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From the moment he woke, the Luminary had wrung him like a towel for information. “I just remember being attacked – taking a heavy hit from a mace, but then everything went black and…” Eli paused for a moment; images skittering across his memory. A void. A sound. Shadows. His eyes widened slightly in vague recollection.
Renaulte looked at him chillingly. “You remember something.” It was not a question.
“No. Not really, just a few flashes…” Eli said tiredly, staring at the Luminary with a blank expression. “Now, where is Rien?” Eli asked with a forcefulness that made Ana wince.
“She is resting in the other room,” Ana replied softly, concern filling her pale blue eyes. Her hand repeatedly opened and closed on the loose fabric of her shirt, making her worry ever more apparent.
“And you should be resting yourself, my friend,” Janus replied, stepping into the room and seating himself at Eli’s bedside. “The wise Luminary asserts that I should be abed, as well. However, I think he greatly underestimates my fortitude,” he said with a smile.
The mere sight of Janus seemed to alleviate Eli’s throbbing head. At least a little. It was good to know Janus was unharmed. “I want to see her. Now.” Eli found the firmness of his words odd; he barely knew this woman, and her very presence always seemed to give him headaches. Surprised flashed on the faces of all in the room. Ana looked at Eli oddly.
Renaulte stepped forward, gesturing defensively “Have patience, lad. Her clan is with her now, give them some time. Besides, we have some things we need to discuss, first.”
Eli sighed heavily, and nodded. “As you wish, Renaulte,” he said with a more respectful tone.
“Good lad. Now, start from the beginning, what do you remember?”
Eli took a moment to collect his thoughts and decide just how much of the nightmare he should reveal. Not too much, he decided. Visions belonged to the priesthood and heretical madmen. Eli was no priest, which left one option. Yes, better to not divulge that in front of Ana and Janus. “The man in the blue tunic. He is the one who struck down Janus. I did my best to fight him, but he was strong. And very fast. I could barely avoid his mace swings. I saw one of the men beating Rien, she was unconscious and.. bloody.. and..” Eli’s hand trembled with fury and fear at the remembrance of that sight. Few things had ever twisted his stomach into such a knot.
“..and you let your guard down,” Janus added with an odd mix of condescension and worry.
Eli was amazed that the man could appear so caring and friendly, yet somehow unreachable and superior. Nevertheless, Eli nodded. “Yes. His mace crashed into me, and… everything went black.”
Ana and the Luminary glanced at one another oddly. The Luminary cleared his throat and stepped closer, his eyes heavy with fatherly pity but smoldering with determination. “What happened in the darkness, Eli?”
Eli stiffened slightly, his eyes darting around the room. “Blurred images. Muffled sounds,” he said, only half lying, “why does it matter what I saw then?”
“Because, Eli,” said Ana softly, “we only found two bodies. Neither one was garbed in a blue tunic.”
Renaulte pressed onward, “Your hands and clothes where drenched in blood that wasn’t your own. If he had simply put you down, he would have killed Rien and fled. So tell us, why is she still alive?”
Janus looked at Eli with wary eyes.
Eli suddenly recalled the feeling of blood spattering his face, gore dripping from his fingers, bone crunching beneath his shattered blade, and laughter bursting from his throat. Madness. He felt as if he would vomit. He could never have done that. Never. Eli swallowed heavily. “I don’t know. I don’t remember.” Renaulte nodded gravely, obviously not convinced. “I am sorry I cannot remember more. Can you tell me why those men attacked us?”
“They wanted the witch dead,” Janus said, nodding to the door of the room where Rien was resting, “Very badly it would seem.”
“Guards arrived shortly after we did, and we thought it best to pull you away and make ourselves scarce. We had little time to examine the corpses. However, your assailants seemed to be street crawlers, part of the rather small underclass that lurks in the darker alleys and old tunnels. The brutes must have been hired,” Renaulte added with sureness.
“How do you know that? They were hardly fit for interrogation, courtesy of Eli,” Janus retorted.
Something stirred in Eli’s memory. Remembering the voices in the void, he twitched slightly.
“Crawlers don’t usually carry gold triums,” added Veredus flatly, stepping in from the night. A monstrous dune hound followed him in, causing Ana to pause in stupefied horror before she jumped and squeak in fear. The beast stood more than a meter tall, and bristled with thorns. He padded across the room on claws black as midnight. The hound looked at Eli curiously, the gnarled scar tissue on the hounds’ eye tightening. Eli recognized the beast immediately, his eyes widening in fear. Eli could swear the beast was smiling. “To’ka, do not taunt the boy,” it was neither a command or a request, merely a statement. The hound looked back at Veredus for a moment, and Eli thought he could hear faint whispers on the wind. The hound strode to a small rug and sat, staring at the room where Rien lay. “Besides,” Veredus continued, his eyes lingering for a long moment on the hound, “crawlers would have little reason to murder anyone but for a profit, and there would be little profit it attacking a Charric.”
Janus smiled at the sight of the hound, a mischievous grin splitting his face. He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms across his chest. “You surely keep the queerest of company. A truly unique beast you have here,” his eyes flicking to Veredus briefly.
Veredus nodded appreciatively. “To’ka is a friend and-”
“I was not addressing you, hunter. I was talking to Renaulte.” Veredus’ stony countenance failed to hide a small flash of annoyance. The Luminary locked eyes with Janus, Renaulte’s face was a mask of suspicion and interest. Janus leaned forward, his loosely curling hair lolling around his head. “It makes no difference. The matter at hand is far more dire. Who would have paid street crawlers to kill us? We are hardly persons of interest.”
Renaulte’s eyes were fixed on Janus. “We both know that is not true.”
Janus returned the Luminary’s glare. “I’m sure I have no idea what you are talking about, good sir. I am a man of no consequence.”
Renaulte grinned slightly. “Fortunately, no one else seems to know either. This particular attack was directed at Rien.”
“But why?” Eli asked, ignoring the curious exchange.
“For the same reason that her very presence causes you a degree of pain. She is a Nullsoul, as are all true Charric. It is a genetic deformation unique to their people. It is the reason they are so reclusive, and they reason they are so misunderstood. They have no psychic presence, or, if you prefer the generally accepted view of the church, no soul. For us, who are born being bombarded with psychic input from all other life, being subjected to the presence of a Nullsoul can be a painful experience. They are impossible to sense, and this strangeness, combined with their reclusive nature have led them to be branded as witches or kin to demons by the Goldmasques, and intensely shunned by most others.” Renaulte laughed softly, “Truly, The irony is stunning.”
Ana smiled at that. Eli nodded at the Luminary’s explanation. Many of the words seemed unfamiliar, but he was able to glean meaning regardless.
“I think I understand” Eli said with a nod, “yet, who would pay street crawlers to kill her? Why not mercenaries?”
“Someone who wanted it to look like a common murder.”
“But who?” Ana asked. Eli twitched almost imperceptibly, earning him a curious glance from Renaulte.
“We do not know,” answered Renaulte, “there are many who distrust the Charric, but wishing them dead is another matter entirely. Veredus and I will continue to look into it.”
“To’ka and I went back to the site of the attack. There was little left, but we smelled much and more. The stale smell of guards from the garrison, too long cooped up in the barracks, the stench of the street crawlers, and the incense-laden trails of holy men.”
“That would not be unusual,” Janus cut in, “it is part of the priesthood’s duty to commend the souls of the deceased to the Father. Even the souls of men such as they.”
Veredus shook his head. “These men were different. They smelled of iron and violence.”
“Interesting… The Church of the Holy Family certainly have no love of Shiners or Nullsouls, nor would they even blink at spending a few paltry gold triums. It is possible that they may be behind this, but that is quite an accusation to make. And one that is likely to get you excommunicated and executed for heresy.” Renaulte tsked and shook his head. “This is disturbing news indeed. Best to not speak openly of this, lest we bring the eyes of the Goldmasques upon us. Secrecy would serve us well at this moment,” Renaulte sighed heavily and glanced at Veredus. He nodded.
“There is something else,” Veredus added, “this incident has shown us that your training must be accelerated and expanded. You will all begin to learn basic combat principals as soon as you are well enough to continue.” He was cut short by the soft creak of a door. One of the young Charric children cautiously peered out from the dim side-room and nodded wordlessly to Renaulte, who smiled softly and stepped toward the child. “Come, Eli. Her clan wishes to see you.”
Eli stood as quickly as he could, taking care to not strain his already throbbing shoulder and hurried to the Luminary’s side as they retreated to Renaulte’s solar.
A cluster of Charric stood hooded and silent around Rien’s form. Eli’s head ached and throbbed. Nullsouls, Eli thought. Somehow simply knowing what caused the headaches seemed to lessen them. Renaulte seemed only mildly bothered by the effect. The air was heavy with the scent of salt and sage. The dim light left the faces of her clan in shadow. Eli stepped forward, shrugging off Renaulte’s cautionary gesture. He knelt at Rien’s bedside, and placed his hand upon hers. He felt the eyes of her clan upon him, glaring, disapproving. He didn’t care. He wanted to touch her hand. Why? Why do I even care about this stranger? Because she is my friend. That thought giving him assurance, he placed her hand in his, squeezing it softly. “I am sorry,” he whispered. “I am sorry…” Her bruised face was swollen and cut, but she was still beautiful. Her arms were splinted and bandaged, but they still appeared strong. Yet here, on this bed, she seemed so frail and vulnerable. The thought twisted Eli’s stomach in a knot.
The tallest figure spoke, his voice deep and his speech clipped and strangely accented. “Hash’an tolera, Machus. We must thank you. It is remarkable to find a batu who would risk losing a coin to help one of us. To find one who would risk his very life… The gods have surely smiled upon us this day.”
Eli smiled sadly, and nodded. Words were not needed, he felt. These Charric seemed stoic and content with silence. In the dim light, they made statuesque and imposing figures with their gray cloaks and shortswords. Even the young children seemed capable and disciplined.
“How did you come to cross paths, batu? How did this happen, and who is responsible?” It was the mother who spoke this time, her voice soft and undulating, sharing the same odd accent.
Renaulte shot a cautionary glance at Eli, warning him to not mention too much. The speculation of the Goldmasque involvement would be better left out, he decided. He relayed the events of the incident on the streets, the Charric appearing stony and impassive as ever. They never questioned or doubted, merely listened, emotionless. Veredus would have approved.
“Why did our clan-sister accompany you in the first place?” Said one of the older children, a young man who sounded very much like his father.
“I was going to bring her here, to the Luminary. I thought he might be able to assist in her search for her mother.” Her mother! Eli thought. He had nearly forgotten.
The Charric collectively tensed. “She told an outsider of her agewish, did she? That is most… unorthodox.” It sounded half a curse from the lips of her father.
Eli turned to Renaulte excitedly, whose countenance waxed melancholy as he looked at Rien’s fragile form. “Renaulte, her mother was supposedly seen in the enclave close to 15 years ago before she disappeared. Do you ever recall a Charric woman passing through?”
Renaulte said nothing, merely stared at Rien, his lips silently mouthing words. The Charric shifted to look at the Luminary, who seemed lost in thought. Eli had never seen his face look so sad. Or so empty.
“…Renaulte? Do you remember any-”
“She looks just like her mother. It is the eyes. Mim had them, too.” The Luminary chuckled softly, shaking his head. “She always smiled beautifully.”
His words hung in the silent room. No one said anything in response for a long moment. The Charric said nothing; merely stood there, taut as a bowstring. Perhaps they did not know what to think.
“You… You knew her?” Asked Eli cautiously.
“Aye, lad, that I did… I spent most of my life with her. Mim was no true Charric, at least not by birth, which is why it took so long for the Charric to finally come, I imagine. They tend to look less than favorably upon outsiders, and no matter how much of a Charric she was at heart, she was not by blood. She took that title for herself when she was still young.”
The Charric seemed more rigid than usual, almost as if they were ashamed of Renaulte’s words. The clan-head shuffled slightly. “You know where Mithra has gone?”
The Luminary tore his eyes away from Rien and held the clan-head’s gaze. Eli had never seen the Luminary so full of emotion. After a long pause, the Luminary sighed. “No. I do not know where she now walks, or if she even lives.” He is lying. Eli was sure of it. But why? There are always more questions, it seemed. The Charric appeared unsatisfied, but did not question Renaulte further. Soon, they prepared to leave, and they agreed to allow Rien to stay in the Luminary’s home to rest, as it would be more comfortable as well as safer than the inn. The clan bowed in thanks to Eli and Renaulte, and quietly departed into the early morning twilight. As they left, Eli’s headache lessened before quickly fading away completely.
Ana had since fallen asleep in the bed where Eli had only recently lay unconscious, and Janus slept haphazardly in a chair close to Ana. Renaulte and Eli stepped down to the lowered hearth where Veredus sat cross-legged on the floor, his hand upon To’ka’s back. The leather and iron armored man was motionless, his eyes shut and his breathing slow. The seated hound stared into the flames, his solid silver eyes sparkling like a polished jewel. Eli found the hounds presence strangely comforting, considering it had attempted to kill him at the edge of the Red Plains. Eli froze, his breath catching momentarily. The light flickered outward from the flames, causing the shadows to dance, but there were one too few shadows. Veredus and the hound shared a shadow. A truly unique beast you have here… Janus’ words echoed in his head. The sight made his head spin, and he looked away lest his mind falter.
Sitting down heavily, the Luminary let out a long sigh of relief. His shoulder length hair was more frazzled than usual and the touch of gray on the temples more pronounced. His normally fiery green eyes were dim, and his brow was set with a heavy furrow. Eli had never seen the man so drained. His emotions regarding Mithra must be strong, indeed. Eli sat on the floor next to the hearth, warming his hands on the fire. The soft hum of the wind as it slipped down the peaks of the God’s Wall rolled around the building in bursts and rustled the branches outside. The wood in the fire cracked and popped, filling the room with the earthy scents of pine and oak. To’ka yawned, his massive maw stretching open to reveal rows of ferocious teeth. Eli stared at the Luminary, deciding how to best ask his question. Directly, the Luminary would say.
“You lied.” Eli said simply. “Why did you tell the Charric that you did not know where Rien’s mother was?”
“Despair does strange things to a man, Eli Machus. Why did you lie to me about what you saw in the void and about what happened in that fight?”
“Despair does strange things to a man, Renaulte Jarta, Luminary of Arcturus.”
Veredus smiled – a rare sight indeed. The Luminary snickered. “It is good to see that you are taking my lessons to heart, lad. An exchange, then. I will tell you all about Mim, and you will tell me everything you saw, and everything you remember.”
With Janus and Ana asleep, he had no fear he would be misunderstood. The Luminary would surely not brand him as mad. It could not be that simple. “Aye, sir, that I can do.”
“Good lad,” Renaulte said. “Now, there is something you must understand: you are safe in this enclave, protected from the tides of war and the greed of tyrants, and bloodlust of madmen. The people here want nothing more than to live as their fathers, age as their fathers, and die as their fathers. The people of the enclave have never wanted anything more than what they already have and what they already know. Matthias’ father changed that, for some, but that is a story for another time. The people of the enclave know little of the world, they are blissfully ignorant and protected. The other inhabitants in the cradle of the Targus Valley do not enjoy such freedom and isolation. The petty southern kings bicker over tracts of land, and the northern freeholds are plagued with stalemated parliaments and apathetic senators who care only for their own riches, and the Charric are recluses who want no part of the world of men. Beyond the Gods Wall and the Red Plains, barbarians armed with the tools of their ancestors failed technocracies slaughter their brothers so they may live another day. There is no unity, merely strife. War is a mostly foreign concept to you.
I knew Lady Mithra long before she became a lady. I knew her when we were children skipping stones on the banks of the Jeweled Sea, far to the southwest where the God’s Wall gives way to hills and and stony beaches. This was many years ago, when the southern kingdoms were still a unified empire under the Aristhene dynasty. In her short hair she often acted the boy, despite the scorn it earned her from the other women. She was a lovely girl with amethyst eyes, a heart that never yielded to bitterness, and a mind that could solve any problem with remarkable quickness. We spent many years on those stony shores, learning our trade from our elders. She was to be a seamstress, as many of the women tended to be, and I was to be a carpenter. It was a simple life, but in simplicity there was great contentment. Our village, Landsdowne, was a sleepy seaport sitting on the banks where the Hausmann Rush met the Jeweled Sea in a wide bay. We were insignificant, lost in a city of little significance. Until the Morvian Empire crumbled once the Arithenians were ousted. Then the petty kings could not agree on whose property we were. Four years after the collapse of the empire, King Harlus and King Pentus brought their war to our city.”
Renaulte leaned backwards, shaking his head sadly. “The soldiers here talk of the glory of battle – Matthias, like his father, capitalizes on it – but they know nothing of war. A war is not brief, glorious duel between good and evil, it is a long and crippling series of murders between men too stubborn to give up something which neither had any claim to. It was not a glorious revolution, a fight against oppression, or a battle for survival. It was senseless killing to determine whose name would be writ in the annals of history as the victor. We had received a message from our “Rightful and gods-appointed King” that he would be arriving within a matter of days, and that we must make ready for his arrival, or suffer the consequences. The problem was that no one in Landsdowne knew who our “Rightful and gods-appointed King” was, or what he even looked like. We merely knew that we did not want to incur his wrath. It was Harlus who sent the message, we were to discover later, but it was Pentus who reached our city first. We welcomed him as we were instructed, and he was overjoyed at our reception. Harlus arrived a day later, and was furious at what he saw. He branded us traitors and swore that he would see our town burn.”
The fire cracked and popped, spitting embers onto the stone hearth. Renaulte stood and placed another log in the fire, kneeling as he stoked it. To’ka lay down, his ears falling flat and his eyes shutting. Veredus’ breathing slowed further. The Luminary made his way back to his seat, the chair creaking slightly as he sat. “Great King Pentus swore to us that no such burning would ever occur, provided we supply them with all the men we had. So, out of fear, we complied. I, along with the other men and boys, was placed in the vanguard of Pentus’ army. We were clad with rusted bits of armor, chipped swords, hammers, sticks, and stones. I was sixteen. Mim refused to leave my side, so she passed herself off as a boy and stood beside me in the vanguard. We marched, as best we knew how, onto the wheat fields a few kilometers outside the town walls, and the body of Pentus’ army marched behind us, along with Pentus’ himself. Then we saw the enemy, clad in steel and filled with violence, just like the men behind us. They wore the same armor, and used the same weapons; they merely flew a different flag. They all looked the same to us. They were the same to us. We were simply caught in the middle. We heard the order to charge. So we charged. And so they charged. And we died. Friends, teachers and priests alike were cut down by Harlus’ legionnaires. My father died when a sword took him in the belly. So we, being men in despair, did the last thing we could do. We broke, and we ran. I grabbed Mim by the hand and we made for the walls of Landsdowne, hoping that they would protect us. It was not long until Pentus’ men broke and fled with us.
We made it safely inside the walls, sealing the gates as soon as we could. Some of Pentus’ men made it inside the walls with what was left of the van. Pentus himself, however, was smashed against the walls with what remained of his forces. The highest ranking soldier of Pentus’ men inside the wall sent a courier to Harlus with a message of our unconditional surrender. Harlus sent us back his head with a blood-scrawled note that read “no quarter for traitors.” So Harlus and his men set about building rams and ladders. We prayed and made ready to defend the walls.
The first fires broke out after midnight, when flaming stones and arrows crashed into the cities tightly packed buildings. The legionnaires poured over the walls, slaughtering as they went. We had nowhere left to run. Mim and I heard a voice, from somewhere beyond the noise and clamor of battle. It called us to the temple. We thought it must be the father himself, speaking to us, saving us. We ran to the temple and hid there, beneath the altar of the father. Soon, more began to arrive, saying they had also heard the voice. There were six of us, all young. Soon, the Luminary who resided at Landsdowne entered. His clothes were ripped and bloody, his face ragged. His blade dripped blood, and his weapon glowed red from repeated discharges. He asked us where the other four were. No one knew. No one answered. He sighed sadly, and shook his head. He had been watching us, he told us, monitoring our progress. He said we possessed a certain spirit, a certain openness, and a certain inquisitive nature. He said he had a task for us, and that he would save us.
The legionnaires had found us, however, and they stormed the temple. A volley of arrows from bowmen burst into golden flame in mid flight, and the bowmen burned shortly after. His weapons killed many, his mind killed more. But they were bloodthirsty, relentless, and unending. The sheer press of bodies forced him back toward us. With a ferocious psyburst, he threw the men back. He turned to me and handed me his buckler, spinning the glass orb which rested within the wristplate. It began to glow brightly and spin rapidly in its socket. He looked at me with his pained, golden eyes and told me to lead them home. Then he turned and ran into the men who had begun to stumble to their feet. He threw his remaining buckler on the ground, and it began to shake and glow. The orb on the buckler in my hands turned red. I pressed my hand against it and the world flashed. The last thing I saw was a ball of coruscating blue energy burst from his remaining buckler on the floor, consuming the temple in flame and light. The world shifted and shook for an instant, and suddenly this six of us stood inside a room of soft clear light. We had arrived in the White City, Arcturus. We began our training shortly after. The rest, young Eli, is history.”
Eli had more questions than he could count, but he knew the first one he must ask. “Where is she now?”
“Mim was ever the wanderer and thrill seeker. Of the six of us from Landsdowne, I was the one selected to be a Luminary. The others were assigned to my retinue to aid in various capacities. There was an… incident… fifteen years ago. After which my retinue was disbanded, and Mim was reassigned, sent on an exploratory expedition. Where does not matter. She is beyond the reach of anyone here. I fear for her, and miss her terribly.”
Eli nodded, accepting the Luminary’s words. He wondered just how close The Luminary and Rien’s mother had been. He imagined that if he were to be torn away from someone so close to him, he would never be able to bear it. Eli had no wish to dredge up painful memories from Renaulte’s past, so he decided it was better not to ask. “Will you tell the Charric?”
“No. That would give rise to many questions I would not answer. Let us worry about this matter at another time, however. You have a bargain to keep.”
Eli swallowed heavily and cleared his throat. “I suppose I do.” Recalling the sights and sounds of the battle and the voices in the void, his heart began to beat more rapidly. The images began to solidify and he could recall everything. The slick blood on his fingers, the numbness of the mind, the laughter on his lips. He felt his stomach lurch. He killed someone. He killed another person.
“I lied because I feared they would think me mad,” he said gesturing to the sprawled and unconscious forms of Ana and Janus. “I still greatly fear you will think me mad, as well.”
“Go on, lad.”
“The man in the blue tunic, he nearly struck me down. But I heard a voice, a woman; she called to me. And then I felt… something inside of me fall asleep, and something else wake up.”
Veredus opened an eye and glanced askance at Eli, and To’ka perked up an ear. The Luminary leaned back, placing his crossed hands over his mouth.
“I… killed them. I killed all of them. I drove my knife into their skulls. But I felt as if… as if I was watching everything play out before me. I could not control my hands, or even my thoughts. It is all one hideous blur. I tried to stop, at first, but the more I thought about what they did to Rien… the more I wanted them to die. And then I stopped trying to stop. And I…”
Eli trailed off, feeling empty. “Then I awoke to a dream of darkness. I dreamt I walked for hours in a fog as black as pitch over pathways which I could not see or feel.”
“They would have killed her, Eli. You did the right thing,” came Veredus’ terse and flat-toned reply. He closed his eyes once again and returned to his meditation.
“You are a Shiner, Eli Machus. Just like Ana. It seems your Psyatts were fully awoken by your little encounter.”
Renaulte nodded. “Indeed. Shiners are those who have discovered, accidentally or otherwise, how to access their psychic gifts. It is rare for a person to make the discovery on their own, even rarer for them to survive it. During a Kindling, a persons third eye is opened, whereupon they become aware of their untapped well of psychic strength, and they are able to see into The Periphery for the first time. Opening the third eye is immensely difficult, learning how to close it is nearly impossible. Most go mad at what they see or destroy themselves with a sudden influx of power they cannot control. Never before have I heard of one coming so close to madness as you; consider yourself fortunate.”
Eli felt his stomach turn, both at the thought of standing on the brink of sanity and of witchcraft. “But there is no such thing as magic, the gods stripped mankind of that when they departed this world. I cannot be a practitioner of witchcraft, that is impossible!” The moment he spoke the words, Eli realized how utterly hollow they sounded.
“Come now, Eli. Closed-mindedness is unbecoming of you. Look into your heart, it knows the truth even if you would try to smother it.”
Eli’s mouth moved silently, unable to find words. “I know it.” His stomach churned. Not only am I a killer, I am a witch as well, Eli thought miserably.
“Good lad. Now, there are important things you must keep in mind. Being a Shiner does many things to you: it makes you supremely dangerous to yourself and others, it makes you a target for Goldmasques and witch hunters, it forces you to exercise constant control and vigilance. However, it does not make you evil, though the Priesthood would strongly disagree. If people discover what you are, they will revile you, curse you, and possibly try to kill you.”
“I must become a recluse, then? I do not see how this is a positive thing in any way.”
“Hatred is the last bastion of the willfully ignorant and the fearful,” Veredus said icily, “but not all are ignorant and fearful.”
Renaulte nodded. “Aye, Veredus is right. Even so, your powers can be easily concealed from most with relative ease. I, like all Luminaries, am a Shiner, as is Veredus. Ana, has gone through her Kindling, as well. Merely by surviving your Kindling, you have already learnt to control your third eye. The most difficult part is done, and with even a small amount of practice, you will be able to hide your abilities with little difficulty.”
Eli smiled as he felt a great weight fall off of his shoulders; he would not have to go through this alone, nor would Ana. The thought was a great comfort.
“Furthermore, Psyatt’s are unique to each person. They are influenced and channeled through your mind. Like water through pipes, the psychic energy must run the gamut of your memories, your thoughts, your emotions – everything that you are, your very soul, in effect. This changes the manner in which the energy is released, resulting in unique manifestations. Granted, there are many Psyatts which can be almost universally accomplished through thought and willpower, such as a burst of strength or speed. These I can teach you to control. Your unique talent, whatever it may be, is up to you to discover and harness.”
Despite himself, Eli was excited, elated even. He had never found anything that made him unique before, his countless apprenticeships had ended with good, quality work only because he worked hard, but he never had a particular talent or love for any of them. Others fell easily into smithing, farming, working the mills, or soldiering. Eli never showed the unique talents that others had. Perhaps he had finally found one. The thought filled him with joy, and for reasons he did not understand, with fear.
A shadow skirted across Eli’s mind. “This… void, The Periphery, you called it. What is it?”
Renaulte shifted uneasily. “It is a land invisible to the all eyes save the third. Little and less is understood of it, but we know that all Shiners have a presence within The Periphery. Veiled in darkness, it hides much from wandering eyes. We know very little, but not for lack of trying; something in the darkness breeds madness in those who gaze too long.”
Eli paused, considering. Renaulte leaned forward, curious. “You said you dreamt of darkness – that is The Periphery. Odd, though, that you walked the void for so long. Those without training and discipline usually can withstand fleeting glimpses before going fully mad or shutting their third eye. Your mental fortitude is commendable indeed. You are stronger than you know.”
Silence hung heavy in the room, interrupted only by the staccato crackling of the smoldering fire and the soft sound of Veredus and To’ka’s deep, harmonious breaths. Curiosity prodded at Eli’s mind. “So what makes the sound? Is that normal to hear?”
Renaulte froze for a moment and looked at Eli with an empty expression. “What did you say?”
“There was something in the void that made a sound, like a long, throaty wail. I saw them, or.. felt them, I suppose. I could not really see them, but I knew they were there. They were… darker, somehow than the blackness of the void, like ink on coal. I heard them many times before I sensed them. They followed me through the darkness, chased me. They nearly caught me, I think. What are they?”
Veredus and Renaulte looked at one another gravely. Eli’s stomach turned to rot as he realized that such a thing was far from normal.
“It would seem we have less time than the White City thought.” Veredus said, expressionless as ever. To’ka growled softly, hints of a snarl showing on the hound’s face.
“The Shadowsingers have come.”