The Sword of DarknessEdit

ninth chapterEdit

The Madman and the Crucifix

“There will be a better time for us all!” the raggedy old prophet wailed. “Know that our God shall be with us in our deaths!”

The man holding the prophet—right-hand man to the queen of Elvinia—threw the babbling old man onto the carpet sprawled out on the cold marble floor. The insane man writhed and shook convulsively on the long strip of blue with gold stitched in the side. And he watched as a somber figure rose before him.

This figure was clad in menacing black armor. Chain mail rattled beneath a dark blue surcoat, which bore a grim parody of Elvinia’s golden eagle. This parody of the eagle was black, with superimposed yard-long talons.

Meanwhile, not that far away, Queen Anukka of Elvinia was sitting morosely in a chair, her head placed rather negligently in her right hand. She watched the black-armored figure walk ever slowly toward the trembling prophet.

“For Goddess’ sake,” the queen muttered acidly; “can’t you walk faster?”

The black-armored knight cast a bleak look at her from behind his visor. She raised an eyebrow in challenge.

“As you please, mother,” the knight said through clenched teeth.

He stared down the insane prophet, who was mumbling to himself under his breath.

“Your highness,” the right-hand man said to the black knight; “we found this one in the city of Dovrik. He was trying to scare people with cryptic theological threats.”

“Of which matter?” the black knight rumbled.

“A God called Kartja. It is apparent that he is one of the Owl-cultists.”

“An Owl-cultist…” The black knight removed his helmet. Long sandy-blond hair tumbled down past his shoulders. There was a crazed look in the man’s pale green eyes as he stared down the trembling prophet.

“Holy Kartja will save me from you,” the little man spat ruefully at the black knight.

Smirking, the black knight drew an enormous, fearsome blade from a scabbard on his back. The sword was one of improbable size, and a negative menacing aura surrounded the blade. A piece of jagged red metal was rested right in the center of the blade; and many spindly veins of it snaked its way around the sword. It looked like some kind of morbid heart—the heart of the blade. The queen and her right-hand man stared at the thing openly, fearing it.

“The sword!” the quaking old man hissed. “The sword of Hell’s demon king!”

The black-armored man smirked openly at him, casually flicking the enormous blade in his wrist. As he approached the mad prophet, he lifted the sword slowly above his head. And then, he bore down on him—but then stopped.

The right-hand man inhaled his breath sharply. The queen leaned forward from her chair, intently watching.

“No,” the black knight decided. “This sword longs against it.”

The prophet trembled on his spot on the carpet, his eyes darting between the sword, and the knight’s wild-eyed face.

“What do you suppose…” The right-hand man left it hanging there.

“Crucifixion,” the black knight decided without thinking about it. “The sword demands a death by sundown.”

“At once, your Majesty,” the right-hand man said, hitting the front of his breastplate with an armored fist. He took the prophet by the shoulders and began to drag him out of the castle. The old man howled insane prophecies of Kartja, spitting and hissing madly.

The black knight carelessly tossed his grim helmet to the side, and returned back to the divan-like throne. Queen Anukka stood from her chair, walking over to him.

“You can’t keep this up forever,” she told him, quietly resting a hand on his shoulder.

“I know, mother,” he murmured. “If that other sword isn’t found then…” He let it lie there, casting a forlorn sidelong glance at the massive blade. Its evil aura took on a hue of pinkish, as if purring in response to his agony.

“He will find it, don’t worry.” Anukka went to the front of the dais, looking out the enormous window at the crucifixion of the prophet.

A wild, almost satisfied look came into her eyes as the guards drove the enormous nails into the man’s hands. Blood spurted forth from them, and even more so as the guards drove spears into the bones of his legs.

“All will be complete in time, Syrregain,” Anukka said to him assuringly. “When the time comes, you will be ready.”

The following day was sparkling. As if from nowhere, it had fallen silently onto the world, and had drowned Ardray’s enchanted fires under heavy windrows of glimmering white frigidity. The trees were bare, and there towering trunks etched their branches against the pale blue-gray sky. The first snow of winter had come.

And the moment Solnel awoke, he screamed an ear-splitting howl of anguish.

“Tullamatti!” Garril swore, wiping the snow from his hair. “Why did you scream?”

There was a crazed look in Solnel’s eyes—and he stared around as if all of Hell’s demons had surrounded him. He dug his fist into the frigid white fluff around him and held it up.

“Don’t you see this?” he mumbled in an odd manner.

“Yes, Solnel,” Garril said slowly, as if talking to a child. “That’s what we call snow.”

“SNOW!” the Athastrian echoed madly. “I HATE snow!” Solnel squeezed the frigid ball in his hand and threw it at a tree. It exploded against it with a near-silent chhkk.

“What’s got him so worked up?” Vankesa murmured, just waking from sleep.

“He doesn’t like snow,” Garril told him, casting a flat leer at Solnel. By then, Solnel was digging out more and more chunks of white fluff, and throwing them all at that one tree.

“DIE FOUL SNOW!” he cried as he threw. “DIIIEEEEE!” A speck of snow bounced off of the tree and landed on Ardray’s face. Her eyes fluttered open, and she looked around her.

“Snow?” she mumbled. “It’s winter now?”

Ardray looked all around at the white piles all around the forest. She screwed her brow rather distastefully. She stood up, and the two Elvins took that as to stand after her. Soon they were wandering idly, while Ardray watched something apparently invisible. Something among the branches of the trees.

“What is it you’re looking at?” Vankesa asked, peering up at the same angle she was.

There was nothing but a softly whistling breeze, and even that was invisible. Ardray reached for a low branch on the tree. She broke it off with a couple of hard tugs.

“You could probably make a weapon of that thing,” Vankesa said admiringly. He shifted his own two blades in their belt behind him.

“I plan to.” She smiled, and reached down onto the snow where last night’s little flame had been.

She pulled out a fistful of leaves and wrapped them around the branch. Ardray put more and more leaves around the stick, until every single leaf from that spot was gone.

“What…” Vankesa breathed in astonishment as a bright flash of light seized the gnarled stick.

Solnel stopped throwing snowballs, and looked up at the brightly glowing limb. A number of dusty motes swirled around it in a mad aerial dance. The motes seemed to smooth out and straighten the stick slowly. Soon, it had become a staff of considerable length—suited enough for fighting.

“How remarkable,” Solnel said almost unconsciously. He went over and lightly touched it with his finger. "Are you sure it isn’t going to break?”

“I’m perfectly sure it won’t break,” she replied rather tartly.

Ardray swung the thing a few times, thrusting forward and back. Vankesa remarked her almost innate speed with the staff. She stopped, and them smiled proudly to nobody in particular.

“It isn’t complete yet,” she murmured. “It needs a blade at the end.”

“A bladed staff,” Vankesa remarked, raising one brow. “That means we’d better go to the nearest smithy.” He looked back up the tree. “Wherever that might be,” he added. Ardray nodded in agreement, and then looked around.

“Where is Garril?” she murmured, looking at Solnel. He spread his hands on either side, in a gesture of not knowing. Ardray then looked back and forward, with an expression that she had a bad taste in her mouth. “Garril!” she called into the air past the trees.

“Over here!” came a voice from the distance.

The three of them exchanged a quick look at one another, and after Solnel retrieved his blade from the snow, they went off toward the sound.

They did not have to go very far. The three of them soon encountered Garril standing at the edge of the forest, with his back to a large grassy knoll that swooped down into a low hill. That hill led to a wide valley, and eventually, that valley greeted the opening of a large, walled city.

“Look there!” Garril exclaimed gaily when his companions arrived at his side. “What city do you suppose that is?”

“Van Mara,” Vankesa replied in awe. “Mother and I used to go there often in the past.” He smiled at it. “It’s always been the most beautiful city to me,” he muttered. “Not even Elcana is better.”

“Thank God,” Ardray exulted. “They’d better have a smithy somewhere in there.” The boys all ignored her as they stared out into the city. They were all entranced by its immense marble walls. Tall buildings were totally sheathed in a sparkling, almost iridescent white marble. In the silence of the winter breeze, the sound of fountains trickling softly reached their ears.

“Oh, but how are we going to get there?” Solnel said then rather disdainfully. “It’s at least a day’s hard riding and we don’t have horses.”

“Don’t worry,” Garril disagreed. “Rhylor will be here soon.”

“Rhylor?” Ardray and Solnel gasped in a united surprise.

“I don’t get it,” Vankesa said. “Who’s Rhylor?”

“Rhylor is a friend of ours.” Garril smiled. “You’ll have to know that Rhylor is an incredibly optimistic person. However…” He paused, as if trying to find the right words.

“He’s a bit dull,” Solnel completed. “So be sure to use small words.” Vankesa smiled faintly—chillingly in response.

“How droll,” he said.

Tarja and Elinan had been running around for days now on the seemingly endless Cathreina Mountains. They’d gone for days on end without seeing a single solitary person, or any building of some sort. There had been no time nor opportunities to stop for food and drink.

And again that day they ran. Their legs were incredibly tired, and their stomachs were so incredibly empty. Elinan had even started to see things; earlier that morning, Tarja saw her reaching for a steaming Vallastide dinner that was not there. But, wearily, the two women pressed on, and they eventually crossed into Sycracia.

The gnarled mandrakes and tall bracken eventually changed into looming oaks and sparse grass cover. It was all rocks now; sharp rocks that became trapped between their toes. Almost as soon as they crossed the border, the winter that was not all different from summer in Paitland became a dull, frozen winter in Sycracia. Snow rained down in icy, wet windrows from the sky, occasionally blocking their path.

“Tarja…” Elinan groaned, falling onto the steep mountain road. “I can’t keep this up much longer.”

“You’ll have to try,” Tarja pleaded with her friend. “Please Elinan! It isn’t that much farther.”

But that was a lie. Her farm on the river was days away, and even then, the two would have to pass the Elbenath Academy. Tarja was not exactly sure they had forgotten about her.

“Look over there,” Elinan whispered coarsely then, one bony finger extending to someplace far off.

It seemed to be a tall house, situated atop a rocky knoll. It was surrounded by trees, as if those trees were guarding a precious treasure.

“Let’s go there,” Elinan suggested, trying to stand.

Tarja went over to her, and hoisted her up on her own back. Elinan—seemingly unconsciously—wrapped her legs around Tarja’s waist, and the two women set off for the house.

Dry winds scattered with leaves and biting frost lashed across the cliff top. It threw its bitter, invisible arms about the two womens’ faces. The house seemed so far away! Tarja was sure she would die in that place.

And then the door to the house opened. An amber light broke out into the wilderness around it; a figure was plaintively standing there.

Jompaal!” the figure called. “Korjo devas maalamai tej tuvuluatto!

“What did they say?” Elinan creaked.

“They’re speaking Tulla,” Tarja replied with a choking hope coming into her voice. “Jaalaas! Jehni esta Tarja Vattiksi!

Carrying the plaintive woman, Tarja dashed forward toward the house. She was close to its front door now—the bright light bathed her pale, unblemished face in yellow.

Vattiksi!” the man gasped. “Jompaal! Unta esta hiimeitti ja pahrjos Vattiksi!” He cast a mildly worried look at the wild winds before him, and then at Elinan. “Come in please,” the man called to her, ushering them in with a florid bow.

“Warmth!” Elinan half-screamed when the light of the candles touched her swarthy face. She fell onto the floor, trying to embrace all the carpet’s individual stitches for their warmth. Tarja too sank to her knees.

“Tullamatti!” she half-swore in utter reverence. The points of candlelight glimmered in her eyes like a whirling dance. Unconsciously, Tarja held her shivering hand to one of the candles.

The house was bigger than it looked from outside. Everything inside was bright; a wealth of light seemed to be the most ubiquitous decoration. Most of the chairs were made from a rather warm-looking silver wood. The carpet—on which Elinan still writhed, giggling—was a deep violet-red hue, and covered the entire floor, even the stairs nearby. The walls themselves were decorated with a wallpaper that was either naturally yellow or had been yellowed by age, and they had rather intricate designs on them. It was rather garish—but so garish in a way that made it look unified.

Kanalai,” came a sudden voice from nearby. Tarja looked up into the face of a young Tulla man.

Kanalai pohjista,” Tarja replied, raising herself so she could bow floridly in reply. The young man excused himself with a polite inclination of his head.

“What brings you here?” the man who had let them in asked her.

“We are escaped convicts, I’m afraid,” Tarja replied. The man’s face twisted in shock, but Tarja raised her hand to silence anything he had to say. “I assure you,” she added slowly; “that we have been imprisoned without any reason.” She drew herself up tightly. “It seems as if some people have nothing better to do than to take innocent people to jail.”

“Who imprisoned you?” the man asked next with a rather delicate tone.

“King Syrregain of Elvinia,” Elinan replied for Tarja, drawing herself up as well. The two women stood side-by-side and stared rather distantly at the man.

“That can’t be.” The man shook his head. “I will go speak with the Eliista about this. Please stay here.” And the man scampered off to a place up the stairs.

“Who’s Eliista?” Elinan asked the sorceress.

“Not who, dear,” she replied. “What. The Eliista is the ruler of the Tulla Elvins, and he has to live in the forest to honor our Goddess, Tullamatti.” Elinan nodded her head, slowly comprehending.

A figure came down the stairs. His hair was long, blond and incredibly smooth, as if somebody had spun pure sunlight onto his head. His face was as pale and pure as if time had never touched it. It may have been Tarja’s imagination, but there seemed to be a glow coming off him. He was very nearly incandescent.

“Eliista Raakel,” Tarja said, bowing. “Kanalai.

Kanalai pohjista, Tarja Vattiksi!” the glowing man half-shouted with an overtly ostentatious bow.

“You never changed, Raakel.” Tarja smiled at the little man.

“Did you expect me to?” the Eliista replied with a grin so broad Tarja was afraid his face would split. “So, come here, come sit,” he said, ushering Tarja and Elinan to sit on a wide divan. “What’s happened since the prince’s birth?” The Eliista chuckled and added slyly; “all those years ago.”

“Nothing good, I’m afraid,” Tarja said seriously. “King Syrami banished Garril from his kingdom twelve years after he was born.”

“You’re not serious!” Raakel gasped.

“I’m afraid I am. Anyway, after that I found him outside of my barn. He’d tripped and had been wounded badly, so I helped him get better. He showed no signs of wanting to return, and it became evident that he wanted to stay with me. So he did. And when he was fifteen, I took him to the Elbenath Academy, and I wanted to see if they would take him.”

“Did they?” the Eliista interrupted again.

“They didn’t,” she sighed rather mournfully. “Anyway, one of them—”

“Riikeli?” came a voice of from the top of the stairs. It was from a man with a cleanly shaved beard, a mop of scraggly blond hair, and he was stripped to the waist.“I need my robe. Where did you put it?” A reply came from somewhere in the upper levels made the man at the top of the stairs frown disdainfully. “Never mind, I’ll get—”

“You old hawk!” came Tarja’s voice. The man turned around slowly—flinching almost.

“Why, hello Tarja,” he said in a conversational tone. He looked out a nearby window. “Lovely night for a stroll, wouldn’t you say?” Tarja stood from the divan and advanced to the man rather menacingly.

“If I’d have never ended up moving to a farm, I just might have turned you into a radish!” she growled at him. Tarja held up both hands at him, focusing her will.

“You don’t want to do this, Tarja,” the man said lamely.

“As a matter of fact, Artturi,” she said in a dangerously quiet voice; “I’ve wanted to do this for the past one thousand years!”

“Children, children!” Raakel huffed at them, flicking his stout little staff in whip-like motions. “I won’t have this madness in my house! Now, stop it!” They both looked at him helplessly.

“Yes, Eliista,” they both replied in downtrodden voices.

“That’s better,” the glowing man muttered. He looked at Elinan. “I can never keep track of these two.” He leered at them. “They’re always in and out of trouble, like they were little children,” he said to her.

“Is there something I’m missing?” Elinan asked, sitting ramrod straight on the divan with a helpless look in her eyes.

“I should explain…” the man said, getting to his feet. But then Tarja put her arm in front of him.

“This is my older brother, Artturi,” Tarja cut in. “He likes to play tricks sometimes, and I’m usually on the short end of them.”

“Artturi Vattiksi, madam,” he said, bowing with opulence to Elinan. “I’m very pleased to meet you. That made Elinan blush just a little.

“I’m sure you are,” Tarja muttered to him. “Anyway…” She screwed her brow in the middle. “I do believe I’ve said all I need to say,” she said simply, shrugging.

“We were born to the great sorcerers Danseljaa and Ramtraja,” Artturi added with a floridly mournful tone in his voice. “The Vattiksi family has long since been a line of powerful enchanters and great sorcerers.”

“She gets your point, Artturi,” Tarja said. Arrturi ignored her.

“Oh, woeful is me! To have seen the terrible outcasting my parents had to suffer! They were honest people, really and truly, and they bore remarkable children. And the incomplete tribe of children of which they conceived stands here before you! I, Artturi, the eldest and the only male thus far; Tarja the short-fused woman whom you have come to befriend!” Artturi smiled at his sister. “And alas, our youngest sister Anukka may not join in this terribly sentimental reunion of kinsmen and kinswomen alike. Oh, woe is me, for you and I alike have not seen her as of late. All in truth, I rather miss her. But I do fear she is worlds away! In both rank and in land distance. Ah, well. Dearest Anukka has her kingdom to mind.”

There was a stifled silence that very well floated in an amused humor in the air. A little sniffle came from between the siblings.

“That was the most beautiful thing I’ve heard,” Eliista Raakel moaned. “Artturi…have you ever considered being a storyteller?” Artturi put one finger tentatively to his bottom lip—it was a look feigning innocence.

“No, dearest Eliista,” Artturi continued in that same tone. “I can’t say I have.”

Tarja looked helplessly to Elinan. The wiry woman was holding a wispy fragment of a kerchief to her eye. She was carefully dabbing away a tear as her face held in wonder the light around them all. She could not—perhaps would not—say a word.

The sorceress threw up her hands in a great conceding and went away; the patchwork hem of the ruined skirt ghosting around her ankles. A number of colorful curses followed her all the way up the stairs that made the Eliista’s face pale.

“That’s Tarja all right.” Artturi grinned. He looked in Elinan’s direction, and his eyes danced over her as if half in speculation; half in a kind of adoration. “You, my dear,” he said to her, taking her by the hand; “need more clothing than these rags. Come along, dear.” He led her up the stairs by the arm.

Elinan noted that Artturi said ‘dear’ in the exact same note that Tarja did.

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