Echo of the Ages
Book 1 – The Crown of Fire
Woe to the fallen, and the twice fallen;
Woe to the many troubled people.
Strike your heads and beat your breasts,
For the mightiest of nations has fallen.
That which was chained shall be freed,
And the freed shall be chained.
Translated from a scroll from the reign of Ajanathad Balganati, Emperor of Hajana, c. 310-12 Hajanri Era.
Part 1 – Shadow of the Raven
Prologue – Magefire
The Past – c. 1123 Hajanri Era
The searing burst of magefire crackled as it lashed through the air of the high vaulted, round chamber, hot enough that it left a glowing trail behind, a lingering after effect that faded only slowly. It arced about and latched onto one of the pale green crystals set high up in the red stone walls, there to be caught tight in an arcane grip. It whipped about in a frenzy, searing at the walls and leaving scorch marks behind as it struck them, flailing with a frenetic impotence. A smell of burning metal suffused the air, growing stronger with each passing moment. The crystal glowed with an inner light, growing stronger as the lashing of the flames faltered and failed, draining away.
A handful of the crystals had succumbed to previous assaults upon them, reduced to shattered forms, shedding sparks that hissed and fizzed as they drifted down to the floor below to join others that still glowed bright. Tendrils of smoke twisted up into to air from the sparks, there to join a thickening bank of smoke that shrouded the roof.
A second arc of magefire erupted, originating from what had once been a statue that sat at the centre of the floor of the chamber. The floor had been formed of red and green marbles shards that formed esoteric eye twisting patterns, ones that warped the air around them, contorting the view so that no edge appeared straight. Any who gazed upon the disruptions would at first consider them a mess of chaotic interference, random in their outcomes. Only with prolonged viewings would a pattern emerge, the whole of it funnelling sight ever inwards towards the centre of the chamber and the statue.
The statue itself had been of the palest cream stone, through which shot flecks of crimson and gold. It had once had a from, but no longer, for much of it had melted and been twisted beyond all recognition. A pair of legs supported the amorphous mass of the statue, appearing much like a candle that had melted from the heat of the flame. Drips of molten stone ran down it, to pool on the floor around the base of the statue. A single arm stuck up out of the twisted mass, one that raised high a crystal lattice orb. A light glowed from within the crystal, and a soft hum echoed from it. The light grew in intensity until a burst of magefire erupted from it, draining the orb of its luminance and setting the statue to collapse in on itself further still as it further melted away.
Around the room stood three figures, each in a long, hooded coat of deep purple that almost appeared black. The hoods were pulled up over their heads, hiding their faces. All three stared towards the statue, holding their gloved right hands out towards it. Along the hems of their coats and hood had been sewn silver thread in patterns that mirrored the ones built into the floor, thread that glowed bright. The air around the three hooded figures shimmered and twisted. From each spilled forth chanted words, coming faster and more frenetic with each passing moment and bolt of fire.
A burst of flame crashed from the statue, arcing towards one of the hooded figures. It danced around them, seeking to find purchase on the shield of energy that surrounded the figure, one that flared almost as bright of the flames. Unable to grasp the figure, the flames were drawn off by a nearby crystal, there to be snared.
A fourth person stood in the chamber, back from the others, watching the situation. While he wore the same long coat as the others, the hood of his still sat settled upon his shoulders. Eyes of amber laced with a tinge of red studied the statue, locked upon it. Creases furrowed across his brow while his mouth moved silently, spilling out unheard words. Sweat ran down his head, plastering hair of mahogany shaded with gold and red to it.
Behind the man, a set of heavy bronze doors were set into the wall of the chamber, the only entrance into it. Beyond the crystals, nothing else marred the smooth walls, not even windows. The only light in the chamber came from the crystals and the flashes of fire. Etched deep into he surface of the door were formulaic equations in a spidery script, the etchings filled with red-gold that glowed with an inner fire. The etchings pulsed with light at each burst of magefire from the statue.
The heavy bronze doors slammed open. A tall man with skin the shade of the deepest black came striding through on a long-legged gait that stopped only just short of a run. Red faced with exertion, his chest heaved as he breathed deeply. He wore a dark coat much as the others did, the buttons of which were done up out of order, while hair like molten red-gold, shot through with streaks of deep orange and pale whites, stuck out dishevelled and unkempt. “Ariar, what is going on,” he demanded brusquely, still rasping for breath. “I felt the surge halfway across town.” Eyes of gold watched not the other man but the statue instead, reflecting hints of crimson at the sight of it. Lines etched around his eyes marred what would have been an otherwise youthful face.
The amber eyed man turned at the entrance of the tall, flame haired man and some of the tightness in his expression eased. “We do not know, Master Junawa,” Ariar replied. “It had been sitting silent, dormant as it has been all these years, and the next thing we knew it was out of control.”
Junawa frowned, running fingers through his hair to bring some order to it. “You did nothing to set it off?”
“No,” Ariar told him. “We weren’t even working on it. Our efforts were focused on storing away the Elder Lyre when it started up, a surge arcing through the room. We lost three containment crystals before we could even attempt to restrain it.”
“The others relics are safe?” Junawa asked. He began to pace the perimeter of the chamber, all the while observing the battle between the magefire flaring statue and the three mages who sought to rein it in.
“Yes, Lord Junawa,” Ariar responded, forced to scurry to keep up with the taller man. “Everything else we had stored away secure and were able to evacuate out of the chamber.”
“That is good. If just one of those bolts had hit any one of them…” Junawa shrugged, unable to complete the sentence, his face grim, even horrified, at the thought of it.
He completed a circuit of the chamber, coming to a halt back before the bronze doors again. He tapped at his lips with a forefinger, contemplating the statute. Nodding to himself, he raised his hand and swept it through the air before him. As he did, he chanted, softly, the flow of words melodic yet ringing with power. Pale blue light materialised in the air, writing out equations and formulas that part mirrored the ones of the doors. They flowed and shifted and changed as Junawa studied them, some fading away to be replaced by new ones.
A frown marred Junawa’s face as he touched one of the equations that took the form of a spinning circle, the equation spiralling in from the outside to the centre. It grew larger in size and he ran his fingers over certain parts of it. The script in those parts turned from blue to red. “This can not be right,” he said, spinning the arcane circle about with his fingers. “These readings…no, that is impossible.” A deeper, more troubled frown creased his brow. “It seems that he may have been correct all this time.”
“Who, Lord Junawa?” Ariar asked, trying to make some sense of the equations that Junawa studied.
The tall, flame haired man spoke as if the words burned at his lips as they emerged, almost spitting them out. “The Unbound One.”
“He may have been,” Ariar replied, “But he will never know it and little good it will do him.”
A short, bitter laugh followed. “No, I guess not.” With a shake of his head to dismiss the thoughts, Junawa turned his attention back to the glowing, arcane equations before him.
After a moment he tilted his head to one side, a quizzical look fleeting across his face. “No, that wouldn’t work,” he said quietly. “Yes, we have considered that. The end result would be the same, or worse, I fear. Yes, I know, worse than the current situation is hard to imagine but in this case it is so.”
“Lord Junawa?” Ariar spoke up, “Who are you talking to?”
Junawa blinked and swept his hands across the equations, wiping them away. He turned towards Ariar. “That wasn’t you speaking?”
Ariar shook his head. “I said nothing, Lord Junawa.”
Junawa frowned deeper. “I could have sworn that you said something. If not you then someone must have. You did not hear anything.”
Another shake of the head followed. “No, Lord Junawa.”
The both heard the whispered voiced that filled the chamber, a soft noise that sounded much like the sigh of a snake, as if a thousand snakes had all spoken at once, a voice of echoes and reverberations and susurrations that blended into one unnerving whole. Blood, it sang in a voice as much felt as heard, Blood so sweet. It sings, it calls. Hunger. Hunger. Endless Hunger. Come, come to me, it crooned.
A scream followed the crooning call, a scream that filled the chamber with endless agony, coming from all places and from none, a scream that clawed at the soul with the horror of the sound of it. It was the sound of pain unimaginable, torn from an unknown throat. All in the chamber looked about, uncertain as to who the screams came from.
From out of the molten remnants of the statue a bolt of incandescent magefire leapt, white-hot with inchoate rage. It lashed about, a liquefied whip of flaming light, to snap around one of the three hooded mages, enveloping them in fire. It tore apart the arcane shielding about the mage as if it did not exist and bit into the mage. He screamed, a scream that matched, overlaid and amplified the one already hanging in the air. The flames leapt high as they caught and the mage fell backwards to the ground, back arching and heels pounding at the ground as he writhed. Death came mercifully quick as the flames devoured, leaving behind a drifting of ashes and smoke.
And yet, even after his death, the scream lingered on for some time, tearing at the sanity of those that listened until at last it died out to whimpers and then at last a long, soft sigh which drifted into silence.
“What do we do?” Ariar asked, ashen faced, while his eyes radiated profound horror. It was less a question he asked and more a resigned statement.
“Do?” Junawa replied, the grimness of death in his face and his eyes flashing steel. “We do what we can. And we hope.”