An Odd Council

Who am I, truly? What is it that defines our Identities? Is it our experiences? Is it something innate within us? I ask you this, cruel Fates, who am I? I have lived many lives, many lifetimes, and yet have lived none of my own. I have owned many things, yet have nothing of my own. I have seen the heights of Heaven, and the black depths of Hell, yet have no eyes of my own. I have walked a thousand miles, and have never taken a single step. I can speak the tongues of man and beast, yet have no tongue with which to speak. I am the son of a King in halls of oak. I am the lost child, the forgotten child with the God-marked brow. I am King. I am Peasant. I am the fisherman's daughter, born to ransom her people from their captivity. I am the Mother, challenging Death for her child. I stand in the Dragon's maw and embrace what life Fate has given me. What shape I bear was given by Fate, crafted by mortal thought. What actions I take have already been written in the Book of Destiny. My path is not my own, my senses are not my own, my life is not my own. I am the Soul of Courage, the Spirit of Desperation, the Embodiment of Justice, and the Essence of Loyalty. I am the Brightening Shadow and the Darkening Light. I stand tall when the rest of the world crumbles to dust around me. When the world falls down, I alone will remain for I am what Man has made me be. It was the will of Man that I be called Hero, and Hero I shall remain. But I, who have nothing else for myself, take silent pleasure in this one sin, the great sin of Naming. I have chosen to call myself… "Warden!

The young man in question looked up, glaring at the young woman who dared to distract him from his introspection. "What is it sister?" he said, in a somewhat irritated tone. He had a nasty headache, and her interruption was not making it any better. She strode briskly over to him and tried to pull him away from the cold stone wall. "Come now, brother. The council will begin soon."

He would not move. She tugged a few more times and sighed. She stared up at him, pleading with her moonlight silver eyes. Warden sighed. "Fine. Let us meet with the council. Perhaps old man Fate will have something new for me to do." She let go of his arm instantly and squealed with glee, clapping her hands rapidly in childish fashion. Warden sighed as she skipped merrily down the hall. If only Selena wasn't the Younger Sister. "Are you coming Brother?" Warden looked up. Selena was waiting for him at the end of the hall, by the council room's oak doors. Resolutely, he swiped his ebony staff from its place against the wall and proceeded down the hallway, leather boots thudding softly against the old floor.


The old council chamber was empty when Selena and Warden entered. The high backed marble thrones that surrounded them in a ring along the stone wall were still covered in at least a century's worth of dust. Atop each of the thrones was a small carving, barely noticeable, but large enough to proclaim whose seat it was. Slowly, almost ritualistically, Warden traced each symbol as he passed on his way to his own throne. He whispered the name of the bearer of each carving he touched: Gaea the Mother, Vates the Prophet, Venator the Hunter, Dolosus the Cunning Rogue, Silens the Deadly Rogue, Elegans the Elegant Rogue, The Schemer, Balatro the Fool, Trickster, Meretrix the Temptress, and finally the Eater of Souls itself, Mortalitas…Death. Warden came to the place where his throne usually sat. He glared menacingly down at the three-legged wooden stool that sat proudly in its place. "Not again," he muttered as laughter sprouted from behind him like water from a fountain. He turned and rolled his eyes and turned to stare at the young woman lounging in the seat of the Trickster's throne. "Must you do this every time we have a meeting?" he asked the woman. She chortled and stepped into the form of a slender, wild haired blonde man walking towards him. He rested a hand on Warden's shoulder, all grins. "Why ever not?" he said, releasing Warden, "It is so much fun to see the look on your face, my brother."

Warden crossed his arms, frowning. "Just put it back. I can't be the nice guy forever, you know?" Trickster laughed and snapped his fingers. The stool wobbled momentarily then melted up and outward into the expected shape of a throne. "Thank you," Warden said as he sat down. With a flourish, Trickster bowed. "It was my pleasure" he said before turning back to his throne, momentarily stepping into the form of a fox, before stepping into his previous feminine form when she reached her throne. Warden leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he glance around the room. "So, any idea when the others will show?" he asked. The Trickster laughed and Selena, who had risen from her spectator's chair in the shadows, tapped him on the shoulder. "I think some of them are already here," she whispered while pointing towards the thrones of the Rogue Triad. Warden looked over at the three thrones and would've been startled if he wasn't already used to what lay before him. Dolosus, Silens, and Elegans were sitting in their respective thrones. Warden shook his head. It was just like them, showing up silently and waiting to be noticed rather than announce themselves. Warden rose to greet them when the oak doors slammed open. It would seem that the others had arrived. First to enter, tumbling all the way to his throne, was Balatro, garbed in the usual court jester attire, complete with that annoying jingling hat of his. Following him was Meretrix, wreathed in shimmering clouds and garbed in what appeared to be her undergarments, leaving almost nothing to the imagination. As she sat, though, the clouds condensed themselves until forming an elegant, high necked Victorian style gown. She looked into Warden's eyes from her position on her throne and gave him a look of utmost desire, her eyes beckoning forward, begging him to come kneel before her and kiss her feet. Warden shook his head clear; it would not do to allow his 'sister' to seduce him. Following close behind Meretrix was Venator, the Hunter. He strode slowly towards his throne, allowing all to see the shimmering blue markings etched into the skin of his back reaching up to cover his chest as well. He was easily the second most bizarre looking figure on the council, with the massive thirteen-point rack of antlers upon his brow. He sat slowly on his throne, eyes flicking back and forward, scanning the chamber for possible dangers. The next to arrive was a tall man wearing a 20th Century business suit. Warden stared as the man took to the throne of the Schemer. No matter what the occasion, the presence of The Schemer, always meant trouble.

Moments passed as all who were gathered conversed amongst themselves. Warden soon grew worried and somewhat confused. Three thrones remained empty. A Full Council had not been called in centuries, and now everyone but those key to the proceedings had arrived. Hours seemed to pass and all eyes were drawn to the still empty thrones. Where were they?

Tap. Thud. Tap. Thud. Tap. All eyes turned to watch the old man limp his way into the council chamber, leaning heavily on his walking stick. Selena was the first to speak. "Are you lost, Grandfather?" The old man turned his eyeless gaze upon her and cracked a crooked-tooth grin. "Does an old man have to be lost to be late in his arrival, child?" Selena cocked her head confusedly as the old man walked towards a throne, the throne of the Prophet. As he hobbled towards the throne, the old man slowly grew taller, less wizened, younger, strides becoming longer and more fluidic. As he sat down on the throne, he bent low and tied a thin grey bandage across his face, covering his eyeless sockets. He looked around the council chamber and whispered, "The Mother and the Finality mount the steps even now. They shall be here soon."

No sooner had he said this, a warm summer breeze blew gently into the room. Standing in the doorway was a young woman. Hair woven of strands of a mountain's fire, skin as pale as new fallen snow, eyes like the deep earth of the old world, dressed in a gown woven of tiny still growing vines and leaves, a strange eldritch beauty. She glided from her place at the top of the stairs and walked with regal airs to the throne of the Mother. Every step she took left behind new growth in her wake, small grasses and flowers blooming from dead, unyielding stone. As she sat upon her throne, the air within the chamber suddenly chilled and the new growth encrusted with ice. Slowly entering the room, each step with the heavy thud of finality, was a tall figure in a hooded black cloak with a bird's head mask. With each step, and each brush of the midnight black cloak against the ground, the ice covered grass turned black and died. He turned and sat slowly onto his throne. In a voice as cold as the northern wastes and as deep as the black sea of souls, he whispered. "Death has come. I, the end of all things have at last come. Now the wait has come to an end, so let us begin again." His words hung on the air for a moment as he slowly lifted away the hood and bird mask. Everyone in the room but Gaea herself gasped, they had never seen a man so beautiful. His skin was as pale as moonlight, hair as black as midnight, eyes a cold icy blue, lips as red like old blood. The torchlight flickered and everyone was afraid. For in the instant the light had darkened, the ethereal beauty before them turned to the most hideous wretch; clothes ragged, skin falling away like that of a snakes, half of his face merely polished bone. The man chuckled menacingly at their fright. "Surprised, are you not. The end is nigh, Death has come to the Deathless."

Gaea rose from her throne and looked about the room. "Thank you for coming everyone, it has been too long since we last met." Snickers arose from the Trickster at that statement; Gaea silenced her with a glance. She continued, "We have gathered here today to discuss a matter of the utmost importance: our continued existence." She watched the faces of the gathered as heads nodded in silent agreement or eyes widened with shock. "It is true, my brothers and sisters," whispered Vates from behind hands gently clasped hands, "the level of Belief from the mortals has severely declined. If it would continue much further, we, and all other beings born of the magic, will cease to exist entirely; it will not merely be a cessation from this point onward. If we were to end, we will cease to exist now, exist in the future, and exist in the past. We will cease to be, and will never have been."

Warden slammed his fist on the arm of his throne. "Then we must do something, anything." He looked panic stricken for a moment. "I do not wish to die." Mortalitas looked at Warden and spoke in his dark whisper, "You will not die, child, nor will you truly cease. All of you will merely cease to bear form or consciousness. You will all merge and meld with the hearts of humanity, returning to the soul fragments that you were before your creation at the beginning of this world. Only Gaea and myself will remain as we are now, as we always have been, and always will be."

"My Lady Mother," The Schemer said, his voice low and silky, "I have a proposition for you." Gaea turned to face him. "Speak Schemer, what is it that you propose?"

The Schemer smiled, one of those shivering fight or flight response triggering smiles. "I propose that we force humanity to dream."

Balatro flipped off of his throne. "You mean we sprinkle the sand of dreams into the eyes of every waking mortal," he asked, cocking his head to the side strangely.

"No, my foolish brother," the Schemer replied, "I propose we immerse them into a Living Dream, a Dream they cannot willingly wake from."

"And how will this help our cause, dear brother," Dolosus asked, "How will this 'Living Dream' of yours generate substantial Belief?"

"For you see, brother, humans fail to believe in that which they cannot see. If we can but force them to see what lies right before their very eyes, then they shall Believe. Not only will the Dream sustain us, but it shall free us as well." At the questioning glances of his 'siblings', Schemer continued. "Up until now our very existence has been guided by mortal will. Warden, of all of you, knows of what I speak. What is it like, Warden, never knowing who you are, always changing from one life to the next ceaselessly with no control over the change?"

Warden rubbed his aching head and replied, "It's hell."

Schemer smiled, clearly this was the response he desired. "But, my brothers and sisters, if we proceed with my plan, we will control the dream. We will no longer be controlled by the mortals; instead they will follow our will, our desires. The world they created for us will become their own." Meretrix turned to face the Schemer. "So, if we go along with your plan, my brother, will I get that which I desirrrre?" she purred. The Schemer nodded, "You will have the loyal cult of adoring males that you have been wanting."

"And I? Will I get to—"

"Yes Venator, you will get the chance to play your game."

Venator smiled, a deadly smile, a predator's smile.

Warden remained silent while the others discussed the Schemer's plan. It was a simple plan, really. Lock the entire populace of the mortal world into a living dream that none can escape from and one in which they would rule. Something didn't seem right about this plan. He recalled once asking Vates why True Mortals cannot reside within the Flow. The Prophet had replied, stating that prolonged exposure to the untouched magic of the Flow would transform them into the likeness of a creature of Fantasy. They would no longer be mortal, but neither would they be immortal. They'd be trapped in a kind of limbo, never to return to what they once were and never to move on.

"But what about the Change?" The council grew silent at Warden's question. Warden continued, "we know what happens to mortals who remain exposed for a prolonged length of time to the Flow."

It was Vates who responded, "the maximum length of time a mortal may be safely exposed to the flow and remain fully capable of reversion is no more than three hundred and sixty six days." Vates stood and turned to face the rest of the council. "If there are no other propositions, let us vote. All in favor of the plan, say Aye." There was a nigh unanimous chorus of Ayes from all but Warden, Balatro, Mortalitas and Gaea. Gaea stood. "I have one final addition to Schemer's plan. Let there be an age of innocence: those below the mortal age of majority will remain merely asleep and will not be exposed to the flow. In addition, the Dream will begin and end on every full moon.. The time within the dream will be counted a year and a day, and will end on the morn after the first day of the Dream's Beginning. Are there any objections?" No one responded. "So mote it be." After the council repeated the traditional ending phrase, Gaea and Mortalitas swiftly left the room.

Warden stood angrily and growled at all in the room. "So," he whispered growing louder as he continued, "the Great Game begins again. But this time, we play by my rules. There will be no call of Destiny, there will be no path fated, there will be no dire circumstances forcing an action. If any of you harm any innocent in the Dream, I will come for you. Mortals may have made me what I am, but I choose my own path now." Warden picked up his staff and slammed it against the hard floor. He vanished in a wisp of smoke. Though unspoken, the entire council could hear his final words, " Why defy us, you ask. Simply because I am the Hero…."

Trickster frowned. "And all I wanted was to have some fun…"

And so begins the Chronicles of the Shadow Walker.

Ago in Lux lucis , Somnium in Obscurum , Ingredior in Umbra. Contemno Ultra Nex

Birth in Light. Dream in Darkness. Walk in Shadow. Defiance Beyond Death