by Dan Hiestand
The Gathering Storm
The Gathering Storm
“Eat the impossible for breakfast?” Cedwyn said, rubbing an apple against the front of his shirt. “A little hammy, don’t ya think? Even for an omnipresent version of the guy.”
Cedwyn’s room was nearly identical to the one Jace was staying in; the only difference the artwork on the doors leading out to the balcony. In Jace’s room, the lower portion of the stained glass depicted a ship on dangerous seas; here, it showed a towering minaret rising high from an endless desert.
“That whole story,” Relic said, staring out to the sea with his spyglass. “And that’s the part you have a problem with?”
Cedwyn took his first bite of the fruit and shrugged, then picked up his pack and buckled it around his shoulder. Relic's comment had paralleled one he himself had made in the Communion Vault, but he didn't appear notice.
“No.” He held the apple in his mouth for a second so he could slip on his cloak. “I have a problem with all of it. But I’m used to him having these flashbacks or visions or whatever. So I’d prefer to hold off on the analyzing and concentrate on the getting out of here.”
Isabelle had dressed and prepared with Jace before leaving his room.
“Can’t argue with that,” she said, leaning against the wall near the door.
“How long?” Cedwyn asked as he came to Relic’s side. He didn’t have a spyglass of his own, but he could still see the armada with each revolution of the lighthouse.
“An hour. A little more if we’re lucky,” Relic said. “But then they’ll have to dock, unload, mobilize.”
Cedwyn sighed and turned to Jace.
“What do ya think?”
Jace had been standing next to Isabelle, but now he walked over to join Relic and Cedwyn.
“Well, we can’t just walk out of here, if that’s what you’re hoping,” he said. “They’ll definitely have guards in the lobby.”
“Then we’ll shoot our way through,” Cedwyn said, doing a double take with Isabelle, seeking her support. “Sneak out to the landing, see how many are down there, and take ’em out.” Relic handed him the spyglass and he used it to look out at the ships for the first time. “How is this not a good plan?”
Jace started to respond, but briefly hesitated when the spyglass was passed to him.
“Because they’ll have an even larger group guarding the bridge,” he said, distracted. “And the stables. How far do you think we’d get without horses?”
“If they’re golden riders? Not far,” Relic said, answering the rhetorical question as he walked away from the doors. “Bastards are like us.”
“With rabies,” Isabelle added.
Cedwyn reached into his cloak, withdrawing his leather case and placing the half-eaten apple on the nightstand.
“Fine,” he said, putting a cigarette in his mouth. “Then what are we gonna do? For all we know, they’re on their way to kill us as we speak.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Jace said, lowering the spyglass and tossing it back to Relic. He was facing the group now. “We’ve already served our purpose. Veil’driel is no longer protected, and so if Artemus wanted us dead, he would have ordered it already.”
“Hm,” Cedwyn mused, annoyed by Jace’s assumption as he took a long drag of tobacco. “I gotta say, I find that interesting. Because if I understood any of that hallucination of yours, he tried to kill you and Relic once before.”
Jace only shrugged.
“Yeah, I don’t know. I just think he would have done it already.”
Cedwyn lowered his head, rolling the cigarette between his fingers and watching it burn.
“So, what do you suggest we do?” Relic asked.
Jace crossed his arms and took a moment to gather his thoughts.
“Even if by some impossible miracle we managed to escape the mansion, what then?”
“We high tail it back to Avaleen,” Cedwyn said, looking up. “Warn the High Council and Leverette.”
“And what would be the point?” Jace asked. “Artemus has already sprung his trap. We just told Aleister there’s no enemy army in Veil’driel, and so thanks to us, our legions are marching to Sindell as we speak. The Republic is defenseless. We could ride at full speed with no rest, and it might cut the time it took to get out here in half. That’s still three months.” He nodded over to the doors, towards the ocean and the ships in the night. “We’ll inform First Consul Leverette of that army on its way, and there’ll be literally nothing he can do about it.”
The look in Relic’s eyes spoke for all of them, struck numb in desperate silence.
“We couldn’t even warn the wizardess that Artemus has betrayed her,” Jace went on. “There’s no communication between Veil’driel and Sindell anymore.”
“Which I doubt is coincidence,” Isabelle said.
“So what?” Cedwyn asked. “We give up and do nothing?”
Jace was standing with the others now and he plucked the cigarette from Cedwyn’s mouth, placing it in his own.
“There’s something in the library we need to get to,” he said, turning his attention to Relic. “Section 20-402. You know where that is?”
“Of course. I’ve spent enough time down there to get around with my eyes closed.”
“Good,” Jace said, flicking ash to the floor.
“What’s in there?” Isabelle asked.
“Don’t know. I don’t even know if it’ll help us or not, but it’s important.”
“Something else from this vision of yours?” Cedwyn asked.
Jace looked at him seriously.
“Yeah,” he said. “A twenty-something Gabriel Foy told me.”
Cedwyn rolled his eyes, sighed, and snatched his cigarette back.
“Fine,” he said. “That’s good enough for me.”
“It is?” Isabelle asked, surprised. She wasn’t so convinced. “So we get into the library, to that location. Then what?”
“Find whatever’s there, and if we can, take it with us,” Jace said, slowly surveying the others. “Then we try to get down to that Communion Vault and see if we can contact Aleister. If we do, he could recall the legions and that would actually make a difference.”
“It would also almost certainly end in our deaths,” Relic pointed out. “Assuming we were even lucky enough to figure out how it works.”
“It’s a risk, I know. But it’s the only thing I can think of. Artemus sent most of his golden riders to Sindell, which means only a small contingent has been left behind. And keep in mind, they think we’re totally in the dark on this.”
“That’s where Hazel was really going last night,” Relic said, traces of disappointment in his tone as he spoke more to himself than anyone.
“Yeah, she’s one of his captains,” Jace said. “They’ve found a way to lower the force field Artemus told us about last night. Probably because Jaden had a hand in its creation, so he’s familiar with it.”
Isabelle shuddered at the thought of what those Winged Creatures could do to an undefended city; the terrifying memory of seeing them in the Communion Vault still frighteningly fresh in her mind.
“If he pulls that off,” Relic said. “The arrival of our forces won’t mean a thing.”
Cedwyn shook his head as he bent to snuff the cigarette out on the floor.
“Artemus Ward,” he said with disdain. “If not for those ships out there, I wouldn’t even believe it.”
“Anyway,” Jace said, watching Cedwyn stand up again. “After we get our message to Aleister, we take what we’ve learned from this place, and then try to shoot our way out of here. Ride like hell for home.” He paused, forcing a smile. “Maybe we’ll even be put back in command of our cavalry legions.”
Relic laughed a little.
“Jace. Are you actually trying to convince us we might survive this?”
“Yeah. Why not? We’ve come through worse situations than this before.”
The Outriders, his family, just stared at him with blank expressions.
Finally Jace shrugged.
“This is the only shot we have of saving the Republic. Sindell is probably already lost, but t least we can save our home. I don’t know what else to say.”
They were standing in a circle now, facing each other, and Cedwyn was first to break the silence.
“Well, like I said.” He crossed his arms and looked to the others. “That’s good enough for me.”
Isabelle nodded, in agreement this time.
“Me too,” she said.
Relic withdrew one of his crossbows.
“Yeah,” he said, extending his arm and closing one eye to inspect the sights. “Anything’s better than just standing here.”
Just then, Jace and Isabelle’s eyes met, but the sound of Cedwyn’s voice brought their attention back to him.
“So what are we waiting for?”
“We need to scout the lobby,” Jace said. “We need to know how many are down there.”
Cedwyn nodded, and with no hesitation whatsoever, took his first strides to the door. But then he turned slowly back to Jace, an odd expression on his face as he came to a sudden realization.
“You already know how many are down there, don’t you?” he asked.
“Suspect,” he said, and he thought of Constable Thean saying the same thing to him six months earlier.
“You know,” Cedwyn said. He cracked the door open and finished the thought in a whisper: “I liked it a lot better when I thought you were suffering from post-traumatic stress.”
Then Cedwyn was off, hunched over and moving quietly down the hall towards the lobby. Isabelle and Jace followed quickly behind him, but only to the doorway, scouting opposite ends of the corridor from the room. Isabelle was looking left, back in the direction of Jace’s room. Jace was looking right, following Cedwyn’s path.
Straight out across from the room, an oil painting depicted a desolate landscape of dunes, each one running in bands of dark colors. High, rust red cliffs leaned toward one another to create a natural arch, the chasm at the top crisscrossed by the bleached bones of some monstrous animal that had been lashed together by unknown means. The pale net of bone cast its own ominous shadow at the mouth of the Minotaur Lands.
When Jace and Isabelle looked back to check opposite ends of the hall, they found themselves looking at each other, and smiled. Then Cedwyn was returning, so they stepped aside to let him back in.
“Congratulations,” he said to Jace. “You’re officially one of the mysterious figures of intrigue you used to hate.” He took a minute to catch his breath. It was not far from his room to the main lobby, but it was not the physical exertion of his reconnaissance so much as he had forgotten to breathe. “Four servants roaming around the lobby. Charles and three younger guys.”
“Armed?” Relic asked, still standing near the bed.
“Doesn’t look like it. But neither do we.”
“That’s good news,” Jace said. “They think we don’t know, like I thought.”
“Then maybe they won’t even stop us from going into the library,” Isabelle said. “Maybe we can walk right past them as long as we don’t try to get out the front door. You said yourself it seems like their goal is just to keep us inside.”
“Maybe,” he said. “But they’d have to be pretty stupid not to suspect we were fully armed underneath these cloaks, otherwise why would we be wearing them? The element of surprise is the only card we’re holding, and no matter what, we can’t risk it.”
“Even if they let us go into the library, they’d report our activity,” Relic nodded, getting the point.
“So we kill them,” Cedwyn said. “Fine.”
Jace balled his hand into a fist and pressed it against his chin. Then sighed.
“Yeah. But even assuming we could get them all before they made it out the door, the sound of the scuffle would alert the golden riders outside. And we’ve already established that if we walk past them, they’ll report our activity just the same.”
“You know," Isabelle spoke up. "We don’t actually know if there are golden riders out there. We’re placing an extraordinary amount of faith in this vision, Jace.”
Cedwyn looked over to Jace, then Isabelle.
“Yeah,” he said. “Based on what I just saw, I’m willing to take that chance.”
Jace started back to the balcony doors, back to the desert and the minaret, where he had set down the bottle upon entering.
“So where does that put us?” Relic asked. “Back to square one?”
“No,” Isabelle realized. Until now she wondered why Jace had taken that bottle with him. Now she let out a shaky breath.
“I know that look in your eye,” Relic said. “And it ends in me wishing I’d become a banker.”
“You have a plan,” Cedwyn said. “Don’t you?”
Jace had the bottle flat in his palm and he spun it to an orange blur.
“Is it a good one?”
He sighed, grabbing it and halting the momentum cleanly.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”