Phoenix Rising – Snippet 03

Chapter 3.

Tobimar stood at the rail of the Lucramalalla and stared at Skysand, the great capital city sharing the name of the entirety of the gem-scattered mountains and golden sands of the country itself. The rising sun struck the seven Lesser Towers and made them seem forged of gold, while the central Great Tower, which was in fact gilded, blazed as though poured from a furnace of auric fire. Sparks of other color shimmered in that light, the light of his departure, glittering hints of ruby, argent, sapphire, emerald, other colors more exotic and rare from the mystical gems that were set as both decoration and defense in the towers and walls of Skysand.

Wind whipped strands of long black hair that had somehow escaped the band he’d used to tie it back with, and the combination gave him an excuse for the tears that trickled from his eyes. It wasn’t that he needed an excuse, exactly; it was just that a part of him was glad he was leaving, as he’d said to his mother, and crying didn’t quite make sense to that part of him.

But the other part was afraid he would never see his mother Talima, his brothers… Vanilar, Terimur, Donalan… his sisters Karili, Mindala, Sundrilin… or Skysand itself ever again. He had never imagined that he’d miss the endless gray-gold sands, broken by outcrops of black stone, occasional oases… but he would. Skysand was his home.

And yet… it isn’t.

That internal voice had spoken to him before. It wasn’t so much a different voice as a different part of himself, something deeper, something that had no clear reason or history behind its existence. Or a history that led me to this.

Now the sun had risen higher, and the black polished obsidian of the Seven Lesser drank in the light and returned only small, brilliant highlights around the Lord of Waters’ Great Tower. He looked at the highest point of the Tower, pretending for a moment that his eyes were sharp as a Dragon’s and he could see his mother standing there, watching from the Spire of Legacy, the solemn, empty room at the very top of the Great Tower.

Finally he sighed and turned away, wiping away the traces of the tears. He made his way towards the cabins across the wide silver-gold zhenwood decks; above, the Captain’s deep voice sent T’oltha’s commands echoing to Lucramallala’s crew. I think T’oltha probably means “Captain” in Ancient Sauran, because I think that was the name of the other Sauran Captain I met when I was a kid, and it can’t have been the same one. The huge draconic creatures’ names tended to be long and descriptive, difficult to remember and sometimes even harder to pronounce. Or… maybe it is the same one.

The wide stairway down to the cabin level was darker than outside, but still lit by lightstones; Tobimar shook his head in bemusement. Skysand made good use of many forms of magic, but this vessel – five hundred feet long, two hundred or more wide, and with only enough mast and sail for emergencies – was a wonder in itself. “Built only two centuries after the last Chaoswar,” T’oltha had claimed. Tobimar wasn’t sure he believed that – it would make the Lucramalla something like twelve thousand years old – but then again, it was known that the Saurans themselves lived for thousands of years. It was possible that T’oltha was simply speaking of something she’d witnessed.

He reached his cabin and entered. It was reasonably large, but spare in its furnishings; a bunk, a writing desk made fast to the floor, a simple locker which – despite being not overly large – still had ample room for the few possessions he carried.

Tobimar sat down and took a deep breath. Now.

From the inside pocket of his robe he took the Mynoli leaf, inscribed with the peculiar rune-like symbol that Khoros used as a signature, and unfolded it.

Clear white light poured from the leaf, dazzling Tobimar and causing him to nearly upset his chair. He blinked as a figure rose out of the light. “M… Master Khoros?”

“Tobimar.” The immensely tall form of the wandering enchanter nearly touched the seven-foot ceiling of the cabin; the strange wide, five-sided, peaked hat that Khoros wore obscured, as always, the details of his face; and his staff with the complex gold-crystalline head chimed softly. “Do not make the mistake of believing I am here. As with many things, what you see is less important than what you believe.

“As you are receiving this message, there are two possibilities. The first, and least likely, is that you have ascended to the Lordship of Skysand; you are, then, the Lord of Waters. If that is the case, I shall be before you soon, as you shall be in grave need of my advice.

“Far more probable, however, is that you have now left Skysand on the quest that only a Silverun may complete, at the sight of the card of your patron.” The half-hidden mouth gave a smile that Tobimar found extremely disquieting. “It was evident to me that if any in your generation was to be chosen, it would be you.” As always, Khoros offered no explanation; he spoke in pronouncements, riddles, and questions. “You have the best chance of any of your people to succeed where all the others have failed, Tobimar Silverun. And it is terribly important that you do, not merely for the sake of your exiled and lost people, but for the entirety of the world.” Tobimar felt a slow, creeping dread as the white-haired mage paused and pointed the chiming staff at him. “Remember my lessons of history, Tobimar.”

What the… he’s not even

here and he’s expecting me to answer him?Tobimar searched desperately through the hundreds of hours of instruction Konstantin Khoros had given him, in history, meditation, the power of the mind, the theory of magic, the interaction of the powers… “You taught a lot of lessons, Master Khoros.”

For a moment he was convinced that – despite the earlier warning – Khoros was, indeed, present, because at his response the old wizard shook his head as dolefully as ever he had in life. “You need to be quicker, Tobimar. A lesson does no good if it is filed away somewhere in your head only to be drawn out by being told to you again.” He sighed. “Never mind. I am as much at fault; I tell only that which I dare, and it is never enough.

“I mentioned that over the past several centuries, the number of gods seen intervening in direct and spectacular fashion had decreased. I have spent many of those years trying to determine if this was a pattern that indicated a change in need – if, in fact, the gods simply were not being called upon to act as much as in years past – or a change in behavior, or merely what might be termed an artifact of chance.” Despite himself, Tobimar nodded. He remembered this very clearly, now that Khoros had reminded him of it. Which just echoes what he just said; it does no good if I have to wait for someone else to remind me.

“It has however become clear to me that this was in fact no coincidence, nor was it a matter of decreased need,” Khoros contined. “Indeed, in some cases the lack of intervention where it would have before been expected has led to terrible disasters.” Khoros’ deep, sonorous voice was grim. “And now I understand why.

“Twelve thousand years ago, the last of the Chaoswars was fought – a world-enveloping series of conflicts which seemed to erupt almost at once, triggering mystical cataclysms of tremendous force and lingering effect. It is of course known that there have been many such wars in the history of Zarathan; what is not known, however, is how they come to happen, and how often.” The sorcerer’s image leaned closer. “But I know. Every twelve thousand years, more or less.”

“Terian’s Light… but that means…”

“Exactly so. The next Chaoswar is nearly upon us, and I believe it is much, much closer than merely sometime in the next few centuries. I believe it is within the next few years.”

“But what have the –”

“And now you ask what the gods’ behavior has to do with this.”

If this is truly a message recorded months ago, his ability to be annoyingly correct is even more impressive than I thought.

“I have… sources close to the gods, when I dare use them, and in this case I felt it necessary. They confirmed what I feared. There is … a pact, now, between virtually all of the gods, an agreement that they shall not intervene directly in events on Zarathan, save only for those who have an undeniable and inescapable physical presence on this world. How exactly this pact was arranged… I have yet to determine, for even I dare not tread too far into their realm unless I am willing to confront them. Something which,” he smiled wryly, “I would prefer not to do at this time. But its existence convinces me that I am right about my timing. Even though the power unleashed in a Chaoswar can, and does, affect even the gods, without them to assist the results could be even worse. Even the gods of evil, in general, are not in favor of the complete and total disruption of a Chaoswar, and the few that are… would normally be kept under control by the others.”

Khoros rotated his hat absently in the ritual manner Tobimar had seen so many times, with the five points of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit following in turn. “You must find that which was lost, Tobimar. It is not that it is your destiny – although you may choose to make it so, for destiny is choice, not choicelessness. It is that the powers of destruction gain strength in such times, and those things which failed to utterly destroy your people in their flight will once more walk the world. Your people have kept traditions, yet forgotten the truths. You were deprived of your homes, your power, your freedom, and your allies – and they, of you, so that all are now but feeble shadows of what they once were, and where you once ruled is now darkness. That must not be allowed to happen again – for it shall.”

“You know where –”

“You must find these things on your own.” Once more it seemed as though Khoros knew already what would be said, long months after he had left. “I can only tell you this: that you must learn what you once were before you can decide what you will become; that you must pursue lies to discover truth; and that the only route to your triumph is to serve both justice and vengeance, for both are your people’s due. All else is but your choice – to trust or not, to lead or follow, to have faith or lose all. But when all else fails, you may find strength in childhood prayer, for there were, indeed, the true words of Terian himself, as given to your forefathers in the first days of their strength.”

That old prayer?

Tobimar felt vaguely embarrassed… and yet he remembered the words as though he had never stopped saying them, and they still carried the echoes of his childhood faith as he found himself repeating them with Khoros:

“Seven Stars and a Single Sun

Hold the Starlight that I do Own;

These Eight combine and form the One

Form the Sign by which I’m known.

The Good in heart can Light wield;

The Length of Space shall be thy shield.

“Two Chaoswars past, your people rose to the heights. In the last, they were felled; in this, Tobimar, they shall either reattain all that was lost and more… or they shall cease to be.” The ancient mage bowed deeply. “My hopes and blessings go with you. May the Five and the Seven and the One be ever with you.”

And he was gone, the leaf dispersing like the last of the crystalline light that had surrounded him, the echoing chime of his staff fading into the sounds of the surrounding ocean.