The very next afternoon, Elinan finally trudged up the steps toward the Van Mara Citadel. She was tried, and probably still a little tipsy from the previous night. She had learned that Queen Lenna’s Lidancene chocolates always seemed to taste a little bit of liquor—and eating them makes things a little more purple than they should be.
“Whee...” she muttered to nobody as she ascended. It seemed, to her, that she was walking over the skies. Which were purple. Her riding boots made muffled padding sounds that echoed across the spiraling stairwell.
“Aaaaaartturiiiiii?” she called up. “Taaaaarjaaaa?” She took another step, just a few steps away from the iron door at the top of the stairs. Elinan had a creeping feeling that Tarja, Artturi, and that group of people were all in there. She walked farther up the stairs until she was at the door.
“Yoooooooo hooooooooo,” she drawled tipsily. “Anyone there?” Elinan banged her fist on the door; nearly knocking herself back down the stairs. “Hello?” she said, now, mildly soberly. “Open the door!”
To Elinan’s surprise, it swung open on its own accord. With it opened that way, Elinan could see what was inside; and she was amazed. The walls were of a rustic copper-amber hue, and they were, at the top, draped in beautiful reddish-purple curtains. The carpet was of a slightly darker red hue, and it was slightly shag. Large windows let in the afternoon’s light. But, there was no Artturi or Tarja anywhere.
“Hello?” Elinan called into the room. “Is anybody here?”
She went over to a nearby couch, and saw two sleeping forms on it—one male, one female. They were locked in a tight, affectionate embrace with one another. She thought the two of them looked absolutely angelic, and after a while of reminiscing, she moved on.
She saw yet another sleeping form reclining on the floor beside a large ficus plant. He was in an incredibly silly position, with each limb thrown every which way. And again, there was a sleeping man stirring restlessly on a window sill.
“M—mother,” he murmured somewhat angrily. “W—where...” And he fell back into silence.
Elinan was about to go over to him and wake him from his dark dream, when suddenly, an even stronger emotion—one of bitter longing—jerked her attention to the two on the couch. She looked directly at the young man’s face. Years, lost years, of deepest longing and memory came in tidal wave form and washed over her.
“Garril, Prince Garril,” she muttered to herself. She looked, almost with a strange reverence, to the sky, and said; “Letorry...I’ve found your brother.” She reached out to touch his face, and then stopped. Elinan, instead, began to remember.
“Erinann,” Letorry was saying to her.
“Yes, your highness?” she asked with the lilt of playfulness in her voice.
“Now stop that.” He frowned. “Just call me Letorry, like I told you to.” Elinan linked her arm with his and stared out on the sunny veranda they were walking on.
“But isn’t proper for me to use your title?” she teased. “You are King of Elvinia after all.”
“All right,” he said slightly smugly. “Since I am the king, I order you not to call me the king.” He gave her that incredibly wide grin she loved—and missed with all her heart.
“Okay then, Letorry,” she conceded playfully. “If you absolutely insist.” Giggling, she leaned over and kissed him soundly on the cheek. Elinan remembered him turning absolutely red at that point. The two of them walked on in silence, until Letorry suddenly stopped right before a fountain.
“Why did we stop?” she asked him. Letorry looked Elinan directly in the eyes gravely. “What’s the matter?” she asked next.
“Listen to me, Erinann,” he intoned almost grimly. “I know that something is going to happen, and it will not be good for either of us. When it happens, I want you to find my brother Garril. He looks much like me, and you’ll notice that he is incredibly down-to-earth. For that I’m proud of him.”
“Letorry, you’re not making sense.” Letorry was in still silence even as she brushed aside his now-mussed blond hair. Elinan stared directly into his eyes.
“You’re right, Erinann,” he said, trying to force a laugh. “I’m not making much sense, am I? Well, come. Let’s go back inside.” Elinan remembered that he kept looking over his shoulder and toward the sky, almost the whole way they walked back.
“Good morn, milady,” a maid from the hallway said. Elinan stood to greet her. After doing so, the dowdy little woman said; “Milady, I believe there are people looking for you. They are in that room over there—first on the right.” She motioned a little vaguely down the hall and pardoned herself.
“...he’s ready, right?” Artturi was saying as Elinan entered the room. He looked at her and said; “Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes,” she replied, subconsciously tersely. “It’s me.” Elinan turned to Tarja and went over to her, nearly collapsing on the bed beside her. “What happened last night? Do you feel sick at all?”
“No, not at all,” Tarja replied. “I had to speak with...them.” She waved her hand in a mildly figurative gesture.
“Who are they?” Elinan pressed.
“The Gods,” Tarja conceded. “Mainly Tegunxri and Carangda.” Elinan’s eyes widened in a strange awe. She reached over and touched the jade vase beside her. It was no longer glowing brightly, but still enough that the words on its iridescent exterior could not be read.
“This looks like Kaneru’s work,” she remarked, taking it in her hands.
“It is,” Artturi replied. “Matti said that he hewed that from some rock he found at Threann Khann.” Artturi crossed the room to take the vase from her. Turning it over, he caught two rolls of pure white parchment and unrolled them. “Read these,” he told her. “I think it applies to you.”
Elinan unrolled the first sheet of paper and skimmed over it. After a while, she lost total interest in it and opened the next one. The same happened with the other and she stuck them back into the vase in frustration.
“How does that apply to me?” she demanded them. “That was quite frankly the most raving rant I’ve ever heard. Who’s Retribution? Who’s The Silent Spirit?” She looked at the jar, eyes practically smoking, and then threw it onto the floor. Tarja and Artturi both dove for it, screaming—before it bounced harmlessly off the red shag and was caught midair by an invisible hand. The jar glowed, and immediately, an image appeared before them.
“Just what do you three think you’re doing?” Matti exclaimed in surprise. She dangled the jar by way of one of her floating sashes. The blue light about her was resonating brightly.
“Sorry,” Elinan said lamely. She wrung her hands together.
“If this thing broke, then Kaneru would be angry beyond reason.” Matti sighed in a frumpy manner, and foppishly threw the papers back inside of the vase. “Well, get up,” she commanded them. “It’s time to tell your little group what’s about to happen.”
“Yes, Goddess.” Tarja and Artturi both said it in unison, as they both stood to take the vase. The two reached for it—and nearly knocked it out of Matti’s sash-grip.
“What did I say?” the Goddess screeched, catching it once more with another sash. Shamefacedly, Tarja and Artturi simply let Matti carry the vase; and they let her lead them outside of the room, with Elinan shaking her head confusedly the whole way. They arrived into the main room, and found that everybody was still asleep.
“Garril,” Tarja boomed with a strange force she did not think she had. “Solnel, everybody. Wake up!” There of course, came grumbles from the harshly-awakened group, but they were at least awake. Artturi lined them all into order, reading the papers along the way.
“What is going on, uncle?” Garril complained. “We still want to sleep.”
“You want to,” he replied coolly; “but you need to be awake right now. The lives of millions are on your hands right now.” He said it in a shockingly offhand manner.
“The—what?!” Garril exclaimed. Without thinking, he took the paper from his uncle’s hand and mercilessly scanned down it. He devoured the information on both pages with some feasible speed. “What does this mean?” he demanded, rapping the paper lightly. “None of it makes any sense.”
“It will, Garril,” Tarja said patiently. “What your uncle said is true, Garril. The lives of millions of people on this world are in your hands. The actions you take from now on will decided whether they live or die.” Vankesa stepped forward a little questioningly.
“Don’t you think that’s a little much to say to him?” he demanded in a passive-aggressive way. “He’s only seventeen, and now you want him to save half the world.”
“That’s about right,” Artturi replied.
“But it doesn’t sound wrong to you?” Vankesa continued. “It isn’t as if he’ll save the world by snapping his fingers and deciding that everybody will be safe. He’d have to travel, wouldn’t he?”
“Yes,” Tarja said.
“So that would put him in direct danger of something. To save the world obviously does not sound like anything easy. You do realize you’re putting him into the hands of death? You two are practically telling him to go out and do an impossible task only to fail halfway and die in the process.” He leered coldly at the two of them. “How would you feel if he died? He’s your nephew.”
Garril looked at Vankesa, and then at his aunt and uncle, whose faces were bright red. He could not believe that somebody with a hard exterior as Vankesa’s would come around to helping him.
“But...” Artturi started then. “Syrregain is our nephew, too. What about him?”
“What about him?” Vankesa raised an eyebrow inquiringly.
“If Garril wants to save the world, he will have to kill Syrregain.”
It was as if all of the Citadel had come crashing down right onto them all. The notion of killing King Syrregain ran malicious thoughts in some of their minds, but Garril was absolutely horrified. Despite Syrregain’s mistreating him in his earlier years, he was still his brother. They had the same father and mother and the same brothers and the same aunt and uncle. They shared the same royal blood that would seek out he who will next ascend the throne of Great Elvinia. If Garril killed him... He did not know. He was angry, afraid and confused, and slightly famished, all at the same time.
“So,” Solnel stepped in to ease the ugly awkwardness and mumblings; “where do we go from here?” He, evidently, was the kind who wanted to go forward.
“I’m not sure,” Tarja and Artturi admitted in unison. The former looked toward where Matti was, as if to ask a question. The Goddess shimmered into a bodily form; her feet visibly touched the carpeting. The sashes around her had become nothing more than inanimate strips of gauze.
“Listen to me closely,” Matti commanded in a grave tone. This journey of yours will probably be the most changing and most decisive of your life. You now have a cause that propels you into the rest of your life. Be aware that some choices you make will not actually be made by you; they could be driven by what we the Gods have planned. You are one side of this.” She turned to Garril. “Garril, your brother Syrregain is on the other, as you know by now.”
“Do I really have to kill him?” Garril said in a transcended level of sadness. Matti put one sympathetic arm on the young man’s shoulder, and stared right into his eyes. Matti could have swallowed her words, as she said next:
“Yes, you’ll have to kill him.”
Nearly nobody was as surprised as Garril, engrossed by that final, confirming statement. Solnel was speechless; Ardray, wide-eyed—and Vankesa chuckling to himself with a cold glee.
“If Garril doesn’t kill his brother,” he dared to say; “can I? I mean, if that little paper allows it.” Garril leered at him with such blatantly cold ferocity that was completely unbelievable. Vankesa even visibly widened his eyes in surprise.
“You really are a cold-hearted creature, aren’t you?” Garril said in a dangerous voice. “Tell me what else is in your thick skull besides revenge. Do you know what those papers are saying? Have you seen that sword of his? It isn’t him you know.” He took a pause to regain himself spiritually. “Ardray was right. That sword is alive. And if you don’t realize who our real enemy is, then you’re going to have to look a little harder if you don’t want to die.”
Vankesa faltered to speak, but Garril hit him hard in the jaw with a tightly-knotted knuckle. Without waiting for a retaliation, he practically soared down the flight of stairs.
“Hey...” Ardray murmured. “W—wait for me!” With that, she ascended the steps right after him. Before she disappeared completely, she took just one look back. “I think this is too much to handle for him,” she muttered to the group. When all she got were empty stares, she shook her head and ran the rest of the way down the steps.
Tarja looked at Vankesa, who lounged idly in a standing position. He was impassive to anybody’s emotion. He simply did not care. Solnel looked at him at him with an uncertain look of shame. Shaking his head briefly, he ascended the stairs to meet Garril and Ardray.
Solnel finally found the two seated around a fountain no more than a yard away from the front door of the citadel. Garril was in a frumpy mood and in a position to match. He looked out into the streets of Van Mara, with everybody all about in their normal lives, rattling in their carriages among the marbled walls. To Solnel, Garril did not notice this.
Ardray was beside him, idly splashing the water of the fountain. She, too, was distant—in her eyes and in her manner.
“There you two are,” Solnel said to break their silence. They simultaneously looked up, and after just a second they simultaneously looked down again. Solnel walked over to both of them.
“Garril...” he started falteringly. “Don’t take him seriously. You know how he is...” He gestured weakly, meaninglessly at the fountain. “You saw how he was when we found him...”
Garril looked at his friend with hard eyes, and for just a moment, he matched Ardray. Then he sighed, almost ruefully, and it sounded as if he had let go of a burden.
“You’re right,” Garril conceded. “After all, Syrregain did order his mother to be taken away.”
“That was a bit...harsh of him,” Ardray said. Then, with a new light coming into her eyes, she snapped in revelation. “Do you remember that vase that Garril’s aunt had?”
“Yes,” the boys said in unison.
“Maybe, like we did, Syrregain got those weird instructions.”
“Why do you call them instructions?” Garril mused. “Those were the most unclear things I could have ever read.” Ardray smiled at him.
“You haven’t been at that church long enough, that’s all,” she told him. “When the Gods—all the Gods, especially—are involved, it means they’re taking steps for something to happen that has been told to them. Maybe whoever is telling us to what to do, is telling him what to do too.”
There was a sudden heavy clinking beside them. All three looked up at once, and their hearts froze cold. There was the maddened face of Syrregain staring them down.