It is as simple as a crystal having 14 layers. It is as complicated as the time taken to build something pure. 14, therefore, is the governing symbol of magic. It is also ONE and FOUR spoken together, a truly powerful combination, one for being ‘first’ (foundation) and four for the guiding directions of actual journey … and the compass of the mind.
~ The Steps of the Magical Condition
Valaris’ period of darkness lasted twelve nights and the appearance of the new moon was reason for celebration throughout the land, therefore the capital letter title ‘New Moon’.
Valarians were a superstitious people who saw the dark moon - called ‘Dark Moon’ or ‘Moondark’ - as a symbol of the bad in the world, a punishment, although they intellectually understood the cycles of the planets and their satellites around the sun. A contradiction that defied logic.
Elsewhere on Valaris many commenced celebrations, those not overcome by sinister clouds and pervading mists, and without the fears a darak climate brought. In the clearing the rising of the moon brought with it anxiety. There was no light from above to soften the dark.
As the moon brightened to a sliver of its usual blue intensity elsewhere, a whirlwind descended out of the ether and swirled and danced around and around the gathered, ever closer, teasing, taunting, scattering leaves and twigs, pulling up clumps of grass and clods of soil.
Sheltering their eyes from this storm, the gathered moved closer together. Kylan and Kisha clutched at each other, recognising the whirlwind as Infinity, and Averroes used Rayne as a shield.
“What a fearful bunch! I should call the game forfeit right now and save you the misery of failing!” The wind ceased and in its stead there was a woman naked in her blue skin.
Infinity had arrived to commence devilry.
“My congratulations! Disappointment would be immense had you not made quota! What would you have done then, Taranis? Begged? Abducted a few humans at the last moment?”
“We are here as commanded, Infinity. Stop playing games and tell us what you want.”
“Oh, I am not playing, Taranis, but you will be. My game of Chess, my pieces all gathered. Look around. North and south. Mortal and Immortal. These were the divisions to bring my son to a fall! Have you any idea what I sacrificed to have him? What I lost to gift myself the ability of birth? An heir?”
“Seriously, witch, I don’t see you having mothering instincts at all,” Glint muttered.
Infinity’s sweet tones became ugly and dropped to a vicious whisper. “You begin to pay for that this night, Guardian.” She pointed a finger at Taranis. “Consider yourself fortunate that fourteen made it. Had you failed, this universe would now be invaded by forces so evil light will be extinguished instantaneously everywhere. There would be no hope. None! A short-lived revenge, granted, but sweet nonetheless, and it can still happen. Do as I say, Taranis, or your ‘sweet universe’ will be naught but an empty gaping hole in the fabric of space! This I swear on my son’s dead body!”
Taranis said, “How do you stand hearing yourself? And if we play through and win, witch? What guarantee have we you won’t release Chaos anyway?”
“How dare you speak of guarantee? You have sent the Guardians to discover the secret of Rift closure; your feathered friends are a nuisance already. Put it this way: your guarantee is the time you buy to find that answer.”
“Ah, so,” Taranis responded, “you aim to unleash the Arcana. We merely delay you. Or is it that you have no control? That you delay them with entertainment highly engaging to you also?”
Infinity laughed. “Dear Taranis, there is no answer to Rift closure! The Arcana are old and no one remembers anymore, thus no legend will help you and yours succeed. I cannot close the Rift; you cannot close the Rift - only they can. Yes, perhaps my source of fun is entertainment for them, a brief holding period, for in the end no one can stop them. Fortunately I am able to live quite well in their kind of atmosphere, but you will not enjoy the transition in the least.” She cocked a taunting eyebrow.
Kylan spoke. “Why should we bother with your stupid game? Why not end it now and be done?”
“I remember you! A pity you invoked that spell thingy, I was having fun!”
Kylan pulled a face. He hoped no one would ask about the spell thingy.
“Why not end it, you ask? A valid question and I guess the answer lies in Hope. Hope is present here. No matter how disheartening a situation, there is ever that little glimmer of Hope. Poor, misguided fools, but then, that is how I know you won’t surrender now.”
“What keeps them beyond the Rift, Infinity?” Llettynn asked. “How do you control them?”
Infinity snorted. “They tell me they prefer their dimension.”
Llettynn smirked. “Ah, you made a deal.”
Infinity laughed. “I made a deal! Do you think I am stupid enough to have a hole in space without leverage? They stay where they are for the present because I promised them something of value. Surely you understand the concept of a mutual back scratch?”
Llettynn shuddered theatrically.
“What did you promise them?” Taranis spat.
“That would be telling. Do not fret it, Guardian; just bring your part of the bargain. You gain time and dilly Hope, and I gain time to make good on my promise. I get my revenge, whether you win or lose.” Her eye-pools hooded. “You see, Taranis, the deal I made works against Valaris; Valaris in particular. If you somehow avert the disaster of the Arcana, well, there is a second round, and this one will be right in your face.”
“I should wring your scrawny neck right now!” Glint blurted.
“You cannot lay your hands on me, you big oaf!” Infinity screeched. “Forget insults; it is time to play!”
We are the means to her keeping her bargain with the Arcana, Rayne thought. The promise is her true revenge, not the Arcana. Once they have what has been promised, they will withdraw, close the Rift, and we shall suffer the consequence of what the game serves as tool to unleash. He said nothing aloud, not seeking to draw attention in her presence.
You are a clever man, Belun sent in private.
Human and Centuar glanced at each other briefly.
Infinity was quick. “Something a-miss, Centuar?”
Besides the insult of your presence, you mean?
Infinity glared daggers, but he was immune to her eyes.
“What if we stumble upon the means to close the Rift? What happens to your deal?” Taranis asked.
“So be it, Taranis. I told you there is enough for me in the game itself.”
Taranis inhaled and exhaled sharply; he folded his arms across his chest. “We refuse to play.”
“Are you mad?” Glint said first.
“Yes, are you mad, Guardian?” Infinity hissed.
“It seems to me if you cannot deliver, there is no threat, witch. Logically, we must therefore refuse.”
Llettynn pursed his lips, sensing a truth there, but said nothing. Taranis could be right, and Infinity’s reaction would reveal how much or how little he had her mark.
There was a long silence in which Guardian and dara-witch traded stares - Immortals could not die from a death stare - and the rest waited with bated breath.
Then, “As ever, I let my mouth get the better of me.” Infinity’s sweet tones returned. “I cannot fault your logic, Taranis, but you haven’t all the nuances.”
“Pray tell.” Taranis still had his arms crossed. There was nothing defensive about him.
“If I cannot deliver the Arcana will come for what I have promised.”
The Siric said, “If you default now due to our refusal, they come.”
“As in a forfeit, yes. Hope is gone. I win no matter what, don’t you see?”
“There is a link between Valaris and the Arcana from ancient times,” Llettynn said.
“Therefore the game, Siric. Now will you play?”
Rayne tapped Taranis on the shoulder and murmured, “Play. Any consequence uncovered has to be simpler to deal with than invading Arcana.”
Taranis nodded, already at that point. “Fine, Infinity, have it your way.”
“The game, witch,” Saska prompted.
“Dear Saska, ever the practical one. Really, women should negotiate deals; we get to the point.” Infinity paused to look them over anew, in particular the humans, and rapidly blinked her eyes not to entrance. “Two old men, two shy girls. You play the hand you were dealt, Taranis. No replacing players after I leave. You will complete fourteen tasks and know the time taken is the only factor keeping the Arcana at bay. There is much danger in not finishing, even if the nature of the game changes.”
Rayne caught uncertainty in her tone and knew then the game would change, and it was of concern to her.
“The tasks?” Taranis was coldly furious.
Infinity twisted, turning her wrists in directions only a contortionist could emulate. She was done talking, no doubt worried she would again say too much.
The gathered took paces back, expecting another whirlwind. There was an unexpected fork of lightning; it struck at the centre of the Well, exploding steamy vapour into billowing cotton-clouds that shuddered and shivered over and around the gathered to obscure sight and sound. The fire died in an angry hiss and the stars overhead vanished in a mist of water drips. The Well’s level plummeted dramatically, the only visible point, and it shone like a rosy beacon of spherical light.
Glint stumbled into Belun’s solid form.
Kisha, on the edge of panic, held onto Kylan.
“Taranis,” Samson declared inadvertently.
Averroes clutched both Rayne and Aven.
Through the hot mist came Infinity’s maddening laugh.
“A gift, Taranis! The Well people did make it home … for a time. This I discovered in my research, and as this place has significance for both of us, it grabbed my attention and gifted me the first glimmer of the game I subsequently devised. Find your tasks now. They did not take it; it hides in the Well for long periods! Fret not, you will understand soon enough! Remember, what you are about to experience is in itself an important clue, so do pay attention! Good luck! Know I aim to do my best to thwart you as you go … strife and stumbling wakes even the dead, I hear …”
The vapour dissipated and vanished entirely and the dara-witch’s voice stilled to a silence that bespoke absence.
Drips of water plinked to the grass. Only the rosy circle of light in the depleted Well remained, and it garnered all attention.
“Step back,” Taranis warned, and they did.
The music came first, and Taranis fell to his knees. No one had made it sing, he said, and now it sang, and all his childhood fantasies, every teenage longing, even adult regrets, surfaced, striking hard at the hidden spaces within. It unlocked everything and healed what required healing. Tears flowed unknowingly, but he would not have been ashamed had he realised.
Saska, swallowing back a flood, knelt beside him. Support, comfort without touch and words, his, hers, for she had never known him this vulnerable and exposed, and the music was otherworldly, the most entrancing she had ever heard.
It soared and strengthened and a creature appeared in the centre of rosy light. Floating barely above the surface she was pure light.
She was small, the size of a human toddler, and had no discernible sexual organs, yet she was female; it was in the way she stood and the slant of femininity to her eyes. She beamed, and a greater factor of light pulsed throughout her body. She gazed upon them, one-by-one, with a slow deliberation as if attempting to instil understanding and to imprint features into her soul.
Rayne’s heart beat a tattoo, as if his soul was centred there and threatening to let it all out - emotions, secrets, his past - and he drew a shuddering breath and clamped down hard. Not ready, not ready, not ready, he repeated, like a litany of redemption, wondering all the while what he was not ready for.
She held in her tiny transparent hands a multi-facetted ruby, propping its extraordinary size against her hip. Her body of light caused it to flash gloriously red flames about the clearing. The gem slipped and she danced to regain her hold; lifting it firmly she looked to Rayne and held it out, her beautiful smile for him alone.
Gods, he shuddered, why me?
“Take it!” Aven whispered and pushed the reluctant man.
“Why me?” Rayne asked, his eyes entranced and locked to the light creature’s.
“How should I know? Go!”
“Rayne, take it!” Glint shouted from the opposite side of the Well. “Will you move, man!”
Rayne stepped forward. She wiggled the ruby and he warily placed his hands over hers. He could feel nothing; his hands passed through her light to connect with the cold solidity of the gem underneath.
Her hands withdrew and he clutched it, feeling it slip. She smiled tenderly at his clumsiness, and he cradled it to his chest and looked back into her eyes. There was knowing sadness there, as if she knew him, really knew him, and could not help him.
“What do you know?” he whispered. “What am I?”
She bent closer to cup his face, which he did not feel, but the others saw his skin glow translucent gold. She did not speak, yet he heard her, but it was not mindspeak; hers was a whisper of song his own talents translated into comprehensible sounds like to words, yet could not be.
You will find him, Lifegiver.
He did not ask with words either. The man with dark eyes?
Him, yes, but the time is far away, far, far away from today. This is a chapter apart from that time.
Who is he?
He is your soul, Lifegiver. Be patient. You are not ready this time.
This time? Lifegiver?
A beatific smile shone over him as she withdrew. You are strong, Rayne. The time approaches to awake.
More than destiny. Completion. Oneness. The knowing and ultimate sharing with another. Heart’s Desire. The road there is hard and filled with loss and pain, but know all is brought together to create you true soul. Be patient, Lifegiver.
I know so little.
You know everything, Lifegiver. You simply need remember. For now, this time, concentrate on saving the daughter of Vallorins.
Who is she?
She withdrew her whispering song from him and deliberately shifted to find Taranis. The communication, which rocked his established beliefs, was over. He took a step back, then another, and halted like that, gripping the gem with white fingers.
Belun and Llettynn glanced significantly at each other. They spoke, the Centuar sent.
“Could you hear?” the Siric whispered.
No, it was closed. The human has talents we do not know of.
“That worries me,” Llettynn said.
The two were drawn to the scene between Taranis and the tiny light being.
She beamed at Taranis and blew an impish kiss his way. He understood he was being told it was all right, but he could not find the gumption to blow her a kiss in return. Her race made it through the warp and still lived in another form. She was telling him Infinity’s calculated comment was a lie, that joy was theirs until the end of time. They served sentience, in all its various forms, in a manner that lay beyond her ability to explain. He wiped at streaming eyes and was whole in that moment. She inclined her head and her light dimmed.
The music lifted one final time from the water, pure and sad simultaneously, and soared up as gossamer, filled the clearing, the Forest, and the air. As she faded away, the music formed a beam of pure crystal light.
It stretched up from the Well and wavered there an instant before turning to the ruby Rayne cradled forgotten in his arms. Quicker than any could follow it pierced the gem and lit it like a fiery beacon in the blackness of space and vanished. Everyone stared at it in awe.
She gave Taranis comfort, Belun sent to Llettynn in private, but she did not speak with him. More precisely, he could not hear her the way the human can hear.
“This worries me.”
Should we not appreciate the beauty of the last few minutes, rather than stand here worried?
“I appreciate it well, Belun, but I am not about to ignore potential danger.”
Speak with Taranis.
“Not yet. Say nothing.”
It was dark after the red fires of the ruby. No one could see properly and thus the silence was unbroken apart from the Siric’s inaudible whisper. Then the blueness of the New Moon heralded its way into the clearing and everyone spoke at once.
“They made it home,” Taranis said, his tone carefree.
Infinity could not have caused this, Belun sent.
“The witch piggy-backed again,” Glint muttered.
“What was she?” Cristi whispered.
“She was lovely,” Kisha murmured.
“What is it about that ruby?” Kylan asked.
“Well, my boy, I wonder what you will prove to be.” Aven said to himself.
“I wonder if the Well’s magic remains?” Saska murmured. “Look, it’s filled again.”
“Magic everywhere!” McSee grumbled.
“Mine eyes are opened!” Mordan declared.
“Where are the tasks?” Samson queried of no one in particular.
“The same origins as the Medaillon,” Averroes whispered.
Rayne said nothing. Holding the gem, he stared into it as if searching for answers. Llettynn, too, held his peace. He watched the human, wondering whether the man was a threat, or the one who would in the end save them. Something was not quite in harmony, as if the man wore a guise; the only reason he said nothing, and would not say anything soon, was that Rayne was unaware of masks and guises.
After that initial hubbub came another silence.
They gave their attention to the gem Rayne held. It was gifted for a reason, and thus that reason had to be found.
Rayne lifted his eyes as the quality of the silence pulled at him. His gaze slid over them without seeming to find purchase, before he hefted it in one hand and said, “The Ruby, a fourteen-facetted gem containing within fourteen steps to Enlightenment. It was the greatest tool of sorcerers before Drasso’s war and dates back to …”
“…before my time on Valaris,” Taranis finished, approaching.
Rayne remained silent until Taranis stood before him. “Taranis?”
The Guardian answered the summons in that tone. “Something wrong?”
“You were born on Valaris? You were immortalised from this world?”
“A long time ago, yes.”
Rayne gazed at the Guardian. “Nothing in the legends dating before Drasso says anything.” He wondered why it was that Taranis being of Valaris was of such concern, when it should infuse him with relief, the Immortal thus being closely linked to his world’s fate.
Taranis stilled when those grey eyes captured him. The gem sparked beams of light, giving spurious mystery to those orbs. “Why should it be a cause for anxiety?”
“I am not … I don’t know …” The Ruby slipped from Rayne’s grasp and he scrabbled after as it rolled inelegantly away. Straightening with a beating heart moments later, he said, “Imagine I broke it …”
“Relax,” Taranis murmured, taking the gem from him. “I doubt it could break. It probably requires magic to do so. Glint, get a fire going, there is much to do this night.” He frowned at Rayne. Rayne was singled out more than him - why? Why had the Ruby been passed to a human and a mortal? And why was Rayne shocked by his birth here? “Are you all right?”
Rayne had withdrawn. “I am fine.” He headed over to the fire pit where Glint snapped his fingers to restart the blaze.
Taranis, tongue swirling in his mouth, followed more slowly.
Llettynn ambled over to the merry blaze.
“The Ruby is mentioned in the Oracles, last volume, right in back,” Mordan was saying.
“How did it come to be here, like this?” Saska wondered. She began gathering the makings for tea and Cristi and Kisha joined her, Kisha setting a pot of water to boil. The normality of the tasks obviously relaxed the women, for they seemed far more at ease than the men. Averroes shyly joined them.
“There will be much we cannot find immediate explanation for,” Taranis said, watching the women at work. He sat and, as Rayne moved passed him, held the gem aloft. Rayne wordlessly took it. He sat opposite Taranis with the fire between them, opened his pack to slide it in and pushed it into the gloom behind.
My lord, surely we should be studying it? Belun sent.
Give him a little time, Taranis thought, and saw Belun nod. Aloud he said, “Folks, I believe we are to have tea …”
“Personally I could kill for coffee,” McSee muttered.
Malin Drew was widely regarded as the founding father of Valaris.
He brought the first settlers to their brave new world. He brought them in starships and brought with him technology and all the tools to create a new life. The settlers were open-minded pioneers, and Malin Drew was considered the best amongst them.
History is unclear on the subject, but sorcery and communication with aliens was outlawed around the time the warp developed to close the heavens. Open-minded altered into a narrow civilisation.
There came a time when sorcery was ‘new’, an acceptable pastime. Valarians rediscovered something lost. It was during this period of renewal that sorcerers fashioned the Ruby of Enlightenment, and it was considered a tool of great purity. They were misinformed as to its true nature, and those who did know served to misguide the rest.
Had they been aware, perhaps they would have treated a magical device with greater caution and humility.
As it was, the Enlightenment process the gem enabled set apart those able to achieve it, and they came to believe they were all-powerful. They grew arrogant and eventually discovered the awesome powers of darak.
Dark days descended and ordinary folk again withdrew from the supernatural. As men at work to feed families found aversion to the arts of magic, the ‘Enlightened’ fought amongst themselves for sole possession of the gem.
No one now knows how it was lost, only that it was a good. It was popularly assumed it went missing during one of the ‘Enlightened Ones’ dark battles, and a law was passed that it was to be immediately destroyed if uncovered. Sorcery and all arts extraordinary were forbidden anew.
The laws governing that legislation were stringent and strictly enforced, and where the laws were deemed too lax, vigilante groups formed to ensure their own manner of adherence. A different darkness descended on Valaris, one from which it never recovered.
Later came Drasso and, on his heels, the Immortals. Prejudice on Valaris bequeathed Valarians the inability to offer defence, and thus they had to accept the assistance of the Guardians. Valarians even honoured them after, recognising a lack within, but could do no more than honour from afar, for the Ruby debacle preconditioned them with terrible effect. Magic was and is anathema.
The tale of the Ruby of Enlightenment formed part of Valaris’ history, a feared tool of sorcery, and an example of hindsight to warn future generations.
It was never found.
The Ruby of Enlightenment had now reappeared. By the laws of the land, it was to be destroyed. They dared not. It had a purpose. Had Infinity’s manipulations brought it out?
Or was it the will of the gem itself?
The first night of New Moon passed sleepless as the gathered swapped tales.
The fire was bright, and the Guardians listened more than they spoke, all of them surprised by underlying strengths.
Nine joined and not one was weak. Mordan and Aven had wisdom and logic, while the two girls Infinity denigrated revealed they were made of sterner stuff than was immediately apparent.
The Ruby lay out of sight waiting for someone to bring attention to it, waiting to commence the cycle once more.