The Devil's Dominion

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Chapter 8: Shards of the Past

“My lord, we’ve just caught a civilian trying to enter the forbidden reconstruction area.” A Crystal Sword bowed to his Morschcoda, and then winced as a shrill voice started shouting behind him. Marrdin winced too, recognizing the noise. He groaned when he understood the words.

“I demand,” the voice put special emphasis on vowels, “to see my husband. At once.”

Marrdin, annoyed but not intimidated, nodded to the guard. A woman, dressed head to toe in white silk and fur, with a white fur hat studded with diamonds and tall white leather boots, also trimmed with white fur, pushed her way past the guard and brushed her long, strikingly black hair away from her forehead and sapphire blue eyes. She stood there, staring at Marrdin for about five or ten seconds, raised her lips in an attempt at a smile, and walked over to him. He put his hand on her elbow and kissed the cheek that she offered him.

“Husband.”

“Shenya. What are you doing here?”

Shenya rolled her eyes. “Ugh. There’s no need to sound so pleased to see me, Marrdin. I only came to see if any of my wives or my other husband had returned to the capital, now that you’re trying to rebuild it.”

“Our wives, you mean. Dreya and Emeda are married to both of us.”

Shenya tossed her head. “Emeda was my wife before she wanted to marry you. And she would have left me if I didn’t take you as my husband and Dreya as my wife.”

“And we had to take Shenned as our husband because you married him for his money when you were seventy-three.”

She put her hand to her chest, offended. “Because an exceptionally beautiful, High-Blood woman can’t marry an aging, rich man just because she’s in love with him?”

“You’re married to one of the richest men in Rista, the daughter of another one of the richest men in Rista, the Morschcoda of Rista, and the firstborn daughter of a Drogodan Great House. Four High-Blood, rich spouses. And you were born half-Meclaryan to a Middle-Blood decorated war veteran.” Shenya was once more offended, but did not argue. “I’ve known for almost two centuries, Shenya, about how you tricked Shenned and Emeda.” “Have it your own way. Dreya and Emeda gave you children. Emeda gave me pleasure. Quite a lot of pleasure.” Shenya smiled, remembering her wife. “And Shenned, well, I shared his bed by necessity, not out of any real desire.” Marrdin turned back to the map of Agrista; the map that his construction was trying to recreate. “Go back to Hrion. It’s the safest city in Rista, and the easiest to escape, if the Deshika come back north.”

She put her hands on her hips. “So that’s it? I come all the way from Hrion to speak to you and find out what in all the Hells is going on, and all you say is go back?”

Marrdin ran a hand through his hair. “The end of the world is going on. I’m trying to rebuild Agrista, because one man destroyed it. I’m constantly sending messages to King Erygan asking about the Seven Devils and Deshik armies near our borders.” He turned back towards her. “You have never cared about any part of the world except for the little corner you called yours. Why do you care so much now?” Shenya stomped her foot and opened her mouth to speak, but didn’t have any words. Instead, she turned around and left. Marrdin waved in a guard. “Have her escorted back to Hrion. If any of my other wives come looking for me, have them escorted to Hrion as well.” The guard bowed and left.

A Demosira entered and bowed, his beard touching the snow. “My lord, one of my men has found something.” His voice was low and grating, like his vocal cords were caked with dust.

“Jerrin.” Marrdin could barely even pretend to be interested. “What is it you’re in charge of?”

If the ancient Demosira was offended by Marrdin’s poor memory, he didn’t show it. “I’m coordinating your Morschledu to try and grow channels and tunnels of ice into and underneath the lake to see if there is anything of value that can be found and recovered. And, as I said, I believe we have found something worth our time.” Marrdin nodded. “Show me.”

Marrdin followed the Demosira out to the edge of the lake, then around it to the south for about a mile. He found a Ristan Morschledu crouching at the edge of the water.

“Well?”

The man jumped up, startled. “Morschcoda!” He bowed quickly. “My apologies, my lord. I didn’t see you.”

Marrdin waved away the formalities. “Jerrin says you’ve found something.”

“Yes, my lord. Watch.” The man knelt back down and stretched his hand out over the water. A bowl of ice formed on the surface, then began to deepen. The diameter remained the same, but the bowl was turning into a hollow tube. Marrdin waited for about five minutes before something happened. Water came rushing through the tube and shot like a geyser out of the end.

Marrdin wasn’t impressed. “Why is that important to me, or at all?”

“My lord, I’ve done this eight times now. The tube always breaks at the same point. But if I move five inches to the left, nothing. I can tell that I’ve reached the bottom of the lake in this spot. But at the original location, something stops me and breaks the magic. I can feel it, like an unweaving spell, designed to break or prevent enchantment.” Now Marrdin understood the significance, if not why he was there. “So, you’ve found something magical, or at least enchanted. Likely one of the lower treasuries was flooded. An artifact like the one you’ve found should be in safekeeping, but I doubt anywhere is safer than the bottom of a lake.” Jerrin coughed. “Yes, Demosira?” “I am interested in the specific phrases that your Morschledu used. ‘Unweaving,’ ‘breaking the magic.’ An artifact certainly, Morschcoda, but a very specific kind of one.” He scratched his head for a moment. “How many weapons of Dwarven Steel would you say were in Agrista when Taren Garrenin drowned the city?” “Dwarven Steel?” Marrdin ran his hand through his hair and then rubbed his eyes. “I would doubt that there were many. Possibly none, since the city had been abandoned except for Taren before he destroyed it. Why?”

“Because of the type of magic your man describes. In fact, I am all but certain that this artifact is a weapon forged from Dwarven Steel. And if there were no Ristan weapons of Dwarven Steel in Agrista when Taren destroyed the city, that leaves only one possibility.” “We’ve just found Mishdonkar.”

“I think so, Morschcoda.”

Marrdin’s momentary excitement was cut short. “But we can’t actually know. We can’t get down there, and the magic that creates the tunnels can’t touch Mishdonkar without shattering.”

The Ristan Morschledu spoke up. “My lord, I could make a tunnel large enough to go around the sword, but it would be hard, not knowing which part of the sword my small tunnel actually hits. If I had more Morschledu giving me energy, I could make a tunnel much larger than necessary, so that we couldn’t hit the sword.” “What about the end of the tunnel? It’s sealed as it descends.”

“What if we went until he could feel the magic of the sword, but not so far that it would touch it and shatter? Then, someone could go down into the tunnel, and grow walls of ice into the lakebed. That would seal the water out from around the sword, and then the tunnel seal could be removed so that Mishdonkar could be retrieved.” Jerrin spoke as fast as he could, excited about the possibility of recovering something so famous and important.

Marrdin turned to the Morschledu. “Would that work?”

“In theory …” The Ristan thought for a moment. “The theory itself is sound, so it should work. But in practice? We would only get one chance. If we make a mistake down there, whoever goes down might come back up much more quickly than they’d like to. And in more pieces. And then, there is also the possibility that Mishdonkar will be dislodged and come to rest somewhere else. If we fail, we might never find the sword again.” Marrdin nodded. The water pressure from the small tunnel had been one thing. The amount of water that would pour into a tunnel the size that they would need could easily drown someone, and potentially rip that someone to shreds, especially with the ice shards from the destroyed tunnel churning in the compressed space.

“To many Anarians and Morschledu fighting with the Remnant, Mishdonkar would be on par with some sort of Holy Relic.”

Jerrin stroked his chin. “Whosoever wields the Sword of Taren shall Taren’s empire rule?”

Marrdin looked sideways at the Demosira. “A bit flowery, and not strictly correct. Daliana was Taren’s named heir. When, and if, she finally decides to formally take the crown, if she had Mishdonkar, it would be symbolic in a way that would prevent critics and rivals from any open argument. Not that there would be many rivals. All the Morschcoda were there when Kallin read from El Kardi Morschcoda.” Jerrin shook his head. “Dwarven Steel isn’t as picky as a Morschledu Ring. Mishdonkar may have been Taren’s sword, but a sword it is. A soulless piece of metal won’t solidify Daliana’s claim, which is at best disputable, to the Throne of Drogoda.” Marrdin started to get angry and took a step towards the much shorter Storinean, then remembered that only the Morschcoda and a very select group of others, most notably Makret Druoth and El Darnen, knew that Daliana was Taren’s daughter from a marriage to Nemira Gundara. Marrdin could also see how that could be disputed. Of all of those who actually knew the whole truth of Taren’s relationship with Nemira, Makret Druoth, a branded traitor, was the only living being with firsthand knowledge. His support would hardly be an endorsement as far as most Drogs, and most others of the Morschenic Races, would be concerned.

Instead of arguing with the Demosira, Marrdin turned his thoughts to retrieving Mishdonkar. “If you have more Morschledu channeling their power, could you guide it into a tunnel large enough that you would be guaranteed to miss the sword?” “Provided it is the sword, Morschcoda, and not something bigger, then I would have no problem. I think four others should be enough.”

Marrdin nodded and turned to Jerrin. The Storinean had already wandered off to find more of the Ristan Morschledu that he was responsible for overseeing. It was only a few minutes before he returned with three women and a man. The man seemed to be relieved about being pulled away from whatever task he had been given, but at least two of the women were annoyed. The third was more subdued, but curious about the proceedings. At least, curious until she was informed that all she was needed for was to channel energy for another Morschledu to turn into the magic that would potentially find Mishdonkar. Then she was annoyed like the other women. But none would dare to disobey a direct order from their Morschcoda.

One by one, the four Morschledu channeled their strength into the fifth. A bowl of ice began to form on the surface, this time about ten feet across. A little more slowly than the smaller attempts, the bowl deepened and began to form the tunnel. After about fifteen minutes, the guiding Morschledu stood up, and Marrdin felt the others stop feeding energy into him.

“I think it should only be about two more feet down to the bottom of the lake. With how much bigger this tunnel is, I didn’t dare take it too close.”

Marrdin nodded. “I’m going down.” The protests started immediately. The original man said that it would be his honour to retrieve the sword. Marrdin heard the unspoken belief that since he had been the one to find it, he should get to retrieve it. The others all said something similar, but their own desires were different. Two of the women were genuinely concerned for their Morschcoda’s safety. The second man obviously wanted to impress the three women, or at least one of them. And the third woman felt that she was of too high a Blood Status to waste her magic as someone else’s energy reserve, and felt she deserved to be compensated by being allowed to do the retrieval. But of the six Ristans, Marrdin only trusted himself. So, he overrode or ignored each of the other’s protests and grew a walkway for himself out to the edge of the tunnel, only about three feet away, but he felt that it wouldn’t be dignified to jump. He did not know if his wife had actually been removed from Agrista yet, and he refused to let her see him jump down a hole.

Marrdin paused at the rim of the tunnel. Apparently, he would still have to jump. The tunnel ran down at an angle and wasn’t very steep, but he would still be moving quickly long before he was close to the bottom.

The first man noticed Marrdin’s hesitation. “Morschcoda, I didn’t aim the tunnel directly at Mishdonkar’s resting place. I lessened the slope slowly, so that when whoever was to retrieve it went down, they would have time to slow themselves before hitting the lake bed.” Marrdin nodded, reassured, and stepped off the edge. The ride down only lasted a few seconds, but it was long enough for Marrdin to realize that there was no way he could get back up the way he had come. The tunnel, though not steep, as his man had said, was still steep enough, and made of ice.

“One problem at a time, Marrdin,” he said to himself. He had stopped only a few feet from where the tunnel ended. Now it was his turn. Slowly and carefully, he began to grow walls from the end of the tunnel into the lake, sending them several feet into the rocky floor. Then he placed his hand flat against the ice that sealed the end of the tunnel and pushed outwards, cracking the ice, and slipping down with it until he was kneeling in about a foot of water on the lake floor. He stood and began to move his feet carefully, feeling around for Mishdonkar in the dark, desperately hoping that he wouldn’t kick the enchanted blade into the ice tunnel and disrupt the magic that had grown it.

It took a few minutes, but Marrdin finally found what he was looking for. In the almost complete darkness, all he knew was that he had found a sword. There was not enough light to determine the colour of the blade, and Marrdin had never handled Mishdonkar, and so had nothing besides a few memories of the shape of the hilt to determine whether he now held Taren’s sword.

“The only way to find out is to get to the surface. So how do I do that?” Marrdin looked at the ice around him and then to the sword in his hand. “Water pressure …” Without taking any more time to think, Marrdin lashed around his ankles with the sword in his hand, slicing through the magic supporting the thin ice. Water began to fill the tunnel around his knees, then the walls began to give way, and the water poured in faster, lifting him quickly. Then it was lifting him more quickly. Then much too quickly. Before Marrdin could think of a way to not be launched from the geyser that he had unintentionally created, he was shooting out of the end of the tunnel. He landed hard several feet away from the edge of the lake, fortunate not to impale himself on the sword that he had recovered from the lakebed. He struggled to his hands and knees as servants rushed to bring him blankets and hot drinks. He pushed the sword at Jerrin.

“Is it Mishdonkar?” Marrdin had not even looked at the blade yet, or even around him.

Jerrin took the sword cautiously and reverently. He examined the handle, and found runes etched into the cross guard. They confirmed what the blue blade had already convinced him of. “Yes, Morschcoda. This is Mishdonkar. But are you actually a Ristan Morschledu?” “What do you mean?”

“Can you not control ice?”

“Of course I can!”

Jerrin lifted an eyebrow at Marrdin’s indignance. “So why resort to destroying the tunnel when you could have grown steps out of the ice to climb out?”

For that, Marrdin had no answer.

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