The Era of DarknessEdit
The next morning dawned early, and it was cloudy. It seemed like the kind of day that rain would suddenly come in a downpour. The bottoms of the clouds were black and blue, looking much like contusions. The air hung stilly in the air, and the worst part was that it was humid and sticky. It absolutely disgusted the womenfolk, of course. It sickened Tarja especially; it made her normally-straight hair become frizzy and unmanageable.
And as is the nature of Tarja, she headed immediately to the bathroom, with a trail of questions that did not need to be answered following behind her. She closed off the door the moment she was inside.
The rest of them proceeded to go to breakfast, where they sat down to a hot quality breakfast. There was bread, still steaming from the oven, a leg of roasted chicken, and some vegetables to the side. It was not a totally special breakfast, but it would do. They all ate hungrily at it; Vankesa more so, extremely relieved to not have fried fish for breakfast.
They sat away from another group who had arrived during the night. Because of the odd pieces of parchment in that vase, they naturally developed an aversion to people. They did not know who would be working for Syrregain and his ‘side’, so they were careful with who they spoke to. When in private, they spoke of the past month.
It was odd to think that so much had happened just in the past month. So much had been leading up to that moment, and it had taken nearly seventeen years. Garril was thinking this thoroughly. Everything, for about fifteen years, had been going a steady turtle-like pace with some premonitions dropped here and there. And that night at Elbenath set everything in motion.
Then it went peaceful for two years, and he met Ardray, Solnel and Rhylor. The church offered that peace, calm and silence.
Garril cringed when he thought of that night: that odd spell he cast on the priest, and then that strange creature with that one bottomless, staring eye. It was a horrible stain on his memory, having to cast so many spells.
Having to put so much strain on Ardray.
Garril brushed away that random errant thought, and went back to recollecting his memory of the past month. But that was it. Oddly enough, he suddenly started to believe in those obscurely written pieces of paper. Had his life been totally controlled by a prophecy since his birth? He thought of how everything fit neatly into place, and then set in motion. It saddened him a little to know that his life had been nothing but one straight path, never truly swerving off course. Everything was planned—by the Gods—to be precise. Maybe Matti was right. Maybe the Gods really did spend their idle time toying with peoples’ lives. He bristled at the thought, but Matti was not there. His mind went off on a long string of curses that he wouldn’t have let his aunt or uncle hear.
“What’s wrong, Garril?” he faintly heard Solnel beside him ask. Garril did not answer, but merely shook his head shortly. Solnel seemed to get the point.
His reminiscing on the past month suddenly made him feel incredibly weary. As if all of the stress had suddenly been piled on him all at once. He suddenly found even sitting in his seat tiring. What he really needed was time off. Garril knew he was going to be important before he died, but he was still only human, and just seventeen after all.
His weary mind could not grip him to just stay still. He stood directed by the most primitive emotion of wanting, and went over to Artturi.
“Uncle,” Garril started.
“Yes, Garril?” he asked, barely looking up from his plate of food. His constant gulp-swallow made it hard for Garril to clearly voice his opinion at first—but then Artturi smoothed over his long blond hair and looked up. “Yes, Garril?” he asked again.
“I was wondering if we could take a break from this,” he said. All the words came out too fast for him to smoothly piece them together.
“A break, as in...what?” Artturi asked.
“You know... A break from all this prophecy stuff. A break from going around to fulfill this weird riddle.”
It was silent for a while. Seconds seemed to slow into hours as the they ticked by.
“Actually,” Artturi said; “I was about to ask your aunt that same question. The best time to ask her something is after she takes a bath, then she won’t argue because she’ll be so euphoric.” His uncle nodded. “It’s a good idea, I’d like a vacation myself,” he said.
One down, Garril thought. “All right,” he said out loud. “I’ll ask her when she comes out.” And he returned to his seat to finish his breakfast; weariness totally gone.
When Garril had finally gotten around to actually eating his vegetables rather than poking at them, Tarja finally emerged from the bathroom. She had on a long white bathrobe, and she was combing her hair, calmly humming to herself. Garril waited until she seated herself at the table before he decided to ask any questions.
“Aunt Tarja,” he said when she pulled up a chair.
“How does it sound right now to take a break?”
“A break from what, dear?”
“From all this prophetic stuff. A break from, y’know, just going around and trying to complete this odd puzzle on that piece of paper. A lot has happened in the last month and I think it’d be great to take a break from it all. Everyone really would appreciate it, and I think you would too.” He caught himself before he suddenly was going off into a long wind.
And again, it was silent for a while.
“What kind of break did you say, again?” Tarja asked.
“...A vacation...” Garril said, a little lamely.
Silence. This time, the rest of the group had finally keyed into their discussion, and were paying close attention as to what they were saying. The notiong of ‘vacation’ danced in a shower of bright lights in their minds. Then Tarja stood.
“Why take one now?” she asked mildly. “We’re so close.”
“Close to what?” Garril rebutted. “We don’t know where it will take place, we just know that it will.” Tarja thought about a moment; her visible half-face contorted in thought.
“Well, you are right,” she conceded. “All right, I am all for it.” And she smiled a crooked smile. The group was in unison, when suddenly they started to cheer and bang their fists on the table. The idea of a vacation was great when it was suggested; now it just exploded.
“Where to?” Ardray asked.
“Gerodathia, of course.” Tarja shrugged. “It’s the perfect place to get away, with all of its beaches and all that.
“‘Gerodathia’ is a broad term,” Artturi reminded her; “so where in Gerodathia are we going to go?”
“Definitely nowhere too big,” Garril said. “We’re going on a vacation, but we don’t want any of La Kai’s men to jump us.”
“You’re catching on,” Artturi congratulated him with a broad smile. “He’s right. So that leaves Ireun and any of the state capitals out of the question.”
“The littler islands, then,” Rhylor suggested at that point. “There are only a few little villages on the coast there, and it’s really quite a backwater place. We’d stick out to the villagers, but not to anyone else.”
“Why, that’s a genius idea,” Tarja noted.
“You think so?” Rhylor said a little humbly.
“Yes. I think you’re much smarter than people say you are.” She looked out to the group, whose festivities had totally spilled every plate and every utensil on the floor. Not that they minded.
“All right,” Tarja announced now, but to just their group so no one else would hear. “It’s been decided. We’re taking a much needed vacation to Gerodathia. I think if we leave now and head to the harbor on the back road, we’ll get to the harbor in Elytris before the month is out.”
“That’s perfect, Tarja,” Artturi said. “Well you heard her. Let’s go now before we attract much attention.” And as he turned on one heel, the group stood in unison, and started to go after him.
“Wait,” Tarja called; “how about waiting until I’m dressed?”
“You’re a sorceress, aren’t you?” Vankesa called back. “Just”—he made a vague hand motion—“onto yourself.” And with that, he stepped out the door in a manner that exuded finality.
Tarja sighed an unbecoming-sounding sigh and put the money for their stay on the table. She did not seem to notice—rather, she pushed it out of her mind for the sake of time—the mess on the table and floor, and went right out the door.
And queen Anukka sat on her throne again, waiting, never realizing she would not get a chance to kill two birds with one stone, as she had planned.
Once on their horses, they began the long journey that would eventually take them to the harbor in Athastre, where they would catch a ferry to Gerodathia. Tarja and Artturi insisted they take the back roads, in order to avoid the impending threats of running into anyone unpleasant.
Unfortunately for them, the back roads from Elvinia to Athastre was buried deep in the thick green forests. The roads were so thin, having only been barely carved out by the paths of travelers and their horses. It was a difficult road to follow.
That was made worse by the fact that the back roads were well distanced from any towns. They were forced to camp out by daytime in the dark forests—they slept by day and rode by night—which was just as dark as they would have been at night. No sunlight at all penetrated the thick canopy of the verdant Elvin-Athastrian forest.
Eventually—about two weeks after they set out—they ended up in a small village, where the people were, unfortunately, still logged back in a forgotten time stream. They bypassed the town disappointedly.
After that, however, they eventually ended up in a fair-sized town known as Japida. It was there that they sold their poor, worn out horses, and bought stronger Athastrian-breed horses. The Athastrian landscape is mostly flat plain, so they had much room for breeding and riding their horses across a good distance. As a result of many generations of selective breeding, the horses were superior, stronger than any others in the world.
Saddled on their new Athastrian horses, they continued down the south of the country, where it was nearest the ocean, near the Gulf of Elytris. The Gulf was a warm-watered place where huge marine mammals lived, and when Garril first laid his eyes on one, he was moonstruck.
“What is that thing?!” he cried aloud as the huge head of one breached the top of the water to breathe. The immensity of the creature was amazing. Ardray and Solnel also stared at the thing in mutual shock.
“That’s a whale,” Tarja explained. In all her long life, she’d only seen a whale twice, and it was the same whale. She nodded speculatively at it. The huge creature nodded back. With that safely put away in her mind, Tarja led the group onward to the harbor.
Probably a week and a half later, after stopping in only one town, they finally arrived at the Athastrian harbor. The harbor was built at the edge of a port city known as Rogio. The city and harbor smelled of the salty ocean breeze—and incidentally enough, dirty seagulls and trash. Rogio itself was constructed in a traditional Athastrian manner: high terraced roofs with sun-dried adobe and stucco walls. The group gathered in a secluded villa overgrown with choking bushes.
“Should we stay a night in this town?” Artturi suggested. “We are all awfully tired.”
“Rogio is a large city,” Solnel disagreed. “We’d put ourselves in danger of being found.”
“We don’t know if Syrregain’s people are this far out,” Garril countered then.
“We can’t chance it,” Solnel said, staying on that same path. “I grew up here. People from all around the world come in all the time—and that’s including Elvinia. We could catch some rest on a ferry anyway.”
“That is true,” Artturi mumbled. He thought about it for a while, pacing around in the stone-floored villa. “What about food?” he asked then. “The ferries don’t have any food aboard them.”
“We could buy some,” Vankesa said. “A foreigner wouldn’t look too suspicious. If Syrregain’s been keeping tabs on us, then it would be hard because he’d only know what Garril looks like. So, if we keep Garril hidden, then the rest of us are free to do what we want.” She thought about that for a second. “Probably hide you two as well,” she said, pointing at the sibling sorcerers. “You’re related to him, so you’d be familiar.”
“I’ve never even met Syrregain,” Artturi protested. “And the same goes for vice versa.”
“Remember, he has that sword,” Vankesa said. “If it’s anything like what people say about it, then it knows you. And Tarja, you’re the only Elvin with black hair I’ve ever met. You’d be conspicuous.”
“There are plenty of people with black hair in the world,” Tarja countered just a little bitterly.
“No one as pale as you,” Vankesa counter-countered. “Shall we take to shopping then?”
“I’ll go with you, I guess,” Ardray said. Almost unwittingly, she plucked Rhylor by the arm and dragged him after her. He gave no complaint, and soon Vankesa and his little group were out of the villa and into the streets of Rogio.
Less than a couple of hours later, they returned, their arms filled to the brim with baskets full of produce. Ardray carried a bushel of apples, a head each of lettuce and broccoli, and some other vegetables. Rhylor was holding the bread, and Vankesa was holding the meat. It seemed sufficient enough for them when they would land in Gerodathia; though it was for the whole boat ride.
They did not waste time. Keeping the same level of discretion, the group sent Solnel to sell the horses—he came back with a sizable profit on the horses—and they made their way to the harbor nestled against the ocean. There was only one ferry headed to Gerodathia, but it was a huge one, that carried many people. They were in danger here of course, but they hid themselves in the crowd and belowdecks.
Belowdecks were of course dark, but the darkness they sat it now was beyond dark. It was a strange form of advanced darkness; one that silenced all forms of communication and swallowed sudden flickers of action. For the less brave, it absolutely shattered their bravery. Gerodathia was farther away on land than it was overseas, but the fearful some knew that the voyage would last forever.
And Queen Anukka, after a whole month of bored anticipation and a boundless disappointment, finally decided to take another course of action. And on the night that Garril and his group finally landed on the larger of Gerodathia’s Red Sand Islands, a fleet of spies dispersed all over the continent.