Later in the day, when evening came around, there were people who were filtering into the little wooded cottage, and into the door behind the stairs into the church. They were people of many races coming in from wherever—the Elvins, the Sycrates, the Athastrians and even the Island merchants.
“Good evening, Yubaga,” an Elvin man clad in a rich blue velvet said to the nun, in a voice that was low and furry.
“Good evening, Duke Teles,” she replied. “Lord be with you.” Duke Teles nodded slowly, and proceeded into the church. Meanwhile, Garril was at the top of the steps, watching as the numerous people went by into the carved-out rock entryway. He became lost in his thoughts, and suddenly there was a light step, and the sweeping fragrance of flowers behind him.
“What are you still here for?” Ardray mumbled angrily. “Get to the choir place!” He noticed that the amaranths from the bush were woven into the locks of her hair—she looked like a graceful Paitish princess. That was accented by her Paitish looks; dark brown skin, pale gray eyes and hair so dark, midnight blue. He thought she was magnificent; immortal.
“Oh, fine,” Garril groaned grimly, and stood. He walked down to the hall where a dark room awaited silently.
He walked all the way to the far end of the room, and felt around the shrouded dark wall. At last he found it—a little brass knob that glimmered faintly; patiently. He swung open the door, and was suddenly met with the warm, stuffy air of the church interior. A waiting choir stood in the wings, drinking warm teas and singing quietly to themselves.
Garril took a place at the railing, dressed in a plain white-gray robe. There was no room for pleasantries in the choir, except for maybe the soloist, who was regarded as the main center of attention. Tonight, he saw no soloist, however—or the bright of their verdant stripes on their robe.
“Where is the soloist?” he asked a nearby singer. Garril had come to know him as Peri, and he was a reliable enough boy. But Peri was a little on the frail side. That need not matter though—Garril was certain Peri would forever work for the church.
“Haven’t you heard?” Peri said in a low voice. “You’re tonight’s soloist.”
“What?” Garril blurted aloud, making the dark rock of the church ring with that one alarmed note.
“Yubaga told me to tell you earlier,” Peri explained quickly. “But I haven’t been able to get to you. Sorry.” But Garril couldn’t really hear Peri. He was having trouble comprehending what he’d been told. Why did Yubaga not tell him herself earlier?
Meanwhile, Ardray tried hard to keep from roaring with laughter. Placing a falsely placating hand on his shoulder, she shook the tankard of ale.
“Yes,” she said laughingly. “If you’re going to be the soloist tonight, Garril, then you’ll need this.” She shook the ale near his ear, making a hollow frothing noise.
“All right,” he said grudgingly, taking the ale from her hands. He swallowed a good portion of the cold, dark drink in a massive swig, and already he could feel its effects working its way through his head. Peri stared in wide shock.
“Is he allowed to do that—deliberately?” he gasped.
“Sure,” Ardray shrugged. “It helps him want to sing.” Peri shrugged and took his place at the side of the railing, opening a book. Ardray looked at Garril and shook his shoulders lightly.
“Are you all right?” she asked him—he was already looking a little tipsy.
“Never been better,” he exclaimed in a woozy-sounding voice. He stood up, and leaned waywardly against the railing. “Whee...” he mumbled to nobody. Ardray stood near the back wall, nervously shifting the tankard from hand to hand. She wondered reluctantly if he had drunk too much of it, but decided to keep her mind focused. The choir picked up on a steady, low vocalization. Garril seemed to catch on quite quickly, and started in a deep, low hum.
With a light little spring in her step, Ardray turned around and went back through the doorway, patting the bottom of the ale tankard with satisfied grin.
Back downstairs, about an hour later, Ardray was away eating the clear little bubbles inside of the Sheltham fruit. Solnel sat across from her, absentmindedly chewing on the gelatinous pearl. There was not much conversation between the two, only a few contented mumbles. Feeling the monotonous silence oppressing him, Solnel decided to strike up a conversation.
“Do you remember that old lady in that bookstore?” he said in a low voice, leaning close to her. She threw another pearl in her mouth and chewed it.
“Yes,” she replied, swallowing; “what about her?”
“Did you hear the way she said she’d have something ready?” he said now in a more concerned tone. Ardray’s face became slightly grim, and he leaned closer to him too.
“Yes,” she replied. “I know she’s planning something.”
“I...don’t know. But, I do know that she’s waiting for us. She has something planned.”
“You think that’s what she meant when she said ‘I’ll have something ready’?” For a while, the two of them sat in the same silence as before, with eyes wide.
“Yes,” Ardray said at last; “that means...”
“What means...?” And again, there reigned that same silence between them. She likes to take time answering...Solnel thought to nobody. He watched her intently as she took a deep sigh.
“I think she does want us to go back, Solnel,” she said. His eyes widened and danced with surprise, and then he started choking on the pearl he was chewing on. She reached over and hit him between the shoulders with her fist. After a grudging moment of choking and regurgitating, Solnel stopped to speak.
“You can’t be serious,” he said in a denying voice. Ardray gave him a hard, icy stare.
“When am I not?” Ardray and Solnel both left it hanging there. As he opened his mouth to answer, she said quickly; “Don’t answer that.” Solnel nodded his head in a quick, sarcastically obedient manner.
“Yes, ma’am,” came the response, which made her stare at him with her agate-hard gray eyes.
“Must you always be so sarcastic?” she asked then, heatedly.
“Why, Ardray,” he said with feigned innocence; “why would you think I would be sarcastic—to you?”
“Just like that!” she groaned in frustration. “Solnel, you’re impossible, do you know that?”
“Yes, I do.” He gave her a wide, huge grin.
Ardray sighed exasperatedly; “Borans!” she exclaimed.
He started on another pearl; Ardray sat there, in waiting, staring at him—awaiting any response. Half-opening his eyes at her, he swallowed the pearl with a heavy ulllllp.
“By the way,” Ardray said next; “where’s Rhylor? I wanted to talk to him, but he’s disappeared.” Solnel shrugged, and the two of them fell back into a silence.
“If we are going back,” he started after a while, slowly and seriously; “then we’ll need to wait for Garril.” Ardray nodded slowly in agreement, and then suddenly looked sharply, left to right. As if she were trying to find a spy.
“You’re right,” she said, exhaling. “Do you suppose he’s done yet?”
Solnel shrugged; “I don’t know. Do you want to go see?”
“Yes, let’s.” With that, the two of them wiped the cold liquid the Sheltham’s pearls left on them on their tunics, and went to the space behind the stairs.
Why...why am I here? What am I doing here? Am I singing...?
I don’t sing...
As those thoughts raced dimly in Garril’s mind, slowly, but surely, he came to see what was happening.
Out of the shades of black and white, there around him came the solemn orange of the candlelight. From the edges of his vision, there came bleak blue-gray of the shale, and the dark brown of the railing. Then there was the people—their demure, hopeful faces, in the eyes of their Lord.
And then Garril stopped singing. He was not sure what made him stop—the fact that he realized he was sober, or that he thought the others were close to finishing. As he watched the rest of the choir vocalize the final interlude, he felt a dry nagging in the back of his head.
A faint and fairly blunt instinct was rather strongly suggesting him to sing onward. His mind tried to brush it away—and quite suddenly, the world before his eyes flashed a deep white. All that was white became dark, and all darkness became light, while the whole of it was ensconced in a brilliant grayish-white color.
But for a feat of only a split second, it made him suddenly lose balance. He leaned over even farther on the brass railing of the choir wings, with his body half over the rails.
“Garril?” said Peri from beside him, his voice anxious. “Garril. Stop that.” But he did not—he could not. He leaned a little more, inch by inch into the railing. Peri stopped singing that guttural resonant hum, and reached over and poked him.
“Garril, would you please stop?” urged Peri, distressed sounding now. And quite suddenly he fell!
It was just enough time for Ardray and Solnel to throw open the door, too see the entire crowd looking with concern out of their seats. The priest was also away from the altar, urging somebody to pull someone up.
“Ardray,” Solnel said with astonishment; “look! Up there!” Ardray followed followed to where his finger suddenly jerked up in the choir wings. She saw Peri—she saw him holding somebody by the leg. Ardray could not perfectly see just who was being dangled—but she knew that person was in trouble.
“Hold—hold on!” Ardray called to the dangling person, and she started to sprint across the expanse of the slate church floor. Solnel followed after her; their padded footsteps muffled in the concerned mumbles.
“Hold onto him Peri!” Solnel called to the distraught boy. Peri’s face was red with struggling.
“I can’t...” he pressed out; “Garril!” That one single word floated dully, coldly—stilly in the air as it reached Ardray’s ears. It lingered in the air, as the world and the people in in slowed and faltered. She looked up, and saw that it was Garril—the verdant stripes on the robe of the soloist were a giveaway.
And soon, Ardray found herself directly under him. Her face was aghast as she watched the Elvin boy dangle by his foot like that. Not even Ardray knew what she did then that moment.
But she clapped her two hands together, and felt a warm tingling in them. Soon, that tingling grew and grew—until it was a fluid, hot surge that erupted visibly. Streams of gold, amber and blue flew from out of Ardray’s dark, numb hands, and it floated idly above the ground. No sooner did she see Peri let go of Garril’s leg, than Garril landed on the splay of light with a soft whispering hiss.
His sight came back into perfect view, as the forms and the images drifted grudgingly out of the negative black and white. There, he found himself seated loftily on a bright tongue of fire—and it did not burn him. He touched the bright, slowly moving lick of flames and felt no singeing nor saw any blackening. Sorcery, he thought absentmindedly.
Garril lifted himself off of the cloud of fire. He saw Ardray and Solnel there—Ardray looking more relieved, while Solnel was wide-eyed. Ardray threw her limp arms about him.
“Oh Lord, Garril...” she simpered. “What happened?” He tried to speak; the words died helplessly on his tongue. Nothing came out of his mouth but the breath of cold, bitter ale. And then he saw them. The people—with eyes wide, wide open in shock and in fear. They stared at him, and the fire cloud, and Ardray. Garril looked over.
The priest was not amused.
“Sorcery!” he bellowed in his thundering voice. “’Tis sorcery thou hath used, Ardray!” Ardray let her arms slide slowly off Garril, and she threw him a defiant leer.
“And what do you plan to do about it?” she challenged.
“I’ve no choice but to dispel thee and thy witching ways,” the priest boomed. “Taketh thy friend, the drunkard with thee, for thou shalt not see the warmth of mine church. Forever!” And her face became aghast.
“N—no...” she mumbled weakly; “Y—you...no!”
“Yes!” the priest thundered; “leave now, the destroyer of mine sanctuary!”
Garril’s memories drifted somberly to the memories of him—four years ago, at his dying father’s bedside. That same, bitter day when he was thrown from the kingdom.
Leave now, the destroyer of my princess!
His now-sober mind was clear, and he turned to face the priest.
“You,” he started grimly; “will not talk to her that way.”
“Prithee, what art thou, a drunken mess, to mine authority?” The priest looked as if he were to continue insulting Garril in long, long words, but Garril’s palm suddenly enclosed around the man’s forehead.
“I am your end,” came the dark reply. Garril’s arm twitched a little bit inside, and a rushing force, tingling madly in his bones ended at his hand. He heard a strange ringing noise, like a cacophony of striking bells and buzzing buried in the background. His hand became instantly warm, and a surging power flew vigorously from it. Though, unlike Ardray’s cloud of flames, Garril’s will was not visible. It had an effect though.
The priest was babbling, crying, holding his knees on the floor. His eyes were wide with fear—his brow, creased with tension. And the most disturbing of all his ailments: a dark blue mark in the shape of a hand rested neatly between his fear-wracked eyes.
A wicked reminder of that night—that would last forever.
The people looked at them, their eyes in sheer shock and fear. Garril saw them all; their faces, fearful and astonished in the bleary orange glow. And they started to run—run far away from this monstrosity of sorcery.
“Run from the the witches!” a frantic lady exclaimed fearfully. At her frenzied voice, people began running here and there.
But not Duke Teles. He was watching the two of them, with his cold, grim eyes. Like the pale green of the river by a gray morn’s daybreak—these eyes of his knew; watched. He was smiling.
“Garril!” came Solnel’s distressed voice from out of the din of the crowd. Garril cast one final sidelong glance at Duke Teles. But he had started to leave, with his velvet cape in a cadenza flourish directly behind him. He vanished behind the door, just as Solnel gripped Garril’s shoulder tightly.
“Garril...” he started shakily; “we have to leave.”
“And leave you will!” A wire-thin nun in a dirty head rag exclaimed. All three pairs of eyes fell on her—her wild eyes skittering around in the dark shale’s reflections. “You’ve used sorcery,” the nun stated darkly. “You cannot use sorcery in the church of Martinae!”
Ardray felt her face stiffen, and with a defiant stride, she started to walk over to the nun. Just as she took two steps, Yubaga was instantly in front of her. Angry sparkles of sorrow danced on her ancient lips and eyes. Ardray stopped her advance mid-step, almost falling right onto the old lady.
“Please,” Yubaga moaned; “please...just leave.”
“You know what,” Solnel said defiantly, eyes misting; “we will.” He turned from her and sauntered back up the stairs leading to the upper level, with Ardray numbly taking Garril and going after him. Yubaga did nothing to stop him. All were much too dismal to speak.
And when Solnel finally reached the top stop after a seeming eternity, his face was flooded with angry tears. Garril could not bear to see him that way; he crossed the room blindly to him. Suddenly, Solnel reeled around and using pure force, he drove his fist into the wooden wall.
“Are you mad, man?!” Garril almost screeched as the wall splintered weakly and dust clouded the air. But when the dust cleared, Garril was surprised to see a smile on his friend’s face—and two glimmering swords in his hands.
“I can’t believe it,” Ardray said derisively, yet badly trying to conceal a smile.
“I saw them board this up a few years back,” he explained, his grin getting wider. “I looked in it the next night and found these.” Garril went over to take his. It was still the same sword, untouched by age. Even in that dark room, it glimmered as if new.
Ardray, who had been quietly watching the boys’ reunion from nearby suddenly stirred uncomfortably.
“Listen,” she said in midst of their idle reminiscing. “Do you hear that?” Her eyes were very much alive with fear as was her trembling lips.
“Hear what?” Solnel inquired, unawares. “I don’t hear anything. Garril, do—” He cut his question short, when he realized that Garril’s face was, too, contorted in a similar fashion as Ardray’s: afraid, and strangely aware. Grimly Solnel realized something was wrong.
“Hide!!” Ardray half screamed, her voice choking with fear and worry. She ducked into the nearest closet—the one closest the window—motioning urgently for them to follow her. They followed her in on absolutely silent feet, and Garril pulled the door shut behind him.
“Follow me,” Ardray said on the very edge of silence. With a quiet snapping of her fingers, a small red flame suddenly on her fingertips. It was then that they all realized that it was silent. “Stay absolutely quiet,” she warned them; “and be prepared to run as fast as you can.” All of them nodded their agreement, and Ardray pushed back a door hidden in the shadows at the back of the closet.
Garril breathed in the fumes of this secret cavern, and his eyes teared. It smelled strongly of old things rotting; of death. Before he knew it, however, they were all running as fast as they all could down the hall, as Ardray told them. Their boots made hollow noises that echoed across the hall—Garril realized it was a stone passageway. Garril did not think he would stop running, for the sheer length of the passage was simply too much. He began to wear out, and stopped to catch his breath somewhere near a long vine hanging down the wall.
“Wait,” he called tiredly to Solnel and Ardray. They too, stopped to regain their failing stamina.
“How much longer?” Garril asked Ardray. As Ardray flicked her fingers to throw more light down the hallway, he heard again that bell-buzzing sound. But it was different—there was a new sound, the howling of wind, added into that strange mix; and the bells were not as strong. He was sure Ardray heard it too.
“Oh no...” she whispered, not at all trying to conceal the fear in her voice. “Run!!” she shouted now. She started down the hall without waiting for either of them, and they followed soon enough. Garril was still drawn in exhaustion, but he forced himself to run.
All at once, there was a long crack suddenly in the wall. The rock melted into red-hot liquid, seared by invisible fire, threating to burn the three of them. Garril caught a glimpse of an angry yellow eye staring right back at him through the rift; it struck him with the essence of fear. Rock melted all around the rift, as easily as butter would in the sun. And then whatever it was, it stuck in a long, thick arm that had sharp claws on the end.
“Keep running!!” Ardray wailed desperately. She whirled about and started to run backwards now. Holding up her hand, keeping balance with the other, she shot a long beam at it. It came in a flash of bright light, and became a concentrated orange-yellow light. The creature wailed when it hit its eye.
Garril did not question where she had learned such strong sorcery, but fired right after her. Once again there came that bright light, and it soon became a visible arc of pure energy that homed in on the creature. It howled its pain and continued melting the wall of the stone passage. He and Ardray alternated casting continuous spells at it, until they found themselves to weary to move.
“Stop...” Ardray commanded them with a heavy weariness. She seized Garril’s hand in hers and held them both in the air. The creature came closer with its invisible flames. Ardray concentrated harder, harder...harder...
And suddenly, they were all outside, collapsed and afraid on a mountain plateau a mile away. Ardray and Garril heaved heavily, spent and utterly exhausted from having to futilely drive back the creature. Solnel, too, was tired—every part of him throbbed and ached, until he could not find himself able to move even an eyelash.
When they had rested enough to be able to sit up, they looked down the steep mountain range face. To their horror, there was only death, flames and destruction where their church had once stood in its humble reprise.