Chapter 21: The Hundredth Knight
Table of Contents|
Chapter 20 appeared
in issue 142.
Ivan stared at her dumbfounded. “Then how is it that I can read that?”
The sound of men running brought him up to his feet, wincing all the way. “Get your little girl!” He stumbled over to his sword and pulled it from its scabbard. Through a copse of trees burst Aurin and Alguin. He could here them panting deeply before they were face to face with him. Aurin Nubel was as pale as a ghost, and Alguin kept looking over his shoulder as if he expected something to come out of the trees and grab him. They came into the clearing and came over to stand before Ivan.
“There is something out there!” exclaimed Aurin. “It was hot on our tails and it wasn’t very happy that we disturbed it.”
Ereen came around the tree with Ventra in her hands. The little girl was awake. “It is the ghost from earlier. It is here to speak to us. Come.” She placed Ventra Palilas in the middle of their makeshift camp and stood back with Ivan. She hushed Alguin when the Light Bearer began to issue a complaint about leaving the young girl exposed to any danger.
“This is for her,” said the old lady. “We can do no less and nothing more.”
They stood watching their surroundings, swords drawn, and waited patiently when nothing happened. The trees swayed gently and Ivan found himself itching to take a swing at something. He felt frustration boiling to the surface and his anger came roaring back like a furnace just fed coals. Suddenly his vision grew dark and the trees lost their sway in the breeze, the tombstones rose up around him like beasts in the night and he felt the darkness coming on strong.
There was an urge to strike his companions dead where they stood. With his sword already out of its scabbard he could have Alguin down on his knees before the Light Bearer could have a chance to use his Light powers on him. There was no doubt he could defeat Aurin singlehandedly if he had to. As or the old lady, she had proven crafty to this point, but he had no doubt that he could outsmart her apothecary’s ways.
Ivan turned his attention to his companions. The Light Bearer was watching the cemetery around him intently. There was a flicker of light around his fingertips, and Ivan knew better to think that it was just a reflection of the light.
Aurin stood protectively over Ereen. The young man from Nomen and the old lady watched Ventra silently. Anxiety was written all over their faces. The little girl stood quietly, stoic as a statue. He eyes were open but she did not move a finger.
Ivan raised his sword and put it to the Light Bearer’s back. No one noticed. They were presuming to think that he was covering their backs. He felt sweat trickle down his forehead and reached up to wipe it off with his bad arm. He winced at the pain and then almost cried out in shock. His arm was covered in scales and was covered in thick cords of muscles. His hand ended in long, black nails. The grip in his hand was enough to crush the neck of any man. As he wiped his forehead, he shuddered with revulsion.
He would have screamed if his mind weren’t reeling from the madness and his anger. Thoughts boiled to the surface of dark things that hid in caves with gleaming yellow eyes and red, forked tongues. There were thoughts there as alien as the nighttime stars. He saw flashes of things that live in the dark with malice in their hearts. He caught glimpses of creatures that had minds and could reason but had never seen the light of day. Darkness was eternal for these creatures, and it hid their conscience as the night hides heinous acts.
Through blurry eyes, Ivan leveled his sword right at Alguin’s back. The tip wavered dangerously close to the man’s robes. The sun glinted off the sword’s tip and Ivan could picture it dripping the Light Bearer’s blood to the ground below. He would need to be quick. There was no underestimating Aurin’s quickness and that saber he carried at his side. Ivan gauged and measured, took a step back and gripped his sword. He took aim...
“Stop!” Ventra Palilas’ yell cut though the air like a knife and snapped Ivan’s mind back into place. He found himself not able to remember what he was just thinking. An eerie sense of déjà vu occurred to him. He felt as if this had happened before.
Everyone’s attention was on the little girl. They didn’t notice what his intent had been seconds earlier. Ventra Palilas was covered in sweat. Her mouth was moving and she was whispering softly to herself. Then a gust of wind slammed into her and leaves and pine fluttered everywhere. Debris of dust and grass made the small company cover their eyes. Their robes billowed in the sharp gust of wind. Ventra Palilas didn’t bother moving hair from her face. The young girl stood as still as a statue. Her arms were at her sides and her eyes were rolled back. Ivan had the compunction to go to her and get her out of there. Whatever was happening to her didn’t seem natural.
Innocence should be protected. It was a cadence that was taught to anyone in the Iinnin Lodar. He took a step towards her and Ereen stretched an arm out to hold him back. Ivan almost sliced her throat for the imposition. Alguin looked as if he was ready to do the same. Aurin looked perplexed, but the man was ready for any signs of danger that might come.
Then the wind coalesced next to a nearby tree. The wind gathered and the temperature dropped. It froze the blood in Ivan’s veins. He felt his heart stop and he felt like a man who was about to witness a terrible secret. The truth that the world was not always the way it seemed was about to be verified, and the veil of reality would never be the same again.
“It’s the ghost,” exclaimed Ereen. Her breath came out in a cloud of mist. The air shimmered and suddenly there was a man standing there. A thin sheet of light rose up from the finger tips of the Light Bearer and Ivan had to keep himself from flinching. The man had a small, trimmed beard and his eyes were sharp. He had short-cropped hair and he would have been considered handsome if it weren’t the fact that Ivan could see through him. There was substance to the man, but it appeared that at any moment a mighty wind would carry him away. When the ghost spoke, it wasn’t its voice that they heard. It was the little girl’s.
“There is little time for you, young man,” she said. The ghost lifted its hand and pointed a finger at the group. It took a moment for Ivan to realize it was pointing at him. “He who bears the name of the soulless is bereft of all that is spiritual, and your time is running out.”
Ventra Palilas tuned to look at them. Her eyes were shining with an alien light behind them, and her voice was disembodied. “Come.”
The ghost turned and moved several feet up the landscape. The ground where it had hovered over only seconds before was covered in frost. The blades of grass that littered the ground were glistening in the noon soon with a thin sheet of ice. A tree trunk was covered in frost to Ivan’s waistline. He didn’t think the tree would live for very long. The Light Bearer kept the power of the Light at his fingertips, and Aurin and Ereen only turned for a second to cast a puzzled look over their shoulders at Ivan.
The ghost was a horrendous sight. The dead did walk the lands again, and Ivan wasn’t sure he knew how to react. Crows were believed to be soulless because they were as black as the night. It was believed that not having any souls allowed the curious birds to travel the planes of the living and the dead simultaneously. When someone looked at a crow, they were looking into the world of the dead. Scarecrows were invented to keep these nightly birds away from the living for fear of bringing about doom. Ivan Lustcrow briefly wondered again where his ancestors had gotten the name.
“You need to follow me,” explained the ghost. As he said this, Ventra Palilas called to them over her shoulder. Ventra Palilas moved into a copse of trees and disappeared behind a large gravestone. Ereen moved forward immediately to try and reach her before she could go very far.
The ghost turned to them when it noticed they were not following. Ventra Palilas came back when the ghost waved. “I need you to follow me,” it said with the young girl’s voice. “I will show you a sight no one has seen in over a hundred years. There was a man who came here frequently a long time ago, but I have not seen his face in decades.”
Ivan finally found the courage to say something. “Where is it that we are going, ghost? You claim to know my name, but I do not know you. What manner of witchery is this? You are already dead. Why not rest for all eternity in peace and leave the living to us?”
The ghost paused in its movement forward and turned to regard Ivan Lustcrow with its brilliant eyes. “You are a fool, man, if you think the dead are anything but restless. You have seen them raised from the ground like frogs after the rains of heaven have poured over the land. It does not matter what you think, soulless man, but you will heed my warning. It is in your best interest lest you stab your friends in the back while they are asleep.”
Ivan felt the weight of his actions slam down on his chest and shoulders. He half expected an angry fit to seize him in its grip. “I will follow you, then. But make it quick, and do not doubt that if this is a trick, I will follow you to the grave and put you there forever.” He couldn’t bring himself to look at his companions as he walked past them.
The ghost only nodded half to himself. “I have been dead for over a thousand years, and you presume to know what you can or cannot do in the afterlife. It is like mortal man to think he can dominate all that is in his existence.”
The ghost’s voice was emotionless and Ivan almost wished he had not said what he had. If this was a trick, how was he to stop a ghost? He was utterly defenseless against the thing, unless Ereen or the Light Bearer had something up their sleeves. Magic always seemed to work where nothing usually did. Sometimes he wondered if it would not have been better for him to have chosen magic instead of the sword. He could have gone to Stonegate.
Ereen came up behind him, silent and thoughtful. Ivan could tell by the lines of worry around her eyes that she was anxious to be back with the young girl that fate had made hers. He nodded her way and padded her on the shoulder. Ivan didn’t know the lady, had never met her before, but she had proven invaluable with her wealth of knowledge.
Aurin came up behind her and came around to stand next to Ivan. To Ivan’s surprise, the man from Nomen put his saber back in its scabbard. He knelt down and tied his boots on tighter. As he came up, he must have seen the look on Ivan’s face because he smiled. “If anything happens I think my sword will be useless. Our only choice will be to run.”
Ivan only nodded his agreement. “Alguin, keep your eyes and ears open. If anything happens, it will try to get to you first. You are the only one that can stop it at this point. Hell, hold it back enough so we can run, and that will be more than I care to ask from you. Then we will all run until we fall over from exhaustion.”
The ghost was several feet away from them leaving a trail of chill numbing cold when it turned to them again. “There will certainly be no need to run. No harm will come to you.” Its voice sounded like it was coming from some deep cavern. On a windy night, it might have been the wind caressing against the sill of a window.
Finally, the ghost came to a stop before a massive boulder. Trees surrounded it on all sides and it seemed the area was propped against a ridge of some sort. Ivan could see the land around him for some distance and it took him a moment to realize this was the spot Ventra and Ereen said the ghost was at earlier. From here, he could see where the king’s men had charged, could see the spot they were being herded to by Alias’ men. The ghost disappeared through the rock and the companions stared at each other puzzled until Ventra faced them again.
“This way, you are almost there,” she said. It made Ivan’s skin crawl when he realized that the young girl was semi-possessed.
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler