Man of the Mountain book one
In a world where magic reigns in place of science and frequent demon-attacks keep the population low and concentrated—a young elf discovers an ancient weapon on a day that changes his life forever. Already a member of an oppressed minority, his life grows even more challenging while showing him more about himself and his world’s lost history than he could ever have imagined.
Copyright © 2023 by Daniel J. Lyons. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.
The chipped and faded red doors of the Hinter Consolidated School building burst open seconds after the student body was dismissed by the deep gonging of the school’s preprogrammed tocsin talisman.
The excitement of being freed from school was clear on the dark-cherry-red faces of the elvish children.
Among the exiting students was a group of five male elves, aged fourteen through sixteen, who gathered at the edge of the school grounds on top of a waist-high stone wall.
One of the other students stumbled.
“Nice move, dragon feet!” the group’s de facto leader, Gondefle Rumetre, shouted.
His friends laughed.
“Yeah, are you still breaking them in?!” Chotu, the youngest member of the group, added.
“You’re so immature!” Treowe, Gondefle’s oldest and closest friend, said as he punched Chotu hard in the shoulder.
“That’s right!” Chotu said with pride, childishly flicking the tips of his pointed ears. “School-certified!”
The group laughed again.
Chotu had been held back two years before when the school had declared him—in writing—“too immature to advance.”
Behind them, peering through a thin section of the school’s decorative hedge wall and desperate to join in but staying hidden to avoid the group’s routine rejection, was Gondefle’s ten-year-old sibling, Aadima.
Aadima was hiding because, even though Gondefle’s friends didn’t want Gondefle’s “weird sister” around, he still longed to rejoin their group.
Neither of the brothers dared reveal that, although he had been born into a female body, Aadima had always known he was a boy.
Chotu had been the first of the group to object. “It’s… uh… she’s just creepy and weird!” he had shouted, not meeting Aadima’s eyes.
His adamancy had quickly convinced the others, forcing Gondefle’s hand.
But, soon after he had publicly told Aadima to keep away, Gondefle had privately started passing along any clothes he grew out of—much to their mother’s chagrin.
“A Rumetre shouldn’t be wearing secondhand clothes,” their mother had said the first time Aadima had proudly appeared at breakfast in one of Gondefle’s old jumpsuits. “What will people think?!”
“That I’m not naked?” Aadima had offered, to displeased parental glares.
“They’re just clothes,” Gondefle had told their parents. “No one will care. They know who we are.”
The boys ran out of targets as the last of the students disappeared down the lane that led back towards the interior of the village.
They went quiet.
“How’d you do on your monthly evaluation?” Chotu asked, eager to fill the silence.
Gondefle scoffed. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Sure,” Treowe said with a laugh, “I bet your mother would totally agree with that!”
“She doesn’t matter either.”
Aadima had to fight back an exposing gasp.
He sounds so angry!
He knew that Gondefle and their parents hadn’t been getting along lately for some reason but also knew it couldn’t last long. Gondefle had always been their parents’ favorite.
He calmed himself so he could focus on the conversation.
“…with what I’ve found, I’ll be so powerful that no one will matter!”
“Not even us?” Treowe said with a feigned hurt expression.
“Of course you’ll matter!” Gondefle laughed, then adopted a severe expression. “I’ll need you to help me finally give the humans what’s coming to them!” His friends’ laughter turned uncomfortable as his expression moved to anger. “We’ll make them suffer twice the pain that they’ve put us through!” Seeing their discomfort, Gondefle forced a smile. “Don’t worry, there will be plenty of power to go around…”
There was a howling from Treowe’s pocket. With a practiced motion, he pulled out the flat metallic oval, speaking while his arm was still in motion and before looking at the name displayed across the front of it. “Invoke.”
His face fell when his mother’s angry visage appeared on the chatter’s dull surface.
“I need you to pick up some butter on the way home,” she said without preamble. “That pet of yours just stole the last stick and I can’t make dinner without it!”
“I’ll be right there,” he said, his face flushing as his eyes darted away from those of his friends. “Done!”
His mother’s face disappeared as the chatter went idle.
He cleared his throat and hopped off the wall. “I was about to leave anyway.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Chotu mocked, “no other reason.”
Treowe scowled as he turned and rushed down the path.
It wasn’t long before the other members of the group found their own excuses to leave, partly to make sure that they didn’t get their own embarrassing calls.
Aadima waited until Gondefle had turned the first corner before following.
As he walked down the path, he moved through the commercial district, which constituted almost half of the outer ring of Hinter. The school was near the edge of the district, only a few paths away from the industrial district that filled the rest of the ring.
Soon he reached the residential district, which wrapped all the way around Village Centre, where the business and government facilities were located.
It was not a long walk; the oval-shaped village was on the smaller side of average, and the school was located on one of the long sides.
Most cities and villages in the country of Timor used a standard circular plan, but the Inviol Valley, where Hinter was located, was too narrow to allow for it.
Hinter’s modified village plan had been tested several times in the past century and a half and had proven itself sufficient to minimize the damage of the periodic demon-attacks that struck every community on Feracio.
Halfway through rounding a corner, Aadima quickly, and with strained casualness, crossed to the opposite side of the path.
He was avoiding Ealdgyd Confut, who was currently standing on the pathside, glaring at Wafi Innoxi, who, unaware of her attention, continued with his yardwork.
Manager Innoxi had been in charge of the Hinter Blood Bank for as long as Aadima could remember, but he was human. Cuisinier Confut had run one of the fanciest eateries in Hinter until her retirement a few years earlier.
While most human Hinterites were young government employees who didn’t have the grades to start their careers in a more respectable location and left after a year or two, a few, like Manager Innoxi, stuck around long enough to become mostly accepted as part of the community.
“This is a proud planned elvish community, one of the first founded after the Nekane Rule freed us!” the first of Cuisinier Confut’s multiple lectures that he could remember had begun. “It’s bad enough that we have to put up with them running everything! They should at least have the good sense to stay in the overly fancy neighborhood set aside for them!”
Aadima rolled his eyes at Cuisinier Confut’s outdated attitude and wished he had a recondite talisman so that he could make himself invisible.
As he did so, he thought about the rest of that lecture. It had been one of the short ones, but it was also before he had learned that she wasn’t actually looking for a discussion.
“But they changed those laws fifty years ago,” he had said in exasperation.
Cuisinier Confut had given him a pitying glare. “The so-called Equitability Era was a misguided fringe attempt to mix species that even fools know need to be kept apart!”
“But why?” Aadima had asked with genuine curiosity. “What’s wrong with a few humans in Hinter?”
“Hinter is our village!” she had shouted. “Humans always have an ulterior motive. They don’t trust us! That’s why they won’t let us run our own affairs!” she’d sneered. “And we don’t need humans with red-fever sniffing around our children!”
Aadima still didn’t know what a red-fever was and, considering the source, didn’t dare ask.
The hateful look on Cuisinier Confut’s face had made Aadima even more uncomfortable than enduring the berating lecture.
“I need to get home,” he remembered saying. “My mom is waiting for me.”
Cuisinier Confut had looked him over, as if seeing him for the first time. “And why aren’t you in a dress?”
“I don’t like dresses.”
“Life is full of things we don’t like. Being part of a civilization means acting in the prescribed fashion! You’re a Rumetre, you need to set an example for our people! And to do that, and be part of society, you have to dress properly!”
Aadima’s disdain must have shown on his face because Cuisinier Confut had grown angry. “Mark my words! If you don’t start dressing like a proper woman soon, you won’t get anywhere in life!”
“Okay,” Aadima had said, trying to sound sincere.
“If you’re not careful, you’ll end up like that pervert Konnyr!” She was fuming now. “That worthless little wannabe doesn’t even have the sense to know when it’s not wanted.”
He had fled from the angry words, but they had chased after him.
“There’s one right way of doing things!” she had shouted after him. “If more people paid attention to that, the world would be a better place!”
No lecture today, Aadima thought with a sigh of relief as he rounded the next corner.
Two turns later, he arrived onto Balefire Way and caught sight of home.
Instead of his usual smile at the respectable but midsized house located in the last elvish neighborhood before the human section, Aadima frowned in confusion.
Gondefle was working ardently in the front border garden.
It’s not even Restday afternoon!
Aadima stopped to watch him for a few minutes to see if his normal procrastination would return.
Is he in trouble? he wondered. Is that why he was so mad at school?
Finally Aadima shrugged and untucked his hair, kept long at his mother’s insistence, from inside his shirt, where he stuffed it to keep it out of the way when his teachers and parents weren’t there to stop him.
He finished his walk home, and as soon as the front door clicked shut, Jabeza Rumetre, Aadima’s mother, called him into the living room.
Jabeza was holding up his brother’s monthly evaluation. “You got your evaluation today?”
Even from across the room, Aadima could see that there were no red failure marks, nor even any orange bases, on his brother’s evaluation.
Her mother seemed normal.
Why isn’t she mad if Gondefle is in trouble?
“How did you do?”
“Two primaries in history and mechanics.”
“That’s my little girl!” his father, Samael, said from the other side of the room, his attention momentarily pulled away from the news feed on his divulgate.
As usual, Aadima felt a mix of pleasure and discomfort at his father’s favorite nickname.
“And…,” his mother prompted.
“Three secondaries and”—Aadima nervously brushed his hair behind the points of his ears—“one base in social studies.”
A look of angry disapproval filled his mother’s face. “Another base?!”
“Just one! It’s not like I failed!”
“Your brother wasn’t getting bases at your age.”
Aadima couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t wished he could be more like him.
No one ever told Gondefle he wasn’t a boy!
Sometimes Aadima told himself that he only envied his brother because of his mother’s constant comparisons.
But, in more reasonable moments, he reminded himself that he could remember a time before his mother had started regularly assuring him that he never quite measured up.
When Aadima didn’t speak, his mother grunted. “Then I guess you should get upstairs and get started on your homework.”
Aadima fled to his room but, when he got there, left his school-issued divulgate in his schoolbag and invoked his personal one instead.
Aadima’s tocsin started ringing at ten minutes to five that evening.
The small rectangular stone changed from red to gray with each ring, only stopping when he lifted it off his nightstand. When he put it down, the ringing stopped and the stone remained gray.
“Done,” he said with resignation. The command stopped the latest episode of the long-running, and his all-time favorite, divulgate show The Rajveer Chronicles, just as Cal had pulled his human partner, Rajveer, aside to share what he had learned about their quarry.
“We’ll finish this later,” Aadima said to the now-blank divulgate in his best Rajveer impression before rolling off the bed.
It was time to set the dinner table, a chore that he had inherited from his brother once Gondefle had been old enough to move on to yardwork.
Gondefle burst into the house just as Aadima reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Hey!” Aadima shouted as he leapt aside.
Gondefle paid him no mind. He was covered nearly head to toe in grime and took the stairs two at a time to minimize the possibility of leaving any of that filth in his wake.
The front door didn’t fully close, so Aadima, after an irritated glance up the stars, went to shut it. As he did, he could see that the garden was neatly trimmed.
He’s actually finished?! What is going on?
“Are you just going to stand there or are you going to set the table?” his mother said from the dining room.
“Sorry.” Aadima nearly jumped. “On my way!”
As soon as dinner was on the table, Gondefle started gulping his down.
Aadima was so fixated on his brother’s behavior that he barely noticed what he was eating.
Gondefle was abnormally quiet. Gone were his usual bragging recollections about his day.
Aadima almost missed them.
Gondefle must have found something really great! I need to know what it is!
A plan started to form in his mind.
“How was school today?” Samael asked.
Caught by surprise, Aadima said, “One of the other boys—”
“Other boys?” his mother said with an angry glare.
Aadima cursed himself. He had learned early on that mentioning his gender in front of his parents was a mistake and knew better. “I meant to say one of the boys at school.”
His mother’s glare hardened. “Have you been talking to that Konnyr?”
“No, of course not!” Aadima said.
“Good,” Jabeza said frostily. “I don’t want you associating with mentally unstable degenerates like that. You need to remember that anyone who chooses to live like it does forfeits the right to remain in decent society. If people want to live like that, they need to do it somewhere else, somewhere away from normal families like ours.” She snorted in disgust. “It’s disgraceful that the village manager won’t do anything about it!”
But I never chose to be a boy, Aadima thought, not for the first time.
An uncomfortable silence followed, broken only by the uninterrupted clanking of Gondefle’s utensils against his rapidly emptying plate.
I need to know what he’s found!
“I’m going to go to the library tomorrow!” Aadima blurted. “I might be there all day… so I can study up on social studies… and do better next term.”
“If you paid better attention to your homework instead of those childish divulgate shows, you wouldn’t need to spend extra time at the library,” Jabeza said flatly.
“Well, I think it’s a great idea!” Samael said. “My little girl knows what’s important.”
Aadima squirmed internally but forced a smile onto his face.
Across the table, Gondefle rolled his eyes and took a final bite of his meal.
Later, on his way to bed, Aadima knocked hesitantly on his brother’s bedroom door. “Gondefle, is everything okay?”
“Open the door,” Gondefle’s muffled voice answered. “I’m not naked or anything.”
Aadima opened the door and then repeated his question as Gondefle slowly rolled over and sat up.
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“You were so quiet at dinner and I… I thought you might be in trouble… or something.”
Gondefle smiled. “No, if anything I’m in safety”—he winked theatrically—“perhaps for the first time ever.”
Aadima frowned. “I don’t understand, are you planning something?”
“Nothing you need to be concerned about.”
Aadima brightened. “But maybe I could help?!”
“Don’t you worry, squirt,” Gondefle chuckled, “I’ll take care of—”
Aadima’s chatter began to buzz. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at it. “It’s Wafaee, I have to get this. You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, no problems here, squirt,” he said with a kind grin as he waved him out of the room. “You’re bothering me anyway.”
“We missed you again after school,” Wafaee said as soon as Aadima invoked his chatter.
Wafaee chuckled, “Don’t worry, I’d spy on your brother’s little group if I had the chance. Although I’d be looking at your brother, not Chotu.”
Aadima scoffed. “I do not like Chotu!”
“Suuure you don’t,” Wafaee said, rolling her eyes, “and I guess he haaates you!”
“Suuure, that’s why he doesn’t even look at the rest of us.” Wafaee sighed loudly. “Did you at least see something good?”
“No… yes… Gondefle is acting weird—”
“Don’t boys always act weird?”
Aadima cringed inwardly. “I guess—”
“Aadima!” his mother shouted from downstairs. “It doesn’t sound like you’re in bed.”
“I’m going!” he shouted over his shoulder before turning back to the chatter and whispering, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Done!”
We’ll make them suffer twice the pain that they’ve put us through!
It didn’t make sense—Gondefle’s words had been so full of hate, but he had seemed so happy when they had spoken.
He was just trying to impress his friends, Aadima told himself as he lay in bed. Gondefle’s perfect! After all, what have humans ever done to him?
I’ll be so powerful that no one will matter!
Aadima was so confused. He had never heard him talk like that.
Maybe he just means he’ll be rich! What could he have found that would make him rich enough not to care about his grades?
His thoughts eventually drifted to the Bokor family.
It had been the first chain store in Hinter and Aadima had been hugely excited.
After days of begging, and getting inexplicably subdued responses from his parents, they had finally given in when Gondefle had agreed to support Aadima’s plea.
The new Ameliorates was twice the size of the dilapidated apothecary just a few doors down the main path.
“They even have Hale recharge potion!” Aadima had squealed. “Just like Rajveer uses!”
Their father hadn’t been impressed. “We can’t stay long. Just find what you need and let’s go.”
“Aww,” Gondefle had replied.
Aadima smiled and whispered to him, “It’s so close that we can stop here anytime and get whatever we need!”
“Stop sharing secrets and get moving!”
Aadima ran out of the store with his Hale potion clasped to his chest and waved it at the first people he saw. “Look what I got! It’s what Rajveer and Cal use!”
It was Aster and Bosa Bokor. Aster placed a steadying arm on his wife’s shoulder as she backed away from Aadima on her spindly artificial legs. They looked at him with sad expressions.
“Don’t bother people with that,” his father said as he followed him out of the store.
Samael’s face went ashen.
“Samael, what’s wrong?” Jabeza said from behind him. “Oh.”
“The kids, you see…,” his father said.
“They just opened!” Gondefle added, holding up his own prizes. “Have you checked it out yet?”
“Gondefle, quiet!” their mother whispered harshly before forcing a smile. “We’ll be over at your place on Restday for the important stuff.”
“Of course,” Apothecary Aster responded. “See you then.”
They moved past without another word.
“That was weird!” Aadima said when they were out of earshot.
“Aadima!” Jabeza whispered angrily.
“They’re weird,” he continued. “They’re older than you, why don’t they have any kids?”
“You’re being rude,” his father said. “Whether they can have children or not is none of your business.”
Jabeza had roughly taken Aadima’s hand. “Now be quiet and come along.”
Less than a year later, and without prior notice, the Bokors were gone and the Bokor Family Apothecary closed.
“They went bankrupt and had to move out-loop to Wove!” Aadima had overheard one of the village gossips saying to another.
“What’s bankrupt?” he had asked.
“Mind your business,” his mother had replied sharply.
Aadima hated minding his business, especially when he didn’t know what it actually was that he was minding.
The true reason for their departure came up on Aadima’s divulgate news feed a few weeks later.
Local Family Auctions Off Pilliate Seedlings, Moves In-Loop
Beneath the headline was a full-color image of two potted plants sprouting delicate blue leaves with bright silver veins.
He had to read halfway through the story before it finally explained what the plants were:
Pilliate is used in almost every healing potion but produces seedlings irregularly—often only once every few generations. Once the root system is fully established, they are impossible to transplant to factory farms. The bidding for these seedlings was fierce, ending at an undisclosed amount well into the millions of units.
Aadima hadn’t known what bidding was, but he did know that millions of units was a lot of money.
That must be it! He found the Bokors’ source! He found more pilliate!
Aadima grabbed his chatter from his nightstand, where it was bathing in a recharge potion that he had invoked just before lying down, and flipped it over to look at the picture from that story.
It had taken three weeks of allowance to pay for it to be transferred onto his chatter, but it had been worth it!
The pilliate plants were still the most beautiful things ever!
Despite their beauty, the picture was also tinged with disappointment. He had always been sad that they had been so close but that he hadn’t gotten to see them in person.
For a while he had even pondered venturing out to find the patch of pilliate that had spawned the seedlings. But the story had said that they were found in the forest, and the fear of being eaten by a demon had more than outweighed his desire to see them.
If Gondefle is after another seedling, there’s no way I’m missing out this time! He may not want my help, but there’s no reason I can’t be there just to see the pilliate!
He smiled into his pillow, remembering his clever plan from dinner, and picked up his tocsin from his nightstand. “Invoke, wake me at dawn.”
The small rectangular stone changed from gray to red as it acknowledged his instruction. He set it back down, snuggled under the covers and closed his eyes.
The rhythmic sound of rain against his bedroom window lulled him into a sleep filled with dreams of spinning happily in an endless field of pilliate.
The next morning Aadima’s tocsin rang three times before he finally lifted it off the nightstand to silence it.
As much as he hated mornings, he was happy to be awake when he heard Gondefle talking with their father downstairs.
He rushed into the body-launder, then back to his bedroom to throw on the tunic and pants that were on the top of each respective pile. Dressed, he hurried downstairs.
His mother grunted in surprise. “You’re up early.”
“I don’t want to waste any time,” Aadima said, imagining that it was exactly what she wanted to hear. “Gotta get started on my studies.”
“Good,” his mother replied without conviction.
Aadima gathered the quickest breakfast he could think of and watched his brother closely as he ate.
“I’m going to Treowe’s for the day,” Gondefle announced as he roughly tossed his dishes into the kitchen-launder. “I’ll be back by dinner.”
He left, slamming the door behind him.
Aadima waited an entire painful minute before stuffing the last bit of food in his mouth and jumping up from the table to add his own dishes to the launder. “I should get going too!”
Confident that it hadn’t been long enough for Gondefle to get past the end of the path, he slung his schoolbag over his shoulder and hurried out of the house.
After years of practice, Aadima had become very good at not being seen while shadowing his brother.
He had learned early on to always keep an eye out for anything that he could slip behind whenever Gondefle glanced in his direction.
He was proud of his skill, sometimes imagining himself to be an undercover constable tracking a dangerous fugitive.
Gondefle made his way through one of the industrial districts without slowing and, after a furtive glance that sent Aadima flying behind a hedge, stepped beyond the village limits and into demon-land.
From his position behind the hedge, Aadima quaked in fear.
Outside of the protected speedways, there was no safety in the countryside. More importantly, there would be no one to rescue you when you met up with the demons who lived in the otherwise-unoccupied lands between settlements.
Aadima saw an image of himself surrounded by demons, Gondefle already fallen to their horrible advance.
He took a deep breath, filled his mind with images of pilliate leaves, and forced himself onwards.
He didn’t get far. The grassland in this part of the valley offered no protective cover, and he ended up waiting impatiently behind the border fence. Fortunately, Gondefle wasn’t being careful and left a trail of crushed grass behind him.
Once he was out of sight, Aadima followed as quickly as he dared—keeping a constant lookout for incoming demons.
The grass started to thin as they approached the base of the eastern line of the Inviol Range.
How will I track him now?!
As he cautiously peered through the last few stalks of the tall grass, Aadima smiled and thanked the sky for the previous night’s rain.
Gondefle’s trail continued through the muddy ground.
As they closed on the foot of the mountain and the ground grew rockier, his brother’s trail shifted to muddy footprints. Aadima smiled at the sight, but then his smile faltered and he looked up at the mountains—Gondefle’s trail was heading straight for them.
But Pilliate only grows in the forest!
He glanced back towards Hinter and beyond it to the forest surrounding the departing stretch of the Boon Loop Speedway on the far side.
Where is Gondefle going? What could he have found out here?
His determination wavered.
“Perhaps it’s some other magic plant.”
Despite being a whisper, the sound of his own voice made his goal real again.
Eventually, Gondefle’s muddy footprints led to a narrow crevice within an old rockslide.
Aadima glanced into the opening. The passage turned sharply just a few feet in.
What if it’s a demon-lair?!
No, Gondefle said that he had discovered something! He’s been here before. It must be safe!
Mostly reassured, he stepped into the crevice and moved into the mountain.
As he turned the corner into a deepening darkness, his bright dreams of seeing some beautiful magical plant evaporated.
What could he have found in here?
So distracted by trying to figure out what his brother was after, Aadima took a wrong turn and found himself at a dead end.
He retraced his steps until he found the larger set of muddy footprints again.
He was thankful for his acute night vision as he focused on the trail, but his fear was growing.
Eventually Aadima paused, feeling tears welling in his eyes.
He traced the logo on his shirt. It was for a band that he didn’t really know much about, but it had belonged to Gondefle and that was comforting.
But it wasn’t comforting enough.
Aadima turned and retreated a few steps towards the entrance before he heard the sound of Gondefle’s footsteps echoing in a large chamber behind him.
With great relief, he spun around and rushed towards the sound.
His fears vanished altogether when the cave brightened with a flickering yellow light.
Aadima covered his mouth.
I hope he didn’t hear!
His brother had picked up the potion-wood torch from their favorite swap meet, the one they kept going to despite their parents’ disapproval, when he was Aadima’s age, and Gondefle had been enamored by the old-fashioned light source ever since.
Aadima headed towards the light and it wasn’t long before he squeezed his way between a very smooth stone wall and a more uneven stone leaning against it.
It’s getting dark again!
He looked around in panic before realizing that the light was disappearing into a corridor at the back of the large chamber.
He headed quickly towards it, not wanting to be caught in the dark and have to use his own lucent, which might give him away.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a very familiar rune carved into the wall.
His curiosity drew him over.
The wall was no longer featureless like it had been at the entrance. Beside him there was a recessed area hung with vaguely familiar items. Each one was the same shape and size, either gray or bronze, and had a thick disk on top with a narrower cylinder hanging beneath. The disks were resting on pairs of posts carved out of the wall, and a single rune was engraved above each one.
Aadima giggled as he realized that the carvings were all secondary runes.
They all have names!
He took a closer look at the rune that had caught his attention. It was rume—the secondary version of rumetre, the base of their family crest.
There was a smaller inscription beneath the rune that he hadn’t noticed before, but the torchlight was nearly gone and he couldn’t make it out.
Now intensely curious, and less worried about being discovered, he pulled out his lucent case.
Aadima unfastened the dark leather cover on one end of the small, tubular case. Very carefully, he opened it the tiniest bit.
A narrow beam of bright silvery light poured out.
The lucent talisman was a family heirloom that had been willed to him by his grandfather when he was seven.
He moved it closer to the wall.
As the light reflected off the rune carved into the wall, Aadima used his finger to wipe away a curving strip of dust—drawing in the extra stroke that converted it into the primary, rumetre.
The sight reminded him of the previous year’s Yielding, when his cousin Oroitz, on a dare, had recited all of the family heroes starting with the family’s first heroic death, which had elevated their surname from Rume to Rumetre.
He looked down at the smaller inscription but was still unable to read it, so he started wiping away the accumulated dust to reveal:
It’s a date!
It was written in the same format as the ones in some of his older history books. He ran his right pointer finger over it as he mentally converted it into the modern form, 19 Teivelan 302.
Over two thousand years ago!
The thrill of discovery was shattered by a painful cry that echoed through the chamber.
“Gondefle!” He turned towards his voice, ready to rush to his brother’s aid.
As he did, his fingers dropped onto the disk of the item hanging beneath the inscription and his world went white.
Aadima’s entire body felt like his feet did when he sat cross-legged for too long. But this time, he couldn’t move to shake the needles away.
Finally the tingling started to subside and he stumbled blindly backwards, eventually landing hard on his bottom when his calves struck stone.
It was some time before his sight returned and the painful tingling subsided enough to allow him to think again.
What did I land on?
His lucent was still in his left hand, so he pointed it beneath himself and panned the light along the stone.
He was on the end of a long, curving bench carved out of the floor that stretched halfway across the chamber. A matching bench, just one of several rows, stretched to the wall on the other side of the open aisle down the center of the room.
He panned the light around and saw that the benches at the back of the room were partially crushed beneath the rockslide.
Aadima put his hands down to push himself up and realized that they were both curled into fists.
With surprise, he saw that his right hand was clenched around the dark gray item that had been hanging on the wall.
He puzzled at it for a moment before the memory of his brother’s pained scream flooded back into his mind.
He jumped up. With a practiced one-handed move, he slid more of his lucent out of its case as he ran towards the back of the room.
At the point of the wedge-shaped room was a small platform with a central pedestal. The corridor, now illuminated by a pulsing orange light, was immediately behind it.
Aadima ran into it in a panic.
He passed two doorways on either side and leapt over a collapsed section of ceiling as he ran.
Aadima followed the light to an open doorway.
He ran into the silent room.
Gondefle’s potion-wood torch lay on the floor, its flickering flame burning without heat.
The flame’s yellow light was mixing with a throbbing red one from the other side of a long table that filled the middle of the room.
Aadima moved fearfully towards the unfamiliar light and gasped as he saw his brother’s form on the floor beyond the table.
He dropped his lucent and kneeled down beside his brother.
Gondefle was in a section of floor that had been mostly cleared of dust. The clearing looked disturbingly like the demon-prey traces that kids made in the snow every winter by tossing themselves down and thrashing about.
He recoiled in horror when he saw Gondefle’s face.
Gondefle’s usual complexion, the same cherry red as his own, was now a ghastly pink—so light that it was nearly white. His face looked surprised and his unblinking eyes stared through Aadima.
“Gondefle?” Aadima said with trepidation as he shook his brother’s shoulder with his left hand. “Gondefle!”
He didn’t respond. Aadima reached out with both hands to shake his brother harder, suddenly realizing that he was still holding the item from the wall.
His brother was holding one too.
It was the source of the red light and, in between flashes, Aadima saw that it was bronze and flecked with green.
Aadima looked down at the gray object in his hand, then back to the glowing bronze one in his brother’s.
Gondefle’s hand, still tightly clinging to the object’s handle, was its normal shade of red, but it was quickly fading to match his face.
Aadima felt tears in his eyes.
The last of the color drained from Gondefle’s fingertips and his hand fell open. The now-dark object rolled away.
Aadima shook Gondefle again. His head lolled towards the wall. Aadima recoiled in horror, staring at the object in his right hand.
The magical weapons that had been made famous during the Demon Wars.
He fell back against the table and tears poured down his cheeks.
“How could I have been so stupid?!”
His cry echoed around the room, taunting him.
It was so obvious. This was a Hilt foundry. The items in the main room had been the warning display of exposed Hilts always found in a foundry’s showroom.
His brother was dead, killed by an exposed Hilt!
He glanced at the Hilt in his own hand again.
But I’m alive.
It didn’t make sense.
Why did he come all the way back here? Why would he want an exposed Hilt anyway?
He looked up at the wall in front of him. There were several shelves carved into it, filled with glass canisters. The intact canisters contained different-colored powders.
This is some kind of workroom! That’s why Gondefle was here—he was after an unbonded Hilt!
Aadima looked down at his brother’s motionless body. “Then why are you dead?!”
He was about to shake him again in desperation when he remembered the previous day:
We’ll make them suffer twice the pain that they’ve put us through!
As he remembered his brother’s expression of hate for humanity, his last glimmer of hope died.
Aadima knew that Gondefle was dead—and why.
His brother had tried to claim the Hilt while his spirit was in turmoil, exposing it.
Looking again at the green patina, he realized absently that it must be a blood-copper Hilt.
He squeezed his eyes shut.
Just like in the stories, when Gondefle had exposed it, the Hilt had drained his blood into itself.
Opening up his eyes and blinking away tears, Aadima looked again at the Hilt still clutched in his own hand.
“How am I alive?!”
It was certainly an exposed Hilt; otherwise it would never have been put on display.
He lifted his hand to throw it away, but something stopped him and he pocketed it instead.
He began to sob and continued to do so for a long time.
Finally, gulping for breath and batting away the last few tears, he dug into his schoolbag for his chatter.
He needed his parents. He needed help.
He sobbed again when he couldn’t find it and realized that, in his rush that morning, he had left his chatter in its pool on his nightstand.
Aadima looked back at Gondefle’s body.
In his front shirt pocket was his chatter, its oval outline pressing against the fabric. He started reaching for it before remembering.
Gondefle had forbidden him from touching it after he had accidentally called one of his friends while playing with it. To make sure, he had used up his allowance and added a phylactery talisman to it.
The chatter wouldn’t work for anyone but Gondefle.
- Order through your local independent bookstore!
- Order online through the global Booklinker page
- Apple (ebook)
- Barnes & Noble
- Book Depository (UK hardcover)
- Books-a-Million (hardcover)
- Bookshop (order the hardcover online and help local bookstores!)
- Booktopia (AU ebook/hardcover)
- eBooks.com (ebook)
- Kobo (ebook)
- Walmart (hardcover)
- Waterstones (UK hardcover)
Prefer your local library? If they offer it, you can borrow The Path To Vihaan in ebook format through Hoopla!