12. Banes

The truth of magic is not ancient words or particular runes. The Chellini hypothesis talks about magic’s inception, its eventual appearance in a reality of large numbers. The truth of magic, in the ages of Sand, is that of patterns. Things that happen happen again. Certain shapes – shapes of energy, mostly – pull the energy of the magic in, dictate a new pattern, and reshape the magic so it flows forth anew. To manipulate energy is easy – and thus, most of the magic that people learn early is to throw lightning and fire, to release energy that flows uncontrolled and wild. Given the nature of people, more than the nature of magic, this is almost all the magic that needs to be discovered before the people, discovered, are never in a positioned to be discovered again. Ashes rarely hold interesting patterns.

That is not all that magic can do.

Sometimes, magic impresses itself on the universe, in a time and in a place, and hangs there. Actions that are committed in a place, wielding magic potent, can leave the impression of what was done, beckoning more energy to flow back into that pattern. The swirl and eddy of time and magic hold therefore, the memories in places, waiting for another set of actors to flow into their place, to take on the pattern. When magic was thin and wan in the world, there was not enough to activate these circuits, to fill these shapes; but as the icebergs of magic start to crack and shake, when the air becomes thick with it, these memories start to reach out, seeking places to set their patterns back in motion.

We were supposed to be perfect.

We were supposed to be perfectly loyal, loyal to the crown, loyal to the king. We were supposed to follow the words of a king who wielded in one hand the power of the sun, and in whose other, the chill of the moon.

Armour of darkest blue, we were told we were perfect. Kings came and kings went; the old empire turned from hand to hand, with power being taken by one and another. The Perfect fell with the king. The Perfect stood by the king. The Perfect were spread thick across the ground, in pieces, the inevitable loss of every revolution, every squabble for the kingship.

To rise out of the waves, to fight back the boundaries of the Older Ones, these were the ways we showed ourselves. The ways we distinguished ourselves from our fellow warriors, with club and shaft and blade and sling. It was what I did. It was what I had become – a beast of the battlefield, silent and stoic in the court of the king. The soft sounds of court, the chattering and gossipping, the clatter of secret messages rattling between the back reaches. Codes and plans and projects.

The sun and moon, we told ourselves, had a boon and a bane. The bane of the sun was rage, the inexorable force that dried up life and left its scoring marks upon the body. The bane of the moon was the insanity, the chasing of lights.

We were meant to be perfect.

We were the king’s own life, ready to die with the king. The king – my king – was the last king I knew. My loyalty was to be absolute, and I was to be perfect. In the past, I wonder how other Perfects had dealt with their kings, the kings of the Sun’s Bane, or the kings of the Moon’s Bane. I wondered about those Perfects who had served kings who had known only the blessings of the Sun and the Moon.

I hoped I was the only Perfect who had to crawl under the hateful eye of a king with both the Sun’s bane, and the Moon’s. I hoped that it was only me, belly to the ground, whose loyalty was demanded, whose life was to be forfeit, and whose pride was too great as to raise my gaze. I hoped.

When the revolution came, they knew I was too strong. They knew that they could not prevail over me. The king had bled the domain, its dry and wet places, its dangerous depths and its safe peaks, and there were no more strong warriors, with stout armour and the will to fight, to stand against me – well fed, well-trained, the Perfect of the king. They did it, at the time, I think, to show me the virtue of their cause. They showed me that when the kingdom fell, it would be by my will. I could stand against them, fight my finest, kill them all and let the last of the bane of Sun and Moon lay waste to whatever was left for the king’s madness. Or I could lower my arms, feign weakness, let myself die, and in so doing, let the kingdom live.

I chose a third channel. I rose up, reached out – and with a stunned king before me, closed my grip around his throat. The power of the sun and the moon burnt themselves into my eyes, of course – as was inevitable – and I felt my own lifeblood seeping out.

The revolution came, and with it came my death. Perhaps another would dye their armour blue, in the future. Yet, with the light of the sun and moon burning my eyes, feeling my last lifeblood spreading like a cloud around me, I reflected.

We were supposed to be perfect.

I died with my king.

“Hm?” Enk asked, blinking, looking up.

“I said, your mom wants us to go get something for dinner, and there’s fish and chips at that English place down the street. You want to come with?”

Enk shook himself, looking up, away from the fishtank, stepping around the kitchen bench, and falling into step alongside his cousin. “Okay. Sorry, just… my mind was a million miles away.”