Reflections

The homunculus stayed in the secret room under the staircase, in a sloping room beneath a sloping back wall in a narrow, coffin-like vat under mere inches of liquid, passively waiting to be transferred to the blood vat every seven years. This year the hair would have to be thinned and more creases added to the eyelids. As Elymas aged, it aged as well.

There was a spell he knew that would invest the homunculus with a degree of independence, a simple five word sentence that he would never speak because he wanted no companion, no brother, no twin. You are free to be. Those words would never be uttered. The homunculus existed to serve his purposes, his needs, and when it was no longer necessary, which might be no later than tomorrow, he’d melt it down in the same vat in which it had been created, conserving the body fluids. Yes, he’d save the fluids. Strange things could be formed from them.

The thought of seeing his own face contorted with pain while he himself felt nothing was oddly appealing and Elymas calmed himself by taking another drink.

Really, the Frennin White wasn’t so dangerous. It just took getting used to; his head was no longer spinning, and his thoughts were sharp as cold, clear ice.

Briefly, he thought of clapping for a third bottle, then decided not. Work to be done.

All but two of the Skylls were tainted, haunted by the impure stain he’d cast on them while he’d anchored them in the Deep. In the last two centuries, he’d pushed in countless inept Skylls, shoving out the most qualified before they could fully enter and sending them home. But for Vue and A’Sing, none of the Skylls on the present council had faced their tests in the Deep alone; he’d allowed his power to play along the cord that bound them, much like the shadows that lapped at his feet.

The floor was moving again

Yes, the floor was moving again, but this time he felt no fear.

Sarris was his man, sometimes too much, for ever since his passage he carried with him an anger, a bristling presence that Elymas recognized as his own. Yet Sarris lacked the cunning to make it work for him. He was always taking offense, always making amends. Hulse and Calibran fought against his presence without recognizing the enemy; they were in a state of perpetual flux, confused and easily led. Tianne’s position was unimportant as long as she lay buried in water; he could control Vue and A’Sing only by deception. He hoped he never got caught. Both had rough tongues.

Yes, it would have been simpler to control the tainted ones completely, but that was out of the question. No acolyte could earn even half a stripe under his complete control. He’d tried this before with a man ironically named Asher, and the results of the experiment had been gruesome. Elymas could still feel the shock of revulsion at what had occurred.

Asher, a short stocky man from Winsgate at Prym, had possessed not one whit of depth or ability but Elymas, impressed with his endless ambition and fawning, had permitted him to undergo the test. The plan had been simple. Elymas would allow him into the Journey Room, position him under the solar, pull him out, and then cut him with some sort of stripe himself. That his scar would look nothing like those earned in the Deep didn’t trouble Elymas. If he declared the scar valid, no one would dare to protest.

Asher had entered the Journey Room, smiling obsequiously, but as soon as he’d stepped into the circle, an inhuman screaming began. Elymas had finally dragged him out, more out of curiosity than compassion, only to quickly jump back.

Asher had staggered about the room, twitching, flailing, smoke pouring out of his orifices, burning from the inside. After a particularly gruesome eyeroll that registered nothing, he’d collapsed into a pile of smoking grease. The globs landing on Elymas had been promptly shaken off, and the Earth Skyll had roared for a scullery maid then locked himself in his chamber to think.

By the end of the afternoon, he’d come to three conclusions. First, he’d never again flirt with the the idea of entering the Deep himself; second, Trey, Guardian of the Gate, was not a myth, as he’d begun to suspect, but a real entity who wielded power when he saw fit — and if there was a Trey, there was an Elyon as well. Yes, he’d doubted the high power. How could he not when, for years, he’d been breaking his commands?

The fact that he’d been unable to create a Skylls on his own, however, had been only a temporary set-back. With the help of the homunculus, he’d systematically diluted their ranks, and after tomorrow, the council would be at its weakest.