“Come,” Gawyn said. “We can talk about that later. First the Wislic needs to see the new apprentices.”
“Indeed,” Talja said. “I have much that I need to learn from them and their… adventures.” She smiled. “Come into my chambers, Zala and Trevian. Gawyn, I will call on you later.”
The Airus bowed his head and gave a reassuring smile to his new apprentices.
The Wislic led them into her chambers.
“Shut the door, will you, Trevian.”
Trevian stared around him at the beauty of the chambers. Here, too, tapestries lined the walls, but they were of forests and glades and he could almost smell the leaves and ground as the leaves swayed in a invisible breeze.
“Trevian!” Zala whispered urgently, touching his hand and shaking him from his reverie. Apparently the Wislic had been talking to him.
“My apologies, Wislic,” he said, bowing his head as he had seen Gawyn do. “I am not used to such surroundings. His eyes were drawn back to one of the tapestries where a white hart skipped through underbrush between tall trees.
“So Aaron chose you to become an apprentice?”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
“There is no need to get angry, Trevian Rada. I simply need to gain the facts of what happened now that Aaron is no longer with us to do that.”
Trevian swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. He did not want people to mention Aaron.
“Come, sit.” The Wislic said and walked to her chair by her desk as well.
“What do you want to know?” Trevian asked after he and Zala sat down.
“Everything. Why you were chosen, what happened on your road here… everything and anything you can tell me.”
Trevian ran his thumb along the scar on his forearm. Orvin’s mangled face flashed before his eyes and he shut them tightly, trying to push the memory away through sheer will.
“It all happened very fast,” he started. “Aaron showed up in town and knocked on our door…”
When he came to their arrival at and the attack in Arhos, the Wislic stopped him and asked Zala to leave them. She nodded and left the room with a worried look in Trevian’s direction. Trevian watched her leave and, when the door opened, saw that both Gawyn and Halatha were still outside in the corridor. He turned back to the Wislic who had her fingers steepled in front of her, her elbows resting on the polished table.
“I am only telling the truth,” Trevian said, unable to read Talja’s face.
“It is not that I do not believe you,” she said and he thought a smile started pulling at one corner of her mouth. “I do wish that Aaron could tell me himself what his dreams had told him that he wasted time to go to your town and then suddenly take someone — who cannot even fight, I may add — with him on such a perilous road.” She took a deep breath. “But then, had he been alone, things may have been a lot worse. Who can say?”
“If I may, Wislic, did Reinahl — the Tellerassar — reach you? I was still ill when he said that he would be coming to Eyrie Rock so I admit that the memory is quite vague. But I do remember that he needed to bring a message to you.”
“You know Reinahl Larrias?” she half-rose from her chair. “When he came to us he was nearly dead. He could not remember the message he was supposed to give to me. It was as if someone had played with his memories, had broken them. He could remember everything crystal clear except what the message was.”
“He is still alive?”
Talja nodded. “He has holed himself up in the library to try and remember what his message was. He did say it was about Knowledge Stones.” She stared straight into Trevian’s eyes.
“I —” Trevian thought back to the vague memory he held of Aaron and Reinahl speaking after he was healed. But the words were all just a mumbling, none of the words making any sense. He shook his head.
“I cannot remember what words passed between them.”
“Perhaps if you see him — or he sees you — it will help,” the Wislic said. “Come, finish your tale and then I shall take you to Reinahl.”
Trevian took a deep breath. “The only clear memory I have again is when we arrived in Sela and I met Senned and Zala…”
Nasha awoke on the drenched ground next to the fountain. All was quiet about her and she knew not how long she had been lying there with no wits about her. She slowly sat up, her head and one arm pounding. Her arm had a deep gash in it and when she gingerly touched her head, her hand came away bloodied. She looked down, trying to figure out if she had any other wounds. Her blue dress was stained with blood, but she seemed unhurt except for those two wounds.
She managed to lift her head and look around her. Her hand flew to her mouth when she saw the destruction and her dead sisters around her.
They had lost, she realised when she did not see the body of the Khalver or the Tellerassar. She crawled to her sisters, hoping beyond hope that they were still alive, but it was to no avail. She tried to stand, but a spell of dizziness overcame her and she fell to the ground with a muffled cry. Slowly, ever so slowly, she stood up, holding out her arms for balance even though the wound on her arm burned at the movement. She hobbled back to the fountain and then something caught her attention. A Knowledge Stone had been dropped on the mud. It was small; the size of a thumbnail, but it had the distinctive green colour of the stones. She bent ever so slowly and picked it up, her hand trembling. She could not read it, but knew of one of Alaila’s Daughters who could. First, though, she had to take care of her wounds.
Holding the stone tightly in her fist, she slipped into the well of the fountain and sank into the dark waters.
When Trevian had finished relating his travels to Wislic Talja, they joined Gawyn and Zala who were still waiting outside her chambers.
“Trevian needs to speak to Reinahl,” the Wislic said. “I shall join you in the library. He may have some good news for me.”
Gawyn bowed his head slightly. “Lead the way.”
She looked around. “Where is Halatha?”
“He went to seek out Khakeem. Something about sending a letter home,” Gawyn shrugged. “He seemed little shaken by all that had happened.”
“That is at least good news to me,” Talja said and started walking towards the library. “I need him to go with you to Holt Haliern. He has the best eyes of all the Tellerassar at Eyrie Rock.”
The library was on the level below the rooms of the Wislic and Elders. White stone doors bearing the arms of Eyrie Rock on a background of carved vines stood at the end of one corridor. The Wislic pressed her hand against the stone and the doors swung open with barely a sound.
The room beyond was one of the scribal rooms. Light streamed in through the large windows and lit tables where the scribes were busy copying, writing, and illuminating texts. Talja led them through the centre of the room. Trevian looked around him in wonder. There was one letter writer in his hometown and only his mother had what he considered good penmanship. Yet here literacy was an everyday thing. He thought of Zala and her years of study at the House of Learning. How could he ever compete with that?
When he looked over to her, he saw she was looking down, a frown marring her brow and her hands clasped in front of her. Though he did not fully understand her fear of people, he stepped closer and offered her his hand, which she took. Her frown lessened somewhat and she took a deep breath. Yet still she did not dare look around her at the filled room.
She only visibly relaxed when they entered the library itself and was surrounded by shelves upon shelves of books and a silence broken only by a whispered sentence here and there. Zala took a deep breath and tried to relax her shoulders as the Wislic led them between the shelves with their markings and numbers.
At the back of the library, at one of the larger reading tables, sat Reinahl. He did not hear their approach and even when the Wislic went to stand next to him, he did not look up.
“Reinahl,” she said softly.
He jumped at the mentioning of his name and looked in her direction before struggling out of the chair without bumping against any of the books that lay scattered around him.
“Wislic Talja,” he breathed, bowing with his hand on his heart. “My apologies.”
“You have an answer for me?” she asked after greeting him. Gawyn brought a chair closer for her and Reinahl sat down again.
Reinahl sadly shook his head and looked at the others around him. His eyes widened in suprise. “ If it isn’t Trevian Rada!” He grinned from ear to ear.
“If Trevian is here — where is Aaron?”
Zala softly squeezed Trevian’s hand.
“He… he is dead,” Trevian said. “Killed in an attack by the enemy.” He took a deep breath. “He died to keep us and that which he was carrying, safe.” Trevian looked at the Wislic. He did not know whether or not he was allowed to mention the Knowledge Stones.
“Damn it!” Reinahl wiped across his brow as if to ease the frown that had formed again. “I had hoped to see him… to ask what the message was that I was to give to the Wislic.” When he looked at Trevian, his eyes were pleading. “Please tell me you remember?”
Trevian shook his head. “Unfortunately I do not. It is all a blur to me.”
Reinahl ran a hand through his hair, tousling the shoulder-length strands. He stared down at the books on the desk.
“Then, Wislic Talja,” he said. “I fear that I will never remember what the message was. It has been wholly taken from my memory.” He sighed and frowned. “And along with the knowledge of who it was that did this foul deed to me.” He sank back down in his chair. “I swear, it was taken from my memory, Wislic,” he said softly. “I swear I did not just forget.”
“And I believe you,” the Wislic said. “The strange charm we found on you is enough to satisfy me.” Her smile was reassuring. “But come, I want to show these apprentices how reading the Knowledge Stones work. Would you help with the transcription?”
Reinahl lit up at this. “Of course!”
Halatha’s face was dark when the Wislic excused him and led the apprentices, Gawyn, and Reinahl to one of the secluded workstations.
Set within a small room of its own, the writing table, desk, chairs and bookstand left little space for the audience Gawyn and Reinahl had.
Trevian felt his heart racing and churning in his ears when he handed Gawyn the Knowledge Stones. The Airus paused for a moment, cradling the stones in his hands, before emptying the small bag onto the table.
Green Knowledge Stones of different sizes clattered on the wood. Some were smooth like river pebbles, others rough and half-covered in runes. One larger one had been carved into the likeness of a woman standing with her hands raised up to the heavens, palms facing upwards.
“No!” Gawyn exclaimed, picking the woman-shaped stone up. “What have they done?” He ran his fingertips over the tooled surface. “Worse even than those that are eroded by water or sand!” He let out a deep sigh. “But let us see what is left on it. I can feel that it is still filled, thank Agrai.”
He closed his eyes and, to Trevian, it seemed as if he was simply holding the figurine. Yet, when he started to talk, it was as if his fingers were following invisible lines of text.
“It is about the ghosts!” His eyes flew open for a moment, glancing at the Wislic and Reinahl. “It is the places where the Khalver and Lewjan were buried in their prisons!” His fingers traced the broken lines. “But it is no use,” he said. “Most of the names I cannot make out. They are only partial or very faint. I will need to spend more time deciphering it.”
“And the places you can name?” the Wislic asked.
“Sjahra - but we already knew that, The Towers in Khallahna - which we did not know about, and a place called Gad- Gada?” He closed his eyes again. “No, Gado. The city at the coast in Sjahra. That must be a second place in Sjahra that we did not know about.”
“The question is,” Talja said, “does the enemy know of these places?”
“I should guess some of them, unfortunately,” the Airus said. “But this… this stone gives us a chance to rid the world of those Khalver and the Lewjan for good.”
Trevian stood entranced. The places he spoke of, the things they seemed to be planning between the lines of what they were speaking, were all so distant from what he was used to. From what he had ever believed he could be a part of.
A sudden flare of pain in his chest drove him to his knees with a cry. It felt as if the Khalver was again pressing his hand against his chest, cutting off the air. He gasped, one hand pressed on the stone floor, the other on his chest.
“Trevian!” Zala was at his side in a moment, unsure of what to do, of what was going on.
“Khalver!” Reinahl cursed. “But how?”
Gawyn stood, his chair falling over, and sped from the room, down the passageway towards the guest quarters.
“Khalver!” he shouted. “Show yourself!” He threw open the door to Trevian’s room and barged in.
Inside Khakeem was crouched over a bowl of what looked like blood. His eyes were closed, his face pale, his body shaking in a trance. Gawyn knocked the bowl from his hands and, as he did so, Khakeem fell backwards. Dead. Only then did Gawyn see the slash in his arm - he had opened up his own veins to gather the blood.
Reinahl came running up with a few guards and, when they saw the scene in front of them, rushed forward, two pushing Gawyn against the wall.
“Let him go,” Reinahl said, motioning to the guards and kneeling by the body. “He was dead already before Gawyn came in here.”
“What in the name of Agrai is this?” Gawyn asked.
“Khalver magic,” Reinahl said. “I have seen it before.” He shook his head, walked over to where a letter lay opened on the bed.
“This is a letter that Trevian wrote,” he said. “Addressed to his mother… but Khakeem would have had to know the father’s name as well…” He saw a bit of paper lying on the ground and picked it up. A name was written on it.
“Gawyn,” he said and showed the Airus the piece of paper. “It’s your brother’s name.”
“Rhesta?” Gawyn asked and took the piece of paper from the Tellerassar. “But he died years ago!”
“He must be the father. He must be the reason why Trevian can read the Knowledge Stones. Gawyn, you and Trevian are family.”
“Does he know?” Gawyn said softly.
“I doubt it. I highly doubt it. Trevian would have said something.”
When Gawyn looked around, he saw Trevian was standing in the doorway, hand pressed to his chest. His eyes flickered to the letter Gawyn held in his hand.
“That is my letter to my mother!” He strode into the room, unsteady on his feet. “Why — what are you doing with it?” He pressed his palm harder on his chest, willing the burning pain away.
Gawyn handed him the letter and Trevian snatched it from his hand.
“Khakeem needed your parents’ names for his dark magic,” Gawyn said and motioned to the fallen figure.
“He does not have my father’s,” Trevian said. The burning in his chest seemed to slowly recede. He took two steps to the bed and sank down. He glanced to the doorway and saw that Zala was standing, frozen, outside. Her face ashen at the sight, hands clutched in front of her.
“Damn it, Gawyn,” Trevian said when the Airus said nothing. “For Agrai’s sake, just tell me.”
“No need for cursing like that,” the Wislic berated him. “If you are going to be a Keeper of some kind you had better learn when to mind your tongue.”
Trevian felt himself blush at the woman’s words.
“May we speak in private?” Gawyn asked him.
“What -” Trevian frowned. “What did I do wrong? Did Khakeem say anything?”
Gawyn shook his head. “Come, let us speak outside, away from this filth. Can you walk?”
Trevian nodded. The pain had mostly cleared from his chest, though he still felt weak. Gawyn led him out of the room and a little way down the corridor, simply bowing his head at the Wislic as they passed. Not quite knowing what he was supposed to do, Trevian did the same; bowing his head awkwardly as he passed the woman.
“Trevian,” Gawyn said and sighed when they reached one of the decorated pillars out of hearing distance from the room. A tapestry of the creation of the Tellerassar hung on the wall and Trevian had to turn his back so as not to be distracted by the movement.
“Gawyn, please,” Trevian said. “I have been through enough — and so have you. Please, just tell me.”
“Khakeem needed both your parents’ names as well for the spell he was using to work.”
“Then he must have guessed that my brother was named after my father.”
Gawyn handed him the torn piece of paper with ‘Rhesta Airehd’ written on it.
“Your father was an Airus — that is why you can read the knowledge stones.” He glanced away for a moment. “Rhesta was my brother. He died 18 years ago while working in the south of Heimfeie.”
Trevian turned the piece of paper over in his hands, shaking his head.
“You and I are not family. My father was Jerjan Rada.”
“He gave his name to you and you should be proud of that. But he was not your father by blood. If he was, his name would be written there.”
“So, what? My mother had an affair? Is that what you’re implying?”
“Lower your voice.”
Trevian’s hands balled into fists.
“My brother once wrote to me of a woman he had fallen in love with — a mortal woman. It was not long before he died. He only gave her name, not her surname.” He took a deep breath, casting his eyes to the ceiling. “Trevian, I swear I did not know that there was a child. If there was, I would have —”
“What? Taken me away?”
“Helped where I could. An unwed mother is not an easy thing to be.”
Trevian felt his throat constrict, felt anger burning in his face. When he spoke his voice was soft.
“You never tried to find the woman your brother said he loved? He must not have loved her dearly.”
“I had just lost my brother! I was in mourning… I did not think…” His voice trailed off. “I was not thinking that summer. Aaron and I had met that summer.”
Trevian remained silent, unsure of what he could say or should say.
“Like I said. I had no idea there was a child. I do not think even Rhesta knew.” Gawyn took a deep breath. “How else do you explain that you can read the stones? Do you know of any other Airus in your geneaology?”
“None. I was never told of anyone. Never told my father was not…”
“He raised you, he was your father in all but blood, Trevian.”
“Do you think Aaron knew?”
Gawyn shook his head.
“So this is all chance?”
“Not chance, I would think,” the Airus said. “Destiny.”
Trevian leaned against the pillar and laughed. Most of the pain in his chest had gone. Pieces of a puzzle he had not been able to put his finger on suddenly fell into place.
“Destiny to do what?”
Gawyn shrugged. “That is a question I cannot answer. It is an answer you must find out for yourself.”
There was a commotion behind them and, when Trevian turned around, he saw that they were removing Khakeem’s corpse from the room. He turned back to Gawyn.
“Seeing as how we are family,” he said. “Could you find me another room to stay in?”
Gawyn mock-bowed. “Your wish is my command, nephew,” he said.
As they made their way back to the Wislic and Zala, Gawyn stared at Trevian. Now that he knew, he could recognise his brother in the young man. They had the same eyes, the same sense of humour. One last gift from Aaron, he thought, and stifled the tears that burned behind his eyes.
Nasha was barely conscious when she reached the home of the water women. Here, in a cavern knee-deep in water they had built their fortress of stone. Stalactites hung from the roof of the cavern and reached out to their mirror images rising from the stones below. Columns had been carved from the living stone and carven scenes decorated the walls. Anything but dark, the cavern was lit by innumerable dragon tear stones. The family’s blue banners hung from the ceiling above a dais where a woman was seated, speaking to some of the older water women. All were dressed in shades of blue and blue-green. The sound of the water flowing filled the cavern until one of the sisters saw Nasha and let out a cry, rushing towards her and calling out for more help.
“Just bandage it,” Nasha cringed and motioned to the wound on her arm. “I must speak to Winja immediately.”
The cool water of the cavern brought her back to her senses somewhat as she walked to the Mother, Winja.
“Mother Winja,” she said and bowed. One of the sisters came up to her and started tending to her wounds.
Winja started at the sight of Nasha.
“Where is your sisters?” she asked.
“Fallen.” Nasha bit back tears. “There was a Khalver — and a Tellerassar helping him.” She opened her hand to show the small knowledge stone. “But they left behind this.”
She stumbled as she walked forward and the other water woman caught her.
“I apologise,” Nasha said, swaying on her feet. “I —” she shook her head as if to try and wake herself. “I seem to be —” she started to say and collapsed in the Sister’s arms.
“Take her to her room,” Winja said. “And give me the knowledge stone. I must go to Eyrie Rock immediately and warn them. I am sure that the Tellerassar came from there.” She rose from the chair in one graceful movement. “Dark days indeed,” she added under her breath.
Winja travelled along the caverns’ waterways until she reached the fountain not far from Eyrie Rock. Following the river that fed water to the Sanctuary, she entered the stone complex exhausted by her long and fast journey.
“Call the Wislic immediately,” Winja told the guards who were guarding the river where it flowed into the underground reservoirs. “Tell her Winja, Wislic of Ailala’s Daughters are here to speak with her.”
Wislic Talja rushed along the corridors to see the water woman.
Both bowed their heads in greeting, Talja touching her fingertips to her brow.
“Excuse us,” Talja told the guards in a stern voice and waited for them to leave before speaking with Winja.
“Wislic Winja,” she said. “I want to say to what pleasure do I owe this visit, but I fear that you bring grave news.”
Winja nodded. “Indeed. I came as soon as I could. Still it has taken me two days to reach you. I bring news regarding a Tellerassar that helped in the slaying of some of my people.”
“A Tellerassar? Impossible!”
“A Tellerassar and a Keeper. Talja,” Winja said. “Let me speak bluntly. “One or more of your Keepers have turned to serve the Khalver. My people tried to stop them from taking the Knowledge Stones they had stolen, but to no avail. My waters and wells have been sullied with the blood of my people.”
Talja felt the nagging name at the back of her mind.
“Do you know the name of this Keeper?”
“I do not, but by your face I would say that you do.”
Talja nodded. “I have my suspicion. Halatha went back to the well, said he went looking for any dropped stones.” She wrung her hands.
“Then call him to me. I will —”
“I cannot,” Talja said.
“You cannot?” Winja’s voice was low, no longer calm.
“He has left for Holt Haliern. Along with my most trusted Keepers. He is to help get the knowledge stones to safety.” Her hand covered her mouth. “What have I done?”