Carly could not stop worrying about Lia and Michael, and for the first part of the night Carly slept fitfully. Olbane, who she felt was dangerously close to the edge, was also in her thoughts. Carly castigated herself for being decidedly un-Priestess like, pulled herself together and used The Peace to calm herself, then settled down to a deeper sleep. When she woke she felt refreshed, and was still amazed at how sleeping after The Peace made her feel like she had slept for a full night. Carly prayed for a long time, letting herself drift and become one with Revan.
“There you will learn what it means to have The Blood.”
Carly jolted upright, and looked around for who might have uttered the words, before she realised what had happened. She hadn’t seen anything, but was convinced it was another vision, and at once her heart surged with joy. Lia was alive! Carly dressed hurriedly, and walked briskly to the library to seek out Priestess Elspeth. If anyone knew what The Blood was, or where to find out, it was her.
Lia and Rastlin left after breakfast and rode further east. Lia felt slightly embarrassed after falling asleep the previous evening, and they had eaten in silence. After a short time Rastlin pulled his mount closer to hers. He spoke as if the previous conversation had never ended. “The burning when you touched the man was a result of using him to channel your power.”
Lia looked at him in surprise. “Channel?”
“Yes. Those who have The Blood cannot access the elemental power without using something that is living to do so. You don’t necessarily need to touch it, but it is easier to do so, and more instinctive. Unfortunately the subject of the channelling suffers as a result.”
The scream at Flaun’s house suddenly echoed through Lia’s mind, and she had to force bile down her throat. “I… I used that girl as a channel in Surian. I think I killed her.”
Rastlin nodded. “For you to produce enough power to cause the damage you described, that would be inevitable.”
Tears fell down Lia’s face and she broke into uncontrollable sobs. Rastlin waited until she calmed herself, which took a number of minutes. Lia looked at him, with tears still flowing. “Then, The Blood is a curse! Anything that involves killing people must be. I can see why the church wanted to destroy it!”
Rastlin snapped back. “Curse or not, they had no right to do commit genocide! Who says that Revan is the ultimate authority in the world? Why should any group that refuses to follow be persecuted?”
Lia glared at him, but didn’t say anything.
Rastlin took a deep breath. “When there were many who had The Blood, they didn’t always need to harm people to use their power. In normal circumstances they found other ways of doing so. There are other living things on this world that can be used for channelling, such as plants, trees and creatures.” Lia was about to raise another objection, but he continued. “Over years, talented people with The Blood were known to channel through multiple living things at the same time, in some cases to the extent that the subjects weren’t harmed at all.”
That made Lia feel a little better but the conversation ended, as her thoughts were focused on the girl who she had burned to ash. The name came to her: Francine, named after the Goddess of Luck. Lia snorted to herself at that thought; to name your child after a Goddess wasn’t enough to secure lifelong good fortune. Of course, Francine hadn’t been totally innocent either; she had lured them to that house, which led to Michael’s death, and most likely Olbane’s too. Lia’s thoughts darkened further: perhaps Francine’s own actions had caused her luck to run out, and she deserved to die. Lia was shocked at herself for thinking such a thing, but she didn’t dismiss the notion out of hand.
Eventually Lia calmed down and when they stopped for a rest she continued the conversation. “So is your order called The Blood Order?”
Rastlin shook his head. “It is known as the Dragon Order.”
Lia couldn’t stop herself from smiling. “The Dragon Order? Why, was there a great serpent involved at its inception?”
Rastlin didn’t smile. “No. The earliest members of the Order only mastered a partial power, in that they could generate fire, but nothing else. In the days when people believed fire breathing dragons existed, it is believed the early order decided that it would be impressive if they named themselves such. While the use of The Blood has evolved, the name is still associated with it, and while I admit it sounds slightly ridiculous, it does sum up what the Order stood for: large and powerful, but elegant, and aloof from the cares of others.” He looked at her intently. “And your destiny is to return The Dragon Order to its former glory.”
Lia drew back. “Me? How on Eureza can one girl who has got lucky with some ancient power restore anything? Unless you didn’t notice, I was a little out of my depth in Surian.”
Rastlin maintained his powerful gaze. “True, but with my help you can learn to master The Blood, and to prepare yourself for what lies ahead.”
“Do you have The Blood as well?” Lia matched his stare.
He shook his head. “My role in your development is also pre-destined, but my line is different to yours. My family’s responsibility is to seek out those with The Blood and to guide them. Your inheritance was power, mine was knowledge. Knowledge of what to do when someone like you is born, and how to find them, was the gift from my parents.”
Lia was more than curious to know how Rastlin found her, but the wound from her parents’ murder was still too fresh. She decided to change the direction of the conversation. “So what is it I am supposed to do?”
For the first time Lia could remember, Rastlin didn’t look sure of himself. “When we reach our destination, we will find out.”
Lia snorted. “What kind of answer is that? We will find out? Does that mean you don’t actually know what I am supposed to do?”
He nodded, somewhat disarmingly. “That is correct, to a degree. I know you are key to ensuring The Dragon Order is allowed its rightful place, and that when we arrive at our destination you will be given what you need to achieve that goal. Until we know that, my role is to ensure you are prepared. I am confident that when you do know, I will be able to guide you.”
Lia didn’t look convinced. “This sounds extremely unlikely if you ask me. What could we possibly find that will help? An army?”
It was Rastlin’s turn to snort. “Our order has never had need for armies, Lia. We do not wish to make war on anyone, at least not unless we are forced to do so. When our order was all but destroyed, it was Revan’s church who marched on us.”
“So what then?”
Rastlin looked at her closely. “Knowledge. You will find what we need to know to allow our order to flourish once more.”
Lia still didn’t look convinced. “Presumably this has something to do with the church of Revan? If they destroyed the Dragon Order before, are they holding it back?”
Rastlin smiled his approval. “It is a distinct possibility, one I have long considered. My hope is that whatever lies at our destination will give us enough to break free.”
“Well, it would have to be something fairly special. We are talking about breaking down generations of belief, if the church’s stranglehold is to be broken.” Lia realised what she was saying and stopped herself. “I am sounding like some kind of heretic! Who is to say I even want to entertain something like this?”
Rastlin stared at her, and his was voice barely a whisper. “Because you are destined to do so! Tell me, how do you feel now you are here? Do you feel any different?”
Lia stopped and for a few moments didn’t think about the conversation. She admitted to herself she felt more comfortable than she had done since the day her parents died, almost at home. Was that because time was healing the wounds, or because of something else? “Well, I do feel stronger, almost as if I belong.”
He nodded. “That is because you are on the right path, Lia. Your destiny is being fulfilled. As happened in Surian, if you attempt to deviate from your current path, you will eventually return to this course.”
Despite not wanting to believe it, in her heart Lia knew he was speaking the truth. “So, assuming I accept what you are saying, apart from guiding me to this mythical place, what else are you supposed to help me with?”
Rastlin smiled again. “That, we need to discuss when you are fully rested. Your preparation will start tomorrow morning.”
Carly walked even faster than usual, and barely acknowledged the various nods of greetings from her fellow Priestesses as she traversed the corridors of the temple. As expected, Priestess Elspeth was in the north-east corner of the library, sat amongst a pile of books and papers. The old woman didn’t look up from the tattered manuscript she was reading as Carly approached. Carly blurted out a greeting. “Priestess Elspeth! I must talk with you!”
Elspeth’s head remained downward. “I am sure you do, Priestess Carly, the one whose Test was unusual to say the least.” Carly realised Elspeth’s hearing wasn’t as poor as she thought, and neither was her knowledge of current affairs. “I have heard you have overcome your inability to connect with Him as well as dealing with a rather unsavoury group of slavers. That is quite an eventful few weeks.”
Carly couldn’t disagree with that. “All true, Priestess, although I had help with the slavers.”
Elspeth chuckled, although Carly noted it was more of a cackle. “All of us have help in our lives, Priestess Carly, mostly from Him of course. Please, take a seat, and tell me, why are you here?”
Carly found a seat and managed not to displace any books or manuscripts in the process. “Priestess Elspeth, does ‘The Blood’ mean anything to you?”
Elspeth’s voice was a hiss. “It does indeed, Priestess Carly! The Blood is not something that is discussed a great deal, and as you know isn’t covered in studies in any depth. Assuming you paid attention during your studies, you will have heard of The Dragon Order.”
Carly cast her mind back a few weeks to something she read while cramming for her Test. “I believe so, yes. But the text I read didn’t contain much detail.”
Elspeth grunted. “True. Their order diminished some time ago. However, the term The Blood is the name they gave to those with the inherited ability to channel power. Tell me, where did you hear of this?”
Carly looked at the old woman. “In a vision, during my morning prayers today; I heard a voice mention it.”
“A voice you say? That is most interesting. Isn’t this the second event you have had during prayer? I recall you have visited me before to discuss such a matter.”
Carly nodded. “That is true, but it isn’t the second vision I have had. I have had three others.”
Elspeth rubbed her hands together in glee, almost like a child. “Five visions in such a short space of time? This is almost unheard of; clearly He has plans for you. I am honoured you have shared this with me, Priestess Carly.” The old woman paused. “Before we discuss The Dragon Order further, please tell me of the other visions.”
Carly recounted the visions: the warning against the bandits, Lia in pain and in trouble, and of the strange building in Surian.
Elspeth listened intently, and stared into the distance. “Your first vision related to your friend, as did the third. The second kept you and your friends alive, but the fourth, as well as this new one, is less clear. To have so many visions in such a short space of time must mean they are related, but why?” She flicked her attention back to Carly. “Can you recall exactly what the voice said this morning?”
Carly shuddered; there was something about the voice that still resonated within her mind. “He said ‘There you will learn what it means to have The Blood.’”
Elspeth looked puzzled. “Well, that’s not much help, if I am being honest. The Dragon Order originated from Areza, but it is a large territory and I am not aware of any particular place of significance there.”
Carly interjected. “I am sure this morning’s vision is related to Lia. When I awoke this morning, my head told me she was dead. Now I know she lives.”
Elspeth’s eyes shone brightly. “Did you feel her presence?”
Carly shrugged. “Perhaps. I know is that she is alive, but I have no idea why or what this has to do with The Blood.”
Elspeth smiled. “Well, there is one clue in the vision you had of Lia on the road in peril. That power you felt, did it feel like the power a Priestess draws upon in times of need?”
Carly shrugged again. “To be honest I am not sure. It was all over so quickly. Are you suggesting that it was something more sinister?”
It was Elspeth’s turn to shrug. “Those with The Blood had the ability to draw their own power, similar to but not through Him. It is worth keeping that in your mind as you explore further possibilities. Now, I would like to discuss the vision of the building in Surian. You mentioned you found this building?”
Carly nodded. “Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding my Test, and the visions, that building is the strangest thing I have seen so far in my life. From what I gathered from the man I met there, people tend to forget about the building, and only certain people can enter. There were also odd runes on the door that I could not decipher.”
Elspeth hissed again. “I have heard of such places, but I cannot believe there is one in our own capital city! You are truly blessed, Priestess Carly, if He wanted you to go there.”
Carly couldn’t contain her joy. “It was there where I connected with Him deliberately for the first time! I was reading this old book, and part of it was obscured. With His help, I was able to read it. To be honest it didn’t make a great deal of sense…” Suddenly, Carly muttered to herself under her breath.
Elspeth almost rose from her seat, and her voice was no more than a whisper. “Priestess Carly, what is it?”
“How could I be so dim! That book spoke of The Blood!”
Elspeth’s eyes lit up. “You have found the connection between the visions! Your friend must be involved with The Blood! I suggest that the power you felt in the vision with the slavers proves this!”
“But why Lia, and if the Dragon Order died out, why now?”
Elspeth smiled. “What did the book say? It seems highly unlikely any of this is down to coincidence, given your visions.”
Carly grimaced. “Most of it was the ramblings of an angry madman, I think, but it did speak of a prophecy.”
Elspeth looked very interested again. “A prophecy you say? Throughout the ages various prophecies have come and gone, most of them not coming to fruition as expected.”
Carly continued. “What I believe are parts of the prophecy were intermingled with the ramblings, but it was clear the author thought the Dragon Order would come again, and ultimately triumph. It talked of two events, I suppose. A First Coming and a Second Coming.”
Elspeth nodded. “That sounds fairly standard, if you can call a prophecy standard. Normally they foretell of events unfolding at critical times. Most likely the First and Second Coming refer to a person or a group of people. I would normally say that someone believes your friend is part of this prophecy, and dismiss it as that. What makes me want to take it more seriously is the visions. Why would He send you them unless they were important?”
It was a rhetorical question, so Carly didn’t answer directly. “Priestess Elspeth, what do I do? My friend is clearly involved with something, and on the evidence I have so far most likely against her will. The visions are clearly meant to help me, but I have no idea where she is or where she is going.” Carly threw her hands in the air. “Or even if I should be pursuing this! A Priestess shouldn’t be pursuing personal matters above her other duties.”
Elspeth smiled. “True, but in my experience and from what I have read, a Priestess doesn’t get visions that often either. Be patient, Priestess Carly. Revan has guided you this far, and I am sure He will assist if you require it. For the time being, put your friend out of your mind as best you can and continue with your duties. I would also advise you spend a little time here in the library. We do have texts on the Dragon Order here that might prove beneficial.”
Carly nodded, but wasn’t convinced.
Lia awoke on the hard ground. Rastlin was already up and was in the process of cooking something over a small fire, which smelled fabulous. Lia rubbed her eyes and joined him.
“You need a good breakfast, Lia. Today I will help you unlock your power.”
Lia’s stomach rumbled when she realised the meat was rabbit. “Well, I am certainly hungry. How did you catch that?”
“I laid a trap last night before I went to sleep. I am used to travelling so have picked up some skills along the way.”
Lia sat and waited patiently. “Have you travelled far? What did you do before you found me?”
He turned and looked at her. “Mostly it was searching for you. I have travelled far, across many nations. Unfortunately my ancestors were careless and managed to lose the trail.”
Lia shuddered at the use of the word trail. “You make it sound like my family have been hunted.”
His gaze softened slightly. “In one sense, I suppose they have, although it was destiny hunting them. When your grandmother was carrying your father, they suddenly disappeared and they did an exceptional job of covering their tracks, so to speak. I believe they had help, divine help.”
Lia smiled a mocking smile. “Let me guess: the church of Revan.”
If he picked up on the mockery, it didn’t faze him. “That is the logical assumption, yes.”
Lia looked at him closely. Rastlin was of middle years, but he didn’t look old enough to have been chasing her grandmother around. “Did your father start the search?”
He nodded. “He did, although he didn’t get very far. When I was just ten years old he died, which I suspect was predestined. I have learned a significant amount since, as I was forced to cope from a very young age. I searched Suria village by village, town by town, but there was no sign of them. Eventually, as it became clear that traditional methods were not going to be enough, I was forced to seek help of a different kind to find you.”
Lia’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, help of a different kind? Was it similar to how you found me in Surian?”
He smiled approvingly. “You are most astute, Lia. Eventually I located a rather strange hag who lives in the north of the Great Forest, who has the gift of second sight. If she is given something physical to link to a person, she can find them, or at least the general area in which they reside. Unfortunately, she wanted gold in return, and a significant amount. I was forced to return to Areza and work for five years to attain enough to give her what she wanted, as well as bring her something to draw power from.”
Lia didn’t like the sound of that. “What something? Does her power work in a similar way to The Blood?”
He nodded again. “As your family had to make sacrifices to achieve our ultimate goal, so did mine. My mother willingly gave her life to allow the hag to find you; to allow her to channel enough power.”
Lia looked horrified. “You sacrificed your own mother?”
There was no emotion on his face. “It was her choice; without her sacrifice, I would have had to take more extreme steps to gain the hag’s assistance. I suspect it was her destiny to die that day.”
Lia’s voice rose. “And was it Franklin’s when you found me in Surian? He didn’t strike me as the sacrificial type!”
Rastlin shook his head. “No, he wasn’t. Franklin was a hired help, no more. His interest was only for himself, and he served no other cause. His life was inconsequential.”
Despite the callousness of the comments, Lia couldn’t disagree with Rastlin’s sentiments on Franklin; he had been involved in her parents’ murder with no motive except greed. She forced herself to calm. “Whether you like it or not, you murdered Franklin, and for all I know countless others. How does this make you different from the church of Revan, who you blame for their acts years ago?”
For the first time since they met, Rastlin seemed to be out of answers. He paused for a long time, almost to the extent Lia thought the conversation was over. “I cannot defend all of my actions, Lia. All I can say is that the more I am with you, the more I know they were the right thing to do. Your insight is very strong, and the ultimate irony for me is that you would have made a very fine and powerful Priestess of Revan.”
His response completely disarmed Lia, who was spoiling for a heated argument. Instead, she thought back to before the conversation became animated. “So, was my family in Crossmoor when the hag found them?”
“Yes. At the time I didn’t know if they had been there the whole time I searched, or whether they had arrived recently. I confirmed this at the Temple of Revan in your home town. There wasn’t an official record of a Francis Essmoor, but I found enough evidence you were in Crossmoor through his trade.”
Lia looked sceptical. “It seems unlikely if the church was hiding us that they would give father work as a temple scribe.”
He shrugged. “I have had that thought myself on many occasions.”
“If my family is really that important, that doesn’t make any sense. After all, most of the secrecy appears to have happened in your lifetime, and I have lived in Crossmoor for my entire life.”
Rastlin shrugged again. “I know, Lia. All I know is that when I searched Crossmoor the previous time, which was after your birth, I couldn’t find you. A greater power was definitely at work; I am very thorough.”
“It sounds like the church gave father the position to keep us close. One of the conditions of his employment was that we could never leave Crossmoor.” The conversation had taken a more docile tone, so Lia gave in to her stomach and began eating.
“Most likely. However, let us not waste further thought on this matter; all we have discussed has past, and we must focus on the task in hand. When we reach our destination, you will be tested. This is necessary to ensure only one with The Blood can enter.”
Lia swallowed and then stopped eating. “That sounds ominous; what kind of test?”
Rastlin looked down at the rabbit then returned his attention to her. “For the time being, I want to focus on what you need to prove you are who you are. Please, eat and we will discuss further after breakfast.”
Lia lost her appetite immediately but continued to eat. She was determined to steel herself for whatever was coming next.
A short while later Rastlin asked Lia to join him in a clearing a short walk from the camp. He sat down on the ground, and beckoned her to do the same.
“So far you have used your power on two occasions you are aware of: to frighten off the slavers, and in Surian. Both times you did this out of instinct, and used a person to channel the power. Instinct is crucial when you have The Blood, as the heart should drive everything, but you need to be able to know how much power to use, and ideally what form it will take. There also won’t always be people around to channel through, and as we have already discussed there are more acceptable ways to access the power.” He paused, and looked at her intently. “First, I want to see if you can channel power at will. Tell me, how do you feel at the moment?”
She gave him the honest answer. “Terrified; I am not ready for this.”
He smiled. “And full of doubt as well. Let us try and channel that fear. Never try and suppress your emotions: they come from the heart.” Rastlin’s head moved to his left, where there were a number of moderately sized trees. “Reach out to the trees with your mind; draw in their energy.”
Lia concentrated hard on the trees, but she didn’t feel any different. Rastlin remained silent, and studied her face. After a second attempt Lia suppressed the urge to shout at him; why was he asking her to do that? Trying to channel power through a tree was ridiculous! The whole thing was a farce; she was sat in a clearing, miles from home, with the murderer of her parents, trying to resurrect the beliefs of some long dead band of lunatics. She cried out in frustration, threw both arms into the air, and suddenly felt it. From her right side, she felt energy coursing through her. She then opened her eyes to see that Rastlin had vanished! Immediately the sensation stopped, and she rose to her feet. A moment later, Rastlin came crashing to the earth in the spot he was sat on moments earlier. For a few moments he was still, but then Lia heard, rich, joyous laughter. Gingerly, he sat up. “I am very glad you didn’t become angry, Lia, or I would most likely be a flaming torch by now. What were you feeling?”
Lia was shaking. “Frustration, despair; I was asking myself why I am here.”
He didn’t seem concerned with that. “Well, you certainly used significant power. Look at the tree.”
Lia turned to her right; one of the trees was in flames. She wondered if there was enough water left to douse them.
“Do you remember what it was like when you channelled through the tree?”
Lia nodded. “Yes. The energy was incredible.”
“That is the result of the channelling, not the channelling itself. Can you remember what the feeling was just before then? That’s what you need to lock onto; the sooner you can learn to switch that feeling on at will, the closer we are to achieving our goal.”
Lia tried to focus on what happened. “I am not sure; I screamed with frustration, and then I felt the power.”
Rastlin smiled. “You also threw your hands up in the air, and although it is unlikely a gesture holds the key, it may help. I suggest you try to channel again; after all, that tree is beyond help, so you may as well use it again. We will work on control later.”
Lia felt sorry for the tree, but nodded her agreement. Lia sat again, took a deep breath and turned to look at the burning tree.
Rastlin interrupted before she went any further, however. “Calming yourself won’t help, Lia. Remember your power works on instinct.”
Lia glared at him and instantly felt it again. That time she tried to hold onto it rather than lashing out, but immediately lost her connection with the tree. Rastlin remained impassive. “Think of something that drives high emotion within you; it doesn’t matter what. Powerful memories can help to trigger the power.”
Lia was worried about the consequences and was reluctant to do so.
“Think of your parents!” Rastlin hissed. “Make sure their sacrifice was worth it!”
Lia glared at him, and her right arm stretched towards the blazing tree. “Murderer!” Her left hand reached towards Rastlin and suddenly he was floating in front of her, and gasping for air. Lia’s eyes felt as if they were on fire, but she felt a great surge of power, and knew she could extinguish his life in a moment. Lia wasn’t sure she wanted to let go.
Despite his gasps, Rastlin managed to look at her. “Lia...”
Hearing her name out loud was enough to jolt Lia back to reality, and Rastlin dropped to the floor in a heap. Part of her wanted to run over and check he was not permanently harmed, while another part wanted to draw on the tree again and finish the job. Lia as a whole compromised and remained where she was.
Eventually Rastlin composed himself. He had a nasty red mark around his neck. “I hoped you wouldn’t have needed to practice on me personally, but that was a worthwhile exercise.”
Lia scowled. “Was it? If I have to be angry each time, it is not worth it. My parents wouldn’t have wanted to die for that.”“Remember what I said before you nearly choked the life out of me: any powerful emotion can trigger your power. It may be that anger and sorrow provokes the most severe reaction, but it may not be the only way. You also need to learn control; just because you are angry, it doesn’t mean you have to be reckless. When we reach our destination, you cannot afford to be.”