Conjured in Gold

This story was created by my fellow author, Cyndera, and can also be found on her personal blog (see the Links page for more details).  I’m not promoting it here–there isn’t a direct post with the text–because frankly, it isn’t my story.  You will see in my post history that there are reblog posts for this story, but the full text isn’t there; those posts contain links to the story on her blog.

Cyndera and I discussed this story several years ago, at which time she had just drafted the initial concept.  We talked about producing it as a collaboration, and brainstormed a bit; but ultimately we decided not to go that direction, and she’s since done some work of her own toward a continuation.  Fair enough; it’s her material.  However, while we were still considering collaborating, she agreed to let me produce the next chapter, which ultimately differed from her plans for the work.  I want to post that section, titled Summoned in Darkness, here as well; and in order to follow it, you need to have read the original.  I won’t be promoting Summoned either, just adding it as a page, because she has mixed feelings about presenting it when she may yet choose to expand this story herself; and I would never want to steal her thunder.  Still, I’m proud of the work; I think my contribution turned out well, as did hers, and I want to have it available here.  So, here is the original, Conjured in Gold.

Note that if you followed her posts of the story, this version might differ slightly; it’s an older edit than her posted version, and she’s changed a few things, but I think the differences will be minor.  Again, it’s an interesting work, and I like it.  Thanks for reading, and if you like it, please go over to Cyndera’s blog and give her credit! ~Timewalkerauthor

 

Conjured in Gold

By Cyndera

 

“You can’t be serious, Arlia!”

The elderly man—tall, dressed in scarlet-red robes–stood in the middle of the library, his voice a mix of disbelief, amusement, and shock. His grey hair, once long, was now cut short so that it barely covered even the highest tip of his ears; it distinguished  him from the other men in the village, clearly marking him as an Elder. The hair stood in sharp contrast to his dark-green eyes, which were fixed on a young woman standing right in front of him. She wore a silken, white robe with delicate embroidery; her white hair merged almost completely with the flowing fabric. She had her arms crossed over her chest, and she glared with bright blue eyes at the taller figure. “You know how rare it is that a winged soul is born?” the man exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. Arlia did not move an inch.

“Yes, I know, Father” she answered, trying hard to not let her emotions take over. As if she had not studied the incantation about a hundred times by now! She exhaled sharply. “But there is no telling when it happens…or to whom! The scriptures do not reveal anything about any kind of pattern. It can happen to any of us. Old, young, talented or not, compliant or stubborn …” She stopped, almost gasping for breath.

Magra sighed and rolled his eyes. His youngest daughter was definitely a prime example of one of the more stubborn individuals of their race. Over time, as she had gotten older, Arlia had learned to put logic over emotions, and patience over being impetuous…if not completely. He sometimes wondered which line of blood his daughter actually came from. He could not remember a single family member that was—or had been—as relentless as Arlia; everything she did was guided by passion, even her most calculated actions. Magra secretly admired the fire that was so obviously burning inside his daughter.

At the same time, it made him uncomfortable. Arlia shared many traits with the Dark Ones, and because of that he had been keeping a close eye on her. He had no idea what flowed in her veins, or why, but he knew that any of his children could be extremely dangerous if they chose the path that, centuries ago, had claimed almost half of Magra’s people, and had split his race into two. Ever since then, the Dark Ones and the Light Ones had been fighting a battle that was seemingly never-ending—and, it seemed from time to time, pointless. It saddened the old men that there was no reasoning with the brothers and sisters that had gone astray so long ago. They had not exactly gone mad, but their irrational behavior clearly indicated that something had gone horribly wrong.

Magra was pulled away from this memory by his daughter’s voice. “Well, since you don’t disagree with me on that, I assume I can have one of the feathers and prepare for the incantation.” It took Magra a few seconds to recall that Arlia was referring to the scriptures. And she was right. Ever since the Light Ones had started to conjure companion souls, his people had been trying to figure out what caused a soul to be born with wings, but their efforts had been futile. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Even the wisest of them had no answer. The one thing they knew for sure was that adding a feather from another winged soul to the ritual was essential. The feathers were hard to come by; they had to fall off the animal’s wing, could not be cut or ripped out, and they had to be found within a day of falling to the ground. The Elders made sure that feathers were distributed only to the most promising individuals.

Magra sighed and looked down at his daughter. She was one of the most talented sorceresses, despite her effervescent personality. Or maybe it was because of it …  “Fine”, he finally said. “If you are deemed worthy, it will be there, and you may take it.” Arlia smiled up at him.

“Thanks, Father” she said, and meant it. But Magra could see the triumphant glimmer in her eyes, and her upright posture as she brushed past him and strode towards the inner hall. It left him standing and wondering about his daughter’s future.

***

As Arlia crossed the outer ring of the library, she tried to slow down her heartbeat. She was excited. She had dreamt about her incantation day for what seemed to be an eternity. She pictured herself in beautiful golden robes that were customary for this day, her hair framing her face and making her eyes shine. She thought about approaching the circle where she would place the items she needed for the spell. Located in the square garden of the library, the circle was located on an elevated platform made of white marble, surrounded by lush, green grass. The circle itself was nothing special: A ring of pale golden dust. But once a person started the incantation, the circle would gain in color, density, and intensity. It was different for every person.

Many stories were told about how a circle had looked for a person. Not many people had actually seen more than two circles. Since conjuring a soul mate was the most intimate thing a person could do, only one other person was allowed in the garden; this was usually a close friend, a sibling or parent. For a long time, Arlia hadn’t been able to decide whom to invite. She was liked by most of the people in their town, but she had always stuck to herself. She did not like to open up to people. But this she could not do alone.

In end Arlia decided to bring a person she greatly respected: A female Elder who used to teach her as a very young child. Now, Muthra was old and in the caring hands of her two children. Arlia did not know if she was a good choice or not.  Young adults would mostly bring their best friends, significant others, sometimes parents. But Arlia just did not have one best friend. She had friends, yes, but not one person with whom she shared every thought and feeling. Muthra seemed to be the best choice. Many years ago, she had witnessed the birth of a winged soul, and Arlia secretly hoped that the old woman was a good luck charm.

As for the practical details of the ritual: everything would be in its exact place … everything would be perfect. Arlia had decided long ago that her soul companion would be a tiger. For centuries, young sorcerers and sorceresses could decide between a horse and a tiger. Most of Arlia’s girlfriends chose horses, magnificent creatures, fast and elegant. Arlia though wanted to be different. She rolled her eyes at the thought. She did not like to admit to herself or others that she was bored with the way things usually went.

She reached the end of the marble hallway, lined with book shelves carrying scriptures, artifacts, and the occasional floating book. She stopped in front of a door made of Mahogany wood. It showed intricate carvings, but no door knob or a key hole. This door would only open to a person at the time they were told to go there by their teachers.  But Arlia did not have to be told. This morning, when she woke up, she know that today would be the day. That she would take all the items needed with her when she approached her father and ask for a feather. He would be surprised that she had already gathered everything she needed. But Arlia was sure that his surprise was only partially genuine. He knew her too well for that. She inhaled deeply before she slowly moved her right hand towards the door, palm facing forward.

When she touched the cool wood, her body felt electrified for a moment. Then the heavy door slowly opened. A shimmer of gold came through the first crack, and a few seconds later Arlia stood on the threshold to the inner garden, bathed in light. Muthra was there, waiting. Of course she knew … probably even before Arlia knew herself. The old woman carried Arlia’s golden robe. She had never seen, let alone worn it before, but the tailors never made a mistake with these robes. It was as if magic itself helped the men and women to get every single stitch just right.

Arlia felt nervousness creeping up her stomach to her throat. She had dreamt of this day for so long, and now, all the sudden, she started to doubt herself. What if she was not ready? No, then the door would have opened. Then Muthra would not be here, waiting for her. What if she forgot an item she needed? She clutched her bag, afraid of dropping it. Her eyes flickered when she approached her old teacher. The woman smiled at her, full of confidence. “I have

waited a long time for this day, Arlia”, she said. Arlia’s skin started to tingle, and her hands were freezing cold when she slipped out of her white robe and let it drop to the ground. The sun light shone on her naked body as she received the golden robe from Muthra. The fabric felt warm, almost alive, and when the young woman let it slide down her body, it gave her a feeling of deep comfort and peace of mind. She finally managed to smile at her teacher, who stepped aside and gave way to a crystal vessel that held a single golden feather.

Arlia stepped forward and held her breath. It was the most beautiful feather she had ever seen. It was delicate, only about nine inches long, and shone almost brighter than the sun. The young woman held her breath when she carefully took the end of the feather and lifted it from the crystal. Her head was spinning. This was it.

With the feather in her right hand and her small bag in the other, Arlia approached the circle. The golden dust floated lazily a few inches above the ground. But when Arlia came closer, the color became more vibrant, and the particles started to swirl around until the circle was complete; a golden disc that pulsed with magic and life. Arlia looked over her shoulder at Muthra. The old woman was sitting cross-legged, hands folded, and eyes closed. Arlia knew she was praying. She focused on the circle in front of her.

Slowly she opened her bag, and took out a handful of bright white stones. Ideally, the soul would have the color of the stones that were picked. Carefully, Arlia distributed them on the outer ring of the golden disc. She half-expected the stores to fall through the fine dust. But to her surprise they floated just where they had been placed. The stones also signified the steadfastness of her creation.

Next, she filled the circle with some wooden sticks, grass, flowers, and water. She wanted her companion to be as gentle and complete as the nature around her. Many companions were conjured with items of war to ensure they would fare well in a battle, and oftentimes people added items that promised speed and swiftness. Arlia used the clear water to ask for silent speed, and movements as fluid as the drops that floated on top of the golden dust. Next came sapphires. It had taken Arlia a long time to find stones that she considered perfect; they would represent her soul’s eyes. Then she pulled a piece of fabric from her almost empty pouch. Unlike others, she had chosen to ask the tailors for their help instead of using the fur of an animal. Over the past year, she had collected petals from one of her favorite flower. The delicate leafs looked like a cotton ball sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was the softest material that could be found in these parts of her world. Her tiger would have the softest fur, if everything went right. She unfolded the cloth and carefully spread it over the circle, hiding the items underneath.

She reached into her pouch one last time and pulled out a smooth, silvery-blue gem. On its surface, she had carefully inscribed the words “tiger” and “Na’Ral” in the ancient symbolic language. The second symbol was the name she had chosen for her soul: White Flame. She placed the gem in the middle of the blanket. Holding her breath, she carefully placed the golden feather diagonally over the gem. In that very moment, the circle started to glow. Arlia stepped back, folded her hands, and got down on her knees. For a moment, everything was quiet. Then Muthra’s voice broke the silence. After a few seconds, Arlis joined her and together they sang the incantation, asking the Gods for a soul companion s that would stay with Arlia forever, that would carry her to end of the world and fight by her side whenever it was required.

When the song ended, both women opened their eyes and looked at the circle. The white blanket was gone, and so were the stones, the sticks, and the water. All that was left was the golden dust. For a moment that felt like eternity to Arlia, she thought that nothing had happened. Nothing at all. But then she saw movement. Something white and fluffy was stirring, and a glimmer of blue broke through the dust. Arlia’s eyes widened when a tiny little head emerged from the flow of gold. Two blue eyes looked up at her, curiously. “Na’Ral” she whispered, half a question, half realization that it had worked. The tiger raised a paw and playfully batted at the dust particles swirling around it.

Arlia’s lips curled into a smile when she watched the newly conjured life. She briefly felt disappointment the baby did not float above the ground, which would have been an unmistakable sign of wings. But the creature was too lovely, and so her negative feelings were quickly replaced by pure joy. She got to her feet and took a few steps forward. Then she remembered Muthra, and turned around to check on her. The old woman was just opening her eyes. She looked at Arlia, and then past her towards the marble podium. Arlia saw her eyes grow wide. “By the Gods,” she whispered, staring.

Arlia was alarmed. What had happened? Did something go wrong after all? She jerked her head to the right, towards Na’Ral. With a look of shock on her face, she saw what her teacher meant. The golden dust had receeded, only a thin ring of gold remained. In the middle, the white tiger raised his head and looked at Arlia. With a high-pitched growl, so typical to young cats, the creature shook itselfself and then slowly spread  two beautiful, golden wings.  Arlia could do nothing but stare. It was not until the little tiger growled again that the young woman rushed towards him. She picked him up as gentle as possible and cradled him in her arms. Her face reflected nothing but joy and love. She lowered her head and kissed her companion on the tiny pink nose. Na’Ral looked up at her, stuck his tongue out and licked Arlia’s nose in return.

The news spread like wildfire. As soon as Arlia opened the door to her parent’s house, her father got up from his favorite arm chair and approached his daughter. There was no need for words. His eyes and the glow on his face gave away his emotions. He patted Na’Ral on the head, and then stepped to the side so Arlia’s sisters and mother could greet the newest member of the family. It was not long after that friends, neighbors and extended family poured in to admire the little cat. Each of them brought a gift for Arlia. Muthra handed her a blanket made of rose petals, and laughed when Na’Ral pounced on it, sniffed and then sneezed adorably.

Hours later, when all the food was gone and the guests had gone home, Arlia carried her new friend to her room and laid him gently into a wicker basket lined with soft pillows and the rose petal blanket  that Na’Ral had instantly claimed. The little creature looked up at her with sleepy eyes and snorted quietly. The his head sank down on to his paws, and he was asleep just a few seconds later. Arlia went to bed with a smile on her face, which would remain there for the rest of the night.

***

One year later

“You can’t be serious!”

Arlia sighed. Would her father ever take her seriously? “Father, I made up my mind. Na’Ral is one of the greatest advantages we have in this war.” Her father cringe, but she carried on. “I won’t let him sit here and do nothing while in the North there is a war going on that kills people and animals and harms the land!”

Magra sighed, as he has done so very often in the past. He should have seen this coming. Over the past twelve months, Arlia had refined her magic, and had bonded with Na’Ral in a manner that was almost unprecedented. He should have known that his daughter would not be content staying here and studying advanced magic and inscriptions. Should have known that she would set out to join their people in the low lands and fight. His pride about her strength conflicted with his concern for her well-being. But Magra knew that arguing would be pointless. After all, Arlia was raised to be decisive and independent. She was raised to be a leader.

And now, sitting in his arm chair glancing up at her, he could see a younger version of himself in his daughter. The way she held her head, straightened her back, the way she spoke in front of congregation, her voice calm and authoritative but compassionate and caring at the same time. All of this did not belong into a village, hidden by the trees on top of the Silver Mountains Ridge. It belonged with the army, the fighters, and the battle mages. Magra inhaled deeply. “So be it. Prepare yourself, take what you need, and join our men and women in this fight.”

Arlia smiled at  him. “Thank you father,” she said and bowed ever so slightly. “I will not disappoint you.”

Magra looked up and into her face, then got to his feet and placed both his hands on Arlia’s shoulders. “My precious”, he said, in a low and emotional voice, “you never have disappointed me. The only disappointment I could ever feel is if you did not return to us when your calling is over”. Arlia bit her lower lip, grasped her father’s hands and held them close to her heart. “Then there will not be any feelings on disappointment in your future.” With these words, she leaned in and kissed her father’s cheek, then turned around and left the library.

The next morning, just before sunrise, Arlia and Na’Ral were ready to begin their journey. Arlia had packed only what was necessary. Her battle gear, consisting of scarlet red robes, white leather boots and gloves, two daggers, a bow and arrows, which would be dipped in poison. As a battle mage, she would not be involved in hand-to-hand combat unless absolutely necessary. Her pouch held food bricks, first-aid remedies, a blanked and tent and some hygiene items. She fastened her belongings to Na’Ral’s saddle, and then got on herself. She had said her good byes to her family and friends last night.

Now, in the hour before the light of dawn, she savored the clean air, the low noises from nature waking up, and the feeling of peace that had always surrounded her. Until now. Looking ahead, she knew that everything she knew and loved would soon be behind her, and she would submerge into a world of anger, blood and desperation. She just hoped that she would not drown in the midst of all of it.

“Let’s go, Na’Ral”, she whispered. The tiger growled and elegantly spread his wings. With a few powerful swings, they rose into the air, leaving the little village behind to fight for a greater cause.

After a few hours, Na’Ral descended towards a field that once bloomed with colorful flowers. Now, coming closer and closer, Arlia could see the charred earth, the deep scars in the land, and the withered plants. She felt a stabbing pain in her heart when she slid off Na’Ral’s back, bent down and touched the soil with her fingertips. She straightened herself up again, let a few dusty particles fall to her feet, then looked up and squinted at the afternoon sun. Next to her, the white tiger shifted uncomfortably. “I know”, the young woman said, and started walking towards a small farm house at the edge of the field. “Being out in the open is probably not the best idea ever”.

They reached the house after a few minutes. Na’Ral settled down beneath a meager tree and placed his head on his front paws. He watched his mistress peer around a corner, and then enter the house. A moment later, Arlia’s voice sounded through the walls. Na’Ral’s head jerked up, eyes wide open and ears pricked. “Are you hurt?” The young woman’s voice was filled with concern.

A fragile, female voice answered: “I fell, and I must have hurt my leg. I haven’t been able to get up since yesterday. Thank the Gods you came by.”

“Here, let me help you”, Arlia said. Carefully, she supported the old woman and helped her to a wooden table at the other end of the room.

“Thank you”, she said when Arlia handed her a cup of water. “What is your name, child?” she inquired after taking a few sips.

“Arlia”.

“Magra’s daughter?”

“Yes”, the young sorceress replied, surprised.

The old woman smiled. “My name is Mila”, she said, “and your father and I have known each other for a long time. I hoped and prayed that one day I would see you again.”

“Again?” Arlia was confused. Mila grinned.

“I have known you when you were a very small child, with eyes as blue as the sky. Now look at you … you are all grown up!” Mila reached for the water again. “Life is pretty secluded out here, but rumors have it that your soul companion is a winged tiger … is it true?” Her eyes were full of longing and hope.

“Yes”, Arlia said. “His name is Na’Ral … he is outside.”

Mila’s smile grew wide, and her face lit up as if a gush of wind had blown away a shadow that had lingered there for far too long. “Then there might be hope after all”, she murmured. Then she mustered Arlia with a critical look. “If you are to make it into the heart of the war, you will first have to pass through a city that is completely controlled by the Dark Ones. We will have to prepare you and Na’Ral accordingly. First,” eying Arlia’s robe, “you will have to change your appearance.”

By the end of the day, Arlia’s scarlet robes had been replaced by an ensemble of greenish and brown clothes –rags, really-, and her long, white hair was now short and the color of dying grass. Na’Ral, voicing his disapproval, had been camouflaged as best as possible, mostly to hide his golden wings. Arlia knew there were many more sacrifices to come when she finally curled up next to the tiger and fell into a deep but restless sleep.

To Be Continued

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Summoned in Darkness

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