June 22nd, 2015
When it was time to put their plans into motion, Lask assembled nine children in his territory of Verica to help them prepare the prison for Zestir’s Titan: Daia, Jericho, Alannis, Cora, Max, Noreen, Thessula, Cressida, and Quinn. Falient’s daughter Cressida was a Reader, like Jackie, but one of the spirit kind, and her magic worked differently.
Lask had brought supplies from his magical stores, and tasked the children with making Light water, and preparing various herbs to be mixed in it. He had the Serpent girl Thessula draw a web of patterns in the dust outside the cave, and she eagerly set about slithering to and fro to map them out with her tail. Quinn shifted into his favorite owl shape so he could fly up to place the stones Lask had enchanted along the upper edge of the cavern opening.
While the children worked, Lask spoke with Belara. She was skeptical of his plans for her, but Lask told her, “I have faith in you.” Not wanting to be the naysayer, Belara stepped up in front of the cavern and rubbed her hands together. Her magic was rare, a Cosmic element, and it was only since she’d be Light that she dared practice the volatile power. She closed her eyes for a moment, getting a firm grasp on the magic. Turning her hands outward at the entrance, she released a blinding bolt of light. It shot toward the opening, then stopped suddenly and floated in the air. It was a single shining star in miniature, a spinning sphere of plasma. Belara eyed it, as if expecting it to disappear, but it stayed where she had placed it. She glanced to the left to see Lask flash a “told you so” grin. Looking back to the cave, she released another, then another. She created seven stars in all, placing them in a circle along the edges of the entrance. When she had finished, Falient came to her side and admired her work.
“Nice,” he said with an approving nod. He rubbed his hands together and blew into them. When he spread them apart, a thick black-purple smoke appeared between them. He cupped his hands in front of him and nodded for Giemm.
Giemm stepped up close beside him and gave a wave of his hand. A sudden gust of air burst over Falient’s hands, sending a long plume of smoke billowing out. It seemed to be drawn in by Belara’s stars, and the smoke swirled in a screen across the opening, framed by the stars, continually shifting on the winds Giemm had provided.
When they had finished, Wyatt gathered each of the children’s Light water, and poured it all into one large silver pitcher. He combined it with his own shimmer water, until the pitcher was nearly overflowing with liquid light. He walked along the trails Thessula had drawn, pouring the water in a fine line into the troughs she had left with her tail. The water continued to shine, illuminating the intricate pattern, leading right up to the space under the lowest of Belara’s stars. Wyatt rationed the water with care, using the entire pitcher, emptying the last of it into the hollow that had been made under the star. When the pitcher was empty, he looked over his shoulder and nodded to Lask.
Lask came to stand at the farthest end of the pattern, facing the cavern. He nodded at Stefin, and Demon joined him, taking several measured paces to stand at a distance behind him. Lask drew his sword, placing the tip into the edge of the light water still glowing with the pattern on the ground. He pulled his key out into his right hand, and held his arm out to the side. Sparks formed on his hand, flames lapping up the length of the key.
Behind him, Stefin unhooked the whip from his belt, and uncoiled it with steady hands. He got a firm grip on the handle, then settled into the proper stance. For a moment, he studied Lask ahead of him, aware of how important his aim would be. Tightening his fingers around the polished black wood of the handle, Stefin drew back his arm in one fluid motion and cracked the strike.
The fall of the whip coiled along Lask’s arm, its spikes biting through his sleeve and into his skin beneath, drawing pricks of blood as the lash secured itself to him. The metal tip snagged around the key. Stefin flared with his own fire, sending it rushing down the length of the lash, into the key and the Rose who held it.
Lask was unable to keep from wincing when the lash struck, and felt the Demon’s fire hit him like a lightning strike. It mingled with his own, and he channeled their fire through him like a living conduit, down the length of his sword, and into the light water. It raced along the tracks, blazing through the intricate patterns until it reached the pool at the end, where it shot upwards, draw in by the pull of Belara’s stars. The fire crackled between each of the stars in a flash, then lit Falient’s smoke, until the entire mouth of the cave was alive with a swirling inferno.
Lask sheathed his sword, and Stefin went to him to carefully unwrap the whip fall, dislodging the spikes from Lask’s arm. The Demon coiled the whip back to replace it on his belt, then followed Lask up to stand before the blazing entrance. Lask motioned for the others, and the rest of his family came to stand with him, the children filing in among them as well. Lask raised his right hand toward the fire, and spoke the words of the Writer, moving his hand in a slow shape of the cross. As he spoke, the others repeated the gesture and words after him,
“No Darkness shall pass over this threshold, either coming or going. The Titan Methok shall be contained within this cave until or unless he is released by Stefin Scalderro. This we declare, the Alkesh Alushain, by the Word and power of the Great Light. Amen.”
With the final word, each spirit present released a bolt of their own magic at the entrance, and the fires flared brighter until the whole opening glowed with light of their wards. When it was done, the group parted, and Stefin stepped to the front. The Demon pricked forefinger with his own claw, then flicked a drop of his blood into the flames. The magic seemed to ripple for a moment, then settled back into the steady glow of stars and fire.
“It is done,” Lask said. “Let us hope it will hold. Cressida, when we return, wait in the foyer until the Library signals you.”
As the sun descended, the Darkness awoke for the night. Zestir strode into the courtyard of his stronghold to inspect the holding cells at the base of the walls. Each cell was brimming with captured Lakvos, Warmongers, Serpents, and Runners; enemy soldiers he had amassed for one purpose. He nodded his approval to the Demon he had tasked with the job of collecting the prisoners– a broad woman called Grevna– then walked out to the massive doors set into the ground on one side of the courtyard. They looked like an oversized cellar entrance, but they were locked with a huge iron mechanism. Zestir reached out and pricked his finger on the spike of the lock, opening it with his blood instead of a key, then he snapped to his waiting underlings,
Warmongers and Lakvos seized thick iron chains on either side of the doors. The lengths of chain passed through huge metal rings and mounted onto the doors in three different places. They braced themselves, straining against the chains to pull the doors open. It took fifteen creatures to open each of the doors. After they had pulled the doors upright, they had to let go of the chains and sprint to avoid the immense doors as they fell open. One Lakvo was not quite fast enough, and his shriek was abruptly cut off as the falling door crushed him. Zestir didn’t seem to notice.
The Demon approached the black opening, starting down the stairs into the cavernous pit beneath. There was no light in the pit, but Zestir did not need it. He descended the grime-covered steps down, down, into the rocky bottom far below. As he made his way into the deep, a low, grating reverberation rose to meet him in steady undulations. It was the breathing of the Titan below– steady, thunderous breaths as it slept.
Cressida sat on the bench in the foyer of Manahaen. She was swinging her legs and scuffing her feet in a steady rhythm on the floor as she waited. She held a portfolio folder of several pages, words from the Writer. Falient waited, keeping her company as the sun set. The two watched the large silver orb in the center of the foyer as it spun, the eternal ink fogging and swirling listlessly over its surface, forming no words. They had been sitting there for over an hour, and Falient could tell Cressida was bored.
“You’d never make it stalkin’ somethin’,” Falient teased her.
“I don’t need to stalk things,” Cressida retorted, “I can swoop in and roast them.”
“Do you think this will work?” Cressida tried not to sound skeptical.
“I imagine.” Falient nodded. “There’s a lot of powerful magic in this group.”
“Sure, but I’m…” She paused and didn’t finish. “What if I’m not strong enough?”
Falient smiled and put an arm around her shoulder, replying, “You got enough magic in you for twenty people. You’re my daughter, and of a great Demon empress. You’ve read plenty of things out of books before. Doesn’t matter how big it is. You just think of it as no different than reading out Jiminy or that sword of yours.”
Cressida smiled a little, still pleased with herself for having read out Excaliber, and pestering Lask into training her with it. She glanced back to the orb and exclaimed, “Tabo!”
“Aye,” Falient confirmed, seeing the swirling ink start to take shape. “There it is.”
Four words appeared on the orb’s surface, turning slowly as it moved: Zestir wakes the Titan.
“Go on,” Falient said.
Cressida stood and opened the portfolio. She stepped up in front of the orb, as if she could somehow read to the Library itself, and found her voice to begin,
“When Zestir reached the bottom…”
When Zestir reached the bottom, he came to stand before the behemoth. Methok was an enormous creature, filling the bottom of the pit with his sooty black body. The orange glow of fire stirred in his nostrils, and every now and then, a spark would escape on his breath. The dragon dwarfed Zestir, but the Demon stood over him with a certain smug pride, and bellowed,
The breathing stopped a moment, then returned as growl– a sound so low it was as if the great shifting plates of the world had found their voice. Eyes snapped open in the blackness, gleaming like hot coals, and fire seemed to kindle inside the beast, for the edge of every ashy scale glowed as if he were a living ember. The dragon unfurled himself, dreadful leathery wings sprawling, unable to open in the confines of the pit. A long sinuous tail curled along the wall behind Zestir, the tip of it dripping with molten sludge.
Zestir reached up and grabbed the short chain at the Titan’s throat. Only three links dangled from the iron collar fused around the dragon’s neck, but the Demon reached for them without fear. He had claimed the Titan by them years ago on the battlefield outside Kotelgrym. He pulled the dragon’s head down to look him squarely in the eyes.
“The holding cells in the courtyard are filled with prisoners,” Zestir told the Titan, “Feast until you are full, and then take your fire to Avigdell and all who dwell there.”
Methok snarled an acknowledgement, and Zestir released his grip on the chain. The Titan turned, claws scouring the stone as he scrambled up out of the pit. Zestir grinned as he watched the beast climb, and heard screams in the courtyard at the sight of the monster. Methok hauled himself out of the pit, but just as he emerged, a light seemed to gather around him. It was almost like the flash of a portal opening. It seemed to flow over the dragon’s shape like water, and for an instant, those in the courtyard thought they could see the lines of letters and words swirling in the light. The strange apparition seemed to net the Titan, and Methok snapped at the light, trying to break through to the waiting meal beyond.
From his place still below in the pit, Zestir could see the end of the Titan’s whipping tail, then all of a sudden, it vanished. Zestir’s brow furrowed, and he stared at the place where the tail had swung above him. The courtyard fell silent. There were no more screams, no grate of metal as the cells were torn open; certainly not the cacophony of a Titan feeding. Zestir jogged back up the steps, and his dark eyes swept the courtyard. The cowering prisoners in the cells stared outward in silence. The guards around the stronghold blinked, stunned and terrified. Grevna gawked open-mouthed.
“WHERE IS IT?” Zestir thundered.
“It just… vanished,” she said. “There was light, then it was just… gone.”
The courtyard echoed with the sound of Zestir’s irate roar.
Stefin and Giemm waited outside the cavern in Verica. The sun was nearly gone, lingering only in the faint blush of red through the trees. The fires still blazed along the patterns in the dust, and over the entrance of the cavern. As the sky began to fade to velvety indigo, Giemm caught sight of another light growing on the other side of the fire. He nudged the Demon beside him with a feathery elbow.
Inside the cavern, light blossomed. As Stefin watched, he could see faint impressions of words in the light, and thought he could hear the echo of Cressida’s voice. He stood and prowled closer to the entrance, watching the light flare. Giemm saw his fingers curl, hands tightening into fists as he crossed his arms across his chest, the only sign of his anxiousness. Giemm rose as well, but hung back, letting Stefin wait with his own thoughts.
The light flared inside the cavern, flashing the Demon in silhouette as he waited, as the magic pulled the Titan through. Suddenly, there was a crack like thunder, and a furious roar rang out of the cavern. Inside, a different fire flared, defining the edges of scales and the glare of eyes.
“Methok,” called Stefin.
The Titan bellowed in outrage, flinging himself at the Demon outside. The dragon collided with the magic at the entrance, and sparks rained over him. A peal of thunder sounded when the magic held. Methok gave a harsh scream, scrambling back from the wards.
“Don’t do that,” Stefin told him. “You’ll singe your nose.”
The Titan let out that subterranean rumble of a growl and glowered with blazing eyes at the Demon.
“You remember me,” Stefin said.
There was no acknowledgement from the dragon inside. The beast paced in tight circles in the cave, long claws sending up sparks from the stone, and all the while that vengeful growl persisted.
“I will get you out of there,” Stefin told the Titan, “And with any luck, you’ll never be this hungry again.”
Giemm came to his side to inspect the dragon as well. Methok bared his teeth at the bird.
“Oh, he definitely remembers you,” Stefin teased.
Giemm gave a wry smile.
“Go fetch some guards,” said Stefin, “Then I will join you in Cuartan. We have work to do.”