The Only Constant
Adar al-Siraj ibn Gohari
Speaker for the Dead
Calimshan (The Great Calim Desert)
Height: 6’2”; Weight: 180; Skin: brown; Eyes: grey; Hair: black
The man known as Sark appraised his would-be victims: a flamboyant stripling, obviously deep in his cups, possibly mad; a monk, or at least someone trying to hide in the shadow of his cowl, possibly scarred, judging from a few brief glimpses of skin; a foreigner—Calishim, by the hue of his skin and the cut of his beard—dressed not unlike a beggar, or perhaps a beggar going to war. Sark paused.
Kill the one with the spears first, he had been instructed. Standing before him now, he couldn’t see why. His hawkish nose had clearly been broken more than once, but his lanky frame was far from powerful. Sark’s strong, shield-breaking arms were thicker than this man’s thighs! He carried himself with neither the cat-like grace or surety of the Algarondi sword-dancers, whose slenderness concealed their threat, nor the pompous self-assurance of the Cormyrean wizards. No, this one was slightly hunched in the shoulders, his head nodded—out of weariness, not deference, Sark was sure. He even carried his spear slack in one hand, more like a farmer about to till a troublesome field than a warrior. The wretch looked for all the world like a vagrant—or would, were he not wearing a cuirass of hardened leather over his strange robe. Nonetheless, Sark felt himself flinch when the Southerner fixed him in his gaze.
It wasn’t the intensity in the pale-grey eyes that troubled him, for he couldn’t quite identify the emotion they conveyed. Certainly, it was nothing like the murderous pride he had seen in so many enemies, nor the panicked desperation of so many victims. It was the suddenness of the motion—one moment the man was staring at the ground before him; the next, he was staring so intently Sark couldn’t be sure he hadn’t been doing so the entire time. He felt exposed—vulnerable—in this stranger’s attention, so complete was the scrutiny.
I will cut from him his impudence, Sark thought, grimacing. I will hack it from his hide.
“Do not do this.” It was not a threat. The Southerner did not even raise his voice. Instead, he sighed, like a father forced to lie to his children. “Leave us. Continue about your way. This can only end badly.”
“For you,” Sark replied with all the sneering violence he could muster. He heard his men laugh, grim and eager.
“For all of us.” As the Southerner spoke, his eyes and mouth flared with a grimy blue-white luminescence, like winter sunlight through filthy glass.
Sark fell to the ground, struck not by a man but a shadow. Strangled by a hand that was not a hand. Through the not-quite-limbs of his assailant, he could see the Southerner turn from him, head once again bowed, as though beneath a great burden. Sark tried to call out, not realizing that he was already shrieking.
* * *
Adar al-Siraj ibn Gohari. His history was written in his name, and he once bore it proudly.
“The Illuminating Fire” they had called him, and did they not have good reason? Had any seized as many camels as he? Had any raided as many tents? Accounts of his spoils filled his father’s boasting; his search for the great peoples from before the Djinni littered his mother’s gossip. And then—then!—to be approached by Shaundakul! To treat with a god! Such wonder—such glory!
To be blessed with power from a god—to carry His light—is to be bathed in a sense of wholeness. To know that the path traveled is righteous. Holy.
He had been a Walker-on-the-Winds!
And now. Now. That such dread could live in so small a word.
The world shattered. His friends missing or transformed. Himself…degraded.
Now, Adar cannot feel the light—Shaundakul either dead or finally disgusted by his constant failures. He cannot decide which horror would be worse.
Now, he is bridled by the specters of his shame. Something (someone?) has bound to him the souls of the innocents he killed—or abandoned. Having stolen from them their lives, he now is forced to rob them of their peace. He cannot imagine a more complete murder.
Now, the desert is sundered. The Djinni, revived, rage across his land—his home!—spreading their violence and perversion. In the desert, that which is fleeting is beautiful; that which endures is true. He may be the only record of his people—their only proof. He cannot bear the weight.
Now, the light is gone. He does not know if he can find it.