The Rise of Karras
Karras was looking at the book he had just pulled from the shelf when Brother Dovetail approached. His footsteps load on the stone-flagged floor, the fellow priest came up beside Karras, and glanced over to see what he was reading. Karras looked up at the man’s sallow face, and at the weak eyes. Dovetail returned the gaze, and felt obligated to say something.
“So, Brother Karras, dost thy work on thine new security cameras proceed well?”
Karras sighed inwardly, and lowered his hand, along with the book, to his side.
“Indeed, Brother Dovetail. Master Forger Masonson hath expressed great satisfaction on the functioning of them. I have even heard that mine work hast been chosen to be installed in Cragscleft!”
“Truly this is news! Thou hast solved the problems thou didst experience with them?”
“Aye, the cameras do now function as the Builder intended. Indeed, I do want to make further improvements to them, but the accursed Master Forger Masonson hast prohibited me from it!”
“Why, Brother Karras?”
“Oh, he didst say that mine ideas are too unconventional, that the Master Builder hast given us the technology and that it is not our purpose to improve on it. His lack of vision infuriates me. The Builder didst give us hands to work with, and didst give us the brains to improve the machines that were His gift to us. Are we to be like the Pagans, who use not their brains and so still build their houses of wood?!”
“Hush, Brother! Thine passion for our Order does indicate the depths of thine faith, but is’t that thou is thinking of defying the wishes of the Master Forgers, even the High Priest? Aye, the Master Builder gave us His machines and His blessing, but thou cans’t seriously be so radical as to rebel against our superiors. For ‘tis their task to interpret the Builder’s word, and ours to follow it. If thou dost continue with thine attitude, thou willst find thyself closer to thine security cameras than thou dost wish to. Cragscleft is the only destination for those who choose to doubt the Builder’s commands, or those whom He has chosen as our leaders!”
“I know, Brother Dovetail, I know. Yet, I cannot rid myself of these thoughts. I even have plans for a greater security measure, with great cameras of copper and brass that move by themselves and can do more actions than just raise the alarm. Our theology does not allow for such radical machines, but I feel…”
“Brother Karras, if thou art to continue this diatribe against our theology I will have no choice but to speak of thee to the Master Forger. As the Master Builder says, ‘When thou dost consort with thieves thou dost become one in the eyes of those who see’. I have no wish to end up in the cell beside thee. I bid thee good night, and warn thee that if thine attitude persists thou may be meeting the Master Builder earlier than thou dost hope for!”
With these words Brother Dovetail walked away slowly. Karras raised his head to look at the priest’s departing back. He luxuriously imagined summoning a hammer and shooting it at the robe that the priest had so disgraced. Karras hated the Hammerites, with a hatred that grew thicker and blacker every day. They patronised him, spoke condescendingly of him behind their back, treated him like a fool because of his voice. Most of all, he hated their blindness, the blinkers they had voluntarily put on themselves, the refusal to consider altering the Builder’s gift’s one iota. Karras had had to work alone in his workshop, patiently fitting the pieces together of his security camera, and begging pieces of machinery from fellow priests who were too set in their ways to see his vision.
Karras sighed again, and returned to his book. His cameras were incredible, far beyond anything built before, but he felt that more could be done. They could detect motion adequately, but more was required. He could feel himself on the brink of a revolution, an evolution of Hammerite theology into something far beyond what he had been taught since he had joined as a novice. He had made several attempts to put down his ideas, ideas that were so radical he had had to work by candlelight as the other novices had slept in their bunks.
His musings were suddenly interrupted by a great roar for help, and a sound like a blacksmith’s hammer on metal. The sound of metal on metal came again, and Karras started round the bookcase to find the source of the sound. As he rounded the wooden case he saw a dark figure fall to the ground, and a sword fall from nerveless fingers. A Hammerite guard stood above the man, his hammer raised for a down-stroke that would smash the figure’s head to pulp.
“Stay thy hammer, brother!” called Karras, hurrying to the man’s side. “Do not let thy blow land!”
The guard turned, surprised, and saw Karras standing there. Seeing a priest, he immediately checked the ascent of the hammer, and then brought it down to his side.
“Brother Karras!” he said. “I didst discover this thief on my patrols! He ist a heretic, and must be dealt with forthwith! The laws of the Builder demand it”.
Karras stopped the man’s protests with a raised hand, and bent over to look at the figure. The man was dressed in a ragged cloak, below which was a tunic and breeches. Around his shoulder the thief carried a shortbow, while on his back the priest could see the feathering of several arrows. He straightened, and looked up at the guard.
“Thou dost speak the truth, brother. This man ist a thief. However, we canst send him to the Builder yet.” The guard frowned, and prepared to open his mouth in protest , but Karras spoke on. “Hast thou considered that there have been no reports of disturbances at the front gate? Nay, not a whisper! Methinks this heretic must have entered a different way, one only his heretical mind knows. We must send him to Brother Inquisitor, who will find the truth”
The guard snapped his mouth shut, and then nodded his agreement. Stooping, he picked up the unconscious form and slung the man over his shoulder. He was turning to leave when Karras suddenly remembered how the man had addressed him. He stopped the guard, and said;
“Pause a moment brother. How is’t that thou dost know mine name?”
The guard looked down for a moment, as if in embarrassment.
“Well, Brother Karras” he said, “I hast heard of thine work with the security cameras, and wast greatly interested in them myself. Mine brother, Dikket, didst say that thou art a man of vision, who dost work wonders with thine hands. Being interested, I didst request this post that I may earn thy good will, and possibly become thine assistant”
Karras stared in astonishment at the big man, hardly believing what he was hearing. Here was a man who wanted to be taught by him. Not only that, he seemed to admire Karras, and was now staring at him with a dog-like devotion that Karras had never quite seen before. The priest was unable to speak for several moments, and finally managed to gasp out that the guard should take the man down to the Inquisitor, at his place of work in the dungeons.
The man left, and Karras stared after him in astonishment. Unaccustomed to positive recognition, or even recognition, he was left dumbfounded, unaware that the book in his hand was slipping through his fingers. The sound of metal on stone brought him back to his senses, and he bent to pick up the book. Walking back to the shelf to replace it, he could feel stirrings within him of something great, something revolutionary, something almost like the touch of the Builder’s hand. But they remained only stirrings, wisps of vapour that drifted on the edge of his consciousness.
He replaced the volume on the shelf, and walked thoughtfully off towards his rooms. He would have to find out the guard’s name, and then convince the Master Forger that the man wanted to be taught by him. It would all be very difficult, but Karras had met someone he had not before, and would not let the opportunity pass him by. However, as he strode towards the guardroom by the entrance, one stray though occurred to him. If his cameras had had been installed in the library, the thief might have been caught before he had reached the Technology section…
The sound of screaming and shouting woke Karras from his slumber. From beyond the door of his small room there came a most dreadful noise, screams and shouts of voices full of anger and passion. He threw the covers off and rose, and then went to slip his robe over his head. Attired, he went to the door and opened it.
A scene of utter chaos greeted his eyes. Men and women in ragged and dirty costumes fought with each other over golden hammers and other valuables in the corridor. Others wielded clubs and cudgels that smashed the delicate wooden panelling of the walls of the library. One man in course clothes lay insensible on the floor, clutching in one hand a bottle of sacramental wine. Red liquid dribbled from his mouth as he snored. He turned to look the other way, over the balcony that overlooked the main hall. Here too was pandemonium. Books and manuscripts, aged repositories of knowledge, lay scattered on the floor where they were trampled on by the dirty boots of the rioters. Bookcases lay on their sides, windows were smashed, and the rich tapestries that had lined the walls were now mere rags. The crowd of street scum were rampaging through the library, destroying it and wreaking havoc. In one area a group of Hammers were fighting desperately, raising their hammers and bringing them down on the heads of the mob surrounding them. Even as he watched one was hit on the head by a thrown cudgel, which knocked him forward into the vengeful crowd, which made sure that he would not be able to rise.
Karras was horrified by this, and then terrified when a scream from the corridor told him that someone had seen his garb. He turned to look, and saw a crazed man heading for him, wielding a captured hammer and shouting madly. Fanaticism was plain in his eyes, and he was screaming and shouting as he brought the hammer up to strike at Karras. The priest backed away, too frightened to remember how to wield his magic.
Then, as the hammer reached its apex, another one appeared above the man’s head. It was brought down, and the man collapsed on the floor. Karras stared with horror at the remains of the head, and then with nausea as he realised that the man was still alive, and moaning with pain. The priest looked up and saw his rescuer, a Hammer guard so spattered with blood his face was as red as his uniform. Blood dripped from his weapon. The guard saw Karras and shouted at him to come with him. Behind the man other Hammerites were laying into the rioters, and the priest averted his face as one Hammer swung his weapon up at the man’s face. The sound told him all he needed to know. Taking one last look at this room he ran forward, and the Hammerites formed a protective cordon around him. In the hall behind him, a crash resounded as a part of the carved ceiling of the hall fell inwards.
As they descended the stairs Karras looked ahead of him, and recognised the guard he had spoken with yesterday. The man towered over the crowd, and was leading a group of fellow Hammerites into the fray. Their hammers rose and fell, and the roars of anger of the crowd now turned into screams of fear as they fled before them. Rioters dropped the precious books and relics and icons that they had been carrying, desperate only to escape from the hysterical screams of anger and rage that escaped from the Hammerites as they hacked down with their heavy sledgehammers. Red liquid ran from beneath their feet, and Karras tried to persuade himself that it was not blood, but wine.
Suddenly the guard stretched out a long finger at a figure in the crowd, and the group seemed to redouble their efforts. Karras looked along the line that the finger indicated, at a hooded figure in the crowd who staggered under the weight of a body on his back. The figure looked familiar, and Karras searched his memory. Then the man looked up, and Karras saw the face of the man that had been captured the day before. He opened his mouth to shout, but then the situation changed.
An arrow suddenly appeared in the guard’s chest, an arrow that buried itself in the chain mail and the flesh below so that only the feathers on the end were visible. The guard fell back, surprise replacing anger on his face. His great form fell back into the ranks of his brethren. The fall pushed them off balance, causing their mighty hammers to smash down on empty air. The crowd took advantage of this, and the clubs and cudgels of the crowd rose and fell as the mob took their revenge. More red liquid joined that already on the floor, and Karras could no longer delude himself that it was the spilled sacramental wine.
The crowd, which had been on the edge of fleeing, gained resolve as a result of the defeat, and now came for the group of Hammerites surrounding Karras. The priest had one last glimpse of the unwounded thief hurrying in the direction of the privies, before his escort swept him away from the avenging mob.
“Brother!” one of the guards shouted at him. “Use thine magic on these heretics! Our hammers crumble against them, and we needst must beat them back so that we may make our escape!”
Karras nodded in understanding, and gathered his wits together to cast the spell that would send a fireball out towards the crowd. Even as he did it he was acutely aware that he had never before cast one in anger – merely to practice his technique. A believer in technology, he had been reluctant to wield his powers. Now he did so, and a hammer shot of from between his hands, to impact in the centre of the mob. He could not see what damage he had done, but numbly began to cast another. His escort were escorting him to the entrance, whose massive portcullis he could now seen to have been smashed asunder, and rent to the four winds.
Another hammer shot off, and this time Karras saw it impact on a man in course, workman’s clothes. The man was swinging wildly a stolen hammer, and Karras’s hammer hit him on the upstroke. The man released the hammer, screaming as his chest was burnt into a smoking pit, and the weapon went cartwheeling into the crowd.
Now the gate was close, and Karras was escorted through there. Beyond, in the street, there was a barricade, behind which were Hammerite archers and priests. Arrows and hammers shot over Karras’s head, and behind him he could hear cries of pain, the sharp crack as arrows hit the stone floor, the deeper bass as the hammers impacted and exploded. The air was sharp with the smell of smoke and blood, and the stench of roasted flesh hung over the place like a malevolent cloud. At the barricades, a crude, hasty construction of wood and stone, he was hoisted over to the other side, as his escort went back into the fray.
Karras was deposited on the fire step, and stood up to see beyond the barricade a crowd of Hammerites, drawn there by the violence and destruction. Next to him the archers fired volley after volley at the rioting crowd, who were now retreating from the rain of arrows. He looked into the crowd and saw crates of explosive and incendiary fire arrows being passed along to the archers, and whole groups of Hammerite guards. Beyond them was a line of watchmen and guards from the City Watch, and a contingent of burrick cavalry. The burricks, bipedal lizards that snorted and whimpered from their slit mouths, were controlled by their riders, who sat in the saddles clutching the reins in one hand and their straight swords in the other.
However, Karras had eyes for only one man in the crowd. There, talking to none other than Brother Dovetail was Master Forger Masonson. The man, dressed in the decorated robes of the Master Forger, was gesturing towards the library as he spoke with Brother Dovetail.
Karras, now raging with anger, jumped down from the fire step and ran towards the pair. Masonson saw him first, and raised a hand in grateful salutation. However, Karras ran up to him, and screamed at him;
“Thou art a Trickster, Masonson, the incarnation of a Trickster! Thou hast killed these men, through thy lack of vision and foresight! I curse thou! Thou art not fit to stand here in those robes; nay, thou art unworthy to join the Master Builder in his paradise!”
Karras was raging, screaming all his hurt and rage and fustration at the man who now cowered under the force of this. Karras was a screaming fury, furious, livid, at this weak man who now stepped back as he advanced.
“Thou hast killed them!” he screamed. “Thou didst reject mine works, mine cameras which I developed to guard mine brethren. Thou didst reject them, thou didst scatter my hopes to the winds, and so condemn mine fellow brothers to death!”
Brother Dovetail tried to lay a restraining hand on Karras’s arm, but the enraged priest shook it off. Karras was raging, livid at the destruction of the precious knowledge of the library, incensed that this man before him had condemned his brethren to death by telling Karras that his inventions were unconventional. And most of all, he was angry that this man’s lack of vision had caused a student to die, a student who was prepared to follow Karras, and seek knowledge from a man who had never been respected before. Karras now hated Masonson, hated the religion that had produced him, hated the religion that prohibited change and innovation, and condemned its followers to live with outdated technology. He loathed the reactionism of the priests, the scholars who stifled progress by bleating that the Master Builder’s gift had been sufficient, and that to alter it would be blasphemy.
Karras was faintly aware of other Hammerites turning in astonishment, dumbfounded that a priest would dare to speak to a Master Forger like that. Masonson had backed up until he had come to a crate of fire arrows and cold retreated no further, and in his eyes was true fear, and a certainty of death. His thin face was slack with fear, and his body trembled as the fear took over him. Brother Dovetail had been making feeble attempts to calm Karras, but now Karras turned round and swung his fist at the priest. Dovetail tried to dodge, but the blow hit him square on the chin, snapping his head upwards. As his eyes rolled up in unconsciousness, his body became limp and fell to the floor.
Karras turned round at the mass of Hammerites around him, breathing heavily, his heart thumping as pushed blood around his shaking body. His brethren looked at him in astonishment, their features showing that bewilderment, and their tasks forgotten as they watched him. One or two raised their hammers and began to advance towards him, plainly intending to silence him, and punish him for striking a priest. Karras began to cast a spell, but as he did so an arrow sped towards him, and hit him on the chest.
He momentarily glimpsed the green glass crystal that was the head of the arrow, and then it shattered into myriad fragments. The blow hurt him, and he could now see a green vapour had escaped from the crystal. His eyelids suddenly felt heavy, he felt tired and exhausted, and was now struggling to stay upright. He waved his hands wearily, trying to fight off the effects of the gas arrow. However, it proved too much for him, and as his eyelids closed the ground rushed up to meet him.