The Tale of Captain Johne

The Foretelling of An Age

I had the nightmare that night.

The light that bathed my eyes had no natural source. Soft and faint, it touched only that which lay near the figure that waited for me to awaken. Tall and stalwart like a warrior he stood, though his cloak and cowl marked him a mage. For a moment, I thought I recognized this apparition, but an instant later, my recollection failed me. Perhaps his appearance should have unsettled me and forced me to awaken Sutek. Yet I did not, for oddly enough, the specter's appearance brought a calm I had not felt since we had entered the Underworld.

"Johne," he said, holding out his hand. Fingernails half the length of his palm beckoned me. "Rise from thy sleep, Johne. 'Tis I who can help thee." He turned then, cloak making not a whisper as it brushed the floor like a shadow, and stepped through the rock-hewn wall. Who the newcomer was, I still could not say, but that face—'twas so familiar, so I followed him, looking back only once at Sutek's sleeping form before I, too, stepped through the wall.

For hours, days—perhaps ages—we journeyed through the Underworld, walking through stone as if it was air, treading upon subterranean waters as if they were earth, until at last we crossed a great sea. An isle loomed before us, crags molten with liquid stone. Only once did fear strike me: When I passed through a blinding curtain of molten rock and stepped into a darkness so absolute and complete that it engulfed all sense as well as sight. I tried to scream, but my voice was not to be found.

I heard the mage speak, and his voice, calm and fluid, soothed me.

"Here we are at last, Johne," he said. "Here, at the center of it all."

His light returned, shrouded me in a comforting glow, and illuminated the ruins of a palace. Shattered columns rose beneath a dome of cracked marble, and tapestries hung burnt and torn along the walls. Dark welts streaked from the center of the floor in a starburst, uprooting tiles both black and white. On the far wall leaned a mirror inlaid with gold, and perhaps it was a trick of the light, but its crystalline glass reflected not this room, but another.

"My home, Johne, for many years," the mage said, "until it was destroyed by my enemy."

"Who would desecrate such elegance?" I asked.

His eyes, pools of darkness, diminished to slits. "A savior, some would allege, who brings enlightenment to those deemed worthy. A false prophet, others would claim, who brings darkness upon the damned." His scowl slowly twisted into a pleasant smile. "But such matters are for another age. I have come to be thy savior, Johne, if . . . thou wilt be mine." He ushered me forward with a languid wave of his hand. "Come closer, Johne, and thou wilt understand." I obeyed until he gestured me to stop. "Look down, Johne, and view thy destiny."

I peered down at the center of the room.

Three shards of a shattered jewel, each the length of dagger's blade, lay embedded in the blackened stone.

"What are they?" I whispered.

His answer was tainted with anger. "The remains of an artifact, a beautiful gem that harnessed the power of a sun. Now it lies ruined." His voice drew to a hiss. "Take the shards, Johne, and avenge me. Only then shalt thee and thy companions be free."

I reached forward. My hand hesitated over the first shard. Its edges, sharpened like a knife, gleamed greedily, as if hungering for my flesh. I grasped it, and it slid free of the stone.

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