Saturday, 2 June 2018

Episode III - III Thrown from the Nest (Shard III)

On Authroc's Wing

Thrown from the Nest
(Shard III)

“Unbecoming.” Celeste gave a snort of derision and looked to her gathered hounds for reenforcement. “This is our teacher? This is the impertinent fool that dares to teach us what we already know?” She lowered her snapping hand down and brought it up in a flourish towards Leiros. She rolled her putrid eyes once more and shook her head in tiny and controlled motions.

“Tell me — Lady Celeste — if you already know everything I have to teach you, then what is one of the primary conditions you agreed to when you took the Oath of Vhaltenesh?” Leiros leaned in close enough to the young woman’s face that she would be able to smell his breath. His demeanor was fading, revealing the fullness of his contempt. “You did take the Oath didn’t you?”

“That was some years ago.” Celeste pressed her immaculately plucked eyebrows together as she tried to understand where Leiros was trying to aim her. It was obvious that many gears were working behind her eyes, trying to defend herself and prepare her next attack.

“It’s a life-time Oath, my dear. I would certainly hope you remember what you agreed to.” Leiros smiled broadly and waited in a few moments of silence for Celeste to reply. She seemed dumbfounded by what he might be insinuating, so he continued. “Vhaltenesh, our primarch, realized that we as oracles could be corrupted by bias both within and without. Ties of honor, ties of blood, claims to wealth and claims to fealty all strip an oracle of their righteousness. Ties to your former life are like chains, holding you down and keeping you away from the truth that Nesharr gifts us with.”

“So, what?” Celeste shrugged openly and narrowed her eyes at Leiros. “I and everyone here made that same Oath. You have to in order to join the Authrakallin Order. They’re just old words and symbolic promises given to someone long dead.”

“You made a blood-bound Oath to renounce all claims to titles, to land, to family, and to any other trappings of your origin.” Leiros clenched his fists and took a belabored breath. He tried to calm his nerves, wishing it was only stupidity that this young woman held within her and not outright maliciousness. “This is the only way you may enter the Order. You joined this Order to follow in the footsteps of Vhaltenesh and learn from his teachings. This is the only way to become an oracle.”

“Those are old ideas, we don’t follow those things anymore. The Oath is just a formality. I was selected to join this Order by Master Illena, herself. She selected me precisely because of my title and the rather amenable trust my parents gave to this little group you’re so fond of.” Celeste fluttered her eyes with every statement she spoke and waved her hands at her sides in mockery of the very teachings she benefited from. She languished in her derision for a moment and then refocused her attention squarely on Leiros’ eyes. “What you care about is long gone, Leiros. The Order is changing around you and I’m glad to be a vehicle for that change. When I’m Grandmaster, I’m going to enjoy getting rid of that silly oath and all the rest of that old bastard’s writing. He died a thousand years ago, it’s time to let his ideas die, too.”

Leiros closed his eyes and lifted his head skyward while still straining his fists tightly. The corruption he had seen in Master Gwain, earlier this day, truly had seeped throughout the Order. Not only was Master Illena an agent of that growing malfeasance, she had deeply installed it in all of the initiates as well. She didn’t have the right to go over the Grandmaster’s head with selections for initiation. She didn’t have the right to take bribes from wealthy foreign nobles to use for her own ends. It was beginning to feel like Leiros had woken up into a separate world this morning, a world filled with evil creatures that wore human skin, not the world he had fought so hard to preserve while growing up.

“Can we get on with the lesson, or must we bicker some more?” A male voice cut through the silence between Leiros and Celeste. Leiros opened his eyes and saw a young man push by two of the hounds to stand in solidarity next to the pompous young woman. “I’ve already sent my servant to retrieve another Master should this one not be sufficient to do his duties for us.” The young man glared hotly at Leiros out of the corner of his eyes and then focused them calmly upon Celeste’s.

The young woman nodded to the young man and both turned to look derisively from equally rotten eyes at Leiros. The young man had a shade darker skin than the woman’s pale features. His brown hair was chopped, feathered, and bent stylishly around his head as if it were some kind of haphazard helmet. A gold chain necklace hung around his neck, and several of his fingers were bedecked with jeweled bands. It seemed like none of these new initiates understood the noble poverty and humility that Vhaltenesh’s teachings encouraged.

“Let me guess, along with a Lady, we also have a Lord in our midst.” Leiros lifted one of his strained arms up and pointed with his index and middle finger toward this new student. “Who might you be, and what sort of great house did you come from?”

“My name is Brault kolst Cyrallbhirt. I’m not a Lord of anything.” The young man stared deadpan at Leiros and crossed his arms over his chest. He also had immaculately cared for robes, as he should since he had a servant to tend to him. A servant who was not permitted according to the traditional laws of the Authrakallin. “I am the first son of Neimol kolst Cyrallbhirt, a prominent member of the Grand Circle and Filidath Primarch.”

Another child born with a silver spoon in their mouth, who again claimed importance from the family they were to have abandoned upon their oath-taking. Leiros took a sharp breath in, wanting to interrogate Brault as what Master Illena promised him and his family in order to have him here. He stopped in mid-breath and realized that it no longer mattered. The ancient traditions of the Order had been outright dismissed in these last years. Even without knowing just how far the corruption had become, he felt affirmed in his earlier desires to avoid having to do any teaching duties. Leiros longed for the years he spent among books written by long-dead persons, rather than the simpering and still-living parasites gathering around him.

“So, Brault, do you have ambitions to be the next Grandmaster of this Order, as well?” Leiros remained focused on the young man and gestured with his pointing hand back to Celeste. He kept his arm low, around waist-height, and didn’t move the rest of his body. He was displaying her as a subject and not a person with his body language. He lifted his upper lip into a slight snarl between his words. “You’ll have to fend off some competition.”

“No, I don’t plan on remaining here after my schooling is finished. I was promised a position of importance back in Morrthault City by several of the Grand Circle. Master Illena wants to set up a satellite Order there. It’s our hope to bring propriety and social order to the capital. Perhaps once those in power have been brought into a virtuous path of social welfare, the rest of Hoelatha culture will be brought to heel.” Brault relaxed while speaking and looked almost wistful as he recounted his motives plainly.

“You are aware that we already have a sub-sect of oracles in the capital.” Leiros leaned in slightly to the young man. He looked from the side of his vision, pressing his cheek forward as if he was revealing some secret conspiracy as he spoke. “The Order of Lanterns is quite prominent there, and although we don’t see eye-to-eye anymore, they never-the-less still follow the teachings of Vhaltenesh.”

“The Order of Lanterns have become unnecessary in the eyes of the Grand Circle. They served their purpose in the past, hunting down monsters that preyed upon us during the dark times.” Brault rolled his brown eyes and looked off to the horizon for a moment. “The darkness of the past is now over. We are moving into an age of illumination, shepherded by the wisdom of our Grand Circle. We have no use for exorcists and monster-hunters. Besides, for centuries now, such things have only existed in children’s stories.”

“I suppose it would be hard for you to see such things, being surrounded by almost a million souls, and hiding behind such great walls.” Leiros all but snorted his disdain upon Brault as he leaned back and began to tap on his cheek with his pointing hand. He sized up the young man from foot to face and took in a sharp breath of chilling afternoon air. “If the Grand Circle has decided that the Order of Lanterns isn’t necessary any more than what precisely would a bunch of oracles be worth? If you’re looking perform auguries for the rich and powerful back home, I’m afraid that Master Gwain and his ilk have that market cornered.”

“No, nothing as base as that.” Brault kept his eyes focused on the horizon as if he were looking across the entire world-plane to take in the decadent majesty of his old home. “As I said, we are entering a new age of illumination. The Grand Circle has realized that the common folk don’t have the fortitude and strength of spirit to keep away from their destructive desires. Tribes are warring with each other and society is crumbling. Enlightened leaders must show the ways of virtue and social reform to the masses. We will be creating a new order to help this grand vision.” Brault turned his eyes once more to Leiros while puffing his chest up with air. “With our powers of telepathy, we will be able to find the truly weak of heart and purge them from our society. We will be able to advise the Grand Circle to the betterment of all. We will be the arbiters of purity.”

“Somehow I have a feeling that you won’t be purging the weak of heart, but rather the poor, the desperate, and those that don’t agree with your new order.” Leiros took a backward step away from the overzealous young man. The visions Brault exalted in were like a glimpse into a nightmare vision of the world that made Leiros’ skin crawl. Another law of Vhaltenesh was being broken if this malignant future was to come to pass.

Leiros turned his head to take in Celeste and her hounds standing to his left. Celeste busied herself with whatever was beneath the nails of her right hand as several of her hounds whispered amongst themselves. A young woman wanting to be the next Grandmaster of the Authrakallin Order while also being the heir of a distant land. The absurdity of her ego was appalling.

With another turn of his head, he looked over to Brault on his right. A young man filled with a notion of a utopia that stripped the free will from all others in the lands of the Hoelatha. An idealistic fool who had never actually suffered or seen hardship in his life, wanting to purge away the lives of those he had never met. Willing to throw those lives upon the sacrificial pyre of a short-changed future where only the rich and powerful would have the freedom of thought or ability to follow their soul’s purpose in a dying world.

“Well, you’ve both made your objections to me as your teacher and the time I have forced you to spend before your Authvokan.” Leiros crossed his arms and turned to his side. “Still, you’ve had some time with me to state who you are and what your ambitions are for the future. If you won’t object further, I would like to offer the rest of the initiates here the same courtesy.”

Celeste’s eyes opened wide as she began to suck in air to protest. Several of her hounds began to bay and circle her, picking up on their master’s emotion. Brault reached out a hand to tap lightly on Celeste’s wrist. Without speaking he looked into her eyes and then shook his head. He turned back to Leiros and opened his mouth for a moment.

“I don’t see the problem in getting acquainted with the other students.” Brault was obviously feeling generous as he gave permission to a man seven years his senior. “Understand, that I have sent my servant to retrieve another Master to replace you. You getting to know the other students may be a waste of your and their time, but we are all stuck here until that Master arrives.” Brault lifted an arm limply to wave his wrist to dismiss Leiros.

Leiros couldn’t contain another snarl as he openly turned his back on the five students. He gave a quick glance over to brother Telomai who seemed preoccupied with scuffing his leather boot against the chalky ground beneath him. With a few steps, which felt like traversing the entire world-plane’s breadth to get away from the corruption he felt in those initiates presence, Leiros walked over to the others to begin his introductions.

* * *

Qathalla beat its wings against an updraft and pushed into a stream of air nearing a group of other authrocs milling and sweeping around in the clouds. Leiros let himself lean back to look over the great bird’s neck. A scant mist was developing high in the atmosphere which would soon turn to rain. Huge thunderheads built up above the gathered authrocs, sweeping across and drowning out most of the twin sun’s light.

Leiros looked to brother Hestras on his immense and aging mount. The old brother rode the back of his authroc like he would a horse, and his hands held leather reins slackly like his flying bird was nothing more than prancing pony. He looked up at Leiros and despite the distance and speed as he flew by, Leiros could almost swear that he saw the old man smile. To someone as dour as Hestras, a smile would be the lifting of his lips a hair’s width, but it was enough to signal to Leiros that everything was alright.

Hestras had taken half of the students to the eastern side of the mesas and watched over them carefully. Most of the initiates he watched over were female; mostly Celeste, her hounds, and one other. The only male student he watched over was the quietest of the group who wouldn’t be a bother at all. The older brother watched them closely, like a broden-mother surveying her children.

Leiros lifted his arm to give a wave to Hestras, he waved back and then let his arm fall to waiver at his flank. He was signaling to Leiros that all was okay, and he didn’t need him to watch over the group. Hestras looked once more from his periphery and then focused completely on the students flying around in front of him.

Leiros was surprised that Celeste was actually following the rules for the Authvokan. She was challenging the quiet male student, Hueshanth, a towering young man. Both seemed to be equally matched in their skill, relying on the power their authrocs provided them, without forcing their will to harshly on their mount. Hueshanth was too fond of defensive tactics and seemed to enjoy kiting Celeste. Celeste was very offensive and often had a hard time pulling out from dives with her great bird. Still, they were learning and only just in the beginnings of their test.

The three hounds weren’t as skilled, and one that was paired up with a young woman who wasn’t part of Celeste’s retinue was easily trouncing her partner. Seeing the hounds flailing brought a dark smile to Leiros’ face as he flew by. He noticed one of the young women pulling the reins too hard on her authroc, but as soon as he was going to call it out, brother Hestras swept by and dealt with it. No words were spoken, as Hestras used his telepathy rather forcefully.

Leiros wasn’t needed over here, so he leaned back into Qathalla’s back and gave a pat on the great bird’s neck. With a sweep of its immense wings, they dropped into a dive and bent westward to the other group. So far, the initiates had promise, even if some of them had less than savory origins. Just a few more hours of these challenges and Leiros could get back to his studies, hopefully before the storm hit.

* * *

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Next Section
III: Thrown from the Nest (Shard IV)

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