Writing > Threads Part 1

Chapter 5


Chapter 5

Pain shot through her head as Jaas slowly woke up. She groaned and rolled over on the hard surface before opening her eyes. She immediately regretted it. Sunlight shot through the window and into her head like a spear, and she quickly raised a hand against it. She heard a harsh chuckle to her left. Squinting, Jaas took in her surroundings. She was in the corner of a small stone and brick room. A prison cell from the looks of it; there were bars around her and in the other corners.

And she wasn’t alone. One of the men who’d grabbed her was there as well, grinning menacingly at her. He rapped his metal club against the bars and laughed as she shrank back away from him. He was still laughing as he wrenched the solitary door open and went outside. Gingerly, Jaas stood up and tried to move a bit. Nothing seemed broken, but she could feel a bruise forming on her cheekbone. Judging by the light from outside, she’d been out for at least a few hours.

With a start, she noticed another person in one of the cells. Or what had been a person, anyway. The old man was hanging from shackles on the wall, obviously dead. Lash marks and blood covered most of his body. He’d been beaten and whipped. His arms and chest were muscular and tanned; apparently he’d been some kind of laborer. Jaas decided then and there: the same thing wouldn’t happen to her. She’d make it out of here somehow.

With a start, she realized her bag was nowhere in sight! All of her notes and scrolls were gone! Hopefully, she felt near her neck for her recording sphere, but that was gone too. So was her arcane focus.

What had happened back there, anyway? With her focus, she could have propelled those men backwards, knocking them clear off their feet. But when she’d tried, nothing had happened. It had behaved like an ordinary twig and nothing more. Jaas tried to call on her bond with the focus, to see where it had been taken, but again… nothing. She couldn’t sense it at all!

Another thought occurred to her. She took a pinch of dust from the corner of her cell and began rubbing it between her hands. The friction combined with her own magical power should be able to start a controllable flame. One which, in theory, could burn hot enough to melt the lock on her cell, and burn anyone who tried to stop her from escaping.

Jaas wasn’t used to this primitive method of magic, but until she could recover her focus and find out why it hadn’t worked, this would have to do. That is, if she could get the flame going. For some reason it wasn’t working either. She rubbed her hands together, back and forth; but still nothing happened!

“Field notes, the 16th of Martus,” she muttered to herself out of habit, despite not having her recording sphere. “At least I think it’s still the 16th. For some reason I can’t explain, my magic is gone. I didn’t notice earlier because I thought it was only affected by the barriers, but something beyond my understanding is suppressing my abilities. Because of that, I was attacked and kidnapped by… I don’t really know who they are. They locked me up somewhere, and I can’t seem to communicate with them in any way. Something tells me I’m in for a rough time here.” She looked back at what was left of the other prisoner, and winced.

“As for the magic,” she hypothesized to herself, “I’m trying to figure it out. It’s not an anti-magic zone, that’s for sure. I can cast spells easily enough, but as soon as I do the energy is drained away somehow. I thought my divination spell wasn’t picking up anything dangerous, but I guess it wasn’t picking up anything at all. In addition… it seems that whatever this effect is, it’s powerful enough to suppress even the magic items I brought with me!”

That was a troubling thought. Her recording sphere was magic. It was possible none of her earlier comments had even been recorded. There was ink and parchment in her pack, but she doubted her captors would let her write anything down.

This was starting to make sense though, at least from an historical perspective. The ancient Vasiri had been accomplished mages, but if this suppression effect had suddenly hit them, it could explain why they’d never been able to remove the barriers themselves, or escape them. If the Blessed were responsible, it certainly could explain this strange dampening effect she was experiencing. Depending on how wide the field was, the Vasiri mages would have been helpless against it!

Jaas gave a frustrated grunt. Whatever had happened to Vasiriah, whatever horrors had visited its people, she’d have to figure it out without one of her greatest tools. She sighed, and wondered what the gods had in store for her next.


With a sigh, Arico knocked on the door. This probably wouldn’t be pleasant. The eye slot opened and a pair of brown eyes looked out at him briefly before the slot closed again. There was a clinking noise, and the door opened for him.

He knew most of Terres’ guards by sight, and they knew him. Most likely she’d told them to expect his visit. Still, they only took him up one floor before stopping him. The big one turned to him, expressionless. “Raise your arms.”

Arico gave him a pained look. “Seriously? We do this every time.”

“Do it, pretty boy. Or I break them.”

Punek wasn’t known for being a joker, nor for making idle threats. Arico obligingly lifted his arms and submitted to a search. He wasn’t stupid enough to bring weapons in here, but they never did take chances. Arico supposed if he were running this show, he wouldn’t either. When Punek was done, he knocked twice on the inner door and then opened it. Arico slipped inside before the big man could change his mind.

This building had been a clerk’s office once, long before Arico had ever been here. The second floor had been used to store all the ledgers the clerk had recorded for the Tanners during his career. When Terres had taken over, she’d moved all that out and furnished it in her own lavish style. Tapestries on two walls, a massive map of the city on a third, complete with threadlines running the length and width of it. A fireplace, with a fire even this late in the morning, on the last. Of course there were no windows in this room. Even the fireplace was grated off, above the flames. Terres liked her luxury, but she wasn’t stupid.

Almost as an afterthought, there was a cot in the corner. Terres slept here from time to time, rather than risk being seen by the Sustained guards she didn’t have in her pocket. Or in her bedchamber, if Arico believed some of the rumors about her.

“Ah, Timot.” She rose from behind the desk by the window. “How good of you to come and see me!”

Though more than a head shorter than him, she moved with a confidence and poise that said a lot about who she was, deep down. Before Arico knew what was happening, she’d gripped him in a firm hug and released him already. He was careful to keep a tight grip on the gems in his pocket; he’d heard that Terres had started out her career as a pickpocket. “How have you been, ‘cousin’?” She teased him with a kiss on the nose.

Stiffly, he gave her a cool glance. “I heard you have information for me?”

She laughed. “Yup. That’s definitely my Timot. All business, all the time. Never any time for fun, never any time for… play. Don’t you ever get bored with it?”

Wordlessly, Arico fished out one of the emeralds and placed it on the desk. Terres glanced at it with a brief expression of greed. “So serious.” She mock-pouted up at him, before examining the gem in the firelight. “Well, at least you can always pay,” she admitted. “That’s more than I can say for some of my clients.”

Arico just stood silently. He’d found that if he did nothing, she would eventually talk herself out and get to business. And she was a businesswoman, first and foremost. She didn’t ramble on this time, though. She sat down behind her desk, looking up at him seriously for a change. “A few hours ago, I heard a rumor from up north. It seemed like a tall tale, but I had a hunch, so I had one of my friends do some checking. The Millers picked up a woman wandering around Krellik patch. She apparently came from beyond the guard perimeter.”

“So? That’s not so unusual.” Arico shrugged. “She’s probably just a reveler who had one too many drinks and wandered off the Retreat.” In addition to being the northernmost patch on the Waters, Krellik was also the site of a vacation Retreat frequented by some of the Sustained lords and ladies. The Millers charged a lot for anyone who wanted to use it, but they made sure it was worth it.

Terres shook her head. “The Retreat isn’t open yet. It’s too early in the year.”

“Well, she must be one of the Millers, then. Squaresick, probably.”

Because most Sustained weren’t navigators, they relied on each family’s navigator guards to move them from patch to patch. Those who couldn’t leave their patches, for whatever reason, often fell victim to… troubled thoughts. Women especially, since most Sustained women lived a sharply restricted life. Unlike the farmers Arico had known growing up, Sustained ladies were expected to marry and bear children first and foremost, and to think for themselves last, if at all. No wonder some of them lost their minds and got squaresick. Even D’tor had a better life in that respect.

“That’s what they thought as well, at first,” Terres nodded slowly. “The trouble is, my sources tell me she’s not part of House Miller. She’s not on the Registry at all, and she has no shoulder mark, so she can’t be a stra’tchi. That leaves only the dwarves, and I don’t think she has enough facial hair to be one of them,” she added dryly.

That caught Arico’s attention. “Could she be an agent for one of the other Houses? Some kind of spy?”

“None of the families have claimed her yet, though that’s not surprising. The Millers would come down on them hard if they did. She did speak to the men who took her, though. Some language none of them understood. And then there was her gear.” Terres pulled a parchment from one of the desk drawers and flattened it out on the table. “My friend slipped this out of her pack before they locked it up.”

It was a tangle of lines and curves, covering almost every inch on the parchment. What was obviously a language interspersed the images, joining each one of them to the rest, but Arico couldn’t read it. He could see numerals as well, mixed in with the language. Arico shook his head. “Could mean anything.”

“Not really, my dear.” She winked at him. “You never studied Patali, did you?”

He paused, looking at her in surprise. Patali was one of the old languages, from back before the Threading. A few people still spoke it, but they were mostly scholars and historians working for the Sustained Council. Some of their oldest terms, such as stra’tchi, originated from that tongue. “This is written in Patali?”

Terres nodded. “I don’t have anyone who can translate it, but I’m sure of that much at least.”

Arico took a moment to consider. “No, it must be a mistake. Or a forgery. You know how the Houses like to mess with each other. This is probably just one of their tricks.”

Terres gave him an excited glance as she stood up and came around the table. “It’s no mistake, darling. She’s from the Outside!”

Arico gave her a disbelieving look. The Outside? There were stories about what would happen when the first visitor arrived. Durhu had told him tales about the Harbinger and the most recent prophecy. Arico had never believed them, though. Almost by reflex, he shook his head again. “No. We’ve never had a visitor from the Outside. Not once. This is a hoax; it has to be.”

“My friend told me she has dark skin and hair, just like the ancient Vasiri used to have.” She raised a hand before he could object. “I know; dark skin isn’t that unusual here, but there’s more. My source told me about the other stuff he saw in the pack, too. Bags of powders, gems and components he couldn’t even guess at. Cases upon cases of scrolls, all similar to this one. She was carrying a map of the city, without a single threadline drawn on it! From what he could tell, the map was of the city as it was before the Threading!

“And then there was the tremor last night, which I’m told was felt in every patch at the same time! What else could cause something like that, if not a breach in the threads? It may not be the prophecies coming true, but if this is a hoax, it’s the most detailed one yet.”

Arico grimaced. It made a certain amount of sense, and he certainly couldn’t explain the tremor either. “Regardless, she’s in some serious trouble. The Sustained Council will make her suffer for perpetrating this lie. And if it isn’t a lie—if by some crazy twist of fate she really is from the Outside, they’ll want to know everything she knows, and they won’t be gentle getting it out of her.”

“That’s why I asked for you, Timot.” She rolled up the parchment. “Lord Miller is currently occupied with territorial negotiations alongside House Tanner, and the rest of the Houses don’t know about her just yet. He ordered her stashed away, hidden until he has time to deal with her. And I know where they put her.”

“Where is she?”

“I knew you’d want to go after her.” Terres sighed, and glanced at the fire. “Such passion. Such devotion to rescue a woman you’ve never even met! All while you have someone right here, within arm’s reach, just waiting.” She sidled up to him.

Arico held up a hand, keeping her away this time. “As if you’ve ever needed rescuing in your life,” he noted sardonically. If anyone could take care of herself, it was Terres. “But you’re right,” he admitted after a few moments. “I am going after her. If only to find out the truth for myself.” He gave her his most earnest look. “Now. Where are they keeping her?”

She tsked at him. “Money first, my dear. I gave you a lot just now, but that’ll cost more. I know you brought more with you.”

Arico chuckled ruefully. She did have a certain attraction, in a mercenary kind of way. Perhaps that was the basis of her charms. She knew what she was, and wasn’t afraid to show it. She was possibly the first woman in Sustained history, ever, who was truly beholden to no one. Or perhaps not. Nouma had been independent enough, and D’tor was in her own way as well. He seemed to attract the rarer ones for some reason. Perhaps it was just his imagination, though.

He pulled out the other emerald, but held it back from her. “Her gear, too. Where are they keeping that?”

“Sorry, handsome.” She shook her head. “My friend only got a short look at it before they carted it off. By now the Millers have their hands on it.”

“I’ll take this, then,” he scooped up the parchment. “Oh, and I want a favor, too.”

A surprised look flashed across her face, soon replaced by a smile. “My, my. You have taken well to bargaining, haven’t you?” She studied his face for a few moments, almost as if searching for something. “Well, I’ve never been able to say no to you, have I? A favor it is.”

He opened his fist, and she took the gem, her hand lingering a bit too long touching his. “They stashed her in Shaggan patch. There’s a small outpost near the south end, just west of the Waters. It’s new, and lightly guarded. A skilled navigator like you should be able to get in and out without too much difficulty. From what I was told, she’s in a red brick building right by the Waters.”

“Thank you.” He said with a little bite to his tone, before turning away and heading back towards the door. “I’ll let you know what my favor is, once I decide.”

“And off he goes again, leaving me bereft and alone.” She spoke after him as he opened the door. “Do come back again soon, lover!” She called down the hall, most likely for the benefit of her guards. Arico tried to ignore his reddening cheeks as he left.


Jaas blinked in the dimness, not sure at first what had woken her. There it was again. A tapping noise, like stone on stone, up by the window. First light was creeping into the air and heralding the dawn—she’d been asleep for several hours.

The entire previous day had been an exercise in futility. None of her attempts to call on any of her magic had succeeded. No one responded to her when she shouted out the window. One person had come in with a tray of food: a term that could only be applied loosely to the barely-cooked fish they brought.

Standing and trying to ignore the ache in her shoulders, Jaas stepped over to the window. A man’s face unexpectedly rose on the other side, and she backed away in fright. On impulse, she stayed as quiet as she could, getting a closer look at him.

“Belaka huan.” He whispered at her, holding a finger to his lips as if he’d read her mind. “Etscaara tuana felsos ench asrau.”

As with the snippets of guard chatter she’d been able to overhear, Jaas could understand the root sounds. It was very similar in form to the common tongue in this area, Vasrah, but frustratingly different enough that she couldn’t piece it together yet. What little she could see of his face was gentler than the guards outside, though. It seemed fairly obvious he wasn’t with them. Jaas shrugged, an ‘I don’t understand you’ gesture, and moved a bit closer.

She climbed up on the stone shelf to get a better look through the window. The stranger seemed tall, perhaps twenty hands in height, and had light brown hair. Like most of the city’s people she’d seen so far, he was fair-skinned but tan. His eyes were blue, and his frame was muscular and well-built. Either he worked a demanding job, or he did his best to stay fit. Jaas felt a bit jealous about that. As a scholar, she had a glimpse into the mysteries of the infinite universe, but there were very few of her colleagues who could be described as… physically fit. Or thin.

“Do you understand dwarven?” He asked suddenly, in that language.

Jaas almost gasped in shock, and covered her mouth with both hands. She felt faint with relief. Finally, some progress! His accent was a bit strange, but perfectly understandable. “Yes!” She responded when she could find her voice again. “Yes, I do.” She looked back at the door nervously. “Who are you?”

“It doesn’t matter who I am,” he said shortly, looking from side to side for a moment. “Now, quickly. Is it true you came from outside the city? Far outside?”

“Yes,” she responded a bit more cautiously. “I came to see if anyone was still alive in here, and maybe find a way to bring the barrier down.” She followed that with a grimace. So far, she hadn’t been showing much progress on that score.

“Prove it.” Despite his demand, his face showed more curiosity than suspicion.

Jaas gaped at him for a second. “I… I can’t. I don’t know how! My magic doesn’t work anymore.”

He gave her a strange look, almost disbelieving. “Magic doesn’t work anywhere in the city. How could you not know that?”

That confirmed it, explaining why she’d been unable to free herself. The effect did cover the whole city after all. The stranger hesitated for a moment, and then pulled up a parchment and unrolled it in front of the window. “What is this?”

“That’s one of my scrolls!” Jaas resisted the urge to grab at it through the window. “Do you have my pack? The rest of my things?”

He shook his head. “They took it away. Pretty soon they’ll take you as well, unless I get you out of here first.”

There was something in his voice she couldn’t quite identify. Uncertainty, or perhaps fear? “You aren’t sure you want to rescue me? Is that it?” She hazarded, trying to remember to keep her voice down.

“It’s a big risk,” he explained apologetically, “and not just for me.”

There it was again. He was definitely fearful about being here, but he seemed almost excited at the same time. They just stared at each other for a moment, as Jaas ran through the possibilities. Whoever this stranger was, he looked a lot nicer than the thugs outside. He had no weapons, and his clothes were brown traveling robes, nothing like what they wore.

“I could scream,” she threatened lightly. “The guards might speak dwarven. I could tell them you were here.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to speak dwarven to them,” he said darkly. “Besides. I’d be gone before they could get here,” he added confidently. “I’m very quick on my feet.”

He waited another handful of seconds, and then sighed. “All right. Try to keep quiet. I’ll get you out of there.” His hesitation gone, he moved confidently and quickly, slipping out of sight around the corner.

Jaas felt a chill and uneasily sat down on her stone bunk again. He still seemed ambivalent about his decision, but the fact that he was helping anyway suggested the alternative was far worse. Who were these people, who should scare her so much? She was in a cage of ignorance, almost as much as one of iron bars.

There was a muffled thump against the door, and it opened a crack. Her new… friend—she guessed she could call him that—backed into the room, dragging an unconscious guard by the shoulders before closing the door. He gave the body a quick search before hissing something in his own language. Probably a curse. “He doesn’t have the keys.”

He reached down to his belt and opened a small purse. Removing two metal pins from it, he leaned down in front of the bars and began tinkering with the lock on the door. Jaas watched on in fascination. Of course she’d heard of lockpicking before, but most people she knew used magic for such things, making it something of a lost art. Her new friend was full of surprises.

“I’m Jaas,” she said belatedly. “Thank you for helping me.”

His hands twitched over the lock, and he looked up at her briefly. “It’s… better if you don’t know my name just yet,” he said softly. “In case this doesn’t work.”

Jaas had that cold feeling again. She could think of only one reason he was refusing to give his name. If they failed and were caught… she wouldn’t be able to identify him under torture. There was a faint grinding noise, and the lock clicked open. He slowly pulled the door open, as quietly as he could. Without wasting any motion, he rolled the unconscious guard over and pulled off his cloak. “Put this on,” he ordered quickly. “From a distance you might look like one of them. If they don’t look too closely, that is.”

He met her glance for just a moment, and then looked away. Suddenly Jaas considered that he might also be… shy? His curiosity at first, and now his professional attitude had certainly covered it so far.

As they left the building, Jaas’ eyes adjusted to the pre-dawn light coming over the distant city wall. She could see that her captors had moved her a good distance south, deeper into the city. It made sense that if they could pass through the barriers, they could take someone with them as well. They were still right next to the river, too. Perhaps that was what allowed them to move so freely. Her friend led her by the hand towards a gate on the south end of the compound. She could see two more unconscious guards, dragged up next to one of the walls where they couldn’t easily be seen. Apparently he’d taken a few risks just to speak to her.

Suddenly he raised a hand in warning and crouched down behind one of the low barriers. Jaas followed his example, a little more clumsily, before two guards in similar red-gold uniforms walked past them. After the guards made their way further west, her friend breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m Arico, by the way,” he said softly. “I… should have said that earlier.”

Jaas took in his stance, and his breathing. It could be a false name of course, but he did seem sincere. “I understand why you didn’t. Thank you for trusting me.”

“Can you swim?” He asked, surprising her with the change in topic.

“Uh, only a little,” she said with a sinking feeling in her stomach. The river was narrower here than it had been where she’d first arrived, so the current would be faster. If his plan was to escape downriver, she wasn’t at all confident she would be able to stay afloat.

He peeked through the gate. “They have patrols all over this patch. Our best bet is to the south. Don’t worry; all we need to do is get into the Waters. I’ll handle the rest.”

Jaas tried to hide her surprise as she nodded at him. There was something strange about how he’d said the word waters, but it was clear he meant the river itself. Arico started to move, but then paused. “Uh, this may sound strange, but you need to hold my hand the whole way. If I lose my grip, find me again, all right?”

Jaas didn’t know what he meant by that, but nodded again. This was clearly his show. They’d barely gotten out of the gate when a bell began ringing from inside the compound. “They know I’m missing!”

“Now we run,” he responded tersely. He hadn’t been kidding earlier. He really was fast. She could tell that he was slowing his pace so she could keep up.

Shouts rang out from both sides of the river, including what sounded like a command from behind her. It was too late, though. They were at the river. She took a deep breath as she jumped, hoping he knew what he was doing. Just before they hit the water, a loud pop rang out from behind them, and a spray of blood hit her side and face. Arico grunted in pain as they both went under.

Jaas had no idea what had just happened, but remembered to keep her grip on his hand as she kicked her way to the surface. The water around them had already begun turning red, as the current pulled them along and down. He was losing a lot of blood.

“Downstream. Quick!” Arico gasped at her, barely keeping his head above water. This time, she pulled him as they moved together. More shouts came at them from both sides, and then-

-the water was just gone! Jaas gasped and looked around. Instead of the river, or the brick buildings or the guards, there was just an empty whiteness extending out from her in every direction!

There was no sign of Arico, either. The only other creature she could see was a small bird: turquoise, with a long black beak, staring back at her. Even the ground itself was gone—both she and the bird were ‘standing’ on empty space!

Hundreds of white tendrils were in sight, moving around her seemingly at random. As Jaas stared at them, they seemed to shift and move away from her and the bird all at once. They began slowing down again, just before-

-she tumbled to the ground, soaking wet.

The white space was gone as well, and now she was on a grassy hillside. And Arico was on the ground next to her. Jaas looked around in amazement and saw a small village off in the distance, and the city wall beyond it.

Jaas knew all about teleportation magic; she’d practiced it quite a bit back at the Academy. This was something else entirely, though. Her spells were instantaneous: one moment there and then another moment here. Jaas couldn’t explain what she’d just seen. Or how they’d gotten here. Somehow Arico had teleported them here without casting any spells at all! Wherever ‘here’ was.

A faint whistling noise was emanating from behind them, and Jaas could see another thin line on the ground where they’d arrived. Arico seemed to have intentionally rolled them both away from the line when they’d hit the ground. Most likely, it was another of the invisible barriers she’d found.

Mercifully, it seemed that the guards had been left behind, but Arico was still bleeding and clutching his side. He tried to get up briefly, but then slumped back down with a soft moan of pain. “My home,” he grunted, pointing downhill at a small building a good distance from the village. “Get my father. Bring him here.”


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