Prologue | Chapter 3, Anna | Chapter 5, Starmaker | Chapter 14, The Knights of Baeza
" 'We stand at the Temple Mount , victorious.' Her voice flew on ethereal currents across ruins, plains, and hills. 'But this fight is not over. We must remain within the fortress of God, his holy word, our constant aid and comfort. The Demon Lord will return to claim the Earth, but I am his opposite, and he cannot exist here without me. Even on my word, this Duality is ordained. Whensoever he shall return, if mankind remains true and firm, the love and light of God shall check him, the heavens shall open, and the Earth shall swallow him up.' "As a cascade of crystalline light fell from a slate-gray sky, inundating her earthly form, Arwen was transfigured. Standing revealed, a Seraphim of the Lord, she called forward her dearest companions: the great wizard, Achea Artexerxes, his charred Foundation staff gripped tight in his hands; the implacable warrior, Dirk Steyn, his enchanted sword still glowing blue; the majestic sorcerer, Ronaldus Magnus, wrapped in robes of imperial purple; the exalted Saint Thomas
De'Maakthorn, radiant with competence and humility; as well as others of her court, including George Quadtrium, Damson Prager, Dion Hewitt, Celine Coulter, and Vinson Laffer.
"She spoke again, her words now only for us: 'My dear, dear friends, I shall leave now. By the Will of God in me, I must take these gems from this world, even though, one day, man's inconstancy will draw them back into manifestation. It is left to you to fashion an ark for the covenant made this day, one proof against the ravages of time and oblivion. When the Demon Lord returns, the flame of hope must still burn in the hearts of the righteous. I reveal to you now that I am the love and light of God made flesh, and this I foretell: in the final hour when the Lord of Hell again walks the Earth, I shall return, and by the flame of Heaven burning, so shall I lift the lowest of the low to the highest of the high.'
"Turning to Achea, she said: 'Your will is strong, but your heart is clouded by passion. If you will wait for me, I will take you to Heaven, and dispel your delusion.'
"To Dirk, she said: 'Your loyalty and courage has rippled through the fabric of the universe, thrilling the Angels on high. Never falter, oh my beloved, even if you fall amidst the massed ranks of Hell, for as you call to me in God, you shall be delivered and you shall abide with me-forever.'
"To Ronaldus, she said: 'Devotion such as yours is the summons of the Light. You are now duty bound to carry its torch unto the end. Establish a church as its vessel on Earth.'
"To Thomas De'Maakthorn, she handed The Word from around her neck. 'Hold this for me, and charge it to your heir, and he to his heir, until the last of your line shall restore it unto me.' "
-quoted from Arwen's Flame
* * *
Excerpt from Chapter 3, Anna
"Our time has run out, Anna," her mother said. "Stay with me for a while."
"Don't go, Momma," she pleaded. "What will I do without you?"
"I will always be with you-in your heart." She smiled, reaching out from her bed to stroke Anaiyailla's hair. "You need not fear. Remember, God has a purpose for you, and so long as you have faith, trusting that your life is His perfect gift to you, it will be so. Such is His honor; it could not then be otherwise. He has blessed me throughout my life, in good times and bad times, for I have ever drawn closer to Him. My life here is almost over, and I feel Him nigh, come to take what's His: my heart. Dear one, have faith-no matter what you face when I am gone. It will always prove an opportunity to grow closer to your Heavenly Father."
"I will, Momma, I will." Anna's eyes misted over with tears as she held her mother's hand tightly.
Nyanja then closed her eyes, regaining in repose something of the regal beauty of her youth. All signs of her illness were effaced as a suffused joy overspread her countenance.
"Oh, Anna," she said, reopening her eyes. "God is here with us now. The thief of hearts has come for mine at last! I can see Him and feel Him and He is so beautiful. He loves you so much, Anna. I can't describe the immense joy I feel right now in His embrace. I am happy beyond words." She paused and took a shallow breath, her eyes sparkling like water in the sun. "The light is lovely," she continued. "It spreads across my tongue like the nectar of a thousand blossoms. The purpose of my trials is clear. I pray you will find your path in God's love and journey to our home, where I know you will find me. The kingdom of God is pure bliss, my child, and He yearns for every lost soul to find their way to Him, the uttermost spirit. He is so great, yet so humble. He serves us. Through the call of virtue, honor, beauty, intuition and Human love, He beckons-yet offering in these no more than the slightest intimation of His great light. It is cool and bright, like the crushed essence of a million moons. To look upon it is to crave Him with every surge of one's heart. But I cannot forget you, little one. I love you so much. I will never be far. Trust in His wisdom and I will always be with you. God is center everywhere, border nowhere-so too now, me, by His grace. Pray with me now, that you may always find God's blessings at every turn."
Nyanja then touched Anna on the forehead above and between her eyebrows, saying: "God has planted His seed in you."
Anaiyailla clutched at her mother's hands as they withdrew and watched through standing tears as Nyanja was enveloped in a soft light that coalesced into a halo over her head and then ascended toward the empyrean.
* * *
Excerpt from Chapter 5, Starmaker
When Alloria reached the clearing, she was struck by the sight of all the bodies surrounding that big Human warrior. Apparently, he had killed them all by himself: a Wizard Demon, two Soldier Demons, and eleven Orcs. A tremendous feat, she thought. Plus, there were two more dead Orcs by the fire pit, and three more by the eastern edge of the clearing, which he may have been responsible for. Astonishing. She hurried toward him, but Andy hissed at her.
"Lori, wait! Kian hasn't yet indicated it's safe."
She hesitated. Kian's strategy had worked brilliantly. She, Nakula, and the Sylph had used relatively simple illusion magic to create fleeting images of Elves, lightning bolts, and fireballs. Darting from bush to tree, the rest had fired arrows. To the Orcs it had seemed there were ten times as many Elves as there actually were, and they had fled-but not without their captives, as hoped. Kian had been adamant that no one engage the Orcs up close or go out into the open, lest they risk revealing the ruse. But when she noticed the warrior's chest rise and fall, she couldn't help herself.
When she got to him she couldn't believe he was still alive. He was slick with arterial blood and seemed to have gaping cuts everywhere. Her heart surged as she realized he might yet be saved. Summoning her sorcery magic, Alloria found harmony with The Source and cast a healing spell upon the magnificent fallen warrior.
* * *
Krell was floating in a sea of light. He could feel nothing, and there was nothing distinct to be seen, heard, tasted, or smelled. While there was a sense something disastrous had just happened, he could not recall what it was. Nor could he remember anything about who he was, or where he came from. He was not even sure what he looked like. Just at the edge of his consciousness, though, was an impression of something more than the soft light that surrounded him. He tried to puzzle out what it might be. He wanted to know, but peace and tranquility beckoned, offering release from any notions of a more complicated existence.
He was ready to let go when he noticed something distinct: warmth. With the warmth, he was able to slowly perceive his form. He had a body. There were arms and there were legs. As he concentrated on these things, he suddenly remembered being in combat and having fallen. And with those thoughts, he recalled something else: vision. He had eyes, and he opened them.
What he saw was the face of an Angel looking down upon him. The fall of her red hair framed the exquisite beauty of her face; her smile brought comfort. Her lips began to move, and Krell recovered something else: sound. He could hear her speaking to him in a gentle voice. "You are a hero, young warrior," she was saying.
Memories flooded him then, and he remembered the transcendent rush down Mount Merak , through the forest, and out onto the eastern trail. He remembered the charge into the village and his battle with the Orcs and the monsters. He remembered he had died.
"Are you God?" he asked.
The Angel's face seemed to soften, and he noticed tears form at the corners of her eyes. "You have not died, young warrior," she said, "and you have saved many of your kin."
With that, Krell remembered the last thing he had heard as he fell, and realized this Angel was an Elf. He also remembered what he had fought for.
"Anna! Where's Anna?" he asked anxiously. He tried to get up, but found he could not.
* * *
Excerpt from Chapter 14, The Knights of Baeza
The knights gathered in front of the gate. No one said a word. Darius walked his horse to the front, ten feet from the gate, the Field Commander and five knights with him. The gate was fifteen feet by fifteen feet, its bars set six inches apart. Two guards stood on the other side and several more guards could be seen behind windows in the gate tower. Four more guards stood atop the wall to either side of the tower, each holding a crossbow.
Anastas made an effort to sit nonchalantly in his saddle, even as he watched carefully for hidden dangers, and established conscious rapport with the magic spell programs embedded in his staff. With the regiment now at the ready, most of the knights were in front of him. He, as was true of the other wizards, was responsible for making sure they were not caught off-guard by an attack, especially a magical one.
As he scanned each of the guards, he detected no danger beyond the arms they carried. Two of the guards were half-Orcs. He was almost certain he caught a glimpse of a Hobgoblin up in the tower. The rest of the guards were Human. Beyond the gate was a courtyard,
which led to the keep, about fifty yards from the gate. The front entrance to the keep was up a short flight of steps, where two large ironbound wooden doors sealed off the archway there.
"I require audience with Count Scillieri," Darius told the two wide-eyed guards at the gate.
Just then a door could be heard opening from behind the left-hand pillar of the gate's tower. A tall bearded man stepped out and walked up to the bars. He wore fine chainmail armor with a well-wrought longsword at his hip.
"Count Scillieri does not see unscheduled visitors," he said with a firm voice and steady gaze. "If you wish to request an appointment, you may leave a message with me."
"Deliver this message to your master forthwith," Darius spoke with authority: "The Baezean military is at his gate. He will give us entrance or we will admit ourselves."
Anastas saw the bearded man blanch, though he tried to mask his anxiety with a stern face and steady eyes. "Max," he said without taking his eyes from Darius, "go tell Barclay I require him at the gate."
The guard next to him looked as though he were confused, looking first to Darius, then said, "Yes, sir, right away, sir." He turned and hurried off into the courtyard and toward the keep.
The bearded man took a firm stance and placed his hand on his sword hilt. "You should be careful with your words, stranger. Neither should you imagine that the castle of Count Scillieri stands alone. In this city, one needs friends, not enemies."
"When the time comes"-Darius walked his horse forward-"you would be wise not to choose us as an enemy. I have had conversations like this before. The Knights of Baeza speak plainly. You should measure our words as carefully as we choose them. We have not crossed oceans with trepidation lest we make enemies; we have come to find our enemies-and defeat them."
"Well, then, for the sake of your mission, I should hope you do not make an enemy of Count Scillieri. No enemy of his has long survived."
"It is for your sake and the sake of his men that we engage in this parley," Darius said with a sudden mildness to his voice, though it remained loud enough to carry to the men on the walls. "Count Scillieri is a provincial power. Your true Lord is God. There can be no honor in standing opposed to His Host or failing its summons. If your Master's path is in darkness, quit his service and stand aside. Surely then, mercy and grace will find you. You've had all the days of your life to do the
right thing; however, fail in righteousness this day, and it will prove your shortest."
"We shall see." The bearded man took a step back. "Mr. Barclay will be here shortly. He speaks for Count Scillieri."
As they talked, Anastas carefully watched the keep, watched as the curtains behind nearly every window moved. People peered out at them. Whatever magic this Count Scillieri had at his disposal was unknown. It might assail them from anyplace, but especially from the sight lines of those windows. Anastas contemplated the order of the spells he would use when it started. As he did so, the guard came hustling back from the keep.
"Mr. Barclay says he will be here momentarily, sir," he said to the bearded man.
"Good, resume your post," he told the guard, then addressed Darius. "A moment," he said with a brief incline of his head.
Darius said nothing. He sat still on his horse, as did the rest of the knights. A light rain continued to fall as horses stamped their hooves impatiently, and the creaking of leather and metal contributed to the tension in the air. The muted voices of guards could be heard. They whispered to each other as more began to assemble in the courtyard in front of the keep. Bystanders gathered on the road to either side of the knights, though at a distance.
On the wind, the smell of burning pitch reached Anastas. He imagined the tower was designed to allow vats of it to be poured on unwelcome visitors. Then large entrance doors to the keep opened and an average-sized man dressed in black robes strode out, flanked by eight men in shiny chainmail armor. Anastas sensed a magical field.
Reaching his mind out to his staff, Anastas triggered again the embedded Detect Magic spell, and used the resulting force to probe the energy emanating from the approaching officer. He saw right away that it was a protection magic, and one of high quality, though it was protecting only him.
Darius turned in his saddle and looked back at Anais Nin, the High Cleric. "The weather could not be better, don't you agree?" he asked, glancing briefly at the sky.
"If you like thunderstorms. In ten minutes, I say, you will find yourself in your element," the High Cleric responded, then pulled his horse away from the group, followed by two knights.
Darius looked to Kadlec Marr, the Captain-Major.
"You have the reins on this one, Captain," the Captain-Major said to him.
Darius turned forward as the black-robed man neared the gate.
"I am Barclay, First Lieutenant to Count Scillieri," the black-robed man announced. "What is your business here?"
Anastas looked Mr. Barclay over and didn't like what he saw. Barclay's eyes were shifty, his hair greasy, his face gaunt, and his lips thin. He carried a two-foot long metal rod in his hands.
Darius took a moment before responding. "I am Darius De'Maakthorn, Paladin of the Light, Captain in the Baezean military representing the Knights of the United Kingdom of Baeza, duty and honor bound to serve the Way of the Light, to vindicate the glory of righteousness by order of the Supreme Commander, Lord Vahle, and to spread the faith for our Elven queen, Lady Alballa. We require use of this land as a base for our operations in this city."
Mr. Barclay's face contorted and his eyes darted about erratically as he looked over the regiment. Then he licked his lips and twisted the rod back and forth in his hands. "That is out of the question," he said finally. "If you've no other business, then I say to you: good day."
"That is the wrong answer, Mr. Barclay," Darius said forebodingly. "I will be even more clear with you. We are at war with evil. The Demon Lord of the Nine Hells freely roams the Earth, and his armies are on the way here, bent on subjecting every living being to his will. We arrive here to peremptorily force, first upon you, and soon upon everyone, a choice between good and evil. Do you choose to fight with us or against us? If it is with us, then open your gate; if it is against us, then we will be forced to destroy you before your new master, the Demon Lord, arrives with his armies and co-opts you in his service."
"What you say is insane," Barclay hissed between his thin lips. "Count Scillieri serves no one, not you, and certainly no Demon Lord. I have never heard anything more outlandish. This city will eat you alive, no matter how much power you think you have. Now be gone; this gate will not open for you."
"I assure you, Mr. Barclay, this gate will open." Darius pulled his sword from its scabbard and held it aloft. A silver-white light shone from it, enveloping Darius and his horse. "You should ask yourself, is that the answer you wish to give for your Master? Do you choose evil over goodness on his behalf?"
Barclay's face twisted in anger, his eyes narrowing to slits. "You are making a fatal mistake, Captain of.of.whatever. I will consult with Count Scillieri."
He spun and barked at the bearded man, "Raise the whole garrison." Then he addressed the men who had escorted him from the keep: "You four, stay here. You"-he motioned at the other four-"come with me." He stormed off toward the keep, followed by four of the men in chainmail.
Two dozen men now stood atop the wall to either side of the gate tower, all armed with crossbows in their hands and swords at their hips. Their armor was shoddy, especially by Baezean standards. Four of them were half-Orcs.
Darius lowered his sword and sheathed it. The nimbus around him and his horse winked out. Anastas relaxed a little as Mr. Barclay disappeared inside the keep, though he kept a weather eye on its windows in case a preemptive magical attack was launched.
"If your master follows the same course as his First Lieutenant"-Darius lifted his powerful voice to Count Scillieri's men on the battlements-"you needn't join him. The option to choose the path of the Light is personal to each soul and inalienable. If your heart sees us and rejoices, do not allow fallen men to speak for you. Those who choose goodness over evil will be welcomed by their true brothers."
Whispering among Scillieri's men along the wall and behind the gate intensified. Anastas could see the fear in their eyes. Continuing to watch for threats, he glanced down the street in both directions at the large number of bystanders now gathered, assessing the potential of an attack from those directions.
Just twenty yards away, he saw the High Cleric as he sat still on his horse, hands uplifted to the sky. Anastas focused with his still active Detect Magic spell and saw the powerful sorcery magic enveloping the High Cleric, tendrils of it spiraling upward to the clouds. He knew the powers the High Cleric was invoking; the main elements of the battle plan had been finalized hours ago, even though they hadn't yet known precisely who they would confront. The magic he was using would
draw lightning from the clouds. It was a powerful spell the Baezean military had used to great effect many times, for the lightning was real, not magic. Thus, a ward that protected against magic would be of no avail, as this Count Scillieri would soon find out.
Thinking of the sorcery magic, though, Anastas experienced the frustration that arose in him whenever he reflected on magic of that type. Sorcery magic was far more powerful than wizardry magic, yet for countless generations the operating principles of it had resisted scientific documentation-and this despite the focused attention of the greatest adepts of wizardry magic. Though many priests, ministers, and clerics had learned to tap into fields of sorcery magic, their powers were limited, and often proved haphazard and unpredictable. The religious believed that God granted use of sorcery magic to those who are faithful-a superstition, as so many before it, that Anastas knew would one day fall before that great engine of Human progress: the scientific method.
Two thousand years ago the legendary wizard Charren Darwil had shown how a certain region of the brainstem near the top of the spinal column could draw energy from the ether. His studies showed that people of faith, whether it be in God or some other irrational belief system, were able to establish a degree of intentional rapport with that portion of the brain more frequently, and consequently could sometimes wield sorcery magic. However, the magnitude of their gift, and its use on any specific occasion, seemed closely tied to the person's irrational belief system and emotional state. The existence of such idiosyncratic variables had led to notable battlefield disasters. Accordingly, since Darwil's discovery, sages of wizardry had spent lifetimes trying to develop a unified theory that would yield the scientific equations to control the magic-without the mediation of the brainstem and such imponderables as faith and an individual's inner sense of "worthiness."
With those equations, wizards would then be able to control the sorcery magic and bring it fully to bear. It could so greatly increase the power of the Baezean wizards that they might be able to rout Vlockor and his Demon armies, and send them back to the infernal plane from which they hailed.
In his youth, Anastas himself had put many years of thought into a solution, but he had since grown weary of the pursuit. His research led him into a labyrinth of paradox and dogma from which he barely escaped with his sanity. Now he regarded the conundrums of sorcery magic with a bafflement overgrown by years of irritation and resentment. Yet, tactically, whatever limited use the priests, ministers, and clerics were able to make of the sorcery magic was welcome. Without it, the Knights of Baeza would long ago have perished against Vlockor's armies.
As he saw the magic at work in the hands of the High Cleric, Anastas had difficulty controlling his bitterness. It was so vexing! The only people who could use the magic were the ones who ignored the truths of science-in favor of a belief system that existed only in their heads. It didn't even matter if it contradicted in some particulars the beliefs of other sorcerers. Maddening! The irony of these circumstances was not entirely lost upon him. In a sense, he was crippled by reason and they were empowered by irrationality. Hah!
Shaking himself free from his inner diatribe, Anastas refocused his mind to the task at hand. There would be a battle soon, though it should be over quickly. Nothing here indicated that this Count Scillieri was capable of withstanding a Baezean military regiment.
The front entrance to the keep opened once again, and Anastas watched as Mr. Barclay came back out, this time followed by what appeared to be the good Count himself. They were accompanied by twelve guards, as well as two others in wizard robes. The Count was dressed in fine raiment, bright red and orange. He had a sword at his belt and bracers on his arms. He, Mr. Barclay, and the two others in wizard's robes were each enveloped in magic, almost assuredly protective shields. They were too far away for Anastas to try to discern more precisely the type of magic, but it scarcely mattered.
The Count and his escort stopped midway in the courtyard. "I am Count Scillieri, Lord of this manor." The man in bright clothing spoke in civilized tones, loudly and clearly. "Mr. Barclay informs me you are from a distant land and seek refuge here. I am prepared to forgive minor improprieties because you are strangers to our ways, but I cannot admit you, for I am at war with no one. I can, however, arrange for a place where you and your men can stay. Perhaps we can even become partners by some future arrangement, but for now, this is all I can offer."
"Count Scillieri." Darius' voice carried clearly as the light mist continued to come down. "I am Darius De'Maakthorn, Paladin of the Light, Captain in the Baezean military, representing the Knights of the United Kingdom of Baeza, duty and honor bound to serve the Way of the Light, to vindicate the glory of righteousness by order of our Supreme Commander, Lord Vahle, and to spread the faith for our Elven Queen, Lady Alballa. I am here to inform you we require use of
your land as a base of operations in this city. We do this only because of dire necessity. Your land, and this entire city, is all but forfeit to the Demon armies that even now gather over the horizon for its conquest. As we understand it, some-perhaps most-in this city will not resist the Demon armies, but will in fact be absorbed by them. This we will not allow to happen. Therefore, Count Scillieri, you must choose: You will fight with us against Vlockor and his armies, and allow us entrance, or by your refusal, tacitly concede your intention to stand with Vlockor against us-in which case, we will destroy you on the spot."
"How dare you present threats and demands!" the Count flared. "You have no authority here. I can have you crushed like bugs. This is my land, and I have powers and alliances unknown to you. You are bold, but just fifty; you are surrounded and in danger of losing your lives. Relent from this ramping foolishness and withdraw."
"If that is your answer, then I must assume you expect to survive Vlockor's onslaught by cooperating with him." Darius gave the hand signal for the spell-casters to begin, the High Cleric having just ridden back into formation. "I give you only a moment to reconsider. This is world war and, at that, one to the death. There can be no neutrals. A good man would count it no loss of authority to answer the call of God's legions. Finally, I remind you we fight on the side of the Light."
Anastas immediately began casting, using a conduit spell to direct raw magic into the spell programs embedded within the armor of every knight and horse. Anti-magic shields sprang forth. Other magic was in use from the other spell-casters, making their military unit nearly impervious to attack-at least for the duration of the spells.
It was evident that Count Scillieri was fully aware of the sudden use of magic by the widening of his eyes and stiffening of his back. One of the wizards at his side whispered in his ear and the other appeared to cast a spell, though of what, Anastas could not tell. Scores of armed men were now gathered in the courtyard.
"Why me?" the Count yelled back. "Why my land? What concern is it of yours?"
He was stalling, and Anastas could tell what he was thinking: He was wondering if he really had enough men to withstand an assault by this group of foreigners; wondering who sent them against him in the first place; and considering whether he should let them in, after all-and kill them as they slept or poison them. Anastas also knew what the Count would ultimately conclude: It was too risky to let them in.
"You, because we have chosen you to be first," Darius announced in a clipped military baritone. "Your land, because it suits our purpose. It concerns us, because we refuse to live as slaves to Demons; so, we are at war. We are at war with the Demons; therefore, we can give no quarter to those who would assist the Demons. Now, make your choice, you are with us or with the Demons!" Darius pulled forth his sword and held it aloft, its silver-white light expanding again to envelope Darius and his horse. The sight of its nimbus against the rain and the drab grays and browns of the environs was spectacular.
"You talk big, foreigner, but we outnumber you six to one and I have many, many allies in this city. You will not enter!" He spoke with the full might of his voice. "I defy you." Then he bellowed, "Lower the inner gate! Ready the pitch!"
A loud click in the gate tower was followed by the churning of gears. A thick, ironbound wooden gate began to fall just behind the bars of the outer gate. Just then a bolt of lightning came from the sky and struck Count Scillieri where he stood. When the blinding flash cleared, the gate was closed.
"Charge!" Darius yelled. His horse sprang forward and the rest of the knights followed. They charged right through both gates, and a cataract of flaming pitch. Those defenses had been rendered ethereal thanks to a spell cast by the High Counselor.
As Anastas rode into the courtyard, he saw that Count Scillieri's torso lay where he had been standing, blackened and smoking, his head and limbs blown off. There were several others like that, including the two wizards. The knights charged into the ranks of Count Scillieri's men amidst a steady barrage of arrows from the wall and from the battlements atop the keep. These were deflected by shield spells. Anastas loosed a fireball on a group of archers atop the keep. Still more archers fell to the magic of the other wizards among the knights.
"Stop!" It was the kettledrum-like voice of Kadlec Marr, the Captain-Major. He stood above the smoking torso of Count Scillieri. "Stop!" he boomed again and again-and everyone did so. "Look at him. Look! Your master is dead, struck down by the powers of God. Lay down your weapons and you will be shown mercy."
A moment of stillness ensued. Sheets of rain swept the courtyard and its battlements. Scillieri's men searched the faces of their superiors. The only other sounds that could be heard were the creaking of leather and the stamping of horses. One by one, Count Scillieri's men began to lay down their arms.