The Death of Prophesy

From her seat in the latticed bay window, Carlene M'Bossa was watching over the secure inner courtyard of the Bastion of the Shi'eem Sisterhood. She was literally bored to tears. An enormous yawn cracked her jaw as she swiped yet another drop of water from the corner of her eye with a lace-edged hanky.

The sun shone and the view was lovely, especially at this time of the year; Spring tulips, hyacinth and daffodils were competing with early roses, irises and peonies in a riotous wash of colour and fragrance. But nothing could hide the fact that heavy stone walls and iron grilles made the enclosure a prison, built for containment.

Aside from the spectacular view, Carlene's only purpose was one of duty: A member of the Healing Sect must be on duty at all times to oversee the young man that was seated in the middle of the courtyard. Totally unnecessary as far as she could tell.

Theodore Magnus, their current ward (a.k.a. prisoner) was staring despondently at the garden’s large central fountain, completely oblivious to the beauty of the thing; three scantily-clad, marble mermaids rising from life-like granite waves to throw sprays of water into the air. The droplets caught the mid-morning sun and sparkled like a thousand tiny diamonds.

The effect was breathtaking, but even from a distance Carlene could tell that the lad saw none of it. He was heavily drugged and under additional binding spells, just to be on the safe side.

An acolyte came into sight. Her white kerchief indicated that she had pledged to the Healing Sect and Carlene welcomed the distraction, watching with interest as the young woman approached Magnus.

The girl walked carefully, following one of the walkways that threaded themselves among the flowering shrubs and low foliage. She carried a wide silver tray. On it was a fine bone-china tea set complete with pot, cups and saucers, sugar bowl and a cream jug. A tall, narrow vase held a single yellow rose. Carlene nodded to herself in approval. Yellow represented cheerfulness; the girl had been thinking. Carlene made a mental note to find out her name.

The girl was nervous; the vase wobbled slightly as she walked. Well that was to be expected. The Hero was only newly caught a week ago, and was reputed to be one of the most powerful magic wielders on the face of the Earth.

Carlene's eyes flicked to the four Military sisters, one in each corner of the courtyard, holding the binding on young Magnus. He had to be contained in order to be safe. Ordinary people, after all, were not all that sensible and could not be trusted with the use of magic, not even minor magic such the small amulets that were relics of the Age of Reason, talismans that were quite rare now.

Carlene almost snorted, which would have been unfortunate since she was taking a sip of her tea at the time. She was thinking about those idiots of centuries ago. Imagine allowing any kind of magic to be encapsulated into an object! How irresponsible!

They had claimed that the objects were safe; restricted to small tasks, such as the lighting of candles or hearth fires, sweetening your tea or lemonade, whisking the dust from your mantelpiece or the wrinkles from your clothes... things of that nature. That meant that anyone could have them and use them, even common folk. Indeed, that is exactly what had happened at first. Families acquired a talisman or 'luck piece' as the commoners called them. An amulet was used for everyday tasks and handed down within families, or gifted on special occasions.

An unexpected problem arose, however. The magicians and wizards who crafted these magical objects did not realize that, with time and use, they grew stronger. After a few nasty accidents, the things were banned, of course, and most were collected up and destroyed by throwing them into the great whirlpool in the Middle Sea, 
the Eye of Mool. The Eye was safely beyond reach in the great Deeps and that was the end of that.

Some luck pieces were still around but most people kept them well hidden and used them seldom. The penalty for possession was quite severe.

The other problem that had manifested itself with amulets was when someone who actually had inborn magic used one; the effect was very unpredictable and sometimes greatly magnified. Whole towns had been annihilated before the problem had been dealt with by authorities.

As Carlene mused over talismans, one guilty thought wormed its way into her brain - as it often did when she thought of them - if only she had one of the little things, maybe one whose particular magic was the healing of bruises, for instance... would she turn it in? Theoretically, she would be bound by her oaths to do exactly that. But, oh! Wouldn't it be wonderful to have such a magnification of her healing power!

With a start she pulled her mind away from these vile thoughts. Talismans were evil things, created by evil magic users and pagan witches! They had been thrown back at the great arch demon himself, who was rumoured to live in the great whirlpool. And from whence the witches probably got them in the first place.

Carlene wasn't sure she actually believed this but they served to keep dangerous things out of the hands of fools, which she supposed was the actual purpose behind the stories. Still, to possess a luck piece...

The sister-in-training had reached the centre of the garden and was setting the tea tray on a small, whitestone table to one side. The young hero, whom people had ridiculously taken to calling the Redeemer or some such nonsense, hadn't budged an inch. He was still slouched on his bench while the girl sounded like she was doing her best to put him at ease.

In a way, Carlene felt sorry for the lad. Carlene herself had just passed her eighteenth birthday but she still thought of him as much younger than she even though they were of an age. While it was true that she wore the white cowl of a Healing sister and was a full member of the Society of Shi'eem Sorcery, admittedly, she had not yet been one for quite a whole year.

The lad's name was Theodore Magnus, Teddy to his friends when he had had friends. They had been lost in the battle for his capture. If that weren't enough, he had refused to accept the fact that the Shi'eem Sisters (he had called them witches!) knew what was best for him. And the world at large!

He had unwisely refused to submit to their guidance and sage advice so they had had to collect him by force. Shielded by no less than seven of the strongest Military sisters, Magnus had been brought to the Bastion quite literally kicking and screaming with defiance.

Carlene shrugged irritably. The whole situation felt wrong to her somehow, and she could not quite put her finger on the reason why.

Could the dissenters among the Sisterhood be right?

It was another guilty thought. A few sisters, mostly dowdy old women of the Literary Sect whose noses were always stuck in old books and manuscripts, maintained that prophesy could not be forced. They claimed that things should be allowed to find their own balance.

"Water will always find its own level," one plump sister in a dusty grey cowl had piped at her a few weeks before Teddy's capture. Collection Carlene corrected herself; it was a collection not a capture... and what under the Light of Heaven had water to do with prophesy?

Anyway, it was all ridiculous! The Shi'eem Sisterhood had guided the course of history since the Fall of the Great Star. They had controlled kings and queens and governments, and therefore the whole of the Granestella and its neighbouring lands, although neighbouring lands where mostly desolate and uninhabited except by savages.

The Sisters controlled from behind the scenes, making sure all went well and smoothly. If from time to time, blatant opposition or internal political strife in the form of rebellion raised its ugly head, then it was quelled. Quietly if possible, but the Sisters were not above using their powerful resources of inborn magic. The blue-clad Military Sect had been known to go to war openly, though thankfully, that was rare.

Wars of magic were extremely messy things and the result was always many dead on both sides.

The point was, that the forces of evil would have free reign were it not for the Sisterhood. Their council and wisdom kept the world safe from chaos, Carlene reasoned smugly. All would be well.

And whether the stories were true or false, why take the chance?

She bowed her head, suddenly afraid of her own heretical thoughts. "I believe, I believe, oh Great Mother, I believe!"

According to the Prophesy, Mool would burst from his stronghold and try to take over the world. She shuddered, gazing balefully at the youthful lad sitting disconsolately in the courtyard. She found it exceedingly hard to believe that he was the hero who was destined to battle the deadly evil.


She returned to smugness. This was the reason he had to be protected and guided until that fateful day.

Carlene heaved in a great breath and let it out slowly. She was no longer bored, or even smug, but downright scared. Armageddon was coming and the Hero was so despondent that he was just liable to curl up and die. All this had purpose, she tried to assure herself. Surely it did?

She looked out at the couple by the fountain. The young man was holding a cup and saucer now. Carlene felt a small ray of hope as she noticed he was watching the pretty acolyte take her own cup and sit down on the bench beside him. At least he was no longer staring at nothing.

The girl took a sip, presumably to show him that no harm was intended in the way of poison. Although why he would think they would try to poison him after all the trouble they'd gone to in order to capture (collect) and keep him safe for the Final Battle, Carlene couldn't imagine. Men!

Teddy continued to watch the girl stupidly while she smiled brightly up at him. This sluggishness was not unusual; shielding someone from using their magic necessarily fogged the brain and made clear thinking difficult. Carlene said another silent prayer to the Creator that the Hero could be brought around to a more positive outlook soon and so much shielding would be unnecessary. He was next to useless as he was now. The Demon would have a field-day with him in his present condition.

Not a pleasant prospect, but the Sisterhood now had the Saviour of the World well in hand and there was nothing to worry about. Prophesy had been fulfilled in well over a hundred different ways with young Magnus. Nothing was left to do except unify the many island nations of the Granestella and the Sisters could easily do that for him. Indeed, they could probably do it much better since they had most governing bodies already in their pockets. All the Hero had to do was sit back and wait for Judgement Day to arrive.

Out in the garden, the acolyte was urging young Magnus to try his tea before it got cold. Obediently the young man lifted his cup and took a hesitant sip. Carlene checked the shield sisters again. There was really no need; she knew they would not take their eyes, or the shield, off him, but it was her habit as a healer to continually check and double-check.

A sharp cry drew her eyes back to the center of the courtyard. Something was wrong! 

Teddy had risen from his seat and was staggering toward the fountain with both hands clawing at his face and throat. The girl was clapping him on the back, frantically calling over her shoulder for help. The silly bint! That never did any good!

Carlene jumped up, her teacup shattering on the marble floor as she dashed to the door and outside to the stone staircase. There were four of these casements, one on each wall of the courtyard, with heavy balustrades at the top of each staircase. Large, stone flower pots lined the tops of each balustrade, scented pink and red geraniums spilling over their sides. Carlene, in her haste, careened into the one nearest the door and the force of her body sent the thing crashing to the flags below.

Unheeding, she raced down the broad marble steps and through the mess of earth, flowers and potshards in her sprint to reach the choking young man. Was he choking? On what? You don't choke on tea! Her healer's mind was racing faster than her feet, examining every detail as she tore across the courtyard. She disregarded the paths and, lifting her silk skirts and petticoats, leapt over the low shrubbery. And the fool girl was still patting him on the back! Everyone knew you just made things worse by doing that!

Carlene finally reached the pair and swung the young man so his back was toward her. Reaching around him with both arms - gods, he was big! - she clasped her hands together in a fist just under his ribcage, about an inch below the bottom point of his breastbone. She heaved mightily, inward and up. Twice.

The breath blew out of him in a great whoosh on the first heave and hardly at all on the second. He was still making strangled noises and desperately clutching at his throat. Carlene spun him again, this time to face her. She saw that his face was turning a greyish blue. His lips and protruding tongue were swollen and darkly purple, a sharp contrast to his morning-blue eyes which were panicked and staring pleadingly into her own. She became aware of the girl, screaming in a high and panicky voice at her elbow.

"It was just tea, mistress! Just tea! Oh great Heaven! It was just mint tea!"

Carlene grabbed her above the elbows and gave her a quick shake to settle her. She could have used some settling herself but someone had to take charge.

"Quickly, girl! What did he eat? Listen to me! What did he eat?!"

"Nothing, mistress! Only the tea!"

Carlene released the acolyte, who immediately sunk to her knees sobbing, and turned back to the lad. His face had gone a shade darker, if that was possible. Frantically she pulled his hands down from where they were still scrabbling feebly at his lower face and throat. She was dimly aware of the shield sisters. They had moved in from the corners of the garden and were now only about ten paces away. Their eyes were still on Teddy Magnus in four identical, unwavering gazes. She knew they still bound him from his magic.

Carlene looked again at Teddy's mouth and suddenly she knew what the problem was! She very nearly laughed in relief. What had the girl said? Only tea. Mint tea.

She had to yell to be heard over the wailing of the acolyte. She would have dearly loved to slap the girl but there were the Virtues to think of. "Theodore! Teddy!" She yelled up into the boy's purpling face. Grasping him firmly by his upper arms, she shook him to get his attention.

His face was much darker now. His lips were swollen like some exotic and ugly bullfrog. Tiny freckles stood out in sharp contrast across the bridge of his handsome nose. It was the only handsome thing about him at the moment. His bulging eyes, also quite frog-like, were beginning to glaze. He tried to focus on her.

"Allergies!" She yelled into his face. "Allergies?"

He nodded, or perhaps his head just wobbled due to her shaking: But she knew it for truth. Theodore Magnus had an allergy to mint. Maybe to other herbs as well. She also knew why he had not thought to be on guard against a condition that had probably been suppressed since childhood and the onset of his inborn magic.

And magic was the only thing that could save him now; his own magic. Or a talisman. Oh! What she wouldn't give for one of those illegal, little fetishes right now!

"Release the shield!" She ordered his guards. "Release the shield or he will die!"

They did not release it, however, but instead kept their eyes fixed steadily on the suffocating Redeemer. "Release the shield!" Carlene screamed again. 

The nearest woman, gaze never wavering, shook her head. "We cannot, mistress, we have orders."

"He's suffocating!"

Even Carlene's own magic healing powers wouldn't work unless they dropped the fool-fool shield on the man! Behind her, the acolyte wailed anew as Teddy tumbled to the pristine paving stones. The girl scrabbled on her knees over to the prostrate form and took the young man's face in her hands. She patted his bulging cheeks as if that could persuade him to take a breath.

Carlene darted toward the nearest guard, the one who had shaken her blue-cowled head. She didn't even know what her intention was, or what she could possibly do; disrupt the spell-casting perhaps?

She only managed two steps when suddenly she was flying through the air. She landed on her back several paces away. Air left her lungs upon impact and it was several moments before she could force them to work again.

Painfully, labouring for every breath, she managed to sit up.

The acolyte was on her feet, backing away from the now-still form of the Hero who lay motionless, face up in the mid-day sun. His arms and legs were flung out star-shaped.

Carlene managed to crawl to him on her hands and knees, heedless of the damage to her fine silken skirts. They were already in tatters from her unscheduled flight of a few moments ago.

She put her hand on the young man's chest. She already knew she would find nothing. His eyes stared sightlessly up at the bright sky. Birds began to sing again in the low trees. Insects hummed and a yellow butterfly fluttered by. Yellow for cheerfulness.

Carlene closed Theodore Magnus's eyes with the palm of her hand. She felt a familiar tingle; the guards still had him shielded. She wanted to tell them that it was unnecessary now, but she was unable to speak. They had their orders.

As she slowly sat back on her heels, she was only dimly aware of the young acolyte running for the great arched doorway of the courtyard. It didn't matter. They were all doomed.

She was doomed.



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