Chapter 3

Most men would have been awed. The blue marble columns and walls, built in a style which had lost favor centuries ago, or longer, gave a sense of timelessness to the place that it so deserved. The tower rose high above all but the most fabulous modern palaces, and its stark interiors put their gold and carvings to shame. And, of course, the principle inhabitant of the tower would have awed almost anyone.

Leon Silverburg took it all in with a casual glance, admired the aesthetics, and put it out of his mind. It wasn’t the familiarity of the place, which was always subtly, imperceptibly different each time he saw it. He had done the same eight years before when he’d seen it for the first time.

Curiosity, if nothing else, drew his attention to the angular, metallic chair in the center of this particular room of the tower. He had seen it many times, but still did not know its purpose.

Most of the tower’s secrets he had long since uncovered, but this one eluded him. And Leon Silverburg hated secrets.

One secret he had worked very hard to unravel was the occupant of that chair. The aura of magical energy around Leknaat, and the archaic manner of her speech, were enough to overawe most mortals who came before her. Leon had been impressed more by her knowledge, when they’d first met. Now, even that no longer held supernatural significance for him.

He thought back to that first meeting, when she had sent her servant Luc to bring him to the tower.

Leon had considered himself retired. Oh, he meddled in the affairs of smaller nations from time to time, just to keep his skills sharp. But involve himself in the conflicts of the mighty once again? He’d been tired of it. His mastery was proven, and that was that.

But the offer Leknaat had presented had piqued his interest once more. Knowledge that no mortal had possessed in centuries, millennia - that was a prize worth fighting for.

She had told him of The Prophecy from which she extrapolated all her predictions. Even then, Leon had been amazed at the sheer gall with which she deceived others into believing her predictions to be supernatural in origin. What would they have thought, he’d wondered, knowing that they were simple readings from a script!

Leknaat had explained to him that her predictions were not set in stone - the future was mutable, and as such, in danger. She had begged him to return to the Scarlet Moon Empire, and to aid the rebels there against her sister, Windy, who had turned away from the Prophecy’s teachings.

And curiosity, that bane of felines and clever men alike, had compelled him to accept her offer.

What he had learned upon his return to his old home pained him still.

He shook his head and looked at Leknaat. She had not changed in those eight years. But she was easily five hundred years old, and probably, if his own translations of the Prophecy were anything close to accurate, much older than that. Why should age and death touch one of her chosen race? Far stranger was that, for all that she had seen and much of what she had herself planned, she remained astonishingly naive.

She rose from her chair, blinking as if she’d been in a dream. She had not noticed his entrance before. It wasn’t the first time. “Lord Silverburg, thou art early,” she said, inclining her head.

Leon bowed deeply. “My apologies. I trust I wasn’t... interrupting anything?” He pointed to the chair.

“Far from it,” Leknaat said, pointedly ignoring the unspoken question. “I am most pleased at thine arrival. We have much to discuss, my friend.”

With those words, they were transported from her mysterious inner sanctum to a more accessible room on the outer wall of the tower. The light streaming in through the window replaced the eerie glow which lit the inside of the tower. Leon seated himself in one of the simple wooden chairs, across a similarly plain table from Leknaat.

“I grow increasingly worried at the activities of the Player,” she said, her hooded face almost hidden from sight.

Leon stroked his dark-brown mustache. “He has certainly had... great success in collecting the Runes.”

“He is more dangerous than e’er I expected him to be. I have yet to discover his methods of obtaining several of the Runes.” She sighed. Of late, Leknaat’s manner had been strained. It had worried Leon for a time, but whatever malady she suffered, it had not altered her astonishing naiveté where he was concerned.

“The Soul Eater has been taken, then?” he asked. Though it was no great shock to him, he infused his voice with as much sorrow as he could muster.

“’Tis the third to so disappear. No harm came to young McDohl, thankfully, but for so experienced and powerful a guardian to lose his control of a Rune without so much as a contest... shocking. My sister was ne’er able to achieve so much, and the Player is a mere descendent - a mere elf!” Leknaat was speaking more to herself than to Leon. He had never seen her so confused.

And she didn’t even begin to see.

“He won’t fare so well against the Bearer himself,” he said quietly.

After a moment’s thought, she nodded. “I pray thou art correct, my friend. Yet time is running out - I think him yet ill prepared for his role.”

“I assure you, my lady, that my devotion to the fulfillment of the Prophecy is unquestionable.”

She smiled. “I do not doubt it. It was for this reason that I asked thee here. You see, I have come to a decision. Atriedes is the Bearer, I am certain of it. And thou must do thy best to aid him, as I shalt.”

Leon’s too-long silence would have been full of meaning for most. He was thankful that she did not understand it. “Of... course, my lady,” he said.

“Thou art a true friend, Lord Silverburg. This makes thrice now thou wilt have given great aid to the fulfillment of the Prophecy. Thou hast my gratitude.” Leknaat’s normally expressionless face broke into a slight smile. “Thou wilt have the gratitude of many, soon.”

He somehow doubted that, even if he continued to discharge his duty as she saw it, even if the Prophecy came to pass in all its potential glory, anyone would give him any credit for it. They would see only his actions, not their effects.

Short-sighted fools. Let them see what they would. He knew better.

They did not deserve to comprehend what he could.

“The gratitude of the many is meaningless to me,” Leon said. Certainly that was no lie.

“Methinks thou couldst not have achieved so much for our cause if such mortal honors had meaning to thee.”

There, at least, Leknaat lived up to her reputation for wisdom. Manipulating nations - and sending them to destruction - from behind the scenes was thankless work. Accolades were rare, and when given, were usually from fools who did not realize how they had been manipulated to serve a greater goal.

Fools like Jowy Atriedes.

“This shall be our final test, my friend. When we are done, there will at last be peace.” Leknaat genuinely believed that. Leon was not so foolishly idealistic.

But he said, “I will aid the Bearer to the limits of my ability, my lady.” Once again, he was not lying.

Because whatever Leknaat might believe, he knew perfectly well that only one man could be The Bearer.

And that man was Leon Silverburg.