48th day of spring 1387 AL
Spring light accentuated the colors and forms of the trees; the hills, mountains, and grass glowed with sad warmth that could only now be seen. It cast shadows across the narrow dirt path that ran like a winding snake along the valley and into the cliffs. Delicate white mushrooms hid amongst the grass and the scent of Tirilel berries and nectar drifted lazily through the leaves. Panting with grim joy at her exertion, a girl ran along the trail and crushed mushrooms, leaves, and twigs alike as she continued on her path. Her little brother followed easily behind her, their ages 13 and 11 respectively. Fraelin, her brother, ran right into her as she suddenly stopped before a tall cliff and overhang. He tugged at the edge of the sleeves of her white blouse, a white only visible at the arms because she also wore a dark black-and-green vest.
"Daryn, what is it, why did we stop?" He followed her gaze and stared at the brushed metal wall built into the cliff's edge, a hidden structure high above the valley and the city of Carnyfur. "What is that?" She motioned for him to be quiet, stepped forward, and placed her hand on the smooth cold surface. At the top of the wall built into the cliff, were letters enameled with fvrecyte: "You called to the seas, you cried to the winds; to save; to kill. All is taken, all is lost; salvation fails, ascendance denied: My lady; declare your name, and close the way. Declare your name."
In the center of the wall at waist height, there was a square with buttons for each Angolian letter, pulsing with a dim light behind each letter. At the bottom of the square were two buttons, one read "enter" and the other "reset".
"Fraelin!" She grasped his shoulders. "Look what we found!"
"What do you think it is?" He scratched his head, ruffling his wavy brown hair, and puzzled the wall with his dark brown eyes as his lips quirked nervously. "Do you think it's dangerous?" His eyes darted over his shoulder nervously as if he suspected they had been followed. "We shouldn't be up here."
"Are you still going on about that? We're already here we might as well enjoy it: I mean look at what we found!" Her fiery green eyes danced with excitement, and her mid-length black hair blew into her face. "This looks like a puzzle, if we can find the answer; we can see what's inside!" She placed her hands on her hips and bit her lips. "But I'm terrible with riddles…"
"Maybe this is a quote form a book." Fraelin surmised. "The writing font is modern; I'd say it looks like Rebuilding New Calligraphic Font."
Daryn nodded as if she naturally followed, her hair cut short as it was bobbed along with the motion. "Then it had to have been built within the hundred years." She paused before the keypad; her hand hovered over its buttons for half a second as she debated with her conscience.
"Wait! Don't press anything!" Fraelin interjected, leaping forward so he could reach around her and grab her hand. "It could be a trap." He glanced up to her and let go of her hand. "We have to be careful, just like when Master Xelden let us dig up bones in the river bed."
"So, we know that it was built recently; but beyond that there are no clues."
"That's true." Fraelin punctuated. "Maybe we can ask Master Xelden about post-war history." He glanced over towards where the sun began to touch the mountain peaks. "It is going to get dark soon, we should probably get back before we are late for dinner."
She grinned and revealed two rows of perfect white teeth. "Mother would be displeased if we made them wait. They turned and started their run back home. Fraelin turned and spoke as he ran.
"Dare, I know Master Xelden is our teacher and all but, is it really that important for us to go on these runs?" He watched his foggy breath sail away for a moment before focusing on his motion again.
"It's certainly made us stronger; father always says: 'Strength runs in your veins—but it doesn't come easy.'" She blew her hair out of her face. "Master Xelden and our mother are old friends: so I guess I would trust his judgment. After all, he was a full time instructor back at the Capitol."
13th day of winter 1391 AL
Dare sat rigidly on a bench she had constructed years before. She wore her hair short, a white work coat, black pants, and knee high winter boots. Her belt was festooned with tools, and in her hands she held a leather-bound journal with seven hundred pages, half of the pages full of research notes, failed ideas, and future planst.
Fraelin stepped up and tapped her on her head as he realized that she had dozed off. "Dare!" He crossed his arms, annoyed at her inattention. "I brought the latest batch of supplies and books."
Her eyes flashed open. "Sorry, I stayed up all night working on my base camp." She surveyed her work. Over the past four years she and Fraelin had come up often to ponder the wall in the cliff, and to build a secret place in the small clearing in the trees nearby. Already they had a small canopy over a work table, a fire-pit, an awning with a raised and sheltered platform where she could place her bedroll, and an assortment of other items of the kind that would litter a research post. Fraelin had decided to pitch a tent on raised ground of a natural sort instead of working harder for a more permanent place to sleep. As interested as he was he had not taken the same tenacity as his sister in studying the door—as they assumed that was what the wall had to be. Early on Daryn had given up overtly studying the door, she could easily study the riddle from notes and a far-off library if she wished—yet she found she much preferred to have her own place to do her research. Even though she had her own scholastic studies to keep track of she still preferred to be away from the company of others so she could delve into her work without distraction and with a peace of mind that could not be interrupted.
"It's winter, don't you think it would be better to work here for shorter periods of time? You could easily catch a cold out here." He narrowed his gaze. "Besides the research, how are you able to keep up with Master Xelden's weekly assignments when you stay up here?"
"It really is actually easier this way: I caught up on my homework; I pushed quite far ahead hoping that it might help me with my work."
Fraelin shook his head wearily. "Aren't you a little young to be working?"
"I wouldn't call it work; at the risk of sounding sacrilegious I would say that I've found my own personal monastery where I can get my work done easily and then pursue my interests. Daryn's fist landed softly on her journal to accentuate her next point. "One day I will find out, I will find the riddle and the answer; and then I will know what is so important it had to be sealed away."
"Not today though, come home Dare, I feel like I never get to see you anymore." Fraelin turned and waited for her to follow. "We're children Daryn, we are not meant to gamble away our youth on mysteries and forget to make friends." Together they walked down the snow-covered path and passed through a flight of Tirilel petals that were blown across the path in the wind. Their path led down to a smooth frozen river where they stopped to attach metal blades to their boots and skated down the river toward the city below.
Dare's face grew cold in the wind and turned red, and she blinked to keep the snow out of her eyes. "What books did you find?"
Fraelin turned to face her as he skated. "I found several books in the library with information on the Engineering Division and its history, maybe there's something in there."
"Maybe, though I doubt it, the Engineering Division has always been very open about what they do—I'm sure there would be some record of them building this wall." She pondered her comment as they slid down the river and into the center of town. She turned her back foot, scraping it across the ice to a stop by the stone fence by the river, and removed her blades and placed them on her belt. They followed the flagstone street through the growing dark and passed under the occasional lamps as they wound their way to a large holding about three stories tall. The house was built of stone with a slate roof, and multiple balconies and an obviously vast number of rooms. Dare shook her head. Apparently, being descended from the great General-Advisor Divick Curunir had its advantages for their family; because her parents were the Baron and Baroness of the city of Carnyfyr. The city was said to be built near the ruins of Divick's home, in the same section of the mountains that lined the west end of the Continent, but closer to the inland Sea. She sighed as she glanced at the slender silver signet ring with the fvrecyte seal of House Curunir that graced her left ring finger. Daryn was the eldest child of the Baron and Baroness, so it followed that she would inherit the city and its holding. It was likely that she would have to appoint some position to her brother, or he would marry into another holding, or he would find his own way to greatness as was expected of him. The guard next to the wide door to her house wore a thick black Shalnum outfit under a Zalcyte suit of ceremonial armor that was covered in House Curunir markings made of fvrecyte. He bowed slightly as he opened wide the door for Dare and her brother to enter. "Welcome back Heiress and Heir." He said when the door was fully opened, his words were friendly and open, and sounded perfectly genuine. Since her family had risen to being a noble House they had always treated their servants well—mostly because they had come from the same stock and knew just how important the servant-noble relationship was. They both entered into the warm and well-lit entry of the manor and passed down the central hall that ran straight before the door. To the right was the living room, studies to the left, kitchen farther to the left, library farther to the right, and the dining room straight ahead. The sound of soft music drifted from the dining room, and quiet voices followed down the hall. They went directly down the hall and entered the dining hall. Dare first glanced toward the tall paintings of their predecessors, starting with Divick and continuing across the wall to paintings of her parents and vacant places for their descendants. A long table of polished and decorated Tirilel wood dominated the center of the room, and her parents sat toward the other end of the table wearing the black, silver, gold, and red adorned livery of their Holding. Gelrend her father smiled from his seat at the head of the table as they entered and he gently took her mother's hand and quietly announced their entrance in her ear. Their mother, Sandra, turned and waved at them excitedly with a grin that showed a certain amount of relief. Though what she was relieved about they had no idea.
"I take it from your silence that another day has passed with no success?" Her mother questioned with a raised eyebrow wittily. Dare smirked and took her seat to her father's left—and across from her mother—as her brother sat next to their sister who sat in between her brother and mother, all the chairs matched and were made of polished black Tirilel wood with the symbol of House Curunir enameled on the backs and stitched into the cushions.
"Sadly," she began, "I have not made any progress in unlocking this mystery." Terra, named after Dyvick's sister, and the youngest at age six, took a delicate sip from her glass and looked longingly at her sister with wide green eyes several shades darker than her sister's. "When can I see the wall?" She knew better than to ask her brother, he would only negate the notion with a simple reason such as: "it's too dangerous for children," or "you could fall and hurt yourself," and other similar explanations. Gelrend chewed through a bite of Telkien steak and motioned for the maid to bring in plates for the new arrivals.
"Not until you are older." He answered for Dare, much to her relief since she much preferred to be the loving and doting elder sister rather than 'betray' her. "That is of course, if the puzzle remains unsolved by the time you are old enough to go up there with them." Terra pouted quietly, as she had been taught, for as their parents told them all early on: "You are allowed to be displeased, only so long as you are quiet, because we can tell when you are unhappy and you don't have to announce it loudly." She recovered quickly however despite her momentary wish going unfulfilled and returned to eating as small and dainty bites of her steak as possible with as much composure as she could copy from their mother's way of eating. Sandra pointed toward the youngest a slight inclination of her head.
"Terra has begun her lessons with Master Xelden, including music, arithmetic, history, and language." She referred to the Holding's Energus Representative and resident mage and councilor.
"Father," Fraelin asked as the maid set a steaming plate of steak, salad, and bread before him. "Where is the Master now?"
"He will be joining us shortly; he mentioned something about receiving a message by courier." Their father answered as light footsteps echoed down the hall. Even as he spoke, a tall man with a thin frame, short charcoal hair, a thin stubble-covered face, piercing but friendly eyes, and an air of power stepped into the room. In his right hand was a folded, but opened piece of parchment that still had its red and ice ribbon hanging from it, and in his left hand he carried a small crystal glass filled with an amber colored wine.
"Baron, Baroness," He nodded, "Children." He smiled warmly, and even the air around him seemed to change with his mood; pleasant, and even the light seemed brighter. "I apologize for my delay it seems that the annual meeting of the Energus Masters at the Academy is going to be pushed forward to an earlier date."
"Think nothing of it." Gelrend smiled. "Take a seat and join us." He glanced around the table obviously pleased that their whole 'family' was there. A thought struck him. "Your meeting is being held earlier than usual, how is it that you were able to receive the message so soon in advance? Surely the distance…"
"Indeed, it is quite far for a normal courier, but at the Academy there are some students who have graduated and are still studying to achieve the rank of Master in addition to being recognized as an Energus. These post-graduates are often sent to deliver things across the nation, or provide arduous assistance in projects so that the Master in charge can maintain the clarity of mind to finish. One such student delivered my letter to the guards and is probably reclining at the Reigning Stag with a glass of piping hot spiced wine." Master Xelden grinned, and a light passed behind his eyes as if in remembrance. "I had to run some circuits back when I was a post-graduate trying to become a Master, at the time because of the war I was recruited into 'service' as a messenger to deliver orders between forts along the old border." Xelden sat in the empty to Dare's left and cracked his knuckles in anticipation for the dinner. "Mistress Daryn," he looked straight at her. "You continually impress me in your diligence in your studies." His eyes changed color so that they maintained the initial dark brown, but were now shaded by a subdued reddish glow. "I see, so I was right in my initial assessment."
"Right about what?" She examined his face, but there were no slight motions in the muscles and she couldn't read a thing. Finally after a few seconds she grew fed up and took a sip of her watered down wine.
"Daryn, you have always been able to feel and sense things that others have not. You also have a great deal of endurance and fitness for what seems to be a disproportionate amount of exercise…"
"Go on." She prompted, wondering where he was going with such a sentence.
"You also have a strengthening Energetical signature."
"So you mean I'm a mage?" She struggled for a moment, but was able to raise a single eyebrow like her mother had earlier.
Xelden laughed lightly. "No, what I mean is you have potential, enough potential that you are going to have to go to an Energen Academy." He glanced back at her after he cut chewed and swallowed a bite of steak. "I should have been around sooner to examine you; the policy of Energus representatives and tutors is that they examine their students at mid-summer to see if they have potential to become Energus. During that time you were doing your assignments in the mountains, and I was distracted with my other teaching here."
"What are you saying?" She grew even more confused. "Does that mean I missed my chance?" For some reason, even though she loved her home town and her project in the mountains she would have felt cheated if she missed her chance to be trained in magic.
"What I'm saying is you are going to have to go with me to the Academy and start your school year a quarter late." He speared a good portion of salad with his fork and smelled the nutty dressing. "You'll have some catching up to do." Fraelin smirked.
"That would happen to you, late to your own special training." He down the last of his watered wine and leaned back. "Master, I too have potential, I know because I can feel how warm the room is, how massive your core is, and that of Daryn as well. Am I going with you too?"
"If you were the same age I would say so, but the thing is that the Academy doesn't only train magical skills and policies." He searched for the words. "Yes, the Academy is also a finishing school where you have the last four years of schooling in every subject."
"I see, that means until I have finished my studies and move onto finishing school I cannot go to the Academy." Fraelin nodded quietly, in Angolia the school sections were each four years long. Beyond the basics Angolian children start their primary training at age six, four years later they begin their intermediary lessons at age ten, and at age fourteen they start their Apprentice level training. Finishing school starts at age eighteen and lasts four years as well; it encompasses the same region as Journeyman training. Dare examined her instructor with her senses and focused so she could feel the depth of his latent magical energies, it felt like there was a massive amount of energy ready to burst out of his chest, but was contained by the sheerest of barriers. Another thing she couldn't understand was the fact that despite him being a hundred and forty one he looked the same age as her father who was closer to eighty. She knew it had to have something to do with his being an Energus.
"Thank you Maress." Master Xelden nodded with honest gratitude as the maid refilled his glass and took his now empty plate. The maid, about twenty, smiled politely and returned to the kitchen. Fraelin refilled his glass with cold tea from a pitcher and took a sip.
"Master Xelden, you spend so much time teaching us, how can you also teach the staff's children as well?"
"I find the extra pay is worth it." The teacher answered. "They have a discounted price of course." He added matter-of-factly, before he faced the Baron. "The letter I received states that the meeting is quite soon, I must leave post-haste and your daughter must go with me." Gelrend nodded seriously.
"It can be managed, you can leave assignments for the children and leave whenever you desire." He turned to Dare. "And be serious you are the first Energus potential to be born in this family and as such I expect good behavior. Do not bother Xelden with frivolous questions the entire trip, and try not to stress him overly much."
"I beg your pardon father," Daryn complained. "I am certain that all of my 'frivolous' questions will be of the utmost importance." Inside though she wondered just what she was getting into. She had spent most of her life in this city and had only traveled because of Noble Houses' parties or meetings.
"To you they will probably seem important, but to the rest of the world they will most likely be quite mundane." Fraelin commented, he followed his father's speech pattern quite well Dare thought. She just returned his comment with a sad look as if to say that he would only wish he was there to hear the answers. After that Dare noticed that the conversation slowly died off, her parents didn't really want to talk about her leaving, her brother seemed disappointed he couldn't go with her, and her little sister pouted quietly that she was leaving for four years. Xelden was the first to leave, saying that he had to prepare his things, then Sandra took Terra by the hand and led her off to wash her hands and face and prepare for bed. Fraelin sighed and refilled his glass for the second time with tea, and looked at his father.
"I take it this is your favored opportunity." He gave his sister a glance. "Now that she's gone you will take me to every meeting and have me meet every noble's daughter, and otherwise prepare me for the future as I will no longer be wasting time with my sister."
"I hardly think of it as a waste of time." Daryn countered.
"You are quite right, Dare, you are the primary heir but that doesn't exclude you from backing out if you find the job of being the head of the House unappealing. If you do make such a choice in the future; or in fact even if you do not, your brother needs to be ready for such a position." Gelrend poured more wine and sipped. "Yes, Dare over the years you've had the most attention from your tutors but now your brother needs to do the rounds of getting to know our allies and understanding our feuds such as they are."
"Of course." Dare leaned her chair back. "Fraelin if you want to be successful amongst the House gatherings here is my piece of advice: flirt with the girls, dance, and otherwise keep them entertained tastefully and you will make allies of their fathers." She winked, leaned her chair forward, and walked toward the door.
"Oh, is that what you did?" Fraelin teased.
"Oh close enough, but as a girl I had the more difficult job of trying to befriend young noblemen who were always too shy and unsure of what was required of them." She rubbed her chin idly in thought. "The hardest part of the job was making sure that they didn't think I was in love with them, you wouldn't believe how confusing it is trying to get out of that." She stepped into the hall and made her way to the second floor where her room was. Her room was about ten-by-twenty feet, walled with dark wooden panels, and floored with dark tile covered by a warm rug. She quickly changed into her bed clothes and slipped under her blankets and silk sheets. Before she could fall asleep she found that all she could think of was wondering over and over what she should pack for her journey. So I have to Journey to Journeyman level training huh? She thought with an internal laugh. How funny.