World of Phantasie
~ by ArgoForg ~

PROLOGUE ONE


From the Journal of Eldrith the Magus:

12th of Stormsmont, ninth year of the rule of His Eminence, the Hierophant Talomar
 (Common Year 876) —


My hands shake as I write this, shake from knowledge, from desire and even dread fear.  If I forget something in this state, I will not be surprised.  But I shall try to recount the events of this evening the best I am able, because I must tell someone!

It was a stormy evening, once again.  The blue sky grew to be filled with grey-black clouds in such haste that I paused to think: perhaps magic was in the air, or perhaps, as often is the case, I engorged myself in my studies and made no note of the passage of time.  But when I chanced to look at my tableside candle, the wax had scarcely begun to melt and drip.  I carefully marked my page in the tome and lifted myself from my seat to stand at the window for a few moments, watching the sky begin to churn.

There, from the top of the tower, I glanced out at the sky, at the flashes of blue-white and grey-white that momentarily lit the clouds or lanced forth to the ground.  And then, as though it held no truths for me, I dropped my gaze over the stone cobbles and thatch rooftops of my home of Tyr'nyk.  Tyr'nyk was a large town, dwarfed as it was by the capital of Phelaridon to the south and the large seaport of Melikos to the north.  I looked that direction, and although I could not see it, I envisioned crossing the sea to the bustling cities of Melcanth, as I had done so many times before.  Soon I would have to do so again.

But for now, I dropped my gaze to the city again.  People looked to the sky, some shaking their heads at the sudden departure of what had been a fairly pleasant spring evening.  A few covered their heads as if the rain were already beginning to fall, and the merchants began to pull their wares from the street, back into the safety of their stores and stalls.  And here and there, on the faces of a very few, I could see the slow burgeoning of fear; some of the people had also apparently realized that this storm had come far more quickly than most they'd seen, and with far less warning.  I began to see lights coming to life in the windows of the other large towers in town — the spires of the castle of Prelate Salden.  Salden was no doubt calming his ministers with prayers and words that Phelar would sustain them, His chosen, through the wind and the rain.  Indeed, the storm might be the incarnation of Phelar's wrath, brought to his chosen people for some unspoken sin.

I smiled at that thought, although my smile was thin.  It was probably only through the Hierophant's good graces that no crusade had been taken up, either against us Magi, or against the Aeris —  the elves — that shared our fair land.  

The elves are said to worship other gods, perhaps the same as those the 'hated' Melcanthians did, and thus were subject to purification.  However, the elves are content to remain within their forests, and stay separate from man… they had done so for so long that even some educated sorts fancied that the Aeris were nothing but myths.

The Magi are a different story altogether.  It was our kind, after all, who helped the clergy attain their place of power so long ago, instituting the Hierophant Feronimis after the First War of Separation.  But all of the clergymen know that Magi — for the most part — have no love of gods of any sort, let alone the majestic Phelar.  Our first and only love is of magic — and thus we are by nature heretics according to the clergy's teachings.  Yet for now, there is an unsteady truce because of two concerns: the fact the Hierophant owes his position, historically, to us, and the fact that even the priests must acknowledge that we hold great knowledge, command and power.

That has not stopped some of my colleagues and cohorts from moving across the ocean, to the far more temperate culture across the sea.  There, in Melcanth, Magi are not only accepted, but in some towns, even revered.  But there often seems to be a lust for adventure in Melcanth.  In some respects there is good reason for that; in some places, especially the Wilderlands in the northwest and the great southern plains, creatures still walk the land as if it were their own and the human-types were invaders.

I turned my thoughts from that, because that often brought my mind back to my missing pets, and that often aroused my ire.  Yet I could not help it.  Fril and Temenier had been gone six years this summer, dispatched by a pair of warriors outside of Coastway.  Finnik had died later, his gaze useless against a blindfolded Ash'ani who bested him with spells.  Although they were not familiars, per se, the pain of their passing still stung — to an extent because of the monetary aspect, granted, but more because it hearkened back to a much simpler time in my life.  

I turned to the sole piece of art that decorated my study and considered, as the thunder began to roll louder outside.  As always, the denuded wild elfwoman stared back at me with wide, sightless eyes, her perfect lips contorted in a voiceless scream.  Her arms were set before her, the fingers of her hands splayed.  The alabaster waves of her hair hung past her shoulders, trails of it were fused to her collarbone, just above her smallish stone breasts.  It had been almost three years since I last sold an artwork to a nobleman — over five since I sold her comrades, the former Order of the White Star — and yet I could not bring myself to sell this one, even though it certainly would have fetched me my best price.  There is something to the artistry of perfection that supercedes even the need of a gold piece in my mind, I suppose.  

And Ahvielle is perfection, at least in my mind.  She is the only wilder elf I ever captured, and just has something — I can't explain what — that is lacking in the 'cultured' ones I've trapped in stone and sold off to nobles to pay for the tower in which I now reside.  It could be that the 'cultured' Aeris know of their own beauty and what the sight of them can do to a man.  And just as princesses are taught to be courtly and coy, so are they.  Ahvielle is beautiful, in a far more innocent manner; if she knew that her beauty could cause a man's heart to stop beating, she did not seem to care.  And then to have that innocence tainted in the last moment by a realization of her fate adds such a contrast that it is impossible to explain.  To have that beauty immortalized forever is worth far more to me than a hundred beautiful women trapped in coy poses with painted smiles.  

But I ramble — a horrid thing to do, especially at this time, when such an event happened!

I had been thinking along those same meandering paths, reminiscing wistfully over the times when the Art of sculpture and the Art of magic were one and the same to me — before I had given myself to the study of theory and application — for some time when I noticed the flashes of lightning had worsened and the rain had begun to fall.  I frowned.  If the rain should fall harder, if the wind should worsen, it might well rain right into my study.  The parchment pages of my hand tooled leatherbound books would not stand up well to the wetness.  I moved to the window to pull a few of the books on the shelves away and a thought struck me.

I can only say it was a thought, although in truth, I cannot say that it was not mine… even though such a thought has come to me often:

Why can you not have that perfection, Eldrith?

I smiled to myself.  It was a seductive sort of thought, and I found my eyes returning to the alabaster elfmaiden, to her perfect nudity; the bared breasts and pubis, ordinarily so taboo —

You can have that and more.  Imagine a hundred like her, trapped in stone, in metal, in crystal.  Imagine you walking among them, in a world of perfect stillness, where your enemies are like her, staring blankly at you with wide eyes and frozen cries.  She would only be the start of your menagerie, Eldrith.  You thought far too small before.  

It was at this time that I began to think that someone other than me was in my mind.  The voice, I knew, was not mine.  Yet it was not male; it was not female.  I was perplexed by it.

Yet I am not a fool; I am a Magus.  And as enticing as the thought was, the rational part of my mind rebelled against such a thing.  Taking one or two maidens and selling them might well have been fine; things happened that caused people to disappear.  But a hundred?  That was foolishness.

You are considering it from a human point of view, Eldrith.  What if you should have no such constraints?  What if you were to rise above that?

To Godhood?  I thought, still somewhat amused.  I'm sure the Priesthood of Phelar would be happy to hear about the heretic Magus who thinks himself a god.

Not to Godhood, surely.  The voice sounded just as amused.  But there are other gods and goddesses than Phelar, Eldrith.  And some of them would be most pleased with you if you embraced them, espoused them.  Some may even give you your most ardent desire…

I felt fat droplets of sweat begin to form on my forehead.  I continued to stare at the statue of Ahvielle, her pale form flaring blue-white in the flashes of lightning from the open window.  The thunder added to the cacophony in my mind.  I had no idea I had spoken, in fact, until the words came out.  

“What exactly would that entail?  What do you mean?”

And then, in another flare of lightning, I knew, and the knowledge was terrible and entrancing and awe-inspiring all at once.  The thunder boomed in my ears, and yet the sound most prevalent in my head were just the after-echoes of the knowledge I had gained.  I felt blood trickle from my nose, from my ears, and that was the last thing I remembered.  The ground hit me hard, and even as I knew I was blacking out, I could only hear the voice and its instructions.

I awoke later to my apprentice's agitated voice.  “Master!  Master Eldrith!  Are you all right?”

I opened one eye hesitantly.  You must —  No.  I could not think on that now.  I looked up.  Toria, my apprentice, knelt over me; concern and care were apparent in her soft blue eyes.  Her long brown hair was untied and in wet tangles, and her wet robes were disarrayed and clung to her slim curves as though donned haphazardly from the wash.  I guessed that she had either come in from the rain or had come to my study straight from the bath.  I smelled no perfumes, so I figured on the former.

“I … ”  I said, because honestly, I was not sure.  “I believe so.  What happened?”

She helped me to my feet, and then over to a seat.  She was looking around the room with wide eyes.  “Praise be Phelar.  It is a miracle.”  She breathed.

“What is?”  I said as I sat down.  Already, confusion was starting to become overpowered by irritation.  “Speak, apprentice!  What happened?”

Toria saw the fire in my eyes and bowed her head.  She was barely eighteen, a novice to the Arts and to the etiquette between Magus and Apprentice.  “I am sorry, Master Eldrith.  It is just so odd… I was at the merchants' stalls when the rain began to pour, so I made my way back here to the tower, but before I reached it…”  She trailed off, looking about the room again.

“Yes?”  I prodded.

Her eyes sought mine.  “Lightning struck the tower.  The face of the stones is completely blackened, Master, most especially around the window of your study.  When I saw it, I feared for your life.  But… but it makes no sense… nothing in here is even disturbed.  And the storm clouds disappeared after that strike of lightning, Master, as though they never were.”

I looked to the window.  As she'd said, the skies beyond were blue and cloudless.  As though there never was a storm.  

You must…  

But I knew there had been.  A storm that brought with it the knowledge of the magical, perhaps even the divine.

“Was the storm magical?  Was the casting yours, Master Eldrith?”  She asked with wide blue eyes.  Her lip fairly quivered at the thought.

“No.  It may have been magical, but I did not cast it.”  The voice echoed in my head again.  Instructions.  Direction.  Some of them may even give you your most ardent desire…  I looked at Toria.  “But I shall be casting, apprentice.  I have need of some articles.”

The sudden command of my voice caused her to blink a couple times in confusion before standing.  “Of… Of course, Master Eldrith.”  

I unrolled a sheet of vellum and inked a pen.  The voice in my head told me what would be necessary.  I could not forget it.  But she had no such voice, so I would have to make a list.  The mundane items first: chalk, candles, oils.  Then, the more rare items: Bloodsbond root, earth from a fresh grave, several maps.  I finished the list, leaving off some of the items I knew I would have to get myself, and gave the vellum to her, along with a money pouch I kept at my desk.  Her surprise was evident as she glanced over it.

“Master…?”  She began.

“Some of this we have available in the tower.  There is gold enough here to buy whatever can be bought.  If you cannot buy it, find a way to get it.  However you can.”  I forestalled her question with a curt tone.  “Is there some question as to whether you can retrieve all of the items on that list, apprentice?”

“No, I…” Her soft voice trailed off, and then her brow furrowed as she looked at me.  “Are you sure you are feeling all right, Master?”

Despite the voice in my mind, despite her worrisome look, despite the fact I myself was beginning to doubt my own sanity, I found myself laughing.

“All right?”  I laughed.  “Toria, my dear, I am perfectly fine.  In fact, I almost feel like a god.”