Chapter 8 Scene 4

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 31 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

He knew it was a short drop into a drift of blown sand. But he fell through a darkness that the sun never lifted. He landed nimbly enough, letting his knees absorb the impact and then rolling forward to dispel the energy of his fall. He came to a stop and looked up. The crevasse above him had vanished.

His eyes, deprived of stimulation, manufactured ghosts at the edge of vision. First just sparks of light, then streaks of stray color crowded toward the centre of his field of view. He closed his eyes against the distractions, even though it made no difference.

Tor sat, breathing deeply, stilling his racing heart beat and centering his will. He heard the stillness of the chamber around him, and the silent music of the crystal nodules studding its walls. Slowly, he wove those strands of sound together, threading them around the false sparks and streaks in his vision.

Opening his eyes, he saw a ghostly framework of the Shadow Chamber overlaid on the darkness. The chamber walls were studded with faint nodes of purple, pink, and blue. The floor was similarly defined by points of faint, jewel-like light. The drift of sand he had landed on obscured the node lights, a dark void in the subterranean constellations that surrounded him.

Tor rose to his feet. His somersault had carried him nearly to the edge of the drift. He stepped away from the cushioning sand, choosing his path carefully along the chamber floor. The light from the crystals, if it could be called that, pulsed and glimmered. Some nodes intensified as he approached, while others dimmed.

Such change was the only constant detail of the Shadow Chamber, making each crossing unique. False visions disoriented the unwary, masking the very real dangers of the cavern. But as one of the Prophets, Tor was touched by shadow himself. He was not fooled by the discordant strains of the chamber’s illusions. Following a serpentine path that was never the same twice, he came at last to his destination.

At first it appeared to be another void in the crystal field, a dark mass rising from the floor to well over his head. It was more than that, much more. Reverently, Tor extended both hands toward the shadow until they reached a cold, geometric plane. It responded to his touch. The other pinpoints behind him faded as lines of cool purple light spread from where his palms rested to outline the facets of an enormous crystal.

The glow intensified from the vertices until the whole of the crystal was illuminated from within with a uniform purple glow. Except that it wasn’t uniform.

In the heart of the crystal, the shadow stirred. Roughly the size and shape of a man, it drifted through the crystal, lazily rising up to the ceiling before returning to Tor’s level. It floated toward him from the deeper recesses of the chamber, growing as it came. Tor waited for it’s response to his summons.

Shadowy hands reached out to the inner surface of the crystal until they rested palm to palm with Tor’s. The contact was agony. It was bliss. The touch was life. It was death. And with the touch, words that were not words blossomed inside Tor’s head.

“Do you come to share my prison, Prophet?”

Tor struggled with the burning energy flowing from the crystal even as he felt his own strength seeping away through his palms. “A small exchange, mysterious one.”

With an effort of will, Tor wrenched his hands away from the crystal surface. They left palm prints after their passing. If there had been any true light to see by, Tor knew they would be stained bloody. After a few moments the bloody palm prints faded away, absorbed into the crystal.

Dark laughter echoed in the crystal lined cavern. Contact with the shadow was no longer necessary. They had shared enough essence in that brief contact to communicate for as long as Tor remained in the Shadow Chamber.

“I’ve come to speak with the Oracle.”

The shadow paused, as if lost in thought. After a moment, it spoke in a voice unsuited for mere human words. “He communes with us now. Am I to be your messenger?”

Tor hesitated. It would be ever so simple for this shadow to transfer his report to its counterpart in the Oracle’s Shadow Chamber. But this message was too important to trust to intermediaries. Especially one as fickle as an imprisoned shadow.

“No. I will bear the message myself.”

“The matrix is perilous for your kind, Prophet.”

“I know the dangers. For this crossing, you will share your strength with me.”

“And in return?”

“I will share my vision with you. For as long as you can maintain our link after I leave the Shadow Chamber.”

The shadow swirled within its crystal prison, agitated. Tor knew it craved knowledge, experience of the physical plane locked forever beyond its reach. It was the only reason the shadows cooperated with Tor’s order. This promise to be carried out of the lightless Shadow Chamber would be the only thing preventing the hungry spirit from absorbing all of his life force while he was in contact with the crystal.

Finally, the shadow returned to face Tor. “Agreed. Prepare for the crossing.”

Tor seated himself on the cavern floor in front of the crystal. There was a depression here, sculpted in stone to conform to his body. Spines of crystal branched down to either side of the couch, terminating in flat pads where his hands would rest.

As he settled into position and rested his head against the stone support, the shadow appeared to loom over him in its crystal prison. “Are you ready, prophet?”

Tor nodded, as he dropped his hands to rest on the flat planes of crystal. He felt the familiar agony and bliss of the shadow’s touch, but it subsided quickly.

Tor closed his eyes and a silent warning echoed through his mind. “Follow now or be lost for eternity.”

Suddenly he was floating bodiless in a sea of purple light. Frantically he scrambled for a reference frame, some anchor for his sanity. Then darkness enfolded him, and the formless void took on visual dimension. He saw the flickering edges of the crystal, its vertices showing in stark relief like the bars of a cage. Outside the crystal, in the hazy darkness, he could see secondary lattices of crystal fire, invisible without the shadow’s sight. A figure reclined in the null region between the lattices, small embers glowing through the crystal where his hands rested. Tor’s physical body, as the shadow perceived it, was a faintly flickering spark.

“Such a weak vessel, Prophet.”

“But one that can carry your sight far beyond this prison, shadow. Take me to the Oracle.”

“Very well.”

Traveling through the crystal matrix was heady. There was constant resistance from the purple glow surrounding them. The shadow form hurtled headlong as it wove through geometric lines of searing light.

Tor felt himself stretched and shredded by their passage. Pieces were torn away like rotted cloth in the desert wind. Yet the shadow retrieved every scrap, tirelessly reweaving the Prophet’s fragile image, even as it rewove its own.

Together they traveled as a billowing cloud, new darkness constantly bursting forward from their combined centre to replace the tattered shreds at the front. It was intoxicating, invigorating, and terrifying all at once. How easy it would be to stay here, merged like this indefinitely! They would fly as clouds do forever.

But in the physical world his body would waste away until he was trapped, as the Crystal Shadows were. Without the promise of access to the outside, this shadow would have no more use for him and would let him disintegrate into the void. That was one of many dangers of the Shadow Chambers, one that had destroyed many of his Order. The longer he dwelled in shadow, the harder it would be to return to the light. Tor knew he must resist the shadow’s seductive power. But knowing did not make it easy.

Tor had no idea how long their flight was. Their darting path between and around the crystal’s confining vertices could have taken days as easily as it could have taken minutes. He was experiencing this through the perceptions of the shadow, and time had little meaning for the eternal.

They slowed as they approached a bright cluster of lines hanging above them in the purple mist. Wisps of lesser shadow scattered at their arrival. The jumble of lines resolved into an irregular opening. Beyond this portal, the purple haze thinned until its boundaries became visible, framed by the familiar paired crystal lattices.

A second shadow hung suspended beyond the portal. Tor felt a brief contact with the dark shape, not cold, but hot and dry. The two forms spoke briefly, if voices with neither sound nor words could be called such. The exchange was incomprehensible to Tor’s human mind, and ended when the new shadow withdrew back into the crystal matrix below.

Tor’s guide drifted up into the chamber and approached the crystal walls of his prison. A hazy, man shaped form stood between the near and far lattices. The Oracle’s hands rested on the outer crystal surface. Tongues of red flame licked through the crystal wall from his palms, and Tor could feel the shadow’s hunger surface. It reached forward to the inner crystal surface in response. When it touched the offering, Tor sensed a shiver run through his guide’s incorporeal frame. The flame sank into the shadow, swallowed up greedily and absorbed into the core of its darkness. Tor watched as the flame dimmed and the shadow took on more definition. Then the shadow halted its greedy feast. It did not break contact, but it allowed the amber glow to stabilize, sheets of warm energy dancing in equilibrium between the two points of contact.

Your Oracle listens, Prophet.

“Brother Tor. You have left your Migration early.” In Tor’s mind, the words were tinny, as if echoing through a hard walled canyon. It was an illusion of course, since this message was transmitted silently, but the effect was the same regardless.

“The Hand of the Prophets has been revealed to me, honored one.”

The flames brightened around their shared contact and the next exchange was stronger. “Where? How?”

“Five warriors, the last of the Scattered Shard worthy to reclaim the title Shard Wardens. One is a Shaman, though he knows it not. The rest of their tribe is forsaken.”

A pause. “Are you certain, Brother Tor?”

Tor had expected as much. The Oracle was wise and powerful. But Tor’s last few ‘turns as a Migrating Prophet had shown him that the old man’s vision was fading. From memory, he summoned his first sighting of Stephen’s band and the vision it had triggered. Mentally adding scenes of the bickering of the Scattered and the brief battle after their meeting with the Doormakers, he pushed the images across their shared connection. The visions would be both vivid and compelling. The Oracle was powerful, but Tor had strengths of his own.

“There can be no doubt, honored one. They are touched by destiny.” As am I, Tor thought, but wisely shielded these thoughts from the Oracle.

“I see. You have done well Brother Tor. Bring them to me. Now these mages, what did they want?”

This was trickier. Tor had been certain that sending the Doormakers to the Gathering was the right thing to do. His shadow touched intuition had made that clear. But the Oracle might think otherwise. “They seek Guild and Doormaker apprentices to train.” It was not all they sought, though it was all they would admit.

“Apprentices? Well, no matter. If they stray from the migrations, they won’t survive the high desert.”

“No. But to have Tribespeople in the Citadel could prove valuable in the seasons ahead. Assuming of course that these mages prove worthy to reach Standing Stones…”

With the last thought, Tor visualized the mages wandering the trackless central desert. He varied this scenario in countless ways. In most they succumbed to the desert’s perils along the way. But in a select few they were discovered by a scouting party or guide, and some or all of the aptitude testers managed to find the Prophets’ hidden Gathering.

Like seeds, he cast these visions off into the mist. The crystal matrix would absorb them, and then reflect them back into the Shadow Chamber, amplified for the Oracle to interpret as true prophecy. Tor had stumbled upon this feature of the Shadow Chambers a few ‘turns before. He had been using it to subtly influence the Oracle ever since. It was dangerous to do in the Oracle’s presence. He might trace the source of the visions if Tor wasn’t careful.

“Perhaps, Brother Tor. Where are they now?”

“I expect they will depart from Edgeways today.”

“There may be a way… As I said, you have done well. I shall prepare the Gathering for your swift return.”

“As you see, so it shall be, honored one.”

“And, Brother Tor. Do not tarry overlong among the shadows. I see the shadows’ touch in you grows stronger. The price of such power may be high.”

And I will pay it gladly, as you did in your time, Tor thought, but replied otherwise. “Of course, honored one. May destiny guide you.”

“And also you, Brother Tor.”

As they broke contact, the shadow sank back into the hazy glow of the crystal matrix. The two shadows communicated again before the other rose into the Shadow Chamber above.

Well Prophet, do you need to travel elsewhere?

“Are there any other Prophets in contact with the Shadow Chambers?”

Tor felt a strange vibration as the shadow sent something out into the purple glow. They waited, but there was no response, other than faint echoes Tor could not decipher. “Your Oracle has withdrawn. You are the only Prophet among us… for the moment.

“Then return us to your cage, shadow.”

Very well.” As they returned, Tor cast carefully crafted images of his visions for the future into the sea of purple light surrounding them. Sewing these seeds, he could almost hear dark laughter from his shadow guide. Almost.

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