Episode 5 - Two Seconds

Page 6

Argolese

The translation app wasn't perfect, and it took nearly an hour of trial and error to get Hera's story.

She'd lived in Cavaheim all her life. In her early memories, it was a city of learning. The most elite of the magical scholars and inventors gathered there to exchange information, develop new spells and teach the rising generation. Hera's father was Argolese, widely acknowledged as the greatest prophet of his generation.

Argolese was the first to predict the coming doom to the world. One would rise up, Argolese said. One with fantastic knowledge of the ways of the universe. He will make a human sacrifice, sending his victim into the void where God Himself dare not go. The power he gains will increase his reach, enabling him to steal God's throne. As an all powerful being, the Godsbane will swallow the universe.

Argolese was a respected scholar and prophet, but his predictions were met with doubt and scorn. However, soon after, other prophets began to make similar predictions. There were variations on the vision, but all acknowledged that one would make a human sacrifice and seize the throne of God. And it was coming soon. Even non-prophets dreamed of a lurking doom. All agreed that time was almost up.

Understandably, this caused a considerable amount of unrest. Fear spread throughout Cavaheim and into the territories all around. The leader of Cavaheim, the high scholar Geord, proposed that, since they had forewarning of the coming doom, they should gather as much information as possible and find a way to prevent it. If they knew the identity of the world's destroyer, they might stop him.

But gathering information on the world's doom was difficult since all the prophets differed in their predictions. Impossible contradictions arose. Nothing was being gained.

Implants

Then a professor of technology suggested that if an inter-neural network were created connecting the dreams of all prophets through technological implants, the shared dreams would be more accurate, and they could pinpoint the truth of what was to come. Geord called for volunteers to receive the implants. Many stepped forward. Argolese did not.

The net was successful in improving the predictions. A handful had previously predicted that the Godsbane had a connection with rats, that he regarded them as a beautiful species, revering them as almost greater than humans. this became a certainty among all prophets. It was difficult to understand how this related to the visions of doom, but it was an attribute that all agreed on.

Soon, they identified the date of the world's doom: September 25th at 1:25 PM, several years hence. This was significant since that particular date and time was noted in the almanacs as a projected time when the fires of Kaj'jic (a lava fountain in the center of Cavaheim) would rise.

But the face of the Godsbane escaped all prophets. Geord asked for more volunteers to join the prophetic network of implants. Soon, almost everyone in Cavaheim wore the implants, even non-prophets. Each night as they slept, they shared a dream of what was to come. The terrifying certainty that their world was about to end spread through all participants.

At this point in the story, Ruby stopped Hera and pointed at the bionic implant under her left eye. "Is that what you have on your cheek? A dream implant?"

Hera touched the device and frowned. "Yes, and I curse the day I let my mother volunteer me. My father saw it as a betrayal."

Hera continued her story. On the night exactly two years before the predicted world's doom, a new dream came. Once again, the dream unfolded of one who sent another into the void and became all powerful. But, although most of the world erupted in fire, The territory around Cavaheim was transformed. It grew brighter, becoming a paradise. White trees flourished. Angels dwelt in the midst of the people. Beautiful music, glorious vistas, and the bright lights at the edge of the vision promised that greater things lay just beyond their sight. And the face of the Godsbane was revealed at last. It was Basha, a gifted student of both magic and technology, living in Cavaheim.

Immediately, the Ord, who were enforcers of law in Cavaheim, imprisoned Basha. Geord would preside over a trial in which Basha's doom would be decided. Most agreed that, whether Basha intended to create a paradise for the people of Cavaheim or not, he must not be allowed to destroy the world. He should be put to death, preferably before the day of destruction.

Basha captive

But the dreams continued, delicious visions of a realm of untold bliss, and they only grew more desirable over time. The promise in these dreams was clear: All who supported Basha would find eternal joy in an earthly realm. Some murmured that Basha should be set free. Some wanted to celebrate Basha's promised salvation. The world was chaotic, and Basha could create a realm of peace for all who supported him.

In a move that surprised everyone, the Ord enforcers who had imprisoned Basha rose up in a coup against the Cavaheim leadership. Led by their warrior priest Jarrok, the Ord imprisoned Geord and his ministers. After a brief and ineffective resistance by the people, Jarrok spoke at the temple and declared that Basha was now king of Cavaheim and all adjoining territories. The Ord were masters of the arts of combat. Once they had seized control of the dragon eyries, they became an unbeatable force, expanding their territory and securing control in Basha's name.

Hera's father Argolese was a peaceful man, but he could not tolerate what he saw as a farce. Basha was not a hero. If Basha was the Usurper (Argolese always qualified Basha's position with 'if') then he must be killed. If he was not, then he had no right to take control of the government. Argolese predicted that the people of Cavaheim would mourn the day they accepted the leadership of a student with such a dubious reputation.

But public opinion had shifted against Argolese. With the dreams of paradise lulling the people, their support of Basha grew to a religious fervor. They ridiculed Argolese in public. Eventually the Ord imprisoned him.

The city changed in the two years between the first dream of Basha and the day of destruction. Artisans erected a statue honoring the destroyer of the world and savior of Cavaheim. They gave Basha the Palace of Wisdom for his home, and the Temple of Light became the Temple of the Rat. People revered Basha, calling him the Holy Usurper ( Gahn Shikvaht) . They treated him as a god.

Ceremony

The day of destruction arrived, the fateful September 25th when the fires of Kaj'jic would rise. Cavaheim filled with a multitude of true believers, choking the streets, hoping to get a glimpse of their savior. Thousands had migrated to the caldera over the previous two years, building villages and tent cities to save themselves from world destruction. They stood shoulder to shoulder before the temple, waiting to witness the greatest miracle of all time.

Before the appointed time, when the lava was about to rise, Basha, Jarrok and the Ord Priests led a public ceremony of sacrifice. It was rare to see Ord out in the daylight since they disdained the light, preferring to use their mercenary soldiers for daytime enforcement. Jarrok and his subordinates wore dark shades over their eyes and broad-brimmed hats.

Basha declared all who witnessed were worthy to partake in the transformation to paradise. The people rejoiced. They brought out a prisoner, Hera's father, Argolese. He was the chosen sacrifice that would give Basha power to touch the heavens.

Argolese in chains

Argolese did not go quietly. Soldiers chained him and left him standing in the pit of Kaj'jic. As the lava rose around him, he declared the ceremony a farce. He reminded the people that the prophecies had all declared that the Usurper would send his sacrifice into a void, a place that God himself dared not go. Basha had only sentenced Argolese to death by fire, an act that had been common centuries before when the people of Cavaheim had been more savage. the people did not care. Their leader Basha stood over them at the altar before the Temple of the Rat. He spoke the words of ancient spells. As the fire consumed Argolese, all the people cried out, caught up in the madness of exaltation, fear and confusion.

But Hera only wept.

Then a bright flash. When it faded, the world remained, but it was far from the paradise Basha had promised. The city of Cavaheim remained unchanged, but the villages and tent cities beyond its walls had vanished, replaced by thick forests. The mountains around the Caldera, once gentle slopes, had become jagged and dangerous, the greatest of these being the three huge talons of rock that touched the sky.

Basha's followers were confused. The Ord escorted Basha away. In his absence, many people fled. Some rioted. It was a scene of terrible chaos. Jarrok emerged from the temple and demanded the people's attention. He declared that the human sacrifice was insufficient for the change required to make a paradise. The change Basha had wrought in the world was not a failure. Basha had taken a step towards the promised paradise. He would repeat the ceremony when the fires of Kaj'jic rose once more. The Ord would gather more people for sacrifice. When this statement drew scorn and fear from the crowd, Jarrok added that the sacrifices would be people of magic potential found outside Cavaheim. He and his priests would scout the world, seeking enough worthy victims to ensure that Basha's spell of transformation would succeed.

Through all of this, Hera mourned the loss of her father. She hadn't seen his last moments, being too far back in the crowd, but she'd heard his final refrain and his screams as the fires consumed him. She'd betrayed him, receiving the prophetic implant. From the day of his death, Hera declared to the people that Basha and the Ord should be stopped. They would kill more innocent people. If their spell didn't work the second time, they would seek more victims for sacrifice. No one was safe.

Her resistance to the will of Basha soon caught the attention of the Ord who vowed to silence her. Hera evaded capture through the night, and when day broke, she climbed to the eyries over the city and stole a dragon. Soldiers fired arrows as she fled. She knew they would pursue her. The soldiers were not as adept at dragon lore as were the Ord, but they dared not let her escape for fear of their Ord masters. Hera knew pursuing dragons would be able to sniff out her trail, so she flew at a great altitude where the thinner air would not carry her scent. It was an overcast day, and she and her dragon hid in the clouds, growing ever higher.

The thin air and cold became intolerable, and Hera feared she would lose consciousness if she persisted. Her dragon struggled to stay aloft in the thin air. Just as she lost her resolve and decided to descend, she found she had reached the high peak of one of the spires. There, against all reason, lay a patch of green grass and trees with a domed building at its center. She realized this would be the perfect hiding place. She bid her dragon land in the grass. She jumped off and sent the dragon away, back to the eyries.

Hera escapes

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page published 2/20/2017