An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Whisper Glass Tiberius

Tiberius woke with a gasp. It was not the slow, gradual rise out of slumber that he was used to, but a sudden, shocking awakening that caused him to jolt up in his bed, as though somebody had quite suddenly dumped an entire bucket of icy rainwater over his head. He took a deep breath to steady himself, then threw back the covers and opened his eyes.

He saw nothing.

Oh thank the Blessed Nine, he thought. The fever dream was over, as were the fragmented nightmares that had passed in and out his own mind, like dim reflections of Kelven’s haunted, blooming mind. Strange images had been a part of those dreams, visual projections that meant nothing to him, serving only to confuse and add to the substantive headache that had already taken root at the base of his skull. He found himself taking solace in the simple familiarity of his own blindness.

It meant he was awake again, back in the real world, where he would not be pulled mercilessly through horror after unending horror. It meant that he could get back to the important task that still laid before him—finding the Auratorch and its bearer.

What was I doing before the dream came upon me? He remembered making his way back to his room after returning from the Stilt District with Captain Avendor. He had taken his evening meal and then… The Whisper Glass! But before shattering the stone and learning its secrets, he had been interrupted. Interrupted by… 

“The boy,” he muttered to himself. In the moments before being pulled into Kelven’s nightmare, he had been speaking with the boy who called himself Fleet Paws, the boy who answered every question with a riddle of his own.

“I’m here,” came a soft voice.

“Boy?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“How long did I sleep?” Perhaps he had only been out for a short time. He knew that the mind worked in strange ways. Was it possible that what had felt like long hours trapped in the dream had only been a matter of minutes?

“All through the night,” replied the boy, dashing Tiberius’ faint hopes. “The sun rose several hours ago.”

“And you stayed with me this entire time?”

“Yes. I didn’t know what was wrong. I was afraid you might have been dying. I saw a man die once, when I was younger. The healers said his heart failed him.”

“Well, my heart is strong enough, I think. Still, thank you for staying.”

“What happened?” asked Fleet Paws.

“I fell into a dream.”

“From the way you tossed and turned, it seemed more like a nightmare.”

“That it was, boy. That it was. But it’s over now, and I still have much to do.” In truth, he had even more to do than before the dream had found him. While he had managed to put a name to the new bearer of the Auratorch, he still felt that Ronnex was the best lead they had for actually finding Kelven. He would need to track down Finnius and determine if he had managed to secure passage and an escort from Captain Avendor. He would also need to gather a collection of maps and charts, so that he and his aide could undertake a detailed survey of the geography surrounding the remote town. There was still something about the forest from the fever dream that struck Tiberius as tremendously important.

And then there was the matter of the Whisper Glass. His mind itched to discover what secrets it contained.

“You’re certain you’re well?” asked Fleet Paws.

“Yes,” replied the sage with a faint smile. “This is not the first time I’ve had a dream, you know. I’ll be fine. I just need to get these old bones moving.”

“I’d best be going then. I’ve already been gone for far too long.”

“Wait,” said Tiberius gently. “Before the dream, you said something… that you believed that I was looking for my pupil. You also said that he was beyond my ability to find.”

“Yes.”

“What do you mean by that?”

There was a long pause, in which Tiberius assumed that they boy was carefully weighing his own words. “I think you already know the answer to that.”

“Perhaps. But how do you know? That is what I cannot understand. It seems to me that you are more than a mere messenger boy.”

There was another moment of silence. “I hardly know what I am anymore. The group to which we both belong is falling apart. Listen closely to the secrets of the Whisper Glass. Then, I think you’ll start to understand. For now, I have to go. I’ll try to speak with you again before you leave.”

Tiberius scarcely heard the boy cross the room, but the faintest rustling of his drapes told him that Fleet Paws had departed through the window. I wonder if that’s the same way he entered the room in the first place? I’ll have to remember to look into that. The boy did not seem to present any immediate danger to Tiberius himself—the old sage was not foolish enough to believe that anyone capable of moving so silently could be harmless—but the idea of him being able to enter his room uninvited was still troubling.

If the boy could manage it, what was to stop others from doing the same?

After several moments, Tiberius rose from his bed, absently wiping away the wrinkles from the previous day’s clothing. The faint, sickly scent of the Stilt District still clung to them. He would need remember to have them laundered before the stench worked itself too deeply into the fabric. Just one more thing to add to a growing list of things to remember.

He crossed the room and seated himself at his bureau again. He found both the Whisper Glass and the stone pestle resting exactly where he had left them the previous night. Again, he took a moment to weigh the small sphere in his hand, wondering what secrets could be contained within. Fleet Paws seemed to have known at least something about it. Had he been there when the message had been captured? Whose voice was contained within?

There’s only one way to find out. Placing the Whisper Glass firmly on the flat of the bureau, he raised the pestle, then paused for just a moment, half-expecting another interruption. When none came, he brought the stone tool down on the smooth surface of the glass. After three careful blows, it shattered.

Tiberius bent low as the contained message began to seep out from the remaining shards.

“To Baby Blue Bird,” said a voice. It had a familiar ring to it, as though he had heard it somewhere before. The words came in hushed tones, so quiet that only an someone bent close would have been able to hear them. “Greetings from The Midnight Lamb.” In spite of himself, Tiberius gasped. It was another of the Society’s secret names, and an important one. His mind flew back two years earlier, to the last time he had cracked a Whisper Glass. That message had informed that the Society’s mysterious figurehead had fallen into death. At the time, the Veiled One—as the unknown leader was called—had been been known by the name of Green Bear. Upon his death, he had been succeeded by The Midnight Lamb. To hear directly from the Veiled One was incredibly rare, and occurred only in the direst and most important of circumstances.

To receive such a message here and now bore a myriad of implications that Tiberius did not at all like to consider.

“If you are hearing this message,” the too-familiar voice continued, “it means that I am already dead and a man named Dragon Fang has assumed the Veil. But that is only part of the message, for this is far more personal. The Society calls me the Midnight Lamb, but you will know me better as the boy whose folly nearly caused you to drown in the River Kharnine.”

Again, Tiberius’ mind turned back in time, to that horrible day more than twenty years ago. The boy had been with him, ignoring his lessons about the political significance of the Great River. Instead, he had been standing in the small boat, despite having been warned to stay seated a dozen times over. Inevitably, he had stumbled and the boat had nearly capsized. As it was, the blind sage—he had not been so old at the time—was thrown overboard, into the river’s icy waters. Unable to swim, Tiberius had very nearly lost his life. Only the heroics of one brave fisherman had saved it.

To protect the boy from severe punishment, they had never spoken of the incident to anyone else. Only Tiberius, the boy and the fisherman, who had been sworn to silence, had ever known how close the sage had come to death that day.

“No,” Tiberius whispered. “It can’t be.” Yet, he could not deny what he now knew to be true, for he had finally come to recgonize the deep, baritone voice emanating from the shattered fragments of the Whisper Glass. The voice of the Veiled One was also the voice of Prince Jayslen Rayderon.

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