This tale was written originally to describe a journey to my tower on Fexil Plateau, on the world of Haklair. It is from the point of view of a new apprentice travelling via Chemmer's Ascent, the magical water-lift, then south through the forests that cover the northern half of the plateau. It includes a synopsis of other adventures I have been involved in as told by a hakala to the apprentice travelling.
It was dawn when my caravan reached the top of the great water-stair that is Chemmer’s Ascent. We had been lucky enough to only need wait a week before the queue for the circular lift-platform in the centre was cleared. It was wet, of course, but the ancient charms Chemmer worked into the natural waterfall held strong, and nobody slipped. The oxen harnessed to the wagons containing my merchant companions’ wares shied a couple of times, but most of the people here have ridden the water-lift before, and know it will not hurt them.
The disc of liquid beneath our feet was surprisingly fast. The size of the mountain (immense) meant it did take rather a while, but considering we set of at dinnertime the night before, dawn was a remarkable time to arrive. We didn’t even get soaked when we lay down on the kindly provided pallets to sleep. Even I must admire the skill of the goddess’s first apprentice and disciple.
By noon we had reached the northern centre of trade on the peak, Clifftop Village, although it is now a rather large city, in fact. There, several of the merchants travelling alongside me bought luck-charms. The bestsellers at the moment are tiny scraps of carved wood and wisps of bone enchanted with powerful spells and named ‘Fortune’s Favours’. According to my companions, they provide luck in sales.
That night we slept in a middling inn near the small western square. It was noisy and smelled faintly of cheese, but a decent bed with no biting insects, in a private room. The next morning we broke our fast early, perhaps seven in the morning, before gathering our belongings and setting off. I had spent the previous evening exploring the delights of the city with the travel-money I had been given by my new mistress, before a long and deeply luxurious bath in the white-tiled bathhouse. After the hard journey through the harshness of the wilds, it was much welcome!
We travelled much faster now, over smooth paved roads, and spent several days under the dark and cold of the forbidding firs that made up Mistdaemon Forest. Late on the second day we passed the landing stage on the small lake. From there, I’m told; you can follow the river northeast to the snows around Northspring, and view the fabled form and diamond vines of the Crystal of the Snow Queen.
We never entered the fog-filled hollows beneath the trees, but for two days, dawn to dusk, we heard what can only be described as an agonised screaming. The leader of our caravan, an elderly hakala by the name of Ethor, told me the tale at dinner on the first day of this.
‘Once,’ he said, ‘our own esteemed goddess travelled many worlds and gave freely aid to those who most required it in her quest to bring balance to the multiverse. On one of these planets, a magical place called Aia; she spent many years in service to the local goddess, with her permission of course, helping various people against dangers of the worst kinds. She still returns, from what I hear.
‘Anyway, Sarunara first worked with a young girl from a village on what was then their western isle – she was named Rhen. While working from Rhen, she encountered many allies of many types. Among these were two who would be of importance again. They were a vampress adventurer called Te’ijal and a paladin named Galahad, who spent the time in banter, despising each other on principle. Eventually, Rhen, now knowing her identity as Rhen Pendragon, heir to the throne of Thais, completed the task set for her.
‘She also met her father Devin, who had earlier defeated the same demon she trapped in the Sword of Shadows, and Talia Maurva, then the Dreamer. Most importantly, she met Talia’s son – Dameon Maurva. At first, although she did not know it, he was a traitor in league with the daeva Ahriman, but later the two came to love each other, and when Rhen claimed her birthright, they were married. He gave up his immortality and position as Sun Priest for his love.
‘Next, a few hundred years later, the Silver Hakala once more took up the fate of Aia. She guided Ean and Iya, two elves from Elfwood on the floating continent, retrieving Iya’s soul which had been stolen by the possessed nymph of compassion, in the guise of the Snow Queen. If you hadn’t guessed, the crystal contains the entity that possessed her. In the Underworld, at a town called Casket Hill containing the palace of the Lord of Souls, or Timothy, she saw with Ean’s eyes her two friends from that previous adventure, Te’ijal and Galahad.
‘Galahad related in brief to Ean what had happened. Unknowingly, over the course of their quest together, despite overwhelming differences, Te’ijal, the vampress, had fallen in love with him. After the quest had been completed and Sarunara departed, she had tricked him into accepting a blooding, and then, to top it all, married him. It put a holy knight in a right situation, turned and married to a vampire!
‘That was not the last she saw of them either. We’re coming to the important bit here. Her latest quest, we’ve been told, is rather longer than those undertaken previously. The Silver Hakala resides in the mind of a street thief turned spy, by the name of Mel. Mel is of the family of a sorcerer, an evil man known as Mordred Darkthrop. He created four Orbs, opposing, of Light, Darkness, Life and Death.
‘Now, this bit is over, they’ve already done the legwork, but a vampire called Gyendal, who happens to be the brother of her friend of three centuries, Te’ijal, planned to steal the Orb of Darkness from the old Darkthrop Keep, and tricked Mel into doing it. Sarunara was outraged, and to cut a very long story short, found, with help, a way to Naylith and the Orb of Light, to combat him. Unfortunately, one of her party, the Naylithian guardian of that Orb, Stella, whose wings (they have butterfly ones) had been ripped off by Gyendal, had been enchanted to break the priceless relic. So they went to the Oracle at the holy isle of Aveyond, and she told them about the other set, Life and Death, and that Life was hidden in, of all places, the Underworld.
‘Mel was kidnapped, and the company rushed down, using the carelessly dropped death certificate belonging to Gyendal, to save her and find the Orb. They came across it past the vampire city of Ghed’ahre, moved there after the destruction of the Halloween Hills, in a cavern in the Cliffs of Remembrance, where Sarunara had gone with Ean and Iya before to retrieve Timothy’s memory of his mother.
‘Overpowering two vampiric thugs guarding Mel, they rescued her and practically flew back to the cave, ready to activate the Orb. When they got there, Lydia, a destructive noble mage, tried, but her magic was not of the healing sort, and so failed. By then it was too late to try again. Gyendal had been spying through Stella, and followed them in. He activated the spells that wove Stella’s free will to his, and a battle ensued, in which Gyendal was defeated, but revived by his unwilling slave. Then, a new strategy was tried.
‘Stella winked at Mel, with difficulty. Her healing magic was added to Mel’s touch on the Orb of Life, and a great flash heralded victory. When the blindness wore off, the group saw Stella, lying dead on the floor, her life force given away. Nearby, Gyendal was sprawled, unconscious, and very much alive, truly. On the other side of the chamber, two more undead were restored to life. Galahad was delighted, but quickly turned to his wife as she lay, terrified, next to him. She babbled about being blind, her vampire senses dulled in her newfound humanity.
‘Back in Thais, the next day. Gyendal woke before the twin thrones of the Pendragons, a tradition begun by Rhen many years before. Within minutes, without his vampire strength, a silver bracelet, (in truth enchanted by our own Silver Hakala) was placed upon him to prevent the working of sorcery. With that, the foe who had sought to plunge the world into darkness was defeated and imprisoned.
‘That was what they knew. Before that moment, just as the guards led him away, Sarunara froze time, and strode in full aspect into the hall, weaving a complex spell of separation. Smoothly, Gyendal’s mind detached from his body. It was still that of a vampire, so in revenge, and for his crimes, she installed him in a form of her making, inside the top of a high tower, in the depths of Mistdaemon Forest. That is who screams in the tower, as the sunlight hits his enchanted skin.
‘And he will, until the sister he attempted to murder by the same method considers he has been punished enough. By that particular action, all he truly achieved was to bring her and her husband closer together, as Galahad realized her vampirism was not important to their love. Until she says the words, he will suffer every day, and time there will stand still. Somehow, I think he’s in for a bad time.’
He chuckled then. I was repulsed. I understood it; truly I did, but why? The next morning I tried blocking my ears, but the screams and sobs echoed down from the heights and through the cork I used, and in my empathy I shared in the sufferings of the sun-struck Gyendal.
We travelled on, however, and presently the screams no longer pierced my eardrums from sunrise to sunset. Soon after, we left the fog-carpeted ground of Mistdaemon Forest, and entered the fertile farmlands that made up the southern half of Fexil Plateau. I glimpsed, and then saw, my destination, soaring to the heavens, Tor Sarunara.
We passed isolated farmsteads and road-inns, turning onto the road that ran beside the Mei River from Lake Kea. I asked about the much smaller stand of conifers, Aran Wood, and the rumoured place within, Meidun Cavern, but got no coherent reply. The subject appeared to be taboo, with the cave being restricted to only those servants of the goddess deemed trustworthy enough of entry. Just south of there was Pallias Hill, with the old ruins of Erin Tor. Ethor told me the story of Pallias and Merric, how they warred to build a hill worthy of their beloved Erin’s tower. Pallias won because he realized the location she desired – watching over Aran Wood (and Meidun Cavern). Maybe one day I’ll walk among those tumbled stones, and follow the river into Meidun Cavern on my mistress’s errands.
After three days’ travel along the Mei River, we reached the north bank of Lake Kea, and I saw out on the waters the fishing sloops that harvested rich catches from the depths of the lake – rare and delicious fish and freshwater mussels, found only on this high plateau. We were very close to the town of Seven-Step Cross now, but the road continued in its long loop southwards, around the swaying fields of golden wheat and green vegetables, practically glowing with health. Disease never touched here, and come to think of it, neither did storms. We’d only had a few drizzly, wet days since I’d arrived. We had passed the turn-off to Dundill Village, the old mining town, and then the more defined track past the Kea Quays and on up the cliffs and Seri Falls, eventually coming to the Southspring, famed for its gorgeous view and soothing hot springs, more a tourists’ spa town now than a Fexil Plateau village.
Now we circled west, glimpsing in the distance the wild pigs of Bor Heights, and heading towards the dairy and wool farms further north again. Meat wasn’t much in demand here, but I suppose some was produced too, especially on Bor Heights. My sense of anticipation was half-killing me, approaching the tower of one of the three gods of Haklair, invited, no less!
The town was so noisy, after the quiet of the countryside. My merchant companions had seemed loud, but here was so alive. As they headed off to the central market square, past the charm-producers’ district, I bade Ethor farewell, and went north, hugging the edge of the town, moving from the main settlement with its soft sandstone buildings into the noble area around the tower itself, the softness giving way to expensively transported marble, mainly carved into wizardly shapes and symbols or erected as towers, a few of which were original disciple towers. At last I stood in the courtyard of Tor Sarunara, smelling the Hounds’ barrack-kennels and seeing the moving Shadowguards. I gripped my pass-amulet in fear of their reputation, before turning my attention back to the Tor itself. It was sure as anything imposing enough to belong to a goddess.
I knocked on the huge, ancient oak doors, and they opened. With that, my journey was complete. All the work I had put into passing the magician’s exam, into being noticed by the Silver Hakala herself, had paid off. I was skilled and intelligent enough to enter the ultimate sorcerous service, in becoming an apprentice and disciple of Sarunara. I would quite literally live forever, among legendary names such as Chemmer, Erin, Firveer and Sicne. I knew I could do it. And I would.