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Archive for July, 2016

Drill

Night Elf

 

Prince Mandrill, fifth son of the Elven King Farandel, holder of all the lands between the Jagged Mountains to the north and the shallow Salton Sea to the south, wandered through the castle and up the steps of the north tower. Master Seeta was busy with his scales, measuring out precise amounts of salts and depositing them in tiny bottles for later use, labeling each with a meticulous and tiny script.

Drill did not interrupt the human wizard, but circled the great round room, touching the bindings of random books on the shelves and tapping the glass bottles holding the pickled remains of random animals. He picked up a long thin flute made from the bone of a bird, running it through his fingers absently as his eyes surveyed the room, seeing everything and nothing at all.

“My dear prince,” Master Seeta said as he tapped the last particles off his tiny glass plate, “that is quite fragile and it is made out of the wing bone of a long extinct Roc so I would appreciate it if you put it back where you got it.”

Drill complied. He buried his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, a frown on his face.

Seeta put down his scoops and ladles, sighing in exasperation. “I see I am not going to get any peace until you say what you have come to say.”

Drill looked up at his teacher, a blank look on his face. “What?”

“You came up here for a reason,” Seeta said patiently.

Drill frowned. “Did I? Do you know what the reason was?”

“Gah!” Seeta cried, throwing his hands in the air. “What is wrong with you? Are you ill or just caught up in the malaise of youth? Do you need a tonic to snap you out of it?”

“I am sorry. There was a reason. I am sure of it. But it has slipped my mind. A lot of things have been slipping out of my mind of late. All I know is I have been trying to talk to you for days only to find myself outside the castle standing in a field with no memory of how I got there. It is most vexing. Have you done this to gain your privacy while you study? It is very unobliging of you to muddy the minds of half the castle inhabitants.”

“Errr?” Master Seeta grunted, staring in consternation at the boy. “It was not a very good spell if you managed to get past it.”

“Ah. I had to think of nothing and everything all at once, making sure the thoughts of the north tower and you did not find their way into my consciousness. I has taken me all morning to get here.” Drill swayed as he said this, as if some terrible gale battered at him.

The old sorcerer stared at his young student. Then he strode across the room and grabbed his gold shod oak staff. Muttering under his breath, he brought the staff up and then slammed the shod end against the heavy timbers of the floor.

Drill staggered as the circle of power washed over him, negating the spell that had befuddled his mind. Seeta caught his elbow and quided him over to a chair, pushing the scrolls and books onto the floor to make room for Drill. Then he went to a cupboard and poured a liberal dash of brandy into a crystal goblet.

“Drink this.” Seeta said, shoving the goblet into his hands.

Drill drank and then coughed as the fumes filled the back of his nose.

Seeta grabbed his chin and forced his face up, brushing the shock of ebony hair from his face that he might stare into Drills clear blue eyes. He grunted in satisfaction at what he found there.

“Now. Tell me again. What is happening out in the world and how did you stumble into a witch’s befuddlement curse?”

Drill took another sip as he composed his thoughts. “Something is loose in the cedar woods that grow on the banks of the River Moie . I think it came over the mountains with the last storm and now it lays claim to all the deep glens along our northern border. Hunting parties have gone astray. Scouts have gotten lost. Shepherds have gone in after stray lambs only to be lost for weeks. Father delegated me to investigate … when was it? Last week? I cannot be certain because time has become undone in my mind. I cannot think of the cedar wood without loosing my mind, I fear. How long will your warding circle hold?”

“Not long if I do not know its source. Here.” Master Seeta opened a drawer and rummaged around until he found what he needed. Pulling out a talisman on a chain, he handed it to his student. “This should keep the worst of it out of your mind. Come. We have a demon to hunt.”

****

The River Moie raged down the canyons below the snow-covered pass until it hit the flatter part of the valley. There it slowed and widened. At its broadest, the road, which was not much more than a trail, split off, one branch heading up to the pass, the other fording the river and cutting through the Sacred Grove. It led eventually up to the monastery built into the side of the most formidable cliffs in the realm. Only priests and woodcutters went that way.

Drill called a halt. It was a good place to camp, on this side of the river. Tomorrow they would decide if they needed to keep going up or sidetrack to the house of the Good Fathers to seek more information.

Drill helped his men set up camp, pulling bedrolls and cooking pots from the backs of the pack mules. His bedding was placed in the middle of his men’s, as close to the fire as was possible. They had forgone the comfort of tents. This close to the border it was best to be on full alert. They would all be sleeping with their boots on and their swords near at hand.

Dinner was to be a simple stew. Drill helped peel and chop the roots vegetables. Soon the smell of jerked-meat porridge and dutch oven biscuits filled the air.

An hour later, he brought two plates to the log on which Master Seeta was sitting, playing with a pendulum made of crystals wrapped with silver.

“What does your crystal tell you?” Drill asked, sitting next to him and handing him his plate.

“It says we’re are in the heart of the anomaly. … but then it has been saying that for the last ten miles. I wonder, being this close to the Good Fathers, that they have not noticed this much magic in their own back yard.”

“We will go ask them tomorrow,” Drill said around a mouthful of potato.

At the edge of the camp one of the horses nickered and the sound was echoed by a second horse and then a third. Seeta looked up and then very carefully put his plate on the log beside him.

“What is it?” Drill asked.

“There is something out there. The animals sense it.”

“That was not the sound of an alarmed horse.”

“No,” agreed Seeta. “That was the sound of a greeting among herd members. They recognize what is out there in the dark.”

“A stray? Do you think the Good Fathers have lost a cart horse?”

“No, that was not a challenge to a stranger. The wild magic we seek has entranced even our mounts. We would be wise to use extreme caution tomorrow else one or all of us will be caught atop a horse intent on riding off a cliff.”

“Great,” Drill said in a tone that meant just the opposite.

Seeta listened for a moment and when the horses lost interest, so did he. He picked up his plate and ate.

****

Drill tossed and turned on the hard ground. The protective amulet was a dead weight that wanted to choke him every time he turned over but he dare not take it off. Somewhere in the middle of the night he finally fell into a deep sleep.

He dreamed he was walking up the trail to the Good Father’s monastery. Gray was the sky and gray was the land in this dream place. Dark things huddled behind rock and tree and shrub. As he drew near to the stone church he saw that a thick black liquid oozed out from under the doors and wept from the cracks in the windows. Drill stopped.

“Do not go any further. You will not like what you see and it will serve no purpose, seeing it.”

Drill looked up. A girl child of about five years of age perched upon a boulder beside the trail. Color bled from her like smoke from an ember, tinting the fabric of his dream. A mass of dark gold curls ran riot atop her head and a pair of elfin ears poked out of the tangles. Golden hair pins in the shape of bees fell out of that mass every time she shook back the hair from her face. The pins used their golden wings to fly back into her hair. Drill watched them, entranced by their beauty and their whimsy.

“What have you done to the Good Fathers?” Drill asked, not quite believing that someone so delicately ethereal could cause any harm at all. She pouted at the accusation, her lips impossibly red, Drill watched her scratch a muddy pink knee with grime imbedded fingernails as she thought about explaining herself. It had been a long while since this child’s mother had wrangled her into a bathtub.

“Odd they were. Stuck in the cold and the dark. Frozen and empty were their hearts. What is your heart’s desire? I asked. Vague were their answers. I thought that perhaps they were waiting for their god to come so that they might be filled with his presence but alas, so filled, they became insane. Their own delusions killed them.”

“You did this? They are dead?” Drill breathed in dismay, watching the shadows pass behind the trees at the edge of the forest.

“Mosly dead. Half dead. Stuck they are,” she nodded.

“Have you cursed them to wander the gray-lands forever as payment for their sins? I can hardly credit that the Good Fathers had any sins at all.”

“Perhaps that was their sin,” the child said thoughtfully. “Being invisible to the world when it needed good men to live lives by example. Only a fool wishes to be without sin. What kind of pale life is that? Look. Even now, they wander the world looking for their lost flesh, not having sense enough to go cross the Void and go home.”

Drill watched the wraiths. “They fear you,” he said in wonder.

“Yes,” she agreed.

“Why?”

“I can solved their problem but it will be a permanent soluton. What they do not know is that quick or slow, they will fade for the Oneverse has no use for empty souls.”

“You are cruel. How is it that you can cause so much harm?”

She laughed and stood up, her bare toes spread wide on the stone. She wore a skirt of scarlet gossamer and a black shirt made of some strange soft cloth. It was a wizard’s shirt, surely. He could tell by the numbers and letters and strange symbols written in white across her chest. “THE DEFINITION OF IRONY:” it said just above the magic runes.

“Why would I cause harm? It is my purpose to heal the world, not wound it more.” She jumped down to the ground by Drill’s side.

“I like your blouse. What does it mean?”

“It is the short version of the mathematical equation for chaos.”

“Err?”

“At this point, if you have not already smiled, then further explanation is pointless.”

Drill scowled at her. She was a very rude little girl, he decided..

“So. Healer. Have you come to save us from our own folly?” Drill asked, not sure if he was happy with that idea.

The girl squatted down at the edge of one of the dark puddles by the door of the church. She prodded the stuff with a fingertip and it shied from her and fled, trying to crawl back the way it had come. “What? No. Why would I want to do that? Embrace your folly, I say. I do.”

A drop of light dripped from her fingertip and the puddle began to hiss and bubble. Was she a wizard or was it merely the mechanics of his dream?

Drill watched, torn between horror and fascination. He looked away and tried to gather his thoughts.

“How does that work? Embracing our folly does not help you heal the world, surely?” he said.

“It does not matter one way or the other. What you do, what you want, it is of no consequence,” she said, rising to her feet. She placed a palm against the side of the church. The stone ignited and began to burn. She danced backwards, shoving him away from the heat. “What I do, I do for purely selfish reasons. I have inherited this place. It is mine to do with as I please. It pleases me to make it more comfortable to live in. I have grown weary of the human predilection towards worshiping the gods of Law and Order. I have decided to restore the Order of Chaos, whether you like it or not.”

Her words made no sense. Drill looked at his arm where she touched him, expecting a burn. Nothing. He looked up as the entire church went up in flames like an oil soaked rag. The sound of the air rushing in to feed the fire reminded him of the roar of a tornado. The stained-glass windows shattered sending black smoke billowing out. As he watched in disbelief, the stone burned with an intense blue flame and turned to dust.

He turned and looked at her sternly. “This is not just your world. People live here. What about what they want? You cannot just come here and start changing the rules.”

The child looked up at him, her eyes as black at the night sky. “Who is there among you who can stop me?”

Drill stared into the depths of those infinite eyes and shuddered.

“Wake up, Prince,” someone said, kicking his boot.

Drill groaned and opened one eye to glare at the sorcerer. It was dawn. There was smoke on the wind.

“Do you smell that or am I still dreaming?” Drill asked, throwing off his bedding.

“Did you dream a forest fire?” Seeta asked as he handed him his leather armor and took his bedroll, tossing it to one of the Guard to stow away in the mule packs. “Get dressed. We need to ride to the monastary and help the Good Fathers.”

Drill rolled to his feet and stared at the western horizon. A pillar of smoke towered above the forest. “Uh. There is no one to save. I do not think there are any animals to rescue either. I do not remember there being cries of protest as she set the stones on fire.”

Seeta stared considered this bit of information. The Captain of the Guard, Heldare, looked at him with wide eyes. Drill remembered himself. Only crazy people and wizards believed in true-dreams and demons.

“Demon’s lie. We best go look.”

They mounted and forded the River Moie. Almost at once, they met trouble. One of the massive cedars had fallen, perhaps in the last storm. It’s resting place could not have been more unfortunate. The ancient stone chapel in the center of the grove, built tens of thousands of years ago, now lay shattered under the trees immense weight.

Drill’s heart ached. He had visited this place with his mother just before she died. He had been only ten but he remembered her serenity as she sat on the stone bench as the light from the windows painted her with its patterns. She surely knew she was dying. Drill grit his teeth, remembering whining about being bored, absolutely blind to the signs of her illness. She had just smiled and told him to go play.

The column rode around the giant hole made by the immense root ball that hung in the air above it. Once on the other side, Drill pulled his mount to the side, letting the column ride by. Two of his Guard stayed. He guided his mount around the stone shards, looking for a recogniazable piece of the chapel. The architecture had been in the style of the ruins of the First People, the stone work delicate yet strong, the blocks cut with precision to form arches and domes and mosaics of fanciful shapes. He remembered the large crystal finial that had adorned the apex dome. He looked around but could see nothing. It would have been the first thing the tree hit and surely lay shattered under the trunk.

Seeta called to him as he lagged. Drill kicked his horse into a canter and raced after, his Guard at his heels.

By the time they reached the monestary, the piles of beams and floorboards had become a bed of red embers. The stones of the buildings were gone.

Master Seeta turned his horse and rode back to where Drill sat, unwilling to come any closer to the cursed place.

“There is nothing left. Not even ghosts remain to haunt this place.”

Drill sighed in relief. “She said they would fade. I think she took pity on them and released them from their burden. Why did she fear showing me her soft heart?”

Seeta stared at him and then dismounted near a stone outcrop. “Come, young prince. Make yourself comfortable.” Seeta sat upon a stone seat and patted the stone next to him. “Tell me of your dream and leave nothing out.”

****

Seeta listened and then played with his crystal pendulum for a bit and then grunted, rising to mount his horse. Drill had no choice but to follow. The ride down the mountain was made in silence. The horses were glad for the River Moie. While his Guard tended the horses, Drill went back to the great downed cedar and kicked around in the ruined chapel, looking for the crystal finial. He stepped on something that cracked under his boot. Drill stooped and picked up a shard of thin crystal. He held it up to study it in the light. It was curved slightly, like the shell of an egg. His gut told him something that his brain refused to believe. Who in their right mind would attache an egg to the top of a chapel? And what had been inside that egg? Drill shook that thought out of his mind. An ornament, merely a decorative piece, made hollow to ease the weight on the domes roof.

“Why do you do that?” the child asked.

Drill looked up. She sat atop the downed cedar, scratching her nose with a filthy knuckle. He clutched the amulet that Seeta had given him.

“Do what?” he asked.

“The truth pops into your head from the depths of the Void but you ignore it, fearing its source. Have you not learned yet? That little voice in the back of your head is the only thing that knows how to make you happy. Ask me a question. The most riduculous question you can think of.”

“Did you hatch from this egg?” Drill asked.

The golden haired child smiled. “See. Was that so hard? Yes and no. Hatch is too vague a word. The egg was an eddy in the flow of time. A bubble. A secret place to store something that you wanted to keep forever.”

“Why did you … I cannot believe that you went into that bubble of your own will.”

The child frowned. “I am not sure. That is how long I was in that cursed shell. Long enough for the things I know to fade. Amnesia in its most insidous form.” She shrugged. “I may not have gone into it willingly but holy cow, was I ever so glad to be out of it. Ask me another question.”

“What is your name?” Drill asked.

She stared down at him, a sudden tragic look flashing behind her eyes. “I don’t know. How have they done this to me? Even my name. Even my name has bee stolen from me.”

Drill reached up and touched her bare foot, wanting to calm her. “Names are easy. What do you want to be called?”

She scowled down at him. “I don’t know. Naming a thing carries its own brand of magic. You name me. Something silly and wildly inappropraite.”

“Phionna?” Drill suggested.

“Phi,” she said. Then she laughed. “Someday I will tell you why that is so funny. Maybe one day, after you read my shirt and laugh, I will remind you that it was you who named me.

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