Chapter 30: The Dark Cell

The wagon train trundled down an icy road, through the snow glazed hills. Kiji’a fruitlessly flipped through the tome with her remaining hand, while her brother pulled the sagging blanket back over her. A sense of defeat gripped them.

“Find anything?”

“Nothing,” she sighed, closing the tome. “We did everything by the book and it failed. Mother will be furious.”

“It’s not fair, we performed the ritual perfectly,” Kizu’a said. “You are right, of course; we are in for it.”

“At least we captured Valtor’s vessel,” she said hopefully.

“Captured isn’t the word I would use.” He turned and looked at who was positively giddy. She skipped through the snow, driving it around with her wings. She leaned down and took a scoop in each hand, melting the frost into steam. Memories of trudging through the freezing snow flashed through her mind, adding to the thrill of not feeling cold.

Kiji’a stared resentfully at the display, a twinge of pain rushing through her stump. Wanting to avoid a fit of nausea, she reached into the medical bag and pulled out more healing powder. As she choked down the bitter substance Kizu’a shook his head at the vessel. She was acting so undignified. At last, he could stand it no longer.

“Would you please act more dignified?” he asked disgusted. “You are shaming Valtor.”

“Hah, why should I?” she retorted, tossing a slush-ball at him. “If I’m stuck like this then I’m going to enjoy it.”

“Ghrr, this is getting out of hand, sis,” Kizu’a grumbled, “Miss, people are staring.”

“Oh,” Virpan said, glancing up the road.

Nearby stood an apple orchard. Several young men were leaning against the fence, staring at the spectacle. She shrugged, blowing a gust of snow at them.

“I couldn’t care less.”

“Sir,” The wagon driver urgently whispered.

“What is it now?” Kizu’a sighed.

“The caravan will soon pass through Kamtilg; we should conceal her from the villagers.”

“Brother, there must be something which we can use to persuade the vessel to behave more, uhm, discreetly.”

“I have an idea, sis, that might give us an advantage,” he replied, reaching into the wagon’s supply crate. “Surely one who expends so much power must have a powerful hunger.”

“Eh, you mean me?” Virpan asked, tapping her stomach. “I don’t know if I need to eat any more, err, well, actually I am feeling hungry.”

She flew over to the wagon, wondering what sort of food he would offer. Kizu’a grinned knowing he had found her weakness. With a flourish he drew out something he felt certain she would find delectable.

“A raw leg of lamb,” Kiji’a said derisively. “Are you kidding brother?”

“Is that a raw piece of meat?” Virpan asked derisively. “Are you serious?”

“I thought it would be appropriate, with your current condition,” he stammered, starting to feel foolish.

“My current condition?” she asked, raising an eyebrow, “Ugh. Give me that.”

She snatched the leg from Kizu’a grasp and ignited a column of flame below it. The smell of the cooking lamb was unnaturally appealing, her stomach suddenly rumbling with hunger. Virpan devoured it, relishing the succulent flavor. Unaware of how much she had wanted to eat, Virpan found her new cravings slightly disturbing. For a moment she considered that her transformation may have affected more than her body, absentmindedly chewing on the leg bone.

Kizu’a and Kiji’a stared at her uneasily, both exchanging worried glances. She blinked, awkwardly dropping the bone to the ground. The three of them remained still for a moment, the wagon coming to a stop. Kizu’a broke the silence, jumping down next to Virpan. In his hands were a pair of golden cuffs, with hoops for chains attached.

“Try to put those on me,” she said. “You won’t like the result.”

“Hear me out; we need to put up a façade at least,” Kizu’a said, “you wish to speak to my m-to Mother Washunu, correct?”

“I’m not going…”

“You do not have a choice,” he retorted, “You approach Liunthaz as you are and a hundred master sorcerers will be upon you in moments.”

“When you put it like that,” she murmured, wondering what the extent of her powers really was. “Fine, we’ll do it your way.”

Instantly Kizu’a snapped the cuffs onto her outstretched wrists, a look of triumph in his face. Kiji’a jumped down as well, locking a cuff onto Virpan’s left ankle. As she fitted one around the other ankle Kizu’a took a hooded cloak from the wagon. Virpan obligingly diminished her flames, allowing him to wrap her in the garment, covering her almost completely.

With chains now attached to her cuffs, the twins pulled her into a wagon and latched her down. With their prize secured, they stepped back to admire their work. A moment later Vipan burned off the cloth and yanked the chains from their moorings before taking flight. She circled for a minute and then landed next to them.

“W-wh-ia,” Kizu’a mouthed, grabbing one of the enchanted chains.

“Just to prove I could,” she replied, eagerly handing Kiji’a the chains. “Want to try that again?”

-#-

King Shvalax led the three to a meeting hall guarded by four burly soldiers. As they entered, Howngthir noticed a nice dinner lay before the lone occupant, who was steadfastly ignoring it. Risawal saw his master and gasped. Father Torvipan was terribly thin with dark lines under his eyes.

“Father, what’s happened?!” Risawal exclaimed, rushing to his master.

“The prisoner has refused food and spoken rarely since he was incarcerated,” Shvalax murmured.

Risawal sat down beside him, his hands trembling.

“Father?”

Torvipan glanced at him, his eyes glazed and lifeless.

“Risawal?” He whispered. “Did you complete the Holy Quest?”

“I’m not sure,” Risawal replied.

“Risawal what has happened?” He croaked.

“When we found the helm Virpan donned it, and, then, there was fire everywhere.”

“Very good,” Torviapan murmured. “Did she assume the form of pure fire, the third form of Valtor?”

“I have no idea what really happened to Virpan. Save that after she put it on, the room became hot enough to melt gold, and there was an explosion, it shook the foundation of the temple where the helm was interred.”

“That is good news,” Torvipan murmured, a slight smile appearing on his face.

“Father, was Virpan always the chosen one?” Risawal asked.

“She had the sign, but both of you fulfilled the requirements of the prophesy.”

All at once, there was a commotion below. King Shvalax looked towards the door as people rushed up the stairs. The door burst open, Krakthirr and Degrnuud staggering inside. In a flash Shvalax was upon them, a look of grave concern across his face. He tapped his foot against the ground waiting for them the catch their breath.

“Your majesty,” Krakthirr said quickly, offering a short bow. “Simkagale has violated the treaty and crossed the border.”

“As I have long feared they would,” Shvalax said mournfully. “However, there must be more to tell, otherwise you would not have abandoned the front.”

“Valtor, sire, the one who donned the helm,” Degrnuud said quickly.

“It is true, then, what you feared has transpired?” Shvalax said gravely, “Has Valtor been brought back into this world?”

“No, the transformation was incomplete,” she explained, “the poor girl, she’s trapped somewhere between the beginning and middle stages.”

“Wait, are you talking about Virpan?” Howngthir blurted out. “What happened to her? Tell me!”

“I’m not exactly sure,” she replied, “Uh, ‘Firpan’, has been captured by Simkagale, most likely, and they will attempt to complete the resurrection.”

“So Virpan is going to be killed?” He asked, fearing the answer.

“No, that’s not possible,” Degrnuud replied, “Valtor’s essence and consciousness are gone, the ceremony will fail.”

“Oh that’s great,” Howngthir said excitedly. “We’re safe, then?”

“Not exactly. When it fails Mother Washunu is going to convince herself that Mahlapren is the cause and will launch a full scale invasion. Half the continent will be plunged into bitter warfare for the next decade.”

“I had no idea,” Howngthir murmured.

“Can you describe what her form was?” Torvipan asked, rising from his bench. “Please, I must know.”

“It was, well, actually,” Degrnuud said, turning to Krakthirr. “Krakthirr here had a picture drawn; show it to him.”

“This is fresh off the press,” Krakthirr said proudly, unfurling the drawing for all to see.

“You took the time to have a wood cutting made before coming to me?” Shvalax asked raising an eyebrow.

“This could not wait, I had to be certain more copies would survive,” Krakthirr replied hastily, “I refuse to allow untrue legends to arise when the evidence is in hand.”

Father Torvipan edged forward to see the picture of Virpan in her new form. “Are you positive this is accurate?”

“Of course, I measured her features myself.”

“My fault!” Torvipan began to wail over and over again. “What is this; what have I become?”

“Father!” Risawal shouted. “Control yourself! You were following instructions from Father Sanja to fulfill the prophesy of Valtor!”

“No, it’s all gone wrong! Virpan hasn’t fulfilled the prophesy, no one can, Valtor has died!”

“That can’t be right!” He replied desperately. “There has to be another way to resurrect Valtor; must be.”

“That poor girl is now trapped in a twisted form. Her blood is on my hands.”

“That can’t be true,” Risawal paled, “Valtor cannot be killed. Can he?”

“If the prophecy failed, then there is nothing but ruin for us all,” he muttered, “The prophecy has failed, ruin will come, Valtor is dead.”

“No, that must be wrong,” Risawal shot back, “you must have read something wrong, someone missed something.”

“I trust in Sanja, there is no mistake, it is ended. Dwirshol has won, he and the heathen gods must be laughing at us right now.”

“Father, you know that’s not true,” Risawal said, choking back tears. “You know the heathen’s gods aren’t real. You know, you know.”

Torvipan shook his head, falling silent for the last time. The room grew uncomfortably quiet as Risawal tried to get a reaction. Despite all his shaking, prodding, and pleading, Father Torvipan remained quite still, having retreated back to the furthest reaches of his mind.

Quite uncomfortable with the sight before him, Howngthir backed out through the door. In the candle lit hall the others stood in a circle, a new figure having joined King Shvalax and the others in conversation. He was a thin, pale man with greasy black hair and patch over his left eye.

“I am telling you, we must figure out where they took that girl,” Degrnuud insisted. “Though Valtor is dead the Simkagalese sorcerers may cook up some way of controlling her. She is still an incredibly powerful being.”

“With what?” The new figure asked derisively, “Army’s at half strength, if that. No time to be launching an invasion.”

“I must agree with Rvopteg,” Shvalax confessed, “It shall take weeks for our agents to get word of her location, even supposing we could muster the troops for such a venture.”

“Then a small force, to infiltrate the nation,” She insisted, “I could lead it; I know where that woman and her dog would hide her.”

“We need your skills here,” Rvopteg said shaking his head, “We should form a line. The fighting will occur in Thobihngel.”

“Agreed. Soldier,” The King said, pointing to a guard, “Go to the messenger’s office, tell them to begin distributing conscription notices.”

“Sire, I think we should do something,” Degrnuud pleaded.

“Seconded,” Krakthirr added, “I have witnessed her powers. If she is turned against us all the conscripts in the land might not be enough.”

“But who shall partake in this fool’s errand?” Rvopteg said, crossing his arms. “The boarder will be crawling.”

“I will,” Risawal said in a determined voice. “Howngthir, you want to get Virpan back? We’ll do it, you and me.”

“Really?” Rvopteg asked, “What could you do?”

“More than you know, I’ve done incredible things these past few weeks and I can get to the capitol of Simkagale too.”

“Hang on, aren’t you with the Order though?” Howngthir asked confused.

“No, Valtor is dead,” Risawal replied through grated teeth. “Dwishol is the highest god; he shall guide me on this mission.”

“You look serious,” Rvopteg admitted, “and your loss would be of little consequence. Shvalax, we need a ride.”

“I agree,” The King said thoughtfully, “Krakthirr, Rvopteg, you shall take them along with you.”

“Ah, the north,” Rvopteg said, rolling his eye. “How I’ve not missed it.”

“Degrnuud,” the king said. “I must speak with you privately.”

“Yes sir,” she replied bowing.

With a final nod the King and the lieutenant left down the hall. Rvopteg leaned back against the wall, watching the two vanish from view. Once they were out of sight he sighed and turned to the others.

“Heh, we’ll be relieving the good old days, eh Krakthirr?”

“Don’t remind me,” he muttered, starting down the opposite direction. “You two, this way. Er, are you coming girl?”

“Yes of course,” Kialiki replied enthusiastically.

“Like your spirit; I do hope you’re not killed,” Rvopteg said leading them away. “Come along, the north isn’t getting any closer.”

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