Good morning all and thanks for stopping by to read Chapter Fifty of The Cursed King. I am so close to finishing the book that I have never written slower in my life. I have only a thousand or so words left to write of the Epilogue, which is crazy to me! It feels great to be almost finished, though I think part of the reason I am slowing down at this point is to enjoy the world for a little bit longer. I’ve spent so much time thinking about it the past few years that even though I desperately need to take a break from it, it is still hard to let it go.
In today’s Chapter (and Nadir’s final chapter of the book), Nadir awakens from his ordeal in the underground home of The Ravens. As Nadir explores these tunnels with an old friend, he learns what has truly been happening to him this year, and finally attains a lead on his mother’s wherabouts. Thanks for reading and Chapter Fifty-One will be posted on February 12th.
For the first time in months, Nadir slept through the night with ease. Though his dreams were relentless and his mind raced, the total darkness around him allowed him to drift back to his rest quickly whenever he was awoken. Nadir had never been afraid of the dark as some other children were. Nadir had seen far worse things in the light than he had ever experienced under cover of darkness. When the light finally entered the room, it was Stillius who stood at the door dressed in his brown habit with a kind smile across his lips.
“I trust you are well-rested?” He asked Nadir.
“How long have I been asleep?”
“A while. We call this the tranquillity chamber. No light or sound can get in or out. It is incredibly peaceful for a time, but spend too long in here and it will drive you mad.”
The idea of madness made Nadir recall what happened before he had fallen asleep. He remembered what happened in the King’s Hall, how Effei and Asher murdered Jerimeh and Aron, and how he screamed as he was pulled away by Stillius. All Nadir felt was guilt, and all he could wonder was why the Gods had spared him and not the Arkgodson or the King. What have I done to deserve to be spared death over them? He wondered. Then, he looked up at Stillius.
“Jerimeh is dead,” he admitted with as much guilt as if he had stabbed the Arkgodsom himself.
“I know,” Stillius said. “It was his time.”
“How can you say that?”
“My uncle was an old man, Nadir. You cannot know what it is like to live to such an age, to see what he has seen, to go through what he has gone through, and to carry that weight along with the ailments that come with elder life. The circumstances around it I hoped would have been different, but all the same, he would have been dead by the end of the year. I am sorry if that upsets you.”
“Effei killed him,” Nadir growled.
“I know. We know everything that goes on in Harthelm, Nadir, don’t you worry.”
“What are we going to do about it? King Aron is dead. Jerimeh is dead. We need to make sure that people know!”
“Are you not tired of these politics, Nadir? Do you not wish to escape from all of that?”
“Jerimeh was my friend. He was your uncle. We owe it to him.”
“What we owe Jerimeh is to continue as he would have wanted us to. Nadir, do you know where you are right now?”
“The Tranquillity Chamber,” Nadir rolled his eyes.
If Stillius was annoyed at Nadir’s impertinence, he certainly did not show it. “Let me show you around,” he smiled.
Stillius and Nadir walked side by side through the narrow tunnels. It was incredibly dark with lanterns every few yards or so. It took Nadir a while to realise that after some time walking, the tunnels had been carved deeper in some areas to accommodate bookshelves, and each one hosted thick, leather-bound books. On either side of the corridor were chambers with heavy oak doors. Some of them were closed, but some were open, and when Nadir peered in, he saw men and women dressed just like Stillius. Almost all of the time he looked into the room, it was someone either reading or writing, but occasionally he came across something more interesting. He saw a wolf in a cage, or a room full of weapons, or alchemists mixing potions. The more they walked, and the more Nadir looked, the more bizarre the rooms became.
“What is this place?” Nadir finally asked, but Stillius did not answer immediately. Eventually, they reached the end of the corridor, that brought them to a large central circle. The circle had four corridors. Each one was labelled with a letter. There was an N, a W, an S, and the tunnel that Nadir and Stillius emerged from was an E. In the centre was a fountain of water surrounded by marble benches. Nadir could not believe that such a large and elaborate space existed underground. This place was exceptionally lit, as if they were outside, and as Nadir looked above him, he realised that they were indeed seeing natural light. Although they were deep underground, Nadir could see the sky. “I don’t understand,” he said aloud.
Stillius looked up too. “Incredible, isn’t it? I was mesmerised too when I first came here and saw it.”
“Is that actually the sky?” Nadir asked.
“Yes…and no,” Stillius replied. “It is the sky somewhere, but not right where we are. Perhaps it would be easier for me to show you,” Stillius said and continued into the circle. Between each corridor were doors that seemingly led to more rooms. Stillius led Nadir to a room which had a sign which said ‘North East’. Stillius opened the door and inside was almost empty, except for a central beacon that took up most of the space in the centre. The beacon consisted of a fire pit that circled around the inner cylinder. The fire pit was made of brick and was filled with coals, and high above them was nothing but darkness, but Nadir assumed there was an exit point for the smoke far above. The cylinder was a material that Nadir could not quite comprehend. It looked like water, but it was solid. It was still, yet constantly moving. He had never seen anything like it.
“What is this?” Nadir asked.
“You have dreams, Nadir. Do you not?”
“Dreams are a funny thing. They are the creations of our souls. Completely our own, completely within us, inaccessible to the outside world…and yet.”
“And yet they are also a conduit of communication. This, Nadir, is what we call a Conduit. It is like a dream, in that, it allows us to communicate with people far away. I know about the dreams you’ve been having, Nadir. And I know what you saw the night that you killed Eiruc Garrison.”
Nadir was struck. He was frozen in place and did not know what to say. He just stood dumbfounded. “I…I,” he started, but could not seem to form words.
“You are a boy, Nadir. A boy who had his mother taken from him. Taken from him by privileged, arrogant young men who wanted to play at war. You do not have to answer for your crimes here. You certainly do not have to answer for them to me.”
Nadir could not help but feel a slight moment of relief. “How did you know?”
“Are you still asking that question, Nadir? Seeing everything that you are seeing, knowing everything you know,” Stillius said, not unkindly.
“Effei told me about The Order of Ravens. He told me that you are a secret society that know everything about the world.”
Stillius laughed. “He is half-right, I suppose. Though having all the world’s knowledge would be handy. In truth, we are dedicated to knowledge, but knowledge without action is useless. In that, we are far more than just a university.”
“What do you mean?”
“Allow me to show you. You remember the beam of light that you saw. You remember the woman who told you to find her? You know who that was?”
Nadir shook his head.
“It was your mother, Nadir.”
“My mother?” He said, “no, it couldn’t have been. Her face was…”
“Distorted? Mangled? I admit, it is not the perfect form of communication, as it is incredibly difficult to understand and utilise. To portray the images one would like, certain sacrifices must be made. The Conduit, however, is much more sophisticated. It is capable of far more than dreams, which are often chaotic and difficult to control. The Conduit on the other hand, is still, and does not have a mind of its own. Would you like to see?”
Nadir stared at the cylinder, unsure of how this thing could perform such magic, but wary of it nonetheless. For a moment, Nadir remembered his simpler life. He remembered playing swords again with Anton, listening to Enid’s stories and being chastised by his mother for not doing his work. He thought of all that had changed since he was taken from his home, all that he had done, and he realised in that moment that he would never get that back. The only thing close to that he would ever have again was his mother.
“Will it show me my mother?” Nadir asked.
“This is a magic that few are able to channel, Nadir. Only a few Ravens have both the gift and the knowledge to utilise such powerful magic, and outside of our organisation, far, far fewer. For whatever reason, I believe that your mother is one of those rare people.”
Nadir waited for a moment. “You said that sacrifices needed to be made. What did you mean?”
“Our vessels are not just houses for our souls. They become part of them. The Scriptures will have us think that our soul is everything and the body is meaningful only until death, but we believe this to be wrong. The body becomes part of the soul through life, the soul leaves its mark on the body. Our flesh, blood and bone are anointed with the properties of our souls. In order for souls to communicate via the light, these properties must be given to it. When you killed Eiruc, you gave his body to the light, and the light carried your mother’s message to you.”
Nadir panicked. “I do not want to kill again, Stillius. I do not want to hurt anyone.”
Stillius smiled. “There is no need, Nadir. For this, I am happy to sacrifice a little of my body so that you may see your mother again. It is the least I can do.”
Stillius pulled a blade from his pocket and held his palm over the coals and elegantly swiped the knife across it. As soon as his blood dripped onto the coals, a great fire encircled the conduit and a beam of piercing white light shot up out of the cylinder and projected up towards the darkness. Then, the fire rose higher and higher until it began to form shapes that danced violently, threatening to set the entire room ablaze. Then, Stillius lifted Nadir’s chin up towards the ceiling, where for the first time in almost a year, Nadir saw his mother’s face in the light as clear as the day when they were separated.
“Nadir,” a voice came from the light. “Nadir, this is your mother. I am speaking to you through the fire, in the hopes that you one day find the means to use your gift. You must find me, Nadir. You must go south across the desert. You must continue across the sea to the thousand islands. You must meet me there. Find me, Nadir. Find me.
In a flash, the flames burned out and the light was gone. Nadir realised that his face was awash with tears and that he had just seen his mother. He turned to Stillius, who was occupied with bandaging his hand. “I have to go! I know where she is. She is in the Molten Isles. The thousand islands. She is there. I need to go now!”
Stillius did not contest Nadir, nor did he try to quieten him. Instead, Stillius sat down on the brick that surrounded the hot coals and invited Nadir to do the same. It was such an innocuous gesture that Nadir felt immediately disarmed. He found himself hoisting himself up to the brick to sit beside the Raven. Nadir looked at him expectantly and waited for the older man to say something deeply profound to put him at ease. Instead, Stillius pushed his palm into the coals. Instinctively, Nadir gripped Stillius’ arm and tried to pull it away. For a moment, Nadir’s struggle met brief resistance until Stillius calmly lifted his palm from the coal. Nadir winced as he lifted his hand and saw the sore red skin. “Why did you do that?” Nadir asked.
“Now you try,” Stillius replied, his face unchanged from his confident smile.
“I don’t understand,” Nadir said.
“You will. Trust me, Nadir. Put your hand on the coal. I promise that no harm will come to you.”
Nadir looked down at the coals and hovered his hand over them. He looked back up at Stillius for confirmation. He did not want to feel the pain as Stillius had, and did not understand why he wanted him to do this, but after all he had seen, after all that had happened in the past few moments, he felt entangled in a web that he knew he would not be released from unless he complied. As he pushed his hand into the coals, he felt the heat, but as he reached closer, he found that the heat remained steady. When he finally touched the coals, he felt a sharp sensation through his fingers. Nadir felt the heat when his village was burned to the ground, he felt the sharp sensation through his skin when he was close to Enid’s burning home, but he also realised that this was not what everyone else felt when they were close to fire, close to extreme heat. As anyone would do, Nadir avoided getting too close to fire. He was taught that he would be hurt by it, that it would do to him what it had just done to Stillius. Now though, Nadir realised that he was squeezing the coal tight. When he dropped it back into the coal pit, he turned his palm around and realised that there was no pain, no damage. It was as though he had not touched it at all.
“What is happening, Stillius? How did you know I would not be burned?”
“In truth, Nadir, I was not. But I had to be sure, and you had to do it voluntarily. There is a magic running through this world. Many things which we do not yet understand, but that the Ravens dedicate their lives to. It is a demanding existence, but it is wonderful when we learn the ways in which our world works. Our souls are exceptional. Immortal. Though there are some souls, very few, which were created for a far greater purpose. I believe that your soul is one of those.”
It was then that Nadir had a realisation. “When we met last year in the forest. Did you know then?”
“That you were special? Oh no, we did not.”
“Why were you there then?”
“We were called there…a similar message to the one you just saw…sent by the same woman. Your mother, Nadir. The night your village was burned to the ground, she found a way to contact us.”
“What did she say? Why did you not tell me?”
“Well, firstly, we did not know you were her son. She just said that there is a lost boy in the forest with a gift whom we must find and protect. I did not begin to think she was your mother until you were in Harthelm, and I began hearing stories of people dreaming of her all over the Twin Kingdsoms. Your mother is powerful and relentless. I do not know how she came about this gift, but it is truly incredible. I am sorry that I did not tell you, but it needed to be at a time when you were ready to hear it, when you were safe.”
“I am sick of secrets, Stillius. Everyone keeps lying to me, and all I have wanted to do is find my mother. It is not fair, and I will not do anything else for anyone until I am allowed to find her.”
“I understand, Nadir, and you are free to go when you please, but it is dangerous out there and it will be for some time. There are wars throughout The Twin Kingdoms and Amenti, fleets of ships across the seas. I would like you to find your mother, but you will need a force behind you, you will need to be trained in our art of moving without detection, and in the meantime, I can teach you how to channel this gift – not just to receive messages, but to send them.”
“I could contact my mother? Let her know I am okay.”
“More than that, Nadir! We can contact your mother and find out exactly where she is. The Thousand Islands are named so because there are so many volcanic islands in the Molten Isles. It could take a lifetime to find her. But if we can find out exactly where she is, then we have a far greater chance of finding the exact island where she is.”
“People have been promising me that they will find my mother for almost a year. You included. None of you have found her, and I keep getting pulled into your games. Now, you tell me that I am special. That I have a gift that can help me find my mother. How can I trust you? How do I know this is not just another way for you to use me for your politics?”
“I’m afraid I do not have the words to convince you, Nadir. Jerimeh and I, we especially betrayed your trust, and I am terribly sorry for that. Perhaps, if I told you more. Perhaps if I told you about my own reasons for wanting to get you back to your mother. Then, maybe, you could trust me again. What would you say to that? If I agree to tell you what I need you for, will you help me?”
Nadir thought to himself for a moment. He did not truly know what the Ravens’ plans were for him, nor did he care. His only motivation was tied up in finding his mother, but if he knew all of their plans, if he knew why they wanted him to learn how to use this power so badly, then perhaps it would all make sense. The one thing he did know was that every moment he wasted was another moment that he was estranged from the only family he had left in the world.
“Yes,” Nadir finally said. “If you tell me everything, then I will help you.”