Sorry to repost, but I've rewritten this chapter as I didn't think Daine and Numairs task was quite clear enough. Promise to continue soon.
Her weight was only a small burden, and one that he was pleased to carry. For he had carried many throughout his years of service within the Imperial palace. As one of the Emperor's closest companions, he had been entrusted with many dark secrets. The most scandalous being Ozorne's secret, and highly illegal slave trade. Many of his unsuspecting subjects had found themselves snatched from their homes and families simply because they had unwittingly caught the Emperors eye at one gathering or another. Males and females alike found themselves in his lavish bed before being sold off to the highest foreign bidder, never to see their home again. There were some newly inducted slaves however, whom Ozorne kept for his own enjoyment. It was not unusual for those nearest his Imperial Majesty to note that the Emperor had many concubines, for he was an attractive man - gold encrusted or no. Yet the practice of keeping such a harem was much frowned upon by a country like Carthak who regarded their women so modestly, keeping them veiled from the eyes of other men, their feminine form forbidden to all but their husbands and families. His official consort would turn a blind eye as women of the time had been raised to do, yet she would not dare seek fulfilment elsewhere as the Emperor would not tolerate such insolence from anyone, least of all a woman. His wrath was to be avoided at all costs, yet it was often hard to spot such a temper rising as he often masked his emotions with a false sweetness or indeed ignored the perpetrator altogether, just as he had often done with a certain dark mage.
It occurred to Numair that now was not the time to think, but it was hard to break the habit when one has spent so much of their life devoted to that very activity. One thought always tended to lead to another more complicating than the last, meaning more and more theories awaiting examination, and he was always willing to take the time to do so. Numair's soft lips curved into a frown and he focussed once more on the task at hand – his magelet lying prone in his arms.
A glance to his left revealed only the marble walls of the courtroom, so unnaturally white and smooth they were a testament to the craftsmanship of the Gods. The rest of the courtroom followed suit, a small jury box also stood to his left, polished to golden perfection, as did a witness box standing near the opposite wall. The main feature of the room however, was the judges altar. It sat between witness and jury boxes, a cold and imposing structure from a distance, solid and unforgiving. Approaching the altar Numair found it was expertly carved with interwoven symbols and having read several tomes detailing the nature of historic artwork the black mage found that the marble was decorated with golden etchings not dissimilar to those used by the ancient people of Encrypta, who were known to record their achievements on the walls of their most sacred sites so that future generations might know the lives of those who had walked before them. Numair frowned slightly, a shame he hadn't read further into that tome, as it might have supplied him with information as to his and Daine's presence here.
The academic within his mind chose to surface again at that moment, as the mage wondered what the gods were doing with such symbols, found only in the mortal realm. Could the Encryptians learnt the art of Letters from the Gods? It was forbidden for the Great Gods to interfere in the lives of mortals or to take part in the creation of their history… Absently Numair stored that question in the back of his mind for later analysis, and peered behind the giant altar, shifting Daine's weight so she lay more comfortably, if indeed that was possible considering the volume of the divine voice. Its impact was stronger here, he felt it thrumming through his bones, rattling him to the very core. Evidently it rattled another theory out of him also because his dark eyes suddenly flickered to the empty wall behind the judges altar. Thinking back to various court proceedings he had witnessed in Tortall Numair distinctly remembered there was usually a room to which the judge would retire to consider his verdict.
Squinting, or perhaps he was wincing considering the volume of the divine voice was wreaking havoc upon his eardrums, the mage hobbled closer to the back wall as fast as he could manage. The wall must have been undergoing the similar unpleasant experience as he because before he was able to conclude his train of thought, a web of small cracks began to spread their tendrils through the smooth marble, weaving through one another until the mage was able to discern the arched shape of a door from their activities, the wall beneath the door seemed to recognise it was no longer required as it slowly faded away to be replaced with darkness broken only by a blazing silver light. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Numair stepped though the newly made portal.
All at once his senses were overloaded as he felt the onslaught of foreign magic battering at his now frazzled mindshield. He could practically feel its protection evaporate as he fully emerged from the archway, and all at once the thoughts he worked so hard to keep at bay, in his waking hours at least, plagued him.
Daine. She was here in his arms, solid and real. His eyes were drawn to her soft lips, and the thought crossed his mind about what they would feel like against his bare skin…
He swallows her deep throated cries as he covers her mouth with his own, tasting and teasing, finally making her his…
The errant thoughts vanished as quickly as they came. It was as if someone had slammed that door in his mind, for which the mage was grateful, yet without the use of his mindshield, Numair supposed whoever it was could do whatever they wished with him. Suddenly his focus was drawn toward another, smaller altar in the centre of this small judgement room. This altar was simpler, made of polished blackwood and carved with more strange runes. As the mage approached they began rearranging themselves as he looked upon them, drawing knowledge from his mind to decrypt themselves, another trick the ancients had mastered. Mouth practically hanging open, Numair watched as the top of the seemingly solid wooden surface remoulded as if it were clay in the hands of a master potter. It seems as though they were asking for a boon, a sacrifice. But it was clear the dark mage had no choice in the matter, the only other suggestion the runes offered him was to let the mortal realm fall to chaos. It seems a task had been set. Gain the help of the immortals, for they alone have the power to restore the failing barrier between mortal and immortal realms. Without the barrier in place, the Gods are redundant, and all shall fall to Uusoae, the last daughter of Father Universe and Mother Flame. The cost…
Numair's mouth set in a grim line. No. It was a sacrifice he could not make. He had no right. Turning abruptly to return to the main courtroom he felt Daine suddenly fall deathly still in his arms, the sheer magnitude of the divine voice at last proving too much for her conscious mind to handle.
Looking his student over with a frown, the mage was able to recall a hurrok attack on the palace in which Daine had been severely injured. He had very nearly lost her that day, the fear he had felt was almost overpowering. As soon as she had fully recovered he had called Daine into his study with the false promise of a biology lesson and taught her a method known only to masters of his art and a few rogues and spymasters using sleeper agents looking for information over long periods of time, they often took the time to sort through information this way. He should know, he'd used it himself when searching for Sinthya and look where it got him.
The trick was that with the help of this skill you would effectively lose outward consciousness, performing a complete severing of mind from body which enables you to retreat into the inner sanctum of your mind and reorganise your thoughts and defences. No pain is felt, as the body is not yours to command. It is simply your inner self, the essence of your being. There was of course, the risk of not being able to reconnect mind with body, but he wasn't a black mage for no reason. Numair had taken precautions, and had drilled her over and over again on revival, he could only hope it would be enough. His magelet was strong, and stubborn. She would return to him. And yet, he could feel her every shallow breath against his skin. Hear his blood pounding though his veins…if only he could focus, let his brain sort the pain into information at last. Focus. His dark eyes finally slid closed and Numair tried to employ some of the meditation techniques drilled into him since he was just a novice, take deep breaths, remain calm even in situations that seem utterly hopeless. Listen. Could he finally understand? The pain filtered roughly into words, each one sawing though his conscious mind.
"Veralidaine Sarrasri… I know you hear me. In the Gods name I ask you to listen."
It was for her! The Gods were trying to reach her all this time. The cost the runes spoke of was Daine's wild magic. Hers is the strongest case in all the realms, and Numair had always suspected she was also Godborn, which would mean her divine blood is the only thing strong enough to hold the barrier to buy them time to converse with the immortals. But dare the Gods assume they can take her for their immortal scheming without his consent? Fear of the loss he would know crept slowly up his spine, mingling with the first sparks of a fast burning fury. Numair spun, flame snapping in his dark eyes, "Do not toy with her! Lay your qualms with me or show yourselves. Gods have been defeated before, perhaps I should remind you how easily it can be done!" His famed temper was ignited at last, as the rational side of Numair would have seen that it was vastly unwise to resort to name calling when dealing with the Great Gods.
"Confrontation would be most unwise, mortal mage." Came the terrible voice, this time distinguishable as coming from the main courtroom. Numair gathered his love tighter in his arms and strode back through the portal from which he came, the gleaming white of Mithros' court only just visible on the other side of the archway. Only once the mage was standing in front of the shining witness box did the air around the judges altar begin to distort and a familiar form begin to materialise. It was too familiar. Where had he seen it before? Numair's mouth suddenly fell open with all the force that would later accompany the phrase "Eureka". Mithros, Mynoss and Shakith was all he could manage. It was partly correct. The courtroom was suddenly aflame with the Great Gods presence. The terrible voice sounded once more, but with slightly less force, the pain in the Numair's head lessened slightly.
"Dare you reject me mage? I have tried to ask you politely, and still you ignore my demands. The Gods will not be ignored mortal, you should know this well from your ill fated peace treaty in Carthak. Do not think I have forgotten. My memory has served me well throughout the many ages of man, for a far greater mind have I." The full form of Mithros now stood in front of the altar and Numair found himself kneeling before him from the sheer force of the Gods will. He lay Daine gently on the ground before him, she was still deep within her mind and hopefully still unaware of his current company. Mithros spoke again, this time wit a frown. "No mortal may look upon my face and return to the realms of the living, not even a black robe, despite what past records have told you. So kneel, and listen to what will come."
Does one dare to deny the express command of a God? Numair frowned in thought, and not one to try the patience of a God hardly renown for his mercy, he crouched beside a prone Daine, pausing for just a moment before surrendering his full attention to Mithros. The mage inclined his head as if in reverence, yet his hands - while still curved protectively around his curly headed companion - shook slightly in alarm at the disturbing array of possibilities yet to be lain before him.
Not seeming to notice the mages failure to supply him with his full and immediate attention Mithros continued on.
"Your companion Veralidaine is indeed Godborn, as you have recently suspected."
The God's eyes narrowed, as if perplexed at how much time had passed before Numair had actually reached this conclusion, but this small trace of emotion did not dwell long upon his face. It was never wise to display ones emotions in the view of a mortal. Mithros had learned this the hard way. Countless battles had been fought since the time he first came into existence, each party certain of its victory as their shamans reported that the Gods were surely smiling upon their people. Curse it, had he only known that a twitching of his mouth at the extent of human folly could be so misinterpreted, lives could have been spared.
Stony-faced now, Mithros continued on.
"This is both her gift and curse, for it is her divine blood that has the power to hold the barrier between the realms in place, keeping the darker immortals from your lands, while you both travel here in the Realms of the Gods and perform one simple task for me. A task that I believe even the most unremarkable mortal is capable of successfully completing."
Numair frowned at his boots. Unremarkable indeed
"This task I speak of, I trust from your reading the runes upon my alter you have some idea of what it entails?"
Without waiting for a reply the God continued on with his speech, a technique he had been perfecting since the creation of time.
"While Veralidaine's gift supplies the strength needed to sustain the barrier between the Realms, you will travel here as forseen, and entreat those immortals still faithful to the Gods to donate a small part of their lifeblood as proof of their fealty. I'm not sure you're aware of the possibilities this presents mage, as each immortal forfeits a small, insignificant part of it's lifeblood I will divert it to the failing barrier. Supported by the combined strength of my immortal subjects the barrier will be renewed, and Chaos will again be surpressed.
It should not be difficult, as immortals truly want no part of the mortal realm. Yet at the same time, your allegiance with the immortals will form a strong army against Chaos should we fail to renew the barrier before Uusoae breaks free from the restraints her brothers and sisters have set upon her. If you are defeated, be assured it will be a battle truly worthy of your human history books. You will not have lived in vain."
This is a heavy responsibility I lay upon you mage, do not presume to think I don't realise what this will cost you. I have seen your mind, and know that the Godborn is in your heart. Yet, a storm approaches, and many enemies await your countrymen. The longer you delay your friends will suffer at the hands of immortals already breaking free. All I need is her consent to divert her lifeblood, and as she is in no position to give it, I am asking you. Choose."
Such an intense feeling of hopelessness washed over the tall mage at that moment that he dropped his head even lower in submission. Unbeknownst to the kneeling Numair, and quite despite himself, Mithros smiled the barest of smiles.
"A sacrifice indeed mage. It will not be forgotten."
And with that, the God was gone. Yet the loss of his physical presence did nothing to diminish the building atmosphere within the courtroom, the air becoming thick and heavy as if before a storm. Numair's magical senses were suddenly overwrought with the divine pull of Mithros power, and almost immediately, Daine begin to glow with a golden light, her magic pouring from her into the revered altar where it would be transferred to the barrier. All that was left to do was hope…and befriend thousands of immortals who want nothing to do with us, Numair thought dryly. The familiar copper fire within his student was slowly being doused, he could see it trickling from her, lifeblood spilt to save her realm. The knowledge it was gone would destroy her.
Cradling Daine in his arms Numair trailed a shaking hand across her soft cheek, his fingers finally coming to rest in her smoky curls. Gods, she was unbearably still, yet he could feel her heart racing within her chest, keeping double time with the pulsing light surrounding her.
Suddenly, her eyes flew open, and Numair started at the fear in their stormy depths. She clutched at his shirt, hands trembling at her sudden unknown weakness. No, it wasn't just her hands that shook, he could feel her whole body shaking against him, an unknown exhaustion taking its toll upon her.
The tables were turned, Numair almost wished he could stop his own heart as he watched the colour draining from her beloved face, her eyes darted about the room before coming to rest on his own while she searched inwardly for something that was no longer hers.
"Numair? What have you done?"