Chapter 36 - Thoughts of What Was
Sian stood at the entrance of the boudoir, watching silently as both Kitaraiya and Rhyker disappeared around the bend in the passage. Her eyes simmered with a faint glint of emerald in concern.
“We should have made them stay here.” filtered Antrandis’s voice from another room, amid the sounds of him quickly searching through a drawer.
She watched him slowly run across the chamber and back into the bathing room, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. Quickly following him, she came to the basin with the blood of the Copper, his hand over it and a luminous glow tracing the veins in his hand.
“My love? What are you doing?” she asked, watching the blood starting to churn and writhe wetly.
Not looking up, he focused and handed Sian a half score of small vials with stoppers. She gave him a look and took them.
“From her magical stores?”
Sian nodded slowly and watched, not even needing to ask as she handed the first back to him. That luminous glow was now bright as he took the first and dipped it into the blood, the deep red churning and drawing its remains inside the vial without leaving a trace on the crystal. Reaching across, Sian placed a stopper in the top, pressing it down and watching in fascination as the roiling liquid froze in place, time stopping within the confines of the vial as a rune glowed on the stopper.
“Did you?” she asked, placing the next stopper on while he filled the third.
“No, it seems Neci has a fondness for using stasis enchantments and spells. Or at least at one point she did.”
“Antrandis, why?” she said.
“The blood?” he frowned to himself as he concentrated, “Can you not think of another that would benefit?”
Sian smiled and looked at him as she took the next, “Do you think she has another sanctuary?”
“No.” he said without hesitation, taking the final stopper and sealing the vial that remained.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Wherever she was injured, she returned here to tend to it. In the end she knew he would not return, and if he did, the message was clear.”
“You found something.” Sian said, watching as he drew some water from the pool and diluted the remaining blood in the basin, destroying its contents.
“In the room I got the vials from. There is a number of locked cases in her stores, unlike ones I have ever seen before, but familiar to me in memories that are not mine.” he said calmly, grabbing a towel and cleaning his hands.
Sian tilted her head as she thought, “From before the fall?”
“Yes, leading up to it. She must have been among the people, even working with your parents.”
She narrowed her eyes, “That would not surprise me, but, memories that are not yours? Whose?” she asked, following him out of the room.
“Your father’s. Just glimpses.” he smiled, “We know the Jade had ulterior motives, and his actions were connected to the Violet, or at the very least she was acting on his behalf.”
“It feels like the authority of the sixteen was being eaten away from the inside. And his quarters, ‘Lies’...” she frowned before adding, “Rhyker said they found a map in the library. A location in the foothills west of here.”
“Then that is where we go next. We need to find the Jade’s hide before we chase down the next Sanctum. Neci was angry, and she would have good reason to be. This anger was boiling before the events of the fall. Before the Sanctums were abandoned.” he said.
“She closed it, bare of everything. Those messages were all set and in place. That place she marked on the map, it could be anything, my love.”
He nodded, opening the carved box Sian had placed on the bed, “Even nothing.” he agreed, his eyes narrowing as he opened it.
“Sian, why did you choose this box?”
She looked at him, “It caught my eye, and it was a gift my mother gave to Neci, a bauble she had made. I think it would be of more use to us then to her.”
Antrandis carefully lifted the bauble out, it was no bigger than his fist, but the fine caged structure of the globe in his hand was stronger than it seemed. Sian reached and took it from him, holding it firmly and without concern.
“Is that?” he said, his eyes widening.
Sian nodded, “It is, it is the world that we walk as it was. Every continent, sea and ocean made of dragon scale filigree from both.”
“And how would such a wonder be of use?”
She smiled and handed it back to him, “You are the one who painted her with blood runes as a child. I saw how her blood reacted to your own only moments ago. Your veins were on fire.”
“What of it?”
“You are sustaining her, but you also took the Jade’s place. She destroyed their connection, making both of them mortal. And he carved it back into her, restoring it. Then you, the child born of a goddess gave her life.” Sian said shaking her head in disbelief of her own words, “How else could you approach this room? Did Aisling see this far or even further? Who is guiding Aisling to align the fates this way? Who is guiding the three?”
She stopped momentarily, her eyes glowing as she met his stormy blue, “What future are the three aiming for?”
Antrandis smiled at her words and shrugged, “It is an intriguing prospect, isn’t it?” he said.
A smile came to her lips as she stifled a chuckle, shaking her head, “The bauble, it is a map.” she said as she sat on the edge of the bed, “I saw mother enchant it. Think carefully about where we are and…” she stopped, her eyes widening in wonder.
The filigree bauble burst into a soft light, an illusionary globe of the world lined in luminous blues, whites and glowing rusts hung in the open space over the bed. Twinkling points of white light giving the impression of stars and the constellations edged the outer sphere, just within the confines of the room. The light from the wall sconces seemed to dim as the map filled the space. Slowly the globe grew bigger until it sunk halfway through the bed. Sian stood and watched it as it rolled in synchronisation with Antrandis turning the bauble in his hand. He chuckled to himself as he concentrated on where they stood; a sharp pinprick and trailing shaft of red blinked into life and drew their attention. Rotating the bauble and orientating the polar caps it grew larger, expanding until the drawn map of the coastline to the mountains and the marker of where they stood hovered before them.
He tilted his head, reading the labelling and flowing descriptors that accompanied each point of light. Cities, towns, rivers, territories and other places from before the world had burned and new world began.
Antrandis’s eyes narrowed, “This was not a desert, it was a jungle, rolling hills and,”
Sian nodded, “It was scoured clean.” she said, allowing her eyes to roam over the illusionary map, “The mountains to the west, here. They were never tall, but wet and humid in the heat, trees and animals, such abundant life.”
She met his eyes, “The humans took it away in their crusade against the elder races. When I visited here as a child, it was a jungle and there were the noble tribes of the beast men and women. The descendants of demons, the magnificent Rakshasa who railed against the rule of Azzar Kah'Sharn and won their freedom.”
Antrandis nodded slowly, “They are in the Darklands now.”
She nodded, “DeKaalenstaad, another jungle, dangerous and dark; far from the bounty that this arm of the world was.” Sian’s brows rose in a hopeless expression, “We should meet with them. Now that we have Dagnetheln as a stronghold.”
“Eira has already sent emissaries on my behalf.”
Sian’s eyes widened, “Who?”
“Harks and his wife, Jaina. Both Silias and Peletrinala joined them with Talessia commanding a small guard of spears a few days ago. They should be reaching that Sanctum within the week.”
Sian’s brows furrowed, “Is Eira going to…”
“I think it is about time I rekindle the trade routes that we lost…” his voice faltered, his attention being drawn, “during the...” he said absently.
He placed the bauble down, the map immediately vanishing as it left his hand. He exchanged a brief glance with Sian while they both waited in silence. The sound of a sudden, faint knock barely scored the silence between them. Exchanging a look, Antrandis quickly moved to a wall, touching his ear to it and listening carefully to the song of the stone as it whispered in the depths.
Another knock followed by three more in steady rhythm. The sound of hammer on stone clear as he listened.
“Rhuthain.” he said simply.
Sian came close, “How many strikes?”
“Four,” he met her eyes, “They are under attack. You stay here, I will take care of it.”
“How? They have Silvast, if it is just those I saw before dawn…” Sian said in confusion, “And you haven’t heard from above.”
They exchanged a concerned look.
“Kit and Rhy?” she said.
“I will go, keep searching for anything that refers to the Jade.” he said, moving to the entry.
Sian nodded, smiling to herself at his brief glance back before he disappeared from the room, being swallowed by the relative darkness of the passage beyond the door. She watched for a moment before turning back to the bed, retrieving the bauble and returning it to its box. Leaving the bedside for the room Antrandis was in earlier, she quickly found a hard leather satchel for the vials of blood and slipped them inside, making them safe. Turning from the bench her eyes alighted on the boxes, crates and cases stacked neatly against the wall. Sian stepped closer, her eyes narrowing as she tried to read the inscriptions on the sides, their hard exteriors and angular designs foreign to her.
Antrandis walked unhurriedly along the long passage the twins had taken less than a quarter of an hour earlier. His stormy blue eyes were sweeping the path ahead, easily picking out the footsteps they had left behind. His ears pricked, again hearing the faint strikes of Rhuthain’s hammer through the stone. Four, steady hammer falls, evenly paced and of equal intensity. The language of hammer on stone, situations communicated through severity, count of strikes and even how the strikes fell. Four was danger, the spacing was the need for assistance, and the weight so even and true called for caution. Antrandis’s eyes narrowed, reaching out with his mind to find a void, the Sanctum itself and its enchantments managing to subvert his sight and projection.
He picked up his pace, loosening his sword in its scabbard as the sounds of low voices and footsteps echoed toward him. Silently concealing himself in the shadows, he drew them around him as he walked along the far wall, the confident footsteps growing louder until the two men stepped into view. Their garb was of loose flowing leggings, one was bare-chested with a leather belt crossing from shoulder to waist and the other wore a mottled brown vest. Neither knew of the visage of death that watched them from the shadows.
Antrandis watched, his curiosity piqued as they spoke in a tongue he had no knowledge of. They both stooped and seemed to confer about the tracks on the floor, the disturbed sands of the junction in the passage. Resting against the wall, his eyes narrowed as a strange, almost imperceptible vibration could be felt where his fingertips met the wall.
“It seems you two are out of time.” Antrandis said quietly.
Both men scrabbled to a stand, yelling as the shadows on the wall came to life, a blue-eyed demon drawing the darkness with him as a bright longsword was drawn and slashed across, reducing the pair to one. Shaking, the remaining bandit drew his worn blades, a short-sword and dirk, menacing and yelling at the shadow that took his partner as he backed away. The shadow advanced at a rush, engulfing him and taking his breath as he felt the life being torn from him by that bright blade. His blood mixing with his partner’s as his world descended to black.
Antrandis stood over the corpses, watching the feeble strands of life extinguish before him. In one quick motion, he snapped the blade through the air, the blood that remained spattering the sand at his feet. He stepped away and retraced their path, his sword trailing low and to the side. The exit to the passage was ahead, the sounds of aggravation and the guttural local language being spoken. Quickly approaching the exit, he slowed, drawing the shadows around him and slipping through and behind the nearest pillar where he melded into the cast darkness.
His attention was immediately drawn to the passage on his left, where their assailants were gathered. A sharp, inhumane, high-pitched roar tore through the stale air, raising the hair on his arms and at the nape of his neck. The ragged number of bandits scattering backward, running and shielding themselves behind pillars as the two beasts tumbled out, trading heavy blows and swiped claws as they rolled into the centre of the chamber. The hellish form of Kitaraiya throwing herself off backward and standing, blood dripping from her clawed hands as her eyes screamed for death.
She paced sidelong and kept her distance as her combatant gathered itself. The wild and large orange eyes and striped head of a tiger rising from the scattered sand and the heavily muscular build of a large man covered in fur followed. Sharp claws extended, it roared in fury, its tail whipping to the side as it tore the remains of its shirt free from its body and flexed its form, stretching its reach as blood seeped and matted the fur from the deep cuts in its side.
Kitaraiya smiled jaggedly, hearing the commotion that followed in her wake, the swift death of the Crimson Demon as he made his way to the edge of the arena, cutting down any in his path, his eyes on fire as he reigned in his thread.
She laughed, a guttural and rough sound that made the closest step back in fear, “Are you ready, brother?” she said, her blazing white eyes glaring at her enemy.