Spear Gate — Chapter Six, Pt. 2

Later, she sat at the desk in her room, doors locked but curtains wide open. She was exhausted, but there was too much going on to get any rest. She doubted the meeting would alleviate any of that. The other Hands never listened. Varra was just an ignorant girl in their eyes, just a shadow of the Hand her mother had been. Her mercy to the boy this morning probably did her no favors. She was not weak. As soon as he was well enough to tell her what she wanted to know, it would be off to the gallows. In fact, it was in her best interests to make sure he didn’t leave Upper Terrace alive, but now was not the time.

Varra turned around from her chair. Resting against the curtains in that small space between the window and her bed was the boy’s staff. It was no coincidence that she had placed it there where she could look at it and the obelisk simultaneously. It was a simple thing. Nondescript wood that wrapped around a small stone at the top. If she hadn’t seen the rune, she would have thought it a typical walking staff. Of course, then the boy had activated the rune once they got back into the city. A security risk, even half dead as he was. She had instructed Xan to bind his wrists so that he couldn’t etch any new ones.

But his use of magic proved that there was more going on. Magic wasn’t practiced anywhere in Tebrein. Anywhere on Asamos, even, as far as she knew. But Eranos… The sister-planet had many secrets.

The problem was, the Spear Gate hadn’t been opened in over a decade. Maybe two. That situation had been handled, though her mother had never told her what had happened to Rozire. Most likely he had died, but even if he didn’t, she made one thing clear: he didn’t open the Gate again. Perhaps he didn’t even know how to do it from this side.

Which led to the question of the boy. He wasn’t old enough to have been around during the incident. Even she was too young to remember it. How, then, had he gotten access to magic?

The most simple explanation was Rozire.

But no, that was impossible. She could believe that he had escaped Upper Terrace somehow, perhaps even without the knowledge of the Hands, but teaching a boy magic and bringing him back to the capital of Tebrein, so many years later? What purpose would that serve?

Still, Varra knew she was onto something. And with the boy alive, it was easy to verify, too. That was one mystery solved, at least. But it raised more questions than it answered. If he was alive, where was he? Why bring the boy, only to leave him for dead in the Meadows? Perhaps Rozire wasn’t at Upper Terrace at all, and the boy had ran here of his own volition? That made a certain amount of sense, too.

Either way, there was no use dwelling on it now. She would have her answers when she conferred with the boy. That was probably best done sooner, than later, given his condition.

Standing from her desk, Varra walked across the room to the window. The shadow left by the obelisk told her she didn’t have much time before the meeting with the other Hands. Traditionally, such meetings happened during the Shadow. But they couldn’t have the meeting without her, either. They would have to wait for her to start, and since the Hands already had a low opinion of her, it wouldn’t make much difference.

Spear Gate — Chapter Six, Pt. 1

Varra preferred this dining hall because it was on the first floor, and had no inner wall, which gave it a pleasant view of the inner courtyard in the center of the palace. As uneasy as the obelisk in the courtyard made her, it was easier to bear in the daylight, and it felt better to have it within line of sight. Besides, this hall was just as lavish as the one upstairs, but it was rarely used, especially in the morning, and she enjoyed the peace and quiet.

“Good morning, Exalted One,” an older man smiled at Varra as he approached her table. She knew his face well. Elodrus, the Hand of Ceremony. “Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all,” she lied, gesturing to the seat opposite her with a small cup of tea in her other hand. She wore no armor now, instead opting for a simple tunic and breeches that contrasted against the extravagant nature of everything around here. “Though I’m afraid I won’t be much good for conversation. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“So I heard,” he replied. “Rogue constructor running rampant in the Meadows, only to disappear when you go looking for it. I’m sure that’s given you no small amount of concern.”

“To be entirely honest, the constructor is the least of my worries at the moment.”

Elodrus tugged at his beard a little. “You’re referring to the boy you found?”

“He’s a piece of the puzzle, nothing more.”

“I’m curious as to the reason you decided to bring him to Xan,” he pondered. “Bandits sneaking into the city should hardly be granted free entry, don’t you agree?”

Her guards had been the only ones to see the boy’s staff erupt into flame, and she had sworn them to secrecy. They didn’t know about the rune hidden within it, nor would they know it’s purpose if they did. But Elodrus would, so it was best kept under wraps for now. “I wanted to question him about what happened. How he avoided the constructor for so long.”

“You won’t get anything out of him. A wounded and scared captive rarely says anything of use.”

A servant walked by, and upon Varra’s request, she refilled her tea. Elodrus sent for some water, and within moments it was retrieved for him.

“I’ll let the Hand of Justice handle that part,” Varra continued. “After he recuperates, that is. Xan says his condition is more related to illness than injury, in any case.”

“You’re being quite soft towards him. He’s a criminal, Varra. He’s committed sacrilege by venturing out at night, and he tried to gain access to Upper Terrace illegally. People have been hanged for much less than that.”

“There will be time to hang him after we learn his motives.”

“What motives?!” Elodrus was exasperated now. “He’s just a foolish boy!”

“No, he isn’t, Elodrus. None of it makes sense. There’s too much going on for this to have been a coincidence.”

The Hand of Ceremony sighed. “You think this is related to the Gate.”

Varra glanced out into the courtyard.

The bronze-colored obelisk reflected a soft, dull light towards the two of them as it loomed over the hedges and flowers around it. It was thin and tall, in the shape of a large spear that pointed directly up towards the heavens. Or, more accurately, towards the sister planet.

“Varra, won’t you let this go? This is nonsense.”

She shook her head. “I don’t intend to, no. When I became a Hand and was told what that obelisk really was, I lost my ability to sleep soundly. I wake up in the middle of the night with the curtains thrown back, when I know I closed them before I went to sleep. It’s constantly watching me, Elodrus. And if my worst fears come true, Terrace would be wiped out in the blink of an eye. The constructors would be powerless. You can’t tell me you’re not concerned, too.”

Elodrus frowned as he followed her gaze. “I suppose not,” he agreed. “But we can’t simply recall all of our forces.”

“We can. I’m the Hand of Defense. I don’t need the other Hands’ approval.”

“No, but historically it’s been safer for the city when we act in unison and cooperation.”

Varra set her cup down. “I’m going to bring it up in the meeting today.”

“The others won’t like that,” Elodrus said. “We have more important matters to discuss.”

“Somehow I doubt that. We’ll talk later.” And with that, she walked out of the dining hall, leaving Elodrus alone to ponder the circumstances and the Spear Gate in the courtyard.

Spear Gate — Chapter Five, Pt. 2

Varra sprang to her feet and ran towards him. He was wearing the simple clothes of a commoner. No, ‘commoner’ was too elegant a term. Even the servants of Upper Terrace were more fashionable. His clothes were little better than rags, and in their condition, rags would serve better. They weren’t shredded, as she expected to see with so much blood, but they were drenched.

She took a breath to steady herself, and probed his body, looking for any wounds. His own breath was shallow and uneven, but his condition didn’t seem to be getting any worse. She tried not to touch the blood, cursing herself for not bringing others to do this for her. Not that she expected this to be a rescue mission, of course. In fact, this boy had to be a criminal. He obviously wasn’t from the upper city, and sneaking through the Meadows, at night no less, would more than likely lead to an immediate death sentence. The Hand of Justice would see to that. If that was the case, she might as well leave him here. He would probably die without medical attention, or if he didn’t, well, the constructors weren’t the only dangers of the Meadows.

There was undeniably something odd about all this, though. This boy would be an easy target for a constructor, so why had it been rampaging for so long? And if the constructor was here, which seemed pretty irrefutable, how had he survived?

He coughed again, and despite her quick reflexes, a spatter of blood hit her arm, a cold wetness where it touched her skin.

She continued examining him, careful to avoid his face now. None of this made sense. He didn’t seem to have been attacked, and the only sign of struggle was the constructor’s wall. Nothing about the guardians of the Meadows involved significant amounts of blood, and no predator in the forest would interfere with anything a constructor was hunting.

A chill ran down her spine. Was this boy simply sick? What if his mother or father couldn’t find anyone that could help him in Lower Terrace, and decided to try their luck braving the Meadows to seek a better doctor? If that was the case, was he contagious? Despite her best efforts, she was now covered in blood herself. Was she now in danger, too?

Varra rose to her feet. She should leave him here. He probably wouldn’t survive the journey back to Upper Terrace, anyway. What’s more, if he was contagious, it was better to describe his symptoms to Xan and have him treat her rather than bring a corpse to the infirmary and risk the entire city being infected.

She got a good look of her surroundings, trying to paint a picture of what happened. The young man had stumbled from one area of the wall that had two more walls jutting out from it. He was halted in three directions, with nowhere to run except back towards the constructor, probably. How, then, had he survived?

Something loose moved when her boot kicked it. Stooping down, she picked up a small glass vial. It was completely empty, with no stopper to be seen. The glass was thick and sturdy. Good quality. She pocketed it.

Continuing her investigation of the scene, she found no other clues. There were no bodies or tracks anywhere to be seen. In fact, there was no evidence of anyone else having even been in the area. It was as if the boy appeared in the Meadows out of nowhere, deathly ill, managed to outrun a constructor for over an hour, and when it finally caught up to him, it lost interest instead of finishing him off. How did the vial fit in? Perhaps Eathe would have some ideas. As new to his station as he was, she had named him Guard Captain for a reason. He had a quick mind.

Varra returned to the young man, who had found the strength to bring the crooked staff to his chest and was holding it in both hands. A low mumble and short cough later proved he was still alive, at least.

Curious, she grabbed the staff and tried to pull it from his grasp. Even in his sorry state, however, he gripped it tightly and would not part with it. Instead, she crouched down and felt the wood. The top of the staff seemed well worn, as if it had been burned thoroughly. Embedded in the twisted bark, however, she spotted a small stone.

Carved into the stone was an intricate symbol she had seen once before.

“Change of plans,” she murmured. “I suppose you are coming to Upper Terrace with me.”

Spear Gate — Chapter Five, Pt. 1

The cold night air brushed across Varra’s face as it passed beneath the trees. She was in the Meadows proper now, but there were no signs of the constructor she needed to soothe. With the tree cover above she felt comfortable collapsing the umbrella now, so she strapped it back onto her belt and went on her way.

It was a nice change of pace to be outside for once. Dealing with the demands of her new station as Hand of Defense were daunting, and the most frustrating part was the formality. She never got anything done, though it wasn’t from lack of trying. Tonight, at least, she would be of use. Beyond that, any proof that there was something going on in the city was good news for her, since the other Hands never listened.

The forest was eerily quiet. She didn’t often go to the Meadows these days, but she knew them well, even in the oppressive darkness. Of course, the constructor patrols kept rearranging the landscape, so nothing looked familiar. A perfect glade, as immaculate as the city it guarded.

But then, something strange caught her eye, standing out like a fresh wound against smooth skin.

Straight ahead stood a wall of dirt, much taller than her, dividing the forest in two. Upon closer inspection, the dirt was hard, like a thick wall of mud that solidified instantly. It extended a few hundred feet ahead of her, until it changed direction again further away.

The constructor had clearly been here, but the danger seemed to have passed. She hadn’t heard it’s horn blaring roar since she had entered the Meadows, which was concerning. It could be anywhere.

Having no other lead, she continued down the length of the dirt wall. If she never found it, what would she do? Return to Upper Terrace, having accomplished nothing? Could she trust a raging monster to calm down on its own terms?

Her eye caught movement ahead, rounding the edge of the dirt wall. She froze, raising her guard, only to see a humanoid figure shamble out, and collapse to the floor without the support of the wall to steady it. Varra approached cautiously. This could be a trap of some sort. How foolish of her not to venture into the Meadows armed. Somebody at her station should always have a clear head on her shoulders, she thought.

As the distance closed, the collapsed form became that of a young man, covered in blood. A small, crooked staff was held loosely in one hand, as if it was too heavy for him.

“By His grace,” Varra breathed, kneeling down to check his pulse. As soon as she touched him, she realized his eyes were still open. Like the eyes of somebody already dead, but they were focused on her.

Startled, she fell backwards and away, landing on the ground some feet away. The form didn’t move.

Something about this was strange. She had seen the handiwork of a constructor before. They never left…. Such a mess.

“Whatever fate has befallen you, poor soul,” she murmured. “I hope you find peace in whatever land you find yourself in.”

No sooner had she finished her prayer did he start coughing. His chest heaved, but most of what left his lips was blood. He was still alive. Dying, perhaps, but alive.

Spear Gate — Chapter Three, Pt. 2

Varra Selandin stared out the window of her new room, staring into the courtyard below. The sense that she was being watched was constant now, but there was nothing to be done. It was all in her head. A burden those of her rank must bear. Still, perhaps the meeting with the other Hands would do some good on her conscience. So long as her inability to sleep didn’t have severe consequences.

Three quick knocks on the door. “Are you awake, ma’am?”

“I am,” she replied. “Enter.”

The door opened and warm light spilled into the room, which was otherwise lit only by a small candle. The tall, slim form of a Tenshari stepped in, dressed in simple leather armor. His right arm was completely concealed, hand resting on the pommel of the sword he kept on that side. He flinched at the sight of his superior wearing only a shift, but it didn’t deter him long. “There is word of commotion outside the city, ma’am. In the Meadows.”

Varra’s brow furrowed. “What sort of commotion?”

“It seems as though one of the constructors is hunting something.”

“What’s odd about that? Infrequent as it might be, it does happen.”

The Tenshari made an expression she could only guess was uncertain. “Well, you ordered us to report anything unusual to you, even if it might seem trivial. The strange thing is that it has been hunting for quite some time now. Maybe over an hour. Eathe said I should come tell you in case it doesn’t stop.”

That was strange. Often a target wouldn’t last more than five minutes. “Understood. Return to your post. I will investigate.”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s traveled a fair distance at this point. Right now it is just south of the West Gate.”

“Thank you. Dismissed.” She glanced back out through the window and into the night. Behind her, she heard the door close as the Tenshari left her alone once more.

It wasn’t strange enough to be troublesome, but a constructor behaved very predictably. Perhaps she would learn something that could gain her leverage in the meeting. Anything to help her get through to them.

She pulled the curtains over the window and stripped, changing into more suitable clothes. A simple long tunic over breeches followed by some leather armor of her own. After tying her hair back and pulling boots on, she blew out the candle, grabbed her umbrella, and left the room.

After a brief walk through the palace, she stepped out into the open air, opening the umbrella and resting it on her shoulder. A Hand of Aenias was protected from the night, just as the Tenshari were, but the child in her still preferred having more shelter, especially these days when her indescribable sense of unease was growing stronger.

The streets of Upper Terrace were quiet, as everywhere in Tebrein was at night. Since so many of the nobles here could afford Night Seals, however, there were still a number of people milling about even in the darkness. Since they were primarily used for the day’s Shadow rather than a full night, she was the only one with an umbrella. It made her feel all the more childish and it earned her a few looks, but she shrugged it off. A few more eyes watching her made no real difference.

The majority of the people Varra passed as she made her way to the wall were still the ashen-skinned Tenshari, but a few of the more informed folk gave a nod of “Exalted One” to her as they crossed paths. She gave little more than solemn nods in reply.

As she reached the West Gate of the city, she saw the Captain of the Guard, Eathe staring out into the Meadows from atop the wall. The young man wore plate over a muscled build, and even the way he stood did some measure to validate his title. At the moment, he stared opposite her over the other side of the wall, and was too focused to notice her presence. She made a sharp whistle, and he turned to face her, the pensive frown he wore lighting up into a warm grin.

“Honored to serve, Exalted One,” he bowed, which was an odd gesture since he stood several feet above her.

“Spare me the formalities, Eathe,” she chided as she ascended the stone stairwell to join him. “I got word of what was happening. Any changes?”

Eathe’s frown returned, his expression darkening a bit. “No. But that’s no comfort. Look.”

He gestured out into the Meadows below. Having just walked through torchlit streets, Varra’s eyes were unadjusted to the blackness before her. Still, she could just barely make out a discernable gap in the forest, as if a river parted the trees, or else something large felled them.

“The constructor has made a beeline west towards Lower Terrace,” Eathe explained. “You can’t quite hear it anymore, but it’s still in the area. What do you make of it? I’ve never heard of a constructor going crazy or breaking, but you’d know better than me if that’s a possibility.”

Varra shook her head. “If it’s behaving abnormally of its own accord it would be a first. My guess is that some outside force has done something. It’s either chasing something it can’t kill or its senses have been tampered with somehow.”

“I heard somebody managed to blind one a few decades ago. You mean something like that?”

“Yeah. It’s bad news for us, regardless of what it is. I should go take care of it.”

“What?” Eathe said. “You’re going to go down there while it’s rampaging?”

Varra glanced at him. “I’m the Hand of Defense, Eathe. That’s one of the most important duties of my rank.”

“But can’t you calm it down from here?” Eathe’s face held genuine worry on it, which was flattering in its own right.

“My mother could,” she replied. “But I’m not experienced enough for that sort of thing. You stay here. I’ll be back before too long. If something does happen to me, You may send a small search party in the morning.”

Eathe sighed, his lip tightening. After a moment his face became that of a respectable Captain of the Guard once more. “Very well, ma’am. Good luck.”

Varra nodded and descended the stairs. Behind her, Eathe called out orders for the portcullis to be raised, and she stepped through it as it did so. The drawbridge that made a long ramp between the Meadows floor and the ground level of Upper Terrace was already down, as it always was, so she didn’t have to wait for it.

With nothing barring her way, she set off into the night. “Well,” she said to herself. “I suppose it beats spending another sleepless night staring out a window.”

Spear Gate — The Hands of Aeneus Pt. 1

(Legacy story: This is no longer canon, as I’ve reworked this scene entirely.)

 

Under the table, Varra clenched her fists in annoyance. It was like talking to a brick wall. “Look, I’m not saying we give the people free roam of the city. I realize nobody in Upper Terrace would agree to that. But we have to do something. We need a more defensive presence in the primary city.”

“No, we don’t. We’ve done it this way for hundreds of years. Trust me, it has always worked. No substantial threats have come to the kingdom, so there is no reason to change things.”

She looked down into the courtyard of the palace, and the stone, spear shaped obelisk in the center. The single most dangerous object in Tebrein. Right in the center of the capital. And the only people who knew what it was capable of were the Hands of Aeneus and their seconds.

“I realize this is a lot to take in,” Elodrus explained, grabbing his wine glass as a Tenshari servant refilled it in passing. “But what you’re proposing would be a tactical blunder. If we pull troops from Lower Terrace into the inner city, people will ask questions. We can’t tell them honestly why we would make such a seemingly useless decision, and it will draw attention to the wrong places.”

“But what if the Spear Gate activates and we are invaded from the inside?”

Elodrus shook his head. “There is no need for concern, darling. The Gate has been dormant for decades. In fact, I hadn’t been the appointed Hand of Ceremony for three weeks before it opened.”

She tensed at that. “So what’s stopping it from opening again, now that I’m a newly appointed Hand?!”

“Relax, relax,” he soothed, gesturing for her to sit back down as he lowered his voice. “The answer is nothing, but as I’ve said, there’s no reason to believe it will open any time soon, either. Do sit down, you don’t want to draw attention.”

Varra glanced about the scarcely populated dining hall as she sat back down. It was more of an immense open corridor, really. She had often eaten here as a child, but knowing what that obelisk was now changed everything. It made her feel vulnerable. As if it was staring at her. Tasting her fear.

“I admit that I’ve lost sleep since I’ve relocated to my new chambers in the palace. It is customary that a Hand’s bedroom has a window facing the Spear Gate, but I find it unnerving. I’ve had the servants cover the window, but it stares at me just the same.”

“It does have that effect on people,” Elodrus nodded. “And, allow me to say that I do admire your willingness to take action. You are so like your mother in that regard. In many ways you’ve taken your duties in stride. I find that remarkable, but rest assured that everything we do is for a very good reason, and taking drastic measures out of fear is political suicide.”

“I’d much rather commit political suicide than tactical suicide,” she murmured. “We could have an entire army in the palace within minutes at any point in time and there would be nothing we could do. All five Hands and each of their seconds could have their throats slit during the night and then both Terrace and Tebrein would be left with no government. What good is my ‘willingness to take action’ as the Hand of Defense if I am not allowed to take defensive action?”

He took a long sip of wine before responding, frowning as he did. “Much of the things we do is directed by the experience we have. Your being appointed Hand is unprecedented because you are so young, and not even a groomed second. But desperate times call for desperate measures, Varra.  At twenty winters you are by far the youngest Hand to walk the palace grounds in at least a century. Worry not, however. The other Hands and I have discussed this, and we will be more than happy to shelter the burden of your office until you are old enough to really understand your duties.”