Read an Excerpt
By J. R. WAGNER
Live Oak Book CompanyCopyright © 2012 Joshua R. Wagner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Hearing
September 1898, South America James, age sixteen
Two men walked along a flagstone path. The drawn face of the taller was partly concealed by his midnight-black, shoulder-length hair. The deep-blue robes he wore did little to conceal his lean build. With every word he spoke, striations in his jaw muscles contracted and relaxed. Despite being in his midteens, his concerned expression and the weariness in his eyes gave him the look of a much older man.
To his left strode a man who looked as if he lacked the strength to stand, let alone keep the pace at which he currently moved. He was bent over a rickety-looking wooden cane that threatened to break every time the man's weight shifted, bowing the shaft slightly. His white hair was marbled with streaks of black—the last vestiges of his more youthful days. He wore purple robes beneath which were wide shoulders and a well-fed midsection pulled at the clasps. His face was calm.
The path appeared endless. Dark moss grew in the joints between stones, softening the men's steps. It was lined with rectangular columns that reached just above the taller man's head. To the right of the path, a crimson sun cast long shadows from each column and spilled blood-red light through each opening.
They continued walking and conversing as the sun fell toward the horizon. Just as the last rays of light dipped behind the trees, tureens mounted on the columns ignited into orange flames. The pair stopped as they reached a massive staircase. Torches flickered in the breeze, flanking the steps that appeared to stretch to infinity. The boy turned to his elder.
"So it is to be in the upper chambers?"
"No need for concern, James. Mind games are standard practice among the politically well-connected when attempting to make a point. They want you to be afraid. They want you to be intimidated," said the older man.
He paused a moment, took a deep breath, and turned to look up at his companion. "Are you afraid, James?"
"Remember, it is they who are afraid. You intimidate them. That is why we are here. The rest is just political smoke and mirrors on both sides to grasp what little power they can. They are desperate. Speak cautiously. Desperation will push reasonable men to say and do unreasonable things."
Without interrupting his train of thought, the elder man began his ascent. James followed quietly.
"Understand the question and reply. Never speak from emotion. Speak only from fact. Truth will reveal you for who you are. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Master Ammoncourt."
"James, I cannot overemphasize the importance of remaining calm and emotionless. You have a tendency to react without analysis. But do not lament. Many men who've seen more turns than even Akil haven't mastered this technique. Everyone's in such a bloody hurry to say what they want to say that they don't take the time to consider if they should actually say it. The years of putting some thought into a conversation have long passed," said Ammoncourt.
He looked over at James as they climbed the stairs. James's brow was furrowed, forcing a vein in his forehead to pulse beneath his skin. His hands were clenched into fists. Ammoncourt stopped suddenly. James, consumed by his current thoughts, continued up the stairs.
"James," Ammoncourt said calmly.
James stopped and looked back at Ammoncourt, his hands immediately relaxed.
"I do not intend to take another step until you've eliminated this turmoil from your mind. You must control your anger. While you may find it amusing that you've developed a reputation for your fits of rage, I assure you it is only a weakness. One that will be exploited by your enemies as often as possible. Now, calm yourself."
James closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, exhaling the tension from his body. Ammoncourt raised a concerned eyebrow as James looked down at him with a reassuring expression.
"No matter how absurd or unjust the questions become—and you can assure yourself they will digress into absurdity—you must remain calm."
James took another breath. He imagined his emotions expelling from his lungs with his last breath, as Ammoncourt had taught him. His mind felt sharp and clear.
"The boy masters what took the rest of us thrice the time, yet he cannot control his own emotions," Ammoncourt muttered to himself.
James gave a single nod as a breath escaped his lungs. The pair continued up the stairs in silence. After climbing hundreds of steps, the men finally reached the apex.
Two sentries cloaked in white stood on either side of an archway. Both wore helms of silver that masked their identities. Neither moved as James and Ammoncourt passed into the darkened archway. James had to duck slightly to clear the curve of the arch. The pair walked through a darkened tunnel toward the light beyond.
Near the end of the tunnel, Ammoncourt muttered tersely, "Listen, analyze, respond. And remember the primer incantation!"
James took several more calming breaths, then followed Ammoncourt into the upper chambers. The room was enormous. The floor was one large piece of polished emerald granite. It stretched in an oval to an identical archway at the opposite end of the chambers. In the center of the chamber stood a stone lectern. On it sat a large old book.
James kept his gaze forward as they walked toward the lectern, but he couldn't help noticing that the perimeter was lined with more guards in white cloaks. The men stopped within arm's length of the lectern. James concentrated on the archway at the opposite end of the room. He repeated the primer incantation as they waited, fighting the emotions that pressed upon his mind to free themselves. Hustasunetik.
After a moment of standing in silence, a sound resonated in the chamber. Despite Ammoncourt's instruction not to react, James turned his head toward the origin of the sound. He thought he heard a consternating grunt from Ammoncourt. He had violated his master's instructions before the hearing had even begun.
The sound echoed through the chamber again. The second time, James did not react. He knew what it was. The guards surrounding the chamber were each armed with long-handled steel axes. The blades were tall and slender, unlike standard fighting axes. They were rumored to slice through oak as easily as a man's throat. The never-dulling blades were one of many weapons carried by the guards.
Again the handles fell to the floor. James could feel the impact in his chest. The tempo increased. Boom, boom, boom. Flames erupted around the archway. The pounding stopped abruptly. Three men walked briskly beneath the flames toward the lectern. The first, smaller than the others, wore white robes with crimson embroidery that distinguished him from the guards. The pair behind wore blood-red robes, their faces shadowed by hoods.
As the man in white reached the lectern, the guards surrounding the chamber gave one final concussion that echoed for minutes. Boom. The man in white raised his right hand as if quieting an applauding crowd.
"We hear the testimony of James Lochlan Stuart IV in defense against charges brought forth by the council. Are all present whom we require?"
Glowing orbs illuminated, revealing a previously blackened area of seating surrounding the chamber above the guards. They dimmed as the man in white nodded his head.
Again James calmed himself. Exhaling slowly. Focusing on fact. Knowing the council had nothing to convict him.
"Let us begin," said the man in white. He peered over his spectacles at James, searching for signs of weakness, attempting to intimidate James with his cold grey eyes. James remained stone-faced. The man turned his gaze to Ammoncourt, who smiled back. His smile feigned friendliness, but his eyes sent another message. The man was unable to hold eye contact for more than an instant. He looked down at the lectern, clearly vexed. He turned his body slightly toward James as if to block the sight of Ammoncourt entirely.
"The charges: acting against a council mandate, spearheading a conspiracy, and murder."
"Murder?" James shouted. Taken aback, his heart immediately began pounding in his ears. Ammoncourt's eyes glanced quickly at James, but he made no other movement.
"Calm yourself," Master Elder said with enjoyment in knowing he had broken James's emotional shield with a single word. The red-robed figures each took a step toward James. Master Elder raised his hand, stopping the guards. James silently cursed himself for reacting.
"The council mandate ..."
"In order to afford a proper defense, the accused has a right to the victim's name, Master Elder," Ammoncourt interrupted.
Master Elder looked up with a grin. Ammoncourt's interruption provided him the opportunity for retribution from his previous embarrassment.
"Of course, Master Ammoncourt. The victim is Akil Karanis."
Several gasps could be heard from the seating area above. Ammoncourt's face turned dour as he took a step forward.
"Preposterous. Simply because the council is too incompetent to locate the man does not imply he's been killed. No proof has ever surfaced of this so-called murder; no evidence of a body has ever been found. It is clear that the council is grasping at anything in order to besmirch Mr. Stuart. If this, the most serious of charges, is so riddled with holes, how is any among the council supposed to give merit to the remaining arguments? I call for a vote on the immediate dismissal of all charges. Let us stop wasting the council's time by allowing Alvaro's influence to win over absurdity."
"Blasphemous! How dare you speak of Grand Master Elder Alvaro in such a manner. Such admonishment will not be tolerated," said Master Elder.
"I speak the truth. Nothing more," replied Ammoncourt calmly.
"This is not an open forum in which to further your political agenda, Master Ammoncourt. We are here today because crimes have been committed. Laws have been broken. A man has been killed. Now be silent and allow this hearing to proceed, or I will have you removed."
"Your puppets do not frighten me. Nor do your threats. I stand on the side of truth. Which, above all else, will prevail."
"Master Elder," a voice said from the seating area above the chamber. "I suggest you move quickly to show us your evidence. I imagine it is irrefutable, proving this boy is the murderer of Akil Karanis, or you wouldn't have summoned us here."
"Of course, High Elder Grimm," Master Elder replied hastily. "With respect to the murder of Akil Karanis I present the following damning evidence—a witness to the crime."
Gasps fell from the seats above. Master Elder outstretched his arms, palms facing each other. An orb of blue light no larger than a pinpoint grew in the space between his hands.
"As always, witness accounts are classified incontrovertible." He turned toward James, grinning.
Without another word, Master Elder gently tossed the orb into the air. As it reached its apex, it expanded, enveloping the entire chamber in a new scene.
In a forest of giant trees, James sat on a large stone by a fire. He looked younger, less burdened. He leaned toward the flames to warm his hands. A flash of light drew his attention. He stood quickly and turned toward the source. Akil Karanis appeared. James relaxed. He walked toward Akil, then stopped several feet away, and, encircling his right fist in his left hand, he bowed deeply. Akil returned the greeting.
"I didn't think you'd return," James said.
"Nor I, until I was summoned."
"By you, of course," Akil replied, slightly perplexed by James's response.
"I did not summon you, Master," James replied, a concerned look quickly replacing the relief.
"We must leave quickly. Gather your things," said Akil.
James stepped toward the fire and lifted a leather bag lying next to the stone upon which he had been seated. Another flash of light drew both men's attention. A third person, veiled by the
shadow of the tree, appeared.
"What are you doing here?" James called out.
"You know this person, James?" Akil asked.
James looked into Akil's eyes for a brief moment, then quickly muttered a word. A large rock lifted from the ground, and as if James controlled it with invisible strings, he heaved it at Akil. The stone hit an invisible barrier and fell harmlessly to the ground.
"James. Why?" asked Akil.
A purple flame grew between James's outstretched hands. Without a word, he pushed it toward Akil. Looking neither afraid nor even concerned, the flame struck Akil. He stiffened and began to shake where he stood. Beams of red light bore outward from beneath his skin. He let out a wail of pain as the light exploded from his body, leaving only a small purple orb floating in the air where he had stood. Akil Karanis was dead. James's hands were still outstretched, his face still wrought with concentration after casting such a massive incantation. The scene dissolved like mist, revealing the chamber once again.
Ammoncourt looked at James in disbelief. Pandemonium gripped James's emotions.
"This cannot be," Ammoncourt muttered.
"Incontrovertible," Master Elder said with a wry smile, "as are our laws. I move to immediate sentencing if it pleases the council."
"This is clearly a fabrication. The third law would have had to have been broken, as the alleged spell caster still stands before us," said Ammoncourt.
"Never in the history of our kind has someone tampered with a memory as you now allege," replied Master Elder.
"What is more reasonable? That this boy has managed to circumvent one of the unbreakable laws, or that someone, a person with real power, has finally found a way to tamper with a memory, which is not among the unbreakable eight?"
Ammoncourt stepped toward the center of the chamber, his arms outstretched in a pleading posture.
"Ladies and gentlemen. I implore you to listen to reason. The council fears this boy because of what he is. Have no doubt, he is the Anointed One. Do not be swayed by political motivation. Use common sense. Is it truly reasonable to assume that not only did this boy find a way to break an unbreakable law but that he was also able to overpower the greatest sorcerer of our time? Or perhaps there is another explanation?"
"Touching, however irrelevant at this point, I'm afraid," Master Elder said with the slightest of smirks. "It's over, Ammoncourt," he whispered. "You should have never returned."
"The only thing left to discuss is the sentence," Master Elder said, raising his voice.
"No!" James shouted, finally coming out of his shock-induced stupor.
"I didn't murder Akil. None of that happened. He's like a father to me. Someone tampered with the memory!"
James's body began to shake. The vein on his forehead pulsed as the ground started to tremble. Gasps and cries could be heard from the witnesses hidden in the shadowed seating above.
Master Elder nodded at the red-robed guards, and their body language quickly changed from aggressive to apprehensive. Neither moved as James continued to shake. A faint red glow surrounded him as he clenched his fists in an attempt to control himself.
"Now, you fools!" Master Elder screamed, jolting the guards into action. They stepped forward and took James by his arms. Both guards immediately fell to the ground motionless. As if expecting it, Master Elder waved his arms, signaling the axe-wielding guards to converge. James's vision began to spin as he listened to the sentence read by Master Elder. He could hear Ammoncourt arguing, but his voice was distant, muted.
"Rarely among our own people is such a heinous crime committed. The victim must be taken into consideration, being a servant to our council and community for a time greater than even Grand Master Elder Alvaro. It is because of the severity of this crime and the loss our world has incurred as a result, that I recommend to the council that James Lochlan Stuart IV be immediately exiled toThe Never."
"You cannot do this," cried Ammoncourt, no longer stooped over his cane. "He is the Anointed One!"
Shouts, screams, and cries erupted from the witnesses. The last thing James heard was "Banish him!" All sound fell into a void as he was engulfed in a spiral of purple smoke and pulled from the only world he had ever known.
Chapter TwoThe Never
James could feel the blood pulsing through his head. He could hear it whooshing past his ears. He focused on the pain that came with every contraction of his heart. For brief moments between the contractions, the pain lessened, minute reprieves from the pain he was sure would end his life. He had no sight, no feeling. It could have been hours, days, or weeks. All sense of time was lost. His mind would allow him nothing except the cycle.
Excerpted from EXILED by J. R. WAGNER Copyright © 2012 by Joshua R. Wagner. Excerpted by permission of Live Oak Book Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.