Gathering of Rain
They dispersed after the morning’s revelations, needing time away from discussion, debate and information, from knowledge. Thus, singly and in pairs, they dispersed.
It was not easy to put the game aside. Destiny’s noose tightened around all of them in one way or another and they would not emerge unchanged.
Kylan and Kisha disappeared together in search of herbs and potions to restock Kylan’s pouch. He was forced to throw what he had away; seawater ruined it. Kisha took the opportunity to find a hat to protect her northern skin against the southern sun. Both were amazed to discover that the coin for north and south had not changed. The few dians she had - the north relying on barter rather than money- could be happily spent in Actar. The two had fun amid the stalls and tiny shops, and laughed a great deal in those hours between. In quieter moments Kylan looked at this woman who had turned his life upside down and inside out. He asked her to give them all a chance. He did not say it, but he did not want to lose her, not yet. He did not say it, but she heard him anyway and smiled secretly. She prayed for the opportunity to discover something solid together. Kylan was a wonderful man; her father would have approved.
Aven dragged a chair onto the balcony and there he fell asleep, his thoughts swirling in the unconscious over Averroes, awaiting her return, praying for it. Taranis had promised to fetch her when night fell, signature be damned. The game was at a critical stage. He also had confusing thoughts about Rain. Always he had been able to read between the lines, see through and behind temper tantrums, into his argumentative nature, and now Rain was elusive. He worried and his dreams were not soothing. Mordan stayed with him, also falling asleep. Mordan, for his part, slept soundly.
Rain vanished alone, to find a moneylender…and to think.
His thoughts were not always pleasant.
Taranis told nobody where he was going.
His thoughts were far from soothing also.
Llettynn and Belun made it to the edge of town without being seen and there, far from prying eyes, took to the skies.
Glint went to a secluded eatery and, having explained to the credulous proprietor about the new skin dye he was testing for a fancy-dress party, proceeded to taste everything that came out of the kitchens. He placed a huge order to take back with him, much to the proprietor’s delight. How he would pay was anyone’s guess. Glint did not give the game thought. He already lived with destiny; he had seen many changes come and go- this was another and would play out one way or the other.
Samson and Cristi went sightseeing, entranced by the southern ways. They quietly discussed what they had heard. As the two youngest they often felt unable to contribute and thus forged strength simply by admitting their fears to each other.
Saska did not know what to do with her time and when McSee offered to take her out to the reef-lake, she readily agreed. They hired a small boat and sailed the heat of the day away amid cool ocean breezes. Neither mentioned the irony of being on calm water after so close a shave with death. McSee did ask about the Sylmer, but she did not want to talk about it and turned the flow of their conversation to his boyhood adventures, often laughing with delight. McSee had shadows in his eyes- did they not all have those now?- but he was interesting when not on the subject of magic and knew how to entertain.
Sometime during the day Rain reported the Calloway lost at sea to the local authorities, explaining the circumstances as best he could. He asked that word be sent to Betty at the Luannesse.
Night fell, and brought with it a presence.
Not the noise, the music, the colour, the revellers, although it brought that too.
McSee and Saska had just moored, pleasantly tired and absolutely ravenous, when they felt the air heave and shimmer. They stared at each other wordlessly and then began to run.
Samson and Cristi, laden with packages, stopped and looked at each other, feeling the sinister vibrations in the air, under their feet…they dared not move.
Glint was halfway up the stairs bearing a large tray covered with edible goodies, payment satisfactorily concluded, when the air became so dense he could barely breathe. He propped himself and the tray against the wall and waited it out.
Llettynn and Belun endured much enquiry as to where had they got those incredible wings, when they experienced a heave and suction, a tearing through the fabric that was air.
Aven woke up clutching at his throat, and Mordan prostrated himself on the floor in irrational fear.
Kisha and Kylan stumbled on the cobbles of a square and clutched each other, slowly looking skyward.
Rain rounded the final corner to their residence, when the air thickened and congealed about him. Taranis, coming from the other side, stood dead still, staring at Rain, but not seeing him, his throat constricted.
They were not alone in the terrifying experience.
The noise of Actar subsided as pleasure-seekers froze or fell or held onto each other. They clamped about trees, stuck to walls, cowered into benches, all in consternation, and eventually they too looked skyward, expecting a severe thunderstorm after the heat of the day, after heat of weeks. What else could possibly thicken air pressure dramatically…if not the precursor to an epic storm?
Consternation turned to fear when they saw nothing but darkening sky with stars winking brightly. The moon had not yet risen. Everything appeared normal…while the air grew ever thicker, heaved, shimmered, moved. Fear grew apace, yet not a body stirred, nor uttered a sound. Actar froze.
And then it was over.
The would-be revellers dispersed, the night’s pleasures over before they had properly begun. Fear remained tangible. The rumours about Farinwood, Infinity, strange glows and changeling children resurfaced, although words were barely shared. Now this, they seemed to say with their eyes.
That night, Valarians- for the strangeness was widespread- in private and in hushed tones, speculated about the coming war, darklings, and recalled the horror of Drasso and Infinity. The precedent for evil confrontation already existed in Valarian psyche, and they were awakening to the fact that their beloved world was changing beyond their control. Forces were at work. The sages among them said it was long overdue, but not even they understood the meaning of their words.
One by one they rushed back; Glint first with the food, having been nearest, and Saska and McSee last, having been the furthest.
‘What’s happening?’ Cristi asked, her voice quavering. She twisted the cord at her waist.
‘Shh, it’s over now,’ Samson murmured, comforting her in his arms.
‘No, I’m afraid it has just begun,’ Rain stated. He stood just within the door, his fair hair a tangled mess, grey eyes faraway. ‘What we just experienced is a signature. When a great feat of magic is in operation, there is a signature that can be felt by all magic-users. This one was the mother of a feat if everyone felt it.’
Aven said from where he sat rumpled on the couch: ‘Something like a forgotten lord readying for a revealing?’
There was dead silence.
Taranis said it. ‘Vannis.’
Rain nodded, still looking into far distances. ‘Yes, the Vallorin.’ His hand strayed to the Medaillon on his chest, and Taranis moved to thrust that questing hand aside.
‘No, we don’t know enough. It’s his.’
Focusing briefly, Rain brought his gaze to Taranis, eyes grey and so like his own, and then unfocused again, and his hand fell away. Taranis glanced over at Llettynn, who motioned for him to leave the mortal alone, to see what came next. Taranis stepped reluctantly away.
‘Vannis is almost free,’ Rain said in a disembodied voice. ‘He has been imprisoned for a long time, now seeks release. Averroes set him on that path a few minutes ago. That is what we experienced. She believes it a dream, and took a dream into new levels out of curiosity. He is beautiful, looks like us, golden skin…a dragon tattoo on his chest. His eyes are…mostly yellow, but changeable. He needs the Medaillon to complete the release, to remove the final barrier to his freedom…she was meant to have it, she is the bearer he was waiting for, she is the Changeling. He is Vannis, Vallorin of the Valleur, he tells her, he is furious, so close, thwarted…Averroes is…there is danger for her…’
Aven rose, sat down, and then rose again. He glared accusingly at Taranis, who was too intent on Rain to notice.
He is very good, Belun thought, his eyes also on Rain.
‘You’re in danger also!’ Taranis blurted, gripping Rain’s arm. ‘You have the Medaillon he needs. Pull back before he sees you!’ Taranis willed the man away, praying he would hear, and, to his relief, Rain focused on him. ‘Thank the Lady,’ Taranis muttered, and then said without turning away: ‘Belun, call the Eagles, all of them, to hell with signatures…and tell them to find Averroes, tell them to bring her here. We need to get her into protection immediately.’
Aven slumped as Belun began communicating with the Dome.
Taranis gave his undivided attention to Rain. He still held the man’s arm in a death-grip; with a muttered apology, he let go. ‘You’re more powerful than you know, Rain of the Mantle. You are now the key to his freedom, and he is going to sense that soon. You will be his main target.’
‘He incarcerated himself, Taranis,’ Rain said. ‘Deliberately, for this time.’
‘That’s a bloody long time to stew through,’ Glint muttered.
‘Do not use the Medaillon again,’ Taranis said. And then he frowned, realising Rain had not, in fact, touched it. More powerful than any of us suspect even now and that could be as dangerous as a freed, angry Vallorin. Breathing out, he retreated into the room, carefully schooling his face.
Llettynn sucked at his teeth, as expressionless as ever.
Saska stared at Rain, wondering who he was, what he was, and where he was going. She needed to know. She desperately desired to know.