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Finally, a child may be born to the rarest of all the Mysteries, the Mystery of Life. The thaumaturgist, or catalyst, is the dealer in magic, though he does not possess it in great measure himself. It is the catalyst, as his name implies, who takes the Life from the earth and the air; from fire and water, and, by assimilating it within his own body, is able to enhance it and transfer it to the magi who can use it.
--Forging the Darksword
Saryon, now somewhere in his sixties or seventies, as reckoned by Earth time, lived very quietly in a small flat in Oxford, England. He was uncertain of the year of his birth in Thimhallan, and thus I, who write this story out for him, cannot provide his exact age. Saryon never did adapt well to the concept of Earth time relative to Thimhallan time. History has meaning only to those who are its products and time is but a means of measuring history, whether it be the history of the past moment or the history of the past billion moments. For Saryon, as for so many of those who came to Earth from the once-magical land of Thimhallan, time began in another realm--a beautiful, wondrous, fragile bubble of a realm. Time ended when that bubble burst, when Joram pricked it with the Darksword.
Saryon had no need for measuring time anyway. The catalyst (though no longer required in this world, that is how he always termed himself) had no appointments, kept no calendar, rarely watched the evening news, met no one for lunch. I was his amanuensis, or so he was pleased to call me. I preferred the less formal term of secretary. I was sent to Saryon by command of Prince Garald.
I had been a servant in the Prince's household and was supposed to have been Saryon's servant, too, but this he would not allow. The only small tasks I was able to perform for him were those I could sneak in before he was aware of it or those which I wrested from him by main force.
I would have been a catalyst myself, had our people not been banished from Thimhallan. I had very little magic in me when I left that world as a child, and none at all now after living for twenty years in the world of the mundane. But I do have a gift for words and this was one reason my prince sent me to Saryon. Prince Garald deemed it essential that the story of the Darksword be told. In particular, he hoped that by reading these tales, the people of Earth would come to understand the exiled people of Thimhallan.
I wrote three books, which were immensely well received by the populace of Earth, less well received among my own kind. Who among us likes to look upon himself and see that his life was one of cruel waste and overindulgence, greed, selfishness, and rapacity? I held a mirror to the people of Thimhallan. They looked into it and did not like the ugly visage that glared back at them. Instead of blaming themselves, they blamed the mirror.
My master and I had few visitors. He had decided to pursue his study of mathematics, which was one reason that he had moved from the relocation camps to Oxford, in order to be near the libraries connected with that ancient and venerable university. He did not attend classes, but had a tutor, who came to the flat to instruct him. When it became apparent that the teacher had nothing more to teach and that, indeed, the teacher was learning from the pupil, the tutor ceased to make regular visits, although she still dropped by occasionally for tea.
This was a calm and blessed time in Saryon's tumultuous life, for--although he does not say so--I can see his face light when he speaks of it and I hear a sadness in his voice, as if regretting that such a peaceful existence could not have lasted until middle age faded, like comfortable jeans, into old age, from thence to peaceful eternal sleep.
That was not to be, of course, and that brings me to the evening that seems to me, looking back on it, to be the first pearl to slide off the broken string, the pearls that were days of Earth time and that would start falling faster and faster from that night on until there would be no more pearls left, only the empty string and the clasp that once held it together. And those would be tossed away, as useless.
Saryon and I were pottering about his flat late that night, putting on the teakettle, an act which always reminded him--so he was telling me--of another time when he'd picked up a teakettle and it wasn't a teakettle. It was Simkin.
We had just finished listening to the news on the radio. As I said, Saryon had not up until now been particularly interested in the news of what was happening on Earth, news which he always felt had little to do with him. But this news appeared, unfortunately, to have more to do with him than he or anyone else wanted and so he paid attention to it.
The war with Hch'nyv was not going well. The mysterious aliens, who had appeared so suddenly, with such deadly intent, had conquered yet another one of our colonies. Refugees, arriving back on Earth, told terrible tales of the destruction of their colony, reported innumerable casualties, and stated that the Hch'nyv had no desire to negotiate. They had, in fact, slain those sent to offer the colony's surrender. The objective of the Hch'nyv appeared to be the annihilation and eradication of every human in the galaxy.
This was somber news. We were discussing it when I saw Saryon jump, as if he had been startled by some sudden noise, though I myself heard nothing.
"I must go to the front door," he said. "Someone's there."
Saryon, who is reading the manuscript, stops me at this point to tell me, somewhat testily, that I should break here and elaborate on the story of Joram and Simkin and the Darksword or no one will understand what is to come.
I reply that if we backtrack and drag our readers along that old trail with us (a trail most have walked themselves already!) we would likely lose more than a few along the way. I assure him that the past will unfold as we go along. I hint gently that I am a skilled journalist, with some experience in this field. I remind him that he was fairly well satisfied with the work I'd done on the first three books, and I beg him to allow me to return to this story.
Being essentially a very humble man, who finds it overwhelming that his memoirs should be considered so important that Prince Garald had hired me to record them, Saryon readily acknowledges my skill in this field and permits me to continue.
"How odd," Saryon remarked. "I wonder who is here at this time of night?"
I wondered why they did not ring the doorbell, as any normal visitor would do. I indicated as much.
"They have rung it," Saryon said softly. "In my mind, if not my ears. Can't you hear it?"
I could not, but this was not surprising. Having lived most of his life in Thimhallan, he was far more attuned to the mysteries of its magicks than I, who had been only five when Saryon rescued me, an orphan, from the abandoned Font.
Saryon had just lit the flame beneath the teakettle, preparatory to heating water for a bedtime tisane which we both enjoyed and which he insisted on making for me. He turned from the kettle to stare at the door and, like so many of us, instead of going immediately to answer it or to look through the window to see who was there, he stood in the kitchen in his nightshirt and slippers and wondered again aloud.
"Who could be wanting to see me at this time of night?"
Hope's wings caused his heart to flutter. His face flushed with anticipation. I, who had served him so long, knew exactly what he was thinking.
Many years ago (twenty years ago, to be precise, although I doubt if he himself had any concept of the passage of so much time), Saryon had said good-bye to two people he loved. He had neither seen nor heard from those two in all this time. He had no reason to think that he should ever hear from them again, except that Joram had promised, when they parted, that when his son was of age, he should send that son to Saryon.
Now, whenever the doorbell rang or the knocker knocked, Saryon envisioned Joram's son standing on the doorstoop. Saryon pictured that child with his father's long, curling black hair, but lacking, hopefully, his father's red-black inner fire.
The psychic demand for Saryon to go to the front door came again, this time with such a forceful intensity and impatience that I myself was aware of it--a startling sensation for me. Had the doorbell in fact been sounding, I could envision the person leaning on the button. There were lights on in the kitchen, which could be seen from the street, and whoever was out there, mentally issuing us commands, knew that Saryon and I were home.
Jolted out of his reverie by the second command, Saryon shouted, "I'm coming," which statement had no hope of being heard through the thick door that led from the kitchen.
Retiring to his bedroom, he grabbed his flannel robe, put it on over his nightshirt. I was still dressed, having never developed a liking for nightshirts. He walked hastily back through the kitchen, where I joined him. We went from there through the living room and out of the living room into the small entryway. He turned on the outside light, only to discover that it didn't work.
"The bulb must have burned out," he said, irritated. "Turn on the hall light."
I flipped the switch. It did not work either.
Strange, that both bulbs should have chosen this time to burn out.
"I don't like this, Master," I signed, even as Saryon was unlocking the door, preparing to open it.
I had tried many times to convince Saryon that, in this dangerous world, there might be those who would do him harm, who would break into his house, rob and beat him, perhaps even murder him. Thimhallan may have had its faults, but such sordid crimes were unknown to its inhabitants, who feared centaurs and giants, dragons and faeries and peasant revolts, not hoodlums and thugs and serial killers.
"Look through the peephole," I admonished.
"Nonsense," Saryon returned. "It must be Joram's child. And how could I see him through the peephole in the dark?"
Picturing a baby in a basket on our doorstoop (he had, as I said, only the vaguest notion of time), Saryon flung open the door.
We did not find a baby. What we saw was a shadow darker than night standing on the doorstoop, blotting out the lights of our neighbors, blotting out the light of the stars.
The shadow coalesced into a person dressed in black robes, who wore a black cowl pulled up over the head. All I could see of the person by the feeble light reflected from the kitchen far behind me were two white hands, folded correctly in front of the black robes, and two eyes, glittering.
Saryon recoiled. He pressed his hand over his heart, which had stopped fluttering, very nearly stopped altogether. Fearful memories leapt out of the darkness brought on us by the black-clothed figure. The fearful memories jumped on the catalyst.
"Duuk-tsarith!" he cried through trembling lips.
Duuk-tsarith, the dreaded Enforcers of the world of Thimhallan. On our first coming--under duress--to this new world, where magic was diluted, the Duuk-tsarith had lost almost all of their magical power. We had heard vague rumors to the effect that, over the past twenty years, they had found the means to regain what had been lost. Whether or not this was true, the Duuk-tsarith had lost none of their ability to terrify.