The Four Heroes
A/N: I feel as though I'm rushing this part a bit, but I really don't have much more to say. I'm sure as I get farther along I'll think, "Well, I guess I should have explained this a little earlier," and "That won't make any sense if I put it in now," etc... So, we're just gonna go with it, and damn the torpedoes. Please let me know what you think.
Also as I write this I'm feeling a lot of similarities between the beginning of SSSC and Dyne's story. I suppose that's to be expected, since people were constantly telling Alex that he was basically walking the same path as Dyne. But I don't want it to just be a copy, even if it is supposed to be the "original" copy. So I'll try to keep an eye on that. I hope you enjoy. : )
Disclaimer: Most of these people don't belong to me. The ones who do, you know who you are. Be home by 10, or else.
Chapter 3: Angels Falling and Rising
Her senses were muffled, everything so unclear. Her limbs were heavy and gangly, getting in her way as she tried to move, to lift herself up from the cold stone floor. She was clothed only in the curtain of her hair, cold and angry to be thus. Angry, and afraid.
Afraid because her mind was closed to the world around her, her own thoughts echoing loudly inside her mind. For how long had the voices of the children of Lunar spoken to her, praying to her, praising her? It felt empty, not having those voices speaking to her all at the same time. Never before had loneliness struck her so profoundly.
Had her power, her very essence, abandoned her as well? Again, fear struck her. And she found she could not even try to use it, her power. What if nothing happened?
She got her feet under her and stood, swaying a bit. Why did it take so much effort just to stand? Of course, before, she had no need of legs. They had merely been an affectation to pacify her children. She didn't realize they went through this agony every day just to move about. She took a step, still wobbly, her arms splayed as she fought for balance.
There was pain in her stomach, a feeling at once of tightness and emptiness. Was this hunger, this awful sensation her children prayed against? Placing her hands on her abdomen, she could feel a vibration beneath them as her stomach almost seemed to turn itself over inside of her. Was this supposed to happen?
She took another step, feeling the searing cold beneath the soles of her feet. A gasp escaped her throat as one of her ankles rolled the wrong way and she nearly fell. She caught herself and found her balance again, then took another step. And another and another, until she was at the door to her chamber. It was merely a plain door now, unlike the magical portal that allowed only a select few of her children into her presence. A simple wooden door, with hinges and an iron latch. She reached out with one shaking hand and fumbled with the latch until she figured out the mechanism. The door swung inward, creaking slightly. And below her, a seemingly endless stairway, curving away into the darkness. The only light came from the glass ceiling of her chamber, which permitted a splash of cheery sunlight into the large circular room. She looked back at it, and felt more fear. No light reached beyond the curve of the stair, she knew. How could it? Natural light traveled in straight lines only, and without her power to bend it, she would be forced to use her other senses to guide her once she left her chamber.
Once she left her chamber...
How long had she kept herself here, locked inside oblivion? True, she had the voices of her children to keep her company, but how long had it been since she'd ventured forth into the world she had created for them? She couldn't even remember why her self-imposed containment had begun. She only knew that it was time for it to be over. Placing one hand on the wall of the stairway, she took her first step out of the chamber. Her first step into the human world.
She did not look back.
Dyne straddled the ridgepole of the roof of Cass's tiny cabin, naked back stinging from the slap of the sun's heat, sweat dripping into his eyes. He was pounding away at a section of roof of which he was in the process of replacing. He could ignore discomfort when the old man was relating a new story, or even an old, beloved tale, seated in his rocking chair under an old shade oak just a few yards from the front porch. From there Cass could watch Dyne's progress and keep him company.
"I had another dream about Althena," Dyne said from his perch atop the roof. In the four years since Old Cass had come to Burg, he and Dyne had formed a strong bond, forged in their mutual obsession over Althena's succession of Dragonmasters, and the amazing stories surrounding the phenomenon. After Dyne finished his daily chores on his parents' farm, he would often wander over to Cass's small plot of land and tend to any work that Cass could not take care of by himself.
Dyne was not the only one of his parents' children to help the old storyteller. Not far away, ten-year-old Strenna was weeding Cass's vegetable garden, saving the weeds in a flat wooden box so that she could later transplant them to the weed patch. It was just to humor the old man, who said that all living things were created and loved by Althena, and to kill any of her children would be a crime against her. Strenna was humming to herself, not paying any attention at all to Dyne and Cass. Cass's stories seemed to bore her, and she spent most of her time making up imaginary tales of her own.
"Was it the one about the twins again? I like that dream..."
Dyne lifted a rueful brow at the old storyteller's comment, his cheeks tingeing a slight red as he regretted--once again--ever relating that dream to his friend. "No, this one was new. It wasn't any of the Dragonmasters you've told me about so far. I saw Her dancing with an armored man inside a white tower," Dyne continued. "She looked very lonely, even though She wasn't alone." Dyne stopped, remembering how he wished he could have been there. Then Althena wouldn't have been lonely. He was jealous of the tall, strong-looking man with black curls escaping from his red helm, an indomitable will glowing in his rich green eyes. A true warrior, Dyne knew.
"The Goddess is indeed very lonely, young friend," Cass said, his voice turning somber. He continued his rocking, and a small breeze tugged at his white hair and beard.
Dyne wiped the sweat from his brow with his forearm, pondering Cass's comment for a moment. "But why?"
The old man's smile was slow and sad. His eyes, those piercing blue-green eyes, seemed to see a landscape very far away. "Because there is no one else like Her in all the world. She truly is alone."
Dyne sighed, and bent once more to his task, his heart heavy with some unnamed emotion. The breeze dried the sweat on his skin, but he didn't notice. "I wish there was something I could do," he said softly, laying down another plank of smooth wood and hammering it in place.
"Perhaps there is, my boy. Perhaps there is."
Dyne missed a nail and smashed his thumb with the hammer. Biting back a curse, he threw the heavy tool in sudden anger, then stuck his throbbing thumb into his mouth. He sucked on it, then pulled it out to inspect the damage. "What can I do?" he said suddenly, louder than he had intended. "I'm stuck here in this nothing of a village, fixing an old man's roof when I should be--" he waved at the horizon, seeming to run out of words and anger at the same time. "Out there," he finished quietly. He took a deep breath and sighed. "I'm sorry, Cass. I just don't see what I can do to help a Goddess. I mean, I'm down here, and She's..." he gazed up at the sky. He glanced at Cass when he heard the old man chuckling. "What?"
Cass shook his head, his smile holding decades of knowledge that Dyne could only guess at. "Do you think She measures worth only in great feats of courage? Even the smallest task aids Her. The smallest speck of order can defeat an entire world of chaos."
Dyne raised a brow once again, this time in confusion. "What?"
Cass was silent for a long moment. Dyne thought the old man might have fallen asleep, when suddenly he started speaking again as if there had been no interruption. "Consider young Strenna, there. You think her work is foolish, do you not? But look what she does: she creates order among chaos. The weeds she pulls do not consider themselves weeds. They, too, deserve life. And so she removes them from the area where they do harm, and puts them in a place where they can thrive. The Goddess looks down on her and smiles. Can't you feel it?" The old man spread his hands, palm up, closed his eyes, and lifted his face to the dappled afternoon sunlight filtering down through the leaves of his tree.
All Dyne could feel was the blood pulsing painfully in his smashed thumb. And he didn't understand how pulling weeds would keep Althena from being lonely.
Cass opened one of his eyes, regarding Dyne. Dyne knew his expression radiated skepticism, though he tried to hide it. The old storyteller let out a weary sigh, lowering his arms. "Perhaps you are too young yet. Perhaps...you are not..." He shook his head. "It does not matter now." That odd gaze found Dyne again, this time sharp and assessing. "And yet...he has the green eyes."
Dyne felt a tinge of worry. Cass was not young, no, but he was possessed of a sharp intellect. Dyne had never heard him speak like this, as if he were talking to someone who wasn't there. "Cass?"
With a sudden, jerky movement, Cass levered himself up from his chair, looking very wobbly and small from Dyne's viewpoint. The storyteller retrieved his tall, twisted walking stick from where he'd leaned it against the tree, and started shuffling toward the door of his house. "It is time for a little rest," Dyne thought he heard Cass mutter, and found himself worried yet further. His friend was not one to nap in the middle of day. Never had Old Cass seemed so...old.
Dyne swung one leg over the peak of the low roof and slid down to the ground, flexing his knees so that he landed in a crouch. He quickly gained Cass's side, giving his old friend a young shoulder to lean on. A bit disturbed by Cass's words and sudden feeble manner, Dyne helped him into his cottage, leading him to the bed. He went back out to fetch a mug of water from the well, thinking perhaps Cass had spent too much time in the sun today. When he ducked back inside the old man's home, Cass had already gotten in bed and pulled a thin coverlet over himself. Dyne stared down at the fragile fingers clutching the cotton coverlet his own mother had woven at her loom; at the fine, wispy white hairs framing his face and the sunken, weary eyes, and thought for the very first time that perhaps Cass's end would not be long in coming. The thought frightened him.
"Green eyes," Cass muttered to himself. "You have the...green eyes."
"Good rest to you, Cass," Dyne whispered, then started to leave. He was stopped by an iron grip on his wrist. Startled, he turned back. His breath caught when he saw that Cass's eyes were wide open, and they were no longer a watery blueish-green, but a true green, the verdant hue of sun-drenched fields. They glowed with determination and an iron will, a sight that struck some deep chord of recognition inside of him.
"You must promise me. You must promise me," Cass said, his voice the strongest it had been since that night they had first met, Cass seated in Dyne's chair, Dyne trapped in the doorway. "Promise me you will protect Her. Promise me!"
Dyne, startled by the old man's sudden vigor, stammered, "I-I promise."
Cass sighed, relief and wearines mingling in his expression. He quickly fell asleep, still clutching Dyne's wrist. Dyne gently disengaged the old man's grip, and quietly left the cottage.
Strenna met him just as he was walking out of the door. "What was he talking about? I couldn't quite hear him. He said my name, didn't he?"
"Nothing, just one of his stories. Finish the garden, and then go home. He needs rest."
"He sounded angry in there. What did you say to him?"
Irritated, Dyne grabbed her shoulders. "I didn't say anything. And he wasn't angry, just tired. Now, go finish what you were doing and go home. I'll be there after I finish the roof." He let her go, placing his hands on his hips, waiting for her to do as he said. She looked skeptical, but went back to the garden. Dyne retrieved his hammer from where it had fallen when he'd thrown it, then used the porch railing to climb back onto the roof, and continued his own work. Every so often he caught Strenna watching him, an odd expression on her face. Pretty soon she left, and he finished his work as quietly as he could, not wanting to disturb Cass, but knowing he couldn't just leave a gaping hole in the roof. His thoughts were hard to pin down, jumping from one topic to another. Who was it that needed protecting? How was he going to keep his promise, if he didn't even know what he had promised to do?
"She truly is alone..."
Had the old man been speaking of Althena? The thought made his heart hammer inside his chest. How in the world could he protect Althena, the Goddess herself?
The words that next came into his mind almost seemed to have been placed there by some invisible hand. Become a Dragonmaster.
The statement so startled him, he almost smashed his thumb again. Become a Dragonmaster? The beating of his heart became almost painful. How could he do that?
And he realized he'd been listening to the how for four years, seated at Cass's feet or working under his gaze
Then reality intruded. What if they had only been stories? Tales to brighten a rainy day, or entertain a bored child. What if there wasn't any truth to them at all? He shook his head. They were just stories. Stories for children. Fairy tales.
And yet... He gazed at the horizon once more, seeing the mountains spiking up through the clouds to the northeast; not seeing but knowing that Saith lay to the southwest, its harbor filled with merchant ships waiting to unload the cargoes of textiles and produce found only on the continent, waiting to take on cargoes of the precious boiled sap from the rare elpam trees that grew only on Caldor Isle. How much was out there for him to see? How much would he miss if he spent his entire life here in dull old Burg?
The sun was almost touching the tops of the trees to the west. He had to hurry and complete his task before the light was gone. When he finished patching the roof, he cleaned up his mess and his supplies, putting everything away in the tiny tool shed over by the vegetable patch. After checking on Cass one more time--still sleeping, poor old man--he put his shirt back on against the growing evening chill and started to make his way home. Except he didn't go home. His feet were taking him in a familiar direction, and he didn't even try to change his course. The peace of the spring reached out to him, gathering him in like a mother's arms pulling an infant to her breast. He could not resist.
He followed the music of running water until he was right on the edge of it. He squatted, looking down at his own reflection on the placid surface. He saw nut brown hair in need of a trim, a dirt- and sweat-streaked face. And within that face, green eyes.
You have the green eyes...
What did the old man mean when he said that? And Cass's eyes had changed color, too. They were exactly the same as the ones of the man who had danced with Althena in his dream. Had Cass been a Dragonmaster in his youth? What did green eyes have to do with anything? The color of a person's eyes didn't make him or her a Dragonmaster. It had to be more than that.
He reached out and touched the reflection, watching his own face ripple and whorl away in the tiny wavelets his fingers caused. "What should I do, Lady?" He had raised his head, posing his question to the Blue Star. "I think I just promised to protect You. But I don't know how." His gaze returned to his shattered reflection in the rippling water. "I don't know how to become a Dragonmaster."
He waited, but no answer came. There was only the glow of the Blue Star, the music of the water, and the singing twilight. Dyne settled back on his haunches, pulling his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. He lowered his forehead into his arms, searching for peace. Sleep found him instead.
The earth moved beneath him and a resounding roar split the air, stabbing at his ear drums. Dyne lifted his head from his folded arms, disoriented by the rolling ground, the loud noise, and the sudden cramp in his neck. He fell to his side as he clutched at his ears. As the roar died down, he realized that he was still screaming, and his throat was raw from it. He stopped screaming and simply lay there, panting, heart pounding as adrenaline poured through his body.
What, in the name of the Lady, was that? He pushed himself up from the rock on which he lay and looked around to see if there was any damage to the spring and the surrounding woods. He couldn't see much in the darkness, but everything looked pretty much the same, if a little flatter. Some of the ancient white temple stones had toppled from the remaining stacks, and a few of the older trees had leaned a bit onto their neighbors.
When Dyne stood, his legs were shaking. In fact, all of him was shaking, and he felt an odd urge to scream and sob and laugh at the same time. He pushed trembling fingers through his hair, trying to soothe his emotions.
And then he thought of his family. Spinning away from the spring, he jumped into a flat-out sprint, up the path to the meadow, toward his small home at the base of the hilltop, praying that when he reached it he wouldn't find a heap of rubble instead of a house.
"Dyne!" His name, called so sharply, echoed across the night-drenched meadow. His gaze swept the silvery grass, but he could not tell who was running toward him from the opposite side of the meadow, and he did not stop. He had to see his family, to know they were all right.
His feet flying, he reached the door within moments of leaving the spring. A second set of footsteps sounded right behind him, and a hand fell heavily onto his shoulder. Twisting briefly to glance behind him, Dyne saw Noah bent at the waist, breathing heavily. "You run...too fast," Noah panted, perspiration darkening his red hair to a dull brown. Dyne ignored him and turned the latch, walking into his house. Noah's hand slid from his shoulder.
It was dark inside. He started calling out to his parents and his siblings, but all he heard was the echo of his own voice.
"Dyne," Noah said, still rather breathless. "Wait."
Again, Dyne ignored him and opened the door into his parents' room. He called out to them again, moving around by feel and memory. Could they possibly have slept through all that? But their bed was empty. He left their room and climbed the ladder up to the loft. Light from the Blue Star shone in through the small window. He had not realized when he was outside just how bright the Blue Star was tonight. He saw his and Bretton's pallets, made up and ready for sleep. It had to be near the middle of the night, and yet Bretton had not even mussed his blankets.
His panic rising with each breath, he slid back down the ladder, his feet not even touching the rungs, and moved to Strenna's small alcove next to the cold fireplace. Nothing, except her few belongings. Her bedding, the trunk that held her clothes, and the little doll their mother had purchased from a peddler when Strenna was five. He picked up the doll, remembering his mother's defense of the extravagant purchase. His father had been sternly disapproving, but his mother had not backed down. "Every little girl needs a pretty doll."
He held the toy close, turning to see Noah standing in the doorway.
"Dyne, they're in the square," Noah said, his breathing still slightly labored. "Everyone's in the square."
"Are they...all there?"
Noah nodded. "Yeah, all of them. Come on. Let's go."
Dyne mimicked his friend's nod, his adrenaline draining, suddenly feeling a bit numb. "Let's go."
He followed Noah out of his house, and they jogged at a brisk trot toward the town square. He heard the murmur of voices and saw the glow of torch light long before they reached the center of the village.
And then he thought to wonder how everyone had come to congregate here so quickly. It had hardly been a quarter of an hour since the earthquake and noise awakened him at the spring. Indeed, Noah had left the square to come find him. Why were they all here...already?