|Prologue: An Ominous Beginning
Author: Eric Showatt PM
20 years after the Alyion War, the crusaders have been reclaiming the lost kingdom Naoscar from the remaining army of Carr. On the brick of success, captain Francis is visited by an old friend, and the unexpected meeting, changed the land of Otan forever.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy - Words: 3,096 - Reviews: 4 - Published: 05-23-10 - id: 2809932
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A sallow old man gazed gloomily at the idled temple. It was sitting quietly upon a great auburn cliff that towered over an ancient city. Behind him were a pair of remarkable wrought-iron gate, barring a cobbled path that originated from a majestic fortress at the foot of the mountain. Two guards clad in steel stood in a peculiar manner beside the gate, wide-eyed, yet completely ignoring the old man, whom, with heavy footsteps, began climbing the tarnished white stair before him.
The flight of steps was long and glittered faintly in the setting sun, like a twirling silver thread laid on a mound of red sand, and it was leading towards the rusty entry of the isolated temple at the mountain top. The old man though ascended with astonishing speed, the wild grass on the side rustled as he passed, and in no times he had reached the little bright green courtyard in front of the temple. An old oak in the corner was shadowing over him.
The loitering flock of blackbirds scattered and fled, as the white robed chancellor disappeared through the temple gate into the obscure atrium. An ivory emblem of a wheel of fire encircling a seven-ended star was pinned on his chest, dangling from the movements; in its centre were engraved with three gold lines, written in elegant writings:
High Council of Travancore.
Heart of Sarmantor
Morad's expression was impassive, and a curious gleam of blue in his palms flickered as he walked. His elderly face became filled with even more lines when it was illuminated by the bowls of crackling blue flames, dangling on the columns of stone pillar on both sides of the long marble atrium.
He paused for a few moments before pushing open the rosewood door at the end. A splendid golden hall lit by a massive chandelier hung from the ceiling came into his view. His ghostly reflection on the marble floor of the atrium vanished as he marched into the hall. The door behind him snapped shut promptly without a sound.
Rows of mahogany benches were lined up perfectly on both side of a bright red carpet. An impressive statue of an angel rose at the end of the hall, and behind her were three panels of huge paintings that portrayed a woman with long white hair holding a water jug, a stern man with rugged russet beard carrying a massive lance, and a blonde man with brilliant blue eyes bearing a sword that shaped like a ruler. Six pairs of glowing streams grew from their back, like six pairs of rippling wings.
Chancellor Morad tilted his head and observed the temple interior with care while he was gracefully gliding down the red carpet. Around him were seven panes of coloured windows. Each of them illustrated a man or a woman dressed in different noble attires, each of them held tightly a weapon in their hands, their expression severe and saint-like.
Morad slowed down his pace and looked from left to right, his lips curled into a smile when he noticed the lean man clothed in silver armours, kneeling before the statue of the angel that had six pairs of wavy wings spread out from behind. It was evident that she was the angel holding a jug of water in the painting behind her. Except her statue wasn't holding anything at all, but merely staring into her empty hands like she was carrying something small and precious. The words on podium beneath her feet read:
The Archangel of Sara,
Mother of Otan, Giver of all life
It was then followed by a short monument, which the kneeling man was reading carefully with a pair of dark wary eyes and whispering aloud in a loutish voice: 'Archangel of Sara, mother of Otan, the giver of all life. May her smile bring strength to the goods and courage to the weak. Regret to the sinful and shame to the fiends. May-'
'-May her wings shelter Otan and all its inhabitants, protect all that's noble and innocent in times of darkness. May her presence shepherd the misguided and the lost, back to the path of righteousness.' The voice of the chancellor echoed with his footsteps; the man jolted and his hand twitched towards something next to his waist.
It was plain that he so absorbed by the passages on the monument he did not notice the rosewood door opening, nor the white robed chancellor approaching. He did however, seem to recognize the voice. 'Chancellor Morad...'The man hands relaxed, though his gaze was fierce.
He turned around; his white armor clattered as he moved and his vast red cape was sweeping the floor. 'That's close enough thank you, Chancellor. I must say, I did not expect to see a man of your status here. What brings you all the way from Travancore to Barkwell?'
'It's been too long... Capitan Francis. I have missed you dearly, and thought it'd be good to pay you a visit..' Morad bowed. 'You look well, or at least better than some I've seen lately...Your division is stationed here is it not, my friend?' Morad gave Francis a warm smile; he reached out to shake Francis' hand, but the captain simply turned away.
Although the wrinkles on Morad's face were numberless and deep, out of the two his appearance was still the better one. Yet the deep shadows around his eyes and on his forehead, suggested he had been deprived of sleep, and his voice hinted drowsiness.
'Friend...' Francis spat, 'Tell me, chancellor, when was the last time the two of us spoke? When was the last time you replied my letters and invited me to your home? Now that you're a chancellor, you don't seem to be needing friends anymore. I'm surprised you even remembered my name! '
Morad's eye widened in surprise. 'My, how could I possibly forget our friendship during the Alyion War? Please, old friend, do not ever accuse me of such vile thing.' Said Morad. 'Not a day in my life had I forgotten the many times you saved my skins in the midst of battles, and the many times you have come to my aid when Travancore was endangered by the underlings of Carr -'
'And yet your council refused to help me when the Crusaders required your assistance!' The golen hall shivered at the roar of captain Francis, but Morad didn't seem bothered. He waited for a brief moment for Francis rage to tune down.
'Alas...Please don't take it too personally. ' Morad then replied lightly. ' The High Council isn't run by one man only, but seven. Surely a respectable man like you would understand, my opinion matters very little unless there are others who agrees with me...' He then heaved a great sigh and turned around dramatically.
'But to think you would abandon our friendship, no longer addressing me by the nicknames you have given me during the war, all because of something I have no control over...I'm disappointed, Francis. I must say, I quite enjoyed my nickname. It was much more significant than my worthless real name...everything should have a meaning, do you agree, Rapier?'
'Chancellor,' Francis said curtly, his fierces eyes found the chancellor's; suddenly his voice sounded urgent. 'Surely, you know Jester Glendark has made a tremendous progress in reclaiming the kingdom of Naoscar from the armies of Navaras. Right now, three of his ten divisions are marching towards Avalon. Three of the best that is, and from the letters Jester wrote me they've met very little resistance along their way.'
Francis pulled out several parchments and passed them to Morad, who read them intently as Francis pressed on. 'The latest Paladin's Pilgrimage will give you all the details if you desire them. Make no mistake, the old rumours were true. Carr was destroyed by Inron Melchior on the slope of Dragonfall twenty years ago. Why else would he not defend the cities he had conquered during the Alyion War? He spent many centuries capturing them did he not?'
With both hands tucked into his long white sleeves along with the parchments, chancellor Morad threw Francis a quick and insincere smile. 'You assumed too much, dear old Francis. I have studied the history of Otan for nearly all my life now. If the Grimforts can be taken so easily How could the Aithion War have lasted two thousand years? If the lord of Navaras can be destroyed so effortlessly, How could Alyion War occurred after the Reminiscence? You see, '
The chancellor leisurely tilted his head; his eyes at the white cathedral ceiling with an expression filled with irony, and his tone was exaggerating.
'War is endless, and it is inevitable as long as we continue to live, unable to understand each other. War is full of sorrows, full of suffering and full of meanings, like unspoken words that can be only told through blood and fist. Otan has endured almost three millenniums of warfare, and they all meant something. Sadly, not a person realized it in time. Not even I did.'
Captain Francis glared at the chancellor heatedly, his body shaking with fury.
'Then what do you wish to do, just sit around and read all day, trying to get some meaning out of things that are accidental? Since when have you become such a fatalist? We need to fight for freedom, we need to fight for changes! 'He growled; his footsteps tapped back and forth in front of the statue of Sara while Morad smiled amusingly, looking thoroughly entertained by Francis' reaction.
'There are things you cannot change, and there are things you cannot avoid. ' Morad whispered, yet his word echoed in the hall like a giant church bell. ' Tell me, Francis , my old friend. Tell me, what can change the fate of a man? '
Francis deliberated for a second.
'Only a man can change the fate of a man.' He then answered proudly. 'This is Jester's message to the people of Otan, who would stand idly by and let the dark hordes takes over, and for those fools who are willing to believe those idiotic prophecies written on those emerald tablets... Fools just like you, apparently.'
Morad was suddenly looking pleasantly astounded.
'Alas...you're sharp as ever, Francis.' Mused Morad. ' What gave it away? I was sure I have not yet mentioned the emerald tablets within this hall.'
'There are things you cannot change? Things you cannot avoid? You sounded exactly like those scum from the order of Sacred fire! Open your eyes, old man. The prophecies are a bunch of stories with no purpose other than to entertain. The rise of two chosen ones and the revival of the old alliance? The elvish folks had shunned us for over five hundred years! My six years old son tells shorter tales than this.
And just how many times has the idea of chosen ones saving the world being used by bards and swindlers already? Put it out of your mind, Morad. If there is such thing as a true prophecy, then Jester IS the chosen one!' Francis bellowed.
But the chancellor merely shook his head, and hauled another lengthy sigh.
'This is really too bad… If only you would try to use your head a bit more, you could've figured out the meaning behind my questions. And you are quite wrong, I assure you. Man, cannot change fate. ' Morad said disappointedly, a crackling sound was buzzing in his sleeves, and the air around them suddenly became very cold. 'So let me ask you once more, Francis Degenesis, and be very careful with you answer this time. Tell me, what can change the fate of a man?'
'Your questions are pointless, as I have already given you my answer.' Francis replied in a lowered voice. 'Why won't you stand with us? We've known each other for decades, and fought together on many occasions. What are you really afraid to lose now, Ice?' His gaze was softening while Morad's was growing distant. his breath turned into a stream of white mist in the icy air.
'I'm not afraid to lose anything except for one thing, Francis.' the chancellor smirked, yet no warmness lingered on his face . It was a cruel and mirthless smile; his smooth features twisted and the wrinkles next to his eyes now looked more abnormal and sinister than ever before.
'Power.' He murmured with such ferocity the word sent a chill down Francis's spine.
Francis glowered at the white wizard; a dread was dawning in his chest. His heart was crushing against his ribcage, beating violently as he body began to shiver from the cold. Finally noticing the dropping temperature, captain Francis realized for the first time, that perhaps the shadow on Morad's face was not a result of sleep deprivation, but something far more threatening.
'Morad...What have you done?'
'What can change the fate of a man? Now, I shall give you my answer. Only power can change the fate of a man.' Morad answered shrilly; his head tilted to the side as if he was curiously staring at something fascinating.
'You see, no one can escape death, Francis, that is our fate. As the mortals of Otan, we are all doomed to die, just as you will in a few moment's time. But with power, one can influence elements, destroy lives, one can manipulate shadows and minds, and with enough power, it is not all impossible for one to even thwart death!'
Francis quivered; looking completely horror-struck. Slowly backing away, Chancellor Morad continued his twisted smile, all his facades of merits and signs of humanity were gone from his face.
'You are foolish to think that evil can be conquered. A fool that couldn't grasp the true meaning behind these wars, these sufferings. There is no end to greed, wraith and lust for power. Just as no light can cast away all darkness, those who fight in the name of justice and light, can never truly prevail. And you shall witness now, what one can gain from the darkness itself…Power.'
Captain Francis let out a furious cry and dashed towards Morad at the sound of his last word. His hand swept his long red cape aside and unsheathed the scarlet rapier from the scabbard next to his waist. His movement was brutal and fast, but the old chancellor was somehow even faster. Catching the rapier blade with his bare hand, Morad scowled as Francis struggled to withdraw his weapon.
'I have come to bid you farewell, Old Friend.' Said Morad grimly. Something in his palm was shinning - something cobalt - and in an instant the blade that Morad held in his hand began to sizzle like it was on fire. 'Good bye, Francis. Please...give Xioreed my regards.'
Francis' body trembled violently; he tried to let go of the handle while snarling from the effort, but it was too late. The frost on the blade was thickening and smoking. The ice was travelling down to the rapier guard so fast that Francis's hand was immovable in a matter of seconds, covered in rime; He could feel the blood in his vein began to freeze.
'Ice…' Francis uttered the old nickname of chancellor Morad for the last time. As his heart beat continued to fade, every inch of his body was now paler than snow. And after a short while, the life was completely gone from captain Francis' eyes. Still standing, with mouth slightly opened from whispering his last words, he was dead before he could pronounce Morad full name.
But Morad did not stop with murdering his old friend; a layer of frost was spreading from the frozen corpse of captain Francis to the surrounding space. The iciness was creeping across the marble floor. No longer reflective, the ground was now covered in a thin sheet of ice. The rows of benches had began to smoke; and eventually everything within the temple hall was frozen white. And everything was sparkling, except for Francis' eyes.
Morad let go of the blade and revealed a glowing sapphire-like crystal imbued in the centre of his palm. With little effort he smashed the captain's fragile body into pieces with his fist and strode away, kicked apart the rosewood door, passed the long dark atrium and strode into the courtyard of grass.
He waited in the courtyard for a while; the sun was setting, but curiously, it was getting hotter.
Two other men were approaching; they dressed in similar attire and ascended from the top of the staircase not far shorter man of the two had combed, slick greenish hair and lime coloured irises. He was round and bore the same darkness underneath Morad's eyes. A green overall was beneath his long white robe.
'Is it done, Acidius?' Morad asked quietly, and the green-haired man nodded.
'You can smell the ashes in the air, Morad. Prepare to witness the work of Beethovan, the Fury of Sarmantor!' He exclaimed proudly with a bass like voice, and inclining excitedly towards the tall man standing behind him, whose hair and eyes were the colour of the dark fires of hell.
The shadows on his features were the most distinguishing out of the three, and his eyes, like two flaming gems, were glowing in the shadow below his crimson brows. So powerful was he the moment he arrived at the top of the staircase, the courtyard began to heat up in his presence. And The green grass and wild yellow flowers beneath his feet were reduced to ash almost instantly when he past by. And the old oak was charring. And Beethovan said gravely. 'Blaze never dies alone.'
He then turned to north west, gazing at the sinking sun. 'To Avalon.'
After a quick nod they strode down the stairs together, towards the fortress that rested in the shadow of the great cliff. Many parts of the city were now smoking; the chancellors left behind nothing but a trail of dead bodies along their way, as they journeyed through the smouldering streets. And all the while a faint murmur amongst the three can be heard, atop of the distant screams and cries of the citizens of Barkwell:
'May her presence shepherd the misguided and the lost, back to the path of righteousness.'