The Daykash stepped out of the levitation shaft into the observatory. Behind him two priests holding Onja rose from the shaft. Breymer grabbed Onja and hauled her onto the floor. She resisted him until she felt his paralysis spell crackle over her nerves. Daylight spilled through the skylights. Breymer noted how the light glistened like blue raindrops on Onja’s sleek black hair. He shook her rigid body and his lip curled with disgust before he shoved her back to the priests who caught her arms.
They tossed her in one of the cells that lined the outer walls of the observatory. She hit the wall and slid down. The paralysis spell ended, and she lifted her head and regarded Breymer with patient hostility. He slammed the door in her face.
“Only open this door on my specific order. No food. No water. Nothing for her,” the Daykash told the priests.
Breymer descended to his quarters one level below, where he found Halor waiting for him. Halor immediately sought to regain control. “Daykash, you should not have bothered yourself with that errant female. I was quite aware of her return and was planning to deal with her,” Halor said.
“Something this important demanded my attention,” Breymer said coolly. With a wave of his hand, the copper bound wooden doors to his suite opened soundlessly.
Halor followed him inside. The Daykash walked across the foyer and into a wide receiving room. The interior walls were lined with benches upholstered in red leather. Three windows looked out onto the lake and town with the snowy mountains in the background. Breymer took in the vista of Jingten. He had to agree with Halor that it was a fine town.
A pity the Great Divinity cursed our loins with rys for coming here, he thought. The Kwellstan Sect had been so certain that colonizing the Rysamand Mountains would add to their power, but they had not entirely predicted the outcome.
Halor stepped closer to Breymer’s back. The Daykash’s white hair hung just past his high collar. “There was no need to bother yourself with that female,” Halor said.
The Daykash whirled. “Yes there was. I wanted all of Jingten to see that the Nebakarz are not going to tolerate the behavior of this female. My rank signifies the depth of the disapproval.”
Although Halor disliked having his local authority shoved aside, he realized the futility of protesting the matter with the Daykash. What was done was done. Instead he asked Breymer what manner of punishment he should impose on the female.
Breymer brooded before answering. Halor grew more unsettled. He could feel the blame radiating from his superior. Finally the Daykash said, “How did you let that rys get so far away?”
Terribly aware of his failure, Halor meekly said that he had not immediately noticed her absence. She was just a young rys that nobody liked or paid attention to. Then she was gone.
The Daykash complained, “Who knows what she discovered about herself wandering loose among all those humans. She must be well aware of her superiority by now. We can never let her go free again. We have worked too hard to teach these rys that they are lesser because they were not born of sacred Nufal. We can’t let her influence the others.” The Daykash pointed toward the ceiling and continued, “She has power.”
“Surely you overestimate her,” Halor said. “She is untutored and I can’t recall that I have ever seen her cast a spell.”
“I feel it in her,” the Daykash grumbled suspiciously. He glanced once more at the ceiling and white light flickered in his pupils. “But she is not the main issue here. Master Halor, did you notice that your pupil, Dacian, who is supposed to be confined, was in town?”
Oh miserable day, Halor thought. He admitted that he had noticed.
Breymer continued, “And Dacian actually questioned my seizure of the female. I think this presents me with the opportunity I have been waiting for.”
“And what is that, Daykash?” Halor asked.
“Let us speak in our minds,” the Daykash announced.
“As you wish,” Halor responded and moved onto a bench.
The Daykash seated himself as well. Halor was disturbed that the Daykash would want to communicate with this level of security as if he feared that someone was eavesdropping.
Now settled into a mental connection, Breymer said, “I have needed a way to make Dacian overstep his bounds and give us a reason to deny him entry to the priesthood. All of this has gone on long enough.”
Halor wanted to protest. He sincerely believed that Dacian deserved to be a Nebakarz priest. Dacian had the power and the talent, but rys had been deemed too volatile and alien to be welcomed into tabre society. Eighty years ago it had seemed a reasonable plan to accept Dacian as an acolyte and delay rejection. But Dacian had excelled and now expected to go to Kwellstan and complete his training.
The disappointment stung Halor, who regretted that such an able Nebakarz student had not been a proper tabre. “Daykash, I have tried to steer him from ambition and instill in him the importance of following our laws,” Halor defended. “And I believe that I have succeeded. Dacian places great value on order and civilization. Perhaps you and the Grand Lumin consider him more of a threat than he is.”
Breymer conceded that Halor had done a good job quelling the natural powers within Dacian. Once they had deemed it better to accept Dacian within their fold and control him instead of risking the possibility of him going wild if left adrift in rys society. But the Grand Lumin had rethought that decision since then.
“Master Halor, I know you are close to Dacian,” the Daykash said. “I even see that you like him although it has not kept you from your duty to the Kwellstan Sect, and I appreciate that. Perhaps your affection for him keeps you from seeing the threat in him as I do. But I shall put a test to him and we will see how well he keeps his place.”
Halor could not imagine what the test would be. “What do you propose?”
“Because this wandering female needs discipline I plan to punish her severely and judge Dacian by his reaction,” Breymer answered.
“Yes. And her punishment will be public. She shall endure the phlia-mel,” the Daykash said.
Halor physically gasped and the magical white light in his eyes flashed sharply. He stood up and shook his head. Breaking the silence, Halor said aloud, “Daykash, you can’t!”
“I must,” Breymer replied.
“But it is barbarous,” Halor insisted. “No one has endured such a brutish thing in a thousand years.”
The light diminished from Breymer’s eyes. He seemed extraordinarily calm considering that Halor had just disputed his decision.
Trying to be reasonable, Breymer said, “Halor, I know the tabre set aside such methods a long time ago, but they had their place once. In the younger days of our race, our passions were as strong as our magic. Discipline needed to be imposed so that learning and civilization could develop. Perhaps these rys need this to learn their place. The rys are a failed experiment. Their odd mutation is an embarrassment to the Sect. They must be kept under control.”
Halor sputtered a few words, needing to protest more, but he failed. He knew that he could not override the authority of the Daykash.
“Do you really think anything less would teach this Onja some obedience?” Breymer said.
When Halor did not answer, the Daykash continued, “Inform the town that this female will be punished tomorrow at the gates of this tower and the rys are to come witness this.”
Sadness settled into Halor’s bones. Eventually he sighed and said that he would make the arrangements, but obedience brought no comfort. Great Divinity, forgive us for reviling our creation, he thought.
Halor was surprised that Dacian had not asked any questions. The young rys followed his Master silently as they exited the tower. Halor hoped that proximity to his Master would keep Dacian from acting up during the sick display.
Priests, acolytes, and servants were gathering outside the tower. Stray snowflakes swirled on the air. Many rys had come from the town as well. Most of them had walked but some had ridden horses, come in carts, or paddled across the lake. Small boats clogged the docks, and horses and carts were parked along the shore for a considerable distance.
The Daykash and his attendants were already presiding over the crowd. Acolytes kept a wide circle clear in front of Breymer where the accused would be presented for her punishment. Halor took his place in the front row with Dacian.
Dacian scanned the crowd of rys and was glad that his parents were not there. He would have been hurt if they had come for this sad affair after ignoring all of his pleasant invitations. Dacian looked next at the Daykash, who stood stiff and grim-faced. His hands were tucked into the sleeves of his glittering, high-collared robe.
Halor quietly told Dacian that he did not agree with what was about to happen.
Although Dacian appreciated the comment, he was too troubled to respond. Instead, he focused his mind up the tower. Nebakarz priests were removing Onja from her cell and escorting her to the levitation shaft. Dacian observed that she appeared calm, almost serene, as if her captors could not truly contain her. Dacian took some comfort from her brave demeanor.
As Onja was brought down the levitation shaft, the crowd of hundreds of rys watched the gaping doors of the tower.
She emerged with downcast eyes and a tabre priest holding each arm. The wind caught her plain brown cloak and flung it back from her perfect body and blew strands of unruly black hair across her face. She shook her hair away from her mouth because her hands were not free.
Manacles with cold white warding crystals bound her wrists. Dacian had not expected to see her clamped by a domux. Although he had never seen a domux in use, he had read about the device that was meant to contain the magic of a criminal.
“Master,” he whispered. “Why the domux? She has used no spell against us.”
“It is a normal procedure,” Halor improvised. “Any tabre, or rys, must be so restrained when brought to judgment.”
Dacian analyzed the spell in the enchanted manacles. The crystals were old, but their spell remained quite potent. Despite the strength of the ancient magic, Dacian quickly unraveled their secrets as Onja entered the circle before the Daykash.
Breymer addressed the crowd. “I have summoned you to this judgment so that you would know better the will of the Kwellstan Sect and heed the wisdom of our rule. It has always been the law that no one is to go west from these mountains. Not even I or any Nebakarz priest goes into the west. The exploration and colonization of Ektren is not to be done haphazardly. We did not rush into the Rysamand Mountains four centuries ago, and we shall not rush beyond them without careful consideration. Every part of Ektren, every region, every vale, and hill, and river and stream holds the powers of Nature that we are blessed to have a greater understanding of than any other of the Great Divinity’s creatures. Today I am forced to strongly admonish this young rys female for her reckless wandering, and I thank those who have come to witness this important reminder of the need to follow our laws.”
The Daykash then commanded the priests holding Onja to let her go. They released her arms and stepped back although they remained close enough to reclaim possession of her if need be.
“State your name for all to hear,” Breymer said.
Now Onja raised her gaze, but not to stare defiantly at her tabre judge. She looked at Dacian. “Onja,” she said, loudly and proud.
Dacian met her eyes, surprised but glad that she sought him in her time of trial. He did not dare communicate with magic in front of all the gathered Nebakarz although he had much that he wished to say to her and to ask.
“Do you understand the charge against you, Onja of Jingten?” the Daykash asked.
Onja shifted her eyes slowly toward the Daykash, as if he were a tiresome chore that she could no longer put off. “No,” she replied.
Her obtuse response nettled Breymer despite all the poise and confidence that his powerful position granted him.
“Have you never once in a hundred years been informed of the rule not to leave these mountains?” he demanded, obviously not believing her.
“I have heard the rule but saw no sense in observing that which is unreasonable. You cannot charge me with any crime for traveling upon the world that I was born into. I can go where I please,” Onja said.
Uncomfortable murmurs bubbled through the crowd. Both rys and tabre were quietly shocked by her unapologetic attitude.
“You are mistaken, Onja of Jingten,” the Daykash said sternly. “There are bounds upon this world that you were born into. The Jingten Valley is your land, and there you are meant to stay.”
Although he spoke specifically to Onja, Dacian heard the implied meaning that all rys were meant to stay in the Jingten Valley.
Onja said no more, and the Daykash ordered that the charge be officially read against her. A Nebakarz priest named Dutan stepped forward. He lifted a small wafer thin disc of stone upon which was inscribed the charge. Willful wandering the tabre legal system called it.
Then her sentence was read. She was to endure eight strokes of the phlia-mel. Although rumor had already informed all gathered what the sentence would be, discomfort still rippled through the assembled rys upon hearing the sentence.
A priest, named Angpar who was young and just advanced from being an acolyte, stepped out from behind the Daykash and held out the thin long stick that was split three times at one end where crystals were attached. The thinness of the stick gave it springiness so that its crystal-barbed splinters could deliver a whip-like sting.
Breymer said, “Long centuries ago, before tabre had fully come to master and appreciate the orderly joys of civilization, harsh methods were employed to teach us discipline. I have decided that the use of the phlia-mel has become necessary again because the rys are a young breed and, as this female has shown, have need of discipline.”
No one among the hundreds of rys said anything, but Dacian could feel the collective protest caged all around him. He felt he should say something. Ask for mercy at least, but so many things held him back. Was he wrong to question his elders? Did he want to jeopardize his future as a Nebakarz? Did he have any reason to risk himself on account of this female who ignored the law?
“Begin,” was all the Daykash said, and the two priests who had escorted Onja earlier swiftly grabbed her again and pushed her to her knees. Angpar walked around the trio and regarded his subject. He shook the phlia-mel once so that all could see the spring in the rod, and then he reached down and yanked off her cloak and whipped it aside. He seemed eager to have at her.
Onja’s clothing was meager. She wore only a small vest and shorts and her lower back was already properly exposed. Dacian could see the muscles in her back tense in anticipation of the abuse, but she did not look over her shoulder at her punisher.
Angpar raised the phlia-mel, but his eagerness faded for a moment, and he contemplated his next action as if he suddenly realized that the world would change when he lowered his arm. Then his self righteousness returned and he swung at the rys female hard. The crystal barbs flashed with white light when they struck Onja’s blue skin and her cry mixed with the meaty thwap of the rod hitting her. She lunged forward automatically but her handlers yanked her back in place.
Many rys cried out or gasped, and some turned away, and before anyone could recover from their disgust, Angpar hit her again. The Daykash fixed an emotionless gaze on Onja. Dacian could not see her face but he imagined her grimace.
Dacian looked at Halor urgently. His lips trembled with outrage. “Stop this,” he begged.
“It will be over soon,” Halor said woodenly. His eyes insisted on obedience.
When the third blow fell, Onja’s cry was louder. Dacian heard her take a deep breath to brace herself for the next stroke. As she filled her lungs with this painful gasp, Dacian felt all his rational reasons for standing by collapse like a hillside soaked by torrential rain. He looked at the tabre priests and acolytes lined up on both sides of him. They watched the punishment raptly. Where was their compassion for her suffering? They were all civilized creatures, but Dacian realized that their values did not entirely extend to their much-maligned rys cousins. They would watch Onja endure eight strokes from the phlia-mel and agree with the Daykash that it was necessary and proper. Civilization required order but was brutality the only path to that end?
Angpar gave Onja her fourth stroke. Her sentence was half complete.
“Stop!” Dacian shouted. He rushed forward and felt Halor grab him but he shook him off and moved toward Angpar.
He spun Angpar away from the female and then shoved his chest so that he fell on his butt. Dacian’s magic erupted. The crystals of the phlia-mel disintegrated in three successive blue flashes and the old wood of the rod burst into flames. His next spell cracked the domux and it fell off Onja’s wrists. Its enchanted crystals lost their power and faded to pebbles.
As the tabre holding Onja shifted to intervene with Dacian, he raised both of his hands into their faces. They were swept backwards off their feet by the hot blasting force of his attack spell.
Onja had collapsed forward and she was trying to push herself up but the pain in her back was nearly paralyzing. Purple bleeding blisters ravaged her sleek youthful back. She looked over her shoulder at Dacian. Agony twisted her tear-streaked face, but gratitude radiated from her eyes, and he could believe that she would honor him forever.
“Onja,” he whispered, casting his mind toward her thoughts, her soul. He felt her lifeforce. It was hot and powerful, too powerful for her to have endured this gross mistreatment.
Distracted entirely by the sight of his downtrodden damsel, Dacian had no shield spell ready when the magic of the Daykash netted him. The spells of many tabre priests piled on next, and Dacian could not move. His legs began to wobble and the blood in his veins became hot and painful.
Dacian summoned his power and began to untangle the spells gripping his body. In this crisis, he suddenly realized that he could throw off their attacks. He was very powerful. He would teach them not to abuse a rys female for a petty infraction.
Halor was shouting for him and pushing his way through the tabre. But it was not the voice of his Master that got through to Dacian’s enraged mind. It was her voice.
“Do not fight them,” Onja said. “Not yet.”
Dacian looked at her again. She had managed to roll onto her side, and her call to patience intrigued him. Not yet? What does she mean? Dacian thought. Even without an answer, he would do as she asked. He relaxed and the spells of the tabre bit into him vindictively. Defenseless again, Dacian crumbled in pain.
Halor put his arms around his pupil. “Enough!” he called. “Enough. Stop!” Then in a softer voice he spoke to Dacian. “Yield. Do nothing, I beg you.”
Dacian nodded and was not ungrateful for the protective embrace of his Master. The tabre spells backed away although he could feel their powers still roiling around him, ready to engage again.
Halor said, “My Daykash, I ask you to be merciful. The citizens of Jingten have seen justice and know now of discipline. Call the female’s sentence complete and end this.”
Fiery magic blazed from Breymer’s eyes but he no longer looked angry. He had gotten what he wanted. With much magnanimity, he declared to the crowd that had retreated from the upheaval that the punishment was done. The whole affair had unsettled the startled rys far more than it had shown them the wisdom of Nebakarz rule. Sensing the agitation, the Daykash decided to withdraw. He ordered that Dacian be taken into custody and that Onja remain confined as well.
Halor looked very sad when two priests yanked Dacian away from him, but Dacian spent little time considering the dismay of his Master. He looked at the rys beyond the rings of tabre. Their eyes were straining to get a glimpse of him through the press of priests, and Dacian could hear his name being repeated through their ranks. They were proud that he had acted to defend the female. Dacian could feel their approval for what he had done, and the joy of it was overwhelming. He had not realized how much he wanted approval until he felt it in such quantity. He could also sense that they wanted to help him. Many of them cared that he was being hauled into custody by those he had spent his life striving to join.
Onja was right to tell me not to fight, he realized and was glad that he was not causing the violence to escalate.
He went back into the tower without protest. The hostility of the tabre around him seared his senses. They were excited about no longer having to blunt their disdain for him with civility.
Although Dacian had naively expected to be taken to his living quarters, he was instead taken to the observatory level. Dacian had previously regarded the small rooms that adjoined the wide circular observatory platform as private meditation cells, but now they served as a different sort of cell. One of the two tabre who had escorted him to the observatory pulled open a cell door and stood aside.
Dacian looked the tabre in the eyes. He was a decade or two younger than Dacian, and his suddenly superior position to the delinquent rys made him haughty. But Dacian confronted him with equal pride, and the contemptuous expression of the tabre faltered as he realized that Dacian was choosing to submit.
Dacian entered the cell and the door closed behind him. White light flashed around the door as a tabre placed a sealing spell on it. The cell was round like a tube in a wasps’ nest. Rough beige plaster coated the walls, and a spider was in residence at the center point of the little domed ceiling. Its web hung patiently in this normally unoccupied bit of the tower. The spider did not move.
Outside, Dacian heard many tabre milling around and talking excitedly. He overheard them boasting that it was their magic that had subdued the wild rys, but other tabre admonished the braggarts and said that it was the strength of the Daykash that had curtailed the rogue.
Dacian scowled. He knew that he had hardly fought against them. They sounded so smug about containing him.
Dismally Dacian started to realize that the consequences were going to be serious for him. Suddenly not knowing what to expect of his future left him with a lonely drifting feeling.
He sensed when Onja was brought up to the observatory. Her presence both excited and dismayed him. He reached out to her lifeforce with his mind. He had hoped that she would be released. The tabre placed her in a cell next to him. Dacian could feel her pain. Once the door was closed and she was alone, she sank to her knees and placed her hands on her lower back. Dacian heard her moan. Her pain was deep. With his mind’s eye, he observed how she licked her lips and summoned her magic. She began to heal her own body. Her magic moved methodically through the damaged tissues, renewing flesh, clotting the bleeding, and infusing her flesh with energy needed for rapid repair.
Halor’s voice tore Dacian away from his observation of Onja. Outside the cell, Halor was commanding the tabre priests and acolytes to return to their duties. The observatory was not meant for the blathering of an excited mob.
Halor was obeyed and he was the last to step into the levitation shaft and leave the observatory. Dacian watched him go down one level and enter the quarters of Daykash Breymer. Dacian intended to observe their conversation, even if they used wardings to block him. He had no desire to keep a respectful distance from the thoughts of his elders as they surely discussed his fate.
His focus snapped back to Onja. She was sitting cross-legged now. Her mind was open and inviting. She wanted to converse with him.
“You will know what they decide about you soon enough,” Onja said pleasantly.
“True,” Dacian admitted. “I am sorry for what happened.”
“You do not have to apologize for them,” Onja said.
“I guess I mean that I did not expect the tabre to be so cruel. I have never seen such a thing before. They value order and civilization,” Dacian lamented.
“They value order and civilization when it controls us,” Onja said.
Dacian did not immediately respond. Her boldness shook the foundations of his thoughts. But he wanted to be better than a bitter brute in the face of prejudice, and he returned to his beliefs. “What do you hope to accomplish with your defiance? The tabre will not learn to respect rys if we act below the standards of society,” he said.
His challenging question appeared to sadden her, and she took a moment before answering that she had not really thought about accomplishing anything. She had only wanted the dignity of her freedom.
Dacian contemplated her answer. He had never really considered that the rys were not free. Their second class status had always been such a blaring difficulty that he had not noticed the essential truth of rys life. Keeping to their places also meant that rys were not supposed to go anywhere.
But I was changing that. I was going to go to Kwellstan. Become a part of the hierarchy. Break the trail for others. What have I done? he lamented. After defending Onja how could he possibly be accepted by the Nebakarz?
Onja read his thoughts. He had such lofty goals. Awkwardly she tried to console him. “Maybe this will not be so bad for you.”
He was startled by her comment because he realized that he had left his mind open to her. The intimacy felt strange. It provided an unfamiliar freedom. Dacian did not have to focus on dogma and strive for the correct answers with her.
Dacian moaned. He had not imagined that such a day as this would come. His confinement confused him, but he resolved to be patient and keep his mind away from the door and its sealing spell. Breaking free would only make things worse for him.
To Onja, he admitted, “I don’t know what my life will be like now.”
“Then you have never had so many choices,” she said.