His clock burst to life from the corner of the room, a cacophony of tiny bells chiming, its clamor announcing the top of yet another hour. The bespectacled man looked up from the parchment splayed across his desk. He had been busy at work, pouring over the paper – the latest report, summarizing and detailing all the events that had transpired in the land. A compilation of the reports that were edging out from underneath the large page, seeking respite from being suffocated, their once neat stack was now spilling out over the remainder of the desk – some had even fallen to the cold stone floor. His tired eyes confirmed what his old ears heard, it was time again for another moonlight meeting – time to gather one final report from the furthest reaches of the land.
His chair groaned as he stood, the feet sliding methodically across the floor. Smooth grooves were formed along the path the large walnut chair had traveled many times before. The chair was not without its signs of age either. Stain was faded where the man had sat, and the large armrests were rounded at the ends, the pommels’ finer details worn down as if to its bones. The only aspect of the chair that showed no signs of age was the head, which rose taller than the man’s own, even when sitting upright. On it was the intricately carved sigil of the Eternal King – an hourglass whose sand was frozen in time, draped by a crown inlaid with jewels carved into sickly faces around its circumference. The faces were said to be those of the gods he had slain; the sigil symbolizing his conquering of both gods and time itself.
The man who rose from the chair had done neither. His joints creaked with age, driven only by his stubbornness. He had often mused on the idea that he and the chair were very much alike, his body breaking down over the years, leaving only the head – his mind – sharp. Even that, too, he had to admit was now dulling. Despite this, he still performed his duties to the Church as fervently as he had his whole life, if only a bit more slowly than before. Everything took him longer, time was starting to escape the old man no matter how hard he worked to keep up. Part of him was resentful for that fact, what was left of his youth, he supposed; the other part of him was resigned to his fate. Lately, however, he found this rebellious spark, which condemned his old age, seeping in more and more of his thoughts.
Nevertheless, he had his duties to attend to, elderly or not. The clock had ceased its alarm and was back to its routine churning and ticking of tiny gears and levers. With a grimace the man removed his spectacles, folded them, and placed them gently in his robe’s pocket. He was wearing the traditional bishop attire, a long flowing gown that brushed the ground gently around him wherever he walked. It was made of the finest silken materials found across the land, skillfully tailored to him, with intricate designs running its length. Upon his chest, the gown bore the same sigil that topped his chair, centered in the middle of a large strip of white fabric that spanned the entire garment. The sleeves were long and baggy, easily concealing his arms should he desire. People often remarked that the Church’s outfits made their clergymen appear as if they were gliding across the ground – as if they did not even walk upon legs. In his old age, however, his strides made him appear more like he was dragging the robe painstakingly, than floating effortlessly.
He made his way round the table, moving efficiently around his office with practiced deftness that was surprising for his stature. It was a large chamber, part of a wing attached to the main cathedral, with white tiled floors and gray stone bricks making the walls. The ceiling stood tall at the front of the room with a gradual slope downward where it finally met the far wall. The rafters were bare, save for a large circular chandelier which hung down in the center of the room. A cluster of three candles were at the end of each of the four arms, providing just enough light to illuminate the room. The wicks were burnt low this late at night, and in the morning servants would replenish the spent candles in the church with fresh ones.
All along the wall across from his desk were bookshelves that stood tall enough to leave no room for the rafters to breathe. They were filled with a mixture of ancient texts telling the history of the Eternal King, records of all the head priests and bishops who served throughout the ages, and booklets containing the man’s own personal notes on various subjects or sermons he had written. There was a bookcase dedicated to the histories of mankind across the land after they had been set free of the control of the gods. Being that this was his private collection, he did not have complete records or volumes for everything, but for him it was enough to be proud of, and quite the collection for his lifetime.
Now, however, he ignored his prized books and made his way to the back of the room, passing the collection of four sitting chairs which encircled a small table, a set meant for holding meetings in his office. Beyond that, he reached the back wall, which contained a large window overlooking a small grove of white flowers which ended abruptly at a sharp drop off. The church sat atop a steep hill positioned at the heart of the capital city of Immortua. Many years ago when the city was first being built, the hill had been leveled at the top to make for stable construction. A winding path was carved into the hillside up to the entrance of the church’s courtyard to make for easier access to the top. Wild grass grew freely all around the hill, largely unattended due to the severity of the slope, its long blades would glimmer in the daylight breeze making the church appear as if it were sitting atop a living pedestal.
Tonight, it was cold and still. Not a single petal shifted in the night, seemingly frozen, reflecting the silver light from the moon, dotting the murky night, cautioning the black depths just beyond them. The man grimaced once more upon opening the window, the cold air crept in, it’s snaky tendrils clawing their way into the warmth of his chamber. He quickly shut the pane and locked it once more with a shiver. He made his way back through the room, grumbling for no one in particular but himself – he had come to despise the cold more and more. He grabbed the lantern hanging at the doorway and lit it using the candle that was nearing the end of its life on his desk, its wax overflowing past the tray meant to contain it. Lantern readied, he reached for his gray wool cloak perched on the other side of the doorway. He wrapped it tightly and threw the large hood over his thin, wispy white hair.
The hinges of his chamber door groaned loudly, as if announcing his entrance into the dark hallway beyond. He slammed the door shut behind him and made his way toward the large double doors in the center of the hall. The same tiled floor ran the length – his office was at the far end of the walkway. Torches lined the walls, all had fizzled out this late in the night, glowing a soft glow, nearly extinguished completely to sleep until tomorrow’s eve when they would be set ablaze once more. The man paid them no mind, walking silently down the same path he had traveled many times before. He wagered he did not even need the lantern to make his way through the entire church complex, but it was best to be on the safe side, especially on a meeting night.
He fumbled for a moment when he arrived to the double doors, trying to find the brass key he kept in his overcoat. The folds of the large pocket ensnared the key, hiding it from his prying fingers as if it desired to keep the key for itself. After mumbling a few curses, he was able to retrieve the key and placed it firmly in the door; every part of the church was to be locked nightly. Far too many precious artworks, histories, and items were contained within. This door was silent, the hinges were well oiled so as not to interrupt sermons and worship should someone enter or exit. Beyond the doorway loomed an enormous cavern of a room, the main worship hall, it was barely illuminated by the moon’s soft light filtering through the large stained glass windows lining each side of the hall. The church was so large in size that the arches of the ceiling were steeped in pure darkness, shying away from the faint light.
The man turned from locking the door behind him and faced steps leading up to a vacant stage, upon which stood a grand podium, surrounded by wooden railing. To his left were more steps, leading to a stage which stood lower than the podium’s, meant for the choir, which lead songs of praise to the King. To his right, another stage perfectly symmetrical containing a large organ, which accompanied the choir. He never grew tired of the awe inspiring architecture and performances this hall presented, nor did he get over how unnerving it was when it was hollow and dark. Hastily as he could, he made his way down to the floor, walking between the many rows of pews down the mosaic center aisle. It depicted King’s conception and conquering of the gods in one long flowing masterpiece of artwork. Midway to the main entrance, clouds rolled slowly over the moon, suffocating the church of any light, save for that of the man’s lantern – a lone ember in the void, slowly drifting in the nothingness.
The man chuckled at himself as a small wave of relief washed over his mind, cleansing him of the growing gnaw of fear that was rising from the depths of his subconscious – the clouds had lingered for the rest of his journey. The cold night seemed happy to have its tendrils around him once more as he opened the tall doors to the courtyard contained by brick walls on all sides. In the center, there was a large fountain in the shape of an hourglass, water blooming from the top and raining down into the large basin below. The pitter of the water masked the patter of his footsteps on the cobblestone as he moved to a wrought iron gate set in the middle of one of the walls. With a sharp, abrupt wail, he passed through into the church’s garden. It was small, as the church itself was so large that it nearly took up all the space atop the hill.
With a sigh and a pop from his knees, he sat down at the lone bench placed at the end of the walkway which stopped in the center of the grove. It faced the walkway and the gate he had entered. Bushes containing flowers and berries alike lined the path, and the circle of stones at the center where he sat. Small trees bearing fruit lined the walls, their branches barely reaching over the stonework. Rows of herbs were on either side of the walkway by the gate, and hedges separated them from the rest of the area, which were also covered in wildflowers of every color. It was in the sea of flowers the man sat waiting. Minutes passed and he began to shiver more strongly. The night air was beginning to penetrate his cloak, licking at his skin as if tasting its prey before striking.
Just as he was about to give up on waiting and retreat back to the warmth of his chamber, a large black shadow appeared at the gate darker than the night, seemingly absorbing the light around it. The shape was tall, taller even than the gate; it had to hunch down to pass through, and when it did, it was silent as if it absorbed sound itself. The man made no sound of displeasure or relief as he watched the shadow approach, he knew it would hear him and he did not want to anger it. The figure was uneven, awkward, and seemingly lurched in it’s loping approach. He did not think he would ever get used to it, no matter how many meetings they may have. Finally, the figure was close enough for him to make out the glowing yellow eyes which were peering at him from the back of its hood. He stood to greet the figure with a quick bow of his torso.
“Greetings, Lo’Vere,” the ancient tongue spilled awkwardly out of his mouth, despite his lengthy practice, “I hope your travels were safe and discreet. What news do you bring?”
“Indeed they were, your kind is none too perceptive, especially in these long times of peace.” Lo’Vere’s voice was a harsh growl, dripping with distaste.
He was standing at arm’s length from the old man and his head stood another two above the bishop’s. From the faint lantern light, his gnarled face was visible. The yellow eyes glowed brightly from their sunken cavernous sockets. Aside from that, his face appeared human enough, with a stunted nose that was closer to a wolf’s snout. He was sneering, as if his tone of voice were not enough to convey his mood. Large fangs protruded up from his lower lip even with his mouth closed, locked in a frown. He reached into his own cloak and produced a scroll of paper, bound by ribbon. He handed it to the bishop, barely extending his long, lanky arm. The man gingerly took it from him, careful to avoid Lo’Vere’s nails, which came to a point like small knives. He tucked it away in his own pocket as Lo’Vere continued his report.
“Our Master grows in power, slowly yet, but without issue. Our army is readying itself, soon we will be able to march from the Outerlands across Aeternum’s border. Proceedings are as planned.”
“Excellent,” the bishop coughed violently into his hand, and looked up with a smile, “everything is going well, then? I’ll have nothing to report at our council meeting tomorrow.”
Lo’Vere turned briefly to the church, and let out a low rumble. “So it would seem.” After a pause, he turned back to face the bishop, hate burning in his eyes. “What of the King? What news do you have from him?”
“More good news,” he chuckled, “hopefully this will cheer your mood. In the little contact we’ve had with him, his powers seem to be waning. Perhaps the seal tying his soul to our world is eroding. He should pose no threat to our plans.” The bishop was beaming expectantly at Lo’Vere, as if awaiting a reward for the good tidings. Instead, he was met only with the creature’s harsh yellow eyes narrowing scrutiny. Finally, Lo’Vere broke the silence.
“His power is waning, you say?”
“Indeed, there is no mistaking it.”
“It would seem our Master’s suspicions are correct, then.”
The bishop cocked his head, he was not following the beast’s train of thought. Lo’Vere eyed him suspiciously and turned back towards the gate as if he were ready to leave with haste. His head craned over his shoulder and he spoke one final time.
“His power is not failing him – our Master has grown enough in his own to sense that a capable human has been born. Another human walks – crawls, rather – that can slay gods. The King is surely aware, and readying a transfer of his powers. We are running out of time. Find the child if you can. Destroy it.”
With that, Lo’Vere departed. His shadowy figure disappearing through the gate before the old man could compose himself. He and the others had failed to deceive the King, and now they had to hurry. He grabbed his lantern, which was now running low on oil and shivered, not for the cold, but at the thought of what lay ahead.