PROLOGUE THE KISMET CIPHER
The year 2351 A.R.T –
The final battle of the Night Wars . . .
Boswellia Sacra stood before the Shrine of Reflection at the heart of the Mirror Maze of Fablefold, his heart and body broken beyond repair. A blooded spear clattered to the floor as he stumbled onwards, slipping from his faltering grip. Though he had no desire to wield the weapon, he bent to retrieve it, groaning with the pain of his many wounds. Enough blood has been spilt today, he thought as he straightened, and yet I fear there is more to come.
The violent cacophony of the battle which still raged outside had left a ringing in Boswellia’s ears, a sound amplified by the eerie silence within the mirror maze’s tangle of passageways. Although he knew that he was about to perform the last act of his life, he took no time to savoir his final moments. His death would be a kindness, a release, a welcome salvation from the torture of his agony ravaged mind. Death was an integral part of his plan.
Boswellia had lived a long and extraordinary life which had granted him children, wealth and purpose but now all of that was lost. He’d fought doggedly for his beliefs and had paid dearly for them; his family were dead, his home destroyed and his kind all but extinct. To his knowledge, he was now the last untainted member of his race.
The crash of shattering glass suddenly broke the silence of the shrine and caused a shard of pain to tear through Boswellia’s heart. The sound signalled the approach of what remained of his once beloved daughter as she hunted him through the labyrinth of mirrors.
Glancing up through the beautiful glass pyramid that roofed the shrine, Boswellia spotted his accomplices as they soared through the fire flushed darkness beyond, awaiting his signal. “Forgive me Drosera,” he murmured. “Please forgive me.” His own broken form loomed before him as he stumbled toward an ornate mirror at the centre of the shrine. With a trembling hand he reached out and daubed four numbers on the cold glass with his bloodied fingertip.
“Father!” Drosera’s voice screeched. “I’m growing rather tired of this game of chase.”
Another mirror crashed.
“We both know that it is not a game which you will win.”
Shaken by the hatred that now polluted his daughter’s once serene voice, Boswellia closed his eyes and filled his mind with cherished memories of her childhood; her first words, warming her tiny hands in his own, bedtime stories of mermaids and sea monsters, her cheeks sticky with honey and crumbs, her smile. “That’s who you are to me,” he whispered, holding onto his recollections, “and they shall be the thoughts of you that I’ll take with me.”
With a ragged breath Boswellia exhaled on the sequence of bloody numbers, fogging the mirror surrounding them. “Your blood is my blood Drosera,” he wheezed. “What began must end so that it may begin anew.” Using his index finger, he drew an ouroboros in the vapour surrounding the numbers; a symbol of re-creation and eternal renewal.
Suddenly Boswellia’s reflection swam before him and when it settled once more it no longer held image of a dying man. The man in the mirror now stood tall and proud, holding his spear heroically. His reflection also no longer stood alone, two other figures now flanked him. The figures were both faded and indistinct and although Boswellia couldn’t make out their features he instantly recognised them. Reunited at last, he thought with a sigh of relief. His plan had worked.
Using hushed tones Boswellia passed on a message to his reflection. A message which he hoped would save the future.
“. . . I’m sorry but there is no other way,” he said hurriedly as the mirrored wall behind him suddenly exploded. “Together you will stand, but divided you will fall. The Architect himself has orchestrated this. If you do not then all will come to nothing.”
“Nowhere to run Father,” said Drosera’s familiar, yet alien voice. “Our game is at an end.”
Boswellia concentrated on his reflection, feeling his daughter’s stare burning into his back. “I’m sorry, that’s all I can tell you. Please save her,” he begged. “She’s innocent. She was my daughter.” A solitary tear trickled from his eye and turned crimson as it rolled down his blood-stained cheek. “Take care of our soul mates,” he said eyeing the two indistinct figures. “The Architect is with you all.” He laid his hand on the mirror and the glass instantly cracked beneath his palm, splintering the reflections and splitting the mirror into four equal segments.
“Father!” Drosera said impatiently. “Face me!”
“Do not worry Drosera,” Boswellia replied, closing his eyes. “I am not afraid to face you. What I’m afraid of is saying goodbye to you.”
An incantation ran through Boswellia’s mind and he shuddered as he channelled the final vestiges of his magical power into the shrine’s frigid atmosphere. A dazzling beam of moonlight instantly lit the glass pyramid above him in response, illuminating the central mirror in spectacular fashion.
Boswellia shielded his eyes from the glare. “Part them,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “Disperse them across the Expanse. Do you understand?”
The moonlight intensified as if conveying its agreement and it flooded the shrine with blinding brilliance.
“Good.” Boswellia took a step backwards as the mirror slowly levitated into the air, cradled by the enchanted moonbeams. “In three-hundred years they shall be restored.”
The air suddenly became icy cold and with a flash of blinding light the mirror shot upwards and collided with the glass pyramid, shattering it. Daggers of glass rained onto the floor and the sounds of battle instantly flooded the shine, flowing through the jagged opening.
For a moment the mirror hung in the darkness, outshining the surrounding stars, then, with a dazzling burst of reflected moonlight, it split into its four fragments. The fragments reorganised themselves into several new constellations and then streaked away through the heavens in four separate directions, their destinations known only by the moonbeams that carried them.
This was the signal that Boswellia’s accomplices had been waiting for.
Boswellia slowly turned toward his daughter. “Hello Drosera,” he said, looking into her dark eyes.
Drosera wore a flowing red dress, her dark hair hanging in ringlets over her shoulders, a startling contrast to her pallid skin. Near her shoulder she wore an ornate armlet set with a large ruby, a gift from her dark master.
Thank goodness vampires don’t cast reflections, Boswellia thought, looking at the surrounding mirrors. One image of his daughter was painful enough. He stumbled forwards, reasserting his grip on his spear. He’d delivered his message and now it was time for his final act.
“What have you done old man?” Drosera said, baring her fangs.
“I’ve done much Drosera, most of which I regret.” Boswellia paused, gasping for air. “And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you and I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.” He looked into her eyes, his lip trembling. “I must make things worse before they can be made better.”
Drosera’s face contorted with rage. “You’re sorry old man? Sorry for what?” she spat. “What could you possibly do now? It’s over. You’ve lost and your pitiful crusade is at an . . .”
A deep roar echoed around the shrine, giving Drosera pause.
Suddenly an enormous dragon swooped though the jagged remains of the glass pyramid, its icy-blue scales shimmering like oil on water. Horns corkscrewed above its eye sockets and two rows of jagged teeth lined its powerful jaws. On its back a dark-skinned man sat nestled between its leathery wings. He wore a bow and a quiver of silver arrows at his back and, like Drosera, he had the long canine fangs of a vampire.
The dragon landed amongst the shards of glass and exhaled a blast of freezing blue energy from its mouth and nostrils. In a blur of motion, the dark-skinned man vanished from its back and Drosera’s eyes widened with shock as he suddenly reappeared, restraining her from behind.
“Aconitum, what do you think you’re doing!” Drosera screeched, struggling in his grasp. “How dare you bring a filthy dragon here!”
Aconitum held her tightly. “I’m sorry my love, but I can no longer help you,” he said. “I have rediscovered my soul and now I must try to save yours.”
The dragon wore a look of utter disgust. “Filthy indeed!” it said with a menacing growl. The ruby in Drosera’s armlet began to pulse with light and in one fluid motion the dragon dived toward her and bit off her arm with a sickening crunch, removing the armlet along with it.
Drosera screamed in pain as cold, viscous blood spurted from the stump of her arm. “No!” she screamed. “Give it back to me you filthy lizard!”
The dragon grimaced and spat out the severed limb as if it were rancid, sending it skidding across the floor, frozen solid by its icy saliva.
Boswellia’s vision wavered and nausea rolled through him at the sound of his daughter’s agony. “I’m sorry.” He lifted his spear and shook his head. “I’m so sorry.” With his last ounce of strength, he hurled his spear into his daughter’s chest, skewering her heart.
Drosera stared into his eyes with disbelief as Aconitum lowered her gently to the floor.
Aconitum took the spear in his hands and broke it, leaving the tip lodged within Drosera’s chest.
“We . . . we will find you again Drosera,” Boswellia said, fighting back his tears, “and we will save you from Atropa’s corruption. The two, the six, the five and the one will reunite us all.” He stumbled to her side and fell to his knees. “All of us. Our whole family will be together again.”
Drosera spat blood in his face. “I hate you!” she said, suddenly weak. “You are not my father. The only family I have is Atropa.” She convulsed and Aconitum seized her wrists as she grabbed at the stake of wood that protruded from her chest. “Traitor,” she said with a snarl. “You filthy . . . traitor.” All emotion suddenly slipped from her face and with her final breath she managed to utter a single word.
“Hate . . .”
Boswellia stared at his daughter’s broken body and sobbed with grief.
“It’s done,” the dragon said. “What now Boswellia?” It removed the armlet from Drosera’s severed arm and slipped it onto one of its enormous fingers, wearing it as if it were a ring.
“Yes . . . Antirrhinum. It is . . . done,” Boswellia breathed, addressing the dragon. “Take . . . her. Keep her body safe. Keep it . . . guarded.”
Antirrhinum nodded, blowing frost from his nostrils. He picked up Drosera’s body in his clawed hand and took off, carrying her away into the darkness of the night.
“And what do you wish of me?” Aconitum asked.
The light was rapidly fading from Boswellia’s vision. “Proceed . . . as planned,” he said. “Enter the Passage of Time. Use the key. The kismet cipher is two, six, five . . . one. Make sure that they . . . find it.”
Aconitum bowed. “I shall.”
Boswellia gasped as the rhythm of his heart reached its climax and he filled his mind with the cherished memories of his daughter. Her first word was Daddy. . . He held onto that final thought until and all consciousness faded from his body.
“And so ends the reign of the elves.” Aconitum said, closing Boswellia’s vacant eyes. He stood and headed toward a door which stood ajar at the rear of the shrine.
Beyond the door, a long, mirrored hallway stretched into the distance, giving access to many other chambers and corridors.
Aconitum closed the door and procured a strange key from his pocket, turning it in the lock. When the door was re-opened the mirrored hallway had vanished, replaced by an intense white light.
Aconitum removed a silver arrow from the quiver on his back and positioned it in his bow. Cautiously he stepped into the light. The door closed behind him, removing him from time itself.