The Night Before the Morning After
Karnus crept through the door, aware of the lateness of the hour. The house was dark, but the remains of a fire still burned in the grate. The wizard moved as carefully as he could, but his mind still raced, trying to make sense of what his brother had said to him. Between fathoming what Vintrus could have meant and pouring over the contents of the Alphatian tome he had appropriated he was keen to get upstairs to the privacy of his room. A cough made the wizard turn abruptly, staff raised, its eyes blazing briefly with sapphire energy.
"Whoa," cried Karnus' father from his chair by the fire, "don't shoot, son. I'm just an old man with a drink in him. No threat to a mighty wizard such as you."
Karnus lowered his staff with a smile and leant it against the stair rail. He walked over to his father and took the chair opposite him, close to the guttering flames. "I didn't think anyone would be up," observed the wizard. As he sat, he extended a hand towards the fire, willing the flames to grow stronger and provide more light. As the fire quickened, his father arched an eyebrow and smiled gently. "You have such power, my son," he said, "something I once thought our family would never possess again..."
Karnus noticed the glass in his father's hand and the half empty bottle on the table beside him. The wizard reached over and retrieved an empty glass, pouring a measure of the dark liquid for himself. "Your health," he raised his glass, his father motioning slightly with his own in return.
"You look tired." Verenis said.
"I've been flying around all night. Literally flying, in bird form - it's rather draining, all that flapping."
"That's why I like having you around, Karnus," his father said with a wry smile, "nobody else ever says things like that around me."
Karnus returned his father's smile and slowly sipped his drink. "These are dark times, my son," commented his father. Karnus fixed him with a look, sensing that his parent did not expect an answer. "Dark times indeed," continued Verenis, sipping from his glass and staring into the flame. "You asked about 'the Curse of the Perdissiums', earlier."
Karnus glanced up at the older man. "That's right."
"I didn't want to say anything in front of your mother, didn't want to upset her."
"So you know what this curse is?"
Verenis shifted in his seat. "There was no curse, Karnus. But there was a prophecy..."
"What?" Karnus leant forward in his seat.
"You have to understand, times were tough. We were living hand to mouth, your mother and I. When you turned out to be twins we could barely afford to feed you. We lived in the crumbling remains of the Perdissium manor, but there was nothing of value left in it. All squandered long ago; the legacy of a once noble house laid waste by avarice, greed and politics..." Karnus hung on every word. Despite years of badgering his father had never once spoken of their life in Kerendas. The wizard was amazed at his father's openness.
"Your mother, I loved her so much, but she hated it. She pretended she was happy but it was tearing us apart. We needed a fresh start, but didn't know where to go, what to do." Verenis sipped his drink. "Your mother suggested I consult the Oracle..."
"A woman who lived in Harikanon, secluded in the hills in the very north of Kerendas. They said she could see the future. I didn't believe it of course, but I went to please your mother. I walked all week to get there, and searched for days to find the place. They were like some sort of cult - shrines to various immortals all over the place. Half of them were drunk, or worse. But the Oracle, there was something about her. You stood in her presence, and you knew she was the real thing."
Verenis shifted uncomfortably. "Of course, there were plenty of others there, all throwing money at her assistants to get time with her. I had no money, so I made to leave, but the Oracle herself stopped me, said that the price for my prophecy was not to be paid there and then, and when it came due I wouldn't be the one to pay it."
"That's vaguely ominous," Karnus murmured. "What did she tell you?" he asked of his father, his heart in his mouth.
"It was the strangest thing, son... she inhaled this strange smoke, the very smell of which made me giddy, then went into some sort of trance... She spoke in a language I couldn't understand, but one of her companions, I think they were her lovers, translated for me. She wrote it down." Verenis produced an ancient, torn piece of parchment and reluctantly passed it to his son.
His hands shaking, Karnus unfolded the parchment. On it was written:
The immortals weep, for the noble House of Perdissium lies broken.
From the City of Mirrors, five Scions will rise, their eyes open to the sight of ages, their destinies unfettered by the chains of fate. The world will be shaped by their coming. The House of Perdissium will prosper in their shadow.
"Five Scions?" murmured Karnus, his mind reeling at the implications of the prophecy. Suddenly Vintrus' revelation that he too could see the future made sense. Then the others must...
"It's true, isn't it son?" Verenis interrupted his son's thoughts, glaring a her spoke, "I've watched your brothers and sisters grow powerful, each in your own field. Kelsin a talented guard, able to predict where trouble will occur. Helena, who always somehow knows which deal will succeed and which will fail. Vorla, secluded by the church and venerated as a prophetess, or so I hear. Vintrus, who's always known where to be to make the most of any opportunity. And you, Karnus. A wizard the like of which this family hasn't produced in a millenium. And a seer too, I'd hazard a guess."
Karnus nodded slowly. His father smiled sadly. "I thought as much. You and your siblings have already started to rebuild all that I could not." Karnus looked back at the page. The world will be shaped by their coming. Somehow those words resonated with the wizard... Both Perdissiums sat in silence for a moment, the flickering light casting fleeting shadows across their faces.
"Well," said Karnus, recovering from his shock sufficiently to pour himself another drink. "While I admit it's a bit of a shock, I've seen worse prophecies. Hardly what I'd call a curse."
"There's more," said Verenis. "That's the parchment I showed your mother. I had to tear off this last part. I couldn't stand to upset her by showing it to her." He handed across a second piece of parchment. Karnus took it and noticed that it lined up with the first piece. This half also contained two paragraphs:
Yet though the Five shall see all, they will be blind to their doom. Though they hold such power, they will be powerless to stop him. Though their wisdom will be great, they will ignore his coming. The coming of the Sixth shall undo all their labours.
The immortals will weep once again.
"What," began Karnus, stunned, "does that mean? A sixth sibling? Is there someone I don't know about?
Verenis shook his head. "I don't know what it means. After Vinny was born I, well, I was very... careful... There are only five siblings, so there's no need to worry. We've beaten that half of the prophecy, Karny. I don't think we need to worry about it." Verenis reached over and took the second part of the prediction from Karnus' trembling hands. He tore the page in half and cast it into the flames before the wizard could stop him. The fire blazed brilliantly for an instant as the unwanted half of the prophecy was consumed. "We beat it..." Verenis murmured.
Karnus watched his father empty his glass. The wizard could see the man had carried this burden, kept secret from his wife, for decades. By telling Karnus, he had somehow relieved himself of the burden, passed it on to his son to shoulder. Karnus couldn't bring himself to point out that such prophecies were rarely defied by the action or inaction of ordinary men. The wizard wished he could share his father's optimism, but he was suddenly gripped with a terrible fear. He suspected the full prophecy would yet play out, somehow...
Verenis pushed himself out of his chair. As he rose he groaned softly, and Karnus noticed the age his father had reached, his secret crushing upon him all these years. His own burdens came fleetingly to mind as his father laid a hand upon his shoulder. "Please, son, don't tell the others. I know you have the sort of outlook that can deal with this, but your mother, your brothers and sisters... they wouldn't understand." Karnus held his father's gaze for a second, then nodded. "Good boy. You're a good boy, Karnus." Verenis patted his son's shoulder, then moved off to bed, slowly climbing the stairs.
Karnus was left alone in the dark. He poured himself another drink and stared into the guttering flames for what seemed like an eternity, until the irresistible wave of sleep crashed over him, washing his mind away in a tide of dark dreams.
"Blue?!?" Karnus started out of his fitful sleep, looking around in a panic. The door was being hammered by someone, and Karnus could hear someone shouting outside, "are you sure this is the place?"
"Oh, yes, my..." came the interrupted reply.
"Fine." The door was subjected to renewed attack as Karnus rose uncertainly from the chair. His mother was already halfway down the stairs, cloaked in a comfortable looking dressing gown. She glanced at Karnus uncertainly then opened the front door. Her eyebrows shot up when she beheld the flashily dressed man who had been assaulting her door, his dark, handsome features grinning uncertainly at the short woman.
"Oh, hello, madam. Is Karnus here?" said the man in a thick accent which Atrid evidently struggled to interpret. Karnus appeared next to his mother, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
"Um... Ralindi?" began the wizard, "what time is it?"
"Time to go, Blue." The man breezed past Karnus and his confused mother to stand in the room, looking around in an amused fashion. His companion, an aide Karnus recognised from the Glantrian embassy, stepped in after him and gave the wizard an exhausted look. Karnus smirked at him, then introduced his mother to his travelling companion. "Mother, this is Ralindi Gandamar, one of the reasons I'm in town. Ralindi, this is my mother Atrid."
"Delighted to meet, you, madam," the flashy Glantrian bowed deeply to Karnus' mother. "I'm sorry to be stealing your son away, but we really need to get a move on."
Atrid nodded, barely able to decript the man's accent, then murmured something about getting some breakfast together and bustled herself off to the kitchen. Karnus smiled after her then turned to his travelling companion with a yawn. "What's the urgency?"
"Oh, nothing serious. I just think we need to get a move on - time is short, and all that. Well, there is the fact that half these people can't understand a word I'm saying..."
"Yes, well, we'll have to work on your pronunciation."
Ralindi harumphed as Karnus' father appeared at the top of the stairs. Karnus introduced the two men, mentioning that Verenis was the king's stable master, which elicited a long, confused attempt by the Glantrian to converse about the virtue of horses. Karnus' father, catching every third word, nodded and responded as best he could. Atrid reappeared with a bundle of food, pressing it into her son's hands as Verenis brought down Karnus' still packed explorer's pack.
As Ralindi busied himself with the horses, Karnus said a hurried yet heartfelt goodbye to his parents. "Keep safe," said Atrid, tears welling in her eyes. Karnus gave her a deep embrace, then hugged his father, who gave the wizard a meaningful look. "Good luck, my son," said the man.
"Thank you both," replied Karnus, "I'll see you soon." With a snap of his fingers, the Staff of Hutaaka jumped the few inches into Karnus' hand. With a sweep of his cloak, and a final glance at his parents, the wizard bounded out the door and mounted his horse. Ralindi winked at Karnus, waved to the Perdissiums, then spurred his horse onwards. Karnus waved and smiled, then urged his own horse after Ralindi's.
Karnus caught up to the man, smiling as the two raced through the waking streets at bracing speed. "I haven't had a chance to read my spellbook," Karnus called to his companion.
"No problem, we'll get outside the city, grab some breakfast, then you can take the time to study. Did you have a productive evening?" The man gave Karnus a mischievous glance.
"Oh yes," Karnus smiled and patted his pack, "you'll just love what I have to show you..."
The two horses thundered through the gates and onto the open road beyond. "Excellent," cried Ralindi, "here's hoping the rest of our mission goes just as well!" Karnus kept his silence as the pair galloped toward the Eastron Road. Ralindi whooped at the exhiliration of the ride. Karnus, in contrast, brooded on the revelations of the last few hours, his face set in grim determination.
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