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 :)
To be all that you can be
~ The first truth
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.
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.