Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Asael: Prologue - An End and a Beginning


The night-filled streets outside the kenasia (on other worlds I hear they call these things churches) were empty so there was no one to see the two men. One, with pale white blond hair and an angelic face marred by a scar crawling up his right cheek, sat on the altar in the center, swinging his legs back and forth nervously and laughing. It was a high-pitched laugh, not human, more the howl of a long forgotten animal. He knew that people who heard his laugh couldn't tell if he was expression joy, mockery or despair. Perhaps that was for the best. At any rate, he felt no joy this night.

Roai’anot, the religion practiced by the Khazars of this town, had long since abandoned the use of animal sacrifice and the altar in each kenasia remained as a reminder of what once stood long ago. One might have thought he was praying. He was, in a manner of speaking. He had no god, not any that he expected to take him now, but still he prepared himself, whispering in a sing song chant: “He shall even be hauled out. Said the Sages: ‘Even? Even from the horns of the altar itself.'” The night air was warm yet his hands shivered. These hands that had known war, that had faced death innumerable times; why falter now? After a lifetime of facing daunting odds and never backing down, he knew how things would end. He stood against the inevitable, against what he could not fight.

From behind his grey eyes he glanced toward the entrance of the kenasia at the second man. If the blond-haired man was tall this man was massive with a torso jutting out into a thick upper body. His black hair was tied back in a knot, in keeping with the local fashion. This gave his pale face the look of a smiling skull. He did not look particularly human under the best of circumstances and the flickering lantern light from outside the kenasia gave his face a glow of something beyond this third world of Crossroads. Underneath his gold-tinged red eyes was a pair of scar-like tattoos that seemed to pull the skin of his face tight around his pointed elf-like ears.

The pale-faced man approached the altar. His penetrating glare searched the gloom of the simply decorated room for signs of another occupant but found nothing. From atop the beams he could hear the faint rustling of wings, the only thing to betray the pigeons that occupied it, but otherwise only silence filled the air around him.  The blond-haired man stood and greeted him as a friend then knelt slightly and placed his clasped hands outward as a sign of allegiance. They spoke to each other. They were alone, but even if there had been someone to happen by they would not have understood. The language they spoke was a tongue that had not been heard amongst men of the third world, Crossroads, in an Age.

The blond-haired man seemed to plead with his visitor. The pale-faced man raised his hand as if to refuse but then relented. He clasped the man to his chest and then placed one of his hands on the blond man’s forehead as if he were a priest offering benedictions. A light emanated from the pale-faced man, but the room did not brighten. He seemed to suck the light from the room into himself, making himself all the brighter. His face morphed as a helm and a half facemask sprouted out from his skin.

"With the power of Law," the pale-faced man intoned, "I judge you."

“Judgment accepted.” Despite his shaking hands, the blond-haired man looked straight upward, without blinking.

With his free hand the pale-faced man struck down and outward. The blade from his hand bit into the stomach of the man before him. The blond-haired man reached down as if to stench the bleeding. Instead of blood his hands came up with burnt pieces of flesh, which broke apart in his hands. He took a step forward, but his feet fell out from underneath him. He went down as his skin melted away. A flame burst forth from his chest and bubbled from between his clothes. His clothes caught fire but were not consumed. A shock wave of flame shot out from him catching everything in a six-foot radius. It struck the pale-faced man, who closed his eyes meditatively and stretched out his hands, embracing the flames around him, as if he could survive the flame simply by thinking through it. The flames swirled around him, returning his embrace. This was the Blackfire, the manifestation of Law in all of its purity and judgment.

“I strike not with hatred or vengeance, only Law. The Law is my salvation. As it judges others so may it judge me.”

The pale-faced man opened his eyes and stared at what remained of the man before him, still alive in the flame. There was no scream. The pale-faced man did not immediately leave, but remained watching. Finally, as the flame went down to a flicker and before the man finally perished, the pale-faced man spoke his last words to the man. The Khazars of the town would have recognized these words as belonging to what they referred to as the Old Tongue: “hadran alach achina,” farewell brother.

And then he strode off into the night, leaving behind a charred skeleton in immaculately tailored clothing. The pious, coming at daybreak to pray, would be shocked at the spectacle awaiting them, but no damage was done to their sanctuary.

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