Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Infinity: Chapt 6 - Chaos

And now you will meet the Guardians :) Bear with me now; we soon return to the main story and all these threads will make sense then!

Chapter 6

Think first, mortal.
And you, long-lived.
~ Excerpt from a recording of Guardian and Peacekeeper on Xen III


It was hot and Taranis shifted in bed for a cooler region.
Outside cicada wings whispered despite darkness, bedfellows of humidity. His pillow was damp; he cursed and flung the sheet aside. Padding naked to the console, he punched buttons to circulate the air faster. Thank the gods for this world’s technology. It was close to religion here. The need for rest drove him back to bed. The heat wave of the last week had already taken too much from him. He tossed for a time in fitful snatches of sleep, the kind where images came and went randomly and one thought one was awake and dreaming simultaneously. When he lurched upright as an apparition materialised in the corner of his bedchamber, he at first believed he was dreaming or hoped it was a hallucination. It was not either; sweat trickling between his shoulder blades revealed he was awake.
“Get dressed, Guardian.”
Taranis shifted, attempting to get into position for a lunge at his sword. The blade lay on cold tiles on the other side of the bed.
“Steel cannot harm a nigromant,” the voice said as if reading his intentions. “If you need test my words, do so. I am not leaving until you comply.”
“Gods, I must be dreaming,” Taranis muttered.
No reaction came from the insubstantial form.
A nigromant was an apparition, an ethereal messenger from the mind of a tangible being, and able to traverse great distances in an instant. A nifty trick if the source needed to share something from afar or needed to do so without risk.
Which was it? Was the source afar or was it afraid of direct confrontation?
“What do you want?” Taranis demanded.
“You are to accompany me.”
“And where are we going?”
“The Rift.”
Infinity sent you?” Taranis almost laughed. The dara-witch was slippery, but he did not think her clever enough for this kind of ruse.
“I am commanded by the Arcana.”
He lost the power of speech then, and the ability to think coherently. What roiled in his mind was the meeting with Infinity on Mir 4 two weeks ago. He went because she threatened to poison Mir’s water sources. She spoke of the Arcana and a rift, and he laughed in her face. As he left, she swore she would prove their existence and here this creature was.
Power of speech returned. “I do not believe you.”
“I am able to force compliance, Guardian. I suggest you choose the easier path.”
Unable to think about why, he believed this apparition was exactly what it claimed to be. He felt it in icy shivers over clammy skin. He swallowed dryly. “Are you going to kill me?”
A hiss of a laugh. “You would be dead now. No, I am your means to proof.”
“What proof?”
“The Arcana are real. The dara-witch Infinity found us and we have agreed to be the leverage she requires. If you desire to save Valaris from annihilation, come with me. You will be returned to your bed after.”
Heat wave; cold skin. The night was not what it was when he set the air to circulate faster. Taranis rose and dressed, retrieved his sword from the floor and strapped it on. If he returned to his bed, he would not be sleeping in it too soon.
“I am ready,” he whispered, and prayed to all the gods in the universe to watch over him.

The Dome

They came from varied places.
The Sagorin were the nomads. The Siric arose from their latest homeworld, old by most calendars and far from the gathering place. The mighty Eagles winged in from various roosts, tailed by the nimble Falcons. The Centuar materialized within the gathering in the blink of an eye. Finally, there were the delicate Sylmer.
A gathering-call was felt within and could not be denied.
The Dome was a magical cathedral, with soaring marble pillars reaching heavenward to commune with the stars, pure white with silvery tracings, intermittently sparking, a reminder of the life within the stone. It was warm to the touch, releasing the slightest shock, a pleasant sensation. Living rock - many would discount the notion.
There were fourteen pillars exactly spaced about the perimeter of the circular interior and together they formed the sacred ogives. It was through these vaulted arches that each set entered, each having a doorway.
There were fourteen magical doorways and six were employed in answer of summons.
The ceiling of the Dome was similarly segmented, creating the illusion that the vaulted arches met overhead without support. Being of magic, any support was illusion. The mosaics overhead were of incredible variety and hue, and depicted stylised scenes beautiful and grotesque.
There were winged creatures soaring over mountain peaks of emerald, violet, tangerine and sapphire. There were water scenes with sleek, silvery beings half-leaping, half-diving. There were battle scenes, with humanoids astride four-legged, winged creatures. Darker images of beings black, mud, scarlet, and plutonium green, animalistic, fanged and wading through rivers of bleached bones, sat alongside the beauty.
At the previous gathering they decided to remove the darker images, no one having the need to remember the battles depicted, but as nobody entered the Dome since, the work remained undone.
There were sixty in the Dome, a round figure by accident, death and time, not design.
They sat on mottled stone benches tiered in concentric circles about a raised dais in the centre of an unblemished white floor. This was the Gatherers’ Circle set within the protective magic of the Dome.
They communicated via spoken word, generally the common tongue. The Eagles and Falcons employed mindspeak, and often relayed messages over vast distances, a talent valuable when secrecy was imperative. It was a ploy rarely accessed, for they preferred transparency of action, speech and sorcery, not the backhanded methods of concealment and dark corners.
Seen as gods, they did not regard themselves in this way. They were guardians and protectors of those unable to shelter their own and recover from terrible calamity. They were in a unique position to offer assistance. Relief workers, defenders of the weak, upholders of the universal laws and sentries against evil; they were the Immortal Guardians.
It had been a thousand years since the last formal gathering. The signs and rumours formed a jigsaw of unnamed evil and this gathering bespoke new urgency. The time was at hand to confront it.
The participants settled down restlessly on the stone benches and waited.
They did not wait long.

Taranis appeared in the seventh ogive.
He marched down the aisle between the benches and into the Gatherers’ Circle; he was their leader and sent the call.
Being human, he was unique among them. Millennia ago he met the right conditions and learned the secrets to attaining longevity. Immortality brought him eventually to the Guardians and they admitted him to their ranks and took him along to their infrequent gatherings, where they swiftly realized he was an excellent sorcerer with a powerful mind.
Then came the time he earned his own doorway and became their leader.
Three thousand years ago, the Guardians did battle with Drasso and Infinity. It was a terrible, annihilating, inexorable war with victory always out of reach. All human worlds were initially on Drasso’s extermination list, with the Guardians fighting him on each one. After wreaking a great deal of havoc and causing immense devastation, he focused his voracious gaze on one world as his ultimate prize.
Drasso was on the road to victory when the Guardians intervened, and Taranis was eminently suited to strategy on a human world. Drasso was defeated, his army driven away, his mother Infinity swearing eternal revenge. It was a prolonged war and a hard one to fight. All Guardians bore scars.
After, Taranis was chosen leader, the decision unanimous. In the aftermath it was to him humans looked.
Valarians called them Deities. Having witnessed their power they could equate them only to super beings - gods. They proclaimed Taranis as Lord of the Deities, something he was powerless to change.
Among humans and particularly Valarians, that was his destiny, and his name is revered as holy and unassailable to this day.
Taranis strode to the dais.
He disdained clothes of any purpose other than functionality and was thus casually clad in plain black breeches tucked into leather boots and a blue linen shirt. His hair, thick and dark, teased the collar.
Taranis stepped up and laid his sword and scabbard down, and surveyed the gathered. Grey eyes crinkled in a greeting smile.
He knew all present were able to perform the tasks he had for them this occasion, but today was a day of choices. Potentially, it could get heated before calm reigned.
They would all step forward to offer hands, minds and lives, and he could select only four.
His eyes warmed when he noticed individuals catch his gaze deliberately. At one time or another each was a teacher to him. Each taught him well, each was a friend. The wheel turned, and today he was the teacher. He thought his ability to lead stemmed from his uniqueness and singularity, for they were multiple units and could argue hard before unanimous decision.
The dais was waist height, a semi-circular pedestal of white marble, and appeared an extension of the floor, both refuted and emphasized when Taranis moved to encompass everyone in initial welcome; it moved with him no matter which way he faced - that proved it was separate - but it also created the illusion that the entire circle moved.
Set into the stone atop the pedestal were four symbols in ever-changing colour, there to recognize the speaker. If one dimmed, it subtly alerted the gathered to possible subterfuge, thereby giving them time to take action.
One light was for Knowledge, one for Communion, one for Sorcery and the last was the light of Recognition. In the long history of the Dome it had never muted, yet each participant was trained to check status. There were glamours that could be employed to dupe a friend and although no glamour would get past the ogives, it paid to be cautious.
Taranis drew breath. This would not be simple, but it was time to get down to the matter at hand.
“My friends, it is good to see you looking well and rested. Forgive my haste; I have much to tell you and time is of the essence. For years we have marked the signs of approaching confrontation and where able we upset and delayed it, for we did not know the source. None of this is new, but the source is now unequivocally confirmed and the time of confrontation has arrived.” He paused to study them, and added, “I imagine it will come as no great surprise that the source is Infinity.”
Rustling sounded among the listeners, but it soon settled, for proof was due.
Taranis went on. “A short while ago a messenger delivered an ultimatum. Infinity has altered the nature of her strategy.” He paused to inhale as if searching for strength. “Infinity has an alliance with a terrible host, and that alliance is the reason we cannot afford to ignore her.”
They would not like what he said next, and would not immediately credit his revelation as truth. They would not think him a liar - they would think Infinity the deceiver.
Taranis put his hands on the console alongside the lights and studied the frowning concentration on most faces. The silence in the Gatherers’ Circle was absolute.
“We may have to deal with the primordial beings of Arcana.”
A simple statement, the words belying the emotion it engendered in him. The gathered were no different.
There was bedlam in the Dome as the Guardians erupted. Agitation, certainly. Disbelief, naturally. There were traces of fear amid loud denials. Fear he expected, as he could not refute initial disbelief, and he was not offended. He would not deliver a statement of this import lightly, not even to jest in times of peace.
Nobody used the term ‘Arcana’ in vain. Wings unfurled to beat the air and hooves stamped.
“Settle down!” Taranis shouted over the din. A million questions hurtled across the floor and he could not hope to answer one before a million more drowned him out. It had to be step-by-step or no one would learn anything. “Sit down! Allow me to continue and it will be made clear!”
The Sagorin drew together as if the mere mention of the Arcana could bring the threat to immediacy; the Siric shuffled their wings but did not sit - they stalked the upper tier and nothing, he knew, would induce them to stillness unless it was their choice. He did not bother to try; a Siric was stubborn.
Eagles and Falcons perched calmly at random, drawing comfort from their agility. The glorious Centuar moved unobtrusively to take up position near the shy and nervous Sylmer, who had erupted wordlessly, staring at their more voluble colleagues before staring fearfully at each other.
After a few moments of re-established silence, Taranis went on.
“For longer than I have been an Immortal the Arcana have been legend. Each of you at one time or another whispered a tale of these mythical fallen beings and although I believed it only a tale, as you did in the telling, I was wary of this frightening legend, as you were and continue to be.”
He scrutinized their intent faces, particularly the Sylmer, his gaze lingering on one, and was satisfied with their reaction. They were prepared to accept the unexpected.
“What are the Arcana?” he said into the silence. “Legend has it they were beings so evil they were banished into permanent exile in another dimension. They could no longer reach back and touch those they hounded for so long, except in the tales left behind.” He peered into the tiers attempting to encompass the gathered in one fierce gaze. “I now have cause to validate a legend.”
“Pardon?” a Siric growled, ceasing his pacing to glare down into the Circle. Declan, the questioner, as ever.
Taranis shook a finger at him. “Hold, I am not done.” Declan resumed pacing and Taranis gave a grim smile. “Are we able to comprehend what the Arcana were? Were they real, were they once here, or were they visitors at one time? Even the darklings we do know cannot credit the Arcana as more than legend. Unfortunately Infinity read more into a myth and she set out to find them, and did.”
“What?” “Where?” and “Why?” were flung into the vaulted space, the latter being most frequent.
His voice rose over the din. “We know Infinity, ever seeking advantage! Three thousand years she has been patient, biding her time until she discovered something to ensure victory. We have wondered, have we not, and therein lies the ‘why’, my friends.”
The Siric ceased pacing and the atmosphere altered. It was electrified; minds engaged in a different manner. The brightness of the Dome’s interior seemed to darken, the dais lights shining like beacons.
“If the Arcana could not reach back, maybe someone could reach out; create a doorway, a Rift large enough to facilitate a meeting of discovery. Infinity did all that.” Taranis grimaced, resting his palms on the dais. “I met her on Mir4 and denied her scheme. The dara-witch played with me, preying on our fears, using an ancient tale to lend her trickery credence.”
“What changed your mind?” Declan asked.
Taranis leaned against the pedestal. “The Arcana changed my mind. They sent a messenger.”
“Wait,” Declan said with one hand aloft. He glanced at his colleagues, receiving nods. “The Arcana did this?”
Dead silence in the Dome.
“Yes, the beings of myth sent a nigromant directly into my bedchamber.”
“Goddess,” a Sylmer murmured.
Taranis’ gaze flicked to the four Sylmer; it was unusual for any of the three men to say anything, and a prayer, a blessing, a curse, was even stranger.
“This was last night, and at first I thought I was dreaming … be still! Let me finish! Do you know what scared me most? Not that I began to believe it was no hoax, but that they knew where I was.”
He drew breath and looked down at the lights. Nobody knew where he lived; he preferred it that way.
An explosive breath left Declan’s lips. Like the others, he did not know where Taranis called home and, like his Dome leader, he knew, in finding it, the Arcana proved mastery. “What did it want of you?” he asked.
The others were content to let him ask the questions; Declan had a way of sniffing hidden nuances out. Declan would one day prove very worthy of his race.
“It was sent to prove a legend, simply put, and it would do so by presenting me to the Arcana.”
This time the Sagorin leader breathed out a cross between oath and prayer.
“Indeed,” Taranis agreed. “The apparition transported me to a Rift between realities, proving there is another dimension …”
“There are theories, Taranis.”
“Yes, thank you, Llettynn, but theory proved boggles the mind.”
“Did you meet them?” Declan asked.
“What I saw was a brief glimpse of chaos such as we have only imagined in our nightmares,” Taranis replied. “Whether that Chaos was the Arcana, I am not sure, but I certainly discovered the effect they can have on empty space and shudder to think what they could achieve with not so empty regions. I was escorted partly through the Rift and there I found Infinity dancing in glee and beyond her was pure Chaos.”
Taranis stopped there and placed his hands on the symbols for Knowledge and Communion.
“I shall share my experience directly, for I have not the words.”
He pressed down and sent out images directly to the receptive minds of his companions. It was a form of mindspeak, only greater and more honest; the console did not lie or soften, and anything it sent out was irrefutable.
A hiss of shock filled the Dome and on its heels gasps of horror. Then there was quiet, the breathless silence that could be truly unnerving.
The Rift. A ragged tear against the blackness of space. Glimpses of undulating grey matter through the jagged gaps.
A cursed Rift! An actual portal between two dimensions. And if the Rift was greater than theory, what then of a terrifying legend? The images spun on, vision narrowing to a jagged triangle of roiling grey cloud, expanding again as they passed beyond their known reality.
Chaos was a kind word.
Chaos was an impenetrable smog, cloying, dense doom, persistently on the move, coming, going, reeling, spinning, agitating as if it were alive and greedy, hungry, cannibalistic, needy, with half-seen inhuman, un-humanoid shapes that flitted and taunted, reached out, tried to touch … if it touched you died you knew this felt this did not like this … unremitting sickly glow lightning sparked and did nothing to dispel the thickening gloom, instead it terrified as if the lightning were a living entity in symbiosis with the life in the smog and the life that was the smog.
Vapid chameleon eyes, sickly yellow eyes, cold snake eyes danced and challenged one after the other, coming closer, too close. Reptilian scales unlike any known reptile flashed unmade in the lightning, much the worse for only seeing part of the whole. Fangs as long as a man’s arm, dripping saliva the colour of pewter, as thick as mercury … and as dangerous, death would be agonisingly slow. Snatches of sight, too little to make sense of. Chaos. Chaos that could destroy worlds.
“Enough?” Taranis’ voice sounded distant, as if he were far from them, abandoning them to Chaos, and the Guardians had to will those images aside.
As if awakening from a trance or death’s long sleep, the Guardians emerged one after the other, with the more impressionable Sylmer coming out last, and glanced at each other to confirm they had seen what was shown them, needing the confirmation to prove they were not alone, were not insane.
Eyes slid away as the strange quiet stretched and intensified.

A Sanctuary is not always a Haven (Reviews)

Monday, January 30, 2017

145 000+!

Thank you for visiting!!


Infinity: Chpt 5 - The Great Dividing Forest

You are now reading THE INFINITY MANTLE, the first book in an epic series.  You will be crossing time and space and delving into unseen realms as well, and this means it's a BIG story. Why am I telling you this? Because we are now changing focus for a while, to gradually introduce the other players in this tale. You have read about Rayne, McSee, Aven and Averroes, and also briefly about the clans in the north, but there is more to it! Meet now Kylan and Kisha; we return to Rayne soon enough :)

Chapter 5

Games teach skills of co-ordination and strategy, true, and yet are seen as wasteful pursuit. One wonders if this reasoning is due to the fear of underlying lessons … such as premonition, the ability to think beyond the present.
~ Beacon’s archives

The Great Dividing Forest

He stood on a brown square two by two feet and next to it a green square, then another brown, another green and so on; he was on a giant checkerboard!
At each corner there was an oval pile of sticks and mud, as many nests were made, only larger. Curious, Kylan closed in to investigate, glancing about and crouching low, making as little sound as possible. He did not sense danger, but it paid to be careful, it paid every time.
There were five eggs in the nest and there were five in the next and the next. In this strange place everything was uniform and, well, designed. Again he glanced around, neck hairs beginning to prickle. Nothing, but that did not mean there was not something.
Frowning, he returned his attention to a clutch of pale purple, spotted eggs. He leaned over to touch, feeling warmth and an inner vibration that proved life. He would have been surprised had they been cold and lifeless, but this was a lot of potential living here.
A checkerboard hatchery, strange as that was? And what was he doing here?
Looking up he saw an enormous dome, muted blue. Well. A brown-green checkerboard, purple eggs and a blue dome. Was he in a child’s drawing? A giant’s game?
Despite wariness, he chuckled; it was too farfetched to be taken seriously … must be a dream … or a premonition.
His amusement vanished and he swallowed convulsively.
If the eggs were warm, something was entrusted to keep them that way. Perhaps the dome was an incubator and perhaps even now the mothers returned, winging back on giant wings. What, in Taranis’ name, would they prove to be? Crikey, he may have stumbled into a hornet’s nest … he hoped they were not hornets!
Come now, buddy, this is a dream, no more. And they would have to be seriously huge hornets.
There were muted explosive sounds around him, and at first he thought the eggs were blowing up, but then there was light everywhere. Someone switched on a hundred suns inside his head, in front of his eyes, he was blind … no, that was not right. His eyes were simply unaccustomed to the sudden light.
There had been a switching-on process, therefore the explosions - huge, artificial, twenty feet high lights. So, it was an artificial place … well, he figured that already; he just could not figure what for or what it meant to him. Then he realized the lights were probably on to spot a possible intruder … he was the intruder!
Taranis, what now?
Something unseen landed on his chest and there was a smelly slobbering about his face. Attempting to push the creature away, encountering warm fur, shaking his head from side to side to prevent the assault claiming a nose or eye, and wondering why he could not see his attacker in the brightness, Kylan shook himself awake.
He was beside the fire on his sleeping roll where he lay down a couple of hours back. The fire was low and marked the time passed. Jess obviously decided she had waited long enough for a meal.
Kylan sat up groggily, laughing in relief, body coated in sweat, dark hair plastered to his face with the aid of slobber.
Wiping his face with a shaking hand, he said, “Ah, Jess, you smelly mutt, thank Taranis that was a dream! You can’t know how great your timing was.”
Jess, of undetermined breed, cocked her head to stare at him with soulful eyes. His green orbs darkened as he recalled other incidents. She pulled him from dreams before and frequently warned him of snares in the Forest when she should not know of their existence.
“I have a feeling you do know,” he muttered, and Jess cocked her head the other way as if in agreement. He laughed. “Or maybe I’ve been alone too long …”
Jess jumped up and barked at him, her wont when she disagreed with something. He laughed again, less surely this time.
“Maybe I’m not hallucinating, but the alternative is unthinkable. If you do know, girl, then what does that make you? Folk will quarter you for harbouring magic, but all right, I’m not going to say anything … and, as you’re so sharp, please explain what that crazy dream …”
He slammed up against the huge oak behind him and hung there suspended two feet from the ground.
Cannot move … what is this? Another dream? A dream within a dream - had he not awakened earlier? He wore only breeches and the rough bark of the old tree dug viciously into the exposed skin of his back … it hurts!
It could not be a dream, but reality versus fantasy was the least of his concerns. A force encircled his neck and drove air from his lungs.
Jess barked furiously, jumping up and nipping at something not there. Her hysterics caused a fluttering and a raucous noise, as all birds in the immediate vicinity took to wing.
He attempted to loosen the stranglehold on his neck, scratching at his throat and raising bloody welts. All the while his legs flailed seeking a way to lever away from the tree back to solid ground.
The night was eerily silent.
Jess ran cowering under a bush to whimper there. Kylan sensed his struggles were useless; he hung above the ground, eyes seeking escape, ears attempting to pierce the breathless quiet for clues to the source of his torment. Barely breathing, he saved what little oxygen he had left for when an opportunity presented itself, if it would, dear Lord.
What is this? There is no defence against this … this sorcery!
TARANIS! Taranis, help me! I cannot do this alone!
Then, as unexpectedly as it began, he was released.
He tumbled to earth gasping in great gulps of air that seared his throat and lungs.
Jess slinked out. “It’s all right, girl,” he murmured. “You were wonderful.” Stroking her he looked around, no longer trusting their surroundings.
It was silent, but all was as it had been. There was his sleeping roll, his bag of necessities, with cooking utensils to one side and herbs drying where he hung them earlier that afternoon. The fire popped merrily and that was not right. He did not put wood on after waking with Jess slobbering over him and an almost dead fire did not find fuel on its own.
Dare he think Taranis heard him? Dumb, that would be a first, a god saving someone directly. Sick of being frightened and confused, he shouted, “What is going on here?”
“Taranis cannot help you, human, although it amused me no end to release you when you invoked his aid. It really does take more than one human in trouble for the beloved Taranis to take note.”
From the dark beyond the fire came the most dangerous creature Kylan had ever encountered. As a Herbmaster he often went where others did not and saw different creatures and strange animals on four legs and six, but never this. Jess’ hackles were raised. No amount of calling on the Deities would help him, and likely they did not hear a lone human.
The creature was blue with an underlying pulse of purple - colours like the eggs. It had been a premonition; he was not afforded the time to figure it out, not that he would have come to this conclusion. It was naked, obviously female and highly alluring. Her skin tone was not repulsive in the least. Her hair was long and blue, swaying in the night air.
Shaped and sized as a human female, she was extraordinarily sensual, until he saw her eyes, until he looked.
They were voids, transparent pools so deep they were eternal. If he stared too long he would certainly drown, spiralling into infinity, over and over and over and … he hurriedly looked away.
He did not know how he knew her eyes could kill, only that they would.
She laughed. A knowing sound was also the sweetest he had heard. He knew who she was, but until now had not believed she existed. She was a myth, a legend, a tale.
spiralling into infinity …
This was Infinity, the blue dara-witch.
According to legend, she was the mother of all gods, immune to death and sorcery. The tale further stated one could live forever if one subjected one’s soul to her eternal will. This before him was no dream and no legend. His brief glimpse into her eyes that were not eyes revealed to him clearly the price for eternal life was death, in any way she devised, and endlessly repeated for her twisted pleasure. It was eternal death and it was endless.
He had to get away NOW.
Faithful Jess came to his rescue for the second time that night.
She leapt from his side over the fire in a brown and black steak of pure and intent energy. She was at Infinity’s throat in lightning seconds, but when she got there, there was nothing to sink her teeth into. Infinity was an apparition; real and as capable of great damage as any solid entity, yet as untouchable as the night air in which she appeared. She was energy in visual form.
Jess, however, served as a momentary distraction. Infinity spun and, as Jess leapt, Kylan dived for the fire and grabbed a burning log from a blaze that should have no such item. Wondering if a piece of wood burning magically could burn flesh, not knowing what exactly he would do with this spontaneous weapon, he knew only his heart was frantic and any moment could see him surrender to mindless fear.
He too leapt over the fire before fear did overcome. Positioned facing her, he brandished his flickering weapon.
Infinity laughed, clearly delighted. “I am not a forest creature you can scare away with fire, human! My, but you are a spirited one! I will enjoy this. I will allow you sixty of your human heartbeats to escape me and then I shall hunt you.” Her voice dropped as she considered the sport ahead, turning husky with anticipation. “Do not think you can escape your fate, beautiful man. There is no way out … see?”
The blue woman twisted to where Jess only moments before spun at bay behind her, snarling and contemplating her next assault. Infinity lifted her arm, and fingers shot darts of azure flame, which she tossed at Jess.
In that exact instant Kylan acted.
In the moment following, frozen into his memory forever after, four events occurred simultaneously.
He thrust the burning brand directly into Infinity, his need to do something energizing every move and thought; Jess exploded into a pillar of cobalt flaming vapour, yelping piteously; Infinity erupted, transforming into a whirlwind of gale force strength, and a voice burned into his mind, admonishing him to “Remember! Remember the words, Kylan! Always know I am with you!
And he knew no more.

The forest was dark because there was no moon, but it was warm and welcoming under the covering of trees.
The entire region was alive with sound, in particular the song of the nightjar and chirruping crickets. There were rustles as diurnal creatures settled in for the dark and nocturnal creatures stirred from daytime slumber. The sounds were comforting; all was right in their world.
Kisha travelled alone. She was not afraid.
Fear was an alien emotion, the consequence of a sheltered upbringing, but pain was now familiar, a dull ache she tried to ignore. She was her father’s daughter, though, resilient, imaginative, calm, intelligent and, she hoped, brave. May Taranis keep him safe and guide him on his final journey.
His final journey brought about her first beyond the borders of clanland. Six weeks ago the life she knew for over twenty years was shattered by a freak accident. Her father and others of the Tan were killed in a landslide en route to a gathering of elders. She remembered her father’s bushy red beard tickling her cheek as he hugged her goodbye, a huge grin on his face. She also recalled the sad, earnest face of the survivor, the one who brought the news.
The rescue team she assembled reached the scene of the rock fall as true dark set in. It was the longest day of her life, minutes like hours, but there was nothing to be seen when they arrived at the site except a cairn of rocks and boulders. The rocks were immovable, gravestones to five men and eight horses. They said their prayers for the dead the following morning and returned home.
It could not be the same after that. Confrontation with death awakened her to a completely new world of feelings. She wanted to leave; every nook reminded her of lives lost. And a force called, she could not explain it, nor did she try. She knew not what or where to, only that she could not ignore it.
Now an image of a well beckoned.
Night deepened and she halted at a hollowed tree and dropped her pack to the leafy ground. As she set about gathering kindling, she heard the distant barking of a dog. A dog meant people.
Smiling, she resolved to find them. Packing up again, she set off in the direction of the sound. It did not occur to her there might be creatures in the dark intent only on foul deeds.
An hour later, after a long period of quiet and as she considered giving up, she heard a man’s voice. “… Jess you smelly …” and it sounded friendly and nearby.
The man continued talking, and then there was silence.
She angled left to where she thought he was and gradually became aware of an alteration in the air. The lifting of hundreds of roosting birds alerted her that something was not right, the birds being proof to sneaking sensation.
The ensuing silence, a dead, unnatural silence, set her nerves tingling. Maybe the man needed help and maybe she should fade into the darkness, walk another path, away from here.
On the point of doing that, the stranger’s voice shouted in fear and bravado, “What is going on here?”
What now? Stay? Go? Hide?
Help or run?
Kisha experienced the first prickles of real fear when she heard a woman’s voice answer him. It was an entrancing voice, but so inherently evil, even she, in her innocence, recognized it. Or, due to innocence, she instantly sensed the great difference.
The man, whoever he was, needed help.
Her heart hammered so loud she thought it would give her away; her mouth was dry and foul, but she was her father’s daughter. Ahead through the trees, she saw the dancing light of a fire and crept towards it. As she neared a well-used clearing, a dark-haired man leapt over the fire, swinging a burning log.
In the next moment there was a flash of blue-green energy and what appeared to be an angry dog erupted into flames of the same impossible hue.
A whirlwind came at her and she froze in paralysed fright.
The man shouted out in the Ancient Tongue, “Mykia lan shuldra ka! Invin ka!”
And she knew no more.

Review: She Lights Up the Dark by A.M. Manay

Happiness is ...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Infinity: Chpt 4 (2) - Destiny?

Chapter 4 Part 2

Aven moved to stand before Rayne, watched those eyes intently for a few seconds, and lifted his arms.
Moving his hands in minute circles, he murmured something.
Hearing Averroes behind him, McSee saw her holding the Medaillon whispering inaudibly. They assisted in Rayne’s return. McSee retreated to his chair, out of his league and confounded by what happened. Everything was changing, including his outlook on most everything.
Rayne fell to his knees, sending McSee hurtling from his chair again. “Rayne?”
McSee was frightened. Presented with the physical realities of sorcery - Rayne’s remarkable and surprising ability and Aven’s casual use of magic - he questioned his commitment and it fast became a terrible time to do so. Nothing in his training prepared him, and thus he understood Rayne more; nothing prepared Rayne either.
“Come back to us … gently does it …”Aven murmured in a singsong tone. The fair man jolted as if pulled to that voice. Aven bent over him, whispering words of encouragement, his kindly face concerned.
Rayne rocked back and sat elbows on knees cradling his head. “Old man,” he said in a strangled voice, “what game is this?”
Aven dragged Rayne’s hands away. “Let me look at you.” He took the man’s face in his hands, turned it this way and that, and pronounced himself satisfied. Releasing, he returned to his armchair.
“Are you all right?” McSee asked, kneeling at Rayne’s side.
Rayne looked at him. “The question is, are you? This shocked you.”
McSee shrugged. “I’m questioning my commitment, I admit.”
Rayne grimaced. “As am I.” He rose in a fluid movement. “I am really peeved also. Aven, the Mantle has been played as fools for years! Thane left, what, fifteen years ago? And we relied on a replica! Gods, what if it all went up in flame before now?”
Only Averroes noticed the slip, and it rocked her. Gods. He said gods; not God, not Taranis, not Aaru, but gods. In her private world, where she dealt with her demons and her angels, she knew it as a significant difference, that one simple word.
“Does it matter now, Rayne?” Aven questioned, unperturbed by the outburst. “Yes, I see that it does. Well … McSee, these candles, do you know why they are here?”
“Old man …”
“Bear with me. McSee?”
“It’s a warding; candle tallow placed in a crucible with the sap of a Silver Fir bush and glamorised to give off cool silver light. The result usually wards those within a four foot radius against discovery, as well as throwing a ring of ten additional feet - it can be more, depending on the amount of light - and it acts as discouragement, which is why the children outside dare no closer. I would suggest it renders one invisible to an all-seeing eye, if such an animal exists, and after this here, I would say you warded the Medaillon against discovery.”
Despite his even tone, McSee was unsure. He was unsure of much now, a novel and uncomfortable notion for him.
Aven murmured, “Exactly right. The warding will no longer be effective though, seeing as Rayne here broadcast its presence to whatever all-seeing eye may or may not be looking.” He faced Rayne, who paced the perimeter created by the candles. “Stand still if you want answers. You know I hate tracking the eyes of a pacing man.”
Rayne halted, and came to sit, pulling his chair closer to Aven. “I have answers of my own, Aven, but first I want your explanation.”
“There is evil a-foot. Yes, I state the obvious, but it explains why I warded the Medaillon. You can no doubt confirm that witch Infinity is the source. I expected you some time back, for signs have plagued a while now, and I thought you would hark to the Medaillon in Galilan, discover the replacement and come to me. All this, I prayed, before you threw the Mantle into disarray. You didn’t even spare a thought for it, did you?”
“Mete Lin made a suggestion, but no. You know how I felt.”
“Felt, not feel?”
“How I feel is peeved, but it is done. I laid my hands on the device with the intention of using it, and cannot now undo that.”
“Answers?” Aven prompted.
“You first, old man.”
A breath, a sigh, and, “When I discovered Averroes’ secret I made a decision, and it wasn’t easily made. You know what would have transpired had I revealed it to you - you would have insisted on its return, as is your right, but that meant its mistress would be forced to accompany it. You are the Mantle, and I was not justified in refusing, but I could not allow you to take Averroes - she was too vulnerable. You would have had her trained, and she would have displayed the same reluctance as was present in you at that age.”
Aven shrugged. “I knew you had the stamina and the talent, but I am not sure she has more than what connects her to the medal. Besides that, she was not fit for the life. You can be ruthless, my boy, particularly for the Mantle, and I was afraid I would not sway you. You, Senna, and Lin were not to destroy the promise of my ward, and she did not deserve another form of abuse. Thus I kept it safe here.”
“You hid it?” Rayne sounded disbelieving. He did not refute Aven’s summation of Averroes’ fate with the Mantle.
“Unnecessary. Averroes is its mistress and would know when a threat is imminent.”
“A great risk, Aven.”
“Perhaps, but Valaris was not under threat until recently. Sometimes hiding something in plain sight is best. I do not regret my decision.”
“Are you always so sure, old man?”
Aven looked at his hands. “Sometimes so unsure I wonder if I deserve another day of life.”
Rayne drew a ragged breath. “I am sorry.”
“We will each question motives soon. I am fortunate in that I do so daily and thus know myself.”
Rayne nodded. McSee did, too. That was real wisdom.
“When I saw you enter with McSee I assumed the Mantle and Society reached an understanding - it explained your delay in coming to Farinwood - and I assumed you knew the Medaillon was no longer in Galilan. Assumption, the mother of disaster. Thus I jumped into Averroes’ tale by way of explanation of a decision made four years ago; forgive me, I should’ve prepared you in private.”
Rayne said ruefully, “Mete Lin suggested I take the Medaillon and that proves no one at the Mantle is aware a switch was made. Had I known, I would have entered here guns blazing.”
“’Guns blazing’?” McSee squeaked.
“Just a saying, McSee,” Rayne murmured.
“Fate,” Aven said. “It was for a reason, the way it played out. Valaris is in trouble again; is it chance the Medaillon and its controller are together, now, when it counts most? It is meant to be.”
“Fate?” Rayne repeated in an irritated tone.
“Curse it if you like, but it happened. We are going to need the power in that device.”
Rayne squeezed the bridge of his nose. “I do not know how to ask it to do something on my behalf, such as remove the influence the children of Farinwood suffer.”
He could feel a tension headache building. Why him? Why now? Why had he been saddled with this burden? He wanted to be home today; it was Rees’ birthday. His sister could drive him mad, but he adored her.
“But the power in the Medaillon revealed certain nuances of its own accord,” he added.
“Answers?” Aven repeated.
Rayne inclined his head. He would not call them answers exactly, but was not about to put too fine a point on it. He closed his eyes briefly to renew what he saw; some images were answers, others led to more questions, but one caused him to shiver inside. A face, a man’s face, dark eyes and hair, smiling at him, and he somehow knew that man was his real destiny. And he mocked fate, did he?
He opened his eyes, knowing he would not say a word, not to anyone, not until it came to pass and perhaps not even then.
“I vividly experienced the last days of Drasso’s war, the desolation after and the Deities’ dilemma in the aftermath.”
Rayne paused, and looked at Averroes. Northern. She had to be northern.
He looked away and continued, “Valaris is a world divided, physically, emotionally, culturally and spiritually. The Great Dividing Forest serves as a barrier between us and the northern peninsulas.”
“It has been thus since Drasso,” Aven murmured.
“Nothing lives in the north,” McSee scoffed.
Rayne did not look at him; he held Aven’s eyes. “Wrong. We are living a lie, a legacy caused by the devastation. The Deities knew, but we turned on them after they saved our butts from Drasso and Infinity, and they wisely decided to leave us to rebuilding. They could not abandon us entirely, and solved their dilemma by gifting both north and south a tool to aid reconciliation, tools that could carry us across the wastelands.”
“We got the Maghdim,” Aven whispered. “Sweet Lord, we got the Maghdim and were too stupid and afraid to use it.”
“Our fear of magic,” Rayne responded. “The Medaillon calls the clans, Aven.”
“It called to them?” Aven’s eyes were bright with anticipation.
“To the four oldest clans.”
“Impossible,” McSee said. “The devastation in the north is encompassing.”
“We thought so, as they did of the destruction in the south. Imagine standing at the tree line on both sides and seeing only wasteland.”
“Great Taranis, what a waste,” Aven said.
“You believe this crap?” the big man asked.
“How can I not?” Aven said. “Have you seen the state of this once wholesome town? Have you seen the terrifying knowledge in the children’s eyes and bearing? Have you seen the signs elsewhere? Is that not what brought you? Did not the Klef Dam dry up overnight? Have you not heard the rumours about Infinity? Was she not Drasso’s mother? Man, that dara-witch is bent on revenge and I doubt time has in any way lessened her thirst for it. Everything is strange, but certainly no longer in dispute. Why dispute people in the north? We should celebrate, not only to mark a reconciliation, but because Valaris needs them. Every able-bodied man and woman will step in before long to fight this new evil; we need them desperately.”
“A wake,” Averroes murmured.
“What’s that, my dear?” Aven enquired.
She shook her head and her eyes slid to Rayne when he looked her way. A moment of silent communication ensued, and thereafter she scrutinised her hands while he licked his lips.
A wake, she said - a wake, not a celebration. There was death ahead and he did not doubt it. Rayne stared at the old man, and knew he would say nothing of this either. Aven was wrong; she would have coped with the Mantle’s training … easily. Aven had no idea his beloved ward was more than a city-waif.
He frowned at McSee. “Are you going to deny the north?”
“Not so you can hear me,” McSee muttered.
Rayne looked away. “Forget the questioning. The north is populated, fact. And if you want to traipse through the Forest to check, McSee, then be my guest, but we move on from this point right now. The Medaillon achieved a few minutes ago what was intended millennia back or any time in the interim. Two men and two women head south to answer the call. It cannot be denied. The Medaillon gave them a specific place to gather, and that is where we are headed shortly. I guess we will soon be making fact of fiction, friend McSee.”
McSee grinned. He did have an adventurous spirit.
“Where are they gathering?” Aven asked.
“Where, according to legend, Taranis bathed before defeating Drasso. Now if that isn’t mockery on Infinity’s part, then call me stupid.”
“The Well of Crystal Sound?” McSee blurted. “In that haunted wood?”
“It’s not haunted,” Aven murmured. “It never was.”
“And you know this for sure?” McSee asked.
“The Herbmaster goes there all the time,” Averroes murmured. “He gathers herbs and always comes out happier than when he went in.”
“Well, maybe he’s crazy!” McSee spat, and coloured immediately. “I’m sorry, Averroes.”
Rayne rose. “There is a time limit to this gathering, and it is all-important to Valaris’ well-being.” He looked down on Aven. “As reluctant as I am, the device made me responsible, more so than the Mantle alone has. I am headed to that Well to find what is to be found there, and hope it is a way forward. Something to help the children here.  Maybe a gathering of like minds will offer solutions to stopping Infinity. If it takes north and south rejoined, then I shall be tireless in aiding it. We have until the New Moon’s rising tomorrow night to get there.”
“I admire your new resolve,” Aven said. “Go, do what you must, and come and tell me after. I’m too old and stiff to travel.”
“You have to come - you and Averroes. She carries the Medaillon and is therefore integral to this endeavour, but you already know that; you said it yourself earlier. You will not trust her to me, thus her guardian accompanies us.”
“I’ll look after her,” McSee said. “Promise.”
Aven looked from one man to the other. He glanced at Averroes and sighed.
“I will start packing,” he said and rose from his armchair. An instant later he gazed fixedly at Rayne. “What of the girl who needs our help?”
“What did you say?” The reaction was explosive, and Averroes and McSee shifted to stare at Rayne.
“I can see images, too,” Aven said, concentrating on the fair man. “A small blond toddler cries for help, but not here, nowhere on Valaris. Am I right?” He pointed a finger at Rayne. “Had Infinity not happened to this world, her face in your dreams would have brought you here demanding clarification. It nearly drove me to Galilan to you.”
Rayne remained wordless.
“Then you enter Farinwood and discover children on a dark path,” Aven continued. “Perhaps you thought she is in danger somewhere close. Perhaps you think now, what is happening to Valaris is connected? You would be right.”
As Aven left the room he waved his hand and snuffed the candles, plunging the three within into darkness. He walked out unapologetically, and Rayne snorted a laugh. It sounded forced.
“And that?” McSee asked in the dark.
Averroes lit a lantern. “He thinks we’re conspiring against him. He’ll be fine.”
“Yes, well, now nothing stops those kids,” McSee muttered. Something in the man’s face prevented both him and Averroes questioning Aven’s revelation. “I’m going to check …” McSee followed Aven into the house and they heard him call out, his footsteps receding.
“You said nothing of the Oracles,” Averroes said into the silence that came after those footsteps silenced somewhere.
“That comes later,” Rayne returned. He put the chairs back into corners and parted the drapes behind Aven’s armchair for light.
It was a gloomy non-light as if thunder threatened.
Averroes snuffed the lantern and watched him stare into the courtyard at the back. It was paved, had shrubs in pots, an empty wash line and a gate on the far side. “I don’t recall where I was born,” she said.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Neither do I.”
She nodded as if it confirmed something she suspected. Recalling, for them, went beyond the age when a toddler could hold onto memories. “You believe there is more to the gathering at the Well than north and south and the bringing together of the Oracles and Medaillon.” She did not mention the blond girl, but inferred it.
She saw too much, and possessed greater maturity than Aven believed. “North and south were ultimately responsible for Drasso’s death.”
“Therefore Infinity is behind this.”
“There is no doubt left.”
“And there is a plan in place that requires four northerners … and us.”
“And others,” Rayne added.
“The Deities.”
“Why not tell Aven?”
“He worries too much for you already.”
“I am not that weak,” Averroes frowned.
“No, you are stronger than anyone realises.” I find that disturbing.
Averroes placed a hand on her chest, over the Medaillon. “Rayne, I have seen her.”
He drew breath as if to respond, but left the chamber instead, leaving her to tidy away the wine and tea.

Rayne waited at the front door.
It was late afternoon and he was impatient to be on his way.
A darkness is coming.
It was a stray thought, unprovoked, and his blood went cold. He wondered if the unnatural silence on Farinwood’s streets spooked him.
No, there is a darkness coming.
He stilled. The thought was not his. He agreed with it, but it was not his.
Look beyond the skies.
Gods. Rayne stepped into the deserted street. Where are you?
Moment after moment passed, and there was no reply.
“I am going insane,” he said aloud, and went back to the door. Hoisting his pack, he called to the others to hurry up.
A quarter of an hour later they were on the road, Rayne in grey, cloak swirling as he strode the streets heading north out of town. Every instinct told him the Mantle was powerless. Every instinct told him the gathering at the Well would become the real saving of Valaris. He prayed it was true, for leaving the children of Farinwood behind was akin to abandoning the innocent deliberately, without conscience.
Aven donned a thick brown robe and appeared as a cleric from one of the Taranis abbeys in Tetwan. McSee was in leather breeches, a blue tunic and a huge jacket for warmth. It was cold under the pervasive mists. Averroes put on leather boots and hitched her gown to free her feet by cinching a wide leather belt about a narrow waist. She left her fur cap behind and swung on a dark green cloak, pulling the hood up to hide her hair, but not before Rayne and McSee caught sight of the dark bounty.
As they walked out of town, she trailed for a time to plait it out of sight, the thoughtful looks of both men causing her to feel uncomfortable.
No one said much, particularly Rayne, who wrestled with the meaning behind the earlier communication. Yes, there was a darkness coming, but the urgency in the tone suggested it was something beyond the obvious, beyond what waited at the Well, and it frightened him. He was not ready.
He halted, frowning. On seeing how the others looked at him, he moved swiftly on.
What destiny?
Again there was no answer.
He walked on, gnawing at his thoughts.
They reached the Divide by nightfall and plunged in.
Peace surrounded them.