“No, we aren’t too late! Look!!!!” whispered Zy’an as carefully as he could. Unlike he, the others were having the most difficult time catching their breaths. Thrak was heaving. Strong as an oliphant was Thrak, but he was near useless on a sprint unless that cold blood of his was in the sunshine. Iricah simply couldn’t give up her bags, insisting that she might need them to thwart this crime. In reality, she knew the precious cargo she carried was worth more than gems or gold. It was information monumentally important to Cellinor, to all now, and she wasn’t about to let it leave her sight again. Up ahead, in the tunnel, a cloaked figure was moving swiftly, in front of him or her on some kind of apparatus was a barrel, perhaps two. They had a pretty good idea of what was in there. The figure rounded the corner without looking as though it had seen them, and was out of sight. This was their chance.
Stabbing time, friends. Areia then kicked her heels together in the air and crouched low, moving from box to box expertly in the shadows. Kick your heels up stabbing time, kick your heels up stabbing time…
They raced after the figures, and behind the dancing murderer as well. They were now deep under the house of Lords. It was surreal, running as they did for time seemed to slow with each stride Iricah took. A flash back so powerful that she thought she was back in Cillandar overwhelmed her. She heard the chanting overhead. She heard the yelling, the cheers. As the King arrived, the clergy, the lords would assemble. Would Tabraxon be among them? Or would he be here, with the other conspirators? They were about to find out.
Ahead, the cloaked figures!
Time seemed to slow in that moment as well to Thrak but for a very different reason. It had been so long since he had held his axes in his claws, that as soon as he saw the chamber ahead, with the heavily cloaked figures, and the many barrels of the powerful weapon the humans had talked about, he planted a foot and leaped through the air. Next to him, Zy’an did the same only his body, twirling and twisting, his robes skirting all around him like a dervish, flew faster. They both struck their targets with pinpoint accuracy. Zy’an with a mighty kick followed by a set of fist blows that would have knocked out the worthiest of opponents. Thrak slashed the legs out of one of his victims, and heaved around to slash at another. Frank bellowed, and Areia slunk around a box to strike a victim from behind, a grin from ear to ear spread across her face!
Iricah and Hojo entered last, surveying the field. And thus they were the first to learn of what they were actually dealing with. Oh dear, came her voice inside their minds.
“Oh dear,” said Hojo out loud. “Cover your faces! Cover your faces!” He yelled.
“Welcome, your majesty! Welcome to Silver Shore!” announced Cardinal Tabraxon. He was standing with his arms outstretched, not 40 feet above where Hojo and the others were now engaged with the conspirators.
With his royal entourage, the king walked into the Chamber. Among him and behind him trailed dignitaries, nobles and a score or more of his finest military councilors. They looked none the less for having traversed the still waters. They were simply a sight to behold. The King was garbed from head to toe in glittering golden mail. A green cloak trailed behind him which bore the Tree of Awakening, the symbol of the Light that once came to the civilized folk of the realm.
He took step after step, and came to stand upon the top of the tiered altar, and greeted the Cardinal with a firm handshake. The cardinal smiled. Bowing, he then stepped back. He addressed the large crowd, while Borindin faced his subjects. “Please, nobles and assembled guests, your majesty.”
“We humbly beg your pardon as our House of Lords is repaired from the recent Sasser bombardment. Please, your honors, please come forward, so that you may fill our hall, and give audience to this grand event. Our lord, His Majesty, Lord Borindin, has come to the colonial lands at last! A new day has dawned. The Silver Light of our Flame’s righteousness will bring a new age! Your majesty, the floor is yours!”
“Get down on the floor!” yelled Hojo. “They’ve been given the sight of stone!”
Areia was about to yell what the scabbards the sight of stone could be, when one of the men and another of the women’s cloaks fell backwards. Instantly, she stopped, staring at a head with hair that undulated, like seaweed floating under a ship on a still day. It was as if the two were underwater and their snake hair was waving in the current. But the others knew all too soon that the snakes had loosed themselves from the scalp of the creatures under the hood. Underneath, two sets of glowing and piercing white eyes glared at the rogue.
Areia stopped cold in midstep, her dagger poised to strike the nearest. She seemed unable to lift it as though it had gotten heavier, and heavier. And that’s when Zy’an noticed that her feet were turning to stone.
“Thank you Cardinal,” the king’s voice echoed throughout the hall. “It’s been a long voyage, one I know all of you have taken yourselves. Forgive myself please, and my royal commanders for the intrusion, I know for my arrival, there has been strict codes enforced, and I am sorry for the secrecy.”
A voice called out from the crowd, “We forgive you m’lord! Just buy us a beer!”
“Aye Celn!” roared the King. “That I shall do, for I have brought you all a case of the finest ale any lands have ever known! As well as the lords who have brought it!” A cheer erupted so loud that it gave Tabraxon all the time he needed. While the men realized they were in the company of Taryn, Jasper, Mesilla and Bolvist, Tabraxon moved a portion of the rug he had been standing on aside. The men cheered and whooped. Borindin was often known for his way with the soldiers and the nobles alike. A hearty song erupted, and soon, an old Celn lyric was being sung right there in the House of Lords.
Tabraxon laughed along with the others, and went to the podium behind Borindin. Where he withdrew his wand, and pointed it at the King. It took a full minute before anyone noticed. Including the King himself. The crowd grew quiet.
“What is the meaning of this, Tabraxon?!” shouted the king.
“The meaning of this, m’lord, is why it must be done!” shouted the cardinal as he pointed the wand directly at a small hole in the floor, into which a cord of rope lay. Fire erupted from the wand, and the rope below their feet began to burn!
Thrak, Zy’an and Frank hid behind a stack of boxes while the two remaining creatures slid around them. They could hear the hissing and the slithering, even if they couldn’t see them.
“Back humansssss,” hissed one. She sounded like Thrak thought Iricah, she also knew like the others that she wasn’t. This was a yuan-ti. A snakelike tribe of humanoids from the outer wilds. Dangerous, deadly, and unpredictable. Thrak looked out and saw Areia’s face, frozen in determination, frozen in stone. And he suddenly realized that the rogue had become more than just a partner in battle, she had become a friend.
There’s no reasoning with them said Zy’an. I know their kind. They don’t care about their lives.
A raucous cheer erupted from overhead, followed by a loud shout and yelling. “This is it!” yelled Hojo and he stepped from behind the crate, in full view of the snakelike creatures! Then, he walked towards the yuan-ti, step by step. There around them, lay long thick cords that wrapped around one another and exited up into the ceiling, presumably to a place in the House of Lords. Each rope dead ended in one of the barrels that lay beside them. Above, in the small hole where all the cords exited a sound like a hissing snake grew closer. And closer.
“What is he doing?” yelled Frank. “Hojo, Wait!”
But the jester wouldn’t stop. His steps became slower and slower, as his feet, then his ankles then knees became frozen in stone. The yuan-ti coiled around one another in the corner, their snake tongues’ hissing. From above, the sounds of Tabraxon’s voice shouting and laughing hysterically came through the hole in which the cords dangled. It was triumphant, victorious. Tabraxon had won.
“We’ve failed,” said Iricah.
Wait! shouted Zy’an. For at just that moment, Hojo’s upper torso, which had not yet been turned to stone, bent over upon his marbled legs. Hojo threw his hands out to take the rope into his hands. It was just in time as a flash of sparking fire traveled down the cord at lightning speed.
But when the fire got to his hands, which were just then made of a fine alabaster, it stopped for just the tiniest of moments. It was all the time that Frank needed to jump out and cut it in two with his sword, but the effort had cost him. For his eyes could not be concealed. Frank looked at Hojo and as the jester’s face solidified in white, Frank could feel his legs begin to do the same. The cleric watched Hojo’s face turn to stone, and take on a final grin, his triumph immortalized in mirth. He smiled, thinking how appropriate the look would be for the jester. He wondered what his would look like.