Friday, December 31, 2010

Preview: The Promises We Keep

"The Promises We Keep" is a story written in the first person by the protagonist, using the device that the story is actually a very lengthy memoir or journal written with an undefined future audience in mind. The protagonist is not entirely reliable in terms of being a narrator.

The story tells of the episode that broke Ken from the society wherein he emerged and came of age, where he rejects the dogma of the society in favor of the natural law that the artificial society rests upon (and suppresses) and becomes the proto-form of the man that fathered a new strain of Man after the Azure Flames. The key theme here is that the Old World was a decadent, inhuman and parasitic entity that successfully deceived the people into becoming sycophants that hate themselves, their fellow men and the very natural world in favor of the gilded cage that the Old World used to entrap Mankind.

And yes, Ken is a dick. You've been warned.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Coming 2011: The Promises We Keep

The first serial for 2011 is another Ken the Zombie Eating Mutant story, but it's not a story about post-apocalyptic Ken. It's a story about what Ken's life was before it all went up in the Azure Flames, and it's not going to be pretty. It's a first-person story written from his point of view, and in his voice. It is not going to be Happy Fun Time.

I hope that I do this one right.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

End of 2010, Part 3

So, what's on the way for 2011?

I'm going to change my approach again. I am not satisfied with the stories that I've put out to date. I want to suck less, far less, and the way that I'm going now that is not going to happen. After this weekend, I'm going to start writing the first of the 2011 stories and I will hold on publishing it until the first full week of 2011. I will continue aiming at Thursday updates, so look for the first new serial to start on the 6th of January.

The reason that I'm doing this is to accommodate my primary work as a Master's student; I am now on Winter Break and thus have the time to write fiction. I won't once the Spring semester starts, as what writing time I'd devote to this instead has to be put towards a paper or other assignment.

I'm aiming at a 15 or 16-part serial, which is long enough to cover the semester; I will write this one now and another early in the longer Summer break, with a shorter one to fill the gap. The remaining weekly posts will be administrative, like this one.

Next week, I'll write something of a "Coming Attractions" post so that you can prepare yourselves for what's to come in 2011.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

End of 2010, Part 2

I am a full-time graduate student. That has consequences, in particular because the school where my program is has 15-week semesters. Things advance swiftly, and I have a life beyond this blog and my program.

In short, that means that when crunch time hits I'm going to let posts slide here until it's over, at which point I will catch up on the backlog. Be aware of that going forward.

The next post will be a preview of what is to come next year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

End of 2010, Part 1

That concludes this year's serialization of original fiction for the Chronicles.

Some of it was far better than others. Some of it I will never want to touch again. Such is life in fiction writing.

I will, in the remaining weeks of the year, go over what I want to do with this blog in 2011. Contradictions with earlier posts means, as one ought to expect, a change of plan.

If you're still reading, I thank you. If you're still reading come 2011, I really thank you (and ask that you donate; it will help down the road).

If there is any story that you would like to see revised, rewritten and made to suck less (i.e. brought up to a professional standard, and thus worthy of--say--making a Kickstarter project out of it so I can afford to do it), comment below. Otherwise, I'm just going to keep doing whatever it is I want to do at the time.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-25

The End of the Beginning

The three of them, as Gish’s corpse cooled, quickly rifled through his clothes. They found a note, written in a tongue none of them knew. They also found a slim, palm-sized device that hummed as if it were alive. It seemed to be a very complicated artifact of the world before the Azure Flames.

“Heirs, place the device into the slot. I shall indicate it with a blinking light.”

They looked at each other and agreed to comply, so they did and placed it into a slot on a machine with that blinking light.

“Accessing. Access achieved. Desired subject is itself an heir.”

On a big screen, they saw a figure of a man covered in glimmering silver tattoos and marked with a sun-like golden icon on his brow.

“Heir is fully-active on all 12 strands. Name unknown.”

“Can you confirm paternity and maternity?” Zacharion asked.

“Accessing. Subject is son of heirs known as ‘Ilker’ and ‘Yanna’.”

Yearling perked his ears up at that. “No wonder that Mistress prefers to use another name.”

Sihaya just looked at him like he’d reverted to being a silly boy, instead of an apprentice to one of the most powerful sorceresses in the whole of Creation.

“Can you determine his current location?” Sihaya asked.

“Accessing network. Network severely damaged. Network stability severely compromised. Searching. Searching. Searching.”

The screen flickered over a map of all the world—maps with severe gaps, filled with the last known images of that part of the world before the Azure Flames hit—before focusing on a part far, far from where the machine told them that they were. Far to the west and north, across hills and plains not seen by any of the Solar or Lunar nations since the days of Ilker and his many wars, did it rest.

“I know that place.” Yearling said, “That’s the land of the legendary White Tower, where the first of the Sea Peoples arose.”

“Close.” Zacharion said, correcting him, “But that land is to the south. This land here is another place entirely, yet your remembrance is not without value.”

“So far away, but why?” Sihaya asked.

“Unknown.” The machine, again, answered unbidden.

“I say that we go to the People of the White Tower. They remain friendly to us, and by now even they would have heard both of Ilker’s death and our mission. I would expect the Archmage to be waiting for us, if he is as far-seeing as Ilker thought him to be.”

“Then this is the point of no return, isn’t it?” Sihaya said.

“No.” Yearling said, “That passed when we left the lands and people we knew for this mission.”

Instead,” Zacharion said, “this is the end of our days of innocence, such as they were. Like it or not, we’re already passing forcefully into becoming men and women. The way we talk, think and act are increasingly like those of our elders- and the memories I’m reliving as I sleep are not my own, so there is more to this than just ordinary changes.”

“A new sun rises.” Sihaya said.

“Like the old, but not the old.” Yearling said.

“But brilliant just the same.” Zacharion said, concluding.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-24

Monsters in the Gloom

Gish left the room for a moment, saying something about meals, leaving the three youths alone. All of them looked over at each other, and instantly they saw in each other the confusion and unease in themselves.

“I cannot ignore that this ‘Gish’ is not wholly truthful.” Yearling said.

“Nor I.” Zacharion said, “He’s hiding something.”

“I don’t like the way he looks at me.” Sihaya said, “It reminds me of the ways that some of the old men in court did before Father killed them all.”

“Let us not trust him, then.” Zacharion said, again leading, “Let us press him and push him to reveal his true self so that we may deal honestly with honest hatred than falsely with false friendship.”

Not long thereafter, Gish returned. “I have prepared a suitable meal for travelers like you three. Come, follow me.”

Wary did they follow, but follow they did and they came to a small room with a small table and four chairs. Food and drink rested upon it, ready for consumption, and Gish pointed each to a chair as he moved to his own.

“You see the Twilight Son.” Gish said, inquiring, “Why?”

“You know the answer to that question.” Yearling said, “No one who knows of the Twilight Son would not know why he would be sought.”

“I am but an outcast, learned through my own efforts. Some gaps are inevitable.”

“An outcast? From where?” Sihaya asked.

“I no longer recall.” Gish said, dismissive, “It was so long ago, and since I have become no less a capable man than I would have otherwise.”

Zacharion sampled the goods on the table, and then motioned—covertly—for Sihaya to deal with the now-revealed threat. From unseen pockets out of Gish’s sight, she passed pills to each of the boys, pills meant to used in such situations to dissolve poisons. (Even then, princesses had to protect themselves from cunning courtiers.) Each in turn, when Gish looked away from them, slipped the pills into their food and drink and then partook as if nothing was wrong.

Over their meal, the three did push and press their host. They pressed Gish over his unusual appearance, producing an implicit admission of albinism. They pressed him over his origins, getting an admission of his ignorance over his parentage, and they got him to admit that he still serves the man that raised him as his own son.

Then Gish realized that his young charges were not succumbing to the toxins in the food and drink, toxins meant to be mixed with chemicals in the air, and his demeanor changed.

“I am dismayed.” Gish said, “But I know from bitter experience when I must abandon a plan and resort to something more direct.”

Then with a wave of a hand a flash of light blinded the three, after which Gish had disappeared. The three, from places that their own short lives could not provided, knew that this was not the end- and when noises unnatural echoed into the room, they knew that something else had occurred.

“Is the building still watching?” Sihaya asked.

“Heiress Sihaya, this system is operation.”

“What did Gish do?”

“The surviving organism is attempting to access the database. Unknown intruders have gained access to this facility by way of a super-energetic phenomenon.”

“I think that’s Ancient lingo for ‘summoned monsters’.” Yearling said.

“Can we stop Gish?”

“The organism is unable to access the database. It may attempt to destroy it instead. Time unknown.”

Without further talk, the three took up weapons and got on the move. They encountered a group of near-mindless mutants coming from the plush room where they met Gish, and in a shocking (to the mutants) display of violence the three children quickly cut them all down; more and more, lifetimes beyond their own find expression through their own bodies.

They found on the floor a carefully-constructed summoning circle, concealed under a floor rug previously, and dealt with by breaking the circle at its key points of intersection with the hexagram that it contained. Wordlessly, they quickly ransacked the room; Sihaya found a log book, and Yearling an orb.

“He’s been attempting to divine the Son’s location himself.” Zacharion said, quickly deducing the significance.

“No time to hash it out.” Yearling said, “We need to move.”

The three then heard loud sounds down a distant hallway, as loud alarms arose and spinning red lights came on.

“Security measures initiated.”

The three followed the noises, and soon they found two metal war machines shooting ancient weaponry into another room. Out of that room flew a brilliant giant-sized phantom fist that grabbed one of the machines as another materialized as a fist of the opposing hand and repeatedly slammed it into pieces as if it were made of rotten wood. The remaining machine, heedless of its own existence, kept firing. It too got seized and smashed into pieces; then the hands disappeared.

Without fear or hesitation, the three ran into the room- and Gish, sword in one hand and a spell of some power held in the other, stood ready.

“Regrettable indeed.” Gish said, “For all three of you would have made wonderful allies.”

No talk. They all attacked Gish at once, swords and knives in hand. Gish, being an adult in form and aware due to experience in such positions, held his own through the first press. With the free hand he summoned a translucent buckler into existence. Maximizing his movement, he kept the three away from his back as he maneuvered about the room. His moves seemed swifter, his blows harder and his flesh tougher than his thin and wiry frame would seem to indicate. His feet seemed to blur, as did his outline.

The three cast glances at each other, and at the right moment they each attacked with their swords and pressed him into a corner. As it seemed that he would, again, deflect their swords long enough to wriggle away he found himself off his line- the blades he expected clattered to the floor as he felt child-sized hands grasp his fine clothing. As he hit the floor, he realized that they had synergized their attacks and grappled him simultaneously. Yearling bound his arms and Zacharion his legs. As for Sihaya, she drew back her knife and struck home- burying it to the hilt.

Gish lost the will to live as soon as he felt cold steel sever forever the font of his pride and made a eunuch of him. The boys, sensing an opening, slashed Gish repeatedly as if butchering an animal. Gish expired immediately.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-23


Albinos are not welcome in many communities, for they are believed to be mutations made by the remnants of the Dark Lords. Gish is one such unfortunate, conceived in shame by a willful girl whose pride would not allow her to listen to the wisdom of her elders and a cunning, predatory man who used honeyed words to lead such prey astray. Once gotten with child, she fled her family and found herself the slave of a cult devoted to the Dark Lords- a deception so devastating that it broke her will utterly, which is just what her seducer wanted all along.

Upon birth, both mother and father rejected Gish as disfavored. No sooner had they cried out their disgust and horror than an ambitious high priest claimed Gish and put him to suckle at the breast of a wet nurse. Neither of them ever saw Gish again, much to everyone’s benefit. Instead, Gish became one of a cadre of children within the cult trained from infancy to master sword and spell. As these were two known pursuits that required the utmost dedication, the high priest employed techniques older than the Dark Lords to ensure total dedication and obedience. Men of good character would call these methods horrific child abuse coupled with mind control methodology.

Gish grew into a well-mannered, well-educated, well-trained and well-managed servant of the cult. Devoted to He Who Shines Brightest in Twilight, a figure said to’ve almost gained mastery of all of Creation from the Creator twice (only to have it ripped from his grasp at the last moment, producing the two big disasters of water and fire). He also grew into a ruthless killer, liar and confidence man- by the time he came of age, he had either slain or witnessed the sacrifices of all of his cohort and became the right-hand man of his foster-father.

Twilight is said to be dangerous because it is the liminal space between Sun and Moon- and only the Twilight Son can be trusted. Gish is not an exception to this old say of the Solar and Lunar nations; the trio of Zacharion, Yearling and Sihaya are about to find out why this is so.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-22

Twilight Perceives the Unseen Third

The three left camp and entered the ruins, picking a path through it until they reached a long unused door. Time and exposure ruined the hinges as it stuck fast the door in its portal, and all three of them had to heave hard before the frame fractured and let loose the ancient door, but make it yield they did. As they looked within, stale air rushed past them going out as light tried to flow in- only to seem swallowed by infinite darkness within.

“The threshold of Twilight!” Yearling said, “We must be cautious now.”

The others nodded, agreeing, and with a still moment Zacharion let forth his light to brighten the area within. Down they went, crossing steps of stone known only in ancient buildings built before the Azure Flames, and into the earth they descended. Regularly they would pass by writings carefully scribed on the wall with inhuman precision and accuracy, as dead and lifeless as the stone upon which it rested.

“Is this a relic of the Ancient World?” Sihaya asked.

“Once, long ago,” Yearling answered, “places like this dotted the world. Ordinary people came here, seeking knowledge from the tomes and other artifacts within their walls and assisted by an order of priests who knew the secret ways to organize and care for such lore.”

“In some places,” Zacharion said, continuing, “these temples would be specialized in a particular area of knowledge, usually law or medicine. Your mother, had she lived then, would often study at such a temple because in order to become a healer one had to become initiated in that priesthood- and they long had an alliance with the priests of these temples.”

“Is it true then, that before the Wars of the Damned, the Necromancer destroyed many such places?”

Zacharion nodded. “After he consumed what lay within a temple, he bade the undead to unmake it utterly. They did not destroy, they dismantled and used the parts to construct something else- usually some form of zigguraut.”

“A what?”

“A form of sacred structure.” Yearling said, taking his turn, “It is designed to channel power from below to the point at its apex, and in that specific form one may easily walk or climb from one end to the other.”

“Like those that Father mentions in his stories?”

“Like those thrown down by Ilker, yes. The Dark Lords had long ago recovered and mastered that very knowledge, using it to circumvent the lawful consequences of their evils and instead shunt that to the lands and peoples under their rule.”

They reached the bottom of the stairs, where a pair of massive—and massively rusted—steel doors stood before them, marked with ancient sigils of warnings dire and demonstrably deadly.

“What does it say?”

Zacharion stood at it a moment before answering. “Something about this being a place for the creation of new medicines and healing ways, therefore significant risk of exposure to sicknesses of many sorts—or worse—awaits the foolish and unwary.”

In the light, Yearling took up a stick and jabbed at the massive door’s rusted frame. “Look,” he said, “we’ve nothing to fear. If this was as dangerous a place, its frame would be sealed such that no air or anything like it would ever escape. “

Yearling lit the end of the stick by touching it to Zacharion’s forehead, making a torch of it and again put it before various points in the frame. The flame flickered as if in a wind.

“The seals here, if ever present, busted long ago and would have let loose whatever evils lay within.”

Zacharion cut them off and motioned for them to try the door. As expected, it did not budge. Nor did the many variations of prying, pushing and pulling work. Tired, they sat before the door and put themselves to rest and recuperate before again trying.

“This reminds me of a story ancient when the ancients were young.” Sihaya said, and the boys nodded- they knew the stories also.

“Some form of sorcery, then, still holds this door in place.” Yearling said, “Zacharion, you know the ancient tongue somewhat. Try.”

Zacharion remembered that Ilker warned him of ancient sorceries. Magics rooted in a logic only partially understood by men of these days long past the Azure Flames, but known well to the Dark Lords and before them to the Necromancer and many other Lords of the Damned. He carefully searched the walls about him, seeking a telltale sign of artifice commonplace with such sorcery- and found it, small and well-concealed on the right side of the door.

It was a set of three lights, a steel eye like that of a fly and some unknown button labeled in that same queer old and dead tongue. Zacharion slowed himself, calmed himself, and threw his mind back to a time before his own. Still, silent in body and mind, he let the eyes and ears of his mind see and hear what those of his flesh could not: the ways of old, long gone to ashes and dust, echoing in the room.

For all his wisdom, Zacharion was yet a boy and his flesh could not handle such power flowing through him just yet. The vision was a brief one, but it was enough: he saw and heard the incantation to work the doors. Speaking the ancient words of power with the care one gives to holding a newborn, he awoke the door. It spoke loudly, its voice booming throughout the room and reverberating back up the stairs, but its words were nonsense at first. The three talked amongst themselves, and as they did that door soon began to speak words they understood- this sorcery allowed it to learn the tongues of those what spoke before it, and swiftly.

“Last Activation: 400 years, 4 months, 3 weeks, 5 days, 17 hours, 23 minutes and 35 seconds ago. Cannot contact Master Control. Cannot contact Northern Command. Cannot contact Lagrange. Cannot contact civilian communications. Extensive damage to internal systems. All specimens but one deceased. One specimen alive. No facility personnel present; all deceased or deserted.”

The door then paused for a very long moment before continuing.


Zacharion waved at the others and bade them be silent. “Zacharion,” he said, mimicking the door’s automaton-like voice, and the sun-like sigil on his brow burst into brilliant golden light.

“Recognized: Zacharion, heir to S. A. Star, generations removed unknown, 12-strand active. Welcome to Twilight Complex, Star heir. State purpose of visit.”

“I come to discover the location of the one known as ‘the Twilight son’.”

“Processing.” It said, and an uneasy tension descended upon them for a moment, “Access granted. Declare companions.”

“Yearling, a youth of the Moon people.” He said, and then pointing to Sihaya, “Princess Sihaya of the Sun Nation.”

The door paused again. “Acknowledged. Heir’s companions are also 12-strand active heirs, but bloodline unclear due to damage to database. Provisional access granted until damage is repaired.”

A great and ponderous creaking of long-unused gears echoed about them as the door opened itself, revealing a place that resembled the reception hall of the Solland palace- but in a form using trappings alien to them.

“What is this place?” Sihaya said, and without missing a beat the door responded.

“Twilight Complex is a state-of-the-art medical research facility focused upon eliminating the flaws in the human genetic code using a combination of techniques and technologies meant to bring Humanity to its fullest potential.”

At that point, another voice came over and reverberated. “Welcome indeed, scions of Sun and Moon. I am myself a descendent of the ancients, and also the one who knows where the one you seek may be found. Presently, a lighted path shall appear on the floor. Follow it and you shall find what you seek.”

They did, and at the far end they entered a well-appointed room- albeit in the manner of the ancients. A hairless man stood up from a desk, his skin pale and his eyes red.

“Call me ‘Gish’,” the man said, “for I too sit in the twilight between two pillars of existence.”

Just then the three youths noticed first his calloused hands juxtaposed with his dexterous and gentle handling of the many things about him, hands likely calloused while training with the sword at his waist and made gentle with the open tome of knowledge on the desk.

“What tome do you have there?” Zacharion said, curious and wary.

“The stars.” Gish answered, “In days before the Flames, the ancients spoke of another set of ancients that lived before a Great Flood, and in those days—like now—they knew and acknowledged the power of Sun and Moon, but they also knew of and acknowledged the stars. Of those stars, the greatest could only be seen in the twilight between Sun and Moon, day and night.”

Gish studied the three before him- a boy barely entering manhood, another not even that old and a girl about as old as the second boy. Yet he felt great power emanating from them, very great to him indeed, and that gave him pause.

“You are tired and I would think needing rest and replenishment.” Gish said, “Stay, let us talk, and you may move on tomorrow.”

“Time is hard to know down here.” Sihaya said, her voice nigh-imperceptibly distressed.

“Indeed it is.” Gish said, dismissive, “Indeed.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-21

The Difference Between the Sword and the Knife

Yearling planted a wooden post into the ground and Zacharion had Sihaya attack it time and again with a variety of weapons. They also had her spar against them, individually and both at once. In both cases, Zacharion pressed her firmly and Yearling pressed her fiercely, showing her how to deal with the often unfavorable conditions put before her. They also used their gifts from the Sun and the Moon to soothe the pains of body and mind while facilitating the comprehension of lessons, accelerating what ordinarily would take years into weeks.

Meanwhile, the boys would take turns investigating the area about their camp. Yearling, in particular, hunted regularly to provide for the three of them. The waters nearby provided what game could not, so the three lived simply but well enough for their needs. The three quickly developed the skills in Sihaya that she needed, polishing those of the boys in doing so.

After one session, in the evening, Sihaya smiled as she bit into a piece of venison. Then she turned to Zacharion and said “Are you pleased with your sword?”

“No,” he said, “but I am rather pleased with my knife.”

Sihaya looked at him, puzzled. “Am I not to be your weapon?”

Zacharion smiled. “A sword is excellent on the defense. Its length is that of a man’s arm, and with the proper balance it is a light and powerful extension of that arm. A warrior can block blows with ease, warding away death, and then once his assailants are over-extended he strikes. Yes, he may kill them, but more important is to drive them away.

A knife is different. It is short and while one can learn to defend while using it, it is instead the case that using a knife requires a mode of aggression one need not have with a sword. If one seeks to fight with a knife, one must commit wholeheartedly to the strike- he must kill in his heart before he ever kills with his hand. They are made with different intentions behind their use; you must master this.”

Sihaya paused in her eating to take in Zacharion’s words.

“What of the spear and other weapons?” she asked, curious.

“The spear is a pole with a blade on its tip. Like the sword, it is a weapon one uses first and foremost to defend- principally, oneself. Staves are used in a similar manner to spears when used with two hands, using reach and leverage to wear away opponents until they can strike and then—again—it is to drive them away or compel submission, not to kill. Killing is, at best, secondary as it is with swords. The same is true of clubs and axes, as these are tools first.

The knife is not these things. One has to commit to the kill before driving it home, because to strike that blow and be effective one has to risk all. This is not so with other war-making tools. Those are tools for fighting. The knife is a tool for killing, and that makes all of the difference.”

Yearling, also sitting at that fire, nodded his concurrence.

“One does not take up the bow or spear to kill. They fight with such things, but it is enough to wound a foe and either capture or drive off that foe. When one draws his knife and intends to use it, he must intend to kill and only kill with it or he will fail against his foe every time. If the foe is armed, then he must use cunning to get past those arms. If armored, he must strike past it somehow and that also takes cunning. Heart and hand must be devoted to the slaying without question, for nothing else will do.”

Sihaya recalled the bruises sustained when she hesitated and let either of the boys smite her with slim branches acting as training weapons, or throw her to the ground, or grapple her into a hold she could not break.

“With our aide, you’ve come a long way in a short period of time.” Zacharion said, “Yet there is more to master. You have the hands, but not yet the mind or heart.”

“You must learn to forge your love into the knife within yourself.” Yearling said, “A woman’s will to kill comes most fierce from defense of family, and in that task we can only guide you- you must do this work yourself.”

Sihaya looked upon the two she had come to trust with more than her life, and she saw that they—who, like she, was not yet of age—had already killed at least once in exactly the manner that she now learned. They carried knives, had killed with those knives, and not in self-defense; her father, by comparison, had trained her only to fight and from the same premise of defense. She knew to defeat an opponent, though she had slain them in recent days, but this was something else. She was a nascent warrior- they were killers, manslayers, stalkers, the very threat she learned to combat.

“Why would you want a woman to be as you are?”

“When you next see your mother,” Yearling said, “ask her. ‘Keela of the Knife’ is not purely due to her use of knives as a healer.”

Sihaya was about to object, when Zacharion waved her off saying “Not now. Confront her when the time comes, and not before. Trust that I know what needs to be done and why, for when you must act you shall- without hesitation.”

“Sleep on it, sister.” Yearling.

“Tomorrow, we go into the ruins. We’ve tarried here long enough.” Zacharion said, “It is time to move on.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-20

The Coming of Twilight

Zacharion, Yearling and Sihaya broke camp a few days later, having satisfied their need to fill all their provision needs, and set out once more.

“Where are we going?” Sihaya said, curious.

“Before we strike out towards the Sons of Ken, first we must visit a long-forgotten ruin of a temple.” Zacharion said, “It exists in a place of perpetual gloom, resting at all times between day and night. Therein we are to seek out knowledge we must have before we seek the homeland of the Sons of Ken.”

“What knowledge?” Yearling asked.

“Where we can find the Twilight Son, the child born of the previous union of Sun and Moon, who will be able to ensure that the Daughter of Ken meant to be my Moon-wife and I will fulfill our duties to Man and the Creator.”

Sihaya waved at Zacharion. “Does this son have a name?”

“Not quite. He has a label, passed from one to the next as the Sun and Moon select their own mortal agents. As he represents the last remnant of the Creator’s chosen people, he is called ‘Seph’. The Dark Lords of old, in turn, toiled for the traitorous servants of the Creator, and they spawned the race of liars known as the Khazarim.”

Yearling looked worried. “Did not my mistress and your master not throw them all down?”

Zacharion nodded. “The Dark Lords are forever gone, beyond the reach of all but the very Creator that they spurned ages ago, but the Khazarim remain. If left unchecked, they will succeed their masters. This much I know because Ilker taught me well his own history.”

The others nodded, agreeing, having heard similar lore from their own elders.

“Why would Seph hide? Would he not know, as we do, when this work of yours must be done?” Sihaya asked, “Or does he remain secluded until the time comes?”

Zacharion shrugged. “I don’t know. All that I do know is that, to be certain, we go there first and learn how to find him. Ilker said that the knowledge rests there, and the Witch confirmed it.”

* * * * * *

Many days passed as they travelled through dense forests and across many lakes and rivers, the hills increasing in size and number as they made their way north. Then, at the headwaters of what was once a great and powerful river said to divide the whole of the Old World in two, the three of them saw not far away a ruined building, and in their youthful eyes it seemed to match the descriptions of temples to the gods and saints that once ruled the peoples of the Old World before the Azure Flames.

They marked its features as they drew closer. Its frame remained standing, as did its roof, but what once seemed to be windows had long since been destroyed somehow—in their places crude wood planks, half-rotted now, stood—and its main gate seemed unlikely to open due to the pervasive rust on the iron-wrought doorframe.
Zacharion felt a warm spot on his forehead, at the spot of Ilker’s Kiss, and understood.

“This is the place.” Zacharion put down his burden. “It’s been a long journey, and this ruin will be here tomorrow. I say that we camp here and tonight and go on tomorrow.”

Yearling nodded, as did Sihaya, and they too put down their burdens. They made camp, and drew fresh water from the springs feeding into the headwaters nearby. Yearling brought down game and over their fire the three considered their position.

“We’ve been fortunate so far.” Zacharion said, cutting a piece of venison from the whole, “I’ve had one hostile encounter after Solland, and none since the Witch’s sanctum. It is unreasonable for this to endure. Once the cunning amongst the wicked deduce what is truly going on, a full search for us will begin.”

“Will they not also seek out this girl?” Sihaya asked.

Yearling laughed, and he too cut a piece for himself. “The Khazarim—for they are the only ones left cunning enough to deduce the facts—would have to send an army into the homeland of the Sons of Ken to kill her. If the beasts native to their lands do not destroy such a force, the Sons will, and any seeking to slip past them will find the Daughters of Ken to be no less dangerous. The women chosen by the Moon are never, ever weak.”

“She is well-protected, and already as formidable as you are, my warrior-princess.” Zacharion said, “I’ve seen her from afar when I visited the Witch, and her father is the warlord that your father and mother once travelled alongside.”

“The Painbringer is her father?!”

The boys nodded and smiled. “Imagine, then, what woman could possibly be a worthy wife to him- and thus this girl’s mother!” Yearling said, “Oh no, there is no reasonable threat to her at all.”

Zacharion then took her by the hand and locked his eyes with hers. “It is I, Sihaya, that is in peril here. The Moon-girl has a great and powerful warrior-nation surrounding her, guiding her, and training her to be the Moon on Earth. I am bereft of my master, with naught but you and Yearling to support me and relying on only what we three alone can do to stay alive and fulfill my duty. It is I, not she, they seek to butcher.”

Zacharion turned over Sihaya’s hands and put his palm to hers. “I rely upon you to take these, your soft and courtly hands, and harden them into the hands of a warrior-woman in truth- and in this I will see that your heart becomes your hands, and your courage becomes your prowess. Our enemies did not think that your mother was a threat until after she cut them down and their foul ichor sprayed the ground, and neither do they think that you are anything other than a foolish, headstrong girl with dreams of wooing princes in your head.”

Sihaya, then, for the first time, felt a terrible tremor in Zacharion’s voice: “Your father taught you how to fight. I will teach you how to kill.”

Silence dropped down on them suddenly, as the weight of the words grew too heavy to hold, but only for a moment.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because you love me,” he said, “and I love you.”

The echo between them and Sihaya’s parents was not lost on either of them, though only he knew that both of them realized it at that time, and thus began the transformation of Sihaya of Solland into Sihaya the Sun’s Shield.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-19

Reconciliation of What Must Be With What One Wants Isn’t Easy

The night passed quietly. Zacharion and Yearling let Sihaya sleep through the night, deciding that a full night of sleep was warranted under the circumstances. The following morning, the three decided to stay for the day where they were, as the weather did not seem promising for travel, and took the opportunity to rest. As Yearling took up the task of hunting and foraging, Zacharion took Sihaya to the water’s edge.

“This journey will not be short, Sihaya. You shall not return home soon, but instead you are with me now for the years it will take to complete this task.”

“Years?” Sihaya said, curious, “How many?”

“Enough for us to pass out of childhood.” He said, “So a few years at least. Yearling will likely merit a new name by the time we are done, and we shall be as he is now.”

“Why so long a time?”

Zacharion sighed. He felt the need to address this now, while the time was right. “Because we are to travel to the lands of the Sons of Ken, where there awaits us a young girl who is the New Moon, about our age. Once there, we—rather, I—must prove my worth as the New Sun in order for she and I to fulfill our destinies together.”

Sihaya’s face betrayed her incomprehension.

“We are to be married, but not as Man and Wife. Rather, we are to be the means by which Sun and Moon renew their marriage- and, by doing so, Man renews his connection to the Universe and thus sustains the renewal that began with Ilker and the Witch of the Wastes generations ago.”

“You’re going to marry a girl you’ve never seen, years from now, after proving to her—and, I think, to her father—that not only are you who you say you are, but that this is not like the marriage my parents have?”

Zacharion nodded, hooking a worm on his fishing pole and casting again.

“How is this so?”

“The universe, as Ilker taught to me, and as the Witch confirmed, is a living thing. It seeks to make sense of itself, as we seek meaning in our lives, and because both we and it are living things that seek meaning we use the same principles to pursue this end.”

“I think I know now how many of Holy Ilker’s companions felt. I don’t follow you.”

“Ilker became the Sun. The Witch became the Moon. As Sun and Moon, they married and did what marriage requires, but as Ilker and the Witch they were mere companions—fond ones, but not married—and thus lived otherwise as ordinary men and women do. Ilker had women he loved, and the Witch had men she adored, and neither of these interfered with their being Sun and Moon for we free peoples for their day.”

The concept of a sacred persona slowed seeped into Sihaya’s mind, and her face showed it.

“Your parents, for example, are both King and Queen as well as Zebulon and Keela. They are both of these things, yet not at the same time, for some things require King and Queen to accomplish while others require Zebulon and Keela. These names are just that, names, things we put upon ideas of who or what we are, and yet we are none of them; we can change our names, and thus our identities, as we change our clothes and behaviors.”

Now Zacharion saw that he hit upon a way to get Sihaya to understand the idea of identity as a malleable thing.

“Kings and queens act, dress and carry on like they do because the role that royalty plays is as much a performance of a sacred drama—a ritualized reflection of how reality truly works, albeit a very imperfect one—as it is anything else, and I say that this ritual aspect is the most important part of that role. Kings and queens act as priests before the universe, representing their peoples and standing in for them in all things, which is why there is a well-known connection between the quality of the monarch and the quality of the realm. The flawed realm of your parents reflected the flaws of your parents, flaws now being purged, thankfully, as you are no longer around to hold them back from their duties.”

“So,” she said, “if this you say is true, then you and this girl will be standing in for Sun and Moon as Holy Ilker and the Witch did?”

“Yes.” Zacharion said, as he pulled in another fish.

“And when you two become Sun and Moon, Sun and Moon will renew their marriage and do as married people do, including children?”

Zacharion nodded. “Indeed we shall. The child born of the old marriage, the Twilight Son, will find us and do his part to see this come to pass.”

“But, even though it will be you and she kissing and so on, it’s really Sun and Moon?”

“It shall be so, and when Sun and Moon are done with us then she shall be herself and I myself- ready and able to live and love as we like until Sun and Moon need us again.”

“This is all very weird, Zacharion, but you haven’t been wrong yet and Ilker chose you to succeed him, so I believe you and trust you. I still love you, and I want to be your wife- and you king of Solland. If you can be the Sun, the King and Zacharion then I can be Queen, Sun’s Consort and Sihaya; this girl may be the Moon, and the Sun’s wife, but she shall not be your wife otherwise.”

Zacharion nodded, and he felt a bit of worry grip his shoulders, because this did not bode well for the future.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-18

The Way Through the Wastes

Zacharion and Yearling left the lair of the Witch and travelled for some days through the Wildlands, following paths that the Lunar Nation blazed generations ago that kept the youths far from prying eyes and malevolent hands. Across thick forests, wide lakes, tall grasses and rolling hills filled with game full and fair did they travel. In some places, they noticed traces of settlement long past—a bit of foundation, a scrap of rusted iron, a ruined piece of wall with unknown script written on it—and in so noticing these traces they became aware that someone else was within a day of them. This unknown apparently seemed to be attempting to contact them.

The boys talked briefly, agreeing that they ought to see who this unknown is, and so camped on the bank of a river. That night, as the boys enjoyed the bounty of an evening spent fishing and foraging, they heard the approach of a solitary figure- one not trying to be stealthy. Yet this figure did not come into view, not of them. It kept its distance. It seemed to watch, to wait, to stalk like a predatory beast and not come forward like a man.

Neither of the boys felt any fear. Thinking that this was someone seeking advantage, they saw to it that one would feign fatigue and bed down while the other remained awake and alert. Zacharion bedded down, Yearling stood watch, and there began their game. Some time passed, and Yearling got up to relieve himself, conveniently leaving Zacharion open. As the boys expected, the figure crept into their camp and moved next to Zacharion, and pulled back the blanket to see his face. When the figure, hearing Yearling’s return, tried to flee it suddenly found itself held fast as a bare foot whipped out from underneath the blanket and struck the figure in the small of the back, inducing paralysis instantly.

Yearling sauntered into the camp and roughly removed the figure’s cloak, revealing a girl underneath. Zacharion got up and took a look at this girl, obvious from the first as being nearly his own age, and sensed that something else so common to the living mythic cycle had again occurred. Without ever looking at her face to be certain, he struck again in the small of the back and removed the paralysis.

“Princess Sihaya, allow me to introduce Yearling of the Lunar Nation, apprentice to the Witch.” Zacharion said, “Yearling, please clear a place for our companion.”

Yearling chuckled, and then he complied. Indeed, it was Sihaya, come a great long way, with naught but a blade and a ring to show her true status. Before Sihaya could ask, Zacharion answered her question: “No one else would come so as if to kill me, yet pause to admire me, before either acting or fleeing. I apologize for my action, but I did so to satisfy any suspicion that I was wrong, and I knew as soon as we touched that I was right.”

Sihaya looked at him, stunned, and it took a moment for his words to make sense. Yearling then sat her down by the fire, and Zacharion continued.

“If you are here, then I can only conclude—given your behavior—that your parents are at war and that this war has so embroiled Solland that it would be safer for you to be with me than to be with them or one of their followers.”

Sihaya nodded.

“Zacharion, is this the one that Mistress mentioned?” Yearling said, curious.

“Indeed, she is, and if she made it here on her own then she is even tougher than I previously thought.”

Sihaya looked at Zacharion, her eyes asking another obvious silent question.

“Yes, Your Highness, you may stay with us. If you got this far, there’s no going back- a fact that I think all three of us can live with.”

Sihaya kissed Zacharion on the cheek and cuddled up to him.

“You two can stay up a while now as I sleep.” Yearling said, taking advantage of a clear opportunity before him, “I am certain that you have much to talk about.”

Which they did, starting with the civil war in Solland and the incursion by the mutants, which in turn led to a series of crisis and revolts by remaining traitorous opportunists that all hit at once- starting with a second assassination that resulted in many of Zebulon and Keela’s followers falling under knives meant for them instead. She didn’t witness much more, but during her flight she learned from the few men guarding her that long-standing pressures burst forth and generations of suppressed resentment and hated held in abeyance by Ilker now washed like successive tidal waves.

Soon word came that similar eruptions occurred amongst the Sea Princes, rendering aid to or from them impossible as the isolation solidified. Hostile riders then closed in on her and her party, a group of men she had to leave behind at a critical crossing out of the realm. She’d been on her own since she crossed into the wilderness, being careful to avoid contact with anyone, yet she couldn’t avoid feeling as if she was being watched, guided, herded in a desired direction.

“That sounds like the Witch.” Zacharion said, “You were in her domain, and known to her, so I have no doubt that she quickly deduced the matter and saw fit to help you catch up to me.”

“I felt certain that I would find you, as if my love for you would be enough.”

He kissed her forehead. “It was, and tonight that is all you need to know. Sleep now, my warrior woman, for tomorrow I have much more to teach to you- and it will not be at all easy for you to hear.”

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-17

The Mystery of Sun and Moon Reveals Its Externalized Existence

Night fell in the Thousand Lakes. Zacharion sat next to a fire, lost in thought, just outside the homely home of the Witch of the Wastes. Across from him stood Yearling, rotating meat over that same fire while inside came the smell of a brewing broth.

“It is enormous.” Zacharion said, still in awe of the task before him, “I think I now begin, a little, to understand what came before me.”

Emerging from within, the aged Witch—with a dramatic timing honed by generations of craft—came out with bowls filled. She smiled, hearing wisdom from a boy so young, and entertained a hope of success for the future.

“Your master felt that same enormity when this task fell to him.” she said, as she passed him one of the bowls and sat beside him, “It wasn’t much different than this. He took refuge here because he had to flee from the Dark Lord of Iron and Rust, where he came from, and yet could not turn away from this calling. I was a young woman then, and the woman who taught me was the one known as ‘The Witch of the Wastes’, but I expected him because I sensed that I would take up a role in this cycle.”

Zacharion looked up, away from the fire and into the clear night sky. Quickly his eyes adjusted as he saw more and more of the distant stars filling the firmament above, and then he noted the lack of a moon. A flash fired in his brain. “This is auspicious.” He said, “The moon is hidden tonight, after your revelation earlier today. If I am not mistaken, when the moon turns away from Man’s sight it is said that this is because the Moon takes that time to renew herself for another cycle.”

The Witch nodded and motioned for Zacharion to continue.

“The Sun also has its cycles, one of the year and one of the day, and the day’s cycle varies by the year’s cycle. It is said that the cycle of the Sun is akin to the life of a man, where days change from good to bad and back again over the span of his life, but life itself—so long as it honors the Sun and adheres to its wisdom—cannot help but to be full, rich and prosperous even if it begins in a wretched state.”

Again, the Witch motioned for the boy to continue.

“The marriage of Sun and Moon is the mirroring of these cycles of the world with those of the peoples of the world, bringing us into harmony with the cycles of the world- of all that exists. It is this mirroring that the Dark Lords denied, hence why they held their titles and why their realms always became horrific realms of abomination, degeneracy, perversity and deviancy against all that is natural and pure.”

The Witch smiled, her face showing a true joy at seeing a youth come to understand such an important truth. “Without this,” she said, “the peoples of the world forget themselves and their true natures. It is because our forefathers forgot this wisdom that the Dark Lords became our overlords and oppressed for so long, yet one cannot stamp out natural law forever. Inevitably, it wins out, and acting through your master and I that did happen at last. But, as with all natural cycles, it must be renewed- and there is no way to avoid either the task or the enormity of the task.”

Yearling began carving meat off of the animal and passing it to the others. As she ate and drank, Zacharion went on. “So, then, this duty to be the Sun-husband and find my Moon-wife is as much an act of ritual drama as it is a necessary act to safeguard our freedom and retain our ties to all which is around and greater than us. If that is so, then there is no difference between these things- they are all one and the same, and the differences are illusory, merely places from which one may appreciate it.”

“It is that.” She said, “It is all that, and you shall come to appreciate more subtleties as you grow into manhood.”

Yearling took up his own bowl now, at last ready to partake.

“This time is the courtship of Sun and Moon.” she said, continuing, “Have no doubt that the daughter of that ancient warlord has one like me sitting with her, as I sit with you now, telling her about this matter as I advise you—even about this very point I speak of now—so do not think that she shall know nothing of being a Moon-wife. When you come unto her, some years from now, both of you shall be ready and able to fulfill your roles, for she is about your age and as unready for the critical knowledge as you are.”

Yearling laughed, and looked at him with a knowing smirk. “Until then, you will need some companions who are initiated into such knowledge to guide you. Wise as you are, Zacharion, you are yet a boy and lack first-hand experience.”

“Indeed.” the Witch said, “Yearling shall join you when you leave this place, which must be soon, and begin making your way to the homeland of the Sons of Ken.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-16

The Magical Marriage of Sun and Moon

“Ilker said that the Sun is the source of Civilization,” Zacharion said, “the power that drives growth in all things and compels it into ever-greater forms of complexity and refinement. The Sun does this by organizing individuals into groups and leading them so that they accomplish together that which they cannot do alone. The drive to do this compels a centralization of authority, and if left unchecked that very fire and light can scorch the land and blind the eyes of men, seizing the will and making hives of cities and drones of men in a horrific mockery of reason.”

Yearling, eager to show his quality, responded. “The Moon watches over the darkness of night, when men are removed from the prying eyes of their fellows and are truly themselves. The Moon does not care what your title is, who is above you or below you in the structures of Men, but only who you are and what you do in and of yourself. It is the leveling way, the hidden truth of the world, where none but merit makes you or breaks you. Yet, if left unchecked it men scatter into the wilds and become not men- but animals, bereft of reason and consumed by emotion.”

Now the Witch, pleased by these youths, spoke. “This is why Sun and Moon must renew their bonds. Ilker and I undertook this task in our day, and another couple must do so sometime soon- and the resurgent enemies of our peoples know this to be true. With Ilker’s death, mine is soon to follow, and our enemies will work hard to see that there is no renewal. All of us that knew Ilker realize this, in some form or another, and they will do what they can to see us fail.”

The Witch paused, gave Zacharion a good look, and smiled. “I see now why Ilker chose you, Zacharion, for you live up to your name. What you need now is a worthy Moon-wife. I think that I can help you find her. Winning her, however, is up to you.”

“You think, then, that Zebulon’s daughter is a bad choice?” Zacharion said, curiously.

The Witch shook her head. “Ilker had a wife, other than me, my boy. That he did not mention any of them to you does not surprise me, as you did not need to know. What you do need to know is that we were not married in ourselves, but in our capacities as representing the Sun and Moon. While we engaged in the ways of a married couple, we did so only in that capacity when the sacred world called for us to do so. Thus, as he took wives to further his mission as the Sun and the head of the Solar Nation, so did I have consorts from amongst the heroes of the Lunar Nations. You too shall do this in time, and in Zebulon’s daughter you’d have a fine priestess-queen for the Solar Nation, but they are not the Moon-wife you shall have.”

Yearling moved about the room, anticipating his mistress’s next move, preparing ritual tools and laying out reagents of varying kinds before her.

“Lay out the remaining icons of the other companions before me. Through them, you shall find your Moon-wife, Zacharion.”

She drew blood from him and had him spill it over the icons, and then she took some unknown liquid from a vial and spilled that over the icons. Speaking in a tongue he did not understand, in tones too low for anything but ritual work, she took a branch from the firepit and seared the smeared icons with its flame while covering it with smoke. Each icon in turn reacted, the energy of sympathy burning the catalysts and forming flaming symbols of varying colors and radiance. Yet one burned with a silver hue as bright as a full moon, an icon made of jade inlayed with silver and edged in gold with a device of a white tiger upon it.

“Your journeys are far from complete, my boy.” the Witch said, “I remember well this one. He was the Warlord of the Sons of Ken, a ravenous eater of things most foul. The White Tiger was not just a warrior, but a predator without peer, and thus first and best amongst the warband of the Sons that he led on Ilker’s behalf. When we went our own ways after we cast the last of the Dark Lords down, he was much older and often scarred, but yet mightier than ever. It would not be surprising to see that he went home, took many wives and sired scores of children.”

“Yet the Sons of Ken are as they are because it is only the men amongst them that become those fearsome feral stalkers of the unnatural and corrupt, are they not?” Zacharion said.

The Witch nodded, confirming his curiosity.

“Then this girl would be what then?” Yearling said, puzzled, “Would she be like you then, mistress?”

“I know beyond any doubt that the women amongst those changed men are no less strong or stout, because the very nature of the Sons cannot be tamed even at the very inception of its life, so it is necessary for their women to be similar in quality despite being far more like us than the men. Wisdom, not unlike what I possess, is a woman’s duty to pursue amongst the Sons. They direct the hunts, warn of threats, and possess powers of healing and cleansing that rival those of the Humble College of Medics- powers as able to kill and afflict as they are to heal and cleanse. They are not meek or weak women, or they would not live to become women, and they judge would-be husbands accordingly.”

“The Sons are far, far from here.” Yearling said, continuing, “If you visit this White Tiger last, you may yet be ready for manhood when you arrive.”

The Witch cackled. “Indeed! What awaits you, Zacharion, is not merely a tedious task of travel with some episodes along the way. It is the sacred quest of gathering new companions for the renewal of the bond of Sun and Moon. You already sense this, do you not? Have you not already taken one into your band?”

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-15

Sun and Moon in Nature

Not long after meeting Yearling, Zacharion came before his mistress, the very Witch herself. Now worn, white-haired and withered she was, yet in her aged form a careful eye can sense the past possession of vitality and vigor in her youth for she still displayed prowess and health made possible by hard-won knowledge and age-old wisdom. In this moment, Zacharion saw what drew his master to her generations ago. Though years from the experience of man-like passion, even as a boy he could see that a younger Witch, in naught but her full-body tattoos, would be irresistible to lesser men.

For her part, the Witch quickly assessed this boy before her. Ilker’s final apprentice, just now at the point where the passage to manhood appears on the horizon, for all his skills and ability, is still a boy and not a man- certainly not a fully-matured man like his master. Yet she had heard of what he’d done, and seen some of it herself; this boy was no weakling- even at the end, Ilker’s eye for quality did not fail.

“You have that which I placed in your late master’s care.” the Witch said, bluntly, “I do not grant audiences lightly, boy, so produce it.”

Zacharion drew forth the icon with the Witch’s mark from the bag. It was a disc of carefully knapped obsidian, polished to a glass-like sheen, with the carving of a crescent moon inlayed with silver and edged likewise.

“Three of then you’ve returned now.” Yearling said to Zacharion, and then turning to the Witch he said “Why is this important?”

Zacharion answered. “Each icon is a symbol, crafted by the signifier, representing themselves as they see themselves. There are more icons here than there are companions of Ilker, and some of these icons depict scenes that are not pleasant- nor necessary.”

“Correct.” the Witch said, “Ilker understood things hidden from the eyes of men, and he used that wisdom to achieve many worthy ends, but to achieve those ends he had to engage allies that he did not trust. Using icons like this, he could achieve some reliability from those too foolish to see as he did; we who were loyal to him, we made icons to cover the purpose and hide it from those same fools who did not possess the vision and maturity necessary to understand why we did what we did so long ago.”

“That is as he put it.” Zacharion said, “If less gentle.”

“We now exist closer to a state of nature.” Yearling said, “I understand that this is possible due to the efforts of you, mistress, and the others. Yet it is not truly resolved, is it? Some of these enemies were not destroyed, but merely held in abeyance due to the fear of Ilker, were they not? It is they that now move to renew the corruption?”

“Indeed. An imperfect, yet improved, world made possible by the sacrificing of blood and bone in the wars against the Dark Lords and their cancerous corruption choking the world and degenerating the people into unnatural monsters living in hives wrought of things unliving that drive those sad thralls mad and burn them as sacrifices in pits and mazes to produce the foul fuel for the Dark Lords’ needs.”

The Witch picked up some dust and blew it out before Zacharion and Yearling, forming into an image as the dust fell through the sunlight coming into the place where they stood, an image that spoke. A montage of images, some of figures known and some unknown, showing the youths fantastic vistas both sublime in their natural glory and grotesque in mockery of the same. Then come the wars against the Dark Lords, as treacherous as they were powerful, with Ilker as the blessed commander united the many nations of Man against them. From the coastal lands of the Sea Princes, to the wastes where endured the Sons of Ken, to Solland and the establishment of the Solar Nation and its compact with the Lunar Nation in the wake of the final war- a compact that holds, for now.

Ilker and the Witch sealed the compact with a unity of words and deeds, a binding of Sun and Moon, as old as Man himself and no less sacred or powerful for it. While Ilker’s Solar allies went home to being regenerating and cleansing the war from their papers, the Witch returned with the guarantee of the compact in hand and restored the way of the many Lunar peoples to its proper place in society, by what wiles and words (and wrath) she had to use to get that done. The Sun and the Moon moved about the world, sometimes meeting, often apart, each seeing to the health and vitality of the world in their own way. Then the image dissipated.

“Where is your son?” Zacharion said, wondering.

She smiled. “Where he needs to be, doing what he should be doing, and that is all you need to know for now.” Taking up the icon, she took a moment to admire her former handiwork and see that it is now as it was then- like the moon, like the universe, like herself.

“Ilker was the sun, boy.” The Witch smiled. “He let his soul burn brightly, brining fire to the minds of men and light to the world wherein they lived. He burned away the clouds covering the lands fouled by the Dark Lords, letting them be exposed and cut down. Then he burned away the sickness so the healing could begin.”

“And you would be the moon, then?” Zacharion said.

She nodded. “I am. Where he was open, forthright and without mystery I stood away and let his shadow shelter me. In the dark, when the cool night refreshed the world and the men within it, I do my work. Mine is the hidden way, the path obscured, unable to be taught but always able to be learned. It is a way that rolls from side to side, and not from sky to earth as the sun does. Different, but neither the lesser nor the greater, for the universe needs both Sun and Moon for its health and prosperity.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-14

The Time Between Times is Always a Time of Barbarism and Chaos

Zacharion rested on the raft, again drifting down the river, having taking what he could from the slain slave of a deceased Dark Lord and quitting the minion’s lair before more of that thing’s kind arrived from whatever villainy they do. Yet, unable to wholly ignore the burning desire to purify the land clean of such filth, Zacharion made a trap of the dead Gek’s corpse. As he rested, he smiled at the plume of smoke arise from the landing site behind him, for he knew that it was—at the least—successful in part.

The other man-things, monsters like Gek with misshapen flesh, returned to find Gek slain on the floor of their abandoned hovel of a lair, his black ichor spilled out on the floor from the neck wound in a pool that flowed towards the doorway, and once the others filed into the room the trap- as Zacharion noted during his encounter- sprung. The hovel was not level, but instead slanted towards the river in a slight angle, which Zacharion found as he watched the ichor spill out. He deduced correctly that the foul nature of Gek’s hideous form held within it an essential corruption that could not abide contact with the force of purity in the world: the sun. The boy, remembering the tales of Ilker’s wars with them and their masters, moved Gek’s limp arms such that they formed a gesture known to be obscene to that kind- and thus stun them with curiosity.

So intrigued, the others would come closer for a look and lose sight of the ichor approaching the door- and exposure to the sun. The ichor ignited upon contact, instantaneously engulfing the corpse as well as those around it in purifying flames of blue and white; soon the flames engulfed the whole of the hovel, burning bright and hot, and a column of smoke arose over the tops of the trees- and Zacharion on his raft knew that his own cunning and wit had again finished a task that his master begun generations before.

Some days later, Zacharion again made contact with the Witch of the Wildlands, who came to him by means of magic and appeared to him through a black carrion bird- speaking through it.

“You will see a youth, not unlike yourself, waving to you around the next bend. Make landfall there and follow that youth, for through such shall you come unto me.”

The boy nodded, and apparently the bird understood for it flew away without comment. As he heard, he saw an older boy waving to him just after he came around the next bend in the river. He then did as told, polling himself to land where the youth stood waiting. Upon landfall, the youth helped him bring his raft ashore.

“I am the Witch’s aide.” The youth said, sizing up Zacharion, “You may call me ‘Yearling’.”

“I am Zacharion, Holy Ilker’s final apprentice.” Zacharion then saw that this youth had a mark upon his brow, one incorporated into a body-sized tattoo that reminded him of the fabled barbarians of the eras of antiquity thousands of years before the Azure Flames that his master told him about, and he knew this “Yearling” to be more than an aide- this boy, on the cusp of Manhood, was her apprentice. As such, the name given was no more his true name than “The Witch” was that of his mistress.

“This way, Zacharion Sun-Kissed,” Yearling said, pointing away from the river, “for tonight you rest with my people, as our guest. Tomorrow we embark upon the hidden hovel of my mistress.”

As they embarked away from the river, Zacharion said to his host “Then this is the Wildlands then?”

Yearling laughed. “As your people say, yes this is your ‘Wildlands’. For my people, and other tribes of these lands, this is the place that once was known as the Many-Mirrored Lands, for here we are blessed with lakes, streams, rivers and other flows of water that gleam like the moon at night.”

Zacharion smiled. “The Ten-Thousand Streams of Silver.” he said, noting an ancient name lost to most men of these days- a name now held only by savants, here and elsewhere. Yearling returned that smile, and once more Sun and Moon walked side-by-side as Day passed through Twilight into Dusk and then Night.

* * * * *

In Solland, the civil war between the Acton Faction and the Throne swiftly progressed from a thousand private wars between local parties to a true war between two factions, each with their own banner, and in so doing became a war that Zebulon and Keela could win with aplomb and alacrity- and they did. So fast did they crush their enemies, and so solidly did they destroy the possibility of revived hostility, that when first word of external invasion arrived at their pavilion they could—and did—move at once to cut off and confront the invaders.

A great and mighty army arrayed itself against a horde of howling, hideous things from lands beyond the Solar Nation, and in a single battle did that horde find itself shattered and slaughtered by means of focused, disciplined might skillfully arrayed and deployed (and redeployed) by exhaustively experienced officers fresh from a conclusive and complete campaign of consolidation. The day ended with another Solar Nation victory, and with the men of that army spending their evenings scouring the ground upon which the corpses of their foul, inhuman enemies erupted into flame and incinerated themselves so that the priests could sanctify said ground and purify it of the pollution poured upon it.

Of those that died last, one kneeled unwillingly before the Solar King and Queen. This one did tell truly of the encounter between Zacharion and Gek, for it saw the aftermath of the encounter and—by means of sorcery—divined the facts of the matter. This lead to the forming of the horde, for these barbarian monsters deemed this a provocation that could not go unanswered, and they cared not for their own lives- only that revenge be seized by slaughter of the people that slew their own.

Thus struck home to the royal couple the true depth of Ilker’s death, and their hopes for a swift and easy interregnum fell away with the ash of the fires.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-13

Along the River Comes Danger and Opportunity

Zacharion sat alone on a raft, a pole thrice his height sitting on his lap, drifting down a gentle small river. He’d left the Solar Nation behind weeks ago, and with it the degenerating social order that he knew that his appearance precipitated. Soon that left his mind, dismissing it as a matter best left to his hosts to handle, for his mission concerned far more—and far greater—concerns.

The Wildlands, being before him in his mind, occupied his attention. He felt a certain pull, a tug here and a nudge there, directing his travel out of Solland. In his sleep, he encounters the dream form of the very woman he seeks: the Witch of the Wildlands. Already, they dance- and they have yet to see each other with waking eyes.

“You bear my icon, and his mark, boy. That will get you to my presence, but it does not gain you my attention. Prove yourself.”

So, here on this raft, the boy Zacharion now pondered what would possibly be sufficient proof of worth to such a crafty crone. He threw his mind back, back as far as could be had, to the words of his late master: “The one men know as ‘The Witch of the Wildlands’ is old, very old, older than me despite all contrary claims- and thus remembers a time before the dawning of the sun, when the night lingered on long past its time, and thus remembered many secrets of the days before the Azure Flames. She will not yield easily to those she knows not, but she can and will yield- I conquered her, and so you must if it comes to it.”

Just then, as he rounded a bend in the river, Zacharion spotted a landing. On that landing he saw an abandoned house. Quickly, he got to his feet and pushed himself to the land and made landfall; he dragged the raft out of the water as much as he could, and then tied it to a nearby tree to prevent it from drifting away. Picking up a club-like branch on the ground, he then approached the empty house; seeing it empty, but also recently inhabited, he quickly searched it for anything useful- but as he made to leave an explosion—a loud crash and a blast of air—threw him on his back.

“Who trespasses here?” boomed a throaty voice, and as Zacharion’s vision cleared he saw that a monstrous man stood in the doorway, a man-like thing misshapen in its flesh as if it melted. The boy got to his feet, faced the thing and answered: “I am Zacharion, last apprentice of Holy Ilker, and I travel to the Wildlands to fulfill my master’s final order.”

The man-thing looked over the boy with its man-like eyes, and recoiled at the sudden flair of Ilker’s Kiss upon the boy’s brow. This did not escape Zacharion’s notice, and he pushed the thing to the floor. Kneeling on its chest, he stared into its face.

“I will fulfill that order.” Zacharion said, “Now, tell me who—and what—you are!”

Recoiling away from the sunlight from the boy’s brow, the thing’s anguished voice arose and it said “I am Gek, Chained to the Horde of the Frozen North!”

Zacharion remembered that group. Ilker destroyed them a generation before his birth, when a young man. “Ah! A survivor of the broken horde, and one of the slaves at that- you are a wretched one to live like this.”

“Not alone.” Gek said, “I am one of a band that ranges here, and soon they will come with food and loot- and they will find you quite entertaining.”

Again, recollection: Ilker once said to Zacharion “The thralls of the Dark Lords are numerous, but base in thought and deed. They are obsequious to their masters, and brutal to those weaker than they, covetous and cunning in their way. They hear and remember secrets, hoarding them as they do their treasure.”

Zacharion drew a knife from his belt and slipped it beneath a fold in the skin, near its neck. “I have killed before. I know you now, Gek. Thrall to a Dark Lord you were, and you did not fight Ilker; you fled, deserting like the coward you are, before you caught sight of my master’s steel and steed. Yet you are here, in comfort suitable to your kind, and that tells me that you deserted not to avoid battle- but to betray your master for another Lord’s banner.”

Zacharion cut away some of the rags about its neck, revealing a brand on its flesh- a brand that he knew, that of the Dark Lord of the Fel Wastes, which would explain the melted flesh. “Yes, you took up the Flesh-Shaper’s banner. Bad enough that you’re of a kind that betrayed its fellow Men, but you go on to compound your sin by committing treachery of your own will- and now you know what it wrought. What did you offer in return for the Shaper’s brand?”

Gek hesitated, and the knife cut shallow into its neck, a black ichor streaming from the wound.

Zacharion glared at Gek now, the Kiss’s sunlight now like midday, and the intensity seared Gek greatly; “I cannot!” Gek said, “It is all that preserves me!”

Zacharion drove the knife into Gek’s neck, sinking it to the hilt. “No longer shall it preserve you. Soon you die, and go where you should have long ago. Your secret is worthless now, so give it to me.”

The boy knew he risked failure, as this one was not witless, but yet it was a thing unnatural- one without a place in the world, save what it stole from others. He left the solar fire from the Kiss flow out, down his arm and out his hand, through the knife and into the brand. Gek screamed in agony.

“Tell me, Gek! Tell me and death becomes easy and swift for you!” Zacharion said, hoping that the pain scrambled the thing’s reason enough to make it talk- and it did.

“I know the Witch’s name!” Gek said, and he spoke it. The boy marked it, and let Gek die.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-12

The Pebbles Vote Before the Avalanche Hits

The Privy Council of the Solar Nation met behind closed doors in the royal palace of Solland. Their enemies, lead by Lord Acton, met clandestinely in the home of Lord Acton in the city below the palace, well-guarded and well-hidden. Both groups met because of the same incident, the same event, meant that the long-abated conflict over the Solar Nation’s direction will hold no longer. A civil war, one precipitated when Zebulon assumed the throne a generation ago, is now finally come- and many within the Solar Nation see it coming.

Within the Privy Council, Zebulon and Keela again meet with their council of advisers and key officials around a circular table in a room decorated with maps. Their enemies meet in a room just like it. Both tables are covered with written reports, lists of things and more lists of other things, covered by mugs of this or that stuff of choice. Junior members come into and out of this room with more reports coming in and more orders going out.

“Zacharion is now out of our sphere of influence.” Zebulon said to his fellows, “I am certain that, whatever else he is to do, he is not served by insisting—by word or deed—on his involvement anymore. This is a matter for our nation, not for the last living legacy of Holy Ilker.”

Down in the city, Lord Action said “The princess has returned from her excursion, and she is now notably changed. Though yet a child, she already has steel in her spine- steel of a higher grade now than formerly the case, due to this incredible boy that passed through our realm. The boy’s existence poses a long-term threat, as he certain intends to continue the direction that the Usurper began. We know it, so I say that we must assume that they do also- and will move to protect him.”

The junior members of these two factions slip away, talking to their families and friends, and under the influence of drink and fatigue they let the essence of that position come forth. Word spreads and becomes rampant rumor-mongering, and the many smaller factions and common people then act in accord with what they hear- for all by now know of Ilker’s death and the boy’s passing through court and out into the countryside. Stronger wills amongst them move faster and gather about them sympathetic minds of lesser quality, forming bands and gangs, and those groups decide that they—not the king nor the Acton faction—will make this happen as they would like.

In the cities and towns, within days and weeks, extant factions take up affiliations for one or the other of their own accord and use this to bring into the streets issues and disputes long confined behind closed doors and shrouded alleys. Brawls turned to riots, riots to street-fights and soon sections burned as one side escalated faster than the other could react.

In the countryside, villages quickly conformed to one banner or the other in the manner of their town-dwelling brethren and began raiding each others' farms and stealing or burning each other crops; within a month, a civil war that once could’ve been contained within formalized warfare and political maneuvering broke free into a general uprising and burgeoning chaos as men great and small took this opportunity to settle old accounts and advance ambitions long suppressed.

Neither the loyalists in the palace nor the rebels of Action’s salon took anything but revulsion over the catastrophe; once they learned how it got started both sides swiftly struck to make firm and full examples of their errant juniors. Acton’s erring agents became grisly dawn-hour discoveries, swinging from tree limbs and towers across the land by their own superiors. The king, citing ancient and justified law from before the Azure Flames, publicly executed them by his own hand.

Zebulon, sensing Acton’s mind, cornered him in court and—at sword-point—ordered him to cooperate to put down the general chaos. When Acton, spitefully, did not immediately comply the king declared Acton a traitor and revealed his knowledge—all accurate—regarding Acton’s past and present treachery. Acton’s house and allies also became outlaws on the spot, and those present in court that day joined their leader in a most ignoble death. The rest fled to redoubts believed unknown and far from prying eyes, gathering to them those very petty partisans affiliating themselves with Acton and in a short time the many gangs became an irregular—but organized—army, one that Zebulon could handle.

“Order out of Chaos.” Keela said as her husband ordered the muster for war, “A scheme that’s as old as Man, and reliable as the dawn.”

“Indeed.” Zebulon said, “Now, before this disorder gets again out of hand, let’s end this one and see to it that it does not spread. For the sake of the future."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-11

The Mission Urges Ever Onward

Zacharion and Sihaya awoke late in the morning, after the other guests left to resume their journey, and found waiting for them quite the meal- and their hosts. The entire family sat around one of the tables in the common room—husband, wife, four sons and two daughters—waiting for them; two of the boys got up and, in a show of courtesy that both found pleasant (if more appropriate for the court than a roadside inn), seated them. Then came a brief prayer of thanks and blessing, in Ilker’s name.

“We are pleased to have the last apprentice of Holy Ilker and the Princess Royal as our guests.” the husband said, “Even if we must enjoy your company in a manner more like that of a cherished secret than a joyful birth.”

The wife then followed with “As soon as you two retired, we sent word to the palace of your presence here. I would expect that a rider or two left the palace to come for you two as soon as our message arrived.”

The eldest son then spoke, excited at the idea; “Mother, what else are we going to do? It is clear that the realm will soon sunder into civil war. Lord Acton’s ambitions will not let him sit quietly, not when things are so chaotic.”

Sihaya sat amazed at this youth’s erudition, betraying a training far beyond what would be expected of a common-born boy, but when she looked at Zacharion she saw in his eyes the fullness of explanation: as her father once served Holy Ilker, so did their host- and like her father, he passed on all of his wisdom to his children. Class, she slowly realized, did not determine one’s quality of character- only the means to realize it.

“That we shall know when the rider from the palace arrives.”

Time passed in quiet eating, enjoying the meal, when a pair of men entered the common room from the roadside door. Armed they were, and wearing the colors of the Lord Marshal of the palace, as one ought to expect from dispatch riders in the Solar Nation. The husband excused himself, meeting the men while the wife subtly signaled her sons to be ready to assist their father. The wife then took up her daughters and, with Sihaya, cleared the table before retreating into the kitchen.

Zacharion saw this clearly as the couple not taking at face value what they saw, and then acting as if those men were a threat. The husband, wary and showing the wisdom gained by age, approached the men saying “Welcome, riders. You come from the palace?”

One of them, the older of the two, grasped the husband’s outstretched hand and grasped it in a manner that—though strange—pleased the husband.

“His Majesty wishes you well. You shelter the last one?”

“I wish His Majesty well, and I do. His Majesty’s daughter also rests here. Come, quickly, sit and give us the word from the palace.”

Satisfied that they are genuine the couple moved into action. The women returned to the table the meal and fixings while one of the sons rushed out to stable the riders’ horses and the husband put the riders at the table. Sihaya, at her hostess’s unspoken insistence, also sat at the table.

“Please, be seated.” Sihaya said as she entered the room and again took a seat at the table, “You rode long and hard. My father would understand if you forgo the pleasantries.”

They thanked her kindness with a silent nod and a quickly-consumed meal. When they finished, so did everyone else, and while the daughters and younger sons cleared the table and began cleaning in the kitchen the four guests talked with their hosts and the elder sons.

“First, Your Highness, your royal parents are alive and well.” the elder rider said, “The truth of how the attack occurred has been revealed, and your parents believe that your safety again resides in the palace. They bid you to return as soon as possible.”

Without missing a beat, Zacharion broke in: “Then I am the target. Very well, I shall take my leave and resume my journey.”

Sihaya grabbed his hand. “Alone? I forbid it. Whatever ability you possess, you cannot prevail against the forces arrayed against you by yourself.”

The husband and wife smiled, knowingly, at each other. The daughters giggled from their spot at the kitchen doorway, for they also noticed.

“Princess, you need not worry. Go back to the palace, and leave the boy’s safety to us. We will ensure that, as far as we can, we will see him through safely. “ The husband then turned to Zacharion. “Where do you go next?”

“I seek the Witch of the Wildlands.”

The others gasped, save for the husband, who still cocked a disbelieving eye his way.

“She certainly lived up to her legend.” The husband said, “Yet she was Holy Ilker’s peer. I am uncertain that she yet lives, my boy.”

Zacharion, with sternness beyond his years, did not turn away. “She lives. I have proof of it. If you intend to aid me, then show me the best route from here to there.”

“That crone sees no man, and has not since King Zebulon ascended the throne after the Wars ended.” The wife said, “Why would she see you, even if you were Holy Ilker’s last apprentice?”

“She will see me gladly because I bear the very things that Ilker held for her for so long, things that she would want returned- and other gifts that he intended for her beyond those things.”

Zacharion showed the same pouch that he used to prove himself when he arrived in court, and in it he drew another icon- a small, palm-sized medallion bearing the sigil of the Witch, one that pulsed with life as it was made of wood and inked in blood, wood and blood that yet lived by means unknown.

“She lives.” Zacharion said, “This is the proof. That it does not sear my flesh proves that she is aware, and approves of my intention. Now, no more talk of what I will or will not do- only how to see it done.”

The couple looked at their eldest son, who spoke thus: “From here, the Wildlands are a long ride by horse along the road to the point where you turn off to approach. It takes about a month of all-day riding to do this. It takes about as long to ride to the river crossing, and then come to the border by raft or boat, due to the winding route and slow pace. Going through the fields and forests slows the pace, but avoids the visibility of the roads as well as the vulnerability of the river.”

“No, I know another way.” Zacharion said, looking at the eldest son, “Go forth and bring down a bird of prey this day.” Turning to the wife, he said “When your sons bring you this bird, clean and dress it as you would a hen, duck or pheasant. Bring me the two largest feathers and a dram of its blood, and then leave me be. I shall tell you presently what shall be done.”

The words hit with a sacred authority, and none questioned him despite his boyish age and appearance. While the sons went hunting and the rest of the family tended to the house, and the other road-guests that arrived over the day, Zacharion saw off Sihaya.

“I love you, and this worries me. I am far, far too young for this.” She said to him, “My father may be cross with you.”

“No,” he said, “he will not. However, because of this you may soon find yourself with a new sibling- and your mother will make it so. Be well, princess of the Solar Nation, for soon you shall be Queen and the nation will need its Mother Protector.”

Zacharion nodded, and the riders escorted her away before she could protest. Just then, the husband stepped outside.

I heard you just now. Not yet a man in any way, yet you speak as if you’ve lived many times before- and lives not yet come to pass.”

“It’s strange.” The boy said, “I see more than what eyes reveal. I have for as long as I remember, and that is what Ilker struggled with me to master. Time and space are neither straight nor narrow, and for this reason I have quite the mission.”

“To do what? Visit all of Holy Ilker’s peers and students?”

The boy shook his head. “To finish his work.”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-10

Loyal Hermits

Sihaya and Zacharion rode through the woods and away from the roads all through the night, reaching the fields of a household that held a royal license to operate one of the many way-stations that mark the sides of road and waterways in the Solar Nation. Walled compounds, self-sufficient farmland and room for horses marked these institutions—ancient when the Solar Nation was young, a holdover from a time before the Azure Flames—these places safeguarded the commerce of the people, great and small.

“Hold.” Sihaya said, “We cannot approach yet.”

“I know of these places.” Zacharion said, “Master used the ancient term for them, a loanword from tongues long-dead: caravanserai.”

“My father granted this one to an old friend of my parents, one of their companions.”

“Then we are soon amongst friends?”

“I hope so.” Sihaya said, “They haven’t talked since before I was born. I do hope that there is no animosity.”

“So, why do we hold here? Would it not be enough for you to demand entry on your own authority?”

“It would,” yet the pause betrayed her continued concern, “but travelers room here, and it is they—not the master, not his wife—that worry me. However, I know how to call to them without any fear of discovery- but first I need to see a sign of their wakeful presence.”

“Ah, you intend to signal them?”

Sihaya nodded affirmatively. “It is quite late now, the deepest part of the night. If their habits are as my father once said of them, soon the wife will come forth from the house to dispose of waste from the pot and add it to their pile for feeding the seeds in the spring.”

Zacharion smiled, and then his ears perked up- he heard a distant door creak open. They hushed, listening for a woman’s voice- one they heard cursing a cat as she carried a pail of waste from the interior out to the compost pile. Sihaya hurriedly rummaged through a bag to find a crystal, and she affixed it to the shaft of the spear she previously acquired. Handing it to Zacharion, he understood her desire and whispered a word to the crystal; it exploded with the light of the sun. He handed it back.

“Fix in your mind your name as you signal her.” Zacharion said, “It will eliminate doubt in her mind that it is you.”

Sihaya nodded her understanding, and she waived her light to the distant house. The woman did see it.

“She’s called us forward.” Zacharion said, “Let’s hurry.”

They did, riding across the fields quickly, and soon approached the aged woman, who bowed as courtesy demands.

“Your Highness,” she said, “come inside quickly. Ill words fly swiftly.”

The two dismounted, and Zacharion took the horses to the attached enclosure for stabling. Once all were inside, the three stood in the kitchen- and the light on the spear dissipated.

“I am glad to see you alive.” the old woman said, “My husband and I may have our disputes with your parents, but we remain loyal to them, to the Solar Nation and to Holy Ilker.”

She then looked at the boy. “You must be Ilker’s final apprentice.”

Zacharion nodded.

“Go wake my husband. He’ll not complain if he sees you first.” she said, and he did so.

“You two we can conceal for a few days.” the old woman said to Sihaya, “That we can do, which is enough to supply you properly and get you fresh horses, as well as inform the palace that you two got here and left here safely. After that, we can do no more without risking reprisals from our enemies in common.”

“May I inquire?”

The old woman knew the question before the girl asked. “You just did. Your father and my husband disagreed on your father’s assumption of the throne. It was a heated argument, one that led to a Trial By Combat to settle it, which your father one- barely. My husband, as honorable as any of Ilker’s companions, accepted the result. However, rather than demand loyalty as subject, your father offered my husband retirement as the master of a Royal Waystop; as this was at the end of the Wars, and my husband had long grown weary of war, he accepted. Our marriage was the last time that we saw your parents, yet your mother and I maintain contact by letter.”

“I do not regret either the argument or its consequences.” the old man said, coming into the room with Zacharion behind him, “Your father and I remain true to Holy Ilker’s vision, and differ only in how to achieve it. To his credit, and your mother’s as well, they have done well as the sovereigns of Solland and leaders of the Solar Nation. So long as they remember that vision, we are loyal to them- despite our hermit-like existence.”

Just then, two of their sons entered the kitchen. “Father, Mother- we’ve finished our turn about the perimeter.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-9

Treacherous Companions

The palace soon quieted from the clamor of combat to the subdued din of cleaning the halls and walls, dragging away corpses of friend and foe for accounting, and assembling the key courtiers for royal council. In a sealed side room, secret from most that walk the halls of the Solar Nation’s royal palace, an unwelcome—yet sadly familiar—meeting commenced. Therein the privy council of the Solar Nation met in circumstances that would be shocking to the majority of courtiers at court.

Zebulon sat on a stool, naked to the waist, bleeding from a number of cuts about his arms and torso. Behind him Keela stood, herself bereft of queenly modesty as she again assumed the demeanor of a doctor, bandages covering her own wounds as she wielded her instruments again upon her royal husband. The council, slim in number, consisted of long-time trusted companions- but that didn’t mean that they found the scene acceptable, only that it was unwise to voice such opinions.

“Now that all five of you are here,” Zebulon said, “I expect a report.”

The Lord Chancellor, a man as ancient as Ilker, and thus remembering when his king was but an infant in his mother’s arms, looked up from a hastily-written letter to say “My king, the assassins are no more. All of the traitors are slain, as are their confederates, save for one.”

“Lord Chancellor, I bid you hold that a moment. Lord Marshall, what word of my daughter and the boy?”

A man in his prime, the Lord Marshall was once Zebulon’s squire during the wars. “Master,” he said, out of long habit, “neither I nor my men can find either child within the walls. The last report was that they got to the stables and defeated a group of traitors that assailed them there, leaving a few slain and the rest dazzled.”

Quickly, the Court Fool—also the Master of Spies—added that “…two of my men saw them ride hard away from the palace out a sally port. They are gone, Your Majesty, but not beyond the eyes and ears of my people.”

Keela tapped her husband on the shoulder, and he gripped two iron holds on either side of him- holds anchored to great weights of stone. She took up a short iron bar, whispered an unheard word in a curt and insulting manner, and saw it immediately grow red-hot as if plunged into a forge or fire. Then she seared closed the wound on his shoulder, and all saw his grasp on the holds tighten instant as the touch- but not a sound passed his lips. Keela removed the brand, and with her free hand whispered a second phrase unheard to the seared flesh in a loving and tender manner; instantly the scar healed and only a red bruise-like mark remained.

Keela handed the brand to a woman next to her, who whispered to it and cooled it thereby, before putting it aside. This woman was the Mistress of the Palace, the Lord Chancellor’s grand-daughter, one of Keela’s former students and the lover of the Master of Spies. “Majesty,” she said, “if they are followed, then certainly they shall flee for safe and friendly places. Would we not be wise to send word to those closest to the palace, telling them to expect our precious personages?”

Another woman, the Court Healer (sister of the Mistress, student of Keela and the Marshal’s wife), disagreed with this proposal, saying “Word of disaster travels faster than word of warning, and more so at short distances, and thus I say that our friends would already expect them. Instead, let us have words with the living traitor. I suspect that this was an attack of opportunity, not a well-planned act of treachery, but nonetheless the first move in a great scheme of treason and insurrection.”

Keela and Zebulon looked knowingly at each other, then smiled.

“Proceed now, Lord Chancellor.” Zebulon said.

The old man harrumphed. “The guard captain we have chained and isolated in the Sorcerer’s Cell. We stripped him from head to toe, having discovered nothing by way of hidden marks of any sort.”

“Did you have him shaved?” Keela said.

“No, my queen.” the old man said, “You intend to have him examined?”

“I intend to secure his health.” Keela said as she bound up her husband’s wounds,

“Transfer him to the House of Healing and place him under guard therein. His wounds shall be cleaned and dressed as if he were a free man.”

“Mistress,” the Chief Healer said, “shall I attend personally?”

“Yes, in my presence.” Keela said.

The council saw Keela’s intention, and that ended discussion. The corpses, once identified, were disposed of properly—lest unclean things foul the palace—and by dawn the palace betrayed no signs of its overnight occurrence.

When the prisoner awoke, he found himself naked and chained to an infirmary bed. Standing over him was the woman he betrayed, Queen Keela, and the Chief Healer- her former student. Two of the royal ladies-in-waiting stood by to assist their mistresses in their intended task of interrogation.

“You are wounded.” Keela said to the surprised prisoner, “I chose to attend to you myself.”

The Chief Healer motioned to the waiting ladies to bring water and cloth as Keela prepared to administer treatment.

“I ordered your transfer during the night.” Keela said, “I have prepared you for treatment, which is why you might feel utterly exposed.”

The prisoner looked closely at his arms, for that was all the more of himself that he could see, and noticed that what hair he had was gone- his flesh now seemed smooth like a baby. That was when he noticed the lack of hair upon his head, and his countenance withered from shock to horror.

“What are you going to do?” he demanded, his voice trembling.

“Heal you.” Keela said, and just then the other women began washing his body- starting at the feet and moving up, “I shall clean and close your wounds, as I’ve done for so many men before, such that you shall be back on your feet before midday. I shall not harm you in any way, nor allow others to do so.”

His disbelief needed no words, for his face said all that Keela needed to hear. She took a wet cloth and wiped clean a wound, and with that bloodied cloth she whispered a question. She then stood as if listening to an unseen messenger speaking into her ears, and then she again looked at her patient.

“I thought as much.” Keela said, and the Chief Healer nodded her agreement, having done the same into another, differently-soiled cloth.

“You are a fool.” Keela said, “Tell me this woman’s name, and mercy may yet be had despite your weakness.”

“I guarantee sanctuary for your daughter,” the Chief Healer said, “and a future greater than any that her mother would grant her, an honorable and harmonious future.”

They looked at him, wordless, for another five minutes as all four women finished preparing him for treatment. Then he broke down, sobbing, and could not stop. Keela wiped away his tears, and then soothed him with words whispered into his ears. She handed that cloth to the Chief Healer, who then took her leave and reported to the Master of Spies the name of the spy that compromised him and got her in chains before midday. By evening, she too confessed- and revealed that civil war had begun.