Chapter 11: First Blood Drawn
Table of Contents|
Chapter 10 appeared
in issue 132.
Clavar Rakensoft listened intently to Father Rayul in silence. They walked side by side, when the short man wasn’t struggling to keep up, through the halls of the Sun Cathedral. The moon was high in the sky and the halls were empty; with the Light Bearers’ duties having been done. Their footsteps echoed softly down the corridor, and their voices, when they spoke, were at a low whisper.
Father Rayul whispered loudly, thought Clavar. It was not the priest’s habit to be so urgent and thoughtless of others. But Clavar knew this was the exception. The whole place was abuzz with the news that Palance Demondread had not returned. Everyone knew he was late, when he should have arrived that day before dark. The implications were beyond Clavar’s grasp, but not his master’s dark mood.
“Make sure the rooms are empty and prepared, Clavar.” Father Rayul did not look at the little man. “I know that Palance is still alive, I can sense this. It has to be. When he comes back, he won’t be leaving any time soon. So he must be made to feel comfortable. I don’t know what’s keeping him, but he’ll get here. I just pray nothing has happened to his lady. It will be such a shame.”
“Yes, sir,” was all Clavar could get in before the pair turned down another corridor. This hall was quieter than the previous one. They walked on farther into the shadows of the empty corridor, farther into the belly of the palace. Sconces hung against the wall unlit. It made the little man nervous. But he showed no signs of fear. Father Rayul did not tolerate his men and women to fear the darkness.
The sole purpose of a Light Bearer was to master the light. They had to study it and learn it like a son. They had to make it a part of themselves. The rewards were to use it like magic for the greater good. It was rumored that sunlight was stronger than the most powerful of magic. Such men and women who could harness the power of the sun were known as Shining Ones.
The last Shining One had lived over five hundred years ago. Clavar doubted another would be born for another five hundred years. It would be a long time before the Six Pillars of Acrene Tarrynth became the seven pillars.
The Sun Cathedral took its name from these Six Pillars that stood in the middle of the holy palace. The Six Pillars of Acrene Tarrynth had the only six Light Bearers to have mastered the light engraved on them. Upon the death of the legendary figures, their images had appeared carved into the stone of each pillar. No one knew what power made this happen, but everyone knew the stories. The first of the Pillars had appeared long before the Conquest. The cathedral had been built later, around the already standing monuments. It’s what made the Sun Cathedral special.
No one else in all the Nations could claim to have the same. The Sun Cathedral was a monolith of power that stood to protect and give hope to the people. Nomen had been nothing but a small village when the cathedral had been constructed. Then people began to move there in droves, trying to find shelter from all the darkness and horror that waited beyond. No one knew what made the Sun Cathedral nullify magic, and no one knew why its protection only extended as far as its gates.
Clavar could only hope to be a powerful Light Bearer one day. A Shining One was born, not made, and he had long ago accepted his lot in life. He always thought Father Rayul could be a Shining One. Maybe, through hard work, once Father Rayul passed on into the Embrace, he could run the Sun Cathedral. It would be a worthy accomplishment. To follow a man such as Father Rayul as leader of the faithful would be an honor. The short little man could see himself tending to the needs of the palace as if it were his own child. He could spend the rest of his life doing that.
But first he needed to overcome his fear of the dark. It wasn’t that he feared it, but was wary of it. Things of worse nature were known to move through shadows. The Sun Cathedral was a sacred place, protected and safe from all creatures of a dark nature, but this did little to calm him.
Especially with all these rumors of the prince being in some kind of trouble, he knew nomel dracs were after his lord, but Father Rayul had made it a point to keep much of the news from his underlings. Clavar understood. He himself did not want to be told all the horrors that might be awaiting them. He would just do his duty and do as he was told. He knew the hearts of men, as well as did Father Rayul. A man could perform selfishly and with his full potential against forces he thought only minor rather than in full light of the advancing enemy.
The thought of what was out there gave the little Light Bearer a chill. To keep his mind occupied, Clavar Rakensoft thought of his orders. Father Rayul wanted Palance’s chambers washed, cleaned, and refurbished. The head Sun Priest did not know if Palance would return. The man clung to the notion that he would, so he bade Clavar to prepare. It was already well known that Palance would not be leaving so quickly. He could not risk the danger that would be following him.
At first, Clavar knew, Father Rayul had been hopeful that the threats by Romen Garrenson were fruitless babble. But after the prince’s absence this day, things had turned for the worse. The Lord of Nomen had taken fifty men and had gone in search of the one known as the Rune Man. They hadn’t found him, yet.
As for Father Rayul, his mood had darkened considerably. Everyone in the Sun Cathedral knew the prince and priest were like father and son. The man had been sour all day, and with good reason. If something happened to Palance, not only had he lost a son, the Nation of Acrene Tarrynth was without an heir. If news got out of the danger the kingdom faced and its implications, Clavar was sure problems would begin to arise immediately. Men of greed and power would rise to storm the royal families while they were weak. They would take advantage of the complications and revel in it.
As they drew closer to the vacant quarters where the prince would stay, Clavar thought of all the rumors that were already spreading throughout the city. Palance hadn’t been gone a day when the rumors spread like wildfire. People who heard the rune man’s ranting had started the rumors. To make matters worse, Palance had been seen leaving the city, headed south by all reports.
Yes, he could hear them all now. Palance Demondread was attacking Stonegate with his Iinnin Lodar. For what, no one knew for sure. Palance was riding to Stonegate to get his bride back after being imprisoned. Some even claimed he was on his way to Stonegate to destroy his bride to be for becoming a Seer. Others claimed he went to take over Stonegate. Clavar thought of the most absurd one he had heard: that Palance was a Seer himself and had gone for training, eager to be with his bride.
At least they had gotten the bride part semi-correct. He almost smiled to himself despite the dark corridor that stretched before him. Clavar knew the truth of it all. Father Rayul told his most confidential men of the dangers that awaited them. He disclosed Palance’s adventure into the countryside and his reason for coming to Nomen. Father Rayul held them all to the utmost secrecy.
So far, no one had let the priest down.
They walked past a couple of doors and then they stopped. Father Rayul turned to face the door on his left, a huge oak door as thick and as strong as the tree it had been made out of. Clavar stepped behind his lord and looked over the taller man’s shoulder, straining to see into the room when the door finally opened. The little man forgot about the darkened hallway momentarily.
“Are we going to enter, Father?” asked the little man nervously, after Father Rayul made no move to open the solid door.
The tall priest looked over his shoulder, down at the little man. He looked into Clavar’s brown eyes and the little man knew he saw the nervousness hidden there.
“You are not afraid of the dark, are you?” Clavar detected a hint of mirth in the question, or was it anger?
Clavar looked away quickly. It was hard to hide things from the priest. “No, Father, not at all.” He straightened himself and looked down the corridor. He could not see the far end of it.
“Come,” urged the Head Sun Priest. “Let’s go inside. This is where Palance Demondread will be staying. There are three rooms that will consist most of his living quarters. There are four more rooms in the back. These, prepare at your discretion. They have no use except to provide space.”
Clavar listened as the priest turned the key. With a loud click, the door unlocked and creaked open slightly. Father Rayul walked in and urged the other man through the door. Clavar followed his master hesitantly into the darkness beyond. There was no need to worry, he told himself. Besides, he was in the best and safest company in all of Nomen. The little man chided himself for his fear and stepped in confidently.
Father Rayul was already moving into the second room when Clavar Rakensoft let his alarm fall away. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he moved to catch up to Father Rayul. He made it to the doorway when he felt a hand grasp his throat. The hand was icy cold, and it chilled him to his very soul. He barely had time to squeal in fright before his body was racked with convulsions.
Clavar’s heart lurched in his chest and the pain threatened to consume him. The hand flung him to the wall effortlessly where he struggled to remain on his feet. He felt the air being sucked out of his lungs and felt his throat constrict. The pain in his chest was almost unbearable. It felt like a thousand needles were being pricked into his heart.
He knew in that moment that to stop struggling meant to die.
The little man tried to see through bleary eyes what had caused this pain, but he saw only blackness. Father Rayul came running into the room. The priest said a word that was indistinguishable to the younger Light Bearer’s ears and a tiny flame came into existence in the palm of the older man’s hand. The flame flickered steadily, brighter than any lamp in existence.
The light was cast just in time for the priest and Clavar to see the shadow detach itself from the wall. Father Rayul threw himself against the wall, barely avoiding a fatal blow. A dagger grazed his cheek by a width of a hair and Clavar saw the priest reach for his face.
The shadow moved with deadly speed. Instantly, without slowing its pace or breaking its swing, it reversed its motion and plunged the dagger downward. Father Rayul sidestepped just in time to have the blade strike the wall where his face had been.
Clavar watched horrified. His breathing came in small gasps. Sweat broke out in every imaginable place on his body. He tried to take a step towards the fight and felt his knees threaten to give out. Slumping against the wall, he called forth the only incantation he knew and prayed it worked. There was a loud pop that boomed through the room and light flared to life at each corner of the room. What it revealed proved to be a horror of unimaginable worth.
Father Rayul wheeled away from the figure and came to stand between his pupil and the murderer. The priest was stunned. He stared at the creature in front of them without making a move. For a moment, Clavar feared Father Rayul had been charmed.
Both Light Bearers found themselves staring at a shade. Its eyes were lifeless black orbs, like a bug’s eyes. Its pale skin was transparent enough to see the wall behind it. An oversized cloak was draped over once human shoulders. Beneath an over bellowing sleeve, Clavar could see a long nailed hand grasping a dirty dagger.
The sudden flare of light did not surprise the shade. In fact, through the pain and hurt, Clavar sensed it ease a little. It gazed at its potential prey with flickering orbs of eyes that were enough to drive Clavar mad. He had never seen such a hideous sight.
The pain in his own chest intensified with his fear. He felt his heart pump furiously and felt his robes soak with sweat. His knees buckled and he knew he would not be able to hold himself up for much longer. In that moment, he knew he was going to die. His eyes began to blur and it took all his efforts to keep them from closing. It was like a great sleep was coming over him. The Embrace.
The shade snarled at the priest. It sounded like cement paper rubbing together against a granite wall.
“I want the girl,” it drawled. The sound of its voice was like a banshee’s wail.
Father Rayul moved towards the door. The shade moved lightning quick and blocked any chance of escape. Clavar watched on with dying senses, hopeless and helpless.
“The girl,” it threatened, snarling again. “Don’t move again or you die.”
Father Rayul stepped back. It was obvious he was trying to puzzle out what manner of creature this was. Clavar hoped Father Rayul could defeat the shade, or he was likely going to die. The Light Bearer saw a flash of fear come across Father Rayul’s visage. The priest didn’t like fearing. It was an emotion foreign to Father Rayul. Slowly, Clavar saw the fear turn to anger. It was not in the custom of a Light Bearer to use his powers in battle, but the little man hoped this was an exception. It was his only hope. Father Rayul was his only hope.
The priest glared back at the thing now. Although none made a move, it was obvious the shade would kill without a second’s thought.
“The girl,” it said again. Its mouth opened to reveal jagged teeth. The little man could still see the wall beyond through the hideous gapping maw. The creature took a step forward. Both priests tensed.
Father Rayul had yet to make a move, and the little man suddenly realized why. The older man didn’t know how to fight it. It was a creature of insubstantial matter. Nothing either man could do could hurt it.
Their power was in the light. How could they use the light to their advantage? Clavar didn’t have any power, but he had read a great deal of books. Quickly, with waning strength and consciousness, he thought of all the things he had read. There had to be something useful in all that information in his head.
“Encase him, Father!” he cried out, remembering how they used to trap animals that wandered into the cathedral.
Sensing the danger, the shade attacked, raising its dagger to strike. Right before it struck the priest, Father Rayul jumped back. The dagger whistled clear but the shade whirled with a fury not known to any creature in the Nations. With the thing on his heels, Father Rayul cupped his hands and blew into the face of the creature.
A ball of blazing light encircled the shade. It caught it in midair, holding it suspended off the floor. It screamed in agony, and Clavar could see it crashing against the ball of light trying to break free. The priest clapped his hands again. With a force that finally threw Clavar to the ground, the ball of light imploded into a tiny dot of light, taking with it the monstrous beast which had found its way into the Sun Cathedral.
The priest came to stand over him, concern evident in the older man’s eyes. Clavar could barely breathe, his lungs constricting tighter and tighter. It was taking his heart extra effort to keep pumping blood to his brain. He could hear the pounding of his pulse in his ears. It sounded louder than any great drum. He clutched his chest where the pain was the worst. The thousand needle prickling had grown to an almost numbing sensation.
The dot finally disappeared from existence and the dagger clattered to the floor. Father Rayul reached over and picked it up. He regarded it for a moment. Then with sad eyes he turned to Clavar. The little man knew what would come next.
“Did it touch you with this?” asked the priest.
Clavar could barely shake his head. It hadn’t touched him with the cursed thing. It didn’t make sense. His life was coming to an end at a mere touch. He saw his own thoughts mirrored in the priest’s eyes. The older man only nodded mutely.
“Father...” he gasped. “The creature... it wanted the girl.” Already his body was just a faraway sensation. He felt his vision grow darker by the second, but he couldn’t go yet.
“The prince... it wanted the prince’s... bride.” Clavar saw the pattern. It was so clear to him now. The prince was late, and the thing had come for her. She wasn’t dead. They must both still be alive.
“I know, my son. Rest,” calmed the priest. “I must bring help.” He made to get up but Clavar frantically clutched at him. He would not let the older man go. He would not die alone.
“No,” he said through clenched teeth. “I... am lost. Stay with me. That... thing killed me with its touch. I... don’t think it can... do it all the... time. But it got me... somehow. Warn the others. They... must know. Whatever Romen... Garrenson said is true. Heed his warnings. Tell... the prince. Andina... has to be very important... for many people... want her dead. It’s all true.”
“I will not let your death be in vain. Know that you will be remembered, Clavar.” Father Rayul’s steady demeanor broke for a second. He scooped the younger man into his lap, where he held him tenderly. “You would have been a worthy Head Sun Priest. I will make sure everyone remembers your name.”
“I... go now to the... Embrace,” he stammered with final finality. “Goodbye. May the Shining Ones roam again to save us,” Clavar was tired. The effort it took to talk was too much. The last thing Clavar saw and felt was Father Rayul’s eyes water and the priest taking his hand.
Then his heart shattered along with his world.
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler