Chapter One – The Cleric
As he wandered across the red-hot plains, the Cleric, A Khósii man of middle age thought to himself; ‘Why me? Why now? Was I weak my maker?’
His ebony skin was beginning to crack under the heat of the amber sun as he strained for an answer. Existentialism didn’t look good on The Cleric, it was a concept thought unholy by The Cloth. It was only mere hours ago he was safe and unscathed in the confines of his study in Verd. Where was he? And how did he get here?
His faded teal robes had their own stories to tell; ancient fables the Cleric feared he would never get to recount. For these desolate lands of fire and salt-stone bore no fruits to fill his belly and the only water on his person was contained in a blessed flasket; reserved only in the event a Djinn, a vile creature of shadow and death, were to influence the minds of one’s flock.
“I am sorry Maker” the Cleric wept. “I am no fighter, no killer, I couldn’t save the child!” He was shouting now, into the vast emptiness of the wilds. “They had him, those damned Thule Hunters, I couldn’t… I… I”
Before he could finish his lonely confession, the cleric heard a deafening sound and turned his gaze to the horizon. It was bright and it burnt his eyes to look anywhere other than the desolate ground beneath. He wondered if he were seeing things, a mirage from the heat perhaps. In the distance, he saw something coming towards him, a huge white mass.
“A land-vessel” the cleric whispered under his breath. Was this rescue? Had The Orders armada been alerted of his position? But as the object grew closer, he saw more clearly that it was no frigate but a herd, and it was only then that he realised where he had been sent. The Skebäri Wastes, Alaska’s infamous Badlands. Nowhere else in the Statehood could you find beasts as vicious as Lefroki Reindeer, nor the cannibalistic Inui that dared tame them. He looked to draw his claymore but found only an empty sheath where the blade once resided. Even if it was present, he had never wielded it in combat and would likely separate his own limb from body before wounding a creature as fierce as the Lefroki.
The brood were only a hundred or so yards away and approaching rapidly. The cleric knew he didn’t have long before their powerful legs reached him and trampled his body until it was mulched only to roast in the sun. That was if their masters, the savage Inui didn’t slow them to a halt to feast on the clerics sweet dark flesh first.
With no steel to protect himself and nowhere to run, the frightened priest did the only thing he could. He fell to his knees and pleaded to The Maker, like a beggar mooching coin. “Please my Lord, forgive my cowardice, I never would have left the child had I known of the Thule’s murderous intentions”. His tone was angry now, for he knew the injustice he turned a blind eye to, could have been avoided, had he plucked the courage to bear arms against the hunters.
With the riders only moments behind, he took out the sacred flasket from his belt and unscrewed the golden cap, and in one foul swoop he emptied its contents into the sand below as to give one last gift to the earth before parting with it. And as the final drop flowed through the stone he whispered to his god “I’m sorry”.
As he closed his eyes and waited for death, the cleric heard a voice call out “Chirokë, over here, quickly...” and for a brief moment he dismissed it, his mind was playing tricks, it must be. ’nobody has called me by that name in years’. But again he heard the call of his given name, the name his mother chose for him, and this time louder and with more urgency. “Chirokë, run!”. And though his mind told him not to turn around and accept his fate... His heart had more power.
He sprung from his knees and ran towards the voice, with all he had in him, he ran. There not twenty feet away stood a man with his hand outstretched, no older than twenty-five, unknown yet familiar in so many ways. But now was not the time to question the arrival of this young saviour or even how he knew his name. All he knew was that he needed to get to him. And then, in an instant, as their hands grasped one another, they had vanished. No longer were the treacherous Alaskan wilds or its inhabitants to be feared. For they had travelled back, in the swiftest of journeys, to the clerics study in Verd. Only it was not ransacked by the hunters as he had remembered, it was clean and cool and quiet. That was until the young man spoke and put his hand comfortably on the clerics shoulder. “Chirokë, my old friend... You do not know me, but I know you...better than you know yourself. Come, we have much to discuss.”
So much was swimming in the Clerics mind, and every thought was difficult to grasp; like a spark trying to catch in a puddle.
As he followed this bold new stranger he examined his surroundings. The Cleric wondered if it was all a dream, maybe he’d died and gone to The Other. The air smelt sweet, and bees were buzzing in the Book Garden as they often would at this time of day. Though the last time he was here the shelves had been set ablaze by hunters and the trees were being uprooted for no other reason than pure destruction. Outside the confines of his study, the Book Garden was The Clerics most treasured place in the whole of the Citadel. A sprawling open courtyard of green grass, a canvas for the vivid pinks and yellows of the petunias and marigolds, intertwined with rows upon rows of bookcases tall as towers whose wood was woven with jasmine and speckled with apple blossom from the overhanging trees. These shelves were home to books describing everything from Louisianan Warlocks to the secret underground tunnels that spanned The Statehood. This was sacred knowledge known only to those allowed inside the Citadel.
As the grizzled cleric, walked with the young man into the corridors of the familiar Citadel he called home and witnessed peers he feared dead in the siege picking nectarines from the trees as if nothing had happened; he trusted that his prayer had been answered and that this mysterious knight could be trusted. But beneath the safety and the relief he sensed not all was right with the world. Everything felt distorted and unfamiliar. Like this had all happened before, but differently. They were walking towards the centre of the Citadel where the High Clerics resided, bishops in their own right.
“Chirokë?” the young knight spoke. “Things have changed. I understand you are confused but all your questions will be answered soon I promise. We are on our way to a meeting with the Council”
Chirokë was eager to speak with the Bishops and tell them of what had happened. Of how the Thule attacked the Citadel, of the way they broke through their barricades and slaughtered everyone in sight. But he didn’t want them to think he was mad, even if he thought it himself.
Directly ahead was The Skybeam, The Cloth of Verd’s mighty headquarters where the High Clerics would discuss their holy crusades against the Jhinn. Its grandeur was not to be disrespected for it was one of the tallest structures from before The Fall to have remained in one piece. The great Space Needle of Seattle, at least that’s what those of The Old World had called it. Now it was the Skybeam.
Two guards stood at the foot of the great towers entrance, a voltaic elevator that carried its passengers hundreds of feet above to the deck. As they approached the holy men, Chirokë expected them to ask for his Sign but before he could, his young chaperon raised his hand to the guards and performed a Sign of his own; a person’s Sign was their identity, formed and moulded from the energies of Quanti. His flat palm glowed with a purple hue and his fingers slowly parted. The guards then took a step away from the entrance and allowed him to pass.
“Welcome, Agent Dacrosi, the Council are expecting you” said the guard.
The young man nodded and continued into the elevator followed by Chirokë.
The Cleric had been silent up to this point, partly from tiredness and partly to examine what was going on around him, not really knowing what to say.
“Agent Dacrosi is it?” said Chirokë. “How do you know me? And how did those guards know you, I have never seen you around The Citadel”
The man looked at Chirokë and gave a small laugh as though he should know when he really had no idea.
“You will know shortly my friend, the bishops will explain everything”
Chirokë had only seen the bishops once before; it was at a congressional hearing regarding the Prelopi tribes new and unexpected Quanti abilities and how best to deal with it. The Prelopi weren’t versed in how to safely manipulate this magical energy like the Khósii were and they worried for both the Prolopi’s safety as well as their own.
Moments later they had arrived at the top of the Skybeam, greeted by a small hunchbacked woman, who was obviously of a lower class but dressed in clothes more regal than here standing for the sake of presentability.
“Follow.” the hunchback said curtly. So they followed.
As they walked from the elevator the Clerics gaze was drawn to ceiling of the Skybeams hub; detailed paintings that rivaled those of Michelangelo which told stories of The Fall, of the destruction when the bombs fell; and of how the Statehood claimed victory over hundreds of years of bloodshed to bring peace to the world.
Directly ahead of them, all twelve bishops sat high above in the holy court though they weren’t sitting respectfully or with grace as one would expect a bishop to do. They were arguing shoting across each other in their seat-boxes, fifteen feet in the air like squabbling gods.
One of the Bishops, saw Chirokë and hushed the rest of them immediately; the room was silent.
Enjoken Reditrinovski, one of the oldest bishops, a large man with yellow skin and piercing green eyes stood from his throne and spoke “Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Kindred Dacrosi and Chirokë Montoón”. The Bishops all bowed in synchronicity and as gesture of courtesy the two companions performed their Signs, Chirokë’s being far more fluid and graceful, taking much more movement than Kindred Dacrosi’s
“I am sure most of you remember Father Montoón from the Prolopi Inquisition, as I recall he had quite a lot to say on their behalf”. “As for Mr Dacrosi… I am sure you will all notice by his Sign that he is an Agent of The Statehood, sent to assist with our investigation of the changes we have all no doubt felt”
Chirokë knew now that this was bigger than he had thought, being transported to and from the Alaskan Wastes, seemingly hopping backwards and forwards through time like some sort of temporal anomaly seemed to have caused ripples throughout the Citadel and worried The Cloth immensely.
“Father” Enjoken Reditrinovski spoke “I understand everything must be confusing to you and I think you are due an explanation”.
Chirokë’s gaze tightened on the bishop.
“There has been an Uprising, a shift in balance of biblical proportions, a new enemy threatens this world and seeks to cause great harm to all that inhabit it. The Jhinn have formed an alliance with this enemy and are planning an attack on Verd, on this Citadel. Thule Hunters have been seen surveying the Outlands and seem to be involved somehow.”
“But the Thule have already attacked my grace” said Chirokë. “They tackled our defences at dawn and pillaged through the night, destroying everything in their wake”.
“Father Montoón, I believe we have been given a second chance, a break in spacetime has meant we can change our future for the better”. “Your knowledge is the key to saving this city, you must help us Father”
Chirokë stood still, not knowing how to process this. His only responsibility up to this point was to tend to his flock and now their was an army of Jhinn, Thule and something new and evil coming to wreak havoc on his city.
But he knew that the time to act was now, his cowardice and dishonor had been left to shrivel in the heat of the Skebäri and he had been tasked by The Maker to banish these foes and be the protector his people needed him to be. So with his shoulders raised and his head held high, the Cleric faced The Bishops and said “Tell me what I need to do”.
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Andy EdgarWrite a Review