Interlude 1: Long Ago...

Dahlnere, 5134 KS
THE DOME OF the Inconstant Heavens was a marvel of architecture, construction, and art. Were they made welcome, visitors would come from leagues around just to gaze upon the shining domes of the temple-home of house Damaskar, foremost of the sangoma houses of the Goblynfells. But the profound celestial beauty of the place was reserved for the eyes of the initiates of the Celestial Veneration of the divhi Bahru only. The inside of its central dome was painted to map the skies precisely, with actual diamonds picking out the positions of stars. Perfect white marble columns held it aloft over shining floors of black, veined in red-gold. Every chamber opened onto gardens of creepers and wild flowers, and every courtyard had its own mineral baths, fed from the abundant volcanic springs of the fells. Silent servants drifted like spirits down generous corridors, with silk pillows and fine wines and rare meats for the sangoma within.
To describe the place as a palace would be an insult. Palaces were far ruder, far dirtier, far less opulent, than the Dome.
None were as rich, or as powerful in the Fells, as the sangoma houses. No qadar would make a move without the divinations of the seer-priests of Bahru blessing his course, and such blessings did not come cheap. The coffers of the house could buy and sell the kings of neighbouring nations many times over, and the sangoma knew it.
Outside the plains of the fells were muddy, prone to boiling geysers or cracked earth, and blanketed in hardy grey grass and misshapen trees. But within the walls was a hand-made paradise.
Still, Ryheem Damaskar had spent his life in the Dome, and for all its grandeur his eyes never saw it. His attentions were saved for the ancient tomes that were stacked in his private chambers. Dusty, smelling of rot and sour ink, they were the sum of his world. Paper, knowledge, and the promise of power that would make even this dome paltry in the wake of what it could create. Or take.
The young upstart seer was the finest raw talent Sambala had ever encountered in all of his years in the house, either as its master or in his days as an initiate. And he had discipline, there was no doubt of that, for Sambala saw the tomes that came to him from all over the basin. And saw how he devoured them. And that was to say nothing of the Gift - the ancient elemental powers that dwelt within the young goblyn. But he had neither passion nor respect for the calling of the sangoma.
No matter how Sambala tried to reach his prized student, he was met with stony apathy, and cool arrogance, and he was nearing the end of his hope.
And so, at the end of a cool early-summer's day, when Sambala, and Ryheem, and the master's other prize student Rava - less talented than Ryheem, but devoted utterly to his craft - sat in the gardens casting runes, Sambala finally tired of his student's attitude.
"No no no!" the master roared, in a rare show of temper "You must never ask the stones questions concerning yourself. Knowing such things only disrupts the weave. It makes the reading less than useless. Knowing your own fate almost guarantees that it will not come to pass!"
Foretelling the weather. Divining auspicious military stratagems. Predicting harvests. Foreseeing tremors and eruptions from the volcanic earth of the Fells, a land where the ground was little more stable than the skies. Bahru gave his favoured sons the secrets of the future, but why were the sangoma fixated on such petty things? The wind carried secrets; Ryheem could feel them as the ash-flecked zephyr caressed his cheek, a caress that stirred him more than the lips of any lover. Why did Sambala and those like him ignore it, in favour of reading the blood-stained palms of petty qadars hoping to guide their pocket empires to glory they were unworthy of?
Sitting atop a dome of grey lichen as comfortable as any velvet cushion, Ryheem accepted the master's outburst, his deft fingers stirring the runes where they lay, describing a cloudy rumour of the future. When the old goblyn had shouted himself hoarse, he at last looked up, eyes sharp and amber in a face with the grass-green blush of youth still upon it, and barely any bristles on his pointed chin. “What else is worth inquiring?” he demanded in frustration. “What import is the fate of some squalid village or up-jumped bandit chief if our own lifepath is obscured?”
Ryheem glanced aside at Rava, his peer, his confidante, his rival, and something close to his friend, expecting a scandalised expression, or at least a gasp of shock. Rava had ambition. He wanted to be sangoma-of-sangomas for the whole realm. He wanted to be the diviner-king in shadows for the whole Goblynfells.
What a small, small thing to desire.
Looking back at Sambala, he took a deep breath and spoke again. “Does the sky-divh put these vision in our eyes merely so that we may be the midwives of the tomorrows of others? Or are they tools, that we may shape the days to come to our liking? Do we not squander His gifts by bending them to the service of those He does not choose to bless?”
The master shook his head, and for a moment he looked old, very old. The light caught the lines on his face, the wear around the mouth and eyes. He cleared his throat, and let out a long, shuddering cough. Rava rose, concerned, but Sambala waved him back with a skeletal hand.
"That is your weakness Ryheem. So much talent, so much promise, none have so taken to reading the signs as you in all my years as master, but you will not listen. I did not tell you that I forbade you divining your own future. It is not a question of what is right, it is a question of the very nature of the weave. When you look down upon the weave you see a portion of its glorious pattern, and how it rests upon the its fellows, and how its colour and texture are unique."
He lifted the hem of his robe to illustrate his point.
"But when you look back upon your own thread," he plucked one of the threads of his robe loose "everything past, present, and future begins to unravel. In interfering with the weave, instead of observing it you have changed it. And outside of the weave -" he pulled the thread from his hem "- what meaning does it have? What can we know of a single thread when it is without purpose. Alone."
He let the thread go, and the breeze took it.
"And now the thread is lost, and the whole weave flawed. Bahru's pattern is forever imperfect."
Sambala sighed, and his shoulders sunk. Then, leaning heavily on his staff, he rose and left the courtyard.
Rava turned to Ryheem, his gaze was not reproachful, but it was troubled "I am afraid that he will not end our tutelage before his health fails. He is the master of the house, and he has deigned to teach us personally, must you goad him so? There will be time enough to debate philosophy when we are full sangoma."
That was a strange notion. Forever imperfect? As if Bahru's divine preordained conduction of the heavens could be disrupted by… mere mortal curiosity? It was also unsettling, the idea that self-reflection, self-divination could spin one's lifepath, and by extension all that crossed it along the way, into chaos.
Ryheem considered Sambala's words, taking his own meaning from them as he so often did. To see truly, it was necessary to look from above, as the sky-divh looked upon the world. A sangoma could look down upon the destinies of others, but for their own future they were too close. They lacked the right perspective. Yes, that seemed comprehensible. So consumed was he by his own thoughts that he barely noticed when the master left, looking up only afterwards. Ryheem watched the thread billow through the air, and with a small exertion of his will he made it coil around and float to his hand, where he studied it, divining its significance.
Like a life, the thread had beginning and end. Painstakingly, he tied one to the other. Now it was a circle, without start or finish. Eternal.
Could a life be such?
Glancing across at his fellow student, Ryheem raised an eyebrow. “Will there? Or will we be called upon to soothe the vanities of qadars night and day, reassuring them that their realms will last a thousand years and their sons will outnumber the stars? Will we spend all day and night poring over ledgers and counting shekels, being fed sweetmeats from silver platters by servants and getting fat?” He flashed Rava a rare, genuine smile, leaning over and elbowing him gently in the stomach. Rava was a little doughy for a goblyn, while Ryheem was all sinew and leathery green muscle from practising his swordplay as assiduously as his divination.
“As it happens, I do not goad him,” he said, rising himself and dusting off the back of his robes. “It is just…” He raked his tusks against his lower lips in frustration, trying to put the feeling into words. “I can reach across a room and blow a door closed as easily as you could walk and push it. And yet divination requires all these tricks and indirections and games with fate.” He gestured in annoyance at the runestones. “Why is all lesser magic so… feeble?”
"Must everything be simple to you Ryheem? Need it all come quickly and easily? What would you do with the rest of your life were it so? You compare shutting a door to mapping the preordained destiny of the world, and call such knowledge feeble? Perhaps it could not conquer a land, or slay an army, but it can change the world more surely and enduringly than the wind my brother."
It seemed that Rava Damaskar simply was not given to understanding. Perhaps because the divine powers that created the world did not run in his own veins, or empower his spirit.
"You know he has chosen us because he seeks a successor. What do you desire that could be greater than this house Ryheem? I do not understand. There is success, influence, wealth, respect, and mastery of your craft. And I tell you truly, if you desired it you could take it easily from me. And yet you seem not to care." he spread his hands "What has this world promised you that is a greater, or more worthy calling than this one?"
"Why shouldn't it be? Why shouldn't all paths to power and knowledge be equally sloped?" Ryheem knew he was simply being petulant even as he said it; he might as well be complaining that the rain was wet or the night dark. He nodded his head at Rava, acknowledging his friend's ideas as he paced disconsolately around the garden, pausing to sniff a blooming lhjesh flower.
"What do I desire?" he plucked a bruise-purple petal from the flower and let the wind catch it, send it spiralling aloft. "I do not know. Truly, I do not know, Rava. Perhaps the price of the Gift of the Wind is that one must consent to be blown around, aimless as a leaf on the breeze. I feel…" he paused, squinting. "As if the Fells are a speck of dirt on the shell of an egg that is the Inner Sea Basin. We consider that speck our whole world, ignoring even the rest of the egg… let alone the other eggs around it. The Battlewaite, the Southlands, the Divh-Empire of the landsmen. How many besides in the same nest? If one was to walk until the land became sea, then sail to the edge of the world, would one return to whence he came?" Ryheem placed the thread from Sambala's robe he had tied into a ring to demonstrate. "Or would one arrive at new lands where Bahru has commanded new stars to shine, the likes of which we have never seen? I do not know. And that ignorance bites at me like a bloodfly."
For all of his self-possessed wisdom, Ryheem could see Rava did not understand, even as he spoke. There was sympathy in his fellow initiate's eyes, but not comprehension. But then even Ryheem himself did not entirely understand what it was that drove him. Even as great and learned a mind as his knew only runour or legend of what lay north of the Bosots, or west of Battlewaite, or east of mighty Haedrasia. And did he truly want to know?
What if the world there was just the same as that in the Fells?
What destiny had Bahru given him that came with such great promise, such unique gifts, but then imprisoned him in the tiny sphere of the Dome's influence?
It was almost intolerable.

Prologue Chapter 1 Interlude 1 Chapter 2