Racall and Darr traveled east, along what remained of the Lourcient River, towards Stern, over the next three days. Despite the weather turning colder and wetter, Darr grew more appreciative of his lessons from Racall. When they stopped at night, Darr always found something new to learn from the Archon.
After only a few days, moving through the Currents had become as easy as moving across an open field. He learned if he allowed himself a little patience, he could feel the emotions of people in the physical world through their Light. The sensation overwhelmed him still, but with Racall present, Darr found very little he couldn’t accomplish. He’d even managed to mingle with the spirits and listen to what they had to say without being overtaken by them.
While the experiences fascinated him, Darr found they affected him little outside in the physical world. There were great things he could do in the Currents, but what good were they if he couldn’t be in two places at once? He had to be in the Currents in order to summon these special skills, and in order to put his abilities to use, he had to be in Ictar.
“So what good are my abilities if I can’t use them in the physical world?” Darr asked Racall.
The Archon kept his gaze straight ahead, but a smile played at the edge of his mouth. “In the Currents, you must remember the futility of time.”
Though cryptic, Racall offered no further response to Darr’s question. Frustrated, Darr pondered the dilemma, searching for an real answer.
At noon on their third day out of the Valimere, they came within sight of Stern. The plains rolled upwards, making their rise into the foothills on which the city rested. Stern, an impregnable fortress in every sense of the word, had been a focal point during the Aeon Wars.
The Water Sephir had found its home there, and for a time, the Cortazian Kings had lived there before establishing themselves at Mertz, and now Darlholme. During that time of kingship, Stern had been transformed from a lone standing fortress into a beautifully walled city that guarded the source of the Lourcient River. It achieved this by making use of a system of locks and dams within the mountains behind the city, that also allowed control over the flow of water.
For all the good it does now, Darr thought grimly, staring up at the city. A large iron gate closed off a section on the right side of the city walls, sealing off the opening where the river should have tumbled to the plains below by way of the Hondor Falls. The Governor of Stern must’ve shut it in order to conserve whatever water remained.
A road became visible as the city grew closer, and the two travelers followed it past the outlying farming communities. Darr had seen few people since leaving the Valimere, and only from a distance. Now they passed many different people on their way to Stern’s gates. With the weather turning cold and wet, Darr’s giant companion received barely any attention while people scurried about their business.
A light rain fell as daylight faded to dusk. The high walls rose up before them, as did the stubby peaks of the low mountains guarding the city’s rear. The Summoner and the Archon approached the lines of farmers and other tradesmen migrating to and from the gates.
Darr turned to Racall, intent on asking how they were going to explain their business at the gate. The Archon had mysteriously shrunk in size. And he no longer took the shape of a man, but a boy instead. The only thing giving him away were his peculiar green eyes.
“Racall!” Darr cried out.
The Archon walked past him, looking back long enough to flash his familiar smile before dashing towards the gates. Darr ran after, trying not to look suspicious, but he drew the attention of the men guarding the raised portcullis.
“Whoa there, little fellah,” one of the guards said sternly, holding Racall back as he tried to run through the open gates. “Wait for your brother there, will ya.”
Several people turned to look, but the guards kept them moving. Darr ran up to the guard holding Racall, breathing heavily after the chase the Archon had given him.
“Sorry, sir. He...got away from me.” Darr gasped between breaths.
“What’s yer name there, fellah?” the guard asked, still keeping a firm grip on Racall’s shoulders. The Archon smiled fiercely at Darr.
The Summoner glared back, but answered. “My name’s Darr Reintol.”
“And the boy? He your brother?”
Darr kept his gaze on Racall, finding his lie there. “Yes, of course. His name is Erec. We’re here to visit our grandfather. We came all the way from Tyfor. He’s a little excited, that’s all.”
The guard eyed him skeptically for a moment, then released Racall. “Be sure to keep a better hold of him next time.”
The Summoner nodded and reached out for Racall’s shoulder. The moment they touched, Darr slipped halfway into the Currents. His eyes remained focused on the physical sights around him. In a terrifying clash of color and feeling, Darr saw both the physical world and the lights of the spiritual realm simultaneously. The raw emotions and memories of the men around him crawled over him. He could almost hear what the spirits were saying about them.
One of the guards reached out and shook Darr’s arm away, breaking his concentration. “Hey, what’s the matter with you?”
Darr gave the guards a sheepish look. He shook his head in dismay and rushed headlong onto the streets of Stern in complete fear for his life. He ran, not only from the wrath of the guards, from whom he sensed anger, but also from Racall, who’d shown him some new aspect of the Currents. Somehow, by touching the Archon, he’d existed both inside and outside of the spirit realm, privy to all of its secrets while still remaining grounded in the physical world.
The world of concrete images and feelings and sounds fell away, leaving Darr stripped and naked. He’d felt a similar sensation when he first met Racall, but this wasn’t the same. The Currents connected all life, all memory, all emotion, and for a brief moment, Darr shared it all. It made him feel sick inside, a violation not only of himself, but of everything around him.
Without seeing, he ran through Stern’s streets, quickly becoming lost in their uniformity. The entire city sprawled out in a grid, with channels cut into its streets where the Lourcient River flowed on its way to the Hondor Falls and the plains beyond. All the streets and buildings had the same look to them, and Darr no longer knew where he was.
He didn’t care. His world crumbled apart. The shock he’d received from his joining with Racall gave him reason to scale the city walls and run straight back to Tyfor. The power of the Currents, and whatever magic he might find there, was too far away from his idea of normal to be useful. Worse, he knew once he took that next step into the Currents, the step which would allow him to summon, there would be no turning back.
“Stop running, young Reintol,” a voice called out behind him, deep and powerful.
Darr slowed. He didn’t want to talk to Racall, but he couldn’t run forever. He turned and looked down the darkened street at Racall’s familiar giant form. Nightfall had arrived, and most of Stern’s citizens were at home or walled up in a tavern. No one would bother them.
Racall walked up before him and said, “I am sorry you had to experience what you did, but sooner or later, it would have happened.”
“I don’t know if I can do it, Racall.” Darr lowered his head, not wanting to look him in the eye. “I don’t know what I saw when I touched you back there, but...I’m not ready for this...”
He trailed off, but the Archon was a pillar before him. A hint of sympathy emanated from the spirit creature, but it vanished quickly. “Listen to me, Darr. I know all of this is strange. I know you never expected this kind of journey when you set out, but giving up only means you have failed.”
“I never wanted any of this,” Darr whispered.
“You wanted to know more about Spirit Summoners. You wanted to know what their function was in the world. And deep down, you want to know why you are a Summoner.”
It shocked Darr that Racall knew him so well, but he said nothing.
“Yes, there are strange things to discover when you are learning to be a Summoner. These things are sometimes frightening. Sometimes you will want to run away. You must remember you have great potential, young Reintol.”
A knowing whisper came from the Currents, the voices of the spirits confirming Racall’s words. He spoke the truth. Never before had the spirits come to him unbidden and with a message he could understand.
“What happened?” Darr asked.
Racall shook his head. “We should not talk here. We will find someplace to sit.”
The city had grown quiet and dark, but echoes of laughter and shouts sounded from every direction. Lights burned from within several of the nearby buildings. Darr’s apprehension melted away, though his concerns about the magic and the Currents still flooded through him.
Racall led the Summoner inside a noisy tavern crowded with a number of drunken patrons. The Archon didn’t change his appearance when they entered. Racall walked past staring faces to a table in the back and took a seat. Darr sat with him, and the crowd watched them for a moment longer before returning to their nightly activities. A serving woman came and took Darr’s order, a pint of ale and some food. When the food and drink arrived, Racall explained while Darr consumed his meal.
“Everything you have learned along this part of your journey, young Reintol, has been rudimentary. When you touched me, and connected yourself to the Currents, you made a leap in progress you were not quite ready to make.”
”You haven’t taught me anything about connecting myself to the Currents while remaining in the physical world. How am I supposed to learn anything if you don’t show me?”
A smile brightened the Archon’s face and said, “It is something you must discover for yourself.”
“But what happened?”
“When you touched me, you were able to see through my eyes.”
On the verge of cramming half a potato into his mouth, Darr stopped and said, “You said I made a leap in progress. How is seeing through your eyes a leap?”
Racall’s smile faded into seriousness. “Because seeing through the Currents as I do will eventually be one of your many gifts.”
Was Racall telling him he’d be like an Archon? Was this the curse Nidic Waq bore, the reason no one in Ictar trusted him?
Panic threatened to overwhelm the Summoner, but a calming sensation flowed from Racall. “The time to worry about how the rest of Ictar will view you is not now. You are not ready to face this aspect of yourself,” the Archon said. “When you are ready, you will know.”
After taking a long sip of ale, Darr said, “I wish I knew I was making the right decision in all of this.”
Racall sat back in his chair, bearing his familiar smile. “You worry far too much. You must learn to accept what you are, and more importantly, accept the task you have been given. Once you do, you will find the Currents and its mysteries are little more than exotic flowers along the way.” The Archon leaned across the table, exuding a strong sense of confidence through the Currents. “You must be strong, Summoner.”
Darr gave a slow nod in response. The Archon’s emotions flowed through him, infusing him with courage he didn’t know he had. Racall wasn’t forcing his emotions on him so much intensifying Darr’s own inner strength--some hidden reserve he’d long forgotten about. From the moment Darr had first left Tyfor, until the events unfolding before him now, everything came together. His doubts and worries fell away with the promise he would find an answer to them. He’d do as Nidic Waq had asked of him. He would restore the Sephirs to the best of his abilities, and he’d travel Ictar to all of its borders if he had to. Calm settled deep inside him, and nothing else mattered. The journey would drive him now.
Racall rose from the table, his mass casting a shadow across the entire tavern. “I must go now. Your brother and sister are nearby. They are at an inn called the Blue Star a couple blocks north of here. Stay with them and tell them what you wish. I will come for you when I am ready.”
Darr turned in his chair, desperate. “Wait, Racall. My family never stays in this part of the city.”
“The next part of your journey requires you be with your brother and sister, young Reintol,” the Archon soothed. “And they are at the Blue Star. Why, I cannot say, but I have other
matters which I must attend to for the time being.”
With a polite wave, Racall turned and made his way back through the crowded tavern. Oddly, no one noticed his passing.