Book 1 Chapter 3

“For countless generations, our people lived in family clans that came together in alliances known as the Gatherings. These Gatherings migrated across the Inner Realms, moving with the changing seasons,” the writing stick squeakedas SoYa sketched lines across the stone board, illustrating migration trails over a make-shift map.

Many of the students came from the Gatherings, so this lesson was not unknown to them. However, they remained politely quiet out of respect to their instructor. SoYa learned early on that the children from the Gatherings did not speak as freely as children born within Nefol city.

“The Gatherings were strong forces with many warriors who protected the people from the dangers of the land,” SoYa continued. “But some dangers won’t be turned by a sword. Our ancestors struggled through famine, killing winters and disease. Sometimes clans would fight one another. There was always the risk that the Ghost Clans of the far north would strike out wielding Deep Magics.”

A girl in the front row drew in a sharp breath. Fear of the Ghost Clans was ingrained in the Gatherings from an early age. Even Nefolian children knew the darkness of the Deep Magics and feared the spread of the Bane.

“Still, our people are strong. We are guided by the Patron, Lord Zemi Dreigiau, and protected by his Dragons.” SoYa began to draw on the stone with a sheepish grin, “This scribble here is supposed to be a Dragon. Just remember that I’m a teacher, not an artist.”

Soft laughter met his ears as he turned back towards the class. One white curl of hair escaped the confines of his violet cap, just at the peak of his forehead. His friendly green eyes observed their reactions, working to warm the discussion. They were a group of newcomers to Nefol, and it was his responsibility to introduce them to their new home.

“One day, Lord Zemi decided to take a student, the first ever Myfyriwr, who would become his Champion. This Champion would lead the efforts to establish this city, Nefol, where people would be protected from the winters and never go hungry. Does anyone know the Champion’s name?” SoYa asked.

A brave hand rose from the pool of silence on the far side of the room, “ZenToYa.”

“That’s right,” the teacher nodded in approval.

“Wasn’t he your father?” the brave voice spoke again.

SoYa paused a moment, “Yes. My father was the Dragon’s Champion. But he did not work alone to create this city – his two good friends, JinRai and NaDoTu, helped him. Together the three of them became the Founders of Nefol and brought the teachings of good magics from the Arweinydd.”

Another hand lifted from the middle of the class. SoYa pointed to it, pleased to have a question so early.

“Who are the Arweinydd?” asked a hesitant voice.

The teacher mulled over the question for a moment, tapping his chin, “Well, no one is really certain of exactly what they are. From what we understand, the Arweinydd are star-creatures who don’t originate or dwell in our world. Only one that we know of has shown interest in teaching our people — Lord Zemi Dreigiau.”

“But why would he teach us?”

“I can’t answer that for Lord Zemi. I’d have to ask him,” SoYa responded.

“You’ve talked to him?”

“Sure! Many times. Lord Zemi seems to enjoy speaking with us.”

“Can wetalk to him, too?” asked one of the girls near the front of the room.

“In time, all Apprentices can talk to him at the Host Gate,” SoYa explained slowly, “It’s the only place that we know where his image and words can cross the boundaries into our world.”

He then began to sketch something that resembled a city on the surface of drawing stone.

“Under the Dreigiau’s guidance, we built the first real center of learning and discovered methods of food conservation that allowed us to survive the winters without a migration,” SoYa told them. “Lord Zemi also taught us to tap into the natural power and potential we each hold within us. He gave our people the gift of flame and brought us the knowl-”

The class turned to look as a persistent and heavy-handed knock sounded at the door. SoYa gave a slight scowl, trying to ignore the interruption, but just as he opened his mouth to speak, the knock came again. A soft snicker came from the back of the room as the door opened of its own accord and without the teacher’s welcome.

TsuYa’s head poked bluntly through the doorway. His light green eyes were similar to SoYa’s, except for the lines of sternness that narrowed them tightly. Where the teacher’s face was soft and friendly, the younger man’s mouth was curved down at the corners in a perpetual half-frown. The impatience of his expression spoke volumes without words.

With a gentle sigh, the SoYa turned to the class, “I believe that’s enough for today. We’ll pick up the question and answer session tomorrow.”

The class filed out, gathering books and cloaks, a line of cheerful chatter at being allowed out early. Once the room cleared, the two young men leaned back, watching each other with faces that juggled discontent and concern.

“SoYa…” the other man began, speaking his older brother’s name.

“This had better be good Tsu,” the teacher sighed, massaging his temples. “It’s the third time this week my class has been cut short for one reason or another. First it was the false Nergh attack. Then it was–”

“Yeah. I’ve heard all about your terrible week. Sorry to say, it’s not about to get much better,” TsuYa’s dark frown scowled the importance of the situation.

“What’s going on?”

“AsaHi,” TsuYa’s frown turned grim.

SoYa’s eyes widened at the sound of his Promised’s name, “Did you hear something about her?”

“More than that,” the younger brother leaned forward, voice low. “I found her.”

AsaHi had a tendency to wander and explore — SoYa always knew that. She was, after all, born within the Gatherings and it was the nature of her people to move with the seasons. However, this time, she vanished without a word and left nothing more than the nods of students who confirmed they saw her departure. When days began to pass, SoYa started to worry.

“Found her?” SoYa echoed the words, “Is… is… she okay?”

“I don’t know. She’s asleep… and even Aunt SaRa can’t wake her up,” came the slow answer.

“Where is she?” the Apprentice gathered up his belongings in a muddled rush.

TsuYa suddenly grasped his brother’s shoulders in both hands, giving him a slight shake. “SoYa. I found her inside the Host Gate.”

SoYa froze, “Host Gate?”

“Yes,” the younger brother lowered his eyes for a long moment. “She had pages she copied from the Apprentice Tome with her. I think she tried to summon Lord Zemi.”

“WHAT?” SoYa’s eyes widened. “Are you certain?”

It was a silly question to ask. TsuYa didn’t speak something unless he meant it. His younger brother humored him and nodded curtly.

A low moan escaped from between half parted lips, “Noooo… why?”

“You know why,” the sharpness of the younger man’s eyes cut as he retorted. “She had to find out the truth for herself.”

SoYa’s brow furrowed at his brother’s disdain, then he turned to make his way towards the door.

TsuYa grabbed his brother’s arm a second time, stopping him. Warning was heavy in his voice, “I tried to get her inside the city without anyone seeing. I don’t know how well that worked. If someone finds out what she did, she’ll be in big trouble, SoYa. You know what the Council will do…”

“I…” SoYa felt a heaviness bottoming in the pit of his stomach.

“Maybe it’s best that you don’t get involved in this,” TsuYa’s lips curled back. “You’re pitting yourself up against the whole Council if you do. It’s just what they’d want to pin on you to get you out of the way.”

SoYa’s voice was a low mutter, “What do you expect me to do?”

“Stay out of it. You can’t do anything for her if she drags you down with her,” TsuYa crossed his arms with a huff. “If you defend her, you give the Council a reason to strike at you, son of the High Guide or not.”

“I can’t do that,” SoYa stared at his brother with incredulous exasperation. “She’s my–”

“Promised, I know,” he broke in quickly. “But is losing all of Nefol really worth her? Think about what Father would do!”

“I know what Father would do!” Without a glance back, SoYa rushed out the door, books and papers scattering behind him.

His brother’s glittering eyes traced the white papers as they fluttered to rest on the floor. Then TsuYa’s low sigh filled the room.