Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chapter Twenty: Dark Places in Our Souls(Part One)



"Belthor." Master Kulkas eyed him as the initiate worked his way into his office. "I was wondering when I'd see you, but first thing in the morning after my return..."

"Hello, sir. I can come back later, if it's-"

"No, no. By all means." Master Kulkas waved his hand, and the door shut behind Belthor. The young man took a breath as his mentor resumed unpacking his mystic food-trunk. "Sit." He waved again and a chair positioned itself for Belthor's use. "Tea? Scone?"

"No thank you, sir." Belthor tried to command his staff to stand upright like his mentor's, but it simply fell to the floor. Mumbling, the initiate scrambled to recover it. He leaned it on the wall without a word, then took his seat.

Master Kulkas met his eyes. For a moment, it was quiet.

"I...think I need to talk, sir," Belthor told him quietly.

"I'm hardly surprised." Master Kulkas' eyes were dark. "Master Protec told me what he saw, so I can hardly imagine what you did."

Belthor nodded, unsure of what words he needed to use. He swallowed. "I'm sorry for disobeying your instruction, but when Annette was taken, I just...I thought..."

"You did the right thing, Belthor." Master Kulkas eased to a seat, putting his hands on the table. "Theron was mad. And you might have prevented much worse harm from befalling Annette."

"...how are they?" Belthor asked. "The Owned."

Master Kulkas tilted his head side to side. Finally, he exhaled. "They are alive."

Belthor winced. "So you've seen them?"

"Yes."

"I pulled them up, and..." He sniffed, which took him by surprise. "Sir..." his voice wavered. "Yvette started to ramble...she thought I was Theron, and I was going to bury her again..."

"It's all right. She is mad now too, in a different way." The wizard shook his head. "Belthor, you could not have done a thing more for her. Do you understand that?"

"I don't feel that way," he confessed. "I could have found them sooner, couldn't I? Or...maybe if we hadn't wrecked Theron's potions laboratory, there could have been some information on his brews there. We could have made an antidote-"

"Master Protec is at work on that as we speak," Master Kulkas said. "Theron was his disciple, not his better, so in the end I believe there is much hope that my colleague will unearth the key to healing Yvette and the others."

Belthor swallowed. "Sir...sir..." he wiped at his eyes. "Do you know how I felt?"

"You were angry. You were disbelieving. You were betrayed."

"I wanted to kill him," Belthor confessed, cheeks wet. "I still want to kill him. I want to know where he's locked up, and I want to go there, and I want to snap him in half." Belthor sniffed again, his breathing becoming more ragged. "I want to do it so badly. And not...not like..." he made motions with his hands. "Not like...oh, I'm going to kill him, I'm so mad. No. It was different. It was..."

"It was cold." Master Kulkas nodded. "It was a process of logic. The sun rises in the east. Roses are red. I will kill Theron Greenhaven and watch the light fade from his eyes."

"...yes," Belthor admitted. "You understand."

"Belthor, I have many times met wizards who use their power for self-gratification and fantasy fulfillment," Master Kulkas said. "I do not pretend it is uncommon, though I wish it was. Theron is symptomatic of a wizarding culture that glorifies academic achievement and powerful sorcery, without thought for the beauty and gift that magic truly is."

"Have you ever killed someone for something like this?" Belthor asked. He winced a moment later. "I'm sorry, sir. That's not a polite question."

"Several times." Master Kulkas didn't seem at all off-put. "But never out of rage, Belthor. In defense of others to stop them, yes. To prevent them striking again, certainly. Simply out of wrath...no." He shook his head. "Anger is a poison, Belthor. It can give you great power, and sometimes it is justified and even necessary...but never forget that anger only serves to destroy. If it destroys another, it will destroy you too in the doing."

"My Rune was red." Belthor fidgeted. "But...but sir...Nerien's rune on Theron's arm..."

"The gods do not always act in ways that are obvious, Belthor," Master Kulkas said. "Nor do their decisions always make sense to us. Do not let that shake your faith in the Lady of Healing. Her purpose is always to bind the wounds others leave behind in their squabbles, and to elevate people and lift them up to a brighter future. Theron's actions cannot change what she is."

"But she approved. She had to, or she'd have turned his Rune red..." Belthor shook his head. "I don't understand."

"And you might never," Master Kulkas said. "Or perhaps she will explain herself to you in good time. You simply must keep your ears open and be willing to listen."

Belthor nodded slowly. "I can try, sir."

"That's all anyone can ask." Master Kulkas gave him a gentle smile. "Now, Belthor: talk to me. Tell me what you saw. Let me help you."
 
***

Agnete paced the halls of the Grand School in a daze. She could barely concentrate on where she was going, and she'd gotten turned around three times now. Her books seemed heavy in her bag, and the heat seemed more oppressive than usual.

Very few people stopped her to speak to her. In fact, most gave her sidelong looks. At least they gave Sam and Tori the same ones, when she happened to pass them earlier. They mustered smiles, but Agnete could tell they were well and truly forced ones.

"I don't understand," she muttered, heedless of the stares she drew. "I don't understand. How could he...why would anyone..."

And they call my people the savages! The uncivilized ones! That injustice made Agnete's blood boil. They call me primitive, and turn around and...and...

She was finally outside, breathing in the mercy of cold air and crunching lovely snow underfoot. She hurried around the side of the building, then out across the grounds, scattering snow until she reached the cut-through behind Dorm Six.

She knelt in the snow, dropping her bag by her side, to reach out and fondle the snowdrops again.

There is beauty in this world, she told herself, as firmly as she could. There is beauty here. There are flowers. It's not just Theron and his Owned and coffins and torturers and abusers of magic and racists and...

She sniffed. Agnete did not like crying. What purpose did it serve but to telegraph her fragile mental state when she least needed others to see? Belthor had been right: there were some things that weren't meant to be talked about. She understood now, like she hadn't even when he'd pressed her about-

"What've you got to cry about?"

About Hastel.

"Excuse me?" Agnete asked, turning about. Hastel and his companions were behind her, each one with a cross expression.

"You're not the one whose brother got locked up," Hastel said. Agnete blinked.

"He was-"

"I've heard the lies. That's all they are. You're mad at me because I won't get over you freezing me half to death and because I like giving you a good ribbing, so you go and get Theron locked up?" Hastel glared. "My uncle and my father will get to the bottom of this."

"Your brother is a vicious, cruel man." Agnete stood. "If you'd seen what I'd seen, you'd not doubt that."

"You're a liar, clanswoman," Hastel said, curling his lip. "Maybe you do bury your head in the sand."

Dark snickers were the response to that. Agnete swallowed. She was in no condition to deal with this, and she felt the chill in her veins coming quickly.

"I have to go." She turned and boosted herself up into the greenery.

"Run away, run away!" Hastel called after her. "It's all you're good at."

"I can do more than run," Agnete snapped, unable to help herself. She turned to glare down at the young man and his friends. "You are nasty and hateful."

"Oh! Nasty, we are." Hastel laughed, and his cronies joined in the chorus. "You'd know all about nasty, wouldn't you, Frost? I bet you only did Theron in because you were jealous of all the other girls all over him."

"...what?" Agnete blinked as the laughter redoubled. "This does not make sense."

"Aw. She's slow." That made her blood run cold. Hastel adopted a very demeaning expression, and his tone veered into the patronizing. "Do you need tiny words and big pauses, foreign girl? I know this isn't your first language."

Kill. That was her uncle's voice again. Kill them all. They'll never see you coming. You have the high ground and the advantage of surprise.

"She's speechless," one of the cronies observed as Agnete fought not to tear Hastel's throat out and drink from the wound. "I think you broke her, Has."

"Poor baby." Hastel spread his arms. "Come here, Frost. I'll give you a hug. Will that make it all better, since mommy's not here?"

Agnete turned and bolted, fleeing not just from the boy, but the burning desire to spread his blood. She couldn't stop the tears as she ran, but at that moment, she considered it a victory simply to have both of them walk away alive.

"And they call me the savage," she whispered through her tears as she heard them laughing in her wake and calling her names.

She slipped on ice under the snow, and Agnete sprawled. She lay on the ground, staring up at the cloudy sky and the falling flakes around her, a hand on her throat as she sniffled.

"Me," she whispered. "I'm the savage one. I'm the primitive. Their people are so much better than..."

Agnete cried in the snow, struggling to reconcile Hastel's cruelty and Theron's evil with Master Kulkas' insistence that the world was ultimately a good place.

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