[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.]
“There you go,” the young woman said. “That arm should be fine now.”
The boy sitting on the treatment table cautiously flexed his arm, and then smiled as he realized there wasn’t any pain.
“Thanks, Meryl,” he said. “You are the best.”
Meryl smiled at her little brother. “You say that now, Cord, but when I get my tasks at home done before you, you will be saying something else.” She ran a fond hand through his curly hair as he slid off the table. “Now go home and let mother see that you are healed. And get ready, because she has told you before that you were going to break your arm climbing that wall. Now that you did, you will never hear the end of it.”
The boy scuffed at the floor with his toe. “I know,” he said. “All right.” He gave her a quick hug and headed out the door. Before she could turn away, he poked his head back around the doorjamb.
“And if anyone asks, I never hugged you!”
“Not a word,” she chuckled. “Now get going!”
Cord flashed her an impish grin and disappeared into the hallway. Shaking her head with a smile, she turned back to the figure on the bed. Her smile faded as she looked at the Shanthi girl. Lenai was completely motionless. The only sign of life was the slight rise and fall of the sheet.
Meryl was a fourth year student in the Diamond Order, and she had never seen or heard of anything like this. No one had. What had been done to Lenai struck at the very heart of everything the Diamond Order stood for. They were healers, using their talents to mend broken bodies and spirits. Whoever had done this to Lenai had used her as an instrument of death, violating her in a way that no healer in the Order could ever hope to repair. Meryl knew how highly the Shanthi valued honor. She did not envy the person who would have to tell Lenai about what had been done to her, and the terrible results that followed.
She studied the still figure, but did not see any change, so she turned and walked back to the table where she had been grinding herbs before Cord arrived. While the healers could always use dimsai to mend major injuries, the intimate nature of their power was something they preferred to avoid when treating minor cuts, scrapes, or pains. In these instances, they used herbs and other plants for treatment, using their dimsai abilities to infuse the elixirs, salves, and powders with extra potency.
She gave the ground up leaves in the bowl a few more turns with the pestle, and then reached for some dried berries to add to the mixture. A loud gasp caused her hand to jerk, sending berries rolling across the table. She spun around, expecting to see that someone had entered the room. Instead she saw Lenai, awake and blinking as if in a daze. Potions forgotten, she hurried over to the bed.
The Shanthi girl turned toward her, but was clearly having a difficult time focusing.
“Lenai, are you well?” When Lenai still did not answer, Meryl tried again. “Lenai, can you hear me? Do you understand my words?”
Lenai’s gaze wandered across the ceiling. “Where…?” she whispered.
“You are in the healing area in Lore’s Haven. You have been here for two days.”
The Shanthi’s brow furrowed as she closed her eyes again. “Thirsty.”
Meryl filled a mug and slid her hand underneath Lenai’s neck. She gently lifted her head so she could drink. After a few sips, she laid her head back.
“Where is Jason Bennett?” Lenai asked.
“No one knows,” Meryl said.
“I must speak with the High One.” Lenai struggled to sit up.
Carefully pushing down on her shoulders, Meryl said, “Lenai, no. You must rest. Please. I will send someone with word that you are awake, but you must stay here until Loremaster Seryn can examine you.”
After a moment of struggling against Meryl’s grip, Lenai gave up and settled back onto the bed. Her heavy breathing betrayed her weakened state.
“Lenai,” Meryl said, “the Circle is meeting as we speak. If you will give me your word that you will stay here and rest, I promise I will send someone immediately to tell them you have awakened.”
For a moment she thought Lenai was going to refuse, but then the Shanthi closed her eyes and nodded. “Very well,” she said. “It would appear that I am too weak to do otherwise.”
Meryl breathed a sigh of relief. “Good,” she said. “Rest and I will go find someone right now to notify the Circle. I will return shortly to check on you.” Then she turned and left the room, calling for someone to take a message to the Circle.
“Loremaster Chon must be found and held accountable for his actions!” the Amethyst Loremaster demanded.
“Of that there is no question, Loremaster Delani,” Tal said. “But his actions may have exposed an even more serious problem which must be addressed.” He looked around the Circle. “We have lived in relative peace for generations. During that time, although we have occasionally had disagreements, this body has always acted as one. Now, we are faced with what is undoubtedly our gravest hour, and one of our number has taken matters into his own hands. This must not happen. If we are to face and survive the events implied by Taleth’s prophecy, we must remain united.”
The Circle murmured their agreement. Then the Amber Loremaster stood.
“Perhaps Chon was not in control of his actions?” Jarril suggested. “He has ever been outspoken, but he has also always accepted the Circle’s decisions, even when differing from his own beliefs. His actions were out of character, even for him.”
“That is, of course, one possibility,” Tal said. “However, we all know how strong Loremaster Chon was. In truth, he was one of the strongest among us. If he was being controlled, the one doing the controlling must have considerable power.”
Kalen stood. “High One, that would suggest that others among us may also be susceptible to such control.”
“Or perhaps are already being controlled,” T’kel added as Kalen sat down.
The Loremasters looked at each other. “How would we know?” Reyga asked. “Chon seemed himself until this morning.”
Tal did not answer immediately. Jarril and Kalen offered a disturbing possibility, one that had not crossed his mind. If a Loremaster could be controlled, the Circle itself would be compromised, and the one doing the controlling would be privy to everything said in this chamber.
Just then there was a knock. Tal motioned and the door swung open, admitting one of the Warders. He entered and bowed quickly to the Circle.
“High One, we have found Loremaster Chon.”
“He was in a store room on one of the lower levels,” the Warder said. “But—”
“Did you bring him with you?” Delani interrupted.
“He is dead.”
“What? Dead? How?” Tal asked.
The Warder shook his head. “We do not know. He appears to be unmarked.”
Tal stroked his lower lip as he studied the floor. First Bruce Bennett, and now his apparent murderer, Chon. That would mean yet someone else must be involved, that being the person who had killed Chon. But unless he had been taken by surprise, whoever killed Chon must be very powerful indeed. He knew Chon well enough to know that, if at all possible, the man would have fought back with all of the considerable power at his disposal. That no one reported anything unusual could only mean he was unable to respond to his attacker.
He looked at the Warder. “Have Loremaster Chon’s body taken to the healing area. I assume Bruce Bennett’s body is already there?” The Warder nodded. “Very well,” Tal said. “See to Loremaster Chon’s body.”
“Yes, High One.”
Tal turned to Seryn. “Loremaster Seryn, we need to ascertain the cause of Loremaster Chon’s death, if we can.”
“Of course, High One,” Seryn said. “With your permission, I will go to the healing area now.”
Another knock on the door to the Chamber interrupted them. Without waiting for an answer, the door opened, and another Warder stepped inside. He bowed quickly.
“My apologies for the intrusion, High One, but Lenai has awakened.”
“Just now,” the Warder answered. “The healer summoned us immediately, and we came directly here to notify you.”
Tal turned to the Circle. “Loremasters, I am certain you will understand when I say I think it best if we cut this meeting short?”
Several of the Loremasters nodded. “Of course, High One.” “Certainly.”
“Thank you,” Tal said. He turned to Seryn. “Loremaster Reyga and I will accompany you to the healing area.” Reyga moved to join the High One.
“High One,” Brin said, standing. “I would like to come with you.”
Tal hesitated. “Loremaster Brin—”
“My son is dead,” Brin said. “I believe I have paid the price for whatever information Lenai may be able to give.” He held Tal’s eye while he waited for an answer.
“Of course,” Tal said. He motioned for Brin to join them and the four Loremasters headed for the healing area.
The conversation with Lenai had been brief. She was still very weak from her experience, although she was able to confirm the sequence of events relayed to the Circle by Jason. Seryn insisted they continue the discussion later, after Lenai regained her strength. The High One dispatched a messenger for the Loremasters to have their strongest students set wards about the Haven to prevent any portals other than the main ones from opening from outside the keep.
Now they stood over the Obsidian Loremaster’s body. Reyga ran his eyes over it. “Something is not right,” he mused. Something about Chon’s body disturbed him, but he could not decide what it was.
“Look at his face,” Tal said. The dead Loremaster’s features were frozen in a grimace of unmistakable fear.
“He was afraid,” Brin said.
Reyga shook his head. “I have known Chon to be many things, but ‘afraid’ is not one of them.”
“Nevertheless,” Seryn observed, “he was clearly terrified at the moment of his death.”
“What could have frightened him like that, and yet kill him without leaving a mark?” Brin asked.
Reyga could not imagine anything that would have had that effect on Chon. The other Loremasters shook their heads as well.
“Yet another puzzle we must decipher,” Tal said.
One of Seryn’s students approached. “Loremaster Seryn,” she said, “may I have a word?”
Seryn nodded. “Please excuse me,” she said to the three men. “I will be but a moment.” Then she followed the young woman out of the room.
Tal motioned to a healer standing nearby.
“Yes, High One?” the man said.
“You examined Loremaster Chon’s body?” Tal asked.
“Yes, High One, I performed the initial examination.”
“Were you able to determine the cause of his death? Were there any marks on him?”
“We believe he had his air supply cut off in some way,” he said, “although we cannot find any external evidence to support that belief. There are no marks or injuries anywhere on the body. Our conclusion is based solely on our dimsai examination of the internal organs.” He shook his head. “We are at a loss to explain it, High One. I apologize for our lack of answers.”
“No apology is necessary. I am certain you did a thorough job,” Tal said. “It is just another mystery among the many that have been born this past sixday.”
Reyga was only half listening to the conversation. He was looking at Chon’s body, still trying to determine what was wrong with it. He looked up as he heard a door open, and saw Seryn re-enter the room, a look of perplexed consternation on her face.
“You look puzzled,” he said when she reached them. Considering the events of the day, he was not sure if he really wanted to know the source of her dilemma. The questions were piling up too quickly, with no answers in sight.
“Indeed,” she said. “’Puzzled’ would be a mild description.”
“How so?” Tal asked.
She indicated the door through which she had entered. “The body of Jason Bennett’s father was taken to that room.”
The three men nodded.
“Is there something unusual about Bruce Bennett’s body?” Brin asked.
“I do not know,” she answered, “for the body in that room is not that of Bruce Bennett.”
“What do you mean it is not Bruce Bennett?” Tal asked.
“High One, the body in that room has been fashioned to appear to be Jason Bennett’s father, but not only is it not Bruce Bennett, the body in that room is not even human.”
Reyga closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Another question, another mystery. He could feel a headache coming on.