Sunday, 18 February 2018

On Authroc's Wing II - Those Who Would Be Oracles

On Authroc's Wing

Those Who Would Be Oracles

The cool and roughly hewn stone of the wall felt soothing against Leiros’ back as pressed up against it. He began to pinch at the bridge of his nose in a desperate attempt to stave off the pain pounding away within his skull. The stresses of keeping his mental defenses up and orchestrated during his meeting with Master Gwain were taking their toll on him.

If there was one form of the Haeth arts that he excelled in, it was that of complicated and defensive uses of telepathy. He absolutely refused to use such abilities offensively to peer into other people’s minds as it went against his own morality and the dictates he knew the founder of his Order had set down almost a millennia ago. Despite his focus and skill, the amount of energy he had to expend for the slightest interplay with others who didn’t restrain themselves in such a way was very high.

He knew full well when he had been informed by one of the brothers studying under Gwain, that he wanted a meeting in his office, he would be under mental interrogation from the first moment. He knew as well, from having to deal with other members of the Order that he would have to create fake layers of emotions and thoughts to feed to Gwain. He would have to protect the vast majority of his mind while leaving some little grottoes of half-hidden thoughts to serve as red herrings. Having to split his mind in such a way was taking its toll on his sanity.

The teaching that Toulam had given him over the years of being his student were pivotal in Leiros being able to protect himself so well. He didn’t just need to defend himself blindly, but he had such a heightened sense of empathy that he could drink up ambient emotions of people around him. This let him use skills of understanding people’s intentions to cater those defenses to each person that might peer into his mind. The nature of his empathic observations were not as intrusive or as piercing as most applications of telepathy. He only picked up what people willingly or inadvertently broadcast about themselves. He then used his own intuition and understanding to piece together who they were and how they operated.

More than the moral dilemma of possessing the abilities to look into others minds and the ethical rules set down by Vhaltenesh in his wisdom, it ultimately fell to Leiros’ fear of using his abilities. Where most of those individuals who would later become oracles uncovered their abilities during their adolescence or during an event of severe stress later in their lives, Leiros had been born with most of his abilities intact. His life had been fraught with alienation and abuse for his strange ability to drink people’s emotions, experience their memories, and his outbursts of telekinetic energy while growing up. As such, he did all he could to restrain his abilities for purely defensive arts while focusing entirely on his more mundane skills of observation, intuition, and academia.

Naturally, he took solace in books more than he did in people around him. People were complicated and often overwhelmed him with the emotional information they broadcast all the time. People were messy with their emotions, they were contrived with the complexes they created in themselves to avoid memories they buried, and they were needlessly fixated on only their own existences. Books, however, were clear and plain, focusing almost entirely on the subject at hand. The authors only wrote down what was absolutely relevant and those few particularities of character that bled through the writing were subdued. The stories and epics set down by the skaldts were pure with subtle intention and a focus on deeds over thoughts. The words and recollections of the dead were hallowed with meaning far more than those of the living.

Leiros took in a long breath of chilled air while letting the fingers he had upon the bridge of his nose flow over his face to rub at the side of his skull. He let the false psyche he had created for Gwain’s satisfaction fall away. He imagined the floating metallic construction he had created slowly crumbling and melting away as it fell back into a sea of liquid mercury inside of his soul. Once the last pieces had finally returned to the sea of his soul, he created a glowing halo of light that lit him from within. He focused on that light and increased its brilliance until he could cover himself with a protective shield against any further telepathic contact.

“Master Leiros.” The words were in a soft and feminine voice that echoed slightly in the long and darkened hallways of the mesa sanctum.

Leiros lifted his head to see who called him by name and saw a young woman of dusky features walking toward him. From what he could see by the flickering light of oil lamps hanging from the ceiling, the young woman wore over-sized gray robes like most of the other oracles. He couldn’t see anything on her that denoted station in the low light. He could see that she had long dark hair, warm brown eyes, and held a sheepish smile on her face.

“We don’t usually see you on this floor. It’s good to see you.” The woman closed to a distance of a few feet away and gave a slight bow with her head. “I see you probably talked with Master Gwain. I hope he didn’t make you feel too uncomfortable.” The young woman smiled more broadly and crossed her arms over her chest, hiding her arms beneath long and heavy sleeves.

Leiros looked from the young woman’s eyes and then to the doorway he had just slammed a moment earlier a few feet away from him. He gave a stifled sigh and adjusted his eyes beneath a long blink. He turned his gaze back to the woman and adjusted his features with a fake sense amusement.

“Not too uncomfortable.” Despite the fake emotion on his face, the words he spoke fell out flatly. His mental defenses roared to life all the more as he noticed the young woman watching his face intently. He prepared himself for another mental onslaught. “Hopefully he doesn’t give you any grief.”

“Only the grief that I deserve.” The young woman giggled to herself to try and cover up the waves of fear that she began to broadcast. “It is good to see you, Master Leiros.” She emphasized her last statement and then began to send out waves of positive energy towards him. Little bubbles of thoughts and feelings began to break over Leiros of past positive memories between the both of them.

Leiros took a moment to run through the memories in his face and try to piece together where he had run into the young woman before. Flashes tore through his mind as he quickly ran through the palace of his mind, searching through the many alcoves and recesses he might have stored her face. As quickly as he began to search, he was able to recall when he had seen her before, which is one of the many thankful gifts he had been born with, having a near eidetic memory.

“It is good to see you again, Sister Kalyna.” Leiros called up a fake smile that strained at the unused muscles of his face. “Thank you for your company over a meal a year ago. Were you able to answer that quandary you mentioned to me?” Leiros paused, looking up for a second, making it look like he was recalling information. “I believe you were wondering if an augury you gave to young Guardian Knight might have influenced his actions to give up his own free will. Was it not a situation of the Ullthosian Paradox?”

“I completely forgot that.” Kalyna’s eyebrows shot up with incredulity at Leiros’ memory as she had obviously forgotten the minutiae of their interaction. A smile still spread across her lips and she gave another laugh. “What I remember, you gave me a lot of insight into that augury. I don’t know what happened after that, though.” She lifted one of her hands up and let her sleeves fall away to reveal an exposed hand. She lightly pressed her right index finger to her lips and then recoiled the finger back to her hand quickly. “I do remember how generous you were with your time and spending those hours with me.”

Leiros fought against the emotions that began to well up in him. He could feel the attraction towards him that Kalyna had. She was clinging to a built-up illusion of a memory that did not entirely correspond to Leiros’ own memory. In the time since their interaction, she had thought often on that brief time shared fondly. She thought that there was some rapport between them and she wanted to follow that into a relationship. He focused the frustration and anger he had towards her into a single clenched fist hidden beneath the sleeve of his robe at his side.

“I’m glad the ideas and companionship I could give to you was worthwhile to you.” Leiros felt his fingernails digging into the flesh of his palm as his face curled and twitched to give the slightest hint of a smile. He tried to emphasize the last elements of his statement, hoping that Kalyna would take the insinuation that it might not be worthwhile to him. He didn’t see her features change, and the feelings emanating from her were still reaching a fevered pitch, so obviously she was blind to his insinuations.

“I apologize for the impertinence, but what brings you to Master Gwain’s office?” The look on Kalyna’s face turned to a twinge of concern and then back to her smile. She thought she was being sneaky by distracting Leiros with a question while taking a few shuffling steps closer to him.

“Gwain informed me that I would be taking over the duties of Master Olkva while he’s away.” Leiros could feel the pain burning up from his clenched fist and let the pressure on his tendons fall away, relaxing his fingers for a moment. He kept his eyes trained on Kalyna’s reaction to his words to see if a flash of recognition would overtake her features. He wanted to see through her emotions if she was involved in Gwain’s large plots. Perhaps the emotions she was sending to him were part of some elaborate plot by Gwain and Illena.

“Oh, that’s odd.” Kalyna scrunched up her face and a blush of red shone from her heavily tanned cheeks. “I thought you were the Master of Lore and were Grandmaster Toulam’s personal assistant.” She ruminated for a moment as her eyes flickered upward and to the right; recalling memories. “You also report directly to Master Illena for duties, right? Surely, she would be the one to inform you of that. Why in the world would my Master have to tell you anything.” She gave another giggle and clutched her right hand to her face as if trying to hold it in. “Technically, Master Gwain is below your station.”

Leiros openly rolled his eyes at Kalyna’s statement, letting his guard down for a moment. He could feel the honesty coming from her when she spoke those words. Technically, she was correct, however, due to his age, the recent appointment to his station, and the responses from the other Masters of the Order it wasn’t nearly that simple.

Although Leiros had managed to earn the respect of the initiates beneath him through his honest actions, and he had a flawless reputation for diligence within the Order, none of that meant a thing. He was not a part of some secretive clique who held the real power and he didn’t have any skeletons hidden in his closet that those with power could use to keep him under control. He was learning quickly that all of the work he had done to earn his place was worthless because the real source of power in the Order was based on the entire opposite of merit.

A wave of concern hit Leiros square in the chest and knocked him out of his internal ruminations. Kalyna was beginning to wonder if she offended him and was recoiling into herself. Worry and embarrassment soon followed her concern as she began to beat herself up emotionally for her statement. Leiros didn’t want her to fret in insecurity, and the waves of unrestrained emotions were getting too much for him.

“I guess I still have to earn my place. After all, if Gwain has information, it’s my job to know it, right?” Leiros tried to carefully pick his words to be self-effacing and present a question to Kalyna to knock her out of her insecurity. “I guess, Master Illena rather talk to Gwain than myself.” He gave a half-hearted chuckle that was more a lame serious of breaths than a laugh.

“I don’t know why Master Illena has it out for you so much.” Kalyna extended her left hand toward Leiros to put it on his shoulder but pulled her hand away quickly. She didn’t know if she was able to touch him due to their social distance and his title. She wanted to make physical contact with him but the trepidation whirling in her emotions won out. “The other Initiates have noticed how she treats you. It must be exhausting to constantly jump through the hoops she and the Grandmaster give to you. I know you do a lot to keep the Order running.”

The words were sickly sympathetic and not entirely true, which made Leiros want to cringe as he heard them. He didn’t think that his duties were too much, and despite the resentment between Illena and himself, he enjoyed the challenges she gave him. He wasn’t one to hide from a challenge or new way to prove himself. If the feelings that Kalyna was now expressing were indeed representative of the other Initiates of the Order, they were given too much slack in their duties. If they had time to gossip about the newest appointed Master and feel bad for him for having to do his job, their priorities might need to be refocused back to how they could benefit each other instead.

“So, when do you take over Master Olkva’s duties?” Kalyna jumped in to change the subject when she noticed that Leiros wasn’t taking the bait of sympathy. She took a step back and watched Leiros’ features intently. She cocked her head to the side, trying to show off her desire to know more about him.

“Today, at Noon.” Leiros lifted his head up and furrowed the space between his eyebrows. “Not a lot of notice, I have to admit.” He forgot to make another strained smile and let his features remain cold and stone-like.

“Oh?” Kalyna paused and pulled back her head slightly with a look of confusion and incredulousness. “Surely you must be mistaken, or more likely Gwain was mistaken.” She waited for Leiros to focus on her and show is interest in what she was about to say. “It’s almost a full hour past Noonday. If you were to start your lesson then, you’re already late.”

Leiros clenched both fists openly in response to her words this time. Anger tore through his mind and he didn’t restrain it. That conniving worm, Gwain, had left him waiting for two hours in his office before he finally arrived to interrogate him. He wanted Leiros to be late for his first and most important lesson to the young Initiates. This would give Gwain and Illena ammunition to say that he indeed had neglected his duties.

“I guess I best let you go so you can get back to Auhl Keignfel Stohll.” Kalyna sheepishly bowed once more to Leiros. “That’s all the more strange that Master Gwain would be the one to tell you this. The last time I saw Master Illena, she was back at Stohll.” Kalyna pointed off into the darkness of the hallway as if she could point out the far other Mesa almost a mile away. “I know your quarters and offices are over there with Toulam’s. Why you would be sent all the way here to be late for your first lesson…” Her words trailed off.

Leiros knew exactly why he was sent all this way and why Illena had been dodging him all morning. Since Toulam had been gone for the last three days, dealing with very personal business, Illena had been orchestrating events to make him look like a fool. She had been undermining Toulam’s wishes, making Leiros’ life a living hell, and no doubt collaborating with those other Masters sympathetic to her usurpation of the Order.

“I guess I best take my leave. Thank you, again, for your companionship and conversation.” Leiros tilted his head slightly to Kalyna who beamed at him.

She nodded deeper and ran off down the hallway to whatever destination she sought. She gave one more large burst of positive emotions which began to dissipate slightly as she left. Sadly, her fondness for Leiros had only grown due to their talking. Her seeing how Gwain had treated him, and his apparent recklessness toward his duties only seemed to make her more enthralled, which puzzled Leiros greatly. Perhaps it was the exposure of his viewed weakness that made her respect him more, or she was drawn to men that let her down in some way.

Leiros shook her emotions and presence from his mind vigorously until he could try once more to forget she existed. He wasn’t interested in her to be perfectly honest. He wasn’t really interested in anyone as all of the women he had come across were too plain with their emotions. It was hard to make a proper connection with someone or be surprised about their interest in you when you could feel their emotions so keenly.

He was of a far too rational of mind to get swept up in romances and crushes. Although he could appreciate the individual beauty and complexity that many of the women of the Order had, none of them seemed able to knock him from his mind as well pull on his heartstrings. When one came into contact with so many people with the same emotions and viewpoints in their heads, most people became nothing more than predictable background noise and it was precisely this omnipresent noise that bothered Leiros so much.

Leiros turned away from Kalyna as she continued to run down the hall. He began to walk in the opposite direction while trying to figure out the best course of action to get back to the Stohll Mesa. He was already near the top of the Little Buetha Mesa and it would involve climbing down numerous levels to get to the underground passages that led back to Stohll. Such a method of travel — being the most commonly used by the oracles of the Order — would take hours. It would not be right to make the students wait that long.

Leiros made his way to a fork in the hallway carved from the very rock of the Buetha Mesa and looked from side to side. He resolved the best way to get back to Stohll and ran headlong to the right. He would avoid the passages back, and instead reach the summit of the Mesa. He was only two floors away as it was.

As he tore down the hallway in a full sprint, he narrowly pushed to the side to avoid an older Initiate carrying a stack of books and grimoires. As he passed, the older man had to catch himself and steady the stack of books he carried against his chest, up to his chin. The older man barked out a few obscenities and was lost as Leiros turned another corner.

A dozen feet ahead the hallway broke into a flight of stairs upward. Leiros leaped at the bottom step and pulled himself up by grabbing the iron railings anchored into the stone. He took the steps three at a time, pulling himself up faster and faster until he got to the next floor. The stairs opened to another set of hallways, but he turned hard to his left and jumped over the next flight of stairs.

Despite being in decent shape from his many exercises and physical challenges that he put himself through, Leiros still managed to get winded as he made his way to a heavy iron doorway at the top of the stairs. He strained as he pulled on the rope handle that was wound through the door. He struggled to catch his breath for a moment and then was overwhelmed by the torrent of air that blew through the opened doorway.

The warm, dry, and sand-strewn air of the Jolash Plateau greeted him as he stepped through the threshold and secured the door behind himself. He turned around and began to climb up a wooden ladder up to the summit of the Little Buetha Mesa. The heat of the twin suns above was harsh on his skin as he took his first step on the exposed rock.

Leiros quickly lifted the hood of his robes and secured them by pulling taut some of his cloth belts around to his frame. The harsh light and whipping winds of the Jolash Plateau were far more than his fair skin could handle. He took a few steps forward and focused his narrowed gaze upon the skies above.

He began to pull loose some cloth scarves around the neck of his robes and upon spying a tiny dot playing among a group of clouds far to the east, he focused his mental energies into a blast. He gave an ear-piercing whistle between his tongue, teeth, and lips. Along with this auditory call, he let loose his mental energies to summon that far-away dot to him. The telepathic blast was profound and caused him a moment of dizziness.

Once more taking control of his senses, he began to wrap the scarves around his face. He kept one loop around his forehead, and another around his nose and mouth. He fidgeted with the fabric to keep it taut and tie it near the back of his neck. He kept only a small slit revealed for his eyes and then pulled some leather belts from his sleeves to tie around his neck and to secure around his hands like makeshift gloves.

Once he was bundled up, he took a few more steps onto the higher rock of the summit. He looked to his left and could see immense size of Auhl Keignfel Stohll. That great mesa, his home and the primary headquarters of his order stood like a giant, silent sentinel against the whipping sands that scoured the Jolash Plateau far below. Stohll rose almost a thousand feet higher than the mesa he currently stood upon. Several other mesas rose up from the rocky plateau, but most were farther away than this edifice of rock no more than a mile from where he stood.

Leiros turned his head to notice a shadow that was cast over the summit. He looked up to see a great black and gold bird flap its wings several times as it lowered itself onto a large outcropping of rock nearby. From head to talon, the bird was twice the size of Leiros and the wingspan it held was slightly more than thirty feet to a wing. Once the bird’s talons took hold of the rock, it folded its immense wings in and lowered its head down to Leiros’ level.

Gathering spoiled? The bird beamed the words straight into Leiros’ mind. The feeling was less like a conversation and more like a wave of images, emotions, and a calming sense of oneness between his mind and the bird’s.

“The meeting went well enough.” Leiros talked openly to the bird and lifted a hand to scratch some feathers near the back of its head. “I think we are to be betrayed soon enough, though.” Leiros took a step up on the rock to get closer.

I was playing with the clouds. The bird turned its head to look up to the nearby building clouds further across the plateau. Much power is building. It will storm soon. The clouds may weep. The bird turned its head back to Leiros and looked him in the eye. Immense orbs of orange jade seemed to be on fire from within.

“I’ll take note of that, Qathalla.” Leiros turned to look over to the nearby towering mesa and pointed to it with his left hand. “I need you to fly me over there. When we get there, I need you to stay with me, is that alright?” He continued to scratch at the bird’s head with his right hand.

Of course. The bird nuzzled into Leiros’ arm and pressed its large beak against his chest. Qathalla closed its eyes for a moment and then continued to speak with thoughts. I saw other Authrocs over there. A gathering. Many young oracles are standing around looking lost.

“I have to go over there and teach them how to handle their Authrocs. I need you to stay with me, I will need to fly with you later on.” Leiros gave two pats with his leathered hand on the authroc’s neck. Qathalla lowered one of its wings and allowed Leiros to climb up easily.

Once Leiros was secured to the back of the great bird, laying into a leather harness that was strapped across the bird’s chest, he gave one more pat. He whistled softly and the authroc’s wings unfurled and began to pound air against the ground in a flurry. Within moments Qathalla had risen into the air and then darted downward into a dive with outstretched wings. A few feet from the surface of the ground, the bird pulled up and soared with great speed toward the summit of the other mesa.

* * *

The currents of cooling air flowed across the linen shell that Leiros wore and sent the trailing ends of his scarves into a whipping frenzy around him. The winds had quickly switched to come from the north, drawing in the billowing clouds that Qathalla had earlier flew among. As Leiros felt the temperatures change from his soaring height he knew that the great bird was correct in its earlier forewarnings that the storms would descent upon the mesas of Alsira.

The largest of the twin suns, the burning Lord Dhaulm, was at its zenith in the sky. The smaller of the suns, the ambitious lover Trallt, was nearing the western horizon and casting mismatched golden shadows over the terrain below. This day would be a short one, with the evening filled with storms, and the night would be almost double the length of the day.

Leiros pulled himself away from his observations of the sky and focused on the nearing plateau of Auhl Keignfel Stohll as he rushed toward it on the back of his soul-bonded authroc. Through the slit of his shielding scarves, he could see a gathered mass of white-robed students milling about on the plateau. Moving among the students were two brown-robed initiates that took turns trying to talk with the students or throwing their arms into the air with exasperation. Several of the student’s authrocs were either perched on rocks of the plateau or playing with each other on the air around the mesa.

A momentary flare of rage shot through Leiros’ mind as he tried to place blame for his lateness on Master Gwain. Despite knowing that the older Master had intentionally set this situation upon him and the confused students below, there was still a gnawing feeling of guilt in his mind. As certain as he wanted to be about the injustice he must now attempt to correct, there was still that youthful voice in his mind that made him feel like an impostor among the other Masters of the Authrakallin. If he could be manipulated so easily, maybe he wasn’t cut out for his station after all.

No doubts. The flood of certainty and flash of several images from the past flowed into Leiros’ mind from Qathalla’s own. The human you think of is sour. They do not smell healthy, but like they rutted with filth. Qathalla sent a roar of tingling energy through its feathers and into Leiros’ body. That one is a cuckoo in the nest. I know not why you tolerate him to live. If I found him in my nest I would tear his throat out with my claws and devour his screaming face.

Leiros couldn’t restrain a twisted grin as it spread across his lips, the brutal honesty of Qathalla was jarring and oddly welcome. He leaned into the muscular neck of the bird and began to smooth the rippling feathers that crackled with unrestrained energy. As isolated and vulnerable as he felt in this moment he could feel the protection that Qathalla offered him. Slowly he opened his mind from fear and worry to the certainty of his good company. He had Qathalla with him, the guidance of Grandmaster Toulam, and even the slinking weirdness of Vhoggli to depend upon. There were other initiates that he had grown close with during his time with the oracles, as well. He wasn’t alone, but he would now have to tread carefully as there were coiling vipers in his home.

Qathalla was beginning its descent toward the summit of the taller mesa, which jarred Leiros back to reality once more. He looked down to the gathering of students as they all looked up at him in unison. The two initiates stood with contempt upon their faces and one had his arms crossed over his chest. His mind began to reel at the guilt he felt for leaving them waiting so long. He knew from his own studies when he was younger how important the first impression of a teacher was. These next moments meant everything when it came to earning their respect.

Leiros closed his eyes as Qathalla began to beat its wings against the updrafts surrounding the Stohll mesa. He began to construct a new personality out of the same sea of mercury that made up his thoughts. He brought up his mental defenses and wove them into the fabric of this new self. He decided to construct a rakish and devil-may-care sort of personality to keep any of the more telepathically inclined students at bay.

He reached into his own memories to pull up what he remembered of a friend of his father. He had long forgotten the man’s name, but the memories of his behavior when he came over for dinners, or those handfuls of time had given him advice on the steps of the Morrthault Anathaem of Law while he waited for his father to finish his daily duties, were etched into his psyche. He was a man who didn’t care what others thought of him. He was a man who seemed to intentionally show up late for his duties. He was as unphased by social mores as he was by the violence he had to dole out to criminals. Leiros remembered well the words he spoke to him when he was just a small boy waiting for his father on the Anathaem steps.

“I can see that look in your eye, boy.” The man unfurled his heavy leather coat from around his legs and took up a sitting perch two steps higher than Leiros on the cold stone steps. “You have that same devotion to duty and propriety that your father has. I’m sure you’ll follow his steps and become one of the Filidath as well.”

Leiros remembered looking up at the man whose face was still covered in a long, black hood. The man forced him to look over his shoulder, backward, and up to him on purpose. Even with his empathic abilities budding at such a young age, he recalled how hard it was for him to pick up any emotions from the man. Feeling his mind was like running his hands over cold metal; something he learned to adopt to protect himself later in life.

“Here you wait like a dutiful son. Always here an hour before your father finishes his last bits of paperwork.” The man looked off to the ancient and decrepit spires of Morrthault city for a moment. He looked like he was surveying all the world and finding it wanting. “I don’t know if you’ll end up a bureaucrat like your father, or you’ll choose the more active role that I do in the Law-giver caste.” He patted a gloved hand on the star-metal sword hanging from his belt. “I can see in the way you look at me that you have more spine than your old man. You have the look of a judge who yearns to bring justice to this dying world. You have the look of someone who wants to make others pay for their injustices.”

Leiros remembered looking down at the steps below his feet, turning away from the man as if that could stop him from seeing into his heart. He could still recollect the burning anger he had in him for how his father was treated a few months previous when he was stripped of status and pushed behind a wooden desk. He could once again feel the uncertainty gnawing at his soul when he realized that justice and responsibility weren’t known by all people and that most thought of such as entirely alien concepts.

“You might find this uncouth, but I care for you, boy. Not as much as your father does, nor as much as your mother did before she was taken from this world, but I have concern for your wellbeing. I’ve worked for decades with your father, and although I will never have a family of my own, you and your father are the closest I could ever have to one.” The man shifted in his position and leaned back on the steps while unfurling his legs forward. “I don’t know if you’re old enough to understand what happened to your father. Maybe when you’re older you’ll know what happened and that you shouldn’t hold anything against him. Your father has a kind spirit and has always been dutiful. It is in his sense of uncompromising duty that his weakness was birthed.”

Leiros felt like he wanted to punch the man for saying anything against his father, but despite his youth, he understood that something was wrong. The fact that other members of the Filidath could strip him of his station so easily revealed some sort of weakness that they had exploited. His mind began to race at questions to ask the tall and imposing man slouched behind him. He sucked in air to reply but held his tongue.

“You can learn to bulwark yourself from the cracks of weakness by turning them back on themselves, you know.” The man shifted once more and leaned forward. He seemed like he was looking down at Leiros, but all he could see when he looked up and backward was the side of the man’s hood. “You don’t always have to be the dutiful son and arrive an hour early. You could very well show up late if you wanted to.” The man reached his gloved hands out and began to crack his knuckles loudly.

Leiros didn’t understand how showing up late might guard himself against weakness, the whole thing seemed extremely rude to do to his father. What would happen if his father came to the steps of the Anathaem and couldn’t find him. He could see the look of panic on his father’s face in his mind and the frantic searches he would conduct. Such a situation would cause disharmony, unpredictability, and invited disaster.

“I can taste your skepticism, boy. I can hear the little gears of your mind whirling into a frenzy at all the things that could go wrong.” The man gave a chuckle and shook his head, causing the overdrawn tip of his hood to sway in the air. “You and your father are so obsessed by order and have such a fear of chaos that you can only see the latter as a hungry serpent at your door. You need to be able to understand both elements fully in order to truly be strong.” The man reached out his right hand and began to squeeze his fingers into a fist. “You have to let that serpent into your house, boy. You have to wrestle with it. You have to choke the life from it, master it, and then use it. Order and chaos are like light and darkness; one cannot exist without the other.”

Leiros could feel the tiny muscles of his skull furrowing up in confusion as he looked back at the hooded enforcer of the laws. He still couldn’t see any details on the man’s face from beneath the shadows, but something told him that the man was smiling down at him. It was a strange memory to think of a man as a symbol of uncompromising law, who was as much a protector as an executioner, sitting there and smiling at him.

“Learn to embrace chaos and make it a tool, lest that serpent take hold and poison your future.” The man reached out his left hand to place it upon Leiros’ shoulder. The grip felt cold like metal but offered a deep feeling of protection and ownership. It was a feeling like being cloaked in darkness but not being afraid of it, instead embracing it to become one with it, then extending his senses through it to see all things not just the illusions of light and shadow. “There will be a time in your life that you will be late for your duty. Much as your father was when you were younger. I do hope it won’t cost the lives of the people you care about, but there is a way to master it.” The man leaned forward a few inches so that the cool fabric of his hood grazed Leiros’ cheek like a kiss from the goddess of death. “Act like you don’t care. Be as late as you want to be and make a grand entrance when you get there. People will only make you guilty of the things you feel guilt towards. Know what is important in your heart, but tell the rest of the world to wait for you. Own your fate and never let others unjustly rob you of it.”

Leiros didn’t understand the man’s words when he spoke them so long ago, but in the current context, he could see some of the warning that was meant. Serpents had indeed found themselves inside of Leiros’ house and the cracks of chaos were everywhere. He had focused so long on maintaining order and living his life with honor so that he might constantly prove himself to others, that he had forgotten that chaos is also a source of power. It was precisely through chaos that Master Illena and Master Gwain were gaining influence in the Order while eroding the Grandmaster’s desire for justice.

The words that the hooded man had spoken about taking control over one’s dereliction of duties, seemed flippant all those years ago. Specifically alluding to his father’s lateness that had caused the death not only of his mother but of several thousand innocent people in Morrthault City was hard for him to swallow at such a tender age. For most of his life, he had neglected that memory and found that man’s words worthless. It was only now that he found himself upon a precipice where his duties were being used against him, much like what had happened to his father, that the words held power.

He could feel the terrestrial pull once more upon his body as Qathalla’s talons sunk deep into the rock of the summit below. With a reflexive action, he slid from his saddle while dragging a hand through the great bird’s black feathers. Qathalla crooned and swooped its great head and pushed him forward with one of its tucked wings.

Leiros landed upon the ground several feet ahead and proceeded to dust the Jolashi sands from his robes with one hand and pulled the scarves around his face free with his other. His eyes darted from the young students gathered before him to each of the initiated brothers taking steps towards him with snarls of rage upon their faces.

“Well, no wonder Master Olkva had to abandon his duties for a relaxing vacation in the Athim Glaciers.” Leiros tucked his errant scarves in his robes and narrowed his eyes contemptuously at the two brothers ahead of him. He waited just long enough for one of them to take in a sharp breath to reply and then cut him off to speak once more. “It would seem you two enjoy wasting my student’s time. I had told Master Gwain that the Authvokan tests would begin at two hours past Noon. Here I see a bunch of bored students looking like they’ve been waiting here for hours.”

“Master Leiros, you’re mistaken-” The youngest of the brothers managed to seize upon his voice and step forward with his hands outstretched.

“I’m mistaken? The one who scheduled these tests with Master Gwain and Master Illena over a day ago?” Leiros cocked one of his eyebrows up and began to walk over to the youngest brother with command in his stride. “Are you sure it’s not you who is mistaken?”

“It was Master Gwain who told us to assemble the students before Noon. We only did what we were told to do.” The second brother, much older than the other stood his ground with his arms crossed. The look on his aged and dusky face was nothing more than a set knotted scowls.

“So, it would seem that neither of you can accept your own blame and would instead try to pin all of this on a Master of station like Gwain.” Leiros crossed his own arms over his chest as if mimicking the scowling brother to his right. He gave a short half-snort and chuckle before continuing. “As one of the Masters, I’ll let this slight go for now.” Leiros seemed to look both brothers from toe to face and then back again, sizing them up. “Well, let’s just say there was a miscommunication. I would remind you not to speak ill of those above your station, but I will hold Master Gwain responsible for this. I assure you, I will find out if it was him that caused this mishap and he will be corrected for his behavior.”

The younger brother stopped in his tracks and seemed to bow with deference toward Leiros for a moment. He went quiet as he pursed his lips and lifted both hands up as if in supplication. Leiros shot his eyes over to the other brother and saw the scowl upon his face break for a moment. The older brother closed his eyes slowly, opened them again and gave the slightest of nods. His arms remained crossed in front of his chest, but his shoulders slumped.

“Good. Now I have been told that I will be taking over for Master Olkva and today will be these student’s Authvokan.” Leiros stepped forward and struck a pose that was far more casual than his station should have allowed. He reached out two arms towards the brothers standing before him. He carefully raised his right arm higher toward the scowling man than his left arm towards the younger. This action got the angry brother’s attention immediately and softened his features a bit more. “I would like to be properly introduced to the both of you. We will be working closely together this day and several others into the future.” Leiros allowed a wide grin to spread across his lips and he flashed his teeth at both brothers.

“I am Brother Telomai.” The younger brother took one more step to stand right before Leiros on his left side. “I have served as a celestial cartographer under Master Peloyn. It is good to meet you, Master Leiros.” The younger brother tossed his head to the side to fight against an errant shock of brown hair that had draped over his face. He offered out a bare hand and Leiros eagerly shook it with a hard grasp. “I heard that you are a specialist in the lore and history of Vhaltenesh. Maybe one day we could share a meal and talk about the ancient Morthavi.”

“I assure you it will happen. Any oracle of this Order that understands the wisdom of the ancients is a friend to me.” Leiros gave two downward shakes of Telomai’s hand and then let his hand drop to change his attention over the old man on his right.

“I am Brother Hethras.” The older brother seized upon Leiros’ outstretched hand greedily and took charge. “I used to perform auguries for Master Chaelra until Gwain took up her position when she passed away. I didn’t want to keep working under him, so I switched over help Master Olkva.” Hethras seemed to stare deeply into Leiros’ eyes as if trying to analyze his deeper character. Leiros prepared his mental defenses even tighter to prepare for any telepathic onslaught, but within a moment he could see the brother’s face soften. “I may not believe that Gwain made the mistake, but I am quite certain he is guilty of us being here for this long.” Hethras leaned in with his words and let Leiros’ hand drop.

“Well met to the both of you. Now, if you would be as kind as to introduce me to my students so we can get started right away. I know these poor souls have been waiting here for some time. I’m sure their nerves are all a mess because today is the day of their final test.” Both brothers turned on their heels and stepped toward the huddled group of young students before them. Leiros stepped between Telomai and Hethras in as certain a fashion as he could. He flashed his smile at the students who all looked up at him in unison. Leiros gave both brothers a playful slap across their backs and held onto their robes for a moment as they walked towards the students.

Please donate a portion of your essential energies to sustain this fiction.
The ritual involved only takes a moment over at Top Web Fiction and does not require any sign-in or log-in.
These energies are wiped away every week, so sustained energies on this ritual would be most appreciated.
Thank you for your sacrifices to allow us to take over your worl-... Erm, to keep this story going.

 Previous SectionTable of ContentsNext Section
 I: Demands from OthersEpisode I: MilestonesIII: Chicks Thrown from the Nest