By Michael Dolan
Wherever Tovar looked, flames engulfed his monastery home. He shielded his eyes and raced for the abbot’s dormitory, praying his mentor hadn’t been killed in the attack.
He found the abbot lying face down. “Abbot Cralin, what happened?”
“Tovar? Is that you?” The abbot turned toward him, clutching a wound in his side. “Are you all right?”
Tovar, still processing what he had seen, struggled to find his voice. “Y-yes. I’m okay.”
“And the others?”
“I don’t know. There are… bodies, in the hallways.”
Abbot Cralin hung his head. “Tovar, listen.” His voice remained strong. “Behind the library mosaic, there’s a door that will lead you to a chamber. Inside is the orbuculum—a crystal ball with great power. It must not fall into our assailants’ hands.”
“What should I do?”
“Hide it. Throw it into the sea. Whatever it tak—”
“It’s not here!” A shout echoed down the burning hallway. “That codger lied.”
“Go, quickly,” the abbot whispered.
Tovar tore his eyes away from the bleeding abbot and hurried to the broken window. Using his robes as a shield against the shattered glass, he hoisted himself up. He stared through the cloisters’ arches into the flaming courtyard before dropping onto the protected walkway.
Determined to carry out the abbot’s final request, he scuttered toward the library. The arcade’s columns cast flickering, unpredictable shadows on the walkway, making it hard to see what lay ahead.
When he reached the nearest library window, he peered in. Books were strewn around the floor and flames licked the walls, but it seemed empty of ruffians. On the far side, a mosaic portraying a procession of monks stretched between two tapestries.
Staying low, Tovar quickly slipped through the door and crossed the room. The abbot had told him the treasure was behind the mosaic, but he hadn’t said how to get behind it. He felt around the edge of the design but couldn’t find anything to pry open. Stepping back, Tovar hid behind a bookshelf and inspected the artwork.
It was an impressive piece—tall as the bookshelves and five times as long. It depicted a parade of monks at twilight, fixing their gazes on the first star of the evening as they carried manuscripts, relics, and other sacred items. It was tradition for monks to rub the tiles representing the star and pray for guidance, so Tovar doubted that held the key to this mystery. But he couldn’t see what else it could be.
Unless… not seeing was a clue.
Only one monk in the mosaic wasn’t looking at the star. Instead, he pointed at it with one hand while gazing out into the library. His other hand stretched forward as though inviting the viewer to join the procession.
Tovar pressed the tiles around the monk’s hand. Nothing. He stretched up to the other hand. Still nothing. Then he looked into those tiled, kind eyes welcoming him into the mural, and reached out to touch them.
Beside the mural, behind the tapestry to the left, Tovar heard a soft click and a stone door rumbling open.
After a quick glance behind, Tovar ducked under the tapestry and into the corridor. He followed a narrow, spiraling staircase down into the earth that released him into a stone chamber twice as big as his dormitory.
Six candles burned low around the edges of the chamber, their light reflected by mirrors positioned around the walls. But a more vivid, full light shone from within a crystal ball perched atop a narrow, obsidian pedestal.
A shout echoed down the stairwell. “What’s that opening?”
Tovar gasped. He hadn’t closed the secret door.
He stepped toward the ball and grabbed it.
A rainbow of colors swirled across his vision, coalescing into glimpses of scenes beyond the chamber. Flames licking the monastery’s steeple. The vacant stares of his slain brothers. A hooded foe descending the stairwell.
“That’s mine, boy.”
Tovar released his grip and wheeled around. The figure from his vision loomed in front of him, holding a scepter topped by a dark violet gem.
Tovar gulped. “It’s not yours. It belongs here.”
The figure chuckled. “If you believe that, you truly know nothing of it. Did your brothers tell you of its purpose? Of their attempts to peer into that which should not be seen?”
Tovar remained silent. His mind raced. Abbot Cralin had told him to keep it from this attacker. He hadn’t said anything about keeping it safe.
Tovar spun and slammed into the pedestal, striking the crystal and falling down with it. He heard a loud “No!”, the crackle of lightning, and a deafening clap as the orb struck the stone floor.
The crystal ball shattered. Tovar flinched as he felt a sharp pain behind his eye.
“What have you done?” the figure shouted.
Tovar righted himself, looked back, and blinked in surprise. He could now see into the mysterious hood. The stranger’s skin was ashen, though thin veins of lightning coursed along his body and into his eyes.
In fact, the whole chamber looked different. Each candle burned with multicolored flames, and strange wisps of light glided through the air. When Tovar caught his reflection in one of the mirrors, his left eye gleamed bright white.
He also saw a low tunnel on the opposite side of the chamber, previously hidden in shadows. His task complete, he sprung for the escape.
“Come back!” Tovar heard another sizzling sound as he dove toward the passage. He squirmed through as the passage narrowed, praying it was too small for the stranger and his scepter.
Several minutes later, he emerged on a beach at the base of a cliff. Looking up, he saw the monastery at its top, still burning along with the only life he had ever known. He exhaled, thankful to have accomplished the abbot’s request—despite all the questions now swirling through his mind. Knowing their answers would no longer be found at the monastery, he turned to begin his search for them.