Authors: Richard A. Knaak
Tags: #Humor & Entertainment, #Puzzles & Games, #Video & Electronic Games, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Movie Tie-Ins, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #TV; Movie; Video Game Adaptations
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The world was young, then, and only a few knew it as Sanctuary or knew that not only did angels and demons exist, but some of them had caused Sanctuary to be in the first place. The names Inarius, Diablo, Rathma, Mephisto, and Baal—to name a powerful and often dread few—had not yet been whispered on mortal lips.
In this simpler time, ignorant of the eternal battle between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells, people struggled and prospered, lived and died. They could not know that even then, the eyes of both immortal sides would soon covet their potential and thus begin a conflict that would spill over into the centuries to come.
And, of all those most terribly ignorant of Sanctuary’s awful destiny, Uldyssian ul-Diomed—Uldyssian, son of Diomedes—could be said to have been the most blind. Blind, though he would be himself at the center of what scholars of the world’s secret history would come to call
the Sin War.
It was not a war in the sense of men-at-arms—though there were those, too—but rather a trying, a testing and taking, of souls. A war that would forever eradicate the innocence of Sanctuary and those inhabiting it, changing all, even those not aware.
A war that was both won…and lost…
From the Books of Kalan
First Tome, Second Leaf
The shadow fell across Uldyssian ul-Diomed’s table, enveloping not only much of it, but also his hand and his as-of-yet-undrunk ale. The sandy-haired farmer did not have to look up to know who interrupted his brief respite from his day’s labors. He had heard the newcomer speaking to others in the Boar’s Head—the only tavern in the remote village of Seram—heard him speaking and prayed silently but vehemently that he would not come to Uldyssian’s table.
It was ironic that the son of Diomedes
for the stranger to keep away, for what stood waiting for Uldyssian to look up was none other than a missionary from the Cathedral of Light. Resplendent in his collared silver-white robes—resplendent save for the ring of Seramian mud at the bottom—he no doubt awed many a fellow villager of Uldyssian’s. However, his presence did nothing but dredge up terrible memories for the farmer, who now angrily fought to keep his stare fixed on the mug.
“Have you seen the
my brother?” the figure finally asked when it was clear that his potential convert planned to continue to ignore him. “Has the Word of the great Prophet touched your soul?”
“Find someone else,” Uldyssian muttered, his free hand involuntarily tightening into a fist. He finally took a gulp of his ale, hoping that his remark would end the unwanted conversation. However, the missionary was not to be put off.
Setting a hand on the farmer’s forearm—and thereby keeping the ale from again touching Uldyssian’s lips—the pale young man said, “If not yourself alone, think of your loved ones! Would you forsake their souls as—”
The farmer roared, his face red with a rage no longer held in check. In a single motion, Uldyssian leapt up and seized the startled missionary by the collar. As the table tipped over, the ale fell and splattered on the planked floor, unnoticed by its former drinker. Around the room, other patrons, including a few rare travelers passing through, eyed the confrontation with concern and interest…and from experience chose to keep out of it. Some of the locals, who knew the son of Diomedes well, shook their heads or muttered to one another at the newcomer’s poor choice of subjects.
The missionary was a hand taller than Uldyssian, no small man himself at just over six feet, but the broad-shouldered farmer outweighed him by half again as much and all of that muscle from day after day of tilling the soil or seeing to the animals. Uldyssian was a square-jawed man with the bearded, rough-hewn features typical of the region west of the great city-state of Kehjan, the “jewel” of the eastern half of the world. Deep-brown eyes burned into the more pale ones of the gaunt—and surprisingly young—features of the Cathedral’s proselytizer.
“The souls of most of my family are beyond the Prophet’s gathering,
They died nearly ten years ago, all to plague!”
“I shall s-say a prayer for…for them—”
His words only served to infuriate Uldyssian, who had himself prayed for his parents, his elder brother, and his two sisters constantly over the months through which they had suffered. Day and night—often with no sleep in between—he had first prayed to whatever power watched over them that they recover, then, when that no longer seemed a hope, that their deaths would be swift and painless.
And that prayer, too, had gone unanswered. Uldyssian, distraught and helpless, had watched as, one by one, they died in anguish. Only he and his youngest brother, Mendeln, had survived to bury the rest.
Even then there had been missionaries and even then they had talked of the souls of his family and how their particular sects had the answers to everything. To a one, they had promised Uldyssian that, if he followed their particular path, he would find peace over his loved ones’ losses.
But Uldyssian, once a devout believer, had very vocally denounced each and every one of them. Their words rang hollow and his refusals seemed later justified when the missionaries’ sects faded away as surely as each season on the farm.
But not all. The Cathedral of Light, though only of recent origin, seemed far stronger than most of its predecessors. Indeed, it and the longer-established Temple of the Triune seemed to be quickly becoming the two dominant forces seeking the souls of Kehjan’s people. To Uldyssian, the fervent enthusiasm with which both sought out new converts bordered on a strenuous competition much in conflict with their spiritual messages.
And that was yet another reason Uldyssian would have no part of either.
“Pray for yourself, not for me and mine,” he growled. The missionary’s eyes bulged as Uldyssian easily hefted him by the collar off the floor.
The squat, balding figure behind the counter slipped out to intervene. Tibion was several years senior and no match against Uldyssian, but he had been Diomedes’s good friend and so his words had effect on the furious farmer. “Uldyssian! Mind my establishment if’n you can’t mind yourself, eh?”
Uldyssian hesitated, the proprietor’s words cutting through his anguish. His gaze swept from the pale face before him to Tibion’s round one, then back again.
A frustrated scowl still on his face, he let the figure in his grip drop in an undignified heap on the floor.
“Uldyssian—” Tibion started.
But the son of Diomedes did not wait to hear the rest. Hands shaking, he strode out of the Boar’s Head, his heavy, worn leather boots clattering hard on the well-trod planks. Outside, the air was crisp, which helped soothe Uldyssian some. Almost immediately, he began to regret his actions within. Not the reasons for them, but that he had acted so before many of those who knew him…and not for the first time.
Still, the presence of the Cathedral’s acolyte in Seram grated on his heart. Uldyssian was now a man who only believed in what his eyes showed him and what his hands could touch. He could see the changes in the sky and so tell when he needed to rush his work in the field or whether time enough remained to complete his task at a more moderate pace. The crops his work brought forth from the soil fed him and others. These were things he could trust, not the muttered praying of clerics and missionaries that had done nothing for his family but give them false hope.
Seram was a village of some two hundred folk, small by many standards, of reasonable size by others. Uldyssian could have paced its length in as many breaths, if that much. His farm lay two miles to the north of Seram. Once a week, Uldyssian went into the village to get what supplies he needed, always allowing himself the short break for food and drink at the tavern. His meal he had eaten and his ale was lost, which left only his tasks to complete before he departed again.
In addition to the tavern, which also acted as an inn, there were only four other buildings of consequence in Seram—the meeting house, the trading station, the village Guard quarters, and the smithy. All shared the same general design as the rest of the structures of Seram, with the roofs pointed and thatched, and the bodies wooden planks over a frame whose base was built of several layers of stone and clay. As was typical in most areas under the influence of Kehjan, the windows of each were arched sharply at the top and always numbered three on a side. In truth, from a distance it was impossible to tell one building from another.
Mud caked his boots as he walked, Seram too provincial to have paved streets or even stone ones. There was a small, dry path to the opposite side from where Uldyssian trod, but at the moment, he had no patience for it and, besides, as a farmer, he was used to being one with the soil.
At the eastern edge of Seram—and thus nearest to Kehjan—stood the trading station. The station was, other than the tavern, the busiest of places in Seram. Here it was that locals brought in their goods to trade for other necessities or to even sell to passing merchants. When there were new items in stock, a blue banner would be raised by the doorway up front, and as he approached, Uldyssian saw Cyrus’s night-tressed daughter, Serenthia, doing just that. Cyrus and his family had run the trading station for four generations and were among the most prominent of families in the village, although they dressed no more fancy than anyone else. The trader did not look down on his customers, who were also, for the most part, his neighbors. Serenthia, for example, was clad in a simple cloth dress of brown, cut modestly at the bodice and whose bottom hem ended just above the ankle. Like most villagers, she wore sensible boots designed for both riding and walking through the muddy ruts in the main street.
“Something of interest?” he called to Serenthia, trying to focus on other matters in order to forget both the incident and the images from the past it had conjured up.
Cyrus’s daughter turned at the sound of his voice, her thick, long hair fluttering about. With her bright blue eyes, ivory skin, and naturally red lips, Uldyssian felt certain that all she needed was a proper gown to allow her to compete with the best of the blue-blood females in Kehjan itself. The unadorned dress did not hide her curves, nor did it detract in any way from the graceful manner in which she somehow moved regardless of the terrain.
“Uldyssian! Have you been here all day?”
There was that in her tone that all but made the farmer grimace. Serenthia was more than a decade younger than him and he had seen her grow up from a child to a woman. To him, she was nearly one of the sisters that he had lost. However, to her, Uldyssian evidently seemed much more. She had turned down the attentions of younger and more affluent farmers than him, not to mention the flirtations of several visiting merchants. The only other man in whom she showed any interest was Achilios, Uldyssian’s good friend and the best hunter in Seram, but whether that was because of his ties to the farmer, it was difficult to say.
“I arrived just past the first hour of day,” he replied. As he neared, he caught glimpses of at least three wagons behind Cyrus’s establishment. “A fair-sized caravan for Seram. What goes on?”
She finished hoisting up the banner, then tethered the rope. Gazing over her shoulder at the wagons, Serenthia said, “They got lost, actually. They were bound for passage through Tulisam.”
Tulisam was the next nearest habitation, a town at least five times as great as Seram. It was also more on the route from Kehjan proper to the sea, where the master ports were.
Uldyssian grunted. “The handler must be a novice.”
“Well, whatever the cause, they’ve decided to trade some. Father’s trying to hide his excitement. They’ve got some beautiful things, Uldyssian!”
To the son of Diomedes, beautiful things generally consisted of strong, sturdy tools or a newborn calf that had its health. He started to speak, then noticed someone walking by the wagons.
She was dressed akin to a noble of one of the Houses that sought to fill the gap of leadership caused by the recent infighting between the ruling mage clans. Her lush golden hair was bound up behind her head with a silver band, allowing full view of the regal, ivory face. Glittering green eyes surveyed her surroundings. Slim, perfect lips parted as the woman, the shoulders of her flowing emerald gown covered by a fur, viewed the landscape to the east of Seram. The bodice of the gown was cinched tight and although her clothing was the epitome of the ruling castes, it left no doubt that she was very much female.
Just as the arresting figure began to glance in Uldyssian’s direction, Serenthia abruptly took him by the arm. “You should come inside and see for yourself, Uldyssian.”
As she steered him toward the twin wooden doors, the farmer took a quick look back, but of the noblewoman he saw no sign. Had he not known himself to be incapable of such elaborate fancies, Uldyssian would have almost believed her to be a product of his imagination.
Serenthia all but pulled him inside, Cyrus’s daughter shutting the doors behind them particularly hard. Inside, her father glanced up from a conversation with a cowled merchant. The two older men appeared to be haggling over a bundle of what the farmer thought rather luxurious purple cloth.
“Aah! Good Uldyssian!” The trader prefaced everyone’s name save those of his family with the word, something that always made Uldyssian smile. Cyrus did not even seem to notice that he did it. “How fare you and your brother?”
“We…we’re fine, Master Cyrus.”
“Good, good.” And with that, the trader went back to his business. With but a ring of silvering hair around his otherwise clean pate and his scholarly eyes, Cyrus looked more like a cleric to the farmer than any of those wearing such robes. In fact, Uldyssian had heard far more sensible words from the man. He respected Cyrus greatly, in part because of how the trader, more educated than most in Seram, had taken Mendeln under his wing.
Thinking of his brother, who spent more time in this very building than he did at the farm, Uldyssian glanced around. Although Mendeln would have been clad in garments akin to his brother’s—cloth tunic, kilt, and boots—and resembled his brother somewhat in the eyes and broad nose, one look at him by anyone would raise the question of whether he was actually a farmer. In truth, although he did help out at the farm, working the land was clearly not Mendeln’s calling. He was always interested in studying
be they bugs burrowing in the ground or words in some parchment loaned him by Cyrus.
Uldyssian could read and write, too, and was proud of that achievement, but he saw only the practical aspects of such a thing. There were times when pacts had to be made that required writing things down and then making certain that they said what they were supposed to. That, the older brother understood. Simply reading for reading’s sake or studying merely to learn something of no use in their daily tasks…such a desire evaded Uldyssian.