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The Osumun Empire,

Orellen Enclave,

house of the healing sorcerer Yora,

(five years after Hamila’s prophecy)

New Roads

The woman was standing by the window again, a distant expression on her face as her red-stained fingers traced patterns on the bubbled glass. She stood barefoot, her long brown hair hanging unbrushed down her back.

At least this time she’d remembered to put on her robe.

“Atra, dear,” Yora said quietly. “Come away from the window. You mustn’t be seen here. Not yet. Remember?”

Atra glanced at her, her movements unnaturally slow. “Healer Yora,” she said after a moment’s thought. “Iven is coming today.”

That had been yesterday, but there was no reason to upset Atra at this point. For the past six months, her mind had been muddled. It was a wonder she’d managed to keep her head for as long as she had, given how many potions she took each day. Yora’s one solace was that she’d most likely recover, once they no longer had to dose her.

If any of us can ever truly recover from the choices we’ve made…

“Yes, Iven will be here later,” the healer said. “You’d best get to bed and have a little nap so you’ll be well rested when he arrives.”

“Oh, I should,” Atra murmured, one of her stained hands drifting down to touch the swollen expanse of her stomach. “It’s good for the babies.”

She allowed Yora to steer her back to bed, not complaining when the gray-haired woman locked the shutters over the windows with a spell. Yora tucked her in, arranging the pillows and blankets for her comfort, and Atra stared at her all the while, her pupils dilated.

“It’s been long enough hasn’t it?” she asked, a small frown creasing her face. “Years. Lots of years. Rella isn’t three anymore?”

Over the past few days, this had become a great worry for the woman. She had asked Yora many times about the ages of her children. “Rella is eight,” she said heavily, already knowing how Atra would react. “Nearly nine. We bought more time than anyone expected of us.”

“No.” Atra shook her head. “That’s not enough. She’s still too young. I can hold on longer.”

“We’ll consider it,” Yora lied.

Atra smiled at her. “I was raised by blood magicians. I know ways to strengthen the body. I can do it. I thought the power was evil in my youth, but it can save my children now.”

“Atra…” Yora looked down at her. The red stains on the woman’s hands ran all the way up to her shoulders. Don’t upset her more. “We’ll talk about it after your nap.”

A faint chiming sound rang through the house, and a crystal set into the wall flashed suddenly white. Yora grimaced. That was the signal for her to head to the crypt at once.

“Is it Patriarch Megimon?” asked Atra, gazing at the crystal.

“It’s the honored Partriarch,” Yora agreed.

The infrequently used title was probably meaningless to a man who’d crossed the threshold to a higher world years ago. Frankly, when Iven had said they needed the aid of “an ascended member of the family” if they were to have any hope of survival, Yora had thought, Well, then I guess we’ll all just die.

There were instructions in the archives for sending a message to that mysterious place, left behind centuries before by an ancestor. And technically, the family had just enough low and mid-rank spatial sorcerers to do it. But those great ones who had ascended didn’t come back. It was madness to think they might.

But at the time, Iven had been able to find no other answer. And he had insisted.

All the Seniors had been nearly struck dumb with shock when, a day or so after their call for help had gone out, the great Megimon Orellen had stepped out of thin air in the middle of the dining room in Seniors Hall as easily as any of them might step through a doorway.

“Ah,” he said, looking around the room. “This place hasn’t changed at all. I say, Dowither, is that you? You’ve grown a beard!”

Yora vaguely remembered Megimon from three decades previously. He’d had some kind of falling out with the other Seniors and left to pursue his own advancement without the family’s support. Twenty or so years after that, they learned he’d left the world behind.

To have made it to the Magus rank and crossed the threshold was an almost unfathomable accomplishment, but Megimon seemed to be a humble man. Anytime one of them called him “Great Magus” he looked positively pained.

“He’s brought another one to us,” said Atra. She smiled softly at the glowing crystal. “How many is that? I used to be so good at remembering all of them…I wanted to remember them…but now…”

“It’s nothing to worry yourself over, dear,” said Yora. “I’ll always remember the number for you. This will be nine hundred forty-three.”

“So many?”

“Yes. It’s many more than we imagined.”

“That’s good,” said Atra drowsily. “Iven will scry with the new number. It’s such a large number this time. He says large numbers are better, you know. Because it means there are more roads without axes…no, wait, that doesn’t sound right, does it? But I’m sure he’ll explain it to you, Yora. When he comes this afternoon.”

#

Megimon was relieved when the family’s Senior healer met him at the entrance to the crypt. Sometimes the woman, Yora, was busy.

The other two first circle healers who’d been entrusted with this secret were nice enough men, but they insisted on bowing and scraping and calling him Magus. Which was a humiliating reminder of what he was not.

He’d thought himself so clever for finding a way to sneak across the threshold between worlds as a mere high sorcerer. In a richer magical environment, he’d been sure, his understanding of spatial magic would increase by such leaps and bounds that it would be worth it.

Ah well…

“Partriarch Megimon,” said Yora, nodding her head respectfully. “You’ve found another suitable soul?”

“I have,” said Megimon. Well, the Disc of the Sacred Fates had. But the only member of the family who knew the truth of that was young Iven.

Megimon shuddered a little. Gods that man was going to wield a monstrous power if he ever reached the higher ranks. When the process of luck scrying had been explained to him, Megimon had been floored. Of course there were drawbacks and limitations, but it just wasn’t normal for something that powerful to work as well as it did for Iven.

The family was sure they could breed more luck practitioners given time, but Megimon doubted it would do them any good. He suspected Iven of having some exotic internal quirk that couldn’t be properly recognized in this world.

He followed Yora past the walls of barrier magic into the crypt. A teenage girl sat just inside the entrance. She was in a meditative position, eyes closed, surrounded by the best strengthening artifacts the family could offer.

Megimon thought her name might be Celia, but they’d only talked properly once. The girl was always busy with barrier maintenance when he saw her.

The crypt of the ancestors was not used for burials in modern times. It was embedded in the rocky hillside beneath Seniors’ Hall, and members of the family weren’t allowed to enter without permission from the council.

The enormous old place was cold and dark and full of bodies, as one would expect from a crypt. But for the past few years, the bones of the ancestors tucked into their cubbies in the walls had shared space with newer residents.

Yora usually walked past the rows of unconscious children without so much as glancing at them. But today she seemed to be in a different mood. She paused and let her magic sweep over the room so that the pale blue mana lights scattered around the place brightened.

“Does it bother you?” Megimon asked finally, after Yora had stared at the children for a long while. “You’ve never said so.”

It sometimes bothered Megimon.

“I cannot say that what we have done is evil,” she said in a thin voice. “We did no harm to the children who died in these bodies. Nor to the souls who you have found for us. We have saved many lives this way, and we have taken none. But we have done it only for ourselves, with no regard for nature, and because of that, I cannot think we have actually done good.”

Megimon knew.

She turned to him. “Patriarch, the soul you bring will be the last. Atra is beyond performing the blood magic now. Iven has long since reached his own limits. The whispers of the other families have begun to turn into real and dangerous suspicion.”

“And the twins will be born soon,” Megimon said with a nod. “Perhaps you could hide the birth from the temple of Hamila for a few more months, but they must be near the limit of their patience. If their prophesied ninth doesn’t appear soon, they will surely begin to believe that we’re hiding some of Iven’s children from them.”

It was good that the boy from the desert would be the last. Megimon didn’t have the stomach for much more of this work, even if it would save the family that had raised him.

“Come,” said Yora. “We’ve only three bodies left to choose from, and I’m afraid they’re not in the best shape. The preservation array has begun to weaken from the strange use, and it would cause an uproar if we re-hired the sorcerers from the Glythe line to repair it for us.”

Megimon nodded. It would be hard to explain how they had burned through an array that should have lasted a millennium in less than five years.

“Are any of the bodies male?” Megimon asked as Yora led him to the back of the crypt.

She glanced over her shoulder, her eyebrows raised. “Two of the three,” she said. “You’ve never asked before, Patriarch.”

Yes, well. Usually Megimon picked up a soul that had been wandering for days. There was no nearby body to examine to determine the original gender. He knew nothing about the children who’d died, and in truth, most of the souls had lost so much of themselves by the time he took them that they were little more than energy. They didn’t care where he put them…he hoped.

Another thing to fret over in the night.

“I happened to find this soul near the original body,” said Megimon. My pixie killed him. “He was a boy. Around eight or nine.”

“Well, hopefully he won’t mind starting out a bit younger,” said Yora.

One of the Shredding Plague’s peculiarities was that it killed a small percentage of very young children without subjecting their bodies to the hideous damage the disease was so infamous for in its later stages.

From what little Megimon understood, the condition of such cases was not easy to repair, but it could be done by a gifted healer. Especially if the healer had the leisure to work on their subject for as long as they pleased…though he couldn’t imagine it was light work, healing a body that had already succumbed to the embrace of death.

“Here they are, Patriarch,” Yora said.

Three corpses waited on the familiar blood-stained table. Megimon wished Yora would just pick one of them herself, but it wouldn’t do for him to be squeamish on top of being far less of a practitioner than she imagined him to be. Yora removed the sheets from two of them.

“This one is around seven, so perhaps he’d be best,” she said, gesturing toward the larger boy. “The other was malnourished even before the plague took him, but he appears to be four or five. As I said, their condition is not as good as it might be, but they’re the last Atra tied to herself and Iven with her blood magic before she lost her way.”

Megimon saw the familiar marks—dark red thumbprint-sized smears. One on the older boy’s hip. One on the smaller one’s foot.

From peasant children dead of plague to this place…these children were Megimon’s distant relations now, through that old and frightening magic.

“Why is this the best solution?” He asked the question more of himself than of Yora, but the healer muttered an answer anyway.

“More roads without axes.”

“Pardon?”

“Forgive me, Patriarch. It was just something Iven supposedly said. Will you choose the older boy, then?”

“The little one,” said Megimon, with no hesitation.

She looked surprised, but she only nodded and carefully pulled the sheet over the other body.

Megimon took the golden Disc from his robes. He placed it on the small boy’s chest and began turning the concentric rings of metal that made up the device to the proper settings. The soul was kept safely inside it until the proper moment, and half a dozen different runes were glowing as a result.

He had only had a few failures during the transfer process. (Thanks to the Disc’s craftsmanship and not his own skill.) He already knew this wouldn’t be one of them. Megimon couldn’t actually read half of the runes on this complex artifact, but he did recognize the one that indicated planar permanence. It was glowing bizarrely bright.

High planar permanence meant a soul, for whatever reason, was disinclined to evanesce upon the death of the body. It also meant it was strong enough to be attached to a new body without dying of the trauma.

Sticky little fellow, aren’t you? Megimon thought. Sorry about Lutcha. I hope your next life ends better.

A few minutes later, Megimon’s work was done. Yora took over at once.

Usually, Megimon left at this point, but he felt more loyalty and guilt than usual toward this newborn Orellen. He stayed, watching Yora do mysterious healery things to the body.

Soon, the chest began to move. The fingers twitched.

Then, Yora activated the spells that would freeze the child’s life functions…just like she had for all of his new brothers and sisters in the crypt.

They would have to wait a while to truly live.

Megimon expected it wouldn’t be long.

#

Elph was having a good dream.

Naer was having a terrible dream.

He and his little sister were running after their father, chasing him through the middle of the village. Father had the warmest laugh.

His parents were crying over him. Everything hurt. The floor was so hard through his thin mat. He was so tired.

“Wait,” said Elph, looking down at the pale little boy he’d almost tripped over. He lay on a filthy mat right on the ground, and he was obviously very sick. He looked foreign. And he had curly hair, like Fanna. “What is this? Who are you?”

Naer closed his eyes.

“You’re dying!” Elph cried. Then, he realized that wasn’t quite right. The little boy was already dead. Wasn’t he?

The small body was dissolving. It was turning into sand.

“Oh,” said Elph, as the wind around him picked up speed, blowing the sand away faster and faster, “you’re not here anymore. Not really.”

The boy was gone. The village was gone. And then…Elph started to go, too. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were dissolving just like the little boy had.

You’re not here anymore either, the wind howled.

Not really.

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About the author

sieley

Bio: Currently writing a very long story. Reviews welcome. Please do not repost my work on other sites.

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