The sharp clatter of hooves on cobblestones, punctuated by a horse’s loud whinny, startled Sabriel Du Lac, Lord of the Supreme Council, from the petition she had been reading. She looked up at the weasel of a lawyer sent by the Lord of Angels and Demons, with yet another ridiculous appeal for clemency, and said with some abruptness, “This will have to wait.”
The “weasel” bowed low as she strode by him to the large Temple window that looked out upon the courtyard. With a smile on her face, she recalled how Pirates had once challenged the Temple from this very spot, and had been repelled by the valor of her faithful Fellowship. That had been more than a year ago, when the Prince of Shadows and Illusions had threatened to conquer the realm, but now Questport was at peace, and the Fellowship was scattered on various personal errands throughout the lands of the Orbis Terrarum.
She soon located the source of the commotion and her smile vanished. She had arrived at the window in time to see the slim rider dismount from her sweaty and foaming steed with haste, her black cloak flung impatiently out of the way, inadvertently revealing the black scabbard and sword she had recently “acquired” off of the the body of a dead ruffian who had made the mistake of thinking a quiet scholar would be an easy target. As the figure strode through the Temple doors, Sabriel spoke without turning to the man who stood sniffling behind her, “On second thought, you are dismissed. Tell your master the answer is "No". He will not be released until his prison term has expired, and he should be grateful that he does not suffer the many more creative punishments I have in store for him if he does not stop harassing me with these absurd arguments.”
As the man made his exit through the Temple doors, he was nearly knocked over by the rider who pushed past him without a glance. Sabriel’s concern deepened. Not even on that dark day, when flames had consumed the Great Library and so many of its ancient tomes, had Sabriel seen the Head Scholar of Questport lose her composure. Before she could even wonder what could have happened, the young woman, covered with the sweat and dust of her maniacal ride, blurted out, “Sound the alarm for evacuation! Our doom is upon us. We must flee this place immediately!”
Stunned, Sabriel could only stammer, “What do you mean?”.
“There is no time! I was with the Oracle. She did not SEE until it was too late! I rode like the wind, but the storm was ever on my heels. See now, the sky already darkens. We will be consumed within the hour. Ring the bells! Warm the people! Some yet may be saved!”
Sabriel Du Lac was no fool. She had not risen to the position of Lord of the Supreme Council by foolishly hesitating to act when danger threatened. True, she had more than once stepped beyond her official authority to remove a threat, but it had always been done to protect the people of her beloved city of Questport, and she trusted this young woman. Never in the history of Questport had one so young risen to the position of Head Scholar. The girl knew more about the history, politics and people of the lands than anyone in the city, probably more than anyone in all of the Orbis Terrarum itself, and she had long ago proven her devotion to the ideal that was Questport.
So, tossing aside proper protocol, which would have required her to first summon the Supreme Council to discuss the threat, and hoping there would be more time for questions later, she strode over to the massive shield that hung suspended at the end of the council chamber. Swinging the giant hammer with a strength born of fear, she sounded the Alarm of Cataclysm, whose echoing peals had never been heard in living memory, because they signaled the imminent destruction of the city.
Almost immediately the tower bells took up the alarm. As Princepia Altoratrix, Queen Mavia had never slackened at her job as protector of Questport and her guards were drilled to a strict discipline. As the bells sounded, the men and women under her command ran to their posts without hesitation, but before they could even begin to urge the civilians into the streets and out of the city, the sky overhead turned from brilliant blue to a rolling ominous grey and black. As it approached the city, the pressure from the massive storm pressed down like a heavy weight, and then broke with a crash as the first brilliantly white strikes of lightning found their targets.
Rocketed by the onslaught, the two women in the council chamber staggered and nearly fell. Steadying herself on the frame of the now madly swaying shield, Sabriel shouted to her companion, “We must get to the High Priestess! She is at the Sacred Grove tending the Tree of Light!” Grabbing her sword, she ran from the room, closely followed by the Head Scholar. As the two women reached the door, the air around them exploded in a deafening crash as a bolt of lightning smashed through the window straight at the shield, cleaving it in two and declaring the end of the world.