The wind bombarded the Plains, picking up sand and sending it swirling around us. I felt vulnerable and weak, an Inferior at the mercy of the Natural Pyra.
"What are you waiting for?" Lael asked, raising her voice over the gale.
"I can't do anything in this!" I responded, yelling as the wind pounded at me, whipped my hair across my face so I couldn't see.
"Stop limiting yourself!" Lael told me, "Open your mind! How can you overcome this obstacle?"
"By going someplace less windy?" I suggested hopefully. Lael smiled.
"Don't work against the wind," she said, "work with it!"
"How on Ket am I supposed to do that?" It was hard enough staying on my feet, never mind destroying my target. As good a teacher as Lael is, she expected far too much from me sometimes.
"Never turn your back on the wind if you can help it," Lael advised. "It's a great force, but also a jealous one. You can't turn away from it if you want to work with it; you have to turn into it, facing it."
"And turn my back on the target? But then it'll be behind me!"
"Precisely!" Lael responded. Did she know something I didn't?
"How will that help? What am I supposed to do?"
"If I tell you," Lael replied, "you won't learn!"
"If you don't tell me I won't learn!"
Lael visibly sighed, but there was tolerance in her eyes, perhaps even gladness that she would be able to demonstrate her Pyra once again. She took a position next to me, facing the wind, her rich, dark brown hair billowing back, her shimmering purple robe rippling on the wind. I watched.
My Instructress stretched out her arms to the side, both at 45 degree angles from her body. Her fingers seemed to ride the wind, moving gently, moving with it.
Then colours began to appear; strands of purple, orange, maroon and gold, dancing around Lael's fingertips. The irises of her eyes turned to swirling purple; her pupils turned to liquid silver.
Lael's body jerked suddenly. There was a brief then the colours exploded from her slender hands, shooting backwards and enfolding the target. It burst into lilac flame, and disappeared.
"Did you see?" Lael asked me. "The wind carried my Pyra, and enforced it with the wind's own power." I nodded as the wind began to die down.
"We'll meet again, tomorrow at twilight. We will then encounter the guardians of the Horizon." She turned and vanished in a mauve flash, leaving me to sulk a little in private. I hated it when I couldn't figure stuff out for myself, when someone else did it.
And what was all that 'guardians of the Horizon' about? Had she been speaking about some higher, mystical beings, or just the stars in the night sky?
I sighed. Lael didn't half speak in riddles sometimes.
I began to make my way slowly home. No fancy flashy teleporting for me. No, I had to use the traditional form of transport: walking.
It is a fair way back to my village from the Gale Desert. Even so, I always enjoyed making the journey alone, at my own pace, with time for thought and contemplation.
This afternoon, my thoughts were centred on my power. Lael told me that with enough training and the right attitude, I could become an Azure Wielder, a mistress of the great Azure Pyra.
But I doubted that would ever be.
For power that great, that incredible, I would need not only the capacity and capability of it, but the self-control and, well, courage.
I just didn't think I had those qualities. The Pyra Masters had high expectations of me..well, if not them, Lael had. She had persuaded them I was a just cause for their expense and troubles, that I would rise to be a valuable asset for the Nation and its allies.
Then I began to recall how Lael had found me. Where Lael had found me: in prison.
I had dropped out of the Theatre of Study at the age of twelve, having failed all my subjects except one. I was a disgrace to my parents, deemed a trouble-maker not fit for learning by my teachers. I was disowned by my peers and treated suspiciously in my hometown. I was renamed to reflect how they all felt; my name was changed to mean wild, untamed, unmastered.
So I had journeyed to the nearest city with my few belongings, seeking work and a new start. However, no one had wanted to employ a child with no references or qualifications or links of any kind. I lived on the streets for a while, a dangerous dwelling where I was vulnerable to many things.
It was only a matter of time before I was attacked. An angry citizen who accused me of trespassing and stealing attacked me late one night; unfortunately for him, that was when I discovered the power inside of me. I lashed out, injuring him grievously; he had me arrested.
And there, eight moons since leaving my hometown, I was found by Lael, found wasting away in my own despair. I don't know how she found me or why she chose me, I didn't think about it at the time.
Lael offered me shelter at her home in an isolated cottage some miles from the city, and there she helped me rebuild my strength and my confidence in people. She taught me how to read and how to write, how to manipulate numbers to make sums. Lael also discovered the one subject I hadn't been useless at: Study of the Natural Pyra. I was fascinated with it, enjoyed learning about it.
Then she taught me something more. She taught me about my own Pyra.
"Every living thing has its own Pyra," she had said, "but some have a deeper sense of it. Those who do can learn to manipulate the Pyra, use it to aid them. Yet those people can rise from either side of the Covenant. Inevitably, that Covenant will be broken, and those forces will clash in a War of the Pyra."
'So that's why I'm here,' I thought. 'I'm here to be another pawn in the war.'
Which is why I have to become an Azure Wielder.
"If I don't, then what is the point of my existence?" I asked myself quietly as I climbed the hills on the border of the desert. "I can't just live, work and then die without doing anything to change things here."
Below me gentle slopes rose and fell, and in the distance I could see my village. I loved it there, they had accepted me without question, provided me with a house and a job. I worked as an assistant, up for hire to anyone who wanted me to work for them.
Mostly, though, I was a housekeeper for a busy elderly man in the centre of the village. I didn't know much about him, not even his name. He lived with no one but his two feline friends; he rarely spoke to me, accepting the strange, irregular times I dropped in to do my duties, but I got the strange impression he knew more about matters than I did - matters not excluding myself.
Even so, I had learnt not to ask questions. That had only ever let me down, led to mistrust and dislike.
I inhaled with pleasure as a soft breeze whispered passed my face, a brief feeling of power running through me. I had not learned to appreciate the power of the mighty gale yet, but I had always loved the feel of the breeze. Even though Lael had told me they were of one Pyra, I was almost convinced they were two different entities, two different souls.
Stupid, I know. Natural Pyra such as the wind and the water and the sky doesn't have a soul, it simply exists as a power of the High Lord. Nevertheless, I liked the notion the breeze was alive on the Slopes of Maria.
I eventually arrived, and stepped immediately into my small three-roomed house on the outskirts of the village. The rooms made up a simple dwelling, but one I felt comfortable in. After all, I only needed that kitchen, that washroom and that bedroom.
I took off my jacket and draped it over the chair, flushed after the exertion of the day's session. I check the small time keeper on my wrist, and decide to eat before leaving again for the old man's house.
I ripped a chunk of bread off the loaf and began to eat it without topping. They had been low on butter at the market this week, I hadn't wanted to take the last slab.
I made my way into the adjoining bedroom as I ate, and looked out of the window. The mushrooms weren't quite fully grown yet, but the apples on the trees above were. I made the decision to pick one for the short journey to the elderly man's home.
After work at the elderly man's house, I returned home for a few hours' rest before forcing myself to rise an hour before sunset. Then I made my way out of the village and back across the slopes, until I reached the place where Lael and I always met.
"Where are we going tonight?" I asked her as I approached. She turned to me, and smiled.
"Thera," Lael said, in way of greeting. "Tonight we stay here, on the hilltop. Tonight I will teach you of the Horizon."
"The Horizon?" I asked. "You're not talking about the separates-Ket-from- sky type of horizon, are you?"
Lael shook her head. "You're right, I'm not."
"So what type of horizon are you talking about?"
"Let us sit."
She didn't answer my question, but I obeyed without comment. The grass was soft as we sat upon it, careful not to crush any of the flowering plants.
"The Horizon is our meeting with destiny. As our world Ket meets with the coloured sky, we must eventually meet with our eventual purpose in life."
"So what's yours?" I asked, not particularly looking forward to discovering my own purpose.
"That is of no importance now," Lael told me. She knew what I'm trying to do, I could see it, yet her placid tone did not change. Sometimes I wondered if she was the same race as me; I could never remain that calm for the length of time she did. I don't think I've ever seen her angry.
"Alright, so you're gonna make me see this Horizon thing," I said. "What am I supposed to do?"
"You will not be able to see the Horizon if you do not wish to."
"But you're here to encourage me, right?"
Lael looked at me, unmoving.
"No, Thera, I am not here to encourage you or to force you to see your Horizon. I am simply here to enable you to see your you wish to," she explained.
"So it's up to me?" I clarified. "I don't have to see my Horizon if I don't want to?"
"You are correct."
I moved my gaze from her face to the sky above. Its colour blended from silver in the east to purple in the west. Lael's colours were out tonight, out in full glory as the stars began to appear, fine specks in the vast expanse of the universe.
'How small I am,' I thought. 'How can I expect to make a difference to anything here? No one's ever wanted me..except Lael, of course. Why would the High Lord gift me with anything special?'
I let out a sigh, closing my eyes for a moment. When I opened them again, the sky had changed slightly, blue tinting the silver as the Azure Moon rose gracefully. Tomorrow night it would be gone again.
I looked down at my hands while contemplating my decision. This could change everything, my whole outlook on life. Would I really want to know what my Horizon was?
At that moment, a light breeze brushed my face. I watched as a sleeping tulip floated into my right hand, and rested gently there.
"Did you just do that?" I asked Lael.
"You know I didn't," Lael answered softly. "Can't you see what it is?"
I lifted the flower from my hand, felt the silk petals between my fingertips. I gazed at it, then whispered, "A gift from Ket."
"That's right," Lael replied gently. Then she fell silent, her breathing a gentle sound of serenity. Without taking my eyes away from the red petals of the tulip, I said,
"Let me see it, Lael. Let me see my Horizon."
"Very well." She began to inhale deeply and slowly. "Lie down, look up to the night sky." I did as she instructed as she knelt next to me. "Fix your focus on the moving body of the Azure Moon."
I gazed up at it as I lay there, watched it continue on its arc as it climbed higher into the sky.
"There will be a flash," Lael told me. "After that, tell me what you see."
I waited, staring blankly up at the Moon. Then I began to wonder if it was coincidence Lael had brought me up here on the Night of the Azure Moon after all she had said about my potential.
"Try not to think," Lael said in a hushed voice. "Clear your mind."
I shifted slightly, then pushed all the thoughts out of my mind as I had been taught to do many moons ago. I let the blue light of the moon fill my vision, enfold me in its distant beauty. Slowly my eyelids sank, but I could still see the light.
And then the flash.
*It's bright, blinding, and suddenly everything's happening at once. My eyes are closed but I can see perfectly, feel everything around me.*
"There's blue," I said. "I see me - I'm tinted with blue."
"Good," Leal murmured. "What else?"
"People..so many people."
*There's a crowd, outside the palace, and I'm in the midst of it. My mind is invaded with yells and anger. I'm elbowing my way out, trying to get away.*
"It's a.a rebellion. Outside the palace."
"Are you leading it?"
"No. I'm..I'm trying to get away."
*Suddenly, abruptly, there's darkness, darkness all around me, pressing into me.*
"It's black, everything's gone. It's oppressive, horrible."
"What are you doing?" I heard Lael said. Even in my distant state I heard the concern in her voice.
"Nothing." Then: "Wait."
*I'm filling with power, filling with Pyra. Something's 's building up inside me.*
"I feel power. Strong Pyra, it's filling me."
*There's a pause..and then there's an explosion, light's everywhere, exploding from me, shooting out, lighting the darkness, and-*
My eyes snapped open, and I came back into myself, breathing hard. Lael helped me to sit up.
"That's it," she soothed, "breathe 's good."
I dragged air into my lungs and tried to stop my head from pounding, tried to stop the rushing sensation in my ears and the strange prickling feeling in my limbs.
Soon I regained control again, and found Lael looking at me intently.
"Tell me what you saw last," she said. "It is the most crucial vision of all of the ones you saw."
"There was..light, light everywhere, exploding from me."
"What colour was it?"
I looked from Lael's intense face to the dark night sky, and then pointed upwards at the Azure Moon.
"Azure," Lael whispered. She looked at me, her eyes burning into mine with wonder. "Thera," she said softly. Her voice was so quiet I could barely hear it as the breeze picked it up and carried it away.
The tulip in my hand moved, lifted slightly by an updraft. It swirled around in my palm as I looked down at it.
The petals were no longer a soft red.
They shone azure blue.
Second chapter to come.R+R please! Things are about to get a bit more complicated.