Chapter 13 Scene 4

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 60 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Tor stalked across the White Sea, moving just fast enough to stay beyond the reach of the shambling mages who followed him like slavering reptiles. Tor could barely recognize them as two of the three arrogant Doormakers he had met outside Edgeways. Their once coppery skin was reddened, cracked and bleeding. Their robes hung from them in shredded rags, caked with salt and other grimes far worse. The leader, Simon, scrambled across the blazing salt flat on his belly using the gait of a beast with short powerful legs and a long tail. His eyes were glazed over with a swirling black film, and he ignored what should have been debilitating dehydration and blood loss. He rooted through the salt crystals ahead with a nose worn bloody as he followed Tor’s trail of sand. Behind him, he dragged the younger mage by brute force. Gunther must have been in even worse shape. If it wasn’t for his shallow breathing, Tor would think he was already dead. Bernard, the old mage, had evidently failed to make it this far.

Tor looked back now to see that they had fallen behind again. He could not have failed to notice the ink stained eyes, the bestial rage and instincts, and the insensitivity to pain and suffering. He recognized the signs. The mages had been given the blood of a sand dragon. Disgust warred with fury in him. They clearly had been given the drug without being warned of its consequences. They would not have taken the dose that ruled them now otherwise. But the worst of it was that sand dragon blood was precious and rare. It was the sole province of shaman warriors, trained from birth in the proper cultivation, collection, and use of the powerful stimulant. Its possession or trade was forbidden to all others, even the lesser prophets.

“Forbidden is just another way to say valuable, little prophet. Don’t tell me you have never performed a forbidden act? I remember your first visit to the Shadow Chambers.”

“I am a Migrating Prophet! The Shadow Chambers are not forbidden to me!”

“You weren’t a Migrating Prophet then… just an apprentice. But already you dared more. And even now you consider acts that are forbidden to your station… I know your mind little prophet… never forget that.”

Tor felt dark laughter echoing softly as the shadow receded below his awareness again. Desperate to regain some sense of control, he mentally seized the once slippery controls of the shadow’s power and wrapped it around his sight once more. His vision shattered into a million shimmering fragments as he searched for the destiny he deserved, an ascendant destiny for himself and the Tribe of Prophets.

Sometimes the way forward was clear. Other times, his sight was disjointed, fragmented, and impossible to follow. He saw the Prophecy of the Crystal Shadows, the main article around which his order had been built, in all its bifurcations. He saw the many roles that he was to play in its orchestration and its culmination. He saw the two mages he now led and the part they had to play. He saw other shadowy and unrecognizable figures, manipulating events much as he himself did. And he saw the child at the center of the great web, a mystery and an unknown, bringing an empire to its knees, turning the tides of war, restoring a balance long forgotten. All of these things could come to pass. Some of them would. Many of them would not. A million possibilities and more he saw, more than all the stars in the sky or all the grains of sand in the desert herself. And like a constellation that connects star to star in the night sky, he saw the path that he must walk.

The visions faded as the shadow siphoned away Tor’s newfound strength. “Careful little prophet. I warned you about the cost of true sight. Remember your path.”

Tor shook his head briefly to clear the cobwebs, clinging to the brief moment of clarity like a fragile dream. With a start, he realized that Simon had dragged Gunther to within striking distance while Tor had been sight-struck. And Simon would undoubtedly strike out at Tor, given the chance, if only to bring Tor’s satchel of sand within reach of his questing nose.

But, unknowingly guided by the shadow’s whispers, Tor had nearly reached their destination. He strode quickly around a small node of black flecked stone the protruded above the salt flat, leaving a loose handful of sand on the near side. When Simon reached the sand offering with Gunther in tow, he stopped short. He quickly buried his nose in the sand pile, shoveling his head from side to side as he tried to cover himself with the stuff.

Tor now opened his senses to his shadow rider, who rose up inside his awareness like an unfolding bloom of darkness. Tor felt an inky energy flow down his legs and across the salt flat, seeing it as a dark cloud of shadow drooling its way to the small node of stone. When the tendril of smoky shadow reached the stone outcrop, Tor felt a cool jolt of power thrum through his body, leaving his skin tingling and his hair standing on end. The connection remained and now Tor could feel the entire shape of the stone structure beneath the salts at his feet. The shadow manipulated the flow of energy in a lightening quick sequence Tor could not quite follow. With a barely audible rumble, the sands began to shake.

Simon evidently felt it, because the bestial mage lifted his head and glared around in alarm. He scrambled back toward the senseless Gunther and began circled him protectively. The small stone outcrop was rising out of the salt bed, bringing with it a tight ring of other dark crystalline spires. Within moments the two mages were completely surrounded by an impenetrable cage. It continued to rise into the sky, and when the irregular tips of the spires reached the height of Tor’s head, the floor of the crystal cage heaved its way into view. The white salts cascaded across the tilted crystal surface, spilling out through the gaps between the crystal spires as the trapped mages were lifted into the air. Tor watched as Simon tested the strength of his incarceration half heartedly. But evidently the lack of irritating salt crystals made the perch bearable. He soon settled down, curling up next to Gunther where he could still glare out through the bars at Tor periodically.

Tor felt the shadow make another manipulation of the energy connecting him to the crystalline structures beneath the salts. With another low rumble, a structure rose up above the salts behind him. Tor turned to examine it. It was a shelter of sorts, a small alcove of dark stone that shaded an eerily familiar crystal ribbed bed.

“A Shadow Chamber? Here?”

“No. This is, or was, a central caldera examination station. Your Shadow Chambers are merely satellite growths of the caldera. I told you everything was connected.”

“Examination station? For examining what?”

“Whatever they trapped in the cage obviously.”

“Wait, what do you mean they?”

“The makers of the caldera, your Shadow Chambers, even the Gathering where your Prophets hide.”

Tor surveyed the High Desert as though he had never laid eyes on it before, his vision wrapped in darkness. His sight now penetrated the depths of the salt flat, exposing shadowy structures and mysterious patterns grown from living crystal in the subterranean depths. The Prophets boasted that they had plumbed the secrets of the ancients when they had uncovered the Shadow Chambers and Ten Fallen Stones.

Now he saw that they had just scratched the surface. The breadth of the White Sea shrouded a deeper mystery, an entire buried crystal city. Tor saw graceful spires and huge monoliths glinting with an inner energy that reached out to him. He saw more of the strange cages lying in wait just below the surface of the salt flat. Seeing this massive and incomprehensible city below him for the first time was dizzying. It left him breathless. He suddenly felt precariously suspended above an immense and alien landscape. Even though the salt beneath his feet still felt solid, he was nearly paralyzed by fear. At any moment he would crash through its white, rolling surface. Helpless, he would fall hundreds of spans to his death, to be dashed against the unforgiving planes of dark crystal or impaled on one of the sharp edged spires.

He closed his eyes, squeezing them tightly shut against the vertigo that threatened to bring him to his knees. Slowly the sensation faded. Tentatively, he squinted, opening his eyes the merest fraction of a sliver. The ghostly city still shimmered there far beneath his feet, buried by time and the deadly salts of the White Sea. But he found that he could choose to see the crystalline depths as just another facet of his disturbing new sight, an overlay on his world view. With effort, he pushed his vertigo into the background.

“What happened to them?”

“As a race, they were dead and forgotten long before your grandfathers’ grandfathers walked the sands.”

“But how did they die?”

“Don’t delve too deeply into the past, prophet, lest you lose sight of the future.”

Tor set his questions aside for now. His vision still swam with facets, what the shadow had called probabilities. They flickered in and out of focus on the edge of sight, constantly eluding his comprehension. Trying to keep track of them all was exhausting him. He had force marched throughout the night to reach the High Desert. He had trekked most of the morning across a salt flat under the merciless blaze of the sun. Without the shadow’s mysterious influence, he would have been dead. But even with the demon’s aid, his head ached, his mouth felt dry and cracked, and his legs were leaden. He stepped up into shelter and settled his weight onto the crystalline couch.

He expected the bed to be hard, and was not disappointed. However, its shape conformed to his body surprisingly well. And, exhausted as he was, he was long past complaining about discomfort given the chance to lie down. He would wait here until it was dark. That would make finding the Island of Black Glass easier. Closing his eyes did nothing to slow the fractured visions that flooded him. But sleep reached up and dragged him down beneath the kaleidoscopic scenes anyway, leading him into a comforting darkness all his own.

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