Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXXV

A violent trembling shook the ancient Åelf from his bed. Qan-af-årael rose instantly, heart throbbing firmly in his chest. Turning back the covers that protected his frail body from the elements, he rose to a sitting position. A strange tremor had shaken his tower, something that had never before happened in all of the centuries that it had stood. With a mere thought, small ghostly blue lights came to life, highlighting the room. In one wall stood a fresco depicting an ornate doorway. Qan-af crossed upon bare feet to that image and waved one hand. The image gained solidity then, and the wall disappeared, replaced by the doorway depicted only moments before.

Stepping out into his solar, the ancient figure glanced about the walls. His eyes were instantly drawn to one old mural, as it was glowing a baleful crimson. He traced the contours of that shape, a story he had never thought would be told. Strange figures stood around a figure in the centre. The figure itself was three large pillars, their bases drawn, but no tops existing in the picture. In the centre of those pillars was a long blade, the tip of which glowed a brighter red than the rest, as if it were dripping with blood.

Qan-af stumbled then, hand reaching out to clutch at some support, finding the chair that Kashin had sat in only a few short weeks ago. His eyes blinked as if he did not believe what he was seeing, but there it remained before him, burning with a fire that could not be quenched. “The Sword...” he whispered to himself, barely able to even breathe. “The Pillars of Ahdyojiak. May Illuvatar have mercy on us all, it has come sooner...” and then the tower trembled again, the light in the image winked out of existence.

Qan-af-årael collapsed where he stood, unable to finish that thought.

The brilliance grew greater and greater so quickly that in the last moment after he had understood the sword, Zagrosek felt as if the light were destroying every bit that was him. And then, he felt himself thrust forward strangely, as if the ground beneath him had folded upwards against the wall of incandescence. And then the pain was gone, and the throbbing in his mind was shut off instantly. Opening his eyes, he was surprised to find that he could see again. A good distance before him stood Marin, looking equally as surprised. Behind Marin was a tall basalt pillar that appeared to stretch up forever. Beyond the pillar was an impenetrable blackness that appeared not as something, but simply as the lack of anything to fill it. To either side he could see Thulin and Kaleas, and the other two pillars. Beneath his feet he saw the basalt rock continue, forming a perfect triangle upon whose corners stood the pillars.

And then he remembered the words that Agathe had shouted before the midnight moment had struck. The sword was completely pliant in his hands now, as if it had been drained of all of its power and was just a simple blade. Motioning for the three merchants to approach, he lifted the sword in his hands and smiled a bit. “Take off your shirts. The blade must taste each of your blood before the other side will open.”

All three of them obeyed, each trying to be quicker than the other. But time had no meaning in this place he now understood. For this was still the midnight moment. Everything that occurred here happened instantaneously. “Stand before me, each of you. It does not matter who goes first or last by this.” That appeared to relieve his slaves a great deal, and they no longer pushed and shoved to be the first before their master.

As it was, Marin, the youngest of the three, was the one to whom Zagrosek approached first. He held out the blade, eyeing the bare chest, noting the slow blonde growths of hair that dotted along its lengths. The Sondeckis placed the tip of the blade at Marin’s nipple, and traced down diagonally, watching as the skin separated, and the blood began to flow.

Even as the crimson began to drip down the length of the blade, the pillar from which Marin had emerged began to open wide. The blocks that formed its length pulled apart, bending outwards, revealing a cavity within that glowed a dull red. Nameless shapeless things detached themselves from inside of that pillar, flowing across the floor of the triangle, and collecting about Marin’s feet. The young man looked down at them curiously, but began to shudder as they circled about his legs, rising up along his flesh until they reached that open wound.

His face contorted in agony then as various pseudopods pressed into the wound, pushing his muscles aside, even as blood continued to spill around them. Marin waved his arms about, screaming in freakish agony, his screams so horrid that even Zagrosek backed away. The other two merchants were clutching each other, eyes wide as they watched those strange abominations pushing further and further into their comrade’s chest, before finally beginning to pull things out of it.

With a wet sucking sound, tendrils of blacks yanked out his intestines, entwining them about that nebulous shape, moving them around, as if they were being danced about. Marin continued to scream, until his entire chest was pried open and one of his lungs removed. He then coughed, blood spewing across the basalt rock, only to be scooped up by those nameless shapes and carried back into the waiting cavity. His liver was then removed, as well as his heart and then finally, almost impossibly, his brain was drug out through his neck and pulled out the opening. And even still, Marin coughed and shook, body still alive, seeing and feeling everything that was done to it.

At long last, those nameless shapes dragged each of his organs, and all of the blood that had been spilled back within that cavity. Zagrosek felt as if he was going to throw up as he watched several others cart the shuddering body back towards the pillar as well. Marin’s arms were outstretched, eyes pleading towards Zagrosek, as if begging his master to spare him from this. Krenek had to grit his teeth and remind himself the purpose of what he was doing to prevent himself from trying to save the doomed merchant. Even still, a part of him wished to order the other two to walk back out through the pillars and end the moment.

But even as those thoughts surfaced, he felt the sword throb in his hand. The Sondeckis knew that both Kaleas and Thulin would also have to suffer the same fate as their fellow merchant had. Even then he could see the body pulled tightly into the cavity, and the stones closing around it, crushing it completely. Blood oozed out from the cracks in the stones for a moment, before it too was sucked back within. The pillar then took on a ghastly red glow, a baleful fire that rose into the limitless blackness above.

He turned to find the other two quivering near one of the other pillars, as far from the ghastly sight as they could have managed. “I’m sorry, but this most be done.” Both Thulin and Kaleas looked at him as if he were mad, but it was clear, the compulsion he had won over them was tugging at them. “What must be done, must be done. And the reward you shall receive for your sacrifice is great.” A lie, but a necessary one. He had no inkling of what would be done with their souls after this moment.

Kaleas, always the money counter, could not help but move forward a bit further then. Thulin shuddered, curling himself into a ball then, pressing his face into his knees. Zagrosek approached the heavy set man, squinting his eyes as he brought the blade to bear upon his chest. He pressed the tip once again into his nipple, and drew downward. He could hear the self-satisfied pounding from the blade as it throbbed up his arm, and the grinding of the stone s the pillar that Kaleas had entered through opened wide to claim him.

Zagrosek averted his eyes then, wincing as he could hear the screaming begin. He closed his eyes tight, gritting his teeth together, as his stomach turned over and over again, even as those nameless shapes began to rip his slave open, removing intestines, a lung, and all of the other parts it needed to power whatever was necessary. His knees buckled then, wishing he could shut out the screams and the coughing and all of the sounds. Yet he had no more success than he had when trying to stop the sword form pounding in his brain. And then, he heard the sound of Kaleas’s body being dragged across the ground, and then the grinding of the stone once more.

Although time had no meaning in that place, Zagrosek still waiting several moments before daring to look at what lay behind him. When he did, he saw that the second pillar was glowing that awful red, just as the first was. There was only one thing left to do now. Scanning about, he found Thulin rocking back and forth on his heels, face pressed firmly into his knees. He took a deep breath, and gripping the sword in his right hand, approached the last of the merchants.

Zagrosek brought to mind all of the difficulty that this man had given him, first in the playing of the cards, and then in claiming him and dedicating him to the sword. He thought of how nearly he had come close to destruction because of this man, and found within himself the steel he needed. Yes, this spell would be completed as originally intended. “Stand up,” he commanded, his voice dark and tired.

Thulin was unable to do anything but obey. His eyes were pleading though, face slack as if resigned to torment. “Please...” he said, his voice soft, almost hollow. Zagrosek blinked then, and then brought the sword down quickly, slashing it swiftly across the man’s chest. The sword practically sung in triumph, vibrating and still as if in the middle of an orgasm. Zagrosek set his teeth solidly on edge, and turned his back upon the doomed merchant, and reminded himself once more that it could have been himself back there.

Even so, he still cringed as he heard the screams begin. He pressed both of his hands, still clutching the blade, up to his forehead, grinding his teeth sharply together. He could feel the quivering within the sword, the dull pounding of approval that echoed through the vaults of his mind. The only image he kept in his mind was that of himself being torn to pieces by those nameless things, and then Thulin taking his place. Yes, Thulin had been the one who’d taken his spot, and even the sword seemed to chuckle at that, sensing his thoughts.

And then, he heard the crushing sound of the blocks of the last pillar seal tight. The floor beneath him took on that red cast, growing brighter for a moment, before dulling to a sombre maroon. Between the pillars that had absorbed Marin and Kaleas appeared a sudden gateway, leading out into another darkened basement, though the walls beyond were fashioned from clay and not stone. And between the pillars that had absorbed Thulin and Kaleas stood the gateway back to the cellar in Ellcaran.

And just at the entrance to that foreign gateway stood another figure. He was at least ten year’s Zagrosek’s senior, as what hair he had was already a gossamer white. His face was thick, round, ruddy cheeks supplanting shoulders nearly as wide as the Sondeckis’s own. He wore the white alb of a priest, with the ornamental dalmatic over his chest that marked him further as a Bishop of the Ecclesia. While he did not stand nearly as tall as Zagrosek, he appeared to weigh much the same, as his waistline stood out a bit.

“You would be Krenek Zagrosek,” the Bishop asked, gesturing to the robe and to the sword.

“Bishop Jothay?” Zagrosek asked then, nodding his own head in recognition. His composure was still not fully his, but he was not about to let their ally know that.

The man nodded, a jolly smile crossing his wide cheeks. He looked almost like a child might when faced with something new, excited and unafraid. He did not even appear to notice the blood trailing off the end of the blade.

“Is that it?” he pointed with excited fingers towards the golden sword.

Zagrosek nodded and held it aloft. “Yes, this is it. We did not have any time to bring it to you any other way I am afraid.”

Jothay nodded and clapped his hands, rubbing them together, that grin growing wider. One of his teeth was missing, but the rest appeared to be in fairly good condition. “Is it awake yet?”

“Yes,” Zagrosek said, trying not to show the grimace that wished to surface. Instead he left the confidant smirk in its place. “It just has in fact. You will find it of great help.”

Jothay held out his hands then, thick fingers that bordered on being fat. “It proceeds quite well already.”

Zagrosek turned the blade on it side, and offered it to the Bishop. “Be very careful, it might still be hungry.”

The Bishop laughed then, a boisterous thing that was free of malice that Zagrosek wondered whether their ally truly understood just what it was that they were conspiring to bring about. “Oh, I’ve tied up a little street urchin to sate it. She won’t be missed.” He pressed his hands upon the blade then, and lifted it from Zagrosek’s arms. The Sondeckis felt the pounding in his head cease in that moment, a relief so welcome that his knees nearly buckled.

“Come here, my pretty,” Jothay whispered then as he stroked his fingers across the blades surface. He touched the blood still clinging to the golden surface and then immediately pulled them back. “My, you are hungry aren’t you.” He smiled that innocent child’s smile to the Sondeckis again. “Look, it’s drinking the blood into the metal.” He turned the sword point down to demonstrate – none of the blood dripped from its surface, yet the stain slowly continued to shrink.

Jothay giggled in delight, much like a child with a new toy might. Zagrosek smiled a bit wider. “You know what is to be done then?”

The Bishop’s face grew a bit more serious, though it did not lose it’s child-like innocence. “Of course. The Ecclesia will be ours to direct before the Summer is done. There is one matter I must settle before we leave. Did one of the Yeshuel survive?”

His own smile faded at that, and he nodded bitterly. “I was rushed, the Keepers were almost upon me.”

“Irrelevant,” Jothay waved the sword about before him, tip pointing at the floor. His tone was that of a teacher instructing a student. “Who was it?”

“I believe his name was Kashin.”

“What did he look like?”

He closed his eyes and tried to picture back to that rain-slick night, it was one of the two who had entered the woods to find him. Only a moment’s light had illuminated him, but it had been the same he’d watched greet the ferret when they’d first arrived at Metamor. When he felt sure he had the face once more, he spoke slowly, “Tall, broad shouldered, typically eastern in appearance, with straight black hair, except for a lock above one eye that had gone grey.”

Jothey nodded at last, smiling to himself. “Yes, I know the one you speak of. I am given to understand he lost an arm.”

“The left.”

“Good. And where was he last seen?”

“Travelling east with a cloaked stranger who I think may have been an Åelf.”

“An Åelf?” Jothay made the sign of the tree over his chest, a strangely lewd gesture given the sword he was holding in his other hand. “I will keep watch for him. He will spend his last breath trying to avenge Akabaieth’s death. If he heads east, then you should be free from worry over him.”

“Indeed. Was there anything else?”

Jothay let his gaze slide back over the blade. His round cheeks flushed a crimson red as he studied the golden blade, holding it before him, smiling that child’s smile once more. “No, that is all.”

Zagrosek nodded then, crossing his arms, and rubbing his hands slowly across the fabric of his robe. They were still cold from touching that blade. It knew whose hands it belonged in. “Then let us leave this place.”

Jothay smiled and nodded, eyes still looking eagerly at the blade. Finally he turned and strode back towards the entrance leading out into the cellar made from clay. “Success!” he shouted, holding the blade aloft.

The Sondeckis returned the gesture with a fist and favoured the priest with a firm smile, before stepping back towards his own gateway. And then he put his foot within the image of the Inn’s cellar. He felt his strength leave him in that instant as the world inverted upon itself. Falling forward, Zagrosek rolled on his elbows, scuffing them along the stonework as he tumbled into the racks of wine. The shook, but did not topple.

His whole body was spent, and he could barely push himself up onto his hands and knees. But as he did so, Zagrosek felt all of what had happened in that moment come rushing back to him and through him. With a heave, he retched the contents of his last meal upon the cellar floor, spittle hanging from his lip as he hacked and wheezed for air.

Finally, he turned about, staring over across the floor towards the stairwell. All of the markings upon the ground had been completely erased, leaving only the single strand of white hair left in the centre of the floor. Agathe lay slumped against the wall, her right hand discoloured by the chalk. Her empty eye socket still glowed a sombre red though.

Zagrosek crawled painfully to her side, every muscle and bone in his body aching terribly. His body cried out for him to stop, but he would not, as he had to know whether she was still alive or not. After what seemed hours, he finally slumped at her side, head resting against her chest. Though it was slow, it was steady and firm. And Krenek Zagrosek lost consciousness there, lulled peacefully by the sound of Agathe’s heartbeat.

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