An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

A Clerk of the Stone Dian

When the summons came—from the same clerk who had taken his report earlier that morning—Dian was escorted from his room in the south wing to the High Dais of the Stone Seat. Strictly speaking, the escort was not necessary. Even a stranger could have found his way. Every hallway and corridor within the sprawling and sometimes twisted confines of the Citadel ultimately led to the dais. It was both the symbolic and literal center of power and authority for the entire League of the Stone, where the Magi convened, held audiences, received petitions from the Clanlords and ultimately decided how to spend the power of the Joined Ones throughout the fifteen clanholds of Tarvayes.

Though he had never stood directly before the Stone Seat, Dian had been to the High Dais many times, including the night he had first become a Watcher. Like any of the Joined Ones, he could have made his way in his sleep.

Which only made the presence of his escort feel that much stranger.

Still, Dian did not begrudge the company. Though the Watchers performed an important task, they spent so much time away from the Citadel—and so much time observing the world through the eyes of their totems—that they were commonly treated as outsiders. And then there was Dian himself. Even the other members of his order tended to avoid him, as though being Joined to a raven was some sort of infection that they he might pass on, causing their precious hawks, eagles and falcons to start sprouting sickly black feathers. His only real friends were from different orders and he rarely had the chance to see them. It was actually pleasant to be in the company of another human being, even if they were walking in total silence.

So, it came as somewhat of a surprise when the clerk spoke first.

“I feel that I need to apologize,” she said. “I was rude. And have been rude.”

“Excuse me?” replied Dian.

“Whenever I arrive at your door to record your report, my mind is already on to the next. I don’t think I’ve ever really heard anything you’ve had to say.”

Dian shrugged. “Until today, I’ve never had much to say.”

“Still, it’s no excuse. It’s my job to listen and to record, and I apologize.”

“Apology accepted…” he began, only to realize that he did not even know her name. She must have come to his door dozens of times over the years, and he had no idea who she was.

“Emilia,” said the clerk. “My name is Emilia.”

Dian nodded. “Well I’m very pleased to meet you. My name is…”

“Obsidian. I know that much at least. It is in the ledger.”

“Right. But if you don’t mind, please call me Dian. So, is this why you came to escort me? To apologize for not listening to what I didn’t have to say?”

“Partially,” she confessed, offering a faint smile at his attempted humour. For the first time, he found himself noticing the pleasant shape of her lips. “I was also sent to advise you. I understand that you have never stood before the Stone Seat. Correct?”

“Yes. I mean, no I have not.”

“You must have heard about it though. Perhaps from others?” She did not wait for him to respond. “Whatever you may have heard, this will be different. Normally, when a Watcher reports to the Seat directly, they’ll speak with whatever Magi has been assigned to the Sitting for the day. Today, you’ll have the privilege of addressing five. Only one will be on the Seat, of course, but four others have already joined him. Apparently something about your report has captured their attention.”

“Do they know what it is?” asked Dian. “The darkness that I saw?”

“I do not presume to speak for the Magi,” replied Emilia flatly. “And neither should you. If they do know, even if they only suspect, it is their own affair. You will present your report and they will ask whatever questions they may have. It will be for them to decide what information they are willing to share.”

“Of course. Magi. Keepers of Knowledge. Voice of the Holy Stone.”

“Don’t be bitter,” the clerk scolded him. “The burden of knowledge is greater than you know. The Magi guide the League, bring us greater understanding of the Joining and keep all of Tarvayes safe from our enemies. We are called by the Will of the Stone to honour and revere them, even if we do not always understand their ways.”

“You really believe that?” asked Dian.

“I have to.” Her tone was final and definite, as though there could be no other answer. Her eyes, however, reflected something different, as though she was desperately clinging to her own firm resolve. Dian did not know what to make of the apparent disconnect, but he was wise enough to recognize that the clerk had no desire to continue the conversation. And so, they walked on in silence until they reached the foot of one of the eight stone staircases that connected the rest of the Citadel to the High Dais.

“This is as far as I go,” said Emilia. “Normally there would be a handful for clerks up there, recording your every word, but we have all been ordered out for the duration of your audience, which leads me to my final warning. The order of Clerks are the managers of information for the League. We typically don’t like being kept in the dark, and a number of those who were sent out did not take their dismissal well. They’ll be wanting to know what happens, so you can expect to become a very popular individual over the next few days. Be wary of what you reveal, and that you do not betray the trust of the Magi.”

“Anything else?” asked Dian.

“No. Now you must go. They will be waiting for you.”

Nodding silently to the clerk, the young Watcher took a deep breath and began to climb the stairs. Let’s get this over with, he thought.

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