Prophesarium – Part Six

hanginggardens

And he shall cross the water to the Prophesarium. And there he shall learn. And through learning ascend to take his place as our Saviour.

And the seas shall be calm and he shall feel seasick. Yea, though his stomach shall be like unto a house plagued with mice: full of scampering and with gnawed foundations.

For he shall fear what he is yet to learn of himself. For even heroes fear the unknown and to the true hero the greatest unknown is his own heroism.

*

The boat dipped and bobbed on gentle undulations of blue. The sail fluttered in the occasional energetic gust, as though the wind was having a day off and doing only just enough to keep the maritime traffic moving in the bay. The surface was a blanket sequined with sunlight.

Picturesque. A picture that told a thousand words or more – and wove them into one big fat lie. Nothing had happened here. No great disaster. No homes and lives ruined. The city carried on as normal out here past the shorefront.

This was the district, Falcon reasoned, on which Xandria’s reputation for beauty and majesty was built. This was the area that inspired artists and storytellers. And this was the part where her wealthiest and most august citizens resided.

The opulence had him leaning over the side.

Although he had to own up to a pre-existing unease, there before his disgust, before he had stepped on board. Before he had chartered the boat.

Hired for nothing, of course. Apart from the guards barring his exit from the city, the natives remained eager as ever to please him. Extending him every courtesy and hospitality even in the midst of their misery. Somehow that made him more ill than all the grandeur of the islands slipping by either side of the sailboat.

Hand on the tiller, the boatman smiled and pointed at the graceful parade of pyramids and palaces, temples and libraries, observatories and museums. He named them for nobody Falcon had ever heard of. Ancient individuals who might’ve been gods or kings, figure divine or merely historical. Grand as they sounded and grand as their namesake structures were, the sights became a slow stream, running into each other just as the channels between islands formed the arteries of one single bay.

“There stands the Royal Palace of the Great Cloepatra, Our Queen, Our Majesty.”

Falcon wondered at the greatness and majesty of a queen who could reside in her ivory tower while her people suffered disaster.

Her tower was not literally ivory, as it would have required more elephants than the continent could muster. But the stone that made up the smooth slopes of her pyramid had a pale tusk-like complexion. The structure was truncated, a plateau on top, with shimmering rivers running down the middle of each face, between enormous tiles inlaid with golden hieroglyphics relating some tale too epic to be read in the single passage of a slow boat. Giant statues  of Gyptian gods stood guard all around the pyramid’s base amid a garden of palms.

The boatman steered a wide course around the island and Falcon wondered if there was some sort of exclusion zone enforced. Then he understood as he observed a trireme the size of a whale, her hull ornamented with carved hieroglyphs and trimmed with gold, pulled out from the docks on the other side of the island. Her three rows of oars dug deep in perfect synchronisation, propelling her rhythmically out into the channel. The current she stirred rocked Falcon’s hired sailboat.

“Our great Queen, she goes to the people! To visit them in their time of need!”

Okay, thought Falcon, so she wasn’t the aloof and uncaring monarch he had imagined her to be. But he doubted she would mingle properly with the rabble or dirty her sandals amongst the mud and ruin.

“What about the Prophesarium? How much longer – ?”

“There!” The boatman pointed and grinned. “There she stands! The Prophesarium Of Xandria!”

Falcon felt inclined to ask if there were any other prophesariums anywhere in the world. But the sight of the building silenced the cynic in him.

Here was a pyramid of tiers. Garden terraces stepped up and up and up to a peak crowned with a gold and blue globe. Marble and variegated mosaic walls decked with rich greenery and blossoming shrubs. Every tier a fountain of plant life and colour. More beautiful than the Palace of Cloepatra and Falcon wondered that her Majesty tolerated such a structure as so close a neighbour.

Still, here he hoped to find answers.

And if there was truth to be discovered somewhere within this great edifice, well, that was more important than any monarch.

 

[To Be Continued…]

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Prophesarium – Part Five

hanginggardens

The guards at the gate stood firm. Although they were quite polite about it, they barred Falcon’s path as effectively as any portcullis.

“Sorry, sir, nothing personal. We’re not allowing anyone to leave.”

Falcon gestured at the deserted street behind him. “Nobody else is trying to leave.”

These weren’t the same guards who had admitted him into the city, but they seemed just as strict when it came to procedure. Falcon just wasn’t sure what the procedure for exit entailed and they weren’t telling him. He wondered if that was why there was no queue of locals desperate to leave backed up behind him. Perhaps they knew that it was more about jumping through official hoops than passing through a gate.

“Look, I don’t understand what the deal is here.” In the wake of the disaster visited upon swathes of the city, Falcon imagined everyone would want out. He’d commended himself on getting to the gatehouse early, ahead of the frantic rush. A rush that had yet to materialise. And the longer it delayed, the less frantic it would seem. “You’re saying if people lost everything, their homes, their belongings – ” He broke off as he flashed on an image of Ishmed. “Everything. If they’d lost everything and they came here looking to leave, to travel the desert in search of a new home, somewhere to rebuild their lives far away from this forsaken place, you would keep them here?”

“Technically, yes.”

“Technically?” Falcon blinked at the guard. And might have floored him if he hadn’t been propped up with a spear and flanked by five comrades-in-arms.

He had walked through district after district reduced to mud-logged battlefields. People cried. They wandered aimlessly, blinded by tears. They climbed the muddy hillocks that used to be their homes and set about them with shovels. Digging through the remains like archaeologists of the immediate past. Amid the devastation there had been one or two glimpses of hope. Grubby wailing children lifted from holes, filthy matted pets freed from would-be graves to run whimpering and feeling sorry for themselves. Heartening – and all the more to spur Falcon on towards the city gates.

And here was this man saying ‘Technically’.

“Did you just say ‘technically’?”

It was as well to make sure. Maybe Falcon had misheard. There was probably mud in his ears.

“Yes, sir. Technically.”

A fellow guard bowed his head a degree, almost apologetic. “Technically, it’s been official policy since ancient times, you see.” He nodded, directing Falcon’s attention to the still-empty street. “In truth, in practice, it is a policy that has not been needed for many a century.”

“We mean you no disrespect, sir,” said the first guard. “You are not native to Xandria and you cannot understand. Not yet. Disaster comes to us with cruel regularity. Had it not been for the policy laid down by the ancient city elders, why, there would be no city here. There would be no Xandria.”

“Indeed,” his comrade agreed. “But the people know now. They learned long ago. To stay, to endure, to rebuild. And to believe. Our salvation will find us one day. One day soon.”

He added this last in a hushed reverence. Then winked.

Falcon eyed the guard dubiously. He inspected the group of them. They were not about to budge and he had nothing to offer in the way of bribes. Their armour was spattered here and there with mud and it was evident they had weathered worse than any further protests he could offer.

He wondered how these men could regard him with such reverence while stubbornly keeping him prisoner in this forsaken city.

Then again, how could it be forsaken if nobody was permitted to leave?

*

And so the gates shall be closed even to the Saviour as they shall be for all. For in the denial of one path shall the true path be opened unto him.

And he shall be sore frustrated for his heart shall not be ready to embrace his true role. But as a gate may close in one’s face, so may a sun rise and reveal to one a light that cannot be denied.

It is the light of Truth.

It is the light of Enlightenment.

*

“Now, wait a minute,” said Falcon.

Which was an odd thing to say to a bunch of guards who were clearly not going anywhere. But still –

“Salvation. Saviour. I’ve been getting a lot of that since I got here. A bit too much, if you ask me.” Heaven knew what a tolerable amount might be, but it was all definitely too much at this point. “What the hell is going on?”

The soldiers looked at each other and exchanged gasps. “‘And he shall not know himself to be our Saviour’,” said one of them. And they all nodded sagely and not a little pleased with themselves.

Falcon frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you quoting scripture?”

“Sir, we are but humble soldiers,” explained the first guard, explaining nothing. “It is not for us to tell you of your great destiny. But we know who you are. All of Xandria knows.”

“They do?” Falcon doubted it. If they knew him, the late landlord of the Eye Of The Camel would not have been nearly so hospitable. “How’s that even possible? I’m a stranger here.”

“You have many questions, sir. It is natural.” The guard leaned forward on his spear. “Go. Seek your answers. They await you in the Prophesarium.”

The what now?

Falcon sighed. Hell, he was stuck here and it wasn’t as though he had anything better to ask.

So he asked the guards for directions.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Prophesarium – Part Four

hanginggardens

And the Great Dragons of Earth and Water shall clash and the Heavens shall be their battlefield. The mighty Sandwyrm and the equally mighty Seawyrm shall wage their war and the sky shall turn to mud and raineth down on our fair city. Ever was it thus and ever shall it be, until the Saviour doth come to, well, save us.

*

Falcon cowered under a hastily assembled fort he’d constructed from bar furniture. He’d hurried to brace chair and table legs and any other bits and pieces he could find against the bar. Then arranged whole furniture items on and around that basic frame. It was crude, ramshackle and haphazard, but it was the best he could manage.

It was the only thing braced in the muck-spattered ruins of the tavern. He peered out from his hovel and watched and waited for the rest of the place to tumble down around him.

He was miserably aware of the fact that he was cowering. Unlike most of the times when he ran – he could run free and never once think of the word ‘run’. But here, all the while he cowered and listened to the slop, slap and thud of the muddy deluge, his head seemed to fill with the single word. Cowered. Or coward.

Their phonetic similarities were a curse. One or the other, it made no difference. At times they teamed up and conspired to accuse him together.

At least his self-recrimination kept his mind off the open grave in the kitchen. Mostly.

Poor Ishmed. And the landlord. Had the man been the boy’s father or merely his employer? Falcon would never know. And how many others had perished in there? Falcon was not about to sift through the debris and count bodies.

For the seventh time, he drove out thoughts of the dead and focused on the living. Him. Alone and cowering.

The drumming mud pattered and petered out. Wet percussion slowed to fewer and fewer spluts and splats. Falcon imagined the sounds as the gentle slaps of a hand waking him from his nightmare.

He crawled out of his fort and looked about. The building appeared to have weathered the rest of the dread storm. Although the ceiling above creaked and groaned as though under a great weight.

Falcon scrambled to his feet and raced to the shattered window. He vaulted through and flopped into the mud-mired street.

Rolling over, he looked back at the battered tavern, expecting it to crash in on itself. It defied him and remained standing. Although it was heavily bruised and caked in mud.

Falcon stood, conscious that his own condition reflected that of the building. He was in good company, as far as that went: the entire street had suffered a similar beating.

Slow and nervous, people emerged from half-demolished structures like desert rats from burrows. Or barrows, perhaps, given how many might be buried in the mounds that used to serve as shops and houses.

The skies were clearing, clouds parting like glacial curtains. But as Falcon looked up, hoping to bathe his eyes in a little light, he saw that the clouds were not clouds.

Two monsters, the size of large islands, drew apart.

Dragons.

Claws raised. Cavernous mouths bared giant fangs, stalactite canines and stalagmite incisors. The beasts backed from each other like combatant cats, both done fighting for now but neither willing to show weakness. Great wings fanned turbulent winds, their writhing serpent forms coiled and curled. One boasted a segmented body of swirling sands, raging granular motion in place of scales, as it retreated towards the desert beyond the city walls. The other was a fluid chain of churning whirlpools, bright shimmering water and thrashing fringes of white, withdrawing over the rooftops in the direction of the bay.

So staggering a sight, it was a miracle Falcon didn’t fall down on the spot.

*

And lo! The Saviour shall be sore afraid. And the people shall know him by his fear. For he shall be a solitary figure wandering the wasteland aftermath of the battle. He shall roam the chaos and destruction with wonderment and terror and bewilderment fixed upon his pale befreckled face. For the sight of the Seawyrm and the Sandwyrm shall be new unto him.

While all around, the people shall huddle and seek solace in one another as they rebuild and mourn the dead. For to them the devastation shall be all too familiar.

And yet in the Saviour, the solitary wanderer, they shall see hope.

For here before them, meandering as one lost through the field of ruin, shall cometh the hero who shall set the people free.

And he shall be named for a bird of prey. For he shall prey upon the Wyrms.

And he shall slay the two Dragons.

*

Numbed, Falcon stumbled from one street to the next. Feeling like he was trapped in a maze and a nightmare at the same time.

And feeling , most of all, that he had to get out of this hell-hole.

The sooner the very much better.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Prophesarium – Part Three

hanginggardens

Heavens roared. The windows rattled and walls trembled. Falcon was sure he’d slept a good eight hours, but morning was nowhere to be seen.

Some unholy and furious darkness had swallowed the dawn. And now it rampaged through the streets, engulfing everything, devouring the city. Not, he hoped, literally.

Falcon approached the window, peering intently in hopes of making out something, anything. But there was only a swirling morass, reminding him of the sandstorms he’d weathered on his long trek here. All that sand he’d washed out of his pores in last night’s bath. And now the memory of all those grains returned, vividly enough to make him itch. But the churning maelstrom outside was denser, darker and uglier.

Falcon pressed his face to the pane and looked up at dirty skies. The rattling glass pummelled his cheek while shadows battled high overhead.

And his mind redrew them as identifiable shapes and forms: fierce raking claws, writhing serpent tails, ferocious dragons’ maws, spinning and snapping at each other in some celestial duel.

A filthy blot slapped the glass. Falcon jumped back from the window.

The heavens had started slinging mud.

More blots splatted the window and the walls shook under a thudding barrage. Something punched through the ceiling and splashed messily over the floorboards. Other mudballs followed, raining in through the hole and exploding over the room.

Falcon ducked aside. Danced this way and that until he’d manoeuvred himself to the bedside. He thought about diving under the bed for shelter, but reckoned he’d be safer downstairs.

Grabbing articles of clothing, he threw and pulled them on and wrestled into them. He yanked on his boots and stamped about some to make them snug, between hopping and skipping to avoid the onslaught of mud missiles puncturing the ceiling and slapdashing the floorboards. Finally, he buckled his sword belt and raced out.

The staircase and landing were exposed under a perforated ceiling. Mud hammered and pelted the stairs. Falcon did his best to trot down them, dodging left and right in a slalom. Until he gave that up, hopped on the banister and rode the rail for the last few stairs.

Panicked shouts mixed with the din down on the ground floor. Falcon, arm up in a token effort to shield himself, battled his way across the bar area, homing in on the voices. The room’s ceiling was intact and the bar itself relatively clear. The front window had smashed and thick mud had pancaked over a sizeable section of floor, congealing around the broken remains of table and three chairs.

Terrible winds blew more mudballs in, from pellets to bombs, piling on the original puddle with plops and violent splashes.

Falcon ignored the wind at his back and the few stray bullets of filth that splattered his cloak. He tried not to think about last night’s wasted bath.

He fought his way over towards the kitchens.

Mud thud mud thud mud thud.

Dirt drummed the building into submission.

An almighty crash buried the shouting voices. Blasted through the kitchen door and knocked Falcon on his behind. The ceiling shook and creaked and quaked and groaned under the punishing blows.

Mud thud! Mud thud! Mud thud!

Hauling himself onto his knees, Falcon crawled the short distance to the kitchen door. He pushed it with an outstretched hand. It budged an inch at best before thumping against something. Falcon pressed a shoulder to it, leaned his full weight into it. The blockage shifted and a narrow gap opened between door and frame.

A gap into Hell.

The entire place looked to have caved in, with a couple of upstairs rooms having dropped in on top of the stove and counter tops. Open to the skies, the heaped hillock of debris was being beaten and smothered by raining mud. As though some angry god slapped fistfuls of dirty brown clay onto the first attempt at a mountain.

Amid the wreck and ruin of furniture and pots and pans and slurry, bodies lay. Still and silent as the dead while the heavens chucked dirt into their open grave.

An arm jutted from the debris nearby. The sleeve was mottled with muddy splotches. The limb was lifeless as a protruding table leg.

Until the fingers twitched.

Emulating a claw, scratching empty air close to Falcon’s face.

Falcon scrabbled backwards.

Above the grasping hand, eyes opened in the depths of the wreckage. Wide with terror, they searched and begged.

Falcon crawled slowly forward. Lips parted in the bloodied and muddied visage. Teeth revealed themselves in the grubby beard. The man’s mouth moved.

Falcon grabbed the hand, if only to cease its unnerving clutching. He inched further forward, straining to hear words under the ongoing bombardment.

He tilted an ear towards the man. He’d finally recognised the face as that of the landlord and he was frankly a bit more comfortable not looking into those eyes.

A cracked whisper escaped the mouth and found its way into Falcon’s waiting ear.

“Saviour,” it said. “Save us. You must – save us – all. Ishmed. Please. Find – Ishmed.”

Saviour? What? Falcon was no saviour.

He let go the hand. The fingers clutched at nothing. Then fell still. Empty.

Falcon backed away. His gaze explored the burial mound. And settled like a carrion crow on a battlefield. Coming to rest on another protruding arm. This one dirty and bare and cruelly broken. Unmoving, it ended in a small hand.

Falcon nodded shakily.

He had found Ishmed.

 

 

 

[To Be Continued…]