Dawn of Destiny - Start Reading Now!
Julianne watched the display, her expression unreadable. She didn’t react when a small girl, dressed in white, took a shot to the chest. Bright red blossomed on the girl’s white robes and she fell, eyes wide open in fear and shock.
Faceless guards with magical weapons shot down mystics without remorse. Juliane watched. The victims tried to fight, evidenced by hands to heads and furious looks of concentration. Still, they fell.
Only when there was no one left to fight back did the illusion finally fade, dissipating into thin air to reveal the solid stone walls of the Mystic Temple. Thunder boomed in the distance, causing more than one spectator to shudder.
This was the third scenario Julianne had sat through tonight. She had returned to the Heights some months ago after helping to free the nearby city Arcadia from Adrien, a physical mage turned dictator. Since then, tensions in the Mystic Temple were high.
As a group, mystics were generally peace loving and quite isolated. This was the first time in memory they had involved themselves in the politics of nearby Arcadia. Or, Julianne thought wryly, she had involved them. As the strongest among them and their leader, she was the one who had masqueraded as a city guard to help bring down Adrien, and the corrupt nobles who followed him.
“This is our fate, if we do nothing.” Jonsen, a mystic of middling power but much ambition, nodded to the small girl that weaved the image he’d projected in his mind. He smirked, confident he’d made a mark on the watchers and convinced them of the danger that lay ahead if they did nothing, if they refused to arm themselves and prepare for war.
He wasn’t a warmonger, far from it. Until recently, Julianne would have picked him to side with the pacifists, to push for the laying down of weapons in favour of submission. Still, the preceding months had been tough on all of them, and some of her mystics had undergone similar changes.
Zoe was a master storycrafter, her skill honed through years of practise. Jonsen had used that skill to project his images. The entire hall had watched, mesmerised, as his thoughts took shape through her magic. Zoe, eyes white as she worked her magic, had shown them a picture of the Mystic Temple as it was set upon by Arcadians using the lethal weapons Adrien created before his demise.
While the scene unfolded, Jonsen narrated it. He began with truth, recreating a scene that was etched into the mind of every mystic who had been present the night they had been attacked.
The emissaries from Arcadia had seemed benign at first glance, but it hadn’t taken long for one of the mystic guards to slip inside one of the Arcadian’s heads. Their leader quickly realised and all hell broke loose. An Arcadian shot a mystic, and Julianne had, with the help of Ezekiel, gone into battle mode.
Jonsen didn’t touch on the fact that the Arcadians had been looking for Ezekiel, and Julianne was glad. Even the most timid among them would never turn away someone in need. That night, Julianne and Zeke had shut down the attack, but Jonsen put forth a different version. What would have happened if Julianne and Zeke hadn’t been here to protect them?
Carnage, according to the illusions crafted from his story; the annihilation of the mystics and absolute rule by a despicable man for the rest of the nation.
“And that, my fellow mystics, is why we need to begin training at once. Our defenses are low, we have taken peace for granted far too long. The next time we are attacked may be our last.” Jonsen slammed one fist into his palm, with a look of righteous determination. “We must not allow that to happen.”
Julianne pushed past her migraine to touch the minds around her. Jonsen’s confidence was contagious and more than a few minds held whispers of support for his idea. Still, some resisted. Sensing his time to speak was up, Jonsen walked back to sit at his table.
Julianne didn’t react when someone leaned close to whisper in her ear. “I have a handful of coins that say Thomas will beat Melanie to the floor.”
“Danil, this isn’t the time for wagers.” Julianne turned to her companion, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Even during this mess, his tone was light.
Danil smiled, his freckled face turned just a bit too far to the left. When he saw that she’d noticed, he adjusted, using his mind reading ability to compensate for his blindness. “It is exactly the time for wagers. Quick… they’re both about to stand.”
“Melanie,” Julianne said quickly, turning back to watch the room.
Thomas stood and Danil smiled, his grin dropping when Melanie saw she was about to be beaten and shot to her feet. She pushed Thomas aside and hurried into the center of the room.
“I request the right to speak,” she called out. The angry waves of emotion that boiled from her contradicted the call for peace she was about to make. “And I request the same boon from Zoe that was given to Jonsen.”
Zoe sighed and nodded. Julianne briefly touched on the girl’s mind.
I’ve got the energy to spare, Zoe said in Julianne’s mind. And now I’m a few coins richer. Danil lost to both of us.
Julianne was too far away to see the twinkle in Zoe’s eyes but knew it was there. She stifled a snort into her cup.
“I know, not the time. Especially with an empty purse,” Danil moaned.
“Don’t play poor with me, Danil.” Julianne gave him a jab with her elbow. “I know how often you lose, and it’s not enough to claim poor after one bad bet.”
The grin crept back over Danil’s face. He was her best friend and a damn good mystic, but his love of games often drove her mad. “True. But I think I’ll hold off on any more wagers for now. Too evenly split.” He slid back in his chair, letting the dark hair of his fringe flop over his face.
As Melanie took the center of the dining hall, she whispered a word to weave a little magic to make sure all the mystics were attuned to her words. She couldn’t directly improve their hearing, but she could make them force their attention on her words.
She stood tall, her dark eyes glittering in the light. Julianne stifled a groan. Melanie brought her as much angst as Danil brought joy. Bloody woman would argue about the need for dinner if we let her, Julianne mused, the thought shielded from her mind-reading companions.
They’d often butted heads. Though Melanie was one of the senior mystics and the one in charge of their student component, Julianne still outranked her. Of course, Julianne outranked everyone.
Though there seemed to be no animosity in it, Melanie had made it her mission to ensure Julianne had the opportunity to see both sides of every argument. She was a professional devil’s advocate.
Melanie cleared her throat. “To prepare for war is to invite it,” she said, as Zoe’s illusion unfolded. The mystics’ temple, tall and proud as it sat upon the Heights, came into view. “We have survived long by taking a peaceful role, by keeping clear of Irth politics. To show force, to involve ourselves where we should not, is to show we need to be subdued.”
The illusion darkened as mystics appeared at every window, pointing weapons, eyes white to show their magic. A horde of soldiers swarmed up the craggy cliffs of the Heights. The panoramic image zoomed into the the doors, where mystic fought soldier, and blood was shed.
The mystics were overpowered as the room whispered with mental impressions of fear and discomfort. Julianne stifled a sigh of impatience. She knew where this was heading.
“Do we wish to make ourselves targets? More than that, how many here could live with the burdens you ask us to shoulder?”
The illusion shifted. A soldier, young and vibrant, excited for the chance to defend his people. Pink cheeked and curly haired, he looked up at the foreboding castle and whispered a vow to protect his family and friends back home. His face, shown again, smeared with blood and drained of color, dead.
Julianne’s eyes narrowed. Melanie was pushing the whole thing a bit far. Still, she sat quietly, not wanting to interrupt. She would have her chance to speak at the end.
Men fell in battle, some barely more than boys. A mother cried as news of her soldier son’s death descended. A mystic, faceless but recognisable in the white robes they wore while on pilgrimage, stood trial. She raised her head and whispered, “Guilty. I plead guilty.”
Oh, fuck this, Julianne thought.
Julianne shot to her feet, her chair squawking loudly on the stone floor. The images vanished. Melanie stepped back, her surprise so strong it was likely evident to one who couldn’t read minds and emotions.
“What the hell do you think I was doing in Arcadia? Stealing from babies? Laying waste to a village of innocents?” Julianne growled, her patience gone.
The mystic leader stepped into the center of the room, waving away Zoe’s offer to project images. Though Julianne was technically stronger than the girl in every aspect of mental magic, Zoe had a flair for storytelling that was second to none.
Tonight, however, Julianne wanted to rely on her words, not a half-cocked story that pulled at heartstrings.
“Adrien was a tyrant. He ground the poor and middle class into the ground, then killed them because he could. He restricted magic to the noble born, using it only to grow his own wealth and power. He ignored his duty as a ruler, twisted it for his own evil purposes. His people starved in the streets, or died in his dungeons. Even nobles weren’t immune to his violence.”
Julianne turned slowly, meeting the eyes of as many as she could. Her heart raced and her blood boiled at the weak arguments that had been presented. Cowards, all of them.
“Yes,” she snapped as faces turned away from her unshielded thought. “Cowards. Our powers are a gift, a gift that helped pull us from the age of madness. They’re not a right, and if we’re not going to use them to help this broken world pull its shit together, we don’t deserve them.”
“Our magic is–” Melanie began in a wavering voice.
“A responsibility!” Julianne shouted. Blowing out a hard breath, she tempered her voice. “We don’t need to become mindless killing machines to protect the weak. We do need to stand up for what’s right, we can’t ignore those who seek to exploit the innocent. We must be the defenders, the protectors of this world. We’re not alone. We have Ezekiel and Hannah and others to help, but we can’t sit by and let them shoulder this burden alone.”
Melanie exuded a sliver of satisfaction at that.
“Yes,” Julianne said with a narrow glare at the woman. “It will be a burden. We will need to make hard choices, put ourselves in uncomfortable positions. Is that more of a burden than letting the world collapse under the likes of Adrien?”
As images of what she’d seen in the previous months flickered through her mind, Julianne finally projected them. Rather than a carefully crafted story, these were disjointed, rough. These were real, things she’d seen, smelled, experienced first hand. A child begging on the street, full of helpless desperation. A young man, lying in the gutter. He looked like a drunk turned out to dry, but Julianne’s gentle probe had shown him to be beaten almost to death by Adrien’s guards.
A moment’s work had revealed his crime: arguing over the hefty portion of money he’d been told to hand over to one of Adrien’s goons. A woman, crying because her husband had gone to work in Adrien’s factory. She hadn’t seen him for weeks and though the weekly paycheck kept coming, she knew in her heart he was dead.
She showed them the men freed from Adrien’s sweatshop, starving and weak but still eager to fight, to reclaim their city. A noblewoman, her dress worn and dirty as she taught a small group of children in rags. The ruins of an old building teeming with refugees after the city itself fell. Nobles and poor training together, breaking down the barriers Adrien had forced on them.
She showed them the power of people coming together. The small, war-torn group of refugees, led by the Founder Ezekiel and his apprentice Hannah, had mounted a solid defence against Adrien and given their lives to stop his blood-soaked reign over Arcadia. They, who had nothing, had fought with everything.
Passion ignited Julianne’s images in a white hot flame, flickering out as she regained control of her emotions. She knew she’d accomplished what she needed to. The room buzzed with energy, and the minds she brushed showed new understanding of why she had gone to Arcadia. As if in response to Julianne’s storytelling, the storm outside crashed into the temple. Lightning flashed, drowning the lanterns in the hall with white brilliance.
Melanie’s eyes met Julianne’s, only for a moment. Then, the other woman dropped her head, submitting to Julianne’s experiences and talent. A mischievous spark flared, quickly suppressed. Julianne smiled. The other woman might be the ultimate devil’s advocate, but after making her case, she would always bow to the better decision.
The mood of the room settled as Julianne stepped back to her seat, silently rehearsing her proposal to begin training all mystics in the art of self defense, and to form new classes that would teach those willing to use their magic like warriors.
She was interrupted by another white flash, and the following thunder cracked right on its heels. A spike of anxiety in the room touched Julianne’s senses, and she shook her head, knowing the old building would weather the storm.
“It’s not the storm,” Danil whispered as she sat beside him. Julianne jerked her head up, reaching her mind out to the crowd of mystics in the hall, then further, to the guards. Yes, there it was.
Someone was at the door.