The Other Side, 6
Monday, March 30, 2009 - 2:28 PM
Saving even a corner of the world isn't an easy thing.
Meeting in the mossy halls of the Citadel of Tongues, Leoric gathered his lieutenants after Avar had returned from Fidelity's grove. They were alone in the chamber save for Leoric's ever-present servant Merin; even Isabeau had left her spiders behind.
“The work is done,” she announced, seating herself in an ancient wooden chair that made her seem twice as small. “The room is sealed as much as I can make it. Do speak freely, my lord Leoric.”
Leoric nodded slightly in acknowledgment, and then studied his companions. He was aware of the improbable circumstances that had eventually brought them all to this point, and he regarded it not only as a blessing but as a kind of cosmic approval. They were meant to be.
Tancred slouched, Avar sat with shoulders squared and arms folded, Isabeau languished, and Julian leaned heavily on the table. But all of them, even Julian, watched Leoric.
“I know what Hope is doing,” said Leoric in a quiet, inevitable voice, and saw the wary interest in Isabeau and Tancred. Avar didn't even blink, and Julian merely seemed curious. “We are meant as a foil, nothing more.”
“Why,” asked Avar.
“When our attack occurs, all the world will focus on us. Our siege will be a distraction so that Hope may work unimpeded in the south. She truly follows in her master's footsteps; the two-sided threat was always something he enjoyed.”
Tancred sneered. “What of it? Our assault will still be what it is, and we shall overrun the Green Veil, bring the reach of the Grandfather further.”
Shaking his head slightly, Leoric turned his discerning eyes to Tancred. “So it seems, but Hope has lied to us. I'm sure there are other lies. What if we are expected? What if she leaves a trail for others to find us? She's done these things before. If the Leandrites know we are coming, our chances for loss are much greater. Our army is not so mighty as that... not yet.”
Isabeau simply listened, occasionally running a finger up and down her neck, but Avar spoke again. “Then what do you plan?”
“That Hope might betray us is not really a surprise,” Leoric replied reasonably. “The Disciples are not compelled to be our friends. Even in the days when the Grandfather walked among us, they fought with each other. Yet, he bound them all.”
Leoric paused, and looked at Isabeau. “Have the palimpsests awakened?”
Now a spark of curiosity showed in Isabeau's lazy eyes. “Yes, my lord. What do you require?”
He gestured slightly, and Merin cringed forward, stretching out his slender arms to offer Leoric's stone-headed mace, which Leoric took in one hand, resting it on the table. At the touch, the table groaned, and small splinters burst from the area near the twisting metal haft.
“I brought the Arm of Ruin back from the Wound,” Leoric announced. “It was a key to many things, more than a mere weapon. When I went seeking it, I discovered other fragments of history. There are other relics in the Wound, if one can get into the Alyach... and one did, before.” He traced a few of the writhing letters of wormscript on the haft. “His name was Laurent l'Arquen, and he is now the palimpsest who uses the rune 'Sar' as a name.”
“And he will know the proper rites to enter the Alyach, then,” murmured Isabeau. “I will have him give these secrets over to us. But, Leoric, the Alyach is no ally to anyone.”
“That is why we will all go. Combined, we will emerge again, and with the gifts the Grandfather has left for us there, we'll not fail in our work here, no matter what Hope's machinations are. With the relics, even the Disciples will recognize our place. Further, our success will serve the Grandfather, and therefore all Disciples. It will delay our emergence, but I do not think Hope cares. She's waited a long time, and she will wait until the time is perfect. What say you all?”
“Yes,” grinned Tancred. “Yes. To enter the Alyach at last? We may even find the tomb of the Grandfather himself.”
“Pray that we do not,” sighed Julian. “I have seen it in my dreams, and it would be the end of us. Yet, I will follow you, Leoric. I have no choice.”
Avar gave Julian a strange, searching look. It passed swiftly, and he answered Leoric with a short deferential nod. “I will go.”
“Naturally, I shall,” smiled Isabeau. “But I do ask if you have something in mind, and who shall rule in our stead while we are gone?”
Cradling the Arm of Ruin in the crook of one arm, Leoric answered her smile with a thin one of his own. “The Arm of Ruin has sister relics. The Weeping Knife, the Scepter of Rust, and the Maggot Hourglass are still in the Alyach somewhere, and these are only the known creations that the Grandfather made in his breathing days. You know as well as I their potency, if they can be found. And I believe they can. Each of them demands a great price for its use, but we are well-equipped to pay any cost to succeed.
“As to the matter of leadership, that is simple enough. How many palimpsests are active and sane enough to speak? Five. Assign each of them to each of our contingents, and I shall make a statement upon our departure that any disobedience will result in punishment by the palimpsests themselves. If they have no use for the transgressor, I am certain the harpies or Fidelity will.”
“As you say,” said Isabeau.
“When do we depart?” asked Tancred. “I can be ready today.”
“As soon as Isabeau reads the palimpsest and gathers what we need for entry, we shall go.”
“A day, my lord, no less,” put in Isabeau. “Julian must help, however. He will know the Words better than I in some cases.”
Julian nodded affably, but his eyes despaired. Handing the Arm of Ruin back to Merin, who accepted it with great deference, Leoric surveyed his lieutenants for a moment.
“We must be swift,” he said. “There are others working against us, and we do not know what they plan. Go and prepare. We will meet again at Beauty's Rest, the day after tomorrow, and then travel to the deep end of the Wound.”