When the Sky Falls, We Run
The longer Tarja was on the Caspedile Road, the more livid she became. In her mind’s eye, she saw only the face of that black knight. So twisted, so cruel, so driven—yet something about it plucked the most sympathetic of her heartstrings. In that man’s face, she saw a particular reluctance that was being smothered by a vicious hate. That man had wanted to save himself.
And then she turned her flared thoughts to that dark hawk she saw in the sky. She remembered how clearly she could see its ruddy feathers etched faintly against the ethereal night sky. Tarja threw a disparaging leer at Artturi.
He caught notice immediately.
“What?” he asked almost nonchalantly.
“You know perfectly well,” she said in a voice that was chillingly dark. The frigidity in her stare reinforced that.
“What did I do?” Artturi now asked seriously.
“Two years ago, when that black armored man came out of nowhere and took me… You didn’t do anything. Why?”
Just then, Artturi looked around, noting Elinan. She was a goodly way behind them, and she was distracted with the landscape. Inconspicuously, he motioned for Tarja to ride out a little bit farther.
“I had to make sure she couldn’t hear,” he explained. “Now, the reason I couldn’t help you…was not my own.”
“What?” she whispered, enraged.
“I swear it!” he said in an oath-like manner. “I was told to just watch.”
“By who?” Tarja asked in a dreadfully quiet voice.
“You won’t believe this.” Artturi looked all around, as if taking in the sounds, the images, the sky—everything. He was particularly looking at the forest they were nearing ever so closer. “It was Tullamatti,” he said finally.
Tarja’s face became austerely pale; her lavender-blue eyes void. Artturi watched her arms go limp and dangle, and the horse reins became slack.
“You’re not joking?” she half-whimpered. The grim nod of his head assured that. “Why did she ask that?” Tarja asked next. She was afraid of his next answer.
“You’ll have to ask her,” Artturi replied, now taking his voice back to its regular level. He cast his gaze forward into the dark forest in front of him—as if he was probing the place with his mind. It made a sharp whistling noise that only he and Tarja could hear. She even had to cover her ears—she had not heard that noise is so long.
“What was that?” Elinan asked absentmindedly, scratching at her head.
Slowly, the sibling sorcerers turned at looked at her, and then at each other.
“What did you say?” Artturi half-stammered.
“I asked what that noise was,” she repeated. “You know—” And then she echoed the sharp whistling noise exactly. It made Tarja and Artturi cast an even more shocked glance at one another.
“Do we tell her?” Artturi asked Tarja telepathically.
“See, there it is again!” Elinan piped out. “It’s beginning to bother me.”
“We’ll have to,” she replied with her speaking voice. She reined her horse in beside Elinan’s and gave her friend a hard, steady look. Elinan returned the look with one that clearly longed an explanation.
“That sound you heard was…” Tarja started, but began to falter. “It…was the sound of sorcery happening.”
“You mean sorcery has a sound?” Elinan gasped.
“Much like the sounds of birds,” Artturi supplied; “as much real as the sound of rivers rushing and so on.”
“Since sorcery was being used, you heard the sound of it,” Tarja said next.
“Does that mean everyone else can hear it?”
“No,” Artturi replied. “Only people with the gift of sorcery or another kind of special power.”
“Special power?” Elinan put a forefinger to her stuck-out lower lip, absently swinging her legs. Her horse whinnied its aggravation, but she negligently brushed its ear.
“You know,” Tarja said. “Magic, sorcery, wizardry and divination.”
“You mean those things are different?”
“Yes,” Artturi cut in. “Didn’t you know? Essentially, all of those practices are from a different branch of physics, one that the world doesn’t commonly like to believe. Teaching sorcery, magic or wizardry is illegal everywhere in the world.”
“How about divination?” Elinan asked.
“Divination?” Tarja said now, a sardonic smile dancing on her lips. “Only the people of Khh’onta know divination, and you can trust them to never let anyone know how it’s done.”
That one last word hung stilly in the wintry midday air. It became like a fly buzzing madly around honey.
“So I should know, then?” Elinan asked next just as they were at the gaping mouth of the forest. It yawned widely; a white void of bright snow and dead trees. White razors of wind fluttered lazily about the limbs, accentuating the cold of the air.
“You’re Khontic?” Artturi asked her, riding into the yawning opening. Elinan nodded in reply. “Very odd,” he said next. “Usually I recognize a Khontic woman when I see one. Your name isn’t all that Khontic either.”
“It isn’t,” she said. “It’s actually Erinann, but we can’t exactly discern between R’s and L’s.” She cast a quick winsome smile at Artturi. “So it goes either way.”
“Yes, I know,” Artturi said now, his face taking on that flirtatious manner Tarja had come to hate over her years. The way he looked at her—and what she knew he was probably thinking—made her absolutely enraged.
“You disgust me,” she half-shouted aloud. Artturi shifted his gaze to her.
“Why sister dearest,” he chuckled huskily. “Surely you aren’t thinking that that’s what I’m thinking.” She did not answer; instead digging her heels into her horse. The great white beast kicked up small flurries of glimmering white snow as it galloped between the leafless trees.
“What was that about?” Elinan muttered, leaning forward in her saddle to find her friend. Tarja was already well into the distance, kicking up whole windrows of bitter snow behind her. Elinan followed suit, just as Artturi was leaning in closer to her to say something else.
“Women!” Artturi exclaimed, exasperated. With an overtly florid sweep of his tunic, he dug his heels into his horse and it surged forward after them into the white abyss of the forest.
Garril wandered aimlessly about Van Mara’s streets. More than once, he had seen this one magnificently made mansion. Just the rest of Van Mara, it was covered in a glimmering vest of white marble. This mansion was decidedly opulent, using the least of decorations to bring out the most of its beauty. Right next to it was a large domed structure. Both of those had torches spurting fires of different-colored fire. How they did that was beyond Garril’s comprehension.
He had since left Rhylor and Solnel to go around the town. They had asked him if he too wanted to go around, apparently to view the famed beauties of Van Mara. He declined after Ardray had rather strongly suggested that he was more than respectable enough not to. Thus, he went somewhere else, sighing and metaphorically kicking himself the whole way.
It had since occurred to him that his church robes were drawing more than the unwanted leers of passersby. Garril had even gone into a tailor’s and told him that he was being hunted by anti-religious fanatics and he would surely be killed if he was seen in that attire. He essentially fed the tailor a disgusting but clever lie—and the result of it was that he got a perfectly fitted white doublet and black hose of no charge. It was slashed of a low quality fabric, but it would do.
He rejoined Vankesa and Rhylor some hours later. The former was leaned casually against a tavern wall—while Rhylor was hunched over in a foul-smelling mess.
“What happened?” Garril asked as he approached.
“Where did you get that?” Vankesa interrupted him, pointing at Garril’s newly made new clothes.
“I went to a tailor’s,” he replied, smiling. “I told him a few things and one thing led to another and…” He made a vague gesture toward himself with one hand.
“So you basically fed him a lie,” Vankesa concluded, to which Garril nodded with some shame. “My boy,” he chuckled. “You are well on your way.” Garril gave him a confused, yet coy smile as an unsure thanks.
“Now, what happened to him?” he asked now, jerking a thumb to Rhylor.
“Poison!” Rhylor then gasped suddenly. “Foulest poison from the hand of man!”
“He’s been talking like that for a while now,” Vankesa sighed. “It’s really beginning to irritate me. Make him stop.”
“Silence thy tongue,” Rhylor growled lowly. “It was thou who fed me that rueful brew, and henceforth should I talk in this tongue of forefathers past, be ruled by the memory of this decision thou hast made.”
“What did he say?” Garril asked, laughing only slightly.
“How should I know?” Vankesa snapped. He rapped his knuckles on the side of Rhylor’s head. “And you, my friend,” he chuckled darkly; “should not drink so much anymore.” Rhylor only replied with a guttural groan.
Perhaps an hour pass after that, and the three of them caught up with Ardray and Solnel. It looked as if they had been running for quite a while, as they were panting and sweating profusely. When Garril tried to ask them what was going on, they both babbled incoherently, interrupting what the other had to say.
“All right,” Solnel started finally; “there was a large crowd—”
“Of Gerodathians!” Ardray cut in. “They were nobles too.”
“Yes, they were nobles. Anyway, they came in here with a huge fanfare like they were introducing somebody important.”
“And they did! They had King Dacak on this immense throne. Duke La Kai and a group of people in chains were right next to him too.”
“Slaves,” Rhylor observed distastefully, swallowing a lump in his throat.
“Yes, slaves,” Solnel continued. “There were a few other people with them too. There was Duchess Threang and her knights; there was Duke Teles…”
“Duke Teles…” Garril mused somewhat bitterly. “That man gives me a strange feeling. Like he wants something from me and he’ll do anything to get it.”
“He does, doesn’t he,” Ardray said. “Yes, and right beside him was a man in black armor. Totally black armor! He looked like he came from Hell. He had this massive sword…” Ardray stopped; her lower lip began to quiver. Everybody gave her a curious look, urging her to continue. She sighed morosely. “Well, that sword,” she continued; “it gave me a very strange feeling. Like…it was alive, or something to that effect.”
“Alive?” Vankesa echoed. “How can a sword be alive?”
“I don’t know! That’s sort of what I felt of it. Like there was something it wanted. And not only that. It sort of talked to me too.”
“Now that is madman’s talk,” Vankesa snorted. “It’s a sword! Swords do not talk.”
“It’s nothing like that!” Ardray half-shouted. Her eyes were now next to brimming with tears. Shamelessly, an errant tear glided down her cheek. “It…was talking to my mind. It was like it was putting its words into my mind.”
“You didn’t tell me this,” Solnel remarked, his eyebrows going flat. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I was afraid,” she admitted. “I was afraid it would hurt me if I told anyone. Anyway…it told me that…it hated me more than anything. And that…it would kill me if I got in its way.”
A mutual silence prevailed in the air then, broken only by Ardray’s unabashed weeping. It was the dim afternoon sunlight that made dark shadows play across her dark face, giving her a look that, more than anything, was somber.
Garril reached over and touched her shoulder lightly.
“You’ll be all right, don’t worry,” he told her rather calmly. That led to her looking up at him with genuine innocence in her usually hard eyes; imploring. And then an unusual aloofness came about them. That was not common of her to look that way.
“So,” Vankesa said after a deprecating awkwardness; “where are we supposed to sleep tonight?”
“Don’t worry about it!” Ryhlor said with that customary smile of his. It seemed to make the light come back to Ardray’s eyes; Garril noted that. “I’ve ordered for us to stay the night at the citadel of Van Mara.”
“How could you have done that?” Solnel was openly gaping.
Rhylor gave him a negligent shrug; “My father’s the baron of Van Mara.” He said in a rather offhand way. It, however, left the rest of them with greatly surprised expressions. Probably without knowing it, Garril threw his arms around his friend and caught him in a bear hug.
“Tullamatti!” he exulted in an odd reverence. “We won’t have to sleep in the forest anymore!”
“Of course not.” Rhylor laughed, clapping Garril’s shoulder. “But if you were planning to, then I wouldn’t want to get in your way…”
“The citadel will be just fine,” Vankesa cut in then.
“Oh good.” Rhylor gave them that same ever-present smile.
By the time the three of them reached Sycracia, night had fallen. The hooting of the beasts of nightfall resonated in the snowy windrows. The city of Van Mara was, save for the silvery half-moon, the brightest thing that could be seen for miles around. However, this night was especially important.
“There it is!”
“About time. I was getting tired of running around on this accursed beast.” She gingerly rubbed her tender backside.
“What do you think is going on in there?”
“I don’t know.” He sniffed. “I’m not a Sycrate. It’s probably another one of those Boran council things.”
“Maybe.” She looked around at the starry sky speculatively. “Let’s go! We need to be there when King Dacak makes his appearance, and you know how that man is.”
That immediately silenced any thoughts they had of lingering, and they immediately rode past the city gates. It was strangely unguarded, and left the way clear into the streets. The three of them rode in without problem.
After riding out aways in front of the great Van Mara Opera House, they got off their horses and walked inside the opera house. Strangely, considering that it was after all Van Mara, there were no guards at the doors. Instead, there was only another group, also consisting of three people.
“Hi. Uh—where would I find King Dacak of Gerodathia?”
“He’s in there,” one of them said, pointing at the door. It was a woman, who had very long, dark hair that looked rather silken. She wore a rather frilly orange tunic, with two flaps that looked like butterfly wings.
“Thank you,” the girl replied. “By the way, I’m Sarati, this is Toren”—she pointed at the man beside her—“and this is Keletta.”
“Hello!” Keletta said brightly, waving at the group.
“Hello,” one other woman in the group said. This woman was vaguely Khontic, but without that recognizable dark blue hair that Paitish people had. But the resemblance was there—Sarati recognized the way they mixed L’s and R’s into one letter. She, like the woman and the man beside her, was dressed in the same flowery tunics.
“Sarati,” Toren said, barely taking a passing glance at Tarja and her group. “King Dacak is waiting.”
“Best not keep him that way,” Artturi commented, a faint smile playing on face. “Dacak can get so irrational sometimes.”
“You know him?” Keletta asked, seemingly without think to do so.
“Yes, he’s a bit of an unmitigated blockhead. Can’t get anything through thick skull without him thinking it’s a conspiracy.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” Sarati said in a voice that was lightly amused; and she went inside the hall of the Van Mara Opera House. Artturi watched them closely as one by one, they disappeared behind the red curtain which bore Sycracia’s totem broadsword symbol. He frowned rather thoughtfully.
“What’s the matter?” Tarja asked him.
“That girl, Sarati…” he started to explain. “She gives me an odd feeling—”
“What kind of feeling?” Elinan suddenly cut in, arching her eyebrow dangerously. Tarja immediately did the same thing.
“Nothing like that,” Artturi said, eyebrows totally flat. “But she looks like trouble. Her and Toren both.” And just then, Tarja gave the most ridiculously berating laugh.
“Right, old man,” she spat, that frigid edge in her voice. “That’s what you said about Ilesna, and Saiya.”
“Wh—” Artturi gasped, openly shocked and disgusted.
“You don’t fool me, you old hawk,” Tarja raged. “She’s just a girl and you just met her!” She paused a while to breathe somewhat menacingly at him. “How do you think Eladra felt?”
He gaped at her openly. Elinan was almost totally sure she saw a tear roll down that eternally jovial man’s face. An expression that was both deeply injured and openly horrified was forming on his face; yet Tarja was unwavering.
“You know perfectly well how she felt,” he said simply, and vanished behind the curtain to the auditorium. Tarja gave a sigh in a voice that was rather unbecoming of her.
“Go on ahead,” she said, vaguely gesturing toward the curtain. “Eliista gave me orders and I need to follow them.”
There were a fair number of things Rhylor had not told them. It soon became apparent that he had only been at the church for an undetermined, temporary amount of time.
“To straighten out his morals,” his father, Baron Rodune Vanmara XIV had informed them. “If you’ve noticed, he doesn’t really get what people are saying sometimes.”
Being next in line for Van Mara’s Rodune family, Rhylor had a great deal of power in Sycracia North. The Rodunes were the second strongest of all the Northern Dynastic families—second only to the current emperor family, the Fadranes. After Emperor Fadrane Varanth X of Van Salara, Rhylor’s family controlled just about everything.
And so, he and his rather gracious family let Garril and his friends stay at the Van Mara Citadel that night. However, they had insisted that they come see “the finest dramatical soprano in all of Volante”. Rhylor’s cousin, Jator Rodune, even implied that if they did not, Van Mara would be closed to them. They could not have refused so gracious an offer.
However, the result of that was the discarding of their habitual monks’ robes, and were fitted with clothes that suited them quite well. Garril’s new clothes were based primarily on the ones the tailor made, but decorated rather ostentatiously, and in blue—perhaps representing Elvinia. They probably did the same for Vankesa.
Van Mara seemed to be the one place in the world that knew that Garril was ejected from Elvinia. They still treated him with an inhuman kind of respect however, and treated him as if he were his father.
They arrived at the auditorium hall. Not surprisingly, the entire hall was brimming with people from all over the world—most of them not even from Volante. Queen Lenna of Lidanca from Durida was one of them. There was a man and a woman not far from them, dressed in those flowery, butterfly-like Tulla tunics. Far in the left corner, surrounded by his knights and the Dukes La Kai and Teles was King Dacak of Gerodathia.
Garril was surprised. Directly above him, there stood that black knight. His visor was still fixed in place, face hidden from the world. He did not see that massive sword Ardray had mentioned earlier. Either he had left it somewhere, or he thought that it would attract too much attention. Garril decided the latter was most probable. He was in Van Mara after all, and the Rodunes did control everything. For all everyone knew, if Baron Rodune Vanmara saw that thing, he may have even decided to have the black knight executed.
“Welcome, most honorable guests.” A lightly accented woman’s voice from somewhere up front cut abruptly into Garril’s train of thought. “You are about to witness the finest dramatic soprano in all of Volante.”
“What is with everybody and that line today?” Vankesa observed dryly.
“The most talented singer this side of Volante,” she continued; “is here in Van Mara.” She paused. A chill silence fell in crowd, in anticipation of the so-said most talented singer in Val Boran. The woman did not say anything; instead she merely stepped off the side, waving her arm to her right.
Garril, at first, did not see the woman. He only heard her voice—a rich, melancholy mezzo-soprano that had seen a long line of suffering. And it was just that. But after a while, the instruments in the background began to rise. At first it was simply the strings, filling the air with a that same note of sadness in the singer’s voice. The curtain on the stage parted to reveal the orchestra. They were playing with such an amount of grace that was impossible not to notice.
And at last, the woman revealed herself. She was dressed in a flowing pastel-blue silken dress. Her hair was incredibly long and black, and it waved from her head down to almost her waist. There was a mystic kind of glow about her that spoke volumes. Then she turned, and everybody was thoroughly amazed.
“T—Tarja…” Garril whispered in half-reverence. Years had gone by. They had changed his aunt, but he never knew that she was such an amazing singer—or that she could be so beautiful if she wanted to. Suddenly, his mind opened to her song, and he began to imagine what she had been singing about.
“Isn’t that…?” Solnel said, his lip quivering. “That’s your aunt Tarja isn’t it?”
“It is,” Garril replied. It was all he could do to keep from gushing with prideful tears.
Tarja’s song continued, keeping that same melancholy melody. The instruments began to rise in their stately march to accompany her. Tarja’s voice was clearly heard all across the amphitheater, making emotion-filled echoes reverberate off of the walls. She sang about the destruction of the Tulla’s society within Elvinia; how they were subject to racism by their secular cousins. Then her singing rose in a sudden crescendo, immediately making Baron Rodune inhale sharply. Her song danced above the rafters, announcing to all of Van Mara the melodies of cruelty. And then, just as abruptly as she rose, her voice died down to a barely a whisper, accompanied by the cello and flute. Her ending note was most sublime, and suddenly, if only for a moment, a tear rolled down her pale face.
Garril wanted to speak and run to her. However, something compelled him not to. He stayed affixed in his spot, even as a lofty cloud of feathers drifted slowly from the ceiling over her. That white windrow of feathers added only to Tarja’s already shocking pulchritude.
She looked up—her visible left eye was dripping tears. She was crying openly; that was all it took for Garril to jump out of his chair and run to her.
“What is this?” the Baron Rodune demanded, getting up and reaching for his sword. Solnel immediately thrust his arm out in front of the baron.
“That’s his aunt,” he explained calmly. “He hasn’t seen her in two years because she was taken away from him.” The Baron stared at him. “I should know,” he added, smiling. “I was there.” Rodune Vanmara sat down slowly, staring at the singer and the young man who had run to her.
They had each other in an openly affectionate embrace, and they were both crying.