One of my earliest posts was about the origins of the world (which is just called “The World”) in which Quest for Salvation takes place. In that post, I mentioned that it came about from a short story that I wrote and fell in love with. I have decided to share that story (it’s really more of a flash fiction) with you. I have edited it a couple of times since I first wrote it. Originally it was going to be included in QFS, and then I decided that it didn’t fit well with the rest of the story, so I took it out. Please let me know what you think!
“The End of All Things”
In the Dosid Temple, Vahn manipulated the Crystal Grove. Life and light flashed around him, coursed through him. The spiraling colors and constantly shifting brightness of light cast strange, spectral visions about the Grove. Vahn shut his eyes, letting phantom heat sweep through him. An ethereal hum rose in the air, causing the Crystals to reverberate at various pitches. A colored wind swelled through the room, intensifying all sensation.
“Quite astounding, young Vahn,” a grizzled voice praised from behind.
Vahn dropped his hands as his eyes snapped open, the Crystal Grove going dark and silent instantly. He turned and bowed graciously to the elderly man standing just inside the Great Arch.
“Thank you, Master Yonrys.”
“Long has it been since I’ve seen the Grove so alive,” Yonrys sighed wistfully. “We could hear the Song in the Council Chambers tonight.”
Hiding his chagrin behind a mask of politeness, Vahn picked up his robe and shook it out before replying. “I apologize if I have disturbed the Council’s deliberations.”
The old master’s eyes crinkled. “Quite contrary, my boy. They all enjoyed the Grove-Song. And it led them to discuss you.”
“Me, master?” he wondered. “May I inquire as to the reason?”
Yȯnrys gazed pensively about the Crystal Grove, stalling for as long as he could. His eyes lingered at the far window that over looked the hot-houses where food was grown. “The Council of Masters believes that you have been made ready to touch the Godlight.”
Vahn’s face went slack. “The Council… the Godlight?” he repeated, dumbfounded. His attention snapped back to reality. “And you, Master? What do you think?”
The old man’s near-colorless gaze returned to meet his young charge’s. He studied Vahn’s face briefly before answering. “I agree with the Council. You have indeed abundant Talent, and you have become quite skilled at the art of manipulating energy fields. I do believe this is the logical step to take.”
The master’s neutral tone did not prevent Vahn’s gaze from becoming awestruck. “To commune with the Collective… what an opportunity!”
“And a risk,” Yȯnrys asserted sharply. “Do not forget that the Collective are not Men. They see beyond our sight. Not everything They relate is something you will want to hear. There are bones of men driven mad at the bottom of the Rift. I would mourn to see you join their number.”
“Of course, Master. I will remember the risk at my Communion.”
“You are wise beyond your years, boy, and sharper by half than any other Talent-weaver here. I have my Faith in you, young Vahn. Now off to bed with you, tomorrow may just be the longest day in your life.”
Vahn bowed again to his aged mentor, this time deeper and more sincerely. He then cinched his robe and pulled on a pair of boots before exiting under the watchful, smiling eyes of Yȯnrys.
Vahn willfully kept his pace slow, even though his desire to run was nearly overwhelming. Excessive exuberance was much frowned upon in the mountain monastery. He continued his restrained march out of the Temple complex and across the frozen, snow-covered terrain to the towering pair of dormitories.
Just inside the open archway of the first, and significantly taller, dormitory was a crystal platform, worn smooth by generations of men who, like Vahn, resided in the towering building. The “platform” was merely a hair-thin disc, the cold flagstones completely visible beneath it, though tinged the strangest blue. The Crystal had been taken from the Grove at the time of the dormitory’s foundation to transport those with Talent to the upper levels, insulated and otherwise unreachable.
Vahn stepped unhesitatingly onto the platform and disappeared in a flash of white light and blue sparks. He instantly reappeared on the eighth floor, where he paused to gaze out the window, shielded by the excess Talent leaked by the residents of the floor.
The dormitory was built at the edge of the plateau, seamlessly melding with the sheer cliff-face, dropping hundreds, if not thousands, of feet to the mostly frozen river and the bones of men gone mad. Across the Rift was a vast open plain, as snowy as the plateau that housed the monastery. At the far edge of the plain the mountains rose sharply once again, just as they did everywhere one looked. What was beyond those mountains, Vahn couldn’t begin to imagine. He could only assume it was more of the same; mountains boxing in snow-covered plateaus and frozen rivers, but his only memories were of this isolated monastery within the Dosid Mountains.
Pulling himself from the breathtaking view that had become stale and ordinary, Vahn retreated to his quarters at the far end of the hall. He pushed aside the tapestry that hid his rooms from view and paused on the threshold, a sense of unease clamoring at the back of his mind. He shook his head, dispelling the feeling, and crossed through the small anteroom to his main chamber, and then to the bath-chamber.
In the elegantly carved stone bath, Vahn soaked until the water went cold. When it did, instead of using his Talent to reheat it, he climbed out of the bath and wrapped himself in the same robe that he had worn earlier. Then he re-entered his bed-chamber, but instead of falling on the low bed, he collapsed onto the pile of cushions that he usually reserved for guests. There he remained long into the night, pondering the coming day, until at last a restless slumber claimed him.
Awakened before dawn by a lowly acolyte, Vahn immediately recalled the honor being bestowed upon him. The acolyte stood over him silently, waiting to be acknowledged before speaking.
Vahn glanced at her in minor dissatisfaction. “Yes, yes. Speak already.”
The acolyte bowed respectfully. “The Tenders of the Godlight and the Masters of the Temple wish to express their great respect for the young Lord and beg that you follow the instructions bequeathed to the humble acolyte before you.”
Vahn waved his hand impatiently, his nerves getting the better of him. “And the instructions, acolyte?”
“The Masters beg you follow me to the Bathing House.”
“I can’t bathe in my own chamber?”
“No, my Lord.”
“Very well,” Vahn sighed, pushing himself to his feet. “When do I get to eat?”
“You are not to eat this day, my Lord. You are to fast until after your Communion.”
Vahn kept his irritation in check, but barely. “Very well,” he said again. “Lead on then, girl.”
The acolyte bowed again, stiffer than the first time, and then turned, leading him down the familiar hall and, once on the ground level, out of the dormitory. The harsh morning wind attacked Vahn with a vengeance. He stared at the acolyte in awe, for though her short hair and robes were tossed wildly by the savage wind, the girl herself seemed unaffected. She led the way quite calmly past the Council Chambers and to the Bathing House. Within the confines of the House, the air was hot and still. Steam hung in around them like fog and water droplets clung to every surface.
The acolyte turned to Vahn, but kept her eyes down. “The Masters beg you to remove your robes and bathe,” she said, softly and quickly. “There are salts at the edge of the pool with which you are to cleanse yourself. Then you are to ascend to the second floor. When you are finished come to the outer room and this acolyte will guide you again.” After relaying the instructions, the acolyte hastened to the outer room of the House, leaving Vahn on his own.
Vahn slipped out of his robes, leaving them in a pile on the floor. He shuffled forward, unable to see the pool he knew was somewhere before him, and fell into the water, plunging into the deep. He surfaced brief moments later and gasped for air. The water was hotter than he’d ever felt it before. He retrieved the scrubbing salts from the edge of the bath and proceeded to cleanse himself. The salts smelled strongly of some unknown herb, similar to the mint that the Cultivators grew in the hot houses.
After he had washed, Vahn climbed out from the bath and wrapped a towel around his waist. He skirted the edge of the pool to the back of the house, where a staircase led to a rarely used second level. Emerging onto the second floor, Vahn saw a Master of the Faith and Scripture standing beside a table filled with needles and tiny bottles of ink.
“What is this, Master?” Vahn asked.
The Master gazed at him steadily. “You are to be marked with the ancient patterns, symbols of your honor and character, and the symbol the Fate gives as a path for your life. Come. Sit.” He gestured to the stool before him.
Vahn advanced warily, glancing with apprehension at the needles.
“You will not feel it,” the master said, catching Vahn’s discomfort.
“Yȯnrys told me you were clever. Yes, the salts numb the body to pain. Now hold still.”
Vahn sat as still as the mountains themselves as the black and teal inks were applied to his skin in delicate swirls and complex patterns. He tensed as the master inked graceful symbols on his cheek, but the master made no mistakes. It seemed like eons before the master set down the last needle, but still he was not finished.
The man, standing behind Vahn, placed a hand on his head and on his bare back. He began murmuring in an archaic tongue. The words sounded like a prayer – or an incantation. Either way, Vahn felt energy building in the room and when he ended the speech, there was a flash of ice-cold fire across Vahn’s skin.
“The marking is complete,” the master said, stepping away.
Vahn glanced over his shoulder – his back still stung – and saw the barest gleam of gold. He looked down at his torso and saw what the master had not inked. A sparkling crimson flower – something Vahn had never seen in person – on his upper right chest attached to the glowing golden vine, twisting over his shoulder and threaded through the black patterns. The patterns themselves had also changed. Before the incantation the black and teal had been distinctly separate, but they had merged, somehow darker than before, drinking in the light and extinguishing it, but with a strange greenish iridescence.
“What did you do?” Vahn asked.
The master answered an unasked question. “The Crimson Dahlia. Its story is filled with suffering and sorrow. We shall have to see what becomes of its bearer. It is strange that you have been given two marks. Such has never happened in my years, and I doubt in the years of my Master before me. You have a long future ahead of you.”
“You mean you didn’t choose this?”
“The Fate chooses all. Your time here is complete. Go rejoin your guide.”
Vahn stood stiffly, and somewhat shakily, at a loss or words. He understood little of what the master had told him. He retraced his steps to the entrance of the Bathing House, where a ceremonial White Robe waited. He donned the Robe eagerly, smoothing it over his front reverently. Stepping into the outer room, he found the acolyte waiting with her hands clasped behind her back, her feet spread shoulder-width apart.
“My Lord,” she said, bowing yet again. “It is dusk. The time is near, and this acolyte begs you follow in her steps just a short while more.”
“Of course. Lead on,” Vahn said, his excitement returning full force.
The girl turned and once again took charge, this time leading him across the plateau, to the base of the Tower. The Tenders of the Godlight, masters in their own right, stood in a half-circle facing away from the Tower, heads bowed.
The acolyte halted and turned towards Vahn. “Here this humble acolyte must leave you in most Worthy care.” She bowed to him a final time before hurrying back towards the Temple complex.
“Gȯdtrey volüt tran,” the Tenders rumbled in unison. As one their faces rose to the sky. Their eyes were open but unseeing, their hands upheld as if to receive a gift. “Drȯn ta leet, fa ree cyunduer.”
Vahn stood still and silent, unsure what to do. He was about to speak when the Tender in the middle of the semi-circle stepped forward.
“Vessel of the Vine, you have come to take part in the Communion of Souls. The bearer of the Mark has been deemed worthy by earthly minds. May the souls passed before grant passage to the Bearer. Bearer, approach the Godlight, be struck with fear and awe, so that you may become wise and fearless.”
The Tender stepped aside, revealing the base of the Tower. But it was not the base as Vahn knew it. An arch of stones glowed blue-white, and the stones inside the arch appeared almost fluid. Vahn stepped forward and, when no one stopped him, passed through the half-circle of Tenders to enter the tower through the liquid stone.
The stairway spiraled up the walls of the Tower, and Vahn climbed for hours, unaware that time outside the Tower had slowed nearly to a halt. Inside the pitch-black Tower, Vahn kept his right hand against the wall, his left stretched out before him. He could sense, if not see, the great open space in the middle of the Tower. There was nothing to keep him from falling to his death if he lost contact with the wall. But he climbed.
His legs grew leaden, his chest burned, and deep in his mind a strange tingle had begun. Each step cost more energy than the last, each breath sending another dart of pain through his lungs. It was agony.
At last he took a step and out of the darkness materialized another archway, exactly like the one at the base. For a brief moment Vahn wondered why he had not seen it before, but he quickly dismissed the question. The secrets of the Tower were, after all, innumerable.
Vahn stepped through the arch without hesitation and found himself at the very top of the Tower, in the Chamber of the Godlight. Around him the cold wind surged, whistling around the pillars that supported the dome of the Tower. He paid the winds no attention, just as he ignored the magnificent and altogether supernatural view of the Dosid Rift and monastery plateau. His eyes had time only for the mystical Godlight, before him at last.
The Godlight was a Crystal. Vahn didn’t know why this surprised him, but it did. Of course, it was not an ordinary Crystal by any means. The Godlight blazed brighter than any in the Crystal Grove, with an incredible blue-white hue, and with no Talent-weaver to Source it. Or rather, no physical Talent-weaver. The Collective resided, somehow, within the Godlight, and Vahn supposed that They were the Source.
Shaking himself from his awed daze, Vahn reached out to touch the Light…
And was immediately transferred to an intensely bright, glowing place.
He was completely surrounded by pure white light, standing on it, breathing it. He could still feel his body at the top of the Tower, his arm outstretched, his legs shaking with the effort of the climb. But here he was in this brilliant place, as physical as he was in the other.
He had the barest second to comprehend all this before the tingle in his mind erupted into a cacophony of voices.
“So Darkness has come,” a woman’s voice rang out above the others. From the corner of his eye Vahn saw the hem of a skirt, rushing away. He turned, but nothing was there.
“We must not foretell,” a man’s voice resounded, accompanied by a click of a boot. But again when Vahn turned there was nothing, no one.
“The Dark One will steal peace from all, the Dark One will become our fall.” The child’s sing-song rhyme was followed by festive laughter, but there was no one there.
An elderly voice took up the rhyme. “The Dark One wars against the old –”
“Banish we him to the cold!”
“The Dark One ruins his only kin –”
“The Dark One will begin again!”
“Raised in darkness he will destroy –”
“That which he cherished as a boy.”
Vahn spun in a panic, frightened by the angry voices, trying to catch a glimpse of one of the speakers hovering at the edges of his sight.
“No,” he managed to choke out, “no you’ve got it wrong –” But his voice was drowned out by the chorus of souls.
“Eater of Faith! Destroyer of Truth! Eater of Faith! Destroyer of Truth!”
“Eater of Faith!
“Destroyer of Truth!”
“Demon of Taruin!”
“Be gone, Demon!”
“Get out, Destroyer!”
“Your darkness shall not sully our light!”
“Your power shall not cause our destruction!”
“We will NOT bestow our Gifts to the Darkness!”
“You are not welcome, Demon of Taruin!”
Vahn’s true body was flung backwards against the low wall as his consciousness was hurled back into it. The Godlight’s blazing brightness was like a candle against the sun after the World of Light. Vahn was practically blind in the darkness of the night, deaf in its silence.
The gravity of what had happened came crashing down upon him. He had been rejected by the Collective. He had been cursed by the only thing he had ever loved, the only thing that had ever motivated him.
Throughout the Dosid Mountains, throughout all of Taruin, was heard a cry of heart-shattering anguish, augmented by the stolen Talent of every living thing atop the Dosid plateau, dropping each acolyte, master, tender, and student into the unforgiving grasp of death.
Take care, fellow travelers