The gently turning waves flared silver with the brilliance of the setting sun as a breeze brushed the shores at the end of a quiet day. Resting in the valley between two clouds, the eye of the heavens sent its magnificent beams glittering across the caps of the water, making them as cool, liquid glass that would never be stilled. The sun continued to lay its gaze upon a town of simple grey stone on the edge of the waters known as Illidren. Its structures rose up together to form a wave that rose up to the top of a high cliff, the peak of which was graced by the cool and mottled blue-green colors of an ancient temple.
Its architecture was different in more ways than its color- where the other buildings in the town stood square and grey, all alike in most manners, this temple was cylindrical, rising up to a rounded roof of polished stone and capped by a single white crystal at its tip that sparkled any time the light touched its multifaceted surface. Stretching down the hillside with graceful curves of the seamless stone, all in the colors of the ocean, the temple was the first thing to catch travelers’ eyes.
Facing the sea, a small balcony of this temple swept out over the waters and guarded those who would stand upon it with a railing of transparent crystal just the same as the cap of the roof. Leaning over on this railing and gazing out to yellow-glowing horizon was a solitary man of seventeen with brown, curling hair who wore a grey tunic, brown pants, simple boots, and a black cloak that fluttered in the breeze carried by the quietly rushing waves. Nothing adorned him except for a golden chain round his neck whose pendant lay hidden down in the neck of his shirt. But the most noticeable things about his young man were his eyes. They carried a strange look about them; not quite like wisdom, but age- the age that comes from experiencing too much too soon, like the look in the eyes of a child who has seen war.
The young man with old eyes closed them and breathed in the salt of the sea spray far below, silently rejoicing in the solace their quiet, constant rushings against the cliff brought him. The ocean’s sounds, smells, and vistas bore the only key to the cage of weariness that enveloped his every day. Oftentimes, if his day was free, he would take his small, one-sailed boat out into the waves to escape.
A distant knock echoing through the halls signaled that his day had not yet come to its conclusion. With a sigh Keleth turned from the beauty and calm of the sea back to the darkness of the halls in the temple. Making the familiar journey down one lone corridor made from the same blue-green stone of the outside, his footsteps reverberating softly off of the empty walls, he turned left to come to a wide staircase with golden railings, a fifteen foot tall, arching pair of doors fashioned of mahogany with golden circular handles at their base. After quickly descending the stairs, He pulled one of the doors open.
A boy of fifteen, weeks away from becoming a man, stood quietly on the outside, his right hand raised comically in preparation to knock again. The boy had rich straight hair of brown with streaks of blond that fell about his head like hay and wore a simple brown wool cloak with a black fastening. He had clear, green eyes devoid of the age Keleth had in his. Keleth envied him.
“What is it?” He quietly asked. “You know the temple is closed at sunset.”
“Y-yes,” the boy said nervously. “I was wondering…well, could you tell me what to do about my father?” Keleth raised an eyebrow.
“Could you be more specific?”
The boy looked down. His brown hair ruffled in a sudden wind from the ocean.
“What would be the best thing for me to say to convince him to release me from my betrothal?”
Keleth’s eyes went dark.
“I will not look at my crystal for something like that.”
The boy looked up in consternation.
“But you don’t understand! My betrothed- she’s ugly as a toad!”
“And you don’t understand,” Keleth said, stepping out past the threshold and raising his voice, “what it’s like every time I use it! Have you even the slightest inclinations as to the pain and sorrow I go through every time I do?” He narrowed his eyes and looked down over the angry boy. “Let it be known to everybody that no one is to ask me for this favor unless someone’s life is at stake. Understand?” Keleth turned away, his black cloak billowing, grasped the circular door handle, and prepared to shut himself inside again.
“Wait!” The boy cried. The boy rushed forward and braced his hand on the door, forcing it to stay open. Keleth’s eyes flashed dangerously. He turned, looking at the boy only with his eyes. “If you won’t do it, then let me! I’ll look! I’ll find out!”
Keleth looked away.
“You will not.”
Keleth shut the door and embraced the quiet of the temple once more, stepping quickly up the stairs to escape the boy’s shouts outside and crossing the hall to another doorway. He opened it and stepped through to another corridor, shutting it and entombing himself in total silence. He turned and continued walking in the darkness, every once in a while stepping through an angled column of light protruding from a square window high on the right wall. The corridor curved left and right like a serpent, wending according to the geography of the hill. The temple smelled of cool stone, a trace of aging wood and the salt of the sea. The only sounds were the constant reverberations of his heels on the stone that traveled up and town the turning hallway. People were driving him crazy.
The boy had asked for such a simple thing. A little thing! He wouldn’t torture himself just so a boy wouldn’t have to marry an unattractive girl. No one here understood him.
After he had traveled in quiet for a few minutes he came to the end of the corridor. He turned around, threw his cloak back, and sat, leaning his back and head against the refreshing coolness of the time-polished marble. The sun was now set, he could tell by the sparse quality of the light shining through the windows, and gentle shadow had blanketed most of the hallway. He reached up and touched something at his chest, then pulled at the chain around his neck and let the hidden pendant lay exposed on his chest.
The pendant was a simple, thin, light blue crystal about two inches long, cut beautifully with no flaws whatsoever. The gem glittered at its core with a swirling iridescence that was pale white, and attached to the gold chain around his neck by a square clasp of gold. He was careful not to look down. Even if he so much as glanced at the crystal, its power would affect him. The same was true for anyone else- that’s why he always kept it hidden.
After a long while even the light of the sunset disappeared, leaving him in complete darkness. He grumbled to himself. Much as he hated to admit it, he was lonely here all by himself in this ancient temple. Thinking that a beer at the tavern might calm his taut nerves, he walked down the snaking corridor, stepped down the stairs, and exited the temple, carefully tucking the blue crystal down the front of his shirt.
The night air hung cool and crisp with the rough smell of sun-baked grass as he descended the high hill by means of a worn path through the green foliage. Soon he came to the edge of the city and entered into the maze of squat white-stone buildings. Making his way down until the curve of the hill ceased, he arrived in the livelier section of town- girls in revealing dresses waited in the streets for easily-enticed men to come along and people came to and from the Running Unicorn, a dingy structure made of wood with a sign hanging over its doorless entrance with an engraving of a unicorn in mid-gallop. The noise of raucous partying and drunken shouting filled the night air, and many people going by gave him a second glance, recognizing him for who he was. Pulling his cloak closer around him and ignoring any such looks, he entered the pub.
The noise level of the partying and drinking assaulted his ears the moment he stepped across the threshold. After weaving his way through the small crowd, he bought a pint of ale from the muscled barkeep, nodding his thanks, then found a deserted table in the corner to drink it in solitude. After a few minutes he knew he’d been right- the alcohol numbed his nerves a little and allowed him some relaxation, as did the continuous noise. Somehow he could lose himself within the cacophony of celebrating humanity much easier than in the crypt-like silence of his home.
After a quarter of an hour passed, however, something caught his eye that made him look up. A young man who looked to be just a little older than he stepped through the doorway into the tavern. Despite his youth the boy was clothed as a warrior- a black leather jerkin, same-colored pants, dark brown boots, and bare arms save for a pair of black bracers with curling silver linings at his forearms. A belt wrapped around his waist, and from it hung a hand and a half sword of simple design, with a handle of ebony, a straight crossguard, an ovular pommel of polished steel and a simple black scabbard with no ornamentation except a silver cap at its point. But the thing that made Keleth look twice lay over the young man’s jerkin.
An orange crystal lay in plain sight, hanging from a chain exactly like his. Keleth quickly looked away- then realized that nothing had happened when he had looked at it. And nothing was happening to anyone else who saw it, either. Keleth looked back again as the man bought an ale for himself, casually flipping the barkeep a gold coin, and sat facing away from the bar, leaning his back up against it and resting his left hand on his sword hilt. Finally Keleth couldn’t stand his curiosity any more. He rose from his table, skirted around it, and approached.
The man watched him from the moment he moved.
“Yes?” He asked coolly as Keleth approached. For a moment Keleth had no idea what he wanted to say. Then it just came out.
“That crystal,” he said.
“What about it?” the man asked.
“Where did you get it?”
The man’s eyes narrowed.
Keleth couldn’t help staring at it- it was exactly the same shape, exactly the same clasp and chain. And it, too, had the glow in its center. But unlike the light in Keleth’s, which constantly swirled and undulated, this crystal’s light was a thin, unmoving, shining bar down its core.
“Does it do anything?” Keleth asked. The man turned his head to look at him more closely, frowning. “It does, doesn’t it?” Keleth pressed excitedly. The man cocked his head.
“How do you know?” he asked in slight wonder.
“I have one too.”
The man stopped leaning back against the bar, sitting up completely straight.
“Let me see it!”
Keleth raised an eyebrow.
Now it was the man’s turn to look confused.
“Why don’t you have to hide yours?” Keleth asked.
Keleth sighed. They weren’t getting anywhere.
“Why don’t you join me at my table over here?” he asked, indicating his corner table with a wave. After considering for a moment, the man nodded and held out a free hand.
“I’m Joph.” Keleth took it.
“Keleth.” After shaking hands, they made their way to the lonely table and sat down with their ales.
“Who are you, exactly?” Joph asked.
“I’m the keeper of the temple on the cliff,” said Keleth. “You?”
“A mercenary,” said Joph, taking a sip from his tankard. “I move from place to place, looking for work. Eventually someone hires me to go on a raiding party or some other quest.”
Keleth nodded, then went back to the point.
“Why do you have that crystal?” he asked.
“Found it,” said Joph, leaning back. “A year ago on the road from Lelthest to Durrend, in a pile of rocks. I don’t know why I picked it up. It seemed to speak to me, somehow.”
Keleth leaned forward, resting his arms on the table, his ale forgotten.
“What does yours do?”
Joph answered automatically.
“It tells me which way is north.”
“Yes. North is that way,” said Joph, pointing to his right. Keleth nodded.
“Useful,” he commented.
“Very,” Joph agreed. “Ever since I found it, I’ve never been lost. Ever.” Joph leaned forward, matching Joph’s position on the table.
“And what of yours? Where is it?”
Sitting upright again, Keleth touched a finger to his neck, indicating the chain.
“Its power works if you look at it- even just a glance.”
Joph’s pupils dilated in interest.
“What is its power?” Keleth closed his eyes for a moment, teetering on the edge, then opened them again and spoke.
“Anyone who looks upon the crystal has all their questions answered.”
Joph sat up straight.
“Really? Then why do you hide it? It should be on display in the town square! People would come for miles around to get answers for-”
“You don’t understand,” Keleth cut him off. “It answers every question. There may be something you want to know, but it will also answer the deepest, most vile thoughts you have ever imagined- any question that resides in your mind.”
“Oh,” said Joph. “So…that’s why you…?” He indicated Keleth’s face, as though unsure of how to describe what he saw. Keleth looked down.
“Many people say I’m old in my eyes,” he murmured. He looked back at Joph. “That’s because I know things no one should know.”
Joph nodded, mesmerized.
“Where did you get yours from?”
“From my father,” said Keleth. “When he died I inherited his position on the Council of Leaders. They use me when they need advice in a dire situation.”
“And where did your father get it?”
“From his father.”
“For how many generations has this happened?”
“…I don’t know.” Keleth ran his fingers over his eyebrow.
“So you don’t know where the crystal came from.”
Joph sat back, considering for a moment with his arms folded across his chest.
“I have an idea,” he said after a moment, sitting up. “My crystal- how did you recognize it?”
“It looks exactly the same as mine,” said Keleth. Joph nodded.
“I thought so,” he said. “In that case, I think you should take me to your temple.