The Enchantment of NatureEdit
The morning two days after Tarja had blown apart the door to one of Van Mara Citadel’s sitting rooms, she finally decided to go and eat breakfast. She had not been inside her room for two days brooding over and stewing in her own fury; rather, she was trying desperately to decipher more of that strange glowing vase that had been given to her by the Gods. In futility and in growing irritation, she had pored over the two parchment sheets again and again and again, but never found a coherent answer. She decided, that at breakfast, she would need to talk with Matti about it.
When Tarja arrived at the stairs, she decided suddenly out of vanity to change something. She quickly returned to her room and slipped out of her customary crimson overcoat, leaving her only in her leather corset and slacks of the same black material.
“This simply will not do today,” Tarja mumbled disapprovingly about her overcoat. She cast it aside onto her bed, fleeting over toward the dresser. She leafed quickly through the three robes inside it; all were of the same cut, but came in red, gold or pearly white. Tarja chose the pearly white one, staring at it critically. Slowly, it started to shift and change in her hands.
The sleeves became shorter and more voluminous. The bottom of the dress grew shorter until it was only at waist-length. And then the edges of the fabric suddenly became frilled. Pleased with it and herself, Tarja put it on.
“Perfection!” she squealed delightedly, and she turned to go to breakfast. She caught a glimpse of herself in her mirror, however, and stopped dead in her tracks. “My hair is absolutely dead,” she remarked clinically. She sat back down in her chair and waved her hands around her head. The black strands came alive and started rearranging themselves on her head.
Soon, they became curled.
“No!” Tarja said disgustedly. She waved her hands around again.
It became shorter, and slightly less curled.
“Hideous!” she shuddered.
Her hair became wavier, and even longer than it was before. The reflection staring back at her in the mirror was a horrified and ugly one. Tarja waved her hands again.
Her hair soon became slightly wavy, and took on a layered look. It was slightly past her shoulders and out of the way of her forehead. It seemed to shimmer from the inside out, and instantly it took on a shy golden tint.
“You,” she said to herself smilingly; “are a beautiful woman.” Everything looked perfect—her hair, her clothes, and her face—
Her face. Tarja slowly and tentatively touched two fingers to the porcelain mask that would forever adorn her face and hide the scarring. She almost felt the flames sear her skin once again. Tarja shuddered—the pain was only a distant, ugly memory that she could not allow to hinder the present.
“Lady Vattiksi,” a maid at the door called in, accompanied with a light knock. “Your brother Lord Vattiksi is expecting you at the breakfast table. They’ve just started eating.”
“Tell them I’ll be there soon,” Tarja responded to the maid. The maid turned on her heel and rounded the corner to the stairs. “Lord Vattiksi, my foot,” she said under her breath. Tarja stood from her chair and exited her room with a pleased smile touching her face.
Tarja had done her very best to look her very best today, and she was not about to let it all go to waste. Keeping her chin high, she walked into the breakfast room. All of the commotion stopped as soon as she entered. Good, that was good, she thought smugly to herself. She pulled out a chair and took her usual seat beside Elinan.
“Tarja, you look different,” the obviously moonstruck girl commented absently. “Your hair, your clothes are all so—”
“Different?” Tarja finished coolly for her. “I know.” She said it with an uncharacteristically flippant toss of her head, and from the corner of her eye she could see her nephew and her brother at the other side of the table, openly surprised at her. Be surprised, big brother, she thought deprecatingly. She cut daintily into the steaming ham waiting on her plate and ate.
“Something’s wrong with Aunt Tarja,” Garril whispered to Artturi.
“Your aunt is a fickle person, Garril,” he responded, chewing on his bread. “I guess she got tired of the ‘foreboding wraith from hell’ look.” Secretly, and with a little bit of shame, Garril laughed at that. He cast a quick look again at his aunt.
“Her hair changed color,” he noted absently.
“Yes,” Artturi said with a half-full mouth. “I gather she used sorcery to make herself less witch-like. Look at her: you can practically smell the sorcery just ooze out of that hair of hers.” He sniffed. “It actually smells like peaches.”
Garril turned in his chair to see a maid carrying a fresh plate of peaches. “That’s something else, uncle,” he said.
“For me?” Artturi said loud enough so the whole table could her him. “You shouldn’t have, dear!” He took the plate outrageously from the maid and set it down in front of him. Then he looked critically at the everyone else around him, eying the peaches with curiosity. Artturi smirked back. “Well, this kind, kind girl did give these peaches,” he said in an absolutely florid voice; “but I suppose you all can have some.” He took a slice of peach and slid it into his smiling teeth.
“Very nice,” Vankesa remarked under his breath.
Later, by the demand of Matti after breakfast, they had gathered in yet another sitting room on the other wing of the Citadel, closer to the Opera House. This sitting room was much like the others, with its red carpet and curtains and massive windows. This one, however, seemed to be set up just for them, as there were eight chairs placed around a table in what could loosely be called a circle.
Artturi had made sure Tarja was sitting far from any door—or window, for that matter.
And so they were arranged rather systematically in an order: Garril, followed by Solnel, then Artturi, Tarja, Elinan, Rhylor and finally Ardray. They waited patiently for the arrival of the Goddess of the Elvin people; she surely was taking her sweet time.
“Where is she?” Ardray asked more than a little pointedly.
“She’s coming,” Tarja replied to her, which set everybody on a cautious edge right then and there. “My Goddess likes to make herself announced, and therefore, she’s making us wait for her.”
Suddenly, as if she had been listening in on their conversation as an invisible entity, Matti appeared. She drifted down from the rafters of the room, her gauze scarves sparkling, drifting behind her. She was bathed in an undulating blue light, and her face was in a smilingly relaxed expression. Her feet did not touch the ground—she instead floated above the floor sedately, calmly staring into everyone’s faces.
“Welcome this day,” she said. She stared specifically at Garril, Tarja and Artturi. “Kanalai jema batibati, niiliman eramaasta jounyver.”
“Kanalai pohjista, eramaasta moppara,” Tarja and Artturi replied in a strange kind of unison. Garril stared at them for a second, and then repeated them verbatim. His pronunciation raised no objection from either Matti or his mother’s siblings.
“Now that that is all out of the way,” Matti said next as her face broke into her regular happy-faced expression; “we have business to attend to!” She then caught a glimpse of Solnel from the corner of her eye, and then she vanished. “Is anything the matter, my Athastrian friend?” she asked him softly, reappearing in the air behind him.
“Nothing at all!” Solnel half-screamed in surprise.
“Do I frighten you?” she asked him tentatively, touching his cheek with a ringed hand.
“N-not at all!” he objected, shirking away from her touch. She frowned at him.
“I will ask your mother about this,” she told him and only him. For a split second, Matti’s image warped, and then she fell to the floor, unconscious.
“You killed her!” was Vankesa’s first reaction, rushing to her side. It seemed that actually seeing his Goddess opened his eyes to new dimensions that he had never previously known. Solnel could not reply, but was feebly babbling.
“What did she say to you?” Garril asked his friend.
“She said she’d talk to my m-mother about it,” Solnel replied shakily.
“Your mother? What’s your mother going to do?”
And then suddenly, the Goddess Matti was shocked into awareness. Her face was a little bit disoriented, and the glow about her flickered about uncertainly. However, she was otherwise all right.
“Are you totally all right?” Vankesa asked the Goddess.
“Yes, my son,” Matti assured him, smiling. She stood, facing Solnel. Her face was not stern nor forbidding, but rather longing. “Your mother says it pains her that you have turned away from her. But she loves you still even if you don’t think she is there.”
“My mother?” Solnel spluttered.
“Yes, my sister Tegunxri. She told me that whenever you return to Athastre, be sure to go to a church and she will speak with you.”
“I despise churches.” Solnel’s expression was more than remonstrative at the notion.
“Oh, sugar cake,” Matti said in a voice drenched with mock concern. And then her face became stern. She floated back toward the front of the room so she was facing everybody once more. “That was fun, but we have more pressing matters that desperately require attention.”
“Does it have to do with that vase, Goddess?” Garril asked her, remembering the strange glowing vessel.
“It does indeed, my perceptive son.” Matti reached into empty air behind her, and in her hand there appeared the glowing jade vase. Its glow was sister only to the sun outside, clearly attempting to mirror it. Matti tapped it. “That’s enough theatrics now,” she scolded it. The vase pulsed and the glow lessened considerably.
“I’ve read those papers in the vase,” Ardray commented. “They make no sense at all!”
“To you they may not,” Matti corrected her; “but if you think a little, you’ll discover a lot about them.” She pursed her lips tightly. “However... I’m afraid I can’t help you with that.”
“Can’t help?” Elinan asked the Goddess. “But and your brothers and sisters created it.”
“I know,” the glimmering Elvin Goddess sighed regretfully. “Don’t tell any of them I said this, but I do believe it’s their odd way of amusing themselves. They have nothing really do to perched up in that little lofty place up there. So I guess toying with you mortal creatures is fun.” She grinned impishly. “Now onto the matter of these papers. I do believe that they’re out of chronological order.”
“Chrono—what?” Garril asked, openly confused about the subject. Matti threw him a horrified look.
“Did you ever send the boy to school?” she asked Tarja.
“I’m afraid not,” Tarja replied, sighing remorsefully. “Come to think of it, I don’t suppose I’ve ever taught him to read, either.”
“I can read!” Garril protested. “The nuns at the church taught me how to, starting with the Bible of the Divine One.”
“A religious start to literacy.” Matti’s face broke into a cheeky smile. “How wonderful! That’s more than I can say for Artturi, though.” She turned to face him. “Right, my son? After all, ‘The Art of Warfare’ must have been such an enthralling read if you could read it at sixteen.”
“It was,” he confessed shamefacedly. Matti laughed a peal of that pretty laughter of hers like a gilded chime.
“Don’t worry about it,” she amended him. “That was over two thousand years ago.” A silenced hush with the least audible of gasps fell over the whole room. Accusing shocked eyes landed on Artturi—especially from Garril. Tarja was impassive. “Oh bother, you’re all so hateful,” Matti reprimanded them. “Artturi was born two thousand years ago. And since we’re speaking of it, so was Tarja a few years after.”
There was a stifling, almost odd silence as every mortal eye in the room fell on the Vattiksi siblings. Tarja’s face glazed over defensively; the age-old question she had faced from since before mankind had discovered the use of rock had come back to haunt her. Now they had the answer. She looked to Artturi, whose face was in a faint smile.
‘How could you be so calm?’ she asked him a little stridently in his mind.
‘Is there a reason not to be?’ he responded nonchalantly. ‘At least now they know, and that saves us a lot of time and explanation. Speaking of which, we’re running out of it just idly talking here.’
‘You’re right,’ Tarja conceded. “All right, it’s true. Artturi and I were born two thousand years ago—back when mankind was still just starting to come down out of the trees.” She looked at her nephew, who was wide-eyed and evidently the most surprised of all. “Your mother was too, Garril,” she told him; “about a thousand years after I was. In fact, she is half my age.”
“I understand,” Garril told her and Artturi. Guilt clawed at Tarja’s heart, knowing that she had just shattered everything that her nephew had believed—all the lies she fed him over the years were dashed into nothing.
“Good,” Matti said a trifle casually. Her face was very hard now. “We’re wasting time with all this idle chit-chat! If I don’t send you all on your way now, then nothing is ever going to get done!”
“Does that mean that Syrregain’s side will win?” Vankesa asked, all business.
“Syrregain’s side? What do you mean his side?”
“Well, he’s working against us, and that makes it clear we are enemies. He clearly won’t be alone, seeing as he has Dacak, La Kai and Teles with him. And there’s the seven of us. So that makes us enemies fighting for different sides, right?”
“I never thought of it that way.” Matti considered the young man’s explanation for a while. “It does make sense. All right then, we are officially working against Syrregain’s side, and that means we can’t let him win.” Her brow furrowed in concentration. “That is, you can’t let him win. As a God, I cannot pick sides no matter how strongly opposed I feel about it, so that makes us neutral. That means if I help you, Syrregain is also free to call me for help.” She smiled. “Though I can refuse, seeing as the little mongrel desecrated one of my temples.”
“We’ll be sure to make him pay,” Vankesa said in his most bleak tone of voice. Garril had always known Vankesa was a hard person, despite the fact he had a made a friend out of him; he never knew he could be so ardent.
“Good.” Matti rolled open the sheets of stark white parchment. “‘And so is the task laid upon the Final Son, he who leads the charge against he who wields the Sword of Darkness. For in truth, it is the Final Son who needst slay the wielder of the Sword should all come to pass. It is only when all hath come to pass, however, may the gates of opportunity be opened to the Final Son to slay the wielder.” She looked at Garril. “You, my boy, are the Final Son mentioned here.”
“I am?” Garril asked in surprise.
“Yes,” Solnel said, snapping as if coming across a revelation. “It makes sense, because you were King Syrami’s last son, right? Before he died?”
“Yes.” He looked at Matti. “Please continue.”
“That’s really the only part you’re going to need,” Matti told them, rolling the parchments again. She placed them back into the vase, floating sedately in front of her. “However, there are four things that need to happen—and one of them will be a fight between you and Syrregain, Garril.”
“I was afraid of that.” The young Elvin man’s face contorted into a concentrated grimace. “Isn’t there some way to avoid that? I mean, he may have done really bad things, but he is still my brother, after all...” He spread his hands. This time, Vankesa said nothing.
“No, there isn’t,” Matti said regretfully. “You have to fight him—and if you want things to come out the way you want them, then you must kill him.”
“But it’s...” Garril’s rebuttal died on his lips, absurd of thinking that he could possibly kill a sword. He could break it, that was for certain—but he knew it would return to the earth from which it was wrought. And if the sword truly had a spirit, then it would only return to whatever it was made into next. It pained him to admit, but he realized then that he would only gain the death of Syrregain out of all of it.
Matti continued to preach about their impending journey, but Garril was not paying attention. Decisions were running through his mind, none of them with heads or ends and all of them incredibly hard. He looked into the faces of all of his companions, though they did not look back. Garril knew that danger lay ahead for them, and—he swallowed a hard lump in his throat—so did death. It horrified him knowing that he, apparently being their de facto leader, was essentially dragging the whole lot of them to their deaths.
“Oh God...” Garril muttered sickly aloud.
“Yes?” Matti asked innocently.
Garril groaned, and then he drew himself upright in his chair. His face was resolute now; he had accepted all the conditions. He was fairly sure his friends were, and he knew that his aunt and uncle were wholly determined. Garril’s face was perfectly straight as he exhaled and said:
“Where are we headed first, then? It won’t be a journey if we stay here!”