Feyrlin leaned upon his staff for a moment. Purple spots swam in his vision. He was old, too old, and the climb had been gruelling. The spiralling path up Agravan had, like all the works of the ancients, fallen into disrepair and ruin. More than once, he’d had to work spells, Flight of the Eagle or Eliud’s Miraculous Leap, to cross sections where the path had collapsed completely, tumbling down precipitous rocky slopes to the distant valley floor.
No matter. He was nearly there. His life’s long quest was nearly done. The complete wording of the Great Spell was within his grasp. He could seal the Breach this day, close the gateway through which the Revilers came to despoil and slaughter. The ancients, dabbling in magics they should never have touched, had brought about the obliteration of so much that had been beautiful and fine. But one of them, her name unknown, had left the Great Spell behind, hiding it so carefully, perhaps fearing or foreseeing what might happen. Had the other ancients shunned her, tried to stop her? Considered her a heretic? Was that why she had made the task so difficult? He would never know.
Feyrlin peered upwards. There. There it was. Upon the mountain’s topmost crag, a stone tower pointed into the sky. Wide-winged birds, griffin eagles, soared around it. Had this been her wizard’s tower, that unnamed ancient? For forty years, he’d travelled the broken lands, piecing together fragments of parchment, transcribing inscriptions etched upon dungeon walls, summoning demons and djinnis that knew a single syllable of the incantation. Finally, he’d found the last clue, written in lost alphabets within a locked chest buried in the Great Sands. The final syllable was to be found atop distant Mount Agravan. He’d nearly died more than once on the journey thither, waylaid by Mountain Ogres and Tormenting Firehags. He’d unleashed Myrthin’s Storm of Ice and Banish Thee to Hell again and again, until his old hands trembled from exhaustion. But he had prevailed. He was here.
A locked wooden door at the foot of the tower barred his way. There was no keyhole, but he hadn’t come this far to be thwarted by trivialities. Feyrlin raised his staff and uttered the syllables of the Opening cantrip. The wooden door was thrown backwards into the darkness with a whump.
Setting a Will-o-the-Wisp bobbing above his head, he stepped inside. A spiral staircase wound around the interior of the tower, leading upwards. He paused at each floor, studying what he discovered. Someone had once lived there, long ago. Bookshelves lined the walls, although they were empty now. Brass cauldrons that may have bubbled with potions lay scattered upon the floor. Thuribles hung by chains from the roof, no longer smoking. Always, the staircase climbed upwards. That was where he needed to go. He was close, now. So close.
He emerged onto the tower’s battlements. A cold wind swept down from the north, icy on his cheeks despite his bushy beard. No matter. His suffering didn’t matter. He stepped around the narrow walkway, eyes keen for the carved letters of the final syllable.
He walked the complete circle three times and found nothing. The sigil wasn’t there. It made no sense. How could his life’s long quest lead to nothing, to silence, to failure? He circled one more time, walking widdershins, studying the stonework, working See That Which Is Hidden to look for concealed compartments or carvings obscured by illusion.
Nothing. There was nothing. The chill wind brought the screeches of the circling eagles to his ears, but there were no answers to be found in their calls. He had failed, and there were no weapons left to be brought against the Revilers. His people, the fallen remnants of the Ancients, were doomed.
Feyrlin stared out over the land, laid out like a map all around him. He was at the centre of the compass. From so high a position, it looked peaceful, untroubled. Beautiful, even. Of course, he knew the truth of it. Down on those plains, in those forests and valleys, on shore and in fields, the Harrowing of his people was continuing. Each day brought new loss, fresh horror.
He traced the line of the journey he had taken upon his long quest, the winding trail from barrow to ice cave to standing stone. It was all there, visible to his magical gaze, the trail of clues followed over so many years, across battlefield, to island, through deep wood.
Realisation of what he was seeing struck him like a sword-blow. The line of his journey. He traced it out with his finger, recalling each battle, each discovery made, each clue leading onto the next.
The scale of it, the subtlety. It was breath-taking. The syllable was there. He had drawn it out, writing it upon the wide land in his long wanderings, not even knowing what he was doing. That unknown Ancient had hidden her final rune in plain sight, spelling the syllable out across the whole of the world for someone to follow.
For him to follow.
Feyrlin read it, shaping the sound of it in his mouth, slotting it into place in the lines of the spell he had committed to memory. The rhythm of it worked, the music, the rightness. He knew instinctively it was complete, whole. The Great Spell. He would work it and seal the Breach and finally, finally, his people, all the peoples, would be free.
Closing his eyes for a moment, he began to utter the ancient words.
— Simon Kewin