Rage of the Old Gods, Chapter Fourteen: The Changing of the Seasons

We have now come to chapter fourteen of Rage of the Old Gods, the first book of my epic science fantasy trilogy the World Spectrum. In the coming weeks, I will be posting the entire book for free on this blog. If you’re just joining us, you can get caught up with the previous chapters now.

Cover art for "Rage of the Old Gods, the First Book of the World Spectrum" by Tyler F.M. EdwardsSpring has come to Barria, and there is change in the air. Leha senses great potential in the ruins beneath the mountain, and its discovery rekindles something thought lost: hope.

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Chapter fourteen: The Changing of the Seasons

A crisp wind blew down from the Gormorra Range and ruffled the branches of the forest in great sighing gasps. Overheard, the stars burned without being impeded by clouds for the first time in weeks. The air smelled of snow and spruce.

The grass rustled under Leha’s feet as she ascended Yeldar’s slopes. Dim light marked the doorway within the mountain.

Once again, she had found herself unable to sleep. But this time, different feelings had haunted her. After explaining her theory to the others, she had spent most of the day organizing the study of their discovery and examining the crystal, watching it flicker and shift. Here was something far more ancient than the oldest records of humanity, far more ancient than the Machine King or the ziggurats of the Old Gods, she had thought.

When they had returned to camp, just before sundown, the thrill of discovery had remained with her, coursing through her veins and setting goosebumps on her skin, and sleep had seemed an impossible goal.

She moved into the passageway and descended into the gleaming depths. She needed to see more of it.

She reached the first chamber, and froze. Drogin stood there, a wand in one hand a notepad in the other, staring at her.

“Hello,” he finally said.

“Hello,” she said, hovering at the bottom of the stairs.

She moved into the chamber and past him, her shoulders stiff. Down here, the temperature and taste of the air seemed preternaturally neutral.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

She glanced over her shoulder at him and shrugged. “I wanted to see more of this place.”

He glanced down at his notes. “Yeah, me too,” he muttered.

She stepped to the stairs into the second chamber. “Do you want to help me look around?” she asked, peering down. “Maybe we can find more rooms.” Earlier, they had discovered two other rooms, though they hadn’t been able to decipher the purpose of either one.

He stared at her for a long moment. “No. I’ll continue what I’m doing.”

She rolled her eyes, and the claws on her toes scraped against the floor. Her mind went back to the time when the two of them had snuck into the Automatons yards as children. They had worked together to evade the security and overcome obstacles. She remembered him reaching down from the fence to pull her up. She had been too short to climb.

Then she remembered the past few months, and the way he had treated her.

Something inside her gave way.

She spun to face him. She resisted the urge to clench her fists; her claws would go through her palms. “What’s the matter with you?”

He looked at her. “What?”

She stalked towards him. “You heard me. For the last nine months, all you’ve done is ignore me and avoid me. You’ve hidden yourself wherever you can, and if I try to talk to you, you shove me away. What’s the matter with you?”

He faced her and swallowed. “Uh…”

She stepped in close and tilted her chin up. Her breath came hard.

His eyes darted about, searching for an escape. He deflated and let out a long, slow sigh. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Or maybe I did. I don’t know.” He hung his head.

She glared at him.

He pocketed his wand. “It’s just… since you came back, you’ve been different,” he said quietly.

“Why? Because I have claws? Because my eyes don’t look the same anymore?”

He gazed into her eyes and shook his head. “No. That took some getting used to, but no. You’re different. Something changed you – I don’t know what it was. You’re not the same person who left for Sy’om.”

She swore at him, her words reverberating off the arch of the ceiling. “I’m the same person I’ve always been!” Her face and her arms felt hot. Her heart boomed.

He shook his head again. “No, you’re not,” he said, speaking louder now. “The sister I knew wouldn’t have led the charge against the Automatons.”

“I am the sister you knew!”

He continued as if she hadn’t spoken, his tone maddeningly calm. “You were a good girl, Leha, but you weren’t the Hero of Heart.”

“So you’re ignoring me because I saved us?”

He frowned at her. “No!” He looked up and searched for the right words. “Do you know what you look like when you fight?” he asked in the same level tone as before. “You’re like an animal. You don’t fight Automatons; you savage them.”

“So what? They’re trying to destroy humanity!”

He frowned again. “No, you don’t understand.” He didn’t sound so calm now. “You’re different.” His face drooped. “I just miss you.”

“I’m right here!” she shouted, biting off each word. “I’m not different! Maybe you think I am, but I’m not.”

“You are. Maybe you don’t realize it, but you are,” he said forcefully.

A growl escaped her throat. She shoved him.

Drogin stumbled backward. His head hit one of the columns with a resounding crack, and he slumped the floor. One of her claws had torn his shirt.

She gasped and covered her face with her hands. She rushed to his side. He groaned and clutched his head with one hand.

“Oh, Drogin, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to – I – I – I…”

He opened his eyes and looked at her fearfully. “I think I’m okay,” he said. He seemed to shrink, and he didn’t stand back up.

She moaned. “I didn’t mean to do it. I was just so angry and…” She ran her fingers through her hair. “I’m sorry.”

He rubbed his head and grimaced.

She didn’t want to stand still, but she couldn’t look away from him. “I don’t know. Maybe I did change. I nearly froze to death. My body was changed in ways I don’t understand.”

A hint of anger seeped back into her voice. “But I’m still me. The real Leha isn’t locked in some Lost One dungeon. Maybe I came back different, but I did come back.”

Her eyes smoldered.

He gazed up at her. She couldn’t read his expression. Her anger sputtered and died, and her hands relaxed. She went to the edge of the chamber and sat upon the top step leading down to the second level. She sighed, cupping her face with one hand.

Drogin remained where he was for a moment, and then, he took a deep breath, shook his head, and stood. He walked to where his sister sat and placed himself next to her.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

* * *

They sat in silence, together, for what felt like a long time.

“Do you really think the creator race built this place?” Drogin asked.

Leha looked at him. “I don’t know who else could have. Even if a band of Old Gods or humans came out this far and never told anyone, do you think they could have made this?” She indicated the shining, mechanical harmony around them. She spoke softly; she felt drained and battered.

Drogin glanced about. “No,” he said. “I don’t.”

Leha’s gaze became distant. “There’s something about this place. It can do something to help us. I know it.”

Drogin nodded.

After another pause, he turned to her. “Do you want to know why I came here?”

She looked at him quizzically.

“I wanted to reward myself.” A hint of a smile touched his features. They didn’t seem so haggard now. “I was going to tell you tomorrow, but I’ve made a breakthrough.”

He stood up. “Come. I’ll show you.”

She followed him, and he led her out of the mountain and into the night. The same wind still blew, cool and moist, refreshing her and chasing away her fatigue. She inhaled the smells of new grass and fresh shoots, and as if for the first time, she noticed the signs of life returning after winter, of the changing of the seasons.

Her brother led her down through the forest, lighting their way with his wand. All the times she had spent with her brother before the war flowed through Leha’s mind, and for the first time in months, they brought her no pain. She didn’t know for certain, but it felt like something between them had changed. And if she was wrong, then she would enjoy this one night, she promised herself.

They entered the camp and headed south towards Drogin’s tent. The usual melancholy hung over the dark, ragged encampment, but tonight, Leha sensed something else in the air. A sense of potential. Perhaps it was her imagination.

Drogin’s makeshift home lay just past the southern perimeter of the main camp. It had been made by stitching together two tents, bolstered by various other textiles, to create a low, two-chambered fabric structure. Worktables, bits of scrap metal, and various other signs of his work littered the surrounding woods. Since they had abandoned the cities, they’d lacked the infrastructure to construct large devices, like the feedback weapon used at Marlhem, but Drogin had continued his work on new weapons and techniques to use against the machines. Thus far, he had achieved little in his pursuits.

He brought her into the outer chamber, his workroom. He flipped on a Clan-made lantern and stepped to the wall on her right. “I started this as a hobby – I wanted to see if it could be done,” he said, rummaging behind a wooden chest. “I was inspired by the Clan lanterns. This functions the same way: a linear system channeling energy to serve a purpose.”

She nodded, pretending to understand what he’d said. Outside, an owl hooted.

He came back, carrying something long and thin. As he approached, she saw that he held a sword. He handed it to her, and she held it awkwardly in both hands. She shrunk her claws so she would be able to grip it better.

Their father had taught her something about swords, and the events of the past year had only increased her knowledge. At first glance, this sword seemed ordinary, but she discovered some minor oddities. Its hilt and handle were stouter than normal, and the edges of its blade were made of silver.

Leha ran a finger along the blade. “It isn’t sharp.”

Drogin grinned at her in the dim light. “It doesn’t need to be.” He retrieved the sword from her, pushed back the tent flap, and went outside. “Let me show you.”

He directed her to a table underneath the fragrant boughs of a pine tree. Four triangles of wood had been grafted to its surface to create a crude holder. He selected a square of scrap metal from a nearby pile and stood it within the holder.

Making sure she could see what he did, Drogin held up the sword and turned what she had thought to be a decorative knob on the pommel. Its silver edging flared to life, shining bright enough to illuminate Drogin’s face and make Leha blink for a few seconds. The blade emitted a faint hum. He raised the sword and struck downward with two clean, angled cuts. With each hit of the blade, the metal square would spark and hiss, and with the completion of the second slash, a section of the square came free and fell to the table, its edges smoldering. The sword had cut through the iron.

Leha stepped closer and gaped at what her brother had done. He turned back the knob, and the sword’s light went out. In the sudden darkness, the burnt pieces of metal glowed like glyphs of fire.

She looked to the dim shape that was her brother. “This will pierce an Automaton’s skin?”

He nodded. “The test piece is from a Tor machine’s leg. The silver will burn right through. It won’t work on lead, of course, but we can attack the seams.”

“And you don’t need to be a wizard to use it?”

She thought she saw him grin. “No. Anyone who can use a sword can use one of these.”

She glanced back at the cooling metal and returned her eyes to her brother. “Can I try it?”

“Sure.” He handed it to her with only a hint of the hesitation that had marked their interactions for so many months.

She took the hilt in both hands, stood in front of the table, settled her stance, and activated the blade. The magic turned on with a flash, and its harsh light bathed the glade. She felt its heat wash over her hands – intense, but not painful.

She raised the blade to deliver a cutting blow, but she changed her mind at the last instant, and she pushed forward with a stab. The blade glided through the test piece as if it was mere leather and not metal. Where the blade touched the metal, it sparked and crackled.

She withdrew the sword and held it before her face, being careful not to bring it too close. She admired her brother’s handiwork.

With a flick of the knob, the light died. With her powers to slow the machines and a little planning, these devices could be powerful weapons against the machines. Many competent soldiers had found themselves fighting out of their element when the Automatons had rebelled and swords had become useless – close combat weapons had been used successfully at Heart, but the Automatons had been unprepared and scattered throughout the city. They had been forced to use crossbows or javelins, or find some other way to be useful. By making close combat weapons useful again, Drogin may have given them a bevy of potential new tactics.

“Could you adapt this technology for other weapons – axes, narviks, javelins?” she asked.

“Narviks and axes, yes. Modifying ranged weapons this way would make them too heavy to be practical.”

“How quickly could you make enough to equip a force – say, a thousand people?”

He thought for a moment. “The mechanics are fairly simple, though they can be hard to install,” he said, muttering to himself. “We’d need proper facilities…” He shrugged. “It depends on how much resources and people you want to commit, and how much metal the Clan villages can supply us with.”

“Assume you get decent supplies. I’ll commit everything I can.”

“Five weeks, maybe.”

Leha felt a smile coming on. “We’ll start tomorrow.” She gave back the sword. “You might want to go to bed. Things could be busy, come morning.”

“Yeah,” he said after a pause.

She began to walk back to the camp, waving goodbye at her brother, though she wasn’t sure he could see it.

Night birds called in the distance, and the dewy grass rustled beneath her feet. There was something in the air. For what felt like the first time in years, she thought about the future without fear.

* * *

That night, for the first time in months, Leha slept long and well.

* * *

The following morning, work began on Drogin’s new weapons. Leha called in every available craftsman, technician, and wizard to help. She sent messengers north to request supplies from the Northern Clans – the handful of permanent Clan villages were now the only source, aside from scavenging, of metals and certain other essentials.

Leha, Natoma, Eranna, and Doga worked together to select a thousand men and women who would receive the new weapons. Each would have their weapon designed for their specialty: former Tor foot soldiers would be given short swords; Eastenholders would receive the double-edged long swords they preferred; Natoma, who had been among the chosen, had handed over her single-edged sword to be reforged.

A section of forest was cleared to create an area for the manufacture of the new weapons. After a week, the crude forges began to burn, and sounds of work made their way through the camp. Five weeks, Drogin had said. Leha settled in to wait.

These thousand would be the first. Time and resources permitting, there would be more.

The work brought new activity to the camp, but it changed little. The same melancholy hung over everything. The food remained scarce and crude, the rations becoming smaller with each passing day. The battles to the north had ebbed, but everyone knew that wouldn’t last. For the average person, nothing had changed.

But for Leha, things were different. Something had changed. Something was coming. She knew it. She had known it from the moment she had entered the creator race outpost. She couldn’t explain it; she couldn’t account for it. But she knew it to be true. Some of the folk in the camp speculated that the production of the new weapons was a prelude to something important. It was; Leha had simply yet to learn what it was a prelude to.

Externally, her life remained much the same. But internally, she felt hope. All day, every day, anticipation thrummed through her. She slept better, she worked on her writings with Lahune, and she waited for what she knew was coming.

Over the next few days, she spent her free time – what little she had – studying the crystal she had recovered from within the mountain. She sat and watched its pulses and swirls, its shimmers and its flickers. She felt it pulse between warm and cold, and she pondered the beings that had made it.

Drogin and the other wizards had determined it contained strong energy, but they could offer no further information as to its nature. She considered bringing it to the Watcher and asking if it knew anything of the crystal’s nature, but she doubted it would be of any help, and the hardship of the journey did not seem worthwhile.

Sometimes, Benefactor examined it with her. It fascinated him, and the sessions helped to bring some measure of life back to him.

One day, while enjoying a rare period of peace in her room, Leha took up the crystal, lay back on her bed, and began to study it, as she had many times before.

She lost all track of time, staring into its nebulous depths. She stopped hearing the rain tap against her window; she stopped feeling the dampness in the air; she stopped feeling her bed sheets beneath her. The crystal occupied all her attention.

It began to glow brighter.

She started and nearly dropped the crystal. After a moment spent calming herself, she reexamined it, and discovered that it had returned to normal. She furrowed her brow and wondered if she had imagined it.

She brought the crystal up to her eyes again and focused on it once more, pouring all her attention onto it. After a minute, it brightened again. Leha slackened her concentration, and it dimmed. She repeated the process.

Someone banged on her door.

“Who is it?” she called absently.

“Leha, it’s me. Open up.” Drogin.

Reluctantly, she lowered the crystal to her side and sat up. “It’s not locked.”

Drogin pushed open the door and stomped in, water dripping from his hair and clothing – rain seemed far more common in this part of the world than in Eastenhold or Tor Som. “What are you doing in here?” he demanded.

She frowned. “I’ve been looking at the crystal.” She held it up. “I think I just made a discovery.”

Drogin interrupted her. “Whatever it is you’re doing, you need to stop.”

Her frown deepened. “Why?”

“I can sense it. The other wizards can too. If we can feel it, there’s a good chance the machines can too.”

Her irritation drained away along with the blood in her face. “I – I – ” She sighed. “I’m sorry; I wasn’t thinking.” She put the crystal on her windowsill and backed away from it cautiously, returning to her bed.

Drogin’s expression softened. “That’s all right. It was very faint. I doubt anyone outside of the camp could have sensed it.” He hesitated for a moment, then stepped forward. “What did you learn?”

Leha toyed with her sheets and shrugged. “Not much, really.” She glanced at the crystal. “If I concentrate on it strongly, it starts to glow brighter. That’s it.”

Drogin made a perplexed noise.

He moved for the door. “I should get back to the forges.”

She nodded.

Halfway through the door, he turned back. “Sorry.”

She gave a half smile. “So am I.” Her lips turned into a full smile. “Get back to work.”

He smiled back, and left.

Leha lay back and inspected the ceiling. She sighed and looked back on the crystal. The lights within it flickered and danced, taunting her. She resisted the urge to try to learn more from it, looking away. She did not know what would happen if the machines detected the energy of their creators, and she didn’t want to find out.

Despite her efforts to stop them, her eyes flicked back to the windowsill. There were things to be learned from that crystal, she thought. She wished she knew how to uncover them. As irrational as she knew it was, she still felt that the power of the crystal would prove valuable. The feeling of importance she had felt under the mountain had never really faded away.

She forced her eyes away from the crystal.

* * *

Mainly, Breena remembered the cold.

She had been raised on the bitter tundra of the Northern Clans. Her people said that the winter was in their blood, but even her limits had been tested after the battle in the Mannall Range.

After the handful of survivors had taken to the peaks, the machines had been unable to pursue, but the environment had brought dangers of its own. The weather had been their constant enemy. Each night, they had huddled around to take advantage of what little heat their fires and magic provided, hoping the cold would not take their digits or their lives as they slept. Once, they had been caught in a blizzard. They had cobbled together a few crude shelters in a thick copse of trees beneath a cliff and done their best to shield themselves as the blowing snow had blinded their eyes and torn at their skin.

After six days in the wilderness, and the loss of more people to the wilds, they had reached the edge of the barrier machine’s influence and been able to jump to Tyzu and, from there, to the Gormorra Range.

The lone ice creature that had survived the battle had kept in touch with the other leaders, and the group under Eranna and Doga had known of the horrors visited upon the other worlds, but the stories had not prepared Breena for what she had seen from the Watching Eye village. The settlement itself had been spared, but the jungle around it had been ruined. Wide sections of it had been flattened completely, and the rest had been little more than smoldering trunks and a few still-living plants dying from the ash that coated them. The air had reeked of smoke and death, and the sky had been an unnatural black.

For days beforehand, Doga had worried about the fate of his home. Before arriving at Kerhem, Breena had never seen a Lost One, and what little experience of them she had gained since then had led her to the conclusion that they were a people of great stoicism and emotional strength. But when the news of Elder Sheen’s death had reached them, she had thought he would weep.

When he had returned to his village, he had.

Once Doga had composed himself, they had gathered around him upon the platform. A debate – carried out in mind-bogglingly fast bursts of the Lost One language – had ensued. One old man had taken pity on Breena and translated for her.

The clan had asked Doga to become the new elder, and he had refused.

“I am only thirty-five,” he’d said. “I am not yet worthy of the title.”

The others had argued that he had proven himself a capable leader in the war against the Automatons. Doga had said that his duties on Barria would prevent him from giving his full attention to the clan. Eventually, the others had acquiesced, and they had chosen an aged warrior named Kotl as the new elder.

Soon afterward, Breena, Doga, Eranna, and the other survivors had returned to Barria, but Breena had not stayed there long.

A few months ago, Breena had known nothing but the life of a Clanswoman wizard. Her existence had centered on simple tasks like keeping the halls floating. She had known little but reindeer, snow, and cold.

Then the Tor emperor had come, and she had been chosen to make the journey south. Within her first few weeks in Tor Som, she had seen and experienced countless things that she never had before. She had traveled through the evergreens separating the lands of the Tors and the Clanspeople and the dense forests around Retgard, wildernesses vastly different from the frozen plains she had called home. She had seen cities, things that had seemed mythical and unimaginable to a girl raised among the Clans. She had walked the boulevards of Retgard and seen the spires of Kerhem. She had been exposed to the alien magics practiced by the southern peoples. She had seen strange tools, weapons, and clothes. She had heard new languages and new philosophies.

Not long after, she had done battle with the Automatons, the Old Gods of legend, and seen and experienced yet more things she had hardly imagined – dark, frightening things. She had visited the mythical world of Tyzu, walked in energy so high she had almost flown off the ground with each step, eaten the alien foods of the Lost Ones, and caught a glimpse of the wonders the jungles had held before the machines had burned them.

After all that, a mere trek eastward, even one into lands never before seen by humans, hadn’t held much appeal for her.

On top of that, after the events in the Mannall Range, she had seen enough of mountains to last her a lifetime.

Since the battle in the mountains, she had found her thoughts drifting to the power of the machines – and their ability to create the barrier in particular. To be able to affect the fundamental functions of the world in such a way was a feat of a magical engineering beyond anything she had ever thought possible. Many nights, she had lain awake, thinking about how such a thing could be possible, and how it could be defeated. She had listened to stories of Leha’s early attempts to breach it and learned everything she could about the barrier machines themselves. Nothing was perfect; every spell had a weakness. She had wondered if she could find the barrier’s.

When she had sought a way to avoid the journey east, the barrier had given her the answer. She had gone to Brodar and asked to be allowed to study it fulltime, and he had been convinced of the mission’s value. The next day, she had traveled to Tyzu.

Other wizards had already done research on the barrier from Barria, and she had performed some of her own investigations after the battle, but it had been little studied from the outside, and Leha and Elder Sheen had already succeeded in breaching it from the Tyzuan side.

She had taken up residence in the village of the Tall Tree clan, a place relatively unharmed by the Automaton attacks. And there she had remained for three months, extending her mind and senses to study the barrier created by the Old Gods all those millennia ago.

Each day, after breakfast, she would sit in the hut they had given her – it belonged to a warrior currently fighting to defend her homeland – kneel upon the floor – holding her staff in one hand and a piece of quartz wrapped in silver twine, a tool of her own invention that helped her extend her mind, in the other – and slip into the trance-like state that allowed her to study the barrier, often remaining there until someone came to remind her of lunch. Most afternoons, she did the same until dinner.

She didn’t know the current time. She had eaten lunch, but beyond that, she had no idea. Time was difficult to measure in this state of contemplation. Her mind drifted through the currents of magic that flowed over Barria, currents that had become as familiar to her as her own skin. In the directions she knew to be north and east, the currents flowed naturally, running over the landscape in rivers and streams, emptying from certain areas and pooling in others to create jumping points. But in the south and west, the barrier wiped the slate clean, creating a vast area of artificial uniformity.

She tapped and prodded at the barrier with her magic, but after three months, there were few things she had yet to try. The barrier repelled most of her probes, and those bursts of magic that did make it through were quickly dispersed by the ministrations of the barrier machines. She knew from Leha’s experience that she could punch through if she used enough force, but she had no way of knowing what she would find on the other side. Even if she did, no one she sent through would have any way of coming back.

She sighed and watched the machines wash away another spell.

An idea popped into her head, and her back straightened. She launched another spell. This time, the moment the machines began to wash it away, she gripped her crystal and focused on pouring all of her consciousness into the subtle barrier currents revealed to her by the spell’s death. She pressed her mind into it, frowning with exertion, and broke into the barrier itself.

She could see.

Far below her, a landscape of former farmland dotted by grassy fields and copses of trees spread out in all directions. To her right, she saw the burnt ruins of a town or city. To her left, she saw what appeared to be one of the Spurs of the Gormorra Range. She didn’t recognize the area, but the mountains appeared unfamiliar, so it was most likely the Southern Spur. That put her in southern Karkar or northern Uranna. Her mind felt constricted, as if she had placed it in a tight box.

She experimented with moving. It felt like trying to swim in a river of honey, but she found she could move forward, backward, or side-to-side. She couldn’t move her perspective much higher or lower, but if she focused on the ground, it became more distinct.

She pushed her way through the currents, heading right, the direction she believed to be west. She looked over the ruins of the town, finding no signs of life, and continued past a river and onto a large plain of what had once been grain farms. The land seemed empty and lonely without the people that had once tended it.

Ahead, she spotted two Wizard-Automatons making their way down an abandoned road. She approached cautiously, but they didn’t appear to be able to detect her presence. She hovered above them for a time, observing. She couldn’t guess their purpose. She wondered if they might be searching for human survivors.

She withdrew herself from the barrier. The feeling of pressure on her mind eased, and she felt herself relax. Blinking, she opened her eyes and set down her crystal. The silver wiring had left indents in her palm. She took a deep breath and wiped sweat from her brow – she doubted she would ever grow accustomed to the Tyzuan heat. She felt drained, and her stomach growled with hunger.

She laid her staff on the floor and took a moment to consider the implications of her discovery. This was something far superior to normal scrying. Those spells lost efficacy after a few thousand feet. This had a theoretically unlimited range. With this, they could spy on the heart of the Automaton’s realm.

She stood stiffly. She planned to find some food, and then she would make the journey to Barria to report her findings.

* * *

Leha made her way through the heat and the stinging smoke of the forges, passing technicians and laborers hammering at steel and pouring liquid metal into molds. She adapted her lungs to cope with the fumes, but it wasn’t entirely effective.

She found Drogin near the center of the manufactory. He was bent over a crude worktable, welding small pieces of metal with his wand. Sweat stained his shirt, and he wore goggles to protect his eyes.

She touched him on the shoulder, and he jumped.

He spun around and tore off his goggles. When he saw her, he relaxed. “Oh, it’s you.” He pulled in several deep breaths. “You startled me.”

“Sorry,” she said sheepishly. She held out a plump skin. “I thought you might like some water.”

“Thanks.” He grabbed it from her.

As he did so, his fingers brushed her claws. He did not flinch, she noticed with a slight smile.

Drogin took a long, deep draught from the skin, and then he splashed water over his face. He gasped in relief.

“I chilled it in the river,” she explained, speaking loudly to be heard over the ring of a nearby hammer.

“Thanks,” he said again.

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I would have brought you some food, but our supplies can’t really support snacks.”

He nodded.

They stood in awkward silence for a moment. Some of the surrounding laborers peered at them curiously.

Leha felt a familiar presence touch her mind, and her eyes lost focus.

Leha, Benefactor said, his mental voice still seeming dead.

Wordlessly, she asked him why he had contacted her.

Drogin leaned forward. “What is it?”

She held up a hand to her brother.

A Clan wizard has arrived from Tyzu. She wishes to speak with you, Benefactor said, sending an image of a red-haired woman sitting on a cushion in the meeting chamber of the Clan hall at the center of camp.

Leha thanked him, and his presence receded. She looked to her brother. “It’s nothing serious, but I need to go.”

He nodded. “Goodbye,” he said after a pause, sounding as if the words were alien to him.

She waved to him and strode out of the forges, glad to be gone from the heat and the fumes.

She crossed the camp and climbed into the hall, arriving at the tapestry-covered meeting chamber at the rear. The Clan wizard stood, putting down the mug of water she had been drinking, and greeted Leha respectfully, speaking accented Tor. She introduced herself as Breena. The woman was average height by the standards of the Clans, but that still made her extremely tall from the perspective of an Eastenholder. Her vivid red hair was gathered into a ponytail, and a handful of freckles dusted her cheeks. She looked to be in her late twenties. She wore a maroon woolen tunic whose sleeves appeared to have been cut off, and her staff lay on the floor nearby.

Leha returned her greetings and sat upon a cushion opposite the wizard’s. At Leha’s gesture, Breena regained her seat.

“What is it you wish to discuss?” Leha said.

Breena straightened her back. “I have spent the last three months on Tyzu, studying the barrier.” Leha detected a note of tension in her voice. Even among the Clans, the Hero of Heart carried a powerful reputation.

Leha nodded. She vaguely remembered hearing about the research mission. She signaled for Breena to continue.

“I’ve discovered a way to implant my consciousness within the barrier. It allows me to observe any place protected by it.

“As far as I can tell, the machines are completely unaware of my presence while I watch them.”

Leha blinked. Her mind churned to life, shuffling through the strategical possibilities that provided. “Anywhere under the barrier? And the Automatons can’t detect you?”

Breena nodded once, a smile spreading across her face.

“Can any wizard do this?”

Breena nodded again. “I see no reason why they couldn’t.”

Leha thought over the possibilities for another moment. Then, she reached out and clapped Breena on the shoulder. “Well done.” She leaned back. “If you like, I can see that you get extra rations for a few days.”

Breena mumbled her thanks.

Leha stood and began to pace.

“Would you like me to leave?” Breena asked.

“No, stay, please,” Leha said, thinking.

She reached out with her mind and sought Benefactor. I need you to summon the other leaders, she told him.

He sent her an acknowledgement.

Leha continued to pace in silence for a moment. Then, she glanced at Breena. “I have an idea.”

———————

Enjoying the story so far? The next chapter will be posted soon, but if you can’t wait, you also have the opportunity buy the full ebook now!

Rage of the Old Gods, Chapter Thirteen: Broken

We now come to lucky chapter thirteen of Rage of the Old Gods, the first book of my epic science fantasy trilogy the World Spectrum. In the coming weeks, I will be posting the entire book for free on this blog. If you’re just joining us, you can get caught up with the previous chapters now.

Cover art for "Rage of the Old Gods, the First Book of the World Spectrum" by Tyler F.M. EdwardsPart four begins with the survivors of the human race at their lowest. They are barely holding off the constant assaults of the Old Gods, and all hope seems lost. But a chance discovery in the primordial forest beyond the Gormorra Range could change everything.

———————

Part four: Realm of the Gods

Three months later,

east of the Gormorra Mountains…

Chapter thirteen: Broken

“Leha!”

She opened her eyes and blinked. It took a moment to remember where she was and who was knocking at her door.

“Leha.”

Lahune.

She sat up and groaned, rubbing her eyes. Golden light poured in through the shaded window to fill her tiny room within the Clan hall – she had been offered the large room that had once belonged to Brodar and his wife, but she had given it to a family of Karkarans.

She forced herself out of the sheets, put on her tattered tunic and stained pants, and opened the blinds, telling Lahune to wait a moment.

She blinked again as the light of day struck her eyes. The sun had risen high in the sky, and peopled scurried about their business in the camp. She’d slept in.

She sighed. “Come in,” she said, questing about for her comb.

The door opened, and Lahune stepped in, his dark robes rustling. “Good morning,” he said.

“Is it still morning?” She looked through her clothes chest, then, finding nothing, began to rifle through drawers and hidden compartments in the walls and floor in the search for her comb.

The corners of Lahune’s lips turned up. “Barely.”

Leha closed her eyes and tried to remember where she had last seen the comb. Before the war, Drogin had often commented on the lack of order in her home. Sometimes, he’d helped her to reorganize things if they became too chaotic. The thought made her frown.

Lahune sat down on a stool, unfolded a small table from its housing in the wall, and set down his sack of writing supplies. “Stay up late?” he asked, laying out the quills and ink he had constructed from whatever came to hand.

Abandoning her quest, she flopped onto the bed and leaned against the wall. She felt the warm sunshine touch the crown of her head. “Something like that.” She closed her eyes and reshaped her claws into thin prongs without sharp edges. She ran them through her hair in lieu of a comb. “Couldn’t sleep.” She glanced at the angle of the sun. “Not at night, anyway.”

He chuckled at her joke, but she saw concern in his eyes.

He pulled a small flask from his pouch and tossed it to her.

She pulled her claws from her hair and caught it.

“Ulu,” he explained.

“Thanks.” She took a long draught of the thick fluid. The sweetness helped to chase away her fatigue.

She wiped her mouth and returned her claws to their usual shape. “Where did we leave off yesterday?”

He pulled a sheet of reindeer skin from the sack and laid it upon the table. “The journey north. We had just finished recounting the battle two weeks before your arrival at Marlhem.”

“Right.” She gulped her ulu.

Over the past month, Leha had taken to chronicling the events of the past year. She wanted to preserve a record of the war for future generations – assuming there were any – and it helped to pass the time between battles. Her handwriting had never been her strongest asset, so Lahune had volunteered to work as her scribe. One of the things his order had done before the war had been copying and preserving books and manuscripts. They believed in the importance of safeguarding human history and culture.

Lahune would write down her dictations in Urannan, and then, as materials permitted, he would make copies in Eastenholder, Piran, and Tor. Paper was hard to come by, so they used whatever came to hand: skins, the backs of maps, the inside covers of books. On occasion, they had even used thin blocks of wood. It made for a motley collection. They numbered the passages to save confusion.

Leha finished the ulu and rubbed her right eye with her knuckles. “Could we skip this today? I’m not feeling my best.” Technically, Lahune could work on his own – Benefactor had allowed him to live her memories of this time – but they had both agreed that the record should be provided by someone who had lived it, someone in a position of authority.

He gave her a brief smile. “Of course.” He started to repack his things.

She stood. “Close the door on the way out,” she said, stepping into the hallway.

She exited the hall and stepped onto the soft, moist grass of the meadow where they had made their camp. She strode through the rows of tents and crude dwellings, hearing the conversations of her people as she passed by. She considered seeking out some breakfast, but the reindeer jerky and old cheese that had become their staple held little appeal.

The crystalline sky held no evidence of the rain of the past weeks, and the late spring air was warm, but the beauty of the day seemed empty and fragile, as if it was but a thin façade draped over the world.

Some of those she passed greeted her or made way so that she could pass, but their eyes held none of the deference they had shown before. They no longer viewed her as their salvation, she knew.

Beneath the surface, past whatever expressions they chose to wear, she sensed that her people had lost hope. They moved with slumped shoulders and listless gaits; they gazed upon the world with hollow eyes. They seemed to have been broken on some deep level. It didn’t matter whom she looked upon – Tors, Karkarans, Lost Ones, ice creatures – she saw the same things. She passed a few open spaces while on her walk, and in some she saw groups of young children play and laugh, but even their joy seemed brittle and weak.

The Automatons’ assaults on Sy’om and Tyzu had brought humanity to the brink of defeat. After the machines had finished ravaging the ice creature and Lost One settlements – and the wizards of each had learned to send back the weapons when they arrived – they had begun launching their attacks at random in the hopes of ruining food and water sources and causing environmental disasters. Wide sections of both worlds had been reduced to ash. The mere thought of the burning fields that had once been Tyzu’s jungles was enough to bring tears to Leha’s eyes.

The shipments of food and supplies from Tyzu had grown few and far between, and some of the Lost Ones and ice creatures had been forced to return home to aid with the recovery.

The attacks no longer came frequently, though they hadn’t stopped completely. Tyzu had begun to recover, but even there, it would likely take years.

She reached the edge of the meadow – and the camp – and started into the forest of tall evergreens that stretched for unknown miles in every direction. Here, the sunlight dimmed, and the air smelled of pine and spruce. The shed needles of countless trees and countless years provided a carpet for her feet.

This was uncharted territory. Leha knew of no one in all of history who had made the journey to the eastern side of the Gormorra Range. The crossing had been arduous, and they had lost many people to the elements along the way. They had crossed some of the roughest terrain in the world during some of the worst weather in the world, and they had barely survived.

But as hard as the journey had been for them, it would be harder for the Automatons. The machines could not adapt to harsh conditions as easily as humans. This was as safe a place as they could hope to find.

A small group, commanded by Brodar, had stayed in the mountains to ward against any assaults the Automatons might send. So far, they had done nothing but watch and wait.

Most of the fighting took place far away, at what had once been the northern edge of Tor Som. The chieftains of the Althing, convinced by Brodar’s reports, had agreed to join the war, and the forces of the Northern Clans, together with what remained of the armies of the other nations, held the line against the seemingly endless Automaton offensives. For now, at least.

Leha had considered stationing herself on the front, but some had said that it would put her at too much risk, and she had not argued. She went there by jumping points to lend her aid whenever the machines launched a major attack, but she returned as soon the fighting ended.

These days, more and more people spoke of the need for her to create others like her, others who could channel the powers of the other worlds and modify their bodies at will.

But she would not. She had decided. As long as she lived, she would never allow the creation of another person like her. It was too much power for one person to wield.

As she walked between the evergreens, she tried to enjoy the beauty of the day, but her mind inevitably turned to darker things. She thought of the night before, when she had visited Benefactor. For the last three months, she had struggled to help him overcome the grief he felt at the destruction of his home colony.

She’d had little success. She didn’t know what to do. She had lost much in the past year, but none of it could compare to what he had suffered. Nearly everyone he had ever cared about had been killed, and he had seen their deaths through their own eyes. She couldn’t – didn’t want to – imagine what that felt like.

She tried to be there for him, tried to get his mind on other things. She could only hope that he would one day recover.

She shook her head to clear it. You’re here to relax, she told herself.

She heard a soft babbling of water, and she came to the banks of the River Sheen, a dark ribbon flowing through the trees. She sat down on a damp rock at the shore and placed one of her bare feet in the current. The water was frigid – its source lay deep in the mountains – but to her calloused feet, it felt pleasantly cool.

She stayed there, taking what pleasure she could from the sun and nature.

She enhanced her eyes and swept her gaze around the landscape.

To the west, she saw the towering peaks of the Gormorra Mountains. With her enhanced vision, she could make out the details of all the peaks and valleys. She saw where the river emerged from the peaks and spilled into the forest. Somewhere in those mountains, groups of Eastenholders still survived, she knew. Her people had been joined by some of the survivors of the Battle of Heart during their journey across the range, but others remained among the peaks.

She thought of Abra, the librarian from Heart. After the battle, she had searched the ruins of the library and asked all she met if they had seen him, but she had never learned his fate. She knew what it had likely been, but she had always hoped the old man had made it into the mountains and survived, somehow.

To the east, a round mount, little more than a tall hill, rose over the woods. It stood alone in the forest, its flanks dark with trees. Its name was Yeldar.

She noticed something. On its side, her enhanced eyes saw a small patch barren of trees, and within it, a patch of darkness like a cave or a doorway.

She leaned forward. A sensible voice in her mind told her to go back to the camp and return with allies. She nearly did. But she didn’t think she would encounter anything dangerous in this place. She ignored the voice.

Summoning Tyzu’s power, she came to her feet, screwed up her legs, and leapt across the river, landing neatly on the opposite bank. Hardly missing a beat, she took off into the forest, ducking under branches and swerving around trunks. She glided over the ground, seeming to barely touch it, darting through trees still damp from recent rains.

She reached the foot of Yeldar and ascended the slopes. Her claws dug into the mulch for purchase on the steep incline. She grabbed onto the trees as she passed and used them to push off and gain extra thrust.

She arrived at the place she had seen from the river, a patch clear of trees on the mountain’s western flank. Only grass and a few wildflowers grew. A few steps of white stone led up to a doorway leading into a dark space within the mountain. The steps didn’t appear to be newly made, but they showed no sign of weathering or age.

She felt a chill.

She let Tyzu’s energy fade, and she stepped forward, moving onto the steps and towards the door. The sensible voice spoke again, but she squashed it down. She entered the doorway.

The passage was cool and dark, and her breathing echoed oddly. It went straight for a few paces, and then it descended into the darkness. She adapted her eyes to be better able to see. She wished for one of the Clans’ magical lanterns. The passage was stone at first, but then it shifted to something smoother and less cold. It felt like polished wood.

The stairs ended. She could see that she was in a chamber of some kind, but little light reached this depth, and she had trouble judging its size or shape. From the feel of it, the floor seemed to be constructed of interlocking pieces of wood. She also encountered parts that felt to be made of metal.

An idea occurred to her, and she reached into her pocket to retrieve the small flint and metal device she used to light her cooking fires. She summoned Sy’om’s power and worked the device’s switch, producing a few tiny sparks. With the lower energy, the sparks hung in the air for a few extra moments, and their feeble light proved enough for her modified eyes. She could see.

The chamber was not much larger than her shop in Three Gates had been. It was constructed almost entirely of dark, polished wood, occasionally laced with bands of dark metal. Here and there, accents of gold added color.

The architecture was unlike anything she had ever seen. Its rounded edges and flowing style spoke of the natural world, but its interlocking wood and metal spoke of machinery and industry. Six columns, slanted outward, supported the arched ceiling. At the far end, she saw what appeared to be a large metal globe set within a jungle of gears and machinery.

It all gleamed like something newly made, but the place exuded age. Leha drank it in.

The light went out and left her in the darkness.

For a moment, she wondered if Old Gods had built this place. But she knew they hadn’t. They had never made anything so elegant, so beautiful.

Reluctantly, she turned away. The others needed to see this place. It needed to be studied. She emerged into the light, summoned Tyzu’s power, and sped for the camp.

* * *

All around him, the camp seemed dead. As Yarnig trudged through the muddy paths between the tents, his eyes passed over blank faces and empty stares, the expressions of those who had lost everything. The people moved lethargically, seeming more mechanical than the Automatons who had destroyed their lives. A few of the Tors offered him perfunctory greetings or small bows, but most of his people did not acknowledge his passing – they knew he was not the true leader of his people.

Yarnig could well understand the hopelessness that pervaded the encampment. He, too, had lost nearly everything that mattered to him: his home, his hunting trips in the country, even his artwork.

It had been weeks since he had been able to draw or paint anything. With the war on, no one had the time or the resources to waste on making things like paper or canvas. A simple lack of supplies had put an end to his artwork. His sketchbook had lasted him for a while; during their flight from the cities, he had feverishly produced sketches of his country home and the remains of Retgard and Kerhem, trying to preserve what he could of them. Afterward, his drawings had documented their journey through the mountains and their arrival in this wilderness. But then he had run out of pages.

For a time, he’d had nothing to occupy his days. Erik was often busy performing magical tasks, so he rarely had time to spend with Yarnig, and Eranna did all the real work of ruling the Tors – what remained of them.

But now, he had something to give purpose to his days.

He strode past the last tents and into a small, unoccupied pocket of the meadow, the warm sunlight dusting his hair with gold, the dewy grass moistening his beaten leather boots.

Ahead, Natoma stood, waiting for him. The sun shone off her hair to give her an ethereal quality. She saw him and waved. He smiled and rested one hand on his sword pommel, waving back at her. A warm breeze ruffled his curly hair, and he breathed deeply, enjoying the scents of the nearby forest.

Two weeks ago, Yarnig had been wandering the camp in an attempt to kill time, and he had encountered Natoma. They had fallen into conversation, and she had offered to teach him swordsmanship.

He wasn’t sure why she had done it. Perhaps she had taken pity on him. Perhaps she had been bored. After Marlhem, the people had been less willing to put their leaders on the front lines – not that he was a leader, Yarnig thought – and they both had plenty of idle time.

Whatever her reasons, he felt grateful that she had made the offer. He had started the lessons as merely a means of distracting himself, but he had begun to genuinely enjoy them. His fingers longed to wrap themselves around a pen or a pencil again, but if they could not do that, they would settle for a sword.

He reached Natoma, and they greeted each other.

“We’ll continue working on the postures today,” she explained. “You should get some more practice in before we try sparring again.”

Yarnig nodded, smiling ruefully. Their first attempt at sparring had only led to her besting him repeatedly; afterward, she had apologizing for pushing him too quickly.

Natoma began to stretch, moving with catlike grace. Yarnig followed suit, though he could not be so elegant. Her first lesson to him had been the importance of stretching before practice to loosen his muscles.

When they finished their stretches, they drew their swords. Yarnig had been given a long, single-edged sword of Urannan design. It was an unusual weapon for a Tor, but Natoma was his teacher, and it was what she knew. They started into a series of Urannan sword postures intended to teach him the proper ways to cut, stab, block, and slash. Natoma led the way, demonstrating each move with flawless elegance, and Yarnig did his best to imitate her. He didn’t think he would ever be able to do it as effortlessly as she did.

Often, Natoma would correct his technique, patiently offering advice on how to change his sword grip or the way he held his weight. He soon lost himself in the gentle rhythm of the postures. He found there was a certain artistry to swordplay, and he admired the way the blade flowed through the different positions.

After spending some time on the exercises, she called a break. She pulled two flasks of water from a pack on the ground and handed one to Yarnig.

After their break, they moved on to a more complicated set of exercises designed to increase dexterity and hand strength. Yarnig practiced swinging his sword with three fingers or less and several other odd activities. He fumbled frequently, but Natoma told him he was doing better than most people with his level of experience.

“You have good coordination in your hands,” she said. “It’s probably the result of your training as an artist.”

He nodded. “Maybe I get it from my mother,” he said, practicing a blocking motion with only three fingers.

Natoma gave him a questioning look.

“She was a fencer,” he explained. “In her day, she was considered to be one of the best in Tor Som.”

“Perhaps you take after her, then,” Natoma said, smiling.

Yarnig returned her smile shyly.

After another twenty minutes, Natoma called an end to the session, they said their goodbyes, and Yarnig started back for his room in the Clan hall.

It would be several days before his next lesson. He had nothing worthwhile to fill that time, but for now, at least, his life did not seem so empty.

* * *

First, Leha contacted Benefactor. He agreed to summon the others, but he opted not to come himself; he would observe through their eyes.

His normal curiosity seemed muted. Her heart ached for what he had suffered through. Part of her felt it had been her fault, but his people had knowingly chosen to join the war and accept the risks.

When she returned to the campsite, the others had assembled. Yarnig and Natoma had just come from their sword practice, and sweat bathed their faces. Leha hadn’t yet become accustomed to seeing Yarnig carrying a sword. The hardship of the last few months, as well as the lessons, had added a little bulk to his thin frame, but he still seemed boyish and frail. Everyone had grown thinner and more weather-beaten during the journey over the mountains, but in Natoma’s case, the weathering made her look flushed and healthy, and the loss of weight made her seem fitter.

Erik had been training, too, when the call came in, but he had been learning the Clan ways of magic, and the strain on him was not as apparent.

Drogin arrived late, looking even more haggard than normal. He mumbled something about how he had been working, and he gave Leha only a tiny nod of greeting.

He completed their party. Doga, Eranna, and the master of Yarnig’s guard were in the north, leading the fight against the Automatons, so they could not come.

Leha gave a sparse explanation of what she had found, insisting that they had to see it for themselves, and led them into the moist forest, summoning Tyzu’s power to speed their passage. The others were not as agile as her, and they were forced to find a ford to cross the icy river.

After a half-hour of jogging, running, and climbing – Yarnig huffed and puffed for the entire trip, but he did not complain – they arrived at the doorway in the mountain.

“What is it?” Yarnig asked, peering at the dark opening.

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Leha replied.

She led them into the cool darkness. Drogin lit his wand, and Erik did the same to his staff, sending a harsh, green-white light throughout the chamber. The wood and metal gleamed as if newly polished. Drogin muttered something; the others just stared.

With greater illumination, Leha could pick out more details of the chamber’s bizarre construction. She could never have imagined something like it.

“What is this place?” Erik said.

“I have no idea,” Leha said quietly. A hint of a smile touched her lips. She felt she should be nervous, concerned, but she wasn’t.

Drogin scurried about the room, observing its workmanship and design. He seemed more alive than he had in months. “It doesn’t appear to have been made by the machines, but it’s not any human design I know of.”

Natoma squatted and ran her fingers over a subtle design of gold inlaid into the floor.

Leha crept to the metal globe within the rear wall. She noticed a shallow groove in its upper right quarter. She gently placed the fingers of her right hand into it. Things that may have been letters flashed brilliant sapphire across the globe’s surface.

With a whirring and a rumbling, the room came to life.

The tangle of machinery that had made up the rear wall flew backwards and disappeared into darkness. Light without source blossomed through the chamber. Leha stepped back, her heart pounding. Behind her, Drogin and Erik raised their magical tools in defensive postures, and Yarnig and Natoma’s swords hissed from their scabbards.

Leha’s stomach lurched as the floor descended by two feet. At the same time, the ceiling raised itself higher, and the columns telescoped to maintain their link between the two. Extra stairs unfolded from nowhere to reconnect the now lower chamber to the stairway leading up to the mountain slope.

Out in the dark space beyond where the back wall had once been, sections of wood and metal, some of which appeared to have once been part of the wall, emerged from the shadows and began linking together. They found their places and connected into the whole with mind-boggling efficiency, and they had soon formed themselves into a second, larger chamber. The new chamber was roughly square and a few feet lower than the first. Three square sections of interlocking metal and wood plates – Leha thought they might be doors – dotted the walls.

Light washed through the new room while two curved segments locked into place to connect the walls and ceilings of the two chambers. A stairway folded out from underneath the floor of the first room to bridge the gap between the two. It seemed as if they had always been so joined.

The noise and motion ceased.

It had only taken a few seconds.

Leha found she could breath again. Benefactor’s presence in her mind had previously been slight, but now she felt his full attention on them. Yarnig lowered his sword. His hands shook slightly.

“What did you do?” Drogin demanded.

Leha shook her head. “I just touched it,” she said, too distracted to be annoyed with her brother.

Natoma sheathed her sword and went to gaze into the new chamber. The others joined her. After a few moments to collect her wits, Leha carefully made her way down the stairs. Natoma and Drogin followed, Drogin moving cautiously, Natoma confidently. Yarnig and Erik brought up the rear. Unlike in the tunnel above, the air here was dry and neither warm nor cool.

Erik and Drogin swept their silver rods before them. Drogin shook his head.

“What is it?” Natoma asked him.

“The mechanisms, the light, are powered by magic, but not magic like anything I’ve encountered.”

Leha stepped into the center of the chamber and gazed up. The sphere now resided in the center of the gently domed ceiling. “No. I wouldn’t think it would be.”

They wandered about the chamber, speaking in hushed tones. Erik and Drogin held out their implements of magic and tasted the place’s energy. Natoma studied the patterns of the floor. She tapped it with her foot, producing a hollow sound that suggested empty space lay beneath it. Leha paced the edges of the room and ran her claws across the walls as if they could whisper their secrets to her. She felt that she stood on the verge of something important. Yarnig stood in the center of the room, taking it all in silently, and Benefactor observed from the edges of their thoughts.

Leha came to one of the things she thought to be doors. On the wall next to it, she noticed a small panel of metal a groove identical to the one on the sphere.

“Look at this,” she called.

The others gathered around her. She pointed to the panel and explained.

“Don’t touch it. There’s no telling what this one might do,” Drogin warned, though he sounded uncertain.

“The last one wasn’t dangerous,” Erik said, leaning over his shoulder.

“Do we want to take the risk?” Yarnig said.

Leha held her fingers above the panel. “Natoma?”

The Urannan considered. “I believe the risk is acceptable.”

Leha nodded once. She touched the panel, and blue lettering flared across it. Everyone moved back a step.

The panels of the doorway retracted into the walls, ceiling, and floor to reveal a small, square room of a similar make to the previous two. Within the far wall of the room, behind a dome of faceted glass, stood a small column of blue crystal. They crept inside.

Drogin pointed his wand at the crystal, and Erik did the same with his staff. They looked at each other and shook their heads.

“What is it?” Leha asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Drogin said in the same tone.

Leha strode toward the crystal and knelt in front of it. A thin gold framework like an upended tripod held it within its alcove. A faint glow emanated from it.

A brass hinge at the top held the glass dome in place. Leha reached to open it.

“Leha,” Drogin said, using his most commanding “big brother” voice.

She ignored him, and she ignored the sensible voice in her head. She lifted the cover and pulled out the crystal.

The room went dark, and the lights in the previous chamber dimmed. Several of the others started, reaching for their weapons. But when nothing else happened, they relaxed.

Leha stared into the crystal in her hands. It had a triangular cross-section, and it fluctuated between feeling warm and cool. Its blue glow bathed her face and glinted on her claws. Different shades of blue in various levels of brightness swirled and flickered within its depths, as if it was filled with liquid and someone stirred it.

Words from months past appeared in Leha’s mind. They were… nebulous. A cloud of uncertain radiance.

In the azure twilight, a smile spread across her face. “I know who built this place.”

———————

Enjoying the story so far? The next chapter will be posted soon, but if you can’t wait, you also have the opportunity buy the full ebook now!