This fiction sets up an event, which will be jointly hosted by myself and EM Bennu, and which will be held on Friday and will be announced tomorrow. ------------------ The Brothers Ad-Din, Yusef and Salah, saw the Mysterious Healer standing on the north end of the Fishing Village, looking out over the bay, seemingly unaware of anything around him. They approached him cautiously. It isn't every day, Yusef had said, that you accuse someone of being a dead man. Everywhere around there were signs of the Healer's good work. The gargoyles were recovering, save for those who'd already fully-recovered. “Greetings, Sons of the Prophet,” said the Healer as the brothers approached. Somehow, they were not startled that he'd perceived them, but the use of that term did surprise them. “No one has called our people that for a long time,” said Yusef. The men of the Desert Outpost in Ilshenar were among the first Ilshenarians to hear the words of the Prophet of Virtue, even before the people of the great city of Montor. For a time before the destruction of most of Ilshenar, the desert men were known as 'The Sons of the Prophet.' But that was centuries ago, and was something no Britannian should know. “Then I must be very, very old,” replied the healer. In the setting sun he indeed looked old and worn. There was a silence for the time. “Are you Lord Blackthorn?” Salah, always direct, had been the one to ask. The Healer sighed and leaned on his staff. “Blackthorn.....Isn't he dead? None of us, including yourselves, are what we were in youth.” Salah continued to speak for the brothers. “You know the saying among our people?” “I know that your people, Sons of the Prophet, have many sayings....But I know the one you mean I think. 'Be he rat or man, the Piper is always the Piper.'” Now it was Yusef who spoke. “That is right. So when we ask if you are Blackthorn, we ask if you ever were. Because if you were he, then he you remain.” “Blackthorn was a murderer, they say. A servant of the metal god Exodus. He attacked his people, killed many, before being slain by Dawn the Valiant, the then-future Queen of her people. Are you asking me if I am a murderer and a traitor, Professor?” “No, Sir. I am asking if you are Blackthorn. If Blackthorn was a murderer, then he was many other things as well. And sometimes appearances deceive. Exodus sought to copy me, and the Lady Danica. Perhaps he copied others. Such is the rumor. That he copied Blackthorn. That perhaps the doppelganger even thought he was Blackthorn, but was not. But, if you are not Blackthorn, all this does not matter.” “I was. I mean, I am.” The Healer, Blackthorn, seemed at one apprehensive and relieved. There was a silence for awhile between the three. Blackthorn seemed to stand a little straighter once he admitted who he was. “Do you know,” asked Blackthorn, “or can you guess, what the hardest part of this deception is?” He didn't wait for an answer. “No beard. I liked having a beard. Oh, I know that the convention in my day for Lords and Knights was to go beardless. To be primped and curled and proper and clean-shaven. But.....Then, there sat My Liege. My foe in chess and debate, my friend in all other respects. My Liege had a beard. Eyes like fire, a voice like the softest thunder, a beard, power wielded so lightly, and all together he gave the world assurance of a King. The best I could ever do was to grow a beard. And now I do not even have that.” Blackthorn chuckled. “You had more than a beard, My Lord.” Yusef spoke to Blackthorn in soft, respectful tones. Soft persuasion, he thought as he spoke. Soft persuasion. The art of diplomats and Professors. “Many followed you. And you gave to the Virtues something important, that they did not have on their own.” “Did I?” “You did. You gave them balance. You made them whole. You completed the circle.” “Strange....It, Chaos, was intended to divide. To prevent My Liege from ending much of existence by virtue of Virtue.” “By that standard, My Lord, I must state that you failed.” The three men laughed out loud at the frank statement. The tension, and Blackthorn's resistance, broke, and Yusef took the opening. “Too many took Chaos as evil. The evil your doppelganger wrought reenforced that to many, but many more, when you return, will remember the truth. Chaos is not Evil, Chaos completes the circle, it completes the Virtues. Without the tolerance you taught, without the balance you wrought, without Chaos, the Virtues by themselves can be at war, as Honor and Justice are now at war, through Lord Dupre and Lady Danica. You have heard of this?” “I have.” “The Virtues can contradict each other. The Gypsy taught The Stranger that. Dupre and Danica are both good people, both Virtuous people, they care much about the realm, and yet they will tear it apart, because they are focused on their own preferred Virtue and on their personal rage. Without the tolerance you preached, you taught, this is what happens. The people merely want to eat, they want stability, they want to sow and reap and live their lives. They want freedom and stability and, without what you preached, without what you added to the Virtues, without you completing the circle, they have neither and suffer under Virtue turned to vendetta. There were those who fought in the streets, claiming to represent Order or Virtue on one side, and Chaos on the other, but you and the King played chess and were friends. And why? Because you both recognized the truth.” “And what is that?” He knows what I'll say, Yusef thought. But he has to hear me say it again. “That Chaos completes the circle. Without that tolerance, the Virtues can become rigid, and thus corrupt, as happened under Casca. You have heard of this as well? Of Casca's tyranny?” “I have.” “And, you have also heard that even your Liege abandoned his quest for unity under the Virtues, even when he thought you had become a puppet of Exodus, because he honored what you were and are even as he thought you had become something different.” “I have.” “And you have heard of our problems with the Moongates, and the Ethereal Void.” “I cannot help you with that.” “You must.” Blackthorn's voice became more animated. “I tried to play hero once, to take on Exodus directly. You saw how that worked out.” “This is different.” “How so?” “You have experience with gate magic, and you have the power to effectuate the cure we have found. This calls for a creature of legend and myth, my Lord. You are such a creature, perhaps the last one left. And you are a Lord, and a leader of men. Only you can do this. You owe this to the world.” “You think I do not know my obligations, Professor? It is not a matter of willingness, or of obligation. It is a matter of distance. I have not seen my country for longer than I care to guess and I have not played with Moongate magic in still-longer.” “Distance or not,” Yusef was getting angry, and his voice was starting to show it, “only you can do this. Only you. Not the case with Exodus. Others could do that, and others did. You made an error in judgment. It happens. We are all lucky you are still with us, and not mad from torment. But this, the Moongate cure, only you can do.” “Too much distance....” “Look around you, My Lord! Look at these gargoyles, cured and healthy. They have a chance now, thanks to you. How many more-experienced alchemists are there, yet none did what you did. How many were there with less distance between them and alchemy than you had. And yet, despite all this, it was you, and no other, who did this, or who could.” Blackthorn didn't reply. Yusef started to calm down, and continued. “Only you can do this my Lord. What Chaos is about more than anything is having the choice. It does not support Evil, it recognizes that Good must be chosen and to have that choice means taking the risk someone will choose the wrong way. But if the world falls through the Void, none will have a choice in anything for very long.” Blackthorn stared out at the bay for a long time. He was beaten and he knew it. “What do I need to do,” he asked softly.