The Rising Storm
Gideone stood in the middle of a forest. The leaves of the trees were shades of red and yellow, and the warm sun shone down through the colorful canopy. A soft breeze caressed his face, and nearby a small stream wound its way through the forest. But Gideone cared nothing for the beauty surrounding him. He stood and looked grimly upon the blonde-haired elf who stood before him. With cold, gray eyes, Tnaka looked back in contempt.
Slowly, the prince drew his sword; the sound of the blade scraping against the sheath filled the quiet forest.
"Twice you’ve defeated me," he growled, as he held up his sword, "but this time you won’t."
Tnaka answered with a sneer and also drew his sword.
They fell upon each other. The clang of their swords echoed throughout the still and silent forest. Over and over they flew at each other only to reel back beneath the force of the other's blow. For hours, it seemed, they battled, neither overcoming the other until, with a great cry, Gideone dealt his opponent a bone-shattering blow. The elf staggered and fell to the ground.
The prince rushed at him and raised his sword to deal the final blow, but even as he did so, Tnaka managed to summon the strength to scramble out of the way. He rolled to his feet and faced the prince, his gray eyes burning with rage, and from deep within him emerged the soft, low growl of a deadly beast. They flew together once more. Their swords clanged against each other, sending sparks showering down upon them.
With a cry of fury, Tnaka struck Gideone with all his might. The prince staggered and sank to his knees as his sword fell from his hands. Gideone, struggling to breathe, scrambled back as quickly as his strength would allow, but he was not quick enough. A strangled cry of pain escaped his lips as Tnaka's steel blade dug deep into his leg.
Gideone continued to scramble back over the fallen leaves and the dried sticks of the forest underbrush, leaving a trail of blood behind him, until finally he found himself scrambling across the stream of water.
His hand slipped on a rock, and he fell backward. The water rushed over his body and ran red with his blood. He tried with all his might to move, but he could do nothing save look up in terror at the elf who towered over him.
Tnaka’s cold gray eyes sparkled, and a cackling laugh escaped his lips as he raised his sword to deal the killing stroke.
Gideone awoke with a start. His body was covered with sweat, and his heart was racing. For a moment, he sat, trying to catch his breath.
It was night, and he was in a tent. He could hear the chirping of crickets and the soft murmur of a brook outside. He began to breathe easier as he remembered where he was and what was happening. He was in Tmalion's camp just outside the country of Jocthreal.
He groaned and lay back down. His wound was healed; why did he continue to dream?
* * *
Provenna stood in the palace armory and looked over the many weapons assembled there–swords, spears, axes, flails, and many others, as well as all types of armor. At her side stood the high general of her army. Slowly, she walked through the armory, inspecting each of the weapons, and as she did so, she spoke. "Lately, there have been rumors of rebellion and reports of armies being mobilized. What think you of this?" She reached out and ran her hand along the shaft of a spear.
“Empires such as yours have always been plagued by rebels,” answered the general. “Few rebellions were successful, and 'tis my belief the rumors you hear will remain simply that–rumors. However, I would not be worthy of my rank if I allowed my men to grow lazy. They’re in constant readiness, and, since the rumors began, they’ve been even more diligent in their duties."
"Excellent." She picked up a mace and looked at it. "I trust your weapons are all in good repair."
"Of course, Your Majesty," answered the general, who then launched into a longwinded speech on what had been done to maintain the weapons. While he was speaking, Provenna set the mace back down and reached out to touch a sword. The general suddenly stopped speaking and reached out to stop her, but Provenna had already run her thumb along the blade. She lifted up her hand and regarded the wound she had given herself. Blood welled up from it and began to flow down her hand.
"'Tis a sharp blade," she said then turned her head to the general. "The blade is poisoned is it not?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Provenna waved her other hand over the wound, and instantly the cut and the blood disappeared.
"'Tis a good strong poison–one that would weaken even an arch-mage. I trust all of the swords have been so treated."
"Yes, Your Majesty–as have the arrows and the spears."
She looked directly at him and continued, "I want everything to be kept constantly ready. Something tells me these rumors are not simply rumors. There’s a storm rising, and, great or small, I intend to weather it."
* * *
Aeneas peered out from the thick foliage of the forest along the road. More than a dozen of Provenna's soldiers galloped along it. He held his breath as they ran past him, and he held tightly to the reins of his horse, hoping against hope that it would not neigh or make any other sudden noises. The soldiers passed in a few moments, but to Aeneas it seemed like hours. It was not until they were almost out of sight that he began to breath easier. His mother’s efforts to find him caused him no little frustration. Surely she knew she would only be bringing him back to his death.
He turned and began once more to walk. He suddenly stopped, for, somewhere within the surrounding trees, he heard the rustling of leaves. He drew his sword and slowly began to approach the place the sound was coming from.
Through the trees he caught sight of a creature unlike any he had ever seen before. It stood as tall as a horse and had a huge pair of wings spreading out from its shoulders. Its lissome, black body was like that of a large cat, but its head was a bird of prey‘s. It took but one look for Aeneas to realize it was a griffin.
The young prince, too stunned to say or do anything, stood, staring dumbly at the creature. The griffin cocked his head, blinked his large white eyes several times, and, after evidently deciding Aeneas was to be trusted, spoke. "Put away your sword, for I mean you no harm."
Aeneas continued to stare, until he suddenly realized what the griffin had said and snapped back into reality. Shaking his head and sheathing his sword, he breathed in awe, "Who are you?"
"Men call me Nightfall," the griffin answered with a bow of his head. He hesitated then continued, "You’re pursued by Provenna's soldiers so methinks you’re one to be trusted. Tell me, know you anything of a man whom the Dark Sorcerer brought to Leilaora? His name’s Orion."
Aeneas started. "You know Orion?"
"Yea, I know him," the griffin answered. "He once saved my life, and for that have I faithfully followed him and stayed by his side." There was pleading in his voice as he continued, "I see by your reaction you know him also. Please, tell me what has happened."
Aeneas hung his head and answered quietly, "'Tis because of him that I flee Leilaora." He paused again. "He’s my brother and the prince of all Lairannare."
"What?" the griffin exclaimed.
Aeneas proceeded to tell Nightfall all that had happened and everything he knew about his brother. The griffin listened carefully to every word and, when Aeneas had finished speaking, remained silent and thoughtful.
"Tell me," said Nightfall after a moment, "you are remorseful for what you’ve done?"
"Yes," Aeneas fairly cried. "You know not how much I wish I’d never heard the name Orion, much less done to him what I did! If there were any way to undo the past, I’d gladly do it, no matter how great the peril."
"The past is the past and cannot be changed," said the griffin slowly, "but there may be a way to undo the damage you’ve caused."
Aeneas leaned forward. "How?"
Nightfall hesitated. "I’m a griffin," he said, "young in years and unknowledgeable of man and his ways, but there’s a certain woman whom Orion has sworn to serve and who, methinks, holds certain sway over his heart. Were we to bring her to him, he would, perchance, remember his former self and turn from the path he now treads."
“Mystia!” Aeneas exclaimed.
“You know her?”
“I do, and I can attest he does indeed love her.”
Nightfall sighed. "That at least is in our favor. As near as I can see, she’s still locked away in Kozan's dark palace–if she’s not been killed already."
"Can you take me to Nolhol?" Aeneas asked. "My life’s in danger, and I fairly destroyed my brother through my hatred and stupidity. If I must brave my father's palace to bring about restitution, then I’ll do so."
Nightfall cocked his head and blinked his eyes. "Your father's palace?"
"Uh...I mean..." Aeneas' voice trailed off, and his face flushed.
Nightfall shook his head and said, "You humans truly are a mystery.
"But now for the task at hand." He looked at Aeneas' horse. "Take the saddle from your horse and come with me."
Aeneas took the saddle and followed the griffin through the forest. They walked for a short distance until Nightfall paused. After instructing Aeneas to remain, he walked behind a fallen tree and quickly returned, carrying in his beak a large, carefully packed saddlebag. Aeneas could see the end of a sword protruding from it, too long to fit entirely in the pack.
The griffin dropped the saddleback to the ground. "Take this."
Slowly, the young prince bent and picked it up and opened it.
"What is it?" he asked quietly.
"'Tis Orion's armor. Methinks it shall fit you."
Aeneas gazed upon the red, dragon-scale armor. "But I can’t wear this–not after what I did to him."
"Take it; you have no other armor, and who knows if in the days to come you shall need some. If you’re successful in your mission and bring Mystia to him, he shall readily forgive you for any insult, and, if he does not turn, then, by your own words, he’ll kill you, so wearing his armor will matter little."
"True," said Aeneas after a moment's thought and began to put the armor on. He was by no means weak, but he had yet to gain his brother's hardened, muscular frame, and the armor had to be tightened as much as it could for it to fit him.
He took a breath and picked up the sword; it was heavy in his hand. He unsheathed it and looked in wonder upon the crystal blade.
"This is his sword?" he breathed in awe.
"Yea. Ronahrrah is its name, and with it Orion has killed many an enemy. A better blade you shall never find."
Aeneas pushed it back into its sheath and with a deep breath buckled it around his waist.
"Now," said the griffin, "take your horse's saddle and place it upon my back, for we have far to fly."
* * *
Tnaka’s chambers were dim and silent. Night had fallen, and the elven king stood at a window and stared out into the dark palace garden below. His hands were pressed against the cool glass pane, and his chest rose and fell with labored breathing. His face was twisted with anger, bitterness, anger, and sorrow which all welled up within, threatening to choke off all breath. All of his hopes for the future, for Eagle, for his child, had been broken because of Orion.
With a growl, he sent his fist smashing through the window. A pane of glass shattered, and the shards went falling to the ground. Tnaka drew back his hand–it was covered with blood–and sent it smashing through another pane.
He turned and, with one swift motion, picked up a chair standing behind him. He spun around and sent it flying toward the glass. The whole window shattered, and glass flew in all directions, scattering across the floor of his chambers and falling outside to the ground far below.
The king, wild-eyed and breathing deeply, stood and stared at what he had done, then turned and ran from the room. There was still time; if only he could make Orion turn. Like a madman, he ran through the corridors. He did not see the slaves who started in surprise and fear as he ran past. He did not feel the pain in his hand, nor see the blood that poured from it.
He found himself before the warrior’s door.
"Orion!" he cried as he pounded against it, leaving a bloody mark upon the wood.
Over and over he slammed his fist against the unmoving wood, screaming out Orion's name. When the door was finally thrown open, he stumbled in and spun to find himself looking up at Orion, who slammed the door fast shut. The prince's spectral blue eyes flashed with fury, his long auburn hair fell down wildly around him, and his bare chest rose and fell with heavy breathing.
"What do you want?" he demanded softly.
For a moment Tnaka stood staring, unable to answer.
He heard a soft noise and, looking behind the prince, caught sight of a woman standing in the darkness of a doorway. She held her hands to her breasts, holding up her dress to cover them.
“What are you doing?" Tnaka screamed, as he tried to strike Orion across the face.
The warrior grabbed his hand and held it in an iron grip. "What does it look like I’m doing?"
"But what of Mystia?" Tnaka demanded.
Orion threw Tnaka to the floor. "Never say that woman's name!”
"But..." Tnaka began.
"I said never say it!" He spun around. "If you wish me to be the son of Phyre, I‘ll be the son of Phyre, but don’t mention her.” His whole body was trembling. “I was never worthy of her anyway.”
With a deep breath he straightened his shoulders but then sagged, overcome by his emotions.
The elven king picked himself up off the floor.
"Orion," he said, placing his good hand upon the warrior’s trembling shoulder, "you are worthy of her; you’re more than worthy of her. That Phyre’s your father means nothing; you couldn’t help it, and because he is evil doesn’t mean that you are."
"Don‘t lie to me!" Orion slapped Tnaka's hand from him and turned once more to face him. "Had I lived a perfect life perhaps it wouldn’t matter. But of my own accord I did things that rival even Kozan's actions."
He could no longer look Tnaka in the eye. "She was perfect, and I thought if I served her with my whole heart and my whole strength I would find favor in Joretham's eyes. I was a fool."
"Orion," Tnaka began, but the prince cut him off.
"Speak not to me!" he snarled as he turned once more to face the elven king. His blue eyes were fill with anger. "You come here to try to turn me back to what I was." His voice grew soft, but deadly. "If you dare ever try to do so again, I’ll kill you; I swear it."
"Who are you to tell me to be noble?" Orion demanded. "When have you ever been noble? Are you not a Power?" His voice was filled with spite. "Tell me not the Powers are noble." He glanced at Eluned, and with even more anger continued. "You grow angry when you see me with a woman, but I’m not taking her against her will. I’m not stealing her from the man she loves–the man she was promised to. I’m not condemning her to a life of bitter loneliness in a country far from her own with a man she despises."
Tnaka wanted to contest Orion's words, but when he opened his mouth he could find nothing of truth to say.
Orion looked at him darkly. “Get out.”
Tnaka looked into the prince's eyes, so filled with fury and bitterness, and knew there was nothing he could say.
He turned and stumbled from the room.
* * *
Orion watched Tnaka leave. When the door was again shut, he took a few stumbling steps to a nearby table and steadied himself against it. He could hear Eluned’s quiet tread as she approached him and felt her soft touch upon his skin.
"Orion," she whispered as she rested her cheek upon his shoulder and slipped her arms around his waist. For a long moment they stood like that, neither moving, neither speaking. Orion's whole body trembled.
"Orion, Orion," Eluned whispered soothingly.
He turned and, pulling her tightly to him, buried his face in her soft, golden hair. "Eluned."
He kissed her forehead and her brow and her lips. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him in return. He could feel her body pressed against his. She was not Mystia, but what did it matter? Her long, golden hair cascaded down over her shoulders and back and over his arms. He could feel her hands against his shoulders and his back.
He pulled her tighter to him and tried to force all thoughts of Mystia from his mind. What was Mystia to him? She had never loved him.
He began to undo the clasps of her dress, but, even as he did so, he could still see Mystia. He could see her standing outside the house of Zenas with the setting sun shining upon her. He could feel her, frail and sick, resting her head upon his shoulder in the dungeon of Kozan's palace, and he could see the tears she shed for him when she saw him beaten and broken from Kozan's torture.
He could still feel Eluned's lips pressed to his, and he started. Turning his face from her, he pushed her roughly from him. She gasped as she stumbled back and fell to the floor.
“Orion,” she began.
“Stay away from me!” he snapped.
He ran into his bedchambers and picked his tunic up from where it lay upon the floor. With one swift motion he pulled it on, then turned. Eluned stood in the door, blocking his way.
“Orion, please,” she begged, reaching a hand out to him, “let me help.”
She took a step toward him. With no warning, he leapt forward and grabbed her by the throat. Her eyes grew wide with terror.
“I said stay away!” he cried. His hands tightened around her neck. Tears streamed down her cheeks as her fingers clutched at his hands. He threw her from him, and she fell gasping to the floor. Out from his chambers he charged, through the long, empty corridors of the palace, and out into the moonlit courtyard. Across the courtyard he ran to the stables, where he saddled his large gray charger then galloped out–out of the palace, and out into the dark streets of Leilaora.
They were cold; they were empty; they were silent; and they held no comfort within them, yet he rode through them, seeking peace, or–at the least–solitude. But he found neither, for his emotions welled up within him, threatening to overpower him, and the large silver moon shone down upon him–his constant companion for the whole of the night.
* * *
Eagle stood alone in her chambers. A fire burned low in the fireplace and lit the room with flickering orange light. Outside, the silver moon shone through the window and fell upon the floor, disappearing into the golden light of the fire. She walked across the room to the window–the thick red carpet was soft beneath her feet–but, as she did so, she caught sight of herself in the large mirror which hung upon the wall.
She stopped. After a long moment, she walked closer to the mirror and stared at her reflection. Her long, blonde hair was loosely braided, and several strands had escaped to fall around her face.
She pressed her hands to her belly and held them there for a long moment. A soft smile lit her face. She felt the ring upon her left hand and held it up to look at it. It was a beautiful ring–a gold band with a diamond surrounded by sapphires. She held it out and watched it sparkle in the firelight.
The silence was broken by a soft knock at the door, starting her from her reverie. Another knock came, and she quickly walked across the room and opened the door.
When she saw who stood there, she stepped back in surprise, for she found herself gazing upon Tnaka. He looked exhausted, and his hair and clothing were disheveled.
"What is it?" she asked in alarm.
"Forgive me," he begged as he took her hand in his.
She started back in surprise, looking down in shock at his bloody hand.
"I’m a fool," he continued, "a selfish fool. I should never have taken you from Gideone. I had hoped that, perhaps, one day, I could win your love and make you happy as he made you happy. But there is no hope. There’s no hope; there’s no future; there’s nothing. Nothing save more war and more death."
He turned away from her and whispered, "Forgive me."
He began to walk away, and Eagle reached out to touch him. He pulled away and ran out the door.
"Wait!" she cried, but he kept running.
Out of the room and down the corridor he charged. Eagle ran to the door after him, but she knew she had no hope of catching him.
"Tnaka," she pleaded as she watched him go, "come back." But he did not hear her.
* * *
Kozan stood alone in the great sanctuary of the temple of Balor, before the altar at the very top of the large pyramid of steps. The only light came from four flaming torches, one at each corner of the top step. His face was twisted in a look of pain, and his hands were raised to the heavens as he cried out, "Great Balor, give me strength!" He struggled to say more, but, though his mouth moved, no words came.
He fell to his knees. His shoulders were hunched over, and he covered his face with his hands.
"Help me," he begged. "Tomorrow I’m to kill her. Give me the strength to do your will." His voice sank to a whisper. "When I look into her eyes let me see darkness; let me see hatred; let me see filth and blasphemy." He took a trembling breath. "But let me not see what I see now.
"Oh, Balor, give me strength."