DAY 12: The Elori – Part XII

Darkness. Impenetrable shadow. A drone, humming just beneath him, sounding like a horde of terrible creatures, brooding over their miserable existences. Then, a pinprick of light shone in the distance, and the whole place became illuminated; the drone faded. The creatures were discovered to be naught but the delusions of a wearied mind. He felt a severe hand upon his shoulder, guiding him up a flight of steps dimly lit by a paucity of dismal torches.

Then, a searing pain. He felt hot iron press against his back and burn his skin; he screamed. He fell upon his knees and writhed upon the stone staircase, crying, “Enough! Enough! Stop it, please! Please!”

“Up, boy,” Ghardinian’s voice said.

Kilgalan stood and was impelled forward once more by a shove from behind him. He proceeded up the staircase with hot tears in his eyes.

Then he came to the large rotunda, where Ghardinian resumed his seat at his grand throne. The two guards took up position at the entrance, and Marthadok took him to the foot of the throne.

“Return this boy to Garthabad Imlor, Marthadok.”

“Your cruelty knows no bounds, Ghardinian. To brand a boy of only ten without warning him was not an action that was undertaken with benevolent intent. Do you derive pleasure from sadism, king?”

Ghardinian scowled and cried, “Remember your place, Marthadok. Remember it! One more word of insubordination or impertinence and it’ll be your head!”

Marthadok breathed intensely for a few moments and said, “What about Vestra? Has the Transition occurred yet? Without her, this whole operation will have been fruitless, and this boy’s life ruined for naught!”

“It shall be done today,” Ghardinian replied. “And she will be sent to the location which young Kilgalan now has infused in his mind. He will not recall it, though, ’till he meets you. I trust that you shall accost him when our need is greatest.”

Marthadok nodded and said edgily, “I will.”

“Then leave my presence, Marthadok. I cannot bear the sight of you any longer. You’ve grown soft in your idleness, and I am disappointed in you. I would have expected more from the son of a king.”

“Father, I…”

“I need no words from you. You will only incur more censure from me and your people if you try to excuse your many foibles with bemusing anecdotes of your supposed morality and benevolence. I ordered that you leave me! Shall I have you physically removed?”

The guards assumed a fighting stance, their spears held forward in preparation for the order.

“No,” was Marthadok’s heated reply. “No, I can leave easily enough, thanks.”

He felt Marthadok heft him onto his shoulders and depart the rotunda. With a turn of his head, though, and a look of pure remorse and anger, Marthadok said, “My father died long ago, and he shall never live again.”

Then, sudden darkness.

A return to light.

Kilgalan’s eyes snapped open. He blinked several times, surveyed his room, and then stood, donning his habiliments, smoothing down his hair, and exiting the chamber. He made directly for the rotunda, rubbing his eyes and yawning as he went; he still harbored the uncanny feeling that it was twilight, but knew that, most likely, it had become daylight outside. He resolved, in appeasement of this curiosity, to return to the cave mouth and take a look outside after conversing with Vestra and Bartholomew for a time.

The rotunda was empty. He checked every area of it, looked around pillars and through recesses and even inspected the ceiling, but could not find a single sign of life. He called, “Vestra! Bartholomew! Where are you? I’ve awakened, and I expect you have to; come here! Vestra! Bartholomew!”, to little avail, and soon gave up a vocal approach and decided to search the tunnel system for them.

This proved, though, to be a terrible mistake. About five minutes into his search, he could not recall how to get back to the rotunda and his room. He had neglected to mark junctions for his benefit, and there were no signs to speak of  that could potentially direct his movements. He was lost in a labyrinth, with no conceivable way to escape, and in complete solitude.

He could hear the palpitations of his heart in his head and adrenaline surged into all extremities of his body as he pressed forward, feeling frightened but capable. He could hear nothing except the crackling of torches in wall sconces, and even that was no comfort to him. He didn’t suppose that things could get any worse than they were already, which alleviated some of his stress, but when two slabs of stone fell before him and after him, sealing him off in a section of the tunnel, he panicked and gasped, “Help! Help! Bartholomew! Vestra! Help!”

Then, five men appeared, clothed in black with hoods veiling their faces; they approached Kilgalan quickly and seized him from all sides. He could hear one of them say, “You aren’t Bartholomew.”

Another said, “Of course he isn’t! Bartholomew wouldn’t be so imprudent as to walk these caves without Vestra.”

“Then who is this boy?” a third asked.

The first shook Kilgalan a little and said dangerously, “Who are you, boy?”

“K-K-K…” Kilgalan said, essaying a response, but failing miserably. His mouth would not work, his lips quivered, and he felt as though he would pass out before long.

“K? That’s your name, boy?” the second said, laughing darkly. “That boy must harbor ill will to his mother for bestowing such a ludicrous identity upon her son; one must be stupid and incapable of intelligent thoughts if they name their child that…”

The others laughed. Kilgalan’s nervousness vanished almost entirely.

He kicked the first one in the groin. The remaining four tightened their grips. He elbowed another in the face and sent him careening into one of the protrusions on the rocky tunnel wall. The protrusion skewered him, and with a cough and a whimper, the assailant died. The rest doubled their efforts to detain Kilgalan, but the boy fought fiercely. No one spoke in such a manner of his mother. He would die before he suffered someone to insult either of his parents.

Eventually, they had bound Kilgalan’s hands, though it took them a while longer to do so, and when the boy had been forced to the ground on his knees, the first, who was still doubled over in pain from Kilgalan’s kick, said harshly, “You’ll wish you had never born when I’m finished with you, K. No one eludes punishment when they kill one of our kind.”

“And no one eludes retaliation who detains without purpose,” was Kilgalan’s apt reply.

The first, who, to Kilgalan’s perception, seemed to be the leader, retorted, “Retaliation cannot be conducted when one is dead.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

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