Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty

The great gilded city of Estria was within sight, its outer wall sparkling in the late afternoon sun. It wasn’t actually made of gold– though the city natives liked to claim everything was, from the streets to the roof tiles of the poorest house– but it certainly had a nice effect. There was, however, gold dust brushed over nearly everything, which was what gave it all that luminous sparkle. Being anywhere near Estria at noon could be very hard on the eyes, with the sun bright on all those flecks of gold everywhere. The glare could blind.

Senne had been to Estria before, but the look on her companion’s face plainly showed that he hadn’t. Hoeth’s eyes were wide and his mouth close to hanging open. She smiled at him. They had been traveling together since meeting in the inn in that tiny village, and even though she never said a word about feeling something for him, she did. And she thought he felt something for her, too, though he never mentioned it either. She didn’t know if she would call it love yet, but it was getting close. He was sweet, if a little naïve, but he had a good heart and a good head– so long as he had someone telling him what to do.

He still wore the silver braid of a Seeker– another thing she didn’t bring up. She couldn’t bear breaking his heart by telling him Sonsedhor had already been found. He’d been hurt by a friend, lied to… she didn’t want to make him feel even worse by knowing his search was futile. It was probably one of the worst things she could do– lie to him– but he got so dismal when something reminded him of that friend that wronged him. Seeking made him feel like he had a purpose; how could she take that away from him?

All the inns in Estria had names like The Gilded Monkey and The Golden Brick and other things that mentioned gold in some way. They settled in at The Ingot, one of the less ostentatiously-named places. They took a meal in the common room, had some wine, and sat together, watching the sky change colors as the sun set outside the city walls. Not long after the sky had gone from deep blue to inky black, there was a loud, high-pitched wail, followed by another, and another, until the night was full of the wails.

Then the screaming began. People started dashing past the windows looking panicked. Some of the other inn patrons opened the doors and yelled at the running people, demanding to know what was happening.

“Keidenelle!” someone finally shouted back in passing.

“Keidenelle are in the city walls!” came another cry.

Sure enough, moments later, pale-headed, roughly-dressed savages could be seen in the crowds, pursuing and catching fleers, dragging them to the ground or simply thrusting a blade into them where they stood. The screams grew louder, filling the night. But even over the terrified shrieks of the victims and the war cries of their pursuers, a shout could be heard.

“The sword you see before you is the great Sonsedhor! The name I was given is Jaidyn Huntley, but you can remember me as Cheyne Firdin reborn! Surrender your city to me and my army and your lives will be spared!”

Jaidyn Huntley…… the name sounded familiar to Senne, but she couldn’t put a finger on why. Hoeth put her uncertainty to rest as he drew his sword and headed for the door to go outside, shouting curses at “the great liar Huntley” as he headed off to try and face him one-on-one. Senne couldn’t stop him in time and wound up chasing him through the city streets as he searched for his former friend.

Senne was too far off to stop him from rushing at Jaidyn when he found him, standing on the base of a statue in a great plaza. People were going everywhere, getting hewn down by savages, running into each other, some trying to fight back. But there was a clearing around the statue Jaidyn had perched on to watch the carnage, laughing the whole time. Hoeth made straight for him, sword out, shouting at the top of his lungs.

Their swords met with a resounding twang that seemed to shake the ground. Senne kept running after Hoeth. Being rash like this would only get him killed! She’d abandoned one love to a terrible fate; she couldn’t just sit and watch another get hacked apart.

Before she reached the open space where the two men were dueling, a dark, thick cloud settled over the two of them, encasing them so she couldn’t see. But then a band in the middle of the cloud cleared, and she could spy Hoeth twisting his sword so fast it was a blur, sweating heavily, defending from Jaidyn’s onslaught. Jaidyn was easily the better swordsman. She reached out a hand towards the cloud……

And her hand came to an abrupt stop as if she had tried to put her hand through a window. It just came to a stop in thin air, and she couldn’t move it any further. She knew she couldn’t reach them. So she looked up.

Just as she’d thought, there was a visage over the cloud, faceless head peering down on the dueling men.

“Please,” she whispered.

The head whipped around to look at her, but the Dark Father said nothing.

“Please, spare Hoeth. He’s not part of this. Spare him, and… I’ll be yours again.”

“Why would I want you?” His voice boomed in her head. There was a swirl of blue and gold, and he was suddenly in front of her. “You didn’t leave me; I cast you away. Why should I take you back?”

“Spare Hoeth, and… and I’ll do whatever you wish. Just spare Hoeth’s life.”

She swore she could see a wicked grin spread across the Dark Father’s nonexistent face. “Swear me your complete servitude.”

“And you’ll let Hoeth go?”

“And I won’t kill him. Swear, or he dies now.”

Peering through the cloud, she saw Hoeth on his back on the gold-dusted cobblestones, his sword out of reach. Jaidyn had the point of his sword at Hoeth’s throat, a sadistic, pleased look in his bloodlust-filled eyes. Hoeth inched away, but the sword followed him, inch for inch.

“I so swear,” she said, her voice cracking.

In the span of a heartbeat, all her memories– of Masithina, her lives before that, of Cheyne– were ripped away from her. Swirls of yellow and orange appeared in the air in front of her. She knew it was her memories, her essence– everything that was her was in those whorls of color– but she couldn’t make a move to recover them. They swirled about her, then to the hand of the Dark Father. They formed a ball there, which he smirked at for a long second, the light given off by the colors doing nothing to lighten the blackness of his face. Then, without a word, he crushed the colors with his fist…

And he had a face. It was handsome and pale, blue-eyed and smooth-skinned, but in his eyes she saw everything she feared– had feared before. Now she felt nothing.

“Thank you for your soul,” he said, moving his tongue over his teeth as if enjoying the sensation of having them. “You’ve allowed me to truly touch the world by giving it.” A hand came out and stroked her chin. “Such a good servant…”

His eyes looked left and right, looking at the chaos that was still going on in the plaza. “This won’t do at all,” he said. “Not in my city. THIS IS MY CITY!”
As if someone had hit a switch, the chaos stopped. Each of the Keidenelle fell to his or her knees; the other people fell to their faces on the ground. Behind him, Jaidyn and Hoeth stared at him in shock, their eyes wide. Jaidyn still had his sword to the prone Hoeth’s neck.

“Mother……” Jaidyn said softly.

“The Dark Father…” Hoeth whispered.

“You can both call me by my mortal name,” he smirked, running his tongue again along his teeth and gently running a finger along one eyebrow. His eyes went to Senne. “You, too. You can now call me Akotherian.”

“Mother?” Jaidyn said again.

Akotherian spun around to face the young man, grinning a shark’s grin. “I am not the Mother, boy,” he spat, “but I am your master. Now drop your blade and kneel to me.”

As if forced, Jaidyn did as he was bid. Akotherian turned his too-blue eyes to the terrified Hoeth. “Senne.”

She was at his side in a moment.

“I cannot kill this boy because of our deal,” he said, letting his gaze slide from Hoeth to her and back. “Dispose of him.”

Feeling nothing, she knelt before the whimpering lordling and wrapped one hand around his throat to keep him in place but not cut off his air. Methodically, she began to beat him, softly telling him that once she let him up, he was to leave and never return.

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