Edge of Darkness: The Broken Circle
Episode 8 - The Sacrifice
The fog of sleep retreated as Thomas Atretheon struggled to open his eyes. His body ached all over and his muscles felt stiff and cramped. When Thomas finally managed to force his eyes open, he had to blink a couple of times to make sure that they were not still closed. Everything remained cloaked in darkness.
What had happened? Where was he? Thomas remembered sneaking out of his home to meet the young maiden he had been corresponding with. He had volunteered to take his little sister out for a walk and planned to meet his secret love for the first time while out on the walk.
Thomas remembered the excitement he felt when he thought he saw her cloaked form waiting for him at their established meeting spot. He also remembered how that excitement was replaced with shock and horror when “Sarah” had pulled back her hood and revealed glowing red eyes and snakes growing from her skull like hair. It was a brief memory, and his last one.
“Misty!” Thomas croaked out his little sister’s name as he sat up. His voice sounded hoarse, and his muscles protested the sudden motion. “Misty, are you here? Misty! Please Rozerus, don’t be hurt.”
What have I done? Thomas thought as his voice echoed around the chamber. What had that monster done to his little sister? He couldn’t bring himself to believe that she was dead…. But what if she was?
There was a shifting sound, like the sound of cloth brushing against a stone floor.
Relief washed over Thomas. “Misty! Is that you? Thank you Rozerus!”
A voice responded from the darkness – a voice that was not his sister’s. It was a voice that did not even sound human. It was raspy and quiet, but nevertheless could be heard clearly in the silent, eerie and very dark chamber. The voice caused Thomas to shudder involuntarily, and made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
“Rozerus cannot hear you child. No one can,” the voice said. “I am pleased that you are finally awake.”
“Who…or what are you? Where is my sister? Is she all right? Are you the beast that ambushed me?”
A cold, hissing chuckle rippled through the room. “You are safe enough for the moment, little mortal. And your little sister is likely safe at home. If the Inquisition agents have not found her yet and dealt with the gorgon that transformed you to stone and spirited you away, I will be very surprised.”
“The snake-haired woman…yes…I remember,” Thomas said. “Who are you? Do you work with the monster? And what of the Lady Sarah? Is she all right? Or did she even exist at all?”
The raspy voice responded with another mirthless chuckle. “No, the medusa did not work for me. In fact, she caused me considerable trouble. She had a bone to pick with Count Blackhammer, who had killed several of her sisters on the Blood Plains. She was a servant of Ylchia, and sought to use you and your sister to intensify the fighting by keeping your father out of the Trigonum civil war a while longer. The longer this battle wears on, the more Knights will die. Your father had the power to bring the conflict to a much quicker end. It was a foolish plan on her part – the Inquisition is skilled and would find her eventually. I took you from her by force. As for this Lady Sarah, I know not whether she was a construct of the medusa or if she is dead or living. And I don’t care. Her well-being is of little concern to me.”
“Thanks I guess, but I repeat… who are you? Why did you take me from her and return me to life? I get the feeling you don’t work for my father. Or Uncle Blackhammer.”
“No, I most certainly do not work for your father. I am called The Herald.”
Thomas shook his head. “Is that a name or a title?”
“It is both,” the voice replied simply.
“And what do you herald?”
“My coming has been foretold, and I am the Herald of many things. Ultimately though, I am the Herald of the return of my Master. For thousands of years I have been trained for this. For even longer than that my Master has been painstakingly researching, plotting and maneuvering to put me here. And now the time has come.”
The shiver ran up Thomas’s spine again in spite of the brave face he put on. “And who is your Master? And why take me? Surely the Inquisition and my father will not be far from finding me.”
“You are full of questions young one. I am The Herald of my Master, Kal’Dan Melir. You know of him?”
“Isn’t he the mad sorcerer that used to rule Old Din’Garreth?”
“Yesssssss,” purred The Herald. “You are bright, boy. Kal’Dan was once the Dread Emperor of Old Din’Garreth, though he was not mad. Where did you learn of him?”
Thomas shook his head in exasperation. “I don’t know. I must have read it somewhere. Or maybe he was mentioned in chapel. What difference does that make? What does any of this have to do with me? Release me, Herald. I am of little use to you. My family has been at war with the Dread Lords since before the foundation of Luminairre. There is no way I’ll help you bring back one even more powerful than they are – one that might even have the power to unify them.”
“Ah, mortal. But you are important – vitally important. Believe me – I would not have wasted my time on you otherwise. Much has happened in the world since your… imprisonment. Do you not feel it?”
“No…. I don’t,” Thomas replied to the darkness. “How would I?”
“The mantle has been passed. The former Oracle of Romd is dead, and his power flowed into the Watcher of Death’s next chosen vessel – you.”
“What are you talking about? Oracle of Romd? Me? No way. My family worships Rozerus – we always have and always will. Why would Romd choose me to be his Oracle? It’s absurd!”
“The Oracles of Romd are all chosen in the same manner – they are descendants of people whom Romd slates for death – but whom Romd chooses to spare for some reason. Perhaps it is done specifically to mark a family as a potential Oracle line. These people do not change fate on their own or bargain with demons to avoid their fate and exist outside of planned fate like some mortals try to do – rather their fates are altered for some greater purpose by Romd. That has a lasting its own lasting power.
“But I’ve never been close to death! Unless you count the medusa or yourself, that is. You are insane.”
“You have not yet been close to death. But your father was the only pure-blooded Atretheon to survive the Rebellion of Theros. He was a boy of less than five, and he was nearly killed in his escape. How do you suppose he evaded capture while badly injured when he was so young?”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Thomas said. “You’re saying Romd had a hand in my father surviving the purge of the Atretheon family in Trigonum? My family doesn’t worship Romd. Why would he interfere for us? It would be much more logical for it to have been Rozerus that saw my father through his trial.”
“Come now Thomas,” the Herald said patiently. “My Master sees all, and has no shortage of time to plot and research. You have always been clumsy and you lose things often. You know more than you should and you do very well in academic pursuits. As for reasons… only Romd knows that. Perhaps it was a favor he owed Rozerus that the Watcher cashed in. Maybe the Atretheons were vital to his future tapestry of fate. Or maybe he was angry at Rozerus for some offense and decided to get revenge by usurping one of the older families in the Empire that has always been faithful. Or perhaps he foresaw the Reaving War and thought that Trigonum was a safer place for his next Oracle to start out. I know not what his reasons are and I care even less.”
“So Oracles of Romd are clumsy and smart and lose stuff?” Thomas asked with disbelief. “That is the power that the Master of Death, Lord of Time, and Architect of Fate hands out to his chosen? Come on! If there’s anything that being the Oracle of the Architect of Fate should help you with it’s making sure that you don’t trip over your own feet and break your neck falling down the stairs!”
“It is not a power – rather a side effect. Or a curse as many view it. You seem clumsy and accident-prone because it is not all your doing.”
“You mean… it’s not my fault that I lose things and trip and run into things?”
“Not all of the time. The souls of the dead are drawn to you – they know you on sight. Some seek to get your attention in the hope that you can give them long-awaited ease. Others seek to harm you. They whisper to you, which is why you sometimes know things you don’t recall studying. They knock objects out of your hands or maneuver objects to trip you occasionally. They hide things you set down or move them away from you. But you have been unable to perceive them.”
“Yeah? Well, I still can’t perceive them,” Thomas returned. “I’m sorry that you think I’m the Oracle of Romd, but I’m not. And even if I am, I don’t want to be. I renounce my Oracle-hood. Please, let me go.”
“I know what you are, even if you do not. And you can’t just ‘give up’ Oracle powers any more than you can ‘give up’ your lungs. You aren’t the only one the dead whisper to. Your powers are still new and untested. In time, you would grow much more powerful.”
“If you say so. So when you say ‘would grow’, does that mean you are planning on killing me? Or are you just planning on locking me away so I can’t do any Oracle things and get in your master’s way?” Thomas shot back with all the bravado he could muster.
“I only need a small amount of your blood for the ritual, though I’m known to be an over-achiever,” the Herald said with a raspy sound that might be interpreted as laughter.
“Hilarious Herald. And what happens when you do this? Do you get a crown and a throne and a kingdom somewhere? Or maybe Kal’Dan will give you your very own fiendish pony? Likely story,” Thomas said with heavy sarcasm. “Here’s a thought – you follow Kal’Dan, whom among many other fine traits is known as the Watcher of Betrayal. Likely as not you’ll be the first thing he crushes when he walks through the door of his prison.”
The Herald was silent for a few moments. “I know that I shall get my heart’s greatest desire. He shall not betray me in this because it benefits him as much as it does me.”
“And I suppose he would tell you if your greatest wish didn’t benefit him and that he might betray you? Surely he would never lie to you and let you think that your greatest wish happened to coincide with his interests and that he would certainly honor it once you were no longer useful to him?” Thomas fired back.
The Herald ignored the barb. “It is nearly time – I can feel it. The Oracle of Mirala’ana approaches, along with his companions. Soon, my agents shall bring the Oracle across the threshold into unlife – and he shall become the Oracle of my Master. A short time ago he was almost made into one of the living dead to fulfilled his true destiny. But a seraphim interfered and brought him back to life. She succeeded in wresting the prize away from Kal’Dan’s clutches – but the victory was temporary. But now that the seraphim has been imprisoned for unlawful interference and awaits trial, there will be no escape for the Oracle of Mirala’ana this time. Nor for his friends. ”
“You can’t do that! You can’t steal an Oracle! They are born – not created!” Thomas shouted angrily.
“All Oracles are created in different ways. Kal’Dan does not create his own – he corrupts those that already exist and belong to another. It brings him great delight to see them betray everything they ever fought for and believed in, and to break their faith to whatever power they formerly served. Besides, technically you are reborn and recreated when you cross the threshold of undeath.”
“But you already have me – and you claim I’m an Oracle. Why don’t you just take me instead? Leave the Oracle of Mirala’ana alone,” Thomas said.
“The Oracle of Mirala’ana has been a nuisance to my Master – and his fall shall please him greatly. Aside from that, he is far more experienced and established in his powers. Why buy a hatchling when I could get a trained adult dragon? My Master’s plan is in motion – which he has spent thousands of years crafting. There is no time to waste in training a new Oracle from the ground up.”
“You won’t get away with this! My father or Uncle Blackhammer will stop you!”
The raspy laugh sounded again. “They are welcome to try. Now come, Oracle. It is time to begin the ritual. Time slips away from us.”“At least answer me this before I die – what is this ritual for? What will my blood do?”
There was silence for a few long moments. “I have been very open with you young Oracle. But some surprises are worth the wait. Rest assured, when you discover what your blood has wrought you will be thankful that I shall let you die upon the altar. I will be doing you a favor.”
The hissing laughter echoed around the chamber as Thomas felt bonds of pure force bind him and drag him forward. Though Thomas struggled and fought, the power of the sorcery moved him inexorably forward into the darkness – and towards certain death.