Chapter Fourteen: The Sylph
He felt light flowing through him, embracing him so that he glowed with an otherworldly radiance that penetrated every part of his being. His steps were weightless as he made his way through the twisting passage, as if no physical form encumbered his movements and he issued forth as a luminous entity.
The mystic tunnel was a curling vortex of light wheeling round him, but he was not dizzied by the swirling grace that surrounded him. Strands of light streaked past him, stretching and bending, spinning like threads and dissolving in the shimmering air. He saw a bright light ahead. The radiance spread and he sensed a presence upon him as he watched it twist and shape itself into a glowing form. He saw a blue light ignite in the midst of the glimmering and he knew the being who came, perceiving the kindly spirit as his glorious form enfleshed before him. Efkin stared at the spirit in wonder, for it seemed he beheld the being in his true form, and the sublime visage was beyond anything he had seen.
His eyes were alight and there was music in his voice as he spoke: “You have come a long way, Efkin, but we have still farther to go.”
He met the druid’s smiling gaze and paused for a moment.
“Where are we, Nemral?”
“We are here, my lord.”
“Where we are supposed to be.”
“Where are we?”
The druid smiled. “We are between the planes.”
“Between the planes?”
“You have crossed into spheres beyond the limitations of your material realm. We are not in any place that can be spanned or measured, not in any time or space, but we are still here.”
Efkin stared at the druid. “How did I come here?”
“Your light grows stronger within you. Only Jahan’s pendant can veil it.”
“The pendant,” Efkin said remembering. “I sensed something in the woods and then I thought I must remove the pendant to perceive what could not be seen.”
“And your own light was revealed. The same light that summoned the Sea Lord as you fell unconscious in his midst.”
Efkin fell silent, astounded that such a fortunate turn had depended on the chance loss of a pendant. He wondered, though, if perhaps something more than chance had played a role in these doings.
“The woods have been calling you for some time. Now your light has brought you between the planes.”
“I’ve been here before.”
“You have passed this way.”
“I thought it was a dream. I saw strange things I could not understand, and then I was lying in the woods. Why did I forget all I had seen?”
“You peered beyond your plane and glimpsed things that are wholly apart from your usual experience. It was a natural consequence that such things would be clouded from your memory, for within the comfort of your earthly spheres, the forces you encountered seem at once absurd.”
Efkin nodded, understanding what he had seen defied comprehension. “It was interesting at first, but then I was overwhelmed, staring at infinity as strange forces pulled at me.”
“It was a journey few others could undertake.”
“What happened to me?”
“Most beings dwell in one plane, while a rare group of others exist between two planes. For the briefest moment, you inhabited all the planes at once.”
Efkin paused, daunted. “It wasn’t a dream.”
“You traveled through the roots.”
The druid held his gaze a moment, then turned and went up the slanting passage. “There is something you should see.”
Efkin followed the druid, whose glowing form coalesced with the light of the tunnel so that shades of blue streaked the emerald passage, trailing like curls of sky from his luminous being. Something glared ahead and bands of light swept over them in waves as they came toward the brightness.
“Through here, Efkin.” The druid disappeared as he passed into a pulsing white light.
Efkin went into the light and felt a warmth surround him. He was wholly absorbed by the brightness so that the tunnel was lost in the glare and he was not certain if he still moved forward or stood suspended in the light that seemed to course through every part of him.
There was a sound like a rush of wind through trees. Efkin glimpsed what seemed like a patch of sky, growing larger as it pushed the light away. A moment later, he was staring up at a canopy of leaves and branches that covered the sky, but there were no trees to support the leafy awning that hovered over the world. He turned his gaze toward the ground and found the earth covered with a shimmering mist that curled in the air. The glowing vapor swallowed him up to his knees; he could not see the surface he stood upon, but he perceived shapes through the haze.
“We have come a long way, Efkin.” The druid appeared beside him aglow with a glorious light, moving with a sublime grace that was daunting to behold.
“Where are we?”
“Between the planes.”
Efkin stared at the curling mist. “Is there nothing more here?”
The druid smiled and lowered his branch-staff into the mist and the glistening vapor stirred suddenly, dissolving. Efkin gasped when he saw where he stood. Beneath him, there was no ground, but giant roots twisted and bent in every direction in a tangled mass of inconceivable enormity. He stared in wonder at the gnarled strand that ran under him. It was veined with silver and glowing with an emerald light. Peering into the mist, he found it curled from a mammoth tree of such girth and height he could scarcely believe his eyes. A bright vortex spun at the base of the tree like a swirling hole and he realized he had crossed into this realm through a shimmering root that led him into the tree and through the spinning threshold.
“Behold, Athahresh!” said the druid.
Efkin stood staring at the tree as the mist parted like a shimmering veil to reveal its true splendor. It was overwhelming, a thing of unimaginable beauty, glowing with the light of creation. A sense of well-being he had never known overcame him, a peace and joy he could not conceive in his material world. Its massive boughs reached into the sky and spread a leafy canvas across the heavens. He felt a power stirring in the air, sustaining every aspect of the shimmering realm.
He turned to the druid and tried to speak, but no words could describe what he felt at that moment.
“Few others have passed this way,” said the druid. “You have crossed between the planes to stand where no Braey has stood.”
“It is beautiful,” Efkin said. He paused and stared at sheets of light that fluttered like gossamer wings in the glimmering air.
“Where are we?”
The druid smiled. “We are between the planes, Efkin, where no material beings have passed.”
Almost in a trance as he watched the shimmering mist swirl around him, Efkin seemed barely aware of the druid as he spoke.
“I am a material being,” he said in some kind of reverie, still fascinated with the glowing forms.
“No, Efkin, you are not of that world.”
Efkin turned to the druid. “I am not of the material plane?”
“Not entirely,” said the druid. “No material beings come this way.”
Efkin paused, confused.
“Only a being who exists between the planes may cross,” said the druid.
Efkin stared at the glowing air and, somewhere in his consciousness, he was dimly aware of things beyond his ordinary awareness, vague memories at the edge of perception. “Between the planes,” he said in a trance. His voice was like a song as strands of light curved around him, weaving in the air like threads. Suddenly, all existence rang with the music of creation and his whole being was a chord in the harmony of the shimmering realm. He stared at his glowing form and saw that he was scintillating in tune with the music. His aura spread and coalesced with the light of the tree and he was startled as he felt a power stirring in him.
“Who am I?”
The druid stepped toward him. “There is only one being who may cross between the planes.
The druid’s words sang in the air. Efkin heard something in the music, like the voice of creation itself. Then at once, his true nature was revealed and he shuddered with the realization.
His eyes were still on the tree as he felt the light of creation upon him. Suddenly, he was aware of a presence, a sentient power that coursed through every shimmering branch and leaf of the tree, a greater power that could not be wholly revealed.
“I sense something is hidden from me, yet I perceive it somehow.”
“You perceive only a part of Athahresh. No beings may glimpse more than this, for its true glory is more than mortal eyes can bear.”
Efkin stared at the tree, entranced by the light of creation that overwhelmed and mystified him. He felt the presence all around him, embracing him with its bright power. He peered into the light, as if he hoped to glimpse some entity, a sublime being whose incomparable power sustained this wondrous realm, yet his eyes could only perceive the shining tree.
“There are wonders beyond our grasp,” said the druid, “things we may dimly perceive, mysteries that cannot be glanced or wholly apprehended.”
Efkin turned to the druid. “The Sylph,” he said astounded. “I am the Sylph.”
The druid met his bewildered gaze and smiled.
“How can this be?”
“Who can say, my lord? It is a mystery we will not unravel. You are who you are, and you have within you the light and music of powers greater than any forces of the earth.”
Efkin stared at the druid without words to express his wonderment.
“It was foretold,” said the druid, “that a time would come when great perils would threaten all the world and, in this age of terrors, a being would appear whose might would be such that our enemy would fear him. A being who walks between the planes and commands the powers of earth, a Sylph who will break the Runes and restore the sylvan chord.”
The druid paused a moment as he held Efkin’s gaze with his bright eyes. He turned and walked through the shimmering air, his steps light as he crossed the great root that curled under him.
“Come, Efkin, there are things you must see.”
Efkin followed the druid and they came to the edge of the tangled floor of roots where a blue sky stretched into infinity. The druid raised his branch-staff into the glimmering air and threads of light curled out of the branch. The strands spun and formed glowing sheets that wafted in the air like billowing sails. Efkin stared at the luminous veils and saw shapes twisting in the folds of light, growing larger, enfleshing into beings whose forms were sublime. Then he saw the earth covered with water. There were small patches of land without trees or grass or living creatures.
“You are seeing a time when the earth was young,” said the druid, “before its lands were formed.”
There was movement in the skies as ethereal beings darted through the clouds, their gossamer forms blowing across the heavens like a shimmering mist. They flew over the world and the wind sang as they passed. Watching them sail through the sky, Efkin had the strange sense that he knew these beings. The whole scene seemed familiar somehow, the clouds passing overhead, the rolling waves of the sea; he felt he had seen it all before.
The seas crashed and churned and he saw many aqueous entities stirring in the waves, glowing with an emerald light as they coursed through the water.
“Who are they?”
“They are your ancestors. The Kyre.”
The light shifted, glowing strands twisted in the air, and then Efkin stared across a barren plain. The druid pointed to a lone figure on a hill. “Watch closely now as this one shapes the earth.”
The being put a horn to his lips and sounded a long, thundering blast that rang between the hills. Then the seas roared, heaving as great landmasses emerged from the deep waters. Volcanic eruptions covered the earth with molten matter that shaped the lands, sculpting mountainous valleys under a hot blanket that swept over the earth.
“A legend says that a horn created the universe.”
“The horn of chords is not a legend,” said the druid. “It sounded the first chord that sang the world into existence”
“Is this the horn of chords?”
“It is an aspect of it. The horn has many forms. In the material plane, it is the sylvan horn.”
“Who is the horn bearer?”
“He is Cranus, the Earth Lord who sounded the sylvan chord that summoned Ggrrom and the forces that shaped the earth.”
“Ggrrom is the earth?”
“Ggrrom is an earthen spirit, the collective forces of the earth manifested in every tree and blade of grass, every weed that grows out of the earth. His power guides and sustains the earth through all its cycles, but that power is waning in these days.”
Efkin was staring across the shifting landscape at a range of mountains that pierced the clouds, watching the miracle of creation unfold before him. Suddenly, the scene blurred and a grey fog fell over the earth. The fog spread and dimmed the light of the world and then thinned into wisps of smoke to reveal a broken land ravaged by earthquakes and floods. The air was thick with dust and, through a shroud of black soot, Efkin saw flickering shapes, jagged lines traced with fires that ran down their crooked lengths.
“The Runes,” he gasped.
He saw a line of towers that stabbed the sky like great spears. Through a curling fog, he perceived the outlines of buildings and recognized the walled cities of Mor.
“Did the dark lords carve the Runes?”
“The Runes were not made by men, but men have gained sorcerous knowledge in their study of the Runes, and all the terrors they unleash on the world have come from this knowledge.”
A patch of darkness smaller than a drop of rain appeared in the fog, growing larger, and tearing a black hole in the air. Something stirred in the darkness, and suddenly a being emerged out of the black void that breached the sky. It passed through the portal and entered the world, a titan of stone with crimson eyes. Black night fell over the earth as each massive step sent clouds of dust into the air, blotting out the light of the sun.
“This is what will become of the world if the Runes are not broken,” said the druid. “The Anarkai will walk the earth and its terrible power will be loosed on the world. The lands will be sundered and the skies will darken. No sunlight will shine on the earth and the lands will grow cold with a foul winter that will bring great famine and strife. Millions will perish.”
The grey titan passed over the lands and the whole world quaked under its stride. The ground cracked and flames spilled out of great fissures that opened like jagged maws.
His eyes wide with horror, Efkin stared at the terrible beast that brought the world to its end.
“How can this be?”
“The powers that sustain the earth are being corrupted by forces that work to annihilate the material plane, destructive energies released by the power of the Runes.”
“What beings would scribe such ruinous signs?”
The druid raised his staff and the scene vanished in a swirl of light as glowing strands spread in every direction.
“The Runes were carved by ancient ones older than the Kyre,” said the druid.
Shapes were forming, becoming substantial as the glowing threads dissolved. Efkin saw shadowy beings flitting through the air like wraiths, hovering over the world like menacing clouds before a storm.
“Powerful beings who ages ago sought to rule the earth. They warred with your ancestors for a time, and the earth shook with the battles that were fought.”
As the druid spoke, three figures appeared on the land. Efkin had barely glanced at them when they swept into the air, riding the wind to meet the dark terrors in the sky.
One swung a gold-hilted sword as he chased the vile spirits through the clouds. He was clad in the colors of the wood and he brandished his silvery blade with a slender hand that was swift and strong.
“Cedur of the Forests,” said the druid. “No beings may stand before his sword.”
The dark spirits surrounded a second being who shone like a ray of sun. Their shadowy forms tried to diminish his glorious light, but then they scattered as white lightning blazed out of his eyes.
“Ensur of the Light.”
The third being, a beauteous female, leapt into the skies to challenge the dire things, and blue flames curled from her lithe form as she moved with otherworldly speed and grace.
“Weneu of the Blue Flame.”
The bright beings dashed through the air like flashes of light against the fell powers they pursued. Suddenly, other beings appeared and the sky glowed with the shimmering entities that soared over the world.
The powers of light and dark clashed and the forces unleashed in that battle changed the earth. Bursts of energy shattered mountains and painted the skies with swirls of color that twisted through the clouds like glowing ribbons.
The scene faded and glimmering strands spun and tangled in the air, weaving a luminous fabric that stirred with shifting forms. The light dimmed suddenly and Efkin stared into a void. Then he saw the Anarkai standing like a monolith of grey stone over a broken earth. No sun or moon shone in the sky. No trees stirred with wind. There was only the cold and terror of black night.
“Can nothing save the earth?”
The druid raised his staff and the scene changed as strands of light resolved into a bright hall. The walls were colored with the pink rays of dawn and something was laid upon a dais at the center of the chamber. A horn that glowed with a white light.
“Ggrrom can save this world,” said the druid, “but only the horn of Cranus can summon him, the horn that was blown at the beginning of days when Cranus shaped the lands of the earth.”
“Where is the horn?”
“Cranus sent it to earth with a dryad. It waits in the mists where she left it ages ago.”
“I have seen a dryad. She said we will meet in Rynne. Is that where the horn is?”
“No, Rynne is where you will find her. She will guide you to the horn.”
The horn shimmered with an otherworldly radiance and Efkin felt the power of the shining artifact.
“The Sylph must blow the horn of Cranus. You must sound the missing note.”
“The missing note?”
The druid motioned with his staff and bright bands of light were twisting in the air. “The world you know may seem very different than this musical realm between the planes, but in truth it is very much the same.” The waves of light curled and pulsed with music, becoming solid for a moment before dissolving into luminous beams. “The material world is no more substantial than the music that surrounds us now, for all things are made of vibrations. The Runes have corrupted the music of the earth, but the horn can restore harmony by sounding the one note that has been missing.” He looked at Efkin. “The Sylph is a chord in the music of creation, the being who carries the missing note. That is why you must blow the horn. You must take it to the place of power where the Runes were carved and sound the missing note that will restore the sylvan chord.”
The scene changed and Efkin stared across a dark chamber scattered with rows of black pillars that shifted with shadowy forms, as if a thousand creatures twisted inside the ebony columns.
A man appeared, his booted steps echoing on the flagstones as he crossed the pillared chamber, his cloak a curling black smoke as he passed.
“Vahnd-Groth,” said the druid. “The king of Mor, descended from a line of wicked men who served our enemy and defiled the earth with their vile powers.”
Efkin watched the dark figure as he walked between the shifting pillars and felt the terror of his presence.
“He is the greatest sorcerer among men,” said the druid. “And the darkest soul.”
“Why does he destroy the world?”
“He is making a new world. When the lands are sundered and the kings of men have fallen, the shadow of Mor will spread over the earth and Vahnd will emerge to rule the scattered clans. His reign will be the cruelest age in the histories of men.”
Vahnd swept past the ebony columns and climbed a wide stair, and before he disappeared in shadows, Efkin caught a glimpse of the black sword that hung at his side.
“You must beware this one, Efkin. He knows the threat you pose. You are still young, but each day brings you closer to your true power.” The druid looked at the Sylph. “Always keep the pendant near. It will veil you so that none will perceive your true nature.”
“Jahan did not tell me it was charmed.”
“Keep it near,” said the druid. “Our enemy must not know the Sylph is among us.”
“I have wondered about this sword I was given. Did the dryads forge the blade?”
“We will speak of the sword another time.”
Efkin turned to the druid and his eyes were full of questions.
“The day will come, Efkin, when none will dare stand against you, but for now we must be careful. Our enemy is cunning and his servants are many. You must be wary of them.”
Efkin paused a moment with his gaze upon the shadowed halls of Mor.
“And they of me,” said the Sylph.