Jabin sat within the poorly lit chamber watching the great hearth cast long shadows high upon the opposing wall. The flames haloed those present in its warming light, emphasising their wizened faces, furrowed, sagacious and questioning.
Having answered all, he as yet understood little of what lay behind their scrutiny; typical of Azure, as unrevealing in their responses as the questions were mysterious.
His father’s explanation concerning the Gift and its power was largely lost on the child; one still young enough to both need and enjoy his dependence on others. Talk of being the first in a line of Kings, leading people and making decisions of influence served only to heighten his confusion. Such things played little on the mind of the ten-year-old boy.
Truth be told, he doubted any would regard him; past experience bearing this out. Only peers paid any mind to what the young boy said. None to what he commanded. Added to this, he was bored. Therefore, his only wish presently was that of his itching feet—to run. Preferably in the dirt, but anywhere would do. Anywhere where tedious questions and kingly decisions weren’t required.
Fidgeting, Jabin thought of his cousin Josheb, a score of years older than he, admired and respected by everyone. With his love of swordplay and obsession with battles, Jabin thought him a lot likelier choice as king than himself. However, Josheb had only spent a short time with the Azure before being sent from the citadel. Jabin wondered at that.
Not small for his age, Jabin was still slight. Known by all for his dexterity and competent coordination, he made up for in speed and agility what he lacked in mass and strength, often competing as an equal with boys much older in those events where swiftness out-classed brawn. He thought himself average in most ways, when he thought of himself at all, though his Aunt’s did tell him girls would swoon when he was older; he was unsure of what that implied, as he could only imagine people fainting at something gory or terrifying.
Typical of his people he had sandy brown hair and olive complexion, but what made Jabin unique were his eyes. Large they were, though not overly. Yet it was their colour that startled most. A pale blue green, turquoise almost, having a misty, at times almost luminescent, quality.
Looking around the room with those startling eyes, Jabin recognised most of the Azure present, having spent the past weeks enduring many strange tests at the hands of these very Magi. Spotting one he knew well, he waved. Having been under his tutelage, he'd grown fond of the Azure, whom he called Quinn; struggling to mouth his proper name—Quirinicotilius.
Quinn was more jovial than most of the Ancients, with hair that existed only as wisps at the sides of his head behind large ears and a tanned rotund face that Jabin thought resembled a bloated leather wine skin. His multiple chins cascaded their way down the full length of his neck, which was attached to a body quite adequately matching the face in colour, rotundity, and stretched leathery texture.
Lifting a plump hand, Quinn waved back, a genuine smile of affection on his lips. Over the past half month he had come to view Jabin as something akin to a grandchild and, being celibate and therefore childless, he poured all his fondness on the boy. Of all present at the council, he was most delighted to see Jabin become Chosen; the recipient of the Gift. However, contending with his pleasure was the knowledge of the burden the young lad would take up as ruler of the Three Realms; leader, protector, and providential builder of a kingdom spanning the continent; a heavy task for even an Azure with ten lifetimes of experience. None knew how long Jabin's life would be extended, if at all.
Quirinicotilius was forced to push the troubling thought aside as a bell sounded indicating the council assembly. Silence fell as all turned toward the moderator presiding over this crucial meeting of the Azure Magi, ancient priests to the people of Asasa.
The moderator, an unusually tall Magi that Jabin knew as Dored, had a sombre air about him, a severity that caused those around to be more conscientious of their behaviour. As he rose from his seat and scanned the auditorium with his foreboding glare—about the only expression Dored ever showed—the assembly quickly came to order.
After fully inspecting those gathered and satisfied that all who should be present were, Dored nodded. Grim-faced, he walked toward the centre of the room. There, kneeling upon one knee, he bowed his head and uttered the words of power.
The Ancients, being always at work amongst the people, used their arts for tasks beyond the capacity of ordinary folk. Whether bringing rain, moving house-size boulders from fertile strips of land or healing a usually fatal injury, whenever the Magi used their powers they always knelt and bowed their heads as if in prayer.
Jabin had questioned Quinn concerning this practice and was told that prayer was as close a definition as any. He went on to explain this in some detail, how the Magi were simply an order of priests established by the Creator to guide and protect the populace, that only through approaching the Creator in a form of intricate prayer, a mixture of invocation and petition, had they any powers at all... He had said a lot more. However, like most children, Jabin had only patience for short answers, more elaborate replies quickly eclipsing his interest.
Yet whatever Dored had uttered to his God, it was obviously being answered, for the amphitheatre shaped hall began to alter.
It reminded Jabin of gazing across the smithy fires of home, the rising heat causing objects behind to blur and distort. So too the walls of the ancient chamber wavered, shimmering gradually to transparency. Yet unlike the heat illusion, where objects bleed ephemerally back and forth into focus, here the transition was fixed. Stepwise the room vanished from sight, leaving nothing visible but perfect blackness. The effect on the senses was confounding and Jabin became increasingly disoriented, relieved only when a comforting hand took hold of his own. Looking up, he saw the grandfatherly face of Quirinicotilius'.
‘What's happening?’ Jabin asked in a half-choked whisper.
Quirinicotilius looked pensive before replying, ‘Necessity brings us to this place, Jabin. For to achieve the purpose of this assembling requires we be free from all distraction, both corporeal and otherwise. That being the case, Dored has... Dored has...'
Obvious to Jabin was the Magi’s difficulty in explaining the situation with terms simple enough for him to fathom. Quinn liked big words.
‘...Do you understand the term ethereal by any chance?’ was the Azure's next attempt. Noting the uncomprehending look on the lad's face, he sighed and tried again. ‘Dored has taken us to a place that has no time or substance, well, not in the sense easily understood’, he paused again, before rushing the next words, ‘A place where nothing physical lives. This is the realm of the deceased. Well, in a sense it is… Hmm, am I making any sense?’
The look of frustration on Quinn’s face earned Jabin’s sympathy. He answered the Azure with a nod and a look of open-mouthed amazement. Although somewhat short of plain, Jabin had grasped enough of the Azure’s explanation to realise they were in a place he’d experienced only in his father’s stories.
‘Are their ghosts here?’ He asked in a more hushed whisper.
Quirinicotilius looked at the boy and smiled, ‘My dear child. I won't lie to you. Yes there are spirits in this domain, however none that you can see nor hear and definitely none that could cause us any harm, even if they wanted to.’
‘What do they do here then?’ Jabin asked, now extremely interested.
Quirinicotilius face went sad. He was about to answer when a hand came between them and rested itself on Jabin’s shoulder.
‘There will be time enough for questions later Jabin. For now we have more immediate things to give attention to, and your help will be most vital.’
The hand and voice belonged to Sosthene, recognised as the most powerful of the Ancients and one of the three founding fathers of the land of Triad. Holding Jabin gently but firmly by the shoulder, he led him to the centre of the gathered Magi.
Each step was one of faith, each footfall into inky black darkness. Yet light came from somewhere, for Jabin could still see those around him.
Pushing aside his inquisitive mind, Jabin allowed himself to be led.
Positioning himself in front of the boy, Sosthene squatted to his level and spoke calmly. ‘Jabin, you must listen carefully to what I now say, for the words will be few but critical to what we are about to do. In truth our success here may depend on how well you listen to my words. Do you understand?’
Jabin nodded. Though young, he appreciated when to be attentive. Forcing all else from his mind, he gave full attention to the Magi.
Seeing the boy's efforts, Sosthene smiled and continued. ‘Shortly I will lay you down and ask that you close your eyes and completely relax. My hand will remain on you for a moment but when I remove it you will have the sense of falling, as if through the air. However, you must not open your eyes or attempt to move at all. Do you understand?’
Jabin nodded again.
‘Good. After this you will hear the Magi utter the words of power, but not as you have heard it before. You will hear many things you will not understand Jabin, things that may cause you to fear. Still you must remain unmoving, your eyes tightly shut. Can I trust you in this?’
Jabin unconsciously swallowed rather loudly and gave a slow nod. He had been taught from infancy to unswerving trust what the Ancients said. To have them now seek a confidence from him was unsettling.
Sosthene again placed his hand on the boys shoulder and gave it an understanding squeeze, ‘Try not to fear. As long as you do what I have said no harm can befall you.’ Sosthene paused before continuing, ‘There is one more thing, and maybe it is unnecessary I even bring this up,’ For a moment he looked as if he’d changed his mind and wasn’t going to, but with a sudden nod, he continued ‘Remember only to keep your mind clear, to not dwell on any one thing. As thoughts come to you, simply focus on pushing them aside. I know you cannot stop thinking, just do not become fixed on any one thought.’ Sosthene again looked as if he wanted to say more, but after a pause simply said, ‘Can you do this?’
‘I… I think I can’, Jabin stuttered, unsure how he felt. He wasn't really scared, as all the people of Triad had great confidence in the Ancients, but he was nervous of the fact that he, a mere boy, had been chosen to receive something uniquely powerful, something he knew nothing about—something that would make him different to everyone else.
Sosthene placed his hand behind the boy's head and gently lowered him to the unseen floor. Jabin closed his eyes. Straight way it seemed thoughts came crushing into his head, but being ready he began deliberately to push them from his mind.
Jabin felt the chill of the stone floor beneath him and the tingling caress of a breeze on his face. Though warned, he still tensed when the pressure of his body against the cold stone suddenly disappeared. More like falling than rising. An eerie fear sent a shudder through him, like vertigo. He battled the instinctive temptation to throw out his arms to save himself, the even greater temptation to open his eyes. He did neither.
The words of power
started not at all as he thought they would; in whispered prayer.
This time they incanted in song. At first, as if from a distance,
faint lyrics carried upon winds soft breath. Yet as he listened the
words became clearer, the voices stronger, and, as the singers
intoned their magic, something began to stir within Jabin, something
deep and immensely powerful.
It is known by the Azure that all men are gifted with magic’s power at birth, a latent link to the Creator. However, like the individual strands of a gossamer web blown loose to the wind, so too will the threads of their gift slowly, filament by filament, be lost, if not fixed in place from youth.
Jabin, ignorant of how it was happening, perceived changes occurring within his mind and body, as if some part of him as yet unknown had awakened from a long sleep. This portion of his being attempted to rise to the surface of his consciousness and tell him something. Concentrating on the voice, Jabin remembered Sosthene’s instruction to keep his mind clear. Emptying it, he allowed his thoughts to come and go, dwelling on no one thing in particular. In doing this, he found the voice of this new awareness became clearer, amplifying as he quieted his thoughts.
Jabin could still distinguish between the world in which he lay and the one he witnessed in his head, but it was within his mind’s eye a new knowledge rose.
He rushed toward a piercing light at the end of a grey and insubstantial tunnel. It was here that the voice seemed to call from.
Yet along with the beckoning voice and the singing of the Azure, Jabin heard a more disturbing sound. Distant and immaterial, it grew as the light of the tunnel rushed toward him, becoming defined and clear—an appallingly sound that chilled Jabin to the depths of his young soul. It was as if millions of people groaned in agony, voices that told only of ambivalent despair and anguish, moans that left images of all that was of terror to man and child.
Within moments the tormenting din overwhelmed him, collapsing him inward by some invisible weight of dread that pressed from all sides. The weight evolved into a presence, alien and evil. A presence that sensed him and wanted him for itself. With the chillness of a glacier it pressed into Jabin and sought to take hold of his very soul.
Frantic now, in the dread presence of this being, Jabin screamed. He knew such an entity had the power to rob him of himself, could master his own mind and body. In his fear the light before him began to fall away, replaced by a yawning gulf of hopelessness. Unprepared, his young mind surrendered to a battle it knew it must surely lose, for the power of this being was vast.
Again the scene changed. At the brim of a pit he stood, a cold howling wind piercing his ears as it entered the murk of the chasms depths. Fixated, he leaned forward, knowing he would fall but already enticed. Eyes glowed up at him from the base of the abyss, yellow like a wolf and full of power and evil and hate. They probed him, widening as if in shock before pulling on him again with renewed fervour. Jabin's knees began to fold even as he screamed rejection at what was happening. The cavernous black and hateful eyes enclosed their embrace.
The image cast itself across his abating mental command, the brief image of an Azure. No more than a whispered form, it was enough. The hold was shattered. With sudden clarity, Jabin remembered Sosthene's warning to dwell on no one thing and with a mental-discipline found normally only in the highly trained, Jabin banished the notion of the creature from his mind, clearing his thoughts of those dreadful cries.
With jolted suddenness he reached the end of the tunnel. All became bright spinning pinholes of light within his head. There was only disorientation as sound and blurred images bled apart from each other in lingering shifts. Then, with a snap, all came into focus.
Jabin found himself looking down from a great height on a land he did not recognise. It was not Triad. This he knew, for the Magi had shown him maps of his home with its distinct battle-axe shape. This land bore no resemblance.
More disturbing to Jabin, was the fact that by rights he should be hurtling at velocity to the ground beneath. Instead he remained suspended, as it were, on nothing. Looking down to see what was supporting him, Jabin received a greater shock, he could not see nor sense his physical body at all. A dread arose in him, his mind grappling with the messages it was receiving. It was the voice of an Azure that again rescued him from the uncomprehending terror of his situation.
‘Jabin! Jabin, do not be afraid.’ The voice belonged to Sosthene.
‘What is happening? Where are we? Where are you?’ Jabin frantically looked about in search of the Ancient.
‘Jabin, I am too drained of strength to speak long, so listen well. You cannot see me just as I cannot see you. Our bodies are not with us in this place.’ Sosthene spoke quickly, though calmly, aware of the fragility of Jabin’s mental hold on the situation. ‘What you are experiencing is the awakening of your magical potential. A part of that awakening involves what the Ancients refer to as The Recalling.
‘The land you see before you is the Motherland, the ancient home of your forebears. All who experience the recalling see what you are about to witness from a unique perspective. You will witness our history as it was at the beginning of the gift of magic, what we believe to be the greatest of all God’s gifts to man. You do not have to fear, for the things you will see are long past, you will be nothing more than a spectator to a history that now also belongs to you.’ Sosthene's voice sounded strained, as if he were in pain. ‘I must return to my own body now Jabin, watch well young king, and learn. Do not be afraid.’
The last words were just audible to Jabin, but the significance of the words “young king” remained loud in his ears.
Calmer after the reassuring words of the Magi, Jabin directed his awareness back to his surroundings and noted with surprise that he was no longer miles above the land but in a large forest glade. From the thick carpet of snow covering the ground, he guessed it to be winter, and deep into it, though he could feel neither the bite of the air nor the damp of the snowfall.
In the centre of the clearing, almost perfect in its circular shape, was a pond of the purest cerulean Jabin had ever seen. Looking up he saw the trees sway in the breeze. Yet, with detached curiosity, he noted the water of the pond remained glassy smooth, no hint of a ripple. At first he thought it had iced over, but on observing the trees of the forest clearly reflected on the ponds surface, he rejected that theory.
It was when he attempted to approach this seeming paradox that Jabin discovered his immobility, stuck fast, it seemed, to his current position. Yet he had no time to dwell on this problem, for entering from the far end of the clearing came a large procession of men.
Their column approached the pond and formed a circle around it. All were young men. All with a strange cast to their countenance, as if walking in their sleep.
Jabin could not help but think he recognised some of these men, though he discarded the thought; he knew all the young men of his home town and none of those were here.
Once circled around the basin of water, each man dropped to his knee and bowed his head. The immediate similarity of this action became obvious to Jabin, but he pushed that aside also, to see what happened next.
With a low rumbling the air began to pulsate and from the pond there came the most beautiful sound Jabin ever heard. Not a sound he could later describe. It filled him with joy. Had his physical body been present, it would have brought tears of rapture to his eyes. This ecstasy grew in intensity until he thought he must surely burst, for without doubt no mortal mind could endure such bliss. When suddenly the euphoria altered to an engulfing awe, as each present witnessed a being clothed in white light rise serenely from the crystal waters. If Jabin could have moved, he would have followed the example of the young men and prostrated himself face down on the wet snow, for plainly this entity was a being to be worshipped.
For an indefinite period, Jabin alone was forced to behold a being whose presence simultaneously terrified and mesmerised him.
‘Rise, my favoured ones.’
Jabin saw the lips move but the voice it seemed came from all directions at once, so deep and rich that one would have thought the universe had taken voice and begun to speak. Jabin longed at least to bow before this great one.
At the word of the glowing immortal the gathered men rose to stand and gaze with enthralled eyes upon the speaker.
‘Each of you knows me. You have been chosen and guided to this sacred place for the same purpose...’ As He spoke, the Holy One seemed to emanate an aura of absolute power, an ascendancy that made all standing excruciatingly aware of their inferiority in comparison, ‘...The purpose of guiding, protecting and teaching the rest of mankind on the world of Asasa. You are to be my High Priests.’
With the last word the Holy One raised his hands. From his body emanated luminous beams that speed toward each of the men, encasing them in an envelope of purest light. Time again froze, as if it was of no consequence. Nothing of earth and nature moved as the glowing One silently communicated his will with each man present. One by one the glow around each dimmed, to leave the men in a lesser but continuing nimbus.
The Holy One spoke aloud again. ‘To you I give the gift of Dunamis, the ability to draw on the strength of your God through the channel and facets of the supernatural and its mysteries. From this day forward you shall be hailed as the Azure Magi, the priests of the Most High. As you learn of the facets of this gift, so you will learn of me. To each of you I have given a partial understanding, a foundation for you to build on together. But know this, none of you is above the other, united you must serve me, divided you will fall.’
A book of great volume and of shining silver appeared in his hand. ‘To the whole, I give you this. This tome will be to you both guide and law; its words are final and its mysteries deep. Study it dutifully and live by it faithfully, for by it will things of the future be foreknown and the path for your feet to take be revealed. Be true my Priests.’
With that the holy one turned and, to Jabin’s wonder, stared openly at him—smiling. As he began to slowly sink back beneath the sacred waters of the pond, he pointed almost casually and released a stream of light in Jabin’s direction.
Wishing to flinch away, Jabin nonetheless felt nothing. Looking back to the pond, he was greeted with the bewildered faces of all the young men looking back at him. Glancing down he now saw the rest of his body, though not one of flesh. Opalescence. A glowing skin of myriad coloured lights. In panic Jabin looked again to the pond, in time to see the smiling face of the holy one sink into the mirrored surface of the waters, yet not before he heard uttered four more words, words that Jabin were convinced spoken to him.
‘You are the beginning.’ Then all was darkness.