The road to Jingten was familiar to Breymer, but the destination disturbed him. His caravan stopped at a great tower beside a lake in the isolated valley. He stepped out of his coach and inhaled deeply of the pure pine air. The alpine landscape was lush and enthusiastically green at the height of its short summer. Even four centuries after the Kwellstan Sect had founded this colony, the place still seduced him a little. He exhaled and reflected upon how the profound perfection of the landscape had inspired his colleagues to pry open the toolbox of creation and tinker.
In this stimulating land the tabre priests of the Kwellstan Sect had sought to expand their powers and improve their race. Breymer had been among those bold tabre. He had been a Master Priest then and had enjoyed the ecstatic glories of the work. Now he was the Daykash of the Kwellstan Sect, second only to the Grand Lumin, and his mission concerned the results born of those daring experiments.
Breymer looked across the dark blue waters that warned of a frighteningly deep lake. He knew that this water-filled gap in the land reached into the colossal forces within the living body of Ektren. Minds such as his were sensitive to this power and could tap into it and work high magic. This place felt so different from the lowlands of Nufal. Here the elements were raw and treacherous. Pleasure surged inside him as he stood again in this potent place after long years of absence. But he squashed his feelings, except for regret.
By tapping into the forces emanating from the Rysamand Mountains, the tabre had expected to bring forth a more powerful and enlightened generation. The magic of the Kwellstan Sect had already been uplifting the tabre race for thousands of years, and its ambitious priests had anticipated success, but they had spawned a new race instead. The offspring in Jingten were always rys, and the tabre shrank from their kinship with their visions wrought in flesh and blood.
The rys were abominations, and they were breeding. The Kwellstan Sect could no longer ignore its looming problem of what to do with them.
One rys in particular was aspiring to inclusion in tabre society. Daykash Breymer felt the mind of this one watching him from the tower. Hope normally excited Breymer when he tested a worthy student, but this time he dreaded what his tests might reveal. The power of the mind spying on him was disquieting.
Turning away from the lake, he looked up the stark stone walls of the tower. Only the surrounding vista of blue stone mountains subdued the otherwise grandiose structure. The shadow of the tower was upon the Daykash, and a chilly foreboding prickled his sensitive dark skin. He pulled his formal outer robe over his shoulders and buttoned it across his chest. The dense red fabric was slick against his fingers. Talented weavers cast spells to tighten the threads during its crafting, which made the fabric impermeable to liquid and fire resistant.
The Daykash’s attending priests dismounted their horses and clustered behind him. Resident tabre were assembled at the tower doors to receive him, but he ignored them and continued to study the tower. Enchantments flowing from the stone blocks stroked his senses. He had been among the tabre who had built the tower. They had strengthened it to last the ages with the secret spells of the Kwellstan Sect.
“Daykash Breymer, I welcome you,” announced a tabre who stepped forward. He wore a red and black robe that marked him as a Master Priest.
“Thank you, Master Halor,” Breymer said tersely.
“Jingten is honored by your visit,” Halor added.
Breymer’s smooth face twitched as if he smelled something bad. Halor ushered the Daykash toward the tall doors. The other tabre bowed as their Daykash passed, and their black hair fell across their dark faces.
“How was your journey?” Halor inquired.
The Daykash recalled the open undulating grasslands he had crossed to reach the mountains and then the twisting ascent up the pass into the Jingten Valley made possible by the excellent road built by the Kwellstan Sect. “Uneventful,” he responded. Nothing ever happened on the Nufalese frontier.
A wide hallway led into the heart of the tower and terminated at its grand reception hall that was open all the way to the tower’s roof. Sunlight streamed down from skylights on the soaring observatory level. A platform of white and black marble filled the back of the chamber, creating a broad threshold for an ornately framed doorway that was dark within.
The priests and acolytes that had come with the Daykash filed in behind their leader. The resident acolytes and priests escorted them into the dark doorway where they levitated upward two by two. Halor and Breymer were left alone in the magnificent space. The Daykash stepped onto the platform. The polished stone reflected his image as if he stood on perfectly still water. His magic lit his eyes and his senses searched out the one he had come to see.
Nervousness eroded Halor’s patience and he asked, “Daykash, shall I show you to your quarters?”
Daykash Breymer blinked and came back to himself. “Do you expect your student to pass my test?” he said.
Halor hesitated before answering yes. He knew it was not what the Daykash wanted to hear.
“Bring Dacian to me now,” the Daykash said.
Halor bowed and hurried into the levitation shaft to fetch his student.
A crucial rite of passage was upon Dacian. The Daykash had come. Amazingly Dacian was not as nervous as he had expected to be. He had been ready for this moment for years.
At last his extraordinary talents had earned him the right to be tested. After passing the test he would advance to studying at the Atocha in Kwellstan, where he would ultimately become a full Nebakarz priest of the Kwellstan Sect. He had dreamed of this achievement, but not just for his satisfaction. He wanted to show that rys were as good as tabre. Dacian wondered if he would look back on this day as the time when the tabre began accepting rys as their equal kin. For decades that hope had sustained him.
The Daykash seemed to share in Dacian’s eagerness because Halor soon darkened the door to Dacian’s chamber. Dacian noted how his master rubbed his pinkies against his thumbs. This sign of Halor’s fluster amused Dacian. Usually Halor was calm and controlled. He set an example of order as he taught Dacian the value of it. Power required control, Halor always said. Without it, power became chaos. Even the storming heavens focused its greatest energy into lightning instead of exploding the sky.
“The Daykash summons you,” Halor said.
Dacian rose from a glossy stone window seat, smoothed the front of his long shirt, and petted the white fur collar that ringed his blue neck. The soft fur was calming. He took a slow deep breath and observed the morning light that glowed through the stained glass window. Twenty-nine triangles of different sizes made up the design. Dacian had counted them decades ago when Halor had first assigned him this room. Only shades of purple, a difficult color even for a rys glassmaker to imbue into glass, were used in the design, and the purples turned the warm sunlight cold to match the snowy mountains beyond the window. The sight of Dacian’s native Rysamand Mountains encouraged him. All things seemed possible when looking upon them.
Dacian inhaled the destiny that he had imagined for himself like the aroma of bread baking in an oven. The arrival of the Daykash proved to Dacian that he would become a Nebakarz priest. The Daykash only tested those who qualified for further training. And, after his ultimate success, Dacian knew that he would inspire more rys to do great things, and then Nufal would be greater for it.
“I am ready, Master Halor,” Dacian said.
Halor stopped rubbing his pinkies. “I know,” he said, somewhat wistfully.
Dacian followed Halor into the curving hall. Their soft suede boots padded gently on the tile floor and the glowing crystals set in the walls grew brighter as they passed them. The bronze-bound wooden doors of other modest chambers were all closed. Most of them were unoccupied. Dacian had few neighbors in the Jingten Tower. A few rys worked as servants in the tower, but they lived in quarters on lower levels. Dacian was privileged to live in the middle levels reserved for Halor’s few acolytes. Nebakarz priests who worked as bureaucrats in the Jingten Colony lived in the levels above the student levels.
Halor surprised Dacian when he stopped at the stairwell instead of the levitation shaft. The crystal glow from the hallway revealed only a few steps, and darkness quickly consumed the steps beyond the entrance.
“The stairs, Master?” Dacian asked, looking down his nose at the steps used only by servants.
“A lesson in humility, Dacian,” Halor said firmly.
Dacian comforted himself with the belief that surely Halor’s lesson had value. “As you say, Master,” he said.
“I will be waiting below,” Halor said.
Dacian shyly entered the stairwell. It was unlit, but the darkness hardly hindered him. His mind could sense and map every surface, crack, and angle of the stairs. He descended quickly. Blocks of light came in at the entrances of each level. At the bottom, bright light blasted in from the reception hall.
Dacian exited the stairwell, and the awesome grandeur of the Jingten Tower consumed him. On the uppermost levels, balconies clung to the inner edge of the tower’s hollow center, but most levels of the tower were closed off from the inspiring space.
Halor and the Daykash were cross legged and floating about three guli above the marble platform.
Halor had instructed Dacian that he would be expected to kneel. Dacian approached the platform, and with sincere respect went to his knees at the edge of the thick marble.
“Daykash Breymer, meet Dacian, my finest student,” Halor said.
Dacian shivered with pride. For his tabre Master to praise him in front of the Daykash meant a great deal to him. No rys had ever been blessed with such an honor.
“Come closer, Dacian,” Daykash Breymer invited. Nearly ten centuries of life had eroded the sweetness of spring from the Daykash’s voice, leaving it gravelly and with little emotion.
Dacian stepped onto the enchanted marble platform. He pushed himself into the air with one springy step, folded his legs beneath him, and levitated forward. He came to a gentle stop before the Daykash. Blue light glittered in Dacian’s eyes, the tint of which was in contrast to the pure white fires that burned in the magical eyes of Halor and Daykash Breymer.
“You honor me and my Master by your visit, Daykash Breymer,” Dacian said.
“I am pleased to be here,” Daykash Breymer said.
Dacian sensed insincerity in the voice of the Daykash, but he quickly admonished himself for analyzing his superiors. It was enough that Daykash Breymer had said that he was pleased, whether he meant it or not.
Halor spoke. “Daykash Breymer has accepted your request to be tested, Dacian.”
A happy aura flared around Dacian. “I am blessed by your consideration, Daykash,” he said.
Breymer said. “Many tabre aspire to the priesthood, but few are worthy of acceptance into training, and even fewer graduate.”
Dacian dipped his head respectfully, uncertain of what he should say.
“Dacian, the Daykash’s time is precious,” Halor said. “Follow his instructions without hesitation. Complete each task as it is set before you. Ask no questions.”
“Yes, Master Halor,” Dacian said.
Without delay, the white fires within the eyes of Daykash Breymer intensified, and the smooth features of his dark gray face were obscured in the brightness. His voice sounded inside Dacian’s mind. “Create two warding crystals. One is to be a basic spell blocker and the second is to be a basic mind blocker.”
Dacian obediently descended into trance. The details of the fabric of existence sharpened in his mind. The weave of energy and matter and lifeforces and the omnipresent elemental forces of the world were clear to Dacian. He could see the interconnected lines and manipulate the forces with his natural magic. His ideas could become spells, and his spells could become real forces that acted upon the world.
Tabre often concentrated their spells into warding crystals as a means of preserving the magic for repeated use. The crystals made for handy containers for their magic, and their spherical shape cast the enchantment in all directions equally. Dacian had been able to make them since his fifth decade of life, which was tremendously precocious because tabre and rys were not considered mature until age one hundred. His first efforts at making warding crystals had been toddling devices of limited enchantment, but now at age one hundred eighty his warding crystals were potent.
Although Dacian had the magic blocker spell memorized, he modified it a bit to make it unique. He altered slightly the enchantment of each warding crystal that he made because it challenged him to do so and it left no clear signature upon his work. He liked being difficult to identify.
When the magic blocker spell became clear in his mind, Dacian clasped his hands and focused the energy into matter and began organizing the structure of the crystal. Within his palms, intense heat blazed harmlessly against his skin where he formed a smooth crystalline orb. Finishing, he released the crystal orb from his hands and it floated outward and stopped between him and Daykash Breymer. The crystal pulsed faintly with blue light.
Without pausing, Dacian created the mind blocker crystal, which soon drifted out from his blue hands to bob in the air near the first one. Although his assignment was complete, Dacian scrambled together another spell and released a third crystal from his hands in a hot flash. This one he let spin over his left palm.
“A mind and magic blocker,” he announced as the bubble of double warding enveloped him. He felt the minds of Halor and Breymer press against the warding as they tested his claim. Their initial effort could not penetrate the invisible barrier of magic that shielded him.
“Enough, Dacian!” Halor said impatiently. “This is not a game. Stand in submission.”
Dacian had expected his teacher to be pleased by such a wondrous display from his student. But, shamed by Halor’s chastisement, Dacian lowered all the warding crystals to the marble floor and eased his feet down. His power receded into his lifeforce, and he stood before his superiors naked of magic.
Daykash Breymer eyed him with great seriousness. He reached out with his right hand and the third crystal that Dacian had made flew into his grasp. While examining the warding crystal, the Daykash complimented his work. The crystal’s quality was high and its creation speedy.
“Thank you, Daykash. Do you have another test?” Dacian asked.
A sharp look from Halor made Dacian drop his gaze. He should not impatiently goad the Daykash for tests as if they were trifling riddles meant for amusement.
The Daykash said, “The path to Nebakarz priesthood is made of tests. Your testing will never truly be finished, not even a full priest ceases to be tested.”
“Of course, Daykash, my question was stupid,” Dacian said.
Talent is often eager to show off, the Daykash thought. “Your work is good, Dacian,” he said.
The praise relieved Dacian, who had been worried by his Master’s severe reaction. Dacian realized he had been cocky making the third crystal, but he desperately wanted to amaze the Daykash. Dacian had studied his whole life to get his chance with the elite of the Kwellstan Sect. If he could prove his value, then the status of all rys would be lifted. Dacian struggled to calm his needy emotions. He must not let the high stakes muddle his discipline at this crucial time.
The Daykash released the warding crystal from his hand and targeted it with his magic as it floated away. Dacian had to squint against the bright white light that vaporized his crystal. A strange burning odor wafted toward him.
“I see you hope to impress me with little things,” the Daykash said. “But to be a Nebakarz is to have a strong mind. How strong is your mind, Dacian?”
The tabre spoke the rys’s name like the crack of a whip, and an egg-shaped aura of pure white enveloped the Daykash’s floating body. He hurled his immense mental bulk at Dacian’s undefended soul.
Dacian stepped back and clutched his head. Caught off guard, he reeled as he tried to cope with the stampede of outside thoughts violating his mind.
The Daykash badgered him with questions. “Can you defend your thoughts? Can you maintain your independence? Can you resist my will?”
Dacian’s vision blurred as his mental faculties were slapped around by the intrusive lifeforce.
“Go away. You’re not worthy to be Nebakarz!” commanded the Daykash and Dacian felt his feet move back.
“No!” Dacian gasped and reclaimed control of his limbs. The Daykash was trying to control him through his own mind! This realization horrified Dacian. And resisting was so hard. He respected the Daykash and the Kwellstan Sect. Respect and obedience were pillars of Dacian’s existence. He believed in the glory of the Kwellstan Sect and wanted to add to it. But to be bullied by the will of another was abusive. And to be rejected was intolerable. Was the true test one of resistance? The Daykash had asked how strong his mind was, and Dacian decided he would prove his strength.
He rallied his mental discipline and summoned his magic. He grappled mentally with the Daykash, who persisted in trying to control his body and physically make him leave. Dacian asserted his will and blocked his tormentor, but the Daykash assaulted Dacian’s mental integrity from various angles. Driven by defensive instincts, Dacian sought to seize the energy of the Daykash’s lifeforce. Dacian had never attempted such a thing before, and Dacian could not trap the invasive mind. Seizing control of his opponent’s will was like trying to catch a fish with his bare hands while not being able to look in the water.
Dacian pitted his youth and raw talent against a thousand years of experience and blundered into a prolonged stalemate. Time disappeared from his perception as he began to thrive upon the pure challenge of the difficult test. After achieving a full defense of his physical body and consciousness, Dacian continued to pluck the thorns of the Daykash’s mind from his own even if the task seemed futile. The Daykash battered him mentally without pause as if he truly wanted to inflict crushing defeat. Indeed, Dacian began to sense that the Daykash was frustrated that his assault had been even partially repelled.
As this battle of wills dragged on, the Daykash added a psychological attack. Intruding upon Dacian’s mind had given him insight into this rys’s motivations.
“Stop. You’re not doing the test right,” the Daykash announced inside Dacian’s mind.
Dacian almost faltered, appalled that he might have made a costly mistake, but he realized this might be a trick. The Daykash’s test was supposed to be intense. No one, not even Halor, had been willing to describe what this intimate entrance exam would be like, and Dacian decided to persevere.
Reclaiming his confidence, he forced his own words inside the mind of the Daykash. “Have I shown my strength yet?” he dared to demand. An incoherent burst of indignation erupted from the Daykash’s thoughts, and Dacian pushed back even harder. The invisible fingers of the Daykash slipped from his mind, and a surge of fresh power reinvigorated Dacian and his magic flowed unhindered. He thrust his will against the lifeforce of the Daykash while casting a new levitation spell. The tabre and the rys pushed so hard against each other with their thoughts that the opposing forces set their floating bodies in motion. They orbited each other with magical light blazing from their eyes.
At last Dacian sensed a crumpling of the will of the Daykash, and he tried again to pin the lifeforce of the illustrious tabre leader, but it was a trap. The weakness of the skilled Daykash had been a feint, and he seized Dacian’s mind. Startled, Dacian was suddenly sundered from his thoughts, and blackness consumed his powerful perception. The effect was fleeting, but when he flared back to consciousness, he was on the cold marble floor and the Daykash was levitating over him.
“Enough,” the Daykash declared and settled onto his feet. His white aura receded.
With the crisis passing, fear and regret replaced Dacian’s confidence. He moved onto his knees and said, “Daykash, forgive me if I have given offense. It seemed you wanted me to defend myself.”
The Daykash stared at him with an inscrutable face. At length he said, “Leave the tower.”
Dacian slowly got to his feet. An exhaustion never before experienced dragged at his body and mind. He glanced at Halor who hung nervously in the background. His Master gave him a clipped but reassuring nod, and Dacian felt better. After studying under Halor for eight decades, he could tell when his Master indicated success.
Dacian bowed his head and thanked the Daykash for the privilege of being tested.
“Privilege indeed,” the Daykash said and resisted adding the derogatory words “for a rys.”
Dacian understood that they wanted privacy so they could discuss his performance. Being asked to leave was actually a good sign because it showed that they acknowledged his mental abilities. They assumed they needed the heavy enchantments wrapping the Jingten Tower to block his perception. Once Dacian turned away from them, he smiled. After decades living in the tower, all the secrets of its layers of enchantments had been peeled by his mind like brushing sediments aside to reveal a fossil long locked in total secrecy. Even Halor did not suspect how much Dacian understood the advanced Nebakarz magic insulating the tower.
Although capable of spying on the Daykash and Halor, Dacian resolved not to do it. Halor and the Daykash would likely sense his mental presence if he listened in, and Dacian did not want to anger them. He believed that he must have tested well. How could any acolyte have done better? Surely he had shown that rys were just as good as tabre. The Daykash had needed to expend considerable power to best him. Dacian had not even realized a tabre could act with such force. Now that the possibilities had been revealed, he now wondered just how much force he could exert with his magic.
The entrance of the tower stood open. High doors built of timbers harvested from the local forest were bound by bands of metal that gleamed like gold but were as strong as iron. The alloy was a Nebakarz secret. As Dacian passed through the doors, he felt the push of Halor’s spell that closed them behind him.
After the timbered doors shut with a ponderous thud, Halor set his feet on the platform and straightened his robes.
“He has grown powerful, Master Halor,” Breymer said.
Staring at the doors that presumably insulated him from the perception of his greatest student, Halor said with some affection, “Dacian is extraordinary.”
Breymer sighed and rubbed his temple. The gray skin of his hand was darker, almost black, when seen against his lighter face.
“The Grand Lumin will not like what I must report to him. I’ve never had a tabre resist so well. Only his naiveté made it possible to beat him down,” Breymer said.
Responsibility settled onto Halor’s shoulders with visible weight. “Perhaps this does not have to be treated with such negativity. Dacian proves our case for colonizing the Rysamand. Expansion across Ektren has expanded the powers of our race. A greater footprint upon Ektren made us grow in spirit and intellect.”
“A grand idea that in reality did not fit the vision,” Breymer said with regret, but then, with a firmer voice, he declared, “Your Dacian is not tabre, Master Halor. None of those rys are. They are abominations.”
“Daykash, they were born of us,” Halor reminded, but his meek posture drained his opinion of power.
“Born of us, but not of Nufal. These mountains make their own creatures. The tabre should not have come here. We were wrong. Great Divinity, the Drathatarlane Sect was right to warn us not to come here,” the Daykash said, referring to their rivals who considered tabre expansion to be heresy. He added, “The current Grand Lumin accepts what his predecessor refused to see. No more tabre will settle in Jingten. None wish to. Indeed you must acknowledge that almost all tabre settlers have moved back to the homeland already.”
Halor agreed sorrowfully. He knew that no more tabre wished to risk producing rys offspring. It had begun as soon as tabre had settled in the Jingten Valley. Their tablings had been born with blue skin instead of the dark gray skin of their Nufalese parents. The tabre had been horrified. They had adjusted their spells to correct the situation, but all reproduction produced the same result: a breed apart. Those tabre with harsher hearts had even abandoned their offspring.
Strolling around the marble platform, Breymer looked up the center of the tower. “A pity this building is here. It really is some of our best work,” he commented.
“Yet again our theory is proven,” Halor murmured, persisting in his defense of the Jingten Colony.
Breymer was not angered by Halor’s lingering enthusiasm for Jingten. “Sometimes it is not such a good thing to be right,” the Daykash reminded.
“But is it not good to show that we have power greater than the Drathatarlane Sect?” Halor rejoined.
Breymer smiled in agreement. His contempt for the Drathatarlane was innate. Although the Kwellstan Sect had become distressed by the unexpected developments in the colony, it remained rewarding to see the Drathatarlane Sect nervous. Something new, potentially radical, had resulted from the experimental colonization of the Rysamand Mountains. The onset of rysness from tabre stock disturbed the tabre, but this new thing belonged to the Kwellstan Sect and not the Drathatarlane.
“Halor, I can see that you have some sympathy for these rys, but as the deputy of the Grand Lumin, I am here to remind you that you must maintain control. There could be others like this Dacian, perhaps just reaching maturity. They all must be kept in submission to the Kwellstan Sect,” Breymer said.
“I am aware of my purpose, Daykash,” Halor said defensively. “Surely you see how well I have done with Dacian.”
Grudgingly the Daykash agreed, “Yes, Master Halor, you deserve praise. I see the respect you have instilled in Dacian. He is obedient. His juvenile eagerness to join the Nebakarz was easy to sense. He is naive and therefore controllable, but I do not want you to become lax because of your success. Dacian is young, and youth and power cast volatile spells.”
“I will not become lax with him, Daykash,” Halor vowed. “I know more than anyone the power he possesses. I have used great care in guiding his attitude toward Nufal and the Kwellstan Sect.”
Although Daykash Breymer agreed, he still seemed dissatisfied, and Halor continued, “Once Dacian is accepted into the priesthood, his potential for ambition can be distracted by serving our society. He values the order and greatness of Nufalese society.”
Growing stern, Breymer said, “He will not be allowed to enter the Nebakarz priesthood.”
The statement stunned Halor. How was he supposed to deflect Dacian from his life’s dream? Why would the priesthood spurn such talent?
Breymer said, “We will have no rys. The Grand Lumin has said so himself. This place must wither and we will salvage what we can. The rys must always believe that they are beneath the tabre because they are not born of the homeland. This is our official policy now, but it only makes clear the truth in our hearts.”
Halor said nothing as he absorbed the knowledge of how much the tabre had come to dislike what had happened in Jingten. The grand experiment of expanding the tabre range had resulted in a subspecies, and the impurity was not going to be tolerated. Having lived and worked so closely with the emerging rys population over the last four centuries, Halor felt much more comfortable around the rys than his associates in Nufal, but he now realized that, deep in his heart, he considered himself superior, cleaner, better than all of them.
The Daykash understood that he had placed Halor in a difficult position. In a supportive fraternal manner, Breymer said, “An excuse will eventually present itself that will allow us to deny Dacian a Nebakarz education and ordainment. I will strive to separate you from the ultimate disappointment of your brash pupil. Proceed, for now, as if Dacian is on course for the priesthood.”
Halor felt a brief urge to argue on Dacian’s behalf, but Halor knew not to contradict the Kwellstan leadership. He served his Sect faithfully and believed utterly in the authority of the Grand Lumin. Halor had his career to consider as well. The difficulty of his assignment in Jingten would be rewarded in due time.
“Such a pity,” he murmured. “Dacian had much to contribute.”