Moonlight danced through the holes in the roof of Saint Rafael’s Chapel. Their shadows flickered over the cracks in the walls and the ruined gates. Crickets chirped and ants scurried across the broken tile floor. The wind sighed through empty rooms with low voices. Honeysuckle vines crept up the garden stones and gave a sweet smell of renewal. Buds poked their way out of the soil in the Old Gardens. Their colors gave the Chapel a strange aura, of being caught between two different times, one living and one dead.
No one dared to venture on the grounds. The country folk believed Saint Rafael himself protected this hallowed ground from wicked men. They claimed to have seen the apparition in the old Scriptorium, gazing at his shelves with his piercing blue eyes. Thieves left the precious books alone; no one wanted to incur the wrath of a saint.
Well, almost no one. Daniel De Leonlac reined in his horse at the bottom of the hill. He looked up the winding path that led to the battered iron gates of the Chapel. The narrow ledge was bordered by sheer cliffs on both sides. Stones rattled off the path and tumbled down the embankment. De Leonlac winced as he heard them shatter on the rocks.
“Gods bless us,” whispered a voice at De Leonlac’s side. Brother Cherill Vilton made the Sign of Warding in front of them, a five-pointed pentacle. He pointed at the empty path with a shaking finger. “Do you see them, Milord?”
De Leonlac glanced at him with a perplexed look. “‘Them’, Brother Vilton?”
“The Guardians, Milord. They say ghosts guard the path to Saint Rafael's.”
“What ghosts?” De Leonlac turned back towards the path and shook his head. Brother Vilton was a Man of the Gods, but he saw evil spirits in every corner. “All I see is fog rising at the edge of the path—
The wisps of fog swirled around them like streams of gray water. De Leonlac’s teeth chattered as icy fingers touched him. A cloud passed over his eyes and hid the path from view. Panic closed his throat as he lost all sense of direction. White and gray, edged with black, the colors of death...
“ Brother Vilton? Cherrill?” He couldn’t see the monk, but he could hear Vilton’s chants and prayers of protection. Then the wind swallowed Vilton’s words and substituted its own.
“Why are you here? Why have you come?”
“You know why I’ve come. Search my heart, and know the Truth.” De Leonlac tried to shout the words, but they came out as a harsh croak. His body trembled as the cold filled him. His knees buckled under him, and he could only lie motionless under the onslaught.
Visions poured into De Leonlac: a warrior in plain brown robes, brandishing a curved blade of unknown design; a red-haired man wearing a silver crown, a purple mountain range under a burnished golden sky, a thick book edged with silver and adorned with strange green letters...
No, not just visions, he realized with a start. Memories. Memories and knowledge. They assaulted his senses with alien smells and tastes, and his skin flushed with sensations he had never experienced before. Strange music echoed within his mind: harp and lyre and flute, both sweet and sorrowful.
The borders of his mind swelled like a balloon close to bursting. He made no move to stem the tide of information; if he resisted, the pressure would kill him. So he tried to make sense of the images that flashed in front of his eyes, and the sounds that reverberated through his head.
Yes, yes, you! You are worthy to change history, said the chorus of voices. You are worthy to learn the tales and bring them to the world.
The fog split into two sections, then four, then eight. Each entity took position on either side of the treacherous path up the hill. Their glow highlighted the holes and cracks like beacons. Time began to flow again, and a warm breeze ruffled De Leonlac’s hair.
He sat up and put a hand to his aching head. So much to remember and comprehend...nausea turned his stomach and he shuddered as sickness racked his body. When he was finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. He squeezed his eyes closed as the storm finally settled. He repeated a mantra, over and over, as a buffer against the pain. I am not these memories; I am Daniel De Leonlac, lord of Rineux and scholar of Tsoratic.
“Milord, are you all right?” Brother Vilton asked as he knelt by De Leonlac’s side. The monk’s eyes were terrified at what he had seen, but his hands were steady as they checked his lord’s breathing and heartbeat.
“Yes, Brother Vilton...I was just...overwhelmed for a moment.” De Leonlac gazed over at the path, and the line of Guardians on either side of it. He felt no malevolence from the spirits, only a sense of quiet patience.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, Milord,” Brother Vilton whispered. He glanced at De Leonlac with a mixture of fear and`awe. “What did you say to them?
“Nothing,” De Leonlac replied with a rueful smile, “but I received their answer. Come, Brother Vilton. We have an appointment.”
Slowly but surely, the two men guided their horses up the circular path. Vilton winced as he heard the stones rattle down the hill and into the crevasse far below them. De Leonlac paid the sounds no mind; for his mind was elsewhere.
Blessed Rafael, forgive my trespass, but desperate times call for desperate measures. He firmly repressed a shudder. The world had changed since the days of Blessed Rafael and his Companions; the memories told him the roles they played in that change. A sense of sadness and anger filled his soul. Then a voice---not his own--- echoed his pain: It was not meant to be like this! We must change the ending of the story.
De Leonlac agreed. We will change it, I swear!
Rust had eaten away at the gates until they bent like young saplings. The lock hung by a single thread of metal. De Leonlac pushed the gates open and made his way across the ruined courtyard. Dust rose as he moved across the broken tiles. Once he crossed into the Chapel’s main foyer, De Leonlac knelt on the ruined mosaic floor and genuflected, pressing his forehead against the stones. When he got back to his feet, he came face to face with a pair of soulful eyes.
“Gods above,” he whispered. His hand went to the knife at his belt. Then he looked again and realized the eyes belonged to a painting of a warrior monk. De Leonlac had never seen the man before, but the new memories told him the name. He glanced at the other paintings, and other names came to him.
Blessed Bard Alunius Panet. Blessed Warrior Raymer Vulour. Blessed Healer Sankram Nandoori. De Leonlac nodded at each painting, as if to the real flesh-and-blood man. Three men of different lands and backgrounds, all united in a common cause. Of course these men were all dead, two centuries and more.
“Milord, I think I’ve found the way to the Scriptorium. Over here."
He followed the sound of Brother Vilton’s voice. The monk stood at the entrance of one of the halls branching off the foyer. Vilton raised his torch high above his head; the firelight illuminated a hand-lettered sign tucked into the corner: Scriptorium Sanctum.
De Leonlac nodded in approval. “Good work, Brother Vilton! Let’s find what we came for.”
All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2011