MoboReader> Adeventure > Maldene: Volume Two

   Chapter 23 The Valley Of Many Lights

Maldene: Volume Two By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 41871

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


Horses and people went back and forth along the wide cobbled streets, the blue sun shining down through an orain-colored sky onto a warm mid-Spring afternoon. The town was some miles out from Sydelburg, back along Threegan Road towards the coastal direction rather than more inland towards the mountains. Street performers were everywhere, from fire-swallowers to strongmen, acrobats to street-magicians, with even a traveling carnival wagon parked alongside the wide road. It was a holiday and the performers were trying their best to please the audiences, while the local merchants were doing their best to take advantage of it.

In front of the traveling carnival wagon two masked acrobats amused the audiences with their jumps and twists, somersaults and leaps, bouncing off of each other with a lithe grace rarely seen. Their skin-tight black body stockings flowed with every supple movement of their tightly-woven muscles. If one looked carefully enough through the creative padding of their simple costumes though, one might even discern the more slender curves of a female anatomy about one of the acrobats, an observation lost to the applauding crowds before them. Their painted green and black face masks presented just but a gay face to the oblivious onlookers as they tossed their coins at the dancing feet of the two performers.

To one side of the wagon, a street-magician leaned up against the wooden side, resting until the time for his own act. His robes were brightly colored for the benefit of the audience, but beneath he still wore his old pants, his leather boots sticking out from under the long flowing robes. His face he hid in the shadows, his piercing dark blue eyes and unshaven chin-stubble being all that showed from under his ear-length mop of straight brown-red hair. He gazed out at the audience with a cold calculation, as he fingered the freshly made amulet just under his robes around his neck; an amulet made by his own hand.

Walking up to this cold figure was a man in traveling clothes and a dingy hood. Dressed too warmly for this weather, he looked more like a man trying to not be seen, but by his very attempt at doing so, failing miserably. He approached the street-magician with a quiet and nervous voice.

"I'd heard that I should speak with you about hiring someone for certain services, " the nervous stranger asked.

"We are merely a carnival troop, " the magician answered coolly. "What kind of services did you have in mind?"

The stranger leaned closely to the magician, almost whispering directly in his ear.

"There is someone I would like killed, " he said quickly, as the acrobats cartwheeled beyond him.

The stranger suddenly found himself unable to move his mouth, try as he might. The magician's eyes glowed a bright red as he looked at the stranger with a stare as cold as the Southern Wastelands.

"Don't ever use the word kill or murder, " the magician said, staring directly into the stranger's eyes as the latter tried unsuccessfully to open his mouth or even move his eyes away from that cold stare, "we deal in services. Got it?"

The stranger nodded.

"Good. Now, who would you like serviced?"

The stranger gasped for air as he found himself suddenly able to open his mouth, breathe again, move his eyes, and speak. After a couple of gasps, he took out a quietly jingling pouch and placed it in the magician's hands.

"Jason Wis, " the stranger explained, "that greedy merchant has stood in the way of my business, and my father's before me, for too long. I want him gone."

"So you can expand your own greedy business, " the magician smiled from beneath the shadows. "How nice."

"Can you do it?" the stranger asked. "He's got all the best bodyguards in town protecting him."

The street around them erupted in applause at the latest acrobatic feat of the two performers as the street-magician gave his answer.

"Of course. But, why have you not tried seeking such help earlier?'

"I have, " the stranger lowered his head, "but he's so rich he just buys out the contract and the person ends up working for him instead of kill- uh- servicing him. This is all the gold I can spare; I'm told that you don't renege on a contract."

"My associates have one rule to which they hold rigidly: once a contract is agreed to, they follow through with it. No amount of money can then buy out or cancel the contract. It matters not how much this merchant of yours has, your contract is safe."

"Good, " the stranger almost breathed a sigh of relief.

"But remember then, that the same holds if someone ever takes out a contract against you."

"I understand, " the stranger nodded. "You will do it then?"

"The weapon which will service him will be delivered to his door by tonight; by morning he will be. . . removed."

"You give him the weapon?" the stranger said perplexed.

"A little trademark of my associates, " the magician smiled again. "They believe in giving their victims the very weapon with which they will be. . . serviced."

"But, why?"

The magician leaned very close to the stranger, his cold stare directed straight into the eyes of the stranger.

"Wouldn't you be afraid of someone that could get you even if you were holding the very weapon that would be used against you?"

The stranger swallowed hard and finally backed away, giving a last glance at the magician before he disappeared back into the crowds. The magician smiled at the stranger's discomfiture as he turned his attention over to the two performing acrobats.

He watched as they flipped over each other, garnering applause from the audience standing around in the street. He gave a slight nod of his head in their direction. This was returned by an even slighter nod from the slimmer of the two figures as they finally finished their performance and bowed to the much-earned applause, still not taking off their painted masks.

Bedor smiled to himself as he watched them take their bows, his own act being up next. Street-magician indeed, he thought, although this traveling carnival bit is proving to be a very lucrative idea.

Who would expect the rising fame of the Black Dagger to be cloaked within the gaiety and innocence of a small band of traveling performers.

Jason Wis, richest merchanteer in the entire city, employer of fifty stout warriors he could call his own private bodyguards, walked down the hallway of his mansion home. He walked past two guard checkpoints and rounded the corner to the pair of double doors that entered upon his bedroom. He nodded to the two guards to either side of the doors as they opened it up for him. Jason Wis walked into his bedroom as the doors closed behind him, confident in the knowledge that the two guards would be but a moment away if he but sneezed.

His room was lavishly decorated in silk; silk draperies hanging in front of all the walls, silk hanging in front of his bed, large silk pillows thrown about his room, even silk woven into the fabric of the plush carpet upon which he now walked. He liked the lavish life-style and he had the money with which to indulge it. Even the aged grey of his shoulder-length hair sort of resembled a dull smooth silk.

He shook off his fine leather shoes, his now bare feet leaving deep tracks in the long plush fur of the carpet. He shrugged out of his vest and climbed out of his pants, soon fitting himself into a finely made night-shirt, woven, of course, of silk. He walked over to his four-poster bed and drew back the silk curtain, to ease himself down for a good night's sleep.

He stopped. There, lying on the exact center of his silk pillow, was a very curious object: a single-cut black dagger, a slight red point of light gleaming brightly from the center of its hilt, blade-tip pointed down towards the foot of the bed. He reached down and carefully picked up the sharp-edged object.

What foolery be this, he thought, someone has the audacity to threaten me with this small slip of a weapon! How'd it get in here past the guards anyway? I'm going to have to speak to someone about security being lax.

He turned the dagger over in his hand. Nothing remarkable about it, except for that continual gleam in its hilt. Nice workmanship though. Maybe it'll make a good souvenir.

He grasped it by the hilt with his right hand as he turned to walk back towards the door. He would have a word or two to the guards about this!

He stopped in mid-step. His right hand had tightened convulsively about the dagger, grasping hard enough so that his hands bled as the sharp edges of the obsidian cut through. He reached over with his other hand to try and pry it loose.

But his other hand wouldn't move. His whole body was slowing down, his walk turning into a slow-motion parody of normal movement. First his whole right arm tightened, every muscle going suddenly tense with unknown effort, then spreading swiftly to his right side, then throughout his entire body. He opened up his mouth to scream, but nothing came out.

His vocal cords had tightened beyond use. He was without movement, without voice. In pain from his sudden rigidity but unable to scream, or even whisper a call for help to the guards, so close just beyond the door.

A dark silent figure came up behind him, its soft-leather bound feet leaving not even a mark in the long plush of the carpet, nary a trace of its passage. It came up behind Jason with nary a sound. The merchant heard naught, but sensed it more as a presence or portent. He strained to turn around and look, but his tense body was immobile. Only his eyes would move.

Leather-gloved hands reached around from behind him, gently grabbing him by the right hand and moving it upwards. A soft male voice sounded in his right ear, fear rising in Jason as not even a face could he put to this unknown.

"The convulsions will be starting in a few moments, " the soft voice said, as he brought Jason's right hand, still clasped about the dagger, up against his own throat, "rather violent convulsions at that. If you aren't careful, you just might slit your own throat."

The leather-gloved hands carefully positioned the right hand so that the sharp tip of the dagger lay resting directly upon the merchant's Adam's Apple. Only the fear in Jason's eyes could give any sign to the thoughts in his head.

That, and the fact that his bladder was apparently still functioning.

"The poison on the dagger is rather unstable, " came a different, more female voice, from behind his left ear. "It breaks down and evaporates so very quickly in air, it's a pity that there won't be a trace of it for anyone to find. They won't know how you really died; except, maybe, by your own hand."

Some of the merchant's facial muscles finally found a small amount of movement as the terror he felt began to show upon his face.

"The convulsions continue for sometime after your actual death, " came the male voice from behind his right ear. "By the time they've stopped, you'll have probably sawed off your own head. A rather slow process at that."

Jason's eyes bulged wide with fright as his hands began to shake.

"There we go, " came the female voice, distancing slightly as if it were backing up, "they're starting already."

Convulsions began to rip through his body as every muscle tried to violently shake loose its tension. His hand shook back and forth, carrying the sharp black knife with it. Blood spurted out and the obsidian edge sawed through his soft throat. No scream of pain, fright, or anguish could the merchant cry forth as he convulsively sawed at his own neck. No willful act save the showing of his fear and pain in his eyes, the slow stretching of facial muscles as they sought to give slow expression to terror. Blood gushed down his silk nightshirt and across his bed as he cut his own vocal cords. Life slipped out of him as he severed his own windpipe, but still he convulsed.

Two dark figures, hiding behind the silk draperies covering the walls, watched as Jason Wis, rich and greedy merchanteer, sawed through his own spine. They watched as the convulsions prevented the now-dead body from even falling to the ground, but just teeter back and forth on stiff legs.

"You were right, " came the soft female voice, as the body finally toppled noiselessly onto the soft silk bed, "this was an easy one."

"Fools usually are, " replied the quiet male voice, as the soft impact of the body on the bed drove the dagger through the remainder of the neck's spine, "and the

tricken creature ran out of the mountain, screaming insanely, as he lost himself in the surrounding forest. They later found him, gibbering madly to himself, forever-after incoherent. His companion was also found, still slumped in the entrance to the cavern, eyes wide with the fright that killed him.

In the cavern, Jumpit smiled with pleasure, as he watched his master step up out of the pool. A pale demented hand patted Jumpit on the head as a low chuckle arose from the thing that was now Po-Adar.

A slithering tentacle curled out from his form as Po-Adar reached out for his discarded robe.

The morning rays greeted them as they walked down the hillside into the lost valley. Bronto hummed merrily as Eldar practically skipped childlike down the grassy hill. Lindel breathed in deeply of the fresh air as Quickfoot ran boldly about. After their long travels through the hard and snowy mountains, such a valley was almost like a holiday. Overhead, three large white hawks circled down towards them.

"I think we should stop here for a bit, " Sabu said, stopping. "We've got a good view of the whole valley from here to better decide where to go."

"Oh, come on, " Eldar said, as he stopped skipping, "who needs to plan a route? How hard can it be to find a lost city in one little valley?"

"By my estimate, " Sabu answered him, "this valley appears to be approximately four hundred and fifty miles long by about half that wide."

"Oh, " Eldar said simply, suddenly a bit more seriously. "Okay then, where to?"

"I see a large lake over there, " Kilgar said, as he stood atop a big rock, pointing off into the distance, "and I think there's a few rivers going to it."

"That boy's eyes are sharper than a hawk's, " Bronto chuckled as he stopped his humming.

"It could wisely be said, " Sheil-Bor(h) interjected, "that a great city is often established near to a large waterway, where trade might travel a bit easier."

"He's right, " Sindar said, "the lake's our best bet. Probably next to one of the rivers."

"It also appears to be somewhat centrally located, " Lindel said, his superior elven vision also picking up what the boy had spotted.

"The lake it is then, " Bronto said, as he turned to continue on down the hillside.

He was stopped, though, by three large white hawks, landing directly in his path. The three birds, each at least two feet tall, looked up, regarding him and the others with expressionless bird features.

"Well, it looks like you've found some friends, " Eldar commented as he came up next to the big man.

"It is more than that, " Sheil-Bor(h) observed, walking up to also look at the hawks, "it is an omen."

"Three lousy white birds an omen?" Quickfoot almost snorted. "I think you've been sniffing too much of your incense."

"He is right."

They all looked as the source of the voice seemed to come from one of the white birds. A startled Quickfoot took his usual place behind Candol's robes.

"Enchanted creatures indeed, " Sabu said, as he came up with the others to form a circle around the birds.

"We are not birds, " the central bird spoke, its beak moving as it did so.

"It's a trick, right?" Eldar asked.

"It must be sourced from some vile magic, " Lorel said, reaching for his sword.

"We are no trick, nor are we borne of evil magics."

"What are you then?" Sabu asked, his intellectual curiosity now fully aroused.

"We are those that cannot be named, " all three sang in unison. "We are the Nameless Ones that cannot be freed by mortal means. We are the watchdogs of your destiny."

"The Nameless Ones, eh?" Mauklo questioned. "That doesn't tell us just who or what you are."

"A better question, " another one of them said, "might be to ask yourselves who you are."

"Nice and vague, " Eldar quipped. "They're beginning to sound like Sheil-Bor(h) here."

"I thank you for the complimentary comparison, " Sheil-Bor(h) nodded in response, "to what are obviously the three servants of Fate."

"We are no servants of Fate, " the third one answered, "but of something far greater."

As they puzzled that, a white light encompassed the three hawks. The others drew back as both the light and the hawks expanded, growing and changing, until there stood amongst them three white-haired men in brightly glowing robes, the morning light shining through them so that all could see them as transparent images floating upon the wind.

"Angels!" Lorel exclaimed. "Truly our quest is blessed."

Mauklo just made an indecipherable sound in his throat.

"No, Lorel, angels we are not, " the central one said, "though this transparency be the only way you can see our true forms."

"What we are isn't as important as what you are, " the one on the right said, "or what you might be."

"You said that before, " Shong asked, "what does it mean?"

"I also noticed that you said something about 'cannot be freed', " Sindar interjected.

"It is true, " the one on the left said. "The simple form of animals is the only corporeal form we can take when away from our imprisonment."

"An imprisonment induced by forces that would see you all fail, " said the one on the right.

"That doesn't sound too encouraging, " Lindel commented.

"This is indeed a sign from the all-mighty Indra, " Candol said boldly, "and this humble servant of His would see the enemy of our enemy freed. How may we help?"

"There he goes volunteering us again, " Mauklo muttered.

"We have been watching you since 'ere you left the Harbor Of The World, " the central one said, "we show ourselves now to warn you of the path you choose."

"It's a bit late for that, " Eldar said, "we're already committed."

"Or we should be, " Mauklo commented.

"We speak not of 'if' but of 'how', my young Elf, " the central one spoke. "Our imprisonment shall last until the stones of Hevon wouldst meet with our prison."

"When your quest is near complete, then shall you find us, " said the one on the left, "and then shall you have an ally for that which is to come."

"The cosmos is in imbalance, " said the one on the right, "and in your souls lies the key."

"You mention Hevon, " Sindar said, "of what can you tell us about the Gems of Hevon?"

"And what manner of creatures are you?" Sabu asked.

But the questions went unanswered. The three grew fainter as the light rose towards mid rise, the frail substance of their forms fading upon the winds. Soon, no trace of the visitation was left. The ones gathered about looked at each other in puzzlement and curiosity.

"Such a strange and unexpected happening, " Sindar commented. "I wonder of what is their nature, what is their interest in our travels."

"And our Hevon Gems would appear to be more than one would at first think, " Sheil-Bor(h) pondered thoughtfully. "I wonder of what is their true nature."

"Too many questions, " Sabu agreed.

"I thought it was great, " Eldar commented gaily. "Just the type of mysterious encounter to make this outing really fun! Now we gotta finish this!"

"Maybe that's what they wanted us to do, " Mauklo quietly observed, "it could be a ploy with which to trap us."

"What do we do?" Candol asked, one hand searching his robes for a convenient coin to flip. "A visitation by such spirits could mean good or ill for us."

"And how do we find out what they want of us?" Lindel added. "And if we should follow such a course?"

Sheil-Bor(h) held up a hand to signal for silence. They all quieted as they looked over at the calm face, wondering what new piece of wisdom he would give as advice this time. When he had their attention, he said but two words.

"We walk."

Sheil-Bor(h) turned and started walking down the hill to the valley, walking off in the general direction of the large lake that Kilgar had first spotted. The others looked at him as he walked away, and then at each other. Eldar made ready to ask something and then stopped and thought. Finally he just shrugged.

"What the hey, " the silver-haired elf said as he turned to follow.

"That's the spirit, " Bronto chuckled, slapping Eldar on the back as he too started walking.

Smiles quickly spread as the simple wisdom of Sheil-Bor(h)'s action did more to sum up what they should do than any amount of discussion.

They all walked down the hillside to the Valley Of Many Lights.

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