“There is a darkness coming, but I cannot yet see in what form …”
~ Vannis, last Vallorin
Beyond the Rift
A stiff breeze swept the lake, raising white tufted wavelets.
The air braced; fingers were blue. The skiff rocked, dragging at fishing lines. It was not the best time to be out on the water. In the distance the Palace lit in dawn’s rosy glows; on the water light had not yet reached the two men huddled in the small craft.
“The fish will not bite in this weather,” Dante grumbled. He shivered to mark his complaint.
Dantian grinned. They were not after fish and his brother knew that. “Not if you start moaning, they won’t. Fish have ears.”
“Nonsense. Why are we not having coffee in a sunny place, by Aaru? Start talking, brother. Varelie will wake up soon.”
Dante’s daughter always awakened shouting for him, a result, the Palace healers murmured, of losing her mother at a tender age.
“We have time enough,” Dantian said. “This won’t take long. And I dragged you out here because I do not want anyone listening in.”
He did not suspect treachery and it was not that he needed to keep anything secret; he simply hoped to minimise panic among his courtiers. Already rumours abounded and no one knew quite what to believe or trust.
“This is about that blue witch.” Dante knew the instant Infinity tore a way through the long-sealed Rift she set Valleur against Valleur. Some demanded to know how she achieved the reopening, others declared it should be sealed immediately, and some even whispered about initiating the Assassin’s Guild. Gods, it could get bad before they found the right path through her manipulations. No doubt the dara-witch thrived on that kind of contradiction.
“It is about her promise,” Dantian said. “If she delivers, everything will change.”
Dante stared at his brother. “You are Vallorin. Nothing can change that.”
“Really?” Dantian leaned forward intently, rocking the skiff. His long golden hair wafted around his face like errant feathers. “What will it do to the Valleur to have the legendary Vannis returned? The great last Vallorin, a man who lived for war. Factions? Some will certainly agitate for Vannis to resume leadership. A number believe Ardosia has become stagnant, that we need upheaval.”
Dante pulled his line in, bundling it in a mess at the bottom of the craft. As he reached for the other line, he said, “Upheaval? It is talk, only talk. And the witch cannot be trusted. She claims she has means to release Vannis from whatever prison he is in, but how? She sprouts nonsense about coercion and mind machination; I do not think she is that clever. She desires to play a game, Dantian? She wants to use the Arcana Chaos Alteration as her advantage upon Valaris? Who in that realm even believes the Arcana are real?” He threw Dantian’s line down on top of his.
“Taranis of the Guardians believes.”
Again Dante gazed at his brother. “Gods, you are meddling. What did you do?”
A shrug. “A nigromant brought Taranis to the barrier, showed him the terror of Arcana Chaos.”
“Why? If you want to deny the likelihood of change, why set it in motion anyway?”
“It is in motion already - Infinity has ensured that.”
“You believe Vannis is alive still.”
“And you do not?”
Light pierced the dark waters of the lake as it crested the low hills. Brightness swirled around them, revealing silvery fish darting in the depths.
Dante stared as if entranced at the dancing creatures below. “Of course Vannis lives; the Maghdim Medaillon remains on Valaris.”
Dante looked up and speared his older brother with his tawny gaze. “You put a man away for almost ten thousand years, brother, and what would you get? A sane man? I doubt it.” He paused there and then went on in an enlightened rush. “That is her plan! Our Chaos Alteration is her leverage to kick off with, get the Guardians into the field, but what she really intends is unleashing Vannis on Valaris’ humans.” He paused again to give Dantian an opportunity to refute that, and when he did not, “It would be in your best interest, it would be best for Ardosia, to close that Rift and deny Infinity and her sugary words into all eternity.”
A gust of wind shook the craft as Dante glowered at his brother. “What has Varelie to do with this?”
“She is the mother of future Vallorins.” Dantian gripped Dante’s wrist, pulling him closer. “You know what my name means. You know some of us will return to the realm we abandoned. I know I will not live long, and I have no heir. Varelie must live.”
Dante pulled his wrist free. Rubbing it, he said, “You are not making sense.”
“Varelie’s future is on Valaris, Dante. Four seers have confirmed this.”
Then Dante lifted a hand and pointed at the distant Palace. The skiff started moving without the aid of oars, and picked up speed as it skimmed the water towards the jetties jutting into the lake from the Palace gardens.
“You do not want to talk about it,” Dantian murmured.
“No. Seers are not always right.” Fingers jerked once, and the craft sped towards a landing ever faster.
Dantian laughed softly. “Someone gifted you a different telling and you seek to deny the truth of it. What is it?”
Dante moved his head … and the little boat stopped dead in the water.
“Ardosia will burn. The Valleur will die here, horribly. You, me … and Varelie also.” He glared. “Seers are wrong, brother. Yours see one future, and mine have seen another. How do you fathom that?”
Again the silence.
Then, “Who or what will burn Ardosia?”
Dante threw his hands up. “Seems that is dark to them!”
Dantian set the craft moving again, more slowly.
He was apparently calm, but a strange glint of resolve settled into his yellow eyes. “Then we need delve further. And Varelie must be protected above all others. And if Infinity brings doom to us, she will pay; I swear it on the lives of our forefathers … dead and alive.”
The massive polished copper circle set flush with the marble floor warmed as the smokeless fire took hold in the central depression.
Glyphs were scored in marked patterns upon the great disc, the lines a darker hue in the bright metal. As the flames in the centre grew and elongated, the lines seemed to take fire.
The domed chamber appeared to shrink as the glyphs started to glow.
Somewhere, loud, intrusively, a door slammed. More than a few of the men in the Seers Circle flinched.
The chamber was thoroughly sealed and yet it remained possible that Dantian, Vallorin of Ardosia, would hear of this clandestine gathering of seers. It was his right to interfere, but no one there desired that he do so, not until they possessed answers that made sense.
There were too many futures wafting in the air; it was time to achieve clarity, a state of oneness. They would remain in this dark, airless space with glowing glyphs the only light until those answers were forthcoming
To that end, the leader of the circle spoke. “We remain in situ until the images are exhausted. This day we have no names, we have no families and connections that reek of politics and position are set aside. Is this understood?”
Affirmation all around, wordless.
“Take your places.”
Fourteen men, cowled and cloaked in black robes to be as faceless as they were to be nameless, sank into cross-legged positions around the edge of the great copper circle.
Fingers splayed open upon knees.
All rustling ceased.
Fourteen heads bowed, and the images flowed.
It was pure contradiction.
They would be there some while.