An Atikan Interlude - Part VIII
Released on August 25, 2019, this story sees the return of Marius, the Vizier of Divination, and his incessant scheming.
Red Adharmi II
“Assembled Mages of the Red Tradition, this is your day. Since the inception of our Order, we have lit the fires of Beltane on the Keep walls, to demonstrate our connection to the old ways. Although it might be difficult for some of you to understand, we must pay homage to our past, even if it has no place in our Promised Land of Order. But we do it, and we celebrate it, to show how far we have come. No longer cowering in the bushes and forests of this great land, we have informed the Gods that we are the ones who are mighty, not them! These fires symbolize the human spirit itself, and so let us see yours!”
The crowd assembled in the gallery above the Combat Floor whooped and hollered at Marius, who was standing beneath the massive crescent moon emerald which sparkled above in the gathered light of scores of conjured Lights of Hermes. The magical orbs, glimmering all of the colours of the rainbow, were a reminder to Marius of the concessions he had to make to Chaos in the early days, after Mannanan the Sea God had forced him to see it all. To make all magic red fire, as he had wanted to do, was a step too far.
Without a hint of Chaos, life could not have survived. Everything would have been brought to a standstill, the spell would have failed, and Kronos would have cracked in and rent the world apart. And that could not happen, because… well, because that was the way that it is. It was not Marius’ place to question, only to play his role. And his role, in this instant, was to announce the first fight of the day.
“Brothers and sisters,” boomed Marius, after the cheers had started to die down. “We now begin the day’s festivities with a Tournament. The Red Tournament! All Mages who adorn themselves with Apollo’s Bracer shall become equal to the other, and equally incapable of true harm. Novices, Adepts, Viziers – it does not matter. All that matters is your skill!” Marius opened a scroll and made a show of scanning it with great panache. “First competitors: Circulus, Master of Apprentices, and Kathryn, our newest Adept, back from completion of her Apprenticeship in Kalingshire!”
The two Mages entered from opposite ends of the grounds. Marius examined the bracers for the crowd, an exaggerated act to ensure that they were on correctly, then smiled at Kathryn. This was a present to her, a parting gift from her former Master. He knew how much she despised Circulus, pompous ass that he was. How he had belittled her in the early days. And, well, Marius had grown very fond of Kathryn, ever since they had allowed themselves to give in to their lusty appetites for one another. It had to end now, of course. As it always did with Marius and the Novices he targeted. And, well, Kathryn had her own part to play, one that did not involve Marius as lover.
What a pity, mused the Mage, as he exited the Combat Floor and heard the first murmurs of the incantations begin.
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“It would appear that we have a problem, Marius,” said the man entering the chamber from one of the doors near the rear. He seated himself at the opposite end of the large dining table, took the red napkin from beside his dish, and placed it on his lap. “Your Novice – Timothy, was it? He has run off.”
“Yes,” said Marius. He picked up his snifter, swirled it, and then sipped at the liquor, savouring every drop. Then he replaced it on the table, picked up his utensils, and began to saw at the mutton on his plate.
“Yes,” repeated the other Mage. He had close-cropped ruddy hair and blue eyes. His nose cut a sharp relief into his face, and his cheekbones were high and severe. “That is what you say to everything.”
“What would you have me say, Heidegger? You know that I am cursed by Fate. I knew that Timothy would do this. I also know that his actions will endanger the Red Tradition. Hell, he will see these walls destroyed.” He paused. “I let him into the Magisterium, told him the truth. At least, the truth that he had to see.”
“Why? You would see all that we have built cast into ruin? Do you not care about anything?”
“I care about Nature, about the natural order,” replied Marius. “This role I play is simply that – a role. I do as I am meant to do and I sleep like a babe in the result.”
“I do not know how you do it – live while knowing the future.”
“I am not privy to knowledge of the future, Heidegger,” Marius said. He took a bite and savoured the meat. “What I am privy to is something even better. The Mystery. I say and do and act, but I do not imagine myself to be anything more than a pawn in the game of the universe. A wise person once said that there is a difference between knowing the path and walking it. I would be no better than a fortune teller if I believed my own Prophecy. It is a fact, but it is not truth. I assumed that you would have learned the difference by now.”
“It sounds like madness to me.”
“Madness,” Marius considered. He downed the rest of his brandy in one go. “Perhaps. But if sanity is scrabbling and scratching out an existence in the shadow of an illusion of my own self-importance, I prefer the opposite. Still, I am tired, Heidegger. Are you not? How long have we lived?”
“It has been four hundred and twenty-two years for me.”
“I just celebrated my four hundred and thirty third birthday,” said Marius. “And I have gotten here through the strange workings of murder and blood. I say that I have served my purpose. And yet, I know that I have not.” Marius went quiet, then. Heidegger glared at him for a while, then poured himself a glass of wine from a decanter in the centre of the table and drank deep.
“Life as the Adversary is a grim thing, indeed, Heidegger,” attempted Marius as he sat up in his chair. “Every single common person in this Kingdom is ignorant of who we are and what we do, and yet they seem to go on living in spite of it. Being a bastard is better than not being at all, I suppose.”
“What has prompted all this dismal weepery, brother? We lead good lives here, in this Keep. We want for nothing – wine, women, food. We wield great power and keep the world from crumbling into Chaos.”
“Ha, you actually believe that?” muttered Marius. “I suppose I cannot fault you for thinking so. But make no mistake: what we serve is a purpose, nothing more. Villains are made to forge heroes, not to win the hearts and minds of the people.”
“Perhaps if all us evil cunts were as self-reflective as you, there would be none of us left.”
“Perhaps,” said Marius, wiping the stubble on his chin and throwing the napkin onto the plate before him. “But more likely the nature of what we are would change. Life without men like us would not be life at all, understand that, brother. And so, I go on living. If not happily, then certainly in the light of knowledge of my own necessity. You and I will always be scorpions. We will always ask frogs for rides across rivers. We will always tell them that we are not what we very evidently are. And we will always kill the fuckers and ourselves in the result.” Marius stood up from the table. “Now, get your shite together. We are off to Rhymore.”
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Kathryn did not say goodbye to Marius. He had already left. He had simply placed a note in her chamber, instructing her to pack her things and go off to Isha. There was somebody whom she needed to meet. A Knight who was to join the King’s Inner Council. Janus was preparing to betray the Red Tradition. Kathryn needed to be there, to intercede on the Red Tradition’s behalf. Also, in something barely larger than a footnote: he told her it was over between them.
That was it. By letter. Barely the scratchings of a few words on parchment, to end Kathryn’s first real relationship. One built on, if not Trust, then something approaching the Virtue. Kathryn had never encountered it before – certainly not in her early days. If anything, Kathryn thought herself incapable of Trust. No one had ever gave her reason to trust them, only the opposite.
Oh well, thought the Adept. And it was indeed just as well. She had come into this world and she would exit it in the same way. Completely alone. Kathryn scooped up the battered copy of the novel that she carried with her everywhere. Silence, written by some long-dead Liserian. How many times had she read it?
Once more would not hurt, she mused, waving to her father before loading her bags onto the back of the carriage, hugging him, and pushing open the door of the coach. Her old man had been the one to come for her. Of course, he had. King Janus would have made the order himself. He wanted to get on her good side. She knew what he was planning – utter and total rebellion and sedition against the Red Tradition.
And Kathryn, after wiping a tear of betrayal from her face, had decided that she would ask him: where can I sign up?
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