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22/23
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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part II: Imprisonment

Chapter Five: The Last Strech

Nathan Black
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Endineer was not a large city by any standards. The streets were tiny and narrow, forming a simple five-by-five grid in the middle of the Marsh. Many of the buildings were covered with black stains, and there was a smell of burnt wood in the air. Some of it could have been from old, unnoticed fires, but Nilrid guessed that most of the damage he saw came from the Whitefire Spell he had just emitted.

The young wizard walked slowly through the ghost town, counting the streets that crossed the Royal Escape Path. When he had determined the shape of the city, he returned to the third north-south street, and went down it. A hundred yards down the road, he noticed a small, well-kept building that had no obvious signs of fire damage on its glimmering white walls. As soon as he saw it, he felt an irresistible compulsion to enter the odd structure.

It was just as white on the inside as it was on the exterior, with no furniture but a simple wooden table. Once again, it was clear that nothing inside the building had even been touched by the blast. Sitting on the table was a fist-sized, perfect round and dazzlingly luminescent stone that could be nothing but the treasured Essence of the Moon.

Also sitting on the table was a wizened old man named Ranyeb, or more commonly known as King Beynar I of Tanaveri.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you again,” the Necromancer said, standing up. Nilrid gave such a start that he was almost unable to summon the Black Staff. He clutched the magical amplifier as though his life depended upon it—of course, in this situation it probably did.

“Put that thing away!” Ranyeb snapped, his voice suddenly sharp as a knife. “You did quite an impressive job at obliterating half the Ilsonne Marsh, but I’ll see that you don’t do it to me.” He paused, calmed himself and continued in a softer tone. “Judging from our past confrontation, I think it’s safe to say that you far surpass me in magical ability. How would the history books read if you vaporized me? ‘Nilrid of Fyr’nay, the prodigious young wizard, showed his incredible courage and honor by zapping an old politician with a third of his power.’ Do you want to be remembered that way, boy? Do you?”

Before the boy could answer, the King of Tanaveri laughed cruelly and continued. “I didn’t think so. So I ask you, Nilrid, to fight me not as the wizard that you are, but as the man that neither of us are.” The door to the building slammed shut and bolted itself from the inside. Then, a meter-high sword appeared in mid-air in front of Nilrid’s face. “Please take it,” the Vinatira instructed, drawing a weapon of his own. They seemed to be identical.

“I accept your challenge,” the boy growled, gripping the sword by the hilt and pointing it at his enemy’s chest. It was a thousand times heavier than he would have thought.

“Good,” Ranyeb whispered, raising his own sword to rest it against Nilrid’s. “Now, a few rules before we begin. As I said, we won’t be using any amount of magic. In addition, we won’t leave this building, though how we would without casting a spell is beyond me. Finally, I propose that neither of us use the Essence of the Moon as an aid in combat. I’ll not have you killing me the way you killed Pakil, you filthy young sneak. Agreed?”

“Agreed!” the boy cried, striking out with his sword.

Metal met metal, and there was a flash of sparks. Fortunately, the floor was made of dirt, and there were no additional fires to ravage Endineer. Ranyeb struck next, his deft move barely halted by a flick of Nilrid’s wrist and a slash of his weapon. They danced around the small chamber, avoiding the magical stone that seemed to glow with enthusiasm as it silently watched the single combat.

Sweat dripped into the boy’s grim face, making it hard to see as he slashed and stabbed, grunting with frustration every time the two hundred year old humanoid dodged away. His looks were certainly deceiving; while his body looked like it was about to keel over and die, it moved with the nimbleness and grace of a young deer. How could Nilrid ever expect to defeat the skilled swords-master?

A shove of an elbow, not a blade, sent the boy falling to the floor. He flailed and struggled to get up, but the cumbersome sword was keeping him down. By the time he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to lift it in time, the Necromancer was standing over him, about to make the killing blow.

“Fight like a man, die like a man,” the King of Tanaveri chuckled, raising his sword.

Marsh-Spirit! Nilrid wailed in his mind. Time froze.

Young Nilrid,” the familiar voice echoed sadly. “You have disappointed me greatly. The Whitefire Spell that you engineered destroyed over six thousand square miles of my Marsh, with moderate damages exceeding that greatly. Could you not have found some alternative to killing your adversary? You could even have called me then, as you have now.”

I was desperate! the boy tried to explain. With nothing in the universe moving, he could not move his lips, and had to speak with his mind. My mind wasn’t thinking fast enough to remember your promise. If you wish, I can probably repair most of the Marsh. Just please get me out of this...

The Marsh will recover,” the demi-god assured. “Though my disapproval is great, you have done no irreparable damage, and I am forced to follow through with my pledge. Assistance will come to you immediately.” There was an unhappy pause. “We do not part well, Nilrid of Gastrin, but it is my hope that eventually, your mind and maturity will reach the level of your magic. Then you will be a true friend of the Ilsonne Marsh. Farewell.”

Derenda began to turn again, and Ranyeb began moving his deadly blade downward.

An instant later, a huge vine sprang up from thin air and wrapped itself around the startled King of Tanaveri. He dropped his sword, which would have impaled the boy if he hadn’t dodged out of the way and sprung to his feet. The freakish plant enclosed Ranyeb in a rope of green, coiling around his entire, tensed body.

Picking up his own weapon, Nilrid uttered a wordless cry, and ran his adversary straight through. With a low groan, the infamous Necromancer clutched his bleeding chest, convulsed for a few moments, and then fell to the ground, his murderous life at an end.

After taking a moment to catch his breath and calm his nerves, the boy gingerly stepped around the wizened body and picked up the Essence of the Moon. A new, overwhelming power rushed into him, and as his feet involuntarily levitated off the ground, he knew that with this stone in his hand, he had the power to change the world—perhaps even the universe!—as he knew it. The temptation to do just that was enormous...

“NILRID. PUT THE ESSENCE OF THE MOON AWAY.”

The voice echoed in his head like a deafening bell. Obeying without thinking, Nilrid stored the magical stone away with the rest of the Ritual items, and slowly landed himself back on the floor.

A flash of white light covered the room, and the boy realized who had commanded him when he saw the authoritative figure of Tyrdonne standing proudly before him.

“You must use the utmost caution when handling the Essence of the Moon,” the Archgod continued calmly. “Even I could not resist its temptation unless I was prepared for it. But enough chastisement. Congratulations, Nilrid, for your victory over the evil King of Tanaveri. Your quest is almost at an end.”

“Where, then, is the Temple of Darkness?” the boy asked.

“The stream that you passed on your way to this city is a direct route to the Temple. Do you know how to build a raft?”

“Yes.” What boy who had spent his youth in Mallsey didn’t?

“Good. Traveling by water will be much easier than traveling through the impenetrable... ah, yes. The once impenetrable and now enflamed northern half of the Ilsonne Marsh.”

Nilrid sighed.

“It is good to see that you feel remorse,” Tyrdonne remarked. “So long as you regret your actions, I am perfectly willing to forgive you for your shortcoming in judgment. Now, shall I teleport you to the stream? It will shave a day off your journey, and time is running short. Just yesterday, the Mustering occurred at Mount Pakil. Under the leadership of a less senior dragon named Jalezia, they have decided to declare war on the western world on the first of September. You would reach the Temple of Darkness by then anyway, but you surely understand that I must get you to the conclusion of your quest as long before the war as possible.”

“Of course,” the boy acknowledged. “Thank you for offering.”

“You are most welcome,” the Archgod said brightly. “Though I still am officially impartial to this high-stakes conflict, I will wish you good luck as you complete your task.”

The next moment, Endineer melted before the boy’s eyes, as he was whisked away down the road.

Nilrid hardly noticed when the sun came up on the morning of August 24. He had been on the small, weather-beaten raft since the day after his encounter with the King of Tanaveri, and his sleep-deprived body wasn’t in much of a mood to appreciate anything. If he had known what would happen to him by the time the sun set into the west, perhaps he would have soaked in his surroundings, finding beauty in even the devastation that surrounded him, some twenty miles north of the epicenter of his ghastly Whitefire Spell...

But even the Archgods cannot predict the future, so the boy rode slowly along the stream (which had since widened into a full-sized tributary of the Salaver River) in glum silence. The soft, swishing waters had a calming effect on his frazzled nerves, and before he knew it he was lying back on his raft, his eyes closed and breathing evenly for the first time in days.

He woke about an hour later, when a light drizzle splashed onto his outstretched body. Sitting up abruptly, he yawned loudly and looked around. The river was too wide to swim across safely, and was perhaps forty miles to where it emptied at the Esanta-Tanaveri border. Nilrid was just forty miles—which on this river was four days’ travel, but that was short enough—from escaping everything! Once he crossed the border and made his way to Ilsonne, he could report to the Governor that King Beynar was dead. He would be taken to Indimer in a golden chariot, and there he would relay the full details of his adventure to King Dysone. He was just a boy; why had he been charged with eliminating the threat of Malthan? If he returned after only accomplishing what he had, he would still be a hero!

The river forked suddenly, working around a large grass island in the center. Situated on this island was a small, box-like building painted completely in a deep, ominous black. Nilrid felt no present evil, but there was a powerful residue from more than a thousand years ago. Feeling the overwhelming sense of malignancy, he finally realized why he must finish his quest. Good and bad Kings came and went, and Necromancers occasionally surfaced to cause trouble, but unless he thwarted the Goddess of Darkness, she would always be there. And no matter how much damage he caused to her ranks, as long as she herself lived she could recuperate and rebuild for uncountable millennia.

Rowing with his hands, he slowly pulled his raft over to the island. He was about halfway to his landing when suddenly, a huge, fanged serpent sprang out of the water, its blue, ten-foot long neck elongating as it struck.

Nilrid acted without thinking, using his full-powered magical reserve to boil the water in the river. The monster let out a scream of agony, and sunk slowly below the steaming surface.

The boy winced every time his hands touched the water, but he reached the island without serious injury. He sent a few cooling sensations through his body before continuing up a steep, grassy bank and into the arched doorway of the famed yet obscure Temple of Darkness.

It was silent inside, and pitch black. The only thing Nilrid could see was a gray altar that glowed with a greening tint, seeming to make its own light. A plaque on the stone read:

IN THIS LIGHTSTONE ALTAR ONCE LAY THE ESSENCE OF MALTHAN, THE GODDESS OF DARKNESS. MAY THIS PLACE REMAIN A REVERED ARTIFACT OF OUR ALMIGHTY QUEEN’S ANCIENT CHILDHOOD, AND HER RISE TO THE GRACE SHE NOW POSSESSES AND CONTINUES TO DESERVE.

We’ll see just what kind of artifact this becomes, Nilrid thought to himself. Probing carefully for any living thing, he found nothing but plants for another ten miles. Could it be that the Goddess of Darkness had let this puny mortal escape her omnipotent notice?

He didn’t stop to dwell on it; as Tyrdonne had pointed out, every moment counted. Trying to control the pounding of his heart, he opened the invisible box and took out the Ritual. After reading it over again, he carefully retrieved the flask of Deathdrop, and poured it on the altar. With his hands shaking like mad, he was afraid he was either going to drop the flask or pour it on himself, which would be almost instantly fatal, but he managed not to do either.

Next came the Essence of the Moon. He took it out of the box with magic, and used a careful combination of winds to place it on the altar. If he touched the stone again, and was tempted, there might not be anyone to save him.

The boy placed the last item with regret. In the few weeks that he’d had the Black Staff, his magical potential had increased tenfold. Now, as he grimly laid it in the center of the altar, he felt as though he was giving up some sort of divine privilege, and becoming human again.

It was almost finished. Taking a deep breath, he recalled the words to the Ritual of Imprisonment from his deep memory.

Diar Malthan, enta iy’moweia cer Mordin, ev iy’balant cer Lanti, ev iy’mowis cer Rondir Nuer...”

NILRID!!!” Malthan’s voice boomed, almost knocking him over with the power of her tone and the massiveness of her evil. “DO NOT FINISH THE RITUAL! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?

Of course not, Almighty Queen. I apologize for attempting.

“YOU WILL LEAVE THIS PLACE AT ONCE.”

As you wish, Almighty Queen.

He turned and headed out the door. It was all clear to him now. Malthan wasn’t the enemy at all; it was Gelz, and had been all along. Letting the evil God of Daylight into his head had been only the first step in what would have been a fatal quest for both himself and Derenda. Now, he was going to leave this holy place and be teleported to the Palace of Darkness, where he would serve in glory and splendor for all eternity. The constraints of mortality were troubling to his Goddess, and with her benevolent powers she would abolish them, for his sake.

Nilrid had no idea how he broke away. Even Gelz was powerless to stop the powerful compulsion his sister had used. But somehow, when he was outside the Temple and walking calmly to his raft, his unconscious, untainted psyche seized control. The boy froze, unable to do anything but watch as his soul and the essence of Malthan battled for control of his mind.

Blow after blow rattled through his head, causing physical pain and a dizzying nausea. Nilrid was torn, completely helpless and incapable of determining who was right.

And then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. He had won.

Turning around, he rushed back into the Temple of Darkness before the Goddess could make another attempt. With a tumultuous shout, he cried the last words of the ritual: “Jyk jamortia verez!

A flash of white light, more brilliant than the most potent Whitefire Spell, illuminated the chamber. It remained for what seemed like an eternity, as a black shape slowly appeared from nowhere. The scream Malthan emitted as she was drawn into her prison was maddening, and was heard around the world. Nilrid could do nothing but cover his ears and pray for it to be over soon.

Then, the howling stopped, and the white light went out. The impenetrable darkness was gone as well, and the sun provided natural luminescence in the Temple for the first time.

Nilrid was still in a daze when the voice of Tyrdonne spoke. He did not appear, but his voice was enough to assure the boy that he was somewhere in the room, invisible in his true form.

And so the conflict between Light and Darkness had ended after fully a thousand years of bitter struggle. Malthan, the Goddess of Darkness, has been imprisoned in her original home, with her release dependent on the mortal group who arranged for her defeat. As the Archgod of Derenda, I am obligated not to release my daughter on my own. Therefore, unless the keepers of the Ritual of Summoning should decide otherwise, Malthan will remain here for all eternity.”

A deep, sadistic laugh suddenly echoed through the chamber. “But she will not be alone.”

Nilrid suddenly felt an uncontrollable pulling sensation, like that of teleportation but hundreds of times stronger, drawing him towards the altar. His body was changed, liquefied, as he began to disappear into the stone. The pain was unbearable, and his mind cried out in agony.

Tyrdonne laughed again. “You ruined my plans pretty effectively, Nilrid the Naďve. Thanks to you, Gelzans will rule this world forever, and it is against the Laws of the True Divine to destroy a world that is ruled by one God. I think, however, that I’m entitled to eliminating at least one meddlesome Gelzan from the scene. I truly hope you had an enjoyable tenure on this world, Nilrid, because I doubt you’ll ever be returning to it.”

Only what had once been the boy’s head remained outside of the granite prison. Nilrid’s soul was consumed with despair.

I’ll be sure to hide away the Ritual of Summoning, where your friends will never find it. There will be no escape for you or my daughter. Farewell, Nilrid of Gastrin. Enjoy your prison!” Another laugh ripped through the air, and it was the last sound Nilrid heard in Derenda. In the next instant, his body disappeared.

The darkness inside Malthan’s prison was stifling, and the silence surrounded him, ripped at his soul. He was alone in this still, maddening nothingness.

Until the Goddess of Darkness awakened.

22/23
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Copyright ©Nathan Black, 1998
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at Badosa.com
Date of publicationMay 2000
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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