An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Fleet Paws Tiberius

So this was the Society’s messanger. Had it only been early that same morning that Tiberius had entered the chapel and turned the aging pages of the Holy Canticles? It seemed as though weeks had passed since then. He took several moments to compose his thoughts. At first, he had assumed that the Whisper Glass would be the Society’s way of contacting him. If the boy was to believed, however, the stone was not a response to his summons at all. Instead, the messenger had come to him directly, or at least that was how it seemed. Because such meetings were so incredibly rare, he could not be completely certain that boy was who he claimed to be. All indications suggested that he was of the Society—he had the right sort of name, and he knew the significance Holy Canticles—but that guaranteed nothing.

Navarius also knows about the Canticles, Tiberius reminded himself. At the very least, the Master of Whispers suspected the chapel held some special significance, and Tiberius’s only previous encounter with this boy had also been in the presence of the spymaster. Could they be working together? Is this some sort of trap or a ploy to get information from me? He would need to chose his words very carefully.

“I need help,” he began. It was a simple place to start—entirely truthful and entirely unspecific.

“I had surmised as much,” replied the boy. “With what?”

“I need to find someone.”

There was a brief moment of silence, during which Tiberius imagined he could feel the boy’s eyes on him, measuring his words. “Very well. I may be able to help.”

“Pardon me?” It was an unexpected response. The Society’s messengers, even those who appeared in the flesh, were normally just channels. They would carry information back and forth, always working to maintain the anonymity of all parties. Tiberius had never heard of a messenger volunteering assistance directly. Maybe that’s not what he means. Maybe he’s just saying that he’s willing to carry my message.

“I said I think I can help,” the boy responded patiently. “To find the person you’re looking for.”

“How’s that? I haven’t told you who it is I seek.”

“I believe I already know.”

“Do you now?”

“Yes, Baby Blue Bird. You seek your pupil.” So, the boy knew his other name. Maybe he really was from the Society. They commonly entrusted each of their messengers with just one or two names, so that they could receive and deliver information only for those specific individuals. Messages for others had to pass through a highly sophisticated system of exchange before arriving in the hands of their intended recipients. Perhaps this Fleet Paws has been assigned to me, Tiberius thought. It seemed a plausible enough scenario, but he was still not ready to trust the boy.

“How do you know that?” he asked.

“I know a lot of things. Things you’d say I have no business knowing. And you’re probably right. Some of it I’ve learned, and some I’ve been shown. The rest I’ve pieced together myself. But it doesn’t matter now. I learned a long time ago that you can’t bring back the past. No matter how much it hurts, what’s gone is gone.”

There was obvious pain to his voice, a pain tinged with the impression of unspoken urgency. He knows! Tiberius realized. He knows that Jayslen is dead, and he’s trying to tell me without putting it into words. The old sage could not help but be impressed by the boy’s poise and presence of mind, and he found himself wondering about Fleet Paw’s age. Perhaps the boy was older than Tiberius had assumed. He appeared to have already mastered the art of saying one thing while communicating another—something that many grown men would never learn at all.

Jayslen had been a master.

“What else do you know?” asked Tiberius.

“That you don’t have much time. The wind travels too quickly, rising up when it’s least expected.”

The wind? What sort of riddle is that? It took Tiberius only a few moments to puzzle out a reasonable assumption. Surely the boy was talking about the whispers and rumours would already be spreading throughout the city, and well beyond. Even the Queen would know that such whispers were the invariable response to Jayslen’s notable absence from Relen’ayar. It was the same whenever he vanished for a period of weeks or months—except that this time many of those rumours would be true. Had they already started to spread? It seemed too fast, too coincidental to be mere chance.

Unless somebody who knows is already spreading the rumours. That made for a very short list, and Tiberius’ mind went immediately to Navarius. But the Master of Whispers guarded his secrets as jealously as a wyvern over its treasure. It seemed entirely out of character for him to openly share any of those secrets with others.

“You’ve been living in a hornet’s nest,” the boy continued. “It’s been quiet for a long time, but now it’s in very real danger of being stirred up. I don’t think the results will be pleasant.”

“And the one I seek?”

“I’m afraid that he is beyond you’re ability to find.”

“You call that helpful?”

“No, of course not, but there are things you need to know before… before I can explain. Those things are contained in the Whisper Glass.”

“I thought you said this visit had nothing to do with that.”

“It didn’t, at least not when I arrived.”

“But it does now?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Boy,” Tiberius snapped. “Why do I feel that you are evading the question?”

“Because I can’t afford to give you the answer you want. Not here. Not now. It’s too dangerous.”

“Dangerous for who?”

“For me. You are leaving the city soon, aren’t you?”

“How do you know that?”

“You’re not the only one with good ears.” Tiberius frowned. Clearly, the boy had been listening to conversations he had no business overhearing. Then again, perhaps they were his business. Perhaps he was more than just a messenger to the Society. “I’ll find you along the way. After you’ve heard what’s contained in the Whisper Glass.”

“We’ll be travelling by wind. I don’t see how you could possibly…” Abruptly, Tiberius cut his own words short as he was struck by a strange wave of pulsing energy. It surrounded him, flaring up like a thousand tongues of flame. Sinking to his knees, the old sage was overwhelmed by what could he could only describe as an intense heat—except that this heat did not scald or burn or consume. It simply was, just as it had been twice before in his life, and its familiar appearance nearly made his heart stop dead in his chest.

No! It can’t be. It’s too soon.

He blocked out the world around him, focusing solely on the strange energy. More importantly, he felt for its source. It was coming from somewhere in the north, too far away to pinpoint with any reliable degree of accuracy. He needed to get to a map, to consult his charts, to at least hazard a guess at the energy’s place of origin. Already, the unburning heat of the newborn Flame was fading from his mind. There would be no chance to consult anything, however. There never was.

“Boy,” Tiberius wheezed. “Are you there?”

“Yes.”

“Help me to the bed.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Fleet Paws. He approached Tiberius quickly, offering the older man the support of surprisingly broad shoulders. “Are you unwell?”

“I’ll be fine. But for now I am fading.” Slowly, he pulled himself onto the softness of his bed, laying his head back as he fell into the fever dream. There was no telling what he would find there—or even who he would encounter. Only one thing was certain. It would be a nightmare.

It was always a nightmare when the power of the Auratorch bloomed.

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