6 — The regent’s request
Arisé: The Hands of the Maker — chapter 6
Operetto’s theatre was a huge rotunda. It was located near the main avenue of the commercial district, taking a whole city block. The entire perimeter of the structure was decorated with scenes from famous works, which had been sculpted in high relief on the white stone walls, and the domed glass crown of the building was a canvas to abstract paintings.
The interior was all the more lavish. Long crimson and gold velvet curtains fell from the ceiling to the vast stage, before which was a great crevice housing the orchestra. Lines upon lines of staggered seats accommodated the impeccably dressed audience. The private boxes were located high above the sides of the stage, one of them reserved to Mist, Beltrant and Allegra.
“Let’s see if this will really change my mind about musicals,” Beltrant said to Mist when they settled on the seats with tall backrests.
“You’ll want to see it again,” Allegra claimed. “Look, the lights are dimming.”
When the brilliance of the chandeliers pending from the dome went out and the curtains were opened, Beltrant let out a blissful sigh. The revealed set was magnificent, filled with a thousand flowers in many colors and majestic trees bearing gemstone-like fruits. At the center, a marble fountain chiseled in the shape of a winged woman, a thin string of water pouring from her lips to fuse with the lights.
As the actors declaimed and sang the story of a love that surpassed the boundaries of life, Mist’s mind drifted far away. Everything his focus fell upon was related to Shine and Alma. Although his eyes seemed fixed on the stage, they only captured empty movement. His ears caught music and voices, but couldn’t turn them into words and melodies
Mist was pulled from his mental vortex by the vigorous applause that echoed in the theatre at the close of the final act. Beltrant was standing up, whistling loudly with two fingers inserted in her mouth. Mist clapped discreetly and went out of the box, followed by his friends. All he wanted was to lie down and be left alone with his mind. Fortunately for him, Allegra was tired and didn’t inquire anything before saying goodbye and taking a cab home. A private Palace vehicle was waiting for Mist and Beltrant in front of the theatre.
“It was wonderful, Mist, amazing!” Beltrant lauded on the way back, much too excited to notice Mist wasn’t in a very talkative mood.”
“I’m glad you liked it,” the prince said with a feeble smile and resumed his watch of the city lights.
“These last few days were unbelievable. The girls back home are totally going wild when I tell them I saw The Garden of Ivory Roses from a private box at Operetto’s theatre, sitting beside Mist De’Hearet!”
The more Mist tried, the less he could listen to two words of what Beltrant spoke. He smiled and assented when perceiving a pause but, just like during the play, his head was drowning in a sea of unanswered questions.
“Do you mind if I go to bed now, Beltrant?” Mist asked when they arrived at the Palace.
“Go ahead. You must be really tired judging by how you didn’t hear a word I was saying on the way here,” Beltrant said laughing.
Before Mist could feel embarrassed by her reply, something caught his attention. A big flying vehicle with white bodywork was parked by the front door, the words “Cecht Clinic” painted in green on the sides. Mist’s heart skipped. Instinctively, he darted into the Palace, leaving a startled Beltrant behind. Somehow, the prince knew exactly why that ambulance was there. His suspicions were confirmed when he neared Shine’s room and bumped into two humongous men in white guarding the door. Mist didn’t even look at them; his hand went right to the knob. However, he was stopped by a strong pull on each of his arms.
“Let go!” he shouted, trying to free himself from the gargantuan nurses.
“Please, calm down, sir,” said one of the big men.
“It’s my father in there!” Mist yelled furiously and in vain. Accepting that he would never outdo his captors, he stopped struggling.
“That’s much better,” the giants said in unison, freeing the prince’s arms.
Mist was shaking in anxiety and frustration. He made an effort to control his emotions and try to engage in rational conversation:
“What happened to him? Please, tell me what’s wrong with my father.”
“We still don’t know. We received an emergency call from the Palace an hour ago.”
“Who’s with him?”
“Doctor Cecht insisted on taking care of the regent himself. Your father is at the hands of the best, sir.”
“When will I be able to see him?”
“We can’t say how long the doctor will take. We think it would be best if you went to bed now,” the two nurses talked together again.
“I’d rather stay here.”
Mist walked back and forth though the corridor. After half an hour, which felt like forever, he leaned on the wall and let his body slip to the floor. There he remained, his eyes glued to a random point in the wall. The prince wouldn’t be able to tell how long he waited with the nurses, without making a sound. Eventually, the bedroom door was opened from the inside, and Mist jumped up.
The man who came out was as tall as the nurses, but extremely thin, which gave him a strangely elongated aspect. His face exhibited lines deepened by age, and his eyes were of a very dark shade of blue, hidden by hirsute eyebrows which were as grayed as his hair.
“Doctor Cecht!” said Mist as soon as the doctor closed the door behind him.
‘Mist,” said Dian Cecht, facing the prince in dead seriousness.
“What happened doctor? Is he going to be ok?” Mist inquired, unconsciously holding the doctor’s arm.
“Your father is stable, for now. He wishes to see you, but he asked me to provide some explanations first,” Dian turned to the nurses and added: “In private.”
The two huge men left them alone, and the doctor addressed the prince:
“So?” Mist said, rubbing his hands anxiously.
“Where to start…” The doctor gathered his thoughts for an instant, mumbling something to himself, trying to organize ideas in a manner comprehensible by a less instructed listener.
“Very well, young man, I’ll try to put this in the simplest way possible. You’re familiar with the concept of antimagic, are you not?”
“Sort of. It’s bad magic, right? What does that have to do with my father?
“Everything. The regent fell victim to a very complex antimagic spell. I would hazard to say that was the most difficult case I’ve ever encountered. I can’t say what’s the source of it, but I’m certain it’s someone extremely skillful.”
“So it’s because of this spell he was acting so strangely?”
“Precisely. Your father is currently suffering an antimagical possession. Whoever is casting it wants to take control of the regent’s body and mind.”
“So that’s what it was.” Weirdly, Mist felt great relief under the anguish that dominated him. “And how do we counter it? How do we undo the spell?
“Normally, there is no way around it. After the caster ended the spell, Shine’s body and mind would be left damaged beyond any repair, and he would die.”
“What?” The prince’s eyes widened.
“I said normally. Your father happens to be a very strong man, physically and mentally. He is resisting the spell. His mind is still in control of his body, which explains the behavioral oscillations. Whoever is responsible for the spell must be really frustrated.”
“This means he’s going to get better, right?”
“Wrong. While the source of the spell exerts any control over the regent, he is going to be a danger to himself. If the person so wishes, they can induce the regent to destroy his own body. Fortunately, we can take precautions to avoid such a scenario. A tad rudimentary, I would say, but perfectly effective.”
“Precautions,” Mist asked, finding the doctor’s tone scary. Dian opened the bedroom door.
“Your father wants to speak to you. See for yourself.”
The room was dark, the curtains covering the windows completely. Shine’s state terrified the prince. The regent was tied to his bed by five thick metal belts over his torso, forbidding virtually any movement from his arms and neck. His gray eyes were wide open, stuck to the ceiling. When Mist got close, he saw his father’s face was livid, the sweat dripping from his forehead and temples.
“Mist,” Shine called in a low and feeble voice, but it was undoubtedly his voice.
“It’s me, I’m here, father,” Mist answered, kneeling beside the bed.
“Son, I don’t have much time. You’ll have to listen to me, and you’ll have to do as I say. There will be no time to question me. Do you understand?” Each new word seemed harder for the regent to utter.
“I do,” Mist replied, feeling cornered.
“There’s an envelope over the nightstand,” Shine turned his eyes to his left, on the direction of the cupboard beside his bed. “You will take that to Brilho Demond, in Merald. You should by no means open it, and you won’t ask me now what’s inside.”
Mist swallowed the question at the tip of his tongue. He couldn’t understand what was going on and, since he was forbidden to ask, he simply took the envelope and nodded.
“I cannot trust anyone else with this, Mist. I’m sorry, but it will be this way. I promise you’ll understand everything when you get to Merald. Now answer me: is Beltrant Topaz still in town?”
“Yes, she is. She plans to leave first thing in the morning.”
“You’re going with her, then. But before, I need you to swear me…” Shine closed his eyes with strain that twisted his face. “Swear me that, if I go after you, you’ll run away, far away, without a second glace and…no thinking…you will go to Brilho!”
“What are you talking about?” Mist asked desperate, both his hands over the metal belts over Shine’s chest.
“Do you swear?” Shine roared, staring at his son as if that were the last thing he would ever do.
“I…I swear,” Mist said, not knowing why.
“Great,” Shine said, his voice weakened again. He closed his eyes and apparently fell into a deep sleep.
Mist gazed at his father, letting a torrent of questions sweep everything else from his mind. When he gathered himself to turn his back at Shine and step towards the door, a heart-stopping scream reverberated through the air. Shine was flouncing on his bed like a furious animal.
“COME BACK HERE NOW, BRAT!” a primal voice yelled through the regent’s mouth.
The nurses and the doctors stormed into the room. One of the giant men tightened the belts that kept Shine fastened to the bed, while the other stuck a needle in his neck without an ounce of finesse, injecting some coarse fluid directly into his jugular. The doctor pushed Mist out of the room hurriedly.
“Is he going to be ok, doctor?” the prince asked, watching the scene as his whole body shook.
“We’ll take care of everything, young man.” The doctor slammed the door at his face.
An envelope and a world of questions. The brief moments of relief that dr. Cecht had given Mist when he clarified what was wrong with Shine already seemed infinitely distant. The prince stood there, thinking of everything and nothing at the same time, trying to lay a minimum of order upon the mess in his head.
The screams ceased, and a serene voice brought him back to his person.
“Mist, how was it?” Mandië asked, approaching him with Beltrant at her side.
“Dr. Cecht and those two mountains he calls nurses are there with father. The doctor said…” And Mist repeated the doctor’s explanations and the request Shine had made him.
“By Tân!” Beltrant said, frightened. “Who would want to possess the regent?”
“I have no idea,” Mist answered in frustration. “But I guess father and Brilho Demond know something about it. Problem is, father forbid me to open the envelope before handing it to mr. Demond.”
“And when and how do you intend to go to Merald?” Mandie inquired.
“Beltrant is going back there tomorrow morning. Father said I should go with her.”
“You bet you will,” Beltrant said, putting a hand over Mist’s shoulder. She then addressed Mandie: “We will take the train at Demando’s south bank and get off at the last station. My dad runs an inn near there…” She described to the advisor the route they would take to Merald, as she had done to Mist earlier.
“Are you sure about this? I can try to book a travel skyship,” Mandië began, and was promptly interrupted by Mist.
“I have to go as fast as I can, Mandië,” he argued in a grave tone. “That’s what father asked me to do. Don’t worry, Beltrant is Brilho Demond’s personal bodyguard, I’ll be perfectly safe with her.”
“I can see your mind is set,” said the advisor, the smile in her lips in contrast with the concern her dark eyes displayed. “I won’t get in your way, but I’ll make some preparations to help you on your trip. If you excuse me…”
As soon as Mandië left them, Mist and Beltrant went to the prince’s room. He had never made such a long trip before and was clueless on how to start making his arrangements. But he had an expert at arm’s length.
“First, you’ll need clothes. Are you packing a bag or using a reductor?” Beltrant asked.
“I’ve got a reductor I almost never touched. I think I put it somewhere around here.” The prince combed through the drawers in his nightstand. “Here.” He showed a compact circle-shaped device.
Mist took some clothes out of his closet and put them over his bed. After pressing some buttons, he laid the reductor over each piece, and one by one they were undone to be redone in much smaller size inside the device. When Beltrant concluded that Mist had everything he would need for the journey in order, she waved him good night and told him to be up and ready at daybreak.
Mist lay down, but his mind kept awake and working fullsteam. Only then he started to effectively sift through his impressions about the last few hours. He had finally found out the reason behind Shine’s strange behavior. In his heart he had always known the regent would never act that way. But who the hell was responsible for the possession? To the prince, Shine had no enemies. He couldn’t think of anyone who would mean bad for his father. And then there was that envelope. What was so important that he had to take it to Brilho Demond in such a hurry?
His rest was made of only brief moments of agitated sleep.
Beltrant rose before the sun. She got dressed for the trip and covered herself with her long scarlet cape. Keeping her spear in her reductor, she left the guestroom and closed the door behind her with a heavy heart. Her abridasedian dream ended there. There was no time for yearning, though. Now she had one more reason to get to Merald as fast as she could. Who would have thought that she would get back home in the company of Mist De Hearet! She understood fully well the gravity of the situation, but it was hard not to wonder about her friends’ reactions when they saw her waking around with the prince of Abridased.
Beltrant got so lost in her imagination that she totally missed the person who was walking towards her.
“I’d say we’re even.”
She recognized the voice of the young man who she had bumped into, but the face confused her. It was Mist, but with something changed. The white hair that yesterday fell over his back now wasn’t even touching his shoulders.
“Mist, but why?” she asked.
“I think I’ll be less recognized like this,” Mist explained, running a hand through his white strands. “It would be a hassle to be approached by people asking why I’m traveling to Merald.”
“You’re right,” Beltrant nodded. “It’s nice.” She smiled.
“You think?” The prince reddened slightly.
“I’m sure Allegra will love it,” Beltrant said, as if reading his innermost thoughts. “Did you tell her you’re going on a trip?”
“I couldn’t reach her yesterday. Do you think she’ll mind too much?” Mist asked with concern.
“She’ll get it. You won’t stay away for long, anyway.”
The first igneous beams were shooting up in the east, driving away the nightly shades from the sky when they crossed the Palace doors. They could look forward to a warm and clear first day of journey. The sirena that would take them to the city was ready at the station, and Mist thought it was odd that Klopras wasn’t the conductor assigned to it. It was the first time someone else drove him through the aquatunnel, and this substitute didn’t have even a spark of the usual conductor’s charisma.
Mist and Beltrant found a Palace hover waiting for them near the residential district station. As they were taken to the city south exit, Mist woke up to the fact that he was about to leave his home in a trip to a completely new place, something he had longed to do since he could remember. Suddenly, he felt butterflies in his stomach, and a feeling of anticipation like no other he had felt until then took over his heart. For some precious moments, he forgot about his worries and wondered only about what awaited for him on his way to the city of Merald.
“Advisor Silvenis asked me to be at your service for as long as you need, sir. Are you sure you don’t want a ride to the Demando bridge?” the hover driver asked when they arrived at the south exit.
“I knew Mandië was to blame for you,” Mist joked. “It’s just a fifteen minute walk, I’d rather enjoy it on foot, if you don’t mind,” Mist said and closed the vehicle door, dismissing the driver.
“Mist, we have company,” Beltrant warned.
There were two people walking towards them. A very short man with a smile that almost wouldn’t fit in his face, waving joyfully, and a young woman who wasn’t much taller than him and had pale skin and black hair.
“Klopras, what are you doing here this early? And you’re, you’re Alma,” the prince said with a perplexed look.
“Good day y’all!” Klopras saluted, with unbelievably good spirits for that time in the morning. “It seems like you’ll be having two more travel companions.”
“What, you’re going with us?” asked the prince.
“Advisor Silvenis discharged us of our duties temporarily so we could accompany you to Merald.”
Mist knew Mandië would never let him go on a trip without someone there to watch over him. He was certain that Klopras would report his every move to her, but couldn’t bring himself to say anything about it. He understood her concern, and besides, Klopras was always excellent company. It was Alma’s presence that was making him apprehensive. The prince still felt bad for the way he had treated her.
“Alma, do you really want go with me on this trip?” Mist asked her, prepared for a refusal.
The young woman lifted her head, but still avoided to look Mist in the eye.
“I was the one who asked the advisor to let me come with Klopras, sir. I want to help the regent in any way I can after all the trouble I caused him.”
“You didn’t cause anything,” said the prince. Alma was the last person who should be feeling guilty in the whole thing.
“Please, sir, I…I need to do this,” the maid said, and for once her black eyes stared into Mist’s. “On behalf of all the people that really like the regent at the Palace. It’s going to be a great honor to help you with your task.”
At this moment, Mist felt overwhelmed with the best feelings towards Alma. After everything she had been put through, all she concerned herself with was Shine’s well-being. Mist smiled and gave Alma a sincere hug, making the young woman give out a surprised sigh.
“The honor is entirely mine, Alma. Thank you so much,” the prince said. Alma was unable to answer him.
“The more, the merrier, isn’t it so?” Klopras said all jolly.
“It sure is,” the prince agreed on the same note. “So, are we ready to leave? I’ve got to get to Merald as soon as I can. Father is trusting me on this.