For 14 weeks, beginning on March 19th, on Sundays and Wednesdays, I’ll be posting chapters of book one of my Jaben’s Rift trilogy: From a Far Land. I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to hear any feedback.
Prologue and Chapter 1
The ancient structure crouched in the middle of the Scottish woods. For centuries, it had waited…
The sound of crunching leaves broke the late afternoon stillness as a solitary figure pushed through the tangle of brush toward the building. Mesmerized by his discovery, Jason Bennett shrugged off assaults by vines and brambles battling to hold their hard-won territory. The teenager stopped as a particularly stubborn bramble won a skirmish with his sleeve, a victory heralded by a loud rip.
“Oh, man!” He scowled at the suntanned skin peeking through the hole in his new shirt. Mom’s gonna kill me, he thought.
With a sharp jerk, he freed his sleeve and forged ahead. A few more steps brought him to the entrance. He eyed what was left of the door lying beside the building, almost obscured by weeds and grass, then looked at the gaping maw where it had hung. His gaze slowly traveled around the crumbling edges of the opening. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. Almost before the thought could register, he stepped inside.
Overhead, the roof had fallen in at several spots, splashing the dirty floor with rubble-strewn patches of sunlight. Vines and creepers covered portions of the walls, and a large section of one wall in the front room had collapsed. The musty smell of mold and decaying leaves filled the air. He kicked a clod of dirt, watching it shatter into dust as it hit the wall. It was just an overgrown ruin, similar to the old, decrepit shacks he had seen back home, the only difference being that this one was made of stone instead of wood.
He explored a few of the rooms, but found nothing except more dirt and dead leaves. It was beginning to get dark, so he decided to head back to his great uncle’s house. As he turned to leave, the lengthening shadows revealed a glow coming from somewhere deeper inside the building.
Intrigued, he went in search of the source of the light, the approaching dusk forgotten for the moment. He followed the flickering radiance to a room that appeared to have weathered the passage of time better than the others. The light came from a doorway on the other side of the room. It looked like it opened to the outside, although he would have sworn he was in the middle of the building.
Maybe there’s a courtyard or something like that, he thought. The light might be coming from something out there. Ignoring the small voice of caution in the back of his mind, he stepped through the door.
The light disappeared. The building was empty once more.
Something has changed. The being raised its head as a ripple in the ether disturbed its self-contemplation. Was it time? For centuries the being had waited, sometimes watching the interaction between the points of light and darkness that traversed the flowing colors of the vista before it. At other times, it would turn its attention inward, pondering its own existence for decades at a time.
Now, another moved along a dark thread toward the intricate ballet the being had observed for so long. Yet this new addition was neither light nor dark. It shifted between one end of the spectrum and the other, a rainbow condensed into a single point of existence.
A whispering echo broke the silence. “So, he has found the way at last.”
The being knew it was not supposed to interact with the dancers, and, for the most part, it had observed the Covenant. It remembered how easily the points of light now twirling before it could be extinguished. But now it reached out and, ever so slightly, shifted the end of the dark thread upon which the newcomer traveled. The others will not know, it thought.
“And so it begins. A new song for the dance.”
Then it watched as the rainbow point of light approached the end of the dark thread…
Where am I? A black void surrounded Jason. There was no sound, no sense of motion, nothing. Am I dead? His heart pounded against his ribs, and the coppery taste of panic filled the back of his throat. Then a tiny glimmer of light appeared, a lonely star in an empty sky, bleeding streaks of color into the darkness. The colors swirled and eddied around him in a fluid kaleidoscope of ever-changing hues. He saw shapes beginning to form. With each passing second, the shapes became clearer and more distinct, until he found himself standing outside a small stone building in the middle of a forest glade.
He spun around, but the door he had just stepped through was nowhere to be seen. What the…? Running a shaky hand through his hair, he gazed about. He jerked back to face the cottage as he heard footsteps inside. Before he could think, the door opened and he was staring into the eyes of an old man.
The man searched Jason’s face with eyes that brought to mind slate gray storm clouds just before the rain begins. Then a wide smile spread across the old man’s face as he grabbed Jason’s arm and pulled him inside.
“Welcome, traveler! Be welcome in my home. You are from the Far Planes, are you not? Your garb is much different from those who live here. Let me look at you.” He stepped back, his eyes taking in every detail of Jason’s appearance.
Jason studied the old man in turn. He wore a simple green robe that brushed lightly against the floor. Wispy hair the color of new snow grazed the man’s shoulders, held in check by a headband of shimmering metal. He should have a long white beard, he thought in the back of his mind.
The man looked him up and down. “Hmm. Ah well, in any case, it matters not where you are from. I am simply pleased that you are here.”
At this point Jason had regained just enough composure to ask, “Excuse me, but where, exactly, is here?”
The man’s eyes widened. “Do you mean to say you do not know? You, my boy, have the pleasure to be in, and I apparently have the honor of welcoming you to, the world of Teleria.”
Hold it! Did he just say ‘the world of’? He started to repeat his question with slightly more emphasis on the word ‘exactly’ when the man’s eyebrows flew up and he said, “Oh dear. Where are my manners? I have not even introduced myself.”
He bowed. “I am Reyga Falerian, Emerald Loremaster, saiken lo, and Elder of this province, but it would please me if you would simply call me Reyga. Please, sit down and let me get some refreshments. Then we will talk.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and left the room. Jason stared after him for a few moments and then looked around.
It was a modest home, with shelves of books and stacks of scrolls taking up every available space. He glanced at one lying on a small table beside him, but couldn’t decipher the symbols covering it. An ornate staff of dark wood, crowned by a green crystal the size of Jason’s fist was propped in a corner. In the fireplace on the far wall, an energetic fire burned. He frowned as he looked at it. The cheerful blaze danced on a single small stick. Huh. That’s kinda weird.
As he scanned the rest of the room, his eyes focused on a large mirror on the far wall. Then he realized it wasn’t showing the room where he was sitting. As he watched, the image rippled like the surface of a pond. He was about take a closer look when Reyga came back into the room, carrying two large ceramic mugs and a platter loaded with various fruits. Reyga handed one of the mugs to him and, after grabbing a few pieces of fruit, sat down.
“Now, tell me your tale, young man. Where are you from? How do you come to be in Teleria?” He waited for Jason’s answers with a look of anticipation dancing in his storm-cloud eyes.
Jason lowered himself into a chair. “Well, uh, I’m from Missouri.”
The old man looked shocked. “Misery? What a dreadful name! Is that the name of your world?”
“No, not ‘misery.’ Missouri. And that’s not the name of my world, just the part where I live. My world is called Earth.” And this is a conversation I never thought I’d be having, he added to himself.
“Hmm. And what do you do in Miz-oor-ee?”
Jason shrugged. This had to be a dream. “Not much. I go to school. I’m on my school’s basketball team.”
“Basket-ball? What is that?”
“It’s a sport,” Jason said. “We go up against other schools.”
“Ah, you do battle to establish dominance over these others.”
“Well, not exactly. I mean, sure we want to dominate them. But not the way I think you think…I mean…I think.” Jason shook his head. “Well, in any case, it’s just a game.”
Reyga nodded slowly. “I see. Well then, tell me how you came to Teleria.”
“I’m not really sure.” He pretended to study his mug as he thought about the chain of events that had brought him here.
He and his parents had been visiting his great uncle, Nyall McFarland, outside Aberdeen, Scotland that summer. Uncle Nyall was rather well to do and owned a sizeable piece of land in the Scottish countryside that had been in the McFarland clan for generations. Jason and his family hailed from slightly more modest accommodations, namely a medium sized ranch-style home in the Missouri Ozarks.
His parents had planned this vacation so that Jason could see his family’s ancestral lands. As soon as they arrived, they and the McFarlands started talking about old times, long lost friends and relatives, and what seemed like the entire lineage of their family all the way back to the Roman Empire. His father loved family history, and he figured his dad was practically in heaven discussing it at length.
He endured for almost an hour before excusing himself. He didn’t want to make a bad impression on their hosts by dozing off right in the middle of a riveting story about how great, great, something-or-other McFarland had fallen asleep in the middle of milking a cow, and cost his wife first place in the county baking contest because she didn’t have any milk for her muffins. He’d decided it was a good time to see his family’s ancestral lands on his own.
While strolling the grounds, he had spotted some woods not far from the house. A trail led through them. He’d felt an irresistible urge to follow that trail.
Then he found the building, and the doorway that led to this place. This world.
He looked up from his mug to see Reyga watching him expectantly. He shrugged again. “There’s not much to tell. I was taking a walk, found an old building, and when I walked through one of the doors, I came here.”
Reyga studied his face. “Very well,” he said finally. “Perhaps you would like to know a little of our fair world?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, more from a desire to redirect the conversation away from himself than anything else.
“Well.” Reyga took a sip from his mug. “Where to start, where to start? Hmm. I suppose, as with any story, the best place to begin is, of course, at the beginning! Listen, and learn of our world.
“To begin, this world is called Teleria, as I mentioned before. But the Teleria you see today has not always been as it is now.
“Ages ago, according to legend, our world had reached the pinnacle of technological achievement. The ravages of aging and of disease had been vanquished, hunger had been abolished, and wondrous technology even allowed men to venture beyond this world. No one wanted for anything. It was a time of peace and prosperity. This was the First Age of Teleria. Then came the Devastation.
“Most of the records of that time have long since crumbled to dust,” Reyga said. “The bits and pieces of information that we do have were almost lost until the system of Loremasters was established.” He waved a hand. “But I get ahead of myself. First, let me tell you what is known of the Devastation, and then I will tell you what came to pass afterwards.”
He leaned forward to grab a few more pieces of fruit before settling back more comfortably in his chair.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to learn who started the Devastation. Of course, I suppose at this point in time that information is rather unimportant. All that is important for us is that someone struck the first blow.
“That day saw weapons unleashed of incredible destruction, the likes of which we can only imagine. In the end, it did not matter who started the War, for it was over in two days. The surface of our world had been decimated, and mankind had destroyed itself. Thus ended the First Age of Teleria.”
Jason shook his head. Then he blinked his eyes a few times and shook his head again.
Reyga leaned forward. “Are you all right, my boy?”
Jason pinched himself. “Oh sure. No problem. I’m just trying to wake up. That’s all.”
The old man looked confused. “Forgive me, but did you say you were trying to wake up?”
“Yep. Sure did,” he said. “I’m sorry, but this can’t be real. I’m not really here and neither are you. This whole thing is some sort of weird dream. I’ve either passed out in that old house, or a stone came loose and knocked me out, or maybe I got a whiff of some hallucinogenic mushroom. I don’t know.” He tilted his head. “On the other hand, I might never have taken that walk at all. I might still be in bed dreaming this whole thing.”
“Why do you believe this to be a dream?”
“Why? Why? Because this sort of thing doesn’t happen, that’s why! It’s impossible! This is like something you’d see on some late night sci-fi show on TV. In real life, you don’t just step through a doorway and find yourself in another world. It just doesn’t happen!”
“Ah, I see,” Reyga said. “While I do not know what the words ‘sigh-fy’ or ‘teevee’ mean, I believe I am beginning to understand. I am afraid this is no dream, my young friend. Tell me, does your world not have portal abilities?”
Jason gritted his teeth and slapped himself. Blinking through watering eyes, he was disappointed to see that there was still no change in his surroundings. His ears ringing, he muttered, “No. I don’t even know what a ‘portal’ is.”
“Then I am certain it has been quite a shock for you to find yourself transported to a completely foreign world.”
“Yeah, if I thought this was real it would be a shock. Since it’s just a dream, though, it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, the only annoying thing is that I can’t seem to make myself wake up.”
“Of course. Tell me… I am sorry, what was your name?”
“Jason. Jason Bennett.”
“Tell me, Jason Bennett, can one feel pain in their dreams?”
He thought about it. “Well, I’ve always been told you can’t feel pain in your dreams. That’s why people always want someone to pinch them to make sure they’re awake. But it sure didn’t feel too hot when I smacked myself.” His face brightened. “Maybe that’s because I did it to myself. Yeah, that has to—”
The calm expression on Reyga’s face gave no warning as his hand flashed out in a blur, and was just as suddenly back in his lap. Stars briefly obscured Jason’s vision as a shock of pain exploded across the side of his face.
“OWW!” He grabbed his cheek. “What was that for?”
Reyga leaned forward. “Please forgive me, Jason Bennett, but it was necessary. It is vital that you understand that this is no dream. Teleria is a pleasant mistress to all who know her, but there are things in our land that make short work of those who believe they are dreaming, and I would not see you meet such an untimely, not to mention unpleasant, demise.”
He stood and walked over to the window, glancing outside. “Perhaps you have learned enough of Teleria for today. The night will soon be upon us. I will prepare a place for you to rest tonight.”
The mention of nightfall brought Jason to his feet. “Night? If this isn’t a dream, then my folks are probably going nuts by now wondering where I am. I need to get home.” He looked around. “How do I get back?”
Reyga’s expression gave way to one of profound sympathy. “I am very sorry, Jason Bennett, but there is no way for you to return. Teleria is your home now.”
He stared at Reyga, mouth agape. “No way back? What do you mean there’s no way back? I can’t stay here. I have a family, and friends. I have to get home!”
Reyga shook his head. “Would that I could send you back. But while we have the ability to create small portals within the confines of our own world,” he gestured toward the object Jason had originally mistaken for a mirror, “we do not have the power to create portals to other worlds. Our wisest and most powerful saiken have been attempting to do so for many years, but thus far we cannot.”
“No, no, no, no…” He paced back and forth. When Reyga paused, Jason looked at him with desperation in his eyes. “Listen to me. I have to get back. I’ve got a date next Friday with Tracy Jacobson. She’s a cheerleader. No, she’s the cheerleader! My SATs are coming up, and…and my eighteenth birthday is this Tuesday.” He grabbed the front of Reyga’s robe, fixing the old man with a wide-eyed stare. “I can’t stay here! I can’t!”
Reyga’s expression became one of sympathy mixed with steel as he made a small gesture. A chair shot out from the wall and slammed into the back of Jason’s legs, forcing him to sit. As he tried to get back up, Reyga gestured again. It felt as if iron bands were wrapped about his arms, chest, and legs. Try as he might, he couldn’t move from the chair. He started to protest, but with another motion from the old man, he found that no sound would come from his mouth. After several seconds of silent shouting and struggling to break free, he collapsed back into the chair and glared at Reyga, panting from his exertions while occasional drops of sweat ran down the side of his face.
Reyga bent and looked into his eyes. “Listen to me. I will help you in any and every way I can, but you must understand two very important things. First, and most important, this is not a dream. It is very real, and the first time you are out in our land and you forget that may very well be your last. Second, there is no way back to your world, at least not yet. We are trying with all of our resources to create portals to other worlds, but we have not succeeded. That is not to say that we will not succeed, merely that we have not succeeded yet. Do you understand what I am telling you?”
At first, he just glared at the old man. After a moment, he slumped back into his chair and nodded.
“Very well,” Reyga said. “I am going to release you from this chair. If I feel you are losing control again, I will put you back into it. Do you understand?”
He nodded again, and Reyga appeared to accept that as sufficient. Reyga stepped back and made another small motion with his hand. Jason felt the invisible restrictions fade away.
He started to stand up. “How did you…” Before he could complete his question, his vision blurred and the room began to swim and spin around him. Everything seemed out of balance and the floor tilted underneath his feet. He heard Reyga saying his name, but it sounded as if the old man was at the far end of a long tunnel. With one last swirl of color, he fell into a blackness even more complete than the one that had brought him here.
Reyga was unsure how to proceed. He had been pleased to receive a visitor from the Far Planes after so long, but the more he interacted with this Jason Bennett, the more he sensed there was something unusual about the young man. He had not wanted to use dimsai on him, but the boy had appeared to be on the verge of hysteria, and he felt there had been no other recourse.
To use dimsai on another person could be an uncomfortably intimate, and sometimes even dangerous, experience. Usually nothing happened. Sometimes, however, the person’s deepest thoughts and emotions were revealed. And if the person had any significant dimsai ability of their own, the results could be unpredictable. Dimsai backlash had felled more than one saiken in years past. For this reason, one of the first things Reyga had been taught as a student was not to use his power on another sentient creature unless it was absolutely necessary.
This time, he sensed something in the young man. It was as if some nocturnal beast, disturbed in its slumber, had sleepily opened one eye, glanced about, and then drifted back to its mysterious dreams. It had been a somewhat unnerving sensation, and one that Reyga had not experienced before.
When Jason Bennett fainted, he knew he would not be able catch him. So, he used his power to prevent the young man from being harmed when he hit the ground. Again, he felt the sensation of something on the verge of awakening. It had been most unsettling, and he resolved that, barring the direst of emergencies, he would not use dimsai on Jason Bennett again.
After getting the boy into the spare bed, he walked back into the main room and sat down to consider the situation. He picked up a nearby scroll and stared blankly at it, tapping it on his knee as he considered his next steps. After a few minutes, he roused himself with a small shake of his head. This was accomplishing nothing.
He walked over to the portal on the wall and touched a spot on the frame. The image in the portal rippled, and then changed. He waited patiently until a figure stepped into view.
“Greetings, Loremaster,” the figure intoned as the head inclined briefly. “May the mantle of wisdom ever rest upon your shoulders.”
He bowed. “May your power be exceeded only by your honor, High One.”
Formalities complete, both he and the High One assumed more relaxed poses. The High One was a tall, lean man who, even when relaxed, conveyed an aura of subdued power.
“Hello, Reyga,” the High One said with a warm smile. “What can I do for you? I hope you are well?”
He returned the smile. “Oh, I am quite well, thank you.” His smile faded. “I have received a visitor.”
“Indeed? And since you felt it necessary to contact me, may I assume we are talking about a Far Planer?”
“Yes, High One. It is a young man by the name of Jason Bennett.”
The High One hesitated for an instant before answering. “Interesting. This would be the first in several years. We had almost decided the Far Planes visitors to be at an end.”
“I was rather surprised myself,” he said. “Nevertheless, I was quite pleased to receive the young man into my home. But I have encountered something rather peculiar.”
“Peculiar, eh? It must be more than just peculiar for you to have contacted me about it. Tell me.”
He told the High One of the arrival of Jason Bennett, and their conversation. He recounted his visitor’s rising agitation until he had been forced to use dimsai to restrain him. Then he mentioned the strange sensation he felt both times he used power on him.
“So you see, High One, I decided to seek guidance regarding what to do with this young man. I had originally intended to take him to Drey’s Glenn and entrust him to the village leaders, but when I had this most unusual experience, I became unsure as to the wisdom of that course.”
The High One nodded. “You were right in coming to me with this. Tell me, did this Jason Bennett show any signs that he might have any dimsai ability himself?”
“No more than any other Far Planer. But I only conversed with him for a short time before he fainted. No doubt from portal sickness.”
The High One considered for a moment, then said, “Proceed with your original plans, but after introducing him to the local authorities bring him here. While no Far Planer save one has yet to show any dimsai ability, until we know what caused your unusual experience it would not be wise to allow him to roam freely in our land.
“Do not use a portal for your transportation. It may unsettle him again, and the time spent on your way will allow you to learn more of him. I will send Captain Gatlor to accompany you. While you travel, I will consult with the Circle and see if there is anything I can find in the ancient texts that might help us to determine the best course of action.”
“Thank you, High One. You are most wise. Tell me, if he should ask questions, which he almost certainly will, how much should I tell him? I have already given him a general history of our world.”
“Hmm. We dare not give him too much information until we know more about him. On the other hand, we do not want to arouse any suspicion on his part, and create an enemy where none may exist.”
He was silent for a moment, then continued. “Very well, you are free to tell him anything he wishes to know about our society and its laws and customs. You may also tell him of the different races of Teleria. But unless he asks, make no mention of dimsai, and do not use any more power in his view. I have no doubt that he will ask how you restrained him, but tell him only enough to quench his curiosity, then change the subject if possible. Do not tell him any more about dimsai than you absolutely must.”
“I will do as you say, High One.”
“One more thing, Loremaster Reyga. Do not mention our adversary to him. Until we know more about him, we cannot be sure where his loyalties will eventually lie.”