THIS IS A HIDDEN PAGE – so you just found an Easter Egg!

As you know if you’re responding to my Facebook post, I write Fantasy Action, and my novel “Gray Warrior” has been making the rounds at agencies and publishers. However, the book has been rejected recently, and I have a feeling that the first three chapters are the problem. Below is Chapter 1. This starts out strong, and finishes well. I won’t give you any clues what happens next because I want YOU to tell me what you expect will happen next.

If you ever want to read the full novel, you can purchase a copy on Amazon. The Kindle version is only $2.99, and you can read it on the Kindle app.

Thanks to everyone who wishes to participate in this project, Erin


GRAY WARRIOR – CHAPTER 1

     Traevis crested the steps of Airlight Manor’s residential wing so swiftly that no one would imagine he hadn’t slept for the past two nights.  Were this any other moment, he would have made a line for his own suite where a soft mattress and warm comforter awaited him, but now was not the time.  Luckily, he’d beaten the pre-dawn weather blowing in hard from the Eastern Ocean, but there was simply no getting the warning out of his skull.
     “Hurry, my son.  Home, my son.  Your father, my son.”
     Traevis had sensed the summons as surely as if he had heard one of the Rhuelands’ many whispers.  He had been in the central state of Camrodsrow, both officially and unofficially, when the mental call had struck him from afar.  It had repeated so often that Traevis had begun muttering it aloud, and so he had left business behind and ridden a high-speed eastward trek through the Sorandesburg Mountain Pass.
     Traevis turned a corner and paced toward his father’s suite, where he found his father… not inside.  The door was ajar and a single desk lamp glowed, but nothing else.  Was the man even here?  Was the psychic summons mistaken?
     “Above, my son,” Airlight Manor urged in a multi-toned voice which Traevis knew belonged to the elder spirits of his line.
     “You might have told me that,” Traevis said to the ceiling coffers as he shot back down the corridor in a gray-clad blur.

***

     “What in the Great Mother’s name are you doing out here?”
     Traevis’ voice fell dead to the raging wind, so how could his father possibly hear him?  The man stood on the far side of Airlight Manor’s central turret, gazing at the blackness beyond the crenellations.  Traevis could barely see him in the variant light of flames thrashing in the great ironwork brazier.
     “Get inside will you?” Traevis said as he hurried out.  A gust blew embers toward his face, but Traevis shielded his jet eyes with the gray-gloved hand as he moved past the brazier’s towering scrollwork legs, keeping well clear of its heat circumference. 
Traevis reached his father’s side, but the man did not acknowledge.  Traevis looked along his father’s line of sight, but saw nothing.  He could not even hear the waves crashing against the Graystone Cliffs far below.
     Then Traevis felt it.  A buzz centered at the base of his spine, but it quickly shot up his backbone and gripped his body as though unseen jaws had clamped onto him.  In the next moment, an all-too-familiar voice roared through his mind.
     “IN MY NAME!”
     The call tore through Traevis’ soul, and he reached out to a crenellation to steady himself, locking his muscles for fear of what was about to happen. 
     The same psychic command gripped his father, for it was a deeply-seeded affliction that all Airlight men endured – the call of the family blood curse – the geas.
Traevis’ father threw his palms to his skull and cried out, but Traevis grabbed and held him to rivet them both in place.
     “IN MY NAME!”
    
“Just shut up, will you?!” Traevis shouted to a voice which never answered back.
     The geas exploded through Traevis, forcing him to release his father, turn toward the great brazier and look up at the coalescing clouds.
     There, an apparition formed.  It wavered in the brazier’s heat signature, but then congealed into the shape of a hand reaching down.  A common man would have been transfixed by its gossamer grace.  A man of magic would have sensed heady energy emanating from its ephemeral digits, but the geas’ insatiable demand, forever borne by those accursed three words, filled Traevis Airlight with a time-worn lust for righteous murder.
     “IN MY NAME!” the geas shouted once again.
     “In his name!” Traevis shouted in response as he called to the source of his battle magic.  This was the Rhue, the great river which ran through the heart of the country.  Traevis reached out to it as he had all his life.  Hundreds of leagues west, past the Northeastern Provinces and distant Sorandesburg peaks, the vital power of the River Rhue’s living current rushed to his call, priming his reflexes.
     His father stepped forward to take the hand, but Traevis shoved him to the turret and shot for the brazier so quickly that he was less a gray blur and more a vanishing streak. 
     “In his name!” Traevis shouted again as, with the Rhue’s might coursing through him and the geas commanding him to endure a blast furnace, he jumped up to the loading ladder’s top rung and ran along the brazier’s scorching rim.
     Traevis drew his Tyree broadsword and Alleman boot dagger and launched himself at the hand, even as a flaming pillar leaped high to set it alight.
     “Traevis, where are you?” his father called.
     “IN MY/his NAME!” Traevis cried in unison with his blood’s curse.
     The geas ran like oiled fire in Traevis’ veins.  Vengeance consumed him.  The spirit-hand was clearly the geas’ target, and with a savage grimace Traevis thrust his sword through its palm while slicing his dagger below it.
     Both blades disrupted the apparition, for their smiths had forged the weapons to dispel any magical countenance.  The hand fluctuated and then dissolved, airborne licks flaming-out about its dematerializing outline.
     The geas flared out along with it, and Traevis came to his senses in time to realize that he might clear a crenellation and plunge into the vastness beyond.
     Someone grasped his ankle and pulled him down.  Traevis landed in a crumple with another body and began to right himself, but arms wrapped about him and held him so that he could not move.  He could not move!
     “Traevis.”
     Traevis sensed familiarity in the voice, but panicking to free himself he could not appreciate the intimacy.  A palm gripped his brow, forcing his head against a chest while another palm pressed against his sternum.  Only two men ever embraced him thus, his father and his eldest brother, and given that Ricaerd Airlight had passed on to the Great Mother four years ago, Traevis relaxed into his father’s hold.
     “Calm now, son.  You’re safe,” his father said.
     Lightning split the night.  Thunder boomed so loudly that both men recoiled, and rain poured down to drown the great brazier in a sizzling fumarole.
     Traevis sprang to his feet, sheathed his weapons and grabbed his father’s robe lapels to yank him up and guide him toward the access door.
     “Down, my son,” Airlight Manor warned, even as Traevis felt terrific energy crash together overhead.
     Traevis pulled his father aside and dove with him until, with a splashing skid, they took shelter below the brazier’s overflowing bowl.  There, Traevis fell atop his father while pressing palms to his own ears and shutting his eyes.
     Lightning blasted a crenellation into a shower of mortar and stone.  Traevis braced them both through a thunderclap so concussive that he and his father convulsed.  Then calling once more to the distant River Rhue, Traevis scrambled to his feet and pulled his father back out through the brazier’s sooty cascade. 
     Traevis longed to hurl a crenelation fragment into the clouds, but a gust pushed his father off-balance.  Traevis caught his shoulder and brought him close.  His father threw a sopping arm across Traevis’ back, and the two men slogged forward.  Together they reached for the access door, and together they grasped its handle and edge.
     Traevis’ father held the door wide while shoving his son inside.  Traevis spun about and pulled his father in afterward.  The wind howled to keep the door open, but with one final draw upon the River Rhue’s essential might, Traevis slammed the door into place while his father threw the bolt.
     Both men paused to catch their breath as lightning flashed through the jamb cracks.  Another thunderclap rocked the narrow hall in which they stood.  Traevis maneuvered his father before him and down the steps where torches not blown out by the tempest illuminated their descent.  However, as he began to release the Rhue’s energy, fatigue caused Traevis to stumble.
     His father turned and caught him.  “You look tired, boy.”
     “I’ve got to get you downstairs,” Traevis said.
     “What?” his father asked, not yet able to hear properly.
     “I said I’ve got to get you downstairs,” Traevis said louder.
     “As I you, son.  As I you.”

***

     “Hancock!” Traevis’ father shouted as the two men made their way into Airlight Manor’s Grand Hall. 
     His voice echoed within a three-story hexagon capped by a timber-vaulted crown.  There a starburst wrought of polished bronze, gilded silver and red-patina steel denoted the great brazier above – the Airlight family emblem of brightness born aloft to guide the weak and waning while warning mariners to be wary of the Graystone Cliffs.
     The starburst seemed to glint in the light of the few bright fire sconces burning about the man-tall, bloodwood hearth.  The rest of the hall’s falcon-carved furnishings upon falcon-motif carpets offsetting a great measure of sword red upholstery fell into shadow, as did the hexagon’s windows where the most renowned of the Airlight line lived in two-man-tall, stained glass effigy.
     “Hancock!”
     In the servants’ halls, Traevis sensed the hasty donning of shirts and shoes, caps and aprons, but his mind was a tangle.
     What in the Great Mother’s name was happening?  Whose was that hand, and why had the geas targeted it?  The family curse – laid down long ago by Taemal Airlight – only evidenced when dealing with what remained of the Rhue’s Fallen Star, Kanalian.
     But that ancient wretch wasn’t corporeal.  He hadn’t been for generations, not since the Night of Nine when the Rhue’s mages had consumed him with true light and cast him into the northwestern sands of the Kalison Quey, the place farthest removed from the River Rhue’s eternal flow.
     Sadly, it had not ended there, for Kanalian had burrowed, and though no one could ever have imagined how, he had found a way to again call upon the River Rhue. 
     From that time since, Kanalian had remained a thing that “shifted as did the Kalison Sands”, and yet he was still efficacious enough to conjure geists, which was why Traevis had formed his own Reds to hunt down all they could find.
     “Do you want some brandy, son?” Traevis’ father asked as he moved to a bloodwood sideboard carved with a falcon hunt.
     “Hmmm,” Traevis replied absently.  Kanalian couldn’t have reconstituted.  That would require the aid of some magical cabal and Traevis’ own mage network would have sensed such machinations.  Not to mention that the Guiding Star, Jolain II, would have stopped Kanalian from reaching the living world.  But if the hand outside had been Kanalian’s, was Traevis’ network compromised?  Was Jolain?  Was his daughter, Ghislaine?
     “Teyser!” Traevis shouted mentally to one of the two mages he stationed here at home along with a contingent of his Reds.
     “Traevis, are you listening to me?” his father asked.
     “…Yes, Swordson,” Teyser’s distant mental voice replied.
     “You and Laul hurry to the Cliff wellspring and whisper to my Hedm office.  I need a report on our assets and on the Family of Light.  And wake the boys.  We need to ride to the city now.  Have them harness up the coach for Father.”
    
“Traevis?” his father asked again.
     “…Yes, Swordson.”
    
“Traevis,” his father insisted.
     “What?” Traevis snapped, looking at him sharply.
     “Come and have some brandy, son.  It’s from the DeVroy private reserve.  Young Charles is Chair of the Comraderie Wine Exchange now, and he sent this personally.”
     “Did he,” Traevis said as his father poured from an antler laminate decanter, filling two matching nippers dotted with red gems, one of which he drank down and refilled.
     But why was the man here at all?
     “Father, if you don’t mind my asking, when I left for Camrodsrow last week you told me you were going to stay in the city.  I thought to look for you there…”  But Airlight Manor had called him home, not that his father could appreciate “instructions from the architecture”.
     “Rhuelord Haphallen wished to discuss local edicts.”
     “And he didn’t meet with you in the city as your old Sword Fellow used to?”
     “He should have, and I’ll insist that he does so in future.  After I arrived here, I received word that he could not come.”
     “Oh,” Traevis said, suddenly concerned that his father had been lured away from the safety of the Hedm, the Guiding Star’s eastern city…  So that a risen Kanalian could reach for him as he stood alone atop Airlight Manor? 
     And if Traevis had not heeded that ceaseless summons his father would now be dead?
     This was more than raising some Mother-forsaken wretch.  This was a conspiracy against the Rhuelands.  His father was a mark.  Traevis’ mages could be in danger, and Jolain II might be compromised along with his daughter.
     Traevis turned to leave, but his father tucked a nipper into his hand.  Traevis half-startled, but quickly relaxed.
     “Drink, son.  It will take the chill off.”
     “No need,” Traevis replied as he set the nipper on an inlaid table where his father was setting the decanter.  “We’re leaving for the Hedm as soon as my Reds are ready.  I… need updates from my lieutenant,” he added, for he was not about to mention the word “conspiracy” until they were both securely tucked away.  “Come with me.  I’ve already ordered the coach.”
     “Why don’t we leave later today?  You should rest.  You look like you’ve been keeping yourself awake again.  It would explain why you were outside on the turret.”
     “But why were you…?”  Traevis trailed, looking into his father’s scolding steel-jet eyes.
     “Why was I what, son?”
     “Nothing,” Traevis replied as he realized that his father may have been coaxed outside with no recollection of his actions.  The geas could not have done this.  A traitor may have infiltrated the household and induced him.  Rhuelord Haphallen may have hired someone, and a chill shot up Traevis’ neck for even now that someone might be watching.
     Sensing eyes on him, Traevis looked aside to find Hancock Countingpat, the Airlight Headmaster, standing in one of the Grand Hall’s two entrance arches.  Both arches were capped by gold-veined celestine Airlight Falcons with wings outstretched, clutching swords in their talons, and each bore one-half of the family motto, Forever on Wing, Forever of Service.
    
Hancock wore his sword red homerobe with a fawn-fox collar that accented his falcon chain of fealty, and Traevis sensed the entire household behind him, queued and ready to charge.
     “My Sword, Naethan,” Hancock said, confusion wrinkling his brow.  “You’re soaked to the bone, and my Swordson, Traevis.  You’re home.”
     Naethan Airlight, First Sword of the Rhue and Keeper of the Northeastern Provinces, drank down another nipper.
     “Hancock, I am relieved that your powers of observation have remained constant since evening sup.”  Naethan then shot his headmaster a sharp glance and added, “Traevis and I are not only soaking, we’re freezing.  For the Great Mother’s sake get a fire going and let’s have more of this DeVroy brandy.”
     Hancock pounded his staff of office, and servants poured in.  There was little Traevis could do but watch their swarm, for he was not about to leave his father’s side. 
     Apprentice lighters lit the lamps while elder lighters activated the remaining bright fire sconces.  Logmen wheeled in a trolley to stoke and light a fire while draughters brought the brandy and topped Naethan’s decanter.
     Maids hovered, their presence not required given that the household attended two men.  Still, they fluffed cushions and straightened rug corners, some curtsying to Traevis’ mother’s bluewood harp placed against the Hall’s western-most wall.
     “Sir?” a man called.
     Traevis looked past the gathering valets to find two of his Reds, Adair and Lothan.  They wore sword red tunics piped with ash, gray trousers, shirts and boots, and of course their Tyrees and Allemans forged to match his own.
     Lothan was newer, but Adair was one of Traevis’ Core Nine and bore the right epaulette patch of a heart pierced by three golden swords.  The two saluted by touching right hands to their left shoulders.
     “Any orders, sir?” Adair asked.
     Traevis offered a tiny wave off and glanced at his father as Hancock barked anyone wearing a skirt out of the Grand Hall so that his masters might undress.  He noticed one young maid desperate to bat her soft blues at him, but she was hardly a spy.  Merely sweet, if not a touch simple, for Ghislaine’s lavender eyes were the only ones Traevis could ever cherish.
     Great Mother, let her be safe.
     Traevis unbuckled his sword belt, pulled the Alleman’s sheath from his waterlogged boot and handed his weapons to Adair.  Then he toweled off and donned a fresh set of gray, racking his brain to know how he had missed a conspiracy. 
     Had his whispers been compromised?  What about those of Rhuelady Liva, mistress of his mages?  If so, had he just made a mistake sending Teyser and Laul to whisper to the Hedm.
     “Take your ease, son,” his father said as he settled into an armchair, pouring more brandy into his nipper.
     Traevis gave his men a sideways nod.  They saluted and left, Adair bearing his blades.
     “So, what about this heart-fast I’ve been hearing of?” Naethan continued.
     “Whose?” Traevis asked before the question struck him.  “What, you mean mine?”
     “You’ve been awake how long this time, son?” 
     Traevis’ reply was another casual glance as he reached out again to the River Rhue to bolster his strength.  The starburst above seemed to channel it down in a much-needed flow.
     “And the matter that troubles you now?” Naethan asked.
     “Nothing’s troubling me.  So, tell me what have you heard about a heart-fast?  I haven’t announced anything.”
     If a traitor lurked, let him listen to mundane details until the coach was ready.
     “Why else would you go to Camrodsrow, son?”
     “Personal investments.”
     “Well, that’s one way to put it.  Traevis, we both know that your Aunt Bautella has helped you secure enough votes in the Comraderie to support your match with the Guiding Star’s girl.  I also know that Letty summoned you to her estate before you went to Comraderie Hall, and her word is law in that Chamber.  With her support, not even Jolain has a say about you heart-fasting Ghislaine.  And neither do I.”
     Traevis prepared for the tension this topic usually brought, firstly because his father had never been comfortable with his maternal aunt’s prestige in the Central States and secondly because he had never been betrothed to Ghislaine.
     “But tell me more about them,” Naethan said.
     “Commerce is good,” Traevis said.  “The Comraderie constantly bickers about which guilds will service the Trescelle barges and which shore hands will unload, but overall they’re happy.”
     “Do they still call you True Sword?”
     Traevis sighed through his nose.  “You know I don’t appreciate it when Aunt Letty promotes me that way.  She’s using that stupid, old poem to–”
     “Traevis, she’s only part of it.  You and I both know that Jolain is waning.  In his decline, I’ve heard people call you the Great Mother’s new Beloved.  They say our revered Guiding Star, the Great Mother’s living consort, no longer holds Her favor but rather She smiles upon you, not upon Rowland, our Rising Star.”
     Great Mother, as if the very safety of the Rhuelands wasn’t enough.  “The man’s name is Rowlain,” Traevis said.  “He should stay with the traditional spelling.”
     “And yet he hasn’t.  So, what are your intentions?  To have the Guiding Star’s daughter and not support his son?  What would that say to factions vying for power?”
     “What would you have me do?”
     “Save the man from himself,” Naethan said flatly.  “Stand beside Rowland as his Sword, just as I stand beside Jolain II.  I will retire my position so that you may fill it when Rowland receives the Great Mother’s kiss.”
     Traevis tisked.  “You sound like Ghislaine.”
     “Of course, I do.  We are of one mind on this subject.”
     “And how should I save Rowland from himself?  Keep him in isolation until the withdrawals ebb?  The man can’t stay sober for an hour, so how do you expect me to change him?”
     Traevis’ father did not reply, which prompted Traevis to press on with, “And if I did keep Rowland under lock and key so he couldn’t get any more amber kernels, the Rhuelands would think I’ve established a second Protectorate.  And this time they’ll think I mean to keep it.  What would that say to factions vying for power?”
     Naethan drank down again, pausing in thought.  “So only Ghislaine Mont-Lestarre is to be yours.  You’ll set Rowland aside.”
     “Until I can figure out his place.”  Traevis could see he was making his father uncomfortable, and he softened his tone to add, “Look, I promised Ghislaine that I would find some plan to keep the Rhuelands in balance.”
     Neither man spoke, allowing the fire’s crackling to fill the void between them.  Eventually, Naethan eased his posture.
     “Very well, Traevis.  I know you have the good of the world at heart, but as far as Ghislaine is concerned, take her.  I bless you both.”
     The fire sputtered and sparked, and yet his father had just said… what?  “You’re supporting me?” Traevis asked.  “For the last four years you’ve–”
     “Opposed you.  I know, son.  I have since Ricaerd’s death, and I tell you now, Traevis, that I regret it.”
     Traevis watched his father look at his brother’s portrait.  Ricaerd Airlight’s jet eyes dashed with slate seemed alive.  He stood in his redwork-embossed breastplate, his fire-scrolled broadsword at his hip and his long jet hair with the two side braids woven in sword red cords trailing over his left shoulder.
     “I’ve always thought your desire for Ghislaine betrayed Ricaerd’s memory,” Naethan continued.  “He was supposed to have heart-fasted her, not you.  It had been settled when they were children.  But Ricaerd and Ghislaine would never have been happy.  They would have been colleagues, but you love Ghislaine and she loves you, and that’s a rare jewel in a game of power. 
     “When you mentioned your journey to Camrodsrow, I told Bautella, and my own sister Jaenather, to do what they could for you.  Because it is you who has been ‘forever on wing’, and your service has been beyond value. 
     “And you’re right to remind me of your Protectorate two years ago when Jolain and I were poisoned.  You kept the Guiding Star’s and the First Sword’s offices in harmony.  You kept the Rhue’s two great cities, its two great domes – Heaven’s Dome, the Hedm, here in the east and Heart’s Dome, the Hadm, far to the west – under close watch.  You settled disputes among the Central States and even negotiated with the Teethfolk to prevent them molesting the Trescelle barges sailing south to Lady’s Lap.
     “After I recovered, I should have raised you up.  I should have insisted that you heart-fast Ghislaine and join the Airlights with the Mont-Lestarres as Ricaerd would have done.  And it is so wasteful to ignore my second child when my first is already with the Great Mother.”
     Naethan paused then added, “Swordson.”
     Traevis was dumbstruck.  He had struggled for years to have Ghislaine as a lover not a sister.  This was so monumental that he did not refute being called a second son when he was truly a third, not that his brother Caerl’s portrait could be found anywhere in Airlight Manor.
     Wind blasted down the hearth, scattering the tall licks even as Naethan offered, “So when is the date?”
     “I don’t know.  I need to speak with Ghislaine.”
     “Well, hurry to it, boy.  Let’s have those grandchildren.”  Naethan swatted his thigh and then forced himself up, taking the decanter with him as he moved across the Grand Hall.
     A log snapped in half, crashing with two others to the hearth’s hammered-iron base.  The geas leaped within Traevis, who stared stunned as his father crossed to the hearth.  There the man paused as if maneuvered into place – so that Kanalian’s hand could materialize from the flames and reach out for him. 
     “Father!”
     Adair charged into the Grand Hall along with Lothan, fifteen more Reds and Traevis’ two mages, Teyser in his blue and tans and Laul in his color-riot patchworks.
     The mages fanned to either side of the hand to reach out and grasp it in a power bind while Traevis sprang forward to snatch hold of the decanter.  He threw it to the back of the hearth, pushing his father aside as the laminate shattered to feed the flames with an alcoholic whoosh.
     “Get him out of here!” Traevis shouted as he waited to see if the fire’s sudden intensity would disrupt the manifestation.  It did not, nor could his mages contain it.
     “IN MY NAME!” roared once more through Traevis as surely as if Taemal Airlight himself were shouting into his soul.
     “Where’s my sword?” Traevis demanded.  Adair offered his Tyree, but Traevis shot his Core Niner a look.  “Not this one.  The one forged ‘in his name’.”
     “No, son!” Naethan cried as he forced off his son’s men.  “Don’t you dare think of Taemal’s sword.”
     Traevis had no option but the Tyree, but before he could draw it his body seized and he collapsed.
     Traevis leaped up in arrow flight, past the stained-glass windows as he headed for the hall’s timber-vaulted crown.  The renowned Airlights reached out from their windows to aid him, white-red auras blazing about their glazed flesh as they vaulted him straight through the starburst.

***

     Traevis emerged above the great brazier where he hovered, the flames below clashing in reds and golds, purples and steels that sparked wildly into the night.
     “Dispel him, my son,” called a choir of voices.
     “Dispel who…?”  Traevis asked, but his thoughts fell mute as he saw what he could never have imagined seeing. 
     Kanalian hovered before him, graceful and golden despite eons of straddling life and after-life.  His smoked-aqua eyes were able to pierce the soul so completely that Traevis’ heart nearly stopped, and his command of the River Rhue’s power was so vast that it rendered the geas unheard.
     Kanalian called lightning down from the clouds to form a dazzling orb, which he raised as he held Traevis in his sights.
     “The ocean, Trae,” a woman cried from afar.
     Ghislaine!  Traevis sensed her reaching out.  Kanalian turned and looked in her direction, which spurred Traevis to full alert.  The geas surged within him as he threw his arms wide and summoned a cyclone from the waves crashing against the Graystone Cliffs.
     With the spirits of ancient Airlights giving him magical prowess far exceeding his own, and with a heave that strained every ounce of his being, Traevis launched the cyclone at his blood’s bane.
     Kanalian threw his orb at the vortex, but it dissipated about the rim.  Then the cyclone launched back multiple forks that took hold of Kanalian and drew him in.  The cyclone’s tail extended away to the northwest while its spiral intensified.
     Traevis cried out in the throes of psychic exertion that threatened to crack his mind in half, but his ancestors kept him intact as the cyclone swallowed Kanalian and passed him through to an unknown time and place. 
     Then the cyclone vanished, and the geas ebbed so quickly that Traevis felt his soul implode.  His ancestors steadied him, but Ghislaine had reached out.  Had the cyclone captured her as well? 
     Traevis threw a power surge up to dispel the clouds.  The larger moon, Lady’s Light, shone at its apex over the Eastern Ocean while the smaller moon, Lady’s Tear, was setting over the far off Sorandesburgs.  Neither illuminated Ghislaine.  Where was she?
     “Swordson,” Teyser and Laul called.  Traevis turned to find his mages, but he saw no one.  He attempted to leap down to the turret, but a force coiled about his body and locked his arms to his flanks.  He tried to free himself, but he could not move.  He could not move!
     A silver cord shot out from Traevis’ midsection and jolted him downward through the flames.  However, he felt nothing as he passed through into the Grand Hall.  Yet as he plummeted toward the falcon-motif carpets he noticed an odd sight.
     His Reds stood about a body.  Teyser and Laul knelt beside it.  The man they tended had jet hair as he did and wore gray clothes as he did.  Great Mother, he was dead.

***

     Traevis collided with his flesh so hard that he lurched.
     “Traevis,” his father called.
     “He’s back, my Sword,” Teyser said.
     Traevis remained still.  Movement was impossible, for his body felt cast in lead. 
     Ice blasted through him, the after-effect of going outside.  Traevis knew the sensation from his teen years when his middle brother, Caerl, had taught him spirit work, and from the years Ghislaine had spent training him to guard her astral ventures.  Great Mother, how he hated coming back.
     Teyser and Laul laid their palms on his chest.
     “Forgive us that we could not aid you,” Laul said.  “The Manor would not let us.”
    
“We think the elder Airlights wanted to work through you, and only you,” Teyser added.
     “Never mind them,” Traevis muttered mentally as he soul touched his mages by creating a psychic siphon through their palms.  He reached into their bodies and drew out enough energy to thaw his frozen innards, ever mindful not to take too much least he drain them.
     “Ghislaine,” Traevis croaked aloud as he forced his jet eyes open.
     “Easy, son.  She’s in the Hedm,” his father said.
     Was she?  Traevis fought the entropy to lift himself up and regard his mages.  “What news from the Dome?”
     “The Cliff wellspring has been ruined, Swordson,” Teyser said.  “We think the Fallen Star used it to enter our world.”
     Great Mother.  Traevis gestured for his mages to get him to his feet, but he had no idea who was safe and who was in danger.
     “We need to ride now,” Traevis said.
     “No, son.  You’re exhausted.  Look what just happened.”
     “Lads, scour this place,” Traevis ordered his mages.  “Kanalian had access, and I want to know how.  And see if you can find out where the Elder Airlights helped me send him.”
    
Teyser and Laul offered a graceful bow and left.
     “Son, if you must speak to your people, do it aloud.”
     Traevis crossed to a desk.  He drew out a piece of falcon watermark parchment, flicked back the top of a red glass ink well and readied a quill.
     “Son, you lost consciousness.”
     “No, I didn’t,” Traevis said as he scratched a dispatch to his cousin, Lataurance Westaullar, and then another to mage mistress, Rhuelady Liva, ordering her to account for all martial assets.  Traevis peppered the notes with drying powder and looked at Adair.
     “Ride ahead to the Hedm and give these to my Orator Kitleigh,” Traevis ordered as he folded the dispatches and passed them over.  Yet as they brushed Adair’s fingertips, Traevis crumpled them back into his fist.
     The spy may still be watching.  Kanalian could only have accessed the hearth by working with someone familiar with Airlight Manor’s defenses, someone evasive enough to slip by the elder spirits – and the last thing Traevis wanted was to let anyone like that know his mind.
     He fell into a mock feint.
     “Son,” Naethan said, reaching out to steady him.
     Traevis clutched his father’s shoulder and hauled himself back upright, shaking his head and blinking widely. 
     “Father… what’s happening?”
     “What’s happening?  Son, you just collapsed, but not before you demanded Taemal Airlight’s sword.”
     “I what?  Adair, is this so?”
     “Yes, sir,” Adair replied. 
     Traevis faltered a second time, but as Adair stepped in to support him, he slipped the dispatches into his Core Niner’s tunic.  “Ride to the Hedm,” he whispered.  “But leave slowly.”
     Adair nodded as Traevis looked at his father.  “Wasn’t there something from earlier?  Your new Sword Fellow Haphallen?”
     “What about him?” Naethan asked.
     Traevis fixed his stare on Brién, the Red who, with Traevis’ Core Niner Volf, organized his intelligence channels.  Brién’s infinitesimal nod conveyed that he should investigate the matter personally.
     “Traevis,” his father cautioned.
     “Yes, yes, I know.  Sleep.  I just need to…” 
     Traevis took a step, but fatigue struck him full force and he fell back down to the carpets.  His Reds came around to press palms against his chest so that he might soul touch them, but someone gestured them back.
     “Traevis Naegil Airlight, you will stop this immediately.”
     Traevis reacted to the parental use of his full name and did not object as his father beckoned his Reds to raise him from the floor and carry him to a divan. 
     “Son, listen to me.  We’ll return to the Hedm, but we’ll both take the coach so that you may sleep.”
     “There’s no time,” Traevis gasped, powerless to prevent his spine from losing rigidity amid the plush cushions.
     “We’ll make time.  You called for Taemal Airlight’s blade.  It possessed you once.  It killed Ricaerd.  It killed your mother, and how many countless others through the ages.  Earlier on the turret you ran about like a madman and nearly plunged to your death.  You cried, ‘In his name’, and that only happens when the geas has taken hold.  If you can’t remember any of this, then you have no business making decisions.”
     Traevis did not reply as he drifted into warrior’s rest, a deeply restorative state that he reflexively entered when he could go no further.
     “You see?” he heard his father say as though through a tunnel.  “You can help save a man from himself.”

So what do you think happens next?

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