HeartBeats – Excerpts from Ahvarra

Virtual Reality Programming Detectives

Derin frowned, looked quickly over at Mrs. Kratz, who sat peacefully in the chair, her eyes staring out at nothing.

“You listening?”

“Yeah,” Derin said. “Go ahead. What did Reginald find?”

Donnie held up a sheet of paper with the picture of a gold coin on it. The coin itself was impressed with the profile of a man wearing a thin crown. The letters along the bottom of the coin spelled RAENAR. The man, in profile, looked formidable and, perhaps, somewhat angry.

“The image I’ll send you is sharper,” Donnie said.

“Raenar?” Derin asked.

Donnie shrugged. “Trust me, Derin, this is where things get really weird. As far as Reginald can tell, these coins are only about fifteen years old. This particular coin, anyway. They are of a high concentration of gold, layered over a thin press of copper. Very similar to the way coins were minted over a hundred years ago. When coins were still minted with silver, that is.”

Derin waited, knowing that Donnie would get to the matter of who was on the coin.

“Now, as for who Raenar is, I have no idea. I have to admit to failure there.” Donnie frowned and worried three fingers into the flesh on his forehead. “There has never been, in any history info I could find, a King Raenar. Ragnar, of course, as it relates to Ragnarok, but no Raenar of enough importance to put on a coin. A couple of lords here and there, but nothing of a monarch, nothing that would constitute a coin dealer making high-quality coinage, especially in the last fifteen years. The Raenars I found were from the eleventh century and back. So I wrote another program. Ursula. She went into the minting industry and found that there have been no coins of this type made. Not with that impression. Not with that name. Ever.”

Derin stared at Donnie silently, trying to determine whether his friend was playing a practical joke on him. But it was clear there was no humor in Donnie’s face at his report. He was a man who prided himself on being able to track down any and all pieces of information, so to come up empty on this was clearly disturbing him.

“So what does it mean?” Derin asked. “Could there have been an independent mint making them?”

Donnie shook his head, shrugged, then flipped another page.

“Ursula doesn’t think so. She’s still checking. The only thing I can say is that for the coins to have the quality this report indicates, they would’ve had to have been made by professionals. I don’t know much about minting, but I do know enough about the WorldNet to know anyone doing this kind of work is at least registered. I don’t think some Joe can do the same work in his garage. And if he could, who’s Raenar?”

Derin nodded, thinking. He felt like he had when he’d first stared at one of those old Rubik’s Cubes; no idea where to go to get the thing to look right, so just start moving pieces and see what comes of it. Derin had hated those cubes. He’d always figured if he kept moving things, maybe a miracle would happen and each side would have the right colors. He felt the same way now.

“I don’t know who he is,” Derin admitted, getting back to Donnie’s question. “Elnir didn’t mention him. What did Maggie find?”

Donnie flipped another page. “This is even more disturbing than the coins.”

Alynna Meets Derin & Terri
“Alynna T’Arreiz?”

Alynna had come out of the airport building into a bright, crisp autumn day. She turned at the sound of her name. A man and a woman stood before her, just out of sword’s reach. The woman was obviously John’s daughter, and the man would be the one to help her find Athaim Dvorin.

Alynna smiled. “Yes, I am she.”

“I’m Terri Kilcannon. Very nice to meet you,” Terri said, then turned to the man. “This is Derin MacArthur.”

Terri’s blue eyes were piercing, bright, and the frame of her dark hair about her face made Alynna think of nobility. Strength stood out in the line of her jaw, in the set of her smile – perfectly genuine, Alynna thought – and in the poised way she held her body, her back straight, her head high. Terri extended a hand and Alynna grasped it as a Protector would, forearm to forearm. Again Terri turned to look up at the man, her eyebrows raised.

She then turned to greet Derin in the Protector’s style. He stood half a head taller than her, his gray-blue eyes appraising her. A short set of ash blond bangs fell over the left side of his forehead. A tiny smattering of freckles stood out beneath his eyes. His smile looked infectious and warm, and Alynna startled herself by smiling back at him with a kindness generally reserved for her friends.

Alynna settled into the back seat of Derin’s car, obviously much newer than John’s, and marveled at all the buttons and knobs at her fingertips. She fiddled with a number that apparently altered the temperature, accidentally changed the volume of the music coming from all around them.

“Sorry,” she said guiltily as she caught Derin’s eyes in the mirror.

She sat back into the comfort of the seat, watched the limitless beauty of the rolling view out the window. Leaves of all different shades fell heavily along their path, and the hills looked alive with vibrant colors: auburn laced with stark magenta, corncob yellow dotted with flamboyant orange, bronze layered with gold.

Terri turned in the seat to look at her. “Leaves are past peak season, but they’re still pretty.”

Alynna smiled, nodded. She knew a moment of pure panic when she remembered taking the lavidian ring out of a glass of water on the airplane and slipping it into her hip pocket. Its dull throb ached against her, reaching out, reaching in. Water, she thought, I need to get this into water.

When they reached his house, Derin ushered her in. The place was enormous, much larger and warmer than John and Meg’s. The chairs and couch in the main room looked comfortable. A huge window cast afternoon light in, allowed soft shadows to spill across the room.

“I’ve got an extra guest room,” Derin said, heading past the main room. “Never really thought I’d use all three bedrooms here, but hey, there’s a first for everything.”

“Are you thirsty? Need something to drink?” Terri asked.

“Water,” Alynna said. “Please.”

Derin went into the kitchen, opened one of many doors above a long countertop, found a glass. At the large silver rectangle he pushed a button and ice fell into the glass, then pressed another button and filled the glass with water.

“Thank you,” she said when he handed her the glass. She took a sip. “May I freshen up? I’m very… dirty feeling… after the flight.”

“Of course,” he said and led her down the hallway. “We’ll talk later. You know, about why you’ve come, and what you want me to Find.”

“Who,” she said.

He smiled. “Who you want me to Find.”

“Athaim Dvorin,” she said.

Derin pursed his lips. “Huh. Damn popular guy.”

She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but he left her alone in the room, which had a small bathroom attached. But before she went in to wash up, she took the lavidian ring out of her pocket and dropped it into the glass of water.

Viktor, Prince of the Ameleons, Passes Through the Heart of the World

Viktor realized he had closed his eyes, and when he opened them he saw Arken lying on his back, his sword a line of pale gray in the high grass, out of the king’s reach. A line of thick red blood flowed from a wound on the side of Arken’s head. Viktor knelt beside the king, putting his fingers to the wound to feel the warmth of the blood.

“You dare wait, when he would have killed you.”

Viktor stood and saw Elnir step out of the shadow of the nearest stone, a club clutched loosely in his hand. His ashen face looked drawn and haggard, his dark eyes beady and hidden in the frail light. For a heartbeat, Viktor stood and stared at the man, considered asking questions that he wasn’t sure he wanted answered. Beneath him, Arken moaned, his eyes squeezed shut, his hand groping absently for the sword. Viktor gave Elnir a hateful look, then bolted past him into the circle of stones, up the short hill and into its center. A round pool of water waited.

Just like my trance, he thought. But he knew he needed to pass this test.

The water around his ankles burned like a firebrand, and the disk of lavidia beneath the pool of water fell out of even his long-armed reach, as if the pool was far deeper than it appeared. Viktor screamed, trying to tear the flesh from his cheeks, trying to bend down and grip the lavidia so maddeningly close, trying to silence the insistent song of beauty and sorrow whispering through his soul. The world beyond the circle of stones was blank, a slate as clean and new as a fresh tablet, and the breeze that swayed the tall grasses inside the Heart did not reach Viktor’s burning skin. He screamed again, agony warring with desperation, as he realized he would die here, inside the Heart of the World. A curse formed on his lips, a curse that he should think himself worthy enough to pass through the Heart.

Step out of the water, Viktor thought.

But the water kept him rooted to the disk of lavidia, and Viktor could smell the steam coming off his roasting flesh.

“Do you know my name?”

The voice inside his head curled itself like a serpent around his brain and squeezed the question into his tortured mind. Viktor screamed, his mind searching through fire and earth and an ebony night full of kindled stars for Caverin’s last word. At the wall of water, Viktor hurtled himself through, torment tearing the raw ache from his ravaged throat. He found a last shred of breath and heaved for it.

“Ahvarra!”

And then the burning became light, and the fire became damnation, and the tunnel into which he was hurled threw shadows on walls painted with Caverin’s red blood.

Derin Enters Terri’s Nightmare Using Virtual Reality

Twice he stopped to listen to the stillness, the song diminishing as he walked away from the amber light.  He wondered why Terri hadn’t turned toward the source of the song in her dream. Then he wondered why, if the song came from inside him, it seemed to disappear as he walked further away from the dome.  He shook his head and continued.

He saw the cerulean sea rolling away into the horizon, saw the silver-tipped waves crashing into the jagged edge of the valley’s mouth.  But the flesh rose on his arms again as he realized he couldn’t hear the sea.  Something flashed on the beach, something silver in the sunlight, something that pulsed in counterpoint to his heartbeat.  Something completely out of place, he realized, that sense of wrongness returning to him.

He tried to run, but he realized his feet had sunk past the ankle into the black sand.  He tried to pull his foot out of the sand, and his mouth fell open when his leg ended at the ankle.  The stump of his leg dripped blackened flesh off the bone into the sand, which swallowed the dripping and flattened into its original appearance. Fear fought nausea in his throat, a battle that fear won as he swallowed the bile back.  Terri had said the sand began to pull her down, but it really had begun to devour her.  He turned his head to the sky; the sun bore down on him.

He hobbled forward on the stumps of his legs, which continued to be eaten into the sand. He couldn’t imagine the pain that Terri would undoubtedly feel in her dream; he was happy not to have experienced that portion of this nightmare.

The beach, he thought.  The beach and the odd silver object there.

Those were the only things that could save him now.  His mind reminded him this was a program, but the sight of his legs disappearing under the sand, then of his hands disintegrating as he tried to pull his torso forward, caused a whimpering to escape his throat.

The waves rolled relentlessly into the beach, just yards away.  A few more feet and he’d be able to grasp the silver object in his teeth.  His arms were gone to the elbow, and his body was reduced to his torso.  Tears flooded his vision, and the salt water that washed away the silver object from the beach dragged his body into the sea.  Then the returning tide threw his body onto the black sand, and the sand accepted him, devouring him to his head.  He stared up at the sky.  The sun remained disinterested.  The song had vanished. The black sand took his eyes into blackness, and he opened his mouth to scream but the sand filled his mouth with decay.

 

A Recollection from the First Moments of Battle at Athynea:

… Ten thousand Ameleons, the scouts reported, arrayed along the high ground south of Manera, from whose charred remains pale smoke rose in steaming tendrils.  Bertram, just a Protector at the time, stood with his back to Athynea; the city was being evacuated hurriedly.  It had come to pass, by the Heart, after a hundred years the Ameleons had found lavidia.

Their silver armored flesh glittered among the hills as the first rays of a bitter sun found the enemy.

“There they are!” someone shouted.

The Ameleons crested the hill and stood fifty deep in rows that appeared to stretch from one end of the world to the other.  Behind them the ground blackened as their silver-clad feet trod new earth.  Bertram felt his sword come to his hand unbidden, tasted the metallic tang of blood in his mouth as his teeth worked his lower lip, and he roared in fear and anger.

Raenar arrived on horseback, his sword afire in the dawn’s light, his snapped commands a welcome reminder of order.  His horse pranced up and down the lines of battle, and his gaze forced his warriors’ eyes to him as he spoke belligerently about the tide of silver which swelled before them.

“They outnumber us!” Raenar shouted.  “And they carry black death in their wake.  But they massacred Manera.  Do you hear me?  By the Heart, men and women, infants impaled on their long claws like sausages on skewers.  They bathed in the blood of our countrymen, and they dare march against us here!”  He took the sword from his fist and thrust it into the thick, rich dirt of Athynea.  “Here, we stop them.  Athynea stands!”

 

From Chapter 7:

Ransom snorted again, louder this time.

A lesson taught to him by the former Captain of the Protectorate saved his life:  Never dismiss the instincts of your horse.

He rolled forward first, feeling the bite of sand into his shoulder, then came up in a crouch. He turned to see what Ransom was snorting about and saw, with the light from the newly risen sun burning bright, a grolen recoiling from its initial strike at the spot where he’d been sitting.  Bertram leapt in front of Ransom and slapped the horse on the rump to get him away from the danger, then brought the sword to bear.

Enough time remained to catalog the beast’s appearance: no eyes but one strong nostril stood out in the middle of its forehead, a plate of gray armor protruded from the top of its head. Its mouth gaped like the entrance to a cave, and black sand washed into and was ground between a row of gray, dull teeth.  Bertram knew those teeth could grind bones to dust; he had seen men taken by grolen before.  This beast ran slowly on six short legs, its clawed feet finding traction in the black sand, as it turned flank on to encircle him.  A slick film coated the doughy flesh, protecting the grolen from its own poisons. The beast would either spit the poison or, feeling particularly threatened, it would stand straight up and fountain the poison over itself and its closest prey.

Bertram focused again on the armor plate sprouting from the grolen’s forehead, knowing it was the only place a sword could kill the beast.

The balls of his feet found purchase in the sand.  His legs tensed.

 

From Chapter 8:

“Now, I don’t want you to be alarmed,” John said.  “But where we are is a very out of the way place.  Meg and I are old-fashioned and we like it that way.  Where you have to go, however, is not out of the way.”

Alynna followed him away from the house, walking a path that ran beside the stream. She reached up to touch the comfortable hilt of her sword swaying in its scabbard on her back.

“By the way, you won’t be able to carry that,” John said.

She stopped. “No one parts me from my sword.  I’m a Protector.”

John frowned and shook his head, and Alynna was reminded of her trainers being disappointed with the way she learned a lesson.  John started walking again, taking the steep incline with his hands on his knees and a heavy bit of breathing.  Alynna climbed beside him with ease and smiled at his difficulty.

“Exercise more and drink less, then you won’t have this problem,” she said.

He laughed. “Maybe, maybe not. I think it has as much to do with age.  But we’re here.”

He swept his arm forward in an expansive gesture and bowed slightly.  Alynna looked with raised brows at the wooden structure standing before her.  Stretching beyond the shed was a pair of tracks in the earth, grooves of dirt made from a cart of some kind.  Her eyes asked the question.

“Get ready,” he said, “for technology.”

She sighed. Another unfamiliar word.

He opened the shed door, and she stared at a metal machine.  She reached out a hand to touch the faded red metal, but she pulled it back before she came in contact with it.

“It’s okay,” he said when she turned to look at him.  “It doesn’t bite.  It’s called a car, or an automobile.”

“Awddo-mobeel,” she said.

He laughed. “Or car.”

She smiled with him and said, “I like car better.”

She laid her hand on the cold metal and ran her hand along its lines.   Then she crouched and looked at the front of the car.  The teeth grinned at her, a davorg’s smile; the dead eyes stared at her.

“The grille,” he said.  “And the headlights.”

She nodded but didn’t understand.

“Where are the horses?” she asked.  “How does it get pulled?”

He stepped toward a door in the car, reached inside the window, and something clicked.  He came forward, reached under the raised lip, and then lifted the face off the car.  She took a step back but resisted reaching for her dagger.  She looked into the car’s face and found an unintelligible mass of wires and metal.  It looked like – by the Heart, it doesn’t look like anything.

“What is it?” she asked.

“An engine,” he said.  “It pushes the car along.  This is one of the old petrol models.  They’re not made anymore, which makes it difficult to use often because petrol is expensive.  Everything runs on solar, natural, or electric power nowadays.”  Then he shook his head and turned sad eyes on her.  “There’s a lot I’ll tell you on the way.”

“On the way where?” she asked.

“To the airport.”

She frowned again at the unfamiliar word, then jumped when the car’s face slammed down on top of its teeth.  She wasn’t at all sure she wanted to find this place called Maine.

“Hop in,” he said.

She looked at the car again.  Every instinct of her training made her want to tense her fist around her sword and thrust it into the car’s insides.  It looked like something that could wander out of the Raught.

He was laughing at her again.

“Hop in where?” she asked.

From Chapter 6:

She still didn’t know what that meant. “And the stones?”

One side of his mouth grinned. “I come here often and mull over them.  This circle doesn’t have the same kind of power as the Heart, but there is power nonetheless.”

Alynna sensed something. “You’ve seen Elnir,” she said matter-of-factly.

He didn’t answer.  For a minute Alynna imagined that he had become the fifth stone, his arms clasped behind his back, his eyes dry and squinted, either to see further out toward the ocean’s horizon or further inside, she did not know.  At last, his head nodded.

“He comes often,” he said.  “I stay clear of him.”

“Where does he go?  What’s he looking for?”

“I have no idea where he goes, child,” he said reproachfully.  “Do you think I would follow him?  As for what he’s looking for, you have it now.”

Alynna’s hand automatically went to her canteen.  “Why?”

He shrugged. “I suppose he wants to destroy it, though I’m sure that’s not what Athaim wanted done with it.”

Too many unanswered questions, Alynna thought.  Elnir had urged Raenar to destroy all the lavidia, so it stood to reason he would search for and destroy the ring.  Lavidia was the harbinger of doom for Lorenya; the Ameleons were powerless without it.  Even this small amount could bring about another war.

She opened her mouth to ask a question, but John spoke.

“I would suggest doing as Athaim requested,” he said.  “Keep it in water.”

“It’s in my canteen. Apparently, I’m the one he saw coming for it.”  She hesitated.  “Now what?”

He turned to her and placed his hands on her shoulders.  His eyes stood out sharply inside the starlight-shaded color of his skin like two black holes in space.

“Find Athaim Dvorin,” he said.

From Chapter 5:

Elnir threw himself into the chair and ignored the papers.

Damn Athaim. Damn Arken. And damn the Ameleons.  He pulled in a great lungful of air and let it out, slowly hissing it through his nose. Dismissed from service. How many times does that make it, in over fifteen hundred years?

He chuckled a little, rolled his shoulders, tried to let the stress seep out of him, to no avail.

So, Raenar’s son, no doubt emboldened by the Captain of the Protectorate – too bad about his son, but I needed him to get to Viktor – had sent someone else through the Heart of the World.  And what would happen, Elnir asked himself, when Arken’s scout discovered a wide world there, no one from the original expedition there to greet them? When the scout learned that the other side was populated with a world full of technologically advanced hooligans who had not improved over the past millennium and a half?

Worse, what would happen when the scout found out there was no returning through the same portal?  And when that person did not return, would the young king send others, perhaps a small squadron, to investigate?

It appears my deceptions are catching up with me.

He told himself it didn’t matter.  What mattered most right now were the Ameleons, a creation gone terribly wrong.  And the only way Elnir knew to dispose of them was through the king, if he listened.  Raenar had listened; Raenar had been impressed with threats; Raenar had fought the foe.  But even Raenar had shied away from complete genocide after Iliniok.

The coward. But Arken wasn’t Raenar. No matter how much he looks like him.

Now Elnir felt the weight of challenge across his shoulders.  Events were beginning to move quickly, and he knew from experience that he had little control over them.

He needed to dispose of the Ameleons.  Using Caverin was a step in that direction.

He needed that lavidian ring to reset the Balance. If only one of those nitwits he hired from the other side could unearth the damn thing, he’d dance for a year.

If he could manage it, he would like to see Athaim once more, and damn him.

Only then could he start again.  He had failed before.

Because of Athaim’s damn meddling!

He snatched the bottle of ink from the table and threw it to the floor, smashing the glass and creating a nebula of blue ink on the stone.

His chest began to burn as if a flame had touched it.  He stripped his shirt aside to reveal the Nine Bonds of the Elders, tattoos branded in three sets of three across his heart.  His fingers traced them, his eyes closed, knowing them by rote.  Revelan’s broken hammer, forbidding the elimination or persecution of any race; Exarra’s coiled whip, forbidding an Elder to own slaves; Coalyn’s cuffed wrists, limiting the power of the Elders lest they grow too strong; Erwyn’s branchless tree, forbidding an Elder to have children; Esallum’s crossed swords, forbidding an Elder to take up arms; Uinthinar’s – and damn her to the hounds of hell for it – single seed, limiting an Elder to a single creation, to be replaced when the previous creation no longer existed; Noalen’s shattered crown, forbidding an Elder to rule;  Athaim’s torn parchment, forbidding an Elder to recount the true history of this world to one of its own citizenry; and finally Elnir’s own eternal torch, promising no death by age for an Elder in this world.

After fifteen hundred years in this world they’d created, each felt the burn of the torch most acutely.  But today, Revelan’s hammer burned hottest, and Coalyn’s cuffs looked like an andiron brought recently from the fire.

Damn them all, he thought suddenly.  I will stretch these Bonds to fit my purpose.

After fifteen hundred years, he knew he could not break them.

From Chapter 3:

Viktor stood at the curtain that separated Quadry’s stall from the back half of the hut. Bertram’s son sat, his back to Viktor. Behind the Prince, customers argued over the price of roasted krel.  Viktor paid them no heed, and Caverin didn’t react to the rising voices.  The boy sat in his chair, trying to be still, but his muscles twitched uncontrollably.  First his left leg, trembling as though the boy was spiking a fever.  Then his neck, where a tiny ball of vein, drawn together, puckered like the throb of the Heart of the World.  Viktor could hear Caverin’s teeth chatter.

The Ameleon Prince smiled.  Perfect.

Getting Bertram’s son addicted to the silver pills had been laughably easy.  The boy was running as fast and hard as he could to get out of his father’s shadow.  And barring his ability to do that, he would burn himself out like a meteor through the night sky.  Viktor wanted to get something useful from the husk before it expired.

As Viktor approached, Caverin turned to look at him, and the Prince admitted to himself, with some surprise, that he hadn’t expected Caverin’s face to look the way it did.

We aren’t hostile, but it’s a mistake to think we’re not clever, or determined, or ambitious.

Bertram’s son looked up through narrow slits of eyes gone silver as mercury, turning a murky charcoal gray, and a face like the end of a burnt stick, ash-white except where bits of blackened flesh flaked off to the floor.

“Please,” Caverin said.  “I need it.”

Viktor smiled. “First things first, Caverin.  It’s time to pay.”

From Chapter 2:

As she reached the slope of the small mound, she turned to look back at the Captain and the king, but they were gone. Beyond the stones stretched an endless nothing, silver stretching away into an achingly bright white forever. The king, the Captain, the walls, the castle… all gone. She took another step, into the center of the circle of stones, and her feet slid from grass into liquid. Looking down, she stood in a pool of water up to her ankles, and under her boots, at the bottom of the pool, rested a disk of lavidia, round as the moon and as brilliantly silver, laced with veins of black.

She opened her mouth to gasp, and the wind whispered in her ear, tickling, giggling, wonderful.

“Do you know my name, child?” the Heart asked.

Her heart beat quick now, and the pulse of the Heart quickened to match. Alynna felt her eyes widen as the stones bent toward her, enveloping. The voice filled her with an emotion that set tears to her eyes. With that touch, she knew the Heart’s name.

The wind brushed her, feather-light, raising the hair on her arms and neck.

“Speak it,” the Heart whispered.

“Ahvarra,” Alynna said, smiling, beaming, her body full of goosebumps, her head thrown back to call the name to the world.

From Chapter 1:

After Bertram took his leave, Arken knelt before the huge oak chest and threw open the lid. Before him, all the treasures of his youth sprawled in haphazard collection. He began tossing them over his shoulder in search of his prey. A wooden sword went over his head and rattled on the floor. Different colored tunics that he’d tossed in at one point or another flapped behind him like wind-struck birds.

Where is it? he thought, slightly frustrated, as he began to dig into and past wooden horses, soldiers, crude sketches of battles. And then his fingers touched something that felt like leather. He pulled from the wreckage a tattered journal, the cover bruised and aged by time and negligence.

He flipped through the yellow pages carefully. Had it not been for Bertram mentioning Athaim’s name, he would have forgotten this book existed. His tutor had handed him this book more than ten years ago, and there had been one critical rule attached to it.

“Hide it well,” he’d been told. Arken could remember feeling the texture of the old leather in his small, soft hands. His tutor had not let go of the book. “Do not take it out of hiding, Arken. Ever. Not until you’re king. Promise it.”

And so he’d promised, and the journal had been relinquished into his hands. He’d opened to the first page, fascinated by the yellowed, aged parchment.

“What does it say?” he’d asked.

“Not been doing your reading, I see. I will tell you the first line, but then you will do as I’ve asked and hide it. It says, These are the teachings of Athaim Dvorin.”

Arken could remember being utterly enchanted by the book and the rule; after all, the king’s son didn’t get many adventures, always being surrounded by guards to keep the Ameleons away, as if they were any harm to humans without lavidia. But he’d been small then, and not prone to studies, and so he’d tossed the book into this chest and not considered it again.

Until today.

The problem his father had been able to forestall was now his: the land around Lorenya was dead and continued to spread into Lorenya itself like a disease. The Ameleons, docile without lavidia, were forced out of the Raught and into the only remaining city on the island, the capital. Lorenya remained trapped between the mountainous Ridge and the emptiness of the Raught, black sand eating into his kingdom’s heart, all the way to the Endless Sea. And now Ameleons attempting to breach the Heart of the World, seeking lavidia to create more of themselves, reach their threshold, and transform into warriors.

They are dying out slowly and grasping at their one chance of survival: a path through the Heart of the World, he thought. Meanwhile, the land is just as surely going to kill all of us as the Raught eats into what healthy land we have left.

He cracked open the book. A light breeze came and went through the open door onto the balcony, and with the breeze came the almost constant hum of the Heart. The heartlight cast into the room provided enough light to read, and read he did.

He started at the top of the first page, where it read: “These are the teachings of Athaim Dvorin. Let all who record the events of Lorenya fill these pages with the knowledge of our world. Let kings and peasants be as one within these pages. Let Athaim’s diligence in pursuing the Balance of our world guide us to the truth of how to protect it.” And scrawled beside this, in the margin, a warning: “Not all believe. Hide this well, from king or peasant, should any seek to destroy it.”

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