• Matt Brown

Fates Intertwined (Part 5)

Vahti


The mood was somber. A dozen of the Brothers sat gathered around Demecus. Their heads bowed in prayer as they prayed for his recovery. They held the vigil in shifts between the chores throughout the day. And only seven of the Brothers could fit into the small room.


It had been two days, and his condition hadn’t improved. The older monk’s breathing was still shallow, his arms and hands bandaged where Cairn’s lightning burned him.


Vahti looked on in silence. Meditation offered no solace or answers to what happened. Thankfully, none held any ill will toward Cairn. Before coming here, Arridus had informed everyone of his condition.


“Has he said anything?”


Feeling someone place a hand on his shoulder, Vahti glanced behind him. “No, he remains locked in his room and refuses to eat.”


Kaius brown eyes softened. “Vahti, I know how sensitive things are right now, but we need to talk,” he said, moving into the doorway.


Vahti tensed, Kaius tone was too similar to Arridus’. “Kaius, you aren’t about to say what I think are you?”


Kaius gaze fell onto the pallet where Brother Demecus lay unconscious. “Demecus almost died from your brother’s magic, Vahti. He may still die. The Inscriptions and medicines have barely kept him clinging to life. I fear the Keeper may come for him soon.”


Vahti eyed the wrappings around Demecus’ chest. The script written into the bandages was called Denak; a technique developed by the Founder. The inscriber imparted some of their own spiritual energy into the characters. That energy was then stored for later as an Inscription and could be used in accordance with whatever purpose its creator intended.


“So you want to send us away?”


“No, Vahti, but though I am loath to say it, perhaps the Arcanum is the only place Cairn can go,” he replied. “The mages there have been training students of the Arts since before The Order’s founding.”


“What if we register him? Wouldn’t that be enough?”


“Registration will keep him safe for a time, but if something like this happens, the Absonians won’t respond well,” Kaius answered. “That Septimus lurking about isn’t stupid. He knows there’s something unusual about Cairn.”


“If he suspects Cairn has the talent for magic or the spark of sorcery, then he will report it. If he hasn’t already.”


Vahti clenched his fist. “But we’re protected, aren’t we?”


“Vahti, think. If we violate our oaths or the ancient agreements, then our protection fails,” Kaius replied. “Absonians are very strict about the Rule of Law. They will come in here and take Cairn by force if necessary.”

“They’ll make him a weapon, Kaius… He’ll be locked away in that tower for seven years and I won’t be allowed to see him. They’ll fill his head with all their nonsense of Duty, Order and Honor.”


“Cairn is stronger than that. I can tell by looking at him he’s a stubborn one.”


Despite the tempest in his heart, Vahti smirked. Kaius was right about Cairn. He could be very bullheaded when he set his mind to something.

“Kaius… I just can’t. I promise I’ll find another way.”


“What if there isn’t?”


Vahti crossed his arms, leaning into the doorway as he stared at the floor. “Then we’ll leave, if it comes to it. We’ll go somewhere away from anyone.”


“Vahti—.”


“No, Kaius, he’s my brother.”


“Vahti!”


The Brothers jumped, startled from their quiet chanting, and turned to them. Vahti felt a twinge as they stared at him. Kaius grabbed Vahti by the sleeve of his tunic and pulled him into the hall.


“Vahti, did Arridus tell you Cairn was a channeler?”


“Yes.”


“Then you know what will eventually happen to him if he cannot learn to control his abilities?”


“He mentioned Cairn could die from the strain.” The thought sent a chill through him.


“In our search, we uncovered much more than that Vahti,” Kaius said.


“What could be worse than losing him, Kaius?”


“He could lose total control and survive. Cairn would end up bedridden and catatonic. Someone would have to take care of him until he finally passes into The Keeper’s embrace.”


“How long would he have?”


Kaius shrugged. “Days, weeks, years. We weren’t able to learn more than this. But with an outburst of that scale many people could get hurt.”


“I need some air,” Vahti replied and stepped into the hall.


“Vahti,” Kaius said, gently grabbing by the arm. “Don’t take too long.”

*****


The streets were busy as always. Serindeth never seemed to sleep. Vahti peered through the window of a tavern he’d been eyeing on his evening treks into the city.


The Iron Hand seemed quiet, and its patrons composed, except for the group playing some sort of dice game in the tavern's corner. One of them wore the breastplate and greaves of a Centurion. They were causing quite a stir. A few patrons finished their drinks and left as the group shouted or groaned over their losses to the Centurion. Curious, Vahti entered, quietly maneuvering behind them to see what the fuss was about.


The dice they used had the standard pips, numbering from one to six. The men placed their bets and called out a number. After each stated their number, they rolled dice. Vahti watched them go through several rounds before it began making sense.


When it was the Centurion’s turn, the man paused, looking back at Vahti. “Play or go away, boy,” he said gruffly. A deep scar ran across the soldier's left cheek and upon closer, the chevron’s engraved in his breastplate said he enlisted twice.


“Well, give us your answer, boy.”


Vahti took a step back. “I’m not permitted to gamble.”


The Centurion balked. “Not permitted—,” he stammered. “You’re from The Denovic Order, aren’t you?”


“I am,” Vahti answered. “I only came to Serindeth a few days ago.”


The Centurion sneered. “Such a waste,” he commented. “I hear you monks are quite capable in combat, at least so the stories say. Such prowess deserves to serve the Empire, not wasted away secluded from the world.”


“Our techniques aren’t meant to cause harm, but to help us master ourselves, both in mind, body and spirit.”


The Centurion shook his head. “As I said, such a waste. Now, either play or go away.”


“Even if I could, I have no money and the rules are unclear.”


The centurion reached out and pulled a stack of twenty silver Seps from his winnings. “Now you do,” he said. “Icaro! We need more dice. Bring about six.”


The tavern owner reached underneath the bar and pulled out a small wood box. The Centurion lifted his hand and Icaro, as he called him, tossed the box. “Here,” he said after catching it. “Use these.”


Vahti looked at the other tables. The room was eerily quiet, and all eyes were on him. Expectancy was in the air, lending to the idea the Centurion was determined to make him play. One patron, a Shaylin wearing a gray tunic underneath his red surcoat, seemed especially interested in watching how things might play out. Vahti noted the long cloak he wore partially covering some kind of marking on his left shoulder.


“Are listening boy?” the Centurion said, shoving the box of dice into Vahti’s palm. “Now, sit.”


Vahti studied each man sitting in the circle. They were clearly nervous, almost of afraid of the Centurion. Sizing the soldier up, he may have promise with a spatha, but a quick strike to the throat and he would fold.


“Nerion, please don’t cause another ruckus in my tavern,” Icaro chimed in.


“Icaro, mind your place,” Nerion replied.


The tavern keeper tensed, then looked away. Vahti knew she should walk away, but part of him wanted to beat the Centurion at his own game. If the Centurion attacked him, then he would be within his right to defend himself. The man had been drinking, which would make him sluggish.

An eternity seems to pass, but in that moment, Vahti could faintly hear a question Arridus once proposed to him long ago…


Vahti, is it wrong to gamble?

Yes, Brother Arridus. Gambling corrupts the soul.

Does it? Are you so sure? I can see as I offer the question you aren’t, Vahti.

But I’ve read in many of the texts that gambling is seen as a corruption of the self. It leads to greed and ruin. There are dozens of stories in the library written by Brothers who had found The Path after falling into its clutches.

So you would say it’s evil, yes?

Yes. I think so.

You think so? Interesting… what if it wasn’t?

The stories speak for themselves, Brother Arridus. People have lied, cheated, and hurt others so they could gamble. I cannot see why one wouldn’t say it wasn’t evil.

They do speak of such things and of the greedy actions man has taken. But gambling isn’t evil. The love of the gains it entices us with is, however. When a thing becomes so important that we harm others just to take part in it, this is where it becomes evil.

The journals of those who have come before us are there as reminders of the ever-present dangers and extremes man will go to satisfy himself. It is why many of your brothers abstain from such things. While each vow is a personal choice. For those who take them, it is a means of bettering themselves…


“I said sit!” the Centurion shouted.

Vahti blinked, returning to the present. He opened the box, examining the dice inside. The men widened the circle, and he took his place beside Nerion.


All men have a hole inside them Vahti, each is desperately trying to fill it with something. Fill it with the wrong things and it becomes fathomless. Unless we understand this and fill it with good things, we will be consumed by whatever the wind blows our way.


“New round,” Nerion announced. “All dice are reset.”


Vahti watched each man grab two dice and place the rest in wooden boxes like his own. They then grabbed a silver Sep, placing it in front of them. Nerion did the same.


“The game is simple. Call a number based on what the dice you toss can roll. For this round it’s between two and twelve. Whoever gets closest to their number and has the lowest total wins. In the case of a tie, no none wins, and the pot builds. If you roll a six, you gain a die on the next round.”


“And if you roll a one?” Vahti asked.


“You lose a die,” he replied. “Unless you roll Keeper’s eyes, or two ones when rolling two dice. Then you win the bet.”


“So the odds favor the one with the least amount of dice,” Vahti commented. “I’ve noticed you seem to always keep two dice.”


Nerion grinned. “Just lucky, I suppose.”


Vahti narrowed his eyes, examining the dice in the centurion’s hand. That’s not luck…


“Something wrong, boy?” he asked.


“Let’s just play.”


Nerion’s scowl widened into a broad grin. “Let us indeed,” he said. “I call six.”


Vahti closed his eyes, clearing out all thought and emotion as he breathed. Inwardly, a brief sense of amusement overcame him as he thought of how Cairn might tease him for working through the probability. He felt the out the dice in his fingers, noting the divots on them.


“Three,” Vahti replied, focusing his energy.


Nerion chuckled as if he’d heard a ridiculous joke, and one after another each man called his number. The Centurion’s mouth fell open when he saw the number on Vahti’s dice. Curses circulated from the ring as each man pushed his Sep toward the middle of the circle.


“Looks like we tie, Nerion,” Vahti said. “I see two threes on yours, while I have a one and two.”


“You cheated!” he commented. “I saw you. You used your Order abilities, or whatever you call it, on those dice. We all saw you!”


“Well, how else does one beat a cheater?”


Nerion’s face turned two shades of red. “How dare you insult my honor!”


“Then you won’t mind if I prove my point before everyone here?”


The Centurion grew quiet, his eyes shifting briefly to his spatha.


“That’s enough,” someone interjected. “Centurion, unless you want this reposted to your Septimus, I suggest you leave.”


Nerion’s mouth fell open as he looked past Vahti. “Sorceire Nashay…” he responded and reached for his dice.


“Without the dice, Nerion,” the Sorceire said. Nervously the Centurion nodded and gathering his things, he rushed from the tavern. The Sorceire turned to Vahti, a broad grind adorning his sharp features. “Well, that was unpleasant,” he said, pulling his long brown hair behind his pointed ears. “Icaro, thank you for reporting this to the Arcanum. We can’t have our soldiers behaving so irreverently and using such contraband.”


The Shaylin reached toward the circle. Nerion’s dice floated toward him. “Now to figure out where he got these,” he mused, examining them in his palm. “Such a bother, you humans. Too sneaky for your own good.”


Vahti turned to the men in the circle. They looked both terrified and disgusted all at once. Are you people really that afraid of magic?


“Oh, and you men can keep his money. A cheat deserves nothing, though I should have him arrested for this.” The Sorceire then turned to Vahti. “Shall we go, Vahti? I’m very busy Shaylin and I thought it might be better if we talked on the way back to your Dorms.”


Cautiously, Vahti stood. It was hard not to feel like a rat cornered by some cat in a dark alley. “Do I get a choice in the matter.”


The way the elf smiled, with his almond-shaped eyes, made him seem more like a cat by the moment. “No, you don’t,” he replied softly.


“Then lead the way.”

*****


Vahti took slow breaths, fighting to remain calm. The hour was later than he thought, and the shadows against the marble and stone buildings were long. The nonchalant attitude the Sorceire exuded was worrying. He knew entirely too much.


Before leaving the Iron Hand, he introduced himself at Sorceire Shaboh N’Shay. Though after introductions he commented that humans often bastardized his name when they spoke or wrote it. Roughly translated it meant ‘Peacemaker’.


With the tattoo on his arm in full display, others gave him wide berth. He seemed to care very little for their reasons, but it made the walking to the Dorms quicker.


“Think of it as fate, Vahti,” Shaboh said. “I’m about to make you an offer that will serve both our interests.”


Vahti tensed. “You want my brother, don’t you?”


“Oh, I knew you were a bright one,” he replied. “I know what happened to Brother Demecus. Terrible thing, it truly is. But that tragedy need not repeat itself, Vahti.”


“How do you know so much about us?”


Shaboh stopped, his expression showing how ridiculous he thought the question was. “I’m a Sorceire,” he said, as if that should mean something. “Try to pay attention, I do hate repeating myself.”


“I think it unusual that one like yourself would appear to hold so much authority.”


“One like what?” he asked with a hard edge to his tone. “Oh, an elf?”


Vahti bit his lip.


“You’re surprised I even use such a vulgar word?” he said. “Elf! Elf! Elf!” he added with emphasis. “You people think it all the time, so I can either burn you to ash or deal with it. Besides, it’s not it has any real meaning to me, I was born here and not in my homeland. The bastard son of some such rich human who thought probably ‘Elves are naturally magical, let us ship him off to the Arcanum’, or something like that.”


Vahti scanned the street. Some Absonians who overheard were glaring now, but none dared step forward. A nearby Compone on patrol and their Septimus were among those eyeing Shaboh. The Sorceire turned, his gazed passing over each of them. He then motioned for Vahti to follow.


“The logic was sound though,” he said. “Since I was born to a Civis, it nullified my status as a slave.” He pointed to the marks on the back of his right hand. Three solid black bars sat tattooed onto it. “I’m sure that it was of great annoyance to the man who spawned me when he had to register me as a citizen of the state.”


“Why?”


Shaboh sighed. “Pay attention,” he chided. “If you haven’t figured it out, you will eventually after living here long enough.”


Shaboh stopped at the intersection and examined the plaques on the corner of each building. The Dorms were on the street to the right and four more blocks. He was hard to read, his mind appeared addled, but Vahti could shake the sense the Sorceire was only showing what he wanted others to see.


“What are you going to do with Cairn?” Shaboh didn’t answer and turned onto the street leading to the Dorms. Vahti followed, reaching out and grabbing his left arm. “I asked you a question.”


The Sorceire shifted his gaze to where Vahti held him. “Boy, unlike the rest of my people, I’m not one for patience. Let go of my arm.”


The frigid look in Shaboh’s dark brown eyes gave Vahti pause. “The law comes down to who strikes who first,” he said.


Shaboh cracked a slight grin. “I like you,” he said. “You’re not stupid.” The Sorceire pulled his arm free and kept walking. “Come on, Vahti. I’m the only future your brother has, unless you count the Keeper as an alternative.”


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