Haunt of Stars
For a brief moment, everything stilled. The mercenary and thieves stood in shocked silence after the loud crash of Hadrians fall. A stunned groan from the sorcerer snapped Caled back to his senses. Fix the mirror! He shouted at the thieves. They scrambled forward, pushing on it. Where it had moved easily for Hadrian, it refused to budge for them.
It wont move, Gam said, his voice strained as he struggled with the mirror.
Hades! Caled called out, feeling along the wall. If he would just find another mirror, then he would find the torches above them. Hades, are you okay?
Whats happening? he heard Syellen shouting as several people ran up. Caled ignored them, leaving the explanations to the thieves. His ears were listening for the sorcerer.
He heard harsh coughing from somewhere in front and below him. Hades? He continued creeping forward, searching for something to light.
Im okay, the sorcerer said, his voice strained.
Where are you? Caled asked.
There was silence for a moment. In a large room, was the reply. Its really dark.
Can you see a way out? There was no answer. Hades? A soft sobbing came from the hallway in front of him. Hades?
Borley walked up beside Caled, a burning torch in his hand. The torchlight illuminated the hole Hadrian fell through and the form of a little girl with long golden curls, huddled on the other side of the hole. The dress she wore was of a shiny material, a rich blue gray in color. She sat crying on the floor, only her eyes visible above her knees. She sang as she cried, her voice clear and sweet as a bird's.
Sleep now, my sweet.
The Moons in the sky,
The Stars are her fleet.
Peace rules the world,
The darkness is deep,
But have no fear
As you lie safe in sleep.
She continued to sing softly to herself. Caled ignored her and walked up to the hole. Hades, he called out.
He cannot hear you, the little girl said. Caled looked at her sharply.
How do you know that? he demanded.
I know, she replied.
If you know so much, then you can tell us how to get him out of there.
I cannot tell you, she said, still not lifting her face.
Yes, he said, his patience running thin, you can.
I cant. Ankou would be angry.
Who is Ankou? Borley asked. The girls eyes slid to him. She hissed like a cat.
Pirate! Thief! Murderer! The girl stood. Caled gasped in horror.
The little girls eyes were wild, a deep silvery glow in their blackening depths. Her doll like face was now drawn, her skin stretched tight over her skull as she glared at the pirate. But what was so awful was her gown, the shining material caked in the blood that poured from the large gaping slash across her delicate throat. Leave, pirate! she snarled, her voice an echoing hiss. This is a place of doom and despair. Flee, or your lives are forfeit!
A loud wailing erupted from somewhere deep in the castle. Terrible screams filled the halls as a strong wind started, pushing against them and driving them back the way they had come. With the wind came a great change in the hallway. The torches flared to life as the mirrors gleamed and shimmered. A long, red carpet like a stain of blood appeared on the floor, following in the wake of the wind. Caled turned, pressing himself flat against the wall by a large mirror, attempting to stay out of the winds fury. A bone-chilling cold pricked his shoulder and began to spread as if someone was pouring melting snow down his shirt. He turned his head into the wind to look at the mirror beside him. A woman was leaning out of it, her hand grasping his shoulder. Her skin glowed with green fire as she gazed at him, her eyes the same milky silver as the childs. She reached up towards her chest. Caleds eyes watched the movement, the mercenary frozen in horrified fascination. She pulled a cruel looking blade out of the center of her breast and raised it above her head.
Caled! someone shouted. He felt himself being pulled away from her freezing grasp. The woman struck out at him with the dagger, wailing in frustration as he moved out of reach. Caled looked at the other mirrors as he was dragged by. Some contained people trapped behind the glass, moaning and wailing, beckoning to him as they flaunted the various wounds that lead to their deaths. Others contained scenes of burning and pillaging, men that appeared different from the others attacking, maiming, murdering various people. Pirates. Didnt Manix say something about pirates?
Caled was yanked out of the long hallway. The door slammed close, settling the castle once again into silence and darkness.
Hadrian lay still, hearing shouting from somewhere above him. The air around him was thick with dust from falling through the floor. He coughed, choking slightly.
He paused, trying to calm his coughing. He mentally checked his body for pains. Im okay, he called out, his voice strained from the dust.
Where are you? Caled asked.
He gazed around, trying to peer through the darkness. He couldnt see very far, but the emptiness seemed to extend uninterrupted for quite a ways. In a large room, he replied. Its really dark.
He listened for a moment, waiting for a response. None came. Caled? he called out. There was no answer. Caled, are you there? He paused, straining his ears. Anyone? Silence.
Hadrian carefully stood, shaking the dust off himself. His body ached from the fall, but fortunately he only seemed to be bruised. He looked back up at the ceiling. It was a long way down.
Caled? he called, his voice trembling slightly. He hadnt expected a response, but couldnt help feeling a little frightened when he still didnt receive one. He looked back into the darkness around him, trying to peer his way through. He needed to find a door, but he was afraid to leave the light. He had not forgotten the voice from the hall.
A brief image flashed through his mind of Caled walking through the door to this room, finding him standing alone, afraid of the darkness. The mercenary would sneer at him, tease him mercilessly for being afraid. Determined not to let this happen, Hadrian squared his shoulders and stepped forward. He raised a hand before him in the hopes that he would feel something before he ran into it.
Hadrian, a voice spoke. Hadrian stilled, his heart pounding wildly in his chest. The voice that had been calling him in the hallway now sounded like it was somewhere behind him. He stepped forward, trying to find a door, a wall, anything.
What are you looking for, Hadrian? the voice asked, closer than before. Something cool and slick like a finger of ice slid over the back of Hadrians neck. The sorcerer spun around, desperately searching the room with his eyes.
Leave me alone, he said, his voice shaking slightly. A cold breeze ruffled his hair and tickled his ear. He flinched, his eyes desperately searching the darkness.
Dont be afraid, Hadrian, the voice said from beside him. Hadrian gasped, startled by its close proximity. He jerked away, stumbling in his haste. I wont hurt you. The voice was farther now, somewhere in the center of the room. Not like they will. A figure stepped into the light.
The thing that struck Hadrian first about the man was how tall and slim he was. He stood with graceful ease on top of the remains of the floor the sorcerer had fallen through, his loose, white clothing a stark contrast to the inky black hair that spilled to his waist. You, Hadrian said, his silvery eyes widening at the figure. Youre the one who has been calling to me.
Yes, I have, the man replied, his voice soft like the whisper of a breeze. Hadrian shifted nervously.
Who are you? he asked.
I am Ankou, and this is my home, he said, raising his hands to motion to the room, drawing attention to the silver jewelry that sparkled on his wrists, one beaded with silver and semi-precious stones, the other hugging his wrist like coiled serpent.
You live here? Hadrian said.
Ankou smiled. In a manner of speaking.
But I thought no one lived here.
Ankou tilted his head slightly to the side, still smiling. No one does.
Hadrian eyed the man nervously. He wasnt sure if he wanted to continue this discussion.
Ankou raised his head, tossing his dark hair to look up into the hole in the floor. A silver collar glittered about his throat. They dont trust you, your companions. He looked back down at Hadrian. None of them do.
Hadrian said nothing, his eyes on the Ankous necklace. Sapphires and moonstones graced the cool silver of the collar and dangling from the center, resting over the hollow of the mans throat, was a large opal, the iridescent colors shimmering in its depths. Hadrian wondered if this was the collar Lio was looking for.
They dont really fear you, not truly, Ankou continued. They know how to push you and when to stop. They see you more as a child that they carry around, a pet if you will. He raised his head to the roof again. Especially the mercenary. He enjoys making sport of you.
I am not a child, Hadrian said firmly.
Ankou looked at him. I didnt say you were. He slowly stepped forward, off the stone. They are using you, Hadrian. They have no interest in your pain and suffering.
And I suppose you do? the sorcerer replied, his voice touched with sarcasm.
Actually, I do. But for my own reasons, of course. Ankou sighed, closing his eyes. What is it like? Outside of the castle?
Hadrian looked at the man, bemused. What, the world?
The weather. Ankou sighed, a soft smile gracing his lips. Is it spring? Does the wind whisper in the leaves and the birds sing sweetly with the birth of their young? Is the sun shining, spilling its warmth upon the world and are the flowers blooming, sparkling like a sea of colored jewels?
It is autumn, Hadrian replied, intrigued.
Ankou opened his eyes, piercing him with his gaze. Describe it to me.
He swallowed, trying to find where to begin. There are no flowers in your paths. The leaves of the trees in your courtyard are turning brown and falling to the earth. The only sound of birds is the cawing of ravens and the occasional cry of a lonely hawk. Hadrian closed his eyes, a strange feeling of ease washing over him. The forest is dark and silent. The air is thick with the press of the trees and the cool mist. And the beach is chill, the waves lapping onto the lonely shore.
Hadrian felt a presence by his ear. Help us, Hadrian, Ankou whispered to him. It has been so long since weve seen the sky, felt the air on our skin. Help us, and I will help you. The mans hand touched Hadrians cheek lightly, like the cool slide of an icicle.
I dont understand, he said softly, opening his eyes to look at the taller man. He was so close. The chill of his icy fingers combined with his proximity after Hadrians solitude for the past month made the sorcerer shiver.
We are trapped here, locked in eternal torment with the barbarians who destroyed us. Hadrian looked into Ankous eyes, blue and bright like stars, and his mind flashed to the mist in the hall. We wish to be free of this world. Help us, and I will free you.
Of what? Hadrian asked.
Of those that would trap you, keep you locked in your guilt until they have need of you.
Hadrian turned his head way from the other man. They are my friends, he whispered.
They will use you, Ankou replied, turning Hadrians face back towards him gently, and will toss you aside when they are through. You are greater than them, Hadrian. Do not let them pull you down. They would make you weak. Helpless.
Hadrian kept his eyes down, weighing his words. He was unsure whether or not he would trust this man, but the thought of being trapped forever in the place where one died with the people who killed you was a horrifying. He wanted to help them. Most of all, he no longer wanted to feel helpless. How would you help me? he whispered, his eyes meeting the ghosts.
Ankou leaned forward, a small smile creeping across
his face. Hadrian shivered again as the ghosts fingers ran down
the side of his neck. Let me show you.
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