[For 14 weeks, beginning on March 19th, on Sundays and Wednesdays, I’ll be posting chapters of book one of my Far Land Trilogy: Jaben’s Rift. I hope you enjoy it. The first part is here. I’d love to hear any feedback.]
Jason was back in the bed at his ancestor’s home, his emotions swinging from overwhelming grief and loss to barely controlled fury and back again. When he first came to Teleria, he’d thought he was alone. Then they found his father. Now he was alone again, his dad murdered at the hands of that obnoxious Loremaster Chon. All he wanted was to wake up and realize this had all been nothing more than a dream.
The image of the dagger plunging into his dad’s chest ran through his mind again and again. They would pay for what they’d done. He didn’t know how yet, but they would pay.
He thought about Bothan’s reaction when he used the summoning stone…
The tears blurred his vision as he stepped out of the portal. Then he felt Bothan’s strong hands on his shoulders.
“Laddie, what’s wrong? What’s happened that’s brought you back to me so?”
He could barely stand. “They killed my dad!” he sobbed. “The Loremasters killed him.”
“Oh, no. Oh, Jason, I’m so sorry.” He felt Bothan’s arms surrounding him. “Go ahead, lad, let it out. Bothan’s here for you.”
Grief wracked his body as he buried his fists in his ancestor’s robes. Eventually, the spasms subsided. He let go of Bothan and stepped back, wiping his face.
“You were right,” he said, looking at the ground. “Everything you said. I should have listened to you.”
“Now, now, we’ll talk about that later,” Bothan said. “Right now you need to rest, and take time to deal with this.”
“I don’t want to rest,” he said. “I want to get even. I want them to pay for killing my dad.”
“Aye, lad, I’m sure you do,” Bothan nodded. “But there will be time for all that. Right now you need to get some rest and let this all get sorted out in your head.”
Jason looked at the ceiling over the bed. The wild swinging of his emotions had stopped, at least for now, leaving him cold and empty inside. He didn’t see how he could possibly sleep, but as he lay there staring up into the shadows, he felt his eyelids getting heavier. At least if I’m asleep I won’t have to think about it. He didn’t try to fight as his eyes closed.
A dark-haired woman was smiling at him. “Because we’re not as different as you think,” she said.
“Once. Now we’re something else, a combination of human and dimsai.”
“We? You mean everyone in Teleria?”
“No, only the Altered,” she said. “I imagine you’ll have been told of us by the time you remember this. Let’s just say we’ve been here since this all began and leave it at that for now.”
“But why was the High One so surprised to see you if you’ve been around that long?”
She shrugged. “Most people have forgotten about us. We’ve kept to ourselves for quite some time,” she said. “At least until now.”
“What’s different now?”
“I can’t say, other than to tell you that things have changed recently. Forces are at work that want to reshape Teleria.”
“So why don’t you just stop them?” he asked. “Why do you need me?”
“The Altered agreed long ago not to interfere in human affairs. That agreement is still binding.”
“But aren’t you interfering now?”
“I have no choice. I’m taking a great risk, but if I don’t, this world will never be the same.”
She looked at him for a long moment before answering. “When we first became Altered, we suddenly found we had powers beyond anything we could imagine. But we didn’t have control of our newfound powers. In spite of this, some of us started thinking we were higher beings, even gods, and began changing things to suit ourselves.” She shook her head. “The results weren’t always pretty. Then we started fighting as we disagreed over matters that seemed to get more and more petty every day. Finally, in an all too brief moment of sanity, we realized that the only way we could get along, and the only way we could keep from tearing this world apart, would be to promise not to use our powers to affect this world at all. We formed a Covenant. It’s the only thing that’s kept the peace between us.”
“Let me guess,” he said. “Someone wants out of the agreement.”
She nodded. “One of the other Altered has been moving behind the scenes to orchestrate our return into this world to be worshipped as gods.”
“So why not just tell the others?”
“We rarely speak to each other anymore. But if my actions, or the actions of the other one, are discovered, I don’t know how the rest will react. It could trigger a war between the Altered that would make the Devastation look like a children’s spat. That’s why, when you begin to remember, you must not tell anyone, not even the people you trust the most. To reveal anything before you have remembered everything could place you, and possibly others, in grave danger.”
He thought about what Reyga had told him about the Devastation. He wondered exactly how much power the Altered had.
“So how do I fit into all of this?” he asked.
“You have, within you, the ability to use dimsai,” she said. “In fact, you have the potential to become more powerful than any Loremaster or saiken lo in Teleria, maybe even as strong as we are.”
“What? No way!” he exclaimed. “I don’t have any power.”
“Yes, you do, and I’m going to teach you how to use it.”
With a start, he sat up in his bed. The morning sun sent streamers of light through the window, and he could hear Bothan in the other room. He looked around, half expecting to see Nyala, but the dream memory was over.
He absently stroked the covers as he thought about what she’d said. She had to be wrong. He knew he didn’t have any power. Then a fragment of memory came to him, of Seerka flying away from him as he held his father’s body. And the people in the training yard had been squinting against a bright light. Had it been coming from him? Had he sent Seerka flying through the air? Could it be possible?
He shook his head. It was just too weird. But if she was right, and he really did have that kind of power, maybe he could make the Circle pay for what they’d done to his dad. He’d bring down Lore’s Haven, stone by stone. No, that wouldn’t work. If he brought down the keep, people could be hurt, or maybe even killed, that hadn’t had anything to do with his dad’s death. He’d have to come up with a way to avenge the loss of his father without hurting anyone except the Circle. Otherwise, he’d be no better than them.
The one thing he was sure of was that, until he knew whether or not he really had the kind of power Nyala said, he wasn’t going to tell anyone about his dreams.
“Jason,” Bothan called. “You up yet, lad? Firstmeal is ready!”
“I’m up,” he called back. “I’ll be right there.” Yeah, he’d keep all of this to himself for now. He struggled out of bed and went to get some breakfast.
“Uh, Bothan, can we talk? If you’re not busy, that is,” Jason asked after they had finished their morning meal.
“Of course, lad. I’m never too busy for a kinsman.” He motioned for Jason to follow him into the next room. When they were seated, he said, “Now, what’s on your mind?”
“Well…” He wasn’t sure how to ask his question. He was a little afraid his ancestor might take it as an accusation. He decided to just blurt it out and hope for the best. “When I was at Lore’s Haven, they told me that four of their villages had been attacked while I was here. Have you heard anything about that?”
Bothan didn’t say anything. Jason started getting nervous, but then the big man nodded. “Aye,” he said. “I’d heard something of the sort. I suppose I was hoping it was nothing more than a rumor until you asked about it.”
“So, what happened?”
“Well, as I hear it, there were three different races that had the undoing of those villages.”
“Aye,” Bothan said. “Two were attacked by Trellin. That’d be the lizard men that attacked your party on the way to the keep. Two different races attacked the other villages.”
“I, uh, haven’t heard the others mentioned by name,” Bothan said.
“Why would they attack those villages?”
“Well, lad, resentment toward the Circle has been growing for a number of years now, and not just among humans. And those particular villages have always been among the strongest supporters of the Circle.”
“But why not just attack Lore’s Haven and the Circle, instead of villages where innocent people and children would get killed?”
Bothan shrugged. “Who knows how other races think?” He leaned forward. “But I’ll tell you this, it would take a fair sized army to have even the slightest chance to take the keep directly, it bein’ at the top of a small mountain as it is. And since that’s where those Loremasters are always hiding, that leaves innocents to take the brunt of the wrath that should rightly be directed at the Circle. Bunch of spineless cowards they are, if you ask me.”
Jason thought about children in the hands of the Trellin. Images of the Rodinn children Lenai had played with and the little boy on his father’s shoulders ran through his mind. Then he saw the dagger again, descending towards its target.
“So,” he said, “what would happen if something were to happen to the Circle? Like if there wasn’t a Circle anymore?”
Bothan’s eyebrows rose. “Why, I suppose all the knowledge the Circle has been hoarding would be available to everyone. People could start governing themselves instead of bowing to the Circle.” He studied Jason. “But, lad, the Circle has been in power for centuries. They’re not just going to up and leave.”
“I guess not,” he said, going over the idea in his head. “But what if someone could get all of the other races to join together and demand that the Circle step down and give the knowledge to the people?”
“Well now, that’s an interesting idea, Jason, my boy,” Bothan said. A slow smile crossed his face. “Aye,” he nodded, “that’s a very interesting idea indeed.”
Tal sat in his quarters, with Gatlor and two Warder commanders sitting across the table from him.
“Captain Gatlor, how goes the recruiting?” he asked.
“So far, we have received upwards of four thousand recruits, with more still arriving,” Gatlor said. “At the moment, we are only accepting men and women sixteen years of age and older. If we add those from thirteen to sixteen, we probably add another seven hundred, perhaps eight. We have also received pledges of aid from several other races, most notably the Ferrin and the Dokal. All told, if it were necessary to field an army today, and if the races held true to their pledges, we could probably field an army of six to seven thousand. However, recruits are still arriving. Another sixday may bring that number closer to ten thousand.”
“Very good,” Tal nodded. He turned to the Warders. “Commander Jorik, Commander Garyn, our army does us no good if we do not know at whom to point it. All of the villages that were attacked are to our south. I want scouting parties sent out across our southern borders and beyond. We must know if there is an enemy army gathering, and how big it is, if that is indeed the case.”
“Yes, High One,” the two men answered.
“And,” Tal added, “see that no scouting party has less than four soldiers. Additionally, each party should have a saiken lo with them. We know the Manarachs have made their presence known once more. A dimsai adept would give a scouting party their best chance of escape from such creatures. The Amethyst Order will be sending out hawks to assist in searching the more difficult terrain. Please coordinate your efforts with Loremaster Delani and her students.”
“We will meet with the Amethyst Loremaster and begin forming the parties at once, High One,” Commander Jorik said. The two men stood and left the room.
Tal turned to Gatlor. “So, Captain, tell me. What are your thoughts on this situation?” he asked. “Do you believe we have a war on our hands? And if so, what do you think we will be facing?”
Gatlor took a deep breath before answering. “High One,” he began, “I do believe we will soon be at war. Four villages attacked by three different races means only one thing in my mind. As to what we will face, we will only know that when we find their army. Most certainly Manarachs, Grithor, and Trellin, at the very least. There may also be other races as well, but without question, the Manarachs will be the most dangerous. Trellin are strong, but not very intelligent, and the Ruby Order should be able to find any traps set by the Grithor.” He spread his hands. “Other than that, we will have to wait for the reports from the scouting parties.”
“And the preparations?”
“Going well. The Amber and Emerald Orders are coordinating efforts to create bows and arrows, with help from the Amethyst Order for the fletching. The Obsidian and Ruby Orders are making armor and weapons. Emerald and Sapphire students are growing crops and laying up food supplies, should we find ourselves in need of them.”
“Very good.” He was hesitant about his next question, but he wanted to know the warrior’s feelings. “And what are your thoughts on the situation with Jason Bennett?”
Gatlor’s fingers drummed the table as he studied its surface. Finally, he looked up. “The situation is most confusing, High One. Loremaster Chon, while always outspoken, has never acted rashly, nor against the wishes of the Circle. I know he felt the prophecy called for Jaben’s death, but I do not understand what he hoped to accomplish by killing the boy’s father. All it appears to have done is to convince Jason Bennett that we are his enemy. If the boy is Jaben, and has the power the prophecy implies, I can only hope Loremaster Chon’s actions do not come back to plague us later.”
“Indeed, Captain,” Tal said. “I add my hopes to yours.”
Lenai was numb and the healing area seemed very cold. She woke the day after speaking with the Loremasters already acutely aware of her failure to safeguard Jason Bennett. Now, to find out that she had also been used as an instrument of death directed against the very people she was sworn to serve was almost more than she could bear. She looked at the three Loremasters standing at her bedside. She knew they were waiting for her, but she didn’t know what to say. Then her eyes stopped on the Diamond Loremaster, and she knew one thing that needed to be said. She only hoped she could get the words out without losing her composure.
“Loremaster Seryn,” she said, “I am deeply sorry for your loss. I ask your forgiveness for my part in the death of your student.”
Seryn shook her head. “Lenai, no forgiveness is required. You share no fault in what was done. Please do not accept blame where none is given.”
“But had I reacted more quickly—”
“Nothing would be different,” Reyga broke in. “There was nothing you could have done.”
She started to protest, but the High One stopped her. “Lenai,” he said, “Loremaster Seryn and Loremaster Reyga are correct. Whoever did this possesses more power than any Loremaster on the Circle. Not even the most highly trained warrior could have prevented what happened. We are simply relieved that you are well once more, as much as we mourn the loss of Elira.”
Well. She looked down at the sheet. She would have laughed if there were any laughter left in her. It would be long before she was well.
If she had ever taken pride in anything, it was in her service to the Circle. Only in that service did she feel that she was, in some small way, helping to redeem the honor of her people. That honor had been stained by the rishna kel, those Shanthi who used their abilities as thieves and mercenaries and worse. Now, even here in the one human place where no one looked down on her race, her service had been tainted. She had failed to fulfill her responsibility regarding the Far Planer, and she had been the weapon that struck down one of the Diamond Order’s finest pupils. For the first time since she had left her telosh, she felt lost and unsure. She needed to get away from the eyes that accused her with sympathy rather than scorn.
“Loremaster Seryn,” she said, looking up from the sheet, “I am feeling stronger. May I be released from the healing area?”
“Not just yet. I would like you to stay for another day, perhaps two,” Seryn said. “I do not know what effect your experience may have on you.”
“Then, would it be acceptable for me to rest in my quarters? I would prefer to be alone if you would allow it.”
Seryn studied her, a look of concern clouding her features. “I understand. If you will remain in your quarters, I would have no objection.”
“I will stay in my quarters.”
“Very well. I will send someone to check on you in the morning.”
“Thank you.” She swung her legs over the side of the bed, and stood. A wave of weakness threatened to send her to her knees, but the tattered remnants of her pride forced her to remain steady. She was not as strong as she claimed, but she simply could not remain here anymore. Only in the solitude of her quarters could she allow herself to feel the full brunt of her failure. She nodded to the three Loremasters and left the room.
Gatlor studied the map. A series of small discs marked areas that had already been searched. Each time a patrol reported in, he placed another disc on the map, gradually narrowing the possibilities for the location of an army. Each time he added a disc, he mentally adjusted plans for deploying the Circle’s own forces, taking into account the terrain of the remaining choices.
Patrols had been searching for four days now. Since nothing had been seen within striking distance of Lore’s Haven, the scouting parties were searching around the destroyed villages and beyond. So far, none had seen anything suspicious, let alone an entire army. He scanned the map again. There was still much left to investigate. He looked up as Commander Garyn walked in and saluted.
“Captain Gatlor, we have found the enemy army.”
Garyn pointed to an area between Faedor Woods and The Riftlands to the east. “Here, in the Scorched Plains.”
He looked where the commander was pointing. That would put them about ten days away from Lore’s Haven, assuming they did not use portals to show up at the gates. “How many forces?”
“By the patrol’s estimate, no more than three thousand.”
He wondered if the patrol had estimated low. “Who reported this?”
“Warder Than and Warder Cole.”
Those were two of his best. If they said three thousand, it would probably be accurate to within two hundred. With the men and women that had arrived over the last sixday, that gave Lore’s Haven a three to one advantage. Perhaps this would not be as difficult as he had initially thought.
The door opened again, admitting Commander Jorik.
“We have found the enemy army, sir,” Jorik said.
“Yes, Commander Garyn was just telling me. Perhaps this will not be the epic war we had feared.”
Jorik looked confused, but said, “Yes, sir. We appear to have them clearly outnumbered.”
“Almost three to one,” he nodded. “That is, if the estimate of three thousand is correct.”
“Three thousand, sir?”
“Yes. The estimate given by Warders Than and Cole.”
“But sir, my report is not from Warders Than or Cole,” Jorik said.
“What?” He felt his gut tightening.
“Sir, my report comes from Arden of the Amethyst Order. Her hawk found an army encampment, perhaps the same one, but her estimate puts the enemy at seven thousand.”
He was silent, one finger slowly tapping the tabletop. The Amethyst Order worked with animals, and could form links to the minds of their creatures. This allowed them to see what the animal was seeing. If the hawk had seen an army, then Arden would have seen it as well. He hoped she had just vastly overestimated the number of forces, but his warrior’s instinct told him otherwise.
“Where did Arden’s hawk find the army?”
Jorik pointed. “Three days southwest of Brayden Fenn, in Barrenrock,” he said.
That was almost two sixdays from the encampment found by the Warders. Portals or no, there was no way they were the same army. And if the girl’s estimate was correct, their forces were now evenly matched.
The door opened again. Gatlor sat back and waited for more bad news.