The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 41: Friends and Enemies

As Shevanna’s fiery form approached, El-on-ah knew that there was no escape. She was about to be assimilated; drawn inside a crucible of fyre where they would be forged together. The thought of being entombed within another being, forever imprisoned and controlled by the Djinn, filled El-on-ah with a feeling of dread that she had never before experienced. She would rather die. Then El-on-ah caught sight of her face in the mirror - horribly disfigured, twisted and raw like Ro-eh-na’s. Lord Ka stood behind her, nodding approvingly. Now she understood, why Che had said what he had. What leader would allow his people to be mutilated and possessed in this way?

El-on-ah became distracted by a gentle tapping on the window glass behind her, becoming more and more insistent. She dared not investigate. Who would be so unwise to approach the window with Lord Ka and his consort standing only feet away?

El-on-ah, It seems your servant is attempting to attract your attention,” Ka’s tone was menacing.

Che… I cannot let him see me like this…

The tapping continued, more urgently.

I gather that Che-vah-ra has betrayed us…” said Ka, “luckily that is a matter quickly resolved. Confractio!”

Ka unleashed a ball of fyre that flew across the room ripping through the window glass and hitting Che full in the face. The scream that met El-on-ah’s ears was so horrifying it didn’t even sound human.

El-on-ah awoke, her heart galloping in her chest. For a second she forgot where she was. The luxurious marble surroundings of her dream starkly replaced by the dank, moss covered stone of the Isingwilde dungeons.

El-on-ah brushed her tongue over parched lips, tasting the salty deposit left by the damp air. Her fingers rested on a thin straw mattress through which the icy cold from the hard, granite floor, seeped into her bones.

She shivered, awareness returning. From one nightmare to another, she thought.

The tapping sounded again, this time from above her. I’m not dreaming now… Someone is out there.

Limbs aching with cold, she stood, arching her feet and stretching onto her toes to reach the window ledge. The small frosted window remained intact, except for one tiny broken corner, through which the moonlight streamed like a thin shard of silver ice.

Who could possibly be out there? Puk? El-on-ah attempted to pull herself up, but her fingers, cold and wet could not maintain their grip, and she slipped back down. Frustrated, her eyes combed the room. I need something…

El-on-ah grabbed the thin blanket from the floor, tearing off two strips of material and wrapping them around her fingers before attempting to reach the window once more.

The strategy worked. El-on-ah pressed her face to the window, her breath misting the glass as she stared out at the moonlit expanse of Knucker Bay and beyond, to the star filled horizon.

Something hit the window with a thud, bouncing off the leaded frame and rattling the glass. Startled, El-on-ah fell backwards. It couldn’t be… could it?

Excitedly, she pulled herself up once more, her eyes instantly meeting those of a small pukis, its wings flapping frantically, as it hovered in mid-air outside the window.

“Puk!

The tiny dragon began to glow, its form shifting and condensing into a buzzing blue fly, joined instantly by another. The two insects circled each other as they flew blindly at the glass, hitting it repeatedly, before eventually, locating the tiny crack and flying into the room.

A second later El-on-ah was cradling Puk in her arms and staring into the eyes of Lord Baroque.

“Lady El-on-ah,” Baroque bowed his head respectfully, “I am sure that Lord Ka will be pleased that you remain intact. Though, I fear that he will be somewhat disappointed to hear you have failed to complete the task with which you were charged.”

“You take me for a fool Lord Baroque,” El-on-ah’s eyes narrowed, “I am not so stupid that I would risk everything, even when taking the opportunity to dispatch Rose of the Whyte when it so serendipitously presented itself to me. I took care to secrete a saddle bag containing everything Lord Ka requires inside a small pothole next to the entrance of the Frozen Falls. It will be easy enough for you to retrieve.”

“Nevertheless, your actions were reckless,” Baroque’s voice fell to a whisper, as the sound of footsteps echoed from the corridor beyond the heavy oak door. “Lord Ka’s plans will have to be postponed. This delay will afford Rose the Whyte time to prepare, that she otherwise would not have. Lord Ka ordered me to retrieve some items, and, if I were able, to liberate and return you to Aureus.”

Footsteps halted abruptly outside of the cell door. A large iron key scraped as it turned in the lock and two bolts were drawn back with a loud clunk.

El-on-ah held her breath as Baroque, and Puk rapidly shifted into a pair of glimmering blue flies. The process was barely complete before the heavy door swung open.

Che frowned, his eyes flicking sideways towards the hovering insects as he entered the cell, followed by Lady Hazel.

For a moment El-on-ah was convinced that Che had seen the remnants of Baroque’s transfiguration, though he made no comment. Hazel was carrying a tray. El-on-ah caught the scent of warm porridge and hot tea. She eyed Hazel suspiciously. What is she doing here?

“El-on-ah…” Che smiled as he caught her expression. “I see you are wondering why I have bought Lady Hazel?”

El-on-ah felt a prickle of irritation as she realised that Che knew her much too well. Can my thoughts really be that easy to read? It’s so… un-Blood-like.

“Lady Hazel here, asked to accompany me this morning as she wishes to discuss something with you. I think you may be interested in what she has to say.”

El-on-ah could not restrain a smile as Hazel swiped at the blue bodied fly buzzing around her head.

“I would offer you a seat,” said El-on-ah, “but as you can see…”

“I am not interested in sitting,” Hazel glanced disdainfully towards the straw covered mattress, “I have a proposition for you.”

“Go on,” El-on-ah took the mug of hot tea from Che, cupping her cold hands around the beaker.

“I am sure you are aware,” said Hazel, “that it is only a matter of time before we become embroiled in a battle that will, indubitably, end in the obliteration a great many, if not all, of our people.”

“Logic suggests that the chances of that are unusually high,” El-on-ah frowned as a blue bodied fly landed on the rim of her cup. She fought the urge to bat it away. “However, I have learned recently that life holds few certainties.”

“Indeed, which is why I have always firmly believed in hedging one’s bets.” Hazel’s eyes flicked to Che, “Unfortunately, through some oversight, I was not invited to Lord Dux’s War Council. Although, from what I hear, a diplomatic solution was not considered. I believe that is a mistake, which is why I come here, to ask your opinion. I think you know Lord Ka better than anyone else. Do you think that he’d be open to negotiation that has the potential to prevent a war, which he must realise, no one can actually win?”

“I believe Lord Ka may be persuaded to negotiate,” El-on-ah lifted the beaker to her mouth, letting the steam from the hot sweet tea warm her face, “if you would agree to hand over Rose of the Whyte.”

“Lord Dux would never agree to that,” Che snapped, “and neither would anyone else here.”

A large bluebottle landed on the floor behind them. El-on-ah held her breath as she watched Baroque silently materialise behind Lady Hazel. In an instant his hand was pressed tightly over Hazel’s mouth, smothering a startled cry as Baroque’s arms tightened around her body.

Che glowered at Baroque, his eyes moved pleadingly to El-on-ah.

“El-on-ah, please,” Che’s dilemma was evident, “you can’t do this…”

“Then what is it you would have me do Che?” El-on-ah tugged Hazel’s potens ring from her finger before binding the woman’s hands behind her back. “Remain here to rot in the dungeons of Isingwilde, while our world is destroyed around us?”

After unwinding the rags from her fingers, El-on-ah stuffed one inside Hazel’s mouth and tied the other around the Ascendants’ lips to form a tight gag.

“I have something for you Lady El-on-ah, here…” Baroque tossed the dragon’s eye ring towards her. After snatching it from the air, El-on-ah slipped it onto her finger, breathing out a long sigh.

“Che, you have a choice to make now - a life or death decision,” El-on-ah moved her body close to his, cupping his face in her hand. She kissed him. “Choose me, Che… Come with us… Do not die here with these people… They are not your people - I am your people. Choose me…”

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