Authors: Tania Johansson
Riddle of Fate
Copyright © 2014 by Tania Johansson
First published May 2014
Edited by Janet Philip
All Rights Reserved
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the author is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Also by Tania Johansson
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
The Forgotten Gods Trilogy
~ Book of Remembrance
~ Of Folly and Fear
~ The God Reaper
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Table of Contents
Of Past Things. Things Best Forgotten
He sat in the shadows, crouching in the upper alcoves. Coming here was a risk. A risk that he’d taken several times over the last fifteen years. Should he be discovered, they would carry out his sentence. He knew that. Still, he had to make sure.
It was his responsibility.
He squinted to see better in the gloom. Five Masters were gathered this time. Five. The last time there were five, it had been his trial. He shivered. Best not to think back on that day.
“Did he agree?” the Highest asked, his voice echoing through the cavernous room.
“Of course,” Meir said.
He should have known Meir would be involved. He had always been keen to rectify the ‘mistake’. “He didn’t want to die. Not really,” Meir continued. “He will find the girl –”
“Yes,” Garelle interrupted, “but what if she doesn’t accept him? Your entire plan rests on him being able to connect with her.”
“It will be fine,” Meir said, his words clipped. “As long as he follows the instructions, which he will, everything will fall into place soon enough.”
Garelle shook her head, her pale face pinched. She flicked her long braid back over her shoulder. Meir did not appear to notice her disapproval. Or he chose to ignore it. Would the Order carry out a plan that did not have Garelle’s support?
“How will he know when to proceed to the next stage of the plan?” the Highest asked.
“As we decided,” Meir said, “I did not disclose everything to the mortal. I have instructed him to await my orders.”
The Highest nodded his bald head making his heavy gold earring swing. The hefty piece of jewellery that was the emblem of the leader of the Order gleamed in the dim light. “It is done, then. Meir, be certain to monitor the situation and keep me informed.”
Meir bowed and the Highest vanished from the room. Garelle glared at Meir before she too disappeared. She was soon followed by the other three and he was once again left alone with his thoughts.
He cursed under his breath. Had he arrived a few minutes earlier, he would have learned what they intended. The little that he’d heard made him uncomfortable. He didn’t know how they had lost track of the girl in the first place, but he’d been glad they did. Now that they had found her, they wouldn’t let her be.
What would they do?
That was what troubled him most. Many years had passed since the incident, but in all that time, they never stopped looking for her. The Order had strict laws about interfering with the lives of mortals. Surely just because he broke their laws, it didn’t mean that they would too. They couldn’t. Could they?
He scrubbed a hand through his dark curls. Just as he was about to leave, Meir reappeared, followed by Heran. “I told you there would be no questions,” Meir said.
“Do you think Garelle suspects?” Heran said, wringing his hands.
“No. She is simply being her usual contemptuous self. Don’t worry about her, I have this in hand.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Make sure this mortal does as he is supposed to. If he strays, remind him of what he stands to lose.”
Heran nodded. “What are you going to do?”
“That is my concern. Now, go.”
Heran inclined his head before disappearing. He scrutinised Meir as he paced up and down the length of the room. What was he planning? Clearly, something that the Order wasn’t aware of. The ball of tension tightened in his stomach.
He waited until Meir vanished from the room as well before Leaping to the top of the bell tower. He often came here when troubled. It was quiet up here. Calm. Peaceful. Soothing.
The village below was still as only a little village could be during the small hours of the morning. He gazed up at the stars. They had always seemed a place he would have liked to escape to. A place where he could find peace.
Perhaps that's where people go when they die,
It was only when the sun rose over the distant mountain that he realised how long he had been sitting there. He stood, stepping up onto the ledge.
Sitting idly will accomplish nothing,
he told himself.
The time had come. He would have to go to her. He stepped off the ledge.
The Natural and the Unnatural
Staring out of the window, Khaya watched the people in the town square below. They seemed carefree, unaware of what the world around them was truly like. She wondered what life would have been like for her had she been normal. Less complicated, she reckoned.
She jumped and looked around. Peater was not a bad boss, but he could be harsh if he thought someone was idling. She felt her cheeks flush and turned her attention back to the page on her desk.
This was the fourth document that she’d had to read that day. Some days, she went through more than that without a hint of a foretelling. She deemed those her good days. Her employers, however, did not. So she forced herself to concentrate on what she read.
‘Yesterday, two messengers arrived at the border between Harron and Qart. They brought news of a skirmish not three days hence. They seemed to think Qart had the upper hand…’
As much as she tried to keep her thoughts on her work, her mind wandered. She glanced back out of the window. Everything shimmered, the image doubling for a moment before melding back together. In that moment she thought she saw someone standing in the middle of the square looking directly at her. But when she looked again, he was gone.
A foretelling was coming. It always started this way. She pulled the blank sheet of paper closer and dipped her pen in the inkpot. Her hand hovered over the paper, waiting. Words appeared on the page and she copied them down. What she wrote would be as much of a surprise to her as to anyone else. She never remembered a foretelling afterwards and the Company never allowed her to read what she’d written.
By the time her vision returned to normal, sweat plastered her black fringe to her forehead and her hand ached. She glanced down at the words. A hand snatched the paper away. She looked up.
Merrit’s face was apologetic as he slipped it into a brown envelope. He’d only started at the Company a few months earlier, but he was nice. He went out of his way to talk to her – something that was rare in the Company. She never understood that.
Everyone who worked here had some gift or another, yet they treated each other with distrust. When she had first started at the Company, she’d thought that she would finally meet some people she could just be herself with. People like her, who wouldn’t judge. She quickly learnt that was not the case.
Merrit flashed a smile at her before scuttling away with her foretelling. She peered out of the window. The market was quietening down and the sun was low. She would be able to go home soon.
She grimaced when Merrit returned with another document for her to look at. “Maybe you won’t have a foretelling with this one,” he said.
She nodded. If she did, it would be the third of the day and she would be sure to get one of her heads. Sometimes, her head pounded so that she could hardly find her way home.
She glanced around the room. The bookshelves obscured her view, but Peater was tall and she would be able to see his head above the shelves if he was close. Satisfied that no one was approaching, she fixed her gaze on a point just beside the report on her desk. She’d found that staring at the paper itself, even without reading it, could still result in a foretelling. After a short while, she turned to the next page.
Something in the document caught her eye and against her better judgement she read, ‘It is believed that Roi disappeared shortly after leaving his home. No trace of foul play has been found, but according to neighbours, he had seemed distressed when he left. His parents, with whom he shares a house, said that they believed that he had been in trouble. They fear the worst.’
This sort of document was unusual. The Company did not usually get involved in what they considered insignificant private cases. Asking Peater about it would only result in a lambasting. He had given her plenty of lectures in the past on how the documents she read were none of her concern and best forgotten as soon as she’d read them.
She spotted Peater’s head above the nearest bookcase and she fixed her eyes on the paper in front of her. “That’s it for today,” he said as he picked the paper up. “Nothing on this one?”
“No,” she said, looking pointedly at the blank page in front of her.
His eyebrows rose, but he did not reply before striding away. She gathered her things and resisted the urge to browse through the library before heading home. She still had four books at home waiting to be read.
“Khaya,” Merrit called from behind her as she started down the stairs.
She waited for him to catch up. “Would you like to go to the Prancing Pony with me? I’m meeting some friends there for a drink. Or two,” he added with a wink while rubbing at the side of his nose.
The Prancing Pony was a favourite tavern of hers, but she could feel a headache coming on. The colours were dancing at the corners of her vision already. “Thank you, but I think I’ll pass today.”
His face fell at her rejection. “Maybe tomorrow?” he asked with a lopsided grin.
“Maybe,” she said with a wave as they walked out of the library. She had to tell him that there was someone in her life. She just hadn’t found a way to say it without sounding awkward. She couldn’t very well blurt it out. What if she had misread his friendliness? Perhaps he was just that nice to everyone.
She stopped at the market to pick up a few herbs. She would need to have some tea soon if she was to avoid a full blown headache.
By the time she reached home, a dull throb beat at her temples. Walking into her kitchen, she stopped, her breath catching. A tall, broad man stood in the middle of the room, his face hidden in shadows. She backed away, but when she blinked and looked again, he was gone.
She searched the house twice before she was convinced there was no one there. Locking the front door, she rubbed her eyes. Could this be a new twist on the headache that was increasingly making its presence felt? Imagining people who weren't there? That had to be it. As much as she tried to convince herself of this, her hands were shaking when she put the kettle on the fire.
She let the herbs steep a few extra minutes. If she was hallucinating it had to be a bad one. She jumped at a knock on the front door, spilling tea and scalding her hand. With a muttered curse, she pulled the door open to find Brier with a bunch of wild flowers in one hand and a steaming pot in the other.
Any other night, that alone would have been enough to make her heart melt, but she wasn’t sure she wanted food. Or company, for that matter. His smile faded. “Are you well? You look a little pale.”
“I have a headache coming on.” She hoped he would understand and take his leave.
“Well, then a good meaty broth is exactly what you need,” he said as he pushed past her.
She suppressed a groan. He meant well and perhaps some food wasn’t such a bad idea. He dished up for them and despite herself, the aroma coming from the bowls made her mouth water.
She swallowed the tea down in one go, quickly taking a spoonful of the broth to mask the taste. He took her hand and tugged her closer to him, wrapping one arm around her waist. “Bad day at work?”
“Just a long one,” she said. He, of course, had no idea what she truly did. Revealing anything about her work would be a short road to the lawmen’s cells on some trumped up charge.
He planted a soft kiss on her lips and all thoughts of work fled. “Can I get you something else?” he asked, tucking a stray black lock behind her ear.
“You’ve already done enough. The tea will soon do the rest.”
“Is there something else troubling you?”
They’d only known each other for about a year, yet he seemed able to read her mind. It felt as though they’d been together for much longer. She briefly considered telling him of her hallucination, but didn’t want him thinking her crazy. “I’m tired, I guess.”
She couldn’t tell whether he believed her, but he nodded and led her to the rickety dining table. A book under one of the legs kept it from wobbling.
By the end of their meal, she was glad for his company as well. It stopped her dwelling on her earlier vision. Hallucination.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Her headache still lingered the next day. She sat at her desk, head in her hands, and tried to focus on her work. A futile attempt at times. “Argh! Stupid typewriter,” Leena said from somewhere behind a bookcase.
They only had two of these machines – and they were the only two in the province – but to Khaya it seemed they were more trouble than they were worth. Every day one of the two had some fault or another, which then took so long to repair that it was hardly worth the time you saved by using the blasted thing in the first place.
Boredom drove Khaya to take a look. “Stopped working again?”
“Let’s see, it’s about midday, so yes it is exactly on time,” Leena said as she smacked it on the side. “One of the keys is stuck again, but this time I can’t get it to come up and now it’s not working at all.”
“Do you want me to take a look?”
Leena swept her hand sideways as if to say, ‘Be my guest.’
Without much idea of what she was going to do, Khaya took Leena’s seat at the desk. After plucking in vain at the offending key, she turned the metal monstrosity over, but soon saw that the various parts were screwed together. “I’ll need a screwdriver,” Khaya said.
Leena rolled her eyes and stomped away. Khaya righted the contraption. It was a strange looking thing. It reminded her of a pincushion with all the metal keys sticking up from a central ball. This sort of silly machine would never become popular. She was certain of that.
A glint caught her eye. She had been staring at the machine without really looking. For a second, she thought she’d seen right inside it. A frown knitted her brows as she peered at it. Somehow, without physically seeing it, she saw what the problem was. The key that was stuck was blocking another mechanism. She had no idea what this mechanism did, but she knew with absolute certainty that it was the cause of the problem. If she could only twist it, just so.
There was a click and the key sprung up.
“What did you do?” Leena asked, screwdriver in hand and giving Khaya a dubious look.
“I think I fixed it.”
“How? You weren’t even touching it.”
Khaya had not taken her eyes from the typewriter and she just shrugged. “It’ll work now. I’m sure,” she said as she rose. She hurried away before Leena could ask her any more questions.
Merrit was waiting at her desk. “Are you well?” he asked. “You look like you’ve swallowed a thistle.”
She plopped down on her chair and had to catch herself as it nearly tipped over. “Have you ever heard of anyone having two abilities?”
“No. What’s this about? What’s happened?”
“I think I might have two.”
He sat down on the corner of her desk. “I am pretty certain that it’s not possible. Why would you think that?”
“Because,” she paused, glancing around to make sure no one else was within earshot, “I fixed Leena’s typewriter without touching it.”
He burst out laughing. Her eyes widened and she lifted her chin. “Oh, don’t look so insulted,” he chuckled. “The thing probably just righted itself. I have never heard of anyone, ever, having two abilities. It just doesn’t happen.”
Could he be right?
she wondered. After all, she didn’t touch it. “I have to get back to work,” she said, waving him away.
He held up both hands in surrender. “I didn’t mean any offence.” He was still grinning as he walked away.
She wanted nothing more than to forget she ever suggested she might have two abilities. Two abilities? Ridiculous. She immersed herself in the document in front of her, reading it carefully.
She was surprised to find the light outside fading when she looked up. Peater appeared from behind the nearest bookcase. “Khaya, in my office, please.”
She traipsed after him, wondering if this was going to be yet another lecture on how they needed her to have a foretelling more frequently. Didn’t they understand that it didn’t work that way?
He held the heavy oak door open for her and she walked into the stuffy room to find two blank faced men sitting at the long desk. “Sit, Khaya,” Peater said, motioning to a chair at the head of the table as he took a seat at the opposite end.
“Have I done something wrong?” she asked. Determined to keep an outward appearance of calm, she clenched her hands into fists below the table.
“Not at all, dear,” the man to the right of her said. His bald head shone in the lantern light that filled the room. His sharp nose gave him a predatory look. He folded his hands on the table, his fingers interlocking. “We have determined that you repaired Leena’s typewriter earlier today.”
“I don’t think I fixed it. Except if perhaps when I picked it up and set it back down, it somehow corrected whatever was wrong.”
“Oh, I think you know it was more than that,” the bald man said. “I apologise, how rude of me, I haven’t introduced my colleague or myself. This is Roald and I am Phalio. We work in acquisitions. So, when I said that we have determined that you repaired that machine, you can trust me on that.