Chapter 23 can be read below the cut.
Veitlen was stared at the entire time he was at the grocery store. When he left, some of the people on the street appeared to recognize him. Thankfully, no one approached him. That did nothing to help his feelings of paranoia, and he ended up running down the street and turning into the nearest alley.
It was the same alley that led to the café that he, Temurlin, Kallinu, and Nymue had been at on new year’s eve. None of them were at the tables, but he did recognize a couple of students from Daidlis’s squad – Ever Vitovenna, Ohtavia Barak, Perturin, and Mihtan.
“It’s you!” Ever exclaimed.
“Huh?” was all Veitlen could say as he clutched his groceries.
“You, Tyvokala. That weird guy in Professor Kyvenna’s squad who’s all over the news now,” said Ever.
“Yeah…that’s me all right,” said Veitlen weakly. “Am I interrupting your lunch? I’m sorry.” He looked toward an empty table. “Actually, can I sit with you all for a while?”
“I don’t see why not,” said Ohtavia.
Veitlen grabbed a chair from the empty table. “I need to make a decision and I don’t know what to do,” he said.
“We can’t give you any advice if you say something vague like that,” said Perturin.
Veitlen stared down at the edge of the table. “No matter what decision I make, someone’s going to be angry,” he said.
“So?” said Ever. “That’s how life is. You make decisions and it pisses people off. All the time!”
“That might just be you, Ever,” Perturin commented.
“When’s your decision deadline?” Mihtan asked.
“A few days, I think,” said Veitlen. “Maybe tomorrow. Probably tomorrow.”
Mihtan put zer hand to zer chin. “I’m assuming this is something you need to keep private, which is why you haven’t explained anything,” said Mihtan. Veitlen nodded. “Honestly, I can’t give you an answer unless you go into specifics. Sorry, Tyvokala.”
Veitlen looked to Ohtavia. “What?” she said. “I didn’t volunteer to help you with anything. Don’t look at me like I know how to read your mind.”
Veitlen sighed and covered his face with his hand. “I don’t know why I thought any of you could help,” he grumbled.
“Why don’t you talk it over with your therapist?” Ohtavia asked. “They’re better equipped to help you make a decision than any of us.”
“That…that makes a lot of sense,” said Veitlen. “Thank you.”
Instead of talking with the therapist or anyone else, Veitlen went home and thought things over on his own. He decided that the best thing to do was to go to the Avatar’s Palace tomorrow and give Chanda his answer. He arrived there, dressed better than usual, and made his way to the main meeting room.
“What answer have you decided to give me?” Chanda asked.
Veitlen sat up straight and clasped his hands in his lap. “I accept,” he said.
Chanda’s eyes widened and she raised her eyebrows, looking fairly taken aback. “I honestly expected you to refuse,” she said.
“Are you fucking serious?” Veitlen exclaimed. “I seriously considered rejecting your offer, you know!”
“But you didn’t! That’s the important thing!” said Chanda excitedly. “Now, the other witches you know. I’d like their names.”
“Only if you tell me about the one you know first,” said Veitlen.
“Of course,” said Chanda. “Rahka Hiljachetsu. I doubt you’ve heard the name before. It’s been scrubbed from all records we have.”
It was the name that Temurlin had given to Nymue. “I don’t know why I would have heard of some random person,” said Veitlen.
“Random?” said Chanda. “Rahka was famous fifteen years ago. Everyone knew who he was.”
“And they all conveniently forgot as soon as you removed him from all the news records?” Veitlen said skeptically.
Chanda smiled. “I’ll let you ask him about it yourself. Now, what about the witches you know? Tell me their names!”
“Fine,” Veitlen said in a huff. “Nymue Rozenbarr and Lillin Syvukala are the two who live here in Tivadshy. They’re also attending the Military Academy.”
“Oh, I’ve met them!” said Chanda. “One of them is in Tjara’s squad and the other is in Daidlis’s. But what about the other one?”
“Well,” said Veitlen. “She’s older than you and I don’t think she’s ever been to Tivadshy. She’s only gone to Emira a couple of times.”
“In the Northern District?” Chanda asked.
“Yeah,” said Veitlen. “All the kids called her a witch. Not that we knew what the word actually meant. We thought witches lived alone in the woods and ate kids, like they do in the old fairy tales.”
“Kids believe all sorts of strange things,” said Chanda. “So, what’s her name?”
“Morgaine,” said Veitlen.
“Is this Morgaine well enough to travel here and speak with me?” Chanda asked.
“Yeah, of course. She hunts demons every day,” Veitlen answered. “Uh, wait. She might get sick like I did when I first came here.”
Chanda looked baffled. “She hunts demons every day? How old is this woman!?”
“Mid-sixties, I think,” Veitlen answered.
Chanda shook her head. “I assumed that even in the north, you let your elders rest and did the hard work for them,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Veitlen asked. “Everyone in my village hunts demons regardless of how old they are.”
Chanda eyed him skeptically. “Don’t look at me like that,” said Veitlen irritably. “You have no idea what life is like in really rural areas! We have to deal with demons every fucking day!”
“You’re right. It is impossible for me to imagine something like that,” said Chanda.
Veitlen sighed. “Next time I go up to Senna I’ll talk to Morgaine and ask if she wants to come all the way out to Tivadshy. I’m pretty sure she’ll say no. And also slap me for telling you all of this.”
“That’s a bummer,” said Chanda. “I really thought we’d all be able to meet together and chat.”
“I still don’t understand why that’s necessary for anything,” said Veitlen.
“You don’t see the significance of gathering all of us seven together?” Chanda asked. She raised her eyebrows.
“It’s not like we’re gonna be able to combine all our powers and do something like rejoin all the ghosts in the world. Or kill all the demons. Or bring Ellinen back,” said Veitlen.
“Your mind went in the complete wrong direction,” said Chanda. “If we all pass the Avatar test, I want us to go public with it.”
Veitlen grimaced. “Why would I want to do that? Why would anyone want to do that?”
“It fits perfectly into the plans I have for this country,” said Chanda.
Veitlen frowned. “I really don’t like the sound of that.”
“You don’t have to worry about anything,” said Chanda. “At most, you and the rest will be figureheads. You can go back to your normal life.”
“Yeah, whatever,” said Veitlen. “Are we done now?”
Chanda nodded. “Absolutely, unless you have more questions to ask me.”
“I do, actually,” said Veitlen. “Is Rahka Hiljachetsu still alive? I’d like to speak with him.”
Veitlen and Chanda stood in front of the Tsurennupaiva Prison. It was a small, plain building with no windows and no flashy signage. Vines crept along the walls, and the plants around the building had been allowed to grow without control. Veitlen knew it only held about six or seven people at a time, but he somehow hadn’t expected the building to be this small.
“Rahka is here?” said Veitlen.
“Yep,” said Chanda.
“You’re not going to come in with me?” Veitlen asked.
“Nope,” said Chanda. “You wanted to talk to him by yourself, remember?”
Veitlen shook his head in annoyance. “Whatever,” he said. He pushed open the door and walked in.
The room he walked in to was an empty reception area. There was a small front desk with a guestbook and pen set against the wall and an office chair next to it. A plaque on the wall read RECEPTION. Veitlen wondered why it was necessary.
He looked down at the guestbook. The last date was June 25th, over a week ago. It looked like people only visited once a month or so, and he didn’t recognize any of the names.
Veitlen wrote his own name in the guestbook and looked around again. He didn’t see any cameras, but there didn’t mean that weren’t any. There was a door on the opposite side of the room from the entrance. He opened the door to find an entirely white hallway. The doors, which had no handles, were also white. There was a plaque on each of them. Thankfully, those were gold in color.
Veitlen walked down the hall, looking at the names on the plaques. Rahka Hiljachetsu’s name was on a door on the right side of the hall, all the way at the end. Veitlen looked around the hallway and set his hand on the door.
“If anyone’s watching, I’m going in and there’s nothing you can do about it!” he said. “That’s what you get for leaving your prison unlocked and unstaffed!”
He pushed the door open and walked in. What he saw inside was baffling. There was a pane of glass separating him from another room, which looked much like a bedroom with a desk and a couple of bookshelves. A person with long, curly black hair sat on the ground, surrounded by paper with calligraphy on most of them.
“What the fuck?” said Veitlen.
Rahka looked up at Veitlen cooly, hovering over a sheet of paper with a dip pen. “What the fuck yourself,” he said.
“What the fuck,” Veitlen repeated. He left the door open behind him and walked up to the glass. “Why is there no one here? Why are there no locks? Why can I just walk in and do whatever I want? What the fuck is this place?”
“It’s a prison, duh,” said Rahka.
“I know that!” Veitlen snapped. He pressed his hands on the glass. “You’re Rahka Hiljachetsu, right?”
“What’s the name on the door?” Rahka asked.
“Rahka Hiljachetsu,” repeated Veitlen.
“Do you think I’m someone else?” said Rahka.
Veitlen stared at him for a moment and frowned. “Your spirit weapon. It’s silver,” he said. “Show me.”
“Ah?” said Rahka. “How do you know that?”
“Just show me,” said Veitlen in exasperation.
Rahka set the pen down on the sheet of paper in front of him and raised his hand. Blobs of a silver metal appeared in the air, floating around him. “Is this good enough for you?” he asked.
“You’re definitely the one Nym’s been looking for,” said Veitlen.
“Who?” Rahka asked. He flicked his hand, and the silver disappeared.
“Hey, I wasn’t done looking!” Veitlen complained.
“You already know it’s silver. What more do you want?” Rahka asked.
Veitlen pointed at Rahka. “You’re a witch. So am I.”
Rahka sighed and stood up. He was much taller than Veitlen had expected, and his hair was much longer – it went down to his waist. “Who are you and why are you here?” Rahka asked.
“I’m Veitlen Tyvokala. I’m a conscript at the Tsurennupaiva Military Academy. Avatar Chanda told me about you,” said Veitlen.
“Chanda did,” said Rahka. He narrowed his eyes. “Is she trying to take you under her wing?”
“What? No, I just have to find the other witches and bring them to her. It’s not like I’m her apprentice or anything,” said Veitlen. He poked the glass with his fingertip. “I have a cousin. Nym. She’s been wanting to meet the person with a fluid spirit weapon who got unpersoned.”
“Don’t just change the subject,” said Rahka.
“I’m gonna bring her here sometime so she can talk to you,” said Veitlen.
“I don’t care,” said Rahka. He rubbed his face. “Look…I don’t know why you’re really here or what you really want. But if you’re working with Chanda, you really need to rethink your decision. It’s not a good thing to do.”
Veitlen frowned. “Why is that?” he asked.
“If I told you right now, I don’t think you’d understand,” said Rahka. “There’s too much to explain.”
“So explain. I have time. I don’t have anything else to do today,” said Veitlen.
Rahka frowned in irritation. “Well, you might not be busy, but I am.”
“How are you busy!?” Veitlen demanded. “You live in a prison! You don’t have anything to do!”
Rahka pressed one hand against the glass and glared. “You aren’t going to leave until I tell you, are you?” he said irritably.
Veitlen met his glare with one just as steely. “Of course not,” he said.
Rahka sighed and pressed his forehead against the glass. Veitlen instinctively took a step back. “Fine. Sit down and I’ll give you a brief explanation,” said Rahka. He opened his eyes. “But it’s going to be brief. Understand?”
Veitlen grumbled under his breath. “Fine,” he said. He knelt down, hands on his thighs. On the other side of the glass, Rahka sat down cross-legged again. He still looked annoyed.
“You won’t find this in any record since it’s been expunged, but there was a massacre on the 12th of April, 483. I was responsible for it. I killed 86 people in a matter of seconds,” said Rahka. “That’s the danger of dark magic. It’s very easy to lose control and hurt people. Avoid using it unless you absolutely have to. Don’t even use it to kill demons. Use your spirit weapon instead.”
“Is that why Chanda made me promise not to hurt any humans with my magic? Because you did?” Veitlen asked.
“She did what?” said Rahka.
“Multiple people have told me that I could hurt others with dark magic,” said Veitlen. “But I don’t…how did you even manage to do that?”
Rahka gave him an odd look. “Dark magic is extremely volatile. There was a lot of it, and there were a lot of people around, and there were demons. You can figure it out from there.”
Veitlen stared blankly at Rahka. “I know it’s volatile. I know it gets out of control when you destroy it.”
“Then you clearly know what I mean and I’m not going to elaborate further. Understand?” said Rahka.
“Yeah,” said Veitlen flatly. “So…did you have trouble controlling your magic for a while after it showed up? I did, but it’s not much of a problem now.”
“No. I was twelve, but I was fine,” said Rahka. “It was only when destroying magic that I ran into problems.”
“Seriously!?” Veitlen exclaimed. “You manifested your spirit weapon that early and you never had any problems controlling magic?”
“Nope,” said Rahka.
Veitlen frowned. “So you’re saying I was uniquely incompetent?”
“I don’t know why you’d think that,” said Rahka. “Do you feel like you’re uniquely incompetent?”
“Look…that’s in the past. I’m okay at controlling magic now! I’ve only blown myself up a few times,” said Veitlen. Rahka raised an eyebrow. “Okay, fine, that sounds bad. But I’ll take your advice and try not to use magic if I don’t have to.”
“Better,” said Rahka.
Veitlen leaned backward, away from the glass. “Is that it? I thought you’d have more questions,” said Rahka.
“I’ll be back soon with Nym,” said Veitlen.
Rahka frowned. “Don’t look so upset about it,” said Veitlen. “She’s much better at asking questions than I am.”