This scene comes from Chapter 4 and shows the fallout from the attacks in chapter 2 from the villain’s subplots. Keenan is a unique side character who bridges the gap between the Atilan court and the ordinary Debilan that make up most of the city and poses a foil to Luca when they meet later in the book. This scene is his introduction! If you aren’t familiar with the story, you should first check out the WIP page. I hope you enjoy reading!
The guards stumbled on the battlefield as their targets vanished from behind their spears and attackers disappeared mid-blow. Keenan tripped over another guard and hit the ground with a grunt. On instinct, he pulled his shield over his head, but when no attack came, he cautiously lowered it again. The fallen soldier beside him groaned and pulled himself to his feet before extending an arm to his squad leader.
“Where’d they go?”
Keenan searched the area. The anarchists left glassy patches on the sandy floor of the arena where they stood. Scorch marks from their spells. What magic let them vanish without burning alive? No matter. They left. The fight ended. Now he had bigger problems to face. Spectators trampled each other to escape and piled against the locked gates. Dead bodies littered the two sections where the Atilan sat.
“It doesn’t matter! Get those doors open!”
The soldier armoed and ran. How many soldiers did he have left? Two unlocked the gates. The others recovered from the shock and made their way to him. At first glance, four fallen. Among the carnage stood Atala Lyss—one of the council and the highest-ranking lady among the Atilan and the city. Blood splashed her white dress, but whether it was hers or someone else’s, Keenan couldn’t tell.
He spun to face her and made an armoe. “Are you injured?!”
“The others are. Remove the council to the palace infirmary. Where are the anarchists?”
“They’re not in the arena anymore. We don’t know how they escaped. A flash of magic and then-“
“Send someone for the investages so they can figure out what this means. What about the rogue fighter?”
“The one with wild magic? A Debilan boy, I think.”
“Where did he go?”
“I didn’t see. I was across the arena in spear formation with my squad. He probably escaped with the crowd after the anarchists disappeared and we opened the gates. I apologize, I thought it was for the best if- “
“No matter, you chose right. We will find him. Bring the injured Atilan to the temple for healing. They will receive treatment after the council. Later, we will send officials to identify the murdered Debilan.”
“Velis.” Keenan made his acknowledgment of her requests with another armoe and hurried to direct his squad.
Medics came with stretchers soon after, and he moved with them into the temple, where enormous statues of Daza and Nymbi glared down upon their worshipers.
What is this? Their eyes asked. A new sacrifice? We want more.
Keenan shuddered under their stony-eyed gaze and bowed before giving more instructions about where to place the injured. One troop of soldiers forged ahead into the dormitories. They stomped through the halls, pounding upon the doors of each novice. Soon, the dead and injured assistants lay between the thrones of Daza and Nymbi, and soldiers rousted their families from their sleep to mourn the loss of their beloved. Keenan pulled a girl aside as she rushed to the beds.
“You’re a medic?” he said, more statement than question.
The blonde girl wrung her hands as she stared at the ground. “Yes.”
“Come with me.”
“But my mother is dying! Can’t I see her first? I’ll come help as soon as I’ve said goodbye!”
“No. She’s as good as dead already. Leave her be. Others need your help.”
“Sir! I only ask for a few moments!”
At this outburst, a woman on the ground tried in vain to pull herself up, every severed muscle straining against her weight, every piece of burnt skin pulling her back. She gasped her daughter’s name as she fell to the floor again. The girl burst past the guard and fell to her knees at her mother’s side. “Ma!”
Keenan let her go. They clasped hands only for a second before another guard seized the girl by the scruff of her shirt and hoisted her to her feet, dragging her away.
“The Captain gave you an order! There are councilmen to heal first,” he barked. He pulled her away from the courtyard by her arm. The girl resisted and dug her feet into the ground, though they skidded on the tile. She slipped and tumbled to the ground.
Keenan pushed the other guard away and helped the girl to her feet. She wept. She looked behind her to see her fellow medics dragged from the bodies, all called to help those more important than their own families. Keenan’s stomach twisted, and he whispered an apology. She turned back around to make eye contact with him, then nodded her understanding. Orders were orders, and she had a duty to the council above all. They both knew this. Shakily, she stood and followed the guard to the infirmary.
There lay the High lord and Atlo Olir, both dead. The other two members of the council lay in beds next to them, screaming in pain. The medics rushed to the cabinets lining the walls and threw open the doors. Shaky hands pulled out vials of medicine, pain killers, crystals, and candles. The senior magicians took the lead in carefully placing each item around the injured council members and chanting words of incantation. The novices ran back and forth between the beds and the cabinets.
“Fetch water. Boil herbs. Cut cloth. Light candles. Move quickly. Breathe softly. Don’t disturb the elders. You might accidentally kill them. Stop that. Hush now. Don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about. Don’t be selfish. You’re doing great work. This is more important. Of course, your brother will get a proper burial. Don’t be silly. Nymbi will guide us.”
The waxing moonlight and candles fought through the dark to show their work. The rushing novices cast shadows across the room with each trip. It was past midnight now. A few girls dared to sit, and earned harsh scoldings for being so stupid and selfish as to rest.
As the sun rose the next morning, the all-nighter pulled to an end. One councilman passed in the night. The other survived, and now lay in a shallow sleep, his wife at his bedside. Only now could the novices finally rest and several had sprawled on the floor, using their friends as pillows. Others left to find and pay homage to their deceased family members. The headmistress and medics huddled in a corner, whispering among themselves.
Keenan joined them again in the wee hours of the morning after completing his other guard duties, next on post to watch over the vulnerable leaders. He stood at the door, leaning against his spear for strength. Show no weakness. His back remembered his drill sergeant’s whip, and he straightened his posture in reflex.
A scuffling of footsteps came from outside, and he nearly dropped his weapon as he moved into a blocking stance. Atala Lyss impatiently tapped her foot, and he pulled back again to let her in as she dismissed her other guard. He saluted Keenan as he headed toward the barracks to rest. Lucky bastard.
The huddle of elders immediately stopped their conversation to rise and bow to the last surviving member of the Council. She was a lovely woman despite being worn with stress. Ash brown hair fell in disheveled curls around her shoulders and the black makeup around her eyes smudged. A perfect complexion stained with pink blush and she still wore the lacy white dress that she had worn to the execution, though she had long since kicked off her formal shoes for some slippers a novice had volunteered. She met the woman’s eyes with an even, though tired, gaze.
“Atala,” the headmistress said, “How else can we offer our service?”
“Send away these girls and your attendants. This is the council room now.”
“But Atala, they’re looking after- “
“No Buts. Get them out of here. I do not want gossipy children overhearing our discussion.” She collapsed into the first available chair and took a glass of water from a maid. The headmistress motioned to two girls sitting on the floor, snapping her fingers and barking a command to get their attention. They scrambled to their feet, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. She gestured to each and gave them their commands. Hurry! Don’t be stupid. Wake up. Be respectful for once.
The novices bowed in understanding before shuffling off to their tasks, robes sweeping the floor behind them. Others hurried out after them as other superiors shooed them off to their rooms. The headmistress rested her hand on Lyss’s shoulder in a motherly gesture. “Is there anything else we can do for your comfort?” she asked.
Lyss stiffened at the touch, pulled away, and plucked the hand off. “No. You, Keenan, stay here. Send someone to fetch the augury. I want to debrief and plan in private, and if the council must stay in their sickbeds, we will stay with them.”
The headmistress bowed and instructed the rest of her assistants to rest and report back at first light, before sending her one on the errand. The Atala took a long draw from her cup. She set it on a nearby counter with a shaky hand.
“Do you want another guard posted?” Keenan asked.
She shook her head. “How many of the council are conscious?”
He paused, hating to speak the report he mentally rehearsed a hundred times in the past hour. “None of them. Atlos Olir and Rusus are both dead already. Atala Elize might be the next to go.” He couldn’t save them now. The prior captain gave the order to lock the doors, and their fighting was a futile countermeasure in the arena. This wasn’t his fault. He couldn’t save them, but he wished he could spare the survivor the news.
Lyss cursed and gazed at the beds with a hard expression. She cleared her throat. “I thought as much. No hope after that carnage,” she said.
Her voice was even but strained, and Keenan’s heart wrenched for her. Despite serving in the guard, he didn’t love the council. They employed him and protected his family, so that was good enough for him. He didn’t need to endear himself to the people he protected. It paid not to get attached with the rising tensions in the city. But Lyss was now their only leader after losing her friends. That burden was not one he envied.
The augury—head of the temple of Daza—returned with the headmistress of Nymbi, and they settled into their seats besides Lyss. Keenan kept his post at the door, but moved closer to listen to the council. She folded her hands in her lap as she began speaking.
“With the other council members incapacitated, it falls to me to take rule until they recover or need… replaced. It is my duty and my honor to serve my city in this way, and I expect the same attitude from my immediate subordinates. This is no time for weakness. This recent victory will embolden the anarchists, and we need to be ready for whatever they try next.”
Keenan nodded, dreading the idea of another vicious massacre like the one tonight. “When I left, I posted guards at intervals around the city and the perimeter of the palace complex. Additional men are on rotation for bodyguard duty as needed.”
“A good start. We need to fortify our forces. We cannot afford to take the defensive side of this conflict. Rally the other captains and coordinate a strategy for finding these criminals. Start recruiting if you need the soldiers. Work with the investages to track down the illicit magic.”
“The magic used by the anarchists, or the Debilan boy?” Keenan asked.
“Of course, Atala.”
Lyss turned her gaze on the headmistress and augury. “I am sure you already have your best healers working on the council. When you can spare the help, move on to the other Atilan injured, then set up aid stations around the arena for anyone else who needs the help. Set up a committee to collect the dead and give them a proper pyre. Let the Debilan know we recognize their loss as well.”
They nodded. Between the two of them, they took care of the major responsibilities of the temple, including organizing public worship services and offering collections. Keenan imagined he saw their thoughts turning as they mulled over logistics, staging, and supplies.
“We will need to publish new statements against the anarchist gods. They will trap the Debilan in blasphemy if we do not retaliate. What if the boy worked with them? They might have staged his resistance to show their power. I suppose we shall find out with the investages’ report. Even a stray Debilan with magic will cause confusion. We cannot let them question our authority,” the headmistress said.
“Yes, we must uphold the sanctity of the divine mandate,” the augury said. It will be easy to turn the people against the anarchists. But we do not want them to turn instead to one of their own. We must lure or force the Debilan boy into our court. If we control him, we control the narrative.”
Lyss hummed and gave a slow nod. “I will claim him as one of our own, some bastard child, and offer him a place among our ranks where we can watch him closely. Undoubtedly, there will be imposters looking to raise their status. I trust your people will process any potentials to see if they can replicate the feats of magic and descriptions from witnesses.”
The augur noted potential tests with a wicked grin. Lyss rubbed at her temples and considered before continuing, “I truly doubt he will turn himself in willingly—any Debilan with that much power would never admit to stealing so much. Then, we’ll place a ransom. If they hide, their neighbors will turn them in for the reward rather for the same reason.”
“An excellent plan,” the headmistress agreed. She’d prepared notes of her own as well.
Keenan’s vision swam with exhaustion and he asked a scribe to record his role in the scheme. He couldn’t keep all the details in order as they chattered about logistics and meetings of elders that would take place tomorrow. So much to do. The sun rose within the hour. He tried not to slump against the wall. How hadn’t the others fallen asleep already, seated as they were? The ache in his legs kept him from growing too comfortable as he stood at parade rest.
Eventually, their conversation drew to an end, and Lyss rose. “Thank you for your patience, captain,” she said to him. “One more favor tonight. Escort me to my rooms. I fear there might be more anarchists posed for a second attack.”
He responded with the standard reply, “Veils.”
Together, they left the infirmary. He called two more guards to escort the headmistress and augur to their rooms, and two to guard the infirmary. Somebody should watch the nurses as they changed their shifts to make sure no spies or assassins snuck in to finish their murders. Finally, he returned to the barracks and collapsed. He served again in a few hours. Keenan drifted off as the palace roused for the day, dreading the inevitable call to action.
Thank you for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing my April Goals Recap. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
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