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The Bear Flute
“No, no, no, not again, not another, not him ...” Colam ran to the lonely propeller room as the words escaped his lips, unbidden, like bile seeking escape from a sick stomach. He slammed the door to the small room with whirling gears and blinking lights and breathed heavily.

“Too soon, it wasn’t time, we still had options …” The tears leaked and he grew hot and angry. He was a wizard and wizards don’t …

Then he felt the carved flute in his hands. His diminutive fingers instinctively traced the face of the bear. He felt the teeth. The eyes. The ears. The pain enveloped him.

“I can’t, it’s too hard, I can’t ...”

“Oh, do shut yer yap, ya li’l cry baby,” The voice was in the air … or in his head. It was ....

Corvyn?” But that was impossible! With the shock of hearing his first brother's spectral voice, the room slanted in his vision, as if a portal was welling around his mind.

The voice continued, “It is! Or what’s left o’ me in yer head, you balmy piker.”

“You’re all leaving,” Colam blurted out, the tears welling again, “There’ll be no one left at this rate!”

“There ya go. Getting as excited as a Doom Guard on execution day.” The voice said, exasperated. "Just let go, Cole. Just let go ... and it will all be well."

Colam felt a chill as his rationale tugged at his awareness. "Corvyn can’t be here. You’re going balmy as a Signer," he muttered.

Colam felt the pull of the voice. It wanted him to listen. It wanted him to sleep, be at ease, relax. But he knew it wasn’t real. He turned his thoughts to the searing flames of the truth. Balthazar the Bear was gone. Dead. He flinched away, toward the voice, toward the peace.

The voice. Or truth. Comfort or pain. Corvyn's ease or Balthazar’s goneness. Colam closed his eyes ... and smiled.

“That's it, ya mad coney,” Colam said in his best Corvyn imitation and laughed. Then tears leaked from under his lids and the smile broke.

He could live with the pain. He could live with the loss. Oh, but it was hard as he let it wash the voice away. As the pain scoured him clean, he held tight to the bear flute as if his sanity depended on it.
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A song in the sand
A song in the sand

The blistering heat of the sun at high noon fell upon the streets of Ekheb without mercy, baking the pressed clay walkways and drawing sweat from the dark skin of the Servants and Grey-skins that were made to toil under it’s gaze. Even protected from direct exposure to the heat by thick colored canvas tents, the merchants in the market square were clearly sweltering, their hawking calls to passers-by disengaged and languid. All but one, that is.

“FISH!” a single, penetrating voice demanded of every Servant passing by. “Roasted, baked, fermented or fresh! Good fish at an honest price! Sure to please the great house itself! FISH!”

Lucius sat back on his makeshift seat, a rough hewn sandstone block with a thin blue pillow atop it for comfort, casting a dismissive gesture at the back of a sweat covered Servant who had ignored his cries. “Too good for you anyways, Servant,” He muttered under his breath. His derisive tone had a note of disappointment though; it had been an unprofitable day at best, and both his guild fee’s and rent were due in a few days. He would be hard pressed to afford both. It rankled his pride, but he allowed a note of pleading into his voice as another Servant passed him by, and it earned him a sale. Placing the copper stars into the ceramic vase he kept coinage in, he frowned at the familiar hollow clink that signified a nearly empty vessel. With a sigh, he scrubbed a hand through his trimmed black beard and over the sharp horns that protruded from his forehead. Pulling his hand away, he rubbed his fingers against his palm and smiled despite himself. Dry. The heat of the sun never touched the Sons and Daughters of Hathor as it did the Servant’s. It was a small thing, but it always reaffirmed his views. He was above them. Even the sun knew it, and gave him appropriate respects.

His spirits revitalized, he put on a charming smile and opened his mouth to welcome a man who had just stopped in front of his stall. The smile froze on his face like a mask, while disgust formed within at what he saw. Before him stood a naked Servant, his black skin broken and inflamed by disease. Stooped and hobbling, the man paced back and forth in front of the stand, his thin white hair matted to his scalp in what looked a culmination of sweat, sand, and filth. Finally stopping before a roasted fish that had been skewered on a sharpened reed, the man opened his mouth in a toothless grin, and spoke in a raspy voice. “This one. I want this one.”

Lucius eyed the man uncertainly. Except for a small leather pouch strung around his neck, the man was completely naked. Lucius had a small prejudice against nudity amongst any but the Slaves, but he loathed charity, and this man clearly had no coin to pay for the fish he was gesturing at. Letting his disgust show plainly, Lucius prepared to call for the guards to remove the man and his offensive odor from the marketplace, but before he could speak, a sharp pain erupted in his head. Reeling backwards, Lucius hit his sandstone seat with a hard thud, his mouth opened in a soundless scream as he tried to comprehend what was happening to him. The naked old man cocked his head to the side as he watched, the toothless grin deepening to a wide, mirthless smile. Without a word, he removed the pouch from around his neck, and placed it on the ground rug before retrieving the skewered fish, and taking a large bite out of it. Cackling, he turned on his heel and strode out of sight. Immobilized by pain, Lucius could do nothing but stare in confused fury at the thieving madman’s vanishing back.

Lucius closed his shop early that day, placed an incident report with the town watch, and retired to his rented room. His head still felt as though it had been sundered from within, and it’s relentless pounding kept sleep at bay. Ordering his attendant Minka to bring him a clay mug of Red, he propped himself up with floor pillows and fingered the unopened leather pouch. It was quite small; no longer than his thumb, and half as wide. Closer examination at the market had put his teeth on edge, and he had never seen its like before. He had strong suspicions that the dark, smooth leather had once belonged to someone in the Servant caste, though he couldn’t say why. He would have wagered his few remaining suns on it, though.

He pondered over the pouch deep into the night, the pain in his head numbed by the alcohol but never ceasing completely. Finally, he steeled himself and opened the it. Uncertainty over what a madman would keep in a pouch made of flesh had brought unbidden horrors from his imagination, and his heart began to beat uncontrollably as he undid the sinewy drawstrings and peered inside.

Nothing but sand. Shaking his head over his own foolishness, he redid the strings, and tossed the revolting thing aside.

Sleep finally found him, and in it’s visitation, Lucius found himself standing in the endless desert sands of his homeland. The night sky above was black as pitch, the stars replaced by streaks of silvery purple voids that drank what ever light touched them and killed it. Something in his mind told him that that wasn’t right, that light could not be killed, but he knew in his soul that he was witnessing exactly that. The spreading void consumed all it touched, and what it consumed it destroyed without discrimination. A sudden terror gripped him as the sands themselves began to melt away, destroyed grain by grain as the void stretched and grew. He fled, but knew he could not escape it, and as the thought entered his mind, he found himself on the last spit of earth, surrounded on all sides by the void, and his circle of sand growing smaller and smaller as the ravenous darkness drank it in. Just as he was about to be consumed by the absolute darkness, something shimmered beneath him, and he found himself standing on a large stone, perfect in its spherical geometry and incomprehensible in its blacker than black color. Something in the darkness of the stone spoke to him, a disembodied voice that scoured away his flesh and bored into his soul. “DO YOU SEEK POWER?

The words echoed in his head as he awoke in a sweat that had nothing to do with the stagnant heat of the desert night. Clambering across the floor on all fours, he rifled through the floor cushions until he found the grisly pouch he had cast aside. Wrenching it open, he poured the sand onto the floor, uncertain what he was looking for until he head a soft *thud*. Looking down at the small heap of tan dust, a small stone lay cratered in the top. A familiar stone, perfect in its geometry and incomprehensible in its darker than black coloring. Trembling, he reached down and plucked it from the impression. A voice rang out in his mind, threatening to devour him with it’s magnanimous and terrible might. “DO YOU SEEK POWER?” In a voice cracking with fear, Lucius replied. His body convulsed, twisting and bending unnaturally as an unseen power brought him to his toes, muscles tight and bones creaking, eyes rolling and jaw locked as power flooded him. A cacophony of voices erupted in his mind, a beautiful and terrible sound of alien and indescribable music drowned him in madness and imbued him with knowledge of the unknowable. After what felt like an eternity of suffering, the voices left him. His body twitching among the cushions, his mind babbling in mad unconsciousness, a smile twinged his lips.

At last, his fate was his own.
Or so he thought.
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Epic × 2!
Pointer-left Colam_thumb
Colam And Corvyn
The Meeting of the Twins
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Epic × 3!
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