It’s Friday! Wahoo. What started out as possibly the crappiest week I’ve had in a very long time ended on a high note. Here’s the rundown: Sunday morning I threw out my lower back. What was I doing? I’d love to tell you some thrilling tale of high adventure, but the reality of it is… I coughed. Yes, you heard me right. I coughed. Monday my car was scheduled to get new tires, so I was without transpo and I had to walk from the tire shop to my work and back. It wasn’t far, but when you’re hobbling around like a 90 year old lady with kyphosis it feels like a million miles. Although I called around to several offices, the earliest I could get into a chiropractor’s office was Wednesday afternoon. Just over three and a half days of the most acute back pain I’ve ever experienced is enough to last me the rest of my life! I don’t ever wanna do that again. So, after my new chiropractor worked his magic I felt like a new woman and by Thursday night my muse decided to make an appearance. While sitting (comfortably I might add) and watching my son’s Kung Fu class I pulled out the little spiral notebook I always carry and scribbled out the final page and a half of my oldest WIP.
Shirryn Elda is a YA fantasy story (alien planet, magic, race wars, yikes!) I developed about five years ago, spurred by the idea of writing something I could share with my kids. It’s so far off my typical genres of writing that it scares me. I envision it as a trilogy, of which I’m happy to say the first installment is now done. Except for editing… blech!
Today, I’d like to share the fist two chapters, along with the placeholder cover I threw together. I just sent a beta copy to a dear childhood friend who also happens to be an amazingly talented artist, and she’s going to consider creating an art piece for me to use for the final cover. At this point, I don’t plan to publish until I’m at least done with book 2 and well on my way with book 3… but I’m too excited to not share something with you all! Read on for a taste and please don’t hesitate to tell me what you think in the comments.
It was the year of Amara on the island of Korreth, a time of celebration for her peoples. Amara marked a thousand years since the arrival of the Iolar, and over nine hundred years since the other inhabitants of the isle had agreed to live in peace with them. How that peace had come to be was a mystery, a secret long forgotten, but as secrets have a way of doing, it was not to remain so for much longer…
Korreth was large, surrounded by limitless oceans. Except for the arrival of the Iolar, the people of the island had lived in isolation for all recorded time. No one knew what lay beyond the immense expanse of water, and it was common belief that Korreth was the last enclave of civilization after some long-forgotten apocalypse. Her landscape was varied, providing those who lived on the island with everything from farmlands to forests, rocky mountain peaks and rolling plains. If one set out to traverse the island it would take about a quarter metra, almost seven days, just to travel from the northernmost point to the south, and at least another three days to cover it from east to west.
The Iolar had colonized the southern point of the island, in the verdant forests and fertile lowlands, while the other resident populations had been relegated to the more mountainous north. That division had been one of the driving forces behind Korreth’s great war, but a tentative peace had reigned now for centuries.
No one knew where the Iolar had come from, not even the Iolar themselves. One winter morning a large group of the tall, round-faced people had simply materialized on the shore. There was no sign of any boat or craft which may have conveyed them there, and the Iolar had only fleeting memories of their life before.
Of the dozens of Iolar who had appeared on the island, only a handful could remember anything at all about their pasts. The elders were quick to record what they could remember of their origins, filling scrolls with scattered details about their nameless homeland and their vanishing traditions. The details they recorded were trivial though, and no one could recall the actual place of their origin or the circumstances surrounding their exodus.
At first, the other inhabitants of Korreth had been frightened by the Iolar, by their unexplained appearance on the island, so they gave them a wide berth, some even leaving their settlements behind to do so. As such, the Iolar were left mostly to themselves and they started a small colony not far from the place where they had first appeared on the island.
Eighteen years later the war began.
One of the indigenous races, the Felsan, had grown weary of the Iolar and rallied the other races against them. They painted the Iolar as invaders, usurpers. In truth, the Felsan were envious of the Iolar; they had long prided themselves in being the smartest, strongest, and fastest race on Korreth, but with the arrival of the Iolar they had been outshone.
The Iolar were a beautiful people: long, lithe, and graceful. Their complexion was a warm golden color, like that of flax, and their skin nearly glittered in the midday sun. Their hair was long, straight, and gleaming, and their faces were round with wide eyes that shone like the twin moons in the midnight sky. They were strong, capable warriors, but did not lust for battle. They longed for nothing more than a quiet, peaceful life. In fact, most of the early settlers lived farming the land or sequestered in dark rooms recording what little their elders could recall of their former glory.
By comparison, the Felsan were a hard race. They showed ample evidence of their subterranean origins, with thin, slanting eyes that gleamed in the dark and pale, green-tinged skin. Those Felsan who had lived in the light for more than a few generations had taken on a darker skin tone but it did little to eliminate their sickly green pallor. Their hands were wide and flat, like a pair of meaty spades with thick, strong fingernails which their ancestors had adapted in order to more effectively burrow through the soil. Their bodies were covered in short, coarse black hair that grew slightly longer in a crest along the top of their heads, up and over their crown from ear to ear.
The Felsan of that time were led by a mage named Pyre. He incensed his people, convincing them the Iolar had stolen their rightful place of dominance on Korreth. His statements could not have been further from the truth. The Iolar wanted to live in peace, but when Pyre marched into their village and murdered the oldest and wisest of their leaders, they had little choice but to defend themselves.
The battles raged for years.
The Iolar elders had told tales of the ability of their people to wield magic. They were half-dreamed memories from their old lives and as the war-filled metras passed the scholars poured through the records, looking for any hint as to how to control the flow of magic. If the Iolar could reclaim that ability, they felt certain their warriors would triumph and the Felsan could be turned back. But control of magic continued to elude them. Pyre was quick to ensure his forces could exploit this weakness in the Iolar.
Mages were not common among any of the races on Korreth; there were only a handful born to each generation. But the Felsan were a long-lived and prolific race. They had more mages and sorceresses among them than all the other races combined.
Pyre called them all to arms. He conscripted every known magic user among the Felsan. He even found support from among the magic users of the other races. Then he marched on the main Iolar settlement: Argea.
The Iolar were overrun. The warriors and the farmers fought bravely to defend their homes while the scholars crouched in the dark, muttering half-remembered prayers to nameless gods. Those Iolar who survived the Day of Shirryn, the Day of Fire, fled to the forests to conceal themselves and regroup.
Meanwhile the Felsan reveled in their victory, burning all that remained of Argea. They raided the nearby farms and homesteads, spoiling crops and slaughtering livestock. But, to the relief of the Iolar who watched impotently from the cover of the forest, the Felsan did not find their hidden treasure: the Inidif.
The Iolar were able to take some small measure of satisfaction in the fact that their subterranean vaults were, for now, undiscovered by the Felsan. The paradox of a race renowned for living underground having not discovering the treasures beneath their feet wasn’t lost on the few remaining Iolar. That bitter irony became a source of strength for the outcasts in the forest.
The Iolar valued their underground vaults more highly than their own individual lives. Within the grottoes of the Inidif lay every scroll, volume, and scrap of parchment upon which their fragmented and shadowy past had been chronicled. Every memory the elders had recorded were, for the moment, safely hidden away in those caves.
Determined to protect their fragile heritage, the Iolar risked their lives to recover their secret library. They could not trust in the cover of darkness, for the Felsan could see through the gloom with their keen, gleaming eyes. Instead, they relied on stealth and ingenuity, slipping quietly through the charred remains of Argea to the hidden entrances of the Inidif.
For over a year they worked in secret, slipping unnoticed through the skeletal remains of their former home in groups of twos and threes, retrieving whatever items they could carry from the caves and returning to their comrades deep in the forest. They found a new home for the treasures of the Inidif high on a rocky peak and set about rebuilding their sacred library.
As the warriors and farmers worked to secure the treasures of the Inidif, the scholars scoured each and every page returned to them. They searched for something unknown, anything they may have missed which could be used against the Felsan. After metras and metras of fruitless searching, a scholar by the name of Cais happened upon a passage which would change the course of their history.
Along with many of the other scholars, Cais had watched the magicians of the other races carefully, mimicking their words and their actions, but he had never managed to sustain the energy necessary to produce magic. He’d shown more promise than most, but Cais had never succeeded even in lighting a pixonrock, one of the simplest and most basic of magics.
When he happened upon the strange words scribbled in the margin of one of the oldest, most fragile scrolls, he felt a shiver of power course through his fingers where they touched the parchment. He couldn’t resist saying the words aloud and his tongue trilled with excitement as he felt the energy building inside him until it burst outward with a power that dropped him to his knees.
From his words the Shirryn Elda was born.
The Shirryn Elda rose on wings of emerald fire, a vision of fearsome beauty, routing their enemies and driving the Felsan deep underground once more. She was merciless in her search for those responsible for the slaughter of the Iolar and, when she located Pyre, her wrath found a controlled outlet. Although he was old and long since removed from the fight, she made an example of him. His screams could be heard for miles around.
None could stand before her and the remaining Iolar were safe under her watchful gaze.
With time, the other inhabitants of Korreth redeemed themselves, ingratiating themselves to the Iolar and helping them rebuild their beloved city. They were repentant and admitted their cooperation with Pyre and the rest of the Felsan horde had been driven by belief in falsehoods and by irrational fear. They begged forgiveness and it was given to them unconditionally.
The only race that did not recant or show remorse were the Felsan. They hid deep in their underground burrows, clinging stubbornly to their hatred. Their numbers were so diminished however that they posed little threat. They dared not act against their enemy with the other races now working alongside the Iolar in pleasant cooperation. The Felsan knew they would be crushed if they made such an attempt. So they bided their time, hate festering in their dark hearts as the centuries passed, ensuring the story of their downfall, of the treacherous Iolar and the Shirryn Elda, were passed on to each new generation.
Many years passed. The treasures of the Inidif were retrieved from their mountain cave and returned to their rightful place in Argea. Cais perished, a sudden and surprising fate claiming him, and he was buried with the reverence due to one who had helped save his people. The Shirryn Elda wept openly at his loss. She’d had no one she could call friend, save Cais; he was her partner and his death weighed heavily on her. Her once bright and glorious wings hung lifeless and dull in mourning.
When it was clear that peace had spread across the island, the Shirryn Elda disappeared. None could explain where she went or why, but she left behind a scrap of parchment containing a promise. It lay rolled and secured with a scrap of vine atop the marker that designated the spot wherein Cais’s body had been laid in the earth.
Her missive contained a two-fold decree. In her slanting scrawl were written words promising one like her would return when there was great need, but demanding that her very existence be forgotten. They were never to speak of her or of her deeds. Cais had been revered by the people of his time as a hero, but now, by the proclamation left upon his grave, his name was to be lost to history, his deeds unsung in the years to come. Promises were extracted from the leaders of every race on the island that the Shirryn Elda’s secret would be kept.
The scholars collected everything they could find, every scroll or scrap of paper that contained mention of the Shirryn Elda and, lighting a massive fire in the middle of Argea’s rebuilt square, they burned it all. Tears were heavy in their eyes as they watched the precious knowledge blacken and burn.
The Iolar built a great wall around their city and swore their children and their children’s children would not stray beyond the boundary, thereby preventing any from accidentally learning the secret. They never spoke of Cais or the Shirryn Elda again and, with time, they were forgotten by all.
2 § Scholarly Pursuit §
“Kriya! Wait! Not so fast!”
She smiled as she heard Urban’s heavy footsteps and his panting breath as he ran to catch up. Turning around to face her brother, she teased, “They’re not going to start without you.”
Kriya laughed, moving forward again with her long, smooth stride. Urban slowed when he reached her, gasping from his exertion. His heavy rucksack slowed his pace and Kriya took it from him, smiling supportively. She threw her arm across his shoulder and urged him onward.
Watching them walk arm in arm, one could tell at a glance that Kriya and Urban were not related. Although they shared a home and Kriya called his parents her own, the truth of the matter was that no one knew who her parents were. She’d been found one morning on the outskirts of Argea, her tiny body blue with cold.
A farmer had heard her mewling cries and, not knowing what else to do, presented her to Creel and Lanya, who only the day before had birthed a healthy baby boy. Lanya took the child to her breast and reared her as her own. The children grew as the best of friends. They could be no more than a few days apart in age, Kriya obviously the elder, and she took to the role well. She watched over Urban with doting affection and one was scarcely seen without the other.
They were both outcasts in their own ways and they took solace in the other’s unwavering devotion. Creel and Lanya were proud of their children, as all parents are, but they worried for them both.
Lanya feared her daughter would never take an honorable mate. She was beautiful, breathtakingly so, but she was different and Lanya worried these differences would make her less desirable in the eyes of potential suitors. While in shape and form Kriya resembled the Iolar, her skin held a silvery cast completely at odds with the warm gold of her brethren. Her hair was ebony, so dark in color it glinted blue in the sunlight, and her eyes were glittering onyx orbs. Against her pale skin her dark features created a stark, frail beauty. But, although she was seventeen, she’d yet to be approached by any seeking her hand and Lanya lost sleep at night thinking of ways to help her daughter secure an honorable pairing.
Meanwhile, Creel worried for Urban. Their family had long been farmers, working the soil in honest labor, but Urban showed a reluctance to learn the secrets of the earth. Instead he sequestered himself in the dark, spending his every free moment in shadowy nooks of the family home reading borrowed scrolls from the scholars’ vaults. Creel had heard rumors that Urban had asked to be apprenticed to one of the elders as a novice scribe and he could only shake his head in angry denial and confusion at his son’s choice.
Now the day had come when Urban would learn if his request had been accepted. He was a ball of nervous energy, only tethered to the ground by Kriya’s steady touch. She smiled inwardly as she thought about his glee, but she also worried his hopes might be dashed, that his request would be denied. She tried not to think about it, promising herself she’d cross that bridge with him only if she had to.
There were two others from the village who had requested apprenticeship and, of them, Urban seemed the least likely to be accepted. Hob and Barla both came from scholar families and were well known in the libraries and vaults. Barla’s mother was one of the most learned scholars in Argea and her daughter was a devoted pupil and a quick study. Hob was likewise well known and loved within the Iolar’s libraries, even though his family wasn’t as prominent as Barla’s.
Kriya knew her brother was nervous, worried he might be passed over for one of the more qualified applicants. She kept reminding him, however, that he had a strength none yet knew about. Whenever she spoke of it Urban’s pale eyes would sparkle and a smile would spread across his face. He knew he would shock everyone when he revealed his hidden talent.
“Can’t you just see their faces?” Kriya was asking, nudging her brother in the side with her fist. “Daal will probably choke. He’ll be so jealous that Arval’s going to get you as his apprentice…”
“I don’t know. You really think it’ll impress them?” Urban was fishing and Kriya knew it, so she fed him exactly the response he was looking for.
“They’re going to fall flat on their faces when they see. Just wait.” Urban’s footsteps seemed to lighten, as if he walked on air, and Kriya smiled at the way her words had bolstered him.
They made their way to the central square, where the other applicants’ families had already gathered.
“Cor! We’re late!” Urban exclaimed, grabbing his heavy pack from her arms and breaking into a jog. Kriya smiled as she watched him move ahead.
They still had plenty of time she noted; Arval, Daal, and the other scholars had not yet emerged from their immense library. Kriya made her way to the spot where the other families had stationed themselves, acutely aware that she was Urban’s sole support on this pivotal day. At Urban’s insistence Creel and Lanya had not been told and although Kriya suspected they’d heard rumors of it anyway they’d chosen not to confront Urban. She wondered if they secretly hoped his endeavor would fail, that their son would return quietly to the family farm and they would hear no further talk of scholarly efforts.
At this thought Kriya’s normally flawless brow crinkled in contemplation. She stared at her hands, at her slender fingers, noting how they trembled.
“Good day Kriya.”
She flinched when she heard her name, startled out of her reverie by the intrusion. Glancing up she gave an audible sigh when she saw Rhoian standing three paces away. She turned her gaze back to the spot where Urban was waiting with the other hopefuls, putting her back to him, hoping perhaps Rhoian would take the hint and leave her be.
“When I heard your brother was requesting apprenticeship to Arval, I thought it was a joke. Now I see I was mistaken.”
Kriya turned in exasperation to face her unwanted companion. “What are you doing here Rhoian? Did you come only to insult my brother and, by extension, me?”
Rhoian didn’t flinch beneath her harsh words. Instead, his light blue eyes bored into her ebony ones and he smiled. The act made Kriya’s stomach tumble. Although he had made no formal proclamation of his intentions, it was clear to almost everyone in Argea, save her mother, that Rhoian wanted her for his bride.
To most, Rhoian would seem a prize, but Kriya couldn’t see why the other girls doted upon him. True, his golden skin was stretched taut across the muscles in his broad shoulders, chest, and arms. His face was certainly pleasing to look at, framed as it was by his soft, golden hair which was gathered at his nape by a leather cord. He was a strong warrior, rising fast among his peers, and was regarded as one of the village’s greatest hunters.
But Kriya saw other things when she looked at Rhoian.
She saw the way his opinion of himself seemed to cloud everything else around him, veiling it so that Rhoian could not truly see. He seemed to think Kriya would accept his proposal without hesitation when it came, and he apparently saw no reason to try to win her favor. His ego disgusted her. Yet, even so, his smile had a peculiar effect on her, one she couldn’t satisfactorily explain.
Rhoian’s face broke into an even wider smile as he watched her dark eyes appraise him. Her study only seemed to boost his confidence as he admitted, “I don’t understand why you spend so much time with him.”
Kriya bristled and the effect of his smile evaporated. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Rhoian took it in stride. “He’s not like us.”
“Like us?” Her eyes narrowed and she tilted her head to the side as she contemplated his words. “We,” she pointed back and forth between herself and Rhoian, “are nothing alike. Have you not noticed?”
Rhoian laughed, not hearing the anger in her voice. “You know what I mean,” he shrugged. “We are strong. He is weak.”
Kriya was so angered by his words that she couldn’t see past them to his intention. To Rhoian, a member of the warrior class who valued strength above all else, Urban would seem tedious. Rhoian would be unable to see the finer points of Urban’s character, like his steadfastness and his patience. Rhoian knew Kriya’s brother was a nice person, he just wasn’t anyone Rhoian would want tagging at his side night and day.
With an exasperated grunt, Kriya turned away from Rhoian, crossing her arms against her chest. He stared at her in silence for a few moments, confusion tugging lightly at his mind. Her reaction surprised him. Reaching out, he brushed the bare skin at her shoulder with his fingertips and she shrugged quickly away from his touch.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. Kriya was shocked to hear a note of uncertainty in his usually confident voice.
Rounding on him, she loosed all her pent-up anger and frustration. Although she knew Rhoian didn’t deserve the full force of her wrath, he happened to be the unlucky target at hand.
“Can you really be so ignorant?” she seethed. “You stand before me calling my brother, my best friend, weak and you ask ‘what’s the matter?’”
Rhoian nodded and muttered, “Yes.”
Her laugh was scathing. “You insult my family, yet you cannot fathom that I would be upset by your words? Astonishing!” Before Rhoian could respond Kriya turned on her heel and strode away.
He watched her go, a smile slowly spreading across his face. Although he couldn’t really understand her staunch defense of Urban, he admired the strength of her conviction none-the-less. His eyes never left her as Kriya’s thin frame sliced through the small crowd. Even when all he could see of her was the top of her head, her hair an ebony blotch amid a sea of gold, his gaze knew no diversion.
Arval, Daal, and the other scholars appeared a moment later and Kriya was thankful for the distraction. Her anger dissipated, replaced by a sudden wave of anxiety for her brother. Despite her earlier words and assurances she was nervous when she thought of her brother standing before the scholars and their harsh scrutiny. Her heart began to beat faster and she found herself taking quick, shallow breaths. Once more her hands trembled.
Again, the feel of fingertips brushing against the exposed skin of her shoulder startled her. With a thick sense of irritation she realized Rhoian had moved to her side once more. Her annoyance was stifled momentarily, however, by the odd expression she saw on his face.
A tentative smile was spread thinly across his full, pale-rose lips. “Don’t worry about your brother,” he was saying, his voice a quiet whisper, “he’ll be fine.”
“Don’t patronize me Rhoian,” Kriya sighed, the fight gone from her voice.
“I’m not,” he began, but the rest of his words were lost as Arval stepped forward to address the assembled crowd.
“We have gathered today to choose a worthy pupil to carry on the noble duty our great ancestors left in our charge.” The old man’s voice was strong despite his frail appearance and everyone present was compelled to silence by his words. Throughout the crowd heads bowed and eyelids closed as the weathered scholar spoke.
“Korreth is our home. She is our mother and she has cared for us well these last thousand years… but it was not always so. Our ancestors, the great elders, spoke of a home and a glory utterly unknown to us. It is our duty and honor as scholars, as protectors of the ancient texts, to strive to unravel the mystery of our past and lay bare the road that will lead our people home.”
A collective sigh of longing rippled through the crowd in response to those final words. Everyone present felt a flutter in their chests at the prospect of returning home.
Everyone except Kriya.
Arval’s words made her shiver with an inexplicable dread. She wondered: if the secrets of the Iolar’s shadowy past were brought to light during her lifetime, would she be allowed to go with them? Or would she be left behind like a ghost, wandering the barren streets of her beloved Argea alone? She worked to suppress another shudder, still mindful of Rhoian’s light touch at her shoulder.
Arval continued. “Will the applicants please approach when called?” He paused. “Barla.” The young girl stepped forward confidently, her chin held high, her silvery-blue eyes locked on Arval’s wrinkled face.
“I am here.” Her voice was a high, tinkling sound that reminded Kriya of the sounds the wind made when it danced through the chimes outside her bedroom window.
“And who stands behind you in loyal support?” Arval queried, following the ritual set forth by his ancestors.
Barla’s entire assembled retinue spoke in unison. “We do!” Kriya noted the way the corners of the girl’s lips pulled upward in response to the rousing reply.
The old scholar, however, seemed to take no notice. “Hob.”
“I am here.”
The pattern was repeated and Hob’s family and friends, desiring to make a greater impression, called out “We do!” with even more fervor.
Kriya’s stomach knotted as she watched her brother move slowly forward. His words were quiet and his voice broke as he said, “I am here.”
“And who stands behind you in loyal support?”
Kriya took a deep breath to steady herself before replying, “I do.”
The words echoing behind hers came as a complete shock to Kriya and she turned, astonished, toward their source. Rhoian’s shoulders were squared, his chin high and his jaw set. He didn’t seem to notice Kriya’s shock.
“So few,” Arval mused, mirth curiously evident in his tone. Kriya’s eyes flickered back to the old scholar’s face again just in time to see him mask a smile. “Why do you bring only these two?”
Urban’s jaw was slack. He was obviously just as surprised by Rhoian’s proclamation as Kriya had been. It took him a moment before he could speak. “Actually, sir, I only brought my sister. I’d not counted on any others.”
Urban’s admission brought titters of mocking laughter from Hob’s and Barla’s camps, but Arval silenced them with a stern glance.
“Thank you for your truthfulness.” As he continued, Arval clearly directed his next words to Hob and Barla. “It is refreshing to see a youth not caught up in the fruitless endeavor of impressing others.”
Kriya closed her eyes briefly, relieved by the old scholar’s tact and understanding. Faint hope flickered in her core as she recalled Arval’s small smile. Urban seemed bolstered by it as well; she saw that he stood a little straighter, no longer bowed beneath his insecurities.
Arval held his hands out, palms up in invitation. “Approach.”
Kriya watched as Hob, Barla, and Urban moved forward to stand right before the old man. Then the other scholars in attendance closed ranks around them, obscuring them from view. The spectators weren’t meant to see or hear this part of the proceedings.
Seeing the interlude as an opportunity to satisfy her burning curiosity, Kriya rounded on Rhoian. She was grateful the act caused his hand to finally fall from her shoulder.
“Why did you do that?”
“What?” He stared at her, perplexed.
Kriya rolled her eyes. “Why did you stand in support of my brother?”
“It seemed important to you,” he grinned.
She groaned softly. “Of course.” He’d done it to impress and ingratiate her, not to help Urban.
A commotion from within the knotted group of scholars diverted their attention and Kriya looked expectantly for its cause. Slowly, the group broke apart to reveal Arval, his face full of pure shock, holding a lit pixonrock in his hands. The large, oblong crystal glowed steadily as he raised it high above his head for all to see. With a wide smile, Kriya noted Urban’s heavy pack now hung loose and empty from his shoulder.
Gasps could be heard from among the crowd and Kriya’s heart raced. This was it… the moment of crux when her brother’s life would forever change. She was happy for him, of course, but she felt a twinge of sorrow as well. She imagined what her life would be like with a little less Urban in it and had to fight back tears.
Rhoian’s whispered words at her ear interrupted her musings. “Cor! Did Urban do that?” Kriya could only nod; she was too proud for words. “Amazing.”
It certainly was.
To her knowledge, none of the Iolar living on Korreth could do what Urban had just demonstrated. In fact, learning to control the flow of magic was among the top priorities of the scholars, but it had been a fruitless search for centuries. Now Urban, the only son of a farmer, had proven it was possible. Kriya imagined those present today would be buzzing about this for weeks, ensuring everyone in Argea knew they had been there to witness the miraculous event firsthand.
Arval lowered the glowing pixonrock and cradled it reverently in the crook of his arm, as one might an infant. “Urban?” he asked, and more gasps erupted from the crowd as they learned who had done this wondrous thing. “Can you replicate this? Can you do it again?”
Urban nodded once in certainty. “Yes I can, sir.”
“Then come.” Arval reached his free hand toward Urban, pulling him to his side and leading him away. Hob, Barla, Daal and the rest of the assembled scholars followed close in their wake, surprise still etched plainly on their faces.
“Come on,” Rhoian urged, taking Kriya by the hand. “I want to see this.”
She thought she had an idea where Arval was going, and her hunch was proved correct as they entered Argea’s main square and stopped before the giant pixonrock that served as its central feature.
Pixonrocks as large as this one were rare, but a variety of smaller sizes were easily found scattered all across Korreth. They served many functions, providing light through the dark night arnas as well as, with the application of a little more magic, heat for both comfort and cooking. The crystals were always a clear, milky-white color in their inert state, but once activated they glowed with a variety of hues.
As she stared up at the pixonrock on its tall pedestal Kriya felt a twinge of worry. Urban still appeared confident, but she knew it took a lot of energy for him to activate the small pixonrock Arval now carried. Would this massive crystal require even more energy? And would Urban be able to supply it?
Glancing around, Kriya saw their small entourage had grown. Already, whispers were being passed toward those at the back of the crowd, and she saw some of the new arrivals turning to jog quickly away. No doubt they were carrying the wondrous news to others in the city.
She was startled by the sound of her name and she turned to its source. Arval was smiling warmly at them both. He still cradled Urban’s pixonrock in his arm and the cool blue glow lit his face from beneath, throwing the deep lines of his face into sharp relief.
“Please come,” he instructed, gesturing with his hand. “As Urban’s loyal friends you should join him in his triumph.”
Kriya moved forward slowly, acutely aware of all the round faces following her movements. She was so distracted by their scrutiny that she no longer felt the warm pressure of Rhoian’s fingers wrapped around hers. As different as her outward appearance was, people were bound to stare at her often; Kriya thought she should be used to such stares by now, but the scrutiny still unnerved her.
She stepped to Urban’s side and he smiled widely at her. Then his eyes flickered to Rhoian, still surprised by his support. Urban nodded quickly to him in greeting.
Rhoian clapped him on the shoulder, an action which caused Urban to stagger back, and said, “Way to go kid!”
Kriya caught the flicker of irritation that flashed across her brother’s face at being called ‘kid,’ but he covered it with another smile and said, “Thank you Rhoian.”
Lowering his voice and leaning forward conspiratorially he asked, “You really think you can light this big one?”
Kriya picked up her brother’s hand as she waited for his answer. She was glad Rhoian had asked. The mere thought of the energy it would require to light this giant crystal worried her, but she didn’t want to ask about it herself. She didn’t want Urban to think she doubted him, but her brother would forgive Rhoian’s skepticism; disbelief would be expected from the young warrior.
“I think I can. Yes,” Urban replied, squeezing Kriya’s hand as he spoke. She understood his silent message: Urban, too, had doubts.
They stood hand in hand as the crowd continued to grow. Arval seemed unhurried, content to allow the gathering to swell in size. Kriya thought she understood his motives; the people of Argea would be amazed by the revelation of Urban’s ability. Even though lighting a pixonrock was far from complex magic, it was the only magical ability a member of the Iolar had ever displayed. This day, this momentous achievement, would be immortalized in the vaults of the scholars’ libraries and sung in the work songs of the farmers and warriors for generations to come. The people had a right to see this.
After what seemed an eternity Arval raised his hand, drawing the attention of everyone present. Silence descended like a heavy blanket.
“I believe,” the old scholar intoned, “we are ready to proceed. Urban?”
Kriya loosed her hold on Urban’s hand as he stepped forward, but she was surprised when he refused to release hers. Instead he pulled her along behind him. Since Rhoian still gripped her other hand, they formed a chain of bodies approaching the towering crystal. Arval watched their procession, an amused and knowing look in his expressive eyes.
Urban stopped before the pillar of milky stone and laid his hand flat against the surface. The crystal was cold, retaining a chill from the frigid night arnas. It had been almost a week since the Janyx mage, Macris, had last visited Argea to light the pixonrock, and the magic had expired days ago in the absence of any who could sustain it. Urban took a deep, preparatory breath, squeezed Kriya’s hand, and began.
Almost immediately Kriya became aware of a strange sensation within her body. It was as if every fiber in her being was coiling in anticipation of some shock. Her skin prickled and tingled. She looked to Urban, his eyes closed and his face placid, then to Rhoian. The young warrior watched the crystal beneath Urban’s hand in eager expectation, but if he felt any of the sensations Kriya was experiencing, he showed no sign of it.
She wondered at the odd feelings, but before she could postulate on their meanings she felt a rushing flood of energy course through and out of her body. The exodus left her suddenly drained and her legs seemed unable to support her any longer. She crumpled, but Rhoian’s arms closed around her in a heartbeat, holding her fast.
Two other things happened almost simultaneously: someone screamed and the massive crystal burst to brilliant life. The faces surrounding them all wore the same amazed expression bathed in yellow light from the pixonrock.
Urban withdrew his hand from the stone and stepped back, obviously wearied by his task but with a glowing smile upon his face. Only when he turned around did he become aware of Kriya’s state, sagging limply in Rhoian’s arms.
“By the moons!” he cried, dropping her hand and reaching to cradle her face in his palms. “Kriya? What happened?”
“I think she fainted,” Rhoian supplied, concern evident in his tone.
Feeling a feeble amount of strength returning to her limbs, Kriya pushed against Rhoian’s embrace angrily. “I did not faint! I’m fine.”
Both young men looked at her skeptically, but it was Urban who asked, “Then what happened?”
“I…” She thought better of giving an explanation in their present company. She locked gazes meaningfully with her brother and said, “I’m not sure.”
She wondered for a moment if Urban would allow the subject to drop, but he finally nodded and turned to address Arval. Kriya couldn’t help but notice the hawk-like way the old man was watching her. He seemed a bit too interested in her state, so she endeavored to right herself fully.
“Sir?” Arval’s wide eyes turned to Urban. “I must attend to my sister. May I be excused?”
Arval’s response shocked them all. “Certainly not,” he laughed, shaking his head emphatically. “We have much to attend to, you and I. Besides, it appears she is in more-than-capable hands.”
“I’m all right,” Kriya assured him. Although the idea of being left to Rhoian’s care was somewhat loathsome, she had no desire to get in the way of the events that were to come for her brother. Those events would mark a major change in Urban’s life and he deserved to enjoy them.
“Don’t worry.” Rhoian’s arms tightened around her. “I’ll make sure she’s taken care of.”
Urban nodded. He knew how his sister would feel about the situation, but he was secretly glad Rhoian was there; he didn’t want to miss out on anything. “Thank you Rhoian.”
“Shall we?” Arval stepped forward, moving to lead Urban back to the library’s courtyard. Pausing, he turned back to address Kriya and Rhoian. “You’re welcome to join us. If you feel able, of course. The naming ceremony is rather important.”
“We’ll be there,” Kriya asserted and Arval nodded.
“Then we will await your arrival.”
She watched them as the crowd parted to allow their passage. As soon as they left the square, the stunned silence which had pervaded was shattered. Everyone began talking at once. Even Hob and Barla, obviously passed over in their quests for apprenticeship, seemed thrilled by the morning’s events.
“Come,” Rhoian muttered, “let’s get you to the naming ceremony. Can you walk?”
“Of course I can walk,” she insisted, pushing free of Rhoian’s arms at last. But the moment she tried to move her feet she felt a wave of vertigo overtake her and she swayed on the spot.
Rhoian laughed. “So you say, but I see no proof.” He placed an arm around her waist, drawing her tightly to his side and said, “Let me help you.”
She wanted to protest, to shrug away from his touch, but she knew it would be foolish. Instead she allowed him to half-carry her through the crowd. Their way was made more difficult by both Kriya’s unexplained weakness and by the excitement of the other Iolar.
Everywhere their fellow citizens were gathered in groups, chattering animatedly, imagining what wonderful things this event might hearken. Kriya heard the mutterings and knew what they were all hoping; perhaps, after all this time, they would finally go home.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this little morsel! I’ll keep you all posted on further developments. Enjoy your weekend.