The Dark Mirror (story)
"What follows is a philological reconstruction of a Faendryl 'faerie tale' from several thousand years ago. The legend has surfaced in various forms and titles over the centuries. It is customary to instruct the young with horror stories. But while this tale was intended for older adolescents, its political content was long a source of controversy. It has the dubious honor of an especially sordid history of book burnings or being banned and placed on blacklists. Its author was rumored to have been condemned to the asylums. This was more a punitive than a palliative measure, a question of the subject of well-being."
Lord Xorus Kul'shin, Vice Chancellor Emeritus
Hazalred Thaumaturgical Institute
22nd Fashanos, 5119 Modern Era
In the wasteland of the fallen empire was the desert jewel of our royal daughter, whose father bore within his bloodied heart the shards of a world of broken dreams. It was the irony of our age of progress, its visionary purging his haunted memories with this mausoleum of vaulted monuments, blinding the past in a whitewash of alabaster and the glimmer of new horizons. There was nothing of the lost who had brought to light the world without them. It was as much a necropolis of honeyed catacombs for the still living as a city of hopes in the desolation of yesteryear.
In those early ages the young knew nothing of the old ways --- the skyless nights and starless darkness --- nor the dread of wandering too far into the deepest caves. These were the children who knew naught of horror and war, nor the travails of hunger nor hardship, so unburdened were they of trauma and betrayal. They could understand nothing of their elders, only the hatred and resentment toward themselves.
There in the shadow of the Basilica with its oppressive glare under the noon-day sun --- past the alleys and vars, the valley of merchants, nestled in a cul-de-sac of ivory and lor --- was the modest estate of a most harsh and hateful tyrant. No one had ever known such cruelty as this child, so severe was his widowed father.
To play when company was about was three lashes of the switch; never unkempt a cummerbund or waistcoat button undone, lest the birch be raised to the hazel rod. For dust to accumulate in the private quarters was among the gravest of crimes. Trespassing in the workshop, of course, was the most forbidden. Libraries meant for children were in the parlor. Grimoires and ink-papers of runes lit from onyx braziers, fine powders of chalcedony, these were the secrets kept behind locked doors.
One night the young boy was sulking after a particularly grievous infraction, having been sent to his bedchamber without wine for wearing mismatched cufflinks at supper. The ethereal luminescence of the Patriarch's Palace lit the colored crystals in the adjacent boulevard, casting its spectral kaleidoscope on his chamber wall. To him it was a gaudy and suffocating suppression of the moons and stars. The wonders of the heavens and the world out there, he felt with the all knowing authority of a child, were lost on these old fools with their worlds beyond.
Hearing at first only a light scuttling, it sounded as if a lizard had snuck into the room in the pockets of darkness, perhaps a chameleon cloaking itself in the lights. Shuffling grew into thumping. Things were bumped like a mouse in a cupboard.
With the sound so close to his bed, the boy resolved his bloody intent. This was his room and he meant to be alone in it. Seizing the opportunity, he leapt fiercely from his bedding, candelabra tightly in fist. Suddenly lighting the room with the very instrument of death, he swung his blazing cudgel through the air with terrible might. Scrambling soon turned into crashing. Squealing in surprise, a small imp had fallen from the shelving, huddling itself up in the corner. It was vainly trying to remain hidden under a cloak of scarlet and grey. In shock the boy had dropped his improvised mace on the stone floor, clanging with a voluminous reverberation, reaching past the doorway and loudly through the hallways.
His surprise was swiftly replaced with dread. Time slowed to a crawl as he cringed at what he had just done, almost completely forgetting about the intruder cowering in the corner. Silence was met with more silence, only an ominous nothingness. Father must have had too much wine again. Thankfully just enough.
This silence was broken with cackling and giggling, which startled the boy horribly. That was not the sound of a harmless imp. Without knowing now if it was only some household servant, the boy jumped back frightened. This was immediately met with peals of laughter as the figure threw the cloak aside revealing itself. It was like no demon the boy had ever seen, more homunculus or tiny miniature than a real person. It was stumpy and rounded like a half breed, with purple eyes and ears like an elf, but the beard of a dwarf woman. It was wearing some kind of jewelry under its little red hat, made from what appeared to be links of mismatched silverware, with his own missing cufflink as the center gem.
"Burglar!" The young boy exclaimed. "What kind of imp are you?!"
"Imp, imp, imp!" The strange interloper imitated back at the boy, much like an imp, but without the cacophonous shrieking or shifting faces. It was a most strange thing when it then went further, speaking the strange dialect of Elven the boy only ever heard when he was made to attend the operas. "Impostor! Imperious! Important!" The thing was mocking his own voice like a shadowling, impersonating his sullen seriousness. "Important elf! Important elf is so important!"
"Clearly you are someone I know playing a prank," the young boy scowled, trying to imagine which of his school mates was toying with him. "This is just some darkling made to look like.. like a... what are they called, some gnoll!"
"Gnoll!" The thing lurched out of the shadows into the light. To the dismay of the now hesitating boy, it was able to keep speaking away from the shadows. "Uncivilized! Gnolls know nothing of pranks, only gnomes know pranks!" Incredulous, the boy assumed an air of authority, scoffing at this nonsense.
"Gnome isn't a word! You are just some burglar gnoll!"
"Am not! Am not!" The thing tapped its little staff on the ground, making its gears whirl about its reshaping cap. "Burghal gnome! There are no burgle gnolls, only burghal gnomes! What you know not you call by what you know. What you do not know is what you gno, and me I know I am a gnome, and burgle is who I be!"
"That.. that is meaningless rhetoric," the boy snorted, unsure how to respond. "Then you must have escaped from the zoo. One of those aberrations made by the chimera weavers. A circus performer. Made from one of those demon worshipping pygmies beyond the southern jungles and nasty little gremlins. That is the only thing clever about you. Now, admit it. Who are you?" The gnome laughed.
"You know me, silly Elf! You named me! I am Burgle the Burghal Gnome!"
Convinced that this could be no ordinary prank and at a loss for what else to do, the young boy relented and indulged this ridiculous creature with its whimsical absurdity. "Fine. Where do you burglar gnomes come from that you speak Elven?" With a malicious glint in its eyes, the gnome grinned, telling the young boy: "Burgle is from the East! Of course Burgle speaks Elven, the Elves live in the East!" This infuriated the boy instantly.
"Elves live right here!" He snapped. "Those traitors murdered our Princess!"
Burgle snorted and mocked the boy. "Dark Elves! Evil and false, evil and false! Not real Elves are the Dark Elves!" The young boy cursed in the low tongue and the gnome cackled. "Yes, yes! Speak your demon tongue, Dark Elf! Kill all the Elves! That is the way of Dark Elves!"
"They started it! They banished us for saving them! They killed Princess Chesylcha! They attacked our ships first!"
"Ashes, ashes! They all drown drown!" Burgle danced around the boy. "The ill esteem! Valor and vain!"
"Faendryl! Feigned royals!" Burgle singed and jumped around. "Dark Elves! Savages like cave gnomes!"
Flames burst in the young boy's hands as his temper flared, but before anything could come of it, he was sprayed with a stream of water from the whirling staff. Burgle laughed and laughed. "Worry not, silly cave elf! Burgle is here to help!" Seething but calming down, the boy narrowed his eyes, the sopping wetness hiding a trace of tears. He quietly asked help with what. "Why, with the Elves, of course! Cave elfs aren't so bad. Neither are real elfs!"
Biting his tongue, the boy tried to mask his curiosity. "What would you know about it?"
"Gnomes know all about it! Gnomes split, split, just like Elves! Some gnomes live in the forest. Some gnomes live with humans. Some live with Elves. Burghal gnomes have seen all of the things!"
"What things..." the young boy could not resist asking. "... What have you seen?"
"Wondrous things! Burgle is a Winedotter Gnome! Elves love wines! It makes us sing the songs of Maeli Gerydd's, the Loenthra who with Chesylcha died! The Illistim make big ships float in the sky! See the clouds from up high, look down on mountains nigh! Fly over buildings like birds. Their queen made them fly, all through the sky! She loved your princess, they were bestest friends! She was very sad. Very, very sad."
The boy struggled with ambivalence upon hearing these words. He felt he had heard something like this before, his elders speaking of the politics preceding the war. It was not the Illistim who murdered the Princess, after all, nor a Loenthran bardess. What if this thing who had traveled the world knew what it was talking about? He found himself unable to avoid being fascinated with thoughts of skyships flying over the clouds, making specks of the cities below and seeing the stars in all their glory.
"Their Queen is still sad about the murder of our Princess?"
"That was many gnomes ago, silly Elf. The Mirror is not the same Mirror. This Mirror only loves shoes and glimaerstones!" This was irritating, but the boy remembered that most pets are short lived, and he was likely already older than this thing. "Accepts the gnomes she does! They wanted to kill us, but we only help! Dark Elves do not like gnomes yet. That is why Dark Elves are still agnostic!"
"That is rubbish word play, imp thing. Gnomes have nothing in common with the Arkati. Father says they are like human children who become prodigies at counting after being kicked in the head by mules."
Burgle was amused. The gnome went on to explain every bloodline needed a queen. Some cursed gnomes were tricked for serving Imaera, and seeing this folly, others will one day favor the Dark Mistress and rule themselves with young girls as queens. Some day when the Dark Elves accept the help of the gnomes, there will be a gnome queen living below the palace itself. The interloper insisted the gnomes of Rhoska-Tor have their own, and that the boy really must come see their gnome queen.
"Why must I come see your Gnome Queen?" The boy asked incredulously, but dishonestly. "Why would I even bother?"
"The stars said you must!" This caught him most off guard. Burgle abruptly tossed a scatter of starstones to the ground from a dark pouch that had been tied to his waist. They came in many colors, shapes and sizes, with Burgle making noises of mystical portent. "Smoke seers are the Dark Elves! Ivas is their Queen! For us we know the stars, and for us the stars will bend! Lumnis' ring is to be seen! Past and future, now and then. Quest to knowledge, you must reach its end!"
Without so much as a chance to process what he had just heard, Burgle took off out the door down the hallway. The boy was alarmed and chased after it, afraid it would wake up his father. He was horrified to discover that Burgle had gone down the stairs to the basement and saw him effortlessly defeat the lock to the workshop. Too afraid to shout out, the boy slipped through the chamber portal to protest inside it, but upon closing it behind him he could find no trace of the burglar.
It was only after a few moments that he heard Burgle flipping books open and upside down, shaking them and tossing them aside, all the while tinkering with baubles and orbs from closed cases. "Stop!" The boy whispered urgently. "He will be furious!" Burgle ignored him while spinning a valential astrolabe on the workbench.
"We are not allowed to be in here, Burgle!" The gnome waved him off dismissively. "You are not allowed in here, silly Elf. Burgle is not allowed out there, either!" This was a twisted logic that the boy found frustratingly difficult to reject in spite of its wrongness. "There is no reason for us to be in here, we have to leave now!" Burgle scoffed. "Quest to see the Burghal Queen cannot be, unless you become small like me; and since the future is not past, widen widen the walking pass!"
With that the gnome jumped down from the table holding an expensive piece of chalk made from what looked to be despanal. Before the boy could object, the gnome was absconding with it out the door, making its way back to the room. Torn between incalculable risks, the boy tried to put everything back in place, hiding the evidence they had been in the workshop.
When he made it back to his bedroom he saw the gnome drawing an exotic summoning circle around the starstones, with curving lines between them making cryptic runes of chalk on the floor. It was baffling that some gnome would know how to do such a thing, and more than a little disturbing. Slowly a glowing fissure began growing within the circle, spreading along jagged branches interlacing the glyphs. It widened into a narrow crack of pitch blackness that was disorienting when the boy stared into it too directly. Without so much as an incantation or utterance, he witnessed a portal between worlds reveal itself.
"What.. what did you do?!" The boy gasped. Burgle skipped around the outside of the summoning circle humming to himself. "Burgle does nothing! Burgle only makes you see the stars!" Those are not stars, the boy replied. It was a tear in the fabric of reality. He demanded Burgle explain how he made it.
"Where did you think Burgle cames from? The East? Silly Elf!" Without having guarded his flank in his distraction, the boy failed to deflect the whirling staff from catching his hand. He yelped in pain, the gears drawing blood. The laughing gnome reached his staff over the summoning circle allowing the blood to drop onto the runes. The light of the rift turned to a blood red, bathing the room in incarnadine saturation. The darkness between the light widened further under its own power, warping the glyphs into incoherent patterns. It expanded until the circle was nothing but a void rimmed with infernal red glow.
The young boy stared into the abyss in a kind of trance, losing his ability to focus until he began to wobble and sway. His eyes rolled up into the back of his head, and soon he was only aware of the vague sense of falling. His consciousness drifted until he once again became aware of his own existence, much like waking up from a dream. When he regained his composure he was in his room, but the world itself was wrong.
He could sense the flows of magic around him, and they were strange, somehow foreign in a way he did not understand. The portal in the floor was rimmed with white light and the only thing that felt right. The walls of his bedchamber, however, were still bloody. Turning his head to the window he was stunned to see a towering black keep where the palace should have stood. Instead of the reflections off the whitewashed buildings, there was now ebon in place of ivory, despanal wherever there had once been alabaster. In the night sky were countless unfamiliar constellations, unconcealed by the aura of the Dark Palace, whose eerie glow flooded the walled city with crimson.
"Gnomes live under Elf cities in the between spaces!" Burgle cheered rhapsodically.
"Feigned royals have the best between spaces!"
"This is not under the city! This..." The boy could scarcely describe how this was possible; surely the harrowers had never encountered so fantastic a thing, so unnerving in its lack of distinction. Was this another vale entirely, or some interstitial void, the pales within our own pocket of reality? "Your kind cannot possibly have built our city. It is a mirror world. You must have squeezed your way through cracks in the mirror."
Burgle bounced around him discordantly singing off key:
"Through cracks and holes, burrows and moles.
Queerer the mirror, nearer the shearer!
Makes the houses, bigger than mouses.
In the end it is all the same!"
What mysteries lay underground in the old places the boy could not say, he had only ever known the shining jewel of the city. He had heard tales of extensive caverns below fallen Maelshyve, where his ancestors had survived their persecution by superstitious and ignorant cousins. Whether there was anything of this place that could help him understand was unknown to him. Most discomfitingly of all, were the gnomes to inherit the old mines and caves, what might have been left behind? It was important to know what these gnomes had meddled with, the young boy reasoned, which meant it was up to him to know what was forbidden by his elders.
Thus consenting to wander the dark city, the boy followed the gnome down the stairs and out into the street, making their way from the var to the adjacent boulevard. Walking the streets were glowing spectral forms in fancy dress ignoring their surroundings, with upturned noses and rigid sneers, a mockery of haughty Faendryl with their condescending disdain. The ethereal wisps broke apart and coalesced again as an aristocrat walked through the boy as if one or the other did not exist.
Soon they were in the ward with the traders and merchants, and rather than the guilds of the emporion, there was a bazaar of street vendors who were little more than pawnbrokers for stolen magical items. It was a chaotic bedlam of gnomes tinkering with amulets and orbs, inscribing random glyphs onto buildings, incanting rune intaglios and disassembling puzzle boxes. Cacophony was wedded to dissonance in the tick-tocking of gnomish horologes and stardials. With little minstrels wandering about the black market, banging metallic xylophones with wands as drumming sticks, hollow tubes pierced the mind with all the harmony of an Ithzir choir.
Grimoires were ripped and torn with individual pages scattered about and swapped freely. Burgle grabbed an isolated parchment blowing around and invoked it with sparks of light, pulling an agitated chalky white imp through a rift which began wringing its hands anxiously. The imp blew outwards shrieking with unintelligible voices in uncontrolled dismay. Burgle waved at the imp which made it cock its head quizzically sideways at him.
Its body rippled with crimson and its face shifted in exact mimicry of the gnome, who dubbed the creature the Impostor. "Impostor needs a friend!" Burgle swung his staff around summoning one of the spectral fey from the sidewalk toward them, its silvery lights reforming to resemble an exceedingly serious young Faendryl boy. The imp stared at the imitation and briefly mimicked its face before shrieking again in waves and ripples. Burgle laughed and laughed. The young boy himself was not amused. Suddenly the uncontrolled imp ran off on its own, having not been secured with any kind of linking magic, leading the spectral mockery around aimlessly.
"Where is that demon walking its master?" The boy huffed indignantly.
"Impostor puts the silly Elf in the zoo!"
Throughout the thoroughfare were any number of minor demons, which was common enough for civilized society, but they were all running wild having not been bridled. The lamp crystals were burning with balefire in a bilious green as they wandered deeper into the dark city. Gargoyle statuary had been replaced with sculptures of gremlocks. Labyrinthine stairs whether about parks or buildings led in impossible directions, some up into seemingly nothing, others upside-down or configurations of up and down that defied orientation. However fantastic and exotic the city, the young boy was fascinated with the night sky.
Overhead the stars moved at a speed that was just perceptible to the eyes. It was as vibrantly detailed as what he had seen far out in the desert away from the city, though without any moons in sight. In curiosity he asked Burgle why the stars moved as they did. The gnome pulled out a mechanical contraption with rapidly spinning arms on its indecipherable face, some kind of clockwork that would seem to be useless. "Time is almost up!"
"What are you talking about?" The boy inquired of the gnome. "We have only just arrived. I have not even seen the palace or your Gnome Queen."
"Time flies, flies, all through the sky! Where it is day it cannot be night!"
Concerned, the boy began wondering if this was a place like forbidden Lorae'tyr, where time runs at speeds other than our own world. What if this gnome knew his history because he had witnessed it? Growing uncomfortable with these thoughts, the young boy agreed that it was time to leave the dark city. Burgle seemed amused. "You would tell the sun and moons and stars when to rise, and you all say it is the gnomes who are mad! Imperious Elfs are impious!"
"Time is up when night turns to day on its own?" The young boy inquired. "Worry not, silly Elf! Time is up!" Burgle pointed at the whirling clock. With its hypnotic ticking and swirling patterns, the boy's surrounding vision grew indistinct, the world melting into a disoriented jumble until bleeding into a flash of light.
Soon he was aware of himself standing in his room again, with the chalk of the summoning circle still on the floor. The tear in reality was gone, and the gnome was no where to be seen. Hours must have passed in the otherworld even though it had only seemed to have been minutes. Daylight was rising over the horizon. He must have been pulled back by a thread in much the same way as an obedient demon when its control has expired. There was a sinking feeling as the boy realized he needed to sweep up the chalk marks and pretend to have slept before being caught.
The young boy quickly swept the floor and scuffed what remained of the markings. In the nick of time he slipped into the sheets of his bed, feigning unconsciousness, having heard distant scampering down the corridor. Moments later an inquisitive alabaster imp was peeking around the corner, poking its featureless head into the bedchamber. Ripples of rainbows flowed over its wrinkled skin as the sunlight hit it. The imp shrieked in alarm.
When the boy made a play of stirring in his bed, the imp turned and scuttled further down the hallway. It was time to begin the morning ritual of grooming and dressing for breakfast. He rose from his bed and selected a pressed uniform he would be expected to wear at his studies. The boy inspected the creases to make sure they were in order, without any ruffles in the back nor unkemptly hung fabrics, and ensuring he had not yet outgrown the tailoring.
Walking downstairs to the dining hall, the boy primly took his seat at breakfast. There were no party guests today for him to risk further embarrassment to his family. Father was at the other end of the witchwood table silently reading a morning pamphlet. He held his tongue having not had his presence acknowledged. Serving imps wandered out with trays and set the table with cured meats, basilisk eggs and exotic spices. The sommelier first poured a merlot. It turned to walk toward the young boy, but before it could move three paces, it was smacked across the face by father.
"Not this vintage, thing." His voice was cold, filled with detached indifference, without having looked up. "Dandelion wine for the boy. He has not earned better."
When the servants had finished setting the table and stood back in idle attention, there was no signal of beginning from father for the commencement of breakfast. He ignored his surroundings, continuing to read his papers. In a pause of a few awkward moments, followed by more silence, the boy quietly cleared his throat. "Honor and glory to the Patriarch, for whom we thank..."
"You are too old to be mouthing that nonsense." Father kept reading, scolding effortlessly. "That school is rotting your mind."
"Yes, father." The young boy nervously shifted in his seat, trying to think how he could prove his worth. "The Patriarch has brought us a marvelous city, the envy of the world. To him we owe our abundance of..." He was once again cut off by his father. "The guilds built the city. Miners quarried, masons mortared, carpenters hewed. Rythwier never worked a day of it. No one outside these walls envies the Faendryl. Vanity is all the rest."
"Surely, some would imitate our great works..." the boy reluctantly offered, "... even if they would not admit they were imposters. Some day there will be songs of the wonders of our city, more famous than those of Maeli Gerydd of the Loenthra, who died with Princess Chesylcha." There was only a subtle shift in his voice and posture, having sniffed and exhaled audibly, but the boy could sense that was unexpected enough to have succeeded in drawing father's attention.
"Interesting. I would have imagined your tutors putting the dagger in her hand." Father turned a page and continued. "Her brother bankrupted that family. He failed to accept her death. Your 'Princess Chesylcha' and 'marvelous city' are no different. Save an idiot father rather than brother."
"But.. father, the Patriarch... her murder set sail a thousand ships, for justice against the traitors and a great victo..." His father scowled and dropped what he was reading. "That atrocity was a slaughter that killed all of my brothers and annihilated our closest ally. For what? Honor, pride? He had more daughters, Ashrim still had sons. It was idiotic to waste so much building a fleet to humble them on their greatest strength, only to set our people back countless generations."
"They were the villains, father!" The young boy protested. He had come to suspect he was meant to earn respect in this way. "It was an act of war and they drew blood rather than give up their traitors! We won!"
"Would you imagine the fools who tell you such things turning over the Patriarch to hostile powers," his father condescendingly sneered, "that our imperial summoners would simply yield before the dread of some rabble of poorly mastered imps? That we would have learned our lesson without eternal resentment had we been humiliated in our own lands? Has it no din of familiarity?" He scoffed. "What victory is there in ruling over an empire of ash? The battle was lost. What those sorcerers refused to accept in their arrogance cost us everything. The sacrifices of our ancestors were squandered to butcher helpless women and children."
"What else could they have done but surrender and humiliate themselves?!" The young boy raised his voice defensively, feeling hopelessly out of his element. His father smirked with obvious satisfaction, as though the boy had made a fatal error. It was as if he held the imperfections of the boy's soul up to the light, once again proving a weakness his son was not great enough to master.
"With our losses so horrendous, our enemies so wedded to injustice, our menace so misleadingly revealed as hollow..." Father made a point of emphasizing these last words. "... the foreign courts would have turned on our enemies. Illistim and Loenthra, personally aggrieved. Vaalor seduced by their fetish for valiant sacrifices. The Ashrim traitors would have lost the faith of their people, the pyrrhic victory sealing their guilt. The Nalfein would have found themselves isolated."
"In the grandest magnanimity of a mourning father and a bloodied nation, Patriarch Rythwier Sukari would have wed another daughter to House Ashrim, mastering all moral authority for generations. The war was lost because inexperienced conscripts with no mind for stratagem could not suffer a loss blindly avenging one dead girl."
The young boy was speechless, his jaw slightly dropped. "Which is it, boy? Was the war with the Ashrim or the Nalfein? Was the Patriarch a visionary or a fool, were his summoners traitors or heroes? Is there a difference when truth is treason and imitation is the sincerest form of mockery?" Father resumed reading his papers indifferently. "Whether your 'marvelous city' is truly great hinges on whether the Patriarch had the steel to kill his own daughter."
He swallowed and attempted again. "The Nalfein would commit such crimes. What we master is unrevealed power, allowing others to circle us. The central axis of power."
"Better. But what do you know of the art of concealed power? You fancy yourself a conjurer, like your dead mother." The young boy bit his tongue and resisted lashing out. He would surely have been beaten with the rod for taking such easy bait. "It is the power to be concealed, father. Without it there are only lies. That is what makes us greater than the Nalfein. 'To each summoner, a legion.' May we all reach such heights."
"We achieve greatness through the merits of our actions." The young boy asserted, staying his course. "In this way the cream rises to the top. The most powerful sorcerers, the most learned summoners, the..." Once again his father cut into him. "You think of 'demons' as these little imps --- indexed in a gilded catalog by the overblown insect hobbyists and maggot collectors of the Basilica --- whose greatest ambition in this world is to bury their names in some list serving no purpose but the breeding of bore worms. It is a frivolous and useless exercise of librarians playing at delusions of fame and power."
"For a great achievement there can be no denial, father. To each of us there is the potential of greatness if we reach out and take it. That is our way."
Sighing with disappointment, father eased his attack. "What you must learn is that none of us has such choices. Within the walls was apportioned familial wealth, the land expanding never after. To the selections of highest posts is merely a choice among highest pedigrees. The work you speak of must be attended by hired enforcers of the law. Whom do you imagine fashioned it thus, with so much pomp and expense for unproductive labor? Who is threat enough to the crown? Who may afford the luxury of so many Palestra for the truly dangerous horrors, those prized and feared by our ruling powers, or the innumerable hapless apprentices who hazard the actual disembowelment but receive none of the credit?" The young boy frowned. "'To each summoner, a legion.' Indeed."
"There were no Palestra academies when I was your age. There was no need for them. You would open jars with crossbows and call it progress." Father waved his hand dismissively. "Finish up. You will be late for your indoctrination."
The boy quietly ate his food, which was now barely warm. He took solace in having come out without marks to show for it, but his failures stuck with him. He imagined himself now as an ox, tilling the soil or churning the wheel, chasing carrots held forever out of reach. When he went for the door he more felt than heard the cold voice behind him. "Tell the state what it wants to hear. But remember you are expected to know better. Knowing your place, and staying in it."
The young boy wandered the boulevard under the glare of ivory and desert heat, making his way to his academy in the clerical district. Thoughts of the dark city had all but vanished from his imagination, its libertine chaos now little more than the implausible dream of a fevered mind. The walls closing in on him had never felt so certain in their imprisonment of duty and country.
Classes proceeded with the usual rote exercises. Repetitions of wand work. Recitations of royal hagiography for hours on end. They produced dozens of near perfect renderings of single runic symbols, both by brush and verlok quill, wasting neither paint nor ink and without the guide of stencils. The young boy received the highest marks for penmanship, the proverbial feather in his cap. It was lacking in prestige compared to the teacher's pet, however, that insufferable Mharcuis Silvius, the much ado who had only a week ago summoned nothing less than an abyran'sa in his reading with the headmaster himself.
In the recess he found his hand was still sore from having been cut by that clockwork staff. There were now black tendrils sprawling from the wound, with isolated markings of shadow gradually revealing themselves. They increasingly resembled the starstone pattern of that summoning circle, or so he felt, unable to concentrate well in his tiredness. His wagging off from sleep was now weighing on him heavily. He found himself drifting under a lor tree, and eventually lost himself in it.
The next thing he knew he was awake again, his truancy betrayed to the headmaster, tattled by none other than that fiend Mharcuis Silvius. He was not only tardy but had missed whole instructions. Worst of all, if matters could be any worse, his clothes were sullied with sap. The bloody tree had oozed all over him, an inexplicable effrontery without precedent. Whatever it was they had done to make the things grow in these conditions, surely, or else some vicious incrimination conspired by that scoundrel. The sadistic wit of it, thinking himself so terribly clever, "planting" it! There could be no doubt of it. The calumny of that perfidious rapscallion.
Too disoriented and victimized by the insults of knavery to grasp the weight of his situation, he was failing to heed matters as they appeared to the headmaster. His punishment quickly escalated beyond the wrist slaps of detention and corporal punishment. Nor was accusing the true villain of this whole affair well advised. It was only when he heard father had been notified of his suspension and early dismissal that his seething sobered enough to fully appreciate his circumstances.
There was no time to prepare his excuses as the clerisy had arranged portals between his house and the academy. It was only moments before father arrived from work and was dragging him by the arm to their manor which itself was mere feet away. Through the foyer to the stairwell, father stormed up the steps with him, the boy almost stumbling several times. "That is what I am paying this exorbitant tuition for?" His father snarled. "For you to sleep all day in the park like a homeless beggar!" He shoved the young boy into his bedchamber, ripping into him without ceremony.
"Then you may earn your keep in debtor's prison! Stay in your asylum all night!" The young boy had tears streaming down his face and began pleading for mercy. "Father! You do not understand! That Mharcuis Silvius hexed me! He cursed the tree! Look at my clothes, all of the sap! It is unnatural!"
"As if that mattered!" Father backhanded the boy across the face, knocking him to the floor. "Accusing the Silvius boy after what I just told you, not several hours ago! Do you even listen?"
"I do not..." The young boy sobbed. "Why?!"
"If you lack the discipline for effortless paper pushing, I will have you work for gruel apprenticing with the ditch diggers. You can take your lunches in the sewers!" Father held a disgusted expression mouthing to himself in silent exasperation, looking around the boy at the surrounding floor with perplexed dismay, the thin dust left behind from sweeping now clearly visible under the mid-day sun.
His eyes halted on a corner of the room that was only dimly-litten in the morning. Walking over to it he leaned down sternly and picked something up from the floor. It was the remnants of an expensive chalk made from despanal.
"What is this?" His father was glaring with hatred in his eyes. "What the bloody hell were you doing in that workshop?!" The young boy stammered incoherently, unable to explain himself. "It was the gnomes! They stole..." He was abruptly interrupted by the lash. "Gnomes! That is your excuse?! Faeries and gremlins?" The hazel rod became a close acquaintance, sharing many tender memories that would not soon fade away.
The young boy cried himself to sleep, broken more in spirit than body. His father had locked him in the room with a bedpan --- assuring that if he was to see the sun, it would only be through the window. There was an odd comfort in the isolation. It was as if he could now regress in inverted recapitulation of his whole life; shrinking ever further into himself, becoming a homunculus in the womb, and ultimately ceasing to exist entirely.
It was dark when he became aware of himself again. Sound drifted up from the dining hall downstairs, the muffled voices of numerous guests. He was not invited. Nor would he be surprised if he were the only one in the city without an invitation. It was an elaborate banquet undoubtedly gathered to accentuate his own absence from the affairs of society. His nemesis was likely downstairs drinking merlot, or perhaps chianti, maybe even the reserved cabernet in the wine cellar. Sitting in his very own chair. Impressing them all with his summoning of serpent priests. How precocious. Gifted. Great things and good fortunes.
In the same vacuous breaths they were all oblivious to his own spectacular accomplishments. The rift to a mirror world of our own city, but far grander, with more expensive materials. The discovery of a new class of imp things as servants. Thieves of our greatest secrets, a threat to the state itself. Was there ever a younger name inscribed in the Book of Records, much less the abridgments of the Enchiridion Valentia itself? They would have to name the school after him.
His muscles ached under his own weight, but the boy slid off his bed, placing his feet on the floor and stood himself upright. "Master of unrevealed power..." he murmured to himself. He quietly crept across the bedchamber feeling around where the rift had been last night. It might only reveal its hidden dimension when approached from precisely the right angle, he thought, like broken glass that only catches the hand in certain directions. He reached out his wound from the night before and pinched into it, forcing a drop of blood to fall. It was caught in mid-air. The infernal red glow returned, seeping along the edges of the rift.
It was a narrow tear in the fabric of reality, he could barely plunge his own hand into its width. "Burgle!" He whispered urgently into the void, but not so loudly as to be heard downstairs. There was only nothing. Within moments the incarnadine light faded away, leaving only the street lights off the boulevard. His spirit once again thrown into the pit of despair, he returned to bed and buried his face in the pillows. Hours passed. In time there was no sound from anywhere in the manor.
"Feigned royals have invented their own stardials. When the silly Elf sees its shadow, it knows how much longer it will be sad!"
The boy muffled his voice into the pillow. "That would make me the gnomon." Burgle laughed.
"The silly Elf is learning!" Burgle shuffled up to the side of the bed and shook the mattress. "Why is the gnome-elf so sad when it is only right twice a day?"
"You were right. Dark Elves are evil and false." The young boy sniffled. "It is all lies and illusions to keep us imprisoned within these walls. They would murder their children, hating themselves for their own imperfections. Cruel to slaves because they are not allowed to lord over their equals. Isolated forever."
"Is that all?" Burgle giggled. "They banished you here, and it took you this long? Dark Elves are not very bright!"
"You would not understand. You are free to wander the world. Free for all the world to visit. This was a forsaken and damned place long before the Faendryl made civilization in it. Why would your kind come here of all places, the wretched place of the condemned, in the most forbidden wasteland?"
"Gnomes make it all better!" Burgle squealed. "Gnomes will help their hosts be better at what they are best. We become bestest!"
"How would gnomes even help? The world is not fair, Burgle. You are not allowed here. Just as we are not allowed out there."
Ignominious to the marrow, the imp burst into sing-song spectacle, without the courtesy of an elegy to shame:
"Gnomes make it better anyways! We take impurities out of the gem so it shines!
Dark Elfs and Cave Elfs, Fiend Elfs and Feigned Elfs! We welcome all the Elfs
In the between spaces of the jewel city. Our discipline rules all worlds!"
"Why would you impersonate us?" The young boy asked rhetorically, wallowing in himself. "It is all frivolous misdirection. Masking chaos and stagnation."
Burgle jumped up on the bed and began singing the wonders of his dark city:
"Burghal gnomes aspire to what we admire, or else we would not have conspired!
But we suffered hopelessly mired. Our hosts never worked as well as desired.
For the Elfs long were we hired, but for us, our Elfs were never inspired.
Then one day the Gnome Queen found her way through the Veils.
In the dark light she shewed the abeyance of the Faendryls.
In her rays, the great city was raised, obeying only the Pales!
There the feigned royals have no masks, only masques of the fey royals.
There we heed not for innovation. Nor still breed for divination.
There you will not be haunted. Freed to be whatever you wanted!"
The young boy wiped his tears and cleared his breathing. "I was unable to stay past sunrise, though. The summoning circle pulled me back."
"Silly Elf! That was what it does! The stars are here regardless." Burgle pointed into the middle of the room, where there was nothing but empty space, except the boy knew there was an invisible fissure in reality. "The problem is you are too big! When you make the problem small, it goes away and away!" The gnome pulled out a small herb sack from his locksmith belt, shaking it over his hand until a few bright red berries tumbled out. He held his palm out to the boy, grinning impishly.
"What are those things?" The young boy inquired skeptically. "Smastan berries! They make you teeny tiny, and then you grow back up!"
"These will shrink me so I am small enough to walk through the rift?" The boy took a few of them in his hands, inspecting them carefully. "Yes! They makes you itty bitty, and then they stop working. You get big again and stay that way! Then you will be walking through the between spaces where the gnomes live like Elves!"
The young boy gazed at the little fruits in his hand, reflecting on the freedom they offered. The keys to the iron maiden of his life. In the dark city there would be no limits on what he would be allowed to see and know. Without the constant judgment of elders or peers, the measures of state, neither censorship nor punishment. Chaos would be honest. Without blame or fault. Nor the assumption of consequences. He would no longer wait to know all of those innumerable stolen secrets.
Time would cease to be the hour glass, only ever filling by running out, while somehow always lost in the sands. He would be beyond its bounds, left with pure freedom of accomplishment. The fruits of his labors as manifest as those held in the palm of his hand. There would be nothing preventing him from going wherever he wished.
"Follow me!" Burgle skipped sideways, vanishing into nothingness.
The boy stood where the gnome had just been, weighing the choices in his hand. Some moments passed as he stared into the abyss, until he impulsively swallowed one of the berries. His bedroom began moving, rapidly growing larger. The furniture widened and rose to gargantuan heights. The chamber walls and ceiling expanded into a vast palace with its own spectral lights, its colossal scaffolding now more kin to buttresses reaching into the vaulted darkness than his mundane shelving.
It was profoundly empty. Only now, in the stark relief of the hallowed, was it all so hollow. There was only the glimmer of new horizons. The young boy jumped sideways as the gnome had, and within an instant, it all went away like a bad dream. When the tumult of his vision settled, he was but a speck on the vast stair twisted around a black chasm of doom, carved for the terrible gait of a demon lord or elder baleful dread.
His flesh tingled with the strange aura of the mirror world, his volume expanding back to its normal breadth. Soon the stairwell was not so menacing, merely fire lit with pitch braziers of fiends, casting their fell shadows upon the tower walls. In the moment of apprehension as he absorbed the unfamiliarity of his situation, there was a sound of light scraping, stone upon stone, followed by a soft click. The stone step slid down under the force of his weight, slanting to ever steeper angles. The stairwell followed suit through a hidden mechanism of gears, with the young boy soon losing his footing in alarm, falling rapidly along a now flattened spiral. Its horrifying quickness held him up against the wall, his only guard against the darkness.
The flaming fiends passed over him in a flight of infernal pageantry, a swirling labyrinth of grotesque mockeries, their sinister celebration ending only with his horrid descent through a maw of unspeakable travesty. His body slid through the gullet of the beast and dragged to a halt in its bowels. The gnome laughed and poked him in his belly with the staff. "Fat!" The boy looked around quickly in confusion, discovering he was in a high chamber. The burghal gnome bounced around him.
"What the bloody hell..." The young boy fumed with anger as his fear crested. "Where the hell am I?!"
"The Oubliette!" Burgle beamed. "Welcome to the dungeon of the Mirror's Palace!"
"What kind of depraved host receives their guests in a dungeon?" The boy huffed indignantly, standing himself. "Where is the parlor for foreign dignitaries, the great hall and cabinet?"
"Upstairs! The Faendryl treat their guests the same way." Burgle mischievously teased. "That is why they are cataloged under the Basilica."
"That is not funny." The young boy struggled to not see the humor in it, as he was still quite mad. The walls were lined with barred cells glowing with spectral lights. Within were ethereal apparitions resembling arrogant Faendryl summoners, floating about their ironic prisons with dour humorlessness. "These are the sorcerers who betrayed the Princess and her family!" Burgle darkly joked. He rattled the cages with his staff as they walked by like a cruel warden or zookeeper.
They passed through a trapdoor in the ceiling into a higher level of the Dark Palace, its walls of shadowy glimaerstone lighting the halls with faint crimson. Gnomes were polishing statuary made from exotic metals such as urglaes and black ora, undoubtedly quarried from ore in the great mines of Rhoska-Tor. The young boy recognized them as cast likenesses of fallen Patriarchs, their royal veneers betrayed by ridiculous expressions and silly or otherwise undignified poses.
The lavish jeweled accoutrements belied the curtain wall of the fortress, its murder holes elegantly worked into the voussoirs of the vaulting as constellations. There were decorative colonnades of arches with ribs extending upward at higher heights. The proportions of the hall were strikingly unnatural in their resonance, giving the uneasy feeling of not truly having depth, but instead the illusion of converging upon a vanishing point on the horizon. It was as if the stone was giving way at every moment to portals masked with self-similar painting, or indeed, a hidden web of gates placing them in random halls at indistinguishable points in the symmetry.
When the boy turned around the hall was entirely different, in spite of having seemingly come from that same direction. Braziers reached in staggered rows and heights into the depths, providing ambient saturation off the gold rimmed floor of white marble and crenellated moldings. There were large ornate arches one level higher, gold set into light blue, with domes imprinted within them between perpendicular archways. High above this pattern repeated itself with great celestial lights set in barrel vaults, the patterns of the domes and arches ensconced in nested fractals. The walls were mirrored in such a way as to obscure the curving of the hall.
The gnome suddenly appeared along side him from parts unknown. Burgle tugged on the boy's sleeve and made him follow along the rich corridor. When he attempted to look closer at the patterns, he found they kept receding into mirror images of themselves. This was wondrous. He looked down to comment on it to the gnome, only to discover he was floating a few stories in the air. The higher walls were inlaid with purified veniom, allowing him to look out the elevated windows.
Within this curving ring inside the curtain walls was a towering black keep of dead despanal, but the roofing between them was exotic, fanning out and upward like a dune glider or the unnatural manifolds of some eldritch horror beyond the veil. These were thin shells of hyperbolic geometries unlike anything he had ever seen in construction, doubly ruled through an imaginary fixed plane cutting across the palace itself. The stars somehow reflected off the keep, covering them in shifting patterns. The blackened finger of the spire reached into the heavens, as if the sky itself were made to revolve around its subtle convolutions.
Twisting throughout was a helical curve of some strange alloy, an unholy amalgam of electrum and zorchar with still more dangerous metals, its hovering infinity knot impossible to walk on upright without inevitably defying gravity. It was humming with power, the air around it heavy with ozone, a hint of brimstone in the wafting. There was a ubiquitous shearing, perpetual wailing. Black claws dug into the keep from below, the flying buttresses crawling up it with arcs of energy, a crown of tines violating the sky with inverted spandrels from its highest reaches.
Were the boy himself not floating high with the battlements, he could scarcely imagine how such a thing could have been built. The black keep in the middle of the fortress with the surrounding warping of reality made it all a kind of demented panopticon, lending the dark palace a foreboding air of oppression from the inescapable sense of an omnipresent watcher. It was the work of a madman or incomprehensible genius, if such a distinction were merited at all. The boy was only vaguely aware Burgle was still beside him, telling him more cryptic nonsense, such as "the window is the eye of the soul" and "the mirror takes you wherever you look."
The surroundings blurred until they dissolved into an opulent antechamber, a banquet hall with spectral courtiers performing in masques. There were enormous doors set in the wall. The young boy ignored his surroundings, his eyes fixed on the liminal space, the transition to the black keep. They passed through without walking.
Breathtakingly enormous, the keep was a single hollow space with almost no material in it nor adornment, its seamless walls nothing but the pitch black of obsidian curving up into the darkness. He stood upon the landing of a long pier reaching out across a vast chasm, its single arch unnaturally holding up a central spire floating above the pit. There was only a dais upon it, saturated in white light. The young boy began walking across the dreadful way, haunted by the faint howling of the abyss.
In the depths below he could see only its dark red glow. There was now a vision in his mind of a sea of volcanic rock erupting upwards, somehow held into place with terrible and unimaginable magic, freezing into a solid shell as its immolating marrow receded. It was less a disturbing dream and more a foreign and uninvited memory.
The young boy approached the dais with his burghal gnome, and was soon standing in its white light. His breath escaped him as he gasped in wonder. Within the alabaster light was the form of a beautiful woman, floating high above the dais in the repose of silent waiting. She was wearing nothing but sheer wisps of gossamer. The loose diaphanous gauze drifted in the heated eddies of wind, its sparkle giving the illusion of glistening on her skin. He had never seen such artwork in the flesh.
"The Mirror is the Gnome Queen!" Burgle exclaimed. The young boy was entranced with her closed eyes, staring in disbelief as her hair flowed around her.
"You fool. That is not the Mirror..." The boy swallowed in silent awe of recognition. "... that is Princess Chesylcha."
"What is this place, what have you done..." He spoke to himself dazed. "We brings the Dark Mistress her offerings!" In his confusion the young boy could only murmur to himself incoherently, struggling to make sense of what he had heard. Burgle pulled out his bizarre horologe again and pointed at it. "Time is almost up!"
The woman slowly began lowering from her heights, the infernal pit now glowing more brightly. The crimson light reflected off the black mirror of obsidian, focusing into what appeared to be an enormous heliodor. It was hovering high above the dais up to the lierne vaulting of the black keep. Her bare feet finally touched the dais, her weight now supported by her legs. When the princess opened her eyes they burned with incarnadine flames, fire and ash swirling around as she took her breaths.
"What have you brought me, my faithful servant?" Her voice was a loud whisper in Dark Elven, arriving out of joint from multiple directions.
"Your Majesty, I..." The young boy tried to avert his eyes.
The Dark Queen walked slowly toward him without shame for her state of undress. She stood immediately before him and touched her hand down his cheek, her dark nails grazing along his flesh like talons. The young boy was flushed with confusing feelings. The princess leaned forward as if to kiss him, but her hand instead tightened its grip. The wound on his own hand from the gnome's staff began burning his skin with searing pain. Its black tendrils were now manifestly in the shape of the glyphs and star patterns of the summoning circle from last night.
"This will make a fine vessel for you in their world." The Dark Queen hissed and cooed. Markings began rising on Burgle's neck, who beamed gleefully.
"What is happening?" The young boy wept in pain, his hand throbbing. "I do not understand."
"Zhadu'gno! The bloodmark of the nemesis!" Burgle exclaimed. "Winedotter gnomes are from Nalfein! The Mirror is the mentor for hunting our nemesis! I will be a great summoner, oh you will see, of the feigned royals in their majesty. The obeyance of the Faendryl. In her raise, the great city was razed, abeying only the Pales!"
He begged and reached out to her. "Help me, Princess Chesylcha. I love you."
"Your soul will remain here in the dark mirror, while the world beyond is purified through my children. Aeons ago your kind banished me to this realm. Your blood shall now be my blood. Your flesh shall now be my flesh. In time the corruption will twist you until you are nothing but screams and wails. Oh, yes. My child. Your Mother loves you. Through you I will end what was begun long ago. The Faendryl are now the weapon by which I shall finish the destruction of the Elven Empire."
The young boy stumbled backwards, tears streaming down his face in despair. The Mistress of Maelshyve raised her arms and the infernal glow intensified. Starlight began shining in visible beams through aster opals in the lierne vaulting, bouncing off the obsidian walls of the keep, which were focused by its shape into the great floating heliodor.
The heliodor was increasingly brighter as it was fed with power, usurping the role of the rising sun in the night. The walls of the keep faded into transparency as its despanal lacquer shifted first from utter dark to scarlet with black veins, followed by purple and gold, ultimately bleeding away into crimson stained glass. The dark city was lit brighter by the watchtower, a fell imitation of the day under a black sky. Streams of light shot out from the heliodor through the walls, bending down to the hyperbolic surface below the keep. The starlight held to the same patterns upon it in spite of the motion of the night sky. The revelation of hidden glyphs.
Three ethereal forms floated from the white light to silhouette the Dark Queen. Their figures more sharply came into focus, becoming recognizable as the three sisters of Princess Chesylcha, who were said in their mourning to have guided the wrath upon the Ashrim. They were the ones who had clutched their heads in prophecy.
Their beautiful visages were soon twisted into those of vicious hags, their silent sadness replaced with the shrieking wails of banshees. They flew violently out from her and through the walls of the keep. The young boy fell to his knees grasping his ears in anguish. They were the ones who had claimed their sister was murdered, he wept to himself, it was they who revealed the secret alliance between the Nalfein and Ashrim. Yet here she stood as the very avatar of hatred and destruction.
"Now, you understand. Child." The keep hissed with the echoes of Despana as she spoke aloud. "These little creatures have stolen your highest arts. They have bent the heavens to my will. Celestial alignments are held here in every kind, through every moment of time, at once and forever. Their power is harnessed to tear the Veil."
She pressed her burningly cold body against the young boy from behind, resting her palm on his shoulder and digging her claws into his flesh. Cracks in the sky opened at random and sealed themselves again in unnatural rhythm, each briefly showing some otherworldly vista from the merely alien to the hideous. "Dharthiir is waiting in one of these worlds. I will break the skies of all worlds for him, and the heavens will fall." The young boy shuddered and murmured her general is dead. Low chuckling menaced from behind him, whispering in his ear without leaning down. "Death is but a window. When it shatters you will be doomed for all eternity."
Storms churned over the keep as the concentration of power escalated. The bizarre helical knot surrounding the spire lashed out in violent arcs. The night sky was increasingly filled with eerie viridian lights, the aurora streaking down the spire of the Dark Palace, its circular ring illuminated by the swirling through its mirror hall. Gnomes were now marching up its vertical walls with bloody handaxes. The tempest overhead struck with constant lightning upon the jagged blades issuing from the highest points round the keep. The boy felt the dangerously fluctuating power, which was exacerbating the rifting.
"In the end I will rip apart the very fabric of your world. Your alabaster city will be utterly annihilated." Despana stroked the young boy, cutting him more with her razor nails. "There is poetry in it, is there not? In its place will rise the dark mirror. Your palace replaced with mine, as mine was with yours. Once more a child born from the death of its mother."
The fiery liquid in the pit below them was growing violent and loud, and through its terrible convection echoed the roars of fell beasts freed from the melting. Wings of shadow and flame were arising above the archway, but in that moment the boy stared unwaveringly at the outer edge of the curtain wall. In a brief instant he was at the boundary of the blackened fortress, which dawning upon him was followed by limping up to his feet and running away in terror. Horrible roars sounded on the horizon, buttressed by the wailing of banshees. Gargoyles in the shape of vruul were now vanishing into the darkness from their dreadful mounts on the higher buildings.
The young boy found himself sprinting through a large park near the Dark Palace, with frozen monuments throughout of huge demonic monstrosities writhing in torment. The fountains were geysers of blood under the crimson sun, feral gnomes splashing around in it with wild abandon. The ethereal pedestrians were now more solid and weighed down with heavy chains. They were being forced by their fiendish masters to perform the burdens of heavy labor in the construction of demented edifices and blasphemous reliefs.
He hid himself by ducking through the short-cut of the zoo, expecting to see the extraplanar flora and fauna, as well as the aberrations of chimera weavers. What he discovered instead were twisted cages filled with Faendryl children begging for gruel. The boy stumbled backwards in shock. He heard a familiar voice calling out to him for help. When he turned to look he was faced with Mharcuis Silvius, imprisoned here for gods only know how long. The scion of wealth and privilege did not even seem to know who the young boy was at all. Next to his cage was the ethereal apparition made to resemble himself. The Impostor imp scuttled overhead and shrieked at him.
White light was blurring off the boy toward the ethereal figure, which was slowly becoming more solid with each moment. Mharcuis Silvius weakly begged for help. The boy turned and ran as fast as he could. The lantern crystals burned with the viridian of the aurora, the balefire now manifesting as wailing lost souls gnashing in pain.
The runes inscribed on the buildings by the gnomes were all glowing with stellar power. Rifts were ripping open at random in the streets, worlds of incomprehensible horror disorienting his mind, as if somehow reaching out with shadowed tentacles. The ground had fallen away into pot holes and sewage vents between the pales. In some of these lakes of perdition he saw our world. He was looking through the clouds, soaring above the mountain peaks, making specks of the great Elven cities far below. The slightest misstep would make him fly through the skies like a bird. The ground trembled with minor quakes. It was more like a skyship turning than chthonic undulations.
In the merchant district the chaos had fallen into havoc and bloodlust. The burghal gnomes were savagely striking their Faendryl slaves with crude weapons, now little more than hunch-backed monsters hissing with cackles instead of giggles. Glowing green orbs moved through the black sky, the only hint of the fell predators. He was sure he was being stalked, that one would swoop down and lift him back to the dark palace at any moment. The boy fled further down the boulevard zigzagging toward his manor.
When he turned down the var he found that the cul-de-sac no longer ended in the wall of the city. It had collapsed into the night sky with nothing but the unfamiliar beyond. He peeked over the edge as he made his way past it. The dark city was floating through the stellar abyss on an iceberg of torn earth and rock, suspended over black nothingness much as the dais in the keep. It was as if the whole of Maelshyve had been ripped from our world and plunged into the vast interplanar void. Impaled with this horrible understanding, the boy shook off his momentary paralysis, fleeing inside his manor. He quickly made his way up the stairs toward his bedchamber.
There stood the jagged rift with the borders of white light, the only inexplicable feeling of normality in this wretched hell. The walls were now covered with an oily black ichor and foul toadstools, the fungus of some cavernous otherworld. He took the smastan berries from his pocket, making himself ready to jump through the narrow portal. When he swallowed one his flesh tingled, but then nothing happened. Panicking, the boy swallowed all of the berries, and still nothing happened. Their power did not work in the flows of this world. He grasped his hands vainly through the air, crying out for help.
Suddenly there were bright arcs of magical energy lashing out from the rift, swallowing him in ozone and bursts of heat. He was ripped from the mirror world into his own room, the sun setting on the horizon out his window. Father was there surrounded by robed figures and scarlet triskele insignias, what could only be Basilican sorcerers and Palestra Blades. He was standing amid an intricate summoning circle drawn around the tear in reality powered by the stars of darkest divination.
The young boy squinted in pain, the sunlight hurting his eyes. His skin was pasty grey with colorful growth beginning to sprout on him, resembling the lichen on cavern walls. His muscles felt terribly weak. He was slack and finding it difficult to move under his own power. One of the Palestra approached him and held his forehead. She pulled up his eyelid making him wince and flinch. His pupils were now purple and too sensitive to light. "What is happeni.. I do not feel well, father..."
"It is too late, Magister. He is possessed." The Palestra stepped back from the summoning circle, sheathing her ritual dagger. "The sickness will take him."
"That is a dreadful shame, truly awful." The Basilican Magistrate sighed. "I was hoping we would save one."
There was a sudden hissing as a burghal gnome appeared, jumping on the boy's back and biting into his shoulder. It was knocked down by a thrown blade landing in its chest. Burgle was gurgling with blood. The gnome scrambled back to its feet and was about to lunge forward. He was immediately engulfed with flames of pure essence, the dark catalyst igniting his own aura into an apocalyptic fury of elements. Burgle was thrown to the ground, collapsing in the summoning circle, burned into charcoal. The jewel in his ferroniere was broken by the assault of heat and cold. The crack spread throughout the cufflink like blackest tendrils reaching out from a wound.
"These vermin have been found all over the city. The Patriarch has ordered them all exterminated. They must be spreading the plague like rats." The Magister cleared his throat and turned to the boy's father. "My apologies. These things are allowed by our cousins in the East, but here they are warped and corrupted by Rhoska-Tor."
Father was cold and silent, staring at his ill son without words. The young boy began convulsing with violent muscle contractions. His head lolled and came upright, his posture shifting. He opened his mouth and screamed, the shock wave of banshee wailing blowing out. Some of the Palestra and sorcerers were knocked backwards. "Hold him!" The Magister commanded. Wards flared into action pinning the boy in fields of light. He was lifted in the air, unable to move at all. His eyes glowed red.
"Well, this is another matter entirely." The Magister smirked. "His soul is still bound through the rift. We will use him to seal it all off."
"What are you talking about?" Father asked with barely veiled contempt. "What is your intention with my son?"
"He will be held like this in the restricted wing of the Mahkra asylum for the thaumaturgically unsettled." The voice was another member of the Basilica, having not been identified. "He will be frozen in this moment as the seal between our world and the forbidden. This was how we constructed and have kept Shieltine's Ward."
Without so much as a sound or hint of protest, the father moved toward the summoning circle. He plunged a wicked athame into his son's chest, piercing his heart with the twisted dagger. The Palestra jumped on him after a moment of shock. Struggling against them, father wept. "You will not keep my son in one of your bloody asylums. I will not allow you to imprison him in madness like his mother!" Seizing him, they pulled him back, but futilely. The infernal flames faded from the boy's eyes.
The young boy floated in the white light, hung in silent repose against the night. The Patriarchal Palace lit the bedchamber with its spectral kaleidoscope of colors. The Magister was not pleased. "What you have done is treason. Your boy would have been our salvation. You have no idea what darkness lies beyond that Veil."
"To bloody hell with all of it!" Father wept and snarled at him. "Damn your infernal laws and this wretched city! It was all for nothing!"
One of the Palestra stabbed a knife into the father's chest. "By violation of the Patriarchal decree, you are sentenced to immediate execution. Harboring threats to the state, interfering with the Rachis, unlicensed rifts between worlds, summoning by children without supervision, failure to report extraplanar intrusion. Filicide. Your head will be severed after death by guillotine and mounted on the wall." Father fell to the ground below his son, his blood pooling over the circle on the floor. The Magister frowned and his shook his head at the waste of it all.
"You should not have done that, it was not a mercy." The Basilican Magistrate sighed. "Now, the soul of your son is lost to the Mirror. Forever."