Spear Gate — Chapter Thirteen, Pt. 2

The inner courtyard of the palace was large. The stage of his execution was near the front, and cobblestone paths made beelines towards the Spear Gate, which loomed in the very center of the area as an ominous guardian to the carefully cultivated foliage around it.

He had no idea how to open it. Wasn’t even conscious when it had opened a few days ago. The only person anyone had ever known to open the gate was Rozire, and even that was hearsay.

His life depended on his use of magic. He didn’t even have any proof it existed, and now his fate would be the result of his trust on people he hadn’t known for a week.

But he couldn’t hesitate now.

He approached the bronze-colored obelisk in a huff. People were after him, but his surprise had gained him some ground.

He inspected the monument, looking for any monuments or handholds, or anything that looked suspect. He doubted there would be a hand imprint that would cause the portal to open once he touched it.

There wasn’t, of course. The surface of the entire object was smooth, and the dark reflection of a terrified young man stared back at him, willing him to hurry up.

Shouts came from behind, commanding him to stop. A quick glance behind him revealed that the half dozen guards running after him already had their weapons drawn.

“There’s no time to meditate,” Maelys muttered to himself. “Mind projection is out. Varra said I ignited Rozire’s staff when she first found me, but I don’t have that now.”

What would Rozire do? Open the Gate, of course, but how?

He closed his eyes and pressed both hands against the obelisk. The cold, smooth metal seemed to push back against him, as if it was a wall testing his resolve.

He thought about the Spear Gate. He envisioned it opening the way Varra and Eathe had described. A blue beam of light shooting into the sky as the obelisk shattered and reformed into the shape of a doorway. When nothing felt different, he pushed harder against the Gate.

The clamor behind him grew louder, and he could feel his heart speeding up along with it.

“By the Maker’s five hands, I command you to open!” The stone remained silent. “I’m going to die making a fool of myself,” he muttered.

Maelys tried for the thousandth time to think of any hidden meaning in any of Rozire’s lessons. He tried to think of an often repeated phrase, or a suspicious hand gesture his master might have employed.

Nothing came to mind.

Helpless, he lowered his arms and turned back to face the approaching guards. They raised their weapons with intent to use them.

He looked up at the sister-planet in desperation. The dark spot loomed in the sky, gazing down at him in disapproval. As if he had failed the test.

The first guard finished closing the gap, sword raised to slash down through his shoulder.

What would be the point of raising his arms in defense? He couldn’t fight six armed soldiers unarmed. He doubted he could even win a fight against one soldier, even if Maelys was the one that was armed.

In that moment, two thoughts popped into his head, slowing time as if they would not allow Maelys to die until he had considered them long enough.

The first thought was Rozire. What had happened to him? He wasn’t one to turn back when things got difficult. If anything, he pressed on with more determination. Varra was fairly certain none of the constructors had killed anyone the night she found him dying of Red Teeth, but since Upper Terrace was literally on a platform raised high above the Meadows around it, nobody could have entered without being spotted.

The second thought was what Rozire had said to him on the last night Maelys had seen him. His master was looking for his mother, and commented that he had been searching for her ever since she left Upper Terrace. Maelys had never known his mother, and in that moment he had first brought it up, Rozire had instilled a dream in him that he had never known he had.

He wanted to see his mother. To at least know who she was and why she had left.

The sword came down, and the world went white around him.

Spear Gate — Chapter Thirteen, Pt. 1

“And so,” the herald called as he read off the parchment. The inner courtyard of the palace was deathly still, and Maelys was trembling in his bindings.  “The charges against Maelys; that of Unprotected Nightly Foray, Unlawful and Undocumented Entry into the city, and Treason under suspicion of opening the Spear Gate.”

Maelys looked into the crowd for the brief moment of silence accompanied by his words. Dozens of guards wearing the uniform of Upper Terrace. He even recognized two of the three guards that had came down into the dungeons the night before. Eathe stood in the front of the group, alongside the Hand of Justice, whose name was Karayan. Both had spoken testimony against Maelys, but from the talk the three of them had this morning, it was obvious that Maelys would be executed regardless of who said what. Eathe was just playing a part.

“… to be executed via axe immediately,” the herald finished. A chill ran down Maelys’ spine.

He had nothing to fear though, right? All he had to do was trust in himself.

In his magic.

He felt an arm grab him by the shoulder and lead him away from the crowd. His mind screamed at him to bolt, but that would only get him killed that much quicker. Just breathe steady. In, then out.

He was pushed further towards the front of the makeshift wooden stage as the Herald folded his parchment and stepped aside. He glanced back, away from the crowd and towards the Spear Gate.

If Varra and Eathe were wrong, and Maelys had no magic, this would be it. He had to trust them. People that, realistically, he had only just met days ago. If only Rozire were here.

The executioner pushed him onto his knees. They agreed Eathe would give the signal, and even though he assured it would be auditory, terror flooded into his body now that Maelys couldn’t see him.

“Aenias,” he muttered under his breath, trembling. “Guide me. Maker protect me. Please.”

“Consider this an honor,” the executioner chuckled, too quietly for anyone but him to hear. “A petty criminal like you doesn’t ever earn the right to hold the case of the Hands of Aenias. What makes you think the Maker will save you now.”

“If faith was so easily squandered,” Maelys replied, “what value would it have?”

The executioner chuckled again. “Profound. The best last words I’ve heard in some time.”

A horn blared from inside the palace. Maelys heard the crown start rustling in response.

“All personnel!” Eathe yelled. “Find the Hands! Protect them with your life!” Maelys heard the sound of armor plates sliding against each other as the guards bustled into motion.

That was the signal. Maelys moved to get onto his feet, but a boot pressed him down into the wooden stage.

“Oh no you don’t,” Karayan said. “I see what you’re doing. Guards, stay here.”

“You don’t command these men, Karayan,” he heard Eathe say. “I do.”

“Not for long, boy. Maybe if you’re so eager to consult with your girlfriend about matters that are no longer her concern, you both will be joining that boy as he gets the axe.”

A few people inside started screaming for help. Maelys finally felt the pressure on his back release. And he couldn’t trust he would get a better chance than this.

Maelys loosed the fake knots in the cord that Eathe had bound around his wrists and rolled to the side. A grunt of surprise was followed by the soft whistling of air, and then finally the loud slam of metal splintering wood.

He looked to see the executioner heaving the axe back up and staring at Maelys with a mixture of annoyance and anticipation.

“Fourth Squad, stop the prisoner! The rest to the palace!” Eathe yelled.

His heart skipped a beat. He glanced up to see Eathe and Karayan both staring at him. It was a slight movement, but Maelys was sure Eathe gave him a nod of assurance.

No time. Maelys turned around and leaped off the wooden stage. Straight for the Spear Gate.

Spear Gate — Chapter Eleven, Pt. 2

“Alright, I’m ready.” Varra kept her eyes closed, unsure of what was supposed to come next.

“Okay. Make sure your eyes are closed and your body is relaxed.”

“I thought that’s what we spent the last ten minutes doing.” She did a poor job hiding the annoyance in her tone.

“Don’t respond,” he replied, firm but gentle. “Just follow my instructions and be patient.”

She let out a breath. “Fine. Lead the way.”

“Once you’re relaxed, take a few deep breaths. In… then out…” Maelys spoke slowly as he followed his own guidance. A deep, slow inhale, followed by a full, steady exhale. “In… then out…” he repeated.

Varra did as she was told, waiting for the next step. He sure was taking his time.

“I want you to try your best to settle into this moment,” he continued. “Relax your breath, just breathe normally, and put aside all your troubles. Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t worry about the future. These things don’t matter as much as the present. Concentrate on your breath. That’s the only thing that matters.”

He stopped talking after that, and the only thing she could hear was the sound of her own breathing. The more she thought about it, though, she picked up the hollow echo that served as white noise in the dungeons. It was quiet, barely audible in between her breaths. Where was that noise coming from? What was the source of sound in such an empty space? They were most certainly the only prisoners here. The Hand of Justice often enacted his decrees immediately, and there were no petty thieves in Upper Terrace. Anyone like that wouldn’t find themselves here in the first place. Eathe was definitely a minority. People from Lower Terrace rarely if ever found a place here.

But she was glad that he had found that place. He was a remarkable man, and an excellent officer. She wished things had been different. Maybe they both would have been happier as commoners. Perhaps then she wouldn’t have had to live with the burden of—

“If your mind has strayed away from the breath,” Maelys said, “stop thinking about whatever it is. It’s not important. Just go back to thinking about the breath.”

He couldn’t read minds, could he? Had he been lying about not knowing how to use magic all this time? Did he know how she felt? Did she know how she felt? All these stupid emotions did nothing but get in the way. She didn’t want to see Maelys die, that much she was certain of. She would only have herself to blame if he did. And for how little they knew each other, he did seem intent on trying to help her.

“I’m going to ask a question,” he said. “And I want you to answer simply with yes or no. Have you been able to remain focused on just stay on the breath?”

She exhaled, knowing full well she had done a very poor job of listening to his instructions. Maybe if he held her hand again… She shook her head at the thought. “No,” she admitted.

“That’s okay,” he said, his voice still full of levity. “I told you it’s hard the first time. Once you get comfortable letting go of your thoughts and attaching your focus to the breath, then I can try to teach you how to do mind projection.”

She heard him shuffling, and took that as a signal that the practice was over. She opened her eyes and looked up at him as she stood with him. “I’m sorry.”

He put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. Really. Don’t beat yourself up. I honestly didn’t expect you to be as patient as you were.”

But she hadn’t been patient, had she?

A door swung open, and she heard the sound of footsteps walking, almost marching down the corridor. Eathe.

The current Hand of Defense walked in, armored in full plate as he often was, and without a helmet as per usual.

“Greetings, you two. Getting along well?”

Varra, already the closer of the two, stuck her hands out from the bars and grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him in for a kiss. Eathe was clearly caught off balance, but seemed to relax into it with a few awkward steps.

After a moment, she parted, and the room was left in a stunned silence. They glanced at each other, and Maelys shrugged. She thought about kissing him again, if they were just going to stand there slack jawed, but thought better of it. One was probably enough. For now.

“Right…” Eathe said, clearing his throat. “Now that that’s out of the way, on to business. I come with bad news.”

Maelys didn’t say anything. If anything, he took a step away from the two of them. What had gotten into him? “Well,” Varra said. “Out with it.”

“We’ve got a few minutes to chat and plan,” Eathe replied. “But I’m to take Maelys to the inner courtyard to be executed now.”

Spear Gate — Chapter Eleven, Pt. 1

“You’re still too tense,” Maelys said. “I told you, you need to loosen up.”

“I am loose,” Varra replied, teeth clenched. This was getting ridiculous.

“You’re even worse than I was,” he sighed. He put his hands on her shoulders and pressed against them, gentle but firm. “Drop your shoulders. Stop carrying your arms. Let them fall.”

With a deep breath, she realized what he was talking about and let the muscles relax. Her posture eased, and she wondered how long she had held herself stiff like that, oblivious.

“Good start,” he nodded in approval. He sat across from her, legs crossed. He mimicked her actions so that she could see how his own body changed with her movements, though in the dim light it was difficult to make out subtleties and slight changes. “Now relax your hands.”

She looked down to see her fists balled up in her lap. They weren’t tight, but her muscles still kept them shut. She opened them.

“No, no, that doesn’t count,” he chided. “Just because your hands are open doesn’t mean they’re loose.” He took one of her hands in both of his, but she pulled it away.

“I’m not a child, Maelys.”

He looked up to meet her eyes. “Neither am I.” There was no malice in that response. With his eyes he gestured back down, and she followed his gaze to see that his hand was still extended. Not a command. A simple suggestion. She placed her hand in his.

He cupped her wrist in one hand, holding her palm up, and with two fingers he trailed up and down her skin. She felt a chill at the sensation and her breath caught. The two were silent as he trailed her palm, and she could feel the muscles in her hand relax. She stole a glance at him, to try to glance a little bit of what she thought she had seen before, when he was meditating. A soft serenity, his hair seemed to be lighter, as if underwater, and she thought she saw a faint… glow?

But she couldn’t be sure of that. Maelys had used magic before, that much she was certain of, but the light was dim here, and she wasn’t even positive that he had been doing anything magical at all. He certainly didn’t seem to think so. ‘Mind projection’ he had called it. No magic. You weren’t seeing anything that was there, necessarily. It was just a thought experiment, according to Maelys.

In any case, she saw none of that glow now. He looked up to see her staring, and she turned away. Was she… blushing? That was absurd. He was a child. Plus she had Eathe. And yet…

“You don’t have to think about your breathing, you know. We haven’t gotten that far yet.”

“I… what?” At that moment she realized she hadn’t exhaled for some time, and she let it out all at once. What was getting into her? “Right.”

He took her other hand, and repeated whatever he was doing before. This wasn’t magic, she decided. The magic she knew about wasn’t as subtle as this. But she did like it. She had had massages before, of course, but this felt different somehow. Maelys was personally helping her relax and forget the world around them. Or above them, as the case may be. That was his first lesson—there would be no talk about plans or worries. Meditation was all about focusing on the present self and forgetting everything else.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

He shook his head. “No, that’s not what I meant. How do you feel? Describe it. Close your eyes, if that helps.”

She did close her eyes. “I feel… cold. And my body aches. I’m not used to sitting on cobblestone.”

“Do you feel any tenseness anywhere? Focus on every body part. Do a scan. Loosen your jaw, check to make sure your shoulders and arms are relaxed. That sort of thing. But also keep your back straight.”

She concentrated for about a minute. “Okay. Now what?”

“Now we get to the fun stuff,” Maelys said. Even with her eyes closed she could hear the smile in his voice. “Just don’t get frustrated if you can’t get it to work the first time you try it. It took me weeks to get it right.”

Spear Gate — Chapter Ten, Pt. 3

“Everything okay?” a voice said.

He looked up to see Varra leaning against the wall, staring at him. She seemed just as jaded as she had before, but the fierceness in her eyes still burned. A gentle flame at the moment, but it was there.

“Are you talking to me?” Maelys asked.

Her tone was serious. “No, I was asking the rat behind you.”

Maelys spun around in a sudden panic, backing up from the rat that… wasn’t there. He turned his attention back to Varra, who was laughing quietly. Her face lit up in a way he had never seen her. Not that he knew her that well, really.

She kept laughing, and Maelys couldn’t help but chuckle a bit, too. He was going to die tomorrow, lost in a city he was unfamiliar with, and yet…

“I didn’t realize how much I needed that,” Varra said, wiping a tear away.

“At least somebody’s enjoying their time trapped in a cell.”

Her face darkened a shade, and the mirth faded. The two sat in silence for a while, and Maelys avoided the woman’s gaze. He hadn’t meant that comment to be a jab. Had he offended her?

But then she broke the silence with a sigh. “I’m used to being locked in cells, I’m afraid.”

Maelys frowned. “I thought you were a princess or something?”

“Council member, if anything. It’s a lot less fun than the story books.”

“Being a ruler in the wealthiest city on the continent has to be worth something,” Maelys countered.

“Oh, I don’t envy commoners,” she amended. “But my life hasn’t been easy. Having your whole life laid out before you are born tends to have that effect. The story about the Spear Gate I told you and the others? Only the Hands and their seconds know it. I myself hadn’t heard that story until about a year ago. For whatever asinine reason they arrested me, it’s valid now. I committed treason by telling that story.”

“It’s not like it matters. Eathe is getting demoted soon, too, right? And I’ll be…”

“Not if I can help it.”

Maelys’ breath caught, and the two locked eyes for a moment. Maelys had thought that Varra only included him in the conversation was because he was valuable. Because he had information she needed. Well, and because of the jail cell, but still. Maelys had shown that he was useless, and then the guards told him he was about to be executed. It would be so much easier for her to let that happen… So…

“Why help me? I’ve only caused you trouble, it seems.”

Varra crossed her arms. “I brought you into this. Without me you would never have gotten into Upper Terrace.”

“I would have been killed by a constructor if you had left me in the Meadows. I almost died!”

“Somehow I doubt that,” she said.

“What are you talking about? Rozire and I had tried to sneak our way in! Even me and some magic wizard couldn’t do it without dying. You’re saying I would have been fine?”

She shook her head. “We didn’t nurse you back to health, Maelys. You got better all on your own. Incredibly fast, I might add. Xan had told me it would take at least a week for the Red Teeth to course through your system.” Her gaze was intense. “This isn’t an argument. Your life is my responsibility.”

Maelys shifted uncomfortably, looking away. “I wish I could at least be of more help.”

“Maybe you can be,” she said. Her voice was still gentile. Pacifying.

Maelys’ brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“What were you doing just now? Before we started talking?”

He thought about that for a moment. “Uh, meditating. Something Rozire taught me.”

“Can you show me how to do that?”

Spear Gate — Chapter 10, Pt. 2

The mind cloud ascended the stairs, approaching another door near the top. Light peeked out a little through the cracks, far too dim to be direct sunlight. As Maelys had practiced, he unconsciously formed a structure of what might be on the other side. This technique had to be based in reality, and it wouldn’t work otherwise, even if a few details were wrong.

The cloud passed through the door again, and this time was met with a wider chamber lit by metal lanterns mounted on the wall. Throughout the room were about a dozen wooden tables, placed atop well-worn cobblestone. There were multiple doors on each side of the room, and the only defining feature of any of them was that the floor beneath the one he had entered from was slightly lowered from the rest of the ground; one had to step down to the door for the dungeons. Most of the walls were decorated with banners and weapons, portraits and crests. Near a few of the doors were also racks of standard issue blades. It seemed that this room was a gathering hall of some kind, too, because far off on the opposite side was a raised, concrete platform.

The room wasn’t empty, either. There were several soldiers, most wearing the uniform of the Upper Terrace guard, but a few wore civilian clothes. He also recognized the group of guards that had come to pay him and Varra a visit a few hours ago. They were chatting back and forth, but of course, Maelys’ mind projection was completely silent. What’s more, Rozire had explained that seeing people was an unreliable source of information. Apparently, they were nearly impossible to predict, so any words being said were useless. You couldn’t accurately predict a conversation you weren’t a part of, after all. The best intel the mind projection could give you was the general number of people within the vicinity, but beyond that there was no way to really know. Instead, he focused on more identifiable details as he floated. In, then out. In, then out.

He milled about the room, trying to discern which door might lead outside. The cobblestone was worn everywhere, impossible to tell which parts had the most foot traffic. The weapon racks were definitely positioned closer to specific doors than others, but was that because it was outside the living quarters or because it was the door to outside?

The mind projection technique was useful, but its imaginary world was based on logic. It built itself based on the guesses and knowledge of the user, so when that failed, its usefulness wavered. Beyond that, the mind cloud had a range limit. The further one strayed from the origin, the more difficult it was to make concrete predictions, though Rozire had never explained why that might be.

Maelys was just about to guess and pass through one of the clouds when something caught his attention. He sent his cloud out to it, and identified it as a litter. It seemed to have… char marks on the wood?

And then he remembered the Meadows. Drinking the Red Teeth and falling unconscious. Being found by the Maker himself. Aenias, carrying him on his back… only, it couldn’t have been Aenias, right? Maelys wasn’t dead. He remembered being surrounded by stone, and words being shouted, and he was holding Rozire’s staff.

And it had been aflame. Men were drawing weapons.

He had been lying on that litter when it had happened. Had he really used magic? That sounded insane.

He opened his eyes as his concentration broke. He found himself in the position he had remembered being in in that whimsical memory, sitting upright with arms outstretched as he held the staff forward defensively. He carried no staff now, of course, and the memory faded like he had woken up from a terrible nightmare, breathing hard. In, then out. In, then out.

Spear Gate — Chapter Ten, Pt. 1

Time passed slowly in the cell. The two of them didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say, nothing to do. All that was left was waiting, or sleeping, in Varra’s case. She clearly hadn’t gotten enough of that lately, which was a problem Maelys couldn’t really sympathize with. Sleep was practically all he had done since he drank the vial of Red Teeth… how long ago was that? Two days? More? His condition had thrown off all sense of time, and being in a dungeon certainly didn’t help with that. There was absolutely nothing to do but wait. Wait for Eathe or Xan to return. Or wait for the guards to take him away, never to be seen or heard from again. Whichever came first.

Maelys knew, of course, that this line of thought would lead nowhere. Receiving death threats tended to lead one’s mind astray, so in order to curb the panic, he tried his hand at a thought technique Rozire had taught him so many months ago. It was one of his first lessons, actually: mind projection.

The first step was to sit in silence, back straight, with your thought wholly concentrated on your breath. It was basic meditation, really. In, then out. In, then out. Don’t worry about the past or the future, or even the present. Think only about breath. It had taken Maelys a week of practice just to get that part down.

But now there was so little to focus on. Apart from the looming terror of an imminent execution, he really had nothing going on. So with the help of previous experience and a peaceful environment, Maelys brought the focus of his entire being into his breath. In, then out. In, then out.

Time lost meaning after a while. Mind projection required a practiced, trance-like rhythm. Gathering enough focus seemed to take longer than it usually did. He was so out of practice, but his determination didn’t waver, and he kept his thoughts on his breath.

Then, he let his imagination roam.

As always, he imagined a small cloud, pulsating with his breathing. Expanding as he exhaled, compressing as he inhaled. Inside this cloud was a small eye, and Maelys used this imaginary eye to see the real world. Well, not the real world, of course. This technique was purely inventive, all playing out in one’s head. But as Rozire had taught him, imaginary exploration of the real world could teach you useful things about one’s surroundings and state of mind.

He sent his mind cloud out of the cell, passing through the bars and into the dark hallway. On one side—the side that Eathe and later the drunk guards had come from, had a warm light coming from around a corner nearby. He remembered seeing this light with his real eyes, but now it was brighter. He pressed forward as his cloud pulsated, moving towards that light. In, then out. In, then out.

When he rounded the corner, he saw the torch that hung neatly on the far wall. It made no sound, for Maelys had never grown adept enough with this technique to add auditory senses to his cloud. Apparently, Rozire could apply every sense to his mind projection except olfactory. He had promised that it was more due to experience than skill.

Some distance down this hall was a doorway. There were no openings, but it didn’t matter. The mind cloud wasn’t real, after all. He passed through it and came to a long, steep stairway.

He wondered what where this might lead. Into a barracks? Outside? Only one way to find out.