Chapter the Third
Linnatiel sighed as she looked at her hands, neatly folded in her lap, then looked around the Great Library she sat in. It was an enormous room, its vast expanse of space only lit by a few candles mounted on the walls, and a lamp that sat on a great oak desk at the far end of the library. Shelves packed with old, thick and dusty volumes lined every wall, several meters high. The elf shuffled her feet on the elegant carpet that blanketed the floor as she sat on a cushioned armchair. The carpet was maroon, with elaborate designs wrought in colours of gold and silver. They seemed to weave into a pattern, then back out again. Linnatiel pulled her eyes off the carpet, for fear of getting dizzy. She toyed a bit with a silver bracelet on her wrist, tracing a slender finger over the woven patterns.
"Are you bored, My Lady?" A voice at her side asked. Linnatiel almost jumped. Shusa stood next to her chair, her arms crossed.
"Shusa," Linnatiel breathed in relief. "No, I was just thinking." Curiosity passed across Shusa’s gaze.
"Concerned about the human boy, My Lady? I think he takes a fancy after you." Linnatiel tried to hide a blush as Shusa continued. "But, I fear he must find himself before anything else. He is like a scattered puzzle, trying to complete himself."
"Shusa, I don’t think I’ve ever had any friend like Derryn," Linnatiel admitted. "At least, when we were younger." Shusa’s mouth quirked into an amused smile.
"Ah, if we were forever young," the hunter mused. "There’s something I’d be grateful for. Ha!" She turned to Linnatiel, then shook her head. "Apologies, My Lady. I spoke out of turn. Nonetheless, you have little to worry about, little one. Your beauty will last a great many years. It most certainly has ensnared young Drakelight, My Lady." Linnatiel’s blush reddened; she straightened her back and ran a hand through her hair, trying to regain her composure.
"Please, Shusa. That will be enough." Her voice was calm, but held enough authority to cause Shusa to bow her head.
"My deepest apologies, My Lady. I did not mean to offend," she said gravely. When Shusa was sorry, she meant it, Linnatiel thought. The hunter had been her guardian since childhood; her tone became more formal as Linnatiel had grown into her royalty.
"It is all right, Shusa," she replied, shaking her head. "Perhaps I am swayed too easily." The hunter decided to change the subject.
"What did Mistress Velena say about...about your talent?"
"She said it is very rare, especially in royal elven blood," Linnatiel replied. "Only rare because I have so much potential." Shusa took in a breath.
"A high Mage in Vellucyn," she breathed. "There has not been one in centuries."
"She also said, like you, that it is very dangerous if uncontrolled," Linnatiel continued. "Mistress Velena said she would have to teach me to control my power." Shusa nodded.
"You could have no better a teacher in the art of magic," she said. "Mistress Velena is a formidable spell weaver." Linnatiel nodded in agreement.
"I know. I just...I just wish that—" Before she could finish her sentence, the great doors to the library swung open. Rathos strode in, closely followed by Tareth. The barbarian seemed upset about something.
"What’s wrong, Tareth?" Linnatiel asked, standing up. Tareth mumbled something and scratched his bald head awkwardly.
"He said he has not lost such a decisive defeat in a sword duel before," Rathos said, grinning half to himself. Linnatiel glanced at the scabbard at his waist; it looked worn and beaten, though she could bet that the blade was as sharp and clean as when it had been first forged. Shusa reached up and patted the barbarian on the shoulder.
"It is no surprise," she said, "that you would lose to Rathos. He is a Waymaster." The older elf shot a glance at Rathos. "Though he may not act like it." The brown-haired swordsman raised his palms defensively.
"Hey, Shusa, I thought we agreed to forget about that...incident in Vellucyn," he chuckled nervously. Shusa planted her fists on her hips and glared at Rathos.
"The first time you came to Vellucyn, almost twenty years ago, you tried hitting on every elf girl in sight, including me," she growled. "My case was more embarrassing than most." Rathos was about to retort when footsteps came from the doorway. Velena walked in, followed by Derryn. Derryn’s eyes were red and there where spots on his cheeks where dried tears had once been. Yet the young swordsman walked tall despite his wound, his hand resting the hilt of the sword at his waist. Tareth grinned at his friend.
"You are a stout man, little master!" He laughed, clapping Derryn on the shoulder. "I’ll not have you bed-ridden while we still have a score to settle!" Linnatiel walked to Derryn.
"Are you all right, Derryn?" she asked, in a quiet, subdued voice.
"I’ll be okay, Linn," he replied. "It’ll take more than a cut to put me down." The elf looked down.
"To think it was my fault that you...you..." She trailed off. Derryn squeezed her shoulder.
"Come on, it’s not your fault, Linn," he said cheerfully. "I do this kind of thing all the time. Stupid things, I mean." He grinned sheepishly.
"Hey now, don’t go crying on me. I’d rather have a happy elf than a sad elf; happy elves smile all day, but sad ones cry all year. Smile for me, Princess." Linnatiel raised her head; her frown quirked into a cheery smile. With a little laugh, she hugged Derryn.
"I’m glad you’re all right, Derryn," she said. Rathos stepped out to face Derryn, sweeping out his cloak.
"It really has been a while, nephew," he said with a wide grin on his face. "So this is what you’ve been getting your fool self into all this time." Derryn’s eyes widened in surprise.
"Uncle—" Rathos held up one finger to silence him, shaking his head.
"Uh-uh. I’ll hear none of that ‘Uncle’ this and ‘Uncle’ that around here; you call me by my first name now, boy."
"Okay, Un—Rathos. But what on earth are you doing here?" Derryn asked. Rathos snorted.
"This is my pitiful excuse for a home, boy," he said. Derryn looked surprised. "It’s been...how many? A hundred years since the place was dusted?" Rathos continued. "One would think Velena would have enough sense to clean up around here." He suddenly gave a start as he realized Velena was in the room. She placed a hand on her hip and glared maliciously at Rathos.
"Another quip like that, my dear Waymaster," she snarled, "and you’ll be the one doing the cleaning." Her face became serene again as she turned to Derryn. "This is the Northern Sanctuary, Derryn Drakelight. The only place on Ryth where you can see everything that happens, where every event is recorded, every voice is heard.
"You will never find the Sanctuary on any map, for it is nowhere and everywhere at once. It is called the Northern Sanctuary only because of the Pathways, such as the one you have taken to arrive here. If you take notice, all of the Pathways travel north.
"There are Pathways such as the one in Elithanor scattered all throughout Ryth, although we are the only ones to have a record of all of them and their locations. The Northern Sanctuary was built, long ago, by people who believed that Ryth should have a custodian of sorts, who watch over the land. We," Velena explained, gesturing to herself and Rathos, "are the keepers of the Sanctuary. We observe anomalies in the events that occur during the course of time, and we decipher it, and do what is necessary to restore the flow of time to normal." The mage faced them all, now. "Precious few have been allowed the privilege to enter the Sanctuary; mainly because there are only a precious few who can find Pathways, and enter them." Rathos jokingly scowled at her. "Or, because Rathos does not allow them to enter," she amended.
"So what do we do now?" Derryn said. "Now that everything’s okay, we’re supposed to just leave and be on our way?"
"Nonsense," Velena replied, "All of you are here for a reason, however far-fetched it may sound. Ponder this: the son of a Templar baron leaves his home and wanders into an elven forest, where he meets his childhood friend, coincidentally the Princess-Heir to the throne of Vellucyn. There they are attacked, and flee to the Northern Sanctuary. Both have incredible potential for something greater than they could ever imagine, and both their lives are destined for something greater than they could ever imagine." Velena rested her gaze on Linnatiel and Derryn. "No, this is no mere coincidence. You have been brought here, to me, for a reason."
"Excuse my interruption, Mistress," Tareth rumbled, "but it seems as if everyone save myself is here for a reason. I am the only one here who is not akin to anybody else." Velena walked to Tareth and looked up at him.
"Fate does not always provide us a neat package to work with, Tareth," she said. "There are always inconsistencies, no matter what we do. There is always something that cannot be explained. For instance, who could imagine a Northerner actually leaving his home in the mountains, travelling halfway across the continent just to get himself caught up in this tangle of events?" Tareth’s eyes widened, and he gaped at her response.
"Yet...I...I said nothing about my journey!" He stammered. Velena gave an amused smile.
"In the Sanctuary, I see many things others do not," she replied, then addressed them all. "Ryth is a young land, barely one thousand years in history have been written. We have been blessed with peace, for a time, at least. But I fear things will be changing in the world."
"I can feel it in the trees," Shusa uttered, barely loud enough for them to hear. "in the air. In Elithanor, the branches wound themselves tight, as if they were bracing for something." Derryn said nothing; he knew that all elves had some kind of attunement to the plants that grew around them.
Velena paused for a moment, then sat down in a chair provided by Rathos. She sighed heavily, as if she carried a burden. "Few know about the subtle changes in the world, but there are those who seek to stir the populace of cities such as Konarr and Inlea into an uproar, inciting riots and other distasteful things," she said. "Word of Lord Ithralli’s incident will no doubt reach mainland Ryth, and there will be speculations. The last thing we need is a divided Ryth." Linnatiel’s eyes hardened; they looked the same as when she held Derryn’s own blade to his throat. The coldness of her eyes made him shudder.
"And what about the Nightcloaks, who tried to do the same to me?" she demanded. "What are we going to do about them?!"
"Peace, daughter of Vellucyn," Velena soothed, assuaging the elf’s agitation. "The Nightcloaks traveled a long way from the Blackened Wastes; surely they are scouts for Lord Wynell." She shook her head in disgust. "I never liked the foul creatures that come out of the Wastes. As for you, Princess," Velena said, "you must remain here, for your protection. That, and you must learn to control your power." Derryn’s ears perked up.
"Power? What power?" he asked, glancing at Linnatiel.
"The power of magic, no less," Velena answered first, before Linnatiel could. Derryn placed a gloved hand against his forehead in dismay.
"Waste, all of this talk of fate and magic and riots all at once is numbing my head," he moaned.
"As for you, young Drakelight," Velena said, turning her gaze on him, "you will not be able to return to your normal life for some time. You, too, have much to learn and do. As for your going back home, I do not think you would like that. Granted, your parents will be relieved, but as I recall, your father has a stern temper. You might not be able to leave the Templar state for the rest of your natural life, if you go back." Derryn moaned again.
The days at the Northern Sanctuary slowed to a crawl for Derryn. When he was not learning the sword under the tutelage of Rathos, which occupied half his day, the young swordsman aimlessly wandered about the massive edifice in which he was seemingly entrapped.
The Sanctuary was by no means a small building. Although on the surface, it seemed like one chamber connecting to many hallways, some of the rooms had stairways of their own, elaborate, twisting passageways leading upstairs or downstairs. Derryn could hardly keep track of when one stairway lead to another hallway, then to more hallways. More than once, he was afraid he would become lost in the Sanctuary forever, or at least, until Velena found him and hauled him back to his room by the ear.
To Derryn, the Sanctuary seemed like one very large inn, although he had rarely been in one. It had everything one could wish for, all indoors. The complex matter was that of finding what you wanted. Even Velena admitted that she had not explored every room, since it seemed the chain of stairs and floors was infinite. At least, Derryn familiarized himself with the main floor.
The rooms where the four visitors slept were on the west wing of the main chamber. The hallways themselves were in distinct contrast to the rocky walls of the main chamber; they were carved out of simple stone, sometimes wood, as all of the doors were. A small lamp was hung beside every door, ever burning. Derryn thought that the sorcery of the Sanctuary kept all of the lamps alight.
His own room was the one he had found himself in when he first woke up from his injuries. It was not a bad room, but he would have liked some of the extra flourishes that were present in his own room back home. Regardless, he was grateful for what he had.
The Sanctuary’s dueling grounds was found at the end of the north wing of the main chamber. It was incredible to behold; Derryn’s face hung open the first time he saw it, and he stared until Rathos slapped him upside the head to snap him out of his trance. Unbelievably large, it must have measured at least over a hundred paces in length and width. The floors were polished wood, and weapons of every size, type and culture lined the walls. The ceiling of the grounds opened up into a magnificent skylight, where a serene, dark blue sky was ever present. At times, Derryn saw flurries of snow whirling across the sky. It seemed peaceful in the dueling grounds.
Rathos’ lessons, however, were a different story. He was a strict teacher, and expected much of his nephew. Not that that could not be attained by Derryn; he was simply not accustomed to learning and applying so much in a single day. By the end, Derryn’s hands were more calloused than before, and he had received more than one sliver from a wooden practice sword. Yet, he could feel himself improving. Before long, he moved with a grace and strength that even Rathos was impressed with. The Waymaster watched approvingly as Derryn stepped smoothly through the sword forms, flowing like water from one to the next. But, for all this, Derryn began to despise the confines of the Sanctuary.
It all seemed too much like Drakelight Keep, where he practiced his swordplay and not much else, never being allowed to leave. It agitated him, and nagged at the back of his mind. He found no point to staying at the Sanctuary, where life was passing him by and there were still places he wanted to go. No doubt, his sense of wanderlust was catching up to him again, after he had lost the Sanctuary’s sense of wonder. One day, he confronted Tareth about it, and the barbarian agreed the same.
"It is an unpleasant feeling," he said, "But it can’t be helped, little master. We each have our own tasks ahead of us, and we must prepare until Mistress Velena says we are ready. Besides, I’m beginning to appreciate the culinary skills of the Sanctuary." Tareth tore off another mouthful of meat from the cooked chicken leg gripped in his fist, grinning.
The Sanctuary was by no means completely devoid of life; in a building this large, Derryn reasoned that there must have been some other people residing there. There was a large kitchen on the east wing, with an equally large number of people cooking, cleaning, and scurrying about with other tasks. The swordsman sometimes saw Rathos teaching other students to fight, although with not as much fervor as when he taught Derryn. In the time that he wandered about the Sanctuary, he sometimes passed by young people clad in heavy, coloured robes that brushed against the floor as they walked. They calmly had their arms tucked in their sleeves, and often nodded as he passed. There were some girls in those robes who noticed him as they walked by; a couple giggling, or a shy glance tossed his way. A few of them made Derryn’s head turn more than once; they were certainly pretty. But he still had no idea who they were. Following a group of them one time, he found they were disciples of magic, the handful of youths in Ryth who were capable of using it to weave spells. They sometimes held classes in large, bland-looking chambers; nothing with the elegance or complexity of the Sanctuary’s architecture. On one occasion, he found Linnatiel seated in such a room with other students, dressed in a grey robe. It struck him as odd that a Princess would be wearing such simple clothes. Before long, Derryn realized that the colours of the robes corresponded to their level of advancement. At the same time, he shuddered at having so many magic adepts around him, almost fearful when at any moment, a fireball could be hurled his way.
Derryn had little time to speak with Linnatiel, as her classes took up the majority of her time. They only had a few quick words at different times of the day, but never a lasting conversation. As the days passed, it seemed she had become acquainted with some of the students at her level. At least, she wasn’t bored when she was making friends. Derryn only had Rathos, Tareth and Shusa to talk to.
The latter person was often irritated, as she was not allowed to accompany the Princess, and thus could not assume her role of guardian. Almost the same as Derryn, she, too, wandered the Sanctuary. "This is no place for a Hunter," she growled one time. "But I fear it is for the best." A few times she and Derryn had spoken; he wanted to hear what Vellucyn was like since he last visited it. "Much the same as before," Shusa sighed, "although the old forest paths are becoming overgrown. Most likely because you and Lady Linnatiel never tread there anymore." She sighed again. "I always remembered you two, always playing around and causing general havoc. I miss those days." Derryn found himself missing those days as well.
It had been almost two weeks spent in the Northern Sanctuary when Derryn lay on the bed in his room, his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. He was still wearing his boots, and his white shirt was lazily half-buttoned. His sword lay across his shoulder, his most faithful friend, he considered it. His brown hair was slicked back with sweat, after another session of training. A piece of paper with an illegible scrawling on it sat on a desk, along with a pen and a bottle of ink. In his boredom, Derryn had taken up drawing. Or at least tried to. Even he could not decipher what the thing on the paper was. Presently a knock sounded on the door. Two more knocks, more urgent than before.
Derryn raised his head, curious. No one had ever knocked on his door before. Stretching and yawning, he sat up on his bed. Hooking his sword on his belt, he strode toward the door, and opened it. Linnatiel and another, red-haired girl burst in, slamming the door shut and retreating to a corner, giggling to themselves. Derryn looked puzzled. Linnatiel was wearing a white robe now, her friend a green. "Excuse me, ladies," he began, but Linnatiel raised a finger to her lips, hushing him silent. After a moment, a raucous sound of voices roared down the hallway, laughing voices. Derryn crossed his arms and tapped his foot on the floor. The two girls seemed to carry on a hushed conversation without taking any notice of him. Thoroughly annoyed, he loudly cleared his throat. "It’s good to see you, too, Linn," he called out in a clear voice. Linnatiel looked up, then gave a start. Seeing the masked expression of hurt in his eyes, she ran to Derryn, hugging him tight.
"I’m sorry, Derryn," she said ashamedly. "I didn’t mean to snub you like that." The swordsman gently pulled free of her crushing embrace and smiled.
"I know, Linn. It must be difficult finding time in your...ahem...busy schedule," he grinned again, quickly buttoning up his shirt. He glanced at the redhead sitting on his bed. She was of medium height and build, and had dark eyes that, in conjunction with her flaming red hair, made her look mischievous. Her face was longer Linnatiel’s, and she looked attractive.
"Linnatiel, is this the handsome, brave and utterly dashing swordfighter we’ve all been hearing about?" the girl teased. The elf’s cheeks reddened.
"Nadia, I said NOTHING of the sort!" She protested. "It’s the rumours that you and Evelyn exaggerate into something more than it is!" Derryn raised an eyebrow.
"Ahem, girls, do you want me to leave? I can see this conversation isn’t for my ears." The girl called Nadia eagerly encouraged him to stay, while Linnatiel protested furiously. Derryn was going to leave anyway; he didn’t need to hear any of this ‘girl talk’. He opened the door, and found himself face to face with a Nightcloak. "WASTE!" He cursed loudly enough to make every adult within two floors wince. The two apprentices, startled, quickly backed away from the door.
"Come to me, Drakelight," the Nightcloak hissed, drawing its two knives, deadly keen and razor sharp. "We wait for you." The twin flashes of steel sweeped at the swordsman, and missed as he hopped back. With a quick motion of his fingers, Derryn unclasped the scabbard at his hip, then swung the end up through the Nightcloak’s jaw. Dazed, the assailant then reeled as it was knocked back by a flurry of thrusts from the scabbard point. When it had stumbled back far enough, Derryn slammed the door shut, throwing his back against it.
"Derryn..." Linnatiel said quietly. "Not like last time..." Derryn grimaced at her.
"Linn, I don’t suck that much," he growled, then his eyes smoldered in determination. "This time, I will protect you." Linnatiel looked at him in half worry, half gratitude. He glanced at Nadia as the Nightcloak threw its weight against the door, a loud thump. "You look like someone who knows some magic. If I fail, get Linn away from here!" Nadia smirked and nodded. It would have to do. Hooking the scabbard back on his belt, Derryn drew his sword. It gleamed like fire in the dim lamplight. Reaching one hand over to the doorknob, he gripped it and pulled the door free. Whirling around, he let loose a gut-wrenching yell that made the approaching Nightcloak cower, if for but a split second. But that was all Derryn needed.
Gripping the broadsword in both hands, he charged the black-clad assassin, forcing it against the wall with quick sword strokes. Confined by the width of the corridor, he found an opening in the Nightcloak’s defences and smashed the pommel of the sword across its jaw. Derryn heard the crunch of bone as he thrust the pommel, like a fist, twice more at the Nightcloak’s head. A thrust and twist through its chest, and it fell limp, the daggers clattering as they dropped from its hands. The dark form slumped down against the wall, dark blood staining its darker clothing. The same blood smeared the point of Derryn’s blade. He turned and looked inside the room again. Linnatiel and Nadia were stepping forward, as if about to help him.
"That was wonderfully done, swordfighter," Nadia commented, nodding in satisfaction. She nudged Linnatiel. "Don’t you think so, too, Linnatiel?" The elf’s cheeks began to burn again, but she straightened herself and raised her head.
"What on earth is a Nightcloak doing in the Sanctuary?" she pondered. "If there’s one Nightcloak, then there must be..." Her eyes widened. As if to finish her own sentence, sounds of a battle could be heard at either ends of the hall, clashing of steel mixing with bright flashes of coloured light. "Derryn!" She exclaimed over the din, "We have to help the others!" Derryn nodded, reaching his hand out to her.
"I know! Come on!" He urged. "Together, we can take on anything that can fit in this hallway!" When she took his hand, Derryn pulled Linnatiel close. His brown eyes burned like an unquenchable fire. "I will not let you down a second time. Never," he whispered forcefully. Linnatiel thought he looked like a knight, right then. She wanted to hug him fiercely, but instead nodded, and he then turned and led them down the hallway, his sword gripped menacingly in one hand. Linnatiel followed behind, alert of anything that could happen. Nadia brought up the rear, her hands glowing with a soft, white light. As they reached the end of the hallway, the sounds of fighting grew louder. When they stepped out into the main chamber of the Sanctuary, Derryn gaped.
The grand double doors leading from the Pathway were swung wide open; Nightcloaks poured in like a silent river of black death. Opposing them on the other side of the chamber were dozens of young men and women clad in coloured robes, chanting and weaving through the air with their hands. Vibrant slashes of green light arced across blazing lines of red. Strands of energy flew through the air, entangling and tying with each other. When they clashed, scorching lightning and searing fire shot forth, striking down several Nightcloaks at a time. Sword trainees formed a thin line in front of the mages, grasping their weapons determinedly. Rathos stood confidently at the center of the line, drawing his sword in one graceful motion, the trademark of a Waymaster. Still, the Nightcloaks rushed onward like a burst dam, their daggers gleaming. It would not be long before they reached the line of swordsmen protecting the mages. Sounds of fighting could be heard in the corridors.
"Go to the spell weavers!" Derryn heard himself screaming to the two women, thrusting a finger at the thick knot of mages. Linnatiel began to protest, but Nadia drew her away. He tried to ignore the elf’s desperate yells. A small group of swordsmen converged at the west corridor, where Derryn stood. Some were bloodied; they had been clearing out the hallways. They were dressed in browns and greys, each carrying a broadsword; many heaved with exhaustion. Tareth was with them, gripping his massive, two-handed blade, an almost feral glow in his eyes. He turned to Derryn.
"What do you think we should do, little master?" he asked. Derryn paused for a moment, even in the heated battle looming before him. He had not been a leader before, but he would not fail now. The swordsman then twirled the sword in his hands, and raised it high.
"Let’s show them how to wield a blade, swordsmen!" He cried. "Forward!" Tareth laughed out loud, a challenging laugh of bravado.
Around him echoed battle cries of "Strength and honour!" and "For the Sanctuary!". Letting a barbaric scream rip loose from his throat, he rushed forward, leading a band—no, his band—of warriors into the flank of the Nightcloaks.
-January 14, 2002