The Roots

Excerpt from Angels of Perdition

 

 

Angus and Arielle tarried a little too long in the library, and a summons from Shane reminded them of their duties. Angus’ intimate knowledge of the city allowed them to intercept their peers without too much difficulty. The Pride was already touring the inner areas of the Great Tree, under the watchful eyes of their Elc’atar escorts. Heidegger and Vallon were among their number, radiating impatience at the absence of their charges.

Shane led the tour, much to the delight of the Pride.

Their friends were all clean and well dressed, though collectively their sin’dels were agitated. They looked about them, studying their surroundings, though they kept sneaking glances at their Elc'atar wardens. From the monologue they interrupted, it was clear Shane was highlighting the strategic aspects of the city’s design.

“From here,” he said, when Angus and Arielle caught up with them, “the archers have an uninterrupted field of fire. We’ve run trials, and found that we can unleash a thousand arrows in less than a minute. So long as the runners are in place, that rate can be sustained indefinitely.”

 

1.

Ba’ril leaned over the railing, studying the staircase below him.

“Why?” he said. “This is an internal stairwell. Wouldn’t the attackers come from outside the Tree?”

Shane chuckled and nodded to Angus and Arielle in greeting.

Heidegger and Vallon fell into place behind them.

Shane leaned against the balustrade.

“What is the purpose of the Occanum?” he said.

“It is the capital of the Lethen’al,” Denuelle said. She stood very close to Shane, smiling up at him as she spoke. Demona’s sin’del smoldered, sending off arcs of green at the overt display.

“That’s what it is,” Shane said, returning her smile. “But what is its purpose for existence?”

Angus moved closer to Demona, and nudged her with his elbow.

Relax, he sent. Denuelle can’t help but flirt. You’ve known that from the beginning.

She doesn’t have to be so brazen about it, Demona sent back. How would you feel if Arielle were making eyes at him?

Shane's her brother, Angus sent. That'd be gross.

Demona poked him with her elbow.

You know what I mean, she sent. She does this with almost everyone she sees.

Fair point. Angus cracked his knuckles.

Exactly, Demona sent.

Have you spoken to her about it?

Demona shrugged the suggestion away.

Too often to count, she sent. I’m getting tired of arguing.

Has she done anything other than smile at them?

Demona shook her head, her sin’del aghast at the suggestion.

Want me to talk to her? Angus sent.

Demona scoffed at the idea.

Or maybe Ossian?

2.

She punched his arm for that comment, but her mood lifted.

“To administer the state?” Darien said in answer to Shane’s question.

“A secondary function,” Shane said. “More a matter of convenience than anything else.”

“Your pardon, sir,” Heidegger said and waited for Shane to acknowledge him. “I mean no disrespect, but I feel the need to question showing them this. They are technically incarcerated and awaiting trial, sir.”

“I am aware of their status, Heidegger,” Shane said. “Thank you for your concern.”

The Elc’atar snapped a smart salute and kept his peace.

“What’s down there?” Caradoc whispered. His sin’del showed equal amounts of curiosity and fear.

“That is an excellent question,” Shane said, “and it speaks to my initial inquiry. This stairwell leads to the Roots of Reven Marthal.”

The Pride started in surprise, and a thread of anxiety ran through them.

“What are the Roots?” Shane watched them all with an amused scrutiny.

“Where the most dangerous prisoners are kept,” Gwen said.

“And there is good reason for that,” Shane said. “There is no heavier shielding in all of the Patresilen. The strongest Magi would be powerless in one of the cells. Come. Let me show you.”

He took the first two steps, but turned when he noticed they were not following.

“This is not a ruse to lock you up,” he said. “If that was our intention, you would have been transported directly into a cell. You are guests of House Tu'renthien and enjoy all the protections that carries.”

His words soothed their collective concerns, and they followed him down the stairs. Denuelle took Demona’s hand and snuggled up to her. Angus gave Demona a wink.

3.

That was very nice of you, Arielle sent to him, mimicking Denuelle.

Just trying to help.

She’s been having a bit of a hard time with their relationship, Arielle sent, but she won’t really open up to any of us about it. We’ve tried explaining to her what Den is like, but she just stares at us and changes the subject.

Demona’s an ice cold bitch at times, Angus sent. But that’s just an act to scare people away. Spend more time with her and she’ll open up.

You think that will work?

Sure. It might take a few decades, but you’ll see.

The steps were spaced wide, alleviating any sense of discomfort. Like every other area in the city, the live wooden walls were polished to a high luster.

“I feel like I’m being watched,” Nessah said.

“I’ve felt like that since we’ve arrived,” Hironata said from the back of the group.

“Yeah,” Nessah said, “but it feels like it's getting worse.”

“It is,” Shane said from the front. “The effect is part of the truth about Reven Marthal. Everyone senses it, but some places are worse than others.”

 “Something is down there” Caradoc said. His sin’del radiated an intense anxiety, and he rubbed his hands together. The group stopped walking to look back at him, and then each other.

“It's better to wait and see,” Shane said. "But yes."

“Any hint, cousin?” Thomlin said to Angus.

Angus shook his head.

“Never been down this way,” he said.

“You?” Hironata said. “The intrepid explorer? I didn’t think anything was off limits to you.”

Shane turned and regarded Angus with an amused expression.

“He couldn’t get down here,” Shane said. “It’s shielded. Not only does it keep the dangerous folk in, but the insufferably curious out.”

4.

Arielle giggled and buried her face in Angus’ arm.

You’ve been telling stories again, Angus sent.

Only a few. Besides, you're known for this, so no harm done, Arielle sent back.

The texture of the walls changed with the depth, as if the workers were unable to remain long enough to finish their tasks. An imposing sense of power seeped from all around them. The stairwell ended on a large landing, and several corridors radiated out from the central hub. To their left, the stairwell continued. The crest of House Tu’renthien was inlaid in the floor, comprised of nothing more than veins of roots moving in different directions.

Shane stopped in the center of the crest.

“A word of caution,” he said. “What I am about to show you is not common knowledge, especially for anyone of a rank lower than Elc’atar.”

‘Then why show them?” Vallon said. Her sin’del made it clear that she did not agree with this course of action, and her sentiments were shared by the rest of the Elc’atar.

“Because I choose to,” Shane said. “If you find yourself unable to be party to this, then you are dismissed.”

The Elc’atar discussed the option in silent communion. They saluted the Mala’kar in unison and held position. Shane nodded his acceptance of their decision.

Something stirred, drawing Angus’ notice to one of the side corridors.

Returning his attention to the Pride, Shane continued.

“You will not share what I reveal to you to anyone outside this company,” he said. “Not your friends, not your family, not your superiors. It is not something that is discussed. Do you understand?”

The Pride saluted.

“Angus,” Shane said, pulling him from his examination. “Did you hear me?”

Angus looked at him, uncomprehending at first. Arielle replayed Shane’s instructions for him, and he nodded before returning his attention back to the corridor.

“Something more interesting than my instructions?” Shane said.

5.

Down the depths, hidden in the shadows, a face peeked out from behind a corner.

Angus pointed.

“Ti’vol!” Darien called, breaking into a run. The Pride surged after him. The Elc’atar shouted commands and chased after.

Ti’vol started and ducked back behind the corner.

They ran into the darkness after her, only to find a dead end.

There was no door.

There was no opening of any sort.

“She was here,” Darien raged, turning in circles. “Where’d she go? Ti’vol! Ti’vol!”

The Pride took up the call, shouting out the name of their missing member.

“Enough!” Shane’s voice boomed in the confined area, echoing and building in power with each rebound. The Pride ceased their calling and stared at him.

“This,” Shane said, gesturing to the space around him. “Is dangerous. Do not trust what you see.”

“But she was here,” Darien said. “We all saw her.”

“Because you wanted to,” Shane said. “That is the nature of this place. It uses your desires against you. It shows you what you hope to see, but it is not real. If you cannot control yourselves, we will go no further.”

The Pride looked about them, their sin’dels awash with warring emotions. Angus studied the ground, and then Shane. Gone was the good natured older brother. In his place was the stern Mala’kar. There was no dissembling visible in his visage.

“We’re sorry,” Enid said. “It was so unexpected. And we’ve been looking for so long.”

“Be that as it is,” Shane said. “But let this be a warning to you. We are not even through the shields yet. Guard your mind, and your actions.”

One by one, the Pride nodded to show their understanding. Darien was the last to do so, and needed a slap on the shoulder from Enid to comply.

"Where's Arielle?" Angus said. He circled around in a confusion that crept toward panic. He did not even hear her thoughts. "I can't sense her."

Shane looked about him, before uttering a curse.

6.

"Seven hells," Vallon declared, before racing back to the landing.

"Stay here," Shane commanded, and rushed from the hallway.

Angus ignored the order and followed after him, slipping around Heidegger's grasp.

They left the Pride in the corridor, each of them casting longing glances behind them as well as ahead.

Shane, Angus and the two Elc'atar hurried down the stairwell, descending deeper into the Roots, silence hanging between them. At last, they came to a shimmering field of silver that barred their passage. Shane’s sin’del expanded and interacted with it. It parted, opening a portal through the center. Angus pressed through the moment it opened, and Shane closed it behind them.

“This is the final level,” Shane said, resuming his pace at the fore. “She passed through here a few moments ago. It bore the signature of her sin'del."

"How did she open it?" Angus said.

"She didn't," Shane said. He masked his emotions in true Mala'kar fashion, but Angus detected a trace of panic lacing his words. "She passed through it as if it were not there."

"How is that possible?" Angus said.

"I'll let you know when I figure it out," Shane said. His tone made it clear that he did not wish to discuss the issue, but Angus persisted.

"What's down here?" he said. "Why is the shielding so heavy?"

"This is the true purpose of the Great Tree," Shane said. "It is a prison, the largest ever created."

"What's it for?"

"The Lo’ademn Thelas," Shane said. "And Arielle's with him."

7.

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