Chapter 1: The Obsidian Spire, Part 2
The first thing James noticed was the door itself: it was made of solid iron, with terrible scenes of destruction wrought into it. It made a terrifically thunderous clamor as he struggled to push it open. The door was heavier than it should be, and very much louder, almost as if it were an entity fighting against him, but after what felt like hours but must have been barely a few moments he finally triumphed.
If the door had been a formidable opponent, then the men beyond the door were infinitely worse. Around the far edge of the room were carved obsidian thrones that looked almost as if they had grown right out of the jet black floor. From the ceiling hung a breath taking jasper chandelier, fracturing the green light of the torches into a thousand tiny crimson specks like sparks. The ceiling was high and arched, decorated with grotesque gargoyles glaring at the earth, scorning all of its puny mortal inhabitants. An enormous door was set into the thick sable wall of the chamber, flanked by two scarlet windows that were split into smaller panes by a web of iron. The windows curiously did not let in any light, like they were made for a view of the sunset but then were misplaced.
In the thrones around the room sat roughly three dozen elves in robes and capes of the finest quality, bedecked with enough jewels and precious metal to furnish a temple. But most garish of all was the throne in the center of the room, facing towards the door, so that James could only see the extremely high back. Made out of a substance that radiated a rich purple hue, the throne set upon a platform of gold, with obsidian steps leading down from all sides. Every seat in the room was set to face the throne, but every eye was on James.
Paralysis took an iron grip on James. He was still almost invisible, but he felt like he was being examined. The elves were in shock, glaring inquisitively at the shadowy figure in the doorway. The guard was almost upon James and the elves were starting to rise to their feet when a voice spoke in James’s head.
“What are you waiting for?” said the voice. “Run!”
James ran. Across the floor onto the platform, sideways across the obsidian steps, and to the door on the other side of the room, which opened as if by magic, without any prompting by James. Suddenly James was consumed with desire to turn around and look at the man on the central throne.
“Don’t turn around. Don’t look into his eyes” said the voice. For a moment James hesitated. Why should he trust the voice? It was probably one of the elves in the throne room speaking to him telepathically. “You don’t have a choice. You have to trust me,” said the voice grimly. Sprinting through the doors, James found himself, heart pounding, on a raised platform under a stormy sky. Below the platform was a graceful, grotesque, grandiose city built from volcanic stone. On a balcony stood a young elf flanked by two stately flags, blood-red with a black symbol emblazoned on them.
“Behold, Ravenna.” said the voice, which James deduced was the elf on the balcony. “Follow me.”
James barreled ahead, weighed down by the heavy aura of the citadel. Although the elves within the tower were clearly still stunned by James’s sudden appearance, at least one had regained his wits.
“Sindria!” he shouted, and a ring of sickly verdant flame surrounded James, not close enough to burn him, but quite close enough to make him feel like he was being boiled alive.
The elven child growled something in another language, and then lifted his hands like he was conducting a symphony.
“Umbris!” the spell rippled the air as the child spoke it, a bridge of darkness materializing over the hungry flames. James took the opportunity and bounded over the bridge to the child. The potion had worn off completely by now and James felt himself grow heavier and more tired. Apparently the potion did more than just make the user invisible.
The elven child telepathically told James to take a proffered hand. James decided not to break his pattern of compliance, and without hesitance snatched the elven child’s hand. James had a moment to peruse the appearance of the elven boy. He had short black hair and brilliant violet eyes, a fair complexion, and sharp features, and was clad in a black robe highlighted with streaks of red. His hand was surprisingly warm, like it was heated by fire. In human terms he looked like he was not quite a teenager, but James knew from experience that elves aged more slowly than humans by a significant margin. This elf-child could be quite a bit older than James.
The elves from inside the council chamber started to emerge from the door behind James, and he looked at the elf child desperately. The boy was whispering words that James had never heard before, but which gave him a sense of dread.
“Marcus! Stop this nonsense now!” shouted a voice from within the chamber.
“Goodbye, father.” said the boy Marcus aloud, and then invoked the last word in his spell.
James felt reality slipping away, as the air suddenly felt blazingly hot and then frigidly cold. Suddenly his vision went dark, and a bitter taste struck his tongue. As if he were being compressed and then expanded, James felt like if he lost his concentration he could simply cease to exist. All at once a cold, sweet scent filled James’s being and he rematerialized on a stone dock protruding bravely into the storm tossed sea.
James crumpled to the ground. Marcus knelt awkwardly in his robe and his eyes looked mournful, as if he had just accidently crushed a bug and felt terrible about it.
“I’m sorry. I forgot, this is your first evanescence. You never get used to it, but you learn to deal with it better.” Marcus’s mind spoke in James’s head. In reply, James spit into the sea and gasped for breath. “But really, we must move on. The magistrates will be upon us any moment. I would have gone farther, but I’m not very good at that yet.”
“Who are you?” James’s words were accusing. Marcus recoiled, looking stunned.
“I’m Marcus,” said the boy, in a hurt tone, “son of the Obsidian Crown and heir to the throne of Ravenna.” He shuddered. “Except that last bit, I don’t like too much. That’s why I’m trying to escape!”
James looked at Marcus in horror and scrambled to his feet.
“You’re one of them?” James gasped. “You’re an Ashen?”
“You don’t understand!” Marcus clearly could not understand James’s reaction. “I just wanted to help!”
“You monster!” James cried, clenching his fists.
Before Marcus could respond, three orbs of darkness appeared and phased into elven warriors. Marcus spun on his heel and quickly summoned up a swarm of sparks to harry one warrior. The second warrior charged at Marcus, but with no weapon drawn. He was hurled into the sea by an invisible hand. Marcus tried to stop the third warrior, but he was too close. A magical net descended on Marcus and immobilized him.
“Help!” cried Marcus, but when he turned around, James was gone. In a flash of lightning, a rowboat was illuminated, riding on a towering wave. “Please, come back!” Marcus struggled against his captor. “You betrayed me!”