The Purest of SilenceEdit
Suddenly, years did not seem to matter. There was time, and there was movement. Time slowed down to a near halt, and the only apparent movement became Garril’s and Tarja’s. They were one again.
“By the Gods,” Tarja wept joyously. “How I’ve missed you, Garril.”
“I’ve missed you too, Aunt Tarja.” Garril started to choke on his own tears and hiccups, barely able to breathe. After two years of living with an empty void in his heart… That void was gone now—deep under the darkest ocean.
A stray feather fluttered down in between them, making them both unwarily giggle for no real reason. Then a man in the crowd stood up, and ran toward the stage.
“Artturi,” Tarja whispered, embracing him as well. Garril was rather surprised.
“Wasn’t that amazing, ladies and gentlemen?” the announcer suddenly cut in rather rudely. “There you have it folks! One of the most amazing performances in Van Mara to date!”
The entire crowd started applauding. Their clapping was incredibly loud; it was even starting to shake the rafters. Accompanied by their whistling and adoring cries, the ceiling began to shake out some extra feathers that were caught in the beams. Tarja giggled at those too, as they fell down. It was odd; Garril had never seen her giggle so many times in a row.
“You’ve grown, dear,” she said simply. Her voice was drawn, but her eyes spoke volumes. Garril smiled at her, and then cast a confused glance at the man beside her. He was rather tall and looked to be Elvin—Tulla Elvin to be precise. He had shaggy blond hair and a scraggly beard.
“Is he Garril?” he asked Tarja.
“Yes,” she replied, beginning to regain her usual immovable tone. She turned to Garril. “Garril, this is my brother, Artturi. He’s your uncle.”
“H-hello,” Garril said to him shakily, moving to take his outstretched hand.
“And now,” the announcer interrupted rudely once again. “For our next act!…”
Tarja frowned at the woman, and then motioned for them to get off of the stage. The three of them exited backstage, and walked toward the seats that Garril and his friends had. It was directly under the Baron’s balcony room, but Baron Rodune Vanmara decided not to use it. He sat alongside Rhylor and his nephew Jarot.
“My lady,” the baron said immediately, bowing, as Garril brought his aunt and uncle nearer to the seats. “Thy voice is most splendorous, o dearest heaven-sent mistress.”
“Thank you,” Tarja replied simply, almost shortly.
The semblance of blond hair about her face bobbed in the light. It even hid the pearly porcelain mask which concealed her badly burned second face. Tarja looked at Solnel, flickers of remembering coming into her visible left eye. “You,” she said speculatively; “you’re Solnel, right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Solnel replied, inclining his head politely. “The one and the same,” he added, flashing her a sly smile. Tarja smiled a thin smile back.
“Of course it’s you,” she noted. She turned to Ardray and Vankesa, walking over to them so that she looked like an impervious pillar over them. Even Vankesa seemed to shirk back visibly from her. Tarja looked at Vankesa first.
“Szetel frebenszl,” she said to him.
“Szetel meden,” he replied, practically choking on his own words.
Garril noticed that his aunt had that effect on people. Tarja nodded, seemingly to herself, and then took a seat. When she leaned forward, however, she quite heavily fainted on the spot.
“Tarja?” Artturi cried aloud. “Tarja, wake up!”
He shook his sister’s arm, trying desperately to keep her awake. The Baron put his arm in front of the near-wild man.
“My good man,” he said. “Thy dearest sister requires sleep. Come, help me carry her into the chambers.”
Despondently, he lifted the woman by the arms and carried her on her back out the door—Garril’s group followed closely behind him; and King Dacak’s legions eyeing them carefully.
Milk Jade Water Vase
The band started slowly now, beginning with a rhythm was distinctly Gerodathian. A string instrument plucked out a fluid, misty tune while another more deeper string plucked out the bass line. It was a classy kind of theme, suited for someplace sophisticated such as Van Mara. Suddenly, the rest of the band, with their brass and horns, broke out into a faster tempo.
“Kacaa no reun, ketoie xan ban kang eundeu...” a woman began to sing. Her singing was a tempo similar to what the band was playing. That singing and the playing followed Garril’s group loftily up the stairs to the Van Mara citadel.
“That’s a nice song,” Garril noted to himself.
“Yes,” Rhylor agreed. “They play it often when the King visits. It’s called Ireun Midight, after the capital city of the Xat Dakreu province.”
“It’s nice,” Garril repeated.
For what was most likely the tenth time that night, Garril cast a worried look at Tarja. She was still unconscious; she looked so broken being hefted between Artturi and the Baron. Her head was off to the side, hanging absolutely still. Solnel, Vankesa and Ardray were closely behind the Baron, trying not to look at Tarja.
“Here,” Rhylor said quietly, pushing open the door that was at the top of the flight of stairs and stepped inside first.
Artturi and the Baron moved forward into the room; the latter gave the entirety of Tarja’s comatose form to Artturi.
“Shayla,” he said to a nearby maid. “Fetch water and something to eat for this woman when she wakes up.” Without waiting for a reply, he dashed into a hall to his immediate left; only Artturi followed.
Probably without even thinking, Ardray took Garril’s hand and rested her wide-eyed face against his arm. Garril jumped a little at the sensation, but surely enough, he patted her quivering cheek. And she nestled against him.
Soon, the Baron returned. His face had a relieved expression on it, as he strode on calmly in the middle of the group as if nothing had happened.
“Nothing to worry about, my boy,” he said to Garril, pushing aside a stray fiery lock. “Thy aunt is in good health.”
“Thank you,” Garril sighed.
“Though,” the Baron said in a befuddled manner; “I do believe there was another with you? A Khontic woman I believe.” Garril gave the Baron an equally as confused look, and then looked to Solnel, Ardray and Vankesa. They each gave him a mildly speculative look.
“I don’t recall,” he replied then. A Khontic woman, he thought to himself. There was Khontic woman with us?
The Baron nodded by way of excusing himself, and made his way back down the stony stairs. The clinking of his heavy boots resounded all the way down until they were eventually gone. When the clicking was gone, there was only silence in the room.
They waited for what seemed to be hours, and even days. But the constant swaying of the giant clock’s pendulum reminded them that midnight had only barely started to show her umbral veil. More minutes passed, and the group was subject to merely waiting. Ardray had not let go of Garril’s arm. If anything, she had gripped him tighter and tighter—making his face hotter and hotter. Solnel and Vankesa had long since fallen asleep, but it seemed Ardray was determined to stay up for as long as Garril did.
“Ardray,” he whispered lamely. “Come on, I’ll take you to your bed.”
“Shut up,” she replied, barely awake. “Let me sleep.” And then she weakly draped her arm about his shoulder. This time, he had no objection to it, and even placed his free arm about her neck. Ardray relaxed into him, and fell peacefully asleep.
At the same time, there was Artturi in the room with Tarja. She was still asleep, laying serenely on a bed with lavender sheets. But she looked for all the world like a dead bride on a glowing bier. She did not move, and she did not speak. Silently, Artturi went over and touched his first two fingers to her forehead. Nothing happened—not like he expected something.
“Tarja,” he called to her desperately. “Come on, wake up.”
Her face was still framed in that illusory blond hair, but now it was shimmering between yellow and black and back again. He moved his fingers to her temples, and felt none of her will surging rapidly in her mind. Afraid—afraid to face the worst, he at last touched his palm to her heart. The hair’s shimmering stopped, and a dry gasp escaped her painted lips. And under his hand, he felt nothing. Not the rhythm of a beating heart, but the silent cadence of death.
“Tarja!” he cried. He shook his repose sister. “Tullamatti!” he swore poisonously. “Tarja wake up!”
He shook her again. Nothing happened, and Artturi began to weep angrily. Cold tears flowed viciously down the forever-jovial man’s face, staining it. One last time, he threw his quivering arms about his sister in an embrace full of finality..
“Artturi...” From below him there came a beautiful voice that was accompanied by the voices of countless other ethereal souls. A light arm returned the embrace, and Artturi pulled off.
“T-Tu...” he strained to say. “I-it’s you!”
He did not see Tarja, but the face of a woman whom he knew he had the deepest connection to all of his eternal life. Her face was young but it was evident that she was much, much older than anybody could have imagined. Her eyes were like bright orbs with glimmering blue centers—her hair, blonder than the sun and straight yet curly at the same time.
“Oh, my God,” Artturi said, trembling.
“Goddess,” the woman corrected. “I’m not a man, you silly boy.”
Artturi did not reply to her, and she at last sat up. A deep amaranth-red blouse replaced the amber tunic, and she wore knee-length black hose. Long strips of iridescent gauze floated around her in a random, swaying fashion. And she was bathed in a blue light.
“Holy Goddess,” he said, trying to bow. The Goddess playfully lashed at him with a sash of gauze.
“Come now,” she said disapprovingly. “You know better than to do all that silly bowing and greeting.” She smiled quickly and said, “Save it for my brother. He is the one you should be calling a God.”
“Of course, Goddess,” Artturi replied quickly. His eyes darted in nervous zeal back and forth between her and the bed. “Where is Tarja?” he asked the deity.
“She is speaking with my brothers and sisters,” she replied. Her brow creased in the middle. “It seems that they’re having some long, trivial discussion about some things that are about to happen, and they’ve made me their messenger girl.”
“They have?” Artturi asked without thinking.
“Isn’t that what I said?” She flicked aside a stray lock of hair. “Once Tegunxri and Shala-ra think something needs to be done, they send poor old Matti to go and do it.”
“Matti?” he asked once again without thinking.
“It’s my name,” Matti replied. “Or have you and your people gotten the name Tullamatti carved in stone into your brains for so long?” When he did not reply, she smiled wanly. “People have always got to affix their names to something of importance.” She grimaced. “The Elytrans and Athastrians call Tegunxri, Rodtegunxri—and the different Paitish call Kaneru, Kanepaiteru. And now I’m Tullamatti? Simply absurd!”
“Yes,” Artturi said lamely.
“And another thing!...” Matti started, but was suddenly cut off. Her image began to shimmer and falter. “I’m being called back,” she told him. “When your sister comes, she will tell you what is going to happen next. You will need to tell your nephew what to do.”
“You mean Garril?” he asked her.
“Yes, Garril!” she said impatiently. “Do you have any other nephews? Now, you have to tell him what to do and where to do it at the right time.”
“How will I know what to tell him?”
“You’ll know when the time comes.” Her form visibly shuddered, and then she vanished—and Tarja was right back where she was. She looked like she had been lifted from her tired, comatose state. Her eyes flashed colors between blue, green and colors that probably did not even have a name to them. In her hands, there was a milky white-green vase of jade, and it glowed.
“Tarja!” Artturi claimed relievedly, and crossed half the room to hug her. Then he stopped midway, and let his arms dangle. He straighted. “Uh, good to see you’re well,” he said, coughing lamely.
“You were always horrible at greetings,” she said half-tersely. Her pale half-face was serious, as she handed her brother the glowing jade vase. He eyed it with curiosity, feeling all the contours of the sides. He tried to read what the sides said, but the glow overpowered him. All it was was a bright mass with barely discernible scribbles in an obscure blue color underneath.
“It’s very interesting,” he said sarcastically. “But what is it supposed to be?”
“Turn it over you ninny.” She leered at him with perfectly straight eyebrows. He did what she told him to, and out came two sheets of fresh parchment. Artturi seized one and unfurled it to read. His eyes darted back and forth, skimming them, and then he shoved them right back into the vase.
“Matti was right,” Artturi whispered in revelation.
“Who’s Matti?” Tarja asked him.
“The Goddess,” he replied. “Tullamatti. But her real name is Matti. She even told me so.”
“She appeared to you?” she asked disbelievingly. Artturi smiled widely at her for a split second, and then his face became serious.
“We need to tell Garril,” he decided. “He’s the biggest part in all of this for us.” Tarja nodded, standing from the bed.
“He is. And so is his brother.”
“Letorry is dead, Tarja.”
“You are behind, aren’t you? Don’t you know? Letorry was assassinated, and his brother Syrregain took his place as King of Elvinia.”
“Assassinated?!” Artturi was openly outraged. “By who?! I’ll kill the bastard!”
“Use your wits, old hawk. Letorry was king. Who would be closest to him in power and desire that same power for himself?”
“Syrregain...” Artturi said in grave revelation. “Syrregain killed Letorry. It makes sense now...” He ran over the events of the past thirteen or so years in his mind. “After Syrami died, Letorry would take his place. But Syrregain wanted to be king before him, so he killed him and took his place.”
“But he didn’t think about Garril,” Tarja supplied. “He’d pushed his youngest brother as a threat out of his mind even before he was banished. He didn’t think that Garril would be found and still be alive.”
“But he found out eventually. Otherwise, Syrregain would not have sent that knight to get you out of the way. He needed to take you as far from Elvinia as you can go on Volante.”
“Dassinth,” she agreed. “But he didn’t count on an ally—an ally who was close to Letorry.”
“Your friend Elinan, I take it.”
“Yes, and she was very close to him. As I take it, they had a very special relationship with each other.”
“So that could only mean...” He smiled rather coldly.
“Oh yes,” she replied. “Once wind of this finally gets to her, she will tear apart half the world to get her revenge.” She smiled speculatively. “That sister of ours and her son is going to have to look forward to a very long talk with family.”