Chapter 29: Kizuâ€™a & Kijiâ€™a
The advancing battalion came to a halt as a wall of fire erupted along the road. The Mahlapren wagons sped through the darkness behind the cover. Archers took aim at the fleeing cowards. Before they could shoot, a figure appeared at the front of their ranks draped in fire. One of their archers raced back, flailing his arms and yelling incoherently.
â€œStay your bows,â€ commanded a cold voice. â€œI believe we have what we came for.â€
The men grumbled as their foes scampered away. The crazed soldier ran up the two mounted commanders, grabbing at their boots as he begged for attention. Clad in mail armor, and wearing identical helms, the twins gazed, bemused, upon their subordinate.
â€œSpeak,â€ the one on the right ordered.
â€œItâ€™s a goddess! Our Valtor is a young woman!â€ he screeched. â€œHow can that be?â€
â€œSilence, do not presume to know Valtorâ€™s intentions.â€
â€œBut, I, but she, she defended the Malhapren!â€
â€œSilence!â€ She snapped at him. â€œYou will not address me in such a manor!â€
â€œEasy, sis, we oughtnâ€™t to set a bad example for the men.â€ The other cautioned. â€œNow, Kijiâ€™a, what are we dealing with?â€
â€œSomething unexpected,â€ the sister crooned, â€œa young woman, interesting, bring her here.â€
The soldiers parted and the figure moved closer. The pair paled as she drew near, realizing that the transformation hadnâ€™t been completed. The fires died out unexpectedly, revealing a young woman with bat wings.
â€œNot exactly what we were hoping for.â€
â€œBrother, enough,â€ Kijiâ€™a said calmly, â€œwe must simply finish what Torvipan started.â€
â€œHey, who are you two?â€ Virpan demanded, â€œwhy did you attack myâ€¦â€
â€œI am Kizuâ€™a, and this lovely young lady is my sister Kijiâ€™a,â€ Kizuâ€™a replied cautiously. â€œAnd you are on the exactly right spot.â€
â€œNow!â€ Kijiâ€™a called.
Before Virpan could react a dozen men threw golden chains over her and pulled her to the ground. She roared, sending flames out in all directions. Kizuâ€™a dismounted and grabbed one of the chains. He ran a finer along the ancient glyphs embedded in his glove. The fires died, leaving Virpan to struggle against the chains.
â€œI am truly sorry, about all this,â€ Kizuâ€™a said without a hint of remorse, â€œbut you must be destroyed for Valtorâ€™s resurrection to be complete.â€
â€œTo your positions, it is time for ceremony!â€ Kijiâ€™a called, as groups of six sorcerers took positions around Virpan.
The twins positioned themselves opposite sides of the circle, Kizuâ€™a taking a book into his hands. He flipped through the musty pages as soldiers laid down the salt lines in the dirt. The great eight pointed star formed, Virpan trapped in the centre. She struggled to free herself as Kizuâ€™a started to read.
â€œBorn of fire, through fire you return, your ashes gathered, your blood rejoined,â€ he cried, walking to the centre of the circle. He planted his golden spear beside Virpan, his sister planting her golden sword on the other side. They backed to their respective positions, the sorcerers lighting candles their feet.
â€œAncient power rejoined, fire returned, be reborn!â€ Kizuâ€™a cried, everyone closing their eyes. â€œValtor return!â€
Everyone remained motionless, holding their arms aloft. They waited for the sound of Valtor breaking free. Several minutes passed, the gathered shifting uncomfortably where they stood. After awhile a rhythmic noise started up. Kijiâ€™a opened her eyes excitedly.
The feeling vanished instantly when she realized it was Virpan strumming her claws against a stone. Kijiâ€™a stared, looking concerned at her brother. After a few moments he opened his eyes as well and saw their failure. A moment later one of the sorcerers jumped back, the candle having caught his robes alight.
â€œOh, what did you do wrong?â€ Kizuâ€™a asked derisively, pointing at his sister.
â€œYou canâ€™t be serious!â€ she exclaimed, â€œYou were the one reading the incantation!â€
â€œWell I read everything it said,â€ he retorted defensively.
â€œGive me that!â€ she demanded, marching up to him.
â€œHey now, Iâ€™m the oldest,â€ he cried, pulling the book out of her reach.
â€œBy two minutes,â€ she snarled, tackling him to the ground. â€œThere, now, hmm,â€ she read through the lines. â€œEverything, uh, we did everything right.â€
â€œEhem, I hate to interrupt,â€ Virpan called derisively, â€œbut what exactly are you two doing?â€
â€œQuiet, weâ€™re trying to figure out what went wrong,â€ Kijiâ€™a replied, flipping through the pages. â€œGive me some better light.â€ She called, walking to the centre of the circle. â€œLetâ€™s see here, looks correct, thatâ€™s rightâ€¦â€
â€œMaybe you should take it from the top?â€ Virpan snickered.
â€œI swear, Kizuâ€™a, if you screwed this upâ€¦alright, back to your positions.â€ She called, grabbing up her sword. â€œWeâ€™re trying this again.â€
Everyone stood back, yet more sacred salt poured around the lines. She began hastily reading through the incantation, rushing out to the centre as she drew out the sword. Her hand slipped and she fumbled with the blade, dropping it into a line of sacred salt. Kizuâ€™a shook his head.
â€œNow youâ€™ve ruined it,â€ he sighed.
â€œLike it did anything before!â€
â€œThis isnâ€™t working, give me the book back.â€
â€œFine, what are you looking for?â€
â€œNot sure,â€ he admitted, rapidly flipping through the pages. â€œPerhaps we got it backwards?â€
â€œWhat does that even mean?â€
â€œUh, doesnâ€™t seem to say anything,â€ he stammered. â€œThe resurrection should have happened.â€
â€œIt didnâ€™t, so weâ€™re back to square one!â€ Kijiâ€™a shouted, throwing a handful of dirt onto her brother.
â€œNot like thereâ€™s a section on failed ceremonies sis!â€ he spat back. â€œYou have any better ideas?â€
â€œScry the jewel, try communicating with Valtor,â€ she suggested.
â€œThat might work.â€
Hesitantly Kizuâ€™a walked towards their prisoner, freighted at the prospect of reaching out to touch the mind of god. With a giant gulp he lunged down and grasped the jewel. For a moment he stood still in stunned silence. He felt no intelligence. No spark. There was no god. His lips began quivering as a new fear took hold. Unable to sense Valtorâ€™s essence in the Jewel or in the girl, he fell to his knees.
â€œHeâ€™s not there,â€ Kizuâ€™a whispered, â€œValtor is gone.â€
â€œNo, thatâ€™s not true,â€ Kijiâ€™a spat, pushing him out of the way. â€œThis girl is just doing something, something to him. Let me.â€ She grasped the jewel herself, unable to feel Valtor either. After a fearful moment she took hold of the jewel and started pulling.
â€œWhat are you doing!â€ Virpan cried, an odd pain rushing through her head.
â€œGive me that jewel!â€ Kijiâ€™a roared, pulling with all her might, â€œValtor must be buried with-ARRRRGH!â€
The jewel shined and her arm burst into flames. Overwhelmed by pain, Kijiâ€™a fell backwards as her right hand and forearm were scorched down to the bone.
â€œNo! Sis!â€ Kizuâ€™a cried, grabbing at her sisterâ€™s arm. â€œMedic, healer come immediately!â€ He whimpered before turning to Virpan. â€œDemon, what have you done?!â€
â€œI didnâ€™t do anything, the jewel just pulsed,â€ she retorted incredulously, â€œBesides that, you two chained me up and tried to sacrifice me to bring back your god. What in the world gives you the right to be mad at me!?!â€
â€œShut up!â€ he cried, tears in his eyes. â€œShut your stupid mouth, you, stupid.â€
â€œHehahhaa!â€ Virpan laughed, unable to treat the situation seriously, â€œthis is preposterous, you two donâ€™t have any idea what youâ€™re doing, do you?â€
â€œHah, please. Excuse me for not having sympathy for the jokers who just tried to sacrifice me,â€ Virpan retorted. â€œThis is just ridiculous, you two are ridiculous. How old are you both? Because you donâ€™t look much older thanâ€¦â€
â€œStop. Talking!â€ Kizuâ€™a shouted, throwing the useless tome at her head. â€œMen, we shall tie her up and take her to mother, err, Mother Washunu, rather, and see what she has to say.â€
â€œMother is-Mother Washunu is the head of the Capital Monastery,â€ Kizuâ€™a explained. Then he blinked, â€œwait, why do you care?â€
â€œI might want to meet this Washunu, thatâ€™s why,â€ Virpan replied, â€œshe doubtlessly knows more about my current, uh, condition.â€
â€œMost certainly,â€ he replied, sensing an opportunity.
â€œGreat, Iâ€™m coming with you then,â€ Virpan replied, easily shaking the chains of herself and rising to full height.
â€œWh-how long could you do that?â€ Kizuâ€™a asked stunned.
â€œDo you really want to know?â€ Virpan replied, summoning flames into her hand. â€œOr shall we just get as move on?â€
â€œIf you try to tie me up again, your sister is losing more than her arm.â€
â€œMen stand down,â€ Kizuâ€™a ordered. â€œWe had best get back across the border then, no telling when the Mahlapren are going to show up.â€
As the Simkagalese soldiers began assembling for their march, Kizuâ€™a tenderly helped his sister to her feet. She staggered for a moment, gripping her brother for support. Carefully he led her to the wagon. For a moment Virpan felt like offering a helping hand. Then she remembered what they had done and the sympathy passed.
With the siblings on the wagon, the troops began moving northward. Hoping these idiots might lead her to some useful information Virpan took flight and followed after them. The day had been long and strange, she reflected, and so far nobody seemed to have a good answer for what had happened to her.
â€œPerhaps there is no good answer,â€ she murmured, looping through the air. â€œMaybe this just is.â€
Howngthir marveled at the expanse that lay before them. The city of Embrarrash was like no other he had ever seen. It sprung up in the middle of an enormous field of clover that spanned the four directions to the horizon. A massive aqueduct towered overhead, the water giving life to populous. Old stone houses where interspersed with gleaming brick and tile domiciles.
Demolition crews marched the streets, carrying away bits of rubble and debris. The wagon train stopped before an ancient gatehouse, several guards checking the passengers. Behind them stood a crumbling wall that had once served the cities first line of defense. Now it stood as an aged reminder of battles long past.
Once through the gate the wagon train took a detour, Howngthir looking out at a stretch of roadway being repaved. The newer buildings became more numerous the further they penetrated into the city.
The sheer size of the city was breathtaking. Hundreds of people wandered around the central district alone, scurrying about the streets and elevated walkways. They passed the great temple of the Four, a mighty statue of Dwishol looking down over his domain, the Fires of Nlitprig burning around him. Howngthir whistled in awe, the King looking at him in amusement.
â€œYou seem to find every sight and sound fascinating,â€ Shvalax commented. â€œHave you never laid eyes upon a city before?â€
â€œAnd I thought Sushwuk was a big town,â€ Howngthir whistled. â€œErr, your Majesty.â€
Shvalax patted him on the shoulder. â€œDo not worry, young man. I only enforce protocol when in court.â€
Beside them sat Risawal, who was trying his best to ignore the heathens surrounding him.
â€˜If only I had gotten to the Helm first,â€™ he thought bitterly.
Images of the city in flames, the buildings crumbling as he decimated them flashed through his mind. It was what they deserved, he knew, for their crimes against the order. Only the thought of seeing Father Torvipan again kept his temper in check.
At last the wagon arrived in the central plaza where Shavlaxâ€™s palace stood. The palace was a massive structure, appearing half way between a giant house and a small castle. Crenelated turrets stood at the corners, supporting tall peaked roofs. At the cenre was a large dome, from which the wings radiated out of.
The carriage stopped before the marble stairs, a line of guards snapping to attention. King Shvalax stepped out of the carriage and motioned to an aide.
â€œYour Majesy?â€ The aide asked, glancing at his master.
â€œMy guests require rooms and a meal, Alnshoht, please see to it at once.â€
â€œOf course, your Majesty.â€ The aide bowed and rushed away to make arrangements.
â€œWhen can we see Father Torvipan?â€ Risawal asked, a hint of impatience in his tone.
â€œAfter you have had your meal.â€ He replied amiably. â€œMy servants still need time to prepare the prisoner for our meeting.â€
â€œIn what way?â€ Risawal asked, his heart skipping a beat. â€œHas he been injured? Whatâ€™s happening to my master?â€
â€œPlease, relax,â€ Shvalax said, â€œTorvipan has been treated quite fairly, I believe. His cell is clean and his meals are fresh. He has simply let himself go to waste since his capture and is in no fit state to entertain company.â€
â€œSo you say,â€ Risawal muttered.
The four entered the palace proper, all surprised by the sight before them. The entry way was half filled with scaffolding, the aged mosaics half stripped away. Faded images of Valtor and his exploits were being chipped away, the image at the top of the ceiling missing its face. The exposed stone appeared cracked and uneven, workmen patching the larger fissures.
Risawal grabbed at his chest, the desecration almost more than he could bear. Through sheer force of will he walked along with the others into the similarly disheveled greeting hall. Here the old mosaics were completely absent, most of the walls covered in a smooth grey coat of plain stucco.
Along the north wall a number of painters and masons were forming new mosaics, most of battles and people unknown to them. In one corner Howngthir spotted Nlitprig defending the Hulrupta tree against Bihtngap, the sight reminding him of his grandfatherâ€™s recounting of the legend. He nodded, glad to see something familiar.
â€œThis is horrible,â€ Risawal murmured, no longer able to contain his outrage. â€œIt was a mistake to come here.â€
â€œAs opposed to what exactly?â€ Howngthir asked quietly. â€œWhere we offered a choice that Iâ€™m unaware of?â€
â€œQuiet Hea-ah-owngthir,â€ Risawal blurted, â€œIâ€™m certain youâ€™re loving this.â€
â€œSort of, yes,â€ he replied, â€œseems fair, after the barroom, donâ€™t you think?â€
â€œUhgur-ig, huh,â€ Risawal sputtered, shaking his head.
In silence he followed Alnshoht down a side corridor and into a long dining hall. It was as large as a house, a table for fifty spanning the centre. This room seemed far more appropriate for a palace; the mosaics and frescos where completed, the tables of a fine quality oak. Above them painted across the vaulted ceiling was an elegant depiction of Pingzmad in her dress of jewels.
A few guests milled around the table, one giving the new comers a quizzical glance. With their fine clothing and well kempt hair, Howngthir felt quite out of place and quietly took a seat at the far end of the table. Riswal, surrounded by heathen imagery and traitors to Valtor, felt quite out of place as well, quietly taking a seat at the far end of the table.
â€œHello there,â€ Kialiki said, marching up to one of the suited guests, â€œIâ€™m Kialiki.â€
â€œErm, hello young lady,â€ the man replied startled, â€œI am count Withshairsiz, pleased to make your acquaintance.â€
â€œDid you see anything in the Eastern skies a few days ago?â€
â€œI did not, though my wife caught sight of a strange fire in the sky, passing above here yesterday.â€ Withshairsiz replied, before pausing, â€œOr perhaps it was the day before yesterday.â€
Before he could recall a new guest entered the room. The count immediately brightened up and walked up to greet him. He was dressed similarly to the others, accompanied by a lovely lady grasping his arm. Howngthir and Risawal stopped glaring at each other to stare at the newcomer, both shocked at who it was.
â€œMister Rotyrov, good to see you,â€ Withshairsiz said jovially, â€œIt must have been a season and a half since we last spoke.â€
â€œI am glad to see you again old friend,â€ Zharâ€™oth replied, nodding solemnly, â€œMy business has taken me to some interesting places these past few months.â€
â€œI see. Any of your investments pay off?â€
â€œSeveral, though, there was an unfortunate incident along the way,â€ Zharâ€™oth said quietly. â€œHow have you been doing? Any luck with the sugar trade?â€
â€œNone, the blasted islands are still a lawless wilderness. I almost miss the Order. At least then the plantation workers wouldnâ€™t run around eating each other like feral animals.â€
â€œI doubt it has become quite so desperate,â€ Zharâ€™oth replied knowingly.
With that he took a seat next to Howngthir, his female guest settling down across from him by Risawal. The four sat in silence as everyone took their seats and the food carts emerged from the kitchens. As the steaming plates of chicken and goose emerged, so did King Shvalax, now dressed in his dining attire.
After taking his place at the head of the table the guests began digging into the meal. For a few moments Risawal and Howngthir eyed Zharâ€™oth suspiciously before nibbling on the food, wondering what the mystery man could be plotting. When the dinner was gone new carts emerged to take away the empty plates, a wave of dessert carriers emerging after them.
Before the King could enjoy his pudding, however, Alnshoht strode up to his ear and whispered a message. King Shvalax frowned and excused himself from the table. In his absence the clamor of conversation began again, prompting Howngthir to face the mystery man seated beside him.
â€œYou should try the pudding,â€ Zharâ€™oth said, his eyes locked on his treat, â€œItâ€™s quite delectable, dear boy.â€
â€œThis isnâ€™t a coincidence,â€ Howngthir murmured, now looking at his dessert with suspicion.
â€œIndeed it is not,â€ Zharâ€™oth replied, â€œOf course, now the question is, am I here for you or are we both here for the same reason.â€
â€œIâ€™m not interested in games, who are you really and why are you here?â€
â€œThat, my boy, may become clear in the coming weeks.â€ He replied. â€œUntil then, the less you know the better. There are forces at work hereâ€¦â€
â€œCut out the dramatics,â€ Howngthir growled. â€œWhat are you playing at?â€
â€œIf you must know, Iâ€™m here to see the same person you are though for different reasons.â€
â€œPartially right, but, it matters little,â€ he replied softly, â€œOur paths will cross again dear boy, of this I have little doubt.â€
â€œOh yeah? What of it?â€
â€œI will say only that if we should meet at the place where it all began, I shall reveal everything you need to know,â€ Zharâ€™oth told him, rising up from the table.
â€œWait, stop, Iâ€™ll make a scene,â€ Howngthir barked, receiving glares from all remaining guests.
Zharâ€™oth slipped out the door, Howngthir scrambling after him. He followed him out into the entry hall where Alnshoht blocked his way. â€œAh, youâ€™re finished with dinner? Splendid, let me show you to your quarters.â€
In the blink of an eye Zharâ€™oth had vanished, leaving Howngthir to sigh and follow the squire. He was soon joined by Kialiki and Risawal, the three led up a spiraling flight of stairs to the guest wing. Here they were each shown into an opulent room Howngthir could have only dreamed of just a month before.
Tired from the long journey, Howngthir flopped down onto the smooth sheets and sighed. For a few moments he puzzled over Zharâ€™oth statements, wondering if anything he had said could be trusted or if, perhaps, everything he had told them was true. He fell into dreamland, running after Zharâ€™oth who always seemed to get away.