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Part One: The Culling

Chapter Two: Lesson Plan

Far away from the dark borders of the forest, the sun shone down on the castle courtyard in Goran. Crealis stood on the balcony outside his chambers, as his son had requested. Crealis had reluctantly agreed to oversee this event. Bastene was preparing for his final days within the castle and swordplay was one of his weaker subjects. Crealis stood behind a large wooden podium, a somewhat out of place item in this setting.
The ornate panels used in its construction had never before seen the light of day, being locked away in his laboratory in the high towers that loomed beyond the courtyard. Crealis had asked that Bastene arranged to have it brought down to his balcony if he were to oversee the melee below. Crealis was not customarily asked to judge an event like this and he felt out of place making an examination without the power that his stance commanded from behind the enchanted podium.
The podium was constructed of elven oak, carved by the command of Macallel long ago and offered to Crealis as a gift. At the time Crealis had been asked to accompany Macallel in his occupation of Goran. Crealis had agreed, and dragged the young Bastene along with him. Crealis recalled Bastene being thoroughly displeased as he was carried along to the far corners of the world away from everything he had known.
Crealis considered, briefly, that it may have been too imposing of him to ask for the podium to be brought down from the high towers. But then, as Crealis recalled, he had not wanted to oversee this event. His ludicrous request had been made in an effort to avoid this and it had not worked. Crealis was bound to his duty now. Perhaps, he thought, in the future he would need to go to greater lengths to discourage Bastene.
Crealis scratched his chin through his thick, white beard and squinted in the daylight. The sound of clashing swords was downplayed by the chirping of birds in the early morning hour. A quick breeze whipped through the courtyard carrying the salty taste of the ocean with it and whipping the fold of Crealis’ robe up over his face. He grunted as he flipped them back down.
Crealis looked down into the courtyard below, carefully considering the battle taking place between the two young men. His son, Bastene, dressed in loosely fit clothing looked as handsome as he ever did, and dressed in finer garments than one would normally wear to an event like this.
Bastene’s opponent, and one of Crealis’ favorite pupils, wore tight fitted leather padding and carried himself with a taught combat stance. He had obviously come prepared to show his best in this round of practice. Crealis could not say the same for Bastene, however.
Crealis took note of Bastene’s constant distraction from the match. Bastene was continually focusing on the ledge opposite Crealis. Crealis knew that balcony led to the bedroom of Bastene’s precious Anya.
“Bastene,” Crealis raised his voice. “Focus on your opponent.”
“I am, father,” Bastene replied, his eyes suddenly focused on his taught opponent.
Bastene stepped in to his target’s range of attack and swung wide, his sword whistling through air as the young man ducked and swung around with his own blade, tapping Bastene in the exposed side.
“Point awarded,” came the emotionless voice of Crealis.
He scrawled this note onto the podium before him as he casually glanced down into the courtyard at the foray taking place. His star pupil was three points ahead, an unfortunate outcome for his son thus far. But then, Crealis thought, Bastene had never focused his efforts on the sword completely. His energy was sporadic and he was easily distracted by new and different things. Crealis longed for a day when his son would commit to a path, but some days it seemed no path could be chosen by Bastene. He was forever drawn to a new conquest, even before he had completed the last one.
There were, Crealis supposed, too many wonders in the world for his son to become dedicated to just one path. He disapproved of this trait in his son, although at times he was slightly envious. From the day of Crealis’ birth his path had been chosen by his father before him to keep the lore of the ancients. He remembered a time when his father had taken him to the hallowed ground in the temple of Daelican and told him of the ancients. He learned of the creation of the world and the war that ensued from this birth. He also learned a dozen names, the like of which could never be uttered outside the holy walls of Daelican. To do so would invite the voice of darkness into your mind.
“Old man!” one of the young men demanded.
“Hmm… huh…. Yes?” Crealis looked up from his notes to see his son standing a few feet below him, staring up at the balcony. His opponent stood in the background slashing his sword at an invisible foe, completely lost in his practices.
Bastene had a disappointed look on his face. “Father, you encourage me to practice this art and you watch only until you become disinterested. You tally my opponent’s points and then miss my own.”
Crealis scratched his chin through his thick beard, his eyes narrowing in repose, “You take too much time to make your moves. With the points young Taragon has scored against you, you would not be alive to score points of your own. You would not be standing before me had he been truly trying to dispatch you.”
“Old man,” he insisted. “We have only been in parlay for a short time. The points he scored were not fatal. I would have made the kill.”
Crealis grunted softly to himself, disgruntled at his own lack of focus. He lowered his eyes to the papyrus on the podium and frowned as he realized Bastene was right, “I apologize, my son. You are right, you would have made the kill.” Crealis stiffened his demeanor, “nonetheless it was only a stroke of luck that saved you. You’re form stands to be improved upon.”
Bastene shrugged in frustration,” Does nothing please you?”
“I would be very pleased to see you improve upon your form.”
Bastene thrust his short sword into the grass, and placed his hands on his hips. He cast his eyes up at the balcony, just below Crealis’ own penetrating gaze, “And what if I am not wholly committed to martial combat?”
Crealis scratched his chin beneath his thick beard, “Then I would see you improve your lore studies, or your trials with the clerics. Perhaps you could increase your knowledge of the ether, or return to the wilderness walks.”
Bastene relaxed his shoulders, “What of the ether father? Will you not teach me to harness it?”
Crealis shook his head, “Bastene, you have not the dedication to learn of its mastery. You can hardly commit yourself to earthly matters.”
Bastene cast his eyes to the neighboring balcony.
“Do not look to your precious Anya for support, she feels the same as I do in this matter.”
“She is not quite so forceful in the same regard, father,” Bastene retorted. “I appreciate her discretion.”
Crealis looked up behind Bastene to see the young Taragon waiting patiently for his opponent to return. “This is not the right time to discuss this, Bastene. We have a lesson planned after The Solstice dinner, perhaps we will continue this discussion then.”
Bastene rolled his eyes and turned his head away.
Crealis snatched up his staff as it rested in the corner of the balcony. He pounded the staff against the stone floor of the balcony. “Bastene is the victor. New match –.” A wave of energy washed over him unexpectedly. He clutched the podium for support, dropping his staff to the balcony floor. The sound of the dry oak shaft clattering to the floor caused Bastene to turn his head back to the balcony.
A feeling of concern washed over Bastene, “Are you well, old man?”
Crealis pulled himself upright, “No, it’s nothing. Nothing quite so ominous as to warrant such a look on your handsome young face, I most likely left a potion opened in the workshop. I suppose I will return to find flowers growing from my workbench or some other nonsense of that nature.”
“You are sure you sense nothing,” Bastene tried to hide a smile. “You know the solstice is tonight. Anya will most likely be there.”
Crealis stood up and dusted off his robes in an effort to hide a creeping smile of his own. “My dear boy, Anya is your instructor in the Arcanum. She is far too old for you as well. You are a young man, you have plenty of time for liaisons with women.” He began to turn away and then stopped to look back, a sterner look on his face, “Women your own age, hmm?”
“Father, why must you remind me of that? Must I remind you that I will grow into a man soon and she will be but a youth then as well? You know the elves age much slower than we humans do. And –“
Crealis interrupted him firmly, his gaze set low to tighten his demeanor, “We will not go through this again, my son. You must learn the Arcanum from Anya and nothing more in these days. I have told you time and again the future has yet to come. No matter how you plan for it you will never see what is to come.” His face softened, “Find a nice young maiden at The Solstice dinner tonight. It will do you good to be with peers your own age, hmm?”
Bastene nodded with a tight lip. He knew this was not an argument he could win. The old man’s opinions were set in stone. It was nearly impossible to convince him of new ideas for he had always been so set in the old ways. Bastene held no malice against him for this, however. He wondered if he would be as unwavering in his old age as Crealis. Then again, Bastene thought, he could not see himself that far into the future. Perhaps he would not make it that far. Bastene thought briefly of a glorious battle that saw him die martyr. In times of peace, as these were, such an end was not likely.
Crealis nodded, “I feel fatigued, Bastene. I think I will retire until later this evening, some meditation in the gardens will help to relax me.”
A look of concern returned to Bastene’s face, “I thought you said you were fine?”
“I am, I am,” Crealis replied. “I am just worn from my meeting with The Solstice this morning.”
“But what of the competition...”
“I will oversee this again in one week,” Crealis had already turned to walk from the balcony. “Perhaps your form will be improved by then.”
Bastene watched Crealis disappear from the balcony and turned to see Taragon, still clutching his short sword. Bastene sighed.

Anya stared at herself in the mirror. Her robes were draped loosely over her shoulders, the white silken garment hung down her slender figure. The almost shimmering cloth seemed to ripple down her figure. It was simply one piece of fabric, cut in a triangular shape. Two legs of the triangle had been enlarged and elongated, the point opposite them hung over her back and the two legs wrapped around her breast and lower back and were pulled forward to hang in front of her. She smiled at her slender figure. Bastene would be pleased with this.
Satisfied with her attire for the evening, she turned to the bed across the room. The large, canopied bed had been made up some time earlier by the diligent Paniece. Anya glanced around the room to find the entire chamber was immaculate as always.
The table next to the bed had been cleaned and polished. The small mirror on it shone back at Anya, once again complimenting her sultry attire. It had been cleaned off from the previous night, Anya’s scrolls all collected and hidden somewhere in the room. Anya cared very little for the abundance of mirrors in the room. She turned back towards the large oval she had regarded moments ago and admired the craftsmanship that framed the mirror. The wood that framed the mirror had been carved from a large sylvan tree from the forest she grew up in. Sylvan oak had a natural polish to it, only the finest of implements could even carve its dense structure. This mirror had been carved by a cadre of craftsman and presented to Anya the day she left her home and journeyed to the aid of Macallel, only 3 years ago. The frame had been etched in the form of tree branches. Each branch intertwined with the others, creating a latticework that ran down the edges of the mirror. Anya had a sentimental attachment to this one mirror, but the others that adorned the room had been brought in by Paniece.
This was just one of the things Paniece had a habit of doing in her efforts to turn Anya into a lady of station. For all of Paniece’s effort, it was only through the affection of Bastene that Anya had pulled herself from her writings long enough to be concerned with her appearance. Aside from the mirror set into her desk, which she especially disliked since it cluttered the surface in its bulk, another oval shaped mirror had been hung above the headboard and two rectangular mirrors had been attached to each door in the armoire.
Anya regarded the armoire, the boxy piece of furniture seemed out of place in her room. The rest of the furniture was rounded and smooth, but the armoire was rough and unfinished, the only piece of furniture that had been here when Anya arrived. It also seemed out of place because it was the only thing in the room that had been left open and unkempt. Anya had sifted through the contents of the armoire in order to find the garment she wore now. She had left the doors open and several fabrics hung from them. Paniece would scold her if she found the armoire in such a manner.
Anya made her way over to the armoire and began to pull her light colored robes from the armoire doors when the door opened behind her, Paniece shuffling through. The homely woman wore a faded blue dress. Neatly draped across her arm was a stunning white robe. Anya watched Paniece enter the room through one of the mirrors on the armoire.
Paniece was single minded in her chores around the castle. Anya had come to rely on Painece’s dedication and hard work. At times Anya had relied upon Paniece so much she had neglected her own responsibilities, confident that Paniece would remind her of any important matters at hand.
Paniece smiled at Anya in the mirror as she entered the room. She spoke as warmly as always, “Trying on our new dress are we?”
Anya smiled back, “This could hardly be a dress, Paniece.”
“All the same, it looks lovely on you,” Paniece complimented Anya. “Bastene will likely enjoy it, I’m certain.”
Anya felt a rush of color in her cheeks, “What makes you think Bastene will see it?”
Paniece shook her head, “M’lady there is not a soul in the castle that does not see the way you two look at each other. But don’t fret about it, my dear. I wouldn’t go spreadin’ words about the two of ye.”
Anya regarded herself in the mirror as she continued to fold the light colored fabrics, “Do you really think he’ll like it?”
“Yes I do,” Paniece shuffled quickly across the room and placed a hand on Anya’s shoulder. “You look as beautiful as a young fey. Bastene will forget all his troubles when he sees you.”
Anya had bent to pick up a blouse when she remembered the time. She dropped the garment and looked up at Paniece, “I had almost forgotten.”
Paniece smiled warmly and unfolded the robes that had been draped over her arm. The garment had been Anya’s customary white robe. She wore this plain garment almost at all times within the castle, as she was almost always bustling about some matter of state or affair of The Solstice.
Anya’s smile brightened as Paniece held the robes up for Anya to slip her arms through. The white robes were trimmed in gold runes. The symbols lined the edges of the robe, baring writings that few in the castle understood. Anya was constantly asked about their meanings by her students. She slipped on the robe and began to walk for the door, Paniece walked close behind, fumbling with a golden, embroidered sash.
“Now wait a moment, young miss,” Paniece piped up.
Anya stopped as Paniece’ arms wrapped around her, two firm hands thrust in front of her, holding the golden sash. Paniece tied it off and squeezed Anya’s waist for good measure.
“There ya go. Now, Bastene is waiting for you outside The Solstice tower, as you requested,” Paniece flashed another smile. “He bid me to come get you, hurry along now. Don’t keep him waiting too long.”
Anya flashed a smile back at the woman, “Thank you Paniece, will I see you at the dinner tonight?”
Paniece shook her head, “I’ve already promised myself to help with the laundry this eve, they are overloaded with the family of your companions.”
“Very well, then. I will see you afterwards,” Anya pushed open the wooden door and disappeared into the hallway.

Bastene sat on the edge of the winding staircase watching the corner in anticipation. A cool spring breeze drifted past, the air had already begun to cool as the sun rolled down the sky towards the mountains in the west. The sky had begun to take on a deeper purple behind the castle, where the scent of the ocean continuously emanated from. Off towards the setting sun an array of oranges and pinks began to coat the mountains, blotting out the forests below in blackness and leaving only a bumpy line to rest in darkness aside the slew of color.
He still wore the loose-fitted garments he had during his parlay with the ambitious Taragon. He had taken great care not to dirty himself, perhaps at the expense of his form. In truth he had sacrificed a great deal of his skill n favor of these clothing. Normally he would have come more prepared, but knowing he had very little time in between his testing and the lesson Anya had planned for him, he had opted to dress more uncomfortably. Perhaps if he had known he would be waiting for so long at the peak of the castle he would have chosen differently. In the time he had waited already he would have had ample opportunity to return to his own chambers and change clothes.
Behind him was the center of the tower he perched upon. The large cylinder had been build more recently then the rest of the castle. If Bastene moved himself towards the edge of the winding staircase he would be able to see the crumbling remnants of the castle below. Beyond the tower sprawled the rest of the castle and the cityscape beyond. The central portion of the castle had been almost completely reconstructed after the war. Many sections of stone had been replaced. Even today the scars of battle could be seen in the patches of reworked flagstone. Some large sections were made even more visible in between the growing strands of ivy that stretched across many of the older sections of wall.
Overhead a few stars had begun to wink into view off in the distance. Bastene began counting them, cataloguing the different constellations as the popped out in the twilight sky. He would be surely tested on them by Crealis when they met in the old wing later that night.
The old wing in question stretched out to his left. In the days before the Daelin occupation of Goran those had served to countless tyrants and political refugees. The ruler Goranin was known for harboring untrustworthy individuals. Today, the old wings had been left in disrepair, free to crumble of their own accord. During the siege of Goran these old wings had been a focal point of attack. The Daelin armies had wanted to cut off escape to as many fleeing men as they could, their troops pouring into the old wings, slaughtering every shady figure they could find. The hallways had been so battered that it was decided they were not worth repairing. The rooms were left to crumble and collect dust.
Bastene glanced up at the looming globe above him. The top of the tower had been sealed off by a massive marble ball. Only The Solstice and their pupils were aloud within it and none talked about the wonders they had seen inside. The interior of the tower was a great mystery among the servants of the castle. How such a large assemblage of a heavy material like marble was beyond them all. Bastene knew the answer, for the most part. After all, The Solstice was a gathering of the most powerful sages in this region of the world, so what other possibility could there be but magic? Of course, Bastene understood virtually nothing about the ways magic worked, but it seemed the most plausible answer to the question at hand.
Bastene’s eyes fell upon the doorway he sat next to, if it could be called that. The stone trimming that ran around the top of the tower and supported the globe of marble above was unbroken around the entire circumference of the tower. It was composed of only one piece of stone. Only magical properties could have created such a thing, for it would be impossible to raise such a large piece of stonework this high in the air during the tower’s construction.
A set of runes were etched into the piece of stone in the shape of an arc, stretching up from the peak of the staircase. These runes adorned many things that related to the sages, Bastene noticed. Although he could not uncover their meaning through any texts he had found within the castle’s library, he did recognize similar runes. Etched sporadically across the stone surface were seven common runes. These runes each bore a resemblance to the seven prime constellations that Crealis had been so diligently teaching Bastene over the past month. Bastene only assumed that these runes represented each of the seven primes.
He also had taken note in the past that each of the seven sages that made up The Solstice had one of these seven runes adorning their staves. Each sage carried their staff with them at nearly all times. Each staff was different it seemed, and yet each one shared certain characteristics. Each sage seemed to put forth a different set of characteristics that their staves also reflected. Anya’s staff was made of sylvan oak and bleached white. The grain of the wood had been hidden by the bleaching, making the staff appear almost like porcelain although it still bore an array of knots and ridges characteristic of the wood beneath. At the same time the mysterious Sarsis carried a staff made of dragon bone. The staff had very few alterations to it as if to bring with it the grimness of the mighty creature that once walked upon it.
Each staff, no matter how different, always bore certain characteristics. One of these similarities was the appearance of runes etched into their lengths. Each staff had been adorned with runes, most appearing very similar to the ones that adorned the doorway he had been examining. Additionally, each staff had a large blue orb set into its head. These orbs were, for the most part, benign gems that capped off the staves and gave them an even more arcane appearance. On occasion, however, Bastene had observed the color swirled in lighter and darker shades, a maelstrom of energy contained within the orb.
Bastene felt unsure of why Anya had called him to this place. Since Crealis had openly opposed Bastene’s vague interest in the Arcanum, he was sure that he would not be learning the things he wanted to in this lesson. Anya could only have asked him to come to this place because it was the least traveled place in the castle. Only seven sets of feet have even passed this far up the tower until now. The sages of The Solstice were the only ones brave enough to venture this high. Of all the man made structures in the world this was definitely the highest. Bastene could conceive of no other parapet constructed by man that reached so far into the sky from the ground.
No, Anya could not have invited him here to learn of the arcanum, in fact Bastene doubted very much that he would be involved in any lesson plan today. Anya and Bastene had not found much time at all to spend together recently. On occasion Bastene had stolen away into her chamber to release his frustration with his father. Bastene was convinced that Anya could only want to spend a night under the stars with Bastene. Bastene thought to himself that it might be nice to escape from the pressures of the week. He was not convinced, however, that he should set those pressures aside. The coming trials would challenge every once of concentration he had, and he needed to focus.
In times as these Crealis’ efforts were redoubled to see Bastene choose a path in his life. In another few nights Bastene will have passed through the courses at the castle. He would then be tested on various subjects, everything from penmanship to swordplay. After that he would be turned loose to his own ends. The path he took in life from that point on would be his decision alone, as was the custom in this kingdom.
The sound of a closing door from below startled Bastene from his train of thought. Someone would soon ascend the steps below him. He was fairly certain Anya had finally arrived, although a pang of doubt struck him. He wondered what punishment would be in store for him if one of the other sages discovered him here. He wondered what his punishment would be if that sage was Crealis. Any of the other sages would merely send him to Macallel for a formal reprimand. Crealis, on the other hand, would sorely disapprove. In truth, there were no formal rules against any of the castles residents climbing this staircase, it simply was not done. Perhaps there would be no punishment at all.
Bastene stood and placed his hands on his hips in an attempt to look regal as he craned his neck to see around the corner. As a bleached white staff came into view Bastene relaxed his posture. Anya glided up the steps into view as gracefully as ever. Her race was especially known for their grace and coordination, but somehow Anya appeared even more beautiful in Bastene’s eyes when she moved. As he watched her climb the steps in a smooth glide his misgivings regarding her tardiness slowly melted away.
Anya smiled at Bastene, “I’m sorry to keep you waiting, I lost track of time.”
Bastene greeted her with the same warmth, “I was just admiring the view.”
As she arrived at the top of the steps, she grasped his arm with her free hand and pushed herself up on her toes to kiss him on the check, “Are you ready for today’s lesson?”
Could she be playing with him? What could she possibly have to teach him way up here? All the books were in the library, deep within the castle. And there was no place to sit up here, save the uncomfortable stone steps. Bastene nodded, he would play along for now.
“Good,” she replied. Anya casually stepped around him and moved herself in front of the arch of runes. “Do you know what this is?”
“I could only venture a guess,” Bastene shook his head. Was she really going to tell him all this?
“Go ahead,” A smile on her face betrayed her intentions.
“I’m not supposed to be learning this, you know.”
“I know. But what Crealis doesn’t know can’t hurt him.”
Bastene smiled at her, “I would guess it’s a doorway of some kind… for The Solstice.”
“You guessed correctly.”
Anya choked up on her staff with one hand and drew the blue crystal in its head across the top of the archway. The blue orb trailed a vague blue mist that clung to the runes, causing them to glitter slightly in the fading sunlight. Bastene watched as the glitter died and cast his eyes to Anya.
Bastene broke the silence, “Was that all?”
Suddenly, the sound of grinding stone filled the air. The smooth surface that filed in the space below the archway began to change shape, slowly at first, and then more rapidly. The surface became concave, bending inward like a piece of papyrus blowing in the wind. The stone continued to cave in, molding itself inwards as the sound of grinding stone filled the air around Bastene and Anya. Soon it had completely collapsed inward, leaving a tunnel behind the archway. The stone surface still shone no break in its workmanship, it had simply changed shape.
Anya tucked her hand beneath Bastene’s arm as he stood in stunned silence. “Come,” she beckoned.
Anya and Bastene passed beneath the archway. The tunnel up ahead stretched for a very short distance before the ground banked upwards into the slope of a ramp. As they walked Bastene took note of a pale blue light emanating from a room within, casting a pale glow into the tunnel they now walked in. As they began walking up the ramp the ceiling of the tunnel gave way to the room beyond and Bastene gaped in amazement at what he saw.
Anya led him up the ramp into a grand dome shaped room, the interior of the marble globe, no doubt. As they entered the room the pale blue glow became a fierce blue light, lining the walls of the dome as they stretched upwards. The light emanated from a rippling blue-white energy that clung to the walls and ceiling. The ripples cast across the room shadows of light, similar to that of water. It created a very surreal feeling in the room for Bastene. For a moment he thought he was dreaming. He imagined as though he were inside the swirling blue orb that rested atop Anya’s staff. He looked to her as they stood on the ramp, an almost fearful look in his eyes. He wondered if he could turn back at this point, pretend the forces that writhed within this room did not exist. He knew that even if he could, he would not.
Anya squeezed his arm, “It’s a lot to take in at once, I know. But there is more to see yet.”
Bastene turned his eyes back to the room ahead and the swirling colors. He slowly took another step forward up the ramp. As his eye crested the top of the ramp he began to take in the details of the rest of the room, forcing his eyes to ignore the swirling energy around him. The floor had been made of marble and there was almost a complete lack of substance within the room. In the very center of the floor a large blue oval jutted out slightly. As he walked even further up the ramp and emerged fully into the room he noticed the oval in greater detail. There was a circular border set around it, seven runes etched into it. The border was also made of marble. Arranged a few feet from each of the runes were seven small pools of water, carved out of the floor itself. Each pool rippled with a different set of colors from red to deep purple and almost every shade in between.
Anya released her arm from his and strode confidently up into the room. She walked to one of the pools of water opposite the ramp they had walked up. She turned back to Bastene, her white robe twirling through the still air.
“Welcome to The Solstice,” she smiled.
Bastene’s eyes had grown as wide as the moon as he looked around the room. Aside for the arrangement in the middle he saw no discernable furniture to rest on. The sound of grinding stone once again filled the air, echoing against the high ceiling. Bastene looked behind him as the ramp swung upwards, the smooth marble edges melding against the stone tunnel. It did not take long for the ramp to close up, completely cutting of the dying sunlight from beyond. The entire room was plunged into darkness. Bastene did not dare move from where he stood, fearing he would stumble into one of the pools of water in the center of the room.
“I can’t see,” he complained.
Anya reassured him, “Just wait.”
Bastene cast his eyes around the darkness, straining to make out something, anything. Slowly his eyes began to adjust to the darkness and the blue-white glow began to return to the domed interior. This glow was different, though. It did not so much illuminate the room as it replaced the darkness. Now, instead of a black void that clung to him, a rippling blue-white cloud did.
Bastene looked straight up, hoping to see the rippling effect the light had had on the ceiling a few minutes ago. Instead of the ceiling he saw a small pinpoint of light very high above, much higher than he had originally thought the ceiling was. Soon another pinpoint of light winked into view, then another. Eventually Bastene spotted several pinpoints of light wink into view and he realized what he was looking at. He was seeing the stars high above in the sky.
How could he be seeing them? He knew the globe was made out of marble, he could not possibly see the sky beyond that heavy material. But indeed, he was seeing the sky. Now not only stars were visible, but sporadic clouds were also visible. He turned his eyes back in the direction they came, the direction he believed they came from at least. Just as he thought he light, he began to see the last remnant of dying light as the sun had already disappeared beyond the mountains. Bastene could now see the entire countryside as clearly as he could minutes ago when he stood outside. Below, in the city a thousand torches had sprung into view. More began to flare up as the last remnants of the sun continued to die.
Bastene walked across the marble floor towards the scene he beheld. As he drew closer to the edge of the floor the blue-white ripple flared back into view, drawing a boundary for Bastene to use in reference. The ripples arched upwards and faded in the distant heights of the globe, etching a line across the invisible marble walls. Bastene turned back to the center of the room to see Anya smiling warmly at him, as she always was. The entire room was now lit up with the starlight from above, and Bastene could see as clearly as it was daytime. Bastene looked back across the landscape and inched his way closer to the ripping border. He reached a hand out to touch the cascading energy.
“Don’t touch it!” Anya cried.
Bastene drew his hand back, startled.
“I’m sorry,” she rushed over to his side. “You cannot touch the ether, you could disrupt the hold it has on the dome. The entire tower is held in place by the ether, it could all come crumbling down.”
“That’s why only the members of The Solstice are allowed inside?”
Anya nodded, “if anyone else got in here… they would not even know what they had done wrong.”
“I see,” Bastene pursed his lip and turned to face the center of the room. “What is all that?”
“That is why we are called The Solstice. Look above”
Bastene cast his eyes upwards once again, he could now see brighter sparkles among the writhing ether. Each one blinked in place in the same arrangements the major constellations had in the sky.
Anya explained, “See each of the seven constellations maps out the seven corners of ether on Shai. As the planet moves, so do the constellations. We map them out in the tower so that we can draw on them no matter where they are in the night sky.”
“What is ether?” Bastene looked puzzled.
Anya laughed to herself, “Maybe we should start small.”
Anya waved her staff through the air, the familiar trail of blue energy trailing from the blue orb. The marble floor began to shift in front of them. Two humps grew in the hard surface and began to rise into a small bench. The two of them sat down, facing the view of the countryside.
Anya took a deep breath as she began to lay down her story to Bastene, “Ether is the force that binds everything on Shai together. Without it life would not be possible. We all feel it every day and just do not know it. The members of The Solstice, and others like us have learned to tap into ether in order to manipulate its energies.
“You know that each of the seven constellations represents a different deity. But what they also represent are the seven corners of ether that go along with each deity. Each corner imparts a different focus of ether, and with each different focus we can manipulate different kinds of energies.
“As Shai moves through the vast cosmos, the stars in the sky shift, and so do the corners of ether. On any given night there is only so many concentrations of ether that can be tapped. So we morals are at the mercy of the planet’s rotation, forced to wait on the whim of the planet.”
“That’s where this tower comes in,” Bastene interrupted.
Anya smiled, “yes.”
“You can see where each of the corners are by using the map in this room, and you can focus any energy you want.”
“That is not entirely true,” Anya replied. “We can channel any energy we want. I, on the other hand, can only channel a certain array of energies that I have mastered. It takes an extraordinary amount of focus to learn to wield these energies and there are only so many skills one person can learn.”
“That’s why there are seven members of The Solstice,” Bastene finished her explanation. “Each one of you learns a different corner, and you combine your talents.”
Anya nodded, “this is why I do so enjoy teaching you, Bastene. You catch on quickly.”
Bastene’s eyes fell to the floor.
“What’s wrong?” Anya questioned.
“The Solstice dinner is soon. Crealis wants me sitting at his side.”
Anya wrapped an arm around his shoulder, “It will be a short dinner. The sages do not enjoy chatting for too long. I’m sure they will want to retire as soon as etiquette allows.”
Bastene shook his head, “not Crealis. He loves to talk… and scold, and reprimand.”
“He cares about you, Bastene. He wants to see you do well in life.”
Bastene nodded, “I know.”
“Come on, we should make our way there.”
Bastene stood, “I need to retire to my chambers before I head to dinner.” He looked down at his soiled clothes.
Anya kissed him on the cheek again, “very well then.” She stood, “walk me to me room and we will part company until after dinner this eve.”
The sound of stone echoed into the room again as the ramp appeared in front of them and the two of them made their way from the room, leaving the swirling ether behind them.