Tales of the Farseer
Queru Steinerrec gazed through time and space as he had known countless times before. He was to see that which none else could, record that which no one else could commit to pen. He looked deeply ahead into a reality of history only a few scant days to see the shape of a man lying in a cot on the far distant shores of Daramis. The Farseer delved into the man’s thoughts as he rested, seeing the tapestry of a dream in the man’s mind. A man in bone colored armor, a man without a face, clinging desperately to the saint herself as she fell away from Fonoros amidst a rainy, starless night.
The Farseer looked steadily upon the person as he woke up from the quizzical dream, a pang of sadness wiped from his face imperceptibly fast to any other but the young oracle. A forgotten memory of a dream, not so uncommon to any inhabitant who dared to dream themselves. Perhaps that is what this Bu-jinwen had felt. Why should such a strange dream concern him if he had forgotten it so quickly?
Little did the Sinoan know that all of Fonoros should receive this dream, and that no one would remember.
Queru startled from his trance. Pulling his drawing table close to him, he committed to paper what he had seen and heard. The vision was of a throne draped in shadows with some slithering form writhing in the seat, concealed from the light. In front of him, three figures were clothed in robes. Through his gift of vision, Queru saw the names Octavion, Ebenezer and Icabod. The first man wore robes like tapestries; a clear motif of the sea was prevalent in the pictures on the cloth. The second wore robes the color and surface texture of coral. Of the last, the Farseer saw the coloring of the fish, whales and sharks of the sea shifting in the folds of the material. All three wore an ominously distinctive mask. The masks flared to the sides and back in the shape of tendrils, covering the defining features of the creatures’ faces. Upon the masks were three eyes placed vertically in a stack that glimmered red. The overall color seemed as a glassy gray with green highlights made by what seemed to be an underlying layer to the fabric. A portion of each mask was cut into a semicircle that allowed for a human-like mouth to produce words to listeners through a mesh of seaweed like streamers. The three forms stood attentive to the throne.
A fourth emerged from a ground that rippled away as water. Queru could not see the entrance through which the newcomer had arrived from, his visions rarely could give sight of the background to the events he would see. The new creature wore a robe that attempted to mimic the waves all about the town. Flares of deep blue flowed into strips of foamy white. Emerald greens cascaded into grays and blacks. The being bowed its masked head to regard the occupant of the throne, opening its robe to reveal a marvelously crafted sword and a pair of rods at its waistline. The sword had the appearance of coral, and bore a single, brilliant mirror about its crossguard. He wore the same mask of the other three, and he lifted his head to look upon the ruler in front of him.
“I have delivered your message as you have asked. The humans will side with our cause or their city will crumble,” The new man, Ludovic, pronounced in a raspy, otherworldly voice.
“Their towers are already destined to fall Ludovic,” proclaimed one the creatures with a hissing sound.
“Not a force is the world can hold back the great evil that is blanketing this very existence,” called another in a nasally voice that tinged with a slight reverberation like ringing metal.
“We stay protected only through the divinity of our throne,” chimed in the last with a tone of white noise that resembled the roll and crash of waves.
The one known as Ludovic continued his report, “I feel the humans shall do our bidding, and I care little for the horrors they will endure in the coming times. I only serve to ensure the eternity of the empire.”
A great sigh erupted from the form inhabiting the throne. The four bowed deeply before speaking in unison.
“We hear the tides forever. The time for reclamation be at hand. Let us make ready the new sea of blood to come. A current that will forever be after.”
Queru watched from his trance as the man raced up the stairs of the building. It seemed most of the people inside the structure had flooded out. Those that stayed among the floors of the crumbling building were quickly being tended to by medics and clergymen. Queru focused hard, trying to bring the man’s vision to his own. The Farseer watched as his host caught up to a squad of men bound for the roof. A loud booming eruption was followed by the screams of men as they fell from the rooftop, charred corpses to a man. Praying lightly to Yueya that he may be victorious and return to his family, the man broke through the roof access, his accompanying men pouring up the ladder to surround whatever lay ahead.
The scene was like a painting of the aftermath of a forest fire. Smoldering ash still leaped into the air about the blurry, unfocused nature of Queru’s extraordinary sight. The men surrounded a figure on the roof, and to all adjacent sides of the building, Queru could faintly decipher the presence of bowmen taking aim at the monster that caused all of this panic.
Queru knew this form, This robe that attempted to mimic the waves of the oceans. The flares of deep blue that flowed into strips of foamy white. The emerald greens that cascaded into grays and blacks. The masked head, the marvelously crafted coral sword and the pair of rods at its waistline… The mask, he would always remember that mask, how it flared to the sides and back in the shape of tendrils, covering face. He would always remember the three vertical eyes that glimmered red. The robe and mask could only be one person, someone he had spied before with its cruel compatriots, Ludovic.
“I come bearing a message from Those Whose Names You Are to Impure to Speak. They have sent this message from below the waves and beyond your concept of reality. There is a war going on, you see. Your unfortunate little hovels are the warehouses harboring shelter and goods to those who rally against us. Beyond that, more sinister things are happening to this plane, the whole of Fonoros and the multiverse,” Ludovic, the sinister messenger, said.
Queru’s host, his eyes, responded, “Identify yourself, monster. Let us know your title so we may engrave it on your funeral pyre to the sea!”
“My name is far less important than the message of mutual doom to all of us and the pain you could prevent your town by assisting my masters. If you must have a name for the messenger though, you may call me Ludovic.“
“Sinister things? What wretchedness do you speak of that could usurp my anger over what you have wrought her today?”
“You humans have no concept of the doom about to befall your pathetic little huts do you?” the being lightly cackled. “The oceans are crying as they crash the shores. They bring the lament and fear of countless souls before you, yet you hear nothing. Stay out of the affairs of the waves, or my master shall see to it that both you and your Underdark relatives are granted no quarter in his majestic metropolis below the waves.”
“We could scarce care for your filthy, evil war, cretin. We only want peace for our lands, something you have shown utter contempt for,” the host replied.
The whole collective of soldiers held their weapons tensely with questioning looks on their faces as the figure produced a small scroll in its hand. “If you wish to perhaps garner some favor with my masters, perhaps avert their wrath so you may die to the coming storm rather than by their omnipotent power, I bring you information. Along the coastline is a staging area cave for our enemies. Truly, they are yours as well if the events of last night are any indication. We sent forward troops to seek out the humans from below, but you seem unwilling to let us search on our own accord,” the beast smirked wickedly.
“The skum… the grindylows… all the pain was due to your masters?”
Ludovic disregarded the question as he continued, “Information we have obtained while infiltrating your city’s infrastructure leads us to believe they plan to detonate explosives all about the foundations of your city’s… civilian district I believe you call it. With the location of this cave, you could surely collapse the tunnels the insects use to ferry troops and supplies to the frontlines. I care not why they would destroy this city, but I think it is clear you should. Use the information here, crush the interlopers on our lands and yours and you will earn a moment’s peace… for now.” “
“We shall earn our moment’s peace through our own will, not on your accord. Men, at my side, for Ailead, for Eldenberry!”
The troops moved in inch by inch to try to surround the messenger. Suddenly, he let out a roaring bellow of what sounded like ecstasy. Queru shifted uncomfortably in his trance. The messenger’s form warped and twisted into a hairless, leathery biped with a face dominated by grotesque and unsettling whorls and slits instead of actual features. The creviced skin of the monster undulated and pulsed. The beast’s arms grew considerable length and were tipped now in claws. The exquisite sword and other items among the belt of Ludovic’s former form seemed the only things that remained constant during the shocking transformation. The whole of the form assailed Queru’s sense of sight; what should be seemed not. What seemed it should not, was. The men levelled their bows; the front line rushed the creature as it jumped from the rooftop, dropping his scroll, and drinking from a potion on the way down. The monster took flight shortly after along with dozens of arrows from the guards. The arrows fell helplessly, impotent against an invisible force about the creature who split for the horizon. The host picked up the scroll and examined it.
A man came into view to address the soldier whom was Queru’s eyes. “What shall we do, Captain Olegario?”
“You look very preoccupied Farseer.”
Queru’s attention raced back. He sat across from the desk of Premier Zeric in disbelief of the vision he had beheld. “I just had a vision of great distress to me, Premier.”
Zeric rose from his seat to peer out of the window. The high sun flooded light into the room at the top of the spire. It seemed to Queru that this man would peer out to infinity at times like this. “Do tell me.”
The statement shocked the young oracle. He had not been asked before by any away from his domain what he saw. Many had thought it taboo to ask. Some doubted the gift of the Farseers of the past. But here, this man, this legend, he asked for vision to the unknown. Could he possibly bear the burden or understand what was told to him? Could Queru even conjure up the words to describe it?
“It… was a vision of death I feel.”
The grandmaster turned to regard him.
“I saw the stars dim and depart from the skies of night. One by one, slowly fading at first, then torrential waves falling away.”
Zeric gazed now not on the infinity from without the tower, but viewed the endless depths of the Farseer’s eyes for more meaning.
“The whole of night reduced to a black canvas. The sky lit again with the most morbid of reds, and an ocean was beheld for only my eyes to see. An ocean of red, an ocean of blood…”
Zeric walked towards the door to his chamber. “I understand it is important for you to write what you see immediately. Your visions are as dreams if I understand your clairsentience correctly. I shall depart for a bit, and we may speak later of this and other things.” The magister moved to open the door and let out a slight grunt of discomfort.
Queru noted it and asked in a worried tone, “Grandmaster, are you well? Might I send for the clerics?”
Zeric waved him off. “There is no need,” he said in his usual majestic voice. “It is just this sense, this feeling, I receive at times.”
“I don’t understand.”
Zeric looked up as though calling something back from a deep, distant memory. “It’s almost a feeling of deja vu. It is different though. It is like I am here somewhere else. I feel I am not the only me. It is as though I am waiting for myself somewhere distant and somewhere close.” Zeric broke from his contemplation, turned and gave a reassuring smile, “It is nothing. I am sure of it. Put your mind at ease, and please, do write your vision.”
“I would, but I have already partially forgotten it.”
The Farseer breathed in deeply. The fresh air had been invigorating after so many hours in ceremony at the meditation chamber in the Tree of the Farseer. The smell of rich, heavy incense still clung to Queru’s robes as he sat in quiet contemplation of the events he had foreseen over the past few days. The grandmaster, Zeric, had promised to meet him at his tree tower today, and Queru waited in anticipation on the forested road leading to the tower. There was much to speak with him about. The visions got no easier to bear.
Queru knew that servants watched him from the brush along the road, covering themselves with spells to mask their presence. He noted the prospect that sometime soon they might do so in fear rather than to protect a Steinerrec oracle. The breeze carried the Farseer’s sight back on the road. His eyes widened and his mouth gaped at the approach of Zeric and his two followers. His amazement came little from the majesty of the grandmaster or his companion in bone colored armor, but he awed in silent appreciation of the third.
It was a woman. Beautiful beyond his exceptional perception, she carried with her not only artistic physical form but also an aura of grace, peace, soothing, and wisdom. As the trio drew closer, his focus intensified on this woman. It was as though this woman in form fitting robe and gossamer hood radiated all that men, nay people, needed in life. She was as a mother, a great friend, a lover, and a savior in his eyes. He was certain that all around him were impacted in similar fashion. The very presence of her was so radiant, stunning, and loveable that Queru felt the better angels of his nature come forth as he moved to greet the group.
“My liege, I had not anticipated you would bring such exalted guests with you. I am honored and appreciative of course to meet those who would honor my master.”
Zeric grinned slightly. “You speak as though they are dignitaries or esteemed colleagues. In the end, they are the greatest of friends. May I introduce Simon Brennan and Sophia Fatima.”
Steinerrec’s eyes grew even the wider. “The saint of Eldenberry?” he stammered quickly before genuflecting deeply. Seeing the action itself as insufficient, he put his head to the ground to avert his gaze from the saint. A gentle hand rested upon his back; an instant relief washed over Queru’s form dismissing all inequity to the people in front of him. A voice of the purest essence called to him.
“Arise Farseer. Be as you are to family with us. Know that we need your sight in this time of great danger so that we may bring peace to those whom have none.”
Queru lifted his head to view the gracefully smiling face of Sophia. Her hood lay off of her head, and all the light of the sun cast through the trees of the forest, struggling to rest upon her hair through the light canopy of trees. Queru found his struggling voice filled with hope and conviction looking upon the countenance of the saint. “My vision? I can see so little. I have seen so little. How may I serve you who have seen all to pass?”
“Arise Queru,” Zeric called from behind. “We need to know of a future not soon removed.”
The Farseer rose. “I do not understand. I have seen no danger soon to pass.”
Sophia spoke, " That is true only until this time. View now Farseer. Tell us what we need know."
Queru was suddenly struck by vision. The third man moved to catch him as he fell. When the vision had subsided, the man, Simon, helped him to regain his feet. He then spoke to Queru with a conviction in voice saying, “Please, Farseer, tell us where to find the Army of Bones. I fear for so many if we do not act. Let me be the sword that I must become to scatter the darkness.”
Queru noticed something in this man he had overlooked through the supreme bliss of meeting the saint. He dismissed it for now. Looking down to avoid the gaze of the three. “This curse is filth. To give all I have is insufficient to provide even peace. I have only hate for my destiny here.”
“Peace without love is a prison.”
The words of the gentle Sophia struck a cord in the Farseer. He wiped the gathering tears from his welling eyes before continuing. “The army, I saw it rolling like a tide of white bone and rotting flesh. It brought ruin to all it rolled over. The horrors will cross out over all of Urima, mutilating the very land that held them in rest.” Queru reached out and grabbed the saint by the arms. “Simon stands behind me, prepared to strike me down. With my final time, I should beg upon you to reconsider the fight which you will wage. You will fail protector of Alariel! I have seen the tide wash over and kill all.”
Sophia’s eyes fluttered, and a pure smile cast from her face. “Queru,” she began with a hand on his face, “The future has not been determined yet. Through your suffering, you will have saved more than a sword ever shall.”
A great sadness washed over Queru as he replied, “You shall find the army crossing a tree on a hill near Iberum. I know not the hour of their approach, but I could foresee this place in my vision. I only wish I could foresee their leader that you may smite him to stem the tide.”
The three departed past Queru to the towering Tree of the Farseer. The oracle stood with quivering limbs. Simon… this man was filled with a power, a righteousness, a truth. It washed over Queru like a wave to shore when he had caught the Farseer in his vision. A feeling that this man in bone colored armor championed the love Saint Sophia exemplified. She would be the voice, and he the will. There was something else though.
It was not the first time the Farseer had received a vision related to King Nerod Eldenberry. The gentle ruler was often holding audience in Saint Sophia. He was known for being a compromising but firm ruler, a man quick to diplomacy and slow to anger. As Queru watched this vision of the king at sea, he couldn’t help but note a change in his Majesty since his departure from the capital city.
He had seen vision after vision of this journey the king took. At first he dismissed the changes as coincidence, imagination. As the royal ruler of Daramis departed from Port Casmin on his way to Ailead, Queru was sure the admiral assigned to his escort had noticed the change as well. The Farseer watched the man now as he filled in his journal. He noted some of the previous entries.
“It was then milord set about the disciplinary action of the shipwrights. Noting the damage to the main standard, he made it a point to place a punishment of embarrassment to match his own should he meet dignitaries of importance at sea. He had the men assigned derogatory nicknames to be used until the damage was fully repaired during the journey.
The men thought it comical and appropriate. If his Majesty should lose his name by the obscurement of his colors, should not the shipwright lose his as well? The desired effect was produced, and the men applauded the efforts of their king. We prepared to leave Port Casmin."
“The helmsmen have been extending our journey a fair amount. It can be difficult to navigate the sky when there are clouds at night. There can be little excuse for the delays caused by last night’s fiasco. The helmsman that night claimed some key stars were missing from the sky. Such a ludicrous concept to be sure, however, I do not feel it merits such punishment from the crown. I dare not question his great wisdom, but fifty lashings seems excessive from a ruler fabled for his extraordinary patience.
It has been a sudden decline over the voyage. Punishments that seemed fit but gentle and fair turned into brutal displays."
“His Grace called the crew to deck. He begged slight forgiveness for his methods on the journey. Many found it humbling and were thankful for his poise with such trying times ahead of him at Urima. We put the west to our stern and trudged on, determined to hit the ports along the way for side visits to local counts, lords, and other nobility.”
“The king continues to be less forgiving, but his conditions for punishment seem reasonable if a bit excessive. The crew seemed relieved to take sight of the Mouth of Chaos. Our journey across this long stretch of sea and small ports was nearing an end. Ailead would soon be in sight and promised good times and relaxation for a day or two.”
“My lord is retired constantly to his suite in the hull as of late. He rarely speaks to the men and takes counsel with only the ship’s vicar. I asked the holy man about the king’s condition. The vicar could only shake his head. ’I’d think him ill by his habits the last few days. I worry about our talks though. He speaks of hearing the voice of evil trying to corrupt him, and so our Grace resigns himself to a prison of safety.’ "
“Ailead is in sight. It is most welcome given the trials of the last days. We shall acquire a new vicar for the journey after the disappearance of the former one. The cooks had heard him producing fresh water for the evening meal in a separate chamber. After an hour of waiting, the head cook barged in to notice the absence of the man. No blood, no footprints, nothing noting the passing of the priest was left.
The king is notably worried by the situation. When we leave Ailead, I should think we will leave with a contingent of military clerics to assist the new vicar."
“Shalecore, dear guardian of earth, I am in need.”
The great green giant knelled before the saint in questioning fashion. All about, chaos was disrupting the very essence of the elemental plane of earth. Horrific creatures tore into the stone, dust and gemstones of the cavern. The creatures defied form constantly. With each iteration of attacker the shape seemed to assail the sensibilities of any creature. There was something deathly beautiful about the forms. It unsettled beings as a child fears the ever changing shadows in their dark room on a windy, rainy night. Shalecore had watched in vain as stone he had known for eons untold lie in ruin, consumed by the dark presence that invaded this land, his home.
“Let fear not hold you in this time. The task I have for you will save that which can never be,” Sophia said as she moved to the enormous stone creature. “The other six, they will repel these attacks on your domain. The peace will not last though. This plane… all planes… it is too late to save them, Shalecore.”
The green stone lord’s brow bent in ignorance of what the wise woman tried to express to him. His attention turned to a boom from within the stone. More of his compatriots fell, and the help of Sophia’s companions was indeed turning the tide against this dark force. Shalecore yearned to move to their aid, but the gentle emissary of peace grabbed his hand, steadying her to his attention.
“Shalecore… this battle was over before your people took the first steps back to the maelstrom in battle.” Sophia’s face saddened for a quick moment before continuing. “There are so many we cannot save. I implore you to my service to deliver a message, a message that may yet save us all.”
The great being nodded his agreement despite his essence saying he should fight on. Somehow, he knew it as well. His kingdom and people were gone. He had already been sent words from the other elemental planes about their similar wars. How long could these seven champions truly hold back this macabre armada sailing the planar tides? They would fall, but perhaps there was hope to be found in this simple woman.
“Thank you, Shalecore. You are a friend not only to me, but to all I strive for. Now I must tell you of a secret, and I must send you far, far away from this place.” The great giant brought his ear low to hear the lady and his quicksilver lifeblood boiled with duty, fear, and courage when he learned of what he must do. The great saint called to her a trio of great bird-like elementals of air for her service. “Shalecore, see how your greatest of rivals comes to my aid here for the task I have given you. Come, take those mephits and your two brothers there with you upon these three wings. Hurry, take my message to someone who may help. I beg of you to remember the horror you have seen here. Let it steel your resolve on the journey. Hurry now, and let us hope the stars shine bright.”
The saint lay her hands upon the great winged elementals after Shalecore and his escort mounted them. The lady said a slight blessing, a hope, a prayer, and cast them away.
So very, very, far away.
When his vision had settled, Shalecore’s escort found themselves assaulted by dark forms that had seeped through the sky about them. But how? What force to have brought these creatures to bear upon them. Shalecore and his escorts fought valiantly about the blue sky of the realm of men. They crushed and swiped, mangled and tore, slammed and ground their assailants as the creatures ripped and tore at rock, salt, and airy material alike. Wisps of feathery wind molted off the great birds, and they struggled to maintain flight.
With his comrades becoming overwhelmed, Shalecore grappled fiercely with one of the beasts. Extending its arms, the creature twisted them into a drill like appendage which rended the chest of the great Shalecore. Quicksilver and rocky gore filled the air as similar attacks were brought to bear on his brothers. Mustering up the last of his essence, Shalecore let out a burst of raw creation energy, creating a gate to the elemental planes. The fiends dissipated through the gate one by one. With the last of the formless fiends whipping on the planar wind, Shalecore grabbed the beast and drove his drill like arm into the rocky contours of his hand, sketching a symbol. He may die, but the message, his message, would be delivered to someone.
Shalecore reflected on his life in the earthen realm of his home as he plummeted to a strange place, a marble field among stalagmites of granite, limestone, slate and shale. Perhaps this was a return to home… a place of true rest.
Queru awoke in a cold sweat. His heart beat frantically as his hand trembled to reach for a pen. “Gods, what has happened to that dearest lady.”
Louvel’s torso heaved to battle the exhaustion throughout his body. He had been determined to be the first into the great pit. The sand of the great Ryin desert baked the rock and air all about, a dry air that had dogged him throughout this merciless, quizzical spelunking adventure. Lighting a new candle, he examined the previously unseen surroundings.
“More stairs,” Louvel commented to himself as he wiped more sweat from his brow. Drawing his map from his pocket, Louvel once again noted the name given these ruins so long ago. It was the thing which drew him to this brutal region of Fonoros.
Benedictus… it was not a name of Ryin origin.
The climb had been a puzzling display. Louvel Benoit had known this newer science of archeology better than most. He understood the type of wonders to be had from previous civilizations. He knew that he would see things that challenged his perception of culture, architecture and logic. Who could say who these people might have been? It was clear he was wading into the belly of an old structure, The stairways along his climb could attest to that. Truly, more of these stairs appeared the further down he went, very unlikely this structure was merely buried.
There was something remarkable about the stone though. Louvel couldn’t place it, and that was the unease. It reminded him of nothing he encountered in his storied career in Urima. Nothing at Woristrom spoke to him of this stone that seemed to draw the sweat from him when he touched it. The fragments of writing were damaged beyond repair in many places or far too fragile to risk disturbing. What did survive was repetitious and unsettling. In these small fragments of surviving material, he found the drive to propel him forward.
Benedictus… it drove him forward in fear as much as curiosity.
He had no more light stones to illuminate his way. Only a sparse few candles and his oil lantern stood between the researcher and certain darkness. The stairs seemed constant at this point. Despite the struggles the rest of the structure had endured, the stairs here seemed in excellent condition for their estimated age. The stairs snaked deep into the rock of Fonoros, far beyond the light of Benoit’s candle, and he dare not light his lantern until he reached an area where the extra light was necessary.
He waded into the ink of the cavern. His relief at the sight of the bottom of the staircase was interrupted by shots of pain throughout his legs and lungs. A masonry tunnel at the bottom of this rocky decline! Benoit had to contain his excitement as he set foot on the flat ground. He would need rest. Digging rations from his pack, he ate quickly as he looked about. Pictures were faded to ephemeral quality around the tunnel. Louvel dug out his lamp, cursing his lack of restraint when he realized the last flicker of wax on his candle was all that remained of his emergency light. Sparking the lamp to light, Louvel spotted a break at a far wall. Coming forward, the man’s legs grew weak as he looked at the words carved deeply into the mysterious rock.
Benedictus… it caused his heart to race.
Louvel looked down both directions, and, down both paths, the trails would split again. Benoit was afraid, terrified. He could not get lost in a labyrinth with his light dwindling. His superstitious diggers would never come in after him. This was a foolish idea. He looked at the carving, enchanted, mesmerized.
Benedictus… it guided his feet as a parent calls to a child.
He knew not what his legs were doing. His brain cried out for his body to stop, but his feet lumbered along a path that his heart had set for him. Along the walls, he spied decrepit paintings and carvings of a woman. He could not make out whom was pictured, but he was certain that all were one in the same. Here and there she would be accompanied by some combination of six other figures. Benoit’s muscles burned, his vision blurred from constant sweat, his focus dwindled with each laborious step. He was snatched from his trance to find himself mere feet away from a grand, stone door.
And upon it was written one word.
It called to him because…
This was his name.
Louvel Benoit stared through eyes burning from the salt of his brow. There could be no doubt in his mind about this great, stone door. There could be no denying it anymore. He was meant to be here. He was planned for.
Benedictus… it had drawn his attention here.
Benedictus… it had bolstered his resolve to continue this far.
Benedictus… it had guided him through the labyrinth.
How long had this door stood in anticipation of his arrival, his birth even? What sorcery could foresee into a future that would be maniacally different from the past? Yet, scoffing at any sign of doubt, sat this door with the ancient form of his family name. None else in his family had taken up the cause of discovering the secrets of the past. Indeed, this field of research had just started its refinement and true strides at growth. This door did not just have his name on it, it had his life and heart upon it as well.
On legs quivering with curiosity, fear, and excitement, Louvel pressed on towards the door. Placing his hand on the smooth surface, he pressed. Much to his surprise, the door smoothly slid open, an invitation. Bringing his lantern to bear ahead of him, he stepped upon the floor of the chamber. Louvel’s eyes inspected the floor and room corners above all else. It was not uncommon for traps to be present in such areas. The floor was tiled in pink, red, and white. The most cursory of glances indicated a painted walls about the room. All corners were sharp to the vision, an impossibility to a structure this ancient. The roof was vaulted overhead. With the brief examination completed, Benoit’s eyes lifted to inspect the contents of the room.
He dropped his lantern immediately.
It was a burial chamber, of that, Louvel was convinced. He quickly looked about the room to gather more information about the room’s centerpiece. The floor was tiled in no less than ruby, pink diamond, and pearl dust formed into bricks. The walls, they were not painted. Looking again, Louvel noted that many of the pictures were actually reliefs. All the pieces of art were constructed of extraordinarily thin cuttings of gems. Pushing the observation out of his mind, he looked towards the content of the paintings. The murals, they made no sense. One figure, the figure present all about this complex, was Saint Sophia Fatima the Pristine.
Louvel looked back to the centerpiece, that bewitching platform. Upon it laid a marble altar similarly decorated in precious material. It was not this that had caused him to drop his light. It was the skull upon the platform that had startled him so, but now it called to him to approach. Benoit stepped onto the platform. His trembling hands moved forward to the skull. As they edged closer, his fear diminished, his hands steadied. He felt at ease, calm, protected. He knew he shouldn’t touch the skull. He could damage it, be cursed, lose valuable information. He continued to move forward.
Picking the skull from its resting area, Bright, white runes burst to life upon the surface of the altar. Stepping back Louvel watched as thin shards of the altar folded and ripped away like pages of a book ripped out. They flew to the boundaries of the room, sticking to the walls, producing an unearthly glow, and an even more unearthly message.
Benedictus… it had been written a thousand times upon the stone.
Stepping forward, Benoit saw that the removed layers of marble had revealed a recess in the altar. Inside, the researcher spied a map in excellent condition. He picked up the document, and, in doing so, the walls populated with the remainder of their contents. A map of Fonoros lay spread across all six surfaces of the room. A mark was indicated much like the one on the map that had lead him to these ruins. For every utterance of his ancient namesake on the walls, there was a marking.
Benedictus… they were countless all over this world.
Benoit’s lantern died. He was left in the unearthly, majestic, righteous light of the rune stained walls. Yet, he did not fear. A voice called to him.
Benedictus, follow my voice, and save this world.
Louvel extracted himself from the deep cavern, skull and scroll placed in his pack, following that voice. His fellow travelers and laborers greeted him warmly. Many had thought him dead to the cavern’s perils.
“No, I have not died yet,” Louvel said calmly. “But my work is far from complete.”
“There is some news involving the wild one, one of your charges, Jozan.”
Jericho continued his deliberate pace, walking with conviction to his destination. The elder druid and his peer wandered the paths of the Grove of Lamatus. The taciturn Jericho had seemed quite content for the journey to remain quiet, something his companion had deemed his duty to disrupt.
“They say he has been around Molagona and Anvil Crawler Brake. Our last contact had said he acquired the Gift of Form. You must be quite happy that your teachings have continued to influence him throughout his…”
Jericho waved away the statement with his hand, quieting the younger druid. “He has far to go yet. If he is to be of any use to the cause, he will need to master yet greater control, domination even, over nature.”
His partner let slip an expression of shock at the proclamation but quickly composed himself superficially. “You asked me to follow you. You said that an opportunity will present itself to me if I went along. If this domination is part of the cause, I think I should take my leave.”
“No,” the elder druid said. “You will continue to follow because all you have done here has been with the intent of imposing your will on nature. I have seen your experiments around Sinohi. Patches of trees bent and bowed to accommodate bizarre, unnatural shapes. For art? For function? I cannot say. Regardless, the truth still remains. You would pervert nature willingly.”
The young druid swallowed hard as the pair reached a waterfall emptying into a small pond in the maze like grove. It was his turn to be silent. He wondered if he had misread the edicts of the order, if he could be punished severely for his tinkering. Coming into line with the bottom of the falls, the druid was surprised to see a collection of boards suspended just under the water. The boards spanned the length of the pond, and each was painted to reduce its visibility to a bare minimum. The hidden bridge stretched behind the falls.
“We are here. Tell me, what do you think of the sky at night?” Jericho said as he cautiously began to pace across the submerged bridge.
The question was perplexing to the younger traveler. “I would say it has only become more wondrous and beautiful with time.” The druid began his own careful steps onto the planking below.
Jericho chuckled briefly. “Wondrous, perhaps. Beautiful, definitely not.” Reaching out, the druid teacher warped the stone behind the waterfall. A tunnel materialized that Jericho seemed content to enter with no hesitations. His companion carefully entered the cavity as well. “You’ve never paid much mind to the stars in the sky have you? I can say I have not either. What I can say, is the art of the sky is fading away. I don’t know how, but I know the sky is different, very different than that of the heavens 10 summers past.”
“What did you want?”
Jericho spoke a scant few words, and the entirety of the cavity lit with magic runes of White, red, and sparse orange. “This is my offer; join us.”
“These writings… they are not the teachings of the order. This piece here, ‘A new tree of life returned to the seed.’ I don’t understand.”
Jericho somberly responded, “It is simple, this existence is an inequality, an inequity, an imbalance. If we are ever to bring order to that which has forever been orderless, then we must remove forever so that order may be brought to bear.”
The young druid looked both lost and enraptured by the concept.
Jericho continued, “How can there be equity when the differences of man, land, and health pervade the world around us? How can there be equality between men and gods? How can balance be maintained in a crippled world floating through the void?” Jericho moved to the side of the passage, stroking a few lines of passage. “My order, we will work to undo all of this. Through oblivion, order. When all is gone, all will become one. I worked to bring Jozan to this place. His is a history of the wild, of survival of the fittest, of power, dominance. Yours is a different one but no less in line with our ideals.”
The druid looked to the runes, countless small characters formed into lines like a sacred text scrawled upon the stone. Jericho moved next to him. Placing his hand on his compatriot’s shoulder, he asked the question that had always been on the horizon of this journey, “Will you join us?”
“She just sits there all day refusing to talk.”
“What of the diviners? Have they found a way to break her mental blocks?”
“She has none, Parlow. There is no information regarding the child. It seems the memory wipe was regrettably a more complete success than we wished.”
Parlow Menfu stood, hand on chin, in the middle of the brick room. Wrought with disrepair, light streamed from a small window leading out from the underground cellar. This woman was a prisoner, there was no illusion of any other situation, and yet she was set to rot in this unlocked safehouse rather than a dungeon. She sat now, unkempt in appearance, in a sun-bleached chair staring blankly at a collection of items on the small table in the room.
“Has she shown any reaction to the items?” Parlow asked.
“If she had we would have considered restarting the torture regimen.”
Parlow cleared his throat. It was true, this woman had volunteered herself to the Urima experiment. She was the one who fell in love with the other test participant. It was her decision to allow the researchers to study the results of their breeding. She also knew the child would be subject to study when it was born. She had run. The reason was unclear, but Parlow’s organization had no pity. They needed the results from that child to make their data conclusive.
The matter of taking this woman’s liberty weighed heavily on Menfu. They had already taken her mind in an attempt to remove any motherly notions of progeny defense. They had seen torture would garner no results either. The woman was different now, and the organization had, as of yet, no true method of returning her memories with the tools at their disposal. And so she would stay in this open door prison.
“Ariel Cerelion’s son can’t be hidden forever.”
It was all a game after all. The smoke and flame cascading over his body were little more than frightening apparel to the pirates gathered about. All looked on, horrified. He could spot captains and murderous, life-long cutthroats walk past the cage. They would come, one by one, watch for a few moments at the grim smile, the long, bound hair, neat beard and unnaturally powerful physique of the prisoner, then walk away to tell others of the hell they had seen in his form. This cycle would repeat day on day.
The prisoner was in no rush. He accepted his captivity laughingly upon his arrival on the island. he had wanted to dry off anyway, and these men would soon submit to the sheer aura of the captive. He reveled in it; the sheer satisfaction of being the most powerful creature. He would bring any who opposed him under his thumb in time.
Today, a puny squirt of a specimen approached. Surely he might have been quite the sight for lumberjacks and military champions physically. This was no simple man to be dealt with however. The man, a captain by the prisoner’s eye, stepped forward to the expansive bonfire. The piercing eyes of the prisoner looked to the paper in his hand. The man closed in and was interrupted before words could leave his mouth.
“Give it to me, or I take a spine.”
The captain gave a look the prisoner knew all too well. It was the look of fear that came from a man trying desperately to hide it from pride. He knew the man would not give him the document quickly; he would play the part of interrogator.
The prisoner wasn’t in the mood.
Reaching through the top of the cage suspended over the fire pit, the prisoner grasped the chain and crushed it, breaking the cold steel in his grasp. The cage fell upon the fire, flames roared about. Running a flat hand along the edges of the cage, the prisoner slowly severed each thick, metal bar, staring at the captain the entire time. The captain took a step back, dread quickly filling his face. The surrounding pirates reacted one by one as a wave of invisible terror spread through each of them, and chaos was the communal action.
The prisoner stepped through the cage, and moved with a deliberate, measured, slow pace to the closest pirate. He grabbed the petrified man by the nap of the neck and walked towards the captain. The captain held tightly on the paper.
A turn of the wrist to remove the bony, snake-like body part; another to toss it, and the crumpled mass of flesh, onto the sand.
He reached for another, and the captain quickly threw the bound page to him. The prisoner caught the scroll, unrolled it, looked at it a scant few moments, and let out a bellowing roar of demonic laughter. He tossed the crumpled page back at the captain.
“Well I might not have much time left to play with you children. Looks like something more interesting has come up,” the man said as he walked back to the bonfire. Grabbing the hot steel bars, the prisoner pulled at the metal, elongating the material before wrapping the ends around the cage. Jumping atop the cage, he used one of the final two bars to fashion a hook, and, upon entering the cage, fastened the last into place, imprisoning himself once again.
“Haul me up you disgusting rat,” he called to the jailor, who promptly used the new hook to hoist the cage aloft once again. The captain turned about and left. The prisoner had thought to make him crawl away for a moment.
It was not the desire of Chen Jie Li at this time.
Viktir looked out across the boulder littered region ahead. The flecked grey and black rock provided little contrast to the surrounding ground. Only the shadows cast by the struggling light near the eastern pole of Fonoros provided any sense that this landscape was more than a painting. Viktir breathed in the crisp, stinging, cold air, sitting upon a weathered stone with his arms resting on his otherworldly sword’s massive crossguard.
“It reminds me of the flats in Ryin. You remember the cairns of Dakod?” a young woman clad in adventuring regalia asked the taciturn Viktir.
“I remember many things from my homeland, Miranda,” Viktir replied. He stood to further survey the land, to let the still air sit upon his bare arms. The titan of a man noted the shiver in the young woman, despite her attempts to bulk up for the cold eastern lands. The steel of his torso plate fogged from the surrounding chill; if this bothered Viktir, he surely did not show it. “It was hot there.”
“Yes,” Miranda continued, brushing her dark hair. “The lava pools about made the area most unpleasant. Though, I can’t see this as much better.”
“Would you turn back now? We are called to duty for Sophia.”
A slight flash of annoyance flashed across Miranda’s face. “I’m not here for Sophia. If Simon would ask of us to come, I will follow.”
Viktir raised a heavy gauntlet to stroke his thick, long beard. He then turned to regard the woman, scratching his shaven head. “You still have not found the words to speak for his attention.”
“I hold his attention fair enough,” Miranda whimpered, blushing slightly.
The blush grew deeper. Miranda quickly turned to move south along what passed for a road in this perpetually overcast land. Viktir hoisted his mighty weapon to rest on his shoulder. The pair continued the journey. Miranda couldn’t wait to be at Iberum, for many reasons. Though Viktir was as trustworthy and reliable as any creature she had encountered, he was as emotionless and stern as Farmourn himself. She used to be surprised when people would associate the hulking man for an avatar of the god himself, despite the god of duty’s religious symbol woven through Viktir’s beard. Over time, she grew to understand it, and, at times like this when the rage of battle was not embodied through him, his nature was extremely boring. She wanted to be done with whatever holy debacle Sophia had dragged them into. That way, perhaps she would spend time talking with her friends as people and not as heroes. Maybe she could even get the ear of Simon more. He did seem to follow Sophia about more often the last year.
Miranda stopped a moment. Viktir eyed her quizzically until a question was posed, “Do you think Simon loves Sophia?”
The question changed the countenance of Viktir ever so slightly. Despite her keen perception into people’s minds, she could not fully gauge the response’s meaning. Viktir opened his mouth to speak, but Miranda dismissed the question with a wave of her delicate hand.
“Nevermind, I suppose everyone loves Saint Sophia Fatima.”
In a small mead hall in Thiminoor, frost clung to the glass panes of the windows. A man sat, content to be lost in the expanse of his own thoughts. The merriment of the night had been long past with the arrival of three travelers, this man among them. The hall was still full to brim with patrons, a ragged assortment of wealthy Cairnlands natives cohabiting this tiny shack with cutthroats and soldiers. Two of the travelers had long since left, and, though that intimidating titan of a man and magnetic lady had left, the room still sat tense, fearful, and ultimately focused on the last of the trio. The oldest of their numbers still spun tales of these people, and all of the gathering could guess the danger that awaited given the attitude of the man still sitting, motionless save the tilt of a head, arm, and glass.
If this bothered Regor of the Dragonsbane, he did well to hide it behind a steady stream of hard drinks and a gaze that would leave the surface of his drink only to see the wood of the simple table through its bottom. He had told the others to leave ahead of him, and he had succeeded in convincing the pair nothing had been wrong, even through the interrogation of Miranda. She would routinely take his hat to garner his attention and information, and this time it had been very close.
“Much too close,” Regor mumbled as he tilted the small glass to the ceiling. He closed his eyes, trying to block out the expected clank of his axe against the wooden bench.
Soon, he would have to return to the group. They would meet with Zeric and continue on to Iberum. There they would meet with Simon and Sophia. Who knew, maybe Jie Chen Li might even show up. None of this weighed heavily on Regor.
“How long, Sophia?” Regor thought to himself. “How long before you tell anyone? How long before I can keep the secret no longer? Will you even tell anyone what is to come, or must I shoulder the burden of your foresight alone?”
Regor finished a final drink. He would stay a few more days maybe. Yes, a few more days to recompose himself so he would not give anything away to the others. Regor topped his head with his hat, pulled his pale colored cape about him and opened the door to leave. His last words muffled by a rush of cold air into the hall.
“How long before you will die, Sophia?”
Kaspar stomped his way up the numerous stairways inside the warehouse in Northlight. Various wardens for the shared business building looked at him strangely as the bloodied man made his way towards the office housing the regional director for the Academia Schule der Zauberei. The furious man slammed the door to the small office.
“I want out,” the courier exclaimed loudly.
The warden seemed surprised, though his demeanor was not brutally shaken. He began tapping on his desk, as though waiting for the exasperated ravings to continue to their conclusion. See this reaction, Kaspar shook his head.
“I almost died out there. I have no problem watching over them, spying on them here or there. When I put out my neck to help them and they leave me in danger with no way out… This is no longer a delivery and surveillance mission; it’s suicide.”
The warden stood up from his chair. He opened the door a bit to look outside. Seeing no one in the area, he shut the wooden portal, and he walked to a large armoire. The expression on Kaspar’s face changed noticeably to curiosity as the superior revealed bars of minted gold from Western Daramis. The warden looked at the courier.
Ottokar looked confused at the prospect. Shaking his head, he stammered out, “It’s no longer a matter of money. I can’t be safe around them. All you said was you wanted me to deliver the items, and watch them.”
“The delivery never truly mattered.”
Kaspar hid very well how shaken he was from the admission. “But…”
“The pair you follow have been confirmed by our sources as having an aura of lingering evil about them. Evil… and great power,” The warden explained while stacking bars on his table. “The drachen darms are just the cover. We need to deliver them, but we could have easily had Urima ferry them by air courier.” More gold bars were placed on the table, and the solid wood began to creak under the strain. Kaspar bit his nail nervously. “The Royal Alchemist Society is intent on any information on this phenomenon. Our own scholars have great interest in this new development as an energy source as well.”
The wood creaked louder and louder. The purity of the gleaming metal reflected the light of the room with such brilliance that it began to hinder Kaspar’s sight. The desk finally began to break under the weight of the bars.
“I can continue on to the next regional denomination if you would like Ottokar. You could live out a life without the aid of your family anymore. You would never have a need for anything at all in a comfortable life. All of these bars, with your information, we could make them back tenfold. We might easily find a new source of energy to make people’s lives better. Steam engines? Maelstrom channelers? We might make these technologies dead before they even become fully developed.”
“But… will I be safe?”
The warden frowned. “No, I can’t promise you that, courier,” the man said. “But Schule der Zauberei is willing to do what we can.” The warden took a few of the bars and handed them to Kaspar saying, “Buy what you need for the journey. Should you need more, we can discuss it at another time.”
Kaspar looked at the bars in his hands. The warden reached into the drawer of the now broken desk. He extended a wand to the delivery worker. “Take this as a token of our good will. We want information, but we do not want you hurt either. It’s state of the art. We hope to have them out in the market within the next month.”
Kaspar looked at the wand. “The troll’s blood experimental wands?”
The warden nodded. “The master wizards were able to develop new magic from them. Wands of Vigor, they said.”
Kaspar pocketed the wand. He was uneasy. He didn’t like the situation, not at all. This was a way to be on his own though, away from his kin, a way to be successful. Kaspar Ottokar nodded, gulped audibly, and made his way back to the market.
“We are extremely pleased that you are here for the final months of construction, lady of Alariel.”
The voice of the Archcleric broke the quiet contemplation of Sophia. She managed a light smile to the fellow follower of Alariel. This did little to prevent the observant, aged man from noticing a distinct struggle taking place in the seemingly young woman’s soul.
“Sometimes, dear Sophia, I must remind myself that my many years are… inadequate when compared to the experiences and challenges you have endured,” the Archcleric said as he put a comforting hand on the eternal champion of mercy. “I am here for counsel when you should need though. Even a second person at prayer can sometimes bring peace to the unseen troubles in a person. If it is about the cathedral itself, you need not worry. The people know the cathedral as a temple to the goddess, even though a reverence for her greatest crusader is prominent. It will be as the capital itself, merely a holder of your name.”
Sophia’s light smile seemed more genuine as she replied, “The goddess has given to you what has been given to me. All people must hear the influence of their own righteous being; time and experience mean little when mind and actions are not in harmony. As for the temple, I am certain it will be all that Fonoros has envisioned. A true beacon of the heart.”
“You are concerned towards what cause then, dear saint?”
Sophia clasped the pendant that hung about her neck. “This meeting… Louvel Benoit… he seemed adamant about the importance of meeting with me. I have a peculiar sensation about me since he arrived at the capital.”
“Fear? Nervousness? I can cancel the meeting if you wish it. He is indeed calling at a most inopportune time given the final stages of the construction.”
“No,” Sophia replied with a light shake of her head. “It is as though… a feeling of familiarity. It is like meeting yourself in the mirror of a pond at dusk. You reach out to the surface. Try as you might, you never touch. This feeling is as though the other reaches towards me as I to it.”
The saint began to walk to the meeting area. The Archcleric followed, worried at the outcome. The pair made their way through the near finished cathedral. The Archcleric gave little notice to the otherworldly beauty of the cathedral. It was widely circulated, with many supposed witnesses, that the Archons, the Agathions, the Azata, and indeed all the peoples of the upper planes had sent their finest architects and materials to aid the builders in their construction. Sophia herself was known to provide the touch of divinity to the slender towers that reached skyward. None of this drew the attention of the Archcleric as he followed in a grim, two person procession.
Through the main hall, and through a door at the rear of the holy sanctuary, the pair entered a small chapel. Inside, Louvel Benoit sat at a small table accompanied by a dozen robed figures standing about a great stone vessel resembling a coffin. The figures wore upon their heads great bands of metal equipped with clasps. The large shackles covered the eyes of the researcher’s companions. Despite this, the group brought their hands up to rest over their eyes.
The Archcleric broke the silence, “I suppose these are the monks that were said to be traveling with you Mr. Benoit. I had heard they numbered many more than this. They need not avert their eyes out of respect.”
“You mistake their intention, brother,” said the saint. “These men are students of the mind and soul from Woristrom. The markings upon their robes show they are of an order that has vowed to relinquish worldly sight for inner vision.”
Louvel seemed surprised. “That is correct, saint. I have ordered the others to watch about the cathedral and its perimeter. It is imperative I am able to fulfill this journey to you. I bring odd tidings.” Louvel stood, “I must insist that they take guard outside this room along with the Archcleric.”
The elder clergyman scoffed at the idea, insulted at the implication any harm would be brought to Sophia at the cathedral, and disapproving of placing this odd character in a room alone with Sophia Fatima. Louvel seemed to respond to this immediately. The researcher began to recite incantations, and the sightless disciples moved their hands to work their own clandestine arts.
As the Archcleric began to prepare his response to the assault forthcoming, Benoit spoke out, “My determination in this matter is unwavering. The wisdom I bring is not for eyes of men and mer. It is only by folly and ill fate that I am tasked to this time, this place, to deliver this message.”
Sophia brought her hands out cupped together before her. As sudden as the outburst had began, a wave of calm washed over those gathered, and tensions were eased. The Archcleric had heard the mere presence of Sophia could bring hostilities and evil to heel, but he had never experienced the feeling of extreme shame that was upon him at that moment.
“I will hear what you have to tell me, Louvel,” the saint complied. “Archcleric, see the expression in his eyes. he has no hate, no evil at heart in this venture. His actions speak of compassion, curiosity, and fear for the future. Fear not.”
The Archcleric looked into the eyes of Benoit, and knew Sophia to speak truth. Though still worried, he nodded grimly and exited the room joined, and escorted, by the dozen disciples.
Louvel moved to the large stone vessel. “Sophia, you must view what is within this arc. I urge you to think carefully about its contents, and what we should do to them. I have searched around the world following the name of Benedictus to these objects for it is my name in the tongue of the ancients.”
Louvel opened the stone vessel. Sophia looked inside, and shed a pair of tears, smiling with a heavy heart at what lay within.
Arc Religieux Guillaume de l’Ouest paced impatiently outside the small chapel. He and the blind monks from Woristrom had been waiting the better part of an hour. The Archcleric had clear concern on his face while the monks stood as stoic sentinels. Stone was their countenance, ice their posture. The tension was palpable despite the silence coming from the room beyond the heavy wooden door. Guillaume knew he had little to fear; Sophia had faced the greatest of evils the scholars had recorded. Something felt very different about this encounter though. A degree of relief crawled into the old holy man when the door lightly creaked open, and Sophia bade all within.
The room was much the same as it was before. A change in the intangible atmosphere was apparent however. Sophia motioned for the Arc Religieux to sit.
“Benoit brings important tidings for the future. His foresight to bring his information to my attention is brave and commendable,” the lady began. “Guillaume, I have a favor to ask of you; I require the cathedral to be expanded.”
The comment took l’Ouest by surprise due to its curious nature. “I would be remiss in my humanity if I did not inquire as to why, exalted lady. The cathedral nears the final stages of construction.”
Sophia waved a hand to dismiss the notion. “This building is constructed of powers greater than the stone holding it in place. I ask you this favor because it will be important for you to be aware of its existence.” Sophia expounded on the subject, “I task you with the duty of knowledge that you may assist agents I will bestow divine service upon. A crypt will be built below the foundations of this cathedral.” Sophia closed her eyes as if envisioning the unfolding plan before continuing, “The crypt shall store something very important to the destiny of everything any eye has been cast upon. The tomb is to be known by Louvel Benoit, the guardians I choose, the Arc Religieux of West Daramis present and future, and me.”
“Dear saint, surely the contents of this vessel have clouded your judgment. Consider this task over some time. Let the other Archclerics and me consider the contents so we may advise you as well,” an exasperated l’Ouest pleaded.
Sophia’s eyes opened. “Guillaume, no one is to view the contents of this stone,” Sophia announced clearly as she stood. “I command this by the divinity of the power bestowed upon me, the divinity of the goddess Alariel, and as a conduit for the inalienable force of good in the bounty of creation, seen and unseen.”
Those gathered dropped prostrate before the gentle, determined woman. A feeling of warmth, a radiance, extended from the saint as she announced the powerful decree. It was not a decree of magic, not a threat of bodily harm, but an edict delivered from a force which no simple creature could escape or refute. Sophia had invoked her holy right to lead others, to bring about their salvation from the darkness. It was a powerful feeling, and one the Archcleric of Western Daramis, Guillaume of the West, would not forget, even past his dying breath on Fonoros.
Queru viewed the scene in quiet meditation. The whole thing seemed so distant. He wondered if what he saw should be revealed. He thought back to his meeting with Saint Sophia herself not long past. The Cathedral of Saint Sophia Fatima the Pristine had stood for one thousand years. It was built during the reign of the 70th king of Daramis; King Nerod Eldenberry being himself the 85th. If what he saw was indeed a vision during its construction, then why had Sophia not been so inclined to worry upon meeting the Farseer? Queru put his ponderings aside to view the rest of his portent.
Sophia addressed the gathered, bowing monks. “You twelve are the strongest of those which Louvel brought to this city. I am certain he would take no lesser. I ask of you to be the guardians of this vessel you have brought.” The announcement struck l’Ouest and Benoit dumbfounded. “You have already proven yourselves capable, reliable, and trustworthy in vow. So I ask for your vow to guard the contents and presence of this box in the crypt. You will be its caretakers, the only ones to be close to it through your days. I bestow upon you the right to conscript those of your soon to be bloodline to this charge.”
One of the twelve, a woman stepped forward, “Saint Sophia, we were tasked with the charge of delivering this item to this city. This task is now completed, and it was our full intent to return to our meditations in Woristrom. Surely there are those you would choose in our stead.”
Sophia placed a hand upon the monk’s shoulder saying, “I have seen the thoughts of many, bodies of titans, and the hearts of all. Upon you twelve and your descendants, I offer a sight, a charge, a contemplation in which you will find no equal. You have no predilection towards the gods, fate, or creed save those imposed by yourselves. These are the strongest or weakest of bounds an entity can have, and I see no weakness in your personal vows. Become my Monks of the Clandestine Mystery, dwell in the Sepulcher of Souls. Do this, and you shall honor and sanctify yourselves. I’ll not order you; I only ask you to continue your personal quests while aiding me in my own.”
The monks all nodded and vowed in agreement to the task. Benoit knew not what was to be in store for all the events of these past years. He felt unburdened somehow with the passing of his work to the lady of Alariel. A somber air came through the chapel as the heavy door opened, and the first sounds of the cathedral’s towering pipe organ sounded through the halls of the holy sanctuary.
The Farseer meditated quietly as the hidden moon of Urima loomed with its partner at dusk. The wind rustled the leaves of his high treetop lookout. It was there he saw Kainus al’Raohtuck Kadacov, Czar of Perosh, in his private chambers at the Eye of Knowledge in Desov. The Czar waited for the arrival of the representatives from Daramis and Sinohi. He had come early to the international summit, much earlier than the other leaders. It was said he had spent a great deal of time researching in the vast academic libraries, and an equal amount seeking council with the various enchanters of the capital.
He sat at rest currently, pondering the object before him. The dagger was carved of a transparent material, a diamond blade he acquired not long before the death of his father not a decade past. The blade held at its heart a shifting shape, like thick ink cascading in oil. Few had seen the blade, but many wondered if this might be the blade that slew Czar Kadac. If Kainus knew anything of the murder of his father, he shared none of it, and if the Peroshi natives held any knowledge, it was doubtful they would tell. Such was the way in the deserts, wastelands and mountains of Perosh, a respect for tradition with no connection to the cycle of power in constant flux. Kadac had died, Kainus knew this to be true; soon, he might find himself dead in his throne as well.
The steel eyed ruler wore a look of disgust as he viewed a collection of demands and compromises between the other nations. Words upon sheets that held no power to bind the undersigned. Kainus had seen it before. He had seen the treaties broke, the wealthy reduced to beggars from broken promises, the soldiers sent to die defending the borders that seemed to fluctuate at the whims of who had power in the region, and the thievery of the land’s bounty in contractual disputes. The Czar had seen all of these things. He knew only power and violence legislated nations.
Queru noted the look of disgust as Czar Kainus Kadacov, son of Kadac, born in Raohtuck, looked upon the seal of King Nerod Eldenberry. The Farseer knew of the animosity. The nine sons of Kadac birthed to command the might of Perosh. The nine sons of Kadac who slew countless noblemen and knights of Daramis. The nine sons of Kadac who were betrayed one after the other to the enemy as they defended their lands from invaders. The nine sons of Kadac slain during the Peroshi-Daramaian War.
On each declaration of execution sent back with the bodies to their father and brother, the seal of Eldenberry melted lightly in the blistering heat of the desert wind.
Queru felt uneasy about what lay in store when the summit occurred.
“It is quite an oddity, despite the honor, for you to visit my classroom, Farseer.”
The speaker herself was covered in a seemingly ethereal veil that shrouded all but her overall form and a small slit for her eyes to view people. One eye appeared also to be covered by a leather band that holded a place for an eyepatch. Queru seemed focused primarily on the large, magical sheet that served as a viewing board for the arena style seats of the classroom around him though. Across its surface, all manner of runes, equations, and diagrams littered the area. The concepts had been so utterly foreign to the Farseer prior to the introductory explanation Xucova had bequeathed on her students.
“Xucova, I came here specifically given your studies on the field of temporal magic,” Steinerrec explained. “Recently, I ran into an individual who poised a statement to me.” The Farseer turned to regard Xucova, “They said to me that the future has not been determined yet. I wonder to myself if this could be true. My entire appointment to this station has been rife with premonitions both damning and redeeming. None have failed me, but as of late, the visions have seemed divergent and contradictory at times.”
“You ask me questions with no definitive answer, Farseer. There are many fields of thought on the matter. None has yet been proven, only hypothesized,” the cloaked woman expressed.
“And of your views?”
Xucova turned to regard the writings on the diamond sheet of writing. “I am of a particular field of thought to Premier Zeric. Time is perhaps the most inflexible of properties. Fate ordains that certain events must take place. The future is very likely already decided. You fail to change the course of the past because you have not. You merely can come to the epiphany that your actions played a role in the history fate has set before us. The future is, in essence, an extension of the past. A past that has yet to be, if you will. It should thus be governed by similar constraints.”
“Then time is truly intractable?” Queru said the comment as much to himself as the master mage. Had Sophia truly thought about how time could be stretched or bended, or was she merely giving hope with no true evidence for it?
“That is merely one theory,” Xucova answered. “Though the Premier is skeptical, I feel the deities might have influence in the affairs of men and mer. Another theory holds that time is like a river. If you cast a pebble into the time stream, it merely flows around it in the path of least resistance, righting itself despite the discrepancy. Another holds that very few events are set in cosmic stability, that all time around these events is malleable. These events would be forced to happen. The same concept could apply to a temporal paradox concept.”
Xucova noted the confused look on the Farseer’s face. She sighed, stating, “Zeric leads the field, almost every field. It was he who prepared these materials for this new class for example. What I can tell you of it, time is extremely durable; it can not flex to the will of just anyone.”
“But what of the sky painters of Austraris?” Steinerrec quickly interceded.
“The men there only paint that which destiny has assigned them to. Free will, it would seem, is the grandest of illusions,” Xucova commented as she scanned the board. “Something happened before the Premier left these writings. After he had finished his original writings, he stopped midway through his lecture. He commanded me to continue while he produced roughly a full board of extra writings.”
“And the content?”
“I did not fully grasp it. He seemed enthralled with the task though. Later, he would mention to me the prospect of something entirely new to the field.” Xucova closed her eyes, remembering what the old master had told her. “He thought that perhaps, just maybe, if a sufficient source of power were to be used, a carefully planned paradox could result in something entirely new. What if there were a source of power greater than arcane or divine magic? A source of power with enough impact to maintain a distinct contradiction between time as it is and will be.”
Queru scoffed reflexively. Though in truth, he was genuinely intrigued by the prospect. If Zeric had discovered such a method to alter the machinations of fate and shared it with Sophia, their lot had a powerful tool, or weapon, at their disposal. More disturbingly, if the powers of divinity and the arcane were insufficient, where could such power be gathered from? What form would it take?
Parlow continued to twist the game piece in his hand, steeped in thought. The practice of playing thought draining games and discussing matters of great importance was beginning to wear on him. He breathed deeply for a moment to reanalyze the board before placing his piece.
“I see. You really are getting much better,” commented Count Wells. “Not long from now I can see a time where you will out maneuver even the most well guarded plans.” The Count concluded the statement with a swift move of his own. The very movement of the piece elicited a grimace of discomfort from his opponent.
“I hardly see this as a fair endeavor. Aren’t we supposed to be discussing the appearance of the hunter and druid? Is our time not better suited to tackling that long standing issue?” Parlow commented as he moved his piece.
“It is to my understanding that you were sent to me for training. For now…” Harlan picked up a number of pieces from his opponent, scattering his position, “you are failing in only a scant few seconds. I demand you focus. I am sworn to teach in the ways of civil espionage. How can I train you to blend in as the crown will require of you if you can’t even play a simple game and guard your thoughts at the same time?!”
Harlan concluded the statement by scattering the board and pieces onto the floor. This startled the younger, though still expert, agent. Such an outburst had not been seen out of the Count during his stay, and though the Count was but a diplomatic spy, his presence was still dangerous in any room. The Count sat and watched as Menfu began lifting up the pieces.
“The defeated lays the board yes?”
“Vae victus,” replied the Count.
As the spy began to place the board into line, the Count stared off onto the stage of the theater from the viewing box high above. “All the political gallery is a theater, Parlow. Every person a piece in the grandest game of all. Learn to play that game, and you will serve the crown as admirably as any.”
“Admirably as you I can only hope.”
The Count looked back at his trainee. Taking his first move, he relented to Parlow’s queries. “The records from Moorhaven were never recovered before the outsider came to the place. We still have little information about their implications in the project.”
“I read the Cerelion boy’s file fairly extensively. I’ve had to deal with his mother,” Parlow said. “It could be a great blessing or an outlandish curse that the Duke sent him towards Mercaeus.”
“I see little use in worrying of the matter. If the Duke is placated and Faro is bolstered to our end for bringing the forgery and its redemption about, I feel we have done great work.”
Parlow cleared his throat, “And of the other boy? He seems not to know the little influence the project has had on him, but his interaction with Jericho is… problematic. Any word on the organiztion?” Parlow asked as he took his first move.
“None. They are very hidden to us. It is almost as though they do not recruit minor members to leverage. It is all or nothing, a dangerous fervor,” said Wells after a swift move. “I doubt Duke Florant is involved given his reaction to the forgery. Akiko Nivaye should be kept in the dark about the matter. I worry her presence in the circles of Sinohi might ignite a witch hunt.” Harlan placed his piece before continuing, “Augustin Gonzalo will side with no one in his age, and his disciple seems adamant to the crown, though not our ends.”
“And our ends differ from the crown’s?” the question accompanied another move.
“Our ends are parallel to the crown. We merely can be more imaginative in how to construct the winning position.”
Upon the latest move of the Count, Parlow slumped back in his chair. He was deep in thought, but garnered enough focus to comment to the Count one final statement.
“Another ten move game ahead?”
Parlow scattered the pieces to the floor, looked upon the mess, and began to set the board once again.