Bronze Butterfly (part 1)
Frolin sat in the dark cell, his back against the stone wall with just a tiny trickle of moonlight streaming in just above his head.
“Are you sleeping?” Sarnay’s soft voice seeped in from a small gap at the base of the wall that separated the two of them.
“No… Are you alright?” he replied and leaned forward with the moonlight shining through his long white hair.
“Yes. I suppose.”
“You don’t sound alright”
“Well I’ve never been locked up like this before. I don’t really understand it. How long do you think they can hold us?”
Frolin lay down on his side pressing his face to the floor and as close as he could to the small gap in the wall to try and see Sarnay in the next chamber. He could just see the moonlight reflecting off the dark skin of her arm that dangled over the side of the cot she lay upon.
“Well we really haven’t violated any laws. We didn’t actually help Millaney break Darvin out of that store room and technically speaking he was being held by the academy staff who is no real authority, so a good speaker should have no problem getting us released.”
“Well then why did they arrest us?” Sarnay asked, as she sat up on her cot and looked down at the gap that Frolin was peering through.
“The priest who has been Darvin’s guardian seems to be acting on his own authority. We should speak to the council”
“Well we can’t do anything from in here!” Sarnay shrieked with a sense of panic in her voice.
“Well…” Frolin started to say after a great deal of thought. “There is a way I can get us free, but escaping could be a new charge they could add against us.”
“Anything! Anything! Please. I can’t stand being locked up like this.” Sarnay dropped to the floor and slid her hand through the gap and Frolin held her shivering palm in his own.
After a short moment, Frolin stood and reached under his cloak. He retrieved a small ornate well-crafted box and set it on the stone floor. He then retrieved a bronze key and fit it into the keyhole on the box. He turned the key slowly to the right until it clicked and the lid popped open. The moonlight flickered off the wings of a small bronze crafted butterfly resting inside the velvet-lined box. Frolin gingerly reached in to remove the shimmering creature and turned it gently over to expose another small keyhole on the underbelly of the winged mechanical marvel. Using a tiny key on the same ring with the key that opened the box, Frolin inserted it into the mechanical butterfly and wound its inner workings causing it to rattle and vibrate its tiny wings. After Frolin removed the key, the butterfly stretched out its bronze wings and hovered in front of Frolin’s face and flew forward to press itself up to the tip of Frolin’s nose as if giving him a kiss. Frolin smiled and raised his right hand and ran his thumb and index finger over a spherical gem set in a ring on his finger. The gem light up reflecting a dull green light off Frolin’s shadowed face. The butterfly fluttered about the room, as Frolin practiced controlling its flight with the rolling of the gemstone. Once he had sufficient control, the butterfly flew out a small window in the thick wooden and flew out of the room.
Frolin lowered the bulky oversized bronze goggles he had resting on the top of his head over his eyes and turned a small dial changing his many different lenses on his goggles until he found the right ones and he was then able to see what the mechanical butterfly saw. He guided the bronze mechanical insect over to a key dangling on the wall and with the turn of a small knob on the side of his ring, he controlled the tiny legs of his mechanical pet until it flew over and picked up the key. He then turned it to fly straight toward the door to his cell and looked through the eyes of the butterfly until the keyhole became visible in on the image of the reddish-colored lens in his goggles. He carefully guided the butterfly toward the lock sliding the enormous key compared to the size of the butterfly into the opening and unlocked his door.
He flew the butterfly to him and retrieved the key from its grasp, then gently lowered it back into its box. After the mechanical insect rested upon the felt lining of the bottom of the box, Frolin flipped through his goggle lenses until a clear lens was in place, then quietly snapped the box closed, returned it to his cloak and ran out to unlock Sarnay’s cell door. Hearing a key turn in the lock, Sarnay stood up and raised an eyebrow when she saw Frolin stand in the doorway with a broad smile on his face.
“I won’t ask…” Sarnay said shaking her head, as she walked toward him. “Let’s just go.” Sarnay walked past Frolin and down the long dark shadowed hallway. Frolin turned to follow and together they walked outside the unguarded, empty holding cells out into the bright moonlight. After a short distance Frolin walked beside her and Sarnay reached out to hold his hand, as the two Shrkai teenagers walked together toward the center of Shrkai City with the suns rising over the desert mesas at their back.
Further away up in the tallest peaks of the Mahfoga mountain range, with dragons perched on its roof, the suns bright orange glow pierced a tiny window at the base of dragon castle. Millaney, a human girl lifted a leg exposing her pale young skin dripping with soapy bathwater to the suns amber rays. She plopped a large soaked sponge on her slender calf and squeezed out the scented, soapy water and ran the sponge along her leg, then quickly pulled her leg back in and ducked her head down into the water so that only her bright blue eyes were visible through strands of wet blond hair.
“Father!” she wailed when she realized he was the one who had just barged through the door to her previously silent bath chamber.
“I thought you could use some more hot bath water” Millorny replied holding a large steaming pail of water with both hands on the wood grip of the pail’s stout wire handle.
“No I think I have enough now thank you. I’ll be done shortly.”
“Oh alright… I’ll just set it here.” He set the pail up against the stone wall backed out of the room and closed the door.
A short time later Millaney entered the back room of the bottom floor of the tall castle tower, where Millorny and Gaitlynne were already sitting at a large wooden table with plates of food set in front of them and a third empty plate set out for her. Millaney ran a brush through her hair, as she walked over to a wooden barrel set against the wall opposite side of the room from a massive hearth with a few burning logs set in its gaping mouth. Millorny looked and saw how his daughter was dressed in a bright colored thin dress that was hemmed just above her pale knees.
“I don’t know why you wear you good clothes when you’re just going to put a drab chillsuit on over them,” he remarked, as he dunk his wooden spoon into a gourd bowl of stew.
“Well father it’s not always how you look in clothes, it’s how they make you feel,” she remarked, as she retrieved a piece of fruit from the barrel. Millorny looked at Gaitlynne, an extremely tall human woman who was dressed in a thin loose shirt and baggy shorts. Gaitlynne just shrugged her shoulders, as she picked up a piece of rare beef with her fingers and bit into it, then picked at her teeth with her fingernail. “Besides I won’t need to put the chillsuit on until later this morning or this afternoon when the suns get hot.” Millaney strode over to sit down at the large wooden table near her father.
A short time later after she finished eating and packing her clothes, Millaney eased open the door to a small chamber down the hall. She stood in the doorway looking in the dark room waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dimmer light. She watched, as the body of a Shrkai teenager propped up on a wooden chair slowly came into focus. She stood thinking of what to say, but nothing came to mind. After a long moment, she heard her father call from down the hall.
“Millaney whenever you’re ready,” she smiled hearing her father’s voice despite his insistent tone. “I want to catch the first boat back north and put this whole ordeal behind us.”
“Thank you,” she spoke barely above a whisper then kept an eye on Darvin’s face, as she backed out of the room and closed the door.
The suns were rising over the mountains already warming the chilled ground below, as the two of them climbed up on to Dahvy, the dragon Millaney named after her mother. They flew out piercing the golden glow of the early morning rays of the combined yellow suns over their left shoulders.
“I still don’t see why I couldn’t fly on one of the other dragons,” Millorny said, as he moved Millaney’s blowing blonde hair away from his face, as he sat behind her on the saddle with the curved high leather padded back reaching up to his shoulders.
“Gaitlynne was saying she doesn’t want the dragons being ridden.”
“Well alright, but what about the other two you raised?”
“Tralla is with Sarnay and Patrahleera must be out hunting or maybe he’s with her too.” Millaney called back through the cutting wind, as they swooped down through thin clouds toward the desert city below. “I’m going to land you at the docks, then I’ll find Sarnay to tell her goodbye, or maybe ask if she wants to come up with us and stay for a visit.”
“So you’re not even going to try and return to the academy?”
“No… I’d like to, but we left during admissions week. We’d probably have to re-apply next year.”
“Alright well… just don’t take too long and tell Patrah goodbye for me.”
“I could take several days, even a week or more perhaps and still fly up to Schilling Harbor before your ship arrives.” Millaney said, as her dragon spread out her wings and started to land at some busy ship docks on the river, where the crowd parted giving her dragon a wide berth to land. Dahvy lowered herself close to the ground so that Millorny could climb out of the saddle and step down onto the ground.
I’ll send a wagon or something to get my trunk, if you could pack it for me please,” he called out to her, as the dragon turned and prepared to take flight. “I’ll see you in a few days!” He watched Millaney wave back to him, then with a flap of her wings and push off with her powerful legs, the dragon was quickly in the air and flying out over the nearby desert hills blowing dust amongst the hardy shrubs that took root in the barren soil. Millorny turned toward the bustling port area with wooden buildings built by the humans set in sharp contrast to the adobe mud structures built by the Shrkai. He stepped across a hard packed path, as a large odorous domestic reptile pulled a wagon full of goods away from the port destined for the market outside of Shrkai city.
Two Shrkai soldiers carrying polearms with black studded leather armor over their white chill suits were sure to notice Millorny stepping in to a warehouse with the name “Schilling Ship Lines” written on a plaque over the door. One of the soldiers got the attention of two other soldiers standing a bit further away and the four of them moved in on the warehouse, just after Millorny stepped inside.
“When is the next vessel headed to Schilling Harbor?” he asked, as he walked in to the office and past the counter. A human worker behind a large desk lifted his head and looked at a marked schedule on the wall with pins made in the shape of galley ships, then looked down at a log book.
“Well Mr. Schilling the ‘Spotted Rooghon’ is loaded and set to leave soon, but it’s headed east and won’t make the loop back to Schilling Harbor for a few weeks… The ‘Raspberry Tart’ is headed to Schilling Harbor, but it just started loading… I don’t think it will be ready until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest.” Millorny stopped in his tracks, as he neared the door to his office. He turned to look back at the worker and was tempted to have that ship sent empty, when another worker spoke up.
“Well sir the ‘serendipity’ is loaded and ready to sail, but the crew is on layover.”
“Really? Who’d want to layover in this heat?... Round them up and tell them I’ll give them a bonus to set sail and take an extended layover back in Schilling Harbor.” Millorny turned and stepped to grab the handle to his office door confident he would be leaving soon. The second worker got up from his desk and grabbed a white chill suit off a hook and stepped toward the door, just as the four Shrkai soldiers were stepping in. The worker gave the soldiers a strange look, then stepped out of the building. The other worker who still remained at his desk stood, but otherwise made no attempt to hinder the four soldiers who proceeded directly to Millorny’s office door.
Millorny was packing some personal items into a leather bag when the soldiers filtered in to his office. He stopped and watched, as they spread out in front of his desk and aimed the blades of their polearms directly at him.
“uhh can I help you gentlemen?” he asked in a serious, but sarcastic manner.
“You know why we’re here, now just step out from behind that desk,” one of the Shrkai soldiers told him.
“In that you are quite mistaken, had I any thought of why Shrkai soldiers would need to apprehend me, I’d have come to them.”
“Just come from that desk!” another soldier demanded just as two of Millorny’s employees stepped in to the office with loaded crossbows aimed at the heads of two of the soldiers.
“Now let’s all try to stay calm.” Millorny voiced, as he put down his bag and put his hands out with open palms. He glanced at his sword hanging in its sheath hanging from a peg on the wall, but quickly dismissed the thought. “We are in Shrkai territory. We agreed to abide by their laws. All I want to know is what it is they want of me.” The Shrkai soldiers looked each other over and one of them spoke up.
“One of our own was murdered! You viciously stabbed him in the throat when you were on the hunting trip.”
Millorny lowered his hands and took a step back and the men with the crossbows took careful aim at the soldiers.
“Look I’m sure this can all be worked out.” Millorny put his hands back up as he re-thought his position and wanted to calm everyone down. “Just take me to see the high priest. I’m sure he’ll be fair in his decision.” The soldiers eased their posture and looked each other over then nodded. Millorny directed his men to lower their crossbows and he stepped out from behind the desk.
Elsewhere Millaney’s thick blond curls whipped in the wind, as she flew out over the desert city. She flew between the tall mesas with the people below looking up as she passed overhead. Her dragon spread out her wide leathery wings, as she slowed to land on the flat stone roof of one of the homes built into the foothills on the north side of the city with the tall peaks of the mountains stretched out in the background. Dahvy lowered herself close to the ground, as Millaney slid down off the saddle and stepped onto the firm stone roof. She instantly felt the thin dry morning air which was already heating up, as she stood near her dragon and straightened her dress. She reached into her pack behind the saddle and removed a thin white robe with frihar, or rechargeable chill-stones sewn into the lining, called a chillsuit. She then dug through and found a wide bright blue ribbon she tied around her waist and pulled out a brush to run through her hair. She finished brushing her hair and was tying a smaller matching blue ribbon in her hair, when she heard a voice calling her name.
She eased her way toward the edge of the roof with her still saddled dragon resting like the Sphynx right behind her.
“Millaney,” Patrah called out from the courtyard of her home near the front of the building trying to keep his voice low so only she could hear him. “Where is your father?” he whispered, when he saw her head appear over the edge of the roof.
“I left him at the docks,” she replied with a worried tone sensing her Shrkai great-grandfather’s caution.
“Good maybe he got away.”
“Away?” she asked with a heightened tone of near despair.
“Please you must fly off immediately for Annuvian territory.”
“We are planning to return, but I must find Sarnay first to ask if she wants to come up with us, or at least tell her goodbye.”
“NO!... You must go now! I’m sure they saw you fly over and they will be here soon.”
“Patrah… You’re scaring me. Please tell me what’s troubling you.”
Patrah took a look out over the valley below, then in a more relaxed voice he started to explain. “They want you for aiding that boy’s escape, but I’ve already spoken to the council on your behalf and they’re inclined to not seek any action against you,” he paused and sighed deep before continuing. “but one of the soldiers in your father’s hunting party was found brutally stabbed to death.” Millaney instantly pulled back from the edge of the roof after hearing those words. “Wait Millaney please don’t get involved,” Patrah pleaded from below, but heard no response. Millaney rifled through her pack still tied to the dragon behind the saddle. Sensing her heightened state, Dahvy turned her head and shuffled a bit but stayed down low enough for Millaney to continue looking through her pack and find her weapons. “Millaney you can’t get involved especially with using your dragon it will start a war!” Patrah shouted up at her. She paused for a very brief instance, but continued to strap on her sword and load up with daggers in smaller sheaths on her belt and pulled up her chillsuit to tie a dagger around her thigh just above her white knee-high stockings with a matching blue bow to the one around her waist and in her hair. She mounted a quiver of arrows on her back and hooked a longbow to a leather strap that dangled along the side of her dragon then climbed up into the saddle.
Her dragon stood up and spread out her wings, as Patrah watched helplessly from below.
“One person is not worth starting a war over,” Patrah shouted out to her, as she flew off the roof and out over the city.
“I’ll not lose him again!” Millaney shouted back, as she flew out over the city.
“Good luck my dearest child.” Patrah spoke quietly from the deck of the home, as he watched her fly out into the sky with the glow of the morning suns shining on her and Dahvy.
Millaney swooped down over the city flying low to watch for any sign of her father below. A group of armed soldiers that were headed for the home she just flew from took note of her passing and changed direction to follow after her. The bright blue bow around her white chillsuit flapped in the breeze, as she whooshed just over the tops of the many two-story sandstone homes built in the wide desert valley. Hundreds of heads turned upward, as she made a couple wide circles over the top of the bustling market of tents set up near the tiny cool waters of the oasis searching the activity below, then turning her dragon toward the river docks off in the nearby distance. The path to the docks was lined with intermittent wagons of goods pulled by large desert reptiles looking like a cross between a turtle and a salamander.
It wasn’t long before she spotted a group of soldiers mounted on klaatu, tall camel-like goats. The four soldiers sped along with Millorny mounted on a klaatu in the center of the group riding with his hands bound in leather restraints. They watched, as Millaney flew past them and turned Dahvy around in a wide loop and landed on the trail behind them. Millaney slid off the saddle, grabbed a longbow and put her arm through the strap of a quiver of arrows she positioned on her back. The soldiers stopped and turned to face her.
“We should just ride on,” one of the soldiers suggested.
“She’s trained to shoot arrows quite accurately while flying,” Millorny half scoffed half snickered in a proud way, as he had himself trained her. The soldiers dismounted and loaded bows of their own and stepped toward the teen and her dragon. Millaney raised her bow aiming at one of the soldiers and Dahvy walked beside her with her head lowered and tiny whiffs of smoke seeping out of her flared nostrils. “Really unless you have a yearning to meet your gods, I beg you to let me talk to her.” The soldiers paused keeping their bows lowered and one of them nodded his head. Millorny climbed off his furry desert beast and stepped up in front of the group, Millaney and her dragon kept moving forward.
“I’m not sure what words to use with you right now,” Millorny started to say. “I’ve really only been your father now for a couple years, but you are one of the bravest and brightest young ladies I have ever known.” Millaney and her dragon continued their purposeful stride toward the armed Shrkai soldiers. “You have been through so much. All I really want to do is give you a peaceful quiet life and watch you bloom into the great woman I know you will become, but I can’t allow you to take me.” Millaney pressed her lips together and aimed her bow first at one soldier, then the other. “Millaney please, I beg of you. Put down your bow.”
Millaney kept moving forward until she was about ten feet in front of the group of soldiers standing with their bows still lowered behind her father. She thought about which one to shoot first and if she could perhaps just wound them, then maybe load another bow before they returned fire. She knew Dahvy would spray them with fire, but her father would get burned too. She would have to shout out a warning to get him to duck so that Dahvy could fire over him perhaps. Different scenarios raced through her mind, as the soldiers stood uneasily behind her father.
“They will kill you father,” she finally spoke with moisture forming in her eyes. “I cannot allow that!”
“These are not the same Shrkai you knew from the island. I’ve known them for years and not only done business with them as a traveling merchant but also met with many members of their high council as an ambassador from Annuvin. I assure you I will be treated fairly,” Millorny pleaded. “These are their lands. We must abide by their laws no matter what the consequences.”
“But you’re my father,” Millaney cried out “I never knew my mother and only just found you. You can’t ask me to take that chance!” she hollered out and pulled back on her bowstring and her dragon sensing her heightened mood raised her head and opened her mouth wide.
“NO!” Millorny hollered and put up his hands. “Get closer together behind me,” he spoke quietly to the soldiers behind him, who quickly followed his direction. “Millaney please try to understand. Your actions could start a war.”
Millaney stood before the group. Her hand holding back the bowstring held firm, as she took careful aim at one of the soldiers crowded together hiding like frightened children behind her father. Tears dripped past her quivering lips and her knees started to shake.
“AAAAHHHGGG,” she screamed out and lowered her bow. She charged over to Dahvy, who looked quite confused, but lowered her body, so that Millaney could climb up onto the saddle. With a strong nudge of her knees and a pull on the saddle-horn, the dragon leaped out into the air and spread her wide wings. The soldiers cowered, as the dragon flew just a short distance over her heads and then angled as straight up into the air as she could and blew a swirl of flame out into the sky above. Millaney then flew off toward a nearby plateau. As she flew the small blue ribbon tying back her soft blond hair came loose and fluttered down to the ground surfing the air currents until it landed gently at Millorny’s feet. Millorny reached out with his hands still in restraints and picked up the smooth ribbon and tucked it in his cloak, as he watched his daughter fly off and land on the high plateau.
As Millaney dismounted and walked to the edge of the high mesa overlooking the desert city below, further away to the southeast of the city Frolin and Sarnay walked through the desert heat still holding hands. Ahead of them with a backdrop of endless hard-packed desert clay with only the hardiest of bushes gripping to the arid soil were the tall windmills with the spinning fan blades covered in a thick canvas. Sarnay looked out over the vast horizon and pointed to the wooden structures with the stout flags spinning on top of the tower.
“What are those used for?” she asked with the curiosity of a small child.
“Oh you like them?” Frolin boldly replied. “I designed them myself, one of my first ideas actually. They pull water up from the lakes and streams in caves below the ground.”
“OH… Well why are they placed way out here?”
“Well you can’t see them from here, but the city isn’t the only place Shrkai people live. There are hundreds of small farms out there growing crops. Not all of our farms are underground with skylights carved out so they get sunlight, many are grown out here. You’d be surprised, but there’s actually a forest of trees not far from here with thick roots that are longer than the tree is tall in order to reach the water underground.”
“Oh I’d love to go see that.”
“I’d be happy to guide you someday, but it’s a long journey, we’d need to ride some klaatus.”
“Or we could just fly.” Sarnay turned and winked at him, as they continued to walk out of the city toward a mesa with hardy bushes and some palm trees growing like a wall of foliage in front of the tall desert mound. Frolin smiled back at her and gripped her hand a bit tighter in his.
The suns were nearing their peak, as they stepped under the shade of the mesa.
“Oh I sure am glad to get out of that sun,” Sarnay commented, as she leaned against the trunk of a shade tree and wiped the sweat from her forehead.
“Yes it’s a trek like this that really makes you appreciate the invention of those chillsuits.”
“Yes where exactly are you taking us anyway. I hope there’s water nearby because I’m quite parched.”
“You’re safe in my hands,” Frolin joked, as he continued to walk toward the mesa wall. “Come you’re going to want to see this.” He smiled to her, as he strode passed. Sarnay looked at him strange wondering why a normally feeble young man wouldn’t want to rest in the shade. She thought that maybe the heat of the suns wasn’t affecting him as much as it should, but the sweat stains on his clothes said different. She pushed herself off from the restful trunk of the tree and followed him to the edge of the mesa where he stepped behind a thick bush. Once behind the bush he smiled and stepped into a narrow crack in the wall that was completely hidden, he had to turn sideways to slide through and disappear into the mesa wall. Sarnay shook her head and followed him into the dark crevice. There was no sign of Frolin in the dark passageway that expanded enough for her to move more easily, until Frolin removed a cover of a glow stone mounted on the wall. His smiling face was lit up by the green glow of the stone. “You haven’t seen anything yet,” he chuckled, as he turned to lead the way through the narrow stone passage. Sarnay followed behind his dark silhouette with the glow of the stone shining from in front of his body. The encroaching walls of the passage were at times just wide enough for them to walk with each shoulder brushing up against the dry stone.
Looking over his shoulder Sarnay could see the path ahead drastically widen with the glow of the stone being swallowed by the darkness of the massive cave opening. Frolin untied a rope with a basket at the bottom and removed his thin cloak leaving him in only a thin pair of short pants. He placed his cloak in the basket then handed it to Sarnay. He hung the glow lantern on a hook on the cave wall then took a few steps forward.
“What are you doing?” Sarnay asked with a wrinkle in her brow.
“Come now. Don’t tell me a great ‘dragon rider’ is afraid of the dark,” he laughed, as he leaped off a cliff and plummeted into the dark cavern. “AHHYEEHHH” his voice echoed in the dark cavern, as he dropped several feet, then splashed into a small underground lake. Sarnay took the lantern off the hook and stepped to the edge of the opening and saw a reflection off the water below with Frolin just coming up from under the clear water. She smiled then placed the lantern back on its hook. She removed her sweaty clothes and placed them in the basket leaving her in just some thin underclothes, then plunged into the cool water below. “Ahh you got to love a cool swim on a day like today.” Frolin said, as Sarnay came up out of the water.
“I know you didn’t bring me all the way out here just for a swim,” Sarnay said, as she swam on her back alongside Him.
“Actually I would do something like that, but no there’s more to this private cave then a swim.” Frolin splashed her in the face, then dove beneath the water.
As Frolin and Sarnay swam together in the cool clear water in the darkness of the underground cave and Millaney stood gripping the handle of her sheathed sword peering out over the desert city watching as her father was escorted toward the council building, the dark skin of a Shrkai hand hovered over a glowing sphere. Darvin’s father used the control of the energy sphere imbedded in his control panel to guide a pulsating cloud of rage he extracted from Sahn out of the spirit realm. The entity floated unnoticed past the activities of the Shrkai in the desert city headed through the adobe buildings as if the walls were no barrier for its gaseous form. Further into the city the cloud of rage ventured seeking out its host, until finally it floated out of the city and passed through the stone of a tall mesa with stairs overgrown with dust and foliage leading up to a single rotting door high up the mesa wall. The entity passed through the door and into a dark chamber with just a trace of sunslight drifting in from a skylight above. The gaseous entity flew through the home where Darvin once lived as a child and back into the lab where his father and mother first summoned Sahn’s spirit a decade earlier. Other than the bloodied bodies of his parents being removed, everything of that room remained much the same. The incense young Darvin carried, as he unwittingly helped his parents to invoke Sahn’s spirit still lay on the floor where he dropped it and the faceless clay golem that was to receive the spirit still stood leaning on a wall.
In the spirit realm Darvin’s father passed his hands over the glowing orb directing the entity of Sahn’s rage through the room and up toward the clay golem. The pulsating cloud hovered in front of the golem’s face where only small slits in the clay marked the eyes and mouth of the clay golem and a misshapen nose that was sculpted by an unskilled hand. The entity drifted into the head of the golem disappearing inside. Darvin’s father eased back a small lever in his control panel and the head of the golem took on an eerie glow. For a long moment the glowing head of the golem shimmered and vibrated with energy that soon dispersed throughout the entire hideously sculpted form. The energy within the golem smoothed out the work of the unskilled sculptor until the golem was a much more accurate and life-like depiction of a Shrkai man. The slits that were once mere markings of where eyes and mouth would be, soon transformed into shapes of an actual eyes and mouth, and the misshapen nose twisted and re-formed into something much more realistic and nostrils opened as if they were breathing in air for the first time. A bright red aura surrounded the life-like statue brightening the darkened room with its pulsating fiery red glow. The glow continued, as the golem changed from a poorly sculpted pile of clay into a fully developed unclothed man that leaned against the back wall of the necromancer’s lab.
After a long brilliant display of pulsating red aura, the glow of the golem slowly faded. The Shrkai man that was now leaning on the wall in place of the clay golem slowly opened his eyes and the living clay that was now and exact twin for Sahn pushed itself free from the support of the stone wall and took its first step forward.
Later that afternoon in dragon tower high up in the mountains Gaitlynne opened the door to the room where Darvin’s body sat propped up in a wooden chair. She ducked her head in order to walk through the doorway and reached out with one arm and easily lifted the body which had stiffened in the shape it sat in. Throwing the body over her shoulder with its bent legs sticking up in the air, Gaitlynne had to nearly drop to her knees to get the body under the header of the narrow doorway. She trudged through the hallway and unceremoniously ‘plopped’ the body down on a stone table near the large hearth in the back room of the tower basement. She then proceeded to massage his limbs until they relaxed and she could lay his body out with his arms positioned across his chest. With no regard for sentiment of the deceased, she removed his clothing then reached for a set of knives that she had laid out on one end of the table. She lifted one she felt to be the sharpest up to her face and looked it over.
Gaitlynne placed her hand flat on the body’s chest and aimed the point of the knife with her other hand. She eased the knife closer to his chest then stopped. She reached over with her other hand and closed his eyelids, then proceeded to start to cut open his chest, when she notice his eyelids were open again and his eyes had moved to look straight at the knife in her hand. She again pulled the knife back noticing the eyes follow her action. She moved the knife toward the chest and back two more times in a way that appeared as if she was more teasing then testing the reaction of the eyes. She then smiled when she noticed the lips start to quiver. Gaitlynne almost laughed, as a moment later Darvin sat upright on the stone table.
“What were you going to do with that knife?” Darvin asked as his jaw muscles finally started to loosen.
“What this old thing?” Gaitlynne turned the knife in her hands mocking his obvious fear. “I was going to have some fun cutting your organs out and feeding them to my dragons.”
“My what?” he replied, as he tried moving his limbs in a slow-motion retreat and climbed down from the table with aches in his muscles as if he were a ninety year old man instead of his less than eighteen years.
“Or maybe I still will,” Gaitlynne teased, as she raised the knife to a striking pose and moved toward Darvin.
“You stay away from me.” Darvin shrieked, as he continued to feebly try to escape, when he suddenly realized he was naked. He then grabbed a cloak hanging on the wall nearby and covered himself.
“Oh relax,” She laughed, as she put the knife down. “I don’t want my dragons getting the taste of humanoid flesh anyway.” She then reached over and tossed him his clothes.
With the blood just starting to again flow through his body, Darvin moved like he was more than a hundred years old with severe pain in his muscles as he bent his legs to put on his trousers. Gaitlynne turned her back on him and walked over to a newly-built wooden cupboard hanging from the stone wall near the large hearth. She reached in and retrieved a bottle half-full of a dark red wine. She turned again toward Darvin and pulled the cork out of the bottle with her teeth and spat it on the floor.
“I’m not supposed to get involved,” she said to herself while shaking her head. Darvin flinched, as the cork ricocheted near him. He finished pulling on his trousers and pulled his shirt over his head. He slipped his bare feet into his leather sandals, as he started a painful slow-motion retreat toward a large wooden door on the wall with traces of sunslight seeping in around its sides. Gaitlynne sat in a cushioned chair that faced the hearth with her back to Darvin drinking from the bottle of wine and repeating to herself “I’m not supposed to get involved, I’m not supposed to get involved.”
Darvin stopped to catch his breath even though he had only traveled a short distance. He looked at the oversized wooden door with three cracked stone steps leading up to its massive bulk. He painfully lifted one leg up onto the step, then the other and reached for the door’s huge iron handle. He used the closed door to pull himself up the next two wide stone steps and threw his body against the heavy door as his fingers pulled the trigger to release the door clasp. He half-closed his eyes, as blinding sunslight burst in from outside, as the heavy door eased open. With one hand still gripping the door handle, and the other pressed against the door frame on the opposite side, Darvin opened his eyes and peered out at the scene before him.
Standing in the doorway at the rectangular base of the tall circular tower, Darvin remained still as all hope of a quick escape vanished. Not more than a few yards away from him, the high mountain peak the tower was built on dropped off dramatically. Haze the large male dragon was in his usual perch on top of the first level of the tower, the rectangular stone base that covered nearly all of the leveled ground of the narrow mountain peak with the rounded walls of the tower reaching up toward the sky behind him. Each level of the tall dark tower except the rectangular, base had large openings designed to allow dragons to fly into the tower. Some of these perches had dragons resting on them as well as several dragons flying around the tower and resting on the tower roof. A thin layer of white clouds engulfed the tower and the numerous peaks of the mountain range that spread out in all directions from the peak the tower was built on which was one of the highest in the mountain range.
Inside the birthing chamber, Gaitlynne swallowed the last drop of wine and tossed the bottle into the hearth shattering it with a loud crash. She got up from her chair and walked toward Darvin who stood frozen in the doorway and didn’t notice her approach.
“I’m not supposed to get involved,” she again said to herself, as she roughly grabbed Darvin by his shirt collar easily lifting him and carrying him out of the building. She stepped passed some potted plants of various type lined up against the stone outer wall, mostly vegetable plants, but some hardy bushes as well then signaled to Haze. The dragon spread his wings and leaped down onto the ground near her and ducked his head, as she flung Darvin across his shoulder and climbed up behind him.
Further away Millaney and Patrah were walking together through a wide passage lit by glowstones mounted on the wall.
“Now just try to remain calm when you get in there,” Patrah spoke to her in as soothing a voice as he could. “I managed to get the charges dropped against you and the others, but if you act at all aggressive, that could easily change.” Millaney walked beside him hearing his words, but not turning to look in his direction. With a narrow focus in her eyes and a tight grip on the handle of her sheathed sword, Millaney plowed forward. Further ahead of them the stone corridor widened into a passageway that had four large wooden doors. Two armed Shrkai soldiers stood nearly as rigid as the stone walls behind them on opposite sides of one of the doors.
Millaney continued to grip her sword, as they strode down the corridor, their soft footsteps echoing in her mind. A vision of another corridor she walked with Patrah only a few years back flowed into her thoughts. This corridor was much wider and they were surrounded by Shrkai soldiers, and Gaitlynne, still a dragon then walked before them with chains around her neck linked to a group of rooghons both before and behind her. “All too often we focus on the dust of difference, ignoring the mountain of commonality”, she again heard Patrah’s words as he spoke them to her so long ago. She didn’t quite understand then but realized what they really meant when they were imprisoned. She had seen for herself as she spent those years in confinement in that cavernous prison. She had committed no crime. She found herself fortunate to be in that cavern with Patrah and the dragon babies later after they hatched, while other humans were imprisoned in labor camps. Then came the day the Shrkai soldiers took the young dragons.
Millaney continued to walk toward the cell where her father was being held. She was free now. With Gaitlynne’s help, she and Patrah escaped that cavern and eventually flew to the mainland along with three of the young dragon who had now grown to adults, and baby haze the young male dragon who had to ride on Gaitlynne’s back since he couldn’t make the long flight over the ocean. Now her father who she had only recently met after they escaped to the mainland has been taken from her and imprisoned by the Shrkai accused of murder.
She knew her father was innocent. She saw for herself how her father was possessed by the chaotic goddess Casanna, then still a high priestess who led the exiled Shrkai from the island in an attack on humanity, Casanna, a human priestess who led the Shrkai against her own simply for the enjoyment of it. Millaney knew who was truly responsible for that soldier’s death, but her father is the one in prison facing the punishment for the crime.
She stepped up to the guards with Patrah right behind her stopping only because one of the guards put out his hand and without turning to look at her said, “no weapons please miss.” She throttled the grip of her sword thinking she could actually take out the guards grab her father and run. She was thinking of just how she would do it, when Patrah stepped up to her and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. She smiled and unhooked her sword-belt. She handed it to Patrah and stepped up to the door. One of the guards turned in a rigid spin and bent down to unlock the door and pull it open. Millorny was stretched out nonchalantly on a cot. When he heard the door open, he threw his legs over and smiled.
“Good morning sunshine!” he chimed in an intentional overly cheerful manner intended in part to sugar coat his situation, but also he truly did not see himself in great danger. His manner only seemed to further upset his daughter, as Millaney pressed her lips together, shook her head and shuffled her feet.
“Good morning? Father do you not understand what has happened? They could kill you for this.”
“The Shrkai don’t believe in capital punishment, you know that.”
“They don’t believe in killing their own. You’re not Shrkai.”
“We’ve already talked with the high priest didn’t Patrah tell you? He has a way to look inside my mind and see if Casanna really did possess me. Everything will be fine trust me.” He sat on the edge of his cot with a broad smile on his face and his arms open wide. Millaney dropped to her knees and threw her arms around him.
“I can’t lose you again. You’re all I’ve got left,” she cried in his ear.
“I don’t want to lose you either.”
“Father reach under my dress,” Millaney whispered in his ear after pulling back her tears.
“I have a dagger,” Millaney reached under her dress and pulled a dagger out of its sheath. “Please take it,” she pleaded trying to keep the dagger hidden in case one of the guards were looking in through the small opening in the door.
“No. I’ll be fine Laney please understand,” he pulled away from her without touching the dagger. Millaney thrust the dagger into his hands and closed his fist around it.
“Please for me, just in case.”
Millorny shook his head and smiled a meek smile, as footsteps were heard approaching down the hallway. Millaney stood and turned to look at the door blocking her father from view so he could hide the dagger in his clothes, but her face drooped when she heard the dagger slide on the floor, as Millorny hid it under the cot. They soon heard a key turning in the lock and saw the face of one of the guards looking in the small window in the door. Two new guards came forward after the door opened and Millorny placed a soft hand on his daughter’s shoulder. Millaney grit her teeth and stepped aside so that her father could walk passed her and have leather restraints placed on his wrists. Millaney took the opportunity to quickly bend down and retrieve her dagger. She was placing the dagger back in its sheath which was strapped over her lacy bloomers when she noticed one of the guards staring at her exposed leg. She finished sheathing her dagger gave her dress a quick flip to cover up her leg and gave the guard a dirty look, as she stood. The guard stood stiff and appeared embarrassed to have been caught looking at a young girl’s leg, as Millaney followed her father out of the room.
The group of four soldiers held one frihar lamp and kept Millorny in the center of their group with Patrah and Millaney following right behind them. Millaney accepted her sheathed sword from Patrah and buckled it around her waist, as the procession walked up to a double-sized solid wooden door. A wave of stale moist air seeped out from behind the door when the soldier opened it and stepped within the dark passage. One of the soldiers stayed behind the group to be sure to close the door behind the procession then he rejoined his ranks. The greenish-yellow glow from the frihar lamp reflected off a solid stone wall on one side and a row of stalactites and stalagmites on the other with nearly equal intervals between acting as a natural railing. The glow of the light was instantly swallowed by the endless darkness beyond the railing, as the passage curved through the dark cavern. The slippery moist floor soon started to descend deeper into the cavernous void, as the passageway became a wide winding set of stairs carved out of the stone leading down toward a single wooden door warped with moisture that reflected the dull lamp light at the bottom of the staircase.
The first two soldiers stopped at the door and two robed priests appeared out of the darkness and one of them opened the door. Two of the soldiers led Millorny into the dim-lit room with the elder priest sitting near the back of the room on a large cushioned bench with oversized pillows and gilded blankets covering the floor around him. The priests directed the soldiers to place Millorny on a raised stone slab on a 45 degree angle in the center of the room and strapped his head down with a wide leather restraint with circular pieces of iron plates stitched to it. One of the priests was sure to pull Millorny’s long dark hair out of the way so that the metal plates made a clean connection to the surface on his forehead. The other two guards were sure to stand in front of the still open doorway to keep Millaney from entering, she watched as they removed her father’s wrist restraints and continued to strap him down to the slab. Before they were able to strap down his left arm, Millorny raised his hand to give Millaney a ‘thumbs up’. One of the priests brought over a large challis to Millorny after he was fully strapped down.
“Oh why didn’t you tell me there’d be drinks?” Millorny commented in a jovial manner which caused the priest to pause momentarily, but proceeded to bring the drink to him. Millorny swallowed the contents of the challis dripping much of it down his chin. “Maybe next time have me drink before you strap my head down” Millorny chuckled still trying to see as much levity in his situation as possible. “isn’t anyone going to wipe my chin?” he laughed some more, as the guards and priests stepped away. The priests and guards left the room and closed the door even as Millaney continued to try to look in and see her father, one of the guards gently pushed her back as the door was closed.
Inside the room the elder priest slowly opened his eyes. Millorny’s vision started to blur as he watched the priest slowly get up off his cushioned bench and reach for an ornate wooden staff resting on the bench beside him.
“Woah… you’re going to have to give me a case of this stuff before I leave,” Millorny spoke with slurred speech and a broad smile etching across his face. The elder priest walked toward him with a slightly staggered gait. He stopped near Millorny and looked down at him with half-closed eyes. He reached onto the top of a stone cabinet next to the slab Millorny lay upon and picked up some iron fittings. The priest clumsily reached to the strap on Millorny’s forehead with one of the fittings trying to fit it into a small connector on one of the metal plates in the head-strap. Both he and Millorny chuckled when he dropped one of the fittings and it rolled down Millorny’s face catching in the strings of his tunic. “You shoulda had one of your younger priests stay behind to help you,” Millorny laughed with increasingly slurred speech. The elder priest picked the fitting up from Millorny’s shirt and was able to fasten it in place. When it locked down a small iron needle poked Millorny in the forehead piercing his skin and pressing against his skull. “Ow” Millorny chuckled. The elder priest managed to connect two more fittings to the head-strap and three fine trickles of blood seeped out from under the leather strap.
The elder priest put a similar head-strap on his own head and barely managed to attach fittings to it, with Millorny chuckling each time he dropped one. He then picked up three thick metal wires with leather braces keeping them separate and attached the ends to each of the three fittings on his head-strap and the opposite ends to Millorny’s. The long metal wires were long enough for the elder priest back up to his cushioned bench using his staff for balance and sit back down.
Once seated the elder priest kicked some cushions out of the way and removed his sandals so that his bare feet could touch the stone floor. He then leaned back outstretching each of his arms and grabbed two stout tree roots that grew done from the surface far above and closed his eyes. As the highest Shrkai priest he was well acquainted with the practice of harnessing the energies of their world. He relaxed his mind and let the energies absorb into his body. His eyelids started to twitch, as he continued to absorb the energies and focus on Millorny’s mind. Soon he started to see images, foggy unrecognizable images at first rapidly changing and spiraling in his mind. Millorny had no understanding of what was happening. The images were shared from his mind to that of the elder via the stout metal wires. Millorny just lay there with a broad smile on his face as the jumbled images transferring to the elder’s mind slowly started to come into focus.
Outside the room Millaney waited not so patiently with the guards blocking the door and the two priests seated nearby.
“Why can’t we be in there to watch what is happening to my father?” she pleaded with one of the priests.
“He has told us to remain out here,” one of the priests answered.
“Yes this is not a common ritual. It has not been done in years, never in my time that I’ve known of and more minds in the room might interfere with his vision,” the other priest added. Millaney just shook her head and continued to pace while gripping the handle of her sword. She looked up toward the dark stairway behind them and saw the glow of a frihar lamp descending the cavernous void. She watched as the glow moved closer to them and soon recognized Ralomar, Patrah’s son and newest addition to the Shrkai council walking toward the group with four more armed Shrkai soldiers.
“Is he almost finished? We must decide this murderer’s fate,” Ralomar coldly questioned of the guards, and not so subtly expected to torment his father and Millaney. No one replied and Patrah was sure to hold Millaney back, but she shrugged him off and turned away.
Inside the chambers the images passing into the elder’s mind started to slow and become clear. At first he saw nothing relevant, just images of his recent travels with his daughter to the Shrkai land and flashes of the convention, but then the elder’s body started to shake and even Millorny seemed painfully aware of something. First it was a huge image of Casanna’s face laughing maniacally flying through the elder’s mind. Then all he saw was a cascade of blood rushing over the faces of the Shrkai and Annuvian people alike. Casanna’s laughter continued, as images of her changing into a gaseous form and entering Millorny’s mind then killing the Shrkai man. The Elder had seen what he needed and was about to let go of the tree roots, but found he was unable. Casanna who was now a goddess kept him in his place, as more images flooded into the elder’s mind. He saw everything that Millorny had gone through right up until Casanna departed from him and ascended, but Casanna showed him more. She laughed as images of utter destruction entered the elder priest’s mind. The Shrkai land was on fire! Shrkai people scattered as meteor showers rained down on them from above. The elder gathered all the strength he could trying to escape from his torment and get up from his seat, but he seemed glued there, as the images continued and sweat beaded on his exposed skin and blood streamed down from the three pin-pricks on his forehead.
Outside the chambers in the dark along a wall away from the gathering near the door, the golem controlled by Darvin’s father stepped toward the outer wall and placed a hand into the solid wall. The golem continued to walk forward absorbing into the solid stone as if it were merely a transparent barrier. Inside the room the elder continued to struggle to free himself, as the golem passed through the stone and appeared inside the chamber. In the spirit realm Darvin’s father hovered his hand over the glowing sphere directing the golem to move forward further into the room and reach for a ceremonial dagger resting on a stone table. The golem moved out of the shadows and into the dim light of the frihar lamp raising the dagger to a striking pose, as the elder lay helpless stuck in the chair by the power of the goddess Casanna.
Blood oozed from the elder’s wound and he stopped twitching, as the golem pulled the dagger from his chest. The golem roughly pulled the elder free from his wired headpiece and carried him over to near Millorny who remained blissfully unaware of anything. The golem un-shackled Millorny’s right hand and placed the dagger in his grip. Leaving the dead body of the elder priest, the golem retreated the way he came and absorbed through the wall. Moments after the golem disappeared, a voice similar to the elder priests rang out in the chamber “Guards help me please” and the door popped open.
The guards opened the door fully and the crowd eased into the dim-lit chamber. The four guards that recently arrived with Ralomar were under previous instructions and remained directly behind Millaney. The group gathered around the scene of the elder’s body lying on the floor, as Millorny was just opening his eyes and realizing he held a bloody dagger in his hands.
“You knew this was going to happen!” Millaney screamed at Ralomar and reached for her sword only to be stopped by a guard behind her who held her hand and kept her from unsheathing it. Another guard was sure to grab her other arm. “Why else would you come here?” Ralomar simply gestured with his head and the four guards dragged her kicking and screaming from the room. “I’ll get you for this if it's the last thing I do! I swear!”
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