Dawn of Destiny - Chapter Two
Who is it, Aldred? Julianne projected into the mind of one of the temple guards.
I can’t tell, came the bewildered mental reply.
Julianne delved into his mind. He was right, whoever was beating the brass knocker was shielded so tight, none of the mystics at the door could penetrate. She reached out herself, probing the slippery mental barrier.
“Stay here.” Julianne ran across the hall, pushing past the few mystics who didn’t move out of her way first. And make sure the others do, too, she added, sending that thought only to Danil.
Danil sent a mental reply that was more a serious nod than words.
“Master,” Aldred called as she raced to the entry of the temple. “Can you sense them?”
She shook her head brusquely and walked up to the door. Aldred already had his hand on the latch, waiting for Julianne’s instructions. His heavy frame looked as fit as ever, but grey streaks at his temples reminded her that time passed in the mountains just as quickly as everywhere else.
William, the second guard on duty, stepped aside to let her through, ducking his sandy haired head at the Mystic Master.
Who is there? She sent the words directly at the shielded mind, projecting the thought as loudly as she could. Even shielded, a mystic would hear it.
Greetings, Julianne. Please, open the door.
Julianne clamped down her mental shields, furious that she hadn’t thought to do so earlier.
Donna? William sent the name with a feeling of shock.
“Who the hell is Donna?” Julianne hissed.
“An old friend. She and two others went on pilgrimage… oh, years before Selah…” He stopped before saying the word died, but Julianne still heard him speak it in his mind. The death of the former Master marked much time in the Heights for all of them. “Well. I haven’t heard from her since.”
“Can she be trusted?” Julianne asked, brushing aside a mental probe sent by the visitors.
“Yes,” William said, “assuming she’s not changed greatly. Selah thought highly of her.” He added the last part as an afterthought.
Julianne still hesitated.
Please, Donna sent. The storm will wash us off the mountain if we do not find shelter immediately.
The thread of fear in the woman’s thought stabbed at Julianne. She couldn’t allow people—her people—to die outside the gates that were supposed to keep them safe. She instructed William and Aldred to open the heavy wooden doors, even as she forced away a memory of a guard almost dying on the very floor below her feet.
That was different, she told herself. And it was. When Adrien sent his soldiers looking for Ezekiel, she’d immediately known to be on guard. An over eager blast from one of the soldiers had hit one of her men. Ezekiel had not only taken out the attackers with Julianne’s help, he’d healed the wounded mystic guardsman and likely saved his life.
They were Arcadians, though. Not mystics.
The two guards lifted the bar that held the doors shut. Wind slammed them open, almost knocking Aldred flat on his ass as six robed figures hurried in. With their help it only took a moment for the two guards to recover and latch the doors shut again while Julianne examined their visitors.
“William!” A tall woman pushed back her hood, revealing a mess of red curls threaded with silver. She leaned in to give William a breathy kiss on the cheek and his face reddened. A brief memory flickered in Williams’ mind, and Julianne saw that they were more than just ‘old friends’.
Rather than probe, Julianne turned her attention to the others. They wore matching robes of sky blue silk, trimmed with silver thread. A symbol was embroidered onto the chest and back, one of the sun cresting over two hills. Something about it made Julianne’s stomach twist, though she made sure to cloak that reaction tightly behind her mental shield.
“You must be Selah’s replacement? I’d heard he’d left the temple to a girl, but I hadn’t expected one quite so young.” Donna ran her eyes up and down Julianne’s small frame, her face neutral.
“I am Julianne, the Master of the mystics,” Julianne conceded, ignoring the subtle jab at her age.
“Well, we are glad to have made it here. The hike up that mountain was almost as bad as trekking through the Madlands. I expect the evening meal is still at the same time?” Donna asked before sweeping past Julianne in the direction of the great hall. “Ensure your people have enough for guests.”
Bristling at Donna’s attitude, Julianne followed, nodding for the two guards to remain behind. Five robed figures trailed behind, silent, as they made their way through the temple.
Donna strode into the hall with confidence, bestowing smiles and greetings on those she recognized, warmly introducing herself to those she didn’t. As her followers pushed back their hoods, Julianne caught more flickers of recognition from nearby mystics.
She delved into those minds and quickly learned that the entire group were mystics from the Heights, trained when Selah was at his peak. They had all set off for various reasons; some to find new talents, others to learn and stretch their minds, and one because he was just plain restless.
None had been heard from in at least five years. All were well-liked members of the community, with friends and some even family, but they’d all just… faded away. That in itself wasn’t uncommon. Pilgrimages could last decades. The rustles of worries and discomfort were for another reason.
Julianne tried again to penetrate their shields, this time going for a quiet, older man instead of Donna. Nothing. Her attempts met an impenetrable wall, slipping aside as though the old man’s mind was made of glass. Julianne muttered a curse under her breath.
“Steady.” Danil appeared beside her, taking her arm and leading her back to her spot at the table. “There might be a reasonable explanation for this. Maybe they’re launching a new fashion line, and want you to model for them.”
“If they think they’re going to cause trouble here, they’re in for a shock,” Julianne grumbled. She gave up trying to use her magic on them, instead saving her energy in case it was needed later.
“It’s not like no one has ever been able to shield from you before.” Danil hesitated. “Have they?”
Julianne eyed him, raising her own shields to cover a memory of a man who’d done just that. He wasn’t even a mystic! He hadn’t just blocked her from his mind, he’d caught her heart, too. Julianne breathed deeply to keep her cheeks from colouring as thoughts of Marcus, the Arcadian guard, rushed through her mind.
“Friends! Thank you for welcoming us back into our home.” Donna’s voice carried over the pockets of conversation in the room.
Julianne hadn’t noticed the noise when she came in, but a quick brush against the closest minds showed every one of them locked down. The mystics were shielding so tightly it was making mind-to-mind conversations difficult, and the normally subdued dining hall was full of noise. If Julianne had a headache before, now it was bordering on a migraine.
“The Temple welcomes all who come in peace.” Julianne let the words drop with all the weight they deserved. Had they come in peace?
Donna smiled. It did not reach her eyes. “We come not only in peace, but offering gifts. We have heard of your efforts, dear Julianne, and have come to join you in your fight. You will find our resources run deep.”
“Our fight? What fight?” Samantha, a middle aged mystic called out. “Arcadia is safe, there’s no fighting left to be done.”
A space cleared, leaving Donna alone in the middle of the room.
“Your fight against the Arcadians is not over, far from it.” Donna gave Julianne a small bow. “We fight not just the people, but the depravity of mankind, and the failings of those who are not blessed to know the minds of others.”
Donna turned to her audience. “For it is our power to read minds that allows us to rise above. Only we, who can truly experience empathy and walk in the shoes of another, are immune to the greed and treachery, the utter selfishness of the human race. Only we are fit to guide the people into a bright new future.”
“Not wearing that colour blue with that hair, you’re not,” Danil mumbled.
Julianne raised an eyebrow. “What the hell are you saying? That we’re some kind of superior race?”
Donna shrugged, as if to ask what else she could possibly be saying.
“You know what?” Julianne stalked around the table and went to stand toe to toe with the other woman. “That shit sounds awfully similar to what Adrien thought. I assume you know who he was?”
Donna shook her head. “My knowledge of the recent battles is scant. The condition of mankind, however, is something I am well versed in.”
“He was a magic user who thought he was better than others. He thought his way was the right way, and damned anyone who disagreed. He trod on the weak and helpless, ground them into the dirt while climbing to a higher station.” Julianne paused, narrowing her eyes. “And he’s dead. I helped to take him down, because that kind of behaviour is exactly what our magic is supposed to stand against.”
“Of course!” Donna smiled. “What a horrible man. We would never align ourselves with someone like that, and indeed, it was those exploits that brought us here. But please, we have had a long journey. Perhaps this would be best discussed in the morning?”
Julianne carefully shielded her next thoughts. The pretty woman looked as though she’d stepped out of a manor house, not undertaken a long journey. The few mystics in the room whose feelings could still be read emitted blatant distrust. Julianne was inclined to agree with them.
“Very well,” she said. “Morning. The guards will escort you to your rooms and refreshments will be delivered soon after. Be warned, we rise early.”
“We always have,” Donna said with a saccharin smile. “I’m sure by then we will have convinced you of the value of an alliance. Together, the New Dawn and the mystics of the Heights will rule the world!”
She took the arm of the first guard to enter and swept away like a lady in her own manor house.