Anne Price sat back in her chair among the Inner Circle. Before that august body stood a boy, power practically radiating off him. He was stronger with the Spark than any of the novices and Adepts she'd seen in her long years as a Paladin. The boy had been found on some planet in the Far Reaches by a Ronin and brought before the Circle. The Ronin, one Twilya Borensz, was speaking.
"Surely you see what I see," she said calmly. It was best not to lose one's temper in Circle chambers, though Anne observed the effort she made. This one has been wandering the path of the Ronin too long, she thought. It's past time for her to start the Paladin's road.
The Ronin persisted. "You must know what every Ronin and Paladin I met on the journey here knows. This boy is one of the Five Prophecies."
"Which?" asked a member of the Circle. "The Instrument of Balance or The Indefensible Victim?" Only two of the Five involved individual people, the rest pertained to groups or events.
"The Instrument," Twilya said, as though it were obvious. Anne studied the Ronin's young charge. He was older than the average novice, but not by much. His eyes held wisdom far beyond him and Anne could see, even without reading his thoughts, that he knew how the Circle would react.
Indeed, it was Thella Dars, ancient matriarch of the Circle, who said, "Though this boy may be the Instrument, the Victim or neither, he is not to be trained. He is far to old to begin."
"He doesn't need to start at the beginning," Twilya said. "Give him the Adept's Test. I say he'll pass and then he doesn't have to take the novice classes. I would also say he could have only minimum Adept training before he was taken by a Paladin--"
"You say, " the matriarch looked at the young Ronin sternly. Twilya swallowed and said nothing.
"I will tutor him, brethren," Anne said with a smile. "Child of Prophecy or no, he is powerful and should be trained. And I agree with Ronin Borensz. I'll need to see his scores on the Adept Test, but he shouldn't need the full four years. He's already old enough, he has the power and has presumably demonstrated ability. A solid grounding in the Tenets is all he lacks."
Another member of the Circle glared at her. "Paladins do not train Adepts, they take Squires. Only Masters may train Adepts."
"I sit within the Inner Circle," Anne said. "That entitles me to certain rights of Mastery."
The matriarch raised an eyebrow. "You are new to this Circle, Paladin Price."
Anne nodded. "So I am. Therefore, if any respected elder can provide a compelling argument against training an obvious prodigy, I will gladly withdraw my tutor's petition."
There was silence. A telepathic conference ensued, followed by the matriarch speaking. "Your petition is accepted. It will be recorded that you are this boy's tutor."
Anne offered a slight bow.
Later, Anne and Twilya walked through the bustling corridors of the Magi sanctuary. Novices and Adepts went about their lessons and duties, while Magi from Ronin to Master walked its halls.
"Thank you, Anne," she said. "I knew you would see his potential. If you had seen him, on his planet..." she smiled. "I was surrounded by tigerhawks, bleeding out from a gash across my gut. I was barely able to render basic thought-forms, my concentration was shot. I poured all my will into making myself indestructible, hoping I'd be able to keep the shields up long enough, when that kid came diving in out of nowhere. He was a blur - a blur with the strength of ten. He took down the most vicious predatory hybrids in the galaxy with nothing but his body and a metal staff."
"So he performed what any new Squire fresh out of their Adept's colors could do. He used the Spark to enhance his own physical attributes."
Twilya smiled. "How easy was that for you to learn, during your Adept training?"
Anne grinned. "Not very, I'll admit."
"Well this boy taught himself how to do that, and more beside."
"And discipline? Was he teaching himself that, as well?"
She shook her head. "He's more driven than disciplined. Which is why his training is so important, and why I'm so glad he has you to--"
"Did you tell him about the Fell?"
She scoffed at this. "Enough so he knew who they were and what they did. I didn't focus on them much. So few remain, it's unlikely he'll ever meet any, let alone have to face one."
Anne nodded and moved ahead to talk with the boy.
They walked in silence for a while.
"Did Ronin Borensz tell you what she thinks you are?" Anne asked at last.
The boy nodded.
They walked a while, not speaking again. Anne studied the boy. Then, with a grin, she reached out for a handful of the universe and used its energy to build a floating geometric shape from solid light. "What's your name?" she asked.
"Brin," the boy said. "Brin Darkstar."
"Darkstar," Anne repeated. "That's a Far Reaches name."
Brin nodded again. "Grew up on a cargo ship, running the old merchant spaceways with my family. We come out of the Colonies, generations back, but I spent some time on the Capitol worlds." He watched the spinning shapes -for there were more of them now- a look of awe on his face. "Will I learn to do that?"
Anne smiled kindly. "Soon enough. I'm to train you."
"I am. But there is testing to be done yet to decide where I'm to begin."
"Standard among the Magi, to determine placement within the Order." Anne waved the question aside. "But there is the matter of your Prophecy to discuss."
"So, you think I am..."
"The Instrument of Balance, yes."
"Well, that's good, isn't it? Ronin Borensz says it is." The thoughtforms danced and spun around him. He caught at them and grinned as they slipped through his fingers, grinned at the thought that the Paladin was making it happen, that someday he would make it happen. Maybe make other things happen.
"Balance is neither good nor evil," Anne said, her smile turning thoughtful. "That's really the whole point. My concern is how you’ll actually bring about this balance."
Brin looked quizzically over at the Paladin.
"You know the Fell, yes?"
"The Ronin told me. They use the Spark for evil, perverting the Magi way."
"Yes," Anne said, "that is the Fell, essentially. They have all the power of the Magi and none of the discipline, none of the control. They rose to power a thousand years ago, enslaved half the galaxy and slaughtered most of the other half. It took centuries to bring them down, but over those centuries we became so successful at hunting them, and cleaning up their collateral criminal activity, that the Magi have become the de facto law enforcement for most of the galaxy. Our numbers grow as the Fell diminish to nothing."
"But isn't that good?" Brin was confused. The thoughtforms pulsed and changed and moved slowly about his head.
"It is," Anne nodded. "I won't ever be truly happy until every last Fell is dead." She paused. "Which brings us back to the matter of the prophecy."
"I don't understand."
Anne stopped walking and turned to face Brin. "If you are to bring balance between the Magi and the Fell, then you're either going to make a great deal more of them or a great deal less of us." She favored the boy with a sympathetic smile. "I’m sorry Brin, but I'm afraid I find neither option terribly appealing."
"I don’t underst--hnk!" The Child of Prophecy's last words ended in a choked grunt as the brilliant shimmering shapes became deadly glittering spikes that drove simultaneously through Brin Darkstar's brain.
Three Masters of the Inner Circle approached, the matriarch among them. "What is this?" she demanded.
"A dead child, Masters."
"Why did you kill this boy, believed by many, including yourself, to be one of the Five Prophecies?"
"Masters," Anne bowed, spreading her hands in reverent supplication. "I humbly submit to you, that I only acted according to the will of the most venerated Prophets."
"The last of the Five Prophets rejoined the Spark over three thousand years ago," the matriarch said. "How do you presume to know their will?"
Still retaining her submissive posture, Anne smiled. "Most honored Masters, I would think it obvious," she said. "Balance between the Magi and the Fell would bring disaster upon our order, would it not?"
"While of course true, that is irrelevant," a Master scolded. "One does not seek to thwart a Prophecy. Would you do the same to the Indefensible Victim, were she found and brought before you?"
"As the Indefensible Victim is said to usher in the next age of barbarism, then yes, I would drive a spike through her brain as readily as I did this poor bastard." Anne was calm, standing and meeting the gaze of each Master in turn. "Truly, Masters, do you hold to dogma and ritual at the cost of all reason and sense? Can you not see the only logical course?" When she was met with silence, she turned and continued down the hall, throwing one final thought to her ancient brethren over her shoulder.
"What purpose should Prophecy serve," she said, "save to provide the means to thwart its outcome?"