I enjoyed the art while it lasted - also glad you are finding work more enjoyable. (Presumably)
I'm in Galicia now. And I told you that I envisaged Nalbin was a Portuguese/Scottish mix, which was rightly baffling... but I'm relieved that I'm not crazy, because Galicia is basically exactly that. No lie. Aside from the whole place looking like it could fit in Scotland, the Galicians also play.... the bagpipes.
The prince kneeled before the altar. His brow was slick with sweat, and not from the heat of the fires roaring in the hall's great hearths.
Before him stood Sakkon the Great, a towering dark figure - conqueror of Urut and the lands of the Nateans, vanquisher of his foes, leader of warriors, victor of countless battles and father of many sons - the founder of an empire.
In Sakkon's powerful hands he held a great bowl, heat emanating in nauseating waves rippling the air about him. As the drones of the priests continued, and the smoke and the incense thickened the air, Sakkon grew ever more otherwordly, more unrecognizeable.
Sakkon's firstborn son fixed his gaze on the altar before him, eyes slipping over the strange runes carved there by his father's hands - he had not allowed the priests near the altar until it was finished. His eyes watered, trying to study symbols which refused to be recalled.
"A pact was made!" came Sakkon's hoarse voice, rasping into the silence left by the priests' sudden pause. "Many years ago. And have we not come far?"
The crackling of fireword and the whimpers of the women of the court touched the young man's ears - somewhere among them, his mother. He blinked away the tears before they began.
"I have laid waste to my enemies! I have made kings my slaves and I have raised slaves as governors. My people have prospered and grown fat, and my soldiers have grown strong!"
"I am a man of my word," Sakkon said suddenly, silently. "Let this then appease you - a debt repayed, a promise fulfilled."
Who are you speaking to, father?
"Are you ready?"
"I am proud to serve my lord and people," he replied.
The boy with no name looked up and tried to not scream as they poured the molten gold over his body.
They came across sun-blasted dunes into the west, the light-blinded men who changed the world.
There were many men among them, some great, some small. There was Artavan, chieftain of the Khirikii, and Isphan the king of Na-Lut, and Degert, war-lord of the Three Tribes - and many other besides whose names now none recall, though they brought with them great upheaval and did many great deeds.
No, now only those who rode in their shadows are yet recalled. There was the Dark Man who followed Artavan wherever he went, the Noble Spirit who advised Isphan, the Golden Prince in the retinue of the upstart emperor of Arkan, and more.
They were advisors then, and when Artavan and Isphan and the others had died of old age or by war or betrayal against each other, they served their sons. And after that, their grand-sons, and then their grand-sons' sons.
In time, the effulgent glow which suffused the Golden Prince grew stronger and stronger, while the heir of Sakkon the Great whom he served grew smaller beside him.
Until the day came when the outline of a boy encased in gold was all but impossible to see against the radiance of his presence. Then he chose a new name: Radiant Lord.
As the brothers prepared the ritual circles, Father Brennan thought of days long gone past.
His childhood days, which had been bright and carefree, as all childrens' should be. But not for long: not long before the conflict between Radiance and Silhouette spilled into even Father Brennan's far corner of the vast continent. Father Brennan's own father, Mihoil dy il Vardegar, had been proud to fight for his King and Archon. Proud to die by the side of his countrymen as the Mason's legions were destroyed, one by one, by king Erefat and the Maiden's host.
Oh, but that was all a very long time ago. Brennan had been but a child and none of the brothers - except Brothers Talien and Jona - had been born. No, Jona died last spring, the old man reminded himself.
They were lighting the candles now, all around: two dozen men, shorn and wearing sackcloth: the stone walls bare and simple. Only one - Jebeda - sat still hunched over his Rune, powder-horn held delicately over the ground, dispensing colours in short, precise bursts.
Of all the Brothers', Jebeda's Rune was the most elaborate, most ornate. Brennan glanced at the symbol being formed on the ground and understood the general meanings of justice and protection - the rest, the precise meaning honed by Jebeda's mind over years of practice, escaped him.
So it was with most all of the runes which now surrounded Brennan in three concentric circles. Brennan could grasp the general intent of most of them: some remained completely opaque even to him. Thus it was with runes. Only he who created a rune could ever fully comprehend its meaning.
But by the characters of their authors, Brennan could discern more than mere intellect would allow. There - Giri, one of the few fathers in the monestary: his rune meant family. Feiran, who loved to tend the gardens: his meant care. Teberus, a jovial, rotund man - forgiveness. They were as they wrote: they wrote as they were.
"There!" breathed Jebeda, and rose from his work.
"Then let us begin."
Brennan drew aside the great curtains of mist, clambering through the forest, forcing his way ahead. Above, the sky wheeled: now stars, now overcast; but always casting the same light. In the distance a great figure - a statue or monument of some sort, one arm raised before a body held upright - rose darkly into the hazy distances.
He walked for a long time, it seemed - perhaps the better part of a day. The road disappeared behind him, and ever the great veils of mist covered his approach so that he had to lift them aside.
"You have forgotten why you came here," said his companion.
Brennan peered down at the mouse which walked beside him.
"Forgotten?" he echoed, as another veil fell before them. He struggled with it for a while: like a great bed sheet, unwilling to be folded neatly.
The mouse waited patiently, then said:
"Yes, forgotten. But your brothers have not."
"Brothers? But I have no brothers?"
"Not of the flesh, perhaps. Come with me," the mouse said and headed into the marble-pillar forest beside the road.
Father Brennan walked into the great auditorium of the cloister, the sky a distant bright circle above. On the lowest of the many dark tiers of seats receding into the gloomy heights, six figures sat solemly.
"Hello," he said dumbly, the word echoing in the vast space.
"You summoned us-"
"-the spirits of law and-"
"-justice and order,"
"of mercy and"
"protection and of"
"vengeance. We have come."
Brennan eyed them confusedly. What were these somber men doing here in his father's house, around the kitchen table? Surely Mihoil would be home soon and would deal with these strangers then.
"Dad will be home soon," he explained, "but if you want wine or bread I can fetch-"
"That will not-" began the one at the head of the table,
"-be necessary," finished the one beside the first.
They all looked alike.
Father Brennan remembered.
"Yes, I have summoned you. Not the spirit of law, or the spirit of justice: but the spirit of many and all of these things: of kindness and righteousness, of punishment and justice, of authority and orderliness. I have summoned you."
"Good," said the one at the head of the table. "Let us begin."
A slave was forced onto the blood-stained sands of the arena: he struggled and tried to wriggle his way out of the handlers' grip, to escape back into his prison cell.
"He killed a man for a loaf of bread," said one of the spirits.
"His family was starving," said another.
"He once earned a great deal of money,"
"- and lost it all on gambling."
"He is sorry for what he did-"
"-but if he is let free, he will do the same again."
-How do you judge?- their voices echoed in unison.
"Let him go back to his cage if he wishes to, and rot to death: else let him fight for freedom in the arena."
A great monster rose before them: belching smoke and gleaming blackly of death, it raced towards Brennan. He stumbled back in alarm before he realized it was still distant, only very large. As he watched the monster, he realized it was following a pair of metal tracks laid onto the ground, winding over the land. Just before Brennan, these tracks split into two separate paths.
Down one of these paths, five of the sombre figures laid across the tracks: on the other track only one lay.
"Pull the lever there," said that lone figure, "and I shall be killed."
"Or do nothing," echoed the other five, "and we five shall be die."
Brennan stared at the lever before him. Then he pulled the lever.
"I am your closest friend and brother-in-law," said Brennan's best friend and brother-in-law.
"You do not like me," said another. "I am a corrupt official, who have taken bribes from villains to let them escape justice. Now you have learned I have proof that your friend has killed a man."