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Taran Elijah's quest for knowledge uncovers a plot that threatens the world ...

In Albia, the fourth realm, the precious Artesan gift is dying. Although born to the craft, Taran is struggling to achieve his potential.
Against his friends' advice, he embarks on a foolhardy plan to acquire the teaching he craves. 
Alone, he crosses into Andaryon, the fifth realm, but instead of finding a mentor, he stumbles upon a treacherous plot.
In the wake of Taran's actions, Albia suffers a series of vicious raids.
Major Sullyan of the High King's forces is sent to oppose them. But a dark and treacherous force is moving through the realms and both Taran and Sullyan will feel its power.

Their craft, the lives of their friends, the very existence of their realm are under threat unless they expose and oppose the evil.

Chapter One. Albia, the Fourth Realm. Hyecombe village in Loxton Province

“Are you quite sure about this, Taran?”

Cal’s voice echoed in the gloom as Taran Elijah closed the cellar door behind them. He raised the lantern and sharp-edged shadows fled up the walls.

Taran glanced at his Apprentice standing three steps below him and ran a hand through his short brown hair. It came away clammy and he wiped it on his shirt. “I have to go, Cal. It’s my last chance.”

Cal frowned, taking in Taran’s tall but sturdy frame, clad in leather pants and boots, the sword belted at his side and the pack of supplies slung over his shoulder. He met Taran’s hazel eyes. “What if there’s something we haven’t thought of ?”

Trying to keep his voice level, Taran said, “I’ve tried every way I can think of to find another teacher. My father was right, there simply aren’t any Artesans left in Loxton Province. Maybe even in the whole of Albia. Entering the Fifth Realm might be dangerous, but it’s the only place I’m going to find other members of our craft.”

The words sounded sharper than he’d intended. As Cal turned to descend the steps, Taran saw him shrug. He followed, his heart pounding.

When Cal reached the bottom, he crossed the floor to the only items the cellar contained—a bedroll and a night pot. Taran watched the younger man drop a small pack of food on the floor and turn to face his Master. Taran halted opposite Cal and gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

He shrugged out of his pack and laid it down. He was beginning to tremble, although it was more from tension than excitement. Where’s your courage, man, he berated himself.
You’re twenty-eight years old and a Journeyman. It’s not as if you haven’t created a portway before.

Ah yes, came a sly thought, but not without your father watching your every move, making sure you got the sequences right.

Taran took a deep breath, filling his lungs with cool, chalky air. He shoved away his misgivings. His father had died two years ago—he’d have to do this by himself. He was perfectly capable. Journeyman was the third of the eight Artesan ranks and he had mastered the primary element of Earth. He could also influence the secondary, Water, and was well on the way to becoming an Adept. All he needed was a bit more instruction and what he had planned for today would, with just a little luck, be the means of obtaining it.

He set the lantern on its shelf and cast his gaze to the cellar’s rocky floor. It was formed like a shallow bowl and would help shape the Earth force he intended to call. Across the space, he caught the diamond glitter of Cal’s eyes.


Cal shrugged again. “I’m ready. It’s not as if I’m doing anything.”

“You’ll be guarding the portway, Cal. Without you, I wouldn’t be doing this in the first place.” And probably shouldn’t be doing it now, he thought, unable to quell his doubts.

Once he had formed the portway, he intended to leave it active. This was a huge risk, he knew—a breach of every rule he’d been taught. Never, ever leave a portway open, son. You don’t know what might make use of it …

His father’s disapproving tone resounded in Taran’s mind, yet he was determined to ignore it. He was terrified of becoming stranded in the Fifth Realm and, even if all went according to plan, creating a new portway when he needed to return would cost him too much time and energy. The skills of a Journeyman weren’t sufficient to determine where such portals would open, so he could end up many miles from his village when he came back. Asking Cal to maintain and guard it was the best solution Taran could think of. He intended to weave his young Apprentice’s strength into the structure as he formed it so all Cal had to do was stay in the cellar. He had his bedroll, supplies and the lantern. He’d be alright.

Everything would be alright. It had to be.

Catching Cal’s nod of acceptance, Taran took a slow breath, closed his eyes and gave himself a moment to settle into the cellar’s thick silence. He turned his gaze inward and sought his psyche, the unique pattern through which an Artesan channelled his power. The whorls and spirals materialized in his mind. Soft with pearly colors, the pattern’s familiarity soothed Taran’s nerves. Gathering his strength, he called on the power every Artesan possessed—metaforce—and it rose, suffusing his soul. His heart exulted as the power grew and his body sang with potential.

Taran reveled in its glory. This was as much a part of him as his arms or legs, yet he could never have used the wondrous gift without his father’s years of instruction. Metaforce was present in everyone, though only Artesans could learn its control. Taran’s lessons with his Adept-elite father might not have been pleasant— Amanus was neither a natural nor a sympathetic teacher—but his yearning to expand his knowledge was overwhelming. The same need was driving him to attempt this risky trip.

Once his entire body was attuned to the power, Taran turned his attention to Cal. The young man was inexperienced; he was only just starting to learn about metaforce and could only influence Earth. He was strong, though; Taran could sense his fledgling power rushing through his veins. Reaching out with his psyche, Taran melded it to Cal’s, feeling his Apprentice surrender control. He raised his arms, palms downward, and sent his metasenses deep into the rock, searching for the Earth’s elemental signature. Within minutes, a familiar, thrilling tingle shot through Taran as the primal element responded. Slow, majestic, immeasurably powerful, the energy of Earth rose at his call, filling the bowl at his feet.

He glanced at Cal but the Apprentice’s eyes were fixed on the ground. Cal was mesmerized and Taran understood why. Like a creeping mist, the Earth force lapped about their feet, rising at Taran’s command. Beads of sweat rose on his forehead and his breathing deepened. Journeyman he might be, but this still wasn’t easy. He had to maintain a steady pull or his efforts would be wasted.

When he sensed he’d reached his limit, Taran turned his attention to shaping. With Cal’s energy boosting his own, he molded the Earth force until the characteristic spherical shape of a portway began to form. It rose until it was floating, a ball ofEarth force just larger than a man, shimmering with opalescent beauty. When it was complete, Taran anchored it, fixing it within the Veils, the substance that separated each of the five Realms.

All it needed to become a gateway through the Veils was the force of an Artesan’s will. One simple command and it would open, allowing Taran access to the Fifth Realm. A small sigh of relief escaped him. This time, after months of frustrating failures, his Artesan powers hadn’t let him down. He released his hold on the element of Earth and let the power drain from his psyche back into the rock beneath his feet.

Glancing at Cal, he grinned. “This is it.”

Cal didn’t return the grin. Instead, he once more eyed the sword at Taran’s waist. “Even with me guarding the portway, this is going to be dangerous. What if you don’t win the challenge? What if you’re wounded?”

Irritation rose, yet Taran knew Cal’s concerns were real. Ever since he’d found the passage in his father’s notes that had spawned this plan, Cal had been against it. Artesans might be mistrusted in Albia—to the point that the craft was dying—but they were revered in Andaryon, the Fifth Realm. Andaryans were known for their love of dueling, yet, despite their warlike nature and distressing habit of raiding vulnerable Albian villages, they had strict codes governing such duels. The notes had suggested that if Taran challenged an Andaryan Artesan and won, or even forced a draw, he could name any prize he chose. Knowledge would be Taran’s choice and once the possibility of achieving his dream had arisen, he simply couldn’t ignore it. Still, the risks were real.

“It’s a chance I’ll have to take. Stop worrying. I have faith in my skills, even if you don’t.”

Cal’s face fell and Taran immediately regretted his words. “Besides, Rienne will patch me up if I’m careless enough to get wounded.”

He’d intended to reassure, but mentioning Cal’s lover only seemed to make things worse. The Apprentice frowned and glanced up at the ceiling. “Do you think she’ll be alright on her own?”

Taran smiled. “Of course she will. Why shouldn’t she be?”

“But what if one of the villagers calls? What if someone wants you?”

“I think that’s highly unlikely, Cal. They try to keep out of my way as much as I try to keep out of theirs. I’ve no desire to be thrown out of the village for practicing ‘unnatural acts’. And since you brought it up, make sure you don’t make any noise down here. You know how suspicious they are …”

“What if one of them falls sick? They might come looking for medicine ...”

That was a real possibility, thought Taran. He blessed the day a year ago when Rienne came to the village, a traveling healer dispensing cures. Her extraordinary skills had made her instantly popular and when she’d fallen for Cal’s dark good looks and decided to stay, she’d brought the respectability that Taran had never enjoyed. He and his father had only ever been tolerated in Hyecombe, but with Rienne in the house, his neighbors were forced to be at least civil. They might avoid speaking to him and Cal, but they braved his door for Rienne.

“She knows what to do,” he said. “And if any of them get curious, she can tell them we’ve got the flux. That’ll silence their questions.”

He gave his Apprentice another smile. “I won’t be gone long. This is only the bargaining stage, so I’ll be back before you’ve had time to miss me. Just stay alert. The portway’s my lifeline and I’m relying on you to keep it safe.”

Turning away from Cal’s doubts, Taran faced the portway. It was the smallest, tightest structure he could form and it was firmly anchored. There was nothing else to wait for.

He picked up his pack, checking he had everything. He wasn’t taking much. The blade his father had given him, some food, and his bedroll. They should be enough to see him through this enterprise, along with the skills of his arm. And they should be more than adequate, for every Albian male learned how to use a sword. Taran was no exception and he was more than competent. It was time to put his training to use. He nodded to Cal and drew a deep breath.

Stepping into the portway, he left the cellar behind.