Chapter 3 Scene 2

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 11 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

The trade outpost of Edgeways was the smallest of the three junctions between the canal trade routes of the Fertile Plains and the web of stock paths used by the semi-nomadic Desert Tribes, called Migrations. The Migrations connected several scattered tribal settlements or Gatherings, each allegedly built near a sacred site. The sites were hidden of course, and closed to all outsiders without special invitations from the site’s caretaker tribe.

There was nothing sacred about Edgeways. As a result, none of the Desert Tribes deigned to call Edgeways a Gathering. It just happened to be the place where a small spur of Minor Canal intersected with an offshoot of the Migrations. Opportunistically, a settlement had sprung up to support those determined pilgrims who worship only at the shrine of currency, the Merchant Guild. In the last decades, trade had become a living entity that could not be contained by boundaries. But it was not always so.

After the unification of the Fertile Plains under the Combined Council of Doormakers, tensions ran high between the young nation and its neighbors to the north. The nomadic tribes in the south of the Great Desert made occasional foraging trips into the Fertile Plains, and skirmishes became inevitable as Council sponsored agriculture expanded northward.

The small, independent tribes were threatened by the expansion of the Plains farmers. Vicious raids were mounted from both sides and violence flared out of control. It was a bloody time for the Council, who responded by forming the fearsome Triads. These were mysterious teams of the most powerful Mages in Council history, and the only example to date of Mages being recruited and trained specifically for war.

When all was said and done, there was a lot of blood on the sand and an uneasy truce was called. The Fertile Plains stopped its northward agricultural expansion and the Tribes withdrew even further into their Great Desert. The Triads were officially disbanded and their members scattered, their names and methods hidden from history though not their deeds. Passing time blurred the harsh edges of resentment, at least on the surface. Eventually trade bridged the gap between the factions, and continued to gain in strength with each passing ‘turn.

The desert may have buried the past, but it didn’t forget. All of this history was written in the bones of Edgeways. It was laid out in a language as old as humanity. It was spoken without words to anyone who could hear. Simon was listening.

He had appropriated the Council built waystation for the mages’ use. It was little more than a bunkroom. But it had a stone-framed fireplace for use on cold desert nights, sturdy slate shutters on its few windows to keep out the summer sandstorms, and a cool basin continually fed by clean water from the Minor Canal. After dropping his pack on one of the bunks and stowing the handcrafted tools of his trade in a footlocker, he closed his eyes, and stilled his thoughts.

Throughout all of the southern cities, Council fabricated buildings like this one were the most common type of construction. They were invariably made of local stone and other materials, usually featuring monolithic construction for the foundations, walls, and sometimes roofs. Powerful earth mages could lift and shape the native building materials into forms limited only by their imagination and energy.

In the Council’s early days, mages worked in teams, multiplying their energy to craft architectural monuments of stunning beauty. The finishing and detail work on such buildings was done by hand using the traditional crafting methods of the local population. Since local building materials and local artisans were used, each building was unique. Naturally, some were more aesthetic than others. But the best examples blended so effortlessly with their surroundings and the local culture that they seemed timeless, inevitable, ethereal, and grounded all at the same time.

Unfortunately, this building was nothing like that. Though it was clearly made with native materials, it lacked any effort at harmony with its environment. The waystation had been built in anger; that much was clear to Simon even before he crossed the threshold. Curious, he laid his fingertips to the sandstone windowsill, but quickly jerked back as he was seared by an old sense of outrage, betrayal, and ultimately futile resistance. He forced himself to resume contact, and as the familiar combination of scorching heat and numbing cold rose to meet his touch, he began to understand.

This shelter was a violent act committed against the land on which it had been built. It was a beachhead leftover from one of the many invasions of the Great Desert by the Triads. The conflict between the construction and its setting had been worn dull by the slow passage of generations, but Simon could still hear its echoes. Much of the anger had been wrung out, and the freezing heat of it barely penetrated the skin of his fingertips. But a sense of sadness and mourning lingered, and the bones of his hands throbbed with the ache of stone being rent from stone. There was something more there as well, a crushing weight, but it was so faint he could not distinguish it from the power used during the station’s construction.

Simon removed his fingers from the stone, shaking his head, as he waited for his eyes to refocus on the present. No wonder the local tribes had ceded this waystation to the Council so easily. None of them would set foot in the place. Further consideration of the issue, however, would have to be delayed.

“Well, are you a Greater Air Mage or aren’t you?” Bernard’s outburst interrupted Simon’s concentration, as he blustered into the waystation with a red faced Gunther in tow.

“How dare you! What you’re asking has never been attempted before! If you had any idea how much power is involved you wouldn’t even ask.” Gunther was uncertain whether to be insulted or terrified. Their argument had clearly started well before the two returned to the waystation.

“Wouldn’t even ask what, hmm?” Both air mages looked at Simon as if noticing his presence for the first time. The air was heavy between them. Bernard arched an eyebrow to Gunther, daring him to explain. After a moment’s hesitation, Gunther’s eyes dropped and he deferred to the Common Air Mage.

“I simply asked if young Gunther here could create an omen for us. A portent, or sign, that will draw the mystics of the local tribes out of the surrounding desert and into Edgeways where we can meet with them.” Bernard said no more, but danger danced behind his eyes.

Simon played along with Bernard’s obvious attempt to draw him out. “An omen, then was it? Well Gunther, I hardly see that such a construction would be beyond your talent to control. But knowing Bernard as I do, I suspect he has oversimplified the matter for my benefit. What is the hook?” Simon’s eyes traveled from Bernard to Gunther and back.

“He asked me to spawn a sandstorm!” As the dam broke and the words spilled from Gunther, his eyes implored Simon to comprehend the enormity of the task and make Bernard see reason. “Not just any sandstorm, but a huge gale, visible for leagues, that will descend on Edgeways and dissipate just before destroying the town.”

Simon’s eyes narrowed and he locked gazes with Bernard. To his credit, Bernard did not flinch. “This is your plan? A giant sandstorm? How will this draw out the mystics from their desert?”

Bernard actually grinned. “They don’t know we’re here. If they did, most wouldn’t care enough to make the trip. The traders here at the outpost don’t send messengers out into the desert. The tribesmen come and go as they please. But they live in harmony with the Great Desert, and know how important it is to capitalize on its bounty.”

Bernard’s eyes gleamed as he continued. “Large storms here destroy settlements, carry wreckage for leagues, and scatter it when they dissipate. The tribes follow the storms to search for survivors, and to scavenge supplies. When they see a storm the size that Gunther can spawn bearing down on Edgeways, they’ll race each other to be the first on site when the winds die out.”

“And when they find no salvage here?”

“When the sands settle, they will find us, standing in the path of the disaster. They’ll be ready to talk.”

“Or ready to kill us on sight.”

Bernard chuckled. “I’m certain you won’t let that happen, Simon.”

Simon looked from Bernard to Gunther, who was silently hoping the earth mage would veto the plan. “And what if Gunther can’t control the storm as you suggest? He’s never done anything this big before. I’m not sure anyone has.” At least, not since the time of the Triads, Simon thought to himself. Gunther sagged with relief that Simon was echoing his concerns.

Bernard’s grin got even wider, if that was possible. “He won’t control it. You will.”

Simon looked from Bernard to Gunther in confusion, but found no further explanation in the young mage’s distraught face. He returned his attention to Bernard, who obviously thought his scheme was the epitome of cleverness. “Need I remind you that I am an earth mage, not an air mage?”

“Precisely.” And with that, Bernard described his plan. They were up beyond the darkest hours of the night before they had ironed out the details to everyone’s satisfaction. Eventually they reached a point where further preparation would have to wait until sunrise. As they took to their bunks for the last few hours before dawn, even Gunther had to admit that he was reassured by Bernard’s thoroughness. The plan was still risky, and well beyond his training at the Mage Academy. But he no longer feared that it would end in disaster. Only the light of the coming day would show whether it would end in success.

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