The Pillars of Eternity gleamed like polished obsidian in the moonlight. Selah had never seen such a beautiful place. The five-day journey across the northern border brought her farther from home than she had ever been. Even her master, the Great Wizard Aziark, seemed put off by this place — and that was a rarity in itself. How did one who was as old as the workings of the world find any discomfort in passing through it?
She knew the answer should terrify her, and with good reason. An apprentice magician should always respect the power and will of her master. It was one of the first lessons she had learned, the first her master had taught her.
When he selected Selah first among her peers, she had assumed her learned background had been a determining factor, but her mother warned her that even an old wizard would long for the touch of a young and beautiful woman. When she left home to study in Aziark’s tower, she expected him turn on her, to demand the pleasures of her body and the vigor of youth. But her mother was wrong. Aziark had never infringed upon her modesty.
Quite the opposite, in fact. They had never shared a meal, much less a bed. She explained as much to her mother when she returned home halfway through her first year. The skepticism on her mother’s face was unrelenting.
“He is a man like any other, Selah,” she warned. “Powerful, perhaps even immortal, but still a man.”
And still, nothing. Five years into her studies, she was just beginning to sense the magic whispering through the world. Even now, she felt it beneath her hands, like a light dusting of chalk caught between the whorls and loops of her fingerprint. Aziark had taught her to sense it, to truly feel the breath of the world for the first time.
Perhaps, tonight, she would finally learn to control it.
Aziark often mentioned the Pillars of Eternity in their studies, a place where the stones themselves allowed a wizard to draw upon the power of the stars. In his ancient journals, the wizard mentioned previous journeys and a long line of apprenticeships unbroken for millennia. Selah was merely the latest student under Aziark’s tutelage, the newest magician to go forth and make her mark upon the world.
At the edge of the stone circle, Aziark halted. Selah studied the runes engraved into the face of each stone. Some were basic geometric calculations. Some were etched in an ancient script she had never seen before.
“Are you ready, girl?” the old man asked, his face hidden beneath the hood of his heavy cloak.
“Yes,” Selah whispered.
“Take my arm, then. It’s unwise to travel these grounds alone. There are forces inside this circle unknown to you.”
Aziark extended an elbow, and Selah took it. Together, they walked to the first stone. With his free hand, Aziark touched his palm against the glossy surface and gestured for Selah to do the same. Light crackled through the runes, surging from top to bottom. Slowly, the obsidian hue faded to milky white, then to pristine ivory.
They moved to each remaining pillar in turn and repeated the process, each touch setting the ancient stone aglow. Though she had never been to this place before, the power crackling through the air touched something deep within her – she understood it by instinct, respected the nature of it.
Aziark’s grip on her arm loosened when the final pillar was lit. The old wizard threw off the robe and, for the first time, Selah looked upon her master’s naked body. She expected to be repulsed but instead found herself in awe. His pale skin, scarred and spotted, lit with unnatural light. She could see the veins across his back and arms, visible in his old age.
There was no shame here. This was Aziark, last and greatest of his order.
He hobbled to the center of the construct. Selah started to help him, but the wizard raised a knowing hand and commanded patience. When he arrived, Aziark raised his arms to the sky and spoke a single word, one Selah did not know.
Power flowed out of Aziark in a wave. Selah tried to step back but found her foot rooted to the ground, held firm by some supernatural force.
A single bolt of lightning fell out of a clear, black sky. The earth roared, and Selah screamed as she was swept from her feet. Her vision blurred, the dust and heat forcing her to bury her face in her hands. Around her, the air wailed like a banshee howl before the light winked out and the world went dark.
It was several minutes before Selah looked up again. Around her, the Pillars of Eternity had grown dark, their obsidian surface alight with that polished, mirror-bright sheen.
Selah climbed to her feet. Her legs hurt, a deep and abiding pain around her knees and hips. In the center of the circle stood a handsome young man, his body fit and muscular in the naked night. He strode toward her with a grand smile lining his face.
For a moment, Selah forgot where she was. She reached down to straighten the folds in her dress when she noticed the wrinkles and spots on her frail, weathered hands.
She was not a young woman anymore.