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The Man Within the Temple: The Golden Mage, #2

The Man Within the Temple: The Golden Mage, #2

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The Man Within the Temple: The Golden Mage, #2

Length:
339 pages
6 hours
Released:
Sep 5, 2015
ISBN:
9781516367658
Format:
Book

Description

Depressed and overwhelmed by learning the true meaning of her destiny as the Golden Mage as well as the major part she, along with Aidric, Keldan, and Aren, will play as foretold within the Prophecy of the Six, Allison despairs of ever picking up the pieces of her shattered life. Then to add insult to injury, the Temple of Seni sends representatives to Lamia to collect her in order that she may swear oaths to Seni as is required by divine law. The party is led by Eban, a Domnae full of an infinite amount of ambition and utterly despised by Aidric for reasons he refuses to confide to anyone. However, though suspicious of his motives, Eban's the least of her worries as going to the Temple means leaving the protection of Lamia's Shield with very little mage training under her belt at a time when hostilities with Mihr are at their highest, and rumors of a spy planted within the palace by Roderick have begun to arise.

The wheels of fate are turning ever so quickly, and Allison feels the threads of her life becoming helplessly and dangerously entangled within its spokes, even more so now as she is exposed to the politics of the Temple, itself.

Released:
Sep 5, 2015
ISBN:
9781516367658
Format:
Book

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The Man Within the Temple - C.G. Garcia

CHAPTER ONE

Allison McNeal sat silently in Aidric’s sitting room near one of the few windows his suite contained, staring out into the indoor garden, her eyes seeing nothing and her mind a million miles away. Patiently, she waited for Aidric to return from Diryan’s chamber, not at all anxious for the conversation she knew would happen.

After leaving Master Kiryl, she had remained silent, lost in a despair so great that even Aidric’s gentle prodding couldn’t coax a word from her. For once, even his nearness didn’t seem to affect her in the least. She had only been able to think about Master Kiryl’s words, echoing through her mind like the sound of a gunshot reverberating down a darkened hall. After they had been offered another meal by the Providencen priests—a meal she had barely touched—Aidric had built another portal, and they had returned. To what, she was no longer certain.

Looking troubled, Aidric had reluctantly left her alone in his quarters while he ran off to speak with King Diryan, promising that they would talk when he returned. She had merely nodded, and he had sighed in frustration as he had left. Allison hated herself for shutting him out like that, but it was the only way she knew how to cope with the terrible weight that had been forced on her that even now was threatening to crush her.

In her childhood when her stepfather had beaten her, her only solace had been to lock herself within her mind, away from the pain, the anger, and the utter hopelessness she had felt. She had trained herself so well to lock herself away when the pain became too great that now it was second nature.

Alone with only her thoughts, Allison had finally allowed the chaos of everything Kiryl had told them to swirl around freely in her mind as she tried to make sense of it all. Kiryl had spoken of truths, but she had no idea what he had meant. It had all sounded like a bunch of new age mumbo-jumbo to her, something one of those televangelists would rave about. She doubted even Aidric knew what the Seer had meant, and that troubled her more than she cared to admit to herself.

Then, there was her suspicion that Kiryl knew something dire concerning her, and for reasons unknown, had allowed her to know he knew and maddeningly chose not to reveal anything to her. Inwardly, Allison fumed over his silence, but what could she do about it? It wasn’t very likely that she would be visiting him again anytime soon, and even if she did, it was equally unlikely that she would even be allowed to speak with him again.

I have never known you to be so silent, Aidric suddenly said behind her.

Allison had not even heard him come into the room. Slowly she raised her head to look up at him. His face was drawn and his posture wilted as though he were on his last dregs of strength. She knew building that portal home had stretched him thin, although he would never admit it to her.

Her earlier guilt came rushing back. It’s because of me he’s ready to collapse.

You must be tired, she said, purposely ignoring his unspoken question. Now wasn’t the time to be selfish. Why don’t you go rest? I’ll be okay here on my own for the rest of the day. It’ll give me a chance to read some more.

You can’t be rid of me so easily, Aidric said with a lopsided grin as he pulled up a chair and joined her. "I’m not so tired that I cannot sit and talk with you awhile because Allison, we do need to talk."

I know. Allison refused to meet his eyes. She knew she would cry if she did.

I took you to see the Providencen priests in hopes of laying to rest any fears, any questions you had regarding who you are, he began softly, staring at her with eyes that were full of conflicting emotions. I never realized the extent of what they would reveal to you. Had I known, then perhaps I wouldn’t have been so quick to bring you to them.

His lips twisted into something like disgust. I did exactly as they wanted. You shouldn’t have had the burden of another prophecy to shoulder so soon.

Why? she asked more sharply than she had intended, raising her eyes to his. Isn’t it better that I know the truth? At least some of it, she thought bitterly, remembering Kiryl’s knowing expression.

Your silence when I left you here disturbs me, more so now than your silence directly after we left Master Kiryl, Aidric said. Since your arrival to this world, you’ve always been full of questions, curiosity, even doubts, but now, there’s—nothing. The look in his eyes was indecipherable. It shouldn’t have been this way.

But it is, Allison said quietly, turning her eyes back to the garden. It’s funny, the games fate can play with you. You live your whole life thinking your life is your own and whatever comes of it is what you decide to make of it. Then out of the blue, fate comes along with a mocking grin and flings something like this into your lap, expecting what? For you to just cheerfully deal with it?

Allison...

I had thought the Golden Mage business was bad enough, she continued as though Aidric hadn’t spoken, "and I was determined to deal with it and get on with whatever life I could make here. Then suddenly I’m not just some legendary mage destined to either save or destroy a kingdom I never knew existed until a few days ago, but also a mage destined to determine whether the people of this reality have a fighting chance to survive or not. There aren’t enough words to even express how monumentally terrifying it is to know that the survival of a whole world is partially up to me, someone who doesn’t really understand any of it."

Allison turned her eyes back to Aidric. He was looking at her grimly, the air of reassurance she had grown so accustomed to receiving from him conspicuously absent.

"Everything Master Kiryl told me made no sense at all! He told me to seek out truths—truths about what? And how, if I understand nothing?"

Aidric ran a hand through his hair in frustration as he replied, That’s why we often don’t seek out the help of the Order of the Providence. It seems they delight in speaking in riddles. Diryan especially abhors the thought of having to consult with them. If they would only speak in common terms that any layman could understand, then perhaps half the problems brought to them would not have ended in disaster. Perhaps these ‘truths’ Kiryl spoke of are merely representations of your acceptance of the destiny Seni has given you. It would seem so to me.

I suppose you’re right, she said thoughtfully. Maybe I’m just trying to make something out of nothing. Lord knows I tend to do that often enough! Still, there’s something that he was hinting towards but never actually said that’s been bothering me.

Aside from the obvious, you mean? he offered, flashing her a weak smile.

Funny, Allison retorted but smiling despite herself. Over the last few days, she seemed to have developed a weakness for Aidric’s smiles.

He shrugged. I tried.

You can try to cheer me up later, she promised, and then said more soberly, "For now, I’d like your opinion on my suspicions. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that he was keeping something important from me—something that I desperately needed to know. It even seemed as if he wanted me to know he was keeping something from me. I could see it in his eyes when he looked at me."

That doesn’t surprise me a bit, Aidric said with a look of disgust. If it’s not riddles, then it’s secrets. I have my own suspicions that the Seers enjoy watching us stumble along, helping us only when their own hides are endangered. Seni knows that they need a little amusement to liven up the drudgery of their lives. It’s probably unfair of me to say such things about them. Deep down, their intentions are probably for the best. They are, after all, messengers of Seni, but one does wonder—

He shrugged. The Providencen priests, in a way, are like stern teachers, and the whole world, their novices. Their aid will only take you so far, and the rest is for you to stumble through.

Not a very encouraging prospect in my case, Allison said dryly.

Indeed, Aidric said thoughtfully, and then he abruptly sprung up from his chair with a burst of renewed energy that came from God-only-knew-where. He held out his hand to her and said, Come. If you are to venture into uncertain lands, then we both shall stumble through them together. That I pledge you.

But—but where are we going? Allison asked in bewilderment as she accepted his hand, and he pulled her onto her feet. Shouldn’t you be resting after casting so many draining spells today?

I have rested enough sitting here with you, Aidric said cheerfully. Besides, I was never one to stay still for longer than a moment as you will soon discover only too well. Let’s leave all our troubles and all thoughts of legends, prophecies, and duties behind for the remainder of the day. You have yet to see the kingdom that lies beyond these walls, and I don’t know when we’ll have another opportunity such as this to escape. The village of Ell is near enough for a day-long outing.

But don’t you have other duties to attend to today besides me? Allison asked worriedly. You’re the Mage-general. Surely you—

Let me worry about that, milady, he cut in. Let’s just say that I’m taking the day off that I should’ve had the day you graced us with your presence. Now, no more protests. Shall we be off to the stables?

I can’t ride, Allison warned as they left his rooms.

Then it’s high time you learned, isn’t it? Aidric said with a boyish grin.

But in this? she said with a raised eyebrow, fingering her flimsy apprentice uniform with uncertainty.

Would you rather breeches?

Yes! she said eagerly. Anything but this weird nightgown!

Aidric looked at her askance as if she had said something very amusing. I was merely jesting.

Well, why can’t I wear breeches? Allison demanded, stopping in mid-step and folding her arms over her chest stubbornly.

It’s not proper, he explained, as if to a very small child. Somehow, she found his tone more amusing than annoying. You would scandalize the whole kingdom if you appeared before the public eye sporting breeches.

I don’t see how that would make much more difference now since my just being here is scandal enough for them, it seems, she retorted, but if it’ll cause you any grief, then I won’t do it.

Ladies ride well enough in skirts, Aidric offered.

Well said for someone who’s never had to ride in a skirt, she noted dryly.

I stand rebuked, he said with a chuckle as he held the huge door of the Mage Hall open, waving his hand before her in an invitation to pass, but I still remember my manners.

Allison smiled as she walked outside and immediately squinted as she was confronted by the bright sunlight, brighter than any sunlight on Earth. Blinking rapidly to clear the flashing spectrum from her vision, she shaded her eyes with her hand and gazed up briefly into the sky, marveling at the sight of the two suns. She supposed that she looked foolish gawking up at the sky, but this was the first time she truly was able to soak in her surroundings, and be damned with appearances! She was going to make the most of it!

The pungent scent of freshly cut grass reached her nostrils as she glanced all around at the expanse of the perfectly manicured grounds of the palace, drinking in the beauty, and at the same time wondering how they managed to keep a lawn so immense cut and free of weeds. Because I don’t think they have a lawnmower to help them along, she thought with a grin.

Beyond, to the south, Allison could vaguely make out the shapes and shadows of a forest along the horizon. A strange sensation washed over her as she stared at the forest, not threatening, but something that seemed to beckon her from deep within the foliage.

That’s the forest you found me in, she spoke up suddenly, positive she was correct, the Forest of Illusions, and that’s where the Mage-field is located, isn’t it?

How do you know that? Aidric asked, his expression surprised, as he walked up behind her.

I think I can—feel it, she replied with a slight frown, struggling to explain to him something she didn’t fully understand herself. I can’t really explain it. It’s like something in that forest is— She struggled to find the word. —calling me, she finished helplessly, but that isn’t exactly right.

Yes, Aidric said distantly, his forehead creased as though he were deep in thought. "It’s something all mages feel after they have Bonded with the magic there. In a sense, a mage has left a part of their essence there in the Field after the Bonding, and what you are feeling now is the result of it, though I cannot fathom why you are able to sense the Mage-field when you have yet to Bond with it."

When I die, the energy released during that transition from life to death goes to that Mage-field, she stated vacantly, tonelessly, as if she were in a trance.

"What?" Aidric choked out in disbelief.

Allison shook her head a little and then looked at him questionably when she saw how agitated he was. I’m sorry. I was woolgathering. Did you say something? she asked.

What did you just say? he demanded.

She eyed him oddly. "I asked if you had said something. I guess I wasn’t the only one woolgathering."

No, no—before that, he said a little impatiently. You said something about when you die, the energy released goes to the Mage-field. Where in Seni’s name did you hear that?

I did? Allison said, frowning. But I don’t remember saying—

Never mind, Aidric interrupted, running his hand through his hair, a gesture she was beginning to recognize as one he did when he was exasperated. Something tells me we should just let that one be. I pledged that we would escape this madness for at least today, and damn it, we shall!

Still frowning, Allison took the arm he offered and allowed him to lead her over to the stables, which were located at the south end of the palace grounds. The smell of hay was everywhere, causing her to suddenly erupt into a sneezing fit.

Damn it all, I would be allergic, she said, rubbing her nose in annoyance.

To horses? Aidric asked incredulously.

No, to hay, silly, she chided. I hope you brought a lot of handkerchiefs with you because I’ll be sneezing the whole trip.

No need, he said and placed a hand over her nose.

What are you doing? she demanded, shying away from his hand in alarm.

Ridding you of your allergy, so hold still.

Her nose instantly began to tingle, and a few seconds later, Allison felt the warmth associated with healing that she had grown so accustomed to feeling spreading up through her nasal cavity. When he removed his hand, the itching and sneezing had stopped.

You never cease to amaze me, she said wondrously, rubbing her nose as if not quite sure to believe that the allergy was gone.

And that’s only because you amaze so easily, he teased.

Aidric introduced her to the Stablemaster, Ahern, a tall, dark-skinned man with a pleasant face. To Allison’s surprise, he didn’t show even an inkling of fear towards her, only a mild curiosity.

He bowed politely to her and said, A pleasure, m’lady. I saw you at the celebration, though even then I couldn’t believe my eyes. ‘Tis not every day you get t’ see a legend. He then turned to Aidric and said, I’ll have Shadow saddled up for you, m’lord.

The Lady Allison is to be given a horse of her own, Aidric said. She has no knowledge of horses—so she claims—so have you any suggestions?

Ahern scratched his chin thoughtfully and replied, I can give the lady the filly from Tilly’s line if that be fitting, m’lord? ‘Tis a gentle and easily managed mount.

Aidric nodded, and Ahern disappeared into the stable. She could hear him ordering stableboys to bring saddles and tack for their horses.

I like him, Allison commented as they waited. He seems like a pretty straightforward man, and he treated me as if I was normal.

Indeed, he is, Aidric said, smiling down at her. He has been the Stablemaster for the king for twenty years now, and I trust that he’ll be so for twenty more. Never have we possessed horses of such strength and beauty such as Ahern has bred for us through the years. If I didn’t know any better, I could swear that he can hold a conversation with his horses in their own language. His control of them is nothing short of miraculous. That’s his gift from Seni.

You really don’t have to give me a horse, Allison insisted abruptly. I’m sure other people’ll need one more than I do, and I can always just borrow one when I need to ride.

Nonsense, Aidric scoffed. We have plenty of horses here that are in need of masters to give them their much-needed exercise. The horse, if she pleases you, is yours.

Ahern soon returned with their horses, Aidric’s a large, midnight black stallion that was true to its name and hers, a smaller, cream-colored filly, its silky mane almost a perfect match to the color of her own hair. Allison stepped up to her horse and slowly ran her hands over its sheer coat in admiration.

She’s beautiful, she breathed as she lovingly stroked its nose while the horse sniffed at her hand and then her hair. I don’t know much about horses, but even I can tell that. I think I’ll call her Destiny.

Ahern gave her a toothy grin and said, Aye, that she is, m’lady, and a fine name at that. Shall I fetch you a stool t’ help you mount?

No thank you, Allison said, grabbing onto the pummel and placing her foot securely into the stirrup. I think I can manage.

Allison, maybe I should assist— Aidric began then stopped when he saw that she had already managed to mount and was fussily arranging her skirts about her.

Stupid skirts, she muttered as she cast her eyes on Aidric’s amused face.

You will scandalize the kingdom yet, he said with a chuckle as he mounted Shadow with a flourish.

What did I do wrong now?

He raised an eyebrow and answered, For one thing, Allison, a lady shouldn’t sit astride a horse as you are now doing.

In this case, I don’t much care for what’s proper, Allison retorted. "If I sit the other way, I’m bound to fall off if the horse decided to take an unexpected gallop. If the people don’t like it, then they simply don’t have to look. If you won’t let me ride with breeches, then at least I can have some semblance of comfort riding like this. She smiled wryly at his dumbfounded expression, and added, Now, are you simply going to sit there lecturing me on proper womanly etiquette, or are you going to teach me how to ride her?"

Just when I believe that I’m starting to know you well, I always find that it’s otherwise, he noted with the barest ghost of a smile.

Then before she could think of a proper retort, Aidric launched into a full explanation of the proper methods of signaling the horse to go where she wanted with reins and knees. Soon, after absorbing his instructions and practicing them a little in the open fields surrounding the stables until Allison felt reasonably comfortable having reins in her hands, they were off to the west, to the village of Ell.

CHAPTER TWO

For the first leg of the trip, they rode in a comfortable silence. Aidric’s eyes were a bit distant, lost in his musings, while Allison split her concentration between her riding and taking in the landscape around her.

It was so peaceful here as opposed to the everyday clamor of a major city that Allison had grown accustomed to ever since she and her mother had moved to California. Here, there wasn’t the ever-present buzz of traffic zooming along a multitude of freeways, no horns blasting, no car alarms, nor were there sirens screaming by every few minutes to remind you just how terrible the world around you could be. Here, there was only peace—the serenity that only being in true nature, untouched by the hands of mankind, could exude.

It was then that Allison realized why the air had smelled strange when she had first arrived in the Forest Of Illusions. It wasn’t really because of the odor of nature around her—although that had been a very small part of it—but the fact that the air was completely clean. Here, the pollutants of man-made chemicals and the exhaust fumes of perhaps billions of cars had never touched the air. Here, there wasn’t even a word for smog or acid rain.

For the first time since this whole nightmare had begun, she felt truly relaxed, her mind unburdened for at least a little while from her problems and newfound responsibilities as her eyes absorbed the beauty of the land around her with an almost childlike sense of wonder. They were surrounded by a vast landscape of rolling hills, the grass a vivid green and flourishing. A few trees, different from those monstrosities she had seen in the Forest of Illusions and more familiar, dotted the landscape here and there. They resembled maples down to everything except the hue of the leaves, which were a yellowish-orange color that seemed fitting on a tree in late autumn, though Queen Ileanna had told her that they were well into spring, their world having four distinct seasons pretty much identical to Earth’s.

Strange birds were constantly flying overhead, as well as periodically emerging from the trees. Allison squinted up at them, somewhat blinded by the suns, but nevertheless saw that they were much larger than the birds she was accustomed to seeing. She judged their wingspan to be at least six feet, but that was not what really drew her attention to them. It was the fact that their feathers were stark white and appeared to shimmer like diamonds in the rays of the suns.

Allison urged her horse to pick up its pace slightly so that she was even with Shadow and asked Aidric the name of the bird.

Those are snowbirds, he replied bemusedly, his mind still lost in whatever it was he had been mulling over. Well named since their feathers glisten as a snow-covered embankment does in the suns.

She nodded and left him to his musings, falling back a bit, and continuing her observations of the land. Every so often, their horses would startle an animal that looked every bit like a cottontail deer from her world that had been hiding in the high grasses near the wagon path they traveled. Seeing another familiar animal besides the horses they rode gave her a great sense of relief, making her newly upended world start to right itself, if only a little bit.

Allison sighed and closed her eyes and mind against thoughts of the alienness of her new world, determined to simply enjoy the feel of the cool breeze flowing across her face and through her hair and the lulling pace of her horse. It was no wonder Aidric had suggested that they ride in an attempt to bring her out of her crushing depression. With the steady rhythm of a horse trotting underneath you and the wind whipping through your hair, what better way to raise your spirits?

In fact, she had lost herself so completely to those relaxing thoughts that she didn’t hear Aidric’s horse fall back a little to trot beside her until his voice broke through the slight trance she had not realized that she had fallen under.

I trust you are enjoying this little excursion? he asked.

She opened her eyes lazily and turned her head to meet his steady gaze. Dressed in his Mage-general’s uniform and the wind blowing his hair in untidy wisps across his face, Allison thought he had never looked more handsome than he did now. To her chagrin, she felt her cheeks begin to burn. Allison hoped that Aidric would think she was flushed because of the sunlight and wind.

It makes me regret that I’ve never gone horseback riding before this, she replied steadily, proud that her voice didn’t betray her emotions. Why is it that you always know how to cheer me up?

Aidric chuckled. Perhaps it’s because when you brood, you remind me so much of myself. In fact, if Selwyn had seen you after we returned from the Calamon Mountains, he would have said as much.

You know, Allison began thoughtfully, I just realized that I really don’t know that much about you. I hadn’t thought you to be someone who broods much, and yet, Raya said the same thing to me.

Seni help me, I cringe to think about what else that woman has told you of me, Aidric said with a grimace. What is it about me that you wish to know?

Oh, I don’t know—your family to begin with. You’ve never mentioned them. Do you have any siblings?

Aidric fell silent suddenly, the look in his eyes hesitant, and Allison feared that she had hit a sore spot for him just like he had when he had pumped her for information about her stepdad.

If you would rather not— she began hastily.

But Aidric shook his head and said, Shall we make a bargain? I’ll tell you anything you wish of me on any subject you ask—if you’ll extend me the same courtesy.

Fair enough, she agreed.

My family lived in Sersia, he said, one of the kingdoms bordering Lamia to the west. My parents were farmers, and although it was common for farmers to have many children so that they could help in the fields, I was an only child. My mother nearly died in childbed, and as a result of the complications, she became barren. They both died when I was but a lad of eight during an epidemic of the black fever in my village.

I’m sorry, Allison said softly, wanting to say more, but everything that came to mind sounded artificial and trite, so she just left it at that.

Aidric nodded his acceptance and continued, "I knew that I had the ability to become a

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