When the Sky Gods vanished over a thousand years ago, the S'hazons appeared to take their place. But what do the new gods of Gaea want?
On an alternate earth called Gaea, Elinna Serru dreams of entering the House of Lohrenin where she will be trained in the use of the Power. But all her training cannot prepare for for the terrible truths she discovers about the S'hazons and their true purpose on Gaea.
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Crossing the Imaginary Line with Jeanine Berry
An excerpt from Chapter One of Dayspring Dawning
Elinna stood before the door gathering her courage. A heavy brass knocker, set in the center of the massive expanse of wood, gleamed in the early morning light. The metal felt cold in her hand as she lifted it and brought it banging down.
Her heart pounded as she waited. Nothing happened. Would the door even open? This was not a place you approached without an invitation. Her hand tensed on the knocker. Should she bang it again? Indecision knotted her stomach. Her decision to come here today went against her father's wishes--she was alone. Besides, this was a journey only the psiborn could make.
As she lifted the knocker a second time, the rings on her fingers glittered in the sunlight. If she succeeded today, she would have to remove them. Frivolous adornment was forbidden to the adepts of this sacred House. With a quick movement she slipped them off her fingers and into a pocket, then smoothed down the skirt of her dress, an embroidered confection of pale yellow silk. As the moments of waiting stretched on, she pushed back an untidy curl of the honey-brown hair that hung loose around her thin face. Her fingers strayed down to her throat; she could feel her pulse still racing. It was one thing to cherish a lifelong dream and another to face the moment of Judging.
For an instant, she considered turning back to the carriage that had brought her. Her father would welcome her return.Too late for that. This might be her only chance.
Stubbornly, Elinna lifted the knocker again, but stopped its downward swing as she heard the clank of a handle turning on the other side of the door. The two halves creaked ponderously as the doorkeeper pulled them apart.
The man who stood before her was dressed in drab gray. He was a servant, not an Initiate or Perceptor or-heaven forbid-a Master. She would face one of them soon enough.
She looked beyond him and saw a huge circular entrance hall. A fountain adorned the center with a great globe of stone floating on the waters. Beyond that, several archways and corridors led off to other sections of the main building.
But this building was only a shell. The House was far more than stone and wood. She could sense a great tide of energy, like a living wall of water, filling the entranceway. She stood for a moment on the threshold, unable to move, tasting that Power, then stepped from warm sunlight into cool darkness and a somber hush.
"What brings you to the House of Lohenrin, Maerra?" the servant asked politely, using a title of respect. A glance at her gown of embroidered silk no doubt was enough to reveal her rank as noble born.
"I am Elinna Serru. I have come for the Judging. I sent word this morning that I would come today." The vast hall seemed to swallow her voice, and she felt small and insignificant as her words vanished into the shadows high above.
He bent his head and moved aside.
Relieved that even here a servant dare not question the high born, Elinna squared her shoulders and strode into the inner hall as he closed the door behind her. But after a few steps, she stopped in hushed awe, her eyes drinking in her surroundings. The entry was high and vaulted. She could sense the massive weight of stone that surrounded her, stone that seemed almost alive with its own aura of Power. And why not? For hundreds of years now, these walls had absorbed the energies of countless Perceptors as they explored the infinite potential of khi, the energy interwoven into all-that-is, under the guidance of the S'hazons.
Behind her, the doorkeeper coughed discreetly to catch her attention and motioned to a chair. "Would you care to sit? I will tell the Judging Perceptor you are here."
Elinna watched him walk down one of the three long corridors that radiated from the entrance chamber. The pillars beside each doorway were carved with glyphs that shone faintly in the pale light, signets of Power. Her heart soared as she ignored the chair and walked over to one of the archways. With wide eyes, she peered down the hall, picturing the mysteries that waited beyond her sight.
The entrance hall looked exactly as her mother had described it to her so many times. The stone globe balanced a hairsbreadth above the gently cascading waters of the fountain, and seemed to float as if by magic. But she knew it was only the steady force of the water flowing up and filling the fountain that kept the globe afloat and turning, just as Gaea turned each day.
She stared at the colored surface of the rock with unabashed interest. She knew it represented Gaea as seen from high above in astral flight. The continents were etched in faint lines on the surface and her eyes traced the familiar shape of the great island of Atlaua. She could see the way she and her father had come as they traveled to Chitan with other noble families from Ruthher. Some had come from as far as the southern coastlands to travel the road north and east, through Ruthher and the mountains, to the royal city.
Chitan! All of her life she'd heard whispers about the city of a thousand pleasures. Chitan is no place for the young and naive, her father would say whenever she begged to make the journey. But when she reached the marriageable age of eighteen, he could put her off no longer.
They arrived a week ago as guests at the Regen's splendid palace of white stone, its glittering spires crowned with silken banners. The palace sat on a cliff overlooking the bay. Within the walled gardens of fragrant flowers and gently babbling fountains, court ladies in their silks and satins, pearls pulsing at their throats, were courted by dashing men in rich cloaks lined with moon-pale fur. At night, the great halls of polished marble teemed with throngs of people dancing and laughing. A golden light filled the rooms as the radiance of hundreds of candles reflected from flashing mirrors. Rare perfumes hung in the air, and the soft dreaming music of flutes and sweet-stringed harps sang in her ears.
It was the season for Spring Court, her introduction to society and the possibility of a high-born marriage. But that was her father's dream, not hers.
Hers was here in the House of Lohenrin. The House that stood alone, outside the city, isolated on a high peninsula that reached out toward the sea.
"Maerra Elinna Serru, daughter of Ashan and Saren?"
The voice was a thin whisper. Elinna turned, startled. A shriveled husk of a man was standing in the center archway, watching her. In his somber black robe he reminded her for a moment of an old night bird, hunched on its perch, feathers drooping. But his eyes glowed with life as they probed her from under white brows. "You wish to enter the House?"
She swallowed with a suddenly dry throat. "Yes."
The man came closer. His face was a map etched with deep gullies. "I am Neyan, the Judging Perceptor. You must face me first."
She lifted her head at the challenge in his words. "That is why I am here."
"Many come, Elinna Serru. It takes more than Power to enter our House. It takes a soul that can bear to be forged on an anvil of fire."
He paused, and she suppressed a shiver. The hall seemed cold and drafty despite the spring day outside.
"I wish to enter," she said again.
"You understand what you will face?"
"My mother explained it to me."
"Your mother?" Neyan frowned. "Your mother lacked the courage to face the Judging, as I recall."
"My mother put her duty to me and my father first. But she always encouraged me to enter the House one day." Elinna fought to keep her voice free of the resentment surging up inside her. Her mother deserved more than this abrupt dismissal.
"So now you are here, if somewhat unexpectedly." He smiled for the first time. "Welcome, then. In the Judging, you will be weighed on your merit alone. It is the first of three tests that await you. If you pass it, you will become an Initiate. Each Initiate has up to two years to study our arts. Then each must face a second test, to decide whether he or she is worthy to be called a Perceptor. Only those who pass the second test are taught the deeper mysteries of our House. The S'hazons give the third and final test, but only to those few they judge worthy. Most fail. Those who pass become Masters and learn from the S'hazons themselves."
Elinna nodded. She knew the Judging Perceptor was himself a Master, although he did not say it.
"But today you need only concern yourself with passing the Judging. I will enter your mind to measure your khi. Even though you are psiborn, without sufficient khi force you can never hope to fully realize your Talents. Khi bent by the will and focused through the Talents is the source of Power. As you are as yet inexperienced in handling your khi, it is possible my probing will trigger an eruption of psi energy in you, energy you might not be able to control."
"I have heard that warning before, almost daily it seems." She kept her tone light, holding her uneasiness at bay.
He took a step closer and lifted a gnarled hand in warning. "It should be heeded. I have seen khi burn through the mind like fire, leaving nothing but ashes. Will you still dare the Judging?"
She met his stare with her own. "I will."
Inky blackness! Elinna blinked to make sure her eyes were open. No light at all penetrated to the interior of this pyramid buried deep within the earth.
Fortunately, as a Master of the House she was not dependant on physical sight to find her way. But next step she took would be irrevocable. She was about to break a sacred oath. She must know the truth.
A strange feeling of inevitability swept over her, a surrender to the tides of time and fate. With a prayer—addressed to what demiurge she could not say—she let her inner senses open.