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: 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: The Dragon Circle

How do you lift a weapon against someone you once loved?

Valarians prepare for winter. Many died in summer, more will succumb to the cold. While waiting for the opportune time to strike, Margus secretly begins a different kind of campaign: soul snatching. Having lost his army, he now rebuilds it with the souls of people in despair after the violence of summer’s confrontations.

Torrullin steps blindly into Vannis’ final prophecy. It brings him a great gift; it also leads to terrible betrayal. In the aftermath there is a change in the Valla Dragon’s place of residence, and Saska abandons Torrullin, leaving him in need of diversion. Belun of the Centuar is suspicious of the strange vanishings and it drives Torrullin offworld to find a ward against soul snatching, to end Margus’ reign of terror. He enters the forges of flame, and the man who emerges is reformed of fire to unleash annihilating heat.

Uninvited, Torrullin enters the Dome of his Guardian father, Taranis, employing a darkened doorway most Guardians believed inoperative, to become the harbinger of final days…

The Dragon Circle completes the forging of Torrullin Valla. The ambivalent Rayne’s tale began in the shades and shadows of a prejudiced world and moved into flame and fire, and now a new future unveils …

Chapter 1

Genius and insanity are engraved together on the same face of a coin.

~ Awl

Valaris

HE NO LONGER possessed an army. His symbiotic Horde succumbed to the Guardians’ symbiosis enchantment. It was a terrible manipulation; a body received a soul and a soul suddenly possessed a body, a melding they sought desperately to repudiate. More surrendered to summer’s annihilating weather. The few who survived both symbiosis and weather died in the Western Isles by the Enchanter’s hand.

He was now utterly alone in his quest. Even his partner in wickedness, the dara-witch Infinity, surrendered her long life to Guardian strength, leaving him without support. He was utterly alone, yes, but he was not about to surrender his quest.

Victory, therefore, required something incredibly special.

Then he found it. The perfect dungeon.

The absolute perfection of it inspired a new path, the discovery of that something special.

Weeks of crawling through dank caves and filthy tunnels to emerge bloodied and soiled finally offered up this extraordinary gift.

Margus swiped mud-encrusted hands over an even filthier tunic, eyes manic with anticipation. He had outdone himself; this was unqualified genius. The cavernous space, buried deep, was impossible to find, and utterly soundproof.

The perfect place to bind souls.

Poetic justice. The perfect revenge.

THE FIRST WAS a young woman. He found her curled up for the sleep of oblivion in a hollow within the roots of an ancient tree.

Valaris of the present remained drenched and was difficult to traverse. It separated Valarians not only in circumstances, but also in geography. Many wandered alone across wastelands, hoping to find others, searching for aid. Others simply abandoned presses of people to wander off into isolation, the better to deal with grief, the loss of hope.

A perfect set of factors for one seeking anonymity. In these early stages of setting new plans in motion, he did not desire to inadvertently trip over a sanctimonious Guardian or two.

The young woman was starving, near death. On her own, she would not last a day more, and there was no one in the vicinity to come to her aid, not that he cared whether she lived or died. It was a matter of the simplicity inherent in her weakness, for he was out of practice. The time since his previous reap until this, while not long, had leeched from him the energy and focus required. She was therefore the perfect first victim.

His little trial run.

She was also young; he had discovered youth lent a torn soul certain strengths, such as the fires of despair igniting swiftly to burn with intense heat, and that heat led to a terrible need to unleash hate.

Margus knelt beside her and brushed her fair hair from her cheek. So sweet. So perfect.

An instant later, she screamed.

Then she was eternally silent.

HE FOUND OTHERS. Many wandered in isolated places, aimless and hungry; several had given up trying. For some hope was dead, never to be resurrected. They were no more than walking dead. Most were alone, although a few straggled together, their desperation making fools of their efforts. They were men, for the most part, but he stumbled over a number of solitary women also.

It was a truth he encountered few children; either they were too weak to wander and died were they lay, or they had succumbed in uncountable numbers in summer. Children, as souls, were inefficient anyway, and he thus ignored them when he did find them.

He was selective with the men and women. He tracked those alone, unmarked by others, and chose them young, and he took them only when near death, injured, or wholly lost.

Thereafter he ferried each soul to his perfect place, a matter of thought over distance, and immediately commenced their training. For the most part this initially entailed keeping them trapped in the abysmal lightless dark. He permitted them a mere hour of light per day. It enraged them beyond the ability to measure.

Seven now, bound to his cause.

In a sense he returned to them purpose. Useless and helpless before he came upon them, they now possessed something to strive towards, a goal. One could call it hope, if one desired a label. How their silent screeches sounded akin to music when he doused the single candle; how entrancing that a soul screamed through the spaces of worlds.

He chose well. Not even a rumour of a whisper escaped his dungeon. Once more soltakin would touch Valarians, but this time death would come to them from their own. Poetic justice indeed. Something special, of a kind to set an enchanter upon a path to darkness.

THE DRAGON CIRCLE

Chapter 1: The Kinfire Tree

Kin is Everything

We return to the Land of Skies. One battle is already behind the team, the disastrous events upon Ardosia; time now to concentrate on the stability of Valaris, or the same fate awaits her.

Hidden from humankind are fourteen sacred Valleur sites, built upon nodes of power. Vannis Valla advocates unveiling them to restore balance to the earth, which will aid in the fight against Margus. The Darak Or has other ideas, and unleashes his soltakin …

In the north, Averroes discovers her true past, and she and Kylan run the Maze gauntlet. Kisha, Mordan, Cristi and Samson prepare the clans of old for eternal night. In the south, Vannis, Rayne and Saska, along with the charismatic little Falcon, Phet, move from site to site. Taranis and the Guardians delve arcane ritual in the Dome to find the answers to the ending of soltakin, while expecting Infinity to bring her Darkling Horde into the mix. Meanwhile McSee, unmasked as traitor, meets the crazy Lanto and they hatch a bold plan, involving a pirate and ancient loot.

Rayne begins the internal battle that will change all. It began for him on Ardosia when he touched Vannis only to release blue sparks between them. The ruling house is almost extinct. How, therefore, does a Valla recognise the blood for the future? By the blue flame of trebac. Kinfire. The legendary Vannis is kin, but there is more in store for Rayne than the reality of this profound connection.

The Kinfire Tree has many branches hidden in its foliage, a condition Rayne suspects, a greater truth he must reveal …

Chapter 1

Go to the mountains, son, and sing songs of praise. Majesty is in timelessness.”

~ Father Rees

Vall Peninsula

Northern Valaris

DESPITE HIGH SUMMER elsewhere, it was bitterly cold in the far north. Icy winds came off the towering Legend Mountains in the distance. The giant slopes were covered in snow almost to the point where rock met land, capped with dark, threatening clouds. A storm brewed there, and it boded ill for the two travellers. They were not dressed for it.

In sharp contrast to the whiteness, the wasteland they crossed was ochre in colour. Loose dust puffed up with every step as if they walked in low gravity and it blew up into their faces with every gust of icy wind. Already they were barely distinguishable from their surroundings.

It was an empty land, abandoned, lonely, and frighteningly different. There were no trees. There was no water. The only tangible objects on that vast plain were edged, black pebbles hidden in powdery dust that served to trip.

Averroes could not believe she was born here, that someone took her across this to the south.

They had been walking for hours. Vannis said she would instinctively know where to go, but she felt nothing other than burning thirst. They had not brought enough water; she had one swallow left, as did Kylan.

Would this never end? The barren ochre plain stretched in every direction. Only the mountains to the north relieved the disheartening vista. Now that stirred something within her. Did it mean they needed to walk all that way?

She groaned aloud.

“Averroes?” Kylan said hoarsely behind her. He was a wonderful companion, ever uncomplaining.

“I’m fine; just wishing I knew where to go.” Her voice, she found, was equally gruff.

“Wait, Averroes, I see … what is that?”

Kylan, when she turned, pointed at a patch of black growing in size as they walked. It was on the ground directly ahead, and she had not even seen it.

“I don’t know.” Her heart commenced an uneven rhythm.

As they drew closer, the black patch materialised into a perfect circle, recessed, about three feet in diameter.

“It’s not natural. Do you recognise it?” Kylan queried as they halted at the edge of the sphere. It was smooth like stone eroded by the ceaseless movement of water.

She shook her head and knelt to touch. It was warm and there was a minor vibration under her fingers. She placed her hand flat on the surface, and it moved. Snatching her hand back, she stumbled away from the edge and pulled Kylan with her.

“It’s moving!”

A circular tube rose perpendicular to the ground and halted at about seven feet, still attached to the earth.

“What is that?” Kylan asked, passing a hand before his eyes to check his sight.

“No idea.”

They heard a whooshing sound. What appeared to be doors retracted into the sides of the cylinder.

“I have read something about this. I don’t know what you call it, but I think one travels in it, up and down. I think we’re supposed to get in.” Kylan was clearly uncertain.

“This is technology, then? Can we trust it?”

“Unless we want to walk to nowhere without water, we have no choice. Vannis did say the half-Valleur were underground. Come, take my hand, we will do it together.”

They linked hands and approached.

“Ready?” Kylan asked, and when Averroes nodded, they stepped in quickly, fearing the doors would close on them before they were fully inside.

Once in, they stood waiting, feeling peculiar in a black cylinder in an ochre desert, but nothing happened. Long moments passed as they kept glancing at each other for reassurance. Nothing inside offered a clue on how to operate the device.

Kylan shrugged and Averroes giggled.

“Well, it can only go one way, hopefully. Why does it not move? Surely it should go down …”

On the word ‘down’ the doors closed. A ceiling light came on and there was the sensation of falling. They could not tell how fast they went, thus could not estimate distance. What seemed an eternity later, but was no more than minutes, the tube came to a halt; the doors whooshed instantly open … behind them.

“Oh, boy,” Kylan muttered as they both turned.

Directly ahead was a wall, white and blank. Peeking around the doors, they looked left and right. It was a corridor, stretching unendingly both ways, lights evenly spaced along the ceiling, glowing muted white.

It was deserted.

They stepped out. The doors closed, and the device remained stationary.

“Now what?” Kylan whispered, looking at lights that needed no flame to burn. The nearest phenomenon he could summon to mind was the solar glows in Galilan’s Prism Park.

Pick a berry; pick two, three, four

Eat them; eat them well

Come again for more …”

Averroes recited a child’s rhyme, wagging her finger left and right with each word. She ended pointing right. “That way.”

“You’re not serious.”

“One way is as good as another, and I still have no sense of recognition.”

Kylan laughed nervously and went right. A hand strayed to his upper thigh where his knife was. Averroes pulled hers from her boot to put it in her jacket pocket.

They walked a long while, at first warily, but as time passed and no one appeared to challenge them, they relaxed and strolled more casually.

Other than the pools of light that came and went as they passed, there were no changes to the stark corridor. It was spotless, the air fresh and the temperature comfortable.

They came upon a recess; a square space penetrating the rock beyond. There was a white basin on a pedestal, a black button on the side, with a spout inside the basin. They knew what it was. Basins and baths in the south were of stone, wood or copper, and taps were rudimentary, hot water piped in from an outside fire and cylinder, yet a basin was a basin.

Averroes pushed the button and from the spout, and a jet of clear water erupted.

“Water,” she breathed. Putting one finger in, she tasted. “Fresh.” She grinned and leaned in to drink her fill, before standing aside.

Kylan needed no coaxing.

They then filled their bottles and took the opportunity to change into fresh clothes. Ochre dust permeated the material they removed and they shook the garments thoroughly before packing them away. The white floor was red by the time they were done.

Much refreshed, morale higher, they stepped back into the corridor.

A low hum filled the air behind them. The ochre dust on the floor dissipated and disappeared. The humming stopped.

“Technology,” Kylan said. “I don’t know my world at all.”

They went on.

A while later the corridor reached a junction. Again, they had a choice of either left or right. The left was blue, the right green, the two colours meeting in a perfect line before them. At least the unrelieved white was gone, but there was no further sign to aid them.

Indecisive, they peered both ways. All was quiet.

“I think there are doorways, look.” Averroes pointed along the green arm. There were rectangular shadows further down.

Kylan thought it could be anything, but it was change at last, thus he nodded.

A muted clang emanated from the same direction. They were here to find people, not avoid them, and even if it was danger they found, it was infinitely better than the sense of being the last two people alive on the planet.

They chose to go right.

The closer they came, the more Kylan had to admit Averroes was right; doorways indeed and doorways usually meant …

… without warning someone stepped out left ahead, to cross the corridor into a doorway right. The impression the two intruders had was of a flowing purple robe.

Kylan was flat against the wall, knife in hand. His reflexes surprised him.

They crept forward.

Kylan peered around the right-hand doorway into which Purple Robe vanished. It was a large yellow room with benches attached to the walls. In the centre, there was a square table, about two feet high, of blue marble, matching the blue of the benches. On the table was a statue of a little girl holding aloft the moon, sculpted from a bluish-grey marble akin to the moon itself. Her little face was alive with the joy of holding something so precious. Kylan was riveted.

Abruptly, from another doorway in the far corner of the room, Purple Robe appeared.

Crikey, I will one day cause my own doom, if it is not today, Kylan thought.

On seeing Kylan, Purple Robe dropped the tray he carried. Loaded as it was with empty crystal goblets, the resultant noise was shatteringly loud. He uttered a shrill cry.

Averroes, studying a similar chamber on the left, dashed across.

That cry!

Kylan was rooted, mesmerized by the yellow eyes of Purple Robe, the cry resounding in his ears.

Upon seeing him thus, Averroes’ memory jiggled, shifted and opened … of another life … clutching her head in an influx of images, each vying for supremacy, she nonetheless had the presence of mind to run headlong into Kylan, jolting him to break his transfixed state.

“Don’t look at him! Block your ears!” she managed, shouting over the noise while battling the images of returning memory. “He’s paralysing you! Do it!”

Kylan sank to the floor, fingers in ears, eyes screwed shut.

She entered the yellow room. Purple Robe turned his gaze on her, continuing his ululation.

Staring straight into his eyes, she said, using the common tongue of Valarians, “It won’t work on me. I’m half-Valleur.” It was true; she was half-Valleur. She now knew it with certainty.

Blinking his eyes, Purple Robe shut the din off. He stared at her in horror, while she bent to grip Kylan’s shoulder.

The Herbmaster looked up at her, unblocking his ears. “All right?” he asked.

“It will be,” she said. “Get up.”

“Who are you? You are a trickster! Half-Valleur have yellow eyes!” Purple Robe cackled, evidently thinking he caught her out.

Averroes put her hands together. “’A dark-eyed child will be born among you. She will be the Changeling who …’” she recited in Valleur. Vannis was right; a Valleur baby never forgot. I am home.

Kylan shifted her way on hearing her speak in Valleur, familiar to him now after both the Guardians and Rayne had uttered enchantments in it.

“No, no …” Purple Robe’s eyes were wide. “… it cannot be … you were … we …”

“You left my mother and me for dead, yes.” Averroes said.

Purple Robe sank onto the nearest section of bench, setting it a-quiver with his great bulk, his face ghostly, trembling as if with fever.

“By all the gods, is it time?”

THE KINFIRE TREE

Inspiration

Where does the inspiration for our stories come from? Manifold sources, including dreams, other stories, a series on Netflix, a movie where the character delivers a line that raises hairs in the back of one’s neck, images both artistic and real-world photos. A word never seen before. Poetry. A conversation overheard. As I said, manifold! And each plays a part in creating the final product the reader then chooses to delve into. This is the magic. This is the reason we do it. For the story that simply must come out and for you.

A few images from my massive FANTASY PLACES image file.

The Legend Mountains

From The Kinfire Tree:

DESPITE HIGH SUMMER elsewhere, it was bitterly cold in the far north.

Icy winds came off the towering Legend Mountains in the distance. The giant slopes were covered in snow almost to the point where rock met land, capped with dark, threatening clouds. A storm brewed there and it boded ill for the two travellers. They were not dressed for it.

In sharp contrast to the whiteness, the wasteland they crossed was ochre in colour. Loose dust puffed up with every step as if they walked in low gravity and it blew up into their faces with every gust of icy wind. Already they were barely distinguishable from their surroundings.

It was an empty land, abandoned, lonely, and frighteningly different. There were no trees. There was no water. The only tangible objects on that vast plain were edged, black pebbles hidden in powdery dust that served to trip.

Averroes could not believe she was born here, that someone took her across this to the south.

They had been walking for hours. Vannis said she would instinctively know where to go, but she felt nothing other than burning thirst. They had not brought enough water; she had one swallow left, as did Kylan.

Would this never end? The barren ochre plain stretched in every direction. Only the mountains to the north relieved the disheartening vista. Now that stirred something within her. Did it mean they needed to walk all that way?

She groaned aloud.

“Averroes?” Kylan said hoarsely behind her. He was a wonderful companion, ever uncomplaining.

“I’m fine; just wishing I knew where to go.” Her voice, she found, was equally gruff.

“Wait, Averroes, I see … what is that?”

Kylan, when she turned, pointed at a patch of black growing in size as they walked. It was on the ground directly ahead, and she had not even seen it.

“I don’t know.” Her heart commenced an uneven rhythm.

As they drew closer, the black patch materialised into a perfect circle, recessed, about three feet in diameter.

“It’s not natural. Do you recognise it?” Kylan queried as they halted at the edge of the sphere. It was smooth like stone eroded by the ceaseless movement of water.

She shook her head and knelt to touch. It was warm and there was a minor vibration under her fingers. She placed her hand flat on the surface, and it moved. Snatching her hand back, she stumbled away from the edge and pulled Kylan with her.

“It’s moving!”

A circular tube rose perpendicular to the ground and halted at about seven feet, still attached to the earth.

“What is that?” Kylan asked, passing a hand before his eyes to check his sight.

“No idea.”

They heard a whooshing sound. What appeared to be doors retracted into the sides of the cylinder.

“I have read something about this. I don’t know what you call it, but I think one travels in it, up and down. I think we’re supposed to get in.” Kylan was clearly uncertain.

“This is technology, then? Can we trust it?”

“Unless we want to walk to nowhere without water, we have no choice. Vannis did say the half-Valleur were underground. Come, take my hand, we will do it together.”

They linked hands and approached.

Aboard the Calloway

From The Infinity Mantle:

The sea soothed and nurtured for the next two days, the water a beautiful blue, the weather a silent comrade. Tor Island vanished from view as Bertin steered his vessel out in a wide arc before turning south.

The fourth night at sea marked Valaris’ Full Moon, and all passengers were on deck, including the three Guardians swathed against Bertin’s incurious gaze, to mark its glorious blue passage across the wide heavens. It rose early evening and kept them company into the early hours, and as it set the others went below, Rayne taking over the helm.

Bertin muttered something about the tides and pull to the full moon and elected to remain at the helm until potential danger passed, going to sleep only when Rayne insisted they would need him fresh for the entrance into Actar later that morning.

It was exactly fourteen days since Infinity’s treacherous game commenced.

Then the dark water rose in gargantuan ramparts straight out of watery hell, some lifting the ship high above sea level, others crashing defiance onto the deck, almost succeeding in driving the tiny vessel into a netherworld grave. Without lines they would have swept overboard. They hung on, unable to bellow fear, sometimes tossed like rag dolls before smashing back onto the splintering deck.

Bertin negotiated the storm for over an hour, in deep dark, each turn more sluggish as the sail tore and tattered, and the cabins below filled with water. The hatch had long since vanished into the monster’s maw.

It did not let up; only intensified. Brutal winds screeched and deafened. Every wave was monstrous, every breath a forced swallow of liquid salt. Still they forged on, praying to their various deities, praying for Bertin with all their strength. If the weather did not change soon, the beleaguered Captain would surely lose the battle, for his ship already was.

The weather did change.

For the worse.