Monday, March 31, 2008

"Seabird" Prologue pt.1

"Seabird" Prologue pt.1

Prologue – “Into the Place of Three Tombs”

“We won't need any more torches.” The old enchanter gestured toward the sparkle of blue reflecting off the cavern walls ahead. “Stream light will serve to guide us now."

Nortis bowed toward Lord Thaddis, then dropped the new torch he had just retrieved back into the moldy wooden chest by the wall. The partially-spent torch in his other hand cast sporadic light along the rough stone passage, picking out seepage paths and ice-edged pools underfoot. Nortis checked the rope knotted about his arm and examined the bonds on their prisoner’s slender wrists. As she strained away from him, little puffs of vapor escaped from under her voluminous hood, marking her rapid breaths.

She murmured, "Please! You're in peril! He isn't-"

Nortis fumbled for his dagger in alarm. He hissed a furious, "Silence!" intending to add more, but the telltale quaver of the single word convinced him that was pointless. Could there be any action borne of more folly than threatening a sorcerer, even one bound?

"What did she say?" Thaddis was already several yards ahead of them, the enchanter's bent silhouette defined more by the blue glow ahead than by the flickering torchlight.

"J-just 'Please!’. And I think she started to threaten me. Or us."

"Hmph! She can't harm us, Nortis. Trust me." Lord Thaddis turned and resumed walking toward the glimmering Stream.

Nortis used his forearm to blot his sodden leather sweatband. Then, drawing a determined breath, he nodded and tugged the rope.

Why had he told the enchanter only some of her words? He shook his head. Everything was confused - not as it should be. Though he loved and revered his master, he yearned to be finished with this task. To return to their home in the northern forest, the enchanter in his study and he taking care of his lord's needs and his modest retreat.

In all his travels, he had never visited a prison chamber devised for sorcerers, nor had he ever had charge of a follower of Wenos Zex. How vulnerable and fragile the bound Neroli female looked as she walked beside him. Who would think such malevolence could be spell-cloaked so thoroughly? Why did she keep up the pretense even now? What had she meant about ‘peril’? And the words, ‘He isn't’. Who? Lord Thaddis? He isn't what? Would to Alphesis he had let her finish her words!

And finish a spell of destruction as well? No, not possible. Thaddis said she couldn't harm them.
He was one of the Alphesaic Order sworn to defend the land from all forms of evil. That should be all the assurance he needed. It wasn't. Not today. Peril? The prisoner could easily guess that. Their peril would only increase when they reached the prison - home already to three Zexian sorcerers. Between parallel Streams was the hidden door Thaddis would have to open in order to incarcerate this newest offender. Could one or more of the prisoners get out during that brief time, and overcome his master?

Since his left hand no longer held a second torch, Nortis thrust it within the pocket of his woolen jerkin and gripped the silver amulet he had hidden there. With his fingers pressing the sacred seabird hard against his palm, he hurried toward the great Stream. The soft footfall of the Young One whispered beside him, but Nortis counseled himself to refrain from looking towards her. If she spoke again, he simply wouldn't listen.

As the enchanter drew closer to the sparkling blue light of Alphesis' Stream, he paused and lifted the five-sided wooden box he was carrying until it was above his head.

Nortis drew a breath, anticipating the chime-like language of blessed enchantment he had heard on a few precious occasions. Thaddis glanced toward him. Then, muttering guttural words mixed with hisses and whistles, he tossed the box upward as if aiming it at the rough-chiseled ceiling.
Nortis shuddered at the hideous sounds coming from his master's lips -- sounds only Zexian sorcerers would speak. This was nothing like the language of enchantment. Like the slow unfolding of a nightmare, his master's cloak darkened from enchanter blue to sorcerer dead black. Horror ripping through him, Nortis stared at the colorless cloak. This was no trick of the light, no shadow cast by Stream-light. And those sounds. He isn't, she had said. The sudden proof of his master's change in allegiance seared his mind.

Nortis collapsed against the icy wall for support. Loosed by his shaking fingers, the remaining torch clattered on the stone floor of the passageway. As the torchlight sputtered and died, Nortis saw Thaddis plainly for the first time. He had lied to himself even more thoroughly than Thaddis had lied to him. How could he have ignored the peculiar sounds behind locked doors, the scrolls whisked out of view when he entered the enchanter's study -- so many warning signs, so many hints about what his master had become? Too late now.

Thaddis, the sorcerer Thaddis, glanced back toward him and demanded, "Nortis! I told you to forget the torches. Bring the prisoner here. Quickly!"

Nortis pressed himself even harder against the chill stone at the brief glance, but Lord Thaddis was already facing the floating box and the Stream just beyond it. Lifting his hands again, the sorcerer spoke once more in Zexian chant, then thrust outward with his hands, palms forward. The waiting box ceased its hovering and obediently floated away from the bank out over the flowing stream light. Muttering in approval, Thaddis nodded as the box proceeded on its slow journey toward the far bank of the Stream.

Nortis scrabbled at the wall for balance. Cold malevolence flowed past him-Lord Thaddis striding toward the prisoner in his keeping. His knees seeming to melt, Nortis collapsed onto the cold stone floor. He barely felt the rope being loosed from about his arm.

"Get up!"

Thaddis drew away, this time accompanied by the soft patter of a second set of footfalls. Yanking on the rope of the whimpering prisoner, Thaddis called over his shoulder, "Come along, Nortis! Or I'll give them two instead of one!"

Nortis scrambled to his feet. His fingers and palm a solid fist about the amulet, he tottered toward the blue-green Stream ahead. Its light dazzled him, even though the brilliance was partially cloaked by the two figures standing between him and the bank. He noticed that Lord Thaddis had his hood pulled low over his eyes. He had done the same thing earlier that day, complaining of the sunset glare when they left the trees of Kolora behind and before they entered the cavern. Nortis forced down the groan of guilt that throbbed in his throat. While he had wondered about his lord’s gesture, he had been more occupied watching for a threatening gesture from the prisoner. No. He just hadn't chosen to admit what it all meant. After all, Lord Thaddis had been kind to him. For his own purposes, he reminded himself. He was daemagos, a sorcerer. His grip on the amulet was so tight the sharp edges of the silver seabird wings were cutting into his palm and fingers. He had only one hope left. Not even daring to move his lips, Nortis voiced a silent cry for help to Alphesis.

He needed to do something, but what? How could he leave the Young One female a prisoner in the sorcerer's hands? It was so obvious now that she could have done nothing so evil it required her imprisonment between the twin Streams. Lord Thaddis must need her for a ritual. What kind of-

Nortis' thoughts stopped abruptly with his steps. He was at the very edge of the Stream. Thaddis and the Young One were somewhere ahead, hidden beneath the flowing blend of water and light so vital that the Ancients called it Living Water.

Nortis started down the broad steps, his feet, his calves and then the lower part of his thighs caught in the fierce swirl and eddy of vibrant light. He grasped the crystalline blue link chain that crossed the Stream from bank steps to bank steps, and took a great breath. Then he stepped forward briskly, continuing down the steps until his head followed the rest of him into the glorious swirl.

He felt the touch of the water calm him, as he struggled towards the other bank of the Stream. His thoughts slowed their frantic scurry through his brain -- slowed, clarified, focused. He didn't have the strength to stop a sorcerer. Only an enchanter could challenge one of them. He might, possibly, be able to get the Young One free. Strategies for freeing her played out in his thoughts, and he knew with a crushing certainty that even that was beyond him. But he had to do something besides follow the daemagos meekly and watch him perform...

"Watch and remember."

The gentle voice seemed to come from the surrounding water, or from inside his head. Only the water swirling against Nortis' nose and mouth prevented him from gasping. The chain was tilting upward and his right foot found the first step of the submerged staircase leading up to the inner bank of the Stream. With an unconscious nod of awed acceptance, Nortis climbed up the steps and gasped a lungful of air.

The sorcerer and his prisoner were a few yards further down the inner passageway. Nortis took a few steps away from the Stream's bank, then felt himself stop. This time his failure to continue wasn't due to fear. He knew himself to be in the right place. He stood. He listened...

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