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Section One

‘To reach the beginning, you must start in the middle,
And to attain the finish, you must comprehend all things.
Time goes ever forward,
But knowledge learns always from the past.’  -  ZoeStethos

‘The child has arrived and is hurrying on to an uncertain destiny.  Today will prove to be the beginning or ending of all things...’

The person sat back, eyes aching from haunting visions of twisted destinies, head pounding because of a distorted musical uncertainty playing its disenchanting melodies, along with a heart being overwhelmed with dread concerning future days.

All life hung upon a thread - the choice of a moment, the beat of a troubled heart… and little could the Maker of Worlds do than trust it to the wisdom of a very impetuous child who drew now ever closer to this uncertain destiny.

Chimes of the great clock sounded in the person’s ears.  How many times had it called out to the distress of nations?  How many children could no longer hear the beautiful music it made?  Was it ten million, a hundred million, maybe more?  This one, sitting back waiting for the arrival of a treasured, precious child, did not recall.  What the person did know was that the of Hell was not yet satisfied.

With head shaking from side to side, tears began.  Should the Empire win this coming conflagration, even though the child may prove wise, many times those who had already gone to their deaths would fall to Wrath’s coming storms.  Should they lose?  Well, that could not be allowed, even if it cost the lives of all the children of the Empire…the universe.

The person stood, walking onto a balcony, looking down on a jungle of greenery seen nowhere else but here, the lone remaining peaceful bastion in this tempestuous universe.

Sighing quiet remorse that no others were allowed to sense, a musical cry of dismay went out to the breeze, a cry of bitter lament from a ‘wanton heart that sought only selfish cravings to never feel alone’.

“Lo, foolish dreamer, your wish come true,
To sense the world with heart imbued.
Doth now the vial of bitter brew,
Its caustic taste your heart renew?

And now Rhiannon in oath does take,
To bind her children to an evil fate.
For should the world be made anew,
It first must pass through this witch’s brew.”

The person looked off toward the sound of the great clock as it chimed its last refrain.  Then, with head bent down in sadness, this Maker of Worlds turned and slowly retreated into the darkness of hidden rooms to await the  of the coming Fates.

*    *    *

The speeder eased to a stop outside the opened entrance of an ancient blue marble wall.  This pearl-white auto-car sat motionless, hovering just above the pavement, a subdued humming noise coming from its motor, opaque windows keeping secret any mysteries hidden within.

From a cloudless sky, the heat of the morning sun pressed upon the day.  Steam from a late-night shower rose from pavement bricks and surrounding stones, vanishing as a mist in the summer air.  Shrubs and trees in surrounding gardens dripped with a welcome deluge of the night, while little harvester ants scurried about, busy at their duties, as sunlight reflected off glistening water droplets, creating an illusion of a world filled with sparkling diamonds.

A loud click! followed by the low whir of servos disturbed the silence.  As if rudely awakened from a pleasant slumber, a covey of mourning doves rose from secluded perches.  As they noisily flew overhead, a door opened in the side of the auto-car, slowly sliding back along an inner rail, revealing a shadowy figure hiding in the cool darkness of the idling machine.

Slowly, a hand reached out, grabbing the roof rail, followed by a foot coming to rest on the pavement.  Laboriously, like someone ancient, weighed down with burdens beyond their years, a woman emerged from the shadowy depths.  With a grunt, she stood.  How strange it would have been for an observer, for this woman did not look ancient.  She was young and stunningly beautiful.

Squinting, the woman shaded her eyes to view the surrounding landscape, the silent grandeur of these sights vividly impressive.  Giant leaved gates made from exotic, shimmering metal, delicately engraved with intriguing designs and runes stretched outward like two great arms, beckoning one to come forward and receive their ever-opened embrace.  Massive pivots, buried deep within the walls’ two opposing circular guard towers supported them.

These imposing gates paled next to the fortress towers and walled battlements whose marbled heights rose well over eighty cubits before reaching the open roadway traversing the wall.  From there it was another sixty cubits to the roofed battlements of the towers.  Black, polished onyx inset with chrysolite and other precious jewels, crowned both the towers and imposing ramparts.

The woman sighed, unmoved.  She merely turned toward the machine and muttered a command, its door swiftly closing. The auto-car’s motor sprang to life and, speeding away, soon disappeared down the road, leaving the solitary figure standing there, staring into the distance.

Again, she turned her attention to the battlements.  Looking up, the woman could see the massive guard towers with their flags fluttering on poles far atop peaked roofs, recalling to her mind the grandiose beauty viewed from their ramparts.  From these towers, on countless occasions, the breathtaking panorama of the surrounding countryside had unfolded before her eyes.

To the east were gently rolling hills and valleys covered with orchards, vineyards and pastures.  Patches of woodland dividing fields of grain grew along the streams and brooks that descended to a broad plain below.  These waters gathered together in force to produce a wide, serpentine river sluggishly laboring northward, fading from sight.  

Beyond rose a wall of blue-green hillsdipping and swelling as though an army of shadowy giants were on the move, marching off into the distant haze, hiding the roots of rock-hewn mountains jutting above the clouds in snow-covered peaks. In the morning blackness, the sun would fill the sky behind these mountains with a dark glow as if orange fire were ascending from the depths below.  As it struggled its way up the mountains, colors brightened until a vivid red sun would suddenly erupt over the peaks, flooding the countryside with its yellow brilliance.

The fortress walls stretched north and south for better than two leagues.  Long ago, tall forests had grown up around these fortifications, shading the blue river of marble with their wide evergreen boughs.  Old growths of giant cedar, hemlock and redwood trees towered high above the greatest battlements, dwarfing the heights with their three hundred cubit spires.

Nor was beauty lost on the secrets hidden behind the marble walls.  Ornate patchworks of courtyards, orchards and gardens nestled along the trails and broadways, a rainbow hue of bright, scented flowers scattered throughout the dark green mats of shrubs and bushes, exciting one’s emotions with its kaleidoscopic display.  Flagstone roads of red, blue and green crisscrossed this expanse of luscious growth, sweeping in like a sea around the base of the walls.

“Enough of that!”  The woman sputtered, shaking her head to clear it of seemingly useless memories.  She started toward the gates along the jasmine-lined roadway leading into Palace City.

Glancing west, the woman took little note of the dazzling imagery and beauty of the city’s center, nearly a league away.  Had she bothered to look up while passing through the gates, she would have seen the splendor of this jewel of the Universe…had she bothered.

This inspiration for poems and songs went unnoticed by the woman, her mind caught up with other pressing matters.  Whether she chose to observe it or not was of little concern to the artists who created it.

The ‘Eternal City’, as the architects had named it, would always shine with breathtaking delight, for they had willed it to be that way.  The gilded palace towers of jade, inset with gold and precious stones, and the palace proper, crowned in onyx and domed in diamond crystal, gold, and chrysolite made it appear as though the sun had descended from its home in the heavens and settled here.  The Old Palace had sat its weathered butte long before this woman’s kind was born, and would continue to shine from it even if her kind should fail.

The woman smiled.  She had chosen wisely this morning.  As she expected, the streets were empty.  And the guard towers?  They never saw a guard… only occasional lovers seeking seclusion after a night’s merrymaking.  This did not mean that her presence had gone unnoticed.  Even now someone watched her, following her every move.  But such knowledge was more reassuring than discomforting.

At Candletoe, a distant outpost, the woman first noticed this voice calling to her, beseeching her to journey here.  She regretted abandoning the fleet at such a perilous time, but what else could be done?  There was a tone of urgency in the request, a pleading on the part of the one making it.  And to be called here, to the Royal Palace, could only mean the summons was of greatest importance.

Sounding of hurried footsteps descending a hidden staircase in the North Guard Tower startled the woman.  Reaching for the dagger at her side, she crouched in battle preparedness.  Then, eyeing the tower’s opening, she listened and waited.  Footfalls echoed from the passageway and off the metal gates, confusing her ears as to the number of feet on the stairs.  An instant more and she would know if the approaching feet were that of friend or foe.

Laughter erupted from the doorway.  In a sudden rush, a couple holding hands, eyes fixed on each other, sprang from the blackness.  Paying no heed to their surroundings, they nearly bowled the woman over.  At the last instant the man saw her and, pulling hard on the girl’s arm, twirled her around and into his.

Not having noticed the stranger in their midst, the girl flirtingly cooed, “Why Zadar, has your hunger overcome you so quickly?  Do you wish to revisit the tower lounge before we return to the others?”

A handsome man with thick dark hair, deep-set hazel eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a neatly trimmed beard pretended to clear his throat and pointed past the girl.  “We…we have a visitor.”

The girl’s eyes followed Zadar’s hand, her shining blackhair dancing in the air as she spun her head around.  She stared, the flirting smile still on her face, and then, when she recognized the woman standing there, cried out in surprise, “Mihai!  My sister!  What a thrill to see you safe and well!  Oh, how I’ve missed you!  Come!  Share the wine and good times with me again!”  Releasing Zadar’s hand, the girl lunged for Mihai, locking her in an iron embrace.

Mihai wheezed, “I… I’ve missed you, too, my darling Darla.  Please… allow me a breath.”

Darla released Mihai, holding her at arm’s length and the two stared into each other’s eyes.  Mihai pondered the wonders of her sister.  ‘How beautiful she is, and still with the seeming innocence of a carefree little girl.  Seeing her here, who would ever guess an evil madness lurks, hiding in her mind.  She covers it well, with her finery of silk and gold, makeup and twinkling eyes.  But I know…I know that this child has not seen even one day of peace in her troubled life.’

A spark of hope ignited in Mihai’s own troubled heart as she watched Darla’s placid face.  She lowered her head, speaking wistfully.  “This place has the ability to lift the darkness from the mind.  May it also do the same for me...”

Zadar stepped forward, arms spread wide.  “M’lady!  It is so good to see you after such a long absence!”  He gently pushed Darla aside and hugged Mihai.

“Harrumph!”  Darla snorted, placing her fists on her hips.  “He just wants you in the tower with him, that’s all!”

Mihai stepped back in mock surprise, grasping her dagger.  “If I’d known that, I’d defended myself against your advances!”

Grinning, Zadar asked suspiciously, “Just like the way you did the night before you parted company for the fleet?”  Not waiting for a reply, he snapped, “If I had known M’lady was gonna come sneakin’ around the back door of this place, I would have brought some brandy to welcome her and possibly offered her an invitation to visit a spell.”

Mihai retorted, “I wasn’t sneakin’!  I wanted some time to myself to clear the air in my head.  Leave it to someone like you to spoil it for me. And stop calling me ‘M’lady’!”

Zadar wrinkled up his face in fake apology.  “Oh, excuse me, your Lordship, but I didn’t give you that title.  You did it to yourself.  I’ve already heard rumors of a big change coming.  I’m just getting a jump on the others, that’s all.”  Sarcastically, he asked, “What name do you want me to call you by, ‘Mihai’ or ‘Michael’?”

Mihai soured.  “You know few call me by that other name.  ‘Mihai’ will suit me just fine.”  Sadness grew on her face.  “‘Mihai’ helps me forget things I wish not to remember.”  She took hold of Zadar’s hands.  “Please, my dear little brother, allow me, please, to leave certain memories in the clouds for now.  They cover the things I don’t want to see.”

Zadar squeezed Mihai’s hands, grinning, “Mihai it is, then.”

Mihai’s dark feelings quickly faded and her eyes began to twinkle.  “I would have been grateful if you had brought that brandy with you.”

Darla pretended to clear her throat.  Getting their attention, she asked, “So, am I just an abandoned soul now?  Tossed by the wayside like a discarded toy?”

Mihai laughed.  “Oh yes, we could cast you aside as easily as one does a winter tempest.”  She looked into Darla’s emerald-green eyes, pondering, ‘A person could become lost in those fathomless pools and never want to return.’

Letting go Zadar’s hands, she reached out and held the girl in another embrace.  “Oh, my dear Darla, I have missed your company for so long!”

They stood, locked together as one, sharing inner thoughts, memories from some long-forgotten time.  There were few people Mihai loved and trusted more than Darla.  In fact, she owed her very life to her.

Mihai kissed Darla on her lips and then asked, “How is it we chance to meet at this time?  I thought you were doing sentry duty on Stargaton.”

Darla blinked in surprise.  “The summons, of course!  You are the last one to get here.  Zadar and I, along with the others, have been here for several days.  We were beginning to think you might choose to ignore it, like you have done in times past.”

Mihai denied that was so. “You know I have never ignored a summons.  But there have been times when I could not possibly abandon my duties to come.  This time is different.  I could feel the urgency.”

Zadar piped in.  “Well!  If you’d let us know the time of your arrival, we’d come to the depot and gotten you.”

“That I don’t believe!”  Mihai poked an accusing finger toward Zadar.  “You?!  Miss out on a sweet interlude with our most beautiful of flowers just to keep company with me?  Please, don’t make me laugh.”

“That’s not so!  That’s not so!”  Zadar cried.

Pretending offence, Darla grumped, “What’s not so…that I’m the most beautiful of flowers?  You weren’t shy about lavishing your attention on me last night in your attempts to lure me out here!  Was it out of obligation you delivered your innocent sister to the tower, saying ‘Let us watch the sunrise over the mountains’?  And did you keep my glass filled with wine only fearing I might become thirsty?”

Zadar was shocked.  “Lure you?!  As I recall, you dragged me under the first mulberry tree we passed after leaving the others.  And for the wine, you treated yourself to many more than I dispensed, including mine.”

Mihai stopped the teasing.  “Enough of this!  You’re both incorrigible!  Should all the children be as passionate, there would be no time for strife or war.” . . .

Of Councils Great and Small posts are available, 
but so is the whole book with 
the rest of Destiny's Road
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Enjoy other posts: 

Destiny's Road 1-0011-002, 1-0031-0041-0051-0061-0071-0081-009,

Of Councils Great and Small 2-0262-0272-0282-0292-0302-031,
2-0432-0442-0452-0462-0472-0482-049 & 2-050

Legend's Heroes 3-0513-0523-0533-0543-0553-0563-0573-058,
3-0703-0713-0723-0733-074 & 3-075

Forges of Hell 4-0764-0774-0784-0794-0804-0814-0824-0834-084,

4-0964-0974-0984-099 & 4-100

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