of the Light
First Chronicle of Kohlnar)
Eric Alan Westfall
1998-2017. Eric Alan Westfall.
Gathering of the Light
Hearty Round of Cyber-Applause For:
Quintero, for his absolutely perfect painting for the cover
Lamb, whose artistry with words created the final version of the
and Alexis for their beautifully brilliant beta assistance.
said they liked it, so what could be a better beta than that?)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The First Chronicle of
of the Light
The Second Chronicle:
The Third Chronicle
The Fourth Chronicle
Dragon Winked (Excerpt)
Gathering of the Light
First Chronicle of Kohlnar)
The old city was dying.
Each morning, the sun sent a tsunami of light
across the continent from the Western Sea, surging past hills and
plains, ancient forests and wide rivers, until it splashed against
the mountain wall forming the Spine of the World. It roared upward,
dropped back, and rose again to assault the peaks which thundered
into the sky. Once, the light would have vaulted over the snowcaps to
waterfall joyfully on Kohlnar. Now it merely crept across, oozed down
to the lesser range of the Barrakech Heights, becoming trapped in
pools and puddles by the walls and towers of the new city. Each tier
collected more of the light as the tiers stepped down the
mountainside toward the bay, until all that was left for the old city
huddled at the base was a faint, thin haze barely illuminating the
crumbling homes and businesses crammed against the shattered docks.
New city and old, the light was now the color of bronze, the color of
It had not always been that way. Once it had been
* * *
Moments frozen in time.
A century and a quarter past.
The men who were Kin called.
Soft melodic voices drifted across the land like
bubbles sparkling in the souls of all who heard. The Folk heard, the
land heard, and hearing, gave, and in giving the Kin
changed, rising on thermal updrafts and wing strokes from farm
and palace, from school and court, from tavern and mine, from bakery
and brothel, reaching for sky the color of molten gold. They swam
through a sea of brilliant light in the bone-chilling air above the
Heights and then up further yet, rising above the tops of the Spine,
swooping and turning, rejoicing in His gift, His Light.
Below, laughter and joyous calling drifted up from
the city and the land to join them. When the Kin flew, not merely
alone, or one or two on patrol, but when they all flew for joy,
forming and re-forming in elegant three-dimensional hymns, the city
and the land did not grind to a halt—they merely...stopped.
Foreigners fumed, but silently, when the impromptu
holidays began. They could do nothing, of course, but watch with
varying degrees of amusement, anger, contempt or resignation as all
Kohlnar moved outdoors. Ships drifted untended, only a mage’s
hastily set spells averting disaster. Children with Kin-designs
painted on their cheeks cheered, pointing upward as they ran and
leaped on streets of mage-smoothed stone. Farmers lifted hand-shaded
eyes to the glory in the sky. An elderly couple gladly paused in
languorous morning love-making to experience a greater joy. Servants
stopped the changing of bed linens, as each of the Folk answered the
call of the Kin.
Come, the voices of red and gold and blue,
the voices of leaves and soil and water, the voices of hooves and
drying wheat and stone, whispered to the Folk.
Rejoice, the voices of white and black and
grey, the voices of tears and tourmalines and stars, the voices of
wings and sun and storm, chanted to the Folk in layered harmonies.
Praise Him, the sky-borne chorus sang.
And so they did.
In quiet thought. In the laughter of children
large and small. In joined hands. In flowers carefully laid in His
myriad shrines, floating on pools of crystal water, waiting for a
caress of light from one of the moons to open the petals to celebrate
this day. The heart of the city pulsed, as the land pulsed, as the
Folk gave, and His land gave, and in giving, the
Great wings lifted on the gifts of Folk and land,
a carillon of color and music cascading in intricate patterns,
somehow visible against the backdrop of shining gold, until at last
they spiraled back, changing. Walking once more among the
Folk, cheek-dragons glowing, the Kin herded children back into
classrooms to resume lessons, and led the afternoon prayers in His
temple. They plowed a field and pleaded a case in the ducal courts.
They hurried to get drinks for thirsty patrons, and dined with fellow
merchants as they arranged for shipments of grain to the
over-populated, drought-starved western lands. Penalties for the
Kin-delay were cheerfully paid to the plump, glowering priests from
Sirulan who had purchased the grain.
A Kin dancer swayed gently on a street corner,
sensuously moving his body to the blended music, soft and sad, of
sith and lyrin, and the blue dragon on his right cheek seemed to move
in time to the tune. The Folk musicians leaned against the building
wall—a rugged man who played the delicate sith, a smallish man who
stroked the larger lyrin. The dance ended on one knee, the other leg
extended, torso bent so his forehead touched his stretched-out knee,
his flowing hair dropping to brush the ground, his arms spread. He
straightened slowly to the applause of the passers-by who had paused
to watch, and leaned into the hand caressing his cheek. Sith player
and dancer smiled for only one another in that tiny moment.
The passers-by dropped coins in the gathering hat,
beginning to disperse. Two were brushed roughly aside by Sirulani
priests en route to the great docks, muttering hatred and chanting
spells of the God to ward off the dancer’s dual evil.
The pair of priests pushed forward in an arrogant,
nearly straight line through the increasing crowd. As the docks came
near, the younger priest bumped into a black-haired woman holding a
little boy in her arms, knocking her to one knee. It was her fault,
of course, for priests of the God always had right of way, but
still, he was in a foreign land, surrounded by ignorant, but
well-armed foreigners, so he stopped and began a cool, perfunctory
apology which never would have reached his eyes. He broke it off,
though, and recoiled with a hiss of indrawn breath when the pair
looked up at him. Contemptuously, he looked at the Kin-signs on their
left cheeks: a dragon of black-and-gold on the woman, one of
green-and-gold on the boy. Tattoos, of course. Or simply paint to be
replenished daily. But for a moment...just for a moment...the eyes on
the designs appeared to open, and look at him, and then they closed.
Only the slightly stout woman saw the sudden flash
in the younger priest’s eyes, and the faint cold smile flickering
across his well-fed lips before vanishing. He grabbed the other
priest’s arm and hurried him to the waiting convoy.
A single Kin soared at sun-down, shimmering in the
* * *
Two years later.
The steady flow of heavily-laden ships around the
dangerous tip of the southern continent, hauling grain and supplies
from food-rich Kohlnar to the western lands of Sirulan, came to an
abrupt end when a Sirulani ship docked and a big-bellied priest came
ashore to announce the God, the only true God, the God
of blood and death, had told them to buy no more after this final
shipment. Kohlnar shrugged collectively, counted the minor profit it
had made from the food fleets, and turned its attention to lucrative
new markets in the far lands across the Eastern Ocean, beyond the
splash of gentle light where the sun faded at day’s end into the
distant waves. But still...there was a drought on the Western
Coast, making the land sere and barren. So a vast armada of gifting
ships from His followers lumbered out of the bay a month after the
priest departed. The ships vanished two weeks before landing in the
Sirulani capital—under clear skies, in calm seas, leaving behind a
faint scent of magic and blood which quickly faded.
From time to time, whispers, pale, trembling,
exhausted, struggled across the Spine and down, murmuring of
continued Sirulani starvation, of spreading sickness...of rising,
priest-fed rage—directed eastward.
* * *
A century gone.
Grim and silent in wine-dark robes, the priests
huddled safely at the rear of the army, as it began to march slowly
towards the Spine under gold-fringed banners the color of blood
spouting from a mortal wound. The leading edge of the army arrived
just before nightfall, although the main body stretched back to
Balinor and beyond. They camped without fire, ate cold food, hating
and fearing, and in the morning their priests’ magic smashed the
Spine before them, allowing the Sirulani warriors, prepared,
shielded, raging, to swarm through and down on Kohlnar.
Stunned, frightened, Folk and Kin nevertheless
fought to defend His land. They fought in twisting streets and
towering forests, along the wharves and in the air. They fought
running battles in trampled fields and on the roads. They fought in
savage desperation as Sirulani mage-fire destroyed the ships which
were to carry the children away...ships they knew in their hearts
they could not have used anyway, though in their fear they would have
tried, for Folk and Kin were linked to His land and the land to them,
and the link could not be so easily broken. The children could not be
saved, as they themselves could not be saved.
So they fought, Folk and Kin, when hope was gone
and only pain remained. They fought beyond exhaustion into a realm of
exquisite torment, fighting until nearly all were gone and Kohlnar
could fight no more.
The streets and the land became still...and
silent. The morning light dimmed on the day Kohlnar surrendered.
Victorious, rulers of two-thirds of the continent
after nearly two decades of conquests, and consolidation, and
conquests again, the Sirulani and their Church of the Blood turned to
two new pastimes: the Hunt and the construction of a new city. Tier
after towering tier, like hillside terraces built of blood and fear,
began to step down from the Heights, in an inexorable march to the
bay, as they built massive stone shouts to the sky in honor of the
God, atop the bones of the old city.
* * *
The next tier would signal the impending death of
the old city, putting it in shadow so deep only the faintest haze of
light would pierce the dark, where nothing could survive. The final
tier would not be a tier at all but would crush the bones of the old
city and rest on its dust. Shipping had long since moved to the
wharves and docks the Sirulani had built further along the curve of
the bay, their magic gouging a new deep water harbor, and in the
aftermath of the war, only the Sirulani were allowed to own
businesses or engage in trade. The remaining Kohlnari survived in
near-darkness, working at the demise of the old city, hauling its
stones and granite and marble upwards for the palaces and homes of
the nobility and the great merchant houses.
The Two Kings had even visited once, not long
after their mages, wielding bloodLight, Broke the Spine of the World,
and the wealth of Kohlnar began draining westward. Princes of the
Church of the Blood visited as well, but only far above
contamination, in the High Tier.
Had value lain only in the unskilled labor, the
old city would have died long ago. What kept it alive was the
Hunt...or the promise of a Hunt.
The first Hunt was held shortly after the
conquest, capturing three Kin. Willingly the Folk gave, and in
giving, the Kin changed, and sought freedom in the
upper air. But they died in agony when the priests’ spells stopped
their wings high in the sky and they plummeted to become one with His
land. The Sirulani never knew that in the moments before their spells
worked, the three had turned back, had come roaring down from the
Heights, trumpeting rage, because they could no longer reach the
Spine, could no longer bask in His Light, nor rejoice in it.
The countryside had been devastated by the war,
and the first few Hunts completed the decimation. Now it was only in
the old city the priests could find the Kin, could drag them through
the streets and up the stairs and ramps to the halls of the Sirulani
Kings and their Church, for trial and judgment.
The last successful Hunt, however, had been a
score of years past, perhaps more. They had caught a boy, barely into
his teens, unquestionably Kin. He could not deny it, not with an
iridescent blue-green dragon lying in serpentine coils on his left
cheek. It was more than a tattoo, hovering in two dimensional glory
above his skin, although to the touch it was a tingling design which
was part of his flesh.
And so they hauled him upward, stumbling and
gasping, through the empty streets of the old city, where fear
shivered behind barred doors, through the crowds gathered at every
Tier, stroking him with feathers of hate and fear, until at last he
stood trembling in a thin strand of pale light in the center of the
Hall of Judgment.
The priests smiled at him, wiping his face with
tender cloths, holding a cup of snow-chilled water for a single
drink. Then they tied him with spells and rope and gouging manacles,
spread-eagling him upright and naked in a tall metal frame bolted to
They whispered promises to him, of freedom and
flight, if he would only change. They murmured threats and
pain if he refused. And when he would not, could not, they
scored his flesh with razor slices, there, along his back
where wings should grow, separating muscles before they could. There,
along his calves and thighs, where powerful legs might have grown to
hurtle him away from his tormentors. There, removing
fingernails and toenails to prevent demonic talons from ripping out
the throats of the Children of the God.
They removed his tongue, to prevent the casting of
a spell which might harm these devout warriors of the God.
They emasculated and hamstrung him with caresses of agony, offering
quick and glorious death, and favor in the eyes of the God, if
he would but change.
They wove their spells of pain and death as the
dragon on the boy’s cheek writhed in matching agony, its wings
shredded, its legs crippled, its eyes gushing blood in the moment
when the boy was blinded. Until at last, with a roar of despair no
human throat, whole or not, could have voiced, dragon-image and boy
vanished in a brief flare of eye-searing light. Manacles dangled from
the frame, or crashed to the floor, startling the shielded watchers,
as ashy residue drifted for a moment in the same stray shaft of dim
Sunlight which was, oddly enough, diminished.
As the sky was diminished, the brilliant gold fading.
They found no Kin after. Of two abortive Hunts,
the first found none, the second resulted initially in just the
deaths of two prostitutes foolish enough to have crude dragon designs
tattooed on their cheeks. Enraged at being duped, even if only for a
moment, and deprived of prey, the Church sealed the doors of the
brothel with powerful magics, and then burned the whores and
customers and servants alive, as mage-fire exploded in the cellar and
rose howling to consume them all in screaming agony.
* * *
Tomorrow was the anniversary of the conquest, the
anniversary of the first Hunt. The Sirulani intelligence service had
sworn Kin could be found in the old city, and so they would Hunt
again tomorrow. A Great Hunt, they called it. The last Hunt, some
whispered, or only thought, but not where they could be overheard.
Nobles, soldiers, priests and all their retinue, commoners from
across the kingdom, had swollen the new city almost beyond its
capacity. The Hunt balls were tonight, and as the new city reveled,
warships glided ceaselessly in both harbors, and grim galleys blocked
the bay’s exit to the open sea far to the north and east. Red-caped
soldiers of the Church marched unwillingly with the warriors of the
Two Kings, preventing escape from the old city by gates or roads.
More warriors guarded forests and beaches and the Irralien River and
all its tributaries. Mages set their wards and paced uneasily, unable
to explain the tiny bite of fear leaving them nearly breathless.
The old city was ringed and sealed.
At eleven, while the shadows rose from the old
city nibbling with sharp mouse teeth, shredding the false light of
torches and mage globes, and devouring the bits of brightness falling
from the new city’s windows and parapets before the droplets could
touch the ground, a thick fog appeared in the east, where the sea and
sky became one and the world ended. It began moving westward with
At midnight, only the first moon had risen,
dropping a stream of silver-blue on the single flower in the tiny
pool of the fountain inside the open-roofed shrine. A thread of fog
drifted through the moonlight, and a single crystalline voice rose
enraptured, voicing a secret dream in the hidden halls and echoing
catacombs of the dying depths of the old city. The clear countertenor
set the night shimmering and made the Sirulani patrols nervous, each
one certain the voice was coming from somewhere nearby, each one
unsuccessful in finding it, more than one becoming lost in a city
from which the light had been all but drained. Above, in the High
Tier, when the voice began, the Archbishop paused as he reached for
wine, bejeweled fingers glittering in the harsh dark golds from the
flickering fireplace, and then he completed his gesture, raising the
goblet in the sudden stillness. Mage-warded, mage-guarded, they heard
nothing...but still, they knew.
At one in the morning the voice stopped abruptly,
leaving behind an utterly silent upper city, utterly without light
except for the remnants hidden behind now closed drapes and windows
and shutters. The voice left behind a city draped in a thick fog
which clung to the walls and streets, filling the interstices of the
new city and old until an observer from the Heights would have seen
no sign of the old city, nor the new, nor a bay, nor anything but an
apparently solid mass of softly curved and hilled dark grey running
east to meet the cold stars.
He arrived in fog, hooded and alone, just before
the song ended, stepping from a small boat onto the remnants of a
dock which had lain unused since the war. Those in the Tiers who
thought for a moment they had heard wings, intertwined with the now
overly loud music and raucous laughter of the Hunt balls, opted for
prudence and the silence of the fog-drowned streets of the new city.
They saw nothing, heard nothing, said nothing.
Through the rest of the night he walked the old
city, pausing here and there, touched and touching, gathering and
moving on. Prayers followed him, resting lightly on his shoulders,
invisible caring unable to help—an imperfect cloak which kept out
no cold, no pain.
Or it should have been, but the cities did not
know, as the sun looked down on grey hills of mist. And so it was
until he turned and stared upward to where the High Tier should have
been visible, outlined in the glow of morning. The fog began to
disappear then, not evaporating in the warmth of the sun, but pouring
out and down, into the earth and the waters of the bay, into the
Irralien, as though a hole had been punched in a keg bottom. He stood
at the base of the Low Tier, the remnants of fog snake-rippling about
his bare feet, almost unseen beneath the ground-drifting black robe
he wore. The hood of the robe was up, hiding his face, and his hands
were invisible in the deep sleeves.
The foot he placed on the first step was pale
white, veins pulsing with a faint luminosity. Not a young foot, nor
yet a foot palsied with age, but strong. Head erect, he stepped
upward once more. Then again. And again. And again and again through
the dawn, through early morning, walking upward steadily, without
pausing for breath, for rest, for water, as a crowd began to
hesitantly gather at his heels. Those who were exhausted with the
pace he set, dropped away, replaced by others as word spread faster
than he could walk.
Word also spread when those below glimpsed his
footprints in the dust of steps and ramps. Between the Low Tier and
the Seventh, the footprints...changed. A man’s foot was
clearly outlined in the dust but flickering in and out of sight there
seemed to be the outline of a much larger foot, one almost sinking
into the stone of the steps, one with...talons.
By the Fifth Tier, the echo footsteps were much
clearer, and faint drops of red appeared in the dust. By the Second
Tier, the footprints were weeping blood. And still he climbed.
Gates to the Tiers were unbarred, unattended, and
he was not challenged as he rose from level to level, until at last
he stood before the deeply carved black wooden gates of the
Archbishop’s palace. A silent palace. On this morning, nearly noon
now, of the Great Hunt, the palace was still. No vendors scurried in
and out, re-supplying the stores needed to feed and clothe and bathe
and eliminate the wastes of the thousands clogging its halls. No
courtiers and hangers-on thronged the courtyard, eagerly awaiting the
trumpet calls signaling the start of the Hunt. The gates which should
have been thrown wide to let the populace in to celebrate the start
were closed. Behind walls topped with impassive guards who ignored
the man below, inside chambers and halls, bedrooms and anterooms,
power skirmished with power, struggling for primacy.
He waited, while blood pooled at his feet.
He waited, and eventually reached out with wide
white-skinned hands to touch the carvings. He left blood behind when
his hands disappeared once again into his sleeves.
He waited, as the crowds swelled.
He waited, endlessly patient, until he decided his
patience must end.
When he tossed the hood back around his shoulders,
the watchers saw a man of middle-age as the Kohlnari knew middle-age,
though he was old by Sirulani standards. He was not handsome, this
man, with his grey-streaked black hair wild and loose about his head,
curling down to his shoulders. His was a wide peasant face, ridged
and seamed by weather and endless labor, flat-nosed and
plump-joweled, with deep-set eyes the color of storms. Despite the
apparent effortlessness of his climb to the High Tier, his face was
shining with sweat running own the worn crevices of his jowls and
dripped onto his robe. Only two things distinguished him from any
other tired old man of the old city: on each cheek a gleaming
dragon lay coiled. The dragon on his left cheek, black and gold, had
grown, its face now occupying most of his cheek, its body coiling
down and around his neck so its tail vanished into the folds of the
robe above the right side of his chest. The dragon on his right cheek
was green and gold, a mirror image as the green-gold body and tail
coiled behind his neck and drifted downward across his left
He stepped forward and gently placed one hand on
each side of the gate. He closed his eyes and the mesmerized crowd
watched in faint horror as the dragons on his cheek began to
undulate, their eyes now wide, alert and angry. He...they...reached
into the heart of His land, into a core of rippling heat, and drew it
upward and out and dragon mouths opened and darted flames which
rippled across his cheek, and like waterfalls of fire, rushed past
his lips, into his open mouth, to be swallowed in silent gulps. He
shuddered then, as if he were trying to pull his hands free of the
wood but could not. A silent twin roar pushed the crowd away
as the pressure within him built and exploded in rage. A few howled
and ran, but the rest realized the fire which burst from his palms
was joyfully and with exquisite precision consuming the gate and only
When the flames reluctantly died, and the dragons
on his cheeks were once again quiet, he straightened and walked
through the murdered gate into the courtyard. And waited.
And waited more, motionless, until they came for
him. Cowled priests chanting atonal incantations to ward themselves
against this plain man, standing in silence in the center of the
courtyard. The temple birds wheeled high above in the copper sky,
calling and crying, while far below the priests stripped him of his
robe, gesturing when done for him to turn about so all the watchers
could witness the humiliation of his nakedness. He was tall, and
heavy, sagging chest and sagging belly, a long, thick cock, and
low-hanging balls, an ass which might once have been muscled and
tight, legs whose muscles quivered slightly with the strain of his
upward climb. A plain, sad man...who was no longer plain when the air
quivered around him and then quieted.
He was still old as the Sirulani knew age. His
body was still worn from decades of hard work. Only now his body
brought terror to more than one of the circling priests. He was
clothed in dragons.
Virtually every inch of his flesh held a dragon,
from finger-tip tiny to a vast gray dragon whose head lay over his
right shoulder, whose body coiled down his back, around under his
arm, slanting across his belly, behind again, its long tail spiraling
down and around his left thigh, and knee and calves and ankle, so the
point of the vicious spike-tip of the dragon tail lay just above his
toes. Dragons of all colors, of none, glowing brightly in the shaded
courtyard. Even his cock was dragon-jeweled.
Each dragon bore the stigmata of the murdered boy,
as the old man bore the stigmata, wounds on back and legs and feet,
his body crying blood tears which dropped in slow motion to the
ground, while dragon-wounds wept blood as well, dripping and
vanishing on his skin only to drip yet again.
The priests’ chant increased in volume and
underlying terror as they wrapped him in chains and a spell of great
pain, bowing his neck and shoulders under the weight of their
metallic hatred. He nearly fell to his knees but managed to remain
standing, staring at the ground, at the dust and stone and circling
bare feet, his toes curling and uncurling in the bloodied dust.
Above them all was the Archbishop of the Eastern
Kingdom, a title he had held since a decade after the Breaking of the
Spine, when his predecessor mysteriously died. Immensely fat, nearing
the end of even his mage-lengthened life, he watched from the
balcony, safe and cool, fanned by slaves, while the priests examined
the man, examined dragons, but did not touch and muttered
terror among themselves. He sipped a cold drink and casually released
the goblet in the general direction of a slave, confident it would be
caught before a drop spilled, or there would be a death to enjoy. He
leaned forward, gripping the whorled stone of the railing. Just one
finger lifted, and no expression marred the carved stillness of his
face as a moment later a ship exploded in the harbor, the shock wave
roaring upward to batter against the palace walls and surge through
“Noooo!” The scream was torn unwillingly from
the naked man’s throat, long and shuddering. Decades of
spell-weaving by the Kin, intricate immaterial blades poised to sever
the links of each of the Folk to the land as soon as they were on
board the ship—gone in the instant of the explosion. The Folk were
trapped. As the Kin were trapped.
In this moment, they might have been alone, these
two, there in the courtyard and on the balcony, as the Archbishop’s
voice circled, and coiled, and dropped into the souls of the
watchers, nourishing the roots of hate and fear. Only the man below,
straining to see, saw the merest flicker of cynicism and passionless
planning slide across the Archbishop’s eyes and disappear into the
ancient shadows behind them.
“You...or your people...bought the mages’
silence, and their ship, and their skills, to escape this day. But
you see, I bought them first. And what I purchase, remains
A second finger-gesture lifted the spell enough
for the man to look upward to him.
Confess your heresy, he said. I’ll be
magnanimous. His brittle thoughts dropped with a crackle of
broken autumn leaves to rustle across the stone to him.
And let me live? He looked down again, at
the pool of blood widening at his feet, seeping into the grey stone.
I’ll let you die a swift death. Of my mercy.
Oh, munificent one, he mildly mocked. Such
mercy shown to one who does not want to die.
But die you will.
But die I shall, he echoed soft, in secret
thoughts concealed from the Archbishop above.
“Today,” the dragon-clothed man said aloud,
the chant-spells in the background weaving agony in his stance, in
his voice. But his words lifted with gentle, exquisite care, dropping
sound but not sense in the waiting ears, for sense only arrives and
survives in willingness. “Today will become a story...a rumor of
someone who heard it said. A legend, a myth, a fable...and
less...fading until it is nothing at all, and what we do here today
will die. As we—”
“As you will die.”
“As I will die.”
“Now,” the Archbishop whispered, his voice
once again slithering down to the man below.
“Now,” the man agreed, and sighed, and
stretched, and twisted his head, and with a roar which startled the
liquid light bathing the balustrades, and sent it running, he looked
up at the Archbishop, sitting in sudden stone-carved fear on his
“Do you remember them, priest? Any of them?”
Only the priest’s eyes betrayed his lack of
Struggling against the Sirulani spell trying again
to force him down, the man lifted his left arm, his index finger
extended. The tiny dragon on his fingertip opened pinpoint eyes. And
looked at the Archbishop. “Do you remember him, great one? He died
unborn when his mother died in the first Hunt.” He stroked the grey
dragon head on his right shoulder, and vast green eyes opened. And
looked at the Archbishop. “Do you remember him? In the
second Hunt you bravely hacked him to death in a field.” As he
named their deaths, one by one by one the dragons on his body opened
their eyes. And looked at the Archbishop.
All but the green and gold dragon on his right
“Do you remember my son, priest? He died when
you Broke the Spine.”
And the green and gold dragon opened his eyes.
And looked at the Archbishop.
The man below began to change.
In all his wanderings through the kingdom during
the years of flight, he had learned, and in learning, taught, and so
he asked. He could do no less. “Will you stop the Hunt? Will you
let the Folk and the Kin live free?”
“Anathema!” the Archbishop shrieked, rising
and overturning his chair. “Abomination!” he screamed,
cobra-voiced, poison sacs spitting hate.
“So let it be,” the dragon-covered man
So let it be, he thought.
He dropped to the stone, bringing the chains and
the spell of pain with him, ignoring both the chant hammering at him
and the Archbishop’s voice flaying his soul. He dropped to all
fours, naked and fearful, fighting to complete the change. He
gathered to him the cloak of prayer, wrapping it about his shoulders,
about his soul. And reaching...he touched them...the weavers of the
Down in the depths of the dying city he found
them, and asked, and rejoiced as they gave.
The voice of crystal clarity was first,
concealment dropped, his silver cheek-dragon once more shimmering as
he abandoned flesh with no regrets, just as the rest had no regrets.
There was the dying ember of the old man, whose dragon was
rheumy-eyed and nearly blind, and crippled, but who gave
nonetheless as he shivered with a final fever. A whore, a
stonecutter, a soldier, a girl who cleaned the privies of the great,
a trusted slave. Once hidden, now seen. All the Kin.
Or they had been, until just moments ago, when a
Kin-child was born. The kneeling man wept as he touched the
child. For had this day not been, the boy would have been the
greatest of the Kin, a king dragon of nova white and gold burning on
his cheek with a brightness the Kohlnari had not seen in a score, a
double-score of generations. A savior. He faltered, and the priests
seized on his hesitation, for he was afraid now, afraid he had done
wrong, afraid his ego had driven him to this, not the need of his
people. But a wave of love from the tiny babe washed over him,
uplifting him, pushing the priests back, as the boy freely gave.
There were not many now who remembered, and even
fewer were those who prayed at shrines of mind or stone in the belly
of the dying city. The Folk were few, but fewer still were the Kin.
These nine were the last, but still they glowed, and glowing, gave.
The blaze began inside him, then. A tangible
blaze. Visible. He became a man of clear glass of running water of
crystal, etched with dragons, carrying within him a tiny seed, a
jeweled shape of infinite light which blinded the terrified priests.
Dragons roared silently on his skin as every link of the chains
surrounding him snapped, and he rose and rose and rose until at last
he was upright, a towering shape against the dull sky. He shattered
the spell of pain, sending it coursing back to its makers, then
arched his neck to look down and down and down on the cowering
prelate on his balcony.
Great wings steepled above him and then snapped
wide, as with powerful strokes toppling priests into curling balls
against the courtyard wall, his change complete, he began at
last to fly. Black and gold scales singing the song of the morning
sun, the air about him shining with all the colors of those who had
been, his wings lifted on the gift of his Kin, and he rose above the
courtyard, the walls, the towers, reaching for the copper sky.
He struggled upward as his Light began to fade,
struggled as he sought the heights and the freedom of the air,
struggled as the priests recovered and lashed him with ropes of fear,
dragging him away from the dimming sun. The old city and the new
watched his battle high in the sky, and in the old city, a child
clutching her mother’s hand looked up, and cried out to him and in
crying, gave, and in giving, died, and in dying, became
free. There was the merest whisper of power to his wing strokes, and
then they faltered again as the Archbishop tore at him with silent
The mother who had looked down at her still and
silent daughter, and then up to the sky to rejoice in the faltering
wings, recognized her Kin at last, and shouted then, “To the
Light!” And shouting, gave, and giving, died. Her
voice was carried on the winds, was carried on love. Soon another,
and then another, and another, a flurry, a furor of voices, down in
the suddenly glowing heart of the old city, shouted “To the Light!”
They shouted then, all the Folk, for the Kin were
gone from Kohlnar except for he who flew. And as they shouted, the
A tiny pebble washed by a stream grown sullen and
dark over the century of dimming light cracked! and a mote of
light flew upward. A sparrow sang and in singing gave, and in
giving fell to His earth. A forest became rich with the lush
greens of high summer, a meadow burst into blossom, a fat worm
burrowed deep in the soil, enriching it—they all gave and in
giving died, and in dying shining specks rose to join the
Light. Buildings in the old city shimmered, becoming translucent,
surrendering the Light holding them together.
The land trembled again...and yet again...and at
the third trembling the land itself shouted: “To the Light!”
And in shouting, they gave, all His people,
all His land, and in giving, died, and in their dying He
gathered the Light given freely.
The new city watched in awe and dismay as in a
timeless moment before he should have plunged to his death, a new sun
blossomed in the sky, and in its glow, the last dragon lifted his
wings in joyous flight once more, soaring toward the stars, tearing
apart the hammered copper of the sky. The glowing dragon took the
Light, offering it up with a hymn whose glory outshone the sun, and
in His turn, He gathered the Light given freely, calling His people
and His land to Him and for one brief and glorious moment the skies
of Kohlnar flared with brilliant radiance as they had not for long
years. Blinded by the light, the residents of the new city looked
away, and when they could see again, he was gone. The sky was dull
bronze now, faded and aged.
The old city died that day, although they found no
bodies of Kin or Folk amid the rubble where buildings had quietly
crumbled with the passing of the Light.
* * *
Moments frozen in time.
When the Cardinal and the Prelate’s Guard
arrived to arrest the Archbishop, and take him back to the Court of
the Two Kings for trial and execution, he was gone. The servants and
slaves were dead, and the palace reeked of blood magic.
On the Archbishop’s desk, the Cardinal found a
tiny piece of wood the color of fresh, spouting blood: a hand’s-width
long, half an inch in diameter, two slight curves the Cardinal’s
curled fingers could grasp, a small knob at the end that appeared
almost carved. The finest bloodwood, given that color, but so paltry
a wand. Though there was something almost...soothing...about its feel
under his thumb, as he caressed the knob. The fat old bastard had
escaped somehow, and now the Cardinal would have to ensure no blame
fell on him. He raised his arm and threw the twig out the window.
He never noticed he had not actually thrown
anything, but had instead carefully put the stick into an inner
pocket of his robes.
* * *
Moments frozen in time.
The Tiers step silently down to the bay from the
Heights. The Last Tier is only partially built.
It is cold and grey here in the new city, although
it is midsummer noon elsewhere on the continent. Summer winds do not
caress burgeoning soil; the worms are gone; the land is brown and
parched, the water in the bay is dark.
The city is empty. A crumpled parchment skitters
across a dusty street in a vagrant whisper of stagnant air.
The Light has been gathered. It will not be gifted
Second Chronicle of Kohlnar
A thousand years past.
As the war with Sirulan raged on the western
borders of Threld....
* * *
“We need to fuck.”
While true, achingly so, there was supposed to be
a different four-letter word at the end of the sentence: “talk.”
That was a much more appropriate sentence to start
the conversation which would, I was determined, lead to fucking. A
great deal of it. If not there and then on the kitchen table, then
somewhere else. And soon.
The correct four words would not have led
to mouths dropped open all around the kitchen—seven, count them,
seven—in variations on the “O” theme. Only one mouth was not
open. It was clamped shut, the thin lips compressed to the point of
near-invisibility. The lips I had envisioned so many times opening
wide and closing down on my cock, then slowly moving down until his
arrogant, aristocratic nose was smashed against my belly, inhaling my
scents as my knob pressed into his throat. All the while stroking my
cock, alone in my bed, or in whatever other location offering even a
modicum of privacy, when the overwhelming urge to make good use of
the fantasy overtook me.
The seven—cook, two servants, three apprentices
and Third Mage—unquestionably knew the four words were not directed
at any of them. Particularly so, since on hearing my words and seeing
my sudden stop, as I’d not bothered to check whether anyone else
was in the room before entering, all seven heads turned toward me in
unison, and then all shifted back to look at Taren, precisely like
spectators at a netball match, expecting an entertaining volley of
There was no volley. He let a single word through
the barricade of his tightened lips. “Out.”
No one bothered to look at me to see if leaving
was anywhere between merely acceptable to extremely desirable, much
less permissible. They scrambled up, abandoning food and drink, and
Leaving just one to face the anger.
When Senior Mage Taren was truly angry—in a
royal rage, though he did not have a drop of royal blood in his
veins—the mountains forming the Spine of the World trembled. The
Kin knew, and one by one by three by twelve they spiraled down from
the skies over nearby Kohlnar, on the other side of the Spine,
abandoning their dragon selves on hurried landing, then blending once
more among the Folk to wait it out before venturing aloft again.
Thunder snarled across the continent atop gathering dark grey clouds,
following by storms and lightning. As far away as Sirulan, priests of
the Church of the Blood cringed, and paused for a moment in wielding
the knives which let loose the bloodLight used in fueling their
spells of Art and Craft. In the capital, in the vast palace
comprising the Court of the Two Kings, even the kings cowered, though
they were uncertain why they did.
When he was simply angry, the effects were less
wide-spread, confined for the most part to Threld itself. Storms,
naturally, as he was fond of lashing rain and lightning; earth
tremors; the occasional stream changing course. The Spine did not
tremble, though there was the sense of the mountains...leaning
away from our border. The Kin simply flew farther to the south
until the still-clear northern skies were once more clear of Taren.
When he was merely annoyed, it was mostly felt by
those of us in the Tower. An almost tangible force pushing down from
the floors at the top where he lived and worked, keeping assistants,
apprentices, and servants, as well merchants and nobles who came to
buy or beg his services, away. The occasional chairs splintering into
tiny slivers of wood and shreds of fabric, regardless of whether
someone was sitting in them, or the carving knives evincing a sudden
interest in flying across the kitchen to embed themselves in the
walls, were persuasive stay-away arguments as well.
Everyone was only too happy to oblige, until
someone assured them a return was, if not precisely safe,
As First Mage, the highest rank in the cadre of
“assistant” mages who helped Taren in serving and protecting the
Kingdom, I did not have the luxury of avoidance or waiting it out
when there was work to be done which he needed to do. Especially
since he once confided to me, some dozen years earlier when he was
drunk on a bottle, or perhaps two, of the most excellent and
expensive of the vast array of excellent and expensive Kohlnari
vintages, “Gain, my dear boy, requires pain, and the pain you’ll
gain from standing up to me will strengthen you. If you
I survived, grew strong. I needed all my strength
He was no longer Senior Mage, might never be
again. But still, Taren was angry.
Rightfully so? Perhaps. But there were no side
effects to his anger any more; had been none since Vinir’s betrayal
six months ago. The Sirulani conquest of the continent was almost
complete. Indaehr in the south-central part, Threld, and Kohlnar were
the only ones still free. Indaehr, I thought, had bought its freedom.
Kohlnar still held behind the safety of the Spine.
We of Threld had won our war...at least for
now...though at terrible cost. The Second and Fifth Mages died,
holding the shield which prevented the entry of the Sirulani army and
the Church’s blood mages into our country.
When the wars began in the West, the nations
spreading eastward towards our borders, vast Isten, tiny Sofri,
modest Kesh, Lirilia and C’loshan, the others, convinced themselves
each Sirulani-born conflict was merely local and did nothing. Some
here, many even, felt the same way about far-off wars involving
countries barely known, and rarely traded with.
Whether it was some sort of foreseeing, a passing
comment from one of the gods with whom Taren often spoke, or just the
brilliance of his mind, I never knew, nor did anyone else. But Taren
compelled and cajoled compliance with his instructions to gather the
Light of the sun, moon and stars, store it in mage-wands of golden
sunwood, blue-grey moonwood, silver starwood, store it in crystals
until they threatened to shatter if a single beam more was added.
Then gather and store some more. And gather and store.
It was almost not enough. When the attack on
Threld finally came, by the last day, our stored Light had been
nearly exhausted. Anyone with the slightest shard of the Gift had
been conscripted, regardless of age. We had even required each
citizen to surrender all Light for the war effort, banning all spells
of Art or Craft not directly supporting the war. That Threld survived
was solely because of the ego of the traitor Vinir, Sixth Mage. He
had been planted on us by the Sirulani we later learned, several
years before my own arrival as a ten-year old apprentice, as a weed
whose poisonous blossoms would not bloom until they were needed.
Vinir had not acted at the height of the battle,
when we were hardest put to keep the shield up. Not when the priests
of Sirulan were slaughtering their soldiers by the dozens, by the
hundreds, all of whom went willingly to a martyr’s death, convinced
by the priests their God would welcome them to a personal heaven for
their sacrifice. Not when the bloodLight from all those deaths was
used to power the hammering spell-blows at the shield. Had he struck
then and struck well, a quick murder from behind, without flourishes
to show us all how wrong we had been in our judgment of his talent,
we might all have died, whether before, or with, or after the falling
of the shield.
I would thank the gods for Vinir’s ego, but
since the gods only help those who help themselves, and then do
nothing because you have already solved your problem, or died from
it, I won’t bother. I curse them instead. I almost lost Taren!
While we all stood on the city walls, facing west
to focus on the shield, the Sirulani could have won with a sudden
thrust of sword or stiletto in Taren’s back and through his heart.
Vinir, though, was a small man in every way, frightened of weapons,
and even with twenty years of treachery had never bothered to train
himself. So he chose a death for Taren wrought with Words of Art to
prove his worth. As if he had any.
A small man, a stupid man, whose arrogance would
not allow a simple fireball spell apprentice mages learned early:
recite the Words, call and blend the right amount of Light and throw
at the back of Taren’s head, exploding on touch. That spell would
have won all. Instead, he chose a fire acid spell.
A spell which wouldn’t instantly kill an unwary
mage stretched to the limit of his talent and reserves of Light
defending his people, but a spell which would melt his body away like
flame held near a wax figure, all with the most excruciating pain
imaginable. A spell requiring an uninterrupted flow of Light from the
caster, until the spell’s work was done. The fool even screamed
“Die, Taren!” the instant before he launched it at his victim’s
For all Vinir’s stupidity, despite which should
have given me enough time to protect Taren if I’d been sufficiently
alert, I could not save the man I loved. His life, yes, though at
times he resents me, perhaps even hates me, for doing so.
I was at Taren’s left and at the sound of
Vinir’s scream, I...split. A part of me, the largest part
necessarily, kept the Words of Art spilling from my lips westward
bound to the shield, kept the draw on the crystals steady. The other
part twisted my body, raised my right arm and sped the knife from my
forearm sheath into Vinir’s throat. The fool hadn’t bothered with
a shield against physical weapons.
The fire acid spell died with Vinir. Part of me
died, too, as the man I loved collapsed to the ground, half his face,
part of his neck, part of his shoulder melted by a heat greater than
a blazing winter fire.
I gambled with the safety of my country, my
colleagues’ lives, my own, by diverting enough Light from the
shield to cut him off from his pain and knock him out.
In my own way, I was a traitor to Threld for
taking that risk. But...Taren lived.
Third Chronicle of Kohlnar
A thousand years past the long-forgotten
gathering, or if it is remembered, it is never discussed.
* * *
Fall 2, 1...early morning
I do not like being laughed at.
I like it even less when the laughter is faintly
And when I cannot blame the laughter on something
other than my own carelessness, I like it even less than that.
Walking too fast, afraid for Kellon, wondering if
I should have left him alone despite his insistence, late for work,
yes, a surfeit of excuses for stepping on the...thing...which
resolutely resisted whatever inclination it might have had to be
crushed into powder by being trapped between the irresistible force
of my right buttock and the immovable object of the cobblestones. Of
course, had it been between my head and the street it would most
certainly have crumbled.
The laugher-at-me has apparently scuttled away, so
I am now alone with my embarrassment. Staying flat in the mud and
cold puddles just a bit longer won’t get me much more wet and
dirty, but it will postpone the pain of moving. Nevertheless....
Ahhh. Gods damn it. I hurt.
I lever myself to a sitting position with a
whimper and a moan from the spikes which seem deeply jammed into
ribs, head, hips, buttocks and back, indeed, everywhere. I do not
handle personal pain well. I lift my hip and pull the cause of it all
from under me. A stick: hand’s-width long, half-inch diameter, two
slight curves, a brilliant red, the color of spouting blood, a small
knob at the end which appears almost carved. Nothing more than a
smooth, dry stick, yet it feels...odd, almost sensual under my
Ridiculous. I must have hit my head harder than I
thought. Now I am finding a strange little twig which has somehow
made its way to a treeless part of the City—erotic.
I twist, roll onto my knees, kneel with my head
bent, begging any kindly disposed god who might be in the vicinity to
let me die right now, despite knowing none of them are, as all their
attention is north. Two gasping breaths, and I push myself to my
feet, making a brief, futile effort to wipe myself moderately clean.
The rest of the trip to work is accomplished with a minimum of
staggering, and an odd blank period. The Tower’s bells are
chiming ten when I arrive at the Hospital, and it should be no more
I must have hit my head harder than I thought.
Unfortunately, anyone who might have seen the City’s Senior Healer
wandering around would have assumed a purpose on my part, and would
not have approached me except with an emergency.
I stop at the gates. Gods damn it again.
Naturally, this can’t be a quiet day where I can
slip into my office, clean up and begin rounds before anyone notices.
They are all waiting in the courtyard for me: three Healers, four
journeymen, an apprentice whose presence shows more courage than
sense, the cook holding two scrub boys in a painful-to-the-boys grip,
five nurses—in short, nearly everyone who is supposed to be on
duty. Plus Trader Shann and his assistant.
They all notice...and not just the fact I’m
But they do not notice, of course, before they all
begin speaking at once. It is only when sight finally connects with
mind, there is a vast silence broken only by the high-pitched keening
of Sera Maden from her room five stories above—a sound to which we
have all become so accustomed we no longer hear it except in a rare
sound-void such as this. They inhale in preparation for launching a
new barrage of speeches at me—these composed extemporaneously on
the subject, “What happened to the Senior Healer, and how can I use
it to my advantage?”
Gods. I don’t know whether I’m cynical because
I am getting old, or getting old because I’m cynical. No time to
figure it out now. I cut them off with a look. I’ve become good at
looks requiring silence—practice helps.
“A foolish accident.” True.
“Entirely my fault.” Mostly true, with the
twig to share blame.
“I’m not in any pain.” Almost completely
“Merely dirty.” Patently true.
“I will clean myself up and we will begin rounds
in ten minutes.” True.
“Anyone who has a serious problem
requiring my immediate attention can have two of those
minutes, but I suggest the problem indeed be serious before anyone
uses a second of the allotment.” Very true.
“Ser Shann, my apologies for the delay, but our
patients must come first.” The greatest truth of all.
I look up at the usual creaking of the main doors.
“Ser Shann, if you will be so kind as to wait
until rounds are complete, I can devote my full attention to you.”
I gesture toward the man standing at the top of the steps. “Master
Healer Teil will take you to the staff lounge, and Cook—if she ever
has a hand free—will serve you something warm.” I lift one
eyebrow, and the boys quickly escape, not noticing the glance from
Cook telling them retribution has merely been delayed, not denied.
No one takes me up on my generous offer of time,
and the courtyard empties quickly. Except for Herath. I hadn’t
noticed him at all. For such a large man he can be remarkably
invisible at times. A benefit in his profession, I am sure. He
follows me to the office, closes the door behind us.
I cut him off as I remove the pouch from my waist
and drop it on the table. It lands with a dull clunk. Odd. I don’t
recall putting any coins in it this morning, although the sound is
not quite metallic. “I’m fine, so if you....”
It is his turn to interrupt with the right of very
long friendship, and the fact I am married to his brother. “You’re
lying, Andor. The only one who believes your ‘fine’ lie is
perhaps the young journeyman who is so infatuated with you, if you
told him the sun rises in the east he’d believe you. It might have
worked with most others if you’d bothered to exert yourself out
there to make them believe. But you know I was asking another
He pauses, clearly not wanting to ask, but his
desire for truth is greater than any fear of it. “How is Kellon?”
The question, the caring, drain away the little
energy left in my façade. I drop to the chair, biting my lip at the
touch of the wood against several major bruises. “No better.”