- Kazarach's tomes contain a myriad wonders. But they hold just as many horrors...
Whispers is the 17th questing area released in the game. This zone is considered a side zone and is not part of the main storyline.
|Title||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5||Level 6||Level 7|
|I Love Books... |
(Complete Whispers on Nightmare difficulty.)
|Ignorant Angel Scholar||35||25||41||Whispers Normal Zone Difficulty|
|Angel Scholar||40||30||48||Quest: H Whispers Zone (Z5a)|
|Keen Angel Scholar||80||60||95||Whispers Legendary Zone Difficulty|
|Erudite Angel Scholar||100||80||120||Whispers Nightmare Zone Difficulty|
|Brown Ink and Quill||Craft ×2 Stat Points||Whispers Zone|
|Grey Ink and Quill||Craft ×2 Stat Points||Whispers Zone|
|Green Ink and Quill||Craft ×2 Stat Points||Whispers Zone|
|Blue Ink and Quill||Craft ×2 Stat Points||Whispers Zone|
|Purple Ink and Quill||Craft ×2 Stat Points||Whispers Zone|
|Orange Ink and Quill||Craft ×2 Stat Points||Whispers Zone|
|Son of the Gods||20||27||Insane Whispers Health 350||774-946|
|Crimson Champion||20||27||Insane Whispers Health 350||774-946|
|Seeds||20||27||Insane Whispers Health 350||774-946|
|Upon a Blue Horse||20||27||Insane Whispers Health 350||774-946
|Count Siculus' Phantom||186||372||Health 500||11718-14322|
|Son of the Gods||40||56||Insane Whispers Health 800||1872-2288|
|Crimson Champion||40||56||Insane Whispers Health 800||1872-2288|
|Seeds||40||56||Insane Whispers Health 800||1872-2288|
|Upon a Blue Horse||40||56||Insane Whispers Health 800||1872-2288
|Count Siculus' Phantom||225||450||Health 1100||18225-22275|
|Son of the Gods||110||160||Insane Whispers Health 4000||5742-7018|
|Crimson Champion||110||160||Insane Whispers Health 4000||5742-7018|
|Seeds||110||160||Insane Whispers Health 4000||5742-7018|
|Upon a Blue Horse||110||160||Insane Whispers Health 4000||5742-7018
|Count Siculus' Phantom||250||500||Health 7500||22500-27500|
|Son of the Gods||225||360||Insane Whispers Health 7500||10935-13365|
|Crimson Champion||225||360||Insane Whispers Health 7500||10935-13365|
|Seeds||225||360||Insane Whispers Health 7500||10935-13365|
|Upon a Blue Horse||225||360||Insane Whispers Health 7500||10935-13365
|Count Siculus' Phantom||325||650||Health 15000||30712-37538|
|They were talking to her again.
Steel grated against rock, fingers across a blackboard but a myriad times worse. Lord Tyranthius was drawing the sword from the stone, pulling it from its prison and flourishing it above his head. He bellowed to her of the grand destiny which awaited West Kruna, shouted oaths of fealty, courage, and brotherhood that slammed against her skull.
Diomede waded through blood and trod through gore, his armor clanking with each step. His blade flashed left, right. Split foes toppled, to perish in the sea of carnage he'd already wrought. They screamed and cursed. Their angry laments were accusations, not at the hero whose sword had laid them low but at Rohesia -- blaming the apprentice for a fate which had befallen them long before her birth.
Melops burned. Voracious flames roared and seethed, a blazing wall that kept her at bay lest she interrupt the grand banquet of their conflagration. Callissa's mournful soliloquy rose above the crackling devastation. She called out to the universe and Rohesia, pleading for a sign. Should she burn to ashes along with the city she held so dear, or else take up her ashwood spear and join the hopeless battle?
A high-pitched voice trilled in merry song. Melodious lyrics asked the apprentice if there was anything lovelier than a fair maiden's sparkling eyes, which they likened to the sun, moon, and stars. Prince Obyron flew on gossamer wings as he sung, laughing at the memories of those he'd plucked. The apprentice shuddered. Tiny invisible hands seemed to stroke her eyelids.
Demonic fists pounded and thudded against a barrier, struck blows that could smash skulls or ribcages beneath their hellish might. But Arach's prison remained unbroken. The demon could only scream in murderous anguish, and cry out all the terrible things he would do to Rohesia once he was free.
These voices and countless others whirled around the apprentice. Joyous and mournful, furious and solemn, erudite and deranged. All demanding to be heard, battering away at her mind, her soul, her sanity.
Rohesia closed her eyes. The darkness helped, like before. The shouting, screaming, pleading grew quieter. Voice after voice collapsed back into the sea of whispers, submerged in its viscous depths. But this time the murmurs remained. They struggled to burst free once more.
She could go to the masters... Ask for their help. But that's what Frenthum did...
"Do you hear them?" he asked.
"Hear what?" Rohesia said.
Frenthum looked at her for a long moment. The corner of his lips twitched, as though trying to form a smile but not quite remembering how. Then he gestured with his hand, brushing away her question and his own like a pair of buzzing flies, and lowered his head. The senior apprentice returned his gaze to the pages of the tome resting on the table in front of him. But his lips were still twitching.
Rohesia watched him for perhaps a full minute, unable to look away from the edge of his mouth, at the flickering tug that alternately pulled and released his soft flesh like the rhythmic beating of a heart. Frenthum's medallion had slipped out from his robes. It dangled below his neck, swaying in time with the movement of his handsome features. The three eyeballs emblazoned on its golden face stared at her.
He didn't look up, and at first Rohesia thought he was reading from the book -- drawing her attention to a passage, as he often did when the two of them worked together.
"I... I don't..." she began.
"Why did you come here? To Kazarach?"
The non sequitur stilled her tongue and made her blink. Frenthum tilted his head up, locked her gaze with a dark, intense stare. His medallion spun. The engraved and the blank sides yielded to one another again and again, as though the golden eyes were blinking at her in turn.
"Because I love books," she said.
Rohesia bit her lip. The words sounded so childish and absurd. If she'd answered the masters like that, when they'd posed the very same question, they'd have laughed and sent her away -- dismissed her as a fool unfit to walk the corridors of their great arcane library.
But Frenthum nodded.
"They know that," he said.
The senior apprentice turned his head, and gazed into the gloomy depths of the labyrinthine shelves.
Rohesia took a deep breath and opened her eyes.
The winding rows of bookcases came into focus, shelves upon shelves of ancient tomes in mismatched assortments of size and color. Armies of literature, legions both eldritch and mundane. Perhaps the greatest collection of volumes in all the world. And every one of them was whispering, calling, beckoning.
She had to leave, needed to...
A million voices laughed. They knew as well as she did that she'd never make it. The entrance was so very far away, and the whispers were intensifying again -- the sea swelling up in the beginnings of the immense tidal wave that would smash her resistance aside and overwhelm her. And then? Rohesia didn't know. Insanity? Death? Worse? Something even the masters feared? Was that why they...
The apprentice shook her head, scattering the unwelcome thoughts, casting them out into the teeming, living ocean.
"What exactly do you think you're doing?"
Rohesia stifled a groan. The whispers expanded and creased into soft laughter.
Bernice Darcus Bloodwyn stood between two of the bookcases, holding a candelabra. Its flames flickered in slender points that seemed to mirror the half-elf's ears and her long, sharp nose. Rohesia cursed herself under her breath. She'd believed she had the library to herself at that late hour.
"Well?" Bernice demanded.
She stared down her nose at Rohesia, like an archer taking aim along her shaft.
"I... I was just..."
It was on the tip of her tongue to blurt out the truth and beg for help. Bernice was more skilled than she was, more proficient in both magic and scholarship. That was why the masters had elevated her to senior apprentice after Frenthum had... had...
The memory and Bernice's haughty stare decided her. Rohesia would never ask for help from Frenthum's former rival, the woman who'd given a cold smile when the masters told them he'd left Kazarach.
"I was thinking," Rohesia finished.
Bernice stared at her. Then the senior apprentice snorted, making her nose flare into the aspect of a barbed arrow. She strode past Rohesia, the flames of her candles streaming, and disappeared in the direction of the entrance. Rohesia watched until Bernice's globe of illumination was swallowed by the darkness.
The voices laughed. She was alone now. Theirs.
The apprentice's eyes narrowed. She pursed her lips. The sight of Bernice, of that arrogant stare and piercing beak, had hardened Rohesia's resolve. She wouldn't give the young noblewoman the satisfaction of seeing another rival destroyed, the opportunity to smile her cold, malicious smile.
"If I listen to one of them, the others sometimes go quiet."
Frenthum's words echoed in her head, a lone beacon of comfort amidst the susurrating ocean.
Rohesia moved. She strode forward, between the hungry bookcases, into their combined maw. The whispers clawed and caressed on all sides. Millennia of men and women, heroes and monsters, hissed their tales and growled their threats. The entirety of mortal knowledge loomed up to devour her.
Son of the Gods
That's what she'd always called it. The term had made Frenthum smile, Bernice sneer, and the masters regard her with curiosity. It was one of her favorite exercises -- to simply walk between the shelves, fingertips extended on either side, and allow her gaze to roam across the books' spines until something caught her eye. It was how Rohesia had come upon some of the most obscure tomes she'd read, titles which would otherwise have lain unnoticed in the great unwieldy catalogues that rested in mountainous heaps near the entrance.
And that's what she did now, all she could do with the whispers rustling in her ears and brain. Her head turned from side to side. Her gaze darted here and there. Hundreds and hundreds of books framed her universe, babbling with a myriad tongues. But in which might salvation lie?
The apprentice's eyes flashed. There!
Frantic fingers grasped the heavy leather binding and yanked the volume from the shelf. Some of the voices wailed. Others roared. But she'd made her choice.
It was a work she knew well, one she'd first read as a child. A prose translation of the Blind Bard's Legends of Terracles. Its familiarity was a soothing balm, a pail of cool water splashed across her burning brain.
She opened it and began to read.
A Goddess' Vengeance
For all their great might, their immortality and divine powers, the gods are in many ways little different from mortal men and women. When they meet in the celestial dining chambers, their tongues loosened by wine and nectar, they often squabble and argue. So it was on the occasion which would lead to the birth of Terracles.
The gods began to discuss who might be considered the greatest amongst them, a common topic of conversation for beings accustomed to receiving worship, and invoking fear and awe in the mortal races. The deities of war and elemental might made their claims, as always, and it appeared that the debate would devolve into one of the drunken brawls in which many divine banquets ended. But on this occasion the conversation took a different turn. For Brough the Trickster, wishing to both end the monotony and cause mischief, asked a different question: "Who is the weakest among us?"
That question gave them all pause. The feebler gods grew nervous, for none wished to be shamed by being dubbed the weakest heavenly being. A babble of celestial voices arose, as each god either named another the weakest or else desperately defended themselves against that label. But one name began to win out through the divine din, yelled first by Detsaal and then echoed by those around her: "Rassys!"
The hideous and hate-filled Detsaal had always despised Rassys, the goddess of love. Thus she seized the opportunity to make a mockery of her before the divine assembly. And moments after the name had passed from her cracked lips, almost all those present cried out in agreement. Who could be weaker, they argued, than the slender Rassys, who possessed neither the mighty thews of a warrior deity nor the destructive arcane powers of a sorcerer god?
With the raucous laughter of gods and goddesses ringing in her burning ears, Rassys left the dining hall, vowing that she would have her revenge for this slight and demonstrate her power to those who mocked her.
Rassys descended to the surface of Tor'gyyl. There she scoured the land till she found Detsaal's favorite mortal, a crone named Grotlag whose ugliness was second only to that of the vile goddess herself. And while Grotlag slept, Rassys worked magic upon her -- shaping flesh and bone, transforming the crone into the most beautiful of mortal women. The goddess of love went further still, weaving enchantments so that any man or even god who gazed upon Grotlag would be filled with uncontrollable lust until he lay with her.
The following day, Rassys visited the hall of the gods. She ignored the snickering which flitted around the chamber at her entrance, and approached the great pool of scrying in the middle of the hall, which the pantheon used to oversee important events on Tor'gyyl. The other gods drew close, curious to see what she intended to show them.
Rassys' gentle fingers brushed the surface of the pool, and upon the ripples which spread from her touch appeared the image of Grotlag in all her glory.
Detsaal shrieked when she understood whose face she gazed upon. Her most treasured mortal had been made the epitome of everything she loathed. To the amazement of all the goddesses present, Detsaal dropped to her knees and wept. But the gods paid her no heed, for they were unable to look away from the visage on the water.
Rassys smiled and dispelled the image. By the time the ripples had grown still, only goddesses remained in the chamber. The gods were on their way to the mortal realm, in search of Grotlag.
Thus Rassys proved that she was by no means the weakest of the heavenly immortals, for she had controlled all the gods as easily as one might pull the strings of a puppet. As for Grotlag, she had awoken that morning in great confusion, which only deepened when a series of divine suitors appeared at her door...
The Tree Falls Far from the Apple
Once each god had lain with Grotlag, and thus broken the enchantment's hold over him, he fled from Tor'gyyl in shame. Though it was not unheard of for a god to take a mortal as a lover, to be forced to share a woman with half the pantheon was humiliating indeed. Rassys' victims wished only to forget, to allow the episode to be eclipsed by the countless squabbles and celestial adventures which constitute divine existence. But they were destined to be reminded of it years later. For Grotlag had been left with child.
Some say those to whom the gods reveal themselves are blessed, that they should be honored to come to the notice of such powerful beings. In truth it is more often a curse. So it was with Grotlag, used as a pawn in Rassys' game and then forgotten.
Though the goddess of love's plan had been fulfilled, the enchantments she had placed on Grotlag remained. Every male who gazed upon her was filled with uncontrollable lust, and she was forced to leave her village to escape the men who pursued her and the jealous women who sought to tear her limb from limb. She found refuge in the town of Pella, where she had kin, and took to wearing a veil -- knowing that her visage was now as destructive as a gorgon's. It was in Pella that she gave birth to the child placed in her belly by the procession of amorous gods. She named him Terracles.
Grotlag hoped to live in obscurity, and keep the bizarre circumstances surrounding Terracles' conception a secret. But this proved difficult, for she discovered that her son possessed brawn beyond that of any normal child. Even as a young boy his muscles were almost as strong as those of a full-grown man, and he became mightier with each passing year. Grotlag could only do her best to conceal this from her neighbors, and admonish Terracles to hide his abilities from others. She forbade him from wrestling with the other boys in Pella, lest he snap their spines. And when she saw him lift a marble statue off its plinth by the roadside, because he wished to take it home with him, she forestalled this theft before anyone could witness it. Grotlag lived in constant fear that the truth would emerge, that they would be driven from Pella.
For eighteen years fortune smiled on them. Terracles loved his mother, and did his best to hide his inhuman might at her behest. He knew that she enjoyed living a peaceful life in Pella, and would be grieved if they had to leave. As a young child he managed to keep his temper in check when other boys provoked him, even at the risk of being called a coward. And as he grew older, his frame filling out with thick muscles, no one sought a quarrel with him. It seemed as if all would be well. Until the incident of the apple orchard.
Each day Terracles toiled in a field to earn his bread. He worked the land alongside the other peasants, and when the heavens grew dim he walked home along the road which led past Lord Eurymachus' orchard. Sometimes he would pluck an apple from the branches which overhung the path, and eat the sweet fruit as he made his way back to Pella. So it was that he earned the lord's ire. For one evening Eurymachus went to inspect his orchard, barbed whip in hand, and ensure that his slaves were working hard enough. Thus he arrived in time to see Terracles picking an apple, whilst his slaves stood by and did nothing -- having no wish to antagonize someone so powerfully built for the sake of a single piece of fruit.
Filled with rage, Eurymachus whipped the slaves, sending them screaming back to their dwelling. Then he strode up to Terracles, who had turned around when he heard the cries and looked on as Eurymachus took his whip to the slaves.
"Wretch! Hound! Thief!" Eurymachus yelled.
So great was his consternation, his angry incredulity at the thought that someone would dare steal from a lord of the realm, that he could do little more than spit single words from his red face. His angry tongue simply couldn't fashion a meaningful sentence, one capable of encapsulating the true measure of his shock and fury. Thus he relied on his whip instead, and lashed Terracles across the cheek.
Terracles had been nervous at the lord's approach, for he knew that Eurymachus was an important man in Pella and the surrounding lands. He knew too that he had been wrong to take an apple from one of his trees, and an apology had been ready to fly from his mouth. But when the whip struck him, the words died upon his tongue.
"You've stolen from me!" Eurymachus said, gaining mastery of his voice at last. "From me! Do you know who I am, boy? Do you think I'm some peasant to be robbed with impunity?"
Again the whip lashed out, and again, each vicious stroke ripping the flesh on Terracles' arms as he raised them to shield his face. Years of restraint, all of Grotlag's admonitions, were flayed away along with his skin. Rage flooded through his body, blazed within his eyes. Eurymachus had drawn his arm back for a fourth lash of the whip. But it fell to his side as he saw the murderous expression upon Terracles' face. The lord was no brave man, and he realized that he had driven his slaves into hiding. He stood alone before the powerful and now furious youth.
"To hell with you," growled Terracles, "and your accursed apples!"
With that he seized the trunk of the tree and yanked it from the ground as easily as another man might pick a flower. The tree's roots emerged into the light, scattering dirt in all directions. Eurymachus' jaw opened in a noiseless gasp, like the gawping mouth of a fish. He stared frozen at the amazing sight before him.
Terracles lifted the uprooted apple tree above his head and hurled it into the distance as if it were a javelin. The throw was without aim. In his anger he only wished to cast it as far as he could. But it so happened that the slaves' dwelling lay in its path. And when the tree struck one of the rickety pillars, propelled by all the force of the demi-god's arm, the column toppled. The roof followed, collapsing and crushing the slaves within.
The sight of the crumbling building brought back all of Grotlag's warnings. The fury left Terracles' mind, usurped by the knowledge of how displeased his mother would be. He turned away from the destruction he had wrought, and ran back to his home.
As for Eurymachus, when it was clear that Terracles did not intend to strike him down, he became angry once more. His slaves had been valuable, and now they were all dead. It would cost money to replace the ruined dwelling as well. So Eurymachus returned to his villa, yelling for his retainers to arm themselves and gather. Then they mounted their horses and rode for the town. Someone would pay for this outrage!
Bastard of Heaven
Eurymachus and his minions arrived at Pella. Once there, the lord leapt down from his horse, seized the nearest peasant by the throat, and questioned him. Thus he soon learned where Terracles lived, for no other youth in the town resembled him in stature.
The men approached Grotlag's home, and many of the townsfolk gathered around them to see what would happen. Eurymachus shouted for Terracles to come out and face justice, promising to burn the house to the ground if he refused. A moment later the door opened. Grotlag and her son emerged, and stood before the irate lord and their fellow townspeople. She looked at the crowd and sighed, knowing that there was no longer any hope of keeping their secret.
"Milord," Grotlag began, "I-"
"Your son killed my slaves!"
"I'm sorry," Terracles said, his eyes downcast. "I... I acted without thinking..."
"Sorry?" Eurymachus snorted. "What good is your sorrow? Can I purchase new slaves with it? I demand restitution! You must pay me for my loss."
"But my son cannot afford to pay the value of your slaves," Grotlag said.
"Then the law is clear. If he cannot make good on his debts, I am entitled to take him into slavery."
As soon as the words left his lips, Terracles' eyes flashed. Eurymachus winced. The lord understood that even if the powerful youth accepted the law's judgment, and became his slave, he would forever have to be wary around him. For if the boy's anger took hold of him once more, as it had in the orchard, he might tear Eurymachus' head from his shoulders.
"But I am a just and merciful man," Eurymachus said, as those thoughts flew across his mind. "Perhaps there is some relative who could pay his debt."
"My kinsfolk who once lived here, my aunt and uncle, are dead," Grotlag said. "We have no other kin."
"What about the boy's father? Does he still live?"
"His... father..." Grotlag looked around, glancing from face to face like a cornered animal seeking somewhere to flee. But there was no escape. "Yes. He still lives."
"Splendid! A father may be called upon to pay his son's debt. That's the law. Tell me where he lives. I'll send a man to demand payment."
"But... my lord..." Again Grotlag sighed. "If I must speak the truth, then so be it. Terracles' father isn't a man. He's one of the immortal gods."
Laughter rippled across the crowd. But Eurymachus did not laugh. He had seen Terracles throw the apple tree, with more might than a mortal man should ever possess. He raised his hand, and the crowd fell silent.
"Very well, woman. Then I will demand restitution from that god's temple. When Sarathon borrowed his divine father's flaming chariot, and crashed it into the city of Aeops, the lawmakers decreed that Karuss' temple could be made to pay. Which god sired the boy?"
The crowd leaned forward as one, in eager anticipation. Though they had mocked Grotlag's claim, some were persuaded by Eurymachus' earnestness. Surely if a great and respected man such as he believed the story, there must be some truth in it? Others remained unconvinced, but were interested to see which deity she would name -- and whether that god would strike her down as punishment for the falsehood.
"I... I don't know, milord."
A murmur swept across the crowd. Eurymachus frowned.
"How can that be? Did the god wear some disguise? Did he take on the form of a bull, or a shower of gold? I have heard of such things."
"No..." Grotlag began.
"She lies!" one of the townspeople called out. "She says she lay with a god, but doesn't know who he was? A likely story!"
Terracles growled, and strode towards the crowd. It parted before the furious youth. Men, women, and children scrambled out of his path, driven away by the anger in his face. The man who had spoken stood alone as Terracles approached him.
"My mother lies, does she?"
"Well... I mean to say..." the man murmured, fearful now that he was no longer hidden by the crowd.
Terracles grabbed him by his throat with one powerful hand, and hurled him as though casting aside an unwanted garment. The man screamed as he flew high in the air, and came down with a great splash in the town pond -- where he was promptly attacked by ducks.
"Does anyone else doubt my mother?" Terracles glared at the crowd.
The townspeople shook their heads, and mumbled their acceptance of her word. His display of strength had proven to most that divine blood ran in his veins. And the others, if not convinced of that, were at least convinced that they didn't want to be thrown into duck ponds or worse.
"So..." began Lord Eurymachus, who had also been cowed by the spectacle, "you were saying that you don't know which god it was?"
"No, milord. You see... there was more than one god... I don't know which one fathered my son."
The crowd looked on with great interest once more, and gasps passed from many throats. It was not unheard of for a mortal to be blessed (or otherwise) by a god's affections. But what mortal woman could claim to have lain with more than one?
"Which gods?" asked Eurymachus. "If you tell me their names, I shall petition both of their temples."
"All of them."
For a moment there was complete silence. The townspeople and Eurymachus were dumbfounded.
"All of them?" echoed the lord.
Grotlag nodded, eyes downcast.
"Oh... Then... Then I suppose we must go to the pantherium..."
A pantherium, or temple dedicated to all the gods, stood in Pella as in most towns. For temples were expensive, and building one for each god a costly affair better left to wealthy cities. Instead a town would erect temples to the gods dearest to them, and then a pantherium to avert the wrath of any deities who might otherwise be angered by their exclusion.
Thus Eurymachus entered Pella's pantherium with Terracles following behind, stood under its domed roof, and asked the white-robed priestess to communicate with the gods on their behalf.
"Have you brought a sacrifice?" she asked.
"No," sneered the lord. "I always carry this chicken under my arm."
With that, he broke the bird's neck and tossed it onto the altar.
"The gods do not respond well to sarcasm. But you have made your offering."
The priestess closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they shone with a golden glow. And when she spoke, it was in a booming voice that seemed to come not from her mouth but from the very walls themselves.
"What do you ask of us, mortal?"
"This boy was fathered by one of your number," said Eurymachus. "We... we wish to know which one."
The booming voice was silent.
In the hall of the gods, the immortals looked at one another in consternation. The humiliating episode of Grotlag had passed from their minds, and now they were reminded of it. What would their mortal worshippers say if they learned of the tale, and knew it to be true? And they surely would if the gods accepted Terracles' claim upon them. Yet deities could not lie within their own temples, and the pantherium was dedicated to all of them.
In Pella, the priestess opened her mouth and the voice boomed once more.
"How do you know this boy is truly of divine lineage? Many harlots attempt to conceal their... their harlotry... by telling jealous husbands that some god seduced them with celestial powers."
Terracles' eyes blazed as they had in the apple orchard.
"Then you deny his claim?" asked Eurymachus, who understood enough of holy lore to know the gods incapable telling a direct lie within the walls of a pantherium.
"We..." The booming voice paused for a long moment, as the gods conferred. "We require proof. If the boy is to claim one of us as his father, he must perform a labor worthy of divine blood."
"I'll do whatever you ask of me," snarled Terracles. "I will prove that my mother tells the truth, and one of you will acknowledge me as his son!"
"And pay for my slaves!" added Eurymachus.
"Then you must..." Again there was silence in the pantherium, as the hall of the gods was filled with babble. But at last the immortals agreed on a task, and the voice intoned their edict. "You must slay the Faedark Bear, a beast no mortal man could overcome!"
"Very well," said Terracles. Then he turned, and stormed from the temple.
Rohesia paused, leaving the young demi-god on the cusp of the countless exploits which would make him West Kruna's greatest hero and earn him his place in heaven.
The voices had subsided as she read. The ocean of literature, history, fate, and babble had grown calm and tranquil, become nothing more than a faint, almost inaudible buzz at the edges of her perception. But the whispers were back now. They'd been gaining in strength as the chapters flowed, and the tale lost its power to suppress them. The voices were calling to her again, declaring and demanding. The greatest champions and most terrible tyrants, powerful deities and abhorrent demons... Every being worthy of having their name inked on parchment by bardic, ecclesiastical, or scholarly quill added their voice to the immense tumult.
Rohesia slid the book back between its neighbors. She had to find another aegis.
|"Senior Apprentice Frenthum has chosen to leave us," Mistress Yulthana said. "I fear that his work has taken its toll on him."
Some of the other apprentices murmured. But Rohesia remained silent. She half listened, nodding along at the right times, as Yulthana spoke of the mental fortitude that was necessary when one dealt with such a potent collection of arcane books. She even joined the polite applause as Bernice was named the new senior apprentice. And after the mistress left the chamber, when the apprentices gathered around Bernice, Rohesia muttered a few insincere words of congratulation. Then she slipped away unnoticed.
She was glad for Frenthum. If being away from Kazarach was what it took to preserve his health, spare his soul and sanity, how could she wallow in selfish sorrow at their parting? Yet dismay still writhed in the pit of her stomach. And when her introspection dissipated, revealing the world once more, she found that her footsteps had guided her to his chamber.
Frenthum's room was bare. The pile of folded robes was gone. So were the neatly stacked parchments and the quills he'd arranged by order of size in perfect parallel, and the bottles of ink lined up in military precision. But his scent lingered. Rohesia sighed as she drew it into her nostrils.
She sat down on the bed. Memories flitted across her vision, past joys transmuted into present misery. The softness of his eyes, his hands, his lips. The feel of his body against hers.
The apprentice's hand slid along the sheets, tasting the familiar texture. It slipped under the pillow... And her fingertips touched something cold and hard.
Carnus' voice rose over all the others, perhaps granted loudness and prominence by the closeness of his histories -- which stretched in a dark gash on Rohesia's right, black sentinels standing proud and belligerent against the more colorful volumes that beset their flanks. The Warwalker jeered at her. He boasted of all the women he'd seized, and vowed to add the apprentice to his tally.
Perhaps it was to spite him, to silence his vile boastfulness, that Rohesia grasped a scarlet-bound tome embossed with silver lettering on its spine. Ptolemy's Chronicles of the Red Prince.
The book fell open in her hands. Not to the beginning of the work, where the prince's antecedents and childhood were recounted. But to the beginning of the martial career which would forever leave its mark on Tor'gyyl.
Her eyes darted across the ink, drinking in some passages and skipping others, allowing the story to fill her thoughts and bury Carnus beneath its glory.
For two decades the kingdom of West Kruna had paid tribute to King Vorticar of East Kruna. Each year a fortune of gold, jewels, iron, and grain was delivered to the eastern king in accordance with the oppressive treaty he had imposed on King Cuthbert. It was the price of peace, a crippling tax paid to forestall Vorticar's armies from marching on West Kruna and utterly subjugating its people.
By King Vorticar's command, a ceremony accompanied the payment of this tribute. Every year his emissaries traveled to West Kruna on the appointed day and appeared before King Cuthbert. The king handed them a golden scepter as a symbol of his submission, a humiliating recognition of Vorticar's might. Then the emissaries returned to East Kruna, taking the rest of their bloodless plunder with them.
Prince Edmund had long despised this indignity Vorticar imposed on his father and kingdom. He thought it an abomination that the once proud land of West Kruna, which had spawned such legendary heroes as Lord Tyranthius and Terracles, should tremble before a foreign king. The prince had urged his father and the leading nobles to resist Vorticar, to end the tribute even at cost of war. But they feared Vorticar's legions. Thus they had always refused to heed the prince's counsel. Now, in his eighteenth year, Edmund renewed his entreaties. For by the terms of the pact, Cuthbert's sons were bound to participate in the ceremony once they came of age, and hand over scepters of their own to Vorticar's emissaries. The very thought filled Prince Edmund with rage. Yet once more his arguments, recriminations, and exhortations were to no avail. His father was as unyielding as a stone statue. The tribute would be paid.
The appointed day came. Vorticar's emissaries were ushered into the royal hall of West Kruna. With arrogant sneers they approached Edmund, and one of them held out his hand to receive the prince's scepter. Prince Edmund looked to his father. The king nodded his head and bade him proceed. But pride burned in the young prince's breast, not for his own sake alone but for the kingdom and all its peoples. Thus instead of passing him the heavy gold rod, Edmund wielded it as a mace and smashed the emissary's skull.
King Cuthbert and the older nobles looked on aghast, their limbs frozen in shock at what they had witnessed. But the younger nobles, Edmund's friends, were quick to act. As the other emissaries drew their weapons, the prince's friends and retainers drew steel of their own. Greatly outnumbered, and with hearts unprepared for battle, King Vorticar's men were slaughtered.
When he recovered his wits, King Cuthbert cursed Edmund for his actions. He screamed that he would have him executed, and deliver his head to Vorticar along with the tribute. But the prince merely laughed. He declared that Vorticar would never be appeased by such a paltry offering, no matter how handsome the head. To avenge such an insult he would surely march on West Kruna to slay Cuthbert and take the kingdom for his own. The nobles murmured that he was right. Edmund had forced their hand, as he had intended. War was inevitable. There was no choice but to prepare their forces and give battle.
As the two armies formed their ranks, the difference between them was there for all to see. The West Krunan forces were silent, their hearts and minds calm as they prepared to defend their land and their kin. Prince Edmund rode before their formation, his steel panoply gleaming in the morning light, and they all drew strength from his martial figure. But from the East Krunan lines came shrieks and howls, the war-cries of dozens of savage tribes. In their midst King Vorticar sat atop a huge shield carried on the shoulders of his bearers, like a fat spider lurking in the center of his web.
Vorticar's father had been a great leader of men, and a famed battlemaster. Under his rule the men and women of East Kruna had been united and fashioned into a potent engine of war. He had instilled discipline into the barbarians, and thus made them unstoppable. Yet Vorticar himself was not such a man. In the decade since he ascended to the throne, he had done little but wallow in the wealth his father had won. Complacent in his position, he had permitted his armies to be idle, and taken no interest in maintaining the training regimen the late king had established. Nor had he studied the art and science of war, for he believed that brute force alone would allow him to conquer.
Eager to destroy his enemies and march upon their capital, Vorticar signaled to his heralds and gave the order for his cavalry to charge. He scoffed at the idea of sending out skirmishers to test his adversaries' mettle. He desired a swift and brutal victory, to utterly crush the kingdom's spirit and prevent any others from daring to oppose him. And he remembered watching the battle his father had waged twenty years earlier, in which the dreaded horsemen of East Kruna had routed the warriors of West Kruna. Thus the cavalry rode, and the earth trembled beneath their hooves.
But Edmund had anticipated this. For all King Cuthbert's weakness, his son had been given the upbringing of a true West Krunan prince. He knew the works of the Anonymous General by heart, had learned every stratagem contained within the writings of Xenoph and Frontinios. Centuries of martial knowledge and military cunning swam within his mind, and would bring about Vorticar's destruction.
The cavalry made it halfway across the battlefield. Then they fell. For Prince Edmund's men had sown the field with caltrops, each one painted green so that they would blend into the grass and not glint in the sunlight. The horses collapsed in great piles, sending their riders crashing to the ground. And those behind them fell in turn, either striking the caltrops themselves or else tumbling over their fallen comrades.
Edmund gave a signal, and the bowmen of West Kruna let fly their shafts. Mounts and riders died by the dozen as they thrashed on the ground and struggled to reach their feet.
The fighters of West Kruna made their final push, Edmund standing in the middle of their battle-line. The young prince seemed tireless, continuing to yell exhortations and swing his sword long after those around him were forced to pull back and allow their places to be taken by others. It is said that in battle a man can only fight for but a third or fourth part of an hour, before fatigue will claim him and compel him to rest. But Prince Edmund had fought for the entire length of the battle, as if he were an iron golem rather than a man of mere bone and muscle. His armor had long since ceased to gleam, covered as it was with the blood of slain friend and foe. Three swords had broken in his hands, each time replaced by one given from an ally's hand or snatched from an enemy's dying grasp. And still he fought on.
Vorticar's warriors were utterly spent. The most violent storms die the quickest, and their savage way of battle had drained their stamina. Their spirits were heavy too, for the enemies they had sought to annihilate were proving to be their equals at arms, and by far their superiors in discipline and tactics. So it was that those around the King of East Kruna, his own companions, called for him to intervene. He had remained atop his shield for the entire battle, looking out over the field and yelling futile commands, and now his troops were being driven back in disarray.
For all his weaknesses, for all his failures as a ruler and a general, Vorticar was no coward. He had hoped to witness the victory of his men from his bearers' shoulders, as if the West Krunans were not even worthy to taste his steel. But now he saw that he had to act, lest his army be defeated. He took up his axe and commanded his bearers to take him close to the thick of the fighting, where Edmund was leading his men. The king sought to cut the prince down by his own hand, to inspire East Kruna's warriors and break their enemies' will in one blow.
Vorticar leapt down from his shield and pushed his way towards Prince Edmund. Edmund in turn made for Vorticar, demanding that the king be left to him alone. For all his discipline, for all his mastery of tactics and strategy, glory was still the sweetest of wines to the warrior prince. He wished to slay his adversary in single-combat, like the great heroes of old. Thus at the behest of both commanders, their troops moved aside, creating an island of bare ground in a sea of armed men.
King Vorticar struck first. His muscles remained strong despite the layer of soft flesh which had grown over them, and they were rested. The blow was good, and well-aimed. Edmund, now beginning to feel the weight of his exertions upon him, had no chance to move aside. He could only make a hasty parry, and watch his sword break as it met the heavy steel.
An anxious cry went up from the prince's fighters when they saw him standing weaponless before the king, answered by a triumphant roar from East Krunan throats. A vicious grin split Vorticar's face. He swung his axe again.
But Edmund was a West Krunan, raised on tales of Terracles. Like that mighty legend of the kingdom's past, who had strangled bears and torn the heads from gorgons, the prince was no stranger to the grappler's arts. He lunged at Vorticar, robbing him of the space his axe required to deal death, and hooked the king's leg with his own. Both men crashed to the ground, with Edmund's armored body landing atop Vorticar's.
The king struggled beneath him, but blows rained down from Edmund's plated fists like boulders flung from catapults. Finally, when Vorticar's strength had been sapped, and his limbs grew weak, Edmund got to his feet and took up his enemy's axe. Its heavy blade rose and fell, hacking through Vorticar's upraised arm and his neck with a single stroke.
As soon as Vorticar's head left his body, the East Krunan army began to rout. They fled back towards the ships which had brought them on their ill-fated campaign, many of them dying in droves to the spears and swords of pursuing West Krunans. Those who reached the boats and returned to their homeland took with them the tale of an invincible army, and of the blood-covered prince who had slain their king.
Prince Edmund dispatched messengers to each village, town, and city, carrying word of the victory. Another messenger was sent to King Cuthbert, bearing both the news and Vorticar's head.
As they rested in camp that night, feasting and reveling in celebration of their great triumph, the troops hailed Edmund as the Red Prince. For when he left the battlefield his armor had been bloody from helm to sabaton. And the following morning, Edmund awoke from his slumber to find that the soldiers had painted his armor in that same hue. Thus the title was made to live on, and he would be known as the Red Prince for the remainder of his days.
The tale had quietened Carnus' voice. His cries had diminished, rendered insignificant next to the name and deeds of the man he had sought to eclipse but whom history would always remember more fondly. The little victory gave Rohesia a sliver of comfort.
But the other whispers tickled her ears, heart, stomach, and spine. They hadn't been quelled. And Ptolemy's chronicles no longer held them at bay.
The apprentice moved to replace the book on the shelf. Instead she froze, and her hand faltered.
|The books around her were different. Carnus' black host was gone, as were the multitudinous and multifarious volumes which had surrounded them. Fresh armies enveloped Rohesia, and now she perceived a change in the susurration. The most prominent voices were different. Unfamiliar. It was as though the library had rearranged itself, the heavy bookcases shifting and shuffling into new arrangements. She thrust that notion aside, kicked it into the whispering ocean for the voices to eat away at like a school of piranha. She'd been walking as she read. Frenthum had spoken of this too -- of losing himself in the books and moving without conscious thought, like a somnambulist.
Her heart sank. She'd traveled deeper into the stacks, further away from the entrance. Some of the voices were laughing, mocking her. But they seemed to come from very far away. Those closer, the loudest of the whispers, were jumbled... nonsensical. An inscrutable babble rose around her like the chatter of a thousand madmen. There was something else as well... Darker and more malevolent than even Arach or Crenus had been. A black pyre burning in the middle of it all, amidst a smoky haze that rendered it impossible to identify.
Rohesia turned, trying to regain her bearings. The shelves around her were gloomy, poorly lit. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust.
"Prophecies!" she muttered.
Yes... This was the section of Kazarach's literary maze where the words of seers and prophets were kept. The works around her were unfamiliar. She should return to the brighter areas, to the books she knew and-
The black pyre flared. An ebon wave surged forth, pregnant with such malice that it made Rohesia's heart hammer against her ribs and her stomach bubble like the contents of a boiling cauldron. It washed over the ocean, agitating its waters, raising a cacophony. The voices screamed and shouted with redoubled volume and new ferocity.
She needed to read. Now.
The apprentice turned Chronicles of the Red Prince horizontal and wedged it above the books on the nearest shelf. Even amidst the assailing voices, the black pyre's chilling flames, the incomprehensible blur between magic and madness, doing that gave her a pang. Misfiling a book... Heresy. Blasphemy. But she had no choice.
Rohesia drew a small blue volume out from between its larger neighbors. A grinding, grating noise screeched its way through her teeth and bones, which a distant part of her consciousness recognized as the sound of Tyranthius drawing the sword from the stone.
"Now I'm the champion of West Kruna," she said. The laugh that followed frightened her. It came from her own lips.
She opened the book to its title page, which named it as The Prophecies of Nenma. Rohesia's index finger worked its way along the book's thickness. Maybe instinct drew her, or else the whispers guided her. She neither knew nor had time to contemplate. The apprentice simply turned to the page her digit had found. Then she read.
The Great Sowing
Seed is spread through endless night,
By hand and will unknown,
Scattered midst the burning light,
For fate's strange purpose sown.
A blazing king's fifth-most heir,
Her womb receives the gift,
One of many mothers fair,
Who in deep darkness drift.
This destiny she's assigned,
Her sons shall tread the gloom,
Leaving homelands far behind,
Encircled by her doom.
The syllable, heavy and ponderous, reverberated around Rohesia. Only its aftertaste told her she'd been reading aloud. It clung to the inside of her mouth, thick and cloying like the sauces that smothered roast meat on feast days. Then the black pyre blazed, and it turned to ash. Smoky, choking flakes crumbled on her tongue.
A battering ram of sensation thundered against her body, striking her from brow to knee, stronger and more devastating than before. Even as she reeled and caught at a bookcase to steady herself, Rohesia understood that it was nearer now. She'd wandered as she read the indecipherable quatrains. Nearer... Almost within reach...
A million voices grabbed at her with their tendrils, icy and intangible. Nenma's words had only pushed them back for a fleeting moment. Now they rallied, ignited and exhorted by black fire.
Run away. Run away. Run away.
The thought echoed in the apprentice's brain. Away from the ebon flames, away from the dark dreadful beacon.
Another flare rocked her. It battered her against the shelf, pinned her there like a sailor clinging onto wood and rope as the waves threatened to dash her into the rolling deep, to submerge her in a vast and watery crypt. A barrage of speaking, singing, chanting voices hammered in her ears from the volumes just inches from her head -- spewing prophecies that meant no more to her than they had to generations long dead and forgotten.
The apprentice tore herself away from the shelves, pulled free from an invisible embrace that promised both sanctuary and destruction, salvation and damnation. Nenma's book fell from her grasp. It cursed her with a dozen tongues as it struck the floor and flopped onto its back.
Rohesia staggered forward, hands clamped against her ears, head bent down. A blizzard whirled and whipped around her, howling and hooting. The black fire was surging -- boiling the ocean.
She half stepped, half fell through a gap between the bookcases, into a shadowy inferno. The pyre was all around her, roasting and freezing her flesh. The apprentice stared from eyes like chips of ice, struggling to suppress screams and madness, forcing herself to focus beyond the ebon blaze until reality took shape.
She was in a small space, enclosed by shelves laden with hordes of shrieking books. One of many such nooks and alcoves in the library. The area was almost filled by a little square table and a single chair.
And there it was.
A small tome lay on the table, bound in the deep, rich color of the darkest wine. Rohesia knew that book. She'd seen it dozens of times before, clutched in Bernice Darcus Bloodwyn's hands or open before her as she worked. The senior apprentice's personal grimoire.
The source of the black pyre.
Upon a Blue Horse
|For a moment all was silent and still. The voices, the pyre, the insanity and malevolence were quelled by the sheer force and magnitude of epiphany.
Realization darkened into anger in Rohesia's brain. Her eyes glinted. That bitch... That arrogant, malicious bitch! The apprentice's hand darted out. She'd tear the grimoire's pages to pieces!
Rohesia screamed and clasped her wounded hand against her ribcage. Incinerating heat throbbed through the injured fingers in twisting serpentine trails, intertwined with threads of abyssal coldness. The book laughed, and it was Bernice's laugh -- cruel and mocking. Deranged voices chattered in its echoes.
The apprentice shrieked again, but this time it was the murderous cry of a harpy. Her pain stricken fingers jabbed towards the book. Her voice slipped from wordless fury into an incantation.
Four luminous purple sling-bullets twisted through the air, leaving spiraling trails of pink smoke in their wake. They swirled in a haphazard flight. Tumbled and spun. Then disappeared -- evaporating into little magenta puffs when they met the grimoire's wards.
The black flames lashed out in a sudden, immense avalanche. Rohesia reeled as though punched. Her body spun like her impotent missiles, dancing a ridiculous tumbling pirouette while her inflamed senses swam. Something hard bludgeoned her forehead. White and yellow lights exploded amidst the fiery ebon tide, the cacophony of maddening tongues.
She leaned against the bookcase, clinging on for safety and sanity once more. Warm, sticky liquid tricked down her brow. It worked its way along the curve of her eye socket, matting her lashes.
Bernice cackled. Her malevolent merriment sounded as though it came from right beside Rohesia's split skull and a million miles away. The books were its chorus, its clapping, guffawing, shrieking audience. All of them applauded and cheered the sundering of Rohesia's mind. Reveled in her obliteration.
The apprentice's hand fell to her waist, weak and nerveless. And it felt something hard and solid within the pouch on her belt.
"You're doomed, little girl!" the grimoire jeered.
A distant part of Rohesia felt her own fingers working the opening of the pouch, pushing the fabric apart.
"Your mind will snap! The masters will find a gibbering wreck!"
Her burning, freezing digits closed around the metal.
"Then they'll do what they did with-"
"Shut up!" Rohesia screamed. The apprentice drew the medallion out of the pouch, her grip so tight that its edges bit into her palm and fingers -- bringing a hard, real, comforting pain. "Shut up!"
She took one glance at the three eyes on its face. Then she fastened it around her neck with one swift, desperate, determined burst of movement.
The black fire fell away, rebuffed. Bernice's laughter became weak and hollow. The million voices grew dim and muffled. It would only last a moment. The apprentice knew that. But a moment was enough...
Rohesia snatched at the books on the shelf. She just needed one... Anything. A tome to sustain her while she retrieved her weapon. For in that instant of clarity she knew what to do, how to silence Bernice's laughter and put an end to her schemes. But she had to make it across the library.
The apprentice looked at the book in her hands. Its cover was rough and unremarkable, wounded by time. She opened it. There was no name. No title. That didn't matter... She turned a slab of pages over, throwing herself into the middle of the work and its jagged, crawling, haphazard script.
Then she read as she walked, glancing from page to shelves as she navigated the labyrinthine routes.
The woman guided me further into the mists, beyond the wailing laments of the flitting shades. Her footsteps made no sound. Where before she had waded through the dark waters at my side, now she glided as a phantom.
"Behold," she said. And the mist began to part. "Behind us are those who have been. Before us are those who will come, held in destiny's womb. Gaze upon their legions and know what the gods have yet to glean."
The mist rolled back. We stood on a vast plain, bathed in the light of an unseen sun.
"Behold," she said again.
She waved her hand, and the first apparitions came. They were brighter and more vibrant than the ghostly creatures who'd beset us on our journey to this place, so bright and true that I could scarce look upon them. But nor could I look away.
Monstrous creatures roared and raged from terrible maws. Their teeth and claws were red with the blood of all those they'd slain.
"Is this my people's fate?" I asked. "Is this our doom we see?"
"For some," she said. "But not your line."
As she spoke, a <man/woman> rode from the mist beside us. Atop a blue steed <he/she> charged, with flashing eye and blade.
"Who is <he/she>?" I asked.
"Death," my guide said. "And life. The shaping and ending of many things."
The monsters perished, cut down by the sharpness of <his/her> sword and <his/her> purpose. When the warrior and <his/her> steed were alone on a bloody field, both gazed upon me. And they blazed in azure fire till the vault of heaven caught aflame and shared their burning hue.
"What does this mean?" I asked the guide.
"All this shall flow from <him/her>," she said.
For images took shape in the burning dome above. The heavens had become a tapestry, upon which destiny was writ. My guide pointed to first one place then another, leading my eyes and mind as she spoke of what would be.
"The blue dragons will be fierce and proud. See how they preen and glare! They will never bow to the golden wyrm, so they will be driven afar. But though new lands bear their seed and grant them succor, only war can sate their thirst for glory."
Where I gazed, framed by azure flame, warriors clashed and bled and died in unknown and unnumbered droves. Yet there were some whose faces shone from the bloody tempest. A woman with an old bow, and a man with a far more ancient thing behind his eyes. Orange crystal and cleaving dream. The man in gold armor who saw but did not see.
"Blood will be spilled, and blood will be joined into something greater than it once was. Many things shall come of this."
She pointed to other portions of the fiery heavens, where more great deeds were being done, and a man with a face of bronze gazed at cyan eyes.
"He ponders a quarrel that existed long before his birth, and shall endure when he is forgotten dust."
Near this were other sights that captured my gaze. Great cities were sacked and burned. Swords and spears gleamed red as they hacked fate into flesh and flesh into fate, while quills set it all in ink. Yet my guide pointed not to these happenings but to a ship tossed on ocean waves.
"The dreaming pirate sails bloody seas. Beauty and slaughter paint her face, revenge and greed her eyes."
And then to a chamber where a <man/woman> sat and thought, with sharp but pondering eyes.
"<He/She> seeks mysteries to puzzle <him/her> and wonders to amaze <his/her> mind. <He/She> will find both. The shadows reveal much that was lost, for those like <he/she> who have the orange eyes to perceive it."
I wished to ask her of this one, but she was already gazing elsewhere.
"Two children of the same seed, peoples who do battle today and tomorrow. And from this crucible of war many shall emerge. The foe of time will make it so."
In the part of the vault that held her eyes and gesture, I saw a man who wept burning tears. He watched fire fall from the sky in flaming lances that would destroy his foe and break his spirit. The inferno consumed him, and so hid him from me. But there were others: A maiden who wore the beauty of Rassys but fought with the might of Terracles. The man with darkness' mantle about his face, shoulders, and heart. Maddened and maddening eyes that sought godhood. And always, behind and above all the others, that foe of time whom my guide had spoken of.
"Time shall have her revenge, and cast him into her crucible. But what that place might hold or bear witness to is beyond even my sight."
She stared at the murkiest part of the heavens, where the azure fire surrounded mere shades and shadows that defied my eyes as they did hers. But at last she guided me elsewhere, to visions of a place where ships of steel swam through black oceans.
"When the people of the dragon face their darkest hour, the mingled blood will make itself heard. See that one? <He/She> dances with a woman in white, but the man in black pursues. <His/Her> deeds are those of hero and monster. How fitting..."
Rohesia's fingers hovered at the edge of the page, poised to turn it and continue the strange tale. Instead she closed the cover and set the book aside atop its grumbling fellows. For she had reached her destination.