Sabledrake Magazine

November, 2004

 

 

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Acsension

Copyright 2004 Stephanie Smith



 

They are led down slender, beautiful halls that are dimly lit.

The corridors are full of turn and shadows that seem to be built more to confuse the human mind, than as a passage to any use. It is carpeted in deep blue, which seems more to absorb the light than rid the area of the chill that the stone would place in their bones.

A scant bit edgy, Rhandi attempts to make her way to the back of the close crowd to see how Fredric is doing.

On her way to the rear, she bumps into a satiny red male chest the size of a barrel.

"Sorry," she mumbles without looking up and moves as if to continue past him.

He reaches out a long muscular arm obstructing her passage. "I am sorry as well, Princess, but I must have a quiet word with you."

Rhandi nods, peering up into Caleb's thin bearded face and beady eyes, that seem barely large enough to see over his huge strawberry shaped nose.

"I think that their Highness' are up to something that bodes ill for all of us. Your friend did not drink any wine nor spirits with his meal. I was sitting right across from him the whole of the meal," he whispers softly to her.

"Why are you telling me this? And why should I believe you?" she hisses back to him suspiciously.

"Because, til yesterday, I was to be executed as an outlaw. So I am, obviously, expendable to them," he says, jerking his head to the front. "Therefore, I bear no love for their Royal Dumling Brains and wish to thwart any plan that they might have."

He shrugs and releases the grip on her that he has maintained through out the conversation.

"Now, why would they just let a criminal go that they are about to execute?" she queries him.

"I am rather popular and this can be an execution of another sort. Now, if you will excuse me, I think that you should go and check on your companion. It doesn't look right that someone with your station be speaking to the likes of me," he ends a bit coldly and picks up his pace.

Rhandi continues to the rear. Walking firmly, so as to appear angry, she heads straight for the incapacitated Fredric. Grabbing his shirt front and giving him a tremendous shake, she yells into his cracked eyes, "Wake up, you fool. How dare you drink so much!"

Then she draws up her hand and slaps him hard. His head rocks to the side under the force of her blow. She regrets the necessity, but seriously hopes to revive him in case that the trouble pending in the air comes into reality.

Failure is obvious, his only response to her assault is a weak moan.

Wavering with indecision, as to what to do next, she hears the unmistakable cries of her companions as they are ambushed by men in the Lord's and Lady's own colors.

There is a burst of light, and Jennette's magic throws the company in sharp relief. She calls back that they are under attack and the badly charred body of her target drops to the carpet with a dull thud. His useless fingers release the glowing red hunk of metal that was once his weapon. His mouth gapes in a horrid silent scream, frozen on his face by death.

Taken aback by the severe death, a soldier falls easy prey to Bost's blade. Rhandi scoops up the broad sword that the fallen man has dropped. Swinging it heavily, but skillfully, she tests the edge on one of her attacker's throats.

She spins to her left just in time to catch the steel of another with her blade. The heaviness of the sword and that of the strong warrior forms a deadly mixture for Rhandi, as she sinks to her knees under the weight. She breathes a silent prayer to whatever Gods might be listening, as she sees her death in his eyes.

Rhandi stares in abject horror at the man who would be the instrument of her death. She takes in the pale blond hair, Teutonic good looks and the sneering lips delighting in the prospect of her death.

Seeing those gleefully twisted lips curl with pain, she searches in confusion for the cause of her rescue. Unsure of how she has escaped the cold clutches of the underworld, she sees the man's face turn blue and his eyes start to bulge.

Tearing her gaze away, unable to look any longer, she views the thin white hands that are wrapped around the throat of the enemy. She follows those hands to the man whom has saved her life and now has her eternal gratitude: Leon Kilby.

Sarrette, who is tangling with a big brute of a man, is armed only with her meat knife. The hairy creature that she is up against no longer has a weapon, but is not fighting a long skirt and a full set of petticoats either.

Thinking of an easy victory over a woman that he has lusted over and been ignored by for years, he lunges at her. He has underestimated her, for he finds himself flying to the floor. With a growl of sheer rage, he jumps up and pounces on her.

She hits the ground hard and the breath is knocked out of her body. Fighting for air, she draws her knee up as hard and as fast as she is able. Grunting he rolls off her and grabs at his insulted anatomy.

Sarrette picks herself up, and catching her breath, she scurries over to the man that she recognizes as Thomas McPherson. Seeing that the rest of the ambush has more or less been completely put down, Sarrette places her knife at Thomas' jugular and asks him the particulars of the attack.

"I won't talk," Thomas moans through clenched teeth. Stupid wench, how dare she treat him like this, he thinks in rage.

"She is your Senior Officer, McPherson. Answer her, you worthless coward," Bost orders as he kicks the downed man hard in the ribs with a mixture of rage and disgust.

"Finish him." Rhandi interjects as she joins them with their captive. "We all know that the Lord and Lady are behind this and now they have disappeared. Let's get out of here. I hear reinforcements coming and there sounds like there are plenty of them."

The sound of booted feet and the clang of arms echo down the hall.

"I know much about these corridors." Bost speaks up. "So, if you all would please follow me, this passage will lead to the surface."

"What should we do with him?" questions Sarrette.

"Kill me, perhaps, in cold blood." Thomas sneers.

"Sounds like a marvelous idea. We don't have time to talk to him and I don't want him at our back. Slice his throat and lets' go."

"But we can't go to the surface. We must see Astrid." Jennette speaks out in concern.

"No time for that now. They are coming closer. This way." Bost directs.

Everyone dashes down the path behind Bost. They grab all the weapons within reach on their way out. And Jannette casts a light so that all may see where they are headed. About ten or fifteen minutes later, gasping for air, they come to a halt.

"What now, is it a dead end?" Caleb asks.

"Oh no, it is not!" Bost states as he kneels down against the far wall. He feels along the bottom edge, and with an audible click, the wall swings open and reveals another corridor. After everyone is through, Bost closes the doorway behind them.

"I guess, we can take our time now. They will never find us this way," The newly revived Fredric says with weak relief.

"That is not so. I know about these passage and so might others."

"Your right. So, which way do we go?" Sarrette asks as she faces three passages leading in three different directions.

"They all go up, but the one on the left is the least hazardous," Bost replies.

"How do you know so much and why should we believe you?" Fredric eyes him suspiciously.

"You don't have any choice and I will make whatever explanations, that I care to make, later. There is not much time, they are right on the other side." Bost starts to the left as a loud clanging begins on the other side of the way.

Minutes go by, maybe twenty, maybe more, the company has no way to be sure. Behind them the sound of feet and loud voices and in front of them is another sound. The sound of an animal crying in the throws of death and the beastly growls of a creature feeding.

Panic seizes the small group. They glance around to each other, unsure of which direction holds a better chance.

"Jannette, dowse that light."Rhandi orders, taking charge."Everyone get up against the sides and draw your weapons. Once their lights hit us and they are within reach, attack. And pray to whatever Gods that you hold dear that there aren't many of them."

"They can't be far ahead, if they have gone this way. And, remember, the drugs in their food will have worn off by now, so don't expect them to be soft," a male voice commands, not far from their present position.

The seven await the confrontation tensely. They grip their weapons tightly as the glow in the distance slowly brightens. Although, the soldiers haven't spotted them, yet, they can see that there are ten of them in the gloom. The soldiers are getting closer.

Sarrette reaches out with her blade and slices the throat of the lead man before he can call out. Taking advantage of the surprised guards, Rhandi and Bost jump into the fray killing two more of their opponents. The remaining enemy ready their weapons and attack, they are no longer unsure of what to do.

"Look sharp." Bost calls out."They are ready for us now."

Caleb grasps his ham like hands around the hilt of the broadsword that he had lifted from the dead earlier, and charges in with a loud roar. He tears through them like a madman, slashing into flesh and deflecting blows. Caleb reaches the end of the rabble, and with no thought to the many injuries that he has incurred, Starts back in.

Meanwhile, the weaponless Fredric finds himself confronted by a short burly man with a very sharp sword. Fredric backs up as the sword is raised at him. He swings and Fredric ducks. The blade whistles over his head. As the guard extends his arm with the failed stroke, Fredric reaches up with both of his hands and snaps the man's sword arm.

The soldier drops his weapon as his nerveless fingers open wide. Then Fredric grasps the man's head and bashes it in with his knee, knocking the man out. The battle ends when the last two soldiers, no more than fourteen or fifteen years of age, drop their weapons in fear and run past the company. Pushing aside those that attempt to hold them, they dash out of sight. The companions look at each other in fear, as terrible noises and loud horrible screams echo down the passage in front of them. They all wonder what kind of beast lies in the path ahead.

"Who is hurt?" Bost asks.

"Caleb has some nasty cuts." Leon points out.

"So I do!" Caleb exclaims in surprise.

"Leon, if there is nothing wrong with you,  tend to him," Bost orders. "Anyone else?"

"I think that my wrist might be broken," Jannette calls out.

"We can't keep you in one piece, can we!" Rhandi replies, as she and Fredric go over to tend her.

"If that is all, I'll take Sarrette and see what that thing in front of us is. Sarrette, are you able?"

"Yes, Sir," she answers crisply, and with that she takes up one of the fallen torches.

"If we are not back in twenty minutes, I want all of you to turn around and give one of the other passages a try."

As they leave, Fredric and Rhandi assess the damage to Jannette.

"It doesn't seem to be broken after all. It looks like you have just sprained it." Fredric informs her.

"I'll see if there is anything that we can make a sling out of, so that she can keep it elevated," Rhandi says in an attempt to be helpful.

"Don't bother, I'll just use a piece of my cape," he says as he rips off a piece on the bottom.

"How gallant of you, Fredric. But we could have used my scarf, instead, of tearing up your fine clothes," Jannette says trying to ignore her discomfort.

"Now you tell me." He smiles back at his patient.

"How bad is Caleb?" Rhandi inquires as she approaches Leon.

"Not as bad as I first thought, but he has lost a lot of blood," Leon answers.

"I am fine. Don't listen to him. I am as strong as a bull," Caleb cuts in.

"And as full of it, too. Now hold still, so that I can stitch you up here," Leon tells him as he bends over a rather nasty slash on his left arm.

"I'd hold real still, if you would quit jabbing at me with that needle." He pouts.

"Big baby. I wouldn't have to be doing this if you would use some common sense. You will have to remember that they are armed, too."

"You two always talk to each other like this?" Rhandi asks curiously.

"Like what?"

"Joking around like this?"

"Only when it hurts," Caleb replies with a big, boyish grin, out of place on such a large and older man.

"Don't listen to him,  Rhandi. He is like this when it hurts, doesn't hurt, when he is drunk, when he is sober..." Leon butts in.

"Oh, leave off will you. You'll give the Lady a bad impression of me. Sober, indeed."

"I don't think that a bad impression is possible. Leon, how much longer will it take to sew him back together?"

"Can't say exactly, But it will take a lot longer than Bost's twenty minutes. Caleb's got a lot of holes."

"Mere scratches." He cracks, as he passes out.

"I told him that he lost a lot of blood," Leon says, shaking his head. "Well, maybe, he will hold still now."

"All right, put him together. Do you have an extra needle? I could give you a hand with this." She offers as she looks over a cut on Caleb's massive thigh.

"Think so," he says, patting his pockets. He finds what he is looking for and pulls out a little medical kit "Here."

"You always carry this around with you?" Rhandi comments.

"Yes, all the time. My Dad was going to study medicine, but his brother died and so, instead, he had to study things that were important to the title," he says a little sadly. "What about you? Not too many princesses go around sewing people up."

"I am a warrior, even if my parents don't quite approve. And a warrior needs to know how to repair the damage she does. Right?"

"Sure, but what if you kill someone?" he teases her.

"I guess that I will have to work that one out in my next life. Do you have any more thread? I am out."

Fredric stares at them in jealousy, wishing that he was the one with enough station to be laughing and joking with Rhandi as equals. It wasn't fair. That upstart young Lord could even marry Rhandi, if he and she both wished, and he could never even hope for that.

"What is wrong?" Jannette asks him, rather concerned.

"Nothing," he replies with a false sense of cheer.

"You can tell me. I know that we don't know each other real well, but I am willing to listen."

"Like I told you, Your Highness, nothing is the matter. Now if you will please excuse me, Your Ladyship, I am going to look out for the look out party."

I know what his problem is, even if he won't admit it, Janette thinks to herself, as she looks at her cousin.

"I am almost done here, just need a little bit more thread," Rhandi tell Leon.

"Don't worry about it. Just give me a minute to tie this off and I will get that for you," Leon says gratefully. "Thanks for the help. I really needed it. Oh no, the big lug is waking up."

"I wonder where Bost and Sarrette are. They should have been back by now." Jannette interrupts as she approaches them.

"You're right. They are late. Do you think that we should try another tunnel?" Leon asks.

"I don't see why we should. Bost is not in charge. He is only a captain. Besides, didn't he say that this one is the least dangerous?" Fredric interjects. "I ran ahead to see if they were coming, but I didn't see any sign of them or of that monster."

"You must not have looked too far for us," Bost says as he comes up behind them. Bost and Sarrette are loaded down with supplies. "We followed the creature back to its lair and then we doubled back and picked up a few things that I thought that we might need. We, also, went to see Astrid."

"How did you do all of that so quickly?" Fredric asks him, even more suspicious of him than ever.

"Her chamber is directly below us. And there are a lot of supply caches around here. Does that satisfy you?" Bost tells Fredric, rather annoyed.

"If Astrid is below us, then we must go to her," Janette interrupts excitedly.

"She is too well-guarded. We were lucky to have gotten in and out as easily as we did. Anyway, I have what she wanted to give to you." Walking over to Jannette, he reaches into an inside pocket and removes a small box. He then places it into her hands reverently. "Since you believe in her the most, she thought that it was only fitting that you should have this.

Jannette examines the box carefully. It is carved intricately into the crest of the Lynis royalty. She slides back the lid and look inside. There appears an image of a beautiful woman, the same as the one in her dream. She is a breathtaking blond, dressed in rich green clothes with a silver crown, marking her as the Princess Astrid, the rightful ruler of all of their lands.

"Do not be alarmed. This is only an image of me," a soft feminine voice whispers and, at the same time, seems to echo. "In this case you shall find the Ring of Life. Do not wear it on the surface. If you do so, it will radiate a beacon that Morag can intercept. You will no longer see me in this life, for the only thing that kept me bound here, was the power of this ring. Good Luck. I shall be watching you, in whatever awaits me in the afterlife."

The image quickly fades and all that is left in the box is a small blue velvet pouch.

Jannette slowly opens the pouch and dumps the contents into her sweaty shaking palm. Two rings fall out and a yellow parchment scroll. Jannette opens the scroll and looks it over. Her eyes widen in surprise.

"What does it say?" Rhandi inquires softly. When Jannette remains silent, Rhandi reaches over and takes the paper from her.

She reads it slowly and then summarizes the minute writing. "It says that the ruby ring with the Lynis crest is for Bost. Furthermore, he is the heir to this underground kingdom and the descendant of the offspring of Astrid. She, also, claims that our lands are his, as well."

"I guess, that makes you a, or rather, The King," Caleb states, a little stunned. "What are you going to do about their lands?"

"I don't know. But I do know, that I can't possibly rule all of this 'property' alone. They and their parents must rule these lands for me and I must take my rightful place here."

"You will make a wiser ruler, Your Majesty, if you know your limitations. Here is your ring." Jannette removes his ring from the other one and hands it over to him and then she puts the other ring back in its case.

Before she does she can't help but notice that the stone looks like a blue cats' eye. Rhandi rolls the scroll back up and hands it over to him, so that he can prove his case.

 

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