Grandmaster of the Radiant Order
Areus, lately elected Grandmaster of the Radiant Order, walked at a miserably slow pace, surrounded by half a dozen advisors. They strolled around the grounds of Kassandra’s Citadel -- since Areus hated taking his meetings sitting in his office all day. The Citadel crowned Heaven’s Reach, the Radiant City, and held Kassandra’s Sanctum -- the holiest of her sanctuaries. It was the seat of power for all the Radiant Order, the holiest place in the holiest city. Bright sunlight reflected off the soaring marble structures and the golden domes and spires of the Citadel.
It was all lost on Areus, whose thoughts kept straying to his brother knights in the field, fighting for the glory of the Order. He tried to look like he was paying attention to his advisor, and not daydreaming -- with only moderate success.
“...and so we’ve decided to raise the tax on silk merchants coming from Shara’zar by one quarter percent. It’s more the principle of the thing, than an attempt to increase revenue. It will send a message, and at such a delicate moment… well, we hope you approve, Grandmaster?”
Areus walked a few steps before he realized he was meant to respond.
“Ah, yes,” he said. “If you think that’s the way to go, then of course…”
The man bowed deeply -- Areus had forgotten his name, although they’d been introduced four or five times -- and said, “Thank you, Grandmaster. Your wisdom and confidence are much appreciated. I shall do as you wish.”
Areus disliked the obsequious tone, but he waved the man away with a barely concealed sigh. It didn’t matter all that much, and he had no idea where to find another expert on… whatever the man was an expert on.
Areus’ secretary, a young knight by the name of Sir Evandrus, stepped neatly into place. Thank the light for him. He’d a head for managing all the things that Areus found unspeakably tedious.
“What’s next, Evandrus? Was that the last appointment?” asked Areus, a hopeful lift to his voice.
“No, Grandmaster,” the knight said, with a little bow. “You’ve an appointment with the head librarian.”
“Why, by the light, do I have an appointment with the head librarian?”
Evandrus frowned. “I’m afraid he was not entirely forthcoming on that point, Grandmaster. Though extremely insistent.”
Areus sighed. He’d worked his entire life in order to become the Grandmaster of his knightly order. He’d fought, he’d lead, he’d learned and he’d taught. He’d made the necessary connections and won the admiration of his peers and his elders. He’d shown himself to be the most capable knight in all of the Order -- and his reward was ceremonial dinners. And lunches. And breakfasts. Discussions of taxes. Meetings with librarians. No time for trials of arms, and no one who would fight him properly for fear of injuring him.
“And after the librarian?” asked Areus.
“You’ve a free hour… and then you’ll need to be ready to receive the Mayor of Heaven’s Reach. He’s coming for supper to discuss a project to improve the sewers of the city.”
Areus closed his eyes. “Whose idea was it to make that a dinner meeting?” he asked.
Evandrus looked up to the sky and said, “Yours, my lord. We had it set after the librarian, but you suggested that dinner might be more polite...”
Areus closed his eyes and shook his head. He’d suggested dinner so that he would have an excuse to be alone for an hour and not have to deal with… everything. “I remember,” said Areus. “Yes, my fault. Thank you, Evandrus.”
“Of course, Grandmaster. If you’d like to come this way… the head librarian will be waiting.”
Areus turned obediently towards Bellona’s Librarium. It was one of the largest structures in the Citadel -- a bastion of knowledge, a collection of every bit of history, philosophy, and scientific theory the Order had ever run across.
The grandeur of the library did distract Areus briefly from half-hearted daydreams of his time as a simple knight of the Order. Scrolls and books were neatly stored in shelves and racks -- each with their own place. Enormous desks of polished stone were available to scholars and librarians and knights and scribes. This was one of the truly marvelous things about the Radiant Order’s expansion -- this collection of wisdom was surely unrivaled in the world.
The head librarian awaited Areus under the great dome of the library, feet treading casually on the gold and white mosaic of the floor. He was a big man, as tall as Areus and somewhat broader. His shoulders and arms said that along with being the master of the library, he was -- or had been -- a knight of the Radiant Order.
“Grandmaster,” said the librarian with a bow. “Thank you for taking the time. And may I congratulate you on your ascension?”
“Thank you, dear man,” said Areus, impatient. “My secretary says you would not specify the purpose of this meeting. I hope you will do so now?”
The librarian looked at the cluster of advisors still trailing Areus like ducklings.
“I’m afraid it’s a private matter,” said the librarian, a little stiffly.
“Private?” asked Areus. “What, in the light--”
“Very private,” said the librarian. “You must forgive me, Grandmaster, but I have to insist. Will you perhaps step into my study? To discuss it?”
Areus looked at Evandrus, irritated. The knight shrugged. He had no further information on the matter.
“Very well,” said Areus. “Lead the way. Though I’m afraid I can’t stay long. I have other appointments today…”
The head librarian took Areus to his study and then carefully closed the door -- after glancing at the milling advisors, as though worried they might eavesdrop.
“You have quite the... flock, Grandmaster,” commented the librarian, with a smile.
“Indeed,” Areus waved the humor away. “What do you want?” he asked. He just wanted to get this over with.
The librarian stood up straighter and said, “Grandmaster, it is my honor as the master of the library to commend into your care the secret library of the Grandmasters of the Radiant Order. I do so now, with the utmost respect, and with the hope that you will find its wisdom of use -- and knowing that during your stewardship, it shall increase. ”
With gravitas, the librarian turned his back on Areus. Behind the librarian’s desk was a great golden sun - emblem of the Radiant Order. The librarian took hold of one of the sun’s rays. He turned it and, as he did, a part of the marble wall shifted and then slid aside. It revealed a short hallway and a room beyond, filled with books. The librarian bowed to Areus, indicating that he should go first.
Astonished, Areus did so. The room was somewhat dusty, but well organized. It was lit by a trick of mirrors -- bringing in sunlight from outside through a series of chimneys and ducts. Shelves lined most of the walls, but there was a desk here as well. Above the desk was a matching sunburst -- exactly like the one in the librarian’s study. Presumably, it would close or open the secret door.
“If I may…” said the librarian, following the Grandmaster inside. He gestured to different portions of the shelves.
“Here you will find the personal writings of previous Grandmasters, back all the way to Grandmaster Martinus.” Areus drew a sharp breath - the first Grandmaster of the Order. Hundreds of years gone. “There are also several secret histories of the Order, compendiums of past and present codes used by servants of the Order… and a few arcane oddities.”
Areus smiled. He’d never been all that inclined to reading or writing, outside of what was his duty, but here was finally something more exciting than endless discussions of provisions for border patrols.
He looked around the shelves with more enthusiasm than he’d felt in weeks. At random, he took a book down -- a massive tome bound in stained leather.
He opened it and found himself looking at a celestial chart -- covered in thin, spindly writing he could not decipher. Intrigued, he turned to another page. These markings were beautiful… but incomprehensible.
“What is this?” he asked the librarian, who seemed pleased by Areus’ interest.
“One of those arcane oddities, I mentioned,” he said. “It’s called The Radiant Sky and it’s a collection of notations and artistic musings from a priestess of Kassandra. She was something of a mystic, really, obsessed with the ways the Lady Kassandra’s light manifests in the world. Literally.”
“Literally?” asked Areus.
“As a kind of magic, as I understand it.”
“Can you read it?” asked Areus, enchanted.
“I’m afraid not,” said the librarian. “But I could find a scholar who can, I believe.”
Areus smiled wider, turning to yet another page. The book felt warm in his hands.
“Do so,” said the Grandmaster. “Thank you.”
In the space of a few weeks, two rooms in the Grandmaster’s private palace were given over to desks. Some were piled high with books and others were covered in charts, held down with map weights. Librarians and scholars arrived with more books and took others away.
Every moment that Areus was not required by the business of the Order, he was here. He’d learned a great deal of the script used in The Radiant Sky and found other works by the same priestess in both the secret library and the main collection. Several of those tomes referenced other, older works.
Next, Areus sent messengers to the other great libraries of the Order -- and even to those in the Shara’zar lands -- with lists of books and scrolls to search for.
Months passed, riders left and returned, and Areus continued to be obsessed with uncovering the secrets first referenced in The Radiant Sky. He successfully collected tomes from more than ten different libraries and had scribes copying them, so that he might have his own versions. He’d learned a great deal, spending time each day with tutors proficient in ancient scripts and dialects, along with one to instruct him in astronomy.
“May I see these returned to the library?” asked Sir Evandrus, indicating a stack of scrolls.
“Yes,” said Areus. “All but the one to the far left -- that must be returned to a library in the Sanctuary outside Ladium.”
“Yes, Grandmaster,” said Sir Evandrus. “I’ll see to it. You’ve fifteen minutes before you’ll need to change for the investiture of the new brothers.”
“Thank you, Evandrus,” said Areus -- his eyes on a chart. He was close to something -- he could feel the shape of the knowledge he was seeking, he just couldn’t quite see it yet.
“Grandmaster,” said Evandrus, and then he coughed.
“What is it, Evandrus?” asked Areus, still not looking up.
“Sir, I-- May I speak directly?” asked the Knight.
Areus sighed. “I wish you would. Directness requires less of my time.”
“Very well,” said Evandrus. “We’ve a backlog of audience requests -- a dozen decisions that need to be made. New appointments awaiting your approval. I do not wish to be disrespectful, Grandmaster, but there are vacant positions for more than five commanders, and we’ve candidates waiting for your approval…”
“You feel I’m neglecting my duties, consumed by this project.”
“I did not say that, Grandmaster,” said Evandrus.
“But you would have. You’re blessed with an honest tongue,” said Areus.
“Thank you,” said Evandrus.
Areus thought for a moment. He’d not been impressed with the latest crop of applicants for command positions. Many of them came from good families, but had little record of remarkable service in the Order. Before, when he’d first ascended to the rank of Grandmaster, Areus would simply have confirmed the choices. He’d not wished to be bothered with the trouble of finding the best knights. Now, he hesitated. He did not wish to take time from his research… but, the new life the project was breathing into him made it more difficult to accept mediocrity in his other choices and duties. Besides, if he created a more competent chain of command, perhaps he would be interrupted less.
“Evandrus,” said Areus. “Do you believe that it is best to sacrifice some time at the beginning of an endeavor in order to be sure of a strong foundation -- or to move forward in the most efficient way possible?”
“The Grandmaster knows that I prefer things to be done properly, I think,” said Evandrus. “A little extra work is rarely regretted, while haste often is.”
“Indeed,” said Areus. “We have some work to do, my friend, but I believe we are up to the tasks the Light has granted us.”
Nearly a year into his reign as Grandmaster, Areus was up late. Too late. He had meetings in the morning, but he’d never sleep with the storm that raged outside. Lightning and thunder shattered the night with brilliance, sound and fury. Torrents of rain pounded down on Kassandra’s Citadel and the city surrounding it.
He used the raucous weather as an excuse to continue studying. He’d amassed quite a collection over the year -- the two rooms he’d originally commandeered for the project becoming four, one of which could only be described as a library in its own right.
Another of the rooms was mostly bare -- and here, Areus tried to put all his acquired knowledge into practice.
He held his notes -- a tome of his own collected knowledge, something that would be worthy to live in the Grandmaster’s secret library for all the eons the Radiant Order would exist, and stood with one hand raised in the center of the room.
Lightning flashed outside.
Areus read the patterns he’d inscribed in the book again, feeling the power of the storm outside and again… that shape of secret knowledge that felt so close to him now.
“Kassandra’s light, and the radiant sky…” he mumbled in an ancient language.
“Bright lady, light bringer, day wielder…”
Lightning flashed and Areus blinked. So bright! It had nearly seemed to be in the room with him.
“Radiant sky…” he said again, in a different language -- trading fluently between lost words.
A crackle of magic, like static electricity, filled the air -- and Areus. He felt on edge, tinged with power.
He spoke an all but forgotten name for the goddess Kassandra, and made a sign in the air with his hand.
With a rush, Areus saw not the room before him -- but the wide and open sky, so bright that the blue was lost in white light. He laughed as power rushed through him, turning him into a storm.
Lightning flowed through him, bursting from his hands and his eyes, arcing and sparking into the floor, the walls and ceiling.
Areus shouted in elation.
“Grandmaster!” cried Evandrus from the door, come at once at the sounds of destruction. Behind him were a few Knights of the Radiant Order -- looking on in awe as Areus directed a bolt of pure power into a wall, laughing wildly.
“I’ve done it!” he cried. “I’ve harnessed the power of the radiant sky! It’s mine - the world and all it’s magic, are mine.”
Evandrus remained shocked for another moment, and then he fell to one knee. Behind him, the other knights did the same.
“May the Light be spread to all corners of the world,” he said, fervently, “Under the guidance of Kassandra -- and Grandmaster Areus.”