Chapter 8 Scene 1

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 28 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Chapter 8: Dark Mysteries

“The raw energy of the elemental plane influences the physical plane in myriad ways. All cultures are touched by that power. Guardian Village’s notoriously variable weather responds to the complex ebb and flow of air, earth, and water energies in that region. We believe the mystics of the desert tribes read traces of elemental currents when they cast their prophecies. It appears that even the ancients, before their decline, had some way of linking the energy of the elemental plane to its physical counterparts.”

Elemental Energy Theory and Practice

Simon awoke with a start, the cold sweat of terror chilling his skin. The nightmare that had gripped him was already fading. So vivid and compelling in the moments before he woke, the images fragmented like shards of a broken mirror in his conscious mind. All that remained were flashes.

Panic. A sense of betrayal. A sudden crushing weight, punctuated by explosions of searing pain. Blinding flashes of scintillating color followed by a suffocating darkness. Whimpers of pain, fading to ragged gasps, raw and wet, that slow and finally die in a gurgling hiss.

Shaken, he sat up in his bunk, all thought of returning to sleep abandoned. His bare feet brushed the stone floor and he cringed as the station’s pent up anguish swept through him again. He jerked back from the contact, but not before he recognized the similarity to his vivid nightmare images.

Had his wards failed? He closed his eyes and pictured a small wooden door set in stone and banded with polished silver. Frowning, he noted a faint purple tinted glow at one edge of the arched doorjamb. What by the Scion’s Mirror was that? It shouldn’t be possible.

He mentally darkened the silver to bands of iron, adding a heavy hasp and a padlock for good measure. The purple glow faded slowly, almost reluctantly, in response to his imagery.

Opening his eyes, he hesitantly touched his bare feet to the floor again. The stone was quiet now, but he slid both feet into his sandals just to be sure before rising from his bunk. What had the Triad done here that left such residual power in the living stone? And how was it getting through to Simon?

Greater Mages were immune to elemental power from the physical plane, shielded by the Scion’s blood in their veins. With patience and training, they could learn to sense echoes left behind by use of their own element. But never with such force.

Unless the energy was somehow bleeding back into the elemental plane. Was such a thing even possible?

And if it was affecting him so strongly, what would it do to a Common Mage like Bernard? Or Gunther, who was too inexperienced to maintain personal wards in his sleep?

He checked Gunther first, but the young air mage was resting peacefully. Evidently whatever power the Triad had used here had not drawn on air elementals.

Simon turned to Bernard next. The common mage was not sleeping soundly. He twitched, his hands twisting in the covers. His eyes scanned furiously under his closed lids. Caught up in the nightmare, his breathing was harsh. But at least it was regular, and his skin was cool and dry to the touch.

It could be worse. His natural wards must have been stronger than Simon’s after ‘turns spent shielding himself on the elemental plane. Simon decided to let him wake in his own time. He shouldn’t have too long to wait.

He peered through one of the heavy shutters. It was nearly dawn. Simon was mostly recovered from their efforts of the previous day. He suspected Bernard would not be able to say the same when he woke. But spending an extra night in Edgeways would not bring them any closer to the Prophet’s Gathering.

Simon left two portions of their travel rations on the table for Bernard and Gunther. Then he took his own breakfast, a blank message scroll, his stylus, and a sparklight out into the pre-dawn gloom of the empty market square.

Sitting at a deserted bench, he thumbed the sparklight to life. It ignited the small wick that floated in a basin of oil. He focused the reflector to illuminate the small scroll, and then composed his report to the High Council. The stars had faded from view by the time he was satisfied with the short missive.

He tucked the scroll into a message tube smaller than his little finger and sealed the cylinder. At the crunch of a sandal shod foot on coarse sand, Simon looked up and turned back toward the waystation.

“Trouble sleeping Bernard?”

“You could say that. Rough night. Strange dreams. I must be getting too old for this. I’m not nearly as rested as I should be.” He shook his head ruefully as he settled on the bench next to Simon with a battered mug of water.

Simon examined the air mage critically in the growing pre-dawn light. “You look better than you did yesterday, my friend.”

Bernard grimaced. “Then I shudder to think how bad I looked yesterday. Did I push too far this time?”

Simon let the silence stretch out before answering. “Nearly. But I suspect another influence as well. Tell me about your dreams.”

Bernard raised one bushy eyebrow quizzically.

“Humor me.”

Bernard let out a heavy sigh, but then nodded. “All right. It’s difficult to describe though. All I remember are blurred images and pockets of intense emotions. Intense, dark emotions, I might add. Confusion, anger, despair. And terror. Overriding everything else, a deep, visceral fear.”

Simon nodded as Bernard described the emotional landscape. “And the images?”

“Confusing. A soft, almost lamp-like glow on damp sand and dark water. An irregular stone surface studded with reflective flecks of some sort. Large shards of crystal, falling, or possibly breaking? And stained with something dark on the tips. Maybe blood? The rest was incoherent.”

Simon frowned as Bernard’s description brought back memories of what was almost certainly a shared nightmare. “Do you remember any sounds?”

Bernard grimaced, and then swallowed a sip of water. “I wish I didn’t. A continuous low rumble. Cracks or short explosions of some sort. Cascades of breaking glass, or something like glass. Screams, some drawn out and others cut short. Along with other gut wrenching sounds of pain and suffering.”

Simon nodded stiffly. “I slept poorly as well.”

“I suspected it would take more than an overdue status report to wake you before the sun. Dark dreams as well?”

“The same dream, I think. Though my memory of it is less coherent than yours. Which suggests a shared source but different transmission paths.”

Bernard cocked his head to one side. “What source? You suspect the shaman?”

Simon quickly shook his head. “No.”

“What then?”

Simon hesitated to voice his theory. But after a pause, he forged ahead. “It’s probably apparent to you that the Council waystation was built by an elemental collaboration.”

Bernard nodded, looking back over his shoulder at the modest shelter on the top of the rise. “Yes, probably earth and water. What of it?”

“Did you know that the mages were one of the Triads?”

Bernard looked puzzled. “But the Triads were all disbanded before Edgeways formed…” His voice trailed away as comprehension dawned in his eyes.

“Edgeways formed around a structure left behind after the invasion, didn’t it?”

Simon nodded. “So it would seem. Although why this Triad entered the desert so far east is unclear to me.”

Bernard was silent for a moment, his, eyes cast up into the ever lightening sky. “Maybe it was a trial run before the campaign in the western frontier. Or possibly a show of force near the end of the conflict?”

Simon considered both possibilities before answering. “Possibly. In any case, the station was built with brute force instead of finesse. I’m not sure what the Triad did here but it left a scar unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“What do you mean, scar?”

“Use of any elemental power on the physical plane leaves behind a… residue. Common mages can usually sense it; sometimes even channel it if it’s strong enough.”

Bernard shrugged. “I’ve never seen anyone use it, but it’s theoretically possible I suppose.”

“It takes more training and a concerted effort for Greater mages. But some of us can read traces left behind by use of our own element. I’ve read the station’s signature.”

“And?”

“The desert fought against its construction. It wasn’t just a sub-optimal site. It was actively hostile.”

“As in, a competing elemental influence? Do you mean there was an enemy mage here?”

“Impossible to say now. But there was active power resisting that building’s creation, and the Triad funneled huge amounts of energy into their effort to overcome it. The result is an elemental power signature so intense and emotion charged that… I think it’s bleeding back into the elemental plane.”

“What? How?”

“I’m not sure. But the same images were in both of our dreams last night. You might have absorbed them from the physical plane, but I couldn’t have.”

Bernard looked flustered. “You’re sure about this?”

Simon’s snort conveyed both amusement and frustration. “I’m not sure about anything here. But I checked my mirror wards this morning. Last night something breached my doorway from the elemental side.”

Bernard swallowed. “Something or someone?”

Simon shrugged, but the casual air of the gesture did nothing to conceal the tension in his eyes. “A frightening question, wouldn’t you say?”

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