“Reapers of Souls and Magic”

Promotion 2

Chapter 1

“There is no greater recipient for faith and love than the Elfaheen, for it was their will that brought you into this realm, and it is they who may yet save you.”

(A.Mu., 2.5 – Book of Air, Tenets of Muriel, Chapter 2, Verse 5)

Daena looked over Tetra’s shoulder, her arms wrapped tightly around her friend’s waist as the two plummeted through the sky. A quiet exclamation of fear escaped her lips while Tetra laughed aloud. It was a beautiful day.

Tetra leaned down even further along the long neck of her friend, Rhastrashaa. Even above the roar of the fast-blowing wind, Tetra could hear the air whistling as it passed over the scales on his massive form. The faster they fell, the higher its pitch rose. The deep black color of his scales contrasted sharply with the bright, cloudless blue sky he dove through, ensuring that all who may have been looking upward would see him.

Neither Tetra nor Daena had dressed appropriately for such an excursion, their gossamer gowns and untied hair whipping about them wildly as the dragon continued diving toward the earth below. Rhastrashaa had offered to show them something they had never seen before. He seldom offered anything, much less the chance to ride upon him. They had leapt at the opportunity.

“Make him slow down!” Daena shouted over the noise of the wind.

“I can’t make him do anything!” Tetra laughed. “He’s doing what he loves!”

“He loves falling?” Daena screamed in fear.

“No! Terrifying others!” she yelled. Her response caused her to grin, knowing that it was a bit too true.

Tetra nudged Rhastrashaa’s neck with her knee. The ancient black dragon slowed and began arching his body to level out his flight. Never having seen their homeland from a bird’s-eye perspective, the view was nothing short of breathtaking for the women.

“What did you intend to show us, Rha? Or was this just a way for you to scare us?” Tetra asked lyrically.

“Only a few more moments and you’ll see it,” he answered with a sly, baritone voice.

The dragon turned toward Larimoor Falls and paused, floating stationary on the breeze. Both women gasped at the view of the falls’ deep blue waters as they crashed downward more than a league to the bottom of the valley gorge. The rising mists blocked most of the view into the deep ravine, looking like an eruption of water from within rather than the water’s landing spot.

The lush trees that lined the gorge also filled the adjacent forests and were filled with budding blossoms in various hues of blues, yellows, and greens. The higher peaks of the White Range were covered in snow and ice, towering more than three leagues up into the sky. Tetra watched as the waters rushed out of the narrow chute of stone at the north end of the gorge, creating the Rimoor River. From the base of the mountain, the Rimoor flowed down the mountains and into the sea.

“Pay attention. Here it comes.”

“This is boring. What are we looking at?” Daena asked.

“Hush. He wouldn’t have brought us here if he didn’t have a reason,” Tetra said.

Then it happened, and even Daena was filled with wonder and awe.

“It’s beautiful!” Tetra whispered unconsciously.

As the sun dropped over the peaks of the White Range, the icy white ridges became shaded in reds and oranges. The colors became more vibrant as the sun passed lower toward the falls, when they began turning golden. Waters that looked to be flowing molten gold soon replaced the blue ones. For a few brief moments, even the mists rising from the gorge became emblazoned with the colors of fire and gold.

The view lasted only moments and disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. The sun dropped down and the effect was gone, leaving them within the early evening’s twilight.

Tetra rubbed the scales along her friend’s neck, thanking him.

“We should begin to head back since it will be dark soon,” Rhastrashaa said.

“How about over there instead, Rha?” Tetra asked the dragon, knowing his intention.

Turning his head to see where she pointed, he nodded. The two women sat comfortably on his shoulders with their legs dangling on either side of his neck. They each tightened their knees instinctively as he banked, turning toward a towering peak with a small scenic pasture near the top. With barely enough room to land, he set down gracefully in the small field that was filled with tall, thick grass. The dragon tucked his left wing and tilted his body downward to allow the women to climb down from his shoulders.

Tetra walked in front of the dragon, his huge, scaled head dwarfing her. Her joy shone clearly in her smile as she patted his cheek, scolding the huge beast. “That was beautiful, my friend. I cannot thank you enough! But…” she began as she wagged her finger at him, “…you can’t scare her like that! She will never go with us again.”

“Mistress, you said you wanted her to feel what we do when we fly. Those were your exact words.”

Tetra smiled, knowing how he loved to tease her. “Just go. I don’t think she’s too happy with you right now, but could you please return to take us home? Or should I be less general with my words?” Tetra asked.

“As you wish, Mistress,” the dragon replied.

Rhastrashaa raised his wings and leapt upward, the strength of the downdraft from them causing both their waist-length hair to become even further mussed. Tetra ignored her own hair while Daena sat her tall frame on a large stone outcropping and began to braid it for the anticipated return. The stone she sat upon was white, but the tall grasses had rubbed back and forth on its rough surface so often in the breeze that the oils from the grass had finally won out and discolored much of it green.

Tetra neared the edge of the small pasture and crossed her arms to watch Rhastrashaa as he floated on the currents of air that were blowing in from the ocean. She smiled, content with her life.

“So, what are you going to do?” Daena asked.

“About what?”

“About Lavalor’s offer?” Daena replied.

“Nothing. I’m happy here. I don’t wish to go anywhere else,” Tetra answered.

“I’m going, I think,” Daena declared.

“He’s a madman, Daena. No one knows if he can do it or if it’s only talk,” Tetra said, giving her a stern look of disapproval. Tetra’s onyx-black eyes made her look more disconcerting.

Ignoring the glare, Daena continued. “He can. I know it.”

“Why go? The gods asked us to make this for them. What could be more beautiful than what we just watched?” Tetra asked, waving her arm toward the falls.

“Because they lied. It’s not for them. This world now belongs to those we created, not to us or to the gods. Why are we here, then, I ask? The gods told Lysette that they would not live here. I don’t believe they ever had any intention of doing so. Neither does Lavalor.”

Watching her parrot Lavalor’s views as she usually did with those that she had strong feelings for, Tetra paused for a moment before continuing. “Daena, what if we were wrong and only heard what we wanted to? Besides, they are gods! They can do what they want.”

“Not according to Lavalor. He says that there are rules that even the gods must follow and that they apply to everyone. It is only their power that allows them their right to rule as they wish.”

“He’s a madman! He’s always been insane!” Tetra said.

“Lavalor told us that if we can increase our own power, then why could we not also be gods?” Daena replied, trying to figure out why Tetra objected to Lavalor so strongly.

Instead, Daena asked her, “What if you’re wrong? What if he’s not? What if we find a paradise that is nothing like what this one will become?”

“Yes! What then? We’re not truly immortal, Daena! We’re such only if we hold on to what’s left of our magic. You’d risk your life for him?” Tetra asked.

“Not for him. Well, not just him,” she said coyly.

“Ahhh…now I see.”

“And what exactly does that mean?” Daena asked, grinning, knowing exactly what Tetra meant.

“It’s for him, isn’t it? It’s always been that way with you. Besides, he is mated. Or did you forget about Quensi?” Tetra said.

It was much too honest for Daena to accept. “There are only five men left! They are all going with him. I guess we’ll have to learn how to share. We weren’t all so fortunate to have found our bliss as easily as you did, Tetra.”

“It didn’t matter, did it? Even he succumbed to this foolish need to dominate his world. That need caused him to use up his magic and die. No, those of us who remain are either wise or foolish. Only time will tell us which.”

“What would you have me do, Tetra? Give life to some pet that looked dangerous and sensuous and pretend for the rest of my life? That might be fine for you, but I’d rather not!” Daena answered.

“I didn’t create him. Lavalor and our dead brothers did. I’m just helping Rhastrashaa.”

“Yes, they created that beast you call a friend. We created him for a purpose, Tetra. To control the young races.”

“Rhastrashaa is not a beast. He is as intelligent as you are. Smart enough to realize that he would be ruling out of fear, not cooperation,” Tetra replied. “Besides, he has nothing to do with this.”

“He’s your pet, Tetra!” she stated.

“Enough! Why would you go with him to this Asmordia? I’m only trying to understand why,” Tetra pleaded.

“I want to. According to you and Lysette, we’ve done all that we can here. What is this new home that he promises? I can think of so much that we could do differently. Or perhaps better, even!”

“Better how?” Tetra asked.

“This world that we helped create is only going to grow. It will become more chaotic and dangerous. Too many of the beings we created wield magic now. Their knowledge will grow, according to Lavalor. And when it does, even we will not be able to stand against them. Lavalor promises order for each remaining day of our existence.”

“And what if he’s wrong? What if all your remaining magic is depleted in this attempt to create this other realm? You will be mortal and die the slow death of time or the attempt will kill you all. You saw how our friends and husbands suffered!” Tetra said.

Daena looked at Tetra, thinking there was more to her concern than she stated aloud. “Why do you object? It’s not your life, Tetra.”

Tetra realized that there was no dissuading Daena in her desires for adventure and love. She now only hoped that her friend survived whatever scheme Lavalor had concocted to evade the influence of the gods—or else they could all pay a very steep price.

She sat down next to Daena and placed her arm over her friend’s shoulders, determined to make their last day together one she would remember and cherish.

* * *

Tetra wasn’t supposed to know where Lavalor had planned on his performing this Sundering, as Daena had called it. Daena had told her in hopes that Tetra would change her mind and choose to go with them. Tetra had again rebuffed the idea, because she was content with her life as it was.

They did not skulk out under the cover of darkness as some of her sisters had thought they would. Rather, Lavalor had made a show of their departure, trying to impress upon them the importance and sanctity of his desire for something different than what the Elfaheen had already built.

Tetra watched as he waited for those who were going to leave with him, noticing that he wore nothing but black clothing. His trousers, tunic, and surcoat were all black, stitched with silver thread. That caused her to wonder if he had made Rhastrashaa in the image of himself. He adorned himself with silver jewelry. Although his own white hair was the same waist-length tresses as everyone else, it appeared to be groomed much more fastidiously than those who were now collecting around him. He combed his long, flowing hair back from his handsome, angular face and separated it to pass over both the front and the back of his shoulders. Not a strand of it appeared out of place. His sharp, yellow eyes stood out against his pale flesh, white hair, and black clothes. Tetra also noticed that he wore jewelry on his ears, small stones of red that seemed to have been pierced through his flesh. It was in that moment she realized how much he treasured his own vanity.

His troupe of believers had now arrived and began to form up behind him. Lavalor, Maleaux, and Daena she knew well; the others had lived in parts of the Rohrlands that she had not traveled to. Still, she remembered their faces from so long ago, when they had first begun to build this Realm of Light, as they initially called it. Lysette had begun to call it the Rohrlands as the beasts and beings they created began to fill the world—and so had everyone else from that moment forward.

She knew Lavalor from reputation only and that the ideas for the darker, more dangerous beings had been born from his mind. Tetra also knew that dragons had been his idea alone; Rhastrashaa had told her as much. Rhastrashaa was the first dragon—and he would know, after all, since he had been mostly the result of Lavalor’s magic. Tetra saw past Lavalor’s façade and knew that he was filled with dark thoughts indeed.

The small group of Elfaheen started its procession as the sun began setting, and she followed from a distance, worried about Daena’s safety. They walked past the homes of elegantly carved sandstone and under the forest of trees, centuries old and each perfectly formed and shaped into soothing curves and high arches that created a canopy above the village and out into the wilderness.

They traveled toward a beach that surrounded their isolated and hidden island, readying themselves for their final act of creation within the Rohrlands. Tetra didn’t know if Lavalor’s magic would work, but she hoped not for Daena’s sake.

Tetra watched as Lavalor placed each of his followers in very specific positions, but the need for this was momentarily unclear to her.

“Daena, you will stand here,” Tetra heard Lavalor say as he pointed to a spot on the ground while looking up. Tetra followed his gaze upward and saw that the three shaded moons, Phalen, Kalios, and Maron, would soon align perfectly above them.

Lavalor stepped off three paces at a ninety-degree angle from Daena and stopped.

“Quensi, my love, you will stand here. The rest of you form up like we discussed.”

The rest of the Elfaheen stepped into place as Tetra continued watching, staying hidden within the shadows that were forming with the setting of the sun.

Tetra watched as four of the Elfaheen formed a large box, and then another four Elfaheen formed a smaller square within them. The remaining four, which included Maleaux, formed a circle around Lavalor and linked hands with one another. The four Elfaheen that formed the inner square outside the ring began pointing their hands toward the others who stood to their sides while facing Lavalor, who now stood in the center of the group. Quensi and Daena did the same with the remaining two on the outer square. Lavalor looked at each of them and smiled.

“Daena, your hands are not level with Blaquewynn’s. If you make that mistake once we begin this, it will become very painful for each of us.”

Daena shifted her right hand upward an almost minuscule amount and looked at Lavalor, excited. “Can’t have that happening!” she offered apologetically.

“No. We can’t,” Lavalor replied. His tone made it clear that there could be no mistakes with this attempt, chastising her.

He looked up at the moons as they reached their parity and saw that the smallest and brightest of them, Phalen, sat directly in front of the next. The moon of red, Maron, was almost centered in front of the largest of the three moons, Kalios—which was known as the moon of shadows because it was eternally black in color.

Once they had aligned with one another, Lavalor thrust his arms upward at the moons. His long fingers began giving off a bluish-tinged light in the near darkness, casting it up toward the circular disks of the moons above. Tetra watched as the light first engulfed his fingers, then his hands. It then expanded down his tall frame until his whole body glowed brightly with the pale blue light. Even his black clothing now appeared light blue within the blinding glow of the magic he was creating.

She watched, fascinated, as Maleaux and those forming the circle around Lavalor began concentrating, and they too began glowing with a light of white. The Elfaheen in the middle square began their magic once those holding hands started to glow from head to foot. As they began, and as the circle of hands had finished their magic, a quick, powerful pulse of white light erupted from Lavalor’s outstretched hands. It shot upward toward the moons, disappearing into the distant night sky. The four Elfaheen that made up the middle square began their magic while Lavalor and the circle continued their intricate ritual. These four glowed red as their magic increased, and Tetra watched in awe as Lavalor’s glow became tinged in red also. Another burst of magic erupted from his hands to shoot skyward, this one the color of the blood-red moon.

Tetra watched as her friend and those on the outer square began their magic; they seemed to disappear into shadow, but she realized they were engulfed in black. The color of the final moon. Again, once completed, Lavalor reflected this new magic and threw a globe of black light upward, toward the moons.

Tetra, now excited by seeing a magic she had never seen before, waited impatiently for the results. It was then that she heard thunder forming above, and she looked upward. What she saw she would never be able to tell, as she would forget it within moments. She watched as the energy that these Elfaheen had cast upward only moments earlier was now returning.

The first of them to return was the white magic, and it struck Lavalor. The magic burst outward through the Elfaheen, each of them becoming one and glowing briefly in white magic. The red magic returned next, tainting them from white to red as their magic light became almost blinding to Tetra. Yet she could not do anything but look upon the final shadow of magic that swept down, returning to its caster. As it struck Lavalor, each of the participating Elfaheen were immediately turned into ashen black and ember figures as they screamed out in agony. A burst of angry black energy erupted from Lavalor, engulfing them. They continued to wail, yet they held on, trying to control this magic.

It was then that the world became sundered by this magic.

It tossed Tetra to the ground as a wave of sound ripped through her body, as well as through every other living thing within the Rohrlands. This newly created absence did several things—and it took something from each of them.

It created within each a need to know. They would now want to know what happened in the dark crevices of time and space, of the horrors that lurked in the dark corners of their minds. Always, from that point forward. At some level, they knew that there was something more. Something more than what they had known so far, something deeper that was hidden from them. Something that lived within their minds and was to be feared, something they knew nothing of, other than that it existed and it was dark.

Just before her friend and the others disappeared, Tetra began hearing voices. She thought that they were echoes of her now-absent friends. That was what Tetra believed she was hearing.

It wasn’t.