Saturday, 19 November 2011

Project Sky-Shell 017

Chapter 9 (continued)

"It's back between the anvil and the hammer then." she said to her self. If she could not clear her head she might as well return to get some work done. Now that she had decided to return to the Pinnacle she did not feel like taking her time any more. Thinking about her obligations ruined the beauty of the harsh environments around her and she would not let her negative feelings become connected with her refuge. She took out the medallion in the form of the symbol of the order that every knight wore at any time. It was a metal disc embossed with a narrow triangle pointing up with an open base representing the Pinnacle of Cognition, the point surrounded by lines stretching from the point itself representing the light of the beacon. A smaller crystal disc was embedded into the backside of the medallion, another reminder to her last life.

    It was said, quite a lot, far to often for Julin's tastes, that Kana Ganris had stood against the traitors who would have wanted to destroy the very roots of the order. Which sounded quite impressive if not for the fact that Ran Morlan the great traitor had been the best friend of Kana. Some even say that they had been secret lovers having a long standing affair that remained full of passion long after they had lost all enthusiasm for the partners there were actually married to. Morlan had thought that the meritocracy upon which the Order was founded was corrupted beyond repair. It was not the worthy who ascended to the highest positions but those who were best connected to those in power. If you knew no one you were know one. Julin felt tempted to agree with Morlan, but not Kana.
    Morlan had tried to convince Kana Ganris to join his cause. He would push the Order forward under one unified vision rewarding the capable, punishing the corrupt. Kana would not have non of it. She remained silent but did never join the conspiracy nor did she want to hear a word about it. Then on the day of the coup it was her who stood before the gates to the grand hall were the High Savants of the Order convened, blocking the way of the rebels. After increasingly heated words had been exchanged Ran Morlan and Kana Ganris duelled. Their fight it was said was spectacular for the two pitted all their mastery in the arts of combat against each other. It was also the first time that too such powerful disciples of the Order of Reason had fought each other. Much to Julin's distress Kana's was now also immortalized in may new forms of combat that had been developed after the fight taking into account the new insights into the strengths and weaknesses of their fighting style.

    In the end their fight ended on top of the outer walls of the Pinnacle of Cognition. Kana wounded Ran so severely that he could not go on fighting and Ran wounded Kana in such a way that she herself collapsed and fell of the Pinnacle. Her body was spared the worst damage by her armour which was cracked and bent but not destroyed. The story goes to say that she looked as she were sleeping. Her soul though, her soul was lost. Of course hers was not the first soul lost to the Order but it was the most heroic death of a high profile member of the Order's leadership that it was decided that such a tragedy could not be allowed to repeat. For Ran Morlan survived long enough to be judged and sentenced to The Long March to Redemption. His soul put into a bottle, taken to the the Inner World and shot into its unforgiving jungles teeming with unspeakable dangers and savage barbarian tribes. Many saw it as a horrible injustice that a traitor's soul was saved while that of a hero was lost.
    And all that had led to the saviour stone, a hardened crystal reinforced by a metal mesh work especially attuned to the soul of the owner of the medallion in the. Should the knight die for what ever reason the saviour stone would capture the soul keeping active for up to a week, so that it may be properly reincarnated. The idea was that in time, as the process was perfected, every knight of the Order would have one. The crystal disc was now only found in the medallions of a few members of the Order of Reason selected for their brilliance and lives full of achievement. Julin was pretty sure that she had done nothing to earn it yet. But there it was declaring her the very first among equals in the group of prospective full knights who had just recently entered their second life.

     The saviour stone and Julin exchanged poisonous glances before she invoked the amulets power. Nudging the circuits inside the amulet a sophisticated mental prod made the medallion come alive. Shining with pearlescent light it painted a complex summoning circle in mid air in front of her. She stepped forward touching it with the medallion which dissolved into the moving pattern making it glow even brighter sending out a shock-wave of light. She stepped through the glowing circle, her armour flowing around her as she passed through it. On the other side she now stood in her heavy Order of Reason armour, the summoning circle dimming away into nothingness behind her.
     She marched forwards to wards a large rock into which she inscribed with swift finger strokes perfected over decades of training in her first preparatory life signs of transmutation. She touched the sigils with her finger tips, gently tugging at the essence of the stone. Closing her hand to a fist, pulling it back punching into the rock with a swift forceful motion. Upon impact the large stone exploded into a rock shaped cloud made out of motes of power. She opened her fist grabbed the edge of the energy cloud pulling it back towards her, absorbing the shining light into her armour. The power flowed along the conductor lines which Julin had placed into it over years of hard toil during her last life imbuing it with power.

    She changed into the position of a runner in mid spring, sighting the Pinnacle of Cognition, her goal. She wriggled her fingers as she always did when she was about to unleash great amounts of power. She focused on the path she was about to take, visualising the ebbs and flows of the land, the twists and turns of her chosen path and then with a quick movement she accelerated to enormous speeds leaving nothing behind her but an empty valley and the roar of the wind she forced into motion.

                                            *    *    *    *

    When she returned to the Pinnacle of Cognition she made her way towards the training grounds. If she was not to have her peace of mind at least she could spend some time with her best friend. Pretty much the only friend Julin had. Her past had turned her into a celebrity. Her prominent position had turned her into an outsider. Most tutors treated her with a respect she had not earned, which did not endear her to her peers at all. The few people who actually approached her were the wrong kind of people. Sycophants, brown-nosers, toadies and those who thought that they would be able to gain some benefits from hanging around with the great Kana Ganris reborn. She hated all of them. In the end there was almost no one left for her to talk to. No one but Lex Niva.
    Lex was in many ways the complete opposite to Julin which had the strange effect that they shared many of the same problems if for different reasons. Where Julin had been born with the soul of a legendary hero Lex had been born with the soul of no one. This rarely ever happened especially in the Order of Reason where pregnant knights would go to the halls of the passing, so that the souls of knights who were close to death could return into the fold of the Order as soon as they had left their old lives. Lex's mother had done so of course and yet Lex was a first-born. The child gestating in his mothers body had not attracted the soul of anyone in time and thus had by a miracle of nature that to this day was not understood produced a new soul of its own.

    While the Order did officially not discriminate against no one, after all one of its main axioms as written in the Book of Reason is that all souls are created equal and that it is the right, no the duty of everyone to reach for the greatest enlightenment. However it was also believed that a new soul could not possibly have all the accumulated wisdom of an old soul. True old souls who were born again as infants did not remember much if anything of their past lives, but they all had a knack for learning everything very fast. Indeed young Lex was tragically slow in all subjects the target of scorn of his peers and pity of his teachers.
    What he had done was work like an animal. Knowing that he was somehow inferior to everyone else around him he worked on everything he did with a fervour bordering on fanaticism. In the end when he reached the mid-point of his life he had surpassed almost everyone else who relying on their innate talents were not as motivated to work as Lex was. After all the first life was only preparation of knighthood. Learning the basic techniques, making the first armour and weapons, boring stuff. Everyone knew that the really exiting things only ever started during the second life. Why waste time on back breaking work of little worth? It was like learning to cook and trying to excel in cleaning pots and pans before one was allowed to actually do some actual cooking.
    The only exception was Julin. While she did not share the deep seated drive to become a better human with Lex, she much rather dreamed of having a normal run of the mill soul herself, she had found refuge in training. The only way to get rid of everyone was her excuse that she had no time for mingling, talking or even looking at certain people because she was working hard on her techniques. While this kind of work was seen as an adorable waste of time in Lex's case it was seen as the mark of a true High Savant returned to life in Julin's case.
    This way they came to know each other. Julin had always felt a strange sense of kinship with Lex as he was as much an outsider as she was but could never bring herself to talk to him. For even mythical heroes who have returned from the grave have trouble talking to boys when they are a certain age. Lex on the other hand would have never dreamt of talking to the legendary Julin Ganris, direct descendant and heir of the soul of High Savant Kana Ganris.
    The training gave them a common ground. There was nothing awkward about exercising the many arts a novice of the Order of Reason had to master before even being considered for the position of knight. Lex was always much to focused on trying ever harder than to notice with whom he was spending most of the time, while Julin was happy to have finally found someone who treated her like a normal human being. Not that this would not become another annoying part of her growing legend. There she was Julin Ganris devoting her time to teach the useless first-born Lex Niva in the basic arts of the Order. So when ever Lex achieved something it was because of Julin's tireless devotion to the less fortunate and when Julin did not measure up to expectations it was because that boy Niva was holding her back.

    None of this could break their friendship though. As time went by the became inseparable. Always the best of friends and at times lovers. They grew old together always remaining the two odd men out, which forged an unbreakable bond between the two of them. One that caused them all manners of grief during their life and even at the time of their death. Julin was seen as an exceptional individual so she was fast tracked to rebirth, scheduled at sixty instead of the usual range of seventy to eighty. While Lex was deemed surprisingly capable for a first-born but he would not be ready for a soul transfer until at least one hundred and twenty. They suspected that the people responsible for this decision were trying to break them apart as well as secretly hoping that Lex would kick the bucket before he was due to his transfer.
    Julin lobbied hard for Lex to be transferred with her. However not even Julin Ganris could change the decision about the time when Lex was allowed to enter his second life. Therefore she then refused the transfer of her soul year after year devoting her time to cultivate the soul of that promising first-born. In the end they were finally allowed to switch bodies when they were a hundred years old. One reason being that Julin Ganris was overdue in becoming a knight of the Order of Reason again so that she could in due time regain her position as High Savant. The other was that despite what everyone else thought Lex was extremely proficient in the use of even advanced shell-art with the effect that age had no great effect on him in the regular sparing matches the only person that could beat him despite his age was Julin.
    Switching bodies also brought its share of unexpected problems. The usual method was that the old body was first sent into sleep followed by being gently lowered into a peaceful death. The soul was caught with utmost care to be directly transferred into the next body. A body especially cultivated for new knights at the breaking point between youth and adulthood. The raging hormone storms of puberty were passed but the new shell was still young and flexible. It was deemed the best time to implant a cognizant soul. The body was still receptive while the mind had to deal with a lesser shock when returned into a shell that was still very much under the influence of its various glands.
So far the theory.

    What actually happened was that Julin was transferred into a perfect specimen of an 18 year old female body gently sculpted into perfection. After in the beginning of their second life the young knights were expected to travel the world for three decades after they had grown used to their new body. And while superficialities were a shallowness that afflicted the mind of the less enlightened they were a fact of life and the Order of Reason had a reputation to maintain. It was also well known that beautiful people were generally treated better and thought of as more trustworthy and intelligent.
    Lex was transferred by 'accident' into the body of a 16 year old body that was not yet ready for transfer. It was still not clear if it would pass the Order's strict standards of aesthetics and it was of course still going through puberty. Julin was furious and she may or may have not punched the overseer responsible for the transfer in the face after a civilized discussion with him had quickly turned into a shouting match. If who ever was responsible for this had thought that this would dived them they were wrong.
    Young Lex was incredibly awkward and retreated into the shyness that had been such an integral part of the youth of his last life. But his complete and utter trust of Julin had not changed in the least. Around her he was always at ease, filled with a confidence of an entire life of companionship. His new younger self also felt incredibly protective for Julin. He was not so angry about what had happened to him, he was not in the least surprised really, but he was outraged at the amount of disrespect that they had shown to Julin. Who in turn found this slightly exaggerated protective behaviour by her old friend adorable beyond words. In the end they fell madly in love with each other with an ardour and unshakable belief in its undying qualities as made possible by only the most enthusiastic of hormones.
    That was two years ago. So far their undying love was doing pretty well. When Julin had arrived at the training field seeing Lex work out she felt proud of her man, excited by how flawless his technique was which they had in large parts invented themselves, impressed by his now very impressive physique and more than slightly aroused. She could not help but smile, her decades of experience rolled their eyes in exasperation but were shoved away by the exuberance of her feelings. She would have enough time to be sensible when she was old again. If at all.
    Lex was going through his usual unarmed, unarmoured moves which were the very basis of all combat styles used by the knights. Most others did not even bother with it any more except as warm-up routine before starting with the good stuff involving the swords that were the trademark of the order. Lex had once said to Julin that it anchored his mind, helped him to focus. She suspected that he simply liked to show of his half naked body glistening with sweat while his muscles coiled hypnotically under his lightly tanned skin.
    Lex noticed Julin out of the corner of his eye and decided that it was time to show off. He removed his amulet from his neck, flipped like a coin high into the air. When it came down again he catched it mid flight extending his arm while invoking the summoning circle high in the air. Julin could not suppress smiling at this, the move was utterly useless. It looked extremely cool, especially as Lex cast the medallion into the glowing invocation circle taking a running jump somersaulting through it turning gracefully in mid-air as it coalesced around him. In proper combat moves like that would get him very killed very fast. Julin could see that he was sneaking a look at her to see whether she was suitably impressed. She shook her head at his posturing. Lex landed in a crouch venting the energy from his jump in blast of air to great dramatic effect. As he stood he pulled out the great sword he had built himself. A large monster of a two handed blade that consisted of a grip, an impossibly thin metal edge and a filigree net of gem wires. As he pulled it out of its sheath he began to power it with his life-force giving the blade a golden body, turning it into a two-hander that was so sharp it could cut currents of air, while being lighter than than a regular short-sword.
    Lex stood there his shining weapon held high in one hand he then quavered for a moment and fell over.
    Julin giggled but not so loud that Lex could hear her in case he was still conscious, his dignity having suffered a heavy blow. Officially the sword had no name yet but Julin had named it Sired in Vain. The idea behind the sword was sound but it used such massive amounts of energy that Lex had hardly any strength left to wield it once he had summoned. In addition to that he usually fainted if he tried to use it after he had exerted himself.
    Men... Julin thought. Why did they insist on being such idiots all the time. But she did not really mind. At least Lex was aiming high. Beyond that Lex was his idiot, a very cute one at that which would now have to be teased back into consciousness. She walked over to her companion of more than one life deciding to help him up to his feet again.

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