The Age of Light (The Ava'Lonan Herstories Book 1)

The Age of Light

 

Book One of the Alonan Herstories

 

A. Y. Emanuel

Seaside
Grape Publishers LLC

A. Y. Emanuel

Published
by Seaside Grape Publishers LLC

 

Copyright
©2012 by A. Y. Emanuel

 

Illustrations
by A. Y. Emanuel

 

Cover
art by A. Y. Emanuel

 

All rights
reserved. No part of this

book
may be reproduced in

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form or by any means without

the
prior written consent of the

Publisher,
excepting brief quotes

used
in reviews.

 

Books by Ako Emanuel

The Ava’Lonan Herstories Series

 

Book One: The Age of Light

 

Book Two: Light Fallen

 

Book Three: The Rites of Darkness

 

(Forthcoming)

 

Book Four: Darkness Risen

 

Book Five: The Sign of Turning

The Ways of Magic Series

 

Book One: Magic World

 

Book Two: Magic Hold

 

(Forthcoming)

 

Book Three: Magic Child

 

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PROLOGUE

the light turned, rippled...

 

As
the moons, Lor’ima
, Lori’ku and Lor’ya, rippled the
tides of grass, so did the Zehj’Ba ripple the folds of the curtains of light
that surrounded the land
of Ava’Lona. The
life-drain was a dark shuddering in these golden curtains of light. And as the
tide swells and engulfs the shore, so did the life-drain swell, drawing forth
the precious life-energy of the Av’ru, drinking the life of the light shield
and its keeper. Like a suckling babe or the clinging lamprey, was the insidious
drain. Slowly, the Av’ru died.

Then,
like the blossoming of the deadly lotus, the Zehj’Ba bloomed, increasing
tenfold, then a hundred. She fought off the clinging tentacles of the
life-drain, trying to shear through them. But they evaded her and swept back,
clinging and multiplying, attacking from all sides. Death marched just a bit
nearer on heavy leaden feet...

 

Audola shuddered and pulled out of the rapport with
the Av’ru.

:Is it Turo’dan - the Sign of Turning? Is the end
of Ava’dan coming?:
The High Queen asked softly, grim with apprehension.

:Perhaps,:
the pale, golden voice of the Av’rujo
sighed. The single word spoke volumes.

: How fare you, Mother?:
the High Queen asked, her
voice uncharacteristically thick with concern.

The timeless voice sighed, bouncing off the pale
walls of cream and pink mother of pearl marble and the deep purple and mauve
marble floor of the vast room.
:My strength wanes, Daughter. Seventy cycles
ago I took up the mantle of the Av’rujo, that many plus half and half again as
long has my reign of High Queen been. I am tired, Daughter; my strength has
fled. Soon will the Darkness cover my eyes and then shall I be one with Shalgo,
the Supreme One. Then will I rest.:

The serene words fell chill upon the High Queen. The
Av’ru
,
the protective shield encircling the Realm
Ava’Lona
,
had stood strong for two thousand cycles, holding out those of the
Lora’Lons
.
Until the
Zehj’Ba
.
Before the
Zehj’Ba
, the draining, weakening of
the shield, the
Av’ru
was a self-sustaining thing,
drawing on the ambient
av’rita
that the
life and the land radiated naturally. At that time the
Av’rujo
,
the guardian of the
Av’ru
, merely
observed, warning of any attempt to penetrate the
Av’ru
from what lay beyond. Then, four hundred cycles ago, came the
Zehj’Ba
.
The High Queen of that era, Silini sul Ava’Lon, ascended to
Av’rujo
and tied her life force into the shield to sustain it; for that which leeched
energy from the
Av’ru
drained it away faster then it
could replenish itself.

For nearly one hundred cycles the drain had been
very small and constant. Almost negligible. Then, more than two hundred cycles
ago the
Zehj’Ba
had begun to increase in strength, slowly, but steadily. And then, about one
hundred cycles ago the
Zehj’Ba
began
increasing at a geometric rate. It had claimed the lives of three High Queens
that had ascended to
Av’rujo
, and it was
on its way to claiming a fourth.

“Can nothing be done?” The High Queen asked.

:What is there to be done? I fade. One must take my
place.:

The
High Queen bowed her head and spread her arms in acquiescence. Soon she would
have to ascend to be
Av’rujo
. And the
Heir, however young and inexperienced, would have to assume the throne and
become High Queen.

 

 

CHAPTER I

the light slowly turned...

 

The
light of
Av
beat down with an ancient rhythm, hammering upon
the
forest with heavy feet, drumming out the turning of
Av
.
Though its light was scattered by the canopy, the heat penetrated, turning the
moist air into stifling humidity, thick as a veil of mystery. The forest was a
green, growing place, filled with life of all types and every description, life
calling and droning and moving to the rhythms of the wild. It seemed
undisturbed by the alien presence in its midst, the shadow among the shade.

Jeliya resisted the urge to move, though her
training as a huntress was hard pressed with the many irritations afflicting
her. She yearned to wipe her neck where her coil of braids lay heavy and hot;
the stray ends and slick sweat were making her itch unto madness. The branch
upon which she was precariously perched was cutting into the soles of her feet,
since she had removed her footwear for better traction. Her knees ached from
squatting for so long. But she did not give in to any of the automatic,
undisciplined responses to these discomforts. Instead she marshalled her
movements, slowly, carefully. She timed them to the motion of the branches in
the wind that occasionally penetrated the dense foliage, using the swaying to
unwind the kinks, shift her feet and flex her knees. She shifted her
guinne
,
her sounds covered by the sounds of the tree. Then she settled down once more,
the hunting shadow. Only her eyes moved as she peered through the lush leafage
of the
ferr’flambeaux
tree in which she was perched. If she had moved unrestrained to raise her hand
and wipe her neck, or ease the strain in her legs, the slightest shift of her
weight would have set the branch she was on to swaying counter to the natural
motions around her. And the unnatural rustle and clang of the leaves would
surely have given her presence away to the sensitive alertness of her prey, as
surely as would a shout.

The forest was quiet, nothing amiss, her presence
unobtrusive. Nothing larger than a
panyin
moved; her
prey was not near. She continued to search with huntress eyes, waiting as the
light turned.

Her mind wandered, her thoughts fragmented,
disjointed. She thought of home. Home, where the spires flew as tall as the
mighty
boabi
,
the halls of marble and malachite were spiraled with ancient designs - and all
was in disarray because of the preparations for the
Bolorn’toyo
,
the gathering of Queens, eight turns away. She knew that her mother’s house
would be in an uproar, as would every other royal household in the land; for
all Queens of the twelve Territories had been
invited. Each would represent the head Family of each Tribe, bringing into the Ritious City
one thousand Queens in all. Each Queen would
bring with her a retinue of ten servants and five crown keepers, fifty
warriors, both First and Second Voices, three Trade Mistresses, and Priestesses
from all twelve Goddesses. The
Lan’mya
estates
around the Palace
T’Av’li
would be
filled to overflowing with the Greater Queens, as would the
Lan’mba
,
the royal chambers for the Lesser Queens that stood just beyond the Palace and
Lan’mya
grounds.

Jeliya was most thankful to
Ag’ko
,
Goddess of Peace, Wisdom and Tranquility, (she made a slow, careful sign of
benediction for invoking the Goddess’s name) that she was not mixed up with the
preparations. For though she was not in her majority and would not assume the
throne until her mother moved on, she was required to attend the ghastly formal
affair.

Which
is fine,
she thought wryly
,
making a quick survey
of the area with a predator’s eyes, ears and nose,
just as long as
I don’t have to help get things ready.

Nothing was more tedious than preparing for a major
gathering. Jeliya much preferred being here, in this wretched tree, on this
stupid branch that was cutting into her feet again, than at the Palace. No
doubt if she were there, she would have been pressed into service - organizing
servants and
maddi
, the crown keepers, making
schedules and the like. If it were one thing that Jeliya hated, it was mundane
busy-work.

I couldn’t have picked a better time to go on
Safania
,
she mused, just a little smugly. Especially since she, being who she was, did
not get to go on
Safania
, or Journey, her adulthood
wanderjahr. One of her importance could not be risked on such trivialities as
Journey. At least, she could not have an unescorted Safania, which was no
Journey at all. That was why she was here, now. This was her Safania, a
substitute of her own devising, one that took her almost as far from her home
as she had ever been. And though she had started out with a considerable escort
of servants, special warriors called warru, and maddi, her crown keepers, she
had managed to get free of them. All of them, even down to the one warru that
had insisted on accompanying her everywhere. She needed this - needed, for
once, to be on her own. And besides, this Safania had a purpose, whereas most
Journeys did not.

The typical
Safani’ani
usually
just wandered around, looking to see what they might see, living off the land
by their wits, learning about their true inner selves, and learning to trust
their abilities. Jeliya had no such luxury. So, she was here for a very
important reason - a search for answers. The outcome of her
Safania
could affect the entire Realm. But she could not help enjoying the temporary
solitude that her task apportioned to her.

And better here than at lessons!
she thought
exuberantly, privately reveling in her freedom. She let none of it show, of
course, even though she was alone. For though she was nearly twenty-one cycles
of the Seasons, still her formal and political education continued. And an
integral part of that education included masking any emotional reaction from
others, so that they could read nothing of her thoughts, nor gain any
advantages over her through doing so.

As a Queen, she would have to know how to dance
through the niceties of court intrigue as well as she knew her name. An
uneducated Queen who could not marshal her facial and bodily expressions was a
weak Queen, and a weak Queen was worse than nothing, a tool for others to use -
and politically, death. The higher the stair, the lower the fall, the axiom
went. So though she was not yet required to be in constant control of herself,
she made it an inherent part of her behavior. She ruthlessly schooled her
reactions and her emotions, letting as little show as possible. And as the
shadows turned, her face remained impassive and her body relaxed, yet coiled.
Her joy and excitement
were
all on the inside, the
mother of pearl lining to the featureless shell of her discipline.

She excelled, of course, in all facets of her
training - she had had little choice, but to excel - she had trained all her
life. And sitting in her mother’s court had long since taught her the value of
the interminable lessons. Still, it was nice to get away for awhile. To sit up
in a tree of flaming brilliance and wait for prey that might never come.

 

“Far from home

I’d rather be

Here, in this
flaming tree

Than caught up
in all the powers

Of Chaos
reigning in T’Av’li’s Towers….

 

“Far from home

I’d rather
strain,

Eye and heart,
wit and brain

To catch a prey
as lithe as time

Elusive as mist,
worse than my rhyme…”

 

She refrained from laughing at her own bad verse.

 

the
light turned...

 

She wondered again if her trap would work. Her prey
was elusive and canny to the point where even she, being equal to her own
hunts-mistress, could not come within two body-lengths of the creature without
it sensing her presence. At the start of her search a ten’turn before, she had
not even been sure the being existed. Then a twist of chance had enabled her to
glimpse the creature. And for those ten turns she had pursued its trail
relentlessly, trying to get near enough to it, so that she might fulfill her
purpose for seeking it out. But always it heard her coming, and fled. Nor, she
found, would any normal trap catch it, for it circumvented them with almost
prescient exactitude.

She focused again on the markers of her latest
contrivance. No ordinary trap was this, that she had set, this time. It was a
thing conceived of lore from similar creatures, and constructed of
av’rita
,
the magic that she naturally possessed. The rite had been old and complex; she
had had to consult many times with her liaison back at the Palace for the past
two turns to be sure that she had gotten it just right. It was a second order
rite designed by the
Katari
- an ancient
Katari
mating rite, in fact. They still used a version of the rite in the present, but
it was mostly ceremonial now, lacking the potent
av’rita
that gave the rite substance.

She had also had to modify the rite some, for she
was not
Katari
,
and neither was her prey - exactly. But hopefully her prey was close enough to
the hooved-ones to be affected by it. It was a last-ditch attempt to entrap the
thing; baited and set, she could but wait.

 

the light turned...

 

Her patience and vigilance finally paid off.
Something approached the spot she had marked in her mind’s eye, moving
cautiously as if expecting a snare or trap of some sort. The being passed
almost directly beneath her, carefully circumventing a daunting patch of
thrista nettle in its path. It halted in the middle of her invisible circle.

Jeliya held her breath in dazzled silence and
amazement:

The centaur-like creature was beautiful.
Breathtakingly beautiful. Heart-achingly beautiful. As beautiful as the ripples
of life though the light of
Av
.

She watched him in dumbstruck awe as he turned a
slow circle, moving his head in a questing manner.

The upper torso of the centaur-like creature had
broad, powerful shoulders, a well-defined back and huge pectorals, above a
wash-board stomach and muscles along its side that flared like curved wings,
melting into a trim waist. He was covered with a pale, pinkish-tan skin, almost
the albino equivalent to the people of Noraern
Ava’Lona
.
The lower body was a chiseled sculpture of jet velvet mixed with starlight, the
muscles in the legs standing out in sharp definition, streamlined and rippling
fluidity beneath the skin. Melding the two was what seemed a flowing mass of
quicksilver, the seething hair seeming to move with a life of its own, even
when the creature stood perfectly still, listening. The ruff of metallic silver
streaked like lightning up along the spine to crown the head in a glorious mane
of hair, and also up the front, downy and growing sparse as it reached the
chest. The hooves of the creature were also that unearthly silver, bleeding
upward to form silver socks and fetlocks, which ended just below the ebony
knees. The tail was a cascade of the living silver. And the face held fine,
though alien features, depthless eyes filled completely with star-dusted night,
a thin, oddly pointed nose, and thin lips - and above the eyes, in the middle
of the forehead, sat a three-digit long horn, spiraled as any seashell and
again the same uncanny silver. The being indeed looked to be related to the
Katari
,
but those peoples were more brightly adorned than this, having coats of gold
and black and white, and the jet mahogany skin prevalent in
Ava’Lona
.
Also the
Katari
had two, smooth, golden horns upon their brows, one below the other, and their
upper bodies were covered with a velvet fur-skin rather than true hair.

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