Evandrel opened his large, almond colored eyes. He’d been meditating for twelve days, drawing strength from the ground beneath him, pulling energy from the sun, and sending his will out to bring him nourishment.
He didn’t take more than nature could replace, the nectar of a blossoming flower tilted high above his head or the growth of a few tubers at his feet. A twinge of hunger pleaded with him from his stomach, but starvation was weeks away.
The Keitane ate very little, even less than the other Sidra tribes, as they absorbed energy from Ealdar and from light. He also only needed the tiniest fraction of what he’d normally consume as he’d slowed down his metabolism, not moving for days. Evandrel’s dwindling breath and heartbeat stopped for a moment as he concentrated.
He cast his net of perception farther and farther from his physical point of reference. He made minute connections with every living thing for twenty miles in every direction, nothing they would notice, just a whisper of his will so he could track them, sense them. He stretched and flexed his mind with this exercise of his powers. I am almost ready.
Evandrel’s path into the Order of the Grove neared an end. His will had become strong, his gift had developed more than he had imagined. Three more months and he would be ready to go home. The five years have passed swiftly.
He whipped a fragment of his mind out into the forest, seeking another source of nourishment. The trees whispered where a stash of nuts and seeds hid in a small hollow. I need but a few.
Evandrel had very little in common with the youth he’d been five years earlier. Hasla spurning him and refusing to play their silly games had stung, but now he understood. Her actions no longer surprised him. If anything, I respect her more for having the strength and reason to do so.
Evandrel pulled his thoughts away from his past and turned to his next meal. He spoke the words and sang to the trees. Even this far from the sacred grove, the trees were the most likely to respond to his will. The Keitane and the forests of Ealdar had bonded long ago.
The tree with the hollow heard his words and bent, swaying even though no breeze touched its leaves. A few nuts popped out, rolling to Evandrel’s feet. He reached down, but stopped with one of the seeds between his pale fingertips.
What was that? His head tilted to the side in confusion. That cannot be correct. Some living thing had appeared in the middle of his field of influence. He could sense every speck of life for twenty miles, every tree, animal, weed, slug, or centipede. He could feel them all, see them in his mind. Yet something has approached unseen. That is not possible.
He’d crafted the tiny connections with each individual spark of life, speaking the words of power and directing his will with keen precision. He knowingly released them when they reached the edge of his perception and connected to those that crossed into the limits of his will. These new beings had not wandered into his circle of power, but had appeared within it.
Evandrel reached out to them, sniffing at their energy. Humans! He didn’t connect to them as he had with every other creature. His lips curled back in disdain at the thought of linking himself even in the smallest way with a human. No, that would be unpleasant.
Evandrel’s almond eyes widened in shock as the implications of what he sensed hit him. He knew of no Sidra who could disappear and reappear at will. No mere human could accomplish this. Humans long ago turned their backs on the Gift of Light, losing any trace of its power. They have murdered, burned, and bred the gift out of themselves, like they breed dogs to be useless and pretty.
Evandrel refused to believe a couple of humans could have mastered something so beyond himself. Their small lives burn so quickly, like milt flies. How could a human apply the patience to master even a fraction of what I can do? No, they have masked themselves as they traveled, some Sidra talisman. This is some stolen art.
In the back of his mind, Evandrel knew that he’d have felt the effects of any such talisman before now, but he ignored that small voice of reason. His hatred for all things human burned too strong.
With a fluid motion that would’ve been difficult for anyone to follow, Evandrel sprang from his meditation stance and into a full sprint. Nuts and seeds rolled across the forest floor and a squirrel sprinted out to carry them back to his hollow as Evandrel sped away. He showed no sign that his tall, thin body had been seated on the cold stony ground for almost two weeks.
He found himself grinning as he ran through the trees, humming words of power to speed his journey and keep his footing sure. He felt his will wrap around himself in protection and listened to the forest voices call out to him as he passed by.
The trees whispered papery messages, urging him to find the humans and send them away. They had as much reason to hate and fear humans as any other creature. Axes and fire had left their mark upon many a tree here decades ago.
The wind rushed past his face as he picked up speed, the air carrying the cool hint of the winter that would soon come. Evandrel’s shining green hair fell from his neat braid and whipped around behind him. Sometimes it is good to still feel like a child with all the powers of an adult.
Dveldor the Digger walked down the tunnel, his right hand running along the wall. He didn’t need the reassurance of touch to know where he headed. He’d long ago learned to walk the dark mazes without light or guidance. Even the burrows this far from his home held no chance of leading Dveldor astray.
The cool, polished stone and the beautiful carvings etched into every portion of the walls gave him immense pleasure as the Song of the Stone filled his heart. He’d oiled his cart and packed his tools well, so it would run silent and nothing could infringe on his enjoyment of the Song.
It began as a tingling sensation in his fingers as they brushed some new feature of the wall. This flowed up his arm and into his chest where it deepened into audible sound. Running his hand along the wall created a symphony as minerals, carvings, and stones overlapped.
Dveldor had long ago learned what each tone meant. He could identify a ruby from a sapphire in pitch black. Any Dwaro born with the Song of the Stone could by his age, but Dveldor could also sing back. Only one in a hundred Dwaro could rework the stone this way.
Dveldor could bend stone and metal as well as any of the Masters he now studied from. Even now, as he walked along the walls, his unconscious humming rewrote the carvings around him. If the tunnel had been lit, Dveldor would’ve seen the stone walls shift beneath his hand, taking on new designs and patterns, and he would’ve felt shame.
It was not a crime to rewrite someone else’s work and Dveldor’s work was exceptional. The Song that others would hear as they ran their hands along this section of tunnel would later bring many to tears. Each carving melded with the harmony of the mineral in which it was placed in perfect chords. But these walls had been carved by Dveldor’s grandfather, Farrow the Great, and Dveldor would never have consciously rewritten them.
Farrow had been one of the greatest Masters the world had ever seen, his work commissioned by kings, and not just Dwaro Keepers, but rulers of all parts of Ealdar of all races.
Dveldor’s mind drifted to his own commission, a dagger for Sethkar, current Keeper of the Gates. Master Toltlin had come to him a week ago with the request. It was an honor not given to anyone so young before him, bending a blade for the Keeper himself.
The dagger laced against his back hummed and sang its own melody, distinct from that of the walls. Dveldor smiled with pride at the complex song it sang. He sang a strand back to the dagger and the edges grew sharper as silver spiral designs etched themselves down the blade. The metal warmed pleasantly against his skin as the Song remade it.
A loud noise above him broke into his thoughts and made him forget the knife. The tunnel walls shook with vibrations coming from the surface, and the constant Song of the Stone that came from the walls and the knife against his back ceased. The silence lasted several moments and Dveldor felt deep loneliness in the absence of the Song. It had abandoned him.
The Song had been the background to his thoughts and movements since childhood, a part of him like breathing and the beating of his small heart. He ran a hand over a section of the stone wall in dismay. No tingling sensation. He sang to the dagger that sat against his skin, willing the hilt to grow thin metal leaves as adornment. It did not sing back or make any changes.
Dveldor panicked. Many a Dwaro was born without the Song and many lost the ability to hear the Song as deeply as they once had, but those were elders, those who lost all hearing. Dveldor had never heard of the Song abandoning a Dwaro born with the gift to bend stone. He tore off his tunic and pressed his frantic furry body against the wall, hoping the contact would reignite the Song.
Nothing came for dreadful minutes, but then a sound began, soft and strange. It then grew louder and even more unfamiliar as he pulled away from the wall, his blood humming with the sensation. The Song had taken on a pleading tone, urging him up, out into the light to find something the Song of the Stone wanted.
Dveldor didn’t recognize many of the chords, but he’d thought he’d learned every one. He shook his head and sang back to the rock, questioning why he should leave the safety of Dunfaa, but the stone ignored his questions. The unfamiliar harmonies continued to swell.
Dveldor pulled his tunic back on as he thought on what to do. His kind rarely stood in the open air and sun. The thought of so much openness frightened the Dwaro. A trip to the Keeper’s throne room had left Dveldor breathless with the amount of space.
He’d heard stories of the blazing sun, the crimson scar across the sky, the bright stars, and the crisp cool of the dual moons at night. The idea of so much light and empty air daunted a creature that almost never bothered with the small lantern that bumped, unlit, against his leg.
Dveldor would be breaking no laws, but venturing outside alone did break with all the common sense, customs, and traditions he knew. Dveldor had grown listening to the stories of the giant and voracious beasts that roamed topside along with the bloodthirsty humans who’d hunted the Dwaros into hiding long ago.
The Song didn’t care about Dveldor’s traditions or stories. The sound pounded in his chest, compelling him to act quickly, mixing rhythms and chords in strange, unfamiliar, and insistent ways. Dveldor nodded to himself in the lightless tunnel. He had to see what these new tones meant and why they were so urgent. Dveldor the Digger had earned his name as a child, digging deep holes even as a baby, but, for the first time in his life, he dug up.