TWO - Dark Matters
"Thera," Lael repeated, "Thera listen to me."
I looked up at her. Her eyes, usually a pale lilac, were now an urgent mauve; the patterns surrounding them seemed to curve even more, highlighting the intent expression of Lael's smooth face.
"Your Horizon is not completely clear."
It had felt pretty clear to me, all the sensations had been very close to real; the sights, the sounds, the sense of power.
"No. There is Darkness inside of you, Thera, your Horizon may be easily twisted-"
"No!" I exclaimed. "No, I don't want to hear this!"
"I don't want to hear it, Lael!"
I was on my feet, walking away, my back to both my Instructress and the Azure Moon.
The harshness in her voice stopped me in my tracks. Lael was never harsh; she had always been so quiet, so serene.
"Thera, listen to me. There is a Darkness inside you, and it's going to grow, feed on every dark emotion inside you: anger, lust, jealousy, and most of all hatred." There was a slight pause, and then Lael's voice softened, so compassionate it made me want to fall on my knees and weep. "I'm not trying to condemn you, Thera. I'm trying to help you."
I turned back to my Instructress, my teacher, my friend.
"I don't want there to be evil inside me!" I told her, trying to keep myself together. "You know what it means! I'll end up on their side, against the Light, against everything I live for, against you!"
I really was in tears now, my hands shaking in dismay. Lael came towards me, as graceful as ever, as controlled as always - her face showed pity and sorrow.
"I won't let that happen," she whispered as she embraced me. I clung onto her, begging the unseen force of the High Lord to change things, to make it a mistake. I wanted Lael to suddenly realise she had got it wrong, admit she had interpreted it falsely by accident.
But she didn't.
"You can't say that," I told her sadly. "It's going to happen, it's always happened, and there's nothing anyone can do."
She released me from her embrace, her eyes piercing mine.
"Yes, there is," she told me. I searched her eyes, but remained silent. "Though it won't be easy. You'll need an open mind, a burning desire to use your Pyra for Light. Darkness is a seed that grows quickly and easily unless you have the will to stop it."
"I do, I don't want to be Dark!" I exclaimed desperately. "Tell me, Lael, how can I prevent it?"
"It'll mean sacrificing a lot," she told me firmly. "And I'm not just talking about your possessions."
"I don't care," I responded, "I'll do whatever it takes, just...oh, don't let me become Dark. I hate just thinking about it."
"Alright," she said. "Meet me here tomorrow at noon. We will talk then. It is not right to speak of such matters under the Azure Moon."
With that she gave me an encouraging smile, a brief hug, and then, strangely, she walked away.
Then I found myself in my house, with a book I had never owned lying on the table.
And right then, at that moment, I realised everything I had known to be true would change.
For better or for worse, I did not know.
I slept uneasily that night, haunted by images from the vision each time I closed my eyes. When I finally did drift to sleep, it gave me little rest, and I found myself awakening with sweat pouring down my face and one word on my lips: Pyralosna.
I had no idea what it meant, and it stayed firmly fixed in my mind all morning. Clearly it was linked with the word Pyra, but then again it seemed meaningless.
It would not occur to me until much later how meaningful the word truly was.
I showered, ate, and then collected the things of great value to me: my time-keeper, a gift from Lael when I had become fascinated by it; a small but very sharp dagger given to me four moons previous when the elderly man I worked for had been clearing away his old possessions; and the Moonstone Ring.
As I took the ring in my hands, I reflected on how I had acquired the item. It was the only piece of jewellery I owned, and it had so much beauty. It was a simple ring of silver, with a small, spherical fragment of gentle blue Moonstone encircled by a round band of silver, which had broad strands branching in to meet with the Moonstone at the centre.
I sighed, smiling a little. This had always meant so much to me, ever since Lael had left it lying on my table as a gift.
At least, I think it had been Lael. Afterwards, when I had tried to return it in case she had left it by accident, she denied all knowledge of ever possessing such a ring. She admitted it might have been left unintentionally, and that I should ask around to see if anyone had lost it; however, no one had, so I had kept it in the belief it had been a gift from my first and only true friend.
Soon midday approached. I had a little to eat and then set out onto the hills in plenty of time, expecting to arrive before Lael and so have time to think with no distractions.
However, Lael was already there. I saw her figure standing against the backdrop of the sky, a pale orange this afternoon. I approached her, and said,
"Here I am, Lael."
"You're early," she said, without turning to face me.
"So are you," I replied. She nodded a little.
"Did you bring that book I left you?" she asked.
"I did. I haven't attempted to read it yet; it was in the Covenant Script."
"Good. We must study it together."
"Then why did you leave it for me?" I enquired. She turned, her face unusually pale.
"To show you that, like the book, not everything we are about to embark on will be simple."
"I think you made that clear enough last night," I responded, a little sharper than I had intended. Lael didn't respond; instead, she said,
"Let us leave this place."
And in that moment, she transported both of us to a marble building, a building more incredible than anything I had ever seen before.
"Welcome to the Library of Ket," said a man from behind, "the grandest library this side of the Covenant." He sounded like he was trying to advertise the place. He wore the smart attire of a spotless white robe- shirt and straight grey trousers, both displaying two symbols I recognised as the universal signs for library and for Ket.
"Thank you," Lael said, dipping her head respectfully. "Is Scholar Pilaan inside?"
"Sorry, m'lady, he is not here," the doorman replied. "However, he should return in an hour or two."
"Thank you. Is it alright if we step inside to wait?"
"Of course, Lady Lael. You may also access as many books as you wish within your limit."
Lael nodded and thanked the doorman again. He bowed his head as we entered the enormous library.
It was more unbelievable inside than it had looked from the outside; marble walls and pillars stretched up to the grand ceiling, and I could see many people moving quietly around the different levels of the building. Huge banners hung down from several handrails, displaying symbols of Ket, of knowledge, of the Covenant and of the High Lord. As well as those signs and various others, the library seemed divided into sections. The archways I could see were engraved in both standard language and Covenant Script, which read Citizen, Thane, Masters of Pyra, Scholar.
"Each person who enters the Library of Ket has a limit to the type of books they can study. A Citizen, a person with no particular qualifications in The Matters, is limited to their section, and can go no further," Lael explained as we passed. "However, a Thane may extract books for study from both their section and the Citizen library. So on and so forth."
Lael led me towards the Masters of Pyra arch. Once inside, we were met by hundreds of thousands of books, lined up straight and orderly on the shelves and in the bookcases. I gazed around in wonder, beholding the sight of so many ancient books.
"This way," Lael said.
She led me down the central aisle, walking briskly, allowing me no time to stand and stare. I struggled to keep up and take in the sights at the same time, and soon we stood in front of several doors, each with its own watchman.
"Each Section is divided into Echelon Divisions. If you were visiting here by yourself, you would be limited to the Citizen Library and the Masters of Pyra Library, as you are a Citizen and a Student of Pyra. You would not be permitted to enter any of these Echelon Divisions as you have little experience and are still a Student."
"But because I'm with you I can enter one of the Echelon Divisions?"
Lael nodded. "During normal circumstances I would not consider bringing you here, , these are not normal circumstances, as you are aware."
She stepped up to the fourth door, the door just past half way. The watchman seemed to awaken from his rigid, unmoving state, stepping forward. He said,
"Your key, Lady Lael?"
It seemed they all knew her. Did she come here often?
"Of course," Lael responded, and produced a glittering yet unexplainably dull gem from a pouch under her cloak. The watchman scanned it with a small device attached to the palm of his hand to verify the gem's authenticity. Then he fitted it into a small hole in the door, and the door unlocked.
"Do you certify this Student to enter?" he asked.
"I do. We have Matters to research and resolve." The watchman nodded.
"Thank you, m'lady." He removed the gem and handed it back to Lael as we entered the room, and then closed the door behind us.
Some time later, Lael was still pouring over the books and dictating notes for me to write down. So many books, so much more complicated than anything I had ever seen before. Lael had instructed me firmly not to view any book she had not given to me. I didn't know why this was, but I neither asked nor argued. And how they were relevant to me, I still hadn't discovered.
"There is a legend," Lael said finally, "that tells of a man who overcame his Darkness and won the first ever War of the Pyra, establishing the first version of the Covenant. I was told the tale as a Student a little younger than you, and I have never forgotten it. However, I don't know whether there is any documented evidence." She trailed off, looking back down at her book. "Go and ask the librarian if there are any books linked directly to the First War or to the First Covenant. Preferably both."
I obeyed, wondering why Lael had not sent me to do this earlier, and why she had become so distant. I guessed she had just never had to deal with this situation before.
I made my way from the table we had been working at and through various aisles. How quickly this had all happened. Just moments after discovering my potential to be an Azure Wielder I had discovered my future of Darkness.
The librarian gave me a selection of very thick, very yellowed books, but only after I had persuaded her I hadn't sneaked in and that I was certified to be here. I balanced the books on top of one another and made my way back.
As I drew near where I had left Lael, I heard a man's voice speak. Curiously, I turned the corner, and was spotted by Lael.
"Thera," she called. "Come, meet Scholar Pilaan."
Nervously I walked towards them. I placed the pile of books on the table and bowed respectfully, but then my eyes widened in surprise as I recognised his face.
"Thera," he said, his wrinkled face creasing into a smile.
"Scholar Pilaan?" I asked, taken aback. The man standing in full Scholar robes in front of me was none other than the elderly man I worked for, the quiet, strange old man.
"Hello again, Thera," he smiled, a certain humour in his jade eyes. "Oh, and before I forget." He reached into his robes and pulled out a small fabric purse. "Your pay for this moon."
I took it, speechless. Scholar Pilaan was one of the most widely known and greatly respected Pyra Masters and Scholars in the whole of Ket this side of the Covenant.
"Th-thank you, Master," I stuttered, and bowed again.
"Now, now, Thera, you never gave me undue honour before, and I don't expect it now," the Scholar chuckled. I felt myself redden slightly, embarrassed. Pilaan flashed a reassuring smile before his face set into a deep look of sincerity.
"Lael has informed me of your situation," he said. "Let us go into my study and discuss it." He turned to Lael. "Do you wish to accompany us?"
"Thank you, Scholar, but I think it may be more useful if I were to continue my research."
Scholar Pilaan nodded.
"Very well. Thera? This way."
Scholar Pilaan's study was well-furnished; oak bookshelves stood against the walls, a large ash desk with one chair behind and three chairs in front held its place in the centre of the room, and a red cedar wood chest rested in the corner next to the door. The flowing, graceful curtains were partially drawn over the dramatic coloured window panes that stretched the huge distance up to the ceiling.
The Scholar offered me a seat as I gazed around the study. He gave me a moment to take it all in, then said,
"Thera, I understand you have very promising Horizons. Azure, no less."
"That's what I'm told," I replied, turning my attention to him.
"So you don't believe that is so?" he asked gently.
"No," I said, feeling strangely at ease with him. "No I don't. I mean, I trust Lael and everything - how could I not? - but I feel she's expecting far to much of me."
"Oh?" His tone asked me to go on.
"Azure Wielders are supposed to be amazing people, full of strength and courage and might. Quite frankly, Master, I don't have those qualities. I have only been in training for a few years, and before that I was a failure at everything I did."
I waited as he looked at me thoughtfully, his fingers laced together, his brow creased slightly. Then he said,
"You're right. You have absolutely no qualities for an Azure destiny."
I blinked. I had been expecting him to start going on about how I had those qualities hidden inside me or something. He continued,
"As much confidence as I have in Lael, maybe she was wrong, and maybe you're right. You should leave, clearly you have no potential to become a strong force and help change things. I'm sorry to have wasted your time, good bye."
I got up, and made to leave the room in anger, but then I stopped abruptly.
"No," I said. He looked up. "I'm sorry, but no. No one's going to make me give up that easily, not even you, Scholar. I'll do it without your help. If you think-" He cut me off.
"I said 'good'," he replied. I turned back towards him curiously. He motioned me to return to my seat. "You are worthy of our efforts."
"I am?" I asked, still standing. "But you just said-"
"What I just said was to test your determination. If you had left this room with despair at my words, then that would have been the end of it. Instead, you reacted in the way I had hoped. You made up your mind to go through with finding a way to overcome your Darkness despite my words," he explained. "Never mind strength and might, Thera. You wouldn't get anywhere without the kind of determination you have just displayed."
"I just don't like people telling me what I can and can't do," I said simply. A smile tugged at the corner of Pilaan's lips.
"Please, take your seat," he said. "We have your future to discuss."
Whaddya think? Terrible? Okay? Good? Tell me! Chapter 3 up soon!