A/N: Hey everyone! (waves vigourously). Oh boy, everyone who's been reading this story must hate me so much. It has been that long. Unfortunately, I can't promise to be better at updating, because I have other projects on the go that are commanding my attention. But hey, we'll see how we go.
Just a few things that I've changed... First up, the almighty Lightbringers are no more - instead they're now called Heliods. Why did I change it? Well, come on - 'Lightbrighters' sounds so corny :) Next is that 'Lucinda' is now called 'Melinda'. Kind of the same reason really; although there is another one... Anyway, have also been smoothing and elborating a little, changing conversations and all. Not really noticeable, but it keeps me happy.
And lastly, have decided to start thanking my awesome reviewers. I can't believe I never did this before! How rude of me! But you guys really need some acknowledgement - all your awesome advice is so helpful and I really appreciate your support! Shout-outs are down the bottom. Thank you heaps for that, and thanks in advance for reading!
Chapter 9: Dreams
Kaly knew she was dreaming. For some strange reason, she seemed to have retained complete consciousness, just as if she were awake; but now she felt no pain. She looked at her hands. They were unscathed- as pale and thin as they always had been. There was nothing to suggest that they had been burnt in light only moments ago. She was still clad in her white initiation robes. They shifted slightly around her, but there was no wind.
Where am I? she wondered.
Surrounding her was a rolling green meadow. The flawless green grass expanded out as far as the eye could see, seemingly with no end. There were no trees, no flowers or bushes. There was no other sign of life except herself.
She was alone.
Kaly stood there for a few moments, feeling confused. What was going on? The more she thought the more restless she became. At last she picked a direction at random and began to walk.
There was no telling how far she had gone, or how much time had passed, yet with every step she took, to Kaly it seemed as if a great weight was slowly pressing down upon her shoulders- a burden so heavy that it made her muscles ache and scream. At last she stopped, falling to her knees as her strength gave way. Ragged gasps ripped from her throat. She could go no further.
Do not stop.
Kaly's head snapped up. Who said that? A gentle wind flicked her hair across her face.
You must go on...
It was but a mere whisper to her ears, and yet it seemed to come from all around her, resounding in the air. The voice was gentle, but there was nevertheless an underlying hint of the power that lay at the speaker's disposal.
She looked around her with fearful eyes, still struggling for breath. "I- can't," she managed to choke out. "It hurts."
You must. Much depends upon it. Fight the pain.
A hoarse groan escaped her. Kaly clutched her chest, clawing at the front of her robes as she searched in vain for relief. The weight was so heavy, and the pain was unbearable.
"Make it stop."
Slowly she was pressed down upon the grass, her gasps for air quickening in her panic and fear. Kaly's eyes widened in horror. Her bones were being crushed! No. The pain was unbearable, growing worse with each struggling breath. The girl closed her eyes. She didn't want to die.
She screamed and suddenly the pain was gone; the weight lifted from her shoulders.
She slumped to the ground in relief, taking huge thankful gulps of sweet, sweet air. She rolled onto her back, wiping away the sweat that had accumulated on her forehead. But then she stopped. Kaly squinted up into the sky. The clouds above were flying at an unnatural pace, seeming to churn around one another as if in agitation as they soared overhead. Strands of her hair fluttered around her face in the wind.
This time the wispy, ethereal voice did not surprise her- and she did not question it. Instead she climbed shakily to her feet and trailed after them, her mind curiously numb. Slowly the ground began to rise and Kaly found herself climbing up a steep grassy hill. Above her the clouds quickened.
By the time she reached the top, Kaly was utterly exhausted; but still she stood tall and looked down at the sight below her in horror.
It was a barren, scorched wasteland- black and twisted as if the life had rotted away from its surface. The earth was ravaged beyond anything she had ever seen before. Nothing grew on the rocky hills and slopes, which stretched on and on like the meadow had before her.
She turned away, eager to be rid of the horrible sight, but the lush green grassland had vanished. Her breath rose in frightened gasps as she looked around her at the steaming, wasted earth. Fetid winds rose and blasted into her face. She froze in terror. Death. The winds stank of death and decay. Shadows of evil passed over the land. A monstrous roar then tore through the eerie silence. She screamed and the world around her dissolved into blackness.
Kaly's eyes flew open. The panic that had gripped her with its icy fingers had not loosened its deathly hold. At last she cried out, struggling to fend off the shadows that still assaulted her. It was incredibly hot, as if she were being burnt in flames. Yet there was no light – only a terrible smothering darkness. But then she felt something cool and gentle, something bright that drove the shadows away.
"Sleep now," a familiar voice said, as if from far away.
"Who... what...?" she struggled to say.
"Sleep..." the voice repeated with gentle insistence. "Sleep and heal..."
She dreamt of nothing this time, for which Kaly was thankful. It was a peaceful rest that was both calming and healing. When she woke at last, her mind was clear and refreshed, although when she tried to sit up her muscles ached as if she had been running non-stop for a whole day and night. Despite her body's protests, she eased herself gradually into a sitting position against the pillows.
It was then that Kaly realised she wasn't alone.
Opposite the bed beside the canvas tent's wall sat the Lord Elder. Her heart jumped in fright and she froze, her reflexes still remembering times now past- her old life as a thief. But slowly, the momentary panic subsided and she relaxed once more. A small smile of amusement then curled her mouth as she realised the old man was not even awake; or at least that was how it seemed. As she regarded him for a few pensive minutes, Kaly then noticed that while his eyes were closed and his breathing calm and even, his body was erect and upright in the chair. Wrinkled, papery hands were folded over one another in his lap, resting lightly upon his brown robes.
Kaly had never seen the likes of it before and she continued to stare at him in confusion. He did not move. It was as if he were a chiseled, ancient stone statue, remaining still and motionless as the years passed by. But that did not seem right. No, for some reason, Kaly had the curious feeling that, although the old Lord Elder appeared in a semblance of a slumbering trance, he was conscious of his every thought and every movement in the room- maybe more.
The prickling of hair on the back of her neck made her feel uncomfortable, as if a pair of unseen eyes was watching her. Warily she watched the Lord Elder.
And suddenly, before she could cry out or do anything at all, something strange and foreign shifted inside her! She gasped out loud, hands flying to her head in bewilderment and shock.
Immediately the strange presence vanished. When Kaly looked up again, the Lord Elder had opened his eyes. They were too alert to convince her that he had been asleep just moments before. He regarded her for a few moments without speaking. Kaly stared right back, unable to think of anything to say.
"You have slept long."
Kaly blinked, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. There was something strange about the way he was looking at her, a gaze that seemed measuring. Knowing. She coughed, breaking away from his gaze.
"How long?" she asked, more to break the silence than because she wanted to know.
"This would be the third day since your initiation," the Lord Elder said calmly, leaning back in his chair. He looked more relaxed now than when he had been asleep- if he had in fact been asleep. "How do you feel?"
Kaly wriggled further up the bed, wincing as her muscles ached afresh. "Rested, I guess," she said after considering the question. "More..." the girl frowned as she searched for the right word. "More full. I feel more myself." Kaly made a face. She made no sense whatsoever.
But the old man nodded slowly, appearing to understand her meaning. "It's a common thing to feel after the initiation. Much more happened during the ceremony than you think."
"Well?" Kaly demanded when he didn't say anything more. She felt cranky after sleeping so long. "Tell me then! What else happened besides pledging myself to serve the goddesses?"
The Lord Elder smiled. "Can't you guess?"
Kaly glared at him. "Why don't you tell me?"
"Because I want to hear your own answer."
She groaned in frustration and slumped back down on the bed. Suddenly an idea came to her. "The ceremony awoke my... powers?"
"Correct." He rubbed his thumbs together thoughtfully and said nothing more.
She flicked him a cautious glance, suddenly becoming suspicious. "When I woke up," she began uncertainly, "I felt... strange, like something was moving around inside my head."
The Lord Elder said nothing for a while. He just sat there and looked at his hands. "Every mind possesses a shield," he said at last, settling more comfortably into his chair. "For each normal human being, this mindshield is instinctive. No training is needed to produce it, and the person is unable to change it at all. The same is true for Heliods who have not yet undergone the initiation."
Kaly looked at him dubiously. "So now my mindshield is gone?"
"Yes and no," said the Lord Elder, watching her carefully. "In order to awake you to your full abilities, your mindshield must be stripped away, for it is the main obstacle preventing your usage of your powers. It blocks them. This stripping of your shield was part of the reason why you experienced some pain during the ceremony."
"Some pain?" Kaly muttered.
He smiled and the corners of his eyes crinkled. "This means that you no longer have an instinctive shield. No initiated Heliod does. Training is needed for you to produce a conscious mindshield, which you can strengthen or weaken it at will. Since you no longer have a mindshield at the moment, you are more susceptible to- forces, I suppose you could call them, which most people are unaware of. This was the reason why you felt something inside your head. I was protecting you."
"Protecting me?" She frowned. "From what?"
The Lord Elder's eyes were grave as they gazed at her. "Not all of these forces are good. In fact, most of them are quite bad. And we are not the only ones who know that the One of Light has been found."
His words made her feel cold inside. "So- so who else knows?"
"I have spoken long with Thane while you slept. He told me how the Calling warned you all away from the city after you had been found, and how the Grismonds and their archwolves attacked you soon after."
Kaly stared at him for a moment and then her eyes widened in realisation. "The One of Shadow," she whispered. "But... how could he know already?"
"What makes you think he didn't know before you were found by us? Why do you think that he has only now begun to hunt you? With the One of Shadow will come the Chosen of Light, as it was prophesized by Aila. We don't know how long he has known, but he is hunting you now with everything he has. Given the slightest chance, he will kill you. The moment your shield was stripped I have been protecting you from him. You may have sensed it in your dreams, for I felt you were unsettled and disturbed for a time before at last you calmed."
"I did have... dreams," Kaly said, staring at a spot on the tent wall opposite her as she digested this new information. "Tell me, what powers does the One of Shadow have?"
The Lord Elder shook his head regretfully. "Alas, we don't know. He has been keeping quiet, sending only the Grismonds and Archwolves to attack our travelling parties beyond the refuge. He has not yet shown himself, but one day he will." He smiled at her. "You will be safe here, Kaly, although unfortunately this will only be for a time."
Kaly nodded, knowing that soon she would have to leave. The lost necklaces of Lenar, the prisons of the goddess sisters, she would have to seek and wield their power. The very thought of it made her weak at the knees. She had never before felt so helpless.
"Will I start learning to use my abilities soon?"
"You have no choice." His eyes were sad. "The burden you carry is very great and there is nothing anyone can do to lessen it. The quicker you learn to use your abilities, the better your chances of survival." He did not mention the better her chances of saving the world. "As you may have guessed already, I will be your teacher, although only for the more refined arts of being a Heliod of Light. Basic skills in combat will be taught to you by a selection of Fire and Wind Heliods. These will prepare you for your quest."
Kaly didn't say anything. She almost couldn't remember what her life had been like before this. It seemed so long ago now. All she knew was that she felt heavy, as if her bones were now weighted with lead.
"For now, it is best that I teach you to shield. Left as you are, without someone to protect you, you remain vulnerable and exposed. Are you well enough to learn?"
She nodded and succumbed to his teaching. It was difficult at first, but after a little time passed she was able to visualise a smooth, never-ending wall that extended all around the inside of her body- like an extra layer of skin as added protection. The unsettled,naked feeling in her head eventually weakened, and then disappeared altogether.
"You learn quickly and well," the Lord Elder said when he tested her shield. "Shielding is the most basic art and easy enough to learn, although it is one of the most important things. Without a shield, your mind can become prey to those who seek domination. If you control the mind, you control the body. Mind you, those with stronger talents couldbreak through weaker shields. That is one of the main reasons why so much training is devoted to shielding here. Yours could be stronger, mind you, but that is enough for now. It is stable enough. Strength will come later. Now all you must do is maintain it."
"It's hard," Kaly admitted after a while, her face twisted in concentration. "I have to focus on it all the time. How can I do anything else whilst keeping this up?"
"It will become easier after a while, almost like a second nature. You will get there eventually." He sat back in his chair and surveyed her for a moment, head cocked to one side like frail old bird. At last he gave her a warm smile. "I'm glad to see that you have at last accepted who you are."
She glanced at him. "I guess," she said doubtfully. "But that doesn't mean I have to like it."
His eyes turned sad again. "We will help you all we can. United we triumph."
"I... I don't want to do this alone."
"You are not alone, Kaly." After a period of silence had elapsed he said, "Get some rest. Conscious shielding can become tiring after a while to someone who isn't used to it. I will watch over you."
And already lulled by his soft, soothing voice, Kaly drifted off to sleep once more, her thoughts the most peaceful they had been in days.
SoraWestler: Hey gal! Thanks for reading - your support means so much. And I promise you'll get an email from me soon. Things have been hectic, but I will find a spare moment. Hope you're well and hope that you liked this chapter. I'll be by soon to check out how your writing's going :)
Lunaceress: Hehe - cliffies are good :) And yes, you seem to be a big fan of them too! Hope you enjoyed this chapter - and that you keep writing your own stories! They rocked.
Rachel: Thank you :) I'm glad you liked what I've written. Does this chapter continue to satisfy?
luvalot: Hehehe - I don't have to worry about my exams anymore... 'cause I'm at uni! I'm a uni bum! Unfortunately, now I just have to worry about getting a degree (shrugs) oh well. Thanks so much for reading - I really appreciate your support :) Sorry that the wait was so long!
o(nn)o: You were blackmailed into reading this? Oh boy, that doesn't sound good ;) But hey, I'm pleased that you found you liked my writing lol! Hope you keep reading!