Successor's Promise Excerpt
The sound was more felt than heard, a deep concussion that shivered up through the feet and vibrated in the chest. As one, all of the wheelmakers looked up; then, as the sensation faded, they turned to Tyen.
He glanced from one to the other, a growing, formless dread reflected in their anxious expressions. All were still, so the small movement near the main door to the workshop immediately caught his attention. A human-shaped shadow was taking form, rapidly sharpening and darkening. A woman, her mouth set in a grim line.
“Claymar Fursa,” he said, and as the others turned to face the sorcerer their expressions changed to respect and they touched two fingers to their heart to acknowledge their leader. Tyen followed suit.
“Tyen Wheelmaker,” the woman said as she emerged into the world. “The Grand Market has been attacked. We need help.” She looked around. “From all of you.”
Tyen nodded. “The attackers?”
“Gone.” She drew a deep breath and let it out, her eyes dark and haunted. “Half of the roof has collapsed. Many are buried.”
The wheelmakers exchanged horrified glances. Tyen picked up a rag and wiped at the grease on his hands. “We will go immediately.”
She nodded, then faded from sight.
“I’ll take you,” Tyen offered. The other wheelmakers moved away from the machines they’d been working on and joined him in the only clear space in the room, the area in front of the main door. Each took hold of another worker; men and women linked by touch.
A murmur of assent followed, then all sucked in a deep breath. Tyen drew magic from far above them, saving what imbued the city for weaker sorcerers with a shorter reach. While Doum was a world rich in magic, and the gap he left would soon be replaced when what was around it flowed in to fill the void, he would hate to be the reason other sorcerers were unable to help at the disaster site.
As he pushed away from the world, the workshop seemed to be bleached of colour and all sound ceased. He could feel a fresh indentation in the substance of the place between worlds coming from the direction of the Council House, no doubt where Claymar Fursa had pushed through it to reach them. Conscious that he and his employees could only last in between worlds for as long as they could survive without air, he sent them quickly upwards, passing through the ceiling and first floor into a muted blue sky. Looking over Alba, the largest and most famous city of clayworkers in Doum, he sought the familiar arched profile of the Grand Market building.
When he found it, he paused in shock. Fursa had been understating the damage, or more had occurred since. Only a quarter of the remarkable undulating roof, constructed by cementing together layers of flat bricks, remained.
He propelled them towards it.
The Grand Market had been a beautiful building. Inside were stalls selling the best of the city’s wares, attended day and night. Why would anybody try to destroy it? he wondered. Had the attack come from a rival city, or from somewhere outside the world? An attack on the Grand Market was an attack on Alba’s main source of income. It was also an attack on the place he’d invested five cycles in making a new home – a place he loved more than his own home world. Anger stirred within him.
No doubt the Claymars, elected by the workshop masters of Doum’s cities, knew more. He could seek information by reading their minds, but they, like many peoples of the worlds, outlawed mind reading without permission. He’d made a habit of obeying that law, at the least because it would only take one slip for him to reveal that he had broken it, and the acceptance he had sought would be lost. He might have their respect as a powerful sorcerer and the inventor of the world’s first potting wheels powered by magic, but as an outsider he was still regarded with suspicion.
The city below flashed by in a blur. The broken edifice enlarged, gaining detail along with proximity. As they neared the ragged, broken walls, a great pile of rubble appeared within the shadows between them. The debris glittered with fragments of shattered glass. A few remnants of the stalls within poked out of the mess, but the wares and occupants were well buried. People were lifting and carrying fragments away. Others lay on the floor among the surviving stalls, clothes stained with blood, some moving, some not.
The sight brought unwelcome memories of a collapsing tower and a wave of guilt. Tyen pushed both away. It had been ten cycles since the tragedy of Spirecastle’s collapse – cycles being a substitute “year” measurement sorcerers and inter-world traders used, since no worlds had years that exactly matched – but he still recalled it clearly. The determination to assist hardened in him. This time I can do something to help, he told himself. If they’ll let me.
He took his workers downwards, seeking a safe place to arrive. He decided against bringing them back into the world inside the building, in case the remaining section of roof fell. Fursa did say we were the nearest sorcerers, so there may not be many others there yet. I had better shield everyone in case the walls collapse outward. The plaza outside the building was crowded with onlookers. Helpers were rushing out of the building, tossing debris onto steadily growing piles, then hurrying back in. With no clear space to arrive in close by, he chose an area twenty paces away and waited for the people standing there to notice and move out of the way.
It did not take long. Seeing the partly transparent group, the onlookers hastily shuffled aside. When the space was clear, Tyen brought his workers back into the world. All sucked in the dry, dusty air and began to cough. Some pressed hands to their faces as the physical manifestation of emotions, absent between worlds, suddenly returned. But as they drew deep breaths to recover from the journey, their shoulders straightened, and the hands that had gripped a neighbour in order to be carried along with Tyen now patted and squeezed in reassurance and support.
“Let’s see what we can do,” Tyen said, and started towards the building.
As they entered, he looked up at the remaining ceiling. Only one of the five tall central columns remained. He drew magic and stilled the air above his workers to form a shield – perhaps a little too strongly, as a chill immediately set the air misting.
“No need for that, Tyen Wheelmaker,” a man said from somewhere to the right. “We’re holding the roof up.”
Tyen sought out the speaker. A familiar old man appeared, weaving through the workers.
“Master Glazer Rayf.” Tyen released the air. “What can we do?”
“Do any of you have healing skills?” Rayf asked.
The workers exchanged glances, most shaking their heads.
“I know a little,” one of the younger men said. “No healing magic – just bandages and stitches.”
“I spent a little time in Faurio in training,” Tyen said. Until a former rebel recognised me, he added silently, and it was either kill him or leave. “I picked up a few basics.”
Rayf’s gaze moved to Tyen and an eyebrow rose. “You can heal with magic?”
Tyen shook his head. “Only the ageless can do that.”
The old man’s gaze sharpened at that piece of information about Tyen. No doubt he’d wondered if the powerful otherworlder would age – or rather, what it would mean for Doum if he didn’t. His gaze flickered past Tyen’s shoulder and he frowned. Stepping a little closer to Tyen, he spoke in a low voice. “Look into my mind,” he invited.
Tyen did, and read alarm and an image of the stalls behind him. Behind a line of rubble-removers, between pots stacked up in a surviving stall, was a deeper shadow. Within that gleamed a pair of eyes, fixed on the great pile of rubble.
Then Rayf’s gaze returned to Tyen’s face.
“I can’t read his mind. Who is he?” he hissed.
Stretching his senses behind, Tyen sought the owner. He scowled as he found the man’s mind.
This is going to take hours, the stranger thought. The longer I stay, the greater the chance someone will find me. Why should I risk being taken prisoner when it wasn’t me who commissioned the attack on this place? If a Claymar has died, the Emperor won’t negotiate for my return. He’ll abandon me.
“His name is Axavar,” Tyen murmured. “He’s from Murai. A sorcerer of the School of Sorcery.”
“Was he one of those who did this?”
Tyen nodded. “Set to watch and make sure he and the other attackers haven’t killed any Claymars. The Emperor will only take action against those who commissioned the attack if one of our leaders has died.”
Rayf’s eyes narrowed. “Who did?”
“He suspects the Muraian Merchants.”
A hiss escaped the old man. “Punishing us for setting a minimum price, no doubt. Which merchants?”
“He’s not thinking about anyone in particular. He’s an underling. Too young to have gained any authority.”
And not at all bothered by what he and his people had done here. Tyen shook his head. It was unbelievably callous to kill people for refusing to sell their goods at too low a price to survive on. If Axavar’s thoughts were correct, the merchants of Murai had reasoned that their own survival depended on being able to on sell the goods of Doum at a reasonable profit – though Tyen suspected “survival” did not mean they faced starvation, but a reduction in their great wealth.
“What do you want me to do?” Tyen asked.
Rayf hesitated, his face tight with indecision; then as someone called his name, he brightened a little. They both turned to see several red-robed men and women striding into the building, one heading for Rayf while the rest spread out towards the injured.
“Ah, good. The Payr healers are here.” The old man turned back to Tyen. “Follow him when he leaves. Find out who else is responsible, and if the Emperor is behind it.”
Tyen nodded. He drew a deep breath, then shoved himself out of the world, stopping when he could barely make out his position in relation to the room. He would have appeared to vanish, unless someone looked closely. Moving in a wide curve, he approached the Muraian from behind.
At the last moment, the man turned and saw Tyen. And fled, flashing into the place between and streaking away.
Tyen gave chase.
The ruined Grand Market faded from sight. The substance of the place between roiled on either side of Axavar’s fresh path. As Tyen began to gain on him, the man increased his speed. Tyen could have caught up, but he held back and let the man widen the gap between them. Better to let Axavar think he’d lost Tyen so he’d go straight to his destination.
Which was most likely the rest of the sorcerers who had attacked the market. Tyen would have to approach carefully, keeping out of sight. It was unlikely a single Muraian sorcerer was strong enough to be a threat to Tyen, but he could not guess how powerful they might be together. He also needed to avoid giving them the impression he was the beginning of a counter-attack from Doum, or some might return to Alba and attack it again.
Once past the midpoint between worlds, where nothing was visible, shadows slowly emerged from the whiteness. A city spread below them, growing rapidly more distinct. It lay at the bottom of a cliff face over which a great waterfall tumbled, covering the city in a ceaseless mist of spray. The river at its base divided the city, but the two halves were stitched together by a succession of graceful bridges.
This was Glaemar, the capital of the most powerful country in Murai and home of the Emperor, who ruled all but a few distant lands too poor to tempt a conquest. Tyen had visited it around the time he’d settled in Doum, curious to see the wealthy and powerful neighbour and main customer of the potters’ wares. While Glaemar’s climate was cooler than Alba’s, the culture was more refined - and less friendly. Wealth and power resided in hereditary lines and the poor were kept in perpetual bondage. Sorcerous ability offered only limited freedom from rigid class expectations.
It reminded him too much of where he had come from, of the great Leratian empire that had conquered and colonised most of his world – though the city of Beltonia, with its advanced sewage system, was considerably less smelly than Glaemar’s sluggish covered ditches.
Axavar plunged towards his home world, only slowing at the last moment to alter his position within it. Tyen continued to follow at a distance, knowing the other’s lesser magical ability meant he’d have more trouble seeing others in the place between. Finally Axavar dove towards a large building with a square inner courtyard.
Tyen remained high enough above the city that he would be only a speck to people below. Even so, he created a globe of stilled air around him as he emerged into the world, both to hold him in place and to shield him. He waited, and soon Axavar’s mind became readable as he arrived in the world.
He’d arrived in the School of Sorcery. Footsteps sounded from
all directions as other sorcerers responded to his call. Faces appeared in his mind as men and women peered down from balconies. More strode out from archways below them. All stared as Axavar babbled an explanation and warning.
A sorcerer had seen him, he told them. Might have followed him. Might arrive here at any moment.
Axavar sensed radiating lines of darkness flare around the sorcerers as they drew in magic in readiness to deal with a possible intruder. But Tyen had no intention of confronting them. Instead, he searched their minds. He learned that Master Rayf had been right. When the Claymars of Doum had set minimum prices, the Muraian merchants had decided to punish them, hiring five from the Glaemar School of Sorcery to travel to Alba and destroy the Grand Market.
They knew the Emperor would punish them if any of Doum’s leaders died. Muraians did not consider the deaths of the men, women and children working in the stalls important because in their culture shopkeepers were of low status. Only people of authority mattered. But in Doum, trade was controlled by the families of the potmakers, brickmakers, tilemakers and other producers – including relatives of the Claymars. Family members who didn’t have artistic talent but had skill with numbers and negotiation were as valuable as creators, since they freed the artisans to concentrate on their work.
Axavar’s colleagues were looking at the head of the School of Sorcery, a woman named Oerith. She doubted a single Doumian sorcerer would dare attack the school. However, they would seek information, and once they knew why the Grand Market had been attacked they might return to take revenge on the merchants, or even attack the Emperor. The school would be blamed for Axavar revealing himself. Unless she acted quickly to warn everyone. The names of the particular merchants behind the attack had never been revealed to the school, having been communicated through an intermediary, but the Emperor probably knew them, or would soon when the news reached him. She gave orders for the school to post a guard and be ready to defend itself, then pushed out of the world, her mind going silent.
What should I do? Tyen wondered. He expected, for a moment, to hear Vella’s voice in reply, but he’d left her securely hidden in his house.
Rayf wanted the merchants’ names. Tyen could search for their minds in the city below, but it would take too much time. Oerith believed the Emperor would know.
Tyen turned his attention to a great sprawling building at the base of the cliff. It lay beside the waterfall, where its occupants would have access to the cleanest water. He sought minds within. It did not take long to find Oerith. with so many people employed in pleasing the Emperor, it was easy to find him. Oerith was already in the audience chamber. As she finished warning of the sorcerer who had followed Axavar, she turned to look at five men kneeling nearby.
The merchants, she guessed. Tyen moved to their minds, and confirmed it. He had their names. He could go.
But then, through their ears, Tyen heard the Emperor break into laughter.
Shifting to the ruler’s mind, Tyen went cold. The man was amused. He had no intention of disciplining the merchants. Instead, he was considering how hard it would be to invade Doum properly.
Heat chased away the chill as Tyen’s earlier anger resurfaced, but he held himself still.
If I interfere, I could make things worse.
But if he did nothing, the place he’d worked so hard to make a home in, and that he had come to love more than his own world, could be destroyed.
Yet he did not know how powerful the sorcerers the Emperor kept close by for his protection were. They were sure to be a substantial force. Looking into the minds of the men and women closest to the leader, Tyen counted how many were sorcerers. He’d faced this many before and survived. What of their strength? Many were considering Murai’s chances against Doum if this led to a conflict, but while they thought themselves a superior force, none had experience of inter-world battle and more than a few appeared to have inflated ideas of their worth.
To confront the Emperor would be a risk, but one Tyen was willing to make for his new homeland. Taking a deep breath, he pushed into the place between worlds and skimmed downwards.
He did not plunge through the roof of the audience chamber, however. That would be too threatening. He wanted to make the Emperor think twice about making Doum an enemy, not jump to the conclusion the neighbouring world was retaliating. So he arrived a distance from the room, then approached a guard.
The man – a captain – jumped, having not noticed Tyen arrive. “I wish to speak to the Emperor on behalf of the people of Doum.”
The captain narrowed his eyes at Tyen, doubtful that anyone important would send such a filthy emissary. “And you are?”
“Tyen the Wheelmaker, of Alba.” Tyen snorted. “And I would have taken time to dress for the occasion if it had not been more pressing to prevent a war between our worlds.” He pushed out of the world, skimmed past the man, then emerged and stared haughtily over his shoulder. “Would you prefer I find Emperor myself?”
The captain straightened. “No. I will take you to him.” He indicated that Tyen should follow, then set off through the palace.
During Tyen’s previous visit to Glaemar, he’d observed the palace exterior, but having no official reason to enter, he’d had no opportunity to see the inside. It was not what he expected. Instead of the usual glut of precious objects and rich decoration crowded together in a show of wealth and grandeur, the interior was open and uncluttered. No solid walls divided the building into rooms, just rows of columns. Archways opened onto atriums which allowed sunlight and moisture in, sustaining artfully arranged plants in enormous pots. Pergolas stood within the larger of these. The effect was a blurring between interior and exterior. It also meant that the mist from the waterfall, carried everywhere on gentle breezes, kept the air moist and cool.
Yet the palace was not empty of artwork. Here and there a graceful sculpture stood among the columns, the plant pots were from one of the best of Domra’s potteries and the floors were covered in mosaics equally as impressive as those Tyen recalled lined the approach to the formal palace entrance. If the mosaics covered the entirety of the complex he’d seen from above, they must spread over a space as great as a large village, maybe even a small city.
No doubt many of the wealthier houses in Glaemar, and other Muraian cities, also decorated their homes this way. Anything considered good enough for the rulers of a country or a world was desirable for those with ambition and the need to appear prosperous and powerful. Looking closer, he realised that the tiles were all glazed. Pottery, not stone.
Little wonder the merchants got a bit touchy about the Claymars controlling prices. There must be a thriving market in this single product, on top of the pottery and pipes they buy from Doum.
He passed diplomats and courtiers, bureaucrats and servants. The latter were all young and attractive, he noted, though they wore plain but simple clothing cut of the same cloth. I guess in a place so open, the servants can’t be hidden, so the Emperor makes sure they aren’t offensive to the eye.
A couple of people in a different but more decorative uniform paused in their conversation to stare at him. Some began to follow; others hurried away. Sorcerers, he read from their minds, placed here to inspect all visitors to the Emperor. They did not like what they could see of him – which was an otherworlder in Doumian garb whose mind they could not read.
Yet none intercepted him, and he knew from the minds he read that he was indeed heading towards the audience chamber. At last, they reached internal walls. A pair of enormous doors stood between him and the Emperor. One of six guards standing outside hauled one open. The captain checked his stride, surprised, then shrugged and led Tyen into the room. He stepped aside and indicated that Tyen should advance ahead of him.
Walking past, Tyen was immediately struck by how dark the room was. It was completely enclosed, unlike so much of the palace, and the only illumination came from the flames of lamp bowls set in alcoves.
A middle-aged man stood at the centre of the room. He wore a plain robe of gold fabric over which a vest of glazed beads had been draped. The latter’s humble appearance surprised Tyen at first, until he reminded himself that the world of Murai had few clay deposits. What you don’t have you covet, he mused, which has been an advantage for Doum . . . until now.
Two of the sorcerers who had followed stood to either side of Tyen, and from them Tyen learned that the line of men and women along the back wall were also sorcerers. The Emperor had been informed of their inability to read Tyen’s mind. He had, against their advice, decided to stay and meet the messenger from Doum.
A movement drew Tyen’s attention to five men squatting nearby, their gazes fixed on the floor. They were well-dressed and ranged from an age a little younger than, to twice the age of the king. The merchants. The head of the School of Sorcery stood behind them.
As Tyen turned back to the Emperor, the man’s eyebrows and chin rose in affront at the messenger’s lack of respect. Reminding himself that he did not want this encounter to result in more violence, Tyen dropped into the same pose the merchants had assumed.
“Who is this?” The Emperor demanded in Muraian, the words echoing in the room.
“Tyen the Wheelmaker,” the captain replied from somewhere behind Tyen.
The Emperor’s voice filled the room with scepticism. “The Claymars sent a servant to negotiate on their behalf?”
“No, Emperor Izetala-Moraza,” Tyen replied. Then, since he’d read from the man’s mind that the ruler knew the Traveller tongue, he continued in that language. “The Claymars sent me to discover who attacked the Grand Market in Alba a short while ago, and why. I followed one of the sorcerers, a man they left behind to check whether a Claymar was among the dead—”
“And was one?” the Emperor asked, also changing to the language of the Travellers.
“I do not know, Emperor.”
“Well, you have found the culprits. You may ask them their purpose.”
“I have already gained that information, Emperor.”
“Then why are you here?”
Tyen met the man’s gaze. “These merchants have attacked Doum, Emperor,” he said, letting an edge of hardness enter his voice. “That could be interpreted as an act of war.” Tyen paused, then rose to his feet. “What I want to know now is: what are you, Emperor Izetala-Moraza, going to do? Do you object to their actions?”
The ruler’s chin rose again, but he did not speak, pausing to consider his reply. As Tyen read the man’s mind, his stomach sank.
“I do not approve,” the Emperor said. “They took a great risk, and should have sought my permission.” The ruler gave the merchants a hard look, and the men cringed and began to wonder if they had misjudged him. “But they have the right to act upon the Claymar’s refusal to negotiate.”
“So you will not punish them?”
The Emperor’s gaze snapped back to Tyen. “Only if Claymars were harmed.” I suppose I’ll have to make a show of it, the man grumbled. Those Claymars are a pathetic excuse for rulers. They’re just artisan-servants, given temporary leadership of the unruly, arrogant mob they called their “citizens”.
“Remind them that they brought this on themselves,” the Emperor continued. “Refusing to honour agreements. Selling Muraian commissions to other worlds. It will not be tolerated.”
Tyen scowled. “If you will not pay a price worthy of their time and expertise, why should they not seek customers who will?”
“They have always supplied us,” the Emperor said. “It is an ancient arrangement, supported by the Raen—”
“The Raen is dead.”
The Emperor’s expression became stony, his lips pressed together with displeasure. An uncomfortable, angry silence followed. Tyen had broken a taboo by speaking the truth. A pretty recent taboo, in the scale of history.
Who is this upstart? the Emperor was thinking. Someone powerful. Someone strong enough to not fear me or my sorcerers. Yet his accent is unfamiliar, and though he looks similar to the people of Alba there is a strangeness about him. Could he be an otherworlder? Yes, I think he may be.
“Why do you care?” he asked. “You are not of their world.”
Tyen crossed his arms. “Doum is my home and its people my family. I will do what I must to defend it.”
“Then defend it. Convince the Claymar to abandon this foolishness over pricing.”
“I would never be so arrogant as to tell them how to live their lives and run their businesses,” Tyen replied. “But I can see it will not be easy to convince you to do so as well. Except, perhaps, by removing all magic from this world so that you remain isolated for a few hundred cycles. That would be bad for trade, I imagine.”
The Emperor stared at Tyen. Oerith took a small step towards the ruler. The Emperor gestured for her to stay where she was.
“Only the Raen was that powerful,” he said.
“He would have killed you, had he found you.”
Tyen shrugged. “As it turned out, he didn’t. I’m sure you know this is a small world. I know of at least two people with enough reach to strip all the magic from it, and I would not be surprised if there were more. Even if it was beyond my ability to take all the magic in one go, I could still make sure Glaemar sits within a void so large it will take cycles to fade. Since you may doubt I speak the truth . . .” Tyen stretched out with his mind, expanding his senses until he estimated he’d encompassed the whole city, then drew in half of the magic, taking it in radiating bands. What remained would quickly spread to fill the emptiness, ensuring no sorcerer engaged in something important, such as lifting something heavy, was robbed of all power.
Gasps filled the room as the sorcerers within it sensed what he had done. Then before any could panic and attack Tyen, he let the magic go again. It flowed out, temporarily making the palace intensely rich in magic. Shock turned to wonder. Fear to relief.
“I will leave you to reconsider your position, and whether these men –” Tyen glanced at the merchants. “ – deserve punishment for killing the families of Doum’s artisans and Claymars.” Tyen was gratified to see that the Emperor was reluctantly doing exactly that, despite his anger at being threatened. “Thank you for hearing me, Emperor. I wish you good health and fortune.”
Not waiting for a reply or a dismissal, Tyen took some of the excess of magic in the palace and pushed out of the world.
Once deep into the place between worlds, the glow of satisfaction faded and he began to worry. How would the Claymars react to him approaching and threatening the Muraian Emperor on their behalf, without consulting them first?
Will they be angry or grateful? Have I made things better or worse?
He wished he could discuss it with Vella. Thinking of her hidden in his house, he realised that by threatening the Emperor of Murai, he might have made himself a target. While he was reasonably confident he could defend himself, the Emperor might seek a petty revenge that the Claymars would not react strongly to by wreaking Tyen’s home. After today, he would start carrying her again.
He found his and Axavar’s path from Doum to Murai and followed it in reverse. The stall within the remains of the Great Market began to emerge around him.
And then he sensed a shadow. Someone was following him.
Alarmed, he skimmed across the world, drawing them away from the ruins. To his relief, they stayed on his trail. He lured them out of the city, seeking an unpopulated place where he could confront them without risking harm to others. In a dry lake he emerged in the world, gasping as his body, starved of air, suffered the price of travelling for so long where it could not breathe.
A faint human shape began to form a few steps away. A feminine outline, clothed in a long shift dress. Oerith? One of the Emperor’s sorcerers come to challenge him? Or had he sent her to relay a message? Perhaps a counter-threat?
Her face was not very Muraian, however. She had darker skin and straight black hair. And then, with a shock like lightning spiking through his body, he recognised her. As she arrived, she took a breath to speak, but didn’t gasp for air, a sure sign of an ageless sorcerer.
“Tyen, wasn’t it?” said the woman who had refused to resurrect the Raen. “Do you remember me? Or perhaps I never told you my name. I am Rielle.”