Chapter 11 of Gravity’s RevengePosted by in Uncategorized
Threshold of Stone
A gust lifted the stranger’s hair into a halo of black, crusted at the edges with frost. She raised one hand. Her fingertips and palm shone white. Her eyes pulsed once with the same moonlight glow. Hiresha could hear her calm words through the aural tunnel connecting to the outside of the tower.
“I am Bright Palm Sheamab.”
Her words ended with a crack, and Fos reeled back, clutching his face. The icicle dropped from his hand, and he stepped back on it, leaving it broken.
The woman’s staff completed the arc of its swing, a black streak. Hiresha had not even seen the weapon strike, and it must have come faster than a mamba snake. The woman’s calm face had given no hint of her intent, and her shining palm had distracted the enchantress and likely Fos, too.
Hiresha lunged toward Fos, thumping against the crystal viewing portal. For a panic-frothing moment, she forgot how to open it. She clawed at her jewel sash, searching for a gem with which to fight.
Outside, the Bright Palm sprang behind the staggering Fos. He gripped his greatsword’s hilt with one hand, the other clutching the right side of his face. The staff clamped over his throat, the woman behind him holding the bar of wood on either side of his neck in a chokehold.
Fos struggled, even as his face flushed purple. She jerked him forward and back, maintaining the pin as she whispered something in his ear. The spellsword stopped his thrashing, and she pushed him toward Hiresha and the tower.
“Open this door,” the Bright Palm shouted. Her chin was on Fos’s shoulder, her brows downward hooks like streaks of charcoal. “Open it, and I will not kill him.”
Hiresha heard the murmurs of enchantresses saying something behind her, but they were drowned out in her roaring fear that she would see Fos killed before her eyes. A man so full of life and potential, broken and paralyzed. The magic of the Bright Palms drained their human emotions, and Hiresha had no doubt the woman would do as she threatened.
She had already ruined his eye. Fluid of a distressing consistency leaked down one side of his face. I must regenerate that. Fos must live for me to heal him.
Hiresha stepped to the right of the door, Lightening its stone. In a fist she clenched a jewel of Attraction. All she had to do was open the door, and lob the gem to immobilize the Bright Palm. Even if she hurt Fos as they fell, Hiresha’s magic could likely save him before he stopped breathing.
The enchantress locked eyes with the Bright Palm. The woman’s blank expression reminded Hiresha of a statue with stolen eyes and skin. Hiresha hesitated. A rush of chilling uncertainty flowed over her. The spellswords never would’ve given a Bright Palm an amulet. Did she climb? Why is she here? The enchantress had a terrible sense she should not open the tower door to this woman.
Hiresha shifted her enchanted jewel between her fingers and overcame her doubts. I will save Fos. Her amulet unlocked the door. Her gloved fingers folded under its stone designs of clouds and pushed upward. The way into the tower was opened. Hiresha lifted her hand to throw the jewel.
The Bright Palm shielded herself behind Fos, the skin of his throat bent inward from the pressure of her staff. She turned her head to the side and called behind her. “For the innocent.”
Two more glowing figures raced around the tower and toward the door, one with the curved blade of a scimitar in hand. Three Bright Palms, one jewel. Hiresha fumbled for more gems, but knew in that sharp moment of surprise that she would not reach them before the two hitherto unseen Bright Palms rushed into the tower. They would invade her safe world, her sanctuary. Hiresha had an instinct to drop the jewel of attraction into their path at her own feet but discounted it because the spell would entrap her alongside them.
She flicked the jewel at the tower wall, in front of the charging man with the scimitar. The gem made no sound as it hit the carvings of interlocking geometric shapes, but the Bright Palm grunted when the Attraction spell smashed him into the wall. A thunk. A metallic snap as the bronze blade shattered into sand-colored splinters.
The second Bright Palm stomped into the tower, seized her with metal-studded gloves, and used his momentum to swing himself around her and throw the enchantress outside. Or so seemed his intent. Her skirts tripped him up, and they both sprawled in the tower threshold.
As Hiresha pushed herself to her feet, she realized that she should have dropped the jewel in the doorway. The Attraction enchantment would have slammed the portal shut, even if doing so may have crushed her beneath the stone. Hiresha worried she faced as great a danger amid the Bright Palms. They scorn enchantresses, our position and our craft.
Several more figures approached, an aftertrail of glow following them with the same color as the snow. One man trudged with head down, carrying a bow. One Bright Palm wore only the short red robe of a tribesman, and he set down his spear to grip Fos’s arm. Another Bright Palm with an obsidian-toothed club strapped to his back took the spellsword’s other arm.
Hiresha felt a crushing vulnerability. They’re too many, too spread out. She reached for another jewel. The lead Bright Palm slid her staff from Fos’s throat and lashed out at the enchantress. The black length of wood smacked Hiresha’s hand from her sash with such force that she worried the limb would fly free at the wrist.
The Bright Palm swept her staff in a warding motion, to keep the other elder enchantresses from approaching the door to close it. Next she slammed the length of wood into the frame to prop it open. The serenity of her voice jarred with the violence of her actions.
“I, Bright Palm Sheamab, am taking command of this establishment until the Oasis Empire consents to protecting the innocent.”
Hiresha could not understand all of what the Bright Palm leader had said, especially not when Sheamab wrenched the enchantress’s bruised hand behind her back. Hiresha made a low murmuring of pain.
Bright Palm Sheamab gripped her tighter. “You would be most wise to continue doing exactly as I say, Elder Enchantress Hiresha. Provost of Applied Enchantment. Paragon of Morimound. Once Bride to the Golden Scoundrel.”
Hiresha stiffened, and chills cut through her. For a stranger, she knows me far too well.
Fos thrashed in the arms of the two Bright Palms holding him. He Burdened himself downward and out of their grasps, and scrambled toward Hiresha. One Bright Palm grabbed his leg, the reaching around his throat and grabbing his bound length of black hair. Hiresha was thrilled to see him struggling to help her, though in the end the two men torqued his limbs and returned him to a headlock.
Sheamab gazed past Fos and the wreck of his eye. The sight of it sent Hiresha’s own eyes streaming.
“Take him to the cliff,” the Bright Palm woman said, “above the College of Active Enchantment.”
The Bright Palms dragged Fos to the edge of the plateau. Hiresha was forced after him, shocks of yellow pain flashing up her arm with each step Sheamab pulled her. The provost felt detached, reality swimming around her.
Snow had refrozen in ripples, wind sweeping over it and off the cliff. Four hands shining with white light pushed Fos to the edge. His metal boots scraped as he tried to lean against them, but the Bright Palms had both his arms locked behind his back in a double pin.
Below them, the glass monument of the Blade protruded into the sky. In the moonlight, it looked like a sword of silver. Hiresha thought, Do they mean to push him off the cliff, have him break through the crystal walls of the Blade?
“You promised he wouldn’t be harmed.” Even as Hiresha said it, she had a sinking feeling that the Bright Palm had not made so general a vow. She only said she wouldn’t kill him herself.
“Sixteenth tenet, ‘You shall not speak an untruth,’ and this I have fulfilled.” Sheamab yanked Hiresha a step closer to Fos. “Tell the other spellswords that if they attempt the climb to this establishment or otherwise interfere with our purposes, the enchantresses will be executed by our hands.”
Fos kicked at her. She caught his leg, the nail beds of her fingers flaring white as she angled his leg aside. Fos glared at her, his one eye gleaming with more hatred than any two could ever possess.
She latched a scroll case onto his belt. “This message will serve in place of your voice, should you die in the fall.”
Hiresha had thought to sneak out a jewel with the Bright Palms distracted, but Sheamab snatched her hand again, twisting it. The enchantress willed herself to speak through the pain.
“You can’t kill him.” Her mind bounded between fright and fatigue, desperate to say something to save Fos. “He’s innocent of wrongdoing, a man your order should be protecting, not tossing off ill-advised heights.”
“The innocent shall value no metal or stone above another innocent. Eighteenth tenet, stanza five.” Sheamab gestured to the snake-design circlet of gold that coiled out from Fos’s hair. “This man is the willing servant of an institution that values the glittering grit of the Lands of Loam above the common man.”
“The precious materials aren’t decadence,” Hiresha said, “but the tools of our profession. The vessels for our magic.”
“This place is the epitome of an empire that can see only wealth and splendor, that no longer accepts Bright Palms into their cities…” Sheamab ripped the jewel sash from Hiresha’s shoulder and threw it fluttering off the cliff. “…that believes trinkets would protect them from a devastation of Feasters.”
Hiresha’s mind bolted to the Lord of the Feast. Is Tethiel still here? The thought of Tethiel nailed against the Recurve Tower filled her with a buzzing dread. He had believed Hiresha capable of defending the Academy from any misfortune, but as she watched her jewel sash drift out of sight downward, she hurt with doubt.
“To the innocent, yours shall be the open palm of healing.” Sheamab’s heart beat once, visible as a white glob branching in her chest with veins full of light. The shimmer traveled down her arm to her hand, spreading in her palm into a haze. She folded her fingers down one by one. “To those less than innocent, your hand shall be closed.”
The two Bright Palms holding Fos set their feet. They hurled the spellsword into the night sky.
He hung in the air, for a moment. Hiresha felt just as adrift. Seeing him fall made her feel that she had nothing beneath her, that all she had thought safe and true had been torn from her. She stopped herself from crying out and forced herself to watch his drop.
Not once did Fos scream or cry out for help. His legs spun overhead. He turned, struggled, tried to reach out to the cliff. Black hair burst from its tie, the glitter of his circlet spun from his head. The circlet I gave him. He snatched it out of the air, but she wanted him to let it go, to forget her gift and do something to save himself. The glass of the Blade rushed up, either to break him with its enchanted strength or shatter around him as his torn body bashed through the roof plates of crystal.
He flipped and landed face-down on the Blade. Hiresha thought that at the last moment he had Lightened himself, had softened his impact to a leaf breezing down to the ground. If he had hit with full force, I would’ve heard a sound above the wind. Or do I only wish to believe so? The distant shape of Fos lay still, blurs of spellswords cluttering beneath him within the glass of the College of Active Enchantment.
Bright Palm Sheamab also peered down at him. Her expression peaceful, she said, “He will not slide off. The spellswords will have their warning.”
With no more ado than that, the Bright Palm dragged Hiresha away from the edge before the enchantress could even be certain if Fos was alive or dead. She cast the Bright Palm a ferocious look decidedly unfitting for a member of the Ceiling of Elders. Sheamab must have seen it but did not react.
It is decided, Hiresha told herself. I will simply have to destroy her and all her glowing company, before they hurt anyone else in my Academy.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 Both comments and pings are currently closed.