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I feel like mages are a very tired people in general… Always conjuring cups of coffee to keep researching during those late nights. They’re too overworked and stressed to go to sleep, so they get like four hours a night maximum. It’s just part of their culture. Mages are always sleepy.
The crypts of Castle Indaris had always been a dreadfully morose place amidst the decadent splendour of the rooms above. Buried below halls of gold and silver lay marble and granite formed with the precision of a master’s hand. The likeness of all those buried here had been painstakingly carved; indeed, in the darkness without torchlight it was easy to mistake them for real features frozen in time. Yet at times the macabre silence of the dead was a welcome relief from the stresses of court, and thus it was here Caledon Indaris found himself. Freed from the scorn and ire and lies spoken from honeyed words and forked tongues, the young lord embraced the comfort of silence.
He knelt in all the ornate trappings his position afforded him, which was to say a great deal. His purple and gold outfit was concealed by a large, lion fur trimmed cloak. Like any proper Indaris he was a slave to vanity and fashion, and as such allowed himself the near outlandish attire of the exotic, such as that of rare animal pelts. The white furred cape he wore was made from the lions of Uldum far across the sea, and was worth far more than its weight in gold.
Ringed fingers had pressed together, for he knelt before the tomb of his father. His brilliantly jade eyes had been closed as if in reverence, brow furrowed in contemplation. The day had been a long one, for he had to entertain dozens of court officials, emissaries and more from all across the Gilded Lands. But such was the case as lord of the house; he had a responsibility and duty to uphold, and one only he could enact. Though some among the castle would have protested such as that of his brother, his rule was absolute. Besides, Aurelian was gone, and even though his wife to be yet remained she was little more than a guest.
Yet the silence of the crypt did not last. Caledon’s ebon hair gently waved as a soft breeze moved through the catacombs of the dead. A soft jingle escaped as the jewelry upon his ears moved with the motion of the wind. His brows pressed together, though his eyes remained shut. It was only as the hair on the back of his neck rose did they shoot open, distinctly aware of the presence of another within the room. He had not heard the door creak open, nor the sound of footsteps. Seven wards formed by seven sorcerers of old had sealed the crypts so that only those of Indaris blood may enter without invitation. What all of these revelations meant concerned Caledon, as he craned his neck to the left.
As if emerged from the tomb itself stood the lord Arcannon Indaris. Caledon’s father did not rest in his grave as so many in life had wished; nay there he was, dressed in his flowing garments of old, features youthful as if having never aged from his prime. Caledon rose immediately, hand moving to the poniard at his side. Though he preferred the axe, he was no stranger to daggers. The figure that was his father did not move, simply staring in contempt.
“You come here often to find peace among the dead.” The deep, near monotone voice was as his fathers, and Caledon dropped his weapon in surprise. His mouth opened, but he could not find any words. The man known for his tongue of silver had found himself speechless, staring at his father. He gave a slow, steady nod in response. It was not until Arcannon had placed a near icy hand upon Caledon’s cheek that voice returned to him.
“How are yo-“
“Shh, my son. I know you have questions. You wonder how may I stand here still, when my tomb lies before us?” A wizened hand was waved towards the tomb before both.
“Yes. You died; I carried your body down here to lay you to rest.”
“All will be answered in time. Come; we have much to discuss.” So familiar was that voice in all its unquestionable authority. Despite being lord, Caledon was but a boy in his father’s presence and could not help but obey. Arcannon had already ascended the stairs before Caledon realized it, the two finding themselves within the halls above the crypt.
“Where are we going?”
“The western balcony that overlooks the river.” As they walked through well known halls, Arcannon continued to speak. “Much has changed in my absence I see.”
“Both you and your brother rule, do you not?”
“For now?” The faintest glimmer of a smirk formed on his lips. Even as they walked his father seemed to age with every step, as if the very weight of his existence was beginning to wear him down.
“You know as well as I there can be only one lord of Indaris.” Caledon knew not why he spoke so freely to what was most certainly a ghost, or at least an illusion. Yet despite his better instincts he could not help but trust the cold personality that radiated from his father.
“Indeed, but your grasp is already slipping.” Strangely, Caledon did not remember the halls they now walked; they seemed to repeat themselves, as if they moved through the same rooms again and again. It was the room of portraits he realized; dozens of paintings of the lords and ladies of the Indaris line, stretching back to Valkorius himself.
“Slipping?” Caledon’s gaze fell upon the portraits, narrowing his eyes. Something was wrong about them, but before he could recognize it he moved through the room again. Each time he tried to pick out what was unnatural or different, failing to question the mere existence of these multiple halls.
“Yes. You let a rat into my house.”
“Of course. Your brother disgraces our name by allowing that nameless harlot into this home. You know why she is here yes?”
“To marry Aurelian, obviously.” Arcannon stopped, turning to face Caledon with eyes blazing with unnatural fury. His emerald gaze, so much like Aurelian’s smoldered with fire.
“Fool. You are blind or naïve, and I am not certain which one is worse. She is here to watch you, to spy on you and report to your brother, and when she marries him she will become Indaris. She will give Aurelian sons and he will have heirs. Heirs you sorely lack; Oh I weep as to the tragedy befalling my house.”
“Look now! This is the price of your allowance of that woman in this castle. Gaze upon your folly.” Arcannon twirled his hand to the nearest portrait, and Caledon gasped in surprise. It was of him yet rotting and decaying. Indeed, it was of a man long dead. To the right was that of both his brother and Calithielwen, now adorned in the trappings of Indaris. Yet two more figures were painted beside even them; two sons healthy of body and as perfect as their parents.
“What is this?! What am I looking at?”
“Your future Caledon; your negligence will cost this house and these lands everything. Come, this is what I want you to see.” He beckoned again towards the door; was that door there beforehand? Caught in this strange game of illusions and trickery Caledon could do nothing but follow, stepping into a dead world.
The stone beneath his feet was crumbling, ivory growing between the cracks in all of its constricting horror. Caledon’s eyes widened as he looked around; it was that of his own castle’s balcony, and yet it was not. The world around him was dead and lifeless. Not the sound of the river far below nor the call of the birds filled his ears, and neither did he see anything save a vast expanse of nothingness beyond the horizon.
“This, my son, is your future. Your brother will take control and ruin the house. Felfire rained from the sky and he failed. Creatures from a stygian nightmare walked this world and his wife failed. I know once you desired her to scorn your brother, but know this; should he take her and succeed this is all that awaits.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No…but in time you will, my son.” Caledon was dimly aware of the force upon his back, and of the balcony’s edge growing ever closer. He sluggishly looked over to see his father pressing a hand against him, pushing him forward.
“Father, what are you doing?”
“Opening your eyes.” With a casual effort Arcannon pushed Caledon off the edge. Caledon felt the air rush by him, his jeweled and silk adorned body descending like a comet from the heavens. He opened his mouth to scream at his father and at all the world. His eyes darted around as he fell, before locking upon a single creature that existed in this world. It was of a raven, whose shrill caw echoed in the very fabric of his mind. With a sudden finality he smashed upon the ground.
Caledon awoke with a start, brow laced with sweat and hand wrapped upon the poniard he kept under his pillow. Eyes like jade quickly moved around the room as he panted, slowly becoming aware of his surroundings. It was his own quarters, the sight both welcomed and familiar. Though he was naked, he flung the blankets off of him, grabbing his trousers and his lion maned cloak. He paused as he put it on, recognizing it.
It was a nightmare which had awoken him, of doom and destruction brought forth by warnings from his father. He knew the man was dead, and had been so for several years now. Even still he resolved to check the crypts in the morning, for paranoia had set in. What time was it anyways? He looked out the nearby window, seeing the barest crack of dawn breach the fading twilight. It was early, he realized. He hoped no one would be up yet, as he opened the door to leave.
“My lord.” The guard outside dressed in the colors of Indaris bowed his head as Caledon emerged. What had been the man’s name again?
“Shall I fetch an escort?”
“No, that won’t be necessary.” Quickly Caledon made his way away from his quarters, a destination already in mind. His long hair which usually was tied back was loose and wild as he moved, and despite the dreadful nature of awaking early he was still quite handsome. Of course no one was up to recognize such, though of that he cared little. He was not like Aurelian was in that regard.
He walked through hallways tread in dreams, daring not to look at the portraits for fear of recognition in his own nightmares. A sigh of relief was breathed as he finally emerged upon the western balcony, far from the hall of portraits. He was met by the cold breeze of morning and the smell of rain, as the crashing of a waterfall filled his ears. There was no broken stone or barren rock as had his nightmares shown.
“Trouble sleeping, my lord?” He blinked, whirling on his foot. Amalta hovered at the balcony’s entrance, adorned yet in modest sleeping attire though appeared as if wide awake. Already the strange and ponderous nature of her magic was in effect, as the ethereal flow and weaving of her hair had already taken life.
“Amalta? What are you doing up?”
“I will wager the same as you. A nightmare, born of ill tidings?” Slowly she moved forward, the tendrils of her gown dragging across the stone until she was beside him. She did not look his direction, simply staring outward into the vast expanse of the Indaris lands.
“Yes. It led me to this very spot in fact…”
“And you wished to make sure it was not real?”
“Something like that…I saw my father in it.” He noted she recoiled at the mention of Arcannon, but said nothing of it. He was not so blind as to have ignored the near prisoner like status Amalta had taken whilst his father ruled. A tool, rather then a true person.
“A man long dead such as that may only exist in dreams or nightmares.” She pointed out.
“True; what of you? What did you dream of?”
“Fire and blood.” She said calmly, though her body seemed to shudder at the very recollection of it. “My visions are lost to me. I am met only with doom and destruction in my dreams. The future has become nightmare for me.”
“Is this a new thing?”
“I see. Perhaps-“ he went quiet as a shrill cry echoed in the air. It was so familiar, as if engrained into his mind. His blood turned cold, the man near paling at the sound for it was a sound he had only just recently heard. His eyes darted out, trying to spot it. His lips curled as he gripped the balcony with a shaking hand. There it was, with feathers dark as the abyss; a bird which never travelled to the Crescent Hills. Amalta noticed his reaction, following his gaze.