It Begins with Snow
“…when the sons of gods went to the daughters of man and had children by their wombs, they became the giants of old, the nefalim, “men” of renown and infamy, dangerous like wolves amongst sheep…”
From the ‘Gathered Prophetics’
It was snowing outside. The white flakes fell lazily in the night breeze, dusting the rocky mountainside with an ivory blanket. Little crystals of ice, each as perfect as the next, flurried and spun and danced through the cold air. A tall spire rose from an outcrop of quiet buildings amongst the snowy crags, where one lonely yellow window glowed brightly through the blizzard. Framed by the light, a very old man stood at the windowsill with his arms crossed. He sighed with tiredness and fought back yet another yawn. He shivered and rubbed his arms as if it would help, but still he did not move away from the window. He found the cold weather outside calming after a long day of hard study. And it had been a hard day of study indeed.
Behind him, gathered around a desk and poring over a small square book, sat a group of four equally aged men. The room was cavernous and packed floor to ceiling with bursting bookshelves, each one filled with an impossible amount of paper and knowledge. Loose pages were everywhere and scrolls lay under dust and old maps, littering the floors and shelves like dried autumn leaves. One single candle, almost at the end of its wick, clung to life on the corner of the wooden desk, throwing distorted shadows against the walls.
‘I don’t even think it’s Siren,’ said the man at the window. He absently twisted a bit of his long white hair around a wrinkled finger and sipped at warm wine. The papery wattle of skin around his neck made his chin disappear.
‘Of course it is, Innel, just look at the scales of the front cover!’ replied one of the others. He waved his hand in a somewhat dismissive gesture. He coughed hoarsely, as if the cough had caught him by surprise, and dabbed a careful handkerchief to his lips. Spectacles made from slices of rare crystal balanced precariously on his nose and a long beard, streaked with grey, covered his chin and neck. The group of scholars mused for a few moments. ‘Where was it found again?’ asked another, peering at his colleagues from under wiry grey eyebrows.
The bespectacled man spoke up again. ‘No one knows exactly, some village in southern Nelska,’ he said, and there was a silence.
‘Fifteen years later and only now do we get to study this manuscript. Who knows the incalculable value of the magick held inside this book,’ said Innel, tugging his long blue robe about him. It was now too cold. He shivered as he pulled the stained glass windows shut with a bang. He turned and sighed, leaning back against the stone sill and looking to the man with the tiny glasses. ‘So the question remains, how do we get the confounded thing open? Have we had a reply from Krauslung yet, Gernn?’
‘No, no not as yet. They’re always late…’ he trailed off, distracted. He leant forward to take a closer look at the book lying on the desk. It was small for a start, no bigger than a man’s hand. Several black dragon scales adorned the cover, pressed flat and trimmed to fit its square shape. Probably from an infant wyrm, thought Gernn, as he let his fingers trace the ridges and dips of the cover. A thick gold lock, simple but firm, held the small book shut, with no keyhole or opening mechanism anywhere to be seen. The ancient pages poking out from the edges were torn and dirty. The man tried once again to split a few pages apart with a long yellow fingernail, but the book was locked fast, and not even the tip of a knife blade could squeeze between them. After a rather dramatic sigh that was probably much louder than necessary he entwined his fingers and leant back in his chair, and the ornate wood creaked as he did so.
‘Well nothing’s changed since this afternoon. The bloody thing’s still locked tighter than a vampyre’s coffin. And as none of us here possess the skill to unlock it, or even know what spell could force it open, I suggest we just wait for…’ But Gernn was interrupted by the sounds of heavy boots on stone.
A loud voice made them all turn. ‘Having trouble, wise men of Arfell?’ A tall hooded man suddenly emerged from the doorway, hands clasped behind his back and a warm smile on his face. The tall newcomer walked from the door to the desk in a few long strides and stomped the last bits of snow from his black leather boots. The scholars were a little startled but as he moved from the shadows and into the candlelight they quickly recognised a familiar face. The man threw back his hood. A chorus of respectful smiles followed.
Innel jumped up from the windowsill to greet the man with a warm handshake, the wattle of skin beneath his neck wobbling like a turkey’s. ‘Your Mage, what an unexpected honour! What, with the weather and all we didn’t expect you or Åddren to arrive for another two days,’ he said.
The tall mage kept his smile, while he removed his hooded green and gold robe and folded it neatly over an armchair with one fluid move. There was a long sword at his waist, in an ornate scabbard, and his expensive tunic was made of a fine emerald cloth trimmed with white and gold. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, the weather has never stopped me,’ he chuckled. ‘When we heard that you had uncovered a long lost book of secrets, I decided that no time should be wasted in coming to see it!’ The man crossed his muscular arms and looked at each of them with dark nut-brown hazel eyes. ‘Please, show me what you have found,’ he said, as Innel retreated slowly to a chair.
Gernn rose, obviously eager to impress, while the others remained silent and seated, fingers entwined in their long flowing beards. ‘It is most definitely Siren, sire, as we thought,’ at this point he threw his colleagues a quick sideways look. ‘But this book is not from the time of the war, it seems to be very different from the other texts we have recovered from the dragon-riders, perhaps older…’
‘Continue,’ said the mage.
Gernn took a quick breath before carrying on, and pointed to the gold on the black cover. ‘It does have some sort of magick lock on the cover, with no key to unlock it. We’ve come across this type of thing before but this is too powerful and too old for us. So as yet we have been unable to read it,’ Gernn shrugged and thoughtfully rubbed his beard once more, gazing wistfully at the little book. There was a moment of silence and the tall man let a satisfied smile creep over his wind-burnt face before turning to the others. ‘Perhaps I could help with that part,’ he said. His hazel eyes flicked around the circle. ‘If I can get it open, can you translate it?’
‘If it’s legible, then we can read it. We men of Arfell have come across all of the languages that have ever been heard in Emaneska. There isn’t a book we’ve seen that we couldn’t translate,’ answered a third man, with a slow and constant nodding of his head. He looked to be the oldest by many a mile, greyer than a winter’s day and waiting patiently at death’s doorstep. The others murmured their assent with a symphony of throat-clearing and more rubbing of chins and facial hair.
‘Good.’ The mage strode forward and flexed his hands. He briefly took a moment to think and then leant over the oak desk, humming and musing and making a sucking noise with his teeth. The scholars watched him think and looked between themselves with a mixture of intrigue and uncertainty.
The tall man muttered something, perhaps an incantation, as he reached towards the book with his fingers rigid and outspread. A tiny ripple of air pulsated from his hand like a wave of heat over a fire. A purple spark danced over the cover, and he whispered something, muttering again, but louder this time. ‘This book is strong,’ he mumbled from between pursed lips. He seemed to be straining to keep his fingers spread. The mage’s hand pulsed again and he took a firmer stance this time, spreading his feet and gripping the edge of the table. More sparks fizzed over the cover and then, quite abruptly, the thick lock made a little click, and smoothly rolled open.
The scholars all leant forward with open mouths and wide eyes, eager to see what the dark book held between its dusty yellow pages. The tall mage wiped a single drop of sweat from his brow and smiled, clenching his fist a few times to get rid of the numbness. ‘Read your book, gentlemen.’ He smiled like a wolf approaching a trapped rabbit.
The oldest scholar wiped something from his nose and moved to carefully lift the scaly cover. With agonising slowness he turned it and then he paused, smoothing out the first page with his hands. Peering through misty eyes at the thick writing, he nodded and scanned the script. ‘It’s elvish, dark elf, if I’m not mistaken. I… I haven’t seen a text like this for years,’ he said, somewhat shakily.
‘Elvish. That is an old language indeed,’ commented the tall mage. It may have been the flickering candlelight, but it seemed to Innel that the mage’s eyes widened ever so slightly at the news. ‘The oldest, your mage,’ he answered.
Beside them the old scholar shuddered as he read onwards. He coughed briefly and turned the next page. ‘It reads…’ he paused, tracing the script. ‘The Testament of Bringing. But that word could also mean, erm creating, or…’
Gernn adjusted his crystal spectacles and peered at the writing. ‘Summoning.’
The mage turned to him, looking down his nose at the scholar. ’Summoning?’
Gernn nodded eagerly, almost losing his glasses. ‘Yes, as I’m sure you know sire, the dark elves were powerful creatures, capable of controlling the darkest of all magicks.’
‘It’s a summoning manual?’ asked the man.
‘Yes your Mage. Their acolytes could summon huge beasts from the darkest places of the world at the cast of a single spell.’ Innel went to a bookshelf and brought back a rare slice of tapestry covered with crude pictures depicting battles with strange goblin-type animals and giant winged creatures with many horns wearing what looked to be golden crowns.
‘I remember,’ muttered the mage as he turned the tapestry to face him. The others looked up questioningly. ‘I said I remember seeing something like this before, in other books and old paintings at the citadel.’
‘Of course sire,’ Innel nodded, wondering if he had seen any such paintings in Krauslung. There was something like an itch in his mind.
‘Where are the keys?’ The mage asked quickly, tapping the page with a finger. Keys could be found in every spell book and any book without them was useless. They were the start of any incantation, the unlocking words to begin a spell.
The oldest scholar turned a few pages carefully, where more runes were scribbled. He pointed to a few random symbols hiding at the corners of one page. ‘For the spell? Erm, there, and the other, there. These are the main words, me and hear. Saying them in the other order, of course, would open the spell. I don’t dare to read aloud any further; it seems we have uncovered a very special book indeed. It must be over a thousand years old…’ his voice cracked and his words trailed off into silence. The scholar’s hand was shaking more than usual.
‘This needs careful translation, look, it seems to reference something called thy darkness swallowed, or… mouths of darkness, yes that’s it, over and over again on these pages.’ Gernn waved his hands as he gingerly flipped through the ancient book. His eyes were wide.
‘And you are sure this book is not another fake?’ The man asked, looking hungrily at the men. The wolf and the grey-haired rabbits. His arms were crossed still, but his voice was now low and dangerous, dark brown eyes roaming the pages and pictures spread over the desk.
Innel nodded. That itch was bothering him now, something he had missed, something he couldn’t begin to put his finger on. ‘It’s real, sire, an elven summoning manual, if you asked me.’
‘It’s dangerous, whatever it is,’ said Gernn.
The man smiled, flashing teeth. ‘How interesting this all is.’ He drummed his fingers on the desk absently. ‘Well, it seems you have been most useful to me this evening. I am sure Åddren will be as pleased as I am to hear about this.’
The oldest scholar rose shakily from his chair and bowed his head. ‘Thank you sire. We will continue to study this manual with diligence, there is much more knowledge to be gained from it, and without you, my lord, we would probably still have a locked book.’ He smiled, and the other scholars managed a polite laugh. The air had become stale and thick.
The tall mage laughed heartily, startling them slightly as the noise rang out in the small room. ‘Haha, and without you, old fools, I would have nothing!’ The smile was instantly gone, replaced by thin lips and a narrowed gaze. With a sudden burst of immense speed the mage drew his sword in a silver blur and furiously slammed the blade into Innel’s chest. He fell with a terrified gurgling scream. The mage swung right and brutally cut the throat of the old scholar with a single swing. Dark blood painted the books and pages scattered around the room. Sparks of electricity danced around the mage’s fingers and a huge bolt of lightning flew into the others, burning them to a crisp in a matter of seconds. An acrid smoke filled the room.
His business concluded, the mage calmly sheathed his sword and took the black book from the desk. Wiping the blood from its cover, he turned on his heel, picked up his robes from the chair, and left without another sound.
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Genre – Epic Fantasy
Rating – PG-13