Authors: Margaret Weis
Raising the hammer, Joram hit the clay box, shattering it at one blow. The firelight gleamed orange on his skin as he crouched over the dark object lying in the midst of broken clay and splintered wood.
“It isn’t hot,” whispered Joram in awe, holding his hand above the object. “Come nearer, Saryon! See what we have created!”
What had he expected? They had failed. Recoiling, Saryon jerked his arm from Joram’s grasp. This thing that lay upon the stone floor was not beautiful. It was ugly. A tool of darkness, an instrument of Death, not a bright shining blade of light. Joram was a beginner, untrained, without skill, without knowledge, with no one to teach him. The sword he had fashioned might have been wielded a thousand years before by some savage, barbaric ancestor.
But there was something more horrifying about the sword, something devilish—the rounded knob on the hilt combined with the long neck of the hilt itself, the handles short, blunt arms, and the narrow body of the blade would turn the weapon into a grim parody of a human being.
Lying like a corpse at his feet, the sword was the personification of Saryon’s sin.
“Destroy it!” Saryon gasped hoarsely. “Destroy it, Joram, or it will destroy you!”
he black, greasy column of smoke wafted away on the chill air as the ashes of the victim drifted down to fall upon those who complacently believed they had just saved a soul. Here and there, amid the smoldering ruins, tongues of flame licked out, greedy for more. Finding nothing but charred remains, the fire crackled and died. Smoke rolled into the sky, casting a shroud over the wretched village, drawing a pall over the sun.
The crowd dispersed, many making the sign of the cross, combining this with gestures to ward off the evil eye or any other curses that might be lingering in the tainted air. Muttered remarks of “foul witch” were a dark accompaniment to the priests sanctimonious pleadings with someone—it may have been God, though the priest didn’t sound at all certain about it—to forgive the sins of this tortured being and provide it with eternal rest.
Two figures huddled together in a rat-infested alleyway. Both were dressed exactly alike, in black robes with hoods pulled low over their heads. One leaned upon a carved wooden staff, highly polished and decorated with nine strange symbols. This was obviously the older of the two, for he was stooped and the hand upon the staff was gnarled and wrinkled, though its grip was firm.
His companion was obviously much younger; he stood tall and straight, though his shoulders slumped and he seemed bowed down with grief. He held a cloth across his nose and mouth, ostensibly to keep away the sweet stench of burning flesh, but in reality to hide from the old man the fact that he wept.
The two had remained unobserved by the crowd because they had chosen to remain unobserved. Silently they stood, silently they watched. Now, as the last ashes of one they had loved blew down the cracked stone streets, the old man let out a slow breath.
“Is that all you can do?” cried the other, nearly choked with grief. “Sigh? You should have let me—” He made violent, intricate patterns with his hand in the air. “You should have let me—”
The old man laid a restraining hand upon his arm.
“No. That would have only made matters worse for us. She was strong. She could have saved herself but she kept our secret, though they broke and burned her body. Would you take that triumph away from her?”
“Why have they done this? Why are they doing this to us?” the young man cried wretchedly, his long, fine-boned hands endeavoring to wipe away the tracks of his sorrow. “We have done no evil! We have only tried to help …”
The old man’s face grew stern, his voice crackled like the flames as he spoke. “What they do not understand, they fear. What they fear, they destroy. So it has ever been with their kind.” Sighing again, he shook his hooded head. “But I see it growing worse. A new age is coming, an age in which there will be no place for us. One by one, they will seek us out and drag us from our homes and feed us to their envious fires. They will hunt down and destroy our creations, slaughter our familiars—”
“So we stand here and sigh about it and go to our deaths in silence,” the young man interrupted bitterly.
The old mans grip tightened on his arm. “No!” he repeated in a voice that sent a thrill of hope and a shiver of fear through the younger man, who turned to stare at him. “No, we do not! I have been thinking long on this, weighing the dangers, the alternatives. Now I am satisfied. Now I see that we have no choice. We must leave.”
“Leave?” repeated the younger man in soft, dazed tones. “But, where will we go? There is no place that is safe, for our brethren tell us that this persecution exists wherever the sun rises …”
As if his words had conjured it up, the sun appeared from behind the gray clouds. But the charred remains of the corpse gave more warmth than did the shriveled orb that shone pale and bleak in the winter sky.
Staring at it, the old man smiled grimly.
“Wherever the sun rises? Yes, that is true.”
“There are other suns, my boy,” said the old man thoughtfully, staring into the heavens and caressing the carven symbols upon his staff. “Other suns ….”
hen a Bishop of the Realm of Thimhallan receives in solemn ceremony the miter that marks his standing as spiritual head and heart of the world, his first official act as Bishop is one that is secret, private, unseen by the eyes even of those he calls Ruler.
Acting upon orders from the
, the Bishop retires to his chambers and activates the enchantments that seal him off from the world. Then he admits one person—a warlock, Head of the dread Order of
, who brings His Holiness a box, of the purest gold, made by the alchemists. This box is surrounded by such spells of warding and protection that only the warlock himself may open it and remove that which the box contains. This is nothing more than a single sheet of old parchment covered with handwriting. Carefully, reverently, the warlock places this bit of paper before the mystified Bishop.
Lifting the sheet of parchment, the Bishop examines the document carefully. It is old, dating back centuries. There
are spots on the paper, as though tears have stained it, and the handwriting, though obviously that of a trained scribe, is practically unreadable.
As the Bishop endeavors to decipher this missive, his expression changes from one of mystification to a look of shock and horror. Invariably, he looks up at the Head of the Order of
, as if asking the man whether he knows what the letter contains and if it is true. The Head of the Order simply nods, since these people rarely speak. Ascertaining that the Bishop has absorbed the document’s contents, the warlock makes a motion and the parchment leaves the Bishop’s hand and returns to the box. The
then withdraws from the Bishop’s presence, leaving behind a man shaken and distraught, the words on the parchment burning in his mind.
Forgive me, those of you who are reading this at some future date. My hand is unsteady—the Almin help me! I wonder if I will ever cease to tremble! No, I know I will not, while I still picture so clearly that tragic event it is my duty to record and while I still hear those words ring in my ears.
Be it known then that in the dark days following the Iron Wars, when the land is in chaos and many predict the end of our world, the Bishop of the Realm undertook to see into the future, that we might calm the people. For one year, he prepared himself to endure the casting of this spell. Our beloved Bishop prayed daily to the Almin. He listened to the proper music recommended by the Theldara, music that would attune the spiritual with the physical. He ate the proper foods, abstaining from all strong spirits. His eyes saw only those colors soothing to the mind, he breathed the prescribed incense and perfumes. The month prior to the Prophecy, he lasted, drinking only water, purging his body of all unwelcome influences. During that time, he spent his days and nights in a small cell, never speaking to anyone, never spoken to.
The day of the Prophecy came. Ah! How my hand shakes! I cannot contin-
[A blot upon the paper, the writing trails off the edge.]
There, forgive me. I am master of myself once more. Our beloved Bishop descended to the holy Well in the heart of the Font. He knelt upon the marble rim of the Well that is, so we
are taught, the source of the magic within our world. The highest ranking catalysts in the land had returned to this holy ground, to assist the theurgist in the casting of this spell. They stood around the Well, their hands linked so that Life flowed through them.
Standing beside our Bishop was the old theurgist—one of the last in this world, we fear, since their kind sacrificed themselves in their attempts to put an end to the terrible war. Drawing Life from the catalysts around him, the Spirit Shaper worked his powerful magic, calling upon the Almin to give our Bishop knowledge of the future. To this spell, our Bishop added his prayers, and though his body was weak from fasting, his voice was strong and earnest.
And the Almin appeared.
We, all of us, felt His presence, and we fell to our knees in fear and awe, unable to look at His terrible beauty. Staring into the Well, his face rapt and spellbound and under powerful enchantment, our Bishop began to speak in a voice not his own. What he said
not what we had expected. These are his words. I pray that I have the strength to write them.
“There will be born to the Royal House one who is dead yet will live, who will die again and live again. And when he returns, he will hold in his hand the destruction of the world—”
More there might have been, but at that moment our beloved Bishop suddenly gave a great and terrible cry—a cry that will echo in my heart as his words sound in my ears—and, clasping his chest, he fell forward and lay on the lip of the Well, dead. The theurgist collapsed at his side as if struck by lightning, his limbs paralyzed, his mouth moving but making no sensible sound.