Spear Gate — Chapter 9, Pt. 3

A minute later, and four guards stumbled into view. They were laughing at each other and themselves as they all but tripped over their own feet. Maelys had no idea how drinking was regulated in the city, but this was clearly overstepping boundaries.

“Well, well, well,” one of the guards said. The only female among them. “Honored to serve, Exalted One.” She curtsied a little, but the effort of lowering herself disrupted her balance. She fell forward, grabbing one of the iron bars for support so she didn’t collapse all the way to the floor.

“Careful, Mills,” another chuckled, the only remotely sober one of the bunch. “You’ll lose your lunch if you go around bowing to everyone you see.”

“I’ll lose my lunch whenever I damn well pl—” in that moment, she choked up. Maelys shifted backwards, afraid she really was about to throw up, but the guard managed to hold it in.

“Why are you here?” Varra said, voice flat and unamused.

“Just thought we’d come to say hello,” she replied, having recovered from her potentially foul mishap. “And pay our respects to yet another Hand gone. Maybe someday we’ll have another someone like your mom. But it sure wasn’t you.”

Maelys watched the exchange, confused. What sort of relationship had she had with her subordinates for them to treat her like this in her circumstance?

“And we thought it’d be fun to give you a little news,” the shortest of the guards said. “Your friend here’s considered a liability. The Hand of Justice is going to have him executed tomorrow.”

A chill shot through his body at that. Executed. Tomorrow?

“Been awhile since we’ve had a public execution,” the sober one commented.

“Terrace has been altogether too boring lately. I’m glad to see a change of pace,” the girl said.

“What do you mean? There’s been tons of strange stuff happening lately.”

“That’s what I’m referring to you dolt. First the weird Constructor. Then the Spear Gate. Then Varra’s arrest. It’s all pretty exciting.”

“The way you phrased that it sounded like you found all that boring, and only the execution excited you.”

“Well what does it even matter? Damn, I thought I was the drunk one.”

Varra didn’t seem the least bit phased by the conversation. “I appreciate the information.”

“I’m sure you do,” she replied, grabbing the bars with two hands to get closer. There was a moment’s pause in the conversation as the levity among the four guards died down. Maelys was unsure as to what was happening as Varra and the drunk girl stared at each other.

Then, the girl spat at the former Hand of Defense. A lob of saliva landed on her chin. Varra flinched, but said nothing.

“That’s for my pa.” She tried to do it again, but this time the spit trickled out of her mouth and dripped down her own chin. She frowned, pushing a fist into her face to wipe her jaw.

“You good, Mills?” the short one asked, walking up to her.

“Don’t even think about touchin’ me,” she sneered. He backed off.

“We should go,” the sober guard said.

“Yeah, whatever. But don’t think this is over,” she snapped at Varra, who still hadn’t moved an inch.

The guards started shuffling out the way they had come, leaving the two of them alone once more. Maelys remained petrified and confused, having only witnessed what was really only an exchange between strangers. And of course, there was the big question.

How much longer did he have to live?

Spear Gate — Chapter Nine, Pt. 2

“So that’s what you were referring to in the courtyard earlier today,” Eathe said.

“Yes,” she nodded. “I had planned on telling you because you should know. But now we’re pressed for time, and as much as I would prefer the other two not hearing this, I think it’s better this way.”

“Well, I can’t say I’m not curious. How much is there to tell?”

“I’ll give you the short version. The first part is common knowledge: the Spear Gate has been around for all of recorded history. Even the most ancient texts in Tal’Doraken note it’s existence and the Constructors that guard it. The Hands believe that Aenias created both, for they are both of the same indestructible material. Terrace was built around that obelisk, but not as a city. At least, not at first. Terrace was originally a prison.

“The Spear Gate is not just an obelisk, as you now know. It’s a portal. You see the Gate is at the spot on the planet that is closest to Eranos. The sister-planet lies directly above it, and on the opposite side is another Spear Gate, and when the Gates open, the two connect. One can simply walk right through. One foot on Asamos. The next on Eranos. And vice-versa.

“In an age far gone, long before Tebrein claimed independence from the rest of the continent, records have stated that the Gates were always open. Thousands of alien beings from the sister-planet flooded through. Your ancestors, Xan. The Athaxi.”

The masked figure stomped its feet, head cocked to one side. They made no noise of protest at this, though.

Varra continued. “The Constructors halted their advance, but the flood was constant, and what’s more, the Athaxi seemed to have powers of some kind. Then, one day, everything stopped. The Spear Gates closed and the Constructors went silent. A fractured number of Athaxi remained here, stranded. Hundreds of years passed, and slowly the Constructors began to reawaken, even if the object that they guarded never did. And so, people flocked to Terrace. It’s location and circumstances were easy to defend after we found the secret to controlling the Constructors. Which brings us to today. Knowledge of what the Gate is has been kept hidden.

She paused, and her brow furrowed under the orange torchlight. “But things have been changing. Twenty years ago, when my mother was the Hand of Defense, the Spear Gate opened. A single person stepped through from Eranos, but he was no Athaxi. He called himself Rozire.”

Maelys’ jaw dropped at this. Rozire was from another planet?

“His purposes were unknown, and he was apprehended. But we found out that he had powers of his own, and one day he vanished without a trace. He didn’t go back to Eranos. The Gate did not open again.”

“You’re saying he’s still around?” Eathe asked. Maelys perked up at that. If Rozire was here, he could get everyone out of this situation. Everything would be fine.

But Varra shook her head. “I doubt it. The boy told me that he entered the Meadows with Rozire. He hasn’t been seen since, and—”

“He must be here, then,” Eathe interrupted. “How far could he have gotten?”

“Eathe, nobody has seen him, and we don’t really know what he can do. Magic isn’t of this world.”

“Well,” the former guard captain said. “What do you know of his magic, boy?”

Maelys reddened. “I’m hardly any younger than either of you. And I don’t know. He’s never used any magic around me.”

Varra made a confused sound. “Don’t lie to me, you used magic just after I found you. Rozire’s magic, in fact.”

“What are you talking about?” Maelys and Eathe said in unison.

“Your master’s staff? It has a runestone in it. The Athaxi used runes to manipulate the world around them. You used Rozire’s staff to summon flame.”

Maelys held his hands up. “That doesn’t sound familiar. He’s used his staff as a torch sometimes, but he’s always used flint.”

Varra grunted. “Boy, you don’t have anything to gain from lying to us, we’re in the same position as you!”

“I’m not lying!” Maelys yelled. “And stop calling me ‘boy’! This all sounds insane and I have nothing to contribute.”

He took a breath and looked away from the others.

“Rozire found me and took me away from a bad place. An island off the coast of Tebrein, near the Sanguine Archipelago, but independent. We spent several months together. He told me he was a cartographer and showed me how to make maps. He never said why we were going to Upper Terrace, and when we got here, we were attacked by a Constructor, and he vanished.”

In that instant, he felt a spark in his head. He had told Maelys. They were looking for his mother, a woman whom he had never known. Why in Upper Terrace, and what did Maelys have to do with any of this?

Voices came from down the hall. Everyone glanced at each other, and a tense moment passed. Eathe shrugged at Varra in a rare request for orders.

She leaned in close to him. “We’re done for now,” she whispered. “Come back sometime tomorrow. For now, hide in one of the further cells. They won’t check for any additional prisoners. And don’t make any sound. They’ve only heard me and Maelys talk.”

Eathe nodded and tugged at Xan’s robes as they pulled away. With a silent wave of dismissal, the two of them ventured further into the dungeon to avoid the approaching patrol.

Spear Gate — Chapter Nine, Pt. 1

Maelys’ entire body ached, sore and heavy. As he woke, he found himself still wrapped with an unshakable chill, but the chill was everywhere, now. Coming to consciousness, he realized he was lying on stone. Cold, hard stone that did little to ease the discomfort of the Red Teeth that still coursed through his body. He let out a strained groan as he sat up to lean against the rock. It wasn’t any more comfortable, but at least the pained muscles could relax a bit.

The room was dark. The slow, orange glow of a torchlight twisted around the stone walls and iron bars.

“Rise and shine,” a feminine voice said nearby. Maelys glanced towards it to see a woman staring back at him from the other side of the cell. It was hard to make out details in the darkness, but she seemed young. Her voice carried an air of authority with it, but it was contrasted by her posture. Her shoulders were slumped and her head was low.

Maelys frowned. “Where are we?”

“The dungeon under the barracks. It seems we’ve both fallen victim to crimes we didn’t commit.”

Something in the way she said that sparked some recognition. “We’ve met before haven’t we?”

The woman crossed her arms and looked away. “Yes. I’m the H—” she stopped herself with a sigh. “My name is Varra.”

Varra. Rozire had mentioned that name. It had seemed so long since his teacher was at his side, though, that he couldn’t remember anything beyond simple recognition. He coughed and felt a stain of wetness on his arm. Dizziness followed, and Maelys wavered a bit. He pushed against the ground to steady himself. “Maelys,” he said after a moment, more a confirmation for himself than an introduction to her.

He anticipated a response, but there was none. Varra seemed content that the conversation had finished, which suited him just fine. He didn’t have much strength, and talking seemed like a waste. The questions of what had happened and what was to come came to mind, but they seemed trivial. Unimportant when compared to the prospect of getting some rest.

But just as that thought came to him, he heard a dull rhythm. The loud clanking of footsteps echoing down the corridor. He opened his eyes again to look at Varra, and watched as her composure completely shifted. She remained seated, but her back straightened and she pulled her hair out of her face, head lifted to address whoever approached their cell.

Maelys was surprised to see two figures walk into view. The one that carried a torch was a tall young man wearing plated armor. He wore no helmet, and his hair was much lighter in color than what few people Maelys had met in Upper Terrace. The other figure was small and hunched. Even sitting on the ground as he was, their head wasn’t much higher up than Maelys’. What little skin their simple white robes exposed had a glossy texture, as if they were covered in sweat. This figure wore an intricate mask over their face, and overall there was no indication whatsoever of the person’s gender.

“Well, Exalted One,” the armored one said, a smile on his face as he looked at Maelys. “These are somewhat different circumstances than what I thought we would be having around this hour. Unless you expect me to believe these are your chambers.”

“I’m over here, you idiot,” Varra huffed, words peeking out from gritted teeth. “And it’s just Varra now.”

He looked to the other side of the cell to where she was, then back to Maelys. “Oh, my. You’ll have to forgive me, you two look… nevermind.” He walked a few paces towards Varra. His face grew more serious then. “Xan told me what happened.”

The hunched figure nodded vigorously, smashing it’s hands together. “Yes, yes. Xan saw the lady being dragged out of the palace towards the dungeon. Some time after the light faded, yes.” The voice sounded somewhat masculine to Maelys, but jumped up and down in pitch. He vaguely recalled seeing this figure in the infirmary, but had never heard this voice before.

“Thank you for fetching Eathe for me, Xan,” Varra said.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me how to do your job?” the guard asked. “I appreciate the sentiment, but I think we both know the other Hands are going to replace me as soon as possible.”

“Well, funny enough the conversation I wanted to have with you has only been made more necessary by recent circumstances. I have a plan.”

“Are we going to bust you out?” Eathe said, skepticism and worry coloring his tone.

Varra shook her head, trailing a hand through her hair. “No. At least, not yet. That will only get us killed. No, the four of us have some work to do. We’re all outcasts in one form or another, so we have to stick together. I can get us through this, but we’ll all need to work together as one.”

She beckoned everyone to come closer. They all did so with reluctance, but when she was insistent they all did as they were told. Maelys was far too lost to agree to anything just yet, but he had little choice.

“We’ll start with introductions,” she said, voice slightly louder than that of a whisper. “You all know me, but I’ll go first anyway. I’m Varra, former Hand of Defense of the city.”

The light-haired guard started to introduce himself, but Varra cut him off as she pointed in his direction. “That’s Eathe, former Guard Captain of Upper Terrace and de facto Hand of Defense. A capable tactician and a loyal friend. You’re going to be the one pulling all the strings for now.”

She addressed the masked figure next to Eathe. “Xan, Upper Terrace’s only Athaxi resident, and our only medical expert. Xan, you’re going to have to be our eyes while everything is going down. Nobody is going to think anything of you wandering the streets since you’ve been around longer than any of us. And since Maelys is here, you coming to the dungeon frequently isn’t going to arouse any suspicion.”

Xan stomped their feet on the ground, making soft thumps. Maelys had never heard of an ‘Athaxi’ before. Everything about this creature was strange.

Soon Varra pointed towards him. “And lastly, we have Maelys. A bundle of questions himself, but undoubtedly a big piece of the puzzle. He has some connection with Rozire and the Spear Gate, though how much remains to be seen. Maelys is the key to figuring out what’s really going on. Also, it goes without saying that none of this information leaves this room. And it especially doesn’t reach the ears of the other Hands.”

Eathe nodded. “That goes without saying. So what’s our first move?”

“It starts here,” Varra replied. “The Hands have arrested me for treason against Tebrein. I think it’s only fitting that I commit the crime that put me here. I’m going to tell you three everything the Hands know about the Spear Gate and our watchful sister-planet.”

Spear Gate — Chapter Seven, Pt. 2

Varra sighed a breath of relief. The danger had passed, it seemed. “Captain,” she said, turning to Eathe. “There are things we need to discuss.”

“It seems so,” he nodded.

“It’ll have to wait, though. I have to see to the other Hands. Keep attending to the situation here. I want the palace on high alert for the rest of the day, and triple guard duty until further notice.”

“Yes, Exalted One.” He started to bow, but Varra put a hand on his shoulder and leaned in close, staring into his eyes.

“And meet me in my quarters at sundown,” she whispered.

He visibly reddened at that, but his face was stern as he nodded more covertly. Without another word, she turned around the way she had come, making her way towards the entry stairs and the council chamber. The quickest way was in the opposite direction, as the palace had many flights of stairs, but that was towards the Spear Gate. As uncomfortable as it made her in the past, now she was downright scared of it.

The building was soon flooded with guards as the reinforcements Eathe had requested arrived. They had their weapons drawn and were jogging towards the courtyard. She didn’t address them. Even if the threat was gone, she wanted her men as prepared as possible. Now was not the time for relaxation. She did slow her pace in their presence, though. It wouldn’t do them any good to know she was terrified.

She ascended the stairs and braced herself for the argument that was to come. A mental checklist of what was important would help.

The Hands would of course interrogate her on what happened and ask where she had been all this time. That was a waste of time because she knew as much as what the Hands would. She would then turn the conversation into an appeal to recalling the army back to Terrace. A land grab in the Sanguine Archipelago just wasn’t what the country needed right now. Perhaps now the rest of the council would see that.

They would of course bring up her lack of a second, again. The Hand of Defense had become a very dangerous job in recent years. With her mother’s disappearance and Morren’s sudden death just a few years later, Varra was a hurried replacement, and the last safety net of the city. If anything happened to her… Well, in the absence of a second, the duty of the Hand of Defense would turn to the Guard Captain. That brought her a little comfort, but having grown up in Lower Terrace, the Hands would never accept him being formally named second. And so that argument had been laid to an uncomfortable stalemate. That particular argument probably wouldn’t find its resolution today, but she did have an idea in that regard.

The other Hands, Elodrus especially, would also question her about the boy. The boy whose very existence was impossible. There was no doubt in her mind that his presence was connected to the Spear Gate. The staff and the gate’s opening immediately after his arrival confirmed that. He had also confirmed her suspicion that Rozire was involved, though to what extent was still unclear. One thing was certain, though: She would not bring up Rozire’s name. If they connected him with the boy, they might torture him. No. The less important he seemed, the better. At least for now, while Varra found more pieces of the puzzle.

She rounded the bending hallway as she approached the council room. A dozen guards stood outside, white and bronze armor gleaming as they saluted her. She nodded as one of them opened the door for her.

The room opened up into a wide chamber with a small but ornate table in the middle. On the far wall was an enormous window that oversaw the courtyard and the obelisk below. Twenty or more guards waited inside, many of them staring out the window. Varra kept her focus at the table. The seats were arranged in the common painting of Aenias: three left arms and two right. There were no chairs on the ends, and only one of the seats was empty. Four men of pointed robe and silver hair took up the other ones. She wondered once more how her mother had ever managed to identify with them at all.

“Glad you finally decided to join us, Exalted One,” Karayan stated. The Hand of Justice, and the youngest after Varra, though he had seen over fifty summers.

“I had other matters to attend to,” she amended as she took her place among the five.

“I don’t doubt that. Guards?” He glanced over his shoulder where several men waited. “Arrest Varra under grounds of treason against Upper Terrace and Tebrein.”

Spear Gate — Chapter Seven, Pt. 1

Varra’s sword was out in a flash. Bolting out of the infirmary and into the thoroughfare, she was met with a battle of dark and light. The streets were cloaked in darkness due to the Shadow, but several torches illuminated doorways and signs, carts and wagons. Most people stood stock still, a wreath of horror painted over their face. They all looked up, towards the direction of the palace. When Varra turned around to see it, it was hard to mask her own fears.

A pillar of blue light shot directly upwards, impossibly high as it faded into the distance. The ground was still humming, but it was accompanied now by the sound of murmurs of trepidation and shouts of worry.

“Stay calm!” she shouted to nobody in particular. “Get to shelter immediately!” Few noblemen would be out during the Shadow, Night Seal or not, so most of these people would be servants, but they were still her people. It was the Hand of Defense’s duty to protect all of Tebrein.

She ran through the palace gates and then into the entrance hall. She passed no guards on her way, which didn’t ease her fears. The council would be meeting upstairs in a room overlooking the courtyard. The council she should be at. If anyone was hurt, the blame would be hers alone.

When she stepped back outside into the inner courtyard, nearly two dozen palace guards were surrounding the Spear Gate, which glowed with a brilliance rivaling the sun. The entire courtyard was bathed in a dull blue light, illuminating the otherwise dark garden. The long shadows of the guards shifted slightly back and forth as they shuffled around, prepared for anything. Varra shielded her eyes as she approached. The humming was loud now. It was the tone of an enormous bell that didn’t quiet with time.

“What’s happened?!” she yelled towards the nearest guard, a grizzled man with a beard that didn’t meet regulation.

“Don’t know!” he replied, fumbling a salute before returning to his defensive stance staring at the Gate. “It just started glowing and making that sound!”

“Go g—” as soon as she started voicing her command, she recognized Eathe ahead of them, moving purposely and directing guards with hand signals and shouts. She brushed past the guard without another word and ran up to him.

The guard captain stood a strong contrast of everyone else in the courtyard. He was calm and calculative. His sword remained in its scabbard.

“Exalted One!” he bowed as deep as always in greeting. “I suppose you’ll want to take command of the situation? I believe I have it mostly handled, already though.”

“I’m… uh…” Varra found herself speechless. “I thought you were still on the perimeter running checks on the constructors?”

“Not really necessary for the Guard Captain to be doing something like that. My being here was actually a happy coincidence, actually. I had been looking for you, and then… Well, this happened.”

Time and time again, he had more than earned his title. She swallowed and nodded, sheathing her own blade, despite her fears. A leader should always be in control, and even if danger did come, there were still plenty of guards here. “Very well,” she stated. “You’ve sent for reinforcements from the outer wall?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve made sure the civilians in the perimeter are safe?”

“That was my first order,” he smiled.

“What about the other Hands?”

“Half the palace guard are protecting them as we speak.”

“Good. Your assessment of the situation?”

Eathe frowned, glancing in the direction of the glowing obelisk. “Hard to say. It doesn’t seem to be threatening anyone, but I’ve never seen anything like this. I was planning on pulling double duty and making sure security is tight everywhere until we figure out what’s going on. Do you have any ideas?”

Right. Eathe had no idea what the Spear Gate really was. Nobody did, outside the Hands and their seconds. That information was locked tight.

But at the same time, that put the city at even more risk. Eathe had already handled the situation exactly as she would have hoped. Better than she could have dreamed. How much better could he do his job if he knew the real threat? For all anyone knew, a thousand men could come pouring out of that brilliant light at a moment’s notice. Tebrein would fall within hours.

Even as she thought about telling him everything, though, the light seemed to dim. The humming began to subside. The two of them turned to the Spear Gate to watch as the pillar of radiance weakened into a beam, and soon it was dim enough to see the obelisk itself, now impossibly shattered into a dozen shards, levitating into the shape of a doorway. As the humming faded, the shards gravitated towards each other and snapped back into place and reforging the familiar and unnerving form of a large spear pointing straight up.

The courtyard was left once more in stillness and shadow.

Spear Gate — Chapter Six, Pt. 3

The Shadow began just as Varra reached the infirmary, where the boy was kept. The quicker she was the better.

“Exalted One!” a woman a measure older than herself greeted her as she entered. Her name was a mystery. “A pleasure, as always. What’s your business, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Varra slowed her step, but kept purpose in her gait. She didn’t have time for conversation. “Is Xan here?” she said, voice curt.

“I’m afraid not,” the lady replied. “He stepped out just a while ago to go fetch some supplies. He wasn’t more specific than that. You know how he is.”

“That’s fine. I won’t be too long, I’m just here to see the prisoner. If I don’t see you again on my way out, make sure to tell Xan I stopped by.”

“Yes ma’am.”

The infirmary wasn’t a large building. It was directly attached to the palace, though it had no connecting doorways on the inside. Really, it was an afterthought. Everyone in Upper Terrace could afford to have a doctor come to them. The infirmary was designed to be useful on a larger scale, expanding a wing of the palace into a sick bay in times of war, which had never been brought straight to the capital, for all Varra knew. This meant that the infirmary was a glorified storage facility for medical equipment. Few people were actually treated here.

As such, she had no trouble finding the boy, who had been left right where she had last seen him, except now he was kept in shackles, which chained him to the bed post behind him. He wasn’t quite lying on his back—a few pillows elevated him into something approaching a sitting position. He was no longer covered in so much blood. A change of clothes and a fresh bath had ensured that the moderate amount of blood on his chest and legs were recent, and that his condition hadn’t improved.

Varra approached him cautiously. Xan had assured her that the disease, which he had called Red Teeth, wasn’t contagious. Still, blood wasn’t the most sanitary thing to be around. Nor was it easy to clean.

“Boy,” she muttered, prodding his shoulder. “I have a few questions for you, most of which require your consciousness.”

He stirred, but didn’t open his eyes. He seemed to be muttering something, but it was too incoherent to make out. She prodded him again, and with a wet cough he became more lucid, eyes fluttering open. His eyes glazed over the surroundings, focusing slowly once they found Varra, and then widening. “M… mother…” he croaked.

The Hand of Defense frowned, taken aback. “Excuse me?”

“We’ve been… looking all over for you…”

“You must be mistaken,” she said, regaining her composure. “I’m no mother, and even if I was you’re far too old to be any child of mine.” As she thought about it, they were of very similar age. Within a few years, to be sure. But she didn’t want to tell him just how young she was. Too many people pointed that out often enough. “But you seem awake enough. Can you understand me?”

The boy started to say ‘yes’, but it turned into another cough, and Varra had to sidestep to avoid getting any blood on her.

“Very well. What’s your name?”

“…Maelys.”

“Good. You’re safe here. For now at least. You’re in Upper Terrace, if that clears anything up.”

He started coughing uncontrollably at that. Varra found a nearby pitcher of water and poured some into a small cup on the table next to him. She had to help him drink it, since his hands were bound, but he seemed grateful at the gesture. Beyond that, she needed him to think she was a friend.

“Did you come here alone?” she asked.

His eyes lost focus for a few moments before he shook his head.

“How many other people did you go into the Meadows with? Just one?”

He nodded.

“His name was Rozire, wasn’t it?”

Again, Maelys’ eyes grew wide. He nodded again. “…staff?”

“I have the staff, don’t worry.”

At that moment, she became aware of a low, deep humming sound. Far lower than the horn blaring of a constructor. It even sounded like it was coming from beneath the ground. The humming grew louder and louder, until the very walls seemed to resonate with the tone.

“Wha…?” the boy sounded.

Varra didn’t bother with any explanation, or even any words of departure. She left the boy, racing back through the building as quickly as she could. Her mother had told her about that sound. It was something she remembered vividly, even though she had heard it only once nearly two decades prior.

It was the sound of her nightmares coming to life.

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.