“Enlightenment? Very subjective!”
~ A magician’s pet phrase, according to Tattle
Dawn broke through the veil of night when Taranis mentioned it.
Cristi lay sleeping beside Samson and he shook her awake. Aven snored with his head on his pack and Averroes snuggled behind him; Rayne shook them out of slumber. Aven sat up stiffly to massage his ankle; Saska dressed it for him and it felt better, but a dull ache plagued.
Belun dragged his massive hindquarters from the cold ground and rose with a groan. He said, “You want to get into it now when I can barely keep my eyes open?” Without awaiting a rebuttal, he stalked off into the Forest.
Llettynn remarked, “A Centuar has a mighty bladder.” He too rose to vanish into the trees.
“Kylan,” Taranis said, and the sleepy Herbmaster blinked at him. “Have you anything to gift energy?”
“He does,” Kisha muttered. “I’ll get him organised.”
Rayne gave Taranis a lowered look. “Why now?”
“Now we are not so afraid of it.”
“Are we afraid of it?”
Taranis shrugged. “I know the tale, you know it.”
Rayne murmured, “Half are too weary for this.” He clambered to his feet, yawned, stretched, and walked away slapping his legs to get blood flowing.
Saska followed him with her eyes, drawn to him and liking it not. “He’s right,” she said to Taranis after dragging her gaze back to the embers.
“The night gave us insights we would otherwise miss,” Taranis returned. “And when one is tired, one forces one’s brain to work, and often other insights wait right there.”
“One also makes mistakes,” Glint grumbled.
“My tea will perk you up,” Kylan said. “Used to study with this brew; kept me sleepless for five days once.”
“Not sure I like the sound of that,” Glint muttered. “Anyway, I’m off to the, um, trees. I’ve got to get that Centuar to change form,” he grunted in an aside as he wandered off. “His hooves poked holes in my backside all night.”
Saska giggled, and rested her head on Taranis’ shoulder. “Promise we get full dreamland tonight.”
“I’ll have to make sure you’re not on watch then,” he grinned, and briefly rested his head on top of hers.
“Watch? Oh, that’s not nice …” she murmured, her eyes closing.
Taranis chuckled and jostled her. “Wake up, Saska … not that I don’t like your head there.”
Giggling, she used his shoulder to stand and ambled off.
An hour later they gathered in a close circle about the fire. The strong herbal aroma of Kylan’s tea permeated the air.
Taranis and Rayne again sat opposite each other. Throughout the night they glanced across, sometimes with a meeting of eyes, sometimes watching when the other’s attention was elsewhere.
Rayne earlier noticed Saska’s protective attitude over Taranis, and having seen them interact, he now wondered what lay between them, especially as she again took a place beside Taranis. It was none of his business, yet he was intrigued. He sensed her looking at him, met her gaze and found he could not look away.
She broke the contact.
Rayne extracted the Ruby and laid it on the grass. The idle murmurs of conversation died away. Aven, beside him, whispered, “Well, my boy, and what say you now? First the Medaillon, now the Ruby? Both to you, directly.” Rayne shot him a venomous look, but Aven merely smiled.
Glint spoke into the silence. “It occurs to me fourteen facets equal fourteen steps to Enlightenment equals fourteen tasks.”
“Agreed,” Taranis said.
“Then that leaves us with the problem of finding what they are. I thought on this and realised we’re all mind aware - the key to unlocking its secrets. Belun, Llettynn and Saska, Taranis, Rayne, Aven and McSee and I are sorcerers, Mordan has knowledge of the Oracles and Averroes has the Medaillon. Kylan, a Herbmaster is far more than a collector of herbs. You need diagnose illness, often only by looking at the patient. That makes you mind aware.”
Kylan grinned and nodded.
“Kisha, you ‘read’ people, as in body language and facial expression - a subtle and particular talent, and that is awareness.”
Kisha smiled and Glint focused on Samson.
“You predict weather days in advance, and you do it with instinct. That instinct is a close cousin of magic,” Glint said. “I guess we’ll be calling on you more than once in the near future. My Siric friend here always says the weather is another presence in battle, sometimes friend, and sometimes foe.”
Samson smiled unreservedly. Glint shifted his gaze to Cristi.
“You have told us little. I can’t say where your talent lies and yet you heard the Medaillon.” Glint paused and leaned forward. Cristi blushed as soon as she was singled out. “There’s no shame in admitting to anything in this gathering and now it is imperative.”
They all looked at the shy San girl and she felt the invasion keenly. Out of habit, she began withdrawing to be as unnoticeable as possible. Then, as in the past, and the reason she preferred to keep her counsel, Cristi heard the others’ thoughts in her mind. She managed to quell the voices by thinking about nothing at all, never comfortable with another’s thoughts. Knowing that this time she did not have to fear reaction was quite liberating and intoxicating.
“I can hear what people think when I’m under pressure,” she said. “You, Belun, thought Glint draws too much attention to me, that I’m not able to cope and, Glint, you silently urged me not to be afraid. I have always been afraid of this.”
“Even Immortals shy away,” Llettynn said.
Glint glared at the Siric and said, “Cristi, here you may be yourself.”
“I don’t like to hear thoughts. It’s too honest, the stuff you hear.”
“Which is why we shun it,” Llettynn murmured.
“Goddess, Llettynn, will you shut up,” Taranis growled.
“What else did you hear?” McSee asked.
“That won’t be necessary,” Taranis said.
“I would like to know,” Llettynn stated.
“It’s all right,” Cristi said. “I prefer to get it out, to separate it from myself.”
Taranis nodded. “Then tell us.”
“Samson thought of the weather and Averroes was sympathetic. The others I didn’t get …” She paused there.
“Except?” Llettynn prompted.
Cristi looked at the Siric, sensing he had motive, and the motive was Rayne. “Rayne thought about the Ruby. He thinks the tasks are perilous …” On the last word, her eyes swivelled to Rayne.
“We all think that,” Taranis said. “Thank you, Cristi. Glint, you were making a point?”
“We are mind aware, and that leads to this. The Sagorin were down to eighteen in mortal days and to save our race we chose the Immortality Ritual. We drew a circle; here we sit in a circle. We bent our minds to one end; here we have established we are all mind aware. What if we place the Ruby in the centre and concentrate our powers on it, in unison? Fourteen of us, fourteen tasks, fourteen facets. It has logic and it leads.”
It was logical. It was also frightening.
Now? Belun asked.
“We are alert thanks to Kylan,” Taranis said.
“So much for sleepy insights,” Saska grinned.
“Glint came up with a good one,” Taranis retorted.
“We need to change order,” Llettynn pointed out. “Spread magic evenly.”
The Siric had a point and after some discussion they changed places where necessary, and also moved from the fire.
Taranis and Rayne still faced each other and the Ruby would lie between them, the two singled out by the light being. Aven and Llettynn sat at right angles to them - Aven being closely linked to Rayne, Llettynn to Taranis. It was placement that signified the four directions, and the others took points around the compass it formed.
Taranis said, “We concentrate our thoughts on one question: What is my task to Enlightenment? If Glint is correct, each one here should receive a different message, although what form or verse that would assume I cannot predict. When ready, think only on that question, send it to the gem, watch it enter, use your imagination to make it real. Hold it there as long as you feel necessary. Rayne, we should weave an awakening enchantment.”
The Ruby lay in the centre of the circle and Rayne pointed at it. “Do we regard this as animate or inanimate?”
“Both,” Llettynn stated.
Taranis said to Rayne, “If anyone knows, it’s Llettynn.”
Rayne said, “I trust his judgement.”
Aven interrupted. “I think it wise if Averroes were to remove the Medaillon.”
Averroes took it from around her neck and laid it on the grass before crossed feet. Everyone craned to get a look at it; it did not look like much, appearing dull and lifeless.
“Put it outside the circle,” Taranis said. “Both you and it will be safer.” He nodded his appreciation. “What is my task to Enlightenment? We will now do the awakening spells.” He glanced at Rayne. “You do inanimate; I will do the other.” Rayne nodded. “What will happen is a barely discernible shift in the air within our circle, and when you feel it, link hands. Be prepared to send. Ready?”
Belun changed shape when they reshuffled, realising his Centuar form was too clumsy to partake. He now sat cross-legged in the guise of a man.
What a man! His skin glowed golden and a leather thong temporarily tamed his wild gold hair. He did not surrender his wings, seeing as the Siric kept his around, and were folded with silver tips visible over his powerful shoulders. He wore only breeches and sturdy sandals - sandals from Taranis, breeches from a grumbling Glint. With his silver eyes and their dark blue centres, he appeared more otherworldly than he had as Centuar.
He liked the form, for it gifted him a greater affinity with the forms around him. Llettynn shook his head in mock horror at the transformation, while the humans were awed. He could maintain the form indefinitely, an advantage soon to be employed.
“Ready,” Belun answered and grinned at the sound of his voice. Another advantage. He laid his huge hands on his knees in readiness of the linking of hands. The others followed suit.
Taranis nodded at Rayne, who took a deep breath.
Simultaneously the two men lifted their arms. Their hands performed the same gestures. There came a shift in the air as Taranis predicted, akin to a gentle breeze blowing against itself in the confined area of the circle.
Then Rayne’s hand curled into a fist and Taranis’ spread wide. They held it that way for a few ticking seconds, all the while staring at the Ruby. It did not react, but as they again lowered their arms, it began to glow.
Swiftly the circle was enjoined.
A shaft of sunlight pierced the glade.
“Now!” Taranis breathed command, and the fourteen sent the singular question at the gem.
Another beam of light hit the clearing.
Averroes and Cristi reeled back, nearly tearing their hands from the linking, Belun and Llettynn’s wings soared out and flopped untidily down, Saska fell face down into the circle, but managed to hold on, Aven giggled, Mordan gargled and the rest were as statues, only their eyes rolling back and forth.
McSee witnessed the Ruby’s next move. He shook the way the way long grass is apt to in gusty weather, yet he stared fixedly at the ball …
… it glowed, first amber, then emerald, then ruby once more, before it became completely transparent.
Then it vanished.
McSee’s mouth worked soundlessly, and at that moment of vanishing, everyone recovered.
Hands unlinked without thought, and McSee pointed a shaking finger at the empty space.
From deep sleep, the kind where dreams were the most intense, and most forgotten on waking, something prompted Margus into full consciousness.
Something of import had happened.
He was immediately alert, his senses so fine-tuned in the past days he could shake off the fuzziness of sleep without effort. He checked first on the thread …
… it glowed luminescent yellow and vibrated with life.
He laughed aloud, throwing his head back to crow his pleasure.
Ah, yes, the time is near!
The one causing the thread to radiate and pulsate awakened.
The time is near. Finally.
For him there was no enjoyment.
There was anticipation, yes.
And terrible foreboding.
A little girl with fair hair sat up in her bed. Frightened, her tawny eyes searched for her father.
She found him asleep in the armchair nearby, one hand slack on her bed. Feeling relieved, she tapped that hand.
Her father sounded so tired. She studied him and whispered, “It’s all going to burn, daddy.”