Chapter 13 Scene 5

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 61 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Whispering voices insinuated probing fingers into his dreamless sleep. Reluctantly, Tor swam upward through the darkness at their urging. He opened his eyes as the sun dropped below the horizon. The crystalline voices reached a fever pitch in his head, and he knew that the Island of Black Glass had risen once again. He rubbed his eyes with gritty fingers as he stood up unsteadily.

In the gathering twilight, the scene before him looked even more surreal. The shards of crystal that made up the bars of the Doormakers’ prison shimmered with a dark and otherworldly glow. The white sands scintillated like a sinister mirror of the stars coming into view overhead. The dark bulk of the Island loomed close at hand. Thanks to his newly augmented vision, Tor now saw the foundation of the island rooted deep beneath him. It was strangely beautiful, a fitting companion to the seductive voices that were eternally calling him home.

“Well, Doormakers. How did you fare in captivity? Hmm? Still not talking to me? No matter. I’ve got what you want.” Tor drew a handful of sand from his diminishing supply and cast it onto the ground near the cage. The older mage stirred lethargically. His eyes were almost invisible in the twilight. Tor stepped back, toward the Island and waited. When nothing happened, he stamped his foot impatiently.

“Release them! I grow tired of this place.”

“Of course.” Tor heard the by now familiar derisive laughter and thought the shadow might refuse him. But then he saw the dark oily tendril of shadow crawl out from his foot to make contact with the bars of the crystal cage. He felt the shadow’s rapid manipulation of energy. With a rumble, the shelter behind him sank into the salt flat. Moments later, the crystalline bars of the cage followed suit, dropping the two Doormakers onto the ground. When the jagged white powder touched the exposed skins of Simon’s hands, he began to twitch and shake irritably.

Tor turned and walked resolutely toward the Island and its whispering voices, releasing a steady stream of sand behind him as he went. The mages would follow the trail without his prompting. The possibilities he saw unfolding before him made that undeniably clear.

They reached the Island less than an hour later. Stephen and his storm chasers had not arrived yet, and would not arrive until close to midnight. Tor left a pile of sand in the clearing near the top of the trail. After dragging Gunther into the clearing with him, Simon gleefully busied himself trying to bury his face in pitiful pile of sand. It was depressing to see the man reduced to such bestial behavior in a way.

Tor thought about all the destruction the Council had wrought in the name of freedom as he left the mages to their own devices. Perhaps such treatment was exactly what the Doormakers deserved.

“They grasp at powers beyond their control, forcing the physical realm to submit to their will. It is only fitting that the high be brought low in their turn.”

“Perhaps. But these mages can not be allowed to stay low. I have a use for them.”

“The tools you sharpen today may cut you all the deeper tomorrow, prophet.”

“If I must be cut so that my enemies might be severed, so be it. Now, show me something useful.” Tor had returned to the landing shelf. There were scattered bits of wreckage near the edge of the shelf, the remains of a wagon crushed when the Island subsided. Bits of its cargo were strewn across the dark stone basin. Tor focused on each bit of wreckage in turn, bringing facets of future probability flickering to life in his ghostly other sight. Sifting through them, Tor identified several items in the debris field for salvage. He dragged many of them together into a pile near the beginning of the trail up to the clearing.

The last item he had selected was a sturdy crate, intricately marked. He recognized some of the labels on the crate as seals of the training guilds from the Fertile Plains. Other marks were more mysterious, and seemed like the cryptic runes that the Doormakers often used. It had sustained very little damage in the destruction of the wagon.

What gave him pause wasn’t the crate’s physical appearance. He could not bring himself to touch it because of what his other sight showed him. A shadow hung over the crate. It was so dense with possibilities that it was impenetrable to his other sight. It was a nexus. Thousands of futures were wrapped up in that box, perhaps millions. Tor focused on seeing the connections between probabilities, as the shadow had instructed him. It was mindboggling. The threads of intention everywhere around him bent in toward this box. He had no idea what was inside the crate, but one thing was clear. Everything was connected to it. He could not leave it behind.

Reluctantly, Tor grasped the crate in both hands. The instant he touched it a current flowed through him. It felt similar to the jolt he had felt when the shadow manipulated the caldera structures, but hotter and more intense. Alarmed, he found that he could not let go of the crate. Horrible images flashed through his mind in succession. He saw a withered body draped across a dark mass of crystal, Stephen Silver-eye and his storm chasers standing like an honor guard behind a figure enshrouded in shadows like a dancing cloak of black fire, a young boy striding across the White Sea with his face hidden in darkness, and an exhausted man standing before a giant ring of white light. There were other images, too horrible to describe, too countless to remember.

Tor staggered as the cascade of images subsided. He still held the surprisingly heavy crate. Shaking his head firmly, he carried the box over and added it to his pile of salvage. He sat down heavily, and collected his thought as he waited. He could not understand most of what he had seen, and what he could understand terrified him. He looked up precisely as Stephen and his followers stepped into view. Stephen and Jorgen each carried a nearly empty bladder, dousing the salt powder before them liberally as they went. Meena and Drez followed the two older men, with ever watchful Surya bringing up the rear. Silently, they assembled in an arc in front of the seated prophet.

Tor examined them closely, his chosen warriors and defenders. They were weary and footsore, but determination shone in their eyes. He had pushed them nearly to the limit in their harrowing flight across the southern desert.

“We have come far and you have done well, my Shard Wardens. You have proven to me that you alone among the Scattered remember what it is to be a true child of the sands.”

The images swirling around Drez in Tor’s faceted vision were troubling. Tor saw him separated from the rest of his tribe, surrounded by armed youths. He saw a web of intention enmeshing Drez in these scenes, tying him to the Doormakers and to other shadowy figures. Further complicated by the nexus in the mages’ strange crate, the probabilities were impossible to untangle.

“I’m sure you’re tired. Would you like to rest now Drez?”

The dark skinned boy looked startled at being singled out. He swallowed before answering. “No Brother Tor.”

“Good. We still have far to go. I have seen it. And weakness is a luxury we can not afford.”

“Of course. What would you have us do, my Prophet?” Stephen’s voice grated, his throat desiccated by the harsh conditions of their crossing.

Tor rose fluidly to his feet, repressing the fatigue he felt with a conscious effort. “I have captured what remains of the mages we confronted near Edgeways. We will bring them to Ten Fallen Stones tonight under guard. I need each of you at your best for what is to come. Bring the equipment stacked there, and follow me.”

Tor indicated the small pile of salvage in the center of the shelf. He walked to the trail into the center of the island and waited. Stephen, Jorgen, and Drez each carried part of the equipment in coarse mesh nets slung over their shoulders. Tor had watched carefully as Stephen handed the final crate with its enigmatic symbols to Drez. It still pulled at Tor’s fractured vision like a swirling black cloud, but none of the storm chasers reacted to it in any way.

Reluctantly turning away from the strange container, Tor led his followers up the winding path into the center of the island. He found the mages as he had left them.

“Sands of the mother!” Tor had grown used to the mages’ appearance, but Stephen and his tribespeople had not.

“Meena!” Stephen fixed her with an icy glare.

“Forgive me father. It’s just that… what happened to them?” The young tribeswoman, normally so aloof, fought visibly against disgust.

“The desert has punished their arrogance, daughter. The high have been brought low.”

“Yes Silver-eye. For now, they are little more than animals. But with our help and the safe haven of Ten Fallen Stones, that shall pass.”

“Why should we help them?”

“Drez! How dare you question the Prophet?” Stephen turned his fierce gaze the young man. Images exploded around the two men in Tor’s vision. He saw a fight that could end in either man’s death, breaking the Hand of the Prophets before it could even be used. This confrontation had been simmering just under the surface for some time. The leagues of forced march without explanation had brought it to a head. Tor let the tension build, but stepped in just before it could escalate into violence. He needed these warriors hardened, but undivided.

“Well Drez? Do you question me?”

Tor saw muscles tighten in the young man’s jaw as he turned his attentions from Stephen to the prophet.

“Why should we help them? The law of the desert is clear: only the strong survive. Why reward these mages now that their weakness has been revealed?”

“Ahh, you think they are weak. Is that it?”

“Well just look at them…”

The crystalline voices in Tor’s ear sang their deadly songs. Images flashed around Drez, scenes of battle where he struggled with a figure that sometimes appeared as a mage and sometimes as an enormous lizard encrusted in sand.

“Very well then. Dispatch them.”

“What? I…”

“What? There are two of them, but one is knocked unconscious and the other is an old man who can’t even seem to stand up. They shouldn’t be a problem for a strong child of the desert like you. Dispatch them.”

Drez stared at the prophet for a moment. But when Tor did not back down, he set his net of salvage down on the ground and strode angrily toward the two mages. Tor walked unhurriedly toward a large crystalline pillar in the center of the clearing. This would end very quickly and he needed to be in exactly the right place when it did.

The whispers intensified in Tor’s ear and Gunther twitched uneasily. The older mage, Simon, had been watching the exchange from under lidded eyes. He circled warily, crawling in a decidedly serpentine manner as he positioned himself between Gunther and the approaching tribesman. Tor could see the deadly readiness in the mage’s crouch, but Drez ignored it. He drew a wicked crystalline blade as he stalked forward. Tor shook his head minutely, thinking the boy would have stood a better chance using his shardsling.

Drez lunged forward to grab the old mage’s hair with one hand. He vaulted past the figure to drop his knee onto Simon’s back. He stretched the mage’s neck as he quickly plunged the knife forward, clearly intent on slitting the old man’s throat cleanly. It was a brutally fast and direct attack. And it would have worked if he had actually be eliminating an old mage so beaten by the elements that he was forced to crawl.

But Simon was much more than that. As fast as Drez moved, the mage was faster. He whipped his head back, crashing the crown of his skull into the young tribesman’s unprotected face with a sickening crunch. In the moment of impact he rolled hard to his left, bringing his right elbow up into Drez’s rib cage. The power of the blow lifted the young man off the ground and flung him bodily against the crystalline pillar in the center of the clearing. He slid down to the ground, limp as a rag doll, shaking his head.

Simon was charging toward the fallen tribesman with a wicked hiss, but Tor stepped smoothly in front of him first. He hit the mage in the face with a handful of sand. Reserving one last handful, Tor tossed the satchel of sand over to land near the unconscious Gunther, letting it spill open as it landed. Simon shook his head and blinked his black filmed eyes before scrambling after the satchel.

Tor turned to face Drez as he pushed himself upright against the crystal monolith. A dark trickle of blood leaked from the young man’s nose. The moonlight made it a colorless shadow. He still held his knife tightly in his right hand, but hugged his rib cage with his left. Tor heard his ragged breath.

“They’re not weak Drez. They are changed.”

Drez spoke between gasps as his breathing slowed. “How… how did you know?”

Tor tilted his head as he watched facets of probability appear and disappear. “I’m a prophet. You’ll live, this time. Now go pick up that gear and follow me.”

“Yes, Brother Tor.” The young tribesman pushed himself away from the pillar and walked unsteadily back to the others. They stood watching him silently as he retrieved the salvage he had set aside.

“Meena, Surya, you must to be swift and decisive. Keep everyone away from the mages or they’ll end up worse than young Drez. Understood?”

“Yes Brother Tor.” Surya stepped to Tor’s right as Meena joined his side on the left. Both held their deadly shardspears at the ready, allowing them to stay out of Simon’s reach.

“What about the unconscious one, Brother Tor?” Meena watched the twitching Gunther with a sick fascination.

“Magus Simon will take care of him. You’d do best not to get in his way.” Tor turned his attentions to the shimmering pillar of obsidian that would unlock the gates to Ten Fallen Stones. He rested his palms on two irregular facets set near his shoulder height. He felt the familiar tingle in his palms as the lesser shadow that resided in the crystal greeted his return.

“Prophet Tor. You seek entrance?”

The thoughts were fleeting, half formed whispers compared to the strength of his shadow rider. He had never realized how simple the gate guardian was in the past.

“I do.”

“You are not alone.”

“I bring honored guests. Open the way.”

The gate guardian hesitated. Tor sensed agitation and something else. Fear? With a suddenness that left his head spinning, Tor’s shadow surged up angrily within his mind. A raw surge of power shot through his palms. He felt the guardian pull away but it was not fast enough. His dark rider seized it with smoky tentacles of writhing darkness.

“Brother…”

“It’s far too late to choose defiance, guardian.”

“How did you…”

“I have come home. Now open the way!”

With a rumble that shook the foundation of the island, the obsidian column cracked. Tor withdrew his hands from the control facets and stepped back as the crack widened. The pillar of glittering black crystal stretched impossibly into a yawning cavern. In the center of the cavern was a yawning hole that fell away into the ground. It was filled with a sinister darkness that the wan light of the moon and glittering stars did not penetrate. The storm chasers stirred behind him as cool dry air rushed out of the cavern into the night.

With his disorienting vision, Tor could see a long tunnel stretching into the depths below the island and fading in the distance. He had always felt that the single step from the Island into the Gathering was a long one. But now he could see just how long it was. He thought he detected a faint convulsion travelling along the shadowy corridor toward them. As it neared, he was certain. He stepped back, turning toward the mages. Simonā€˜s head was questing back and forth angrily in front of the open gate. He felt something coming.

Tor cast his last handful of sand across the crystal strewn clearing in a line leading toward the cavern. Simon hooked one arm through Gunther’s tattered robes and hesitantly muscled forward. At last the compression in the long tunnel reached them. A slug of sand boiled upward out of the hole to fill the cavern floor. Simon’s head jerked up, and he scrambled at full speed toward the pure sand he smelled in the gateway.

Tor followed a moment later, careful not to get in Simon’s way or tread on the unconscious Gunther. The storm chasers filed in after him, giving the two mages a wide berth. Simon was rolling in the fresh sands, digging himself into it with his arms while he shoveled Gunther under a separate pile with his legs. There was a lot of thrashing in the small chamber, but as always, the tunnel was wide enough to accommodate everyone in the group.

“Stand ready.” Tor touched both hands to a second set of control facets inside the cavern. He felt the gate guardian flinch at his touch, an experience he could learn to enjoy.

With a deep rumble the sands below them dropped, carrying them down into the darkened shaft. Overhead, the cavern mouth swept closed, cutting them off from the light of stars and moon. As the sand boiled and churned beneath them, Tor felt them accelerate downward. The faint sparkle of crystal nodes replaced the lost stars, but cast no true light. Tor had no trouble of course. He merely wrapped the Island’s whispering voices around his vision as he would in a Shadow Chamber and watched as the glittering walls rushed by. He settled in to wait for their arrival.

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