The Second Great Act of Mediocrity: The Taming of the Beast

It has been several months since we presented to you The First Act. As is inevitable for the elders of the church, the second has gone untold despite our commitments. Here, we present the second of the Seven Great Acts of Mediocrity: The Taming of the Beast.

 

Despite the vague awareness a slowly growing number of citizens now had of Him, He, The Mehssiah, in All His Adequacy, remained humble. The first act was a tale told far and wide across the region within a three mile radius of the Holy Tree. And so when He, The Mehssiah, in All his Adequacy, first set foot in a new town, within a fortnight almost three people had uttered the words, “Hey, aren’t you that guy who helped those weirdos with their fruit superstition?” to which He replied, “Well, I wouldn’t call them weirdos, but yeah, sure, close enough.”

The almost three people spread word of His presence around the town until a meeting was called and a consensus was reached. The mayor spoke for the whole town, and told Him, The Mehssiah, in All His Adequacy, “Alright, if those fruity nutjobs over in that town are worthy of help, us normal people damn well are too!”

And so the Mehssiah sat and listened to the troubles of the town, and once every man, woman, and child had spoken, He said, “Okay, so I’m not really experienced in most of these things but I guess I can try to talk some sense into your chicken, Mrs. Baker.”

The Mehssiah was led to a backyard with a small chicken coop. One bird in particular looked very cruel. The bird stared at Him. It was Edgar, the Chicken, in All His Animosity, and He, the Mehssiah, in All His Adequacy, stared back. For several minutes this lasted, until eventually Edgar realised intimidation would not work on this man. Edgar strode forth, and was accepted into the Mehssiah’s embrace. And then, the Mehssiah left, but Edgar followed. The wicked streak of violence in Edgar had miraculously been replaced with an infallible loyalty to the Mehssiah that left Mrs. Baker with one less chicken, but with a little more peace in both her heart and her backyard.

And so whenever the townsfolk spoke of Him, The Mehssiah, in All His Adequacy, they spoke that He actually really only addressed one of their many issues. But that one issue was quite a significant chicken problem, and though it was not the desired outcome, the townsfolk always remembered that it was Close Enough.

 

Thank you for reading the second of the great acts. The third shall come eventually. At this point, we will not even bother giving a rough estimate of when. Keep on the lookout for updates and new scripture, and until then, may your life be Close Enough to how you wish it to be.

Jack Scrap

Jack Scrap was primarily comprised of scrap metal and wood. To say it looked as if he had been thrown crudely together in a hurry would be generous. Little attention had been paid to proportion – most notably his arms were different lengths. You would not notice his legs were also unevenly sized if he was standing still, but the subtle difference was enough to turn his walk into an unsteady hobble. For a head he had a battered old football with a sad face and crosses for eyes slopped on in white paint. A dented bucket had been forced onto this football as a helmet with the handle hanging down like a chinstrap. The only part of his body that seemed to feature any semblance of his creator’s forethought for Jack’s wellbeing was a blackboard affixed to his chest with twine. Beside this, he had a miniature third arm, at the end of which was not a hand but a stick of chalk. It had taken some time to learn to write with his strange new body, but it was easier than teaching a football to talk.

Jack’s creator was not an incredible genius who created life from inanimate objects. His name was Alvaro Shaw, and he was part incredible genius for certain, but another larger part terrible fool. In one tragic experiment, Alvaro had accidentally disembodied the soul of his assistant, Jack. Jack’s body was disintegrated into a horrific odorous cloud, and a football was the only object nearby that Alvaro could grab in time to bind Jack’s soul to. Then, with Jack’s soul safe in the ball, Alvaro rushed around and built a body out of whatever he could find. Justifiably, Jack had no interest remaining under the employment of Alvaro after that.

For months he had hobbled from city to city, searching for a place to call home, but nowhere had been welcoming. Eventually, he had come to his last resort, a city where misfits fit in well, provided they did not mind the constant odour of death and decay. Despite having features painted on, Jack somehow still processed sight and sound – but luckily not smell. He looked now upon the city ahead. Behind him lay a treacherous journey through dark misty deadwoods, and ahead towered the many spires and towers of Kazzanhof. Its official name in legal documents was “The City That Was Once Known as the Unconquerable City of Kazzanhof But Look At It Now”, but to outsiders it was most commonly known as The Fallen City or The City of the Dead. In the defence of the humans of the old age who had heralded Kazzanhof as unconquerable, they had yet to be proven wrong – the undead who had previously been human citizens before the fall would not let anyone forget that. It had not been conquered as such, but had rather fallen apart from within due to vampiric corruption. In the early days after the fall, it was a hotspot for violent hedonistic rampage, but traditions change, and modern vampires rarely engage in such delights. The city in Jack’s era was a giant multicultural hub for undead of all kinds, and he too was undead in a way. He was soon to learn whether he could find home here. This is where he imagined he would take a deep breath and stride forth, if he could do either of those things. Instead, he jiggled with a noisy rattling sound and limped toward the gates.

HELLO I AM JACK SCRAP, CAN I ENTER? he scrawled onto his blackboard. The guard, a ghoul, scowled at him – not out of anger, but simply because that was the only expression his warped face could make.

“Follow,” he groaned, and lumbered through the gate.

The main street was impressive, despite the ruin of many of the buildings on it. The wide cobblestone road curved uphill leading promptly to a giant flat square, with a defiled statue in the centre. The crumbling and headless form of King Arran Kazzan IV was now coated in ivy and moss. Around the square, little stalls displayed produce that made Jack glad he no longer had to eat. He stopped to take in the scene, but the ghoul tugged his arm and he stumbled onwards. He was led down a smaller road into a smaller square, then to the building at the back. The sign above the door read “Department of Immigration”. The ghoul nudged Jack toward the entrance, and then left him to figure the rest out for himself.

Paperwork among mortals is quite often viewed as an unnecessary waste of what little time they have on this world. In a city where most beings are more-or-less immortal and those who require sleep are in the minority, this time limitation does not apply.  Bureaucracy in Kazzanhof is therefore a convoluted time-consuming mess of a process. The zombie at the desk groaned in confusion when Jack explained who he was. There was no form for Jack. He was one-of-a-kind. One-of-a-kind beings were not all that uncommon in Kazzanhof, but still uncommon enough that they required a meeting with a state official rather than a simple pile of paperwork.

Luckily it was not a busy day, and Jack was in a meeting with the head of immigration just half an hour later. The head of immigration was a lich named Nikola Karsingen. Her greyed skin drooped down, clinging to her face in a way that emphasised the shape of her skull. An icy blue glow shone unnervingly from her wide eye-sockets.

“You’re something entirely new, Mr. Scrap. Could you tell me how you became undead?” asked Nikola, who had a quill ready to take notes.

SORCEROR’S ASSISTANT

DISEMBODIED SOUL

BOUND TO FOOTBALL

“I see. And why do you wish to live in Kazzanhof?”

I TRIED

EVERYWHERE ELSE

With a chuckle that sounded more like the death rattle of a large reptile, Nikola replied, “If you talk to residents, you will find that that is quite a common reason. Those who were abandoned and rejected by the living often find acceptance here. May I ask which sorcerer you were the assistant of?”

ALVARO SHAW

MAY HE ROT

“There is little love for that man in this city, but watch your phrasing. “May he rot” is rather culturally insensitive.”

SORRY

“You’re new. You will learn these things in time.”

SO DOES THAT MEAN

I CAN LIVE HERE?

“You have nowhere else to go. This city was built for people who had nowhere else to go.”

I THOUGHT IT WAS

BUILT FOR A KING

“I meant figuratively. We brought down the kingdom then we brought down the evil vampires. Now it is home to good vampires, liches, zombies, ghouls, banshees – any type of undead you can name.”

THANK YOU

WHERE DO I GO NOW?

“Try Levarre Real Estate on Bloodmist Street. There is always something on the market”

I HAVE NO MONEY

“Well homelessness for the undead is barely a burden, so many do not bother owning a house and instead just roam the city as they please. It is a pain for getting mail to them though, as Glurg, Head Ghoul of Postal Services could tell you for hours at a time. I will finish your paperwork and you will receive confirmation of citizenship once that is processed. Until then, stay out of trouble and good luck.”

THANK YOU

GOODBYE

“First, sign here. Then you can go.”

 

Outside again, Jack had mixed feelings. He was very glad to be accepted so quickly and easily, but nothing seemed homely about it yet. He returned to the main town square. He stood and looked around in awe. Even the buildings that were a crumbled shadow of their former glory radiated a sense of elaborate majesty and architectural extravagance. The decorative sculptures and gargoyles on the walls displayed a lot of history. Some of the beautiful original Kazzan era statues still stood, while others had been replaced by horrific monuments to vampire lords during the fall. More recent sculptures tried to convey a sense of optimism, but given that it was optimism from the perspective of undead, to the untrained eye it instead conveyed a sense of grim mortality.  Jack left the square down a street chosen at random, and then another street chosen at random, and another. The odd combination of architecture seemed to be present everywhere, though further from the main street and square, a lot of newer less spectacular buildings had been hastily crammed in between the old ones.

As he stared distractedly at the buildings, Jack bumped into a cloaked stranger. The figure spun round, and Jack stumbled backward and fell to the ground. A pale white face stared down at him with pupil-less red eyes.

“What are you?” hissed the vampire.

WAS HUMAN

“And now… Football? Bucket?”

LONG STORY

“I am intrigued,” said the vampire, helping Jack to his feet. “I am Oliver Gelt. Tell me this long story, and I shall decide whether you are welcome in this district.”

Jack told, or rather wrote, a summary of his story. Oliver’s gaze turned harsh the moment Alvaro Shaw’s name was mentioned, and relaxed again when Jack spared no details about how much he loathed him. Baring one’s fangs is considered bad manners among vampires, so when they wish to grin they smile with their lips tightly pressed together. By the end of Jack’s tale, Oliver’s face was twisted into a vampire-grin – the sight of which made Jack jiggle in amusement. Oliver laughed too.

“Jack, Jack, Jack. That is quite a story. Of course you are welcome here. I was messing with you before. Everyone who respects the dead is welcome in Kazzanhof! This district is called Sarvayn. Most of us here are vampires. I’m something of a community leader, you might say.”

Another vampire suddenly emerged from the shadows, laughing at Oliver.

“Ignore him, he is a rebellious young prankster, and not a community leader at all”

Oliver opened his mouth to protest, but the new figure said, “No, Oliver, hosting the book-club that one time does not count and in vampire years 132 is quite young. Greetings, Jack, I am Maximillian Davidov, our district’s voice on the city council. Make yourself at home here, and if you so wish, sign my petition against the swimming baths the council is proposing to dig up half of our community garden for.”

WOW, YOU ARE

QUITE AN ACTIVE

COMMUNITY

I AM HONOURED

TO BE SO

QUICKLY WELCOMED

Maximillian gave a vampire-grin and said, “Jack, please. This is no high honour; it is our basic vampiric decency. Come to the garden in two hours’ time, I know you can’t eat with a football for a head, but you can meet lots more of us at the barbeque we’re hosting tonight!”

At this moment, Jack’s painted-on sad face was unusually inaccurate. Any preconceptions he might have had about the undead were being dispelled quite rapidly, and he was so relieved to feel warmly accepted for the first time since becoming a scrap construct.

THANK YOU

I SHALL

TAKE A WAY

AND SEE YOU

AT THE BBQ

“Oooh!” said Oliver, “B. B. Q. We could use that! That’s a clever shortening of a word that often doesn’t fit in the tiny boxes we have to fill on our paperwork.”

“Yes,” agreed Maximillian, “Jack, my friend, I am excited to see what other clever abbreviations you may invent. See you tonight, we must prepare!”

The two vampires bid farewell and leapt dramatically into the shadows, leaving Jack to explore the district alone, but happily.

Sacred Fires – Part 3

“Who are you? How long have you been there?!” demanded Ennaya.

Her heart was pounding, but the man appeared to be unarmed and she thought he had a kind face. The man raised open palms, which Ennaya recognised as a gesture to indicate no threat was intended.

“I offer my apologies for my sudden appearance, traveller. My name is Deywan. I have not been stalking you, worry not. I merely like to walk in these woods and gather mushrooms. We get so few visitors around these parts that my curiosity got the better of me and I came to get a closer look.”

Ennaya eyed the man cautiously, but relaxed her guard, and introduced herself.

“Ennaya. I’m not sure you’d believe me if I told the story of my travels, but I’m looking for someone called Farrda.”

“Ah, are you a Flametender?”

“Not as such…” replied Ennaya, grasping the vial around her neck – partly for comfort and partly to hide the flame.

“Well I don’t know what that means, but I shall not invade the privacy of the sect’s affairs. Brother Farrda is well-respected in our village, Tanai, and I would be glad to introduce you to each other.”

Ennaya gave thanks and smiled at Deywan.

They spoke only a little on the walk to the village, as Ennaya had decided to keep the stupid questions like “Where in the world am I?” for Farrda. Their small conversation intrigued Deywan, who seemed very jealous that she had been to the Sa’Ellai Library, but he sensed her reluctance to share much information and did not push for details.

The village of Tanai was surrounded by a wooden fence, which Ennaya though was so low that it must be for decoration, not security. Inside the fence, it was not significantly different to villages on Lahana. Everything was made from wood with the exception of two stone buildings in the centre – a church and some kind of public hall. The familiarity offered Ennaya a little comfort, though her apprehensiveness about meeting Farrda was growing second by second as Deywan led her towards the church.

“Go ahead,” reassured Deywan. “Farrda is inside – probably studying some boring old scrolls and wishing for a distraction like this!”

“Thank you, Deywan,” said Ennaya.

She entered the church and nervously called out, “hello?”

She inched further inside. It was very similar to churches on Lahana. The architecture was fairly simplistic, a theme broken only by two carved sculptures on either side of a stone altar at the front. The familiarity calmed her racing heart for a moment, and then the rattle of a door to a side-room made it skip a beat. The next sound was that of a kindly voice.

“Hello? Do you seek my counsel, friend?”

As the man saw Ennaya, he added, “Oh, you are from out of town, yes? I love to meet a traveller.”

His presence somehow made Ennaya feel at ease, as if the man radiated calm.

“Are you Brother Farrda?”

“Yes, I am. What is your name?”

Ennaya had no second thoughts about talking to him – it just felt right to tell him everything. So she did. She spoke for several minutes while Farrda watched and listened closely. When she was done, Farrda sat silent for several seconds then laughed and said, “Well, although I didn’t expect you to appear in Tanai, I’m very pleased to find you safe and strong, Ennaya. Don’t worry, Brother Lukani is not dead, you weren’t divinely chosen at the random whim of a god. The Deep Circle passed your name to the Flamesingers.”

“Slow down!” interrupted Ennaya. “I have so many questions and you’re just adding to the list with this talk of some deep circle and flamesingers as if I wasn’t already confused enough! Why do these people know me?”

“Sorry, I shall take it back a step. What do you know of the Sa’Ellai Sect?”

“Well I know of the library… and that it has – had? – the fire of wisdom…”

“Has. It still burns. Wisdom is just one of many human names for it. Sa’Ellai is its true name. The library is named after that, Sa’Ellai is not some word from a forgotten old language as many think.”

“What is it then, if not just a magical fire?”

“It is one of the Sacred Fires, the Drayr-Sa – they are a physical manifestation of magic – not just the simple regular magic of wizards and sorcerers. I mean the most fundamental and ancient wild-magic of the world. Did Pallelan not tell you any of this?”

“You know my father?”

“I do not know him personally, but he is known to the sect. He is of the Deep Circle. We are not just a religion. We are the protectors of the Drayr-Sa. The Sa’Ellai Sect is just one branch of a worldwide organisation. While many of us bear the robes and symbols of the sect, the Deep Circle remains secret. They are a council of the most trusted and knowledgeable flametenders, and must keep that identity hidden. Though I do find it a little uncomfortable that he kept it hidden from you despite convincing the Deep Circle to pass your name to the flamesingers… I was under the impression that they had consent to do so, but I suppose not…”

“So I’m the chosen one of my father, not of the gods? That doesn’t reassure me very much! Sa’Ellai told me to reignite the other fires! How many are there? Where are they? Why me? How does one even reignite a magic fire? Why do they need reigniting if there’s a whole worldwide group protecting them? What…”

“Ennaya,” said Farrda firmly, but not angrily. More gently, he continued, “There are five Drayr-Sa dotted around the world. There is a division in our sect, those loyal to the protection, and those who follow Ansakari’s vision of dominance and control rather than protection. Similar groups exist at the others. Some have been successful. Three have already been extinguished and the fourth may fall soon, but the essence that let them burn still remains – they are far from dead. As they are all connected, a spark from one can reignite another. You were chosen because we knew you would be trustworthy and strong enough. The flamesingers sang your name into Sa’Ellai, and now that it has given you a piece of itself the essence of Drayr-Sa is intertwined with your soul. The library may have fallen to Ansakari, but as long as you carry a piece of Sa’Ellai, it cannot be fully corrupted while your soul remains pure. Each fire, once reignited, will grant you a piece of its flame. They trust you, Ennaya. Once you carry all of them, we will have a secret temple ready in which to keep them secure and incorruptible.”

Ennaya took deep breaths as she processed the information. Hearing Farrda’s answers had lifted some of the burden of confusion. This burden being lifted offered little relief in the face of the huge weight of the quest that lay ahead, but she was determined to not be afraid.

“So where must I go first?” she said with well-feigned confidence.

“If you know of it, you may not like the answer, but I can tell you it not as bad as it sounds. Both the journey and the destination should be safe – the Deep Circle is as yet unsure if the same can be said of the flame temple. Ennaya, you must head to Kazzanhof.”

 

 

<click here for a story that introduces the city of Kazzanhof. It is not linked with Ennaya’s story, but could provide some useful context if read before she goes there!>

 

Unnb

Toxic mist rises and swirls creating a grey-green haze above Lok-Fen. An observer would likely assign the word “ominous” to the hulking silhouettes that moved within, but they would be worrying over nothing. The fenfolk are gentle creatures who show little interest in the world or people beyond their home. A traveller might nervously pass through under the curious and unblinking gaze of many eyes, but they would never be attacked without provocation. Aside from carefully observing any strangers in their lands, the fenfolk are happy to ignore everything but themselves and their fen.

Genetically speaking, fenfolk are more closely related to algae and fungus than they are to humans. Despite this, they are, in a lenient sense of the word, humanoid in form. They are six feet tall even though their backs are so hunched that their monstrous hands almost touch the ground. Aside from some moss and algae growing upon their bodies they are naked, but as genderless beings there is no embarrassing display of genitalia to worry about. Reproduction occurs through a complex system of spores and slime, in one of the least pretty displays in nature. All that is necessary to know is that some swamp-based activities occur and fourteen months later a fifty kilogram child rises up from the depths of the fen. Within two years of rising, a young fenling reaches full size and is full of genetically programmed incuriosity.

Usually.

Unnb was different. They were afflicted with a condition rare among the fenfolk – wanderlust. Many in Lok-Fen called them “Unnbk’bnu fa ma hnn” which translates approximately as “Unnb who is unwise and ungrateful for our bountiful home”, but in a playful manner. Unnb was every bit as loved and respected as any other fenling, but the Druumm worried. The Druumm were the three eldest fenfolk, responsible for guiding the youth in life. Their guidance did not get through to Unnb who still gazed longingly from the edges of Lok-Fen. One day, they looked around cautiously, and then stepped beyond the boundary of their homeland.

Things suddenly seemed all too quiet, but Unnb carried on, even as the feeling grew. The intermittent bubbling and squelching of Lok-Fen had never once crossed their mind, but the lack of those sounds was a huge shock. The disturbing silence soon gave way to equally disturbing noise. The birds that used to call out barely audibly in the distance, never comfortable to enter the fen, were now up close. Their innocent calls felt like murderous screams, but Unnb carried on.

Unnb thought that on their return, they would like to known as “Unnbk’mo oaa” which is the closest phrase in the fenfolk language to “Unnb Who Carried On”. An exact translation does not exist as carrying on is not something that must be done in Lok-Fen. The thought lasted only briefly, and then Unnb realised it was a foolish thought. Noone would respect their choice to carry on with a journey unthinkable to fenfolk, and even if they would have done, Unnb could carry on no more.

Now an hour’s walk from home (perhaps more like twenty minutes for a human) Unnb felt exhausted. They looked around, and saw no mud hole or pond to rest in. One of their giant hands moved to touch their arm, and Unnb felt how dry their skin had already become. With a sad sigh, Unnb turned around and headed home.

The feeling of being enclosed once more by the Lok-Fen mist and sinking gently into its water gave Unnb great relief and great sadness. No fenfolk could last very long outside their natural habitat, but Unnb was determined to find a way. Their first venture beyond the fen was scary and brief, but it would not be their last, regardless of whatever the Druumm might have to say when they find out.

Visits to my Local Time Shaft – 4

So I was down at my local time shaft recently, and it threw out something less disturbing than last time – perhaps… Actually, this is also a little disturbing.

The time shaft gave what appears to be a passage from a classroom textbook. I’m surprised they still have paper ones. It describes a construction blunder of incredible proportion, stating that “a typo in the architect’s plans led the engineers to build evolving doors.”

Allow me to quote directly rather than paraphrase:

Initially, the evolving doors did not cause any problems. After around a month, they had developed a basic form of sentience. They were intelligent enough to mess with people who entered, jokingly asking for passwords, but for now, they were content with being doors.

It was another six months before their existential crisis. An employee, Jonas Fuller, was the first to report the change, stating “the doors asked me what it means to be a door.”

His concerns were largely ignored, and within days the doors barely functioned for their purpose any more. They became incredibly depressed and were far too willing to open up about it. Things only got worse from this point on.

Then a few sentences are illegible through charring from the time shaft, but it escalates quickly.

By this time, the hostages were well on the road to recovery, while the doors continued to exert power. They now legally occupy a new nation spanning 243 square kilometres of land formerly belonging to the USA. Aside from the events of their fight for independence, they have remained a peaceful nation, though the human rights record there still falls short of UN expectations.

And that is all I have. I wish I had the whole textbook to read more than this brief overview, but alas, this is the nature of the time shaft. We find random shreds of information and see what we can learn from them. This particular item really shows the incredible potential humankind shall achieve with synthetic evolution. Hopefully other applications of this wondrous technology will turn out less messily – or perhaps we are better off not risking it.

Until next time,

    – Barnabus K. Pomadour

Sacred Fires – Part 1

There was magic in the books of The Sacred Lahana Sa’Ellai Library. There was magic in the walls and shelves, but most of all, there was magic in the fire that rose and twisted in red and gold from the centre of the room. The base of the fire was surrounded by slate wedges pointing up. Each was engraved with a strange symbol. The fire never crossed the boundary marked by the slate. It never once thought to send a burning tendril out toward the shelves. The books were in no danger. The fire simply burned endlessly without any apparent need for fuel.

The flames reached up above the height of the first upper level. The second upper level gave a beautiful view down to the fire. It was up here that Ennaya Atimari had been reading for hours. Open books littered the floor around her, absentmindedly dropped when another title or cover caught her eye. She had always loved to read but no place had she ever been resonated as strongly with that passion as this place did. A momentary distraction came when she heard a noise from the opposite side. She glanced up just in time to see a hooded figure disappear between the shelves. It was just a librarian or flame-tender – hardly worth looking away from her book for, but just before she returned her focus to the battered pages, something caught her eye. High in the rafters above, thick smoke hung in the air, and in it she saw words. She shook her head and rubbed her eyes, but the words were still there when she looked again. Within the smoke, there were streaks of faint light which read, “Ennaya Atimari, You are powerful.”

“What does that mean?!” whispered Ennaya, and the light shifted in response.

“You are the one who shall reignite the other fires.”

“What other…” she began, but she was cut off by the sound of an explosion below. She stood up to run to the barrier and look down, but an arm restrained her. She spun her head round, and her eyes met those of a flame-tender, who gestured to stay quiet.

“I’m not an enemy,” he whispered to her ear.

A muffled cry came from below, followed by a woman’s voice demanding, “Where is she?”

The rest of the conversation was inaudible, but Ennaya made the connection.

“Is this about the words in the smoke?” she asked the flame-tender.

“So it is true. You are Ennaya Atimari?”

“Yes, but…”

“I am Lukani. I will get you out of here.”

“What does she want with me?”

“I shall explain when we are somewhere safe. Come this way.”

Lakani set off in a silent jog, pulling Ennaya along by the arm. He led her between two shelves, and they made it halfway before a deafening crack sounded and the shelf to their right began to fall towards them. Ennaya dived to the ground, and covered her head with her arms. The impact of the first row of shelves was not enough to topple the second, but a shower of splintered wood and books crashed around her. She anxiously moved her arms aside and looked round. A woman dressed in ornate black and purple robes floated in the air. While Ennaya had been looking away, the fire had grown, and was tall enough to provide a golden background in contrast to the dark robes of the woman. Her presence demanded such attention that Ennaya had not noticed Lukani staggering forward until he had positioned himself directly between the woman and Ennaya.

“Prophetess Ansakari, You are not welcome here!” he said, in a pained but bold voice.

“Brother Lukani, your treachery comes as little surprise. The few who remain on your side cannot stand in my way.”

“Yet I do.”

Ansakari gave a wicked smile and thrust an arm to the side. As she did so Lukani was flung across the room like a ragdoll. Her eyes then locked onto Ennaya, and she gently floated down to land on the floor. Ennaya stood to run, but stumbled on broken wood and fell. She turned to Ansakari and could not look away. She could not move. All she could do was stare fearfully at the approaching figure. Ansakari’s hand rose in a claw shape, and sparks began to fly between her fingertips, growing in intensity.  The crackling of lightning became loud, even over the sound of the fire. Ansakari’s hand swung forward to strike, and Ennaya screamed.

The pain of the shock never came. She opened her eyes. There was nothing around her but light. She wondered if she was dead, but then her eyes began to adjust to the glow, and she recognised it as the colour of the flame. Inaudible cries of anger came from outside. Ansakari must not have anticipated this. Ennaya certainly had not. She tried her best to make out what Ansakari was saying, but she could not. The voice seemed to get quieter and quieter. Then the light seemed to get dimmer and dimmer. Then it was gone entirely, and Ennaya saw she was no longer in the library. She looked around, but it did not help. She had no idea where she might be. For comfort she reached to touch her necklace. Beside it, on another chain, she found a tiny vial hanging from her neck. She had no memory of owning such a thing, or putting one on, so she took it off and examined it. Inside, a little piece of flame danced, no bigger than that of a dying candlelight. Despite its size, the flame did not seem weak. As she looked at it, it seemed to grow in power. Smoke found its way out past the stopper, and arranged itself into faint letters in the air.

“Our journey begins.”

 

PART 2