An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Before the Stone Seat Dian

Each of the seventy-two steps leading up to the High Dais was a single slab of moonstone. Originally hewn into identical blocks, years and years of use had given rise to various imperfections. Square edges had become irregularly rounded, while the small chips and cracks in each step set it apart from its brothers. Dian watched them all as he made his slow ascent, imagining the lives of so many others who had made the very same climb. Had any them also come to report of a strange shadow haunting the Fellwood? Something told him they had not, that he alone of all his people had been the first witness to its existence.

He prayed that he would also be the last.

As he strode up the remaining half-dozen steps, he emerged from the walled stairway and onto the dais itself. It was a vast, flat expanse of tiled moonstone—there was not a single slab in the world that would have covered the four hundred foot area. The late afternoon sun shone down, great pillars of light beaming through the immense glass dome that rested far above Dian’s head. The tables and chairs where the clerks would normally sit and record everything that occurred in that place were scattered in a haphazard manner along the perimeter. Above all else, however, it was the enormous monolith at the centre of the dais that truly commanded attention.

The Stone Seat.

Standing near thirty feet in the air, the massive obelisk appeared to have been cut from a single piece of white marble, contrasting sharply against the near-black sheen of the moonstone that surrounded it. Dian knew better. When the structure had been crafted—more than four hundred years earlier—the work had been done by the most skilled stone crafters from all of the fifteen Clansholds. Their task had been to knit together hundreds of individual pieces of rock so as to appear as a single, great stone. Though he had never had occasion to inspect the work closely, Dian suspected that many of the seams were hidden within the intricate carvings that told the stories of Tarvayes and its people. From the Exodus to the first Joining, from the raising of the Citadel to the bloody Moon Wars, their entire history was recorded in that stone—and continued to be recorded as important events took place.

It was there, at the foot of their history, that the ancient stone workers had hewn the single, stone seat from which the great obelisk took its name. Two great arms extended on either side, each carved into the likeness of the great Frostback, the white wolf of the Hunters, which was widely considered to be the greatest of the totem animals.

Upon the Stone Seat itself sat a thick-beareded, white-robed man whom Dian did not recognize, though that came as little surprise. He had only met a handful of the dozens of Magi who resided in the Citadel. Four other members of the order also sat with him, two on the left and two on the right. As Dian approached, each man bore an expression as unreadable as the Stone Seat itself.

“Watcher Obsidian, I assume,” said the head Magi.

“Yes, your grace,” he replied, stopping to bow his head in the formal reverence that he had never quite been able to feel.

“Come closer, boy. I don’t want to have to shout at you. I am Kaden, and have the honour of the Sitting today. My brothers and I have all read Clerk Emilia’s account of your report this morning. I must say, it seems to defy belief.”

“I understand.”

“Do you, now? And what is it that you understand, I wonder?”

“That it would be difficult to accept my report. I can hardly believe it myself.”

“Well then, why don’t you tell us again, in your own words. Exactly what happened in the Fellwood?”

Slowly, and with the practiced detail that had been so thoroughly drilled into him during his time as a student of the League, Dian began to recount the tale. He explained how he had seen the three Relenians, how the one called Kelven had unexpectedly slain the man who was, by all indications, the crown prince of Relen’kar. He told of how the prince had placed the strange manacle around his killer’s wrist as he died, of how Kelven and his sister had fled from the lifeless body and made camp several miles away. Most importantly, he told of the strange cold, the mysterious darkness and the disappearance of the girl called Tyra.

“And this shadow,” said one of the other Magi, a soft spoken man in his middle years, whose short beard was flecked with silver. “You believe it was directly responsible for the girl’s disappearance?”

“I do.”

“As though the darkness descended and stole her away?”

Dian hesitated for a moment, unsure of where the Magi was leading him. “Yes,” he replied at least. “That was my assessment.”

“What nonsense!” snapped another of the Magi. Unlike his peers, he was younger and beardless, with a long hooked nose and eyes so dark that they seemed almost black. “A shadow that abducts young girls? The very notion is absurd! The boy is Joined to a raven. Clearly it’s driven him mad.”

“Please, Zaymenar,” said Kaden. “Remember that you were the one who insisted on being a part of this audience. Let the boy speak. Now, Watcher Obsidian, you must understand that the very idea of a darkness such as you describe is difficult to fathom. Your own account suggests that this shadow was actually alive, falling like an eagle on its prey and then departing again.” Dian had not thought of the event in such precise terms, but it seemed as apt a description as any. “It was nighttime. Is it not possible that a cloud simply rolled over the moon and the girl wandered off into the woods?”

“I think not, your Grace. The shadow and the wind both came and went together, in a way that I’ve never experienced before. And the darkness—it was so thick that I could almost feel it.”

“You mean your totem could almost feel it,” interrupted Zaymenar. “You felt nothing yourself.”

“Yes, but…”

“We know little about this raven of yours. Perhaps its senses confused you. Perhaps what you thought you felt was nothing more than its its own fear.” In the back of back of his mind, Dian could feel Azental’s awareness prickling in irritation. She would undoubtedly have more than few choice words to say about the beardless Magi.

“I do not believe that to be the case,” the young Watcher replied.

“The mad rarely do.”

“Enough!” snapped Kaden. “This is an audience not an inquisition! Whatever you may think of the boy’s story, Zaymenar, this is neither the time nor the place for throwing currish insults in his face. Be respectful or be silent.”

“You would do well to watch your tone, Kaden,” replied the chastised man, turning his gaze sharply toward the Stone Seat. “This is obviously a monumental waste of our time, and I’ll have no more part of it. Enjoy your fool’s errand. The boy knows nothing! Come, Sandar!” With that, Zaymenar and the man who had been sitting beside him rose from their seats and strode from the High Dais without another word. The dagger-like glare he threw at Dian, however, spoke volumes all on its own.

The black-eyed Magi was no friend.

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