Herald, lift your bugle! The gods have come!
The Well of Crystal Sound
Two nights to New Moon
Using magic to travel via doorways through the spaces, insubstantial as a breath of wind, faster than light, they materialized in the clearing.
Like to Drasso and his kind, when they sought entrance through the barrier of the space warp surrounding Valaris skies, it proved assailable then and it proved so now; the warp was no barrier to real magic, and thus not to them.
Belun of the Centuar arrived first and grinned as he landed. Time for action! His golden tail raised high in challenge and swished gracefully. When physical battles were enjoined Centuar plaited their tails in intricate patterns, the symbolism of war. Belun’s eyes were silver with dark blue pupils contracting and expanding in light and dark. His glorious wings, folded now, glinted in the sunlight, a shimmering palette of gold and silver.
He was a magnificent sight. Let it be said here a Centuar is not a Centaur, confusion for those who do not know the truth. A Centaur is a myth, and may even be real in the back ends of time, for myth frequently has basis in reality, but a Centuar is of the universe, part of time and history and reality, a created legend that continues to breathe and function, think and act. Belun, if one dared query the distinction, would snap at one for confusing one with the other.
Glint of the Sagorin and Llettynn of the Siric arrived simultaneously. Llettynn was in his usual white attire, wings folded sedately. Glint, whose skin tone was a paler green than his companions, had divested himself of eye-catching amber to don shades of olive that blended with the Forest; even his boots were khaki, which Belun smirked at, and only his hair relieved the severity of camouflage. It hung loose, long and enviably thick, the purest white.
Saska of the Sylmer appeared three seconds after, appearing closest to the Well. She complemented Glint in her forest tones, but swapped elven slippers for sturdy hiking boots and her tinkling bracelets were missing. A broad leather strap adorned her left upper arm, studded with crimson, sapphire and saffron gems.
Taranis, having ascertained his team’s safe arrival, came last, materialising at the edge of the clearing, his muscular form clad in grey, the colour of concealment.
He strode forward to meet up at the Well of Crystal Sound.
“What now?” Glint asked, gaze travelling the perimeter of the clearing. It was a tranquil place.
“Now we wait for the nine humans,” Taranis replied. “Two moonless nights still remain.” He, too, absorbed the surroundings.
We could have delayed our arrival and used the time to investigate other factors, Belun communicated.
“We need acclimatize,” Llettynn pointed out. “This is an oxygen rich planet, which makes us heavier. Remember how slow we were during that first confrontation with Drasso?”
“It’s no joke,” Glint grumbled. “I feel like a giant.”
“You are a giant,” Saska giggled.
Smiling, Belun sent, what happens when we are gathered?
Taranis sat on the low Well wall, studying the clearing as he spoke. “The next move depends on Infinity …”
He broke off, for he spotted a blue jay landing in a carpet of tiny wildflowers near the tree line. It had been a while since he smelled air that was both fresh and alive, heard the friendly rustle of forest creatures and seen birds other than his Immortal companions … particularly birds this free and unafraid. As there was nothing more pressing to do other than wait and acclimatize, he resolved to enjoy it. His spirits lifted. Is this how it feels to be human? Valaris ensnared him anew.
I would die for this land.
He realized they waited on him. “Right now I know as much or as little as you do. We wait.”
Saska smiled. “That’s no hardship, it’s a wonderful day. I wonder if it’s spring; everything smells fresh.”
“High summer,” Llettynn informed. “Cool under the trees, an inferno out from under them.” The Siric always checked. The weather could be telling in a confrontation. “We are in the month of Hatubrath, solstice month, and it will get hotter as we go.”
Taranis grinned. “We have had our geography lesson; how about history? This Well and Infinity’s sense of irony is based on more than bathing here before Drasso’s defeat. Up for it? Then get cosy on this carpet of fresh grass.”
With alacrity everyone found a space, tossing packs aside, and even Belun - without a pack, naturally, for a Centuar never carried baggage - deigned to lower his hindquarters to the ground. Before long, he nibbled sweet stalks. Not that a Centuar ate a horse’s meal, but the grass was tasty, and the others picked out sweet centres as well, and thus it would not be beneath him.
Taranis rested against the cool wall, stretching legs out. It was not long before most were prone in some manner staring up at the blue sky, enjoying the warmth on their skins, smelling the sweetness and listening to Taranis’ voice and birdsong all around. His voice took on a familiar formal tone they recognized, and they grinned.
“Back in Valaris’ beginning, once it became a habitable world, there was no sentient life. The humans of today did not evolve here; they came from faraway worlds, much the same as happened elsewhere. One starship came and saw it was good; there was another and another, a familiar tale. This was and is a paradise world and the humans who settled were happy, but, being human, being sentient, they were selfish also - another familiar tale - and denied entry to other races.
“Now, around the time that selfish mind-set started, a space warp materialised in the heavens above that made it impossible to travel the stars again, the same warp in position today. It also, of course, denied entry to other settlers, and put an end to other races interfering with the humans already here. Thus, without great effort, the humans got their wish, and the Valarians were born as a people apart. There were enough settlers to work this new land, but don’t they say ‘be careful of what you wish for’? They no longer needed their grounded starships and, as time passed, these fell into disrepair and along with it all technology. These items were literally allowed to rust away. It surely made those initial years harder, for they had what they required to ease transition from ship life to land tenure, but no one cared. It was claimed the warp overhead cleansed them, and they returned to an earlier human way of life, the ways that hadn’t known technology - we would call it the dark ages or darak times. Still, it was paradise, so what more could one desire?
“Only to be left alone and the warp achieved that. However, in the time of discovery to enforced isolation, one other sentient race made Valaris their home also, and I am sure they were made to feel unwelcome, probably threatened, certainly ostracized, as humans have been doing for time immemorial. I cannot say who they were or how many or how long it was before they realised Valaris could never be a home, but that day came and the warp trapped them. Had they the kind of magic we possess, staying or leaving would have been easily decided, but they did not, not in the way we know. They retreated to this Forest; it was even larger then, and proved a haven for a time. They built this Well.”
Taranis thumped the wall behind him.
It was an ordinary, round, stone well. Looking in, the water was a stone from overflowing, the liquid fresh; there was no bucket, no handle and no rope in sight.
“They built it with only four left. They were farseers and had that kind of extraordinary magic. Who they were, as in a race name, has been lost, but an inquisitive little boy one day spied on them and the tale has lived on. The four gathered around their well and linked hands, peering deep into the depths to infuse the water with all magic they possessed. The liquid - water being pure and life-giving - became a medium for their song, and when the story was told and retold over the ages since then, all shake their heads and sigh in deep regret. As the story goes, one could see magic made music, and the music, the song, the harmony, the sound and purity of vibration gently lifted out, droplets pure and beautiful, sad and filled with longing. One could hear magic as it soared out on gossamer wings, filled the Forest and rose into the air, the atmosphere and beyond; crystal sound, astonishingly lovely and terribly haunting. They were calling home, sending crystal harmonies to penetrate the warp.”
Taranis shrugged eloquently. “We don’t know if they succeeded, but hope it came to pass, for when the music was at its purest, they simply vanished. The sound slowly dropped back into the water and it retains magic to this day. Dip your fingers in and you feel it; drink it and your ailments of mind and body disappears. Sadly, no one has made it sing since, and that, my friends, is how this came to be called the Well of Crystal Sound.”
Taranis fell silent, his gaze faraway.
Saska rolled over onto her stomach and looked at him with eyes bright with tears. “That’s sad.”
Belun sent, yes, it is, and it carries a profound lesson, but is it true or is it another legend humans love to cherish?
“All legends are based on fact. Sometimes their truths are so unbelievable they are called legend to deal with them, like us with the Arcana. With others, time passes and the real facts go astray and it becomes a popular tale, embellished, legend,” Taranis supplied, and smiled wryly. “Again like the Arcana. To answer your question; there is mention in the oldest surviving works, although it isn’t well-known.”
Taranis closed his eyes and relaxed and only Saska caught the tension in his fingers on the ground, and wondered at it.
Llettynn, lying on his side, sat up, for once not bothering about marks on his white clothing. A small frown creased his forehead and his pale eyes sharpened. “A good story and poignant if it is as true as you say.”
The tension in Taranis’ fingers increased, and Saska felt the need to shut the Siric’s mouth.
“Pray tell, Taranis, how you can be sure?” Llettynn said.
“I am not. Can we move on to something else?” Taranis ground out. He knew them well and therefore knew what was coming, but it was his own fault. The beauty of this day unlocked his usually reticent tongue.
Llettynn was silent a time and as Saska breathed out an inaudible sigh of relief, he spoke again, a determined quality to his voice. She grit her teeth; Llettynn never let anything go, especially not when his curiosity was aroused, and his insistence had the others listening closely.
“Taranis.” Taranis grunted without opening his eyes and Llettynn ignored it. “Tales and daily doings of worlds we become embroiled with are not factors we usually hear, see or read, not unless we make it our business to know more.” The Siric paused, aware at last of the mounting tension in his leader.
It did not stop him; on the contrary.
“As I recall, we did no research when we fought Drasso, for it was about Drasso and not advantage required against Valarians, or even one in their favour. No tale would have made one iota of difference where Drasso was concerned - it was about geography and war tactics. How is it you claim with such conviction the tale of the Well is true, and how is it you know it in detail?”
“He said he’s not sure,” Saska snapped.
Llettynn ignored her, and waited.
Taranis opened his eyes. He saw Saska’s simmering anger first. If she had her way she would permanently muzzle the Siric. “It’s all right,” he said and faced Llettynn. “Sometimes one speaks without due thought, forgetting how intelligent others are, but sometimes it is an unconscious instinct forcing words out before thought silences them. Would you agree?”
“Absolutely,” Llettynn murmured.
Taranis nodded. “And perhaps that is what happened to me - instinct.” He sat straighter. “I know because I read it in that old tome, and read it many times, for it speaks to me in a manner few other tales do. It has prejudice, magic, will, survival, beauty, all that and more. I bathed here deliberately before meeting Drasso in combat, for I already knew the magic would protect.”
“How could you know that?” Glint asked. “A story is also often just a story.”
Taranis relaxed. The time had come whether by instinct or another route, and it would do no one any good to fight its coming. “I used the magic before and it worked for me then.”
“Before?” Llettynn prompted, eyebrows raised.
“Ah, Llettynn, you are a bulldog, and most of the time that is fine,” Taranis said. “Shall I tell you I visited Valaris before Drasso?”
Llettynn pursed his lips and replied, “You would have told us then.”
Taranis nodded. “Indeed.” He studied his companions in turn. “We have our secrets, matters we do not talk about because it hurts too much. Valaris has been my secret.” He looked up at the blue sky. “This is where I was born.”
“Why not tell us the last time?” Glint asked.
“I was angry,” Taranis said. “It was my first return here since Ritual and to see what that creature made it, well, I wanted to kill him. Tales and histories and confessions were far from mind.”
Glint nodded his understanding. It took time before the Sagorin felt they could comfortably share their tale of death and destruction … and the rigours of the Ritual.
You could have told us in the Dome, Belun said. Knowing what you know of the past here.
“I am aware of that, and perhaps that is why instinct forced words, but I needed to see her first,” Taranis said. “Here I was born and raised, here I became an Immortal …” and here I lost my heart and my love and I still feel the pain every day. “Valaris is my talisman. When I feel lonely or unhappy, I bring her out and remember beauty and warmth.” He fell silent and his eyes returned to the nature around them. “I have forgotten the reality of this world, that there is magic in nature and much peace- this was missing three thousand years ago. And in telling you this, I make it more real than it is in memory.” He looked back at them. “Can you understand how difficult it will be to leave again?”
He rose then and strode away.
They let him go.
Taranis returned, markedly silent. Glint arched an eyebrow at Belun, who shook his head. The implication was to leave him alone.
Llettynn’s lips thinned, but chose not to broach that subject yet. He believed Taranis could have better prepared them had he been more forthcoming in the Dome, but he also understood - academically - how a secret could be a crutch. He thought his leader used his homeworld as a buttress; he would address it soon.
Saska unknowingly did it for him.
As they sat down to a late meal, she said, “Valaris has presence. It has greater impact without the distraction of war.”
Taranis swirled his tongue in his mouth, glanced at the studiously eating team around the fire, and murmured, “I don’t want to talk about Valaris yet.”
Saska frowned. “Taranis, I’m not trying to draw you out. I’m saying we can feel this world now. It wasn’t like this before.”
“And I am too touchy - forgive me. You are right. She is noticeable now. There is emotion in the wind, senses in the air … gods, I have missed her.”
Glint murmured, “A beautiful world filled with promise. How not?”
Taranis smiled. “True.”
“This isn’t a secret that should be kept into eternity,” Saska remarked, thereby inadvertently addressing Llettynn’s concern.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Taranis barked out.
“You are touchy. Stop it. There’s trouble brewing and misfortune has come and gone here many times, and still most of the inhabited universe remains ignorant of this promise. That shouldn’t be. Valaris should have the right to call on allies and she should be hauled from the dark ages the settlers dumped her into when they chose to let it rust away, including sorcery. As Guardians it is our duty to unveil her.”
Llettynn nodded, but did not say anything.
Taranis gave him a hard stare, and snapped at Saska, “I don’t agree. If we do as you suggest, Valaris will soon have too much technology, too many people, strangers will visit with agendas unhealthy for …”
“You sound exactly like those settlers now,” the Siric pointed out.
Taranis bit down an urge to haul the man into the fire. “Maybe they were not so wrong.”
Glint lifted his great shoulders. “Now we enter territory argued for ages; separation versus inclusion. There is no answer. Besides, it’s moot, don’t you think? No amount of talk will take the space warp away and allow Valarians the choice of inclusion or not.”
Taranis swore under his breath.
Saska watched him. “What really bothers you, Taranis?”
He was quiet for some time, largely to bring his temper under control. When he did speak, his tone was even and without inflection. “What bothers me is that Infinity may win this round. I may lose my home for real.”
Saska reached over and clasped his hand, feeling there the tension. “We haven’t begun this particular war. Don’t give in yet.”
He rose to pace. “I am not giving in. I am trying hard to control an urge to go after the dara-witch and kill her.” He stopped and glared at Llettynn. “Don’t dare remind me how foolish that would be. I am aware Valaris has been a crutch. I cannot change overnight.”
The Siric did not even blink. “You are on the right path. That is sufficient.”
Taranis did blink and he laughed softly. “Sometimes I want to shake the crap out of you. How can you be so unruffled?” He swore again and headed out into the dark.
They let him go.