City of Darkness
"Nolhol shall not always be dark and filled with evil, for one day I shall return in power and destroy the one who now sits upon my throne, and I shall reclaim that which is rightfully mine." So did Darus, rightful king of Delovachia, declare.
When Mystia and the Dark Sorcerer cleared the Mountains of Lathinor, she found another black winged-horse awaiting them. The Sorcerer placed her upon this second mount, checked to make sure her bonds were still secure, and they were off again–not flying, for that would have been too dangerous for Mystia, but galloping like the wind toward Delovachia and the dark city of Nolhol.
Mystia's breasts heaved with silent sobs of anguish as she turned to cast one more look upon the mountains she had been taken from. Even as she turned, her captor spoke in his foreign, guttural voice. "Bother not to look behind you, for you won’t see the mountains. These horses, which Kozan himself gave me, are of the line of Daemielle and long ago left Lathinor behind them." Mystia looked nonetheless and found it to be exactly as he said; there was no sign of the mountains.
With another sob, she turned her face to the north. The countryside flew by as she stared down at the mane of the horse and tried to control her tears. The minutes passed, and slowly she regained her composure.
"Who are you to merit such steeds as these?" she asked softly.
He gave her a scornful look. "I’m the Dark Sorcerer, the greatest and most powerful of all Kozan's warriors and Magics." At his words, fear welled up within the princess’ heart. She turned her face from him so she would not see his dark eyes gazing down upon her.
For many hours they rode. As the time passed, Mystia's terror swelled until it seemed she could feel nothing else; she was so weary she had not the strength to combat it.
It was the time of night just before dawn, when all was still dark, that the horses climbed to the top of a very large hill. Mystia and the Dark Sorcerer, looking down, saw Nolhol stretched out before them.
The dark city lay spread out atop miles upon miles of rolling hills. Its tall, black towers rose high into the dark night sky, and upon the highest of the hills the temple of Balor loomed over the rest of the city. It stood ominously black against the horizon with naught behind it save the silver moon and the sea, which lay at the foot of the tall cliff upon which Nolhol was built.
"Welcome to Nolhol," said the Dark Sorcerer.
Mystia closed her eyes so she would not have to gaze upon it.
The road leading up to Nolhol was terrible to behold. The men of Morannah had, as Nor had, risen up against Kozan. Forming a great army, they had marched against Nolhol; Kozan slaughtered them mercilessly and, in a final act of savagery, caused both the dead and the living to be impaled and set up around his dark city. The road was lined on either side with thousands of bloody and rotting bodies. The stench was overpowering. The skin of some had been torn from their skulls to reveal the bloody bone beneath. Their faces were contorted in expressions of horrible pain, and their eyes stared out before them, seeing nothing. As Mystia looked up at those faces, forever twisted in silent screams of agony, she burst into tears of terror and anguish.
"Cease your whimpering," hissed the Dark Sorcerer, giving her a sharp slap across the face. She gasped at the pain and, squeezing her eyes shut, turned from him.
As they reached the gate of the city, someone high above them cried out, "Who goes there?"
"‘Tis I, the Dark Sorcerer!" the Sorcerer cried back.
Without further questions the doors of the city gate slowly swung open, and the Sorcerer and the princess rode through. Just before the gate closed Mystia gave one last long look out at what lay beyond the city walls. Her whole body shuddered as, with an echoing boom, the doors closed.
Slowly she and the Sorcerer made their way through the winding streets which led to Kozan's palace. The sound of the horses' hooves striking the ground was all that broke the silence. When they reached the high wall surrounding the palace they were again challenged, and again the Dark Sorcerer identified himself. Immediately the doors swung inward, and the two rode through.
As the Sorcerer pulled Mystia from her horse, she could not keep her eyes from the dark and massive structure rising above her into the sky, its walls and spires blocking the stars and moon. Across the wide, empty courtyard, into the dark palace, and through the long, echoing corridors they walked. The slaves who passed them cast dull looks in Mystia’s direction but continued on their way without pause.
Presently, Mystia and the Sorcerer reached a large pair of doors, in front of which stood two grim, unmoving guards. The Sorcerer stopped and, pulling out a long dagger from his belt turned to Mystia. Her eyes grew wide, and she stepped back, but the Sorcerer grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. With one swift motion he cut through the ropes binding her hands. Without a word, he turned and knocked loudly upon the door. The hollow, echoing sound was the first thing Mystia had heard since entering the dark palace, save for the tread of her and the Sorcerer’s feet.
The two doors opened silently. The Dark Sorcerer walked in, pulling the princess along with him. Mystia found herself in a large, splendid chamber–the floor laid with rich carpet and the walls covered with exotic tapestries and works of art, all lit by dozens of candles. In the middle of the chamber, at a large wooden table, sat the dark king of the palace. His golden crown and the rubies inlaid within it flashed in the orange glow of the light. His long, brown hair flowed down over his shoulders. His lips were turned up in the smallest, emptiest of smiles as, with cold brown eyes he gazed upon her. From his left ear dangled an earring of some strange twisting design that Mystia had never before seen. Though she knew not what it symbolized, she felt it boded naught but evil.
"Welcome, Princess, to Nolhol," greeted Kozan, the smile not leaving his lips.
Mystia dropped her gaze to the floor and said nothing.
Kozan glanced up at the Dark Sorcerer and the two servants who stood by the door. Understanding his unspoken command, they walked from the room leaving the king alone with princess.
"Really," said Kozan, with the faintest of Delovachian accents, as he rose, "I’ve spent years searching for a way to meet you, and, now that I finally have, you greet me with silence? I think that hardly polite."
Mystia took a deep breath and spoke in a trembling voice. "You’ve kidnapped me and brought me here to you. What do you expect me to say? Am I to beg to return home? That’s all I wish to do."
"'Return home,' you say," said Kozan as he took two golden goblets and began to pour wine into them. "Perhaps I would return you to your home if you had one, which you do not." Mystia's throat tightened, and she fought to hold back tears..
"Ah, yes, how sad it is to be without a home," continued Kozan, as he picked up the two goblets and walked toward her. "However, if you so choose, you could once again have this thing which you so desire." He handed her one of the goblets. She accepted and held it tightly with both hands for fear she would drop it.
"What mean you by that?" she asked softly.
"Simply this: your father and your brother are both dead." Even through her fear, Mystia's eyes flashed with anger at those words.
"You do not believe me?" he asked.
“I do not."
"Then perhaps this shall change your mind." He walked over to a dark corner of the room and returned with a long object wrapped in black cloth. "A messenger brought this to me not two hours ago; methinks you shall find it particularly interesting."
Mystia looked on silently as the king loosened the cords which bound the cloth to the object beneath. Fear began to well up within her as she saw it was a long wooden staff. Kozan pulled it fully from its dark covering, and for a moment Mystia could only look in horror upon it. It was a staff–beautifully carved–with a small crystal stone embedded in its head.
"No," she whispered as she stepped back, away from Kozan.
"’Tis your father's staff," said Kozan as he held it out to her.
"No," she said again, her voice trembling, as she took another step backward.
"Your father is dead; the Dark Sorcerer himself killed him," said Kozan as he stepped toward her.
"No!" she screamed as tears began to fall from her eyes. The golden goblet fell from her hands, spilling wine all over the floor. Her legs would no longer support her, and she collapsed beside the fallen goblet.
"Get up," Kozan said in disgust as he took her by the arm and pulled her close to him. Looking intently into her eyes, he continued, "You are the sole, surviving heir to the throne which once belonged to the country of Nor. I rule that county now, but there are many who dispute my ruler-ship. Were I to marry you..." His voice trailed off; with an evil glint in his eyes, he looked down upon her and waited for her answer.
Mystia’s black eyes filled with anger.
"Pig!” she cried. “Do you actually think I would ever marry you?" She slapped him hard across the face and, wrenching her arm from his grasp, tried to run. He gave an unintelligible snarl and shot his hand out to grasp her arm once again. With another growl he yanked her back to him. She struggled to pull away, but he held her even tighter against his body.
"Miserable wench," he hissed–even through her veil his breath was hot upon her cheek–"I gave you the chance to be my wife, for what man would not be raised in greatness who had a wife such as you? But think not I care one bit about your honor. I will have you, wife or no."
"Let go of me!" she screamed as she struggled against his strong embrace. He threw her, shrieking and sobbing, to the floor where he held her tightly and tore her veil from her. But as his gaze fell upon her face he started and scrambled to his feet, and for a moment he could only stare down in shock upon her. Her skin was smooth and pale, and her lips dark red. Her features were soft and delicate, her eyes tearful, black and wide with fear, and beneath the long, black hair, tumbling down about her, he could see small pointed ears. She was so very elven, and yet so much more beautiful than any elf of Lairannare, it was immediately apparent what she was.
Kozan opened his mouth to speak, but the only words he was able to say were, "High Elf?"
He looked at her for a moment longer then turned and cried out, "Sorcerer!" Immediately the Dark Sorcerer entered. His gaze fell upon Mystia, and a look of surprised crossed his face.
"Take her to the dungeon," said Kozan softly then turned his back on them both.
Silently the Dark Sorcerer led Mystia through the corridors of Kozan's palace and down a long, twisting staircase into the dark and gloomy, stench-filled dungeon.
They were met at the bottom by a dirty, grim-looking warder with a wicked looking whip in his hand.
"Why're ye here?" he asked gruffly. "Upstairs is where th' pretty women go."
"The king wants her here," answered the Sorcerer.
"It'll be a pleasure," said the warder as he leered at Mystia.
The princess shrank back, then looked up in confusion as the Dark Sorcerer snapped, "Listen, dog, High Elven maids are not for your pleasure, and if you so much as touch one hair on her head, the pain you will feel by my hand will be beyond your ability to comprehend."
"Aye, sir," said the warder, suddenly quite meek. Quietly he turned and led the way through the darkness.
The cell he brought them to was dirty beyond belief. The walls and floor were covered with slime, and in the corner was a small bit of moldy straw in which the rats made their nest.
"No," Mystia said with a strangled sob as the Dark Sorcerer pushed her into the cold dark cell. She spun around to run out but was met with the hard wood of the door as it slammed shut.
She sobbed at the sound of the key turning in the lock. Hugging herself as tightly as she could, she stood in the middle of the cell and cried. For a full hour she stood in that slimy, rat-infested place, but with each passing minute exhaustion took a stronger and stronger hold on her until finally her body could take it no more. Collapsing to the floor, she allowed sleep to overtake her.
* * *
The Dark Sorcerer stormed into the room where Kozan stood.
"You never said she was a Shallean!" he cried.
"I never knew," Kozan snapped in reply. "How was I to? How was anyone?"
In fury and what could almost have been despair the Sorcerer struck the solid stone wall with his fist and snarled something in his native tongue.
"She’s only one Shallean woman," said Kozan taken aback at the Sorcerer's outbreak of rage.
"Will you kill her?" the Sorcerer demanded as he turned suddenly to face Kozan.
"I want you to stay here in Nolhol," said Kozan, not answering the Sorcerer's question. "Nor has been defeated, and there’s no need for you to personally oversee the ferreting out of the few remaining rebels."
"Will you kill her?" the Sorcerer asked again. The look in his eyes made it clear he would not cease asking until he had received an answer.
Kozan hesitated then said, weakly, "The Law of Balor requires it." There was a pause and he said even weaker, "What else am I to do?"