Keeper of Stone and Stars - A Novel by Diana Whiley (Chapter Three Now Available)



CHAPTER ONE

(Please note that the author will be submitting each chapter as it is written and they will be added to this page)

     Compelled, driven by tone and melody, Eryn walked from Antarctica through the blue circle of light into night, and a dimly lit alley.

     Warm air pulsated around her, the scent of ocean, wood smoke and exotic foods strong.      The cobbled stones under her feet fixed her mind powerfully. Below, she sensed layers and layers and… a Sentience.

     She swayed and put a hand against the nearby wall. 

     What had Milav’s violin done?

     Before she could think, assimilate what had happened, a dark and disturbing music stirred, reached out toward her….

     She instinctively ran.  Ran down the alley and many more until she was gasping and had to stop. She tried to catch her breath quietly. Listened, but nothing stirred. It was quiet and she realised it must be the middle of the night here.

    She stood a moment unsure of what to do next when something called to her, sweet and pure like spring water. She hesitated then moved slowly toward its promise of respite. Noted glass and stone buildings like shop fronts as she passed them. Finally stopped in front of a door.

     A chime sounded and the door opened.  A white haired man stood before her linked to it, a spectrum of colour and pattern around his body.

     “I am Bralik, a Magi,” he said. “My ward song sensed you. As did I. Something’s happened.”

     “Yes. “

     “Best come in then,” and moved back.

      She stepped over the threshold and immediately felt an easing. He closed the door. “Let’s go into the kitchen. I’ll start a fire and you could do with some wine.”

     She agreed and followed him passed shelves filled with old bark and small bottles through a back door to a cozy room.

     He went straight to the fireplace and lit the stacked wood. Then moved to a cabinet and brought back a decanter and a goblet.

     Erryn sat and took a sip of what was very like Madeira, thick and sweet. It warmed her and she looked up. Bralik sat opposite waiting patiently.

     She began, haltingly. “On the street, I…and this might sound strange but…a music. Wrong. Dark stirred. It was coming for me “

     “How long ago?”

     “I ran down a lot of alleys until I stopped here.”

     “Your shield is strong but at one moment you were open. I know you are a Wilder.”

     She stiffened. What did that mean? 

     He put up a hand. “You have nothing to fear.  I do not adhere to the Magi Council’s rulings or restrictions,” Paused. “Your experience is disturbing and there have been rumours. You travel alone?”

     “I became separated from my family.” A part truth.

     “They have lodgings here?”

     “No, it happened before I entered the city,”

     “That is ill news. You are obviously untried, your magic unique.”

     That startled her. “I am certainly a skilled musician but…:

    “Believe me, you are more than that.  And I have something I think might interest you.” Left before she could protest.

    She stood. Had she just fallen into some trap?”

    He returned all too soon carrying a long black bag, its shape familiar. He withdrew… a violin; The violin Milav had given her.

     “That’s impossible,” she said hoarsely 
     “You recognize it. I suspected you might. This instrument has been in my keeping for a long time.”
     “It can’t have been.”

     “Look closely, tell me if there’s been a mistake,” and held it out to her.

     She took it tentatively but as soon as her hands touched the wood, she felt, saw a tendril of dark music unfurl.

     Bralik abruptly took the violin & put it quickly back inside the bag. “I see it. We must go.” Then pushing the violin back into her hands, hustled her toward a walk-in pantry. .

     “What if the violin drew the music?”

     “No. It was you and the violin together.”

      It made a terrible sense.

      He grabbed a coat off a wall hook inside the pantry then touched a shelf. As one, the whole thing swung back to reveal an opening. He handed Eryn a lantern then nudged her forward, came through afterward and shut the panel firmly.

      In the small space, a spiral staircase in the corner led down to a cellar filled with wine. “A neighbours. There is a secret tunnel from here that comes out near Trelin Square. It should be far enough.”

      They moved, and a good half an hour later ascended steps to the alley opposite the square. A man stood under a Gaslamp looking down at a form on the ground, next to him a huge wolf.  Its head jerked up and Eryn heard a voice, raw with emotion in her mind.  

     Who are you?  

    She tried to back away but Bralik grabbed her arm. “I know them. It’s Denei and Tyyr. He’s Hijar. They can help.”

    Too late. The wolf had already leapt forward, reached them and stopped in front of her. His amber eyes fixed on Eryn’s with a fierce intensity.

     Wait for me. I must check on the trail of dark residue first.

     She stiffened, then he was gone.

     “That was unlike Tyyr,” Bralik said.

     “Did you hear him speak?”

     “No,” and looked at her shrewdly. “But that you can does not surprise me. Must warn you it is unusual.”

     “It is,” Denei said and suddenly he right next to her, an aura about him, a  bright bronze-gold that tried to dazzle and mesmerize. She resisted and his eyes narrowed.  

     Bralik intervened, saying smoothly, “Eryn is new to the city, Denei. What’s happened here?”

      That diverted his attention.  “A novice, Celeine. Drained of her magic before she died.”

      “By the Elements. A tragedy.”

      “Yes, and extremely bold of whoever is responsible, to come right here into the city. I’d not imagined it.”  Stopped as two swordsmen emerged into the lamplight escorting a woman. Behind them, two others carrying a pallet.

     “You must excuse me,” Denei said and he joined the woman. She knelt down to remove the cloak, said clearly.  “How is this possible?”

Denei replied, too softly to hear and the woman’s face whitened. She bowed her head a moment then gestured to the carriers. They gently placed Celeine’s body onto the pallet.

“Don’t be put off by Denei’s manner,” Bralik said. “He may be a Shalan warrior but also protects.”

“And Tyyr?”

“Has his own set of skills. The two of them have worked together for years. Travelled wide and far. Are you sure you have never met?

“No, and I truly do not know what Tyyr wants.” Then fell silent as the group of men and the woman left the square.

Bralik touched her arm and she was about to move, when another man came from the shadows.

Eryn knew it could only be Tyyr.

Dressed all in black; leather coat over tunic and pants. Black hair with the same gleaming amber eyes of the wolf.

He headed straight for her. Denei angled to intercept him but he was faster and reached her first. 

“We must talk later “he said, only then turned to Denei. “The trail was very well masked, but I found it. Then it split into many, faded. Only a Talent who has a very high skill could have accomplished it.”

“A Rogue Talent. I suspected as much after we found Ceilene. I’ll needed to speak with the city Warders.  And ask them why we saw no patrols in this area..”

“I can do that for you,” Bralik said,” but before I do, I would ask protection for Eryn. She was almost caught herself earlier.”

“You should have said so immediately,” Denei said. “Where? How did you escape?”

“I don’t know,” Eryn said stiffly.

“How could you not?”

Before Eryn could reply, she felt herself fading… and the whale song rose, its haunting melody sweeping up and over… to envelope them all… showed them:

 A man playing a lyre.  The same one studying a scroll. Speaking at a ceremony with many people.  Then an enameled box and  writhing within it a darkness…Feelings of anger and lastly a terrible pain and grief.  

When it finally stopped, the silence was profound.

Eryn shivered, cold and worn with her own, very recent grief. Barely registered the arm that came around her but slowly, slowly a warmth settled in; settled her

 “Are you all right?”

  “I’ll have to be,” she said without thinking, then looked up.  Tyyr was close, his hand on her arm.  He, must have held her.  “Who did we see?”

“You recall the vision?”

“Yes. I’ve had others,” then remembered where she was and stepped back.

 “They were silver,” Tyyr said.

“What?” 

“Your eyes. Silvered with power, like the Hishala of Legend.”

“Not me.”

“Are you sure? I felt an affinity with you, and you heard me.”

“That has never happened before.”

“You are untried?”

She ignored that. “What did you mean by an affinity?”

“I am the last of the Hijar. My race, is older even than Hishala. Part of me retains my lost kin’s memory and essence. I recognized something of it in you.”

“That’s why?”

“I still believe it possible. Your presence here, at a time when dark arts rise, adds to it. And…you just had a vision of Valies, Grand Master Magi of the High Seat.”

“And the box?”

“A containment box,” Denei said joining them, Bralik as at his side. “It only appears when a terrible injustice has been done or dark arts have been used.”

“Something is very wrong,” Bralik said.

“Then you believe what I saw?”   

“Yes,” and though Denei looked grim it was not directed at her. “Bralik has said you are without support. I offer you the protection of my House until you can be reunited with your family. My villa is nor far.”

“I… would be glad of it,” Eryn said, his aura now dimmed; no longer a problem. But felt sick, her lie weighing heavily.   

What would they think if they knew who she really was?



CHAPTER TWO

The tension in the Great Hall of Serilium rose when Rodan sat in the Dignators Box.  As Chancellor of the High Seat, it was both an honour and unusual for him to be judging the testing. Rumours had started. He’d welcomed them. 

    The Herald announced the first talent, Jahel of Gyran. He emerged on stage, bowed then began to play his lyre with passion and grief in memory of Talent Aslen. One of several  who’d been taken by dark Rogues. 

     He brought them images of the small hamlet where she had lived. Brought the taste of  the honeysuckle nectar of her home’s native trailing vine and knew the earth’s dark and rich layers. Within the layers, a crystal that was once hers, apricot rose and shot with gold shone for one long moment above Jahel’s head. When it faded, the applause cemented his place.     
     Others followed but none had the same intimate contact brought by Jahel until Talent Eline-al-Das performed.  

     She bowed to Chancellor Rodan, then took up her lyre. At first played the music and link to the deep and abiding vastness, of Lake Trelithyn near her home. At once soothed and eased the minds and hearts in the room. Continued, taking them to the forest and scented conifers at the Lake’s edge; below to the rich layers of earth; their foundation.  

    Then as instructed, she took them into the strange and compelling melody of a hidden score. Music that soared into the terrible, haunting mystery of the lost city of Eltiera.

    Time slowed and was suspended.  

    A tendril of green sprouted from the pillars supporting the carved wooden arches of the Hall. They grew and wound up to the ceiling. Buds formed. Flowers opened and their rich heady fragrance fell in a sudden rain of petals.  

     A hushed silence fell then chairs scraped back in shocked disarray. Chancellor Rodan spoke in a voice that carried. “Do not touch the petals. They will be collected by the Hall’s attendants. Mayor Favan, see to it.”  

     The man jerked in response then hurried over to the Chief Attendee. Rodan’s personal guard spread out to all sides of the hall to ensure the gathered audience did not move.  

    The gloved attendants scurried in with twelve large glass jars. They filled them to the brim then stoppered them tightly. Once they’d exited, the crowd stirred. 

     Mayor Favan took to the stage.  “The testing is now concluded,” he announced. “The Chancellor’s judgements will be posted tomorrow. Remember this day is one of celebration.”    

     A rustling wave of people moved to the exit. The Talents who’d performed on stage were escorted back to the Inn of The Silver Feather, all except Eline, who was taken to Rodan’s quarters.
    
    Later that night, certain individuals who knew the origins of the musical score followed the same fate as the owner of the score. Bodies tossed into the maelstrom of the city’s waste system into the river. 

   Rodan left Ravir in the morning, well satisfied with events, the magic of the Hall responding as he’d hoped.  Built by the Ashenti, The Old Ones, it was a sacred place and aligned with various Wei Lines across the Realm. Many had forgotten its role and significance. He’d left a watcher behind in case the awakened magic drew a wielder attracted to its essence. 

   With his ten guards, Eline and Jahel he arrived back at Aryst Castle two days later. He handed the two Talents over to his chief steward. He made his way to the hidden cells below the wine cellar. 

     Dank and smelling of blood and sweat, he entered the furthest cell, his light illuminating a silver haired man chained to the wall. 

    Sehen- El- Ten, leader of group known as ‘The Holders,’ had been stripped to his breeches, bare chest and arms resembling a spiky animal where slithers of crystal embedded his skin. 

    One crystal, larger than the rest, dripped with his blood, one drop at a time, into a bowl resting under his hand. 

    Rodan dipped a shard of crystal into the container and waited as it absorbed the blood, drew a cut with a blade across his own arm and inserted the crystal. 

     His body jerked as the bloods merged and dark energy infused his skin and bone. He fought the pain and nausea until it ran smoothly through to his heart. 

     When he opened his eyes, another dark energy swirled amongst stars before his ordinary sight returned.  

     Sehen watched him with undisguised horror and fury said. “This path will lead to certain death.” 

     “Of course it will. Yours,” Rodan said and moved forward to hit him hard across the face. His head snapped back and blood dribbled from his mouth nut he was still defiant. He wanted to hit him again but it might prove fatal. To resist the temptation he left the room. 
    His skin pricked and he rubbed his arm. He’d taken more blood than was absolutely necessary but wanted every advantage tonight.   

       The rest of the day he spent in his study checking the ancient scrolls he’d acquired over the years. Married them with the only true map in existence, of Lake Trelithyn. 

    The map had cost him more than he’d wanted to but soon that balance would be rectified. He studied the map then nodded satisfied, rolled it up and secreted it on his person. 

     Tonight he would test Eline’s talent further. If she proved useful then she’d live.   

    He left his study and went to consult with the Nasen his Stable Master then returned to the banquet Hall where Eline waited, stiff and defiant.

    “Your father is well, and will remain so I trust.” She paled at the renewed threat. “Your talents are required. Get your lyre.”

       When she’d returned, Rodan took her to the entrance of a secret tunnel. His captain, Kael joined them there and they entered the underground passage. 

     Half the hour later, he emerged outside the castle and close to the Lake where a boat lay moored to a small jetty. 

     When they were all settled in Kael picked up the oars and rowed into a golden and red sky that suddenly fell into darkness. The silence relieved by the sound of the oars and lapping water. 

    A mist rose as they rowed further into the Lake obscuring vision. Rodan shifted and pulled a crystal from his coat. It was long and quite thick. He placed it on his palm and it immediately rotated to the left. Kael adjusted the oars, veering in that direction.

     “We’re here,” Rodan said suddenly and Kael withdrew the oars from the water and slid them into the boat. 

     Eline started to move. “Be still,” he said and raised his arms, threw a tangle of coloured threads into the air. They sailed high, then fell to illuminate a large barrier of energy.  

       Rodan raised his arms bit by bit straining with effort until the very air was charged. His face contorted. A hiss then a popping exploded bright light and the barrier shimmered then broke.  Beyond it, land rose above the water.
  
     With a whoosh the boat moved quickly forward, drew past small islands to rows of white, tufted reeds in an inlet.  Kael tied the boat to a small jetty.  They disembarked and Rodan took the lead down a winding path through shrubs to a cliff overlooking a valley. 

      Taking the steps etched into the hillside, they climbed to the bottom into an amphitheatre,  where an altar suddenly materialized.  Rodan stepped forward and pulled a bowl and small dagger from his pack.  He motioned for Kael to bring Eline.   

     She struggled. “No. This is wrong,” but stopped when Rodan lay the dagger against her throat. “What will it be - death or an offering?”
   
     “An Offering,” she said on a sob.  

     He removed the dagger and pulled her to stand over the bowl then sliced into her arm.  Blood welled then fell into the bowl. 

     After a few drops he pushed her away and took a vial from his coat. He spilled its contacts into the bowl as well and waited while it blended then pointed to Eline’s lyre. “Play the piece from the testing.”

     She fumbled with tyre and after a false start steadied, the music swelling to fill the hollow. 

     The blood from the bowl curled upward, swirled through the colours of the spectrum to a blinding white. It radiated energy and power then dimmed to reveal a ghostly form with a delicate tracery of wings rising behind it. 

     Rodan threw a net of colour over the figure and it suddenly shrunk until it was cocooned and trapped. It was immediately replaced by a seething maelstrom of dark, hunger faces. They fell upon Eline. Her body convulsed then went limp. They reared up enraged. “She cannot free us.”

     “If you pledge to me, I will.” Rodan said.

    They pounced, their hunger insatiable but he blocked them with the blood and one other thing. They reluctantly withdrew but hovered nearby. “You lie,” they hissed.

     ‘No.  I have the means,’ and allowed them to see…they swirled around him again trying to slip under his defences. He stood firm; blocked them again.

     “Pledge to me,” he insisted harshly.

     They backed off, a single face emerging from the darkness. “I am Karlis. We will only agree if you supply us with more blood.”

     Rodan had come prepared. He showed them another vial. “Not yet,” he said as Karlis sprang forward. “I have a thing you must do first. Seek out this,” and mentioned a thing long forgotten.

     “We will do as you ask, only because of, and for the blood.” 

     “Understood,” and he opened the vial. Globules flew up and were absorbed by Karlis and his cohorts.  In turn were absorbed by a grey fog. 
  
     When Rodan turned back to Kael he was ready, Eline’s limb body slung over his shoulder. They retraced their steps. Noted once he’d reached the top that the amphitheatre had gone, the first entity of the island he’d summoned definitely trapped. 

     The Renegades bound and on the hunt. That left Sehen who had not divulged the Holder’s greatest secret. Had proven stronger than he’d expected, but tonight he would put the pressure on him. 


     When he returned to the castle, the message he was expecting had arrived. Sehen was forgotten as he put his other plan into motion.




    CHAPTER THREE   
   
     Emotions hanging by a thread, Ben strode away from where Eryn disappeared. Back to Casey Station and in the dorms he knocked loudly on Milav’s door. 

    When it opened it their eyes locked. “Where did you get that violin?” he demanded.

     “What’s happened? Is Eryn all right?”

    “Not remotely.” He said and brushed passed him.  “I need an answer.”

     Milav closed the door then leant back against it. “Do you believe in fables?”

     “Just tell me.”

     “Very well. An Undine, a female water spirit emerged from the lake by my home in Russia. They are dangerous, wanting human souls yet I did not fear this one. Her name was Shenta.” Paused, and Ben saw remorse and pain. “She gave me the violin then fell dead at my feet. I tried to revive her and in doing so fell into a dream – a vision and music. Of Antarctica, of Eryn and her composition. The strong impression, she was needed for something truly great.”

    “You thought a cure for your cancer? It’s not that,” Ben said flatly.” She was playing your violin when it lit up. Blue light enveloped her then she disappeared.” 

   “You searched?”

   “Of course I did. What else do you know?” 

   “No more and believe me, this is beyond anything I’d imagined. I’m sorry.”

   “Then it’s up to me,” Ben said.

    “You have an idea where to look?”

    “A chance. It could go wrong.”  

    “The bond between you is strong. What can I do? “

    “Nothing. This is off the wall. Stay put. I’ll get Garret, the guy with the huskies to talk to you later.”

     ‘If that is your wish. And have faith. There is more to this world than what we see.”

     “I am counting on it,” he said then left him, not as shocked as he might have been. He believed Milav, mostly because of the prism. It had grown hot when the blue light blazed around Eryn. A sign in his mind it connected to his time trapped in the crevasse. 

     Two days with a broken leg and the voices.  The cruellest, and hungriest whispering over and over … Come to us, be at one with us, be at one with us. Come… 

     He’d resisted them and survived, his recovery a long process helped by his family, Eryn particularly.  Even at sixteen, she’d understood him better than anyone, his passion and craft.      

     If not for her, he would not have returned. Would not have met Garret again whose presence in Antarctica had been decidedly odd. 

     When he’d approached him, Garret had come clean and shown him the prism he’d found at Ben’s feet. The veil across his memory had lifted. The prim had lured him out onto the ice back then – the cause of his fall but maybe, now, his saviour.   

     He stood a moment thinking of Eryn and wondered if she’d been compelled by that violin? To what end? That was the burning question. 

     Pack, ready he picked it up and went downstairs. Outside he passed several scientists heading for their vehicles, chatting earnestly. He remembered that too from before and himself, earnest and eager at just twenty one. Buzzed on getting the artist residency here. 

    So much changing. His own parents dead since then and Eryn’s dad Alex too, mentor and friend. Eryn there for all of it. He would not let her down. 

    He headed to where Garret waited in front of his shed, his huskies ready. There was no need for words. He climbed on behind Garret and they set off. 

     After an hour, a burgeoning awareness rose within him and he knew they were close. Garret slowed the huskies then stopped.  Ben clambered off and walked over to stand in front of the opening to the crevasse. 

     “You sure about this?” Garret said coming alongside.

     “No, but I’m going.”

     “There’s more to this isn’t there?”     
   
    “Yes. Talk to Milav, The Russian.”

    He nodded, face distant now and Ben understood. The man had given up the prism. Not an easy thing and still wasn’t sure why.  

   Together they set the anchors around the crevasse. Ben curled the long rope through his gloved hands and through his harness. A last nod to Garret then descended. 

    He went down a long way until he reached the thin ice shelf that had stopped his fall last time. The whispering started and images.. He clenched the rope…

    The desert sand and crystal shards poured into a latticed silver cage. The spaces in between filled and held.  

    Ben attached his rod then slid the cage into the furnace. The sand turned molten and he used the memory and essence of the desert to shape it, removing it from the heat at intervals to add more crystals. 

    The emerging colour wasn’t what he’d envisaged. Nor did it take the form of a whale. His skin prickled and suddenly whispers of sound, neither music nor words shivered in the air. 

    The glass swirled and for a moment he felt as if he were being pulled into something immense before it receded.  

     What was left behind seemed an impossibility.  With shaking hands he put the glass down to cool and removed his gloves… 
  
     Ice. Hands, like ice…. and Ben came back to himself. He snapped on his gloves, reeling from what he’d seen.  The future. His dream come true?  He shook his head. Dd not have time for this now.  

     He moved on, descending the last few feet within the crevasse to the small ice shelf.

     After swinging his legs back and forth, he built momentum then thrust forward, let go of the rope and rolled inside the hole. Lay winded a moment then stood.

    The space beyond stretched back a long way, to a flicker of light. It flashed and with a start, he realized it was the prism floating away.  He grabbed his torch and hurried down coming eventually to a wall of angry red and purple light. 

    The prism paused, then promptly disappeared into it.  Ben’s pulse jumped. Fear rushed in. He sweated and shook. Ripped off his parker and had nearly taken off his long black coat when sanity returned. 

    A warmth, replaced the aching cold and memory. A fire within him pushed and he stumbled forward into a thick liquid like molasses. He chocked, struggled.  A green light flickered then… he was falling, his scream whipped away from him as he went down, down past stalagmites to land on a slab of rock.

    Shaken yet with no broken bones he tried to stand but was grabbed by brutal hands. He  looked up into a face of shadow and death.  “A mortal, but with power,” it said.   

    “Give him to me,” demanded another, and Ben was abruptly shoved up against impossibly cold stone. 

    He tried to pull away but was held fast. Something began moulding itself to his back, his legs and up to squeeze his lungs as he was covered in a hard, green substance. 

    Heard through a haze, he heard.  “Johval is in place and ready. When do we strike Dark Lord?”

    “When he is successful Natan. You will take Irreden and rid me of the Elementals. Then I will be free to take The Heart.”

    A chanting started, and Ben heard footsteps echo, recede.  

    He clung to consciousness for what seemed an age when the green casing started to crack. He blinked. The casing shifted.  He moved and managed to shoulder his way into the cracks. They shattered, and he stumbled out onto the stone floor of a dark cavern.

    A small dancing flame hovered before him, then floated away. Did this twice before he twigged and followed, first into a side passage then a narrow tunnel. 

    He traveled along it eyes never still, worried he’d be heard. But there was no pursuit and he reached its end and a wall. An intricate, web of energy stretched across it. 

    The flame swirled and he saw a face, sharp high cheek bones and eyes of bright gold.    
    What you see is a defense of “The Heart.”  Be ready.  Be the fire, else it will not recognize you when you go through   

    Ben looked back. Clear. Hesitated – what if it was a trap?  

    A shriek of rage suddenly exploded in his head. He tossed his doubts aside, bolted for the web and threw himself into its centre.

    A fierce, white energy rushed over him. The dark poison that had spread through him burned anew. He struggled against the pain and the old, nightmare voices. Gritted his teeth and with a tremendous effort and rejected them. Again.  He broke through into  another tunnel. 

    It was illuminated by small bright crystals.  The man with the face of the flame stepped forward.  “Welcome. I am Elevar, and you are within Dan-Raihden, home of the Elementals.”

    “What? How? ”

    “I was checking the barriers between the Heart, and the users of the darker arts and felt your presence.”

    “Where am I?”

    “On the isle of Irreden, off the southern tip of Kalandyr. Your essence sings of fire.’  
        
    “You… see that?”

    “Yes, it clearly marks you. Why are you here?”

    “I’m looking for my sister Eryn.”

    “No other has stirred the magic here. You believe she came through?”

     “I felt a link to her in that web of energy.”

    “That does not mean she is close. The web has tendrils far and wide. Did you see, or hear anything of value behind the barrier?”

    “Yes, someone called the Dark Lord,” and repeated what had been said.  

     “That is news. I must speak to the others. First I’ll take you to a room and have food and drink brought. Then we can work out options.  

    Ben nodded, suddenly exhausted and followed Elevar into a large domed atrium.

    The lush plants inside were amass with vibrant red and orange flowers. Going through an arch at its end, they came to a landing. Ahead, a latticed walkway spanned a wide open space; above a huge dome, below white figures moving in a kind of ballet, a pattern vivid with life. 

     He saw another pattern too. Ripples, in a pool moving in the same elaborate dance beore it suddenly shot up, cascaded droplets.  

    Elevar gripped his arm. “You are being called. A rare thing, and never before, for a mortal. It is telling. You must go. Now.”

   “Where?” Ben said. He’d also felt an urgency. 

   “Across the path. It will find you,” and firmly nudged Ben onto the slender, glass path.

   As soon as his feet touched it, the path transformed into a long curving corridor that spiralled down.  

   As he descended, the sound of his heart beat louder and louder until he came to the bottom. His heartbeat sped up then. In front of him a cavern opened with hundreds of gleaming crystal terraces winding around and up to an impossible height. 

   Crystal buds of every colour fell from that height. Sprang open as they hit the floor to become a liquid churning mass. Five symbols rose at intervals within the mass.  Green, blue and bronze, then gold and red. 

   The last one pulled at him. He had to feel it and walked forward into the centre of the falling crystal and touched the symbol of… Fire.  An ancient entity spoke.   

   The First Shedding Mortal.  Answer to Uceil’s severing of the connection of true magic.  Lost but not forever.  One of the blood. One with fire to renew. 

   The words vibrated with the wildness of flame. Music followed, music torn from his very heart - Eryn’s composition. 

     He strained toward it and met resistance but pushed through and stumbled into a room of white and gold walls. 

     A man stood in its centre playing a lyre. The music had woven a complex pattern richly evocative within him. He stopped abruptly and turned, amber eyes fixed on Ben with a probing intensity. “Are you a messenger?” 

      “Just Ben,” he said and started to fall. The man was quick, caught him and dragged him onto a divan. Returned with a goblet. “Drink this.”

      Ben took a sip. Warmth ran down his throat, into his body and cleared his head. He looked up.  The man’s light brown hair was plaited on one side, twined through with green gems and pieces of bronze metal. He wore a long white tunic over green pants, said, “I am Olan, Master Magi. Have you brought news?” 

     “The fire,” he blurted, then shook his head. Why had he said that? 

     “Yes.  We are moving into the Time of Feiron, fire and renewal. I am honoured your Elemental kin have at last responded.”

     “I spoke with Elevar but not for long. I have other priorities.”

     Olan stared. He looked faintly shocked then his eyes sharpened as if he really saw him. “My apologies. Who are you?”

     “I came through Irreden looking for my sister Eryn. She has black hair and grey eyes.”

     “One of the Hishala?”

     “No, a musician. I do not know… Hishala.”

     “They are a race of legend. You too, have the look of one too. Your eyes have brightened considerably, and are as verdantly green as our most sacred forest.  Elevar must have sent you here for a reason.”

     “Not him. I walked to a cavern and through the crystals. Ended up in this room.”

     “You walked through the Heart? No simple feat.”

     “It was…potent, but something’s wrong.” Ben said. 

     “You told Elevar?”

    “I didn’t have a chance to.”  

    “Let’s start again. How were you separated from your kin?”

    “A blue light. It enveloped her, then she disappeared.”

    “Blue light, not viridian. That is promising.” Olan said. “Your land?”

    “One of ice.”  

    “Across the great sea?”

    “I cannot really say. I am unfamiliar with what I’ve seen so far.”

    “I am a Master Magi,” and pointed to the beads threaded through his hair. “And your sister?” 

    “Short hair. No adornment.”

    “Talents are tested in the city of Ravir, East of here. They prove their ability to link to the magic either through music or with a crystal. You do not seem to have either.”

    “I don’t. I am a glass artist.” 

   Olan was about to respond when a bell jangled and a man interrupted them. Wiry and of medium height, his dark eyes came to rest on Ben. Immediately a swirl of energy swept over him. Ben instinctively blocked it.  

    “Tamar, wait.” Olan said and the pressure eased. But the other spoke, eyes challenging. 
  
    “There has for six moons, been a myth circulating which tells of a city named Eltiera, inhabited by True Sentients - great magic wielders.”

    “I am not one of them,” Ben said. 

    “Sentient, or magic wielder?” 

    “Enough Tamar,” Olan interjected. “Ben has come from Irreden.”

    “That explains the shield. Is there news?”

    “Of a sort, and my apologies Ben. Tamar is my cousin and abuses the fact, but does have my confidence. I wish greatly to continue our conversation.”

    “A question first - why hasn’t Elevar contacted you before?”

    “It was never a certainty,” Olan said. “And is why I was very glad to see you. There is much amiss, our Talents dying. We need answers.”

    “The user of Dark arts?” 

    “What do you know of them?” Tamar interrupted.

    “Only that they were trying to breach barriers to the Heart.”

    “That is more than we knew,” Olan said. “The defences are holding?”

    “Yes. Elevar was concerned but didn’t seem desperate.”

     “And you seem well informed,” Tamar said eyes hardening. “Olan has been honest and he deserves no less.”

    “You’re right.” Ben said aware he needed their help. Repeated what he’d told Olan previously.

    Tamar picked up on one point immediately. “Why do you think your sister is in our Territory?” 

    Going with instinct, he brought out the glass figurine.  It reflected a multitude of darkest to lightest blues. “I made this for Eryn. A whale. She can hear their song, and recently I did too. A link. But I cannot pinpoint exactly where.”

    “The whale resides in water?”  

    “Yes, deep within the ocean. They are large and very long.”

    “Like the Balaika of legend,” Olan said and shared a long look with Tamar. “I think it a priority we find your sister.”

    “You think she’s in danger?”   

    “I am more concerned with her impact, and with yours. Many are drawn to Ravir because the magic is open. It’s possible she has been drawn there. But we are five days by caravan from Ravir, a thousand leagues north of Irreden. So why did you come here? ”

    “The music?” Ben wondered out aloud.    

    “Why do you say that?”

    Ben flushed a little. “You play a lot like Eryn though the violin has a higher tone.”

    “Violin. An instrument?”

    “Yes,” and described it. 

    “Then it is we, who are the ones to learn. Only the lyre is played in eth realm of Kalandyr. Your sister’s instrument may have a bearing on what’s happening. Music and dark arts have been used to kidnap and kill newly awakened Talents.”

    “You can’t think Eryn…”

    “That’s not what I’m implying,” Olan said quickly. “Only making the observation that you have arrived with your unique power. Your sister has arrived with an unusual instrument.  

What if the Rogue Magi are tapping into something we have not foreseen?”

    “Then we should find out,” Tamar said “I can leave for Ravir this afternoon.”

    “And you too Ben, I think it safer you go with him.”

    “You really have not seen or heard of Eryn?”

    “No. And I have many contacts. Her arrival would have been reported to me and quickly “    
    “Then it seems that Ravir is my best hope.”

    “Yes,” Olan said, and moved forward hand outstretched. Ben did the same automatically, but was surprised when Olan grasped his upper arm and spoke, words like a song. “May the elements bless and keep you. The Way be met and fulfilled.”  

    Ben replied, his words coming from a sudden knowing. “And may your journey lead you back to the truth… of your lost self.” 

    In the shocked silence that followed, he swayed. Olan gripped him harder, eyes stricken. Tamar looked ready to kill.  What had he said?

    Olan gathered himself and stepped back. “He does not know,” and faced Ben.  “I… once had a twin.”

    “I’m sorry,” Ben said voice thick and looked away. He had his own griefs.

    “His name was Iflen. And the loss of his essence, that other part of me I miss every day. Yet in your words, I felt something, an echo. Almost as if…there is something of him left after all. Do you know anything else?”

    “No, and honestly, I don’t know why I spoke like that.” 

    “It came from somewhere. And you’ve been through the Heart.  I will revisit what I need to if there is a chance I’ve been wrong. ” 

    Tamar cursed. “I want to stay but there is Lasaya to think of, and what she might see.”

    “Yes. Take a Qualin bird with you. Faszin knows you and will obey your command.”   Tamar nodded and moved to Olan’s side and they spoke softly.  

    Ben walked away needing a moment to himself.  He was embarking on a journey of five days with a stranger. That was bad enough - but what if he was going the wrong way? 




BIOGRAPHY

Previously a part time Creative Writing teacher and support worker in mental health, I participated in various community writing and art projects. 

I edited anthologies of memoirs. Set up art exhibitions. Judged writing contests for adults and children. Taught basic drawing in Community Centres. Then renewed my interest and skills in art while I wrote my first fantasy novel. 

I turned to digital art to create fantasy pieces to accompany my writing then expanded to fine art and transformative works.  Many of them inspired by nature and music - both fundamental in myth and ritual. 

My influences range from the Old Masters like Monet and Turner, to Klimt and Surrealist Salvatore Dali, to Contemporary art within Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Series of graphic novels. 

I have exhibited at home and in the US. Won on-line art competitions, and have been in art magazines and International art books.  

I am also a published writer of poetry and short stories with artwork in anthologies. 

Website         www.dianakwhiley.weebly.com

Links to art:  www.instagram.com/dizwhi    
                      www.exhibitionswithoutwalls.com  Winners Gallery   



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