Finally - finally
- I am taking this back over! For reals, guys as if there's anyone left....
new post every week. Srsly.
And now... after several months of a very busy Rica, she now presents Chapter 8! It isn't great, but... it's something. I promise you there will be interesting things - and just other things in general - besides sadness in this story.
And Night - thank you so very, very much!!! Your comment helped spur me to get the energy and inspiration back up to reboot this. Thank you
And btw, I
Talvi too. xD
And now... Chapter 8!
The happiness at finding my owlets and kiwis, though great, was not enough to bury the ache of loss. I felt tears collecting in my eyes again as I trudged along with the rest of the magi towards the meeting place. I knew I was gathering many foul looks, but for once I didn’t care. It was by luck that my creatures had been saved, not any evil move on my part. It did nothing to distract me from the pain of losing my dearest friends. Hadn’t it just been this morning that I’d watched Sarrow and Nighteyes gamboling around with the owlets? Or seen Blaze running with his foal? I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that they weren’t safe and happy in my Keep right now, though I’d seen the evidence with my own eyes. How could everything have changed so absolutely in a single day? It didn’t seem possible!
I knew I was in denial, and I clung to it like a liferope. I couldn’t lose myself now, not when I was about to find out what was going on. There would be plenty of time for grief later… too much time. I clutched my owlets closer and leaned into Arje, shoving away the thoughts of my cold, empty Keep. I could not bury them, but I could keep them at bay, stop myself from thinking too closely about the full extent of my loss.
We reached the courtyard, where hundreds of magi were already gathered. Several had their hoods up, to cover their reddened eyes. A few had succumbed entirely to grief – I could plainly hear the sobs in the nearly quiet square. But most had looked blank, shocked… numb. As though the entirety of the attack was simply too much to comprehend.
Though I did not see any other large creatures in my brief glance across the square, several smaller animals were scattered here and there among the crowd. At least the spell had been stopped before every creature had been taken.
Arje strode confidently forward through the throng, going much farther in than I planned to. People gave him a wide berth, and I had no choice but to follow him. He stopped in the middle of the square, directly in front of Master Belmos. We waited in silence as the members of the Keep slowly filtered in. When the stone courtyard was full to bursting, Master Belmos cleared his throat and started to speak.
“There are not words to describe what has happened on this day. But words are not needed - why should I explain the pain, when you are living it as we speak? No, I shall not repeat the events. Pain needs no description.”
He stopped then, and it struck me how tired he looked, how incredibly sad. He’d always been a teacher to me, a distant figure of authority – I’d never thought about the fact that he had hundreds, if not thousands, of creatures of his own. They’d been taken, too. He was a magi just like the rest of us.
Master Belmos collected himself and continued. “I will not explain the pain, but I will explain what happened.” His voice echoed loudly across the quiet square. “This grievous tragedy was caused by the Alosai… the thieves of light. Alosai means ‘moon drinker’ in their foul tongue. Centuries ago, with blood sacrifices made every full moon, they tied their own magic to the light of it… for light is an energy like any other. For what is light but energy, and what is energy but magic? Their ancestors bound themselves in their dark magic… but because the spell lay within their very flesh, their children’s own powers were heightened under the light of the moon.
“We knew of them, of course, but we… wrongly… believed them to be no threat. Though their powers are strong, their numbers are small – too small, we thought, to stand a chance against forces as great as ours.
“But they did not work alone. One of them managed to enter our highest tower, that closest to the moon, and place their cursed stone within our castle.” He lifted the broken halves for all to see. “This is a rare, powerful magical object – it can create a shield so powerful very few can penetrate it. It must have taken many, many years to prepare this, and many years more in planning. This was not a spontaneous decision.
“We do not yet know the full extent of their intentions – and it is not a discussion for tonight. The one thing I can say with certainty is that your creatures are still alive. They would not have bothered with such an elaborate ploy if their only intent was slaughter. Rest with the knowledge that your creatures still walk this land alive, though we know not where.
“We will know more in the morning – the cloaking spells they placed about us will disappear ere the sun rises. Thane and I will stabilize the castle – there is to be no fear of collapsing walls. Return to your Keeps, and stay there until the sun has fully risen. Those of you whose Keeps have been made… unfit for sleeping, you may find beds in the Great Hall. Rest assured there will be no further attacks tonight.
“We will rouse you in the morning, should we have any new information for you.” He heaved a deep sigh, looking incredibly weary. He waved his hands at us, at the crowd. “Be off with you. Sleep is needed - there is much to be done come morn.”
He picked up the shards of rock and stepped away, disappearing within the shambles of the castle. Soon the gentle hum of power began to sound, and a soft golden light illuminated the stones, freezing them in place and making the castle safe again.
Safe physically, maybe, but I couldn’t imagine going to sleep in my Keep. Just the thought of going back in there brought tears back to my eyes. I cast my gaze around, wondering what everyone else was doing. A few were wandering off, back to the castle, but most were still standing as they were, staring at where Master Belmos had disappeared with the same grief-stricken look that I’m sure I was wearing as well.
Instead of scanning the crowd for hostile faces, like I had before, this time I looked for faces I knew. I saw June standing in the corner of the courtyard, a bundle of winged cats clutched in her arms – Gingy was standing close by with two gryphon hatchlings on her shoulders. I heard a small, familiar tweet, and saw Ylana walking back towards the keep, two hummingbirds zipping around her frame. It was nice to see a few familiar creatures – but it was horrible to see so few.
Arje purred quietly, nudging me in the back. I ran my fingers through his feathers. “Yeah, let’s go in,” I said, crawling awkwardly onto his back while still holding my owlets and Talvi. He started heading towards my Keep, but I turned him away. “I can’t stay there tonight, Arje,” I whispered. He turned immediately, following the trailing magi heading into the castle.
The castle looked dark and dank around me, the stone walls seeming foreboding for the first time. I had vague ideas about going to the Great Hall, though staying in close proximity to a lot of people who probably still hated me because of Arje was not an appealing idea.
I was thrilled to hear that voice. Brindle came running toward me, two farirs and an ariessa lamb trailing after her. Brindle was much younger than me – 12 to my 17 – but she was one of my few friends in the castle. She skidded to a stop in front of me. “Hi,” She said breathlessly. “Were you headed for the Hall?”
I nodded without much enthusiasm. She shook her head. “My Keep was… mostly unscathed,” She said. She tried to say it calmly, but her voice cracked. “A few of my friends are staying in there instead of the hall. You can too, if you want. Arje’ll fit.”
A small smile broke out as I realized I didn’t have to spend the night with a bunch of hateful magi. “Thank you, Brindle,” I said gratefully as she led the way to her Keep. As we rounded the corner, I heard a voice I recognized as Master Belmos’s. “No, and that’s my final answer,” He said sternly. I peeked and saw him staring up at Sorras, who was looking absolutely livid. “And the Keep’s protective spells have been reset, so don’t think of trying to sneak out again. Remy is perfectly capable of tending to one Nandi.”
“That bearded drunk can hardly take care of his customers, much less Kanthos!” Sorras nearly shouted. “I can’t just leave him there!”
“You can, and you will.” Master Belmos’s words rang with authority. “You –“
But then Brindle tugged on my arm, dragging me away before I could hear anymore. I followed Brindle blindly, filled with guilt. I was the one who had told him to leave Kanthos in the first place! I truly didn’t believe any harm would come to him, but still. Sorras rarely got upset – ever. To have him yelling at Master Belmos…?
But there was no more time to think of it. Brindle let me and Arje into her keep, and I had my own situation to think about. She was an Earth magi, and plants abounded within the fairly small room. The Ariessa curled next to Brindle immediately, while the Farir floated gently through the air. She had no fire creatures, apparently, for her plants seemed healthy and well aside from one small singe mark by the door. It looked like heaven compared to my desolate Keep.
I looked at the four other girls within the room. Two I only knew by sight, but I was happy to see both Ylana and June sitting across from me. I set my bundle down at last, letting my owlets, kiwis, and Talvi free. They moved around in a little flock, only finally dispersing when Brindle started passing out blankets. We spoke very little – there was nothing to say, no words that could possibly make any of us feel better. I retreated to a corner and leaned against Arje, pulling my borrowed blanket around me. Two of my owlets returned to me, one of them bringing a winged cat along. The rest of the owlets had settled down with the other girls. I let them be, hoping they’d provide a little bit of solace. Talvi curled close, and Talon fluttered down next to him. I closed my eyes, trying hard not to think about the morning while I hoped against hope it had all been a terrible dream.