The door to the archive swung open. The guard stood silently observing the figure as it flitted down the long, narrow aisles. Keeping her wings folded tightly against her back to avoid disturbing the stacked scrolls, the girl tiptoed along the racks searching for the prophecy. Her long white hair flowed like a mountain stream as she scoured the shelves searching for the elusive scroll. Her master had sent her on this errand as he could not access the archives himself and his absence from the throne room would have been noticed by more than just the palace guard.
Moving with a subtle grace, Regina swept around the end of an aisle, rising to a higher shelf as though the scroll that she sought was drawing her to itself. There, glowing softly among the thousands like it, sat the one scroll which was known by all. There was not a soul in the heavenlies who did not whisper of The Prophecy.
Standing like a guilty child before a disappointed father, Regina reached out a trembling hand and pulled the scroll from the stack. Her heart leapt to her throat as the stack suddenly tumbled inward filling the vacant space. There was no way she could sneak it back now. Regina tried parting the scrolls, but it was as though they had become fused together, the light fading from them as she watched. Panic gripped her heart; she could feel it pounding in her chest. She had never felt like this before, excitement and fear coursing through her system, shattering her peace. She ran.
Clutching the scroll tightly in her hand, her bare feet pounding on the cold stone floor, Regina ran as quickly as possible, her wings dragging along the shelves sending scrolls cascading to the floor behind her. Scrolls danced and spun about the ground, those losing their seals springing open and turning to dust in an instant. She dared not look back; her only thoughts now were on flight.
The guards watched impassively as Regina flashed by them. Their only response was a single blink to remove the dust from their eyes. Out into the open courtyard she fled. Thrusting her white feathered wings as wide as they would go, she lifted into the air soaring higher and higher, faster and faster, until the rushing of the wind finally drowned out the beating of her heart. Ahead lay the circle of towers whose spires were lost among the ethereal clouds and whose foundations were buried in the fathomless sea.
Regina fixed her eyes on the distant towers, forcing herself on despite the growing fears in her mind. Was she doing the right thing? Was Nehushtan the one she should obey? Who was pulling Nehushtan's strings? She was not convinced it was the One as he so convincingly claimed.
As the towers drew ever nearer, Regina veered to the left disappearing into the cool caress of the clouds, which were a soothing balm on her pale skin. Thrusting down hard with her wings she climbed above the clouds into the bright light shining from the towers. Regina took a short, sharp breath, swallowing hard. For a faltering moment she was drawn to the Tower of Truth, and its cleansing light. The scroll in her hand felt as heavy as the guilt of a thief caught in the act. Regina spun around and, turning her back on the Truth, she dived into the cloud layer headed toward the Servant Tower with its heavy stone-browed windows and broad spiraling staircases where Nehushtan waited in a recessed cloister.
"You took your time," Nehushtan said holding out his hand for the scroll.
Regina eyed him cautiously. Something about him was different; a subtle change, but what?
"The archive is no small matter," she replied thrusting the scroll toward him.
Nehushtan stepped forward, his feet protruding slightly from his beneath his long, flowing robe. Then she saw it. The change was not noticeable to a human eye but to a celestial being it was obvious.
"What has become of your robe?"
"Nothing," Nehushtan said tightly. "It is the same as it ever was."
He snatched the scroll from her hand. It was then she felt the air swirling about her own feet. Nehushtan's mouth curled into a smile.
"Welcome to the fold, Regina."
"What do you mean?" Regina made a futile swipe at the scroll.
"Oh no, this is for someone else." Nehushtan touched the scroll to his lips. "He'll be so pleased."
"Who will?" Regina stepped back, looking around the room for the true recipient of the prophecy.
"He's not here." Nehushtan's smile broadened. "He's over there," he said pointing the scroll at the Tower of Truth.
"You cannot possibly mean..." Regina's eyes widened, her mouth opened and closed involuntary.
"No, not him," Nehushtan sniggered. "Silly girl."
"Come." A single, disembodied word was spoken into the room. Both Nehushtan and Regina froze.
"Oh, no," they both whispered as a white mist enveloped them.
When the mist lifted from them they were standing with their arms at their sides facing a large circular bronze table supported on the back of a six-legged, white marble dragon. The north rim of the table was supported on the broad head of the dragon, the south upon its twin tails. The east and west rested upon the dragon's spread wings. The surface of the table shimmered, forming into a loose collection of islands which shifted slowly around in a turbulent bronze sea.
To Regina's right an archway opened in the wall. An angel much taller and broader than either Nehushtan or Regina entered through the arch. The angel looked at the two of them, first at their faces and then at the floor and the golden bonds swirling about their feet holding them fast.
"Why are we here?" Regina whispered.
"Why are you whispering?" snapped Nehushtan tersely.
"I have no doubt that we shall soon find out." The third angel walked over to the bronze table and began stirring the sea with a finger. "Oh look, the little boats are all trapped in my whirlpool," he said gleefully.
"Will they perish, Accuson?" The voice spoke calmly, emanating from within a serene white light which shone from a throne of ordinary stone. All three angels fell to their knees, the gold bonds on their feet flexing to accommodate them.
"My Lord, I had no idea..." the third angel began.
"Why do you try to deceive me, Accuson?" the voice said. "What am I?"
"You are many things, my Lord," Accuson smiled to himself.
"Rise and look at me, all of you, and I will tell what will be."
The light solidified into the form of a man. Long robes flowed behind him, fluttering as though caught in a gentle breeze. The three angels stood. Regina and Nehushtan looked upon the man in fleeting glances, but Accuson stared blankly as though he looked upon nothing.
"Tell me again what I am, Accuson." The man stretched out his hand restoring calm to the bronze sea.
"You are..." Accuson swallowed hard, he could feel the penetrating gaze of the man looking deep within him. Compelled to look directly ahead Accuson, stumbling over his words, continued, "You are the One. You are all truth."
The gaze of the One shifted to Regina. She watched, amazed, as a parchment materialized before her. She read the words as they appeared upon the scroll, trembling as her eyes scanned the text.
"My Lord, I did not take the scroll, The Prophecy, for myself but for another." Regina took deep breaths of the cooling air.
"Nonetheless, you did take it." The One cast a glance at Accuson, silencing him before he could speak.
"My Lord, if I may?" Nehushtan injected. "I was not party to the taking of the scroll. I was merely the contact between two agents," he added, tilting his head lightly to one side as though implicating Accuson.
"What has become of you all? What makes you think that you can deceive me with such unsophisticated lies?" The One's eyes fell upon the girl. "Regina, you have been played like a fool. Nehushtan has you under his command. You have surrendered your will to his whim. You had your doubts when taking The Prophecy from the archive, and yet you persisted in your crime. You are, therefore, guilty of theft. It matters not how you choose to see it. A theft is a theft, no matter its size."
Regina's hair and robes turned as black as night. The soft, downy feathers of her wings fell to the floor as ash, exposing a thick leathery skin covered with pulsing veins. Regina screamed and collapsed in a sobbing heap with her wings wrapped about her.
Nehushtan, upon seeing Regina's fate, fell to his knees, his hands pressed together in supplication.
"My Lord," he cried, his chest heaving as he fought his emotions, "I did nothing wrong! I merely received the scroll. It was Accuson who pressed me to obtain it as he cannot enter the archive."
"Lord!" Accuson began. Attempting to approach Nehushtan he pointed an accusing finger at the tearful angel, and felt the fetters tighten around his feet.
"Silence Accuson. From this day forth you will only speak the truth in my presence. You have surrendered your will to your own selfish desire. You have become proud and arrogant, thinking yourself superior to all others," the One paused, "including me."
Accuson lowered his arm, turning slowly to face the One.
"I..." He thought carefully, His tongue desperate to lash out at his accuser. "I have spoken of my desire to read the scroll for myself but I never once demanded that he go and steal it." He spoke slowly, cautiously constructing a truth which would not incriminate him directly. A parchment materialized in front of him. "What... is... this?"
"A prophecy," Nehushtan said in a pitiful whimper. "Ah!" He too screamed as another parchment appeared next to him, smoke softly rising from the burned-in scripture. Nehushtan howled like a wolf in torment as his robes turned black as night. His long white hair shriveled to ragged black curls as his flesh hanging loosely about his bones turned ash grey.
"I'll not read it," Accuson spat, sweeping his hand through the parchment as though it were naught but air.
"It will change nothing." The One stretched out his hand, in which he held four scrolls. "You cannot alter that which will be. Why did you want The Prophecy?"
"To see where I stood in your final plans," Accuson sneered, hugging himself. "You care nothing for us; all your thoughts are filled with the whims of mortals. You set paths before them and encourage them to go beyond what they would normally do."
"And this troubles you? Why so?" The One opened his hand, allowing the four scrolls to fall toward the surface of the table.
Accuson let out a desperate cry. Snatching up the scrolls he held onto them with clenched fists. "Now I hold them. The fate of these two and all that is written in my own prophecy lies within my control. We'll see how great this is." Tearing the seal from The Great Prophecy, Accuson cast the others behind him where they floated slowly toward the open window. Light exploded from the open parchment, dazzling Accuson with its brilliance. Screaming with childish frustration, he tore The Prophecy into shreds, then scattered the tiny pieces of parchment over the bronze sea, laughing maniacally. "I doubt even you could fix that!"
The One stroked his beard thoughtfully and said, "Do you happen to know what this table is?" His eyes sparkled with mischief.
"One of your toys, no doubt." Accuson leaned over the table, wafting his hand to clear a tiny cloud which he presumed to be snow. "What is that?" he asked, annoyed at being unable to disperse the cloud.
"To disperse that would take a word of command," mused the One.
"Scatter," Accuson said stiffly. The tiny cloud burst and scattered its contents across the entire map.
"Oh well done, my child."
"You have not called me that for..." Accuson stopped, drawing himself upright. "I'll not fall for your games.”
The three remaining scrolls floated gently out the window.
"Accuson, the scrolls!" Nehushtan gave a loud, wailing cry. Regina jumping to her feet took one last regretful look at the One before leaping out of the window after the scrolls, the golden bonds holding her in heaven's grasp bursting into a glittering cloud.
“Has your compassion run aground, Accuson?” The One swept his hand over the table. A speck of light appeared, rapidly falling from the sky toward the land. “Nehushtan, wheresoever she falls will be your home. You became her master, now she is your mistress. Do you not feel her tug on your heart?”
Nehushtan wailed a guttural cry. Leaping out of the window after the one remaining love in his heart, he plummeted toward the world below.
“Well, Accuson,” the One said, as the first speck of light smashed into the earth.
“Well what?” Accuson asked, holding his hands behind his back, twiddling his fingers as he tried to stare beyond the One and his throne.
“Perhaps you would care to sit upon my throne?” The One rising to his feet gestured toward the vacant seat. “It will not make you any more or any less than you already are.”
“It would be difficult to make me any lower than a snake,” Accuson hissed.
“For you perhaps, but if that is what you want?” The One raised his hand, pointing toward the table. “The world is turning. Tides come and go, but you shall always remain. The prophecy concerning your life has been written. In fact, it is in your hand.”
Accuson squeezed his hand and felt the crisp parchment in his palm. “How kind. I shall take this and write my own.” His lip curled into a wicked smile. “I shall be king of the entire world,” he mocked.
“Indeed you shall be. You will have a loyal following which will gladly bow before you. They will worship you and call you a god. You will have the beasts of greed and power to your right and to your left. You will scourge the earth of my image. But,” the One sat back in his throne, “you will rule only for a time, times and half a time. Then the end of all things shall come. You will be defeated by a child and sent to your final destination where you will howl in torment, gnashing your teeth in anger at the injustice of it all. You will feel the pain and anguish of every soul that you beguile with your silver tongue.”
Accuson swallowed hard, feeling the weight of his tongue for the first time. “I…”
“I have spoken. It cannot be undone.” The One held out his hand over the table. The world upon it stopped. The clouds hung motionless, the seas became still. Time was no more. The One rose from his throne, grasping Accuson by his robes. “You were one of my chosen,” the One said softly, without malice or hate. “I gave you high office. I trusted you, and you abused that trust for your own gain. But what have you gained?” Accuson wanted to look away, to not gaze into the face of the One, but he could not resist the countenance of his lord. Accuson trembled, his knees buckling beneath him, his wings hanging limp at his sides. “You and all those that have been beguiled by your tongue will now join you. They will learn to eat dust and crawl on their bellies. You have had your time in my courts; now you can hold court of your own.”
The floor opened beneath Accuson, revealing a maw filled with down-turned teeth preventing any re-entry into the heavenlies.
“Farewell my child.” The One released Accuson, dropping him through the maw to the unsuspecting world below. Then, turning to the east the One called out, “Come beast of bones. Come feast upon the outcasts of heaven. Go unto the world below and there slumber until your time is come.”
The maw closed silently.
The One turned his attention to the table where a speck of light, much brighter than the last, fell toward a vast continent, chased by a shadow the breadth of a nation and the depth of a sea. The shadow caught up with the speck of light, batting it like a ball. The light hurled toward the land below, burning with the fury of a comet fleeing across the night sky. It struck the face of the earth with a deafening blow, sending up a cloud of debris high into the static clouds. Specks of light began to rain down all over the map as Accuson's rebellion was expelled from heaven.