The Spark - Part 2

Here is the second part revised - from here it'll all be new work.
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Valana wasn’t happy.

Nothing was executed according to her experience and no one seemed to want to listen. Preparations for departure had slowed to a crawl and with the third moon rising she knew it would not be too long before the council of riftmakers insisted on delaying the expedition.

Storming boldly down the long expanse of Lady Almanthia’s meeting-house, she caught glimpses of servants skittering into the nooks and corners at her approach. The crystalline walls of the dwelling refracted the dusk light and gave the normally cool blue glow a startling red-green hue. Normally, she would have sent one of her officers to deal with this. They could easily ferry a message or otherwise handle the bureaucratic aspects of the trip, but something told her the Admistrati were up to something and she couldn't trust a subordinate to handle it.

Sweat ran gently down her obsidian skin. Despite the long hours of practice and magical aid she still found the light of day – even at dusk – somewhat uncomfortable. It also effected her mood, making her more irritable. Being irritable in the presence of snakes just waiting for you to show weakness was never advisable.

She wore full dress gear, the most honored wardrobe befitting her rank and station within society. It was unfortunately also the least functional possible outfit in a fight. At her side, the curved Zintar crystal sword seemed to throb and hum with anticipation. Its owner’s frustrations bled over and the sword reacted. It wanted to be drawn. It wanted to bathe in blood.

The meeting-house was home to Almanthia’s public offices. Within she entertained guests, brokered deals and even negotiated the occasional conquest. Resplendent, in soft fabrics and fine sculpture, it belied the matron’s eclectic art style and worldly interests. A carved fertility idol from the jungle lands of Thur’Zul sat mere feet away from a Qual'nai presented tapestry of living light depicting the history of its desert people. Worlds apart, the two items had a unique symmetry that someone unfamiliar with either society could still appreciate.

Valana stood before the grand opening of the staging chamber. She could see the meeting floor below filled with delegates and functionaries. Useless fodder in this expedition, but as they controlled the purse strings, she tolerated their interference. A sheath of translucent light barred the door. The solid light not only barred entry to the unapproved, it also acted as a serviceable defense. She stopped, reached into the small pocket tucked in the recess of her sturdy breastplate, and rubbed her fingers in a delicate pattern over an inscribed rune. Seconds later the translucent sheet went clear and Valana walked through.

Apparently the sycophants had begun to speak already, she thought. “...and it is this we wish to avoid my Lady.” Some useless functionary was wrapping up an obviously useless sentiment. He wore long flowing robes, opulent jewelry and ritual tattoos told Valana that he was a fairly powerful functionary in the Administrati.
Lady Almanthia, sitting before him on a throne of purest molded crystal seemed unmoved by whatever he was saying.

“I can appreciate the concern Functionary Bel’zil. However, the expedition will move forward as planned.” Almanthia’s voice was soft and pleasant. Valana knew better. The simple elegance of her court gown and the fluid grace of her form was disarming.

She smiled demurely waving the functionary away and made notice of Valana’s entrance.
“Sub-Commander Maristara. I am a little surprised you joined us.”

The lady’s smile announced her happiness at Valana's arrival and broke some of the normal formality of the council meeting.

“ Do you have news of the expedition you would like to share?”

Valana straightened and approached the lectern where the Administrati functionaries stood in audience.

“Yes Lady, I do.” Stepping up to the group, she turned to regard her liege-lord awaiting acknowledgment and permission to continue.

“Share then, I bid you.”

Almanthia waved her on with a slight nod and roll of her slender wrist. Her skin caught the light of the crystal walls and the slightest glint of green and blue reflected off her exposed hand. A hint of rainbow color in her skin tone and fine delicate features made it easy for Valana to forget that Almanthia was not what she seemed.

Valana turned and looked accusingly at the lead robed figure beside her. “The Administrati have barred the crystal master from accompanying us on the expedition.”

“My’lady, the Sub-Commander's report is not completely accurate.” The functionary began back peddling, his tone purely defensive and subservient.

Valana scowled as he continued. “We have not forbidden a crystal master from joining her. The Crystal Arbor merely requests you reconsider and take one of the senior crystal herders in Master Luzold's place. He is third in the caste and as such is a much valued member of the Arbor. Luzold is far removed from the daily crystal growth you will need to set up the colony on the other side of the rift. The choice to take him is improper and does not seem to meet the needs of making the Sub-Commander's task a successful one.”

Valana looked up at her, looking for a hint of displeasure with the debate and found only a serene countenance.

“Functionary Bel’zil I accept your request, however Master Luzold will be accompanying the expedition.” Valana sensed Bel'zil tense, angry at the rebuke. She could see his body twitch and his arm flit as he offered his protest.

“My’lady, this is a standard portal expedition. Might sending the crystal master on so routine a task be demeaning?”

“He serves you and the noble caste faithfully, but surely this is a job best performed by a lesser crystalmancer.” The functionary pleaded. Valana still didn’t sense any displeasure from her mistress.

“You are quite right Bel’zil.” her tone hardened almost imperceptibly, but Bel'zil and Valana both caught the change.

“Master Luzold serves me. Which is why he is going with me on this expedition.” The entire court reeled momentarily at this revelation,Valana included.

“I had hoped to share this news more gently with all of you but it is in fact at the urging of the conclave and Master Luzold that I have chosen to personally take charge of this action.”

“He has told me that this world is unlike any other we have recently sent expeditions to. Sub-Commander Valana, I apologize for unseating you in this, but I had hoped you would stay on as an advisor.” Valana was still too stunned to respond.

“We have many topics to discuss and as we leave before the setting of the third moon there is, I fear, little time.” Again, shock rolled through the assembly, this time mixed with low grumbles of disbelief. The court was as close as it ever came to becoming disorderly. A second later she raised her hand in a sign of silence and the crowd obeyed.

“I apologize for the uncommon announcement. I had hoped to offer a more reassuring statement, but there was no easy way to share this news with you. Be assured, your welfare will ever be my goal.”

Court discussion resumed and Alamanthia turned her focus to local business. There was now renewed emphasis on the job of preparing her administrators to assume guidance of her people in her absence. The Functionary was not given turn to speak. Valana waited patiently, still somewhat dazed at the revelation but ready to discuss her role in less formal company.

“Now, I'm afraid we must retire and confer with our adjutants. This session is adjourned. Be safe and may you find the light favorable on your journeys from our court.” She stood and, with practice regal countenance, stepped down from her throne and walked out of the assembly hall.

Valana left the audience chamber through a different set of doors that led back into the Lady's private abode. A long secure corridor connected the meeting-house with Alamanthia’s home. Walking from the audience hall through guarded double doors she noticed the sun had began to set on the horizon. The reflected sunlight, coupled with the inner glow of trapped power from the crystal walls of the palace gave everything a flat, shadow-less appearance.

Valana and Alamanthia strolled slowly through the passage toward her private chambers. Somewhat disturbed by the lack of conversation, Valana decided it was time to speak at last.

“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Her question was probing but polite, outside earshot of the court, Valana exercised her right of familiarity. She knew her regent, as a her former charge would not object.

“Certainly it is Vala. I don’t think I really have a choice.” All sense of formality was gone from the lady's speech. Valana could hear her friend's youthful tone return. “You need my support to have this expedition work and I do know something of the future.”

Valana sighed and nodded reservedly. Alamanthia was high seer, a diviner of the highest order and while young and very inexperienced in the ways of governing, by her skill alone, Valana knew she was capable of great things.

She felt a tinge of personal frustration that was hard to bury. This expedition and the glory associated with leading it would not go to her, but neither would the burden of commanding the civilians involved. Now, she need merely concentrate on the military aspects. Alamanthia's decision to join them had likely stopped Valana from having to put down a revolt or two.

“Milady I can’t say I understand your decision, but I am in some small way grateful for your leadership. We have been friends for many years and I’m secretly quite proud you would choose to assume this responsibility.” Alamanthia slowed her walk and turned to regard her.

“I value your respect and pride in me Vala. You have guided me well for many years. You have gone beyond the task of teacher and been a good friend since I left the protection of the birthing clutch and assumed my birthright. We have been together most of my life and I value you above all of my advisers and teachers.”

“Please, do not mistake my involvement in this expedition as a lack of faith in you. There are bigger obstacles in our path than pride,” Alamanthia smiled an easy, disarming smile and gave her a simple wink before continuing to the end of the hall.

At the end of the long corridor an ornate relief adorned the door. Its single centerpiece depicted a large copper dragon the center of a glorious landscape. Rays of light radiated from the figure. The spaces between the bolt depicted scenes of war and the rebuilding of a great crystal city. The space below the dragon showed hundreds of humanoid subjects bowing respectfully before it.
The scene depicted Alamanthia’s ancestor and was the heraldic symbol of her family. Even after a hundred years of service, Valana still shuddered at the powerful sight of the artwork, primaly reacting to its colored crystal and glass composition. The figure felt alive with power and majesty. Despite its mundane nature, she didn’t doubt the craftsman’s intended goal was to inspire awe and reverence.

Alamanthia noticed the reaction in her companion and raised her left hand. The delicate, pale hand changed. Subtle, shining patterns of scales became bold and clear. The copper tint intensified and flecks of green clouded her scale patterns with an almost mesmerizing effect. Long sharp claws developed from her neatly groomed fingers and five thin, humanoid fingers melded into a claw of four digits splayed like a lizards.

The doors shimmered, giving off gold-green light at Alamanthia's urging. Valana could hear them unlatch and begin to part. Great crystalline hinges emitted a high-pitched song as the doors swung inward, revealing the grand chamber beyond. Valana waited for her mistress to enter and followed. Alamanthia, the thin elfin maiden , her hand now returned to it's seemingly fragile shape, through the oversized gate.

“Come, I’ve instructed the servants to bring us some food. I believe we have much to discuss about your role in this expedition. There are some things you should know before we leave and little time for me to make it clear to you.” Alamanthia said as she took her rest on a large setting of silken pillows.

The vague comment piqued Valana's interest. Seldom had private time with Alamanthia been anything more than playful. This new, serious attitude disarmed her.

She was worried, “What did she know? What had she seen?”

Alamanthia’s room never failed to bewilder her, a huge cavernous crystal structure surrounded the large pillowed seating area. She'd visited this private sanctum only a few times before. It never looked the same from visit to visit and the rooms always reflected the current mood of her student.

This time, Valana noticed that tapestries hung from pointed rod-like shoots of clear crystal bore. Each bore the basic, public insignia of Alamanthia’s family - a single reptilian eye hidden behind an odd spherical lens – the green-gold color of the eye shifted as the cloth swayed in some unfelt breeze. All the furniture in the room broke with the current common style. There were wooden stools, a simple silk lined reclining couch and a large table of midnight black stone surrounded by upholstered chairs covered in red felt. Off in the recess of the room, she could see a number of glass and crystal bottles and tube lined shelves, the remnants of a sifter and some instruments of alchemy. Tools of a trade that ld no prersonal or professional interest for a warrior like her.

Slowly, tentatively, she followed Alamanthia into the padded seating area, taking a place directly across from her. Servants appeared unbidden and the smell of richly spiced roast boar wafted announced them.

“I know we have not had much time lately. I’m sorry for that.” Alamanthia plucked a small piece of the meat as it came to rest on a newly delivered serving table.

“It could not be avoided. You need me less now than when you were a student. I am happy you even have the opportunity to notice.” Valana sighed. “That said, I think we need to get to the point of this matter. Why are you taking this risk now? Why lead this minor expedition?”

“It is far from a minor thing Valana. This will not turn out as you expect it too.” Alamanthia’s voice carried a slightly ethereal tone, as if she spoke not from a few feet away but from some other world entirely.

“You are the seer. I know not to question your insight, but we both know divination is about suggestion and inference. You don't know with any certainty what the future holds. I’m a soldier. I can’t concern myself with the maybe or possibly. I need to deal with the concrete. I need to understand this choice.”

“I suppose you do. I am going because I have seen what will happen if I do not. I cannot say much more than that. I have to go.”

“This is not a normal world you venture to, there is something very odd about it and something about it is both an end and a beginning for us.” Alamanthia’s gaze fixed on her and waited for some sign, some reaction.

This bothered her. “If this is so important, so ominous an expedition, shouldn’t we simply tell the Conclave?” Valana felt exasperation, mystery was not something with which she felt comfortable.

“Let them raise the resources or even the priority of the expedition! If it's that important, then I think it is far more obvious you shouldn't go. Warn them! Let them make the plans and assign the risk!” Valana shouted.

“We can’t enter into this without knowledge of the situation, that is foolish and I know I taught you better than that. If you really know something you need to share it.”

“I have. They dismissed it just as you would if I told you everything about what lay before us. We have to do this Vala. Had I not assumed the responsibility, things would not go the way we need. You would not have gotten the resources you needed.”

“The Administrati had no intention of helping you make this a successful mission. They want the chance to be rid of you.” Valana reeled a bit, and realized she'd been so wound up that she'd forgotten to eat. Suddenly famished, she looked over at the remaining spiced boar meat.

“I am going to record. I will chronicle the discovery. That is my assigned task here Vala. You will still be commander. I am not taking that role from you. Have faith that this is necessary.”

“What’re you two speaking in riddles for Alamanthia?” Par’Zan Luzold, the Crystal Master sauntered toward them from a recess hidden previously by a tapestry. A wicked grin on his olive tones face as he ran his left hand over his shaved and waxed bald head. His voice was gruff and deep and altogether unexpected.

“Master Luzold, there was no need of so dramatic an entrance.” Alamanthia scolded him.

“Yeah. Well, flash is something I like oh mistress of the mysteries.” He chuckled and Valana bristled at the lack of deference in his words. “When are you going to tell her about the crystals? She needs to know at least that doesn’t she?”

“Yes. But since you have interrupted my delivery of that information, I will insist that you deliver those words. It is after all your specialty.” A hint of Alamanthia’s playful side reappeared. Valana relaxed a bit, still unwilling to enjoy the food before her.

“Fine. Right.” Par’Zan vaulted onto the couch and reached over to take a piece of meat.
He devoured it with zest, wiped the spice and sauce from his lips with his hand and smiled looking directly at Valana.

“This place, well by Dragoi, it already has crystals. Odd ones too from the looks of them.” The Crystal Master made himself comfortable, leaning intimately close to her.

“That is not so unusual. We’ve encountered worlds with crystals before. We don’t always have to seed them.” Valana countered.

“Yeah well, that's what you understood as a soldier Valana, but these are not like anything we ever seen. I could feel the power through a scrying glass. You and I both know that shouldn’t be possible.” He laughed.

“That much I can vouch for.” Alamanthia added, “ I performed the first seeing ceremony. Along with the power I sensed something else and that is why we must prepare to leave tomorrow – before the scheduled time and without many of the preparations in place. There will be an event that will change things for us all and it will happen soon. We must be in place.” There was an excitement building in Alamanthia's voice that made Valana uneasy. Some hint at her natural, irascible curiosity untempered by wisdom.

“Respectfully, are you listening to yourselves? A lack of prior preparation will present serious issues for the colonization effort. How can we do this?” She slunk down and placed her face into her cupped hands it was still too bright in here for her liking, She waited hopefully for reason to return to the room.

“I have made the necessary changes to the plan Vala. We will have what we need.” Alamanthia’s tone was soothing and polite. “There is something waiting for us there that will not allow us more time. We must act and we must act immediately.”

“I understand. I will make ready and see to whatever timetable you provide, but I'm worried by this sudden change. Actions like this often lead to ruin.” She stood up, bowed and began walking toward the entrance.

“I must go and finalize what I can. The third moon sets in less than half a day and my officers and men must be told of the changes.”

“You will do your best Vala, I know...” Alamanthia’s voice was soft and ominous. “it won’t matter.” The Lady knew her friend had not heard her, but the crystal master frowned and nodded as the door closed behind Valana.

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