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|My first contribution to the Invincible Project, part 2. The continuing story of an Invincible returned to the kingdom of Athalasca in a time of turmoil and need to restore the Sacred Wood.||
The disembodied voice startled Illyana. Her fingers began to fumble the strings and her playing came to a jarring halt. She looked around the common room and wondered what had just happened. She had been playing to call in one of Hollin’s ‘eyes and ears,’ along with the usual vibe of tranquil restfulness, when her trance had been broken. She could only hope they had gotten the message.
When she entered one of her trances, playing and singing with a purpose, she would not hear anyone talking to her by her side without physical contact--much less from across the room. Now, due to the broken abruptness with which she stopped, she would never be able to tell who had spoken; everyone in the room was staring at her.
“<You look tired, take a break>.”
“What the…” she muttered, glancing around nervously. Looking behind herself and all around she realized no one was near her. Yet somehow, the voice had sounded like it was coming from the immediate vicinity in which she sat.
She had been playing for hours straight; maybe she did need a break. She must be hearing things. She had heard fatigue could do that to a person. Yet she was not tired really. She could play like that for hours yet.
“…hear me lass? Are you all right?”
Illyana was startled back to awareness as a hand was placed on her shoulder. In her introspection, she had not even noticed Drex walk up to her platform. The dais she sat on was actually part of the hearth for the fireplace behind her.
It had been constructed with greater than normal dimensions, as had the fire-chamber itself. The masonry platform extended out into the room about six feet from the fireside, and was around the same distance across. From the front corners of the heart, braziers were stationed on tall, wrought iron poles; their purpose was to illuminate the front of the performer, so they would not be completely silhouetted be the fire.
The hearth-platform had space enough to be used by more than one performer, which came in handy for those who did not perform alone. When Drex had designed it, he had done so with performers in mind. What better, more dramatic backdrop could a performer have than the fascinating glow of a roaring fire--the passion of its blaze illuminating and mirroring the performer’s own.
She responded shakily, “I’m sorry; did you say something Drex?”
“Gods lass, take a break. I am not a slaver, and I can tell when something is not right; ye’ve been around long enough for that.” Drex’s face was full of worry, “What is troubling you Illyana?”
“I...I’m not sure Drex.” She wore confusion on her face, “I thought I heard...It doesn’t matter. Let me take a bit and I will get back to playing.”
“No problem lass.” He smiled broadly at her. “Next time, try not to just stop mid song and startle everyone in the place, hear? Now have ye eaten yet tonight?”
“Oh how well he knows me”, she said aloud to herself with a heavy dose of sarcasm. She hardly remembered to eat anymore, when the music took her. She sighed and answered him directly. “No Drex, you know I haven’t.”
“Well don’t go getting smart with me girl,” his expression shifted to a mock frown. “If I didn’t take care of you, no one would; you sure wouldn’t take care of yourself.” He put his hand on her shoulder and started to steer her toward the kitchens. “Now you get your pretty self back there and have Hollin give you some of the venison, or whatever else it is you fancy.”
She smiled at him as he turned back toward the bar. She listened to him speaking to the patrons as she turned down the short corridor to the kitchen.
“Nothing to worry about folks, she just plays her fingers raw for us is all. Not a bite to eat all night; sent her to get some grub and she should be right as rain in a bit. For the trouble, the next round is on me!”
That met with a tumultuous uproar of ascent, and the rest of what he may have said was drowned out by the clamor to the bar. She turned her mind away from Drex and the common room, and stepped into the kitchen.
The young woman emerged from the dark passageway casting furtive glances in every direction; her face bore the look of the hunted. As she did so, Davin took note and made his way toward her.
“Hey Illya…whoa, you look like you have seen a ghost! Are you all right?”
Illyana literally jumped at his voice as if he had popped out at her from no-where. Her face painted scarlet, she turned to face the young man. The voice she kept hearing was really starting to get to her. It had even intruded on her while she had been obtaining her meal and talking with Hollin.
“No Davin, I am fine. Just having a rough night is all. What was it you needed?”
“That man over there at the corner table,” he told her as he nodded toward Stevnos, “asked if he might have a word with you.”
The man rose from his seat gripping a long white cane, as if on cue; the lamp had been relit. He had an ominous appearance as he nodded to her from behind the hood of his over-robe. She was not sure what the fellow wanted, but he felt like trouble. Illyana was often trouble herself, and therefore, had a way of picking it out.
“Who is he? I cannot see his face but I am sure I do not know him.”
‘Not rightly sure,” the young man said with a shrug, “he is a patron, came in a couple hours ago for a meal and sat listening to you play after. He is blind and his face is scarred, that is why he keeps his hood up. I asked Da first and he said the fellow seems the right sort; shouldn’t be any harm in seeing what he wants. “Sides,” he added with a wink, “you got us here to keep an eye out just in case.”
Illyana smiled affectionately and lightly bumped his shoulder with her own. “Thanks Davin.” As Davin walked away, her face sobered as she continued to stand there looking the stranger over from across the room.
“<It could be considered rude to keep an individual waiting you know.>”
This time, the voice sounded vaguely sarcastic; but she was certain she now knew its source. Yet how was he speaking to her? He was on the far side of a room large enough--and crowded enough--that he should have needed to shout to her to be heard at that distance. Yet it had sounded like he was standing at her shoulder. Who was this man?
“<Look - bring your meal; sit with me and share some Mead, and we will talk. We have much to discus. I promise no harm to you.>”
She stood there for a moment more in contemplation. Then, slowly, she made her way over to his table. She had never been one to back down, she was not about to do so against a decidedly odd, mysterious blind man. She paused several feet from the table and looked over her shoulder toward the bar. Drex nodded to her; it was all the reassurance she needed. She took the last several steps and faced the stranger once more.
“I was told you wished to speak with me,” she asked.
“Well met young lady,” he replied, “I did indeed. Would you have a seat and join me?”
Using the silver tip of his cane, which she could now see was fashioned of carved ivory; he pushed the chair closest to her away from the table by one of its legs and turned it slightly to accommodate her. She looked at him questioningly, but placed her bowl and sundry on the table in front of the chair. She sat down gingerly and slid her lower half under the table. The stranger sat down also, resting his cane against the inside of his thigh, between his legs. He sat perpendicular to the table and seemed to be staring off into space.
After a moment, he broke the silence. “My name is Stevnos Ahngyel, and I would like to speak to you about your rather unique Gift.”
“I am not sure what you mean,” she replied. “If you are referring to my skills with music, they are not all that unique. Stick around Athalasca long enough; you’ll have your pick of plenty.”
“I refer, young lady,” he volleyed, “to the Gift you employ along with your musical talents. A Gift, might I add, emanating partially from the depths of your mind.” He turned and looked her in the eyes under the edge of his hood. All she could see were two glowing, silver spots that reminded her of how cat’s eyes reflect light in the darkness.
“Well tell me this,” she challenged, “how exactly was it that I could hear you from across the room, from another room for that matter, yet it sounded like you were standing right next to me?”
“Young lady,” he said in a slightly derisive tone, “just because I am blind does not mean I am feeble-minded. It is not so easy to change the subject with me. Luckily for you, your question touches very close to what I wish to discuss.”
One of those silver spots disappeared for a moment as Stevnos winked at Illyana, took a drink from his Mead, and continued. “When you use your Gift, you are not shielding yourself.”
Seeing a confused look on her face, he tried another approach. “That is to say, you are not creating a wall within your mind with which to keep others out. I have a Gift with which I can speak into another’s mind, making it sound as though I am standing right next to them. However, those I wish to do so with must first open themselves, clearing their thoughts and allowing me to form a connection. You do that every time you use your Gift young lady, though you shut out all around you, for anyone that has the knowledge and will to do so. The use of your Gift itself is an open pathway to your mind”
“Well, so what,” She demanded, “you can speak into my mind. Who cares if you can do so, or anyone else for that matter? It might be a bit alarming at first, but something like that might come in handy with the right person. Besides, I still have no idea what this ‘gift’ is that you speak of, and I have no idea why you are bothering me with this. Now if you will excuse me…”
She began to rise but before she made it halfway up from her seat, the stranger’s hand shot out quick as lightning and grasped her wrist gently. He was leaning across the table, staring at her with those oddly reflective, silver eyes; the cowl of his cloak having fallen back revealed them fully in the dim light of the common room. When she tried to jerk it away, she discovered that though he held her gently, as one takes the hand of a friend, his grip was unyielding as steel. She could not break free.
“My dear,” he said in a harsh whisper, “that is not the only complication caused by what you are doing!”
He released her wrist abruptly and sat back down as if nothing happened. Illyana stood there in shocked silence. The menace in the stranger’s voice had been astounding.
When she came back to herself, she looked over her shoulder to find that Drex had witnessed nothing; he was speaking to someone who seemed to be inquiring after a room. Realizing she was on her own for the moment, she reached down to grab her food. Suddenly, as she reached for her spoon, it turned into a serpent before her very eyes. Coiling up and drawing back, it attempted to strike her hand.
With a shriek, she drew her hand swiftly away and stumbled backwards. She backed into her chair, which proceeded to grow as if it was a living thing and wrapped itself around her. As she fought, the thing entangled one of her feet and pulled. She fell hard, her head striking the floor with a thud. Seeing stars where there should be none, she kicked and struggled with the writhing chair-thing until she was finally free.
She looked around to try to discover what was going on. The stranger stood over her, and as she watched, grew to towering height and impossible size. He suddenly sprouted fangs, horns, and claws--his skin became discolored and deformed as though diseased.
Just when she thought she could not take any more, the thing that had been the stranger reached toward her. As it did so, the discolored flesh covering its body began to desiccate before her eyes, rotting away and falling to the floor in a series of sickening plops. As it fell away, it left a shambling, rotting corpse-thing from her worst nightmares; and it was coming for her.
She let out a piercing scream and tried to scuttle away backwards, kicking frantically with her feet and scrabbling with her hands. She only made it a foot or two, her eyes locked on the monstrosity in front of her, when her back came up against something solid that would not budge. She could not seem to get around it. Something grabbed her shoulders from behind and began shaking her. By this point terrified, she turned to see what it was that now threatened her from behind, and find a way to escape it.
She found herself staring up into eyes full of concern--eyes belonging to Drex and Davin.
“Gods lass,” he whispered, “what the blazes is going on? What happened?”
Illyana turned back around to look. She could not understand why he did not know what…
She stared in utter amazement. There lay her chair on the floor, exactly where it should have been after falling under her, looking perfectly normal. The stranger stood beside the table as if he had just risen from his chair. He was no closer to her now, and looked no different from the first moment she had seen him.
With Drex’s help, she stood shakily. She looked at the table and realized that her spoon was just a spoon again. She looked up at the stranger, then back at Drex and Davin, her mouth open in amazement. Behind them, she noticed a crowd had formed. What was going on here?
“I...I thought...I…,” she began, stammering, but she could not think clearly. She shook her head in an attempt to clear it.
“<I suggest>,” the stranger said in her mind, “<you tell them you merely dozed of and were dreaming. I will back up the story, and once interest has died down, I will explain exactly what happened. After all you did ask for that demonstration.>”
“I did what,” she demanded and glared at Stevnos as she spoke. Comprehension dawned on her face in seconds however. “I...I mean...what did I do? I think I dozed and must have been dreaming.”
“That is the way it appeared to me,” the stranger seconded, “yet I cannot be sure entirely. I rambled on for a good bit, and when I stopped, I could not get a response from her until her outburst--though a nightmare seems more likely than a dream.”
Drex looked at her with disbelief and worry printed on his face. He looked from her to the stranger and back again. As he started to speak, Illyana interrupted him.
“Drex, I am fine, really. I am just exhausted. I am not sure why exactly, but I think I just need to get this food in me and get some rest.”
“I don’t like it lass,” he said in a tone that spoke of his concern, “but if you say you’re all right, and that you don’t have any more excitement in store for us tonight, I believe you. “However”, he went on, raising his finger before him like a banner of emphasis, "I will say this; take the rest of the night off lass. The boys here may not like it,” he continued with a jerk of his head in the direction of the crowd Davin was dispersing, “but they would like less being to listen to some off key caterwauling and off tune plunking by a tired lass that ought to be abed!”
“If you will permit me Master Drex,” the stranger interjected, “I would like to buy the next few rounds for the whole house. That includes yourself and your people.” He smiled as he said his next words, “after all good sir, it is mostly my fault. If I had not bored the young lady quite so badly, she might not have fallen asleep.”
Drex looked at Illyana, “Is this guy for real?” When she shrugged he looked at Stevnos and asked, “So how many, exactly, is the next few rounds?”
Stevnos reached into the inside of his over-robe and pulled out a small pouch whose contents tinkled, not clinked as coin would. He loosed the drawstring and felt around inside the pouch with one finger for a moment. He reached in with his hand and then he removed it, it was closed in a fist.
“I have traveled from afar and am returning home,” he said, “and where I have traveled from they use these and their like in trade; there isn’t much in the way of coin to speak of. I do not know what the exchange rate would be here, but it should more than suffice.”
He extended his hand to the innkeeper and turned it over, opening it upwards. In the center of his palm, he held a finely cut oval ruby of surpassing color and clarity.
Illyana gasped, and Drex coughed forcefully, choking on a sharp intake of breath.
“You wish to be paying with this,” Drex croaked in askance. He could not believe his eyes. It had been years since he had seen a ruby like this, even before he had left his previous life to found the Compass Rose.
“Drinks,” the stranger confirmed, “are on me until the value of that runs out. If there is any left by the end of the night, it is yours.
After Stevnos had given his assent, Drex took the proffered gem from the stranger’s hand. He reached into a pocket sewn into his shirtfront, under his apron, and pulled out a loupe that he carried still; out of habit. Sticking it in his eye, he walked over to the lamp behind the table and held the ruby up to the light. After a few moments of examination, he let out a low whistle.
“Sir,” he said to Stevnos, “I could not possibly accept this! It is enough to buy all the ale this lot could drink for several days, with a healthy chunk to spare.”
“Hmmm. Well, seeing as how this is my only means of currency, you must understand my predicament, and accept it. Count my fare and Mead from it as well if it will help make the situation more manageable for you.”
“Sir, not only will I do that, but I will include the fee for your room as well, if you want one. Even at that there will still be a good deal more left than I would feel comfortable with accepting. I mean a gift of generosity is one thing, but from a stranger I do not know, and for no apparent reason--of this magnitude--it just doesn’t seem right.”
“But Da,” Davin interrupted, having dispersed most of the crowd, “there are no rooms available to let.”
“There is now,” replied Drex, “my own rooms just became available. Get yourself to work now and make sure they are ready, eh?”
“Well Master Orlen,” the stranger continued, “since I will be staying the night after all, and since you are still uncomfortable accepting the amount, why don’t you do this. In addition to the rounds of drink, however many you deem necessary to wash the memory of this incident away of course, find me two good horses. Pack them with enough supplies to sustain two people on a journey of a week or so. Then take what is left for yourself.”
Stevnos peered at the innkeeper through narrowed eyes, as though he could actually see the man and was trying to make out some minute detail of his face. He shook his head sadly, and what appeared to be a pained expression crossed his face briefly. “Even if I had some way to conduct our business more efficiently, I do not think I would”. His expression returned to normal and he smiled convivially. “You appear to be a good man; and there seems to be fewer of those around these days. You have taken care of this young woman and provided her a means of survival without taking advantage; you deserve it. It is my final offer.”
Drex thought for a moment and nodded to himself. “That should be as fair as can be I suppose, unless you have a smaller one of them stones?”
“I do.” Stevnos smiled as he tightened the drawstring of his pouch pointedly and replaced it within the folds of his over-robe. “However, none are available at the moment.”
“Well then,” Drex heaved a sigh, which blended into a chuckle, “I will leave you to your business. When you are ready to retire for the evening, Illyana can show you were my rooms are. That is, if that’s ok with you love?” He reached out and squeezed her arm affectionately, just below her shoulder; she smiled wanly and nodded her assent.
“Thank you and a good evening to you Master Orlen.”
Drex nodded, turned, and walked away. Back to business already, he began herding the few customers that were still milling about back toward the bar. Waving his arms and hawking at them like some big, dark goose, he gave the call for free drinks. They swiftly discarded any remaining hesitation and began to stampede the bar, joined by some of those from the tables. Illyana stood there watching Stevnos with a look of profound astonishment on her face.
“Shall we continue to stand here all night and stare at each other,” Stevnos said, “or would you prefer to sit and actually eat your meal?”
She did not say a word in response. Instead, she continued to stare at him and slowly, a look of contempt began to form on her face. He knew their conversation could become heated rather quickly, and another demonstration might become necessary on his part. He had a better idea.
“Tell you what? Why do we not gather your meal, and you can lead me to my quarters; there to pick up were we left off. That way, if you have any more problems while we talk, you will not garner quite so much attention.”
Illyana was furious. She could not believe the gall of this man. After all, he had probably caused whatever it was that had happened. She realized that her face was contorted in rage; it felt hot as the blood flowed into it. Yet this stranger somehow knew about her unique ability, no matter how she tried to dissuade him. In addition, he seemed to have answers--answers to questions perhaps that she had longed to know for years. She would go along with him for now. She took several deep, steadying breaths through her flared nostrils.
“Yes,” she said between clenched teeth, “I think it would be best if we retired to someplace a little more private.”
She hastily gathered her dinner from the table, snatching this and that like an angry tempest. She gathered his things as well since she was not sure how much he could do for himself. The stranger drained his tankard slowly, slipped his thumb through the handle, and put the pitcher in the same hand. He picked up his cane with the other and, with a silver chain he removed from his robes, created a slip for his cane by attaching the chain's clasps to afore unseen, tiny recesses at either end. Slinging it across his back, he placed his now free hand on her shoulder and began to follow her lead as she stalked off.
She headed toward a door to the left of that which led to the kitchen, immediately to the right of the bar. This door also led to a hallway, though shortly after the second door to a very large storeroom, it turned abruptly to the left. After a couple paces, they came to a door on the right, and Illyana led him in.
The brightly lit room they entered was set up as an office, with a desk and chairs figuring prominently in the décor. The rest of the room was sparsely furnished, but everywhere there were the trappings of a lifelong pursuit of trade and travel--a gathering of fine things. Illyana showed him around.
There was a locked door across the room from the entrance, slightly to the left of, and set in the wall behind, the desk. Illyana told him, when he asked, that she was not sure what lay beyond it. Another door was situated on the wall to the left of the door that led into the room; it led to Drex’s bedchamber. A fireplace on the right hand wall supplied warmth and added light to the room Stevnos noted that Master Orlen’s rooms where designed and outfitted with one thing in mind; if someone woke up in these rooms not knowing where they were, they would at first think they were aboard a ship. It made Stevnos wonder why the man had ever left the sea.
The desk seemed the likeliest place for their meal. In fact, it was used for such a purpose on many occasions; Drex seldom took his meals until all his staff was fed. Illyana took a spoonful of stew from her bowl and placed it into her mouth. She made a disgusted face, and swallowed with some effort. She stuck her tongue out, making a blah sound and a horrible face, after rubbing it outwards across her palette. She looked as though she were attempting to remove some horrible taste from her mouth. She was. She then set her meal on the table with a frown and made sure Stevnos was comfortable. This strange man might infuriate her after all, but she was polite.
“I will return in a moment,” she said as she turned for the door. With one final forlorn look at her meal, she opened the door to leave. “Make yourself at home.”
As he refreshed his tankard with Mead from the pitcher, he nodded to her, and she walked out the door. As soon as she was gone, he placed his hand over first her bowl, then her bread. Twice a faint blue light flared between the palm of his hand and what it was held over.
When she returned, she brought with her a small platter heaped with assorted cut sausages, sliced cheeses, fruits, and nuts. She walked across the room and pushed her meal to the side with the platter as she set it down in the middle of the table. It was easily in reach from both sides. She pulled out her chair and sat down.
“I was not sure what you would like,” she said, “so I had our kitchen-master put together an assortment. I hope you enjoy it after ruining my dinner.”
“And here I thought I had just resurrected it,” he replied with a growing smile, waving his hand at the meal she had just pushed aside.
She gave him a wry look and reached for her bowl. A shocked look of amazement came over her face as she felt the heat emanating from the ceramic crock; it was warm to the touch. She reached for her spoon and incredulously scooped out a mouthful of the stew. She touched it with the tip of her tongue; she almost dropped the spoon again.
She looked at him in awe and proceeded to stammer. “But it’s...it’s...”
Stevnos smiled broadly and nodded, “The bread as well.”
She did not reach to check it; she knew now what she would find. “But how...”
“Please eat, and we will talk once more,” he suggested.
She leaned back in her chair, propped her feet up on the corner of the desk, and began eating her stew, “But what of all this? I don’t want good food to go to waist.”
“Do not worry, as it will not,” he replied. A far-away look appeared in his eyes and he stared off into space as he began to speak in a low voice, as if to himself. “I am famished; the toll of my sleep was greater than I supposed. They told me I should remain abed for several weeks more, but there is much yet to do and little time to do it!”
She looked up from her stew, eyes full of curious concern. Had she just sat down in a closed room with a lunatic? “Are you quite alright?”
His head jerked around toward her, eyebrows raised questioningly. He seemed to come back to himself from the distant land he had been wandering. “Yes, well...We have a long night ahead of us you and I; you have a decision or two to make.”
Anger lit her eyes once more as she dropped her feet back to the floor and sat forward in her chair. She was prepared to leap up at any moment, and started in on him in a heated tone. “What is that supposed to mean? I think it is high time you tell me exactly whom you are and what is going on. On top of which, you owe me an explanation as to what happened out in the common room!”
He responded to her vehemence with a quiet, yet deathly serious tone. “Please, calm yourself; you will cause yourself undue complications. I suggested we retire here so I could tell you all those things you desire to know. However, I do not do such things for those who cannot control themselves. School your emotions!”
Slightly abashed, but still stubbornly angry, she began to eat her stew--slowly--once more. It was a struggle to get it down past the lump in her throat. After several moments, she calmed herself enough to speak without betraying her anger. “How did you do this…the stew I mean?” she asked.
Stevnos nodded curtly. “That is better. Now, are you sure that that is how you would like to begin? Alternatively, would you rather start at the beginning, and work our way up to the now?
He watched her shrug, and mumble her disagreement around a mouthful of food, then continued. “As I was trying to explain to you in the common room, when you use your Gift, and do not put up walls against intrusion into your mind. Individuals possessing Gifts like mine, or even like yours, can use that opportunity to make a connection to your mind. Projecting words and thoughts into your mind is only one consequence of such action. There is also the unfortunate side effect of being susceptible to attack after someone has established such a connection.”
Illyana interrupted him, once again in anger. Rising from her seat, spoon still in hand, her bowl crashed to the floor. “Hold on, so you mean to tell me that you attacked me? You made me look the village idiot in front of everyone I know and over half the people staying here by attacking me in my head? Who are you to do such a thing? You presume too much, sir!” Her voice rose increasingly throughout her tirade until she was yelling forcefully.
“Fool of a girl!” he said harshly, his voice a booming clap of thunder that rippled around the room, echoing off the walls. She felt a stinging blow strike her wrist without any signs of what had caused it. Her spoon dropped from numbed fingers--which she held suddenly to her bosom with her other hand--and clattered across the table. “What did I say about controlling yourself?” He shook his head sadly, “I think our time together has come to a sorry end. If you cannot control yourself, you cannot possibly become what I had hoped.”
Despite her immense anger at this man, this stranger she hardly knew, she had a feeling he did know something about her abilities. She was closer to understanding who she was--what she was--because of this man. She was surprised to discover that her anger had been replaced mostly by wounded pride as blood rose to her cheeks, painting them crimson. A man she did not know was making her truly feel the shame in her actions. And ashamed she was. She felt her long sought answers slipping quickly away.
“No,” she stammered her protest, “please, do not draw conclusions based upon my behavior. I have always been one to strain against the confines of authority, but never with this much alacrity. You can do some truly amazing things and I have had a long and wearying day. I am on the edge of discovering much I do not know about life and I am struggling to understand the things I am experiencing. I give my word I will control myself from this point. Please, please, do continue.”
Stevnos threw off his hood, his strange eyes with their solid, mirror-like surface, stared coldly into her own for several moments; the odd, faint scaring framing them like spider webs. How was he doing that, he was blind was he not? He could not see her could he?
“Indeed you will young lady,” he said, “I believe you, because you must. I possess knowledge of some things which you wish to learn, and you will have to follow my rules if you wish me to share this knowledge. As for my seeming ability to do amazing things, you do not begin to understand what amazing is.”
With that, he waved his hand; the shattered bowel and its scattered contents rose from the floor and gathered together. As Illyana watched in fascination and sheer amazement, the whole mess floated gently across the room at Stevnos’ guidance. It glided till it was over his side of the desk and then down in a lazy arc. It came to rest in a left-over half-barrel Drex used to hold rubbish.
He continued as if nothing had happened. “Now, I did have a reason why I did what I did. I attacked you by turning your spoon into a snake, and your chair into a living thing, all in your mind now, to prove my point.” He paused as if waiting for something, his head turned slightly to the side as if he where listening to some sounds she did not hear. Her face, which moments before had still shone with wonder over the floating crockery and stew, had flushed with anger. However, when she did not lose her control, he nodded smartly and continued.
“That was a mild ‘attack’ my dear. An attack of the like that you will see right through without wasting any thought or energy, once you have been trained properly; one I might add, that would never have happened in the first place. I wanted to prove to you the simple fact that if you continue to use your Gift without that training, you will be a threat to both yourself and those around you. Anyone with the knowledge and proper Gifts could establish a connection to you without it. Then they can attack you outright, as I did, trick you into harming yourself or others by controlling what you perceive to be real, or take control of you directly.”
He paused and allowed her a moment to absorb this new information. Honor bound, he could not go on without some sign from her. After a minute or two passed, Illyana sat forward, picked her spoon up and removed it to a location out of the way. She looked at him with a drawn face. “So how would I get this training I need? I suppose you would be the one to give it to me?”
He smiled. At last, the opening he wanted, he needed, to continue. “At first yes, but I must warn you. The training you will receive from me will be training in discipline, mental focus, and control. Some of these lessons will come in the form of training in various methods of defending one’s self physically. The rest will be training in the use of any mental abilities you may posses because of your Gifts. However, I am no musician, nor do I share your Gift for such. Training in the musical and lyrical aspects of your Gift will have to come from someone else--someone who is currently far away from here. No aspect of your training will be easy, but judging from your life so far, you are no stranger to adversity.”
He placed the tip of his right index finger on the table, jabbing into the wood at the appropriate points for emphasis. “The first thing you will begin to learn here, this very night, if you so choose, will be how to shield your mind from others. Eventually, you may even be able to shield it from me somewhat; perhaps fully, even despite my connection to you.”
“Ok,” Illyana interrupted him, “I return in my mind back to one of my original questions. Who or what are you? You know much of this land, yet your manner and appearance seem strange to me. In addition, you speak of another teacher for me who you must send for in a land far away from here. Where do you come from?”
“I come from this region; it is were I was born. However, I do not come from this kingdom or any other. I have lived for years with a nation of people that call themselves the Elfwylm. They healed me and taught me how to live after I lost my sight. That is were your other teacher will come from, if I can get them word. I have never heard of anyone in this land who had your Gift, much less been trained to use or teach it. And you need someone who has both the Gift, and the training.”
“I learned music,” she offered, “with the help of an old hermit woman who died several years back. The Gift came on of its own. I didn’t even know it at first, but after certain things happened a few times I started to realize I could affect those around me with my music--if I wanted it enough. I did not like doing it, but I lived on the streets for a time before Drex found me; and I had to eat, so...”
“I gleaned that much from your open mind,” he said when she trailed off. “That is the normal course of things. Gifts usually manifest themselves slowly with the individual learning how to use them as best they can. In some cases however, usually when a very powerful Gift is involved, it can manifest quite suddenly, and with violently destructive results. As for the rest,” he shrugged, “you did what you must to survive, though we will teach you to move past such things. Animals do what they must to survive, the measure of men is the ability to overcome such base instincts.”
“To answer your question as to who or what I am,” he went on in a much more serious tone, “I will share this secret with you. I only do so however because I hold your secrets as well as those of your friend the kitchen-master. Just as I spoke to you when you were in his presence, I could hear what you heard and said, and glean some small bits from your mind as well--to learn of the man to which you spoke. A good and honorable man, I would hate to cause him difficulty; yet as I hold your secrets, I expect you to hold mine. What I say goes no further than your ears; allow it to enter, and flow right out again through the other side. Do not even let it circulate, hear it only and forget it in seconds--for now; your mind is an open book. Your very life, as well as those of your friends, may well depend on it.”
Her face was controlled and unreadable, “I give you my word, as you have given yours; I will forget what you tell me soon after I have heard it. But I will hold you to the ‘for now’ part,” she added with a smile
“Good, because what I have to tell you could very well get us all killed if the wrong person gets wind of it; it could prove to be our undoing.”
Stevnos took a long pull from his tankard. If he was wrong about this girl, this could very well be his undoing. However, he thought, the risk was more than worth it in this case. “I am one of those known as Invincible. There are many others like me, though it appears there have not been any around in this realm for some time; not defending the land anyway.”
“You are an Invincible?” She bore an incredulous look on her face and a smile in her voice. “I mean…well you seem to have some unique Gifts, that is for true; yet you are blind! How can you be an Invincible when you can’t even see?”
Now it was his turn to have an unreadable countenance; it was stony and devoid of thought or emotion. He reached down with his right hand and pulled open a desk drawer. From it, he pulled a piece of parchment, a quill-pen, and a bottle of ink; he should not have known they were there. She had not known the contents of the drawer herself, nor had either of them checked.
He arranged the items on the desk in front of him, removing the stopper from the bottle. He grasped the end of the right sleeve of his over-robes and held it out away from his arm. Dipping the pen into the bottle, he put it to the parchment. Keeping his arm well above it with his sleeve held firmly out to the left, parallel to the table, he began to move the pen across the parchment.
Illyana could not imagine what the stranger was doing; she could not see the parchment for the position of his moving hand. Was he not blind? How could he possibly do anything useful with that pen and parchment? She stopped paying attention after a while and continued to eat a bit for the next half an hour while the stranger put the ink to use.
When he finally finished, he wiped the quill with a rag found in the drawer for the purpose, re-stoppered the bottle, and replaced both back from whence they came. Next, he pulled out a small, shallow box filled with some sort of sandy substance; Illyana had never learned what was in those boxes really. He took the scoop therein and, holding the parchment over the box, poured the sand over the wet ink. He let the excess of the sandy substance fall back into the box, and holding the parchment over the floor, blew what remained on its surface away. After he put the box back in the drawer, he turned the parchment towards her and slid it across the desk.
She looked at it, and picked it up in astonishment. She looked back up at the stranger with a stricken look on her face. “But,” she stammered, “how...I...I thought you were blind!”
What Illyana now held in her hands was a portrait of herself done with artistic precision and style. She looked up at him again, wondering how much of what he had told her was the truth.
“I am blind dear Illyana,” he said, in the tone of a patient father to his child. “However, the senses you now have use of are only a fraction of what the human body can summon to its call. I have learned to surpass my disability by using senses you do not yet posses. In many ways, how I view and interact with the world is far superior to how most people do. Yet some things are lacking; some things, I miss. Perhaps once your training has progressed far enough, I will explain to you how it works. Perhaps I will teach it to you, if you prove able to learn.”
He sighed and went on, “You have much to learn if you are to become an Invincible. However, you have not even spoken your desire in this matter--for one way or the other. Until you do, I will say no more. I suggest we sit quietly for a time and think each of our own things. You must decide what you will do before we continue, and I must decide if you are capable of growing enough to learn.”
They sat together in silence for a couple hours. They ate a little now and then, with Stevnos occasionally smoking his pipe. Both seemed utterly absorbed in their own thoughts and showed no signs of what those thoughts were. The silence was palpable, filled with the thoughts of the contemplative pair.
“I will go with you,” Illyana announced at last. She looked the stranger in the eyes as she spoke, determination in her voice. “I assume you are not staying here with me for this training, and I also assume there is someplace you are planning to take me after the arrangements you made with Drex, yes? When do we leave?”
“You are certain about this?” Stevnos looked her directly in the eyes; he detected no air of hesitation about her. “The road you walk as an Invincible will be vastly different than that which you walk now. Once you begin, there is no going back. Even should you be cast aside for something you have done or some other reason--Gods forbid--you will be forever changed. You will be irredeemably a tool of the Gods for man, whether for good or for ill. You may have some tough decisions to make, decisions you cannot turn aside from no matter what you desire. That is part of what it means to walk the Onóir na Casán; part of what it is to be Invincible.”
Stevnos paused for a moment, remembering a lesson he received with his dear friend Sheng. It had been one of their first lessons together when Sheng and Stevnos had started training with the other younglings their age. With his own words, and fitting it to the situation, he passed that lesson on. “You have run adrift for so long--allowing the river that is life to carry you along fecklessly--that you have forgotten all the while to learn how to swim.” He gave her a penetrating look. “The river has a tendency before long to sweep away those who cannot, and pull them under.”
“Then I need you to teach me how to swim.”
* * * *
|Invincible Resurrection - Path of Honor (part 1)||Prolog Part 1 - Shattering of Heroes|
|Prolog Part 2 - Pursuit||Invincible Interludes - Undying Love|
|Invincible Resurrection - Paths Reforged|