Rowe haunted the maze of hallways that connected the temple’s quarters, meeting rooms, audience chambers, meditation rooms, and game rooms all day since leaving the balcony overlooking the gardens. He couldn’t get Bronwyn’s sacrifice and his friends’ silence on what she’d told them out of his mind. Eventually he began to see things as they were now, however. He couldn’t change what she’d done, and he couldn’t change the decisions that had been made about him but against his will. What he *could* do something about was what still remained of the future.
The first thing he realized was that he was not the only one that had been hurt by the loss of a loved one. Early that day, he’d spoken with his father and told him the truth. Sir Kanderus was a knight of the realm of Arcasia, entrusted with enforcing the peace and the king’s law in the conquered provinces of Riall. That included Carn and the surrounding land.
Before they’d left for Ozur, his team had discovered whole villages had been harvested of their people. The few survivors told them that raiders had killed those who fought and took away everyone else they found and that could travel. Whole villages had lost their loved ones, friends and family. Sir Kanderus had been told that the Crown had detected insurrection there, and that they had to be crushed before revolt could spread.
Rowe had always felt Sir Kanderus had been a terrible father, that had little care for his son or what happened to him. But he knew that Kanderus was a good knight, loyal to the king and the laws of the land. Someone had lied to Kanderus. The villagers that Rowe saw had seen no Arcasian troops. They’d seen only raiders that had come upon them, killing and taking who they wanted. Rowe told his father of this fact and beseeched him to look into the matter. Someone was deceiving the crown, and Sir Kanderus. Someone was pillaging the land for slaves. That someone was the true enemy of Arcasia.
Slavery was not illegal in Arcasia. But assaulting villages protected by the king was.
He’d left his father then, after asking him pointedly on a personal level if his father had ever cared what had become of his son. Kanderus said that of course he cared. But he never asked Rowe. That was what had added bitterness to his pain over what Bronwyn had done. Still, something made him pause before he left. He’d told his father he would be at the temple of Torn for a little while.
As Rowe turned another corner, he found himself in one of the several dining halls.
As he passed by, the tall cleric gazed at the staff and clergy of the temple talking over their shared meals. Worship of Torn was most often a happy thing and the temple a happy place. These people had given themselves to chance and fate. Some had been victims of chance, a downturn of luck that had left them homeless or broken, people the temple had taken in. Giving themselves to Torn, they’d found new purpose in life and comfort in knowing that come what may, things happened for the best, even if sometimes bad things had happened in the past. He like these people; they were much like him. Though his face had held enough pain and anger and sorrow to have made most of them avoid him, he knew they were his people, too. He’d been touched by Torn and on more than one occasion. He knew that to be rare in the extreme.
His thoughts turned to Vinneas, the evil Prince who now laid claim to Bronwyn. He was a prince in love with himself, and with his own lust for power. Men who would take away the freedom of others for their own personal pleasure craved power. He must have craved Bronwyn as well, because he’d accepted a high price to acquire her.
But why? A piece was missing. A very important piece.
And what was the Crown Prince Valerius as well as his younger brother Vinneas doing there at Ozur? He had not wanted Rowe to find out who he was. Rowe had needed to push hard to have his meeting with his team’s patron. It was only under threat of withdrawing from the Crucible tournament did he meet with Rowe. Why had Vinneas done that? Now Rowe suspected it was because he didn’t want Rowe to leave and take Bronwyn with him. Had she been his target the entire time? Was that why he’d purchased Kestra from the slavers? How did he know Kestra would lead him to Bronwyn?
And there was the the most important question again. Why did Vinneas want Bronwyn so badly?
Bronwyn had to have known he wanted her, and it seemed likely that she knew why. Another secret that had been kept from him. Anger burned in his face as he turned away from the dining room and continued his restless roving through the temple. He was no dupe. Torn had chosen him, and he didn’t believe it was because he’d be a mindless tool for whatever game the gods were playing. For the moment he knew that Bronwyn was safe, and that alone stayed his hand from doing tracking her down immediately and killing Vinneas and anyone else that got in his way, or die trying. He could not be sure she would remain safe should he come for her full of vengeance.
No. He had to find out what Vinneas’ game was. And from what he’d seen, Valerius was working with Bronwyn to unravel Vinneas secret even now. The only thing he could do for now was to give them time. Valerius was the Crown Prince and he was one of them, though he had no idea if the Valerius himself knew this or not. But he seemed to be working with Bronwyn, at least for the moment.
Was Vinneas gearing up for a power play? Was he attempting to bring together a seditious alliance with the nobles who’d come for the 100-year event of the Grand Crucible? Rowe and his team, as champions, were even now being immortalized in stone there, but their success seemed to him only a distraction now. They should have been asking these questions when they were there in Ozur. Now Bronwyn was left to the task alone. And it might cost her her life.
He needed lists of nobles who attended. He needed to know the countries from which they hailed. He needed to know what, if any, their connections were to Vinneas. And now it was too late.
Rowe ground his teeth and glowered so menacingly, a young acolyte jumped at the sight and scurried rapidly out of his way. He realized with a sigh, all he was accomplishing now was to scare the good people here at the temple. He sighed and mumbled an apology after the frightened girl, then turned and headed back to his rooms.
His walks had been so silent that he had forgotten entirely the being he now shared everything with. At least until he closed the door to his room.
“You are at a critical moment in life,” the silky masculine voice said as Zane materialized before him. “I do not envy you, not even to be solid.”
The incorporeal form sat down across from Rowe as he continued to glower. Sighing heavily he looked about the room. “You know what never ceases to amaze me? Life, and the intricate randomness of it.
“When you look at a spiders web it seems a mess of chaos, and yet every strand was laid with precision and purpose. Just as it is in life, it is sometimes easier to see when it is stormy, and rain drenches it.
“Now you may wonder why it is I bring this up. Well I have been silent to see how your mood is coming along, and decided that even I haven’t the patience to out-wait you, though you certainly have reason for your mood.
“So, reason number two then? Yes moving on, it has changed a lot in the years, but your home is Trysten’s. Well, was as a child before the massacre.”
Zane paused to see if this news might lift Rowes somberness.
Rowe paused, absorbing the news. “Torne touched me once and brought forth the memory of why he had chosen me. He showed me the day that the temple was attacked, and how Trysten’s mother and she were in terrible danger. I was only a boy, but a grabbed up a sword and cut Jarvis. So, I knew that Trysten’s mother was a priestess here, but I never really thought about Trysten living here, too. Do you think, then, there might be something of her still here?”
“No doubt that little demon left her mark somewhere. Gareyth, her father was the High Lord of the Daemon’s, we caught her one day carving her name into the tree in the courtyard. I suppose if it is still there, the tree, then her mark is too. ” Zane smiled as he recalled the day they caught the little scamp up in the tree, carving into the bark. “When we asked what she was up to she said practicing.”
“Practicing? What did she mean by that?” Rowe asked.
He laughed to think about it. ” She said she needed to be agile with a blade, have good penmanship, and accuracy. So I am getting them done at once so I can move on, she said as Gareyth took her out of the tree.”
Zayne added, “But you have it wrong. Trysten grew up in the home *you* did, Rowe, not this temple.”
Rowe stared at Zayne with large eyes as the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. “What?” Zayne didn’t change his expression and Rowe knew he’d heard right this time. He rubbed his face. He was so completely thrown, all he could do was mumble something in comprehensible. Now he wanted to ransack his father’s house looking for any clue possible. But how was he to do that now? He didn’t think his father wouldn’t notice if he went poking around home looking for clues.
He smiled a little. It wasn’t much but it was a step forward for him. For Rowe, it was the first smile he’d shown since Zayne had met him, and certainly the first smile that had touched his lips since Bronwyn left.
“I’ll have to see if it’s still there,” he said, referring to the carving. The small smile had already disappeared. “I’m also going to visit the libraries here. I need to know some things, and maybe some rituals that will help us move about more quickly.”
Rowe hesitated a moment, looking down at the floor in serious thought. Then he asked, “Zayne, do you think there is a chance she might really be alive? Do you think she might like me? Rowan, the man she loved, died centuries ago. I’m not sure I’m that person anymore. I’m chosen by Torne, as he was, but that doesn’t mean he was a cleric or anything like me. I don’t know who he was, really. I’m not sure she’s the person she was anymore, either. But my best friend has sacrificed herself for me, or intends to do so, because she thinks I’m meant for someone else. She didn’t say so in so many words, but I think Bronwyn means Trysten.”
Zayne looked at Rowe in earnest letting the light hearted scare slop away. For the first time Rowe became aware of the threat looking him in the eyes.
Then it passed.
“Honesty is survival Rowe. I will tell you what I know, when you ask or when I think you need to hear it. You are the same soul, life force, energy, whatever your beliefs tell you. This go-round you are a different aspect. Rowyn was not great at anything, but good at a lot of things. He had a kind heart, and knew well the brutal truth of reality. I see a lot of that in you, and that you are learning. You are very young so there is plenty of time for things. For now you should know that I can feel I am not a strong as I was with Trystan, nor do I have full range of my memories. That fact troubles me”
“Was my blood not strong enough to wake you properly?” Rowe asked.
“I really couldn’t say. Gareyth bound me by blood, and some other things. It is his bloodline that has the power to release me. Trysten must have done something to allow younto call me. So it could be that you are not a wielded, they have potent blood, many have been killed for it actually.”
“Or she never expected that it would have to be a future incarnation of Rowan that would be attempting it,” Rowe offered. “But it’s true I’m not a wielder. I wield magic, but I channel power from Torne or use that which I find in my environment, not from my own blood and bone. I know of no way to transcend this limitation.”
Rowe paused, then asked, “You’ve still got access to magic I don’t have. Being able to see if Bronwyn was okay… I can’t tell you how much that helped ease my mind. If we could look in on her from time to time, I’d be eternally grateful. I’m looking for some way to do this as well, but do you know of a way to get a message to her?”
“There are ways to send mesasges, a runner, a delivery board, a shadow deamon, a blood note…” He trailed off in thought for a moment. “Any of those strike your fancy?”
“It must be something that only she could receive,” Rowe clarified.
“If you have something of her I can do my best, a blood note would be best. Written in your blood mixed with something of the receiver you would be the only two to see the words. Really does no one pay attention to their masters anymore?” Zayne sighed, and with a wave of his hand the writing pen began making a list.
“Here is what I will need, you get it for me and I can send your message. Keep in mind though, the shadow Deamon will need payment.”
Rowe nodded. Master? he wondered. He almost laughed at that. He’d been just feeling his way along his whole life. It was only now that he resorted to books and libraries and masters of magic. He wondered what it meant. “Written in my blood. It will be. I’ll see to the rest as well.”
Rowe looked up from the list to the deamon ghost. “Thank you, Zayne.”
Zaynes eyebrow arched in perfect form. “Written? I see this relationship of ours will be great fun for me. It appears you didn’t study at all.”
Be took a moment to laugh before he continued. “Bring the item to me when you know what you wish to say. I will take care of the rest.”
Rowe looked a little bemused. “You keep saying stuff like that. You do realize that everything I know about magic I had to teach myself, don’t you? I have no master. And no, I didn’t study to be one of Torne’s chosen. He marked me — and that only a couple months ago.” He added a little grouchily, “So all things considered, I think I’ve managed very well for the situation I’m in.”
He shook his head. “Okay, maybe I need some more details. You said blood note, so I thought you meant something needed to be written. What exactly do I need apart from my blood and something Bronwyn gave me?”
“First, what do you mean you do have a master? Why were you not apprenticed? Second I need to know what to tell her. Once you’ve formulated what to say to her, we can start.”
Rowe looked confused. “Why would I be apprenticed?”
“Because everyone is apprenticed to learn.”
“To learn what?”
“It’s the way the world works. Whatever you need to learn, you must learn from a master.”
Rowe replied, “I understand what you mean. In terms of trades, that’s still true. But for me, I learned battle by doing. And I learn magic by studying the books and scrolls I can find. There aren’t any masters of magic anymore.”
Rowe just looked helplessly at Zayne.
“Clearly a lot has changed since I’ve been asleep. Okay, let’s just focus on getting this message out. Are you ready?”
Rowe nodded. He quickly rifled through his things to find a lucky feather Bronwyn had found once and gave to him. He presented it to Zayne. “Shall I write down what I want her to know, or will you remember it all?”
Zayne just smiled. Knowing that Zayne needed to be corporeal to manipulate the ingredients, Rowe cut another piece of hair off and gave it to the spirit.
Zayne manipulated the ingredients and burned the feather until it was all mixed in a cup. “Lesson number one. Everything has a cost. This is probably going to hurt. Are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” said Rowe.
Zayne punched him square in the mouth, splitting a lip. He held the cup up to Rowe’s face and said, “Now speak what you want said, and be sure the blood runs into the cup.”
Rowe nodded mutely and said the words that had been burning in his mind.
When he finished, Zayne took the cup and held out one hand, and began to pour while chanting in Daemon. Formed in thought and blood, to your purpose you must fly. None will be aware of you but your intended. Take shape. Take flight. He named Bronwyn and then as the substance poured out, it swirled and took the shape of a blood-red bird. When he finished the bird perched upon his hand. He gave the creature its destination, and it immediately took flight out the window.
He looked at Rowe. “The note will be delivered to none but the intended. She is the only one who can access it.”
Rowe thanked him again, and told him that he knew he’d be asking much of him as time goes forward. Zayne repeated his warning about the cost, but Rowe told him any cost was worth it for his friend.