It is said life is a game. One is born into it and one must strategize every step. If one has this ability, the game is not strenuous, but if one has issues with other players on the great board, the game can swallow one. The trick, reader, is to follow the gut. Do not be snared by detail; trust the gut. And do not attempt to understand the grand design - that is a path to madness.
~ Father Rees’ Diary
Fourteen diverse tasks; they had the essence of the game.
Infinity did her homework well; for the first time in millennia the Enlightenment Ritual was revealed … with every inherent threat.
McSee scribbled it down, a book and pencil hastily found in his gear, racing to keep up as one after the other words spilled from dry throats, unbidden, seemingly in random order.
Taranis shook his head when McSee despaired, and said it was the sequence, as captured. Llettynn concurred. Magic was never random.
Accomplishment surrendered to mystification.
McSee cleared his throat and read the list.
“One, Find the sacred rhythms of Pyllanthos.
Two, Enter the Square Pyramid.
Three, Solve the riddle of the Obelisk. Four, Play chess in the Queen’s chessboard courtyard …”
Kylan’s eyes widened at the mention of chessboard. It looked much like a checkerboard, right?
“Five, Open the Three Gates.
Six, Pray in the Round Temple.
Seven, Activate the Seven-sided Fountain.
Eight, Survive the Graveyard of the Ancients.
Nine, Surmount the rivers to the Lifesource.
Ten, Travel the Tunnels.
Eleven, Solve the Maze.
Twelve, Solve the mystery of the Circular Mystic Island.
Thirteen, Pick from the sacred rose-garden of Moshesh.
And fourteen, Climb, folks, the Tower of Stairs.”
McSee lowered the piece of paper. “This is a bit much. Not quite what I signed up for.” He glanced at Rayne, who shrugged at him.
Llettynn mused, “Barring the first, they are all of place.”
Taranis was thoughtful. “I know of the Round Temple of Rees near Ren Lake, if it still exists.”
“It exists,” McSee said. “And the Three Gates - three islands off the Point are known as the Gates.”
Kylan snapped his fingers. “There’s a disused seven-sided fountain not far from Farinwood!”
“Moshesh, historically, was the full name for Sheshi in the Nor Peninsula.” Rayne looked to the four northerners. “Does it still exist?”
Mordan shrugged. “The clans are limited to the Meth. Someone on Silas may know.”
“Silas is inhabited?” McSee asked. “By clan?”
“Not clan, no.” Kisha gave a twisted smile. “Pirates and cutthroats.”
“As to the rest,” Taranis mused, “nothing … except …”
McSee mentioned it first. “Wait … tunnels! The only tunnels I know of are under …” He stopped, as if realising he made a fatal error, but no one noticed, because Taranis and Rayne gave the answer in his stead.
“Two Town.” A simultaneous refrain.
Taranis frowned as if brushing aside a painful memory and, strangely, Rayne had a similar expression. Saska drew a steadying breath.
“Not my favourite place,” Rayne muttered.
“Nor mine, and if it’s half as suffocating now as it was then …” Taranis’ mouth twisted in what appeared to be self-disgust.
“Have you been in?” Rayne frowned at McSee.
“I just know of it.”
“It may be other tunnels,” Saska said.
“Let’s hope so,” Taranis said fervently.
“You went in?” McSee asked of Rayne. “Amid the riff-raff? Good Lord, why?”
“It was a humanitarian mission as a boy. My father was on the local council.”
“Rayne wasn’t too enchanted that time,” Aven murmured. “He came back quite shocked.”
“More cutthroats and pirates,” Kylan whispered to Kisha. “A whole city full.”
“Charming,” Kisha muttered.
There were no further ideas. They granted that places once existed in some form for men and women to have undergone an Enlightenment process, but also realised time had passed, battles were fought, earthquakes and floods periodically struck, all of it changing the face of the planet.
Infinity gave them tasks that might be impossible to complete.
Then, as Glint mused, given the dara-witch’s insistence and the promise she alluded to, what seemed impossible now, could not entirely be so. She needed success. It followed there was a way forward.
The sun was up, and so were spirits, generally.
Kisha passed around assorted cups and mugs, fragrantly steaming.
Overhead the light strengthened.
Mordan cleared his throat. “Pyllanthos, step one.” He glanced at Taranis, seeking permission to continue, and on receiving it did so. “Find the sacred rhythms of Pyllanthos. Pyllanthos is regarded as the universal master of the esoteric.” He gazed around. “I have always equated esoteric to the mind. What we know influences our environment, for we perceive differently when we know different truths and thereby our surroundings are ever subjective.”
“Yes,” Aven murmured.
“Now, the Oracles tell of three essential ingredients mind-waves require to flourish, and what I am trying to suggest in my roundabout way is that those ingredients may well be the sacred rhythms we seek.”
Glint said, “There’s logic there.”
“And no harm in examining it,” Llettynn murmured.
Mordan rose to lean on his oak staff. “Throughout the Oracles logic goes hand-in-hand with the waves of the mind and soul. Mind and soul together are largely regarded as the spirit, and the spirit, conversely, is a knowing soul, all of which holds true for most philosophies, even the feats of greater magic. In other words, to be involved sentient, we require both those waves and logic.”
“Wait,” Rayne interrupted. “I agree with esoteric described as waves, but you add the soul, bring the two in as spirit, and now you add logic. Confusing.”
“Allow me to simplify. Pyllanthos was a real being, with real feelings, potential and a desire to understand. For him, mind and soul would be spirit, the two indivisible; thus when we say esoteric, we mean the spirit.”
“I do not agree,” Rayne said.
“Have I not explained it right?” Mordan was more curious than put out.
“For the purposes of finding an answer to Pyllanthos’ rhythms I find no wrong …”
“But?” Taranis asked with curiosity.
Rayne shrugged. “I do not think mind and soul are indivisible; I believe they are distinctly apart. You could call the two in symbiosis the spirit, but they aren’t one.”
There was a silence. Valarian religion followed the Pyllanthos theory of the spirit. What Rayne said set him apart.
Taranis chuckled. “You would be drawn and quartered for that.”
“On the contrary,” Taranis murmured.
“Immortals know mind and soul are separate,” Llettynn said.
Saska muttered, “We’re not here to debate; we are here to find these sacred rhythms, and if Pyllanthos said it was mind and soul, then that’s what we’re dealing with. Can we get on with it?”
“What’s wrong?” Taranis whispered.
“You give him too much credit, Taranis,” she murmured. “It worries me. I haven’t seen Llettynn this suspicious of anyone in a long time either.” She did not look at Rayne.
Taranis shook his head and looked up at Mordan. “Please, Mordan, go on.”
“These waves are mentioned in various forms in the Oracles …” Mordan paused when he noticed Rayne’s expression. “Fine, my young friend. About the Oracles. Every clan member studies them at some point in their lives. We learn to read and write from a young age, and have done so since a century after Drasso. I have studied them in depth, and it has been my life’s work, my passion, if you will. I was a yeoman as a younger man, worked with my hands, tilled the soil … and lived in my head. I memorized the entire works, and it took me years, but once done I could work in the sun or under stars and still study the Oracles.”
“Mordan is known as a master,” Samson said.
Taranis smiled. “Excellent.”
“Oh?” Llettynn prompted.
“I was thinking if we had the Oracles along with the Medaillon, our arsenal would be more complete, and now I hear we actually do. Well done, Mordan. The Guardians had little time with the Oracles and we agreed it would take centuries to understand.”
“Oh, I don’t claim to understand,” Mordan said, and Taranis laughed.
“I am awed by your strength of purpose,” Rayne said.
“Thank you,” Mordan beamed. “It has been well worth the effort.” His twinkling eyes grew serious. “I hope I have satisfied you?”
Rayne inclined his head.
“Based on who Pyllanthos was, we assume we’re talking of mind-waves, which may or may not be soul to spirit,” Aven spoke up, glaring at Rayne as he said the latter. “And the Oracles speak of three ingredients for said waves to flourish?”
“Yes, and it goes with logic. Without logic, which is order, routine, a start and end to every task or thought, there would be chaos, much like the Chaos Llettynn presented to us. We are each of us a universe in microcosm, after all.”
“The symbiosis of random factors to create synergy,” Rayne stated.
“Exactly,” Mordan said. “There is a passage in the Oracles, second volume; I read it many times and I quote, ‘From the father came the recipe to teach the children, three times one permits logic upheld, one, two, three, past, present, future, the universe turns’.” Mordan smiled at the bemused faces. “Yes, I felt the same way, but I have studied that in conjunction with much else in those works, and one day it hit me. I was picking tomatoes, I’ll have you know, and dropped the whole basket into the jam pot when I had my bolt from the blue … fig jam, I might add. Folks were mightily displeased!”
“I finally understood it to mean an open mind equals a sound mind; rhythm equalling logic, in other words. Order is achieved by examining and understanding, without prejudice, the rhythms that are the past - unbiased history - acknowledging the present as the past in transit to tomorrow, which is the future, while knowing that now, today, is as important as yesterday and will be equally important to tomorrow. That, as I see it, is the three times one that is logic.” Mordan gripped his staff. “I suggest that Pyllanthos’ sacred rhythms are the amalgam of the past, present and the future.”
“Which is precisely why we’re here,” Belun stated. The Centuar, in his humanoid form, rose clapping his hands. “It makes perfect sense, Mordan. I applaud you! By recognising the synergy, as Rayne put it, of time, one achieves the order that maintains the universe, in not only the big issues, but the little ones too. Why does a mother love her child? She is spiritually driven by what she experienced as a child and where she wants her child to be when she is gone. Esoteric waves, past to present to future, and thus the universe turns.”
“Pyllanthos was not wrong,” Rayne murmured.
Mordan lowered to the ground with a sigh. He placed his staff across his knees. “The Oracles regards soul and mind as separate, as is suggested, and speaks of the symbiosis you mentioned, Rayne. Pyllanthos could’ve been a mite hasty in his concept of spirit, yet his views do not clash with the waves in the Oracles, and thus I maintain that wave and rhythm may be regarded as the same entity, and may therefore follow the same rules and be one and the same answer.”
“Yes,” Llettynn murmured.
“I agree also,” Belun stated. “Taranis?”
“I see no fault in the logic.”
Belun looked over at Rayne. “Have you any qualification?”
“I have had to keep my mouth shut my entire life, in case I say something that could reveal the Mantle, so excuse me if I thought, in present company, I am able to speak my mind.”
The Centuar gaped at him.
“Rayne, he didn’t mean …” Taranis said.
“But I do.”
“Unpredictable,” Llettynn murmured.
Rayne moved his gaze in that direction. “Do you want to have it out now, Siric?”
Llettynn smiled lazily. “Do you think you could best me, human?”
Rayne returned the leer with one of his own. “Would you like to find out?”
Llettynn laughed. “Soon enough.”
“Rayne! Stop it!” Aven blurted out. “You go too far!”
Rayne and Llettynn still stared at each other, and ignored the outburst.
Taranis rose. “Saska was right; we should’ve slept last night. Nerves are frayed, and so are tempers. Let us now take a breather and then come back to test Mordan’s theory … Llettynn! Enough, I say!”
The Siric took his gaze from Rayne, inclined his head towards Taranis, and clambered to his feet. “A breather is an excellent idea.” He walked away.
Aven was still glaring at Rayne. “Why are you so contrary?”
“Why is he so suspicious?” Rayne was on his feet an instant later, stalking off after the Siric.
“For Aaru’s …” Taranis muttered, and wanted to head in the same direction, but Saska stopped him.
“You cannot run interference, not in this. Let them sort it out.”
Llettynn stopped, and waited insolently for Rayne to catch up, and Taranis swore. “Llettynn will crucify him.”
Big man McSee stood. He stretched and watched Rayne stride past the Siric, and the Siric forced to follow. “Oh, I doubt Rayne can be crucified. I doubt all here standing together could best what lies within that man.” And, having given that vote of confidence, he ambled off in another direction.
Taranis turned on his heel.
“Crikey,” Kylan whispered.
“Right,” Samson muttered.
Rayne halted at the tree line.
He found the Siric behind him, as expected. “Say what you want to say.”
Llettynn leaned against a sturdy tree. He studied Rayne from head to foot. “You wear grey as Taranis does, but it doesn’t suit you. I see you in black, with a billowing cape, long sword and nasty expression on your face, like a marauder.”
The chill of premonition assailed him. “Gods, why say that to me?”
“Why does it resonate so, Rayne of the Mantle? Perhaps because that is how you see yourself?”
“Let us get one matter straight. I am not the enemy. I am full of nonsense and my temper gets the better of me, I have had it tough until now and hate what I was forced into, but none of that makes me an enemy.”
Llettynn pushed away from the tree. “I know, but something about you worries me. I feel you are not what you seem.”
Rayne looked away. “That is because I have two distinct lives. One with family, the other with the Mantle, and the two do not mix. How to act, Siric, when I am no longer sure which face has the greater hold on my future?”
Llettynn was silent. He had a point. Perhaps it was a simple as confusion; with unwillingness adding to what must be a huge dilemma. “I pride myself on being open-minded, and have not been so with you. Forgive me. I ask that we start over.”
Rayne was silent. The Siric would not trust yet, but he would question before judging, and that was better than the constant pressure of suspicion. “We start over.”
“Good. Now, please, tell me why you think you were forced into something you hate?”
“A two year old knows no better. By the time I was old enough to question what I was doing, I was also too deep in to get out.”
“And you family doesn’t know?”
“That must be hard, yes. Have you both your parents?”
“My mother and a sister. I do not want to talk about this.”
Tough, yes. No wonder he is so contrary. “One last issue. Do you hate magic?”
Rayne shrugged. “I was brought up with two sets of rules, and perhaps that is what I hate, this juxtaposition of self. I think only time will tell whether I hate the magic for what it is, not for what it has done to me.”
Llettynn nodded. “Fair enough. I hope the confusion is cleared soon.”
Rayne grinned. “That is my hope also.”
Llettynn glanced back towards the Well. “Taranis no doubt eats live scorpions or he would be here to interfere. He needs this to succeed so badly he cannot stomach disunity. We shall present him with a truce, shall we?”
“A truce it is.”
They strolled back, and fell into discussing what Mordan said about waves and rhythms. They would debate the esoteric concepts at many firesides, with answers as varied as questions.
Every moment of debate would be enjoyed.
“… there must be closure, I believe,” Llettynn was saying to Rayne and Belun when Taranis came upon them a few minutes later.
Belun had waylaid them to apologise to Rayne for seeming suspicious of his motives. Rayne spoke his own regret.
Taranis, on seeing the new huddle, closed in, his face like thunder. “Closure to what?” he demanded, joining them. “I am not standing for in-fighting, understood? We need to work together.”
“And so we shall,” Llettynn said. “Rayne and I have made peace.”
Taranis eyed him, and glanced at Rayne.
Rayne nodded. “All is well.”
“Why do I think that all won’t always be well? Never mind. Belun?”
The Centuar gave a wide grin. “I said sorry.”
Taranis grumbled under his breath and laughed. “Fine, so be it. What closure are you talking about?”
“The sacred rhythms,” Llettynn murmured. “There must be a way to check the veracity of our logic, or we believe we stagnate at this point. This answer could reveal the next task - the Square Pyramid.”
“You suggest they lead into one another; finish one and the next becomes clearer?”
“We may be wrong,” Belun said.
“No, you are onto something. Why else did we record a sequence? How do we check?”
“The Medaillon,” Rayne stated.
Taranis gave a thoughtful look, and walked away. “We gather in half hour.”
“I wonder where Infinity is,” Belun mused.
Rayne, after brief hesitation, said, “I am able to see her.”
The Siric and Centuar both looked at him.
Rayne snapped his fingers for the tiny flame. “When I enclose it, I can see her.”
Llettynn put his palm over Rayne’s to douse the flame. “I am impressed. I am also concerned she might see you. Do not use it again.”
“And thus I am relieved of the responsibility. You get no argument from me.” Rayne noted Taranis and Saska close heads to talk together, and dragged his gaze from that and approached Aven, who immediately started berating him.
Belun laughed. “That old man has spirit!” He glanced at the Siric. “Rayne has real power.”
Llettynn nodded and ambled off, leaving Belun to tackle Glint about the potential in the Medaillon. As he walked off something occurred to him. Rayne, back at the tree line, said gods. No Valarian would say that.
McSee got his coffee, with breakfast. While they ate, they spoke of other matters.
Later Taranis mentioned the need for closure on Mordan’s Pyllanthos theory, and explained the Medaillon might hold the key.
Aven made a face at Rayne, who stoically ignored him.
Averroes had it out by the time Taranis turned to her.
“Wait; may I ask something?” Samson said. “If Rayne called the clans with the Medaillon, how come Averroes has it?”
Taranis looked to Rayne. “Your territory.”
“The Medaillon knows only one master or mistress at a time, but it was also enchanted with the failsafe that one of power could use it when need arose. In the past, master and sorcerer were usually the same, but recently the Mantle harked only to the failsafe, while the device lay untouched, without master or mistress. How Averroes came by it is a tale for another time, but she is the mistress, while I am the failsafe.”
Samson nodded uncertainly.
Taranis shifted to Averroes again.
She stared fixedly at her clasped hand. “Nothing; it’s not responding.”
“Maybe we’re wrong,” Belun murmured.
Rayne leaned forward to see her. “Take the chain off.”
She did so, closed her eyes, and concentrated. They focused with her, holding collective breath. She opened her eyes and shook her head.
“Usually answers and aid come automatically, as if it knows what I want it to do, but there’s nothing.”
“Give it to Rayne,” Aven said.
“Old man, the medal probably isn’t what we need.”
“Then you won’t be put out by trying,” Aven murmured, “Averroes, give it to him.”
Frowning, she threaded it back onto its chain, and leaned forward to pass it on. Rayne looked none too pleased by developments.
He dangled it and obviously did not want to touch it.
“Rayne,” Taranis said from across the fire, “it is never easy being what we are. I know. You understand you are capable of good and evil, and only the will of your mind separates that, thereby drawing a fine line, and it scares you; it scares us. We have had the time to know ourselves, making the danger less close, and we further recognise the signs of an approaching line. Trust us. Look at me. Rayne, I give you my oath I shall not let you stray.”
The Siric closed his eyes. That was most unwise.
Taranis and Rayne locked gazes. The bond they felt instinctively on meeting had already deepened; now its strength assumed that unbreakable quality not even time could sunder.
Saska’s emerald eyes traced both faces with a mystification so close to revelation she could almost touch it, and was irritated that something within her - had to be - blocked the understanding she sought.
Rayne’s face twisted with the burden of acceptance and he held his free hand aloft, palm facing skyward, the Medaillon suspended over it. On contact, his head snapped back.
“Well,” Glint muttered, and Aven’s eyes grew round.
“Help him, Taranis,” Llettynn said. The human’s reluctance and his unfamiliarity with the Maghdim boded well. He is still malleable. Nothing is written.
Taranis leaned over the fire, ignoring the heat, and closed his hand over Rayne’s fist. Rayne’s head straightened, and he opened his eyes into the Guardian’s.
“I am fine.”
Taranis released and subsided into his place, heart hammering. It is like touching myself. Goddess, what waits around the corners of the days ahead?
Rayne dropped the Medaillon with distaste into the grass and leaned back on his arms to draw in the cool morning air.
“You all right?” Aven asked.
Rayne shrugged. “I have to be.” He glanced at Averroes, who was seemingly calm, but seething inside. “Averroes …”
She cut him short. “You should wear it.”
Rayne sat up to peer at her directly. “I have other problems. You keep it and keep it as far away from me as you can.” He lifted the coin, this time deliberately touching the Medaillon proper, and tossed it her way.
A loaded silence ensued, which Taranis decided to break quickly. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Averroes pick the Medaillon up, slip it around her neck, and thought he saw an expression in her eyes, but when he glanced fully towards her, there was only blank calm.
He said, “It will become easier, Rayne. After a while it will be second nature.”
“I do not need it,” Rayne said, not looking at anyone.
“We may,” Llettynn interjected. “There is no need to fear it; it is only a tool.”
Rayne gazed thoughtfully at the Siric, hearing the unsaid words. Fear yourself. Gods, he already knew that.
Glint frowned. “Clarification? What did the darn coin show or tell you?”
Rayne inclined his head. “It tells much in an instant.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, which Aven recognised as an attempt to release inner tension. “First, the sacred rhythms are as surmised and it could not wait to confirm, almost as if impatient. It says to go west for two days within the Forest, then to exit to the south and head for the seaport of Luan.”
“Those are specific directions,” Glint said.
Before having it out - to a degree - with the Siric, Rayne would have snapped at the Sagorin for intimating subterfuge, but now he took the slight - for it was not meant as one - in his stride.
“Indeed, very specific. I would almost suggest someone supports us. Someone once bound to the Ruby and the Medaillon …” He paused.
“Say it,” Taranis murmured.
“I received the clear impression that this Enlightenment business is not the true path. Yes, the sacred rhythms is the first step and the Medaillon answered positive, yet I sense Pyllanthos is not the real starting point, that the Ruby was altered, but I do not know how or by whom and refuse to guess. We should not be complacent in the successes achieved here this day.”