Lineaments of Coming Night

Part XV

Oh no!} Saroth cried out when he saw the two shapes roll off the side of the tower and begin plummeting to their deaths.

“Saroth! Catch them!” Electra cried out, but the dragon did not need any prompting.

He had already flow past them when they had begun falling, so he had to turn quickly and begin to dive after them. The ari rushed past quickly, and the towers of Metamor began to rush past him. His heart beat fast in his chest, and he prepared himself to turn his wings just right to pull up form this suicidal dive. If he did not turn just right, he’d crash into the roof of the Keep, possibly killing himself as well as anyone nearby.

“It’s Yonson,” Electra cried out. “And that scribe Habakkuk.”

Saroth dove, when the oddest suggestion of all came to his mind.

As soon as his mind was released from the control of the cards, Habakkuk had moved. Yonson was the nearest to him and already distracted with the sudden destruction of his spell. A few good strong hops and soon the kangaroo had born down on the lemur. Yonson had once been a friend, but this friend now brought the ash staff, the most powerful weapon a Weathermonger could possess, and began to channel not the energy of his clan, but a darker more poisonous energy through it. Where before it glowed blue, now it had an aura of black.

But Habakkuk gave him no time to cast whatever spell he sought. They collided hard, both falling to the ground in a pile. He could feel the sting of the staff as it brushed against his fur, but he ignored it. Pinning one of Yonson’s arms behind his back, Habakkuk rolled, and the both of them moved, spinning one over another until there was simply no more floor left at all.

The air caught them and the both of them began to fall. The air rushed past them as the Earth began to near so quickly. Habakkuk spun about so that he was underneath the lemur, staring up into the sky instead. He pushed out with his mind, trying to touch that of the shadow that loomed overhead and was fast approaching them.

Yonson struck at him with the staff, hitting him painfully in the side. He felt he wound burn and sink into his flesh, as if it were a badger digging into the ground. The golden eyes of the lemur were once familiar and alien. They hated him.

And then the shadow closed, and Habakkuk pushed himself further away from the lemur, holding him only by the arm.

Yonson narrowed his eyes curiously, and then saw the shape of the shadow that was beneath them. The ground was close now, perhaps half a second away. He turned his gaze upwards and let out a shrill cry, desperately lifting the ash staff, but in vain. The jaws of Saroth closed around the lemur’s torso, and the sickening crunch of bone was complemented by a spray of blood.

Habakkuk lost his grip on the remains of Yonson’s arm, and felt himself loose in the air for a moment. And then, as the dragon pulled up, he was grasped by powerful hands and pulled close to the underside of Saroth’s bronze chest. The ground seemed to swim beneath him, but it blessedly pulled away too.

The ash staff spun away to the Keep’s slanted roof. It shattered into dust upon one of the low parapets.

{Bite him?} Saroth’s mind came to Habakkuk suddenly. There was an amused humour in the voice. {I better not get in trouble for this.}

“You won’t,” Habakkuk assured him in the loudest voice he could manage. His side hurt from where the Weathermonger had struck him.

Slowly, Habakkuk looked up at the body that dangled limply from the dragon’s snout. The arms, legs, and tail were all visible and unharmed, dangling lifelessly from the snout. Everything else was behind those deadly fangs.

At least, it had been. The body, suddenly evaporated into a dark mist that was sucked through the air back towards the Belfry.

{What the?} Saroth snapped in shock rearing back and flailing his wings in the air..

Habakkuk felt his heart sink anew.

Misha stared at where Habakkuk and the lemur had disappeared over the edge of the Belfry, but then returned his attention to the noble. “I know how to hurt you.” He tapped Whisper against the bell just hard enough to make a warm rich tone, but not enough to damage either the bell or his own ear drums. “Give me back my friend or I will.”

The well-appointed man just shook his head. “I think not.” He began to draw at something inside his sleeve.

“Touch any more cards and I’ll skewer your friend.” George called out from where he stood. He held the crossbow to his shoulder and was aiming at Agathe and Zagrosek.

“As if you can even threaten them.”

{I can.} This other voice was so alien that it actually hurt Misha’s mind the first time he heard it. Turning, he saw the white gryphon slide through one of the openings, its dark eyes burning in the sombre light. It’s wings spread out once it slipped into the Belfry proper, and the wind began to gather around him as if they were old friends.

“The ten?” the noble asked cryptically. “I think not. Not any more.” He smiled, and just before George could unleash his first bolt, the censer suddenly burned into life, all around it licking up black flames that seemed to throb and seethe with jubilant ferocity. A black mist sped on the air, sliding up through one of the openings like a snake before circling around the censer and being absorbed into that black flame. Even Agathe recoiled from it as she was so close.

For a moment, a presence seemed to fill the room, something so strange that Misha felt his joints buckle from its mere proximity. The censer, that embodiment of evil, pulsed and glowed. His mind was filled with strange images. There they were, the Long Scouts, all standing astride the steps of Nasoj’s fortress. The wizard was bent before the foxtaur, even as Misha clipped the man’s ears free. Nasoj never howled, not even when the foxtaur sawed his head off with Whisper. The scene seemed to change and they were all at a banquet. They raised the severed heads of their enemies before them and drank rich wine from their empty skulls.

Misha felt a shift again, and he was leading Metamor’s army over the Midlands. The curse was in his tow, and he saw town after town change to become like Metamor itself, a people of beasts, children, and humans whose gender had switched. His stomach felt ill, but still he saw more. He saw himself ascending the throne of Metamor. Thomas, there was the Duke, put once more in a halter and stabled as an ordinary horse. The Long Scouts ruled all of the Midlands, and Misha was their King.

And then, just as quickly as it had all come, everything fell away. The censer stopped burning, but now only glowed a sullen hue. Everyone stood in a daze for a moment. The noble sucked in his breath and smiled, the first to recover. “Well, I have what I want. Good bye for now.” The gryphon Guernef tried to snatch at him with his black beak, but the noble simply vanished into the air, his body dispersing as if it had never existed.

“George!” Misha cried out.

But the jackal had already aimed and shot his first bolt. It struck Zagrosek in the neck, or at least, it looked that way for a moment. But the shadows had already begun to gather about the man, and everything was distorted. The quarrel lodged not in flesh but in shadow, and it began to burn very quickly in that shadow. Soon, there was nothing left of that at all.

“Don’t let him get away!” Misha shouted, starting forward.

“Don’t go near him!” Abafouq cried in horrified alarm. “Don’t!!!”

Misha’s instincts kept him from taking another step, but he watched in dismay as the man offered a slow smile before stepping back into the shadows. Agathe followed him, and soon, the shadows too were gone, leaving the tower empty but for the Metamorians and their allies.

“Damn!” the foxtaur swore. He turned on the Binoq and growled. “Why did you stop me! We could have killed them both!”

But the Binoq spread his hands and pointed. “Because the whole area around the censer is filled with trap spells like the one that turned the rat into stone. You wouldn’t have been able to get within five steps of them.”

Misha blinked, still wanting to shout, but found he no longer could.

“What happened to Matt?” Kershaw asked, his whole body trembling, looking between Misha and the statue of their fellow Long.

“He’s been turned to stone, I don’t know.” The foxtaur felt himself growing heavy with weariness. They had failed to kill any of their enemies, and they had lost both Charles and Rickkter.

“Habakkuk?” Lindsey voice asked, quavering with dismay. Misha looked to the northerner who was staring out the side of the Belfry that the kangaroo and Yonson had disappeared over.

{He is safe,} the gryphon assured them. {The other who went with him is dead.} The gryphon then turned and stepped to the nearest of the platforms and wriggled once more out of the Beflry. Misha watched him go with dull detachment. At least that was some good news to come out of all of this. But trading two of his best friends for Yonson was not a worthy trade. Not remotely.

“And where did Jessica go?” Malisa asked, as she struggled to regain her bearings.

The donkey was shaking visibly, but he pointed towards the open staircase. “I think I saw Habakkuk push her down the stairs before that man showed up.”

Malisa nodded to him and darted down the stairs.


The foxtaur turned to the Binoq without much sympathy. “What is it now?”

“May I examine Matthias? Those Binoq who possess magical abilities are masters over stone. Perhaps there is something I can do for him.”

Misha did not have the strength left to argue and nodded his head. “If you can do anything for him, it would be good.”

“I’ll see to Rickkter,” George said with a grim scowl. “He looks pretty bad.” Kayla was already at the raccoon’s side, trying to straighten out his limbs, hear face flush with tears.

“I’ll help you with him,” Kershaw offered, though the fire had gone out of his voice.


Misha turned just in time to see Madog rush to his side and nuzzle him in his torso where his upper body met the lower fox form. He smiled weakly and then crouched low to embrace the automaton. “Madog. You are too late. The bad men are all gone now.”

“Poppa, please leave! This place is very bad. I don’t like it.”

“Oh, don’t worry, we’ll leave.” Misha saw Malisa and Jessica returning up the stairs. “Just as soon as we can figure out what to do about that.” He jerked one paw over his shoulder back towards the censer which still stood on the opposite end of the Belfry, glowing with sublime evanescence.

Madog shook his head. “We can’t do anything Poppa. It’s too late for that.”

Charles was relieved when the Marquis, Zagrosek, and Agathe all left. He was even more relieved when he heard that Yonson had been killed. Despite everything else, that meant that they had done damage to their enemy, even if it had cost them dearly. He merely hoped he’d be able to get out of this statue so he could enjoy it.

The Binoq came into his field of vision, and he could feel the gentle probing of both his fingers and his mind. There was a subtle connection, like the brush of soft feathers. Abafouq smiled and then turned back to the others all gathered tired and battered in the Belfry. “He’s still alive! Just trapped inside the stone.”

“Well get him out of the stone,” George snapped. Charles felt a bit of amusement at that. It was so like the jackal to be blunt.

“I will do what I can,” the Binoq said, and Charles wondered if the words were meant for him too. Huddling in his little space in his mind, the rat waited while the little man probed at the contours of the magic that had put him into a statue with his leg half sunk into the floor of the tower. At any moment he hoped to feel warmth filling his body once again as the stone gave way to flesh. Every second he waited for that promise, but it never came. Abafouq’s face filled with agony as he pushed deeper and harder at the spell, the look of hope beginning to fade.

Charles felt fear beginning to crush at him in a way that the stone never could. Would he be stuck like this forever? Some living monument that watched over the bells and that foul censer. How could he spend eternity staring silent and unmoving at that artifact of evil?

Finally, the Binoq shook his head. “I cannot undo the spell.”

“Why not?” Malisa asked.

“It was a trap spell, and those are always difficult to undo. But this one is worse. It is powered by the Underworld, and anchored by the spellcaster’s own life. So long as that woman – Agathe I think I heard her called – is alive, Matthias will be stuck as stone. If she is no longer alive, he may still be locked in stone. This is a powerful curse. Only the power of the gods could undo something as strong as this.”

“Are you telling me that Matt will be stuck here until we kill that woman, and maybe even for the rest of his life?” Misha snarled, and Charles could see him at the very edge of his vision tightening his paws into fists. His jowls lifted and exposed long fangs as he growled.

“No. I think I can work around the spell,” Abafouq said hastily. “I can not make him flesh again, but maybe I can do something else.” Charles felt the probing will of the little man once more as it scoured over his stony form. It was strange, but he could almost feel out of those extremities. All felt cold, but at least it was something.

After a long tense moment of inspection that lasted for slightly more than a minute, the Binoq nodded his head. “Yes, I can help.” He spoke some words, and then twisted his hands as if he were moulding clay. “Matthias, when I say, I want you to try to lift your leg. I know you can hear me, so just wait for it. You should begin to feel as if you can move again in just a moment.”

Everyone that Charles could see was watching him. He waited, as there was nothing else he could do, until the Binoq nodded his head and prompted him. In truth, he hadn’t felt much change, but there was a subtle loosening of his bonds. No longer did his Sondeck feel trapped inside his mind, but it slowly began to weave through the stone, as if trying to regrow his veins through granite.

He concentrated on his leg trapped inside the floor of the Belfry. It continued past the floor, and he was dimly aware of its shape and structure. He pulled. Nothing seemed to happen at first. For a moment he was disheartened, but the Binoq waved for him to try again. Tightening his mind around that limb, Charles put all his focus there, Sondeck and will, and pulled once more. Again, nothing happened at first, but then slowly, he realized that his leg was rising up from the floor. He dimly heard hushed murmurs of astonishment. Charles thought his elation more than felt it, and soon, his leg was free, and Charles felt his entire body beginning to loosen, even though it remained cold and hard.

He turned, flexing stony fingers and muscles that were no more. He turned, and saw thrilled faces greeting him. “Charles! You’re alive!” Misha called out, rushing to greet him.

Charles still felt ponderously heavy and slow, but he tried to open his muzzle to reply. Yet he found he had no breath with which to speak. Silently, he held out his arms and patted the foxtaur on the side feeling at the fur. It felt soft to him, and for that he was thankful.

“You cannot speak yet,” Abafouq advised. “I am working on a spell to cast that will let you do so. But at least you can move once more.” Charles turned his head frustratingly slowly and nodded to the Binoq. “And just keep moving. The more you do so, the faster you’ll be able to move. My spell is only beginning to take hold. In an hour you should be as normal as you can be right now.”

“What about Rickkter?” Kayla asked through her choking sobs. The skunk wiped tears from her eyes, but they had already stained her black cheek fur.

“I cannot do anything for him, I’m sorry.” The Binoq sounded more than sorry, Charles thought. He sounded downright ashamed of it.

“We can take him to Healer Coe for now, and send word to Raven. Lightbringer magic will help,” Malisa advised, her composure regained. “George, use that staff and Whisper to make a stretcher so we can carry him down the stairs. We need to find a way to destroy that censer.”

“It is part of the reason I have come to Metamor,” Abafouq pointed out, a sense of alarm filling his voice. “But no power here in this world can undo that censer.”

“Madog says we cannot do anything about it,” Misha pointed out, his voice vacillating between delight at seeing Charles partially restored, and dismay and smouldering anger at being thwarted. “Of course, I’d like to know what in all the hells they were doing here with it in the first place, and why it is still here, and why we cannot do anything about it!”

“Poppa!” Madog was whining desperately. “Please! We have to leave! This is a bad place!”

“I for one agree with the automaton,” George said as he was tying his shirt around the axe and staff. “We’ll have this finished in a moment and we can head back down.”

“Very well,” Malisa said. “Once you are done we will take the injured to Healer Coe’s and then we will discuss this. Jessica, can you return to his grace and inform him where we are going, and also, that we will need Raven’s assistance?”

The hawk looked dazed, but she nodded at last and shifted into her animal form to fly out of the tower.

Charles didn’t really pay any attention to what George and Kershaw were working on. Instead, he walked stiffly over to where James was standing alone, his hands shaking before him. The donkey’s ears lay flat against his head, and his eyes were full of shock and horror. He looked even more dismayed when the stone rat approached.

“Charles?” James asked, his voice unsettled. “Are you all right?”

He nodded slowly, and then shrugged his shoulders. It felt so strange to move as stone. Everything about him was cold and hard, and he felt certain that he could not move, or that he would disintegrate and fall to pieces should he try to move. But the stone remained unharmed. Whatever spell the Binoq had cast over him made the stone fluid enough to move without changing its overall nature.

“I’m sorry, Charles,” James stammered at last, looking away. “I can’t do this.”

Charles reached out a paw and put it upon his friend’s arm. His grip was frightfully strong, and he felt sure it was cold too. The donkey seemed to jump uncomfortably at his touch. But the rat ignored it, nodding his head firmly, looking at him with his one eye assuredly.

“But I... I... hated it!”

The rat let out a long smile and nodded his head. He patted him softly on the arm and nodded once more. The donkey stared at him for a long time, before returning the nod. “I guess that’s how it is supposed to be then.”

Charles nodded once more and then patted his friend with his stone paw. When the shock of it all wore off, he knew he would have to face the reality that he was likely to be stone for a long time. But for now, all he could do was hope that the Binoq crafted a spell to help him talk. After all, they had a great deal to talk about now.

He looked back towards where the raccoon lay. George and Kershaw shifted his body onto the makeshift stretcher, and then lifted him up into the air. Kayla stood next to him, her paws on his chest steadying him as they carried his recumbent form with the Sondeshike and Whisper.

Somebody said something about it being time to go, but he didn’t know who. He took one last look at the censer. It seemed to stare back at him, and for a moment he felt a violent hatred reaching across a gulf of aeons. He then turned away from it and slowly fell into step with the rest of his friends. This fight was done, but he knew another would not be long in coming.

Charles hoped that he’d get to be there for it.

With a rush of breath, the Marquis felt himself inhabit his own body once more. He still lay upon the velvety surface of the bed in the quarters that Prince Phil had arranged for him. The sky was a deep blue with only a few clouds in sight. The canopy over head was the familiar reddish-gold hue that so reminded him of a autumnal vineyard. He was naked, and atop his chest and face lay the cards from his deck. Many of them had moved while he slept.

Slowly, he lifted his arms and plucked them each from his flesh. His body, full of energy, felt diminished with each one he took from his flesh. He knew them by touch as intimately as he knew them by sight, and could feel the changes wrought in them. The Knight of Hearts was heavier than it had been before, and of course, the Two of Hearts carried something precious inside it.

Smiling, the Marquis rubbed his fingers over the face of the raccoon that was strangely contoured. His deck had a guest now.

However, he did not smile when his hands found only two cards still resting upon his head. The third had fallen to one side, and he could see the blackness that had surrounded the figure of the lemur completely.

So Yonson had indeed died.

The Marquis reassembled his deck and returned the cards to the mahogany case. He then dressed himself once more. His day was not yet done after all.


His Steward entered a moment later, as if he had spent the entire time waiting outside the door for just such a summons.

“Send word to Prince Phil that I am ready to speak with him once more, at his leisure.”

“Of course, your grace,” Virgoureux spoke softly and bowed low, leaving the room once more. “Is there anything else that you require?”

“A coiffure. See to it once the message is sent.”

“Of course.”

Yes, there was much more he had still to do this day. The Marquis stroked the cover of the mahogany box and waited.

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