When Dacian beheld Kwellstan in person for the first time, he clung to his dream of elevating the rys like it was a ragged possession salvaged from a burned home. He refused to believe the tabre were only hateful when he looked upon their wondrous capital. Skilled civilization had sculpted the city from the wild heart of Nufal. The giant Temple of the Mind, or Altular, penetrated the forest canopy and proclaimed the immense glory of the Kwellstan Sect. The sides of the conical building were quartered into tiers and smooth except for steep steps cut into the south facing side. Built of gray glittery granite, the Altular met the sky as a mountain conceived of pure geometry.
The Altular overlooked the famous Plaza of the Waters, and across from the temple was the ancient school of the Kwellstan Sect, the Atocha. Dacian regarded the four spiraling towers of the Atocha with a troubled heart. For decades he had never doubted that he would learn in its chambers, but his rash explosion of emotion had swept away his certainty.
Wistfully Dacian gazed at the Atocha as he entered the city in the wagon that had conveyed him like a rare animal from Jingten. Enchantments throughout the school tickled his senses, but the swelling force of magic emanating from the Altular roused his curiosity much more. The magic woven into the granite blocks of the temple reminded Dacian of the Jingten Tower, but the spells were older and tuned to the world far beyond the city. The Altular was supposedly connected to the star realm of the Great Divinity, and Dacian thought it might be true. From the distant platform at the top of the temple, Dacian felt the structure’s power rising into the sky. Every four years, the Grand Lumin and his inner circle performed the Quadreni ceremony to maintain the alignment of Nufal with the Great Divinity.
Often Dacian had daydreamed that he might be the first rys to take part in that ceremony. His dreams were not so vivid anymore. Daykash Breymer had taken him to Kwellstan so that the Grand Lumin might judge him. Dacian hoped to salvage his education as a Nebakarz, but even that stubborn hope cast no light upon his dark future.
Anxiety replaced the joy he had always expected to feel upon finally reaching Kwellstan. Dacian tried to muster the will to reach out to the tabre as his kin, but it was difficult considering the tabre seemed glad that Breymer had seized custody of him.
Dacian found himself missing Halor. His old master was all that he had known, and the aloof suspicion of the Daykash was a poor replacement. As a tribute to Halor, Dacian resolved to honor his lessons about the value of an ordered society. Dacian accepted that he had behaved badly during the punishment of Onja, even if he did not agree with it, and society had a right to correct him. Two weeks ago in Jingten when the Daykash had decided that Dacian was to be taken to Kwellstan for what he called a review, Dacian had submitted himself to the Daykash and cooperated during the trip.
Although genuinely apprehensive about his meeting with the Grand Lumin, Dacian dwelled on his worry for Onja. She had been left in Jingten as the ward of Halor. Dacian suspected that she would not be receptive to the structured guidance of his old master. She was the freest spirit he had ever known.
Dacian crossed Kwellstan on a grand tree-lined avenue. Its cobbles took a meandering path because the road had been built around the original trees of the ancient forest. The elder maples, beeches, ashes, and oaks had lost most of their leaves in the freezing rain storm that had swept through the valley. Red and golden leaves littered the white paving stones and scurried back to their tree roots on little swirls of wind. A smattering of browning leaves still lingered on the branches that clattered in the cool breeze. These deciduous trees that were baring themselves for winter were eerie to Dacian compared to the evergreens of the Jingten Valley that faced the drastic alpine cold with green resolve.
The sky above the thinning forest canopy was crisp and blue. The rain had moved on and the sun still granted the afternoon some warmth. The air was heavy with the scent of moist woodland and the lake. Compared to the high alpine land that had bred Dacian, the air in Nufal was thick and soft. It caressed his skin and filled his lungs with easy vitality.
Everything here was different, especially the waters. Lake Kwellstan swelled against his perception invitingly. The icy deeps of Lake Nin were like the snarl of a hungry wolf compared to the homey purring spirit that came from Lake Kwellstan. This valley was alive with its waters that percolated up in many gushing springs that fed the lake. The strongest springs had been channeled and pooled in the Plaza of the Waters. Kwellstan was famous for its healing and revitalizing spring waters, and the plaza sparkled with fountains and pools and channels that led to the lake. Bathers, both human and tabre, came from all over Nufal to experience the natural magic of the Kwellstan waters. They were a treasure that sustained the city in many ways.
As Dacian reached the heart of the city, he could hear the gurgling pleasantness in the plaza. Flowers and shrubs lined the channels and ringed the bathing pools that descended in a series of flowing steps. The flower beds were now withered and drab, but the evergreen hedges remained merry. Tabre enjoyed the three largest pools closest to the spring source and a few humans defied the autumnal chill and bathed in the smaller satellite pools.
Close to the monumental buildings of the Nebakarz, Dacian saw Lake Kwellstan. Beyond the blue waters, there was the virgin forest of the valley. Some stubborn clusters of gold and orange leaves still brightened the forest. North of the forest rose Mount Hendrefu, and at its base spread the terraced fields and orchards that surrounded the city of Alicharat.
Although the Nufalese landscape was more subtle than the colossal grandeur of the Jingten Valley, Dacian still appreciated its beauty. This land was lush, fertile, and in harmony with the cities of tabre and humans that occupied it. There was balance. The land gave of its bounty and the Nufalese respected its wild places and let them be. Music, art, trade, schools, homes with children, and a hundred other vibrant activities cluttered the city. Dacian opened his senses to all of it. He heard humans throughout the city speaking to each other. The laughter of playing children touched his mind, and he envied their carefree joy on the sunny day. In places, the tabre mingled with the humans, but they were mostly segregated into their own neighborhoods. The tabre were more reserved than the humans who made up two-thirds of Kwellstan’s population. The tabre talked less and thought more, Dacian judged. Many that he observed were meditating or working quietly on their crafts and trades, doing their work with magic as much as with their hands.
A few sharp minds were focusing back on Dacian, and he resisted the urge to slouch down in the wagon. The tabre bathing in the Plaza of the Waters stood up and watched him as the Daykash’s caravan crossed the low bridge that led into the Altular. Bright droplets of water fell from their glossy dark skin that was wet with a rainbow sheen. Dacian heard many of them gasp.
Most tabre had never seen a rys, and now centuries had gone by and allowed the tabre to imagine the rys as freakishly different. I do not feel so different, Dacian lamented.
Entering the Altular was a relief. The bridge went directly between two gushing fountains filled with sculptures and into the temple. The cool dark of the hulking stone building was soothing after the bouncing random energy of the plaza. Dacian welcomed the thick enchantments of the building that insulated him from the prying minds of the tabre populace.
Dacian focused his intellect on the Altular and studied the massive enchantments that the Nebakarz had imbued into each block. For millennia magic masters had added to the spells of the temple, bringing it into nearly perfect sync with the cosmos. The Nebakarz reached for the Great Divinity and in each new moment of understanding they became more powerful.
Within the temple, great vaulted chambers loomed above Dacian as the wagons and riders stopped in the cavernous entry hall. Spheres of glowing white crystals hovered high above, bobbing gently in the air and casting their soft light. Balconies overlooked the entry hall and revealed many levels within the temple. Jewels encrusted the golden rails of the balconies and more jewels wound around the glossy black marble pillars that lined the hall. Rubies brooded like bloody eyes in the enchanted light.
As soon as the wagon stopped, Dacian sprang down to the floor. Despite his circumstances, he was excited to actually be inside the Altular. The intoxicating power inside the temple reaffirmed his desire to be a Nebakarz priest.
I will not be denied, he thought with sudden confidence. He was worthy and the Grand Lumin would see it.
As Breymer emerged from his coach, servants poured out from several doorways along the pillared walls. Bearing cups of wine, the tabre servants clothed in simple black tunics and pants brought a drink to each of the returning Nebakarz priests and acolytes. Even Dacian was offered a cup, and he took the delicate ceramic vessel and nodded appreciatively to the servant. A deep red glaze covered the cup that had been thrown on a wheel by a tabre potter who supplemented the skill of his hands with magic. A simple little spell kept the wafer-thin walls of the cup from breaking.
Dacian sipped the wine. It was white and fruity. Much of the essence of Nufal flowed into his body as the wine passed down his throat. The sun that had ripened the grapes and the nutrients and water that the roots had drawn up and placed into the fruit were captured in the wine. Each drop upon his tongue educated him about the land of Nufal.
Dacian observed the Daykash at the head of the caravan. Along with the wine, servants had brought a basin of water and a towel so that he could cleanse his hands and face. Hurriedly, he then drank some wine but did not linger over it. Then the Daykash started toward Dacian. The rys lowered his cup but he did not lower his eyes.
Breymer’s unfriendly face looked even more severe than usual. The gold lettering on his red robe was brighter inside the temple. A slight shimmer of magic glittered over each symbol.
“You will be taken to your chambers. You will stay there until summoned.” Breymer spoke as if his tongue were a sharp blade chopping vegetables.
Dacian said, “As you command, my Daykash. I am honored to be housed in the Altular.”
Breymer ignored the comment, but, before he turned away, Dacian asked quickly if he would see the Grand Lumin soon.
“The Grand Lumin has all of time to contemplate. He will summon you when the right moment arrives and not before,” Breymer answered and then hurried away with his attendant priests.
An acolyte who had overseen most of Dacian’s needs on the trip from Jingten stepped forward. “Come,” he said, keeping his words to a minimum as always.
Dacian followed the acolyte across the courtyard as servants came out to stable the horses. Every pair of eyes flashed in his direction.
Levitation shafts were placed between the pillars, and Dacian followed his guide up three levels. The hall that they emerged onto was carpeted in thick red wool woven with subtle designs of clouds, all in varying shades of red. Every so often, a balcony broke through the polished granite walls and Dacian could see into the entry hall. Below, the horses were being led away, and they looked small even from just three levels up.
His acolyte keeper said nothing. Dacian thought it would have been polite if he had given him some commentary about the temple. He felt like he was at the center of all of civilized history. For the first time in a long time, Dacian felt ignorant. In Jingten he had become so familiar with everything, the land, the residents, the spells that he had almost believed that there was little else to learn.
I shall learn much here, he decided, and his taciturn guide could not prevent that. Dacian tried not to resent that he was always being watched, guarded really. Halor had taught him to obey the authority of the Nebakarz, and Dacian would have to earn the trust of his chosen brothers again.
The tabre acolyte stopped at what appeared to be a blank wall. He placed his hand on the smooth stone, and, after a white sparkle of energy snapped around his finger tips, the stone transformed into a door made from a curious alloy. Dacian touched the door lightly. The metal was a blend of iron and silver. Strong and pretty.
Dacian thanked the acolyte who did not enter the chamber with him. The tabre walked away wordlessly. The door closed on its own and even from the inside it resumed the appearance of smooth stone.
Looking around his cell, Dacian saw the meager furnishings allotted an acolyte. The room was long and narrow with a single bed, table, stool, and a cupboard. Enchanted crystals embedded in the ceiling provided an even white light. He immediately missed having a window, but then he analyzed the outer wall and smiled. Walking to the end of the room, he touched the wall and activated the spell set in the stone. A shimmering circle formed and then its milky light cleared and he could see outside. The images were a little watery but it was good to see the sun, sky and the surrounding city. And it was amazing to be seeing through stone. Dacian was not casting forth his mind and remote viewing. He was actually looking through a spell that made the thick granite clear.
After studying the spell and activating it several times, Dacian was satisfied that he knew how to recreate the effect. He hoped that he would have the chance to try it sometime. Weary after his long trip, he draped his hooded cloak over the end of the bed and then sat and removed his boots.
To rest would be logical, but his troubles pressed on his mind. He wanted to see the Grand Lumin and set things right as soon as possible. Frowning, he walked to the hidden door. The thick carpet was soft against his bare feet.
Dacian touched the stone wall and found that the spell that operated the door was locked. Confirming this suspicion hurt, and anger stirred in his heart. Do not get angry, he commanded himself.
Dejected, he went back to the bed and stretched out. He was sick of being a prisoner, but Halor had told him that the Nebakarz would test him in this way.
Dacian tried to keep from thinking about forcing the door open. He moved his tongue across the roof of his mouth and contemplated the wine that he had drunk. Its foreign flavor was foreboding and made him intimately realize that he was not part of this land.