Chapter Forty-Three To Anoint the Champion
Loracaz and the others followed Arialla into the tower, which was quiet and poorly lit. It was a stark contrast from only a few months earlier, when Loracaz had been crowned Prince of Onsira. The long open hall was silent but for their footsteps, and cold from being left empty over the long winter.
“I haven’t been in here since you were made princess,” Mearrk’hal told Arialla, breaking the heavy silence that surrounded them.
“You mean queen, do you not?” Vincente asked.
Mearrk’hal shook his head. “After she chose Z’Lé over me, there was much that I missed. I let the years pass with only her letters and news of the kingdom to inform me of how she was doing.”
“When she–” Zarrek gasped. “When she what?”
Arialla looked to her son, wide-eyed and nervous.
“He doesn’t know, does he?” Mearrk’hal asked.
“I never had reason to tell them,” Arialla replied.
“Tell me what?” Zarrek asked, the tension in his voice recognizable.
“I courted your mother ages ago,” Mearrk’hal explained as Arialla pursed her lips. “Once she’d dismissed all the other suitors, it was a choice between me and your father. It wasn’t a decision that she made lightly.”
“Our courtship was rather long,” Arialla explained.
Narrowing his eyes at them both, Zarrek cursed again. “I count myself lucky that you are not my father,” the young prince scowled. “As for you, Mother, you should never have called your old lover back. What is he going to do? He certainly hasn’t done us any good so far.”
“Your youthful naiveté is showing, Zarrek,” Vénes told him. “Mearrk’hal has done a great deal to help Onsira. The armies of your allies are here because he and those he’s helped asked them to come. He summoned the dragon Jza and brought your mother back from Thiizav. What more do you expect?”
“We don’t need him meddling in my family’s affairs,” Zarrek snapped back.
Before anyone could respond to his criticism, a glow burned brightly around the sorcerer’s body. A silvery-white circle appeared in the air in front of his forehead, and he looked up at it curiously.
“What is that?” Shu-Giri asked, remembering the last few times Vénes had reacted to the presence of powerful magic.
“The white mages are here,” Vénes replied, pointing up at the circular balcony that ran the circumference of the tower and looked down upon the main hall.
Fifteen hoods of white silk appeared above the queen and her allies. They gazed down at her and the others through milky white eyes. Vénes nodded to them, acknowledging them in a magician’s unspoken way. The mages were those so embedded in the magic of their deity that their embodiment of it was quite literal. They were able to maintain control of it and not let it overtake their mortal bodies, mainly because they devoted themselves only to that one school of magic.
“The champion of legend is here,” one of the white mages intoned.
Together, the mages of Kearr created a disc of light in the space that the balcony surrounded. It brightened and grew, forming itself into a sphere that floated up into the highest reaches of the tower, where nobody had been for centuries. Loracaz stared at it, captivated by the colors that it lit up as it ascended. When it could rise no further, the sphere of light rested against a circle of stained glass that Arialla had never before known existed. Shades of yellow and green light scattered throughout the tower, down every wall at every level, until it filled the main chamber at ground level.
One beam of light in particular cast down upon the prince; it twinkled white along with the rays of green and yellow. Loracaz could hardly see in its brightness; he could only feel his feet leaving the ground, his body floating up into the light. Arialla watched as her son ascended up into the height of the tower, as weightless as though he, too, were made of light.
“To protect the Kingdom of Legend,” Loracaz said, as though he’d been asked a question that nobody else heard.
A sphere of golden-green light emerged from him, and it grew until it touched the walls, then kept growing, passing through the ancient bricks and emerging into the daylight outside, and still it expanded more and more. The golden-green sphere didn’t stop growing until it surrounded the entire royal palace. With the palace encased in Jenh’s magic, a bolt of pale yellow, traced by jagged lines of jade, shot from the prince’s chest. It beamed through the window and out into the cool spring air, where it leapt from the tower towards the Temple of Jenh. Loracaz’s body crackled with magic as another sphere of protection formed around the temple, surrounding it with Jenh’s power as the colors of her magic swirled together.
When the spell of protection was complete, Loracaz slowly drifted back down to the floor. His mother watched him descend, nervous that at any moment the magic would give up and he would come crashing down. But the magic held strong and set him down gently.
“What was that?” his mother asked, rushing over to take his hands. “What happened to you?”
“The mages knew about that window,” Loracaz explained. “I don’t think that anyone else ever had…”
“With Kearr’s powerm they can see through any shadows as though there was only brightness,” Vénes explained for him.
The prince nodded to him and went on. “I could feel Zeah growing more powerful inside me with that light; I think there must have been Zeah crystals mixed in with the glass.”
“So it really exists,” Vénes breathed, glancing up at the golden-green light that glowed high up in the reaches of the tower. “I’d always thought it was merely a myth.”
“What are you talking about?” Shu-Giri asked him.
“They called it the Window of Jenh’s Soul. The story goes that some sorcerers made it from the dust of the crystal that Jenh was trapped in. They gave it to Loracaz I and the clergy of Jenh’s temple. Most tales from the days of old turn out to be no more than legend, so when the story ended with the window being hidden away somewhere, I never thought it was possible to find it.”
Loracaz listened intently to the sorcerer’s words and then replied, “If there’s any time to be glad that it’s actually true, that time is now.”
“The hero hid it away for his descendant to find,” another voice told them. When Loracaz looked around to see who it was, he saw that the fifteen white mages had come down to the main floow, and now surrounded them.
“That you have activated it is both a blessing and a sign of the danger you are in, young hero.” one of them said, but Loracaz couldn’t tell which. All of them wore their white hoods drawn close over their faces, each as white with holy magic as the last. “Even though our light has the power to purify evil and vanquish darkness, Métius sees you and your beloved goddess as his true enemy.”
“Do you have any idea what he plans to do?” Loracaz asked them. “We know he’s coming, but where will he focus his attack?”
“He may choose to attack the palace,” one of the mages answered. “If the royal family is no more, he will be able to manifest more of himself in Onsira.”
“Or he could destroy this tower first,” another one added.
“The temple is more likely,” another one chimed in. “It is Jenh whom he hates, and whom he will go after first. All he needs is the right access.”
“Meaning the high priest and priestess,” the one beside him finished.
“So really, you’re not sure,” Shu-Giri said with a frown. “With so many different places to protect, we’re lucky to have those protection spells you just cast.”
Loracaz nodded. “Still, I fear for my people…”
“His Highness has every reason to consider them,” one of the mages said. “It is very possible that many lives will be lost this evening.”
“The evening?” Loracaz asked. “You don’t think Métius will strike earlier than that?”
“He abhors the daylight,” one of the white mages reminded him. “That alone would weaken him, but this being the land where Jenh’s magic prevails will make manifesting here even more difficult for him. He will most certainly not strike until after sunset, Your Highness.”
“But it will be today?” Mearrk’hal asked.
“It will,” one of the mages confirmed. “We can feel him moving closer, trying to find his way through the portal that darkens his evil temple.”
“At least we have enough time to warn the people living in the city,” Sir Tamlin noted.
Tikaj nodded in agreement. “They will be safe in Kearr’s temple, and Jenh’s, so long as it’s not under attack.”
“I doubt that He would have reason to attack Aamh’s temple,” Tamlin added, “now his own worshipers. All four temples should be safe.”
“The rest of the city should flee to the outer villages while there is time enough for them to make the journey,” Tikaj said.
“Aamh shall take as many as she can under her wing,” Vincente added. “Whether or not they pay homage to her, she will protect anything living.”
“It seems that word of that has spread quickly,” Vénes responded. “Her temple was rather full last night.”
“So long as our citizens are safe,” Arialla rejoined.
“Another thing…” a mage said. “We are told that there are creatures bold enough to attack in the daylight.”
“That’s true,” Loracaz told the mages. “But they are lesser demons, and the paladins are able to fight them off with little trouble.”
“You will see much worse once night comes,” the mage told him. “There is an army of them waiting in the shadows both within and around the city.”
“They dare not strike under daylight,” another mage added.
“It’s good you sent for us,” a third one uttered. “We and the paladins may be be enough to quell the demons while your champion defund us from the greater evil.”
“And what of the other armies? Will they be of any help?” Loracaz wanted to know.
“They shall, dear prince. Not everything out there is made only of magic; there are also mortal forces waiting to move against you.”
“I’m relieved to hear that Kearr’s followers will not be alone in bearing this burden,” Loracaz replied with a heavy sigh.
“If that is all, Your Highness, we wish to attend Kearr’s temple to strengthen our power whilst we await the Dark One’s coming.”
“Of course,” Loracaz agreed.
Together, he and the queen led the holy mages and their allies out of the tower. Queen Arialla closed the doors behind her, and the magical seal renewed itself again. Looking up to the sky, they could see the spherical shield of Jenh’s magic surrounding the palace, the yellow and green swirling together. None of them were quite sure how long it would hold, nor how much evil power it could withstand. It was enough that it was there, and that it would help the palace resist the evil forces that much longer.
One of the mages stepped ahead of the others, and the rest formed two even lines behind him. In that procession, they walked through the garden, into the Onsiran royal palace, and from there they were escorted to the great wooden doors at the entrance. Arialla and the prince thanked each of them as they strode out into the daylight and proceeded northward, towards the Holy Temple of Kearr.
Prince Loracaz I, hero of Onsira and champion of Jenh, was left standing with his mother, his brother, and all of his new-found allies. Lurking in the shadows, waiting in the darkest parts of Jzifélan City, were all of the monsters that meant to deliver unto them their fate. In but a handful of hours the relentless scourge would who the kingdom’s citizens exactly why they were meant to be feared.
Although the prince and all those who’d come to aid him put forth their bravest façades, they knew what they stood to lose. For love, for family, for country, and for the gods and their magic, they would face the coming evil, set on the hope that the ancient prophecy would be enough for the hero to defend everything that was good and bright.