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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 7:40 pm 

Joined: Sep 22, 2013
Posts: 889
by Barinellos
Status: Public :diamond:

The snowfield blew with ceaseless fury, borne on winter's wind and mountain air. The ice this far north never melted and the proud spires were crusted with millennia of glacial rime. All save one mountain whose height was unnaturally shorn low, casting it in the perpetual shadow of its brethren. Where once a titanic tor had stood, studded by fortresses, now existed only a blasted caldera, smooth surface seemingly scooped perfectly from the mountain's base. And within that snowy pit, a man stood vigilantly against the roaring tempest.

Frost collected in Zhiran's beard, and with one thick knuckled hand, he ran fingers through the hair, dislodging the icicles threatening to form. Despite the frigid conditions, the archmage took no notice, totally comfortable in thick azure robes and a heavy fur cloak. The ice clad fabric crunched with his every move, the sound lost in the howl of the wind.

"Where was it?" he murmured with a frown, a scowl shifting the thick indigo whorls tattooed across his face. He sighed heavily and paced inches above the glittering unbroken snow, boots treading air as solidly as stone.

"I've forgotten enough to fill a hundred tomes, but I refuse to believe I've misplaced this!" he shouted to himself, frustration mounting as his search dragged on. With a dour glare, he relented, lifting one hand as a single of the myriad rings on his overlong fingers lit, pulsing a beacon that drew him further from the valley's nadir. Zhiran ceased the illusion of walking altogether and simply rose along the slope of the caldera's walls, at last stopping as the light shifted from rapid strobe to a steady shine.

"Why in Dominia's infinite hells would I place it here?" Zhiran sighed. "The center would have been... No." He pinched the bridge of his large nose and shut his eyes. "No. I never wanted to come back here regardless. It didn't matter at the time." He pursed his lips, icy quills in his facial hair jutting away from his features and sharp eyes searching within buried stone. With deliberate care, he placed his hand flat against the ice and sank it into the frozen cliffs.

His arm pushed deeper in, groping for something just out of reach. Displeasure coursed through him as he reached deeper and finally yanked a rough chunk of solid hewn crystal from the cliff, the object of both his search and current ill temper. Resting in his palm was an imprinted gem, and within its weight rested an arsenal so powerful and heavy that Zhiran had hidden it rather than carry that weight with him. It held much more than spells though, the memories etched in its crystal depths were of moments whose devastation were more than any sane being could have been expected to keep. Zhiran had locked those moments away, locked the spells and the man who would use them away. He'd hoped to never witness what he was truly capable of again.

But he had little choice.

Rishima's hunt had left a swathe of carnage in her wake. Whatever had lured her from her palatial city on Rabiah had also driven her to abandon discretion and honeyed words. She was on a rampage and cared nothing for those caught in her path. If he were to face her, there could be no negotiation nor compromise. He had to meet her with guile or overwhelming force, and of the two, one was likely to be far more effective than the other.

Zhiran shot upwards from the crater and descended slowly amidst the tearing winds, his cloak flapping savagely about his solid form as his boots sank into the snow at the lip of the mountain. Despite the vista, he was preoccupied with the ugly rock in his hand. One by one his rings lit and the glow languorously seeped into the stone, stirring it as if it did not wish to be awakened.

Overwhelming force... that was an apropos description. Each regret he held in his palm was a tragedy unto itself, but worse was the tale they wove of the being who could do such things. These were his darkest secrets, of a time when gods walked across worlds and he'd strode in their numbers, both more and less than a man. In those days when he'd been known by title more often than name.

Known best as The Archmage.


Large hands spread over the railing and stone creaked at their weight. The view from the tower was precisely measured, the summer night's panorama glittering far below. Mortals lived their evanescent existences under the shadow of his castle hanging sprawled in the sky, an arcane engine compiling the energies flowing through it. What a mystery it must be to them, but their fleeting wonders were ill served trying to unravel it. There were greater mysteries at work. That was, after all, what had drawn him here in the first place.

Zhiran regarded the structure around him, as well as the blazing runes and formulae, the eldritch geometry stained across the heavens. They were an oddity to those old enough to remember a time before their appearance, but there were precious few of such left. To most alive, they had always simply been there. The lights burnt nearly static against the shifting aurora that wove through them, all a grand tapestry of calculation beyond the like of mortal ken. Zhiran watched those heavens, the subtle measurement that almost imperceptibly changed as it hung in the skies... and behind the lights, the darkness beyond the stars. He could gaze past those celestial figures, deeper than the skin of the world.

And he felt them move, vast presences shifting in the darkness, powers that rivaled his own. And they were coming for him. He scowled and ran one hand across his mustache, a youthful facade that hadn't been true for thousands of years, the body he'd dwelt in during his prime long ago. It was inevitable that he would be forced to confront them eventually. He simply had hoped it was something that could have been delayed, indefinitely if at all possible. Life rarely ceded such favors to those so long lived, though.

Ripples disturbed the sky as the astral membrane refracted, bursts of five pointed light as the image of stars and thought shifted at the intrusion. The disturbances were regular, first one followed shortly by others. Four in total, somewhere out there in the darkness, and they prowled at the edges of his senses. He knew they were there, and more, they were surely aware of him as well.

Hours passed as he watched the ground below, waiting, and all the while he could feel them gathering themselves and preparing. The moons followed their high arcs along the lines described for them, and watching their silent trek Zhiran brooded, readying himself.

When they came, it was sudden, coordinated, and as simple as that Zhiran was no longer alone. He drew his power, sinking mana into the core of his being as he turned from the nightscape and crossed the immense balcony, striding through titanic double doors that led into the sanctuary. Within, there were four figures waiting, each as different from one another as he was from them.

In the center, an immense golden being stood, lit from within and only vaguely humanoid at best. Draped about his form was a robe woven of silver cloth that reflected his radiance. He stood several heads taller than the Archmage, making him nearly twice the height of a mortal man. Zhiran was sure it was a purposeful statement of his position, allowing him to look down upon the rest of the assemblage and the world at large. No matter how beatific he presented himself, it could not disguise the imperious gaze he swept over everything in his presence.

To his right another man paced along the wall, more intent on the building than the meeting at hand. By any means, the figure was ancient, face lined and hair sparse and snowy. Despite the unfathomable age he wore, he moved with a deceptive spryness. His clothes were precisely and neatly cut, once more at odds with his weathered features. In his movements, his face was occasionally turned towards Zhiran and he could see one empty eye socket that spoke of more than the simple lack of an eye. It was a void deeper than the merely physical.

The remaining two stood at odds with one another but held a great deal in common. The pair were both women with an elvish cast to their features. One wore earthy colors and thick robes piled atop layer after layer and countless pockets decorated her garb. She had a simple, if plain beauty about her and she showed little concern with her appearance, oddly adding to the welcoming aura she exuded.

The other, however, wore her vanity openly. Her hair was silken and shimmering, her features sharp and stark under the widow's peak her hair swept back from. Her clothing was tight and practical, laced together with dozens of artifacts hanging from delicate chains and thongs of leather. She leaned against the furthest wall, distractedly scowling and clearly wishing she was elsewhere. Only the occasional glance of curiosity broke her moody reverie.

Zhiran knew them all in turn. The great glowing god called himself The Master, the old man wore the title The Historian, while the elf in her heavy robes must be The Mender. The last of their numbers was referred to as The Scientist, but she was the only being here that Zhiran knew personally, and in their time he'd known her as Ellia.

"Archmage," The Master's voice rang out at last, a golden and deep peal that matched his assumed form. "Well met. It is long overdue, don't you agree?"

"Those are not the terms I'd have chosen." Zhiran spoke tersely as he stepped further within the chamber, surrounded on all sides by a quartet of the most powerful lords of the Dominian Cabal. "You have disturbed my studies."

"They've disturbed mine as well." Ellia added, approaching the group at last. "I'm sure you of all people can appreciate how vital my, our, work can be."

"Hello Ellia." Zhiran said richly. "Or would you prefer your title?"

"Archmage." she nodded to him. "Let us keep things professional for the moment."

"Very well Scientist. Are you to speak for this coterie?"

"No. She is not." The Master responded, voice forceful for having been ignored.

"Then what do you want?"

"Very well, it seems brevity is what you wish and we shall not trouble you long, hopefully. Your studies, as you've said, have been disturbed. We shall therefore be succinct to better ease the burden of your time we are occupying, should you care to listen. We've come to treat with you Archmage. We wish to bridge this..." he hesitated for a moment, drama and effect the only reason for the pause, "schism between our grand works. You have much to offer and we have much to offer in return."

"You wish to..." Zhiran hesitated, stopping in his tracks and drawing himself up. He let some of the power he'd gathered bleed off as his eyes narrowed. It was not an unforeseen end, but it had not been what he'd been expecting of this intrusion. For a being as old and powerful as Zhiran, so used to control... he found he did not like it. He suspected that was precisely why The Master had been so sudden.

"We have gathered multiple times to discuss your admittance into the Cabal. There are very few among our number who do not see the benefits such a potent figure as yourself could provide. Your studies have potential beyond what we can imagine after all, and The Scientist can attest to the strides she has made given our support," The Master waved one large hand towards her, nearly dismissively, "just think of what you might learn given the same."

The Scientist shot The Master a withering glare at the backhanded statements he'd made, subtly putting her below Zhiran to further his own agenda. Still... she'd agreed to this and a great deal of what he was saying was true. It roused a hunger in her for new avenues of research that she couldn't accomplish on her own, ego be damned.

"You can't fathom the amount of information I have at my fingertips. It's exponentially more than I could gather on my own even after all this time. Imagine what you could accomplish." The Scientist drew herself up to her full height, pride and business warring for her attention as her mind turned back to whatever disrupted experiments she'd left to attend this meeting.

"It's a great deal of information," The Historian chimed in, at last acknowledging Zhiran directly. "More, I would personally want to add your findings to the annals. You're a very fascinating figure Archmage. Besides, there may come a time you'd be grateful to have your own story written for you." He turned and stared with his empty eye at Zhiran knowingly. "Memory can be such a perfidious thing after all."

Silence reigned for a few tense moments as Zhiran regarded each of them, lips partially parted at the unexpected turn the events had taken. He returned his attention to The Master.

"Flattery and promises. Grand statements of accomplishment. I admit I was expecting something different."

"We're sorry if you expected anything otherwise Archmage," The Mender answered softly. "You must know we hold you in very high regards. We understand the Cabal's reputation, but we are not as fearsome as it would suggest, no more so than you are yourself. There are times when members of our enclave can become... severe, but it is all for the greater good."

"You know the chaos of the Eternities," The Master spoke again, looming over Zhiran. "Is that not proof enough that chaos is inherent in all things mortal? We do not subjugate our people. We are intent on guiding them, bringing order to a chaotic nature."

"You do all that you do for the greater good then?"


"You are powerful beyond measure and seek to bring law to a lawless domain. It isn't worship you seek from mortals, but merely obedience, strictly for their own good." Zhiran continued, starting to slowly stalk between each of the assembled members.

"We want to help them Archmage." The Mender answered, her voice becoming a bit more forceful, conviction in her words. "That's all there is. You know as well as I do that there are true evils that lurk in Dominia. We want to shield mortals from those as well, help them to achieve their dreams and find peace."

"Those are honorable sentiments, miss." Zhiran looked at her, expression softening slightly. This was his moment of decision, the tipping point, and in that time, he would lie to say he was not tempted by what they were offering. "There is one flaw in your assumptions, benevolent as they may seem."

"I don't understand..." she responded. The Historian and Master both stopped, sensing something while The Scientist's attention had drifted off, uninterested in the discussion now that she'd played her part.

"I've seen the skies of Pythdon."

Zhiran stared at none of them in particular, eyes distant as tension began to rise in the room. His voice never broke, never betrayed what he felt, but all the same his presence grew, filling the room in a way that left no doubt of his feelings on the matter. He folded his hands behind him and waited for some answer or denial.

"That was-"

"I'm sure you think it justified, but no. There was more, the prowling blight you unleashed in Casma, the scorched portal of Dranakas, the way you flooded Mril, and the list goes on and on!"

"What we did avoided further conflict." The Master answered, voice filled with subtle anger.

"You were the cause of the conflict! What you did doomed millions that would not bow to you."

"So what? You think us evil then, to sacrifice so many for the better of all?"

"Good and evil are subjective constructs devoid of meaning without context." Zhiran waved vaguely at the statement. "I take no moral stance on your actions. What I'm saying is that you are wanton immature children breaking that which displeases you."

"A... A child!?" Ellia sputtered but was quickly silenced with a glare from The Master. Tension crackled between those assembled while The Master turned his regard back to Zhiran.

With a polite cough, The Historian spoke.

"We are quite aware of your age, as well as the extent of your ability Archmage. You know as well as we that you are not the oldest being in this room."

"And you would presume to call us children." The Master said flatly. Zhiran just shook his head and silently laughed.

"You prove my point. You are children, unobservant, selfish, and cocksure of your own invincibility, convinced of your superiority through might. If you were truly what you claim, you'd have realized by now the room you stand in is not in a building." Zhiran's body faded as his words echoed, yet his presence did not diminish. When next he spoke, his voice came from everywhere. "You require perspective that you sorely miss. You aren't within my castle, you stand within me."

The silent tension that had been building washed over the assembled at that moment as realization struck. The Master's glow darkened while the others looked to their sides warily, suddenly realizing that rather than surrounding him, they were surrounded themselves.

"You claim to understand the extents of my ability, but you are direly wrong. If you make such base assumptions and continue to barrel forward, then how could you be trusted to govern a world with its best interests?" The great doors to the balcony opened and the form they'd been speaking to strode back in. "You are children intent on forcing your will on others with flattery or a display of power." Zhiran glared directly at The Master as he spoke. "You chose to use your form as a means to demonstrate your might. I felt it only fair to do so in kind."

The members of the envoy reacted in a variety of ways at his reappearance. The Historian reassessed the architecture of Zhiran's outer form, while The Scientist reassessed the form before her. The Mender anxiously distanced herself and The Master? The Master smoldered with rage, air hissing as his golden form burnt hotter.

"I'm not content to leave it at that." Zhiran said as he turned his back to them to gaze out into the sky. "Look to the stars."

Far above, the lights of the arcane figures continued in their silent work calculating the aethereal. All, save The Master who stared coldly at Zhiran, watched those mystic algorithms run. The quiet was broken at last as The Scientist gasped, wide eyed and joined The Master in staring. Her expression, however, was shocked.

The lines, whorls, and shapes in the sky matched those etched in the whorls upon Zhiran's skin.

"That isn't sorcery." She hissed, less a question and more a statement.

"No. That is the furthest reaches of my conscience." Zhiran's voice was almost gentle when he spoke, and at last The Master regarded the sky, anger fading to betray an expression alien on his visage: concern.

"After all that we offered you, you are trying to provoke us." He spoke calmly, but his tone was carefully measured.

"No," The Historian answered. "He is making a statement. For all the power we four possess he is willing to turn his own against us."

"He's miscalculated though," The Scientist coolly added. "There are more than four in our numbers."

"He doesn't care." The Mender gently provided. "This display wasn't about dominance. It was about sacrifice. It is a question asking what we would be willing to lose if we took offense."

"Yes." Zhiran nodded, not unkindly, in her direction. "I do not believe what you claim and I reject your proposal. I question your methods, if not your goal. You wish order in the world, but your mission is a fanatic's desire to see things as he wishes them to be. There may be some in your alliance whose wishes are as pure as you claim, but most of you are willing to commit atrocities, nobly dressed and armored in righteousness. I will have none of it."

Zhiran, the fraction of him that shared the room with them, regarded the envoys.

"You want my allegiance, and more, you want to control the worlds under my aegis. I'm not inclined to grant you either. What I will give you is my apathy. It is not worth our efforts to interfere with the other's work, no matter how brutal I may find your means. I want no part in what you do, as either ally or antagonist. Leave me be and I shall leave you to whatever awful things you conspire to do." He turned and strode once more to the balcony, resuming his position from before their arrival. "Just know that whatever you do in your dominion is upon your own heads, but there are worlds caught in my research that I shall not allow to be swept up in your schemes."

Silence reigned for some long moments and then slowly, the room emptied, the figures gone just as suddenly as they had arrived. Save one. The Master drifted into the night air and stared down at Zhiran's back.

"Your terms are acceptable, if just barely. So long as you do not interfere in my affairs I am... willing to leave you to yours. Know yourself, though, that you came precariously close to war this evening. I offered you greater realms and you chose to bar us from your own."

"But it would take too much for you to claim them."

"It would."

"And you are not so sure that you would survive." Zhiran finished, but he spoke only to the open air, the subtle shifting of lines across the astral boundary wavering angrily in The Master's passage.

In some small part of the smallest part of the grand form Zhiran used to observe this world, he wondered, briefly, if he'd just made a mistake.


Zhiran had clearly made a mistake.

The spell struck him with resounding force, pushing him back several paces, his ire mounting even higher as the ground gave way under his stance. To add to everything he'd been forced to endure since this debacle began, he had only himself to blame for this. He had miscalculated.

Fury coursing through him, much of it directed inward, he raised an open hand and forked the arcane onslaught being flung at him. With a powerful backhanded strike, his arm collided with the spell and shattered it, the backlash exploding into the Historian and sending the elder staggering. Smoke, or some sort of miasma, rose from the embers on Zhiran's clothes, his bare flesh underneath marred by the simmering eldritch power that had been unleashed upon him.

"Enough!" Zhiran bellowed, reining his emotions in tightly, power bleeding off his form as his feelings tried to find another outlet. When he did not advance on the other planeswalker, the Historian cautiously rose and dusted himself off.

"Oh... it's you." the Historian grimaced, straightening his clothes. "No wonder my wards failed."

"I apologize, then, if I startled you." Zhiran responded, words harsh and flat with spite. He released the rest of his mana, letting it all go with a singular impossibly deep breath. Much of his wrath faded with it, but there was, nonetheless, a solid core of steel to his voice when he spoke again. "I did not consider what my appearance might drive you to do. I have not come to wage any battle. I have a message for your masters, something relevant to your annals that you must record."

"Well I didn't think this was a social visit after all." The Historian answered, strolling back over to sink into his seat once more, open books still piled high across the table in the sanctum he had carved for himself. "I'll skip the pleasantries, as I'm sure they'll sound as ancient a platitude as they really are. Speak now, what urgent business has you breaking into my offices?"

"The Builder has deserted your war."

"That is..." The Historian began, shaking his head and scribbling a single line over the course of a dozen pages in as many tomes. "Not wholly a surprise. The Builder was never built for the rigors of war, but then again, who among us is?"

"Pity those that are, for they shall never know peace." Zhiran repeated, the ancient line from lifetimes ago. The Historian nodded as if he understood it all too well and went back to scratching line after line into his books.

"We didn't choose the war. Everything we do now is just in the name of bare survival. I'm not overly fond of the alternative after all." He added, resignation weighing his words down and slowing his quill.

"We all have our limits Historian. The Builder reached his. I wonder what you will do when you reach yours."

"I could ask the same of you Archmage." The Historian retorted sharply, paying only partial attention to his guest. "Out of curiosity, how is it that you came to be the one delivering this news in the first place? I'd have expected someone actually involved in our affairs to come telling me this."

"The Builder abandoned his duties and sought refuge beyond your reach. He came to me. He didn't employ subterfuge or any other nefarious means, he just told me everything about your war and made his bargain. For his protection, he traded the sum total of his work." Zhiran crossed his arms and watched the other man take notes. "He has plans he's yet to share with me, but more than anything, I believe he desires penance for his part in your war. At first, I doubted him, but... not anymore."

"What did he do to earn your notoriously hard to acquire trust?" The Historian chortled, dipping his quill and continuing to write in his logs.

"He didn't do anything." Zhiran said, some of the flint coming back to his voice. "He was followed."

"More deserters? At this rate..."

"No." That single word carried with it a shockwave of rage the Historian felt with all his senses. For the second time since his arrival, The Historian put his quill to the side and turned his full attention to the Archmage.

Zhiran's tattoos had become dark, and the growing storm of his emotions roiled just underneath his flesh. The taller being reached into his cloak and withdrew a small medal, tossing it for the Historian to snatch out of the air. The elder ran a thumb over it before lifting it to the light and looking it over.

"What is this?"

"The last mortal remains of The Taskmaster." Zhiran growled and his voice resounded even over the soft plink of the sigil striking the floor.

"What?!" The Historian stood, chair colliding with desk and sending a great tumble of books to avalanche in stacks to the floor. "What did you do?" He hissed, sudden alarm obvious in his every action.

"The Taskmaster did not take The Builder's resignation so well as you. He came in force to drag the dragon back or silence him forever so that his secrets could not aid your traitors." Zhiran shook with the recollection of the intrusion. "He broke the compact we struck, in hubris he brought your damnable war to one of my worlds! Do you have any idea the damage he did in his march? Years of research spoiled thanks to him, to say nothing of the cost in lives!"

The Historian stood silently as Zhiran began to pace, fury driving him to move lest he lash out. The Historian watched and slowly sank once more, shock wearing off as he realized how bad the damage received had been to the Loyalists. Two of their numbers removed in a single strike, and all because The Taskmaster had been foolhardy enough to think their numbers were still great enough to match the Archmage. At the height of their power, it would have been costly to attack Zhiran, now it very well may prove fatal to them all.

"Couldn't you possibly have brought good news?" The Historian sighed and deflated somewhat, feeling his prodigious age at last. He bent and picked up the medal again, flipping it over in his palm and considering what to do with it. "Consider your message delivered Archmage. Now do me a favor and leave."

"That wasn't my message Historian." Zhiran's voice rang out, clear and calm, the excess anger burnt away, but in its absence was something equally disturbing. "The message I have is an ultimatum, for any member of the Cabal, Loyalist or Traitor alike. I remember the terms of our armistice. If your war ever spills past your borders again, it is on your own heads. The only reason I did not raise arms against you sooner is because it was not worth it, but if you plan to tear down every world in the wake of your struggle, I will demonstrate how unworthy a goal that is."


From high above, Zhiran watched the war unfold, sight unmarred by weather. He hovered in an enormous column of air, the thick clouds built high around him, rotating slowly and stacked to the uppermost limits of the heavens. They stirred not for the turbulence of wind, the air as still and crisp as a mirrored pond, but by the sheer enormity of power gathered to the archmage's command and held in check solely by his resolution.

What he was contemplating was unforgivable, and yet he seemed to have no choice. They had driven him to do this, stepping beyond their lines again and turning yet another virgin world into a martyr for their cause.

They had tested their limits and his own. So, an example must be made, a single atrocity to prevent an infinite number more. Yet who was he to sit in judgement? What right did he truly have?

As he stared down at the world below, torn and bleeding, he felt at war with himself. Would this act not prove he was no better than the Cabal? In the end, it was irrelevant. His sacrifice was necessary, even if it marred his very being for eternity. An example must be made.

He could feel them down there, the tiny lives thrown against each other at their master's whims. Most directly underneath had stopped fighting, either sensing the momentous decision hanging in the balance or dazzled by the sight towering above them. Zhiran could feel the familiar strain of the veil of the world, but the scale at which he leveled his will against it was an order of magnitude greater than ever before, possibly more than in all the histories of Dominia.

He remembered the only other time he had wielded a similar power, the blinding moment of rage and grief in which he had scoured the kingdom that had cost him his son from the face of his homeworld. He had no emotion to shield him from his actions now. He felt only shame at what his son would have thought, the betrayal of everything he had sought to teach him, the very fundamental belief in the responsibility one held with magic.

What he contemplated, driven to do, was anathema to his very being.

But an example must be made. The Cabal had to learn.

Zhiran pushed and the sky itself bent. It resisted, straining and weak, but his will was implacable. With a final deep pulse that echoed across the skin of the world, the veil itself buckled and the nothing came rushing in. Darkness, indescribable light, pure madness cascaded down in a soundless roar, pouring in through the rent above. It resembled a waterfall of black light and brilliant mists falling into the world in silent cacophony, impossibly huge and terribly quiet.

It struck the ground and washed over the armies like implacable tides and Zhiran could swear he could hear every scream as the Eternities devoured the lives below, and above it all was the sad deafening shriek of the world itself. Darkness ate the sky and the cracks of reality widened, aether pouring into the dissolving fabric of the world as it faded.

How many people died because of him? How many sons and fathers, mothers and sisters, did he extinguish. He hung far above and watched a world die, never looking away and lips set in a firm line at the grim task he did.

Darkness turned to blinding light as Ashkanar wept and died beneath his gaze.

"Kavid... forgive me-

The crystal landed heavily in the powder, dropped from Zhiran's hands, as breath came gasping to him. For the first time since arriving, Zhiran felt cold. The chill ran up his spine and settled in his soul, not the shock of having murdered a world, but at those last three words. He looked down, realizing he'd fallen to his knees at some point and watched in confusion as tiny droplets of ice buried themselves in the snow.

They were tears, and now that he knew that, he felt them, hot and stinging his eyes.

With a shaking hand he reached for the memory, one of the worst moments in his exceptionally long life and the first clue he had found in over a century that could tell him something about what he had lost. That horrible moment and those simple words.

"Kavid... forgive me." he whispered. Ten thousand years ago, near this very place, his son had died. Somewhere within those ten thousand years, he had truly lost his son, forgotten as he'd grown distant from the world, and when he had come to his senses, it was only then he'd realized what had escaped him. In the one memory he would never have sought in any other circumstance, he'd found some shred of that now.

"Kavid... forgive me." the ancient archmage pleaded, not for the weight of his sins, but for the march of ages that obliterated the memories that had made him a man. Less, and more, than a god.


Zhiran sat at his workbench, weighing the heavy staff in his hands, the golden light of his sanctum shimmering over the ugly rock affixed to the top of it. Terina's quiet hoofsteps announced her entrance, but Zhiran paid her no heed, eyebrows drawn down in a look of concern as he worked to finish securing the stone on the end of the shaft.

The elf opened the windows, a soft breeze stirring the overlarge leaves of the potted palm trees and sending the delicate crystal chimes hanging in the air to singing. As the wind caressed his hair and beard, Zhiran sighed tiredly and got up, stretching with a groan. When Terina approached, he leaned over to his apprentice and gave her a light hug.

"Good morning Terina."

"Good morning Archmage." she said with a small smile, awkwardly returning the affection. He'd never done anything quite like that before, and it made her curious. It also concerned her, if just a little. He was so set in his ways to be nearly immovable. Any change, however slight, was noteworthy. "How are you today?"

"Honestly? I don't think I can be sure."

"You know how nervous we get when you aren't sure of something." Terina chided.

"Bah," Zhiran chuckled, "Enough teasing child. It's merely complicated."

"Ah. That's different then." She said walking to the hollow globe by the shelves and the tea set hidden within. "You know we have faith that there isn't anything so complicated that you can't figure it out eventually."

"Faith can often be a heavy burden. Doesn't this old man have enough of those already?" Zhiran asked while making his own way to the heavy leather throne that he favored in the mornings.

"You can carry a little more." She replied while she went about her daily routine, preparing his tea and adding just the right spices. "But if you cannot bear it, then let me ease some of your burden if I may. What is so complicated that it has you this upset?"

Zhiran sat and reflected on the question for the remainder of the time it took her to bring him his tea. His eyes often drifted to the staff laying darkly on the table across the room.

"Archmage, are you alright?" she asked, genuine concern in her voice now.

"Yes Terina. Forgive an old man for being lost in a memory." He turned to her and took his cup. "I've been a bit distracted."

"That is alright master. I take it was not a pleasant memory?"

"No, it was awful. But... I think it might be more precious to me than I can ever say." He sipped and nodded his thanks. still slightly distracted by his conundrum. "If you want to know what bothers me so, then I have a question for you."

She sat across from him, leaning forward, full attention given over to his every word. For a moment, a phantom memory raced across Zhiran's mind. It was more the familiarity of it than any specific detail, but before he could reach out to grasp it, it had escaped him entirely.

"Suppose you could lock away the most awful memory you ever had and throw away the key, but in doing so, you threw away just the tiniest bit of something you never believed you could miss so badly. Would it be worth holding on to that memory for such meager scraps?'

"I think it would depend on how awful it was, master." She'd straightened up as he spoke, and now stole glances at the staff across the room. She may not know much about it, but she knew enough. "If you remembered it though, there is nothing saying you had to keep it afterwards."

"True, but... even something awful can be sentimental under the right circumstances. Perhaps that's just something that comes with age or maybe it is just foolishness." He shook his head and leaned back into his chair. "Never believe them when they say you become wise as you age. You learn much, but that doesn't keep you from being a fool."

Terina just shook her head and sighed with exasperation, nudging his foot with her hoof. He raised an eyebrow and looked down at her and the look she returned spoke more eloquently than else she could manage. He chuckled and sat back up.

"Point taken child."

She nodded, horns bobbing with the motion, satisfied with his response and went to gather her equipment to begin their lessons for the day, but as her back was turned, Zhiran's eyes drifted once more to the staff. It bore the records of his greatest sins, more than just the death of Ashkanar, but in them he'd found some measure of absolution he'd been desperate for. Even now, having taken the answers from the stone, he couldn't bear to part with the source. He clung to that awful moment because in it, he'd found answers that he had scoured worlds to find.

My son was named Kavid... and I will never forget that again.

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