Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Infinity: Epilogue


Far Reaches

Valleur possessed added biology that allowed them to breathe air alien to humankind, a fortunate situation given where the scatterlings of Ardosia were forced to ground.
On a rock twirling near a hot star, waterless, sluggish lava below the surface that would one day evolve into volcanoes, they huddled.
They could not stay long. Air issues were one matter; water was an imperative. The younglings would succumb first.
While squads of four continued the search for temporary and viable habitation, four hundred Valleur clustered in misery and grief on the barren wasteland.
At least a hundred would not see another universal day, their injuries fatal. Most of those were children, and their deaths created greater grief. So few left - the young should be the future.
Rillinon stared unseeing over the huddles and wished he died on Ardosia. Better than this hell.
He watched them breathe their last, one here, three there, and cursed the seers who looked, saw and had not offered warning before dying around a copper disc. Their equivocation led to absolute doom.
His wife and daughter, dead. What future now remained?
He caught sight of Camot, war leader. The man appeared bowed, weighed down, and thus it should be. A war leader unprepared. His reward should be eternal guilt.
A squad returned then and Rillinon pushed himself up. This squad was the one Camot dispatched back to Ardosia. Perhaps there was some good news.
“… raining,” one was saying as Rillinon closed in. “The Dome Guardians extinguished the fires.”
“Anyone left alive?” Camot barked.
Nobody said anything and that was answer enough.
“Is Ardosia habitable?” Camot asked next.
“Not yet,” the same man replied.
“Even if it were …” another began.
“We would be targets, yes,” Camot growled, and dismissed them. He noticed Rillinon and beckoned him closer.
“Anything on Dantian?” Rillinon asked.
“They found Dante, but no sign of the Vallorin,” Camot murmured. “The Rift is unattended.”
“We should consider Valaris.”
Camot bent over, hands on knees. “How I wish I could offer that option.” He looked up at Rillinon from that lowered position. “Guess where the Darak Or went after leaving this realm?”
Rillinon was horrified. Another world would soon suffer what Ardosia had. “If Vannis is alive …”
“What can he do before soltakin touch murders everything that is wholesome and sane in a world?” Camot straightened and passed a hand clearly shaking over his face. “The Valleur are cursed. Best to hide where no one will think to look.”
Then, giving Rillinon a troubled, helpless kind of shrug, he stumbled away. What future was now left, indeed?
A young voice whispered nearby, words of desperation, the kind to penetrate even numbness.
It will all burn, daddy. It burns.
Rillinon saw the man first and recognised him. It was Anastir, Dantian’s master sorcerer and also the sole Elder to escape Ardosia. He was prone and unmoving on the unforgiving rock and beside him a little girl swayed to and fro, thin arms clasped around legs black with soot.
It will all burn, daddy.
Something unlocked inside Rillinon then, and he began to heave and shudder. Tears ran unchecked over filthy cheeks. The young should be the future.
He approached and knelt beside the girl, reaching out to lay fingers in Anastir’s neck. He drew back. Dead. The last Elder had succumbed. He shifted to face the swaying youngling. Her hair covered her face; her lips moved saying the same words over and over. He lifted his hand and brushed her hair aside, tucking it behind an ear.
He rocked back on his heels.
The Valleur were cursed. How many times had he not heard that? Perhaps it was true; it certainly felt like it now. If it was true, then this girl was in danger. Danger would remain no matter how long she managed to escape hounding. Would the Darak Or come looking for her?
It did not bear thinking about. An innocent hounded. If the Valleur were ever to regain a semblance of what they were once, that future lay with this slip of a girl.
Daughter of Vallorins. The mother of the future. She was now the House of Valla.
Perhaps he should have given it more thought before acting on what was pure impulse and instinct in that moment, and perhaps he would have chosen exactly as he did. Sometimes destiny carried no nuance and remained unrecognised.
Rillinon reached out and placed the tips of his fingers on Varelie’s forehead. “Little one, I will take your pain away. Will you trust me?”
She ceased chanting and looked at him with huge eyes. “Will you be my daddy?”
He swallowed hard. His daughter was the same age as Varelie. He would transfer all the love he possessed from the dead to the living and be again whole. “Yes.”
Rillinon pressed firmly against her forehead. Your life begins now, little one. You have no memory of who you are. From this day, you are my daughter.
He opened his arms. “Daddy’s arms are empty.”
The little girl smiled and scrambled into them, twining her arms around his neck. Rillinon held her close as tears rolled again.
A new start. There was always hope.
“I love you, Mitrill.”

~ The End ~

The Lore Series continues in The Kinfire Tree

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~Thank you~

Monday, March 13, 2017

Infinity: Chpt 45 - Obelisk

And here it is, the final chapter! Now you know Rayne of the Mantle (and that there is mystery surrounding him) and Vannis of the Valleur is once more free in a different time. Taranis of the Guardians too has secrets we need to unveil. Infinity's game swiftly changed to become something else, and Margus has entered the arena. Rayne's dreams of a lost girl led him to Ardosia and he found an answer, but it isn't the one he sought ...

As stated when I began sharing The Infinity Mantle with you, this is the start of a epic series. This is the groundwork; now the longer tale begins! One last clue will be yours in the Epilogue - come back tomorrow to find out :)

Chapter 45

To be all that you can be
~ The first truth

Valaris’ Moon

Margus turned away.
To concentrate on strategy he had to look elsewhere. Valaris’ beauty and presence negated clear thinking. He wanted it now.
A blinding flash.
It was not a blaze of light; it was the flash of magical signature.
The thread pulsed into brilliance.
Margus gazed down attentively upon the world below. There. An island off the west coast.
He recognised what it signified. The Vallorin walked upon Valaris after nine millennia. He glanced at his prisoner, eyes flicking over the noble form. Vallorin to Vallorin. The Maghdim Medaillon would be his soon.
Vannis, last Vallorin of this universe, was as visible as the yellow sun was; there was nowhere to hide on Valaris.
Watch the skies, fools.

The Obelisk

They arrived on a perfectly square grassy plain.
The new-old forest hedged the perimeter, and it rustled with life. The shadeless area was large, the sun beating down despite the hour, instantly raising a sweat. The grass was unkempt, as if it was allowed to grow without upkeep before cloaking, and sweet little mauve wildflowers peeped out.
Vannis muttered about slack gardeners.
Saska wandered around. “Why is there a time limit between the Pyramid and here?”
“Incentive. Without it, you would now be within the Pyramid studying its marvels. They are addictive, yes?”
Vannis studied Rayne as he walked to where the base of the tower would appear. Ah, I am not wrong. Blue fire and an affinity to the sites.
He continued, “The Obelisk is a transmitter, the sound for the scenes in the Retrogressive Spheres. The two sites are the two parts of a whole.”
“Aven will be receiving a bonus soon …” Saska proceeded to tell him of the old man’s quest for the truth, and smiled widely over the pleased look that lit his features. “I am curious. The Ruby was altered and used by human sorcerers to enable a so-called Path to Enlightenment. What did they find at the sacred sites?”
“That episode was a fiasco. Valaris’ humans rediscovered sorcery and the prevailing wind was open-minded and I thought to aid that, hasten it along in a benign period, one in which I sought to atone for my past. I permitted the gem to be found, but there was a problem in that one of the sites was no longer viable, thus it was altered to activate. The Pyllanthos Theory was already an accepted ideal and it fit, and was incorporated.”
“You changed it?”
“No, but I placed the thought in their minds. They gathered fourteen sorcerers together, did the necessary and, as happened to your team of fourteen, the steps were revealed. Thus began the journey, but without driving threat at the time.”
“It went wrong.”
“Utterly wrong. They were unable to uncloak the sites, not knowing they were Valleur, and created abominations in their stead. Sites were revealed, but they were not Valleur; rather they were creations of the mind, and proved their power, and what they brought forth … gods; some twisted and each different. The Individual Path they called it, and became addicted to the effects of their creations, trying to outdo each other; true abomination. I wanted to obliterate them, but allowed it to go on, revenge in a way, but also hoping they would somehow stumble upon the truth. Not the Valleur sites, per se, but the Light of real truth.”
“Which never came to pass, and you finally removed the Ruby.”
“I had to, and Valaris descended into a narrow darkness worse than anything before, and I was powerless to change it. A breeding ground for despair and hatred, wholesale killing of anyone suspected of magic, and therefore Drasso and his uncanny success. I made many mistakes.”
“We all make mistakes.”
He inclined his head. “True, my dear, but on that scale? I have much to atone for.”
“Do you still despise them?”
“Humankind? I do not know. I like to think I learned from the lessons of the past, but a long, long road of hatred and revenge lies behind me. My feelings, whatever they are, must remain personal, for this is a human world and I brought on much of the prevailing psyche. Whether or not I am beyond hatred should no longer be the issue, for I need atone, I need it, or I shall never be entirely free. And nobody deserves to be enslaved to one mind, particularly if that mind is from the past and has outdated ideals. Valarians must be released from my mistakes.”
“Even if you want to strangle them?”
“Even if, yes.”
Saska smiled in sympathy. Vannis would become a good friend, a great friend. Rayne, however, felt far away.
Vannis shook his head. “Narrow-minded, the lot of you.” He pointed a finger at her. “As the solitary powerful Valarian, Rayne is the only person I wholly place my trust in at this moment. Power does not equate to evil, Saska. Despite the suspicions of the Siric.”
The Vallorin was right. “It changes him,” she said after a time.
“Unavoidable, yet time will return him somewhat to what he was, as will patience. You care about him - I see that. Exercise patience and understanding, and he will not turn from you for too long.”
“You think he will turn from me?” Already it hurt.
Vannis looked away. “Recognition of self comes at a high price.”

Saska went to Rayne. He drew her in simply by being in a space she could step close to.
Rayne of the Mantle was no more. Rayne of Galilan was no more. She needed to feel her way around this new persona. This was a man apparently a match for Guardians and Vallorins.
Her suspicions were confirmed when he acknowledged her without a trace of the former wonder. She understood, but it hurt nonetheless. She was furious he was forced into this hell, and her eyes sparked.
He saw it and grimaced, looking away.
Phet flew in a wide circle overhead, and she heard his friendly tones within. The human sorcerer is not the same man who went to Ardosia. An echo of sadness was evident in his tone.
Indeed not, old friend.
He looked at her again. She dropped her eyes first and stepped back.
Beside her now, Vannis watched and waited. Rayne’s eyes flicked to him.
“You have the honour of uncloaking the Obelisk.” Inwardly Vannis sighed. There is arrogance absent before. He is more like me.
“A test, Vallorin? Each uncloaking is different.”
Vannis’ expression did not change. “Curiosity.”
“Really.” Without further dissembling, Rayne faced the centre. His lips moved soundlessly.
There was a crackling in the air akin to the hum of rampant static.
Vannis’ eyes narrowed. An outsider would have to speak the Valleur tongue aloud to make Valleur magic work. A true adept could think it.
And there it was, the Obelisk, a shimmering four-sided shaft of unknown material. Metalloid, Saska guessed correctly. Monolithic and tapering, it finished in a pyramidal point. Nothing altered in the surroundings; that transformation was already complete.
Phet swooped down to alight on the point and screeched loud. It speaks, he sent in amazement.
Saska waved at him and Vannis laughed.
Rayne said, “It is activated. We are two steps into achieving the balance Valaris requires.”
Vannis murmured, “I wonder where your limits lie.”
“Rayne?” Saska murmured.
“We have other priorities, Saska.”
She watched as he walked away. As did Vannis, but he did so with greater understanding. As did Phet, and he did so with clear understanding.
For the charismatic Falcon everything, too, would change.


They employed major sorcery to extinguish the fires.
A blanketing suppression snuffed the flames in one roar of dampened sound. It took many hours to gather the power to do so, but when it settled over Ardosia, it worked better than expected.
The Centuar stamped their hooves and swished tails. It was a massive achievement.
Taranis clapped hands. Then he was serious, for time moved on. Somewhere a Darak Or prepared to bring this annihilation to another world.
“Invoke rain for five days and nights and clear the atmosphere. The least we can do is restore some natural balance to this world, allow it to renew and save what animal life remains. If it doesn’t work … well, we shall check from time to time.”
The Lady of Life was an option for renewal, should rain not begin the restoration process. She, however, preferred all avenues followed before a call went out.
Belun nodded, serious also. It was the least they could do. He hated being witness to this abandonment; this emptying of what was once good and decent.
He called his Centuar to him and they commenced the hand gestures and intonations that would unlock their minds and prepare them for the sorcery that heralded extraordinary rain. They had to be careful, for too much would cause greater damage, but too little would not help the planet.
While they were thus engaged, Taranis wandered.
Through soot and ash he could discern or imagine the proud edifices of a proud nation. The Valleur built for eternity, but even that had not saved them from the wrath of this new enemy. Their great buildings succumbed. They succumbed.
He wanted to scream at the heavens, finding it unfair so many paid with their lives due to the spite of one.
The Siric, the Sagorin, the Centuar and the others, they were the Guardians and, once the Rift opened to what lay beyond, it became part of their responsibility. They were duped. They had been suffering under the mantle of fear, but they had not looked hard and long enough to see beyond Chaos to a people potentially in danger. They had not known enough to look.
That did not absolve them from their responsibility.
The Guardians failed to protect the weak. The Guardians needed to atone. Someone had to kneel before the Vallorin and offer up … what? No degree of atonement, no words of sympathy, and no act of contrition would now alter what came to pass.
The only course of action left was to prevent Margus causing more damage. He had to be stopped, whatever it took. Therein was a measure of atonement.
After more hours of preparation later Belun and his Centuar huddled together.
Above, rain clouds gathered in a gradually less polluted atmosphere and, as they left Ardosia, the first raindrops fell, hissing into the scorched earth.
They chose soft rain, nothing destructive and yet encompassing and drenching. Lakes would fill, rivers run, and the smouldering embers below the surface would be doused by degree until Ardosia again stood a chance at renewal. The animals would have water to drink and seeds could sprout again in their time. They accomplished a major feat and yet, confronted by the terrible destruction of a world, it felt mean, a tiny drop in a huge ocean. Massive achievements, yes, but after the fact.
“What of the bodies?” Rilt asked.
“When the temperature is normal, we will send the Gravedigger Guild in,” Taranis said.
They left Ardosia behind.
They saw other planets, uninhabitable, empty. In the furthest reaches they came across a giant vortex in space, in which whirled the debris of a vaporized world.
“It’s new,” Belun remarked, his eyes narrowing. “Destroyed recently.”
“Yes. The Darak Or burning his bridges, you think?” Taranis said.
“If he can do this, he is far more dangerous than we suspect,” Belun returned uneasily. “Dear Lady, I hope no one was living there when he did that.”
“Likely a futile hope,” Taranis said. “May all that is good help us now. Come, there is nothing we can learn of Margus here. We are needed elsewhere; let us leave this place.”
On Ardosia rain came and would go, in cycles, as nature reasserted itself.
Was it the rain seers saw huddled over a copper circle?
Or had they seen another kind of ‘rain’?

Outside Mintor on Tor Island’s east coast

Where their skin made contact, a blue heat shimmered, and sparked into miniscule fireworks.
There it was. The proof.
Rayne snatched his hand away. “Clearly not the Medaillon.”
“Not even close. An explanation offered to Taranis on the spur of the moment.”
Saska’s breath whistled in deep sleep, the sound seeming to rise with the rhythmic sound of the waves breaking on the beach. Rayne glanced at her and breathed a sigh of relief.
“She should know this,” Vannis murmured.
“Not yet. Revelation upon disclosure upon astonishment since she was summoned to the Gatherers’ Circle after the Dome was inactive for a thousand years – she is different now from the Sylmer I met in the Great Forest and changing by the minute …”
“As you are.”
“And thus I need deal with it first.”
“Do you know what ‘it’ is?”
Vannis lifted both hands to the Rayne’s face, to draw his fingers down those tense cheeks, and set a-fire trails of blue shimmers, miniature spangles of electric stars.
His hands dropped, and he could not locate the obligatory words. He had to say it. He almost shouted it out on Ardosia … and now he was afraid to.
Rayne’s gaze was bleak. He was accustomed to rejection. His father never accepted him, his mother was a politeness that hurt, his friends were voices in a crowd, and society as a whole rejected him from the outset, if only in his mind.
Society would kill him if it knew what it was he protected since becoming Lord of the Mantle.
Saska would reject him soon. He had hoped Vannis would not add his name to that list. He hoped Taranis would not.
“Kinfire,” he said, his gaze direct.
Vannis’ eyes were sky-blue.
“Valleur blood,” Rayne added, the shutters descending.
The woman on Ardosia in a sense confirmed the likelihood for him. A Valleur with a Valleur blade. It explained almost every twist of his dual reluctance with and affinity for the realms of sorcery.
“Not simply Valleur,” Vannis said, finding his voice. “Valla blood. My blood. You are a Valla. Only we, the ruling House, have trebac.”
The two men engaged via their eyes, and locked in.
“My god, I wait millennia … to be torn all over again.” Vannis lifted his face to the night sky, raised a fist, and shouted out, “Mother, by all your minions, what are you doing to me? What happened to my family?”
Rayne paled, watching him.
“Do you not see? You are descended from Nemis, my only son, my only blood, my heir! Did he return to Valaris, Rayne? A Valleur never forgets; he can recite his lineage back to his first forefather among the Ancient ones! Where do you come from? Tell me!”
Rayne stepped back. “I do not fit in with your plans, is that it, Lord Vallorin? I am not worthy of your blood? If I knew of my past, if I knew I was Valleur - Valla - would I still battle inner demons? I spent every day of my life feeling torn, an urge to know why, how, and wondering always how I instinctively attuned to the realm of magic, and hating it, hating myself at the same time. Belonging nowhere, lost, seeking answers! Somehow, somewhere, your blood came to me, but until kinfire - sorry, trebac - on Ardosia I had no idea. I am human also, and maybe that is why this particular Valla has forgotten!”
By the time he was done, bleakness surrendered to fury.
Saska shifted in her sleep.
“Goddess,” Vannis murmured, rubbing his eyes. “That is not what I meant. Forgive me, for I meant not to disparage or hurt you. I did not mean to reject you. Gods, you are my blood! No matter how it came about, you are a Valla. Kin.”
Vannis lurched forward and gripped Rayne’s shoulders.
“Rayne, I know Mantra with Nemis in her womb left this universe. Their safety, their peaceful new lives is what sustained me, but someone came back, how else to explain you, and the thought of what that was like …” Vannis lowered his head and drew a breath.
Rayne gripped the hands on his shoulders, sparking them anew. “I think I understand.”
He did. Never belonging, hiding from what you were, always unhappy, even when you laughed. Any Valleur who pierced the Rift will have experienced that, more so, and it caused Vannis anguish.
Vannis looked up. “I cannot understand how a member of my House returned escaped my notice. I would have prepared for you.” He stood back, dropping his arms. “An innate arrogance, I am afraid, this belief that a Valla is all-seeing. Well, while it is true a Valleur baby never forgets, you have lived the kind of life that could be repressing those memories.” Vannis was sad. “The moment will come when you recall, as it will for Averroes, and I pray it will not be too traumatic.”
“The relief of knowing will outweigh the trauma, for me, anyway.”
Vannis’ eyes lost the blue, and shot into amber. He laughed with joy. “Rayne, do you know what this means? I am not alone! You are not alone! Even if not a single Valleur survives Ardosia, still the blood lives! I am not the last … oh, gods, I am not the last …”
He heaved a moment, swallowing over that enlightening notion, and came closer, extending his arm.
“You are Valla and I greet you, kinsman.”
Rayne stepped into the Valleur ritual greeting naturally, as if he had been doing it every day of his life; a forearm-to-forearm clasp that brought two people into each other’s space intimately, a symbol of trust and goodwill.
They stood like that, alone in the universe. Blood called to blood with a powerful inner rushing that was physical, undeniable and … welcome. Swift, surprised smiles flitted simultaneously across both faces, and they released.
It was a further confirmation; one rarely experienced, for usually kin knew each other from birth. The rushing stilled at birth, later taken for granted.
It needed only two to make a family, and shared blood made them one.
Belonging had come.

Dead of night.
Vannis was awake. Saska slept nearby, soothed by the ocean’s chanting. He sensed how exhausted she was. Rayne walked the beach in darkness, thought probably chasing thought, as it was for him.
Rayne was of the House of Valla. It was time to quiet his mind and hark to the second sighting granted via the scrying bowl; A Valleur of half-blood, Valla blood, more powerful than Nemisin, will ascend the Throne …
The time for that prophecy, its fulfilment, approached.

The mountains are my bones

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Infinity: Chpt 44 - Vannis

Chapter 44

“Build a structure able to stand the test of time upon a natural energy node, and you will build with magic and essence also. It is a great gift to future generations, but it is also a grand gesture that creates balance in the world. A true geomancer knows where to locate a site that will be sacred forever.”
~ Ancient Oracles

Tor Island

Vannis requested a space to find equanimity in before they rejoined the team and thus Rayne accessed an image in his mind of a clearing much like the one the team waited in.
They had traversed it soon after leaving the Square Pyramid; thus was it accessible to memory.
As they landed, Rayne thought on how simple everything was up to the leaving at the Pyramid. Everything was now different.
He thought also of the Siric and his warnings about cause and effect.
Vannis did not move and they did not speak. Although Rayne desired to demand answers to the blue fire between them on Ardosia, for the Medaillon never reacted in a manner like that, it was clear Vannis seemed unaware of anything, although eyes tracked movement with bemusement.
Rayne retreated into the shadows, but was unable to look away. He wanted to give the man the privacy he needed, yet needed to witness this return. This became the moments and minutes of Vannis’ real return to life, his real freedom. It was something akin to honour - his, and the Vallorin’s.
A sigh of deep, profound release sounded loud in the silence, and Vannis blinked his eyes, licking his lips as if thirsty. He threw his head back to stare up in wonder at the blue sky. The next instant he closed his eyes, to experience, to absorb the warmth of reality, to take in the energy of life.
He was tall and golden, lean and strong, and wore his power casually, as if it were of no consequence, so intrinsic he no longer needed to examine it, and Rayne, watching, wondered what it felt like, that confidence, that certainty. He was also awed the man could recover so fast. He saw Vannis’ nostrils flare at the spicy smells of forest and water and flowers and bird-droppings combined with a hundred other fragrances, smells he and others took for granted. He turned his back then, finding the strength to walk away, to afford the Vallorin the privacy, for the joy of freedom was an individual concept.
Vannis blinked his eyes open and caught the tactful withdrawal, then forgot about Rayne as ears discerned a thousand sounds, both familiar and alien, long ago heard, a long wait for this.
Freedom. Now it would be real.
He could see, hear, taste, smell, touch, and everything was new, miraculous. Yesterday and today blurred, Ardosia receded into the background, time lost its unholy hold over him, he trembled, and silvery tracings made their way over his cheeks. Life was precious; never would he undermine its beauty and majesty again.
Rayne studied the glory of the new-old trees spread like benign sentinels about him, protective friends never to be ignored.
Seeing the Vallorin’s silent pain and joy caused him to thank all gods he never knew that kind of imprisonment. A frisson of fear ran through him. He, too, stared up at the blue heavens, amazed by the hues after the terrible darkness over another world, and wondered why he should be afraid, in this way, now.
It was not fear of the man behind him, that much he knew, but fear nonetheless connected to the golden man. Like with Taranis, there was a bond, but this one was frightening, and did not sit comfortably. Blue fire, dear gods.
He heard the unmistakeable sounds of running footfalls behind him, and saw Vannis, barefoot, racing around the small clearing, deliberately digging his toes into the fresh grass. The pure pleasure of the act transformed the grave features into a beacon of light.
Vannis halted, heaving, and smiled, grinned, laughed, his eyes large and glorious amber, before fading back to Valleur yellow. He doubled over, standing with his hands on his knees to find breath again.
He raised his head to smile at Rayne, and Rayne returned it, a witness to the transformation that freedom wrought.
Vannis said, “Thank you.” Thank you for knowing, for understanding, for compassion, for not judging, for freedom, for witnessing. “I am able to absorb other personalities now. Amazing, isn’t it, what a few minutes of sunshine can do for the soul?”
It had been far more than a few minutes, Rayne mused, but would not say so.
A blink from Vannis. “We will talk, but after we have mobilised the team.” He grinned then.
Taranis’ words. Rayne smiled. Fine. He needed time also. “They are not far. Do you want to walk?”
“I want to draw my sword and behead that monster on the moon,” Vannis muttered, and shrugged. “We will be walking soon enough. Picture where they are … I will follow.”
Rayne nodded, paused. “Yesterday I could not transport through the spaces. Today …”
“Yesterday you believed you could not. Today you know you were in denial.” Vannis lifted a challenging eyebrow.
Rayne stared at him a beat. And vanished.
Snorting a laugh of disbelief that no one heard, Vannis followed.

Rayne led the way into that other clearing, long shadows crossing it served to mark the passage of time, and Averroes and Saska were at him.
No doubt the wait drove them close to insanity.
He shook his head. “Questions later, please.” He focused on Averroes because she was easier to manipulate. “Introduce Vannis.” He watched her intently until she nodded.
From the side-lines he watched the reduced team, noted how subdued they were in sensing the aura of authority. They did not say much, merely reservedly greeting Vannis in turn, and Rayne wondered how Aven would have handled himself; probably with unsinkable aplomb.
Gods, wish you were here, old man; we could use your spirit right now.
His lips thinned. And McSee? Would he have knocked Vannis flat to the ground, telling him to stop fooling with everyone? A smile tugged at his mouth a moment later. That would be interesting, to say the least.
McSee. Our paths will cross again.
“I’m still here,” Saska muttered. “Ignoring me won’t make me go away.”
And was that not an absolute truth?
“What happened on Ardosia?”
Silence. She now knew that world’s name. “Annihilation.”
More silence. “Did you fight?”
“Barely. The enemy was leaving when we arrived.”
She touched his arm. “It won’t happen here.”
He looked at her. “It could.” He moved away. “I cannot talk about it, not yet.” Too much has changed.
She nodded after a moment and they gave attention to the team now with Vannis.
Vannis, Rayne noted, was doing fine. Clear of voice, without judgement. He coped remarkably well, considering his history of disdain for humans.
Saska was thoughtful, watching closely.
The Falcon relayed every word back to the Dome, to whoever was there. The blue bird dipped his head in greeting on being presented, and Vannis grinned. Phet had that impact on others, and everyone would know it soon. Phet, in his unique manner, was a charismatic.
Introductions over, Vannis commented on progress to date, which caused the subdued team to glance at each other warily. It spoke of unnatural power, and no one was wholly comfortable with the idea of a freed Vallorin that possessed it.
Vannis glanced at Rayne with a wry smile, who shrugged.
If she was given instructions via the Falcon, Saska gave no sign, but the next moment she stepped up to Vannis and bowed.
“Lord Vallorin, on behalf of the Immortal Guardians I extend our deepest sympathies. The destruction beyond the Rift caught us unaware, and we beg your forgiveness. If we had known; if we had more time …”
Vannis held a hand aloft to forestall her. “Please, no more. I thank you for your kind words, but I shall not function if I dwell on it. The wholesale murder of my people must be put aside for the time being. Please do not mention it in my presence again.” Vannis gave a twisted, sorrowful smile. “Not until I am ready to face it.”
Saska paled at first as he spoke his reprimand, but swiftly she understood his state of mind, and said, “It will be as you say.”
Vannis beckoned Rayne closer.
Rayne closed the gap. His realisation regarding the Falcon passing information back to the Dome was discomfiting. But what was wrong with that? Saska and Phet were seconded to Valaris for that reason, and the Dome did need to be informed. It was not Taranis listening on the other side; he was on Ardosia.
Gods, he did not want to be responsible - he did not want to be the one to send people to their deaths. Their inaction already caused slaughter; action could achieve worse.
Cristi, he noted, hid behind Samson, as shy again as on first arrival, Kisha and Kylan hung well back, both pale, and Mordan stood stiffly to attention, holding his carved staff in both hands. Averroes forced calm, and Saska was, well, Saska - prepared, willing to act, with caution underlying it. And fire. Senior Guardian on Valaris, she ached to blaze a trail for others to take note of. Perhaps she should be in charge.
Perhaps that would be worse. He would be guilty of sidestepping responsibility.
Rayne’s gaze slid from her, and he faced Vannis. “Lord Vallorin?”
Vannis was familiar with the deferment to authority. “Thank you.” He faced the team as a whole. “I have seen each of you glance to Rayne for confirmation … even you, Guardian. It appears you regard him as your de facto leader. I dare suggest this is the case even with Taranis present.”
He stated it without inflection, and moved on, giving no one an opportunity to deny or ponder his statement. Only Saska reacted, paling, but she did not look at Rayne.
“He has deferred to me at this point, and I am to tell you where we go from here. This meets with your approval, Rayne?” Vannis paused and before Rayne could reply he added, “An evocative name. Why were you given it?”
Confounded by the sudden change in direction, Rayne nonetheless remarked, “Because the Valleur attach great value to a name?” How did he know that?
“Indeed,” Vannis said.
“I believe I was the new life in the desert of my parents’ marriage.” I never knew that before this moment.
“Real meaning; rare for a human. Forgive me for asking out of turn, now is not the time for that. To continue …”
“You have a plan?” Saska interrupted. Who was Rayne that a Guardian millennia old and a Vallorin from a forgotten past were drawn to him, quickly, wholly, and he to them? Why did they not question it?
“A plan? That would be a trifle early, I think,” Vannis said. “The threat to my - our - world is dire, if only a fraction of the terror unleashed on Ardosia is released here.”
“Margus,” Saska murmured. “His name is Margus.”
“Well, fitting. It means …” Vannis glanced at Rayne, who shook his head.
Sunless. Without light, Rayne thought.
“… Lightless, Sunless,” Vannis finished. “A parody name, as if given after something of import occurred. Now. The Guardians will work from the Dome. They have the means to knowledge that could aid us, and there is where their real contribution lies. They are better served in the seeking by remaining off world. Do not expect direct participation at this time. In the meantime, we prepare for confrontation here on the ground. We do all in our power to undermine the Darak Or, delay him, subdue him, until we are ready to stand together and do battle with him and his army.” Vannis paused and looked to each of them, including Rayne. “Do not fool yourselves; Margus will come to this earth, and soon.” Dear Goddess, I must fight a war with these soldiers?
“What can we do?” Mordan asked.
“Reawaken the ancient magic of the land,” Vannis stated. “As you have done here on the island.”
“Ah, the sacred sites,” Mordan said, and gripped his staff almost in ecstasy.
Vannis inclined his head and his eyes travelled the length of the staff. “Mordan, is it? Well, Mordan, your recall of the Oracles is astounding, but I warn you; do not use the magic unless you are certain of the result. Never speak Valleur unless you are aware of the meaning. It is a tricky tongue, and has messages within words, enchantments within casual grammar, and therefore not to be trusted.”
Mordan nodded and was not put out; he was relieved, for now no one would ask him to repeat anything from it.
“And your staff … I see what you have done, but be grateful you never tested it.”
Mordan held it away from him, two-fingered, as if it were a poisonous snake. It should have been comical; it was scary. “What does it do?”
“Nothing in that state,” Vannis said, amusement lurking in his yellow eyes. “Essentially it is a wand. Point it at something, shall we say a mountain, and read the symbols in the correct order - suffice to say, poof, no more mountain.”
He grinned when Mordan dropped it willy-nilly. Cristi bent to retrieve it and handed it to Vannis, who took it and studied it.
“Excellent workmanship. You have worked with your hands in younger days.” Vannis looked up. “I am able to remove the enchantments, if you prefer …”
“I prefer,” Mordan said.
Kisha giggled.
Vannis ran his left hand the length of the oak, and the carved symbols vanished one after the other. He handed it back to Mordan, who accepted it gingerly.
“I cannot wholly undo the magic - that is not in my power - but I have rendered the destruction enchantments void. It is a strong staff, stronger than appearance implies.” Mordan was discomfited, and thus Vannis added, “The Valleur elderly fashion those in their final years. What you did was not wrong, Mordan; use it well.”
There was a short and more relaxed silence. Vannis’ act of goodwill helped put the team at ease.
“To return to the sacred sites. They are situated to tap into the natural magic of the land, and by reawakening them, we return power, something Margus will find difficult to counter, if not impossible. However, given the time constraints, we shall be forced to separate.”
Cristi squeaked dismay.
“What kind of timing are you looking at?” Saska asked.
“What leaps out at you?” Vannis countered.
“Three nights, including tonight, of moonlight available to us, and thus we must make haste,” Vannis said.
“No,” Kisha breathed, holding onto Kylan’s hand.
“And the solstice,” Rayne murmured.
“Right,” Vannis agreed. “We assume the worst.” He focused on a subdued Averroes. “Little one, you and the Herbmaster must go north into the wastelands of the Vall Peninsula. You, because of your birthright, and the Herbmaster, because a healer is respected in any culture. Yes, my dear, I am sending you to the half-Valleur.”
Kisha said, “The Vall? It’s a dead land.”
“It is a wasteland, correct,” Vannis returned, “but the half-Valleur live below.”
“They exist?” Samson asked.
There was a faraway look about Vannis as he replied. “Averroes is here; they must exist still. They hid well; after a time even I could not track them and did not want to, if truth be told. I imposed upon them exile, a half-life for my remnant fighting force.”
“And they are half-Valleur because …?” Saska queried.
“… because they were commanded to mate with humans.”
“Ah, and how did they manage that, seeing as you despised us humans so much?” Kylan asked.
“Use your imagination,” Vannis said. It was a sore point; an unforgivable issue. He inhaled calm, and looked to Averroes. “Find and prepare them. They may not at first believe you. They are ostracized long, but they are faithful. Can you do this?”
As Averroes nodded, Kylan muttered, “It’s a long way; we cannot get there before Moondark.” He was not happy with the notion of abandoning Kisha.
“The Medaillon will assist you into the region, but, Averroes, from there you must follow your instincts. You were born there, and someone took you away when you were young under circumstances neither of us can now guess at, but you will remember. A Valleur baby never forgets; it is in your blood. Trust yourself.” He leaned closer. “When you remember, you will recall the Changeling prophecy. You will know yourself.”
She asked, “And after we find and convince them?”
“The Ruby is there, and once the sites are uncloaked it can be used to travel between them, as well as to see. Search the gem to find us when the time comes. They will know how. Uncloak the Maze. It is a site on the Vall and they know what to do.”
“I want to go with them,” Kisha stated.
“No. You have another task.” Vannis was firm. “It is time to go.”
“Wait, all right?” Kylan said. “Jeez.” He pulled Kisha aside. “Don’t let anything happen to you, please,” he begged from his heart and pulled her into an embrace, which she returned fiercely, fighting tears.
“Be careful,” she whispered.
Averroes meanwhile approached Rayne. “If anything goes wrong, will you tell Aven?”
“You will be fine,” he said, drawing her to one side. “You have an instinct about you, Averroes, a natural confidence …”
“Yes, well, it has been sorely missing all my life.”
“You were in exile,” Rayne responded. “Today your feet are on the right path. You are the Changeling, feel it. You will change hearts, Averroes.” Almost he bent his head to kiss her, but then thought better of it.
She smiled up at him as if she knew. “Courage, sorcerer, hmm?”
He barked a laugh. “Just go … before I whack you one.”
Kylan and Kisha disengaged and Vannis bid Averroes take the Herbmaster’s hand. He laid his own hand upon the clasped ones while holding the Medaillon in the other, and they vanished.
Rayne was thoughtful as Averroes left. He suspected she would not be the same person when they met again.
It was likely he would not be either.
Vannis released the medal. “Next we have to reach out to the clanlands. They innocently get on with life muttering about the contrariness of this summer’s weather. You four northerners are the only choices to affect this task.”
Mordan, Kisha, Samson and Cristi nodded, each beginning to smile. They were going home.
“Warn your people, prepare them, and when you are done, we will come for you and any who choose to meet the Darak Or head-on. Our paths will intersect before long.”
With their agreement, he sent them north also, again employing the Medaillon.

Then it was only Vannis, Rayne, Saska and Phet in the glade.
The little blue Falcon was unblinkingly curious, his black eyes moving from face to face.
Rayne remarked, “Sending the others away won’t speed the uncloaking process.”
“It does, for they will slow us otherwise. They are doing what they are best suited to.”
“We are to stay together?” Saska asked.
Vannis lifted a shoulder. “A Vallorin, a sorcerer, a Guardian and a communicator - how not?”
“What happens to the game now?” she asked next.
“Infinity has no hold,” Rayne said, his voice devoid of feeling. “In fact, she will fight for survival before long. The game is forfeit.”
“Oh, she will come up with something, trust me,” Saska said. “She always does.”
“What is this game?” Vannis asked, and when they told him, he laughed long and hard. “Who would have thought we would be so successful in our illusion! How they must have laughed at her from behind the Chaos screen!” Then he sobered. “This Margus is good.”
“The truth of the illusion was evident on his side,” Saska pointed out.
“No more game, but the plan remains.” Vannis sucked at his teeth. “There is no way Infinity could convince the Arcana to re-enter this realm, yet she convinced them to keep the Rift open … because of me? Did she somehow realise I was alive, and would they have agreed to that kind of trade-off? How could she have known?”
“She didn’t know enough,” Saska offered.
“Mistakes occur when one doesn’t know enough. She knew to use the Ruby, the fourteen sites, enough to force a game of revenge … no matter, it was meant to be. To return to the plan. We unveil the sites, for they are more than magic; they are the balance that is Valaris. Together they restore equilibrium, which is to our advantage. If we achieve one day of balance before Margus attacks, we have the upper hand.”
“Can it be done before Moondark?” Saska questioned.
“Probably not; we do what we can.”
“Unbalance is dangerous,” Rayne said.
Vannis looked at him before replying, “It is not the way with the sites. Each one renewed adds strength only.”
“Paths have a way of twisting out of control.”
“Agreed, thus we keep eyes and ears open to chance opportunity and unheralded mishap. Every so often a twisted path leads to greater success.”
Rayne thought that was misplaced optimism and said so.
“Would you rather we crawl into a hole and give up?” Saska snapped.
Her attack was upon the gulf between them. “By now you know I see a demon behind every bush,” Rayne murmured.
“Right, but being negative …”
Vannis interrupted. “Set the horses free; we go to the Obelisk by easier means.”
Saska shook her head in a long-suffering way and went to unsaddle the patient beasts, saying she needed to do it, needed a few minutes alone. She placed the saddles under a large tree, stacking them one atop the other. Phet perch fussily on them, picking at his wing feathers while she removed the horses’ halters. She grinned at the bird and slapped rumps one after the other to send them on their way.
“She’s feisty,” Vannis murmured.
Rayne glanced at her. “Very.”
“It will be hard to build a relationship during a state of war. Erect your defences. It will be easier on both of you.” Again Vannis was filled with challenge. He raised his voice. “To the Obelisk!”