Danica Pt. 20byDarkniciad©
“We still have to face Zoraster as well,” Celes added with a sigh.
Danica’s eyes hardened, just for an instant, although Celes didn’t see it. “Let’s go get in the bath, and then we’ll go talk to Tam, like he asked.
Celes nodded, and then climbed out of the bed. Danica’s breath caught in her throat when the beautiful woman rose and stretched. Seeing the illusion, even though it had been strengthened by the image in Celes’ mind, could not compare to seeing the woman young, vibrant, and close enough to touch.
Danica rose as well, and the two women fell into a deep kiss. The kiss almost turned serious enough to draw them right back in the bed, but Celes pulled away, offered a crooked grin, and strutted toward the bath, her hips swaying seductively.
They were both resigned to a simple washing in cold water at first, as there was no way to heat water within the room given to them, but were surprised to find the water in the tub still as warm as it had been the night before.
The tub was just large enough for two, so they shared it. After washing, their hands and lips found each other almost inevitably. They both came, their hands dancing over each other’s nether lips, and then rose from the bath to towel dry.
Dressed – somewhat reluctantly – in their robes once more, Danica opened the door and Celes followed her down the hall to the first chamber where they had originally met Tam. He sat at the same table with a bowl of cut fruits in front of him. The old man gestured for them to join him, and they took seats across from him.
The old guardian gestured to the bowl. “Feel free to break your fast while I talk. I’m sure you’ll have questions, but you can eat in the meantime.”
Danica smiled at Celes, who grinned back. They had both expended a great deal of energy the night before, and certainly needed to replenish it. They each selected a piece of fruit, and Tam continued.
“That which I guard has an opposite, and that opposite has wormed its way into Zoraster’s heart and soul. It is that which sparks the madness in him, and turns his goals to the dark. On the eve of the convergence, the stone that affects Zoraster awakened. Its influence over him will only grow stronger now, and soon he will seek it out. If he acquires the stone, his already staggering power will grow tenfold.”
That sobering news drained away the contentment Danica felt. “Will the stone you guard oppose him?”
“It already does. She awakened many, many years ago, and has drawn others to her presence ever since. I was the first, but I am far from the strongest. You too, were drawn here by the stone.”
Celes popped a last bite of apple into her mouth and said, “You call it she. Is it alive?”
Tam smiled, “After a fashion. In truth, that is simply an affectation of mine. The stone is like nothing we know in this world, because it comes from a time before anything we know existed. That previous universe had laws so alien that we could never hope to comprehend it.”
Danica shook her head, trying to absorb what the guardian had just said – and having little success. “You said it drew us here – why?”
“As well as I understand it. I cannot know how it chooses those who will act on its behalf. One thing I do know, it senses in both of you great promise.”
“So, we’re pawns in some game?” Celes asked, somewhat peevishly.
Tam shook his head. “No, never that. You are always free to make your own decisions. She would never twist you, as does her opposite. It is my belief that those who are chosen are predisposed to her designs.”
“Unfortunately, we’re already pawns to Zoraster,” Danica mumbled, her eyes turning hard as agates.
“You have already broken one of his chains,” Tam suggested, nodding toward Celes.
Those words crystallized something inside Danica that had been within her ever since coming here and realizing that she could not kill an old man simply to avoid torture at Zoraster’s hands. “I’m breaking all of his chains now,” Danica said defiantly, and gripped the amulet around her neck.
Celes gasped, and started to reach for Danica’s hand – deathly afraid of what might befall her friend if she removed Zoraster’s leash. It was Tam’s voice that gave Danica pause, however.
The muscles in her arm bunched to tear the chain from around her neck, Danica trembled for a moment. She relaxed, and let the chain fall back into her robes.
“If you wish to remove the amulet, do so in the presence of the stone.”
Danica nodded and immediately stood.
Celes asked, “Are you sure about this, Danica?”
Danica relaxed for a moment, letting the defiant cast of her features slip. She smiled and said, “Yes, Celes. I’m done being his toy. He has already threatened us with torture worse than death, what more could he do? Every person I befriend is in danger because of it. I’m going to be free, or I’m going to die trying.”
Celes stood. “I’ll not let you go alone. I have my strength back now, and I have my powers. We may not survive, but we’ll surely sting the mad bastard, and he won’t use us any more.”
Tam smiled and stood. “I can aid you. Perhaps your cause is not so hopeless as you may believe. Come – let us break the shackles of the Archmage that encircle your necks.”
Zoraster sat up abruptly, tossing aside the down filled comforter that covered him. He had not slept in days, utilizing the power of Blorcasir to remain alert while he attended to important matters, and had only been asleep for a few hours when something awakened him.
On his finger, an ornate ring throbbed and glowed. Zoraster stared at the ring, his fingers trembling slightly and his face a blank mask. Rising, he quickly pulled on his robes, his movements methodical and stiff.
With one more glance at the ring, Zoraster spoke the words of a spell and vanished in a flash of light. He appeared instantly in a room choked with dust and cobwebs. Crudely built shelves lined the wall, a plain table and chair standing in the center of the room. The bed against the wall showed signs of mice, down lying in small piles beneath numerous holes.
Looking around, Zoraster’s shoulders slumped, and a pained expression pinched his features tight. None had entered this room in over a decade, since the day he had sealed it with his magic.
Growling and shaking his head violently, Zoraster pushed away the memories that threatened to overwhelm him. Too many dark memories filled this room, and those not steeped in hate throbbed with pain. Barking the command words, he dissolved the wards on the door and stepped outside, into the halls of his ancestral home.
Stunned servants bowed and quickly stepped out of his way as the Archmage moved unerringly through the halls to the servant’s quarters. He winced again when he passed the hallway that lead to another sealed door in the castle. Taking a deep breath and pushing down the memories, he continued to his destination, to bid a final farewell to all that remained of his old life.
Approaching the room, Zoraster nodded to a man sitting outside the room he sought. Though he could not remember the man’s name, Zoraster knew it was old Vargas’ selected replacement. The man who would soon be Chancellor of Witharten rose and bowed to his Lord.
“Lord Tharsas, Master Vargas still lives, though the priests offer him last rites even as we speak.” The man looked nervous, although the obvious grief surrounding him like a cloud overshadowed it.
Opening the door, Zoraster saw the priests finishing their blessing. Vargas lay very still, and at first, the Archmage feared he was too late. The old Chancellor took a shallow breath then, and Zoraster quickly stepped to the edge of the bed.
Somehow sensing his presence, Vargas opened his eyes and smiled when he saw Zoraster. “Lord Tharsas, I am so pleased to see you one last time before I journey on.” The old man’s voice was barely a whisper, lacking the strength and polish Zoraster remembered so well.
“I have not released you from service, Vargas,” Zoraster said, a resonant, noble tone in his voice that had not passed his lips in many years. Smiling, he took the old man’s frail hand in his own.
“I fear I must – this once – defy you, My Lord.” Vargas smiled and chuckled, the chuckle turning into a wheezing cough.
“This does not have to be, Vargas. I have the magic to hold you in stasis, create a new body for you. You could be young and vital once more, with all the wisdom of your years intact.”
Vargas squeezed his Master’s hand. “I am as weak in spirit as I am in body, My Lord, it is my time. Would that dear Colette stood at your side to bid me farewell.”
His eyes misting with tears for the first time in over a decade, Zoraster said, “She would not want you to leave us either.”
“Perhaps I will see her. It will be wonderful to hear her laugh, to see her smile. I wonder...”
The old man’s words trailed off then, his lips still moving but no discernable sound passing them. Zoraster held the old man’s hand until he felt it go limp, and watched Vargas draw his last breath.
Laying the man’s hands across his chest, Zoraster stared at the body of the man who had been the only connection remaining between Zoraster Arias and Tharsas Witharten.
“Farewell, Vargas, you have served honorably and well.”
Turning, Zoraster squared his shoulders and strode out of the room.
The man waiting outside asked, “It is finished?”
Zoraster nodded. “He is to be buried in the family crypt, next to my father. Spare no expense, and there are to be flowers from the garden – near the headstone there – placed in his casket.”
The man bowed and responded, “It shall be done, My Lord.”
“I respect Vargas’ judgment, and you shall continue in his place, as you no doubt already do. I know his handwriting, and I know that most of the recent letters were not in his hand. You speak with my voice here, remember that.”
“I shall govern these lands and maintain them as dutifully as did Master Vargas, My Lord. He instructed me well, and I have indeed performed his duties for nearly two years now with his consultation.”
Zoraster nodded his acknowledgment. “You know to maintain the garden, utilizing the brightest talents you can find?”
“My own daughter performs the duty, My Lord. She is truly gifted.”
“Serve me well – you have a difficult standard to meet.”
The new Chancellor bowed. “I shall give all that I have for this land, My Lord.”
“That is all I may ask. Good day.”
Zoraster walked back toward the room where he had entered, his own room as a youth, where he had lived in self-imposed exile. Reaching the hall to Colette’s room once again, he nearly turned toward her door. He knew it would be preserved by the spells protecting the room. Even her scent would still hover in the air.
Wrenching his head violently in the opposite direction, Zoraster strode purposely away from Colette’s door. Such musings brought no gain. Only when she walked again by his side would he think about those things.
Returning to his room, Tharsas died once again – and Zoraster restored the wards upon the door. He then vanished through the power of his magic.
The light of the stone shining bright around them, Celes and Danica stood in the room where it was enshrined, with the old man who guarded it. Though they were nervous walking toward the room, the sense of peace surrounding the stone had chased the trepidation away almost as soon as they entered the room.
“Simply remove the chains. Here, in the presence of the stone, you need not fear the magic of the dark that empowers them,” Tam instructed.
Danica once again grabbed the chain to break it, but something caused her to change her mind. Somehow, the violent action seemed wrong now, and so she unhooked the clasp of the chain, removing the pendant from around her neck. Celes did the same, relief obvious in the features of both women as they looked at the shackles that had chained them to Zoraster for so long.
Tam explained, “Now that they have been removed, the pendants will have no power over you, unless you should lock them about your neck again. You may study them in safety, and perhaps learn much that can aid you in the years to come. Though the magic that powers them is dark, it may still prove useful to discern the nature of the fell enchantments.”
Danica looked at Tam and asked, “Is this the only place it is safe to remove them? We’re not the only ones bound by these to Zoraster.”
Tam turned to the stone and held out a hand, tiny orbs congealed from the light surrounding the stone to swirl about the guardian’s hand, finally settling in it. He closed his hand, and when he opened it once more, six perfect pearls rested in his palm.
“Touch any such amulets with one of these, and the dark power will be neutralized. You will then be able to safely remove it. The stone offered six, so either you need that many for what you requested, or they shall have other uses in the future. You will know when you need them.”
Producing a white silk bag from a pocket, Tam deposited the pearls inside and handed them to Danica. She could feel the serenity coming from within the bag, exactly like the aura surrounding both Tam and the stone.
“We have much to do. I can provide you with knowledge and items that can aid you in escaping your Master’s bonds. Danica, I will guide you in the use of your mental powers, for there is something I am sure you will wish to do. It is within your capability, although you have not yet attempted such a powerful exercise.”
“I don’t think you understand Zoraster’s power, old one. We have no choice but to kill him. To do otherwise is to face death, or be enslaved again,” Celes asserted, “I don’t think it’s truly possible for us to defeat him.”
The old guardian smiled. “Both of you have great power, and you have an advantage Zoraster could never hope to counter. You have love, hope, and compassion as your most potent weapons. You stand together, where Zoraster will always stand alone.”
“I don’t know whether it will be enough either, but I’m done being his pawn. I hate to think about the things I’ve done in his service,” Danica remarked.
Tam explained, “The enchantments on the amulets are very subtle, and many-layered. They released drugs that suppressed your inhibitions, enhanced your desires, and kept you tractable. You will probably discover many things now stand out as far more disturbing in your memory than they have thus far.”
“Show us what you know, Tam,” Danica requested, “It’s time for Zoraster to find out that his weapons have two edges, and they can cut him just as well as anyone else.”
Devan Ardane paced the floor at the top of her tower in Egoria, irritated by word from the King that Freeland was gathering information, but unwilling to mobilize until a clear threat appeared.
She thought, The world is moving toward and explosion, and Leoric is worried about disturbing his neighbors! Freeland has been at peace too long. We’re going to end up standing alone against the first assault, whatever it is, and wherever it comes from.
Tossing her flaming red tresses, she looked out the window of her tower over the city. In the marshalling yard, raw recruits trained. Farther out, she saw a column marching out of the city toward the border. In the rooms at the base of her tower, wizards trained in preparation to provide magical backup for the warriors. Saggitariad marshaled his knights, and Mindblind his sellswords. Vladamir was converting new warrior-clerics to the service of Heraklan at a furious pace. Redbear’s nomadic people grudgingly prepared for war once more. Geflon’s Dwarven brethren forged weapons and armor day and night, preparing to defend their newly regained ancestral delving.
War was coming; the stink of it hovered in the very air. It might be years before the forces building now were unleashed, but the war would come. At least we’ll be ready, or as ready as we can be, Devan mused.
Walking away from the window, smoothing out her dark purple robes, Devan decided she needed a distraction. There was little more she could do at this point, and worrying over it was accomplishing nothing. Her lips twitched into a smile as she thought about one of the young apprentices who had started this morning. He was handsome, with a ready grin and a booming laugh. I wonder what he’s got hiding under his robes, she thought, licking her lips.
Devan froze in mid-step, feeling a touch against her mind. She started to bark out the command words that would activate the many defenses of her tower, but they fell from her lips when a voice sounded in her mind. Devan, don’t talk, just think, I’ll hear you.
Devan complied, angrily thinking back, Danica, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do little miss! Where have you been and...
Please just shut up for a minute, Devan. This isn’t as easy as it might seem, and I don’t know how long I can keep it up.
Bemused, and more than a little pleased by the strong tone of her sister’s mental voice, Devan thought back, Okay, Danica, I’m listening.
I’ve been a prisoner all these years. It’s my own fault, and I’m going to do something about it. You have to promise me that you’ll get Dad and Daniel somewhere safe. They need to be protected from powerful magic.
Who is holding you? Where are you? I’ll...
My head is really starting to hurt, promise me Devan!
Once again stunned by Danica standing up to her so firmly – Devan replied, I’ll take them to Darkni’s island. They’ll be as safe there as anywhere in the world.
Devan could feel a wave of relief through the mental connection with her sister’s next thought. Thank you. I don’t think I can keep this up much longer. Watch my shop; I may need your help if we survive this. If I don’t see you again, I love you, Devan.
Danica, let me come help you, whatever it is you’re facing. You’re scaring me.
I’m scared too, Devan, but Celes and I have to face this alone. Beware of prostitutes, be ready for demons, and prepare for war.
Devan started to reply to her sister, but felt the mental connection vanish. Letting out a growling scream, she stomped her foot hard, and then started to curse. After a few minutes of venting, she spoke the words of a spell and vanished from her tower, to keep her promise, and see if Darkni could locate Danica.
“I still don’t see why you didn’t tell her everything,” Celes said when she saw Danica’s eyes open.
Wincing and holding her aching head, Danica replied, “If she knew about Zoraster, she’d come. I want her and Darkniciad protecting my family. This is my fight – our fight – Celes. I have to stand on my own for once. I got into this without Devan’s help, and I’ll get out of it the same way.”
“Isn’t that just a little stubborn and irrational?” Celes asked.
Tam answered the question for Danica, “Perhaps, but she is right. The two of you are the key. You must face Zoraster, and defeat him. No other can aid you. They would be in needless danger, and might prevent your chance of success.”
Celes threw up her hands. “Okay, I give up.”
Taking Celes’ hand in her own, Danica said, “I won’t ask you to risk this, Celes. You could stay here. Zoraster can’t reach you here.”
Celes shook her head. “I’m as tired of being his slave as you are.” Celes pointed a thumb at Tam as she spoke, “This plan of his might work, and even if it doesn’t, we’re likely to be dead and beyond the madman’s reach. How many will suffer on our behalf if we just disappear?”
Danica nodded in agreement. “Are we ready, then? It’s been four days already, he’s surely on the verge of doing something awful already.”