High Chancellor Danai Thorn marched through the massive, golden-bronze doors of the Temple of the One. At midnight, the Temple should have been deserted, but one lone supplicant rested on her knees, forehead reverently touching the cold, dusty stone floor.
He loomed over the praying woman and barked, “Out, now! The Cathedral is closed.”
The woman flinched back. “This holy place is never closed, and I am in prayer.”
Anger flared in Thorn’s eyes. He thrust out his palm and called to his Gift. A ball of brilliant blue flame blazed to life above his palm. The woman fell back and scurried away before gaining her feet and hurrying out of the building, casting a frightened glance over her shoulder as she crossed the threshold.
Silly, pious fool. If she only knew The One she actually worshiped…
Thorn dismissed the flame and stalked the length of the cathedral’s nave, taking in every corner of the grand hall. As the Kingdom’s principal cathedral for followers of the One, the Temple served as a religious focal point, a place of peace and unity. Normally brightly lit, only a few candles still flickered, casting eerie globes that hid nearly as much as they revealed. Enormous colorful tapestries hung on the walls, depicting The One, generally as an ambiguous ball of light, comforting some commoner or healing the lame. Thorn’s favorite was viewed by many, even some priests, as a garish misrepresentation of their benevolent, loving god. It depicted troops locked in a bloody battle, the field littered with the dead and dying, and the familiar bright light of the One guiding their side to victory. Few knew that tapestry was older than the Cathedral, even older than the people’s false god.
But Thorn knew.
He climbed the few steps that led to the massive white marble altar, then walked around it toward the small chapel in the building’s eastern end. He knelt, lifted the ancient rug, and found the ring to the trap door. After a final check for witnesses, he descended into the catacombs where a millennium of the Kingdom’s monarchs lay interred. He summoned the blue flame again, giving the hallowed ground an otherworldly hue.
The walls of the narrow hall were adorned with large, golden plaques, engraved with the names and honorifics of long-dead Kings and Queens. The marble walls, with their golden monikers, were smooth and well maintained, somehow humble in their simplicity. What an odd way to honor the most powerful rulers to ever live. No elaborate statue. No grand public display. Just cold, smooth stone. Thorn shook his head.
The end of the corridor held a set of golden double doors, each etched with the flowing phoenix symbol of magic, the majestic bird rising out of four pillars of flame. The fist-sized rubies that were the eyes of the phoenix glowed, gaining brightness with each step Thorn took in their direction. He was startled when the rubies flared to brilliance. Thorn stood before the door and extinguished the blue flame hovering above his palm.
“E vesh Irina,” he whispered, placing his palm to the breast of the phoenix on the right door. Irina, take my life.
The ruby eyes pulsed once, and Thorn heard a small click. He gripped the handles and pulled, the doors swinging easily on their ancient hinges. That always amazed him. Those things had to be over a thousand years old, yet they opened with no effort, no squeal of protest.
What opened before him took his breath. The large, perfectly square room was brightly lit by dozens of braziers that never failed, blue flame dancing above their silvery bowls. A semicircular one-foot-tall wall stretched nearly the width of the room, connecting on either side to taller sections that curved like waves across their rim. Ten water-filled feet spanned the area between the apex of the short wall and two steps of the next section, giving the impression of a quiet sea leading to its shore. The steps led to a dais containing a large block of polished blue-black marble that swirled and churned as Thorn watched. A sarcophagus of pure, unmarred gold rested atop the marble. The wealth of that golden coffin could purchase a kingdom, but no price could replace its value within.
The carved artwork on the wall behind the golden coffin reminded Thorn of a massive headboard, towering over its slumbering guest. It was divided into three distinct pieces, the left and right pieces of perfectly white marble arched inward, mimicking a profile view of two praying supplicants facing each other. In contrast, the center piece rose as a massive black marble tombstone, rising nearly to the ceiling. The color black barely described its surface. Thorn thought it was more like looking into some abyss, a void where no light could exist, calling out and luring onlookers to join in its eternal nothingness. Golden script etched in the inky black stone shimmered as if freshly hewn, just as it had for a thousand years.
Thorn crossed the lake, ascended its shore, and stood before the monolith. He was transfixed. He tried to shake his head free of the paralyzing lure as his skin crawled and he sensed the stone assessing his presence.
Nothing mattered but the stone.
After an eternal moment of disquiet, tension evaporated from the room as quickly as it had captured him, and Thorn again stood before a simple monument. He reverently traced its glittering script with his fingers. The Prophecy had lived in his memory for most of his eleven centuries of life, but seemed to gain power each time he stood in awe before its golden text.
Seven Scattered as lands shattered.
Bind the Heir. Make diamonds bleed.
Speak the Words.
E vesh Irina.