Abridged History of the 10th Age
Khellendarys sat on his knees before the flickering candle flame, a small set of tin chimes splayed out in front of him. Outside, the rain continued to pour down, but deep inside the darkened halls of the Lorehouse the night winds could barely be heard, save for a distant tinkling of chimes. The candle sputtered once, then twice, then guttered out. In the gloom of the empty hall, Khellendarys closed his eyes – younger students, just beginning to be initiated into the mysteries of the Jade Cult – would have used the leftover heat to find the order of the chimes – but Khellen no longer needed such aids. He had several decades worth of practice, and the chimes were clear in his mind’s eye. In a smooth motion he donned the ivory mask lying at his side – before Lumia, all were faceless – then raised the small tapper.
He struck once, a clear, soprano tone, chanting the Step as he did. Aistia. Sight. To begin with perception was the first step on the Path of Lumia. This was the first of steps, taught to all initiates, whether they be squalling brat or aged elder. A second chime, after what felt an eternity of waiting. Palan. To hear – to listen not with only ears but with head and heart, to divine the true nature, once an object was seen. After came Norn, to learn; the Third Step, to set knowledge deep in the heart. Then the last chord, two intertwined notes, Anaro and Vaid – the step that was Two and One: to know, and then in the knowing, begin to change. And perhaps, to effect change, thought Khellen. Four steps that were Five was the path of Lumia, the mystery passed down among the scholars of the Lorehouse Jade. Whether the Viridian, Emerald, Celadon, or the other Houses followed suit mattered little; the Four-that-were-Five was the mystery revealed by Lumia to the Jade Cult specifically. The small ceremony completed, Khellen once again lit the candle’s wick with the flint set by.
Soft footfalls pattered against the floorboards and a figure slipped into the small ring of the candlelight – the hunched and wizened appearance of the House’s Master, an ancient elf in an ivory mask the twin of Khellen’s own, save for the whorled etchings that denoted his higher station. “Master, I-” the elf stuttered, but was silenced by a wave of a gnarled hand.
“So, you are decided, then,” came the voice behind the mask, as the older elf dropped into the same kneeling posture, opposite the younger scholar. Khellen nodded, and braced himself. He had nothing further to add – all had been said in the debates he had been holding for the last three decades – that in the same way as Lumia stepped into the world of men to seek and teach, so too must the walker along Lumia’s Path.
“Very well then. Leave, with Lumia’s blessing.” Khellen looked up in shock – he was expecting censure, or perhaps a stern lecture – but the ivory mask of the Loremaster betrayed nothing. Long moments passed, and then the Loremaster spoke again. “Now, I shall teach you the last chime, isa. Do not look so surprised – did you think you had learned all of Lumia’s mysteries, at your age still?” The ancient elf let out a dry chuckle, then reached out his hand and slowly brushed the entire set of chimes, setting off a muted cacophony of tinkling bells that quickly intermingled with the noise of the wind chimes outside in the rain.
“This is the last Step now, on Lumia’s Path, and yet it comes before the First. Tul – home. Not the place, but the abode of the heart. Proud did Lumia walk down to the lands of Men, athirst for knowledge, but humbled did he return. And so once again the walker returns to the very beginning of the Path, the place he stepped forth from before even laying foot on the first Step – but only now he truly knows home, the warmth of Tul.” The aged elf raised a hand to touch Khellen’s mask, tracing the etched whorls. “In the same way, let the ringing of these chimes bring you knowledge of Tul; and when you have come to understand and know this Step, and have heard the ringing of these small and lonely chimes, alone and bereft of brothers, then return, and know Tul.”
The Loremaster let his hand drop, then rose slowly and carefully, seemingly slightly more stooped than before. As he passed out the doorway, he stopped a moment, and spoke once more. “Few of the acolytes, the seekers here, precious few of them, will ever reach this place on the Path. Blessed are you, Khellendarys. Blessed are you… Lore-warden.”
Khellen sat there for a good while. A horn sounded in the far distance – the ferry from the coast to Orone-by-the-Sea, arriving in the early hours of morning: his transport to the mainland. Then slowly, he reached up to his mask, and felt his fingers trace a new whorl, freshly etched into the ivory, weeping ink like falling rain.