It was a race between three competitors: an exiled heretic, his belligerent pursuers, and the gait of the setting sun. Both the hunters and their target ran until dusk and came upon the last mile of rolling plain before it disappeared into the forested path- its gnarly, outgrown roots large enough to trip even the largest breed of horses. The hunt was still on though. The exile was followed hotly by armored men on horses, who had blunt maces drawn and ready to swing. Their intent not to cut down and kill, but to injure and incapacitate, as they wanted to drag him back with them alive. The distance between the hunting party’s vanguard and the back of the fleeing exile himself grew ever shorter. But to the lucky bastard’s surprise, his escape was aided by a patch land rendered muddy and impassable. The sludge was caused by the previous evening’s rain and eventually slowed the hunting party. And as the exile slid down a hill and into the forested path, so did the sun. The hunt was called off…
Act One: Exchanging Crusades
The kingdom of Calgary had found itself in the most unfortunate of circumstances: while its king rode forth beyond its borders to fight a holy war against the rival kingdom of Valden, back at home the nation was in the throes of a civil war. The kingdom was young, among the youngest in the lands of the Materfeld. Ruled by its first and only dynasty to date and is as old as its first three generations of rulers. A functioning bureaucracy was almost non-existent and the nation, with its king currently absent, fell into the hands of the aristocracy. The nobles, many of which were ennobled around the same time the king ascended power nearly a decade prior, were young and fresh faced. Their loyalty to the king had not been tested and so with their questionable tenure, the line between those who sought to usurp the king’s power and those who genuinely wanted to maintain order in his absence was blurred. Indeed, if you wanted to usurp power, you needed to sort out the populace and bring about said order. If you had the tongue for it, you could use the civil war at your feet against the few loyalists that stand between you and the throne.
It seems as if those who plotted to take the throne turned out to be had plotted with great insight: for not week after his departure, the king was captured by hostile Valdensian forces. As soon as this information spread, word came that the countryside was suddenly ransacked, and the capitol burst into civil war once more. Those nobles loyal to the king and his people formed a party to ride on to the countryside and defend the border. The village folk on the outskirts of Calgary- those who would’ve been the first to hear of such an attack- reported no such signs of invasion. And to prove it, they even led General Dok to a spy from Valdens, whom the crafty villagers had caught a week ago. He was at the brink of death as he sat, imprisoned in a low hanging cage as stray dogs- just as hungry and desperate as he was- picked at his exposed arms and legs while he was still somewhat alive. When confronted, the spy used his dying breath to hurl curses and insults at the heathen Calgarians, but betrayed no information on whether Valdens was planning to invade at all. The courier who ran the message of invasion was among the party’s ranks, and suggested they scout further into the night. As they walked through the forested path that saw their borders vanish into the trees beyond, they were ambushed by a band of unknown raiders, the courier formerly among them quickly and quietly vanishing into darkness. General Dok gave his son the order to take fifteen of his men and fall back, with the express order to garrison the village and stand guard. This mustn’t reach the capitol…
Nearly a day of ceaseless running wore out poor Dao Rong’s feet, not that he would’ve noticed anyway. They bled and blunted, and after the first afternoon of sprinting from those maniacs with maces, he had lost all feeling from the waist down. As dusk’s dimming light rendered slowly into evening, he found a bonfire in the distance: ‘a village!’ he thought. His legs nearly failed him, as a more than a day without food or water had rendered them limp and nigh unusable. Miraculously, he summoned up the strength to drag his withered body towards the village, nearly tumbling down the winding road that led to it. His excitement soon turned into terror as yet another group of armed men, who had been stationed all aver the place, noticed him. They responded with aggression in their stance, but soon lay at ease as the man that approached revealed himself to be sickly and near-dead from exhaustion. At this point, he was far too tired to turn tail and run. Dao Rong fainted upon the wet grass, and there he was captured and taken prisoner.
When he finally came to, Dao found himself in a makeshift cage. Before him burned the roaring flame he saw earlier from afar and further away, the faint sounds of arguing. The night was silent, and the wind blew no louder than a cricket’s fiddle. He could make out their voices and discern their conversation. One voice he identified as belonging to a Magistrate Bo, and the other, a Marshal Koen.
“They were smart to cover their colors but dared to bare their faces!” Koen’s voice boomed. “I recognized those men, all of whom were under my command at one point or another. Traitors all the same!” the Marshal declaimed angrily. Of the fifteen that were of the party, Koen was the oldest. He was a retired army officer, who served both the king and his father. His father was ennobled by the current king’s grandfather and is by and large, the most tenured of the lords. “I say we join general Dok once again and push those cowardly scurs back! Take no prisoners!”
“Insanity!” the voice of magistrate Bo fired back. “we barely escaped last time, and you suggest we throw ourselves back? These are no ordinary detractors, Lord Koen: these treacherous men wear plated armor and wield weaponry far beyond their paygrade.” He said, walking towards the richly geared corpse of one of the assailants they had captured as prisoner, but who had died on the way back.
“These traitors put themselves up for hire. And by the tune of falling coins, from kingsmen they degenerated into mercenaries for- who I suspect to be- a traitor amongst the nobility!” Koen concluded. “we must stay and recuperate, raise a militia amongst the villagers if need be…”
“Dok, a general he may be, has not my experience as marshal, Lord Bo;” Koen argued. “Place nine of the finest out of these fifteen men under my command and by cover of night, I’ll have the general here before breakfast the following day!”
“No, no, no…” Bo frustratedly countered. “All fifteen of these men haven’t eaten for two days. The finest six out of all of them would still be close to starvation by the time you march them out into that forest clearing, and no matter how masterful you are in the field, marshal, neither you nor your men can cheat death by exhaustion!”
The debate raged well into the night, and General Dok’s son awaited a resolution to reached by his two most trusted advisors. To his side, the Magistrate Bo, wisest of the king’s court and the kingdom’s first astrologer. To the other, Marshal Koen, the kingdom’s finest tactician. Both opinions he valued, however the two unfortunately couldn’t think the same of each other’s proposals. The stalemate needed to be broken. Out of nowhere, Bo mockingly suggested the decision be left to the imprisoned soothsayer outside, most likely in attempt to mock Koen’s reckless decision making. They both looked to Dok’s son, and he nodded. Anything to end the bedlam, he must have thought to himself. Bewildered and confused, the two obeyed and brought in Dao Rong.
Bo knew that what he saw inside that cage was indeed a soothsayer, a teller of fortunes. The pagan deacons of Aurora are known for their accurate telling of fortunes. The necklace of shell that he wore, a symbol of his diaconate initiation. And the eye-patch: a sure sign of his supposed powers. He was soon taken out of his cage by two men before they dragged into the command tent. He was brought to the table before the General’s son and the Lords Koen and Bo. Koen and Bo, however, looked on like naughty school children. Neither of the two wanted to speak. They felt as if they were being showed up or humiliated for their squabble. Dok’s son however was dead serious upon consulting the seer. He leaned forward and asked:
“What of my father?” he stared coldly at Dao, awaiting his answer. But fear caused the young mystic to drown in his own silence. Dok’s son sought to negotiate: “Put your powers under the service of the king of Calgary, and my father the General Dokron, and you shall be spared your life.” Upon hearing this, Bo realized that he was being serious. He looked towards Dao and commanded:
“Quickly now! Bring out your rattling silvers!” Dao fumbled for his bag, which contained a mix of smooth stones, shells, and loose beads.
“What in blazes are those?” Koen asked, looking over at the bone thin Dao Rong as he prayed to his pieces of junk.
“Those are rattling silvers, dear Lord marshal” Bo answered. “Classically, they’re eight pieces of silver coin that are thrown unto a flat surface to foretell the future.” he explained “We seem to have a somewhat impoverished version of the ‘silvers’, but if he wants to live,” he turned his cruel gaze towards the starving seer. “he has to make it work somehow…”
With his life on the line, Dao Rong had not the courage nor the resolve to tell them he was but a defective seer. When the deacons of Aurora closed their eyes, or at least the eyes they used to have, they see an event- a scene not yet written into the script of destiny. They see a prediction in place of the present had they not offered up their eye. That prediction could be an inquiry to the future, a reference to the past, or the many ways that present moment may change. Dao Rong saw nothing. He saw nothing but darkness whenever he closed the hole over the socket where his missing eye once lay. His prayers were not to his ratting silvers. They were to Aurora herself: praying that she save him from what seemed to be near certain death. He threw his ‘silvers’, and as they fell upon the wooden table, each thud brought a flash within his mind’s eye. For the first time he saw something, wherein there was nothing but darkness until then. Each flash was that of a scene, a scene that had already been seen, and is close to being forgotten. It was pictures of the near past. He saw an empty and bloodied helmet, and the general’s men- broken and forlorn...
“There is only one Dok who remains now…” he whispered. Before any of the three could question, a tired and hoarse call could be heard from outside the tent. The men had returned and have successfully repelled the traitorous assailants, but at a great price. One of the general’s best men- a master at arms- walked up to Dok’s son and gave him his father’s bloodied helmet. Dao Rong peered over the son’s shoulders and found the splatters of blood and brain on the helmet match those of his visions.
“I’m sorry, m’Lord” the soldier sighed…