Authors: Glynn Stewart
Children of Prophecy
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons— living or dead— is entirely coincidental.
The Hawk Lord Shar’tell nodded at the Mage’s report. He could see it himself, a swarming horde of corruption and death slowly advancing up towards the apex of the pass. “He is there.”
His companion looked up at the tone of his Lord’s voice. “Your commands, Hawk Lord?” the General of his Mage army asked.
Shar stood. Red-collared white robes swirled around his plain black tunic, seemingly the same and yet completely unlike the clothes of the Battlemagi around him, as befitted the most powerful Mage alive and the man who stood first after the Gods among the people of Vishni.
“You know the plan, my old friend,” Shar’tell told the Battle Mage as his fingers ran over the pulsating red blood crystal that topped his white oak staff. “I can give you nothing more, save hope.”
The Mage councilor bowed. “That you already gave us, Lord.”
The Hawk Lord’s eyes swept the advancing Swarm, seeking his prey like the hawk he wore as his other form, and nodded. “He is here,” Shar’tell said softly.
Suddenly, Shar’tell hunched his shoulders, preparing to take wing, before meeting the gaze of the other Mage. “Be ready. Be strong.”
The Battle Lord stepped back as his master shimmered, then Shifted. A red-crested black and white hawk winged its way into the heavens.
The General stepped away, turning to the other Battlemagi. “Be ready,” he repeated. “The Swarm comes.”
The horrendous mass of the Swarm moved slowly, as if unaware of the thin line of Battlemagi blocking the way. No two creatures in that inconstant mass were the same, many shifting forms even as they advanced. An immense stench rose from their corrupted forms as the poor creatures, warped and torn by chaos, approached.
The white-robed Magi stood motionless, waiting for them. Exactly seven hundred and twenty-nine strong, their line blocked the narrowest portion of the pass like a series of marble pillars.
The wind billowed their robes out around their black tunics, but they remained silent and still as they watched the doom of the kingdom they were sworn to defend swarm towards them.
Something changed. The leading elements of the Swarm paused for a moment, gathering themselves. Then, with an indescribable sound, that corrupted mass lunged forwards as one.
The Battlemagi watched in silence as they came. For the first time there was movement in the white-clad line, as hands carefully shifted their grips on the crystal-tipped white staves.
The Swarm moved ever closer, a multihued living whirlwind of limbs, claws and fangs. It seemed as though nothing in the entire world could stop it, until, as if driven by one will, the Battlemagi brought their staves out in front of them. They paused, making sure all their comrades were ready.
Then a great cry burst from their throats and the staves slammed into the dirt with a resounding crash. The crystals flickered, and solid planes of light stretched out from both sides of each staff, merging to form an unbroken shimmering white wall across the pass.
The Swarm broke upon that bright wall like water upon cliffs – and died.
The Swarm boiled back and forth, staying clear of the mound of misshapen corpses where they’d met the Battlemagi’s shield. Unintelligent as they were, they did know fear, and that gleaming, invulnerable, wall awoke it in them.
A pattern seemed to form in the heaving mass, as the shifts suddenly only became one way. It appeared almost illusory for a long moment, and then a split appeared in the ranks of the Swarm, a path clearing for a group of figures.
Four Riders came forward, two men and two women. All four were mounted upon drakes, immense lizard-like creatures more constant than most in the Swarm. Both Riders and beasts were clad in a deep purple that seemed to pulse with corruption.
At the center of the Riders formation drifted a single man. He floated in the air and kept pace easily with the Riders around him without visibly moving.
The strange group stopped perhaps ten meters from the line of Magi. The man hovering in the air moved forward to rest upon the ground in front of the Riders and stopped.
The Battlemagi’s line wavered at last as they recognized him. His robes were inconstant, a varying purple on which swirled reds, blacks, and greens. Shadow clouded his face, allowing only his glowing red eyes to be seen. Even the shadow that clung to him was wrong, shifting and glowing in its corruption. This was the Drake Lord Jai’tell, the Master of Chaos. The Accursed One.
He raised his hand, hidden within the voluminous sleeves of his robes, and gestured wordlessly. Multicolored flame flashed out, flaring along the shield. The corpses of the Swarm incinerated unheeded as his fire tested the defense.
The flame stopped as he lowered his hand. His pulsating purple eyes considered the Magi, and thunder rang under his voice as he spoke.
“Do you truly believe that
?” Jai’tell demanded of the Battlemage host.
The Battlemagi were silent. The pulsing eyes flashed, and he raised his arm once more, and this time the multihued fire battered at the shield and kept battering. Several of the Battlemagi were driven to their knees. They kept their hands on their staves, though, and the shield stayed up.
The Drake Lord lowered his arm, and the fire stopped. He focused on the Battlemagi, missing the single bird that flew in to land in front of him. “Impressive. But you cannot stop me.”
“No. They cannot.” The bird shimmered, and Shifted into the white-robed Hawk Lord Shar’tell. “But I can.” He drew his staff from within his robes and stepped forward.
Jai’tell gestured the Riders forward, but Shar’tell raised his hand. “They have no place in this, Accursed One.”
The red eyes blazed, but a flick of the robe’s sleeve sent the four Riders back. “So be it, my brother,” the Drake Lord said coldly, his voice dripping venom. “Let this be done.”
The two men, brothers and no longer merely human, advanced upon each other.
Jai’tell drew his staff from within his robes. A bright gold dragon, its eyes purple crystals that the rainbow swirled within, topped a staff of dull black wood, as different from the shining white of the Battlemagi’s staves as could be.
He swept the dragon scepter around, and the same multihued fire he’d unleashed on the host lashed out at the Hawk Lord.
The white-robed Shar’tell casually brought his own staff into the path of the flames. The multihued fire gathered around the blood-red crystal tipping the staff, until the swirling hues stabilized to the natural colors of fire. Shar’tell twisted his staff, and sent the flames hurtling back at their creator.
The Drake Lord sneered, and killed the flame with a gesture. The gesture continued, ending with his hand pointed at Shar’tell. Purple-cored lightning flashed out at the white-clad Mage.
A glittering white shield flickered into existence around the Battlemage, shedding the lightning like water. Energy coruscated around the shield, glittering like stars in the night sky.
Jai’tell stepped forward, raising his staff to add more purple lightning to his assault. “You have learned much, little brother,” he snarled. “But I am the stronger.”
“Your strength is chaos, Jai’tell,” the Hawk Lord said calmly. “It will rip you apart and spit you out as dust upon the wind.”
“And your weakness is your altruism!” Jai’tell snapped. His focus suddenly shifted, and he sent a beam of power, empty of either light or dark, hurtling towards the Battlemagi line.
Shar’tell shifted with him, placing his shield between that beam and his people. He grunted with the effort of holding back that lance of pure chaos.
Then the attack shifted, the beam flashing out of existence, to reappear slashing straight at the Hawk Lord. His defenses focused elsewhere, the lance ripped through his stomach and sent him crumpling to the ground in a spray of blood.
Shar’tell lay on the ground, hearing the soft footsteps on the rocky soil as his brother came to finish him.
His heart continued to pump his blood out, soaking the rocky soil and the already-red crystal of his staff. With each drop that touched the blood crystal, its glow grew more intense.
A slight shift, covered by his crumpled body, drew his left forearm across the sharp edges of the crystal, leaving his life’s blood to pump out onto it. With a thought, the Hawk Lord reached out to the blood crystal, trading it a devil’s bargain: his life for the strength to finish this.
Then Jai’tell was there. For the last time, strength filled Shar’tell’s limbs, and he thrust the staff upward. The blood crystal glowed with a brazen light as it sliced through the Drake Lord’s shields like tissue paper, then continued on to rip out his throat in a spray of gore.
Shar’tell slumped back, the blood crystal draining the last of his life and soul, as the carefully balanced chaos in his brother broke free.
Heat was the last thing he felt as chaos fire swept the pass with death.
The Battlemage Adept moved through the debris quietly, one of dozens who searched the pass. Something tugged at his mind as he searched, drawing him towards a heap of rubble.
He used his hands to clear away the rocks and dirt. He had a glimpse of a red gem, moments before his hand touched it. As he touched it, a whirlwind ripped into his mind; knowledge, words, and thoughts that were not his own.
It spun through him, filling him, subsuming him and being subsumed by him, and then a voice spoke in his mind and through his lips, words in a tongue he didn’t know – and yet knew perfectly:
Ba kar shana dua…
” and then he understood the words as he spoke them:
“As there were two, so shall there be two
In which the blood of the Twain runs true
They will clash, as did the brothers
And they will decide the future.
The shadowy figure slithered towards him through the darkness. Swirling purple fire encased its darkened form. “Come to me,” it hissed, “come to me, my child.”
He scrambled backwards. “No, no! Stay away.”
Chains of fire whipped out, wrapping around him, dragging him towards the shadow.
“NO!” Lightning flashed from his hands, shattering the fire. “Stay away from me!” Red fire flashed from his own hands, smashing into the shadow.
It laughed, cold with an utter lack of pity. “You cannot stop me, boy.”
More chaos fire whipped out to wrap around him. He shattered it, scattering flame and lightning in all directions.
Then suddenly his magic was gone. The fire wrapped itself around him, dragging him towards the shadow, unaffected by his screams.
The shadow’s robes reached out, trying to touch him…
Tal jerked awake, panting in terror. His eyes opened, seeing his small cell at the Academy. Bare stone and simple cloth, a stark and soothing environment, now marked with new scorch marks, joining the many older ones. His blankets looked the worse for wear, but their protective spells seemed to have kept them mostly intact.
As his eyes adjusted the dim light, he slowly began to pick out the familiar details of the cell; the single lamp in the alcove on the wall, its glass shattered yet again, the chest holding all his worldly things, the small cot.
He blinked away his tears as his eyes came to rest on the man who stood next to his bed, looking down at him. Deer Mage Ket’nir was the Academy Head. He looked somehow vulnerable out of his formal greens and whites, clad only in a plain white cotton tunic. White hair framed kindly blue eyes, and led down to a short, well-kept beard. Tal noted the position of the Head’s hands, raised over him.
He drew a deep shuddering breath, as Ket’nir lowered his hands.
“Are you all right, child?” the old Head asked. After Tal nodded, he looked towards the door, waving away the black-clad Battlemage hovering there. “You were using a great deal of magic.”
“Nightmare,” Tal said shortly.
Ket’nir nodded sadly. “I thought as much, Novice. I was forced to block your powers, or you might have broken the spells protecting the fort and damaged the walls.”
The seven-year-old bowed his head. “I am sorry, Deer Mage.”
A gentle smile touched the old man’s face. “Do not worry, child. It is a sign of power.” He held Tal’s eyes. “But you must learn control. I will not always be there to protect you from yourself.”
“Yes, Head Ket’nir. I will try.”
The Head nodded his acceptance of the promise. “Sleep, child. You’ll need it.”
Tal sat cross-legged, facing Fox Mage Kil’dare across the carpet in the small stone practice room. The Battlemage instructor was usually quite talkative, but today he seemed quiet, focusing on the candle holder and candle in his hands.
With a glance at the students, Kil’dare placed the candle and its holder on the carpet, and lit the candle wick with a wave of his hand. He turned to the two boys and the girl, all wearing the plain black unadorned tunics of Novice Death Magi. “Today we will work on fine control of your basic physical shielding.”
He gestured at the candle. “I will attempt to put out the candle. You must try to stop me.” His eyes swept over the three, settling on Tal for a moment, but then turning to Shell. “Shell, you try first.”
Tal’s face tightened at the omission of the second syllable, the patronymic granted by the child’s father. It was the familiar usage, used to treat the Novices as if they were their instructors’ children, but in his case, it was also the way he would be properly referred to. Tal
The blonde girl nodded, focusing her bright blue eyes on the candle flame, and raising her hand as if to cup it over the flame. The instructor eyed her for a moment, and she nodded firmly.
With a gentle smile, Kil’dare raised his hand towards the flame. Before his arm was half extended, the flame went out. Shell drooped, her confident smile slowly fading.
“Well done, Shell,” their teacher told the little girl. “At your stage of training, that was very good.”
Kil nodded to the other boy as he relit the flame. “Now, Jer, you try,” he instructed.
Jer was a fidgety, black-haired child who Tal found both useless and annoying. Nonetheless, the boy managed to focus on the flame, but his attention seemed to be only barely present.
Kil’dare paused, waiting, Tal guessed, until he was certain the boy was as concentrated as he could be, and then raised his hand again. His hand rose barely half as high as it had for Shell before the flame went out.
His face gentled as he looked at Jer. “Don’t worry, Jer, you will have many years to practice this, and other things.”
Now Kil’dare turned to Tal, an odd expression on his face. “Now, you, Tal.”
Tal, shrugged, and turned a lazy gaze, even less concentrated than Jer, upon the candle.
Kil’dare looked at him, clearly waiting for him to concentrate. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, Fox Mage.”
The Mage sighed, and began to raise his arm. At halfway up, nothing had happened and sweat was streaming down Kil’dare’s face. When his arm had reached full extension, Kil’dare was exerting nearly his full power.
He stopped, gasping for breath, and looked at Tal, who had not moved from his slouching cross-legged posture. Tal merely met his eyes and nodded.
“Thank you, Tal,” Kil’dare said, catching his breath. “Now we will practice our fine control. Shell, you go first. Tighten your shield in as close as you can to the candle flame. The tighter it is, the less the flame will move.”
Shell blinked, and focused. A slight shimmering appeared around the flame, as she made her shield visible to aid her control. It slowly closed in on the flame, constricting its movements. It had reached about half again the size of the flame when her control jerked, and the shield cut the flame out of existence.
Kil’dare nodded thoughtfully. “Not too bad for your first time. Now you try, Jer,” he instructed as he relit the candle.
The boy sat up, and focused. He too made his shield visible as he closed it around the candle. He reached the point where Shell had lost control, and continued to slowly close it. His was perhaps a tenth larger than the flame before it collapsed in and killed the fire.
“Very good, Jer,” the teacher complimented him. “You have fine control, which can help you learn to apply your power.”
The instructor relit the flame and turned to Tal. “Now you try, Tal.”
Tal assumed the same lackadaisical stance as he had before, and glanced at the candle. His shield flickered into visibility like the others, and began to contract. Unlike the other, it collapsed inwards almost immediately, moving with brutal speed and force that splattered the candle all over the rug.
“How many times must I tell you Tal, power and control are not the same,” Kil’dare told the child with a sigh. “You must learn control, or you will never truly be able to use your power.”
His eyes swept the three Novices. “You must all remember that. To a certain extent, control can make up for lack of power, but power ill-applied is worse than no power at all.”
He stood, gesturing the children in front of him. “Now we will go outside and, as I’m sure you’ll enjoy, practice basic fire magic.”
Tal sat quietly in the courtyard, a chain of fire linking his spread hands while Kil’dare attempted to get Jer to create more fire than a spark. A small spark. He was unlikely to have any great success, Tal knew.
His eyes swept the courtyard. It was nestled into the gap between the wall surrounding the Academy and the actual main buildings. Designed to function as both a training ground and a space for meeting new arrivals, the courtyard was paved with hard stone. Several braziers were scattered around.
Shell stood next to one of the braziers, studiously ignoring both boys as she intently focused on a small fire she’d started in it. She watched it as if trying to learn how to reduce it to a simplicity she could understand and manipulate.
Tal shivered in the late autumn cold, glancing up at the sky. Shivering, he moved over to one of the braziers. His head barely came over the top of it but when he released the fire he’d held between his hands, the brazier lit into a satisfactory, warm blaze.
Kil’dare glanced up from his conversation with Jer, looking at the other two Novices.
Tal noted the Battlemage assuring himself that his students weren’t about to burn the Academy down, and turning his eyes towards the gate. One of the Academy’s two Battlemage Initiates – fully trained, but still junior Mages due to their youth – was seated in the tower next to the gate, where he could identify anyone approaching. Tal’s gaze followed Kil’dare’s as it continued to sweep across the courtyard, and saw one of the other two full Battlemagi, the Initiate’s current master, crossing to join his apprentice.
As the instructor turned back to Jer, and Tal returned his concentration to his fire magic, both stiffened as they sensed something. Tal glanced at the others. Shell looked disconcerted, like something had happened that she didn’t understand. Jer was looking confusedly at Kil’dare, wondering what was wrong.
The group of Magi, both full and Novice, turned to look at the gate as a horseman rode up to it. The full Mage guarding the gate stepped up to it to speak to the rider, and then bowed deeply and gestured for his apprentice to open the gate.
As the gate slid open, the horseman rode through. Tal’s eyes were irresistibly drawn to him. Though the horse looked like it had been ridden for some days, the white-haired rider’s black cloak was untouched by mud or other travel-stains. As the rider dismounted, the cloak swung open, revealing a lean man wearing the plain black tunic that was effectively the non-formal uniform of a Battlemage.
It wasn’t the man that drew Tal’s eye. It was his amulet. For a moment, the boy wondered why a male Battlemage would be wearing jewelry, but then he noticed the nature of the design. A gold chain wrapped around the man’s neck, each chain holding a red gem. His eye quickly counted the links he could see, coming up with the guess of twenty-six links. Two of the links, the very front ones, were merely gold links, without the gem. At the very front of the amulet was a gem nearly three times the size of the others, and much more roughly cut. In fact, it almost appeared to be the shattered fragment of a larger gem.
Even to Tal, the amulet radiated power. The other apprentices’ eyes also seemed drawn to it, with various degrees of consternation. They felt it too. Kil’dare looked like he felt it as well, but it seemed to mean more to him, for he immediately went to one knee.
“Kneel,” he whispered to his students. Trained to obey, Shel and Jer did. Tal didn’t. He remained standing half-hidden behind the brazier.
“Damn you, boy,” Kil’dare snapped. “Show some respect! That is the Hawk Car’raen!”
The Hawk Car’raen, Hawk Mage, Battlemage, and sworn defender of the Kingdom of Vishni, surveyed the courtyard quietly. He sighed mentally at the sight of the kneeling Magi, but it was only to be expected. Very few Magi would dare his wrath by standing before him, whether he wished it or not.
Then he saw him. A boy, perhaps seven or eight, stood half-hidden behind one of the braziers. A snapped command from the Mage had no apparent effect, as the child coolly met Car’s eyes. There was power behind those golden eyes; power, and a pride beginning to border on arrogance.
The Amulet seemed to burst into song in the back of his head.
What is this?
He demanded of it.
I am uncertain
. The softly modulated mental tones of Car’raen’s immediate predecessor as Hawk, Jor’nial were almost soothing.
It is similar to the recognition of the next Hawk, but different. We recognize him, but none of us can say why. Shar’tell may know, but he speaks the least, even of the truly Eld Ones..
Great. You mean you know, but you don’t know?
Car demanded of the minds in his amulet.
I am sorry, Car, but we cannot tell you what it is,
the dead Mage replied.
Only that it is important. Incredibly so
The Hawk Car’raen, current successor of the Hawk Lord Shar’tell, sighed, and dismounted. He turned to the kneeling Mage and his students.
A flick of power, and he identified the Mage’s power and status. “Get off the floor, Fox Mage. Your students too. I have no need to be reminded of who I am.”
Car’s eyes turned to the boy. “Come out from behind there, boy.”
The boy stepped out, brushing long light brown hair out of his eyes. “Sir,” he said shortly, defiantly.
The Hawk shook his head slightly at the boy, wordlessly, and turned back to the Battlemage. “I did not intend to interrupt, Battlemage. I must speak with Head Ket’nir immediately.”
“He is inside, Hawk Car’raen,” the teacher replied instantly.
Car turned back to the boy, still puzzled by him. “Novice, take my horse to the stables.”