Goal: Not even keeping track...Written: 1,484 Story: The Burning City Approximate Chapter: After The Burning City
CampNaNoWriMo was split between days 25-27, 28, and 29-30. Days 25-28 were dedicated to my Dungeons and Dragons character backstory, and won't be shared here. Day 29-30 focuses on Nox, so that's all I'm going to include.
This scene is meant to take place after the events of The Burning City, and won't be included in the final draft. There may be slight spoilers ahead; read with caution.
“Sit down, and tell me what you saw.” The Grand Master indicated the chair as he paced. Nox rolled his shoulders and tried to relax. Something about that chair always made him uncomfortable. He'd rather have a stare-down with Matron Hawk—and that was easily the most uncomfortable thing he could think of.
“Do I have to sit? I'd rather stand.”
Av'niel stopped his pacing and turned to look at Nox. The younger Transcender had a tightness around his mouth that suggested he wasn't just asking. Av'niel nodded and sat down instead.
“Don't think you get to ask me any questions.” Av'niel said as he picked up a leather-bound book. Nox handed the Grand Master a quill and a bottle of ink that he'd forgotten on his desk. Nox leaned against the desk, facing Av'niel, and waited.
“State your name,” Av'niel said, as he began to scratch his quill against parchment.
“Is this really necessary? I—”
“Nox'tellan Rha'vin Vallenknight,” and then added, with a slight smile, “Call me Nox.”
The Grand Master did not attempt to hide his irritation, but wrote it out as Nox spoke.
“Are we using a blood relic for this recollection?” Av'niel asked, looking up from his notebook briefly. His white-hazel eyes were sharp and cut right through his student. Nox shook his head.
“No. Not this time. This memory does not need to hurt anyone else.” Nox listened as Av'niel scratched a few notes across the parchment.
“Begin whenever you're ready, Transcender.”
Nox didn't speak for a moment; instead, he ran his hand along the edge of Av'niel's desk, feeling the worn wood beneath his fingers. It reminded him of a polished casket; cold, shining wood. Something that waited for him, somewhere deeper within the Citadel. His hand shook slightly and he stopped.
“This was the thirteenth time I had Transcended in the same location.”
“Thirteen?” Av'niel said with raised brows. “All in the same location?”
Nox nodded, waiting for the next question he knew would be asked.
“Is this the Tor'vic stables? Nox, I told you the last time we had your recollection—and that was nine Transcends ago, none of which were recorded—” Av'niel snapped the quill in his hand. He cursed and set down his notebook. Before he could move, Nox stepped forward and handed the Grand Master a replacement quill from his desk. Av'niel took it, and gave Nox a look of disapproval.
“Yes. The Tor'vic stables, the very same. Last time you told me just to make sure I didn't draw blood from the same area, or it would leave a scar. I tried different places, and each time, it left a scar.” Nox rolled up the sleeve of his white jerkin. Twelve slash marks across his wrist, a few inches apart, as if he was keeping track of something. He pulled the collar of his vest aside to reveal a scar across his throat.
“Will these stay forever?” Nox asked, as he pushed his collar closer to his neck to hide the mark. Av'niel looked up at him, wrote something in his notebook, then set it aside. He rolled up his own sleeve, the opposite of his sword hand. The Grand Master's skin was dark, betraying a heritage that stretched far beyond the Shard Sea. Jan'caran blood—before being Jan'caran was something to be afraid of—ran deep in Av'niel's veins. His scars were a little harder to see; they were older, deeper. Nox searched the man's skin for answers and he found them. Seventeen cuts, precise, stretching from the inside of his elbow down to his wrist.
“These scars are older than you are.”
Av'niel brushed at them lightly with his hand, his eyes closed for the briefest of moments. “They will never fade, and I would never want them to. We pay a price for answers, Nox. Now, tell me about your thirteenth death.” Av'niel picked up his notebook again.
“It was different. Twelves times, I had gone down to the stables since we lost Allyn and found the demon Ubel instead. Twelves times since the stables had been abandoned after the Trials. The doors sealed, the events forgotten.”
Av'niel's grip tightened on his quill and Nox was ready for it to snap again, but the Grand Master said nothing.
“Twelve times before, I went down to the stables and I retraced my steps. As close to the doorway as I could go without going down the stairs. If I got too close, I'd get sick—” He paused, indicating he wouldn't be specific about the details. “I would Transcend near the broken doorway, and continue forward in Transcendence.”
“And who was your Guardian on duty?”
“Lady Starr Darkwater.”
“A Transcender? Not a Guardian?”
“I don't have a Guardian anymore, Av'niel.” Nox paused, then, more quickly, “Grand Master.”
“I won't punish Starr for going along with your plan, Nox. But this has to go in the report. The Bloodied Tongue will want to know. Was she with you all thirteen times?”
“A loyal friend,” Av'niel said. “They are hard to come by in these dark times.” The Grand Master nearly smiled at his words; something akin to a morbid joke. Nox couldn't agree more.
Av'niel lifted his quill again, an indication that he wasn't recording.
“Have you been to see Malisyn since you returned?”
Nox felt a tightness in his chest return, a familiar weight; one he embraced, and then pushed aside.
“How could I?”
“She doesn't know you've come back. I just wondered if you had sought her out after this Transcend.” Av'niel re-inked his quill, and waited.
“This time, I continued to the very edge of the stairs. Sickness be damned. Starr can attest, I was little less than an animal near the threshold, and she put me down. No blindfold, no warning; just a raw death, a surprising death, just as Allyn's had been.” Nox swallowed. “And when the screaming finally ended, I stood in Transcendence, and something was different.”
“How was it different? How can you possibly remember, after thirteen times in the same location?”
“Allyn was there.”
“Blood and rain, Nox, you know that isn't how Transcendence works. A demon taking the form of Allyn, certainly. But not the boy himself.”
Nox shrugged tired shoulders. He couldn't deny what he had seen; whether it had been a demon, or Allyn himself trapped within the world of demons, the void of Transcendence, the answer had kept him waking through the nights since. Some nights he cursed Jaq for building him such a tolerance for Isaru wine. Few things could put him to sleep these days, save exhaustion.
“Boy or demon, it makes no difference; I felt Allyn was there, and he led me down the stairs. If it had been a demon, Av'niel, it didn't ask for anything.”
“Did it speak to you?” The Grand Master's voice was quiet.
“Did it..? No. We didn't speak.” Av'niel looked visibly relieved at his words.
“I continued down those stairs, and other memories intersected—the woman, Tas'kara, she had brought other objects down in to that pit other than just Allyn's toy horse. Other memories waited there; a little girl hid in the corner, a black, tumbling sliver of darkness slithered beneath the table. They all left the moment I stepped in to the room. This was usually the same; sometimes the memories that waited were different. Sometimes they were repeated, having been seen a dozen times before.”
Nox decided he would take a seat then, and pushed himself away from the desk. The Grand Master stood and gave up his seat. Nox sunk in to it heavily.
“Do you remember much about the room, Av'niel?” Nox asked, closing his eyes.
“Every detail. Allyn was—I must have gone there—”
“Thirteen times, probably more.” Nox finished. “There was an altar there, a perversion of our Transcending Table. It was where Allyn was killed. In Transcendence, that stone altar is broken. The blood that soaks it is fresh.”
“Fresh?” Av'niel's dusty eyebrows rose.
“A permanent scar in the memory of Transcendence. I could touch it, and the blood was warm. Nothing feels in Transcendence except pain. This felt warm.”
“And this was new?”
“Something came out of the blood, Grand Master. Something that had never been there before.”
Av'niel stopped writing.
“And now—I don't think I can go back without help. Something is waiting there for me to return. To stop me from looking for him.”
“And you should stop,” Av'niel said with a slow nod, setting his quill aside entirely. “Because he is gone.”
“I can't believe that,” Nox shook his head. He closed his eyes, then, and let a shiver trickle down his spine.
“Can you describe this—thing—that appeared from the blood? Was it a demon?”
“No. No, it wasn't a demon. It looked very much a man.”
It looked like me.