The shimmering, crystalline brilliance that was Guardian Mountain engulfed Fal, pulling him into a vortex of energy that was irresistible, and with him, his Contracted, Tim.
It dragged him deep within the light of Guardian Mountain on the Pathways. Yet, at the same time, he was aware of Guardian Cavern all around. He looked down at himself and saw the sheerest reflection of his body, a transparent wavering ghost of a Guardian, like looking at himself through a smoke-filled haze. It was like nothing he had ever experienced.
He did not want to be in Guardian Cavern. Almost, he thought himself right out of there, when a tingling shivered through him, gradually increasing in intensity. It held him there, bound him with ecstasy.
His Contracted, Tim, stood beside him. Etheric eyes large against his shadowed face, as he stared about himself. Fal felt a mixture of terror and awe assaulting him. It came from his boy, and from his own heart.
Fal looked up to see that he and Tim stood in the center of a circle of Guardian’s and Contracted. He saw Ell, her neck curved about her Contracted’s shoulders. She was staring at him with golden eyes opened wide, mirrored by the same startled look in the eyes of her Contracted. He was relieved to see that Ell looked strong, completely healed.
He saw his dame, Gran Bryl and her Contracted, Bryllint, standing beside Ell. His heart filled with love the like of which he hadn’t felt since he was a hatchling, but treading upon the tail of that love was terrible shame. He saw the other Guardians and Contracted looking up, looking at him.
The shimmering walls of the cavern behind them resolved into myriad flyer folk, as a loud, rhythmic clattering began. Then a deep humming filled the cavern with the energy of joy. The Guardians were toning, singing in harmony. He heard a sweet voice rising above, and looked to see Ell’s Contracted, eyes closed now, her face lifted, a beautiful descant rising from her throat. Then the voices of the other Contracted joined. The toning intensified, the energy swirling about him, lifting him, forcing him.
Fal wasn’t ready for that beauty, but he could not help but join in. The song of the Ritual of the One flowed into him, and then it ripped and tore out of him. The sound he made was anything but beautiful. It growled through him straight from his gut, shredding the frozen places inside where his grief and shame burrowed. It burned through him with its heat, shattering his heart, scorching his soul. And it continued, on and on. He thought that surely, he would die, he was dying. He was fragmented into so many pieces that he could never be pulled back together.
Then he heard his Contracted, his boy, Tim. His mellow, soothing voice, cooling Fal. Fal leaned his shattered self into that voice. It flowed around him, easing him, cooling the terrible, scorching heat. The dulcet tones of his Contracted pulled the shattered pieces of Fal’s heart together and bound them with his steady love.
Fal felt himself then within Tim’s mind. No, Faltim’s mind. The words of the Ritual flowed into Fal and he knew that they, he and his Contracted, were One. He was whole at last.
He saw his other self step forward and say, “I am Faltim, Voice and Hands. We are One.”
Faltim’s hazy figure grew suddenly opaque. No longer was his form etheric and ghostly. Faltim stood solidly beside him.
As Fal realized this he was assaulted by the moist, cool air of the cavern and the familiar metallic scent of greystone, the spice and flowers of the Guardians all around him, even his own weight bearing him down into the rough gravel of the cavern floor. It was almost too much for him to take in all at once, but a minute passed and he adjusted.
He looked down and saw himself solidly present there in Guardian Cavern. He looked around at the Guardians and Contracted who surrounded him and felt all parts of himself there with them in Guardian Cavern. He realized then, that he was fully committed in service to the One.
A renewed burning sensation began deep in his gut. Yet this time, it filled him with excitement, joy and terrible longing. It flowed, hot lava up through his throat and out between his jaws. The flames roared up out of him, reaching up, all the way to the ceiling of Guardian Cavern high above them.
He felt rather than saw Ell lift her own jaws to the ceiling and roar out an accompanying flame. Then it cascaded around the circle, one Guardian after another lifting jaws high and flaming. Their Contracteds stood before them, spreading arms wide, faces lifted in ecstasy, singing, roaring out a tumultuous song of triumph and victory.
Fal, closed his jaws, the flames receding back into his body though the power was in him still. He felt it burst out through his skin, white hot light outlining every ridge and scale. It was searingly hot without any sensation of burning. As he looked about the circle, he saw Guardian jaws still lifted to the ceiling, but no longer enflamed. Brilliant light shone from each Guardian’s body, their Contracteds surrounded in a nimbus of their own bright light. The shining intensity cascaded upward, filling the cavern with incandescent brilliance.
He watched, entranced as the golden-white light formed into strands which gradually became a great web overlaying the cavern. Fal realized that these were the Pathways of the One, formed from their own inner light. He felt each of the other Guardians and their Contracted, and knew that they too felt him. Then he felt so much more, all of the humans, the creatures, the trees and the very stones of the planet. The awareness expanded ever outward, encompassing All.
So astounded was he that he was almost unaware of the deep answering thrum of the Mother Planet, vibrating through the great web. He felt her then, Gaea. He felt her pleasure at his awareness and her acceptance of his service, as if she stood before him, arms open wide. He felt her shake off the dark shroud, like a Guardian sheds its first skin. Then Fal, still reeling from his shattered and mended heart, allowed himself to accept her immense gratitude and love as it surrounded and enfolded him.
Deep within the primordial fires at the heart of Gaea, the Mother Planet knew the expansive relaxation that signaled the Balance, and Gaea finally rested.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5
Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27
Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34
Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41
Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45 Chapter 46 Chapter 47 Chapter 48
Chapter 49 Chapter 50 Chapter 51 Chapter 52 Chapter 53
Chapter 54 Chapter 55 Chapter 56 Chapter 57
Fal, known to those unlucky few as, the Fallen, rested easily on the rocky ledge in his cave hidden deep within the foothills of Guardian Mountain. His crystalline cave was a small version of Gran Bryl’s own. He had chosen it for this reason, to focus him upon his goal.
His long neck arched gracefully, shining emerald and sapphire as he moved in the fingers of sun stretching into the cave, and relaxed his powerful jaws on his chest.
He had just eaten, a fine, grass-fattened cud-chewer, he hunted that morning.
The foolish beast ran, he thought, as if it had a chance. It did not willingly give itself as is my due. He had enjoyed the chase though, prolonging it a bit. After all that was really the point wasn’t it?
It wasn’t as if he needed to consume meat. Though he was still young, the crystal frequency, even at the base of Guardian Mountain, was enough to sustain him. Still, he did enjoy a good chase, and the kill.
He wrapped his elegant, gleamingly scaled tail around massive foreclaws, licked clean of any sign of his morning’s entertainment. Then he settled himself upright on haunches, such a deep green they were almost black.
Closing golden, round pupiled eyes he sank deep into the blackness behind his eyelids, searching. He wouldn’t be here long. The voices were too strong here.
Opening his mental eyes, he noted that he no longer saw the accursed light of the web. That One-blasted Unity, he thought. He had left that behind when he chose to pursue his own plans. His thoughts scattered back to well-worn pathways. I will never bind myself to the web of the One like those weakling Guardians. I will never undergo the Ritual of the One, nor will my Contracted. I will create my own Ritual of Power when I am Elder!
And the voices began.
By what right does Gran Bryl continue to be Eldress? She wastes her power. You have the blood! You are of the Chosen! But we forget, you are only a pathetic worm, a cowardly lizard. There is no power in you, only weakness. We waste our time.
Anger surged through him. Great claws ripped at the rocky ground beneath him. The grating of claw on stone jolted him to full wakefulness.
I will be Elder, he promised, and this world will know my power!
The Fallen vented his anger with a series of loud, grating roars, head thrown back, teeth bared, black-edged wings lifting, mantling. The flapping lifted him backwards, out of the sunlight, back into the thick darkness in the depth of his cave.
The power of the display was most satisfying.
He settled himself once more, shaking out his wings and folding them to his sides, and willed himself back down into the inky depths to find the one he sought.
He allowed himself to sink deeper and deeper into the void. Pathetic worm. Cowardly lizard. He ignored the voices.
A slash of brilliant light to his left momentarily blinded him. He knew this was Guardian Mountain, and that accursed Gran Eldress, and turned his attention quickly away from it.
Other lights sparkled in the darkness. He bypassed them, floating onward until he was distracted by one particular, small light. A light he had been keeping track of for several changes now. The light was turning a satisfactory shade of grey, muddy at the edges, but still a clear aqua toward the center. This small one will be of use to me, he thought with satisfaction.
We’ll meet soon boy, he promised.
Again, the voices. No power, only weakness, weakness… He shrugged them off, and cast his mind’s eye out looking further.
Finally, drifting further into the darkness, he found that which he sought, a cobalt-blue blaze of light. Ah, the Guardian, Ell. She awakens to her Self, but she is a mere hatchling. My Wufn, will have her by the time she grows to her second skin.
He felt that familiar sense of possessiveness and delicious control that came to him whenever he thought of his Contracted now. Not like it used to be, he thought, back when I was a weak hatchling, so dependent upon his unthinking cruelty.
The anger that thought engendered brought him fully alert. He never lasted long in the void, too many distracting thoughts. Too many feelings. And then there were the voices. The voices that whispered to him constantly, but especially here in this dark place.
Enough! He thought and returned to more satisfying musings. Wufn taught me well, but now he is the learner. Now he knows what fear is. He felt the spines raising along the ridges at the crest of his head, his wings lifting and spreading as the desire for power filled him.
I will have Ell. I will have the control! There will be no coming together into some One blasted Unity, he thought with satisfaction. All will know the strength of my will, my power!
The Fallen roared with the intensity of emotion and gave his wings a flapping surge of strength, hind claws squeezing, crushing the rubble beneath him.
Then, pleased with himself, he relaxed and mind-thought, Wufn, I have need of you.
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