Saturday, 2 June 2018

Episode III - II Radical Acceptance (Shard II)

On Authroc's Wing

Radical Acceptance
(Shard II)

“So, when do you take over Master Olkva’s duties?” Kalyna jumped in to change the subject when she noticed that Leiros wasn’t taking the bait of sympathy. She took a step back and watched Leiros’ features intently. She cocked her head to the side, trying to show off her desire to know more about him.

“Today, at Noon.” Leiros lifted his head up and furrowed the space between his eyebrows. “Not a lot of notice, I have to admit.” He forgot to make another strained smile and let his features remain cold and stone-like.

“Oh?” Kalyna paused and pulled back her head slightly with a look of confusion and incredulousness. “Surely you must be mistaken, or more likely Gwain was mistaken.” She waited for Leiros to focus on her and show is interest in what she was about to say. “It’s almost a full hour past Noonday. If you were to start your lesson then, you’re already late.”

Leiros clenched both fists openly in response to her words this time. Anger tore through his mind and he didn’t restrain it. That conniving worm, Gwain, had left him waiting for two hours in his office before he finally arrived to interrogate him. He wanted Leiros to be late for his first and most important lesson to the young Initiates. This would give Gwain and Illena ammunition to say that he indeed had neglected his duties.

“I guess I best let you go so you can get back to Auhl Keignfel Stohll.” Kalyna sheepishly bowed once more to Leiros. “That’s all the more strange that Master Gwain would be the one to tell you this. The last time I saw Master Illena, she was back at Stohll.” Kalyna pointed off into the darkness of the hallway as if she could point out the far other Mesa almost a mile away. “I know your quarters and offices are over there with Toulam’s. Why you would be sent all the way here to be late for your first lesson…” Her words trailed off.

Leiros knew exactly why he was sent all this way and why Illena had been dodging him all morning. Since Toulam had been gone for the last three days, dealing with very personal business, Illena had been orchestrating events to make him look like a fool. She had been undermining Toulam’s wishes, making Leiros’ life a living hell, and no doubt collaborating with those other Masters sympathetic to her usurpation of the Order.

“I guess I best take my leave. Thank you, again, for your companionship and conversation.” Leiros tilted his head slightly to Kalyna who beamed at him.

She nodded deeper and ran off down the hallway to whatever destination she sought. She gave one more large burst of positive emotions which began to dissipate slightly as she left. Sadly, her fondness for Leiros had only grown due to their talking. Her seeing how Gwain had treated him, and his apparent recklessness toward his duties only seemed to make her more enthralled, which puzzled Leiros greatly. Perhaps it was the exposure of his viewed weakness that made her respect him more, or she was drawn to men that let her down in some way.

Leiros shook her emotions and presence from his mind vigorously until he could try once more to forget she existed. He wasn’t interested in her to be perfectly honest. He wasn’t really interested in anyone as all of the women he had come across were too plain with their emotions. It was hard to make a proper connection with someone or be surprised about their interest in you when you could feel their emotions so keenly.

He was of a far too rational of mind to get swept up in romances and crushes. Although he could appreciate the individual beauty and complexity that many of the women of the Order had, none of them seemed able to knock him from his mind as well pull on his heartstrings. When one came into contact with so many people with the same emotions and viewpoints in their heads, most people became nothing more than predictable background noise and it was precisely this omnipresent noise that bothered Leiros so much.

Leiros turned away from Kalyna as she continued to run down the hall. He began to walk in the opposite direction while trying to figure out the best course of action to get back to the Stohll Mesa. He was already near the top of the Little Buetha Mesa and it would involve climbing down numerous levels to get to the underground passages that led back to Stohll. Such a method of travel — being the most commonly used by the oracles of the Order — would take hours. It would not be right to make the students wait that long.

Leiros made his way to a fork in the hallway carved from the very rock of the Buetha Mesa and looked from side to side. He resolved the best way to get back to Stohll and ran headlong to the right. He would avoid the passages back, and instead reach the summit of the Mesa. He was only two floors away as it was.

As he tore down the hallway in a full sprint, he narrowly pushed to the side to avoid an older Initiate carrying a stack of books and grimoires. As he passed, the older man had to catch himself and steady the stack of books he carried against his chest, up to his chin. The older man barked out a few obscenities and was lost as Leiros turned another corner.

A dozen feet ahead the hallway broke into a flight of stairs upward. Leiros leaped at the bottom step and pulled himself up by grabbing the iron railings anchored into the stone. He took the steps three at a time, pulling himself up faster and faster until he got to the next floor. The stairs opened to another set of hallways, but he turned hard to his left and jumped over the next flight of stairs.

Despite being in decent shape from his many exercises and physical challenges that he put himself through, Leiros still managed to get winded as he made his way to a heavy iron doorway at the top of the stairs. He strained as he pulled on the rope handle that was wound through the door. He struggled to catch his breath for a moment and then was overwhelmed by the torrent of air that blew through the opened doorway.

The warm, dry, and sand-strewn air of the Jolash Plateau greeted him as he stepped through the threshold and secured the door behind himself. He turned around and began to climb up a wooden ladder up to the summit of the Little Buetha Mesa. The heat of the twin suns above was harsh on his skin as he took his first step on the exposed rock.

Leiros quickly lifted the hood of his robes and secured them by pulling taut some of his cloth belts around to his frame. The harsh light and whipping winds of the Jolash Plateau were far more than his fair skin could handle. He took a few steps forward and focused his narrowed gaze upon the skies above.

He began to pull loose some cloth scarves around the neck of his robes and upon spying a tiny dot playing among a group of clouds far to the east, he focused his mental energies into a blast. He gave an ear-piercing whistle between his tongue, teeth, and lips. Along with this auditory call, he let loose his mental energies to summon that far-away dot to him. The telepathic blast was profound and caused him a moment of dizziness.

Once more taking control of his senses, he began to wrap the scarves around his face. He kept one loop around his forehead, and another around his nose and mouth. He fidgeted with the fabric to keep it taut and tie it near the back of his neck. He kept only a small slit revealed for his eyes and then pulled some leather belts from his sleeves to tie around his neck and to secure around his hands like makeshift gloves.

Once he was bundled up, he took a few more steps onto the higher rock of the summit. He looked to his left and could see immense size of Auhl Keignfel Stohll. That great mesa, his home and the primary headquarters of his order stood like a giant, silent sentinel against the whipping sands that scoured the Jolash Plateau far below. Stohll rose almost a thousand feet higher than the mesa he currently stood upon. Several other mesas rose up from the rocky plateau, but most were farther away than this edifice of rock no more than a mile from where he stood.

Leiros turned his head to notice a shadow that was cast over the summit. He looked up to see a great black and gold bird flap its wings several times as it lowered itself onto a large outcropping of rock nearby. From head to talon, the bird was twice the size of Leiros and the wingspan it held was slightly more than thirty feet to a wing. Once the bird’s talons took hold of the rock, it folded its immense wings in and lowered its head down to Leiros’ level.

Gathering spoiled? The bird beamed the words straight into Leiros’ mind. The feeling was less like a conversation and more like a wave of images, emotions, and a calming sense of oneness between his mind and the bird’s.

“The meeting went well enough.” Leiros talked openly to the bird and lifted a hand to scratch some feathers near the back of its head. “I think we are to be betrayed soon enough, though.” Leiros took a step up on the rock to get closer.

I was playing with the clouds. The bird turned its head to look up to the nearby building clouds further across the plateau. Much power is building. It will storm soon. The clouds may weep. The bird turned its head back to Leiros and looked him in the eye. Immense orbs of orange jade seemed to be on fire from within.

“I’ll take note of that, Qathalla.” Leiros turned to look over to the nearby towering mesa and pointed to it with his left hand. “I need you to fly me over there. When we get there, I need you to stay with me, is that alright?” He continued to scratch at the bird’s head with his right hand.

Of course. The bird nuzzled into Leiros’ arm and pressed its large beak against his chest. Qathalla closed its eyes for a moment and then continued to speak with thoughts. I saw other Authrocs over there. A gathering. Many young oracles are standing around looking lost.

“I have to go over there and teach them how to handle their Authrocs. I need you to stay with me, I will need to fly with you later on.” Leiros gave two pats with his leathered hand on the authroc’s neck. Qathalla lowered one of its wings and allowed Leiros to climb up easily.

Once Leiros was secured to the back of the great bird, laying into a leather harness that was strapped across the bird’s chest, he gave one more pat. He whistled softly and the authroc’s wings unfurled and began to pound air against the ground in a flurry. Within moments Qathalla had risen into the air and then darted downward into a dive with outstretched wings. A few feet from the surface of the ground, the bird pulled up and soared with great speed toward the summit of the other mesa.

* * *

The currents of cooling air flowed across the linen shell that Leiros wore and sent the trailing ends of his scarves into a whipping frenzy around him. The winds had quickly switched to come from the north, drawing in the billowing clouds that Qathalla had earlier flew among. As Leiros felt the temperatures change from his soaring height he knew that the great bird was correct in its earlier forewarnings that the storms would descent upon the mesas of Alsira.

The largest of the twin suns, the burning Lord Dhaulm, was at its zenith in the sky. The smaller of the suns, the ambitious lover Trallt, was nearing the western horizon and casting mismatched golden shadows over the terrain below. This day would be a short one, with the evening filled with storms, and the night would be almost double the length of the day.

Leiros pulled himself away from his observations of the sky and focused on the nearing plateau of Auhl Keignfel Stohll as he rushed toward it on the back of his soul-bonded authroc. Through the slit of his shielding scarves, he could see a gathered mass of white-robed students milling about on the plateau. Moving among the students were two brown-robed initiates that took turns trying to talk with the students or throwing their arms into the air with exasperation. Several of the student’s authrocs were either perched on rocks of the plateau or playing with each other on the air around the mesa.

A momentary flare of rage shot through Leiros’ mind as he tried to place blame for his lateness on Master Gwain. Despite knowing that the older Master had intentionally set this situation upon him and the confused students below, there was still a gnawing feeling of guilt in his mind. As certain as he wanted to be about the injustice he must now attempt to correct, there was still that youthful voice in his mind that made him feel like an impostor among the other Masters of the Authrakallin. If he could be manipulated so easily, maybe he wasn't cut out for his station after all.

No doubts. The flood of certainty and flash of several images from the past flowed into Leiros’ mind from Qathalla’s own. The human you think of is sour. They do not smell healthy, but like they rutted with filth. Qathalla sent a roar of tingling energy through its feathers and into Leiros’ body. That one is a cuckoo in the nest. I know not why you tolerate him to live. If I found him in my nest I would tear his throat out with my claws and devour his screaming face.

Leiros couldn't restrain a twisted grin as it spread across his lips, the brutal honesty of Qathalla was jarring and oddly welcome. He leaned into the muscular neck of the bird and began to smooth the rippling feathers that crackled with unrestrained energy. As isolated and vulnerable as he felt in this moment he could feel the protection that Qathalla offered him. Slowly he opened his mind from fear and worry to the certainty of his good company. He had Qathalla with him, the guidance of Grandmaster Toulam, and even the slinking weirdness of Vhoggli to depend upon. There were other initiates that he had grown close with during his time with the oracles, as well. He wasn’t alone, but he would now have to tread carefully as there were coiling vipers in his home.

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