The Art of DevastationEdit

fifth chapterEdit

Dark Serpent Kiss

Two years passed without disturbance. Summer became autumn, autumn became winter, and winter became spring. That early spring, the world was welcomed with a hopeful-looking season. The amaranths on the cliff side were in full, lush red glory; the trees around the church were beautiful and green.

Garril had introduced Rhylor to Solnel, and not surprisingly, the two hit it off almost immediately. The three boys, along with Ardray, formed a rather tight-knit group.

Many of the nuns were definitely in a light, springy mood. They happily performed tasks they would have normally taken on in disgruntlement. Solnel took note of that. Once, he had gotten Yubaga to wash his clothes for a whole week, and then she caught on. He felt it was the right time—even though the two had become rather close.

“You have to admit, it was an amusing ruse,” Solnel had commented.

“No, not for me,” she had stated scathingly. Her jaded eyes softened. “Oh, Solnel. You are a jewel of a boy.”

“Yes, I do believe I am,” he replied with a wide grin.

Though with the appearance of but a wooden house, there was a church inside the cliff with the amaranths on it. Inside, there seemed to be a perpetual choir singing deep, dark hymns. And since then, Garril and Solnel both worked for the church, as decided against their will by Ardray—and quite surprisingly, Rhylor.

They did not seem to mind. Their work was never too hard or burdening, and they almost always found some time in the day to get away from all the nuns and the work. Usually, they went into town nearby to buy things, whether they were for the church or not.

Although when she was in an especially wry mood, she’d send them into the choirs to sing. At first they adamantly refused —but Ardray had come to know men in her time. She knew that all men’s tongues would loosen with some ale.

“Oh Garril, you know we all loved your singing at last night’s service,” Ardray had stated with a chillingly sweet smile, as Garril sat at the table morosely staring at her.

“Leave me alone,” he murmured. He never sang when he was sober, not even to himself. But he must have put on quite the show.

“I mean it though!” Ardray exclaimed with a contrived awe. “Don’t let the singers get you down just because you can’t necessarily find the right notes.”

“You love doing this to me don’t you?”

Ardray smiled tightly; “What else am I here for?”

Still, even if Garril and Solnel called themselves monks, they carried their swords around. People in the market backed away from them as they walked past.

As winter came that year—fast approaching—the four of them decided it was time to finally do their part in getting food, before the serious frost came. They gathered what money they could without at first asking, and set off into the marketplace. For now, people from the Island were just starting pack their things and returning to Gerodathia. Today would be the last day to buy anything. And so, Garril —like the family he was born into—seized the opportunity by the hair.

“Is it really necessary to flaunt weapons around that way?” Ardray asked them in a scolding tone once they were in the market.

The air was alive with the heady smell of spices. And cats. Island people seemed to favor cats. The two of them shrugged it off. Ardray scoffed and started moving toward a small fruit store, with Rhylor not far behind her. The store itself was shaped like a small Island noble’s house.

“‘Exotic Island Fruits’,” Solnel read. “Well, why not?”

“Exotic fruits are a sin of the devil,” Ardray mumbled to nobody.

“You and your God,” Solnel laughed, patting Ardray’s head. “You know, I used to have an imaginary friend too.”

Proudly carrying his broadsword, he entered the store. Rhylor went in right after, casually trying to bury a smirk beneath a straight face.

“Can you believe him?” Ardray muttered to Garril.

All he did was stare at her blankly, eyebrows flat, and followed after Solnel and Rhylor.

“Well fine then!” Ardray growled at him. She crossed her arms, and slowly a smile formed on her face. “By the Lord,” she squealed tightly; “he looked at me!” and she followed the boys inside the store.

The inside of the store smelled of spices and freshly groomed cats. All over, there were shelves packed with bright, hard, and just plain strange fruits. There were some larger, harder fruits in baskets dangling from the ceiling. A distinctly Gerodathian counter with a man standing behind it was in view.

“Welcome to my store,” the man said with a thick accent.

Ardray heard a cat meowing somewhere in the back of the store.

“Hello,” Garril said without looking at the man. “We’re just looking around.”

Garril inspected a hard black fruit. He knocked on it. There came a deep rumbling from inside, followed by a shaking noise.

“Are you sure that’s a fruit, Garril?” Rhylor murmured suspiciously.

“It’s in a fruit store,” Garril replied; “so it must be some kind of fruit.”

“I don’t know,” Rhylor said, scrunching his eyebrows in the middle. “Not very many fruits make a rumbling noise when you knock on them.” He thought about that for a second. “But then again this could be one of those,” he added, smiling briefly.

What are you getting, Solnel?” Garril asked Solnel, who was staring at a high shelf of pink fruits.

He watched as Solnel reached for a bulbous one.

“What do you know!” he chuckled. “Two for one!”

The fruit was bright magenta, and it looked like two fruits that melded together. It was like two squashes joined together at the narrow end. At the bulbous ends, there seemed to be two ingrown stems that had become stumps. It was very suggestive looking. He showed the thing to Ardray.

“Hey, look at this!” he laughed.

Ardray did not reply, but she rather gave him a mildly cross look. Garril and Rhylor burst out in outrageous laughter, with the latter poking at the hard nub.

“This fruit displays ardor!” he crowed.

There came a noise from the counter.

“Are you going to buy it or not?” the man asked.

Solnel snorted with laughter. “Sure thing,” he said.

He reached for another fruit dangling on a basket. It was long and yellow, and resembled a cucumber. It was rather hard. Solnel smirked at it, and Ardray scoffed derisively once more at him.

“You are so immature,” she muttered. She grabbed a bag of cherry-like fruits and placed it on the counter. “We’ll take these with…those things.”

Ardray looked disgustedly at the fruits Solnel had gotten. She reached for the long yellow one. However, Solnel’s firm grip on the slippery fruit made her hand slip off. Again, she reached for it. Her hand slipped off.

Angry this time, she caught the thing in a death grip and pulled. With her hand enclosed halfway up the fruit, she glowered at Solnel.

“Let go now!” she said. He said nothing, but his eyes seemed to go down onto the fruit. Slowly, she realized what she meant. “You are filthy,” Ardray hissed at him, taking her hand away and wiping it on her robe.

He finally relinquished the fruits he had, snorting with laughter. Garril handed her the hard black one. There came from within it, a deep rumbling noise, and a rattle. Ardray looked at the thing questioningly.

“Are you sure that’s a fruit?” she mumbled.

“That’s just what I said,” Rhylor said to her, smiling faintly.

Ardray stared at it for a moment, and placed on the counter with everything else. Placing several metal coins on the counter, Ardray hefted the things into a bag and they took their leave.

Outside, the market was more alive with people than there was when they entered the shop. Many of the stores flew banners with a foreign calligraphic script on them. Noise was fervent in all places.

“Why am I carrying the bags?” Ardray mumbled. “You boys should be.” Her voice suddenly took on a sweeter tone. “Garril, would you like to carry this?”

“No,” he replied plainly. Ardray frowned crestfallenly at him.

“I can carry it, Ardray,” Solnel offered. Ardray emitted a low, angry growl. “Hm…never mind then.”

The four of them walked down the street—Garril and Solnel flaunting their swords, Rhylor trailing not far behind them, and Ardray carrying the bags of the odd fruits.

Garril suddenly stopped at on quaint-looking store. It was dark and broody-looking, and even the sign on it was faded and old. This store was much higher than the other stores around. It too was shaped like one of the noble houses from the Island.

“Ardray, Solnel, Rhylor…” he called.

They all stopped at the store as well. Though it looked too forbidding and dark, it also made them want to enter it.

"‘Spell Caster’s Haven’,” Ardray read the sign of the store aloud. “Hm.” Without another word, she walked inside the store.

“Hey—I thought sorcery was against the code of the church,” Garril called to her.

She vanished wordlessly behind the tattered purple curtain. Shrugging, the boys followed after her.

The inside of the store was also rather dark, being lit by only a candle sitting on a desk. At the desk, there was but a rotund old woman, reading a book by the dim candlelight. Instead of much of the other storeowners at the marketplace who were from the Island, this woman was distinctly Elvin. Yet, she was plumper than most other Elvins, and much shorter too. She did not really seem to notice them. Garril went over to her desk.


“Ah!” she gasped.

She put down her book, and stood up. She was even shorter than Garril was. Solnel and Ardray were at a back shelf, carefully inspecting different books. They mumbled—almost instinctively—upon reading the titles.

“Welcome to my store,” the old woman said to them, bowing.

“We’re only here to browse,” Solnel informed her from afar, distracted by the books.

The old woman sighed rather contently and returned to her desk. Pulling herself onto her chair, she picked up the book and began reading once again.

Ardray peered into the books, into their titles. In the dim of the room, the title’s spiraling letters made no sense to her. In the dark, she could not read it anyway. All at once, there was a rustling coming from the curtain, and a a cold breeze suddenly swept in. A man was at the doorway, carrying a bag of some clinking metallic objects. He was looking down on the group from the church, with a smugly cold leer on his face.

“Vankesa,” the woman said. “You’ve returned.”

The man shoved Garril aside, and went over to the old woman’s desk. He dropped the clinking bag onto the counter and headed out yet another tattered curtain around back.

From the silence that quickly took over the room, there came the soft lilt of metal whittling wood—and then, the old woman sighed.

“That was my son, Vankesa,” she said in a low tone. “I’m afraid you’ll have to come back some other time.” Solnel did not object to the woman’s command.

“Sure, we’ll come back,” he said in an obviously contrived tone of voice.

He started out the door; Garril came after him. Only Ardray stayed behind.

“Ardray, we’re going,” Solnel called to her. But no, the girl was held spellbound by something invisible past that curtain. Her gray eyes were transfixed on that purple rag, billowing loftily in the cold breath of wind.

“Ardray,” Garril called to her, finality in his voice. It was then that she snapped from her distraction.

“Al-all right,” she said, and she followed them outside the door.

The air had suddenly become thick and dusty. The sky had darkened considerably now, and it seemed as if not night, but a bleak blackness was falling on the land.

“I’ll have something ready,” the woman called to them, as if she awaited their return.

Garril cast a final sidelong glance at the grim shop. He received no response from its dark wood structure, or its ragged dark violet curtain—billowing softly in the wind.

“There you are!” Yubaga half-screeched when they returned to the church. “You’ve been gone for hours!” Garril blinked in surprise.

“Have we?” he asked her.

“Yes!” She took the brown burlap bag from Ardray. “And you smell like paprika. And cats."

“We’ve been in the Island market,” Solnel explained with the lilt of a joke in his voice.

“Yes, well I don’t care where you get your fruit. Just as long as you have the fruit.”

The four bit their lips and stood there quietly as Yubaga examined the bag. The other nuns, too, seemed to be held in a solemn state, as if the old nun’s presence silenced them. At last she tipped the bag upside down and the fruit came tumbling out. Luckily, their table was wide, so no one had to be washed down.

“How peculiar,” she stated in an absentminded drawl. She picked up both the yellow fruit and the pink fruit; “Are you sure that these are fruits?”

“Yes,” Garril replied with a nod. He quickly added; “that’s what the Gerodathian man said to us.” Yubaga looked at it disapprovingly.

“You can’t trust an Islander,” she said acidly. “They’re honest folk at home, but when they’re here, their eyes are as smooth as their tongues.”

She took a knife across from her, and made a tiny slice into the pink fruit. “This seems all right though. It smells all right…” She cut deeper into the dark violet flesh of the fruit. It seemed well on the inside.

“I suppose Melva can make a preserve out of it,” she said idly. “You do that now, Melva.”

A nun stepped forward and took the fruit from her, wiping the pink juice that squirted from it on the front of her habit. At last Garril, Rhylor, Ardray and Solnel took a seat at the table. That sent the other nuns off back into their work.

“Check this one,” Rhylor said, pointing at the long, yellow, squash-like fruit.

Yubaga cut into the top part of it. A clear, yellowish ball popped out, and the ancient woman’s face creased with a grin.

“A Sheltham fruit,” she exclaimed. “Never thought I’d see another one of these again.”

“Why, what’s it for?” Ardray asked, curiously poking the yellow shell.

“They taste wonderful when you put them in—” and then she said a word that was foreign to them.

“Say that again…?” Rhylor asked, scratching his head.

“I said, thrai kadai,” Yubaga repeated. A curiously cross look creased the four young workers’ foreheads.

“What’s that?” Ardray muttered aloud.

“It’s a dessert from the Island,” she replied. “They may not have the best reliability, but my Lord they make wonders with Sheltham fruit. That is, they call it kreungrae plak down there.”

“That seems interesting,” Solnel added. He pointed to the bag of small red berries. “Ardray picked those out, and I frankly do not trust her.” She gave him a cold, acid stare.

“Were you just mocking me?” she spat.

“I don’t know. Was I?”

“You know perfectly well what you just did.”

“Do I?” Solnel flashed her a quick little grin.

She sighed grievously. “You are impossible to deal with.” Yubaga silenced them both with a clearing of her throat.

“Yes, these berries are all right,” she stated archly. “I’ll use them to dress the roast boar for when Prelate Astharmennon arrives next week.”

Yubaga stood from her seat, her old bones creaking miserably, carrying the three fruits in her arms. She started to walk toward the counter, when Garril suddenly remembered the black fruit he picked out.

“What about this one?” he called to her, holding it up.

“You’re a grown boy, Garril,” Yubaga called back without turning. “Examine it yourself.” Garril shrugged.

“Why not?” he mumbled, and took the knife. Rhylor, Ardray and Solnel simultaneously backed away from him, getting good distance in between them and the knife.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said tersely.

“I don’t trust an Elvin that has hold of a knife,” Solnel mumbled. “You Elvins get a little hasty with knives.” The other two nodded in agreement.

“Fine,” he murmured, and started cutting into the fruit.

Instead of the satisfying sllllluuussshhhh he thought he would have heard, there came in reply only a brittle criittttt.

“What in Volante…?” Solnel muttered, leaning in close to the fruit.

“That is no fruit,” Rhylor said. “That is more like an egg.”

“An egg of what?” Garril mused.

He cut deeper into the egg, as more of the black pieces fell into it. Long, slender cracks soon found their way into the black shell and broke it apart. And the thing inside made Garril half-retch and Ardray shriek in fear.

Snake!” she cried. “Snake!!!

The other nuns mumbled in concern, and flocked around the three. A couple of them drew Ardray and Garril back toward the kitchen, and another went around to Solnel. Rhylor had backed far away, as if on intrinsic instinct. The nun with the burly arms came close to the green, writhing thing with a huge, rested meat cleaver.

“Don’t do it!” said a voice from the stairs. All eyes fell there.

A wiry-looking, middle-aged nun came dashing down the steps in an odd, writhing walk. Her legs seemed to twist as she moved forward, and clothes whispered along the contours of her small frame.

“What are you doing, Zulah?” Yubaga demanded.

Zulah crept ever forward to the snake, holding it tenderly in the grasp of her arms.

“Don’t you see it’s but a harmless thing?” she cried.

The nuns started mumbling in odd concerned murmurs. The burly nun with the meat cleaver lowered her arm.

“Yes…it’s a harmless creature, can’t hurt—”

She was suddenly cut off by the snake’s venomous bite upon her neck. Zulah stiffened and paled, and collapsed to the floor, eyes wide and rolled back; dead. Wasting no time, the burly nun slammed her cleaver right down the middle of the snake’s head. It wriggled loathsomely for a second, and died.

“Snake make dunh,” the large nun grunted in a deep voice.

By now, the nuns were heaving in short breaths, still astonished.

“Nice fruit there, Garril,” Solnel muttered casually. The Elvin cast an icy leer at him.

“Oh, shut up,” he mumbled. Solnel cast a wide grin at his friend, and all seemed to be all right once more.

“Well,” Yubaga said after taking the time to calm down. “That was exciting. Why don’t you three go upstairs and practice for the sermon tonight?” All four groaned, but the old nun hushed them all.

“Oh, hush,” she mumbled. “You’re only doing two readings.” Then she turned to Garril, her smile sweet and chilling. “And you, my boy, are going to sing for us.” The Elvin sighed ruefully.

“But I have a horrible voice,” he replied.

“Nonsense, your voice is beautiful, if you do remember last week’s little show. I thought it was brilliant, and now you’re doing it again.”

“I don’t want to,” he argued stubbornly.

“But I never asked you to,” Yubaga stated with a prim little smile. “I told you to. Now go and practice.”

“But—” he started, but was cut short by the sudden flinty leer in her old eyes. “Oh…all right.”

Ardray chuckled at the prospect, and reached down into the cupboard. Soon, she pulled out a small tankard of ale, and a earthenware goblet.

“With a little help from your best friend,” she added brightly, shaking the ale tankard.

She took Garril by the arm and started to lead him up the steps. Rhylor followed close, eying conscientiously the glass decanter, and the ale sloshing inside of it.

Quite suddenly, Garril felt a little wave of heat bolt up his arm from where Ardray touched him. He looked at her, his face wondering. She didn’t seem to notice him, and continued walking him up the steps.

She look a bit…nicer in this light, he admitted to himself. Suddenly, she looked up.

“What are you staring at?” she said with that steel edge in her voice.

“Nothing! Nothing at all…” he muttered.

That agate-hard leer fell into her eyes once more. And she then whipped her head back forward.

“Where’s Solnel?” she mentioned quite tersely.

It was at that moment that he bounded up the stairs, and looked at them both. First and Garril, then Ardray, and then their interlocked arms. He smiled suspiciously.

“What?” Garril grunted.

Then quite suddenly, in a flash of knowing, he broke the link between his and Ardray’s arms. She cast him a sidelong glance, and then shook her head slightly.

“Well, you heard Yubaga,” Solnel mumbled. “Get to singing! I’ll be right here, observing.”

“As will I,” Rhylor said in a lilting, ancient brogue. “Aye, me kind friend, you do but have the voice of a young angel.”

“Of course,” Ardray agreed. Then a dark sweetness crept into her voice. “If I can’t convince you, then this will.” She nudged her tankard of ale toward him. Garril groaned.

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