Chapter 1: Death of Prophecy

(Or how some stupid gits foolishly let the Savior Of The World die)

Carlene M'Bossa glanced idly out from her seat in the latticed bay window. It was cool and beautiful here but she was literally bored to tears and wiping the corner of her eye with a lace-edged hanky. Just in time for another yawn to nearly crack her jaw.

The window overlooked the square-sided inner courtyard of the conservatory which was itself situated in the very centre of the Bastion of the Shi'eem Sisterhood fortress. The place was massive. In spite of the dour greystone walls though, the sun shone and the view was lovely. At this time of the year spring tulips, hyacinth and daffodils competed with early roses, irises and peonies. It was a riotous wash of colour and fragrance. In such an idyllic setting, it was hard to believe the world was on the brink of disaster.

Spectacular view aside, Carly's only real purpose for being here was one of duty. A member of the Healing Sect must be present at all times to oversee the young man who was seated on a stone bench out in the middle of the courtyard.

Totally unnecessary as far as she could tell.

Theodore Magnus sat staring despondently at the garden’s large central fountain which depicted three scantily-clad, marble mermaids rising life-like from granite waves to throw sprays of water into the air. Droplets caught the mid-morning sun and sparkled like thousands of tiny diamonds. And it was patently obvious that the lad was totally oblivious to its beauty.

He was slumped forward, elbows resting on knees and head drooping at right-angles to his shoulder blades; hardly the right attitude for someone who was prophesied to be the one who was to fight the great blue demon, Mool, and thus save the world from evil domination.

Carly snorted. Very unlady-like but she didn't care. No one was close enough to notice anyway.

The conservatory garden was a place of peace and tranquility but the silly boy continued to resist his destiny. It was to be hoped that daily exposure to this lovely place would eventually bring him around to accept his situation

An acolyte appeared from a small wooden doorway opposite and Carly sat up, glad to have some distraction to her boring contemplation, mundane as it was. A white kerchief indicated that the girl had been recently pledged to the Healing Sect and Carly watched with critical interest as she approached young Magnus.

Carefully picking her way along the many walkways that threaded themselves through the flowering shrubs and low foliage, the girl carried a wide silver tray carefully before her like a sacred offering to the Goddess. On it sat a fine bone-china tea set complete with pot, cups and saucers, sugar bowl and cream jug. A narrow vase held a single yellow rose. Carly nodded to herself. Yellow for cheerfulness; the girl had been using her head. Carly made a mental note to find out what her name was and commend her.

The girl was nervous. Even from a distance Carly saw the vase wobble slightly. Well, that was to be expected. Their young Hero was only newly caught a week ago, and was reputed to be one of the most powerful wielders of Shadow magic on the face of the Earth.

Carly's eyes flicked involuntarily to the Watchers, four burly women of the Military Sect. One stood silently in each corner of the courtyard. They held a shield on young Magnus, of course. He had to be held thus in order to be safe. Men, after all, were not all that sensible and could not be trusted with the use of magic, even minor magic, such as the small amulets from the Age of Reason. Those relics which were called 'talismans' and were now quite rare.

Carly almost snorted again which would have been unfortunate since she was taking a sip of her tea. She made a mental note to put a concerted effort into breaking that habit. One of these days she'd do it in front of some Sister who mattered and get herself into trouble.

Her mind drifted back to talismans and the men who had made them. Most astonishing! In the course of her studies, she had just recently learned about these idiots of centuries ago.

Imagine! Allowing any kind of magic to be encapsulated into an object! How irresponsible! They claimed, of course, that the objects were safe; restricted to small tasks, such as the lighting of candles or hearth fires, sweetening your tea or lemonade, whisking the dust from your mantelpiece or the wrinkles from your clothing - things of that nature.

That meant that anyone at all could have them and use them. Even common folk. And indeed, that is exactly what had happened at first. Families acquired a talisman or 'luck piece' as commoners had sometimes called them. The amulet was used for everyday tasks and handed down from generation to generation.

An unforeseen problem arose, however. The magicians and wizards who crafted the pieces did not realize that, with time and use, the amulets slowly grew stronger. After a few nasty accidents, the danger was realized and the things were banned. Most were collected up and destroyed by throwing them into the Eye of Mool, which was a great whirlpool in the Middle Sea. The Eye was safely in the center of the great Deeps and well out of reach to everybody so that was the end of that.

Oh to be sure, some luck pieces were still around but most people kept them well hidden and seldom used them if at all. The penalty for possession of one was quite severe.

The other problem that had manifested itself with the amulets was when someone who had inborn magic used one. The effect then was very unpredictable and sometimes greatly magnified if two types of magics clashed. A very dangerous business!

Carly continued to muse idly over the subject of talismans as she watched the young acolyte thread her careful way toward Theodore. If she only had one of those little luck pieces whose particular magic was healing... of bruises, for instance. Would she turn it in?

Theoretically, bound by her oaths, she would have to, but, oh! Wouldn't it be wonderful to have such a magnification of her healing powers!

With a start she pulled her mind away from the vile thought. Talismans were evil things created by lawless magic users and pagan witches. They had been thrown back at the great arch demon himself from whence the witches probably got them in the first place.

Sighing over the impossibility of owning a magical amulet, Carly suppressed another yawn. The sister-in-training had finally reached the centre of the garden. She set the tea tray on a small, whitestone table off to one side. The young hero, whom people had ridiculously taken to calling the Redeemer or, even more ridiculously, the Chosen One, hadn't budged an inch. He was still slouched on the marble bench. The fountain continued to send brilliant sprays of water high into the sunlight, the water tinkling delightfully back into the broad granite bowl. The fellow ignored everything around him including the girl as she prepared cups of tea.

Carly could hear the girl's bright laughter through the latticework on her window. She sounded like she was doing her best to put the young man at ease.

In a way, Carly felt sorry for the lad. He was a lad really, for all he was the same age as she. Carly had just passed her eighteenth birthday. While it was true that she wore the cowl of Sisterhood - white for a healer - which signified that she was a full member of the Society of Shi'eem Sorcery, she had only worn it for a few months and was really only a small step above the acolyte.

Theodore Magnus had been "Teddy" to his friends back when he had had friends; they were since lost in the battle for his capture, a fact that surely contributed to the young man's despondency. If that weren't enough, though, he had refused to accept that the Shi'eem Sisters (he had called them witches!) knew what was best for him.

Well of course they knew was best for him; he and the rest of the world too! He had refused to submit to their wise guidance and sage advice so they had had to go and collect him. By force. Shielded by no less than thirteen of her sisters of the Military Sect, whose blue cowls were stiffened with protective strips of shining metal. Theodore Magnus had been brought to the Bastion literally kicking and screaming with defiance.

Carly shrugged irritably. The whole situation felt wrong to her somehow. It irked her because she could not quite put her finger on the reason why and the shrugging did nothing to get rid of the feeling.

Could the dissenters among the Sisterhood be right? A few of the Literary sisters in particular, those dowdy women whose noses were always stuck in dusty books and old manuscripts, and often smudged with ink to boot, maintained that Prophecy could not be forced. They claimed that things should be allowed to find their own Balance. And they said the word with a capital 'B'. Carly could distinctly hear it.

"Water will always find its own level," one plump sister in dusty grey had piped at her just a week before Teddy's capture. Collection, she corrected herself, it was a collection, not a capture... and what under the Light of Heaven had water to do with Prophecy anyway?

It was all so ridiculous! The Shi'eem Sisters had guided the course of history since the Fall of the Great Star. They had controlled kings and queens and governments for generations, and therefore the whole of the Granestella and its neighbouring lands. Granted, most of those neighbouring lands where desolate and uninhabited, except by a few beasts and beastly savages, but still. The Sisters controlled from behind the scenes, making sure all ran well and smoothly.

If from time to time, blatant opposition or internal political strife in the form of rebellion raised its ugly head, well then the Military Sect dealt with such matters. All was usually soon quelled - quietly if possible, but the Sisters were not above using their powerful resources of inborn magic, either collectively or covertly. Both if necessary. The Military Sect had even been known to go to war openly though that was rare.

War was to be avoided if possible. Wars of magic were extremely messy events with many dead on both sides. The point was, the forces of evil would have free reign over the known world were it not for the Sisters. The council and wisdom of the Shi'eem Sisterhood kept chaos at bay, Carly reasoned. The end justified the means.

Soon, according to Prophecy, Mool would burst from his stronghold, wherever that was, and try to take over the world. She shuddered. Because according to that same Prophecy, the slim lad sitting disconsolately out in the courtyard was the hero who was destined to battle the deadly demon. And he simply had to be protected and guided until that fateful day.

Carly heaved in a great breath and let it out slowly. She was no longer bored; she was scared. Armageddon was on the doorstep of the world and their Hero was so despondent that he was just liable to curl up into a ball and die.

She looked out at the couple by the fountain. The young man was holding a cup and saucer now. Carly felt a small ray of hope as she noticed he was watching the acolyte, who took her own cup and sat down on the bench beside him, chattering away. At least he was no longer staring at nothing.

The girl took a sip, presumably to show him that no harm was intended in the way of poison or somesuch. Although why he would think they would try to poison him after all the trouble they'd gone to in order to capture (collect!) and keep him safe for the Final Battle, Carly couldn't imagine. Men!

Teddy continued to watch the girl stupidly while she smiled at him brightly, still chattering.

His sluggishness in itself was not unusual; shielding someone from using their magic necessarily fogged the brain and made clear thinking difficult. Carly said a silent prayer to the Goddess that he could be brought around to a more positive outlook soon and so much shielding would be unnecessary. He was next to useless as he was now. The Demon of Chaos would have a field-day with him in his present condition.

Not a pleasant prospect, but the Sisterhood now had the world's Saviour well in hand and there was nothing to worry about. Prophecy had been fulfilled in well over a hundred different ways with young Theodore Magnus. Nothing was left to do except unify the many island nations of the Granestella and the Sisters could easily do that for him. Indeed, they could probably do it much better than he could since they had most of those nations' governing bodies already in their deep pockets. All the Hero had to do was sit back and wait for Judgement Day to arrive.

Out in the garden, the acolyte was urging young Magnus to try his tea before it got cold. Obediently the young man lifted his cup and took a hesitant sip. Carly checked the Watchers again. There was really no need; she knew they would not take their eyes - or the shield - off him, but it was her habit as a healer to continually check and double-check.

A sharp cry drew her eyes back to the couple in the courtyard.

Something was wrong! Teddy had risen from his seat and was staggering toward the fountain with both hands clawing at his face and throat! The girl was frantically clapping him on the back. The silly bint! That never did any good! There was an hysterical note in her shrill voice as the girl called over her shoulder for help.

Carly jumped up, her teacup shattering on the marble floor as she dashed to the door and outside to the wide stone staircase. There were four of these broad casements, one on each wall of the courtyard, with heavy whitestone balustrades at the top of each staircase. Heavy stone flower pots lined the tops of each balustrade. Scented pink and red geraniums spilled lushly over their sides.

Carly, in her haste, careened into the flower pot balanced nearest the door. The force of her body sent the thing crashing into the courtyard below.

She raced down the broad steps and then through the shattered mess of earth, flowers and pot shards in her sprint to reach the choking man.

Was he really choking? On what? You don't choke on tea! Her healer's mind was racing faster than her feet, examining every tiny detail as she tore across the courtyard. She disregarded the paths. Lifting her silk skirts and petticoats, she leapt over the low shrubbery.

And the fool girl was still thumping him on the back! Everyone knew you just made things worse by doing that!

Carly finally reached the pair and swung the young man forcibly around so he was facing away from her. Reaching around with both arms, she clasped her hands together in a fist just under his ribcage about an inch below the bottom point of his breastbone. She heaved mightily, inward and up. Twice.

A great breath of air blew out of him in a wheezy whoosh on the first heave and hardly any at all on the second. He was still making strangled noises and desperately clutching at his throat.

She spun him again, this time to face her and saw that the his face was turning an alarming shade of blue. His lips and protruding tongue were swollen and darkly purple, a sharp contrast to his morning-blue eyes which were panicked and staring pleadingly down into her own. Carly became aware of the girl, screaming shrilly at her elbow.

"It was just tea, mistress! Just tea! Oh great Heaven! It was just mint tea!"

Carly grabbed the girl above the elbows and gave her a quick shake to settle her. She could have used some settling herself, but someone had to take charge.

"Quickly, girl! What did he eat? Listen to me! What did he eat?!"

"Nothing, mistress! Only the tea!"

She released the girl who immediately sank to her knees sobbing. Carly turned back to the lad. His face had gone darker if that was possible. Frantically she pulled his hands down from where they were scrabbling at his lower face and throat. She was dimly aware of the Watchers, who had moved in from the four corners of the garden and were now only about ten paces away. Their eyes were still on Teddy Magnus in four identical and unwavering gazes, still shielding him from his magic.

Carly looked again at Teddy's mouth and suddenly she knew what the problem was; an allergy. She very nearly laughed in relief. What had the girl said? Only tea. Mint tea.

"Theodore!" She had to yell at him to be heard over the wailing acolyte, whom she would have dearly loved to slap, but there were the Seven Virtues to think of.

"Theodore! Teddy!" She yelled up into the lad's purpling face. She was somewhat shorter than he was but she grasped him firmly by his upper arms and shook him to get his attention. His face was much darker now. His lips were swollen like some exotic and extremely ugly bullfrog. Tiny freckles stood out in sharp contrast across the bridge of his handsome nose. It was the only handsome thing about him at the moment. His bulging eyes, also quite frog-like, were beginning to glaze. She could tell he was trying to focus on her.

"Allergies!" She yelled into his face. "Allergies?"

He nodded, or perhaps his head just wobbled, due to her shaking, but she knew the truth of it; Theodore Magnus had an allergy to mint. Maybe to other herbs as well. She also knew why he had not thought to be on guard against a condition that had probably been suppressed since childhood by his magic.

And magic was the only thing that could save him now; his own magic. Or a talisman. What she wouldn't give for one of those illegal little fetishes!

"Release the shield!" She ordered the Watchers. "Release the shield or he will die!"

They did not release it but instead kept their eyes fixed on the suffocating Hero. "Release the shield!" Carly screamed again. The nearest woman shook her head silently, her blue cowl swinging gently, her gaze never wavering.

"He's suffocating!" Carly screamed. Even her own healing magic wouldn't work unless they dropped the damned shield on the man!

Behind her, the acolyte wailed anew as Teddy tumbled to the pristine paving stones. The girl scrabbled on her knees to his prostrate form and took his face in her hands. She patted his bulging cheeks as if that could persuade him to take a breath.

Carly darted toward the nearest Watcher, the one who had shaken her blue-cowled head. She didn't know what her intention was, or even what she could do; disrupt the spell-casting perhaps?

She only managed two steps when she suddenly found herself flying backward through the air. She landed several paces away. The breath left her lungs upon impact and it was several moments before she could force them to work again.

Painfully, labouring for every breath, she sat up.

The acolyte was on her feet, backing away from the now-still form of the Hero, who lay motionlessly face up in the mid-day sun. His arms and legs were flung out star-shaped in all directions.

Carly managed to crawl to him as well, heedless of further damage to her already torn skirts. The silk was literally in tatters from her unscheduled flight of a few moments ago. The blue Watcher's magic had shredded them. She put her hand on the young man's unmoving chest already knowing what she would find. Or rather, wouldn't find. His eyes stared sightlessly up at the bright sky. Birds began to sing again in the low trees. Insects hummed and a yellow butterfly fluttered by. Yellow for cheerfulness, came her bitter thought.

Carly M'Bossa closed Theodore Magnus's eyes gently with the palm of her hand. She felt a tingle; the Watchers still had him shielded. She wanted to scream at them, to tell them that it was unnecessary now, but she was unable to speak.

As she slowly sat back on her heels, she was dimly aware of the young acolyte running for the great arched doorway of the courtyard. It didn't matter. They were all doomed, now.

To Be Continued...


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