Chapter 4: The Ruins of Old
After walking for an hour through the dark, dank forest, Draden had begun to wonder how important this task could possibly be. The least Kladspir could have done was to show him how to stay warm…or even dry. He knew a spell that made fire, but he didn’t want to risk that in case something…dire may happen. He had his cloak on, but that was offering only meager protection from the dampness. The wet coldness seemed to seep through to his very bones.
He continued to walk farther from home while branches scraped him, the wet ground soaked his shoes and the cold pierced his flesh. Every step was accompanied with a squish, and his frustration with Kladspir grew. This far into the forest there were wild animals, and he had no weapons besides magic; and he certainly wasn’t going to use that, oh no.
At least, not until he absolutely had to; which, it seemed, wasn’t going to be too long from now. In a small, leaf-strewn clearing before him, a white blur shuffled about. As Draden drew closer, he saw it for what it actually was: a polar bear.
It was huge; easily five times the size of Draden, and lumbered about with loud, jolting steps. The white of its fur had a silver hue at the tips giving it a shimmering, glowing aura in the moonlight. Its fur rippled across its body as its powerful muscles carried it across the damp earth. It let out a great snort and lifted its head to the sky, nose wrinkling and twitching as it sniffed the air. It lifted itself onto its hind legs, pawing at the air as the wind picked up.
Draden gazed in wonder as the breeze yanked at his clothes with its many unseen hands. The bear was so beautiful it had to be female, and yet it seemed to have the authority of a male.
It crashed back down, snorting again, eyes turning toward Draden.
Only a second too late, Draden realized what was happening. The bear plundered toward him with great strides. Draden fell back, hands reaching behind him to break his fall. He crawled away and the bear was quickly on top of him. One giant pearly paw pressed against his chest, pinning him to the ground. It opened its mouth, rimmed by snow-white lips to reveal sparkling, crystal-like teeth.
Draden cringed, fearing the worst, and the bear leaned its head forward…and spoke.
It seemed that two voices tumbled over each other, caressing one another as they fought to break through. One was a growl, deep and throaty; the other was like liquid, smooth and strong. Both were male voices; both were one.
“Who are you, boy? Come to spy on me?” Its mouth moved like a man’s, yet that seemed impossible with the size of its jaws and its sharp teeth.
Draden grasped at words that were avoiding him in his mouth, as if none were brave enough to show themselves to this massive creature.
The bear spoke again, paw pressing harder on Draden’s chest, “Speak!”
Finally, words escaped, “Who are you?” He did not know why he asked this, but it just seemed the right thing to say.
The bear narrowed its eyes in thought. “You do not seem of much danger, as I could kill you with a swipe of my paw,” Draden gulped, “so I guess it is safe for me to tell you. You were wise not to tell me who you are. These are dark time; you must be careful with whom you call ‘friend’. As for me, I am Flagprim. I am an animorfos, and also an elf. As you can see, my animal form is a polar bear. There are very few of us animorfi left.”
“Why?” Draden blurted.
“Because, we were hunted…by humans.” He growled and snapped at the air. "I will ask you one more time," his warm maw moved closer to Draden's face, "Who are you?"
Draden replied softly, "My name is Draden. I wasn't spying, I was just passing through the forest and-"
"Ah, Draden!" Flagprim roared. "I was sent by the elves of the Sacred Forest to find you and have been calling this place home for the past month. I knew you would be heading this way eventually, but so did the Others.”
“Who are the Others?” Draden interrupted again.
“Others,” Flagprim continued. “There are many others. Specifically there are those who are foreign to this world. They have tainted its surface while they cling desperately to their own. They walk half in both dimensions; their spirit is split and their form is not whole. They are Gorginoths and have strength far stronger than any mere man. We are lucky they have not yet found a way to come to our world completely, for we would be destroyed by their power. They remain in this world by the use of the Daerkrings. If they are destroyed here, they will still live on in their own world. You must eliminate both to be truly rid of them. Or, you can break their rings, severing their tie to this world so they can never return. They have united forces with the Fra’tsi, Shakra, and others. War is coming Draden. It is time you decided whose side you are on. I ask you now: do you join the side of good, or the side of evil?” He leaned closer, sapphire eyes peering into Draden’s emerald ones.
“I join you; the good side.” Draden replied.
“And what makes you think I’m on the good side?” Flagprim growled, the rougher of the two voices rising to dominance.
Draden cowered back in fear.
A smile appeared on the bear’s muzzle. “Don’t worry, Draden. I’m on the good side.” He laughed, both voices echoing off each other in merry unison. The bear looked at his paw, still on Draden’s chest, and said, “Ah. I guess I can move this now.” He released pressure, allowing Draden to stand. Even while standing he couldn't see over the bear's back.
“Let me morf to my elf form, then we can continue.” The bear stood on his hind legs, fur rippling as gravity pulled it downwards. His mass began to change first, until he had the thinner shape of a man, yet still covered in the shimmering fur. His muzzle shrank and a smooth and narrow elven face replaced it, ears remaining sharply pointed. The fur receded to reveal a briefly naked figure, skin smooth and pale, but was quickly covered by a flowing, white robe with silver cloth around the neck, edges of the sleeves, and rim of the hem. On his chest among the folds of pearly essence was a large, silvery leaf intricately surrounded by endlessly swirling and twisting curves of silver. Flowing around and past his shoulders was silvery-blond hair that seemed to capture the moonlight and emit it twice as brightly. He walked to Draden, making no sound with his steps. When he spoke, the gravelly voice of the bear was absent, leaving just the soothingly smooth voice of an elf, “Let us go.”
Flagprim led the way, voicing yet again that there could be danger, and since, according to him, Draden was a sapling (whatever that meant), he would protect him if there was trouble.
Later, after Flagprim had used the word ‘sapling’ four more times, Draden was finally irritated enough to ask what it meant. Flagprim had responded that sapling is used to refer to a person who has just discovered their magic.
“How did you know I just found my abilities?” Draden asked, alarmed.
“It’s a gift we elves possess. An…intuition, if you may,” was Flagprim’s response.
Now, they were walking through an area of the forest plagued by more bushes than trees. Flagprim slowed down. The forest was eerily quiet.
The pat-pat of his steps seemed louder than it was, and Draden wished more than anything that he had the nimbleness of an elf. Next to him, Flagprim came to an abrupt halt. “What is it?” Draden whispered, though he wasn’t sure why.
“Quiet!” Flagprim snapped back.
The elf stood still, and Draden assumed his highly acute hearing was doing its job. Then, a sound came that even Draden could recognize: a snapping twig.
“Get down!” Flagprim demanded, pushing Draden into the bushes. A split second later, an arrow whizzed through the air, vanishing into the bushes beyond. Flagprim let out a roar, and Draden recognized the presence of the bear’s voice. Almost just as suddenly, Flagprim was charging through the bushes. He took a great leap and transformed in mid-air. The ivory polar bear slammed down, bounding toward the threat. His bulk disappeared into a large bush, and a coarse, guttural scream sounded. A shower of crimson blood spurted into the air, splashing the canvas of leaves with scarlet paint. The bear reappeared, white face blurred by smudges of blood. He lumbered toward Draden and roared, “Run!” Afterward, Draden could not recall if it had been a roar or an actual word; all he knew was that he had to get away.
Creatures, he assumed Fra’tsi, were dropping from the heavenly canopy of leaves above. As he reentered into a thick cropping of trees, he risked a look back.
Flagprim was a blur of white and red, surrounded by large brutish Fra’tsi. They had tusks protruding from beneath their upper lips and were easily two feet larger than the average man. They were clothed in mud-stained blackened leather armor. One of them was thrown into the air, a scream piercing the dark as if to make an opening into which its soul might escape. Another found himself in the great maw of the polar bear, life quickly snuffed out as his head detached from his body and blood spurted through the air as if to escape death and seek some other form of life. As Flagprim clawed another Fra’tsi, Draden averted his eyes and continued onward to the Realm of Doom.
He ran the entire way and finally stumbled into the enormous clearing that was the Realm of Doom. All sound, all movement, all life seemed to have escaped this place. Leaves that were eerily green covered the ground, making no sound as he stepped on them.
It felt like he had entered a dream. As he inhaled and exhaled, the sound was like waves crashing on a shore. He could vaguely remember he had to find two blackened trees, so he walked deeper into the empty land. He continued like this for what seemed like hours, but no fatigue overcame him. Silence continued to haunt him, but there was something behind it, something trying to break free.
Quiet Voices. Whispers. Memories. He could not tell what they were, but something was speaking. They were many; they were fighting to be heard. More and more joined the collaboration: an orchestra of voices trying to win the part of solo. They grew louder and louder, pounding in his head. He stumbled, kicking leaves into the air as the voices beat a tattoo in his thoughts. He closed his eyes and covered his ears, staggering in blindness. Collapsing to his knees, his screamed joined the chorus. He opened his eyes and instantly the voices ceased. Before him stood two black trees. They were made of onyx, and hints of violet seemed to dance across the smooth surface. The stone twisted in beautiful spirals to burst into a leafless canopy of branches. The trees were mirror images of each other, black branches intertwining to form what looked like a doorway. He remembered what Kladspir had told him to do. Facing the motionless archway, he spoke, voice echoing back at him yet sounding muffled, “Shozvi Malie Th’waz.”
A thin, pearl-like veil descended from the branches, covering the opening. It rippled from unseen winds and images flashed before him, faster than he could focus. With a crack and a spark of lightning that danced atop the branches, an image stopped before him. It was the same as what was behind the veil now, except it was darker and storming. Rain fell in heavy sheets and leaves spiraled from wind. He took a deep breath and walked forward, stepping into the image. It felt like he had walked through a sheet of cold gel that caressed his body. It slid off him and he was slammed by the black droplets careening from the angry sky above. He turned around and looked at the archway. It was empty, showing only what was beyond it. He guessed that would have to repeat the incantation to get back.
At least, he hoped it worked that way.
He was already thoroughly soaked, and as he rubbed his eyes a flash of lightning revealed to him what had been hidden by the darkness: the ruins of an old building. He was determined to get this over with as soon as possible, but a foreboding feeling in the area made him nervous. He walked cautiously between the onyx trees toward the towering structure. It loomed menacingly before him, high walls hidden in blackness by the stormy sky. Its structure was made of large, deathly pale stones. Lightning snapped overhead and the quick convulsion of light glinted off the rain-slick walls. An uneven, cobblestone path lined in low, crumbling walls led solely up to one large, stone door embedded shyly in the side of the building. He ran his hand along the wet top of the rough wall next to him as he walked slowly down the path, dark door getting closer and closer. Droplets of water splashed onto his hand, trailing down his bare arm and slipping off to plink on the stones below. He came to a stop before the door, breath appearing in frosty white clouds before him. There was no handle or any visible means of opening it. Trying on a last whim, he pushed on the cold grey surface, but it did not budge.
“Let’s think,” he spoke aloud, voice hampered by the drum of constant rain. ‘It can only be opened by blood relatives, which means me. It would only make sense to touch the door, but physical touch has apparently no effect. Blood child…blood-child….’
And all of a sudden, it came to him all-too-clearly. The door could only be opened by blood.
“No!” ‘There’s got to be some other way!’ Yet, he knew there wasn’t, and he had no means of cutting himself. “J’herdit, Kladspir!” he swore to the wind.
In his fury, he scrambled back along the path for something that would suffice. He quickly found a sharp shard of brick atop the wall along the path, and with a cry of rage, he slashed at his exposed forearm. Red blood spilled from the wound and he swung his arm at the door. Scarlet droplets swirled among the rainwater in hypnotic rhythms, splashing onto its surface. With a roaring crash and a puff of long-concealed dust, the door swung inward, revealing inky blackness. Draden slammed onto his knees, clutching his still-bleeding arm. He reluctantly held it out, rain water splashing onto it, cleaning the throbbing cut. He ripped off the edge of his shirt and briskly wrapped it around the wound, tying it off.
“Just great.” Letting out a frustrated sigh, he walked determinedly into the building. He was instantly enveloped by complete darkness. He looked back out into the world outside, just to reassure himself that he hadn’t left it behind.
With the meager light that came in from outside, he noticed something glinting on the wall. He reached out his hand, closing it around the object. It lifted out of its clasp on the wall and he held it out to the moonlight, identifying it as a torch. “Now I have to use magic,” he stated simply. Steadying himself, he held the torch in his hands. His mouth moved uneasily along the syllables as he timidly spoke the word of magic, “Grangnir.”
‘Okay…I’ll try again. Firmer this time,’ he thought encouragingly. Tightening his grip on the torch, voice steady, he repeated the word. Energy seemed to spark across his lips, and his hands began to glow as a small blue sphere emerged from the backs of each one. They rose into the air, spun in opposite directions around him, and crashed into each other above the torch’s head, vanishing into a shower of sparks that quickly ignited the torch in warm, orange flames.
‘Well, that wasn’t so bad,’ he admitted to himself. He swung the door shut behind him, seeing a handle he could use to reopen it. Turning around, his eyes took in where he was. A few feet away was a wall that followed a small path that curved inward on both sides of it, leading into darkness.
He followed the path to the left as it slowly curved around to the right, exiting into a large, empty room. The floor was made of cracked, ivory marble that glinted in the torchlight. The ceiling stayed concealed in shadows, high enough to be safe from the revealing glare of the torch’s fire. There was nothing inside this chamber, just a pretty design on the floor that Draden couldn't identify and two doorways on either side of the room. The one on the left was an archway with sapphires in its frame, and on the right was an identical one with rubies glinting inside its curves. The rooms behind remained hidden in darkness.
He chose to walk through the Sapphire Arch. The flame brightened up the dark expanse, revealing walls lined with stone beds stacked five-high. In the middle of the room was a large fire pit, wood that had once been intended to burn but was long forgotten about now lying inside it. Oddly enough, the wood was in perfect condition.
He tilted the torch down, touching the wood, and the flame quickly spread. The room brightened up even more. He turned to his right and noticed another arch in the same wall as the one he had come through. This doorway had emeralds set in its surface, and he decided to exit through it. He entered into a small hallway lined with dormant torches. The hallway split off to his left, and in front of him was an arch with pearls lined around it. He lit the torches as he walked down the hall, leaving it warmly lit with comforting flames. Through the Pearl Archway he could see more barracks and assumed the room would circle back to the main chamber, mirroring the layout.
He turned down the other hall, lighting more torches as he moved toward what appeared to be an arch with diamonds inlaid in the surface. They glittered beautifully in the torchlight, and Draden could feel energy flowing from the blackness beyond, pulsing through him and making the hair on his arms stand on end. Taking a steadying breath, he stepped through it and out into a cold, circular tower. Set across from him, lying darkly in the ground, was a silent well. He walked over to it and peered in. His eyes could see nothing past a few feet. He stepped back, foot knocking something across the floor that made a hollow sound as it bounced off the wall. He picked it up, identifying it as a human bone.
“No,” he corrected himself, remembering Kladspir's history lesson, “It’s an elven bone.” Now he saw what he had failed to see when he had entered the tower: a whole set of bones. Recalling the story, he knew it was the bones of the elven king, and felt remorse that he had not been afforded a proper burial. A bright gold glint shining next to the bones now caught his eye.
“The medallion,” he breathed out. He kneeled down, hands shaking, and paused.
What if Kladspir was wrong? What if the magic hadn't dissipated and he would die as soon as he touched it? 'Don't be silly,' Draden thought with a nervous laugh, 'Kladspir said you were the most important person alive, he wouldn't have you retrieve an item if he knew it would kill you.' Still, doubt remained in the back of his head. Holding his breath, he reached out his hand and quickly grabbed the medallion. Nothing happened.
‘Kladspir was right,’ he thought. He exhaled a relieved sigh and stopped quickly when he heard a brief scratch echo down the spiraling stairs leading up into the tower above. He remained silent, straining to hear. The sound did not come again, but he was not going to let this go. Slowly, he walked up the stairs, torch held out before him. They spiraled upward until they spit him out onto a flat landing.
There was a large square window in the wall across from him, and he walked over to it. It looked down on the stone path that led to the entrance, onyx trees glinting from the constant rain. As a bolt of lightning burst overhead, he looked higher and realized that the tower allowed him to see above the trees. Turning around, he noticed there was a stone pedestal in the center of the room, and he walked around it, seeing a large book with yellow pages sitting on it. Laying his hand on the aged parchment, he concluded that it was a spellbook. The spell it was opened to was titled ‘The Dead Awake’ in bold, archaic lettering. He tried to lift the book up, but it held where it was. He tried to turn a page but those remained where they were as well. With no visible means of them staying glued down, he assumed it was magic, and most likely dark magic; if nothing else confirmed that, the name of the spell did.
‘The Dead Awake…that doesn’t sound too good,’ he thought silently to himself. He walked back down the stairs and into the corridor. He had retrieved the medallion, and that was all he had been sent to do; he might as well leave now.
He walked out the stone door of the building and onto the puddle-ridden cobblestone path. The rain had subsided and the clouds were slowly fading. It seemed a good end to everything.
Just as he was approaching the onyx trees, a screech pierced through the emptiness, shattering the darkness. He turned back in time to see the roof of the tower blow off in an explosion of rubble and a writhing black cloud poured out of it. Draden barely felt the words to return through the gateway slip out of his mouth before he had stepped through.
How would he close it? It remained open, showing him the approaching obsidian mass. The wails and screams of it caused the veil to ripple uncontrollably. Draden fell on his back and seconds later the things burst through the portal. The onyx trees shook fiercely and with a final shudder exploded into millions of glittering black shards. The screeching cloud rose into the sky and dispersed with a final scream.
Draden breathed heavily, still lying on the ground. ‘This can’t be good.’
Flagprim = Flăg-prim
Animorfi = An-ĭ-mōr-fī
Gorginoths = Gōr-gĭ-nŏths
Shakra = Shä-krŭ
J'herdit = Jār-dit