Chapter 1

Prologue                                            Table of Contents

“That man is suspicious,” Karma Ianshee said to her companion. She had invited Aru Lell to come to the festival in an attempt to understand her fellow bride better and improve their relationship. She had been regretting it as Aru was the type of person to become easily distracted.

Seems to be an issue of her race, Karma thought as the dog beast race was known to be quite excitable. Thought she’d be less like them as she’s a half-breed. She had been ready to throw in the towel at her companion’s constant enthusiasm at every event going on in this festival. Aru had dragged her around the entire market and had persuaded her to try some unusual food. One of which tasted like old socks and made her feel like throwing up.

She had been preparing herself to knock Aru unconscious and drag her home when she had heard the someone saying a story. Her story. Or at least a heavily edited version of it. Still, regardless of the imaginations  of the storyteller (the man had waxed poetic about the ‘encounters’ Jakci had with his brides, even getting their meeting wrong in the process), he had got the key details correct.

“Huh,” Aru replied, she had been enjoying a bone snack specially marketed towards beastmen who lived in Terim.

“That storyteller,” Karma repeated glancing away from Aru to hide her disgust at her actions, “Isn’t he odd.” She took a sip of her drink. Shit, what the fuck did Aru do. 

“What the hell is this?”

“Goat essence.” Aru took a sip. “Tastes nice.” Karma looked and her blankly and Aru smiled, amused. “Why do you think he’s suspicious, Karma?”

“He knows our story.”

“So does everyone and their mother,” Aru replied and signalled to the server, “Can I have a cup of what she’s having? Thank you.” Karma shook her head.

” I know that. I’m not that paranoid to think that he’s suspicious because he knows the tale of how we defeated the Abaddon.” Aru looked unconvinced and Karma hurried along her explanation. “Look, how many people even know that we used dimensional magic to convince the other races to join us not to mention knowing my name.”

“That actually…makes sense,” Aru replied and grinned, “You should be happy that finally your paranoia was right.”

“Yes, I am. I mean we should check who that story-teller is.”

“Him, He isn’t there anymore though.”

Karma made a sound of puzzlement and turned towards the place where the storyteller was before but Aru was right. He had disappeared.

“What are you doing, “Aru said as Karma walked away from her, her black eyes narrowed in determination. She had been bored for quite a while, after the defeat of Abaddon to be exact, and now she had found something that actually interested her, she wasn’t just going to let it leave.

“Look at her go,” Aru muttered to herself and shook her head.

‘If anyone’s listening, Karma and I are at the festival in Terim and she’s done it again. Jeez. Why is it on my shift that something intriguing happens. Can’t someone start a war or something elsewhere?’

Aru didn’t have to wait for long as Aille Tun, the elf princess who was one of Jakci’s partners responded to her telepathic call. ‘You know that Karma’s just bored and looking for something. Is this one real?’

‘Seems so.’

‘Well, no one’s free for like an hour or something. You’re going to have to keep her safe and please do not let her destroy another castle. Do you know how much paying to rebuild that castle cost. So keep her from anything breakable.’

‘Argh, I’m alone on this. Okay. I can do this. Just keep her away from castles. Bye Aille.’

As Aru was having this conversation, she was running towards the direction that Karma was going towards.

Karma had already run towards the direction of the storyteller.

‘Trace,’ She incanted in her mind to find hints of the movements that the storyteller had made. The trace spell was one that let mages track people by igniting imprints or shadows of their movements in the earth for the mage to see and decipher. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t know the imprint for the specifus addition or she would have used that. The specifus addition made it easier to track a particular person while trace was best used on groups.

“Fuck those mages who died in the BV attack. Why they didn’t have copies of the spell imprints stored elsewhere is beyond me.” Of course, she knew why they didn’t. Magecraft as a whole seemed to live and breathe mystic and mystery. God forbid, they actually copy make a copy of a spell imprint.

“Shar, I need some help please,” Karma said, calling on her contracted wind spirit. She actually didn’t like doing this as spirits could be annoying creatures. She didn’t really like having to rely on them. But dammit, it had been months since something interesting happened and she was in the conservation stage of her magecraft where she was expressively forbidden from doing much magecraft. All she had to do was set her body to automatically collect mana from the environment, refine her mana and communicate with nature by meditation. She hadn’t minded at first but recently she had been feeling a bit irritable. Useless. So, she didn’t mind using a bit more mana and talking with a wind spirit for this.

“Karma, ” a voice said behind her and she turned around to look at Shar, a strained smile on her face. Imagine her surprise when rather than Shar, she saw Char his sister. She was kept floating in the air by her wings, her short hair rustling in the breeze. Char stared at her with cold brown eyes, as if looking at her would be enough to remove her from the world. Karma knew that regardless of her childlike stature, Char was more than capable of doing just that. She herself could think of many ways that Char could this without touching her. Only her contract with her clan kept her from making good on the promise reflected in her eyes. Karma’s smile became more strained

“Char,” Karma said with manufactured surprise, “I didn’t think you would respond. What changed your mind.”

“What request do you have?” Char replied blankly. Karma tilted her head slightly to the side and pushed her black hair to the back.

“I need you to find this man,” Karma said pushing the image of the teller to Char. She met some resistance through their telepathic connection until finally, Shar let her send the image through. For a split second, Karma had the inclination to forcefully grab the telepathic connection and do…something to Char but came to her senses. Shar was much better than her at these arts.

Char simply raised an eyebrow at Karma, even though it was only for a short while she had already read Karma’s intention. Karma cursed inwardly and shielded herself again. Fucking spirits.  Char said nothing and closed her eyes. She opened them and glanced coldly at Karma before disappearing.

Karma remained unmoved, she had dealt with spirits quite a few times and that trick would no longer work on her. Surely, shortly after an image directing her to where  the teller had gone towards. Satisfied she started to walk towards the direction indicated.

“Karma,” She heard Aru shouting in the distance and scoffed. Finished speaking with Aille have you. Aren’t I a nuisance?  She turned around and whispered a spell wiping anything that would give a sign to where she was going. Her smell, footprints, shed hair was now removed from her surroundings. She tied her hair and rolled it with a pin. She would have worn a hood over her hair but she didn’t have one with her. Then, she cast a small illusion spell to disguise her features and one to keep her soundless. Wouldn’t want anyone to know that I’m coming now, do I? I wonder who the traitor is? 

When Aru arrived at the clearing there was no one there and no clear sign of what direction she had gone in, rather her scent and other things she would have used to track were spread amongst a couple of paths. She tried to smell and taste the magic used hoping that would alert to what direction Karma had gone towards but apart from a spirit summoning which she could only get the faintest scent of, everything else was gone. Shit, when I was told she did secret services during the war, I didn’t believe it. How can anyone restrain their magic to that extent? If I don’t do something, she might do something again.  Eventually, Aru decide to use clone magic to be able to enter the 4 paths that she had found a sign of her presence. She then entered one of the paths, her clones entering the other 3.

Ahead of her, Karma opened her eyes. Walking while scrying was a difficult thing to do but she had gotten used to doing it while running during the war. Although, it had been quite a while since she had last done it proven by how it had been a little difficult to do this. She needed to practice.

“Trace,” she whispered again and this time got better results. Although, there were quite a few shadows there, they were faded as this part of the forest was not used often. “Right there.” Blazing brightly in front of her were a pair of footsteps that probably belonged to the teller. He must have worn a cloak at some point as there were signs that some piece of cloth had brushed against the ground. Not a mage, she concluded as it was difficult to get a mage with the trace spell. They could remove their shadows from the earth quickly with magic. It used to be possible to catch mages with the trace spell before the war as they  did not think anyone would come after them or care that someone would do so. The SHarpe Valleys had changed that. It was now commonplace for a mage to clean up after themselves. A mage stupid enough to not do so would be dead. Or powerful. Or spoilt. I still think that’s stupidity. 

She followed the traces until she heard sound and gracefully climbed up the tree next to her and cast a chameleon spell on herself. Most mages would have used an invisibility spell to hide themselves. But spells like that cost mana and it  often reduced the power going to the other spells. She and Reulion had often argued which style was better. It was an irrelevant argument. Neither style worked on demons. But these were humans and she really didn’t feel like wasting mana on the multipurpose ‘Cover’ spell her tutor at the university had come up with. If they aren’t humans, I won’t feel guilty if I kill them. 

Karma had begun to wonder if she had hidden away too quickly when she heard a shuffling sound. She leaped from that tree to another to hear what they were saying.

“…Sure they are coming?” She heard someone saying and wondered who else was coming. She continued sneaking towards were the sounds were coming from an arrived just in time to see another figure respond

“I’m certain. I surely left enough clues. I would think that one of them was aware enough to pick it up.” That was the teller’s voice! Karma was pleased that she was right. There was something suspicious. Still a feeling of unease began to grow. Wasn’t this a bit of a cliché? A suspicious bard/singer/storyteller? A secret meeting in the woods between three people in cloaks preventing themselves from being seen even though any agent worth their salt knows that cloaks are really annoying things to run and fight in. Wasn’t this a bit odd.

A felling of alarm went through Karma and she didn’t question it, immediately moving quickly away from her position. As she did so, the figure previously identified as the teller turned towards her direction and said “Ah, found you.”

She quickly ran backwards still facing their direction, innately trusting her magic to inform her if there were any obstacles blocking way.

“Aren’t you coming out?” the teller said. Karma ignored him and kept running but started gathering her magic in case anything happened. She would get far enough way that she could send a track spell so that she could find them again.

“Oh well,” He continued and brought out a flashing ball. Karma’s eyes widened and then the teller threw the ball on the ground. At the same time, Karma twisted her fingers in a position and tried to cut him with a gust of wind.

“No can do, ” one of the other figures said. He put his fingers in a pattern and a slab of earth rose from the ground to block her wind. The other slapped their palm on the ground, a chain dangling from their palm. Karma narrowed her eyes as she felt her mana drain from her spell, rendering her wind useless. A mana draining array. How come I didn’t detect that?

As this was happening, the flashing ball began to do its work. The trees started disappearing and Karma felt the spells she used to keep herself hidden begin.  A revelation orb. It was expensive to implant a charm of such into an ordinary object not to mention one of such power and extent. Karma quickly cancelled her spells to prevent her mana from wasting needlessly. 2 mages with considerable talent, 1 unknown but familiar with magical objects. Who are these guys. Some trees were obviously constructed so if I landed on any they would be aware. This was a well done ambush.

 “I’m afraid I don’t know where such talented mages come from.” Karma trying to stall and find out more information about them. 3 academies focus on array arts while 9 have it as a major offering. So the array mage must have learned from them. They probably used the chain as a focus to control the array. So they must be from Teyrtn. The other mage used a cross pattern as a focus for his magic so from Térdr. They reacted too quickly and silently. Must have known each other for a long time. Wait, a possible earth mage who uses a cross pattern from Térdr, an array mage from Teytrn and a story-teller who doesn’t seem to be a mage but can use a revelation ball casually. They must be…

“The Anri party,” Karma said out loud. Immediately, she realised that things had gotten bad. Fast. The Anri party was a team that got famous in the war for their ability to gather information from human servants and turned demons.They had Mara, an array specialist and was exceptional with creating false worlds and illusions. Apparently, she was also good at hiding them. George was an exceptional mage with an extraordinary talent in manipulating nature while Tim, the one she had thought was a story-teller was their leader and a Whisperer. Whispering was a very rare and dangerous magic. They were unable to actually use true magic but they only needed a few words to implant an idea in a person’s mind and make them think it was theirs. He was also the son of businessman who had control over 20% of magic equipment industry.

They had really been a terror to the demons during the war. Unfortunately, she had never met them but had heard they turned rogue after the war and were killed soon after. Apparently, that was false.

“Obviously, you aren’t dead.” Karma kept on speaking, trying to think of way to get out of this situation. A feeling of betrayal went through her when she realised that Char had been able to see that she had been Whispered to during their telepathic connection but did not tell her.

“Yes. Please be at ease,” Tim said, smiling, “We really just want to have a chat with you.” Karma actually wasn’t too bothered with her situation. Now that she knew who she was dealing with, she looked at her mind and cut off the whisper seed in it.

“I see you’ve found my little pet. Just a way to facilitate out meeting. I hope you understand,” he said smiling genially at her but Mara was still touching the ground and George was gathering magic.

“I hope you don’t think I’m alone here,” Karma said, crossing her fingers as she started to think about how to get out of her predicament. She had no doubt that Aru would be coming soon. The amount of mana the orb gave off when it revealed everything was enough for a blind person to see not to mention Aru who was powerful enough to smell a person a kilometre away.

“Yes the half-breed. I’m aware she is coming but stop stalling. You and I both know that you don’t need her to come save you. You are strong enough to dismantle us on your own now, aren’t you?” Tim was right. Karma had a way to protect herself. She had an anti-drain rune on herself that prevented man from being drained from any part of her body regardless of whether it was attached to her or not as long as she was alive. It had almost killed her carving that on her liver. They can drain mana out of any magic she created but if she used mana to strengthen herself and fight, they couldn’t drain her. Most of the time.

Karma was about to reply in the affirmative that she needed no help but realised that Tim was still Whispering. To be able to see one of her fears so easily, Whisperers were amazing. But that was useless on her. Regardless of how powerful a Whisperer was, once the victim was aware of their identity it was difficult to Whisper to them anymore. In theory. In reality, people kept falling for the same Whisperer because they thought that they were now aware of everything and let down their guard.

“You should probably stop Whispering and tell me what you want.”

“Yes, sorry. I assume you heard my story in the park.”

“Yes, I can’t believe you said all of that to the public.”

“Don’t worry, I said the standard story to them and told you guys the additional parts.” Someone should really come up with a booklet that talks about the limits of specific mages. “I am speaking on behalf of someone interested in using dimensional magic to ensure that those ‘ears’ are punished for their actions or inactions during the war.” Ears, a derogatory way to refer to the fact that other races have a different ear shape than humans to the extent that if there is a drop of demi-human blood in a person, they would have a more sharpened ear shape than normal human ears. It was a slang that was commonly used by the BloodChurch, a small group that had always been against relationship between humans and demi-humans but increased in size and influence after the war. Not that I don’t understand why.

“Blunt huh. What makes you think I’m interested in punishing  demi-humans.”

“Nothing much, just heard you were ambushed on your way back from elf territory after failing to make it work. Heard a friend of yours died, Rule something.”

As soon as she heard Tim mention Reulion’s name, Karma was in action. She immediately ignited the mana in her body and sent it to her legs. Appearing in front of him, she reached up to her hair, pulled her pin, enlarged it and pushed it against his neck. Mara tried to ignite another array but Karma threw a fingernail at her, enlarged it and stabbed her in the hand with it. Immediately, she removed her hand from the ground, allowing Karma to use the mana she had been gathering from the surroundings to overwhelm the array and breaking it. Without a human there to control an array, it was basically defenceless to a skilled mage. George tried to move but she pushed sword against Tim’s neck indicating that if they moved she would slit his neck.

“Ok, wrong words to use,”George said with a sheepish smile on his face and raised his hands up.

“You’re a Whisperer,” She replied, glaring at him, “You never use the wrong words. You probably wanted to make me angry at the elves but what I hate the most is being manipulated with the memory of someone I loved and lost. Your Whispering backfired. You’re not a very good Whisperer, are you?”

“Let me just explain…”

“No. See this is what’s going to happen,” She interrupted, “I am going to capture you, then I’ll use a revelation spell on you to know how you have information you shouldn’t have, who gave it to you and where they are. Then I’m going to give you up to the authorities. Now, whether they hang you or behead you or imprison you is none of my fucking business but I’ll get what I want from you first. Are we clear.”

“Ehm,” Mara said, clearing her throat and continuing hesitantly, “I don’t think that’s what we want. Right, Tim.” He remained silent. “Tim, negotiations have broken down, let’s go.”

“Wait Mara, I think I can still do something.”

“I really don’t like when I’m ignored,” Karma said and immediately used the enlarged fingernail Mara had just thrown away to come back and slash her in the throat. The truth is that she could deal with rival magicians but array arts were amongst the most difficult magics to combat against. “I don’t really need all three of you.”

She was saying when she realised that Mara’s body had begun to crack and mist was rising up from it before revealing a face that definitely wasn’t Mara.

“Shit negotiations are over,” Tim said and thrust his neck forward into the blade against his neck . When Karma let go of him in surprise, he grabbed his dagger and stabbed himself in the chest guaranteeing a faster death. In her peripheral vision, Karma saw George stab himself as well.

“You really should think our offer over,” Tim said, trying to plant a seed even as he was passing away. When are shocked and/or surprised is one of the best times to plant a seed as they are not guarded at that point. Tim knew that if any of his whispers were going to have an effect, it would be this one.

As their souls left the bodies they were inhabiting, the faces of the owners of the bodies were revealed to be demi-humans. Karma wanted to investigate the bodies but they started to fade until only flakes remained which drifted away in the wind.

Karma stared at the places where the bodies where before burning off the blood that was stuck on her blade as well as removing any sign of a battle. She wiped the blade clean then shrunk it to be a pin before placing it back in her hair. Then she re-summoned the fingernail she had used to stab Mara. She used the wind to clear the scent of burning away.

She would have saved the blood that she got from her attackers but she could already sense Aru coming closer to where she was and she refused to collect something that could implicate her later. There were other ways of finding information. She looked at the revelation orb that had been depleted in the fight then opened a pit in the ground. She would come back for it later. She then attached a track spell to the part where Mara had touched the array and left the area as she did not want Aru to come and discover anything.

“Hey,” Aru said to Karma, “Are you okay. I felt the mana discharge some ways off. And why did you try to lose me earlier on? What were you up to?”

“Nothing,” Karma replied, “Thought the teller was here but I saw no one.”

“And the magic.” Aru said, unconvinced.

“Was trying something out. Didn’t work. Come on let’s go back to the festival. Come on.” Karma said this and started walking in front of her going back to the fores.t

“Hmm,” Aru said glancing at the direction she suspected Karma from coming from. She really hoped it was nothing but something told her that it probably wasn’t. Still she turned and followed Karma out.

 

Prologue                                                           Table of Contents

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  1. Pingback: Prologue | The Alarum Bell

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