Balan had been pacing the front courtyard for awhile, unable to stop his fidgeting hands from caressing the large jet stone sitting snug on the bottom of his right pocket. He pulled the collar of the trench coat higher against the gathering cold and looked up to feel a snow flake land on the tip of his nose.
‘You see it too, don’t you?’ Master Misser stood just under one of the arches that surrounded the court. ‘The sky is changing her color.’
Balan looked to the ominous sky, its dark grey and almost midnight blue swirling slightly, like a twister in the making. ‘It’s not supposed to snow for another month or so.’ He resumed his pacing, teasing the jagged yet smooth edge of his jet in his pocket.
‘Come in for supper. You have been eyeing the path up that hill for a day now. They will come.’
Misser shrugged his shoulders. ‘When the time is in their favor. And the sky.’
‘They will be forced to land amongst The Reeds.’ Balan scold.
Misser nodded, slipping his hands into the folds of his robe. ‘And it’s a long treacherous route after that. Come, eat, get warm, catch some sleep, and when you wake, we may have some of them arriving from the fort.’
Balan looked to the giant gate, its bottom still vague as to what it might foretell. ‘Have you noticed the gate grows each day?’ With that he followed the round Monk through the stone corridor. ‘Is it true it carves prophesies upon itself?’
Master Misser remained silent for a while, making Balan wonder if he’d even been heard.
‘That is why she is called the Gate of Wisdom. And she chooses what she will reveal. Not everything that comes to pass is on her face. But those that are have shaped many millennia.’
‘And not many can pass through the Gate of Wisdom? Am I correct? Keeper Alon used to tell us that.’
Master Misser turned into a warm room, the dinning hall, with its rough, long table made ages ago from fallen trees down the slope. The giant hearth crackling with fire and glow. There were only a few monks seated, others were still arriving. ‘If you are asking whether we are safe here, then yes, Keeper Balan, only those that have already passed through her embrace may enter and no more. Sit.’
‘Forgive me,’ Balan stayed standing, staring down at the Monk, with not disrespect, but concern. ‘Have you tried to read it yet?’ Misser stared at Balan with measured look. ‘When will it come to pass? The last of her tapestry reveals a war of realms, which has yet come to pass.’
Master Misser sat down and pulled his cutlery closer. ‘You know the old prophesy?’
‘Like you said, anyone who comes through that door of yours is taught. To surveil, to fight.’
A kitchen hand brought out a trolley full of food, the old rusty wheels of it squeaking near them. Master Misser grabbed plenty of bread and soup, and a jug of wine for the two and sent the hand off. ‘The Grand Monk believes the time is now: the wars will wage through the veil, evil and saints alike will fall till from their ashes rises a hero who shall rid the demons of our world.’
Master Misser chewed a piece of bread as if he were starved and offered Balan some of his own. ‘That’s as much as we have been able to decipher from her face. The Gate of Wisdom isn’t the easiest language to read, and the last able Reader we trained at the Citadel died of pneumonia 10 years ago.’
‘None in training here?’ Balan almost choked on his soup. ‘But, you train them all here, Keepers, Readers, Seers, Monks, Wizards, Healers, and Wards such as Myra.’
Master Misser shook his head somber. ‘It’s been hard to send out scouts who can sense magic. Everyone it seems are shutting off their abilities, masking it, hiding it, should they be found and their lives be ended.’
‘The Black Guards,’ Balan whispered.
Master Misser nodded. ‘You’ve been away from us too long Balan. Our magical world is quite devoid of magic since the Coup.’
‘All. Anyone who displays magical tendencies. The Hallow and Quaint Town are perhaps last of the few places where our people still go about their lives the old way.’
‘Then how do we wage a war we cannot possibly win?’
Master Misser took a deep breath and returned to his food. ‘Perhaps this is the first time those on the good side lose. After all, whoever rids the world of our demons rises from our ashes. They must first have ashes then, don’t they?’
He stared at Balan from his lashes. ‘Eat?’ A small smile spreading across his lips. ‘We may die in this, but nothing says we must die without a fight, and to fight, you need to eat.’ He dipped his bread into the soup and slugged eagerly on the wine. ‘If we have plenty of anything here, it’s food. Eat.’