Chapter Two (continued)
Zan Tans were a strange and secretive cult who worshiped the Spring Goddess and the Bringer of Death as equals. They wandered out from their homeland in Pursus trying to gain converts not by preaching but by offering their services to the people for free. Sometimes it would be helping to bring in a crop or acting as a midwife, but they were best known as the caretakers of the dead.
It was said that they placed a ward on each grave, and that if the body was disturbed, the monks would hunt down the grave robber and bury him alive. This made them very popular among the common people who believed that mages and witches regularly raided the bodies of the dead for their own evil needs. Although they rarely engaged in fighting, it was well known that even a novice monk could defeat a seasoned warrior, so few challenged the sanctity of a Zan Tan grave.
According to the rites, the bodies were to be arranged in a circle with the heads pointing toward the center. The leader’s feet were to be facing east and the others were placed in descending rank to his or her right. They put the four soldiers next to the Knight Captain, as the monks would have seen them to be of higher rank than common adventurers, but when it came to arranging the graves for the three of them they couldn’t agree on who was most important.
“I should be next in line,” said Cravan. “Everyone knows it’s the warrior who always leads the group.”
“If the Fistal Mages heard you say that,” said Mor, “they would have their golems strangle you with your own entrails.”
“To the thief princes of Aborjan,” said Rieki, “warriors are the lowest caste. They are regarded as lower than livestock.”
“Well we’re not in Fistal or Aborjan,” said Cravan, “and I did most of the work digging the graves, so I say I’m next.” He thrust the blade of one of their salvaged axes into the first of the three false graves.
“Fine,” said Mor. “It doesn’t really matter considering that the graves aren’t even real.”
“Good, then I’m next,” said Rieki and she stuck three arrows into the dirt.
Mor scowled and was about to complain, but Cravan cut him off. “You see. It’s the principle of the thing. Now let’s cook up whatever’s left of the food and we can be on our way to Stoneport as soon as the sun’s up.”
Mor had been waiting for the right opportunity to tell his companions about the stone, but it looked like it was never going to happen. Stoneport was a good place to lay low for a while, but it didn’t have the texts he needed to consult. “I know you we said that we would hole up in Stoneport after this job, but I need to go to Hightower.”
“Hightower?” asked Rieki. “Are you mad? Did you forget the bounty on our heads? Not to mention the personal grudge of Lord Pertwin whom you personally and publicly humiliated not six moons ago?”
“I haven’t forgotten,” said Mor, “but I need to consult the books in the Temple of Light. I found something in that dragon’s lair, something that has me deeply worried.”
“Is this about that little rock in your pocket,” asked Rieki. “It doesn’t look all that special to me.”
“What rock?” asked Cravan. “I’m not risking my neck on a hunch. Especially when we’ve got a good haul to live off of for the next few months.”
“It’s a relic,” said Mor, “and a most powerful one. I believe it was what summoned the ogre.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Cravan. “Even I know you can’t do a summoning that powerful without bunch of candles, a whole lot of chanting, and maybe a chicken to sacrifice.”
“Your knowledge of the art astounds me.” Mor’s eyes rolled back into their sockets. “If I’m right,” he continued in his most serious tone, “then it is even more that. I believe that we may have stumbled across one of the Five Hands of Fate.”
Cravan and Rieki regarded Mor for a moment, and then looked at each other and burst into laughter. “You can’t be serious,” said Rieki. “That’s a children’s story. It’s not real.”
“I am serious,” said Mor, “and the Five Hands of Fate are real, I assure you. It’s just that no one’s seen one for an age. They are well documented in ancient scrolls of Mommaniczar and oral history of the Mountain Tribes. I’ve seen rubbings of the oldest Dwarven runes and tapestries of the Wawazu. Even your own histories support the existence of the Hands.”
“I never did spend much time in the library,” said Rieki, “but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still wanted fugitives in Hightower.”
“If I’m wrong about this,” said Mor, “I’m willing to give up my share of the dragon hoard.”
They stopped laughing then. “You mean that?” asked Cravan. “You’d give up your entire share if your little piece of rock is not one of the most powerful objects that the gods ever placed on this realm?”
“All right. I’m in. What about you, princess?”
Rieki shrugged and said, “Easy money. Let’s go.”
Mor thrust a long stick into the last of the graves, the Zan Tan mark for a wizard. “It’s settled then. At dawn we make for the Temple of Light.”
To be continued…
If you like this story, consider getting a copy for your self. The Problem with Prophesy is currently selling pre-orders at Inkshares. I’m publishing the first few chapters here as a teaser. If the book reaches 750 pre-orders before March 3, 2016, it will receive professional editing, design, distribution, and marketing. For more information visit Inkshares.com.