In advance of the publication of Unspeakable Rites on August 24, here is a short excerpt:
The storm swept through the city of Tson in the middle of the night as most everyone slept, leaving in its calamitous path a sea of fallen branches, and not a few fallen trees, along with a seemingly endless amount of unidentifiable refuse, mostly stolen from shacks in the poorest quarters. Many of those did not survive the tempest and the next morning the streets of these quarters were filled with those who had been left homeless. Mixed in amongst all this detritus on one street near the city wall was the body of a young man. The local Magistery discovered it on their patrols of the neighborhood and had the body taken to the central mortuary.
Because of the youth’s shade, the Magistery notified the Chaziqs of the Enir Quarter in the hopes that they would know if one of their community had gone missing. Dutifully, the four men put on their finest robes and made their way to the central mortuary to look upon the body, all of them declaring that they did not know the man and that he was not from their quarter.
Chief Magister Gahryll a Tyranil frowned and pursed his lips. He ran a distracted hand over his head and the close-cropped hair there, a habit he had formed once he had started going bald several years before. Each time he did it, he was left annoyed at the fact there was less and less to pass his hand through, to say nothing of the fact that what remained was turning grey. All artifacts of his advancing years, but not so advanced yet, as he never failed to remind himself.
He forced his thoughts back to the matter at hand. There were not many Enir in Tson, so it was not unusual to expect the Chaziqs to know the majority of them. It was strange as well that no word had gone among their people of someone missing a son or a brother.
“You will ask around for me with your people,” Gahryll said. “Perhaps he is new to the city.”
Reluctantly, or so it seemed to Gahryll, the Chaziqs agreed to this request. He did not give much thought to their hesitation. It was just a dead itinerant after all, and an Enir at that, hardly worth wasting any thought over. There were more pressing concerns at hand.
The Golden Veil had recently returned from beneath the smoldering ruins they had left ten years before, striking at the Gver of Lastl during the Gver’s Council in Cratiol. Rumors of their resurrection had gone wild throughout the Realm of Craitol, no doubt attracting disaffected nobles of rank to their banner in every city and town. With the coming war against the Shadow Men bringing the absence of Gver Hythel and his finest cohorts of men from Tson, malcontents like those in Veil would see an opportunity to strike, which meant that Magistery would need to be watchful. Something like this death of a youth of no account could only distract from their true duty, to protect the city.
No word came back from the Chaziqs, and Gahryll had his assistant Ducaryh—a man of Kragian extraction, but of unquestionable competence—arrange to have the body put on display in the public room of the mortuary where anyone in the city could look upon it. The dead displayed there were sometimes identified and claimed, but as most came from the vagrant classes—prostitutes and homeless, thieves and murderers, or the poorest of the Realm, cast from the countryside into the city in the vain hope of shaping a new life—this was exceedingly rare.
The youth was evidently one of these sorts, with no kin looking for him, for in the three days that his body was displayed no one stepped forward to claim it. While this was ongoing, Gahryll ordered a cursory investigation be conducted by one of the Magisters. The man assigned to the task, Mihiubel a Jorhkah, was extremely thorough, though, and when he brought his report to Gahryll, he indicated his belief that the youth had died at the hands of another and that further investigation was warranted.
“You don’t think the storm killed him?” Gahryll said. They were sitting across from each other in his offices in the Magisterium. “It was quite violent. If he was left outdoors, it could easily have done him in.”
“No, Nes Gahryll,” Mihiubel said, with a firm shake of his head. “Did you notice his robes? Very fine silk, too fine for anyone forced to live on the street. No, I am quite certain he was living somewhere, but it was not anywhere near where he was found.”
“What makes you say that?”
“For starters, it is a poor neighborhood. Most of the inhabitants could not dream of owning such robes. And no one remembers him. I went to the Enir Quarter as well, thinking he must have lived somewhere there, no matter what the Chaziqs told you. But it seems not. They are all quite adamant. Very strange. I found a few who recognize him though, but they will not admit it.”
This attracted Gahryll’s attention. “Why not?”
Mihiubel held out his hands. “I can’t say. No one will speak to me of it. Except one man who said he thought he recalled seeing him coming and going from a particular house.”
Something about his phrasing of those last words drew the Chief Magister’s attention. “What particular kind of house?”
“It is an academy, I believe, though I haven’t called on them yet. I imagine he was in service there in some form, or servicing the trulls.”
“So call on them and see if there is someone there who wishes to take possession of the body and let us be done with this matter.”
“There is something else,” Mihiubel said. “I took the liberty of removing his robes. I’m sure you noted the bruises upon his face. His chest is similarly bruised. And there are lacerations as well, on both his chest and his back. Symbols of some sort.”
“Were they enough to kill him?”
Mihiubel shook his head. “I think not. None of his wounds were severe. If I were to guess, I would say they were symbols for some kind of rites.”
Gahryll nodded. It was all very curious and he could see why Mihiubel was drawn to the case, but in the end he could see no reason to pursue the matter with so many other concerns at hand. If the youth had been murdered, as the Magister believed, there was little to be done about it. Not with the Enir Quarter refusing to help and no witnesses to the crime, or obvious suspects. The Enir punish their own, he told himself, and that seemed as satisfactory an explanation as any. The youth had crossed someone, perhaps at the academy, perhaps elsewhere, and had paid the price.
With no one to claim the body after four days on display, Gahryll sent word to the Chaziqs to dispose of the corpse as per their customs. The Enir buried their dead and presumably would want to see this one interred, lest they anger their ancestors. It was Mihiubel who brought word that the Chaziqs had refused to honor the body.
“Well have it burned then,” Gahryll said, with a shake of his head.
Mihiubel nodded, but did not leave the room. “You don’t find it odd that they are refusing. Have you ever heard of such a thing? An Enir risking the wrath of their ancestors by refusing to bury one of their own. The whole Quarter could be cursed.”
“The Gods curse them already, what does it matter if their ancestors do as well?”
“I just think we should find out what this youth has done that would have them cast him out so completely. There is only one thing I can think of that might lead them to do that.”
“What is that?” Gahryll said, his mind already on the papers Ducaryh had brought him to sign. Orders and reports and messages. There was so much to attend to and it was already afternoon.
“Perhaps he has been playing at alkemya,” Mihiubel said.
That did get Gahryhll’s attention. An Enir practicing alkemya was unheard of. They abhorred the art. It was condemned by their ceinobytes and cursed by their ancestors. Any Enir who did so would know he was crossing to a realm from which there was no return. He would be an Enir no longer.
Gahryll also knew that no Council Adepts would ever train an Enir. There was only one kind of alkemyst who would dare to, and the Chief Magister thought he had done with them long ago. Apparently not, for it seemed there were Desecrators in Tson.
Desecrators and the Veil. Was it ten years ago? No, then he would be in Haigah Pass watching the best of his generation perish. He shook his head, lost in the thought, before looking up at Mihiubel.
“You think we should pay a visit to this academy then, I take it?”
Mihiubel nodded and with a sigh of annoyance Gahryll rose to join him.