1) Prologue: Deceitful Beginnings
by, 02-21-2010 at 01:52 PM (1102 Views)
I didn’t know my parents at all. I mean to say I never met them and am not even sure of their names. My master told me they were of peasant stock and were killed in a raid upon their caravan. But what am I to believe of his words concerning my own parentage?
I found a document in a small wooden box inside the maid’s quarters when I was just a boy. One cannot even be sure if the receipt was for me or not, there were so many other children at the orphanage. I like to think it was my own receipt, but that is just the fantasies of a young boy, dreams really, and sad at that given time to reflect upon it. Yet, their names were certainly promising: Samuel and Arethra Goodington. The date was about right in my estimation for my birth, but why would they have sold me? What causes someone to sell their own child? And for a mere five pieces of gold? I suppose that must have been a fortune to a peasant at the time. But I try not to dwell on these things.
Corrianne Morgryn sat on a bench inside the study. It was an overly large room without a hearth. Her back was aching from the stress of these last weeks of pregnancy. She liked this bench despite the lack of a cushioned seat but precisely because it had a cushioned back which provided just the support she needed to ease her pain, if only slightly.
She drew in an unsteady breath as she felt her child kick and shift within her. It was a comforting sensation and made her smile despite her pains. She leaned her head to the side and continued brushing her hair. It was then that her eyes spotted a book, among the many there, that caught her attention. It was simply titled “Morgai the Destroyer”. She had never heard of this Morgai before, despite her hobby in histories and legends. It took her some moments to pluck the book from the low shelf and return to her seat.
The book was like many others she had seen, large and almost unwieldy. Its binding and cover were obviously old, but made with a very robust and lacquered hardwood. The pages were held together with thin, silk-like cords that passed through holes in each page and were secured by knots after they passed through the back cover. The pages were heavy parchment that took the colored inks well. Most of them were coated in something that made them slick to the touch but preserved the ink on the page.
The designs on the front cover were rather frightful with dark circles and shapes interspersed with runes of a language Corrianne could not hope to understand. And the words on the inside were almost as indecipherable. She recognized a number on the first page as a date, or thought she did, although the number was not one she could make sense of. Of course since the current date was the year 271 AE, the number listed on the book, 1343 BR, might not be a year after all, but some number presented in a context she could not understand. And she knew full well that different races on this world might use different calendars.
Her own great-great-great grandparents came to this world in year 1, the day Settlestone was founded and the very day that hundreds of thousands of others of various races came here from many other worlds…a concept she never fully understood. This mass movement to this world was the Exodus, they called it then, and accounted for the AE post script for the year as ‘After Exodus’. Her own father was also born in Settlestone, making her maiden name ‘Gray’ one of the prominent founding family names still in residence within the city.
Unable to fathom the language, she flipped through the book and examined various illustrations. None of them looked wholesome, but all were masterfully rendered. The last was of some huge tower with a field of devastation surrounding it in all directions. Despite the craftsmanship, or perhaps because of it, the sight soured her stomach. Dead bodies littered the fields and lands surrounding the tower. Seemingly thousands of dead and suffering souls being burnt alive in a scourge of fire were rendered in exquisite detail. Then the burning dead seemed to rise from the ground to walk forward as soul-less soldiers, now carrying implements of war, a sword, a shield, or a spear. Corrianne quickly turned the page.
Then she came to the back of the book and found some unfinished pages. The last three was of a family tree of a very long lineage that began with Morgai the Destroyer. Here his name was listed as Calipthian Morgai. She chuckled lightly as she thought of this excellent reason to be known for your last name. But she then considered the moniker he was given. The name ‘Destroyer’ did not bode well for the origins of one’s family history. Moving to the end of the family tree she saw that it ended with her husband’s first name, Dorgas. His grandfather’s name was also listed, but not his father. All with the last name of Morgai.
She closed the book and sat in thought for a moment. She did not know her husband’s father well. He worked in town as a glassblower and window maker. She briefly smiled at the word he used to describe his craft: Glazier. But her husband and his grandfather were both wizards, powerful wizards, certainly. And now she knew from where they chose their first names, some mysterious family bloodline headed by this C. Morgai? And even the last was so very close to her husband’s own family name, Morgryn.
She looked again at the book in her hands. She has been in this study countless times and read many of the books here. She was suddenly sure this had not been here before but was a recent addition. It must have been placed here for… Rising to her feet, with a little difficulty, she carried the book and her brush into the main living room.
“Dorgas?” she asked as she entered.
This room must have been at least three to four times as large as the study. Doors and openings in the walls lead towards a dining room, a hallway, the grand foyer, and a second narrow stairway that led to the second floor. And it had two hearths, one at each end of the room. Both of the fires were lit and blazing at the moment with new wood. It was a bit warmer in here than she liked, and none of the chairs or couches in here offered the support for her back as that bench in the study.
She found her husband sitting at a table, looking over a scroll laid out before him. There must have been at least twelve lamps burning in the room. If any of them needed fuel, it would cost a fortune to keep them aflame. As it was, having a husband who cast spells proved very useful. They regularly sold similar lamps and many other enchanted objects for quite a profit. He registered her presence with a raised hand, a signal for her to be patient.
Dorgas Morgryn was a thin man in his late thirties. His height, about five feet eight inches was only slightly more than his wife’s, who was considered quite tall for a human woman. And he had her weight as well, when she was not with child. Although he was not gaunt, he was certainly slim of build. But his head was hairless, completely, as was his own father and grandfather. A trait he claims afflicts the men in his family beginning late in adolescence. His eyebrows were bushy, and would dominate his face were it not for his very unusual and striking eyes. They were of cobalt blue surrounded by a thin, dark brown ring. He somehow maintained a perpetually clean-shaven face which made his sharp features stand out.
She gritted her teeth, grinned slightly in an unpleasant sort of way, and brought the book over to him. She placed it on the table on top of his scroll, abruptly interrupting his study. “I never suspected you of being so sly, and passive, as to slip this to me like that.” She said flatly. “Usually, if you have something to say you simply come out with it.” She opened the book to the last few pages and scanned the names listed there. “So, I suppose you want to find our child’s name from this list? While it may be as good a source of names as any, it is not what we had talked about, Dorgas!”
He turned and placed his hand on hers, starring up at her. She looked at him and stopped talking as he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and shook his head slightly. His reaction was not what she expected. “No dear. We agreed on Gregorich if it is to be a boy and Corrinth if it is to be a girl, though it will be a boy. That is not why I presented the book to you.” He motioned to a chair on the other side of him as he seemed to take a deep, steadying breath. “This book is not a source of names, but a listing of my families’ bloodline. And our child’s name will not be listed within its pages.”
“Please sit, I have to tell you about my bloodline, what we will have to do when our first few children are born, and why.” His face seemed suddenly exhausted, weary, but mostly sad. His serious expression brought with it a nauseating feeling of confused dread that settled in her chest as she moved around him to sit on his other side were a chair was positioned a bit closer to the hearth. She could hear her heart beating heavily in her ears and knew her face must look quite pale.
“Well, out with it!” she said as she sat. Though, in truth, she considered that she might not want to hear what he had to say. As always when she became frightened, her anger began to rise, the paleness of her cheeks giving way to a tint of rose. In her own family it was something of a survival trait, or at least that was how her mother explained it.
“As you might have learned from this book, my love, our family name is Morgai, not Morgryn. Morgai is not a name anyone would claim given the history. If it were publicly known, we would not be able to live here and no town or city would accept our presence. We might even be hunted down. The bloodline presented there is a list of wizards. Note that my father is not listed? It is because he is not a wizard, though he is of the bloodline.” He stopped talking then, for a few moments as he considered his words. Although the words he was using were obviously well rehearsed, the telling of them looked to affect him like poison, draining his life away. His own skin seemed to pale and became gray like ash in the brightly lit room.
He closed his eyes, and when they opened they were moist, on the verge of tears. His voice seemed to change as he continued, almost as if he were and afraid of whatever terrible news he must present. His look caused her feeling of dread to increase, like a stone in her chest, pressing down on her heart. She nearly stopped breathing and knew immediately that whatever he had to say would involve their child, and it was not good.
Dorgas took another steadying breath, opened his eyes and continued. “As you know, the ability to control magic is certainly not unique to my family. Schools of magic have been built to train those who are blessed with the gift. It is a rare trait, and although it does tend to be passed from generation to generation such heritage is never taken for granted. Sometimes the gift crops up out of nowhere, in peasant villages where no mage has ever been born before. Sometimes, after generations of wizards, the expression of that trait abruptly ends, never to show itself again.
But the bloodline of Morgai is unique. Morgai’s power was nearly limitless. He grew to totally dominate his world and began to stretch out, influencing others. Although he was long-lived, he was not immortal and the passage of time began to ravage his body. Through some elaborate ritual of his own creation, he sought to pass on his power. He sired a thousand children from his concubines, all of them male. These were the first children of Morgai. He then entombed himself within his tower which vanished from the world. The tower itself has its own terrible legends.”
Dorgas stood then, and walked over to a hearth. He continued as he stared into the flames. “But as with any cruel and evil despot, Morgai had his enemies. They sought out and killed nearly all of the Morgai’s children. It was a near complete extermination of his bloodline. Only one, that we know of, was allowed to survive. These enemies forged themselves into an organization known as The Followers of Morgai. Their ultimate goals are not known to us, and neither is the reason why they keep our bloodline flowing. But this historical background is not even the beginning of the horror I must relate to you.”
He turned then and it seemed as if the heat of the flames may have added some color back to his cheeks. His own heart was pounding as he took a shuttering breath of his own. She could see it in the movement of his tunic. And it looked as if her husband was aging before her very eyes as his cheeks seemed more hollow, his face more gaunt than she had ever seen before. A slight sheen of sweat had appeared on his brow.
He continued in barely a whisper and she realized suddenly that she had been holding her own breath too long. She inhaled and felt slightly dizzy as he spoke while the growing nausea settled in her stomach. The child within her stilled and ceased moving around, as if he too were listening to what would be his fate.
“This power over magic grows ever stronger in our bloodline from generation to generation. If my own child were able to use the Art, he would likely be at least twice as powerfully as I. His child would be at least twice as powerful as he. It is nearly an exponential growth in power and the ability to control the forces of magic. This thickening of my bloodline must not be allowed.”
He moved back to the table and opened the book. He turned it to the page showing the tower that seemed planted in a world of hellish description. Pointing to it, he continued.
“I cannot pretend to know the mechanics of how this has come to pass. But I do know that my blood is tied to this tower. Once the blood has concentrated to a sufficient degree, it will call this tower back to the world, to our world. What you see here is what is destined to occur if we allow it to happen. Morgai himself will return, presumably to inhabit the body, through which flows his own blood. His return can only mean the end of all freedom and happiness.”
He closed the book and sat heavily in the chair, as if all strength was gone from him.
“My grandfather had four children, all boys. Only one, my father and the fourth of his children, did not possess the ability to control magic. Only he was allowed to live passed the first hour of his birth. My own father was taught well and knew that he could only have a single child, and that he, or rather I, would have the gift, the Art. Our bloodline allows only males for some reason, and thus I know you will bear us a boy child. And…and that child, our first, is doomed. Every first born in this accursed bloodline has the power. But our second and succeeding children have a diminishing chance to have the gift.”
“What are you saying?” she croaked out in surprise as she stood up with sudden realization. The dizzy, nauseated feeling piqued and she felt bile rising in her throat. She swallowed hard and clutched her chest with both hands, filled with renewed horror. The chair shot backwards and fell with a loud cracking sound. Her mind was so awed by whatever she was hearing that she could barely speak. But she managed to blurt her words out, shaky and unsteady as her feet, though her mouth and throat were painfully dry. “Are you saying that if he can use magic then you will kill him? You will kill our child?” Her voice was rising, almost in a panic.
“It must be so my love!” Dorgas said, his sorrow bringing tears down his face. Her mouth was open, her eyes wide and her body visibly shook with the terror of it as he continued. “The power cannot be allowed to build. If he can control magic, he will be at least twice as powerful as I, likely more still. And if he bears a son of power….god help us but no one should possess such power as that! Someone who might rival that of Calipthian Morgai himself. And such power might summon his tower to doom us all. As you can see by the long lineage listed there, this burden had been born for many generations. Would that we could we have no children at all and end our bloodline with me than to allow such a monster to be born upon this world. But even that simple blessing cannot come to pass. For then the tower would…”
“Are you saying our child would become a Monster?” Her cracking voice was nearly a shout now, as tears at last fell down her face as well. The fallen chair turned onto its side as she backed into it, as if she could escape the reality that was to come.
He turned his chair to face her and hunched forward as he looked, pleaded up at her. His own face was filled with regret and pain as he spoke. “Not our child, surely. Even if he could use the power he might be able to control himself and not be driven by it. Especially with our guidance. But his child? Power begets ever more power, that is Morgai’s curse. And our laps in this tradition would cause the blood to be forever stronger from grandfather to grandson throughout the future generations. And with our own lapse we cannot be sure that our son would ensure our traditions continue. He would be too powerful to control and his children…we cannot allow such monsters to exist!”
“Infanticide! You call Infanticide a tradition in your family? You are the monsters! All of you!” She turned and ran then, as fast as her bulging belly and sobbing frame would allow. She ran into the broad foyer and to the front door, pulled it open, and screamed out at the night and into the howling wind that could not hope to match the rage running through her heart and mind. The wind entered cold and fierce, buffeting her gown, twirling her long blond hair in all directions, and numbing her flesh. The shock of the blistering cold wind and her scream of anguish seemed to still her mind somewhat. She stood there a moment in sudden silence, thinking on where she would go this time of night as she fought her rage and fear. Then she turned and ran up the wide, main stairway to the second floor, down a hallway and to their chambers. The slamming door could be heard from every corner of the small mansion.
“She is going to be a problem!” said a voice from the doorway that lead to the dining room. Dorgas turned and saw his grandfather standing there. “That is not how it is done Dorgas! Our women must never know, have never known, until near the end of their lives if even then.”
“I had to tell her. I had to.” Dorgas said, tears still streaking his face.
“No! No you most certainly did not. I would have taken her new born child and tested him right after his birth. Despite the total lack of precedent concerning his position in the birthing order I always have hope that the first born might not possess the gift. If need be the child would die shortly thereafter and it would look most natural, I assure you. The poison is painless and he would die in his sleep. Death in this way is common among children. Now she will not trust us and try to circumvent our efforts to stifle the power of our bloodline.”
“So what now, grandfather? I do not have the stomach for this. I know I cannot kill our child and continue to live my life with the guilt of his death. I do not know if I could bear to look at you if you did the deed.”
“The first born always possesses the gift, Dorgas, always has. You know this. My hope is merely fantasy; an impossibility. There is less of a chance with the next, but only slightly less. She could have six boys before there is a better than fifty percent chance of a powerless child. And if her lineage had even the smallest portion of magic within six generations the power in her child would be assured for every child you and she conceived. This is why we researched her so carefully before I allowed you to wed.”
“What?” Dorgas stood and pounded a fist on the table causing one of the weights at a corner of his scroll to bounce off and the parchment to curl upwards. “What do you mean by this? You…they found her for me?”
“Yes, they contacted me after you progressed from a mere apprentice and I have met with them once each year since then. That is, until they decided you should begin looking for a wife. Then we met once each month or so, as the need arose, until our research was completed and a suitable woman was chosen. I have had a regular, standing appointment with them each month since her pregnancy became known.”
Dorgas Morgryn settled down into his seat and leaned back and spoke to himself in a whisper “The Followers of Morgai” he said, fear crept into his voice to mix with the sorrow. “They are real. I had always hoped…”
The old man seemed like he had much to say and tried to keep the younger man’s mind focused. “Yes they are real you idiot! The Followers of Morgai and I together undertook to research the women available to you. Most were rejected outright because someone along their own bloodline possessed the power to use magic. Even as rare and as precious as the gift may be among humans, the ability tends to crop up from time to time, unnoticed by most. Once we located the few available to you it was a small matter to ensure you could spend time with them. Young minds and hearts are easily brought together.”
He continued in a lower, calmer voice more full of meaning than emotion. “They continue to watch our every move. Do I need to call the Followers in on this Dorgas, or will you handle it?”
With a groan the younger wizard leaned forward with his elbows on the table, pressing his face into his hands. “Why have I not summoned the courage to kill myself?”
“Ah! Yes that is one way out Dorgas, for you at least. But the rest of this world would be saddled with the Tower when it returned to spread the power anew. I think it is time for you to meet The Followers, my grandson. If I know anything, I know that the Followers have determined the exact moment of the child’s birth. They will ensure the infant’s demise if we do not. And we will certainly pay a price for their direct involvement. If what I know of them is true they will take something precious from us for good measure, as a lesson to us. They might kill Corianne, or your father perhaps. Or maybe they will introduce themselves to your wife with some threat against her cooperation. Finding another woman to bear your child would be much more difficult as she was hard enough to…”
“They would kill her or my father, really! Perhaps threaten her own family or friends? I think they may become my enemy in any case.”
“You do love her?”
He seemed to have attempted to sidestep the issue of her death or other penalties for misbehavior at the moment.
“Yes! I most surely love her with all my heart. But I also love my unborn child. And they will kill her or others if we allow my baby to live?”
“You can see the effect this has upon you and you must harden your heart against it. It is likely that up to three, four, perhaps as many as five of your children must be put to death before one without power is born. If you allow one to come into this world with power, how many of his own will he have to kill before one emerges without the ability? How many? Ten? Twenty children of his must die for the sake of perhaps three to five of your own? If our own ancestors had kept the tradition from the beginning only your first born would be condemned to death. Three of your uncles need not have died before your father was born.”
“Better I had not been born myself, Grandfather. When he is born and dead I will not have another only to be forced to kill him as well. It will end with the death of Gregorich.”
The old man gave yet another deep sigh. “I warned you before not to give names to the unborn children, it makes it that much harder to see them pass. And if you choose not to have more children, you will have to face the Followers and deal with them. The absence of the blood in the world has its own consequences.”
“I will deal with them then!” He stood once more and walked slowly to the stairs to grip the railing. Its heavily carved dark wood felt twisted and evil beneath his hand, mirroring the darkness that was creeping into his soul. “Or rather, they will have to deal with me!” he said softly but loud enough to be heard by the table. He then ascended to the second floor to find and attend his wife. Where his hand had been, the wood was left smoking, its surface charred.
The old man raised his head and the unnaturally dark blue irises of his own eyes caught the lamplight, glinting as a single tear welled up in one of them. “May Sharn the Lightbringer preserve us!”