Three thousand years of tradition torn asunder. When the truth comes out, will a hero emerge to pick up the pieces?
Dashira Eisenheart takes ultimate comfort in her community. So she’s thrilled when her brother ascends to the coveted order chosen to protect the world from safely sealed-away, millennia-old, dangerous magic. But her faith in her beloved parents’ loyalty cracks after she spies her mother sneaking about town to meet with the enemy.
Striving to stay focused on her own academic studies, Dashira becomes caught in family tensions that soon reach a boiling point. And as her father’s Brotherhood and her mother’s rebel group head toward a cataclysmic clash, the young seeker finds herself trapped by conflicting choices.
Will she face her fears and accept her role in a grand destiny?
Dream of the Sphere is the intricate first entry in the expansive The Sphere Saga epic fantasy series. If you like gargantuan conflicts, jaw-dropping twists, and deep explorations of humanity’s beliefs, you’ll love Jay S. Willis’s hard-hitting tale.
Enjoy the First Three Chapters of Dream of the Sphere:
WALKING THROUGH THE city of Kaharna at sunset was like strolling through a hazy amber dream.
The scent of roses from the Middle Garden District filled the air as Morlas Eisenheart led her children toward the heart of the city to Transfiguration Square and the Temple District, into her worst nightmare.
“It doesn’t hurt or anything, does it, Dash?” Gambor asked. He pointed a trembling stubby finger toward the top of the Sphere peeking through the tree line ahead like a sunset.
“Not exactly,” Dashira said, grabbing his tiny hand. “It tingles when you touch the Sphere, that’s all.”
He pouted, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m scared. I don’t want to do it.”
Three times his age, Dashira had always taken tremendous pride in being Gambor’s older sister. This was a day of high honor for the entire family: Gambor was now five, so today would be his first Transfiguration Day. Her babies had grown so fast.
“You’ll do it to honor the Sphere-blessed just like everybody else,” Dashira said, her tone a bit harsh.
Gambor trembled—the fear Morlas had struggled to help him abate for weeks bubbled to the surface.
“I don’t want to change colors and disappear!” Gambor cried, fat tears dripping down his chubby cheeks. “They can’t make me do it. Can they?”
Morlas stopped and reached for her son’s hand. Dashira knelt beside him.
“Five-year-olds don’t Ascend,” Morlas said.
Gambor sniffled and wiped his nose.
Dashira patted her brother on the cheek. “The Sphere-blessed only choose a few people per month to join them. They wouldn’t want you anyway, you smell too bad.”
Dashira’s gentle teasing didn’t help. Gambor cried louder.
“I’ll take care of it,” Morlas said, rubbing Gambor’s back as he sobbed, like she used to do when he was an infant. “No more, dear. Your father’s nervous about tonight. We don’t want to be late.” She picked up Gambor, kissed him on the cheek, then hurried off toward the Sphere once again.
“If we aren’t on time,” Dashira added, trying to be helpful, “they won’t add your name to the Book of the Ancestors. You want to go to the Spirit Lands someday, right?”
“Enough, Dashira,” Morlas said.
Dashira and her father shared a passionate faith in the Sphere-blessed. Hansha’s piety shone like a beacon, leading their family through some dark times. Morlas often found herself feeling alone in the shadows. Far north on a farm near Rockrise, her parents only talked about the Sphere-blessed on Transfiguration Day trips into the city. Preparing for a fanciful afterlife was never a priority growing up, like seeing to the needs of livestock and tending to sheep.
“We must be there for your father as well,” Morlas said. “You don’t want to miss seeing him preside over the ceremony for the first time, do you?”
Gambor shook his head. “We’re proud of him.”
“Yes, we are,” Morlas said. “Now, Dashira, favor us with the Transfiguration Day story. You like stories, Gambor.”
He nodded. At least the tears had stopped, and hopefully the story would keep it that way.
“Long ago,” Dashira said, pointing toward the Sphere as they continued their march, “The Great Mage War ended when The Three caused The Conflagration. The Sphere-blessed forged the Sphere to protect us all, and to prevent such an awful thing from ever happening again.”
Dashira continued paraphrasing the story of the founding of The Brotherhood of the Sphere from The Precepts: “The Spires of Eternity built around the Sphere channel the Sphere-blessed’s energy to sustain us.
“Every year on the anniversary of their births, people make a pilgrimage here, to Kaharna, for the nightly Transfiguration ceremony. Each year, beginning on your fifth birthday, you’ll do this, Gambor. The faithful all do. And it’s wonderful.”
Morlas stroked Gambor’s fine brown hair away from his eyes to check he’d calmed, before lowering him back down to walk beside her. “Remember everything we’ve talked about?” Morlas asked. He looked at her with a nod, wiping his remaining tears away.
“The Sphere-blessed love all of us,” she continued. “They have protected us and provided for us since The Conflagration. All they ask in return is our trust and devotion. Now, you’re old enough to show your love in return by participating in Transfiguration.” Morlas spoke the words she was supposed to share with her children, but those ideas had never sat well with her for reasons she couldn’t quite explain.
Gambor’s bottom lip quivered again. Her first instinct was to protect him no matter the cost. She could refuse to allow him to go, but with Hansha’s responsibilities in The Brotherhood, that wasn’t really an option. The priests could prohibit adding Gambor to the Book of Ancestors, which would disgrace their family and lead to financial ruin.
“Can you be a brave little man for me?” she asked, forcing a smile.
Gambor bowed his head for a moment before looking back up with a small spark of determination growing within him. He nodded. “I’ll be brave for you, Mama.”
Morlas kissed Gambor on the forehead. “Thank you. I’m very proud of you.” With Gambor between herself and Dashira, they all held hands as they continued moving toward the Sphere. Morlas wanted nothing more than to keep the boy safe, but one skittish lamb couldn’t be allowed to control the flock. So long as her lamb wasn’t given up for the slaughter and Ascended to become Sphere-blessed, everything would be fine.
DASHIRA CLUTCHED GAMBOR’S clammy hand as they followed Mother into Transfiguration Square. Anxiety pinched her brother’s face, making it all scrunchy; a wall of fear grew higher around him, brick by brick, the closer they came to the Sphere. Gambor’s eyes grew ever wider.
Both Dashira and Gambor craned their necks to stare at the four massive Spires of Eternity surrounding the Sphere. Mother barreled forward, leading them through hundreds, maybe thousands of people, her gauzy blue silk dress trailing behind like smoke.
Architecture fascinated Dashira. She knew from many readings of A History of Kaharna, the Spires of Eternity were ancient edifices constructed by long-forgotten methods, a perfect blend of steel and rare dark-marbled stone shipped in from the north. Thick in the middle and narrow at the base and top, each metallic tower, at least four times the height of any other building in the city, cut through the night like shimmering ocher daggers. Each Spire was a study in the impossible made manifest.
The Sphere adorned Transfiguration Square like a gargantuan golden pearl seated within an ornate jeweled setting. Mother led them to the base of the Sphere and presented Gambor to the nearest robed Brotherhood officiant, who accompanied him to the line of petitioners gathered below the dais.
Dashira followed Mother to an area reserved for family of participants in the nightly Transfiguration Ceremony. Father, adorned in his finest ceremonial robes, dark-blue wool trimmed in black velvet accents, stood at the podium centrally located beneath the Sphere, finishing preparations.
Dashira recognized Father was nervous about the ceremonies. Officiating for his son’s first Transfiguration Ceremony was not an honor every member of the priesthood enjoyed. His status within the priesthood would improve if he did well which meant her application to attend The Academy of Science and Technology might be approved quicker.
Even so, he didn’t deserve it. He always chose work over them. When she was little, it was the family factory, now The Brotherhood. Dashira’s cheeks heated. The Brotherhood was important, but it still hurt.
She refused to dishonor the Sphere-blessed with anger toward Father. “Forgive me,” she whispered to herself, looking at the Sphere.
Dashira focused on her brother as he stood in the golden magnificence beneath the rotating Sphere. She had never been this close to the Sphere during another person’s Transfiguration.
She hummed quietly to herself, matching the persistent droning of the Sphere, and her anger faded. She smiled as both awe and humility filled her.
Dashira marveled at the thick steel framework, four huge angled legs holding aloft the dais. The center of the platform was open, and the bottom of the Sphere, which mystically hovered and rotated above, peeked through, looking like an upside-down sunset.
Every night during Transfiguration, the spotlights around The Square intensified the illumination radiating from the Sphere. A tawny luminescence blanketed the city of Kaharna in a fine mist of gold, bringing life into vivid focus.
Tonight, the Sphere looming above her brother seemed different, its grandeur transformed into a menacing threat. Dashira’s stomach fluttered, and her mouth went dry. She grabbed Mother’s hand. Gambor wiped tears from his face; his little belly shook as he cried in fear. Even at a distance, Gambor’s terror infected her, spreading like a vicious disease.
Mother squeezed her hand and offered a forced smile. “He’ll be fine,” Mother said, sounding less than certain, her voice barely audible above the constant whirring of the Sphere’s rotation and the din of the observers.
Father’s voice rang out over the crowd, amplified by a small-geared device worn as a necklace under the collar of his vestment. His reading from The Precepts calmed Dashira. She shouldn’t have been so angry with him earlier. He had served the priesthood well, and he deserved recognition for that service.
She continued watching Gambor stand in line, the youngest of those waiting, so tiny and out of place amongst the group of petitioners. The enormous Sphere appeared as if at any time it might roll forward, crushing him.
The petitioners stepped up the ramp onto the dais. Gambor crept close to the Sphere near the front of the line.
Dashira closed her eyes. She prayed to the Sphere-blessed to protect her brother, only hearing snippets of Father’s incantation of the Transfiguration ritual.
“Woe unto those who think to act as did The Three, lest they also be cast out, never to enter The Spirit Lands,” Father said.
Mother’s grip on her hand tightened. Dashira sensed her Mother’s entire body tense, and she gasped as Mother squeezed her hand so tight it hurt.
Dashira opened her eyes as Gambor stepped onto the platform behind their father. Her brother stretched his small hand upward and touched The Sphere as the ceremony required.
A warm breeze swept through The Square, carrying a miasma of sweat, ozone, and anticipation. Bile rose in her throat.
The Sphere’s midair rotation accelerated. The motion-driven sibilation, which normally undulated, softly changed to a hard buzz that rose in pitch. The Sphere’s glow focused into a thin ray of intense light, pinpointed upon her brother’s chest. He collapsed as the amber brilliance bathed his now limp body, which floated into the air, much like a gnat caught in a web, drawn in by a giant spider.
Captivated and paralyzed with horror, Dashira gasped in unison with the crowd.
“No—no—no!” Mother bellowed as she raced forward, pushing people out of her way. But Gambor rose above the audience. Two Brotherhood officiants stepped in front of Mother and guided her back through the crowd away from the dais.
Unbidden tears streamed down Dashira’s cheeks, not because the Sphere-blessed had ordained her brother to join their ranks. Gambor’s expression broke her heart.
He didn’t struggle. Nor did he embrace what was happening. He had surrendered, but not in a good way. For Dashira, the sheer helplessness on her brother’s face in that moment became etched into her memory for all time. Her terror disappeared, replaced by utter despair. His head hung low, his ever-bright brown eyes remained open, and his arms hung flaccid at his sides.
Gambor rose over the crowd of onlookers, directly above where Dashira stood. The audience erupted with cheers, reveling in the anointing of a new Sphere-blessed. The Sphere would continue spinning and protecting them. Everyday life would continue another day.
Dashira stood in a daze staring above, her gaze affixed to her brother. The crowd continued their celebration around her. As the beam from the Sphere carried Gambor through the air, the quality of the ray modulated, appearing almost as a solid bar now, and Dashira sobbed as her brother’s skin sparkled and absorbed the light. Gambor glowed from within, emitting his own amber essence. His head turned, looking down, eyes locking with Dashira.
Her brother became almost too bright to gaze upon, and Dashira saw Gambor mouth two words: “Help me.”
In an intense flash of pure white energy, Gambor disappeared.
SITUATED IN THE CENTER of the house, the garden offered Morlas much needed sanctuary. She stared up through the apple tree at the nearly full moon and shuddered. Such a beautiful night, though a bit colder than usual this early in the Fall, and her baby was gone, taken from her like a lamb stolen by wolves in the night, never to return. Worst of all, despite his terror at participating in Transfiguration, she had allowed it to happen. In desperation, she clutched her head between her trembling hands, fingers entwined within curls of her long auburn hair. Her entire body shook as she sobbed.
Were the Sphere-blessed real? She had her doubts, and the answer had never really mattered in her life until now. She wiped tears away on the sleeve of her dress. Why would these revered holy ancestors see fit to take an innocent five-year-old boy from his family? It made little sense.
Her sorrow burned away as she contemplated such things, leaving behind a glowing ember of anger within her. The Sphere-blessed couldn’t be real. There had to be a way to find Gambor and bring him home. Such thoughts were blasphemous, yet she no longer cared.
She was a wary sheepdog on the prowl, searching for hidden predators after defending her flock from an attack. Hansha’s officiating at the ceremony was a coincidence, wasn’t it? Had he been involved somehow? Morlas didn’t want to contemplate such a possibility.
She steeled herself for the possibility her husband shared any blame for the loss of their child. If so, their relationship would never be the same. Hansha would help her find answers, wouldn’t he? Together, they would find a way to bring Gambor back.
She worried for Dashira as she paced around the stone-laden path surrounding the tree in the center of the garden. Her daughter was innocent. Morlas couldn’t allow her to become any more of a victim to the loss of her brother than she already was.
The girl was devastated. Dashira and Gambor were extremely close despite the difference in their ages. Morlas needed to make their family whole once more, though she wasn’t certain where to begin.
Morlas knelt in the nearest flowerbed, the cool damp dirt between her fingers soothed her as she dug in; pulling weeds helped her think. She needed to remain focused, driven toward action, targeted at ferreting out the reason her son was gone. She needed to find some way to get Gambor back, if such a thing were even possible.
No more tears, she thought, trying to hold her grief at bay, but she collapsed, crying, amongst the Silverbell.
HANSHA EISENHEART ADHERED to a deliberate, unhurried pace walking home to avoid displaying the rage seething within him.
“Damn woman … embarrassing …” he mumbled. The heavy wool robes of his station swished softly about him; he felt thankful for his hood, which masked his face from the people in the street, hiding his muttering and cursing.
In the rapturous moment of his own child’s Ascension to Sphere-blessed, his very own spouse had seen fit to disgrace the entire family by charging the platform, screeching, wailing like an animal.
He stopped, leaning against a building to catch his breath. Hansha couldn’t fathom what had possessed Morlas. She should have been on her knees giving thanks for the gracious gift bestowed upon them.
Hansha felt grateful his duties had required him to turn back to the Sphere to complete the ritual after Gambor Ascended.
“The Sphere-blessed will guide you, my friend,” a familiar voice called from behind him. Hansha turned to find High Prelate Sebastien shuffling toward him, his face was damp with sweat. The old priest had to have pushed himself to catch up.
“You can in no way be blamed for your spouse’s failure of faith, brother,” the High Prelate said. “We are only responsible for ourselves. She will answer to the Sphere-blessed and atone in her own time.”
Hansha took comfort in Sebastien’s counsel, but it didn’t change his disconcerting disgust for the way his wife had embarrassed the entire family.
“Ironically, she precipitated my calling to the priesthood,” Hansha said. “You remember that night five years ago, I’m sure.”
The High Prelate stopped and grasped Hansha’s shoulder with affection. “Indeed, I do.”
“I almost lost her during childbirth. I didn’t know where else to turn for guidance and strength. I would have fallen apart had it not been for the support of The Brotherhood of the Sphere.”
“The Sphere-blessed always look out for us,” Sebastien said.
“I’m still not proud I fled and left Dashira in the care of the midwife. The fear of losing my wife and son was too much to bear. I had to get away.”
Sebastien turned, pointing down the street. The glow of the Sphere shined on his mostly bald forehead. “They led you to the Sphere, into the eagerly waiting arms of the church, my friend. Be thankful. The presence of the Sphere-Blessed radiated about you, Hansha,” Sebastien said.
“Your words stuck with me,” Hansha said.
“You asked me how I knew,” Sebastien said.
Hansha nodded thoughtfully. “You said, ‘You know as well. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here at this time, at this place. The Sphere-blessed walk with us, always.’“
“Tonight is no different, brother,” the High Prelate said.
“Thank you,” Hansha said.
Sebastien smiled and turned back toward Transfiguration Square. “No need to thank me, brother. Keep to the light of the Sphere, and all will be well.”
Hansha nodded, then continued home with tears in his eyes.
Gambor was so pure and would become a much-needed beacon of light in the service of the Sphere. Hansha didn’t regret that he had suggested a child for Ascension to the Brotherhood when discussions of the need for an innovative and unique candidate arose. He never dreamed his boy would be the one chosen. It was such an honor. If only Morlas shared his conviction.
Hansha feared a confrontation when he arrived home. Morlas was never entirely happy about his choices regarding the priesthood. She had always preferred he continue working with his father in the family Foundry. She would view this event as a curse or a sacrifice much too large to bear, instead of what it was in truth: the greatest blessing one could receive.
Hansha had no idea how Morlas had so lost her faith. Perhaps she had never believed in the Sphere-blessed. His anger dissolved into sadness and pity the remainder of the way home. Sphere-blessed help him; he would leave everything in their hands.
Seeds of Hope
AS SHE DRESSED for school in her room, Dashira cringed. She didn’t want to hear her parents fighting, but there was little choice. They had bickered constantly since Gambor’s Ascension.
Mother’s voice carried through the house. “I don’t care what High Prelate Sebastien thinks!”
“You should!” Father shouted back. “He was kind and understanding, but your behavior embarrassed our family.”
“You’ve always cared more about the church than about our family,” Mother said.
“After I left the Foundry to join the Brotherhood, our lives improved,” Father said.
“All coincidence!” Mother yelled back. “You see what you want to see.”
Dashira wanted nothing more than to eat breakfast and escape, but she paused outside Gambor’s room on her way to wash her face. His room remained quiet, the emptiness of it spilled into the hallway, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She grabbed the door and slid it closed, but the absence of her brother still made the entire house feel different.
During breakfast, Mother and Father ignored one another. Dashira focused on the sweetness of the apple and the warming saltiness of the bread and butter she ate as a distraction. The silence was uncomfortable, but Dashira soon longed for it.
While cleaning up the dishes, their bickering started again. The cast-iron stove next to Dashira still radiated warmth and seemed to get hotter as the argument progressed.
Mother threw the first volley, launching another attack in their ongoing battle. “Will there be any five-year-olds Ascending tonight?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Father replied. “But if there are, I’m sure their families will be grateful, follow The Precepts, and act appropriately.”
“Just admit you asked to give up Gambor, and we’ll move on!” Mother slammed the white ceramic plate in her hand against the sink, shattering it.
Dashira screamed and her hands shook.
Father didn’t even flinch; he glared hard at Mother, his eyes burning with anger. “The Sphere-blessed render choices beyond our understanding, but they always care for us.” His words came out as a forced whisper.
“Don’t you dare quote scripture at me,” Mother commanded, pointing her finger.
Their tone frightened Dashira. She needed to get away and fled to the back of the house. The family shrine was the farthest point from the kitchen. She shut the door and found blessed silence.
The sweet fragrance of Silverbell, Gambor’s favorite flower, brightened the air in the small shrine, comforting Dashira. Rays of sunlight burst through the single window in the room, illuminating the small stone altar. She felt close to him in this place.
Despite the austere details in the shrine, Dashira perceived the presence of her ancestors, all their names etched onto stone tablets and metal plates. Gambor deserved more, and Dashira made it her mission to honor him by forging a totem for him. Her parents ignored the Ritual of Mourning altogether, but she refused to do so and wanted a way to feel connected to Gambor.
For a week, in the evenings after school, she pilfered her brother’s room to gather appropriate materials.
Eyes closed, Dashira sat in the shrine, enjoying a moment of silence in a desperate attempt to wash away the memory of the look in Gambor’s eyes during his Ascension with pleasant memories of their time together.
“Everything alright?” Mother asked.
Dashira jumped with a squeak.
Mother laughed from the doorway. “Sorry.”
“Just like sitting in here sometimes.” Dashira shrugged with embarrassment.
“And it helps?” Mother asked, remaining at the threshold. “Can’t quite bring myself to step foot in there.”
An uncomfortable silence shrouded them for what seemed like a long time. “What’s in your hand?” Mother whispered.
“Gambor’s favorite toy Shield of the Light soldier. I’m putting together a totem for him in the shrine.”
“Who gave you permission to take his things?” Mother asked, an edge to her voice usually reserved for Father of late.
“I wasn’t aware I needed permission.”
Mother started to take a step forward, then stopped herself. “Put it back, please. Leave his things alone. I don’t want his room disturbed. He’ll be back eventually, and everything should remain where he left it.”
Dashira stomped past Mother, replaced the soldier on the desk, then stood, refusing to budge. Her ears reddened as anger welled within her. “Sphere-blessed don’t return, Mother. You’re delusional.” She wanted to say so much more but stopped.
Without another word, Mother turned and left the doorway.
Dashira exhaled, not realizing she’d been holding her breath. She closed the door to her brother’s room as she returned to the shrine.
Mother hadn’t told her to return anything else to Gambor’s room, and Dashira had no intention of doing so. On that point, she would have put up a fight.
She added all of her sibling’s favorite things into his memorial: a moss-covered rock from the garden, the tarnished metal whistle he had loved to torment her with, his baby blanket.
OVER TIME, HER parents took to ignoring one another. Silence became the norm, preferable to the fighting. Dashira wondered whether the storm had blown past.
Sadly, Dashira now only saw her parents separately, if at all. Mother avoided her and seemed ashamed of her outburst in Gambor’s room, but she never mentioned the totem again. Father stopped in the shrine often, but offered no consolation.
“Family shrines have been an important part of our lives since the dark years after The Conflagration,” Father explained as they sat together before the ancestor totems. “During the founding of the Brotherhood, revering the Sphere-blessed and all our ancestors gave the survivors a foundation upon which to rebuild our society.”
As she listened, Dashira stared at the gold plaque listing the two other Sphere-blessed ancestors in their family from centuries past. Gambor’s name belonged there, but Mother had refused any discussion of such a thing.
“Contemplation of the ancestors, and communing with Gambor is important,” Father continued. “We’re all fortunate to have a member of our own family as one of the Sphere-blessed. Your brother needs our reverence as much as we need his love and protection.”
Father prayed with her there often, which meant a lot to her, and made her feel much better.
Dashira contemplated things her father said as she grappled with her own faith. The feeling of peace that constructing Gambor’s totem had given her resolved most of the doubts borne from his Ascension, though that terror in his eyes still haunted her. She wasn’t certain if that wound would ever heal, but she needed to allow the Sphere-blessed a chance.
She also considered her mother’s perspective. Mother was distraught, which Dashira understood, but her lack of faith bothered Dashira.
One morning, Father broke the silence. “Please Morlas, join us in the shrine for prayer. Pray for Gambor. He still needs us. We also need to pray to our son for guidance and strength only he can offer.”
Mother remained silent for a moment. Dashira cringed at the eruption she feared would follow.
Mother whispered, “Don’t either of you ever ask me to enter that place again.”
Dashira chilled at her tone; she would have preferred Mother shout.
“He’s our son. You should be proud!” Father said, his volume increasing with each word. “Your reaction is unreasonable and embarrassing, Morlas.”
Mother’s face flushed and she scowled. “Sphere-blessed forbid I should embarrass you any further, Hansha. You care more for your precious reputation in the Brotherhood than you do about our son being gone.”
Father growled in frustration. “Forget about me, at least honor the boy,” he waved his hands in the air. “It’s time we engraved the golden remembrance plaque with Gambor’s name.”
“Do so, and you make a choice,” Mother said, her voice cold as the metal of the Sphere on a winter’s morning. “You put my child’s name on that Three-damned thing, and I’ll leave this house for good.”
Their words were like daggers thrown across the room at one another, but they missed and struck Dashira in the heart, leaving her frightened and lonely. The Brotherhood didn’t look kindly upon broken families. Dashira’s application to the Academy of Science and Technology remained pending. Though it was selfish, she feared for her own future if word of these squabbles between her parents became public knowledge.
Sitting cross-legged in the shrine, Dashira fondly rubbed the tattered corner of Gambor’s blanket draped over the edge of a stone. She was at a loss as to what was right anymore. Her entire world had become utter turmoil.
Her family was always devout in their adoration of the Sphere-blessed and their ancestors, or so she thought. Now, that faith tore them apart. Dashira’s faith remained a lifeline she clung to, like a rope thrown to a drowning woman in a river of rapids. She missed Gambor terribly, but deep in her heart she knew the Sphere-blessed had their reasons. It was simply not her place to question such divine decisions.
HER PARENTS STILL barely spoke, but they eventually became civil, at least. Over time, the tension in the household lessened. Dashira wondered if seeds of hope might bear fruit and restoration of their life as a family might become a possibility. She prayed to the Sphere-blessed in Gambor’s name that night to make it so.
Then a cold chill crept from her head down her spine as she recalled her confrontation with Mother in her brother’s room.
Why would Mother think Gambor would ever come back to them?
HANSHA STARED AT the list of ancestors etched into the metal tablets within the family shrine; his eyes and jaw tightened from rage simmering just below the surface, like a teakettle about to boil. He fixated upon the gold tablet in the center of the shrine where Gambor’s name belonged with the two other ancient Sphere-blessed ancestors from their family.
Gambor had Ascended three months ago. It was time to move on with life, but Morlas refused.
He spent more time at the Temple of Light each day, often finding reasons to avoid going home. He worried about his daughter. She struggled over her brother becoming Sphere-blessed. Yet she remained faithful, despite her mother’s poor example. While home, he talked with Dashira about her studies, and they prayed together often.
Life had been rough after Gambor’s Ascension, but things improved a bit each day now. He and Morlas had reached an understanding in their relationship. It may never be what it once was, but simple tolerance of one another was good enough for now, he thought.
Hansha closed his eyes in prayer. “Sphere-blessed, watch over me this morning as I meet with High Prelate Sebastien.” Not knowing the subject of the meeting, Hansha dared hope upward movement within the priesthood could be a possibility.
He stood, kissed his fingers, and touched them to his son’s soft blanket, then to the gold roll of ancestors.
All his recent success had been thanks to the boy. Gambor’s notoriety and popularity as Sphere-blessed had grown. He was the youngest ever chosen. Multitudes throughout the population prayed to Gambor. People believed one so young and pure surely possessed great light and power. This, of course, made Hansha’s rise in rank much swifter than normal. An early morning talk with Sebastien was unusual, but Hansha had a good feeling about it.
He quietly left the shrine, paused, and slid Dashira’s door open a crack to steal a glance at his daughter. Though she was a young woman now, she was still his little girl. He enjoyed watching her sleep. Dashira shared her mother’s smooth milky complexion and thin frame, but her height and fine straight dark hair she had inherited from his side of the family.
They had not always been close. For the past five years they had often been at odds. Hansha felt ashamed to admit it, but he recognized a creeping jealousy within himself at the close relationship Dashira shared with her brother and mother. Things with Dashira had improved thanks to Gambor’s Ascension.
Hansha closed Dashira’s door, crossed the narrow hallway, quietly and reverently into Gambor’s room. He sat on the bed. The room had been left mostly untouched since the boy’s Ascension. To him, this room was an extension of the family shrine, one particularly devoted only to his son.
Gambor’s toy chest still brimmed full of various wooden soldiers, stuffed animals, balls, and building blocks. On his artfully arranged desk, a pencil remained on a stack of parchment with the top sheet half full of carefully scrawled letters.
Hansha had suffered pangs of guilt because he knew he had had at least some small part in recommending his own son to become Sphere-blessed. He quickly abandoned such narrow-minded thoughts.
After a brisk trip crossing the Garden Districts into the Temple District to the Temple of the Light, Hansha found High Prelate Sebastien waiting on the white marble steps of the entrance.
“Blessed morning,” Sebastien said.
Hansha fell into step with the High Prelate as he ambled away from the Temple of the Light. “Blessed morning to you, High Prelate.”
Sebastien nodded south in the direction of the Sphere and the nearest Spire of Eternity. “I’d like to share something with you, Hansha. Hope you don’t mind a morning stroll.”
“Of course not,” Hansha said.
Toward the Spire, Sebastien walked, both arms behind his back, with a broad smile. “First, I’d like to share the break of a wonderful new day with you.”
Sebastien led Hansha to the northern edge of Transfiguration Square, stopping just short of the North Gate where the dark crushed rock pavement met the intricate colorful inlaid tilework. The horizon to the south faded from the dark violet of night into a swirl of purple and orange, bleeding light into the sky above the Sphere.
Sebastien pointed to the Sphere. “Perfect timing. Behold the beauty of another day given us by the Sphere-blessed.”
They stood in reverent silence as the Sphere seemed to give birth to the sun. At this precise angle, it was a remarkable sight.
The sun crested the Sphere and Sebastien pointed toward the base and dais where they performed Transfiguration ceremonies. “Now that we’ve indulged ourselves partaking in such wonder, on to business. What do you see, Hansha?”
In his distraction by the magnificent sunrise, Hansha had failed to notice the dozens of worshippers kneeling in prayer at the base of the Sphere, even at this early hour.
The High Prelate patted Hansha on the back. “Gambor’s Ascension energized the populace. Since that night, a steady congregation of followers has grown into this daily gathering.”
Sebastien shambled forward, motioning Hansha to follow.
The worshippers rose from their prayers, faces full of contentment.
Sebastien stopped and turned to Hansha. “The impact throughout the entire city of Kaharna and beyond has been quite positive. Gambor is the fuel of a radiant fire heating the crucible of spiritual satisfaction.”
A woman in her middle years, wearing a tattered skirt, approached, holding the hand of a dirty-faced child with ratty, long, dishwater blonde hair, only slightly older than Gambor. She smiled when she noticed Sebastien. “Blessed morning, High Prelate.”
“Blessed morning to you both,” the High Prelate bowed. “Can you spare a moment, children?”
“For you, of course,” the woman said.
Sebastien grabbed Hansha’s forearm. “May I introduce Hansha Eisenheart? He’s the father of Gambor, the boy who Ascended three months ago.”
Both the woman and her daughter’s eyes went wide. The woman approached Hansha and embraced him. “Thank you so much for your son,” she said. “Our lives have turned around since he Ascended. He means the world to us.”
Hansha was taken aback.
Sebastien stepped forward. “Might I ask how Gambor has helped you?”
The woman nodded toward her daughter. “Kimli suffered from the Quaking Fever for a month. I brought her here to watch the Transfiguration that night, and the very next day the sickness was gone. I’ve been able to get back to work. We come to pray here at sunrise every day we can make it.”
Hansha fought back tears of joy. He patted the child on the head. “Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad my son’s watching out for you.”
Moments later, The Square cleared, leaving Hansha and the High Prelate standing alone. “I’ve not seen anything like it,” Sebastien said. “Gambor has his own following. They all have comparable stories, and the numbers attending Transfiguration rituals, both as participants and observers, has increased.”
Sebastien led Hansha out of The Square around the Spire of Eternity nearest them into the Theatre District. All the establishments along the Boulevard of Broken Dreams were closed this early in the day, and the streets were quiet.
“You’ve made an enormous difference, Hansha,” Sebastien said. “It was your suggestion to infuse the Sphere-blessed with one as young as Gambor. Brilliant. People are more interested in the Sphere. For whatever reason, they feel the touch of the Sphere-blessed in a more personal way than ever before.”
Hansha followed in silence. An unexpected crowd of people milled in front of one of the halls down the street. They approached The Limelight, a newer two-story theatre with a red brick façade, through the mass assembled outside. Most of those on the street looked haggard and worn by life.
“Follow me. You must see this,” Sebastien said.
The High Prelate led Hansha into The Limelight to find an auditorium full of people eating a hearty breakfast of fruit, milk, and freshly baked biscuits, which smelled like a happy family morning, reminding him of his childhood. A line of costumed actors handed out food on the stage where they performed nightly. Two musicians played dueling fiddles filling the hall with an upbeat tune, and one of the actors handed them both a lush green pear with a smile.
Munching on the fruit, Hansha licked the sweet juice from his hand as Sebastien stopped at the last row in the establishment. “Impromptu food pantries like this began appearing the day after Gambor’s Ascension,” Sebastien said. “Charitable donations to the church and volunteers have increased. Both the financial and philanthropic impact of the recent religious fervor in the city has been beneficial for everyone. All the merchants in Kaharna are enjoying increased sales due to the influx of people traveling to the city from the outlying districts.”
Hansha saw the joyful interaction between the hungry less fortunate who could never afford to patronize a place such as The Limelight, and the seasoned performers with a sense of pride. “Thank you for sharing all this,” he said. “I’m humbled to think Gambor and I have had any part in all this, but why are you telling me all this?”
Sebastien grinned. “I would like to raise you to be one of my Prelates of the Light. It’s only fitting, and well-deserved. It’s time for Prelate Kihnton to step down.”
Hansha fought back tears of joy and pride. “I’m speechless.”
The High Prelate laughed. “You only need say, ‘yes.’“
“Yes, of course,” Hansha said.
He would now be a priest of higher rank than he ever thought possible. Upon joining the Brotherhood, Hansha’s original aspiration was to one day become a member of the Circle of Nine, responsible for administering the daily Transfiguration rituals. This promotion placed him far above even the Circle.
Sebastien turned and motioned Hansha to follow. They left The Limelight and made their way back toward the Temple District.
“It’s going to be a great responsibility,” Sebastien said. “I’d like to entrust you with the finances of the Brotherhood, Hansha.”
As a Prelate of the Light, Hansha would be privy to detailed information about the inner workings of the Brotherhood, including sensitive issues pertaining to fiscal stability. He had managed the finances of the family business for most of his adult life. Finance minister for the Brotherhood was a tremendous responsibility, but Hansha felt confident he was up to the task. “I won’t let you down.”
Hansha beamed with pride when he left Sebastien at the Temple of the Light. In time, he could be elevated into the ranks of the Brotherhood of the Spires.
Hansha stopped and lowered his eyes in shame. One didn’t dare dream of becoming one of the mysterious Spirelords. To believe he could ever do so was the height of arrogance, which was simply unacceptable.
He turned to face the Sphere. Hansha whispered a prayer, “Forgive me, son. I know you’re making all this possible, and I simply want to continue doing my best for you and the people.”
Another thought struck him. How will Morlas react? He hoped this career advancement wouldn’t unravel the fragile tapestry of stability at home, for Dashira’s sake, if nothing else.
RESTLESS AND LOST, doubt plagued Morlas. Three months, and she still had no leads where to start her crusade to get Gambor back, if such a thing were even possible, though not for lack of trying. Asking greasy-haired bar owners in the seedier part of the Tavern District if they knew anyone able to break into the Spires of Eternity had only garnered laughs. In the Warehouse District, she had asked dockworkers if they knew anybody willing to help her find a lost child. More than once, she was told to “Piss off,” and she had no idea what that even meant.
She had no regrets about staying home to care for her children once she and Gambor had recovered from their sickness after his birth. At times though, she believed not working outside the home had dulled her senses.
Hansha had left before dawn for some reason and Dashira was at school. I’ll not give up, she thought. Morlas left the house to continue her quest for information anew.
She refused to indulge herself a leisurely walk through the Garden District’s meandering wooded paths. The flowers and trees reminded her of the farmlands far to the north where she had grown up in Rockrise.
No time for reminiscing or relaxing now.
Skirting Transfiguration Square to the south to avoid walking under the Sphere’s shadow Morlas headed over to the Market District. She needed to start somewhere, and listening to the myriad conversations among the merchants was as good a place as any to begin.
Action invigorated her. Morlas examined the selection of fresh meats inside Sammil the Butcher’s brick and mortar shop. Sammil was deep in conversation with an older woman with stringy gray hair. The old woman carried a gnarled oak walking stick, and her homespun dress looked as if it hadn’t been washed in weeks.
Morlas had no reason to believe Sammil would have any involvement in anything as blasphemous as attempting to rescue a Sphere-blessed. However, something about the old woman struck her as wrong.
Despite her filthy clothing, the old woman had well- manicured fingernails and her shoes, though worn, were professionally stitched leather with no signs of repair. She also carried a bulky rucksack on her back that appeared much too heavy for her.
The old woman removed a bundle the length of her arm wrapped in fleece, tied together with two lengths of thin rope, and handed it to the butcher. “Namdar will be in touch soon to pick this up. Thank you, Sammil.”
The old woman scooted past Morlas out the door.
Sammil wiped his hands on a clean white linen towel. “Can I help ya?”
Morlas monitored the old woman walk away into the marketplace. “I’ll have three of the lamb chops. I’ll pick them up in a bit.”
“Will have ‘em ready for ya,” the butcher said.
Morlas ran out the door, frantically scanning the crowd. The old woman was talking to Wandas the Egg Seller. Pushing her way through the bustling crowd, Morlas kept a safe distance, but watched the old woman remove another parcel, leaving it with the Egg Seller.
A rush of excitement filled Morlas as she tailed the old woman to the edge of the Market District. The sack carried by the woman hung limply off her shoulder now. Morlas couldn’t be certain if she were on to some covert courier activity, or if it were her imagination, but the thrill of the chase exhilarated her.
Morlas stopped to stare up at the Spire of Eternity on the Garden District side of The Square from a wrought-iron bench in the shade. She kept her distance, but continued spying on her quarry. Sight of the Spire distracted her. Silly though it may be, Morlas focused her anger and hatred into the Spire. She was sorely tempted to charge into the place and demand to retrieve her son. A foolish notion for innumerable reasons, the least of which was not knowing to which of the four Spires Gambor had been assigned.
She shook herself from such ideas to realize she’d lost sight of the mysterious courier. Morlas looked up and down the thoroughfare. She felt like a shepherd who’d lost track of the wolf scouting his flock.
A smooth, deep feminine voice startled Morlas from behind, “You’re not very good at this game.”
Morlas turned sharply around to find the old courier standing behind her. The woman jumped around the bench in a spry move that unsettled Morlas. Up close, the woman wasn’t old. Meticulous makeup and powdering of her hair gave the courier an older appearance.
The courier sat on the bench next to Morlas. “Don’t make a scene. We’re just having a conversation.”
The thrill of the chase vanished, replaced by a mounting sense of fear. “What do you want?”
“The same thing you want— my son back.”
Morlas sensed she was now the hunted. Her heart raced, her mouth went dry. “How do you know anything about my son?”
The strange woman laughed. “Honey, asking dumb questions around town gets you noticed, and you still wear that haunted desperate look of a woman that’s lost a child. I saw that look in the mirror for far too long not to recognize it on another face.”
Morlas didn’t know how to respond.
“The Sphere will be broken,” the stranger said, “and those in the Spires will be free in time. Don’t seek us out. We’ll find you when you’re ready.”
Desperation suppressed her fear. “How will I know?”
The strange woman stood and straightened her dress. “Make amends with your husband, then you’ll have something to offer us, and we’ll find you.” The stranger walked off without looking back.
HANSHA CROSSED THE street into the gateway marking the Middle Garden District. Morlas was ahead of him, walking home carrying parcels from the market. It was much later in the day than usual for her to be shopping, and they didn’t really need anything today. He quickly pushed the thought out of his mind and quickened his pace to catch up to her.
“Morlas!” he called ahead. “I’d be happy to help carry.”
She stopped, turned, and when she saw it was Hansha, she smiled.
That hasn’t happened for a while, he thought.
“Thank you.” She waited for him to catch up. “Though it’s only a few lamb chops and some fresh vegetables. I was in the mood.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Hansha said. “We can celebrate.” He figured he may as well break his news now. He took the meat from her, and they continued walking toward home.
“What are we celebrating?”
Hansha swallowed hard before replying. “I had a discussion with the High Prelate. He is promoting me to Prelate of the Light.”
Morlas turned to look at him as they walked. Her eyes blazed with a flash of ice for a fleeting moment, but she smiled at him again. “That’s wonderful. Congratulations.” She stopped and embraced him.
Her reaction was the opposite of Hansha’s expectations. His eyes narrowed, but he forced the questions away. “There’s going to be a ceremony tomorrow prior to Transfiguration.”
They resumed walking.
“Dashira and I will be there,” Morlas said.
They walked the rest of the way home in silence. Hansha was skeptical, but he couldn’t dispute matters did seem to be improving with Morlas. There was hope for a return to a normal life with his wife. The Sphere-blessed would want that; Gambor would want that. He resolved to pick a few roses on his way home tomorrow. A few pricks from the thorns would be worth it if he could make amends with Morlas.