The young mystic walked close to his master, the Venerable Nos, a step behind, as was the custom to show reverence and yet not be too far away from him.
Calinor was in his late teens, chestnut hair that was cut with a bowl-shape around his head. The fringe was a little poofy, and it was deceptive, because it could hide his eyes and high cheekbones with a simple finger comb or the shake of his head.
The boy was rather pretty, with caramel brown eyes and lips that were full and expressive. He wore a simple brown robe with no adornment in its seams, save the green silk ribbon that bound his robe at the waist.
It was a monk’s brown cotton robe, coming down to his ankles, with voluminous sleeves that he could slide his hands inside in the cold, and even conceal a book or something inside the flappy sleeves. Calinor also wore brown leather sandals, a copper bracelet on his right wrist, and a twisted and knotted leather friendship-like bracelet on the left. He wore a brown leather messenger bag slung crosswise over his chest that dangled on his left hip by a leather strap. He had books and writing utensils, art supplies and a sundry of other items too, inside. The life of an Aspirant Mage was one that needed to be prepared for. You never knew what the Venerable Nos would want him to do, or instruct him with.
“Your mind is wandering, my student,” came the aged patron’s voice, snapping the boy back to where he was walking. “Pay attention! We are coming to the Walkway, soon, and you must remember the Ritual of Passing, so that we may open the Walkway.” The old man’s voice was as raspy and brittle as the pages of some ancient tome that had been in a dusty vault for eons. But it still carried, and it was kindly.
The withered old man was perhaps over 100 years old, and he looked every day of it, save his back was unbent, and his eyes were fresh and sharp.
It was the rest of his body that was old. Venerable Nos was nearly skeletal, with sunken cheekbones, high though they were, and skin that was a dry as paper. His face had few wrinkles, but his arms and what skin was exposed on his sandaled feet, were wrinkled too. His eyes were a deep green, though, and they sparkled with a wit, intelligence and wisdom of the ages. His hair was mostly gone. What little he had left was white and iron gray, clinging tightly to his scalp – it formed a crescent shaped ridge that barely came over the top of his ears. However, surprisingly, down the back grew a long ponytail, braided with red silk ribbons, which glimmered and swung with each of his aged steps along the stairs of the tunneled corridor, leading up to the Chasm of Ages.
Calinor hurried to stay up with the old man, who was springing up the steps with his Staff, a length of polished wood that was almost like two saplings that had been wound around one another, coming up to a top piece that was a triangle of silver with an oval shaped obsidian stone, polished to mirror perfection, inside the triangle and a hoop of steel.
The foot of the staff was shaped like that of a mighty cat’s paw, gleaming of jet and silver, and it made a tapping noise as he used it for levering himself up the steps with a spryness that would have made a mountain goat envious.
Calinor suspected that his master didn’t really have to use the Staff to get around. But the old man never let it be far from his grasp, and was never shy about using it to slap the hands of a greedy person, or the backside of an apprentice that did not listen to his master.
They continued up the stairs, as it wended through the living rock until they crested at the top, to a glittering light shining down that was brighter than the smoky torches that lit the passage on their journey up.
The light of the setting sun was casting rays of pink and purple and deepest red as the great orb was nearly swallowed by the line of the horizon. And not far away, was the edge of the cliff – the great Chasm of Ages – a yawning divide that had been in existence since the world had been cleaved in half by the fall of the great star; it had blasted down one fateful night an aeon ago. The depths of the Chasm was said to reach deeper than the heart of the world, and to get from one side of the world to the other, you had to summon the Bridge of Wings.
And to Summon the Bridge of Wings, you had to have the cooperation of the Keeper of the Flames.
As they strode towards the edge of the Chasm, there was a fog that seemed to cling to the ground, along with a strange chill. Calinor could see that the fog rolled along the ground and flowed over the edge of the Chasm and into the abyss, showing them where the Divide was.
As they approached the edge, Venerable Nos snapped his staff out and barred the young mage’s way, not wanting him to get any closer to the edge. Strange things came into the hearts of those that looked over the edge. That old saying “Do not look into the abyss, lest it look back into you” was a strange phenomenon that had taken the lives of more than one foolish traveler that came to this place.
There was a gentle slope that they started to follow, as the last rays of the sun slipped below the horizon, and twilight came upon the edge of the cliff, until they found the Edge. Or the Ledge. It depended on who you asked. There was actually a rather harsh rivalry in the Sagely community about the name of the place. But Venerable Nos always called it the Edge. It was marked by a carven rock, which was shaped like a skull. And sitting upon that Skull of Eternity, was the Keeper of Flames.
Venerable Nos halted 10 paces away, and bowed and folded his hands in reverence to the Skull and its occupant.
Calinor folded his hands reverently in front of him, in imitation of his master. As they watched, the form of the Keeper became more and more apparent. The fog covered the mountain top, as it flowed over the Edge, and down the mountainside and over the land, seemed to emanate from this strange and oddly alluring statue-like being.
As they watched, after their greeting, the form of the keeper became more and more distinct, with the flow of the fog ending from its point of origin. As the starlight shone down from above, emerging as the dusk transitioned to twilight, the Keeper’s form came into sharp contrast as a figure that seemed to have been expertly carved from alabaster. He was sitting on the great Skull, eyes closed, as if in deep meditation. And the form was certainly lifelike.
For indeed, the Keeper was alive. But he had to be awoken with the Ritual of Passing.
“Keeper, we come beseeching passage,” the Venerable Nos said aloud,his voice not the soft raspy old man voice, but a deep, resonant intonation. He then made a deep and reverent bow. Calinor also bowed with the ancient man, in unison, and then he reached into his satchel, and pulled forth the scroll he had prepared. He took a candle and a match from a hidden pocket, as well, and gulped. He glanced over at his master, and the old man’s shrewd gaze seemed to look him over, then closed his eyes and nodded. “Proceed, my boy.”
Calinor approached the white stone being, noting the carven features of the Keeper. He saw that the hair was lifelike, and if he touched the stone surface, he bet it felt like silk. The robe was open at the front, showing a lean chest and tight stomach, and even the nipples were made with skill. Or so it would be, if this were just some statue.
He looked above the being’s head, and saw the great Horns of the Stellar Flame, raised out of the stylized coils of hair at the top, then noting the expression on the face of the Keeper. There was a grimace, the lips slightly compressed, and a stream of something coming from the nose of the keeper, carven into the image in stone. Was that blood, flowing over the lips, between the snakebite piercings?
The boy thought he might someday get those sorts of piercings. And then there was the snap of the voice of the Venerable behind him. “Focus! Such foolish thoughts must not enter your mind during the ritual!”
Gulping, he turned and gave his Master an apologetic look, before he unrolled the scroll, and placed it on the lap of the Keeper. He briefly felt his fingers touching the cold stone of the body of this strange being. How could such a thing be alive? And yet not?
The scroll, oddly enough, did not recoil and close after he unfurled it, so he began to read from the magical runes and glyphs that was scribed onto its surface.
The boy recited the strange and mystic glyphs, and the air around him started to thrum with power. He struck the match, and as it flared, he lit the candle, and spoke aloud words that he had been empowered to say, with the spell from the scroll. “Keeper of the Flames! We seek passage across the Chasm of Ages, and your aid in crossing the Bridge of Wings! Please, O Keeper! Where Art Thou?”
With that, the young mage took the small silvery candle, stepped up and carefully held the candle to the very edge of the lowest of the Keeper’s Horns. When the candle flame touched it, nothing happened at first. Calinor simply stood there, and held the candle. The twilight deepened as night approached. Then there was a snap! and suddenly, all 16 candles flared to life. The area was bathed in a warmth and radiance that was almost like a physical force, surrounding the apprentice and his master. The body of the Keeper shimmered as the stone changed to flesh. The Keeper’s chest expanded as he inhaled, and his arms moved. A trickle of blood ran down from his nose to his lips, and he reached up and rubbed it away, then smiled at the pair that stood before him.
The Keeper reached up and caressed Calinor’s cheek. “You have done well, young Cal. Step back now, and allow me to stretch.“ The Keeper’s voice was soft, but strong, and sounded almost like the sighing of the wind in his mind, when he thought of it. Had the Keeper’s lips actually moved? He wasn’t sure, but he inclined his head, and found that the candle he’d used was gone – it had vanished in the moment when the Horns had exploded into light, and the Keeper had awoken.
The Keeper’s robe changed to a reddish kimono with prints of flowers and the flutter of wings, slowly transitioning from a stony set to soft, warm cotton-like texture. He stood and inclined his head to the Venerable Nos. “This is the 112th time you have come to seek passage across the Bridge. It pleases me that you have come once more.”
The Venerable Nos bowed low, as Calinor joined his master, and they both watched the Keeper move and stretch, as if from a long slumber. “It has been my lot to make the great journey those times, and I have found few other means to travel back and forth, as time has passed. Your way is the safest, oh Keeper. Thank you for hearing our plea.”
The Keeper smiled, and gave a snort bow of kindly respect in return, the ancient being looking rather young regardless of the eons that he had stood at the Edge and provided the way.
The Keeper held up his arms, as if in defiance of the night, and cried out in a long and clear voice, “COME!!”
The Horns of the Stellar Flame seemed to explode with power and light, as a column of fire roared up from the Keeper’s Horns. The flames shot up like a massive pillar of flame, and it roared into the heavens, thousands of feet above, and rivaled the setting sun for brilliance as the sky around them was suddenly filled with the light of the Keeper.
High above them the streamers of flame coalesced into a ball of Star Flame, a beautiful miniature sun. Moments later, from the depths of the Chasm, came the sound of rushing wind, and the Keeper kept his arms raised to the ball of fire – the New Star that he had created in the heavens above. His eyes rose, to that Star, he smiled as the rushing wind became more and more distinct for what it was. It was the sound of wings.. Thousands- MILLIONS of wings!
They looked on bewildered as butterflies, or something very like them,l flapped their delicate crystal wings hard and fast, and spiraled up in massive groups and swirled towards that ball of fire in the sky. Their wings were refracting the light into hundreds of combinations of light shades, through the spectrum and beyond, their glittering bodies bathing the Keeper and the Walkers with the glorious spectrum of light.
The Keepers candled-horns themselves were burning normal now, and the great day-light giving star continued to burn and beacon the winged creatures farther and farther up into the air.
“Master! Are those… the Crystal Flutterwings?” Calinor asked in awe of the creatures all coming from their strange and unknown dwelling places in the Chasm of Ages.
“That is what we call them, yes boy, “ The old man said with a chuckle. “Aren’t they beautiful?”
The fluttering creatures spiraled around the new star, and kept circling in closer and closer, until they all seemed to suddenly rush into the ball of flame, and there was an implosion – the Star seemed collapse in on itself, the light dimming until it was twilight again for a moment, and the Star but a pinpoint of refracted light. All the light was sucked into a single point. And then, it exploded, into a shower of crystal light, that bathed the area in a unique and new radiance – one that was akin to the gentle emanations of something soft and organic. It drifted down in a glittering line, and the Bridge of Wings came into focus – or faded into being.. Or simply appeared before the Keeper’s outstretched arms, as if it had been there all along.
“You must be swift, my friends. Do not tarry on the Bridge any longer than you must. You have until the morning to be across the span before it will fade back out of the mortal plane once more. If you are on it when it does… “
“We shall be taken to the Realm of the Unknown – whence no one has returned,“ The Venerable Nos said.
The Keeper nodded. And then stepped up to Nos and kissed the aged man on the cheek, and then did the same with young Calinor. “Go, now, with my blessing,“ the Keeper said, as he took his place once more on the Skull of Eternity. “I shall watch this end and protect your way. Do not stray from the bridge!”
Venerable Nos, and his apprentice bowed low once more, and then set across the glittering bridge, and into a legendary adventure… but that is for another tale.
Story by: Dehrynn Shepherd
Hair- lovey dovey :: Regan :: (Not Available at this time)
Skull/pose- Le Poppycock *Dark Promises* Requiem (Store)