Strength in the Face of Adversity
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. A flickering orange glow spilled out of the widened chamber inside the mountain. The many torches placed along the walls reflected the yellowish stone within. After stepping into the stony cavern the doors creaked closed, echoing off the cave walls all around.
The procession of rooghons led by soldiers with the queen chained between them continued into the cavernous corridor that widened naturally at some points, but was cut away at others. Many of the ore carts used to haul out the debris were lined up in a small side cave. They continued deeper into the natural and artificially cut tunnel, descending at a slight decline and with the temperature rising rapidly. They came upon a wide natural opening with lit torches on poles lining a path of about twenty feet wide. There was the occasional glitter of crystals or perhaps precious gems embedded in the walls that reflected the firelight like numerous tiny stars flashing on and off and a tiny reflective lake in the middle of the cave. Patrah tapped Millaney on the shoulder and gestured for her to look to the lake and see the reflections of the flashing gems.
“All too often we focus on the dust of difference, ignoring the mountain of commonality”, she again heard Patrah’s words that he spoke to her so long ago. She didn’t quite understand them 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 had 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 that 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 was the one in prison facing 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 The guard 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 through 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 was 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 pulled up her dress to expose her slender legs, then sheathed the dagger in the leather sheath tied over her baggy lace bloomers. She looked to see one of the guards staring at her exposed leg, as she pulled up the dress to slide her dagger back into its sheath. 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 stood and 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 them acting as a perfect railing. The glow of the light was instantly swallowed by the endless darkness beyond the natural 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 rugs 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 for Millorny after he was fully strapped down.
“Oh why didn’t you tell me there’d be drinks?” Millorny laughed 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 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 pierced his kin and pressed 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 to walk back to his cushioned bench using his staff for balance and sat 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 down 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 chamber the images passing into the elder’s mind started to slow and become clear. At first he saw nothing relevant, just images of Millorny’s 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 became visible.
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 to try 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 and raised the dagger to a striking pose, as the elder lay helpless stuck in the chair by the power of the goddess Casanna.
The golem plunged the ceremonial dagger deep into the elder’s chest. 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!”
Millorny rubbed his groggy head, as the other four soldiers undid his binds and led him too out of the room. Patrah bent down to look at the body. He noticed some drops of blood on the floor and looked to see blood on the rug and the cushion of the bench the elder previously sat on.
“It seems quite unusual for Millorny to kill the one man who could free him,” Patrah said, as he turned to face his son.
“The elder must have found out the truth. We all know how barbaric these humans can be.”
“Not as barbaric as some Shrkai, especially those of my own family.”
“Careful father, I could have you imprisoned too.”
“You do not have such power here,” Patrah said, as he and Ralomar walked toward the door and two of the soldiers came in to carry out the elder’s body. “Here the council decides such matters.”
“Oh yes the council will decide, after they choose a new Grand Chancellor.” Ralomar smiled, as he followed Patrah out of the chambers.