As the sky grew a darker green, the first stars began to appear, and with them, the Signs. The first to appear tonight was the tragic form of The Sufferer, bearing his pain in silence. A fitting sign, Farseer thought. We are all suffering, and we will have to bear it for a long, long time. But not forever. He had faith of that.
The ground was uneven and unsteady beneath his feet, and he had to spread his four legs wide to keep his balance. Where once had stood a beautiful forest stretching from horizon to horizon, its orange and white trees bearing life-giving fruit, now there was only a blasted and burning wasteland. The blackened husks of the trees transformed the surface into a collection of vast waves, frozen in time. All across the field, embers burned in the darkness, and with his far-sense he could feel the air buzzing around him in every direction as the energy of the forest escaped into the sky.
He kept walking, and soon came to a crater large enough to build a hive in. A tangle of shattered metal and coils lay in it, corpselike. He made a slow circuit, taking in its sight and feeling its shape with his far-sense. There. He could just barely make out some color in its shattered form. A small segment had escaped damage, and was painted a brilliant shade of blue, a color that he had been taught represented wisdom and restraint. The demon known as Azure had no restraint and certainly no wisdom, except for the knowledge of how to kill. But he was far from the worst of them.
“…come to a place like this? What is there to see? What would we do if these golems come back to life?” Half a mile away, the conversation of his followers reached him, their far-sense buffeting against his, vibrating the air in specific patterns that made words and phrases. He could tell he was not meant to hear this conversation, that they thought they were speaking in private. Even those who followed him could not always remember how vast his far-sense reached, how clearly he could pick up the movement of others even a mile away. He paused. He did not like spying on his followers, especially when they were expressing doubt. But the harder he tried to shut out their dialogue the clearer it seemed to become.
“Who are you to question the Farseer?” asked Defender. “He has told you again and again, he is following the signs of a Spirit.”
“Yes, signs only he can feel. The last time he saw one, it was within all of our ranges, but none of us felt a thing. What does that sound like to you?” the first speaker responded. His name was White Flowers.
“It sounds like a true miracle. The Farseer has sight beyond us all. It is only fitting that he should be the one who guides us,” Defender said.
“I, for one, believe in the Farseer,” spoke Swift. He always spoke slowly and methodically, as befitted an elder amongst youths. Most of Farseer’s followers were young, just barely adults, like Farseer himself. Swift was four times his age. “But I feel he is too reckless. These battlefields are full of danger. Traps, set by one Demon for the other, could be triggered by us. Some of these golems may still be active. It is obvious now that the Farseer was born into this time to help us survive these Demons. If we were to lose him here, all hope would be lost.”
That was enough to disinterest him in the conversation. His shell began to buzz as he shook with anger. “Survive these demons,” Swift had said. Everywhere he went, it was the same. They all spoke of survival, of perseverance. Any thought of fighting back had been given up long ago. His people had already resigned themselves to a lifetime of servitude. Scurrying like rats before the golem armies that swept their fields, burned their cities. Not him. He would not go quietly.
Farseer reached a steep hill and began to climb, the dead wood beneath him creaking and shuddering as he moved. The largest of the moons was now rising overhead, flooding the battlefield with a pale yellow light. He turned, carefully, and could see a vast open space before him. Twelve of his followers, the only ones who had accompanied him here from True Water, were arranged in a cluster half a mile away. Though they all looked the same from this distance, he could see them all clearly with his far-sense, their silhouettes as clear as day. Coming from one of the largest centers of trade in the world, they represented a wide variety of races and cultures, with four different dialects among them. But though they had shells of red, blue, green, white, yellow, pink, and brown, none of them shared either of the same colors as he.
A Woken like Farseer was born only once a millennium, and each one was considered a direct avatar of the gods. His shell was pure black, the color of loss and sorrow, but the patterns on that shell were a vivid orange, the color representing joy and rebirth. This coloration was a sign of a great change, a shift in the very nature of life for all the peoples of their world. Those bearing these marks were meant to guide the Woken into a new way, and to help them, they received the power of a heightened far-sense, ten times greater than that of an ordinary Woken. Since he was old enough to understand, he had known that he was destined for great things. The gods would not have given him his gift for no reason. He had a destiny. And when the Demons had arrived, the very year that he became an adult, he had known what that destiny was. He would, somehow, convince his people to rise up and cast down these Demons, and take back their world. But for the past two years, he had no idea how he was to do so.
Attempts to battle the Demon’s golem servants had ended in disaster. The most powerful cannons his people could make did not even dent the golem’s armor. In the battles he had personally led against the Azure golems, they did not even bother to retaliate, simply marching onward at blinding speed, leaving his army behind in the dust, faith shattered, spirits broken. That had hurt him so deeply that he had not tried to fight ever again. No, he knew there had to be another way. Much as he hated to admit it, his people were as insects against the invaders. But some insects could kill. He clung to the hope that he could find some weakness to exploit, and had taken to studying the golems in detail. He had even spent time amongst the traitorous vermin that willingly debased themselves in servitude to the Jade Demon. The one they called goddess. Hiding his disgust as he plied them for information was the hardest thing he had ever done.
He had almost given up hope. He never doubted the truth of his destiny, but he began to believe that it really was his duty just to lead his people in silent endurance, like the great Sufferer of old. But then came the signs.
One day, he ordered his followers to give him some time for solitude, and began to climb a nearby mountain. Alone amongst nature, he listened to the wind whistling through the chinks in his shell, the small animals hiding in the brush, and began to despair even more. All this would be destroyed at the whims of the Demons, should they choose to make it a battlefield. He climbed to the summit of the mountain, refusing to stop even as storm clouds gathered overhead, rain began to fall, and lightning tore the sky around him. At the summit, he opened his far-sense, stretching it as far as he could, screaming out for help. He had expected no answer.
He had been wrong to doubt.
The clouds opened up overhead, shoved aside like curtains at the hands of an immense being. The yellow sky shone down on him, and the mountain seemed to sparkle as the light reflected in all of water that had deluged it moments before. A bright light shone down, a beam of pure whiteness so bright that he could not bear to look at it with eyes or with far-sense. He huddled, made himself small before it, and tried to show his humility, so that the White Spirit would show some mercy on him. Then he felt something like a caress, as another’s far-sense fluttered against his, so light, yet strong. Tentatively, he opened his far-sense, listening, and heard a single word clear and bright. Follow. It told him only to follow, and then the light vanished, leaving him alone on the mountain, hearing only the sound of rain dripping off rocks and trees. He waited, fearing that it would say nothing more, but then, in the distance, miles away, he felt the slightest flicker of far-sense, pulling at him. Follow.
When he descended the mountain and told his followers of his vision, they had rejoiced, believing that he at last was being given a clear mission. They set off at once towards the spot where he had felt the presence, but found nothing when they arrived. He had not worried. It had told him to follow, and he would. They continued in that direction for three days, and on the dawn of the fourth day he awoke to feel that same far-sense, beckoning from a distant point. For months now, they’d traveled, following the signs from point to point, until they had crossed nearly the entire continent. As time went on and it became apparent that only he could see these signs, some of his followers grew disheartened, but Farseer managed to endure, secure in his faith and his righteous fury.
But now the sign had led him here, to this very spot, and he felt certain that it was not merely another stop on the way. The signs had led him around the Demon’s armies before, following a slow but safe path. The Spirit would not have led him to this battlefield unless he was meant to find something. Then again, he thought, maybe I just want it to be over. For this to be the end of my journey. He had tried hard to keep his thoughts patient on their long travels, but it was so hard. His people had been suffering for two years now. How much longer must he remain useless? Maybe they should simply move on-
He slipped, one of his feet falling through the crack between two tree trunks, and he sprawled forward, his face striking against the inside of his head-shell. He spat out blood and struggled to his feet. But as he rose, he felt something at last. A deep rumbling coming from the earth, rising up beneath his feet. It was so close! He had been right, this was the place the Spirit would speak with him and tell him his purpose at last.
The ground beneath him exploded with the force of a cannon. He flew through the air, and felt a momentary sense of weightless as he spun, unable to tell where was up and down. Then he slammed hard into the ground and rolled, over and over, his soft body striking again and again against the inside of his shell. He lay winded, barely able to breath. One of his legs was in searing pain, and when he tried to move it he let out a sharp gasp of far-sense, overwhelmed by the pain. It had to be broken. He lay silent, suddenly with no idea of where he was or why. Then he felt his followers below him, calling up with the full force of their far-sense. Trying to warn him.
He slid open the armored slits in his head shell, heard the wind whistle through them as he blinked his bloodied eyes. They were of no use, but his far-sense now was active, brushing up against every intricate piece of the monster looming over him. A long, broken body trailing long wires like spilled entrails. Two legs dragging another two broken off at their base. Its head was half destroyed, but what remained was focused on him with its many glittering, insect eyes. A single arm reached towards him, the end of it a long, smooth barrel. One of the Demon’s golems, damaged but not destroyed. There was nothing he could do. Leg broken, he could not run, all he could do was lie there and wait for it to kill him. He wondered what the historians would say. Would they consider him a true Farseer, or merely a mistake? Would they interpret his pointless death as a sign from the gods, telling his people to give up and die?
His far-sense rumbled forward as he spoke the word, rejecting the concept with every fiber of his being. Dust and charcoal from the battlefield whipped into the air in a funnel, stirred up by the force of his cry. I will not accept this. Gods or Demons, you will not win! He shouted out, throwing his far-sense out harder, stronger than he had ever tried before, and a sound like thunder erupted in the air around him. His far-sense actually buffeted the golem, and it teetered on its legs and fell to one side. Blinking away the blood, he could now see it pulling itself up, its eyes focused in on him with mechanical precision. He gritted his shell, placed his feet, and forced himself up, shaking from the pain of his broken leg. He reached his feet at the same time as the golem. It reared up, five times his height, and pulled back its arm, preparing to spear him, shatter his shell and let his body leak out and dissolve in the dust.
He shouted again, and the thunder clapped. The trees around him burst into pieces under the force of his far-sense, and as it struck the golem he felt something he’d never noticed before. It has a far-sense. He faltered, shocked at the revelation. Only the Woken had that gift. A mechanical, soulless automaton should not possess his people’s most precious gift. But as he recoiled in horror, a voice in the back of his mind, much like that of the Spirit from before, directed his thoughts. This is it. This is the weakness you’ve been looking for.
He slammed his far-sense forward, surrounding and pressing into the golem from all side, choking and throttling its far-sense. It was a ridiculous move, he knew. Far-sense wrestling was a game for children. A Woken’s far-sense was too weak to injure another. But he knew it was his only chance. And my power is far greater. The golem roared, letting out a howl like metal scraping together, and thrust its arm forward to impale him. He twisted, flung all of his strength to one side. He felt a huge impact, and thought he was dead, but when the pain did not come he realized he’d thrown the golem off target. Its arm was buried in the ground beside him, and its body had collapsed on the ground. It began to rise again, but he could feel its Far-sense cracking and breaking under his grip.
“I have followed you here, Spirit!” he shouted, joy over coming his pain. “And you have not forsaken me! Golem, I will suffer your presence no more! Be gone!”
There was another crack like thunder, and the golem shuddered and collapsed in a heap, its far-sense crushed. It lay lifeless, no longer anything to be feared. Farseer collapsed back, feeling his pain rush in all at once, but he felt like singing, so overcome with joy. So he did, sending out his far-sense to rumble through the air, creating a melody of triumph and faith rewarded. When his followers found him, lying bloody beside the dead golem, singing to the night sky, they paused, and then one by one lowered their legs and bowed before him. Above him, the night sky had grown darker, and the Sufferer was no longer alone. Beside him shone the Victor, axe raised to the heavens, proclaiming his glory for the whole world to see.
Soon, he thought. Soon.