McCarthy Loxborne understood the power of rituals. He awoke as soon as the first streams of sunlight crossed through his window. He climbed out of bed and did the same set of stretches every morning. A servant always brought him a simple breakfast of eggs, bread, and cheese. McCarthy always began his day by walking downstairs to his study. He examined every experiment, one by one, and recorded observations for each.
Inside a glass tank, a butterfly with glowing green and yellow wings rested on one of the transparent walls. Further down the room lay a device with a series of glass lenses. McCarthy carried it to the window and raised it to his eye as he surveyed the scene outside the castle. Men and women marched in and out of the main gateway that opened up to the castle courtyard, already hard at work at this early hour. McCarthy frowned, the lenses obviously hadn’t shown him what he wished to see.
McCarthy set the device back down and wrote more observations in his notebook. At the end of the study was a table that contained the latest field reports from the captains who were traveling with an angel in their company. A fresh set of updates from the western procession had arrived last night. McCarthy sat down at the table and began parsing through the documents. Once he’d finished reading, they would be catalogued and added to one of his bookshelves that lined the far wall. The shelves contained an eclectic mix of McCarthy’s own notes, literature from other scientists, and dozens of books in various degrees of deterioration that had been excavated from the old ruins. They were all written in the script of the old gods, in which McCarthy was fluent.
McCarthy’s parents had been devout believers of the old gods. His namesake, McCarthy, had been the god of craftiness. It was his parents who had shown McCarthy the importance of rituals. As a boy, he had seen the effect that regular prayer and carefully planned sacrifices had produced in his parents. McCarthy didn’t believe in the old gods. He, like most others, knew that those gods were long dead. But he did believe in the power of ritual – the power of deliberate actions, careful planning, and the control over individuals that it gave him.
This day, McCarthy’s morning ritual was interrupted. There was a knock at the door, and a servant slowly opened it.
“Sir, Ichoron has arrived. He says that he must speak with you.”
McCarthy looked up from his notes. He had just been reading a report on the angel’s performance in a recent border skirmish. Over the past few years, Ichoron had been making excellent progress – growing in confidence as he adjusted to his abilities. If the angel was here; however, and not with the southern royal procession, that meant that something had gone awry.
“Bring him to me,” McCarthy replied.
The servant nodded and closed the study door. McCarthy sighed and pushed aside his papers. Now, it was time for another ritual to begin.
McCarthy stood up straight and pushed the creases out of his coat. He made sure that the blade strapped to his hip was visible. Presentation was everything. McCarthy positioned himself in front of the door and waited for the angel to arrive.
Moments later, Ichoron entered. He still wore his alumin chest plate and ceremonial cape. A layer of sweat beaded on his face and muscular arms. The angel must have sprinted across half of Allomoria to reach him – a daunting distance, even for a being as fast as Ichoron. McCarthy stood with his head held high and didn’t acknowledge the young man until Ichoron dropped down to one knee before him.
“My lord, you have made me into who I am. I thank you.”
“You are welcome, my child. Rise,” McCarthy responded.
Ichoron was fueled by pride, he knew. This brief ritual that he had trained the angel to perform was meant to tame his arrogance and reinforce McCarthy’s control. Ichoron pushed his blond hair aside as he rose to face his master. Thick muscles flexed underneath bronzed skin. Ichoron may have been impossibly strong, but McCarthy was still a fraction of an inch taller, and he held himself at his full height over the angel.
Ichoron waited for McCarthy to address him. Another ritual that they had perfected.
“What brings you to Doronhine?” the tall man asked.
“Your latest experiment encountered some difficulties,” he answered.
“The soldiers you sent to conduct the last experiment came back empty-handed. They reported that the experiment worked, but that the subject overpowered them and escaped with two companions.”
McCarthy didn’t respond right away. He paused and considered his options. Once he had decided on a course of action, he waited even longer before speaking. Ichoron looked to him, nervously waiting for an answer. McCarthy drew out his long pause. It was another one of his subtle power games – making Ichoron wait in suspense. Finally, he let out a long sigh and answered.
“This is what happens when I let others conduct my research instead of traveling south of the forest and doing it myself. This situation is unfortunate, but by no means irreparable. I will send Kyzella to recapture the boy.”
“My lord, I can collect the boy for you,” he insisted.
McCarthy shook his head. “Kyzella can travel just as quickly over land as you – she may even be faster. I need you to return to the southeastern procession. You must execute the three soldiers who failed to conduct my experiment. This is their punishment, and I cannot have anyone else knowing the location of the ruins.”
Ichoron nodded. “As you wish, my lord.”
Behind the angel, the study door opened again. The servant poked his face through the crack.
“My lords, King Valen wishes to speak with you.”
“We’ll see him right now,” McCarthy said.
This was unfortunate. King Valen was a man who didn’t take kindly to bad news. He wouldn’t be happy to hear Ichoron’s update.
The angel turned but didn’t make a move to leave the study. McCarthy stepped forward and pushed the door open. Ichoron followed. Another ritual that he had impressed upon the boy. McCarthy led Ichoron up several flights of stairs to one of the castle’s upper floors. He paused before two wide oak doors. McCarthy again prepared himself to participate in another ritual. He pushed the doors open and entered King Valen’s throne room.
The king sat on a throne made of elegantly crafted silver metal. His weight was supported by soft, velvet cushions. King Valen was still young – perhaps in his late thirties. Rumor said that he’d only been twenty-one when he’d claimed the throne. He had long black hair. He’d brushed it so that it hung limply off the side of his head. A thin gold crown held it in place. The king was of average height, not as tall as McCarthy. He made up for this by placing his throne on an elevated stone platform at the end of his throne room. The platform was raised a few feet off the ground, so that even while seated, he could look down on McCarthy – one of King Valen’s own mind games.
McCarthy and Ichoron knelt down on one knee and bowed their heads as they entered. McCarthy waited until several moments had passed before rising. The angel followed his lead.
“Ichoron, you must have urgent news if you ran here by yourself instead of sending a messenger.” The king’s voice was deep and powerful, easily filling the large chamber.
Ichoron proceeded to relay his news to King Valen. The king’s face twisted downward in a slight frown as the boy spoke. When Ichoron finished, King Valen was silent. Someone else might have thought that he was mulling his options over in his head; however, McCarthy knew that the king had already decided what he was going to say the second Ichoron had stopped speaking. He was using McCarthy’s own trick against him. McCarthy took a deep breath and fought to avoid letting the king’s drawn-out silence perturb him. Finally, King Valen responded.
“This is troubling news. McCarthy, will this put me behind schedule?”
McCarthy considered lying or hiding some of the details but decided against it. King Valen would know if he hadn’t been truthful. It was impossible to lie to him.
“Yes, my king. It will delay Everin’s development, but only by a few days. I’m sending Kyzella to collect him, and the experiment will be able to continue shortly.”
The king nodded and looked over to Ichoron. “Leave us,” he said.
The angel bowed to his king and exited the throne room.
King Valen turned his penetrating gaze on McCarthy. “You understand that I’m working on a very precise schedule?”
“Yes, my king.”
“And you remember that you promised it was safe to announce my intention to go to war because this experiment would be finished in time?”
“Yes, my king.”
King Valen nodded. “Well then let me just say it again for emphasis. Meronne’s spies have surely reported that I’m gathering troops. I cannot back out of a war now. I’m giving you a week to get this experiment back on track. I cannot have you executed, McCarthy. You’re too valuable to me. But I can punish you in other ways.”
McCarthy fought to keep himself from shuddering, because he knew that was exactly the reaction that Valen was hoping for. More than once, he’d sent the angels to the king for punishment. McCarthy controlled the angels through carefully planned rituals. King Valen controlled them through fear. He was perhaps the only man on earth who could hurt them.
“Yes, my king. I understand.”
King Valen nodded. “Very well. You may return to your work. Don’t disappoint me, McCarthy.”
“I won’t, my king.”
Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-10-everin/