It is 2 o'clock in Prague. Pavel Khunrath sprints through the streets of the city, knocking over heedless passerby as he goes. He pays no attention to the dirty urchins on the sides of the roads or the angry merchants who yell at him as he overturns their shop fronts. He has only two things on his mind right now: the small satchel he grips in his hand and the guards streaming after him.
Pavel Khunrath knows he will not make it out of this city alive. He has known it for a full year now, but before his execution, there is one last thing that he must do.
At the very edge of the city lives a girl. He has never met this girl before; he does not even know her name, or what she looks like. He knows only that she is to be his inheritor. At least, that is what The Instrument told him.
It is because of The Instrument that he is on the run in the first place. Years ago, he might have been permitted to continue his research; indeed, he might have even been encouraged to continue his research, but there is a new King now. A new King who fears many things, alchemy among them. For a year now, Pavel Khunrath has escaped the new King's clutches, but today, he knows his time is over. Today he must pass on the torch and resign himself to his fate, but he does not dread this duty. Like all philosophers, Pavel Khunrath knows that his existence is only a little more than a stitch in time and that the only merit in a man's life is the passing of his legacy.
The guards shout. Pavel Khunrath crashes through a gypsy bazaar and turns into a new neighborhood.
The slums in Prague are hardly different from the rest of the city. At first, Pavel Khunrath does not even notice that he has entered the outskirts of town. He sees flooding sewers in the sides of the streets and the filthy people who live in them, but the difference between these urchins and the inner city beggars does not occur to him. Pavel Khunrath sees the world in black and white. To him there is cleanliness and then there is filth, and everything outside is filth.
The children are so dirty here it is impossible to tell which ones are boys and which ones are girls. Pavel Khunrath's eyes examine every child he passes, but he cannot distinguish anything beyond the illusion of androgyny the dust and dirt have created. He gasps for air in panic. Pavel Khunrath is not a thief or a criminal, he is a scholar who lives off of books and parchment. He must find the girl now because soon he will no longer be able to outrun all the King's men.
"Left!" comes a hiss at him. Zora wraps herself tightly around his wrist and points her black head at an alleyway. Pavel Khunrath glances behind him and turns into the gap, crashing into a small child.
And this time, there is no doubt this child is a girl. She does not fit in with the slums of Prague, either. She is cleaner, less diminutive, but Pavel Khunrath notices the band around her ankle — she is a slave girl.
Yet he sees something else in her eyes. Behind the wide-eyed fear there is curiosity, and what's more, just a spark of intelligence. If this is not his inheritor, Pavel Khunrath does not know who else could be.
The little girl stares up at him. The fear is gone now, replaced by understanding as the stranger presses the satchel into her hands. His time is gone now, he knows that, and on some level, so does she, but her future is less certain. There is nothing he can say to prepare her for the struggle, nothing he can do that could help to explain anything, so instead he holds her gaze, trying to impress upon her the astral proportions of the task he has just given her. And slowly, miraculously, the girl nods and Pavel Khunrath breathes.
He stands and gives her one last look, before turning back out of the alley and colliding with the palace guards.
Two days later, the new King watches as Pavel Khunrath is burned at the stake for practicing sorcery. Over the next three years, the whole of Bohemia is purged of 'witches' like Pavel Khunrath. In the end, the fearful King will execute hundreds in his own name, but through it all, Pavel Khunrath's Instruments will survive in the hands of the anonymous slave girl.
A/N: It's short, I know, don't worry, it's only a prologue. Thank yous go to Nick Radcliff for the helpful advice on revising this chapter, and of course to all of my other reviewers so far. I hope to update fairly soon!
- - Charley