Chapter One -- Enter the Dancers

All began with the eternal and ubiquitous Id. A sea of life churning in the void. Then came Androgiin, the Consciousness. The Builder who came and saw the nothingness that was, the Id and what might be, and gave all for the world that is.

 

LET IT BEGIN AGAIN. The Builder proclaimed. And so began dancing. Androgiin, a whirling dervish in the tenebrous emptiness, its steps a blueprint, its self the stock of creation.

 

From twinkling eyes rose the heavens, the sun and glittering stars.

 

From a body that nurtured grew the earth, an expanse of high mountains, deep valleys and endless desert.

 

From a whispering mouth ushered the wind, a procession of storms. From its tears came the rain, filling basins that would become lakes, seas, and the boundless ocean.

 

From begetting loins sprung flora and fauna of every stripe.

 

From a mind that gazed at the deep and wondered came awareness, the seed of man.

 

From a soul that yearned came the Dreamscape, harnessing the remaining expanse of Id, floating above, behind, and just beyond, flitting always out of sight, trembling with great power. The limitless potential of our universe and ourselves.

 

And from its self, many aspects of One, came children most prized—five gods, five faces of the Eternal: Angaama, paragon of justice, wise Wysheid the teacher, Alur, ardent and carnal,  Jev, the avatar of destruction, and Eleazar, the Trickster, God of Shadows.

 

With all sacrificed, Androgiin began to fade, subliming into all it had made. What little that remained drifted to the corners of existence. As it diffused, the Gods wept and beat their breasts, terrified babes in the wilderness of being.

 

“Father/Mother, Mother/Father, don’t leave us! What are we? Why? What must we do?”

 

The reply echoed from the world itself, from frosted mountaintops and streams hushing through nascent forests, from the stars above and cyclones rumbling across a newborn Earth, from creatures tottering out on unsure legs and blinking at the bright rays of a neonate sun.

 

YOU MUST GUIDE, LEARN AND LISTEN, STEWARDS OF ALL THAT IS MADE.

 

“Stay with us! Show us the path.” Came their pained reply.

 

I AM. I HAVE BEEN. I ALWAYS WILL BE. I AM AGAIN. REMEMBER THAT, MY CHILDREN. REMEMBER… REMEMBER…

 

And with that, the world lapsed into silence.

 

 

                        Fog settled over the city of Dauphin like a shroud, heralding the arrival of the first night of the Festival of Mists. A week-long cavalcade of mourning starting on the anniversary of the city’s eponymous Godking’s loss of his beloved Anna to a coma. The same Anna, now Saiin, who unbeknownst to the city below, was on this very night draining the grieving, mad king of the last of his ill-gotten life.

            Dauphin, capital of Jethro’s kingdom, nestled in-between the sea and the vast plains that edged the Vinyasa Desert. Haze nestled in its nooks, from the quarters of the Nobles, whose ancestors had been favored first by the new God centuries ago, whose streets shined even in darkness their cobbles gleaming gold, whose mansions appeared floated in the damp, billowing shroud, jewels

A locus point of commerce, of innovation and of fog that billowed in over the ocean like a marker of doom. Peace had reigned for hundreds of years, ever since the aggrieved king had carved his nation out of dissolute city-states and the idle, ill-developed tribes of the western plains. Despite that, the city danced on a knife’s edge. Discord brewed. The gap widened, year after year, between Dauphin’s Senate—and the Noble classes and Mercantile guilds they served—and the vast underclass languished in ghettos, between devout worshippers of Jethro—the man who wrung immortality from the cleverest of Gods, who beat Eleazar at his game (or so the legends claimed)—and those who still remembered those old Ones, offering them prayers of benediction in the night. And so, on the hazy first night of the Festival of Mists, while Jethro crumbled to dust and ruin on the floor of his high castle, the air was pregnant with revolution.

Along the northern, inner wall separating the Noble and Lower Triune’s, a gate opened. Out hurried a dark figure, swathed in shadowy fabrics and obscured by smog. If the evening’s bracing cold chilled them, they did not show it, making with great haste from the relative comfort of the stately homes of the nobles, where even now the indolent rich—the ‘sons and daughters of the blessed’ as they so called themselves—supped and drank deeply in ‘honor’ of their Godking’s loss, heading down loosely cobbled streets and narrow alley-ways deeper into Dauphin’s most impoverished lands. And as this figure moved on, two shadows flitted toward it in the night, borne after it by malicious intent.

 

 

Regel was nudged from his slumber by his brother, Rico, as the gate creaked open. He scratched himself idly, blinking sleep from his eyes, standing to stretch his imposing frame in the alley in which they hid. A mountain of a man, with hands like wooden cudgels and small, dull eyes, he stood in stark contrast to his brother. Rico was a small man, with hands to match, better suited for picking locks and scaling manor walls than the brute force to which Regel was accustomed. His face alternated mostly between a grin and a scowl depending on his mood, and right then he grinned as his bright eyes pierced the mist. Despite their physical difference, they were both wraped in the same muted colors and quiet cloths, so as to more easily disappear in the dark.

“Is time, Rico?” Regel yawned, he could not see too well in the foggy dark, but his brother’s lusty smile was impossible to miss.

“Yes… perfect, our first catch of the festival.” Rico giggled, rubbing his hands together with glee, “And so soon! A lost lamb, all alone in the murk. What a shame… with such rough characters about, one should know to be more careful. Come Regel, time for a little fun.”

Regel grunted in assent, lumbering out of the alley behind his brother who pranced through the shadows in anticipation. Their target, Regel could just barely see now, looked to be a young man in a cloak whose pitch matched the night. A man who, like Rico, seemed attuned with the dark. He swerved in and out of view, hugging walls, forgoing main streets. A man who did not want his path, or destination known. A man who strode with confidence only the ignorant or the competent displayed on a night such as this. A tendril of doubt niggled at the base of Regel’s skull: this was no ordinary spoiled youngster, no standard target of their ill-will; this was something… else. If Rico noticed this, or if he cared, he made no show of it, so enamored he was with the pursuit, so thrilled by the prospect of violence and riches.

“Uh… Rico? Maybe we sh-”

“Hush Regel.”

“But I don’t think tha-”

“Good, don’t think, ya lummox. Now shut up, it’s almost time.”

“But I-”

“Shut up dammit! You wanna scare this rich priss off?”

            Regel stop protesting. Arguing with Rico was too much effort. Besides, he had never led them astray before. Over the years, so many of their friends and accomplices had been left to languish in Jethro’s dungeons, or dangle from his gallows. Yet, thanks to Rico’s uncommon cunning and Regel’s unyielding brawn, here they remained. So Regel lapsed back into passivity and pushed the point no further.

            That would be the greatest mistake of his life.

            Eventually, after a more few blocks of stalking, the young man stopped to lean against a wall and, with the flick of a match, lit a cigarillo, filling the air with the sickly sweet smell of mint, and of clove. Rico turned back to Regel briefly and nodded once before scrabbling up the building, a rundown rowhouse, built of ancient brick and rotten mortar, held together by little more than inertia. The plan was simple. Rico travels ahead of their target from above. Regel would saunter towards him from below. They would cut him off in the middle of the block he so casually lingered in, assuring no avenue remained for escape. It was the perfect spot for an ambush. This poor fool, whatever his name was, had led them both to the site of his own death. Rico never left witnesses.

            A low, distant whistle, another signal from Rico, started Regel off down the block, still beset by doubt. We’ll be fine. He told himself. We done this a thousand times.

            “Ho there.” Regel was jolted from his reverie by an unexpected voice, gradually he realized it was their intended victim who spoke. Staring straight at him in the night. His gaze was cool, calm, sober… not at all the inebriate youth they typically roused in the mists. “Fine night tonight, is it not?”

            “Uh…” Regel scratched his head, not sure what to do. Never had someone reacted so calmly to his sudden appearance in the night.

            “You gentleman have been following me for quite a while. Can I help you with something?”

            Regel blinked at that, and despite the brisk air, began to sweat, fear mixing with his doubt. “Oh, ya… ya saw us?”

            “I knew you were there the moment I left the gate. I knew you were coming long before that. I… dreamt this moment you see. I dreamt of you, Regel.”

            Mouth agape, Regel stared in silence at this young stranger, and the dark hairs on his fore-arms tingled in alarm. My name. How does he know my name? Before he could think to speak again, Rico emerged from the haze, eyes brimming with savage anticipation. When he saw Regel still and the stranger at ease, his malice turned to pointed fury. Fury aimed right at Regel.

 

 

            Rico paused for a moment, jaw working in silent anger. “Regel…” He said evenly, “Any reason you’re not currently threatening this man?”

            “Uh, brother? I don’t think we sh-”

            The young man swivels suddenly. “Ah, you must be Rico,” He says, extending his hand with a smile, “Regel here has told me so much about you. Well, not told per se. He’s not much of a talker, as I am sure you’re aware.”

            Rico bats away the proffered hand, and draws a blade from a pocket hidden deep within his black vestments. “No games rich boy. You want to walk away with your life? Then we walk away with what you’ve got, right here and now.” Suddenly, Rico’s quick-working mind catches up with his even quicker mouth. Hey… now how did this ponce know my name?

            “Regel!” He spat his brother’s name with the bitter tenor of a curse, “You talkin out of turn? How’d this ‘son of the blessed’ know my name?”

            “I said nothin’ Rico!” Regel protested, “He knew! He knew who we was. He knew we was comin’!”

            For the first time that night, Rico felt a slow, creeping doubt enter his mind. Perhaps he no longer had the upper hand in this confrontation. Perhaps he never had.

            “Yes Rico, it’s true.” The young man said, advancing on him now. His eyes flared a deep crimson, “This ‘trap’ you set. It’s not for me, but for you…”

            The thin blade slipped from between the small thief’s fingers, and he turned to run. At least, he tried to turn, but found himself pinned in place by those unnaturally hued eyes. His whole body trembled. ear struck him like lightening, mortal terror buffeting against him like the winds of a plains-storm. He screamed to Regel for help, but the plea caught in his throat. Judging by the wide-eyed look in his brother’s eyes, his mouth silently working in terror, perhaps screaming an unheard entreaty of his own, no help would be forthcoming. And still the young man advanced, eyes growing brighter by the second, brow furrowed in concentration.

            The air gained an electric taste. Rico did not know it, but it was the taste of the Id, of the Dreamscape bubbling to the surface, of tremendous and unfathomable power focusing on one moment and place in time, holding the three men static, frozen and lost to the world that moved forward around them. Rico would never know it, but before him stood a Dreamweaver, a class of men reputed to descend from the children of Gods, creatures of immense power. Those who could reach into the Dreamscape, wield the Id to change the world to their liking. The Dreamweaver spoke, his voice deeper and older than it was just minutes ago, weighted with the rasp of centuries.

            “I see you Rico, see you for what you really are. What’s been done to you. I see the pain of your life…” Rico’s eyes rolled back into his head. The world disappeared, a maelstrom of past memories flowing in its place. He didn’t even noticed as his feet left the ground and he floated in the air a couple inches off the ground, brackish blood trickling from his ears, eyes, mouth and nose.

            And he remembered…

            He huddles in the corner of his Uncle Joseph’s basement, whimpering, hiding, as the lock on the door shudders under a constant barrage of blows.

            “I know yer in der ya little shit! I know you stole from me!” The door bends and buckles near the point of breaking. “Come out now and save yourself the pain.”

Rico shuts his eyes tight, curling into a ball as the door fell from its hinges with an ominous thud. His uncle stumbled into the room, face beet red and knuckles bloodied.

            “You son of a bitch.” He growls, advancing menacingly on his adolescent charge. “You dreadful child. C’me ere!” He reaches for Rico with violence in his eyes, the stink of a long night’s drinking on his breath. “You’ll wish you were dead an’ buried with your ma and pa when I’m through with you!”

            Rico screams for mercy, mercy that was not forthcoming, as his uncle holds him still with one hand, balling the other into a fist. “It’s for ya own good boy. Der’s evil in you, I smell it… we gotta beat it out. It’s what my sis, what yer ma would’ve wanted.”

            Rico fell back into himself, tried to breath but couldn’t, instead gurgling on the blood that poured from every orifice. The young man’s power held him still in its thrall, his eyes entirely bright beacons of maroon, no pupils, just two coronas the colors of a deep blush, the color of Rico’s free-flowing blood.

            “That was just the beginning, wasn’t it Rico? A hard start to be sure, but not one that justifies the choices you made.” The young Dreamweaver’s voice tremored, thousands of ancient whispers mirroring his words, “The beginning of a long path to the Cimmerian shade... Remember…”

            Rico’s hands wrap around his Uncle’s throat, the old man’s eyes bulge, his tongue lolls in a wordless cry for mercy. “This is payback, you son of a bitch!” He removes a hand briefly to reach for a knife at his hip, sinking it deep into the drunk’s fleshy abdomen, removing it and replacing it again and again, before finally stepping back to watch as Joseph writhes on the ground in pain, his life seeping into the dirt floor beneath them. Minutes pass until he finally goes still. “It’s better than you deserve, bastard.” He spits and shudders, remembering the man’s leathery hands striking him, then comforting him, then seeking their own pleasure in the dark…

“Remember…”

            Rico stands over her as she weeps, lying in a pool of her blood and his sweat, his tumescence diminished now that the deed was done. “Ya should have just given me what I asked instead of making me take it. Now I gotta take everything.” He advances on her, blade bared, deaf to her pleas. “When blood is spilled, leave no witnesses, that’s my rule.Goodbye, my sweet.” He grinned at her as she blanched beneath his gaze…

“Remember…”

            Regel works silently, shoveling mound after mound back into the hole in the forest clearing. The child’s eyes, staring fixed in horror at some moment in the past, disappear from view beneath the dirt. Regel stops briefly to fix Rico with soft eyes, full of damning judgment. “He shoulda stay asleep Regel,” Rico barks, anger rising back to the surface, “He shouldn’ta pointed as we passed. He shouldn’ta laughed at me…”

            Rico snapped back to the present, fixed in place, blood choking the air from his brain. The night seemed even dimmer than it had before. Was it growing darker or he was fading further and further from the world? “You have been judged Rico,” The young man intoned, “You are condemned. If the Gods grant you mercy, know it wasn’t at my behest.” And with a wave of his hand, blue fire caught Rico in its grasp with pinpricking agony. A scream filled his skull that he was unable to utter as he felt the flesh melt from his bones, saw Regel’s face turn white with horror, felt his eyes burst in his head. Then it was over. His corpse fell smoldering back to the earth. The Dreamweaver turned his back on it to focus on Regel, who whimpered quietly, shaking uncontrollably like everything in him screamed “Run!” but couldn’t.

“You…” The nameless man began, before pausing for a moment. He blinked, and his eyes returned to normal, only a flicker of crimson remained, a reminder of all that just passed.

“You…” He continued, “Be glad I am running late. Clean up this mess. Find a better line of work.”

He turned to continue down the path he had led them on, but paused to look back only briefly. “Remember, it was Ser Duncan Goodwyn who spared you this night. Remember that name. Do not waste this chance. I am watching…”

And with that, he trotted off into shadows. It was mere seconds before Regel’s eyes lost him in the eventide gloom.