Thy hands are cold, thy breath is weak.
The threads of life ye cannot keep.
Yet hope remains for souls that seek,
The treasures hid on highest peak.
Through blood and golde no man shall lack
the knowledge of that fateful track.
To walk the earth and ne'er go back,
or brave the depths of Ocean Black.
On the first day of the blood-star festival, Raphael strode slowly and solemnly into the Hall of Reckoning. He was flanked on either side by the high-priests who matched his stride with equal precision as they approached the great throne. Their lavish robes hissed rhythmically against the stone floor with each slow step. Raphael cringed inwardly; he despised this façade.
Walking two paces in front of him was Gambyn, the chosen bearer of the sacred vessel. At only twelve years of age this scrawny lad was far younger than a bearer was supposed to be. Raphael smiled inwardly as he saw the scornful looks in the eyes of the four magi that stood beside the throne. It was about time that somebody challenged their rigid adherence to this pointless ceremony and Raphael decided that he would be the one to do it. As the newly appointed Prime, Raphael was the only one with the power to do so.
Gambyn turned his head to look at Raphael as he walked.
'Is that him? Is that Orius?' The boy's awe-filled voice shattered the silence.
Every eye widened and even Raphael found it hard to disguise his shock at the unrestrained outburst. No reply came as the voice echoed across the walls of cavernous hall. Gambyn returned his attention to the figure on the throne. The man seated there appeared even more oppressive than the magi did, but it was no living monarch that presided over them. Instead, it was a stone figure clad in a hooded robe that sat before them, leaning forward with cupped hands. Undaunted and unconcerned by the stifling silence, the boy asked Raphael another question as he took his final step towards the motionless figure.
'Why do I have to put this on the floor? He looks like he wants me to put it in his hands.'
The question invited the piercing glares of a hundred eyes that penetrated Raphael like the arrows of an invading army.
'How dare you bring this... child into the Hall of Reckoning, Raphael. Have you no respect for the traditions of our forefathers?'
The accusation came from the eldest of the Magi who could contain his anger no longer.
'I bring this gift of life as an offering to he who would conquer death,' Raphael said loudly and ceremoniously to the statue. He decided it was best to ignore the Magi's complaint and carry on with the façade regardless. The smile inside broadened.
'May the gift of life bring eternal glory to he who sits on the throne,' came the chanting response from the lips of everyone around him, as if nothing had happened. Prompted by a secret nudge from Raphael's foot, Gambyn stretched out his hands which were holding a gold block in the shape of a human heart. All eyes were on the boy.
Within the next few minutes a series of events occurred which would haunt Raphael until his dying day. It was such a small action performed by such a small boy, but the repercussions would shake the very foundations of their entire world and even the worlds beyond. Whether it was a simple act of childlike defiance, an honest mistake, or curiosity nobody would ever know, but Gambyn placed the heart in the hands of the statue instead of at its feet.
A deep rumble surged from the throne and Raphael felt the stonework shudder underneath his feet as he stepped backward. What began as tiny fractures in the ancient stone of Orius's likeness quickly branched into large cracks as though something terrible was breaking through dried skin. Where lifeless eyes once stared directly ahead, blinding white lights beamed outward and a child's scream sounded above the noise of splintering stone. Raphael looked on in horror as bone-like fingers closed around Gambyn's hands; the statue was gripping the golden heart, pressing the boy's delicate fingers into the soft metal. Blood trickled down and then insane panic broke out in the hall...