Haunt of Stars
Caled turned, startled by the loud scream that pierced the darkness. Hades? he shouted, running in the direction of the scream. He met up with everyone in the hall.
Whats going on? Manix asked.
Caled stopped at a door, pulling his sword. He kicked down the door, stepping inside. A single torch lighted the room. Much of the room furniture completely rotted away. However, a large form, which looked like it used to be a bed, was against one wall, a dark form on it. Caled rushed over. Borley lay on his back, obviously dead. His eyes were wide, mouth opened in a soundless scream. One wrist was broken and bruised and his opposite arm was bent in a strange angle at the elbow. Dark bruises and scratch marks decorated his throat.
Who? Lio said softly.
Borley, Caled replied, lowering his sword. Looks like he was strangled. Either that or scared to death. Literally.
Strangled? Syellen said. Can ghosts strangle people?
Maybe it wasnt a ghost, Manix said softly. Caled whipped around.
You think Hades did this? he demanded.
No, I dont believe he would, Manix replied. I dont think he has the strength to strangle Borley. But there are still some of Borleys men somewhere around here.
Caled looked around. We need to find Hades, he said. Manix, Syellen, would you go back up to the first level and see what you can find out about this island and its people? Gam, Lio, to the ship. I dont think Hades went back there but we cant ignore the possibility. Ill keep looking here.
What about him? Syellen asked, gesturing to Borley.
Caled glared at her. Hes not going anywhere.
Syellens eyes went wide as she stared over his shoulder. She screamed. Caled spun around, sword raised to see a shimmering image of Borley standing over his body. The ghost screamed, long and loud. Fire! it wailed. Eyes like fire! Burning! Burning! It screamed again, reaching up to claw at its eyes.
Everybody out! Caled ordered. The ghost looked up.
Harbingers of death! he wailed, pointing at Caled. It haunts you! Doom is your companion! He shrieked, clawing at his throat. It burns! Caled slammed the door on the ghost.
Interesting, Manix said thoughtfully. Everyone stared at him.
How could that possibly be interesting? Lio nearly shouted at him. He was still shaking slightly.
Borley died and became a ghost. That shows us that those who die on the island are trapped here. All of them. That means it was not the power that created the ghosts, but instead what the power was used for.
Like a curse? Gam asked.
Manix looked at him. Possibly.
Lio shuddered. All that means to me is that we find Hadrian and get out of here as fast as possible.
Good plan, Syellen said, still looking pale.
Hadrian tripped over a rock and fell, the momentum of his run sending him sprawling on the floor. He sobbed, clutching at the floor as he struggled to stand.
Hadrian rolled onto his back to see Ankou standing in the hallway looking very pleased with himself. Stay away from me! Hadrian shouted, crawling backwards in an attempt to get away. Ankou frowned.
You are upset, he stated flatly.
Hadrian gaped at him. How could I not be? You just killed a man! You used me to kill someone!
Look at what he would do to you, Hadrian. He would have ravished you, used you like some worthless piece of flesh. He called you a whore.
Because you made me act like one! Hadrian shouted.
Ankou stepped forward, kneeling down beside the sorcerer. Do you truly mourn him, Hadrian? Do you truly grieve? Or are you simply afraid?
Hadrian hugged his knees to his chest, tears streaming down his cheeks. What did you do to me? he sobbed.
I freed you, Ankou replied.
How is what you did even close to freeing me? Hadrian accused, choking back a sob.
Ankou reached forward, running his fingers through Hadrians hair. It felt like a freezing wind. Hadrian shivered. There, there, Ankou crooned. There is no need to be afraid. I will let no harm befall you.
And what of my friends? the sorcerer asked. Would you kill them too?
Ankou gently grasped Hadrians chin, tilting his head to meet the ghosts eyes. The pirate was but one of many chains that bind you.
Hadrians eyes widened. You *would* kill them! He jerked away from the grasp on his chin and crawled back, climbing to his knees.
Ankou reached forward and wrapped his arms around the smaller man, pinning Hadrian to his chest. Hadrian struggled wildly, trying to pull himself free. Ankou pressed his mouth by Hadrians ear. He whispered, Let me show you something.
Hadrian stilled, panting from his exertions. He felt as if he had been dunked in a pool of freezing water. He began to shiver violently. Let me go, he gasped.
Ankou made no move to release him. Come with me.
The icy cold was painful, biting across his skin like a swarm of insects. He thrashed wildly. Let me go!
Ankous grip tightened, forcing the smaller man to still his struggling. Come with me.
Hadrians body was beginning to grow numb. He was going to freeze to death. Please, he gasped, his teeth chattering. Please let me go.
Will you come with me?
Hadrian whimpered, hating how weak he sounded. Yes, anything. Please let me go.
Ankou released him and stood. Hadrian remained kneeling on the floor, violently shivering as he tried to warm himself. Come, Hadrian, Ankou said, his voice gentle, as he held out a hand to assist the sorcerer. You will not regret it.
Hadrian rolled his eyes up to look up at the man. Ignoring the outstretched hand, he slowly pushed himself up. Huddling in his cloak, he turned to follow the ghost down the dark halls.
Manix peered into yet another room, sighing as all he saw was rotted wood and stone. He and Syellen were on the courtyard level, attempting to find some information about the history of these people and why they were now all ghosts.
Look at this, Syellen said, from behind him. She was peering through a door. Manix walked up, looking into the room as well. Sunlight shone through cracks in the wall, enough to show that the room was large. Very large. However, there was little else to be seen. Manix followed the gaze of his apprentice and was surprised to see strange markings painted onto the wall beside them.
Check the walls, Manix said. See if there isnt more of those mirrors to light the room. The both took different directions, hands running gently over the walls, searching.
I found one, Syellen said, her voice high and excited. There was a creaking groan from somewhere behind him, then reflected sunlight shone through the hall. By the gods, Syellen whispered. Manix quite agreed with her.
The room was much larger than Manix had first expected. The floor was bare, lacking any of the usual signs of rotting furniture and carpets. But the most spectacular thing about the room was the walls. Almost every square inch of the place was decorated in pictures and designs. Manix looked at the wall he had been standing against. The markings were strange. Some of them were beautiful renderings of people performing various tasks. However, most of them were angular markings. Something about the markings was vaguely familiar.
Its writing, he murmured to Syellen as she walked up. They must have kept their histories on the wall instead of in books and scrolls.
Lucky us, Syellen replied. Otherwise we would be looking at a pile of dust. She watched her master as he studied the wall. Can you read it?
Im not sure, he said. Something is familiar about it. He continued eyeing the wall, trying to pinpoint what exactly seemed so familiar. His eyes fell on a particular design. It showed a single vertical line that was connected to a long horizontal line on the left. Several small lines jutted out diagonally from the vertical line to hover above the horizontal one and, above them, a long diagonal line stood, unconnected from the rest. Manixs eyes lit up. Of course! I recognize it now. It is a difficult language to read. This symbol, he pointed to the one he had just read, always interested me because is was one of the bases of the symbol for rebirth, which I found fascinating.
What does it mean? Syellen asked, looking at the symbol.
Sunrise, he replied. Its mirror image is sunset and the two together means rebirth. Now, he said, straightening from the wall, lets see what we can learn.
They did not seem to go far, but the castle was so dark that Hadrian had trouble telling directions. A door opened before them as Ankou stepped forward, stepping aside to let Hadrian in.
The room was large and terribly empty, lit by what seemed to be natural sunlight though Hadrian could see no windows. There was a white circle in the center of the room, drawn with some mysterious substance many years ago. In the center of the circle lay various things, strung out in a strange pattern. One of the items was what seemed to be a coiled serpent made from tarnished silver. Hadrians eyes went wide, turning back to Ankou to look at the silver serpent bracelet on his wrist.
In the circle, those remains, is that was that you? Hadrian asked.
It was, Ankou replied, his voice soft. Many years ago.
Hadrian turned back. At the other end of the room on a dais sat the shell of what was probably once a large golden throne. Scattered around the thrown appeared to be various pieces of jewelry. Behind the throne, on two velvet cushions unmarred by age were two collars, one warm gold, the other cool silver.
Hadrian walked forward, his eyes wide. Are those the Collars?
Yes, Ankou said, walking up beside him. The gold one is what you refer to as the Queens Collar. The silver is the Collar of Stars.
Then you were the advisor, the sorcerer, Hadrian said, turning to him.
Ankou frowned. Sorcerer? We do not have such a word. I know what it means, but it is not quite the same. My title was the Keeper and what I kept was the Collar of Stars.
Why are you showing me these? Hadrian asked. I could take the Collars. You must know that is why we came here.
Yes, Ankou replied. I do know. And you could take them, bring them back to the ship in exchange for your companions life, but then what?
Hadrian frowned. What do you mean?
If you give away the Collars, the adventure is over. You will travel with your companions, chained by them until they decide they no longer need you. You go back to being little Hades. The sorcerer winced at the nickname. Or, you can use them, help me break the bonds that tie my people to this world and break your bonds in the process.
Hadrian looked away. He thought back to what happened in the dungeon, the absolute terror in Borleys eyes as he died. He did not want that for his friends, but he no longer wanted to feel so helpless. He didnt know if he could have both, and the possibility threatened to tear him apart.
I have given you the power, Hadrian, Ankou said. I can do no more. It is up to you how you use it.
Hadrian turned to the ghost, looking deep inside his eyes. He saw no deceit, no hatred, nor judgement. Only hope. How long had it been since someone had looked at him like that? He turned back to the Collars. He gently lifted the Collar of Stars from its cushion, feeling its heavy weight in his hands. He hesitated briefly, and then hooked it around his throat.
Behind him, Ankou smiled, his eyes glowing with blue fire.
Syellen smiled, watching Manix work. A small breeze tickled the back of her neck. She turned, apprehensive about the ghosts. A gentle calm suffused her. Syellen, a voice whispered.
Gam and Lio reached the beach. The wind as much stronger on the beach then it had seemed anywhere else, probably due to the protection of the trees. The Palatine was still out in the waters, her sails golden in the late afternoon sun. One of the ships they had taken to shore was gone.
Looks like the crew that came with us got back alright, Gam noted.
Well, at least one of them did, Lio said darkly. How are we supposed to find out if Hadrian is on the ship?
Gam eyed the ship. I dont know. Maybe we should take the other boat to check.
A large explosion blew the two thieves back onto their backs. They lay still for a moment as heat swept over their bodies. They glanced at each other then, as one, stood. The ship was on fire, from bottom to top. Fire ate at the sails and masts, stunningly fast in its consuming of the ship. The thieves could hear the wails and screams of the crew.
I guess we wont be checking, Lio said breathlessly, his eye wide as he stared at the blazing ship. Gam grabbed his arm.
Come on. We have to tell everyone. They turned and ran back into the forest.
The singing stopped. Caled?
Caleds heart leapt. Hades, where are you?
In the throne room, straight ahead from the stairs.
Caled glanced at the double doors and ran forward, pushing the heavy metal doors open. The room was elegant, beautiful drapes hanging from the walls. The center of the stone floor held a large white circle and a dais was against the far back wall upon which sat an ornate gold thrown with rich red cushions. On the throne sat Hadrian, his knees drawn up to his chest. Caled, he asked, his voice shaky.
Caled ran forward, grabbing the sorcerer as he reached the throne. He pulled Hadrian into his arms, holding him tightly, as if afraid he would disappear any moment. Why didnt you wait in that room for us?
I was going to, he said softly, but there was He looked deep into Caleds eyes for a moment, and then turned away. Never mind. You wouldnt believe me.
Lights? Sounds? Winds? Horrible images and a bone-chilling cold? Caled asked. Hadrians eyes widened. Ive seen them to. This place is haunted.
Hadrian looked around. Where is everyone?
Gam and Lio went to check on the ship. Manix and Syellen are trying to figure out what happened here. He hesitated. Borley is dead.
Hadrian dropped his head, burying it into Caleds shoulder. I was afraid I was never going to see you again, he whispered.
Caled gently stroked the sorcerers black hair. I know. So was I.
Hadrian pulled his head back and placed a firm kiss on Caleds forehead. I really missed you, he said, kissing the bridge of the mercenarys nose.
Caled pulled his head back. Later, love. This is neither the time nor place, he said, shifting in preparation to stand. Hadrian wound his fingers into the golden hair.
Just a kiss? he asked, his voice low and slightly desperate. He leaned in and brushed his lips over Caleds. Please?
The mercenary paused, considering the smaller man before him. Hadrian was looking up at him, his head tilted back to expose the long line of his throat. His silvery eyes were intense, looking into Caleds pleadingly. A soft whimper crawled from the pale throat as the sorcerer shifted restlessly, pressing himself more firmly into the mercenarys lap. It excited Caled to see the younger man be the aggressor, but something was making him slightly uneasy. Hadrian, is something wrong?
Hadrian arched his body, tossing back his glorious hair. He rubbed himself against the mercenarys growing erection and whimpered again. Please, Caled?
Caled lifted a hand to the inky black of Hadrians hair, watching as it slipped through his fingers like fine silk. He lightly brushed his thumb over the parted mouth, his breath hitching when the younger mans tongue darted out to taste him. He let his palm slip over the smooth column of Hadrians throat, caressing the sensitive skin behind the ears and over the quickened throb of his pulse. Hadrian shifted, arching up to hurry his hand past the base of his throat, trying to press into Caleds hand to make the caress firmer but Caled resisted. The sorcerer made a soft keening sound in his frustration. Caled smiled and continued to allow his hand to fall over the black-clothed chest before him. He ran his fingers teasing over the Hadrians nipple. The younger man moaned, the soft nub instantly puckering. Caled ran his hand gently over the taut stomach, his touch feather-light making the other man shiver. He looked a moment into Hadrians face, admiring the open beauty he saw there before cupping his hand over the heat of Hadrians groin. The smaller man cried out, his body arching into the mercenarys hand.
Is this what you wanted, love? Caled asked as he gently began kneading the stiff flesh in his hand. Hadrian clutched his shoulders, moaning deeply. He tried to thrust into Caleds hand, demanding more, but the mercenary stilled his hips with his free hand. Hadrian growled fiercely.
Whats wrong, love? What do you want? Caled asked, his voice low in his mounting desire.
Hadrians eyes swept closed in concentration as he struggled against Caleds confining grasp. More, he panted. Oh, gods, I need more.
Caled moved his hand to Hadrians slim hip and thrust firmly against the smaller man, rubbing their erections together. He shifted, pulling them both to the ground and settled himself firmly between the sorcerers long legs.
A slow smile crawled over Hadrians lips. He leaned forward and slowly ran his tongue in a long, wet line over Caleds throat. He reached down, grasping Caleds sides and trying to roll the larger man over. Caled seized Hadrians wrists and pinned them above his head as he leaned forward to run his tongue over his bottom lip. What is it you want, Hades? he murmured into Hadrians mouth.
I want to be on top, the sorcerer whispered.
Caled froze, surprised. Since when did Hadrian become so aggressive? He lifted his head, frowning slightly at the smaller man. Hadrians eyes gleamed silver in the strange light. Is that so? he asked.
Hadrian arched up forcefully, upsetting the hold Caled had on him. Yes, he hissed. He hooked a single leg through Caleds and, with a startling strength, twisted his body, rolling both of them over. Caled grunted in surprise as Hadrian straddled his hips. The corner of Hadrians mouth curled slightly as he idly ran his hands over the mercenarys chest, gently pinching his nipples. Caled gasped. Hadrian leaned down, slowly grinding his arousal into Caleds as he licked up the other mans neck.
Caled frowned, tilting his head down to look at the sorcerer, forcing Hadrian away from his neck. Is something wrong with you, Hades?
The sorcerers gleaming eyes lifted as he slipped down his body, hovering over Caleds chest. What could be wrong? he purred.
Caled grasped the wandering hands, pulling Hadrian upright. Something is wrong.
Hadrians eyes narrowed. Why is that? he asked, his voice low. Dangerous.
Caled sat up, forcing Hadrian back. You are not normally so aggressive.
Hadrian forcefully jerked his hands out of Caleds grasp, making the mercenary gasp. Hadrian had never been strong enough to do that. Perhaps I have reconsidered. He shoved Caled hard in the shoulders, forcing him to the ground.
The mercenary rolled, catching one of Hadrians legs underneath his. With a startled cry, the sorcerer collapsed beneath him. Caled climbed to his feet and leapt back, pulling his daggers. Hadrian slowly sat up, his dark hair spilling across his face. He tossed his head, throwing his hair aside then looking at the mercenary.
A sick feeling of panic swept through Caled as he met Hadrians eyes. A brilliant blue, bright as stars, replaced the cool silver.
Whats wrong, Caled? Hadrian purred as he rose. Cant stand the challenge? He tilted his head to the side, a dark smirk curling his lips. Neither could Borley.
Caled peered searchingly into Hadrians eyes. His eyes widened. Hadrians eyes were drowned in blue fire. Borleys ghost spoke of blue fire.
You killed him, Caled whispered, shocked at his own discovery.
Hadrian grinned. That I did.
Hadrian watched him for a moment, considering. Something unrecognizable flashed in his eyes before the smile slipped from his face. I was afraid Id never find you, he whispered, looking away.
Caled swallowed. His instinct was screaming at him to run, but he couldnt leave Hadrian like this. Why is that, Hades?
Hadrian whimpered, dropping his head. I didnt want to leave without feeling you one last time, but I couldnt find you. Borley found me first and he hurt me. Forced me. Those terrifying eyes lifted to him. So I hurt him back.
Horror spread like fire through Caled. He sank to his knees, his mind struggling to comprehend what Hadrian was saying. One last time? he asked, his voice tight with fear. His eyes pleaded with Hadrians, begging the sorcerer to prove his thoughts wrong.
A strong wind swept through the room, dunking Caled in icy cold. The brilliant light of Hadrians eyes spread, wrapping the sorcerer in cold blue fire. Caled stumbled back, watching the blue light glow from Hadrians skin. Oh, gods, Caled whimpered, closing his eyes to the image before him.
Look at me! Hadrian shouted. Caled slowly opened his eyes. Hadrian raised his arms, the blue fire licking across his skin. Doesnt this please you, Caledon? Isnt this what you wanted to see?
Caled shook his head, crawling away from the dais. No, he moaned.
I tried, Caled, I really did, but I couldnt please you. Tears streamed down Hadrians cheeks. I could never please you! he screamed, his hands flying to his hair, grasping fistfuls of the dark spill as he fell to his knees.
With a strangled cry, Caled leapt to his feet, bolting
out of the room. Im burning for you, Caledon! Hadrians
scream echoed after him as the heavy doors slammed shut.
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