Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Infinity: Chpt 26 - V.A.L.L.E.U.R



Chapter 26


Secrets unlocked secrets.
~ Ancient Oracles


The Dome

They left the turbulent ocean behind to enter the Gatherers’ Circle.
Funl of the Eagles had the dais when the drenched Guardians entered. Those present immediately clamoured for news. Funl hopped to the floor, surrendering the console to Taranis.
You are wet, my lord.
“Ah, yes, Funl, how observant of you.” Taranis grinned, but it did not eclipse the anxiety in his eyes. “We had a good dunking and Saska led us to safety. Unfortunately our mortal companions are still in the thick of it. Regard this as an interlude, so I will be brief …” He proceeded to relate a summarized account of events.
We did wonder why Kras was summoned. He will get them out, Funl said.
“I am counting on it.”
Surely it is unnecessary to travel at human pace? You may achieve more by employing transport.
“We do not desire to hasten this along; we need as much time as we can steal. Besides, I don’t like giving Infinity arrows to follow. This must be as complicated for her as she made it for us; this way we force her to ground.” Taranis held up a hand when four others wanted to jump in with their thoughts. “We are wet and cold. We meet in an hour. Recall anyone able to leave whatever they are doing.”
He stepped away from the console and headed towards his ogive. As he reached it, he halted, turning to look back at Saska.
Should he talk to her? Ask about Rayne?
Maybe now was the time … but her doorway chimed. He shook his head to clear it of unwanted thoughts.
It was an opportunity lost; he would regret it.


Precisely on the hour, he returned.
Llettynn, Belun, Glint and Saska were back - the Siric much earlier by the heavy discussions in progress amongst the winged humanoids. All were rested, fed and dressed in clothes suitable to hiking. Llettynn retained his standard white garb, while Belun remained in shape shift mode.
Taranis stood in the centre of the Circle, watching everyone. More had arrived, but that was not the purpose of his study. He wanted to garner a sense of the mood, the results of days of unstinting work.
He was pleased to note they were confident and optimistic. The Arcana threat was now a problem to overcome, not debilitating fear. He knew he could count on them.
Taranis called for quiet, and it was given.
“I am certain the dara-witch will regard this gathering as a violation, but we say so what. Your news, please.”
Taranis took a seat beside Glint on the foremost tier.
Funl flew over, perching comfortably. The console flickered distress under his tail feathers, and Taranis hid a smile, knowing how much the Eagle leader enjoyed causing it discomfort.
The report I have is sadly lacking. We have in our possession papers, books, treatises, theses, obscure and otherwise, and we still study them. We have encountered the Arcana legend, but to date nothing new has surfaced.
Funl surrendered the dais and Gren of the Sagorin took his place. “We have nothing reliable yet on rifts, portals, and so forth. Their existence is speculation and opening and closing one is regarded as fallacy.” Gren paused. He preferred certainty before mentioning something, but these were extraordinary times. Thus he continued. “A snippet has not yet been afforded due process, but in a manuscript dating back to pre-technology on Xen III we found a codicil. The writer speculates the Arcana are not as old as commonly accepted, and we shouldn’t think of them as a race. We should view them as a concept, and this concept has displaced their true race name. The author states this race is almost as ancient as sentience itself. Taranis, it resonates, but we haven’t had the time to delve further.”
“It strikes chords, yes,” Taranis murmured. “To clarify - the race, truly old, has been replaced by the concept, not quite as old?”
“Eons separate,” Gren confirmed.
“Thank you,” Taranis said and rose. “Please sit.” He ambled over to the console, saying, “Gren slots a puzzle piece into place.”
He paused. Until recently he was always more at home in the Dome, yet now it felt surreal, as if his perception of reality was altered. Valaris, she does this to me.
“Do any here recall the Valleur?”
Nods answered him, mostly because of what he related earlier about the man in the tavern.
“I will repeat the name,” Taranis said, an edge to his voice. “Valleur. V A L L E U R.” Again he paused. “It is a real thought. You are now searching memories, but find it hard to recall specifics. The Valleur are part of our past … Llettynn?”
The Siric was thoughtful. “The Ancient Oracles bothered me, and now the connection is clear. Taranis, the Oracles are the holy works of the Valleur. The Ancient Tongue Valarians claim to have once known, the language lost and now recalled only in the north, is the Valleur language …” His colourless eyes locked onto his Dome leader. “At one time the Valleur were on Valaris. How else do we explain a language? Taranis, the Valleur were an ancient race who thrived even before the Siric.”
“Exactly, Llettynn,” Taranis responded. “A conundrum, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes,” the Siric agreed, falling into deep thought.
Sal of the Sagorin burst out, “The Ruby is a device to open doors, not a process of Enlightenment. A gem of great size and value is often used among sorcerers universe over as a device to travel between places. Each facet holds the key to a place.”
“And the Valleur always build fourteen sites sacred to every world they settle,” Glint slotted in. “Seems we search for the fourteen ancient Valleur sites on Valaris.”
Taranis propped his hands on the console and hung his head briefly. “A Square Pyramid and an Obelisk begin to sound surprisingly sane.”
Rilt said, “The more I think Valleur, the more I remember, and that doesn’t make sense. How can we forget, and now remember? And how could we ignorantly pass a set of holy works to the clans of Valaris? We played with fire.”
“How could human sorcerers fiddle with a gem like the Ruby? And claim into posterity to have fashioned it,” Taranis muttered.
Llettynn’s head swivelled upward. “By saying their race name we unlock recall. After Drasso we were too pressed for time; we did what we thought was right.”
“It doesn’t explain how we forgot,” Belun pondered. He glanced at Taranis, understanding now the Guardian’s silence when Kylan spoke of the Valleur in Luan. Taranis’ recall began that night.
“I believe we were forced,” Taranis said. “Not only us here and the people of Valaris, but all sentient life.”
“Hints remained,” Declan pointed out.
“To aid recall,” Llettynn stated.
“Why did we need to forget?” Saska asked.
“A wise question,” Taranis murmured, and again hung his head. “Why, indeed? Why did they need us to overlook them? What did they do that forced them to select that future? What did the rest of us do to them? Moreover, why, when they needed forgetfulness, why were hints left behind? And why are we remembering now?”
“Now is the time?” Glint suggested, shrugging.
There was a silence then so profound the Sagorin knew he inadvertently touched on something important, something intrinsic.
“Well, Glint,” Taranis said, “you may have it right there. Now may be the time to remember the Valleur.”
Saska said, “What are we to uncover in recall? How does that help the Arcana?”
Taranis said, “Allow me to explain what I suspect, and what Infinity thinks she already knows. The Valleur were the oldest beings of our universe and roamed in isolation for an extraordinarily long time. Then came others, but it was the arrival of space-faring humans that upset the balance, for we coveted and needed Valleur worlds, proving Valleur and human were similar in their needs. It led to strife, and strife became war …”
“Ages of war,” Llettynn murmured.
“Until there were too few Valleur and the balances shifted further.” Taranis inclined his head. “Guess what I think the Valleur did then?”
“They opened a Rift into another dimension,” Glint said.
“Yes!” Taranis smacked the console. “And the Arcana legend commenced in all its monstrous evil to protect that Rift, for no one was to follow.”
Llettynn frowned. “I follow the logic, but, Taranis, the Valleur did not vanish that long ago and the legend is ancient.”
“Unless you manipulated a legend to bridge time, Llettynn, to reach so far back even the Siric believed they had grown up with it.” Taranis leaned forward. “They altered our memories, right back to the oldest among us.”
Impossible, Funl sent, ruffling his feathers.
Taranis disagreed. “I recall them and I am by no stretch of the imagination old enough to have shared space with them. It’s as if by dint of their presence here, once, they entered memories old and young forever. If they had that kind of influence, then a legend reaching back cannot be that hard.”
“Theoretically, it is possible,” Llettynn mused. “And the Valleur were powerful indeed.”
“Taranis, do you think they were as evil as the Arcana legend suggests?” Saska asked.
“I do not know,” Taranis said. “Evil has many faces.” And sometimes something named as evil hides something beautiful, like fireflies in the silence of night.
“We cannot categorically slander them because they created a nasty tale in their wake,” Declan said.
“Thus time must tell,” Taranis said. “Where we are now includes in it the Valleur Oracles, Ruby and Medaillon. All on Valaris, the field of play, which means the Valleur inhabited Valaris before the settlers arrived …”
“Not in any Valarian history book, I’ll bet,” Belun grinned.
“We forgot them also, yes.”
“The Pyllanthos theory activated the Ruby,” Saska said. “Past, present and future were transparent to them, therefore acceptable as the opening mechanism. That means there’s a fourteenth site not yet revealed.”
“Saska has something there,” Llettynn murmured. “Is that what the dara-witch uncovered? Is that what lies behind her deal with the Arcana? I like it not.”
“We have time before we rejoin our companions; let us use it,” Taranis said.
As the discussion flowed, Belun thought he was right in his original estimation that this was not a game. It never was, and if that witch thought so, she duped herself. Rayne knew it, from the start, and what would that come to mean?
Was the human friend or foe?

Review:All the Shiny Things by Robin Mahle

All the Shiny Things (A Kate Reid Novel, #1)All the Shiny Things by Robin Mahle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book caught and held my attention from page one to the end. The story revolves around Katie, who suffered through a terrible event and now needs to end the pain, not only for herself, but for others who endured terrible loss at the hands of a murdering madman. (I don’t want to spoil it by giving too much detail)

The book is long, and thank heavens! The reader is taken on a journey of discovery, getting to know the characters, while the story unfolds, without feeling rushed by the plot. I thoroughly enjoyed this, especially when I realised what exactly ‘shiny things’ refers to. HIGHLY recommended.


View all my reviews

Pentimento


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Infinity: Chpt 25 - Moon and Palace


Chapter 25


Now begins ultimate change.
~ Decree of Generals


Ardosia’s Moon

Margus left his citadel and world and transferred to the uninhabited moon orbiting the small planet the Valleur called Ardosia.
They chose it after searching first for signs of life in this universe; finding nothing and no other world with promise, this was where they settled after that first renting in space.
A difficult time for them; many sickened, many were soon disillusioned, for it was a dry, barren planet. Yet they named it Ardosia, meaning ‘Second Chance’ and began the work.
Finding water stored in polar ice caps, they proceeded to change their new world beyond all recognition. Today Ardosia was green and fruitful, rain fell as per the seasons of a gentle, benign climate, and life was good.
As a people accustomed to the light, they had not bothered to penetrate the fog surrounding his world, having no interest in a planet with a weak sun. Fortunately the presence of the fog cloaked rebounding signals, and the golden race never realised life thrived in its own unique manner in the ugliness below.
He chose to leave them ignorant, for he discovered something greater. A promise, a goal, a future, a new path, and it lay in the thread between two realities. The secret to the Rift, and freedom. For a long time letting them be caused him restlessness and furious impatience, but in curbing himself … well, he knew what he was about to gain.
Oddly, he felt nothing now. No anticipation, nothing.
After watching long, he should be elated over this chance to destroy them, this approaching event. They were not important, not as they once were. Destroying them was the next step on the path, and an efficient means of evaluating his army of souls.
Therein lay no anticipation either; rather the opportunity to be dispassionate about the future use of his host. He needed to know their strengths and weaknesses before deploying them as he envisioned for the endgame.
Once the Valleur were dealt with, barring Dantian, he would turn in the Rift itself and use the power garnered for the event to unleash unholy retribution on the disgusting rock he was forced to call home, until it was no more.
Therein lay a degree of anticipation. The time drew near to annihilate the filth. He would sterilize this universe when he did so; he would do the future a service. And, yes, there was some thrill in how he would use the Vallorin to control the thread - a small thrill. The man would pay the ultimate price once they were on Valaris. They would all pay the price.
Valaris would be his alone.
Arrayed behind him, in writhing black vapours resembling the human form, were his bound souls. When he released them from the caverns, he permitted them freedom to clear the region about his citadel, a taste of what was to come, a reward for waiting so long.
Even he gazed upon the means of destruction in awe. How they must hate.
How effective they were, swift and silent. That little foray allowed him to depart unseen, and now his slaves probably cowered in fear, thinking he experimented with a new kind of sorcery.
He would do them a favour also, not just the universe. No more killing, no more rape, no more cannibalism, just … no more. They would not feel it. An eyesore would be wiped away and tormented flesh would pass into memory.
Eventually, memory would cease.
He studied his army. They were under his control. He succeeded in that beyond his expectation. A touch from them and death followed. How poetic.
Margus spied on the world below.
For all its initial barrenness, the Valleur indeed transformed it. A few thousand years more and it would be true paradise.
He marked the buildings the Valleur erected; tall and stately, filled with light and air and the music of tinkling fountains and birdsong - inspiring. He studied the glory of the sacred sites. Perhaps he should consider keeping the Vallorin alive to build for him. Perhaps.
Turning to his campfire and meal, he wondered when he last sat outside in the night air without gagging on the stench. The air was thin here, gravity light, but infinitely better than his homeworld.
In the darkness beyond the fire an army of amber eyes stared at him, waiting.
Was that the colour of hate? Amber?
He had not created their form; they evolved into what they were in their desire for eternal revenge. On him for binding them, but he transferred it by promising greater rewards. They hated him still, but he was the key to freedom.
They would do his bidding and he would set them free one day, without holds. He watched the host of eyes. He did not have to feed them or provide water, no women or hard drink, and therein lay his great advantage. An army this size eating would beggar the wealthiest ruler or general. He fed them in other ways.
As he opened his mouth to take in a forkful of boiled potatoes, he slammed hard onto his back, food flying. Cursing, he cast about for the source of the threat. He noted his army did not move.
Stupid creatures.
He stared into a pair of ethereal yellow eyes.
They transformed into the deepest black.
“You will not have Valaris, even if I alone have to stand in your path. I know you, Darak Or. Beware.”
The voice resonated in the air around him, and cracks ran jaggedly across the surface of the moon. His fire and the remains of his meal vanished into one. He dived for his pack. There was nothing of extraordinary value in it, and he could easily replace anything lost, but he would not let it go on another’s whim.
Who did that?
Yellow eyes. Valleur eyes.
Everything stilled once more. Ardosia slept on, blissfully unaware, and thus the threat was not local.
The voice mentioned Valaris. A powerful personality to affect spaces far removed.
Ah. Valaris. The Vallorin. He was awakened. He sensed a threat and sought to prevent it with a show of power. Had he specific knowledge, he, Margus, would have joined fire and meal to fall into the cracks from whence there was no return.
Yet. He did not know yet.
He will know soon I come to Valaris.
A battle awaits. The victory will be so much sweeter.
Margus laughed at the still moon.
His soltakin watched impassively.


Ardosia

The Palace was in a state of uproar. Ardosia was in chaos.
The upheavals began with massive intent months ago when Anastir sensed someone tampering with the sealed Rift. He set nerves on edge throughout the land when he, with the Vallorin’s approval, summoned every ranking sorcerer in the kingdom to attend him at the site of alteration. All Valleur possess the talent of magic, but he required those regarded as masters.
It was swiftly evident that someone in the realm beyond attempted to unseal the mighty doorway.
Anastir and his sorcerers worked together to strengthen the seal, but it was also clear to them it would only be a matter of time before the mind on the other side breeched. Whoever it was had stumbled upon the secrets of rifts, and secrets unlocked secrets.
Thus he set to intensifying the Chaos barrier, the Arcana legend that thoroughly thrilled Infinity when she stepped through to have her suspicions confirmed.
The blue-skinned woman with voids for eyes came as quite the astonishment; not a great sorceress, not even a good one, but secrets revealed could fathom that which should remain hidden.
Many wondered whom the dara-witch coerced or tortured, and no doubt killed, to discover this great secret.
Dantian stepped in then. Disguised as a horned and fanged man, he confronted her. She needed the Arcana as leverage, she said, to force the Immortal Guardians to ground on Valaris.
Valaris! Old wounds immediately reopened.
Dantian was on the point of murdering the witch when she informed him her game would unleash Vannis, the last Vallorin of the realm they abandoned.
Slyly, she intimated she knew without doubt he was still alive. She knew her history and seemed to know people also, for most Valleur of the present desired that be proven true. Vannis remained large in memory. The witch pushed the right button.
The Palace writhed with questions, suppositions, advice, arguments and emotions thereafter. Dantian could not simply seal the Rift and ignore Infinity, had it occurred to him to do so, because too much had already changed.
A decision was made to bargain with the witch, to agree. It would keep her occupied in her realm while they, the Valleur of Ardosia, discussed whether or not to go to Valaris themselves.
Such a choice would forever alter the future. It heralded war.
Uproar died back to whispers, rumour transferred into serious gatherings. They would wait. They would make informed choices.
If Vannis stepped forth on Valaris, and sent a call to arms, they would banish the barrier and fall into ranks behind him. That decision was unanimous from the start.
And now, inexplicably, twelve seers were dead. Two lay in comatose state.
The palace was in absolute uproar.


Varelie, clutching her favourite cuddle bear, slipped unnoticed into her uncle’s study.
The four men were too engrossed in their conversation to notice her, but she did not mind. She wanted her mother, but she also remembered that her mother was in a new place with Valleur angels. She wanted her father to tell her why, because she could not understand why she could not go there to see her. If her father was too busy, just seeing him and knowing he had not gone to the angels also was enough.
Then she could sleep.
Her father sat next to her uncle and his face looked like the time he ate something bad, all screwed up as if his stomach was cramping. Her uncle must have eaten the same thing, because he also looked peculiar.
Tightening her hold on her bear, Varelie wondered whether she should say something. She could remind them to drink the funny milk her nurse gave her when her stomach ached.
She glanced at the other two men in uncle Dantian’s study. She liked Anastir - he always brought her a treat when he came to visit her father - but she did not really know Camot, her uncle’s war leader. She did not really understand what a war leader was. She wondered if everyone had eaten bad things, for they seemed in pain also.
“… no threat at the Rift, my Lord. The dara-witch isn’t even in the vicinity,” Camot said.
“She is on Valaris,” Anastir said. “Five Guardians have answered her summons to game play. Seems her strategy worked.”
Game? Varelie adored games. She wondered what this game of Valaris was.
“If there is no threat, why are seers dead?” Dantian snapped out, causing Varelie to jump a little.
Her father looked down at his hands. “I told you dual futures are spoken of.”
“And that leads to death?”
Anastir said, “If two opposing sets of images cannot find common ground they will clash and, yes, my Lord Vallorin, this can lead to death.”
Death? Her nurse says her mother is dead.
“Varelie woke the other night claiming Ardosia will burn,” her father said.
It gave her quite a fright to hear her name. Maybe they would be angry if they found her listening; maybe she could ask her nurse to explain about death and angels and why she could not go to her mother. Varelie quietly slipped away.
“What does it mean, Dante?” she heard her uncle demand … and ran all the way back to her bed.

Rules of the House :)


Monday, February 20, 2017

Infinity: Chpt 24 - Garish Gems


Chapter 24


Tink, tink, the goldsmith’s hammer works diligently for the king …
~ Orley’s Fairy Tales


Tor Island

The land was inhospitable; huge, windswept boulders, barren sand, stunted trees, grey and dun.
A land swept by fierce winds and baked by hot sun. Averroes was convinced it was Tor Island. She knew her geography, and it fit. She discovered the occasional bright stream, pretty desert flowers growing in the shade of rocks and stumps and, astonishingly, fruit trees in tiny verdant valleys, the latter like fairy habitats. Behind her in minutes, nevertheless there she found birds, rock rabbits and shiny lizards. How surprising, how magical.
No people, but the small orchards were well tended - she assumed they lived further a-field. It was inspiring, those pockets of green, like a gift over yuletide, and she learned not to judge, not places and, by extension, not people either.
Who could tell what lay beneath the most forbidding exterior? She learned to rely on and trust herself, and that was the greatest gift.
Late on the second day she spied rising columns of smoke in the distance. Cooking fires. It would be dark before she reached that hopeful sight, too dark to continue. She continued on to the tiny green area she set as target earlier.
That night she dreamed.
The Maghdim held her dreams at bay for a long time; she hated dreaming - she dreamed of people she had never known, places never seen, alien and weird and frightening. The coin protected her from those.
That night, unprotected, she dreamed.
She was in a circular chamber, windowless and almost airless. It was stuffy, with a strange smell about it. Ancient. The rounded walls met in a dome-like ceiling, lost in the obscure light. Wall sconces were lit at intervals, reflecting off thousands upon thousands of gems inlaid forever in the stone.
From brilliant white diamonds through every hue imaginable and more to impenetrable ebony, the gems sent sparks of light skittering across the chamber. It was a priceless fortune a host of worlds could not spend in centuries.
In the flickering torchlight colours danced along the domed ceiling, vanishing into higher gloom, along the stone floor, while not shedding the kind of light to aid clarity.
The dancing hues distracted and she only noticed it when she concentrated long enough to see beyond skittering sparks.
It. A throne. Throne? The sight arrested her.
In her dream it took on majesty and sent thoughts of befuddling light dancing away. It was huge, crafted in plain gold, a simple chair style with high back and rounded armrests.
Set above floor level on a raised dais of matt black stone, a solid carved circle. Millions of lively light beams skipped upon the golden seat, but nothing penetrated the darkness of the dais. Had she not known better, she would have said the throne was alive while the dais was lifeless, a barrier to shy away from.
She drew breath. She should know this strange place, like a legend told and retold until it was as close to reality as a tale could be and yet remain apart. She did not know the legend, and still it resonated within.
The throne was unoccupied, and she had the uncomfortable feeling if she concentrated harder she would see the ghostly form of its final occupant. Ancient. And new, as if it awaited the breath of life. A dreamscape, real.
Would it not be interesting to see who sat there last? Anything was possible in a dream and this one was intriguing and no longer alarming. All she had to do was wish it, just as she could turn her back if it scared her anew. Besides, a chamber as exotic and otherworldly as this would not reveal a monster.
Did it not deserve an occupant, if only in imagination?
Try! Try! Try! The walls encouraged, as if they were the life remaining, the source of her over-active imagination.
That scared her.
It was a titillating feeling, and seemed to spur her on. In addition, she was curious, about the occupant and her ability to imagine one into being. A kind of magic.
We have waited long; many eons have passed. The dais contains us. Try!
She was afraid. Too real, this.
However, the will, the voice in her mind, it sounded like a soul in pain, a deep suffering, and it awakened an answering compassion in her. She could not bear the thought of anyone imprisoned; she knew the feeling too well. Prison was not always about bars and punishment.
She stepped forward, heart racing, breathing shallow, mouth dry, bending her will, her over-active imagination, to forming the invisible occupant. Never mind if it were dream or nightmare, something needed to be set free.
Very good. Concentrate.
She faltered. What am I doing? This is a stupid dream; do not make it a crusade.
Please.
In that one word was a universe of need, of waiting and of hope. She thought no more. She concentrated hard and gradually, magically, the sparks of gem-light were replaced by shifting, opaque air.
She hissed through her teeth.
Help us BE! The silent voice willed. It begged.
The royal us and we. A king? How could she deny a king?
She emptied her mind of all but her own will, how do I know to do that, and sent it at the throne over the lifeless dais.
Ever faster, the air solidified.
She gasped, disbelieving. A trick of her eyes, her imagination?
There are no rules in dreams. She became a witness to what came next.
Her part was completed.
The form of a tall man manifested slowly. Then detail; his hands clenched around the armrests, his eyes closed and concentrating. He was naked but for a leather loincloth, and simple bands adorned his wrists and upper arms.
His skin was pale gold and hairless, his head smoothly shaven.
She drew a steadying breath. She could smell him. A clean smell; manly. Real.
The tattoo on his chest riveted her attention. It was an intricate work of a flying, fire-breathing dragon, the tail flicking over one shoulder as if it were a living entity.
Her mind wobbled and voices assailed her, voices she knew but forgot; voices from her impenetrable past, voices she suppressed even in dreams. She knew this person, she knew this legend, she knew this dragon, yet she had never seen it, only heard it told.
Who? What manner of a dream was this? How was she cognisant and interactive?
She closed her eyes to will the voices and images away. The voices fell silent one-by-one, but when she opened her eyes, the chamber, the throne and its occupant remained in place. She breathed out. Fine.
I did it, accept it. I will soon wake and it will be over. Take it a step at a time.
He was beautiful. This man could absolutely be described as beautiful. She waited for him to open his eyes and see her, not daring to speak in case she woke up at the sound of her voice.
Dear god, did she not want exactly that? To wake up? No, not yet, not quite yet.
He was like a god, every part of him perfect, and the dragon entranced. Why was he imprisoned by the dais? What foulness had befallen this beauty?
“We thank you, little one. Come closer. Reach out and allow me the privilege of your hand.”
This time she heard his voice. Warm, even, deep. She moved closer, drawn to it and to him.
He opened his eyes.
Yellow eyes, wolf’s eyes, dragon’s eyes, powerful, feral.
She fell back in renewed fear. What had she done?
His eyes changed from yellow to green. She stared at them transfixed as he said, “Fear not, little one; my eyes are but an accident of birth. Please, do come closer.” He smiled, his lips curving without showing his teeth, and held his hand out. His right hand, long fingers.
Hesitantly she stepped closer. He studied her face. There was a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, as if something had proven to his liking against all odds.
What could that be?
He wiggled his fingers playfully and she reached out before she lost her nerve. He enclosed her hand with his own and it was warm, full of life. Never had imagination been this tangible.
Then he gripped her hand hard to lean forward intently. “The dais is breached. I am free of it.”
She snatched her hand away, scuttled backward, but he merely smiled.
Then the smile was gone, and he rose. He stamped his feet experimentally and nodded. He stepped off the platform and was about six feet tall. He stood, studied her and then stalked the circular chamber.
A dragon in its lair.
Averroes was petrified, and made a tiny mewling noise of fear.
He arrested his movements on hearing her, and was motionless for a few eternal moments. Then, surprisingly, he pinched the bridge of his nose.
Her stomach jolted. It was a gesture familiar to her, although she could not recall how.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I mean not to frighten you.” His tone was controlled and conciliatory.
She nodded, sensing he was not lying. “Who are you?”
He approached carefully, seeking to instil calm, and reached out to take both her hands in his. A gentle grip; fatherly. His head bent for him to see her eyes.
“I am Vannis, Vallorin of the Valleur, and you, little one, are the Changeling. It was foretold one of both human and Valleur blood would be born with dark eyes - you, little one - and she would be the one to set me free. You are my prophecy in fulfilment. An auspicious moment, would you not agree?”
She stammered, confused. “I-I d-do not understand.”
There was a loaded pause. “You do not know. I did not envision that. Well.” He released her hands and stepped back. “And yet here you are. You will understand soon enough, but first. Where is the Medaillon? Why are you not wearing it?”
His voice changed from the soft timber to a harsh, threatening tone.
“I require it to release myself from this tomb! I am whole again! I shall not remain here! I need the Medaillon! Now!”
His eyes were pitch-black.
Averroes screamed.
And awakened.
She sat up, shaking. She reached for the Medaillon … it was not there! No, wait. Rayne had it now. Thank universe for that. If she had it, that, that whatever, would be loose on Valaris even now …
Averroes laughed, rubbing her face with trembling hands. Come on, girl, real as it felt, it was a dream.
It disturbed her more than she was willing to admit, and she knew she would not get more sleep that night. She wished she had walked on in the dark to where she suspected people were. Safety lay there.
She proceeded to stir up the embers of the fire.
I will brew tea and wait for the dawn.

A passion for reading


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Infinity: Chpt 23 - Divided


Chapter 23


“Octavi removed her earrings and when she threw them to earth, great fissures formed in the land between
Harri’s Harpies and Honorus’ Hounds.
Women, boy, are very clever, very clever indeed.”
~ Tattle’s Blunt Adventures


Western Ocean

Resourceful McSee was a hero.
After striking out after the drifting lifeboat, the big man reached it and held on with everything he possessed.
When it tumbled upside-down, he single-handedly righted it in the temperamental action of the waves. When one oar came loose, floating off, he tied his safety line to the boat and again struck out into the heaving seas to retrieve it.
Eventually it was beyond reach, the tie to the boat holding him at arm’s-length, but tenacity and bull-headedness saved the day.
Untying the safety rope from his waist, he wrapped it about his left arm and reached out. An arm’s-length he gained, but the oar had moved on, he stretched with all his might and, as his right hand brushed the wood, his left shoulder dislocated. He screamed, but his right hand curled around the oar and held on.
The pain was excruciating, but the fear of drowning in the hellish ocean far outweighed it.
Painfully transferring the oar to his numbed left hand and wrapping rope about both oar and hand, he drew himself one-handed on the twisting, slippery rope anchoring him to the lifeboat, until he reached that safety zone, spurious as it was. The vicious waves smashed him against the side and, helpless, he loosed a terrible scream.
Rayne heard that piercing cry and swam towards it. He found the exhausted man hanging onto the boat with one hand, saw the oar wrapped around the other, and understood what McSee achieved in a roiling ocean.
Although there was no place for admiration in the direness of their situation, he was impressed. He would have opportunity to tell him later, all going well.
Kylan also heard the scream and reached the boat soon after, with Kisha hanging onto his safety line. Kylan noted McSee’s eyes darken with fierce pain, the kind even a strong man could not ignore, and noted how each push against the boat intensified the reaction. He noted the useless left hand and traced it back to the misshapen shoulder … ah.
Motioning to Rayne, he indicated they get the big man into the boat.
It was not easy.
Eventually Rayne managed to drag himself into the little vessel, every rocking motion causing McSee additional pain. With him pulling and Kylan pushing, they finally dragged the brave man in as well.
Kylan clambered in, the vessel more stable with weight, and helped Kisha. Four bodies steadied it further, and Rayne undid the oar from McSee’s arm, sitting back to give Kylan space.
Thank Aaru for a Herbmaster.
Kylan drew breath, placed one hand behind the man’s shoulder, the other pushing quickly forward before McSee was even aware; a click followed, and the shoulder was back in its socket. McSee burst into tears, which set Kisha off.
Manning an oar each, Rayne and Kylan went in search of the others.
They lifted the unconscious Aven first, then Mordan who had given up treading water and relied solely on his life jacket.
Saska remained with the two men, keeping them afloat. Had it not been for her, both men would have drowned, for a life jacket did not keep heads upright or rushing water from gasping lungs.
She swam off in a streak of silver to aid the others, winking at Rayne as she did so.
They came upon Samson and Cristi next. The two young people were swept overboard when the mast split in half, with Glint, Llettynn and Taranis, but Llettynn used his instincts to guide then back to the site of the sunken ship.
Taranis left the Siric to it, and was back with the Calloway before she vanished into the depths, on hand to see Averroes go down.
Glint, generally clumsy in water, was just joining Llettynn, mouthing silent curses.
Samson and Cristi clung to a piece of debris, and Saska steered them towards the boat. Rayne and Kylan held the vessel as steady as they could and McSee and Kisha helped the final two Valarians aboard.
Rayne checked progress and, as he moved, Kisha saw the Medaillon glitter dully through the gaps of his torn tunic. She burst into renewed tears.
Averroes weighed heavily on their minds, as did Captain Bertin. Of the taciturn Captain there was no sign, nor would there be. The man went in a fitting manner, probably with a smile on his face and a string of curses.
Steering towards the knot of Immortals, Rayne and Kylan realised something else weighed heavy. The boat. It was too low in the water. Eight on board with waterlogged packs in a vessel designed for six. The moody ocean helped none.
The two men stared at each other. Now what? Samson, Cristi and Kisha bailed with cupped hands, but it was evident incoming wave action would soon win that battle. More bodies and it would surely sink.
A team was a team.
Firm in their purpose, they came alongside. Rayne leaned over to lend a hand, but Taranis shook his head, and gestured with his hands. The deafening din of the storm receded.
“I can hold the quiet for only a brief time!” he shouted, one hand gripping the boat. “We are not coming, we will sink you! We are what we are and this will not kill us! We travel another way now!”
“There is too much energy!” Rayne shouted back.
“Saska will lead us to the calm first!” Taranis returned, and added sombrely, “I would that we had enough to power you out as well, but even leading the four of us will take too much from her!”
Rayne nodded, and did not look in her direction. “What can we do to get out of here?”
“Llettynn managed to summon a Falcon to lead you to land.”
Llettynn shouted, “Weave a protection! We meet in Actar!”
Rayne noticed something strange about the Siric. It seemed as if his wings had shrunk.
“Siric do not take well to water!” Llettynn shouted.
Saska swam forward and gripped Rayne’s hand on the oar. “The storm takes what I have left fast, Rayne. We have to go. Trust Kras, he will lead you well. Go now!” She released him and as she did so, a bird of shimmering ruby alighted on Rayne’s shoulder.
Human, protect your companions, the Falcon said in Rayne’s mind. Now, mortal!
Glancing back, he noted how dire the circumstances were. The others stared at the Falcon in awe, completely forgetting to bail. The boat was a breath from sinking.
He jerked back when the din resumed, and saw Llettynn dive. Glint followed, then Belun. Taranis and Saska hung a moment longer, their expressions anxious.
Rayne realised belatedly the Guardians travelled only as they were to keep together. They could travel great distances employing a simple wish to do so, in an instant.
He mouthed at them, Go. We shall be fine.
Saska and Taranis joined hands, and they too disappeared into the depths. That, for a moment, was wrenching envy.
Mortal. Kras reminded him of his duty.
“The name is Rayne.”
Whatever. Do it now!
Rayne noted Kylan’s frightened face, and saw it, too. A monstrous wave bore down on them. It would not swamp, it would annihilate them, and there was no way to move from of its destructive path.
Without conscious thought, he shouted, “Mykia lan shuldra! Invin ka!”


Back in the Great Forest when Kylan shouted the Ancient Tongue, he was frightened of it, hated the fact he knew an enchantment.
When, on Kisha’s gentle prompting, he realised his mother taught the protection to him as a baby, he was more frightened of what that meant.
He told no other of his dilemma, merely mentioning a charm had saved them from Infinity. Kisha, respecting his wishes, held her silence on the subject.
He subsequently deliberately set it aside to deal with the game, regarding it as mystery he could confront later. It was, after all, a small mystery compared to what transpired after that night.
Hearing Rayne say the exact words, the issue seared to the fore. He needed to know, and finally he wanted to know also.
When their boat became an island of peace, with wind, rain, lightning, rattling thunder and the roaring, angry ocean outside a bubble of calm, the water inside the boat miraculously vanished, floating like a feather high on the ocean, Kylan burst out, “Rayne, what did you just do?”
Kisha laid a comforting hand on his shoulder while Rayne faced Kylan in mild surprise.
Kras left his shoulder to alight on the prow of the little vessel, his intelligent, silver eyes watching them.
“It’s an invocation calling for protection, one of the stronger enchantments, working differently in different situations. It will see us through the storm.” Rayne gave a wry shrug that was also sad. “It is a personal protection. Not much could prevent what happened today.”
Kylan right then was not too concerned with the ship and its fate. “What language is it?” he asked. He believed Kisha; he needed it confirmed.
Rayne frowned. “Ancient Tongue. Why do you ask?”
Kylan steamed on. “Is all sorcery in the Ancient Tongue?”
“No. Kylan, obviously you have heard the words somewhere else, and it is bothering you. Tell me.”
Kylan told him, and included in the narration his fears. Everyone was quiet, listening, and Kras watched, seemingly entertained.
“Can you remember your mother?” Rayne asked when the younger man was silent.
“Just images.”
“Who was she?” Rayne prompted. Had his mother been a sorceress? And, in dying before her time, not had the time to train her son? Was Kylan an untrained and untapped source of genetic magic?
“Her name was Merle, and that is about all I know,” Kylan whispered.
Rayne sucked at his teeth. Merle. “Your family name?”
Kylan inhaled, exhaled, his eyes intent on Rayne. He read the man’s body language, subtle as it was. “Finnian,” he said. Rayne knew. After so long, someone would tell him about his mother.
“There can only be one Merle Finnian,” Rayne said. “It fits, yes, for she was a student of the Ancient Tongue.”
“I thought you said the south had no knowledge of it,” Kisha interrupted.
“Jeez, Kisha, please …” Kylan said.
“Well, that is not entirely accurate,” Rayne said to Kisha and behind them McSee snorted. “Kylan, Merle was part of the Mantle. I was too young to have known her, but I knew of her. In any event, the Mantle keeps extensive records and I do know she uncovered powerful enchantments in the Ancient Tongue. This was one of those, and Aven taught it to me as a youngster, for my protection he said, as your mother saw fit to teach it to you. You must have been really young to have imprinted without knowing.” Rayne paused, reading emotions. “Fine, let me put you at ease, my friend. By all accounts, Merle was a good person.”
“Was she a sorceress?” Kylan blurted.
“She wasn’t even an ordinary magician, for she had not the gift. She was a highly intelligent woman with an extraordinary thirst for knowledge. She was a gifted researcher and an invaluable asset to the Mantle.”
Kylan shared an unaffected smile of pride, pleasure and utter relief. Rayne grinned at the sight, and Kisha hugged Kylan, smiling with him. Then, serious once more, he asked, “Do you know how she died? And my father? Is there mention of him?”
Wounds long buried were again raw. Kylan clenched his hands into fists, eyes fixed on Rayne.
“I am sorry, I do not know of your father. Perhaps in the archives in Galilan, but I am not sure.”
Kylan’s face fell, he hoped that much, yet he smiled his thanks before repeating the question, “Do you know how she died?”
Rayne was silent a time, thinking, but eventually he shook his head. “I wish I could tell you more, I am sorry.”
Kylan expelled an explosive breath and stared over the roiling ocean, clamping hands under his armpits. When Kisha touched him, he shook her off.
She turned a troubled gaze on Rayne, who shrugged at her.
Rayne faced forward. He looked through the shiny Falcon as if he were not there.
Kylan, I hope you never find out what happened to Merle. The manner of Merle Finnian’s death still shocked Mantle members and the investigation was never fully closed.
When he actually did focus on the bird, it was to note the creature watched him with a knowing expression.
“You are reading my mind?”
No, human, I have not that talent. I read only what you send, and, naturally, I understand your spoken words. You must warn the one you called Kylan to beware of using the enchantment too much.
“Yes,” Rayne muttered, and was about to do so when Kylan spoke.
“Thanks, Rayne. I appreciate what you told me. I … well, it will be easier now.” He gripped Kisha’s hand.
Rayne forced a smile. “Don’t mention it … and, Kylan, about the invocation. Invoking it will protect against most ills, including evil, and it protects you and those near you as it has here, but listen well and understand you are not a sorcerer; if you use it too often, it will harm you.”
“How?” Kisha asked.
Rayne sent her a look, acknowledging her intelligence. “Over-use nullifies power, causes it to become mundane, unless you are strong enough to hold the power within. Just heed the warning, please.”
The two nodded, and did not press for details.
The Falcon employed the ensuing silence to draw their attention by extending his wings. He sent for all to hear, this storm has driven you further from land. You need steer southeast. Begin now and it will be two days to Actar.
“Surely we can land before?” Kisha queried.
“Desert,” McSee stated. “I would rather row.”
“At least we can take turns,” Samson said. “I haven’t the strength for a long walk.”
“We still have this storm to get through,” Rayne muttered.
No more than three hours, less if you row fast, the bird sent. He rustled his plumage and gazed over their heads.
“Can you not …” and McSee snapped his fingers, “… whoosh us out of here?”
Please, human. While you flatter me with your suggestion, you must know the weather affects magic.
“Rayne did magic,” Samson pointed out.
“A personal charm only,” Rayne murmured.
The sorcerer had a solid substance to build upon - the boat. Were you drifting apart in the water, he could have invoked through rifts and back with no result.
“Ah, well. This has been a real doozy of a day thus far,” McSee grumbled. He gradually recovered his equilibrium. “Storms and dunking and now a cheeky bird, I ask you.”
“McSee!” Kisha hissed.
“I would like to suggest this here is no ordinary storm.” As Rayne and Kylan turned the vessel southeast, he continued, “Now, I’m not saying there weren’t an itty-bitty storm to begin with, but someone used a perfectly sane little weather pattern and stretched and shoved it out of all proportion.”
Rayne gazed over his shoulder, willing the man to keep silent. No such luck.
“You must have felt it. I did. I bet our Immortal companions did. Captain Bertin was no fool, so why did he steer us right into the centre of this hell pit? I’ll tell you why. He steered us to the outer edges of a storm to skirt the worst of it, and didn’t expect what he got instead. It tracked us, and he had no choice but to fight as long as he could. We must stop normalising everything. We’re strong enough to cope. Nothing is normal anymore! We could’ve died, and Averroes and Bertin did. I tell you something leads us by the noses! Trouble is coming, Valaris is deep in it, and we must be honest with one another. Putting a positive normal spin on matters helps nobody right now. Most important, we need be honest with ourselves.”
Your friend has a point, Kras sent to Rayne. He is correct; it is no ordinary storm.
Infinity? Rayne thought, sending it. Never having done so without the Centaur’s open channel, he was unsure whether the bird would receive.
You have a talent for sending, human. Yes, I believe it was Infinity who started this. A delaying tactic, perhaps? Who knows? The dara-witch has many personalities.
My name is Rayne.
For now.
Kras said no more.
“Rayne?” McSee growled.
“Yes, McSee, I hear you,” Rayne said. “Honesty, a good thing, yes.”
Cristi blurted, “Enough talking! Kylan, I’m worried about Mordan and Aven.”
Kylan handed his oar to Samson and knelt beside the two unconscious old men. Mordan opened his eyes. “I’m fine, just tired.”
Kylan nevertheless checked his pulse, breathing, eyes. “You’re all right. Cristi, give him water and make him comfortable.”
He gave his attention to Aven.
The old man was ill on board, lapsed into a semi-conscious state on deck and lost full consciousness before going in the water. Kylan made a funnel with his hands, listened. His lungs were without fluid and that was good.
He lifted Aven’s eyelids, saw the pupils react to the meagre light; brain activity was normal. Sliding his hands around the old man’s head, he felt with his fingertips and encountered a raised bump behind Aven’s left ear; turning his head, he noted the discolouration there.
After checking his pulse, he said to Rayne, who had ceased rowing and waited, “He is debilitated, needs real rest and took a nasty bump to the head. But he is in no danger. This is a sleep variant of the unconscious state, which, truthfully, is the best. A few days, and he’ll wake on his own.”
Rayne nodded and returned to rowing.
“Cristi, dribble water into his mouth. Dehydration is his only enemy in this condition,” Kylan murmured.
“Give me the oar, Rayne. Take a break,” McSee said in a conciliatory tone.
“Your shoulder …”
“Bugger my shoulder. I feel like a girl sitting here.”
“Hey!” Cristi protested.
“Oh, relax. You girls will get your turn, too, I promise,” McSee grumbled.


Later

For the first time in her life, Averroes felt unburdened.
She had not realised how heavy a load the Medaillon was, despite its guardianship until Aven rescued her from a life of perpetual poverty, from probable slavery, and possibly from a life of prostitution.
Only now that it was gone did she understand the burden. It had then been a mixed blessing.
Alone, she would have to find her way back to the others, but she was empowered and capable. Find the others she would; she was as bound to their destiny as they were into hers.
It would not be easy, a young woman travelling alone in a strange place, but it would be done.
She had a change of clothes, useful once dry, soap and a brush. With these items she could be presentable. She had her water bottle - thank you, Captain Bertin - and, most important in a new environment, she had coin, which Aven insisted she have with her always.
Of the others, she missed Rayne, more so than Aven. He frightened her, yet she understood him, and knew he understood her. There was a bond, and one day they would uncover it, perhaps once this game was finished.
Fourteen days ago she knew him only from Aven’s ramblings - often proud, often anxious and also often furious - and she decided not to like him, until the day he stood on the other side of the door in Farinwood.
Could one know one’s heart’s choice this quickly? If her life led her on to wed another, it would not take anything away from it. Whatever answers others may supply to that question, she could only say … yes.
He was not immune, recalling that moment at the dam, and it caused her to feel like a woman, not a waif.
Averroes frowned. Saska. Something brewed there, and it meant trouble.
She sat on a rock under a huge old oak ripe with green acorns, and contemplated her future, whether Rayne was part of it or not.
The ground was crunchy with dry cups … years of falling. Young saplings struggled in the shade of their huge matriarch, with stronger sons and daughters growing well further away. There were the little cups, fairy drinking bowls.
Averroes believed in fairies; she had actually seen them.
She had no idea where she was, how far the stormy ocean carried her, in which direction, for how long, before tossing her towards dry and blessed land.
At this moment what counted was that she had survived the journey.


Earlier

As the Calloway hurtled downward in search of its grave, her safety line was releases when the rail splintered.
Clueless how to behave in the water, instinct took over, and she pulled at the dark water with cupped hands. As she broke surface to draw panicked breath, she was knocked under to gulp seawater.
Coming up, she instinctively paddled, and found the swell aiding her away from the sucking vortex caused by the vanishing sloop.
She panicked again, before hearing Taranis’ kind voice in her mind, telling her not to panic, to trust her life jacket. Putting fear aside, she relaxed, and floated. The ocean battered and betrayed her, but she did not go under for long. Every time the inflated jacket brought her back to air.
Noticing a rope twisting on the heaving surface, she grabbed it, and held on despite the tugging from the ocean.
It was wound around one of the water barrels that was stored aft of the ship. It had to be empty to float, and was obviously thoroughly sealed against the ocean’s advances. It waited for her and she did, for dear life, take it.
She pulled it closer and painstakingly pulled her pack up. It countered the float of her jacket, she had to get it out of the water, or balance it. After countless attempts, she managed to sling it over, and secured the ropes.
The achievement meant she and her pack were then counter-balanced, the barrel between them. An added advantage was she floated high enough to dodge mouthfuls of salty water.
Looking for the others, she saw only floating debris in a dark, vicious and watery world. She tried calling, but the thunder was too loud. She paddled, but seemed to go nowhere.
She was alone, and she was alive. It was up to her.
The storm passed on or she floated beyond its reach, and the blessed sun shone bright and hot. Never again would she curse the heat.
Time passed, certainly hours, and she was in calm waters.
Becalmed, she thought. I will float in one place until thirst kills me. I should throw my water away now, before I need it, and bring on oblivion faster.
Becalmed she was not, for then she saw land.
She was exhausted and nauseous, bruised from the battering, but kicked determinedly for the shore. The ocean’s landward current came to her aid, gently nudging her closer.
When her feet touched bottom, she was elated. She dragged her pack and her barrel, unwilling to abandon what had become a friend to the ravages of ocean life, onto the narrow shingle beach.
With her last reserves, she made it to the old oak, and collapsed onto the crunchy bed of old acorns.


Tor Island

The sun shone weakly when she awakened. It was dawn. She slept through the afternoon and the entire night. She was wet, cold, and hungry and had a raging thirst. And she was alive!
She grinned at the calm ocean as she searched for her water.
You treacherous creature, I have lost my fear of you. She toasted the sea.
It took two days for her pack to lose its dead weight. She used the days to rebuild strength, to rediscover who she was and to think as she planned for the immediate future. She found a tiny brook with clear water; she drank, washed her hair, herself, her clothes and thus renewed in that way.
Growing along the banks were rambling hedges of gooseberries and blackberries, somewhat over-ripe, but she ate with relish. She found crab-apples and pomegranates further a-field as she looked for signs of human habitation and came across lavender and rosemary, and used it to brew a passable, if bitter, tea.
She enjoyed relying on herself.
On the third day she set off south. She wore boys’ clothing for ease of movement; she would not again wear shapeless gowns. She would not again hide her hair and wore it wild, loosely caught in the nape of her neck. She swung a length of rope diagonally across her chest; one never knew when and where it might come in handy. She praised herself for being practical and for thinking ahead. She liked that her opinions meant something.
Patting her friend the barrel, she spared a quick glance for the ocean, and set off.
She hoped she was on Tor Island and not back on the mainland. It seemed logical, for she had not been in the water long enough to drift across the strait. The others would head for Tor and would do so even if they believed her dead. The game would not cease because she was no longer there.
Dear father, I hope you sense me as I do you. Do not grieve; I am coming.
It served no purpose to dwell on what was beyond her control; she would get there and they would reconcile. Aven would smile and laugh, and maybe Rayne would clasp her in his arms.
She skipped a little, feeling happy.