Beskrivelse av boka
The Heartless King has eyes everywhere.
Everyone knows that magic is dangerous. Magical beings are hunted and experimented on, and hiding them from the king would mean certain death. But sometimes, even the most ordinary of people will risk everything for someone they love.
Everine Vargens is haunted by visions of the past. Except, it’s not the grief of losing her sister that causes the visions. It’s her newborn niece. Becoming a mother overnight was not something Everine was prepared for, but spellbound by Ayva’s smile, Everine doesn’t see evil. She sees someone in need of her protection.
She knows it will be a race for their lives. Standing still, however, is worse. And she cannot allow the king to abuse Ayva’s magic.
Everine hides the sparkling baby from prying eyes–and runs right into Birken.
Birken agrees to guide Everine and Ayva through the Land of Fire. He knows what it means to be strange, to be distrusted. To be hunted. But he has agendas of his own. Will his secrets help protect the baby or will Everine face more danger than she can handle?
Together they bring the baby on a wild journey hoping to find a safe haven, if there are any left. If not, it will only be a matter of time before the baby–and her magic–falls into the wrong hands.
– Pyralis –
Pyralis pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He leaned over the scroll of parchment while dipping his quill in the ink, recording his thoughts with careful precision.
I am concerned. Centuries have passed, and the second coming is almost upon us. With the Elemental regents gone, Aradria has been thrown into chaos once more. Over the past two centuries, nature has become unbalanced, and what dwells in the dark has begun to surface. It troubles me that the spirits have lingered for so long. I fear it might not be enough.
Pyralis lifted his head at the sound of footsteps from the hall. But he had bolted the doors to prevent anyone from entering, and the sound of footsteps soon faded away. More at ease, Pyralis returned to his letter.
Three-headed beasts and creatures of old have emerged from the abyss and other dark corners across Aradria. The lands have been plagued by nature’s untamed fury in the form of such catastrophes as typhoons, tidal waves, and wildfires. I hope you are safe in Catyan Forest. Nature cannot tolerate the unbalance much longer.
I fear for Aradria, though we both knew of the consequences. The king has gained many allies, and he has been able to see almost everything through his sorcery. I am glad to report that he has not yet seen the child.
Pyralis paused, smiling at a painting on the wall, which portrayed a white trunk twisted around itself and the roots of a tree as old as time. It was a vivid image. With a sense of renewed hope, he finished his letter.
I believe the new age is on the brink of unfolding. Perhaps we might have peace at last.
Until next time.
Yours always, dhin vèhn, Pyralis
“He has found them, wizard.”
Pyralis turned to look at the squirrel dangling precariously from the top of the window frame.
“Greetings, Rhastoc. That is fortunate.” Pyralis picked up the parchment and waved it decisively to dry the ink before rolling it up and binding it with a red ribbon.
“Do you really think he can keep them safe?” The squirrel flipped around and landed elegantly on the windowsill.
“If anyone can, it would be him. Besides, I have paid him more than enough.”
“There might be hope for Aradria yet. You should have seen her, wise one. She is but a few days old and has already performed magic.” Rhastoc ground a nut between his sharp claws and banged it thrice on the edge of the windowsill.
Pyralis pulled out another scroll. The image of a fire-breathing dragon covered the entirety of the page. A few lines in Ancient Arvish were scrawled across the dragon’s stomach. With his palms resting on the edges of the parchment, Pyralis read aloud: “Nier ith vaktir doder, ith Draykaer oth sveva ohm nhytt.”
“When the keeper is dead, the dragon will fly again.” Rhastoc waved his arms wildly. “It will come to pass.”
“Yes. We cannot avoid the second coming,” Pyralis said, meeting the squirrel’s gaze. “All we can do is give the children the best possible chance to survive it.”
“What of the king?”
“He must not know. I suppose he may find out, sooner or later. Let us pray for later, shall we?” Pyralis shuddered and rolled the scroll back in on itself. He bound it carefully, buried it underneath a pile of other scrolls, and shoved them all to the back of the bookshelves.
Rhastoc watched him while nibbling on the nut, which he had successfully split in two. “This has proved to be a most interesting partnership, my friend. It has been a long time coming, though it feels like only yesterday that we all met under the shade of the Mother Tree.”
Picking up the letter, Pyralis walked over to Rhastoc. He sat down in a chair next to the window and held out his arm. The squirrel bobbed his head, got to his feet, and bounded happily across his arm, to rest on the wizard’s shoulder.
“How is our old friend, by the way?” Pyralis asked.
“Fine. Waiting. She sends her best. Once the chosen one comes of age—”
“Yes, yes. I know. The fire will escape me.”
“Indeed.” Rhastoc put his long, bristly tale around Pyralis’s neck. Breathing heavily, the wizard scratched Rhastoc on his head.
“I have lived with this burden for so long. It might be nice to let go. Promise me you will help them?”
“Of course. You know me. As long as I get to watch the show.”
“Oh, and Rhastoc—I have found another, and I want you to stay close to her. Guide her. It is crucial that we keep them safe. Whatever it takes. You must ask for Hawthorn. He will know of whom I speak.”
Pyralis stood and approached the painting of the white trunk of the Tree of Aradria. Rhastoc threw down the shell of the nut and jumped on top of the painting’s frame.
“Well, I had better get back to Sonûdor, then. Got a baby girl to see. A pleasure, as always.”
“Don’t forget this.” Pyralis tied the ends of the ribbon into a loop and hung the letter over the squirrel’s neck. “It’s been good to see you too, Rhastoc.”
The squirrel bowed and allowed the painting to swallow him feet first.
Pyralis sighed and went over to his desk. As he slumped down in his armchair, he closed his eyes. Perhaps if he had been a better tutor, things would have turned out differently.
He remembered a lesson spent with Archenon nearly half a millennia ago. There had been a number of these lessons for Archenon to attend over the years before they had even started addressing how to wield his powers. They might have been wrong to neglect his sorcery in the beginning.
If only I had made him understand its significance, everything would be different.
He recalled when Archenon was still young—and had a heart.
* * *
In his memory, Pyralis’s eyes darted across the endless amounts of scrolls in the immense Êvina library. Six stories of white, wooden bookcases spanned the walls from top to bottom across the oval room. They contained all of Êvina’s history, and there was no telling what secrets might be uncovered if one were to search the pages long enough.
“Your New Aradrian is coming along nicely, Archenon. You’ll be able to converse with humans and Devlings in no time.” Pyralis was pleased with Archenon’s efforts to refrain from using his mother tongue, Ancient Arvish, in their lessons, but teaching him history was proving to be a struggle. It was hard to keep his interest.
“Now, back to the task at hand. Would you please stop pacing so we can continue?” Pyralis gestured for Archenon to sit. “Rhonja wishes you to know this.” He exhaled heavily, rubbing his neck. He returned to telling the young apprentice the old Tale of Creation.
Archenon crossed his arms over his chest. “I know the words by heart.”
“Yet, you refuse to listen to the words. Now, sit your stubborn behind down, and open those pointed ears of yours wide.” Pyralis shifted in his chair across from Archenon.
His apprentice finally sat in an armchair next to him, folding his hands behind his head.
“Very well, wise one. Ears pointed.”
Relaxing, Pyralis returned to the book in his lap. “Yes, as I was saying.” He took a deep breath and straightened his back before he continued reading from the Book of Creation.
“In the beginning, Mother Nature wept for the loneliness she felt after having spent an eternity alone in the universe. As she wept, her tears became rivers, leading to waterfalls, turning into oceans, and thus creating the first of all elements of the world—water.
“With water came the first sign of life to the world of Aradria. Mother Nature found water to be quite soothing, yet she was not satisfied with her creation. There was no contrast in the scenery. She took a deep breath and blew air into the world so as to make the ocean dance at her will.” Pyralis tilted his head toward Archenon, who huffed and squirmed in his seat.
“I am paying attention. Mother Nature has created the first two elements. See? Great for her.”
“Great for us,” Pyralis corrected.
“If you say so.” Archenon rolled his eyes and pointed at the book. “Why would you need to read from it when you know how the story goes?”
“Because, my friend, I don’t wish to leave anything out. Every aspect of the story is of great importance. It is not some child’s bedtime story for me to twist around as I please.”
Archenon leaned back in his seat. “Well, go on then.”
Pyralis cleared his throat and carried on.
“Shivering, as she did not feel balanced, she rubbed her hands until sparks flew from them and created the sun as water’s counterpart. The world could now be both hot and cold. Still in need of balance, and longing for company, Mother Nature shook her hair, and the gems that lived within the strands of her golden tresses landed as mighty clods of earth at various places around the world.”
Pyralis moved his glasses down the ridge of his nose. “What does this tell you?” His apprentice should already know, but Pyralis was not sure if Archenon understood the significance of Aradrian history.
Archenon slouched in his chair. His hands were turned palms up. Between them, he held the vision of a small sun.
“The sun will allow for growth and yet burn what thrives and return it to nature’s bosom.”
“That is true,” Pyralis said. “Though it belongs to the next part of the story. Please remain attentive.”
Archenon pulled his hands further apart, allowing the ball of light to grow. He watched it for only a moment before smacking them together, killing the light.
“Yes, yes. Go on,” Archenon encouraged.
Pyralis arched a bushy eyebrow but returned to the story.
“In order for her elements to thrive together, she provided them each with properties that would allow them to coexist. She made it so that they all depended on each other in life—and in death. A lone tree sprang forth from the ground as water blended with the qualities of the earth. Air gave the tree breath and so sustained life, aided by the sun, which created warmth and light to allow the tree to blossom.”
Pyralis took a deep breath. “This is where your part of the story comes in.” He continued reading.
“And so it was that the Tree of Aradria took root as the first living entity in the world. As the four elements harmonized, taking and receiving life from one another, there was growth both below and above the ocean.”
“So, this tree—have you seen it?” Archenon asked.
Pyralis brightened, and his lips curved up. “I once travelled there to celebrate winter solstice. It is magnificent.” He closed his eyes momentarily, reliving the memory.
“Is it true its trunk is the size of Vulkan Mountain?” Archenon leaned forward, scratching his cuticles. At least he was somewhat attentive.
“Indeed. It does appear to be. It takes hours to travel around it. The roots bend and stretch in every direction across the Land of Earth. It shapes the untamed landscape of Sonûdor Forest, as well as providing shelter for woodland creatures.” Pyralis blinked and returned to the story.
“As Mother Nature watched her world flourish, she found it to be perfect. Perfection, however, was not her intention. The creatures of both ocean and of land had no minds of their own. They grew, lived, and then died, as was their nature. For as she had created it, all things had to balance, and so what was once earth had to become earth yet again in order to allow new beings to find their place in Aradria.
“And so it was that Mother Nature cut out a piece of her heart and laid it down as a blanket upon the world. The piece of her heart created hopes and desires, blended with her own fear and longing. This was how the spirit of Mother Nature came to shape the hearts and destinies of all the individuals in her world, and thus a piece of her came to inhabit all the elements. It was flawed perfection, as she intended it to be. Mother Nature was finally at peace with her creation. Next, she rested, for a piece of her was in each and every thing.”
Pyralis paused and threw a glance over at the young apprentice, who had his eyes glued to the window that opened onto the courtyard.
“You remember what comes next, I presume?” Pyralis inquired. Archenon was as still as a statue but recited with a sombre voice.
“As all beings now had minds of their own, and with Mother Nature resting, Aradria was thrown into chaos. With no one guiding them, the creatures of the world fought for their lives and their place in the hierarchy. It became a struggle for survival.
“Some who still remembered more harmonious days attempted to contact Mother Nature herself. They sought out the Tree of Aradria, where they summoned her. Eventually, she came. At first she was furious at the interruption of her rest, but when she saw the concern in their hearts, she knew she had to intervene.” Archenon waved his right arm in front of him and yawned.
Pyralis leaned back. “You are bored?”
“Not so much bored as puzzled—should Mother Nature not have foreseen how events would unfold, having given them fear and desire as part of their natures?”
“Balance, my boy. Balance.” Pyralis said before continuing.
“She had to intervene. The solution had to lie in some form of order, which meant she had to provide someone with the power to keep watch over the world she had created when she could not.
“Mother Nature decided to divide her world into five lands, each ruled by a monarch. Drawing power from the elements, she chose five young individuals who each possessed characteristics that specifically matched the best qualities within the element they had been chosen to command.
“She proceeded to give them the power to wield their element, by placing yet more tiny pieces of her heart within each of theirs. In the element of spirit, she placed a strand of each of the elements woven together with a piece of her own spirit. For spirit lived in all things, and so all things must live in it. Mother Nature had chosen well, and soon the world was balanced again.
In the north, the Queen of Earth sat on her throne within Sonûdor Forest. In the south, the King of Fire ruled the land Lycobris from the Vulkan halls, within Vulkan Mountain. In the east, the King of Air tended to sit more on the back of his gryphon than on his throne in Caradrea, though such was the nature of air, and his land thrived greatly under his rule. In the west, the Queen of Water kept her home within the towers of Njordhall, and—”
“Dead center of the world sat the High Queen of Spirit in her vibrant castle of light—the castle of Êvina,” Archenon interrupted.
“Yes, Archenon—exactly so. And to this day, they all rule their chosen lands still.” Pyralis was pleased.
Archenon sat, seemingly transfixed. “Time for some battle practice.” He bounced out of his seat, suddenly energetic, and strode out the door. Pyralis shook his head as Archenon stuck his nose back into the room. “Coming?”
* * *
Returning from the land of memory, Pyralis opened his eyes to the bright room of marble. It looked the same as it always had, filled with history. His last lesson with Archenon had been in this library.
Stretching in his chair, his body ached. He had grown old, but the fire within him sustained him until this day. Until his last.
If only he had made Archenon understand, then their relationship might have been different. As it was, he could never tell him all he knew. Things that, if Archenon still possessed a heart, he would understand. Without his heart, however, Archenon’s spirit had vanished, and all sense of reason had been stripped away from him. There was nothing human left inside Archenon now—only a dark void resided within him.
All the decisions Archenon, Gaija, and even Rhonja, had made had led to this point. Pyralis was as much to blame as any of them.
It was as it had been predicted almost a thousand years ago, despite Pyralis’s best efforts to fight their entwined destinies. All he could do now was allow nature to run its course. In the end, he hoped, they would all find redemption.