Crystalline Aura – Chapter 7 – Readers and Writers Book Club

Crystalline Aura – Chapter 7

Crystalline Aura
Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Alaska Sci-Fi Queen

Chapter 7
Other Worlds

Day and night became meaningless in Franklin’s subterranean world. Most of his time he spent spelunking or exploring around the great under-ground lake. He teleported in a pirogue, paddles, and a long pole and set out across the satiny dark water, the orb lighting the way. Probing with the pole, Franklin discovered that the lake was shallow for several boat lengths out from the beach. He could see the rocky bottom as he glided over it, and then suddenly the bottom disappeared, the sounding pole finding only water. He conjured a stone from the beach, and let it drop down into the water, watching its descent. The rock went down, down, down disappearing into the dark depths before ever hitting bottom. Taking up the paddles, he attempted to traverse the lake, paddling and drifting for hours without finding a distant shore. Sometimes he would extinguish the light of the orb, stashing it away in his pocket, and listened in the dark to the mute rumbling of inner Earth, his eyes searching for some hint of natural light, his existence lost in the vast void of darkness.

When ready for rest, Franklin slept fitfully in his magnificent bed and dreamed, or so it seemed, of another consciousness, frighteningly evil and powerful. His body, sweating profusely, trembled, as the earth…if the strange world in his visions could be called Earth…shook violently, and magma and steam pushed upwards into a shattering eruption that tortured Franklin’s body again and again. Then the spasms would subside and memories of dark intrigue, illicit satisfaction, and shrewd cunning were followed by strange, meaningless messages.

She is here, or at least her powers are. I can sense them. We must find the receptacle of Anthya’s magic and destroy it before it destroys us.

Over time, the nagging voice became clearer and haunted his consciousness during his wakeful hours as well. What did the messages mean? Who was Anthya? The voice in his head said she was here. Where? And what was the receptacle of her magic that he was to find and destroy before it destroyed us? Who did “us” refer to? Did “us” include himself? These thoughts tormented him incessantly as he crawled on hands and knees, slithering on his belly through the cracks and crevices in the mountain.

You must fortify, the dark spirit warned him. Cast a spell to prevent a surprise attack. The energy is all around you. Draw on it. I will teach you how.

Franklin knew his underground chamber was unreachable…unless someone had powers similar to his own. But he learned to draw on the molecular energy around him and cast a protective shield over his domain that prevented anyone with power from entering.

Anthya’s Oracle has found a guardian, I can sense the release of her magic. You must find her and destroy her, before she destroys us, the message threatened over and over in his tortured brain.

But how can I find such a person? Franklin wondered.

By detecting the use of magic, the voice answered.

Working off his mental anxiety, Franklin crawled for hours through a tunnel offshoot the orb had found for him. There was no water flowing through the tunnel, although there must have been at some time. He contorted his way upwards through a short spiral that opened out into a space large enough to stand in. As he gained his feet, a ray of natural daylight streamed in through a pea size hole in the cave wall, the ray of light striking him on the chest.

Franklin flinched from the tiny beam, as though the ray were a laser cutting through to his heart. Then he realized the beam of light meant a window to the outside world. He approached the aperture, fantasizing over what may be on the other side. As he placed his hand beside the hole to peer out, the jumbled rock wall, tenuously held together by roots, soil, and gravel, gave way, crumbling into its components, leaving a basketball size breach in the wall of the cave. Daylight and cold fresh air that smelled of the sea poured in. He pushed on the wall around the opening, at first with his hands, and then with magic, sending rocks and debris bouncing down the mountainside, tearing away at the loosely held cave wall until most of it had crumbled away, exposing a terrain so strangely steep and precarious looking to a flat-lander, he dared not set foot outside for fear of plunging to his death. Evergreen forested mountains, partially obscured in mist, squeezed up against one another like the ridges of an accordion. Between two peaks, a tiny glimpse of the ocean glistened in feeble sunlight shining through a hole in the clouds.

The cave itself was perched up the side of a mountain slope on the edge of a rocky ravine over which a trickle of snowmelt gurgled its way downhill. There was snow on the ground between the dark, coniferous trees above him, but starting several yards below the cave, the ground was bare, sloping into a deep, narrow valley steeped in damp, dark mystery. Hemlock-spruce forest uniformly covered the steep slopes, putting him eye level with the tops of some trees. Nestled in the boughs of a towering hemlock, he could look down into what looked like a giant bird’s nest made of small branches and pine needles. There was no sign of human civilization anywhere in sight.

Then casting a glance back to the interior of the cave, yet another surprise was revealed in the light. Franklin went to investigate. An array of bones, very old looking bones, roughly outlined the skeleton of a large animal. He walked reverently around the skeletal remains, pondering on its origin. An animal of such size could never have entered the cave from the direction Franklin had. That meant it must have entered from the outside.

Franklin speculated over what might have happened. The crumbling cave wall was of a different make up from the solid rock structure of the rest of the cave. It must had been open at one time. Perhaps the animal, whose fossilized bones marked its grave, had been taking shelter here when a rock slide blocked off the entrance, trapping the beast inside… and dooming it to certain death. The macabre scenario excited him, and he repeated it over and over in his mind. Centuries of rain, wind, snow, and ice, with the help of earthquakes and gravity, must have eroded away at the rock slide, wearing away and breaking down the blockage to the entrance, until finally a tiny ray of light could shine through.

Franklin picked up the fragile, massive skull with reverence, holding it up with both hands. Strange, sightless eye sockets stared back at him. What a magnificent find! Gently, Franklin cradled the skull in one arm, then scooping up the rest of the skeleton with a wave of his hand, he returned to the warmth and orange glow of his subterranean haven.

Arriving at the cavern, Franklin placed the skull next to the rest of the skeleton on the massive stone table he had constructed himself by magically shaping the stones and moving them into position. The enormous thick stone slab that served as the tabletop, rested solidly on a stone base twice as thick and nearly as wide. Franklin sorted out the skeleton, now a jumble of bones on the table, examining each one closely as he laid them in neat rows according to size and shape. What kind of animal could it have been, he wondered? Some of the bones were large like clubs, others thin and curved. There were round bones and flat bones, and smaller ones that clattered when they touched each other. Could these have been fingers or toes? He picked up one of the smaller bones and placed it alongside his own finger. If it were indeed a finger bone, it would have been part of an awfully large hand.

Franklin’s attention went back to the skull. Picking it up, he caressed it in gentle admiration. Holding it in front of his face, he stared into the eye cavities, then turning it in his hands, he examined it from all angles. The top part of the skull, including the eye sockets, looked eerily human. Carefully, he set the skull back down.

In due course, Franklin teleported back to the cave where he had found the skeleton…and daylight. Looking out from his perch, he spotted an eagle taking shelter in the boughs of a fir tree, not far from the empty nest of twigs. He gazed out over the coastal forest, dripping under misty rain, the mountain peaks shredding the low clouds into slivers of mist that filled the valley crevices.

Franklin wanted to explore the world beyond the cave. He wasn’t afraid of rain, but the sloped terrain looked awfully slippery. Still, he was determined. He focused on a spot of ground he could see beneath the trees, and teleported himself there. Instantly losing footing, he landed butt first on the wet, decaying hemlock and spruce needles that cushioned the sloping forest floor. Slowly, Franklin got back on his feet, adjusting the angle of his body to the sloping ground to remain upright.

The woods were a jumbled tangle of dead and broken trees lying across, against, and between dripping, wet, living trees, all so covered with moss and lichen, it was hard to tell where the dead trees ended and the living ones began. Franklin soon learned that navigating the steep forest meant controlling his downward plunge between spots of less slope. Soon he was near the base of the mountain which leveled off some into a dense, narrow valley.

Franklin teleported himself down to the gentler slope of ground, breathing a sigh of relief. Taking the orb from his pants pocket and rolling it between his fingers, he commanded, Keep me warm and dry. Franklin could feel the chill leave his body, and his clothes dry next to his skin, despite the misty rain. Then returning the orb to his pocket, he pressed on.

The leafless winter underbrush became increasingly dense as he neared the stream that cut through the gap between mountains. Franklin climbed through a long stretch of sturdy alder, the towering branches, twining and twisting into living monkey bars. Spotting a clearing not far away, he teleported himself to it, and found himself on a narrow beach at the edge of the forest.

The beach was nearly as steep as the mountains, its pebbly, dark slope, slipping sharply into the silvery gray water shimmering dully under gray clouds. Steep peaks surrounded the bay in a tight embrace. In the near distance, fog obscured a narrow, watery break that opened to the ocean.

Franklin explored the mountainous world above ground with the same zeal he had explored the subterranean world deep within the mountains. He roamed the hills and valleys startling foxes and deer, and was startled in turn by a black bear. Bald eagles soared high overhead and song birds darted about the tree branches. He mentally choked off the life of a deer that crossed his path, teleported a haunch back to the open cave, and roasted it over an open fire. The rest of the carcass, he left in the woods, and the next day, eagles and ravens were taking turns cleaning the meat off the bones.

Along the shoreline, Franklin hiked the steep curving beach from point to point and beyond, discovering more steep forested mountains and more curving beaches rising out of the sea. The sea itself rose and fell with the tides, sometimes nearly covering the beach all together, and other times exposing more beach than he had imagined.

But when Franklin wearily climbed into his great bed, he slept fitfully, his dreams and his mind possessed.

We must find the possessor of Anthya’s powers, before she becomes too strong, the voice within repeatedly warned.

“But how, how can I find her?” he silently screamed in feverish nightmares.

You must seek and follow the use of magic.

↔↔

Dark, gloomy days dissolved into bright, moonlit nights. By day, the bashful December sun, fearful of being seen, hid behind clouds low on the horizon, not daring to climb above the stark, bare birch, and dark spruce spires of the forest, creating gloomy, sun-lacking days. But at night, the moon, full and robust, had no such qualms about showing off, and rose high, gloating over its brilliance, illuminating the snow-covered forest and dispelling the gloom of day.

In the light of the full moon, Rahlys thrashed about in her bed. She strained to wake up, struggled to breathe, but the nightmare refused to relinquish its hold. She was in an underground cavern that glowed eerily orange. She could see no one, but she felt Droclum’s presence smoldering around her, the reek of evil was smothering her.

Rahlys sat up suddenly, her night clothes damp from sweat. Moonlight streamed in through the window. She was safe…for now. But for how long? Giving up on sleep, Rahlys crept downstairs, lost in thought. She sat at the table, staring at the full moon shining brightly through a large break in the clouds. The hole opened to the heavens, the clouds’ tattered edges aglow with heavenly light. Below, the snow-covered landscape bathed in moonlight loomed mysteriously inviting, beckoning the adventurous to sally forth. With art paper before her, and paint- brush in hand, Rahlys immersed herself in the moonlit night. Using soft washes and subtle accents, she stroked the luminous night onto her paper. Then night turned to day, and the clouds slowly dispersed offering soft blue shadows and pale rays of sunlight filtering through trees.

Clearer skies brought colder temperatures. Each day the sun made briefer appearances, and the thermometer dropped below zero. Rahlys felt as though her body was in slow mode. As winter solstice loomed, the short, low-light days increasingly drained away her energy and drive. With the heavy, dark cloud cover, dusk followed dawn with little day in between. Unmotivated, waiting for daylight, she sat listlessly sipping her midmorning coffee. When day finally dawned crisp and clear the sun remained distant and cold, twinkling thru snow-flocked trees. Rahlys’ sun-deprived sensors wanted more. She needed to find a better vantage point with a clearer view to the south so she could soak up some unfiltered sunlight. She wanted to see the sun.

Successive snowfalls had added up and an accumulation of over two feet covered the ground. Walking off a packed trail meant sinking to one’s knees every step of the way so Rahlys retrieved the snowshoes that hung in the storage shed.

The snowshoes were of the traditional wood and webbing type, a long oblong tapering to a point in the back, but they boasted of modern, lightweight, neoprene bindings with Velcro fastenings. Rahlys placed the snowshoes down on the packed trail, and slipping her feet in place, strapped them on around her boots. The snowshoes felt heavy and clunky walking on the packed trail, but when she stepped off into unpacked snow, it was a totally different sensation…sort of like walking on marshmallows. The snowshoes sank only a few inches under her newly distributed weight, making a soft snow-packing crunch with each step, and leaving behind a beautiful snowshoe print trail.

Navigating without falling though took a little practice. It was necessary to lift the front of the snowshoes high enough to clear the snow when stepping forward, and keep the foot level, packing the snow evenly underfoot. She had to walk slightly bowlegged to accommodate the width of the shoes and avoid stepping across the other snowshoe, for to do so with any momentum guaranteed a face dive into the snow. Then there were the hidden land mines, woody stems of dormant underbrush hidden beneath the snow, poised to pierce the webbing of snowshoes and trip its wearer. After untangling herself a couple of times, Rahlys got the hang of it, and soon had a rhythm going, as she headed for a spot not far away where she was sure she would have an unobstructed view of the sun.

It was so cold, even the physical exertion barely warmed her body, and moisture from her breath frosted her hair and eyelashes. Staying on her ridge, she followed the creek, the sunlight filtered by the forested ridge on the other side. Eventually, the opposite ridge dropped down into muskeg, leaving a clear view to the south.

And there it was, the elusive, shining, yellow orb, burning cold and bright above the southern horizon. Joyfully, Rahlys stepped out into full sunlight. “YOO HOO!” she cried out jubilantly in smoky breath, spreading her arms to embrace the light.

Her cry echoed off the surrounding hills, arousing a bald eagle perched in a nearby tree. The eagle took off, gracefully spreading its magnificent wings to an astounding breadth, then slowly, definitively, the powerful wings stroked the air, and the eagle glided out over the snow-covered muskeg, wings extended. Each time it pumped its wings, the eagle gained height spiraling up in an ever widening circle over the expansive drainage basin.

With wonder, Rahlys stood in the cold sunlight, staring out across the great emptiness to the distant mountains, then up again, to watch the eagle soar high overhead. Where was Droclum in all this immensity? Was he near or far? Rahlys’ body, damp from perspiration, quickly became chilled.

Warmth, Rahlys directed mentally to the crystal, and an aura of warmth formed around her, driving back the chill. Soon the sun was heading home, dipping into the south southwest, but even after the sun sank below the horizon, and it continued to glow in her mind’s eye as she reluctantly turned westward toward home.

Darkness descended as she reached her clearing. Rahlys started up the generator. Then teleporting in an armload of wood for the stove, she entered the welcoming warmth of the cabin.

After tea and a light supper, Rahlys laid out watercolor paper and paints. She lightly sketched in pencil the outline of the composition she had in mind. As she added blues and grays, yellows and lavenders, the scene began to materialize. From the vantage point of a forested ridge, a bald eagle glided high over snow-covered muskeg, the cold, distant sun, low on the southern horizon, struggling to warm a frozen world, with snowshoe tracks leading up to the view in the foreground. The hike had invigorated her, dispelling her gloomy-light blues. She felt so much better, she made a mental promise to herself to get out and exercise some every day.

That night as Rahlys slept soundly, the troposphere above her boiled in turmoil. A front of warmer, moist air moved in from the south and collided with the heavy band of arctic cold that hung over the valley. Both air masses stubbornly refused to give way, pushing and shoving, thrashing it out into a snowstorm, the snow piling high on the valley below.

By morning, two feet of fresh snow muffled the landscape. The heavily laden trees leaned over, bent in Morning Prayer as the dark sky still brooded overhead. The snow was so deep Rahlys teleported herself to the outhouse and back. Then after a hearty breakfast, she grabbed the snowshoes stuck in the snow close to the back steps, and keeping her resolve to get out more, she headed down the trail toward the railroad tracks.

The snowshoes sank deeply into the fluffy, barely settled snow as Rahlys tunneled under snow-laden trees and branches. She paused under a young birch hanging low over the trail, its top overburdened with heavy snow. Stepping aside, she grabbed the tip of a branch, shook it, and quickly let it go. Snow showered down, and the tree top, relieved of its burden, sprang back out of reach. To her surprise, she heard the Raven’s familiar squawk, and looking up, saw him fly across the trail just above the trees.

“Araaak!” The raven circled overhead and landed in a nearby tree, sending down a cascade of snow. “Kaww!”

“Well, hi there. What have you been up to?” Rahlys asked, conversing with him for her own amusement.

“Araaak!”

“Yes, that’s how I feel too. Have you seen Vince lately? He says you’re a pest, but I’m sure he means it in a loving way.”

As though in response, the raven flew off. Then Rahlys received mental pictures of Vince’s still unbroken trail. Soon he was flying low over Vince’s cabin and Rahlys spotted Vince in the yard. He gave the raven a cursory glance, then started up the snowmachine. After circling his cabin a few times to pack down the snow in the yard, Vince headed down the trail. Flying high overhead, the raven followed him briefly, then veered off. The images ceased, but Rahlys could hear the snow- machine in the distance. Rahlys continued on snowshoes down the trail. The railroad tracks were in sight when Vince turned onto her trail. Seeing her, he came to a stop, and shut off the engine.

“Good job!” he praised her as she approached. “It’s a lot easier breaking trail uphill if someone snowshoes it first.”

“How have you been?” she asked when she reached him.

“Great! And you?”

“Dragging with these short low-light days, otherwise, fine.”

“So you are doing some snowshoeing, I see.”

“Yes, trying to stay in shape and beat the gloomy-day blues. I was starting to zombie out.”

“I wanted to let you know I’m going out on the train Sunday, for the week. If you need anything, I’d be glad to pick it up for you.” Vince paused, “I’m also going to try and convince Maggie to come back with me for the holidays.”

Rahlys was fairly certain he would succeed. “How about I give you a list to give to Maggie?”

“That would work. I’ll drag your trail tomorrow, since you’ve already broken it, and pick up that list.” He put on his headphones and goggles, and started up the snowmachine, but he needed a turnaround. Looking around, planning his route, Vince stood on the running boards, straddling the seat. After acquiring some speed, he forced the snowmachine off the trail, into the unpacked snow, breaking a loop through the trees…and headed back north to his trail.

↔↔

Dressed in her silver council robe trimmed in green, her long, dark, graying hair bound with jewels to match the jewels on her sandals, Zayla paced the smooth stone paths of the garden atrium that adjoined her rooms, impatiently waiting for Anthya. She took a deep breath to calm herself, then rehearsed the foundation of her support for Anthya’s proposal in her head. Anthya had impressed upon her the urgent need. Now, could they convince the Runes of the Crystal Table?

Anthya, similarly dressed, and looking as fresh as the flowers bathing in the golden sunlight, entered through the lavender stone arch at the end of the lush garden. “Shall we go? The Council will be meeting momentarily.”

“Yes,” she said with ease, and followed Anthya through the arch to the Way, a long, wide paved avenue sheltered under crystal skylights that fractured the golden sunlight into mosaics of gold, green, rose, and lavender. Stone archways led out to public gardens, pools, athletic fields, and fountains. Beyond, carved into the mountains, private living quarters opened out onto these public arenas.

At one end of the Way stood the Academy, at the other, the Council Hall. A few other council members could be seen rushing toward the great chamber. Anthya and Zayla teleported themselves forward and reverently followed the other councilors into the crystal-domed hall. They quietly took their seats in high-backed crystal armchairs, elegantly carved, the seats and armrests softened with cushions of embroidered silver. Eight chairs encircled a large, oval, crystal table. Before each chair, a symbol was etched into the table, representing one of the eight Runes of Power. At one end of the table, a ninth chair, still empty, sat on a crystal dais a short distance away. The council members waited expectantly for the High Councilor to arrive and engage the assembly.

Clova, the High Councilor, with dark velvety smooth skin and long jet-black hair restrained in jeweled ribbons, entered the chamber and stood before the assembly. Without delay, she began with the traditional preamble, “I welcome you here today, Councilors, so that we may seek together, purpose and direction, for the greater good of all.” The skylight above them darkened and the eight Runes of potent power: Crystal, Water, Fire, Air, Soil, Sun, Moon, and Void began to glow.

“The power of the Runes will indicate who will speak, and in what order. When the symbol before you hovers over the table, you are recognized. No one else, besides myself, is allowed to speak while your Rune is in place. When it dissolves, your say has ended, and you are to say no more. Speak falsely, and you will be banished from the Council.” Anthya noted that she was ‘Crystal,’ and Zayla was ‘Fire.’

“If everyone will focus their thoughts, we will begin.”

The first speaker chosen by the Runes was Councilor Brakalar, head master of the Academy. A glittering replica of the ancient symbol for water floated up from the etching in front of him, and took position hovering above the center of the crystal table. “Councilor Brakalar, you are recognized,” the High Councilor said, and took her seat on the crystal dais overlooking the proceedings.

Brakalar rose. Strong and solemn, eyes full of wisdom, he began to speak. “As you all know, I have been working with a team of talented magicians to create a counter-spell capable of overturning the corruption of Droclum’s evil that taints the wastelands and ruins around Mt. Vatre. I feel the time has come to decontaminate and reclaim the area. There is a candidate from the Academy ready for assignment who has been working very closely with me on the project. His name is Sarus. He is very dedicated, a gifted sorcerer, and offers high hopes of success. I propose assigning Sarus leadership of a mission to the wastelands to explore and reclaim the lost part of our world.” It was clear from the silent nods around the table, the councilors were in agreement.

Zayla wrung her hands in a nervous twitch as she recalled the first mission into the wastelands…long ago, with similar goals. She and Brakalar had been on that mission…and there had been discoveries… secrets which they still held. Would the Runes compel Brakalar to confess what he knew?

The Rune remained in place, so Brakalar continued, “The other two candidates for assignment are Kaydra, a cunning sorceress, yet sensitive mentor, and Quaylyn.” Brakalar paused, choosing his words carefully. “Quaylyn is an extraordinary sorcerer, the most gifted we have seen in a long time; but sadly, he lacks…restraint.”

Zayla almost gasped at the mention of Quaylyn’s name. But the watery Rune dissipated, and the sun symbol floated out from in front of Councilor Renna, and hovered over the table.

Renna, their chosen representative to the Worlds’ League, had wild, reddish-brown hair barely contained by jeweled ties. She smiled fleetingly at the councilors. “A healing for our ruined lands has been long overdue and Sarus is indeed a promising candidate for such a mission. Regarding the remaining candidates for assignment, I would like to bring to the Council’s attention the Worlds’ League’s need for a talented sensitive to serve as mentor to Twaka, our newest member in the Worlds’ League. I believe that Kaydra’s strengths would be ideal for the troubled planet.” Again, general consent was felt around the table.

Then Anthya was taken by surprise when the Sun Rune suddenly dropped back into place before Renna, and the glowing Crystal Rune rose from in front of her to take its place. Zayla felt Anthya’s confusion over how to begin; the councilors waited patiently for her to speak.

“The Power of the Runes clearly wants us to hear what you have to say,” Clova, the High Councilor, coaxed her.

Slowly Anthya began, “When I carried Sorceress Anthya’s Oracle to Earth, I hid it deep in a glacier in the northern latitudes of the planet for safekeeping until Anthya’s powers were needed to confront Droclum. But recently, Earth’s global climate has experienced accelerated warming which has melted back the glacier and released the Oracle. As fate would have it, the same global warming generated a devastating storm in another region of the planet that unearthed the Dark Orb… which is Droclum. Both Anthya’s Oracle and the Dark Orb now have Guardians.” Anthya paused to collect her thoughts. She could feel Zayla’s moral support. The Crystal Rune remained in place above the table, waiting for Anthya to continue.

“The humans of Earth have evolved brains which are capable of tapping the natural elemental forces that abound, but these abilities remain unknown, unused, and generally not trusted, hence undeveloped. Rahlys, the guardian of Anthya’s Oracle, shows great potential for development. But she is overwhelmed with the power that flows within her, and there is no one to guide her. We can be certain that Droclum will see to the training of the embodiment of his new life. I feel that in all fairness, Rahlys and her warriors should also receive help in developing their abilities.” Anthya had reached the critical point where she intended to volunteer her service, but to her surprise, the Rune returned to its place before she could do so.

The Rune for Soil hovered over the crystal table reflecting its light. Jarlon, master of sorcery and defense, a dark and brooding man, began to speak, “I agree with Anthya, that we should do whatever we can to help Rahlys defeat Droclum; we certainly do not want Droclum to gain enough strength to return here, or threaten another world. Droclum must be stopped on Earth, and as quickly as possible, before he builds up too much strength. I sensed Councilor Anthya’s willingness to volunteer for this mission, but while Councilor Anthya is a great mentor, she is not a warrior. I suggest we send Quaylyn instead. I have worked with Quaylyn at the Academy, and I believe he is ready for the challenge of a mission to Earth. He’s bright, talented, and trained as a warrior and what Brakalar calls lack of restraint is actually high-spiritedness. The Soil Rune returned to its place before Jarlon.

Zayla nearly gasped audibly. She was deeply disturbed by Jarlon’s proposal, but no one else seemed to be. That was because they didn’t know what she knew…except for Brakalar. Zayla could not read Brakalar’s tightly closed thoughts.

No additional speakers were indicated. The skylight overhead lightened, and the Runes, etched on the crystal table, darkened. The High Councilor stood and spoke with unflinching authority, “Councilor Brakalar will prepare Sarus for his mission to Mt. Vatre. Councilor Renna will prepare Kaydra for her mission to Twaka. And Councilor Anthya will ready Quaylyn for his mission to Earth. I bid you peace.” And with that, the High Councilor walked out the Council Hall.

Zayla and Anthya walked out together. It was done. Quaylyn would be sent to Earth to instruct Rahlys on the use of her powers. Zayla hoped the decision was the right one. At least Anthya seemed at peace with the choice. “I will leave you to your task,” she said, calmly, and smiled.

Anthya watched her go, then sending out a mental search, she located Quaylyn’s signature at the outdoor athletic arena outside his living quarters, and teleported herself there. An elaborate Traw playing field laid before her. The grueling sport of wit, speed, and dexterity had been a passion of hers when she had been a student at the Academy. She spotted Quaylyn on the court, immersed in a heated game, with Sarus and Kaydra teamed against him…and Quaylyn was obviously winning. The three Traw players stopped as she approached, their expectations of the news she may convey after Council taking precedence over the game.

“Quaylyn, I would like to speak with you,” Anthya said with quiet authority, her poise serene.

Sarus made a move, his golden eyes flashing, “Brakalar is calling me,” he announced, “Good day, Councilor Anthya.” And he vanished from their sight.

“I’m being called, too,” Kaydra said, her dark animated eyes betraying the excitement she was trying to control. With wavering composure, she handed Quaylyn the playing wand she had borrowed, then she too, disappeared.

Dark orange rain clouds could be seen on the horizon, promising much needed rain. Anthya could feel the increase in humidity, as a warm, moist breeze stirred the air, lifting escaped strands of her long, pale hair off her neck and shoulders.

“I challenge you to a game of Traw,” Anthya said after the others had gone.

Her challenge took Quaylyn by surprise, but he quickly recovered. “Your challenge is accepted, my lady.” With tousled golden brown hair and twinkling dark blue eyes, he gave Anthya a princely bow and handed her Kaydra’s Traw wand.

Anthya had always enjoyed Quaylyn’s boyish streak, but she could see how Brakalar would find him undisciplined. The rainstorm was moving in, the sky turning darker, as the breeze yawned into wind. They would be soaked before the game was over. Anthya hadn’t played Traw for untold time, but she would try to be a worthy opponent. A person’s true character was often revealed in competition; she would see what Quaylyn had to offer.

A Traw playing field is composed of a large diamond, divided into nine equal smaller diamonds, three of sand, four of stone, and two of sod. A center line divides the playing field into two triangular courts. Each court consists of three inner triangles of golden sand along the center line, two diamonds of lavender stone in the center, and an outer diamond of blue-green sod at the back of the court. While the areas of sand and sod are level, the areas of stone rise irregularly out of the ground, creating obstacles to be clamored over during play.

Anthya and Quaylyn took their positions on the diamonds of blue-green sod at the back of their courts, facing each other across the playing field. The first big drops of golden rain splattered down on court and players.

“Is the challenge still on, or are you afraid of getting wet?” Quaylyn called out a little roguishly.

Anthya raised her Traw wand over her head to indicate she was ready, and Quaylyn did the same. It began to rain in earnest. A flash of light connected the two wands momentarily, and the game began. As the rain beat down harder, both players flicked their wands sending glowing spheres zooming into their opponent’s court.

The rules of the game were simple. Draw into your Traw wand all the spheres launched by your opponent that you possibly can, and make it as difficult as possible for your opponent to draw in the spheres that you launch. During the course of a game, each wand would release twenty-seven spheres, one at a time, and the speed and trajectory of the glowing orbs was determined by the wand action.

Anthya quickly released a second sphere to the opposite end of Quaylyn’s court, while scrambling over a stone monolith to get into position to score. The areas of rock didn’t rise over knee high from the ground, but trying to traverse its rugged contours while keeping one’s eye on an incoming sphere was challenging. A wand had to be within a hand’s breadth of the spheres to draw them in, so players had to move rapidly over the varying terrain of the court.

Anthya drew in the first sphere and rapidly launched two more while leaping across the court toward the next incoming. The rain came down in golden sheets, but the wind had already moved on. Anthya’s sandaled foot slipped off the wet surface of the stone as she reached for an incoming sphere, and she fell hard on her side. Quaylyn successfully drew in all the spheres she had sent, then gasped in concern when he spotted her fall. Anxiously, he started toward her court, but Anthya sent out three more spheres in scattered directions, keeping him busy while she got back to her feet, and yet another before he finished dealing with those; and then another, and another. She wasn’t giving up so easily.

Quaylyn, leaping and diving, an athlete in graceful motion, recovered them all while sending off a couple of volleys of his own. Steady rain drenched the world around them, but the intent Traw players barely noticed. Finally all spheres were launched, drawn-in or lost, and the two players, bruised and scraped and utterly exhausted bowed respectfully toward each other. The final score: twenty-seven to twenty-four, with Quaylyn the victor.

“You have played most honorably, my lady.” And that she had. Quaylyn could hardly believe how close she had come to matching his score.

“Thank you.” Anthya collected herself. “I have an assignment for you from the Council. I am to prepare you for a mission to Earth.”

I was born in New Orleans, grew up in the Louisiana swamp, and then settled in Alaska as a young woman. After decades of living the Alaska dream, teaching school in the bush, commercial fishing in Bristol Bay and Norton Sound, and building a log cabin in the woods, life had provided me with plenty to write about. The years of immersion in the mystique and wonder, and challenges and struggles, of living in remote Alaska molded my heart and soul. It is that deep connection I share with my readers.

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