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Prelude to the Gathering
by Dylan Martinez

Part One:

It was late evening. At the back of the barn, the catayarsh growled angrily.   Kiyesser ignored the tethered beast and continued to sweep the earthen floor.

"Why we had to buy a catayarsh, I don't know! I'm sure those Taltheri made a pretty penny out of it. What does he think we're going to do with the damn thing?!" Muttering to himself, Kiyesser wiped the sweat off his brow.

A faint glint caught his eye.

Laying down his broom, he marked the spot with the end of the handle and ambled to the tallow candle which sat on a small bracket by the entrance. Picking it up carefully, so as not to spill and risk a fire, he walked back to the broom and stooped down. Feeling the ground, his fingers closed around a small ring-shaped object. Holding it up to the candle, he smiled and read the inscription on the silver coin.

"By authority of the Archmage" he mouthed, suddenly startled. "A Mirish coin. Here, in Celpalar."

Returning the candle to the wall and extinguishing it hurriedly, Kiyesser ran from the barn in the direction of the main compound, the sound of his footfalls expressing the urgency.

Back in the barn, the catayarsh hissed and spat at the stranger who appeared from the shadows. The cloaked figure absent-mindedly patted the huge feline on the head and took out a small medallion. Mumbling an enchantment, he walked from the barn into the warm tropical night, away from the lights of the settlement, towards the rocky outcrop far to the south, near the harbour. The catayarsh eyed the robed outlander, watching him walk deeper into the darkness.

Shouts from the compound shattered the silence.

*******

Part Two:

Tarfn reached the obelisk hidden amongst the rocks near the harbour. Lights from fishing boats twinkled a hundred yards to the east. To the north, the compound had lit up the night, the catayarsh's howls piercing the darkness.

No doubt they were searching the barn, Tarfn mused.

Shuffling his robe, he stood before the mystic monument. With a gesture, the Sorcerer held a small glowing globe of light in his left hand. He stooped, re-arranging himself, and swallowed.

Immediately he grimaced as the heiroglyphic inscriptions begun to appear before his eyes. Touching the first cylindrical shape with his right forefinger, Tarfn begun to mutter as he worked. First one symbol, then the next, the sorcerer worked his way through the petrified enchantment, touching them in the correct order to activate the spell. A cool sea breeze lifted his hair, revealing the deep blue eyes of someone with Shanari ancestry.

"What the...?"

The Sorcerer paused, then repeated that part of the sequence. A spell appeared on the obelisk, it's orange glow transforming the strange monolith's surface, causing it to liquefy, ripples forming in the centre to spread outwards on the molten stone. Tarfn watched the events unfold, unperturbed. His guess had been correct.

In the background, silence reclaimed the night. The Sorcerer pondered on how the catayarsh might have been muzzled. A vision of a large bottle-stopper in the mouth of a stunned feline caused him to chuckle. He directed his attention back to the obelisk.

And gasped.

Stepping back, his robe flapping in the flow of salty air, Tarfn stared at the orange spell warily. His blue eyes opened in astonishment as he saw the symbol which emerged slowly on the surface of the stone. Hurriedly the Sorcerer waved his hands in the air in a spiral motion, his globe of light thrown upwards to hover a few inches above his head, extinguishing the spell, ending the ripples, returning the surface of the obelisk back to its' normal state.

Biting his lower lip, Tarfn grabbed the light globe and thrust it into his pocket. Glancing back at the rock to confirm the spell had indeed been dissolved, the Sorcerer made his way towards the harbour, his robe swishing wildly. Retrieving the medallion from his other pocket, Tarfn strode towards the fishing boats. Uttering a travelling conjuration, the air around the Sorcerer began to shimmer. Without breaking his stride, Tarfn held the medallion out before him. The air in front of the Sorcerer blurred, forming into a reddish haze. Stepping into the mist, murmuring anxiously, Tarfn disappeared from view.

A single word, a curse, lingered in the darkness, it's presence a testimony to the Sorcerer's concern.

*******

Part Three (Mirabalpur):

Tarfn found the Archmage. He was sitting alone under a peach tree, in the small ornamental garden outside the Hall of Assembly. The visiting dignitaries from all over Qaiyore were already inside.

"Everyone’s waiting for you." Tarfn stood over his superior, laying a hand on the other’s shoulder in reassurance.

The Archmage shrugged, black robes hiding his powerful normally imposing frame, then glanced at his second.

"They have no idea." He frowned, shaking his head. "None at all."

Tarfn firmed his grip on the other’s shoulder, pleading. "You’re the only one who can make them listen; make them understand." He had never seen his master so disconsolate before, in the three hundred years they’d worked together. "We fought together against the goblins and expelled them to the far south. We can beat this."

"We also lost the dragons. Our great power is over. Those days are gone." He looked up. "I don’t suppose you may have been mistaken….?"

Tarfn knew he didn’t need to reply. The signs had been confirmed after his return from Celpalar. It was just a matter of time.

The Archmage sighed, standing slowly, and smiled ruefully. "Let us hope they don’t just understand. They must agree." He looked at the Hall of Assembly. "Or we all die."

Tarfn watched his master walk purposefully into the Hall. He looked up at the sun and made a silent prayer to the goddess of luck, then followed the Archmage into the gathering.