Monday, March 4, 2013

~~STONE GATE: Chapter Nine--Journeys~~

            Larind limps to my room a few hours later. When I returned from the tower, Ari had not looked at me, nor had my brother even acknowledged my presence. He merely stood, gazing at the sky, his shoulders down, a cup of cold coffee in his hand.
          Larind, however, had raced to the door and opened it for me the instant I was on the right street, and he had helped me—as best he could—up the steps leading to the inn. From there, he slammed on a kettle and boiled water for coffee while I sat at the common room table, toying with a knife I had taken from a sheath at my left hip. I was watching how it glittered in the sunlight flittering through the window, casting reflections on the walls. Ari stood at the window, his back to me, and I could tell from the way he held the cup that it was still full, still untouched.
          When the coffee was done, Larind slung my left arm over his right shoulder, and hauled me up the steps ahead of him, helping me as best he could.
          I doubted I could have made it up there without him supporting me.
          Once there, he put my coffee on the bedside table, fluffed my pillow, and gently pushed me onto the bed so the small of my back rested against the pillow, my shoulders against the wall. He passed me my coffee, and sat on the foot of the bed, not speaking. None of us had said a word since I returned.
          But what words were needed?
          I looked at Larind, and remembered how much I had feared him when we’d first truly spoken. The same thing had happened between me and Liandros….
          But now Liandros was gone.
          And I was alone.
          A single tear plopped into my coffee, and we barely had time to set it down before Larind was holding me while I cried, rocking me back in forth, letting me cry.
          ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~       
          Ari knocks on the door an hour later. I have finally calmed, and both Larind and I are soaked to the skin. Without waiting for a reply, he opens the door, raises an eyebrow at the sight of two elven males rocking back and forth on a soaking wet bed, but doesn’t comment on it. Instead, he simply states, “Akalioa is on the move. We’re leaving in five minutes. I’d suggest you change,” Ari turns to go, but as he is about to disappear, he says over his shoulder, “I’d suggest you change separately.”
          Larind sighs, and leaves me after a final look, shaking his head all the while.
          When I’m changed, I strap on my rapier and knife, before reaching into my pack and drawing something out.
          It was the wooden carving Liandros had left behind.
          I look at it, searching for some hint. Something, anything, he could have left behind for me to find. A message, a goodbye, or even just a simple gift he could have left for me.
          But there was nothing.
          He had gone, and left me with nothing.
          I put it back in my pack, stand, sling it onto my back, and leave my room.
          It was time to do my duty.
          Do what I had abandoned Liandros to his death to do:
          Stop my sister, even if it meant killing her.
          ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~       
          We head to the middle of town. The Red Root Inn—where we’d been staying—was on the edge of town, unnoticeable, hidden. We didn’t want Akalioa to know we were nearby until it was absolutely necessary. The Sourcerors—former or not—knew it was unlikely their nearness would not be sensed, but they could only hope. If push came to shove, surprise could mean everything.
          We reached the center of town to see a young woman sitting by a tall fountain, watching the glistening water flow from the mouth of the stone dragon, as if it breathed water instead of fire.
          I recognized her immediately.
          I could tell the others did, too, from the way Ari stiffened, his hand on his bracelet, and Larind’s hand lifting his bow while the other slipped beneath his cloak for the bowstring.
          Slowly, smoothly, my sister turned and faced me. “Ah, dear Kelree! I wondered where you would be. I thought perhaps you had done what your heart was telling you to do and gone after your lover, but no, you came here. What a strange thing, a heart. So easy to remove, control, bind, empty, break…. But nothing is easier to control than the heart of a man,” She looks at Larind, her lips parted faintly, and gestures him forwards with a mere movement of her fingers. Trembling, he steps forward, his eyes wide and fearful. The Sourceror laughs, breaking its hold on him. “Especially one who had loved and lost me once before.”
          Then, she turned to Ari, and whispered smoothly, “You sense it, don’t you, sweet one? So dark….So dangerous,” she laughed, her hair glittering, her smile wide and mocking, “You sense the strength. The power. The wildness…. The ultimate freedom. But you,” She points at my brother accusingly, her eyes mocking, “know no power. You are not free. You are nothing but a pawn to be controlled.” She threw her head back and laughed wildly, cackling. Ari tensed even more.
          And then it was my turn. She had controlled the others so easily: Drawing upon Larind’s longing for the powers he once had, and playing upon Ari’s pride and anger. What was she going to do with me?
          As if in answer, Akalioa stood, and walked to me. In the empty plaza, the windows shut all around, no sound but the beating of the water in the fountain, no one but her moved. We were too afraid to; too afraid to fight back. “Ah, Kelree,” the Sourceror whispers, and pulls me into a hug. I feel myself answering, as her hand slips innocently up the back of my shirt, to touch the bracelet to the small of my back. When it touches skin, I shudder, the bracelet crying victory. But I can’t fight it…. “You abandoned him to come to me,” she sighs in my ear, “You wanted the power, didn’t you, dear brother? You needed the Source again….You left him to die, and came to me. Not to stop me, oh no, but to join me. Ari has a bracelet—all you need to do is take it from him. All you need to do is tell me yes, and you will have the power to do anything, be anything.”
          I forced her back, breaking the Source’s contact with my skin. “No!” I growled between clenched teeth. “I don’t want this! You are not even elven anymore! You said Ari was being controlled, but you? You have nothing left! The Source is you! Akalioa, you’re the one being controlled!”
          She merely smiled. “Kelree, Kelree, Kelree….Don’t you see? If I am being controlled, than why do I feel so free? Look at Ari! He’s fighting himself, fighting for control. I never fight for it, because I have it,” the Sourceror stepped close to me again, taking my hand, looking up at me like a little girl. Feeling me weaken, she blinks up at me, whispering, “Please, Kelree. Ari’s hurting. The longer he fights, the more he hurts. Please! I can’t bear to see him hurt….”
          I trembled, involuntarily, casting a pleading—and measuring—look at my brother. His teeth were clenched, his eyes dark. Could he even hear me? He certainly seemed to be hurting—look at the way his hand was clenched at the hilt of his sword! His skin was so white you could see every vein in his hands, and his shoulders were as high up as he could make them, as if he feared his head might be knocked from his shoulders. He didn’t notice my glance—what could he see? What could he do? Nothing moved but the unwilling waver of clenched muscles.
          I looked at her, and slowly nodded.
          Which was when all hell broke loose.
          Out of nowhere strikes a single beam of glowing white light, setting aflame my sister’s dark hair. She shrieks, but with a single wave of her braceleted hand the fire is gone, as if it had never been. Less than a second later, fiery red chains rise from the ground at her feet, and wrap her in burning fire. She is wrenched away from me as several figures drop into existence all around us, right hands held out, fingers pointing back at their owners, bracelets pointed at my sister. Mouths formed unintelligible words, cries, shrieks, and encouragements.
          Help had arrived.
          In seconds, the Sourcerors had Akalioa chained, and no matter how hard she tried, she could not break free. A single Sourceror, the only one out of a few dozen not holding her still, walked towards us. He reaches out, and touches Ari’s wrist with his own, bracelet to bracelet. Ari flinches briefly, before his eyes brighten and he smiles, thanking him with a swift hug. Then, the Sourceror walks to Larind, and taps him idly on the shoulder with a finger. Larind jumps, and looks around, before his eyes focus on the stranger. A relaxed smile settles on his lips, and he says, “Hello, Jalarkai.”
          That name strikes a memory, and I know before the stranger turns, hooking his onyx hair behind a pointed ear with a long-fingered hand, what he will say to me. This is what he says, “Hello, son.”
          ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~        ~       
          The story comes out in the nearest inn’s common room, where the four of us were being given a free meal along with all the others. Ari, Jalarkai, Larind, and I were seated in a small booth, as far away from the others as we could get. The Sourcerors were continually on the move, changing places every twenty minutes and going from scarfing down food to replenish their energy or watching my sister in groups of twelve. They were taking no chances. The few human Sourcerors spent most of their time in the inn, as their strength was a good deal less than that of the elves.
          My father begins slowly, cautiously, unsure of what to say: “Kelree, I don’t know what to tell you. I know that Ari told you that we could not take you and Akalioa with us when we returned to the forest, but it was a lie. No, it was true that we had to leave you behind, but the reasons why were lies. We, along with the other Sourcerors, left every youngest child behind, knowing that they would become jealous of their elder sibling, and that the danger was too great. We could not risk it. So your mother and I left you with friends, knowing you would become just like humans, not knowing the ways of the elves.
          “Ari sought after you for years, but your mother and I had told your new family to travel far from the forest. Eventually, when Ari could wait no longer, he journeyed alone and left his people behind, and I do not blame him. If I did not have responsibilities as a Sourceror in defending my people, I would have followed. Life as an elf is no longer what it once was.
          “He travelled, unsurprisingly, to the sea. He had always been in love with it—it was as far from the forest as he could get. He took to the ships as a sailor, making friends among the crew, living in Smolare. Eventually, his friends disappeared while on a minor voyage out to sea, and he went after them in his fishing boat.
          “The rest you know."
          I looked at them. The tale had been brief, but I couldn’t care less about it right now. I waved my hand to the waiter, who sprinted over and took our orders, only too happy to be near us. We were heroes—now that many of the occupants of Andrespa were finally feeling like themselves again, the story of how we had come here—even the tale of the choice I had made—had spread like wildfire. She refills our coffees, and places down new plates of food. Hungrily, we dig right in, and she laughs in wonderment. Ari nudges me from across the table, winking and tilting his head towards the human girl, but I only glare at him. I doubt that I’ll ever forgive him for the part he played in Liandros’ death, but yet, I doubt that I have a choice in the matter.
          Or did I? After Akalioa was taken prisoner only a few hours ago, the four of us had calmed, not worrying anymore. Of course, Jalarkai would remain in Andrespa and train his wayward daughter to control her Source, and perhaps Ari would as well, but none of that included me. Did this mean I could return to the sea?
          A memory rose in my mind: Standing in the crow’s nest of the Soaring Keel, Liandros by my side, watching the waves part to make way for the soaring ship.
          I shook my head, and sighed.
          There would be no return to the sea for me.
          Not ever.
          My father touched my hand, and I saw the others’ eyes focused on me worriedly. “Are you thinking about Liandros?” I nodded, looking away. Jalarkai merely reached out, and turned my face back towards his, “You loved him, didn’t you? More than as a friend; you loved him as a brother. I wish I could have known him—he sounds like he was a good man.”
          I forced out, “Not just a good man. The best. When we first met, I was terrified of him, but before long….” I couldn’t continue. I dropped my head into my hands, and my shoulders began to shake with sobs. Larind, sitting beside me, rubs my back gently. I shake him off before I force out, “We were friends. He was the best man I ever knew….” I break off into sobs again, this time unhidden ones.
          They all do their best to comfort me, but as their hands rub my back, their voices murmur, their eyes soothe, and their powers gently force away my pain, I lose it. I shove their hands away, pull my feet up onto the bench, and jump over the back of the booth. In an instant, before any of them can react, I’m embarking on the longest journey of my life: The journey to Serria, and the grave of my best friend.

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