Before the Patriarch, all of Farhaven lay.
Standing high in the great keep, he could see the world beneath him, stretching out endlessly—waiting to be opened like a book beneath his hands. With his level of the spark, all of it was just beyond his fingertips.
To the east, past the turquoise waters of Cloudfell Lake and a town cast in perpetual low-lying fog, lay the now desolate Great Kingdom of Stone—destroyed during the great war of the Lieon. To the west, he saw the shadowy Narim Foothills, the Great Kingdom of Moon. Beside it lay its unlikely neighbor, the Great Kingdom of Flesh, a land of man and beast toiling beneath the harsh sun and its religion of the Mortal Being. And lastly, to the south, many miles away, past the vineyards of Sevia and lands with roving brigands, sat the deserts of the Great Kingdom of Fire.
But now the Patriarch sat in the Great Kingdom of Sun known as Vaster.
The breathtaking green landscape stretched below him. Upon the rolling hills far below the grand keep and in between the bleak cliffs of stone, the land was painted verdant with hardy bushes and evergreens strong enough to withstand the bite of the harsh winter and a brilliant sun, which now filled the air with the presence of their faint aroma.
Farhaven was a land of magic, of possibilities.
A dying land, the Patriarch knew.
A man cleared his throat, and the Patriarch turned to see a liveried
servant. He was a stooped, gray-haired man with a face like a prune. He was old enough to look as if he’d survived the Lieon. But with no real spark, the Patriarch knew the old man’s age was infantile com- pared to his own. This high in the fortress of Vaster, he was obviously a high servant of Lord Nolan. Faint beads of sweat formed upon the man’s temple as he opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.
The Patriarch raised a brow in question. “Yes?”
The man bowed to his waist, his gaze falling to the polished floor. “The great Steward of Vaster, Lord Nolan, will see you now, your eminence,” the servant said, croaking out the words.
The Patriarch dipped his head, and the servant led the way.
Together they maneuvered through halls with richly woven gold rugs, passing large, elegant rooms filled with priceless vases and other pointless material extravagances. On the walls, mosaic windows let in colored light, showing the varying kingdoms’ symbols and their corresponding colors: leaf, stone, water, sun, moon, flesh, metal, and fire. All nine save for wind, of course, the banished element. As always, the familiar copper flame symbol of the Great Kingdom of Fire was a comforting sight for his weary gaze, reminding him what he was fighting for.
In between the glass mosaics were ancient tapestries depicting battles from a millennium ago. The Lieon, the war that had nearly destroyed the world. Though over a thousand years ago, he remem- bered it still, like a dream within a dream.
Nearby, guards in silver and gold armor stood like figurines at the mouth to every hall and room, each bearing the Sun Kingdom’s mark on their resplendent plate mail.
At last, with the servant leading the way, they reached a grand double door of hammered gold. In its center was a huge insignia of the sun. Each door was the weight of twenty men and the worth of a city. The Patriarch sighed inwardly. Such needless things we mortals do to prove ourselves.
The old servant stopped before the doors, looking nervous again. “Shall I introduce you, my lord?” he asked.
The Patriarch touched the man’s arm, gently. “No need,” he said
and wove a thread of flesh, intricate but subtle, and the tension in the old man’s body seemed to visibly evaporate, and he breathed a sigh. “Be at ease, old friend.” With that, the Patriarch drew upon his spark again, issuing a thread of metal. But before the magic could work, the huge doors glided open as if weightless. Hinges fused with magic—artifacts from the Lieon, the Patriarch knew.
Inside, a man in brilliant plate and white silks stood staring out
the window. Upon his entrance, the man turned swiftly. Nolan,
Lord of the Sun Kingdom, was tall and broad shouldered, which
made him nearly equal to the Patriarch’s imposing height. He had a youthful face, which now wore a deep look of concern. His hair was
still brown and full, but parts were graying with age and the stress of his station no doubt.
Despite being a lord in title, Lord Nolan was only the steward of Vaster—the Kingdom of Sun had not had a king since the great war of the Lieon had disposed its last ruler. However, he wore sev- eral pieces of armor made for a king over his white robes—robes less brilliant than the Patriarch’s of course. Upon his shoulders sat golden epaulets crafted to look like eagles in flight. His wrists were clasped with gilded bracers depicting a bursting sun, and a golden belt cinched his waist. But for all his grandeur and surroundings, the difference between the two men was as clear as the distinction between dawn and dusk. Still, Nolan was a proud and allegedly vir- tuous man, a man full of light—a trait all inhabitants of the Sun Kingdom were said to possess. But standing before the Patriarch, the most powerful wielder of the spark in all time, Nolan was just a man.
“Forgive me, my liege,” Lord Nolan said sincerely, bowing almost as deeply as the old man had done. “As soon as I discovered it was you, I told my servants to bring you without hesitation. I assure you, your delay was completely unintended, though still inexcusable.
It's just... You must understand, no guest so prominent has ever arrived without an entourage in tow.” The sun lord scratched his graying temples and chuckled. “Honestly, I’ve had minor governors of my provinces arrive with a small fleet of guards, servants, and practically their whole house in tow, and you... a ruler of a great kingdom arrive alone, and unarmed.”
“Unnecessary heraldry,” he replied calmly. “And as you know, I do not need an army.”
“No, the Patriarch is an army unto himself, or so the stories say,” the man said, hiding a shiver and giving a sly smile. “Luckily, I am too young to remember a time when the world was not at peace.”
The Patriarch glanced around at the furnishings. He stood upon a floor of snowy marble. A sun was embedded in its center. The ceil- ing was tall, constructed of hundreds of glass facets, letting the sun stream in and fill the chamber with golden luminescence. None of it mattered to him. He was searching for something else.
He felt a presence lingering in the air.
All other threads of the woman’s presence were masked. She’s powerful. Not nearly as much as him, but she’d had time to cover her tracks. My unintended delay, he reasoned, hiding a bemused smile. No matter. The petty perfidy of nobles and the squabbling of
kingdoms were of no import to him.
What mattered was the world, and it was dying.
“Bring in the rest of the nobles,” the Patriarch declared, looking
out the window. “I have ordered all of the Great Kingdoms here, if that is acceptable...” He spoke with the authority of his rank to make even the proud sun lord hesitate.
“All of the great kingdoms?” Lord Nolan gawked.
“My presence—” the Patriarch began, turning back. “I am here for a reason, Nolan. As we stand, the world is on the precipice of a
new age, one balancing between light and darkness.”
“You speak of the rumors...”
“We would be blind to ignore the truth. Whispers spread of a
darkness rising within the Deep Mines, the black caverns beneath Yronia.”
Nolan shook his head. “Yronia, the Great Kingdom of Metal, was destroyed in the great war. It is dead,” he said in a flat tone. “Walls bashed in by the enemy. Nothing lives in those dark halls anymore.” “Nothing but death,” the Patriarch answered.
Nolan’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“Upon hearing the rumors of Yronia’s wakening, I sent some of
my best Reavers to investigate alongside several dozen Devari two weeks ago. They have not returned, and they never will,” he said plainly.
Nolan’s eyed widened. “You cannot mean...” His hand fluttered to his side, fingering his belt inlaid with scrolls of gold, as if seeking his sword that was not there.
A missing sword. Ironic, he thought, for a man of sun. “Whatever there is in those halls, it’s nothing of light. The darkness has spread beyond Yronia. Nodes are appearing in great numbers, trying to hold the deserts north of the Gates together, but magical beings are dy- ing,” he said. “Something is awakening...”
“You mean the ancient evil, don’t you? But they...” Nolan hesitat- ed, “those nine, they were destroyed in the Lieon, during the war—” “—No,” he interrupted smoothly, “that evil has been banished
and put to rest, for now at least. This darkness is something else entirely.”
“Something else?” Lord Nolan questioned.
“It is a prophecy of death,” he answered. “An insidious disease that masquerades itself as strength, but it is not. Even as we speak, it seeps into every home and every Great Kingdom under the guise of truth and light, eating away at us from the inside out.” The Patriarch lifted a hand and a tiny flame of fire formed, swelling into a molten orb. It floated in the air, suspended, burning proudly when its sur- face changed. Black veins forked across the fiery orb’s surface like a spreading poison. “It is not an army, not yet at least, but a mantra that corrupts, led by a singular purpose: to turn the world to shadow.” He waved his hand and the orb was consumed in roiling darkness.
Nolan swallowed and asked slowly, “How long do we have?”
“Not long,” he replied. “It grows quickly... and it will not be contained by anything, not the well-guarded borders of the elves, the might of my Reavers, or even the high walls of Vaster. If we do not stand together, by the time we turn to face it, it will already be too late.”
“Then what do you propose?
His hand made a fist and the black orb burst into flames, leaving only a strange smell in the air like fetid water and rotting flesh. “If we wish to save Farhaven, the time to act is now.”
At his words, a knock sounded.
Puzzled, Nolan’s silver brows drew together, but he called out without turning. “Enter!”
A woman servant entered, closing the door behind her as if she was being chased. Sweat poured down her face, dampening her liv- ery. She caught her breath, trying to gather herself before the two powerful men.
“My lord,” she said. “The kingdoms... they are here.” “How many?”
“All of them.”
The sun lord ́s jaw clenched.
The Patriarch turned grandly and reached out. With a flick of his finger, the huge double gold doors flung open, slamming against the walls and shaking the sun-lit chambers.
A stream of monarchs entered with airs that could knock a lesser man over from a dozen paces away. Clad in rich silks, ceremonial armor, and thick pauldrons, they jostled for rank and position. It was a tributary of gold and silver, all polished to gleam. His gaze passed over a few of the most notable men and women, listing off their names and titles.
King Darmin of Covai, the Great Kingdom of Flesh, had a soft face and ripe belly, his plump fingers laden with glittering rings—yet his eyes were deceivingly sharp. Dryan of Eldas, the new ruler of the Great Kingdom of Leaf, wore his lavish pale green armor, his Elvin features absent of all emotion as always. King Owen Garian of Medi- an, the rebuilt Great Kingdom of Water, High Elder Fari of Menalas, and Havas of Ester, and so forth. Though none were more powerful than the sovereigns of the Great Kingdoms each were kings, queens, or ambassadors of their own right, hailing from all over Farhaven. Together, they comprised the rulers of the world.
They cast sly looks to one another, and behind their gazes, the Patriarch saw plots of political maneuvering brewing, for each held feuds as old as the kingdoms themselves, steeped in blood. But today, they had promised to set their quarreling aside, if only for discussion.
“So, this is it?” said King Owen Garian, sovereign of the Great
Kingdom of Water, a mountain of a man with a long, blue-tinted beard as if he’d been born of the sea.
“It seems so,” said another, Havas, ruler of Ester, who seemed nothing more than a stooped old man, save for his cane that was made entirely of rare white gems from Ester and Menalas’ joint re- nowned mines. “The meeting to decide our fates.”
Lord Nolan rushed forward, addressing them all in grand tones.
Calmly, the Patriarch turned and looked out the gleaming win- dows back onto the land—they sat high above it all, looking down protectively upon the denizens of the world. And he knew the full circle quirk of fate. It was much like the meeting within Morrow that decided the future of the lands those thousands of years ago. His lips curved slightly, glad for it.
Last time, the council had failed, and the world had been plunged
into darkness. Of course, they had stopped the evil of the Kage and
their dark army, barely, upon Death’s Gate, only for the evil to return
and ultimately be banished by a young man with a powerful sword.
But the true evil wasn’t gone. The abyssal darkness of the Lieon still lingered and now it was returning. The council had failed, but this
time would be different.
This time the darkness would not be so easily quelled.
Hands clasped behind his back, the fading sun illuminated his face as he inhaled deeply, relishing that scent that was not a scent. Here, in the gleaming mirrored columns that shone with the fading sun—aside from the perfumed guests—there was no smell.
Absence, he thought curiously.
The room had grown quiet. A stillness settled that he felt to his ancient bones. Turning back, he saw the monarchs’ faces, hard or soft, impatient or serene, all proud, and all anticipating.
As the founder of this meeting, all were waiting for his word.
The Patriarch threaded bits of light and flesh into his voice so his words soared. “As the rulers of the lands, we are upholders of all that Farhaven stands for, but the peace and serenity we have treasured and even taken for granted these last many years is about to change. Evil is rising. A darkness takes its form, sinuous and pervasive, but still cloaked in shadows...”
He raised his hands and orbs of fire appeared in the air, and the hundreds of mirrors burst with light, banishing any trace of darkness in the golden room. “Now is the time of vigilance, for watchful eyes to turn to your own fair borders and beyond. Now is the time for unity. Scattered and broken from the Lieon, we are a family who has lost its brothers and sisters... Seria of Water, Narim of Moon, Lander of Stone, and Yronia of Metal... Their losses have made us as reclu- sive as a widow, sheltering ourselves behind our high walls, but we must see ourselves whole once more—for, broken, we will fall. That is why I have gathered you upon this day... a day that marks the tides of change and the eve of a new age,” he intoned grandly.
Each ruler hung on his every word.
And the Patriarch smiled, gamely. “It is time.”