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Rachel . . . help me . . . Rachel, please!
Rachel awoke, clutching her covers. She sat up on the soft mattress. Shadows shrouded her bedchamber. The telepathic voice in her head was unfamiliar. The female speaker was not Corinne, and not Ulani, who had recently learned to transmit simple thoughts over short distances.
Who are you? Rachel conveyed with all her will.
Rachel! I can’t hang on much longer. . . . Come now . . . please hurry!
Despite the urgency behind the message, the mental outcry was fading. Rachel had worked with several of the acolytes on speaking in silence, but so far only Ulani had succeeded. Was it possible that in a desperate moment one of the girls had unlocked the ability? Rachel slept in the area of the temple set apart for the acolytes. They were all relatively near. Who else at Mianamon would be able to contact her like this?
Apart from the words in her mind, the night was still. No sounds intruded from outside her room. Mianamon was not under attack. So what was the problem?
Who is this? What’s wrong?
The words came weakly, the mental equivalent of a whisper. Kalia. Training room. I tried a strong command. Failed. I hurt all over. . . . Don’t tell the others. . . . Please help me.
Kalia. Rachel had trained with the acolytes for months. Most had only a hint of Edomic talent. None had a natural ability like Rachel, but Kalia was among the more promising. On more than one occasion Rachel had tried to teach her to speak in silence.
Hold on. I’m coming.
Speaking an Edomic word, Rachel lit a bedside candle, then rose and shrugged into her acolyte robe. Kalia must have slipped down to the training room in the night for some extra practice. She must have attempted something too ambitious and lost control of the command. Rachel knew firsthand how debilitating the consequences of a failed Edomic directive could be.
If Kalia could still find the strength to call out mentally, she probably wasn’t fatally injured. But that didn’t mean she might not feel like she was going to die.
Rachel spoke another command, igniting a clay lamp. Picking it up, she unlocked her door and stepped into the hallway.
Darkness awaited beyond her lamplight in both directions. Rachel was not accustomed to roaming the Temple of Mianamon after-hours. She and her friends had been here for the whole winter, but she had never walked these stone corridors when all was dark and empty. The familiar passage suddenly seemed ominous.
Still there, Kalia?
No response came. The acolyte could be unconscious. Or she might simply lack the energy to send another message.
Rachel passed several doors. No life could be heard behind them. No light seeped through the cracks. After rounding a corner, she reached the stairway that led down to the training room. Beyond the bubble of light from her lamp, all was silent shadow. Rachel knew that outside the section of the temple reserved for acolytes, she could find the human guards who protected their privacy at all hours. She also knew where she could find Jason, Drake, or her other companions. Or she could call out mentally to Galloran or Corinne.
But the painful experience of a failed command was best kept private. Kalia would not appreciate others seeing her in an injured, weakened state. Straightening her shoulders, Rachel started down the stairs. She arrived at the bottom and moved along a broad hallway.
The darkness retreated from her approach until Rachel reached the door to the main training room. It was slightly ajar. Rachel nudged it open and stepped inside.
A vehement Edomic command answered her inquiry. The words demanded that Rachel hold still. As requested, her muscles locked up, leaving her temporarily immobilized.
Rachel knew this command! The acolytes of Mianamon practiced an Edomic discipline that enabled them to issue directives to people. Upon her arrival at Mianamon, Rachel had known how to use Edomic to get some animals to heed certain instructions, but she had never guessed that she might be able to use similar tactics on humans.
Commanding inanimate matter with Edomic was straightforward—all matter and energy understood the language. You simply needed to accompany the proper words with enough focused willpower to demand compliance. If you tried to accomplish too much, you would fail and face a backlash of physical and psychic traumas.
With animals it was trickier. Edomic did not work well on living things. Instead of compelling animals, you had to make suggestions that they could either heed or disregard. Ask too gently and the animal would ignore the directive. Push too hard and you risked the consequences of a failed command.
Humans were even more complicated. You couldn’t really use Edomic on the mind. You couldn’t implant a complex idea. It was more like speaking to the spine, suggesting a reflexive response that the mind would counter once it caught up. Rachel now knew roughly fifty suggestions that might work on a human, most of them at the level of dog commands: stay, lie down, turn around, jump. In a moment of distress, Rachel knew, the ability to cause an enemy to temporarily freeze or flop to the ground might prove very useful.
Rachel had practiced this discipline for months. None of the acolytes could match her skill at it. For instance, most of the girls could not demand any form of compliance from Ulani, but Rachel could freeze her with a word. Conversely, even the most capable acolytes couldn’t make Rachel do much more than twitch.
Except now she couldn’t move!
The command had been uttered with power and expertise. It held her like no command had since her first day of training. Was her guard down because of fear? Sure, she was scared, but she was resisting the mandate the same way she had practiced. It just wasn’t working.
Rachel heard another muttered command. A black metal spike streaked toward her chest, gleaming in the light of her lamp.
Rachel still couldn’t move. Instead, she spoke in silence. Rachel had lots of practice moving physical objects. She telepathically ordered the spike to hold still. It stopped just over a foot from her chest, quivering in midair.
More words issued from the shadows beyond her lamplight. A robust will contended with hers, inching the spike toward her. Rachel had regained control of her body, but she didn’t want to advertise her recovery to her enemy. Instead, Rachel bore down and pushed the spike away. The will of her enemy broke, and the spike went sailing into a wall.
Rachel knew the location of many torches, cressets, and lamps in this room. With a word she illuminated several at once. The light displayed Kalia charging toward her, a knife in one hand, a long needle in the other.
Rachel commanded Kalia to fall to the floor. The acolyte obeyed, losing hold of her knife. Kalia tried to compel Rachel to freeze again. The expertly phrased directive worked for a fraction of a second, but Rachel was ready this time, and promptly reasserted control. She then countered by commanding Kalia to be still.
“What are you doing?” Rachel spat.
Kalia remained immobile for barely a second. The girl rolled over and looked up, red spittle leaking from one corner of her mouth. Rachel realized that when Kalia had lost control of the spike, the resulting failure must have injured her.
Kalia growled a command, and the knife darted at Rachel. Ducking to the side, Rachel seized control of the knife and put it to the throat of the acolyte. Holding it there took great control, but Rachel had practiced manipulating physical objects more diligently than any other Edomic discipline.
“Why?” Rachel demanded, panting.
Kalia spat blood. Sweat dampened her face. Her feral eyes were panicked and angry. Kalia was among the younger acolytes. Although she looked to be in her twenties, she was actually closer to fifty. Acolytes employed routine Edomic meditation to slow the aging process.
“Why?” Rachel repeated.
Kalia spoke a command, trying to seize control of the knife, but Rachel countered with a stern mandate, and Kalia’s effort dissolved, crushed by a superior will. Rachel angled the knife away as the acolyte doubled over, writhing in pain. The failed commands were taking a heavy toll.
“When did you get so good?” Rachel demanded. “You never moved objects.”
I never spoke in silence, either. The furious words burned in Rachel’s mind. He should have given the order earlier, before you had so much training. I could have taken you when you first arrived. I know I could have!
Who ordered this? Rachel pressed.
Use your imagination, Kalia communicated, her rage diminishing. My only solace is that he’ll get you yet. I chose the winning side. He asked too much of me at the wrong time. Bad for me. But it won’t save you. Mark my words. He’ll get you all.
You work for Maldor?
He’ll kill every last one of you!
Galloran burst into the room, his blindfold off, his torivorian sword drawn, several treefolk and human guards following in his wake. He looked from Rachel to Kalia. I sensed a great deal of Edomic in use.
Kalia jabbed the long needle into her thigh.
What have you done? Rachel asked.
Another inane question! How does such a simpleton access so much power? It’s infuriating! It’s disgusting! Kalia began to convulse. Red foam frothed from her lips.
“She tried to kill me,” Rachel explained, turning away in horror and disgust.
Galloran took her lamp, set it aside, then wrapped his arms around her. Rachel felt embarrassed that he must feel her trembling. But she was not embarrassed enough to reject the comfort. I’m so sorry, Rachel. I never would have guessed Maldor could have planted an assassin at Mianamon.
Where can’t he come after us? This is the one place in Lyrian where I felt safe!
The sad truth is that no place in Lyrian is secure anymore, no matter how remote. And the problem will only worsen. We’ve been planning to leave soon. Let’s make it tomorrow. We have stood still for too long.
Rachel clung to Galloran, wishing she could disappear. Kalia had set a trap and tried to kill her!
A man covered from head to toe in moss brought the knife and the iron spike to Galloran. “Both poisoned. Giantsbane. Just like the needle.”
“Later,” Galloran said. He waved a hand. “Leave us.”
The men and treefolk exited the training room.
“I’m so sorry, Rachel,” Galloran said again, still holding her.
Rachel felt bad for the amount of pain in his voice. “It wasn’t your fault. Thanks for coming so quickly.”
“I was a fool for allowing you to room so far from the rest of us. I should have foreseen this possibility. Thank goodness you saved yourself. I could feel the strength behind her commands. This traitor was no novice. I did not know that any Edomic adepts of her ability remained. She must have hidden here for a long while.”
“More than thirty years,” Ulani said, entering the room. She glared bitterly at the fallen acolyte, then shifted her attention to Rachel. “Are you all right?”
“I’m all right,” Rachel managed. “It’s all right.”
Galloran continued to hold Rachel close. “Maldor must have known we were preparing to leave. He wanted to strike before we departed.”
Rachel scowled a little, pulling back from the embrace. “Why didn’t the oracle know about her? Why didn’t Esmira see this coming?”
“I wish she had,” Galloran said.
“I never sensed any evil in Kalia,” Ulani said. “Nor did I perceive unusual power. Potential, yes, but unrealized. Perhaps Kalia knew how to shield her mind from scrutiny. Perhaps Maldor only got to her recently. We may never know. Esmira saw many things, but I can’t imagine she spent much time looking for traitors among us. We were too isolated, too united against the emperor and all he stands for.”
“He tried to kill me,” Rachel said in a small voice.
After a final hard look at the body on the floor, Galloran tied his blindfold in place. Apparently, he didn’t want any more details to reach Maldor through his displacer eyes. “Maldor would have rejoiced at your death. But he has some idea of your abilities. He should have recognized that this Kalia, although talented, was probably not up to the challenge. This attack may have simply been a test.”
Rachel huffed softly. “Rough test.”
“Maldor knows no gentle games.” Galloran put an arm around her shoulders. “Try not to let this rattle you. Take solace that you rose to the occasion. Thankfully, we’ve kept the details of the prophecy from all at Mianamon save Ulani. Even so, Maldor knows exactly where we are and may have deduced some of our intentions. As we embark on our quests, we’ll all have trials to face in the coming days. I fear this is only the beginning.”