[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. The first part is here. I’d love to hear any feedback.]
“So, do you have any brothers or sisters?” Jason asked Lenai the next day as they continued their tour of Lore’s Haven.
“My parents had a son before me, and another daughter after me,” she replied.
“Where are they?”
“My sister lives with my parents in our telosh. My brother left home four years ago.”
“Telosh? What’s that, your house?”
“No. It would be what humans call a village, although, unlike human villages, Shanthi teloshta are not exposed for all to see.”
“Are they invisible?” he asked, remembering the previous day’s conversation.
She shook her head. “No, just concealed. Some of the dwellings may be underground, while others might be in the trees. We fashion our dwellings to blend in with the land around us. If built correctly, you could walk through the midst of a Shanthi telosh and never know it was present.”
A little while later, he stopped to examine a large design on the wall. “What’s this?”
“This is a focus point for one of the primary portals,” she said. She indicated the wall opposite the strange design. Across the corridor stood an arched doorway made of highly polished wood. However, instead of leading to another hallway, what showed between the doorjambs was nothing but a blank wall. Armed guards kept vigil to either side of the frame. They had a relaxed manner, nodding pleasant greetings to passers-by, but their eyes took in everything around them.
“What’s a focus point?” he asked. “And what’s the difference between a primary portal and any other portal? And why is this door frame built on a solid wall?”
From behind them, a voice said, “A focus point is what enables travelers to come to Lore’s Haven from anywhere in Teleria.”
Jason turned to see a pleasant-looking man dressed in a yellow robe, with a round face and thinning brown hair, smiling amiably at them. A torq with a large yellow stone in it hung around his neck.
“Loremaster Kalen,” Lenai said. “I apologize. I did not realize you were behind us.”
The Loremaster waved off Lenai’s apology. “No, no,” he said. “I was passing by, and I saw you and our guest discussing the focus point. I thought I would stop and introduce myself.”
He turned to Jason, and, with a formal bow, said, “Greetings, Jason Bennett. I am Kalen Dristal, saiken lo, and Topaz Loremaster. I am pleased to meet you at last.”
Jason awkwardly returned the Loremaster’s bow. I’ve got to practice bowing. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir,” he said.
“Please, call me Kalen. ‘Sir’ sounds so formal, does it not?”
“So,” Kalen said, rubbing his hands together. “You have questions about the portals? Perhaps I can help explain a little about them. What would you like to know?”
“Well, before I ask about the portals, what’s a saiken lo? Reyga said the same thing when he introduced himself.”
“Ah, yes,” Kalen replied. “A saiken lo is a high master of dimsai. The word ‘saiken’ simply means ‘knowledge of dimsai,’ and ‘lo’ is an indication of rank. All of the members of the Circle are saiken lo, as are many of the other independent scholars, and even some tradesmen throughout Teleria.”
“So there are other ranks of saiken?”
“Oh, yes indeed.”
Kalen glanced around at the bustling corridor, and then indicated a relatively open area to one side.
“Let us step over here, out of the way, and I will explain,” he said.
Once the trio was out of the middle of the busy hallway, the Loremaster straightened his robe and took a deep breath. “Almost everyone is born with a latent ability to use dimsai,” he said, “although children are instructed not to use their power until they have received proper training. At the first sign of power, usually around a child’s tenth birthday, a boy or girl becomes saiken fel, which means they have power but have not yet received any formal training.
“Sometime after their fourteenth birthday, the child and his or her parents will choose a trade. Then, they will find a master, a saiken tek, in that field that is willing to take on an apprentice, a saiken cho, for training. Formal training generally takes anywhere from five to seven years.”
“When an acceptable level of control over dimsai has been demonstrated, the student may become a saiken cha, a tradesman, or they may choose to become saiken li, a saiken who has chosen to continue his or her quest for knowledge, hoping to one day earn the rank of saiken lo. This ongoing study can be done by either joining one of the Orders or through independent research,” Kalen explained.
“What if they never get to an acceptable level?”
The Loremaster’s expression became somber. “If, after the seventh year of training, the student still has not demonstrated enough mastery of dimsai to fulfill the apprenticeship, they are declared saiken ri. They are forbidden to use dimsai, in order to prevent them from harming themselves or others. Fortunately,” he finished brightly, “it is extremely rare for anyone to be declared saiken ri.”
“Uh huh. So, what does a Topaz Loremaster take care of?”
“I preserve the knowledge of atmospheric phenomena and anything related, such as weather cycles, storms, and the like.” He made a slight gesture, and a sudden breeze ruffled Jason’s hair and caused his tunic to billow up.
“Cool,” Jason said with a grin. “Okay, so, going back to our first topic, how does a focus point allow people to get to Lore’s Haven from somewhere else?”
“First,” Kalen said, “I should explain that a focus point is only required if a traveler is not at a travel portal. In that instance, they can create a portal that comes to this doorway, or to either of two other doorways located in Lore’s Haven.”
“Each portal in Teleria has a unique focus point associated with it. A traveler wishing to come to the Haven through this particular portal need only concentrate on this glyph.” Kalen indicated the pattern on the wall. “Then, providing they have the power, they will establish a portal to this doorway. Should they wish to travel to a different location instead, they simply concentrate upon the focus point associated with their desired destination.”
“So why doesn’t someone at a travel portal need a focus point?”
Kalen pointed toward the sides of the doorframe. Two columns of crystals with designs etched into their surfaces were set into the reddish wood, one column on either side of the doorway.
“These are focus crystals,” Kalen explained. “When we wish to set up a travel portal to a certain location, a saiken lo will take a number of these crystals to that location. Once there, he or she will use dimsai to imprint the location onto the crystal. The crystals are then set into frames, as you see here, to serve as anchor points for the portals. So long as the traveler possesses enough dimsai ability, they need merely touch the crystal representing where they wish to go in order to create the portal.”
“Cool. So, how do they turn the portal off?”
“Once the person who established the portal steps through it, the portal closes. For that reason, if there are several people traveling together, the person who creates the portal must be the last one through. Otherwise, those behind would be stranded. Or, if the creator of the portal does not plan to come through it, he or she can also release it, allowing it to close.”
“Alright, so what’s the diff—”
“Oh, dear,” the Loremaster said suddenly. “I am terribly sorry, Jason, but I must be going. I was on my way to confer with a colleague when I stopped. I meant only to introduce myself, but I am afraid I got rather involved in our conversation.”
Kalen gave him a hasty bow, and started down the hallway. “I hope we can talk again, young man,” he called back over his shoulder. “I truly enjoyed the few minutes we had.” With a final wave, he turned a corner and was gone.
“Well,” he said, after the Loremaster disappeared around the corner, “that was interesting.”
“Loremaster Kalen is an honorable man,” Lenai told him, “but he sometimes loses track of time. Particularly when he is involved in a conversation.”
“Gotcha. So, how do the crystals get imprinted?”
Lenai shook her head. “My people do not possess enough power to create portals,” she said. “Therefore, we have no interest in the manner of their creation. You will have to find someone else to answer that question for you.”
Lenai nodded toward the portal. “Travelers are coming from Orrin. Watch.”
He turned to look at the doorway. The wall between the doorjambs wavered like a distant mirage on a hot summer day. Then, an iridescent shimmer flashed along the doorframe, and he was no longer looking at a blank wall. Another room was visible through the doorway.
The guards, who had been standing at relaxed attention before, had stepped back. They watched the doorway closely, with their hands resting on the hilts of their swords.
From the newly visible room, a couple and their young son walked into the hallway. As soon as the man cleared the threshold, the room on the other side winked out of existence with a silent flash of light, and the wall was back once more. The guards relaxed, nodded a greeting to the family, and then resumed their former positions.
“Man, I wish we would’ve had one of these when we drove to California last year for vacation,” Jason said.
At Lenai’s puzzled look, he shook his head. “Never mind. So, how did you know someone was coming? And where they were coming from?”
“When a portal is about to be activated from a travel portal, the focus crystal associated with that travel portal will begin to glow,” she explained. “If no crystal glows, then we know the portal is being created from somewhere else.”
“Okay, so how d—”
“I have told you all I can of portals. As I said before—”
“Okay, okay,” Jason said, holding up his hands in defeat. With one final glance at the portal, they continued down the hall.
Not much later, they were walking down a little-used corridor on one of the lower levels of the Haven. No one else was around when a rift opened up beside them. A voice said, “Come, laddie. It’s high time you and I had a wee chat!” Before he could react, a dark figure leaned out of the opening, grabbed the front of his shirt, and dragged him through the portal.
“No!” Lenai yelled, leaping forward. With a silent concussion of power, she slammed back against the wall of the passageway and slid to the ground.
“Sorry, lassie,” the figure said, leaning out of the shimmering opening, “but I dinna think ye have an invitation.” Extending his hand toward the prone girl, tendrils of power snaked out and crawled over her still form.
With a low chuckle, the figure retreated back into the portal, which silently winked out of existence, leaving the passageway empty except for the limp body of the Shanthi girl lying on the cold stone floor.
An insistent knocking coming from the door to his outer chamber dragged Tal from his slumber. He squinted at the window in his room as he tried to blink the sleep from his eyes. The darkness outside told him the sun had not yet given thought to rising. He yawned and untangled himself from the warm cocoon of his bed sheets.
When he opened the door, he saw his apprentice, Radyn, standing outside along with a Warder. His student’s dark hair stuck up on all sides of his head, and puffy circles under his eyes showed that he had been peacefully sleeping not too long ago himself.
“Please forgive this interruption of your rest, High One, but Lenai has been found unconscious. It looks as if she has been attacked.”
“What?” Instantly awake, Tal’s mind began to race. “Where was she found? When did this happen?”
“She was found in one of the lower passageways. Warder Garris found her while he was conducting the nightly patrol.” Radyn indicated the man behind him.
Tal turned to the Warder. “Do you have any idea what may have happened to her?”
Garris shook his head. “No, High One. She was unconscious when I found her. We searched the lower levels, but found nothing unusual.”
“Where is she now?”
“She is in the healing area,” Radyn said. “One of Loremaster Seryn’s students is treating her, and the Loremaster herself is being notified as we speak.”
“What of Jason Bennett?” he asked. “Lenai has been escorting him about Lore’s Haven these last two days. Where is he?”
Again, the Warder shook his head. “We do not know. She was alone, and we did not see any sign of the Far Planer on any of the lower levels, nor in his quarters. His bed has not been disturbed. We are expanding our search to include the rest of Lore’s Haven and the surrounding area.”
“Good, good.” He stroked his chin as his gaze wandered across the floor. Who could have done this? He looked at the Warder. “Notify me at once if you find anything else.” He turned to his apprentice. “Awaken Loremaster Reyga, and have him meet me in the healing area. I will be there as soon as I am dressed.”
“Yes, High One. I will go at once,” Radyn said. With a bow, he and the Warder left to carry out Tal’s orders.
After getting dressed, Tal headed for the healing area. As he reached it, he saw Reyga hurrying from the other direction. He waited for the older man.
Reyga stopped and bowed quickly, breathing hard. “High One,” he said, “how is she?”
Tal knew of the special bond between the elder Loremaster and the young Shanthi. “I do not know,” he replied. “I just arrived myself.”
When they entered the healing area, Lenai was lying motionless in one of the beds, a thin sheet covering her from the shoulders down. Her eyes were closed, and had it not been for the almost imperceptible rise and fall of the sheet, Tal might have thought she had already passed.
A young man and woman tended her. When they looked up and saw the two Loremasters, they stopped what they were doing and bowed formally. He waved off their bows. “Now is not the time for formalities. What word of Lenai?”
The young woman stepped forward. She had a slight build, and solemn, dark eyes. “High One,” she said quietly, “I am Elira. Lenai’s injuries are healed, but we cannot awaken her. I considered probing more deeply, but decided to wait for Loremaster Seryn to arrive. She should be here momentarily.”
Reyga was studying the still figure on the bed. “She is in no danger?”
“No, Loremaster Reyga,” she replied. “Her injuries no longer pose a threat, and she appears whole. I do not know why she does not awaken, but she is in no danger that we can see.”
“And what of Jason?” Reyga asked. “Is he well?”
Elira looked confused by the question. Tal turned to Reyga. “I am afraid no one knows where the young man is,” he said. “He was not with Lenai when they found her, and he has not slept in his bed. He has apparently vanished.” He could not keep a note of suspicion from creeping into his voice.
“High One, surely you do not believe he is responsible for this?”
“Loremaster Reyga,” he said, “I realize you have developed an affinity with the young man. Considering what you have already been through together, I must say I can hardly blame you.” His glance fell to the floor for a moment, and then he looked Reyga in the eyes. “I, however, do not have such a luxury. I cannot rule out any possibility, regardless how unlikely it may seem.”
“But, High One…” Reyga began. Then he stopped and looked at Lenai. After a long moment, he nodded. “Of course, High One. I understand. Forgive me.”
Tal placed his hand on the older man’s arm. “I am sorry, my friend. I truly hope that Jason is innocent of this. I know your trust is not easily given, and I hope your faith has not been misplaced.”
Reyga looked once more to the figure on the bed. “As do I, High One,” he breathed. “As do I.”
Just then, the door to the healing area opened and Seryn walked in, moving quickly to the bed. She glanced at Lenai, nodded briefly to Tal and Reyga, and motioned to her assistants.
“What is her condition?” she asked them. Although her face was calm, it was clear that she was completely focused.
Elira said, “Loremaster Seryn, her injuries are healed, but she will not awaken. I was about to probe more deeply, but since she no longer appeared to be in danger, I thought it best to await your instruction.”
Seryn looked over Lenai’s still form. “Well done. Proceed with your examination. I will observe.”
Elira turned back to Lenai. She bowed her head and closed her eyes, preparing herself. As Elira gathered her focus, Seryn walked over to Tal and Reyga.
Reyga stepped forward, and said in a low voice, “Perhaps you should deal with this, Loremaster Seryn?”
“Have no fear. Elira is my best pupil. In truth, I plan on naming her as my apprentice at the Gathering’s End Festival this year.”
Tal raised an eyebrow. “Apprentice? Is she not rather young for such a position?”
“Perhaps,” Seryn said, “but she is my most talented assistant, regardless of her age. And the fire that burns in her heart for those in her care rivals my own.”
“I find that difficult to believe,” Tal said with a smile. “Nevertheless, if you believe she is capable, then it must be so.”
Seryn lowered her voice further and leaned toward them. “If I am not mistaken, I believe she and Tor will also be announcing their betrothal at the festival.” She indicated the young man watching Elira attentively, ready to assist if she needed him.
“Indeed?” Reyga said. A slight smile played across his face. “Well then, the festival this year will be a most joyous event.”
They fell silent as Elira opened her eyes. She glanced at Seryn, who gave her an encouraging nod. The young woman took a deep breath and raised her hands, which began glowing with soft argent light. Then she began slowly moving them above the length of Lenai’s body. As she examined Lenai, she told them what she was seeing.
“The internal injuries are fully healed,” she said, her head bowed in concentration. “There is no bleeding, nor blockage of blood flow.” Her hands moved up Lenai’s body. “The heart is strong and steady. Her air passageways are clear.” Her hands continued to move up the girl’s body, until they hovered over Lenai’s head.
“The injury to her head is healed, and…wait…there is something.” She closed her eyes once more, brow furrowed. “It is difficult to tell.” She tilted her head to the side, eyes still closed, a look of puzzlement on her face. Then, with a sharp breath, her eyes flew open. Like the sound of a giant whip cracking, a glaring arc of power exploded from Lenai’s body, hurling Elira across the room.
“Elira!” Seryn and Tor cried out. Tor and the three Loremasters ran to where Elira had fallen. She did not move as Tor dropped to the floor beside her, lifting her up and cradling her in his arms.
Seryn’s power flared as she fell to her knees and began ministering to the still figure. As the moments passed, her eyes closed, and tension flooded her face from the strain of her efforts. “No!” she hissed. Her breathing became labored, and her hands blazed even brighter as she intensified her power. The gemstones in her circlet and bracelets came to life, adding their fire to the glare.
Tal and Reyga moved to either side of her and laid their hands on her shoulders, placing their power at her disposal. The moments passed as Seryn struggled to heal her soon-to-be apprentice. Tal could feel her strain as she drew on their power.
“No!” Seryn repeated, her voice breaking. Her hands and gemstones blazed like small suns. Tal had to squint his eyes against the piercing radiance. The glare cast their shadows into sharp relief on the stone walls of the healing area. He could feel the power draining from him as she demanded more of his resources to save her assistant.
Just as he was sure he could give no more, Seryn cried out and collapsed, the light vanishing from her hands like a snuffed candle. He blinked his eyes as the room appeared suddenly dim, and looked to where Seryn had fallen. She lay face down, her head resting on her forearms, her back heaving from the exertion of her efforts. Without lifting her head, one hand crept towards Elira’s still form, moving up to lie on the girl’s hand. Tal knelt beside her, with Reyga looking on over his shoulder.
“Seryn, are you injured?”
“No,” she replied, in a ragged voice. “I am not injured, High One.”
She raised her head. Sweat and tears streaked her face as she looked at Tor, still cradling Elira in his arms. His tormented eyes were fixed on her face. “Loremaster?” he asked in a small, pleading voice.
“Oh, Tor,” she said. “I am so sorry. Her injuries were too severe. I—” Her voice broke. She took a shaky breath. “I could not save her.” She bowed her head, unable to watch as Tor’s once-happy future crumbled, leaving behind only bitter dust of loss.
For a moment, Tor did not appear to understand. Then he started trembling. Finally, with a cry of a soul in torment, he bent his head over the woman that would have been his lifemate, pulling her tightly to him. His anguished sobs of grief were the only sound in the room as he rocked her lifeless body.
Tal was stunned. How could a situation that had seemed so promising just a few moments before have turned into such tragedy? He knew using dimsai on another sentient being could sometimes have dire consequences, but the severity of such results was usually determined by the amount of power the target possessed. Most of the races of Teleria, Shanthi included, did not possess enough dimsai for this to be a concern. What could have triggered such backlash from Lenai?
The sudden change in outcomes denied coherent thought. It was impossible to focus on the questions spinning in his head. Instead, he bent to help Seryn to her feet. Beside them, Tor’s grief had subsided to quiet tears.
As Seryn regained her feet, Reyga took a step forward. An expression of confused grief drew deep lines in his face. “Loremaster Seryn,” he said. “How? Surely that was not backlash? Not from a Shanthi?”
Seryn wiped away the lingering tears and glanced sadly at Tor. “No, the Shanthi do not possess enough power to cause backlash of that magnitude.” Then her eyes turned to ice, and she turned to the table. “I must examine her myself.”
Tal stopped her as she stepped toward the bed. “Do you think that wise?”
“Wise?” She laughed bitterly. “On the contrary, High One, I am certain it is not,” she said. “Nevertheless, it must be done. We must know the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of this, in order to answer it.”
From behind them, a grief-ravaged voice barely recognizable as Tor’s broke in. “Find out who did this! Then I will hunt them down! I will avenge Elira!”
Seryn turned back to look at the young man, his face filled with the passion of his anguish. “Peace, Tor,” she said softly. “We will find out why this happened. I promise you that much.” He did not reply, but his desolate eyes said that he would hold her to her oath. Seryn nodded slightly, and then turned back toward the bed.
Tal fell into step beside her, motioning Reyga to her other side. “Our power is at your disposal, Loremaster Seryn,” he told her. “We will do what we can to assist and protect you.”
Seryn gave him a half-smile that vanished as quickly as it appeared as she moved into position beside the bed.
As they had done before, he and Reyga placed their hands on Seryn’s shoulders while her head bowed and the silvery-white aura bloomed around her hands once more. Tal’s other hand took on a faint cream-colored glow as he extended it toward the still form on the bed. On Seryn’s other side, Reyga mirrored his stance. A sparkling green light danced lightly across Reyga’s fingers.
Seryn positioned her hands above Lenai’s shoulders, and began moving them upwards toward the young woman’s head. She focused intently on Lenai as her hands moved, watching for any sign of a repeat of what had just happened. Slowly, her hands moved over the Shanthi’s neck, and then hovered above her face.
“I am going to probe more deeply now,” she said. Tal prepared himself as Seryn forced her power deeper.
“Yes,” she said. “I see what caught Elira’s attention.” She frowned. “I have never seen anything like this.” The glow about her hands increased as she probed more intently.
Suddenly, like her former assistant, Seryn took a sharp breath. Instantly, power sprang from Tal and Reyga’s hands. Iridescent pearl and verdant green joined to form a crackling shield between them and the girl on the bed. At almost the same instant, another bolt of power sprang from Lenai’s body, attacking the shield with explosive force. The concussion knocked all three Loremasters back, but they managed to keep their footing. As suddenly as it had appeared, the burst of power vanished.
Tal regained his balance. “Is anyone hurt?”
The other Loremasters indicated that they were unharmed.
“By Agathon’s scrolls!” Reyga said, shaking his head. “If that was what struck Elira, it is small wonder she was unable to withstand it.”
“That was not what struck Elira,” Seryn said.
“What?” Tal asked. “What are you saying?”
“That was merely an echo of the power that struck Elira,” Seryn replied. “Before the dimsai struck us, I was able to get a glimpse of what has been done to Lenai.”
“What is it?” Reyga asked.
Seryn studied the still form. “She has been made a trap,” she said. “I have never seen anything such as this. I can only imagine the skill and power it must have taken.” She shook her head. “The only thing I am certain of is that this was meant to kill the first person to trigger it. Even had it been myself, I would not have been able to withstand it.”
Reyga looked at Lenai. Concern and frustration filled his eyes. “Is there any way to undo this?”
Seryn shook her head once more. “What has been done to her is beyond my skill to remedy. However,” she added, as Reyga began to speak, “as I said, this was but an echo of the initial force. A reserve of power has been placed within her. How, I do not know, but I believe that each successive time the trap is triggered, the dimsai in her will be diminished. It should be possible to drain the remaining power away safely, if adequate precautions are taken.”
Tal frowned as he looked from Seryn to Lenai and back again. “Who could have done such a thing?” he asked.
“I do not know, High One,” Seryn replied. “There is no one that I am aware of in Lore’s Haven, or in the whole of Teleria for that matter, who has the power or the skill that would be required.”
His mind went back to the encounter with Nyala. “Is it possible the Altered have decided to intervene once more in the affairs of Teleria?” he asked.
Seryn sighed. “I suppose anything is possible, although I cannot fathom what the purpose of such an attack might be. However,” she said, turning to look at Reyga, “it might not be beyond the abilities of anyone who has this much power to conceal their dimsai from others.”
Reyga gave Seryn a troubled look. “So, you believe Jason to be responsible for this?”
“I do not know, Loremaster Reyga,” she said. “But considering your own experience with the young man, you yourself must have your own suspicions.”
“I understand your concerns,” Reyga said, “but I find such thoughts difficult to entertain. He very nearly sacrificed himself for Lenai. I can scarce believe he would use her in such a way, even if he did possess the ability to do so.”
Seryn looked back at the still form of Elira, and at Tor, who had fallen asleep beside her, one arm across her and his tear-streaked cheek resting on her shoulder. “Loremaster Reyga,” she said solemnly, “you know I have always held you in the highest regard. I know that you are a man of honor, and that you have chosen to give your friendship to this young man.” She turned to Reyga, her eyes burning with an inner fire. “I truly hope he is all you believe him to be, but you should know this: Should we find that Jason Bennett is responsible for what has transpired this night,” her voice gained a dangerous edge, “I swear to you he will wish the bloodfang had slain him.”
Tal and Reyga said nothing as the she turned back to her patient.