by Rob Steiner
Taran thought Edoss and his five Shadarlak were another illusion when they emerged from the forest into the clearing. Little Pomar Aliin led them, the blue-white bubble of a shield encasing them all, a tendril of Ahura caressing her uplifted hand.
Taran instantly Wielded his own shield. The joy of Ahura came freely to him now, without the lengthy incantations or loving visualizations. He did not know if he had to concentrate less to receive Ahura, or if he was just getting better at it. Regardless, the shield sprang into existence, and he stood to face the potential threat.
“Are you real?” Taran asked, knowing the words sounded foolish as soon as they came from his mouth. But he did not care. Ahura took away his anxieties and left only peace.
“Taran,” Edoss said, approaching him cautiously. Pomar walked alongside to keep the Speaker within the radius of the shield. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
Taran was silent a moment, for he was still unsure if the improbable sight of Edoss was real. But then he felt the Aspects of Ahura emanating from Pomar’s shield, and he knew that at least they were real. The harrowers might deceive his eyes, but they could not deceive his heart.
Taran slumped back against the downed tree, and then released Ahura. The Aspects fled him, and he was left with his previous misery, guilt, and shock. He felt a little light-headed after releasing Ahura, but it passed within a few seconds.
“Pomar saw two Angra trails this way,” Edoss said, scanning the clearing. “We thought you were under attack.”
Taran had been thinking about what he was going to say to the others when he returned to the Tuathans. Would they believe that he saw his daughter? And what would they do if they found out he had Wielded Angra? Would they believe that Kumar Ladak was a harrower? Taran decided that the best answer was to lie. They would never take him back into the fold if they knew what he had done. What he was.
“I saw a girl,” Taran said. “On the road. She ran into the woods…but I couldn’t find her.”
Edoss glanced down at the remains of Kumar Ladak and grimaced. “What happened here?”
Without looking down, Taran said, “It was a harrower. He attacked me, but ran into my shield just as I raised it.”
“Really?” Pomar said, looking down at the remains. Her voice had a dreamy quality to it that Taran knew was due to her holding Ahura. “They just explode into vapor, yes? All Tainted do this when—”
“Apparently the harrowers don’t,” Taran snapped. Pomar closed her mouth and her cheeks turned almost as scarlet as the sash around her waist. Taran regretted snapping at the young priest, but he said no more.
“Well,” Edoss said, watching Taran. “We’d better get back to the others.”
Edoss turned to Pomar and asked, “Can you hold the shield until we get back?”
Pomar’s eyes still had that faraway look. “Much yes.”
She then turned and led them out of the clearing and into the forest. Edoss mouthed the words, “Watch her,” to Taran, and Taran nodded. Taran would be prepared to take over the shield if Pomar should falter. He wondered if she really could Wield long enough to get them back, or if it was just the confidence that Wielding gave her. He knew the feeling of thinking anything was possible when he held on to Ahura.
Taran now also understood the wild and chaotic sense of release that Angra gave him, that the whole world was his and all he had to do was think what he wanted, and the world would do his bidding. He tried not to think about Angra. He would never use it again.
But that’s what you said about Ahura.
He was startled by the change in tone of his inner voice. He had heard it all his life, but the knife-like edge to it made him uneasy, like being growled at by a beloved dog.
Angra and Ahura, Taran declared to himself. After I get home, they will be nothing more to me than strange rings in the sky.
Taran could almost hear the sharp voice chuckling, but it did not say more.
He had been so lost in thought that he was surprised when they finally reached the road. Pomar stumbled over a fallen branch, but quickly righted herself. She turned to Taran and said in a distracted voice, “I fine. I hold shield a bit longer.”
But Taran saw that her eyes were becoming bloodshot and that her shoulders were hunched.
“You’ve done enough, Pomar,” Taran said. “Let me take over.”
She shook her head weakly, her jaw set. “No, I hold longer. Please, just little longer…”
Her eyes rolled up into her head, and Taran caught her before she fell to the ground. She convulsed in his arms, and he held her tight to keep her from thrashing about on the muddy road.
“What’s wrong?” Edoss asked.
“She’s Wielded too long,” Taran said.
Pomar suddenly stopped convulsing. Her eyes shot open, she let out a deep sigh, and then was still. Taran put his cheek to her mouth. He checked her pulse on her neck. It was faint.
“She’s alive,” Taran said. He shook his head and growled, “It’s my fault. I didn’t pay attention to her. I should have—”
“That’s enough, Abraeu,” Edoss said. He did not shout, but his words were like a slap across the face, making Taran pay attention. “We need to get her back to the others, and you have to shield us. Doctor, are you with us?”
Taran realized that they were on the muddy road, with lightning craters on either side of them, and without a shield to protect them. The Shadarlak looked about nervously, watching for signs of movement in the woods. The sky still roiled with black clouds, but the rain had stopped and the humid air was still. Up the road, Taran saw a large, multi-colored tendril of Ahura touching the ground on the other side of a hill, maybe a twenty minute march away.
He nodded to Edoss, and then stood up, picked up Pomar and handed her to one of the Shadarlak. He then raised his hand to Ahura and asked for the shield. As the shield sprang into existence around them, he noticed again that he had not said the incantation to focus his thoughts. All he had done was ask Ahura for the shield, and Ahura had given it to him.
Angra will do the same, that sharp voice said in his mind. And more.
Taran ignored it, and started up the road.