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Disclaimer: the Death Gate Cycle is a five book series originally co-authored by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the concept and the characters who appear here belong to their original creators and I am only 'borrowing' them for the purposes of the story. This is set pre-Sundering.

Note: I don't think that Zifnab was his name pre-Sundering, rather it became his adopted identity when he began to travel through the Gate, so for the current setting I adopted the moniker Fitzgerald for Zifnab. The title was inspired by the Islands song by the same name.

 

“Wave Forms” by Karrenia

He got up from his seat before a blazing hearth fire, which in the mild early spring weather was more decorative than necessary for warmth, and padded over on slippered feet to the east windows which looked out over the terrace of his palatial home.

More recklessly than was his custom, Samah, First Among Equals on the Sartan Council of Seven took hold of the latches and threw open the windows to let the air and sunshine into his home.

The crickets in the shaded hedgerows were just winding down, and the birds, a small white, brown, and black variety that his wife, Orla loved to pet and feed seed pellets too, flitted in and out of the hedges in both small and large numbers. If it made her happy to cater to the birds that made no difference to him, and it was a harmless enough past-time.

He could smell the varied scents of green and growing things on the wind. The sky was a robin's egg blue and the sun felt warm and welcoming on his face. It was calm, orderly; just the way it should be. Samah was a man who loved order and discipline, who needed it as much or perhaps more so than he required air to breathe and water to drink. It had been that way for as long as he could remember.

It was not very often that he allowed himself to indulge in nostalgia or reminiscing over the past for the problems of the present hinged a great deal from events of the past was a fact that was not lost on him. The past few weeks had been particularly trying ones, with the members of the council seemingly at odds with one another over the minutest of details, over the distribution of labor among their own people, precedents that should have been established as concrete as the bedrock underneath their feet, and increasingly troublesome; What do with the mensch?

And the most worrisome and diseenting topic of all, despite their best efforts, the undeclared cold war against their arch-enemies, the Patyrns had almost become a full-blown rout. Oh, he would never let his hard-won control slip to the point where he would use that term in council meetings, but the feeling was there nonetheless. ** Samah had never doubted his own power, he had never doubted his authority, or the fact that his carefully crafted demanour and patrician vigor held as much or perhaps even more sway than it had when he had been a young man.

What did give him pause was whether or not he had been a little too focused on establishing his leadership among the council. In the back of his mind, Samah had to wonder if perhaps the problem did not lie within himself but among those too weak-willed to do what must be done in order to bring the Sartan back to its destined predominance in the world.

He did not wish to consider that his rule over his people was not as solid as he would like to believe, and shortly on the heels of that thought came another unwelcome one: 'Could it be that some among my people have deviated from the true purpose? I never did care for Vasu because that man has always seemed a bit shifty to me and he thinks himself too clever by half.'

Samah sighed and snorted. “A minor matter, but irritating, all the same. Young pup, best learn respect for his elders or I shall have to do something about him. In the meantime, I have many important matters with which to contend.'

 

The sunset which had only reached the tree-line when had first come to the window and thrown open the casement had now darkened from the purple hue of eggplant or a bruise and then shaded from matte black to the full dark of evening.

It was getting late and he would not accomplish much of anything worthwhile wool-gathering, so he closed the windows then turned around and went off to his bedroom.
**

 

Late evening

“Come to bed,” said Orla softly from where she reclined underneath the comforter of their canopied bed. Her hair had been unbound from its binders and combs and now billowed around her oval and delicately-boned face in soft waves.

“I will, in a moment,” replied Samah absently.

“Whatever it is that's troubling you, My Lord, you can tell me. A burden shared is often better than to carry it all alone. Perhaps it is one that my insights can be of some help.”

He turned his head to regard her, a curious look in his eyes, and tugged at the ends of his long white hair, thinking it over. The Sartan had always been an intensely private people, and kept the needs of individuals separate and apart from the needs of the entirety of the whole, and even more so the doings between husband and wife.

He padded over and sat down on the edge of the bed, rubbing the backs of his hands over his face. Then said. “I have been thinking.”

“It is your greatest gift, and your greatest burden. I have heard it said that duty can often be as light as a feather or as heavy as a mountain. Tell me your thoughts, Samah.”

“A part of me longs to unburden myself of my doubts,” began Samah quietly, then added, 'however I do not know wish to trouble you with them. It would be no kindness to do so.”

“My husband I do not pretend to know what it is that preys on your mind so,” Orla said earnestly, and then pulled herself closer to his side of the pide, the thin silk sheets of the bed linens clinging to her slender form, before she sat up and added, “I am stronger than you think. You do not need to bear the load by yourself.”

“Samah hesitated a moment and then replied: “I, I am not certain. I have been considering sharing my concerns and contingency plans for the next council meeting, but perhaps it would be best to share them with you.”

“Contingency plans?” Orla exclaimed. “Surely circumstances have not become that grave?” She was surprised and afraid, and the churning emotions that made her pulse race and her skin feel calmly and warm at the same time brought a flush to her cheeks and unaccustomed brilliance to her light blue eyes.

In the back of her mind, she thought, 'Does he know? Will he care? If he does know, how much does he know? I could be wrong, I could be imagining things. And, if he is correct at that the tide is turning against us in the war against the Patryns, what do I do?”

She employed an unspoken mental exercise and brought her racing pulse and flush under control and was grateful that her husband had not noticed her momentary lapse, or picked up on the thoughts that had been churning through her mind. Instead, she smiled and waited for him to continue.

Samah sighed and then reached over to take her hand in his own, saying as he did so. “No, no, calm yourself, Orla, my dear. My words of late have an annoying habit of running ahead of my better judgment.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” asked Orla.

“No, Samah replied and then added. “Yes, I could use another sounding board.”

“Then I would be honored to serve in that capacity, My Lord.”

“Hmm. Yes, that would be good, My Lady. If you insist on being formal, Orla.” He managed a smile for her and she returned his with one her own.

“You see, that might be part of the problem. There are too many hot-headed young men on the council that seem to believe in reaching rash decisions without bothering to consider all the consquences of their actions.”

Orla grasped his hand in her own, feeling the reassuring strength and warmth of it on her own chilly flesh. She had often considered employing just a touch of her own magic to provide more warmth in the spacious bedroom of their palatial home but had always forgone the whim at the last moment. At the same time, she wondered if there was more to what he had not said, then from what he had said.

“I've begun to harbor vague but unfounded fears that the solid bedrock beneath ours feet is not as solid or as resssuring, I would like to believe.”

“I don't understand,” Orla said quietly, encouragement and striving to imbue confidence and reassurance in the timbre of her voice. It was rare to find her husband this vulnerable and while it lasted she would be there for him, if whatever manner that she could.

“I shouldn't wonder at that, for I do not understand it myself,” replied Samah, as he brought the hand he held up to his lips and kissed it, then let it drop.

She slid back to her side of the bed and slipped under the covers once more.

Samah loved his wife in his own remote and rather emotionally distant manner and while it seemed a small, even minute concern in the wake of all of his much bigger and troubling concerns, still, there must be something to he could do to scale the emotional wall that had grown up between them of late.

She seemed eager and willing to share his burdens and had even spoken up in his defense on many occasions during council sessions, but it seemed that they spent less and less time in each other's company.

He was well aware that she had her own projects, that she had always been a dutiful wife and mother, and that her projects took her away from their home frequently, all the same he felt nauseous to suspect her of anything that might in the least be considered suspect.

When he at last removed his slippers, took off his everyday robes and dressed in his sleeping robes, and then slipped into bed quietly so as not to wake Orla, did he turn his head and kiss her brow.

“Good night, Orla,” Samah whispered quietly.

As he settled down for sleep, attempting but not successfully trying to calm his racing thoughts, he thought he heard, shortly before he drifted off to sleep, Orla whisper, “Good night, Samah.”

He decided that he would call an emergency meeting of the Council. Tomorrow would come soon enough and while he had done everything he could, it would have to be enough.

 

**

A clandestine meeting

Twilight had fallen over the town when a dozen hooded and cloaked figures assembled in the plaza with the fountain flanked by its quartet of carved figures, two male, and one female, the males held long tapered spears in their fists, the female figures held golden harps. It was a beautifully rendered piece of craft and in other circumstances he might have spent time admiring it.

Even had Merla, the senior member on the Sartan Council of Seven been so inclined Vasu might have brought her out her to spend a quiet picnic, or a walk around the lake, or some time discussing the finer points of Sartan music, philosophy or rune theory. But such pastimes, while infinitely more pleasant than playing how best to disrupt the current intolerable rule, such things had to be shifted to the back burner.

Vasu waited for full dark, and not above using his magic to provide light to their meeting, he chanted the runes which provided adequate illumination to the gathering.

Vasu's uncle and his tutor in magic and had led him on the first steps of the path that he followed now. What they would speak off was not exactly forbidden, but it had taken a great deal of convincing to get this far.

Fitzgerald stood off to one side, his hood down and his booted foot scruffling a line in the cobbled stones of the plaza.

 

Vasu wanted to look to Fitzgerald for a sign of how to proceed, but the older man merely nodded and indicated that he was to do the talking.

Vasu took a silent head count and nodded approvingly, but at the same time he could not help but sigh, the turn-out for this clandestine meeting was decent, but he could have hoped for more. All the same, half a dozen was more than he had expected.

“As you all know the reason that we have gathered, and I thank you all for your commitment and your discretion,” Vasu began.

Soren, the young man he had taken under his wing as an apprentice, his white hair, falling down around his face, shuffled his feet on the ground and clenched his fists at his sides. “Surely the best method of extricating ourselves from having to sulk around and talk of things that should be done is past!”

“Caution is our watch-word, Soren,” remonstrated Soria, a young woman who had taken a fancy to the intense but sincere young man, laying a soothing hand on his forearm.

“Samah has assumed too much!” Soren exclaimed. He was full of passion, full of energy, but even in his distraction, he managed a tight, appreciative smile at the attractive young woman, nodding a polite thanks, and managed to calm down. “I mean, surely we can do more than just talking about throwing him over.”

Vasu nodded and then added, “His rule has been a good one, he has brought order and discipline to our people for decades, however even a good man can be corrupted by power. There is an old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely' “

Vasu looked over to where Orla stood, her head bowed but her blue eyes shimmering with mingled emotions. “Please understand, we would not endorse a middle path if we did all not all believe that it was necessary.”

“Vasu, I understand,” replied Orla earnestly. “My own personal feelings at not at issue, what is at issue is what my Lord plans to do regarding the Patryns.”

Fitzgerald ceased his apparently aimless wanderings around the perimeter of the park and came back to where the group had gathered by the fountain.“It will get worse before it gets better.”

“Could you be any more cryptic if you tried, old man?” Soren quipped.

“I could, but that would hardly be to the point would it?” Fitzgerald replied.

 

“Leave him be, Soren,” Vasu remarked. “Arguing amongst ourselves will not serve us.”

“As you wish, Vasu,” Soren replied sullenly. For a moment, in a way that Soren could not have explained he felt a wave of foreboding coming off the old man like the heat shimmer on an unseasonably warm summer day.

The sensation would not leave him as immediately as it had come on and he attempted to catch Fitzgerald's eye once more, but the man lowered his glance and refused to say anything further.

“I have heard him arguing for leniency, that a dimension he refers to as the Labyrinth should be created as a kind of correctional facility where they will spend an unspecified amount of time learning the error of their violent and chaotic ways,” Vasu continued with his discourse.

“Could there not be another way, a way no one has yet considered?” asked Orla.

“Perhaps, but how much time do we have left to discover this alternative path?” asked Vasu.

At that moment Fitzgerald broke his self-imposed silence. “Not much longer, I am as certain of that as I am certain that the sun will set and rise once more.”

“If you know something old man, don't keep it to yourself!” Soren exclaimed.

“I know that whatever plans you plan on implementing your time for doing so is running out,” said Fitzgeralad.

Soren's earnest expression rapidly altered from anger to shock and back to anger in the space of a few seconds as worked through the churning emotions that roiled within him. Then unable or unwilling to think it through he darted forward and grasped Fitzgerald by the lapels of his disheveled robes. “Tell me! Tell me what you mean? What have you seen? We need to know!”

For his part, Fitzgerald did not make any attempt to loosen the younger man's frantic hold but there was a sad, resigned look in his hazel eyes before he would respond. “I've told you that it will get worse before it gets better, much worse. I've seen fire and I've seen the ice and a human poet once wrote that if the world were to end, either in fire or ice, I'd choose fire. But ice is also nice, and would suffice'”

“What? How” stammered Soren frantically for a moment, before he swallowed down his panic, Adam's apple in his throat shuddering in time with his convulsvie breathing and wringing of his hands. The others in the group waited until he had gotten himself under control once more.

Finally soren demanded, “I don't understand your meaning, old man!”

“This is certainly not the end of the world?” exclaimed Orla much more frantically than she had intended but she could not help it.

She felt a dread such as had never felt before, the idea that the world could end had never once entered her mind. Now that the idea was in place, it was simply too big, too dreadful to contemplate. But, she had given her tacit, verbal and physical support to these people and she was committed to preventing whatever was coming, she could not back out now.

She had to know. She had to do, or whatever backbone she had grown over the past few years would be for nothing. She turned to glance at the faces of her fellows gathered in this park, this evening and saw similar expressions of dread but wanting to know all the same.

Fitzgerald nodded and then quietly replied. “No, just the one we've known for so long,” replied Fitzgerald sadly as he broke loose from Soren's hold and stepped away, glancing up to the sky and away to the tree line where the sun was setting in the west, painting the sky in subtle shades of red, orange and pale pink. “For better or worse, this the end of the world as we've known it, and I fear what the coming one will bring. It's a shame, really. I so did love this one.”

Vasu sighed then allowed Fitzgerald to wander on his elliptical path once more. The other man seemed to be oblivious to the disruption he had caused to the accustomed grave mien typical among Sartans. “If he will say no more on this matter. I think it would be a mistake to force it out of him. Perhaps, later we will have more success in doing so.”

“What do we do?” Soren asked, his voice ragged.

“I need access to Samah's personal files. If we had even the barest idea of what he was contemplating perhaps we would stand a greater chance of preventing its coming to be,” said Vasu.

“I can get them for you,” said Orla stated.

Vasu briefly weighed the potential risks and the potential gains of having Orla do as she had offered, and as quickly decided that “No, I do not believe you should. It would be too risky.”

“Any more than for any of you?” Orla demanded.

“I'll do it,” Soren said.

“I shall leave that task in your hands, then. In the meantime, our activities have undoubtedly reached Samah's ears, so continue with your work, brothers, and sisters. I will send word when I have further news. Until then, stay strong, stay committed and our thoughts go with you.”

******

A father and son moment between Samah and Ramu

“Lord Samah, Ramu begs your leave to deliver his report,” the guard at the door announced.

“Show him in,” Samah instructed.

Ramu executed the formal bow that was traditional and expected of a lower ranking wizard to a higher one even if that senior Sartan was a member of his own family. That task completed he straightened up and approached the desk where his father sat perusing a stack of neatly sorted reports.

“I would deliver my report, Sir,” said Ramu formally and respectfully.

“I would hear it,” said Samah.

Ramu nodded and continued with his report. “It as you expected, but not as bad you feared. A small group of Sartan led by senior council member Vasu have gathered every three to four weeks in the park with the fountain with the mer-people of ancient legend.”

“And what do they discuss among themselves?”

“In the beginning, it apparently consisted of complaints, talk of borne out frustration with the current power structure, dissatisfied with the slow path to achieving things for themselves,” Ramu said.

“If all I had to fear was disgruntled talk with how I run things around here, I could rest easy of nights,” Samah griped. “I get the feeling that there is something more.”

“However, as time went on, the group began to coalesce, come to some common sense of purpose. A purpose that has more than a feel of sedition to it.”

“They mean to overthrow me?”

“Not so far, Father,” Ramu said, blushing. “But of late, that is the impression I got by watching them as you instructed me to do.”

“Anything else?” asked Samah.

Ramu sighed, “There is one thing more, but I hesitate to tell for fear that it might unduly upset you, especially at such a critical time in your grand project.”

“Tell me,” Samah ordered calmly, outwardly he was calm and composed, but inside he was considering so many things at once, there was so much to do, so much to plan. At any other time, he might not have cared what a wayward group of Sartans were up to, but he had reached a critical point in his plans and timing was everything; he needed to know.

Ramu bowed his head and whispered. “Mother is with them.” Ramu, accustomed to dutiful and respectfully behavior in front of elder mages and more powerful mages did not quite how to feel about his role in this matter. He had not seen his task in reporting on his mother as anything other than just another in a long list of duties he performed for the council. His mother had become a distant figure for him now that he was a young man and he did not anticipate that situation changing any time soon.

Ramu had only vague memories of his mother when he had been a child, singing, gardening and singing him to sleep when he had been a mere babe in arms. As he had gotten older, somehow he had gravitated more to his father than his mother. Now that his father had told him to all but spy on his mother, he wondered, for the first time, if he might have done something wrong. If he had, Ramu could not point to whatever it was he had done that would have placed him in this predicament.

Samah sucked in his breath, and then let it out. “It is confirmation of a suspicion that I could have wished to never have heard. But only a fool blinds himself to the truth, and I try not to be a fool. Thank you for the report, Ramu, that will be all.”

“Did I do well, Father? Have I not fulfilled my task to the exact length and breadth of your instructions?”

Ramu had the long lanky body of a boy on the cusp of manhood, and the broad shoulders features which he had inherited from his father, however, the soft hands of a musician or an artisan, with long tapered fingers and watery blue eyes had come from his mother.

Samah nodded, “Yes, you did well, Ramu.”

When his son had left Samah bowed his head and leaned forward in his chair, thinking over his next move in the intricated plan that he had set in motion.

Samah placed his interlaced fingers over the bridge of his nose and wondered whether or not he should confront Orla with the confirmation that she had been conspiring against his will. It seemed such a small thing when placed against his greater ones but then discarded it. When his plan came to fruition and they awoke in the better world he had envisioned then they would have all the time in the world to reconcile with one another.

 

**
Interlude,

Fitzgerald had decided to survey the devastation left behind by the battles between Sartan and Patryn. He did not know exactly what he might found nor what he might be looking for.

He realized that his eccentric ways and controversial opinions regarding treatment of the humans, elves, and dwarves had garnered him a great deal of trouble when he had been a young man. Now, it seemed that no one among the new guard had time for him anymore, and he had been forgotten, like an unread tome in Vasu the Librarian's sprawling archives. It used to bug him, but now he simply did not care about any of that, for one thing, it gave him the freedom to move about and come and go as he pleased.

Fitzgerald stood on the edge of the overlook, trying to avoid being seen by passing strangers, it was late, far later than it was healthy for a normal human to be abroad, but still, he continued to be drawn back to this place. Once there had been a park here, carefully manicured and tended.

Only a few months ago there had been a gazebo that had been put into use for garden parties and musical performances, and outdoor theater. Once it had been a beautiful place, where the inhabitants of the city could come and play, or get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

He was not there to admire the scenery, much as it called out to him with what it represented, a haven of peace and quiet. He could do with a dollop or more of peace and quiet and his restless soul craved it the way another man might crave a sip of vintage wine, but it was not to be.

Far too much preyed on his mind, too much was happening or would be happening in the near future. In the back of his mind, Fitzgerald, 'Damn, I never could get the tenses right, darn visions, you'd think they would be more precise and get at least the times right, even if so much else remains murky and confused.'

“The problem with having the power of foresight,” mused Fitzgerald, “is that you know just enough to be truly afraid, but not enough to do anything about it.”

The park had been a calm oasis in the midst of so much turmoil. But that was before a battle had taken place between Sartan and Patyrn. Now, the grass, what was left of it, had turned brown and scorched. Where the band-stand had stood was nothing but a gaping crater.

For a moment he considered all the implications of the effects that use of magic had on the world around them and the idea that while his people's intentions had been good ones from the very start, it could still have unanticipated consequences, such as the destruction of this park.

And this idea held true for all beings, even among the mensch. He sometimes hated that term, a term borrowed from another human language that he had slated on his to-do-list to learn and had made several stabs at doing so, but somehow something else had come up or he had gotten distracted or the fits of clairvoyance had come upon him and somehow he had never gotten around to it.

All the same, from the smatterings of the words root language, he had learned that the word 'mensch' meant nothing more than 'people'.

However the manner in which the Sartans used it gave it a derogatory meaning as if to make it a catch-all term to refer to those who were not Sartan. It was a shame really, there were a richness and a diversity to life among the humans, elves, and dwarves of this world which could not be found among his own rather insular people.

Fitzgerald took a stroll around the circumference of the crater, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his robes and counted his steps as he went, muttering, “Perhaps I have been too harsh of Vasu and his followers, too caught up in my own fragmentary glimpses of what is to come. Vasu, for all his faults, spent his time in the archives only to emerge as someone who others might do well to follow to their benefit.”

He paused for a moment and heaved a sigh. “Instead, I lurk on the fringes of the events of these days, thinking and wondering, and even young Soren can sense that my cryptic manner as he calls it, is of benefit to no one. Sometimes I wonder if I am cursed like the ancient prophetess the humans called Cassandra, to know just enough of the what-will-be but not enough to do anything about it.'

He scoffed at his own meandering thoughts and begun his circuit of the crater once more, thinking as he did so, Samah is a good man, a stubborn, proud man, but if my eye has not been blinded by own problems, then he is also a fearful man, but even would not go so far as destroy this world. Would he? Could he?'

 

Fitzgerald abruptly left off his meandering course and walked over to the fountain and looked up at the carved statues and said. “I hope not, my friends, I truly hope that is not the case.”

The statues being made of stone and crafted by dwarven hands were not imbued with any magic other than the sheer symmetry of their form and being; unsurprisingly did not make any reply. He had not expected one, but all the same, he had to wonder if somewhere along the way he had missed something vital, something small but nevertheless important that would shake loose the stubborn wrench in his thinking processes and would help him understand.

*****

 

Orla had tended all the plants, meet with Soren and his small band of followers who felt as he did, even though while she was doing she felt as if by doing so it was an infintismal betrayal of her vows of marriage to Samah.

However, she could feel in her bones and in her blood that the actions that Samah and the others on the Council of Seven were contemplating would be the truly reprehensible thing, and so she would do what she could to at least the stem the tide for the time being.

The world was here, in all its beautiful, inherent wonder and complexity, even as she walked with her the hood of her robe pulled low to cover her face, and her hands hidden in the folds of her flowing sleeves, as was proper whenever the Sartan left their Sanctum and ventured out into the wider world.

It was more than likely a dangerous thought to even contemplate, in Orla's brief experience of the world any number of her people would benefit immensely from experiencing a bit more of this world that they seemed so eager to destroy.

It had not always been this way, and in her opinion, it was more fear than the confidence in the inherent superiority of the Sartan race that those on the council argued that such a drastic step was the only option; that if they did not act their enemies, the Patryns, would seize advantage of their inaction and attack first.

She did not have enough evidence to know whether or not such an assertion was true or not; but she had heard the stories from first her grandmother, and then later on her mother had passed them on to her, how terrible battles had been fought, terrible magical battles that had lasted for days, or even months, leaving devastation and death in their wake.

The humans of this world had incorporated those magical battles into their legends of demigods. Orla knew that the Sartan were not demi-gods. Yes, they might be gifted with magical powers far beyond those of ordinary humans, but they were not perfect. While she thought that, and could only share her opinions with Soren and his small band of follower for fear of what might happen if they were found out. Still, she wished she could speak her mind.

The desire to speak her mind to the one person who mattered most in her life would go unfulfilled. The whole idea of not being able to see how explain how she really felt eat at her like an untreated fever, but there was nothing she could do about it.

Samah was a difficult, stubborn, man, and if truth be told, she was more than a little afraid of his temper. It was more cutting and pointed than violent, still, she did not wish to contemplate a resurgence of it. When they had first become husband and wife his anger had been more directed at events, or council members or at when his will was not heeded, but never at her directly, for something she had done, or not done.

In the rare moments when his cutting remarks were directed at her, she had taken the brunt of it in stubborn silence and then stalked out of the room.

In the back of her mind, she thought, 'It Is not fear that I feel. I no longer cringe like a dog that cowers away from a previously kind master in anticipation of a blow about to fall. Nor am I angry. And if I am, I do not know who or what I am angry at. No, it is just this feeling that something terrible is about to happen.'
****

A week later

“I thank you, one and all, brothers and sisters, for convening at such short notice,” Samah began once all seven council members had been seated and the servants had finished pouring glasses of heavily watered wine for all of them.

“This had better be important, Samah, “ griped Corvus, a Sartan wizard of an old and established family and one who had been Samah's cordial if unashamedly open adversary as regarding council agenda from the day that the younger man had taken pride of place from him as chairman. Corvus did not have anything against him personally, he just was the type that did not like to have his proverbial thunder stolen and it rankled him; and he had never been quite able to let it go.

“I assure, you, all of you,” Samah responded, making certain to make eye contact with Corvus, and Soren, the only other male member, and the three other female members, including Orla, before adding, “It is.”

“Then get on with it,” Soria, the youngest of the female councilors quipped. “Or we will all die of old age before long-winded Samah concludes his opening remarks.”

“Thank you, Soria, for that pithy remark,” Samah said. “But the time for levity is past, I would not have called this emergency session for the sake of frivolity or to unduly disturb everyone else's daily routine.”

“Then why are we here?” Corvus asked, his interest piqued in spite of his reservations.

“Because I have cause to believe that the bedrock underneath our feet is not as solid as we have always believed it to be.”

“Metaphors, Samah,” Corvus you should leave them to the poets. You're not suited for it."

“Corvus, please,” Soren implored. “I for one would like to hear Samah out.”

“As you wish,” Samah sighed, passing the sleeve of his formal robes over his brow and then leaned forward in his chair without saying anything for a few heartbeats before he heaved a sigh and said. “ I shall be candid with you, all of you. This concerns our undeclared cold war with our arch enemies the Patryns.”

“If that's all,” Corvus sighed, “I could have told you that as rash and undisciplined as they are not one of them would dare to strike the tinder to the fire that will erupt into open warfare. The sheer follly of such an idea is absurd!”

“Absurd or not, Corvus, it must be contemplated,” Samah said quietly yet forcefully in a manner designed to steer the discussion in more productive channels.

Soren said, “Reports from Sectors thirty seven through fifty eight confirm the varying rumors that there is one among the Patryns who could become the leader that could galvanize the Patryns into a unified army.”

“Does this reports give this person a name?” Soren asked.

“Nothing precise, and the varying reports are as varied as the leaves on the trees, but from the mess I caught a glimmer of one name.”

 

Samah leaned forward again, this time much more composed and in control. “Tell me the name, Corvus. I must know of it!”

Coruvs shrugged, and replied in a matter-of-fact tone, “He is called Xar. I had my apprentices do some research in the mensch libraries, and its likely origin may come from a remote region of the world called by the mensh Russia. I believe it loosely translates as king in their language.”

“A King? Orla repeated the word, trying it on as it were a piece of attire, it sounded strange even as the words left her mouth. At that moment she wished she had learned more about the Patyrns. In the back of her mind she thought, 'Always regretting, always too late, is this to be the warp and weft of my life? May whatever we believe in help us now. We know so little. We believe ourselves to be demi-gods and we can't even keep our own house in order'.

“A King, or Lord, or whatever this upstart styles himself, it is certain that once his power and authority becomes firmly entrenched he will make his move.

“We can afford to wait, certainly,” Soria suggested. “It will take time for this Xar to build his power base and when he does we will be more than ready for him.”

“That's just the thing, Lady Soria,” Samah, We might not have the time to do so.”

“I think you're jumping at shadows, Brother Samah, “ Corvus replied firmly. “It's just a series of rumors that we managed to get from those who have encountered the Patryns, and our spies. Nothing to suggest that an armed conflict is in the offing.”

“Are you suggesting that is exactly what's going to happen?” Vasu asked. He had remained silently absorbing all that had been said and more importantly left unsaid., but he spoke up now. “What proof can you provide us?”

Samah nodded slowly as he replied, “I have my sources, I hardly need to display them all for your casual perusal. All you need to know is that both certain and imminent.”

“Fighting them magic against magic would be a waste of time and effort,” Soria said.

“I agree,” Soren added.

“What other alternative do we have?” Orla asked as she took a sip from her wine glass that rested at her right elbow in an attempt to steady her shaky nerves. It became a rather long sip as she stole a glass around the table and saw the various expressions of anger and confusion pass across their faces.

Samah did not respond, but let everyone else around the table talk, drink and talk amongst themsleves for the moment, before he looked up. “I have a contingency plan, but it is one that I did not dare to dream would ever be necessary.”

“Out with it then” Corvus demanded.

“I believe that the only way to truly have a world of perfect order and harmony is by eliminating those who represent chaose and disharmony.”

“What are you saying?” asked Vasu, alarm not yet turning to anger.

Vasu was the resident archivist in the library and had never known anything about the Patryns or their war except what was written in the pages of the scrolls and books in his care. He was a cautious and clever man, much given to attempt to soothe over any acrimony or arguments in the council or in the community as a whole, but the sheer enormity of what Samah was proposing shocked even him out of his usual serenity. “Are you mad! Have you taken leave of your senses? That, that...” he trailed off, sputtering into his beard.

“What I am saying, that in order to deny the Patryns this world as we know it, it must be destroyed. But we have not fallen so far, my brothers and sisters.” Samah said forcefully and calmly.

“No!” Orla exclaimed, equally shocked as Vasu had been, but at the moment at a loss to fully put into words the sheer horror at what Samah was so calmly proposing.

“Quiet, wife,” Samah said in exapesration.

“No, what I suggest is difficult but not impossible. We will not destroy the world, merely break it into its elemental components and then recreate them.”

“It could work,” Corvus mused. “But it would take an enormous expenditure of magical energy. And did these plans of yours included what would become of us?”

Samah nodded as if he had been expecting the question and was prepared for it. “That's the other part of the plan, I've had the artists and craftsman among our number construct crystals cases, where our people will be placed in a state of suspended amination.”

“Hmm, I don't know Samah, again, I think you might be over-stating the case. We will need time to consider your proposal,” said Corvus reasonably.

“This suspended animation, what exactly will it entail?” Vasu asked, and how long will it last?”

“Vasu, the ancients referred to it as a long sleep,” Samah stated confidently.

“A long sleep,” Orla repeated under her breath.

“What of the mensch?” Vasu asked.

“A select few among the humans, dwarves, and elves will be resettled on the various worlds and allowed to recolonize and repouplate as they see fit.”

 

“Under our supervision, of course?” Corvus added, and judging by the tone of his voice, he was asking this question merely as a formality, as if there had never been any doubt in his mind that Sartan supervision was not only necessary but a foregone conclusion.

Samah nodded. “Of course.”

“Left to their own devices the mensch can not be trusted,” Corvus added. “This is a well-known and well-documented fact, so I hesitate to emphasize it, but I think it a matter important enough for the council to take it into consideration.”

Samah nodded, “Corvus is correct in that matter. As to the other, “ he added. “I will not order you to go through with this plan. Instead, I will put the matter to a vote for the entirety of the council,” Samah said.

“A vote?“ Corvus asked skeptically, “Samah, I don't particularly like you, that's no secret, but it's past time we stopped fumbling around in the shadows and took some kind of meaningful action. If this what it will take to secure a future for our people, a future where we are in ascendancy, then you have my vote.”

“Thank you, Corvus,” Samah replied. “What say the rest of you?”

Vasu sighed. “I say no.”

“Soria, Merla, what say you?” asked Samah forrmally.

Soria sighed. “Aye.” and a heartbeat later Merla echoed her.

******

Samah casting the spell in the Last Chamber

In the dead of night when he was certain that no one else would be awake Samah got up from his chair by the blazing hearth and slipped out of his palatial home, employing the tiniest bit of his magic to slip past his own guards. It would not do to expend too much for he would require his power at its full strength for the task to come.

He slipped around to the rear of his mansion, then down several hallways, through the library and after manipulating a cleverly hidden catch in a bookcase of rolled and orderly scrolls, down a staircase lit only by torches burning in sconces on either wall.

Samah descended the staircase slowly, composing his mind and marshaling his power, recalling the words and the precise gestures and intonations that would be required to cast a spell of this magnitude.

He had asked for and received the approval of the Council of Seven, and while their verbal approval was needed, more importantly, he required the consent of their will: the power that they would lend to him while he cast the spell, to bolster his own magic.

The runes that protected the Last Chamber were intricate but if one only knew where to find the lock within a lock they would come undone and permit entry. Samah chanted that key rune and entered the chamber, trying to calm his racing heartbeat. He did not fear failure not when the moment of casting the last and final spell before he too, would join his fellow Sartans in the 'final sleep' and then wait for however long it took for the great change that would take place.

The chamber itself was unremarkable bare stone walls whose sides had been left deliberately bare of any decoration or furnishing, except for the stone table that would allow him to channel his magical energy and tap into the elemental energies of the world and instead of working towards building his constructs one upon another like an intricate spider-web, instead he would concentrate on undoing the bonds that held them together.

His voice, pitched to resonate and rebound within the confines of the chamber came back to him in waves of concentrated sound, as he chanted the runes he had spent so much time studying and committing to memory, because nothing could go wrong with this spell, when so much was riding on it. The key to rune magic is the harmonic wave that waves possibility into existence.

Samah moved to the rhythm and beat of the words of the spell, the magical aura that coalesced around his body an afterthought, employing the various signs, words, and thoughts into the whole pattern. The more simultaneous the harmonic wave structure, the more powerful the magic would be.

All Sartan rune structures are constructed from a root hexagonal structure emanating from the Fountain or Root Rune. This the source of the magic being cast and the fount from which all the magical structure springs.

It was crucial to the integrity of the spell that he locate and harness the Fountain Rune, or he might as well give up it now. In the back of his mind, he thought, “I have always hammered into every apprentice and every beginning mage that they learn that basic, even when I was young. Some arch-mage I would be if I forget that most basic of lessons at the apex of this final moment.'

 

The sheer amount of concentration and energy required was beginning to tell on Samah but the iron-will and sheer stubbornness that had carried him through his rise to power among the Sartan served him well. In absent manner, as if his own sub-conscious was just another objective observed was aware that sweat was pooling on his brow and down his back making his robes stick to his body like a second skin.

He could feel the waves of magic and the elemental bonds shift and bend as the spell forced them out of their natural courses, and even as he did so, the rational observer had given way to a much less objective one. 'I've done it! I've done it! I Samah, have done it!' Then he collapsed on the floor of the chamber in a faint.

When he regained consciousness, a time when that he did not mark, Samah got up and gathered the folds of his robes around his body and left the chamber. He had planned to go directly from the Last Chamber to the place where the other Sartan where waiting to take the plunge into the 'final sleep', but he hesitated.

It was hardly likely than anyone, even among his own people would ever find this chamber let alone know what had taken place within it, but only a fool would leave something undone that they would come to regret later. So, he paused, and cast the locking rune once more and then heaved a deep breath and then took himself off to the chamber where his own crystalline box awaited him.

He walked through the corridors, and even here in the solid bedrock beneath his palatial mansion, he could sense the fundamental changes wrought by the spell he had cast. He felt more than a little unsteady on his feet, which was to expected, he supposed. He had given and summoned a vast well of his own power and tapped into perhaps even greater elemental force in order to do so and it would be natural for it took a toll on his mind and body.

The ground beneath his feet wavered and the walls rocked, and Samah was forced to hurry his pace so that he would make it to the others in time. Much to his chagrin, by the time the aftershock had passed he could feel his perspiration making his robes stick to his body and had a wrench in his side. All the same, there was no time to dwell on the minor aches and pains of his body, so he heaved a sigh and continued onwards.

 

Fitzgerlad's decision This is only the beginning of the end

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when my fear is gone I will turn and face fear's path, and only I will remain. “

The seas rose, the ground trembled and the earth burned, and the panic that these elemental disasters caused was as nothing compared to the terror and panic it aroused in the people. The fear was a like an unnamed and untreatable contagion, and in a way, it spread more rapidly than the firestorms in the northern and southern atmospheres. In the coastal areas the torrential rains that had come seasonably and annually became uncontrollable monsoons all out of season and beyond the scientists of the time to predict or curb.

Fitzgerald ached to help them, and he did what he could, little as that might be, getting people to shelter, trying to employ his magic to save as many as he could.

While he had foreseen a mere handful of the effects the sundering of the world would have, his own fevered and rambling visions were as nothing compared to the reality. He wished that he could do more for those his own people had left behind to perish and it tore him apart inside. Some would survive, yes, but how many and how? The rendering of the new world as imagined on paper in Samah's office imagined a world in which each of the elemental forces would be given a place and the survinving mensch, how he hated the word, would repopulate and governed by their benevolent overlords, the Sartan. All of this would be connected through a transit system called the “Death Gate.”

If Samah knew how utterly callous and self-serving a great deal of that plan would sound to the survivors, Fitzgerald was too angry and too weary to dwell on it at the moment.

“But that the dread of something after death,
The Undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action.

He did not recognize the original author because the name printed on the expensive vellum had long since worn away, nevertheless, he had admired the wording, the nuances, and the seemingly timeless nature inherent within the fragment from a much longer piece. Why it a pome, and an old one at that should provide him comfort in a time when so much else was cheerless and disheartening, he did not know, nor did her care to analyze his feelings in the matter. It was just something to cling to, something from the old world and felt that it spoke to whatever the new world would bring.

He wept for the terror that was happening all around him, and for those who had already perished, and for what was to come. Sometimes he wished he wished that he too might die so that he would not have to bear witness, but he could no sooner take his own life than he could deliriously shout out the unfolding disaster. If he felt as if he were losing his grasp on his own sanity, well, he thought, it was only to be expected.' Fitzgerald knelt on the ground and shouted. “I chose to remain behind because someone had to. I went into this with my eyes wide open, anticipating the likely consequences, and well, damn the consequences anyway! Because it was necessary and because I could accept them. Not just for me, but for all people.”
**

Conclusion

From the first moment that she stepped into the chamber where the crystalline chambers had been house Orla did not know what to make of them. The knowledge that these caskets would be all she would know for an interminable length of time.

Each chamber was a box about the length of a tall man, with a velvet pillow for her head and a wisp of sheer cloth meant to be used for a blanket.

Orla was not the only one among them to hesitate. Soria and Merla also hesitated, Soria had her lips skinned back in a thin line of distaste and muttered, “We are to be confined inside these, these, coffins? If I had known it would be like this I might not have agreed to go through with it.”

“Are you afraid,” asked Merla.

“Afraid? No, no. It is just that I prefer wide open spaces,” Soria retorted hotly her face flushing with anger.

“I think you are afraid,' replied Merla, primed for a shouting match with her rival, and perhaps if she were being truthful with herself, too prolong getting into one of these 'crystal coffins, as long as possible.

“Ladies, please,” Orla begged. “It is too late in the hour to be fighting amongst ourselves.”

“I suppose you are correct, Orla,” Soria at last relented.

Soren and Corvus had climbed into their own crystalline chambers and laid down. “It is not so bad, Soria,” Soren said. “And once the magic imbued inside the chambers takes effect, why we won't even feel a thing. The suspended state will take care of everything.”

“Humph, if you say so, Soren. I seem to recall you arguing quite differently not too long ago.”

“Times change,” Soren muttered under his breath.

“They do, indeed,” Corvus whispered, wondering whether or not the Sartan Council of Seven had made the right decision to break the world into its elemental components, and then had made contingency plans to ensure that their race would survive the destruction of the old world and would emerge ready to literally pick up the pieces in the new world, after the long sleep.

Following shortly on the heels of that train of thought, Corvus wondered what it would be like to feel nothing, to die a little death, and suddenly he was afraid, afraid like he had never been before, afraid that somewhere along the way they had all made a dreadful, horrible mistake.

Just then Samah entered the chamber and went over to his wife, taking her hand and formally bowing to her, landing light but a heartfelt kiss on her lips.

Orla, was a bit taken aback by the sudden and unexpected intimacy, but quickly recovered her accustomed poise. “My Lord Husband,” she replied.

“It is good to see you, Orla,” Samah greeted her.

“It is good to be seen,” she replied. Her inclination to being the one start clearing the air between them, stymied by the circumstances and the fact that it might be the very last time either of them had the chance to do so before it would be lost forever. She mentally tried on several different variations of what she had meant to say, but either time had intervened, or she had lacked the nerve, or just had not gotten around to doing.

Samah, too, seemed at a loss for words, not a natural state for him, and certainly not because the other council members, and other high-ranking junior Sartans were gathered around waiting for the sign from their leader to take up their own crystal chambers. “I,“ he began and closed the distance between them, and took her hand in his own, “I wanted you to know, whatever happens, I still love you.” I hope you understand that.”

Even in her own way, sorry seemed to be the hardest word, in any language. The thing of it was, she was not sorry for what she had done in the interests of the group opposed to Samah before she had known that he had meant to cast this last and most dangerous spell. “I know you do.”

Turning to address all of those gathered, Samah, “Take up your places, brothers and sisters, and take a long sleep,

 

Orla felt ambivalent about this final phase of the plan, she knew there really was no choice at this late remove to hesitate much longer. She went forward and slid aside the lid of the crystal chamber, lying down inside, pulling the light blanket over her body, her hand resting on the pillow. Unlike Soria, the confined space did feel at all nerve-wracking, and the Sartans who had been tasked with designing these chambers, once the magic took effect she would not feel anything at all.

Her son and her husband climbed into their own chamber, and then she could sense if not actually see the others get inside theirs as well.

Even as Orla closed her eyes for the last night of this world of sun and rain, wind and water, of life in its infinite diversity, she wondered where she would be when she woke up from their self-imposed deep sleep. A phrase from an ancient text that she had stumbled across when she had been perusing the library had called 'sleep' a little death.' The unknown author had written that men fear death as little children fear the dark and the unknown.

The death-change comes.
Death is another life. We bow our heads
At going out, we think, and enter straight
Another golden chamber of the king's,
Larger than this we leave, and lovelier.
And then in shadowy glimpses, disconnect,
The story, flower-like, closes thus its leaves.

She found it oddly appropriate at this moment despite the fact that the Sartan did not believe in any higher power other than their own she whispered as one would utter a prayer.< It was her final and heartfelt wish that went out to all those they had abandoned to their fate. She sincerely hoped that the new world would be everything they had envisioned it to be. At that moment the coldness and the blackness of the 'little death' took her and she knew no more.