Telchar grumbled out a deep sigh, “But then the second thing happened.”
“Second thing?” Asked Haryk, for Genoran was still composing himself. Why does there always have to be a second thing in these blasted isles?
“The mountain tore itself apart,” said Telchar.
“Right,” Andril said sarcastically as if it were a perfectly normal thing for an island to do.
Canton continued, “Fire and brimstone from Ket itself, my lord. The mountain came apart, divided into pieces of smoldering rock. The day turned into night. And then she sent her demons upon us.”
“She?” said Haryk.
“Demons?” Said Tahg. He was still hugging the neck of one of the dragons. It didn’t look as pleased for the embrace as he did.
“The new mistress of Far Realm, my lord. The Great Mother she is called.”
“Blasphemy!” Raged Haryk. “We destroyed that bloated worm years ago! Right in these very caves! I saw to her death myself!”
Canton put a hand on Haryk’s shoulder. “I know, Haryk. I was with you, do you not recall?” He gave a sigh, and because Haryk wouldn’t stop looking at it, he took his hand away. “We were wrong. She was but offspring. There’s a new great mother in town it would seem. This one–a wee bit worse.”
Andril spat up a bit of saltwater leftover from the involuntary dive he had just been put through, “You mean to tell me that disgusting grub we stopped years and years ago was the offspring of something greater?”
“Yes,” said both Canton and Telchar at the same time.
Canton added, “Something much greater.”
While the King healed his men–not with the might of the flame, for it had been taken from him, but by way of several potions he kept on his person–Canton, Telchar and an Oorstman named Seebo recounted the last few hours that could only be described as hell upon the earth. Once the Sassers had fallen it seemed, the remaining troops had rejoiced, but their victory was short-lived. As the mountain erupted and spewed forth it’s liquid rock and smoke, creatures came with it–creatures no Celn could ever have imagined in any nightmare.
The last few battalions scattered. One of them, under the command of Telchar ran up the slopes as rivers of magma ran down around and past them. Smoke filled their lungs and fireballs spun over their heads crashing upon the hillside. Telchar was tasked with a simple assignment, to rescue the last of the Atauh, to find their warrior princess–to bring her and any other with her left to safety. Canton, on account of their great sacrifice, was adamant that all efforts should be made. Many men were killed along the way by the demons that issued from crevasse and fissure alike. Others were thrown into the hot depths by the quaking of the hill.
Telchar recounted what he saw as he approached. “Before me stood the warrior queen, bold, still fighting. Around her the fighting remains of her inner guard, two warriors, one female and one male, as majestic of warriors as I have ever seen. This was the last of the warrior elites of the Ata’ah, the Ama Zuhn they are called. I could not see their faces, but I could tell they were courageous to the last. Down each was struck, their bodies carried away by the wicked things that birthed from the ground itself– until–only she remained. And then….she was taken into the darkness. as well”
A sly looking rogue, clearly a pirate turned soldier finished, “Dragged to Ket with the others, my…my King.”
Genoran shook his head. “The whole of the Ata’uhn, the fighting men and women of the isles, gone. Their queen along with them.”
“It’s a tragedy beyond comparison your majesty,” said Telchar. “We were…we were too late. The Ata’uhns deserved a better fate than this.”
Genoran shook his head again. “And you, Oorstman? Seebo is it?” The King looked at the tall, muscle-bound goliath. “What have you seen? To what end have you decided to be here, among the Celn, fighting our enemies?”
“King of the Celns–this island is what I defend. I am not alone and I am not here to protect you or your people. There are others who dwell here. The Celns are not the only inhabitants although they sometimes declare it so.”
“What other inhabitants?” Asked Haryk who, like the other Celn warriors had taken immediate offense to the goliath’s words. “You mean the savages? The lizardfolk, the halves? They have probably crawled into holes by now. You couldn’t get rid of them if you tried. We are not here for them either Oorstman!”
The Oorstman grunted, “It is too bad, Celn, that you cannot see past the smoke in your eyes. The halves fight like any two men of Cellinor. And they are as much a part of your Realm as you are!”
Haryk unclipped his holster. The Oorstman gripped his bow.
“Enough of that,” insisted Canton. “We have other things to worry about presently!”
Genoran looked up from one of his patients ignoring the skirmish of words. “What of Commander Fritz? What of my father’s royal men and women? His most trusty servants, say, Hojo by example?” Something in Genoran’s face gave way to exposed truth of some kind. Haryk saw it. It was brief, but he took note. Andril saw it too, he knew.
“My lord, he is as we speak in the interior seeking to find the very people you named. The king’s most loyal of courtesans and diplomats, and yes, my lord, even his jester, were taken by the creatures from the citadel when the mountain shook it apart.”
“That is where I will go then,” said Genoran.
“My lord you cannot! You do not have the forces to take it,” cried Canton.
“I will take it,” growled Genoran, his eyes suddenly growing insane with ferocity. “I will take it, and I will bring those inside back with me.”
“Aye, my lord,” said many of the assembled men.
But Canton was not appeased, and although his head was bowed he spoke forcefully. “My Lord, I have failed your father this day. And I will follow you into the bowels of Ket until the bottoms of Tartarus itself, but I will not fail a second king of Cellinor again. My lord, we cannot take the fight to the enemy and hope to succeed. I will not see you cut down in vain!”
Genoran looked around at the haggard souls around him. With resolution in his eyes, he asked. “Canton, what became of my father?”
Canton took a deep breath, and told the tale that Haryk could tell he longed not to say. He spoke in a whisper at first barely audible in the cave. “I played at cards. And I lost. The King, your father, thought that a break in enemy lines would divide the invading forces. As one, the island warriors–who waited to defend our positions at the citadel– would be overrun. Commander Fritz felt that if we split the Sassers in two, our last Celns, and Ulua’s tribespeople would have a fighting chance from the walls of Far Realm’s Keep. We expected reinforcements within a day and night. But they never came.”
“Fritz was wrong, you’ve been over this,” sighed Andril. He kicked a crab off his trousers. “I’m wasting away here Gov’nor!”
Canton continued anyway. “The Vengeance dealt a heavy blow, and all was going according to plan. I myself couldn’t believe it. The wind seemed to breathe from behind us as if by a vast spirit fighting on our behalf. We had split a seam, right down through the middle of the black fleet. Sasser ships were being thrust onto the reef by the tide. Narry a ship of ours had taken significant damage in the offensive. All were rallied by the Vengeance’s Flag. Your father’s flag. The tide was turning in our favor!” He paused a moment, and then he stared into his new king’s eyes. “But your father was not aboard his flagship, my King. He was on board my ship, sailing East, back to Cillandar.”
“It was a diversion,” said Haryk. “You gambled an entire battle for a diversion!”
“He is the KING!!!!” Cried Canton.
“Was,” Andril pointed out.
Canton reached for his sword hilt.
“Relax and take an elfie would ya?” quipped Haryk. “Bookworm here is still learning proper etiquette. Been in the library too long, you see.” He smirked at the elf. The elf did not smirk back.
Canton turned back to the King. “I was wrong too.” Canton hung his head. “We had word, word from our forces at Ferroun’s that the Celn fleet sailed for Host Bay. I could not risk your father with the information I had. We were doomed, no forces were coming my lord! I sent him in a lone ship, to cross the still waters. I had no way of trusting that you would defeat the enemy there in the Bay. I did not trust to you.”
“What happened to the ship, Canton?” Asked Tahg.
“She was making good wind, I spied her and knew she would make it. But then we saw her.”
“Her?” Asked Genoran.
“Another ship?” Guessed Andril.
“The blue?” asked Haryk. He felt the blood run from his temples. Next to him, Tahg’s mouth dropped open. Genoran and Andril both looked as though they had seen a ghost of some kind.
Andril said, “Fuck.”
“A dragon. But like nothing we’ve seen, nothing except that of fairy tales, children’s tales. A dragon of lore, an ancient one. Larger than three of our ships. Her wingspan spread night over the vessel, blocked out the sun.”
“My father?” Asked Genoran.
“The ship was destroyed, your majesty. Completely.” Canton hung his head in his hands. Haryk knew that of all the rumors of the Governor, the one he now knew to be the most accurate was his loyalty to crown. He felt for him.
“It is not you who have failed Governor,” exhaled Genoran. “It is I.”
“My lord, no. I…”
“You must hear me out, Canton. For I am your King now.” He threw Canton a nod and placed his hand upon the elf’s shoulder. This time, the bearer of the hand seemed not to mind. “Buried deep within the bowels of Far Realm is a secret. A secret that resides in Silvershore, Ferroun’s Station and other isles scattered throughout this western realm.”
“What secret is that my lord? Are they in danger too?” Asked Telchar.
“No, and yes, master dwarf. The others are under dire threat, just as we are here. Although the battle with the Sassers is won, a far greater enemy comes for us. What tumult you have witnessed here, it is the same at Ferroun’s Station, at First Isle, Silver Shore. There has been an awakening. Something dark is rising.”
“My Lord? How can this be?” Asked a soldier from behind Canton. “Have the prophecies come true! Has the darkening come then?”
“The darkening will come, boy,” Genoran spoke now for all to hear. “The darkening will come for us all. Half, human, elf and Oorst! We are now in a different fight. A fight for our very souls. Do you hear me Celns? Do you hear me all?”
“Aye, Your Majesty!” Said most, if not all. Even Seebo seemed stirred by his words.
Genoran nodded, pleased by even this small understanding of what he had been trying to explain for years. “Good. And the secret of Far Realm is this. My Lord, the King did not travel to the Dread Isles by ship, Canton.” The little waves broke against the rocks around them. It was silent in the cave.
“Deep within Far Realm, lies a circle, a portal. An identical gate lies under the temple mount in Cillandar. The King does not travel via ship. His decoy does.”
“You mean, I sent the King to his death when I could have saved him! Why wouldn’t he…why…?” Canton stopped unable to go on. He was overcome with guilt, his mistake.
“No Canton, that is what I am telling you. You did not send the King to his death. You sent his decoy. He didn’t tell you, because that is his job.”
“You mean the King is still alive?”
“The King,” said Genoran to all, “may be alive. He may not be. My father, as we all know is more than a man. He is the symbol of our Realm. You were right to send him, Canton. Feel no shame in your action.”
Genoran’s voice rose to fill the cave once more. “I do not know if my father, our King, lives. But one thing I do know is that he now lies within the interior of this hell. I also know that Fritz has gone to bring him to the gate, because that is what I would have done. It is what I now intend to do.”
“We are with you my lord!” Cried Canton. A chorus of ayes followed. Even Tahg was ready to ride off into battle aboard his dragon steed. All were aye save Andril, Haryk, and one other.
Genoran, the prince, rounded on the Oorstman, Seebo. “I will need your help druid of the dread isles. Can I count on it?”
“I told you, Prince, I am not here for you. I am here for the isle.”
“Good,” said Genoran. “Someone who can speak for the isle is exactly what I need.”
Packing up his gear, Genoran shook his head. “There is still one thing I do not understand.” He pat the neck of one of the dragons. The creature did not flinch, but cocked his head to the side to eye him. “Who sent for us then, if not you, Governor?”
Canton strode forward, stopping below the outstretched neck of the dragon. It’s scales were dark, but metallic, like steel. “You know the legends my lord, as well as I. The pairs of guardians of ancient Kasille. The protectors. One of metal, one chromatic. The blue, the steel.”
“The beast from the tournament,” thought Genoran aloud.
“He is known as many names in the isles,” said Canton. “He who seeks, The Seeker. The Ata’uhn pay tribute to him. He has another name though, in our lore.”
“Abraxas,” said Haryk.
“And killing him is why I’m staying here,” finished Andril. “See you on the other side, King Genoran.”
“See you there, Master Mage.” Said Genoran. He threw his satchel over the nape of the neck of the dragon, and mounted the beast as though it were a simple horse. Next to him, Seebo, with much less in the way of dexterity, mounted his. The dragon arced it’s neck around and the creatures lipped pulled back as if it were about to nip him. With a grunt it settled down as the oorstman spoke to it in a language Haryk didn’t understand.
“And My Lord.”
“Yes, Andril?” Said Genoran.
“Don’t forget. If you open that gate. You’ll need to close it. If you don’t, you’ll have the whole of Ket in your basement back home.”
Genoran didn’t answer. But his solemn face told Andril and Haryk that he well understood. And then it slipped below the surface of the dark, murky water into the oblivion of the unknown.