Turns out, when I today uploaded the manuscript to KDP, that the lowest price I’m allowed to offer this epic for is $2.99 (according to Amazon). Of course, 17 books for $2.99 is still an absolute steal, but apologies for what amounts to misinformation until this point. I guess the size of the read has something to do with it (delivery cost, and so forth). So, here’s the updated graphic 🙂
Chapter 10: The Nemisin Star
Destiny stalks the twins
Margus and Torrullin are the two faces of a coin. No matter how opposite they are, they remain equal, except Margus has no qualms in using Torrullin’s twin sons against him; an agenda he knows causes his enemy suffering. To negate their destiny, desperately seeking release from their symbiosis, Tymall and Tristamil must fight until only one remains standing.
The Forbidden Zone is behind them; the wars of attrition return to Valaris. In a golden city waits a temple raised from a vision, and one night in every year a star shines through the aperture overhead. This is a connection to the world of Nemisin, the first homeworld. In this place where stars meet Torrullin must choose life and death for his sons. The scythe, however, forever silences someone dear to him; is he paying for his choice in the temple?
As the universe searches for the Light in all its brilliance, seeking peace, Torrullin begins to see himself as a prince among demons and therefore decides to change the rules. Death, after all, is not an end.
Too many lives have been lost.
Too many hearts have been broken.
Sometimes the only way to find peace is to lose oneself.
Never can another truly know your soul. You could name this as a defence against the unscrupulous, but the real truth is this, no one will know your true self.
THE KEEP WAS silent – particularly after Menllik – but not empty. The same ranks of folk there in support before the transport to the city was in place, but their silence now possessed an eerie quality. Torrullin halted mid-stride. Everyone looked at him strangely, significantly, and he knew it had nothing to do with his bloodied appearance. He noticed Skye appearing almost catatonic near the far wall.
“Where?” He asked it of the kitchen cook rolling her eyes at him.
She pointed one finger up, shielding her hand with her body. He lifted his gaze upward and faded into the shadows. His people had not revealed his arrival; hopefully that translated as Margus remaining ignorant of it. He swiftly and silently removed his boots. Holding his sword tight against his thigh, he padded up the courtyard stairs.
Nobody moved or spoke and for that he was grateful. It was more than fear that paralysed them, as it was more than support; they were entranced into silence, and that was to his advantage, more than Margus trusted it was to his.
He entered the western stairwell, the one adjacent the Dragon doors. Those doors reached the full height of the Keep so that the balcony wrapped three sides internally, and the doors were shut, with all three massive bolts dropped into place, the first time ever. Margus wanted to prevent anyone from entering and everyone at the Keep from leaving. It was about control.
Torrullin paused on the stairs inside the well to push matted hair from his face and tuck loose strands behind his ears. The battle in the city had been hard fought and he suffered the results.
What trickery was in place here to trap him? It had to do with Saska, of that he was certain, but how was she positioned to force his hand in this game? He should have smote Margus in Linir, and banished Tymall.
How had Margus breached the magic of the valley?
A long time ago he asked the sentience of the resident magic to grant him a boon, to accept the presence of one son despite his evil intentions. It was granted and this night Tymall used that to enter, bringing with him a greater evil. There upon the stairs it occurred to Torrullin that Torrke knew the identity of the evil son a long time ago and, had he desired to know, all he needed do was ask. He never asked and had, by inaction and cowardice, brought this new and old hell revisited on the same people.
The game changed tonight.
He padded up and thanked all gods the door at the top was ajar. Listening again, he stepped into the deep shadow of the wall. There he hunkered and meticulously scrutinised the battlement walk ahead. The starlight was too dim to shed illumination, but deeper shadows and forms would be visible if one looked carefully enough.
Nothing, and not a sound.
He crept forward, keeping low, moving in a crouch until he attained the southern well. The door was closed, and he halted to watch and listen.
Near the eastern stairwell.
He shivered from the sweat of recent labours cooling in the cold night air, and forced calm. If he moved closer, he would be seen and would lose the element of surprise. The shivering ceased and his hammering heart beat back into an even rhythm. Nothing would be gained from rushing in. He chose to wait them out. Sometime someone would say something or become impatient, make a mistake or move in such a way that action became necessity.
With infinite care, he unbuckled his scabbard and with equal caution laid it away from him to prevent inadvertent noise. Slowly he withdrew his sword, keeping the telling movements from line of sight behind the well. The keenest ear would hear nothing. Holding the blade in his left hand, he slid into the recess the closed door formed and waited there with an unwavering gaze. Why had Quilla, his all-seeing mentor, not warned him?
It had been a long night and that after days of tension and sleeplessness, which followed months of world hopping and weeks of ducking on Luvanor. He was beaten, bruised, cut, and every nerve screamed for relief. Weary, he stood with unusual calm and patience.
He waited. And did not wait long.
In the back of his mind he must have wagered on Tymall’s inability to remain still for long, for it was Tymall’s voice that came to him faintly after a time. Although whispered, the words were clear in the quiet, as was the impatient tone.
“He’s not coming, Margus.”
A soft hiss was Tymall’s reply. Torrullin compressed his lips. Now he knew with certainty they were both on the battlements and that he was, in fact, expected. The Dinor were a diversion and they waited upon him to see through the ruse. Thank god for Vannis, quicker to realisation than he was.
A soft groan, quickly muffled, and Torrullin went cold. Taranis.
He wondered in passing where his father was, but had not remotely entertained the thought that Taranis would be snared. His father could be real slippery and he would have thought him engaged in a rescue operation somewhere nearby, or even in Menllik despite saying he would stay away.
Taranis was badly hurt. He dared not probe, but he sensed life flickering, not life aflame. His father probably deliberately put himself in harm’s way to aid Saska. He could not afford inaction much longer.
Was Saska there? She was the one Tymall came for, not Taranis. Tymall hated his stepmother with unreasonable passion. Taranis was simply a bonus. To have Saska in his power would give him no little pleasure.
Torrullin gritted his teeth. This was his son, but this night he could cheerfully snuff his life. There had to be a way to negate his baleful influence permanently without harm coming to Tristamil, but now was not the time to ponder options.
He renewed concentration. How unnerving silence could be.
Tymall spat, feeling it, and leaned over the wall to stare into the silent crowded courtyard. His form was unmistakable. Margus hissed again, but Tymall paid him no heed.
Then Margus made a mistake. “If you do not control yourself, little snake, I shall not permit you your sport with the delectable Saska. I am a man of my word, believe me.”
Blood rushed through Torrullin. Nearly he made the grave error of charging out in challenge. Heat turned to ice a moment later.
Son, you would take my wife? Intention is as bad as the act. Margus is right; you are a little snake. A poisonous, vicious, slippery critter that deserves to be squashed underfoot. I shall quash you somehow and your brother will survive it. I promise you this, and I too am a man of my word.
Tymall did not respond to Margus’ threat, but he retreated.
The Darak Or has learned a thing or two, Torrullin mused, including how to hold sorcerers. He was now more than the kernel of waiting awareness within Tymall all those years; somehow he had attained freedom that permitted travel, if only in the etheric. That was where the knowledge lay if one knew how to look and see and take unto oneself. Margus was no longer the arcane sorcerer he was twenty-six years ago; he was more, and he hopes I make the mistake of equating him with what he was then.
Wrong, Darak Or. I know you.
HE HELD THEM in bonds of corrosive vulci, pliable strands of twisted metal that burned when applied and sealed. Entirely a tool of the kinless, it therefore caused particular pain when employed upon disciples of the Light. Only darak enchanters could call upon it and Margus was such a one; neither Saska nor Taranis had hope of undoing the binding, and they had tried. Their wrists and necks were charred and raw with weeping welts where they strained against their bindings; they together and separately attempted to escape by using magic, but that agony proved the greater. Tethered to the apertures in the stairwell, there was enough free play for them to sit or stand, helpless, weaponless.
Margus placed an enchantment of silence upon the Keep and that included the stone of Torrullin’s hard and loving labour, not that Saska or Taranis were aware of the distinction. Nobody could help them. It felt as if the whole universe had fallen silent, destitute before this Darak Or.
Like to Margus, they waited on Torrullin, and hoped he would stay away. This Darak Or was not the one of the past. He was cleverer, more powerful, more heartless, and bent on revenge. And they hoped conversely Torrullin would come, to end their suffering.
Margus was extraordinarily patient. He waited without movement and expression, as if he had not a care in the world. The only time he displayed ire was when Tymall chafed. Tymall might doubt that his father would appear, but he was convinced, and waited.
Saska found, painstakingly, a seated position that allowed her to rest without too much pain, as long as she remained dead still and breathed shallow. She was numb from sitting motionless, but was prepared to endure it rather than give the creature the satisfaction of seeing her discomfort. The creature being Tymall. Gods, she thought, I had not known I have it in me to hate this much. I hate you, I hate you.
She reflected on the complacency that got her and Taranis ensnared.
TORRULLIN’S STUDY WAS the one place entirely his and she felt closer to him there, and thus, after Torrullin and Tristamil left for Menllik, she wandered in.
There were no feminine touches and there was no opulence. The chamber was simplicity that reflected his internal search for peace. Plain dark carpets, a large square desk, and comfortable easy chairs in dark fabric; the simple and practical counter where he kept a few bottles of wine and spirit, but never drank much of. Clean lines. The décor would be overly masculine had it not been for his books, and they said much about the man.
He was clever, always in search of new knowledge and not merely in the realms of magic. Books on philosophy, history, ancient religious treatises, nature tomes from varied worlds, mathematics, art, music, building manuals, too many to mention, formed an eclectic collection.
Saska wandered the shelves, reading a title here and there, amazed by the variety. There were new ones; her absence and the recent mission had not hampered his thirst for knowledge. In the far corner near the bottom, she discovered a bulky leather-bound book and thought at first it was a volume of the Oracles, but the Oracles were not displayed in plain sight, and she was intrigued.
She hefted it to his desk; it was a book of prophesies. That would be because of the mission to Pendulim before the twins were born, when he spoke long to a charmsmith who dealt in foretelling. This was a large collection and not one Valleur. The predictions were from races and worlds far-flung and near, known, and some she had never heard of. The universe was massive, eternal, expanding, a fair excuse for not knowing everyone in it, but not so Torrullin. He was weary of surprises, particularly of prophecies that tended to leap out at him. There were literally thousands. Engrossed, she did not hear Taranis enter.
“I see you found that book.” His voice, lightly amused, startled her. “He pours over it much as you are now.”
Relaxing, she smiled. “Interesting reading.”
“Indeed. Note how the tellings with the word One have been circled, and anything that smacks of twins, Dragon, Golden, etcetera.”
“I saw that. Some have been crossed out – fulfilled or nonsense?”
“Both, I would think,” Taranis shrugged. “There is trouble in Menllik, the western skyline is aflame.” She straightened. “No, Saska. He will send …”
“… for the Lady, yes, I know.”
“I am sorry.” She waved her hand dismissively and Taranis continued in a different vein. “Belun, Gren and the Dragons have entered the city, as have the majority of the Valleur in the valley. I heard from Kismet that Vannis showed here briefly, sized matters up and left again. I assume he is there.”
“Torrullin will have my head; he told me specifically to stay away. And I stupidly agreed.”
“You follow his orders to the letter now?”
“That’s unfair. You did not see how he was before he left.”
“Oh, I saw him,” Saska muttered. “I saw him with Cat.”
Taranis stilled. “Um, it’s not …”
“… what I think? How so, Taranis?” She rounded the desk in quick steps. “You knew?”
Taranis inhaled. The minefield was not his.
“You did know. Well? Are they lovers?”
“Saska, please talk to Torrullin.”
“Talk to Torrullin,” she mimicked. “How? He has closed himself to me.” She smacked her hand on the desk and leaned into it, glaring. “For Aaru’s sake, will you tell me?”
Taranis’ gaze slid away, but when she hissed, he looked at her. “He barely talks to me either, Saska. I do know he loves you.”
“That is not what I want to know.”
Taranis spread his hands. “You ask me to interfere in the relationship between a husband and a wife. One is my son, and the other a dear friend.”
“It’s not interference. It’s truth, which I am probably alone in not knowing. Have it your way. I will confront Cat.” She moved to leave.
“Don’t do that, please.”
She inhaled deeply and crossed her arms. “You would spare her. Why?”
“Because she, like you, hurts – and it isn’t her fault. She had no idea what she was getting into or how hard she would fall for him. Stupid Torrullin. I cannot believe he is still pursuing this.”
Saska looked away. “To be honest, it seemed as if he simply used her to release tension. She was like a frightened rabbit. What kind of man is so cavalier?”
“An angry one.”
“And I am the source of that anger; yes, I am, trust me. Maybe our relationship will not survive this. Did he sleep with her?”
Taranis looked away. “Yes.”
“Well, we both know Torrullin. He only takes from what attracts him. My god, I …”
“Saska.” Taranis was firm. “Don’t. He is a man, and you weren’t there. Let it go.”
“I thought you would understand.”
“I do. I flipped on your behalf, ask him, but I still understood.”
“And drove a wedge between you and him?”
“For a time, yes.”
“You need not defend me.”
“Someone has to make him see reason.”
She laughed, a little hysterically. “Do you know what would really hurt him? You and me, together.” Tears formed in her eyes. “Maybe I should, to get back at him.”
“You say that after what happened before? Remember what one foolish kiss did? You do that, you hurt me, him, but mostly you hurt yourself. You come to me Saska, and I shall deny you.”
She was miserable. “Maybe I should sleep with her sexy brother. An eye for an eye.”
Taranis sighed. “Don’t even think it. Matt already carries too heavy a torch for the Enchanter’s wife.”
“Perfect. It will not take much to lure him into a bed, would it?”
Into that emotionally charged atmosphere came Margus and Tymall. Before they were even aware of the intruders, Vulci bonds wrapped around wrists and necks. Both stumbled to the floor howling pain.
Tymall stood over Saska, leering, eyes alight. “Stepmother. How nice to see you again.” He ran his hands suggestively down her writhing body, with evident pleasure. “Hmm,” he murmured, and the excitement in his eyes was a physical force. “No wonder my dear father enjoyed you. My turn now …” and he began to undo the fly of his breeches.
A tin soldier about to plunder and pillage. Taranis screamed at him in spite of his pain, but Tymall grinned and thrust a gag into his mouth, stuffing it in hard. Taranis’ eyes bulged and his face reddened, and Tymall moved his attention back to Saska.
“You, however, I would enjoy hearing scream and beg. And I am aroused by the very idea of defiling you before my father’s father; heightens the pleasure …” Tymall kneeled over her, pushed her robe up, up, his free hand sinking into the flesh of her thighs, his breathing erratic, excited. Taranis writhed through his agony and kicked out. Tymall growled and smashed his fist into Taranis’ face, and then he released himself, stroked himself, tore at Saska’s underwear, lowered, his breathing harsh, his eyes like coals.
She jerked her knees up, he slapped her hard, elbowed Taranis again, and lowered his mouth to hers, all the while stroking himself in ecstasy.
Margus dragged him off. “Not now, imbecile! When we have dealt with the Enchanter you can have her.”
Tymall stood there breathing fast and saw the threat in Margus’ eyes. He drew breath and pushed himself with difficulty into his breeches, and looked at Saska again. “The pleasure will be sweeter if you have time to think of me. Imagine me deep inside, Saska dear, deep inside.”
Saska hawked and spat. It cost her the skin on her neck, but was worth it. He laughed and shoved a gag in her mouth. Dragging her roughly to her feet, he held her body tight to his. She felt how aroused he was, and struggled, but the vulci was too much to bear and she lost consciousness.
MARGUS DRAGGED TARANIS up, who was not about to go forth without a struggle. He lashed out with his legs, used his shoulders like a ram, and head butted, gritting through the terrible thwarts from the vulci, and paid dearly. Margus blocked the attempt and calmly pushed the rope deeper until Taranis screamed.
It would have been sufficient, but Tymall did not regard it as enough. Holding Saska, he released a short sharp pulse of power that connected with the vulnerable region of the body below the ribs. Taranis’ insides curled and twisted, ruptured and boiled.
Margus shouted at Tymall to cease, and gripped Taranis. He snapped at him to control his temper, or he would suffer worse, and frogmarched Taranis out the door and to the battlements.
Taranis went stumbling and whimpering. By all gods, he would hold on until Torrullin arrived. He would die before he allowed the nefarious Tymall to have his way.
TYMALL FOLLOWED, hoisting Saska over his shoulder, carrying her with leering pleasure. He giggled, until Margus told him to shut up. They were then tethered to the stairwell and their ankles bound. Tymall slapped Saska about the face until she regained awareness and instantly tried to scream through her gag.
“Be still!” he hissed. “It will hurt less.” He ran a finger down her cheek and neck, continuing down to her chest where he stopped at one nipple. He pinched hard. Saska flinched and her head smacked against the wall. She moaned.
The Darak Or stared at Tymall, saying, “Control yourself.”
Tymall glanced sidelong at Taranis. His grandfather was in agony, and it was more than the results of the vulci. His smile widened. It felt good; he always despised the conservative nature and goodness of Taranis Agripson, father of his father. For years he had not dared, but wanted to hit his grandfather, spit on him, and now he did far worse. Revenge could be so sweet, Margus was right about that. He stepped up to Taranis and loosed a hard fist into his face.
Taranis’ head snapped back and then he righted himself to glare at his grandson. He spat the gag out. “And you call yourself a man.”
Tymall snarled and delivered double fists into Taranis’ gut and watched his grandfather crumple. “I do not care what you think,” he said, dragging the injured man up. “Shut your mouth!” He hit him repeatedly.
Margus said, “Leave him. We are not here for your particular pleasure, Tymall. Quiet. I cannot hear anything.”
Tymall inclined his head and left Taranis alone.
Chapter 10: The Kallanon Scales
An ancient map points the way …
… as well as a strange prophecy, and anyone who dares speak of either, dies.
A new enemy enters the Valla arena, but this one is as old as time and seeks a forbidden place. The terrible source of Valla power is uncovered. As friends and family are murdered, Torrullin reveals the truth about the Valla Dragon. He hurtles into battle when his twin sons are kidnapped, and takes with him into danger a pilot, a navigator and an innocent girl – they are the Dalrish seeking escape from Xen III.
Another truth rears up, the tale of the Nine who fled into the Forbidden Zone with a strange taliesman in the shape of a dragon. Quilla knows who the fire creatures are; the Q’lin’la fled them in ancient time. They are the Kallanon, the Glittering Darkness.
“There are dragons in my future,” Torrullin once tells Quilla, and that future is now.
War erupts on a world no more than a circle on an ancient map. There Torrullin discovers who his sons really are, Taranis of the Guardians confronts his inner demons, Bartholamu of the Siric faces his arch-nemesis, Q’lin’la and Kallanon are thrown into the same melting pot, an ancient emperor speaks again, the new Lady of Life is born, the Dalrish have a profound effect on Torrullin, and Vannis seeks revenge.
The Kallanon Scales is an epic journey into the realms of time and legend, and forever alters the future.
Kings are at the feasting table once more! How many quails does it take to satisfy the hunger of showmanship?
~ Tattle’s Blunt Adventures
A VALLEUR CHILD was a man or woman in everything by age fifteen, but autonomy – freedom to marry, to leave, to war – arrived at age twenty-five. Fifteen meant childish thoughts and aspirations, although the body reacted as an adult; at twenty-five, it was hoped body and mind acted in accord. The decade between was to attain that state.
This august morning found the brothers in Tymall’s chamber, dressing for the ceremony. It began with a loincloth, beaded affairs designed to cause discomfort, thereby forcing perfect comportment. The two laughed helplessly over sensations in the groin area, for once amused by each other’s antics. Next came white linen strips, bound criss-cross from the arch of each foot, and tied off over the shoulders. The origin of this particular tradition was now lost, but most Valleur thought it had roots in containing untamed and youthful sorcery.
Torrullin’s personal valet aided them, an old man familiar with the process, and he clucked disapprovingly at their levity. Next were white, sleeveless robes, and golden cloths about their waists. Feet settled into soft leather booties, the soles a single layer of leather designed to be worn once. The old man helped them perch on high stools to finish dressing their hair. Doing it in shifts, he braided their streaked hair into tiny plaits, dangling a single golden bead from each end. They started before dawn and after hours of work their heads were crowned with a mass of tinkling plaits. A ceremonial dagger thereafter attached to the waistcloth.
Nerves displaced amusement. They heard swelling noise outside, felt anticipation build.
The old man brought out two cloaks. He enjoyed his task, he said, adding their father did not give him opportunity to excel. Torrullin preferred dressing himself. He shook the cloaks out and both gasped.
One was midnight blue with an intricate dragon woven in gold thread in the centre. This one went over Tymall’s shoulders, the heir apparent. The second cloak was sky-blue, a cross and sword cleverly sewn in a unique design on the back. The warrior priest of Tristamil’s naming.
It was fifteen minutes to the appointed hour. The old man bowed out with their appreciation ringing in his ears. They were alone. It was time for truth. Tymall said, “Time for our unmasking.”
“Father won’t reveal what he knows. He understands we are necessary to each other.”
“How can you be certain?”
Tristamil shrugged. “I am the Enchanter part of him, Ty, thus I’m able to think like him.”
Tymall found that discomfiting. “All the time?”
“Sometimes, but in this I’m right. He now knows we have mirrored his natures. If we are the mirrors, both sides have to go on for our father to accept who he is. We grew up knowing love, and why? Because he is divided. Thus, if he needs both of us, we need both of us, and if one was to die, the other must be both. Were you to die, I would inherit your destroyer. I’d not survive it.”
Tymall raised his eyebrows. “I would inherit the lifegiver in you? I wouldn’t cope.”
“Therefore we need live.”
Tymall nodded. “I think I understand.”
Torrullin entered then, dressed for the ceremony. Although he donned black, a dark golden cloak upon which the blue dragon emblem leapt relieved the severity. A golden scabbard for the occasion, his silver sword resting in it. His fair hair was plaited also, a single rope, and the Ardosian crown usually on display at the White Palace rested on his head. He grinned when he saw their gazes fly to it. “I am a king, after all.”
Yes, he was.
He looked them over. “He did well.” He paused. “I know you and now need briefly discuss who else does. Quilla is aware, after the healing. Quilla will not talk; his first loyalty is to me. Vannis may not have realised. Any questions he has, he will ask of me and act accordingly. Krikian and Shep may believe they witnessed sorcery, but if I judge it safer, they will not remember.”
“This is about Taranis,” Tymall said.
“Taranis will prevent a bloodbath if the Valleur come for you. He has the authority of the Throne.”
Tristamil said, “You have been on the Throne.”
Tymall passed a hand raggedly over his face.
“I did so when there was no expectation, safer for you, for the Valleur and for me. I did it to pass power to Taranis.” He held a hand up to forestall questions. “We discuss it later. Now the time has come to release you from childhood’s rules.”
“Please,” Tymall said. “What will you do?”
Torrullin studied him. “The Valleur will not be told. Conclusions they draw after this will be the result of your actions. Tris, will you wait outside?”
Tristamil glanced at his brother, and left. The silence dragged inside the chamber as the noise swelled outside. Torrullin gazed at his son. This young man whipped Saska, attempted to drown her, throw her into an abyss, and all manner of slights and dangers.
“I have loved you and that will not change. I understand you; you are what I can be also, and it is addictive. It feels as if the world and beyond is there for the taking, and all you have to do is reach out. Saska could not understand that, nor should she. I love my wife also, Tymall.”
Tymall blinked. “I’m sorry.”
“You are not, not in the way that would alter you. I understand that, thus forgive you for the past, but I will not permit you to harm her in the future. There will come a time when we are together, and I warn you now to stay away from her no matter how you feel. I shall hurt you, and still love you. Know that, and hate me not.”
“How can I hate you? You never hurt me, judged me, denied me or exposed me. You loved me, and it changed me. I stand here confused, with darkness inside, and love in my heart.”
Torrullin hauled his son into his arms and held him.
THE COURTYARD WAS hushed expectancy. It had been a long time since a Vallorin presented his children in a Coming-of-Age celebration. This was a momentous occasion. This was History.
It was silent as the three men descended the stairs. At the foot Vannis and Taranis waited. Everyone wondered where Lycea and Raken were, but were not made the wiser. This day was for the two young men. They could mourn tomorrow. Torrullin paused on the second-to-last step, surveying the crowd in the courtyard.
They came from afar. Not merely Valleur from the city, although they were the majority; there were human friends, leaders, sorcerers from the Society and visitors from elsewhere. There was a contingent from Xen III, a smaller one from Beacon. Two of the Sagorin came, one of them Gren, the leader. He gave a mock salute and was rewarded with a wave. He noticed Phet and knew the Q’lin’la attended. There were humanoids from other worlds paying their respects. This was no longer an occasion to celebrate autonomy, but homage to the risen Throne.
The Siric wove their way in from the Dragon doors, led by Bartholamu. All came, twenty-one in total. When Bartholamu realised their arrival was noticed, he halted his troupe and whispered something, and a moment later forty-two glorious wings soared out. It was an incredible display of reverence and humbled, Torrullin put a hand to his heart and bowed low, coming up smiling. The Siric folded their wings to an almighty round of applause.
Torrullin stepped to the ground, and a path cleared for him and his sons. Taranis and Vannis walked ahead and vanished within, and at the entrance a smiling Phet waved.
It was crowded inside, largely Valleur, but a mixture, nonetheless. A great cheer went up when Torrullin and the twins set foot to the blue carpet. Taranis and Vannis made their way to stand on either side of the Throne, both decked in finery. Taranis opted for blue and silver and was royally handsome, and Vannis, being Vannis – if only in part this day – wore gold. Flanking them were the two highest-ranking Elders from the Valleur city – Pretora and Kismet.
Torrullin paused at the two beautiful chairs meant for his boys. Men; he would have to think of them as men. He gestured for them to stand to each side as per their names and made his way to the dais. He stepped around the long table adorned in blue and gold. Ten empty chairs faced the gathering. Torrullin set foot to the dais, and turned, the golden seat a presence at his back. He nodded, and Pretora, to the right of Vannis, stepped forward.
Gripping a wooden staff with a carved dragonhead, Pretora proceeded to thump the dais three times, and hailed, “All gathered! Hear the thrice recognition!”
The Valleur responded in one voice. “We hear, oh Elder!”
“We are here this day to present two young men of the ancient blood, of this universe, and of the unbroken line of the Vallas!” A great roar resounded. Taranis’ hair rose at the sound, and Vannis smiled.
Kismet came forward. His staff sported an intricate sun carving, and he thumped three times. “Hear the thrice recognition of the Vallorin!”
“We hear it, oh Elder, in our souls!”
Torrullin raised both hands for quiet. “I thank you for coming to celebrate this special day with us. I see among you friends from every corner of the universe and our beautiful planet, and thank you for being here. This day, however, is to celebrate the Valleur!”
Pandemonium. A roar of applause and cheering continued for many minutes, and their Vallorin let them. It had been a long time.
When quiet returned, he said, “Appreciation goes to my staff and all who aided in preparing for a gathering of this nature. There are many to thank, not least among those my loyal valet for dressing my sons, and the Elders and various teachers who took the time to prepare them for this ceremony – I know who you are, and thank you. And, my friends, a special word to the master carpenter who fashioned the two beautiful chairs you see before you. Colum Megane, a father bows to your artistry.”
A new round of applause rippled through the throng.
“And now we come to the serious business. I have raised the Valleur Throne and shall not ascend it until after my sons are presented. This is their day and the seat is incidental. I state categorically it will not be used to distinguish between my sons.”
The silence was then absolute.
“I know you are aware of the two natures here. They did not ask for this, they are not accountable for what happened, and they will be given the opportunity to choose as adults. Their real accountability commences after, and they will be held answerable. Until such necessity arises, I need all here to understand they are integral to our future.” Torrullin stared into the crowd, meeting eyes head-on. “Will you thwart me on this?”
No Valleur went against a Vallorin’s command; it was treason. If there were doubts, it was permitted to question in public, thus now was the time to speak. Feet shuffled and eyes swivelled.
Pretora said, “We thank my Lord Vallorin for the acknowledgement on the subject of your sons. It lays to rest a plethora of rumours.” Torrullin inclined his head. Pretora continued, “What guarantee do the Valleur have if one of your sons chooses to avenge himself on his people?”
“I answer with this assurance. Taranis, Guardian and Dome Leader, is given power over my Throne.”
“He is not Valleur!” someone shouted from the floor.
“Therefore, the perfect choice. He understands the future for these two young men and in my stead has the right to protect them.”
“He is biased,” another whispered.
“I am biased, friend,” Torrullin snapped. “As all here are biased. Taranis has not been Dome Leader for three thousand years because he deals in emotion. You will search hard for one as objective. Is this clear?” Torrullin gazed around. “You question my judgement, and I understand that, and you question the shape and form of this future I allude to. It will be made clearer, but now I require your faith.”
They did not deny further, and Torrullin acknowledged his father, who bowed to the gathered.
“We are here to celebrate a Coming-of-Age,” Torrullin said. “Let us be positive on this day.” He looked to his sons. “Tristamil and Tymall, you need to prove your worth before I call ten witnesses to the table. Proceed.”
Both young men faced the golden urns. Tristamil lifted his hand first to wave over the empty vessel and Tymall followed a beat later. The point was to prove mastery in sorcery and show respect to their father. They stepped back into position, eyes downcast. Pretora and Kismet retrieved the urns and placed the vessels before their Vallorin.
Torrullin inserted one hand into Tymall’s urn to withdraw it filled with sapphires. Tymall collected them with time and patience and stored them in preparation for the transference sorcery. He proved both mastery and thought, giving his father a valuable gift. Torrullin allowed a last blue stone to fall back and smiled. “Thank you, Tymall. You may sit now, son.”
Tymall took his seat, which was no easy task with bindings and beads. A few sympathetic chuckles aided him into position.
Torrullin bent to Tristamil’s urn. He was quiet so long that the gathered grew restive. Both Pretora and Kismet checked that Torrullin was not doing the actual sorcery. A father could not bear to see his son fail and achieved the required magic; it happened occasionally.
Tristamil glanced up without lifting his head. He gazed directly into his father’s eyes. Torrullin straightened. From his fingers splinters of bright rainbows hovered and, where it caught the light, music sounded. From those tiny darts of colour little sprites hung, whistling and dancing in the air, laughing with flailing arms. Torrullin dipped his other hand in and bought forth more of the wonder. He laughed, a carefree sound few heard in recent years, and bent to lift the urn. He tossed the entire treasure into the air. A glorious rainbow spanned the Throne-room and, along it, the sprites danced to fairy music.
Gasps of pleasure erupted from many throats.
An eye blink later they were gone.
An ephemeral gift, and beyond priceless. Tristamil told his father he was the son sensed alongside the rainbow pool after conception. Now there would never be doubt, but only Torrullin and Tristamil were aware of that. In addition, Tristamil eloquently revealed to his father that he loved him despite the intervening years. Tristamil planned to rip aside masks this day and his twin would not have known himself revealed.
“Thank you, Tristamil. You may sit now.” From the bottom of my heart, my son.
Tristamil shivered. My son, not simply ‘son’. A telling change. And mine, father. Tristamil sat, his face radiant.
Pretora and Kismet thumped the dais three times in tandem and Torrullin stepped forward.
“As per tradition, I now call ten witnesses.” Torrullin looked upon the table before him. “Two seats were for Raken and Lycea. I do not want to cast shadow over proceedings, thus merely state they cannot be with us.” The observant ones noted the controlled look on Vannis’ face. “I call Vannis and Taranis to the table.”
Vannis sat at one end. Taranis took a seat at the other.
“In place of the absent I call Bartholamu and Gren, although they should not feel they are last resort.” The two came forward. “Next I call Quilla and Phet of the Q’lin’la.”
Phet hopped to it with joyful energy – and much accompanying laughter – while Quilla approached from a bench near the dais with measured tread.
“The next name is someone close to my heart and yours, a personal friend of Lycea’s, special to us, special to Valaris. Shep Lore, where are you?”
A squeak of delight emanated from the courtyard and a purple flash waddled along the blue carpet to take a seat, but not before bowing low to his Vallorin.
“Welcome, Shep,” Torrullin smiled. “The first name I wanted to call this day was Saska’s. That was not meant, and no one can replace her, but in her stead, I call Krikian.”
Krikian was somewhere in the centre of the Throne-room and made his way forward to backslapping and congratulations. The dream man was well liked.
There were two seats open.
Silence ensued. Her views were radical, her religion non-existent; she was a loner surrounded by both admirers and detractors. She was beautiful, slender with all the right curves, which made her a target. Her luxurious hair was deep gold, sleekly straight. She possessed extraordinary eyes, silver-amber, lashes long and dark. Caballa of the Valleur was an honest woman and a farseer of exceptional talent.
Caballa came to him the morning after Saska left to inform him not to mourn his wife or harbour anger. He had to wait until the time was right to find her again. When he turned on her in the fury of fresh loss, she told him to believe. She returned the following day, to listen, and a strange friendship was born. Caballa was blind, but could see into the hearts of others better than a sighted person could.
She came forward to mutterings and whispers, but she paid no heed and glided to the table. She touched it once and walked around it, feeling the chairs for occupancy. When she reached an empty one, she sat gracefully.
“The final seat goes to my goddaughter. Skye, daughter of Lanto, please come forward.”
Lanto, true friend, passed on eighteen months back. Never a fat man, he began to waste away five years ago and was diagnosed as an insulin dependent diabetic. He needed to inject every four hours and one day left it too late, falling into a coma from which he did not awake. Skye confided she believed he did so deliberately. Lanto lived on in those who remembered him, and his tales, tall and true, remembered him to all on Valaris. Lanto won the Bards and Tales Festival many a year. Skye was the only child of a brief union between her father and a young woman from Beacon. Her mother chose return to her homeworld, leaving Skye with Lanto. She was nineteen years old; shy, but attractive in a freckle-faced way.
After she sat, Torrullin said, “Valleur! Time for the test. Which four are chosen for this task?”
Four Elders stepped forward. A Valleur Elder was not a grey-haired man or woman of doddering wisdom. Pretora and Kismet appeared no older than Torrullin, yet were Elders. Valleur showed their advanced age in the final hundred years. These four could disqualify the penitents from autonomy. They could ask anything, and many failed at this juncture. There was a second chance, a whole year later.
“Camot, Lord Vallorin, and I will test Tymall.”
“Darian, my Lord, and I am here for Tristamil.”
“Rillinon, my Lord, for Tymall.”
“Pianote, my Lord Vallorin. I am here for Tristamil. Good luck to you, young lord.”
“In that order then,” Torrullin said.
Camot stood before Tymall. “Our Vallorin decided to rename this valley. Torrullin’s Keep is a mouthful. Please tell us what your father intends to call this valley.”
Tymall inhaled sharply. Camot set a true challenge. This was the first he heard of it. Recalling what Tris said, he understood he had to think like his father, and the answer would be there for him. “I shall answer.”
Camot gave a small smile and retreated.
“My father called this valley Torrullin’s Keep, using his name as ownership on first viewing, and I believe that will not change. Torrullin means Rain of Life and describes it well. To circumvent a mouthful, he would shorten it, using either Torr for Life or Llin for Rain. The word for home is ke. I believe my father would put home and life in one word, rather than the idea of rain and house in one thought.” Tymall’s brows knotted. “Either Ketorr or Torrke.” He gazed up at his father and smiled. “Torrke.”
Camot prompted, “My Lord?”
“Camot, surely I could lie?”
“No, my Lord, one of us heard you speak the word to the Throne.”
Torrullin laughed. “My son is right.”
Tymall shouted his relief and the chamber and courtyard erupted in response.
“I name this valley officially on this day … Torrke!” Torrullin proclaimed. Well done, Ty. “Proceed, Darian.”
Darian stepped to the fore. He stood before Tristamil and barked out, “Who was the forty-first Vallorin?”
Darian returned to his seat. Despite the ease with which Tristamil replied, it was a difficult question. Vallorins forty-one, two and three ruled one after the other in the space of one year and were lobbed together in shame. They were brothers and lost their hearts to one woman. This woman proceeded to kill them off one by one, and when the fourth brother took the Throne, he had her killed although there was no proof of guilt. He went on to rule for a long while.
“Thank you, my Lord. Tymall, please sketch in the air the Valla Dragon.”
As a child Tymall often lay on his father’s chest tracing the Dragon with one finger. He closed his eyes, raised a finger in the air, and outlined it from indelible memory. A hazy blue line appeared before him. It was a true rendition and Torrullin clapped his approval before Rillinon could question him.
Pianote was the final taskmaster. “Tristamil, there are fourteen traditions the Valleur hold sacred. Why fourteen and what are they?”
“Fourteen is the universal number upon which magic is based. We build fourteen sacred sites per world in keeping with that philosophy, and that is the first tradition. The second is the order in which we erect them. First is the Lifesource, then the Throne-room, thereafter the rest. The third tradition is the passing of the Dragon from Vallorin to heir at the appointed time. The fourth is the safekeeping of the Oracles, the fifth, the scrying of a new-born’s name, and the sixth is this ceremony of today.
“The seventh is the learning of sorcery beyond what we inherently know. The eighth is the absolute autonomy of the Vallorin; we are not, nor were we ever, a democracy. The ninth is Nemisin’s runes, known only to the House of Valla, and the tenth is our longevity both natural and enhanced. The eleventh is our total intolerance of darak …” He stumbled there, but recovered well. “The twelfth is a belief in prophecy and the thirteenth? We regard ourselves as master-builders, and build with heart, soul and magic. The fourteenth? For as long as one Valleur lives, we were first and will be last in all things.”
The great space erupted in a spate of whistles and cheers, and Pianote retreated.
There was one more hurdle – the test the father set. Sometimes fathers were easy on their offspring and other times fathers could be notoriously strict. Generally, Vallorins tended towards a middle road.
Torrullin had another option and used it. “I shall not test you.” He raised a hand to forestall comments. “This is within my right, and I aim to employ it. I am offering you a gift, the same gift. You cannot accept now. You will return to this place in exactly one year and give answer.”
“And that is part of the test,” Tymall murmured, staring at his father.
“Indeed, it is. Your reasons for accepting or rejecting will possess the thinking, feelings, instincts and desires of an adult. I allow a further year to achieve maturity without jeopardising your autonomy. Thereafter you will live with your decision, for it is irreversible. Be certain you make it the right one.”
You could have heard worlds fold millions of light-years away. Torrullin stepped off the dais, rounded the table and stood before them. They watched him in trepidation, for it was a truth their father never did anything in half measures.
“My mother used to say forever is a long time and I understand today what she meant. Taranis knows this truth, as does Vannis, the Siric, the Sagorin, the Sylmer, the Q’lin’la and many other races. I speak of immortality. I offer you the means to reach that state.” He grimaced at the light in two pairs of eyes. “You would accept now. That is why I give a year. Now I add this; Vannis was the first immortal Vallorin, but did not rule in that state. I am the second immortal Vallorin, and I do rule in this state. I cannot reverse my immortality, but I also cannot sit on my Throne forever. That would be tyranny and arrogance.” He stared intently at them, managing to look both in the eyes simultaneously. “Know now I shall be the last immortal Vallorin.”
There were more gasps, and a few nods of agreement.
The light in both pairs of eyes died.
“If you desire immortality, you renounce the Throne,” Torrullin emphasised. “That is your ultimate test.”
“You saw me as Vallorin,” Tymall whispered.
“I saw the Valleur Throne in your scrying, Tymall. Today I know images have various interpretations, and thus no longer think that.”
Tymall stared at him.
“It is a question of what we desire most,” Tristamil said.
“What happens if both of us choose immortality?” Tymall questioned.
“It will be granted after an heir is born.”
“And if both desire the Vallorinship?” Tristamil said.
Torrullin gave a cold smile. “That decision is mine again and I shall make it when the time is right.” He stepped back. “We are done here! Greet Tristamil and Tymall as new adults!”
Pretora and Kismet thumped the dais, exclaiming, “Thrice welcome, Tristamil! Thrice welcome, Tymall!”
The Keep reverberated with cheers and congratulations.
Both young men clambered onto their chairs to wave, and only Torrullin realised how forced their smiles were. Good. They will not lightly make decisions hereafter. He glanced at Taranis, who put an ‘oh, so that is how’ finger to his nose. Vannis was enigmatic.
Torrullin returned to the Throne, where he snapped his fingers. The empty dishes on the pillars behind the brothers and the two behind the Throne exploded in showers of gold and silver fireworks, shooting out high above the crowds, there to hang in twinkling splendour. The Valleur and other guests clapped in appreciation and even the brothers shouted. Torrullin snapped his fingers again and each tiny star exploded into a thousand more. They swirled and danced in whorls and patterns on high and would remain until he waved them away later that night. While everyone shouted and attention was on the ceiling, Torrullin lowered into the Throne.
A golden glow instantly infused the chamber.
Shattering silence descended.
Pretora recovered first. He thumped hard at the dais in ecstasy and Kismet happily followed suit. “Hail the Valleur Throne! Hail Lord Vallorin! May the four winds always blow fair on our Vallorin! May he know peace and prosperity!”
There was more, but thunderous acclaim drowned it out. It was surely heard in the polar region … the southern one.
Here’s something that still surprises me. The term ‘darkling’. Back when I first started writing what became known as Lore of Arcana, and that was scrap paper and pen or pencil, whatever was available, I coined what I thought at the time was a clever word – darkling. Years later I saw it used elsewhere, and that gave me quite the jolt. Wasn’t so clever after all!
Chapter 10: The Dragon Circle
How do you lift a weapon against someone you once loved?
Valarians prepare for winter. Many died in summer, more will succumb to the cold. While waiting for the opportune time to strike, Margus secretly begins a different kind of campaign: soul snatching. Having lost his army, he now rebuilds it with the souls of people in despair after the violence of summer’s confrontations.
Torrullin steps blindly into Vannis’ final prophecy. It brings him a great gift; it also leads to terrible betrayal. In the aftermath there is a change in the Valla Dragon’s place of residence, and Saska abandons Torrullin, leaving him in need of diversion. Belun of the Centuar is suspicious of the strange vanishings and it drives Torrullin offworld to find a ward against soul snatching, to end Margus’ reign of terror. He enters the forges of flame, and the man who emerges is reformed of fire to unleash annihilating heat.
Uninvited, Torrullin enters the Dome of his Guardian father, Taranis, employing a darkened doorway most Guardians believed inoperative, to become the harbinger of final days…
The Dragon Circle completes the forging of Torrullin Valla. The ambivalent Rayne’s tale began in the shades and shadows of a prejudiced world and moved into flame and fire, and now a new future unveils …
Fire and ice, a guaranteed contradiction to fill one with dread.
A BAND OF youths, perhaps despondent with ever-present chores, and in need of something reminiscent of a normal youth to spur them onward into their uncertain futures, fashioned musical instruments from odds and scraps to mimic the real implements.
A piece of hollowed driftwood became a guitar, old stumps and reed mats a set of drums, a copper cistern pipe a rough flute, bells were formed from discarded iron cannon casings, and so forth.
The youngsters congregated in an empty lot to practice. Others followed to sing, to dance and to laugh, and who could blame them? Life was rough. Music could ease the soul. Companionship could ease the roughness.
The unholy noise drew Belun to the place at first, because his sensibilities required an answer to the mystery of an incredible cacophony. However, he applauded his appreciation when he came upon them, understanding their mission, and resolved to request decent instruments from somewhere to bring as gift to these young musicians, or to find reparable ones on Valaris. Their willingness to innovate pleased him no end.
He returned to the dancing crowd whenever he found something and bathed in the delight of the cheers following every gift. Thus far he discovered a harp with only one broken string, that in Farinwood, an ancient dulcimer in Luan, a complete set of hide-drums in the ruins of Sheshi, and this day he came bearing an intact piano he found in the basement of what was once Galilan’s theatre.
Someone needed to tune it, and he knew if no one could at this point, someone would step forth and become the required expert. These Valarian youngsters were creative; he was proud of them.
Cheers erupted when they noticed him and the contraption he bore across his great shoulders. A young woman immediately ran forward after he deposited the piano alongside the musicians. Clearly, the required expert was at hand.
Grinning, Belun waved a hand and retreated to the shadow of a broken wall to watch them and listen. Moments like these made the hard labour worthwhile. He noticed a little lass in a bright red skirt dancing accompaniment to the impromptu musical performance, which now included the out-of-tune piano. Petite and pretty, bright blue eyes.
She clapped and laughed, and then halted to whisper in the ear of a friend. A moment after she wrapped a red scarf around her hair and wandered away, waving. Chores, no doubt, or a call from nature.
Belun smiled. She would be back, if not today, then at the next performance. They all would. Whistling to the melody they hit upon – they were definitely getting better – he wandered away himself, back to duty. He, too, would be back.
THE NEXT MORNING, he checked on the list of missing as he did every time he was in Galilan. Two names. A man of fifty and a girl of nineteen.
“We found him,” a voice said, a hand intruding into his view to tap a finger on the man’s name. “He was with the healers. He had a heart attack – alive though, thank Aaru. I’ll change it now.”
Belun glanced at the woman beside him, one of those who updated the lists. “And the girl?”
A sigh erupted. “Nothing yet.”
Belun stared down a moment longer, nodded and moved away.
Description: Blond hair, blue eyes.
Last seen: Lot 53.
It was the lot where the youngsters congregated to make their music. Swearing under his breath, Belun headed in that direction.
VANNIS STAYED AT the Morinnes camp for the two days following the revelations and, during that period, only Belun dropped in. Belun still had something on his mind, and it distracted him enough for him not to remark on Torrullin’s silence, if he even noticed in the state he was in. The Centuar, however, had arrived at the camp with express purpose this time, and he addressed it swiftly.
“Torrullin, something’s really bothering me.” Belun set his great size down on a log and snapped his fingers at Torrullin. “Are you hearing me?”
A baleful grey stare answered that.
“For weeks now young people have been disappearing, one here, two there, never more, never in the same place. Age varies from around sixteen Valaris years to twenty-five. Not one has anything to do with hunger or injury. And now, suddenly, they begin vanishing one after the other from Galilan.”
Vannis, listening, lifted his gaze from a study of the fire. “One expects the aged to disappear. Perhaps after a fall into a river. Perhaps just wandering into forgetfulness. Not the young; they are resilient. That is strange, yes.”
“Exactly.” Belun nodded vigorously.
The Centuar shifted his massive shoulders, keeping his gaze upon Torrullin, who seemed somewhat too distant for his liking. “Until today, no evidence and no trace of the lost ones. Not a shoe on a riverbank, for instance. Nothing. Drove me nuts.” Torrullin did not respond. Belun surged to his feet. “Until today. Today I found evidence, if only proof enough for me. I want you to come with me, Torrullin. You need verify it now for everyone to sit up and take notice, or this horror situation will go on and nobody will see it for what it is.”
Torrullin’s eyes narrowed, but his voice was even when he spoke. “I am waiting for Saska. Tell us what you are thinking, Belun. Tell us what you found.”
Belun eyed him and decided Torrullin was listening. “Man, but that’s just it. What I sense and what I found, it’s no longer enough. We need more than my suspicions and my kind of proof. Besides, I do not know what to think. If Margus had been sighted even as a rumour, I would say he has something to do with it, but as it is …” Again, those shoulders moved. “It is him doing this, in my book, but you need put that Enchanter nose to the ground, that’s what needs doing next.”
Torrullin stared at him. The Centuar endured the soul kind of suffering. Belun was an emotional creature, but this was more than emotion. He would not like what Belun had to reveal. No one would like it. “Belun, I hear you. But tell us, before I go off on a wild chase, what it is you suspect.”
“He is harvesting souls,” Belun stated.
Absolute silence ensued.
Icy air whistled and weaved through the camp.
“Gods, based on what?” Vannis demanded, rubbing his arms.
Torrullin pinched the bridge of his nose. Belun’s statement resonated too much to now be ignored. Gooseflesh pocked every inch of his skin, whether exposed or covered. This was the something different Saska mentioned. By all gods.
Belun said, “I spoke to Bartholamu a few days ago, the Siric knowing a bit more, you see? He tells me when a soul is snatched the body sort of deflates.”
“When Margus stole souls on his homeworld he left functioning bodies,” Torrullin interrupted.
“He needed them ignorant there; here he cannot afford evidence. Bartholamu reckons there are two ways. One is a slow extraction, leaving the body intact. The other is swift, leaving something akin to air behind, sort of dust that blows away on the wind.”
“Is that what you found? Dust on the wind?”
Belun folded his arms across his chest and glared at Torrullin. “Either you come, or I summon outsiders in.”
Torrullin snorted. “Such as?”
“A Lizoid oracle or two!”
Torrullin glared back at the Centuar. Almost, so close he tasted blood in his mouth from biting his tongue to still it, he screamed at the creature to leave him alone, to bring the entire Lizoid nation in, if that was what he wanted, he had greater matters to attend to, such as coping with rulership. He halted his anger at that point, for he realised rulership meant also solving crimes, whatever form they assumed. It required solving particularly when Margus was potentially behind them. He swallowed ire and reluctance, and nodded. “I will come. It does resonate.”
Vannis blinked at him. “You think there is truth in it? Soltakin require a lengthy period to train properly, Torrullin, and Margus is out of time.”
“Is he? What do we do if he decides to hide for the next few years? He vanishes because he needs the time to train a new army. All the while, he keeps us on a leash. A sighting here, a rumour there. How will we ever be able to relax? There is truth in this, yes, and we need stop it to keep him out of the time he needs.”
After a moment, Vannis nodded. “Man, when will it get easy again?”
“When he is dead. Vannis, stay here. If Saska comes…” Torrullin paused.
Vannis looked at him. “Keep her here, or give her an excuse?”
“I don’t know. Come, Belun. Lead: I will follow.”
THE PLACE THEY materialised in was a depression near the Galilan River, one of many such depressions.
“The graveyard?” Torrullin frowned, looking around.
Most of the bodies and ancient skeletons washed away in the horrendous flooding. The graves then filled with mud and debris, only to settle into these shallow depressions now in evidence. Reports of old bones discovered further down the river’s banks caused quite a stir a while ago. They were reconsecrated and reburied with due ceremony on higher ground.
“What’s up with you and Saska?” Belun asked.
Torrullin eyed him, well aware the Centuar regarded themselves as Sylmer protectors. “Nothing.” He lifted his gaze back to the surrounds. “Why are we here?”
The Centuar sniffed and led the way to a small grove of trees. As he walked, he said, “The girl’s name was Lissa and I saw her just yesterday at a gathering of musicians. I saw her leave that get-together and was thus one of the last to see her alive.” He halted and pointed at his feet.
A flash of red summoned from the wild grass. Torrullin kneeled and picked up the crumpled material. A scarf.
“She wrapped that around her head as she left,” Belun said, a catch in his voice. “They are so young, Torrullin. This isn’t fair. It isn’t right.”
Torrullin did not respond. He stared at the nearby trees. They would offer the security in which to lay in wait for an unsuspecting victim. He glanced at the fast-flowing river. The torrent would be a convenient excuse for folk to use as proof of death – he/she fell into the river; the current took them. As a potential crime and accident scene, the pieces fit.
He glanced at the red scarf in his hands. Unsoiled. The girl possessed the energy to keep her clothing spotless. She was not the kind, then, to tumble inadvertently into the river. There were long blond hairs caught in the folds and he lifted one and ran it between his fingers. It squeaked. Clean. The kind of girl who looked after her hair despite the circumstances she lived in. As a potential accident site, the evidence went against it. The evidence fit an actual crime scene, although the perpetrator was sloppy.
Torrullin glanced at the abandoned graveyard. He noticed the ancient chapel where the Mantle used to meet. It no longer possessed a roof and one wall listed; how everything had changed.
“They come to walk here,” Belun murmured, “because it’s quiet. No souls here anymore, they say, therefore no danger.” He swallowed hard. “She is the third I have tracked to this place, but this is the first evidence I found.” He kneeled beside Torrullin and carefully moved the grass aside. “Signs of a struggle, do you see?”
He did. The ground below was churned, freshly churned. Someone had waved a hand to restore the grass to an upright mien in order to fool investigators. Still, sloppy. Leaving a red scarf lying about was a rag to the bull, in this case a bull-headed Centuar. His gaze flicked to Belun. “Use of magic leaves traces.”
“Exactly. That is why I left it as is. A tad too old for my nose, though.”
Torrullin leaned closer and sniffed at the ground. He straightened to snuffle at the air, and rose to wander through the trees. After a few minutes he walked over to the river’s edge and stood there staring across the wide expanse.
“Well?” Belun demanded.
“Traces, yes. Definitely corrective sorcery.”
Torrullin shook his head. “I can’t tell for certain. Too little to go on.”
“It is him. Like you, I feel it in my gut.”
Belun deflated to rest hands on knees. “Knew it. Just knew it. I’m going to pull every hair from his body, strand by strand, and then …”
Torrullin gripped the big man’s shoulder. “I hear you.”
BACK AT THE Morinnes camp Belun laid out what he discovered. While initial vanishings were of those closer to death, recent ‘missing’ were young and resilient, and each disappeared when unseen. Mostly singular, either early morning or early evening, and every functioning town had reported losses.
“He’s using the diffuse light to help him, by all appearances,” Belun said.
“Diffuse light isn’t sufficient. He has to lay in wait, as you suggest, sometimes for long stretches. He would rely on something extra, not merely a stand of trees or a pile of rock,” Vannis said.
“A shield,” Torrullin said.
“Correct, and a damn good shield it is,” Vannis muttered, “if he is moving around unnoticed.”
Torrullin frowned. “He would need a place to bind souls. A space where no light or sound is able to enter or exit, the kind of habitation he could vanish into for the required years of training.”
Vannis swore under his breath.
Belun sighed. “And I have looked.”
“Valaris is riddled with caves; it needs be a dedicated search. This cave won’t be found on cursory inspection.”
“Then we’re buggered, Torrullin. We cannot spare anyone to crawl into rock spaces right now. We have to warn folk.”
“I don’t agree. That will cause panic. Folk will run and he will end up with more to pick off.”
This time Belun swore under his breath.
“What we need do is shatter his shield,” Vannis said. “However, we have to know the construction of it first.”
“We need to get to him. Draw him out somehow.” Torrullin said. “And that won’t happen too soon.” He, too, swore inaudibly.
“Think beyond the obvious, Llettynn used to say, bloody repeatedly. Thus, forget Margus, forget shields, which are the obvious actions, and go for something we can achieve,” Belun muttered.
Torrullin murmured, “What have you in mind?”
“Maybe warding Valarians against soul harvest?” Belun suggested.
“That would put his nose out of joint, yes,” Torrullin said thoughtfully, and glanced at Vannis.
“We are talking devices. Serious wards. It takes time, and you need a talented and committed charmsmith.”
“You are a charmsmith, Vannis,” Torrullin said.
“I am an amateur. The only device I ever fashioned took months, and it was about retaining knowledge, not warding something. By the time I have a warding figured, we will be done with this Darak Or, or fighting a new soltakin army.”
Belun’s silver stare darkened to indigo. “We need a charmsmith, is it? Flame-wrights are charmsmiths, right?”
“Flame-wrights?” Vannis echoed.
“Crazy flame-wrights,” the Centuar muttered under his breath.
“Flame-wrights use forge fires for their magic,” Torrullin explained to Vannis, “and there is a host of them on Pendulim.”
“Where?” Vannis frowned.
“It was named after your time. Pendulim is a giant world; the Shadof are the endemic people.” Torrullin then focused on Belun. “What bothers you about them? Their wards work, from what I’ve heard.”
“Untrustworthy lot, that’s what bothers me. And life-wheels forged from fire are dangerous. Unstable.” Belun released a long sigh.
“What are life-wheels?” Vannis looked to Torrullin.
“Charms. Warding devices.” He glanced again at the Centuar. “Life-wheels are strange, granted, but a wheel is also an aspect. The Shadof could fashion something to ward against soul harvest.” Belun shrugged. “You brought it up and you have a valid point, Centuar. Someone should speak to them,” Torrullin said.
“Someone should,” Belun echoed, looking at the fair man with a blank face. “Care to try?”
“You do it, by Aaru. This is your idea.”
That great head moved from side to side. “I can’t. Guardians have no treaty with the Shadof. We do not trust their magic. One day someone will get too clever and attempt to take the Dome from us using a life-wheel and its aspect. We thus stay away from them.”
Torrullin grit his teeth. He could not take this on board now, not with the spectre of Saska’s wrath hanging over him. “I do not have power over them either. Pendulim is run by guilds, and they listen to no one. Belun, we have priorities right here.”
“This could be priority,” Vannis murmured.
Torrullin scowled at him.
The Centuar snorted. “Me thinks you will prove to be the only one who has power over them, but that isn’t the point now. And I hear you about priorities, but a wheel that protects Valarian souls might be an object of ultimate importance. Consider it.” His glare could have shattered air; it was that icy.
Vannis frowned. “This could also be mere conjecture.”
The Centuar snorted again. “The wizard who created us Centuar always said, in the absence of proof, follow the instinct of conjecture. I cannot state it as fact, but I’m telling you Margus is snatching and getting away with it and, if we’re not on our game, one day soon we’ll face another soltakin army and this time he will tweak them against elemental forces. Dare we take the risk? And more, those souls will be folk we pass on the streets today.”
Torrullin lifted a hand. “I hear you. I do hear you. Let me think it through.” He frowned and walked away.
Both Belun and Vannis stared after him.
VANNIS TOOK THE opportunity of privacy after Belun moved on to relate to Torrullin the history of previous Vallorins. The man did not listen too well, but he persevered.
Only once did a Vallorin die before passing the Dragon on. On that particular occasion, the heir underwent a complicated ritual to draw the creature to him. When Torrullin asked why it did not simply move itself, Vannis told him there was the issue of the Elders remaining unaware of the Dragon’s autonomy. The Vallorin, apparently, did not rule long.
Only once did a Vallorin fall in battle without an heir. His sister’s son was deemed fit to rule, and he too undertook the ritual. The line was considered unbroken.
Others received the Dragon as Torrullin had, only with more ceremony and celebration and, in the midst of noise and good cheer, many noted how, time after time, both the outgoing ruler and the new one would lose their smiles. Valleur generally assumed it was due to the gravity of leadership.
“There is a sphere in the Pyramid that records my father’s passing of the Dragon to me,” Vannis told him. “When the site is free again, I will show you.” He did not add how, after his initial shock, he thrived with the creature, but that time was a state of war and it gifted him an edge, a welcome edge that often fuelled his rage.
Torrullin listened to Vannis’ tales, but did not always give them proper attention. He worried over the concept of soul harvest, but did not feel the threat as the Centuar clearly did. It resonated, however, and it meant he was too distracted to follow his instincts. He fretted over Saska. It clouded judgement. Where was she? She had not been into camp for a while and was thus overdue. How do I tell her I am to be a father?
He dreaded meeting her, yet needed to see her. That told him unequivocally how much a part of him she was. He needed to prepare for the eventuality she would walk away. Then, despite everything, he smiled. It was a brilliant, joyful gesture, and it arrested Vannis’ tale and had the man gaping at him in astonishment.
“I am to be a father, Vannis. Imagine that! A son!”
Vannis laughed and Torrullin laughed with him. “Imagine that!”
Torrullin wagged a finger. “I can be a father.”
“I know,” Vannis murmured. “There is no greater joy than the joy a child gifts you.” His expression saddened; his eyes transforming into a brilliant blue. “It is my greatest regret.” His eye colour steadied into Valleur yellow. “You need to talk to Lycea.”
“Not yet.” Torrullin said. “Saska first.”
“Lycea will know soon, Torrullin. You should be the one to put her at ease.”
“Ease? And how do I do that?”
“You let her know how much you want this child.”
Torrullin closed his eyes. “Yes.” His eyes opened. “I will do it after I have spoken to Saska.”
Vannis said nothing further.
TORRULLIN SAT GAZING into the fire after Vannis went to bed, thinking on the bizarre and twisted path his life had now veered onto without warning. Welcome and unwelcome simultaneously. A father. A Vallorin. A man about to lose the one person that made life worthwhile.
He thought about the Centuar, his intensity, his pain. Belun took it personally when the innocent suffered. Belun followed his instincts, and he was right to do so.
Something needed done.
Now available: Farochin Audio Book
Grief-stricken over losing his wife in childbirth, Karydor commands that his son be drowned. Carers choose to hide the new-born instead. The child, when his father realises his terrible mistake, vanishes without a trace.
Ages later, suffering cycles of rebirth to walk in the same time as his son, Karydor discovers the identity of the man his son becomes and, in need of atonement, sets out to ease his path through life, hoping for a future when he will be able to look him in the eye without guilt.
On Farochin, a world where the terraform is about to fail, Karydor, Kristyn, Echayn and Fletcher team up, hoping to save the world from the influences of FARA, the godhood responsible for the failure.
A god, however, is not easily undermined.
A world is not effortlessly rescued.
A father will step into that arena, though, because of the love he bears his son. This is Karydor Danae’s atonement.
Now on pre-order for $1.99
(price will go up to at least a dollar per book after it goes live, equalling a minimum of $17)
Pure story! All the extras have been taken out of this boxset edition to deliver just the story 🙂
A Golden bloodline through the Ages. Indeed, for the Valleur are also known as the Golden, the race of Master Builders ruled by the mighty House of Valla. From then to now, into the future and back, the Vallas transform not only Time but also alter the dynamics for all civilisations.
Nemisin is First Father, or so he believes. Vannis is known as the last Vallorin … until Torrullin Valla steps forth. He changes everything; the House of Valla will never be the same as Torrullin battles darklings and dragons, a Darak Or and a Warlock, witches and soul takers, a Timekeeper and the evil lurking in his own family.
House of Valla brings together 17 volumes in the Vallas’ history. Prepare for the long haul, for this is a mighty tale …
Chapter 10: The Drowned Throne
Spoiler alert: this chapter gives a few things away about the grander story, thus if you haven’t yet reached this point in reading my Lore, it will nudge you into reading what comes before with a different viewpoint. That may not be a bad thing, but consider yourself warned 🙂
An ancient seat has the power to destroy
From the cesspool of Silas Island into the underworld of Two Town, the battle continues. As epic storms batter the continent, men, women and children succumb to soltakin touch and darkling blade.
It is time to reveal the hidden half-race from under the sands of the Vall Peninsula; Valaris needs soldiers as much as she needs hope. It is time also to face Margus in his lair and throw down the gauntlet.
Arrayed against his might is the small team of defenders, among them Taranis of the Guardians, Vannis of the Valleur, and Torrullin, a man with a dual nature, who as often fights the darkness rising within as he fights to protect his world. Visions plague Torrullin; he struggles to find himself when fate appears omnipotent, and love ever beyond his reach.
The extinct Gosa volcano erupts as sacred sites implode, creating earthquakes and tidal waves. A monster surge races to the site of an epic confrontation before an ancient and powerful golden seat.
The Valleur Throne is about to assume ultimate status. Will it save or conquer their world?
To wish for a different life is to deny the one you already have.
~ Arun, druid
THEY WALKED ALL day, dodging deluges and rotten missiles, skirting dogs and rats and unnamed piles of fur and other matter, turning ever away from mean-spirited people. Only once did they see a cat, the feline mangy and filthy, but well fed on the rat population. For the most part Silas inhabitants ignored them. Where trouble appeared imminent, they simply walked away. It rained without cease.
Nightfall found them on the beach at the rendezvous point. The dirty shoreline was deserted. The incessant rain lessened into an intermittent drizzle, but a strong wind bit hard. Torrullin and Taranis sat in a hollow surrounded by scrub; while the beach was empty, it was prudent to take no chances. The emptiness made it a likely area for darklings to come and go.
When they had settled in for the wait, they relaxed enough to drink wine and nibble on biscuits and apples. The night possessed a strange quality, starless, moonless. It shivered the hairs on the back of necks, but they were the first to admit it had more to do with their states of mind than real danger.
“This is your seventh life; Rayne was the sixth incarnation, right?” Taranis asked once they were as comfortable as they could expect to be. “I know something of Rayne’s life, and we have discussed your birth life, but what of the other five? Will you tell me?”
Torrullin mused over what Saska would say, her probable derision for his so-called subversion of innocent babes. He never thought of it that way, always choosing those who would have died had he not possessed them. Always those personalities remained part of him. Saska’s scorn touched a nerve, however, and he wondered now about the inherent selfishness in rebirth.
“The first was a babe from among the street folk of Tetwan. I returned there after my travels, perhaps to convince myself I chose the correct action. In a sense it felt right to reach for immortality in the place I was born, akin to affirmation. I did not return with that intention, for I was unsure, and had failed before. I searched for a sign, and did I find it? No, not unless you count the innocent I found dying at my feet one morning. I cannot and will not explain it to you, to anyone, how this transformation works. I shall not tell my son one day, if that gift is due me, for he would be the last person I consider deserving of this terrible knowledge. I shall never do it again.” Torrullin glanced sideways at his father. Taranis nodded without speaking. “This babe had no father and his mother died giving birth. He lay whimpering weakly …” Torrullin paused to draw breath, remembering the shock, then fear, his uncertainty, and then the terrible resolve.
Taranis noticed the tremble in apparently relaxed hands. In the dark, so complete, he found he could see his son, and knew it as a property of magic. How Rayne had changed.
“The street people looked after their own, thus I knew, with my essence to help, the babe would survive if discovered in time. I tempted fate even then, testing immortality, for that innocent could have succumbed. He did not; he was found an hour after the transformation, and thus for the second time I grew up on the shores of Ren Lake. Eventually I became King of the Beggars, for I had the ability to charm purses away from the wealthy. Now I know why, but back then it was astonishing.” Torrullin gave a small grin. “I lived in underground comfort with henchmen around me, and more women than I could handle. Quite a life, liberal. My name was Shane, and when Shane turned thirty-four, I came along. The awakening was gradual and easy. Only when it was complete, did I know who I was, and that I was immortal. I did not remain in Tetwan long then, and travelled from place to place, always moving on when questions arose about my apparent agelessness. I learned all I could of Valaris’ sorcery during that time, and it was not easy, most being hidden. Shane ‘died’ at nine hundred and thirty.”
Torrullin passed a hand across his face and glanced again at Taranis.
Taranis leaned back against the dune, arms crossed for warmth, listening intently, to not only the tale, but also the tone. There was sadness and it reminded him of Millanu. The first incarnation was quite shocking, from a soul’s perspective. He looked at Torrullin as the silence drew his attention. “If this causes old wounds to …”
“… heal, father. Talking, finally, brings acceptance.” It was an unexpected gift.
“Good.” Talking about Millanu achieved something similar for him.
“The new babe was an aristocratic child, descended in direct line from Malin Drew, our so-called Founder. Both his parents died in a flu epidemic, and he was too weak to survive. He subsequently came to manhood brought up by a close relative. Mason Drew knew life of ultimate luxury, and when Mason’s guardian died when he was twenty-two, the spoilt young man inherited riches beyond measure. He squandered a fair amount before thirty-four, the idiot. I hated Mason’s cosseted lifestyle and in the next ten years gave most of it away to deserving folk. No altruism: I just wanted it gone.”
Torrullin shrugged. “As Mason, doors were open. I studied the known history of Valaris, read voraciously and delved archives closed to general society at the time. I left Winnish at about fifty with enough money to live frugally, and travelled again, searching out anything that pointed to the Valleur, changing my name from time to time. Mason died at one thousand and ninety; I had had enough of him.”
Taranis gaped. Many had wondered how the Drews vanished from history.
“The Drew line was finished, and I cannot say I am sorry. The Drews, historically, had every advantage, but in later centuries rested on their laurels rather than help Valarians forward; I found that abhorrent. Mason’s guardian insisted I wed and have a child with another aristocratic girl. I met her, a young woman from Gasmoor, of a definitive family. I turned the offer down not long after I inherited; even Mason, cosseted as he was, knew marrying for convenience would not make him happy. Soon after awakening I realised I probably could not have children, being immortal, and thus chose to give it all away. The Drew line went out in style.”
Taranis remarked, “That line only ever had sons, one per generation. They were bound for extinction already in my time.” Torrullin nodded. Taranis added, “You mentioned earlier you would not tell your son about the transformation process – you’re not sure whether or not you are able to father a child, are you?”
“I have seen sons in my future. I have also sensed one boy, but theoretically I cannot.”
“I wish I had seen you in my future back then,” Taranis murmured, before inserting, “The Siric are case in point exceptions when it comes to immortal birth. It may be possible. Ask Vannis, Torrullin.”
“Then I open a real vessel of woes, don’t I?”
“Saska cannot have children.”
Torrullin closed his eyes and said nothing.
Taranis prompted, “Nothing is that certain, yet. Go on with your tale.”
“Interesting times – a beggar and an aristocrat. I despised the constant hiding; trying to avoid people whose grandparents knew me. The next innocent was an abandoned child on the steps of a church in a tiny hamlet east of Farinwood. More than the others, there was a real chance he would not survive, even with my help. The priest who found him named the babe Fundor, meaning Foundling. Fundor went from home to home, never knowing love, never belonging. Poor Fundor, he was unhappy, and knew he was different, for I was closer to him than the other two during the forming years.” He shrugged as he went on, “Thirty-four rolled around and, viola, Torrullin entered, as unhappy as the luckless Fundor. It was liberating, for I had no ties to anyone or anything whatsoever. I learned to travel to other worlds and would go for centuries, to return to Valaris changed, and nobody would remember me. It was a workable formula, and I studied intervening history in detail upon each return. I studied with sorcerers universe over, and my power grew. Fundor lived until a thousand four hundred and thirty-nine. He achieved much. During his lifetime Drasso came to Valaris, and you, but I was offworld. Perhaps my path would now be different had I recognised you then.”
“Maybe,” Taranis confirmed.
“Valaris was different. The clans were no more, except the scatterlings in the north. The Forest was a barrier, huge tracts of land were destroyed, the air was foul – you know the history. I did not like the new Valaris, so Fundor ‘died’. I could accustom myself to a changed way of life with the eyes of a child. The new babe was genetically and physiologically close to the original me. In fact, from him on, I deliberately chose close to my original image. I wanted to be Torrullin, and look like him.” Torrullin shook his head. “Valleur arrogance. Anyway, the fourth babe was a pirate child, and probably why Raken and I get on well. His name was Renos, and his mother was a pirate’s mistress, a beautiful woman. The babe was born at sea and there were complications. His parents thought they would lose him, but he surprised them, of course. Fundor at the time was a seaman on the ship, and ‘fell overboard and was lost at sea’. Renos’ father was a real blackguard, but he loved his son. Renos grew up aboard, with both parents, and had a good life. Unlike Fundor, he was blessed in love, and I could teach Raken a thing or two about piracy.” Torrullin smiled in remembrance.
Taranis chuckled. “You liked Renos, didn’t you?”
“He was an adventurer with no sense of fear. I had my own ship by the time I turned eighteen …”
Taranis noticed the shift in pronoun; Torrullin obviously identified greatly with the pirate boy.
“It was a fantastic way of life, utterly free. After my parents died, I sailed the oceans. The Forest was no barrier, but neither side believed tales of the other. As Torrullin, I headed my ship to the west, the Great Western Ocean, unchartered territory, a huge challenge. I desired to sail until I reached the eastern coast of the continent, to circumnavigate the globe. I had travelled the universe, but had no idea whether there were other continents out there. Isn’t it strange how a trajectory can be ingrained to such an extent I never had the proverbial bird’s-eye view?”
“Happens all the time,” Taranis said. “The Guardians have tales how they never saw this or that, despite repeated visits to here and there.”
Torrullin grinned. “I guess I could have lifted high enough to see how the globe was pieced together, but where was the challenge in that? I sailed, but mutiny found me. No one wanted to go that far, and I had to turn back. I went again, alone, a few years later to much talk of being insane. I went around – I believe I am the first to circumnavigate and survive – but no history book carries the claim. There are no large landmasses out there, but there are islands, thousands of them, some large enough to found cities upon.” He frowned. “Valaris is not like other worlds, is she? Most others have multiple continents or are entirely made up of islands.”
“Our continent is an island,” Taranis murmured. “Only larger.”
Torrullin inclined his head. “One could look at it that way.”
“It was formed volcanically a long time ago, thus bedrock is magma in origin,” Taranis said. “That makes it an island. Ask Llettynn sometime, considering the Siric are responsible for the creation of this world. It was created violently, not with the march of time.”
Torrullin nodded. “That puts a whole new spin on it.”
“It certainly does, and also explains why there was no slow evolution here of a sentient race. Never mind that; you were talking about Renos sailing around.”
“Yes … islands. Thousands uninhabited – but one. A crazy old man did what I had, just sailed west. His ship foundered and he swam ashore the nearest spit of land, saving as much from his ship as he could. He never expected rescue, or even to speak to another before he died out there. From him I learned survival, nature, medicine, endurance and courage. He did not want to go back, although I offered repeatedly; he was happy. I stayed on after his death, content to be alone.” Torrullin was introspective. “There I honed other skills, such as swimming. I swam from island to island, studied the sea and its creatures, practiced rituals and spells until they were second nature, and learned how to harness the elements, especially the storm’s ferocity, as the Valleur have always done. When I finally set out west again, my ship was rotten. Centuries went by unremarked. Renos’ tale was never told. I stole another ship and did it again. Renos lived long for I was happiest in his skin, all of one thousand eight hundred years. I had been alive then for more than four and a half millennia; it was time for change.”
“You are but thirty and a bit younger than I, but with so much experience and ideas.”
“There was nothing romantic about it and you were fighting the fallen, doing something worthwhile. Learning, studying, training and experiencing does not equate to that.”
“And today you are the Enchanter,” Taranis said.
“It was your destiny, and you cannot now change the past. You are here with me, fighting fallen as I am.”
“It scares me.”
“Goddess, it does me. You never get used to it.”
They grinned at each other.
“After Renos, there was one other before Rayne,” Taranis prompted.
“His was the shortest time. Ultrain lived to five hundred and fifteen. He was born in Farinwood to ageing parents. I chose him because of his features, and because he stood to inherit his father’s inn. I hoped Ultrain would teach me about the human race, and what better place than an inn in Farinwood where you get all kinds? Renos was a loner, Fundor withdrawn, Mason set apart, and Shane hid from authorities, and these traits held true even after awakening. Ultrain was to belong, move amid people, be with them, and know them, because the others had shown particular lack there. You must realise, for the first thirty-four years of each life, those identities were exactly what they were fated to be without my interference, and those personalities shaped the new Torrullin. In other words, I learned even during each period of ‘sleep’.”
Torrullin sipped from the wineskin. “Shane caused me to be wary of authority, and he was a taker, uncaring, a lover and a thief. Mason caused me to disrespect money, to waste away a fortune, to trade on ancestry, to think I am better than others are, and to take good fortune for granted. From him I learned what not to be. Fundor was so unhappy it still affects my thinking – I run from emotion all the time. Renos was a free spirit, and today I am still most comfortable on my own. Ultrain; by all the gods, he was a vicious character – not evil, just downright offensive. You know the type, a bully who enjoys pulling the wings off a butterfly. Let us just say, I discovered how not to treat people from Ultrain. After my awakening, well, it took many years to subvert his crude identity, and I shudder to think what he left me with despite my efforts. It was during his time I went to Xen III, and there I discovered what not to do to a planet, and how fortunate Valaris was in escaping the trap that is technology. I visited other worlds also – many – I think to escape the meanness Ultrain cast over this one for me. Then came Rayne, a babe abandoned by a teenage mother, adopted in Galilan … and the rest you know.”
“But Rayne was different.”
“Yes. Rayne became a sorcerer openly among his peers. The others never dared, not on Valaris. Each ritual he learned, he already knew. Torrullin simmered under the surface all the time, and every power event brought us closer. With the others – except Fundor, although he was not near Rayne – I hibernated, separate in the first thirty-four years. Not Rayne. He is a part of me now, as I was a part of him. He did not shape me, I shaped him.”
“Is that not strange for rebirth?”
“I know nothing of the science; what is right or normal is merely guesswork.”
“What do you feel then?”
“All right, it is strange.”
“If Fundor was closely connected, due to state of mind, maybe Rayne was near due to circumstances. Vannis foresaw him.”
“You don’t strike me as a person who deals in destiny,” Taranis murmured.
Torrullin laughed. “Two new moons ago I would have agreed with you.”
“It’s different now?”
“It is definitely different now.”
Taranis inclined his head, about to analyse that, and stiffened. He spied movement further down the beach. After a moment, he relaxed. “The others come.”
“Torrullin, I know this has been harrowing …”
“May I ask one more thing?”
Torrullin smiled. “Why not?”
“You said you began selecting babes genetically and physiologically close to your original self.”
“How did the original me look?”
Taranis nodded, his mouth dry.
“Need you ask? Look at my eyes; they are yours. My skin is like Vannis’ and I am sure you have seen my mother in me somewhere.”
“I am Torrullin.”
“It’s impossible,” Taranis breathed.
“This body is the same as my birth body.” Torrullin laughed – an astonished sound. “I have the same birthmark on my left buttock, and I have the same scar on my right upper arm where I fell onto a rusty spike on one of Ren’s jetties as a child.”
“But how?” Taranis breathed.
“I can only surmise in Rayne I was to fulfil the prophecies – I know I was dominant in his upbringing. This is my final incarnation; believe me, it is. As the Enchanter it must be necessary for me to be the Torrullin of first birth.”
“How do you explain it, though?”
“I cannot unravel it. Great sorcery? Time travel? Something we cannot understand? Or was Rayne in some convoluted way a descendent of mine? Although I know not whether I can father a child or not, I did sow my golden seed in my real youth. Is it a realm shift? A paradigm we are unaware of as magic practitioners? Does it matter, Taranis? It cannot, not now. It is as it is.” He stopped as the others called out. “Maybe I walk a road that has no end, no beginning, and maybe I was all the others before myself … who knows?”
“That cannot be, Torrullin. That would deny even immortals death.”
Torrullin said nothing, looking away.
Llettynn called out, and Taranis replied before turning back. “We are out of time.”
“Thank you for asking, and thank you for listening.”
“Do you mean that?”
“What is it?” Taranis asked. Torrullin was not looking at him, as if he hid something profound. “Have I done wrong?”
“You have done everything right. On this walk alone you atoned for centuries of my self-doubt, and I thank you for it.”
Taranis swallowed. “I am happy to hear you say so, but I know you are hiding something right now.”
“I have said enough.”
“Please tell me.”
Torrullin debated a moment, before gripping Taranis’ wrist. “I know not where this road leads, but instinct warns it goes beyond time and reality, beyond being the Enchanter. I sense I shall lose all of you, and I shall be alone into eternity, true, deathless Eternity.”
“Gods, Torrullin …”
Torrullin released his old and inhaled sharply. “I am sorry. One day at a time, not so?” Alone, or will the dark man be my companion?
Llettynn jumped into the hollow, and the opportunity to delve that terrible notion was lost.
Chapter 10: The Kinfire Tree
Kin is Everything
We return to the Land of Skies. One battle is already behind the team, the disastrous events upon Ardosia; time now to concentrate on the stability of Valaris, or the same fate awaits her.
Hidden from humankind are fourteen sacred Valleur sites, built upon nodes of power. Vannis Valla advocates unveiling them to restore balance to the earth, which will aid in the fight against Margus. The Darak Or has other ideas, and unleashes his soltakin …
In the north, Averroes discovers her true past and she and Kylan run the Maze gauntlet. Kisha, Mordan, Cristi and Samson prepare the clans of old for eternal night. In the south, Vannis, Rayne and Saska, along with the charismatic little Falcon, Phet, move from site to site. Taranis and the Guardians delve arcane ritual in the Dome to find the answers to the ending of soltakin, while expecting Infinity to bring her Darkling Horde into the mix. Meanwhile McSee, unmasked as traitor, meets the crazy Lanto and they hatch a bold plan, involving a pirate and ancient loot.
Rayne begins the internal battle that will change all. It began for him on Ardosia when he touched Vannis only to release blue sparks between them. The ruling house is almost extinct. How, therefore, does a Valla recognise the blood for the future? By the blue flame of trebac. Kinfire. The legendary Vannis is kin, but there is more in store for Rayne than the reality of this profound connection.
The Kinfire Tree has many branches hidden in its foliage, a condition Rayne suspects, a greater truth he must reveal …
Do not shoot the messenger! Ill tidings have warning! Listen!
~ Awl, author of Tattle’s Blunt Adventures
TO THE WEST, across the Bay of No Name separating the Vall Peninsula from the Meth Peninsula, Mordan, Cristi, Samson and Kisha entered the main village of the San. Cristi led them through massive wooden gates, which, in living memory, had never closed.
The San were her people, but she was somewhat nervous about her reception. She vanished from their lives without warning other than the strange semi-conscious state before her disappearance. She answered the summons from the Maghdim Medaillon, how to explain that?
How to explain Rayne? Taranis? Vannis? Annihilation beyond a Rift? A Darak Or bent on snuffing out every living entity on Valaris? How to explain the populated south, when it was contrary to every belief the clans harboured?
The north was hillier and less colourful than the south. There were fields and farms, orchards and the like, although produce, as Samson pointed out when confronted by the fertility of the southern lands, grew slower and with less success. Countless streams laced the land, but there were no large bodies of water and only three watercourses were worthy of being called rivers.
All clan villages were enclosed, with one main gate as access. The San enclosure was a wooden fence constructed of logs as thick as a man’s waist and towered three times the height. Other villages used natural barriers also, such as cliffs, mountains and ravines, but all were surrounded. For generations the gates nevertheless stood open. The paranoia after Drasso gradually eased.
Within, every family maintained abodes, from where they left each morning to tend the fields, or to the task earning their place in the village. Each evening they returned. One day in every eight was a rest day. At night, only travellers walked the paths that connected villages and clan holds, but travellers were few.
As Cristi entered, most were out, it being a few hours to sunset. Inside were those who tended fires, fed domestic animals, cared for the sick and elderly, and taught the young. The Bellwether would be listening to petitions, greeting travellers, and dispensing advice.
It was towards his hut she headed, the others following. The Bellwether was her uncle, her late father’s brother. Her mother would be nearby, as she tended house for him.
To her right, old man Marsh bent over tending his herb garden, but the poor soul was so deaf he did not hear them go by. As they twisted through the huts, they encountered children let off from lessons to go to their chores before the supper fires began. They vanished screaming and would no doubt shirk duties until the last possible moment. Ahead they heard a woman’s voice remonstrating about duties before fun, all to no avail. Cristi smiled. Janine sounded as harassed as ever.
“Cristi, that you?” a young voice asked.
A boy peeked from a window in the hut directly ahead, his mouth full of half-chewed bread. He vanished and, seconds later, flew through the open door, spitting as he ran. His red hair was an untidy mess and Cristi burst out laughing.
“Yes, Leo, it’s me!”
“Where you go?” He came to a skidding halt, eyeing the three strangers behind her. “Why you go? No say ‘bye?” His bottom lip jutted out.
“Sorry, love.” Cristi sank to her knees and took him in her arms. “I had something to do and there was no time to come give you a kiss, but I’m here now. Will you forgive your naughty cousin?”
He hugged her. Letting go, he ran, shouting at the top of his little lungs, “Aunt Berna! Mom, come see! Cristi’s back!”
He vanished between the huts as a woman appeared in the doorway. “Cristi?”
Cristi was rueful – so much for a dignified approach. Up ahead she heard a crash like that of breaking glass, and a muffled oath. “Hello, Leen … I think my mother has …” and she broke into a run, vanishing as Leo had. The other three followed more sedately, with Leen.
THEY ENTERED THE public space, well-trampled and well-used, set roughly in the centre of the San village. This was the heart. There was a huge fire pit, and great trunks lying in a square served as seating. Kisha, seeing it, blinked back tears, for it reminded her of her father. She realised she had not thought about him in days.
Across the clearing Cristi’s mother enfolded her, both crying. An older man sporting a big smile waited his turn. By his bearing, the three companions knew him to be the Bellwether. Leo was there, the bearer of good tidings, and loving it.
The Bellwether noticed the three. “Berna, Cristi brought visitors.”
Mother and daughter parted. Cristi waved them closer.
Already a small crowd had gathered behind Leen.
“Leo!” Leen called out, knowing her son would soon make a nuisance of himself. “Come here!”
The boy shook his head. The Bellwether looked down, and Leo changed his mind. Cristi grinned and her visitors smiled.
“Go now to your tasks; we will gather at sunset to share Cristi’s news,” the Bellwether ordered. “Jack, will you see the pit is lit?”
Berna led the three strangers into the Bellwether’s spacious hut, whilst he enfolded his niece in an embrace, whispering, “What happened to you, my girl?”
Chapter 10: The Infinity Mantle
I’ve decided to post chapters 10 for those of my books that are long enough to do so without revealing too much of the story. A chapter 10, after all, in a book that has only 12 will give far too much away! This means, for the most part, we’re talking the Lore books. So, let’s kick off with Infinity Mantle, book 1 (Lore of Arcana). For your understanding, know that I’m still setting the scene for a loooong series, and therefore the backstory bits 🙂
There is an obstacle in the mind known as denial. It is able to prevent knowledge entering, but it can also force the mind to move sideways onto a divergent path.
Beware the divergent path.
~ The Ancient Oracles
TARANIS DREW BREATH as Saska resumed her seat and released it explosively. He moved back to the dais. “Saska mentioned the complete picture and I have to admit here I do not have it. However, there are factors that may aid us, or aid you in helping me see the whole, which we will now discuss.” He paused to look around, noting intent faces. They would not like what he had to say next. “I have dubbed it Universe … apt, I think, if unimaginative. I chose to shy away from calling it Chaos, that being akin to tempting our fates. Whatever we call it, the stakes remain high. A game is about stakes and prize, which we are now aware of, but a game is also about rules and players. On the one side we have Infinity, her tricks and the Arcana, and on our side there will be five …” He winced as he said it, and they did not disappoint.
“This concerns all of us!”
“Why only five?”
The latter was the crux. Taranis raised his hands, palms outward. “Settle … please! None of this excludes any of you – think on it! While five shuffle upon a board, the rest have the all-important task of searching for scraps of knowledge, old legends, fact and fiction for information regarding our main enemy the Arcana. Find the factor that will close the Rift! The five who ‘play’ will buy the rest time to achieve that goal! Do I make myself clear? How do we do anything if we are all under Infinity’s watchful gaze as we toss marbles in the sand?” He dropped his hands.
Declan muttered, “Methinks the dara-witch will rue that little oversight before long.”
Osmandi, another Siric, snickered. “We know she isn’t the brightest.”
Taranis said, “We must thank our lucky stars she demands only five, for I need each one of you out there.”
Centuar heads nodded, as did feathered crowns. Belun, the Centuar leader, enquired, Which five, my lord? Like to the birds, the Centuar communicated via mindspeak.
“Allow me to elaborate,” Taranis replied. “According to Infinity there will be fourteen players, of which five are Guardians. One each from the Sagorin, the Siric and the Sylmer. One also, Belun, from your crowd. And myself. I am the one she really wants. Now …” and Taranis straightened behind the console of lights to emphasize his authority, “… the four who will be at my side are Glint for the Sagorin, Llettynn for the Siric, and Saska for the Sylmer. You three chose yourselves by being most vocal, but if you prefer to send another?”
“Not likely,” Glint muttered, drawing smiles.
“The Siric accept your choice,” Llettynn murmured.
“Oh? And what if I want to go?” Declan burst out, having been vocal himself. “How can we afford to send all our leaders into this contradiction?”
Taranis raised an eyebrow at Llettynn. “He has a point.”
Llettynn gazed stoically at him before turning to rake Declan with stern eyes. “You will obey your leader, Siric.” Declan subsided back onto his seat. “Taranis, the real point is that I prefer being on the ground with you for this.”
“And I am glad to have you.”
“Good, then it is settled.” Llettynn gazed up at his Siric once more and received nods of agreement.
“Saska,” Taranis said, “it would have to be you; none of us here could separate your three companions.” He sent a nod to the three Sylmer, with a conciliatory smile to remove sting from his remark.
Who for the Centuar? Belun sent deliberately. All heard him clearly.
“You, my friend, but that is why you make yourself heard, hmm?”
Laughter all around as Belun inclined his head in confirmation. He definitely preferred being the one taking the risks, yes.
Why are the Eagles and Falcons excluded? Funl, Eagle leader, demanded. Kras, his opposite among the Falcons, twitched his wings to show support for the question.
“She is afraid of you. Your agility is of renown and your two races did great damage during the Drasso war. Beaks and talons are sharp – they hurt. She is an apparition to the rest of us, but feels your manner of attack. And she cannot catch or hold you.”
Taranis grinned, recalling an incident where Infinity gibbered with rage, hands flailing as she tried to keep the birds from her. One of the good days.
“I would prefer you at my side for these very reasons and more, no doubt why you were overlooked. You do have a greater task, for you can go swiftly where most of us cannot.”
The birds settled again, clearly satisfied with Taranis’ diplomacy.
“The game, my lord?” Saska prompted.
It was time, yes.
“She uses the control number against us,” Llettynn interjected.
“Fourteen, indeed,” Taranis nodded. “Clever. She believes we are bound by the number to see this through to the end, and she is right, for fourteen is holy ground, but what strength lies in that magical number! She gifts us power from the beginning, does she not?”
“A sweet little point there,” Glint said. “Who are the other players?”
“Valarians.” Taranis gave a wry grin.
Valaris is the field of play again, Belun sent. Haven’t they been through enough?
“That, buddy, is likely the whole point,” Gren muttered.
Taranis gave a mighty sigh himself. “Revenge for Drasso, and bugger the innocents. It’s serious countering we undertake; let us not forget, for revenge could well dump us into Chaos.”
“Valarians don’t trust us,” Saska said.
“We cannot help that now.”
“Are the nine sorcerers?” Saska asked.
“On Valaris?” Glint blurted. “I doubt it.”
“Then it will be difficult,” Saska murmured, “Especially if we must work with them.”
“Which is the case,” Taranis said. “But I have no clue who the nine are.”
“Not much of a game,” Osmandi said.
“To Infinity it will be high jinks,” Gren said.
“We hope the Arcana don’t invade anyway,” Declan added.
Taranis frowned. “As we hope Infinity isn’t traitorous with the rules, we hope we have answers even if we win and we hope she does not end it before we are done. We have no alternative. We are to gather at the Well of Crystal Sound when Valaris’ moon shines new or the game is forfeit.”
THE CENTUAR WERE creatures of myth.
In all cultures tales abound of strong, sure-footed, four-legged animals, half-horse, half-man, and some named them as bad luck, while others regarded them as a symbol of good fortune. The Centuar did not have an evolutionary history, for they did not evolve. They were created by one man, a wizard of old with much time on his hands and a great love for the extraordinary. Truly creatures of myth and magic.
The old wizard and his kind had long gone, but his creations continued to thrive. He made them ageless – immortal. He made them strong and intelligent – sentient. And he made them the colours of fantasy – glorious. He also streamlined them. Four limbs were what they needed, not six, and thus they were more horse than man, the latter’s influence evident only in facial features and the glory of their hair. Upon the wizard’s death they were free. The Centuar entered the vast expanses of the universe, there to learn and become more. They became an intrinsic part of the Immortal Guardians. The old wizard created twelve of these glorious creatures. Nine remain and no sorcerer duplicated the awesome wizardry that brought them into being.
Belun assumed leadership back when the twelve commenced their long, arduous and instructive roam of the universe, for he was gifted the ability to commune using mindspeak, and he was the most flamboyant, of gold and silver, a natural choice in first contact with others. He taught the rest to communicate and trained them how to reach out to others, even those with no affinity for mindspeak. They learned sorcery, and discovered their souls. The old wizard made them with all pertinent parts, tangible and intangible. How sad the loss of his magic. How glorious his legacy.
BELUN STOOD MUSING after Taranis’ last words, a frown creasing his smooth golden forehead.
After the Sylmer, the Centuar were most protective of Lord Taranis, which was why Belun wanted to be on the ground with the team of players. The Centuar revered and respected their leader, but were concerned his youth – relative to the other Immortals – caused him to be more vulnerable.
He said nothing. The dice was rolled to Infinity’s advantage and the game of darkness was about to commence. Privately he thought to call it a game was ludicrous. Goddess, what were they thinking?
He looked around at those gathered. The solemn, intent Siric, with Llettynn ready to go to START, having a need to prove he was greater than his fear of the Arcana. The quiet Sylmer, with Saska watching Taranis, clearly more concerned for his welfare than her own. Kras and Funl conferred, staring in silent communication at each other, wings vibrating, talons clenching in serious body language. The huge, soft-hearted Sagorin, Glint whispering instructions to his second Gren. His Centuar, he noted, were unhappy that they could not back him when he left for Valaris. He would have a word with them soon. Taranis. Determined. Nothing would stop him. Short of death, and he would willingly surrender his immortality to prevent Infinity and the Arcana bringing in the fogs of chaos. As would they all.
Belun nodded. We are few, but beware us! We do not surrender. We are the Guardians and this is OUR universe! Wondering how wishful he was, he met Taranis’ grey eyes. There is more to this business than we realize. I feel it in my bones. This is no game. Infinity, curse her, is a bit player.
Taranis nodded although Belun had not communicated his thought. Belun blinked, and for a brief instant thought he saw another standing at the Dome’s helm. A fair man. Cold eyes, stormy grey.
He went cold, and prayed it did not signify utter change in their fortunes.
A MILLION SALS from land, busy space and anything remotely solid or travelled, the Dome hovered, an object of surpassing beauty seldom viewed by eyes other than the Guardians. Within, the players prepared for the challenge ahead, no one saying much.
Taranis stood bowed over the console of lights, his left hand resting on the symbol for Knowledge. Into it he imparted what he learned of the Rift, the Arcana and the game. He further revealed to it his place of birth and his current home in the event he was unable to return. Finally he left a message for Saska, telling her he loved her, and instructed the console to pass it on when it was informed of his demise. The symbol warmed and he sighed inaudibly and removed his hand.
Nearby, Llettynn watched him with impenetrable eyes before unobtrusively shifting his head in a different direction.
Posting this because it fits right in with the dragon tales in my Lore. FYI, if you’re wondering which books have dragons in them, well, Kallanon Scales is all about dragons from another realm, and they make an appearance in Nemisin Star also. The Dragon Circle is about another kind of dragon (all about symbolism) while Avaelyn: The Enshrouded World and Avior: The Mythical World see a return to the manipulations dragons are also capable of.