The Burning City: Chapter 9, entry 3

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Word count: 1,808 Total word count: 57,939

Chapter 9 Entry 3

“Wake up. You're not dead yet.”

Kas'andra's voice made Starr's head ache. Each word was like a nail pressed against her temple and slowly being hammered upon. It felt like the worst hangover she'd ever had.

“I feel close to it.” She mumbled. Her throat felt dry.

Kas'andra smiled in the darkness and Starr felt a damp cloth touch her lips. She touched her tongue to the fabric and the water slid down her throat.

“Slowly,” Kas'andra eased.

“Where are we?” Starr croaked after she was confident the water would stay in her stomach. Wherever they were, it was dark and quiet. The last thing she could remember made her close her legs together tightly. Chains rattled against the ground.

“Alive, that's all I know. And untouched.” Kas'andra answered the unspoken question. “Right after that big idiot knocked you out, his boss showed up and knocked him out. And luckily, his boss isn't as much of an idiot. He had the sense to throw us in confinement until they figure out what to do with us.”

“You mean other than rape us and then tear us apart?” Starr asked. The water in her mouth tasted stale and bitter, the coldness and comfort fled with her words.

“I'll kill you myself before I let that happen.” Kas'andra whispered.

“Kas'andra, that's awfully romantic of you.” It hurt to smile. Whatever hit her had left a bruise on her cheek that was puffy and swollen. They hadn't stopped with her face: her ribs hurt when she laughed. It distracted her from the overwhelming fear that waited just beneath the surface. The wrong word or glance now, and Starr wouldn't be very helpful at all. She took a deep breath.

“They've kept us alive this long. A few hours, at least. I couldn't sleep. I didn't have the luxury of being knocked out.”

“Next time, I'll remind them to hit you first.” Starr smiled and she felt a scab on her lip break open.

“I spent my time wisely. I've been listening. The Onyx Sun are nothing more criminals banded together loosely—and very loosely. They have one thing in common. Most of them speak High Jan'caran, which means they were close to the Royal Palace. So they're civilized criminals, and may have served the Royal House itself. And that means--”

“Tarik might be here. At least we're in the right place.”

Kas'andra rested her head on Starr's shoulder. Starr flinched.

“Let's just stay alive long enough to find him, and get out of this place.”

Starr cracked one swollen eye and glanced at Kas'andra. “And burn it to the ground.”

The Jan'caran woman smiled. “A woman after my own heart.”

Starr groaned.

“You want everyone's heart. And their ass.”

She felt Kas'andra shrug beside her.

“Why limit myself?”

It was Kas'andra's time to sleep, while Starr used one blurry eye to keep watch. The Onyx Sun did take prisoners, but not effectively. She may not have her blood dagger, but she could still feel her magic. She was fortunate the big idiot hadn't kept his promise. He either didn't know, or really had been knocked out just in time. Starr felt a tear roll down her cheek.

I'm not helpless. I have my magic, and my wits, and my anger. She smiled and the fear in her stomach began to subside. That's worth more than most of those bastards already.

Kas'andra began to snore. Starr sighed, shifted her aching legs, and joined her. She was too exhausted to start looking for an escape until she got a few more hours rest: or they killed her. She didn't sleep well.

#

Ubel Gale stood and looked in disgust over the army Aviv had provided him. Thieves, beggars, rapists. Not a single one of them trained in more than a curved blade or dagger. Some were cast out from the Royal Guard and had noble blood but most were little more than rejected house slaves and vagrants. Still, they had one advantage: none of them were blood mages. He had made sure the blood mages were killed. That had been one direction Aviv had been able to follow.

Aviv was told to assemble an army, not a disorganized, angry mob.

You should have killed him. A voice sounded in his head—or was it the wind? He smiled slightly, or someone smiled for him.

The Burning City and the nation of Jan'caro had been in turmoil since the their Sun Queen became ill. When her failing health became apparent, the Royal Houses and families within the Burning City began fighting for the right to succession. When she died alone three years ago, without appointing an heir—the city erupted in to chaos. Dozens of Royal Houses and families paraded for attention and claim to the Sun Throne. With blood magic outlawed in the city, and no heir to the throne, the Burning City had no way to choose their next ruler—except by force. The traditions of Jan'caro would not accept a new ruler unless they could provide Royal blood—any full Jan'caran blood that also was imbued with magic—and with the proper military background.

Aviv Ha'dar had been one such man with royal blood who had attempted to claim the Sun Throne and failed. Aviv was nothing if not relentless. The Jan'caran people, even after outlawing blood magic from outside its walls, still held strong to their tradition for their rulers: whomever held the Sun or Moon throne, must be capable of protecting the people and the land by magic. Aviv did not have magic, but he had something stronger: determination. Magic he could get through an arranged marriage; he needed influence. His need for power led him to desperate measures, the most recent of which summoned a man to his very doorstep—from death itself.

Aviv was sweating profusely. Sweat dripped down his sun-kissed forehead and stained his white scarf a tainted gray. His piercing golden eyes looked at Ubel, then back to his army. It wasn't the heat of the Endless Sands that made the ambitious Jan'caran man afraid—but the abomination that stood beside him.

Ubel Gale, as the man had introduced himself to Aviv the past summer, was an outcast from the Blood Citadel in Tala'rico. Blood mages were forbidden to step within the walls of the Burning City if they weren't Jan'caran, and even they were required to be born of Royal or Militant families. Ubel had been neither, and yet he had gotten within a dagger's length of Aviv, and that alone impressed the Jan'caran Royal.

Over the next few months, Ubel had showcased his powers as a blood mage—burning down entire Royal Houses, with their families and slaves inside. Other families had disappeared, or gone silent and given up their claims to succession. Any who opposed Aviv's claims to the Sun Throne were subjected to Ubel's unique form of magic.

Ubel wielded a strange kind of blood magic, and he wielded it with a brutality that the Jan'caran people had never seen. What Ubel called blood magic, most would call murder, torture or sacrifice. He claimed to be from the Citadel, but even Aviv knew there was no school that could teach a man what Ubel practiced. Aviv was forbidden to see Ubel's chambers, or visit his working area—but was required to send a number of gifted Jan'caran men, women and children upon Ubel's request. Aviv didn't ask, and Ubel only ever showed results.

The strange, ancient blood mage wanted an army of ungifted men. Of “pure” blood, he called it. And in return, Ubel would place Aviv upon the Sun Throne and then he would deliver to him the people of Jan'caro.

Aviv hadn't realized at the time that Ubel Gale was little more than a corpse stitched together by blood magic. And a stinking, fly-ridden one at that. The smell only became worse in the heat. Ubel may not have noticed, as Aviv was sure the man wasn't capable of feeling pain. Ubel had been summoned by Aviv, through a dangerous and complex ritual, and could not return to Transcendence until Aviv released him. Although bound to serve the Jan'caran man, Ubel had ambitions of his own and he did not bother to keep them a secret. Aviv would get his Sun Throne, and Ubel would rid the world of blood magic by force.

It only took a few well placed pushes from Ubel to get Aviv to agree: there was an infestation of blood magic within the Burning City. Ubel had shown Aviv a sight that few living still remembered: the remains of the first Burning City. An entire city, leveled to nothing but glass and ash. And all caused by the selfishness of blood magic. Aviv would be more than their Sun King, he would be their savior from the horrors of magic. He would unite all of Jan'caro, destroy the blood mage sickness that threatened to overwhelm their world and deliver his people to safety. No blood magic—no demons, Ubel had said. Everyone would be safe, with Aviv Ha'dar sitting upon the Sun Throne to rule them all.

Ubel would start by cleansing the Burning City. And everyone in it. Only the Jan'caran blooded people chosen by Aviv would be spared—and then he would destroy The Burning City. He's make certain the Jan'caran people and the rest of the world knew that blood mages were responsible for the destruction, and this time: no one would forget. Aviv and the wife of his choosing would rule without blood magic. And from the Sun Throne, they'd cleanse the world with the fire of the Endless Sun.

Aviv blinked slowly. Often, the gaze of Ubel sent his mind spiraling somewhere beyond his control. His ambitions, his plans, even his memories—seemed thick and hard to remember. He wiped sweat from his forehead and pulled his scarf from his face to breathe in the cold night air.

“I have brought you an army, Lord Gale.” Aviv inclined his head and held his breath. A fly crawled from inside Ubel's mouth.

“You have brought me the filth you already cast off to the desert.” Ubel's dead white eye twitched. He turned a stiff neck towards the would-be Sun King. “Do not call this an army. Call it what it is: a search party.”

“What are they searching for?” Aviv asked. He swallowed around a cold lump in his throat.

“The first step in cleansing your Burning City. Finding the only person who could stop the flames: the BloodGate Heir. The only blood mage of any real consequence is sleeping somewhere withing your Burning City.”

“If we're searching for a blood mage, wouldn't we want other blood mages?” Aviv asked, indicating his army that was, as Ubel requested, not.

The man's ivory colored skin drew tight against his mouth as he forced it to a stern, disapproving line. Aviv waited for the backlash that generally followed questioning of Ubel's plans. Ubel took a shuddering breath, and Aviv could hear the air rattling around in his empty lungs. White eyes burned against gold.

“Consider it a mercy. If your army is without blood magic, that is a few less thousand I'll be forced to kill later.” Ubel did smile for himself this time, he was certain.

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