Prologue

Picture, if you will, the fawn.

He is full of life as he skips his merry way down to the river’s edge, tiny dainty hooves pressing drops of morning dew from the grass. The grass exhales as the hoof lifts and the fawn springs onwards, tufted ears and delicate eyelashes flicking away midges attracted by the moisture by the flowing stream and the hot vitality of the beast’s lifeblood. There is a joy in his eyes, shining in the early sunshine reflected from the surface as the young creature dips his head to drink. Blood courses through his veins in a celebration of youthful vigour and the crisp water slides down his soft throat. He raises his head once more to gambol in the shallows, surrounded by dappled verdant light and safe under the watchful gaze of his mother. There is an energy to his vivaciousness, and this energy is rooted in deep magic, as is that of the plant’s breath and the thrum of insects’ wings in the air. This is eirith, the First Domain, and its aspect is the Corporeal, which is solid and vibrant and full of life.

The faun’s hooves lift shining droplets from the river’s surface, sending them tumbling artfully through the air to dive down and rejoin their brothers in the flow. As the river speeds away westward it gathers speed, coursing round rocks and crashing over falls to repool its energies and meander lazily through field and glen. Now and then creatures great and small will dip tongues or cups to take of the river’s bounty, or throw themselves whole into its refreshing embrace, or toss their effluent carelessly to be swept away. The river widens into a delta as it nears a coast of swamps and looming jagged rock, and some droplets bid farewell to their companions to rise into the air and spread themselves into a heavy mist, hanging dank and foreboding over the boggy earth. It is only a temporary farewell, however, for this is luoreth, the Second Domain, and its aspect is Water, which always returns to its source in the end.

The mist is tossed and dispersed as the river yawns wide to greet the sea, where great currents of air thrash through the skies as if competing with the swirling and crashing waves of the grey ocean below. The winds whirl and joust gaily, prying loose clods of earth from the coast and snatching up the foaming tops of waves to cast them afar before fleeing. Now and again the daring currents will dive down to right themselves just above the surface, and as they do they are greeted by the heart-rending wails of tiny bodies bobbing hazardously in baskets across the waves. These wails, too, are seized by the winds and whipped away unheard by any man or beast, for the infants’ cries are of the wind also, are they not, and all things should be with their kin. The winds have stolen the cries of so many young creatures in this dire strait, and they moan in pity before turning skywards to begin their wild dance once more. For this is maeroth, the Third Domain, and its aspect is the untamed Wind, which flies to all corners but finds no home.

The winds, ever restless, eventually rejoin the coast far to the north where they report on their discoveries, flickering through the many lambent tongues of a great conflagration eating its way inland. The fire devours what it touches, causing bark to split and sap to spit. The flash fire covers leagues of forest, and where the forest abuts settlements and camps, torches and campfires turn their bright faces to the blaze and yearn, guttering and sputtering, to add their heat to the inferno. Thousands of tiny spots of heat and light dot the landscape for wherever there is life, there is a need for life-giving flame, although beasts flee and civilised beings fight wide-eyed with worry to control the fire, fearing its destruction, even as its offspring warm the hearths at their backs. For this is aeneath, the Fourth Domain, whose aspect is Fire, and in fire there is both warmth and hunger, both succour and peril.

The fire rages on along a border long contested between the current inhabitants races of men and their Maddari spawn, and fought over aeons before by beings of all blood and creed. The ground they tread has borne silent witness to it all, and no matter how footprints may rub and civilisation may reshape it, the bedrock will endure far past the current conflict and the thousand schisms it will beget. It is ever patient, allowing itself to be reshaped by the hands of those who would use it for shelter, luxuriating in the beauty wrought of the rock by those clever hands, and keeping its end of the bargain by enveloping seeds, nourishing them and nurturing their growth, without which there could be no life to provide companions for the lonely earth. And the valleys and the mountains rumble in deep satisfaction at the eternal bargain, although these rumblings are also stern admonishment, causing the ground to move and split and boulders to tumble from cliffs, laying waste to man and beast, for while the world is content to be tilled, harvested and shaped at its leisure, it must remind its inhabitants from time to time that they cannot deny a will far greater than their own. For this is nimuath, the Fifth Domain, and its aspect is the Earth, which is stolid and implacable.

The bedrock stretches from one end of the earth to the other, and one of its features is fondly known as the Eyebrow of the Earth, a great ridge of high black rock quirking in a south easterly sweep from northern Duroc, along the edge of neighbouring Urd and tailing off into the western edge of the Hanulind Marches and the foothills and forests of eastern Karom where lies the mouth of the Nol River, whence a certain faun currently takes his refreshment. All these names carry the memory of millions of living beings, the beings of all the races that founded them, sowed and civilised them, lived in them and died for them. There is a mysterious link formed when the essences of thought and emotion combine to form memory, and in the name of a mighty empire or a newborn babe there is a profound and enduring power in the memory it evokes, carrying the weightless steps of countless thousands of souls. When life winks out, the body dies, but the essence carries on, and so it is for the millions of bodies lying in eternal repose beneath the ground. The vessel is spent but the myriad emotions and experiences are invested with no less energy than ever, and they spring forth from the shell of flesh to wander, transcendent and unbound, communicating still with the thoughts and minds of the loved ones left behind, touching minds to be recalled with a smile or a sob. There is a deep communication between souls that mortals cannot translate, but they can harness it. For this is urdoeth, the Sixth Domain, and its aspect is the Spiritual, ethereal, evasive and eternal.

The Domains are in and of everything there ever was, is and will be, and there is a fine balance to the world’s magics that must not be skewed, though the faun is blissfully unaware of the infinity of complexity that surrounds his every moment and informs his every movement and instinct. Everything is comprised of some combination of the Six, and the faun is no different, nor his mother, who now grazes without a care in the warmth of the morning sun.

Nor, indeed, is the arrow that lances from the shadows of the treeline to take the deer in the neck, snuffing her out in an instant.

Next Chapter: Chapter One