The queasy feeling I’d suffered from Abdiel’s transfer of power began to subside.
“Is that all of it?”
No, you must absorb what is already within you.
I groaned, then asked, “When will it be finished?”
This is just the start, Tina. Your grandmother, being older than most of her kind, wielded great power for longer than normal.
“Will I need all of it?”
That was her will.
“And what of mine?”
I keep the promise we spoke of, but to withhold any of the gift will cause us to dissipate. And you will die as well.
The way my body felt, it didn’t sound like a bad deal at all.
I didn’t see the Canceler for several days.
During that time, Abdiel taught me about the histories of the visions I’d seen; they were rich in intrigue, betrayal, love and war.
The magic was strong, and the bloodshed relentless as passion and fear won out over reason, and power and greed won out over loyalty. Betrayal was as common as sparrows, and whole courts were executed.
There was infighting among siblings behind the outward shows of filial affection.
And every other night, Abdiel released more power and knowledge into me, and let me have the days I needed to break from it. While that gave me time to actually absorb what I learned, it gave him time to replenish as well, but he didn’t tell me that at first.
You must use the magic. We are not allowed to hold it back, and you are not allowed to contain it. If you do, you will die according to the lore of your kind. It is not an honorable death.
“So, is it my mission then, to fight this Canceler?”
It is. He will continue to hunt you if you do not. He seeks to slay you in the flowering of your gifts. You must not let him.
That made my mission twofold: kill Teryl, then seek out the remnant of ‘my kind,’ and turn our attention to the murderous king. He yet held power over the realm he purged with blood, but for now…
Abdiel was disturbed. I could feel him shifting like serpent coils in my chest and stomach.
“Abdiel, tonight you must tell me about the Cancelers.”
It will hurt, but it will be done.
Tina, I will ask you one last time, are you sure of this? The night will be long.
“Will it become shorter if we wait?”
He didn’t answer.
“He’s not on his way, Abdiel. He’s here. He knows of me, and he knows of Gran. If his mission is to kill me, he hasn’t said it, or even attempted it, but I can’t fight him without knowing what I’m up against. You have to show me.”
Let us begin.
“They seem terrified.”
They are, and not without reason.
I stood beside Abdiel in a hall of solid shadows carved from black stones: marble, onyx, obsidian, and black jade. What was made of wood was burnished ebony that gleamed in the light of scarlet candles and torches that unfurled wispy tendrils of black smoke into the rank air.
It stank of fear and raging hormones among the ranks of adolescent boys standing before their massive keepers and Masters, baby sheep surrounded by old, wise wolves.
“Is this before Teryl?”
It is. These are the first. The ritual has not changed.
There were brands heating inside a black ceramic ring.
Unseen in the hall, a song in a language even more archaic than the time was being sung by a single male voice.
I didn’t know it, but didn’t ask Abdiel about it. My own throat was dry, and I was keeping my legs from shaking with the last of my will.
The keepers were wide, with skin that strained to contain the muscles under them, and the Masters tall and thin, draped in a scarlet cloaks trimmed in red gold, their nails long and black, their amber eyes shining deep within the folds of their hoods. It was a sight I knew I would remember even in my waking hours.
The Master standing near the altar had the colors in reverse, a scarlet robe trimmed in black. His eyes, though shining, were the deep red of blood inside the body’s organs.
The Keepers began to pull the brands from the ring and walked to the waiting rows.
“Hold out your right hand,” the Master said; they all obeyed.
The first Keeper spoke: “If you scream, flinch, or cry, you will be banished and hunted. If you outrun us, you live your life among the common trash. If you don’t, the wolves in the kennels feast on your cowards’ hearts.”.
More than half of them were whipped and pummeled by the keepers, shamed and banished as they fled the temple to run through the night forest with wolves on their heels.
I covered my ears, not bothering to stop my weeping.
“Oh, Tyrel, this is a great and terrible power.” I turned to Abdiel. “Is there more?”
Mercifully, no. I weaken even in this vision. We must return.
And what of tomorrow?
“Leave me. I will find Tyrel. I can’t have you weak before the Passing is finished.
It will be done. Abdiel released me back in my bed, in my room. I wiped my tears, stretched out, and drifted off as the memory of shining scarlet eyes faded back into the blackness that spawned them.
Now dreamless, I slept through the rest of the night.