© 2010, Patrick Hester. All Rights Reserved
In the Tower of Valles, where the walls are covered in cream and gold and the floors are of the finest marble inlaid with silver patterns that swirl and intertwine in intricate designs that delight the eye and mystify the mind, the Magistrate stands before a crystal sphere suspended within a gilded frame. Beside him, the diminutive man with the horse-shoe of silver-white hair adjusts his spectacles before returning his gaze to the image inside the misty interior of the sphere; a ship can be seen tying off at a black pier that he recognized at once. That was the pier at Corrac’amor, northernmost point of the island and the last refuge for any on their way to Deisarch Dain, the Southern Keep of Evermist. The smaller man nodded thoughtfully.
With a dismissive noise, the Magistrate touched the frame with a finger, careful of his lacquered fingernails and the image faded back to a mist that roiled within the sphere.
“Much needed reinforcements, my Lord?” ventured the small man as he pushed his spectacles back up his nose with one finger.
“This last attack was the worst in my memory, Valenz. He very nearly succeeded this time,” the Magistrate said with a sigh. He moved away from the sphere, stroking his dark beard as his gaze wandered out the windows and towards the sea.
“I don’t understand Him, Valenz,” he said quietly. “But then, I never have.”
“And how many have I seen in the last four seasons?” he said, changing the subject dramatically. “Five hundred? A thousand? And still not a suitable Apprentice to take on the burden!”
Behind him, Valenz rubbed at his forehead and nodded sadly. “It’s the solstice, Lord,” Vlanez offered after a moment to get him back on track. “Always stirs Him up.”
“Is it? Already?” the Magistrate asked without turning from the window. “Which one?”
“Summer, Lord,” Valenz answered.
“Ah. How the time flies. What year? Never mind, I don’t want to know. I miss the sea, Valenz,” the Magistrate all but whispered. Before Valenz could say anything to that, the Bells of the Tower began to chime calling the fourth hour of the morning.
“The Triad will be climbing the Tower steps,” Valenz announced quietly; always a touchy subject.
“Ah, my trusted advisors,” the Magistrate snorted. “Always with them it’s the same; ‘Pirates’ this and ‘trade’ that and ‘whine whine whine’. I’d have you deal with them if I could. Well, with the Merchant at least, but I don’t think his replacement would be any better suited to the task nor any brighter. Might smell better. Does the man bathe in urine or just sleep on a bed of feces?”
Valenz smiled sadly, “Not that I am aware of, Lord.”
“This last attack, Valenz, it was the worst I can recall. He nearly breached the wall and the casualties… I think the Engineers are hiding something.”
“Perhaps,” Valenz acknowledged. Personally, he felt that the Engineers were hiding quite a bit, but he had no proof. Their Towers were the only places in the world denied to him. Which rankled.
From beyond the gilded doors of the Sky Tier comes the sound of a gong to announce the arrival of the Triad. The Magistrate sighs again, turning to cross the few steps between he and the Dark Throne, taking his seat carefully so as not to be stuck by the thorns so deceptively hidden throughout it. They were there as a reminder, as if he or anyone else who’d ever sat in this chair needed to be reminded of the danger they were in.
“Time to return to the shadows, Valenz,” he said over his shoulder, waving those lacquered fingernails in his direction. The diminutive man smiled and bowed, backing into the sole shadow of the room and seeming to vanish within. Clearing his throat, the Magistrate called out, “Who seeks to be in my presence?!”
“The Triad seeks to learn the status of the Wall!” cries the Harker beyond the door as he strikes the bronze gong.
“The Wall still stands,” the Magistrate replies, attempting to sound as grave and serious as he should. He hated all the ceremony.