Vol 7 Issue 2
An alternative background story
by Richard Karsmakers
For "Amberstar" I'd written a seriously long and, even if I say so myself, quite good background novel. The reason behind this was the fact that, at my departure from Thalion, I had been told I could write the background novel for the real thing, something which in the end didn't happen (and not because of my fault). I wanted to show 'em that I could do a story that was just as good, or maybe better. I guess I had an ego bruise there.
I - Youth
Tar had always been the odd one out, ever since he was a small child. Although he looked pretty much like any other child except for his somewhat darker complexion, something about his attitude made people feel uncomfortable when they were around him. There was nothing you could put your finger on. He was just different. When he sat in school the benches near to him were usually not occupied, when he worked in the fields people avoided being at the same patch of ground. Everybody seemed to act as if he suffered from something contageous, something invisible he carried with him that might leap at you unexpectedly when you came too close. Tar had learned to cope with the isolation that was forced upon him by the other villagers. He didn't need the other children to entertain himself. He would wander through the nearby forests for hours, or he would sit in his room thinking about everything and nothing, daydreaming, or drawing. At least his parents treated him with care and love. He was their only child and they were proud of him, though they were reluctant to show it too clearly when they were around others. Probably for that reason the villagers still spoke with them and frequented their place - be it only when Tar was out wandering in the forests or sitting in his room, entangled in his deep thoughts. Tar would often stare at the sky, dreaming away. He would gaze at the stars, which held for him a true beauty he had yet to see reflected on earth. Somehow, the stars seemed more pure than earthly things. Somehow, the galaxies that floated high above him succeeded in diverting his thoughts from the day's chores and his outcast position. He would float among those eeriely flickering points of light amid infinite darkness, possessing the power to decide what would happen to those people far below, the people who roamed Lyramion, the people who did not accept him because he was different, the children that harassed him because he did not like their games. He would soar higher than the mountains. Higher than the clouds - like a true god. Tar knew he was different. He realised it himself, too. All others of his age were interested only in chasing and kicking balls, or catching birds. He, on the other hand, was completely engrossed in thought most of the time. He found other children's interests petty and useless, opposite to his own. When he saw a tree he would wonder how it was shaped and which powers were great enough to do so. He fantasised what trees would have looked like if he would have created them. The most important thing that set him apart from the other villagers, including the adults, were the nightmares. Almost every night, he would wake up with his eyes wide open in fear as if he had seen visions of the worst things imaginable, unspeakable evil, doom encompassing everything that existed. His parents had found this odd, the village's healer had considered it yet another sign of the boy's difference. There was no cure. It would simply go one day - or stick with Tar for the rest of his days. In the nightmares he would see the earth blackened, fires burn the trees, volcanoes erupt, skeletal armies slaughter women and babies. He would gaze into the eyes of undead, tremble at the sight of concentrated, hot malice burning like two little red suns in the hollow depths of their eye sockets. Death roamed the lands, the heavens were coloured dark grey with clouds stampeding across them like marching armies hurling physical destruction. The most frightening thing was that, each time, his nightmares seemed to start and end in terrible heat, seclusion, a prison. Through the black skies he saw no stars, no sun and none of the moons but one - the third moon. It would hang above the horizon threateningly, as if suspended, unnaturally. Distant yet much too close. It would loom above the horizon, silently, as if gazing down on the ravished and plundered lands with a smile wrought upon its barren surface.
The night was cold and starless when Tar woke up. He had torn his clothes partly off his body, his bed cover lay atop a rug on the ground. He had had one of those nightmares again. He could still hear his own cry of terror fade away around him, as if it was being sucked up by the furniture in his room. He heard the sound of some movement on the other side of the wooden wall; his parents had learned not to come to him when he woke up after a nightmare, but they had not quite found themselves capable of sleeping through the cries with which he would wake up. After a short while he heard the rustling of blankets stop, their voices cease. Tar looked outside. The three moons were visible, the largest one partly hidden behind the horizon. Yet the red moon, the third moon, somehow seemed to be more prominent, more poignant in the way it hung above the forests. Tar recognized the smile on the barren surface - or at least he thought he did. It was the same smile he always saw in his nightmares, the same smile that haunted his every waking hour of the day. A shiver ran up and down his spine, making his hair stand up on his skin. He turned around, trying to go to sleep again. He found himself looking at his own shadow, with the light of the moons around it, tinged red. Even when he closed his eyes he could not ban the luringly red light from his mind. It seemed as if the moon was calling, beckoning like the grim reaper beckons a sick man on his death bed. Tar jumped out of bed. His stomach felt gnarled, as if he had swallowed something bigger than his body that was fighting its way out. Thoughts of getting to sleep again were banned from his mind as though by a mysterious force. He gazed at the moon much in the way he used to stare at the stars. It did not hold their serene beauty but it was obsessive in very much the same way. He could not tear his eyes off the red globe that seemed to float on the darkness yet support it at the same time. He put on his clothes, careful so as not to awaken his parents on the other side of the thin wall again. At first he thought he was merely imagining the moon calling at him. It was ridiculous. Moons don't call. Moons are inanimate objects and everything you think they do is but a figment of your imagination. But something out there was calling, even if it wasn't the moon. Something. He felt it in his head and in his abdomen. It was a call he could not resist, not even if he would have wanted to. And he did not even want to resist. Maybe that was why he was different. He stalked out of the house. He didn't really know where his feet were leading him. It seemed logical to walk in the direction of the moon that loomed above and amid blackness. A light breeze caught his hair as if urging him on. Within minutes he seemed to be enfolded by trees on all sides. At night the forest he knew so well had suddenly transformed itself to something he didn't feel at home in. He heard sounds he had never heard before - quick rustles in the undergrowth, calls of animals that did not roam the land at daytime. The trees seemed to bow down on him, making him want to tremble. He reasoned his fear away. He knew this forest was well known to him - all that it lacked was light to fall upon it. All of it was just like he knew it, only painted black instead of the luscious greens and browns he was used to see. Boughs seemed to have grown where previously there had been none; they slapped against his body and in his face. Vines seemed to grapple at his legs as if wanting to make him fall, as if waiting for an opportune moment to tie their victim to the ground and consume him whole. Suddenly the trees seemed to bend back, boughs retreated and the vines no longer held any power withing their lifeless structures. They released Tar upon an open spot within the forest where the light of the third moon fell unrestrained. The ground seemed to be dipped in blood, it even seemed to drip off the trees of which the long leaves hung down disconsoledly. Looking around him, expecting anything to vault at him from those ominously dark red shadows around him, Tar carefully walked towards the middle of the clearing. Somehow, it held him bound as if by a magical spell. There was nothing in the middle of the open space, yet he seemed to be convinced it was the place to be at. The red moon looked down on the frail figure that walked stealthily towards the middle of the clearing. If it could, the burst smile upon its surface would have widened. Tar arrived at the spot in the middle. He had anticipated someone - or something - to step out of the darkness around it and come to him now that he had made himself most vulnerable. The moon kept gazing down, silently, threatening in a strange way - like in his nightmares. He had expected skeletons to stagger out of the shadows, wild animals to get attracted to his scent and attack. He had expected anything. Anything, that is, except for what did happen. A sound as if wood was growing and breaking at the same time arose from around him. It came from all sides, and it softly grew in intensity. What had first been a wooden whisper he could barely hear now gradually became a sound as if his clothes were being torn from his body, as if wood was being ground on wood within his own ears. He could not guess where the sound originated from. It seemed to come from all directions around him yet from within himself. He looked at the ground, startled by the growing intensity of its redness. It seemed as if he was standing knee-deep in thick, coagulated blood. It seemed to creep up his legs in ragged gasps. He tried to escape but found that he could not move his feet. The earth seemed to have come alive, it held his feet in an iron embrace that he could not tug free of. Then he was temporarily deaf and blind. The redness of everything around him was for a briefest of instants replaced by a whiteness as pure as flawless diamonds lying on fresh ice in a cloudless midwinter night. He could not hear his own desperate cry even though it made his throat hurt, his cheeks ache, his jaw muscles tear, his eyes sting. After that brief instant, vision and sound came back with a force that felt as if it would obliterate every nerve in his body, shatter every muscle, grind every bone. A fork of lightning had struck him, fire running up and down his body as if wanting to undo him instantaneously. Yet he did not cease to be. Instead, he absorbed the tremendous power fed to him by the elements, his body bulging in its extreme efforts to contain all this energy. As the cacophonic sound and visual mayhem wore off, leaving all of Tar's senses utterly numbed, he thought he heard a deep rumbling voice echoeing through his skull. "Tarbos...you are the one...you are the one...are the one...the one...one...one..." Somehow Tar succeeded in staggering back to his parents' place, in spite of him being thoroughly dazed and confused. The entire world seemed to reel around him, heaven seemed to be below and for all he cared hell could be above. He bumped into trees, thin low branches flung in his face, other things hanging on his path lashed at him. He felt none of it - all he did feel was that enormous power contained within him that surged through his veins and flowed through his brain like molten lead. When he came home he inadvertedly woke up his parents. He slammed the doors behind him, grumbling to himself like someone possessed. He lay down in his bed, not bothering to take his muddy clothes off. He instantly dropped into a comatose sleep.
II - Adolescent
Young Tar grew. He often wondered what had happened precisely that fateful night in the forest but his mind couldn't handle the implications. Lightning had struck him yet he was still alive. If anything, he had suddenly grown stronger and more intelligent. Whereas previously he had tried hard to ignore other youths that made fun of him, he now didn't even notice them any more. Encapsulated in dark, brooding thoughts, Tar would let their insults bounce off an invisible wall. His body would not register dirt or sand thrown at him. He became more isolated within his own walls of confinement. The knowledge that he was something different now strengthened him in his resolve to ignore the entire world - ignore it until he would be in a position to rule. Deep inside he felt that, one day, his voice would be heard and his opinion would count. People would have to listen to him, would have to take him into consideration. Maybe, one day, he would really soar higher than the clouds, touch the stars, look down upon others with disdain. He dreamt on like he had done all his life.
One day, the village was aroused by a warlord with his troup of soldiers who were staying over at "The Lost Dragon", the local inn. They brought with them many tales of war. The villagers could not help but listen to these heroic yarns, enthralled, as sunburnt soldiers related adventures that took place in distant countries. A feeling deep inside Tar urged him to go there and hear those stories, too. If he ever wanted to rule those who now made his life miserable, he would have to gain knowledge. Knowledge of what was happening in the world, knowledge of who was at war with whom. That night he went to "The Lost Dragon". He entered it unnoticed, for everybody was preoccupied listening to all those tales of valiance and honour. Laughter and cries arose from the group that sat around the fireplace. Even the landlord had left his usual spot behind the bar so as not to miss as much as a word of what was told. An occasional phrase drifted across the room to where Tar stood - usually involving slaughter, death, or technicalities that had to do with weaponry and warfare. Tar noticed he was not the only one excluded from the people around the fireplace. A stranger clad in a dark cloak sat huddled in another corner, his face hidden in hooded darkness. The stranger seemed not interested in the tales of supposed bravery. Occasionally a mug of ale would disappear within the hood to be put back on the table emptier. Tar realised it must be the soldiers' warlord. Boldy, he seated himself opposite the hooded man. He tried to discern a face under the hood but the darkness within it was complete. The warlord did not seem to see the young man at all, even though Tar tried to be noticed. Suddenly the man flicked back his hood, revealing a roughly hewn face with a hawk's nose amidst ragged black hair. His eyes with the colour of steel stared intently at the young man. He looked up and down Tar's arms and chest, glancing at the eager look in the eyes, the black hair and the athletic build. "Why don't you go and listen to the stories my warriors have to tell?" the man said. Tar didn't reply, quite incapable of knowing what to say. Why didn't he sit near the fireplace? Surely the warriors' tales would be far better capable of stirring any young lad's imagination? Then it dawned on him - he was different. He was not just any other young lad. "That's not what you came here for, was it?" the man inquired. Tar nodded, still at a loss for words. He thought for a while, then said: "I want to see more of the world, but not like them," he said with contempt, "I want to learn, to be taught to do things others can't." The warlord chuckled, taking another swig of his ale. "Sure, son," he said, "you sound just as mixed up as my cousin, what's his name, in the Seeker's Tower or something." Tar's eyes lit, the small flames inside them suddenly appearing to be on the verge of leaping. "Seeker's Tower?" he breathed. The man nodded. "Down south, east of the Yathoon delta. You can't miss it." "What's it like?" Tar asked, enthusiasm seeming to writhe within his bowels, consuming, "I mean, what do they do there?" A deep laugh, almost out of control, echoed through the inn. Some of the people near the fireplace looked at them but decided it was not worth while missing the current story's more spectacular bits for. "Well, son, they seek in Seeker's Tower," the warlord said once he got his laughter under control, "they seek knowledge." Tar felt as if he was out of breath, even though he hadn't moved a finger, but only his lips. His heart beat in his throat; he could hear the blood flowing through his eardrums. "What knowledge?" he asked. The man snorted derisively, pulling the hood over his head again. Obviously, he did not consider it necessary to say another word. Tar stood up and walked to the exit. He caught a glimpse of people laughing and jesting in a corner of his eye. He did not heed them and went outside, deep in thought as usual. He went home where his father bade him the usual goodnight. That was the last thing any of the villagers saw of Tar.
The third moon was nowhere to be seen in the night's sky. Instead, the first and biggest of the moons shed enough light on the valley for Tar to discern the ominous silhouette of Seeker's Tower, looming up higher and higher before him as he came closer. Curiously, no moonlight fell on the building, as if afraid to be cast off or sent away. Although the tower's entire surroundings bathed in soft, pale light, the thing itself was visible only because of its sheer blackness in contrast with everything around it. It looked like a well of darkness that could suck you in and swallow you whole. Now Tar also noticed the silence. On his long journey the sounds of nature had always been there to accompany him - even at night he had heard the sound of thousands of crickets and the odd owl, nightly serenades to the gods. Now there was a silence so complete he thought he must have been stricken deaf. Not even his own boots made any noise on the ground, not even the wind in his ears could be heard. Tar came closer. The tower seemed to grow, louring ever more threateningly - but he felt no fear, only a sense of purpose. His entire future, indeed, the future of the world depended on him entering that tower. He would enter it, at any price. The first sound he heard again was that of the impressively ornamented wooden door that formed the entrance to the tower. For a moment Tar didn't even realise it seemed to be opening itself, as he was completely absorbed by the intricate ornaments and arcane symbols that were engraved on the arch around it. Its hinges whined a cold welcome, that seemed to slice his bones in half, pierce his soul with frozen steel. "Come on, come in," a creaky voice spoke from within the darkness of the tower, "we have been expecting you." For a moment Tar felt a fear strike his body that was more genuine than any other he had felt before. The moment he passed the threshold, however, the sensation disappeared. The door closed itself silently, finally shutting with a deep thud that sent a low tremor through the floor. His eyes grew used to the darkness almost instantly. It was as if, within this Seeker's Tower, his senses were increasingly aware of what was going on around him. What had been silence now revealed itself as the soft whispers of dark-robed figures that sat near the walls, observing him. Tar could now also see the man who had let him in. It was a frail figure, his gnarled hands telling tales of ages of writing. His eyes were large, almost completely white with small light blue pupils within the wrinkled face to which clung grey, matted hair. The man had a nose like a hawk's. Tar looked around a bit more, feeling oddly comfortable between these old seekers within their almost sacred place of dark study. The ceiling was far above him, with huge rusted chandeliers hanging down from it. The scarse light was emitted from candles and a few torches that lined the stairs that ran up around him along the walls, disappearing high up in the darkness. "This is Tar," the old man now said, almost solemnly. The murmur around the young man increased, the huddled shapes in their black robes now bending over to each other to exchange excited whispers, gesticulating energetically. Tar pointed his ears but did not succeed in catching any of the conversation that took place around him. He looked at the old seeker, only to find the man's white eyes staring at him, not looking away until the hushed whispers along the walls had worn off. "Tar has come to us to study," the man now said, a brief gleam of what could have been joy seeming to pass across his face and eyes, "...to study." One of the men that had sat along the wall now came forward from the shadows, folding back his hood. Another nose like a hawk's protruded from the face that was lined by many years of study and thought - yet from it looked eyes that seemed that of a rather young man's by comparison. "I am Master Zanthi, your tutor," the man said with a voice that fitted the relative youth his eyes radiated. "Please follow me." Tar went after Master Zanthi who went up the winding stairs, following the rustle of the heavy robes and the shuffle of the sandals on the steps of polished stone. The tower must have been higher than Tar thought. He even began to think he was starting to breathe with more difficulty when, after what seemed like hours, the master halted on a floor that was filled with books. It must have been some sort of library, albeit one that had not been frequently visited judging by the smell of dust and cobwebs that pervaded the air. Master Zanthi lit a torch that sat perched on a ledge like a bird of prey, as if guarding the books and scrolls that lay stacked and piled on chairs, tables and shelves. Some of the books had locks on them, some of the scrolls seemed to have protection fields around them that shimmered in the flickering firelight. "This is the sacred library of the very darkest arts," the seeker said. He paused, as if expecting Tar to ask something - yet the young man had nothing to ask. Everything seemed, in some strange way, to add up and fit together. He had no questions. It all seemed logical to him, as if he was living a dream that lived his life for him. Tar did not even notice his master descending the stairs again, so aborbed was he by all dark knowledge stored within this gloomy, vaulted chamber high in Seeker's Tower. He felt he had sought this all his life, without ever precisely having known what it was.
One stormy evening, when thunder shook the tower and lightning blinded the windows, Tar was disturbed by an unusual sound that arose into the sacred library from below. Somehow, the seekers down there must have been acting much more agitated than normal, as if something highly unusual was happening. Unable to reign his curiosity, Tar went down. It was the first time he went there since he had arrived at the tower, some three weeks before. His master had usually brought him food that he often left untouched. Tar was entirely devoted to absorbing all dark knowledge present in the library, not wanting to do anything else. Whereas it had seemed to take hours until he had ascended the stairs upon his arrival, he now went down them within a matter of minutes to join whatever was happening in the main hall. The seekers shuffled to and fro nervously, their hushed but excited whispers mounting to a murmur that echoed up the stone walls. The first thing other than the superfluous movements of bewildered seekers to attract Tar's attention was the strange scent that lingered through the hall. It was, he seemed to recall, something like the scent of perfume, the smell of women. For a moment he envisioned the girls that had stood in the background, laughing, pointing, when the village boys kicked him or tied him to a tree. For an instant he experienced an upcoming and quite nauseous feeling of bad memories which left just as quickly as it had come when he actually saw her. She stood near the huge wooden entrance door, talking to the ancient man with white eyes that had also welcomed him upon his arrival at the tower. Seekers walked around them, absent-mindedly, succeeding in apparently having an excuse to catch a glimpse of what was probably the first female ever to enter the tower. Tar looked at her. She didn't look at him; she was still talking to the old man about something or other. She wore a dark blue robe of some exquisite material that engulfed her body as if it were a logical extension of her natural skin. Her long hair fell about her shoulders in some kind of magic way, flowing curled and golden, accentuating her almost unearthly beauty that seemed as if inherited from heaven. The old man seemed to sense Tar's eager eyes burning on them, for he interrupted the conversation and lead her to the young man to be introduced. Tar saw her walking towards him and suddenly he felt that strange feeling in his abdomen again - the feeling of having swallowed something huge that seemed to be fighting its way out. This time, however, it felt good in a peculiar kind of way. For the first time he saw stars on earth - her astonishingly light blue eyes that looked at him, quite unaware of the damage they could cause to mortal men. She bowed ever so slightly, after which Tar bowed low. "Adept Tar," the old man said, trying to fill his voice with dignity, "this is Princess Mylneh of Lyramion." He then turned to the princess. "Your highness, this is one of our finest and most zealous students, Adept Tar. He will show you around Seeker's Tower." Kneeling down and suppressing a tremble, Tar took her delicate hand as gently as he could and brushed it with his lips. It seemed as if little sparks flew to and fro between them during that brief moment. "Your servant," Tar muttered. He heard his own heart's beat in his ears. He looked up at the princess to find her blushing at his behaviour. "Don't be silly," she whispered. The old man didn't seem to hear. Tar rose to his feet again, offering her his arm. His eyes did not leave her face - the blush remained, her lips formed a silent smile that her eyes echoed, like tiny stars Tar saw flickering within their depths. Tar lead her up the stairs, still not quite knowing what else to say or how to husband the wild beating of his heart. Obviously she didn't know him. She did not know that he was different, she was not one of the girls that laughed and made fun of him behind his back. She was far above the rest, floating high on an invisible cloud above all other mortals Tar had met before. She was the loveliest creature he had ever laid eyes on. It was the scent of her perfume that he had sensed when he had come down from the sacred library. He seemed reluctant or too nervous to start talking with her, which Mylneh did not fail to notice. "It's actually much less nasty in this Seeker's Tower than I thought," she said, "I had expected grumpy old men bowing over endless spells and charms, quite incapable of doing anything else - let alone show hospitality to a lady." Tar didn't answer. He was too enchanted by the music in her voice, that seemed to bring forth yet unsung hymns and spellbinding melodies played on a deified instrument no one so far had been able to make during earthly life. If he closed his eyes he saw endless pastures with birds, blooming trees and dancing nymphs. "So you are Tar," she said, interrupting his thoughts. "The old man with the white eyes told me you came here last. He seems to think highly of you and your capabilities." Tar found himself blushing, looking away. Normally he knew exactly how to handle any situation, but this young woman made him feel strange, uncapable of uttering coherent words. During the guided tour he gave Mylneh, he had to concentrate hard. At times he found his heart commanding him to tell her "You're incredibly beautiful" or "You are the most gorgeous creature I have ever laid eyes on". He swallowed them back just before his lips began to form the words. She had him all confused. He was glad when the guided tour was over. It gave him an excuse to be without her without appearing rude - so he could think things over and try to work out why this young woman made him act so irrational.
Mylneh could get along fine with Tar. To some extent he could confide in her. She seemed to understand his childhood, make him feel comfortable. For the first time in the weeks he had spent in the sacred library he could tear himself away from the gathering of knowledge. They sat up late, talking about a wide variety of things. She had been surprised by the storm and had decided to take refuge in the tower. She did not tell him why she had been riding in the Bollgar Valley on her own, but he guessed it was none of his business. All he knew was that the fate must have guided her here. He was convinced that she was destined for him and that he was destined for her. One day, he knew, he would have her and rule the world with her on his side. He told her nothing of his ambitions, however; most of the time when they were together she was the one who spoke. Her tales were of royal life, hunting, games and the wonders of faraway kingdoms. He was pleased to notice that none of her stories included a prince of some kind. He would listen to the musical rivulet of her voice and dream away, gazing at her delightful face and those twinkling little stars he thought he could see deep within the blue of her eyes. Each time she smiled at him his heart leaped, each time he heard the music of her laugh his soul seemed to hurl itself up and down between his throat and his stomach. The table in the sacred library lay silent, the torch perched on the ledge went out and remained unlit. Only outside the cold fangs of the wind seemed to want to tug at the very stones of which the tower consisted. Scrolls written with the blood of virgins lay untouched, books remained open at the spot where Tar had been studying them when Mylneh arrived. On them shone the weak, red light of the third moon that seemed to gaze intently at everything that was happening within the tower. For the time being, the young man no longer seemed to be interested in dark knowledge. He was now only interested in Mylneh, this princess that seemed to be the embodiment of virtue and loveliness, music and joy. The storm did not relent for two days. The tower seemed to sway in the gale as if the elements were in league trying to tear its entire structure asunder. Inside, however, only the occasional thunder and lightning would come through, and sometimes the howling of the wind. Mylneh and Tar would sit together, huddled at a smouldering fire in another room high up in the tower - talking and laughing until they both fell into a deep, untroubled sleep.
On the third morning after the Lyramian princess had arrived at Seeker's Tower, the sun shone. Its warmth gladdened the hearts of the seekers, and the very tower itself seemed to sigh deeply after having withstood so much undaunted violence for two days. The sun should also have gladdened Tar's heart but it didn't. While the weather's turmoil outside forced the princess to remain inside the tower he was able to increase his hold on her. Now the sun shone and the birds again sung their songs, he knew she would want to go. It was as if a frozen claw clasped his heart. Perhaps everything had been a dream. She had not been nice to him, she had not laughed, he had not been able to bask in her presence and the attention she gave him. It had not meant anything. She would go and he would once more be alone, the only purpose in his life being the gathering of knowledge so that one day he could fulfil his ambitions, teach the world a lesson. There was a soft knock on his door. A voice inside told him it was Mylneh. She would come to say goodbye and leave the tower, leave him, walk out of his life. She was no different from the others after all. He did not reply. The soft knock was repeated. Again he kept silent, hushing the voice of his heart that cried out with the fell voice of true love, for the first and last time in his life. Something inside him broke when he heard her turn around, followed by the soft sounds of her feet going as she went down the stairs. He opened the window and looked outside. He cursed the sun, he cursed the birds. He cursed the after-rain smell that entered his room. He clenched his fists in powerless anger. One day, everything would be different. He swore he would get even with that cruel and vicious world that had labelled him different. The hinges of the tower entrance, far below him, whined their goodbye to Princess Mylneh of Lyramion as she left on her horse. She did not look back and grew smaller and smaller as her horse lead her back home - until finally she was indiscernible. Tar closed the window, shutting his heart with it, and went back to the sacred library. He lit the torch and continued where he left off with his study of the ancient writings.
III - Man
With renewed vigour, Tar threw himself on the gathering of knowledge. Master Zanthi continued bringing him his daily food, which Tar increasingly often left untouched. They would exchange greetings and the master would launch an occasional attempt at social talk - but Tar didn't want any of his master's attention, he did not want the man's pity. One night all three moons were present just above the horizon. Looking up from the books and scrolls, Tar once more saw the crude smile that seemed to be engraved on the third moon's surface, its red face. Somehow, its light was more powerful than that of the other moons - it had succeeded in dipping the entire library in a bloody shade of red, in spite of the orange and yellow light the lonely torch tried to cast. Tar heard a deep rumble that he first mistook for a distant earthquake - but the tower was not moving, none of the volcanoes at the horizon were lit. The rumbling increased and transformed into what seemed like laughter - deep, bellowing laughter. It was the laughter he had heard to often in his youth, but now it was magnified. He closed his eyes and ears, but was unable to block it out; it might just as well have come from within. When he opened his eyes the moons had disappeared behind a dark veil of clouds. The laughter had ceased - all he could hear now was the sound of the torch slowly being eaten by its flames. The entire library was, however, still painted red; the colour actually seemed to have intensified. He looked around. Where there had previously been shelves filled with nothing but tomes there was now an enormous throne, made of smooth stone. It seemed as if the stone was glowing, as if it consisted of molten rock being held in shape by some mysterious and very powerful force. On the throne sat a man, looking at Tar with interest. His arms rested on the sides of the throne, his fingers tapping in an all but impatient way. He seemed to radiate some kind of power, evil power. The eyes were bright white with black centres, staring at the young man, trying to gauge his reaction. Tar had read a lot. He knew much. He knew enough to recognise a demon when he saw one. This was definitely a demon - possible one of the second level. "So you're called Tar now," the demon snorted. Tar had heard that voice before. He couldn't quite remember where and when, though. He only knew deep within that this voice was familiar. The demon seemed to sense Tar's thoughts and could not help but chuckle. "Maybe things will be more clear to you if I call you Tarbos." Then, it hit Tar like a blunt battle lance. For a brief moment he felt as if he was hurled mercilessly against a brick wall, as if someone had hit him with a bell, the echo of its toll slowly wearing off inside his head. "Who...who are you?" Tar asked, not able to suppress the fear in his voice, "What do you want?" He slowly realised this was a demon of none other than the first level, the highest level - the lord demon. The pope of the underworld. The lord demon coughed, irritated. "Don't you know, pitiable half-human?" he bellowed, "Are you really as dim-witted and naive as you try to make me believe?" "Half-human?" Tar shrank back in his chair, trying to hide behind his own shadow. He gazed involuntarily at the lord demon's incredibly white eyes that seemed to be ablaze with evil. He didn't understand what the demon meant. "Half-human?" Once again the evil lord was one step ahead of Tar's thoughts. "Yes, you're a half-human. Half human, half demon, Tarbos! I am your father, guardians of hell forbid!" It was as if Tar collided with another battle lance, more sturdy than the one before, and heavier. The bell tolling inside him was louder, almost up to the point of deafening him from within. So that was his difference. That was why nobody had liked him - he'd been a half-demon all his life, product of unholy lust between the lord demon and a human witch. The people that had brought him up had not been his parents. He had his interests for dark knowledge impaled within his soul, carved within each cell of his being. The difference. Now he knew what it was. As the shock gradually wore off, though, he began to relish the thought. His entire life he had wanted to rule, he had wanted to inflict his will upon all mortals. Now he knew he was the son of a lord demon - if anyone would be able to reign the land it would be him. And, of course, Mylneh would ultimately be his. He was so engrossed in his own thoughts and dreams that he did not notice the lord demon fading away, back to his dark domain. "I'll be seeing you," the lord demon said, tearing Tar's mind back to reality, "one day." "No, wait!" Tar yelled, afraid it might be too late already, "I need to know your name!" He needed to know it, or otherwise he would never be able to summon the lord demon when it deemed him fit. Within his mind he thought rapidly. He had to challenge his father, beat him, become him. But he needed to know the name. "Thornahuun," the lord demon spoke, his voice carrying with it the realisation that this had been the first nail in his coffin. Then, with the sound of his evil laughter disappearing into nothingness, he evaporated. On the place where the throne had stood were now once again the old shelves filled with books and potions.
At night, Tar's dreams would become increasingly horrid. They would be filled with people wading in blood, forks of lightning unmaking the earth, his own soul being torn apart between evil choices. His hands could deal death, his commands would be obeyed by dread creatures he had thought would not dare to occur even in the most evil of dreams. But now he would not wake up listening to the echo of his waking cry, nor would he be bathing in sweat - instead he would relish the nightmares, enjoy them, memorise them for the future, feast on their taste of fear and decay. One day it would all be his. He would be the one to wield the scales of his own justice, brandish the scythe of his own hate. As if haunted by all his past fears, Tar read through chapter after chapter in the learned books of the very darkest arts. He would file spells away in his mind, learn to recite the blackest incantations by heart. He knew what he had to do - he had to challenge his father, the lord demon himself, and defeat him utterly. He needed the power, he wanted the power. The sheer thought of possessing it almost made his mouth water, made his eyes ever more greedily devour the sacred writings. He studied, no longer bothering even to cast a glimpse at the meals his master would leave daily. Sometimes, the tutor would try to communicate with his pupil but without success. Tar was fully occupied with his mastery of whatever would be needed to challenge the lord demon, challenge his father. There was no doubt in his mind that he would succeed, no doubt in his soul that he was the lord demon to be. He would not sleep for more than an hour or two each night. He would continue reading and making notes when the moons had almost set already, and would get up with the earliest morning rays of the sun. He became a ghost of himself, pale, unhealthy. His muscles went weak, his eyes became large dark orbs amid seemingly hollow sockets - as if they floated in a black void.
It did not take long, his stamina leading him through the required books and scrolls at almost frightening speed, before Tar had gained the knowledge he needed to challenge and defeat the lord demon. It was one of those proverbial starless nights, with dark clouds covering the moons as if in anger, when Tar chose to write the blackest yet most immanent page in the history of his life - and that of the world. He prepared candles, appropriate scrolls, incantations, potions - everything he thought he might need for this challenge of challenges. He put out the torch and the candles. Immediately, the library of dark knowledge bathed in an intense black, like velvet. Tar whispered a soft spell, upon which his body started radiating a soft orange glow. Then he started chanting. At first the murmers that arose from his lips were barely audible, but they gained clearness until the walls reverberated that one word - the name of the demon lord. "Thornahuun! Thornahuun! THORNAHUUN!" Tar's voice gained strength at each uttering of the word, until it arrived at the stage where it was too immense to come merely from one human being. The floor started to tremble and vibrate; it seemed to transform itself into a sea of molten lava out of which a large stone arose - an enormous throne atop which sat Thornahuun, the lord demon. Tar's father. The demon kept silent, his lips wrinkled in a mute smile with a touch of gloomy foreboding. After a couple of seconds that seemed to crawl by like years, he spoke. "So you've decided you're up to it, Tarbos, my son," Thornahuun spoke, his voice tinged with solemnity, "up to challenging the lord demon - your father." With that a lightless crack of thunder shuddered the tower, sending a shiver down Tar's spine. Something rose in his throat. Quickly, the young man regained his composure. He swallowed and shook his head. He could not afford to show any weakness, let alone fear. "Yes," Tar replied, his voice suddenly too frail to carry meaning. He saw Thornahuun raise his eyebrows and flinched. "Yes!" he now cried, his chest uttering the word as if it was a last desperate breath. For a while a blanket of silence seemed to clasp both opponents' throats. It seemed to numb their senses, postpone the passing of the very material of time and space. It seemed as if the world held its breath, as if nature itself hung suspended in the air. Then the lord demon began to laugh. At first he only moved his cheeks and his eyes. Then he started to shake his body. His mouth fell wide open, his white teeth showing, his eyes closed. His abdomen started rising and sinking. The sound increased from a soft grunt to a heavy rumble that again succeeded in shuddering the floor and making cracks appear in the ceiling. Tar clasped his hands over his ears, closing his eyes. He had no chance. The lord demon was too powerful. His father laughed at him, straight in the face. No chance at all. He would be crushed, smitten utterly, defeated, reduced to a meaningless hope of ashes. None of his dreams would come true, he would never rule the world like he had so often almost experienced within the intensity of his fantasies. Yet the next moment the laugh ceased. Its echoes seemed to disappear within the cracks in the ceiling, behind the impressive throne the lord demon sat on. The sudden silence was almost physically painful, sending ringing noises to Tar's ears. But it did not cause a fragment of the pain he experienced next. A terrifying sound enveloped him from all sides until it seemed to come from within his head, from within his bones, from within the core of his ears, from within his feet and working upward. He seemed to be the sound itself. It sent him to the ground, kneeling, writhing, screaming, causing him to cough up phlegm, acutely nauseated. From the corner of his eyes he saw walls crumble to dust, stones fall to the ground. His guts told him he was falling down. He strained his muscles to look up at the throne on which the lord demon sat. Thornahuun's face now seemed to portray intense pain. Then the skin started coming off, as if the lord demon was peeling himself. Soft red tissue was revealed, blood trickled down the throne onto the floor, started crawling towards Tar's hands and knees. It was flowing towards him as if some mysterious force controlled it. It circled around him until it had gained in quantity. On the throne now hung a skeleton with dried skin and ligaments loosely attached to it. All blood had gathered around the challenger. It seemed to extend paws as if probing. Then the mysterious force suddenly seemed to lose control over it. A wailing cry seemed to break the tower in two as a fiery sensation crawled up and down Tar's body as if possessing him. When the pain eased off the redness around him had formed a large, formless puddle amidst which Tar found himself sitting when the silence once again was complete. The throne had disappeared. There were no walls - only ruins. Above him was the sky, with the clouds having formed one hole through which glanced the third moon. He was stunned, panted heavily. Then he knew. "Now I am Tarbos! Tarbos! TARBOS!"
IV - God
The battle had crumbled Seeker's Tower. Amid the smoking ruins Tarbos stood mightily, power leaping across his chest and arms like little flashes of crackling lightning that seemed to feed on him. He, Tarbos, had now finally reached what he had yearned for all this time, all his life - absolute power. He had challenged the lord demon, his father, and had become the god of chaos. Finally, he had fulfilled his ambitions and found himself in a position to wage war on the world, to teach everybody a lesson - and a lethal lesson it would be! His muscles rippled and pulsated as he tried to contain the fierce powers that raged and gathered within him. His mouth uttered demonic laughter, increasing until he himself seemed to become the personification of it. His eyes flashed, absorbing everything around him. There was nobody, nothing that could challenge him now. The mages among the seekers were mostly killed, the rest had scattered and fled. No power in Lyramion could ban him or stop him from achieving his ultimate goal. He would rule the lands and make Mylneh his queen - a queen worthy of him, worthy of a god. He was now the most powerful creature on earth. He could do anything he wanted. He could invoke any demonic powers he cared to. He would invoke them. He stretched his arms out before him, lightning blazing between his hands. Strange sounds arose from the earth. Howling, crying, chanting, breaking, tearing. Around Tarbos the earth seemed to wave like an ocean, with shapes breaking forth from it. At first the forms were made of mud, unshaped. As they continued to grow from the soil, however, they took on the shapes of black horses with red eyes and light grey manes, the forms of winged skeletons and reptilian soldiers - all armed to the teeth with lances, swords, battle axes and spears. They all growled and grunted, their joints cracking at each movement while their transition was not yet complete. Shrill cries were uttered as if they were all swearing allegiance to their god and creator, Tarbos. "With this army I will enslave the earth. Nobody will be forgotten. I will get even." Tarbos created more and more evil creatures, his magic unrelenting, his foul imagination shaping every creature more repellent and hateful than the previous. Thousands of evil creatures arose thus - built from mud, stone and dark magic.
One night, a messenger on horseback arrived at the castle of King Marakahn of Lyramion. The horse was not a normal one - it was deepest black with dark red eyes that radiated hate. Its light grey manes seemed to lick at its rider like flames. The soil seemed to whither away at every spot where its hooves touched the ground. On it sat a rider in a robe as black as the colour of its horse. Its face was not visible except for two little red sources of light that must have been its eyes. The guards dared not touch nor hinder this mysterious messenger, afraid that it might strike them dead with one fell swoop of some diabolical weapon it might have hidden somewhere within the many folds of its robe. "Bring me to your king," a voice said from under the hood. The voice was deep, broken, unnatural, carrying with it an almost palpable threat which the creature did not bother to conceal. One of the guards ran off to tell his king about this dark messenger. The foul creature did not have to wait long until the guard came back, panting, bidding it to follow him. Marksmen and knights had gathered around the messenger, ready to strike and shed their lives when called upon. The messenger was ushered into the king's hall of audience. Many more knights and other warriors were present, poised around the throne on which sat the king accompanied by his daughter. Tarbos' servant pulled back his robe which caused murmurs, gasps and shivers to be sent down the ranks of mortals - for it was no man but some gruesome animal nobody had seen before, perhaps even a demon. Knights grabbed the hilts of their sword when the creature took something from a fold in his robe. It was an official looking scroll, written on parchment. On an invisible forcefield it floated towards the king who took it from the air, failing to suppress a tremble. King Marakahn unrolled it, his eyes travelling slowly across what was written. A tear appeared in his eye. He had to swallow. He passed it on to Mylneh, his daughter. She, too, read it - but she sank on her knees, sobbing, not quite capable of handling the implications the message brought. The king held his head in his hands for a while, then looked up facing the foul creature and cleared his throat. He arose from his chair, trying to look respectful. "Never will we give in to your master's wishes, heinous fiend!" he cried proudly, "That bastard of hell will never get my kingdom nor will he ever get my...my..." he struggled in an attempt to steady his voice, "...my daughter! If war is what he wants, then war is what he'll get. Either that or he will have to kill me!" The man sank back in his chair, hiding his face. His daughter, wiping away her own tears, tried to comfort him. The dark messenger turned on its heel, its robes flowing dramatically behind it. Outside the hall of audience it mounted its black steed, had it rear on its hind legs and then galloped away, back to its evil master Tarbos, the god of chaos. Inside the hall of audience, King Marakhan ordered all of Lyramion's mages to gather at castle Godsbane in the north of the land. Something had to be done to stop Tarbos from reaching his vile goal. Something had to be done to protect the land - not to mention Mylneh, the beautiful heir to his throne.
Night came and went. The frail morning saw no sun to light its drab greyness, it heard no birds that could make one forget the sound of the wind sweeping across the plains around the king's castle, nor that of thunder gathering at the horizon. The entire surrounding land seemed to be festering with hate - the trees had been corrupted, having been bent, wrinkled and made leafless overnight. They formed evil figures, an audience for the war that would take place here. The earth was black as if scorched, echoing the colour of clouds that rumbled impatiently, pregnant with fiery storms and torrents. Tarbos was in control of the elements. He wielded lightning as deft as a warrior would a knife, he controlled the flow of the winds, he commanded the downpour of rain to suit his evil intent. It literally vomited rain. The god of chaos' armies appeared at the horizon late in the afternoon. At first they seemed like trembling mountains on the horizon, but when they came closer lookouts could tell that it was a huge army of monsters, of undead, of walking skeletons that no longer abided the laws of life and death. Tarbos had corrupted the world, the sun, life. No man's heart could help but feel desolate in the face of such monstrosities. Within what seemed like mere minutes, Tarbos' foul armies swept the castle. Men died like whithering leaves being torn off dead trees by a winter gale; intense fires consumed wood, stone and metal. Loyal men fled; proud warriors threw down their swords, sunk on their knees and wept until they died. Blood coloured the ruins of the once proud fortress that kings had ruled Lyramion from for many generations red. Within a few dark minutes, black pages in the history of Lyramion's monarchy, it was reduced to a meaningless pile of rubble. In the end only the king stood, wounded, his sword hanging limply in a paralysed hand. Only his crown, golden amid the blackness of the world, stood on his head with a remnant of pride, its diamonds shining defiantly. Guards lay around him, killed in horrendous ways. It was a sight even maggots would have thrown up on. Not so Tarbos, god of chaos, who descended from his black steed and walked towards the monarch. His evil warriors left the king untouched, not daring to defy their lord's commands though their fangs dribbled rabidly with anticipation of death and slaughter. "Or I will have to kill you, eh?" For a moment Tarbos breathed in his triumph, then his face darkened - this was not the castle where magicians were at that very moment trying to prepare the spell that would attempt to banish him forever to some distant place. Furthermore, he had not found Mylneh here. The king looked at Tarbos, reading the thoughts from the deep frown embedded on the evil fiend's face. He smiled a smile of content. Tarbos' victory was not complete. Not yet. The god of chaos could yet be defeated. He had bought time, precious time. King Marakahn smiled his last smile. Frothing with anger, Tarbos took a dagger from his belt and with a fell swing of it decapitated the old man. A noiseless cry froze on the king's lips as the head flopped off the neck and rolled down amid blood and dirt. "Godsbane." Tarbos jumped on his black stallion, not looking back as the king's body dropped to the earth, too. The god of chaos uttered a silent command. He rode north with lightning speed. His army followed him, lethal and agile like some evil mythological creature.
For a moment, Mylneh felt a tremble shuddering her bones, her brain, the very core of her being. For a while she saw the world turn around her; she could not focus her attention on the incantations and the chants uttered by the magicians around her. She felt her father, king of Lyramion, had died. She felt the last beat of his heart echo through her head, refusing to abate for long seconds during which seasons seemed to pass within her. He had stalled time. She prayed it would turn out to have been enough, she hoped he had not died for naught, that his life and that of all who had died with him would have counted. Already she felt Tarbos' cursed attention on her; she could imagine a cold hand, like that of a corpse, resting on her shoulder. She could see herself turning around to stare within those fiery red eyes filled with anger and hate no mortal man had ever possessed before. Driven as if by some evil inferno, Tarbos and his army drew towards Godsbane. What would have been many a day's journey through dense forests and across endless plains was decreased to mere hours. The god of chaos combined all his tremendous power to make his army move on the wings of the wind's turmoil. The forests below seemed to greet them with warped trees stretching out towards them, the blackened planes radiating some eerie power of darkness, urging them on. Early in the morning - or perhaps it was in the middle of night - the lookouts at castle Godsbane saw Tarbos' army, heard the stampeding of horses. They sent hurried messages down into the bowels of the castle where the magicians were feveredly trying to complete the preparation for the banishment spell. They could not rehearse. There was no time to double-check. This one had to succeed in one go - either that, or the entire world would enter a period of dark infinity it would surely never wake up from. Tarbos rode at the head of his army, that he seemed to hold back. Godsbane would have to be taken more carefully, as he did not want Mylneh to be hurt. He needed her to become a whole person himself, he needed her to sit beside him on her own throne, the two of them ruling the universe supreme. Tarbos crushed the ancient wooden gates from their hinges, storming through the first defence with a handful of his undead lieutenants - straight at the core of Godsbane, where he would find Mylneh and those accursed magicians that had somehow gained the courage to challenge him, to try a feeble attempt at banishing him, even! He slew the second defence ring, that guarded the room deep inside Godsbane from behind which the god of chaos sensed a large concentration of magic. A flash of light, the sound of thunder. The door ceased to exist, transformed into as many small bits as there are stars in the universe. When the dust cleared he walked in, full of confidence and ready to strike at whatever would dare to attack him. He saw the shapes of the magicians, but only dimly. In the centre of the ring sat Mylneh. Beautiful Mylneh, the woman he had yearned for so long. The only mortal who had ever seemed to understand him, who had not laughed at him, who had not found it necessary to kick him. Now he heard the arcane hum that hung in the air. Now he saw Mylneh's hands, stretched out at him - but not as in a welcoming embrace. They held a jewel. He sensed excessive magic.
V - Exile
For a moment, Tarbos stood frozen. His eyes opened wide, filled with the fears of long forgotten memories. The god of chaos was made painfully aware of the fact that there were more powers in the universe besides his, besides dark and evil ones. He now felt all forces combined - and being used against him. All shades of grey, red, yellow, white. They were all there. Mages looked at him as if they would personally want to banish his pitiable being to some faraway planet. Within the fraction of a moment that passed between the realisation of defeat and the actual banishment, his eyes flashed to and fro the mages. To Mylneh. Mylneh. The only human he had ever truly felt some affection for, the only mortal that he had wanted to make his, that he had wanted to share his life and his powers with. Her eyes looked at him, filled with hate but tinged with pity. Her hands were stretched out at him, holding out the intricate jewel, on the verge of casting that one spell all sorcerers had prepared. The banishment spell Tarbos had never considered possible, the surge of power that spelled out utter defeat in bright, coruscating capitals. His undead legions stood as motionless as their master, their victims rescued in mid-thrust, their lord's mind not being able to control them anymore. Frantically, Tarbos thought of ways to deflect this ordeal. In his mind he tried to leaf through the scrolls and tomes he had studied for all that time in Seeker's Tower. Words flashed, but they did not connect to anything he could use. He looked in Mylneh's eyes one last time. They still seemed like beautiful little stars, but now they only predicted his defeat. He was about to sigh when his entire being was enveloped in fire. It scorched his body like he had scorched the land, his arms and fingers grew gnarled like the trees he had bent, his eyes burnt in his head as if birds picked them out. He sunk to his knees, helpless, powerless, weakened completely. The sorcerers' chants softened and died off as he seemed to be moving away from them. He could see nothing around him, nothing but a vast blackness and then, suddenly, everything was red. He could not move. He dared not think. He felt as if he was encased in something solid and infinitely big. It felt as if the red colour had frozen solid, redness incarnated. The red moon, the third moon. His prison for eternity. Outside Godsbane, Tarbos' undead legions crumbled to dust, their shrill cries of defeat echoing up the heavens as if hailing their master one final time. Then there was silence.
A thousand years passed by. The land forgot its sufferings, the people went back to living their normal lives. Evil powers were banished from the earth, all levels of black magic repressed. The monarchy flourished. Kings died natural deaths and peace ruled the land. Generally, everybody was happy. Everybody, that is, except for the odd mage with blacker interests than those of his tutors. These formed small guilds in obscure places - communicating, learning, brooding, gathering. Ultimately they got the ambition of releasing the legendary god of chaos from the ethereal womb of his banishment. For years they studied, much in the way Tar had done when he was a young man, although it was made more difficult for them as most dark knowledge had been written down in books that had been destroyed a long time ago. New incantations had to be devised, forgotten scrolls had to be sought, restored and interpreted. The black magic guild slowly regained the dark arts, their minds occupied with the plotting of destruction. Some undead were seen roamed the land again. Nobody noticed - or perhaps nobody wanted to notice. Slowly but certainly, the rotten core within the lands grew in size and power. It infected, administering decay and dissatisfaction to those eager to be fed. And there it strained to remain hidden. Hidden, that is, until the sore spot burst.
|This text was published in the Atari ST diskmag "ST News" and is used by kind permission of Richard Karsmakers. Source for this article: http://www.st-news.com|