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BRINGER of BALANCE - Book II of THE LAND series

By smatusky All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 6 - The Memory Stone

It took several days to escape the sticky marshes. As soon as we were free of the awful stink and soggy climate the air changed to a cool breeze. Our party began seeing remnants of the outer city, but there were no people in sight. Philip was the last person we had seen since leaving the castle in the marsh.

The climate became colder as we rode toward Central City. Each of us scrambled to find extra armor or blankets to wrap around us. Even Gullane searched for something to cover his massive torso.

The complete absence of snow seemed odd since the temperature hovered below freezing, but the climate was also dry, which would account for the lack of vegetation. We entered the deserted Central City, inner district and home of my great-grandfather Sabastian Elderbee, the evil Ruler of the West. The City was exactly as Gabrial had described it days ago – “cold as death.”

The city looked strangely bright, and a furious wind blew tiny particles into the air, giving the appearance of snow flurries. Instead, white ash swirled around us from an unknown source and clung to our clothes. Soon we began to lose our own color, blending into the city and becoming part of its evil. When Devin tried to speak with Riley the howling winds blew his words away. The chill was unbearable, so we rode in quickly and took shelter in one of the larger buildings.

Our party rode single file through an open door leading into a dusty room. Furniture and papers were scattered, everything caked with dust. The entire city had been abandoned, but to be sure we decided to explore. My intuition pushed me to leave this place; nothing could survive here and I knew I could not change the weather since it was not natural. Great-grandfather Elderbee must have cursed the city much like my own father’s curse over The Land, and I could do nothing to change it. Nevertheless, we closed the doors behind us and broke into search teams.

Devin, Rhaida, Sae’ka, Wolfe, and Riley joined me on one team. Gullane and George stayed with the animals. The other team had already left, headed farther into the city. Each party took supplies for a day and we planned on meeting back at our shelter as soon as we covered most of the inner city.

Our party worked its way from one building to the next, taking the north side of the city, while the knights and Sir Edward searched the south side. Most of the buildings were connected so we did not have to endure the horrid chill outside as we searched. Scattered windows provided light. The further we traveled east the bigger the buildings became and I was beginning to get the feeling this place was not abandoned after all. On many occasions I saw a quick flash of something running through the corridors just ahead or behind us, like ghosts teasing us, but we were not quick enough to see them clearly.

Soon we found dead bodies on the ground, people who had either starved to death or frozen from the chill. I thought the bodies were ghastly until we came across the dungeons. We could not see very well, so Devin constructed a crude torch and I lit it with my magic.

I hesitated to use my powers since my great-grandfather had had such a strong magical force. I wondered if he had planned something evil for anyone else possessing magical power in his city. I feared my own family more than the protectors.

We discovered detention cells where people had evidently been tortured; most bodies had missing or broken limbs, and I thought about Philip and his story. The farther down into the dungeons we traveled, the worse the smell became. This time the scene was more gruesome than anything we had imagined.

We were forced to find more torches to light our path. Toward the deepest part of the dungeon, we found the source of the putrid smell: body after decaying body filled six large cells. There were too many to count.

Wolfe’s keen senses overwhelmed him. He took both women out of the dungeon while Devin, Riley, and I stayed to examine the devastation. This was unlike the previous cells where the bodies had been prisoners. Here, the bodies of richly clothed men and women lay atop each other. Devin surmised that they had been townspeople, guards, and servants.

“This doesn’t make sense,” said Devin. “Who could have done this? The South never penetrated ’s Central City. From the look of the bodies, it could have been a year since these people died. But it must be longer. Gabrial told me he believed the city has been deserted for decades. Maybe the dry air has prevented rapid decay.” He covered his nose. “But it hasn’t done much for the smell.”

“It’s the work of magic,” I replied. “I can feel it. I don’t know how long these bodies have been here, but I’m sure that magic has prevented their natural decay.” Devin and Riley glared at me.

I was too sick to stay any longer, so we left the dungeons quickly. As soon as we made it outside, the harsh climate was actually refreshing.

We passed a row of houses and headed for an ornate building in the center of town. It too was deserted. Great columns soared high above us, but the rest of the interior was a wreckage of stone and statue. Devin brought a torch to the back and lit up a black marble tomb resting on a high platform. Riley blew dust out of an engraved inscription and Devin leaned in close to read.

“Here lies the Ruler of the West, a man of great power.” Devin paused, and glanced at me. I must have looked terrified. He swallowed and continued. “When death falls upon the ruler of , all shall die with him. By decree, no man, woman, or child will live again within the Great Central City, forever and until the end of time.”

My heart sank, weighing me down so much that it was hard to move away from the tomb. My own flesh and blood had killed hundreds, maybe thousands of his own people, the people he was supposed to protect. How could a ruler be so cruel as to destroy men, women, and children? What about those loyal to him? My Great grandfather was a wretched mass murderer who had the selfishness to take everything he had in life and then keep it in death.

The revelation was tragic and I could not keep from feeling responsible. Here I was a ruler also and I had the same evil blood as my father and great-grandfather. Once again the pain of my Elderbee family line had pulled me down into the great dark chasm within myself. All I could think about was how I was related to such horrible people. No wonder the rulers of feared my magic! If this is all they knew of the West, then their reactions to my bloodline made perfect sense. I felt despicable and guilty for all the lives that had been destroyed here.

I walked away distraught, meandering into another room. I sat on a pile of rubble and began to imagine the terrible events that had happened here many years ago. The people of the city must have been forced into those cells when my great-grandfather died, but how they died was a mystery.

My head was buried in my hands and it took me a while to notice Riley sitting next to me.

“Are you all right?”

“No. This was my family’s doing. I hate the name ‘Elderbee.’ My great-grandfather killed thousands of people. They were loyal and dependent on his support and he destroyed them, all of them!

“I shouldn’t be here. I’m no Bringer of Balance. Other rulers will hear my name and laugh at me. No one will trust me after what my great-grandfather did to his own people. My father was bad enough, but this…well, it’s barbaric.” I could not speak any longer.

Riley touched my face, turning my gaze to his, and he looked at me with great kindness.

“I once heard a very wise person say, ‘We are noble to the best of our ability and those close to us will choose their own path. Do not feel guilt for another since that is not your responsibility. Your people are your responsibility.’ It went something like that; sure sounded like good advice.” Riley smiled and moved closer, putting his arm around me.

He referred to the statement I made to , the twin brother from . I had almost forgotten my own words. Yet, at the moment, it was hard to swallow my own advice.

“I wouldn’t have traveled far without you by my side. I’m glad you’re here.” I rested my head on Riley’s shoulder and we sat for a short time until Devin came into the room, calling for us.

“King, my lady, up here.”

Devin showed us a staircase leading to rooms that were surprisingly clean. This was unlike the other areas we had seen so far. There were more floors above us. Devin, Wolfe, and Rhaida investigated the upper floors while Riley, Sae’ka and I searched the floor we were on, above my great-grandfather’s tomb. There were connecting rooms housing valuable belongings and artifacts, but they did not appear to be used by anyone. Worn chairs and personal items were arranged in each room and I feared that the phantoms resided here. Riley and Sae’ka were examining other rooms when I came across a picture on the wall. It was rather dusty so I found a towel and wiped the image clean. I stared aghast at a portrait of myself. How could this be?

While I searched for a name on the painting Riley and Sae’ka walked into the room, their thoughts were the same as mine.

“How can this be you?” asked Riley. “You’ve never been here before.”

“Because it is not her,” said a voice from the corner of the room.

Riley drew his sword while Sae’ka reached for her bow. I stopped them, motioning to lower their weapons. A thin person in a deep red cloak walked out from the shadows of an adjoining room. The person lifted their head high enough for us to notice that it was an old woman with pale skin and gray hair.

“That was me many years ago,” she gestured toward the portrait and walked closer to examine my appearance. “Yes, you do resemble the painting. It is as though I’m looking into a mirror from the past.” The old woman was as amazed as I was, and we stared at each other.

“I knew you would make it here, although I was not expecting you this soon.” She broke the long silence.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Have you been expecting me? Who are you?” I could not read her thoughts very well, unlike what I had become accustomed to with my party.

“You don’t know who I am, do you?”

Instinct told me that she was a relative, although I could not believe that this old woman could be my grandmother, Rose Elderbee. Actually, I was afraid it would be her.

“Are you…Rose? Could it be…but you’re here. You’re still alive?” I staggered with every word, amazed that a relative of mine, who I had only read about in The Prophecy, could have survived so long. I had thought I was alone in this world with absolutely no family.

“I would think that with all your power you would have recognized me sooner,” she said. “Yes, Crystal, I am your grandmother. Tell me, what happened to your father?”

Luckily, Devin and the rest of our party joined us at that moment eager to tell us about the supplies they found in the rooms above. My grandmother was distracted, upset by the invasion of her home. Everyone was on edge and I stepped forward to face my friends.

“This is my grandmother, Rose Elderbee.” She stood behind me and lowered the hood of her cloak so my party could get a better look at her. They were dumbfounded. Devin peered at the portrait above us then glanced at my grandmother and me. No one had expected such an event, especially me. I would discover more about my family history during this one trip to then during my entire life.

Some time later Devin found the rest of our alliance traveling the south side of the city. Once together, we rationed our new supplies. Our group divided again; one backtracked to the horses, taking food and blankets while Sae’ka, Rhaida, Devin, Riley and I stayed to talk with my grandmother. The wind was as forceful as ever and sunlight left the city. The cursed city became a storm of chilling darkness. I was thankful for the warmth of my grandmother’s tower, but uneasy about the rest of our party staying with the horses. The knights assured Riley and me that they would be fine, having brought the horses into the protection of a stable.

I discovered that my suspicions about ghosts roaming the buildings were valid when I asked my grandmother how she was able to survive.

“The loyatees,” she said. “I tell them what I need and if they cannot fill my request here they travel to the outer city or beyond.”

“Loyatees? What’s a loyatee?” I had never heard of such a being.

“They are like you and me,” Grandmother Rose began, “yet different in many ways. They’re very tiny, the size of a small child, but quick and rather resourceful. They survived here for centuries by hiding in the shadows.

“Loyatees are not born like us. In fact, it’s a mystery how they came into existence. They don’t age and will live forever if unharmed. They came to me when I was a young girl, asking questions about the big people. At the time I was the only child living in my father’s estate, so the loyatees believed it would be safe to speak with me. They showed me their civilization beneath the city and I offered them protection from the “giants.” That’s what they call us.”

Grandmother Rose walked to a window, staring into darkness. The screaming winds from outside invaded our silence and she turned back to me.

“By now you have learned the fate of this land and you know about your great-grandfather’s curse.” Grandmother said, carefully observing me. “That I’m here is something you had not expected; that is clear to me. Also, I already know what happened to your father since I saw everything.”

I could not help myself and interrupted my grandmother. “But how? What do you mean…you asked me what happened. I…” She stopped me from sputtering numerous questions.

“You will see. Be patient, child. There is much for you to discover, much for you to understand about the past as it actually happened, not as it has been distorted by any individual’s perspective.”

Even though I had little respect for Rose Elderbee and her life, I was compelled to suspend old attitudes and listen with an open mind.

“My father cursed this place,” Rose continued. “No one would ever live in his grand city after he died. His guards were cursed along with the city, mindless soldiers controlled by a dead ruler. They killed everyone in the city. They took the bodies to the dungeon; some people had died while others were barely alive. Once everyone had been imprisoned, the guards locked themselves in with the prisoners and threw the keys out of the cell, just out of reach.”

“How is it you survived the curse?” I interrupted. “Didn’t the guards come for you, as well?”

“The loyatees hid me. Unfortunately, another woman had to take my place. The guards never suspected the switch and were eager to round up everyone in the city. I was hidden in underground passages for weeks until everyone in the city had died. The weather became wicked and cold and when I finally emerged the curse had been completed.”

“Is there any way to stop great-grandfather’s curse?”

“There is nothing within my power, child.” Anguish settled across grandmother’s face.

“Why didn’t you stand up to him?” I asked accusingly. “You must have magical powers because I can’t read your thoughts.”

“I’m not like you, my dear. No one is like you. I saw how you faced your father that day in the castle. To kill one’s own father seems wrong, but then he wished to kill you, didn’t he? Does that make your actions right? You shall see that there is no right or wrong, only another person’s opinion of your actions and your own opinion of their actions. The choices we make mold us into what we will become. I chose a different path from you. And you are correct: I do possess magic, and I decided long ago to use my magic in a different way from my father’s. If I had chosen the path you took it would have come to the same fatal outcome, so I decided to use the magic residing in the world around us.”

“What do you mean?” I never imagined I would have so many questions, but they were multiplying by the minute.

“, just a small number of people living today understand magic as I do. You see, everything has magic or is magic, from a blade of grass to a towering giant. Magic is within everything. It is a part of everything. There are those of us who understand this to be true. Also some objects in this world have many talents. It takes a magical mind to lift these powers out of the objects in our possession. Your great-grandfather never found me a threat because he thought I did not use my magic, but he was mistaken. I left my home the same as you, searching for a better life. My father thought that was his idea. I went in search of objects that I could use to somehow help myself, though something happened along the way that I had not anticipated.” She was talking about when my grandfather came to rescue her from the free-roamers.

“I know. I read about you, Orielle Knause, and Tegan Farmoore.”

“Then you know I didn’t want to return to my father, but your grandfather, Orielle, insisted. He wanted to be a noble knight and do what was proper.” Grandmother watched me, curious.

“Well, I didn’t know that.”

She raised an eyebrow, smiled kindly, and took my hand. She walked me into a dark room. A lone black stone, the size of my hand, had been placed on a rectangular table. I bent down and examined rust veins that streaked through the stone.

“This is a memory stone,” Rose explained. The stone’s surface gleamed, polished and smooth. The otherwise empty room had small candles placed on ledges. “If you wish to see the truth of an event without bias, without the perspective of another person’s thoughts, then you seek a memory stone. Nothing is closer to the truth than the magic imbedded within this stone, and it takes a person such as yourself to lift the truth from the stone.”

“What do I do?”

“Place your hand over the stone, and it will reveal the truth about past events. Ask the stone what you want to see and you shall see the story as it actually happened. You merely have to ask.” She backed away into the corner of the room.

I stood in front of the stone and placed my right hand over it. Nothing happened and I turned to my grandmother for guidance. She stood in the shadows in silence, her cloak covering her head. I looked back at the stone, asking specifically to see the capture of my grandmother Rose Elderbee by the free-roamers in the east.

The stone came alive under my hand and the rust streaks within became bright red. They began swirling faster than I could follow, and the stone brightened, illuminating the room with an eerie red glow. That’s when I transported to the moment. My body seemed to swirl with the stone and it pulled me in quickly. I was no longer aware of the room, and my body hovered over the event. I could observe, but my body would not move.

I watched as the free roamers crept up behind my grandmother and kidnapped her. They dragged her into the woods, bound her wrists and gagged her. I thought about Rhaida and how we found her, and then I saw my grandfather, Sir Orielle Knause. He was the same as I remembered him when he died in my arms after the long battle in the Queen’s chamber. I will never forget him saying that I looked just like Rose.

Orielle chased the men away while Rose stumbled off, working at the ropes around her wrists. Soon after my grandfather found Rose and removed the rope. He was a perfect gentleman. He asked to help my grandmother, but she refused. He rode on horseback for days following her. I thought about Riley and how he had followed me through the east woods.

Grandfather Orielle protected Rose for an entire week while she searched for the memory stone now under my hand. She used magical words to guide her to the edge of a lake where she dug in mud, revealing the stone. Grandmother was tired and dirty, so she decided to stay with her escort for awhile in his quaint little castle. Orielle and Rose were falling in love. I could see that they both really wanted to be together. Then she found out she was pregnant with my father, Samuel Elderbee. Rose begged my grandfather not to take her back home, but he did not want her to have a child without being wed. He so much wanted to escape his past and do the right thing, though he never expected to find a woman so far away from his home in

Rose cried frequently on the ride back to . Grandfather Orielle told her everything would be all right although he did not realize the evil in my great-grandfather Elderbee.

They rode into the city and I finally saw my great-grandfather for the first time. Sabastian Elderbee had sharp features, similar to my own father, but his hair was brown and his body gaunt.

Grandfather Orielle stood with an air of nobility, prepared to address Rose’s father while a huge crowd gathered behind him. He attempted to explain his situation with Rose and begged for forgiveness. He had barely uttered the words, “take your daughter’s hand in…,” when the Ruler of the West began shouting obscenities. Rose stood behind Orielle, crying harder than she had on the entire trip, and Sabastian Elderbee began shouting foreign phrases while lifting a golden staff held in his left hand. A blinding light shot out from the jeweled tip of great-grandfather’s staff, hitting Orielle as he stood valiant, protecting Rose and their unborn child.

Rose screamed in horror when Orielle vanished and the moment seemed to slow down. I watched my grandfather’s sword fall to the ground, and the steel blade clattered loudly when hitting the stone. The scrapping of the steel cut through my consciousness and I jumped, releasing my hand from the stone.

Instantly, I was back in the room and it was dark again. I noticed my grandmother in the shadows and was unaware how much time had past.

“So you really loved him?” I asked, and a feeble ‘Yes’ came from my grandmother.

“How long I have been here?”

“It has been a few minutes.”

I could hardly believe that I had seen almost a year in just minutes.

“I miss him,” I mumbled and stepped back from the table. “He died protecting me.”

Rose remained speechless while I struggled to suppress my tears.

“I understand your pain,” she finally said. “I saw your battle with your father. It was brave what you did for Orielle, what you did for family.”

“But I killed my father!”

“And didn’t your father try to kill you? He had already murdered your own mother and would have done the same to your brother if he had stayed in The Land. My father took hold of his grandson from a young age and taught him everything I despised. I was never in control, never allowed a moment with my son to teach him to love and respect family. You had the strength to do what was necessary, .”

“I guess we were destined to share misfortune. Our fathers hated others more than they loved us. I’m sorry I misjudged you.”

I left the room. I had had enough of suffering and pain, and the emotional wounds that had hardly healed were ripped open once again in a matter of minutes. Part of me was angry that Rose did not fight her father, fight for the one she loved. But no matter how I felt, the past could not be changed. Nothing could bring back the ones I loved, and all I wanted was to leave this place, never to return.

That night I dreamt about the east woods and everything I had seen during my journey with Grandfather Orielle. I saw Grandfather’s face gleaming from his shiny ruby. He chattered something to me about being trapped or falling into a trap. I knew his words were important, but the thought slipped my mind once I awoke.

The next morning I spoke with Grandmother Rose.

“You’re welcome to come with us.” I said. “You won’t be a bother. Besides, the city isn’t suitable for anyone to live in.”

“You’re very kind. I must refuse your offer, though. I do not wish to leave.”

She glided out of view, leaving me perplexed. Why would anyone stay in this cursed city?

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