Chapter 21: The Hundredth Knight
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Chapter 21, part 1 appears
in this issue.
The companions followed around the boulder and found a small trail leading into the undergrowth. It meandered its way into the side of the ridge and disappeared behind a bend. If a person came out here looking for them, unless they knew of the trail, no one would ever find them out here.
Ivan took the first step forward and soon found himself walking steadily down a steep decline. He had to hold himself up several times and once had to reach out to stop Ventra from falling face first over the side of the trail. Ivan didn’t think it was very steep, but he didn’t want to find out. At his touch, the ghost floated back into view from somewhere down the trail.
“It has been many years since I have touched the flesh of mortal man.” Ivan cringed and withdrew his hand from the little girl. It was incredulous to be flinching away from such a young girl, but he couldn’t help it.
“Here“, she said to Ivan, looking him in the eyes. The ghost walked forward a bit and then turned into a dark clump of bushes. Boulders were clustered together as if a giant had placed them there strategically. “Through there,” she said. The ghost pointed with a thin finger.
As he got closer, Ivan could see that there was a small clearing behind the boulders, past the clump of trees. Something shiny and metallic glinted at him as something caught the sunlight. He couldn’t tell what it was through the cluster of trees and branches, but whatever it was it was sticking out of the ground and into the sky. He pushed through a tight gap in the rocks and found steps leading into the undergrowth. The steps were made of rocks, and he could tell that he was descending back down the ridge.
He drew his sword to cut through thick underbrush and finally broke through. Aurin and Alguin were right behind him. His companions followed silently behind, the Light Bearer sweating and grunting from the effort, Aurin cursing under his breath after almost slipping on the uneven ground several times. Ereen kept her eye on Ventra, but the little girl had moved up ahead enough that they had lost sight of her.
When they reached the bottom, they were in a deep gorge, rocks protruding from the ground like sharp spike. Ventra was waiting for them when they burst through. There were no trees here and the ground was dry and dusty. Ivan shook his head. It was going to take days to get all the dust and dirt out of his equipment. The ghost suddenly came into view right next to him. “This way, Ivan,” it said through Ventra’s vocal chords. The little girl’s eyes still had their brilliant shine that said she was not herself yet. The ghost moved around a large boulder and Ivan lost sight of the thing for a moment. He took tentative steps around the boulder and finally came to open ground.
Aurin bumped into him as his companions came around. They too stopped and stared over his shoulder. Ereen squeezed between them and muttered something under her breath. Ivan wasn’t sure it was not a curse. Boulders gathered around the area, making a semi-circled on the side of the gorge. In the center stood dozens of mausoleums made of pure gold, gates of ivory surrounded each grave. The doorways, made of large, heavy slabs of stone, shut out the world outside. There were no banners to proclaim the deceased, no engravings to mark the dead, and no flowers to show that those within were remembered.
“My God,” exclaimed Ereen. There was recognition in her eyes, and the way she covered her gasp with her hand showed Ivan she was humbled by the scene.
“A cemetery within in a cemetery,” muttered Alguin under his breath. Aurin moved several feet away. He had his saber in his hand and he crouched low near the ground. He looked this way and then that way. He nodded to Ivan that everything was safe for now. The ghost came close. Ventra stood where she was, her mind somewhere else again. When her eyes blinked, there was no brilliance in them anymore. Her expression had gone flat again, and Ivan shuddered with horror.
“This is where your ancestors lie,” said the ghost in a voice that chilled Ivan’s blood. The area went cold as the ghost used its presence to speak. “You have come far to see your future. They have waited many, many years for someone to come and redeem them. Their sins are such that even the dead remember.”
Ivan staggered back a moment. “Show me, ghost. I am not here to solve riddles. Speak your mind if there is something that you have to say to me.”
The ghost nodded. “You have not told your companions about your anger tantrums that have almost cost them their lives.”
“They do not know anything, ghost.” Ivan felt angry and his mind was getting fogged again. “It is this land that sets me off. I will take care of it when I am reunited with my prince. There are matters that need attending to. My problems can wait.”
“Your prince will be in far more danger if you do not take care of this soon.” The ghost floated over to one of the gravestones. “Gemini Rin lies here. He was the first. He was the first of the hundred that discovered his ability. Then the others came slowly to him as the winter attracts the snows.”
“Again riddles, ghost,” stated Ivan. His vision was dimming. This was not the time for this, he told himself. To his elation the feeling went away. “Speak plainly.”
“Have you ever seen a dremion?” asked the ghost. “Have you ever seen into its sharp gleaming eyes? No one has. Those that have don’t live long after such a sight. They were never meant to be part of creation’s plan. Something else drove them into existence, something that is not part of this world.”
“I have never seen a dremion“ replied Ivan. “I don’t plan to ever fight one, either.”
“What if it attacks your prince?”
Ivan considered for a moment. “Then I will find a way to fight it. I will learn to destroy them like the knights of old.” The rest of Ivan’s words died in his throat. Realization finally dawned on him at what he was staring at.
“These are the hundred knights of old,” he breathed under his breath. “What do they have to do with me?”
The ghost smiled and it drained the color from Ereen’s face. Alguin looked ready to smite the abomination down with his power. “You finally understand what it is you are doing here. You are a descendent of Gerrin Rin. He changed his name to Lustcrow when he found he was no different than the crows people despise. He was a soulless, such as you are.”
Ivan shook his head. “There is no proof of this! I have never shunned the Light!”
The ghost chuckled and Aurin puked where he sat low to the ground. Ereen had to walk over and check up on him. The ghost continued, “But the Light has shunned you, Lustcrow! Not all of his descendants are such as you are. But he was the first.”
Ivan put a hand through his hair. Maybe there was something to this. He moved over to a mausoleum and ran a hand over the ivory fence that surrounded it. “I need to know for sure that you are not meddling in matters that do not concern you, ghost. What if this is a ploy to drive me crazy? I do not know the machinations of a ghost.”
The ghost came closer to him. It got within several feet of Ivan before it, too, looked over at one of the mausoleums. The hair on Ivan’s neck stood on end. “You have seen what you doubt I say. You have seen your arm as it looks through a dremion’s eyes. The claws at the end of your arm, it was not imagined. Those are the claws of a dremion. You have one inside you and it is trying to make you go crazy. The anger that you feel, it is not your anger. It is the anger of something that knows no love and cannot fathom what is like to see the sun with its own eyes.
“When they first came here,” continued the ghost, “the sun would kill them. So they learned to live at night. Dremions can feel they are abominations. They should not exist and so they hate everything. They have tried to get back into the graces of the Light, but they can’t. So one day they ventured to look through someone else’s eyes and found a way to wreak havoc to the world abroad; a world that they neither belong to nor care for.”
Alguin came over to Ivan, concern and worry creasing his face. “You should have said something. There have been times that you look like an entirely different person. We could have figured this out a long time ago.”
Ivan felt gratitude swim through him. “I did not know. I thought I was going crazy. I was just trying to keep my sanity so I could complete my mission. Palance needs me to, and I don’t intend to disappoint my prince.”
Ivan turned to the ghost. Ivan could not ignore what he was being told. He believed ever word of it. “How is it that a dremion has come to be inside of me? I have not fought or seen a dremion in my entire life.”
The ghost shook his head. It was the first thing the ghost had done that seemed human. “You did not hunt or fight the dremion. The dremion chooses you. It must have wanted something from you or someone close to you. When it got inside of you, it found itself trapped.”
Ereen came forward. “That is what happened to the hundred knights of old. The dremions found themselves trapped inside, and the crusaders kept going until they could no longer control what was inside of them and they began to commit horrible acts of crime.” “She speaks the truth,” said the ghost. “The very people they were sworn to protect had to put them down like dogs that turn on their masters.”
Ivan fell to his knees. The burden of what was happening to him almost threatened to overwhelm him. He looked at his hands and thought for a moment of plunging his sword into his own chest. It was better to die on his terms than eventually turning into something that had to be hunted and put down.
Alguin came over behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Do not despair. We will figure something out. The Light will show us what the darkness is hiding.”
“Gerrin Rin would be proud,” stated the ghost matter-of-factly.
Ivan looked up. “How do you know? He hasn’t been alive for over a hundred years.”
The ghost smiled again. This time Ivan noted a hint of sympathy in its gestures. “I knew him well in those times. We do not speak much any more. Death has a way of dividing even the closest of friends.”
“You knew my ancestors?” This was all so strange to Ivan.
“One ancestor, yes,” replied the ghost. “He was the first of the crusaders. Gerrin was a noble man, an honorable man. He was the epitome of a gallant. He was also the first of the sentinels.” The ghost managed to look grim.
“Were you one of the hundred knights of old?” asked Ereen as she came over to stand with them. She held Ventra in her arms and Aurin walked up behind her, as well.
The ghost turned its head towards the mausoleums. “Yes, I was. I am the person responsible for killing Gerrin Rin. It was how we discovered that we would turn into Sentinels upon our death, never to see the Light, and never to rest among the dead.”
“But you are not a sentinel,” stated Alguin. The light was no longer crackling alone his fingertips. The ghost floated in place, his feet hanging off the ground by three feet. It was hard not to notice that the ground beneath it had frozen over despite the temperate weather. “I was killed by angry villagers when they thought all the knights had been corrupted. This was before I had killed a dremion. So I was spared.”
“Spared what?” asked Ivan.
The ghost turned its penetrating gaze on him. “I would rather be a ghost that wanders the earth for eternity as something not quite living and something not quite dead. I am a ghost, true, but I am dead. Make no mistake about it.”
“So what now?” asked Ivan. “Am I to go on living like this until I turn into an abomination like my ancestor Gerrin Rin? I do not think I can do that.”
Aurin interrupted the ghost, “How come there are only ninety-nine mausoleums? I thought there were a hundred knights of old? What happened to the last one?”
“The last one of our kind did not die like the rest of us. He is the one that buried the rest of us. He constructed all of these mausoleums out of his own money. It took him ten years to build this place. He did it all by himself. He thought the sacrifice would be enough to appease those sentinels angry with him for their undeath. He didn’t want them coming after him.”
“Why would they go after him?” asked Aruin.
“Because he is the one that hunted them down with the help of the villagers,” answered Ereen.
“And what happened to this last hundredth knight of old?” asked Ivan.
The ghost paled as if all the power had gone out of it to manifest itself. “He found a way to keep the dremions he slew from taking over his mind and body. After a hundred years, he is still alive.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler