The blue and green sphere hung from the vaulted ceiling like an ornament. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, delicate tendrils of light appeared at the poles. As they joined, the sphere began to pulsate. Faster and then faster yet. Suddenly there came a great flash.
Anaxis joined the others in covering his eyes. When he looked up again, he saw it was done. A gossamer web had formed across vast oceans and continents. A new world was brought forth. The chanting of the Devoted ceased. They all stood in the darkness, savoring the moment, until the sphere finally faded from view. Then the Sanctum lamps were lit and the hall filled with excited chatter.
“Congratulations, Lord Archon,” said the sharp-nosed man next to him.
Anaxis nodded. He did not feel like celebrating.
Beryl, the Crow who had sacrificed himself, had been as a brother to him. Together they had fought and cursed and laughed and whored across a hundred campaigns. When Anaxis took his vows as a Devoted, Beryl did not abandon him like the others. When he rose to Archon, Beryl seemed to accept that the terms of their friendship had changed
What a fool he had been, thought Anaxis. Some adjust. Others pretend to.
When he’d heard that Beryl had volunteered, he’d tried to talk him out of it. But it was useless. Beryl only laughed and chided Anaxis for wanting all the glory to himself.
Glory? Anaxis knew better. The Making wasn’t about glory. It was about survival.
The Hunger engulfed one world after another. It could not be halted or reasoned with. Without The Making, without the creation of new worlds, the Hunger would someday reach the Kingdoms. And then would come the end. The end to Crows and Gods and Campaigns. The end to the lot of it.
The Devoted were all that stood in the way. A unity of faiths, its members sworn to a sacred task. Their chants opened a rift in time. And into that rift walked a willing Crow.
Anaxis looked up at the now-empty space above. The new world would be given a suitable name. Something uplifting to celebrate Beryl’s role in The Making.
Yet all Anaxis could think was that his truest and oldest friend had decided to be no more. And that it was his fault. The Archon gritted his teeth.
“My Lord?” whispered the sharp-nosed man beside him. “Are you ill?”
Anaxis shook his head. “No, Eamon – I am fine,” he replied. “Just weary. I think I will go to my chambers.”
Eamon nodded and stepped aside.
In truth, Anaxis was not tired. He was just in no mood for Devoted prattle.
And he was expecting a visitor.
Anaxis reached his rooms, locked the door, and sat down in his high-backed chair. He let out a deep sigh. Tonight was a watershed. He no longer felt a shred of doubt about the path ahead. The Making bought time, nothing more. And the price - good men like Beryl – was too high. He, and those who followed him, would no longer play at this charade. It was time to change the rules.
He heard a series of soft knocks and moved to unlock the door. A cloaked figure slipped inside. Closing the door, Anaxis motioned to an empty chair, then resumed his own seat. The figure pulled down its hood.
The Archon had not met many fae before Leya. Unsurprising, given how they regarded males. He watched her now as she unbuckled her scabbard, her graceful, dove-like wings folded neatly behind her back. Long blonde hair tumbled down over her bat-like ears as it shook free. Anaxis caught his breath as she bent over to adjust the leggings of the form-fitting doeskin she wore.
“You are so obvious,” she said, without looking up.
“So are you,” he laughed.
Leya turned to fix him with her large green eyes.
“I could erase my shame with one slice," she said. "They would just find your body.”
“And yet you don’t,” replied Anaxis. “I wonder why?”
“You know well,” she sighed as she came to sit in his lap. Anaxis placed his hands on her hips and drew her close.
“We are two of a kind,” mused Anaxis. “Drawn to the forbidden. We just use different weapons. You, a blade. I, my tongue.”
“Now I know why the Matriarchs command all men be slain,” she murmured, leaning in to nibble on his ear.
“Business first,” said Anaxis, gently pushing her off.
The fae sulked, but got up and took a seat in a chair.
“What did you find?” he asked.
“You waste my talents,” Leya yawned. “Spying in cloisters – you can hire a guinea rat for that.”
“I need discretion,” replied Anaxis. “Someone I can trust.”
“Trust?” the fae scoffed. “You won’t even tell me what this is about.”
“It is for your protection,” said Anaxis. “There are matters that…”
Leya cut him off. “Yes, yes,” she scolded. “Devoted business….holy business. Have it your way.”
The fae took out a small dagger and began to clean her nails.
“Whoever tipped you was right,” Leya continued. “They were down at the Empty Throne. Ransom, Red-Hand, and the girl. I had a nice view but couldn’t hear it all – I didn’t want to risk getting closer. The ranger was interested in some trinket, but the girl didn’t have it on her. She claims to be the Bride of Valkyn. Mad as a mooncalf, poor thing. Ransom must like them crazy, since he agreed to help her.”
“Interesting,” said the Archon, making a tent with his clasped fingers. “How did she appear to you?”
The fae’s eyes narrowed.
“A pint-sized priss,” she sniffed.
Anaxis curled his lip in a half-smile. By all accounts, the "Bride" was achingly lovely.
“What of the other matter?” he asked. “Your trip to Ferisse? I assume you uncovered nothing.”
“To the contrary,” said Leya. “I found him.”
“What?!” said Anaxis, starting from his chair. “Are you certain?”
Now it was the fae’s turn to drink in another’s discomfort.
“Yes,” said Leya. “It was Clem. He was at one of those cult temples. Calls himself Brother Genesius now. And here’s the funny part. He'd crossed paths with your mooncalf. Tried to make her his plaything - but she bolted.”
Anaxis felt a chill come over him. No. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible.
The fae looked at him with concern. “You look terrible,” she said. “Are you all right?”
Leya reached out but he waved her off. She recoiled, a flush coming over her cheeks.
Now he’d done it.
“I’m sorry,” he ventured, trying to make amends. But it was too late.
“Save it,” Leya declared. “You think I have nothing else to do but run your errands?”
“Leya”…he said, rising.
But the fae had already grabbed her things and was out the door, slamming it behind her.
The Archon sank back into his chair. His thoughts were no longer on Leya but rather on the last piece of information she’d brought. And the disturbing possibility it suggested.
Clem had always been a strange bird. One of the oldest Devoted, a follower of Hero no less. Yet, in his addled way, Clem was brilliant. Anaxis had celebrated when he’d agreed to join their cause.
But as the means they planned to use were revealed, Clem began to cause problems. He declared there had to be another way. He withdrew and spent his days alone, shuttered in his chambers. They could hear him shouting as if arguing with himself. Then, one day, Clem burst out, filthy and bearded, with a wild gleam in his eyes. “Yes!” was all he said. And he ran off.
At first they’d looked long and hard, fearful that he would reveal their plans. But it was as if Clem had disappeared from existence. Slowly they relaxed and, in time, almost forgot about him. That was over a hundred years ago.
Now Clem had surfaced on that wretched dust ball Ferisse. Just as an unhinged Ferissi girl he'd met turned up in the Kingdoms claiming to hear the voice of the All-Father.
Either it was the greatest coincidence of all time. Or...
Anaxis took a deep breath. Calm yourself. Legends and myths are just that. The stakes are too high to stop now. We stand on the very cusp of success.
A plan formed in his mind.
Retrieve what was lost. Deal with the fools and idiots responsible. Then dispose of Clem's blasphemous little girl.
The Archon gathered quill, parchment and ink and made sure the lamp had plenty of oil.
He had a long night ahead.