Know your place, children of the universe. This does not mean you stand in the shadows without contributing to the grand design; it means know yourself and what it is you are able to contribute …
~ Ancient Oracles
The Square Pyramid
“I will not be joining you,” Aven announced. “I have decided to remain here.”
“No, you cannot!” Averroes wailed.
“Averroes, sweet girl, this is where I should be. I feel it in my old bones, and I have felt it since I stepped in here. Here is a history of an incredible race, and I cannot turn away. Please, my dear, understand. All my life I have been waiting for the one factor that would mean my life has been a valued one. I thought I found it in you, and I was right. We made this journey together and now, here, I find there is more. In entering these precincts, I have discovered a self that needs to understand this. And then let it be known. I think, no, I know the Valleur deserve this. Please understand.”
She was stricken. “Then I will stay also.”
“You have a destiny, one in which I play no part, as it should be. You are young. Averroes, and that youth shouldn’t be tied to an old man who will immerse himself in this to the exclusion of all else.”
“That’s what I’m worried about! Aven, you will not eat enough, get little sleep …”
“Have no fear, my angel. I shall eat when my tummy demands and sleep when I cannot stay awake. There’s an entire island of bounty outside those beautiful doors; I need only walk over to the nearest tree, the closest stream. Averroes, this makes me truly happy. You do not need me anymore and neither does my boy Rayne. I remain to tell the truth; we need the truth, for it, ultimately, sets us free.”
Bowing her head in acceptance - like to Rayne she knew how stubborn he was - Averroes whispered, “Will I see you again?”
“Come here, sweetheart,” and he opened his arms to her, enfolded her, tears threatening to spill over.
How he loved this little waif, how far she had come, his lovely Averroes. She sobbed quietly onto his shoulder.
One by one the others left the Pyramid, speaking farewells. No one knew how or even if they would meet again, but each knew he or she had to find his or her place in the grand scheme, as Aven evidently had.
He was the lucky one.
Only Taranis and Rayne remained, with Averroes clinging to Aven. The huge interior appeared cavernous now, but it was benign, the light soft, the air comfortable.
Aven delayed his announcement until the last minute, when everyone was ready to leave, knowing they could not afford to stay longer to change his mind. Goodbyes would be quickly spoken once they realised how serious and committed he was, and thus it proved. He was committed, and looking forward to the solitude.
Now, gently setting Averroes away, he cupped her face, eyes travelling over wild unbound hair, which was becoming, over smooth skin, healthy, dark amber eyes, filled with renewed purpose … yes, despite the trauma and problems, this adventure was good for her. It brought her from her shell and, as Rayne had remarked, she was stronger and doing fine. He need not worry too much.
“Go out there and beat Infinity at her game,” he said to her. “And if the Darak Or comes, face him with all your considerable courage. You are the Changeling. You will find new ways and face dangers with your head held high. And when you are done, come and tell me about it. Go, Averroes, and know that I love you.”
“And I love you.” She smiled and leaned forward to kiss the old man on his pate, before turning and walking away through the doors.
Aven watched her go. He had not expected it to hurt quite as much as it did. He turned swiftly to Taranis. “My lord Taranis, this may not be part of Infinity’s plan, and it may not even be a Valleur plan, yet I believe, in my heart, this is where I am meant to be.”
“There is no need to say more, my friend. You are right and you are a fortunate man to recognise with certainty where you are most needed. When our world returns to normal, and it will, I foresee students coming to learn here, to assist you in spreading the truth.” Taranis smiled and Aven was gratified. “I shall leave you now …” He placed his hands on the old man’s shoulders. “Be thrice blessed, my friend, and fare you well.” Taranis glanced encouragingly at Rayne as he left.
Rayne and his mentor stared at each other for long moments, both recalling the anger of the previous morning. Neither wanted to part without settling it and neither knew how to fix it. The moments passed.
Finally Rayne ran his hands through his fair hair. “I’m sorry; I lost my temper.”
Aven shook his head. “Not necessary, dear boy. We know each other too well for that. We would have spent our days apologising for every temperamental moment.”
“You were right, of course, about Saska and Averroes. I give you my …”
“I don’t want your word,” Aven forestalled. “You were right also. I must not interfere, for you are capable of making your choices, even my Averroes. And who am I, a confirmed bachelor, to judge matters of the heart?”
They watched each other in the ensuing silence, loathe to part. They had long been an integral part of each other’s lives, and shared a depth of knowledge and experience few on present-day Valaris could envision, and shared a bond that went deeper than that of blood.
They had at last reached a point where they could admit it and could interact without fighting - most of the time - and now they were to part.
It hurt more than Averroes leaving did. She was meant to find her own path; Rayne left on his … and came back.
“I am afraid, Aven. All my life I have been denying these powers and you remonstrated with me, forced me to study, to practise, to accept, not out of kindness, but because you knew what I could be … and how right you were, I can finally admit it, although, Aaru knows, I hated you for it then. I thank you for your patience, and today know hate was misplaced, but you already know that. And now, Aven? Now there is more; I feel it. I know I have abilities never taught me, tricks I have not read in a book, and I am uncertain whether it is good or … not. I doubt myself, which was never the case in the past. Bluntly? I am not sure I should rejoin the team.”
“Rayne, listen to me. In all the years of your training, I withheld one factor, I was forced to, given how we … well, that is the past. My boy, you did not need training, not even when you were young. You already knew.”
“It was due to your stubborn unwillingness that I forced training upon you, don’t you see? I hoped it would unlock your natural abilities, it was clearly present, and I hoped to remove those incredible and strong barriers you had even as a child. You were a sorcerer before you were born, Rayne, and unknowingly you renounced it before I came along … that I understood only much later.”
“Old man …”
“Do not growl at me,” Aven said, and grew animated. “You would have reached this point without me, for you are a born sorcerer! Accept what you are! Stop struggling! I have watched you achieve results without using your hands, without closing your eyes for concentration, without exertion, and these are talents I was never able to teach you, for I cannot manage them myself. Your power comes naturally when you need it.”
“Fine, say I accept that. Doubt, Aven? The line is thin between good and evil; what if I harm our friends? Worse, harm innocent people? What if I desire power too much, and cannot stop?”
“If you have to ask that, then you are on the right road. You question the health of your soul - do not. There is naught but good in there. Yes, admittedly, you may hurt where you do not want to, but not because you are an evil man; because, in extremes, you will find your choices severely limited. A few sacrifice their lives for the many; it happens in all battles, and you are going out there to fight a war. You are afraid, yes, and I would be more worried if you weren’t. Trust your instincts.”
Rayne’s head bowed while Aven spoke; he raised it, eyes glittering. “How can you be sure?”
“I trust my instincts.”
“Dare I trust mine? When I touch the Medaillon, I see the Vallorin. On the one hand I want to invade his space and demand answers - what prophecy, who am I, how exactly am I needed … a host. On the other hand …” Rayne threaded a hand through his hair. “… I feel as if I know him. Is that because I recognise his power, his ambivalence, or is it more? Where is instinct, I ask?”
Aven approached and prodded at Rayne’s chest. “Here. Trust that.”
Rayne laid a hand over Aven’s and forced a laugh. “I am going to miss you, old man.”
“I never thought I would hear you say that - thank you. Now. Say goodbye, and know my thoughts and prayers are with you. We shall talk again, I think, but you will be the teacher then. In a manner of speaking you are a changeling also; I look forward to seeing you become whole at last.”
They gripped hands, and then clasped each other tight. “I love you, father-of-my-heart.”
“Ah, my boy! How you gladden this old soul of mine! Now, trust in yourself, hear?”
Rayne nodded and turned away.
“Rayne? One more issue …”
“Yes?” Without turning around, the word came. He could no longer trust the check on his emotions.
“Release the Vallorin. He is a friend.”
Rayne swung back in shock, emotions forgotten. “What did you say?”
“You heard. And you admit you have seen. Valaris needs him.” Aven paused and added, “You need him.”
Rayne’s expression shuttered.
“He may be angry and vengeful, but is inherently a good man. Ambivalence is good, Rayne; as you have as Mantle leader, thus will he think before acting, and with Valaris in danger, he cannot but fight on our side. This is his world. Do it soon.”
“Gods, old man …”
“You must go; the sun climbs. Fare you well, my boy.” Aven deliberately showed his back. He called a globe to him and touched it, setting a scene in motion.
Rayne was taken aback by the finality. When Aven continued ignoring him, he strode out. He did not need the Vallorin. He did not need Aven either.
When Rayne had gone, Aven stared at the empty doorway. “I love you, son. Be all that you can be.”
Outside, in sun-dappled light, Averroes waited.
Something in her expression arrested him. “You heard.”
She nodded. “He’s right. Trust yourself.”
Rayne grimaced. He was about to walk on past her - he could hear hoof beats, the others approached with the horses - when her stillness again halted him. “Why do we not remember, Averroes?”
She smiled sadly. “Mine has to be trauma. Something happened and self-preservation at the time locked it away. Yours, I think, has much to do with your power. Maybe you forced yourself to forget.”
It resonated far too much. “What have I forgotten?”
“Only you can answer that.”
“I think you have to.”
“For Valaris?” It irritated him to live with this kind of expectation.
“That is the grand ideal, Rayne, and most of the time it is hard to grasp, hard to put into perspective. Know who you are, for you.” She offered another smile. “For Taranis. And Vannis.” She grinned then. “You want that I explain that?” She waved a hand in the air as if warding off amusement. “Even the blind would see there is a connection between you and Taranis. Perhaps one of blood …”
She shrugged. “You have grey eyes and so does Taranis. An outsider would point it out as a sign, seeing similarities. We see the differences, unfortunately, and therefore cannot make the connection.”
“Maybe. There’s still a mighty connection, however.”
And that was the truth. From the moment of meeting. “And Vannis?”
This time she allowed amusement to take over. “Don’t know yet … have to see you together first.”
He grinned. “And we should free him so you can achieve this togetherness?”
She cocked her head to one side. “We should free him, period.”
He looked up through leaves and branches to the blue sky overhead, as if searching for inspiration. “Then let us do so. Now.”
A hiss of surprised breath. “We do it; we earn the distrust of the entire team.”
Rayne bent his gaze on her. “Does not Vannis’ opinion matter more?”
Her expression was stricken. “For me it does! But you? You will need them, Rayne. You cannot save Valaris alone.” She paced forward and looked up into his face. “You cannot save the girl alone.” She laid hold of his arms and shook him. “She is the daughter of Vallorins. She is the mother of the future, Rayne, and probably more important than Vannis is …”
“How do you know this?”
“I wish I could answer that!”
“So,” and he bent his face close to hers, “we let Vannis rot?”
She stepped away, her expression closing over. “I hate myself for saying this, but I think something huge has to happen to change the dynamics, something no one can deny we need Vannis for.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “All gods forgive me, for it means someone will die first.”
“Speak of those devils, Averroes, and it will come to pass.”
Her eyes snapped open. She glared at him. “It would be easy to hate you. You can be cold.”
She turned on her heel and walked away.
Llettynn wandered into the space before the Pyramid’s doors alone, leading two mounts.
“I need talk to you,” he said without preamble and held the reins of Rayne’s horse to him.
Swirling his tongue over his teeth, Rayne took them and vaulted into the saddle. And sat there, pointedly waiting for the Siric to do the same.
Llettynn loosed a mirthless grin and hopped nimbly up. Turning his mount’s head, he said, “Taranis will give only a few minutes … as long as it takes for Averroes to reach the rest of the team.”
“Then I suggest you don’t waste time.”
“As you say. I inadvertently probed Cristi earlier …” Llettynn swore under his breath. “I do not know how I allowed my control to slip, unless it has something to do with the renewal of ancient power here …”
“Llettynn, say what you want to say.”
“You dare not leave Valaris on a rescue mission unless you are beyond all doubt.”
Rayne said nothing.
The Siric shrugged. “I am aware how that sounds. It means I credit you with the ability to travel the spaces and it means also I credit your dreams about a girl on another world. I do; I believe you can achieve far more than an upbringing on this backward world would have people think possible … even the Guardians. You remain an enigma, and yet I shall not deny what I sense about you. But I have to warn you, Rayne of the Mantle, that every action heralds reaction, and that means you have to be sure beyond all doubt.”
“What of instinct, then?”
“That applies only when you know yourself, when you trust that instinct is also certainty.”
Again Rayne said nothing.
“Man, you are hard to read,” Llettynn muttered. He swerved closer and gripped Rayne’s upper arm. “I sense great depths when I touch you like this …” Rayne pulled his arm free. “… when you allow it, of course. You, of everyone on this team, suffer the most doubt, and conversely I suggest it means you are also the only one who should trust his instincts.”
“Gods, Siric, it makes no sense.”
“Gods, is it?” Llettynn remarked. “Hurry it up, will you? Whatever you mask inside, let it loose, for Valaris needs defending.”
“You would advocate letting loose?” Rayne asked in an unbelieving tone.
A smile. “The Siric leader, ever the cautious one? True, usually, but right now I choose to follow my instincts. Release who you really are, but be ever aware of cause and effect. And remember this; Valaris deserves your sword arm before any other.”
“Is Taranis a worthy judge of a sword arm?”
“I seem to lay too much open in your presence. Yes, he is worthy. Taranis is a master with that sword of his. A humble man, though.” Llettynn lifted his head in a listening attitude. “Our time is up.” He looked at Rayne, his expression unreadable. “I did not require Taranis’ view of your abilities to know you could best even the greatest darkling swordsman; it is in how you move, think and guard yourself in a crowd.” He prodded his mount forward as the rest of the team came at them, throwing a grin over his shoulder. “I would love to see you in action.”
Rayne followed more slowly. Aven, Averroes and now Llettynn. Something was about to change … spectacularly.