The Crimson Mage

The Life and Times of Orenda The Reign Ender

By M.J. Brigaddon

Chapter 14

Ali never stopped complaining about his neck. Orenda kept reminding him that he had asked her to do it. They spoke quietly, but Orenda grew more and more annoyed the longer she found herself in his company. She longed to speak of something else, of anything else, and eventually asked a question that she had been wondering about for some time.

“What is it like?” She asked, “The human city? Where you’re from?”

“We call it ‘Huriyat AlIinsan’,” He told her, “My mother says that before… it’s been two hundred years, since the Urilians came. This place used to have it’s own language. This place, before it was founded, was always spoken about in hushed whispers, as if it already existed. As if it was already a real place, or a real concept, or… something.”

“What does it mean?” Orenda asked.

“I don’t know,” Ali pulled a pouch from his pocket and began to untie it, “I wish I did. I’ll find out one day. They took our language like they took everything else. To hear what the new arrivals have been through… they don’t want us to know anything. I think that they probably burned all our books like they burned yours. You ask me what I know of humanity, but what do you know of the fire elves?”

“Next to nothing,” Orenda told him.

“Do you know what I think, Orenda?” He asked as he pulled a ring from the pouch.

“That your neck hurts, I presume,” Orenda said, “That seems to be the central theme of most of your thoughts.”

“Thanks for that,” he laughed, “No, I mean, about the Urilians.”

“Something distasteful, I should hope,” Orenda stood on her knees and took a skein of water from one of the boxes.

“I think that they’re scared of us,” Ali said, playing with the ring. It was a simple, silver band with a single fire crystal set into it. “There are more of us than there are of them. They don’t have many children. They have fewer of them, and less often. They live longer, but they die just as easily. They know that if we all- all of us at once- had a mind to, we could wipe them out, easily.”

“Is that what you’re going to do?” Orenda asked, “Kill all the elves?”

“No,” he smiled at her, and for the first time he almost pulled it off, “Not you, you’re one of the good ones. And not Ry, either. That isn’t what it’s about. It’s not about revenge for me, I’ve lived a pretty peaceful life, compared to some of the others.”

“Then what is it about for you?” Orenda asked.

He was silent for a long time, studying the ring he held, before he answered, “I want the world to be a better place. People sometimes say, ‘The world isn’t fair’. I say, ‘Then we make it fair’. The world, right now, is in a precarious position. It doesn’t make sense. It’s all chaos- one person who’s trying to control the entire planet with her single, fallible mind. The colonies are madness; people are being slaughtered in the streets, children are working in fields or stuck in buildings with machinery, disease is rampant, there are droughts and famine… this is chaos. That isn’t how it should be. I think… that perhaps the world is being punished. Perhaps Thesis is angry with us. There was no reason to let it go on for this long and to get this bad.”

He turned and gazed directly into her golden eyes, “I want to bring order back. I want the world to make sense, as it has in the past. I know this was, once, a free place. I know that humans and fire elves lived alongside each other before the colonizers came. Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but… it had to be better than this.”

“I’m not sure that’s true,” Orenda said. “That it necessarily had to be better. It could have been horrible. You could be imagining a past that did not exist.”

“Are you named for the high priestess?” Ali asked.

“As far I know,” Orenda told him, “I’m not named for anyone. I haven’t seen another ‘Orenda’ in any of the registries I studied at the library.”

“There are people who have ancestors who told stories,” Ali told her, “I’ve heard that name before. Before the fire elves fell, everyone knew that name. That’s probably why they picked it. Only a few fire elven names survive.”

“Really?” Orenda asked, “Who was she?”

“Orenda Firefist was the high priestess of the temple at the Sacred Mountain,” Ali explained, “She was the leader of the fire elves. She was supposed to be able to speak with Thesis himself. She was… the last high priestess of the Sacred Mountain temple.”

“It seems to be a strong name,” Orenda said, in thought.

“Yes,” Ali agreed.

“How did she die?” Orenda asked.

“Certainly not the way I heard,” Ali motioned for the water and she handed it to him. He took a drink and continued, “They say that she was killed by the Emerald Knight, but I think the humans who escaped from slavery brought that legend with them. I don’t think that the Emerald Knight is real- I think that people are eager to have a reason for things. If I had to guess, I would say she died in the war, perhaps at the hands of Lady Genlen herself. She was a leader; she would have been the first one the Urilians went after. We’ll never know what happened. It was more than two centuries ago and all the records have probably been destroyed.”

“Did she have a family?” Orenda asked. “Did she have children?”

“It was centuries ago, Orenda,” Ali gave her a long, hard, look, “You’re twelve, right?”

“Something like that,” Orenda admitted.

“Not two hundred, then,” he huffed. “I can’t imagine why people try to trace a pretended lineage back to someone who was once important. We can all sit around and pretend that we were once wealthy, once kings or queens- but everyone pretends that. And it can’t possibly be true for everyone. You and I, Orenda, are the ordinary descendants of ordinary people. Even if we were descended from someone important, it would mean less than nothing now. What matters now is that I am to be a personal pleasure slave to Lady Genlen, and you’re going to complete your mission, and within our lifetimes, we will see this empire fall. If you want to be important so badly, you would have to earn it either way. What is your mission, by the way?”

“I don’t know,” Orenda reached into her pocket and took out the address that Susan had written, “I’m to go to this place, to the back entrance, and give a dark skinned, dark haired woman with a name I… should have written down… our passcode.”

“Oh,” Ali said as he looked at it, “I recognize that address. One of our informants works there. I’ll be talking to her as well. Her name is Bubbider. Never write down names, Orenda. Never, ever write down names. They intersect messages all the time, they take any paper on you if they catch you. You have to learn to remember. You can’t leave a trail. Susan shouldn’t have signed it.”

“Do you know what sort of place it is?” Orenda asked, ignoring his chiding tone. The more time she spent with him, the less adult she thought he was. She suspected that Susan had been lax about security because she thought that she had already been found out, and would soon be dead, at the time she had written it. She did not like the way Ali spoke as if this had been a light decision, or some sort of mistake, rather than a symbol of her bravery.

“It’s a private academy for the spoiled children of the earth elves,” Ali told her, “It isn’t very populated, but it’s very well staffed. As I said before, they don’t have many children. I’ll be surprised if the entire region could fill a classroom.”

Orenda was glad that she had found Rychelle. The cart was much faster than walking, yet still she had fallen asleep again, and when she awoke, they were still traveling. Ali was awake, and peering out the slit in the curtain. His bandages had been changed, and he had applied so much of the aloe that it was soaking through, splattered out the edges.

“What are you doing?” She asked in the way only a cross child who has just awoken can, “You’ll get caught.”

“Do you feel that?” Ali asked her, “that change in the air? The magic is harder to pull? It’s still there, I can still feel it, but it… it’s difficult to drag up.”

“It is a bit different,” Orenda admitted. “I couldn’t say how exactly…”

“It’s the water in the air!” Ali said excitedly, as if this was a good thing.

“Water in the air,” Orenda pondered, then shoved him out of the way to see for herself as she exclaimed, “The ocean!”

Susan had told her to travel until she could see the ocean, but in her haste she had not thought exactly on what that meant. Orenda had never seen anything like this place, never really envisioned it. She had spent her entire life living under smog, where water was scarce and precious. She had no idea that only a few day’s journey away she would see the tall, white buildings, the clean streets, the beautiful people-

And the shimmering water that stretched to the end of the world, where it met the sky and the setting sun, and the reflection sparked as if it would transport her to another world. Orenda had never seen so much water, and for a few seconds, could not process that that was what it was. It had to be an enchanted portal, or a rippling mirror. But it wasn’t. It was the sea.

“It’s strange how much it looks like the desert,” Ali said, “They’re both just endless expanses of nothingness- well, not endless, they do have an end, obviously, but when you look at them, you can’t tell, because of the curvature of the planet.”

“The empress is on the other side of that,” Orenda said, “Why does anyone listen to her? She can’t come here. Look how big it is and imagine how long that would take.”

“I don’t know,” Ali said, “I’ll find out.”

They were in a city now, not a town, and Ali spoke much more quietly than he once had.

“There is a safehouse, Orenda, near the docks, in the worst part of town- or there was, the last time I checked. It’s where people go when they get off the boats, an inn called the Sipping Siren. Remember that, if you ever get into trouble- no, don’t write it down, remember it.”

Orenda rolled her eyes, and huffed, “The Sipping Siren.”

“Yes. It’s getting dark, but I think you can see that giant mansion there, on the cliffside, overlooking the sea?” Ali asked.

“I can see perfectly well in the dark,” Orenda said, growing more and more annoyed by his know-it-all attitude.

“Wait, right, elves can see in the dark,” Ali reminded himself, “Sorry, it’s just… sometimes people like you and Ry… you don’t seem elven. You seem human.”

“Well, I’m not,” Orenda snapped.

“Well, anyway,” Ali said, “She’s apparently ruled since the war. She’s over 200 years old.”

“Who?” Orenda asked, “Lady Genlen?” It dawned on her what he was saying, “That can’t be her house! I thought you were going to tell me that was the school! No one should have a home that big! I saw people sleeping in the streets as I traveled! I would have done it myself were I not in hiding!”

“Well, that’s where I’ll be staying,” Ali told her, “It’ll take me a while to get integrated into them- I don’t know how many of them are going to be on my side.”

“How many of who?” Orenda asked.

“The other boys,” Ali told her, staring at the mansion.

“But they’re human,” Orenda argued, “Of course they’ll be on your side.”

“Pleasure Slave to Lady Genlen is a cushy position, Rendy,” He said, “They know how easy it would be to be in the fields on those farms we passed, or in the cage match fighting for their lives- hell, even cooking and cleaning are steps down. This is… more like a pet. Like a bird in a cage- but it’s a really nice cage.”

“I don’t think I would like to be a pet,” Orenda argued.

“I wouldn’t either,” Ali agreed, “But I know what it’s like to fly free. They don’t. But I’m sure they’ve seen what happens to the ones who try.”

“Yes,” Orenda agreed, “So have I. Charles flew from his cage, didn’t he?”

“Well,” Ali said, “Not all of them get caught.”

Widget is loading comments...