Tome of the Ancients
My first inclination was to leave it in the pile of books. I had seen thousands of priceless texts destroyed by Draksar fires, but the tome held a higher value. The keen smirks of the Bookburners glimmered with the pyre's glow. They had found the near entirety of Valdac's library. Their lord, mighty Akakios, ordered the books destroyed; and the Bookburners did with incredible zeal. His will would be done, regardless of what the books held, even if they were the only link to the Old World.
Of all the books that I thrust into the flames, books on culture and history, it was the tome that made me pause. It was bound in old leather; the pages worn with age. The cover was adorned with gold letters, which had been mostly rubbed off by countless hands. It was the title that caught my eye: "Tome of the Ancients: The Prophecies of Dalnis." I tossed it back to the pile; the others were too enraptured in their work to notice.
As I continued with my task, I found my gaze returning to its weathered cover. It quickly consumed my thoughts with curiosity. What prophecies were inside? Who was Dalnis? I didn't know what was hidden between the leather covers, but there was no doubt I was compelled to see it, to learn whatever it was willing to teach. Retrieving it from the temple wouldn't be an easy task. Its width would protrude from my robe and would hang from my satchel. The guards in the hall would see it. The mere action of picking it up and slipping it onto my person might have drawn immediate attention. But, I couldn't leave the tome behind and I certainly couldn't bring myself to burn it. My mind was made up; I would take the tome, even if it meant risking capture.
I took the tome into the crook of my arm and slowly, silently, made my way out of the furnace. At first, it seemed the Bookburners were still focused on their work. However, as I pulled the door open, and white light from outside slowly poured into the dark orange, I heard a snarl. I turned only briefly, to see a yellow, slanted iris, burning with anger. I dashed through the doorway and into the hall, where the two footmen stood guard. From the furnace, came a cry.
I fled as fast as I could, darting past the armored Draksar. I could hear their shouts growing fainter, as I made my way out of the temple. I reached the streets of Valdac and the shouts grew louder. One footman made it to the doorway and began calling to others.
"That one! He's stolen slander!"
Another four joined the chase, these lightly armored and quicker on their feet. I made my way down alleys and across streets with dense traffic. The shouts stayed with me, an occasional scream from a surprised Skeezick being thrown to the side. Another alley and I pushed my way down a thoroughfare, toward the southern gate of Valdac. The shouts of the guards came from behind again, commanding the gate be closed. I could feel the pedestrians, in their loyalty to Akakios, shoving at me, grasping at my cloak and clawing at my arms. The shouts were all around, as the citizens joined in on the manhunt.
"A Nora globe to the one that kills the thief!"
It was a mixture, the tome, nestled beneath my arm, the shouts, the threats, and the closing gates, that drove me to desperation. I would sacrifice my neutrality for a book I had never read, had never opened. I would compromise my principle rule, as observer of the world, to never interfere, no matter what was at stake. All for a dusty tome. Would the sacrifice be worth it? I had already gone so far and turning back was no longer an option. I would escape, principles be damned.
I scooped up a hand full of sand and flung it into the air. As it fell, the wind lifted it up and carried it. Then, the wind came in gusts, grabbing more sand and flinging out. It stung at the Draksar, causing them to hiss and cover their eyes from harm. The grains were razors as they ripped at scales and armor. The sandstorm sent the assailants into an unfocused frenzy, causing them to lash out at whatever was near. The soldiers shouted to each other, but no orders were heard or followed in the maelstrom. I pushed through the frantic crowd, covering my mouth with a clothed arm. The guards at the gate took refuge in their posts, shouting curses as I passed. When the storm cleared, I was far away from Valdac.
I had reached the edge of the Sundered Lands and disposed of my disguise, continuing toward K`thir; if anyone would be interested in this tome, it would be Menalaus. I knew the journey would be long, so I began reading from the tome. It was remarkable. The ornate fonts were accompanied with grand pictures, depicting gods and heroes from long ago. I found myself enraptured in it. It gave accounts of the Old World, before the Separation and the Catastrophe, all of it written by Dalnis. It was unclear whether this Dalnis was a mortal or a god; he claimed that he was their god. His near-omnipresence in all of the chronicled events gave reason to believe he was a god, but could a god write a book? He had an incredible grasp of the Old World, its customs, and its ideals. It was hard to believe one person could hold so much information, presenting the world in its entirety. Perhaps Dalnis was a scholar, a journeyed man who had seen the world, and found a creative way of relaying his travels. Perhaps he truly thought he was a god. Maybe he was.
His accounts of Valdac and Elsarin, for the limited knowledge we had, were accurate. Valdac was an industrious nation, its people worked hard and were devoted to their gods. They crafted countless inventions, many of them lost during the Catastrophe. They prayed to their gods, and were rewarded with prosperity. The Elsari were less concerned with the mechanical, focusing their efforts on the ethereal and the magical. Elsarin was industrious in its own regard, crafting spells and artifacts. They had their own practices for worshipping the gods, building religious idols with their magic and offering them their excess Nora. Elsarin and Valdac were allies, but the Separation would change that. The Catastrophe, the event that had scarred their lands with disease and infertility, strained their relationship further. It would only be after the alliances had formed that these two would regain some level of civility.
Dalnis began predicting changes in the world. He spoke of a time when the Nora would grow again, after the draught caused by the Catastrophe. He spoke at length of the creatures that would emerge from its surging rivers and the wars that would tear at the walls of each nation. And he spoke of the elements rising to protect the lands from the ravages of battle. From thousands of years in the past, he gave intricate details of events that had happened only months ago. However, after his account of the Dawn, his prophecies became vague in description.
He spoke of ancient warriors, in the sky, who would come down to aid their subjects in battle. There were mighty heroes, sealed in stone, awaiting release into our world. These heroes had proven their worth and would receive incredible power for their deeds. Each nation would see an ancient revived, and with each revivial, the nations would receive powerful allies. And winged children would watch, until they had their fill of death, and they too would join the war. The titans, the elements, the heroes, and the children would clash, bringing cities to ground and raising cities to the sky. All of this would lead to something terrible. A silence, Dalnis prophesized, a silence that would swallow warriors and Nora; entire nations slipping into a dark void. The prophecy was filled with a dread that could not be truly grasped with words, but was grasped with feeling. I couldn't shake my anxieties; these were only predictions! Yet, somehow, I believed that it was an inescapable fate, a horrid dusk threatening as it approached the horizon. Menalaus would have to see it, to read the things I had.
It was a grim prophecy, unbelievable if it wasn't rooted in actual events. What horrors awaited us? I continued towards K`thir. I left it beside a tree, knowing he would find it. The world no longer needed my help in finding the answers. Menalaus would know what to do. He would find these ancients and call upon them. The other nations would follow suite, if they wanted to continue. The fields of battle would change, and perhaps their grim fate would too. Time would have its say, as it always did.