His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 05
The runemystes were created by the Runeclave centuries ago, their collective sacrifice an act so courageous, so selfless that it boggles the mind. Essentially, they were once weremystes, like me — sorcerers who had devoted their lives to the mastery of runecrafting. Thirty-nine of them were sacrificed by the Runeclave, the governing body of their kind, their spirits granted eternal life so that they could be guardians of magic in our world. They were essentially ensorcelled ghosts, although I’d learned over the years that they didn’t like to be referred to as such.
As I understood it, Namid and others like him were tasked with training new generations of weremystes, and keeping watch on those who might turn to the darker elements of runecrafting. In all but the most extreme circumstances, they were forbidden from acting directly on our world, but through their instruction and training of weremystes, they could help to keep wielders of dark magic from doing harm to either the magical community or the non-magical population. The renegade-turned-serial-killer I mentioned, Cahors, was one of the original thirty-nine. But he chafed at the limits placed on his powers by his fellow runemystes, and he found a way to escape their controls and assume corporeal form once more. More, by committing murders each month on the night of the first quarter moon, he was able to keep himself young and powerful. If Kona and I hadn’t killed him, he would have gone on murdering for as long as he wished to live.
But Cahors was dead, and the runemystes now numbered thirty-eight. In the weeks since we’d killed him, I’d often wondered if Cahors had been training runemystes the way Namid did. Were there sorcerers out there who for years had been learning the darkest secrets of our craft?
I could have asked Namid about this, but he tended to be tight-lipped when it came to answering questions about the runemystes. To be honest, he was that way about everything, which at times made him an exasperating teacher. And tonight I had other questions that were more urgent.
I drove to my home in Chandler. It was a drive of no more than eight miles, and at this hour it took only a few minutes. At rush hour, which these days in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area stretched from dawn to dusk, it might have taken me three-quarters of an hour.
It had been a scorching day — July in Phoenix; go figure — and it was still hot in the house. But the night had cooled off considerably, as nights in the desert often did, and so I opened every window and changed into gym shorts and a t-shirt.
“Namid,” I said, pitching my voice to carry over some distance. I probably could have whispered it and he would have shown up just as soon, but I liked to maintain the illusion that I had some small measure of privacy.
Within seconds, he began to materialize before me, shimmering with the light of my reading lamps like the surface of a mountain lake reflecting the moon.
In life, Namid had belonged to the K’ya’na-Kwe clan of the A’shiwi or Zuni nation — the water people, as they were known. His clan was extinct now, and had been for centuries. I didn’t know if Namid’s appearance was his way of honoring their memory, or if it was simply the natural, or perhaps magical, manifestation of his tribal heritage. Whatever its origins, Namid always appeared to me as a being made entirely of water. He had the build of a warrior: tall, broad-shouldered, lean, muscular. On this night he was as clear as a woodland stream and as smooth as the ocean at dawn, but one could read his moods in the texture of his liquid form the way a ship’s captain might gauge the weather by watching the sea. His eyes were the single exception: they always glowed, like white flames within his luminous waters. I would never have said as much to him — I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction — but he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.
“Ohanko. It is late. You should be asleep, and I should not be summoned at such an hour.”
He was also the most infuriating.
He’d been calling me “Ohanko,” which, as far as I could tell, meant “reckless one,” for so long that I couldn’t remember when he had started. And he had been talking to me as if he was my mother, telling me when to sleep and what to eat, for even longer.
“I’m sorry I called for you,” I said, “But I can’t sleep yet. I need some answers first.”
He regarded me for the span of a heartbeat before sinking to the floor and staring up at me, those gleaming eyes seeming to ask why the hell I was still standing. I sat opposite him.
“You conjured tonight.”
“Yes, I did. But that’s not–”
“What spells did you cast?”
Did I mention that he could be infuriating?
“I used a seeing spell–”
“Using the techniques we have discussed?”
“Did it work?”
“Yes, it worked fine.”
“Good. What else?”
“I cast a couple of . . . well, I call them fist spells.”
His watery brow furrowed. “Fist spells,” he repeated, his voice a low rumble, like the rush of distant headwaters.
“They act like a punch, but I can cast them from a distance.”
He nodded. “Crude, but effective. What else?”
“A camouflage spell,” I said. As impatient as I was to discuss other matters, I couldn’t keep a hint of pride from creeping into my voice.
Namid’s eyebrows — such as they were — went up a fraction of an inch. “That is high magic, Ohanko. Your casting was successful.”
“Yeah, it worked great. That is, until I tripped over an empty beer bottle.”
His expression flattened. “Have I not told you that you must tread like the fox, that you must act at all times with great care?”
“You’ve told me,” I said. “And I try. This time . . .” I shrugged. “What can I say? I screwed up.”
“You are fortunate that your carelessness did not carry a greater cost.”
I’m a grown man — thirty-three years old. My Mom has been dead for close to twenty years, and my Dad has been crazy for almost as long. In many ways, Namid was the closest thing to a parent that I had, and his scoldings still stung like cold rain. But at that moment, his disapproval was the least of my concerns.
“So you weren’t aware of all this,” I said. “You didn’t see me cast the spell, or knock over the bottle. You weren’t there for what happened next.”
Namid had a way of going still; it almost seemed like he turned from water to ice, and most of the time I thought it was very cool. Not now. Seeing his face harden, his body tense, I shivered, as from a winter wind.
“Tell me,” he said.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened. I was trying to sneak up on a guy, and when I kicked over the bottle he raised his weapon and fired at me. Three times. I couldn’t have been more than ten feet from him, and though he couldn’t see me, he aimed right at my chest. I . . .” I took a breath. “I should be dead.”
“Why are you not?”
“I don’t know. But in the instant that his finger moved I was almost sure that I felt a spell. I–I thought that maybe you had intervened.”
“You know that I cannot.”
“You did, not that long ago.”
“The circumstances were different. Cahors was our . . . screw up.” The phrase sounded odd coming from him. “I cannot keep you safe in the normal course of your life. My responsibilities lie elsewhere.”
I would have liked to ask him about that, too. Another time.
“Maybe I imagined it, then.”
“Is it possible that you cast without intending, without even knowing that you did it?”
I grinned. “I’m not sure how to answer that.”
“I am not sure how you could, either,” the myste said, his tone wry. “But you understand the point I am making.”
“Yes. But I don’t think that’s what happened. I was scrambling to cast a different sort of spell. I should have cast a warding, but it all happened so fast.” I shook my head. “Maybe he missed, plain and simple, though I don’t see how he could have. Is it possible that another of your kind has taken an interest in me?”
“Another of my kind?”
“I have told you, Ohanko: it is against the laws that govern my kind to interfere in your world. Another of my kind would be bound by the same prohibitions that bind me. And where you are concerned, another runemyste would not chafe at those prohibitions nearly as much as I do.”
I made no effort to mask my surprise; he wasn’t usually prone to such kindnesses. “Thank you, Namid. That might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
His translucent hand flicked out in annoyance. “I mean simply that others have not invested so much time and energy in your training. They would not be inconvenienced by your death the way I would.”
That was more like the Namid I had come to know over the years.
“Still, I’m touched.”
Namid frowned, but I could tell that my questions had piqued his curiosity. Or maybe it was more than that. Maybe he was scared.
“If it was someone else,” I said, “a weremyste or a runemyste who’s less bound than you are by arbitrary rules, it’s all right. He or she saved my life. It’s like I have a guardian angel.”