Our children are sacrosanct.
Avaelyn the world returns to Reaume, that great collection of spaces tangible and intangible, after a thousand-year absence, but no one knows the home of Torrullin Valla and Elianas Danae again swerves in its designated place.
Avaelyn is enshrouded.
How to rip aside the shroud?
On Akhavar, meanwhile, Enlyl Valla lifts from the mud in the badlands an ancient artefact, a sword created to protect children. The plight of Reaume’s children is dire, after all, and volunteers from many worlds gather to do something about it.
Will the sword help?
When the shivers of premonition tell that the young are taken to keep Avaelyn enshrouded, the Vallas take the fight to the monsters responsible for such horror. They will not rest until every child is safe.
However it comes to pass, Avaelyn will be unveiled.
Beware of examining your past too frequently.
~ Teighlar of Grinwallin ~
SLAPPING his hands upon the expanse of his scarred wooden kitchen table, Sabian swore foully. Master Historian? Ha, master fool! He cussed some more, then swiped the empty mug accusing him from the tabletop, grunting when it shattered against the far wall. Yes, better. He felt … well, perhaps calmer was stretching it. At least less furious. Ha.
A snort of amusement emanating from the region of his open front door had him straightening with such alacrity that he pulled a muscle in his lower back. More cussing followed. Master bloody fool, indeed.
“What’s got you in such a mood?” Torrullin Valla laughed as he entered the small cottage Sabian called home beneath the towering mountains in this region.
“Book,” Sabian muttered, swiping fair hair from his forehead as if the strands had been placed there to deliberately irk him. “That damn book, is what.”
Eyeing the book in question – a hefty tome with the appearance of terrible age on a dedicated pedestal next to Sabian’s cluttered desk in the corner near the pantry – Torrullin murmured, “A conundrum?” Open to around a third of the way, an illustration stared at the wooden ceiling overhead. “Is that a sword?”
“And don’t we know too well how swords can determine fate?” Sabian mumbled, rounding the table with his arm extended. “What brings you?”
Stepping into the ritual forearm to forearm clasp, Torrullin said, “I’ve come to pick your brain.”
“Hopefully not about a sword. Coffee?”
“Please.” Releasing the greeting hold, Torrullin moved to the book for a closer view. “No blades today, no battle other than seeking an answer to our dilemma.” Peering at the rendition of a weapon that appeared as most swords did, seeing nothing in the depiction to have caused Sabian such distress, evident in the lifted eyebrows he sent Sabian’s way, he added, “I am of the opinion the past holds the key.”
“And here we thought we were free of said past,” Sabian rebutted.
“Old stories can still tell us something.”
As a historian, Sabian trusted to that truth and thus did not refute the statement. He set to gathering the necessary to brew a pot of the dark stuff, knowing his guest preferred it strong. “So ask what you came to ask.”
Finding a brush and scoop, Torrullin hunkered at the site of the broken mug, sweeping the ceramic shards from the floor. “Is there mention in the Lore Book about veiling?”
Sending him a look, Sabian muttered, “Of course. The Arcana myth that protected the tear between Valaris and Ardosia is chronicled, a veiling if ever there was one, and so is the Forbidden Zone obscuring. You know this.”
Rising with his gathered pieces, Torrullin headed to the small bin near the backdoor, tossing the lot in. “Other than those.”
Lifting his chin at the bin, Sabian said, “Thanks. Amazes me how you are handy when it comes to chores.”
Smirking, Torrullin took a seat at the table. “Because I am so important it should be beneath me?”
Grinning, Sabian took a seat opposite. Behind him the stovetop kettle burbled. “Not who you are, is it?” Wafting a hand, he went on. “Sure, there are other shrouds in our longer past, such as the time Nemisin denied the existence of Danaan, and his lies surrounding Orb, and there are a few ascribed to races other than the Valleur, but none hold the kind of answers we need. Nothing points to a way out of Avaelyn’s enshrouded state, not even obliquely. Then again, truthfully, there may be, but I haven’t yet found it. That is a mighty book.”
Indeed. A mighty book. One created by a bloodline of lore keepers, one as old as the Valleur, of which Shep was the current embodiment. Shep’s last name, in fact, was Lore, and was the scholarly man with deep wells on compassion not eminently suited to the task. However, Shep’s need to record events in the magical tome ended when Avaelyn swerved away from the timeline. These days he spent most of his time at the Healers, leaving the deciphering to Sabian.
“Where is Shep?” Torrullin asked, causing Sabian to hike an eyebrow upward. “Right. Healers.” Frowning then, Torrullin murmured, “Shep seems reluctant to talk about the past contained in that book.”
“After our adventures on Lykandir, he clammed up, yes.” Inhaling, Sabian again slapped the tabletop, unexpectedly enlightened. “Because he knows something. The man says not a word because he’s afraid he’ll give it away. Always garrulous, now silent? Why didn’t I see it before? No, stymied by a drawing of a sword, I am, stumped as to why the book won’t let me turn the page. Fool. As if a lost blade is able …” Halting there, he swallowed. His fingers curled into claws. He rested his blue gaze on the far man on the other side of the table. “Torrullin, no such animal as coincidence, right?”
The grey eyes meeting his abruptly shifted into silver. “Now you’re downright frightening me, Master Historian.”
Those silvering eyes meant Torrullin had entered a different realm of understanding. Clearing his throat, Sabian divulged, “I think I’m scaring myself. See, that drawing? Nothing special. An ornate pommel, probably pricey, but nothing extraordinary. Still, resonance, you know. And when you read the legend it comes with? See …”
“Speak plain,” Torrullin growled.
“Lake of Swords, Torrullin, where Tristan ended Halon’s life and threw his blade into the water. Alusin found it, though, and returned it to him. A veiled place, a thing of time, and someone retrieved something from the water, and that has never happened before. Has that altered the dynamics, I ask?” Rising, he made his way to the ancient book. “This sword, also tossed into the Lake after its owner died, had before its disappearance the ability to ever return to the hand that knew it best. If lost during battle, within an hour of losing it, it would hurtle through the spaces back to that hand.” Licking his lips, he faced the silver eyes fixated on him. “What if the owner is reborn? I’m willing to wager you my vegetable patch that the sword will rise from the shallows of a legend and return to the one it has waited for, and in so doing, the Lake of Swords will appear, a magical enclave, Torrullin, able to wed the flows of time, space and everything within and between.”
The man had paled somewhat, Sabian noticed, but he nodded towards that paling countenance. “The blade was known as Akynitun, Valleur for …”
“… death’s gateway or …” Torrullin inhaled, and exhaled the next word explosively. “… shroud.” He inhaled long before asking, “Whose hand did it know best?”
“No name is given but he is described as a Golden with brown eyes, his hair a dark gold, a good man, a strong man. He protected children, his life’s work.”
Closing his eyes, thereby releasing Sabian from the pressure of that otherworldly gaze, Torrullin mused, “Sounds like Tianoman.”
“That’s what had me in a tizz. Your grandson does fit the description, but it didn’t resonate, not as the rest did. Now I’m thinking his son Lunik, or another of his sons. By now he has sons, plural,” Sabian stated. “A man walking the plains of Akhavar, old enough after a millennium, as they count the years, of our vanishing from those spaces to have come into his power naturally, a Valla with Danae genetics. Perhaps a man who feels the need to protect children also?” Throwing his hands up, he added, “But this is all supposition.”
Silver orbs lanced his every secret space, causing Sabian to shudder, and when Torrullin responded with, “Too much coincidence is in play,” his knees weakened. They, he already understood, himself, Torrullin, Elianas, Shep, the others, would now overturn every coincidental stone until the narrative either revealed the answer to Avaelyn rejoining the timeline for Reaume, or utter failure resulted. Failure was not an option. Torrullin sought return to the space where Akhavar and his family resided within, and would undo every strand he could find to have it come to pass.
Avaelyn’s western seaboard
WOOD creaked, sails flapped and stays hummed in the freshening breeze coming off the ocean. White spray danced into the air at the apex of every wave. Gulls swirled overhead, noisy as ever.
Teroux Valla worked the ropes, tying off loose ends before the storm arrived. His golden curls hid under a woollen cap. Did not need hair whipping his eyes right now. Even in harbour ships remained vulnerable, and this baby was his favourite. First built and by his own hand, it was special to him, for he rebuilt himself with every hull curve and deck plank laid. Leaving Akhavar and his traumatic past behind for this island on Avaelyn led to ship building and also restoration of self. In a way, it was his good luck charm.
Lovingly sweeping a hand over the polished railing, Teroux eventually considered every task done and stared over the ocean instead, noting the waves reach higher, the spray thrown further, and in the distance the smudge had already darkened. An hour, no more, and the spirits of sea and air would pummel his island and every ship in the vicinity. Not many of those, fortunately, for he had sounded warning two days back.
Time then to stoke the fire in his cottage and prepare a nourishing meal. Giving the smudge a final look, he turned away and headed down to the sturdy stone quay, checking the knots anchoring the vessel to its mooring as he passed by. As he set a booted foot to the lowest step of the meandering stairway carved into the hillside adjacent the harbour, a scream tore through the air, curdling the marrow in his bones. No, he imagined that. No one lived on his island. Shaking his head, he trod onto the next step, and another screech separated his ears from his head. Breathing fast, he raced upward, for the sound had source up there, not behind him on the jetty.
On attaining level ground, he skidded to a halt.
There, by Aaru, a flying contraption hung from the flagpole jutting up from his chimney, a deflating balloon covering half his cottage, and a woman clung to a rope swinging underneath a torn basket. He wanted to laugh – had he not said flying baskets were idiotic when they had not the gas to keep the balloons properly afloat – but she was in danger, and that bloody thing needed to get off his roof before the damn storm was upon them.
Striding in, he called up, “Can you not float down?” Her hair was as golden as his, she had to be Valleur, and that meant born with magic.
Hazel eyes glared down at him. “I’m human, idiot!”
Right. Avaelyn was home to Valleur, Senlu, and humans originally from Xen III, Beacon and Valaris, with a few oddballs thrown in here and there. Humans, too, laid claim to the golden glory that was the Valleur natural hair colour. Rolling his eyes, he said, “Let go, I’ll catch you.”
Immediately she shook her head, whitening markedly.
“Listen, you’re brave enough to fly in that thing, high, so I think you can manage a few yards of freefall. I will catch you. I am Valleur.”
“I know who you are,” she grimaced, and abruptly released her hold to plummet.
Well, that caught him unprepared, but he hastily muttered the words of cushioning and stepped underneath her. As he extended his arms, she landed in them. Despite the cushioning, his shoulders protested with jolts of fiery agony. Bloody hell. Setting her down, he shouted, “A little warning will have helped!”
Winking, she said, “My thanks.” She glanced upward. “The wind blew me off course. Why do you have that pole up there? It’s an invitation to lightning.”
“It diffuses strikes,” he grunted, massaging one shoulder. “Now help me get that thing off or the storm will use it to rip my roof into smithereens.” Gesturing at the broken balloon, he stomped to the corner to see what was where, and ignored her when she made no move.
Snarled as the ropes were, it took him the better part of ten minutes of succinct spelling to remove the offensive device. The woman did try to help after a few minutes, but there wasn’t much she could do, not until the material lay rumpled in the grassy paddock where he kept two horses. They, luckily, had already been stabled against the approaching weather. She started rolling the material, and he aided her, eventually magically lifting and sending the remains of the basket and the untidy roll to the storeroom beyond the stables.
By then the wind was a howling monster and, unspeaking, they hastened indoors. As there was nowhere else for her to go, she had now become a guest until the storm petered out.
“Thank you,” she said once he had secured the front door.
“Who are you?” He headed to the hearth and there snapped his fingers to set flame to the pyramid of sticks, thanking his stars for magic, for he had not the wherewithal left to build and stoke a fire the old-fashioned way. A magical blaze required simply a few sticks.
“Naemi Wynd.” She closed in to extend her hands to the blaze.
“Call me Teroux.”
Dressed in leathers to cope with the cold in the higher air currents, she was soon warm again, and moved to the large window overlooking the small bay. “Something happened up there, Teroux. I’ve flown many times, testing the gas ratios I’m trying to perfect, and know well the currents, but …”
He interrupted. “A storm on approach can be unpredictable.”
“I wasn’t near this region, not until shoved this way.” She did not look at him, no doubt thinking she sounded crazy.
He was Valleur. Crazy was once everyday for him in the times before Avaelyn separated. “Shoved? What happened?”
“It felt as if something sucked at the basket and then released so quickly that it catapulted me in a different direction. Kind of like a hole filled with vacuum briefly opened, and then suddenly closed. Shoved.” Shrugging, she faced him. “Sounds impossible.”
“It’s not, but should be on Avaelyn. We’re enshrouded and outsiders cannot influence anything.” Frowning, he thought it through. “Either there are localised currents we are unaware of, or …” Like to her, currents of air and, in his case, water also, had become a field of expertise. “… someone on the ground either deliberately or accidentally messed with your situation. Hopefully not.” For that would mean someone needed to be taken to task and it meant investigation. “Well, we can’t do anything about it now,” he muttered and made a beeline for the kitchen alcove he loved to spend time in. “You hungry?”
“Starving,” she laughed, and the sound of a woman laughing in his private space did something to his gut he had not experienced in over a hundred years.
The Singing Chapel
SEARCHING for Shep Lore, having left Sabian to his mutterings, Torrullin eventually apprehended the purple clad, rotund half-Valleur in the small chapel that served as a place of tranquillity for those needing it while at the Healers, or as Shep preferred, the hospital. Valleur in general, despite his eye rolls, called it the Healers.
The man was rapt, listening to the birds in the foliage outside singing their songs of praise. Birdsong was the reason why this serene place was named the Singing Chapel, a site sacred now for many reasons, no longer merely a Valleur sacred site forming part of the fourteen geo nodes.
“My Lord!” Shep gasped when he became aware of Torrullin. “Oh, my mind, Forgive me!”
“No matter, Shep.” Sitting in the nearest window seat, Torrullin sent his gaze outward. As ever, the surroundings soothed, and the musical tones bathed him in bliss. “Ever I am renewed here.”
Shep smiled. “Indeed.”
“How fares the facility?”
“All is well. We finished the final repairs a few weeks back.” He referred to the damage caused by the near collision with Lykandir three months ago. “We have only three patients. Nothing serious.” His tone offered a lilt at the end of his summation, as if wondering why he had been sought out this day.
“Lake of Swords,” Torrullin murmured, and listened to the man’s response with more than his ears, and sensed how Shep Lore instantly tensed. “It is time to tell me, Shep.”
Silence answered him first, and thereafter a volubly sigh sounded. “Very well. Not here.” With deliberation, the purple form rose from his bench and headed out, which was most telling, for Shep never acted first in his ruler’s presence.
Whistling silently through suddenly clenched teeth, Torrullin followed him out. “Shall we go to the Lifesource?”
“Excellent idea. Quilla should hear this also.” Tawny eyes speared him as Shep looked up. “My Lord, call Elianas.”
Torrullin’s gut hollowed.
He sent the call.
AS THE two men dematerialised for transport, Anastir stepped from the shadows. As First Sorcerer and Elder, he was entitled to go where he pleased, but listening in on Torrullin’s conversation could be construed as something beyond eavesdropping. He had trailed Shep Lore, however, and Torrullin’s arrival had been a surprise.
It seemed, Anastir mused, that Lord Elixir had stumbled upon the same track he had skinned knees on, and Shep, as suspected, knew the way. He intended to attend the impromptu meeting at the Lifesource.
Indeed. Change was now daily fact.
OVER roasted vegetables, slivers of fried fish, and garlic bread, accompanied by a fruity white the winemakers finally excelled at – it only took them fifty years of vinegar varieties to find success – Teroux asked Naemi to be specific in location for the ‘shove’ she experienced.
Her golden hair tucked behind her ears, she ate with abandon, using her hands without apology. “You’re a good cook,” she said, lifting her goblet in toast. “My mother will love you, for sure.”
Smiling, Teroux acknowledged her compliment.
“I flew over the orchards beyond the hills that keep the salty winds at bay, so that’s roughly forty sals east from here. All along the coast folk spoke of the storm, and I decided to keep inland. As I moved the rudder to shift south, heading home, that’s when it happened.”
“Did you see anything on the ground?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Wasn’t looking at the time … but … seriously, I smelled mud, stinky stuff, stagnant, and I could swear I saw muddy droplets around the basket. And then your island loomed, and I went down.”
“How long from there to here?”
“Minutes, Teroux. That was the weirdest part.” She stared at him. “It sounds like I hallucinated, I know, but that’s what happened. Forty sals in minutes. No balloon flies that fast.”
Leaning back, he fingered his goblet. “If we can find this mud, maybe it will lead to more clues. An isolated incident. Someone working a spell that rebounded. That someone needs to be cautioned. If not,” and Teroux leaned forward to stare intently into her hazel eyes, “we need to know if an outside influence did this.”
“How? Everyone knows Avaelyn is hidden. You said so yourself.”
“Is it?” he whispered. “I wonder. We are in Reaume once more, Naemi, and this is a busy space filled with talents even the Valleur have had to stand back for in our past. What if someone can see us, while we remain blind?”