Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sketch in My Notebook: The Order of the Blackened Glaive (Part 11)

Our story so far...

Drakar has been forced from the Sentralian Military Academy because of his half-demon heritage.  However, angels of the goddess Nyx visited him in a dream, commanding him to seek out Fortress Abbadabas and the fabled Order of the Blackened Glaive.  Drakar traveled south to the city of Jakara, where he met a girl--a young wizard named Elaina Emboo.  

Having saved Elain from certain death, she and her ship, the Trident sailed with Drakar towards Fortress Abbadabas and his destiny.  Now must leave the ship and Elaina behind...


Drakar & the Order of the Blackened Glaive
Part 11: The Mountain

The next several hours are amongst the loneliest of Drakar’s life.  There is a path up the mountain, but it is steep and uneven, covered with loose rocks and unexpected dropoffs.  As darkness falls, the way becomes infinitely more difficult.  Even with the power of the Hells to aid his sight, still Drakar can see little more than a few feet at a time.  There is something about this place, some kind of miasma, and it resists Drakar’s powers.  
Or perhaps Drakar is simply losing his mind.
Elaina had called Drakar a fool, and by the time he’s reached a point some three-quarters of the way up the mountainside, he has begun to wonder if perhaps she was correct.  There is nothing here.  There is no temple that he can see, no torchlight anywhere on the mountainside, no Order of the Blackened Glaive.  There is nothing but darkness and rock and Drakar’s slowly growing fear that he has wasted his life on a fool’s errand.  He has traveled halfway across the world for an illusion, a dream, and a burning desire to be more than a mere military academy dropout.  His fears start small, but they grow with every step until at last those fears are all Drakar has left.  The mountain is barren; it is wholly devoid of life.  The realization strikes even as Drakar is working his way upward, slipping on loose stones, barely avoiding falls that would end his life in an instant.  The Trident is gone by now, he knows.  He is alone, and whatever his connection to the power of Tartarus, it will not save him when the sun rises on the morrow.  The might of Hell will be of of little aid against Apollo’s light and ordinary dehydration.  
Elaina was right, Drakar realizes.  About everything.  
At least I won’t have to face her.  I may die, but I refuse to do so in shame.  If I die, let me die searching for my destiny.
He rounds a bend in the trail, slips, looks up, and realizes that he is only a few dozen yards from the summit.  He blinks then because his eyes fail him.  The summit is covered in a profound darkness, one that even the power of the Hells cannot pierce.  But there is something there.  It rises as a black mass at the mountain’s apex, shadows looming long even in the darkest part of night.  There is no moonlight, there is no starlight, there is only shadow.  In this shadow hides whatever it is that Drakar has come to find, though even the sight of it fills him with dread.
The Pits are deeper than your theology will allow…
Drakar shakes his head, pushes away the urges of whatever dark angels haunt his thoughts.  “You’ve led me to ruin, Mother.  From here on, I will make my way on my own.”
Drakar thinks for a moment of Elaina, and regret fills him.  He should have stayed onboard the Trident.  There was life on that ship.  Friendship.  Perhaps more.  Drakar has thrown these things away, and for what?  A bleak shadow hidden on the side of a mountain, a place so dark that even Hellfire cannot light the way.
He has been a fool.
Enough.  I did not come all this way simply to cower at the doorstep.  Drakar summons the Hellglaive and lets it burn like a torch to light his way.  Mother, Father… I take it back.  Aid me now in my time of need, or so help me, I will forsake you and all of your works.  I have crossed half the Known World for you.  Now you must come to me in whatever form this place will allow.
Drakar stands silently, holds the Hellglaive aloft, and lets its flames lick at the darkness.  A breeze stirs and is gone, and then there’s nothing.  No echoing refrain about his theology, no angels to guide his way.  His mother does not appear, nor do the legions of Tartarus.  Drakar is alone.  Whatever stands before him, he must face it by himself.
Am I a fool, truly?
He sighs.  He will know soon enough.
With the burning Hellglaive to light his way, Drakar lets his vision slip back into the human spectrum.  The shadows, the miasma… whatever it is, it recedes.  The thing before him is a building.  It’s made of black stone laid out in the style of old Sentralia.  The ancient empire.  Ornate stone columns support a triangular roof, though this has collapsed on one side where a few of the columns have succumbed to age.  The stonework that remains is cracked and blasted with age.  Whatever this place was, it has become a ruin.  Drakar has seen its like before, but somehow the shadows loom darker this time.
“I am a fool.”  
Slowly, Drakar picks his way forward.  The building looms before him, and though he is not at all sure that its structure is stable, he cannot help but be fascinated.  That there is something here at all feels like confirmation, though of what he is not yet sure.  As he gets closer, he sees that the stonework is embossed with scenes of men and horses and chariots.  Figures with wings are carved above it all, watching.  Are these angels or devils?  Drakar cannot be sure, and whatever detail once existed has long since been lost to erosion.
“This is it, then?  This is what you came to find?”
Drakar whips around, and there is Elaina.  He takes a breath, tries to force himself to relax, and slowly the Hellglaive’s point drops from where he has aimed it at her heart.  He takes a breath.  “What are you doing here?”
“I saw your light from the ship,” she replies.  “I got worried.”
“You should not have come.”  Drakar shakes his head.  “How did you even get here?”
She smiles, and it’s radiant.  Drakar’s fears melt.  “I am a wizard, Drakar.  I keep telling you that, but I’m not sure that you really understand what it means.”
She shrugs.  “I felt like you needed me.  That’s alright, isn’t it?”
“It’s more than alright.  I’m glad you came.  I was a fool to think I could face this alone.”
She smiles again.  “That’s the first sensible thing I’ve ever heard you say.  What is this place?”
“I have no idea.  My destiny, I suppose.  Or else I am a fool, and this is simply an old ruin on the side of a mountain.  I’m not sure what I believe anymore.”
“Trust your instincts.”
“My instincts are telling me to run.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
Drakar turns towards back toward the ruin.  The Hellglaive flares, and Elaina speaks a word of power.  The tip of her staff begins to glow.  Even so, the light remains subdued.  Drakar can see the path, he can see that there is an opening in the ruin ahead, but the shadows remain long, and they seem to dance at the corners of his vision.  He looks around, but there is nothing, so he presses forward.  
He stoops low to pass beneath the building’s roof.  What was once an open structure, like a temple to the Twelve, has become a cavern of crushed stonework and tight spaces since the collapse of the building on one side.  However, when Drakar looks, he cannot see the statuary he typically associates with a temple.  Even with the damage this building has sustained, he should be able to see something.  But there is no idol to Jupiter, no image of Apollo or Diana, no offertory consecrated to Mars, the Red Lord.  There is only open space, now tight with the low-hanging roof, and a recessed pit at the center of the room.
“Drakar,” Elaina calls, “look at this.”
Drakar turns, sees where Elaina is pointing, and his blood runs cold.  This was a temple.  Elaina has found its idol.  The idol is a statue, shaped like a man but given a bull’s face and horns and the fangs of a serpent.  A nasty sneer is etched onto its lips.  A great tined fork sits in its hands, held at the ready like a staff.  
Drakar shivers.
The statue is Orcus, and he is holding the Hellglaive.  There can be no mistaking it.
“Goddess Athena, Drakar…”
“I know,” he replies.  “Be careful of that thing.  There is no telling what fell powers it still possesses.”
The words have no sooner left his mouth than Drakar hears a sliding sound, like skin against stone.  It sounds like a snake, but if it is a snake, it is the largest snake that Drakar has ever heard.  He turns in time to see a night-black horror rise from the pit at the center of the temple.  Yellow eyes fix him with an implacable gaze, accompanied by fangs the size of a great sword.  When it speaks, its voice sounds fills the cavern like an avalanche of stone.
“Be at ease, son of Orcus.  That poor idol never possesses the kind of power that its followers proclaimed.  I, on the other hand, am an entirely different story...”
Like this story? The original adventures of Elaina Emboo (and her best friend Sneax) are available in my book, Sneakatara Boatman & the Priest of Loki

 It's out now for the Kindle and Kindle app.  And it's awesome.

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