It occurred to me recently that animals play a role in our stories and yet there are none in the Lore I have written … or are there? Besides the periods the characters are on horseback, and besides the mythical cathron I have spoken of before, are there animals, as in cats and dogs, in my stories? To that end, I went through the four Arcana books as an exercise, and the moment I opened The Infinity Mantle I thought ‘ha, how forgetful are you, Elaina?’ because I remembered Kylan and Jess.
Kylan is a Herbmaster from Farinwood, and is in the Great Forest the night the action begins, and Jess, his faithful furry companion, is at his side. It goes wrong (excerpt below – quite lengthy, but do read it!) and it hurts Kylan, really does, so much so that, in The Drowned Throne, Jess comes back into the story (second excerpt).
I will tell you more about the times other dogs, and cats, too, come into the story, but for now, here’s part of Jess’ story.
HE STOOD ON a brown square two by two feet and next to it a green square, then another brown, another green and so on; he was on a giant checkerboard!
At each corner there was an oval pile of sticks and mud, as many nests were made, only larger. Curious, Kylan closed in to investigate, glancing about and crouching low, making as little sound as possible. He did not sense danger, but it paid to be careful, it paid every time.
There were five eggs in the nest and there were five in the next and the next. In this strange place everything was uniform and, well, designed. Again he glanced around, neck hairs beginning to prickle. Nothing, but that did not mean there was not something.
Frowning, he returned his attention to a clutch of pale purple, spotted eggs. He leaned over to touch, feeling warmth and an inner vibration that proved life. He would have been surprised had they been cold and lifeless, but this was a lot of potential living here.
A checkerboard hatchery, strange as that was? And what was he doing here?
Looking up he saw an enormous dome, muted blue. Well. A brown-green checkerboard, purple eggs and a blue dome. Was he in a child’s drawing? A giant’s game?
Despite wariness, he chuckled; it was too farfetched to be taken seriously … must be a dream … or a premonition.
His amusement vanished and he swallowed convulsively.
If the eggs were warm, something was entrusted to keep them that way. Perhaps the dome was an incubator and perhaps even now the mothers returned, winging back on giant wings. What, in Taranis’ name, would they prove to be? Crikey, he may have stumbled into a hornet’s nest – he hoped they were not hornets!
Come now, buddy, this is a dream, no more. And they would have to be seriously huge hornets.
There were muted explosive sounds around him, and at first he thought the eggs were blowing up, but then there was light everywhere. Someone switched on a hundred suns inside his head, in front of his eyes, he was blind … no, that was not right. His eyes were simply unaccustomed to the sudden light.
There had been a switching-on process, therefore the explosions – huge, artificial, twenty feet high lights. So, it was an artificial place … well, he figured that already; he just could not figure what for or what it meant to him. Then he realized the lights were probably on to spot a possible intruder … he was the intruder!
Taranis, what now?
Something unseen landed on his chest and there was a smelly slobbering about his face. Attempting to push the creature away, encountering warm fur, shaking his head from side to side to prevent the assault claiming a nose or eye, and wondering why he could not see his attacker in the brightness, Kylan shook himself awake.
He was beside the fire on his sleeping roll where he lay down a couple of hours back. The fire was low and marked the time passed. Jess obviously decided she had waited long enough for a meal.
Kylan sat up groggily, laughing in relief, body coated in sweat, dark hair plastered to his face with the aid of slobber.
Wiping his face with a shaking hand, he said, “Ah, Jess, you smelly mutt, thank Taranis that was a dream! You can’t know how great your timing was.”
Jess, of undetermined breed, cocked her head to stare at him with soulful eyes. His green orbs darkened as he recalled other incidents. She pulled him from dreams before and frequently warned him of snares in the Forest when she should not know of their existence.
“I have a feeling you do know,” he muttered, and Jess cocked her head the other way as if in agreement. He laughed. “Or maybe I’ve been alone too long …”
Jess jumped up and barked at him, her wont when she disagreed with something. He laughed again, less surely this time.
“Maybe I’m not hallucinating, but the alternative is unthinkable. If you do know, girl, then what does that make you? Folk will quarter you for harbouring magic, but all right, I’m not going to say anything … and, as you’re so sharp, please explain what that crazy dream …”
He slammed up against the huge oak behind him and hung there suspended two feet from the ground.
Cannot move … what is this? Another dream? A dream within a dream – had he not awakened earlier? He wore only breeches and the rough bark of the old tree dug viciously into the exposed skin of his back … it hurts!
It could not be a dream, but reality versus fantasy was the least of his concerns. A force encircled his neck and drove air from his lungs.
Jess barked furiously, jumping up and nipping at something not there. Her hysterics caused a fluttering and a raucous noise, as all birds in the immediate vicinity took to wing.
He attempted to loosen the stranglehold on his neck, scratching at his throat and raising bloody welts. All the while his legs flailed seeking a way to lever away from the tree back to solid ground.
The night was eerily silent.
Jess ran cowering under a bush to whimper there. Kylan sensed his struggles were useless; he hung above the ground, eyes seeking escape, ears attempting to pierce the breathless quiet for clues to the source of his torment. Barely breathing, he saved what little oxygen he had left for when an opportunity presented itself, if it would, dear Lord.
What is this? There is no defence against this … this sorcery!
TARANIS! Taranis, help me! I cannot do this alone!
Then, as unexpectedly as it began, he was released.
He tumbled to earth gasping in great gulps of air that seared his throat and lungs.
Jess slinked out. “It’s all right, girl,” he murmured. “You were wonderful.” Stroking her he looked around, no longer trusting their surroundings.
It was silent, but all was as it had been. There was his sleeping roll, his bag of necessities, with cooking utensils to one side and herbs drying where he hung them earlier that afternoon. The fire popped merrily and that was not right. He did not put wood on after waking with Jess slobbering over him and an almost dead fire did not find fuel on its own.
Dare he think Taranis heard him? Dumb, that would be a first, a god saving someone directly. Sick of being frightened and confused, he shouted, “What is going on here?”
“Taranis cannot help you, human, although it amused me no end to release you when you invoked his aid. It really does take more than one human in trouble for the beloved Taranis to take note.”
From the dark beyond the fire came the most dangerous creature Kylan had ever encountered. As a Herbmaster he often went where others did not and saw different creatures and strange animals on four legs and six, but never this. Jess’ hackles were raised. No amount of calling on the Deities would help him, and likely they did not hear a lone human.
The creature was blue with an underlying pulse of purple – colours like the eggs. It had been a premonition; he was not afforded the time to figure it out, not that he would have come to this conclusion. It was naked, obviously female and highly alluring. Her skin tone was not repulsive in the least. Her hair was long and blue, swaying in the night air.
Shaped and sized as a human female, she was extraordinarily sensual, until he saw her eyes, until he looked.
They were voids, transparent pools so deep they were eternal. If he stared too long he would certainly drown, spiralling into infinity, over and over and over and … he hurriedly looked away. He did not know how he knew her eyes could kill, only that they would.
She laughed. A knowing sound that was also the sweetest he had heard. He knew who she was, but until now had not believed she existed. She was a myth, a legend, a tale.
… spiralling into infinity …
This was Infinity, the blue dara-witch.
According to legend, she was the mother of all gods, immune to death and sorcery. The tale further stated one could live forever if one subjected one’s soul to her eternal will. This before him was no dream and no legend. His brief glimpse into her eyes that were not eyes revealed to him clearly the price for eternal life was death, in any way she devised, and endlessly repeated for her twisted pleasure. It was eternal death and it was endless.
He had to get away NOW.
Faithful Jess came to his rescue for the second time that night.
She leapt from his side over the fire in a brown and black streak of pure and intent energy. She was at Infinity’s throat in lightning seconds, but when she got there, there was nothing to sink her teeth into. Infinity was an apparition; real and as capable of great damage as any solid entity, yet as untouchable as the night air in which she appeared. She was energy in visual form.
Jess, however, served as a momentary distraction. Infinity spun and, as Jess leapt, Kylan dived for the fire and grabbed a burning log from a blaze that should have no such item. Wondering if a piece of wood burning magically could burn flesh, not knowing what exactly he would do with this spontaneous weapon, he knew only his heart was frantic and any moment could see him surrender to mindless fear.
He too leapt over the fire before fear did overcome. Positioned facing her, he brandished his flickering weapon.
Infinity laughed, clearly delighted. “I am not a forest creature you can scare away with fire, human! My, but you are a spirited one! I will enjoy this. I will allow you sixty of your human heartbeats to escape me and then I shall hunt you.” Her voice dropped as she considered the sport ahead, turning husky with anticipation. “Do not think you can escape your fate, beautiful man. There is no way out … see?”
The blue woman twisted to where Jess only moments before spun at bay behind her, snarling and contemplating her next assault. Infinity lifted her arm, and fingers shot darts of azure flame, which she tossed at Jess.
In that exact instant Kylan acted.
In the moment following, frozen into his memory forever after, four events occurred simultaneously.
He thrust the burning brand directly into Infinity, his need to do something energizing every move and thought; Jess exploded into a pillar of cobalt flaming vapour, yelping piteously; Infinity erupted, transforming into a whirlwind of gale force strength, and a voice burned into his mind, admonishing him to “Remember! Remember the words, Kylan! Always know I am with you!”
And he knew no more.
KYLAN’S THOUGHTS OF the wedding were marred when he heard a plaintive wail from the trees to his right.
He could not place it, and frowned as he listened intently. There it was again, softer now. He knew that sound, and it called to him, tugged at his heart. He sat up and stared in the general direction.
When it came again, he knew why it affected him … it sounded like, like … Jess! She was hurt; sounding like the time when that darn tabby turned on her, scratching her beloved nose to shreds.
He rose and, glancing at the others, noticed they were intent on their tasks. Some talked, some repacked gear, others slept, even Kisha. He did not want to disturb her, she got little rest, her sleep plagued by nightmares, and the others obviously heard nothing. Maybe he imagined it; maybe he dreamed the sound of Jess’ distressed wail. He would look a right fool if he drew everyone’s attention to a dream sound.
He had to be sure.
Kylan loped off into the trees, going where he thought he heard it emanate from, hearing nothing, and then it came again. A wail of pain, asking for help. By god, he thought her dead, more than dead; burned, vanished. Had he not looked hard enough? Had he missed her, left her behind? As he ran, he castigated himself. She had been hurt and he abandoned her.
“Jess?” he called out, and whistled his special tune for her. “Where are you, girl?”
He stopped to listen, and heard a soft bark of recognition up ahead.
“That’s my girl!” he called out. “I’m coming …” He whistled again to let her know it was him, he was on his way, and his tears ran unchecked. He heard her bark again, hearing in it faint, pleased excitement.
Slowing down to hear her, not to miss her, he searched the undergrowth, she was close, and kept up a faint whistling …
Ahead there was an old elm, green with moss, its foliage untamed. He knew it, had been here before. He rounded its broad girth … and stopped dead in his tracks.
He sank to his knees, feeling as if he were going to die; from guilt, and sadness so great the human heart could not possibly hold it.
“Oh, Jess, sweetheart, I’m sorry.”
His tears were a torrent now; he was sobbing, seeing his beloved childhood companion, loyal always, often his only friend, ensnared in a vicious contraption. A poacher’s trap! How it could be there in that beautiful place was a mystery, given folk were terrified of the Forest, but there it was, and Jess, dear, sweet Jess, was caught in it. Both her hind legs were cruelly snared, the rusty wire biting deep, exposing bone, and she was emaciated, resting on bent front legs, her head drooping to one side.
When she saw him, she lifted her head valiantly, and stared at him with liquid brown eyes, no reproach, only happiness, as if she had known he would come and make it all right. Such trust, such loyalty, his heart could not bear it. She tried to wag her bushy tale, but no longer had the strength. Her usually shiny brown coat was matted, dirty, and lifeless.
How long? Nearing two months, surely, since Infinity surprised them that night. Surely she had not been trapped here all that time? No, she ran off, he had not searched hard enough, and she floundered into that trap … later, it had to be later.
“Still, Jess, I’ll get you out, girl.”
Gasping through tears, Kylan felt for the knife in his pocket … not there! God, no! Then he remembered he placed it beside him when he laid down to rest … no!
“Don’t you worry now, my angel, we’ll make another plan.”
Kylan crept forward, whispering soothingly, and rubbed her forehead gently, her dry tongue licking his hand, little sounds of pleasure. His heart breaking anew, he bent to the task of undoing coils of wire. Hands bleeding, slipping, slipping minutes later, he knew he was beat. He needed wire-cutters, a saw, something – he would have to go back.
He did not want to leave her. To walk away would break her sweet heart, but he had to free her, he would be back. Explaining all this to her as calmly as he was able to, knowing she would understand, she was a clever mutt, he searched around and found big leaves holding water. He stared at those leaves a moment.
They seemed artificial, deliberately placed, but then he shook it off as fanciful and carried them like the most precious gold to his Jess, and sobbed as he watched her lick with great effort, her eyes never leaving his. He patted her gently and ran a soothing hand along her flank …
“I’ll be back soon, Jess, I promise.” Crying, he backed away, the hardest thing he had ever done, her eyes following, reproachful now, worried. “Hang in there, girlie … I’m coming now-now …”
He ran with the hounds of hell chasing him.
Kylan was soon lost, could not find the clearing – how on god’s good earth could he not know where he was? He shouted, called, anyone? Anyone!
Ran and stumbled … oh no, oh no, oh no, Jess, Jess! I am sorry, sorry …
***A long read, I am aware, but Jess’ story, and Kylan’s grief, got to me all over again. By the way, the eventual outcome of Kylan’s dream is a good one 🙂
I had a reviewer declaim the fact that a band of trees is able to separate a people. Surely folk will have hiked through from north to south, and south to north? Someone will have been adventurous enough to do so. No forest, impenetrable or otherwise, will keep the spirit of facing the odds at bay.
He or she is correct. Humankind will go where it is dangerous and forbidden. This mind-set is about challenge, and it is also pure rebelliousness.
Know this world Valaris from the inside out and you will understand why a band of trees separates them for three thousand years.
Firstly, we are talking a truly massive forest; not only does it stretch from the eastern seaboard all the way to the western, but it is wide and requires some serious fortitude to traverse.
Secondly, Valarians have been manipulated into fearing even their own shadows at times. The magic of a sunset is magic, and therefore forbidden. Imagine, then, a forest of magical trees. This was forced upon them, and therefore, when faced with a mighty band of trees that serves to keep them safe from the poisons beyond, the spirit of adventure is unfortunately snuffed.
Thirdly, the time factor becomes a barrier all its own. Truth has become legend, and conversely legend has become truth twisted out of proportion. Fact is, the clans in the north believe the land they inhabit is all there is to Valaris, while the south regards the northern peninsulas as destroyed. Add to that complacency, and the Great Forest is ever given a wide berth.
Let it be said, however, that a few have crossed, never to return to spread the word of continuing deception. Speaking up and denying accepted beliefs is considered sedition, and, much as it is with magic in whatever form it is perceived, leads to the hangman’s noose. Also, fear creates monsters; a fair few of the intrepid convinced themselves ghosts and ghouls tracked them and succumbed to fear itself.
So, yeah, it does seem a bit far-fetched that trees divide north and south, but this is Valaris and nothing is quite as black and white as that … or grey and every shade of green and blue in this case.
Terrible wastelands result after the battles between the Guardians and Infinity/Drasso, which serves to separate Valarians. Three thousand years later (the present) that mind-set is in place despite the recovery of the land. North of the Great Forest folk adhere to an ancient clan system and believe the south annihilated and poisoned. They call the Forest the Barrier. Southerners, having abandoned the clan system, believe the same of the north. They know the Forest as the Great Dividing Forest. Infinity’s ‘game’ summons individuals from north and south.
From the north comes MORDAN of the Kinna clan, an old man who has memorised the entire Ancient Oracles – 10 hefty volumes containing much lore and magic, and which becomes pertinent to the story as it unfolds – and SAMSON of the Mye, a young man proficient with a sling, and CRISTI of the San, the shyest young girl you ever will meet. Kisha of the Tan (the largest clan) is already in the Great Forest, seeking distraction from grief after her father dies unexpectedly, when she feels summoned to a gathering within the forest she hikes as the tale opens; the four great northern clans are represented in these four.
Kylan, a southerner and the Herbmaster of Farinwood, camps in the Great Forest. He is assailed by Infinity, and Kisha, hearing his desperation in the night-time Forest, goes to his aid, and this is how the separation of north and south is bridged, via two young people prepared to talk and listen and hear.
It becomes clear to all players (northern, southern and Guardians) that there is much hidden under the surface of Valaris’ recorded history.
Kylan and Kisha meet in the Great Forest of Valaris. He is a Herbmaster and she is an expert in body language. Sparks fly for these two!
Of mighty books and a golden medal
Let’s talk about magical devices.
There are a few that populate the LORE books, these two being the most important. The Ancient Oracles and the Maghdim Medaillon:
Three thousand years before the present time the human population of Valaris was essentially decimated.
First there was Drasso’s extermination, which was wholesale slaughter, and their numbers were further depleted when the Guardians descended to do battle. Using human tactics to fight a war required men, many men. That part of the war lasted three years, and at the end of it, large tracts of land were wasteland … and thus more succumbed, for the aftermath was as hard as the wars fought.
Only the Great Forest remained unscathed, but it became a physical and emotional divide between north and south.
The Guardians saw this, but were powerless to change it. Not only could neither side see beyond the wastelands in the aftermath, but also they no longer trusted their saviours. Deified they were, but the terrible power of the Guardians left the humans as fearful of them as they were of Drasso, Infinity and their kind. The Guardians chose to leave the humans to rebuild alone.
They left an inheritance for each region divided by trees and superstitions.
To the north went ten volumes, containing within the pages of antiquity universal truths. Warded within those pages were sufficient charms to promote the spirit of adventure, the need to restore the past, and a wish to cross the wastelands in search of other survivors.
The charms needed to be read aloud, which they never were, for the dead language was also an unpronounceable one. Fear of magic had stilled most tongues.
The ten volumes were and are collectively known as the Ancient Oracles.
To the south went the Maghdim Medaillon. In the Ancient Tongue it translated as ‘Supreme Wisdom’. It had the power to summon the clans of old, particularly those of the north with numbers to call to, but like to the Oracles, it was not used. Fear of magic stilled it also.
The remaining sorcerers in the south guarded the Maghdim Medaillon. Their numbers were small, fifteen having survived Drasso. From them, the continuance to the present-day Society of Sorcerers.
The golden medal lay in its velvet casket for two centuries, the sorcerers too afraid to discover what it could do. Sorcery was outlawed before Drasso; after him, it was worse.