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Authors: Bryan Davis

Diviner

BOOK: Diviner
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Dragons of starlight

Diviner

Bryan Davis

one
 

K
oren stood at the brink of a precipice and stared into the darkness below. Only inches in front of her black boots, a stairway descended sharply into the seemingly endless void. The rocky steps appeared to be hundreds of years old—narrow, crumbling, without rails or even walls—the bare, sculpted stone jutting downward into the chasm before being swallowed by the eerie darkness.

Floating a few feet above the stairs, globules of vaporous light streamed toward her, each one stretching out like a comet—a shining head of shimmering radiance followed by a glowing tail. Wiggling like tadpoles, they seemed to swim in the air, and as the first one passed by, it orbited her face, brushing her skin with a tickly buzz.

A soft voice emanated from the tadpole’s radiant head, like a whisper from afar. “Has Exodus caused our pain? Will it ever return?” Then, after a final brush against her cheek, the stream flew toward the wall behind her, a sliding barrier that someone had left open, as if anticipating her arrival at the Northlands castle.

The parade of elongated globules flowed through the opening, some pausing at Koren’s spot at the top of the stairway before joining the escaping herd. The rush sounded like a crowd of people hurrying by, with only snippets of their private conversations reaching her ears as they passed.

“If the genetics are pure, we can force the recessive to survive.”

“I will take the eggs to Darksphere. The children will have a dragon for a father.”

“Find the escapees. No one will leave Starlight alive.”

Clutching the stardrop she had taken from Cassabrie’s sanctum, Koren raised the hood of her Starlighter vestment, shielding her ears from the barrage of splintered sentences. She stepped down and shifted her weight forward. Although the stony material crackled under her boot, the stair held firm. Then, fanning out her cloak, she walked slowly down the stairwell. Ahead lay the darkness of the unknown, a dizzying descent into a river of visible voices.

Koren pressed on. She had no choice. Somewhere in the castle lay the fallen star, Exodus, and Taushin, the new dragon king, had compelled her to locate it — without detection. He waited outside, leaving her to pass through the empty foyer and explore the castle as if she were a burglar.

Her mind’s eye drifted beyond Taushin, across the Northlands’ snow-covered landscape, southward to the lush, fertile valley where she had left Jason Masters, her new friend from the world of humans, a young man her own age who had tried to rescue her. So much had happened since she had allowed herself to be captured in order to save him from Taushin’s sorceress, Zena, and her pack of wolves. Where was he now? Dead? Captured? Had he returned to his own planet and forgotten all about her?

Koren heaved a deep sigh. She had to push away these dark thoughts. Jason was a warrior. Somehow he would have found a way to survive, to continue his quest to free the slaves, even if he had to retreat to the south. One way or the other, he didn’t appear to be anywhere in the Northlands vicinity.

As light from the world outside faded behind her, Koren slowed her pace. The never-ending streams of light illuminated the area just enough to allow a view of the dangers—a deep plunge into nothingness on each side and crumbling, narrow steps ahead, seemingly more fragile in the dimness. The slightest misstep could send her tumbling into a bone-breaking crash or hurtling over the precipice.

The stairs went on and on. Doubt stirred with each careful step. How could a star have burrowed into a castle’s cellar? Yet the whispering streams had to come from somewhere, making the chasm a likely place to search, if not the safest. The whispers continued, quieter now but still audible in spite of her hood.

“The Starlighter is alone and forsaken. She wants to die.”

“Fear not the loss of life. Fear the loss of the eternal. For life can be restored. Once lost, the eternal can never be found again.”

Koren kept her stare on the steps in front of her, marching to the beat of an inner rhythm. The fleeting statements seemed to beg to be put together, like puzzle pieces or perhaps threads in a mysterious mosaic. If she concentrated, maybe she could weave them into a coherent story, but so far the big picture seemed elusive.

Her tired feet plodded on and on. With each stair she passed, another appeared in the distance, creating a hypnotizing monotony, darkness giving way to light only to reveal yet another obstacle for her trembling muscles to overcome. Finally, a solid foundation came into view, an expanse that looked like the floor of a cave. A few paces in front of the final stair, a solid wall blocked forward progress. The chamber appeared to be wide open to the left, but it was too dark in that direction to see what might lie in wait. To the right, the whispering streams flowed from a cave opening in another wall.

Koren smacked her lips. Bitterness laced the air and coated her tongue with an acrid film. Taking a deep breath, she strode to the right, her gaze fixed on the cave. The pulsing lights funneled through the entrance, thick and frenzied, like radiant bats fleeing their daytime abode. She lowered her head and pushed through the barrage, trying to ignore the flurry of chaotic whispers.

Light appeared, growing brighter and brighter until she reached a massive chamber where a glowing sphere hovered a foot or so above the floor. As she crossed the threshold, the whispers stopped. All was quiet. Ahead, about twice the span of outstretched dragon wings, the nearly transparent ball of light trembled as if shaking in fear.

A flow of radiance erupted from a point on the surface and shaped into new streams before swimming into the tunnel behind her. At the sphere’s lower extremity, liquid dripped to the floor, sizzling on contact. Vapor rose briefly before being sucked into narrow crevices zigzagging across the stone surface.

Koren eyed the vapor-producing liquid seeping into the ground. Pheterone. The miners back home found it in veins that likely originated from this spot.

She peered through the star’s curved wall. Inside, a smaller ball of light, about half the size of the entrance to a dragon’s cave, floated at eye level. Images flashed on the surface, changing every second—a red dragon, a cattle child, a stone worker with a cart. Each image acted as a layer on the sphere that peeled off in a pulse of light before shooting out as one of the vapors.

Koren touched the edge of the streams’ exit point, a jagged hole nearly as big as her hand. As a new stream poured out, the flow warmed her skin. The light filtered through the gaps between her fingers and gathered behind her into yet another tadpole-like projectile.

Mentally, she ran over what little she knew about this star that wasn’t a star. Taushin had called it “a celestial angel,” referring to the sphere as a guide given to this planet by the Creator. Unbidden, his words rose in her mind.
The citizens of the planet labeled it a star, even though they knew that the twinkling dots in the heavens were very different. Although it was somewhat hot centuries ago, Exodus sustained a wound in its outer membrane, and it lost its heat.

As another trickle of warmth leaked from the wound, Koren uncurled the fingers of her other hand, revealing the stardrop. The size of a large knuckle, the sphere glowed with white light.

Her mission was to enter Exodus through the hole and tell Starlight’s stories from within. The light energy from her tales should cause Exodus to inflate and rise again. It would then release pheterone, infusing the atmosphere with the gas the dragons required to survive, thereby eliminating the need for human slaves. Her people could finally shake off their chains and return to their home world, Jason’s world.

She stared at the pulsing stardrop in her hand. One problem spoiled this scenario. If the hole remained in Exodus, it would eventually sink as it did before, and what they had gained would be lost. Only one alternative seemed to be foolproof — she could enter the star and use the stardrop to seal the hole from the inside. She would become the guiding angel of Starlight—her destiny as a Starlighter, according to Taushin.

Again his words returned to her mind:
You may take your place as a star in the sky, a watchful angel who forever tells the Creator’s stories to every soul in the world, dragon and human alike … if they will listen.

If.
And if they did not, her sacrifice would be for nothing. For there would be no way out … ever.

As if waging war in her mind, Taushin’s counterargument reverberated.

Why sacrifice? Why risk harm to yourself when it is possible to gain what you long for without it? With your power, I am sure you can keep the star aloft long enough for me to get the slaves out. To be eternally trapped while your liberated friends celebrate their freedom without you would be the greatest of tortures. Yes, you would feel some joy … temporarily. But what about after a hundred years? A thousand years? Ten thousand? After every rejoicing slave is dead, you will be hovering over a thankless land, forever and ever. Your sorrow will never end.

Koren shook her head, trying to sling the competing thoughts away. No matter what she decided to do later, she could do nothing from outside the star. Maybe when she entered, a new secret would be revealed that would make her decision an easier one.

She pushed the edge of the hole to one side. It stretched easily. As if in response, a low wail sounded from the inner sphere. She pulled again, stretching the gap and pushing her head and torso inside. Another wail, longer and louder, echoed throughout the sphere’s inner cavity.

She slid all the way in and allowed the pliable membrane to ease back into place, leaving a slightly larger hole than before. This time a gentle sigh drifted from wall to wall.

Koren stood on the curved floor, angling her body to keep her balance. “Is someone in here?” she called.

Her own words bounced back at her, repeating her question several times before fading.

A voice emanated from the small inner sphere. “Who are you?”

Koren let her boots slide down to the bottom of the floor. As she approached the source of the voice, she spoke in a soothing tone. “My name is Koren.”

“Koren?” The images on the sphere’s surface stopped, freezing at a portrait of Koren pulling a cart filled with honeycombs. “Koren, the Starlighter who works for Arxad?”

“Yes.” She reached a hand toward the sphere, feeling the energy flowing from the speaking ball. “What is your name?”

The flow diminished. Then, as if deflating, the sphere contracted, growing taller in proportion to its width. It formed into the shape of a girl, and the colors in the portrait spread across her body—red into her flowing hair, green into her eyes, and blue into a cloak that matched Koren’s. Only her dress remained white. Finally, every detail crystallized. She seemed as human as any young woman on Starlight. It was like looking at a mirror … with one exception.

Koren looked down at her own clothes. Although she wore the Starlighter’s cloak, the black dress Zena had forced upon her covered her body from neck to knees, and the equally black boots adorned her feet, tied at the back to mid-calf.

The girl stared, her expression curious, yet sad. With her hood raised, she tilted her head to the side and spoke softly. “Why are you here, Koren?”

Koren glanced back at the hole. The question felt like a challenge, a rebuke. It would be easy to retreat and slide out, run away from this responsibility … too easy. “I’m here to try to resurrect Exodus.”

“It is impossible,” the girl said with an ache in her voice. “I have tried for many years, but the star will not rise. No matter how many tales I tell, Exodus remains here, trapped in the grasp of Starlight itself.”

Koren swallowed. Whoever this girl was, she had obviously suffered greatly. “What’s your name?”

Blinking, the girl tilted her head to the other side. “My name?”

“Yes. I’m Koren, and you’re …” She nodded, hoping to prompt the girl for an answer.

The girl averted her eyes and stared blankly at the wound in the sphere’s surface. Her cheeks changed hue, though not with normal red tones. It seemed that the colors from the flashing images bled into the surface of her skin. “My name,” she repeated in a whisper. “That is a thought that has not entered my mind in a very long time.”

“You mean, you don’t remember your own name?”

“A name from long ago is returning. I know not whether it is mine or another’s.” She returned her gaze to Koren, her face still infused with multicolored splotches. “Does Brinella suit me?”

“Brinella,” Koren repeated. “It’s lovely.”

“Good. Then I will—” Brinella stiffened. Her eyes shot wide open. As if seized by convulsions, her body heaved. Words poured from her mouth, a river of competing voices, yet none matching her own.

“I am from another world. I have come to request help against the forces of corruption.”

“But you’re a dragon. You captured our people and enslaved them.”

“Don’t worry. He’s with us.”

“But how can you trust one of them?”

As the words continued to spew, they became garbled, unintelligible. They collected into streams and shot out the hole, and once outside, they formed into glowing whisperers and swam through the tunnel.

After nearly a minute of disgorging, Brinella finally stopped. Holding a hand against her stomach, she looked at Koren, her face now pale. “I apologize for that outburst. When the tales of Starlight fill me, they must eventually come out.”

“It’s all right. Feel free to … uh … empty yourself whenever you need to.” Koren suppressed a grimace. Brinella’s role as a guiding angel of Starlight surely had many drawbacks. She nodded toward the wound in the surface. “Have you tried to escape through that hole?”

“I cannot escape, Koren. Exodus must have a Starlighter dwelling within, or it will collapse and no longer feed the air with sustenance. Because of my love for this world and our Creator, I made a vow to stay here. If I were to leave my post untended and break my vow, I would become a disembodied spirit, trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead. I would have no path to paradise. My best hope is to die here. Since I am bound to Exodus, its destruction by the hand of another will bring about my death. Then I will fly to the Creator and live with him forever.”

BOOK: Diviner
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