Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXXIV

Agathe took her time with the casting of the spells. It was not as if she did not have the leisure of doing so, as they had entered the cellar only eight hours past noon, leaving them four more until the chime of midnight. What was more important, as both Zagrosek and she knew, was that one should never trifle with Pillars of Ahdyojiak lightly. If the casting were simple or straightforward, then it would have been attempted more often. None in the last five hundred years have ever tried though, a sure sign of its danger.

And so Zagrosek watched mutely as the Runecaster circled those ethereal green pillars, every once in a while tracing some symbol upon the ground outside the black barrier she’d drawn earlier. She restricted her drawings to the two sides of the triangle facing the racks of wine. The third side that faced the opposite wall next to the staircase was left empty. She had first drawn three lines separating each side of the triangle equally, and then scribbling protective seals along the lines on either side, except for the side facing the stairwell, that remained blank. But they did not glow with any power, but remained sublimely dormant.

The Sondeckis did not fully understand the nature of the Pillars, the strange edifice that appeared out of nowhere in the jungles of the land of Ahdyojiak. Their history was a strange one, their origin lost in the fog of time, and their use scattered, diminishing as the jungles crept upon them, the power of that small southern continent sealing them from the prying eyes of men. What he did know was that the Pillars themselves stood at the nexus of a large number of magical lines that crisscrossed the Southern hemisphere, much as Metamor Keep was for the North. As he glanced at those walls of scintillating green fire, he remembered one other detail out of legend – those that set foot between the Pillars without significant magical warding would never be seen again. Whether they died or were sent to some place in another world, none could say. Zagrosek however was not interested in finding out for sure.

Agathe surveyed her work, taking several minutes to make sure that each stroke was just the way it should be, even going so far as to erase some lines and redraw them until they met her satisfaction. And then she pondered, rolling the white chalk, or at least what was left of it, between her fingers. Staring from wall to wall, she contemplated, as if making some weighty decision that could alter the outcome of the entire weaving. And then she turned to the right face, and approached it, kneeling slowly. Stretching out her arm, she drew out eight lines each an equal distance from each other, separating the space between the two ghostly pillars into nine blocks.

Zagrosek leaned closer between the two rows of wine racks. With keen interest he watched as she made sure each was perfect in every detail, before carefully stepping over the line separating right from left, and repeating the drawing, but in reverse order, over there. Once she finished, her brow sweaty from her concentration, she crossed back to the right. Leaning forward again, she quickly drew in the first chevron of Yajakali in the leftmost slot. It remained passive, almost certainly awaiting the arrival of its brethren.

And then Agathe hopped back across to the left face, and took a great deal of time to work in the ninth chevron, as horrifically detailed and corrosive as it was, into the rightmost slot. Her chalk diminished further, as she spun her wrist about, making all the proper hooks and slashes, cutting through the diagram until the image was a convolution so complicated the eye could never hope to follow it. Once she had finished that, she returned to the right side, and began tracing out that same chevron in the rightmost slot again. And after the several minutes had passed and the Runecaster had completed her work, she returned to the left side and drew in the first chevron in the left most slot.

Back and forth she continued, drawing the second chevron next to the first on the right, and then the eight chevron next to the ninth on the left. As the minutes dragged on, she bounced back and forth, adding in the third and seventh chevrons, and then the fourth and sixth, both on either side in alternating order. Finally, with only a sliver of chalk remaining, she sketched in the fifth chevron on the right, and then that same symbol on the left, in the centre slot on both sides. With a long sigh, she leaned back. Where her breath had touched the wall of light, arcs crisscrossed, shimmering brightly.

Zagrosek winced as he saw that, but remained where he sat. Agathe then, after a moment’s rest, used the last of the white chalk to draw another line outside the slots, sealing them both in, first on the right and then on the left. Each chevron was completely contained in the lines of the spell now, ready to be harnessed when the time came. He could not help but be curious as to why they had to be drawn, as he had not thought the Pillars of Ahdyojiak had any relation to the sword or censer of Yajakali. However, he trusted Agathe’s judgement on this matter.

She took a moment to return to her travel pack by the stairwell. Reaching into the hide pouch, she drew out another long white piece of chalk. She then sat down on the bottom stair, resting her arms before her, staring at the massive spell laid out along the floor already. There was still much to be done, it was clear from her expression, but it was all a matter of what to do next.

The Sondeckis wished alternately for a timepiece, and waxed thankful that he had not brought one. Not knowing how much time had passed was both an agony and a mercy. While he yearned for this night to be over, the thought of knowing that only a few minutes had passed and veritable aeons still remained would have pained him far worse. But the time would pass, of this he was certain. And there had been many other evenings in which he’d had nothing to do but wait.

Yet, it was some moments before any of them noticed anything untoward. Agathe rose up from the seat suddenly, looking down just a short distance from her feet in silent horror. Zagrosek followed her gaze and saw that his robe, wrapped in a bundle and hiding the blade, was lying in the middle of the floor, pointed towards the third face that Agathe had left unadorned. This in itself was not disturbing, the fact that the Sondeckis had left his robes pressed against the wall was.

Agathe set the chalk aside, and reached down, picking up the bundle in her arms. Very carefully, she walked back across the spell, keeping the sword as far from it as possible. Her arms jerked back and forth as she crossed over spell lines, but Zagrosek knew that it was the sword that was moving such, not her. Finally, she came to stand by the wine racks, and offered the bundle to him. “Take this. Keep it safe for now. I still have much to do.”

Zagrosek nodded mutely, and set the bundle beside him, pressed firmly against his thigh and the base of the wine rack to his right. He could feel it twitching beside him, and the faint drumming sounded inside his skull. He shook his head, but it remained, a distant throbbing that made his flesh tingle. Thankfully the pounding stayed in the background, something that could tolerated though not ignored.

Turning his thoughts away from the pounding, knowing that to dwell on them would only braw them out further, he focussed instead on Agathe. She had retrieved her new piece of chalk, and was crossing back to the two sides of the triangle that bore any markings. With a practised ease, she drew out long parabolic arcs between the barrier lines, the vertex just touching the centre of the fifth slot. After she had completed both, she began to insert what would appear to most to be decorative lacework between the parabola and the barrier lines. Very intricate curves swooped back and forth, growing tighter and tighter together as the space between the parabola and the lines grew narrower and narrower.

Agathe took a painfully slow time with each new curve, making sure that she added one on the right, and then its complement on the left, before starting on the next. Bit by bit the space between the warding spells, the barrier lines, and the parabola began to fill up, almost until there was no clear space left upon the ground. Still she added new curves, dipping her arm low to draw some, raising it up in other places, as if she were weaving the new line beneath one that had already been drawn, much as if they were not chalk but needle and thread.

At last she stood outside the entire area of the spell, and drew a circle to close everything off, sealing all of the power within. Yet again, the circle only moved around the two faces of the triangle. The third face was left completely empty of any markings whatsoever. Agathe stepped back and surveyed the work, exhaustion clear on her face. Zagrosek pondered asking her is she needed anything to refresh herself, but knew better than to interrupt her thoughts. As far as he knew, her very thoughts might have an effect on the casting of this spell.

Very carefully, she crossed back to her pack on the stairwell, and set the white chalk back in its place on the pouch. She extracted the green chalk and the black though, and carried them back with her. She set the black chalk outside the spell, next to one of the wine racks, and then crossed over the white lines, green clutched tightly in her fingers. And then she proceeded to trace very carefully over the white lines with the green, first starting with the barrier lines that radiated outwards from the corners of the pillars, and then to the warding spells around each line, and then to the parabola itself. Each time she alternated back and forth between the left and the right.

Zagrosek noted though that as she began to mark those lines off with the green light, the fire burning inside those walls began to diminish, flowing outwards into the magic lines already inscribed upon the ground, but only those that were now green. The blade pulsed powerfully in its own strange rhythm as those ethereal pillars of light flickered. He could feel the slow friction of his robe against his thigh as that weapon inched forwards, drawn like a moth to flame towards that dread invocation. He placed one hand upon the black folds of his robe and pulled it back, but trembled as he did so, for the pounding in his skull grew disconsolate and louder. He had no wish to make it impatient again.

Once Agathe had finished tracing over both parabolas again with the green chalk, she set about in exact reverse order to tracing over those complicated curves between the parabola and the barriers lines. Zagrosek could not help but marvel at the powers of concentration and memorization needed to handle such a complicated and involved casting. He knew that if her hand should slip at this stage, she would be consumed by the detonation of energy at the spells dissolution. And so too would he and his three slaves most likely, he realized glumly. Yet this was something for which no error could be made, and he knew that her hand was a steady one in a way that centuries of experience could not produce.

Zagrosek knew that the midnight hour was steadily approaching though as he watched her complete that intricate weaving. The glow inside the pillars themselves was steadily increasing, burning a brighter green, deeper and more vivid with each passing moment. When this spot of Earth was as far away from the sun as it could be, the pillars themselves would come alive, and the spell would be complete, whether or not Agathe had finished her work. Though sweat stood out upon her forehead, she did not appear rushed, but continued tracing as if nothing else in the world could possibly be of consequence to her.

By the time she had completed tracing over the lacework between the parabola and the barrier lines, the glow in the base of the three pillars had become bright enough that the torches around the room were completely unnecessary. Zagrosek found that as the green light filled each line in the lace, he could see the threads moving over and under each other much like reeds woven together to form a basket. The way they moved was far too complicated though to have ever been used or even attempted to form a basket. As he tried to follow one particular strand, he wondered if the weave would have eevn been possible with true reeds, as several times he could have sworn that the lines of magic moved through each other as well.

Agathe set down the green chalk then, outside the entire spell. Instead she picked up the black piece, and very slowly, began to trace along the inside of the parabola, much as she had traced outside the pillars and the central circle hours before. Again, the flare of magic faded as she moved, even though the light in the base of the pillars began to slowly but inexorably extend upwards through the length, growing so bright that Zagrosek could no longer see past them. She first traced out the right parabola, and then moved onto the left. After both were done, she traced along the inside of the outermost circle, connecting the ends of each parabola in turn with the black chalk.

And once the last stroke was complete, all of the lines of magic flared into brilliance for a single moment before settling back down into a sublime glow, but not quite the way they had before. Now all of the curves between the parabola and the barrier lines had settled into a simple green nimbus, the floor beneath it completely invisible. The area between the parabolas and the outer circle had also disappeared, replaced by an unearthly darkness that still shimmered. Somehow, Zagrosek knew that both of them were completely solid, and only an object of great magic, such as the blade beside him, could pierce them.

Agathe came over to the wine racks and took a long heavy breath. “It is nearly ready,” she said then, holding the black chalk tightly in her fingers. “I will need you all for the last. Midnight is not quite here, but we must be finished before then. Unwrap the blade, and don your robe.”

Zagrosek did as instructed, unwrapping the golden blade from the black Sondeckis robe. When the blade touched the stone work beneath him, it began to wiggle forward of its own accord, eager to cross into the spell. Such great power he knew would tear a hole into the Underworld, not to mention levelling the city of Ellcaran and destroying them as well. But the hole would be closed just as soon as it had been opened as the Pillars swallowed everything in the detonation.

So he stepped upon the handle of the blade, arresting its motion. Zagrosek pulled his cloak over his shoulders then, and wriggled into it, feeling the familiar crest settle over his chest. It was good to wear his clan’s attire once more, it always gave him a feeling of completeness that years of training had instilled. Reaching down he lifted the blade in his hands, the pounding in his head very forceful now. It knew its time was coming.

Agathe nodded slightly, her empty socket glowing a bright red, nearly an orange. Zagrosek could almost see wisps of that red light seeping out from the socket as a fine mist in fact, it was so powerful. “I need all of you,” she said softly. The three slaves rose and came out from the racks, standing there, waiting for their instructions.

She pointed towards the three glowing pillars. “I need each of you three to stand just before one of the pillars. Do not touch them quite yet, and when you approach them, make sure that you only walk upon the green platform. Do not mar the white circle outside of it at all, or we will all be destroyed. Do you each understand?”

All three of the merchants nodded. Thulin however pointed to the three and asked, “Does it matter which one we stand before?”

Agathe shook her head. “No, but I will leave it up to your master to decide for you which you will stand before.”

Zagrosek smiled slightly, even as he did his best to keep the sword under control. “Marin, you stand at the left most pillar, Kaleas, you in the centre, and Thulin take the right. Walk directly towards them if you would.”

“Yes, my master!” they each intoned eagerly, walking very carefully around the outer edge of the white circle until they could walk in a straight line along the green platform of the spell to their pillars. Marin was the first to set foot upon that thick nimbus. His boots glowed as he did so, his entire body cast in that brilliance. Yet nothing happened, for it bore him up with no difficulty. Kaleas and Thulin also found themselves untouched as they approached their pillars, just shrouded in that verdant aura.

Agathe picked up the green chalk, and walked around the outer edge of the circle as well. She gestured towards the right parabola and the black platform contained within. “You stand there, Krenek. Do not let the sword touch any part of the spell.”

Zagrosek walked along the edge of the circle too, holding the sword firmly to his chest, keeping the blade pointed downwards though. He let his Sondeck flow freely into is arms, holding the grip with both hands, fingers pressed tightly together about the metal. He licked his lips once, heart trembling uncertainly. And then, he lifted his right foot across the barrier and set his boot down upon the blackness. It held firmly, though he could feel his feet sink within that dark shadowy nimbus much like it were sand. He was very comfortable walking upon sand, and so crossed into the middle of that platform with ease. The blade did jerk downwards at first, but he held it too tightly and powerfully for it to escape his grip.

Zagrosek looked upwards, scanning the spell before him. The wall of green between the two pillars at his side was rippling with intensity, a faceless portal into some world he did not wish to ponder. Thulin stood to his right, skin trembling, though his eyes could not leave the growing brilliance contained within the pillar before him. Kaleas was sweating visibly around his girth, hands clasping and unclasping as if he wished to be counting money instead. The Sondeckis could not blame them, for he felt the terror welling in his heart too. This was a casting that had not been attempted in five hundred years. If it failed, who knew what would become of them, but they would belong to this world no longer, that much was certain.

Agathe had crossed back to the stairwell and retrieved the white piece of chalk. She took all of her belongings and set them several steps higher, taking a moment to make sure none would tumble down. She then stepped back down and looked at the spell, taking a long heavy breath. “Only a few minutes now.”

Zagrosek could see that she was correct, as the pillars were glowing a bright yellow now, nearly as powerful as the sun. In fact, the only thing not glowing were the chevrons set just before the wall. They remained as they had when she’d first drawn them, white and undisturbed by the powerful forces around them. He could not help ponder why this was so, and before he realized just what he was doing, he asked Agathe that aloud.

She was standing against the far wall now, directly opposite the third face of the triangle. She did not pause in her work, drawing a small semicircle with the white chalk along the floor, and then extending it in an ellipse upwards along the wall. “Because the sword will be passing through. They are there to identify for the Pillars just what it is they will suffer in the midnight moment. Everything that passes through must be identified. I do not know what would happen otherwise.”

Zagrosek nodded a bit, still exerting his Sondeck to keep the sword from flinging itself at the spell. It was no longer pulling directly downwards, but straight forward. He had no doubt that if he were to release the blade it would fly through the air to plunge itself into that green wall. Glancing over at the Runecaster, he could dimly see her sketching the green chalk over the white, completely surrounding herself.

“What are you doing now?” he asked again. The brilliance in the pillars was remarkable now, he was almost tempted to shield his eyes. That he could make out Agathe at all was amazing.

“Protecting myself. I summoned the Pillars, and so I need to do this or it will take me. They may still take me, but they may not. Stay within as long as you need, it is all the same moment anyhow.” A sudden spark shot out at her as the green chalk deviated ever so slightly from the white curve she’d already traced. She cried out at the pain and burn it had left her, but she kept on tracing. “I cannot be disturbed any more.”

Zagrosek nodded dumbly, trying to watch her, but finding it harder and harder to make her out through the green glow that was quickly brightening to a piercing yellow. However, he could see that she had finished tracing over the white and was now using the black on the inside of her circle of protection, tracing out the perimeter. And then, the light from the pillars was so bright that he could no longer see her at all. Even Marin, standing as he was on the other side of the left parabola, was only visible in outline now.

As the seconds trickled past, Zagrosek squinted his eyes shut tight. The pounding of the sword throbbed deeply within his mind, threatening to overwhelm all his other thoughts. Yet, even through that, he could hear Agathe’s voice shouting as if from some great distance, “Once through, the blade must taste them! Only then will the other side open!”

He did not know whether he nodded or not as the yellow flared brighter, the pillars sentinels of white, overwhelming everything else. His eyes lanced with the pain of watching them, and finally, unable to bear it any longer, he closed them, even as he heard miles away the screaming of a woman. An in his mind that terrible pounding sounded, firmly like a steady drumbeat building to explosive crescendo. At last, he could make out the words once more, “I am of Yajakali! The Sunderer of Worlds awakes at last!” Zagrosek in that instant thought himself dead.

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