© 2019 by S.J.Rapala
This is Chapter IV of the Book II of the Broken Worlds trilogy, By the Rivers Dark. The entire novel will be made available for free, chapter by chapter, as it is written. Book I of the Broken Worlds trilogy, RIse of the Dragon Riders is available here.
IV. Bringer of Chaos
Jake splashed water on his face and looked in the mirror. He blinked hard and drew back, not recognizing his features. They were dark and sallow, his eyes sat deep and they burnt like two bright coals inside a hollow face. Skin stretched tightly over high cheekbones, tight lips were carved thin and seldom did a smiled visit upon them. Blond hair had grown out and fell down to his shoulders, carelessly pulled together with a string at the back of his neck . He furrowed his brows, leaned in and peered into the depths of his dark eyes but they were a well of grief and he found nothing there except the Darkness that gripped him day and night and visited his dreams. Jake shook his head, turned up the collar of his golden robe and, grim faced, he turned away from the mirror with disgust.
There was a knock on the door and he opened it to find Julius Laurentius staring back at him. The Younger Elder Scholar was dressed in long purple robes and his appearance was impeccable, as always. He stood tall and straight, hands clasped behind his back, long black hair slicked back and his eyes bright. Jake left the door open but turned away from the Antalean, his face disinterested.
"Egnatius Drusus sends his summons," Julius said calmly. "The meeting of the Elder Council is about to commence."
"You don't need me there," Jake replied with a shrug. "I'm just a Lead Scholar, barely a Mage. What can I offer you in terms of advice?"
"You should come, Jacob," the Dragon Link suggested quietly. "Things are changing. We are at war. The decisions we make today will determine our path in the future."
"My path is simple," the young man said firmly.
"Vengeance leads to death," Julius remarked. "It's time to stop grieving."
"I will stop when the nightmares stop," Jake said with a scowl.
"The Treacherous is toying with you," the Scholar commented. "The Darkness that stretches over your mind is his doing."
"And this?" Jake spread his fingers to present a large, hairy spider resting in the palm of his hand. "Is this his doing too? Or is it mine?"
Julius gazed unblinking at the creature that squirmed in the young man's hand.
"Darkness is in me," Jake said, his voice breaking. "I thought of a butterfly and formed a moth instead. I wanted a blue jay and shaped a bat. And this..." He clenched his fist in frustration and anger, and squeezed the life out of the spider. Julius watched in silence as the young man threw the creature's lifeless carcass out the window and wiped its yellowish fluids on a cloth by the mirror. "This was meant to be a hummingbird. I cannot shape anymore, not without bringing Darkness into the world."
"You should come, Jacob," Julius repeated without addressing the young man's concerns. "There is much to decide today and we will need your help."
"You're not listening," Jake's head hung low. He washed his hands in the bowl and peered into the mirror again, then pulled away with disgust once more.
"I am," the Scholar stated. "You grieve. There is Darkness inside you that you try to fight but it's slowly taking over. Because you let it."
"How do I stop it?" Jake's voice hardened.
"Let go of the guilt," Julius replied. "The pain will always be there because Dominic was your brother and your responsibility. But you could not have saved him. It was his choice," the Scholar added and studied Jake for a moment. "Let go of the guilt and the hatred because that is what feeds the Darkness. It's what the Nameless relishes and he will poison your mind and take it over completely, if you do not turn from this path."
Jake stood quietly for a moment longer as if weighing something in his mind.
"Let's go," he said finally and fixed the collar of his robe. His face still grim, he moved past Julius Laurentius and exited the room. The Younger Scholar followed with a heavy sigh. He closed the door and walked briskly after the young man.
They came to the familiar high-ceiling chamber where the Council gathered. Jake opened the dark double-doors and confidently entered the room where others were already seated by the long wooden table of polished oak. Gold and scarlet banners dotted the stone walls, hanging alongside solemn paintings of Scholars and mages of the past. Charmed candles were set into a floating chandelier and they illuminated the otherwise dark chamber. The fire had died some time ago in the back of the room and no one moved to reignite it. The mood was solemn and tense, and when Jake and Julius entered, all eyes turned to them. Egnatius Drusus, his beard and hair disheveled, gave them a tired look. Aelia Herminius, Decimus Tibertius, Rufus Secundius, and Iulia Lucretia—the Elder Scholars of the Rider Council—also looked weary. Their corresponding Younger Elders—Paulus Terentius, Marcus Petronius, and Camilla Lucretia—seemed to have aged. The only other person in the room was River and she alone looked fresh and bright, as if the war and the Darkness had no impact on her.
"Jacob, Julius, welcome," the Magus motioned for them to take a seat. "We have just started to discuss the business at hand." And when the two took their seats, he motioned for Decimus Tibertius to continue.
"The Gathering Charm will break down eventually and we will be defenseless then," the Elder Schollar finished. "We cannot hold it against the onslaught of the Cursed's shapeforming thoughts. His mind is now entirely focused on finding our whereabouts and he will succeed. We can delay it, but..." His voice drifted off and he looked away.
"How long?" Egnatius Drusus asked after a short pause.
"Months, weeks. Maybe days. I do not know. I sense the god's power growing but it seems he is waiting for something."
"You'll have everything you need to delay the inevitable," the Magus asserted.
"War is upon us," Rufus Secundius said into the darkness of the room. "We started this war. We knew this would happen when we set out on this path."
"And what happened, dear Rufus?" the Eldest turned to the Lead Mage of Protection and Military Spells. "Enlighten me."
"We warred with the Nameless and we won a battle," Rufus replied. "And it was a great victory and it forced back the Black Army. Its general was killed along with many others. It was a costly victory, though," he turned to Jake with a short bow. "But a victory nonetheless. The question is what do we do next? It has been six months. The god's mood has soured and he brought darkness and rain into our world. Earthquakes and vicious twisters ravage the realm. We hide behind city walls and the Slayers are reinforcing Kinsborough to defend themselves. Orcs and goblins have come down in scores. Dark creatures like the vampyres, glup'taks, and others, unnamed and unholy things, descended down from the mountains where they come forth from the belly of the earth."
"We need to make a stand once more," Julius Laurentius asserted. "Gather the armies and march on the enemy while his forces are still disorganized. Before a new general appears and unites the orc and goblin tribes once more. Before the god makes his move."
"The Ancestors are quiet," Iulia Lucretia spoke up. "But I hear their wails and their despair. They do not believe in our victory. They see the Nameless on his throne in the Land of Shadows and they see his minions, and they despair."
"They are wrong," Egnatius Drusus answered. "They are in the power of the Murderous and they know nothing except anguish and doom. We will prevail."
"Not without help," Rufus Secunius said. "The last battle took many of our men and women. Riders and Slayers still grieve those that were lost. The next battle will take more lives, and we don't have lives to give anymore. We need help."
"Dwarves," Julius said. "I spoke of them with the Elder Council of the Slayers."
"Aye, and we spoke of them here," Egnatius Drusus said with a nod. "But we cannot be sure if they will join. Muirchertach Maoilrain looks after his own first. They burrowed deep into the mountains and they may not be willing to help."
"I will go," River spoke up. "The dwarf king will not refuse me."
"And Caitrin Lightborn?" Julius asked.
"Let her grieve." River shook her head. "She is needed in Kinsborough, anyway."
"Rumor is, she is to be named the new Slayer Commander," Rufus Secundius said.
"If she so chooses," River replied and then added, "I will go with Calista to the dwarves. They will listen to me and they will help. Their future depends on the outcome of this war just as much as ours does."
"Go and return with good news," Egnatius said with a short smile.
"I will be back within three days." River rose from the chair. "Calista knows the way."
"And how are the dragons?" the Magus looked to both River and Julius Laurentius.
"They are eager to fight," Julius replied and looked to the girl. "They follow Calista and she follows her Mistress. As long as River is her Rider, the Children of the Sun will help in our struggle. They, too, suffer from the Nameless' poisonous shapeforming."
"They are the reason we still have hope," the Magus stated. "They are the good that is left in Antalea. Without them, all would be lost. We must keep them safe."
"Calista stirs sometimes and she is restless," River said with a small scowl. "I ask her, but she is quiet. She keeps something from me. A secret or a fear, I do not know." The girl looked to Egnatius Drusus and to Julius, who in turn looked over each other.
"The Nameless must be waking his black dragons and readying them for battle," Julius said after a moment, but River felt as if he held something back. "The next battle will be difficult. We can win little skirmishes and defeat the scattered war parties of orcs and goblins, but when the god will march against us, he will bring the dragons this time. He will not make the same mistake twice. The next Black Army will be much more dangerous and much more powerful. So we must be as well."
"We need the dragons and we need the dwarves," Rufus said. "And the Slayers with a capable Commander."
"Caitrin Lightborn will fulfill her duty," River said. "And she will unite the Slayers to once more fight under our banners."
"And the Bringer of Chaos?" Decimus Tibertius spoke up suddenly and gazed at Jake who looked away. "Your power is growing, Jacob, I can feel it as it penetrates the Gathering Charm and other protection spells that I have crafted. I can feel your thoughts probing."
"I will help where I can," Jake said absently.
"All right, then, it is settled for now." Egnatius Drusus finished the Council meeting quickly and dismissed everyone. "We will reconvene when River returns with news from the dwarves. In the meantime, we all know what we need to do, so on with it."
Jake was about to follow Julius and the others out of the room, but the Magus held him back. "Stay a while, Jake, will you?"
The young man hesitated, but stopped and waited for everyone else to file out of the chamber before turning back to the old Mage.
"Is everything alright, young Jacob?" the Magus asked, approaching.
"Yes, of course."
"I'm not so sure," Egnatius Drusus said. "I'm told you run off in the middle of the night into the Great Plains with no one to help you if something was to happen. I understand that you are powerful, but there are many things that prowl the night. And the god, he is distinctly aware of your existence and, more than that, he is looking for you. Or his minions are."
"I'm fine," Jake replied curtly. "I do take Kale out for a flight now and again. I'll be sure to be careful from now on, though." He was about to leave, but the Magus stopped him.
"You know, Jake," he said thoughtfully. "I remember talking to River when she was on the brink of Darkness, just hanging on by a thread, ready to fall." Jake stiffened, while the Magus continued. "And it seems to me, that you might be in the same position now. I know about your dreams. They are a sign that the Nameless is reaching out to you. You must resist it."
"What of them?" Jake asked belligerently. "I lost my brother. I'm just trying to deal."
"I understand that, of course," Egnatius remarked. "I've lost many people throughout my unnaturally long life. Many friends and family." Jake turned his eyes away, suddenly ashamed and the Magus continued. "So I understand the pain and the grief, the overwhelming desire to finish, to end your life, just so that the pain ends. I understand your desperate missions into the Great Eastern Plains. Looking to exact revenge by inflicting pain and carnage. And, maybe hoping that one day you'll meet someone or something who will end your hurt."
Egnatius Drusus moved in and placed his hand on the young man's shoulder. "I can only imagine the pain that you feel now," he said. "But, you must understand, the Nameless, he feeds on this pain and this despair. The more you hurt, the stronger he gets, and the stronger foothold he gets into your soul. And then the Darkness wins, Jake. You must fight it."
"I know," the young man answered, tears suddenly welling up in his eyes.
"Dunstan Yates, a good friend of mine despite our differences, and a dæmon no less, fears the Darkness growing inside you," Egnatius added. "He fears that you will not be able to control it, that you will succumb go it. He communicates with me through the palantir; though he is not in possession of one, he can reach it with his far-searching gaze. He fears you will become a weapon in the hands of the Wicked. I said this would never happen because you are pure of heart and there is nothing in this world that would change you."
Jake had tears in his eyes. He shook his head. "No, of course not," he said.
"Be careful, Jake," Egnatius Drusus finished. "I know your pain, but your pain must end one day. Your brother died to save us all. Rejoice in that and celebrate. He gave his life so that you and I and everybody else can live to fight another day. Do not succumb to the Darkness, Jake. There are plenty of friends around you to help you along the way."
"Yes," Jake said and he shook the old Magus' hands. He left quickly, closing the door behind him and skulked away to his room, hiding the tears. Once alone, he broke down and cried. He crumpled into his bed and there he wept for a long time. He lost Dominic and there was no way to bring him back. He failed to protect his little brother.
Jake's eyes fell on the crimson ruby that hung at the end of a long golden chain on small stand; it swung slowly in the breeze coming through the open window. The Heart of the Sun. He knew its name now and he knew its powers, just as much as he knew of the palantir. The dark globe glistened on a tripod set on a desk in the corner of his room, too. The ruby he had found after he searched the final place of the battle with the Black Army, where Dominic died. He found it buried in the sand, untouched by the savage blast that claimed his brother's life. It shone brightly in the dirt, buried underneath heaps of rock, earth and sand.
There was a soft knock and River came into his chambers without waiting for an invite. She saw him sitting at the edge of this bed, holding the stone and staring across the room at the palantir. The girl hesitated, but then took a seat beside Jake. They did not speak for a long time.
"We could go home right now," Jake said finally. "Forget this whole place and just go back home, to our parents, to our lives... We have both the key and the stone."
"We could,'" River agreed slowly. "But we have some unfinished business here, don't we? The war rages on and everyone is relying on us."
"Yes, I know." He waived his hand with impatience. "The Mistress to the Dragon Queen, the Bringer of Chaos... That's all I hear wherever I go."
She sat without speaking. "I have nothing to go back to, Jake," she said finally. "You know that. I've never had the family you did. I've never fit the mold. It's different here. I have purpose here. I have Calista and she both loves me and needs me. But I'd understand if you decided to leave. You have people waiting for you and there is nothing but pain here."
Jake did not reply for some time. His voice was heavy and colored with darkness when he finally spoke. "Everything here reminds me of him. But I think it would be worse back home. Yes, we have unfinished business here." He rose and put away the Heart of the Sun, then covered the palantir with a black cloth. "Dominic died for this world, and we cannot abandon it. I can't leave without killing the Nameless god."
"It's not about vengeance, Jake," River corrected him.
"Everybody keeps telling me that," the young man said. "But it is. It really is. Everything else is just a backdrop against which my vengeance will play out. I am the Bringer of Chaos. My power is growing and soon, I will be able to face the Nameless." He turned to the girl and said, "Go fetch the dwarves. Convince them to join the struggle. When you come back, we will be ready for war." He looked out the window into the raging darkness of the world.
"I will be ready," he added quietly.