Haunt of Stars
The golden glow of sunlight was creeping over the edge of the world as everyone gathered on the deck. Hadrian stood out of the way, watching as the pirates readied two boats to be taken to shore. He wrapped his cloak tightly around him, ducking his head down to avoid the growing light. He had thought that he would have enjoyed being out of the cabin more than he was. It was achingly delicious to be able to stretch and move freely again, but his mood was darkened by an eerie feeling he had. He couldnt quite identify it, but he was sure it had something to do with his dreams the night before.
For the first time in a long time, Hadrian had not dreamed about Rhiad. In fact, he had slept deeply and felt very refreshed. But he was sure he had dreamed. A voice like the wind seemed to whisper over his skin but he could not remember to whom that voice belonged or what it had said to him. Then again, he supposed his mood could be attributed to the island before them.
Hadrian raised his eyes, gazing pensively at the forest before them. The Grey Isle was probably a quarter of the size of Shards Point, but he could see many similarities between the two islands. The only true difference was, where Shards Point was wind and sunshine, the Grey Isle was stillness and shadow. A forest began just off the beach of the island before them, seemingly overflowing with evergreen trees. A thick fog had developed during the twilight hours and it hung through the trunks, shrouding the island in dark mystery. Through the trees, Hadrian could just make out the tower of a castle. Even the golden light of sunrise would not quite pierce the eerie shadow of the island.
Hadrians head snapped to the left, meeting Caleds sapphire eyes. The mercenary was waving him over to the boats. He pushed himself away from the wall and made his way over.
Having second thoughts? The mercenarys voice was surprisingly neutral.
Of course not, Hadrian replied. Still, he couldnt help an uneasy glance at the forest.
I would just like to be sure that everyone understands that, when this whole folly starts to come apart, I claim the right to say I told you so, Syellen said, swinging herself out onto the rungs that led down to the boats.
Of course, Sy, Caled replied as he watched the mage apprentice disappear down the side. If you didnt, we would worry.
Not much, Lio whispered to Hadrian. The sorcerer smothered a smile.
A short time later, everyone was climbing out of the boats, looking at the trees in varying levels of unease. The forest seemed quiet, the occasion flapping of bird wings and the lap of the waves onto the shore the only sounds of Life to be had. Even Borley seemed to be at a loss of words. Caled was the first to break the silence. Well, the Collars are not going to come to us. Lets go. He started up into the trees, glancing behind him to make sure that Hadrian was following.
Inside, the forest was even thicker than it had appeared before. The branches of the occasional dying sapling seemed to reach out to scratch the skin, thick vegetation on the ground making it difficult to walk around. Even so, the heavy fall of pine needles muffled the sound of their passing, as if everything existed for silence in this place. More than once, Hadrian had violently flinched away when low hanging ivy had brushed across his face. He pulled up his hood, trying to eliminate the contact the forest seemed to be reaching for.
The level of the ground seemed to be rising slightly, making the hike more difficult. Dead snags and fallen trees littered their path and the air was cool and heavy with mist. The place seemed to sap Hadrians energy so that he stumbled wearily, yet they were not even in sight of the city yet. They came across a large tree, fallen to the forest floor. The roots of the tree were a wild mess in one direction, the canopy of the tree extending farther than they could see.
Caled eyed the tree. He pulled his sword and rapped the trunk with the pommel. Seems solid enough. I think it would be easiest to simply climb over it. Hadrian closed his eyes, emitting a soft sigh. The tree was huge. He didnt feel he had the energy to climb it.
The pirates who had accompanied them swarmed over the tree. Caled stopped at the top, kneeling to reach down a hand to first Syellen, and then Manix as Gam climbed over to assist on the other side. Hadrian picked a spot out of the way and slowly began climbing up. He was standing at the top, looking for a way down when his foot caught a patch of rot. Hadrian swung out his arms instinctually, trying to keep from falling when strong hands grabbed his hips, pulling him backwards against a strong body. He turned his head and froze as he met Borley's blue-green eyes. Hadrian was suddenly aware of how close the captain was holding him, how vulnerable he was. He could feel Borleys breath on his neck and the captains hands holding his hips back so that he could feel the slight pressure of Borleys groin against his buttocks. His eyes flicked to Caled in terrified desperation.
And let the kitten fall? Borley asked pleasantly. Caleds eyes darkened dangerously at the mocking pet name. Borley flashed them a smile, his eyes lingering briefly on Hadrian, then climbed down amidst spattered snickering from his team. Caled gently helped Hadrian down and they continued on their way.
What seemed to Hadrian like hours later, the trees finally thinned out as they approached a crumbling stone wall. They rounded the wall and entered an old courtyard. The building was made of a dark stone that was crumbling with age. The courtyard was made of the same dark stone edged in green grass near the wall surrounding an interior walkway. Dotted around the edge of the courtyard were leafy, bone-white trees, their leaves darkened in scarlet and gold tones for autumn. There were fallen leaves and pine needles dotting the stones and in the center of the courtyard was a crumbling well.
Manix stepped up beside Hadrian as the sorcerer pushed back his hood. I had forgotten how old this place was supposed to be, the Elder said softly, his voice piercing the eerie silence. The carvings on the wall have all but eroded away.
A soft breeze blew threw the trees, brushing against the back Hadrians neck. He shivered, drawing his cloak about him. I wish we had not come to this place, he whispered. He felt a bone-chilling sense of dread, the silence of the land settling heavily on his heart.
But we have, Borley said, not bothering to temper his volume. His voice cracked through the silence. Hadrian felt disturbed by his brashness. And, as Caled has said, the collars are not coming to us. He pushed past Hadrian and Moved toward an opening in the courtyard wall. Caled lightly grasped Hadrians arm.
Stay with me. His voice was low. They moved forward, into the courtyard. Manix and Syellen broke away from the general group.
We will try to examine these markings, Manix said, gingerly touching the stone. Perhaps we will be able to decipher some sort of script.
Well go inside and have a look around, Caled replied, watching as Borley and his men disappeared through a door on the left hand side of the courtyard. He turned to the thieves. Gam and Lio, you go to the right. Hadrian and myself will go straight. The thieves nodded, eerily similar with their matching eye patches. They slunk off together, making no noise against the dried leaves.
Hadrian followed Caled across the courtyard. The breeze picked up again, brushing Hadrians hair into his face from behind.
Hadrian, he heard, soft as a whisper.
Hadrian turned, looking at Manix but the two mages had their backs to him. He glanced in the direction that Gam and Lio went in, but they were gone.
Whats wrong? Caled asked.
Hadrian shook his head slowly. Nothing, he finally said. I just I thought I heard someone speak my name.
Caled eyed him for a second. There was no one, he said finally. Stay with me, Hades.
I am, Hadrian replied, turning back to him.
I dont only mean physically. The mercenary gave him a piercing, considering look and then turned and headed inside.
Inside, the rooms were terribly bare, as if the furnishing had long since been lost to time. Dirt and dead leaves covered the floor and the windows were empty, exposing the room to the elements. On the far end of the room was another door. Without a word, Hadrian and Caled went through it.
The other rooms were pretty much the same. Some were large, some small, but all of the rooms grew darker the deeper they went into the castle. I should have brought a torch, Caled grumbled, peering into a dark room.
A soft glitter caught Hadrians eye. He stepped into the room, mindful of where he put his feet. He pulled some cobwebs free and found himself looking into a dusty mirror. This wasnt the first mirror they had come across; the castle seemed to be crawling with them. Another mirror, Caled said behind him. Come away from there, Hades.
They must be good for something, the younger man mused, gently touching the surface. A pale blue light shimmered in the corner of his eye, like the twinkling of a star, but when he looked, he saw nothing. He frowned. The twinkle stirred something in him, as if it were a forgotten dream that teased his memory, but the more he tried to grab it, the farther it slipped from his grasp.
Yes, to appease the vanity of these people. Come away, Caled snapped half-heartedly, looking for something he could improvise a torch with.
But Hadrian didnt hear him. He lightly ran his finger to the top of the mirror, and then gently pushed.
The mirror gently creaked, time having all but rusted the joints shut. It moved slowly, catching the light from a crack in the wall. Suddenly, the room was lit with sunlight. Several mirrors lined the walls of the hall ahead, metal oil torches in sconces above each one.
What did you do? Caled asked.
The mirrors, Hadrian replied. They must be placed to reflect the natural light during the day.
Caled! They heard shouted from another room. Caled turned as Hadrian began to slowly walk down the hallway.
Something was not right. The castle seemed so familiar to him, painfully familiar. The sorcerer desperately searched his mind, trying to remember where he knew this all from. He briefly wondered if the hall was reminding him of the castle of the Order on Shards Point. But that couldnt be it; the castle there was sparse with little decorations, but Hadrian remembered this hallway with rich red carpets like a river of wine and sputtering candlelight reflected in polished mirrors with golden frames. Hadrian, whispered a voice, soft as a breeze.
Hadrian stopped, looking around. He knew that voice. He had heard it before. He looked to the mirror beside him and found himself illuminated in the reflected light. Beside him was a cloud of pale blue mist, like light through rippling water. Hadrian ni Leyanon, the voice sighed in welcome. Eyes, bright as stars, opened in the mist.
Hades, come back here, Caled called
Hadrian turned around, his eyes wide with fear. He remembered now, the dream from last night. Caled, he said softly, his voice choked. Caled, my dream.
What dream? Caled asked, Gam and Lio standing behind him.
A hard wind blew through the hallway. The voice, when it spoke, was no longer a soft whisper. Come to me, Hadrian ni Leyanon.
Caleds eyes widened as the two thieves looked around. Did you hear that? Lio asked, trying to find the source of the voice. There was a loud groaning, the sound of shifting rock. Hadrians eyes met Caleds, a whimper escaping his throat as the mercenary started running forward. Then the floor collapsed beneath the sorcerer.
Hades! shouted Caled. There was a loud creak
as the mirror shifted and the hallway went black.
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