On the third day of Robot Christmas, our machine overlords gave to me: “Following the Shimmer,” an original short story by James A. Moore set in the same world as his Seven Forges epic fantasy series. Moore is the author of over 20 novels, including the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring recurring anti-hero Jonathan Crowley) and the Seven Forges series: Seven Forges, The Blasted Lands, City of Wonders and The Silent Army (forthcoming). He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and spent three years as an officer in the Horror Writers Association. He cut his teeth in the industry writing for Marvel Comics and authoring over 20 role-playing supplements for White Wolf Games. He lives in Massachusetts. Meet him on Twitter @jamesamoore.
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Following the Shimmer
In a time when most of the Fellein Empire was worrying about how they would survive the devastation brought on by the kings of the Seven Forges, the kingdom of Louron remained calm.
Desh Krohan did not understand why, and so he sent his Sister, Tataya, to discover the reasons. Tataya traveled to Louron, getting there with ease, because as a sorcerer of some skill travel was hardly a challenge. Still, her heart was heavy. One of her closest friends was dead, murdered, and rested in a crypt not far from where she slept. Angry armies were coming for Canhoon to raze the city and kill the people. They could not be negotiated with and they wished to destroy all of Fellein.
She sought a solution, or a chance of escape for the people she knew and loved.
But once she was there she had a harder time learning much of anything. The people of Louron tended to vanish before her eyes. She would approach, she would try to speak and as she moved closer they simply disappeared.
That was often the case with the people of Louron. If they did not want to be seen, they simply could not be found.
Frustrated after a few hours of playing these games, Tataya went home and employed a different tactic. She asked the one person from Louron that she new well.
Most people were terrified of Darsken Murdro. He was a dark-skinned man with heavy braids of hair tied together across his back. He was a solidly built and of a size that could easily intimidate, but none of that was what caused the fear. Most people meeting him would have noticed him for his skin, and upon seeing his pleasant smile decided he was safe enough, until they heard that he was an Inquisitor. The fear came immediately after that. Even those guilty of no crimes feared the Inquisitors, simply because they were relentless and often knew what they should not.
Tataya did not fear Darsken. If they could not be called friends, they could at least be called friendly associates.
“Darsken,” She asked, “why is it that Louron remains free of the Sa’ba Taalor?”
The Inquisitor smiled and looked at her. He had a surprisingly pleasant smile when dealing with people who were not being investigated. “You ask bold questions, Tataya.”
“It is important that I know. The Empress seeks ways to prevent the gray-skins from taking our world apart. As you can see, they have proved devastating.” A simple gesture told the truth of her words. Cities destroyed and the whole of Trecharch in flames. A country lost to the enemy.
She did not speak of the other favors she had recently asked, some of which were very much against the laws of the Empire. Had Darsken wished her harm he could have already put her in manacles. Well, provided she did not fight back. Fair to say their relationship was complex.
They met on the roof of Darsken’s private apartment, where he had decorated for pleasant weather, and he gestured for her to join him on a stone bench.
“What is done to protect Louron cannot help the rest of the Empire. The sorceries are old and sustain themselves without our aid.”
“What sorceries do you speak of, Darsken?” Tataya leaned in close and as with most men he was drawn to her beauty.
“Louron is blessed with the Shimmer, my lady. It is not something we can share.”
“What is the Shimmer?” Tataya frowned.
For a moment Darsken grew very grim and when he spoke there was no sign of his usual smile. “Tataya, I will say this to you and to no other and I need your vow that you will share it with no one, not even your Sisters or Desh Krohan.”
It was not a statement he made lightly and she knew that, just as she knew that she would agree out of necessity. The requests she had made were deadly secrets that only he shared. She could not disagree to his terms and expect her secrets to be kept safely.
She swore on her name and on her love of her family and Darsken nodded and accepted her vow.
“The Shimmer is the magic of my people, and of Louron. It is what has kept us safe for centuries. Close your eyes, Tataya, and I will share the tale with you.”
There were many men where, if asked to close her eyes and wait, Tataya would have been cautious. Here she relaxed, even as his hands touched her face.
“When I was a child my grandmother showed me the Shimmer for the first time….”
Tataya’s eyes stayed closed, but she saw images just the same. She looked down and saw her hands were smaller and the color of a fine mahogany table. She looked around and saw the familiar sands of Louron and the nearly endless streams that left little but islands for the people to walk on. Here waters mingled, the ocean and the rivers. Here, people enjoyed warm weathers the year round, and fished for what they ate. There was little by way of commerce and almost no crops grew, but there were always grains and fresh fruit.
“I asked my grandmother how we always had fresh fruits and other foods that never grew in the area, because I knew we did not often deal with outsiders. Those few I met tended to leave as quickly as they could.” Darsken’s voice filled her head even as she looked to see the image of a thin, stoop shouldered old woman with hair that was completely white and skin even darker than the color of Darsken’s. The lady’s features were withered and her flesh was very thin. She was ancient, her face a map of wrinkles, but she had a wonderful smile that warmed Tataya.
“We have always followed the Shimmer, Darsken. It leads us in many things and shows us endless secrets.”
The grandmother took his hand and started walking and, of course, he followed her. His grandmother was very wise and she told the best stories.
“Here we walk in sacred places, Darsken. Here we walk where few have ever been and few will ever go.”
Tataya heard the words and knew them for truth. She felt her stomach flutter with excitement, for what is the world to a sorcerer but a puzzle that should be solved?
Though she had little control of her body—for really, this was only a memory from another, shared and held as sacred—she could see around her and she studied all that she could see.
“The Shimmer, do you see it, my boy?” Tataya felt her head nodding and for a second was puzzled, but then she saw what the old woman spoke of. It was a difficult thing to see as it was elusive and she felt that whatever the Shimmer was, it preferred to stay a secret.
There were currents in the air, thin and edged with a silvery sheen. Within that edge of silver the air was different, distorted, almost as if she looked at the mirages of heat pockets along the shoreline on a summer day, only they were in the air and not hiding in the sand dunes.
In each of those spots, each layer of the Shimmer, she could see different things within the distortions.
“We are blessed here, with the Shimmer, a thousand worlds within our reach, each different and spectacular. Each offering wonders and dangers alike.”
His grandmother led Darsken/Tataya through one of the waves of the Shimmer, and his body felt a powerful tingle as he was moved along.
“In time, you will learn to walk here by yourself, but for now I will guide you, my boy.”
When they had moved through the field, Darsken looked around and Tataya felt his awe. The old woman gestured and Darsken saw a vast plain of uneven ground. It was hot and dry in a way he had never experienced in his young life and in the far distance he could see dark red mountains that brooded in the heat. Rising from those mountains were several thick columns of shattered crystal that glimmered like ice in the sun. There was a village in the distance but was so far away that he could barely make out the people walking there.
Before he could ask any questions, his grandmother moved along, sliding through another wave of the tingling Shimmer.
They stood in a city filled with people dressed in clothes he had never seen before. They had heavy coats on their bodies and hats the like of which he had never seen, with narrow brims and tall tops. The air was bitterly cold and everything around him was covered in a thick layer of snow. The people were smiling, and as far as he could see the roads were festooned with decorations. Trees were lit with hundreds of lights, and not far away a gathering of people moved slowly down the street singing a song that made no sense to him. The words were unknown, but the song was joyous and he felt himself smile.
A moment later and they were back in Louron.
“The Shimmer is our secret, my boy. It is our safety. No one can ever attack us here. And even if they find a way, there are countless places where we can hide.”
Tataya’s vision blurred for a moment and then snapped into sharp focus. Darsken moved his hands away from her face and smiled sheepishly. “It is draining to share so much,” he apologized.
The Sister smiled and captured his hands, holding them in hers for a moment and kissing the tips of his fingers. She had never seen another world. Never even given the notion much consideration, but now, her mind swirled with wonderful, chaotic thoughts of what might lay beyond the Fellein Empire.
“I’ll never tell anyone, Darsken.”
“I know this about you, Tataya. You have a good soul.”
She rose from the bench and looked at her world. To the south volcanoes raged. To the north a great scar ran across the land. None of these things had ever existed before the Sa’ba Taalor came along to change the world.
There were places where war did not darken the skies. Where people sang with joy in celebration of their gods or at least their holy days.
Not far away at all, only a few days by horse or a few hours if she flew, Louron rested, undisturbed by the growing madness of a war as large as Fellein had ever seen. Within Louron the Shimmer lay, hidden and wondrous. In that thought Tataya found hope again.