When Eli’s shift was over he had intended to go home, but instead he found himself stopped on the way out.
Eli turned around to see the psychological wing’s supervisor, Darius, walking towards him. Judging by his expression and general lack of interest in Eli himself the man didn’t know what he’d done today. “Sir?”
“Headed off to the execution already?”
“Actually – ” he began, but was interrupted.
“We can walk together.”
The man lit a cigarette as he walked and Eli used his magic to subtly change the wind to blow the smoke away from himself. “No one else was going, never liked going to these things alone. Damn near treason not to go if you’re not needed anywhere else. Gotta support the emperor. He’s the only one keeping us from complete chaos and savagery if you ask me.”
Eli found himself walking with the doctor, hoping to avoid confrontation with the man that technically controlled his paychecks. Instead he tuned the doctor out and resigned himself to attending the executions today. He didn’t seem to have any choice now if he wanted to keep things peaceful at work, and keep his job as well.
The doctor kept talking and Eli found himself in city center before he’d had a chance to break away from him and though Eli was drowning him out mostly he could tell the man was very passionate about what he believed in, even if he also seemed to find it dull and boring. the doctor was a contradiction he didn’t want to deal with ever again. If he could just get away.
The doctor, it turned out, was paying him close attention ad wen Eli tried to disappear in the gathering crowds he felt the doctor’s hand on his arm, pulling him back.
“You can sit with me. Only three rows behind the emperor himself!” The doctor seemed very proud of this fact and did not seem to see Eli’s eyes widen. Calla was already hidden in his cloak. She didn’t like where they were headed and neither did he.
The doctor had not exaggerated. Elias found himself sitting exactly three rows behind the emperor and in line with his imperial highness’ throne. The doctor was no longer talking to him, but to the person on his other side who looked about as enthusiastic as Eli was to be here, but probably believed that the doctor was right and failure to attend might be considered treason if you were important enough to sit this close to the emperor himself.
Eli listened to their conversation only enough to know if he was mentioned. He was focusing on a way to extricate himself. The emperor and his advisors at the front were laughing and finishing what looked to have been a large feast. Execution day was an all day event. The vendors they had passed on their way up here had been selling food and wares to the people passing by. The executions were structured for breaks for food and lighter entertainment.
This wasn’t Eli’s first execution and he hated the events. he had never understood how anyone could be so engrossed in the senseless murder of another human being that thy could eat and celebrate and have fun while there were people dying in front of them. Just the executions, the feel of a life leaving a body, left him feeling sick. His magic wasn’t the kind that could be shut off and ignored. He dealt with it every waking moment of his existence, the feelings of the ebb and flow of life. When a life was severed like this the sensation for him was almost painful.
The crowd below had started to jeer and he saw that a fresh batch of prisoners was being led to the gallows. Some would hang, some would have their heads chopped off. He knew as night fall approached there would eventually be the chance for a few pyres to be lit.
He could feel the unrest from a few of the people in the crowd. Most of them were children, but there were a few adults like himself that he could feel. They didn’t like this anymore than he did, they were here only out of obligation.
The doctor beside him and the upper class he’d been talking to all grew silent even as the crowd below jeered and even threw rotten fruits and vegetables at the prisoners. In this section of the spectators it was unseemly to take part in such activities. For that much, Eli was grateful.
“We made it in time,” said the doctor casually to Elias. “Just this batch and then we’re on to the rogues.”
Eli tried to keep his face calm. “You do realize, sir that I am a practitioner?” he didn’t know why he said it, but there were a few other practitioners with them in this section of the stands. The emperor’s personal sorcerer was standing next to the throne.
The doctor looked taken aback. “Yes, but you aren’t like these people! You follow the rules. If you ask me, we need more men like you in this empire. Magi who keep their magic in check and don’t think themselves above the law. “
Eli nodded but did not otherwise respond. He focused his attention on the emperor. The man was shorter than some people would think him to be. Eli had seen him before. Spoken to him even. He’d be a fourteen at the time, but it had stuck in his mind. He’d had a sense of madness about the emperor. That seemed only to have increased since then.
Eli’s family was a family of lesser nobility. Mother had been raised an heiress but when she’d devoted much of her life to the practice of fire magics and taken up with a commoner her family had tried to hide her from the imperial court’s eyes. But, she was too much of a mystery at that point and had gone on to form her own household. As a teenager, he and the rest of his adopted family were often guests at various houses and even a few times at the emperor’s own table.
He didn’t miss that life, yet here he was, being dragged back into by his boss. Between the woman last night, the boy in the ward, and now this, he was beginning to wonder if something was going on that he couldn’t understand.
As the first prisoner was led forward and fitted with a noose the emperor seemed giddy. Eli could just see the man’s head over the top of the throne bouncing and looking animated. Sitting above the table, Elias also had a good view of the crowd below. He could feel Cal beneath his cloak writhing as though looking for a way out. Her scent had changed. It was sweet, too sweet. It was the smell of fear. Most people were attracted to the scent so he did his best to mask it in the air around him.
He could feel the dread of the practitioners in the crowd. The people being executed now were those accused of shirking the laws of documentation and declaration. Eli himself wore a green patch on his sleeves with embroidery around it in purple, blue, and red. Signifying that he used all of the elements but earth was the one he was strongest in. Which wasn’t a lie, at least not for the moment anyway. If anyone ever discovered exactly how much he could do with some of the other elements he would likely be on the end of a noose come the next execution day.
False accusations were not uncommon, the man that was being fitted now did not have the air of magic about him any more than the doctor next to Eli. The emperor likely hadn’t cared. If he’d been in one of his famous moods when the man’s case had been presented it would have been nothing more than a witch trial.
He cringed at the thought. The families of the accused were made to stand in the front of the crowd. He could tell which family was this man’s. The little girls were hiding their faces in the mother’s clothing and there was a boy, he couldn’t have been older than twelve, who was staring down the executioner and though Eli could sense the fear in him he was trying to be brave, to be what he thought a man should be. His father on the gallows didn’t struggle. He knew it wouldn’t be of any use.
The executions went quickly. The emperor’s executioner had the cruel task down to a science. Night was falling and both Elias and Calla felt sick and weak. He was doing his best to not show it. The doctor had only become more jovial in his socialization as the executions went on. The emperor had become giddier. The crowd had begun to dwindle as people were sneaking off and back home, feeling their civic duty was accomplished and becoming sick of the festivities that surrounded the spectre of death, dressing her like a jester.
It was the last execution of the day. The emperor always saved someone he thought was spectacular for one reason or another for the last.
A crier stepped up to the gallows and Eli straightened when he began to speak. He was a wind mage and he projected his voice in such a manner that it would be heard throughout the entire city. If Eli himself wasn’t strong in wind magics he might not have known what the man was doing. The emperor wanted no one to miss this particular execution.
“We are still strangers here on Xan. This is an alien world, full of dangers to our way of life. Since arriving here our ancestors put in place rules. Rules that protect us from this alien place. Xan has a habit of playing with the natural order of things, of changing the way we see things. The longer we have lived on Xan we have become lax in many areas of these rules…”
Several guards led a cloaked and hooded man from somewhere Eli did not see. they had him at a distance by four poles attached to his neck. They were afraid to touch him. Eli could see the magic around the man. It avoided him, afraid of touching him as much as the men holding the poles.
There were cheers and jeers from the non-magical crowd at the man’s appearance. The sorcerers in the crowd could sense that this wasn’t a normal execution and Eli could tell they were afraid only because he was afraid himself.
The emperor giggled and shifted forward in his seat. He was excited.
He watched the emperor who was staring with glee at the proceedings. There was a startled gasp from the crowd. The man’s cloak had been removed and Eli could see what he was now. The man’s face was half gone, rotted revealing bone in various places. One of his eyes was shriveled and rotted in the socket. His remaining good eye was glazed over. Death was consuming him. He was a necromancer.
Eli was no longer listening to the crier. The undead necromancer lunged at the executioner waiting with a blade at the block that had been carried onto the platform. It was an iron construct that Eli knew to be of an old earth design. Necromantic powers and iron tended not to get a long well with each other, making the metal particularly good at putting a permanent end to a necromancer’s life – if it could be called a life.
Necromancy was something he knew to have a powerful draw. It was a strong magic but it was short lived. Eventually the necromantic powers cut off those of life and the body starved of the vital energy that came from magic running through everything that existed. the body died while the soul was still inside of it. This man was farther gone than Elias had ever seen or heard of in his lifetime. It was very hard to hide that kind of power for long. He wondered at how the whole city had not known of this man’s existence.
The crier’s speech was winding down wen a cry rose from the crowd. A mage in a black trench coat had suddenly burst into flames, but he wasn’t burning and neither were his clothes. The man charged through the crowd, pushing past the people, setting more than a few on fire. There were some magi who used their own magic to try and stop him, but he was determined to reach the stage. The ground began to shake.
Eli reacted, shoving the doctor unceremoniously into his peers and using a boost of wind to throw himself over the rows of people in front of him, crouching as he landed below the observation platorm.
He felt the earth for the magi causing the ground to shake. Several people knocked into him, but he had planted his feet firmly. Rocks were flying everywhere, he stopped most of them from hitting the people surrounding him, but he couldn’t stop them all and several people were already dead. The necromancer had managed to kill the executioner and the two guards.
The dead around him were rising. He felt Calla’s fear but he knew she would do what he was about to ask of her. Cal slithered down to the ground and planted roots. He poured energy into the little plant and she grew to the size of a horse, several more blooms appeared and as one they released a heavy pheromone into the air and the dead immediately turned toward Eli. Cal wound vines out toward the dead men and women nearest them and cut their heads off with sharp thorns and the bodies dropped. The crowd was in complete chaos, the area was surrounded by guards, a few of them wielding magic of their own and contributing to the ridiculousness of it all.
Eli didn’t know what he was doing but he knew he had to act.
Eli pinpointed the earth mage and went after him. The necromancer was raising the dead, but he knew Cal could handle it. He opened the water skein he always kept at his belt and with flames on one arm and water on the other, drawing more water from the air he went to meet the earth mage.
The man was heavily unbalanced and appeared to be made of stone. Eli hit his with all the fire he could, trying to focus on the man’s joints. They were barely functioning as it was, but if he could get them hot enough he could melt them and then cool them with the water, turning them solid and immobilizing the man.
His plan worked, but no sooner had he immobilized the man than he found the ground beneath him opening up as if to swallow him whole, in fact he was certain that was the mage’s plan. At the same time he was being hit from the other side by flames. He tried to douse the sorcerer in water, but he didn’t have enough and it evaporated before it hit the man. From ten feet away he could feel the heat.
His eyes widened in realization. He was going to blow himself up. He was heading towards a complete heat overload and if he wasn’t stopped everyone within the immediate area would be dead.
He was being hit from both sides and he could see Cal being overwhelmed by the dead. The newly dead executioner was swinging his sword and mowing people down like a train. The dead were coming for him but he had to focus on the pyromancer before him. He gathered as much air to himself as he could forming a near solid wall with it. He let out a single pulse of air and knocked everyone down between him and the fire mage and then sent a burst of air towards him, but it only seemed to fuel the fire. He was desperate so he did something he’d promised himself not to attempt again. He gathered the wind and the water in the air around himself, he felt electricity gathering in the air as he created friction with his magic. When he felt he’d gathered enough he shouted at Cal to take root. He let the newly created storm loose on the pyromancer and the earth mage. The pyromancer was swept up in the wind and into the air, he pushed harder with the wind until the man was higher than the palace and looked like a kite. It was just in time because the man exploded creating a field of fire in the sky and lighting the the area in a bright flash.
Eli suddenly found himself the focus of the necromancer, the earth mage was entangled with Cal now. From the ground he summoned a stone sword, a trick his mother had taught him and went forward to meet the necromancer, but the undead executioner got in the way.
His eyes were glazed over but the decay hadn’t started yet. He swung and Eli barely managed to block the clumsy attack. It was clear the necromancer had never had any experience with a sword. Eli ducked under the next swing and rammed his shoulder into the executioner’s gut. He managed to knock him down and ended up tumbling with the undead man to land at the necromancer’s feet.
The necromancer lunged forward, a death’s head grin on his rotting face and Eli held up the sword to block him but before the necromancer got to him a hand grabbed him from behind and he was pulled back to his feet. His savior stood in front of him, facing the necromancer. When the undead magi got close enough she placed one hand on his forehead and another on his chest. The rotting man froze.
Eli saw that his savior was none other than the woman he’d seen in Nirvana the other night. He watched as she took control not only of the surrounding dead, but of the necromancer as well. With almost no effort on her part all of the dead came to stand before her. They knelt, including the necromancer. Cal had the earth mage in a cocoon of vines a little ways away. She had knocked him out with a spray of pollen.
“Do you want to do the honors?” The woman before him asked. Her voice was deep for a woman and she had an accent about her.
It took a moment for him to realize what she had asked and she raise an eye brow at him. He shook his head. “Of course.” With a wave of his hand he set the dead on fire, including the necromancer. One by one the bodies dropped, inanimate. The necromancer, though was not truly dead. He was screaming.
“You could have stopped this! You could have healed me!” He shouted before his words turned into nothing but screams.
As the chaos died down and the guards realized who had stopped it all the woman smiled at him before running away, a dog joined her from the crowd and Eli paused to let Cal break off from her enlarged body, a little vine no more than a few feet wound its way around his arm and when it broke off the larger part withered and died almost immediately as whatever it was that made Cal what she was left it behind.
It took too long and before he could follow the woman he was surrounded by city guards, Zeke among them. His brother’s eyes were at once thankful, and also terrified, asking silently what Eli had done.