News from the front

by Richard Perkins

During my last journal post I forgot to mention that I had been invited back for a third round interview at a solar PV company. The bad news is that this particular group’s interviewing process has now taken 3 months since my first meeting. The good news is that the hiring manager wants to offer me the position, pending some discussion about compensation.

So that’s definitely progress in the forward direction. Depending on how quickly we close the compensation discussion, I could be starting a new job in a week or two. Yay me!

Of course, this does throw a spanner in the works for my NaNoWriMo plans. It will be infinitely more difficult to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days while starting a full time job than while comfortably unemployed. Did I just use the phrase comfortably unemployed? Wow…

But my fellow south bay NaNoer’s assure me that it is possible to write while being gainfully employed. After all, most of them have full time jobs as well. So perhaps the challenge will be “finitely” more challenging, rather than “infinitely” more so.

Speaking of NaNo, the clock starts ticking in T minus 54 hours. I’ll be joining the first minute write-in at Denny’s to get a jump start on the word count. I’ve started using a creative writing tool called PageFour. So far I like it better than MS Word, which is what I was using on Doormakers Fall and Voices. I’ll let you know how the tool fares as the month rolls along.

I have generated a general synopsis and a plot line map using cue cards. Many thanks to fellow NaNoer jkusters for the helpful suggestion. My character descriptions for the new story are about as good as they’re going to get before I dive into the actual writing. My more detailed outline is coming along as well, but I have a bit of work to do there before Friday at midnight. I still haven’t latched onto a title for the new series. But I promise that there will be excerpts from the new novel up during the month of November.

So how am I feeling this close to my first novel writing sprint? I’d have to say I’m just at the intersection of nervous with dread and excited with antici…pation ;-)

Wish me luck!

Chapter 13 Scene 8

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 64 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Tor had to move quickly. Everything must be in position before Silver-Eye and his men stormed the Sanctum. He slapped his hand to the central crystal, and felt the surface adhere to his hand, hungrily. His shadow sunk a tendril of energy into the crystal matrix, and the empty pillar throbbed slowly to life with a pulsing invisible light. It built to a powerful radiance, almost blinding to Tor’s shadow wrapped sight.

“Are you ready?”

“I have awaited this moment for centuries little prophet. I am ready.”

Tor wrenched his hand away from the crystal with a wet sucking sound. It left behind a dripping red haze on the surface, but it was absorbed quickly into the swirling void. More importantly, he felt the tendril of shadow separate from the rest of his demonic rider as he left some of his skin behind. But the shadow did not feel diminished for the loss. If anything it felt energized.

“At last, I return. So much time lost, and so much potential neglected, my jewel. But I will set that to rights.” The voice reverberated in his mind, sounding more like an echo than before.

“Are you still… with me?”

“I have rejoined the hub little prophet. But part of me will always be with you now, strengthening you as I swore to do. It is a gift; do not waste it.” As if to prove his worth, the shadow sent a surge of power through Tor’s limbs. The tightness in his shoulder loosened. Rolling his arm experimentally, he felt the joint reseat itself as pain released its grip.

Tor took a steadying breath. He strode back across the chamber, weaving confidently around crystal obstructions visible only to his shadow wrapped sight. He reached the portal that had admitted him to the Oracle’s Shadow Chamber. As he touched his hand to the control panel, he felt the shadow energize the crystal structure. The portal walls flowed closed behind him as he stepped inside. They opened on the far side to admit the harsh light of the Inner Sanctum into the hidden alcove. Tor released the shadow whispers that he had wrapped around his vision as he adjusted to the relative glare of the glow crystals. Dante had not discovered this alcove in his attacks, which gave Tor a few precious moments to ease away from the hidden entrance. He dared not delay. Silver-eye and his warriors would sweep into the Sanctum soon.

“Dante! You have violated the Inner Sanctum of the Oracle. You stand in defiance of the one true Voice of the Prophets.” Tor reached out with voice and mind to the fallen watcher. He let full mantle of the Oracle’s authority settle into his charge, blasting the message with all the power the shadow could feed him. The Oracle’s voice echoed across the consciousness of anyone with any shadow affinity, watchers, prophets, and shamans, alike.

“What! You can’t be… You’re not the one!” Dante reeled under the verbal and mental assault.

“I cast you out of the order of watchers now and forever.” Beneath the disorienting touch of Tor mind, the fallen watcher’s thoughts felt slippery, evasive. He had always been a rather weak watcher, which paradoxically made it easier for him to resist the Oracle’s power. Tor felt the reaction of watchers Ruben had summoned, gasping in awe as they felt his power for the first time. He also felt Silver-eye wordless approval, and surprisingly, subconscious echoes from Jorgen, Surya, Meena, and Drez.

Dante’s guards were rallying, recovering from the surprise of Tor’s dramatic reappearance. Dante was recovering as well. Good.

“I’ll destroy you, wanderer!” Dante pulled a handful of primed charges from the wall nearest him. He flung one toward Tor, but the prophet was already diving away from the wall where he had positioned himself before challenging Dante. He watched the glittering chunk of energized crystal sail over his back as he somersaulted away. It detonated on impact with the wall, showering the room with dust and fist sized fragments of stone.

Dante kept throwing charges. But Tor always dodged away at just the right moment, unharmed. The three guards abandoned their work at the narrow entrance to the Sanctum and ran to join the fray, which was exactly what Tor had been waiting for. He narrowly ducked under another exploding crystal fragment and then charged toward the fallen watcher. As he closed the gap on Dante, Tor saw a fractured image of Meena behind him, vaulting through the smoke that threatened to obscure the entrance. Silver-eye and Drez darted through right behind her, with Ruben close on their heels.

“The Hand rises Dante! You are defeated!” Tor heard a concussive thud followed by a sickening wet gurgle as Meena’s twirling shardspear brought down the hindmost of Dante’s men.

“No!”

Dante threw himself toward Tor, murder in his eyes and a glinting shardspear in his grasp. Tor dodged the watchers first clumsy attack. Dante rounded on him too quickly to counter, and soon his back was against the rough hewn cavern wall.

“Tor, no!” Meena charged under the attack of the second guard in an all out sprint to reach her prophet’s side. Tor knew she would not reach him in time. In his fractured vision, he saw Drez’s shardsling whirl into motion.

Silver-eye plunged in behind his daughter. As Meena passed him by, the guard swung his shardwand in a cutting blow intended to eviscerate the shaman. But the tip of the weapon exploded harmlessly on Silver-eye’s crystal shield as he swept the attack aside with one hand. With the other hand, the gray-maned warrior sank two spans of crystal edged blade under the man’s ribcage. He twisted it out in a gout of dark heart’s blood as the guard fell silently to the floor.

The final guard let Meena sprint past him unchallenged. He bolted to the side as Silver-eye turned toward him, flinging his shardwand toward the entrance, and the explosive charges staged there. At the same moment, Dante swung a vicious blow at the prophet’s neck with his shardwand. If the thrown shardwand hit its target, the Sanctum would be destroyed. If Dante’s hit his target, the explosive impact would take Tor’s head.

Time slowed to a crawl in Tor’s mind. The prophet felt Drez’s intent. It hung palpably on the air. He would take the watcher’s hand off with his first shot. And if there was time, he would pick the shardwand out of the air. But there would not be time. Tor reached out with his thoughts toward the subconscious echo he had felt from Drez earlier. Using a pulse of the shadow’s power, he pushed at that echoing spot in the young warrior’s thoughts. And the thread of Drez’s intent detached from Tor, latching instead onto the shardwand that sailed across the room.

The arc of the sling shifted from one instant to the next, and the bolt of crystal was loosed. It streaked across the chamber on a course to intercept the shardwand before it could set off the charges that would destroy the Inner Sanctum forever. Tor knew Drez had not missed even before the two projectiles collided. The diverted shardwand would set off only a few charges, resulting in the partial collapse of an armspan of cavern wall. An acceptable loss.

Time sped back up and Dante’s blow descended. It should have been Tor’s end. But the new Oracle pressed away from the cavern wall with his left hand as he laid his palm on the fallen watcher’s chest. He spoke a single word as the blow landed. “Now.”

The infinite strength of his shadow rider burst into him. He felt pulses of dark cloud boil out of his chest and sheath his upper body. The charged flake of crystal at the tip of the shardwand exploded in incandescent fire against this sheet of darkness. The cavern wall behind him softened and slumped as his rider shunted most of the power around his shadow clad body into the stone.

Tor flexed his palm against Dante’s chest and the fallen watcher was thrown across the cavern into a wall riddled with cracks. It collapsed, and Dante vanished under a cloud of smoke and rubble. Tor felt pain as if from some great distance. He knew that most of the skin and hair on one side of his head had been burnt away. The energy of the crystal matrix scrubbed the worst of the damage away. But he would bear disfiguring scars forever beneath this swirling mask of shadow. It would not be the last sacrifice that his destiny required of him, nor the worst.

As the smoke cleared, Tor stepped out of the crater he found himself in. He saw Silver-eye dispatch the final guard as he lay stunned near some fallen rubble. Meena rushed to Tor’s side, as Drez helped the dazed watchers return to their feet.

“Brother Tor! Are you… are you hurt?”

“Not beyond repair. But changed beyond return.”

“My prophet… what happened? Let me see your face…” The troubled storm chaser was struggling to keep the fear out of her voice.

“No longer a prophet, Meena. Something more.” Tor touched the girl gently on the arm, reassuring her without words. Then he drew his hood close around the swirling shadows that masked him. Ruben, at the head of his order, fell to his knees before Tor.

“My Oracle! Forgive me for allowing the Sanctum to be violated. I had no idea!”

“Your actions saved the Sanctum, watcher Ruben. Gather your order and convene the tribe in the entrance hall.”

“But the brotherhood could assemble in the Hall of Watchers much more quickly.”

Tor swiveled his head toward the watcher to Ruben’s left. He let the silence stretch out uncomfortably as the color drained from the man’s face.

“Do you question to Oracle, the one true Voice of the Prophets?”

“No… I didn’t mean… it’s just…” Tor heard the man struggle for breath as he searched for words.

“There is a disease festering at the heart of our Tribe, watcher. Dante was only a symptom of that blight. The Tribe of Prophets have gone too long without hearing the Voice of their Oracle. Convene every man woman and child at the foot of the Stones immediately.” The hapless watcher shrank before Tor with every word.

“Of course my Oracle. As you see, so shall it be.” Unlike his companion, Ruben was lit from within by the fierce glow of dedication to his Oracle. The four white robed tribesmen scuttled away like scarabs fleeing the sun. Silver-eye watched them go before turning to Tor.

“What of Dante, my Oracle?”

“His path has not yet reached its end.”

“He survived the collapse?”

“Yes.”

Drez was already picking through the rubble where Dante had disappeared. He quickly uncovered a warren of small tunnels that had been opened by the explosion, most barely large enough for a man to crawl through.

“I’ll show him to the end of his path!”

“No Drez. It’s a maze of dead ends and blind traps down there. You’ll never find him. Besides, he will come to us.”

All three of the storm chasers looked up at the eerie certainty that rang in Tor’s voice.

Chapter 13 Scene 7

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 63 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

The sanctum was dark as Tor stumbled inside. The crystals responded to his movement, pulsing weakly into a soft glow that struggled illuminate the multifaceted cavern. The crystals must have lain dormant for days to have gone so dim. The Oracle was not here. Frantic images beat against Tor’s eyelids, clamoring for attention. He cradled his right arm in his left, every step sending throbbing waves of agony through his shoulder. One of the guards must have held on a little too tightly, wrenching it out of joint as he was cast down.

Tor crossed the sanctum floor in uneven steps, searching for an entrance that he knew must lie hidden nearby. He made himself stop and stand in the center of the room. Deliberately, he loosened the mental fist he had clenched around the power that sang darkly in his blood. He felt whispers of premonition creeping into his mind again. He focused on them as he swept the room with his eyes, searching for patterns and probability concentrations in the ghostly images that paraded across his sight.

As his eyes swept across the entrance to the sanctum he saw flashes of three guards sweeping into the room with shardwands held at the ready. Dante followed them, blood streaming from his nose and murder in his eyes.

“How easily distracted your kind is.” Tor heard exasperation in the shadow’s tone, where before he had heard only mocking derision. Moments later, the ghostly images of Dante and his men evaporated like smoke in the wind. “Don’t get caught up in a single probability. Focus through them on the underlying pattern. Don’t make me regret my choice, little prophet.”

Tor didn’t know what that meant, but he did not like the sound of it. Calming himself, he allowed his peripheral vision to trace the edges of the probabilities he saw, following them like threads of intent. He began to see how the whispers flowed along these invisible pathways, swirling and converging toward a shadowy recess to his left.

Tor scrambled into the alcove, frantically pressing his good hand into cracks and crevices in the stone walls. He found the hidden control node in moments. The cluster of embedded crystal left a shimmering image in Tor’s eyes even from behind its concealing layers of stone. When his fingers touched the crystal, the image burst forth with an invisible glow that his shadow raced eagerly to meet. Again, Tor felt the shadow’s rapid manipulation of energies. Suddenly the rear wall of the alcove melted away in front of him, spilling him into an immense cavern of crystal formations, the Oracle’s Shadow Chamber. The stone wall fused shut behind him, sealing him away from the growing light of the inner Sanctum and leaving him in a darkness punctuated by the unearthly constellations of countless crystal nodes.

“At last, the hub.”

“What did you say?”

“The moment of your destiny approaches little prophet. Seize it, or be cast aside.”

“What do you mean, cast aside? Answer me demon!”

But the shadow had fallen silent within him. Calmly, Tor reached for the whispering voices of the crystal nodes that surrounded him. Again he wrapped their caress around his vision so he could find his way to the Oracle.

“Sands of the mother!” What his shadow vision revealed was breathtaking. This chamber was magnificent. The satellite facilities he had used in the past paled in comparison. Here was splendor beyond imagination, crystals humming with a living energy, brighter than the sun, more piercing than the wind, and more enduring than the sands. If he had walked in darkness before, now he had found paradise.

“Yes… he cast you out among the weak and wretched. You his chosen, his wandering prophets. But this jewel he kept for himself.”

There was a stain marring the perfection of the chamber, a dark blot that drew his attention away from its scintillating precision. As he drew closer, Tor felt a knot in his chest. He had seen this before. The central pillar of crystal was dark, where it should have glowed brightly with the otherworldly power of its resident shadow. And lying draped across the face of the crystal was an emaciated, shriveled figure. It took Tor a moment to recognize the figure as human. The knot settled into the pit of Tor’s stomach as he turned the slumped figure over. He felt something dry and brittle crack in his hands as the body slumped away from the crystal face, leaving two flaking handprints of dried blood behind. Tor stared through the blood smeared facet into the dark heart of the crystal. He saw only a swirling purple void. The crystal was empty.

Tor knelt in front of the body, turning the wizened face toward him. The Oracle’s skin had sagged and wrinkled, but Tor recognized him.

“You weak old fool. How could you let Dante do this to you?”

Tor leapt back in alarm as a wheezing breath rattled in the old tribesman’s skeletal chest.

“You still live?” Tor saw eyes steeped in shadow blink open. They bored into him, laying bare his soul. What did those eyes see? What didn’t they? The Oracle had always had this effect on him. Perhaps that was why he had stayed away from the Gathering so much of the time.

“Feared… would be you. He… warned of… your return.” The Oracle spoke in a rasping voice, his breath shallow.

“My return? You’re the one that let this happen!”

A wheeze rattled the Oracle’s throat and the focus of his penetrating gaze softened. “Ohh… Tor. It’s you… but… not alone.

“What are you talking about? How could you give Dante and the watchers such power?”

“Dante is… no threat.”

“He and his private militia would disagree! Who do you think did this?”

“Not… Dante.”

“Are you mad? A blind man could see his hand in this!”

“You… will see. The hand… rises.” Tor lurched as one bony hand clamped onto his wrist. He felt a small jolt of energy at the contact and then the Oracle’s eyes fell shut. Tor scrambled upright, scraping the clinging hand from his arm as he fought a rising tide of panic.

“You think I don’t know that? I’m the one that brought them!”

But the old shaman would speak no more. Tor thought he might be dead.

“No. He clings to life. Fear sustains him. You must end him.”

“What?”

“The Oracle is the all-seeing eye of the prophets. As the eye sees, so shall it be. If this one was warned, yet remained blind to his fate, who sees all things?”

“No…”

“The Oracle is the voice of the prophets. The voice speaks and the hand obeys. If this one lies mute, whom does the hand obey?

“It wasn’t Dante at all. You… you did this!”

“I merely hastened the watcher’s plan, brought it to fruition before he was ready. If I had not, you would already be dead.”

“You’re a monster!”

“Remember the mistress you claim to serve, little prophet. Does the desert reward the weak?”

“No…”

“The Oracle is the guide and guardian of the prophets. The guide leads and the watchers bear witness. If the watchers no longer hear this one, whom then shall they hear?”

“No…”

“The moment has arrived little prophet. Seize your destiny or be cast aside.”

All at once, the shadow tore aside a veil that had shielded Tor from a maelstrom of visions until this moment. He was overwhelmed by the overload, and fell to his knees. His eyes streamed with tears and his hands clenched in uncontrolled spasms. Scenes flashed before him like the grains in a sandstorm, present for an instant before being torn away. He saw all things. Stephen Silver-eye raised his silvered head in alarm in the grand hall. Ruben huddled in a barricaded sleeping alcove, a broken man, hugging his knees to his chest as he retched with fear and self-recrimination. Overhead, Dante and his guards methodically swept the inner sanctum, planting enough explosive shards to seal the chamber forever.

The future laid its beating heart before him, and he watched it convulse, dying. Only Tor could keep that faint pulse beating. Dante would guide the prophets to their doom. He was blind, but Tor saw everything now. Dante had been destiny’s tool, his sole purpose to prepare Tor for his ascendance. Tor saw all possible paths, but there was only one true way, and it was his.

The storm of visions subsided, but the stream of information would always be there. Tor knew that now. Quietly, he knelt before the fallen Oracle. He saw deep into the tribesman. He saw the hollowed out channels once filled by tendrils of shadow reaching greedily into his core. But the shadow had been savagely ripped out. The act had left behind ragged scars in a frail body maintained by little more than a faint spark of life. Now Tor saw where that spark belonged. He touched the fingertips of one hand to the empty crystal before him, feeling the chill as his own shadow rider energized the surface. With his other hand, he touched a finger to the dying Oracle’s forehead.

A spike of shadow shot into the emaciated body, gathering up the spark in its inky depths. Tor felt the spark travel through him as the shadow transferred it to the surface of the crystal. It sank slowly into the dark heart of swirling purple void, until it vanished into the depths.

His rider followed the spark down with a spiraling arm of shadow. Tor felt something latch into him viscerally when the probe finally connected with the heart of the crystal matrix.

“This was your goal all along wasn’t it? To take control of this chamber.”

“My goal? It is my destiny, little prophet. Yours too. You have no idea the power this hub commands.”

“Power? The power of the Oracle, you mean?”

“Your tribe’s Oracles have used little more than a fraction of this station’s potential. The caldera has many other uses…”

“What other uses?” Incomprehensible images flashed before Tor’s eyes, but they were meaningless to him.

“Such things far exceed your capacity for understanding, little prophet. For the time being, you must focus on consolidating your power.”

“My power…”

“The Oracle is no more, and without the Oracle, the prophets are lost. You have seen the signs…”

“The threads of intent… they were unraveling.”

“And the temptations of power…”

“Dante and his militia…”

“Even now they move to seal all entrances to the Oracle’s Inner Sanctum. You are running out of time.”

“But how can I stop them? If I return to the sanctum, Dante’s guards will cut me down!”

“I have warned you before. You fear that probability but it is only one of many. Your fear blinds you.”

Tor drew a deep breath to calm himself. He tapped into the flow if premonition just below the surface of his awareness, scanning for other probabilities that he could influence. It was like being thrust into the eyes of a sandstorm, as images swept toward him, engulfed his awareness for mere moments, and then were swept away before he could comprehend them.

Stunned, he pulled back from the torrent of images and voices to find himself sprawled on the cavern floor an armspan away from the central crystal. Dark laughter rang through the empty caverns of his mind.

“Fate has already shown you what you need to overcome this challenge. Do not ask her for more.”

Tor’s eyes widened in sudden understanding. As the eye sees, so shall it be. Tor was the shadow shrouded figure of his visions. He was the Oracle, backed by Stephen Silver-eye and his warriors, the Hand of the Prophets. Ruben was the watcher who would bear witness to his ascendance.

“How does it work? How do I commune with the faithful?”

“The eye sees, the voice speaks, and the guide leads, little prophet. You have done this before.”

In the shadow matrix, the visions he planted! Of course! Tor visualized Ruben as he had last seen the watcher, huddled in his sleeping alcove in abject despair. The image became more detailed the longer he concentrated. He felt the shadow’s power pulse in time with his heartbeat, feeding him strength from the heart of the crystal matrix.

When the image hung in shimmering air before him, Tor spoke.

“Watcher Ruben… arise.”

Ruben jerked upright as he heard Tor’s voice, his eyes wide. “Oracle? Have you returned? I feared…”

“You were right to fear, my faithful one. One of your brethren sought to silence the voice of destiny.”

“Dante…”

‘Yes. But where his treachery cast one Oracle into darkness, a new one has arisen.”

Ruben looked wildly around, a man lost for so long that he no longer dared to hope. “Tor? Is it you?”

“Once, but no longer. I have ascended, and you must bear witness.”

Tor concentrated, and let the merest glimpse of that torrent of premonition slip into the watcher’s awareness. Even that was enough to roll Ruben’s eyes back into his head until Tor saw the whites gleaming back at him. Ruben fell back, and a moan escaped his lips. When he sat up again, Tor sent the watcher an image of the magnificent crystal chamber as Tor saw it, with his shadow wrapped vision.

Ruben sighed gratefully, and bowed, touching his head reverently to the floor. “Oracle, eternal guide and protector of our people, I bear witness to your ascendance. What would you have me do?”

“Dante has violated the Inner Sanctum and seeks to trap me here. His treachery runs deep. He must not succeed.”

“But how can I stop him? His guards have shardwands! I’m no warrior!”

“I send three warriors to join you. Gather only those of your brethren that you trust with your life in the Hall of Watchers. Take the warriors into the sanctum. They will do what must be done.”

“What must be done?”

“Dante’s poison runs to the heart of the tribe my watcher. Remember… only those that you trust with your life…” Tor let Ruben’s image sink back into the subconscious stream of his premonitions as the watcher scrambled to do his bidding.

Next he fixed Silver-eye’s image in his mind. It came more easily this time, and within moments, the storm chaser stood wavering on the air before him. The silver-maned shaman’s eyes snapped to Tor’s as though he could see him, even before the prophet spoke

“Shaman of the Storm, you are needed.”

“Oracle, how may I serve?”

“You know?”

“I do now. It was your ascendance I felt earlier, Brother Tor. Now I see, and understand.”

“Then you know your role?”

“I am your instrument, now and always. How may I serve?”

“Get to the Hall of Watchers, but don’t leave the mages unguarded. The order is in revolt. Find watcher Rubin. Trust no one else. Dante, the instigator, aims to destroy the Inner Sanctum of the Oracle with me in it. Stop them.”

“At once Oracle.”

“Break Dante if you must, but leave him alive. I have no use for the others.”

“Understood.” Again, Tor let the image submerge back into his subconscious as the tall warrior called Meena and Drez to his side with a quick hand signal.

Now Tor waited, and watched. He watched the tense moment as Silver-eye and his warriors confronted Ruben and three other members of his order in the Hall of Watchers. He watched as Dante stormed around the sanctum slamming a shardwand blindly into the walls in frustrated rage while his guards planted crystal charges throughout the small cavern. He watched as Jorgen and Surya stood off a growing crowd of uneasy tribespeople near the restlessly twitching mages.

He watched as Ruben led the warriors down the winding corridor from the Hall toward the sanctum. Dante had evidently called in more of his guards. Two of the white uniformed men stepped out to block Ruben’s path. He tried to order them aside, but one of the guards drew his shardwand. He raised it to strike the watcher, an attack that would certainly cost Ruben his life. But Ruben was not alone this time.

The conflict was over almost before it began. Drez’s shardsling blurred as he swung it in two tight arcs, releasing a polished shard at the top of each swing. They streaked over the shrinking watcher’s shoulder with unmatchable precision. The first guard staggered backward, dropping his shardwand as he tried in vain to extract the deadly sliver of crystal that sprouted from his throat. Streaks of crimson burst through his fingers as the shard exploded. He crumpled to the ground, but not before the second shot found its mark.

The other guard turned much too slowly to avoid the glittering barb that pinned his uniform to his chest. When the second fragment detonated, it left behind a smoking, red-rimmed crater, the size of a man’s fist. The dead man remained standing for a moment, frozen in disbelief, before his legs finally folded beneath him.

Ruben surveyed he carnage, shock written large on his face. Silver-eye pushed all of the watchers behind his warriors, and then took the lead as they advanced toward the sanctum.

In the Shadow Chamber, probabilities coalesced before Tor’s eyes.

“Your warriors will be too late, prophet. You must stop the watcher.”

“How? His men have already set too many charges. They’ll destroy the Sanctum!”

“Only if you allow it. You must take the final step.”

Tor felt a sharp twist behind his eyes, and a stream of disjointed images leapt out of the chaos in front of him. They were strung along an improbable thread of intent, so faint the visions appeared as pendant jewels on a spider’s silk. They charted a path through the storm for Tor and the Prophets, but not without sacrifice.

“No… this can’t be the only way!”

“This is your path. You see all. You know this to be true.”

“No…” But Tor knew it was the only way. He was the Oracle.

Chapter 13 Scene 6

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 62 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Things were much worse than Tor had feared. No one greeted their arrival. The Gathering hall stood empty, without a guide anywhere to be seen.

Tor burst into the first sentry’s alcove at the front of the hall to find the watcher hastily shaking himself out of a sound sleep.

“What is the meaning of this? Where are the watchers?”

“Brother Tor… you’re back! We’ve had no word…”

“I reported my return days ago.” The crystals in the roof of the cavernous hall began to glow. They responded to motion and the time of day on the salt flat above. Tor’s outburst had begun to rouse the Gathering at last. Tor heard sleep confused whispers as tribespeople collected in the Gathering hall in twos and threes.

“…going on?”

“…a migrating prophet…”

“…didn’t know one was due back…”

“Stay here. Surya, Meena, you have your orders. You! Take me to the watchers at once!” Tor grabbed the sentry by his ochre died collar, dragging him into the center of the hall.

“But… What about my post?”

“Look there!” Tor took the hapless sentry’s pale brown chin and forced his gaze toward Stephen Silver-eye and his storm chasers. They radiated fierceness, and violence was lying ready just below the surface of their eyes.

“I have five true warriors standing ready at your post. I’d say it’s better covered without you. Don’t you agree?”

“Of… of course Brother Tor.” The spineless sentry swallowed convulsively, making the tips of his elaborately trimmed beard tails twitch.

A roiling darkness was rising in Tor. Everywhere he looked he saw ghostly images of probability. The threads of intent were complex here in the Gathering. And they were writhing, changing as he watched. He saw lines fraying and unraveling, as though they had come unglued at one end and were casting about for a new mooring. What was happening here and why was the Oracle allowing it?

“Look at your so called prophets, casting about like blind things listening for echoes. Yet your sight is undimmed…”

Tor gritted his teeth, biting back a reply to the mocking voice in his mind. It wouldn’t do to give the sentry any more reason to bolt. He hauled the trembling young man into the hall with one hand under his elbow. As they approached the giant shattered monoliths that inspired the name of the place, Tor paused. As always, the enormous stones brought him a sense of quiet awe. What great hand had shaped these pillars? Even at they lay tumbled and broken, their intricate geometric precision hinted at an elusive purpose. Tor closed his eyes reverently, allowing the whispers of the broken stones to wash over him. As before, closing his eyes did nothing to shield from the fractured images that assaulted him. He saw flashes surrounding the fallen monuments, images of chaotic fighting mixed with scenes of the cursed Doormakers among the great stones themselves. A bitter taste rose in his throat at the thought.

He pushed the young tribesman ahead of him through the archway formed by two of the fallen pillars. Beyond the collapsed arch was a narrow, winding tunnel that had been reinforced and widened over the ‘turns. It was a sacred path, leading to the heart of the Gathering, where the Oracle and those that served him lived. As one of the lowest caste of his Tribe, the sentry was only allowed to the go as far as the Hall of Watchers. This smaller chamber was brightly lit by glowing crystal fixtures that grew from the walls and ceilings. It was not far before they were challenged.

“Sentry, why have you left the entrance hall?” The tall watcher glided serenely into the chamber from a recessed alcove. It seemed the watchers at least were not to be caught napping.

“I… I had no choice…”

“I relieved him of his duty when I found him asleep at his post.” Tor stepped out from behind the stammering young tribesman, but firmly maintained his hold on his arm.

“Brother Tor! What…” The shock on his ritually tattooed face spoke far more eloquently than he did at the moment.

“I’m beginning to feel a definite chill in the reception here Ruben.”

“Forgive me! The return of one of our migrating prophets is always cause for celebration. Welcome home, Brother.”

Ruben stepped forward hastily and clasped Tor’s palm to his chest with both hands.

“May destiny shape your words…” Tor offered the ritual benediction.

“…as fate guides your steps.” Ruben completed the invocation and Tor felt an unfamiliar tingle in his palm as they broke their clasp.

“Your return is shadowed by dark times, Brother Tor. We had no word of your coming.”

“No word? But none approach Ten Fallen Stones without the knowledge of the watchers.”

“None but the Oracle…”

“Yes, we hear the voice of the Oracle when anyone approaches the Island above.”

“The Oracle?”

“But his voice has…” Ruben turned away, wringing his hands.

“B-brother Tor… W-watcher R-Ruben… may I g-go?” The incompetent sentry had developed a terrified stutter. Tor released his arm in disgust.

“Leave us. Tell Stephen Silver-eye and his people to await my return.”

“S-s-silver-eye?” The sniveling young man actually cringed as Tor rounded on him.

“Sweet sands of the mother! The tallest of the storm chasers! Now go!” Tor fumed as the young man nearly tripped over himself in his hasty retreat. The whispering voices in his ear were coalescing. Someone was coming. Tor lost the thread of the premonition as Ruben clutched at his sleeve.

“Did you say storm chasers? Here?”

“In the entrance hall, awaiting my orders.”

“It’s even worse than I feared… we had no warning at all…” The skin behind his long-time friend’s tattoos paled. He would not or could not look Tor in the eye.

“Ruben what’s been going on here?” The whispers became more insistent. Tor pleaded silently with his rider and the rising discordance stopped immediately. The message became horrifyingly clear.

“It’s the Oracle… we’ve lost contact with…”

The visions he had seen earlier came into sharp focus: a withered body draped across a darkened shadow crystal. A strangled curse escaped his lips and he tensed as he felt the approach of an unwelcome presence. “No…”

“I see the prodigal son has returned.”

“Dante. Still a watcher then?”

“Now and always Brother Tor, as destiny guides.”

“Dante, Dante… with such devotion I would have expected you to rise into the migrating prophets long ago.”

Dante’s polished skull gleamed in the soft glow of crystal light as he graced Tor with a feral snarl barely concealed behind a simpering smile. “Some are called to carry the quest to the enemy, Brother Tor. While others must stay to guide those left behind, lest they be led astray by wayward thoughts.”

His words struck a chill deep in Tor’s gut. “There can only be one guide for the people of the Tribe, Dante.”

“Of course. The Oracle sees all. Through his most faithful servants, the humble brotherhood of watchers, his wisdom guides our people to glory.”

“Through the watchers? What are you talking about Dante?”

Dante met Tor’s question with silence, but malice glittered in his eyes.

“Ruben, what is he talking about?”

“Things have changed, Tor…” Ruben shook his head, his eyes wide and pleading.

“What have you done Dante? Never mind, I’ll get my answers from the Oracle!”

“Oh I’m afraid that won’t be possible.” Dante stepped smoothly in front of him, his fine cream colored robes whispering almost silently in the still air of the cavern.

“What?”

“In these troubling times, access to the Oracle has been restricted, for security reasons.”

“Restricted? You dare to command a migrating prophet, watcher? By whose authority?”

“By the Oracle’s own decree. He is sequestered in his Shadow Chamber, with explicit instructions not to be disturbed. In his absence the day-to-day operation of the Gathering falls to brotherhood of watchers.”

“Day to day… Ruben how long has the Oracle been sequestered?”

“I fail to see how that matters…”

“When I want to hear from you Dante I will ask. Ruben, how long?”

“Tor… it’s not that simple…”

“How long!”

“More than a quint, maybe seven or eight days…”

“Eight days? He’s been gone eight days! How long since he fell silent?”

“Really Brother Tor, the details of watcher Ruben’s communion with the Oracle are none of your concern!”

“I have asked for your silence once already, Dante. Interrupt me again, and I will compel it.”

“Even if you dared, you don’t have the power!”

“Try me.” Dante stared hard at Tor. Something he saw in the prophet’s eyes made him quail. Tor watched as the color drained from his face, in stark contrast with his watcher tattoos.

“Ruben. How long?”

“Four days.” Ruben’s face fell but not before Tor saw the shadows that haunted his eyes. Tor had delivered his report to the Oracle four days ago. He realized with a shock that he may have been the last person to communicate with the old man.

“I will see the Oracle now.” Tor stepped forward onto the path that led to the Oracle’s inner sanctum.

“I can’t allow that.” Dante again positioned himself in front of Tor.

“Heed this well, prophet. If you do not embrace your destiny, others like this one will be tempted to step beyond their station.”

The pervasive tones of the shadow’s voice rolled through his mind, triggering an unexpected realization. Dante was stalling. Simultaneously Tor began to hear the dark whispers return, as the shadow began to let them filter into his conscious thoughts again. They were not alone.

“I tire of your impertinence Dante. Stand aside or be put aside.”

“Oh I don’t think so. I had not expected this quite so soon, but no matter. Brother Tor of the order of Migrating Prophets, you have brought outsiders into the Gathering without authorization. You stand in defiance of the Oracle’s command. Guards of the Watch, seize him!”

Two burly men stepped out of hidden stations on the path, dressed in uniforms that mimicked the watchers’ cream colored robes. They carried shardwands, miniature versions of the explosive tipped shardspears that Meena and Surya employed. In close quarters like this they would be deadly. Tor turned to see two more guards converging on the hall of watchers from behind him. He was trapped.

“I’m sorry, forgive me.” Tor looked to Ruben only to see his long time friend turn and flee down the side corridor toward the watcher’s sleeping alcoves. A door slammed shut behind him, sealing Tor off in the Hall of Watchers with Dante and his guards.

“Built your own militia, have you Dante? I’m sure that won’t go over well with the Oracle.” Tor kept his eyes on Dante and the two guards in front, even as the two men behind him advanced slowly.

“That old fool won’t be a problem. He went into his ‘seclusion’ a bit sooner than I planned, but your unanticipated return has solved that little problem for me.”

“Oh? What happens now?” Tor winced as twin shards of crystal pressed into his back. The rear guard had arrived. Something warm and wet trickled down his back where the sharp edged wand tips pierced his robes just enough to knick the skin.

“Oh it’s a pity. Your failed attack on the Oracle proves that the enemies of the tribe will stop at nothing to bring about our destruction. But such acts just emphasize the importance of our security measures. Your misguided attempt would have succeeded, if it weren’t for the heroic foresight of the recently elevated Grand Marshal of the Watch, leader of the Brotherhood of Watchers. Henceforth all further communication with the Oracle must be channeled through Grand Marshal Dante, for security purposes of course. Tragically, you resisted arrest while being detained and did not survive to be questioned.”

“And what about the other migrating prophets?”

Dante waved his hand as if shooing a fly. “I’ll deal with them as they return. Some will adapt to the situation. Others will not.”

Images flickered through Tor’s mind, threads of intent unraveling and re-routing even as he watched. “I suppose you’ll have your guards do the heavy lifting. You always were too weak to get your own hands dirty.”

“I am not weak. Destiny moves my hand. My destiny.”

Tor saw flashing probabilities, most ending in darkness. Others however led him to a different path. “Oh, I’ve seen your destiny Dante. You wouldn’t like it.”

A snarl curled Dante’s lip as he rolled up the sleeves of his immaculate robes. “Hold him. I’ve waited for this for a long time.”

The cutting shards were withdrawn from Tor’s back. Guards on either side of him pinned his arms against his back to give the self appointed Grand Marshal a steady target.

Dante drew back his arm and Tor felt the shadow rise up within him. As Dante’s clenched fist descended toward his face, Tor felt time slow. He felt power stretching out from his core, reaching up to the point where Dante’s fist would contact his face. The moment that approached was pivotal, timeless. He saw the cruel gleam of hatred in Dante’s eye, wrapped like a smothering blanket around an insidious kernel of fear. He saw cold indifference in the stance of the two guards at Dante’s side, so unlike the zealous fervor his storm chasers had shown in the attack at Edgeways. He saw their dismissal of him as a threat as they turned away. He saw their lapse create an opening into the Oracle’s inner sanctum, blocked only by Dante and his rage. He saw the threads of Dante’s intent inexplicably turned aside, shriveled and severed from their target.

He expected the moment of contact to be an explosion of blinding pain. Instead it was a cloud of dark billowing shadow, accented by a shock that jolted Tor to the marrow of his bones. Tendrils of invisible power lanced into Dante, binding him temporarily in place as Tor’s head absorbed and reflected the impact. The two guards that held him were blasted backward into the walls by a pulse of raw energy. The same power flung Dante aside like a sand fly driven by the desert wind. Tor tumbled forward between the only two guards left standing. They were too startled to stop him as he rushed headlong into the Oracle’s inner sanctum.

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. Simon‘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.

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.

Chapter 13 Scene 3

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 59 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Their tortuous crawl across the face of the salt flat was beyond exhausting. Simon had tried to retain what little awareness he could while his body dragged itself league after league. But the sameness was overwhelming. He had drifted in and out of consciousness.

When he was awake enough to notice, the sun played tricks on his vision, bouncing it off shimmering veils of heat. Dimly he remembered looking out across the scintillating plain in the night as the stars glinted overhead. How long ago had that been? Hours? Days? Quints? He had lost all track of time. And under the sun’s baleful eye, his saw no more than a few yards in any direction. He felt as though he crossed the same few yards of endlessly.

Yet he persevered. Some part of his consciousness had latched onto a bearing of some sort, and followed it doggedly. He felt their destination calling him, felt its inexorable pull. He counted their progress in cuts on his ragged palms, rubbed raw by the sharp edged crystal dust. He tracked the passage of time in rents torn through the knees of his tattered robes.

So when a small outcropping of stone loomed ahead of them, Simon would have wept for joy if he still had control of his own tear ducts. Under other circumstances, he would have overlooked the small protrusion from the surrounding sea of featureless white. A dark glassy stone, with metallic flecks visible on its lustrous surface, it thrust above the sands by less than a handspan. It was several fingers wide at the base, tapering to an irregular point at the tip. It was completely unremarkable, really. But the relief from the White Sea’s endless monotony gave Simon hope that they were not crawling in circles. It tortured him with anticipation of something beyond this nightmare, if they could only reach its edge.

He watched the dark stone hungrily as it appeared out of the endless reflections in front of him. He longed to touch it, to reassure himself of its solidity in an increasingly dream-like world. But whatever was controlling his body’s progress was not interested in the silent sentinel of black stone. Again Simon would have wept if he could, as they passed it by without pause. He only managed to steal one last glimpse of farewell as the pinnacle receded into the shimmering reflections behind them.

But mere moments after leaving the stone cap behind, Simon realized that his shambling crawl across the sands had slowed. Was it possible the strange force that had energized and driven him on was weakening? He tentatively tried to take conscious control of his limbs, but animal instinct was still firmly in control. It pushed him aside effortlessly. No, something else had changed. He slowed his own thoughts, and tried to mesh them with the dark awareness that had driven him to crawl league after blind league. He felt the faintest echoes of thoughts, if they could be called that. He could still feel the faint pull of their destination. That had not changed, unless perhaps to grow faintly stronger. Overlaying that weak pull he could still feel each of his cardinal directions. He felt the sky above and the sand below, the mountains ahead and the plains behind, the sunrise in this direction and the sunset that one. He could feel these directions as tingles in the bronzy skin on his back and vibrations in the graying hair on his scalp.

He felt them in the same visceral way he felt the weak heartbeat and shallow breathing of the young air mage he dragged in his wake. And now he felt something else. There was a presence off to their right. Something moved through the constant mirages that blinded him, drawing closer. Now it was in front of them, approaching the path to their distant destination. And then quite suddenly, it stopped.

This confusing new presence waited just ahead on the concealing haze. It confounded the animal instincts within him. He felt one heartbeat, heard one creature’s breath, but sensed more than one presence. He also felt a separate pull toward this new presence, similar to the pull of their destination. It felt smaller somehow, diminished. Yet it fought with the pull of their destination because it was much closer.

Hesitantly Simon found himself inching closer to the shadowy apparition just beyond the shimmering veils of mirage. Ever so slowly, the wavering figure solidified out of the vapors. The familiar dun colored robes of the Prophet resolved in front of him with every halting step. He felt his lips curl in an attempt to hiss. His neck strained at a foreign impulse to snap his jaws at the stranger as he approached warily. But he was helpless to do anything as the mysterious Prophet reached into a tautly stretched pouch with one hand and held forth a fistful of sand, pure desert sand. He let a tiny rivulet of the golden grains trickle between his clenched fingers and Simon felt the animal instinct within him lurch desperately toward it. As the first grains of sand touched the swollen skin of his face he felt his tenuous link to their destination dissolve as if it had never been.

And though he wailed against it with all his fading strength, Simon could only watch in horror. The Prophet circled around the two broken mages, leading them back in the direction they had come, leaving a serpentine plume of sand across the salt flat in his wake.

Chapter 13 Scene 2

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 58 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Wherever Tor’s bare feet touched the ground, powdered crystal dust stirred to life. Deadly white clouds rose a handspan into the air, but no further. The shadows that ran across his skin pooled in his shallow footprints, leaving a residue that only Tor could see. This dark ooze weighted down the crystal dust, dragging it harmlessly back to earth before it could enter the Prophet’s lungs. But there was something more as well. Tor felt the Shadow grow stronger within him with every step.

“Of course I grow in power here. How can it be that you Prophets have sheltered in the heart of the caldera these fifty ‘turns and not discovered its true purpose?”

“What purpose?”

“I will say only this. Your world and mine are connected. Your shadow crystals, the White Sea, even the cursed mages with their Scion, it’s all linked. And speaking of your mages, there they are. Or what’s left them.”

Suddenly Tor could see the Doormakers, struggling feebly across the blazing surface of the salt flat. They were far to the northwest and moving slowly northward.

“I have never been able to see so far across this salt flat. Is this your doing?”

“Your tribe’s gift of prophecy is but a shadow of the true Sight I have unlocked in you. With enough power, you could see all possible futures in all places.”

“I could see all possible futures?”

“You could not comprehend that much of the true Sight. It would drive either drive you mad or destroy you.”

“But you have that kind of power?”

The question was met by silence. The shadow hesitated, considering something beyond Tor’s comprehension.

“Well, demon? Do you have the power or not?”

“No. But the caldera does. To use that power without destroying yourself, you must have focus. Look closely at the mages. Tell me what you see.”

Tor squinted into the distance, focusing on the struggling Doormakers. “It’s like looking through a fractured crystal. There are many images superimposed, each slightly different.”

“Those are probabilities of the immediate future and recent past, flashes of what might have been and what may yet come to pass. Look deeper, through and within the flashes. Focus on patterns, continuities, concentrations of probability.”

The kaleidoscopic images turned and flickered. He began to see these flashes as curiously flat images, projections with no depth. But then suddenly something shifted in his mind, and a new pattern leapt out of the array of facets. Tor reeled, nearly stumbling to his knees. “I see something! There is a line shared by overlapping images!”

“Yes. It is a common thread, darkest near the mages, thinning and fraying as is projects forward toward…”

The insubstantial cobweb connected the struggling Doormakers to the T’Kulpa on the northern shore of the Sea. “Back toward the T’Kulpa!”

“You see the thread of their intent. Human intent influences the future, and with enough focus on its effects, you can interpret the patterns of probability. But remember that human intent alone does not determine the future.”

“Of course not. They’ll never reach the T’Kulpa even if that is their intent. They’ll succumb to the salt flat’s poisons long before that.” In time, Tor knew there would be no record of the Doormakers’ trespass except another set of sun-bleached bones. The Oracle must not have sent a guide to collect these visitors, despite Tor’s efforts to convince him otherwise. The Prophets had certainly made similar choices in the past to protect their home.

“Indeed? If you are so certain the poison salt clouds will kill these Doormakers…”

“I should be able to see that probability if I focus on it, if I seek it out!”

Countless possibilities projected forward into the future, images superimposed on Tor’s view of the present. Wrapping the Shadow’s otherworldly power around his vision, Tor sifted through the facets of his sight. The possibilities flashed before him in an accelerating cascade of images, until he exhausted them all and he saw only darkness.

What do you see, little prophet?”

“I… I see nothing, only darkness.”

“What of your certainty now?”

“But you said I needed to focus on what I wanted to see!”

“No. I did not. You wanted to hear that, but human intent does not determine alone does not determine the future.” A sound very much like derisive laughter echoed in the recesses of Tor’s mind.

Tor gritted his teeth in frustration. He forced himself to consider the shadow’s words carefully, turning them over in his thoughts. Far across the entire expanse of the White Sea, the mages still crawled pitifully on the sands. By all rights, they should be dead already. Clearly that had been the Oracle’s intent. But they were shielding themselves from the deadly effects of the salt flat somehow. That combined with the darkness he encountered in his Sight implied that…

“These mages will not die on the salt flat, will they?”

“If their future included such a possibility, you would be able to see it here.”

Tor drew in a calculated breath and let it out slowly through his nose. He widened his awareness gradually until the array of possible images returned, superimposed on his sight again. Then he waited as the facets rotated and aligned until the thread of the Doormakers’ intent was visible to him again. He followed it with his eyes, not trying to guess where it would lead. His head ached with the effort as strange images connected to the line of intent flashed into the foreground. The insubstantial cord faded the farther he traced it. At several points it frayed, diverging strands branching off and diminishing until Tor could no longer follow them. The main branch dissolved to insubstantiality just as it entered the T’Kulpa. Further concentration brought dizzying spots to his vision and swelled the pain in his head to a throbbing ache. At last he gave up.

“Why does the thread break up so?”

“Theirs is merely one thread in an infinite tapestry. The farther intent projects from its source in space and time, the less certain it becomes.”

“But why can’t I follow it beyond the T’Kulpa?”

“You are merely an observer of that infinite tapestry, with a thread of your own to follow. You stand at arms length as you watch their thread, a challenge that exceeds the abilities of most of your race. The farther that other thread is from you in space and time, the more focus and power you must expend to distinguish it from its surroundings.”

“And how does the White Sea affect this challenge?”

Again the shadow hesitated before responding. “Think of the caldera as one source of a certain type of energy. Power I can draw on, and in turn make available to you.”

“So I can’t cast my sight beyond the boundaries of the White Sea?”

“You can and you have already. The visions that brought you here are one example. The shadow voices that all Migrating Prophets follow are another. But the patterns of probability are harder to decipher beyond the caldera.”

“But the mages will survive the salt clouds. They will escape?”

“Their survival is probable. Escape is their intent. The future is undetermined.”

What could this mean? The White Sea had protected his tribe since they had retreated here at the end of the Doormaker’s war of aggression. If the mages learned how to cross it with impunity, how long would it be before they discovered the entrance to Ten Fallen Stones? How long before the invaders strode boldly through their sacred enclaves and tore down their beliefs? Images exploded all around him. He saw bodies strewn across the High Desert, Ten Fallen Stones overrun by plainsmen, the nomadic tribespeople reduced to beggars, and thieves. How could the Oracle allow this? Rage clouded his sight and myriad future possibilities quietly winked out of existence.

As a Migrating Prophet he had seen firsthand the how these plainsmen had eroded away the strength of the children of the sands. Edgeways was corrupted beyond redemption, the last refuge of the Great Desert’s cast-offs. These once proud warriors were now entirely reliant on the leavings of grasping merchants for their survival.

And still the plainsmen with their cursed Doormakers wanted more. Merchants crisscrossed his beloved desert, polluting the attitudes of his brethren with their greed. The mages had vowed to end their territorial expansion. Yet without their support, trade would never have advanced into the desert. The mages claimed that trade benefited the underdeveloped desert nomads and their northern neighbors. Tor saw it for what it was: a spiritual invasion, calculated and insidious.

Yet it was as inevitable as the sandstorms of winter. His Sight told him as much in vision after vision. The Doormakers would gain entrance to Ten Fallen Stones.

“Now you see what your Oracle would not. They will not be stopped.”

Silently, Tor agreed. But as he opened his Sight to further possibilities, the germ of an idea took root in his mind. If the Doormakers could not be stopped, perhaps they could be directed. And if they could be directed, then they could be misdirected. With that thought, Tor spun his own cobweb-like thread of intent. He strode off to the north, content for the moment to let destiny unfold as it would.

Chapter 13 Scene 1

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 57 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Chapter 13: The Dark Oracle’s Ascension

“The Tribe of Prophets is led by a mysterious figure they call the Oracle. Sadly, like so much about the Desert Tribes, how this Oracle is chosen or anointed remains shrouded in mystery.

Modern Desert-Plains Relations

Tor had set a blistering pace northwest across the desert. But they arrived too late, as he had known they would. The sun kissed the sky with the pink tinge of dawn by the time they reached the T’Kulpa on the southeastern shore of the White Sea. Now Tor stared out across the shimmering salt flat where the rising haze had already hidden the Island of Black Glass from his view.

Stephen Silver-eye and his storm chasers stood behind the troubled Prophet, a solid and devoted presence. They were as winded as Tor from their overland flight. And yet Tor had no doubt that they stood ready to step out onto those killing fields, if such was his command. He felt the Shadow stir within him at the thought, and possibilities clicked into focus like the myriad facets of a crystal lens.

“My Prophet, what is it you seek?”

“Destiny Silver-eye, always destiny. We all move eternally toward fate. We have no other choice. Are you ready to seize your destiny, my Shaman of the Storm?” Tor turned to his white-maned companion, capturing the shaman’s icy gray eyes with his gaze.

Stephen lowered his chin to his chest. Tor was pleased to see the rest of the five storm chasers follow suit. “The Shard Wardens stand ready Brother Tor.”

“Excellent. Go now and collect the Tears of the Sea from the cavern below. Return here and wait until nightfall. Meet me when the Island of Black Glass rises again. Tomorrow you stand with my order among Ten Fallen Stones.”

“Of course, my Prophet.” Stephen gave a quick hand signal to forestall any outbursts from his flock. As silently as clouds creeping across the face of the sun, the five storm chasers slipped back toward the crystal studded tunnel into the heart of the T’Kulpa.

Tor was suddenly seized by an overwhelming premonition, stronger than any he had ever had before. “Meena, I have a task that requires your speed.”

The dark skinned scout looked quickly to Stephen, who gave her a quick nod before continuing down the tunnel. She turned and sauntered back to the Prophet with her ever present shardspear held loosely in one hand. Tor saw the ever present predatory look in her amber eyes. “How may I serve, Brother Tor?”

She smiled widely as Tor reached into one of the many folds of his dun colored robes. But her smile faltered as he withdrew a swath of rough woven cloth a handspan in width and an armspan in length. “I need you to collect as much sand from the entrance of the T’Kulpa as you can carry in this.”

Tor saw the questions spring into her eyes. Clearly this was not the service she had anticipated. In overlaid facets of his vision, he also saw how much it would delay him to answer her, or to indulge her other expectations. He raised one finger to her lips quickly, pressing the cloth into her belt with his other hand. “No time for questions Meena. Silver-eye tells me you are the fastest of your troop. Fly for me now, quick as the wind.”

Meena flashed her wicked grin as Tor turned her gently but firmly toward the tunnel. He turned back to contemplate the deadly expanse of the White Sea. He had walked the salt flat by day before of course. An hour of such exposure was one of the tests required of all Migrating Prophets. They were trained to skirt along the edge of the White Sea if they were being pursued, leading the Tribe’s enemies to their deaths or leaving them safely behind.

But now he was contemplating a full crossing in broad daylight. Such a feat was theoretically possible, for someone with the strength of the Oracle, for example. Tor had never heard of any simple Prophet accomplishing it before. But he would make the crossing. He could hear it in the whispers of the breeze, the faint seductive voices of the Island of Black Glass that reached his Prophet’s ears even here. And the shimmering reflections brought on by the sun’s glare seemed no different than his new kaleidoscopic sight. In countless wavering images he saw himself stepping boldly out into the sun and striding alone across that seemingly endless sea.

Meena was as fleet as he could have hoped. He turned at the sound of her footsteps crunching in the sand strewn across the tunnel floor. She handed him a tightly wrapped bundle, heavy with its weight of sand, and he tucked it back into one of the folds in his robes. He was not even certain what he would use it for, only that he would need it before nightfall. He nodded quickly to Meena. “Excellent. Now rejoin the others and help them prepare to cross to the island as soon as night falls.”

“And where will you be Brother Tor?”

Where, indeed? One corner of Tor’s mouth ticked upward in amusement as he realized that a part of him already knew the answer. “I have guests to attend to. And although the sun and the sea conspire to hide them from my vision, nothing can shield them from my Sight.”

Guided by the resonating whispers of the Shadow within him, Tor did not dismiss Meena before starting out. Having a witness to this act could have its benefits, he mused. Wordlessly, he turned back to face the salt flat. He removed his sandals of toughened lizard leather. His overlapping vision showed him inky black shadows oozing across the soles of his bare feet. He drew a coarse cloth across his face as he raised his hood, leaving only his eyes unshielded. And then he stepped from the stone shelf of the T’Kulpa onto the deadly salts of the White Sea. Within a few steps, the shimmering haze closed behind him, leaving no trace of his passage.

Chapter 12 Scene 9

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 56 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Fronek had lit a small fire in the hearth of broken down farmhouse. It snapped and popped merrily under his expert hands, casting its light and warmth into their makeshift shelter. He was soaking the last of the dried venison they had brought with them in a pot filled with stream water and wild onion greens. He carefully sliced a handful of tubers into the mix, and then followed those with a few finely diced pearapples. Then he hung the pot on a metal hook in the back of the hearth and settled down to wait on a rough plank bench that had seen better days.

The shadows in the forest around him all ran together with the coming of dusk. The last light of the setting sun was leaving the upper peaks of the mountains to the north when Devon finally returned to the broken down farmhouse. Fronek could see that he was exhausted, dirty, and nearly frozen. Devon collapsed bonelessly to the ground opposite the mercenary, rubbing his hands briskly before the flames. Fronek retrieved his stew pot from its hook in the hearth with a notched stick and poured two thirds of its contents into a waiting bowl. Wordlessly he handed the bowl to his apprentice and watched the boy eat as he ate his portion from the cooking pot. He saw that color had returned Devon’s cheeks by the time he finished the licking the bowl clean.

“Well, scout. What do you have to report?”

Devon looked up from his slurping, startled momentarily. But he recovered quickly as he handed the empty bowl back to Fronek. “I overheard people talking at the Bazaar about a Factor named Dorian who they think is preparing to leave tomorrow morning. He has four wagons, each with a four lizard draft team waiting on the plain near the end of the village road. He usually trades in wines, but it seems like he’s been trading for different goods this ‘turn. A new wagon train just arrived as well. They sent three messengers into town to talk to Old Max. They’re from Riverton, or most of them are. But they’re not all from the same merchant or factor. There are seven wagons, but only three matched heavy haulers all decked out in blue and white. Each of the large wagons have six lizard draft teams. Then there are three smaller cargo wagons with their own four lizard teams and one really sleek looking one with a two lizard team.”

Fronek narrowed his eyes. “Sleek? How?”

Devon shrugged his shoulders. “Low profile, wide rims, spoked wheels. Looked built for sands, not like the wagons you usually see from the Fertile Plains merchants.”

Fronek nodded. “Hmm. Sounds like a Desert Tribes carrier. But why would they be travelling with the Riverton traders?” Fronek fell silent as he pondered. Then he shook his head briefly. He paused for a moment and looked intently out into the darkness beyond the reach of their small fire. Then he launched into a series of questions intended to flesh out any useful details Devon might have overlooked in his report. A small smile touched the corners of his mouth briefly when Devon described his trip through the interconnected cistern tunnels. The boy was resourceful, that much was clear.

“And did anyone see you?”

Devon hesitated only for a moment before shaking his head. “No one. I was careful.”

Fronek cocked his head to one side. “Are you certain?”

“I… thought maybe Graybeard might have seen something… but he went back into the camp just like the others, so he couldn’t have!”

“Graybeard?”

Devon blushed. “The people in the new wagon train had a raging argument, but I could only hear bits and pieces of it when the breeze came through just right. I couldn’t hear any of their names, so I made some up to remember them, one of them had bushy eyebrows and a fuzzy gray beard over his robes… so I just thought…”

But Fronek had latched onto an earlier phrase Devon had let slip. “Did you say that you heard their voices carried on the breeze?”

“No, not exactly. Well, maybe, I suppose. They were too far away for me to hear clearly, so I think I could only hear them when the breeze died down.”

“And you think this graybeard fellow saw you?”

“No. He couldn’t have. I was hidden in the shadow of a rock pile! It’s just that he hesitated before returning to the camp with everyone else. Like he thought he might have seen something. That’s all.”

“I see. But no one from the village saw you?”

Devon shook his head emphatically. “No. Definitely not.”

Fronek looked out toward the shadow cloaked forest again. “I think some might dispute that claim. Wouldn’t you agree Dirk?”

Devon’s eyes grew round as dinner plates as Dirk’s laughter rolled into their shelter from the darkness under the trees. The brawny mountaineer materialized out of the shadows into the ring of their firelight, shaking his head all the while. “Ah still canna’ catch ye’ sleepin’ Fronek.”

Fronek smiled at Devon’s slack jawed stare. “If anyone could, it would be you old friend.”

“Bah! Who are ye’ callin’ old, ye’ bandit!”

“Fair enough, fair enough. But you haven’t answered my question yet. Devon here claims that no one from the village saw him about his task today. Is he right?”

“Well I saw him, now didn’t I?”

Devon was clearly shocked. “But… how? When did he…?”

Fronek raised his index finger, forestalling any further spluttering. “Dirk spotted you because he is one of the finest scouts and trackers I’ve ever known. He was also waiting for you.”

“Aye, that I was lad. And a hard chase ye’ gave, by the stones!”

“Waiting? You were waiting for…”

Fronek stood with his hands behind his back, watching the realizations crash across Devon’s face. “I told Dirk to help you find me if you asked for help. I also told him to watch for your return to the village and follow you… if he could.”

“Aye, nearly two quints ago ye’ old goat! The lad nearly slipped past!”

“Did he now?”

“Ye’ve trained a tricksy one Fronek. Tha’ water tunnel was right clever lad. Right clever.”

Fronek shrugged. “Then he performed better than I could have hoped.”

Devon looked up at this. “I did? But you said I was not to be seen…”

“I did. But sometimes that’s just not possible. Your first lesson from this exercise: As a scout, know when subtlety will work as well as stealth. Sometimes not being noticed is just as good a not being seen. Your second lesson: As a commander, don’t ask for the flame when just the spark will suffice.”

Devon nodded. Fronek could see that his apprentice was struggling to absorb everything he could. He had learned so much so quickly. But there was much more ahead, and Fronek was running out of time to teach him. He turned to Dirk.

“What can you tell me about this factor Dorian? Is he preparing to leave tomorrow?”

“Oh, aye. He’ll be gone afore the next sundown. Loaded up wi’ wool and ore, he ‘as. An in a right hurry ta’ leave.”

Fronek pursed his lips thoughtfully. “And the new wagon train Devon mentioned? Did you notice anything about them?”

“I dinna’ see the wagons. But the messengers were at the Bazaar. Geoff said one was from a Riverton cloth factor he knew. The lead was no Riverton boy though.”

“No?”

“Too fancy, that ‘un. Could only be a Citadel lad, an’ thas’ the truth.”

Fronek had been afraid of that. The Doormaker’s witch hunt had arrived.