Sunday, December 25, 2005

Antaria: Of Memories Beyond

The Festival of Remembrance was over, its twelve days now firmly ensconced in the short-term memory of every man, woman and child who had guested in its cloth tassels and raucous music. All throughout Lorendheim, peasants and noblemen alike returned to their duties with the fading images of the event dancing in their minds.

Lianesse, Vestal of Antaria, liked watching them. That was all, really; She just liked watching them mill about in the streets, going about their daily business. It gave her a sense of... earthiness, she felt. It gave her a feeling that her feet were still firmly planted on the ground despite the fact that they were hundreds of yards in the air.

Lianesse had been Vestal for over fifty years, but she still knew where her heart lay.

She leaned back in her ornate divan, letting the silks fall about her tired old legs, and thought. She reached for a soft cushion, feeling the soft satin whisper beneath her fingers. She brushed the cover of an old book, given to her as a gift from the Metrians ten years hence.

Sometimes she missed the Metrians. But she remembered them, and they remembered her. It was enough to satisfy a weary old woman, to a certain degree.

She cast a short glance towards the window, noted silently that the twilight was approaching, and then decided to reach for the book again.


***


Kharandon watched the young woman with a great deal of interest. "And who is she?" he asked the veteran healer standing beside him.

"She was once Thanatai," Sister Teresa said. "We found her among the remnants of an Inquisition raid... one of the few survivors of her village."

The young woman sat at the foot of her bed, completely still and unbending. She was dressed in plain clothes of Galenic white, and had a distant expression in her eyes. In front of her, a bowl of water sat peacefully on a small table.

"The Inquisition found an entire village populated by necromancers?" Kharandon asked.

"As I understand, my Lord," Sister Teresa said, "the village deliberately sought to hide a number of their agents. She may or may not have been one of them."

"I see," Kharandon replied, watching the young woman stare blankly into space.

"We have not informed the Inquisition of her presence here," Sister Teresa admitted. "The Order of the Guiding Light seeks to bring back what has been lost, not to merely excise what has been corrupted. We believed that we could rehabilitate her, perhaps let her see the truth of our cause."

Kharandon nodded. "How do your efforts fare, Sister Teresa?"

The healer bowed in deference. "Quite well, my Lord. She has been very eager to accept our teachings, and at this point she only vaguely remembers the depravity to which she was once subject. But we cannot prevent her from receiving the visions."

"The visions?"

"She is a seer, my Lord. The lessons of the Thanatai have warped her mind to the point that she can catch what appear to be glimpses of the future."

Kharandon nodded. "Fascinating," he said.

"Indeed, my Lord. It was my opinion that this may turn out to be one of Aran's hidden blessings. The knowledge of forthcoming happenings may be useful to us."

"It would," Kharandon said, looking into the young woman's fine gray eyes. "You were right not to inform the Inquisition. Does she have a name, Sister Teresa?"

"Gwyneth, my Lord."


***


Dusk slowly fell upon Lorendheim in sheets of blue and indigo. Lianesse could hear the roar of the crowds fade away, and finally fall silent.

She stood, and placed one hand on the wooden door. How long had she lived in the Vestal's Spire? Fifty years? Fifty-two? Fifty-five? She was old, and her memory was fading. She remembered faces but not names, and names but not faces.

It was the people below who gave her strength. Thousands upon thousands of individuals, from peasants to journeymen to merchants to nobles -- all gazed towards the Spire at dusk each day to observe a ritual that was perhaps as old as time itself.

Lianesse opened the plain wooden door, and it opened onto empty air a full ten stories above the ground.

Before her lay the Tabernacle. Like the Vestal's Spire, the Tabernacle was part of what people knew as the Obsidian Ruins. Both buildings were of black, shadowed stone lanced with streaks of white, and they glowed softly at night against a clear field of stars.

Unlike the Spire, however, the Tabernacle was no longer connected to the rest of the ruins. It floated in mid-air, a single structure held aloft by some unknown force, the crown of a once-mighty tower now utterly resistant to the ravages of time and logic. Against all common sense, it remained accessible to the Ruins by a single long flight of black-lined stairs, stairs whose ancient stones that now crunched under Lianesse's sandaled feet.

This was the center of Antaria. The hopes and dreams of the people, the faith and love that they devoted towards their one true god... all of it came to rest on the Tabernacle's stately exterior. All of it came to rest on the shoulders of a single Vestal.

Lianesse was Aran's one true servant, and this was a servant's daily duty.

She placed one tiny foot on the stairway's first step, and began her ascent.


***


"Can you hear me, Gwyneth?" Kharandon asked, looking into her eyes.

Sister Teresa shook her head. "Sometimes she falls into trances, my Lord. They last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. We do not know what she sees during these episodes, nor do we know where her mind wanders."

Kharandon nodded. He stepped around the table and its bowl of water, and peered into the young woman's eyes from a different vantage point. Gwyneth's eyes were a deep shade of gray, much like his sister's and much like his own.

"Can you hear me, Gwyneth?" Kharandon asked, slowly placing one gentle hand on the young woman's arm.

Gwyneth screamed, and Kharandon jerked his hand back in utter surprise. The table overturned and the bowl upended, flying through the air and drenching the floor in clear liquid before smashing into a dozen pieces. Sister Teresa gave a sharp intake of breath, catching her shrill response between her teeth and hiding it beneath the thick cloth of one sleeve.

Gwyneth fell back onto the bed, thrashing wildly. Kharandon stood back, steadying himself with one hand and guarding himself with the other. Sister Teresa took one look at the convulsing young woman and dashed out of the room.

And to his surprise, Kharandon heard the young woman speak in a clear voice despite the seizure.

"There will be calm, and there will be madness," Gwyneth said in a hollow tone. "The arcanics shall desert the sorcerers in their time of need, and a power shall arise to replace them. It shall drive souls beyond the point of redemption, and its talons shall grasp the land as a conqueror does his prize."

"Madness indeed," Kharandon said, uncomprehending.

Gwyneth suddenly shuddered and lay still, and for a moment Kharandon thought that the vision had passed. Then the voice began to speak again, and the first thing Kharandon heard was his own name.

"Kharandon Greybane!" Gwyneth roared. "Remember me upon your ascendance, Kharandon Greybane! When your moment comes, Kharandon Greybane, you shall remember me!"

"Madness," Kharandon said, although he shuddered with fear inside.

The voice never spoke again, not before Sister Teresa returned. When the healer finally entered the room with two guards in tow, she found Kharandon sitting on a nearby chair, anxiously wiping the sweat from his forehead.


***


Lianesse reached the top of the obsidian stairway, and watched as the Tabernacle unfolded before her.

It was a large structure, perhaps about the size of a great hall. It was certainly smaller than any of the grand halls of any of the palaces of Antaria, however, and she was aware that there was plenty of speculation on just what was inside. Some said that the Tabernacle housed a collection of artifacts that were sacred to Aran; Some said that it contained the holiest of temples to the benevolent god, greater even than any of the Galenics' opulent cathedrals. Some even said that the voice of Aran himself lived in the Tabernacle, and that only the Vestal could communicate the hearts and desires of his worshippers with it.

But only the Vestal knew just what was inside, and Lianesse knew better than to tell.

She paused at the massive wrought-iron gates of the floating structure, and touched the cold metal with her fingertips. She was Aran's servant, and this was her task. It was her duty every dusk of every day of every year of her life.

She slid the iron doors open; For all their weight, they yielded under her gentle pressure. Ten and many stories below, she felt the contented sighs of the gathered crowds. Today's ritual walk was over; Tomorrow, another would begin.

Lianesse slipped into the darkness inside. A few seconds later, she closed the doors behind her.


***


"My name is Kharandon Greybane," Kharandon said.

Gwyneth bowed low. "I offer sincere greetings, Lord Kharandon. I am Gwyneth, of the Galenics."

Kharandon nodded in acknowledgement. It was strange how, scant minutes after she had roared his name, he found himself introducing it to her for the first time. His brow wrinkled at the thought.

"My apologies, my Lord," Sister Teresa said. "The visions... we cannot predict when they take over. I can assure you that they arrive in a much calmer fashion than the one you have just witnessed."

"Of course," Kharandon said. He had told Sister Teresa everything he could remember about the first prophecy, although he felt it best to keep the second statement to himself.

"With your permission, my Lord, we would like to observe her further."

Kharandon shook his head. "That will not be necessary, Sister Teresa."

The healer appeared to be confused at his statement. "Pardon me, my Lord?"

"I will see to her myself," Kharandon said sternly. "If Lady Gwyneth can indeed see into the future, then it is best that she communicate to one who is in close proximity to the Lady Satine. The visions she sees may be a matter of security for all of Antaria."

It wasn't quite a lie, Kharandon considered. Satine Whitestone was unlikely to act promptly on any critical pieces of information, prophetic or otherwise. But he felt safer knowing that everything was under his control.

Sister Teresa bowed low. "I accede to my Lord's wishes," she answered. "Should you require any assistance, then the Order of the Guiding Light shall remain at your disposal."

"My thanks, Sister Teresa," Kharandon said. "It is an honor to have your attendance."


***


It was dark when Lianesse emerged from the Tabernacle. The streets were clear and the shadows were already about; Unlike the earlier dusk, there was no crowd that watched as the Vestal descended the steps into her home.

Lianesse navigated the stairway carefully, and paused for breath only when she reached the plain wooden door that led to her quarters. She did not resume breathing until she was back inside, and even then it came in thin, ragged gasps.

She was old now. Perhaps too old. But she would continue her duties until the last.

"There shall be another Vestal one day," she said, to no one in particular.

"Then we must be thankful that that day has not come yet," a voice said, from the shadows of her chambers. Lianesse remembered the tone and texture of the voice -- and embraced it as she had done for many, many years.

She smiled. "Hello, Atharus," she said.

The Metrian grandmaster stepped out of the darkness, chasing it away with a single lighted taper. "You should light your candles before you make your ascent," Atharus said. "You wouldn't want to return to a pitch-black room."

Lianesse laughed. It was a small, slight laugh, one that was accustomed to her ancient frame.

"You're a treasure, Master Atharus," she said, putting one hand to her face.

"Stop calling me 'Master'," Atharus said. "You haven't been my student in over fifty years."

"Over fifty years," Lianesse repeated. "Over fifty years."

"You remember all too much, Lianesse. It's too heavy for one of your age."

"It's my burden, Atharus. All men have burdens, and this is mine. Aran chose me."

"Aran has always been a fool," Atharus said without smiling, "and the people have never failed to amaze me with how superstitious they truly are."

"But is that not why we are here, Atharus? We are here for their sake... that, and the sake of all men who cannot remember."

The Metrian grandmaster sighed. "We celebrate a Festival of Remembrance for that very purpose, and look where it's gotten us. We celebrate Remembrance when we cannot even remember."

Lianesse looked deep into the old man's eyes. She saw layers and layers of age there, and more than a few hints of hardened expression. But she also saw a tiny sparkle in Atharus's eyes, one that kept the old grandmaster going where most would have faltered.

"But you remember, Atharus," she said. "You remember, and I remember."

"Yes," he said.

"And as long as we remember, then Antaria shall forever be secure. That," she finally added, "makes all the difference."

2 comments:

jeff-reiji said...

Of all your characters in Antaria, I am somewhat uncomfortable with Davin Earthwalker. I guess his name sounds weirdly familiar. That's all.

Anyway, Happy New Year. You're mentioned on the last entry of my blog for year 2005. :)

Sean said...

Reiji: I pluck the names out of the air at random, actually. As long as they sound okay and roll off the tongue fairly well, I use them. The catch is that more than a few names will have some strange subconscious meanings or references. :)

Come to think of it, I don't know where "Davin Earthwalker" came from. Can anyone out there point out why it sounds familiar?

Reiji, I'm looking forward to dropping by your blog tomorrow, by the way. :)