My rejection by the High Council has led me to the unmapped depths of Atares Mon, in search of a forbidden, ancient knowledge of a power to rival Asai.
Here, in the underground fissures and canyons whose depths lead to the life-blood of the planet itself, I have found a makeshift city amongst crumbling ruins of a bygone age, populated by others who have fled the tyranny of the Sahrin in search of riches and power.
The inhabitants of this wretched, rotting hive call it, The Verge.
Had I still considered myself a member of the High Council of Summoners, I would have led a purge against these ignoble criminals and inhuman scum. But I have learnt in my fall from grace to make use of whatever I have at hand, and to disregard the sanctimonious views of the Summoners if they become an impediment to the furtherance of my goal.
Amongst these outcasts and renegades I may find those who know of what I seek, or even those individuals who have crossed the line drawn by the surface world, and ventured into the Void itself.
fragment from the journal of Tamaarin dos’Baddon, ArchSahrin, Age of Glory.
The d’Valisantian stood as they entered the hall, light flashing on his crystalline armour.
“Arosh Taarden,” U’shaltris said. “First Warlord of the Children of A’dem. Chosen from all mankind to sit at the feet of your betters and Ascend. You are here at last.” His eyes glowed. “I thought your vaunted talents would have brought you and my… executioner, here sooner.” He stood, his power twisting around him like serpents. “You must tell me, Te’lorne, did the Shaa quarrel before deciding to go to war against us?”
Arosh stepped forward. “Did you quarrel with your cabal when you opened the Ninth Gate and destroyed Nemisdrillion and all its people?”
U’shaltris laughed. “I did not think of them at all. You are like mewling newborns.” Gesturing at the men and women frozen behind them. “It did not take much convincing for these ‘chosen’ to accept the Path my masters have led the d’Val to.”
“Only by the Light of the Eye are all things seen clearly.” said Te’lorne.
Arosh couldn’t help but notice that his menta was patient where his own emotions threatened to overwhelm him. He had to focus!
“You, who were once as my brother,” said U’shaltris, “would judge me unfit?”
“Yes!” Arosh said before Te’lorne could speak. “How could you forsake the Truth of the Firstborn for that of daemons?” Runes flashed across his mind’s eye, glowing with asai and he flung his spear at the traitor.
“How could I not?” U’Shaltris dismissed Arosh’s attack with a wave of his hand, the spear disappearing in a blaze of light.
The d’Valisantian laughed. “You may see the Light of the Eye but you know nothing of the Path to reach it. You think the Firstborn noble? Altruistic? Do not be sim–”
From somewhere far above came a sound like dull thunder, causing the hall to shake and small stones to fall from the ceiling as the floor rolled.
The undead kept coming. Had he the time, Bahlon would have cursed.
The entrance to the tomb had been guarded by decaying wards and the bones of long dead guardian hounds. It had been ridiculously easy for magi of his standing to remove them, but then that was likely what the Aaben Seers had planned.
They had not bothered wasting their energies by stacking defences in the Outer Circle of the Tomb of the God-King. No, they had just left enough to scare off, or kill, those tomb raiders seeking easy riches, or journeymen magi looking for lost tomes of the Kalifad Empire. They had used the diabolical talents of the architects who had built the Sky’stone – a structure that STILL defied the will of the Council, three thousand years after it’s builders fail – to riddle the maze-like corridors of the Tomb with traps as deadly today as they’d been when first constructed.
He had lost five companions to the traps that lay beyond the wards he’d negated, and now the necromanic talents were finally pitted against him.
Bahlon raised his arms, calling the power of the Farstar and sending it spilling into the world. This was the eight wave of the Deadguard and his power was dwindling. Sweat soaked his back and the staff he held was useless, its arcanite crystal having overloaded and exploded in a discharge of energy that had almost collapsed the ceiling.
Again, he pulled the threads that bound the undead here, reeling the energy that animated them as they surround him.
He spun the energy around him like a vortex and the skeletons crumbled.
He would need to rest. To gather his own energies once more before they pressed on to the final resting place of the God-King. It was there he would find the Crown of Stars, and the world would finally bow before him.
He would build an empire that eclipsed Kalifad; if their final army didn’t kill him first.
I remember the day my father brought me into the Sanctarum to find my dragon.
It went against all tradition.
The Sa’trovaani did not Bond with fully grown dragons, the Bonding was a sacred ceremony that took place on the salt flats of Iskar during a dragons hatching.
You cannot Bond with a fully grown dragon.
But since the Plague no new dragons had been hatched and the Vice Regent had declared a state of emergency. For without new Bonding’s there would be no new Dragonriders to secure the Sa’trovaan League.
My father, First Magus of the Moonspire, Under-Lord to our House, said he had found a fragment of text that dated back to the Iron Wars of a thousand years ago, describing how to a Bonding might be achieved with a fully grown dragon.
It was not until he had bound me hand and foot upon the edonstone altar, gagging me to muffle my cries that I realised something was wrong.
The text my father had found did not Bond an adolescent human with an adolescent dragon to grow together, but rather it allowed the Bonding of an adult human with an adult dragon.
Through a conduit created by the sacrifice of a life most dear to the human.
For my father, that life had been mine.
I remember quite clearly as the dragons came forward to inspect me. The ivory and red A’salindrax, the green and red Brax’aron, golden Ca’sahrise and stone-scaled Vah’salix. Their size was impossible to describe and the terror they invoked as I lay helpless on the altar was overwhelming. At five years of age I had seen dragons but always from a distance.
I was going to die. Betrayed by the person who should have loved me more than his desire to Bond a dragon and save our home.
But my father did not know dragons like he thought he did. dragons are not mindless animals. They are sentient. They know and they understand. And while the ritual would work for my father at my death, it would also work for me at his.
Mighty Vah’salix took exception to the murder of a child by her parent, so before my father could spill my blood on the ebonstone, Stone-scale ended his with the swipe of a single taloned finger.
My father’s blood washed over me and the power of the stone awoke, opening a conduit that my mind expanded into. That my soul reached towards and was met by that of the Dragon King.
When I first came upon the Face I was newly raised to the rank of Seer. My cora’stone still uncoloured, though as much a part of me as the air within my lungs.
As an initiate I had not known the depths within the Arleth’taur, nor the secrets we Starbinders kept. I had learnt of the outer world, the stars around Sobia and the history of the realms. As a Seer I was presented to the Probability Matrix and given access to the libraries.
But books are not the only thing the Ardes Libirantus are conservators of. The world within the Cradle of the Stars contains histories as well as prophecies, artworks as well as books, nightmares as well as dreams. And daemons.
And my daemon was trapped in the Face.
I did not know her nature when I met her. The quantstructs of the Shaluay often mimic life, intelligence. I found her in a room of water, alone, staring at a dark ceiling and crying red tears. I was not meant to be here, but I thought I knew better than my teachers.
The levels that were forbidden are the ones I sort out. It was only after I fell that I understood they were restricted for a reason.
Her voice was soft, gentle. She reminded me of the mother I had lost long ago. She enticed me, lowered my defences and dropped the tiniest hints of the knowledge I craved.
There is a reason that the Shaluay keep their initiates sheltered as the Ciralys do those who can see the Light of the Eye. But I was strong, the strongest my teachers had found in a thousand years. I knew better than they my own abilities.
Pride. It is ever the downfall of humanity. She drew her web to coerce me and flew into it willingly. I let her in, and she would not leave. I was trapped, a voice locked in a Face, shut in a dark room, crying red tears while see took my body and her freedom.
I remain here still, waiting for another Shaluay to find me at last. Weaving a web of my own…
The women of my line remembered. We remembered living in peace on the Jade Stone Steppes before the Whisperers came. We remembered fleeing before the sounds that drove men mad and toppled empires.
But the Whisperers had made a mistake in chasing us away from our homelands, our cities of gold and silver and stone. They had forgotten – if they had ever known – that across the mountains lay the godlands, and at their heart rose three great swords that had been thrust into the flesh of the world.
Old beyond measure, pitted and rusted, these gigantic weapons were revered by the plains people as proof of the gods they so slavishly worshipped.
But these were not the swords of gods, though they might as well be. These were the swords of the Argonath. The Titans who had brought order from the chaos when the world was new.
Yes, the women in my line remember. And we remembered that these swords were left here as a promise, that if called, the Argonath would come again. We remembered the words, we knew the way of smoke and bone, of blood and spirit. We knew the sacrifice required to gain the Argonath’s attention. It was a price I had never thought I could pay.
Then the Whisperers took everything from me. They took my home, my husband and my son. And now they have taken my daughter. The future of my line, the inheritor of my legacy. They left me with nothing and I have found that now, now I can pay the price of the Argonath’s.
The knife burns as it enters my chest, positioned to slip between my ribs. The pain that explodes within me as it pierces my heart , but I hold on. My lungs strain to move and my throat tightens, my voice a whisper as vile as those who have destroyed us. But I have enough breath for the word. And as my hearts blood wells over the fist that holds the dagger pressed against me, dropping to the altar with the Circle of Swords, I voice it before the darkness claims me.
The words always come with the rain, for that is my curse. To have the opportunity to speak so rarely and wait for the whim of chance that there might be an audience to hear them.
Why do I speak now? Because the rains have come, blessing these barren mountains and giving me to chance to break the bonds laid upon me – if only I speak the truth. If I tell the tale as it was, not how my pride and your folklore wish it to be. For stories change with the telling, whether spoken aloud or not. And while my voice is only granted to me when the heavens cry, I have recounted her story again and again in my mind. And my part in it.
You who come in pilgrimage for the chance that the rains might fall when you visit, seek only the wisdom of an oracle; for was that not my role in her court? Was I not a seer and advisor? Was I not a liar and traitor? Ah, you do not know. But then you do not know who she was either. Hero or tyrant, virgin or whore, mother or daughter, queen or peasant, villain or fool? She was all these things, and none of them. She was a gift of the gods, the last female of my kind.
For centuries I have stood upon these broken hills in my eternal vigil, the ruins of a once mighty empire crumbling behind me. My only company the winds. And her voice within them. Her words torment me and entice me, for they are just an echo, and a key.
“When the immortality you prize weighs too heavy upon your shoulders, elder brother, tell the world what you did to steal the Dragonthrone. Tell them true and you will find your freedom.”
But what will happen when I do? Will this stone fall from this vile human form I have been trapped in? Will I spread my wings once more? Do my kin who survived the Doom still prosper? Would they accept me? Do I want them to?