Prologue

„Hear our prayers, Sidian, god of magic and all life, Thou that hast chosen us to serve Thee and to sing Thy glory! Grant us magic and taqah for that we will remain worthy to represent Thou in Thy kingdom and far across its borders!"

While the High Priest poured holy water into the spotlessly polished dish to the feet of the great Sidian-statue, the other magicians and priests repeated the mantra.

Today was an especially good day for the calling of Sidian and the three-month prayers. The weather was clear and not a single cloud floated in the sky, thus nothing covered the godly burning eye up above. The god's eye which had always been looking down on them with goodwill. Besides on the last night, as calculated in advance, the full moon had graced the sky with its presence, and in these times the power of the magicians was extraordinarily strong.

The soft rippling of the water echoed through the inner courtyard of the temple in the heart of town as the magicians' choral ended, and reverential gazes turned towards the sky. They depended on their god's mercy, especially when the ritual of renewal was due. None of them desired to experience what would happen if he ever denied them his help.

However they breathed deeply when they could still feel the taqah, the magical energy, flow. Their god meant well and he continued to provide them with the power their spells and magic required.

"Praised be Thou, Sidian, Lord and Master of our powers. In Thy name we bring the magic to Rygia, represent Thee with all our talent and deeds and will always be at Thy service whenever Thou callst! May we never disgrace Thy trust in us!"

A short choral followed, during which the eleven highest mages of the island gathered the taqah around them. Then, in the instant the litany reached its end, they clapped their hands and a magic fountain of holy water rose from the dish. An expression of pure joy appeared on their faces as they made the fountain grow and shrink, until both the statue and they were completely sprayed by the water.

The ritual was a success and guaranteed them the preservation of their magic for at least the coming three months.

The magicians finally let the fountain dry up and returned solemnly to their daily tasks. As the representatives of Sidian on the island they had a lot of duties, which had to be carried out devotedly as not to infuriate the god.

Only Layenne stayed behind, because her duty today was to care for the courtyard and above all for the holy icon. She loved this work as she enjoyed spending time in Sidian's silent company. Here, near the statue, she felt even more connected to him than usually. He had given her the power that had opened the gate to the circle of the eleven most powerful magicians of the island for her; therefore she would always be grateful.

Magic was a gift which she did not want to miss for anything in the world. It gave her life a sense and in return she devoted this life solely to the service of the god of magic and spirits. With love she gazed upwards at the statue. The well-built man clad in fine garments portrayed the earthly form of Sidian, but the face underneath the wide hood of the stony cloak was blank.

Nobody was allowed to see the god's features. It would have been a sin even to desire to and this sin was punished by death. Yet in Layenne's eyes this fact rendered the god only more adorable. He bore a mystical air around him and truly became a god.

Throughout the inner courtyard a faint stream of taqah flowed and she could feel the magic circulate through her body as well. Contently she thought of different spells in her mind and played with their bodily forms. Naturally she would never have used magic unnecessarily, as it was highly criticized. No one was allowed to waste the lent energy, because this could throw the whole magic system off balance. The island's magical equilibrium was a very fragile thing. Nevertheless she found great pleasure in rehearsing her lessons and testing her mental abilities. Thereby she was prepared for an emergency at any time.

She picked up a full jar from the floor and began to water the tulips, which were growing around the statue and brought a sense of life to the otherwise cold stones. As Rygia in general suffered from a rather dry climate and the Northern savannas were not too far from the city, rain was scarce and the flowers needed regular care. It would have been a disaster if any of the delicate flowers had withered because of their incapability to look after these living things.

"So this is the place of Sidian's worship. The realm's secret place, the core of the magic society."

Layenne jerked up at these words and almost dropped the jar in her hands. She whirled around to face the speaker and stared into the smiling face of a man she did not know. He did not belong to the other magicians, and consequently he had to be an intruder.

Irritated, on the one hand due to her own surprised reaction and on the other hand because of the man's rudeness in the face of the god, she put the jar aside and confidently placed her hands on her hips. With stern and unforgiving eyes she demanded: "Who are you that you dare enter Sidian's sacred place without paying him the least of the respect he deserves? I should have you taken away from here this very instant!"

His bright eyes flashed in amusement: "You truly are a faithful servant of Sidian's. However you are blinded by this stone's powers. After all it is a stone you are praying to. This is not Sidian, and you are well aware of it. Sidian does not favour his servants praying to his soulless imagine instead of praying to his true self."

"You dare…"

He held up a hand to silence her at once. "Please, give me the chance to finish my words, before you burn me to ash. I am not who I seem to be…"

Against all good manners she interrupted him harshly: "You do not have the right to speak to me like this! You are merely a scoundrel, desecrating a holy estate and violating the god's pure name!"

"But I am your god. I am Sidian."

For a second she did not know what to respond, but could only stare at him with her jaw hanging slightly open. This dirty, yet strong man with the thick dark hair, the weathered skin and the poorly shaved beard truly claimed to be Sidian. He claimed to a god.

Her confusion vanished as quickly as it had gripped her. Her eyes wild in abhorrence Layenne explained: "You must deem me a fool if you expect me to believe this. Sidian is the greatest of gods, and he is certainly not you. You will regret your disrespect and this sacrilege!"

"I do not think so, priestess. After all I have chosen you with care."

She did not waste her breath on an answer to his ridiculous words, instead she threw a lance of fire at him and its heat made the air around her flicker. He completely disappeared inside the flames. When the magical flames finally died down her rage was still there, but cold satisfaction filled her heart regarding that this man had received his punishment.

Suddenly her anger melted away to be replaced by pure terror. The stranger had moved a few steps backwards at the impact and the edges of his clothes were smouldering a little. Apart from that he was unharmed and the smile on his face had only widened. Disbelievingly she looked at the traces her spell had left in the courtyard to make sure she had not just imagined it happening. However, the normally spotless white stones and tiles were covered in soot and some of the plants were burnt. A thing that made her feel rather bad. Yet she could even feel in the stream of taqah that surrounded them that some of it had been consumed.

Fearfully she fell to her knees: "Forgive me, Sidian, flawless one! I had not expected Thou to show yourself to a lowly servant like me. I am ashamed of my doubts of Thy truth."

Sidian came closer, still smiling, and looked down on her: "As I said, I have chosen you amongst all my trusted servants. Therefore your lack of understanding may be forgiven. Get up!"

Instantly she obeyed. Sidian's human appearance seemed even stronger now, as though the spell had only given him more power. Layenne could hardly believe what was happening to her and it was difficult to order her thoughts. She stood before her god in the flesh, and he truly minded to talk to her. In her wildest dreams she had not dared imagine anything similar to this.

Carefully Sidian reached for her arm and a subtle tickling ran through her whole body. He had a very special aura, one filled with magic, and she could feel the taqah radiating from him.

Then he pulled her to the side of the courtyard and spoke: "I do not want you to keep praying to this portrayal of me. I want you to cherish my spirit, because it is what watches over you and your magic. This counts for all my magicians, but you, Layenne, are the only one who shall ever see my earthly face as you are very special to me. I want you to keep this meeting a secret, but I have faith in you that you will never forget it. Above that I believe that you will loyally deliver my message to the other magicians and set them on the right path. The path of true worship. Otherwise all of the magic society will face my wrath!"

He looked deep into her eyes and she nodded. She was choked with a mixture of fright and disbelief and she could only croak one answer: "I will do whatever Thou demandst of me, Sidian. I am Thine."

"Oh yes, that you are."