Halor had assigned another priest to handle Onja’s civic lessons, but he could not avoid her forever. She required debriefing about her experiences in the west, and he needed to handle it personally. The Kwellstan Sect leadership was intensely curious about her firsthand observation of the region.
Although her rebellious nature unsettled Halor, he disagreed with the Daykash’s suspicion that she was powerful. She seemed to be nothing except average. The only thing extraordinary about her was her flagrant disregard for rules. He supposed that her delinquency had startled the Daykash, whose tolerance for such things was undeveloped.
To prepare for his meeting with her, Halor put on his formal red and black robe. He expected the display of his rank to sufficiently impress her. Before leaving his private study, he paused at his writing desk and read again the missive he had written to the Grand Lumin. Finally satisfied that his message was sufficiently diplomatic, he cast a sealing spell upon the stone wafer so that its characters could not be altered.
Halor had asked that the Grand Lumin consider Dacian’s decades of good behavior and loyalty and remove the crosha. It was a bold act to put a request to a superior in writing. Because tabre could communicate across distances, the transmission of a message in a written form was extremely formal. Of course, Halor would not dispatch a courier to Kwellstan for months. The Rysamand Mountains seemed the very source of winter, and the pass to the east was already clogged with snow. If the need was great, tabre could survive the treacherous snowscape, but the missive could wait until spring. Only a command from the Great Divinity was going to prompt the Grand Lumin to remove the crosha in less than six months anyway.
Halor tucked the disc underneath the edge of his journal and looked out the window. A howling snow storm was surging off the glaciers of the Rysamand, and a white haze absorbed the peaks around the Jingten Valley. When the night came, it would be a biting storm. The tabre spells that supported the Jingten Tower kept it snug against the wind. No draft pushed in at the windows nor did any frost build upon the stained glass.
Halor watched snow scud over the recently frozen lake. The snow softened the peaked roofs and hard edges of Jingten in a creamy frosting. With the rising storm, the green grandeur of the alpine valley faded into an isolated blur of snow and slumping pine boughs.
Halor admitted to himself that the elemental force of the winter in this place disquieted him. Although the winters in Nufal were cold, they lacked the fierce strength of the climate in Jingten. Halor had not entirely adjusted to the climate unlike the rys who were born to it. They seemed pleased and perky during the winter and glad for the extremity of it. Halor knew that he would always be a foreigner here.
Since Daykash Breymer’s visit and the trouble with Dacian and Onja, Halor had developed a case of homesickness. He had been in Jingten for hundreds of years now and his trips back to blessed Kwellstan had been infrequent. He resolved that next summer he would make a point to get back to the Nufalese lowlands.
Halor ascended to his receiving chamber on the second highest level of the tower. He settled into his high-backed chair and cast his mind toward Onja. He found her where she was supposed to be and summoned her. He was encouraged by her meek acceptance of his order. Perhaps the probation was finally convincing her of her place in society.
Too quickly, Onja appeared at the door of the receiving chamber and asked for permission to enter. Halor granted it, and, with a flicker from his mind, shut the door behind her.
Onja glanced over her shoulder as the door closed, betraying some nervousness. Her black hair hung loose and her shapeless black dress was slipping down one shoulder. Her blue skin glimmered with the energy of youth and her collar bone met her shoulder with anatomic perfection.
Halor put on a frown and looked down his long nose at her. He had never been very comfortable around females. As a Nebakarz priest there was no expectation for him to mate, and very few female tabre joined the Nebakarz. These two facts had made the priesthood a pleasantly insulated place from the mysteries and distractions of females.
“You are not supposed to use the levitation shaft,” Halor scolded.
“Why?” Onja said bluntly.
“You are to address me as Master Halor,” he instructed.
“Then you are my master?” she inquired.
So, she is going to be difficult, Halor realized. “Onja,” he sighed. “Everyone calls me Master Halor. It is my title and I deserve it.”
“Yes, Master Halor,” she said.
“Now, you are to use the stairs. Is that understood?” he said, already fighting exasperation.
“I understand, Master.”
“Good. I do not want you to be unhappy. If you will accept the good advice and instruction we have to offer you here, you will be able to return to rys society,” Halor said and lifted his eyebrows encouragingly.
Onja was young and had little experience interacting with tabre, but her intuition told her that he was being glib. She knew that the Daykash had commanded Halor to keep her under his direct watch, and she doubted that would change.
“I have been doing as I have been told, Master Halor,” she said.
“Yes, very good,” Halor praised. After many years of guiding Dacian’s education, he had perfected his methods for gaining someone’s confidence. “Now, Onja, we have not had a proper chance to get to know each other. To begin, I want you to know that I was against what the Daykash had done to you. I do not believe in such ugly and primitive techniques for enforcing the order of society. Now that he is gone, my authority is total here, and you will not be treated badly.”
Onja recognized that he expected her to respond positively to his magnanimous admission, but she remained silent.
After an unrewarded pause, Halor continued, “We have something important to discuss. Although your journey into the west was forbidden, and rightly so, your experience there remains valuable. You could make progress toward redeeming yourself if you were to describe what you saw during your travels.”
Onja wanted to blurt that he was a hypocrite, but she bit back the word. Now that she was finally alone with the tabre leader of Jingten, she could act on her ambitions, but she had to be patient just a while longer.
She looked down at the stone bricks of the floor and let her mind flow outward with the spiraling design. Being as subtle as she could, she roused her magic like a tiny smoking flame that has barely taken to its tinder.
Keeping her eyes lowered, she began to recount her journey out of the mountains. At the western end of the valley there was a pass that led down to wooded foothills and then to green and fertile lowlands where streams and rivers coursed through forests of strange trees that did not grow in the mountains. In places buttes and mesas rose above the flatlands and small lakes dotted the landscape. And there were many humans. For the most part they lived in small simple communities, but there were towns and she had heard that there were cities.
“You heard?” Halor asked. “You spoke with humans.”
“Yes, Master,” she said.
This detail troubled Halor and he slumped thoughtfully into his green leather chair. He commanded her to tell him more.
Onja was frugal with details. She told of her meditations at the waterfalls, but did not mention the intense revelations she had had about her powers while communing with the living forces of the world. And she did not describe her rescue of Amar; instead saying only that she had met him upon the road and traveled with his group for a while before returning to Jingten.
When she completed her abridged tale, she glanced up at Halor. He did not look satisfied at all. The tendrils of her mental magic moved closer to the aura of his lifeforce. Onja was curious to use her power. She wanted to know what it would be like to challenge this tabre. He was powerful and educated. These traits were exactly why she needed Halor.
“Onja, you have not told me everything,” Halor complained. “You have nothing to fear. I only want to know what you have experienced. I will not judge your actions. That has already been done and it is over.”
Still projecting herself as a silly rys overburdened by his complex demands, Onja suggested that he examine her mind so that he could fully see what she knew. “I am not sure how to pick what I should tell you or how best to describe it. I am still trying to sort out my experiences, Master Halor,” she confessed.
The face of the tabre priest softened with understanding. “Of course, young one. This is why you never should have traveled so far from home. You are not able to understand,” Halor said, thinking that Daykash Breymer had to be paranoid to think she posed a threat.
Her naive invitation to read her mind made Halor realize that he had never actually examined the thoughts of the rys that he had governed all these years. To see the details of Onja’s thoughts could be extremely informative. Insights gained from Onja might perhaps help him prevent future mischief from the rys.
Halor also considered his new responsibility with Onja. The Kwellstan Sect was not pleased with him right now, and his plea to be merciful with Dacian would hardly benefit his career. Halor needed to succeed with Onja and produce a meek and harmless rys. Proving the Daykash wrong about her would be gratifying as well.
Halor decided to cast a control spell upon Onja’s mind when he processed her memories. Once she was amenable to his suggestions, he was guaranteed to succeed in curing her antisocial behavior.
He approached Onja. She watched him apprehensively. “What should I do, Master Halor?” she asked.
“Nothing, Onja,” he said. Starting to tap his fingers thoughtfully, Halor had to force himself to relax. Entering the thoughts of this young female unnerved him, and he tried to focus on the intellectual nature of the task instead of the intimacy of it.
Onja cringed when his magical mind wound around her memories. The eyes of the tabre priest were glowing white and she hated the closeness of his narrow face. He was ugly to her. Alien and unworthy to call himself her superior. But Onja forced herself to submit. She had to draw Halor in. She let him absorb her memories of the west and she did not hide anything. The more he saw of her activities, the more disturbed he became, and Onja could feel his rising worry.
“What were you doing to this Amar? What do you mean you will contact him again?” Halor demanded mentally.
Onja refused to answer. All the answers were in her thoughts if Halor had the stomach to find them.
The magic of the Nebakarz priest intensified, and Onja gasped. She had not felt the full mental assault of a trained Nebakarz tabre priest before and his strength bashed across her mind like a housekeeper chasing a mouse with a broom. Flickering tendrils of energy erupted over her face and blistered across her chest. Onja wanted to see into his mind but his thoughts were expertly shielded.
Halor cried out with disgust and anger. He gnashed his teeth and spoke mentally. “You wicked foolish thing. You dare think of driving the tabre from Jingten? You’ll be locked in some dark pit of stone!” he declared.
Onja decided her time had come. The tabre was off balance with surprise and disdain for her ambition. She summoned the power that she had always felt within her. Thought finally became action. Her lifeforce quickened with the living energy of the cosmos. She felt the world down to its super hot heart. The coldness of the high heavens chilled her with awesome power. Onja was untrained, untutored, and she had never before challenged another magic user, but her might overcame inexperience as her magic awoke from slumbering creation.
Onja threw up her arms and knocked Halor back. Blue fire blazed from her eyes and filled the room. The dark stone walls glittered with snapping energy as her magic reacted with the tabre spells that knit the tower’s structure.
Halor stumbled, his mouth agape. He had never dreamed of being struck by such a force. His senses were in disarray and he was temporarily blind until the image of Onja loomed in his mind like the rising sun. He could not protect himself. His mind was laid bare like the covers of a bed thrown open by a ransacker.
Squeezing his mind, Onja looked at his memories. Excitement fed her power. It was so thrilling to attack this tabre and see him crumble. He had never expected her to react with such raw skill. She could not wait to do it again.
Then, amid the vengeful joy of her ascendance, she became truly angry. In Halor’s mind she found a maddening detail that proved all of her natural distrust of the tabre.
“You had me beaten so Dacian would disgrace himself!” she shouted.
Halor shook his head. “It was the Daykash. I was against it. Please stop,” he whimpered. He had never known such vulnerability was possible. She gripped his SOUL.
“I know who it was!” Onja snapped.
“I’m sorry. I did not want it to happen. Truly. I spoke against your beating. It was reprehensible,” Halor insisted and sincerely too.
“It was painful,” Onja corrected, but holding him as she did in the wet jaws of her magic, she could sense his regret. Her intellect overcame her emotion and she was inspired. Although she wanted to crush and twist this tabre that she had caught unawares and see him experience pain, it would be better to control. There were tabre enough upon whom she could later deliver the justice of the rys.
“Yes, you are sorry. I do see that. Let me offer you absolution,” she whispered in his mind and started casting a spell. She poached from his mind the control spell that he had planned to work upon her. She built upon it, enhancing it with her special genius. This tabre had psychological weaknesses that she could exploit, and she extracted his regrets and reshaped them into a desire to redeem himself. Despite her excitement, Onja did not rush. Halor was powerful and educated and she would have him serve her, and serve her gladly.
When Onja finished her spellmaking, the blue light faded from the room. Halor grabbed the armrest of his chair and pulled himself up. The tabre priest plopped heavily into the seat. He looked at Onja with understanding. He no longer controlled her. He never had and he never would.
“I will do my best to make amends, Onja,” he said.
“Your best will do nicely, Halor,” she replied and light glinted in her eyes like two tiny shooting stars. “Take me to your library so that I might see what the tabre call wisdom.”
Halor nodded wearily and rose slowly from the chair. Onja slipped a supporting arm through his arm like a good daughter helping an elderly father. She patted his arm and said, “I have seen the truth of your heart and know that you never meant me harm. I forgive you.”