"The Coming of the Darkness"

Copyright © Terry O'Brien

The tower's last inhabitants looked down the mountainside onto the Darkness that was consuming the world. Nothing escaped the Darkness as it slowly but inexorably moved across the landscape; not cities, towns, forests, or rivers. Some pockets of life remained, in the far away places like the peak of this single mountain, but even there the Darkness would come, and when it had, only it would be left.

In this lonely tower, the sorcerers Kyroth and Jessane continued to work their magics, trying to escape the coming of the Darkness. Many others had fled with them to this tower when the danger of the Darkness became known, but they had succumbed to its siren call of despair and surrendered themselves to it. Now only these two remained; too young and too much in love with life and with each other to consider that.

Each morning, they climbed to the top of the tower to mark the progress of the Darkness. Each time they found the Darkness approaching closer and closer. Each day and far into the night they would open books of lore that had remained sealed for untold years, consult the stars and other forms of divination, and attempt their sorcerous experiments. Each night as they rested they would become more disheartened and yet more determined, determined that the next day's dawning would find them an answer.

Day after day they continued, for to admit their powerlessness would mean a surrender to total defeat. No magic of theirs could affect the Darkness, which drank any spell directed against it as it drank in all else, and no oracular spirit or book of lore had given them a single clue to its mystery. Yet they continued, for the fires of life burn brightest when most pressed.

In the quiet hours before dawn, Jessane wandered the tower alone. Both she and Kyroth had spent the night consulting the stars; as usual without success. Kyroth then went to rest, for he had not the patience required for this divination, and so drained his strength more quickly than she.

Jessane, though, when finished, could not sleep. Instead, she walked about the tower until the morning sun lit the eastern windows, seeing and touching the small momentos she treasured. Each recalled the friends she had lost to the Darkness, and with each memory she cried silent tears. Each tear she cried was a silent vow never to forget.

It was these times with only her memories to comfort her that she felt the most depressed, sick of the futile efforts to understand and halt the oncoming doom. She could understand full well why so many had lost all hope. Without Kyroth's constant love and support, she too would have followed the others in their mad offering of themselves to the Darkness.

At last the morning sun blazed across the horizon, and Jessane began the long climb to the roof of the tower. When she stood on the roof she reached into a pouch at her side, and brought forth a small crystal pendant. She seated herself on the tower roof facing north, cleared her mind, and stared down into the crystal.

Slowly, for she was very tired, the image of the tower seen as if from a great height formed in her mind. Then the image widened, showing more of the mountain and the surrounding landscape. The mountain was like an island adrift in a sea of black, so much had the Darkness surrounded it. Still, the Darkness moved so slowly now that there were many days yet until it would be at their doorstep. She marked its progress in her mind, and then began to focus her sight elsewhere.

Casting her mind farther and farther outward, she saw the path of the Darkness' advance. Just two days journey south had been a large town where she and Kyroth had spent many happy days during Festival times. Now no trace of it could be found. Likewise with the river that had flowed beside it and had loaned the town its name. All the land's features were covered by black.

Still further south had been the sea, yet that too, with all its power and mystery, was no match for that of the oncoming Darkness. Where once the moons caused the onrushing tides now there was only smooth featureless black, black that even the light of the sun could not illuminate or warm.

Finding herself at the limit of her vision without Kyroth's aid, she began to circle about, seeking any areas that the Darkness had yet missed, and any inhabitants still trying to withstand its onslaught. Only the high and lonely places did she find, though, and their only inhabitants were the eagles. No human life could she find.

Finally tiring of seeing the dull black surrounding her, she turned her mind to the sky, and to the lazy white clouds that floated by. Soon there would be no more clouds, for the Darkness would drink the world's moisture so that no more would return to the sky, just as it had drunk in all the rest of the world. Right now, though, they served as a reminder that not all was covered, not yet. While she was gazing at the peaceful clouds, her tiredness crept over her, and she slept.

It was after mid-day when Kyroth awoke, and, not finding his companion on her bed, began to look for her. Finding her at last on the roof asleep, he gently carried her to her bed. Then he returned to the roof to see for himself the progress of the Darkness.

He needed no crystal in which to see the Darkness. All he needed to do was to close his eyes, and at his command visions from far and near would fill his mind. He too saw what his companion did: the encircling Darkness overcoming all that was not a part of it.

The sight of it to him did not produce despair, but rather anger. Anger in the death it had caused and would cause, but mostly anger in the futility he felt in his powerlessness. This anger he held bottled up inside him like wine, aging it, with the threat of it going sour. Like wine, too, it could fire him, those rare times he let it take possession of him. Then, he drank his fill, only to find himself as full as ever when the fire died.

Ever since they had come here he had held his anger in check, but he must let it loose sometime, or else it would turn on him and run free on its own. Even now he could feel it eating away at his resolve, testing the limits of his control, yearning to be set free, for the sight of the Darkness brought it to the forefront of his mind. Only the memory of Jessane, with her cool patience and reserve, kept it under control. He opened his eyes and stilled his anger. No curses would he give to the Darkness, for he knew deep in his heart that they were really for him.

When Jessane awoke later that afternoon, she found Kyroth waiting for her with a tray of delicacies from the spell-wrought kitchen below. Sweet oranges and bunches of grapes were there, along with wine and a fresh loaf of bread; even though no more orchards or arbors were left to them, nor fields. These thoughts they tried to keep from their minds.

Kyroth placed the tray in front of Jessane, and they broke their fast. As they ate, they talked of possible studies: which books to examine next, which powers to consult, which methods of divinations to try. They talked of more innocent things as well: a bracelet that Kyroth was fashioning for her in his spare moments, what dinner they would have later that evening. All of this to keep the one thought from their minds; that soon, the Darkness would come.

The rest of the day passed as the previous days had passed, with the two continuing their futile researches. At the end of the day, they were no closer to an answer or solution than before.

The next morning, the two of them observed the Darkness beginning its slow advance up the sides of the mountain. The time that they most feared, even if only in the deepest depths of their minds, was now upon them.

The sight of it broke the rapport they had shared, and Jessane turned away to cover her tears. Kyroth, however, let loose his anger, and went to the foot of the tower, shouting curses and causing boulders to hurtle down the mountainside against the oncoming Darkness. To no avail, for the boulders struck the black tide and disappeared, without so much as a ripple to mark their passing.

When at last his voice and anger failed him, he turned, and saw Jessane in the doorway. Silently, she came and embraced him, her tears dropping silently on his shoulder speaking more than words ever could. They stood there a long while, re-assuring each other with their presense.

Throughout the rest of the day, they kept close by each other, each needing the nearness of the other in this troubled moment. Jessane's calm was replaced by deep sorrow, and Kyroth could do nothing to ease her mood, as his own was similarly depressed. Even during the night, they reached out for each other in their sleep. This silent call woke the rapport they shared, and so they shared the dreams they dreamed.

Jessane dreamed of clouds, and of the eagles, and of flying free and unburdened with them among the clouds in the morning sky. Then the dream changed. The sky darkened, yet the clouds remained as bright as ever, and were transformed into the colors of the rainbow. The clouds drifted apart slowly, and the two of them (for now she realized that Kyroth too is flying beside her) danced between the clouds upon wings of fire, and listened to the songs the clouds sang to each other.

Kyroth dreamed of fire, and of falling. His inner anger was manifested outside now, for he saw himself wreathed with flames. He saw himself falling through a vast black emptiness, trailing flame as his passage fanned the fires around him. The flames did not diminish, for his anger, as unquenchable as ever, fed them. Rather, they flared brighter and brighter, until he feared that he would be totally lost amid them. Then, he looked beside himself, and there falling with him, was Jessane. She reached out and took his hand, and the flames around him surged about her, too, only to balanced by her calm. He lost his anger, sharing in the peace she offered. The flames remained, though, flickering about the both of them, but now they were gentle and cold. Jessane smiled, a rare smile, and led Kyroth through the darkness, which now to their eyes was filled with lights.

When they awoke the next morning and saw each other, they remembered their dreams. The sight of each other made them realize that they had shared something strange and wonderful that night. In halting words they asked each other about the dreams, and what the other had shared. The answers they recieved puzzled them.

They were, however, sensitive enough, and possessed enough training, to recognize the signs of an answer in their dreams. These dreams now provided what no other had ever been able to give them, the beginnings of an answer to halt or escape the Darkness. Now their time would be spent unravelling these dreams, assigning meanings to the symbols contained therein, and making full use of the knowledge gained.

They worked continously over the next several days. The Darkness moved slowly up the mountainside unnoticed by the two, so busy were they. Their aimless searching was now replaced by careful and deliberate research. Frustrated, pointless questions gave way to carefully-designed inquiries, which gathered much in the way of fruitful information.

What they finally learned, and were also finally forced to accept, was that there was indeed no hope of stopping the oncoming Darkness. The only course open to then now was to flee. Nowhere in the entire world could they find refuge, for the Darkness would come, no matter where they went. The only place they could go would be beyond the world, out among the stars.

It would not be simple, this escape they had discovered. Foremost among its difficulties was that no one had thought of it before this time, so every step they took was upon virgin ground. Many new spells must be created; spells to transform them from mortal flesh into beings of spirit and fire that could survive the rigors of space itself. Yet the new spells were not, by themselves, enough. Great precision in their construction and casting was required, and great power was required to set them in motion. Precision and power perhaps beyond their capacity, for they were far from being masters of their craft. They wondered, secretly and to each other, whether their skills were sufficient to the task. Yet they pressed on, for now there was hope, hope that had once seemed as far away as the stars themselves, but a hope that now, with the help of the stars and all other things of power at their command, was theirs.

They re-doubled their efforts, for as they worked the Darkness loomed closer and closer, creeping up the sides of the mountain until it would threaten to engulf the tower, and all within it. Their training and skills, feeble though they thought them, blossomed under the challenge. Kyroth's anger was stilled within him, as his thoughts turned towards the great creation they were forging. Jessane's spirit lightened, for now she could only see the future, with all its bright promises. Together they worked, each supporting the other, supplying what the other lacked. Separately they could never hope to achieve their goal. Together, they could not fail. When at last their preparations were finished, they looked at each other and smiled. The Darkness lay some days yet from their doorstep. They had won their race against defeat.

On their last morning on this world, Jessane was waiting at the very top of the mountain. She was waiting for one last chance to see the eagles fly from their eyries far below. In her mind, she could see herself among them, flying free, hunting among the few remaining patches of land not covered by the Darkness. Soon, these would be gone, and then the eagles, too, would succumb. Unnoticed tears flowed gently from her eyes, the last tears she would ever weep for the victims of the Darkness.

When Kyroth came up to her later, he had with him two bundles. Shaking them out, he handed her a short cape of gold, as he put on his own of flashing silver. Woven into the capes were arcane symbols, and stitched into the back of both was the figure of an eagle. Whispering a few words to the six winds, Kyroth spread his arms out and let the winds sweep him up into the sky. Jessane hesitated, but when he called to her from a great height, she gave in and repeated the words, and joined him in the morning sky.

Together they flew through the sky, dodging in and out among the fat fleecy clouds, circling about the mountain. They danced, as no others could dance, with the clouds for their floor, and the sighing of the winds as their music. The last remains of the melancholy they had known left them, as they lost themselves amid the boundless sky.

It was near sunset, when the setting sun turned the clouds to molten gold and copper, that the two finally tired of their play. They returned to the tower, their spirits restored. For the first time in many weeks they shared laughter for the simple pleasure of it, welcoming it as an old and trusted friend. Tiredly, but happily, they set about preparing for their night's work.

It was after midnight when the two paused and looked about themselves. There, gathered together about the top chamber of the tower, the fruits of previous days' labor lay waiting for them. The escape they had sought for so long now awaited them. For the first time in months they had a meaningful response to the Darkness that was coming ever so closer to their doorstep. Their only regret was that there was no one with which to share it.

The preparations were complete. They had lit the fires on all six sides, and had set the wards about them in circles of salt and ash. The great circle inside was drawn on the floor of the tiny room with infinite care, for any mistake, no matter how small, would mean their doom. The two now sat across from each other inside the circle, robed in shimmering white mantles, their flying cloaks draped across their shoulders.

Taking a deep breath, they looked across at each other, and smiled an encouraging smile. Their minds were clear of doubt and despair, refreshed by their work and play. Kyroth and Jessane nodded to each other, and without another word, began their carefully prepared spells.

No tools or arcane instruments did they need this night, just their own wills to manipulate the forces they were wielding. Kyroth's firey nature provided the basis for what power they needed, and Jessane's reserve of calm allowed the two of them to handle these forces without being harmed. Every chanted phrase and intricate gesture gathered power; power from within themselves and from without. With each thought they collected this power in firey circles and bright spirals about them, and filled the room with showers and streamers of light. The fires that warded the circle also leapt and danced, scarcely distinguishable from the power that was circling about the room. If a star could be viewed from the inside, this is what would be seen.

Now, with this power flowing about them they turned to the hardest part of their work: the forging of the power they had summoned into the spells they had hurridly yet carefully created. Jessane with her steadiness set the pattern of the spells as if leading a stately measure of a dance, while Kyroth spun about her, blending the spells together and supporting her. The two wove their individual spells, shaping with thought, word, and gesture the power flowing about them, melding it into precise shapes, much as a concert master melds the sounds of a orchestra into a great work of music. Ancient tomes and powerful spirits had yielded their secrets to the pair, who created with them a vast symphony of arcane power. For the two, their orchestra was the universe, and the music they played on it was the music of life.

With a final shouted word and expansive gesture, the two ceased their casting. They looked across at each other, knowing now that whatever would happen, now must happen. Jessane suppressed a faint shudder, and Kyroth smiled his encouragement to her, yet he, too, was frightened. There was no turning back beyond this bridge. Now would come the proof of their mastery, or a demonstration of their lack. The power they had unleashed in the tiny room, in the forms they had woven it into, circled about them in silence, the silence that precedes a storm.

Then it began. At first, all that could be heard was a tiny sound, high pitched, but so quiet that it seemed to come from the stars themselves. At the sound, the whorls of light that danced in the room ceased their random movement, and began to circle about the two sorcerors. Circle upon circle, loop after loop, draped over them as the sound grew ever louder. Soon they were covered in blazing light that shamed the robes they wore. The sound grew until they could hardly stand it. They winced as it attacked their ears, and soon after their whole bodies. The power filled them, changed them, transformed them.

With a great crash of a thousand thunderbolts, the tower split open, and a sun was born upon the mountain top. No, two suns were born, for two bright forms of light burst forth from the ruined tower, and ascended into the sky. There they danced upon the rays of the rising sun, and flew among the clouds, turned gold by the light of the sun. As they grew more sure of themselves, they flew higher and higher, until the land was a blur beneath them.

When they who had been Jessane and Kyroth were strong enough, they rose above the planet that had given them birth. Now they were free; free of the Darkness that had threatened them, free to ride the stellar winds and free to sail the great ocean of the night. The cosmos is now their home and the winds that sing through it their meat and drink. Their fleshly bodies were set aside, like cocoons at the coming of the spring warmth. From such, a new and wonderful life has come.

And what of the planet covered by the Darkness they left behind? They do not know, nor do they care. They have mourned it, and then passed beyond mourning. It is now the past, and they have turned away from it, looking instead upon the future, in all its bright promise amid the countless stars.

Copyright © 1998 Terry O'Brien {dragonmage@sprynet}