It’s time for Speculative Story Saturday once more and now that the heroes have had their fun, and made a noble sacrifice I think it’s time to go back and see what Landgrave is up to. I’m sure it’s nothing good. Enjoy!
Landgrave Christoph recoiled in pain and snarled a curse. He had anticipated resistance from the group when he had lured the assassin into his trap, counted on it even. But he had never expected to encounter a Celestial in mortal shackles.
He held up his shriveled left hand, scorched and crippled by the Celestial’s sacrificial surge that had broken his link with the girl, saving her from his domination. It would heal of course, but not soon enough. Curse his arrogant impatience. He should have proceeded more slowly, but he had grown over confident as the attacks had whittled away at the group physically, mentally and spiritually. They were near the tipping point, and he could sense the cursed Priest’s faith slipping, even if he had somehow mustered up enough to defeat the wolf-men.
But as dawn was approaching Landgrave could feel his fury slipping away with the darkness. Giving way to the weak gray that passed as day at the Fortress of Gloom, a reminder that even the light couldn’t completely banish his power here.
A grinding chuckle betrayed Rubble’s presence behind him. The massive stone golem had apparently returned while he had been casting his trap around Tekla.
“It does appear that your plan is not working out quite as you had hoped.” The golem’s stone face twisted into a quizzical mask. “Perhaps it is time you reconsider allowing the adventurers to breach the walls of the fortress. Would another century or two be such a long wait to regroup and try again?”
“I have waited long enough, and my plan has not yet gone so far astray as to be ruined.” Landgrave stroked his chin with his good hand. “I had hoped to strain the priest mage’s powers once more, but instead I caught an even more dangerous foe. If the Celestial had entered the tower he may have proved to be my plan’s undoing. But now he is out of the picture.”
A smile spread across his face as he reformulated his options. “The assassin no longer poses a threat. Such a noble sacrifice for her sake would break the grip the Flow had on her. She will be lost and adrift. And the priest-mage could not even mount a proper assault on my enchantment. His faith may be weaker than I had believed.”
“Arrogance has always been your weakness. Did you not just curse yourself for that a moment ago? Why let it take root again so easily?” Rubble pointed a thick finger at him. “Do you think you are the only one scheming here? That there are no other powers aligned against you? Beware of casting aside caution so quickly.”
Landgrave spat. “The Light can scheme and plan all He wants. This is my domain and He holds no power here. Once His servants enter, my trap will be complete. All has been accounted for, save the archer.”
“Are you sure you’re not forgetting anything?”
“Only Barzillai is of any concern to me now. He will be the key to everything. And thanks to Intius’ handiwork at the river, I have the means to undermine him as well.”
Rubble sighed and nodded. “I’ll retrieve the arrows from the armory and prepare the gypsy wagon for departure. Are you sure you want to use the seer for this? She could still be useful if your escape attempt fails.”
“Must you question everything?” Landgrave sneered. “I have the strongest connection with her out of all my thralls, and I would not trust this task to anyone else. Barzillai must be given the arrow I have prepared for him. I have ensured that it will only find his bow when I deem the time right. And when it does it will destroy that which he holds most dear.”
The golem shook his head and began sinking into the floor. “Very well. I just hope you know how vulnerable you will be. Light is persistent and needs only a single crack to banish the darkness.”
With the golem’s words the sun broke the horizon and a single ray of light speared through the gloom and stabbed at the Shadow Crystal’s altar. And where the light struck the stone, gray gave way to brilliant crimson. The color of sacrifice.
The first time I travelled through solid stone I was certain I would become trapped at any point. Only the fear that stole my breath away kept me from screaming. But that was hundreds… no thousands of trips ago. Now I looked forward to the cold embrace of Rubble, the stone golem that carried me through the tower’s very foundations.
I don’t remember my life before the tower, before the darkness. But it doesn’t matter. Now I’m nothing more than a vessel, a conduit for my master to look out upon the world beyond the gloom and cast forth his will.
But for the few brief moments that I am myself, I revel in the wind and the gray twilight, so bright compared to the darkness of the inner tower. It is my one bittersweet pleasure, for I never experience that feeling without the domination and pain that follows as the master distorts my gift to his own end.
Something about today feels different though. In the darkness, when Rubble comes for me, he seems agitated, as if something is about to happen. His arms squeeze too tight and we travel through the stone with a strange urgency. Perhaps my master has finally decided it is time that I decorate the fortress wall. Had I failed him in some way when he had last usurped my power?
All questions left my mind as we emerged onto the tower’s pinnacle. My breath caught as I stared at the golden shaft of light that pierced the gloom and painted a crimson slash upon the central pillar that the master worshipped. The master stood waiting next to the altar. He looked smaller, weaker than I had ever seen him. As if the very presence of the light had drained some part of his being.
Rough stone scrapped my shoulder as Rubble nudged me into motion. He walked forward with me, placing a bundle of arrows on the ground in front of the master.
“Child, I have an urgent task for you.”
The words held a promise of warmth that was never met by the master’s frigid voice. A voice that usually would have held me in thrall, ensorcelled by his power. But the light blocked out all that he was saying. I could feel something inside me stirring, something long dead coming back to life.
Flashes of a vision began dancing in front of my eyes. Trees surrounded me, darkness pierced by shafts of light. Shouts of familiar yet forgotten voices filled my ears. A boy appeared and shoved me into a pool of blackness.
As suddenly as they had appeared, the fragments of the vision faded, replaced by the steel gaze of my master.
“Above all else, you will ensure that the archer buys these arrows from you.” The master said. “Do not think of escaping or warning them of what awaits here. I will always be with you and if you try to betray me you will beg for a chance to hang from the fortress wall.”
I manage a nod, but I’m not really sure why. The light is so beautiful.
Rubble’s arms close around me again and we sink together into the stone. When we emerge again it is in the fortress’s courtyard next to a battered wagon laden with tattered goods. Two sickly horses are harnessed to the wagon, but it seems absurd to think they would be able to pull the load.
I feel myself lifted into the driver’s seat. My hands take the leads, but before I can goad the horses into motion Rubble lays his hand over mine as he places the arrows on the bench next to me.
“Look to the light, dear one. It will bring you back.”
He steps away then, and I snap the horses into motion.
My eyes drift upward, and even from this low point I can see the glimmering stream of light. Again my the vision stirs, more powerful than before and as I pass through the fortress gate it overtakes me in force.
I am running through a thick forest, light streaming through the branches guiding our way. The boy is leading me, pulling me along. Desperate to get away from the angry voices behind us.
I know he’s my brother, and I can feel his fear and worry. I also know we won’t escape our pursuers.
He pushes me into the hollow trunk of a tree, telling me to hush and be quiet. Then he’s gone, running.
But it is in vain. Rough hands grab me and pull me from hiding. I struggle, but they are so strong.
In desperation I scream, calling for my brother to come back. I shriek his name.
But he never comes.
Darkness blots out the vision, and I can feel the master’s compulsion take hold. My gaze drops to the bundle of arrows.
I must get them to the archer.