City of the Sun

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City of the Sun

Postby EvangelineWalker » Fri Dec 09, 2011 5:50 pm

CITY OF THE SUN

Chapter One

Everything today seems different, even the colors, thought Princess Shayadomayesh, looking out her bed room window onto the palace grounds. Beyond the broad green lawn and the dark ridge of spearpine trees that rimmed the island, Lake Ferth glimmered on the horizon. Shay stepped over to look into her mirror one last time before she'd have to leave her room forever.
She wore a silver riding habit, her dark brown hair pinned up on the side, tumbling over her left shouder, an unruly cross between the pin-straight hair of the Ardayn and the luxuriant curls of the Sheshan. Bright violet-blue eyes peered from a light brown face, neither the rich coffee brown of the Sheshan, nor the sand-hued tan of the Ardayn. As the illegitimate child of her mother, who had died when she was two, and an Ardayn commoner she had never known, she had always lived on the outskirts of life, ignored by her older half-brothers, resented by her half-sister Tay because of the special affection their father, King Edak, gave Shay, instead of what Tay felt she deserved. Maybe she didn't deserve the King's favor, but he had loved Shay's mother, and had allowed Shay a place in the palace, even though her blood was tainted.
A few days ago, Shay's life had changed when she had become sick. It hadn't taken long for the palace Healers to figure out that it wasn't just any disease; it was mage-fever, which, last night, had manifested as Truthseeker magic. Because most mages were discovered by the time they were five and she was almost sixteen, she had an un-heard of amount of magic, which was why she was going to the Temple to be trained by the Head Truthseeker himself. She would not be able to observe life from the safe distance of the palace and its grounds anymore; she’d be at center stage. Was she prepared to take such a step?
Apprehension hit her, but, determined, she turned from the mirror, and strode out of her room.
She walked down the marble steps to the courtyard, where her father was waiting for her on a bench beneath the silverwood tree he had imported from Silverwood Forest. Since the trees never did well far away from others of their kind, it was already shedding its few white blossoms; as she approached, several petals fluttered down to settle on the flagstones.
“Good morning, Shay," said her father, standing. “Are you ready?”
So much hung unspoken in those words they cut her short. Was she ready to leave the palace she'd known all her life to embark on a new life in the Temple?
“Yes,” she said.
Her father (she called him her father, though he was not, technically) was taller than most Sheshan, with golden-brown eyes beneath determined, expressive black eyebrows. His shoulder-length black curls were streaked with silver, and he wore a white cape over his official silver suit, and black, restet-leather riding boots.
He gave her the smile he reserved only for her, and put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Shayadomayshek,” he said, for the first time using the “–ek” suffix she’d receive as a Truthseeker.
Tears came to her eyes in spite of herself. “Thank you, Father.”
“How do you feel?” She barely felt the fever at the moment, the wild piercing pain of yesterday having receded to barely noticeable dull aches.
“The Healer helped a lot.”
“Hopefully you will begin your training before his temporary remedy wears off. The only way to be rid of the pain completely is for Malak to help you use your magic.”
She looked back at the palace, feeling a tiny spark of hope that someone else would come through the door at the last minute. “No one else is coming to see me off?”
“They’ll be able to see you every time they visit the Temple, or every time you come here with Malak, which will be often.”
“You are the only one who will even care, and you know it.”
“Well, I’m the only one that matters.” He smiled. “Besides, you’re embarking on a new life. You won’t have to endure Tay’s teasing anymore; you’ll never have to see her again if you don’t want to. As an apprentice Truthseeker, the only one in the palace you’ll report to directly will be me.
“Come.”
He laid his hand on her shoulder and they walked across the courtyard, fountains streaming bright in the morning sun, water echoing against the high stone walls. Birds trilled in the expertly trimmed trees. A harmony of smells filled the air, each flowering tree complementing the other to create a spicy-sweet scent.
The gate opened at her father’s command and a contingent of black-uniformed soldiers met them, two men-at-arms holding two horses, one the king’s dapple gray Hailstorm, the other Shay’s golden Fiddle, who, she was thankful, would be staying in the temple stables.
Fiddle was a purebred Velta, the horse of the desert tribes, so her coat shone a gold so highly polished it was hard to look at directly in sunlight. Her curved ears almost touched in the middle, and her fine-skinned, inquisitive face had large dark eyes and a tapered muzzle with large nostrils.
Shay ran her hand down Fiddle’s long neck, and the mare nudged her arm, searching for treats. Because of the mage-sickness, two harrowing days of letting it take its course so the type of Gift could be determined, Shay hadn’t seen or ridden Fiddle during that time.
She slid into the saddle, and the soldiers parted to make way for them. There were about fifteen of them, an honor escort, all of their horses black, except for the captain’s. The red star on his shoulder denoted his rank, and he rode his chestnut several paces behind the king.
They rode at a walk down the paved road to Dobrebet Bridge, which arched from the palace island across the small stretch of Lake Ferth to the Temple on the mainland.
Across the bridge, the Temple of the Sun shone blindingly white, each face of the towering stepped pyramid encased in white marble. In the lake, gray swans swam across the temple's otherwise still reflection, and beetle-shaped sunships floated serenely in the sky.
Just before the Temple gate, Shay looked back at the palace, and a pang of sadness hit her. She didn't know why; she wasn't going far, and it wasn't like her days there had always been happy; her father had often been away or busy, and during those times the courtiers either ignored her or looked down on her, even the servants treating her like a second-class citizen. And Tay, of course, playing mean-spirited pranks on her, her every glance speaking of how close to dirt she was. Shay's best times had been studying alone in her room, or out riding, very rarely one of her older brothers giving her a riding lesson.
They rode through the gate of the outer wall into the great plaza, which could fit twenty thousand people, a fourth of the population of Dekandor, the capital of the Sun Empire. The horses’ hooves clopped on the cobblestones, echoing in the vast space; many people milled around, men and women in white Truthseeker robes mingling with them. Shay rode past a group of children, who tossed morsels of bread for seagulls to catch in midair.
They passed into the shadow of the Temple. Directly ahead, steep, narrow steps led up a dizzying two hundred strides to the top platform where the Sungod, Shesh, would appear before his altar on a Day of Sacrifice. Shay had never been to the top—only priests and the Sungod were allowed there—but she knew the marble was stained with so much blood no amount of scrubbing could scour it away.
On a Day of Sacrifice, she bowed down with everyone else. She knew she was supposed to feel the same love for the Sungod that everyone did, but she only felt sick fear and terror. She’d never told anyone this. Usually she kept such thoughts suppressed, since Truthseekers would detect them. Now she was becoming a Truthseeker herself, and she would be actively serving Shesh. She hoped she’d be able to at least manufacture the kind of devotion she was supposed to feel, especially in the god’s presence. At her official initiation, she would see him up close, an event she dreaded.
Besides the worship aspect, though, Shay was looking forward to becoming a Truthseeker, with the prestige, duties, and travel involved. And, of course, using magic to peer into people’s minds. In her schooling, she had enjoyed reading books about the study of the mind, a poorly understood science outside of the mysterious art of Truthseeker magic.
At the entranceway, a huge, rectangular aperture guarded by white-clad soldiers with pistols and silver-gilt swords at their hips, Shay and the King dismounted and servants took their horses, Fiddle taken to the stables somewhere within the huge temple complex. Shay strode close to her father into the passageway that arched high into the darkness above them, coolness clinging to her skin as if she’d entered a cavern.
They passed many other cross-passages, encountering worshippers, tourists, acolytes. The closer they came to the center of the temple, the fewer people they saw, and most of these wore the white robes of priests, Truthseekers, and apprentices. Only the invited were allowed to the inner chamber of the holy Temple; those who entered uninvited were killed on site. One exception was royalty, but even royalty, if uninvited, would be subject to harsh penalties, usually unique for each offender.
After walking through the carven silver door, they entered a vast dark room, the inner chamber. A bright white orb hung suspended in midair at the dead center of the pyramid about fifteen strides above the floor. Below it lay a great triangle of sacred heartsvein marble, white with red striations like tiny crisscrossing rivers. On the other side of the triangle stood the huge painted marble statue of the Sungod, his lifelike hands surrounding the glowing sphere as if to keep it aloft, his fingertips nearly, but not quite, touching it.
They stopped just before the apex of the triangle. The orb illuminated the cavernous space, the daylight brightness in the center receding to midnight darkness at the edge of the room. When she looked away from the orb, faint blue circles swam across her vision. This was the place private rituals were performed, such as Truthseeker initiations, and where the Sungod gave private audiences.
A flutter of movement behind the base of the giant marble statue of Shesh. A figure, like a white candle in the dimness, floated toward them as if gliding across water.
Her heart leapt. Malakayshek. Truthseeker of unparalleled Talent.
He skirted the edge of the sacred triangle, and greeted the king with a bow, arms spread out in obeisance. “Welcome, Edakamashesh. May the sun shine upon you and your daughter.” He looked at Shay, and a thrill laced through her, as it did whenever he looked at her.
“Welcome, Shayadomayesh.” He bowed to her, though not as low as he had to the king. “It is an honor to take you on as my pupil.”
He straightened to his full height. Though he gave them honor whenever he saw them, he was the servant of no one, except of the god. He was over three strides in height and was slim and muscular. Black ringlets cascaded past his shoulders, enhancing his elegant, regal bearing. His dark face was more than handsome; it was so beautiful they said that he had been touched by Shesh, and granted the beauty beyond that of mortals. Above the full, expressive lips, long, thin nose and strong cheekbones shone his golden eyes, brimming with life and rich with mystery.
He’d said something. She hadn’t heard. She forced herself to focus, though she couldn’t stop her foolish limbs from trembling.
“Beg pardon, Master Malakayshek. I--didn’t quite hear what you said.”
“After the ceremony, I’ll give you time to get settled in. But in the morning we will start your training. Come.” They stepped into the triangle and knelt in front of the statue, its great benevolent face staring down at them from shadowed heights. The face was of a beauty like Malak’s, but there was something indefinably inhuman about it. The statue, like the god when he appeared, wore white robes that reached to the ground and a great silver diadem on his head, scintillating with multicolored jewels.
Three other priests arrived and knelt beside them: a Truthspeaker in yellow robes, a Seer in orange, and a Healer in purple, each with silver insignias on their left shoulders that denoted their Order.
Malak drew something from his belt: a silver knife that gleamed in the warm glow of the orb. Shay was not prepared for this part and would have leapt to her feet and backed away if not for her father, holding firm her right arm.
In the silence the orb thrummed above them like a thing alive. Malak slashed his knife across his palm, and then handed the knife to Shay, his palm oozing blood. She held the knife, unable to move. “Quickly,” whispered Malak. Trembling, she touched the edge of the knife to her palm and his cooling blood dripped onto her skin. Wincing, eyes closed, she ripped the knife across her palm. White light flashed across her eyes; pain lanced through her hand, throbbing. Warm blood dripped down her wrist. Tears came to her eyes; she wanted to grab her father and cry into his shoulder.
In the background the priests were chanting the ancient words of the ritual and the Truthspeaker was saying: “In the name of the glorious Sun, the All-seeing, the Life-giver, the Ever-merciful and All-compassionate, we seal in your sight this child who longs to bind herself to her creator. Let her new master’s blood bind with hers in her first step to becoming your ever-loving servant in all things, in word and deed and thought. Let her become your Truth so she can obliterate all lies for your sake with the sword of your ever-present Light. So may it be.” And in the ancient tongue he added a Sealing Word and it was done.
They rose, Shay’s father assisting her to her feet, and Malak held out his hand, palm up, gesturing for her to do the same. The Healer cupped their hands in his, eyes closed, and some of the pain drained from her wound. The Healer then bound her hand and Malak’s with a clean white cloth.
Then they turned to the Seer who gave her a prophecy. “I have seen the dream of your future. It is as yet indistinct, as many paths remain untaken, but one thing is clear: you, Shayadomayshek, will change the world. Whether it is for the better, or for the worse, I cannot say.” The Seer smiled, brushing back a dark curl from her forehead. “And there is a critical juncture in your near future. When you see a man with a trihorn, in silver and green, you will know it is time to choose.”
“What should I choose?”
“That is not for me to say. When the time comes, you must choose what you believe is the right path.”
Shay nodded, a little mystified. She had never had someone prophesy her future before and didn’t exactly know how to take it. Seers were few and far between; most of them worked as temple priests.
She said goodbye to her father at the door, the sunlight streaming in, falling on his beloved face. She knew she’d see him soon but she felt terribly lonely, dropped off in the midst of strangers, blood-bound to a man she barely knew, still mage-sick, expected to start training in the service a god she did not love.
Malak left her to her chamber in the apprentice’s section of the Temple, several maidservants attending to her, bringing her food and the few belongings she'd been allowed to take. But when she lay on her bed at last, exhausted, staring at the blank gray walls, she felt a presence that she could not shake off. A soft spot quivering in one corner of her mind as if a creature of some sort were curled there…The only way to get rid of the feeling was to drift off to a dreamless sleep.

-- 12 Dec 2011 11:31 am --

CHAPTER 2

Warning- some violence



Brick hung in the tent of the Overseer, his arms stretched out on a golden, web-like frame, bands encircling his wrists and ankles. Twinges of pain lanced through him almost every second, along with waves of cold and heat. Spasms worked their way through his muscles, making him feel weaker than he’d ever felt, helpless as he hung there, shivering.
Shame coursed through him. He shouldn’t have gotten caught. His plan had been perfect; he’d almost escaped this hellish underworld, where he'd lived as long as he could remember, but at the wrong moment some sort of seizure had hit him, knocking him unconscious. He’d woken up here an hour ago and hadn’t seen anyone since, though he’d heard low, excited voices outside.
Shadows appeared just outside the door of the tent. Brick tensed, fear gripping him.
The door flapped aside and in walked the Overseer and several guards, along with a little man in the purple robe of a Healer.
Overseer Sett Risall was Rajel, so it wasn't surprising he was half a head taller than anyone else in the slave camp. He moved with a peculiar grace, had a thin, pale, clean-shaven face, shoulder-length, dark red hair, and sharp, restless gray eyes. His face was usually in a perpetual scowl but today a slight smile curved his lips as he regarded Brick like a zakanre that has just caught some particularly tantalizing prey.
“So this is the slave,” said the Healer, peering up at Brick. He was almost one stride shorter than Sett, and bald with squinty green eyes.
“Yes, this is One-Thirteen. He’s been a valuable worker up until a few weeks ago, when he acted out during Special Treatment.”
“For himself?”
“For a fellow slave. A young woman who, apparently, meant something to him. A Truthseeker was purging her of evil thoughts against the Sungod, but after One-Thirteen's interference, the Truthseeker executed her to punish him. It’s likely he began planning his escape after that; we should have been more vigilant. We also underestimated his strength and resolve—he’d have escaped if not for the seizure.”
The Overseer had spoken of that day so dispassionately. Brick remembered that day in all its vivid horror, Wilan’s screams piercing the air as the Truthseeker ripped her mind apart. Brick had tried to prevent her punishment and take it upon himself, but instead, he had caused her execution. He’d made a vow, that day, to escape and hunt down the Truthseeker who had done that to Wilan. In his mind’s eye, he could see the Truthseeker’s face as he squeezed his throat, harder and harder until those horrible golden eyes rolled back in death…
“Lucky thing it happened then.” The little man squinted up at Brick. “What a nice specimen of manhood you have here. I can see why he’d be valuable in the mines.” He pounded a fist against Brick’s stomach. “Hard as a rock. Pity he has so many scars.”
“The life of a silver-slave is hard, Khasek.”
Khasek nodded. “Still, he has a beautiful face, and it’s pretty much untouched. What is he, half Sheshan?”
“Yes. And half Ardayn.”
“It would be, with such eyes. That amazing shade of violet. I know of many nobles who would not object to buying him, scars and all, just for that face. And with the amount of magic he must have, getting it at around sixteen—You’ve gotten me my own silver mine here, Overseer.”
“He will be worth, how much about?”
“Hm. Let’s say in the range of two thousand to three thousand marks?”
The smile grew wider on Sett’s face, almost, not quite, becoming a grin.
“We’ll have to let the magic manifest completely before I can find out what his Gift is. But would it be all right if I bring in some clients today? I know of some who’d like a mage-slave of any kind as long as he’s strong and good-looking like One-Thirteen here.”
They turned and walked out of the tent, discussing percentages of profit, Sett taking a final satisfied glance at Brick.
Brick took a deep breath. So he had magic. He should have known that was what was wrong with him, especially with the fact that Khasek was a Healer, and thus would be able to determine the type of magic he possessed. Whenever any slave was discovered to have significant amounts of magic, they were sold to a noble family as a mage-slave. After the Gift was determined, it was collected in a Seal, which would transfer the powers to another to be used by the Wearer as long as the slave lived, which often was not very long. It would be less backbreaking work than mining silver, and in a more luxurious environment, but Brick had heard stories of the nobility, their cruelty, their decadence. He’d rather die here, where Wilan had died, than become the plaything of a noble, in constant pain because another had possession of his magic.
The pain he felt now would be nothing compared to that. And the constant humiliation of being weak, broken. No. He would escape, or die. That part of his plan hadn’t changed. He only wished he knew what Gift he had so he could bring them all down with him if he was unable to escape.
Hours passed. The sun began its downward descent, sending bright slices of gold through the tent-slats. Brick had been given neither food nor water all day and the pains had weakened him, the ache in his head making him feel sick. He was drowsing when the tent flap opened and Khasek walked in, followed by a man, and a woman with her young slave. Buyers, thought Brick with disgust.
The woman, in her early thirties, wore gray, which meant she was, officially, in mourning. But the silver sparkling on her ears and around her neck made her look less like she were in mourning and more like she were going to a party. She wore her hair bound up with gray swan feathers, and had a smooth, pretty face that looked pleasantly amused.
The other was a young man, about eighteen or nineteen. He was tall and whip-thin and wore a black hat over his shoulder-length curls, his black silk suit perfectly tailored, his boots polished to a high finish. He walked with a gold-tipped cane, which was, Brick had heard somewhere, the latest fashion in the Capital.
The woman collapsed her red parasol as soon as she walked in and handed it to the young slave boy who shadowed her. Her eyes widened as she looked at Brick. “Ooh,” she said. “Khasek, you weren’t kidding when you said you had something for me. But I’m afraid your description didn’t do him justice.”
Khasek smiled. “I am sorry, my lady, but my powers of description fail me when it comes to a beauty this magnificent. I thought of you immediately when I saw him; I knew you’d take no less than the best.”
“Indeed, my dear Khasek. That’s why you’re my dealer. But I’m afraid I won’t be needing your services anymore after a find like this.” She stepped forward, the train of her dress slithering across the carpet.
She raised a hand, rather gingerly, and laid it on Brick’s bare chest. “He’s very warm. Is he sick?”
“It’s the mage-fever, lady.”
“Ah. I’ve never seen them this close while it’s still in them. Is he in pain?”
“Constant pain, though not as bad as it will be.”
“The poor boy! He certainly has a lot of scars.” With a cool finger, she touched the long ragged scar on his side from the cave-in a month ago, still not fully healed.
“A silver-slave’s life is full of danger.”
“So I’ve heard. He wouldn’t have to worry about danger anymore at my house. I’d only whip him if he were very bad. Does that sound good to you, boy?” She raised traced the bridge of his nose, around his lips.
Burning with shame and anger, he bit at her finger, a snarl escaping his mouth. She leapt back, fear in her eyes. He glared at her, anger trembling through him.
“My, but he’s a tiger. I-I’ll have to have him tamed some before I can take him home.”
“Tame him!” said a soft derisive voice. It was the young man, leaning on his cane in the corner. “Everything around me is tame enough as it is. What I need is unpredictability. Danger.” He took off his hat, setting it on the hook by the door. He walked forward, slowly, deliberately, and stood in front of Brick, tall enough that they almost stood eye to eye, even with Brick bound an inch from ground level.
He looked Brick up and down. “Yes, he is very strong,” he muttered, as if talking to himself alone. He grabbed Brick’s left bicep, long nails biting into Brick’s flesh. Brick struggled against the bonds. But the man merely raised his eyebrows, a smile curving his mouth. He then cupped Brick’s chin in one hand, a fire burning in his dark, serene eyes. Revulsion filled Brick. He jerked his head away.
A blow shot pain through his jaw. His lip stung; a warm trickle of blood slid down his chin. Hatred coursed through him; he longed to give back better than he’d been given. He could show this willow-stick of a man a thing or two if he were released.
The man turned to the slave-dealer. “Khasek.”
“At your service, Lord Dosan.”
“This one will do very nicely, I think. I will buy him for five thousand marks.”
Khasek’s eyes widened in surprise. “Very generous, my lord!”
“Yes, well, if he had been your average silver-slave, cowed and already half-broken, I would have bought him for three thousand and given him to Lady Benet here.” He gave a smooth swift bow to Benet, who looked both flattered and disappointed. “But this one intrigues me. He has fire. I want a mage-slave who will not burn out within a month, crawling on his hands and knees, begging me to end his suffering.” His lip curled in distaste.
He turned back to Brick. “Will you serve me in all things? Will you do whatever I tell you?”
“Never,” Brick bit out.
“That is exactly the way I want it.” He smiled.
“Good, good,” said Khasek. “Shall I contact you after I have discovered his Gift?”
“No, I want it to manifest before I gather it. I know the risks, but it will be worth it to watch it unfold until he reaches his breaking point. Thank you for bringing this one to my attention, Khasek. Have him delivered tomorrow evening to my estate in Dekandor.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Dosan left with Khasek, discussing the time and place of payment. Benet gave Brick a wistful look. “I’m sorry I couldn’t override Dosan’s offer. You would have had a wonderful time at my house. I’ve seen what Dosan does to slaves. The horrible games he plays with them… ” She shook her head, and turned away, her young slave following, carrying her red parasol.
Alone, Brick shivered in the growing cold that nipped the spring mountain air. He’d forgotten about the pain when the buyers had been inspecting him, but now it gripped him with more vehemence than before.
He did not want to think about what it would be like at Dosan’s estate. Even here, in the isolated mountain slave camp, he’d heard rumors about Dosan’s cruelty to slaves, but he had not believed much of it. Now he wasn’t so sure they were rumors. Here, there were bad guards, but they left him alone as long as he avoided trouble. There, he would be Dosan’s newest prize.
Somehow, he would have revenge on the Truthseeker who had killed Wilan, but not unless he escaped before his magic was taken away. Dosan had given him that, at least--a chance for his magic to manifest. That would take two days, but he would prefer to escape before he arrived at Dosan's estate tomorrow.
When they came for him would be the best, and perhaps only, opportunity to escape. Tomorrow, then. As soon as he saw a chance, he would break free, or die trying.
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