--------- TWO YEARS EARLIER------------
An inky wisp suddenly spurted out of a tiny speck in the slate grey nowhere giving Modru, God of Chaos, a start. Soon swathes of smoky plumes were swirling all about him. Twirling, twisting, whirling into a humongous hooded form that loomed ominously over the now cowering god.
Imperiously a voice boomed out from the beyond.
"Thou hast strayed too far, brother."
Tynan, God of Order's stern expression coalesced within the still forming outline of his cowl. "Our father will hear of this!"
"I know not what you mean--," Modru stammered, squirming and seeming to shrink before his brother’s towering visage.
"You've crossed the line yet again to meddle in mortal affairs."
Tynan's human features hardened, sharpening as he spoke. "Bestowing forbidden knowledge - countless men, women and children doomed through your reckless transgression!"
"Ahh, that instance with the...Umm…” Modru’s sputtering form flickered. "A mere misunderstanding brother, one you needn't bother our busy father with…."
He finally shimmered back into solidity. Sly eyes blinking back into being above the beginnings of a smirk. "I'll bargain with you, a wager mayhap?"
"Thou art in no position to barter brother. What could thou possibly offer?"
"Say nought to father dearest, and I shall undo any damage done… In addition I'll scupper an upcoming plague, if...," Modru leered, meeting his sibling's stony glare for the first time. "If your champion can outlast mine... If not, all shall proceed as planned."
"Hmm..." Tynan tilted his great head, weighing the bet’s merits.
"'Tis agreed," he nodded finally.
"Choose thy champion then, brother mine," Modru challenged.
"I shall select this child." An arcane gesture and the spectral image of a ragged teen appeared in mid-air causing Modru to squint.
"That trifling stripling!" he scoffed. "You may as well concede now, for I choose--."
"Whom you always select,” Tynan interrupted gruffly. “The most powerful mortal of the milieu, the Sarkian Emperor of course. You never could play fair…"
"Chide me not brother dearest," Modru grinned. "Our champions are chosen! Now to set them at each other's throats--"
"’Tis done, their fates inextricably entwined - I hast already ordained it so."
"Oh Tynan, must you take the excitement out of everything?"
" I will have your oath Modru, neither help nor hindrance for either contestant. "
"It is given." Modru's crocodile-smile widened. "While a fleeting distraction at most, I do so enjoy wagering with mortals. It almost lends their insignificant lives a modicum of meaning…"
The God of Order didn't deign to reply, rather, he leant back into the crows-feet folds of his midnight cloaks and dissipated.
That went about as expected, Tynan mused, as his presence dispersed amongst the aether. For the godly embodiment of chaos, Modru was, somewhat ironically, predictable to a fault. He cared not a jot for humanity and constantly underestimated them. A trait Tynan could always count on.
Yet, even stripped their undue influences, Tynan perceived the bet to be precariously poised.
Over the eons, chaos and order had crossed swords countless times. Tynan waged a constant battle to just to maintain any semblance of balance. Unfortunately, the natural laws of decay favoured Modru. Fortunately, for a god, he was a moron. And a craven coward. Still, Tynan’s complex schemes could leave nought to chance. So, with thousands of souls at stake, he’d placed his faith an ancient human prophecy. A long shot taken on a wild card.
The other gods of the pantheon poured scorn on mortal prophecies, but as God of Order he'd learned they often possessed a unique rudimentary power of their own. Even obscure ones like The Path of the Seeker: From a prince to a mage; a guard to a captain; a baron to a duke; a jack to a king; a soldier to a general; to seek, the only sure thing.
Sometimes all greatness needed was a nudge, the slightest hint of a suggestion, a mere whisper on the breeze…. Tynan sighed deeply. It was out of his hands now. Humans, for once, would have to help themselves.
Jaspar Al Khadin stumbled at the first step leading up towards the throne-room. The now scowling Sarkian Senior Advisor had almost fallen at the first hurdle. All because he was in a hurry. Something that should never happen.
He’d been sun-struck, cutting across the open square instead of skirting around in the shadows, as was his wont. Some would say skulking in the shadows. Some would die. Usually some time later, often in their sleep but they would die. Sure as the sunset.
Seething, Jaspar took a moment to dust himself off and compose himself. The ice-white palace steps glared back at him. Implacable, ancient and cool. All he aspired to be. The mask fell back into place and he glided towards the imperial throne-room. And the situation.
Jaspar loathed surprises yet somehow something had still sprung up unexpectedly. Something which had been buried for aeons. Something which should have stayed that way… A magic artefact of legend. Albeit an obscure legend.
Damnation! Ancient omens and artefacts of this ilk led to naked ambition, which led to… well... damnation. And as any Sarkian Senior Advisor worth his salt knew, ambition in the wrong pampered hands could be chaotic, genocidal or worse, gauche.
Pushing onwards through the hushed shade of the domed palace, Jaspar weaved between the arches atop snow-white ionic columns, waving guards out of his way. Safe again in the shadows, he stopped and leant on the throne-room door to catch his breath and think things through. Jaspar was both old and wise. You couldn't have the first without the second amid the carousel of intrigue that was the imperial court at Arnuz. He didn't get where he was today by simply showing up for luncheon...
"Where the farrak is that camel humping advisor of mine?" He heard through the door. His Imperial Highness Emperor Ibrahaim Hetet Rakkesh the Third was furious - one of his usual four states of being...
"Ahh, there you are Jaspar…Surprise!" Smug was another one. "I've found a gold-dowsing doohickey! I'm going to be rich.... finally...."
Stifling a sigh, Jaspar stalked the seventy-yard swathe of red carpet. As he neared the gilded throne the bone of contention became visible. Clutched tightly in the tiny hands of the Emperor the silver dagger did indeed resemble the legendary Seeker's Star. As if on cue, the blade fell from his greedy grasp with a clang. On the side facing up, Jaspar spied a pulsing diamond set in the hilt, sealing the deal. It was the real Mukhtar alright!
Dammit, the magic dagger led to whatever the wielder’s heart desired. Rakkesh’s greed knew no bounds as it was…War would ensue for sure... Except, as the Emperor bent to retrieve his prize Jaspar could see the other side was incomplete. The all-important sapphire of connection was missing from its setting. Prophets be praised!
According to the ancient and thoroughly obscure prophecy: “The diamond shines on what's sought; The sapphire shares what's thought'.
Well, the formerly obscure prophecy, now a prophecy demanding intense further investigation. Jaspar painted on a one of his patented smiles. He went for 'interested observer' and got 'bootlicker" -' luckily his efforts had, as per usual, gone unnoticed,
"May I enquire how you came upon such a treasure, sire?”
"Woke up this morning…Lo and bloody behold there it was on my bed!" Rakkesh beamed roundly down from the throne like an over-full moon. "I do love a good surprise!"
Not for the first time Jaspar marvelled at how unsuitable the big baby in his high chair appeared for the role of gods' chosen glorious leader. This recurring observation was a daily distraction, After all, it was only natural to focus on the vessel when there was no content of any interest.
For the ruler of a vast empire, even in his sparkling silken nightgown, Rakkesh was not much to look at. A middle son, he was middle-aged… Thick in the middle... Middle everything. A second son inheriting the emperor role only through the untimely death of his much cherished older brother in a border skirmish. Ignored for so long before being thrust into the limelight, he'd brought baggage with him. Most notably, a large chip on his shoulder.
Some poor servant had neatly coiffured his oily, black hair, slicking it back to reveal a fine featured face gone to flab. Girlishly long lashes flickered above obsidian black eyes narrowed in frustration… Or concentration. It was always hard to tell with his forehead scrunched up, as if every thought hurt. Jaspar didn't doubt they did.
"There was a note too, but it disappeared somewhere - damned if I can find it."
Damned indeed. Damned suspicious. Rakkesh was as a child and, as such, Jaspar controlled every aspect of his existence. A magic dagger was a sharp object that could bring dire consequences. It was not on Jaspar's agenda at all. He was reminded of the time the Emperor confiscated a guard's crossbow. Shuddering at the recollection as much as the tantrum to come, Jaspar informed the Emperor that he only had half a treasure. He took it well, which usually meant he hadn't understood.
"If it doesn't work then why does the little lightning bug skitter about inside the diamond then?"
"It must seek its sister the sapphire," the guard captain blurted out before he could stop himself. Or Jaspar could. Jaspar had been thinking the exact same thing, except he'd held his tongue. Hence, he'd still have one come dawn …
Incorrectly sensing imminent promotion, the soldier outlined his theory about the glow growing bigger, brighter and quicker the closer it got to the other stone. The light shifting within the gem to the facet nearest the target - like enough correct but was it was worth dying for?
"In this case," Corporal Corpse soldiered on, "it's pointing out the eastern window, so across the sea to Perugia.
"Perugia," Rakkesh exclaimed with vicious glee. "Where all my gold and gems are!"
Big Blabbermouth's theory was eerily on the money. Things was spiralling out of control...
Jaspar pasted another smile on. A poor attempt at 'enthusiastic supporter' that barely got above seasick. In the end it took over an hour for Jaspar to talk the Emperor down from a full-scale invasion to a half-baked incursion. The advisor had his fingers crossed that it would fail, the idea die with it and all this nonsense be forgotten about. He even had some inept and expendable political enemies in mind for the mission...
"I want our very best on this Jaspar, send Ashraf,” Rakkesh demanded. Dammit!
"Unfortunately Captain Serkan is currently training your nephew Ishak--"
"So? Send him too, do the fat barrel of sesame oil good to get out and about..."
“Oh, and Jaspar, give my new dagger to my nephew, I can trust him," Rakkesh said. "Blood is thicker than water."
"Sire and nephew Ishak are truly thicker than all the other royals."
Bowing and backing his way out, Jaspar went for a the tricky 'I got you good, yet you'll never know' and nailed it. At the door he turned the same smile towards Corporal Corpse before beckoning with his forefinger.