Humans respectfully gave way for Tempet and Alloi despite the pressure from the thick Poteny crowd. They moved through the crowd behind the Grand Lumin’s procession to Dedenep Square, named after the legendary man who had first accepted the Nebakarz as bringers of civilization.
As Tempet and Alloi advanced down the street, humans exclaimed with delight to see the tabre twins so close up. Alloi enjoyed the attention and waved and smiled to her many admirers. Tempet had surprised her when he invited her to experience the festivities at street level, and she was enjoying herself.
When they entered the square, the crowd was too thick for them to proceed toward the stage unless they pressed the issue. Tempet and Alloi found a spot at the base of a Dedenep’s statue that was laden with children, who squealed to see the important tabre. The square was packed and hot although the weather itself was perfect. People hung out of doors and windows on every building surrounding the square and the rooftops were thronging with people as well. The estate class of Kwellstan gathered on the roof of the Adarium Hall. Their sun umbrellas and colorful banners rippled in the strong breeze off the lake.
The Grand Lumin had begun giving audience to the sick and injured. Every few minutes an eruption of applause and cheering swept through the crowd, and people shouted praise for the Grand Lumin and thanked the Great Divinity.
Tempet and Alloi observed the Grand Lumin beyond the tangle of people. The red and black robes of his priests controlled the crowd around the stage as they determined which supplicants would be allowed to go forth and receive healing.
“What amazing energy!” Alloi remarked. She had never been in the midst of such a large crowd. Although Bozee bouts drew thousands of spectators, she had never been so close to them. Here the lifeforces and excitement of the gathered thousands bombarded her senses. The raw energy bursting with faith and excitement was thrilling and something that she could never have experienced in Drathatarlane where humans were forbidden. Alloi suspected that the Grand Lumin knew how to draw sustenance from this gathering, and she imagined the possibilities.
Tempet folded his arms and leaned against the statue’s base. “Look how he has these humans groveling,” he complained. The Grand Lumin had just healed a small boy and fervent gratitude was spreading from the center of the crowd with weeping joy and proclamations of miracles. Tempet added, “I’d swear these humans would act like this if he just juggled soup bowls.”
Alloi warned her brother mentally that he should not criticize the humans right in front of them. Tempet shrugged. The humans were not listening to him. Alloi tried to make him focus on the positive. “It was a good idea to come here. We should learn more about this energy from the human audience,” Alloi said.
Tempet nodded, albeit reluctantly. He was restless and not interested in learning about the Kwellstan Sect’s Poteny traditions. He had known that the crowd would distract Alloi, and he needed a break from constantly guarding his thoughts from his sister. He had only kept the secret from his sister thus far because Alloi had not been trying to discover why he was preoccupied. Since returning to Kwellstan, she had been notably willing to give him privacy. Tempet also suspected that Alloi was also preoccupied, probably about Dacian. Jealousy tightened Tempet’s chest, but he smashed the feeling. He did not want to arouse her attention.
Tempet mentally suggested to Alloi that they start healing people to annoy the Grand Lumin. Alloi giggled.
“Let’s go to the Plaza of the Waters,” Tempet said.
Alloi sensed that he was already bored, but she was immersed in watching the different people and dissecting the sensations of all the swirling emotions. She envied how the Grand Lumin was at the center of this energy, soaking it up. She guessed how divine that must feel.
“Not yet,” she whispered and took Tempet’s hand. Her gentle touch would keep him from pestering her for a little while.
Alloi was so enthralled by the crowd that Tempet was the first to notice a tremor of discord among the priests surrounding the Grand Lumin. Tempet straightened to his full height and cast his mind over the crowd. He saw that the Grand Lumin had halted his examination of a laborer’s broken hand. The Grand Lumin scowled and his floating orbs drew closer to his head as if they were urgently whispering secrets. At the same time, two priests rushed to the Grand Lumin’s side while the rest of the priests returned to the stage. A Nebakarz acolyte escorted the injured man back to the queue of waiting supplicants. Confusion replaced enthusiasm among the spectators as the Grand Lumin shuffled toward his carriage. He was leaving much too soon, and shrieking disappointment arose quickly from the gathering of needy people.
“Alloi,” Tempet said. “See what is happening at the Altular.”
The aura of anxious expectation around Tempet was unmistakable now that Alloi looked for it. In a flash of insight, she realized that today would be a perfect day for Dacian to try something. Had he learned to overcome the crosha? With haste, she cast her mind across the city to the Altular. Tabre filled the Plaza of the Waters and their bright clothing and laughter contrasted sharply with the startling chaos within the temple.
Magical light faded from Alloi’s eyes as she returned to her body. She could barely even put into words what she had seen. “Dacian has killed the Daykash,” she whispered.
Her report made Tempet feel that everything he had been told by the Eschalam had been confirmed. The rys had shown himself to be deadly dangerous.
“Go home and wait for me,” Tempet said. “You’ll be safe there.”
He turned away from Alloi and ran from the square. Alloi was astounded that he would abandon her. How could he even dream that she would simply go home when he rushed into peril?
And if Dacian was about to rampage, Alloi thought that she might be the only one capable of saving him and others. Alloi believed completely that the Kwellstan Sect had driven him to kill and she hoped to stop the violence.
She ran after Tempet.
Dacian walked into the sunlight and lifted his arms as if greeting a welcoming crowd that wished to cheer him. The wrath storming forth from his lifeforce quickly drew the attention of the tabre holiday makers dancing and mingling among the bathing pools and canals. Fear jolted the tabre, and the songs and laughter faded. The humans present noticed quickly the changed mood of the tabre and they started to notice the rys – the subject of gossip for months – at the entrance of the Altular.
Dacian walked to the nearest pool where a fountain sprayed sparkling streams of water from the mouths and hands of charming tabre statues. Dacian cupped his hand into the water and brought a drink to his lips. Sweet and refreshing, the waters of Kwellstan deserved their fame, but Dacian knew suddenly that the pure glacial melt of the Rysamand Mountains would suit him better. He longed for home.
Still close to the Altular, the crosha warned him with only a mild sting, but Dacian braced himself mentally for greater pain.
From behind he sensed priests approaching. Dacian looked back and saw two tabre duck out of sight behind columns near the temple entrance. He smiled at their fear. He knew that the tabre were communicating the alarm mentally throughout the city. Already murmurs of shock and panic were rising among the tabre in the plaza. Out of the crowd a bold tabre acolyte stalked up to Dacian. By the disdainful look of determination on the tabre’s dark face, Dacian could tell that the acolyte thought this would be his chance to prove himself by detaining the unruly rys.
Dacian raised a hand and cast an attack spell at the acolyte. He blasted apart his rib cage and sent a fountain of boiling blood through the young tabre’s body, killing him swiftly. The acolyte toppled backward with a gruesome splash of steaming blood.
Screams of unprecedented horror burst from hundreds of tabre and people. Groups scattered in all directions and the waters were whipped into a froth as tabre and people jostled to get out of the pools.
Dacian was astonished by his lack of regret for the tabre he had just killed. The terror he was inflicting was too satisfying to be blunted by morality.
He hopped onto the edge of the fountain pool and walked along it, waiting for more priests or acolytes to come forth and give him battle. Dacian watched excitedly in his mind as the Grand Lumin rushed back from the human district to attend to the emergency.
Dacian was ready to fight until the end. Flush with the extreme thrill of dealing out mortal blows, Dacian resolved to heap bodies at his feet until the Grand Lumin released the crosha. Dacian was no longer afraid to execute such a cruel plan and he did not fear dying. He was even buoyed by the hope that his probable death would outrage his fellow rys to the point of rebellion.
None of this was what Dacian had wanted. He had worked so hard to break another path, one that would have led the rys into the blessings of Nufalese civilization. But even choked by his tragic failure, Dacian would allow himself to revel in the vengeful battle that was about to begin. Today he would become a legend.
As the Plaza of the Waters rapidly emptied, Nebakarz priests and acolytes rushed in, summoned by their master to the fight. They gathered into groups at the edges of the plaza, awaiting guidance from the Grand Lumin.
Dacian eyed the milling groups of Nebakarz and stoked his appetite for killing. Suddenly the air grew hot. He cast a stout shield spell and was thrown across the fountain by an attack spell. The waters near him exploded into steam and Dacian fell against the outer wall of the Altular. He fortified his shield spell as another attack spell battered him with a crushing blast of energy.
Dacian rolled off the wall and ran toward the steps built into the outside of the temple. He scrambled up a dozen of the sacred steps that were only to be used to mount the Altular for the Quadreni ceremony. Standing tall, Dacian turned his blazing eyes upon the plaza. The lifeforces of the tabre below shone like burning flowers within his perception and his magic quickened with fierce dislike. He would blacken the foul meadow of their pride.
He thrust his potent mind at the Grand Lumin who had almost reached the plaza in his carriage. Dacian unleashed an attack spell at his tormentor. The Grand Lumin defended himself with a shield spell, but his carriage crashed to the roadway; its flowers reduced to drifting ashes. The single horse panicked and reared in its harness and dragged the carriage a little way before priests stopped the animal.
Dacian attacked the Grand Lumin again but the shielding magic of the old master of the Kwellstan Sect did not buckle. The Nebakarz in the plaza rushed at Dacian, leaping over canals and pools and shouting. Their combined magic roiled with sparking energy like clouds swelling into a fierce storm. Dacian ran farther up the steps and recast his shield spell. His mind tapped into the enchantments that reinforced the Altular. He had spent long days in his bed analyzing the magic of the temple and now he called upon it to protect him. A massive wave of attack spells surrounded Dacian and the world blurred into blinding whiteness. Dacian had to shut his eyes but his flesh remained unhurt. As the first attack faded, Dacian opened his eyes and laughed at the Nebakarz. It was marvelous to use the power of their impregnable temple against them. The priests and acolytes below did not mount the steps, observing their taboo.
Arcing white lines of energy lifted off the Altular and connected with Dacian’s hands.
“Bring the Grand Lumin!” he shouted. “Bring him!”
Dacian attacked again. The tabre below despite their power and skill were unschooled in real life-and-death combat. A full fifty of them died in a scorching blast of Dacian’s enchanted rage.
The Grand Lumin had left the wreckage of his ceremonial carriage and was floating along the street, carried by his levitation magic. His pair of crystal orbs spun around his head in furious orbits. His heightened power transformed his elderly face into an ageless mask of sublime knowledge. The tabre in the plaza fell back around their arriving master and cast a thousand layers of shielding magic around him.
Dacian tore open his shirt to reveal the cancerous crystal attached to his chest. Purple veins sickened its smooth milky white surface.
“Grand Lumin, free me!” Dacian demanded. “I give you this chance for peace. Free me so I can go home.”
The Grand Lumin unleashed his attack spell through the stone fabric of the Altular. The surge of energy coursed through the enchantments that Dacian already tapped. He screamed as withering pain streaked up his limbs. He broke off his connection before the attack reached his vitals. With his arms and legs split, burnt, and bleeding, he collapsed onto the steps. The Grand Lumin had put an end to him using the power of the Nebakarz against them.
Amid the rising chaos, Tempet entered the plaza. The Kwellstan Nebakarz were too engaged by Dacian to notice Tempet.
He gasped in awe when he beheld Dacian killing dozens of tabre with one great stroke of magic. The potent thrill of witnessing such wanton and lethal use of magic opened a door in Tempet’s mind. The tabre had left so many levels of power unrealized as they lounged in luxury and schemed over petty politics. Tempet no longer worried that he would falter in a true struggle for his life. He was meant for real combat, and the meaning of his life became clear to him for the first time.
Tempet slipped the black ring off his finger and awoke its enchantment. Golden lines brightened the surface of the ring that started to expand in his hand. Tempet trotted around the edge of the Kwellstan priests. They were focused on shielding the Grand Lumin and still did not notice him. He mounted a small bridge that spanned a canal. The bridge elevated Tempet so that he would have a clear shot over the heads of the other tabre.
He watched Dacian buckle after the Grand Lumin attacked. With Dacian hurt and stunned upon the steps, Tempet took his shot. He focused his spell into the expanding ring and it rapidly reshaped itself into a sharp-edged disc. Tempet threw the disc. He guided it with his mind and refined the spell as it whirred through the air. A thousand fine spines erupted from the disc when it hit Dacian’s neck.
Tempet heard the rys scream as the small enchanted weapon dug into his flesh, probing and piercing with its miniscule needles that did not stop until they rooted deeply inside nerves. Dacian clutched his neck and thrashed wildly. His shield spell flickered and then failed. Dacian was undone. Ready to kill the rys as the Eschalam had commanded, Tempet gathered his power to cast an attack spell. It would be good to rid Ektren of the rys who had summoned soft feelings from Alloi.
His sister rushed toward him. Other priests started pummeling Dacian with attack spells now. Wounds opened on Dacian’s body and he rolled down a few steps.
“Why?” Alloi demanded when she ran onto the bridge and grabbed Tempet’s arm.
Relief swept over Tempet. He no longer needed to keep the secret from her. “The Eschalam said I had to make sure that Dacian died. There was too much risk that the Kwellstan could twist his power to their agenda,” Tempet explained in a rush of words.
Alloi looked up at Dacian. The agony of his suffering throes pierced her in an empathetic rush, and she started to cast a spell to help him.
“No!” Tempet said harshly and grabbed her by the wrists and yanked her face close to his. “It has to be this way,” he insisted. The Eschalam had been right about Alloi lacking the strength to bear this ugliness, but Tempet knew that she would side with him eventually. She beat against his chest and tried to break free. Tears spurted from her glossy black eyes, but Tempet held her firmly. It would be over soon. The priests had stopped their attack on the rys, and the Grand Lumin had mounted the steps with the intention of seizing Dacian at the moment of death.
Then Tempet realized that he must not let the Grand Lumin make the killing blow. The Eschalam had warned him about this although he had not fully explained his reasons. Releasing Alloi, Tempet focused his mind to send an attack spell to shatter Dacian’s defenseless body, but an unnatural shriek crashed in his ears and a wide black shadow crossed the plaza.
All the tabre cringed and looked up. Pure astonishment transfixed the tabre, even the Grand Lumin in his blindness. A huge bird-like beast swooped down onto the steps of the Altular. Its bird claws scraped the stone. Iridescent black feathers covered the monster, but it was not wholly a bird. Arms hung beneath the wings and they held a rys female. It set her down next to Dacian and then turned its grotesque parody of a bird head toward the tabre and squawked like the angry demigod of ravens that it was.
A hazy aura of blue illuminated the rys female, who regarded the tabre with palpable rage. She stepped away from her bird monster and cast an attack spell upon the crowd. Her long black hair lifted and rippled in the waves of energy emanating from her body.
Alloi reacted with her famous speed and shielded herself and Tempet from the danger, but other tabre near them bent and fell in pain and sometimes death. Appalled, Alloi expanded her shield spell and started to protect those nearby, even if they were Kwellstan Sect.
The Grand Lumin gaped in true shock. He had been on the verge of turning a very public debacle into a triumph, but now he was confronted by the unexpected. He shielded himself as the female rys cast another attack spell.
With the tabre temporarily cowed, the female dragged Dacian to his feet. With her shoulder under his arm, she raced up the temple steps. Her bird companion flapped ahead of her. It reached the top and waited for her on the highest and most holy altar of the Kwellstan Sect.