Haryk and Andril watched as the man placed his wooden staff upon the stones of the hall. King Genoran motioned for the attendants to keep to where they were. Typically magic was not something performed during one of these meetings by the fire, but there was a new king. Traditions change too, thought Haryk.
Before the old man calling himself Sanjaya, an image appeared in the air. It was as if a dream had sprang into existence. “This…my…vision,” said the old man.
Andril nodded, “Nice piece of magic.”
Haryk watched as the image, which clearly showed the view of someone in a hurried battle, grew until it was as large as a tapesty hanging in the air. But unlike a tapestry, this was alive with motion. It was like a window into a memory.
Haryk recognized the combatants immediately. The dark skinned native warriors were outnumbered by the Saras’in enemy. The robed figures sprang on the natives, slashing them down with all manner of curving blades attached to long poles. Others cast wickd spells that seared flesh. The warriors were under dire attack, but each fought back valiantly. Many a robed figure was felled. Like one the enemy moved, tearing through the remainder of the fighters. Haryk could see that past those in front of him, there was one who moved like none other. She was graceful, skilled. She cried out like an animal, howling as she brought down her foe. Haryk stared at the image, watching Ulua fight like 5 men could, and she was just as lethal. When she struck an enemy with her staff, they did not get up again. The hooded figures worked in unison, a precision which was unrivaled in any battle he had seen, unless one looked at the natural world. With wicked blades, they hacked and slashed. Cruel blades ripped into flesh, and tore open arteries, spraying blood in the air. Her people had fought days without rest and most now were just too tired to give proper defense. The direction of the view changed, and now Haryk could see one woman, a proud priestess from her own isle hold aloft her wooden shield, while the enemy tore through it. Finally, with nothing more to defend herself, she held aloft her hands only to have them sliced off before the blades struck her neck and torso. Deep crimson blood ran from the wounds, and the woman was felled so fast that she could not cry out. She fell over in a heap into a pool of her own blood, unable to so much as say a final word.
Haryk knew what made them move like that, he knew of the unnatural demon, the Host, which could move through the bodies of her slaves.
Like ants overrunning an intruder, they swarmed all around the woman still, slashing her body.
Ulua now came into view, as Sanjaya must have neared her now in the battle. Haryk saw her face clearly. Around her was the rubble and debris that he knew had once been the citadel. Fallen into the mountain itself, it’s buildings were twisted and mangled, deformed. Helplessly, Ulua now watched as the Host made it’s final advance. Her face was was twisted in rage and torment, as around her the last of her people were being slaughtered. She shouted to all who could hear, and Haryk found that he could understand her in the magic of the vision, “We are betrayed my kin! The pirate governor has lied. The Celns have lied. Their note a lie, they are not coming! They have left us to this fate. Fight with me now, noble ones. For Olohran!”
And then, in an instant, it appeared as though the world had flipped upside down. Every single weapon the enemy held dropped to the ground. Confused, she stared at the demons who closed in. They stopped. All of them. As if they clung to empty bags of bones, their robes drifted downwards like so many piles scattered across the battlefield.
The enemy was no more. In an instant, whatever spirit the Host had placed in them, whatever animation they contained, was simply gone. This was what Fritz had described. Haryk could now see it with his own eyes.
Ulua winced and held her spear above her head. In victory she hollered. But none answered.
She whirled around, looking for someone to share in her triumph. But there was none. She moved from body to body, crying out for anyone, but no one answered. She saw not one standing Ata’uhn warrior. The enemy had been thorough in it’s killing. “Why will none answer me?” She cried aloud, fallling to her knees. “Brothers, sisters! Answer me!”
But none did.
“Gone,” she said into the foul wind. “They are all gone.”
The man wiped his bony hand through the air and the image vanished into thin air. He tried to stand, but either it was more difficult than sitting, or else the magical image had taken his strength from him. “I awoke…later,” said the old man. I do not know what I missed while I was unconscious but I saw…” Sanjaya was being watched over by two servants, whom Genoran had called over, because he still refused to sit. He coughed and wheezed as if pained too much now. But then he regained himself and finished his tale.
“Our Queen, Ulua T’avoa, was captured sometime later by beasts that crawled from the ground. She was not alone. I could not move, for my body had been broken. I watched as she was led off by a woman in an azure dress. She was a Celn I thought, which I did not understand. There were two others, also prisoners.”
“But I thought all other Ata were killed?”
The old man answered, “These were not Ata’. One, a man looked like Ata’, dressed as my people do. But he was not Ata’, he was an impostor. He was near death, his leg was…injured.”
Andril and Haryk threw a look at one another. Andril asked, “Was it his right leg?”
“Yes,” said the old man.
“And the other?” Asked Genoran. “You said he was not Ata?”
“She was not Ata. She had,” the man put his hands to the side of his head and lifted his index fingers. “Big ears.”
Sanjaya was escorted from the room. Genoran made every effort to offer the man some food, and attempted with all grace to explain the story to him, the story that he now knew in nearly complete detail. But the man would not be assuaged. Haryk saw that the depth of his sadness was just too great. He tried to imagine what it would be like to be the last of his kind. He didn’t think he could.
“I understand his pain,” said the King. “I understand why he must feel as though we betrayed him. Ulua must have thought the same. I can only imagine the agony, the anguish. All those years she thought her people gone. Then, she found them again, only to lose them fighting for a realm she’d never see!”
There was a silence. Andril shifted in his seat a little.
Genoran asked, “She must have been killed first, by Hasai. Luckily, for you both, you were able to rescue Areia at least.”
“Uh, about that,” said Andril and there was something odd about his face. Andril rarely looked as though he needed to apologize, but Haryk figured this was the look. “I have a confession to make. You aren’t going to like it my King.”
“I don’t like any of your confessions, Andril.”
“When we were in Hasai’s torture chamber, I tried to free Ulua,”
“You told us this, already.”
“Yes, but I may have left out a wee little part.”
“And?” asked Haryk. He couldn’t imagine what it might be.
“Well, I realized that Abraxas was dead, Hasai was about to kill us all, and I only had enough mental fortitude to rescue one of the two prisoners hanging on the wall, Ariea or Ulua.”
“It’s getting late Bookworm. We’ve already heard this. Whatever guilt you felt, you need not. Ulua was dead, you said so. You teleported Areia out, and we escaped. The end.”
Genoran eyed Andril carefully, “You could only take one.”
“I could only take one.”
“I don’t get it,” Haryk said. “Why are you….oh!”
“She wasn’t dead,” whispered Genoran to himself. “You had no time, and you knew you had to make a logical decision. You chose one.”
Andril didn’t answer right away. Haryk knew the mage sounded rough around the edges, but he had no dark intent that he knew of. He knew Andril would dwell on it for sometime, even though the mage would never admit it.
“There are things my Lord Andril that one learns to keep to oneself, for the sake of others,” said the King delicately.
Andril was staring now into the fire. A long while passed before anyone spoke again.
“Speaking of the other,” said Haryk, “Where is the one you chose? Where’s Areia? I haven’t seen her around the buffet table so to speak.”
“That’s because she wouldn’t stay,” replied Genoran. “She said she had some work to do. So I provided her with a steed, and wished her well.”
“A steed? That’s all she wanted?”
“Well not quite. I loaded it with a satchel of roast duck and some of the best Cellinese cheeses. She said she had a thing for cheese. And apparently she had lost a dagger or two.” Genoran pointed to a weapon rack behind him where hung some of the most magnificent arms Haryk had ever seen. “I figured she’d just steal them anyway.”
“You figured right,” said Haryk.
“Where did she go?” Asked Andril.
“She wouldn’t say.”
“And you just let her go?” asked Haryk incredulous.
“I am a King Haryk, not a caretaker. Besides I have much to do. The coronation and festivities which I feel our realm needs right now will consume all of my time the next several weeks. You too are free to go, whenever you’d like. In fact, will you?” He chuckled and looked at Andril. “So what will you do, master mage?
“Oh a bit of this, a bit of that.”
Haryk made a motion with his hands of a book opening and pretended to read. “Hey, do we get steeds too?”
“My Lord Haryk, if you would like a steed, I can provide you with a most excellent one. You too Master Mage. It’s the least I can do.”
“Least is right. I’d like lands,” said Andril and then he rapidly added, “and title please.”
Haryk looked quizzically to the mage, then he sat up straight and faced the King, holding his chalice just before his lips. “I’d like my father’s lands. Back.” He eyed Genoran over the lip. Come on, just do it.
Without hesitation, King Genoran clapped his hands together. “Both requests are granted, my lords. I have, I suppose however, one myself.”
“Royalty…” said Andril and Haryk at the same time.
“Well, what is it Your Majesty? You know we are just about retired. It’s not like you can expect us to keep helping you out of trouble,” snapped Andril with only the slightest trace of humor.
Genoran nodded his head as if he should have known that was coming. He looked weary, worn. There were lines across his brow when he was in thought now. They seemed to Haryk then, as deep and dark as Ket. “When the darkness comes, the…Darkening…I’d like you to join me for another talk, here by my fire.”
Haryk’s mind flashed back to the ash, the soot choked air–the sulfur and fumes of the deep earth rising through chasms in the rock. He thought of the howls, and screams, the unholy and inhuman savagery, the unnatural beasts. He thought of his pack, left out in the jungle that day, crawling with dark black grubs that had stealthily wormed their way out of the soil. He thought of all of Cillandar, like Far Realm, being turned over in great quakes of the earth, her citizens rounded up like cattle. He thought of his once proud harbor city, there in the isles. Now, like all the others overrun by a nightmare from the depths of the earth.
“Will there be more of this ale?” Joked Haryk, downing the last of his cup.
“I will save a case, my lords, just for the occasion.”