The city of Viros was a living tomb. The people dwelt in catatonic fear of the red rains and as such the streets within the once teaming and industrious city were eerily vacant. Nobody ventured out of doors in Viros, even when the rains were at their lightest. The falling blood from the sky had transformed each doorway into a headstone and every building into a mausoleum. Terror was the rule in the land now and all within the darkened walls of the city cowered to the chimera’s rule even though the beasts had not once set foot inside the boundaries of Viros proper.
The total lack of people in the streets made Pratt unnerved as he rode his pony through the desolate city. So far the only definitive proof for Pratt that there were living people inside the Viros walls were the guards that had met him at the main gate. The Councilman could feel many eyes upon him as frightened city folk looked out from behind sealed windows and bolted doors. The boy felt like he was the only living being in all of creation. The fear that pulsed throughout the city was thick and tangible, like the charge in the air before a thunderstorm. Pratt was able to muster enough courage to traverse the empty streets of Viros but he quickly lost himself inside the maze of uniform architecture and throughways. He knocked on door after door, hoping to find someone with enough kindness to guide him to the archives but his efforts were wasted. Not a single person came to answer the Councilman’s call.
Pratt was at an impasse without Father Mazeon in the lead. The boy had not considered that he might have to undertake any part of the trek to the archives on his own. Upon further introspection Pratt found himself realizing that he had never considered what his days would look like after the completion of his apprenticeship. He had scarcely been more than an arm’s length form Father Mazeon’s side in years. Pratt was surely experiencing the gravest sensation of separation from the most constant element he had come to know. The boy felt the gravity of his lot beginning to drag him down into a hopeless inner void. Doubt was threatening to crush the boy as he was trapped by the fact that he had lived his entire life as a follower and knew precious little of leadership or even self-reliance.
Pratt halted his mount, took a few slow deep breaths and cleared his mind. The boy pushed all things from his thoughts and used one of the Vermillion Councils rudimentary focusing techniques. Once the boys mind was empty of all distraction he rebuilt his state of mind one piece of logic at a time. At first Pratt focused, not on Father Mazeon himself but on the lessons that had passed between the elder Councilman and himself. From that point Pratt was able to recall the boundless pride and confidence that Father Mazon had shown him over the course of their relationship. Pratt was inevitably drawn to the conclusion that Father Mazeon was one of the greatest leaders and teachers within the Vermillion Council. Pratt further rationalized that he had been blessed with many years of watching the Father first hand and as such ventured to guess that he likely had been taught more of self-reliance then he realized. At the end of his chain of logic the Councilman rested on the unarguable fact that one day he was going to have to perform his duties without the direct oversight of wiser brothers and it just so happened that today was that day.
Pratt opened his eyes and drank in the barren metropolis of Viros with greater reasoning and honed rationale. The boy reached back into his mind and called for the memories of similar situations during his time under the Father’s tutelage. The pair had been strangers in new cities many times before and navigating uncharted streets was nothing foreign to the Councilman. The boy reminded himself that most all cities were the same in their design. The buildings of greatest importance were almost always located in the heart of a community and the Viros Archives were one of the most iconic elements of the city.
Pratt lifted his gaze up towards the skyline of the urban sprawl. It took the boy some maneuvering but he was soon able to find a vantage point that was not so crowded on either side by monotonously suffocating lanes of mundane residential quarters. The Councilman was able to see some of the taller keeps and the unmistakable glass dome of Viros’s impressive botanical atrium cresting above the maze of smaller homes and storefronts. Pratt was certain that the archives would not be far from those formidable structures. With his bearings about him the junior Councilman began working his way deep into the core of the fearful city.
With his lack of direction no longer a source of vexation Pratt’s mind soon wandered to the fate of his teacher, friend and brother. The last image the boy had of Father Mazeon was that of him valiantly urging his horse though a deadly wetland with the looming frame of the chimera, Koin, not far behind. Pratt rested his hopes on the fact that Father Mazeon had bested the beast once before but this most recent sighting of Koin revealed that the creature had evidently grown in strength since its last appearance. The image of the powerful creature was so dauntingly intimidating that Pratt had a near insurmountable time postulating a favorable outcome for Father Mazeon.
The trip to the archives was not long, once Pratt had plotted a suitable course through the city but the trivial distance seemed like crossing an ocean to the boy. The paltry distance to the heat of the city was grossly exaggerated by Pratt’s memory of Koin chasing Father Mazeon and perverting the mental picture into an infinite theater of hypothetical horrors and atrocities in the way only a boy’s mind was capable. The Councilman was able to let go of the breath that he was unaware he had been apprehensively holding for some great time once he laid his eyes on the finish of his trek. The massive front columns of the building sported a distinctive carving of the scholar’s quill and scroll. Pratt was relieved to finally have made it to the Viros Archives and he felt his body release all of it’s tension into nothingness at the sight of the journey’s end.
The Councilman loosely tethered his steed to a stone bench in front of the archives. Pratt whispered a few sweet parting sentiments bound with promises of forthcoming food and comfort to his companion before steeling away into the immense building. Once Pratt was inside he quickly located a torch brazier in the archives dim and cavernous main foyer. The building was graced with only minimal natural light and it seemed that the place had been unattended for some time so there were no active internal sources of illumination. Pratt set about relieving the torch from its cradle in the brazier and after several attempts was able to light the wick with the brazier’s attached flint stone. The torch light pushed back some of the darkness in the archives and cast a warm gentle orange glow around the Councilman.
“Greetings,” Pratt called into the black folds beyond the torch flames. The only response the boy’s introduction received was the echo of his words receding into the towering rows of scroll cases and bookshelves that ran abundant. “I am Pratt, Brother Pratt…” the boy called again but lost the will to speak as his words were instantly swallowed by the vast emptiness of the hall. The Councilman was all but certain that he had the archives completely to himself. He considered that perhaps he was not alone and that whoever was with him in the building wished to remain hidden. Pratt put that notion from his mind swiftly as his imagination only proceeded to make the worst of that fantasy.
The boy was not familiar with the construction or organization of the Viros archives. He only knew that there was more written knowledge catalogued and laid out before him then could hope to absorb in several lifetimes worth of study. Pratt knew that if he were to blindly enter into research that his efforts would be largely wasted. He also knew that there was no way a wealth of information this large could have been amassed without some semblance of organization. The Councilman embraced the assumption that the archives were something akin to the library of the Grand Abbey and if that was the case there would be an index or directory located in a central position.
Pratt pushed on into the dreary home of all the aged texts. His footfalls on the gigantic room’s cold stone floor rang out like the toll of a bell tower. Pratt worked his way through ranks of shelves and massive floor to ceiling bookcases. His eyes kept flicking up the sides of the walls and counting the numerous floors of the archives until they disappeared into the darkness above where the torchlight could reach. He hoped that his studies would not take him to the upper levels of the place. He did not like the look of the extreme height and his mind could not help but imagine a catastrophic fall from the top balcony.
Pratt’s face broke into a prideful smile as he saw the nest of bookshelves subside and open up into a larger circular chamber. The torch in his hand cast it’s light on a hefty tome that was bound and chained to a weighty looking pillar. Pratt quickly went to the tome and scanned its pages. It was as he had hoped and appeared to be a detailed diagram and reference of the texts contained within the archives. Pratt’s relief was quickly dashed when he realized that the book in front of him was going to take a preponderance of time to file through in it’s own right. He had to use two hands to turn a page and the spine of the book was talker than he was and nearly half as broad.
Pratt’s literary intimidation was ended when he noted the subtle smell of molding and mildewing parchment running into an all too foreboding aroma. The scent of burnt meat, rot and death filled the boy’s nostrils. The Councilman slowly began to back away from the book and held his torch high while scanning the shadowed nooks and corners created by the labyrinth of records. Pratt was about to bolt for the main entrance of the building when an easily recognizable voice reached his ears.
“I see you made it as well,” said Father Mazeon from beyond where the torchlight shown.
Pratt’s heart was lifted on silver wings and he rushed towards the sound of his mentor’s voice. Pratt saw the torch illuminate the silhouette of Father Mazeon slumped in between a pair of bookshelves of the other side of the circular tome area. Pratt’s pace slowed rapidly and then stopped all together as the light in his hand rained down over the body of Father Mazeon. That was the moment that Pratt started weeping at the sight before him.
The right side of Father Mazeon’s body was by and large unscathed but the left side had been burned so badly that it was hard to determine that it was a human being underneath all the charred black flesh. His robe had been turned form its bright red color into one large smoke stained tattered mass of cloth. Bits and pieces of the fabric were fused to the Councilman’s chest and arm where the burns were the worst. Father Mazeon’s chest rose and fell rapidly as he panted for air. His breath came out like more of a hiss when he exhaled due to a heavily bruised and swollen lower jaw and more than a few missing teeth.
“Do not cry for me,” whispered the bloodied Councilman as he lay against the bookshelf.
It took Pratt several moments to quell his sorrow enough to speak. “I can mend you I know some medicine,” said the boy desperately as he began to rifle through the pouches on his belt for items to treat the ruined man in front of him.
“No, I am beyond saving,” sighed the dying Councilman. “Koin made good on it’s promise and saw my debit repaid in kind.”
“You saved me, at your own cost,” Pratt whimpered as he fell to his knees and looked at the marred skin all over Father Mazeon’s body.
“I would pay that cost and tenfold more. It is what we do,” said Father Mazeon through waves of unrelenting pain. “Koin has gained power from feasting on its own kind. The chimera will only become stronger as the rains keep falling. Argaia has not seen the darkest hour yet.”
“What can I do?” Pratt said hopelessly.
“You are a sworn brother of the Vermillion Council. You will serve. All the great minds of our history dwell in this place. Learn from them,” growled the elder Councilman as he tilted his head and looked up at the expansive collection of texts surrounding him and his student. “Seek out our brothers here in the city. Join with them. Find hope.”
Pratt wanted to give in to denial and defeat but the feel of Father Mazeon’s unburned hand on his gave the boy just enough strength to challenge the overwhelming adversity that besieged him on all fronts. “I will do as you command. I will,” promised Pratt.
“I know you will. You make me so proud,” gasped Father Mazeon. The ranking Councilman’s breathing slowed in pace and his face relaxed from the painful grimace that it had been set in. His remaining time was fading quickly and he knew it. “I was never fated to have a family. I begot no children and yet I was blessed with the finest of sons,” said Father Mazeon as he let go of his final breath and lay still with Pratt’s and held lovingly in his own.
Pratt valiantly attempted to recite the Founder’s Prayer for his fallen friend and teacher but he could not. The tears we too many. The only sound in all the solemn grandeur of the Viros Archives was that of a twice orphaned boy sobbing.