(This is a short monologue about the Collector, who appeared in 'A New Age Of Darkness' and 'Strangers'; it acts as a story between both tales and will be part of the character development arc of Dracos and Kol-qu-han in 'A New Age Of Darkness 2' when it begins. Once again, this is a monologue; it is not a plot thread.)

The Collector's Tale

by Dracos Dragon

Part 1

One of the Possibilities blossomed, turning from gray-blue to an iridescent yellow. From it steps a figure draped in black robes, carrying a corpse that is swathed in purple tendrils, obscuring the body's features. The robed figure's first steps are hesitant; he stumbles from step to step and then, with no discernible change, walks confidently forward. His arms drop to his side and the corpse gently floats behind him.

"Name," says a woman's voice.

"Qu-han." The clad figure stops walking.

"You look tired, Qu-han." It is a statement.


"Have you the charge?" she asks.

"No. Unfortunately I was unable to…"

"Who have you returned with?" the woman asks.

"Amsereth, of Balfas."

"You will deposit the body and then report to Kol-mer-han."

"Yes. May I…"

"This is process 1958; remember this, Lok-qu-han, in case you need seek supplication. Proceed."

Qu-han stares for a moment, unsure whether to say anything. The woman's voice does not speak again, and so Qu-han bows and disappears. Amsereth's body floats away.

Qu-han reappears on a busy street, directly under a tall tower of metal and glass. Around him flash the passages of vehicles, some only the faint echoes of other-wordly transits, others more real but just as insubstantial. Crowds move past him, and because Qu-han has spent much time in Sosaria of late he is unable to focus upon what he is seeing. Only force of habit directs him into the Ministry building and through the glass doors. Here, in the quiet, his mind begins to think.

The foyer of the Ministry of Collection is empty and minuscule. Qu-han walks over to a wall and places his hand upon the unadorned steel. Closing his eyes he feels himself drawn through the building, up levels and through portals, until such time that he opens his eyes and finds himself in a waiting room, sitting on a plush sofa, looking at a closed wooden door.

You look tired and worn out, Lok. What has made one of us so lowly?

The intended target wiped the world of Sosaria free of ether; I was unprepared and so was affected, Qu-han broadcasts.

Canny, for a Class 3.

Mondain was operating under special circumstances at the time.

The three manifests of emotion. Yes, I suppose that could be a mitigating factor. Are you up for discussion?

Yes, I think so, Qu-han broadcasts.

Then you can go in. Kol-mer-han will not be pleased to see you. We'll talk later. The mind-voice fades.

Qu-han stares at his feet for a few minutes before he has the courage to stand and reach for the door. As he passes through the portal his hand sweeps over a bland box on the wall. Qu-han smiles briefly. Very briefly.

Beyond the door lies a small office crammed with artifacts. Each one of them is exuding magic. Relics, tools, children's toys, they scatter the office and cause the very fabric of what Qu-han is seeing to fracture and reform. A lich, frozen in time, stands beside the large desk where the Kol is seated.

"Lok, sit down." The Kol glares at him.

Qu-han bows and takes a seat.

"Lok-qu-han, what am I to do with you?" The Kol's eyes are not kind. "You've caused us more trouble in one journey than your entire time as a novice." The Kol's face breaks into an unkind smile. "Of course some of us always suspected you were playing it safe to get far enough into the Order." The Kol becomes silent.

Qu-han realizes that he is expected to speak, but is not sure what he is meant to be saying. "Kol…"

"Quiet." There is no pretense of civility on the Kol's face now. "Listen closely, Lok, as you won't be hearing much from my Order in the future, and you're going to want to burn my words into your memory so you can learn from your mistakes." The Kol whispers and the desk shrinks in width so that the Lok and the Kol are almost face to face. "You were sent to Sosaria to collect the body of the mage Mondain or his host body, Dracos, should either die during the fulfillment of the Lakayo Prophecy. You were instructed not to do anything else. So what did you do?" The Kol waves aside Qu-han's attempt to say something. "You go and explore the new moon hanging over Sosaria, disturbing the Wisps and their investigation, and then you take the body of the Balfasian mage Amsereth, against orders. Do you understand what you have done, Qu-han? Do you? Don't answer, because you don't understand what you've done. I realize that you might argue that the sudden loss of ether caused by Mondain's last enchantment may have addled your young mind, but frankly, you have been trained for that kind of thing. You acted in a mercenary kind of way because you felt that as a Class Five in a world of Class Twos you had the right to; that you could fix whatever would go wrong, or more likely we would. Well we can't, and you should have known that. Prophecy Lakayo called for Amsereth to be defeated and his body to be collected either, depending on the manner of death, by the Balfasian Priesthood or by his rivals. Now neither will occur and it is most likely that there are a ton of legacy effects about to happen.

"Qu-han, because of your stupidity or pride, whatever it may have been, I am removing you from the novitiate of our Order. You are no longer Lok, and you will find your belongings have been returned to your family home where you will be able to collect them. We wish you luck in finding yourself a new placement, as it is hard enough for Collectors to be accepted in normal society; the stigmata of having left our Order will be greater. Realize now that this is your own fault, Qu-han. You went against instruction and interfered with the essentials of an Open Prophecy. It will take the Order some time to repair the damage you have caused, and it has been decided that it is best that you not be involved."

"It is all right, Kol-mer-han. I resigned my position as I entered. I did not want to cause any further disgrace to the Order." Qu-han bowed his head.

"Then you have honour, or you have intelligence. Either one goes some way to making your character better. I will speak with Youl-jak-math to see whether we can find you a job in the Inner City. Goodbye, Qu-han."

With that Qu-han found himself out on the street, his dark robes replaced with normal city clothes. He flexed his mind, and felt the limitations that had imprisoned his powers five years before replaced. Summoning a vehicle, he headed back to the family home.

Part 2

The midkern winds were colder this year; the Ministry of Locales blamed it upon yet more interworld travel. Measures were being made to halt the number of unofficial visitors to the prime centres, but so far there had been no change to the weather. Qu-han did not mind; he had an office job and it was nice and warm.

For nearly forty days he had been working on the cross-referencing of known prophecies to liches. It was as close a job to the Order as someone outside of the Order could ever expect to get; no direct contact with the Kols but memos sent from Loks to his manager, who then sent them on to him. It also provided Qu-han with a modicum more of power than most others where allowed. It was not the magical freedom of a Collector; that range of power would be dangerous in a population of sixteen billion people if they all shared it. The Collectors were a special case.

Qu-han's inbox was nearly empty of prophecy case notes. He had been assigned pre-collection prophecies to archive and research; the Ministry of Collections was an old Order but little work had been done in regard to its formation and the state of affairs prior to it. Some leading academics were curious how successful prophecies had been prior to the Ministry while others felt that the duty of prophecy keeping was detrimental to the Order's real purpose. Qu-han's training had taught him something of what the Order did, but the why of it was reserved to Kols; a position that had been taken from him for indiscretions. Qu-han had little resentment for what had happened at first and had been glad of the job; now his close yet far proximity to his former masters irked him.

Of the three prophecies left in the inbox two were indistincts; prophecies that were broken or only the merest possibility. They tended to be blank or indecipherable, and it was departmental policy to spread them out evenly between all employees. There was little you could actually do with them; you simply had to wait for some event that might bring the prophecy into line with Actuality or wait for the prophecy to fade away. Qu-han picked up the last distinct and browsed through it. A prophecy about the land of P'landra-summa, where Qu-han had taken his first lich, under instruction from Kol-jok-taragath. The events looked like they might have already transpired, but Qu-han made a list of Summa and a list of P'landra liches appear before him, checking to see whether the prophecy had be taken care of by the Order in earlier days. He then checked the histories out, seeing whether natural forces had intervened.

The quake hit the office as Qu-han read. His first reaction was to freeze all the items around him in place, so that nothing fell off the work-surface before crouching under the desk. With his mind he scanned the crisscross of transmissions, hoping that the quake was not an incursion. The scattered mindvoices were confused. One voice cried out that his house was disappearing before his eyes before his mind was abruptly lost. New voices joined in the screaming before the shaking stopped.

"What was that?" he shouted from under his desk.

The office came alive with confused sound until one voice started calling out.

"I don't believe it. Prophecy quake. It was a prophecy quake. One of my indistincts has come into focus."

Qu-han stood and unfroze his desk. It had shifted slightly during the movement and the inbox fell to the floor. Nothing spilt out of it. Qu-han frowned and then began to smile. This meant he could go home early.

The Golarth Apartment Complex in the Outer Birades District was as nice a place as an ex-Collector could afford. The stigmata of those who involved themselves with the affairs of Class Three and below societies had, over the last generations, turned to an almost fanatical hatred. Rooms closer to the Inner City where for the 'pure'. The Golarth could not afford to keep liches of its own and Qu-han had not bothered to hire one as a servant; it was too costly and too big a reminder. This meant that in theory he had to tidy up after himself.

Qu-han's room, 3tu7, held mainly crates in the varying stage of unpacking. A bed, unmade, took up one corner and the variable space where the kitchen, laundry or bathroom could come into existence was the only place Qu-han tried to keep clean and clear. For the moment it was a lounge, and Qu-han was simply sitting there, looking at the crates malevolently for the third time that day. Packing was a chore and one he wished to be free of.

"Unauthorised intrusion occurring," a voice chimed.

Qu-han stood and summoned a few protections. He scanned the room both visually and mentally, trying to see where the intruder was coming from. Nothing as of yet. The security might be enough.

"Kol-qu-han..." a voice started.

Qu-han spun round and faced the wisp standing behind him. It glowed softly, about to speak again. Qu-han raised his hand.

"Before I even begin to ask why you've broken into my apartment and why you've broken in, don't even think about using your baby-talk that you think impresses Class Twos, okay?"

The wisp turned red, taken aback, and then returned to yellow. "As you wish, Kol. Do you wish me to take on another form as well?" The wisp sounded sarcastic.

"No, your natural form is well and good. Why are you here?" Qu-han made the lounge disappear.

"You have not been answering our messages. It was felt, by the council, that direct contact may be the only way to speak with you."

"Messages?" Qu-han asked. "What messages?"

"We have been leaving messages with your Order for the last ten days. It grows close to the time that you shall be needed on Balfas for the set-up of the Strangers Prophecy. There are also some events on Tideron that may need your attention." The wisp floated around the room in clear agitation. "We need to start acting, and now."

Qu-han stared at the wisp. "I am no longer of the Order."

The wisp stopped moving and became almost transparent. "But the prophecies clearly state..."

"I left the Order due to my mishandling of the Sosarian collection." Qu-han pulled a set of robes out from one of the crates. "This is all of the Order that I have, now."

"Something is wrong," the wisp said. Then it was gone.

So it called you a Kol, then?

Yes. It thought I was still of the Order.

Unusual; wisps are such hoarders of knowledge. I would not have thought they would allow such a fact to escape them.

Yes... It mentioned Balfas; the Amsereth Lich's home.

You think that the break you caused has caused Balfas to grow in prominence?

Hmm? Actually that wasn't the idea I was having at all. You think that my mistake has changed things so much?

As I don't know what 'much' is I can't say. Still, it is possible Balfas' prophecy is greater in scope than it used to be, although why I cannot say. Class Two worlds have never played a major part in the important distincts. This bears investigation, Qu-han. Much investigation.

Aye. Very, much aye.

Qu-han found the office very quiet when he walked out of the main portal. Faces turned and followed him as he crossed the room to his desk and watched in anticipation as he took his assigned material from his inbox. They watched him open the tome that was his assigned distinct. They watched him read, and then reread the opening paragraph.

"Is this a joke?" he asked when he looked up.

They shook their heads. He read on.

Kol-mer-han's visage looked a lot younger than its real life counterpart. Qu-han smiled as the old man spoke.

"...due to the new prominence of the Balfasian Prophecy of the Strangers and the associated threat of revelation that looks likely to come from it we find ourselves having to act far sooner than necessary. The prophecy is unusually specific. Because you took the corpse of Amsereth from Sosaria his rivals were unable to collect his body and make excuses for what he had done. This would have, had it happened, made the mage Destrius of Tideron suspicious and resulted in the Strangers coming to Balfas and finding Amsereth's body in the hands of the priesthood, who would have explained the actual events. The Stranger's accompanying the mage would have dealt with the rivals and this low grade prophecy would have been fulfilled. Your action changed that; Destrius will seek out Amsereth's origin and, through this, the Strangers' will finish, inadvertently, what Amsereth started. This, in turn, will return Balfas to some semblance of magical normancy and in the process alert the Outsiders due to one traversing the area at the time. This will come to pass and we cannot stop it now. You, however, will collect the body of Dracos; this is described. This prophecy is not all that important; the Outsiders could be placated as we have done before, but the associated prophecy, the Prophecy of Return, that we must prevent. You happen to be key of this particular act..."

Part 3

The night air of Tideron smelt sweet and lavish; somewhere in the city below a celebration never before seen was going on. Kol-qu-han, Lich Collector, sat under a tree, watching the throngs moving towards the city centre and listening to the faint sounds of music. His two liches sat beside him; Phezzub, his first, a great mage from P'landra-summa and Amsereth, enemy of Sosaria and potential saviour of Balfas. Their faces were blank, their eyes closed. Qu-han had little use for them here.

"Good morning, Collector."

"Good evening, I think you will find, Lo-kathda." Qu-han turned his head and smiled at the figure sitting beside him.

"You are looking pleased with yourself, Collector."

"Oh, I am soaking in the moment of my power. It will pass, eventually. It is not often you are told you cannot die." Qu-han turned back to watch the revelers. "They aren't even aware of what is going to happen in the next few days. They might never know what is about to pass in blighted Balfas. I find that funny."

"Balfas is an evil place to most of them. It certainly isn't a pleasant place for those who visit." Lo-kathda frowned. "Even I have trouble there, with the seeing."

"So do I. It is a strong bane; an ancient magick that will not dissipate. It grows in you like a disease. I intend to spend as little time there as possible."

"A good idea." Lo-kathda paused. "You summoned me, Collector. What do you wish of me?"

"Dracos, the Fated of the Dying, will be arriving in this region tomorrow. I would prefer that he arrive before the others in Balfas so that he might meet the mage Helgraf. His arrival under less than ideal conditions will precipitate a number of events that will lead him to the Lich Amsereth's tower earlier than expected. This ensures that he, and he alone, is the solution of Balfas' ill, at least in regard to the bane."

"And my role?" Lo-kathda asked.

"Summon Dracos to you and transport him to Balfas. I cannot afford to intervene so early; the second prophecy is more exacting than that of the Strangers Prophecy." Qu-han turned and stared at Lo-kathda. "Will you do it?"

"In return you will allow me access to your world," Lo-kathda stated.

"No, no we won't. But you shall be allowed to meet with a delegation from the Ministry of Transit to discuss the matter further."

Lo-kathda frowned. "All right, I shall do as you ask."

"Thank you." Qu-han returned to his contemplation of the party far below. "I would love to join them, I really would."

Kol-qu-han dodged the firebolt and directed Phezzub to blanket the area in protective cantrips. Amsereth moved forward and removed the fire summoning charm. Far ahead Qu-han could see his foe passing into the antechamber.

"Polgark mene furnarth," Kol-qu-han whispered. The antechamber entrance closed and he went to touch it. "Time to spare, time to spare."

Kol-qu-han ignored the entreaties of the Collection Hall curator as he flew across the structure to the preparation room where the corpse of Dracos lay. The tattooed mage lay on the steel slab while mages probed and scanned his body.

"Is he clean? Can he be used immediately?" Qu-han asked.

"Yes, Kol, we think so." One of the mages returned the floor and approached him.

"Think? Think? I need to know for sure." Qu-han looked up at another mage. "You sir, what do you think."

"I think nothing, Kol-qu-han. I know this body is ready."

"Good enough. I leave for Sosaria immediately. Have the Lich Dracos join my other two in the potentiality annex."

Nicodemus' hut was bearing the brunt of the storm well, as it should. The charms were old enough to look after themselves and the great big hole in the roof where a body had recently fallen was of no concern. Nicodemus, however, was not in such a good state. He sat, cold and shivering in one corner, his mind still trying to work out the how and why of the Shadowlords' corruption of his soul. The blight was gone now, blessedly, but the fact it had occurred worried the arch-mage.

Knock knock.

Nicodemus looked up and through the door. A dark robed individual stood before it, flanked by two, and for a moment Nicodemus thought it was the Shadowlords themselves, three others. Nicodemus sighed and caused the door to open.

"Nicodemus," the figure said.

"Lok-qu-han... Shouldn't you be in Britain speaking with Nystul?" Nicodemus stood up, his worries forgotten. "Is something wrong?"

The Collector pulled down his cowl.

"'Tis a long story, Nicodemus. I am Kol now." Qu-han smiled weakly.

"I don't understand. The training to be Kol is long and arduous; you have hardly begun."

Qu-han began to speak and then obviously thought better of it.

For a few moments he stood awkwardly before finally speaking. "I suppose honesty is best here. I hail from the future. As we speak Lok-qu-han drinks in North Brittany. May my liches enter?"

Nicodemus nodded. The liches trailed into the room and stood against the wall. Nicodemus stared at the Dracos Lich for some time.

"He, he only just left here," Nicodemus said.

"Aye, and he, and this other," Kol-qu-han pointed to Amsereth, "are the reasons why I shall have to wipe your memory before I go."

Nicodemus point to the Lich Amsereth "The threat against us, I take it?"


"What do you wish, Qu-han?" Nicodemus asked.

"Information. I would get it myself but time is against me. I need to know where I can find the last remains of Minax."

The enemy races through the undergrowth, shifting to look as the plants around it. The liches follow, passing through obstacles. Kol-qu-han's face is contorted in concentration; as he controls his liches he focuses on the position of Mondain, seeing how much time he has.

The liches are in an open clearing where the bodies of a recently slain army lie. An altar, replete with statue, lies in the middle of them. The enemy is climbing the stairs, Qu-han's liches behind him. The enemy steps over the body of a dead soldier and reaches through the statue to grab something inside.

"Stop," Kol-qu-han says as he strides into the clearing.

"Too late, meddler. I am done." The enemy turns to stare at Qu-han. In his hand he clutches a piece of bone. "I have my keepsake now."

Qu-han bows his head and when he looks up his eyes glow

yellow. "You won't live to use it." Around him the dead begin to rise, except the body on the altar steps.

"Use my mercenaries against me, will you?" The enemy waves his hand and the dead fall to the ground, once again lifeless.

"Clever trick. I wasn't sure you were powerful enough for that," Qu-han says.

"Pays to know your enemy, Collector."

"Aye." Qu-han nods towards the Dracos Lich. The enemy turns to fire upon it, not noticing the body behind him rise to its feet.

"Aye," Qu-han repeats, "it pays to know that sometimes some people only see the grand and not the details." The zombie grabs the enemy's arm and wrenches it. Crying out to the night, the enemy disappears.

Kol-qu-han has been waiting at the Shrine of Minax for several hours, making sure that the enemy has been unable to reorganise its physical form. For the past two hours Qu-han has been feigning weakening strength. The enemy has redoubled its attacks, and finally, after much time, it has begun to break through. Qu-han pretends to be asleep and watches the enemy take human form before the shrine. Qu-han quietly rises to his feet, clutching the torque at his neck and nodding towards the Phezzub Lich. It moves forward and reaches for the enemy.

The enemy turns quickly and then turns back to its task. The Phezzub Lich's arm lies on the ground. The lich is motionless and Kol-qu-han makes it retrieve its arm and return to his side.

"That the best you can do, meddler?" the enemy asks. "Too tired for something grander?"

"No, I'm just waiting," Qu-han says.

"Wait too long and I shall be done." The enemy raises his hands. A pale form of blue appears between the shrine and the enemy.

"Oh, I don't think so."

"Too late, Collector. It is..." As the enemy tries to conclude an invisible winds strikes through both mages. The blue form is blown away and for a few seconds the enemy's form fades. Qu-han wrenches the torque from his neck and is swathed in ether.

"What?" cries the enemy.

"Mondain," the Kol says calmly. He walks towards the mage, the liches trailing behind him, only half-animated. "He has stripped the air of the very ether we as mages breath. All that remains before nature returns to itself are artifacts and relics." He stands before the enemy. "Your part in the prophecy cannot be completed. You are done."

The enemy looks at Qu-han for only a moment before lunging towards the Collector. "I'll tear you to shreds, Kol. You'll live not another moment."

The two writhe on the ground, the enemy ripping at Qu-han's skin. The Collector tries to lift the enemy from him, but the enemy's weight is too great for the Kol. The liches grope uselessly at the foe. Instead, Qu-han focuses upon the ether around him, causing it to leak into the enemy. The enemy looks into Qu-han's eyes.

"Escape is mine." The enemy vanishes.

Qu-han watches the Strangers leave Balfas. Phezzub's arm is now reattached and the lich seems to be in working order. He pushes away the platter of meat the priests have given him. Eating flesh is an anathema to his kind. He waits awhile, enough time to see an unblemished moon rise over the city, before he leaves as well.

The enemy sits on the river side of a world long since devoid of a race or people. Qu-han sits next to him. It is a while before they speak.

"It was necessary you know. You weren't aware of it, but had you succeeded in your plans the Outsiders would have become completely aware of us. We can't afford to be found just yet." Qu-han placed his hand on the enemy's shoulder.

"The Outsiders? The Class Sixes?"

"Well, the possible Class Sixes. They're more powerful than we Class Fives, that's certainly true. Whether they classify as a step up, magically, I don't know. All we know is that they don't seem to be aware of us, at least not as sentient beings, and the longer we hide, the more we can learn of them and prepare for them. They don't seem intelligent like we are, or if they are, it is in a whole different way. They are violent… More so than we, at least."

The enemy smiles. "But I can't see how Sosaria and Balfas were linked together in this prophecy aside from your lich."

"A small gem attached to one of the Strangers' swords. So small, in fact, that the sword's owner isn't even aware of it. It would have carried an aspect of your act to Balfas, and that would have caused a cascade effect when the bane was lifted. Originally you would have completed your charm just before the drain of ether; Minax's spirit would have briefly met with Mondain before appearing to dissipate. In fact she would have been in the jewel. She would have been swept out of Balfas into the void and found by an Outsider." Qu-han waves his arms. "Then it would have been doom galore for all us."

"One small artifact…" the enemy says.

"Aye." Qu-han nods. "Very much aye. It's all my fault, as well. Had Amsereth been left behind one of the Balfasian's would have stolen the sword…"

"Really?" The enemy looks down at his feet. "Why couldn't you just get rid of the jewel?"

"Prophecy. Binding bloody prophecy."

"Oh. Doesn't make it any better." The enemy looks up. "Still, least we survived it."

"Yep; 'twas prophesied that I would live."

"And I, obviously."

"Not quite," Qu-han speaks quietly. "Your fate was up in the air as soon as Mondain completed his task."

"Oh. Oh." The enemy looks at Kol-qu-han, "Thank you."

"'Tis all right."

The two sit facing the river for some time.

"What do you do now? Go home?" the enemy says.

"No. I am on 'extended leave'. The Order will call me if I am needed. Kol-mer-han was very specific that the Order would call me if I was needed. I think I shall be wandering for quite some time." Kol-qu-han nods back towards the ruined city. "I still have my liches."

"But otherwise you are alone?" the enemy says.


The two continue to stare at the river.

"Meet here again in twenty days time?" the enemy says.

"Aye, I think so, I think so," Qu-han says.

The End

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