Chapter 1: AVIOR: The Mythical World

Following on directly from

AVAELYN: THE ENSHROUDED WORLD:

The Vallas go to war with each other.

Avaelyn returns to Reaume, no longer enshrouded … but soon another world draws attention, for it is there that the great battle will be fought. 

Avior is veiled.

By myth.

By destruction.

By inverted sacred sites. 

On Valaris, four strangers to the realm prepare to face Torrullin and Elianas, Tristan and Alusin, and they have a tale that raises terrible alarm. On Akhavar, the reality of the true enemy surfaces. The Path of Shades must be reopened … and old foes therefore step into the arena. A vengeful Timekeeper, an ancient Vallorin with a bone between his teeth, and a wife seeking to undo her husband.

The plight of Avior’s children is discovered, and all fight to save them from the monsters flourishing beneath the shroud created by myth. From dragons to darklings, the field is strewn with horror. 

How to end their reign?

All are called into battle, from the Valleur, Kaval and Guardians to mysterious sorcerers gathered on the volcanic world of Danaan, but is Valla pitted against Valla that causes shudders in the ether.

No matter what, Torrullin will not stand aside, not until every child is safe.

CHAPTER 1

So many! I am blessed.

~ H. Waetherhar, novelist ~

The Dome of the Kaval

ELIANAS felt Torrullin labour for breath, felt his dead weight on the other end of the tether, and felt him plummet through moisture. He felt also the man’s elation when he realised he was in the atmosphere of their world, and silently celebrated with him.

He heard every word of the interaction between Torrullin and Avaelyn’s sentience, and tears flowed over his cheeks. How blessed they were. He jerked forward when Torrullin slammed the grappling hook into bedrock, thanking his foresight for handing the four men behind him extra tendrils to secure the hold, for they instantly braced to hold him upright and inside.

The link to his beloved vanished.

The tether dematerialised.

All gods, he whispered internally, closing his eyes, I pray it worked.

The loud exclamations around and behind him forced his eyes open, and Elianas stepped to the edge of the Dragon ogive. And there she was. Avaelyn. Beautiful Avaelyn. Back in Reaume.

He fell to his knees, and wept.

Avaelyn

Teroux’s home

A GLOWING blue coil of light appeared from the cloud cover and with it flames shaped like a three-pronged hook. It swirled to the north of Roux Island, and thereafter the flames raced for the ocean, only it didn’t reach the sea, it smashed into the small outcrop Torrullin had once claimed was an ancient rock that was one giant column from the ocean floor itself. A massive eruption of light ensued, and then utter darkness descended.

“Bloody hell,” Teroux whispered. “Is he … did he …?”

Silence was next … until they heard a man laugh.

“Knew it,” Tarlinn declared. “This is why we jumped into that void. Having accepted himself, he discovered the belief he needed to unveil our world.”

“I understand now,” Tristan murmured.

They heard splashes as if someone swam towards Teroux’s island. Looking at each other, the four men raced for Teroux’s jetty. Skidding to a halt on the slick stone, they stood at the far end and cast gazes into the inky ocean.

Splash. Splash.

“There!” Teroux exclaimed, pointing frantically.

Yes, there. Arm over arm, a man swan towards them, and then he was close, and they knew it was Torrullin.

Tristan hollered, “Wet enough, are you, for a swim this night?”

Treading water, Torrullin shouted, “Tristan! You made it!”

“Seems you did, too!”

The splashes resumed and then they helped him from the water. Despite the fact that he dripped salt water, the cousins enfolded him in their arms. Alusin smiled like an idiot, watching everything.

Eventually Tarlinn asked, “Is she back?”

Torrullin grinned at him over the clasp. “Avaelyn has returned to Reaume, yes.”

The dwelling on the cliffs

ELIANAS alighted on the grass where the bench perched near the edge, and simply stood there, his dark eyes trawling from one end of their home to the other. It was still night, but in the enveloping darkness he saw everything.

Kneeling, he placed his palm upon the cold green stalks. Thank you, Avaelynfrom my heart.

The world sentience did not reply with words, but he felt a warm, ethereal hand descend to his crown and briefly rest there. He had, however, heard her speak to Torrullin via the connection they maintained – him in the Dome, Torrullin blindly diving into Avaelyn’s atmosphere – and counted himself as eternally blessed.

When he looked up, Torrullin was before him.

“That was a fool thing to do,” Elianas grunted, before smiling and adding, “but I am so glad you succeeded.”

We succeeded,” Torrullin murmured.

Rising, he moved to the man and merely embraced him. Yes, for this, this, there were no words.

Morning

HAVING asked for the remaining hours of darkness to reconnect with their home, when the first sunbeam fell upon the bench in the elements upon the cliff, both men, sleepless, knew the time had arrived to resume the ever more complicated mission of the present. Avaelyn had returned to Reaume, thus was that quest done with, and now it was time to focus on the greater tapestry, as Tarlinn would say. Sitting with cold mugs between them, watching the ocean light up as it greeted the day, they wondered who would arrive first to prod them into renewed action.

It was Quilla.

The birdman, though, did not come to prod, he came simply to greet. Appearing before them, he placed a tiny hand upon a small breast, and bowed. “My lords, you are returned.”

Simultaneously, both men raised hands to their brows, touched.

Quilla smiled. “Reverence, is it? It does fit, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Elianas agreed.

“Welcome home,” Quilla murmured.

Rolling his shoulders, Torrullin stood. “Thank you, Quilla, and thank you for watching over everyone.” He snatched up the mugs and sent Elianas a questioning glance.

“You go,” the dark man replied.

“Take as long as you need,” Torrullin offered, and indicated for Quilla to follow him.

Elianas sat on.

TRISTAN and Alusin were in the kitchen preparing the kind of breakfast fit for a host eating in stages. Boiled eggs, sausages, salad, sliced bread, with a pile of plates to hand. A ‘help yourself when you’re hungry’ meal. Coffee burbled somewhere, and the orange juice was freshly squeezed.

“Thought you’d be back on Akhavar already,” Torrullin teased as he entered with Quilla, wiggling his eyebrows their way.

Alusin grinned, but Tristan grunted, “Can’t, not until we’ve faced the Syllvan. A promise we made.”

“Bugger,” Torrullin stated.

“Pretty much,” Tristan laughed.

Torrullin grabbed a plate and loaded up. Already eating as he made his way to the table, he said, “Thanks. Hungry.” Sitting, he tucked in.

Quilla soon joined him, his plate as loaded.

“How does a birdman eat so much?” Torrullin muttered.

“He does when he’s hungry,” Quilla snapped back, and ignored everyone to eat with relish.

Teroux and Tarlinn appeared then, and simply fell in with the ‘help yourself’ meal. A few minutes later, it was Karydor and Echayn, with Belun and Teighlar in tow. Belun and Teroux went at each other, laughing and pumping hands, and then Teroux and the Senlu Emperor sized each other up and, realising no animosity held sway anymore, backslapped each other resoundingly. Somehow, they fit around the table, including Tristan and Alusin.

“Any moment now,” Torrullin said, winking at Teroux.

The Kaval leader grinned. “I know. Tian won’t wait much longer.”

“Tian brought everyone,” Tianoman said from the passage, and entered with his entire family trailing him in.

“Cousin!” Teroux hollered, scraping his chair back and racing at the man.

“Teroux!”

Torrullin, leaning back, watched fondly as the cousins gripped each other, both laughing and crying at the same time. Aislinn waited her turn with a silly grin on her face, and around them milled Lunik holding Sianora’s hand – excellent, Torrullin mused – as well as Timare and Zane, and Enlyl and Ashar leaned against each other shoulder to shoulder watching everything and everyone with big eyes. Tianoman gripped Alusin to him, happy to see him safe and sound, and then suddenly demanded an explanation for Tristan’s blue eyes … tuning that out, Torrullin swivelled his gaze to Karydor at the table, to find his father waiting for his look. Ah, yes, family, and quite a large one now.

When Elianas’ hand descended to rest on his shoulder from behind him, Torrullin closed his eyes. Perfect. His loved ones were in the same space at the same time.

“We are blessed,” Elianas murmured in his ear.

Indeed, oh, indeed.

Later

BELUN returned to the Dome, which was now in orbit around Avaelyn as a precautionary measure, and Enlyl and Timare reluctantly went back to Valaris, while Lunik took Sianora and Zane to Kalgaia, explaining about their task underway there. Ashar went with them.

That left Torrullin and Elianas with the three cousins, who could not stop talking, Karydor, Echayn and Tarlinn, who were wordless, simply listening to those three try and outdo each other, as well as Alusin and Aislinn, who could not get a word in, and Tarlinn, Quilla and Gabryl, the latter having joined them a while ago, sitting now with his father, both quiet, but smiling as they watched everyone.

In the informal sitting area overlooking the bridge over the fishpond in the garden, Torrullin and Elianas sat side by side near the ledge, backs against the stone, legs stretched out, and merely listened also. This day they would allow the chaos of many personalities, but tomorrow? Ha.

Teighlar rose and came to hunker before them. “Knowing you, this isn’t normal for your home,” he teased.

“Today is different,” Torrullin murmured.

Sitting cross-legged, Teighlar nodded. “Alik would love this. That girl is made for a large family.”

“I’m surprised she isn’t here,” Elianas put in.

“She’s in surgery,” Teighlar shrugged. “No doubt she’ll visit soon enough.” He eyed them. “Gabryl and I will return to Grinwallin to renew family bonds just now, but before we do, what’s next?”

“We don’t know yet,” Torrullin said. “Gabryl can’t leave, though, not until he’s faced the Syllvan.”

Silence arrived then, as those words penetrated.

Tristan grunted, “Then let’s get it done, so that we can all go on. You, too, Torrullin, and you, Elianas. Both of you have been avoiding the Syllvan, and that’s downright stupid now. They have answers we all need.”

Elianas grimaced, but didn’t otherwise respond.

“Perhaps all here should face them,” Teighlar suggested.

“No way,” Echayn muttered. “I’m going to bend Sabian’s ear for a while, find out what he knows about shadowy influences.” Echayn summarily vanished before anyone could stop him and force him into the Sentinel Chamber.

Karydor stared at the space vacated, grinned, shrugged, and as swiftly disappeared.

“Clearly not,” Teighlar sighed.

“Tian,” Aislinn murmured, “let us leave them to it. Teroux can come to us on Akhavar when done …”

“No way; I’m coming right now,” that cousin stated. “No Syllvan for me.”

Tianoman glanced at Torrullin, who laughed. “Go; we’ll join you soon enough.”

“All right then,” Tianoman nodded. Taking Aislinn’s hand, he dematerialised with her, and Teroux hastily followed suit, an expression of anticipation on his face. He, no doubt, wished to wander Akhavar’s mountain halls and renew the bonds there. Far better that facing a tree trunk able to unmask one’s secrets, after all.

“Quilla?” Teighlar prompted.

“I am not afraid of questions,” the birdman said. “Count me in.”

“An hour,” Elianas grunted, levering himself upward. “Need to refresh first.” He strode away, heading for the sleeping area of the dwelling.

“An hour,” Teighlar echoed, and shifted to the edge, jumped off and went a-wandering around the garden. Gabryl joined him.

Tristan and Alusin did the same, but went in a different direction. That left Torrullin with Quilla and Tarlinn. Quilla ruffled his feathers, and said he would be back, that the Lifesource would offer him the serenity needed for the Syllvan, and absconded. Torrullin gazed at Tarlinn, and waited.

The not so generic man soon kneeled before him. “I wish to assume a place as family, Torrullin.”

“I have noticed the differences,” Torrullin nodded. “You are now forever separated from not only the Throne, but the man you were in the past. Are you whole?”

“I believe so.”

Rising then, Torrullin bid the man do the same. Gripping his shoulders, he said, “You are Tarlinn Aleru, and I welcome you as family.”

When the One spoke your true name, it set you free. Tarlinn’s knees nearly buckled as the release overcame him. “Thank you.”

Letting him go, Torrullin winked. “So. Here we have a full-blood Aleru able to restore the bloodline … means you’ll have to make little Alerus, of course … and there’s a full-blood Danae running around, too, able to do the same. Karydor may need some convincing …” He doubled over in laughter when Tarlinn merely gaped at him. “I’m just saying that the great lines can be rebuilt.”

“Yes, well, give me a break, will you? I don’t even remember how to use that part of me yet.”

“Ha, trust me, that will not last much longer.”

Shaking his head, Tarlinn gave him the finger, and jumped off the ledge. Laughing still, Torrullin went to find Elianas.

AVIOR 

Chapter 1: AVAELYN: The Enshrouded World

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.

By magic.

By time.

By manipulation.

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.

CHAPTER 1

Beware of examining your past too frequently.

~ Teighlar of Grinwallin ~

Avaelyn

Trezonadr Mountains

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.”

“A portal.”

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

Roux Island

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.

Teroux’s cottage

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?”

AVAELYN

Chapter 1: LYKANDIR: The Measured World

Motionless seas. A two-faces clock. Lykan sees all.

The Dark Ages reigns on a world separated from Time, where men prefer war and women are lesser. Writing is outlawed and city gates close against the night, for the legend of the Wer is frighteningly real.

 King Androdin sends his son Cadmus north to meet with his northern rival, Drakan of Caladin, and with him is Aris Delmann, leader of the army. Their journey takes an unexpected turn when they discover not only an enclave of women, but also powerful men from another world, among them Torrullin Valla and Elianas Danae.

Meanwhile, in the south, traitors have summoned an army from a distant land, and soon the first city falls to their might.

When the mages begin their own game of manipulation, using the two-faces clock, Lykandir becomes explosive. It needs but a spark and all hope will be lost.

How dare they? Now is the time to stand together, is it not? Lykandir is about to suffer an overdue shake around and no one will escape it.

Lykan sees all.

DAY ONE

CHAPTER 1

Do not be deluded by the beauty of nature surrounding you, soldier. Much lies in wait behind a shrub overrun in blooms.

~ Sergeant’s Speech ~

City of Globeni

Month of Harvenis – The Shifting Season

14th hour / 45th minute

HISTORIANS would tell that it – change in all its complications – began when a man entered the city of Globeni on his warhorse, and yet one must hark to the fact that his travel to a place of meeting was the culmination of factors, therefore of time passed. Thus, it began, if one was truly dispassionate, a long time before, but let the historians tell the tale their way …

The man on his warhorse approached the city of Globeni with some misgiving. It had been a while since Aris had set foot in the city nearest his home, and he wondered how much had changed in the interim.

Born to an unknown woman in the household of the forester clan Delmann, he spent his childhood fighting imaginary battles with trees, a wooden sword his weapon. His father swiftly understood this son would not follow in his footsteps – he had six others to do so – and alerted the local guardsmen. At age twelve Aris left the forest for the local city – Globeni – and the sands of a training ground. That was the last time he saw his father and his brothers.

At age sixteen he fought in his first war, a son defending his father’s rights to the forest from the rival Cormsin clan, although he did not meet his family on the battlefield that day or any other. His father was a forester, not a soldier, but Aris knew two of his brothers had fought. One did not survive.

This war was enacted more than once, honing raw talent into a formidable warrior. Aris discovered he loved the blood of battle, the sound of metal ringing, the power of a warhorse between his thighs, and the freedom of travel. He had seen much of Lykandir south of the Wall that divided the northern kingdom from its larger neighbour.

This day, this journey, his king had commanded, and it had naught to do with impending battle. Aris was to meet with a forester from the Cormsin, for apparently the man possessed first-hand knowledge of events moving to the north. Of course, one had to admit that battles were not always fought with iron and steel.

It did not sit right. Firstly, any dealings with a Cormsin felt akin to betrayal, even though a soldier was regarded as neutral, going where the king decided his troops were most needed. The wars between Cormsin and Delmann of yesteryear, when he as a younger soldier fought on the side of what he believed was right, had been for territory the king required, land the Cormsin owned. It could well have been the other way and he might have been commanded to dispossess his own family, while having to remain ‘neutral’. Secondly, anything that carried the stench of the north was to be avoided. No good had ever come from the land of savages beyond the Wall.

Why now? Aris thought as he nudged his mount under the arch of entry into Globeni proper. King Androdin considered Drakan of the north his mortal enemy; what was that imperative to result in this coming meet?

He would soon discover the why of it.

His horse’s hoofs clattered on the stone underfoot as they ambled together to the stables maintained next to the training sands and the barracks. He glanced around in some curiosity, seeing the same stone frontage and fading signs as in days passed. Globeni had not changed, other than to appear a little timeworn. Despite being near the ocean, dense forest lay between the city and the cliffs overlooking the Dungaler Islands, and few thus regarded it as a coastal settlement, although a tang to the air said otherwise. Aris sniffed and, yes, there it was, the faint smell of salt overlaying the decay from the old trees.

The city folk, he noticed as he ambled onward, seemed far surlier than he remembered, and less well-fed. Androdin’s taxes, he knew, were steep. An army had to eat, and needed to be outfitted frequently. No wonder the looks cast his way were not friendly. It paid to be a soldier, but the common man laboured to feed that soldier.

Soon the stables were in sight, and Aris swung from his horse, handing him over to a lad sporting a mop of brown hair.

“Take good care of Vulcan, hear? There’s extra in it for you.”

The lad grinned and nodded vigorously. “Aye!”

“Go with the boy, Vulcan,” Aris murmured after rubbing between his charger’s ears. “Take some rest now.”

Obediently the warhorse acceded to the gentle tug from the lad, and vanished into the gloom of the yard.

Aris headed in the opposite direction, eschewing making his presence known at the barracks. As ever, those would be filled with both new cadets and old hands, and he had no desire to view either. Removing his understated boiled leather helmet, he scrubbed at his cropped fair hair, grimacing at the sweat he encountered. He sought the tavern where he was to meet the Cormsin, hoping for a meal and a drink before the appointed time arrived. He hoped also, once that duty was done with, for the opportunity to bathe.

City of Rodair – Capital City

14th hour / 47th minute

THE INTERMITTENT sunshine created sparks of light upon the water, arcs of glitter as wavelets rippled. This day the breeze drove the usual tranquillity into forerunners to frenzy; it needed but a degree or three more, and ripples would become waves to send fishermen to harbour.

Standing at the very edge of the royal pier where it jutted into Lake Rushin, the sails of the royal barge snapping somewhat to his left, Prince Cadmus watched the dancing on the crests. In the distance, two boats gradually tacked towards the wharves that reposed slightly northwest of the city. The wind would thus strengthen, he understood; one could ever tell the temperament of the lake merely by tracking the movements of men well-accustomed to conditions. They were definitely scurrying to harbour; a tempest might be in the offing. Neither here nor there at this moment – the magical skittering of light had captured his attention.

One did not navigate the seas of Lykandir, but the lakes were suited to sailing, fishing, swimming and more. Here the waters moved. The great bodies of water surrounding Lykandir remained ever motionless, no matter the wind, no matter the rain, a state to frighten even the bravest of souls, for it was without doubt unnatural, a scientific impossibility. Given the moon in the heavens and the rotation of their world – measurable by noting the stars revolve in the night sky – tides, at the very least, had to be the logical result one relied upon. There were no tides, however, at least not in the accepted sense. Many whispered of fell sorcery, although none were able to give a reason for such necessity. The inland ‘seas’ possessed no tidal action either, but at least the waters moved. And thus created glitter for an enchanted prince to lose himself in.

A pair of colourful geese swimming unhurriedly between the currently gentle troughs created by the breeze, with a row of goslings in rapid pursuit, the sun highlighting their iridescent plumage, caught his attention next. Father and mother, together, caring for their young.

A tear tracked over Cadmus’ cheek. How he wished to be one of those goslings, to know true care. Women had no place on Lykandir, and yet nature belied that notion. The mother cared for the young while the father brought food, and then the day came for an outing such as the one he now viewed, and both mother and father undertook the task of teaching their offspring.

Something, he knew in his soul, was truly awry with the social system all men accepted as norm in the place of his birth. He suspected, if boys grew up under the care of a mother and had girls growing alongside them, under the same care, the men of their patriarchal society would not be as warlike as they were now. Perhaps men would not be as angry about … everything.

Cadmus watched the small family vanish into distance, and inhaled a breath. I shall change it, he swore in silence. All women will have the status they deserve.

He suspected, although the thought was unformed, that women were more powerful than men in many ways, and men knew it and thus denied them a long time ago. A different kind of sorcery, but as impactful as motionless seas.

Globeni

Halvetin’s Tavern

15th hour

THE SMELL from the smoky hearth revealed ash, elm, hard pine, and aged orange tree logs burning away to nothing. Aris was a soldier, true, but a forester never forgot.

Being not long after mid-morning, the tavern had not yet filled. Excellent. The food would still be fresh, and there would be enough to settle the gnawing in his belly.

Two men sat a far table – griffers, by their apparel. They did enjoy prancing about in bright garb and starred cloaks. Aris ignored them; he did not wish to think of griffers on an empty stomach.

Lykandir was a hilly kingdom with some larger peaks, surrounded by ocean, a beautiful land with great trees, inland seas and plains of wildflowers and colourful heather. Majestic birds gave mournful cries in grey skies. Numerous small islands hugged the coastline, generally tribal, or clan, lands.

This is the world, the king proclaimed, both present day Androdin, and his fathers before him, but there were a host of tales about other lands, most notably rumours of a civilisation to the south. According to the rumour mongers – the subversives of society – a valiant crew and a sturdy vessel needed sail due south for ten days to attain a harbour overflowing with outlandish and exotic people, strange craft and peculiar things (nobody explained what those ‘things’ were). There was not a word for ‘exotic’ in the Kandrian tongue and thus it evolved as a slang term created for the purpose of nuance. Griffers – scribes with the kind of magic that retarded indefinitely the decay of scrolls – called the rumours a lie. One had to believe them, for they were the mouthpiece of the king.

Aris snorted to himself, thinking about griffers despite his intentions. Ever had their presence led to such speculation, however, and thus he did not flay his inner self over it. His snort was for ‘the mouthpiece of the king’. He knew well how often Androdin cursed their very existence.

Few men became griffers, for few possessed the gift of magic and writing. Magical talent was extremely rare, and not so many possessed the skill of writing either. If a boy was seen by an elder scratching a shape in the sand, he was immediately marked and subsequently removed from his family for training; one had to believe the griffers – they knew. Did they not?

Ha.

Debatable.

A girl seen scratching a shape in the sand, by any man or boy, was put to death instantly. Women had therefore learned to hide such talents and in the present few were found with such abilities. It was said there was a chain of women and girls possessing both writing and magic, but one would have to be a woman to verify that rumour. Aris had no idea whether such was true. He had not spoken to a woman in years.

Ignoring the griffers and shifting his thoughts from the intrigue of lands to the south – he was here about a certain kingdom to the north – Aris beckoned a server closer.

The nondescript man shuffled nearer, his expression baleful, and then waited insolently, offering no greeting. Aris ignored his attitude; it was for his uniform, therefore his rank – Chevalye – and he did not need to explain himself to anyone. “Stew and a fresh loaf. A tankard of whatever’s on tap,” he ordered.

The man went away without responding.

Men, he mused, preferred the wild spaces and the clash of weapons – no doubt why the server felt inadequate – and left it to others to track the truth, and that was why griffers and clerics had so much leeway.

Forcing his thoughts to the present, ignoring the occasional flash of bright garb in his periphery, Aris waited for his meal. He had around an hour at his disposal before his mysterious contact showed up, and he would use it to eat well.

Twenty minutes later

15th hour / 19th minute

FOUR patrons had entered the smoky tavern in the last few minutes, and thus he ignored the door when it again creaked open to allow a newcomer within. When silence descended, however, Aris looked up.

By Lykan, Lord Cormsin himself had arrived for this meeting. Aris shoved his meal aside with regret, and inclined his head to the man, his hazel eyes revealing no expression.

Grinning ferally, Caleb Cormsin approached.

LYKANDIR

Chapter 1: FAROCHIN: The Terraformed World

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.

CHAPTER 1

A flag is History’s banner.

~ Adjunct Glestiel of Nolkoth ~

Farochin

Thela

City of Therin

SUMMER inTherin this year was milder than usual, according to the locals, and yet sufficiently present to make for uncomfortable sleeping patterns. When the sun rose, Karydor was relieved. The act of trying for rest could now be abandoned. Nightmares plagued him, too; respite was elusive for many reasons.

Dressing swiftly in lightweight linen after splashing tepid water on his face and completing the morning ritual of ablutions, he hastened down the bougainvillea enhanced outer stairs to the cobbled street in search of breakfast. The old man baker on the corner knew his hours; a savoury pastry would be waiting.

It was indeed waiting, steaming on a platter, although the old man was not in sight. He was rarely in sight, preferring not to talk to Karydor – or, more correctly, be seen talking to Karydor.

Karydor snatched it up and, chewing, wandered along the lonely path down to the ocean.

The tide was in, and the wind seemed favourable, which meant ships were able to enter harbour. Sitting on the low sea wall encrusted with dry seaweed, he finished his tartlet while watching masts aplenty vanish south to where the calm deep-water and a berth awaited. The Waymere Sea on Thela’s western coast was still, the sky clear, beckoning travellers to cross the ocean to lands beyond. Few did, according to the tales he overheard while picking olives; most would head north again from here and then east into Natticus Sea instead, the cradle of their civilisation on Farochin.

Inhaling the fresh air before the summer winds dried it to kiln degrees, Karydor simply sat. Today was a rest day; no pressing duties required his attention. Unfortunately, that also meant he could not hide from himself, but this day he intended to remain as serene as the gently lapping waves. Anger and aggression did little to aid the process of recovery, after all.

He knew his name and he knew one date, and that was all. Memory of before was lost when he went overboard a ship much like those now lining up to the south, he was told. No ship’s captain or quartermaster had yet recognised him; either no one wished to know him, or his ship had sailed onward.

He had no recall of going into the ocean, but his clothes revealed him as a seaman, according to the healer he eventually woke up to. They hauled him, waterlogged and near drowned, from the beach after a storm. That was two months ago, and no memory had resurfaced.

Other than a date.

The healer, upon hearing it, looked around in some fright and advised him not to repeat it. The man would not be drawn further, despite repeated prompting even after he discharged his patient. While he was no help regarding information, he did arrange a bedsit for Karydor in the recuperation enclave, as well as work on the olive farms to the east. The labour was intense, but Karydor preferred that to any activity involving the sea.

To the east, behind him, the first yellow rays breached the hilltops and sent tendrils amid the earthy-hued structures that comprised sleepy Therin. Soon the city would awaken, and a buzz would overtake the natural world’s sounds.

Standing, he chose to amble along the shoreline; it afforded the most privacy. He preferred avoiding people or, more correctly, the strange glances they sent his way. He did not look like them. He could not explain it, and no one seemed to have the courage to tell him more. Even the farm labourers avoided him.

Perhaps this morning a ship would put in with someone aboard who knew his face, or at least his kind.

Therin Harbour

RIGGING groaned and sails flapped. Barnacled hull bashed against swollen jetty, and sailors everywhere shouted and cursed, laughed and jeered at mates, either engaged in securing ships, offloading merchandise, or smoking together where the quays met dry land.

It was chaos.

Karydor counted sixteen vessels, with six more awaiting entry, and noted wagons begin the descent from the merchant district to the harbour road. Structured chaos would soon become bedlam.

Gritting his teeth to still his instinctive reaction to the noise and frenetic activity – frustration that frequently led to fury – he ambled to the far docks where the larger ships berthed. Those sailors travelled further, and many were from strange ports; perhaps one working them would deign to talk to him.

Moving through crowds of men, who swiftly stepped out of his way, given that he towered over them, he noted a fair few shaven heads showing fuzzy growth, lending their scalps a coppery sheen. No doubt the roll of a ship at sea put an end to grooming, fuzz being preferable to nicks and gashes. He grimaced, watching them watch him; not only was he larger than everyone in Therin, but his dark brown hair flowed to mid-back. He arrived with his tresses attached to his head from the ocean; he refused to shave to bare skull, although the healer had recommended he do so, to fit in, apparently. He lost his temper that day, hearing that.

The locals were placid. He was not. Wherever he hailed from, clearly equanimity was not among his people’s traits. He snorted as he approached a hulking vessel, acknowledging that maybe his temper was out of place even among his own.

The Dromerias had seen better days, but was a strong ship. Isolated at the far point, it summoned him. Perhaps it was the lack of activity that drew him, but more likely was the silence. Admittedly, the two states complemented each other, and yet this silence contained something extra. What that was, he could not fathom; intrigued, he closed in.

Karydor soon squinted up. The absence of movement on deck seemed unnatural. Either the vessel arrived on the night’s tide and had already unloaded, its crew now in port somewhere, or something else kept everyone below. He frowned, noticing the colours snap in the breeze. On a black background, a silver sickle moon cradled an emerald. He shuddered on truly seeing it. He knew that flag. He had no memory of it, but he knew it.

An odd sound pierced the even stranger silence.

The pull of a longbow.

How he knew that, Karydor could not gauge, for the locals generally openly carried daggers only, but again, the knowing was immediate. This was a longbow.

He instantly sidestepped.

An arrow thudded into the planking beside him.

“I suggest you leave,” someone said. A man of some maturity, by his tone.

No, he was not walking away. After two months of nothing, now this? Silence, longbow, the sense of summons? Here was something in the offing, something he did not foresee upon waking earlier, and he would be the fool if he walked away. He wanted answers and those answers might be before him now. That arrow was no more than a warning; the intent had not been to kill. He hoped so, anyway, and took the risk.

“Do you know me?” Karydor asked.

He spoke the language – Faroche – but had questioned whether it was his native tongue. He possessed an inflection no Therin inhabitant had yet revealed.

Instantly a white head of hair craned over the railing above. He had hair. Karydor’s heart stuttered into an uneven rhythm. Hair. Like to his. The man was old, his face lined and weathered, his skin tanned to that of aging wood. Hazel orbs latched onto his.

“I do not know you, but I can tell you are not from these parts.”

Karydor snorted again, aloud this time. “Pretty obvious, I’d say. Seems you are not a local either.”

A cackle erupted. “Did the hair give me away?”

“The bow, too,” Karydor grinned.

“Bring the arrow,” the old man commanded, and shoved at something. A rope ladder swung over the side. “Come aboard.”

Karydor worked the arrow free – a slim head, sharp. Whoever made it had to be a master. He then gripped the nearest rung and clambered up He was not about to deny this opportunity, whatever it might herald. Those answers? He needed them.

FAROCHIN

Chapter 1: EURUE The Forgotten World

The universe is populated and many worlds are far-flung, forgotten. Until the day Gabryl, a man both alive and dead, his body reposing in a sarcophagus, his spirit roaming as a shifting being, bellows a call to arms. Eurue, as world and civilisation, after ages of isolation, will now step into the ultimate arena.

Tristan and Alusin of the Kaval hasten to answer the summons to where tentacled miasmas are consuming people body and soul. Savier, as Keeper of the sarcophagus, sheds light on an ancient legend. Tianoman, Vallorin of the Valleur, brings the Valleur host to Eurue, and Emperor Teighlar of Grinwallin pledges his army.

But how does one fight miasma?

Who is the true enemy?

Meanwhile, as the spaces become frantic, a woman in a turret somewhere, elsewhere, plans her revenge. The schism between what went before and the reality of the present presents to her the power to control the fate of all.

Who will stop her?

CHAPTER 1

Like white powder upon the hazy dunes, light drifts without direction, shedding spurious glows.

~ Cullin of Balconaru ~

Petunya

Sunrise

The Present

ALUSIN squinted along the path, moving his head from north to south and back. Reverberations in the soles of his feet revealed to him someone on horseback approached, perhaps two horses, but the trail remained clear in both directions.

“Do you feel that?” he asked, hunkering to touch fingertips to cold and damp gravel.

Tristan stared back the way they had come, his shoulder length fair hair wafting in the strengthening breeze. No sign of anyone behind them. The morning mist further obscured view. He too sensed something on approach.

Facing north, he murmured, “Difficult to say where it’s coming from, and this lack of decent light will aid whoever it is.”

Straightening, Alusin gestured to a nearby copse of denuded trees. Winter’s presence was everywhere, evident in bare branches and the renewed promise of ice by nightfall in the air currents. “I suggest we conceal ourselves.”

Nodding, his companion moved in his long-legged manner towards the grey boles, a hand silencing his sword against his thigh. Metallic sounds carried in cold air. His dark green tunic and leather breeches matched their surrounds. Alusin fell into step beside him, tucking white hair behind his ears. He wore grey, the camouflage kind that was both light and dark patches.

Goddamn it, a fire would be welcome right now, he thought as he hastened for cover.

Hoof beats sounded, closing in, and they hurried to concealment, dragging their dark, somewhat besmirched cloaks tighter, lifting the cowls to hide their fairness.

Shadowed and in shadows, they hunkered, scrutinising the path.

As the white sun sent its first tendrils onto the land, two forms on horseback wandered around the far bend further along, seemingly unhurried. Both were swathed against the cold, in the drab colours of the region. Old woollen tunics covered burly frames, while filthy scarves wrapped around their faces, leaving only eyes clear. What colour those orbs were remained invisible, which had more to do with distance than subterfuge. Fingerless gloves adorned rough hands and knee-high leather boots rested in dull stirrups. It was difficult to tell skin colour also.

The men did not speak; they simply ambled by, looking neither right nor left. A definite sense of tension surrounded them, however. Unhurried was therefore not entirely relaxed. Either they chose the slow pace to minimise noise, or they hoped their apparent unconcern would mask them.

Eyes appeared to scrutinise every bush and bole, the actions evident now that they were closer.

That screamed the concept fear.

What were they afraid of?

Unmoving, Tristan studied them. Alusin’s eyes narrowed.

The horses were strong and in good health, although the tack and saddles had seen better times. Nothing seemed amiss. Two men on their mounts were on their way home or heading towards the labour of the day, and yet …

Tristan covertly gave a hand signal. It is a trap.

Indeed, but a trap for who or what? Were the two men prey or distraction? Lure or victims? No one knew he and Tristan were in the area, other than the one who dispatched the messenger, and he or she had not yet been informed of their arrival. In fact, they deliberately chose to commence this journey to the meet from an added distance in order to garner a feel for the situation, whatever that was. No one therefore knew of their presence, and thus the trap could not be about them.

Who, then, was meant to draw what out into the open?

That answer was not long in coming.

BEYOND the coppice, opposite the path, a field slumbered in winter’s guise. Vapour tendrils lifted from the cold earth as the weak sunlight arrived. Seed pods, summer’s husks, adorned scraggly bushes. More than morning mist arose from the deserted field, however.

Tristan gripped Alusin’s forearm, and pointed.

The miasmas swiftly took on form.

Eight-legged – no, tentacled – creatures waddled in an ungainly yet horrifying fashion towards the two men on horseback and, even from the distance they watched, Tristan and Alusin discerned the dreadful hunger prevalent in the nightmare beings. There was also the faintest sense of despair.

“Fight?” Alusin whispered.

“We have no idea what they are,” Tristan denied him. “We watch.”

The horses were more aware of danger than the men were. Neighs echoed through the still morning air, and one reared on hind legs, pawing in desperation. Cursing, the men attempted to control their suddenly skittish mounts, seemingly giving no thought to what caused the panic, although that was more the perception of the watchers, for the men soon screamed as loudly as their horses did, as terribly aware.

Ethereal octopi clambered over and into the melee of horses and men.

Seconds later, nothing remained.

Not horse. Not man.

And no otherworldly miasmas either.

“What the fuck just happened?” Alusin demanded after many minutes had passed without further sign of danger.

Tristan cautiously stood. His hands trembled and his gaze probed every shadow. “All gods, this is why we are summoned to Petunya.”

Alusin released an explosive breath. “Have you seen these before?”

“These, no. Something teases at the edge of my subconscious, but right now the closest comparison I have is the Mysor from the Forbidden Zone,” Tristan murmured. “They were real, though, according to the stories. Massive harvestmen with eight legs, but easily dealt with. Not this.”

Standing, Alusin asked, “What do we know?”

“Belun said the summons came via a third party. A messenger collared Jonas while he oversaw the raising of grain silos on Lax, said there was trouble here. Wasn’t too specific.”

“I am aware of all that; what else do we know of this place?”

Tristan gave him a sidelong grin. “Worried, are we?”

“Damn right, I am. Those creatures were waiting for warm blood. It could have been us that went poof. The messenger should have given proper warning.”

Nodding, Tristan stared across the field. “Our cloaks masked our warmth, thank Aaru. What do we know? Well, Petunya is rural, but not without allies. This world of farmers feeds many out there. I’m guessing folk didn’t want to talk about this, for it would put trade in jeopardy. Therefore, the single messenger and the lack of detail.”

“Or most here are dead already. This place feels emptied.”

“Bloody hell, I hope not.” Tristan swiped at his hair. “Someone lives, and sent an envoy, and where have we been focusing recently? Lax. A messenger was bound to bump into one of the Kaval at some stage, and Jonas got that prize.”

“Therefore that someone has some clout. Has to, to send a man on a space flight to pass on a message, cryptic and less than forthcoming as it was.”

“That worries me,” Tristan frowned. “And clearly that means no one here is able to communicate as we do across distance, or able to transport either. Maybe those able to transport were taken first. If misty monsters are eating the locals, they are prey wherever they are. There’s no magic here, but what we just witnessed is sorcery.”

“This may also be an elaborate trap for the Kaval.” Alusin moved openly yet cautiously towards the path. “Or you. If so, someone messes with the wrong people.”

Following, hand on hilt, Tristan muttered, “Indeed.”

JONAS revealed that the messenger – nondescript, no accent speaking in the common tongue – gave a location for a meeting, and requested minimal Kaval presence.

In itself that was suspicious. If murdering miasmas with eight appendages decimated the local population, surely one would summon the entire Kaval in?

Tristan ruminated on the situation as he walked beside Alusin. The messenger asked for one, no more than two, when it was already clear to him he would need his full team on site to quell whatever this was. The man, according to Jonas, then vanished amid Lax’s populace.

Was the trap for him, Tristan, as Alusin suggested? Even those unaware of space politics knew the Kaval engaged in succour on Lax after massive flooding virtually drowned all crops there. If anyone was to follow a call for aid elsewhere, it was him. His team was engaged, but he was able to answer a summons. Anyone with half a mind would know that. He would leave his team to go on doing what they were meant for – succour – while personally reconnoitring a potential new threat.

“You think too much,” Alusin muttered. “Your thoughts are bloody loud, too.”

Laughing, Tristan rebutted with, “Elianas used to accuse Torrullin of the same.”

“We are not them.”

Tristan’s face wiped clear of all expression. “I am well aware of that.”

He obliquely studied the man keeping pace with him. White hair; long and straight. Alusin wore it tied in a loose knot at his neck, bound with bleached leather, claiming his hair got in the way in a sword fight. Vanity, of course, did not allow him to cut it shorter. Tendrils escaped to flutter about his face. Blue eyes, a darker shade than was usual, and exceptionally pale skin. Alusin did not tan even under the harshest sun. In that condition, he was much like the Siric of yesteryear. Excellent bone structure, a straight nose, proper chin, lips neither too thin nor too fleshy. He was tall, like to the Valleur. It was a truth that he was attractive and possessed nobility of features. Alusin absolutely reminded him of Elianas, but Elianas was dark of colouring, while Alusin was all light.

Only an immortal heard the summons to Dome duty, and Alusin heard it after Erin died, leaving a post vacant in the Kaval. As an immortal, the last of his kind, he had been alone a long time before that summons, and therefore no one needed to pay the ultimate price in order for him, as sole survivor, to take his place on the team. He was a sorcerer and a seer, highly skilled in weapons and fighting. Having passed the Recognition test in the Dome, Alusin, as lumin kindred, fought with the Kaval in the present only for the light.

This man was a brother-in-arms, a true friend, and also his Eternal Companion. A century after Torrullin vanished with Elianas into another realm, Tristan still could not face that particular fact.

Growling, he spat, “Concentrate on this mission.”

Alusin sent him a look, and did not say a word.

Together, yet apart also, they headed for the place of meet.

Somewhere

MOSQUITOES danced on the surface of the water in the pail she had hidden in the shadows of her prison, but there were sufficient stilled sections to view events beyond her confines.

Releasing a breath, she shuffled back to the narrow window slit.

It has begun. At last.

E U R U E

Chapter 1: The Master Mechanism

A new Timekeeper steps forth.

Wearing a familiar face, an aspirant Timekeeper seeks to destroy all who stand in his path, including Torrullin Valla and Elianas Danae. With the master clock under his aegis, he will control Time and all who move within its confines.

The scramble commences to find the Master Mechanism first. From planets abandoned to worlds renewed, from ancient spaces to sterile realms, the chase is on.

What does the device look like? Who created it? Where is it hiding?

Weaving through all the chaos is the mighty Valla family, fractured and almost beyond repair. It is time to find unity once more. It is time to stand together or fall forever. It is time to be noble, even when such nobility requires sacrifice.

Time itself demands redress.

Join Torrullin and Elianas, support Tianoman and Tristan, and sympathise with Teroux, on this, the conclusion to the epic LORE series!

Chapter 1

Listen with ears and heart and then take the time to dissect the new information. Do this whether confronted by a family secret, a friend’s confidence, a stranger’s unwitting slip. Do this especially thoroughly when you are surrounded by your enemies. All has meaning; your task is to find the straight in the twist. Only then might you act in a manner to solve an issue.

~ Book of Sages ~

Somewhere

SEVEN CHILDREN PERCHED ON a mottled granite slab, cross-legged, hands relaxed on knees, entirely unmoving and expressionless. As if formed from waxen rock. All wore scarlet, silken tunics that shivered, folded and snapped in the breeze, the only movement. Also the only sound.

Unnerving indeed. Torrullin crouched before them, scrutinising each in turn. All were blonde and blue-eyed, all boys. Flawless skin. Angelic perfection. Uncanny.

Where was this? Moments ago he sat on a log under a canopy of trees with Elianas and Teighlar, about to have a picnic lunch, and now he was here. How? Why was he alone? Where was Elianas?

“You must activate them.”

Torrullin glanced up as the birdman stepped in beside him seemingly from the ether, and he frowned. How had Quilla suddenly appeared?

“Activate? I do not understand,” Torrullin murmured. “Where is this and why are you here?”

He noted how he and Quilla, like to the living statues, threw no shadows. A sun glared from on high, and thus there should be definitive marks on the ground, but he could not now deal with that strangeness as well. He faced the children again.

“Deal with the matter at hand, Torrullin. Activate them.”

His heart thudded once. Fine. The matter at hand. This matter then. Elianas and Teighlar, perforce, needed to wait. “Activate them, you say. Are you suggesting they are manufactured?”

“Manifestations.”

Torrullin rose and stretched. “I hesitate to ask, birdman.”

Quilla smiled. “And yet we shall not leave without solving this mystery.”

“Leave from where, Quilla?”

The birdman lifted his chin. “Here.”

“Fine, my feathered friend, keep your secrets, but tell me this. Manifestations of what or who, and how is this perfection even possible?” Torrullin waved in the general direction of the statues. “I have never seen a real child this unflawed.”

“It is unnatural, isn’t it?”

“Quilla.”

A shrug shook the birdman’s tiny form. “I do not quite grasp the how, but as to what? For it is what.” Quilla looked up at him, squinting in the bright light. “These are voices trapped in form, unheard voices – more correctly, unheard messages.”

“Which implies thought, people …”

“People long passed on, having left behind messages so important they have manifested in the guise of youthful angels. Before you ask why the angelic state, because even a man dead to every feeling will pause before this perfection, and thus there is a chance he will stay long enough for these voices to be heard.”

Torrullin stepped closer to the children. Reaching out tentatively, he touched the hand of the central boy and, when nothing happened, rested his fingers there, closing his eyes. “Faint resonance,” he murmured moments later, and removed his hand and opened his eyes. “Not alive, but not dead either. How do I activate them?”

“I assume Elixir needs to listen.”

A baleful stare speared the feathered being. “I hate it when you do that.”

“I know,” Quilla laughed.

“Listen,” Torrullin muttered, “and hear. Important messages? Damn it, you know how paths alter when something untold is made tangible.”

“Yes. And yet here we are.”

“And we shall not leave without solving the mystery, as you say. Curiosity gets us into trouble every time, and still we grab the cathron by that tail.”

Quilla quirked an eyebrow.

Swearing under his breath, Torrullin folded down to sit in a cross-legged manner to mirror the boys’. He did not say more and Quilla did not interrupt the process either. Absolute silence descended, broken only by faint breath, and the only movement was sweat tracking lazily over cheeks.

Both were spooked when the seven angelic manifestations abruptly slapped palms against chests. Their hands froze in that lifted position.

“Oh, my,” Quilla breathed out. He cleared his throat. “They are activated.”

Torrullin stared at the central figure. “I have not done anything yet.”

The feathered being closed in. “Perhaps it is proximity.”

“And perhaps it is dumb luck,” Torrullin countered. “Whatever it is …” He paused and the skin of his face pulled tight. “I hear something.” He stopped again, before glancing up at the birdman. “You are right. They whisper of words needing sharing, a set from each.” He laughed under his breath, a forced sound. “In order, left to right.”

“Then you need listen; I shall wait without interruption.”

Torrullin sent him a glare and faced forward.

MY NAME IS UNIMPORTANT, listener; I am a vessel placed and no more. Please do not speak; your task is to listen. We begin.

Before Time was measured there was chaos. All was random and nothing was known. Naught was fixed and the laws of science possessed no bearing. Or thus you of the present believe. Understand this; there is still chaos, and all remains random, for such is the way of immensity. Science, in your age, proves the need for unpredictability. If all was measured and fixed and explainable, this realm and others would not long survive. This immensity of time, energy, matter and vacuum requires chaos to survive. Do you understand? Chaos is the spark of life.

You seek a way to live with it and thus you measure and investigate and record and hope for solutions in unpredictability. It is not wrong. Your questions engender chaos and thus life is sparked. Challenge is a spark. Answers lead to more questions.

Always question, listener, but listen also to the silence. Many answers lie in silence. Silence, in all time and realms, is the one true beat of perfection. Tick, tick, time moves to the beat. To end Time, scream into silence.

I am done.

WHAT IN THE NETHERWORLD does that mean? Torrullin thought as the boy on the far left abruptly slumped forward. Stone slumping? Nothing in this scenario followed the laws of science.

He understood about all existence needing chaos, but sensed also there was a larger message on offer.

MY NAME IS UNIMPORTANT, listener; I am a vessel placed and no more. Please do not speak; your task is to listen. We begin.

I am here to remind you of the singing stones. Because you hear me, you have heard also the tales stones are able to tell, their secrets and their prophecies. Have you listened well, man of time? The true measure of sentience lies in the building blocks of mountains, in the smooth orbs in ancient watercourses, within the mighty boulders that defy all wind and water to remain ever steadfast upon the plains of worlds. Yet, in all that randomness, there is one stone that was, is and will be. It came first and it will be last. Find it if you seek peace.

I am done.

GODSThe second boy folded and Torrullin was unmoving. This was a morass of information – where were they leading him? Was it for him or would any listener have sufficed?

MY NAME IS UNIMPORTANT, listener; I am a vessel placed and no more. Please do not speak; your task is to listen. We begin.

Long ages have we waited here in this space residing only in the sorcery of the true undead. You must be the product of a life undimmed eternally by death, or you would not hear us. There will be few of your kind and always you will be drawn together. Like to like, for immortality requires witnesses and only others of your kind have the ability to be there.

Long ages ago another undead understood the need for a witness. You have now become the witness for it that placed us as vessels in this space. There was nothing and no one in the time of the Original and now the words and ideas of that time are no longer lost.

The Original fashioned the first stone, became the beginning and therefore also the end. Do not mistake it for godhood. The Original was not God in any form of the faiths of past and present and can never claim to be Mother Universe. The Mother is omnipresent, was then and will be after breath has fled in all spaces. Yet, by virtue of measurement, the Original stands in Time akin to a god. To know it, to undo its presence, hark to the words of the companions here. Be wary, however, of your point of origin; be certain of your expectations.

I am done.

IT IS MINE TO DO, then. A life undimmed eternally by death.

Torrullin did not blink as the third boy fell face first into the dust. He shifted his gaze to the central figure of perfection. Inside, resonance shuddered his every atom.

MY NAME IS UNIMPORTANT, listener; I am a vessel placed and no more. Please do not speak; your task is to listen. We begin.

A timedancer is one able to bridge the flows. A timedancer cannot die; he, she or it simply becomes something hard to hold and view … and hear. They will name our kind as Timekeepers in the fullness of the ages and perhaps the term describes us to a greater extent than dancer is able to.

Yet dancer is what we are. We shuffle on the boards, and we pirouette on the points. We leap into space and return with a flourish to sweep into grace or stillness. We do this upon the beats of silence, and we do so upon the thumps of cacophony, the music of realms. The first beat was silent; the second so thunderous worlds shuddered into being.

How, you ask, and I, Original, employing this mouthpiece of silent words, shall answer. I created the means to dance; I fashioned a clock. I commenced the measuring of chaos and thus forged the path for those who would come after. For you, listener. Do you understand? At this point in your long ages others whisper you are akin to a timekeeper and you shake your head in denial. You are such. The choice lies before you whether to take up the mantle. It is a lonely road, know that.

I am done.

TORRULLIN PINCHED THE BRIDGE of his nose. Every word, he now understood, was relevant. Had not a man claiming to be the new Timekeeper stepped from a crucible only days ago? A man claiming also to be his grandson, Tannil Valla?

The central boy flipped backwards, and his heart thundered as he shifted his attention to the next form of angelic perfection.

MY NAME IS UNIMPORTANT, listener; I am a vessel placed and no more. Please do not speak; your task is to listen. We begin.

Blood flows sluggish when metabolism is curtailed, and stones possess no metabolism. Place your ear against a rock, however, and if you know how to listen well, you hear blood race within the confines of particles so dense it requires extremity to break it apart. Have you seen a stone shatter, listener? It would be a remarkable lack on your part if your answer is negative. Assumption, therefore, informs you have viewed the phenomenon.

Have you, however, seen the stone’s life force bleed away swiftly? A river of death. Have you heard it scream as its blood vanishes into the dust of destruction? Assumption informs in this you may still be lacking. Return to the stones of your birth, aspirant keeper of time, and shatter the rock. Watch. Listen. And discover the miracle. Discover also the horror of nightmare.

I am done.

TORRULLIN FROWNED. STONES OF his birth? Valaris? Or Akhavar? Why? What was the grand ideal these messages attempted to impart?

The fifth boy stiffened into rigidity, hands clenched into fists.

MY NAME IS UNIMPORTANT, listener; I am a vessel placed and no more. Please do not speak; your task is to listen. We begin.

When realms harked to the advantages in measurement, a means to instil order from chaos, others followed the Original and became known as Timekeepers. Always there is a Timekeeper. Every Timekeeper possesses a name unique to set the ages of that name’s mastery apart from others. It is rule, listener, true royalty. Perceived as both royal and godliness by those far lesser.

Some rulers are benign and gift peace and prosperity, and others are cruel and bring forth war and suffering. A Timekeeper is no different. Some are benign, others not. Understand this – chaos requires both. Chaos permits all. Yet order is there also, hand in hand with a good man and a bad one, a great ruler and a tyrant. Order resides in a name. Control resides in a name. When a Timekeeper freely divulges a name, control passes to the one it is gifted to, but when a Timekeeper forces his true name from another, control remains his. Here is the codicil; control may remain with the Timekeeper, but freedom is yours.

I am done.

THIS BOY, SECOND FROM last, slumped forward as well. These were the insights to aid in foiling a monster, he realised, and no doubt it would become clearer with due thought. Ha, he hoped so. He hoped as well that Tannil was not a monster because … no, now was not the time to delve there.

One message left. Torrullin moved his head to view Quilla to see the birdman studying the boys with a thoughtful expression. Inhaling, he faced the final child.

MY NAME IS UNIMPORTANT, listener; I am a vessel placed and no more. Please do not speak; your task is to listen. We begin.

Mine is a message of hope. Mine is a message of despair. In hope there is despair, and in despair hope. A witness is imperative for the telling of events into future time and yet a witness can remove the ability to act freely. Your witness is your equal, is he not? Your witness curtails you, does he not?

True destiny lies only in separation, listener. True destiny is personal, without witnesses. The Original knows this. Can you state his destiny was the creation of a clock? That is not a secret, after all, for here you are, the witness. What, therefore, was his true destiny, the event no one anywhere across all time is aware of?

Friend, is it not perhaps your fate to find that same anonymity? Hope is attaining it; despair is leaving your witness behind. Hope is striding through time with your companion; despair is your failure to attain destiny. Choose well. I am … no, I am not done. A final prompt; hark to sacred space. It is denser than the strongest stone, it bleeds profusely. It reveals only truth.

And now I am done.

TORRULLIN’S HAND LIFTED TO his chest. Sacred space. The heart. Seat of all emotion. As the final boy crumpled, he bent his head to stare at the bright earth. Elianas. Sacred space. Witness. Hope or despair?

He looked up when Quilla cleared his throat.

“Can you tell me, Enchanter?”

A shake of his head ensued. Not yet. Maybe never.

An explosive breath erupted from the birdman, and then an arresting arm wave followed. “Look, Torrullin, at how they lie. They collapsed in such a way as to form a word. Do you see it?”

He could not care, for too much roiled in his mind, but he rose to stand beside the birdman and studied the forms. Yes, he supposed one could read their twists as glyphs, but why be bothered? Only an anal mind would seek such depth of nuance … and one could not call Quilla anal. The birdman noticed portents because it was his speciality; because he could see, he thus did.

“What word do you perceive?”

Quilla frowned up at him. “You do not see it?”

“I have not the energy for unravelling, Quilla. Just tell me.”

“It says Rivalen.”

Torrullin stared at the forms anew. Yes, that was what their twists suggested. “What does it mean?”

“The Square of Round.”

A laugh erupted from his dry throat. “Nonsensical.”

“Unless a Timekeeper seeks a name.”

Torrullin’s head jerked downward.

The birdman smiled up. “Sounds a bit like the mathematics of an ancient clock, does it not? Rivalen, the round square.”

Torrullin’s attention snapped back to the row of inanimate boys. Gods, there was the true message. Was that it? If he named the one calling himself Timekeeper, freedom would be his. Did that mean freedom from Elianas also?

He stared down at Quilla again. “You should not have told me. I do not want this information.”

A frown flitted across those innocent features. “I do not understand.”

“Never mind.”

“Torrullin, do you not see? This is why I was summoned here. To read the name.”

“If name it is,” Torrullin muttered. “Where are we exactly?”

“Here,” and Quilla waved and vanished.

THE MASTER MECHANISM

Chapter 1: The Nowhere Sphere

In a nowhere place, everything is possible.

At the time of Tianoman Valla’s Naming, a blue sphere hovers in the scrying bowl, along with a silver cathron in an ebony floor. The time for that future is due, for beyond realms and the known universe, a mighty manipulation commences, and it assumes the form of blue spherical space.

This is a Nowhere Sphere.

Tianoman is kidnapped by an enemy believed dead, and taken to the place where a silver cathron knocker lurks in the darkness of a polished surface, where also a crucible swirls in vapour, creating within an entity that cannot be permitted life.

An entire planet is vaporised, and souls scream for release in the aftermath. As Torrullin Valla’s memory returns after the event on Echolone, his ability to forgive is buried in the layers time has laid down, and now he needs to care, to feel again, to forgive. He must travel the void created by anti-matter to find not only Tianoman and the other Vallas, but also Elianas Danae, for he will suffer most.

In Nowhere, everything that moves in hearts, minds and souls will become the answers Torrullin requires to again known himself. It will also unmask the Danae.

Chapter 1

Purple cups pointed skyward, filled with morning dew. Already the early risers buzzed, waiting for the moisture to lift. It would be a spectacular day in the natural world. It would be a day of reckoning in the supernatural.

~ Universal Prophet ~

Avaelyn

HIS EYES WERE SHUT. His mouth was dry. His heart beat erratically. These were the signs of fear.

Rayne, however, was entirely unaware that fear existed. He knew not the concept, the emotion or the reality of it. It had never factored and, therefore, went unrecognized. Yet he comprehended something was different, otherwise, alien … new. He could not give it a name, but he understood, once he grasped this difference, change would follow in its wake. He wondered, only briefly, if change was welcome or something to be shunned. He had no premise upon which to base judgement.

Why was that?

For the first time since the accident that removed from his mind all memory of his past, he wondered why it felt as if he was two-dimensional. In fact, he wondered why he never asked questions of any kind. Had he been living in a vacuum? Or was that vacuum the sum total of life and its experiences? Surely not?

Rayne forced his eyelids open. For a moment he was disorientated, his surroundings strange, and then sunlight picked at his pupils and, a moment after, daylight flooded over him.

A dream?

He drew breath, then another and another until his heartbeat evened out and his clammy skin normalised. He licked his lips and found that the dryness was only in his imagination, in the moment between oblivious sleep and near-wakefulness. All was well in his world.

Breathing out a last forceful breath, he gave a rueful groan and pushed up. Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he clawed his way to the new day, and rose slowly. A stretch came next and a luxurious yawn. He rolled his neck and headed for the bathroom.

Halfway there, he came to a halt.

Dream? He did not dream. Night after night he slept the sleep of the dead because day after day everything was the same. Only experience encouraged images in the dark, the prompts of a mind reworking what it saw, felt or heard in wakefulness.

Only experience encourages … his heart thumped. Where does that thought come from? What is wrong with me?

How did he now understand the concept dreaming? Rayne swivelled indecisively upon the balls of his feet. Again, his heart played its new game. He turned his head to the left, to the almighty view of nature untamed and the potent vista of an ocean so blue it defied description. He frowned. He knew he preferred the majesty of the sea in storm and darkness, an untamed state that spoke to his deeper places. Moving his head to the right, he glanced into the chamber leading from his.

It was empty. His brother was already up, no doubt preparing the morning meal as he did daily. His brother thrived in the routine of a day, always claiming it eased the mind to know the timing of events. Elianas would have answers or would do his best to find them. His brother was there with him when he awakened to a life without a past and recovered from the accident. He would understand what these new and strange feelings and insights meant.

He, Rayne, could trust in that.

Impatient, he headed to the bathroom.

A few minutes later he entered the dressing room and his hands hovered over loose-fitting pants and a bright blue shirt, a comfort and a style he was familiar with. The loose clothes were perfect for wandering in the garden and along well-tended paths … and he hated them. He wore them daily and never questioned the choice, and now he hated them. He despised well-tended paths also. He did not much enjoy routine either.

Biting back an oath, he allowed instinct to guide him and chose clothes he thought more suited. Slowly he dressed, his thoughts skittering from one angle to another, never finding a hold that led to illumination.

Change was the only certainty.

EGGS WERE BEATEN and ready for the pan, the toast was done, and coffee brewed. Breakfast would be a minute or two to serving once Rayne decided to come to table. A smile flitted across Elianas’ face. Rayne could be relied upon to be unreliable. If Rayne did not show soon, he would have to wake the man.

His brother could be trying sometimes. He fought eating, walking and sleeping at set times, but it was best for him at this stage of his recovery to function within a daily schedule.

Elianas straightened cutlery, placed the butter, salt and pepper in the centre of the table, and wiped his hands on a cloth. The eggs would spoil if …

Ah. A tread in the passage beyond. Rayne was awake. He returned to the stove to place the pan upon the heat, but halted movement upon seeing the manner of Rayne’s arrival. Elianas swallowed and the ice of premonition washed him cold.

Dark eyes searched the grey of the fair man entering. “Rayne?” he managed, and silently thanked the gods it came out steady. “I have not seen you wear black before.” I have not seen you wear black since you surrendered memory.

Rayne shrugged. “This morning I realise how much I hate fancy colours. I have much black in there, yet never wear any, thought I would try it.”

Goddamn it, I should have removed his black clothes. There had not been time to do so and, after, taking anything away would have raised questions he could not satisfactorily have answered.

Dark eyes dropped away. Elianas moved to the stove. “It suits you.”

Rayne smiled. “I thought so.”

“Did you sleep well?” A steady hand placed the pan where it had to go, and a firm wrist whisked the eggs a final time before pouring the mixture. Everything was automatic, for his thoughts were in disarray and food was the last matter he considered.

What has changed?

A sigh erupted from Rayne. “I believe I was dreaming.”

Elianas twitched. Fright. Ice. All gods. “Dreaming?”

“I think so. I awoke feeling peculiar and it occurred to me I was dreaming. I never dream, brother.”

There was confusion in Rayne’s voice. With his back to the man, a brother could close his eyes and offer up a prayer to all gods and goddesses. Please, leave him in peace. He is not yet ready. am not yet ready.

Aloud Elianas said, “People dream, Rayne. You simply do not remember in the morning.”

Had he looked, he would have seen grey eyes narrow. Peripherally, he noted a hand reach up to brush fair hair away from eyes. In the silence eggs scrambled.

“Elianas. Look at me.”

Rayne’s tone was not as accepting as it had been in the months of recovery. Elianas hauled the pan off the heat and faced the enigma of this new day, hoping his face revealed only serenity. Rayne, dressed in tight-fitting black breeches and a woven black tunic, feet encased in black boots, studied him, a small frown marring his forehead. Then he took a single step forward. Elianas take a small step backward. Rayne’s eyes narrowed and this time Elianas saw it, and understood there was intent present.

“Why are you different?” Rayne asked.

Elianas shook his head. “You are different, Rayne.”

A moment elapsed, and a nod followed. “Granted, but you seem afraid.” Another eternal moment passed. “Elianas, I have no concept of fear.”

The man with dark eyes and hair almost gnashed his teeth. “Of course you do. You have merely forgotten how it feels, for there is nothing to fear here.”

An eyebrow arched. “Truly? And what else have you withheld … brother?”

“I am not sure I know what it is you infer.”

Rayne stepped forward another pace and this time Elianas stayed in place. Rayne took another step, another and another until he was close.

Grey eyes impaled him. “I am not sure I know either, but today I know something is different in me, and in you. I further understand your difference is because of mine. I would like to know why that is.”

Elianas smiled. “You are tired …”

“I sleep too much as it is. I am not tired. You side-step.”

Elianas swore, moved from the stove and strode from the kitchen. He needed space to think.

Rayne watched him go – he felt those eyes – and called out, “Where is your black, brother? Are we not a pair?”

Seconds of silence ensued and then Elianas stood in the doorway. His dark eyes were unreadable, his posture stiff with inner tension. “Advice, brother, from one who loves you and has taken care of you these past months, Leave this new angle alone and allow time to heal all wounds first. The moment comes when you will be strong enough to cope.”

“Thus you are hiding something from me.”

“I am protecting you.”

“From what?”

“Yourself.”

Rayne strode nearer. “I like that not.”

“No, you would not, but I am not saying more.”

Gripping Elianas by the collar, Rayne slammed him against the wall, and then swore and released him immediately. “Suddenly, dreams, the understanding of something called fear, and now capacity for violence. I feel as if another seeks freedom, and he lives in this skin. Who am I, Elianas?”

The hairs in his neck spiked in dread, but Elianas remained calm. “You are Rayne.”

“What am I?”

“A man recovering from a terrible accident.”

Rayne scowled. “Why do I think that is a mistruth?”

Elianas sighed and told the truth, as far as it could go. “You know you lost recall, and it may now be returning. This will be a confusing time for you, but I will help you understand. Just give it time.”

“Time,” Rayne echoed.

Elianas swallowed. He dared say no more.

Rayne glanced into the kitchen. “I seem to have little appetite this morning. I am going for a walk.”

Elianas nodded. Perhaps activity would distract him.

“But not on well-tended paths. They have their place, I know, but this day I aim to seek out the wild places.” Rayne gave a tight smile.

Elianas’ fingers curled into unseen claws.

Rayne walked away. Elianas noticed the hunter stalk had returned to how he moved. Until yesterday Rayne’s movements were more casual. Returning memory would also restore inherent bearing. The dark man slumped against the wall. All gods, he was not ready.

“Elianas, do you think it will storm soon?”

He jerked his head to the left to see Rayne standing in cat-like silence and patience nearby. He shivered within. Stealth was back as well. “I have no idea.”

“Pity. I hanker after a storm.”

“Perhaps it will soon enough. Autumn approaches.”

Rayne inclined his head and continued down the passage. He spoke over his shoulder, “I shall discover my true self in the insanity of a storm, I think. Pray it is soon.”

He vanished from sight.

Long, terrible minutes passed before Elianas could move.

That is what I fear most, my brother. I do fear you may discover your true self in the insanity of a storm. I have prayed for benign weather daily and then I have prayed I have succeeded in blocking your memories sufficiently, in the event the weather does as it does without harking to prayer. That insanity has ever driven us to extremes, and you may never forgive me for removing the other insanity, the one that binds us. All gods, I pray you never remember. A new tomorrow may drive us apart.

THE NOWHERE SPHERE

Chapter 1: The Echolone Mine

Step over the threshold at your peril!

The real truth about the Valleur through the ages is uncovered when exploiters delve the green hills of Echolone for gold. After an ancient door is discovered in the bowels of the earth, it serves to unmask the hidden power Elianas carries within, a power that places him on the same pedestal Torrullin, as Elixir, already inhabits.

The two men swerve through different realms unravelling what now lies between them and every step reverberates in reality. As loved ones pay the ultimate price, old enemies again step forward to challenge their right to rule, particularly Nemisin, First Father of the Valleur.

Nemisin desires above all else to be the One and will do everything in his power to wrest the title from Torrullin, even using his daughter against Elianas, thereby unsettling a powerful partnership. In this he is not alone, for Tymall, Warlock, seeks to sunder that connection as well.

In a time when all seers’ visions and dreams cease, revelations are given to those who have never before experienced them at the site of a mysterious door in a mine. Here is a mystery and it requires solving, but the answers will change the future, in reality and realms.

Greed is able to create massive chaos. It will unbalance everything. Delving deep is able to construct fissures in time. It will release hidden truth.

It will also shatter sacred space.

Chapter 1

“Ten years of study (sorcery) has taught me this truth. Do not assume what you see is the only reality. Everything can be manipulated, even time … and particularly the perception of tangibles.”

~ From Le Matt Dalrish’s diary

Somewhere

THE AMBER-SKINNED man with his flowing dark hair and the golden-toned one with fair tresses attracted no attention on the beach. They certainly were something to draw the eye in appreciation. Stripped down to a loincloth each, they wandered in the surf soaking up the sun. For them it had been cold too long, and sunshine was the gift of the present. They did not speak much, and often wandered far apart.

Fact was, there was no other on the beach to see or hear them, and that was how they preferred it.

There remained unoccupied worlds where paradise was a siren song, and this was one of those. Numbered perhaps XT 492 on parallel 365W 684S, it was a world removed from most, a number somewhere in a logbook – maybe.

The two men had been in paradise for ten days – the almighty ten of other surpassingly strange journeys – and ate off the land, slept under the stars and soaked up the heat during the day. They said little, for words were not required; recharging minds suffered under the weight of words.

The time arrived, however, to move on. The time for words was again at hand. An interlude was just that – a period between other events – and time did not stand still, and people – others – did not wait forever.

ELIANAS HAD WANDERED far, lost to view and his thoughts, but when he returned with seaweed and coconuts in hand, he found Torrullin inserting long legs into black breeches. He dropped his bounty, and Torrullin looked up.

“It is time to go,” Torrullin said.

“I see that. Did something set you off?”

An amused smile blossomed on the fair man’s tanned face. “No. I just think if we do not leave, sunshine will do for me what storms do for you.”

Elianas drew a breath. It was the first real admission in ages. Yet the hidden parts of him recognised it could be wishful thinking. Torrullin often spoke impulsively. He would not easily sunder brotherhood by taking a step closer to a truth unacknowledged. He strolled to the fallen log where they discarded clothes ten days ago. That had been fraught with tension, until the rhythm of paradise soothed wounded feelings.

Now getting dressed was the stranger act. Elianas turned his back, removed his loincloth to shake the sand out, and reluctantly drew the confining breeches on. He did not bother arguing for staying; in his heart he knew also it was time to move on.

A moment later he virtually left his skin when Torrullin’s arm brushed against his back as he moved to retrieve his tunic. He glanced over his shoulder to see Torrullin, grinning, emerge from the garment. Irritated, he snatched up his own and dragged it over his head.

“Relax, Elianas. We cannot be self -conscious now.”

“Bugger off, will you?”

“It’s not as if I haven’t seen you naked …” Torrullin laughed when he landed on his back. “Oh, come on!”

“You are playing with me.”

“I am making light of an uncomfortable situation.” Torrullin found a perch on the log to put his boots on.

Elianas joined him to do the same, muttering, “Who the hell invented clothes? This is too constricting.” He pulled the neck of his tunic wide, craning his chin forward.

“It was made to cover men far too beautiful for their own good,” Torrullin murmured.

Elianas grinned, taking the compliment in his stride. “Not women?”

“We are by far the prettier species,” Torrullin laughed.

Elianas gave him a taunting once over. “I guess you could call yourself pretty, yes.”

He earned a cuff to the back of the head, and then Torrullin stood to buckle on his sword belt. As the scabbard bounced against his thigh, he said, “We must acquire you a blade.”

“My thoughts also. First a decent bath to wash the sand and sun from my hair.”

“And they say women are vain.”

“Yours needs the whole treatment,” Elianas grinned.

“Yltri’s hot springs? That way we remain removed from people.”

“Good. You lead, I follow.”

Broken coconut shells lay in a pile under the largest palm tree and Elianas’ bounty was discarded on the beach, but other than footprints, there was nothing to show they had been there. With regret, they left.

Fortani

AFTER A SWIM and hair scrubbing in the springs of Yltri, they headed to Fortani, where Torrullin knew a master blacksmith, a man with a flair for the perfect blade, who knew how to match sword and man together. They spent three hot hours in the forge as blade after blade was presented, examined, tested and discarded.

Finally successful, they headed towards the nearest lake, this time cold water, to dive the sweat away. After, they sat on the bank redoing bootlaces for the third time that day.

“When have you last wielded a sword?” Torrullin asked.

“Literally ages,” Elianas replied.

He hefted the new blade and rose to take practice swings. Then he squared off towards Torrullin, jiggling his eyebrows. Smirking, Torrullin withdrew Trezond, and they commenced the ancient dance of swordsmen.

Metal clashed upon metal and grunts and gasps kept pace. Torrullin eventually disarmed Elianas, standing heaving with his blade at the man’s neck.

“Not bad, my brother. A good workout.”

Elianas pushed the blade aside. “Now I need another swim.”

Boots and all they jumped in and employed magic after to dry themselves again.

STILL ON FORTANI, they discovered an out of the way inn and stopped there for a proper meal. Four old men sat at a table in a far corner and thus they had space to talk. Over duck, vegetables and wine they discussed where to go next.

“I have been thinking,” Elianas began. “We have had time aplenty between us, and yet we always focused on the main events. We missed the by-play.”

Torrullin lifted an eyebrow, prepared to be amused.

“I am not joking. Always it is this evil or that task. It was family scandal, future concerns, past mistakes and so forth. We never stood still long enough to see around us. Take Beacon, for example. I know you have been there, and I know I have been there, although not at the same time, and what were we doing? I was following a clue, swiftly in, swifter out. You were probably about some diplomacy, and what did we see?”

“A giant city-world?”

“Right. First impression, only impression.”

“Your point?”

“Once Beacon was empty, and then settlers came. Who were they, how long ago did they arrive and what made them so special they took to the skies? What did they revere? What magic of those early years remains? Beacon may be a bad example, but there are other civilisations on other worlds, each with something unique, some ancient spark, and that is magic. We have walked by unseeing. We may have learned something new or strange or entirely profound, funny, insane, and we did not. Books do not tell us everything.” Elianas pointed a finger. “You wanted to go travelling when you came to say goodbye on Mariner Island, Torrullin.”

“Instead, we landed up in paradise together.”

Elianas’ eyelids flickered, but he said nothing.

Torrullin was thoughtful. “World to world, travelling archaeologists? I like it.”

Elianas leaned forward. “We have a new future and our past is now adrift. We live at the same time in the same space. This is our time and place now. We should know the past of the present as others know it. We are no longer about redemption and bloodlines.”

“You suspect if we research the past not influenced by the Valleur, we may find our personal future is not clouded.”

“I hate not seeing what is coming. Yes, I hope research is more than interest.”

“Why, Elianas? Gods, for once we do not have to look over our shoulders every minute, or stress about what comes next.”

Elianas placed a hand flat on the table. “You think eating and buying a sword roots us? You think touching this old piece of wood here makes us real? We are swerving spaces, Torrullin, and we have no purpose. What will we do? Skirt around this hefty question and intent between us until we drive each other mad?”

“Ten tension free days meant nothing?”

“It meant everything, but now we must move on or it will mean nothing soon. And it wasn’t tension free.”

A smile acknowledged that. “I guess not.”

“Why not start with Beacon?”

Torrullin pulled a face. “I hate Beacon.”

“More reason. If we find something there, where is the limit? We may even discover new respect for Beaconites.”

“I doubt it, but I get your point.”

“Fine. You lead, I follow.”

Torrullin wondered what the real purpose was, but he owed Elianas far more than the man owed him. He thumped the table. “Innkeeper, how many coins are due?”

THE ECHOLONE MINE

Chapter 1: The Nemesis Blade

His name is Elianas.

Torrullin’s sanctuary is invaded by a desperate call through the spaces. Someone has stolen the Xenian seer Lowen Dalrish, and he suspects Agnimus, the draithen who nearly annihilated his world and then vanished without a trace.

It is time for the Animated Spirit to stand forth.

Meanwhile three Valla heirs await the rising of the Valleur Throne; only one will be chosen as Vallorin. When a prophecy is uncovered about Three Kingdoms and rumours of an army secretly building to prevent it, Torrullin realises the three heirs to the Throne are in danger, for the warmongers believe he will carve out three kingdoms, one for each heir.

It is time to deploy Nemesis, the mighty blade forged of two, of both darak and lumin.

As activity becomes frenetic in the spaces, the dark man of Torrullin’s visions and dreams stirs and becomes aware of the newness in the ether. He now seeks release from his long incarceration. He knows how to find the missing seer; more than that, he is the catalyst to releasing long-suppressed memory.

It is time for Torrullin’s Nemesis to stand forth. His name is Elianas.

Chapter 1

Listen not only with ears, friend. Listen also with your skin.

~ Arun, Druid

Sanctuary

ROCK STRATA SURROUNDING him revealed he was deep within the layering of ancient rock. Shades of colour gave evidence of depth. There was disconcertingly little else to see. It was akin to being far back in time.

Help me!”

Her desperate scream assaulted him anew and he swung swiftly, seeking, ever seeking. That terrified plea was behind him, as it was behind a moment ago, and the moment before, and yet he found nothing every time he moved, and found nothing now … only the sad echoes of opportunities forever lost.

Then the uncaring rock moved to close in and he was the one screaming.

TORRULLIN SAT UP, sweat-drenched and chilled. The sheets were twisted, pillows on the floor and there were scuffling sounds in the night. He took a breath, another and another to still his pounding blood, and swiped damp hair from his face. Ordinary sounds filled the dark – crickets, a far nightjar, perhaps a mouse in the closet – nothing alien, nothing frightening. A dream, and he was in his bed and there was no danger.

Shivering, he rose and found his robe by touch, pulled it on and wrapped his arms about his chest for warmth. Swallowing, he headed to the bathroom for a drink of water, and did not bother with lights.

On his way back to bed, he halted in the centre of the large and darkened space.

Help me!”

Torrullin swore under his breath and closed his eyes to listen to the echoes, really listened, but there was no more. He stood a long time waiting for the cry to repeat and, when it was not forthcoming, knew with certainty he would not hear it again. It had now gone beyond his ability to perceive, and it meant one of three possibilities.

One, it had been a dream and his waking mind toyed with him. Two, she was already dead, and that should not be possible. Three, god help her, she was in real danger, had sent a call, and was now masked from him.

Fingers tightened on the fabric of the robe. A disturbing, repeated dream he could swallow, for it no doubt spoke of his turmoil over this woman. Death he did not see as likely, for she was like to him. But the latter did not sit well.

He was in motion. The robe flew across the chamber, he dressed feverishly, returned to the bathroom to splash water on his face, brushed his teeth with hurried movements, and then vanished from there. There was one person able to understand. Even if he said not a word, his presence aided clarity.

Luvanor

Grinwallin

TEIGHLAR, SENLU EMPEROR and lord of Grinwallin, looked up in surprise from his midday meal. The sun-dappled portico threw geometric shadows over his pale face, darkening his blue eyes to the colour of deep water.

“Torrullin?”

“Gods, it’s day here … thank Aaru, for I need a stiff drink.” Torrullin flopped into a seat opposite the Emperor, shifting his sword out of the way when it bit into his thigh.

“Hello to you, too,” Teighlar muttered. “There is only wine on the table, but help yourself.”

Torrullin was already pouring. “Forgive me, my friend. Am I intruding?” He barely tasted the first glass, slugging it back without appreciation.

“Besides ruining my taste buds with your rudeness? No. Is something wrong?” Teighlar pushed his meal aside. “You are armed, as ever, but I see you give the blade little attention. So what is it?”

The second glass went down more slowly. “Dreams.”

“Ah. Bad?”

“Yes. This is excellent wine.”

“Thank you. It is Senlu red, about five years old, and thank the gods you have reverted to more civilised behaviour. My winemakers would shudder to see your treatment of their finest. I assume it is night back on your sanctuary world, you just dreamed, and now hasten to me and daylight?”

“I did not realise it was day.”

“You were to pull me from my bed, then?” Teighlar grinned.

Torrullin responded in like fashion. “If necessary.” The grin vanished and he set his goblet down. “Fourth night in a row, damn it. Exactly the same.”

“Why come to me? I am no expert.”

“You are a friend.”

“You want a sounding board.”

“Maybe.” Torrullin lifted a shoulder.

“That bad.”

“I fool myself into seeing a dream as a mere dream, but tonight I heard her after I awakened.”

“Heard who?”

Torrullin pulled a face. “Lowen.”

“Ah. Erotic dreams?”

“I do not have erotic dreams, Emperor.”

Teighlar snorted. “Then you are unique as a man.”

“Dreams do not do justice to reality.”

“Lucky, too, as a man,” Teighlar muttered, finding himself currently between mistresses.

“Lowen is in danger and cries for help. I hear her only in a dream.”

Teighlar sobered. “A premonition?”

Torrullin frowned. “I do not know. I hope so.”

“You hope so?”

“I can do something, idiot, if it is premonition.”

“Of course. Have you tried to find her?”

“No.”

Teighlar swirled his tongue inside his mouth, throwing his friend a thoughtful look. The subject of Lowen, he was well aware, was a sensitive issue, and largely taboo.

“Perhaps you should find her, then, and check on the veracity of your dream.”

Torrullin stared at him, but was not really looking.

“Torrullin?”

A slow focus. “The rock encloses me. Why is that?”

“I am afraid you have lost me.”

“In the dream I turn again and again to find her and there is nothing, only rock, layers, strata. The rock moves to envelop me and I am the one screaming – it does not make sense. I have no fear of enclosed space and I would simply transport away from that kind of situation in reality. Why am I afraid?”

Teighlar poured more wine and lifted his glass to stare into the ruby depths. “Sounds like Grinwallin rock.”

Torrullin’s gaze sharpened. “Why do you say that?”

Teighlar took a long pull of the wine and swallowed. He gestured with the vessel at the arches nearby; Grinwallin, the inner city’s entry into the mountain.

“I often feel as if the stones in that mighty mound are alive, sometimes watching, sometimes slumbering, and I have often speculated, were a disaster to befall the actual building blocks of Grinwallin, it would arise.” The Emperor shrugged. “It would be in control. No escape.”

A long silence ensued, and then, “Has Lowen been here?”

Another long silence, for they knew each other’s minds well. “A week ago.”

Torrullin nodded. “What did she discover inside the mountain?”

Teighlar released a breath. “She would not say, and these factors may not be linked.”

Torrullin lifted an eyebrow.

A finger pointed. “You should talk to her, sort this impasse out one way or the other. No, listen to me. She is like the walking dead, and you have shut yourself away from everything. It is unhealthy and that may be the danger in your dream. Talk to her, soon.”

A brief silence answered this time. “I hear you, but that is not it. There is real threat.”

“The more reason to find her.”

Torrullin grimaced. “Where is she?”

“I do not know.”

“Or will not say?”

“Why would I hold out when I am the one advocating you talk? I do not know, for she did not say. She barely spoke to me.”

Torrullin nodded. “How is Grinwallin?”

“As demanding as ever,” Teighlar grinned. Then he was serious. “Samuel was here.”

“How is he?”

“Hurting.”

A veiled look went to the Emperor. “Why?”

“Curin passed away.”

A deep breath followed. “Damn, I did not know.”

Teighlar tossed him a significant look. “You have separated from too much, Torrullin. Oh, know why, you think you know why, and your family trust they understand, but there are limits.” Teighlar paused there. “Saska was at the funeral.”

Uninterrupted silence arrived in answer.

The Senlu gave a snort. “Elixir is the walking dead. You are a fool! Wake up before the perils – which are many-facetted – in your dreams overwhelm you and you find you are helpless …”

“Teighlar …”

“… no, pal! The rock encloses because it is a warning. Wake up to the issues before only regret finds you.”

Torrullin rose and bowed. “As my Lord Emperor commands.”

“Please, Emperor of what? You are the real master of Grinwallin. I am no fool.”

Torrullin, in the act of leaving, paused. “Grinwallin is yours, Teighlar.”

Teighlar threw his napkin on the table and rose as well. “Have you heard the stones sing to you in the mountain?”

Torrullin blanched.

“Ah. I heard it once, but no more, not since you came. What does that tell you? She heard it when she was here, I suspect, for she is not the idle type. A mystery required solving and Lowen cannot leave stones unturned … stones! Stone and rock – that is Grinwallin. Gods, you have so much, including freedom – just go, before I damage a friendship I hold dearest in my heart.”

Teighlar scowled into the amazing view over the continent Tunin. Grinwallin possessed a mighty vantage point. A brief, self-debating silence ensued, and then Torrullin was gone.

Sanctuary

BACK IN HIS DARK bedchamber Torrullin was dissatisfied, restless and angry. Moreover, there was foreboding. In one brief visit with Teighlar the spectres of Lowen, Saska, Samuel and the mystery that was Grinwallin had risen from the ashes of a deliberately damped fire, and he could not ignore them.

He paced, hand straying often to the hilt of his sword. His nemesis at his hip. Would he need it? Was it time for its namesake to put in an appearance?

A beam of light pierced the eastern window and he regarded it in astonishment. Dawn, sunrise, a new day. The Valleur would regard that as an omen. Into the dark of his heart had now come light, chivvying action from inaction, stirring emotions from behind defences.

Torrullin gave a mirthless smile. Fine. It was time to confront Lowen.

THE NEMESIS BLADE

The stones of a dreamer are a soul labyrinth.

As the Warlock Tymall steps up his murderous campaign against the Vallas, Torrullin vanishes into a realm created by dreams and need. Paramount is his search for the means to end his son’s reign of terror, and the answer no longer lies in reality. He will suffer the labyrinth of his soul and negotiate the marker stones of his past.

Torrullin must release his demons. To stand at the edge of the abyss, he must retrieve his innocence. He will not stand alone. Guiding him into and through another realm is Lowen Dalrish, the child-woman Torrullin saw as the nemesis of his future.

Another arises, the Warlock’s secret ally, a creature nursing vengeance since ancient days. After Margus breaks oath, this creature’s manipulation is set free, and a new army invades.

The animated spirit, according to legend, is the potion of forever, and his name is Elixir, embodied in one strong enough to see, hear, taste, smell and touch everything everywhere in order to mete out justice. If Torrullin survives the dream realm, does it mean he is strong enough to accept this duty? His world, his people and his loved ones require his strength, as he needs it to face the might of what lies beneath ancient Grinwallin.

After all that went before, Torrullin will face the power of stones raised when time began, before he may bow from the arena. Torrullin prepares, after all, to meet the dark man of his visions.

The time for meeting is now close.

Chapter 1

If it is not created with hands, friend, it is not real.

~ Universal untruth

Cèlaver

AN OMINOUS SHUDDER shook the great cavern of magic inside the planet Cèlaver. This was the world within, a biosphere of trees and water and light Torrullin gifted a long-deceased king. Seasons came and went in the heart of the rock; it was true magic, more profound for being inside a world sterile and uninhabitable on the surface. Animals, birds and insects flourished, speaking to the people of the caves and tunnels of life taken for granted elsewhere.

Initial reactions to the chamber after its creation was wonder, and fear. At first the fear was for the incredible power able to bring forth such wonder, entrenching true cycles of nature, to have it continue independent of the source of power. Later that fear developed into something more – the fear of having it vanish to trap them inside the rock the magic displaced. After a time the fear was selfish. Cèlaver grew to love the magic, needed the magic, and was afraid to lose it.

Two thousand years on, fear was forgotten. Nobody now remembered the cavern of wonders was a thing of magic. Forests were real, as were lakes, rivers, pastures, sun, clouds, rain, snow, and wind, all of it. The cycles continued as a force unto itself. The forests were old, died in some areas and renewed in others as nature intended. Watercourses altered after heavy rainstorms. Birds and animals adapted and evolved as well. New species had come. It was real and required no magic to thrive.

Yet it was magic. A space was created.

The shudder intensified and low keening filled the air.

Countless were paralysed with dread. As one, casual strollers, boating fanatics, fishermen, lovers and picnicking families remembered what they had forgotten. Magic.

In log cabins, in tents and in the elements, holidaymakers froze, hikers stumbled on paths, and remembered. Magic.

Something was wrong. Nobody could move and not a sound was spent. If the magic that created this space was to vanish, there simply was no time to reach the exit. Panic would serve no one.

Another tremor rippled through the space. A child cried somewhere, the frightened sound audible into the furthest reaches.

And, abruptly, panic.

THE KING AND his family enjoyed a welcome break from duties, a treat they allowed themselves infrequently, because to enter the cavern was to desire to remain. One stated allotted time at the entrance and if one overstayed, one was prompted to leave. The first king of this magic, Ophuls, instituted the system, having quickly realised the addiction.

Had he not, the entire Cèlaver nation would have moved in, crowding the cavern and killing the wonder. Industry and the like would even today come to a standstill without the system.

His Majesty of the present had three more days available to him, but time had a way of speeding by here and he at first thought they were being prompted to leave, before realising, seeing it in the eyes of his stricken children, the shuddering was widespread, and everyone appeared to hark to the unearthly wailing. By the time panic overcame paralysis, he was ready.

He put a bullhorn to his lips and called for attention. Silence returned and he told them their fear would aid the sundering, and panic would hasten it. He told them to stand fast; to trust in the inherent good of the old enchantment, for doing so would thwart whatever attempted to cause them harm.

Whether it was truth, what he said then in haste, he did not know, for there was no precedent, yet he felt calmer, and relayed his composure on to his people in the certainty of his voice.

Calm prevailed. They stood fast. Rivalries, factions and enmities were forgotten as those within stood together and trusted.

The entire chamber seemed to wobble. It was not the ground as in an earthquake, but the tangible air. Then, a yellow streak of light appeared out of nowhere to race about the vast perimeter, thereafter commencing a crisscross action in the spaces between. A comforting hum overrode the ear-splitting wail, ever stronger and growing, growing, growing …

The Cèlaver watched in wonder and felt renewed. Gradually they joined in with the hum, a harmony of voices, and His Majesty hummed along with them with tears in his eyes.

It felt right. The soul song.

The distortion vanished. The wail receded to a bearable pitch and, heartened, they strengthened the vibration, a full-throated monastic chant that raised gooseflesh on every participant.

It was beautiful, spiritual, uplifting, romantic and mythical.

The wail vanished completely in the overwhelming notes. At first it was drowned out and then it disappeared in truth.

All shuddering stilled and was no more.

The hum continued in homage and thankfulness, and the streak of light slowed and coalesced as a glowing orb in the centre of the mighty chamber. It gradually sank to zigzag its way as if searching, until it halted before His Majesty and hung there.

The king lifted the bullhorn to his mouth and quietly announced the danger had passed. The orb dipped. The humming lessened. The king added Cèlaver now knew how to counteract a future threat, should it come. The humming stopped altogether, and the orb dipped up and down as if it pleased with the king’s insight.

His Majesty lowered the horn and asked in a normal tone, “Is that right? The hum counters?”

The orb dipped again, and then neared. It circled the king’s head once, twice, three times and then hurtled into the magical heavens. Trust in the power of the Light. The words were an unspoken thought transmitted to all.

The orb vanished.

ON A STRIPED blanket a fair distance to the left of the king and his family, two heads swivelled.

“It feels as if Torrullin is with us,” the man said after a moment, and had to clear his throat.

She nodded and lay back to stare up at the magical heavens. “Because he is. Any day now he will wander back into our lives. Two millennia are now officially scrapped.”

THE DREAMER STONES

Chapter 1: The Sleeper Sword

The Sleeper is Awake

Two thousand years have passed since the epic explosion in what is now called the Black Valley. Torrullin is in the invisible realms and the Darak Or is with him, and the universe enjoys a time of unprecedented peace.

A new threat rises on the cursed horizon.

It is time for the Sleeper Sword to awaken.

Ready to return to Valaris, Torrullin cannot exit the otherworld without aid. Samuel is his kinsman, his fate forged to the greatest sorcerer the cosmos has ever known. He swears to hold his hand out to Torrullin, to aid him home.

The old players gather for a renewal of the fateful games. This time the duel between a father and son will wound many, including Valla kin. Torrullin needs to build a relationship with his grandson Tannil, save Fay from hell, rescue Saska from captivity, and find the means to end Tymall. Their contest will reverberate through the spaces.

In an endless adventure of urgency and drama, the on-going saga of Torrullin’s role as saviour is as a sharp as the sword he reclaims and as blunt as his acerbic tongue. Wherever he goes someone will be hurt. To love him is to be ruined, to hate him is to be ruined.

Perhaps true catharsis lies in the realm of dreams.

Chapter 1

Even after all has changed, time has a way of bringing forth the familiar. One day you look around you and remark, “Nothing has changed.”

~ Book of Sages

Valaris

Western Isles

Valla Island

“AND WHAT DOES this say, Aunt Fay?” The boy pointed at writing under a depiction of a sceptre.

Fay turned the book to see what caught his attention. “That, Teroux, is Minara’s Sceptre. He travelled much and desired it as proof of his status.”

“He was Vallorin?”

“Indeed, but not for long. The poor man caught a virus on an offworld visit and the Valleur healers did not know how to cure him.”

“That is sad,” the earnest boy whispered.

“It was a long time ago, and we found the virus after. Nobody was sick from it again. We now have an enchantment to arrest alien infections until a cure can be traced or manufactured.”

He nodded sagely. “We did that after the Plague of Torrke.”

“Yes, after that terrible time.”

“Why did he need proof of status? He was Vallorin.”

“Apparently, inquisitive one, he was unsure most of the time. His sceptre gave him authority inside.”

Teroux puckered his lips. His father was Vallorin, and he was not unsure inside. He drew breath to ask another question, but then his father entered, and all thoughts fled. He ran into those waiting arms.

“You were gone so long!”

Tannil squeezed him. “I missed you, too.” He kissed his son on the forehead before lowering him. “Find Kismet and see what I brought back for you.”

Squealing, Teroux charged out.

“You were indeed some time, brother. Problem?”

Tannil crossed the room to embrace Fay, and sat at the table. Drawing the book closer, he answered, “Nothing serious. We seem to have it cleared away.” He smiled at the image. “I take it Teroux asked about this?”

“Oh, yes.” Fay glanced at the books on the table. “He loves the Oracles.”

Her brother grimaced. “He studies them harder than I ever did.”

“You wanted to speak to me?” she asked, distracting him before the gloom of his heritage overcame him anew.

“Yes, Fay.”

“I will not like it, obviously.” She placed her pen on the table, put the letter she attempted to write amid Teroux’s questions face down over it, and folded her hands in her lap. “Tell me.”

He glanced sideways at her. “I have an offer for your hand.”

“Tannil, no. I shall marry where my heart lies.”

“You do not even know …”

“It does not matter, brother. I know I am not in love; thus I am not to wed.”

“Fine. I told him that. Luckily he was not offended.”

“Who?” she asked, curious despite her determination.

Tannil grinned. “Teighlar.”

“Are you completely insane? He is immortal!”

“You are to live a long time.”

“Unable to bear children, unless I have a liaison on the side.”

“Goddess, Fay!”

“Oh, quiet, I would like to be a mother and marrying an immortal will never allow that.” She rose and stood before the window to gaze into the ocean.

This side of the Palace hung out over the depths and white gulls swooped into view, diving from on high into the embrace of the water, erupting, almost without exception, with a fat fish. The sound of the ocean was muted, it was that far below, but the gulls were noisy.

She twitched the sash closed, dampening their never-ending screeches. “Why would the Emperor want to marry me?”

“He thought it would serve to bind the Senlu and Valleur closer.” Tannil, Vallorin of the Valleur, grinned again. “That is what he says, but I think he is rather taken with you.”

She snorted. “He has only seen me once.”

“No man forgets you, dear sister.”

She smiled. “Thank you.”

Fay, short for Fayette, was golden glory akin to most Valleur, yet even among an attractive people she stood out. Her name meant Great Beauty, for she was that, and no man was immune. Suitors delivered marriage proposals daily and she denied them with a kind word or letter; she was busy with such a communication when her brother arrived.

Returning to the table, she stood behind Tannil to ruffle his hair. “You do not need to worry about me, my lord.”

He snorted and swatted her hand away. “Teroux will be an old man before you present him with a cousin.”

“But I shall, one day.” She sat. “Admittedly, the Senlu Emperor is a sexy man.”

A rap at the open door sounded and both looked to see their mother enter, and from behind an excited Teroux barrelled past. The boy jumped at his father, placing kisses all over his face. His grandmother looked on fondly.

“You like, Teroux?” his father ventured, laughing.

Teroux nodded, setting a-wobble golden ringlets, and sidled off his father’s lap. Breathless, he tugged Fay’s hand. “Come see, Aunt Fay! A pony!”

Fay allowed herself to be manipulated. The two vanished into the corridor.

“MOTHER.” TANNIL KISSED his mother’s smooth, perfumed cheek.

“Tannil, a pony?” Mitrill queried. “Where, son, shall we find the space?”

He laughed. “Kismet will work something out, and Teroux should be astride a horse already.” The latter was said with the constraints of an island existence in mind.

“Take him to Luvanor, as you were at that age.”

He grimaced. “I will miss him.”

“You spend much time there already. Teroux will probably see his father more.”

He knew she was right, but Valaris was their home. Then, spending time on Luvanor would broaden Teroux’s horizons, as it did for him. No islands there to confine him, continents of space, incredible diversity and an ancient history. The Valleur had been in these Western Isles too short a time for that kind of antiquity.

“I will think more on it.”

“You should consider moving everyone. As our space declines, families split apart – half here, half on Luvanor.”

He was surprised. She always advocated they remain on Valaris.

“I know what I said in the past. We have grown; soon we cannot sustain ourselves here. Ferrying supplies from Luvanor is impractical.” She approached the table. With deliberation she closed the open volumes of the Oracles. “I, and a few of the court, could remain here.”

Tannil had not expected to broach this subject upon his return, but he was not one to leave things unsaid either. “What does Caltian say?”

Mitrill looked up. “I have not spoken to my husband.”

He stared out of the window at the blue sky. Gulls flitted by with comforting regularity. “How long have you pondered this?”

“A while.” She sat, hands twisting in her lap. “Tannil, we must discuss this, and do so formally with the Elders. I am not advocating mass exile …”

“… but I should transfer my court to Luvanor.”

“It would be a practical choice.”

“I am loath to leave here. Three Valla men gave their lives for Valaris. My father died for the Enchanter, and why? Because the Enchanter loved this world.”

Mitrill shook her head. “Your father loved his father, Tannil, and their deaths were more than a sacrifice to a world. Both of them would prefer the Valleur live without hardship and tension, and if that is on Luvanor they would be the first to make it happen.”

Tannil rose. “Yet we exiled to these islands; you contradict yourself.” He ran a hand over a hefty tome. “You are right, space has become an issue. We shall have your formal discussion and I shall advocate the majority of our people move. Teighlar and I discussed this yesterday.” He looked up. “My court remains here. I shall divide my time between two worlds as I do now. I heard my grandfather speak to me, and I shall hark to his words until I am no longer Vallorin.”

His mother blinked. “You have never spoken of this.”

“You are Mitrill, one of the final few to speak with the Enchanter, and I was there. He recognised me and spoke to me. He asked that you take care of me and look out for his exiled people. He asked something else of me. I aim to remain on Valaris.”

Mitrill paled. “Will you tell me?”

Tannil enfolded his mother in his arms. Trebac glowed, for she was a trueblood Valla. “You loved him more than you let on, but I cannot tell you this.”

Usually self-possessed, mention of the Enchanter could send her into a dither of uncertainty.

“I will respect that,” she said, and stepped back. “You are a good son and you know me better than I suspect. I loved him, but not quite the way you think. I did not know him, for he kept me apart from himself and his sons, for my protection. It is the idea of him, the memory, the ideal he has become. Caltian knew him and spent time with him through all manner of strife, yet even my husband will admit to loving the ideal more today.”

“Why can you not say his name?”

She was silent for a moment. “He becomes too real, as if he is in the room with you, inhabiting your space. If I say his name, it is yesterday and he kneels before me, talking to my unborn son, recognising you in my womb. If I say his name, I feel again his lips on mine. Tannil, I enjoyed your father, but that one farewell kiss haunts me.”

She said more than intended, but Tannil already knew.

Mitrill left. Tannil watched her go. Many told him he took after his mother, had the same cleverness, and thus he felt he understood her. Although unborn at the time she spoke of, he was there and possessed clear memory of the event.

MITRILL DESCENDED to the Throne-room below. Unseeing, she crossed the vast space, blind to the simple, clean beauty of the white floor and walls. Then she halted and faced the ornate wooden chair opposite the massive doors. Her face twisted, seeing another seat, one of memory, and a single tear escaped.

“Torrullin,” she whispered.

THE VALLEUR RECALLED life to Torrke, but were unable to summon the Valleur Throne. The golden seat resisted all attempts. The resident magic of the valley had not returned either. After five hundred years of trying, stealthily as human hatred of Valleur intensified, they surrendered to the inevitable. The Throne and the valley’s ancient magic belonged to Torrullin. Only the Enchanter could recall them.

Thus they waited and watched the skies.

Two thousand years had passed.

THE SLEEPER SWORD

Chapter 1: 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.

Chapter 1

Cold is pretty. Ice forms lace and the air is so clear it heralds angels. Leave me here; I am happy.

~Aris, Druid of Akanth

Valaris

Torrke – The Keep

26th day of Dormire

CLOSE ON SIX months had passed since the stolen ship left Valaris airspace on a mission to deal with Neolone and the Dragon Taliesman. Leaving in high summer, they returned as the first month of winter drew to a close. Snow had not yet fallen, the land was dormant and the air cold, animals were in hibernation and rains had swollen rivers and filled lakes.

Torrke, seat of Keep and Throne, was quiet. Like to the rest of the continent, the valley awaited the first snowfall. The Keep was ready for winter; roof tiles were replaced, gutters cleared, general repairs affected, and food and fuel stocks laid in. From the courtyard delicate potted plants moved indoors and the mosaic pool’s pump was off.

Into this courtyard the marauders alighted, doing so during the midday meal on a sunny day. Staff and Elders ate al fresco, and akin to avenging angels they appeared. A maid dropped her tray of dishes and went screaming back to the kitchens.

Torrullin dragged his headgear off, throwing it to the paving underfoot, and his fair hair was a beacon. It grew over the past months to coil untidily in his neck, a fringe flopping over his familiar forehead.

“Lord Vallorin!” Pretora gasped, recovering from shock.

“If I had not been who I am, Elder, this Keep would now be seized. Are you not on war footing?”

A dark cloud passed before the sun to snuff daylight. To a Valleur that was an omen, and Pretora was no different in his perceptions. He blanched, stared at his lord, and knew serious trouble had landed.

“Of course, my Lord.”

Torrullin strode forward, his companions following more slowly, with Caltian wide-eyed. The Atrudisin had wondered what Valaris would be like and admitted to curiosity over the Valleur Throne.

“Triple your efforts,” Torrullin said, and entered the Throne-room. He set muddy boots to the blue aisle carpet and paced towards his Throne.

Caltian stared at the golden seat. So long was Atrudis isolated that ages had passed since a Valleur from the Forbidden Zone had seen it. It was a simple seat, and it was imposing; dear Aaru. He wanted to run his hands over it, but the warning spoken about its effect on those not known to it was now imprinted. He dared not touch it. He could lose his life if he did.

Outside, dishes were whisked away, most with food on them, and tables and chairs vanished with alacrity, and so, too, the retainers. Their Vallorin had moods to be avoided.

Grim of face, the others arrayed to the sides of the seat. Torrullin sat, gripping the armrests as power infused him. He welcomed the infusion. He needed the infusion, although the thought was unformed.

Pretora was hesitant as he approached, and behind him Kismet was hasty as he entered. Kismet caught up, slowed him.

“What, Pretora?”

“A face like thunder? We are in for it, Kismet. Quiet now.”

Both men glanced at Caltian, a stranger from another world, and searchingly at Saska, but were themselves under scrutiny and did not react. Whatever emotion lay behind those faces, all of it spelled trouble.

“My Lord,” Pretora murmured, bowing. Kismet wordlessly did the same.

“Pretora, did Camot return from Atrudis?” said Torrullin.

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Send for him. Where are the Q’lin’la?”

“At the Temple, my Lord.”

I am on my way, Enchanter, Quilla sent before he could be contacted.

Torrullin grimaced. All gods, he wanted to sleep forever.

“Lord Vallorin?” Kismet said.

Torrullin looked at him.

“My Lord, there are Dragons here.”

Torrullin leaned forward, eyes sparking. “Yes?”

“They arrived on the cargo traveller with many Thinnings aboard.”

“They were guised as Xenians,” Pretora added.

“Where are they?” Torrullin asked.

Pretora put his hands together. “We have incarcerated them.”

“Goddess!” Torrullin snarled. Alongside him heads were shaken. “Did you not tell Quilla or Krikian? Release them immediately.”

He rubbed his eyes and drew breath. Her Majesty Abdiah, Kallanon ruler, Dragonne Queen, would have a few succinct words about this. Fortunately, she harked to diplomacy.

“Abdiah planned ahead,” Vannis muttered nearby, his voice on the edge of amusement.

She clearly sent the two Dragons as forerunners, suspecting the battle for the Light would come to Valaris. Abdiah, as Torrullin once remarked, was her own advisor.

Kismet ran out, leaving Pretora clutching his robe.

“Thundor was successful, thank Aaru,” Taranis murmured. “If duped.”

Thundor saved the Thinnings in the Forbidden Zone from Murs annihilation. Great foresight, but he might have brought his brethren to new disaster here.

Torrullin did not respond.

“Lord Vallorin, what is wrong? We thought you were able to end …” Pretora’s voice petered out when his ruler swung a silvery gaze to him.

Quilla appeared and instantly read the situation. He frowned at Pretora. “Leave, Elder; all will be explained. Prepare the bedchambers and order up …” He glanced at the bunch around the Throne. “… food and wine.”

“We have no time to drink, birdman!” Vannis snapped.

Quilla ignored him. “Go, Pretora, and better put some sedatives in the food.”

The Elder stared at him in horror and then noticed twinkling eyes. He made himself scarce, relieved. The birdman had a calming influence on the Vallorin.

Quilla swung back serenely to the group of marauders; their reputation had reached Valarian ears also. He had not believed a word of it and now wondered if he was wrong. He looked them over critically and his gaze fixed on Torrullin.

“You had a hard time of it, obviously, but there is no call to frighten your Elders and retainers. You need them.”

“They have been lax.”

“They have not. We ourselves only returned two weeks ago. We found Valaris secure, as you will no doubt recognise when you open your eyes. They do not know the full tale and are unaware of new dangers, but they are prepared as if mindful of every facet.”

“But they know the Dragon is gone.”

“That was, after all, the point.”

Caltian swallowed. He killed the creature and thus fulfilled his destiny.

“Where have you been?” Torrullin asked.

The birdman studied him calmly as he said, “We were on Atrudis. Much fear arose with the re-emergence of Emperor Teighlar and, despite the documents you prepared, insufficient Valleur believed in you to take you at your word. We stayed to smooth matters and that took some doing. Eventually the charisma of the Emperor himself won hearts, but it meant we were delayed in returning. What would you have us do, Enchanter? Leave that world to a different war. A civil war?”

Torrullin rubbed his eyes again. “You did well, and I am sorry.”

Quilla smiled.

“Grinwallin?” Saska whispered.

Grinwallin was a mighty city in the eastern region of Atrudis’ Tunin continent; a city built of stone set atop a great plateau. It delved the mountain behind it as well as stepping in tiers down to the plateau. Grinwallin, when they attained it in search of the Taliesman, was in ruin, but the ruins were odd for a city ninety million years abandoned; it seemed as if it fell into disrepair a mere century before. Magic kept the spirit of a fair city alive, proven when its resident Emperor, Teighlar, rose from ghostly form to become real.

Teighlar and Grinwallin were gifted a second chance. The team left the city before it arose in splendour, before Teighlar’s people, the Senlu, awakened with him.

The birdman gazed up with wonder upon his angelic face. “I am not one for cities and many people, but I would happily change my ways for Grinwallin. She is beautiful, simply entrancing.”

In leaving, they gifted the Senlu their second chance without the strife a Darak Or would unleash. It was decidedly a point of light.

Saska smiled.

Quilla transferred his gaze to Torrullin. “Her architect was a genius. Grinwallin was conceived with heart and soul. You would–”

“What?” It came out as a warning.

Quilla heard it and sighed inwardly. Perhaps the Enchanter knew the truth about Grinwallin. “… be proud, Torrullin.”

“Why would I be proud?”

“We were part of her renewal, Enchanter. We should all be proud.”

Torrullin’s silvery gaze moved away.

Quilla prompted, “Is he here?” He meant Margus.

“We think so,” Taranis replied when his son did not. “We lost him out there and there are no longer traces.”

“Full circle,” Quilla murmured. “We deal with it. For the present, you bathe and rest, eat. Leave the rest to me. I shall see the sites cloaked immediately and that Camot is ready.” He quirked his head. “You are home and amongst your own, and we shall aid in carrying this burden. Take some time to find your good humour before you speak again.”

The birdman swung around and exited the chamber.

“A breath of sanity, our Quilla,” Taranis murmured.

“Yes,” Vannis agreed, and left. Back home now, the death of his beloved Raken was again new.

Tristamil, his face expressionless, followed. He wanted desperately to see Skye, and knew it would be hard for them.

“Well, we are a cohesive unit,” Taranis said, and strode the carpet into the courtyard. He ignored the few curious retainers outside and bounded up the outer stairs to the suites.

“Matt, show Caltian to the guest area.” Torrullin waved after Taranis, and the two left without a word.

“I assume I may still claim a place in our suite, husband?” Saska asked. Her emerald eyes were cold and simultaneously challenging.

He stared at her. “You are my wife.”

“I am a stranger to you.”

“Gods, I cannot do this now. The suite is yours; I will find somewhere else.”

Saska stood before him. “You have sucked all the joy from me and treated me like the enemy. Do not humiliate me as well. It is our suite, and you will join me in it.”

“As you will, my Lady.”

She nodded and left.

TORRULLIN SAT FOR many hours. A gentle prompting from Kismet to eat went unheard and Quilla came and went, but he merely left the Enchanter to his thoughts. None of them realised it was more than introspection, more than strategies that kept him there, although those were factors.

The Throne held him, asking questions, receiving answers, without conscious thought. A communion, for the ancient sentient seat needed to know what was new and what was changed. One day the sentience would gift the kind of answers that would completely destroy Torrullin of the present, to remake him, but that day had not yet arrived. For now, the communion was mutual and satisfying. It, more than anything else, told him he was home.

It was dusk when he finally stirred, standing like an old man. He felt old. He felt guilty.

He wanted to sleep forever.

SASKA WAS UPSTAIRS and had arranged food and drink for him. He looked at her, silently sat, and ate slowly. He did not speak, and she did not interrupt. She watched, waiting for a sign of something more than enmity, but he revealed nothing. He was far away. He was also clearly drained.

“I have drawn you a bath,” she said, when he eventually pushed his plate aside.

Nodding, he entered the bathroom, closing the door. Sighing, she sat on the bed.

He eventually emerged bathed and shaven, wearing a dark blue robe, and halted in the doorway. There was a spark in his eyes and her heart tripped. Whatever it was, it would be better than cold anger.

“This is my fault, Saska. How do I deal with this?”

“I have no answer, Torrullin.”

He came to sit beside her. He smoothed her hair from her face, the first tender action since she appeared to him on Atrudis, and then dropped his hand and looked away. “Forgive me.”

She gazed towards the window, taking a breath. “Sleep. I shall keep watch.”

“There are many watching. Come, sleep as well.” He peeled the covers back. “We need to rest now.”

She studied him a while and moved to her side. Together they climbed in, lying stiffly until she turned to lay her head on his shoulder, pushing her hand through the flaps of his gown to lie upon the skin of his chest. He stiffened and then drew her close.

Gradually they relaxed, and sleep came.

They were home.

THE NEMISIN STAR