[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.]
Bird’s Eye View
To say Reyga had been pleased to see Lenai would have been an understatement of epic proportion. Jason smiled again as he remembered the expression on the old Loremaster’s face when he opened the door. Although they both protested, he excused himself, saying that he needed time to recover from the ritual. While that was true, he really thought they needed some time to talk without him around.
Now, alone in his room, he thought about what he’d seen and felt. Seeing firsthand how his words and actions affected others had been a sobering experience. At least now he knew which side he was on, even if he didn’t yet know how he was going to make a difference.
“Huh?” He looked around. Then he realized that he hadn’t heard the voice with his ears. It had resonated in his mind. “Nyala?”
“No, not the sparkling one.”
He twisted around, scanning the room. He jumped up when he saw a fortunewing staring at him from the sill of the window.
“Where’d you come from?” he asked it, then continued his inspection of his room while watching the fortunewing out of the corner of his eye. He was waiting for someone or something to appear.
“I came from outside,” the voice said. “I’ve been sitting in the trees waiting for you.”
He slowly turned back to the window. No way, he thought.
“Yes,” the voice said. “Don’t you remember me yet?”
“Are you talking to me?” he said to the fortunewing.
“Of course,” the voice sounded amused. Then he got an impression of sorrow. “You do not remember me.”
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any weirder. “Okay, let me get this straight,” he said. “The voice I’m hearing…in my head…is coming from you. A bird.”
“Yes, but I’m not just any bird. I’m Crin. Your Crin.”
“My Crin? What do you mean, ‘my’ Crin?”
Jason felt the mental equivalent of a sigh. “The sparking one said you would forget me for a while. I was hoping when I helped you with the Shanthi that you would remember.”
“The sparkling one? You mean Nyala? Did she send you here? Wait a second. That was you I felt during the ritual? You showed me what to do?”
“So many questions,” came a laughing reply. “Just like when we first met.” The bird settled its feathers. “Yes, the one you call Nyala is the sparkling one. No, she did not send me. And yes again, I joined you during your ritual. The Shanthi girl is important to you, so I helped you help her.” Crin cocked his head at him. “Is she to be your mate?”
“What? Mate? No! I mean, she’s pretty and all but… Y’know, I really don’t think that’s any of your business.” He rubbed his forehead. I’m arguing with a telepathic bird on another planet about whether or not a human chameleon is my girlfriend. I think my weird-o-meter is broken.
“I like her.” The bird still sounded amused.
“Well, I’m glad. I guess.” He wasn’t sure how to respond, so he decided to change the subject. “So, meeting you is one of the things I don’t remember? How did we meet?” Then he had another thought. “Can you show me how to use dimsai?”
Crin didn’t answer right away. Jason got the impression the bird was listening to a voice that he couldn’t hear.
“I am sorry. I’m not allowed to help you remember yet. I’m told it is not yet time.” Crin was silent for a few moments. “One thing I am allowed, though. Before you forgot, you were able to see as I do. I am permitted to give that back to you. I’m told you have need of that now.”
“Told by who?”
“By the sparkling one. She says she is being watched and so cannot speak with you directly, but tells me what needs to be done.”
“But my eyes are pretty good,” he said. “You mean being able to see long distances or something?”
“No. It is difficult for me to explain, but you will understand soon.”
He felt a tickle inside his head.
“There. It is done.”
He glanced around the room. Nothing was different. He moved to the window and stared at the forest below. It looked just the same as every other time he’d looked at it. He focused on a bird circling high overhead. Nothing.
“I must go now.”
He felt frustration from Crin. “It was not time for you to remember yet. I do not like having to wait. The ritual was unexpected, but useful since it allowed me to help you.” Crin launched himself into the sky. “One more thing the sparkling one says to tell you. Do not mention me to anyone. At least not yet.”
“Wait!” he called, then realized that he might be overheard. Will you come back?
“Of course. But not until it is time.” Crin answered as he flew toward the trees. “I am told it is not safe for me to speak with you too much until you remember everything, so I will not. But I will be watching.”
Wait, he thought as Crin disappeared into the forest. But there was no answer.
“A spy? That is a strong accusation, Captain.” Tal was taken aback at Gatlor’s blunt declaration. When Gatlor asked to speak with him, he assumed the captain planned on discussing strategies or defense plans. Instead, the veteran warrior opened the conversation with the last thing he expected to hear.
“I know, High One,” Gatlor answered, “but I can come up with no other explanation for what happened on the Scorched Plains. Lore’s Haven is warded against intrusion from outside saiken, so only someone already inside the keep would be able to learn of our plans.”
Tal could think of at least a few beings that the wards would have little effect against, but did not see the necessity of mentioning them. Other than those notable exceptions, he had to admit, Gatlor’s theory seemed to be the most plausible. The wards were only to keep portals created outside from opening up inside the keep. A spy already inside would have no difficulty reporting any plans to an outside accomplice.
“Do you have anyone in mind, Captain?”
“Regrettably, High One, I do. That is why I asked to speak with you alone.”
“I do not understand. Should this not be a matter for the full—” He stopped mid-sentence as he understood Gatlor’s meaning. “You believe the spy to be a member of the Circle?”
“High One, I believe we must at the very least consider the possibility.”
“I see.” Even as he looked at Gatlor, Tal was mentally running through the Loremasters, picturing each as a possible spy, and just as quickly discarding the thought. “And are the Loremasters your only possibilities?”
“No. I must also consider my own officers, as well as anyone else who may have known of our plans.”
“Who else other than the Circle and your officers would know?”
“The saiken from the Amethyst Order who opened the portals for us.”
“Of course. They would have known as well. Have you spoken with Loremaster Delani about your suspicions?”
“No, High One. I wanted to discuss my thoughts with you first.”
He considered what Gatlor had said. Certainly someone had been inside Lore’s Haven; otherwise Loremaster Chon would still be alive. Loremaster Delani would be outraged, but they had to consider all possibilities. Then his thoughts turned to Bodann. Did he have enough power to penetrate the wards? He had been formidable when at Lore’s Haven. Had his power grown? Or was Regor or one of the other Altered aiding him?
“This must be brought before the Circle,” he said. He held up a hand to forestall Gatlor’s protest. “I know, Captain, the members of the Circle are among your suspects. But I am afraid we must risk this. I have known each Loremaster on the Circle for many years. If one of them is a spy, I will step down from my position.”
Jason studied the forest below, trying to get a glimpse of the fortunewing, but he couldn’t see past the thick leaves. A knock on his door pulled his attention away from the window. A Warder stood outside.
With a brief bow, the man said, “The High One requests you attend the meeting of the Circle which is to begin shortly.”
“Do you need time to prepare?”
“No, we can go now.”
He followed as the Warder turned and began walking down the corridor. A few minutes later, he walked into the Circle chamber, apparently the last to arrive. The Loremasters were standing in twos and threes immersed in quiet conversations. He noticed that only eight Loremasters were present, and then, with a pang of guilt, realized who the missing one was. Gatlor and two other men he didn’t know sat in the chairs facing the Circle.
As he entered the room, the Loremasters turned and nodded greetings to him. All except for one. The Loremaster named Brin wouldn’t look at him at all. Bothan’s parting words echoed again in Jason’s memory. Was Brin working for Bothan?
“Ah, Jason,” the High One said. He indicated the open seat next to Gatlor. “Please be seated and we will begin.”
The High One stepped to the podium as the Loremasters took their seats. “Loremasters, as you know, we suffered significant losses on the Scorched Plains. In addition to that, the members of the scouting parties were also killed. Aside from the tragic loss of life, what is most disturbing about this is that the enemy apparently knew of our plans.” He paused for a moment, and then continued. “Captain Gatlor and I have discussed this matter. It is the captain’s belief that we have a spy in our midst.”
At this pronouncement, the Loremasters began whispering among themselves. Gatlor remained motionless, his face impassive. Jason watched the Loremasters’ reactions. All seemed equally surprised by this remark, again with one exception. Brin was staring at Jason with a strange look on his face, but when Jason looked at him, the Loremaster quickly looked away.
The High One raised his hands for quiet. “As detestable as I find the thought of one of our own betraying us, I must confess, I can see no other credible possibility. The wards set about the Haven prevent outside portals from opening here, but do nothing to stop portals opened here from reaching outside. A spy would have no difficulty reporting to someone outside of Lore’s Haven.”
Delani stood. “High One, do you or Captain Gatlor have any suspicions as to who this spy may be?” She looked ready to go out and apprehend the guilty party herself.
“Unfortunately, nothing specific. We do, however, have possibilities.” He looked around the Circle. “If a spy is behind this, then they must have had enough advance knowledge of our plans to give the enemy forces time to prepare. This limits the possibilities to three groups.”
He clasped his hands and rested them on the podium. “There is, of course, ourselves, the Circle.” At this, the Loremasters looked around at each other. Most wore expressions of skepticism. The High One again raised a hand. “Please,” he said. “I do not give this suggestion credence. I merely mention it as one of the logical possibilities. I have already told Captain Gatlor that if one of us is a traitor, I will step down from my position as High One.” This seemed to satisfy the Loremasters, and they settled back in their seats.
“The next group is Captain Gatlor’s officers. This, too, I find difficult to believe, although the captain certainly knows his officers better than I.” He turned to Gatlor.
Gatlor stood. “High One, I would trust each of my officers with my life. But when it comes to the safety of Lore’s Haven, I rule nothing and no one out.” Then he sat back down.
Jarril stood. “And who is the third group, High One?”
“Concentrate,” a voice whispered in Jason’s mind. “See the unseen.”
Crin? he said in his head. No answer. Nyala? Still nothing. Just the cryptic remark. See the unseen? What did that mean? He looked around the room, not knowing what it was he was looking for.
The High One turned back to the Loremasters. “The final group that must be considered…” He looked at Delani. “…are those saiken who opened the portals for our forces.”
Concentrate. On what? A little more information would be helpful! he yelled in his head. But there was still no answer. He saw Loremaster Delani stand up so he tried focusing intently on her. Her eyes were blazing, but when she spoke, her voice betrayed only the slightest hint of tension.
“High One,” she said, “the saiken who opened the portals were all members of my order. Is it your belief that the traitor is in the Amethyst Order?” This time she didn’t sit down.
“Loremaster Delani, please do not take offense,” the High One said. “If we do indeed have a traitor in our midst, we can do no less than to consider all possibilities, no matter how distasteful they may be. The blood of a thousand men and women cries out for it from the dust of the Scorched Plains.”
Concentrating intently on Delani, Jason felt the same tickle in his brain that he’d felt with the fortunewing. Then, a brilliant purple aura blossomed around the Amethyst Loremaster. He blinked and looked again, but the glow was still there.
After a moment, Delani nodded. “Of course, High One,” she said. “I apologize for my unwarranted reaction.” She didn’t seem aware that anything had changed as she retook her seat, although she still looked irritated.
As he looked around the room, he saw that everyone was surrounded by a glow, each a different color. A sparkling green aura surrounded Reyga, while Seryn glowed bluish-white. Just like their hands when they examined me, he thought. The High One had a cream-colored aura, and the rest of the Loremasters glowed red, orange, yellow, and blue.
Jarril stood, surrounded by an orange halo of color. “High One, do you or Captain Gatlor have any ideas as to how we may ascertain the identity of the spy? Or of how we may prevent them from obtaining any more information that may hinder our efforts?”
Do they all see this and I’m just now seeing it? he wondered. Or am I the only one that can see the auras? Is this the unseen? He forced himself to relax so that he wouldn’t draw any attention to himself. He casually glanced around the room as the High One answered the question. Even Gatlor and his commanders had faint glows, although their auras were not nearly as intense as the Loremasters’. Does the brightness have anything to do with how much power they have?
“At this time,” Tal said, “we do not have any ideas on how to identify the spy, if indeed there is one. However, in order to minimize potential damage a spy may do, we will be limiting the number of people who have advance knowledge of any plans we make. Captain Gatlor will explain.”
He kept scanning the room as the High One talked. Then, just behind the seated Loremasters, almost obscured by the light surrounding them, he saw a faint outline against the wall. It was as if someone’s aura had remained behind after they’d left the room. He blinked his eyes, thinking it might be an afterimage of one of the other Loremaster’s auras, but it was still there. There was someone else in this room.
He looked away. He didn’t know why the mysterious guest was here, but he didn’t want the figure to know it had been discovered. He tried to turn his attention back to the podium.
“Of course,” Gatlor said, “the Circle will be included in planning any actions, but only myself, Commander Maton, and Commander Garyn,” here he indicated the two men with him, “will be involved. We will prepare any forces we may need, but we will tell them only what they need to know. Likewise, no saiken we use for portal travel will be told where we are to go until it is time for them to open the portals.” He looked around the Circle. “In this way, we will limit the number of people who know in advance of our plans to no more than twelve. Unless the spy is among those twelve, these measures should prevent the enemy from gaining any more advantages over us.”
Jason pretended to look around the room again, his eyes sweeping without stopping across the figure against the wall. It hadn’t moved.
Delani stood again. “And what if we have students or instructors in our Orders whom we trust as much as you trust your commanders? Are we to be allowed to share such plans with them in order to prepare, as you and your commanders will be able to prepare your forces?”
“With all due respect, Loremaster Delani,” Gatlor answered. “If such preparations can be done without the aid of others, or at least without their knowledge of precisely what we plan, that would be preferable. However, I am not a Loremaster. I do not know the intricacies of your position. If you feel you must share your knowledge with others in your Order, then that is entirely your prerogative. But please bear in mind, each additional person who knows of our plans is one more potential threat to the men and women who will be risking their lives.” His hands clenched into fists as they rested on the podium. “I do not want a repeat of what happened yesterday.”
“Nor do we, Captain Gatlor,” the High One stepped back to the podium.
Gatlor inclined his head and took his seat.
“Loremasters,” the High One said, “as it is almost time for Secondmeal, we will conclude this meeting. Please consider what has been said here and what you can do to help ensure the safety of the people of Lore’s Haven. We will meet again on the morrow. May the mantle of wisdom ever rest upon your shoulders.”
“May your power be exceeded only by your honor, High One.” They all stood and began filing out of the room.
As he stepped into the Corridor, Jason heard Reyga calling his name. He stopped and waited for the Loremaster.
“Jason,” Reyga said as he came out of the Circle chamber, “I was wondering if you would join me for Secondmeal. I would like to speak with you.”
“Sure, I guess. Is that where you’re going now?”
Reyga nodded, and the two of them headed for the dining hall. Looking at the people they passed, Jason saw that everyone was surrounded by a glow. The auras came in all different colors and intensities. By the time they finally reached the dining hall, he felt like he was in the middle of a pastel river. He was sure he’d seen every color in the rainbow, plus a few new ones he’d never before experienced.
They found seats and were about to sit down when Reyga said, “Please excuse me for just a moment, Jason. I must speak briefly with one of my students.”
Jason took his seat while Reyga made his way toward a group of students on the other side of the room. Reyga began speaking with one of the students. Jason noticed that the boy’s aura was the same color as Reyga’s, although not as strong. It must have something to do with what they’re good at, he thought. A plate of food was brought to him, and he began eating. He put his spoon down as an idea struck him.
Looking around, he spotted a young woman sitting nearby in an animated discussion with some other young men and women. The glow surrounding her was silvery white. He went over to them, stopping beside the girl.
“Excuse me,” he said.
With a questioning glance at her companions, the girl turned to him. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt, but are you one of Loremaster Seryn’s students?”
“Yes, I am a member of the Diamond Order.” She bowed her head slightly. “I am Meryl. You are the Far Planer, Jason Bennett. It is an honor to meet you.” Then she turned solemn. “I am sorry for the loss of your father.”
He looked at the floor, unsure how to respond. When he raised his head, he noticed the others in the group looking at him curiously. “Well, I didn’t mean to int—”
“How did you know I studied under Loremaster Seryn?”
He hadn’t planned that far ahead, and he didn’t want to mention the auras. He needed to find out if everyone saw the auras, or if it was only him. “Oh, uh, well, I think Reyga mentioned you once.”
She looked surprised. “Loremaster Reyga spoke of me?” She looked at the Loremaster across the room.
“Actually, it may not have been Reyga after all,” he said quickly, afraid she might ask Reyga about it. “I think it might have been someone else. I can’t remember who.”
“Yeah, well, like I said, sorry for interrupting. I guess I’ll get back to my food. It was nice to meet you.” He turned and walked quickly back to his seat.
As he ate, he thought about what he’d learned in their brief conversation. The girl acted like she didn’t know how he knew she was one of Seryn’s students. That meant that either no one here could see the auras, or, as a Far Planer, she didn’t expect him to be able to see them. He needed more information.
Just then Reyga returned and sat down.
“I was just wondering, is there any way to tell how strong someone is with dimsai by looking at them?”
Reyga shook his head. “Would that there were,” he said. “But we can only determine that while the child is being trained and tested. Why do you ask?”
He shrugged. “No reason,” he said, picking up a spoon full of food. “Just curious.”
Well, that was one question answered. Now all he had to do was figure out what Brin was up to.
After the meal, during which Reyga thanked him several times for what he’d done for Lenai, Reyga asked him what he planned to do that afternoon.
“Um, well I’ll probably just hang out in my room. Maybe take a nap or something.”
“Hang out?” Reyga asked. “Not the window? Jason, that would not be safe!”
He had to laugh. “No, I mean I’ll probably just stay in my room. We call it ‘hanging out’ back home when we plan to stay somewhere for a while.”
“Ah,” Reyga shook his head with a chuckle. “You certainly have odd sayings in your world. Well, I am going to the market area, which is in the same direction. With your permission, I will accompany you for a while.”
As they walked through the halls of Lore’s Haven, he thought about the strange figure. At first he wondered if it could have been Bothan, but dismissed the thought. It hadn’t been nearly large enough. None of them had acted like they knew it was there. If no one else could see these auras like he could, that would mean no one else would know about an invisible lurker.
He glanced around the corridor, but didn’t see any other disembodied auras. “Reyga,” he said, “are there any other races in Teleria besides the Shanthi that can make themselves invisible?” He hoped the fact that Reyga had spoken so much about Lenai over lunch would make the question seem innocent.
Reyga shook his head. “None so far as we know. To the best of our knowledge, the Shanthi are unique in their abilities of concealment.”
He nodded. If that was true, then that meant that their unseen guest had to have been a Shanthi.
He stopped in the middle of the corridor. “Hey,” he said, “do you really need to go to the market right now?”
Reyga turned back to him, a puzzled look on his face. “No, I can get what I need later. Why do you ask?”
“I think we need to go see the High One.”