Onja lowered Dacian onto the narrow temple roof. The wind whipped their hair and clothing against their bodies. Dacian slid his hand along her shoulder. “You came for me,” he said with utter gratefulness.
Despair cracked across Onja’s face. She had not prepared herself to see him in such bad condition.
“Dacian,” she said and smoothed his hair away from his face. She wanted to embrace him and heal him and express all her feelings but they needed to escape.
Onja touched the crosha upon his chest. She gasped in wonder upon finally examining the harsh enchantment. Such wicked genius, she thought and regretted that she did not have time to ponder its intricacies. “Do you know how to get it off?” she asked and looked down the temple.
Dacian explained quickly his hypothesis that a prolonged state of hibernation would loosen it.
“I’ll help you with that as soon as we get away from here,” Onja said and pulled him upright, but he resisted her.
“Onja, it will kill me if I go far from here. You’ll have to leave me,” Dacian said. He tried to push her away. The joy of her unexpected rescue had turned to misery because he was endangering her.
Resolute, Onja shook her head. “I’ll get it off now,” she said.
“No time,” Dacian argued. Despite his battered state, he cast a shield spell to protect them as the tabre attacked again.
Onja’s bird beast flapped away from the hot explosion of magic and took to the air.
With the Grand Lumin starting up the temple steps, Onja glanced around her foreign surroundings desperately. “Help me,” she whispered and slipped her mind into Dacian’s thoughts so that they could communicate more quickly.
They directed their magic at the Atocha across the plaza. By combining their magic, they swiftly increased the magnitude of their power. One of the four towers on the school started to shake and then its foundation split with a thunderous explosion and the tower that had stood for a thousand years teetered and started sliding down to grinding ruin.
The tabre in the square scattered. The Grand Lumin turned around and cast a spell to prop up the tower, but he was too late. Its stone bulk crashed across the Plaza of the Waters, crushing ten priests and acolytes. The Grand Lumin directed his surviving followers into the Altular.
As dust and death settled over the plaza, Onja and Dacian eased their minds apart. The destruction was breathtaking and their joining had been a thrill.
Dacian looked into Onja’s eyes and envisioned a future that had been unimaginable until that moment. But he forced away the new and wonderful emotions.
“They will attack us from inside the Altular,” he warned. “You must go.”
Onja touched the crosha again. Concentration twisted her lovely face as she focused intently on the crystal. “Let’s get it out right now,” she decided.
Her bird beast returned and landed on the altar, impatiently waiting.
Dacian was about to protest, but Onja grabbed his face. “You must believe I can help you,” she commanded. “Stop your heart. Die so it will let you go.”
Dacian stared back at her in horror. She was proposing that he somehow commit suicide by sheer act of will so that the enchantment would release his dead flesh.
Onja tried to order her thoughts so that she could explain. Inspiration was flashing through her mind, but it was difficult to explain. “Dacian, I’ll hold your soul close so you can return to your body as soon as I pull the crystal off. We have to try. Trust me,” she pleaded. Her grip on his face changed to a caress. “I won’t leave you,” she whispered.
Dacian accepted that her idea might work, but he did not know if he could actually kill himself. That was radically different from slowing his body to the point of death through an ordered descent into hibernation, and he told her so.
The bird beast squawked and Onja looked away. Tabre archers were taking aim from the windows of the Atocha. And in the plaza below, more Nebakarz were coming back out of the Altular, armed with bows and spears.
Fearing the sho poison, Dacian pulled Onja down. “Don’t let their weapons hit you,” he warned and cast a fresh shield spell.
With a renewed assault imminent, Onja threaded her way through her panic. She had to do something. Cowering against Dacian, she forced her fear of the coming arrows out of her mind and focused on what had to be done.
Dacian lurched when her spell struck him in the chest. She took him completely by surprise. Her magical mind seized his heart and stopped the power of his lifeforce from contracting the living muscle. Dacian thrashed briefly in her arms. “Die,” Onja whispered. “Just let yourself die. I have you.”
His body slackened as the arrows clattered on the Altular or whizzed by close to her head. Onja cried out as one hit her in the thigh, but luckily it was not poisoned. She dragged Dacian to the other side of the altar so that they could have some shelter.
Onja focused her powerful mind on Dacian’s soul. The essence of his lifeforce was laid bare to her and she tenderly eased it away from the moorings of his flesh. Possessing him in such an intimate way made her shake with ecstasy. His power was profound. A rare slice of the cosmos had been born inside him and now the cosmos wanted it back. Onja fought the automatic pull of the next world, the source and keeper of all souls. She would not let go of her precious Dacian.
Strained as she was to keep his soul under her control, Onja still had to focus on the crosha. Dacian had been correct. With his flesh now free of pulsing life, the enchantment within the crystal was fading. Onja grabbed the smooth oval embedded in his chest and started to wrench it off. Blood seeped around the crosha and wetted her fingers. She pulled and the crosha began to jaggedly tear away from his flesh. Once she had it about halfway removed from his chest, the crystal simply turned to vapor and disappeared. All that remained was an ugly wound upon his chest that oozed purple blood. Onja slammed her hand over the wound. “Live!” she cried. “Live!” The heart that she had so artlessly halted only a moment earlier, she now slapped back to life with her magic.
Tabre were running up the Altular. Their spears lifted and terrible fury blazed in their eyes. Onja’s bird beast grabbed both her and Dacian in its arms and jumped off the Altular. Doubly burdened, the bird beast glided down the face of the Altular, flapping its great wings and trying to gain momentum and seize the air.
It achieved true flight just as it came perilously close to the ground. Then, with powerful flaps of its elegant wings, it gained height and flew over Kwellstan toward the lake.
Onja kept her hand clutched over Dacian’s chest. Now that his heart was beating again, blood poured from the wound. He needed to be healed.
With a thought she commanded her crow to land, and it stopped on one of the tiny rock islets that dotted the lake. A stiff spring wind had roused a few white caps upon the water that lapped noisily against the rocky pillar.
The bird beast looked on as Onja lowered Dacian to the mossy rock. His eyes opened, but he said nothing. His experiences of the past moments had shown him the horizon of death, and he remained focused on that place.
Onja attended to his wounds. She stopped the bleeding on his chest first and then began to heal the long and blistered cuts on his arms and legs. Taking out the spiny disc lodged in his neck was a delicate task. Some of its hair-like needles broke off inside the flesh and she had to draw them out one by one. As she healed his neck she noticed that the enchanted disc had retracted into a ring. Onja reached for the ring, but it skidded across the rock away from her hand and tumbled into the water.
She wondered if the enchantment within the ring itself had made it retreat from her touch or if the mind of another had yanked it away.
Onja had witnessed many clever uses of magic already during her brief foray into Nufal. She reminded herself not to let her hatred of the tabre tempt her into underestimating them. They had powers and ancient crafts of which she was ignorant.
Upon Dacian’s legs she cast regenerative spells. As she did this, Dacian lifted his head and looked at his chest. Seeing that the crosha was truly gone, he dropped his head and moaned gratefully. “Thank you,” he said.
Onja moved up by his head. “I’m so sorry,” she declared while touching him tenderly.
“What are you sorry for?” he asked, truly baffled.
“I didn’t warn you. I killed you without asking…” she frowned tearfully with regret for her callous recklessness.
Dacian felt the trauma in his chest. Each beat of his heart ached, but the discomfort would pass. Onja’s lethal attack had violated him horribly, but she had cradled his soul with care. She had touched the key to his inner power, but Dacian forgave her.
“You did what was right. I would have fought for my life if I knew what you were going to do. You saved me,” Dacian explained.
Onja nodded and brushed a tear from her cheek. Her struggle for composure after enduring so much risk endeared her to Dacian. Such bravery on his account banished the chronic loneliness that had marked his life to this point.
Dacian was quickly feeling better. The relief of being free of the crosha renewed him. He sat up and told Onja that they had to keep moving. The Grand Lumin and the other Nebakarz would attack with their magic soon. Dacian did not know what their range was, but sitting on a rock in the middle of Lake Kwellstan was not far enough away.
After removing the arrow from Onja’s thigh and tending it with a quick healing spell, they flew on. The strong wind over the water allowed the bird beast to get back in the air even with two rys to carry. They flew by the towers and walls of Alicharat nestled among its terraced fields and orchards on the mountainside overlooking the lake.
For a time, the trio flew in silence. Dacian’s sudden liberation overwhelmed him, and he did not want to think about what had happened to him or consider the future. The pleasure of being released from confinement and subjugation was worth dwelling on.
Onja’s close physical presence, however, tempted him to focus beyond the fact of his escape. They faced each other as they held onto the strong arms of the weird feathered creature conveying them. Dacian admired her beautiful eyes and the perfect lines and angles of her exquisite face. The terror and despair that he had suffered over the past months dissolved into happiness – an emotion that was almost unthinkably strange.
Dacian could sense her happiness as well. They were together and that was how it should be. This was a truth of the world as surely as the rising and setting of the sun. Onja would always be the horizon awaiting his sun, and he accepted totally this absolute connection.
Although embraced by relief and joy, Dacian eventually noticed that the ground was creeping closer. He and Onja posed a great burden for the flying beast, and they would not be aloft much longer.
Onja selected a canyon amid the rolling foothills of the Tabren Mountains. They were still inside the valley, but they hoped that the spot would be sufficiently remote. Here only a single road snaked along the ridges surrounding the forest, and Kwellstan, Alicharat, and Kahtep were roughly equal distances away. No human settlements were in the vicinity because the tabre limited human habitation within the Valley of Nufal.
When the flying creature landed, it folded its great wings and slunk beneath a nearby stand of fir trees. Onja went with the creature while Dacian waited in the open glen. She praised her pet and cast gentle spells to ease its fatigue and left it to rest.
When Onja returned to Dacian, she said, “The Tatatook needs rest before he can fly us again.”
“The Tatatook?” Dacian said. During the scramble to escape, he had not questioned the strange creature’s existence but now he wanted to know about it.
“That is what it is called,” Onja said and slipped a hand into Dacian’s hand.
“Where did the Tatatook come from?” he asked.
“I made it,” Onja answered and sounded a little amazed by herself.
Dacian squeezed her hand. He was privileged to grip such power. Onja was a natural talent, and Dacian realized he had not truly guessed her abilities. She was easily his equal, and he was excited by the prospect of having a companion worthy of him. But her creation unsettled him. “How did you make it?” he said.
“We should not stand in the open,” Onja said and guided him under the deep shade of the fir trees. The moist and piney smell refreshed Dacian, and despite the foreign land he was dimly reminded of the Jingten Valley.
Onja was right about keeping under cover. Although the tabre might be able to detect their lifeforces, staying out of plain sight would allow them to elude cursory landscanning. Hidden among the trees, Dacian looked across the land. He could still see Kwellstan in the distance. In the setting sun, the mountains cast long shadows that almost reached the Altular jutting through the canopy of the great primeval forest. They were still in the heartland of Nufal. Dacian hoped that the Tatatook did not need to rest for long.
“You did not answer my question,” Dacian reminded Onja gently.
A wave of discomfort flashed through her. Onja knew that she had given herself away, and she could think of no effective way to lie. “You will be unhappy with me,” she warned.
Dacian studied her guilty yet contrite look. Only a moment ago he had felt like he had known her forever, and now she seemed a stranger. He waited for her to explain. Reluctantly, she told him of the making of the Tatatook. Her success had been total, but the cost had been great. She had needed to hibernate for months to recover. Dacian was duly impressed. Indeed, it was a masterwork of magic, and she was barely mature.
Still sensing that she had held something back, Dacian considered her story. He admitted that he was uncomfortable with the fact that she had used a tabre to create her Tatatook, and then suspicion clouded his face.
“What tabre did you sacrifice for this spell?” he demanded.
Obviously bracing herself for unpleasantness, Onja confessed that it had been Halor.
“Halor!” Dacian cried, too loudly. He looked into the trees. The Tatatook had its head tucked under a wing, sleeping bird fashion. “You killed Halor!”
Onja shook her head. “No, no. I changed him,” she said.
“But Halor is gone,” Dacian argued.
“Yes, but he was willing. Dacian, I swear he was willing. He felt terrible about what was being done to you in Kwellstan. He agreed to help me when I forced the issue. But what could I do? What could we do? I had no way to get to Kwellstan, or get you out. That’s when I thought that if I had a flying creature I could get you.” When Onja finished her speech, she was eye-to-eye with Dacian and glistening with earnestness. Quietly she added, “This was how Halor could help. He was willing. It is the truth, Dacian. I would never lie to you.”
Dacian felt sick and moved away from her. He had spent many years as Halor’s disciple. And, in his way, Halor had been kind to him. Dacian could not help but feel appalled that his former master was now a creature of Onja’s making. Severed from normal creation and locked within the vision of another mortal seemed worse than death.
There was no undoing what had been done. Slowly he walked over to the Tatatook and studied it up close. It slept peacefully, apparently without any cares. Dacian doubted that Halor would have wanted the Atocha damaged and many of his fellow tabre killed, but the Tatatook appeared oblivious to the destruction. Halor was gone. Onja might call it changed, but Dacian knew dead when he saw it.
Onja eased her way back to Dacian’s side. With sympathy, she said, “Dacian, I know you were close to Halor, but he was a tabre.”
Onja did not need to say more. Dacian had been force fed the truth that there would be no joining between rys and tabre. The tabre meant to dominate and likely destroy the rys, strangling the unwanted birthings of their experiments. Dacian had to bury his dreams of integration and respect for rys. It hurt. It all hurt as terribly as the tortures the Grand Lumin had put to him.
Onja took Dacian’s hand and rested her head on his shoulder. Her warm skin against him did not hurt.
For half that night they rested, casting cloaking spells to hopefully avoid detection.
When the Tatatook awoke, they took to the air again. They passed out of the valley, flying over Kahtep. Its streetlights and watch fires glittered upon the landscape like a jewelry box of civilization spilled upon a dark untamed world.
The young moon had set earlier, but in the starlight Dacian saw the distant peaks of the Rysamand Mountains, and he wept. The tears were cold on his face as they traveled through the high frigid sky. He could not wait to touch the mountains of his birthland.
The Tatatook reached the mountains with the dawn. It landed clumsily on the outer slopes of the nearest mountain because of its great weariness. After it let go of Dacian and Onja, the Tatatook collapsed with its wings still open, like a bird beaten down by a wind storm. Onja soothed her pet with praise and healing spells. She helped the Tatatook to fold its wings and settle down comfortably. She bade it to fly back to Jingten when it was able. She and Dacian could walk from here.
After helping the Tatatook, Onja joined Dacian, who stood on a rocky ledge overlooking the prairie. The rising folds of land were just switching to forested slopes and, high above, the snowy peaks loomed like the icy shoulders of a watchful god.
With the Rysamand Mountains at his back, Dacian looked upon Nufal. After this day he would never consider Jingten nor its mountains as part of Nufal again.
Totally liberated from his youthful dreams, Dacian did not know what to do next. Onja put an arm around him and gazed at the sun rising over the Tabren Mountains. Nufal’s dark mountains glowered at the rys, who even at this distance sensed the fury rising from Kwellstan.
Dacian turned away from Nufal to embrace Onja. His battered spirit needed to be immersed in her loveliness. With a finger he traced her lips and cast a tiny spell meant to stimulate the tender skin in a pleasing way. Onja quivered and pressed closer. Dacian had never given much thought to physical pleasure with a female. He had always directed his energy to more important subjects, but suddenly that seemed to be an ignorant mistake. He cast another pleasure spell upon her lips and while that one was still sparking upon her mouth, he started to stroke her fine eyebrows and then her earlobes, igniting the skin with tingling energy as he went.
Onja’s face slackened as she relaxed into his magical massage. She raised her hands and touched his chest. His flesh was still pale lavender where she had healed it. Where once so much pain had drilled through his body, she now awoke pleasure beneath her fingers.
Slowly and patiently they gently touched each other, awakening physical passions from their powerful bodies. And as each stimulated the other’s flesh, they joined a little more in their minds and spirits. Their magic blended as they stirred their bodies with rising pleasures.
Onja murmured, “I’ve been so alone.”
“No more, my love, no more,” Dacian vowed. “You came for me. You saved me and we shall never be parted.”
“Never!” Onja agreed and kissed him, taking their intimacy to the level of physical joining.
They pulled away their clothing. Their bodies could not bear any barrier between them. Their spells escalated in intensity as they aroused each other to greater ecstasies, and they fell together to the ground.
With the mountain beneath them, they became wholly locked in a spell of mutual desire that sought oneness. Sometimes Onja was atop Dacian and sometimes Dacian was atop Onja as they tossed their powerful bodies. Connected to each other, their connection to the mountains beneath them deepened. They connected with the sacred power of Ektren emanating from its churning core and they realized together that they would not use the word the tabre had given to the world any more. They would call their world Rystavalla, and in their joyous coupling they touched the true power of this ancient child of the cosmos.
Their lovemaking continued and the burgeoning magic within them beckoned the elements. The sky to the south darkened over the prairie with the first thunderstorm of the season. Sable thunderheads roiled with purple and blue and released their rampaging armies of wind, lightning and rain. Trees bent in the tempest and the prairie grasses rippled furiously in the blowing and pelting rain. White-streaked vermilion lightning raged between the clouds as if the Great Divinity had been split in two and now argued bitterly with Itself. And thunderbolts hit the land and struck near Dacian and Onja.
Gripped by their voracious pleasure, the rys lovers understood the colossal energy of the world more than ever before and soaked up the powers exploding around them. When the storm passed over them heading north, the passions of Dacian and Onja ebbed. With the rain pattering gently upon their naked bodies, they finally eased away from each other. Neither spoke for a long time. They stared thoughtfully at the complete rainbow arching over the prairie. Transformed by their shared experience, they relaxed as they had never relaxed before. Total comfort and intimacy erased their insecurities and welcomed them to a new state of consciousness.
Dacian wondered how he had ever tolerated his ignorance of the other half of his kind now that he had joined with a female. Likewise, Onja marveled at her experience of joining with a male. So close to Dacian she had found relief for a longing she had never truly understood.
Gradually the sun came out and dried their naked bodies. Side by side, they said nothing and only smiled at each other. This was their time of bliss. Even the tabre were briefly forgotten, including all the woe that had been and all that was sure to come.
Eventually Onja stood up. Two white butterflies breezed by her breasts in the golden light of the rainbow-cleansed sun. “There are tabre in Jingten,” she said, concluding the potent perfection they had enjoyed.
Dacian sat up. He wished they could have lingered in their happiness, but they were not safe. Taking so much time for their lovemaking had been reckless although not regrettable.
While dressing himself, he was amazed at how aware and alive he felt. He had crossed over into a new understanding of his power and how it could be elevated through connection with another rys.
Onja put her clothing back on and she ran her fingers through her long glistening black hair. Dacian stood behind her and smoothed her dark tresses over her shoulders. He struggled to grasp the meaning of his love for her. The love was so different from the love he had for his parents, which was sometimes antagonistic, grudging even, but always automatic. This love for Onja was more intense, new, and unpredictable like red molten rock erupting from the slumbering depths of Rystavalla. Dacian liked his new feelings even without understanding them.
Analyzing the subtleties of his personal life could wait. Matters of far greater importance demanded his attention. Dacian was powerful, perhaps even supremely powerful, as was Onja, and they had to assume responsibility for the defense of the rys. The vengeance of the tabre would be quick to arrive. Quite possibly the tabre in Jingten had already begun to persecute the rys for his so-called crimes.
“We must go to Jingten,” he decided. “And remove the Nebakarz from power. Make a place ruled by rys for rys.”
Onja faced him with a devilishly happy smile on her face. She said, “We will cast the tabre from their tower and take it for ourselves. All tabre will be expelled from Jingten and those that oppose us will die.”
Agreement shone in Dacian’s black eyes. His moral distress about hurting tabre had diminished considerably.
“Let us go quickly,” Onja said, taking his hand.
But Dacian did not move. He could sense Onja’s eagerness to purge Jingten of their tabre masters, but he was thinking beyond that glorious task.
“Onja,” he said. “After we cleanse Jingten, the tabre will not stay away. They will be mad for revenge and their wounded pride will drive them with great malice. The tabre have greater numbers than us and many of them have advanced magic training whereas rys are mostly ignorant. The tabre also have thousands of humans, many of which are armed. We must consider how to face the armies of Nufal. We need an army,” Dacian concluded and the difficulty of their daunting need troubled him.
Onja’s smile broadened. “I can get an army,” she said. “When I was in the west, I cultivated an alliance with mercenary warriors there. I will call the humans of the west to our service. We will prevail and beat back Nufal until they whimper for mercy.”
The staggering realization that Onja had planned to oppose the tabre for a long time finally hit Dacian. He marveled at the audacity and planning in one so young. He suddenly envied her free existence on the fringe of rys society. Her deviant nature had protected her from the slave collar of society that had snagged him with dreams of inclusion and normal prestige.
Onja understood that Dacian was seeing her secrets for the first time, and she tried to explain herself. “I admit that I have envisioned this conflict,” she said. “But what other course could I have chosen? I knew as a rysling that I was powerful, and I saw plainly that the tabre had no good use for me.”
Her blunt words pained Dacian. Where she had been practical he had been a pathetic supplicant to the ruling order. What folly!
“Why do you think rys are forbidden to go into the west?” Onja asked. Dacian, to his shame, had never much pondered the prohibition, but the reasons dawned on him as Onja explained, “The tabre know that if we were among humans outside the control of the Kwellstan Sect that we could draw power from them. And we can! They will serve us, Dacian, and give us the strength and numbers to face Nufal.”
A wave of cynicism hit Dacian. “You are kind to include me in your plans,” he murmured. He was disgusted with his own blindness and with the decades wasted studying to be a Nebakarz priest while Onja had followed the true path to liberty.
Pained by Dacian’s self-loathing, Onja shook her head vigorously. “Oh, Dacian, I am nothing without you. The rys love you. I have focused too much on my bitterness and have spurned the kindness of other rys. But all rys admire you and you shall return to Jingten in triumph. They will greet you as their king for none are higher than you.”
“A king?” Dacian asked, and when Onja explained the word of the western humans, he was intrigued. The secular title seemed peculiar. Religion bestowed authority among the tabre, but Dacian realized that he was still thinking in the old way of his unwanted masters.
“A king,” Onja pledged.
With Onja close and the memory of their shared pleasures still tingling upon his spirit, Dacian brushed aside his anger with himself. His strength would expand now that he was free. Onja had broken for him a new path of confidence instead of conciliation. Dacian could still guide the rys into the better world of acceptance and respect that they deserved. But he would not do it alone.
“What is the word for she that rules at the king’s side?” he said.
“A queen,” she answered, claiming the title.
“Then you shall be queen,” he said.
They hiked into the mountains, moving with the tireless speed of rys. As they climbed higher into the alpine forest, patches of snow appeared in the shadier places. Spring made its way slowly up the slopes. They hiked cross country until they reached the road into the only pass to the Jingten Valley. Walking in reverent silence, they passed the tree line. In the sunnier places, the snow was gone from the highland meadows and brave little flowers bloomed blue, yellow, pink, and red alongside sparkling banks of snow.
Dacian and Onja followed the road into the pass and paused as they beheld the Jingten Valley together. The town and tower beside the lake looked as it always had except that it would soon be theirs.
Between them and the town, the Tatatook flew across the sky, ominously large upon the sumptuous landscape.
The air flowing through the pass overwhelmed Dacian with its sweet scent of home. He dropped to his knees. This vision of green pines, pure water, and awesome blue stone peaks sheathed in ice had walked the gauntlet of despair with him during his trials in Kwellstan.
Onja waited for him patiently. She knew what it felt like to come home after long absence, and she had not suffered as Dacian had.
With the omnipresent chill of the mountains touching his skin, Dacian was healed by his homeland. He recovered fully inside and his hurts were banished. He was alive with vigor and grand plans, but his mind slowed to a perfect place of clarity and he contemplated his future. A choice confronted him. He could fight the tabre to a standstill and then make peace. Or, he could go farther and let vengeance have its long season of harvest upon Nufal, as it deserved. Dacian saw what the right choice was because in his heart he respected civilization, but he also understood that he was part of a greater power. He was meant to deliver upon the tabre the destiny that they had wrought.
Rys Rising continues in Savage Storm: Rys Rising Book II.
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Thank you for taking the time to read my novel.
Sincerely, Tracy Falbe