Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake
Please note that this sample is from the second book of the Keepers’ Garden Trilogy, In Hyval’s Wake. Accordingly, the next several pages contain significant spoilers for those who have not read the first book, The Flame Within. The Flame Within is available in softcover and Kindle formats from Amazon.com and other retailers. In Hyval’s Wake will be released in 2010.
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake
First, the archon, his bright red eyes presenting the malice in his soul. Then his companion, the woman whose machinations would melt iron. The Shiryan was the most dependable, logical being I have ever met. Yet what it wants is at odds with the entire human race. To the left sat the Mauruten. The rock, the honor of the group. And then the strongest of us; that indomitable, incoercible man who would rend all of existence in the name of perfection. Finally, you. Star-crossed for all the ages. I fear I will never be able to truly express my sense of loss.
- Passage uncovered during the excavation of Old Hivnem
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake
One Among Many
“And so it was, daughters.” The elderly Great Mother removed her hand from the lip of the podium and closed the book she had been reading from. Her shoulders drooped as she looked out at the class of girls who would be All-Mothers. A smoldering torch along the left wall drew her attention and she gestured towards it. A nearby student stood and relit the torch using the link. “Good, child,” the Great Mother coached. Her eyes oscillated with exhaustion. “I await your questions.” The audience was quiet. Some of the students looked anxious to speak, while others leaned back in their chairs. Though the class consisted of all older girls, they had differing priorities. Those with only a few months left until Attainment were the most attentive, attempting to learn all they could before they were sent out to shepherd their own temples. Those with a few years remaining did not exhibit the same sense of urgency. A hand rose from the back row – one of the older girls in the room. She was sixteen years of age and very near her Attainment. The Great Mother gestured for her to speak. “Great Mother, I mean you the utmost respect.” The girl looked to the floor and dragged her toe against the stone. “But these words you have read…they cannot be truth. No other text echoes their sentiments. In fact, they put forth several glaring contradictions.” The Great Mother’s lips twisted into her version of a frown and she tapped her foot on the leg of her stool. “I told you before we began today that the Word of the Keepers was contained within this text – the Word of Aialiss, no less. And what does that mean, daughters?” “The Word is truth,” echoed from the class. The Great Mother nodded. “But this account speaks oppositely to several other texts, Great Mother, against the other fragments of the Word. How can they both be truth?” A murmur came from the class. The Great Mother let it linger for a few moments before she gestured for the group to quiet. And then she smiled. “Daughters, our lesson for today is over. Kyla and I must speak alone.” The girls exchanged nervous glances and rose from their seats, holding pity for Kyla but not enough to make themselves part of the proceedings. They shuffled out of the temple basement and back up the stairs with only quiet whispers and stolen glances. “I could simply give reply, but that would make me an ineffective teacher. So instead, I ask you to answer your own question. How can this text be contradictory to other pieces of the Word and yet still be truth?” “Truth is subjective, based on perception, which explains the differences between the Keepers’ texts. But in this instance, Aialiss self-contradicts! Either I have misjudged the meaning of his words, or one of his writings is a lie.” 4
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake “Logic becomes you, daughter. Where do you find these contradictions?” “In the Book of Helvenia, it is said that the Garden is free of all true evils – that the Keepers paid a price for that reward. Sufficient detail is present to make me believe Helvenia wrote the truth.” “But you said that Aialiss contradicts himself?” Kyla nodded. “The Sacred Text of Aialiss disagrees with his Book. In his Book, he states that the Keepers will protect the Garden for all time. But in the excerpt you just read from his Sacred Text, he claims that their works are limited…that eventually, someone will need to step forward to remake their legacy.” Kyla huffed with exasperation. “He presents a floral view for the public and another, darker version of events to be passed on by his servants. How can we possibly discern the truth when our Gods have spoken against themselves?” She slumped in her chair. “I feel lost.” “So you disagree with the Sacred Text of Aialiss, then?” Kyla shook her head. “I cannot say, Great Mother, but I do feel that the Sacred Text and the book disagree in a way that logic cannot reconcile. I must be missing some detail that links the two. After all, hundreds of women have reviewed these writings over the centuries. It would be foolish to think that I would be the first to discover the inconsistency.” “Acknowledging a lack of knowledge shows strength, daughter. But you can work through this conundrum. Why could these texts disagree?” Kyla tapped her fingernails against the arm of her chair. Her eyes danced about as she thought. “Another author could have penned one of the books, imitating Aialiss’ style of writing.” She paused. “I…what is your opinion, Great Mother? You have wrestled with these questions before, have you not?” “I have. But I do not want to taint your thoughts with my conclusions. I would like to hear more of what you think.” “I…I do not know what to think. This is why I ask.” The Great Mother took a deep breath. “Then let us assume that, as you suggest, an impostor wrote Aialiss’ sacred text. Who would it have been? When, and for what purpose?” “As to when, it would have been sometime after the Ascension. The forger would have needed Aialiss’ writings as a source. But who would have reason to do such a thing? Perhaps someone wrote the darker version for use as political leverage within the temple, or it may have been drafted to market as fiction and earn a good bit of coin. Really, it is impossible to determine, unless another writer had been identified as stylistically similar.” “I have traveled that path of research, daughter, and it has led to nothing. We have too few texts from the past.” “So it is unlikely that the document is forged,” Kyla said. The Great Mother nodded. “So it would seem. Or, if it is forged, we will never be able to prove it.” Kyla frowned. “What other explanations can you see?” the Great Mother asked. When Kyla did not respond, she continued. “Well, let us begin again and reexamine the facts. You stated that the Sacred Text of Aialiss disagreed with the Book of Helvenia, and also the
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake Book of Aialiss regarding the issue of fallibility. Where else does the Sacred Text contradict the other works?” “With the accounts following the last battle. The Book of Aialiss states that all will be well because the Garden is protected by the Keepers’ Barrier. But the Sacred Text of Aialiss argues that the evils have been spread throughout us all…that they infect the Garden at this very moment.” Kyla shook her head. “I find it difficult to believe such a dark claim when every other teaching disagrees.” The Great Mother was quiet for a moment before giving her reply. “Difficult? But you find some credence in the words, daughter?” Kyla nodded. “They…have their own logic. The events contained explain why we have both murderers and decent folk, corrupt politicians with the honest ones. It all depends on how much of this Shiryan Lord, this Dregus Antonesius, they carry within.” Kyla shook her head violently and shuddered. “But how can that be? The Keepers would never have cursed us as such!” “You near a conclusion, daughter. Do not let fear or repulsion halt you.” “But I just cannot bring myself to believe the text! When all else speaks otherwise, I cannot believe what was just read. It must somehow be false.” The Great Mother sighed. “Then you may return to your room. If you have further questions or thoughts on the matter, please find me and I will do the best I can to help you reach the answers.” Kyla’s eyes sunk to the floor. She waited for a moment, hoping the Great Mother would change her mind or offer some additional guidance. When only silence followed, Kyla rose and trudged out of the room. The Great Mother began picking up from her class. She closed the Sacred Text of Aialiss and put it back into its wooden case. Her hand closed the lid and lingered, fingering the rune carved into the teak. Footsteps echoed from the outer corridor and the Great Mother jerked her attention upward. Kyla stood in the doorway. “I…I cannot…” Kyla took a moment to regain herself. “What if all else is the lie, Great Mother? What if this Sacred Text is the only truth we have, a truth Aialiss wanted hidden because of its danger?” “What if, daughter?” “It would mean…that he knew things the other Keepers did not. And it would mean that we, that the temples…we must bear a greater burden than I once thought.” The Great Mother smiled more broadly than Kyla had ever seen before. “Daughter, I believe you are ready for Attainment. And someday, should you desire and work for it, you could make an excellent Great Mother.” Kyla beamed, but shook it off quickly. “But if the Sacred Text of Aialiss is the only full truth we have, then that means war will eventually return – war on a scale we cannot begin to imagine.” The Great Mother sighed and stroked Kyla’s cheek with her fingertips. “That it will, daughter. And the Keepers’ faithful must be ready when war arrives.”
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake
A wide circle of man-sized boulders marked the border of the camp’s gating grounds. The surrounding land was sucked so dry of the Foundation that most of the rock had long ago turned to dust, and dust to ash – scorched by the relentless sun until nothing remained but lifeless trash. Juxtaposed against the flat and lifeless plains were towering clusters of cavern-riddled mesas. Such were the wastes. Even with all the lifelessness, remnants of civilization still lingered nearby. Ruined buildings were visible in the distance and several trails of footsteps traced to and from the circle of boulders that marked the gating grounds. A scream of air broke the silence as a pulsing black tear formed in the center of the circle of stones, growing in violent pulses until it was large enough for a man. The tear receded, leaving Hyval Mittel behind. Hyval was of middling height and medium build, with eyes that could pierce stone. Raven-dark hair hung down to his shoulders. The lengthy jumps no longer disoriented Hyval to the degree they used to, but his mood was sour just the same. Andrin’s blood had stained the first two fingers on his right hand, causing them to smell of iron and spite. And his back still ached from being slammed against the ashstone wall within the halls of the Spire of Balance. He brushed a few locks of hair away from his eyes and surveyed the area, deepening his frown when he spied the short man who was leaning lazily against one of the boulders. “I assume the meeting went well,” the short man began, grinning as if smiles were daggers. Hyval mumbled an unintelligible reply and began walking towards the only intact building in sight, a massive flat-roofed structure built between two of the many nearby mesas. The short man straightened his posture and quickly followed Hyval, like a lapdog with his master. “You returned quickly,” he said. “I came to the grounds as soon as I learned of your departure, and you returned only a few minutes later. I assume the Council agreed to pursue our second –” “It was not discussed, Tynault.” “Why not?” Hyval did not turn to face him, nor was there additional conversation until the pair was well under the shadows of the mesas. The entry doors to the adjoining structure were nearly two stories tall; iron monstrosities much too large even for a kingdom’s show of supremacy. Their hinges groaned with several thousand years of pain as they opened into the cavernous hallway beyond. Hyval directed his palm at the ground and his eyes began to glow. A swirling breeze kicked up in the entry. He cupped his other hand and a small red flame encased within a translucent barrier formed in his grip. He released it. The ball ignored gravity, floating a few feet above the ground, and then began a slithering journey down the hall. Hyval followed. 7
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake Tynault Atanvara, the short man, remained at the doorway, sneering, “There is blood on your hands. I can smell it. You have somehow managed to anger our Lord.” Hyval cringed and whirled, flaring the dark cloak he used as protection against the frequent dust storms of the wastes. One would have expected an incident given the tension, but harsh words were unnecessary. Hyval’s detached stare was sufficient to send his counterpart curling away in disgust. “I will not apologize to you. I was merely making an observation,” Tynault defended. “My mood is not primed for your observations.” After a pause for added weight, Hyval resumed his walk along the hulking corridor and threw his voice to the ceiling. “I swear to whomever hears me, your mind twists that need for acceptance of yours into something that defies all comprehension. I imagine it will prove to be your end.” Tynault Atanvara formed a crooked smile that showcased his wide set of teeth. “An odd choice of words. If anyone twists words and meanings, it is you.” Tynault paused and his smile faded as he realized his barb had not gained Hyval’s attention. His eyes darkened. “Being at odds with yourself seems to be the very definition of twisted. So your time is also limited, as our Lord does not tolerate insubordination.” Hyval turned on his heel, taking two deliberate steps so he was nose to forehead with Tynault. “Neither do I.” Tynault’s smile returned. “Nor should you, yet insubordination comes all the same.” Hyval thrust his palms forward and pushed Tynault’s chest so hard that the small man flew into the far wall. Then Hyval stepped forward and grabbed the chest of Tynault’s armor before the smaller man was able to emerge from his daze. Hyval opened his mouth to speak, but was overwhelmed by the wave of anger that burned inside his thoughts. The antithesis lurking inside his mind took the opportunity and flooded into control. In the past, Hyval had been able to choose when and where to let him speak, but now Dregus Antonesius almost slipped in and out at will. Eyes of steam and ice opened to Tynault, forcing the small man’s smirk into retreat. It only took a fraction of Hyval’s new strength to scoop Tynault a few inches off the ground and allow their conversation to finally take place eye-to-eye. “The vermin who is permitted to scavenge first should exceed my expectations in exchange for the privilege of service,” Hyval boomed in a voice slightly deeper than his norm. “That should be your one and only guidance.” He ground his teeth audibly during the pause, unconcerned with damaging the toothy smile of a temporary body. “Lord Antonesius,” Tynault said, bowing his head as far as he was able given that Hyval’s fists were pressed against his neck. “I wished to speak with you. The vessel is sometimes unwilling to pass you through, so I am forced to take extra measures of antagonism. I only needed a few words.” Hyval’s tight, iron frown loosened and he released his grip on Tynault, setting the small man back on the ground. “You may have your words soon enough. For now, let us speak of the ways in which you can show your continued and unwavering commitment to me.” “I wished to talk about –” “I wish to speak of the slowing of my reconstruction. Where are the other vessels?”
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake “We will find them. Soon.” Hyval’s eyes began to roll back in their sockets, but a firm blink saw them returned. His cheeks tightened into Dregus’ version of a smile. “This vessel can be difficult, but also most helpful the seldom in which he stands in agreement.” Tynault shook his head. “Master, I have –” “My priorities are not yours. Explain the failure of Salinar Gederin. Why was the Gate never brought into operation?” “Our Imperials lost control of Almach Tur before the Gate could be activated, which is what I wished to speak about.” “It is good that you did not lie to me. I have eyes that saw events transpire firsthand.” Tynault paused for only a moment. “We must retake the city, and the gate,” he replied. “It would only take a handful of these students to recruit a new army of fodder from Hivnem, Maythiene, and Litheria. From there, we can march on Almach Tur.” Hyval sighed deeper than a valley. “Your plan sounds loose and it reeks of folly.” “You discredit too hastily.” “What would you prefer?” Hyval leaned forward so his face was only inches from Tynault’s. “Allow you to continue wasting my time with ideas that fail to bring results?” Again Hyval’s eyes rolled back, though this time his jaw gaped and his throat uttered a sound as if he was being choked. “My Lord?” Hyval tightened his cheeks. “The vessel pounds at his own gates. He will eventually make breach, but not yet.” “Still, my Lord, so much work has been put into the gate that it would be a waste to restart elsewhere. Retaking Almach Tur will grant two benefits. First, your vessels in Hivnem can be harvested while we raise an army. Second, we will not have to restart construction.” Hyval was silent. “You have another idea, Lord?” “How many soldiers will it take to assault Almach Tur?” “As opposed to a siege?” Tynault asked. Incredulity leaked through his tone. Hyval nodded. “Well, not more than a few thousand I would think. The Liberation may have retaken Almach Tur for the royals, but the civil war has decimated their military. And their Spirit Knights are no match for our students.” “I would assume not. These Spirit Knights are limited by the very people they claim as saviors.” “The Keepers,” Tynault scoffed. “I cannot believe that I once –” “Do not waste my precious time with your regalements of the past. Explain your plan further.” “Yes, Lord. I chose Hivnem as a base because the city is still rife with Imperial supporters. I intend to corral these people and put them to better use.” “But my essence is not strong in Hivnem. You will go to Maythiene.” “Maythiene?” Hyval’s face darkened. “You question my judgment?”
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake “No, my lord. It is just…Maythiene is not as large of a city as…I…my Lord, I apologize, I will go to Maythiene. While there, I will gather what supporters I can for the coming siege on Almach Tur.” Hyval paused. “Indeed. No matter how I choose to move forward, we will still need our followers gathered. Proceed as discussed until we are able to speak again.” Hyval’s eyes rolled back in his head and returned, cooler, calmer, yet showing great concern. He and Tynault stared at each other in silence. “Of what did you speak?” Hyval asked. Tynault shook his head with pity and resumed his walk down the corridor, towards the large opening of sunlight at its end. Hyval followed. The hall opened to the main of the camp. Partially reconstructed ruins dotted the landscape, modified as necessary to perform needed functions. The city looked halfbroken and augmented with warts of stone. Temples with new roofs and wooden stalls now served as stables. A former house churned with the machinery of magic, pumping the camp’s sewage far enough away to move the stench outside the range of smell. These were only a few of the many structures within the mesa-encircled enclosure. There were enough buildings to house several hundred people, if not bordering on a thousand. People moved about in small, close-knit packs. Those who conversed nearly always had matching colored bands of cloth tied around their arms. Most wore green while the rest wore gold. A lecture was taking place in a clearing between the buildings. A large woman with a golden armband spoke to a group of fifteen people who also had gold cloth tied to their arms. Tynault smiled as a young, dark-haired, buxom woman approached, bear hugging several pieces of leather armor and two swords wrapped within a long robe. Her eyebrows were thin, and her skin dry from the environment of the wastes. Deep green eyes provided the sparkle that the rest of her outward appearance did not. “It is past time for your class, Tynault,” she said, laying her load atop a nearby ashstone. “Gharina has extended her Foundation work to compensate.” “I was indisposed,” Tynault replied. “My apologies, Shareve.” The woman smiled slyly and pulled the pauldrons from her pile of equipment, pausing to untangle one of the straps from the tie of the robe. She stepped behind Tynault and wrapped her arms around him, strapped the armor onto his shoulder, then dragged her hand suggestively across his neck as she moved to his other side. She whispered something in his ear that Hyval could not hear. Whatever it was, it made Tynault chuckle. She went back to the pile and removed two identical sheathed blades and handed them over by their hilts. Tynault hung them from the loops in his belt. Once they were snugly fastened, Shareve draped the crimson robe over his shoulders and gave him a sensitive kiss on the cheek. All seemed within norms for such an exchange, yet Hyval burned. “What are you doing with those?” he asked Tynault. Hyval stepped forward and gestured at the two swords hanging from Tynault’s hip. They matched the blade Hyval carried at his side. “Why do you have two First Swords?” Hyval only allowed a second for response before he surged forward and grabbed Tynault by the neck of his robe. He shot a glance over the short man’s shoulder at Shareve. “Where did you get this? From the memorial?”
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake Shareve took two steps backward and directed her eyes towards the ash at her shoes. “Lord, both First Swords are his. Do not force me to disagree.” “If not her, then you,” Hyval said to Tynault. “Those blades were meant to stay in stasis, in memory of our former brothers who never learned the truth. They are neither yours nor mine to disturb. Whose did you take?” Tynault was silent, so Hyval shook him. “Whose did you take?” “These are both mine. One by Attainment and one by the right of battle,” Tynault replied. “The one from battle must be added to the memorial,” Hyval said. Tynault grabbed Hyval’s wrists and pulled them off the lapels of his rope. “Not if they were given the opportunity, yet refused to join. We established that before we stored the first blade.” “Who refused?” “Someone no longer worth our time, trouble, or even our words,” Tynault snapped. “Not everyone who earned a First Sword during training is worthy of the respect you so freely give.” He let a pause drive home his point. “But I must apologize. I am late for my class, Lord.” Tynault turned and walked towards the clearing between the buildings. Hyval turned to Shareve. “Whose was it?” Shareve shrugged. “He did not say, Lord. Though I am sure if the Seventh Keeper truly wishes for you to know, he will inform you. Yet I somehow doubt he concerns himself with such trivialities.” She paused, and when Hyval did not respond she nodded and turned back towards her tent, leaving Hyval alone amongst the ash and stone. They ought to tread lighter, Hyval thought. “Inconsequential,” Dregus replied from inside Hyval’s mind. “When these planes are bathed in fire, blood, and life, petty squabbles such as these will be lost in the maelstrom.” Hyval chose not to articulate another thought. Instead, he walked towards the clearing, where Tynault’s class was about to commence. Gharina, the stout woman who was instructing from the rocky pedestal, bowed to Tynault as he approached. She glanced over towards Hyval, but her attention soon returned to the gathered students. “And I believe that concludes your Foundation work for the day. Remember to practice your pulling in the most difficult locations. That way it will flow like water in areas of normal strength.” Mutters of thanks came from the group as she stepped down from the stone. “How are they?” Tynault asked. “Exhausted yet?” “No, they have stamina,” Gharina replied. “But they learn slower than our initial groups.” “They are weaker, so the drudgery is expected.” “Indeed. Well, I must relieve our brethren at the source of the Jaiden. I wish you luck with your lessons.” Gharina bowed again. Tynault bowed in return, albeit more shallow, and stepped atop the rock. He raised his arms to the class just as Hyval joined the audience, taking a seat at the back of the group. “Class, today we shall teach you a most powerful lesson in your new gifts. A
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake lesson in seizing.” He looked towards the two guardsmen who were standing sentry near the stables. “Gentlemen, if you please.” The guards nodded and stepped inside the building. Tynault turned to the class. “You have shown greater potential than many of your comrades in arms; strength sufficient to learn the methods for seizing a life force. This is the second and most necessary piece of your training. For those who wish to turn back after exercises today, let it be known you will lose your station.” “I see two potential cowards,” echoed inside Hyval’s mind as he looked at each student to see who was in the audience. “Two who do not have the will to exercise the power they rightly hold.” It is their choice to use their power, and their choice to refuse, Hyval replied. “That is infantile logic from one who has seen too little of the world. One cannot choose against fate. It turns choice into fiction.” Hyval frowned. The class turned their heads towards the stables. The pair of guards emerged, flanking a large steel cage on sturdy metal wheels. An insect-like creature coated in a dark blue-green shell was within. Its head was mallet-shaped, creased in the middle with a large compound eye on either side. An interlocking carapace covered its torso in armor, while blade-like claws jutted outward in several directions – from behind its elbows, forward from the wrists in lieu of hands, and shorter versions from behind the knees. The placement of the latter was allowed by the creature’s awkward knee joints, which were bent backwards like a cat’s. And although the creature commanded quite a presence, it was short. It was head height with the guards, but only because of the lift the cage provided. “This creature is a Shiryan,” Tynault said. “Also known as an ash-walker.” “Worthless wastes of flesh and bone,” Dregus muttered from within Hyval’s mind. “For most of you, this is your second sighting. That first experience during your initial testing was likely rather brief,” Tynault said. “And at that point, you had no idea what this creature was. Let me assure you that Shiryans exist in numbers far greater than you can imagine. They come from distant lands and are designed for only one purpose. They were built to kill.” Tynault stepped towards the cage. The creature within cooed and tried to step backwards, but succeeded only in clanging its bladed appendages against the prison bars. “Notice the weaponry and the armor. And soon you shall observe its agility and speed, but not yet – not while it is under its own power.” A hand raised from within the crowd, a lanky young man with sandy brown hair and a chirpy voice. Tynault gestured for him to speak. “Under its own power, sir? You mean to incapacitate it?” Tynault scoffed. “No, I mean to seize it.” The man lowered his hand. “Watch, and you shall learn,” Tynault explained. Hyval hated seizing. He lowered his head and closed his eyes, but he could still feel the reverberations through the fabric of the Foundation. The creature squealed and thrashed against the steel as Tynault pierced its consciousness, then all was instantly calm. Hyval reopened his eyes and saw Tynault’s snide smile.
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake “Open the cage,” Tynault said. “But…sir, we were told to constrain the creature at all times; even during exercises. If one of the students were to misstep and –” Tynault stepped towards the guard. “Open the cage.” The guardsman took a deep breath, maintaining a cautious distance from the cage while he flipped the trio of latches that held the cell door. The iron hinges squealed as the door swung out. The tension in the air grew – those students who were slouching only moments before now sat straight-backed and allowed only the balls of their feet to touch the ground. One woman stood and began stepping away. Yet the creature did not react at all. “Calm yourselves,” Tynault said. “The Shiryan is under my power, and will do no harm unless I intend it. Come, creature.” Tynault beckoned forward and the Shiryan stepped down from the cage. The ash stormed at its feet. “Who among you is observant enough to explain how this was done?” There was no response. Tynault frowned. “Surely most of you are. Otherwise, you would not be here with us.” The silence continued. “Before the creature was mine, what did you feel?” “There was a surge in the Foundation,” one of the students said. “A start. But what else did you observe? Why was this surge was notable?” “I thought I recognized a probe,” another student said. “But I could be mistaken.” “You must maintain your confidence if you are to maintain your place in this camp, student” Tynault snapped. “And it so happens that you are right; you did feel a probe. All living beings have a weak spot in their consciousness – a hole if you will – and it can be exploited through the Foundation to seize control of that life. Shiryan weak points are easier to find than most creatures’, making them ready candidates for this process.” “So…a cat or a dog could be seized in a similar process?” a student asked. Tynault chuckled. “Yes, but I fail to see the benefit.” “What about humans? Do they also have this…weak spot…this hole in their consciousness?” Tynault nodded. “Indeed, though our weak points are five-fold stronger than the stable points in a Shiryan’s psyche. It means we are nearly impervious to seizing.” “Nearly?” Tynault paused before answering. “I will not lie. It is highly unlikely that a human could be seized – even by the very strongest of us – but I do not want to discount the possibility just because I have yet to see it.” Tynault stepped down from the pedestal and wrung his hands while he surveyed the class. “If there are no further questions or comments…who among you will to be the first to learn?” Volunteers were scarcer than rivers of gold. “One of you must be willing to be the first to succeed – earning the respect which bravery and accomplishment deserve amongst your peers.” A hand eventually rose from the crowd. It was Hiram, a balding man of middle years and a complexion to which the unyielding sun of the wastes had showed no mercy. Tynault gestured for Hiram to come forward. He came as asked. “I must warn you about this process, Hiram. It is of greater complexity than nearly everything you have attempted to date, and it is much more…violent than you just observed, especially during your first few attempts. You remember the feeling from your
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake initial test?” Hiram nodded. “But do not worry yet, for seizing starts the same as all other lessons. You must first draw upon the Foundation. You will need a substantial amount of energy, similar to what is required for Fielding.” Hiram nodded. The ash at his feet stirred until it was swirling about his knees. His eyes began glowing with energy. “Good, good,” Tynault coached. “Yet it will take additional power to properly seize this Shiryan. Draw harder, without regard for the plane you steal from.” The veins in Hiram’s temples began to show and his jaw clenched with strain. The ash that had been swirling at his knees only moments before now whirled about his chest with the violence of a thunderstorm. “I believe you are ready,” Tynault said. “I shall bring the creature near. Do not fear it, for emotion can cause the exchange to fail, meaning severe consequences to the invoker. Do you understand?” Hiram nodded. His neck was tense. The Shiryan took several steps forward until it was only a few feet away from Hiram. Its guards appeared wary, like a bear tamer watching their animals interact with the crowd. Hiram was soon shuddering. Tynault could not determine whether it was from fear or from the tension of pooling so much of the Foundation. Shaking his head, Tynault put a hand on Hiram’s shoulder. “I want you to probe my consciousness, then the Shiryan’s. Feel for the strands that bind it to me. That way, you can solve this puzzle and seize it for yourself.” There was a pause as Hiram began. And then Tynault cringed from Hiram’s crude probe. “I cannot find it,” Hiram pleaded. A drop of blood rolled out from his left nostril. “I feel nothing! See nothing!” “Just look for the bloody connection!” Tynault said through clenched teeth. Hiram exhaled and sent small sprays of blood across his lips and chin. “I… feel something… but there is no room…it is too small, too tight!” “This is not a courtship, Hiram. Just shove it in!” There was a pause, then Tynault grabbed his stomach and buckled over at the waist. His vomit sizzled as it blanketed the hot ashstones. He dragged the back of his hand against his mouth to wipe the lingering chunks away. “Idiot!” he screamed. He staggered and sent a hand to his temple. “I…I think I have seized it. I can feel the Shiryan’s blood flowing within my –” Tynault’s crisp slap to knocked the words out of Hiram’s mouth. There was no chance for an expression of shock, because Tynault followed by punching him in the face. Hiram crumpled to the ground. “You had nothing I did not hand to you, you reckless dolt! You nearly tore us from the Foundation!” Tynault grimaced and shook his hand to distract himself from the pain. Hyval rose. Tynault wheeled as his temper flared again, but Hyval jumped in and restrained Tynault by his shoulders before he was in range to deliver the intended kick to Hiram’s ribs. Tynault initially tried to fight through Hyval’s grip, but he soon went limp. Hyval loosened his hold. “I…perhaps our Lord is right. Hiram’s lesson has been suff…sufficient –” Tynault’s stomach muscles convulsed and he gagged, spitting unidentifiable chunks of
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake food to the ground before continuing. “And perhaps our Lord should continue the demonstration. My mood has turned to bile.” Tynault turned and stalked away in the direction of his quarters. Hyval frowned at the ground. Only a few in the audience appeared surprised at the outburst – they had grown accustomed to Tynault Atanvara’s manner – yet their complacency to it gave Hyval worry. Hyval knelt next to Hiram, careful to avoid Tynault’s half-digested lunch. “Are you alright?” Blood was smeared over the bottom half of Hiram’s face, and his arm was scraped. “I will be,” he sputtered. “But I would like to lie here in my shame a moment longer.” Hyval shook his head. “Get up. And dust yourself off, Hiram. I do not expect you to have perfect technique the first time you attempt a new use of the Foundation, nor does the Seventh Keeper.” Hyval extended Hiram a hand and pulled the bloodied man to his feet. “But you should exercise additional care in the Foundation’s use, Hiram. Missteps are as dangerous as death.” Hyval waited until Hiram had regained his bearings. “Now. You still hold the creature in your thrall. Can you feel its consciousness?” “Aye; I was just about to let it go.” “No! Unless it is caged or passed to another, you must never release a seizing. A Shiryan needs less than a second to take your life if you are foolish enough to let it free.” “Then what should I do? Pass it on to you?” Hyval shuddered inside his mind. Of everything Dregus had taught him to do, seizing life forces was the most intolerable. Hyval avoided it on every occasion it was suggested. “Just order it back inside the cage,” Hyval said. Hiram nodded, then paused. “I do not know how,” he said. Hyval sighed and walked to Hiram’s side. “First, wipe the blood off your face. You look terrible.” Hiram used the back of his hand, though without water several crimson streaks remained. “Probe the creature’s mind. Feel how it controls its arms, its legs. This may take some time for you to fully integrate for the first time.” “How long?” “An hour, perhaps two. It could technically take much longer, all depending on how quickly you learn.” Hiram shuddered violently. “But this feels terrible! I cannot…it is the most wretched thing I have ever felt – like I am sticking my hand in a public toilet and grasping for the refuse.” “I recognize that. But you must learn, and being already partway through the experience makes this an excellent opportunity to do so. Hesitancy is expected. I know it is far from comfortable, especially the first time.” Hiram gave a shaky nod and refocused his attention. After a few moments, blood resumed trickling from his nose. He snorted and swallowed with a sour face. Hyval was taken with worry when he noticed that Hiram had begun to sway. “I…I –” Hiram blinked. “I feel –” And then Hiram fell. The Shiryan let out a piercing wail and stormed towards the fallen man. The options flashed through Hyval’s head. He was willing to try anything that would allow
Keepers’ Garden – In Hyval’s Wake him to avoid seizing the creature. Yet he realized the indecision could not be afforded and he opened his consciousness, forcing himself inside the Shiryan’s psyche. The creature reeled back and flailed, tearing open the side of Hiram’s chest with an errant arm spasm and splattering Hyval with blood. Hiram folded over in a way his body was never intended to do and crumpled to the ground. The Shiryan fell motionless. “I have it,” Hyval called. His mind felt toxic from the seizing, but he turned his immediate attention to Hiram. “Aid him.” A pair of students fell on Hiram. One pressed their fingers to his neck while the other attempted to wipe the sputtering blood away from his lips. It was futile. Hiram’s breathing stopped mere seconds later, and the man and woman tending to him leaned their heads against his chest in full submission to the tragedy. Hyval walked the Shiryan back into its wheeled cage and shut the door. Once sure the trio of latches would hold, he released the Shiryan from his thrall. The creature began moving normally again, testing the cell’s bars with its right wrist blade and smearing Hiram’s blood along the metal. The group of students was filled with emotion – a mix of shock, anger, and fear. Hyval turned to address them, to calm them. “This is unfortunate. Hiram was a good man.” He paused for levity. “But education is not always easy, nor safe. I hope you have learned that Shiryans are not to be underestimated. They are useful tools when used properly, but they can be ghastly when running rampant, unseized.” The woman near Hiram picked her head off his chest and looked to Hyval with glistening blue eyes. Sadly, he had no consolation in his heart for her – only regret that he did not act quicker and more effectively. “I think it is fair to say that class is cancelled for today. Will you tend to the body?” Hyval asked. “Yes, Lord,” the man near Hiram replied. He and the woman rose and began discussing the best method to transport the body to the burial site, seeing that the gating grounds were so distant. “Thank you, Lord,” came from an unidentifiable student within the group. And then they dispersed. Hyval watched as the man scooped Hiram over his shoulder. The woman came near and helped him stabilize the body’s dead weight, and then they trudged off towards a stubby and fat mesa riddled with caverns. One of its wastes-side tunnels had been designated as the camp’s burial ground because it went so deep that the smell was only noticeable if you went within. “I enjoy seizing,” Dregus said after Hyval was alone. “Of everything, it is what reminds me most of being alive.” Hyval frowned, though his discontent was easily forgotten amongst Dregus’ overwhelming zeal. He was relegated to expressing his disgust within the back corners of his mind. And there he brooded, crying silently in the dark, alone.