Chapter v1v The Second Dimension Your body is the conduit,”
Lady Dasslerond explained, trying very hard to hide her exasperation. She
leaned back against a birch tree, ruffling her nearly transparent elven wings and
tossing her head carelessly, sending her golden locks back over her delicate
shoulders. She was the only elf who truly understood the magical gemstones,
having worked intimately with her powerful emerald for centuries. Thus,
Dasslerond had taken on this part of young Aydrian’s training herself, the
first time a human had ever been trained in the gemstone magic by one of the
The young man, nearly a foot-and-a-half taller than
Dasslerond’s four-foot height, grimaced and clutched the gemstone, a
lightning-producing graphite, all the tighter, as if he meant to squeeze the
magical energy out of it. He was built much like his father, strong and
muscular, with wide shoulders and corded muscles, but many of his features
favored his mother—of whom he knew practically nothing.
At first, Dasslerond thought to correct him again, but when
she noted the intensity on Aydrian’s face, she decided to allow him these
moments of personal revelations. The lady of Caer’alfar could hardly suppress
her grin as she watched the concentrating Aydrian—her Aydrian, the young human
she believed would become the savior of her people. Though she wasn’t overfond
of the lumbering, larger folk, Dasslerond could not deny that this one was
handsome, with his thick shock of blond hair and his piercing blue eyes; his
lips, full like those of his mother; and his jaw strong and square, a chin and
chiseled cheekbones quite familiar to the lady who had overseen the training of
Elbryan the Nightbird. Yes, this one had the best features of both his parents,
it seemed, a beauty brought out all the more because he was growing up in the
splendor of Andur’Blough Inninness, a place of health and vitality. In just the
last year, Aydrian’s lanky frame had thickened considerably, his weight blossoming
from a slight hundred and twenty pounds to a hundred and sixty and more, and
not an ounce of it was fat. He was all sinew and muscle, all cords of strength;
but unlike other humans, there was a suppleness to the young man’s muscles, an
incredible flexibility that made his work with bi’nelle dasada all the more
Aydrian was far from finished growing, Dasslerond knew. His
father had topped six feet, and so would Aydrian, and easily; and the lady
suspected that he would range well on the other side of two hundred pounds.
Yes, physically he would be a specimen—he already was!—to make people stop and
stare. But his real strength, Dasslerond hoped, would be less visible, would be
in the pure focus of his well-disciplined mind. He would outfight any man and
any elf, any goblin or even the great giants; but a greater woe would befall
his enemies when Aydrian combined this second talent, this training with the
magical gemstones. His mother was among the most powerful stone users in all
the world, so it was said; and so, Dasslerond demanded, would this Aydrian be.
He grimaced and groaned, squeezing the gemstone, calling to
it, demanding of it that it let its energies flow forth.
“It is not a contest of wills—” Dasslerond started to say,
but before she could finish, there came a sharp crackle of arcing blue light,
snapping out of Aydrian’s hand and flickering downward to slam into the grass
at his feet. The resulting report sent both the young man and the elven lady
into the air. While Dasslerond caught herself and retained her balance by using
her small wings, Aydrian came down hard, stumbling back and finally just
allowing himself to tumble into a momentum-stealing backward somersault. He
came to his feet, staring incredulously at the small gray gemstone, looking
from it to the blackened spot on the green grass of the hillock.
Lady Dasslerond looked from the boy to the spot, at a loss
for words. She knew that he had done it wrong, so very wrong! Gemstone magic
was a cooperative interaction between the wielder and the stone, and the powers
of an enchanted gemstone could not be pulled forth by brute force of will. And
yet Aydrian had just done that, had just fought a battle of wills with an
insentient energy . . . and had won!
Dasslerond looked at him then, at the smug, satisfied smile
on his handsome face. Something else showed there, something the lady of
Caer’alfar found strangely unsettling. She had watched the progress of dozens
of rangers in her life, and always there would be a series of breakthroughs
that the humans in training would realize. Those breakthroughs were often met
with smiles of joy, sometimes with a grim nod, but always with a profound
satisfaction, for the tests of the Touel’alfar were not easily passed. So it
was with Aydrian now, his expression falling into the latter category more than
the first, for there was no joy on his face. Just grim satisfaction and, the
lady recognized, even something a bit more than that, something akin to the
look of a heartless conqueror, supremely arrogant and taking more joy in the
defeat of his enemy than in the attainment of any other goal. Logically, Lady
Dasslerond knew that she shouldn’t have expected less from this young one—the
elves had trained him from birth to be just that kind of force—but the look of
sheer intensity on Aydrian’s face, the effort necessary for him to have forced
out the gemstone powers in such a confrontational manner, gave Dasslerond
There was an inner strength in this one beyond her
expectations. Logically, and given the monumental task she had in mind for him,
Dasslerond knew that to be a good thing, but still . . .
She started to go into her gemstone training litany again,
the speech she had delivered to Aydrian several times already about working in
unison with the powers of the stone instead of battling against them. But the
lady was too tired of it all at that moment and too taken aback by the display
she had just witnessed.
“You will work with the gemstones again, and soon,” she said
finally, holding out her hand for Aydrian to give her back the graphite.
The young man’s blue eyes glowered fiercely for just a
moment—an impetuous moment, but telling, Dasslerond realized, of his true
desire to keep the stone. Clearly this work with the gemstones had awakened
something within the boy, some deep emotion, a flicker, perhaps, of power
beyond anything he had ever believed possible. And he wanted that power, the
lady understood without the slightest doubt. He wanted to work it and master it
and dominate it. That was good, for he had to be driven, had to achieve the
very highest levels of power if her plans for him were to come to fruition.
However, like the sheer willpower he had just shown in tearing the magic from
the stone, this level of ambition, so clearly reflected in those striking and
imposing eyes, warned Dasslerond of something potentially ominous.
The moment passed quickly, and Aydrian obediently walked
over and placed the graphite in Dasslerond’s hand, offering only a shrug and a
quick flash of a sheepish smile as he did.
Dasslerond saw that smile for what it was: a feint. If
Aydrian’s true feelings at having to relinquish that gemstone had been honestly
expressed in a smile, she figured, he would have had to grow fangs.
Brynn Dharielle was down in the field below him, tacking up
Diredusk, the smallish but muscular stallion that Belli’mar Juraviel had
brought to Andur’Blough Inninness for her training several years before. All
the Touel’alfar were there this night as well, most sitting among the boughs of
the trees lining the long, narrow field and many holding torches. Juraviel,
whom the other elves were now calling Marra-thiel Touk, or Snow Goose—a teasing
reference to his apparent wanderlust—and another elf, To’el Dallia, were on the
field with Brynn, chatting with her, and probably, Aydrian figured, instructing
Because that’s what the elves always did, the young man
thought with a smirk. Instruct and criticize. It was their unrelenting way. How
many times Aydrian had wanted to look To’el Dallia, who was his secondary
instructor after Lady Dasslerond—or even the great lady of Caer’alfar
herself—square in the eye and scream for them to just leave him alone! Several
times, particularly in the last year, such an impulse had been nearly
overwhelming, and only Aydrian’s recollection that he really did not have much
time—a few decades, perhaps—coupled with the understanding that he had much
left to learn from the Touel’alfar, had kept his tongue in check.
Still, the boy, who thought of himself as a young man, would
not always play by the rules of his “instructors.” Even on this moonlit night,
for he had been explicitly told to stay away from Brynn’s challenge, had been
told that this event was for her eyes and the eyes of the Touel’alfar alone.
Yet here he was, lying in the grass of a steep knoll above
the narrow field. He had already congratulated himself many times for learning
well the lessons the elves had taught him concerning stealth.
His thoughts turned outward a moment later, when Juraviel
and To’el moved away from the saddled and bridled horse, and Brynn
Dharielle—the only other human Aydrian had ever known, a ranger-in-training
several years his senior—gracefully swung up into the saddle. She settled
herself comfortably with a bit more shifting than usual—a certain indication of
her nervousness, Aydrian knew—and shook her long hair from in front of her
face. She didn’t look anything like Aydrian, which had surprised him somewhat
because in his eyes most of the Touel’alfar looked much alike, and he had
presumed that humans would resemble one another as well. But he was
fair-skinned with light hair and bright blue eyes, while Brynn, of To-gai
heritage, had skin the golden-brown color of quiola hardwood, hair the color of
a raven’s wing, and eyes as dark and liquid as Aydrian’s were bright and
crystalline. Even the shape of her eyes did not resemble his, having more of a
Nor did her body resemble his, though, as with Aydrian,
Brynn’s years of superb training had honed her muscles to a perfect edge. But
she was thin and lithe, a smallish thing, really, while Aydrian’s arms were
already beginning to thicken with solid muscle. Elven males and females did not
look so disparate, for all were thin, skinny even, and while the female elves
had breasts, they didn’t look anything like the globes that now adorned Brynn’s
Looking at her did something to Aydrian’s psyche, and to his
body, that he could not understand. He hadn’t had much contact with her in his
early days in Andur’Blough Inninness, but in the last couple of years, mostly
because of Juraviel, she had become one of his closest companions. Of late,
though, he often found himself wondering why his palms grew so sweaty whenever
he was near her or why he wanted to inhale more deeply when he was close enough
to her to catch her sweet scent . . .
Those distracting thoughts flew away suddenly as Brynn
pulled back on Diredusk’s reins, urging the horse into a rear and a great
whinny. Then, with the suddenness of a lightning strike, the young ranger
whirled her mount and galloped down to the far end of the field. Another elf
came out of the trees there, handing Brynn a bow and a quiver of arrows. Only
then did Aydrian notice that six targets—man sized and shaped and colored as if
they were wearing white flowing robes—had been placed along the opposite edge
of the field.
The young man chewed his lower lip in anticipation. He had
seen Brynn ride a few times, and truly she was a sight to behold, seeming as if
she were one with her steed, rider and mount of a single mind. He had never
seen her at work with the bow, but from what he had heard—or overheard, for he
had listened in on many of Dasslerond’s conversations with Juraviel concerning
the young woman—Brynn was spectacular.
It seemed to Aydrian, then, as if all the forest suddenly
went quiet; not a night bird calling or a cricket chirping, not a whisper of
the seemingly ever-present elf song. Even the many torches seemed
supernaturally quiet and still, a moment of the purest tension.
Only then did young Aydrian appreciate the gravity of the
night and the weight of his intrusion. This was no simple test for Brynn, he
realized. This was something beyond that, some essential proving, a critical
culmination, he suspected, of her training.
He had to consciously remind himself to breathe.
She saw the distant targets, mere silhouettes in the
torchlight and moonlight. It somewhat unnerved Brynn that the elves had chosen
to fashion these targets in the likeness of Behrenese yatols, the hated enemies
of the To-gai-ru, like her parents. Their resentment of the eastern kingdom’s
conquest of To-gai and of the yatols’ insinuation into every tradition, even
religion, of the nomadic To-gai-ru, had led to her parents’ murder. The yatols
served the Chezru chieftain, who ruled all Behren. He was, it was rumored, an
eternal being, an undiminished spirit who transferred from aged body to the
spirit of a soon-to-be-born Behrenese male child. Thus, the loyalists of To-gai
hated the present Chezru chieftain as much as his predecessor, who had sent his
armies swarming into To-gai.
The young ranger knew her duty to her homeland. And so,
apparently, did the elves!
She inspected her quiver—they had given her only eight arrows—and
Juraviel’s last words to her had been unequivocal: “One pass.”
Brynn pulled back on the bow, which had been fashioned of
darkfern by a prominent elven bowyer. Its draw was smooth and light, but Brynn
had no doubt that it could send the arrows flying with deadly speed and
She checked the arrows again; all were of good design and
strength, but one seemed exceptional. Brynn put this one to the bowstring.
“Are you ready, Diredusk?” she asked quietly, patting the
small stallion’s strong neck.
The horse neighed as if it understood, and Brynn smiled
despite her fears, taking some comfort in her trusted mount.
She took a deep breath, called to the horse again, and
touched her heels to Diredusk’s flanks, the stallion leaping away, thundering
across the field. She could have taken a slower approach, she knew, so that she
could get several shots away before having to make her first turn, but she let
her emotions guide her, her desire to do this to perfection, her need to
impress Lady Dasslerond and Juraviel and the others, her need to vent her anger
at the cursed Behrenese.
At full gallop, she let go her first shot, and the arrow
soared to thunk into one of the targets. A second was away even as the first
hit, with Brynn leaning low to the right of steady Diredusk’s neck; and then
the third whistled off as the second hit home.
Another hit, but to her horror, Brynn heard Juraviel cry out
that it was not a mortal wound.
She had to take up the reins then, bending Diredusk to the
right, but she dropped them almost immediately as the horse turned, set another
arrow to her bowstring, and let fly, scoring a second, and this time critical,
hit on the third target.
She had corrected her slight error, but Brynn had lost
valuable time and strides in the process. She grabbed the reins in the same
hand that held her bow and pulled forth an arrow with her other hand. She
turned Diredusk to the left, bringing the horse into a run parallel with the
line of targets, straight across the narrow width of the field.
Brynn threw her left leg over the horse, balancing
sidesaddle as she took aim and let fly.
The fourth target shook from the impact, and then the fifth,
just as Brynn started her second left turn, back the way she had come.
She heard Juraviel start to cry out—no doubt to remind her
that one remained alive—but the elf’s voice trailed away as Brynn executed a
maneuver she had been practicing in private, one that the To-gai-ru warriors
had long ago perfected. She stood straight on Diredusk’s left flank, with only
her left foot in a stirrup, and facing backward!
Off went her seventh arrow, and then her last, just in case.
She needn’t have worried, for the first shot struck the last
target right in the heart, and the second hit home less than an inch from the
Brynn rolled back over Diredusk’s back, settling easily into
her saddle and slinging her bow over one shoulder.
Her smile was brighter than the light of the full moon.
Up on the hillock, Aydrian lay with his mouth open and his eyes
growing dry, for he could hardly think to blink!
The younger ranger-in-training could not deny the beauty of
Brynn Dharielle, nor the beauty and grace and sheer skill of her accomplishment
this night. Whatever test the Touel’alfar might have intended for her, she had
surely passed, and well enough to draw admiration, even awe, from her strict
and uncompromising instructors. Aydrian could certainly appreciate that, would
even be thrilled to see the elves flustered by the human’s incredible talent.
But at the same time, young Aydrian wished that he had a
graphite gemstone in his possession that he might blow Diredusk right out from
under the heroic Brynn.
Excerpted from Ascendance by R. A. Salvatore Copyright
2001 by R. A. Salvatore. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of
Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.