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The Books of Time
By Colleen Messina
  

1     Once upon an ancient time there was a beautiful city where the emperor was both gracious and practical. He had a vast empire rich with loyal citizens, precious metals, majestic architecture, and restful landscapes. His territory extended in all directions for thousands of miles. The citizens generally had everything they needed, and they trusted their emperor because of his wisdom. However, despite all of his wealth, the emperor occasionally had a disturbing dream that caused him to wonder whether his charmed life would end. He then consulted his wise priests and holy men for understanding.
 
2     One night the emperor dreamed that there was a huge fire in his conservatory. The flames crackled high in the air, casting dancing patterns on the colorful mosaics on the walls. Orange fire licked the arched marble ceilings, and black smoke filled the air. Frightened nobles ran away in terror as a gray-robed magician tossed precious books into the flames. Then the entire palace disappeared as the last book burned. All that remained was a pile of acrid, smoking ash. The emperor woke up shaking with fear and summoned the wise men from his Ecumenical Council. None of the priests could explain his strange dream, so a slave prepared a steaming herbal tea for the distraught ruler. An attentive physician secretly added a strong sleeping powder to the beverage, and soon the emperor fell asleep. He did not dream again.
 
3     The next day the emperor felt composed, but he had feelings of ambivalence about his dream. What did it herald for his empire? He didn't have time to think about it for long because he went to meetings all day. The chancellor rambled on endlessly. He was a real martinet and tried to indoctrinate others about the need for strict adherence to rules. His attitude annoyed the emperor, but his dismissal was a moot point. Other officials reported that the infantry was victorious in a recent campaign, tax collections were successful, and all new building projects had passed inspection.
 
4     Things seemed to be running smoothly until a woman in a gray robe decorated with violet embroidery burst into the chamber carrying a bulging burlap sack.
 
5     "I must speak to the emperor!" cried the woman, as guards rushed in to seize her. The guards' armor clanked loudly as they stampeded as one body toward the woman. Her violet eyes stared without blinking and she didn't even wiggle a muscle as they drew their shining swords.
 
6     "Leave her alone," said the emperor, surprising everyone. The woman came forward boldly, not in the usual timid manner of those who requested an audience. Her violet eyes shone like amethyst jewels and were fiercely bright with determination.
 
7     "I must present to you the Books of Time," said the woman with an adroit toss of her silver hair. She pulled three thick leather volumes from her sack.
 
8     "These three books contain prophesies from a master magician. They predict the events of the near future, the next century, and the far future of the empire. These prophecies can change if the citizens make good choices, but once someone reads the books, the prophecies must come true. My master told me to sell you these books for the good of the empire. Their minimum price is three bags of gold apiece," said the woman. "My master acquired these books at great personal sacrifice."

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