Back when I first started what has become the Utgarda Series in 1994, I had a very different idea for the story. I set it aside for twenty years before looking at it again.
What follows is the original preface for the story.
Iskandir Suhrawaddy walked pensively back toward his hut. The aged priest was deeply disturbed by what he had seen while staring intently into the glow of the eternal flame, especially in light of the strange and unpleasant dreams he had had since his revival from the great sleeping sickness. Punji had revived him from what had seemed to be a kind of trance. Fearing for his master’s newly regained health, the apprentice had sent for Jarahawal, who had been acting as chief priest during Iskandir’s illness. Jarahawal had convinced Iskandir to go home and rest. It was the middle of the day, and several hours remained before he was needed for the sunset rites, so Iskandir heeded the younger priest’s advice and left the gold and stone temple.
As he passed through the doors and out into the plaza, the purple after image of the flame in the darkness passed before his eyes. He blinked reflexively as he crossed the colorfully tiled plaza to his apartment in the officials’ quarters. The image moved across his field of vision from the upper right to the lower left and back again. Each time it seemed to get bigger. After a few paces, the image of the flame dominated his sight and he bumped into a slave girl. A large ceramic pitcher crashed to the ground and as Iskandir’s vision cleared he found that his white tunic had been splattered with red wine stains. Disoriented, he stumbled through his door and fell on his bed as a large taskmaster appeared outside and began whipping the girl. The girl’s shrieks faded away as he drifted into unconsciousness.
The image in his mind was utter blackness. From far in the distance a light emerged. Was it the eternal flame from the temple? No. The light came from a swirling crystalline form that changed shape and composition in a flowing, rhythmic pattern. He had had many strange dreams of a huge, black stone city inhabited by giant cone shaped creatures. They bore multiple stalks with strange sensory organs. He had inhabited one of these bodies himself. For several months he had wandered about and mingled as one of these creatures. He visited many strange and beautiful sights and learned of different races and species and of their unique and tragic histories. Iskandir mastered his mind and new body. And he learned of many wondrous things, such as how to create the eternal flame by willing matter into energy, and how to heal wounds with words, how to inspire fear in one’s enemies and admiration from one’s friends, and how to communicate through written symbols and chronicle the passing of time.
These were the fruits of the great sleeping sickness. Punji told him of the strange metamorphosis he had gone through. How on that one day, his vast knowledge seemed to vanish, and the awe and wonder of a small child took its place. The Elders knew not what demon had bewitched him, but by the next day, Iskandir’s disposition improved. Over the next few months he seemed to pass through adolescence and adulthood, watching and observing everyone and everything. Under the faithful watch of Punji, he took long journeys to distant cities, several times barely avoiding the torturous whims of the desert marauders. Then just as quickly as it had come, the demon was dispelled, and Iskandir was once again the aged priest he had been before.
But the priest had been blessed by the gods, for he brought many advances to his people. He removed all the furnishings from the central chamber of the temple, and with the Elders present, summoned a great and intense heat from a small fragment of a gem the gemcutter was discarding. The light of the gem illuminated the whole temple, and Iskandir stated that it would burn forever. And in later days, by the light of the eternal flame, Iskandir taught the Elders and their apprentices a system of glyphs with which to record events. He created glyphs for things, and sounds, and for specific people, and for places. And the Elders learned the code, and a law was passed to spread this system throughout the land. And in a few short months, the fate of his people had changed.
The light that Iskandir saw before him now in his dream state was not what he had seen before. The swirling, ever-changing crystalline form approached rapidly and engulfed him. He passed beyond the realm of wake and dream and into the realm of being. A great booming voice shook every part of his body as it spoke. Iskandir was paralyzed by the swirling, endlessly varying shapes and colors.
“Hear me, Iskandir Suhrawaddy,” the voice said. “I am Daoloth, the Keeper of the Balance. I am the force that holds the universe together. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all.” The aged priest was paralyzed with fear. He knew he was dreaming, but he could not make himself wake up.
“The gift you have been granted is not as it should be. The advances you have brought your people as a consequence have upset the balance and forever altered the path of fate. By your actions, all that has been created over countless eons has been cast aside. You must atone for your deeds!”
Iskandir was pale with terror and helpless to flee. The thundering voice was in his head as well as all around him. The brightly pulsing light matched the beating of his heart and the pounding in his head. The swirling mass of light engulfed him and the brightness was blinding. When it had passed Iskandir felt a change, but he could not identify what it was.
“You are now my sentinel. You and all who come of you shall be reserved to serve me. Even as I speak, fate is mending itself. Your kind will act for me to ensure that the mending is completed. When the time comes, I will take you, and you will be transformed, and you will facilitate the restoration of the cosmic balance. Your powers will be great, and you will know what to do when the time comes. For time is, was, and shall forever be, and you will be revered by some and feared by others.”