Prologue: The Eternity Vessel
All living things, it is said, are contained within a vessel. Made of material beyond man’s comprehension, the Eternity Vessel rests suspended in the blackness of time. Therein, the world is kept lingered between two powerful, terrible sources: Azure and Bloőd.
At the top, Azure, filled with cunning and bide. At the bottom, Bloőd, of ardor and haste.
Two powers to hold a sphere.
The world rests;
The powers turn.
The world turns;
The powers rest.
The time for bequeathment approaches.
Chapter I: Awyer
The castle town of Eldrade has not been invaded for nearly a thousand years. Protected by powerful barrier enchants, its people live in near seclusion, awaiting nothing; for they have long forgotten the balance of enchantments. They have long forgotten the consequences of their stolen color.
One such resident, a sphinx-eyed boy, sits sifting grain in a most unassuming storehouse at the western docks. A modest boy in a modest task, there is nothing so remarkable about him.
But all of that will change.
All of it is already beginning to change.
Not yet seventeen, the boy’s Amethyst has yet to emerge, but seventeen is fast approaching, and the inherited power has already begun to writhe in his veins. On this day, it courses through his wrists, turning them a deep, flushed purple.
“It grows stronger,” the boy observes while staring at his own changing flesh. And he is not glad. He is bothered. For seventeen’s emergence of power means a great deal for the boy. Soon, very soon, he will be made to cast. Like his father. Like his grandfather. After seventeen, he will be made only to cast, and his grain-sifting days will forever be over.
That is the penance of those living with stolen color.
I call to that boy in the midst of his sifting, and he looks up to see me standing upon the storehouse’s topmost catwalk. Unbeknownst to him, I have been spying. On his sifting. On his brooding. I take the opportunity to use an Amethyst enchant of my own.
“Here I come, Awyer!”
And I do come. Featherlike, I come floating through the levels of the storehouse and land into the pile of grain halfway sifted. It catches me softly and spills in overflow. Awyer shakes his head. A boy of few words and even fewer expressions. But I know him well enough to know what he is thinking; I know him better than anyone, for I alone remember the consequences of the stolen color. I alone remember the balance of enchantments. And I alone can see into Awyer’s future.
Not that I will ever tell him so.
“Grim.” Awyer says my name with perturbation. “Move.”
But the pile of grain is soft and welcoming, and although I have knowingly disrupted his work, I will not be moving just yet. “Join me, Awyer,” I issue. “Take a break.”
I am responded by a headshake.
Within the storehouse, the air is mugged and still. Our words are dropped by the muting piles of grain all around. I must work all the harder to make my wants clear.
“Your brow is heavy, Awyer,” I prod at him. “Join me. Divulge your worries.”
Awyer gives it some thought. His brooding brow broods a little deeper before making a decision. He leans into the side of grain.
A satisfactory outcome.
Were the pile outside, it would shimmer golden in the sunlight. The gold of the land. The treasure of the earth. But within the storehouse, the shining is muted to dull tan. “Now then, Awyer.” I slide into place next to him. “Tell me what plagues you.”
Awyer stares into the ceiling. His features are dark, his hair and his brows and his lashes; all but his eyes, which are golden and slanted and look more like an animal’s than any person’s. That is only fitting. Sphinx blood runs thick in Awyer’s veins – a gift passed down from his mother’s father.
Awyer takes his time answering, as he usually does. “It is not anything new, Grim,” he admits once allowing a helping of seconds to pass. “It is . . .” He bares his rightmost wrist. Purple-hued, the veins beneath twist and curl. I put a finger to it. The Amethyst is warmer today than yesterday; soon Awyer’s time will come. I put an ear to it, and a rushing sound only I can hear tells me of what will be.
Awyer stands atop a pillar, encompassed in a funnel of Amethyst smoke. Soundless, the air around him rises, pushing the cloud higher and higher until there is nothing less than a direct line to the heavens.
The future flashes at the front of my mind, hazed like a dream yet certain as death. Awyer’s destiny: A little more of it is revealed to me each day.
Lo, it is my destiny to read his.
“It grows stronger,” Awyer says again upon inspecting his painted flesh. “And it aches.” The storehouse’s catwalks pervert the few beams of light allowed to exist therein. One perverted ray spreads across the whole of Awyer’s face. Illumination does not suit him.
Then again, I may merely be predisposed to things dark in nature.
“I have a new task for you, Awyer, if it interests,” I say.
But to the request, my ward, wholly content with sifting long into the evening hours, shakes his head and continues to stare.
That will not do.
“The fountains are overrun by Pates, and it will take someone of great craft to convince them to move,” I tempt.
Awyer narrows his already narrow eyes.
“Something to say?” I inquire.
“You play with me, Grim.”
And to some extent, that is truth. I do play with him. I know as well as he that there is not an ounce of craft within his person. A sphinx born without guile. A boy born without wile. My ward is the ultimate paradox.
No matter. That is where I come in.
With an invisible giggle, I float to the door of the storehouse. “Come along, Awyer! To the fount!”
The outside air clears away the muggedness of the storehouse, cool and crisp and clean – enchanted to be so. The overhead sky tints a lavender color, and no one of Eldrade knows that skies should not be so. Blue skies and warm air, those things exist only beyond Eldrade’s barrier, forgotten by Awyer and his neighbors; forgotten by everyone but me.
Eldrade bustles. Its buildings of polished stone rise, neatly cutting through the horizon, texturizing the skyline. Carved and curled statues of the Great Ones, nameless avian protectors of Eldrade, guard the entrances to every inhabited tower – all of them tinted with Amethyst, all of them enchanted.
High overhead, amidst the smooth building tops, Eldradeans float to and fro on umbrella-adorned platforms – the premier transportation of an enchanted city. Though the flats have been spelled to keep along predetermined paths marked by threadlike lines of light, that does not stop the Amethyst-empowered youth from finding ways to make them stray.
Awyer, no ordinary youth, has no taste for mischief. It is I who will spell ours astray.
“After you, Awyer.” At the loading docks, I prod him onto a rickety looking flat. The ricketier, the better, as any hoodlum knows. Those are the ones whose enchants have worn enough for modification.
Awyer steps on with reluctance. Outspoken or not, there is no question he dislikes being bossed by me. Alas, if I do not pressure him, his destiny will never come to fruition.
That funnel of Amethyst smoke, it is up to me to get him there.
“Up to no good again,” the man at the docks assumes. He looks at Awyer with disfavor. My poor ward must take the brunt of consequence when it comes to our mischief. After all, to everyone but Awyer, I am nothing more than a shadow. “At least you’ve got your naefaerie with you,” says the man, whose arms blare full Amethyst. “Keep him on the right path, Mistress.” This he commissions to the space just to the right of me. The man cannot read the sun. He knows not where I stand in relation to my shadow, though it is all he has as a reference. He cannot see me. He cannot hear me. I do not fully exist.
“If you knew,” Awyer responds.
Yes, if the man knew. Just as any naefaerie’s job is to guide their ward along the path that is right and good, it should be my job to guide Awyer’s conscience. Should. Not in our case. I am a naefaerie of . . . uncommon descent.
But that we shall save for later.
Everything about our situation is erroneous. Awyer the cunningless sphinx and his mischievous naefaerie. We will let the Eldradeans think what they like.
“Going up!” The man taps the umbrella with his finger, and the lift takes off into the air along the string of silver guiding light.
We are in ascent.
“Do you tire of it?” Our ride is not more than a few stories up, when comes a rare conversational piece from the few-worded boy.
“Tire of what?” I say.
Awyer nods to the man who is quickly shrinking as our umbrella moves farther and farther away from him, the docks, and the ground.
“Being invisible?” I say.
Truthfully, all that matters is that HE can see me, but to say something to that extent would be . . . compromising, so all I answer him is, “Not particularly.”
Awyer settles his eyes on the silvery skin of my invisible face. He says nothing. He is in thought? Yes. About our pact? Yes. His hand finds its way to his right shoulder. The tattoo beneath his tunic is our proof. Like a cracked, imperfect shard of obsidian crystal, the spelled shape rests against his skin, binding him to me, allowing him to see and hear me, and allowing me a glimpse into his fated future.
With that tattooed shard, our destinies are tied.
Air pours past as we glide into the air and hover across the tops of the towering architecture – stone structures cut and set neatly without wear from wind or rain or age. Our destination is meant to be the Grand Grimoire Library at the center of Eldrade’s hilly non-residences. Our business, however, is not there.
I call upon an Amethyst enchant to steer our course. “To the fountains!” Not only to them, but to the high top of them, where the Pates have been illegally gathering.
Excitement catches me.
Awyer, on the other hand, is disinterested in the task. He kicks his feet over the edge of the platform and stares with unaffected eyes over the metropolis that is his home. The invisible barrier surrounding the Amethyst City stretches into the distance. Awyer cannot see it, but even he can feel it. They all can. And although they have forgotten the balance of enchantments, there is one thing all Eldradeans know to be true: Once one leaves through the protective barrier, it is impossible to find his or her way back. That fact looms around the outskirts of the city, warning any who get too close.
Willingly kept within one land for nearly a thousand years.
Perhaps Awyer and his neighbors deserve what is coming.
It is not my place to warn them.
This I know.
. . . And yet, when I look at Awyer . . .
No, I cannot think to that extent. It is too compromising.
“How?” says Awyer.
No elaboration necessary. I understand what he is asking. “How are we to convince the Pates to leave the fountains?” I say. “Simple. We will trick them.”
He will see. There is not need to waste words on the inevitable.
Awyer does not press. He rests his chin on his hand and his elbow on his thigh. My stooped ward. How he has grown in the days since our pact. When I found him, he was only a boy. Now he is tall. And strong. And lean. Seventeen is fast approaching.
The umbrella has shifted course. It whizzes sideways, along an unused path without silver guideline. When we near our true destination, it begins to slow. Awyer lifts his feet in anticipation. Just in time. The platform skims along the top of one fountain’s jutting water.
We have arrived: Fountain Terrace – a place harboring seventy fountains of varying size, power, and build. Housed on multilevel tiers, the enchanted water reaches a massive diameter for no purpose other than to beautify Eldrade.
And beautify it does. Glimmering water hops from fount to fount, spraying offshooting mist into the air, which in turn catches the sun and glistens. The whole of the place sparkles, mimicking a waterfall’s crashing domain.
Sadly, the beauty is dirtied by a presence. The Pates collect atop the topmost fount, conspiring to absorb the natural power found within the skipping water. They know not that their methods are akin to those used by necromancers beyond the walls of Eldrade, for they know not of the existence of necromancers at all.
But they will. And soon.
The water skips. The Pates conspire. What they wish for is petty sorcery, indeed. They are the riffraff of the kingdom, content with bullying the lesser residents and causing piddly acts of disarray. Comprised predominantly of failed Amethyst users, the Pates are gnats; and the rulers of Eldrade have long sought to banish them from the otherwise peaceful city. Alas, the enchanted barrier is a double-edged sword: Just as anyone who leaves cannot find his or her way back to the Amethyst City, so too cannot any one inhabitant be forced to leave. Through any means. And so the Pates, who have caused no offense worthy of being locked in the underground prisons, as far as the street officials are concerned, are left free to wander and disrupt the flow of daily life. Were they successful in their attempts to draw power from the water, a viable threat they would become; for this reason alone, they are not to gather in yonder fount.
But gather they do, and a menace it is. Awyer will rid them with my craft, and his reputation will rise.
“It is time, my fief.”
The stooped boy steps from the lift and stretches. His eyes gleam yellow. It is fortunate that he looks the part, even if far from it. Encompassed in mist, Awyer approaches the Pates.
Ten of them today accumulate – eight of no consequence; two obviously occupied by wit. Those are the two we will focus our convictions on. Gull those and the rest will follow. I hide my shadow within Awyer’s shadow. Unless they are looking intentionally, I will not be seen. There are certain advantages to being nonmaterial.
Upon Awyer’s intrusion, one of the wit-occupied gnats, a woman of wide stature and thick chin, steps forth. The others shuffle to conceal their tools – bone and beak and powdered crystal – and, in a fully conspicuous manner, huddle to wall off the targeted fount.
“Why are you here, O crafty one?” the woman speaks.
Awyer squints at her assumption, but remains widely disinterested in the task. His mouth is bored, his posture uncommitted.
“Now, now, Awyer,” I scold. “No one will take you seriously if you slouch.”
He rolls his eyes. He does not delight when I act like a mother. Lately, it bothers him more. He gives a sigh and brings a hand to the back of his neck. Reluctant to the core, my ward is.
But reluctant or not, when I whisper into his ear, he dutifully repeats:
“A wealth of knowledge is held in its crown. It spreads with wings; it sits on down. Name it not, you may not stay. Win the guess, keep ire at bay.”
The woman glances at the other gnat of wit. “A riddle?” she says.
Aye, what else from a sphinx?
Awyer nods and presents his hand. “A riddle of gold,” he expounds.
Of gold. This is a blessing cast upon the sphinxes. With the riddle’s true answer spoken into Awyer’s mind, a sanctified deal may be struck with the Pates. He may not go back on his word. He may not house two answers, though many may exist. Of gold: It is meant to keep us honest.
An unspoken exchange transpires between the woman and her comrade, and when it is finished, “Very well,” she says and takes Awyer’s hand. But the deal cannot happen just yet, as Awyer does not yet know the answer to his own riddle. The moment I tell it into his ear, a light of gold reacts within their clasp. Their hands glow. The pact is formed.
Upon releasing the woman’s hand, Awyer’s continues to glow; and it will until the riddle is solved. So, too, does the woman’s as she retreats into the fold of her fellow riffraff.
“Well done, Awyer. You are quite crafty.”
Awyer scoffs at my praise, and then he looks to the lavender sky. Clouds move in. Not because they have broken through the barrier somehow, but because the sky has been enchanted to show variety. Even rain may come.
The Pates are huddled. Awyer waits. He brings his glowing hand to his face and his eyes shine in reflection.
In time, the Pates let out an: “Aha!” because they think they have found their answer. They have not. I have observed their so-called wit. I have predicted their guess. And it will be wrong.
The thick-chinned woman approaches.
“Have you an answer?” Awyer asks, aloof.
“We have,” she says. “It is one of the Greats of Eldrade. A phoenix. It holds a wealth of knowledge within its crown; spreads its wings; sits upon a bottom of feathery down. The answer is a phoenix.”
With the answer given, the Pates are smug.
I am far, far smugger.
“Incorrect,” I say via Awyer, and the woman’s smugness falls. “The answer is the Grand Grimoire Library. Its wings stretch – north and south and east and west; it sits upon a hill without trees – a down; and a wealth of knowledge is stored in its shelved crown. Therefore, the library is the correct answer.”
The gold of the Pate woman’s hand dims, while the light of Awyer’s grows. She scowls at her comrades, though there is naught she can do. The deed is done, the riddle solved, and the Pates have no choice but to retreat. The deal is such that even if they wished to go back on their word, the blessing of the sphinxes would not allow them. A riddle of gold’s outcome is undeniable. Their riffraffed feet begin to walk on their own. In a line, the Pates do go, and a zipping hummer appears in the place they once were. A tiny bird of teal and scarlet, the hummer flits about the scene, sweeping the air and collecting information. It is building a report to bring to the elders.
Yes, Awyer’s reputation will surely grow.
“A phoenix could have worked too, Grim,” says Awyer gruffly as he hops upon the umbrellaed platform.
“But that was predictable. The greatest riddles have three layers. I knew they would not be able to see past the first, which is why I told you the second.”
“And what of the third?” he asks.
The third involves things beyond Eldrade’s border. I say nothing. Awyer folds his arms and looks at me slyly.
Our flat begins a sloped descent, through the misty offspray and away from Fountain Terrace. Awyer’s arms remain crossed. Not only has he been in a mood all day, our rapport has not been in the best standing as of late. Things between us have been wrong. Tense. And seventeen’s emergence of power is not all to blame. The truth of the matter is that it has been a while since we last . . . diverted. In Awyer’s younger days, diversion was all we did.
For beings in our situation, diversion is everything.
“Here I go, Awyer!”
Without additional explanation, I hop to the top of the umbrella and give it a kick. Awyer perks as, once more, our flat changes course.
I command the lift go up, and it rises straight into the sky. Though the barrier’s warning looms overhead, we press on. We will not break it, but we will come close. Pressing the limits in this way is an act most exhilarating. Awyer does not necessarily feel the same.
I take care to tiptoe around the umbrella’s edge. “Look into the distance, my fief, and tell me what you see,” I say.
Using the umbrella’s handle for grounding, Awyer stands and scans the horizon. The expanse beyond Eldrade’s barrier is blurred – enchanted to be so – but if Awyer will use just a whit of the Amethyst writhing about in his veins, he may be able to see a hint of clarity. “There, Awyer.” I point to a particular peak through the dense lavender of the upper sky. “Press at the center of your eyes with your mind, and you will see it,” I tell him.
Awyer’s animal-like irises become intent.
“Can you discern what lies beyond?” I ask.
“It is foggy.”
“Stare into the blur and push it away. Only then will your vision clear.” Awyer gives it more concentration, but still he cannot see. “Focus, Awyer. Enough Amethyst writhes in you to perform a spell so small.”
Belittling the issue works. “A . . . mountain?” he guesses.
Yes, a mountain. But more importantly, a story. A story he must hear. I make my voice to be ominous:
“For on that mount, two witch sisters lived, collecting unlucky animals that wandered into their lair. Theirs was a nest of things unholy, and the witch sisters, called by their underlings ‘Hamira’ and ‘Gorma’, were known throughout the land for their acts of treachery. Most treacherous was their lust for enchants.
“Only three powers were ever meant to exist within moral reality, Amethyst being the daughter of the other two; but the witch sisters, they pulled from a fourth magick, a darker magick – an accumulation of the evil thoughts thought but never carried through; and the secrets kept in shame, never to be shared.
“Aye, secrets and malice, those were the things that fueled the witches, and it was no small sin that it was so; for unused malice is sent to a place beyond the Eternity Vessel – a blackness no man or god has ever seen, and a place no mortal should ever touch. But touch it they did, and corrupt they became, and from that day forth hoarded forbidden magicks alone within their shrine. While the other powers of the world spun, their control over the darkness grew. An unbalance into the balance. A wrinkle into the fold.
“Ages passed. Stars faded. And what became of the witch sisters? They yet reside on the mount, rotting in spite, and their power continues to grow. Any who encounter them be wise: The peak is named Ensecré, for a witch will always trade a spell . . . for a secret.”
Awyer gazes into the hazy skyline as I finish my tale. I have offered him just a little of the knowledge he should not know. “Two powers that birthed Amethyst?” he inquires. “Grim, explain. Excluding storytales, Amethyst IS the only power.”
I cannot say any more. All I can give him is a nod. Small and deceitful, the nod makes Awyer frown.
In due time.
In time near.
But not now.
I float from the umbrella’s top and to the platform itself. Next to Awyer I settle. Together we kick our legs over the side of the flat. Over the whole of the polished stone city. Over the Pates and the street officials and the elders and the casters. My ward and I sit in silence.
“You cannot tell me.” Awyer does not ask, merely states.
“I cannot,” I respond.
Awyer gives a sign and stares down at his own changing flesh. “It grows stronger.”
I put a hand to his wrist, finishing: “And it aches.”
He nods. “Mm.”
“Not for long, Awyer.”
The silvery skin of my arm rests against the healthy tan of his. The longer parts of his hair, dark as untilled under-earth, toss in the enchanted breeze. Mine rest, for I do not exist enough to be kissed by the wind. My hair is short and shifts in color during the hours, from palest white to deepest onyx. I could will it longer, but there is no point in that. There would be no one to see it but Awyer, and if I were to do so, he might think I had for his sake. And that would be . . . compromising.
Ever compromising are the things I should not imagine.
“You can lean here, Grim.” Awyer pats his tattoo-marked shoulder.
“You know I do not tire, Awyer.”
“I do know,” he says. “I offered because you looked like you wanted to.”
It is compromising.
Both that I wanted to.
And that he could see it.
We cannot have that.
I float to my toes and return to the top of the umbrella. “Time to go home, my sphinx.”
“I am more man than sphinx,” he says.
“You are more boy than man.”
But as I watch his hair toss about behind his neck, I realize the differentiation is becoming as blurred as the enchanted horizon. Boy, sphinx, man, ward – of those things I am not certain, though there is one thing I am.
Awyer is mine. He will be mine until the day that he dies. Awyer’s destiny: A little more of it is revealed to me each day.
That is how I know something is brewing, even before the first blast of red smoke hits Grand Grimoire Library and shakes the enchanted city of Eldrade.
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