Chapter 6: The Tip of the Obelisk

Our hero proves his worth. Bad news arrives.
On the eastern edge of the continent of Aoeth, a purple light shone above Altaris, the greatest city in the nation of Castony. The light of the Great Obelisk had shone forever. like the peace with Marnath to the South, the rivalry with the Kingdom of Ra, or even the sea itself that lapped against Altaris Bay. The Great Obelisk was a constant, stable fact of life. And yet its light flickered and swayed like a common fire in a storm. That evening, as the people of Castony went about their business and leisure, and they looked up to see their purple star’s fire cooling to an ember. A competing star waxed in the afternoon position of the Castony sky, its ring of purple still soft. But constant. Below the top chamber of the Great Obelisk, a pocket of langur held in a nation filed with uncertainty. A pair of docents leaned against the stone wall, tending a small fire and discussing the gossip of Altaris. They murmured in soft voices about the prices of shroomwine, the increased emigrants from Marnath, the tenets of astrology science now being rewritten, and the latest techniques in Color Dancer encryption. Beside them, a large lizard rested on the floor, eyes lidded as its tongue lazily flicked in and out of the fire. And on a couch nearby, the young acolyte Heleda flapped her robes and fidgeted with her sleeves. The climb up the forty flights of stairs had winded her, but still she fretted over her upcoming audience in the chamber above the trapdoor in the ceiling. She radiated an aura of nervous energy that quite literally sucked the frenzy from around her and into her being. Was this about the recent disaster of her node shift experiment? Her journeyman wizard mentor had been frustrated with her ever since she was accepted into the Node Conservatory of Castony, and the node shift had singed his eyebrows right off. It had nearly worked, though. If it had been successful, it would have ensured her a permanent place among the Conservatory acolytes. Was it to be censure, or praise? The trapdoor swung open, and down the stairs came the lead docent, her vest doublet straight, neat, and spotless. Her serious face and sense of purpose penetrated the aura of languor. “The Deans will see you now.” Heleda looked up from the couch and straightened her robes one final time.
Heleda and her lizard familiar walked the streets of Castony back to her apartment. The Obelisk behind her loomed in the night, less a comfort and more a sign of the greater changes to come. She had lived under its light her whole life, but tonight it cast strange shadows across the city. On any night of her childhood, the cobblestones on the streets laid out radially from the obelisk would catch every ray, glinting and glowing like amethysts. Tonight Heleda stumbled on cobblestones fluttering like moths in the trick light. “I need a smoke." ...To Be Continued