The Drathatarlane Sect is jealous of what we seek in Jingten. The day will come when they come out of hiding to take our secrets. ~ Daykash Fane, 1951 Kwellstan calendar
Lost in thought, Alloi braided her hair and stared into the branches of an elder maple tree. It grew alongside the stone tower house she shared with her family in Kwellstan. Yellow leaves dangled on twiggy fingertips over the balcony railing. More leaves were scattered in wet golden piles on the balcony, knocked down by the recent rain. The breeze sauntering through the treetops was mild now and a pleasant surprise after the snarling chill of the storm.
Tempet leaned in the doorway. Alloi could sense his impatience. His feelings and thoughts were easy for her to read. He rarely blocked her out of his mind, and never his heart.
Alloi pinned her braided hair into a coil at the back of her head. The braided black hair was sleek and shiny like the cast iron links of a chain. She rubbed her shapely shoulders that were left exposed by her sleeveless leather dress.
She considered the challenge of maintaining diplomatic friendliness while gaining information about the rys that had just entered the city. Officially she and her brother lived in Kwellstan as ambassadors. The Kwellstan Sect outwardly welcomed Tempet and Alloi for making their summer home in Kwellstan, but no one actually believed that the hospitality was genuine.
Tempet said, “Let us enter trance and observe this rys directly. He has a strange lifeforce.”
“We can’t cast our minds so blatantly into the Altular. If we violate their temple, they will accuse the Drathatarlane Sect of trying to control them,” Alloi said.
Tempet rolled his black eyes. “They need control. Look what they have done to Nufal. It is awash in humans. The Kwellstan think they are almost gods to these people and it has made them reckless,” he said.
“I think the humans are invigorating,” she confessed. Even if they lived short lives and had no magic, she still found that they were strong and clever. Their emotions and unpredictability were stimulating as well.
“You like all the animals,” Tempet muttered.
Alloi frowned disapprovingly but did not make an issue of it. Walking up to Tempet and leaning close, she said, “We will go to the Altular and demand to see this rys.”
“Not very subtle,” Tempet remarked.
“Ask to see the rys,” she corrected and smiled mischievously.
Alloi went inside and strolled to her open closet. She perused her garments. “It is a reasonable request,” she continued. “A rys has never been brought here before. Of course we would want to meet him.”
Tempet swaggered away from the door and draped his hard body onto a lavender and yellow couch.
Alloi slid out of her dress and selected a conservative cloth gown that covered her arms and had a high collar. The gray wool was enhanced with ultra fine silver fibers to make it sparkle. After donning the dress, she asked Tempet if he was going to change. He wore plain wool breeches and a black linen tunic that was wrinkling before her eyes.
“This will do,” he said.
“No,” Alloi said. She stalked into the adjoining room where Tempet slept and started looking through his closet. She returned with a long black coat trimmed in red leather that was reminiscent of Kwellstan colors. “At least put this on,” she said.
Tempet got up and obediently extended his arms so she could pull the coat onto him. “It does not matter what I look like,” he insisted while buttoning the coat. “The Grand Lumin will accommodate us because of you. The only beautiful tabre females are born in Drathatarlane.”
Alloi enjoyed the compliment even if it was unfair. She was aware that many males found her attractive, but it was hardly true that Drathatarlane was the sole source of feminine beauty.
She brushed Tempet’s bangs from his face and seemed to be satisfied with his appearance. “Let us go,” she said.
They clasped hands and trotted onto the balcony. As they swung their legs over the railing, they cast levitation spells and floated to the ground in a faint sphere of white light. They ran toward the Altular like a couple of tablings playing a game.
When Tempet and Alloi reached the yawning entrance of the temple, the day was fading and the towers of the Atocha cast long shadows across the Plaza of the Waters. Alloi dipped her fingers into the nearest fountain and dabbed the cool spring water onto her warm neck. The blessed water, purified by the heart of the living world, tingled on her skin. The twins exchanged looks before entering the temple. When they passed through the invisible warding, the pleasant burble and flow of the waters outside were silenced. Tempet and Alloi walked across the vast chamber with their heads high. They asked no leave to enter, and they ignored the tabre priests, acolytes, and servants who observed them.
The twins enjoyed the respect that the Kwellstan Sect tabre grudgingly granted them. Their innate disdain born of long rivalry could not deny the truth of Tempet and Alloi’s extraordinary powers. Tempet and Alloi won any contest put to them, be it physical, mental, or magical. For over one hundred years, the Drathatarlane leadership had groomed them to be the first ambassadors to Kwellstan. They had been sent to Kwellstan both as a challenge and a warning that the Drathatarlane Sect meant to reclaim the crown of respect among tabre.
Striding through the Altular, Tempet and Alloi were reminded of their great purpose to revive their Sect. Over the last two thousand years the Kwellstan Sect seemed to have flourished more. Kwellstan priests devised new spells of increasing complexity. Their buildings grew taller and stronger. Their minds saw farther across Ektren. Tempet and Alloi knew that their birth was viewed as a renewal of their Sect. The Eschalam had overseen their birth in the Pen’dalem, the great temple of the Drathatarlane Sect. All their lives Drathatarlane elders had taught the twins that they were destined to prove their Sect superior, and the twins believed it.
Opposite the temple entrance a set of golden doors confronted them. The metal was sculpted to look like a waterfall, and a spell enhanced the gold so that it shimmered like moving water. Tempet raised a hand and tugged at the doors with the force of his mind. Silently the doors opened onto a circular chamber. The twins stepped onto the disc of white crystal and floated upward. They passed twenty levels before hopping out of the shaft.
On this level red shades covered glow crystals. Red tapestries that depicted constellations draped the polished black marble walls, and thick blood red rugs muffled the footsteps of the two approaching priests. Their robes with stiff high collars, tight sleeves, and special gold lettering designated them as attendants of the Grand Lumin.
“We would speak with the Grand Lumin,” Alloi said matter-of-factly.
The eyes of one of the priests glowed with his magic as he conferred mentally with his master. After a moment, he gestured for Tempet and Alloi to follow.
They passed through seven unfurnished chambers before the priests opened the Grand Lumin’s audience chamber. The wizened old tabre sat upon a plain stone platform with black cushions. He wore flowing red robes, striking because of their lack of adornment. Two spheres of milky crystal hovered close to his knees. They looked like giant replicas of his blank all-white eyes that stared unblinking from his hairless head.
Over a century ago, the Grand Lumin had given up the physical sight of his eyes upon ascending to the leadership of the Kwellstan Sect. His magic alone supported his vision, and he looked upon creation without the distraction of images bombarding his eyes.
Tempet and Alloi bowed to him and the attendant priests left them alone with the Grand Lumin.
They studied each other in silence. The perception of the Grand Lumin absorbed the potent presence of Tempet and Alloi. He knew the hopes that the Drathatarlane Sect pinned on these two prodigies. He understood why their birth had aroused the ambitions of the Drathatarlane Sect that had been beaten back in the Sect War two thousand years earlier.
Despite his admiration of the twins’ talents, the faith of the Grand Lumin in the superiority of his Sect remained solid. The limited philosophy of the Drathatarlane would always hold them back. They had been utterly foolish in their attempt to stomp out the Kwellstan Sect when it first broke from the shackles of Drathatarlane rule. Knowing that tabre power and intelligence would thrive through exploration, the founders of the Kwellstan Sect had expanded across the Valley of Nufal and even welcomed humans into their society to further energize their civilization.
Finally forced to accept the practicality of peace, the Drathatarlane tabre had hunkered in their mountain city and clung to their belief that they could develop tabre power by remaining rooted in the core homeland of the species. Drathatarlane was located nearest to the place where tabre had first flowered into their magic. Staying near the creative center, the Drathatarlane believed, would keep them connected to the purest magical gifts of the Great Divinity. The Grand Lumin could only snicker when he wondered how well that pursuit was going for his rivals.
The Grand Lumin was further amused to have the best of Drathatarlane before him. The twins were so special they were not even ranked as Nebakarz priests. They were a class unto themselves. Such marvelous specimens were worthy of the Grand Lumin’s attention. He began his mental probing.
Alloi withdrew her mind from Tempet as she circled her mental powers to defend herself. Tempet did the same. Although he reveled in his youth, he knew when to respect an elder. The Grand Lumin would try to penetrate Tempet’s thoughts like frost sinking into the cracks of a mountain.
It was always this way when they met with the Grand Lumin. Alloi knew that the Grand Lumin used his offense as a defense. By occupying her and Tempet, they were unable to peer into his thoughts. Alloi was particularly adept at mindreading. She had attempted to do it the very first time she had met with the Grand Lumin. It had been a foolish thing to do. She had not succeeded and she had revealed her capabilities.
Eventually, the Grand Lumin relented. The burning white light receded from the eyes of all three tabre, and the Grand Lumin cleared his gritty throat. His old skin stretched over his lips in his version of a smile.
“We are never to trust each other, my little lamblings,” he said, using his favorite endearment for them.
Alloi could not help liking the term. She wanted to see him in a grandfatherly fashion but knew better. The bitter history of the Sect War shaped his attitude, and they would never be as kin.
Alloi said. “Some would say it is rude how you test us.”
“Sister, be not so bold with our host,” Tempet scolded.
“Ah, but who is to be bold if not you?” the Grand Lumin said and raised a finger and pointed blindly in their direction. “And who is to test you if not me?”
“We learn much from our encounters with you, Grand Lumin,” Alloi said.
The elderly tabre nodded, seeming somewhat satisfied by her statement. “Now, I am forced to ask why have you come to me?”
“Grand Lumin, I think you could guess,” Alloi teased.
Folding his arms into his voluminous sleeves, he said, “Yes, I can guess. You have come to see the rys.”
“Grand Lumin,” Tempet said. “We observed him being carted here like he was a prisoner. What has he done?”
“The details of that are not important,” the Grand Lumin said.
“Is he powerful?” Alloi asked and tilted her head quizzically.
“He has power, yes. I thought it best to segregate him from the other rys. So as to keep order,” the Grand Lumin revealed.
“Do the rys trouble you?” Tempet asked.
Alloi detected the faintest ripple within the Grand Lumin’s mind when Tempet asked his question. She had to restrain herself from probing blatantly for more detail. She suspected that something important about the rys had just darted across the Grand Lumin’s thoughts, and it had not been pleasant. He did not answer Tempet’s question.
“Grand Lumin, We are so very curious. May we see this rys?” Alloi said, sweetening her voice as only she could.
The Grand Lumin resisted her beguiling play at innocence. He explained that he was keeping the rys isolated.
“Please, Grand Lumin,” Alloi said simply.
Her immature tactic amused him. “Alloi, I have not even met with him,” he said.
“Then let us see him and we will report to you what we think of him,” Tempet proposed.
Clever, Alloi thought, proud of her brother.
The Grand Lumin’s eyes flashed. At length, he said, “You would make a good distraction. I will observe while you meet with him.”
“Of course, Grand Lumin,” Alloi said and dipped her head. She surmised that the rys must be powerful indeed if the Grand Lumin needed him distracted. Alloi found that she was very excited by the prospect of meeting someone who intimidated the Grand Lumin.
The attendant priests returned and escorted Alloi and Tempet to another room. This one was furnished with two rows of black leather chairs that faced each other. Tempet and Alloi asked the priests to bring them refreshment.
“As you wish,” responded one of the Nebakarz priests and he departed with his counterpart.
After a while a tabre servant delivered water and a plate of cakes. Tempet and Alloi drank and ate the cakes, which were very good. They were baked of soft wheat flour and had honey glazed walnuts in them.
“The food is better in Kwellstan,” Alloi let herself say.
Tempet frowned but did not disagree. No humans were allowed in Drathatarlane, so their cooking skills were absent as well, but tabre living under the Kwellstan Sect frequently employed human cooks. Humans were gifted at creating tasty concoctions, and the tabre paid well to be provided with the best.
While wiping her mouth with a napkin, Alloi stopped abruptly. “He is coming,” she whispered. The lifeforce of the rys inflamed her senses. Tempet was also startled by the approach of a being uncommonly rich with the powers of the cosmos. The rys had just ascended the levitation shaft and was being escorted to their chamber. The subtle presence of the Grand Lumin’s mind settled over the room, and Alloi reminded herself to guard her thoughts well. The rys was likely not the only one the Grand Lumin wished to distract.
When the rys reached the open doorway, he stood in it with a Kwellstan acolyte at his elbow. Alloi was puzzled that one supposedly so powerful was only escorted by a single acolyte.
The rys walked slowly into the room, and Tempet and Alloi gestured for him to sit. Alloi caught the eye of the rys’s escort and mentally commanded him to leave. Giving now her full attention to the rys, she noted that he was taller than her brother and slender but there was no weakness in his body. It was exceedingly strange to see one like the tabre but with the blue skin that she had heard about. Both she and Tempet stared at the rys, openly startled by his racial differences.
The rys looked back at them with a guarded expression. Alloi sensed that he was trying not to be nervous. Suddenly in a rush of sympathy, Alloi felt how very isolated he was. He had no friends here. He was away from home and did not know what to expect. She recalled how disconcerting her first time away from Drathatarlane had been. But Tempet and her parents had been with her to ease the transition. This rys had no one.
“I am Alloi and this is Tempet,” she introduced.
“Perhaps you have heard of us?” Tempet said.
The rys shook his head. “I spend most of my time in study. Forgive me for not being aware of you. I am Dacian.”
Awkwardly, Tempet asked Dacian what he studied.
“I study to be a Nebakarz priest,” he answered with pride, knowing that the concept of a rys with such an ambition was strange.
“Why?” Tempet asked bluntly.
Dacian told himself to answer well. Every word he said was certain to be monitored. He explained that he had more power than the typical rys, and that the study of the Nebakarz way was a natural selection. “What else would I do?” he concluded.
Alloi smoothed her dress over her knees and looked down coyly. “One can be powerful without taking to the priesthood,” she commented.
Dacian studied the twins anew. “Who are you?” he asked. By their clothing he could see that they were not priests, so why were they the first to speak with him at the Altular?
“We are tabre of Nufal,” Tempet said, unashamed by his vague answer.
Now wondering what they had to hide, Dacian could also feel their mental skulking. There was another presence as well. The tabre wanted to know so very terribly what was on his mind. The truth was he did not know what to think. He was only trying to be contrite, as Halor had advised him.
Deciding to be open because everyone seemed to be so suspicious of him, Dacian said, “Do you want to see inside my mind, Alloi?”
She blinked, clearly startled by his question.
Dacian added, “I feel your mind probing. Why be sneaky? I will let you into my thoughts if it is your wish.”
Tempet noticed how the eyes of the rys focused on his sister.
“I was only curious,” Alloi said meekly.
Dacian sat back in his chair, relaxing his body as well as his mind. He deconstructed the thick walls of mental power that were the natural fortress of his mind. Growing up a rys amid tabre had long ago trained his mind to guard all thoughts. Dacian had never wanted to let his chances of success be diminished because he let an irritated thought bounce loose.
Alloi reached out to him tentatively. She meant him no harm but kept buried the dislike the Drathatarlane officially had for all works of the Kwellstan Sect, especially the rys.
Her advances warmed Dacian after his lonely uncomfortable trip from Jingten. It would have been very easy to be lulled into fully baring his thoughts and memories, but he held back. He did not want to reveal his outrage about the punishment of Onja. As Alloi connected with him, he was reminded of how Onja and he had communicated in their cells. He blocked those memories from Alloi and made sure that she knew he was stopping her.
“I’m sorry. I understand things are private,” Alloi said mentally.
“What are you looking for?” Dacian asked.
“I don’t know,” she responded but it was only half true.
“I do not believe you, Alloi,” Dacian said.
“You are clearly in some kind of trouble with the Kwellstan. If I knew what it was, maybe I could help you. I came to meet you because I could feel your power. Ones such as us are the future of Nufal. I want to know you better,” Alloi said, and Dacian wanted to trust her. She was a beautiful tabre and her magic glowed forth from her lifeforce like the sun touching the green shoots of spring. Her feminine charm was very pleasing to his maturing sensibilities, and Dacian imagined that to be with her would be like having all the ugliness in the world drop away until only bliss remained.
“You are an excellent distraction,” he told her as he guessed her game.
She was unaccustomed to having the hounds of her mind outfoxed. Her connection faltered, and then Dacian pushed her away. He acted so fast that he was able to fully see the mind of the other tabre that had been observing them. He had a vision of an elderly tabre with all-white staring eyes. Dacian latched onto the mind that fled from his presence like a thief discovered in the dark. Dacian’s mind blasted through the heavy wardings that surrounded the inner sanctum of the Grand Lumin and he confronted the will of his supreme leader. Dacian knew his actions were brash and wrong, but he had no idea how long he would be forced to await his judgment in maddening limbo. Dacian hoped that his flagrant display of magical skill would impress the Grand Lumin who would then see the indisputable wisdom of allowing his Nebakarz education to proceed.
“I would hear your judgment, my Master,” Dacian told the Grand Lumin.
Although startled by the aggressive audience that Dacian initiated, the Grand Lumin collected himself rapidly. His spirit exploded inside Dacian’s head and filled his thoughts with his authoritative voice.
“Then you shall have my judgment, rys,” he said.
The connection was severed. Dacian’s mind and vision snapped back to the chamber where he sat facing Tempet and Alloi. The twins stared at him with shock. They knew his mind had penetrated the inner sanctum of the Altular, and they were astounded by his audacity.
Footsteps rushed toward the chamber. The two priests that attended the Grand Lumin charged through the doorway. Dacian stood, knowing that they were about to take him before the Grand Lumin as he wished.
Before leaving, Dacian spoke to his visitors. “Tempet, it was interesting to meet you. And Alloi, you are a kind spirit.”
Alloi wanted to say something nice in return but her heart ached with duty. She would have to report to the Eschalam that he was dangerous. An enigma truly, but dangerous. After having been in his mind, she believed that the rys did not yet accept that he was dangerous. She wished it was not so.
“Alloi, I do not need you to pity me,” Dacian said.
Startled, Alloi could not respond before Dacian left with the priests.
Once they were alone, Tempet whispered, “Extraordinary.”
Alloi nodded, disturbed by the encounter with the rys in some ways that she had no wish to discuss with her twin.
Knowing that the Grand Lumin would occupy himself with Dacian, Tempet and Alloi decided to leave. The Grand Lumin could summon them later when he wished to discuss their experience with the rys.
The twins hurried from the Altular. Evening was descending on the city when they returned home. Tempet and Alloi went to their meditation chamber. Before they spoke a word, they changed the warding spells on their room. Once they were satisfied that their meditation chamber was secure, they entered trance and cast their minds homeward to Drathatarlane. The sensitive warding spells that wrapped the Pen’dalem in Drathatarlane hummed in recognition of the twins, and the high priests within the temple hurried to attend their master, the Eschalam.
The Eschalam awaited the spirit projections of Tempet and Alloi. The full body images of the twins brightened over the white crystal seeing floor in the Pen’dalem. The twins could see the Eschalam and his four highest priests, the Ubratta. They all wore white shirts and pants and black shoes that laced up their calves. Long white caps covered their skulls and hung down to their shoulders. The Eschalam had a more elaborate headdress embroidered with golden runes and set with many amethyst and blue sapphire beads. He was a younger leader than the Grand Lumin of the Kwellstan although he was a venerable one thousand and one years old. He rarely ventured out of Drathatarlane and his blood and bones were strong with the magic of his cherished and sacred home.
“What news?” the Eschalam said aloud.
“My Master, we have met with a rys brought as prisoner to Kwellstan,” Tempet reported.
“He is powerful,” Alloi stated bluntly and she and Tempet described how Dacian had boldly breached the inner sanctum of the Grand Lumin. The rys’s magic had cut through the wardings as if they were cobwebs.
“And he pushed back my mind,” Alloi concluded.
This fact fell heavily upon the Drathatarlane priests. Entering the minds of other beings was Alloi’s natural genius, and for her power to be knocked aside was disturbing.
After a long silence, the Eschalam said, “Would you say that the Kwellstan have created a great warrior in this rys?”
Tempet deferred to Alloi and she was thoughtful before answering. “My Master, the Kwellstan fear the rys will hurt THEM. They do not control the rys sufficiently to make them into warriors against us. My guess is that they dare not risk it. This Dacian does not even realize how carefully they work to keep him from knowing the full extent of his talents. I think they brought him to Kwellstan because he is maturing and coming fully into his magic. The Kwellstan do not want him around the other rys. I think, my Master, that we have a far greater problem brewing in Jingten than we ever suspected.”
Everyone fell silent. No one reveled in the knowledge that the Drathatarlane Sect had been right to warn the Kwellstan priests against settling beyond the Tabren Mountains. Nufal was the place for tabre, and exposing their magical lifeforces to foreign lands had done something.
When the Eschalam finally spoke, the others could tell that he had reached a decision. “Alloi, I must ask something of you that will not be easy,” he said.
Trying to hide her apprehension, Alloi said, “Of course, my Master.”
“I need you – and only you – to stay the winter in Kwellstan instead of coming home to Drathatarlane with your family, as would be right. You must do this so you can continue to monitor the rys,” the Eschalam said.
The dismay of the twins fluttered through their translucent spirit projections.
“Do not separate us, my Master,” Tempet said. “What reason could you have for this?”
The question was audacious, but the Eschalam chose to overlook the transgression. “Tempet, forgive me. I know that it must pain you to be apart from your sister, but the time has come to advance your training. Although you and your twin together are more powerful than others, this is also a weakness. Both of you will realize your fullest potential if you spend some time apart. Then you will see how you rely on each other. Trust me. This must be done, and it must be done before we urgently have need of your powers,” he explained.
The snarl of displeasure was clear upon the image of Tempet in the Pen’dalem, but Alloi was able to look past her fear and hear the greater meaning of her master’s words. “My Master,” she said. “Do you foresee that we shall…war with the Kwellstan?”
They were awful words, and Alloi regretted for the first time that there was a rivalry between the Sects. It had always seemed so normal before, but, if it threatened the peace that they all enjoyed, then it was not so right.
“War with Kwellstan is not certain, Alloi,” the Eschalam assured her. “But the Drathatarlane are committed to regaining the governance of Nufal. Obey me.”
The twins were dismissed, and Tempet returned to his body seething with outrage. “I will not do it!” he declared and smacked the wall of the meditation chamber.
Alloi wrung her hands. She was upset too, but she recognized the importance of her assignment to monitor Dacian.
“Tempet, perhaps there is wisdom in his words. We do rely on each other. We could learn more about our powers if we were apart,” she said.
“No!” Tempet said sharply. He cast an angry spell at the door and broke it from its hinges. He stalked from the chamber, and Alloi knew that it was useless to speak with him now.
The protests of Tempet and her parents would not change anything. They would obey the Eschalam and she would stay on alone in Kwellstan. Although she feared the separation, she recognized that the challenge excited her. Dacian’s powers were alluring in a way she had never considered, and she wanted her chance to see him again, alone.