“Who are you? How long have you been there?!” demanded Ennaya.
Her heart was pounding, but the man appeared to be unarmed and she thought he had a kind face. The man raised open palms, which Ennaya recognised as a gesture to indicate no threat was intended.
“I offer my apologies for my sudden appearance, traveller. My name is Deywan. I have not been stalking you, worry not. I merely like to walk in these woods and gather mushrooms. We get so few visitors around these parts that my curiosity got the better of me and I came to get a closer look.”
Ennaya eyed the man cautiously, but relaxed her guard, and introduced herself.
“Ennaya. I’m not sure you’d believe me if I told the story of my travels, but I’m looking for someone called Farrda.”
“Ah, are you a Flametender?”
“Not as such…” replied Ennaya, grasping the vial around her neck – partly for comfort and partly to hide the flame.
“Well I don’t know what that means, but I shall not invade the privacy of the sect’s affairs. Brother Farrda is well-respected in our village, Tanai, and I would be glad to introduce you to each other.”
Ennaya gave thanks and smiled at Deywan.
They spoke only a little on the walk to the village, as Ennaya had decided to keep the stupid questions like “Where in the world am I?” for Farrda. Their small conversation intrigued Deywan, who seemed very jealous that she had been to the Sa’Ellai Library, but he sensed her reluctance to share much information and did not push for details.
The village of Tanai was surrounded by a wooden fence, which Ennaya though was so low that it must be for decoration, not security. Inside the fence, it was not significantly different to villages on Lahana. Everything was made from wood with the exception of two stone buildings in the centre – a church and some kind of public hall. The familiarity offered Ennaya a little comfort, though her apprehensiveness about meeting Farrda was growing second by second as Deywan led her towards the church.
“Go ahead,” reassured Deywan. “Farrda is inside – probably studying some boring old scrolls and wishing for a distraction like this!”
“Thank you, Deywan,” said Ennaya.
She entered the church and nervously called out, “hello?”
She inched further inside. It was very similar to churches on Lahana. The architecture was fairly simplistic, a theme broken only by two carved sculptures on either side of a stone altar at the front. The familiarity calmed her racing heart for a moment, and then the rattle of a door to a side-room made it skip a beat. The next sound was that of a kindly voice.
“Hello? Do you seek my counsel, friend?”
As the man saw Ennaya, he added, “Oh, you are from out of town, yes? I love to meet a traveller.”
His presence somehow made Ennaya feel at ease, as if the man radiated calm.
“Are you Brother Farrda?”
“Yes, I am. What is your name?”
Ennaya had no second thoughts about talking to him – it just felt right to tell him everything. So she did. She spoke for several minutes while Farrda watched and listened closely. When she was done, Farrda sat silent for several seconds then laughed and said, “Well, although I didn’t expect you to appear in Tanai, I’m very pleased to find you safe and strong, Ennaya. Don’t worry, Brother Lukani is not dead, you weren’t divinely chosen at the random whim of a god. The Deep Circle passed your name to the Flamesingers.”
“Slow down!” interrupted Ennaya. “I have so many questions and you’re just adding to the list with this talk of some deep circle and flamesingers as if I wasn’t already confused enough! Why do these people know me?”
“Sorry, I shall take it back a step. What do you know of the Sa’Ellai Sect?”
“Well I know of the library… and that it has – had? – the fire of wisdom…”
“Has. It still burns. Wisdom is just one of many human names for it. Sa’Ellai is its true name. The library is named after that, Sa’Ellai is not some word from a forgotten old language as many think.”
“What is it then, if not just a magical fire?”
“It is one of the Sacred Fires, the Drayr-Sa – they are a physical manifestation of magic – not just the simple regular magic of wizards and sorcerers. I mean the most fundamental and ancient wild-magic of the world. Did Pallelan not tell you any of this?”
“You know my father?”
“I do not know him personally, but he is known to the sect. He is of the Deep Circle. We are not just a religion. We are the protectors of the Drayr-Sa. The Sa’Ellai Sect is just one branch of a worldwide organisation. While many of us bear the robes and symbols of the sect, the Deep Circle remains secret. They are a council of the most trusted and knowledgeable flametenders, and must keep that identity hidden. Though I do find it a little uncomfortable that he kept it hidden from you despite convincing the Deep Circle to pass your name to the flamesingers… I was under the impression that they had consent to do so, but I suppose not…”
“So I’m the chosen one of my father, not of the gods? That doesn’t reassure me very much! Sa’Ellai told me to reignite the other fires! How many are there? Where are they? Why me? How does one even reignite a magic fire? Why do they need reigniting if there’s a whole worldwide group protecting them? What…”
“Ennaya,” said Farrda firmly, but not angrily. More gently, he continued, “There are five Drayr-Sa dotted around the world. There is a division in our sect, those loyal to the protection, and those who follow Ansakari’s vision of dominance and control rather than protection. Similar groups exist at the others. Some have been successful. Three have already been extinguished and the fourth may fall soon, but the essence that let them burn still remains – they are far from dead. As they are all connected, a spark from one can reignite another. You were chosen because we knew you would be trustworthy and strong enough. The flamesingers sang your name into Sa’Ellai, and now that it has given you a piece of itself the essence of Drayr-Sa is intertwined with your soul. The library may have fallen to Ansakari, but as long as you carry a piece of Sa’Ellai, it cannot be fully corrupted while your soul remains pure. Each fire, once reignited, will grant you a piece of its flame. They trust you, Ennaya. Once you carry all of them, we will have a secret temple ready in which to keep them secure and incorruptible.”
Ennaya took deep breaths as she processed the information. Hearing Farrda’s answers had lifted some of the burden of confusion. This burden being lifted offered little relief in the face of the huge weight of the quest that lay ahead, but she was determined to not be afraid.
“So where must I go first?” she said with well-feigned confidence.
“If you know of it, you may not like the answer, but I can tell you it not as bad as it sounds. Both the journey and the destination should be safe – the Deep Circle is as yet unsure if the same can be said of the flame temple. Ennaya, you must head to Kazzanhof.”