Haunt of Stars

By Angela

Part 8

The two thieves ran through the forest, trying to get back to the castle as quick as possible. The stopped once they reached the courtyard, gasping to catch their breath. “C- Caled!” Gam shouted, trying to ignore the pain in his side as he jogged into the castle. “Caled!”

Manix rounded the corner, looking at the thieves with wide, frightened eyes. “Have either of you seen Syellen?”

The thieves stopped, staring at the Elder. “Oh, gods, please tell me she isn’t missing too?” Gam muttered, sinking to the floor.

“How could you lose her?” Lio asked. Manix eyes burned as they turned to him, making the thief wince.

“I assure you,” Manix said, his voice cold, “that I didn’t do it on purpose.” He sighed, his hand shaking as he lifted it to rub his eyes. “She found a room that contained the histories of the kingdom. I was reading when I looked up and she was gone.”

“Wonderful,” Gam said. “Now we have to find Hadrian *and* Syellen.”

A loud noise came from the staircase. Gam climbed to his feet as he and Lio pulled daggers. Caled came rushing down, his eyes wild as he grabbed the nearest torch. “Find some more of these,” he said, his back to them as he looked down the halls.

The mage and thieves looked at each other. “Why?” Gam asked cautiously.

“We’re burning the castle down,” Caled replied.

“No!” Manix, Gam, and Lio shouted. Caled paused, looking at them.

“Why not?”

“Syellen is lost in here,” Gam said. “We have to find her.”

Caled stared at him a moment, then glanced at the other three. His eyes still had a blank, wild look to them, like he didn’t quite understand what they meant. He turned back around. “She’s probably already dead.”

Manix stood frozen, utterly speechless. Gam had a bad feeling this was about to turn into an ugly fight. “What about Hadrian?” the thief asked, trying to make sense of what was going on.

Caled threw the torch into one of the trees. It hit with a loud crack, spilling the oil. “He’s dead,” the mercenary replied, pulling out some flint to start the fire.

The two thieves stared in silence. “What is this madness?” Manix asked.

Caled whirled on him. “He’s dead!” he growled. “I saw him. Touched him.” He hesitated like he wnted to say more than thought better of it, striking the flint.

Everyone froze, their eyes going wide. Lio slid to the floor, a tear streaking down his check. Gam choked back a sob. “He can’t be dead,” Manix replied softly, shaking his head. He grabbed the mercenary by the arms. The Elder shook him slightly. “He is not dead, Caled. He can’t be dead” Caled violently threw him off. “Caled,” Manix said, “if Hadrian was dead, you would be to. You are bonded by a geas and I would know if it had been broken.” Caled ignored him. “You are still alive, Caled. Therefore Hadrian is as well.”

“I saw him,” the mercenary hissed, eyes blazing as he turned to the Elder. “He was insane, Manix. He said that he killed Borley.” Gam gasped in surprise. Lio simply stared. Caled ignored them both. “He screamed at me, ignited in blue fire.”

Manix froze. “What did you say? Blue fire?” The mercenary nodded, his eyes narrowing.

“Borley talked about blue fire, too,” Gam said. Lio was looking between everyone, a strange desperation on his face.

Manix sighed, sliding to the floor. “Hadrian is alright. He is not safe, but he is alright.”

“What is the fire, Manix?” Gam asked, kneeling down beside Lio.

“The histories in the room I found were mostly about how the kingdom came to be run the way it is. It talked about the history of the Collar of Stars. According to the history, the Collar was a powerful magical item created by the first queen of the kingdom, known as Canhywallan.”

“The queen?” Lio asked.

Manix sighed. “No, the kingdom we are in. It was called Canhywallan. The first queen was a powerful mage who knew many secrets about this island. She was also very wise and thought that it would be unsafe for only one person to control that power. With this in mind, she created the Collar, which is supposed to contain within it a power she spoke of.”

“What power?” Gam asked.

“It never said. I don’t believe anyone ever really knew,” Manix replied. “The queen chose a man to wear the Collar and control its power. This man became known as the Keeper. The histories say that, when the new queen is coroneted, she chooses the next Keeper to have the Collar.”

“Fascinating,” Caled replied, looking down at them, “but what does this have to do with the blue fire?”

Manix ran a hand through his silver hair. “The histories say that when the Keeper used the power of the Collar, he was surrounded by a heatless blue fire.”

“Wait,” Gam said. “You think Hadrian is the next Keeper?”

“Hadrian cannot be the next Keeper,” Manix answered. “The Keeper’s must be chosen by the queen.”

“What are you saying, then?” Caled asked. “That the last Keeper looked like Hadrian?”

Manix looked thoughtful. “There was a list in the hall, naming all the queens and Keepers of Cahywallan. The last names on the list were Queen Lorelei and the Keeper Ankou.”

“Ankou,” Caled said sharply. “The little girl in the hall mentioned Ankou.”

Manix nodded. “As I recall, she said that Ankou would be unhappy if she helped us find Hadrian.”

“So he is going to use Hadrian for something,” Lio said.

Gam watched Manix’s face. “You don’t think Ankou possessed Hadrian, do you?”

Manix nodded. “It appears to be the most likely possibility. It would certainly explain why Hadrian appeared to be dead.”

“But why Hadrian?” Lio asked.

Gam’s eyes went wide. “He killed them,” he said.

Lio’s gaze snapped to him. “Who, Hadrian?”

Gam shook his head. “No, Ankou. Remember how Manix said the Collar of Stars contains a great unknown power and that a great unknown power killed everyone on the island?” Gam looked at Manix. “It was Ankou. He killed everyone.”

“But why?” Lio asked. “He turned everyone into restless ghosts. Why would he want that for his people?”

“It is possible he didn’t know,” Manix said slowly.

“But then why possess Hadrian?” Lio asked.

Caled snorted. “What does hades have that everyone wants?”

“Power,” Gam replied. “Maybe he needs Hadrian to free his people. But why not do it himself?”

“You need to wear the Collar in order to harness its power,” Manix replied.

“And you need to have a body in order to wear it,” Caled said.

“But is this a bad thing?” Gam asked. Everyone stared at him. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, raising his hands defensively. “I want our Hadrian back too, but if Ankou is trying to help his people… I mean, is this really going to hurt Hadrian, or are we jumping to conclusions?”

Manix sighed. “The Collar is pure power, not a Cast. The difference is similar between that of magecraft and sorcery. I know a Cast that can release the spirits without any damage to us, but if this Ankou uses Hadrian to release the ghosts, he could simply use pure power to rip the souls from where they rest. That, unfortunately, would remove our souls from our body, killing us as well.”

“I don’t need to know how it works,” Caled said darkly. “Just what to do.” His body vibrated violent tension, enraged by Ankou’s deception.

“What I don’t understand,” Gam said, “is what happened to Syellen.”

Caled looked sharply at Manix. “Syellen is missing?”

Manix nodded. “Yeah,” Gam answered. “In your moment of panic earlier you proclaimed her dead as well.”

“The queen,” Lio said suddenly. Everyone looked at him.

“What?” Manix asked.

Lio looked at him. “She’s the only piece missing. He must have taken Syellen so that the queen could possess her.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Or the queen did it herself. I’m not sure which.”

“That doesn’t change the situation,” Caled said turning back to Manix. “What do we need to do?”

Manix nodded and rose. “We need to find the place where he performed the original Cast.”

“What are we looking for specifically?” Lio asked, standing along with everyone else.

“Some kind of permanent fixture that doesn’t seem like the rest of the castle,” Manix replied. “A room with strange markings, statues that don’t quite fit in, a block of stone on the floor that shouldn’t be there, anything of that nature.”

“What about a large circle?” Caled asked thoughtfully.

Manix looked at him. “That would work,” he said.

“There’s a large white circle that appears to have been painted on the floor in the throne room,” Caled said.

“Did you see it looking for Hadrian?” Gam asked.

Caled eyes flashed with anger. “It’s where I found Hadrian.”

A loud, unearthly wail erupted from deep within the castle, making the four men flinch. “I think Ankou suspects us,” Lio said. Gam and Caled glared at him.

“Thanks for the clarification,” Gam said sarcastically, looking about.

Caled pulled his sword. He had the brief thought that, against an army of ghosts backed by a possessed sorcerer it might not do any good, but he shoved that doubt aside. “Okay, Elder. What do you need to end this?”

“I need to prepare some herbs,” Manix replied, looking around as though he, too, were uneasy.

A resounding shriek made them cover their ears. A strong wind picked up, blowing dirt and leaves in their face and carried with it a chorus of ghostly moans. “How much time, Manix?” Caled asked anxiously.

“More than we seem to have,” Manix replied, flinching at a particularly blood-curdling scream.

“In that case,” Gam said, “might I suggest retiring to the forest? There don’t seem to be any ghosts there.”

“Good idea,” Caled agreed. He turned in time to see a large mirror flying across the hallway at him, its gold edges aimed for his head. He ducked and the mirror hit the tree behind him with a solid thunk, biting deep into the trunk. “Move!” he commanded, running into the courtyard.

In the graying colors of twilight, the four men saw eerie green lights filling spaces in the second level balcony. A ghost to Caled’s left, a handsome young man with dark hair and even darker eyes, reached into its stomach through a large gash and pulled out a slick length of looping coils. With an insane scream, the phantom leapt at Caled, attempting to loop the intestine around the mercenary’s throat. He dodged, swiping at the ghost with his sword. It passed through the man like mist.

A joyous, full-throated laugh echoed in the courtyard behind him and the ghosts fell silent. Caled recognized that voice and turned, enraged.

On the second floor balcony, near a place where the wall had crumbled away, stood Hadrian. He was dressed in flowing white clothes with pieces of silver jewelry decorating his wrists and a delicate cornet nestled in the spill of his hair. The Collar of Stars graced his throat, a large, milky stone that Caled couldn’t recognize from this distance hovering over the hollow of his throat. He was lit in blue flame, his hair and clothes moving about him as if he walked in a breeze of his own creation. A bright smile lit his face as he looked at them on the ground in the center of the courtyard. He held out his hand and a second figure stepped forward.

Where Hadrian shimmered like moonlight from the ghostly presence, Syellen blazed like the sun. She was dressed in an intricate gown of the most delicate material in the boldest red. Her arms and waist were graced with bands of gold and the beautifully detailed cornet she wore accented her flaming red hair. Everything that was delicate and chillingly beautiful about Hadrian’s appearance was bold fire on Syellen. Her collar was no exception. Whereas the Collar of Stars graced the throat of the pale sorcerer, the Queen’s Collar was a heavy band of gold that rested from the base of her neck and across her shoulders. A large ruby, red as blood, was the centerpiece and surrounding it were strange angular designs lined in icy diamonds and burning emeralds. She, like Hadrian, walked in an aura of power, flickering fire surrounding her in an unnaturally deep red.

“Syellen?” Lio gaped. She narrowed her eyes, peering at them. One looked into her deep eyes told them that, like Hadrian, Syellen was no longer in control.

“Who are these men, my Keeper?” the woman, Caled assumed to be Queen Lorelei, said, her voice echoing painfully, like Caled could feel her speak in his very bones.

“My Queen,” Hadrian/Ankou said, his voice also echoing, sending cool shivers down Caled’s spine, “these men have come to take what is rightfully ours.”

Lorelei’s face darkened. “Is this true?” she asked of them.

“At this point, your majesty,” Gam replied as Caled glared at Ankou,” we have very little interest in what is yours. We would only like to reclaim what is ours.”

“And that is?”

“Our companions, Syellen and Hadrian. They are the people you are currently… residing in,” Gam said.

“Your majesty,” Ankou said, “I cannot free us without these bodies. They would have us remain trapped here forever and take our Collars for themselves.”

“You have no proof of this,” Manix said, stepping forward.

Ankou arched an eyebrow. “Indeed?”

The ghosts on the bottom level parted and Borley, wrapped in green mist, stepped forward and turned to face the upper level. The ghosts around him hissed and snarled. He glanced briefly at Lorelei and Ankou, and then moaned, dropping to the floor in fear. Ankou spoke. “This, your majesty, is Borley, the captain of the pirate ship that was off the coast of our island.” Several of the ghosts wailed and screeched at the dead pirate. Lorelei silenced them with a glare. “Borley,” Ankou said, raising his voice to the other ghost, “Behind you are some men. Do you know them?”

Borley cautiously turned, remaining on his knees. He glanced quickly at everyone, and then turned back. “Yes,” he rasped.

“How?” Ankou asked, a dangerous smile curling his lips.

“I met the thief Lio in a card game. By the end, he owed me his life, so I offered it back to him in exchange for the Collars,” Borley answered. Several ghosts again wailed in anger.

“Is this true?” Lorelei asked, her eyes boring into Caled.

“It was in the beginning, I admit,” Gam replied nervously. “But my companions and myself have decided that you are best left alone and would only like to leave. We cannot do this without the two you hold in your control.”

“They lie, my queen,” Ankou said. Caled snarled at him.

“Maybe they do not,” Lorelei replied evenly, looking sharply at her Keeper. “Still,” she said, “I will not leave my people to suffer based on the words of thieves, pirates, and mercenaries. Are you sure this cannot be done without these bodies?”

“Yes, my queen,” Ankou said, a small smile gracing his lips. He glanced down at Caled and the smile deepened into a smirk.

Lorelei paused for a moment. “Very well.”

A large explosion shook the ground of the courtyard and an old, rusted chain glowing with red fire erupted from the well, flinging forward to wrap itself around Manix. A wet crack came from the mage and he cried out, falling to the ground. “Run!” Caled shouted, turning to the Elder. He hated to move him without knowing his injuries, but if he stayed, the ghosts would kill him. He grabbed Manix and stood, hesitating long enough to glare at the amused Ankou, and then rushed into the forest.

Caled ran far, attempting to dodge the fallen logs and sharp branches that would trip him up or injure Manix even more. He caught up with the thieves and kept going, intending to run back to the ship. “Stop!” he heard Manix cry out.

He turned, making sure no one was following them. He noticed the fire from the chain had gone out. Satisfied that they were safe for now, he gently lowered the Elder to the ground. Manix hissed in pain. “My legs,” he mumbled. “The chain broke my legs.”

Gam knelt beside the mage. “He can’t go back there, Caled,” he said.

Lio groaned. “Now what? We needed Manix to do the Cast.”

“Damn!” Caled shouted in anger, throwing one of his daggers in his rage.

Gam rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, sighing. “Could someone else do it?” he suggested.

Lio looked at him sharply. “Who? If you hadn’t noticed, we seem to be fresh out of mages and sorcerers.”

“And Ankou knows it,” Caled growled.

“What do you mean?” Gam asked.

“He tricked Hadrian into the hallway, tricked us to follow him down, and tricked us into losing Syellen. He has been leading us around by the nose since we arrived here.” A hot anger burned his words. He hesitated, stewing for a moment. “I think it’s time we trick him.”

“How do you suppose we do that?” Lio asked

Caled turned to Manix. “You once told me, when we were traveling to the Greying Cliffs, that anyone could be a mage.”

Manix eyed him wearily, pain marking his features. “Yes, that is true.”

Caled took a deep breath. “Even me?”

Both of the thieves froze. Manix sighed. “Caled, it takes many years to learn to magick.”

“I don’t need to know the theory behind it, Manix, just how to do it.”

“It may not work,” the Elder warned.

“Unless you want to abandon Hades and Syellen, we haven’t a choice,” Caled said, determination making his voice hard.

“It’s too big of a Cast,” the Elder said. Caled opened his mouth to protest. Manix raised a hand. “It will require all three of you.”

Both thieves stared at Manix. Caled nodded. “Show us.”

Go to part 9

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