An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

A Watcher’s End Dian

Upon seeing the stormy expression on the First Watcher’s face, Dian’s immediate reaction was one of panic. Despite being Joined to a powerful eagle, Alstor’s appearance was closer to that of a bear than his golden feathered totem. He was tall and broad through the shoulders, with a thick, neatly trimmed beard that climbed right up to his cheekbones. His coffee coloured eyes were set deep beneath a thick and angular brow that always gave the impression of a faint scowl. There was nothing faint about it now.

The First Watcher looked as though he was ready to chew somebody’s head off.

But what doing in this back-street eatery? He had clearly been waiting for them. But why? It was true that Dian had not gone to speak to Alstor directly about this journey upon which he was about to embark. There simply had not been enough time, and he had assumed that the Magi, to whom the First Watcher reported, would take care of all such details. Dian’s mind flashed quickly through memories of all the long lectures about the League’s chain of command, but he could find no direct fault. He had been given a direct order by the Magi, and according to the League’s own Law, that command superseded Alstor’s authority in every area except for the direct organization and deployment of the Watchers.

Could that be the issue? Did Dian’s own inclusion of in this Journey somehow encroach on what the First Watcher deemed to be his own authority? If so, Dian knew he could expect a fierce verbal tongue lashing.

“Ah,” said Jaspar, even as the troubled thoughts rushed through Dian’s mind. “I see we are the last to arrive. So good of you to join us, gentlemen.”

“So good of you to ask us here,” responded the colourfully dressed stranger as the four newcomers found their own seats. He was sipping some sort of steaming beverage from a cup of fine, polished clay. “It’s always a joy to see you, old timer.”

The First Watcher only grunted. “I’m assuming this is an informal meeting,” he said, glancing at Emilia. “Nothing being recorded.”

“Of course,” said Jaspar. “Just a bit of simple business being done over a light meal.”

“Then I have no problem telling you that I’m none to happy about any of this, Jaspar. None too happy at all. Stones of our fathers! Do you have any idea how much of a headache you’re going to cause me?”

“I can guess,” replied the Magi, with just the faintest hint of a smile. He glanced at Dian, causing him to shift uncomfortably. “He’s bright boy. No doubt difficult to replace.”

“Difficult to replace? Bah! He’ll be damned near impossible to replace!” Dian could feel Sheeva’s eyes on him, but he kept his own gaze fixed squarely on the First Watcher. Impossible to replace? What’s that supposed to mean? All he ever did was fly over the Fellwood, and even then, he’d only be doing it for three years. There were still plenty of others who could fill the role until he returned—whenever that might be.

“In all my years in the Order, he’s one of the only people I’ve ever known to take to the flying the Fellwood without a single complaint. If I have to assign any of the others to do it, they’ll make it seem as though I’ve ordered them to cut out their own hearts. And after these past years, with the boy here having taken over task completely, it’ll only be worse!”

“It’s only temporary though.” The words were out of Dian’s mouth before he even knew he was speaking them, drawing the First Watcher’s hard gaze. It was so rare to hear praise of any kind come from Alstor’s mouth that even the sort of backhanded compliment that he had just been given was enough to bolster his confidence. One hard look, however, was enough to melt that confidence to nothing. “I’m sorry… It’s just that, I mean…” Dian took a deep breath. “Even if this journey takes two months, there are enough of us that you could rotate through the ranks and still not need everyone.”

“Temporary?” barked Alstor. “Two months? Are you trying to be funny, boy?”

“No! Of course not!”

“Then why would you make such a stupid and ridiculous remark. Unless…” Alstor hesitated for a moment. Suspicion filled his eyes as he turned back to Jaspar. “You haven’t told him yet. Have you?”

“I have not,” replied the Magi. He kept an even tone as he bit into one of the raisin cakes that had been laid out before they arrived. “We’ve all been a bit rushed, and I did not want the boy worrying about things that are beyond his control. But now that we’re all here, I suppose that we may as well get on with it.”

“Get on with what?” Sheeva demanded. By the steely edge in her own voice, it was clear that her own suspicions had also been roused. “What’s going on here?”

The Magi ignored her. Instead, he turned to face Dian directly. His previously jovial expression had vanished, replaced by a rigid formality that caused the young Watcher’s stomach flip. “Watcher Obsidian,” he said. “With the authority entrusted to me by the League of the Stone, I hereby pronounce that you are released from all duties and obligations to the Order of Watchers, here and everafter. The League honours you for the service you have rendered us.”

“I have all the official papers here,” growled Alstor. “Though that took some doing on such bloody short notice.”

For a moment, Dian could do nothing but bounce his gaze back and forth between the Magi and the First Watcher. His stomach was no longer doing flips, but contracted painfully, while his hands were already shaking visibly. A cold sweat began to creep up the small of his back. He was being released? Relieved of his duties as a Watcher? What does that even mean? Am I to be put out of the Citadel like an unwelcome guest? Is that the whole point of this journey? Are they taking me to the Fellwood just to leave me there? I’ll never make it back alive. Not on my own.

Just relax, said Azental. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation…

Dian barely registered her words. He was too busy worrying about what he would do. Even if he was not simply banished to the Fellwood, he had no family to turn to and his only friends lived in the Citadel, except for Delerick, and he was too far away to be of any assistance. Maybe if he begged, they would allow him to stay. There were plenty of labourers hired by the League, men and women with no totem of their own, but who were hired to work in the kitchens, to keep the Citadel’s nearly countless rooms clean and ordered, or even help the Druids in the stable yards.

“Obsidian?” Jaspar said. “Are you listening?”

“I can work!” Dian blurted out.

“Excuse me?”

“Work. I mean I can work. In the kitchens or the stables. It doesn’t matter to me. Just don’t cast me out of the Citadel. I have nowhere to go.”

“Good heavens, boy!” exclaimed the Magi. “Whatever gave you such a ridiculous idea? We’re not casting you out from anywhere.”

“But you said I’ve been released…”

“Only so that we can assign you duties in another area. You’re not going to have time to dedicate to being a Watcher anymore.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Maybe if you took the time to actually listen,” snapped Emilia, “you wouldn’t have that problem. I can’t take any more of this. I’ll be with the horses.” She came to her feet and stormed brusquely from the room, pausing just long enough to cast one more icy glare in Dian’s direction before loudly slamming the door behind her. As she went, Jaspar sighed.

“I’ll have to have a chat with that girl,” muttered the Magi, more to himself than anyone else in the room. “Can’t have her steaming the entire journey. But that is neither here nor there. The subject of the moment is you, Obsidian, and the reason for your release. I asked Alstor to be here so that he could present us with all the formal paperwork for your release. Since we’ll be gone for some time, I felt it was better to clean up all such loose ends before we left the city. From this moment on, you are no longer bound the Order of Watchers, but that does not mean that you will be cast from the League of the Stone. Far from it, for I gladly welcome you into service with a new order—that of the Magi.

“I have selected you as my apprentice.”

Stay Up to Date

There are all kinds of ways to keep up with the latest instalments of An Unfolding Tale. Subscribe to the newsletter for exclusive content, or follow the Tale through RSS or social media!