Keolah and Vakis had come to the Seven Planes at night, and found a world alive with dancing lights, active cities of a unique and fascinating race of elves known as the drow. Keolah at once found these people intriguing, and settled into one of their cities to study them. She learned that they were spread all over this plane, and ruled day and night, although they prefered the gentler lights of night.
They settled down in a fine house in a great city called Kelletirandia, the largest city in the world some claimed, or at least on the Sixth Plane. They waited for the child to be born, and he took an inordinately long time at coming out. For thirteen months he rode in Keolah's belly, by which point she was getting a little sick of it. Finally, mercifully, the child arrived.
Keolah held up her son, the tiny brown baby in her hands, his small ears elven-pointed, his hair a rich bronze. She looked into his eyes, slitted like an elf's, and they shone silver, with a tint of blue.
"What shall we call him, Vakis?" Keolah said.
"Let us call him a word in your language," he said. "How is it that you say, Shining Eyes?"
"Valerezal," she whispered.
"Valerezal," said Vakis, nodding. "It is a good name. Let us call our son, Valerezal."
The baby did not cry, or scream, or any of the usual things that babies did. He merely sat there passively, patiently, watching everything, taking in everything. He seemed to grow abnormally quickly, becoming the size of the average five-year-old in less than a year, but then suddenly, inexplicably, stopped growing. He could walk within his first month, but did not speak until his third year, when he suddenly said, "Keolah, why am I different from the other drow?"
Keolah tried not to look too shocked, unsure as to how to respond to her son's inquiry. "Well, you see," she began, "you are not really a drow at all. Well, you could be if you want to, but you are really a half-elf."
"A half-elf?" Val pondered. "But I don't look like a half-elf. Half-elves have light skin. Mine is dark, just like a drow."
"Well, the half-elves around here," Keolah responded, "have light-skinned parents. But your father is Vakis, his breed of human has dark skin."
The boy pondered, and fell silent, and returned to playing with faerie fire, his latest favorite toy. Truly enough, he possessed many of the same abilities as did the drow of this plane, but Keolah knew them to be the result of his Elkandu heritage, and not an actual relation to the drow. Being away from Torn Elkandu and its magical devices, Val's parents were still unsure as to the Elkandu Talents he possessed.
A year later, after several months of speaking only when asked a direct question, Keolah asked, "Val, why are you not growing anymore?"
Val answered, "I don't want to grow up. Grown-ups are mean. I've watched them, the drow of Kelletirandia, the grown-ups are cruel and heartless. I don't want to be like them. The children are nice, until they change. I will stay a child, then."
Keolah blinked. The drow society was peculiar in many ways in her eyes, but she would be hard-pressed to call them cruel. Not more cruel than any other society. She had seen human societies in particular that were far more cruel. What other insights had those shining eyes uncovered?
Silently, she walked to the balcony of the House Kedaire in Kelletirandia, the newest house and yet immediately accepted into the nobility of the drow without question. In the Seven Planes, the word 'Elkandu' was close to synonymous with 'god', and there were few that dared to cross one lightly. With a sigh, Keolah had refused to be worshipped as a goddess, however, saying she had done nothing to deserve such a title. Immortality does not equate with godhood, she told them. When I have done something to deserve your worship, she said, then you may worship me. Not before then.
She looked out over the bright city of Kelletirandia, lit by flickering lights of white and pink from a sea of buildings and towers. How cruel could a heart be that could produce such beauty? Or perhaps it was only a reflection of the beauty of a spiderweb laced with dew in the morning sun, beautiful yet deadly to the hapless creatures that were caught up in it. And with its network of streets spiraling out from a central tower, Kelletirandia was, perhaps, the world's largest spiderweb.
With a sigh, Keolah thought, no, spiders are not cruel. They only do what they must to survive. Same with the drow.
But, with an involuntary shudder, Keolah could not help but thinking that those shining eyes had seen something she had overlooked.
Valerezal celebrated his tenth year of life, in his own way, although he still had the seeming of a five-year-old. He ws the center of a spiral of rumors in Kelletirandia, when he would slip out of the house unnoticed and walk alone in the streets of the city. Usually walk, that is. Sometimes he got tired of walking and floated around, levitating a few feet above the ground. Many of the nobles stared when he passed, but most of the commoners didn't dare.
Often strange things would happen around him, as well. Merchants goods would suddenly sprout wings and fly away, or grow legs and crawl off under something. People and items would mysteriously vanish and reappear on the other side of town, often separated from their clothing and other possessions. It was disturbing to say the least.
One day he entered a tavern, and walked right up to the bar. When he realized that he was too short to see over it, he promptly levitated up. "Excuse me," he said.
The bartender, a weathered half-ogre, turned and looked at him. "What be yer pleasure, boy? You want a candy?"
"Yes please," Val said. "And a mug of chocolate milk."
"Don't got no chocolate milk," the half-ogre muttered as he poured an ale for a minotaur patron, then turned to the back room where he kept a box of candies bought for the sole purpose of keeping Val out of trouble.
The minotaur took a swig of his mug, then sat it down on the bar, and sauntered off toward the privy. Val floated over to the mug and looked in it. He could have sworn there had been ale there before, but now the mug was full to the brim of chocolate milk! Smiling with glee, Val grabbed the mug and gulped down the sweet liquid, then put the mug back.
The bartender returned, saying, "Here's a lollipop for you, boy." He pulled out a rag and began wiping the bar.
As he happily licked the striped lollipop, the minotaur returned, and looked at his empty mug. "You!" roared the minotaur. "You drank my ale!" Enraged, the minotaur charged at the startled boy. Suddenly, the minotaur vanished before even reaching Val.
The bartender continued wiping the bar, pretending he didn't see what just happened.
However, during Val's tenth year of life, a new visitor arrived in Kelletirandia. One whom Keolah and Vakis were very familiar with.
"A greeting to you, Keolah. How fare your people?" Swamp's words slipped off his tongue like putrid drops.
"Swamp, what are you doing here?" Keolah folded her arms across her chest. This was one problem she wanted to stop before it started.
"Nothing," Swamp shrugged. "So you've taken yourself up with drow, I see." He left it trail off ominously.
"You hurt them I'll skin you alive."
"Oh no, I won't hurt them, I give you my word," Swamp smiled like a serpent. "I have only come here to help."
Keolah felt sick just listening to him. "Help? Help with what?"
"Your precious drow. Are you blind? Do you want these children of yours to never know mercy and compassion?"
"Swamp, when have you ever cared about mercy and compassion?"
"This I will teach them. All of them. You will find they are ready and able students, with the right teacher."
Keolah shuddered, fearing to think what Swamp had in mind. She noticed that he had been leading her down one of the streets into the center of Kelletirandia by this time, and was now climbing the tower in the heart of the city. "What are you going to do?"
Swamp did not answer, and they swiftly reached a balcony high in the tower, where they could observe much of the city. With the power of Speaking, one could speak from here and be heard easily all over the city.
Realization suddenly dawned on Keolah. "You plan to Enchant them," she said. "But with what?"
"You will see."
"Swamp. No. You must not do this. I cannot let you do this."
"People of Kelletirandia!" Swamp shouted, his voice echoing for miles across the vast city.
"No," Keolah whispered, falling to her knees.
"Know that the drow race is heartless and merciless, and would oppress you to the end of your days!"
"Please don't do this," she murmured.
"Thus I place upon them a Curse, to teach them the value of life! Every drow woman will bear but one child in her life, and no more!"
Keolah was crying now, for she foresaw in a flash the slow downfall of the drow race. "Swamp, if you must do this," she whispered, "give them a blessing and a curse both."
Swamp sighed at her, but went on. "The drow will be driven to the darkness, unable to tolerate the light, and in darkness they will make their home, for in shadow they will see heat and see clearly in darkness where no one else can. And they need not face the darkness alone, for they will have magic, for I grant each one of them a flicker of the power of Illusion!"
Keolah looked over the railing, and saw the drow people, her people, milling about in confusion in the square below. She cried out, Speech enhancing her voice, "Keolah has been unable to avert the Curse, but has bargained to give you a Blessing as balance."
Swamp turned and left, leaving Keolah alone on the balcony looking down at the hundreds of frightened, kneeling drow, begging to Keolah for guidance.
The mighty drow empire collapsed virtually overnight in light of the Curse. The drow nobles tried to rule by night, but as soon as dawn broke all their decrees were overturned by people that had been under their heel for too long. In many lands the drow fled, forming their own countries separate from the people of day. But not the drow of Kelletirandia. No matter what happened, this was their home, and they would not leave.
Seeing the uselessness of their own efforts, the city's former rulers decided it was a good time to lay low, rather than be persecuted, and with as much grace as they could muster, abdicated the rulership of the city.
"I will not leave you," Keolah told them. "As much as I can, I will protect you as if you were my own children."
The drow insisted on building temples to her now, and she no longer had the heart to refuse. They needed someone to look up to, so that they did not lose hope.
As the noble houses of the drow of Kelletirandia slowly became accustomed to their new role, much as it grated on them, Valerezal slipped by, always watching, untouched by any Curse. Every drow in Kelletirandia knew him, and knew he was no ordinary child. He was, to them, a symbol of innocence, and slowly became an image of perfection.
But long before he came to be revered, Val was more of a nuisance than anything else.
There was a large library in Kelletirandia, with more books than any but the librarians cared to count, spanning generations. Some of the books were magical in nature, and kept in specially protected parts of the vast building, while others were out on the shelves in a public reading area, under the careful supervision of the librarians and their assistants.
In a classroom in the library, Keolah often taught lessons to aspiring mages. It was one of these classes that Valerezal dropped in on one day.
"The Elkandu draw their magic from Talents," she was saying. "When they are born, they inherit potential for there Talents. This inheritance is believed to be genetic."
"But it's not," Val interjected.
The class stared at the boy.
"When someone dies," Val explained, "they're soul enters the Void, and flows toward a part of the Void with similar patterns, and enters their unborn children. Thus someone with the Talent of Fire will flow most naturally into a parent with the Talent of Fire."
"I see," muttered Keolah.
"Although they aren't exactly Talents," he went on, "but the name is not too inaccurate. A better word would be Links though. However, one can be Linked to a Power without having it manifest in a Talent."
The entire class was now listening raptly to Valerezal, and pretty much ignoring Keolah. The elven woman sighed, and said, "Go on."
"You see, most of those called Elkandu are those Linked to two or more of the Three Lights. One who is Linked only to the Earth Light is a mortal wizard, very powerful perhaps, but still mortal. Breaking out of the constraints of age requires at least a minimal Link to the Time Light. Often, the act of Time Travelling alone can form such a Link."
"Wait a minute," Keolah stopped him. "You're saying that one can gain Talents? That they are not restricted to the ones they are born with?" She knew it was possible, but had only seen it done with Enchantment magic. And even then it was very difficult, to the point where Swamp usually merely enhanced Talents that they already had.
"It is indeed," Val said slowly. "But often the Link forms without the person's awareness, and never becomes strong enough to manifest as a Talent."
"Using word-spells related to that Talent is the simplest way to start forming a Link. Or using items or places heavily enchanted with that Power. Such as the Nexus. Did you ever wonder why nearly all Elkandu have the ability to Travel?"
One of the students in the back of the room blurted out, "But then why do some Talents manifest more often than others?"
"Most Links are passive," Val answered. "Most people actually have a weak Link to at least one Power but never know of it. Those Links, however, open up the gateway for their children to be born with a stronger Link."
Another student asked, "What does it mean to have a passive Link? Will it ever do anything, or grow into something more?"
"Perhaps," he said. "Often a passive Link will sometimes do things without you having to think about it. It may seem like incredible good luck, or chance, but it was really a Talent starting to manifest in keeping you out of trouble. For instance, say that you are linked to the Power of Wind, and fall off a tall building. Your Wind magic then tries to help you, and slows your fall enough to keep you from being badly injured. What's more, every time it does this, it could grow stronger, and if you ever become aware of it, you could harness the Power for yourself."
One student, a young high elven girl, asked, "So it's all about perception?"
"In a way, yes. Elkandu are often tested using stones that glow depending on your natural potential strength in a Power. But they will very often miss passive or weak Links that could be developed into something more. And, much as I hate to say it, a lot of the stones are mistuned, and will sometimes only pick up very limited parts of some Powers, and they have gaps that will miss some altogether. Or misread what Talents you have, because the Elkandu perception of Talents is very skewed. Sometimes they separate one Talent into two, or clump two different ones together. However, the boundaries were never so distinct. Talents are like a spectrum of colors. There are no real boundaries between them, and yet there are distinct colors, but in infinitely varying hues."
A dwarven boy asked, "So is there any way to tell for certain?"
"Yes," Val said. "The Talent of Seeking. Some have the Talent manifested in such a way as to allow them to see the exact pattern of colors, the magical signature of a person. My mother is one of them."
All eyes suddenly turned to Keolah, for the first time since Valerezal began talking. Then everyone at once began asking what Powers they were Linked to, and Keolah had to ask for silence.
Keolah sighed. "I don't really know what all the colors mean," she admitted. "Nor do I know why they appear as they do."
"Here," Val said. "I'll show you. Come here, Daranyn." The high elven girl stood and walked to the front of the class.
"Um," Keolah murmured. "Wind? Looks too purple to be Wind though. Wind and Mind perhaps?"
"It is Illusion, actually," Val told her.
Keolah pondered on this. "It seems close to Seeking in a way, and similar to Wind and Mind."
"Very true. Illusion is, in fact, a specialized combination of those three. It uses air and sight and alters perceptions."
"But then what are the flecks of white?" Keolah asked.
"That would be Healing," Val said. "Probably passive, and manifested only as an unusual stamina or recovery rate, and resistance to diseases."
The high elf said, "So I'm an Illusionist then?"
Val nodded. "Sit."
"But," Keolah said, "What about Links to the other two Lights?"
"There are similar Powers in all Three Lights," Val said. "However, you have the version of Seeking in the Earth Light, and thus are limited by its constraints. Thus, you can only see Talents of the Earth Light, although you might once in a while catch a glimpse of a Power of another Light, but will be unable to identify it clearly. Thus you can see some of my own power, but are unable to identify it clearly."
It was true, for with her Seeking she saw his aura as a brilliant shimmering silver-blue, the mark of the Sky Light.
"So there are Talents in Time and Sky?" Keolah inquired.
"Oh yes. Not the same ones, to be sure, however."
"Like what?" she asked.
"In the Time Light, you have, for instance, Time Travelling and Prophecy, although in its full manifestation Prophecy extends backward as well as foreward. Also there is an ability to jump from one timeline to another, which will sometimes affect onlookers who might have inexplicable memories from the other timeline, which they will usually dismiss as fantasy."
Keolah stared pointedly at the boy. "And the Sky Light? What Talents do you possess?"
"Most of them," he grinned. "The powers of the Void are many. And Soul Magic can be very useful. Too bad that it has usually only manifested as those Talents you call Death and Healing, however. I wonder if I could revive Soul Linking again."
By now, Keolah was staring at him in such a way that she knew without a doubt, as she had suspected all along, that he was not what he seemed to be. "Who areyou?"
"I believe you once knew me as Shazmar," he replied. "The Blue Star."
"Um," Keolah murmured. "Class dismissed."
She gathered up her son and took him to the small room next to the classroom that served as her office. Looking over her shoulder warily, she closed the door quickly.
"How?" she demanded.
Val said, "I could be wrong, of course," and smiled sweetly.
Keolah gave and exasperated sigh and threw herself into the chair.
"Shazmar..." Keolah muttered. "Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but how in the Abyss..."