Transcendent, The Kacy Chronicles Book 4
By A.L. Knorr & Martha Carr
Transcendent, Chapter Three (unedited)
“We take the cylinder with the blood we’ve extracted, like so,” Kehko demonstrated by dislodging the little glass reservoir from the needle, displaying it so Eohne could see it. “Then we put the blood in here.” Kehko brought the cylinder near to the dashboard inside the dome and a small orifice opened to accept the blood. “That’s it.”
“That can’t be it.” Eohne stared at the tired looking Nycht with a puzzled expression. “Where, when, how does the magic barrier kick in?”
Kehko shrugged. “You’re asking the wrong person. Strix don’t have magic, that’s why we make deals with Light Elves. I assume the magic resides inside this.” She lay her hand on the simple gray dome, which looked as mundane as a boulder.
“Can you open it?” Eohne examined the dome for cracks but other than the small sliding door, there were none.
“It doesn’t open.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well I’ve never tried, but I’ve never had reason to.”
Eohne was now on her hands and knees, face close to the floor.
Kheko bent over to peer at the Elf. “What are you doing?”
“Does it go past the floor or is this where it stops?”
Kehko let out a sigh. “I don’t know, Eohne.”
The Elf got up and dusted her hands and knees off, frowning. Eohne had made the journey to one of the domes to see Kehko, the only border guard she knew. She’d had high hopes that a Nycht who worked at the border would be able to explain how it worked. So far, Eohne had been sorely disappointed.
“Why do you think the harpies were able to get through the barrier, but it is business as usual for everyone else?”
“It has to be the Light Elves.” Kehko spoke with certainty, slashing a confident hand through the air. “No one else has the ability to do such a thing. Think about it. In order for all of those harpies to get through the barrier, someone would have to go extract blood from each of them and then sneak it into the system. It’s a preposterous idea. Impossible. No one in their right mind would even attempt it. But Light Elves have astounding magic, this kind of trick would be easy for them.”
“Why would they do such a thing? What do they have to gain?”
Kehko looked stumped. “Who knows what is going on up at the palace. That’s where you should be poking your nose around, not down here. Border guards are at the bottom of the food-chain. If you ask me, you’re looking in the wrong place and talking to the wrong people.” Kehko leaned against the dome and examined her fingernails casually as Eohne continued to examine the dome. “Hey, have you seen much of Toth lately?” the Nycht kept her voice casual but her interest was still obvious.
Eohne kept her eyes on the dome’s fixtures and her expression composed. “Here and there. Why?”
“No reason.” Kehko’s cheeks acquired a girlish flush. “Just wondering.”
“You know,” Eohne came around to stand beside Kehko, “if you want to spend time with him, the best way to do that would be to join his combatants. It would get you out of this border control job you dislike so much. You’d be able to fly a lot more. You strike me as a woman who likes to be free.”
Kehko looked down at her booted feet. “I could never be a warrior. I’m not strong.”
“Don’t say that. Jordan didn’t know anything about combat a few months ago and she’s become one of Toth’s best students.”
The Nycht snorted with derision. “The blonde Arpak? Please. She’s a simpering fool around him.” She eyed the Elf suspiciously. “They’re not together are they?”
Eohne shook her head. “She’s with Sol.”
Kehko’s brows elevated. “The pretty one with the muscles and the bright blue eyes?” She smiled wolfishly. “Good. They deserve one another.”
Eohne turned her back on Kehko in a mock display of examining the scrolls in the shelving at the back of the dome. The Elf rolled her eyes. Yes, prejudice ran deep in Rodania, but it ran in both directions.
“Do the cylinders come back out again?”
“After you put the blood into the system, do the vials come back out?”
“Oh. Yes. I mean, I think so.” Kehko gestured to a small box which she pulled back to reveal was full of clean cylinders. “This box is never empty. We just take a fresh one from here whenever we need it.”
Eohne peered into the box. “May I?”
She pulled a cylinder out and examined it. She hefted it in her hand and closed her eyes, tuning in to the natural resonance of the glass. It was pure. She couldn’t detect any biological matter which might have previously come into contact with it.
The sliding door of the dome hummed and Eohne turned to see two figures enter the dome.
“An Elf!” The words were sung and infused with genuine delight.
Eohne found herself under intense scrutiny by a tall slender Light Elf man. He beamed at her with crystal green eyes. He had waist-length wheat-blonde hair tied half-back and threaded with braids. His fine-boned face was dusted with brown markings, like freckles only shaped like dashes and running from ear to ear. He was as slender as a drinking straw with long elegant hands and fingers. Those same brown markings ran over the backs of his hands, growing more dense where they disappeared under his sleeves. He wore a white linen knee-length tunic, open at the throat. What started as pale skin at his forehead had shifted to tan by the time it vanished under his tunic. His overall presence was striking and ethereal, but his expression was ageless and guileless. He towered over Eohne by a full head, but couldn’t have weighed much more than her.
“An Elf yourself,” said Eohne, taking a step back from the stranger’s penetrating gaze.
“You must be from Charra-Rae! Is it true?” He seemed to remember himself. “Forgive me. My name is Linlett.” He pressed a long-fingered hand over his heart, digits splaying out like a big flower. “What is your name, you glorious creature, and to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Eohne blinked at this, disarmed. No one had ever called her a ‘glorious creature’ before.
“I didn’t expect to find you here, Eohne,” said the Arpak behind Linlett.
At the sound of her name, Eohne finally tore her eyes from the magnetic Light-Elf man long enough to realize that his companion was Balroc, the Councilman.
“Balroc! Nice to see you again. I was just hoping to be useful.”
Balroc grunted and gave her an appreciative nod. “We can use all the help we can get,” he grumbled. “We’ve gotten no where so far.”
Kehko was eyeing Linlett dubiously. “She’s here trying to figure out how the harpies got past the magic barrier.”
Linlett took a large inhale, his face expanding with understanding. “That’s why I am here too,” he sang. “How wonderful.” His luminous green eyes never left Eohne’s face. They roamed the landscape of her features hungrily.
“You’re the Councilman who convinced Toth to start the military,” Kehko blurted.
“The very same.” Balroc smiled. “Tell us, what have you learned thus far?”
Eohne wouldn’t have given any intel away to people she’d just met, but the Elf didn’t have to lie. “Nothing. I’m just getting started.”
“Are you a magician?” Linlett’s eyes roamed her frame, taking in the interesting tools fastened to her belt, and the scythe-like blades fastened to her back.
“More of an inventor. Charra-Rae magic is based on frequency, it’s a hybrid of science and supernatural.”
“Marvelous,” breathed Linlett. “The Elves of Charra-Rae have evolved an entirely different kind of magic from our own,” he told Balroc. “Before Rahzdon, we were one and the same people, but after Firohne sabotaged King Keeriak, the Prophets gave him the forests of Charra-Rae as a reward. His descendants have lived there ever since.” He beamed at Eohne. “Their methods are completely unique in the world of magic.”
Eohne was shocked to the heels of her boots. “You know our history? You know who Firohne was?”
“Of course!” Linlett looked affronted, then waggled his head as if to admit he needed to amend. “I shouldn’t say it like that. Most Light Elves do not make a point of studying the Charra-Rae magic. They find it inferior.”
This was more in line with what Eohne understood to be true as well.
Linlett shook his head and made a single tsk sound, jerking his head once to the side. The movement was so expressive of his thoughts that he didn’t need to expand further, but the accompanying words clarified his position to the room. “It is foolish to assume a magic is ancillary just because you don’t understand it.”
“You are more open-minded than most of your kind,” Eohne murmured, now looking at the Light Elf with almost as much curiosity as he had displayed for her.
“It is to their loss and discredit,” Linlett added, his voice oscillating lyrically. “You have no idea how delighted I am to make your acquaintance.”
Eohne’s gut reaction to the adoration and enthusiasm of a stranger was normally suspicion. But the keen and intelligent eyes seemed so genuinely charmed that she found herself on the edge of a blush.
Balroc was watching this exchange with interest. Kehko was yawning and fiddling with the leather straps tying her vest together.
“How is it that you are still in Rodania, Eohne?” Balroc asked. “I thought nothing could keep the Elves of Charra-Rae from their wilderness home for very long.”
“I was preparing to go back, but I thought perhaps I could help get to the heart of how the magic failed.” Eohne shifted from one foot to another, painfully conscious of Linlett’s attentive stare. “I have friends here. I don’t want to leave without ensuring they are safe.”
“The magic can’t fail.” Linlett spoke matter-of-factly, holding up a long index finger.
“I beg to differ,” Balroc said with a chuckle. “The harpies were not figments of our imagination. Lost lives not withstanding, commerce in Rodania has slowed to a crawl. The infrastructure of dozens of villages has been heavily damaged. We cannot have such a disaster occur again. We simply will not survive it. The Council is divided about how to proceed, and I fear someone will behave rashly and cause a disagreement between Rodania and the Light Elves.” Balroc glowered. “We cannot have that either.”
Linlett was nodding. “Obviously something has gone wrong. But I was briefed before I left our Kingdom. The magical engineering of the Rodanian border is invulnerable. There is something else going on here.”
“Sabotage,” said Balroc bluntly.
Linlett agreed with this possibility with another waggle of his head.
Kehko was nodding too. She crossed her arms and regarded the Light Elf through half-closed lids, like she’d already decided he had something to do with it.
“Who could have pulled off such a feat?” Eohne posed the question to the group.
“That’s what I’m here to figure out,” Linlett’s bright gaze fell on Eohne again. “I propose we pool our resources.” He rubbed his hands together. “If you’re amenable, of course.”
“I am,” Eohne replied, somewhat dazedly. Learning more about Light Elf magic had been one of Eohne’s life-long goals. Thus far, there had never been anyone in her life to show her the magic of light, and Sohne had forbidden it.
“Excellent. That’s settled then,” Balroc turned to Kehko. “We’ll be shutting down your dome temporarily, young Miss. Consider yourself on leave, with pay of course.” He swept Kehko toward the door.
“But,” Kehko threw a glance over her shoulder at Eohne, unhappy to be leaving her dome in the hands of the potential enemy.
Eohne gave her a look of reassurance. “It’s alright, Kehko. I’ll be here.”
The young Nycht was sent on her way.
Balroc excused himself, leaving Linlett and Eohne alone in the dome to begin their work. The door slid shut, muting the sound of the Rodanian Sea and the cries of seabirds.
Eohne watched as Linlett approached the dashboard. “I’ve been wondering how to…” she began.
Linlett moved his hands in an elegant dance, fingers flicking outward in a symbolic inflection. There was a sound like steam blowing from a kettle.
“Open that,” Eohne finished, watching with fascination as the dome lifted away from the floor and hovered there. A bright light emanated from the crack beneath it, beaming outward in all directions. The light flickered and danced with all the colors of the rainbow. Eohne looked down at her own booted feet and discovered that they were completely invisible in the prismatic glare. “Wow,” she breathed.
Linlett had his palms together and was rubbing as if to warm them. “This magic was developed long before I was born by a company of brilliant elders. I have always wanted to see how it worked. The Light Elves have never engineered anything like it for any other species on Oriceran. It is completely unique.” He gave Eohne a warm smile. “So you see, Rodania is special to us. We would never do anything to harm her.”
“Then lets figure out who would,” the Elf countered.
“Indeed.” Linlett lifted his hands and held them poised in the air, preparing to proceed. “Are you ready for this?”
Eohne nodded, not sure what to expect but eager to begin.
“What you’ll see will only be visible to us, so don’t worry about Strix crashing into one another mid-flight, or ships going off course. I assure you, the optics for Rodanian’s citizens will remain unchanged.”
“What?” Eohne cocked her head, confused by this dialogue.
Linlett’s hands danced again and the dashboard lifted further, the light expanding and brightening. The Elf lifted the dashboard aside and let it fall with clang onto the floor.
Eohne’s mouth sagged as she was struck dumb by the beauty of the magic. Suddenly, she understood.
Her eyes filled with the flare of the border’s inner workings as it all became visible. The dome covering them disappeared in the glare. The Rodanian Sea and the horizon beyond vanished from sight.
Slender threads of light in every color of the rainbow shot from the single orb. The orb itself was such a bright light that it could not be looked at directly. The threads numbered in the hundreds of thousands, if not in the millions. The many strands originated from the star and shot outwards toward every other dome around Rodania, creating a network of criss-crossing lines. Threads arced high over Upper Rodania and Eohne could see how every border station was connected to every other one. A network of fine filaments wrapped over Rodania in an exquisite magic web. Rodania itself nearly vanished from view. The land masses became nothing more than blurry blobs, swallowed up by the radiance shooting from the star hovering near the Elves shins. The network was beautiful, mesmerizing, and fully intact.
“Hmmmm,” Linlett made a thoughtful sound as the two Elves took in the glory of the magical barrier, and all its perfection. The two of them appeared as though they were trapped inside a prism; the rainbow of filaments surrounded them and passed harmlessly through their bodies.
“What?” Eohne neck was creaking as she stared upward, her face filled with astonishment. She couldn’t look away from the complex network of magic and the perfect way it bound Rodania in safety. Never before had she seen work of such precision and elegance.
“There are no incomplete threads; no blights, holes, cankers or misconnections. There isn’t a tainted filament anywhere to be seen.” Linlett’s body was bathed in light, the threads penetrating and shooting out the other side.
Eohne’s eyes slowly adjusted and she was able to better make out the blurry-edges of Upper Rodania and Middle Rodania, rendered ghostly by the brightness of the network encasing them. Her eyes fell on Linlett with a new respect for he and his kind. It was going to take no small level of effort to set aside the awe she was feeling and wrestle her inventor’s mind into its usual professional place.
Linlett was frowning at the network, his brow creased with perplexity. He lifted his hands and Eohne saw that both of them were blue-white apparitions, rather than flesh and bone. His fingertips were illuminated and looked like ten small stars. Linlett plucked at one of the threads. It was the color of a sunflower at the height of summer. The filament twanged and snapped back into place. A yellow sparkle appeared in the thread and raced into the sky, following the filament along its length.
Eohne watched the sparkle race from view behind the shadow of Upper Rodania, reappear beneath the island and disappear again behind Middle Rodania before descending like a falling star behind the smudge on the horizon that was Lower Rodania. Eohne laughed with delight and looked at Linlett. She was about to express her joy at being allowed to witness the bones of this magic, but Linlett’s expression stopped her.
“What’s wrong? What are you thinking?” Eohne asked, the growing concern on Linlett’s face triggering her own inner alarm bells.
“I had barely dared hope,” Linlett began, without taking his eyes from the magic barrier and all its complexity, “for some clue to direct us where to look first. Alas, the magic is as I said, intact and perfect. If it is sabotage, it is masterfully done. Possibly by one of our own.” He added this last comment in a quiet tone, as though worried Kheko might be listening and he had just confirmed her worst suspicions.
Eohne’s eyes widened at this admission. Not only the acknowledgement that it could have been a Light Elf responsible, but that he was saying it out loud to her, a stranger. It showed a level of trust which disarmed her further and galvanized her faith in him. “I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you’re wrong.” She wasn’t sure what else to say.
“Me too.” Linlett gazed at his new partner in investigation and let out a breath through pursed lips. “This is going to take longer than I thought.”