In The Test of the Twins by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman (*spoilers ahead*) there is a frightening scene where Caramon Majere and Tasslehoff Burrfoot accidentally travel forward two years ahead of their own time. They arrive in a landscape of ‘slick ash-gray mud’, ‘ragged boulders’, and ‘fire-blackened stumps’. The sky is ‘a strange violet colour, boiling with weird luminescent clouds laced with lightning of brilliant blue’. Rain falls ‘like molten lead’, thunder rolls, and fire sweeps across the mountains. Nothing is alive.
To their horror Caramon and Tasslehoff recognise the stumps of the great Vallenwood trees of the valley where Caramon’s home town of Solace lay. They discover a mass grave and a monument commemorating Caramon’s wife: ‘Tika Waylan Majere’ ‘Your life’s tree felled too soon. / I fear, lest in my hands the axe be found’. Beside it lies Caramon’s corpse with a chisel in its hand.
When night falls the companions see the three moons of magic and constellations of the gods have fallen and been replaced by a single new constellation: an hourglass.
This desolate future was created by Raistlin Majere, Caramon’s twin brother, a black-robed mage cursed with hourglass eyes that see all things dying by a wizard called Fistandantilus. In a desperate bid to prevent Fistandantilus from claiming his body as a vessel for his soul, Raistlin went back in time, becoming his foe and walking in his footsteps to a certain point.
Raistlin and Fistandantilus shared the same hubristic ambition: to slay Takhisis, Queen of Darkness, become gods themselves by claiming her power and killing all the other gods. Whereas Fistandantilus failed to open the portal to the Abyss where Takhisis dwells, Raistlin succeeded.
Previously Caramon and Tasslehoff went back in time to save Raistlin from himself. Throughout his life Caramon had supported his twin in spite of him committing increasingly ruthless deeds including attempting to kill him. Only when Raistlin said he would abandon Crysania, a cleric of Paladine, God of Light, once she was useless to him, did Caramon realise he was irredeemable.
Caramon left Raistlin in the distant past and, whilst trying to return to his own time, accidentally visited the future. Having seen what will happen he realises he must go through the portal into the Abyss and do something he should have done long ago: kill his brother.
The portal stands in the laboratory in the Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas. It takes the form of a door on a platform surrounded by the five heads of a dragon: black, white, blue, red, and green.
It is guarded by Raistlin’s dark elf apprentice, Dalamar. Dalamar is the sole witness to the wonders and horrors of his master’s magical experiments, his creation of the Live Ones and the Dead Ones, the withered things and staring eyes in the glass jars. Surprisingly he is not on Raistlin’s side. He is a spy for the Wizard’s Conclave who paid for his treachery when Raistlin burned five holes in his chest and has guessed what the world will be like if Raistlin succeeds.
When Caramon arrives in Raistlin’s laboratory Dalamar has been mortally wounded by Caramon and Raistlin’s half-sister, the Dragon High Lord Kitiara, who intended to support Raistlin. It is now up to Caramon to prevent Raistlin from returning through the portal.
Caramon enters and finds Crysania on the brink of death before confronting Raistlin. When Raistlin realises Caramon has not come to help him but to prevent him leaving he determines once again to kill his brother. Yet Caramon bears news of the future that Raistlin is, at first, hungry to hear:
‘You will win… You will be victorious, not only over the Queen of Darkness, but over all the gods. Your constellation alone will shine in the skies… over a dead world, Raistlin – a world of grey ash and smouldering ruin and bloated corpses. You are alone in the heavens, Raistlin. You try to create, but there is nothing left within you to draw upon, and so you suck life from the stars themselves until they finally burst and die. And then there is nothing around you and nothing inside you.’
Refusing to believe Caramon, Raistlin uses his magic to drag Caramon’s visions into his own mind. He sees ‘the bones of the world’ and ‘himself, suspended in the cold void, emptiness around him, emptiness within. It pressed down upon him, squeezed him. It gnawed at him, ate at him. He twisted in upon himself, desperately seeking nourishment – a drop of blood, a scrap of pain. But there was nothing there.’ Raistlin recognises the emptiness within himself and can ‘almost see his soul, frightened, lonely, crouched in a dark, empty corner.’
As Raistlin looks upon Crysania’s blackened body he imagines her eyes staring into his emptiness and realising there is nothing. Yet there is ‘something, not much, but something. His soul stretched forth its hand.’ He touches her blistered skin and realises she is not yet dead.
Raistlin gives up his plan and orders Caramon to take Crysania back through the portal whilst he fends off Takhisis to prevent her following, in spite of his knowledge of his fate: ‘You will be tortured in mind and body. At the end of each day, you will die from the pain. At the beginning of each night I will bring you back to life. You will not be able to sleep, but will lie awake in shivering anticipation of the day to come. In the morning my face will be the first sight you see.’
However, when Takhisis sinks her claws into Raistlin he is touched by a hand, a voice telling him it’s just a dream and he can wake up. A strong arm encircles him, a hand ‘forms childish pictures in the night’, “look, Raist, bunnies,” he hears Caramon’s voice.
Caramon takes Crysania through the portal and Raistlin closes it. Caramon’s love saves his brother and the world. The warrior returns to the Vallenwoods of Solace and his happy marriage with Tika to become the father of five children.
When Dalamar has recovered he pulls the curtain across the portal, shuts the staring eyes, locks the laboratory door ‘with a lock that has not been made by any locksmith on Krynn’ and gives the key to one of the spectral guardians to keep for ‘all eternity’.
The Test of the Twins is the third book of the Dragonlance ‘Legends’ trilogy and was published in 1986. I first read it when I was at high school. This ending has always stuck with me and is just as powerful and pertinent reading it twenty years on.
As hurricanes and wildfires imperil our world I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone came back from time with a report of ashen lands, barren rocks, blackened trees; the moon and stars falling from the sky to be replaced by a single constellation overlooking this age of the Anthropocene: Man
Only we cannot travel through a portal to prevent a black-robed mage from killing the gods. Beginning with our dragon-headed goddesses they were slaughtered by warriors and priests and the portals closed many centuries ago.
The powers who govern us are deaf to reports, visions, the pleas of their brothers. They cannot see their shrivelled souls cringing in the corners of their million pound penthouses, would never reach out to their victims, turn back to the gods, face their fates.
Luckily gods don’t stay dead forever and now they’re returning to our world. Our portals weren’t locked by dark elves although we might find them as guardians and surprisingly on our side. Caramon and Tasslehoff’s journey through time to save Raistlin and the world succeeded. The undoing of the Anthropocene is a magical quest we must likewise embark upon.
‘Thy time is thy own
Though across it you travel
Its expanses you see
Whirling through forever
Obstruct not its flow
Grasp firmly the end and the beginning
Turn them back upon themselves
All that is loose shall be secure
Destiny be over your head.’
– Instructions for a time travel device
from Time of the Twins