They met late at night in the scholar's garden. Most of the senior scholars had gone to bed, with a few exceptions. Master Al'Muallem was still pouring over another tome in the librārium, and Master Al'Karim was meditating in the shrine of prayer
Exotic flowers and ivy draped trellises shared their fragrance with passersby, and in amongst this beauty they were drawn up in a circle. Altair and Mustafa sat side by side dressed in the red robes of senior initiates while Aslan, Ismet and Yusuf sat across from them wearing the white robes of junior initiates. In the middle of them sat the crystal ball Altair had stolen from Master Al'Mushaf's private chambers.
'Mustafa, did you get the scroll from the restricted section of the librārium,' Altair asked, running his hand across the surface of the crystal ball.
'Yes,' he said. Mustafa loosened the rope coil around the mouth of his satchel and removed the tome. 'But I've looked at a few pages, and it isn't in any language recognisable to anyone in the Caliphate.'
'Let Ismet have a look, he is well versed in language.' Mustafa passed the leather- bound volume across to Ismet.
Ismet traced his right hand down the first page, meanwhile tapping his temple with his left. 'I recognise this. It is in one of the languages of the infidel,' he said.
'Can you make it work Ismet?' Altair asked.
'To activate it one should only need to utter the correct incantation.'
'Emet, which means truth.'
'It's not doing anything-' began Yusuf. Smoke was coalescing inside the crystal ball, slowly forming a three-dimensional scene. The crystal had begun to hum, and voices were emanating from within.
'Another decade has passed and once again this council convenes,' Roaring Tiger intoned.
'Who will begin?' Striking Scorpion asked.
'I will,' Shining Fish began. 'I have swum through the seas, and seen this world through the lens of freedom. It is a grand world, worthy of our caretaking.'
'I shall speak next,' Swooping Hawk said. 'I have flown through the air, from the highest peaks to the lowest valleys. I have witnessed the circle of life, from birth until the desiccation of life at the hands of the carrion-eaters. I still cannot find fault with this verdant world of paradise.'
'I have done battle with the warriors of this world, they fight with bravery and cunning. They know the meaning of sacrifice and mercy, and I feel they are worthy of our mercy,' Striking Scorpion said.
'I have ruled over man and beast alike. They are a noble, if savage beast that has yet to divine the true meaning of power, and I think they deserve time to find that meaning.' Roaring Tiger said.
'It seems my fellow councillors continue in their petty naivety,' Reaping Death said.
'Perhaps you would be willing to share your experiences with this council then?'
'I will, though you may not like that which I speak,' Reaping Death began. 'If only I could show you the things Ive seen, you might understand the things I say. Ive wandered through the desolate lands where nary a soul cares to live, and I've spoken with the souls of the dead, who still see the lands of the living. They cry in anguish, passing through one another like shadows in the dying light of day. And they spoke to me of their regrets of the flesh. And do you know what it is I realised? Life is an abomination; it mothers pain, and fear, and envy, which exist only because we are here to feed them. I can no longer tolerate the atrocities of life.'
'You speak of the end times then?' Roaring Tiger asked.
The sound of footsteps crunching the gravel nearby sent Altair and his companions into a blind panic. A shadow blocked the light of the moon, and Altair looked up into the face of one of the senior scholars.
'Altair, what sorcery is this?' Al'Mushaf demanded.
'Effendi? I know nought of that which you speak.'
'Lies cannot save you now, Altair. When your father learns of this: plundering my own chambers.'
'Did you hear that?' Swooping Hawk asked.
'Indeed. Our machinations are betrayed, this is most inauspicious,' Shining Fish said.
'We cannot allow knowledge of our existence.'
'Perhaps one of the Young Ones spies on us now,' Striking Scorpion said.
'There is no one here, of this I am sure,' Swooping Hawk said.
'No, I believe Striking Scorpion is correct. But they are employing means above them to do so.'
'I thought we had seen to the last of their sorcery,' Shining Fish said.
'Apparently not. I shall castigate them for their insolence.'
'Met,' Al'Mushaf said.
'Death,' Ismet whispered.
'Your foolishness has condemned us all.'
'What will happen-,' Mustafa began, but he was cut off by a shrill scream from Yusuf, who was clawing at a rash of black lesions creeping up his forearms.
'Sorcery,' Al'Mushaf said, as he watched the black lesions begin to form on his own forearms, and then he too screamed.