Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2321693-An-Order-of-Healers-Prolog-to-Breath
Rated: 13+ · Prose · Fantasy · #2321693
A shy young man's gift attracts the attention of a passing harbinger of apocalypse.

Bruisy-black, violet petals, smelling of cinnamon and brandy, leaned in the clay vase.

Gregor smiled upon the ominous flower, known as Juliet's Bloom or loversbane, that so perfectly described his willingness to do anything for love. He pulled the flower out and poured away the brandy that had by now absorbed the curse, in a corner of his room. It would affect only him, intensifying the symbolic power of the flower.

Gingerly, he fingered the one remaining thorn on the stem, until it snagged a drop of his blood.

"Ismona," he began, and unfurled the delicate scroll. "Dearest and most precious in my eyes, I swear all my devotion to the good of your life and our love, whether in sickness, or in health, in parting or reunion, until even the gods have forgotten my soul ever shone."

A chill draft blew in to his creaky cottage.

With a trembling hand he offered the drop of blood to the stem of the rose, which it absorbed.

He removed that thorn and put it in a place of honor in his home, a secret altar to the goddess Juliet. "Watch over us, and bind me that I can only do her good."

Knowing that Juliet would not hear his plea, Gregor sighed. The gods would be listening to better, more prominent men–if she were even a deity. Men like Gregor had no magic, save that of the copper coins tied to his belt and the sweat of his labor. He lifted the black linen and wrapped it around the stem.

The winds rattled his door.

Smiling, secure in the knowledge that his lady love would marry the right man–perhaps Magister Sven, or Joll the wagonwright–Gregor picked up Ismona's flower and answered the wind.

The breeze cut unseasonably cold through the folds of his robe tunic.

"It's not a warning," he whispered, chuckling. "You superstitious old fool."

Yet he could not stop shaking as he took step after timid step toward Ismona's home.

Joll the wagonwright smiled at Gregor, then snarled and flashed a sign to ward away the curse of Juliet's Bloom. The big man stepped across the way, to hide in the shade under the opposite building

"Joll, what brings you…"

"Hush, Melandri." Joll leaned in. "Gregor has the Loversbane. From the crossroads."

"Oh, poor Ismona." Melandri pulled at Joll's shoulder, inviting him into her home.

"Well surely the man has cleaned it," Joll offered, pulling the door open to fit his girth.

"Such things don't end well." Melandri pulled Joll in, and took one last look. "Honorably, perhaps? Not well."

Gregor cared little what happened to him, so long as Ismona knew her worth.

Ismona stood watering a few herbs on the front of her own cottage.

"My sweet," Gregor said, and took a deep breath. "Ismona?"

Ismona grinned and grabbed Gregor's shoulder, faltering only the time of a leaf-drop as she noticed the flower. "From the crossroads?" She held out her hand.

He placed his flower in her grasp.

"It is lovely. I am…" Gently, she stuck the bloom in among the parsley. Then, she met Gregor's gaze for a few hoofbeats. "...honored?"

Gregor had hoped she would not share in Melandri's fear. "I didn't buy it. There were no strange women at the crossroads."

Ismona took a long, deep breath and hugged him. Then, with a twinkle in her eye, and a tilt of her head, she said, "Did you want to ask me something?"

He swallowed. This would be the moment to ask for her hand, but he could not. "So many things."

Ismona's shoulders fell. "I see."

Sensing her disappointment but unsure of its meaning, Gregor said, "I wanted you to know that you are the most wonderful woman I have ever met."

She gave a wry smile and leaned in, brushing his forehead with her hair. "Do you think I shall make a lovely spinster?"

"You shall not have the chance."

She pursed her lips, and searched his eyes for something.

Gregor squirmed under the intensity of her look. "I have work to do, as have you."

She shook her head as he took his leave.


When Gregor looked up, a man in a black robe stitched with black thread and a ragged traveler's cloak stood in his path. "I saw it."

Gregor looked down at his feet, noting the sinews of the black dragon sewed into the man's robe. "I don't know what you mean."

"Loversbane makes a bold statement." The stranger shrugged. "A wise man can feel that all the way to Aldredge's court."

He scoffed. Could they not mind their business? The deed is done; I don't need your advice." Gregor turned to go around the stranger.

The stranger stepped in Gregor's path. "You might be wanting to stay. Hear what there is to hear."

Just looking at the man made Gregor shiver, as if the serpent on the man's robes planned to eat him. He had heard of the black dragon, an ancient evil supposedly seeking to repair the harm. He turned aside.

"So you share your neighbor's superstition?" The stranger laughed and offered Gregor a bottle.

Gregor took the bottle and eyed the stopper.

"Remember your oath, to the flower." He took Gregors shoulder, his icy hands gentle and soft. "For the lovely lady."

Having no sword, Gregor dared not even carry a dagger. "Do not threaten her."

The stranger held up his hands. "The threat comes not from me, but far above. Follow along. We've much to discuss."

The stranger's hands were cold, colder than a living man, even colder than a dead man. He felt the freezing burn of endless winter in the man's grip, and the starless night in his eyes. "I want nothing to do with you."

"And yet, I have what you want. The power to make a difference. To turn the tide, at least for a time."

"I told you, go away."

"Someone will receive my gift." The stranger shrugged, and showed Gregor a scroll. "You have shown your willingness to step outside the norm."

"Outside of what is right."

"When things happen, often good people get swept up in them." The stranger shrugged. "You needn't be helpless."

Gregor had stopped in the crossroads, literally and figuratively. What this man offered, could not be good.

"Come with me. Read the scroll." The stranger shrugged.

Gregor looked back, as if Ismona could offer some answer.

"Of all people here, you know: knowledge is never evil." The man looked into the distance, eyes cringing against some unseen horror. "No matter how vile the options it presents."

Gregor's shoulders fell and he nodded.

The stranger turned and led him to the inn.

The stranger spread out the scroll on the nightstand.

Gazing upon the crackling parchment, Gregor could almost hear the words, though the language looked more like claw marks than writing. Like stars, it glittered and glowed. The strange words continued to whisper even when he closed his eyes.

"That's all right, I'll read it to you," the stranger said.

Gregor turned away.

"The moment of transcendence is always full of fear, but it's coming." He gestured for Gregor to sit on the bed. "It can come now, or it can come later."

Gregor faced the man.

With that, the men read the scroll. The voice thundered in his head.

The words slithered in his memory, into the depths of his past. Suddenly he could not remember a time before he knew them, knew the fangs of his soul.

They spoke to him of what he now already knew, of inborn natural power whereby he could pierce and drink the very life of whatever might cross his path.

When Gregor opened his eyes, a platter of food sat upon the table. "You feel the Hunger. Begin with something that looks like food."

Gregor reached out to the cut of beef. He had never noticed how alive it was. "There's no fork."

"Reach out with your being." The stranger smiled. "Consume it from within. Or reach out to me. The essence belongs to you."

"Like some kind of demon? Some kind of vampire?"

The stranger took his shoulder. "Like the god you know you are."

Gregor reluctantly focused on his desire to eat, and the cold within him drained into the meat.

A blackness swirled into the cut, and a fire within it burned all the life away. In a coin drop, it took the color, and even the shape. Gregor's power devoured the meat, and the metal platter, leaving a black cloud of dust.

When that blew away, it left a hole in the table below.

"What have you done to me."

The stranger sighed. "I have granted you a reprieve. Be a destroyer, one of the last to die."

Gregor felt giddy but he squelched his happiness. "A monster."

"Master Soren cites the end of all suffering." The stranger nodded somberly. "Let it be quick. And For you, let it be a delight."

In his heart he knew that people were the proper target of this spell. "I want none of this."

"And the lady, the lovely…"

"Keep Ismona out of this."

"Nobody will be spared, Gregor. Don't you see?" The stranger looked out the window. "It's coming. Some will die fast, some slow. And some, will be rewarded for the part they play."

"So we survive?"

"Not at all. In the end, only Master Soren will remain upon this earth." The stranger sniffed and turned. "But while life remains, the joy of it–did you not enjoy the taste of it?"

It had been the best and most terrifying thing ever. He nodded.

The stranger offered him the scroll. "That is all you need to know, to bring the Mercy of Soren upon the world."

Numbly, Gregor accepted the scroll.

"Now you know the Harvest. Initiate them, or harvest them." He slapped Gregor's arm. "Let the evil ones watch as the world crumbles to dust. Now, you have the power."

"I cannot consume people."

"Did I misjudge you?" The man shivered. "How cruel to eat away the earth and leave them to starve. Or perhaps you might feed them with the power you harvest? -for a time."

Gregor spun about, helplessly. He could not continue on like this.

"You cannot halt the changing tides." The stranger put a bag over his shoulder. "You have the tools to make things better. That is all there is."

"I will resist."

The stranger cringed. "For how long? To what end do you embrace…"

Gregor's rage and disgust silenced the stranger.

He offered Gregor a silken black robe. "We are an order of healers. In the end, you will do what's right."

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