dominus as his host before. Perhaps… yes, he could sense the body’s original personality in the midst of some sort of mental exercise. That was what had allowed him to emerge. It would be a very useful trick to teach to the apprentices training to be hosts. In another minute or two, the body’s personality would emerge from its meditative state, so Guylen needed to be careful.
He couldn’t risk Nathan finding out that he was here. Nathan was an unwilling host, and he’d fight against the integration if he knew about it. He couldn’t win, of course. The body could never overcome the soul, and with Nathan’s own soul removed and bound to the Anchor in his hand, his body would eventually succumb to Guylen’s soul. However, it would take longer to fully integrate if he fought, and worse, it increased the risk that the Domini would discover Guylen. That risk would be minimal once Guylen was fully integrated, in charge of Nathan’s memories and accustomed to his body and his life, so he’d have to wait. If he wasn’t discovered before then, he would have done what no other Necromancer had managed. He would have infiltrated the Order and learned their secrets. With that knowledge, the Necromancers would have the advantage. They would be the ones with respect and authority, and the Domini would be the ones hiding in the shadows.
Guylen whistled a few notes from a merry tune which had last been popular over two centuries ago. He could feel the host’s personality regaining awareness, but he didn’t mind. The next time he woke up, the world was going to change. He closed his eyes and sank beneath the body’s rising consciousness.
When Nathan opened his eyes, he felt better. Despite all his worries, he was still alive, and the Necromancers weren’t. Whatever they had done to him, or tried to do, he was still who he had always been. If he felt out of sorts, that was to be expected after such a harrowing experience, and he was sure he would recover in time. Nathan was beginning to feel foolish at getting so worked up over it. As for the rest… While things were a mess in Quian now, they would calm down eventually. He’d even made his peace with Kulsin. Nathan began to climb the tower’s staircase to his room, thinking that he should put the medallion that he had found in the inner sanctum in a safe place. He whistled a cheerful song as he went. He couldn’t quite recall where he’d heard it before, but he liked the sound. For the first time since Aulus had dragged him into this mess, Nathan was beginning to think he would be fine.
Donald S. Crankshaw has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from MIT, which was more useful for writing fantasy than he had expected, though less helpful for writing science fiction than he had hoped. He has previously published short stories in Daily Science Fiction, Aoife’s Kiss, and Coach’s Midnight Diner. Donald lives in Boston with his wife and fellow writer, Kristin Janz, and can be found online at www.donaldscrankshaw.com.
Author photo by Kristin Janz.