Cry of the Glasya Part 7
For those that are avoiding reading the shorts until they’re all finished so you aren’t left in rapt suspense, I can confirm that this one will complete on Monday. Then I’ll see if I can’t get some non D&D articles up in case people are getting tired of them.
Also, I’m nearing the end of the draft I’m currently working on so I’ll have more focus and attention to write my thoughts and musing. Plus, I hope to see Pacific Rim this weekend so maybe I’ll have a glowing review to share!
(But it’s unlikely.)
Keirn rested a metal gauntlet on the handle. Hoping he wasn’t about to burst into a room of suspicious looking men, he pushed.
The first chamber he’d tried was filled with damp robes and the unmistakeable smell of the wrong place. And while he wasn’t expecting to find a second garderobe he wasn’t even sure he was on the right level of the keep. Who really knew where Dukes or Earls liked to roost. Probably as far from the smelly peasantry as possible was Keirn’s thinking.
However, he immediately knew this wasn’t exactly the place he wanted the moment he crossed the threshold.
He stood in a simple stone domicile. Wrought iron torch holders were clamped against the cold walls. The far wall was reinforced with a tickling familiar iron frame and held a row of opened windows. A chill breeze whistled past, invading the empty space like an unwanted assistant in Keirn’s searches.
He was about to turn and leave when something caught his eye. A large fireplace set across the room seemed to shimmer with the faintest of flickering embers. Releasing the door handle, his metal suit clattered as he drew across the naked floor. A simple iron poker hung upon its side and Keirn lifted the tool before scratching at the remnants in the ash pit.
Charcoal popped and snapped, releasing trapped flickers of flame to float like gentle wisps in the culling wind. Keirn sifted through the ash, the tip of the poker striking something hard and buried beneath the fire’s powdered body. Prodding along its side, it felt like something large and he worked the hook of the poker until he dragged a long piece of polished mahogany onto the floor.
Curiously, the fragment seemed untouched by the scorching ghost of the demised blaze. The piece was excellently carved with flowering wreathes of intricate vines and leaves running its length. It seemed like the post of a rather elegant bed and Keirn was reminded immediately of the guard’s story. He looked about the room, but no furniture offered a reasonable explanation for this piece’s existence.
Keirn was just about to roll it back into the embers when he discovered something surprising on its opposite side. He slowly removed his gauntlet, bending down to run a finger slowly over an unexpected seal.
Embossed on the underside of the post was the inexplicable coat of arms for the High Academy of the Queen Enthroned.
Keirn recoiled from the quartered symbol and the opened book centred at the crosspoint of the quadrants. The runes on its tiny pages seemed to pulse and glow as Keirn watched. Along its ruby border twisted the thorny vines of a blood red rose that slowly began to blossom. The petals uncurled like the pages of a book slowly revealing themselves to an inquisitive mind. In the span of a few seconds the plant seemed to bloom and wilt, its petals dripping down the wood like thick drops of blood that pattered thunderously against the floor.
Keirn dropped the poker and recoiled, turning quickly for the door. He leaped upon the handle, wrenching his way to promised freedom as a swirl of unwanted memories began to unravel behind him.
But it was not the familiar corridor of the keep that greeted him. Instead, the door opened upon an expansive hall with shelves rising from the ground like great monuments to Vör’s unending inquisitiveness. Almost every surface was covered with mounds of books and sheaves of rolled paper. Great writing pedestals sprung from the heaped tomes like large, solitary mushrooms. The high backs of those chairs appeared to hunch over their massive curved writing tables sprouting beneath as if to protect those seated from the light overhead.
The scratching echoes of a thousand phantom quills clawed amongst the sheets of paper like a great footed beast stalking this gloomy space. Keirn felt all too familiar with this space but as he turned to retreat back to the empty room in the Duke’s keep he discovered only more of the library stretching behind with not but the handle of the door still clutched in his hand.
Frightened, he dropped his gauntlet.
This was impossible. This was a dreadful dream. This was not the Keep of Gelph. This was a far more dangerous place and Keirn had to escape.
He turned, fleeing down the first row of books he found. His boots cracked the aged spines of the tomes he stumbled across. But they were piled so high that his retreat was soon impeded by the the leather backs slapping hard against his calves as he stomped. He paused to catch his breath, looking worriedly around for an exit.
Something warm and wet slipped through the gap between his breastplate and skirt. He could feel a glob of something slowly ooze down his lower back before hardening in an unsettling chunk. He reached back, his fingers scratching at the metal in an attempt to find the hole in his armour. Failing that, he just lifted the shirt from his body. But as he pulled it overhead, he heard the impact of another glob landing upon the metal.
Holding it to his face he found a thick piece of wax slowly cooling against its surface. Keirn looked up.
High overhead hung the great chandeliers, their twelve arms forming the spokes of a great wheel. This place adored its symbolism, using the great candle holders to reinforce their dogmatic views above the students even as they tried to work.
Keirn couldn’t stay. But he knew of an escape. Turning, he pushed a mound of books out of his way, clawing through waist deep tomes as the scratching of the scribes increased to a deafening roar about him.
He pulled himself from the stacks, freeing himself from the weight of the chain skirt before stumbling before the great curved stairs that led up to the private collections. Students weren’t allowed access up there. A great iron gate barred the way and all along its sides glowed the insignia of the keepers in warning for those that would dare attempt to breach the wards an intrude upon Vör’s sacred ground.
But it wasn’t the private collections that Keirn sought.
He hurried along the edge of the stairs. Statuettes grew as the side of the stairs ascended, creating an ever growing parade of hooded women and bearded men whose names had long been ignored and forgotten. Most students paid no attention to the exquisite detailing of the grand staircase. But Keirn wasn’t like most students.
Amongst the detailed figures and near the curve when the stairs made contact with the raised half floor above stood a cracked and broken form. Unlike his compatriots, this figure seemed cleaved and shattered with little but a pair of stumpy calves to mark his spot. His neighbours seemed to look unsympathetically away, as if even the statues dared not look upon that blasted spot.
And from that little hole, Keirn felt something. He couldn’t describe what it was but it felt like a calling that tumbled in the back of his skull. Just looking upon that space made his heart began to pound.
“No,” Keirn muttered. “No… this is not real.”
Suddenly, fingers seemed to wrap about him. Cold flesh squeezed his exposed skin and Keirn felt a dizzying strike of lightning flash across his vision. Instinctively, his muscles tensed and a force before him seemed to pull harder against his resistance.
A flash of white seared his vision before Keirn blinked and found himself looking up at the familiar soft features of the damnable bard.
“Found anything yet?” Derrek asked, holding the clinking bone chime in his hands.
A scraping pain peeled across Keirn’s brain as he rubbed his eyes and looked around. His friend was still standing in his linen braies in the guard quarters. He looked expectantly at Keirn.
“Have you figured it out yet?”
“By the Seven Sisters what are you nattering about?”
Derrek’s simple answer was to thrust the chime back into Keirn’s hands. With a whip of force and pop of air Keirn felt himself blinking back at the library.
He raised his hands to his head, crying out at the pound of pain smashing against his skull.
“Is that what you’ve done?!” Keirn cried. “Is this some kind of game to you?”
Silence answered back. Not even the phantasmal scratches whispered amongst those walls.
Of course this was Derrek’s doing. It had to be his all along.
“I won’t do it!” Keirn cried. “Fling one of your other friends into their own head!”
Keirn brushed a few scattered books away then hunkered down rebelliously upon the floor. But the moments ticked by with nary a hint of change. Keirn knew Derrek couldn’t keep him here forever. Eventually his concentration would waver and end. If the sorcerer had to wager on his friend’s persistence against his own stubbornness, it was a bet he was certain to win. And he’d much rather that than face the empty alcove.
But that tickling in the back of his mind struck a familiar cord deep within him. There was something there, something far too alien for his friend to know but far too comfortable for Keirn to ignore. And if this world was of his friend’s creation, how could he know? Unless…
Keirn looked around, feeling a sudden shiver take his whole body and cause every hair to stand on end. It was night here. He knew that. This light was nothing but a phantasm. He came with a cloak of twilight on his own. But if his friend’s illusion had led him here, had he been truly alone when he donned that disguise?
Keirn peered down the stacks again, searching for some hidden, prying eyes. Some secrets were never meant to be uncovered.
Keirn slowly pushed himself to his feet then he approached the broken statuette. He extended a hesitant hand slowly into the crevice.
A great gush of chilling wind wrapped about him and an unearthly groan filled his ears. Keirn closed his eyes as dust and dirt sought his vision and he raised his naked arms in futile defence against the assault. He felt the ground shift beneath his feet and the air grew frigid. His head pounded through the force of his will as the entire library seemed to rebel against his desires. But darkness eventually snatched him as the master of the world began to change hands.
There were some things Derrek couldn’t know and Keirn was certain to keep those things hidden.
It mattered not for when the wind died and Keirn lowered his arms, he was in an all too familiar chamber. Candles flickered in the gloom, casting sinister shadows over rough hewed walls that had been abandoned long before the hammers could finish matching the ornamentation of the grand library far overhead. Here was a place meant to be forgotten and buried had persistent eyes not seen beyond what others overlooked.
Keirn looked down at his hands and the red candle flickering between his fingers. Thirty-six candles were needed but Keirn used only thirty six points in the seal at his feet. The thick blotches of spilled wax dotted the perimeter and he slowly stepped into the circle as he raised his face.
Between the cracked columns rested the statue. A young chin drew back the shadows, smooth and unblemished unlike the hole that it occupied. He was a hunter and warrior that was plain to see. But this faceless being was cast in darkness now, his name long lost to places where none could know. Some terrible tragedy had beset him, the slain hounds at his feet suggested just as much. But it was the broken bow and spear that painted clear the defeat and the talons of a great eagle had torn its price from those muscular arms.
The candles sputtered and Keirn could feel his heart begin to pound.
“This is why the words were familiar to you,” Keirn whispered. “You had heard them before.”
He turned in the circle, holding the candle high overhead to pierce the darkness. But only emptiness greeted him, the shadows too reticent to betray their keeper. Keirn tried to pull back the veil but the pain tore at his mind. He shook the stubborn pride from his thoughts. It would have to be one battle he’d concede.
“I thought I’d come alone. I thought no one else knew. The door had remained hidden for so long that I didn’t even think to close it fully that night. Who would look there anyway without knowing the key? But you’ve always seemed to know things that you shouldn’t. As if someone or something else guided you through the dark.”
The candles sputtered again and in that shifting darkness behind him Keirn could hear the soft whispers.
“I’d only hoped for that same power, you know. For the same guidance you seemed to hold. How could I know how wrong I was?”
The whispers grew but before they could become audible a great howl enveloped Keirn. The sound of ghostly hounds braying in the night filled the tight space, pressing out all other sounds. Yet Keirn refused to turn back to that statue.
“I confess, I’ve made some mistakes. But how could I know what I was about to commit? Sometimes there are no obvious answers and when you look beyond the registered teachings you can’t know for certain what you’ll find.”
A heat began to grow but it rose not from the candles. The braying grew louder as the shadows danced madly about him. Keirn closed his eyes, trying to shut the visions and sounds from his mind. But even in the darkness shone those infernal candles. And though he stood blinded and unmoving in that seal, he could feel a form moving about him – a younger form and certainly one more foolish.
He wanted to call out. He wanted to warn him of the danger. But he knew it was futile. Some mistakes were impossible prevent.
Slowly, he opened one eye followed by the other. He watched as a ghostly figment moved through him. It was little more than a wisp of a memory, but the young man barely more than a boy, moved with awkward uncertainty. He was tentative with each placement of the ritual’s components and in the transparent face reflecting in the candlelight, Keirn could see the doubt in his eyes.
Once the last of the preparations had been completed, the youth stood before the statue. The last vestiges of his hesitation seemed to slowly drain from him. He set his jaw defiantly, stepped to the centre of the seal and began to chant.
How he had practised those words every night, forcing their archaic sounds to spill effortlessly from his lips. In the shadows of the quietest chambers he’d rehearsed, as far from prying eyes and listening ears as he could be certain. When paranoia took hold, he’d taken to stealing off the grounds in the evenings, finding secluded grottoes where the tumble of the water would drown out the echo of his own words.
As the last utterance passed his tongue, Keirn turned to the statue, his heart dreading what would come next. But as his eyes swept across those dark walls, his vision seemed to blur and meld together. He felt dizzy, the world seeming to rush rapidly past.
Then came a familiar glare of light.
Derrek wrenched the bone chime from Keirn’s fingers.
“Yes, yes!” Keirn cried, standing to his feet. He wavered for a moment as the room began to spin about him. But he grabbed hold of the closest bunk to steady himself. He waited for his mind to finally clear before looking around the quarters.
“We’re going to have to move some things before we can proceed.”
Keirn turned to Derrek.
“And I’m not doing all the heavy lifting.”