There is an obstacle in the mind known as denial. It is able to prevent knowledge entering, but it can also force the mind to move sideways onto a divergent path.
Beware the divergent path.
~ The Ancient Oracles
Taranis drew breath as Saska resumed her seat and released it explosively. He moved back to the dais.
“Saska mentioned the complete picture and I have to admit here I do not have it. However, there are factors that may aid us, or aid you in helping me see the whole, which we will now discuss.”
He paused to look around, noting intent faces. They would not like what he had to say next.
“I have dubbed it Universe … apt, I think, if unimaginative. I chose to shy away from calling it Chaos, that being akin to tempting our fates. Whatever we call it, the stakes remain high. A game is about stakes and prize, which we are now aware of, but a game is also about rules and players. On the one side we have Infinity, her tricks and the Arcana, and on our side there will be five …” He winced as he said it, and they did not disappoint.
“This concerns all of us!”
“Why only five?”
The latter was the crux. Taranis raised his hands, palms outward. “Settle … please! None of this excludes any of you - think on it! While five shuffle upon a board, the rest have the all-important task of searching for scraps of knowledge, old legends, fact and fiction for information regarding our main enemy the Arcana. Find the factor that will close the Rift! The five who ‘play’ will buy the rest time to achieve that goal! Do I make myself clear? How do we do anything if we are all under Infinity’s watchful gaze as we toss marbles in the sand?” He dropped his hands.
Declan muttered, “Methinks the dara-witch will rue that little oversight before long.”
Osmandi, another Siric, snickered. “We know she isn’t the brightest.”
Taranis said, “We must thank our lucky stars she demands only five, for I need each one of you out there.”
Centuar heads nodded, as did feathered crowns. Belun, the Centuar leader, enquired, which five, my lord? Like to the birds, the Centuar communicated via mindspeak.
“Allow me to elaborate,” Taranis replied. “According to Infinity there will be fourteen players, of which five are Guardians. One each from the Sagorin, the Siric and the Sylmer. One also, Belun, from your crowd. And myself. I am the one she really wants. Now …” and Taranis straightened behind the console of lights to emphasize his authority, “… the four who will be at my side are Glint for the Sagorin, Llettynn for the Siric, and Saska for the Sylmer. You three chose yourselves by being most vocal, but if you prefer to send another?”
“Not likely,” Glint muttered, drawing smiles.
“The Siric accept your choice,” Llettynn murmured.
“Oh? And what if I want to go?” Declan burst out, having been vocal himself. “How can we afford to send all our leaders into this contradiction?”
Taranis raised an eyebrow at Llettynn. “He has a point.”
Llettynn gazed stoically at him before turning to rake Declan with stern eyes. “You will obey your leader, Siric.” Declan subsided back onto his seat. “Taranis, the real point is that I prefer being on the ground with you for this.”
“And I am glad to have you.”
“Good, then it is settled.” Llettynn gazed up at his Siric once more and received nods of agreement.
“Saska,” Taranis said, “it would have to be you; none of us here could separate your three companions.” He sent a nod to the three Sylmer, with a conciliatory smile to remove sting from his remark.
Who for the Centuar? Belun sent deliberately. All heard him clearly.
“You, my friend, but that is why you make yourself heard, hmm?”
Laughter all around as Belun inclined his head in confirmation. He definitely preferred being the one taking the risks, yes.
Why are the Eagles and Falcons excluded? Funl, Eagle leader, demanded. Kras, his opposite among the Falcons, twitched his wings to show support for the question.
“She is afraid of you. Your agility is of renown and your two races did great damage during the Drasso war. Beaks and talons are sharp - they hurt. She is an apparition to the rest of us, but feels your manner of attack. And she cannot catch or hold you.”
Taranis grinned, recalling an incident where Infinity gibbered with rage, hands flailing as she tried to keep the birds from her. One of the good days.
“I would prefer you at my side for these very reasons and more, no doubt why you were overlooked. You do have a greater task, for you can go swiftly where most of us cannot.”
The birds settled again, clearly satisfied with Taranis’ diplomacy.
“The game, my lord?” Saska prompted.
It was time, yes.
“She uses the control number against us,” Llettynn interjected.
“Fourteen, indeed,” Taranis nodded. “Clever. She believes we are bound by the number to see this through to the end, and she is right, for fourteen is holy ground, but what strength lies in that magical number! She gifts us power from the beginning, does she not?”
“A sweet little point there,” Glint said. “Who are the other players?”
“Valarians.” Taranis gave a wry grin.
Valaris is the field of play again, Belun sent. Haven’t they been through enough?
“That, buddy, is likely the whole point,” Gren muttered.
Taranis gave a mighty sigh himself. “Revenge for Drasso, and bugger the innocents. It’s serious countering we undertake; let us not forget, for revenge could well dump us into Chaos.”
“Valarians don’t trust us,” Saska said.
“We cannot help that now.”
“Are the nine sorcerers?” Saska asked.
“On Valaris?” Glint blurted. “I doubt it.”
“Then it will be difficult,” Saska murmured, “Especially if we must work with them.”
“Which is the case,” Taranis said. “But I have no clue who the nine are.”
“Not much of a game,” Osmandi said.
“To Infinity it will be high jinks,” Gren said.
“We hope the Arcana don’t invade anyway,” Declan added.
Taranis frowned and said, “As we hope Infinity isn’t traitorous with the rules, we hope we have answers even if we win and we hope she does not end it before we are done. We have no alternative. We are to gather at the Well of Crystal Sound when Valaris’ moon shines new or the game is forfeit.”
The Centuar were creatures of myth.
In all cultures tales abound of strong, sure-footed, four-legged animals, half-horse, half-man, and some named them as bad luck, while others regarded them as a symbol of good fortune. The Centuar do not have an evolutionary history, for they did not evolve. They were created by one man, a wizard of old with much time on his hands and a great love for the extraordinary.
Truly creatures of myth and magic.
The old wizard and his kind have long gone, but his creations continue to thrive. He made them ageless - Immortal. He made them strong and intelligent - sentient. And he made them the colours of fantasy - glorious. He also streamlined them. Four limbs were what they needed, not six, and thus they were more horse than man, the latter’s influence evident only in facial features and the glory of their hair. Upon the wizard’s death they were free.
The Centuar entered the vast expanses of the universe, there to learn and become more. They became an intrinsic part of the Immortal Guardians. The old wizard created twelve of these glorious creatures. Nine remain and no sorcerer has duplicated the awesome wizardry that brought them into being.
Belun assumed leadership back when the twelve commenced their long, arduous and instructive roam of the universe, for he was gifted the ability to commune using mindspeak and he was the most flamboyant, of gold and silver, a natural choice in first contact with others. He taught the rest to communicate and trained them how to reach out to others, even those with no affinity for mindspeak. They learned sorcery, and discovered their souls. The old wizard made them with all pertinent parts, tangible and intangible.
How sad the loss of his magic. How glorious his legacy.
Belun stood musing after Taranis’ last words, a frown creasing his smooth golden forehead.
Belun stood musing after Taranis’ last words, a frown creasing his smooth golden forehead.
After the Sylmer, the Centuar were most protective of Lord Taranis, which was why Belun wanted to be on the ground with the team of players. The Centuar revered and respected their leader, but were concerned his youth - relative to the other Immortals - caused him to be more vulnerable.
He said nothing. The dice was rolled to Infinity’s advantage and the game of darkness was about to commence. Privately he thought to call it a game was ludicrous. Goddess, what were they thinking?
He looked around at those gathered.
The solemn, intent Siric, with Llettynn ready to go to START, having a need to prove he was greater than his fear of the Arcana.
The quiet Sylmer, with Saska watching Taranis, clearly more concerned for his welfare than her own.
Kras and Funl conferred, staring in silent communication at each other, wings vibrating, talons clenching in serious body language. The huge, soft-hearted Sagorin, Glint whispering instructions to his second Gren. His Centuar, he noted, were unhappy that they could not back him when he left for Valaris. He would have a word with them soon.
Taranis. Determined. Nothing would stop him. Short of death, and he would willingly surrender his Immortality to prevent Infinity and the Arcana bringing in the fogs of chaos. As would they all.
We are few, but beware us! We do not surrender. We are the Guardians and this is OUR universe!
Wondering how wishful he was, he met Taranis’ grey eyes.
There is more to this business than we realize. I feel it in my bones. This is no game. Infinity, curse her, is a bit player.
Taranis nodded although Belun had not communicated his thought. Belun blinked, and for a brief instant thought he saw another standing at the Dome’s helm. A fair man. Cold eyes, stormy grey.
He went cold, and prayed it did not signify utter change in their fortunes.
A million sals from land, busy space and anything remotely solid or travelled, the Dome hovered, an object of surpassing beauty seldom viewed by eyes other than the Immortal Guardians.
Within, the players prepared for the challenge ahead, no one saying much.
Taranis stood bowed over the console of lights, his left hand resting on the symbol for Knowledge. Into it he imparted what he learned of the Rift, the Arcana and the game. He further revealed to it his place of birth and his current home in the event he was unable to return.
Finally he left a message for Saska, telling her he loved her, and instructed the console to pass it on when it was informed of his demise.
The symbol warmed and he sighed inaudibly and removed his hand.
Nearby, Llettynn watched him with impenetrable eyes before unobtrusively shifting his head into a different direction.