The youngest minister at the Temple of the Creator lay awake staring out his window at the moonlit gardens below. The breezes of the night flowing through his chambers caressed his senses with the aromas of the evening tide mixed with night blooming flora. He could tell by the position of the moon and stars that it was well past midnight. He could also see light from lamps suddenly being lit in the High Priest's quarters across the gardens.
A sudden, compelling urge came to him. He slipped from his bed and knelt by the window. He stretched out his right hand towards the High Priest's Chambers and began to fervently pray. The more he prayed, the more urgently he felt the need. He soon began to feel tightness in his chest, left shoulder and arm. He realized what was happening instantly.
His empathic abilities had been a strong trait since his early childhood. He had been taught to enhance and control the gift during his apprenticeship in the wizard's keep. Using the mental techniques that were now second nature to him, he sealed his mind to the High Priest's pain, concentrating his prayers on the information he had gained.
Moments later, the urgent need for prayer passed. The young priest relaxed, but continued to pray. A knock at his door put a stop to that, however. He rose, rather stiffly, and noticed briefly that by the positioning of the stars that he had been praying for two hours. He opened the door to a bleary-eyed page caught in the act of yawning.
"I beg pardon, sir," the boy stammered, red-faced. "The High Priest requests your presence immediately."
"It is an unusual hour for an audience, young man. Are you certain the Falholwyn wants to see me now?"
"You are Minister K'Laad, Master of Novices and Instructor of Theology?" the boy asked uncertainly. He was new to the temple and would be embarrassed and, no doubt reprimanded, for a mistake at this time of the night.
"I am," the priest replied. He understood the boy's confusion and mistrust as he was the youngest to ever hold those titles. Indeed, some of the novice priests were close in age to him.
"The message was quite specific, sir," the page confirmed. "In truth, I was told to stress that time is crucial. You are to go as fast as possible to the Falholwyn's personal chambers."
K'Laad closed the door behind him and hurried through the building to the doors of the High Priest's private chambers. The sentries that should have been guarding the doors were nowhere to be seen. He knocked softly on the ornately carved doors in front of him.
"The Falholwyn is very ill," the sentry said quietly as he opened the door. "Oh, it is you Minister, I do beg your pardon. Please come in quickly."
"Can you tell me…?" K'Laad began.
"I know only that the Falholwyn sent for you, Minister," the man replied. "Go to him now," he added, indicating the door to the bedchamber.
K'Laad opened the door and stepped inside and was immediately met by another sentry. This one said nothing, but motioned the young priest closer to the bed. As he stepped up onto the platform and into the curtained bed area, he saw that the Falholwyn already had two visitors. One he expected to see; Minister C'Tian, the Temple healer. The other was a surprise. Seated next to the High Priest's bed was the only other priest older than the Falholwyn; Minister M'Selah, the Temple Historian and Chief Archivist. K'Laad bowed to the two men as was proper, for their stations were higher than any other in the Temple but the Falholwyn. To his surprise, they returned the gesture. That was unheard of. He was well below their station.
"K'Laad, come closer, son of my heart," a weak voice called from the bed. "I would see and speak with you while I can."
"Please don't waste your precious breath with me, Holy Father," K'Laad protested. "You need your rest."
"Rest will not serve me now," the old man replied. "I am nearly gone and will soon have rest forever. I must name the next Falholwyn, however."
"Your son should be here any moment," K'Laad told him. The office of High Priest had always been inherited from one's father. The High Priest's Son should be in the room to receive his father's blessing and official calling. "I will stay near if that is your wish."
"My successor is here now," the old man told him. K'Laad looked to the two men beside the bed, but they said nothing. "K'Laad, Master of Novices, Minister of Theology, I, X'Viir, Falholwyn of the Temple of the Creator do hereby declare you to be my Son and Heir. You are the son of my heart and far dearer to me than the spawn of my loins. Peace, Wisdom and Justice of the Creator abide in you always," the old man whispered.
"Master X'Viir, I cannot accept this," K'Laad protested. "I am unworthy of such a calling."
"Do you doubt the will of the Creator?" the old man countered, sounding surprisingly stronger suddenly. "Or is it my decree that you defy? Do you question my devotion to the Creator in following the commands my heart and mind have received?"
"But your son….." K'Laad started.
"You are the son that my heart loves," the old man insisted. He began coughing again and the healer leaned nearby. The old man waved him away. "K'Laad, you are the one person who can unite the faith with the faithless in this land, only you can you lead the Armies of the Creator in the war that comes, and only you can bring them into the peace to come. You must teach the realm that all are equal parts of the creation just as they are. Powers are given by the Creator, some are powerful in faith, some in other ways, as you well know and are, but only you can show the balance of faith and powers once known as dark and evil, just as you have shown them here in this temple," the priest said pointedly.
"I do not understand, your holiness," K'Laad said aloud, but his words did not reflect his thoughts.
"You do, my son," the old man whispered. "In your heart, you know of what I speak. You were made by the Creator as you are. Those differences you have so long hidden must be revealed and celebrated. You have lived the life you have to fit the mold created by ignorant men such as myself and my ancestors. Now it is time to set about the task He has set before you. Ignore not the desires of your heart, nor the gifts and powers within you, my son. Embrace them as you would embrace the Creator himself, for it is He who made you. Only by embracing yourself completely can you achieve the Creator's intent for you. Open your mind to what your heart and the Creator tell you so that you may find your soul mate; be open to his heart as his will be open to you. You will be the greatest of all those to hold the Holy Seat," he added as he held K'Laad's hand in his own.
"You said his soul mate is a man. How can that be?" Master M'Selah asked. "How will such a union produce heirs to the Holy Seat?"
"I must confess to my heir the sins that only he can absolve," the dying man said quietly, ignoring his old friend's question, and actually sitting up in the bed, against the protests of the three men around him. He looked up into the eyes of the young man he had just named as the next leader of his faith. "May the Peace, Wisdom and Justice of the Creator be upon you and flow through you to this one who is dying," he quoted.
"May the mercy and love of the Creator give you rest, X'Viir, Son of R'Thyr, Son of L'Viin," K'Laad also quoted from the prayers of the Creator and from his memory. "You have led your people through times of peace and turmoil. Let your rest now be complete."
"Forgive me the sins of my weak and foolish flesh, your holiness," the old man whispered, his voice beginning to gain strength more by the moment. "In my own arrogance have I raised up a child unfit for the life he should have had at my death. He is willful, spoiled, and dangerous. His heart is dark, and his path is not to lead the faith. As I leave this life, I see my own role in making him the monster that he has become. I taught him the lies that I had been taught, rather than searching out the truth and instilling in him a desire to be a better man than I have been. In my own ignorance, I did fail to see the love and fellowship offered by people such as my chosen heir. In my stubbornness, I have refused them the comfort and peace of the Temple of the Creator, which is theirs as any other being brought forth by the Creator in this realm. My chosen heir was accepted to our order without my knowledge of his attractions and desires, or his great power. Once I learned of them, I had already learned that he is and will be a great man and a great leader of our faith. He is a man I am proud to call my son, and honored to name as my successor."
Here X'Viir slowly sank back onto his pillows. The man looked as if he visibly aged right before the eyes of those beside his bed. He sighed, and continued in a very soft and sad voice, as he reached out to once again take K'Laad's hand in his own. "The regret I feel over how I have raised the son of my loins is only a shadow of my regret that I did not tell the son of my heart how I felt about him until it was too late." K'Laad wiped tears from his face as he felt the icy cold hand of his high priest slip from his fingers. The dying man coughed and wheezed for a moment before summoning the last of his strength to finish his confession. "Let my choice of heir to the Holy Seat of the Creator's Chosen atone for all these sins, and may I find peace and rest at the Creator's side in the realm to come."
K'Laad gasped suddenly as a feeling such as he had never experienced before swept over and through him. It was akin to the first time he had successfully cast while training with the wizards as a child. He recognized it as a manifestation of great power and great responsibility being bestowed upon him. He sat up straighter and began quoting the required response. "I absolve you of these your sins, X'Viir, by the power and authority of the Holy Seat of the Chosen of the Temple of the Creator. May the rest and peace and joy of the Creator be yours in the realm to come." K'Laad reached out and touched his thumb to the old man's forehead which was already growing cold. "Sleep well, father of my heart. I will miss you far more than the father of my birth."
"How dare you desecrate the final oaths of the Falholwyn," Master M'Selah snapped. "X'Viir may now never know peace, you vile usurper."
"Did you not witness the Falholwyn name Master K'Laad as his son and heir?" Master C'Tian cried out. "You speak of desecration in the very act of dishonor and blasphemy."
"My brothers, now is not the time or place for this discussion," K'Laad interrupted. "We must see to the memorial of our beloved brother."
"You forget your station, boy," M'Selah snarled. "I will take no orders from you."
"I gave no orders, I merely pointed out that the body of our former Falholwyn must be attended to," K'Laad said patiently. "Send for X'Viir's son; he should know of his father's passing. You will most likely find him in one of the brothels of the city."
"You dare speak so of your Falholwyn," M'Selah demanded.
"I dare to speak so of him, for as you have witnessed yourself, I was named Falholwyn, not V'Tar," K'Laad said firmly. "I did not ask for the blessing of the Falholwyn. You are also witness to my begging otherwise."
"You had the responsibility to refuse," M'Selah said coldly. "He was clearly not in his right mind at death."
"M'Selah, you have known X'Viir since he was born, and I have known him since he was Master of Novices and I a Novice. How have you heard him speak of V'Tar these last years since the boy became a man? Was it not the voice of a man who has known nothing but shame from his own son?" C'Tian asked softly.
"Of a truth it was," M'Selah admitted sadly. "But the traditions…"
"And what has his voice and face shown as he has watched K'Laad's miraculous, yet never undeserved, ascent through the ranks of our brethren? Was it not always from the first time he saw K'Laad, the voice of a proud father who rejoiced in the accomplishments of a good and faithful son?"
"But he was not a son," M'Selah tried to protest, but his voice betrayed the fact that he knew the other man was right. "Pray brother, do not bother to remind me that he claimed K'Laad as his son before naming him as successor. I was here listening too, you know."
"Minister M'Selah, you now have the responsibility to record all the events that happened within this room," K'Laad pointed out. "As you reflect over them, may the Creator bless you with his wisdom and knowledge. Of all the Masters of the Temple, I have revered only you with the same esteem I gave Master X'Viir. I thought of you, if not as a father, then as a beloved uncle, a guide to pattern my own ministry after. I have striven to follow in your footsteps as I truly believe that the foundations of faith are to be learned from the words the Creator shared with the Atha Falholwyn, our First High Priest. Despite the changing of our language through the many centuries, I believe that X'Viir was right. It is long past time that this Temple and this faith be shared with all the creation, not only the wealthy and devout, but also those that narrow-minded and corrupt priests have sought to exclude for their own ends. I beg of you to consider what you have heard and seen tonight before you blindly follow traditions that may not best serve the Temple."
"I never knew you regarded me so," M'Selah responded softly, his surprise evident in both his face and words. He bowed his head in thought for a moment before continuing. "Your words touch my heart, and I will do as you say. If, however, my faith leads me to oppose you…."
"If you oppose me after prayerful thought has been given to the words you heard from X'Viir's own lips tonight, then I will step down from the Holy Seat at once," K'Laad told the old man. "This is my holy and sacred vow which I take with you both as my witnesses."
"I will bear you witness, Falholwyn," Master C'Tian said firmly from the bedside where he still stood.
"I will bear you witness," Master M'Selah swore. "I beg your indulgence that I do not call you by that title which I have not assured myself is yours."
"I would pray that it always be so between you and I that you feel free to call me K'Laad, and I would call you friend, no matter where your faith journey leads you to stand," K'Laad said as he held out his hand to the old man. M'Selah took it hesitantly, but the grip was firm as they shook.
"May you remember those words all my life," the old man said with a sincere smile.
"I shall never forget them all the days of your life or mine," K'Laad assured him.
"Master, do you remark how he begs indulgence from a Falholwyn he refuses to acknowledge," Master C'Tian said after the older priest had left the room. "If he opposes your appointment, your cause will surely be lost."
"If he opposes me, then I have no cause to lose," K'Laad told him. "I have made a vow to him, and I will honor it, even if it means that I hand over the Temple to the Dark One himself."
"Master, you must not!" the healer gasped in horror. "X'Viir did name you over his birth son. I will bear witness of it to the end of my days."
"Will you, Master C'Tian?" K'Laad asked turning to face the man. "Will you even if it means the end of your life?"
"V'Tar may well be a drunkard and corrupter of virtue, but surely you don't think him a murderer?" C'Tian returned.
"Although younger than you, my friend, my experiences in this life have taught me that I must never underestimate the evil that is in this realm and most especially that which is within these holy walls," K'Laad answered grimly.
It didn't take long for word to spread that the Falholwyn had joined the Creator in eternal peace, nor did the news of his chosen and blessed successor travel slowly through the temple. Ministers and Priests, Novices and Pages, all were soon drawn into conversations, some hushed and some not, as to whom they would serve. Many were clear on their devotion to the traditions of the temple; V'Tar must be Falholwyn after his father. Others were just as outspoken in their dedication to the named and blessed successor. The greatest majority, however, had no opinion voiced on the matter. As for the two men most in question, K'Laad had withdrawn into his chambers and was reported to be in prayer and meditation, V'Tar, on the other hand, had still not been found even as the time for morning prayers neared.
"Holy Father, you must lead the Temple in prayers," C'Tian whispered as he entered K'Laad's chambers. "The time is almost at hand."
"I will not assume a role that I am not yet supported in, Master C'Tian," the young Minister replied. "You must ask Master M'Selah to lead the prayers."
"I support you, Holy Father," C'Tian countered. "I will bear witness to all that was said and done in the Falholwyn's chambers last evening."
"I thank you for your devotion, Master C'Tian, but I feel that Master M'Selah's wisdom is needed on this day of troublesome doubts and fears, as well as pain and loss at the succession of Master X'Viir to the Creator," K'Laad told his older friend. "If I know anything about Master M'Selah, it is that he will not have spent this night idle. He will no doubt have searched not only his own soul, but the great archives of the temple as well. He will surely know his answer now, and by sharing that answer with others in morning prayers, our dilemma will be set."
"Will the dilemma not be settled then, if he sides with you?" C'Tian asked.
"Would that it was so, my friend, would that it were so," K'Laad said sadly. "Go and seek out Master M'Selah. I will join you in the temple."
There were mixed whispers of shock, dismay, and reverence all as K'Laad entered the Holy Temple that morning. He had not changed his garments to reflect that he was the Falholwyn. He took his usual place at the front of the novices amidst their whispers of admiration, or derision, for their mentor. Master M'Selah took the podium at the front of the great hall and a hush fell over the crowded room.
"Master X'Viir fell grievously ill in the middle of the night last evening," the ancient man began. "Master C'Tian and I were summoned immediately, but to no avail. Our beloved friend and Falholwyn has joined the Creator." There were widespread murmurs of grief at this news. "As is the custom of our temple, Master X'Viir was obliged to name his successor before he left us. That successor is, as many of you have already heard, not the person we have seen named historically. Mark my words well all who hear them this day. I have spent the remaining hours since my dear friend and Falholwyn's passing searching my soul and my heart and more importantly the archives of the temple. You all know that only for the direst occasion would I forego my night's rest at my advanced and antiquated age." There were a few scattered soft laughs in the great hall before the old man continued. "I can now say with certainty that the named and blessed successor is, without doubt, our true Falholwyn." The temple erupted in pandemonium for a few seconds before M'Selah could continue. "The words of the Creator in the archives of his temple are clear that the Falholwyn chooses his heir with the help of the Creator, and blesses that man as his successor. He then confesses his sins to the new Falholwyn. All of this I witnessed with my own eyes, as did Master C'Tian. Brothers, I present to you our new Falholwyn……"
"Thank you for that rousing welcome, brother archivist." All eyes turned to the back of the room and watched as V'Tar boldly swept into the room, wearing garments which closely resembled those of the Falholwyn, yet he did not have quite the right regalia specific to the office. Those were in the hands of M'Selah at the front of the great hall.
"I did not welcome you, V'Tar, nor do I," M'Selah corrected. "You may be the son of my old and dear friend, but my patience for you and your mockery of our faith came to an end as did his life in the late hours of last night. Had you not been violating the vows of your faith and your marriage at the time, I've no doubt you still would have found some excuse not to attend your father at his passing. You paid him little heed when he lived and even less as he died."
"Nevertheless, old man, I am here now, and I am his son, therefore I am the Falholwyn," V'Tar sneered. "I need no approval of any in this room to take my rightful place."
"You left your rightful place, the gutters of the city, to dress and come here and make a fool of yourself and to mock our faith yet again," Master C'Tian called out.
"Peace," K'Laad whispered, yet somehow his voice carried to all in the room and silenced them. "V'Tar, my heart grieves with you the loss of our father."
"Our father?" V'Tar spat in disgust. "My father had but one son, and I deny your claim to his office."
"Before both the Master Healer and the Master Archivist did our father claim me as his son and name and bless me as his successor," K'Laad returned. "I am now the Falholwyn, and it is you who are denied as willful and spoiled, by your own father's dying breaths. He said then and I say now, that you are unfit for the office of Falholwyn. Kneel and seek forgiveness for the years of your arrogance and misdeeds and you shall be allowed to remain in our fold to truly learn our faith."
"Your faith?" V'Tar laughed sarcastically. "What care I for your ridiculous faith? It is the power of the chosen that is to be taken and used. We should rule this realm, not serve it. We are the Masters, they are the sheep to be led."
"Your blasphemy, though unsurprising to me, is unwelcome in this place of faith," M'Selah told V'Tar. He carried the regalia of the Falholwyn with him as he knelt before K'Laad and said loudly. "I pledge my support, my strength, my wisdom, and my heart to the one that has been named and blessed, K'Laad, son of X'Viir and of Kreiel and Tallious." He stood and placed the holy cloak over K'Laad's shoulders, and placed the holy seal of the chosen on his hand. Then he did something that shocked and surprised all in the room. He called out and a boy, the same boy that had come to K'Laad's chambers the night before stepped from the shadows holding a long object covered by a cloth. M'Selah took the object from the boy and held it aloft speaking a prayer of blessing on it and then going on to utter words that no one except K'Laad seemed to recognize. The Master archivist then unwrapped the cloth and bowed deeply before K'Laad, holding what was now revealed to be a wizard's staff out to its true owner.
"What have you done, Master M'Selah?" K'Laad questioned with a trembling voice. "How did you come by that staff? You, boy, come quickly. Let me see your hands."
"I have followed the dying wishes of my oldest, dearest, and truest friend," M'Selah responded. "The boy is unharmed as I instructed him carefully as to the handling of the object of power." Seeing the shocked look on the younger man's face, he admitted in a whisper that only he, K'Laad, and the boy could hear, "All libraries have a restricted section, K'Laad, even our holy one." The old man then actually grinned, looking for all the realm like a naughty boy who had successfully raided the cookie jar. In a louder and more serious tone of voice, he continued. "X'Viir's last command to you, his successor, was that you unite the faith with the faithless outside these walls. He said that you alone were the only man who could do such a thing. In order to do this, you must first unite the warring parts of your own soul. You are the Falholwyn, K'Laad, but you are also a Wizard. You were born with two great gifts, my young friend, both of which you have sought to serve and develop at different times of your life. The time has come for you to embrace them together."
K'Laad reached out a trembling hand and took hold of his Wizard's Staff. The stone at the top of the staff glowed brightly for a moment, nearly blinding all those in the hall. Exclamations of shock and protest erupted all around the room.
"Now we see the truth, my brothers!" V'Tar yelled out. "Do you now doubt his usurping machinations? He is a Wizard. He has lied to us all. Spurn him and throw him out of our holy order!"
"Does the pot not call the kettle black, V'Tar?" C'Tian retorted loudly. "You have broken the vows of your order by using the political power of your father's name and office both within these walls and without. You make a mockery of your marital vows by drunken cavorting through the streets of the city with numberless women of ill repute. Now does the liar call the lie of another grievous?"
"K'Laad has not lied to us," M'Selah announced. "I, as his Master of Novices, knew full well of his past training with the wizards. I knew of the emptiness he sought to fill by leaving their keep and coming here to us, to take and honor our vows as his own. I have seen him serve our Creator with greater devotion than any other I have known in all my years. I also know of his other, more personal vows, taken within his own heart and kept with his body, despite the comfort and relief he could no doubt have often taken to ease his sufferings."
"Yet another reason he is unfit to serve as Falholwyn," V'Tar snapped. "He is unwed. Our traditions dictate…."
"Our traditions are just that, V'Tar," M'Selah interrupted. "There is nothing in the true writings of the Atha Falholwyn to demand that he, or any of us, be wed or unwed. His will, and that of the Creator, is that the Falholwyn, as with any other priest, be the master of his desires. In your own life, V'Tar have we seen the result of the opposite, that of the servant to desires. Your greed, your lust, they are your masters and they have driven you to this judgment against you by the hand of your own father. Woe to you that you brought such shame and regret to him that the Creator has chosen to end your family's lineage with you."
"What do you mean, Master M'Selah?" someone asked.
"Deny it if you will, V'Tar, but I will bear witness against you," C'Tian called out. "It is I that told you the tidings. Your overuse of wine and potions has left you barren. Neither your wife, nor any other woman, will ever bear you a child."
"Does that not mean that V'Tar is unfit for the office of Falholwyn as well?" one of the novices asked.
"There have been others that have served the Creator in that office, yet were unable to produce children," M'Selah answered. "There are conditions of the body that can make a man so, is that not true, C'Tian?"
"It is," the healer confirmed. "It is sometimes the Creator's will that both men and women be unable to provide in such a way for the birth of a child. Some are born that way, made by the Creator in such a manner, but this is not the case with V'Tar. I warned him years ago of the dangers of his use of the potions to be had in the brothels and taverns of the city. He remained unswayed by my words and continued to seek the pleasures of the moment."
"I do not have to stand here and have my body's weaknesses discussed in public," V'Tar snorted.
"You are welcome then to leave," K'Laad said with a grim and determined look. "Know this, though, should you leave, you will never return to these holy halls while you draw breath."
"Threats from he who would be Falholwyn?" V'Tar sneered.
"I am the Falholwyn and I do not need to make threats, nor do I need to use dark powers to call down the justice of the Creator on one who has openly denied the faith, and blasphemed against the Creator," K'Laad replied. "Would that you and I could be brothers and bring honor together to our father. You have but one last chance to turn from your disbelief and doom, V'Tar."
"I will have the power of my father's office, if I must kill you to do it," V'Tar roared angrily. There was a collective gasp of horror from the majority of the men and boys in the great hall. No one had ever dared to speak such violence openly in the Temple in living memory.
"Our father's memory is tarnished by your arrogance and evil, Vetar," K'Laad said sadly. "It is with a truly heavy heart for the pain you caused a great and loving man that I banish you, Vetar, from this hall and from the fellowship of the brotherhood of this faith. May the Creator's justice be swift upon you should you ever try to enter His Holy Temple by force or deceit. I give you the one chance that should you truly grieve for your loss and honestly seek the true fellowship of the Creator, you will be allowed to return."
"As my proper calling of Falholwyn?"
"No, Vetar, if you enter this temple again, you will be returning as a page and you will be required to prove your worthiness to advance your rank as would any other. To do else would be unfair to those who have worked and earned their places in the service of the Creator."
"You have declared war between you and me," Vetar warned.
"The declaration is from you," K'Laad corrected. "The acceptance is mine. If war is what you wish, war you will get, as our father predicted with his last breaths." He turned slowly, looking at each of the faces in the great hall. "Choose you all now, whom you will follow. The Creator's intent will not be an easy task to achieve, but to oppose it is doom." Vetar and a few of the Masters, as well as some of the Priests, Novices and Pages stormed out of the hall angrily. Others stayed but looked apprehensive. The remaining group surged around K'Laad, kneeling and pledging their vows to him.