When the formerly prosperous nation of Elseth’s Land faces a catastrophic decline, unlikely heroes gifted by the gods are hunted for the abilities which could heal or destroy nations.
Teveres and Aiasjia could not be more dissimilar. Raised in poverty at the merciless hand of her mother, Aia is a powerful healer disgraced by her profession and outcast from her home city of Nivenea. Teveres is the privileged son of Ilvan’s High Priest whose startling ability to kill with only his mind leads to the brutal murder of his entire family. Though they do not know it, Aia and Teveres are linked by their strange abilities – they represent a once-revered minority of the population known as the Deldri, individuals gifted by the gods with extraordinary power. It was thought that the Deldri lived on only in legend… until now.
“Tragedy is an endearing story about misfortune, betrayal, trust, and beautiful and dark powers beyond any imagination. The book tells an incredible story of a place on the edge of disaster and destruction and the heroes who must fight to avert the impending tragedy. The characters, with their dark twisted pasts and canny supernatural powers, combine with a masterfully crafted plot to give a thrilling reading experience. Sydney M. Cooper used just the perfect combination of intrigue, drama, action, and a bit of adventure and humor to create a definite page-turner that had me reading nonstop from the first page to the very last.“ – Reviewed by Faridah Nassozi for Readers’ Favorite
Forsaken Lands Book 1: Tragedy
© 2013 Sydney M. Cooper
Two Years Prior
Sitting on the moist grass of the garden atop the University pyramid, Aiasjia watched the world wake up. The sun’s light barely illuminated the surfaces of the tall buildings in Nivenea, the capitol of Elseth’s Lands, making the city glow a brilliant orange mottled with purple shadows. Smoke rose from the chimneys of the houses tucked in the hills surrounding the city. She smiled.
For four years she had worked at her Grandmother’s house in the god’s hills, mixing potions and drying herbs. While Aia spent her time running from the cruel memories from her home in the village of Seldat, her grandmother patiently coaxed her along a path towards a viable future for herself.
You have a gift, her grandmother would say. The gods have blessed you with divinity, but only you can act on their behalf. You must not squander your blessings.
Aia was different, for certain. In Elseth’s Lands, one of ten in the population was born “gifted” with divinity, the power to change the forces of the world with the mind. Those with the gift became healers, farmers, lawmen or engineers with extraordinary abilities. Aia was unique even among the gifted. Since she was a child she could heal with her hands and hear thoughts unspoken – these gifts were unheard of.
It was her grandmother’s wish to see Aia rise above the status of amateur alchemist and self-taught healer; she wanted Aia to seek formal training at Nivenea’s University. Aia didn’t believe in such a future when she first arrived, still bearing the bruises from her mother’s hand. When her grandmother died 4 months before the completion of Aia’s healer training, Aia considered dropping out. Her grandmother was her support in a world which found her strange above all else. Driven only by the monotony of her tasks, Aia went through the tests of selection, the battery of exams which lead to initiation into the Healer’s Guild.
Looking out over the most advanced city in the world on the day of her initiation, Aia couldn’t help but feel a spark of hope. Throughout her academic career she had been convinced that something tragic would happen. Watching her dreams come to fruition despite the loss of her grandmother was entirely surreal.
A few students began wandering through the garden behind her. She could hear their muffled footsteps and hushed voices. As a mind reader – to her knowledge, the only one of her kind – she additionally heard their thoughts. The students’ minds were preoccupied with their work, running over tests and patients they had seen. The upper garden with its fountains, flowers and trees made for a pleasant walk in the morning before starting work. It was also a popular site for quiet study and meetings. If there were students in the garden, then the initiation ceremony was soon to follow. Dusting off her tunic and binding her maroon hair into a tight bun, Aia returned to the confines of the University.
The halls, made of whitestone and polished wood, stretched out before her. The third floor was reserved for teaching and studying, with a large circular lobby in its center. The initiation was to take place in this room; several orderlies were already busy preparing the area. Aia watched them from the periphery. A small stage was set up in the center of the room, surrounded by two dozen plush sitting pillows. The stage supported a tall, whitestone pedestal with a shrouded object on top of it. Candles dotted the circumference of the stage, casting light throughout the hall. Her anticipation only rose when the skin-painting materials were cleaned and placed in a box at the base of the podium.
From the corner of her eye Aia spotted a dark-skinned young man approaching from the stairs with a familiar grin on his face. Aia met Kyren at the beginning of training 3 years ago and took an instant liking to him. He had a knack for exuding positivity even when she became sullen. The son of traders, Kyren’s past was far removed from Aia’s unpleasant upbringing. It was part of why she liked him.
“Are you ready for this?” Kyren asked, sliding to lean against the wall beside her.
Aia shrugged, “I guess I have to be.”
“You need to be more excited,” Kyren prompted. He clapped his hands together loudly, which made most of the people in the room look up in surprise. “This is our day!”
“Unless we mess it up?”
“Nobody’s going to mess it up. You’ll be fine.”
“I’m blaming you if I’m not.”
Kyren just beamed.
Standing at the stage was Telani, Baron of the Healer’s guild, donning a long blue robe and an elaborate glowing necklace of kelspar ore. He was flanked by the petite lead teacher, Ellie, and the elder University priest, Loren. Telani’s dark hair was pulled away from his face with a tie. His eyes, a deep brown that was almost black, scanned the room. Aia felt small in his presence. She had only glimpsed him from afar in the past, like he was some kind of king roaming through the University.
“I need all initiates to step forward. We are about to begin.” Telani’s deep voice sounded throughout the lobby.
Sharing a smile with Kyren, the two sat together in the row furthest from the podium. Aia interlaced her fingers to hide her tremor of excitement. Deep in her soul she hoped that the shattered pieces of her grandmother’s essence could understand what was about to happen. The priests said that a shattered essence could never feel emotions as one, but in her moment of triumph, Aia chose to believe that it was possible.
Loren and Ellie sat on either side of Telani. A hush rolled through the room as he lifted his arms in an arch to the ceiling, eyes closed.
“We offer our thanks to the god Torvid, for his guidance these long three years,” Telani began. “He has walked with us and shown us the path to true Knowledge. Today we honor Torvid’s strength with a most precious gift. To the most high goddess Elseth and her lover, Layvin, before you I present twenty-four disciples of life. May they give back thrice the energy you have bestowed us in healing; may all our paths meet in death. We speak in solidarity.”
“In solidarity,” the group echoed in unison.
Telani’s eyes snapped open. The baron tugged the fabric off of the shrouded object to reveal a large, dull shard of unaligned kelspar. Most kelspar glowed with charged energy tied to the energy which it first embraced, but rare bits of kelspar could be used as a channel, a vessel for any energy which passed through it. The Healer’s Guild’s unaligned kelspar was among the largest in the world, half as tall as Telani himself. The candlelight enhanced the naturally cut edges of the stone.
“Initiate, approach,” Telani commanded a student from the front row.
Aia recognized the girl as Cashi, a petite blond with a blazing temper. Cashi approached the podium slowly. Baron Telani and Priest Loren switched places. Loren stood with the kelspar between Cashi and himself, his golden robes swishing audibly along the floor. Cashi turned pale.
“Cashi of Elenseth, you have been chosen by the gods. Do you vow to heal the sick, comfort the living and show mercy to the dying from now until your essence shatters?”
“I vow this as a daughter of Torvid.”
As they had been taught, Cashi focused on the stone for a moment. The stone almost instantly flashed a brilliant white, much to Cashi’s apparent relief. Loren tipped his head to Cashi and led her off the stage.
Loren completed the initiation of each student in quick succession. Kyren and Aia were the last to go. Watching Kyren go before her, Aia felt tears sting her eyes. His initiation was nearly as important as her own.
Finally Loren turned to her. Aia approached the old man in a daze.
“Aiasjia of Seldat, you have been chosen by the gods. Do you vow to heal the sick, comfort the living and show mercy to the dying from now until your essence shatters?”
“I vow this as a daughter of Torvid.”
Looking at the stone, Aia poured her energy into its depths. She was greeted a brilliant blue light that seemed to swallow her whole. Heat flooded her face as she reined in the energy, returning the rock to its dormant state. She was numb with happiness.
As with all the other students, Aia was ushered off the stage to stand to the side with those who were finished. Kyren wrapped her in a fierce embrace when she reached him.
“You are now divine healers to the gods of Elseth’s Lands,” said Loren. “Blessings.”
Loren’s statement was drowned out by an eruption of clapping and hollering from the initiates. Complete in his task, Loren stepped away.
Ellie, the last of the officials to speak, approached the edge of the stage. Aia had seen the woman every day for the past three years, always with her graying hair in two long braids down her back. She had a kind, humble heart. She clapped for a moment, pleased for her own students, before motioning for them to be quiet.
“Healers!” She beamed at the word. “The final task is at hand. Please, relax. This is truly a day of celebration for all of you.”
The ‘final task’ she described was skin painting, the application of the healer’s tattoo. Several students swarmed the orderlies who operated the painting implements. Aia and Kyren hung back, content to let the rest of the new healers fight for first painted.
“I didn’t know I could feel this way,” Aia breathed, squeezing Kyren’s hand. “Did you?”
“I knew we’d make it the whole time.”
She narrowed her eyes at him playfully. They both burst into laughter, the hours they spent lamenting their certain dismissal from the University a private joke between them.
As the painting process ensued the new healers began milling about, congratulating their classmates. Telani was shaking hands with every initiate he encountered, welcoming them to the guild. As their baron, Telani would represent their interests in policy and law for the foreseeable future.
Kyren and Aia chattered amongst themselves, always the outcasts of their peer group. They would remember the moment they shared on the stage for the rest of their lives. They speculated on where they would go for apprenticeship – a small town, perhaps, or deep in the city asylums. Their lives were full of possibilities.
Before half the students had cycled through for skin painting, Aia was tapped on the shoulder. To her surprise, Priest Loren stood behind her, looking as solemn as he always did. Kyren stopped mid-sentence to honor Loren. Usually the priest left after initiation ceremonies, or so they had been told.
“Aiasjia,” Loren said softly, “before you begin the skin painting I need to have a word.”
Aia might normally have skimmed the Priest’s thoughts to find out what he was referring to. The voices of the students made it too difficult to concentrate. She just nodded.
“Don’t start until I get back!” She told Kyren. Loren had already moved towards the corridor. She fell into step beside him.
The priest led her to a small office used by teachers to counsel students. He encouraged Aia to take a seat behind the desk, closing the door behind him.
Aia couldn’t read much from the priest, even without the noisy distractions of the lobby. She had seen Loren at rituals since she came to the university, and his thoughts always had a calm, slow way about them. He never seemed excited or angry about anything. He existed in a shroud of serenity.
He situated himself behind the desk, his hands invisible, tucked in his lap. In his dark amber eyes she felt a flash of sorrow. Her tension rose immediately.
Sensing her apprehension, the priest began to speak. “You have worked very hard these last three years, Aiasjia.”
“How did you feel up on the stage?”
“I felt…happy. I’ve waited for this my entire life.”
Aia bit her lip, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. “Please tell me what this is about.”
In his mind she saw the picture of a man with robes the color of fire, connected to the question she asked. She didn’t recognize him.
“Our job is to train the best divinely gifted healers in the world,” Loren replied. “I’m sure you understand what a huge responsibility this is. We hold our initiates to the strictest standards because anything less puts lives at risk. We care deeply about what happens to those branded with the healer’s mark.”
Aia felt her stomach twist with his words. For once, she wished that she could not hear thoughts before they were spoken. All she could discern was a rushing sound in her ears while he explained what she already gleaned from his mind.
“…and because of the anomaly in your ceremony, the High Priest Leniq has decided that we cannot allow you entrance into the guild of healers.”
The room remained at the same illumination even as Aia felt darkness narrowing her vision. When she was on the stage the kelspar lit up – she saw it light up – she felt the energy within her. She knew what she was at the core of her being.
“I don’t understand,” Aia’s words were thick in her throat, “what anomaly? What about the years I’ve worked… I’ve dedicated my life… what about everything else I’ve done?”
“The kelspar reflected your energies, child. The resonant frequency of your divinity is not right.”
“But you can’t… but I heal people. I’ve healed them. You must have seen…”
“Aiasjia…” He reached out to touch her, but she jerked away from his hand as if it were a viper. His face fell. “Aiasjia, it is not for us to interfere with the will of the gods.”
“Then what am I?” She couldn’t stop a tear from reaching the brim of her eyelids, the color drained palpably from her face. “I am gifted. I’m the best healer this University has ever seen, you know this… you’ve seen me. How could I not be a healer?”
“This is not a death sentence.” His sincerity emanated from his pores, the most emotion she had ever felt from him. “Your true calling may not be in the gods work.”
“What the hell does that mean? Why do the gods give me this power if I’m not to use it? Who is Leniq to decide?”
Loren frowned and began to stand. Aia gripped her chair, afraid that if she stood she would either collapse or kill him. “It is certainly not your place to question the High Priest.”
“Then the gods be damned.”
Her blasphemy ignited instant anger in Loren. He slowly walked towards the door, his eyes tracking her. “Get your things. We should discuss this another time.”
“Priest, this is wrong. You know it’s wrong.” Aia stared blankly at the priest with his kind eyes and wrinkled grandfather face. She found it hard to hate him.
Opening the door, Loren firmly prompted her to leave. “Corners embrace you, child.”
He was afraid of her, confused by Leniq, and more than anything, he never wanted to see her again. She rose faster than she meant to, her muscles seemingly out of her control, and walked out of the room. She didn’t see the halls pass her by. Did she walk through the lobby with all the people who had everything she wanted, all the people she was too ashamed to face? It didn’t matter anymore.
Suddenly she was in her own little dorm, only the light from a small shard of kelspar illuminating her bed and the desk that had been her livelihood. Everything she owned, save for what her grandmother had left for her in Layvin’s Embrace, was in her University quarters. She slammed the door.
Hot tears clouded her vision. She crumpled to the floor, racked with sobs. Her life had become a mockery. She arrived in Nivenea broken. Everything she had done – the beatings she suffered, the biting hunger of poverty in Seldat – was so she could come to Nivenea. It was all for the mark of the healer.
For everything she had done, she was back where she started in the world: alone, humiliated, and helpless. Breathing began to feel like a curse, tight and unwelcome in her chest. She dug her fingernails into her thighs until they bled. She couldn’t feel the pain.
How could the gods hate me this much? What have I done to deserve this?
Memories from many years ago intruded on her thoughts. She could clearly hear her mother screaming in her head, ‘You selfish little bitch, what did you think you were doing? You’re nothing without me. You’re a mistake. I never should have given birth to a girl like you.’
Trembling, she made her way to her desk chair. The desk was littered with herbs, potions, books and papers. As she thumbed through her personal notebook, she began to laugh. Her life was so pathetically fragile that the loss of her career equated the toppling of her world. She was without family. She had one real, close friend, and many acquaintances. No lover shared her bed; nobody really knew her. After being cast out from the healer’s guild, why would any of them care? It was unheard of for a healer to fail at initiation. She would never find respectable work. The thought of facing Kyren made her ill.
Kthala, rueven, lovace and wren. She mixed the potion absentmindedly.
She remembered the day she discovered her talent for healing. Her dog had been ill for days. It lay on the grass, eyes glazed over, with barely an ounce of lifeforce left. Six years old and hardly bigger than the dog, Aia felt the instinct before she recognized what it was. There was a bright white light, and Aia felt so very tired. The dog began to stir.
Kthala, rueven, lovace and wren. She capped the bottle and shook it vigorously, waiting for the clear liquid to turn red.
Aia recalled the day her mother caught her in the forest playing with herbs, her eyes wide when divinity lit on Aia’s fingertips. Her mother had been thrilled, at least for one day. It was only ever for a day. The early healer’s training came, and with it the disappointment. Mistakes were unacceptable. ‘Smile, your ungrateful little bitch. Smile or I’ll make you smile. Smile or you’ll never see that grandmother of yours again.’
Kthala, rueven, lovace and wren. The poison tasted like spiced rose petals.
The day she came home to her grandmother’s little cottage, she was a mess. She was thinner than she had ever been, with skin so pale that her grandmother worried she was ill. Dolores’s hands were instruments of immense kindness. She hugged her, fed her, and told her of all the things she might one day become. Her grandmother had wasted all that energy on someone who would never matter at all.
Aia stumbled to her bed, relishing the feeling of the mattress. Even as her vision blurred and her soul seemed to float far beyond her body, a distant, familiar voice that had been with her since Seldat called out to her.
Please, don’t leave me here alone.