“… to be all that you can be …”
~ The first enigma
When Vannis found the Centuar in a meadow a fair distance from the Palace, they were all he found there.
“I heard there were survivors,” he frowned, standing before Belun.
The Centuar had transformed into humanoid guise. “They left.” He shrugged. “There’s nothing here; I would have left also.”
An encompassing cloud of black smoke hung in its atmosphere as once proud cities, buildings and fertile lands burned relentlessly. The Rift was open with no sentries to guard it. The Chaos illusion was gone, banished.
Vannis nodded. “Nothing left.”
Ardosia was utterly deserted; not a whole building, never mind one, lone soul. A few trees, minimal animal life, seed hiding deep under the embers, yes, but no Valleur anywhere.
He stumbled to an outcrop of rock and grass, sat there, head hanging. “Nothing left.”
Belun watched him and understood grief and helplessness had overtaken the man. Drawing breath, he gestured to his companions and they retreated.
Keeping him in sight, they gifted him the space to find a way forward.
Taranis came next. “What happened?”
“We told them to flee wherever we found them. Some did.” Belun lifted a massive shoulder in resignation. “Most tried to defend and therefore died. Before the Vallorin came, there were mostly children here …”
Vannis lifted his head and stared across the space.
“Did you see a blond girl?” Taranis asked.
“They are all fair, girls, boys … adults. That’s partly why the Valleur are known as the Golden, right?”
“But there were girls?” Taranis insisted.
Belun waited a beat. “What’s this about?”
“Rayne’s peace of mind,” Vannis called out.
“What is he on about?” Belun demanded of Taranis.
“I will explain later.”
Vannis moved with fluid grace across the grass to stand alongside them. “Did you hear names?”
“They spoke Valleur. I wouldn’t know a name from a word,” Belun replied.
Vannis was about to question further, when his head swivelled in the direction of the distant Palace, its flames visible even amid the fires of a planet burning. “Rayne,” he breathed … and vanished.
Taranis gaped stricken at the space Vannis vacated and disappeared also.
“Well,” Belun said loudly, and stayed put.
Rayne was outside.
Behind him the Palace roared and writhed in flame. Hot wind scorched all oxygen from the air.
It was over. So much for joining the battle for Ardosia.
Grey eyes stared up for a moment, but it was more a reflex than an actual stare. He felt displaced and the act of looking up was a ploy to engage his mind. There could be no subterfuge, not now.
This was not the Mantle’s secret hideout; this was a planet on fire. He was not Lord of the Mantle here, decisive, argumentative, and aggressive; he was at a crossroads, and the choice of path was his alone.
He failed a little girl, when one of the basic tenets of sorcery included the Sight - employing visions. He should have trusted earlier and acted then.
Dare he now fail the children of Farinwood? He had seen them; there was no doubt surrounding their ultimate fate if they were ignored longer.
The stage was set for honest examination of not only the future, but of who and what he was. Change was upon them, and this time the threat was direct. Every Valarian would soon grapple with similar issues in private, thus he was not unique, but he possessed power that could potentially defend Valaris against ruin.
A stage, yes, but this certainly was not the place for soul-searching. This, everything around him, was direct evidence of what could happen to Valaris if he surrendered now over a girl in a dream.
It was time to decide. No soul-searching. Make a choice.
Why, then, was he fighting it?
Because then he would belong and walls would shatter.
Who was he?
The word, the concept, whispered into his mind. He is your soul, Lifegiver, but that chapter is far from this day. Much pain and sorrow lies between. Or words to that effect from the being in the Well.
The dark-haired man paired with soul, Heart’s Desire … wholeness.
He was afraid of that.
Not wholeness - he sought that every minute of every day - but of a man who would bestow it upon him.
However, it was a chapter far removed, and his choice this day determined the path.
He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword.
The dark man’s eyes travelled over his face.
“Do you know where the most sacred space of all is? It is not the place where the Throne was conceived or where it is now. It is not the spaces between worlds, it is not the realms of bliss or time, and it is not the romance of history, the legends of better times. It is not the house of a deity, the stones of a god or goddess, or the whispers of the stones of antiquity. It is not the Lifesource or any Valleur site, and it is not in the beauty of a new day. It is here.”
He placed his hand over his heart.
“And it is there.”
He placed his other hand over his companion’s heart.
“Deny this sanctum, my brother, and you deny life.” He leaned forward, his hands dropping slowly away. “Sacred space, my brother, or we are the walking dead.”
Rayne gasped and surged forward as if pulled, and hyperventilated.
Above all else, all else, he desired to hear those words said to him in the flesh.
He straightened. Taranis, Vannis, Saska and Averroes were the personalities of the present, and each meant something to him, bonds and connections still to be revealed, but the man who explained the reality of sacred space, he was the real future. To get there, he needed his power. To get there sane he needed learn from this failure.
Never ignore a vision again.
Rayne set his feet on a path he would not turn from, not even when everything changed again and again … and again.
His defences would be repeatedly assaulted in the future, and they would even crumble on occasion, but they would never entirely go away, not even after everything had changed. He needed defences for the dark man; he understood that in this place of burning.
If he could stand beyond himself in that moment to view where he was objectively, he would see he was at the proverbial fork in the road and he would travel both, tearing himself apart.
In the future he would be someone else entirely. It would be the only way to restore the tearing that lay ahead.
When he focused on the two men nearby, he discovered Vannis staring at him with an enigmatic expression, one arm flung out to block Taranis moving forward.
“Her name is Varelie and she was taken to safety by an Elder,” he called out.
Taranis seemed to slump and Vannis’ arm dropped away. The golden man stepped forward and ambled closer with that strange expression until he came to rest directly before Rayne.
“You had a vision. It is a unique signature; I know it well.”
Rayne smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. He reached out and tapped Vannis’ chest. “The Medaillon has lost its unholy hold on me.”
Vannis leaned closer to whisper, “What is it you seek, Valarian?”
Briefly Rayne closed his eyed, before saying, “Longevity.”
Rayne shrugged and moved to walk away, but Vannis caught his arm.
“For whom?” he asked.
A moment of absolute stillness followed, before Rayne murmured, “You will be gone when that time arrives, Vannis, and I shall mourn your passing eternally, but you will remain in the most sacred space of all and you will not be forgotten. The rest is of no matter to you. Know you will be missed.”
Vannis shook his arm. “Who, Rayne?”
“I do not know his name.”
Vannis let him go, ice in his veins. “What is sacred space?”
Rayne smiled and this time it did reach his eyes. He tapped Vannis chest again. “The most sacred space in every universe.”
“Indeed. It is well you learn that now; it could map your future better than my lack of understanding did.” Vannis pulled the Medaillon free of his ragged tunic. “This, however, you cannot be free of, not until you have been burned by it.”
He reached out with his other hand and gripped Rayne’s wrist, in the same motion shoving Rayne’s palm against the Medaillon.
Electricity shuddered through their arms, blue and bright.
They jerked apart to stare at their hands. The Medaillon thudded against Vannis’ chest.
“You are hurting him!” Taranis shouted. Until that moment he remained on the side-lines, largely to gather impressions of Vannis as he interacted with Rayne, but mostly to gauge Rayne.
“That was not the Medaillon,” Rayne whispered, his voice hoarse. He showed his palm. There was no mark of burning.
“He does not know that,” Vannis returned as quietly. Aloud he said, “The Maghdim Medaillon, Taranis. Now that you have seen Rayne can no longer touch it, perhaps the Guardians will afford him the trust he deserves. Yes, he can travel through the spaces, him, a dumb Valarian, and, yes, he will not stand aside from battle and he can do greater magic than a Valarian sorcerer ought to, but now you know it is Rayne achieving these wonders, not a pretty coin and not upon my instigation.”
Taranis, staring at Rayne rubbing his wrist, said, “If it is Rayne’s doing, the Guardians will find it harder to trust him.”
Vannis swore. “You are all fools.” He reached out and took Rayne’s arm, twisting his fingers into the fabric of his tunic. “Come. Our enemy is on Valaris’ moon; we can stop him before he …”
“No!” Taranis shouted. “We cannot best him in that environment, particularly not when his soltakin are flushed with success. Vannis, it is death for all of us and who then defends Valaris against them?”
Vannis still had hold of Rayne. “And what can you do to change it for Valaris, Guardian?”
“The Siric work on an enchantment to meld soltakin to soulless bodies,” Taranis bit out. He pointed a shaking finger. “It means we will have the tools to kill these wraiths. But we need time.”
Rayne’s free hand lifted to pull Vannis’ away from his arm, but hovered over those fingers instead. He frowned, unwilling to touch. Vannis had that strange look in his eyes again. Rayne’s hand dropped away; every expression cleared from his face.
“Taranis is right.”
Vannis released his hold. “You are saying we need create time for the Guardians to come forth with a workable plan. How do we do that?”
“The sacred sites,” Rayne murmured.
Vannis inclined his head. “Balance. Indeed. Fine. We will do it your way … for now.”
Taranis frowned at the two men. “I have the distinct feeling you are not telling me something … but no matter. We have priorities. I suggest you return to Valaris to the team, mobilise them as best you see fit.” He focused on Rayne as he said the latter.
“Are you asking me to lead?”
Taranis leaned in to murmur in his ear. “Rayne, you have been leading since the beginning.” He moved back. “It is in your hands.”
Rayne passed a hand over his face. Leading since the beginning. Right. He had known that. “And you? What will you do?”
“Dome. Preparation. Strategy.” Taranis watched Rayne. “I choose to trust you, but you must trust yourself also.” He flicked a glance at Vannis. “And you. I believe you will fight hard for Valaris - your world, not so?”
Vannis’ eyes darkened. “My world, yes.”
Taranis nodded. “There is one final act remaining to achieve here.”
“Oh?” The word was drawn from Vannis’ mouth as a warning to tread carefully.
“Rain.” Rayne frowned and Taranis grinned at him as a boy with a prank in mind would. “I mean actual rain, the wet stuff.”
Rayne answered that grin with one of his own, and some of the weight lifted from him. “Ah. Yes, others have played that trick.” He laughed and glanced at Vannis.
Vannis watched the Guardian with another enigmatic expression. “You aim to bring rain to Ardosia?”
“To put the fires out, yes. To gift the survivors somewhere to return to, should they so choose.”
“You can do this?”
“The Centuar can.”
Vannis bowed. “The Valleur thank you. I thank you.” He straightened. “You are a good man, Taranis Agripson.”
“I muddle along. Go now; it will take us a fair few hours to prepare this feat.”
“We need watch the skies elsewhere.” Rayne stepped closer to Vannis. “Round two, Vannis. Let us leave this place.”