Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Boneguard: Homecoming (Part II)

by Adam Gottfried
© August 2012

Within the Tomb
         The cavern was specifically designed such that sound carried very well. Furthermore, with the appropriate magical persuasion, the phrase spoken at the mouth of the cavern could be heard in every corner, corridor and room in the Tomb. Eight came barreling down the corridor to the chamber that Boneguard Nine had claimed as her own. He pounded frantically on the heavy wooden door.
         “Did you hear?” he called before the door opened. The door creaked and opened a sliver, and one of Nine’s eyes, a glowing orb of burnt blue, peered out at him.
         “Yes, my brother,” she murmured, “I am fairly certain everybody heard you.”
         Every one of the Boneguard considered the others as brethren, similar to cousins, but Eight and Nine were created at the same time, both had a slight and slender build, and they were both given complimentary personalities. The others referred to them as “the twins” and they had adopted the idea readily.
         Eight threw up his hands. “No! Seven has returned! Do you think he found it?”
         Nine stared at him. “Either he did or he did not.” The silver ember of Eight’s eyes flickered. After a thousand years, his sister could still surprise him.
         “Do you not care?” he asked.
         “If he found it, he will either use it and they will kill her, or he will not use it because they will kill her,” she reasoned. “If he did not find it, nothing changes. The only other option is that he died in the attempt and if he has returned as you claim, this is clearly not the case.” Eight stared at his sister.
         “There is no way for them to know about her,” he said slowly, softly.
         “Charris knew,” Nine retorted. “She saw it all. That is why we are even here.” But Eight was already shaking his head.
         “You and I both know that precognitive magic is sketchy at best: Not only do you not see the journey, but-”
         “-but you also see every possible destination, yes I know,” she finished his sentence. “But Charris claimed there was only one outcome with her…” she gestured vaguely in the direction of the Tomb’s one remaining deceased occupant. “And it resulted in the end of the world.”
         Eight’s silver eye flared. “I would argue-” but he stopped. Boneguard Ten had lumbered around the corner. He regarded them with the golden embers of his eyes, his huge frame filling the corridor. Finally, he spoke in his deep voice with his usual loquaciousness.
         “Come,” he rumbled, turned, and disappeared around the corner again. Eight looked at Nine, who looked back. They followed behind him, bickering quietly.

Deeper within the Tomb…
         Boneguard Twelve waved her hand and the silken coverings  folded in on themselves letting the dull slate blue light through the stained glass above. She sang a wordless tune as she ran a clean but ragged cloth over one of the six sarcophagi arrayed about the room. Once upon a time, the song had lyrics, praising the Dawnmaker for another beautiful day. But it had been so long since Twelve had seen the sun, she had forgotten the words. This had distressed her at first, but that soon passed. She reasoned it was the spirit of praise that mattered, not the method.
         A footfall in the doorway indicated she was not alone. She did not look up from her work nor did she stop singing. She waited for him to speak. She did not have to wait long. But instead of words, he sang with her, his rich baritone blending wordlessly with her sweet alto. When they reached the end of the song, their voices resonated in the lofty chamber and slowly faded like the last vestiges of a spirit clinging to life. She turned to look at him.
         “It has been so long since I have seen the sun,” he said softly, “I fear I have forgotten the words.” She nodded, still not speaking. He stepped forward and she could see the others hanging back. All but her. All but Eleven.
         “It is the song that matters,” he continued, “though Zoratzu has long ignored my prayers, the Dawnmaker cannot but hear my song. It was He that created singing.”
         “And in your journey did you discover why the Dawnmaker ignores your prayers?” she asked, equally softly. He hesitated.
         “I k now why He denies me,” he murmured. “That was not the purpose of my quest.”
         She was shaking her head even as he removed the pouch from his belt and extricated the scroll from it. “No,” she said as he held it up.
         “You do not even know what it is,” Seven said, his voice amused. She backed away, still shaking her head. He marveled at the abject human-ness of it. He had never taught her that: Perhaps some things were universal.
         “No more. No deals with Korthin, pacts with Lunora, especially after Five brought back Sir Wane as that… that thing.” She stopped, putting herself between Seven and the last sarcophagus, seventh in the room, plain, unadorned and, unlike the other six, unopened. “I will allow no more affronts to Zoratzu’s will.”
         “This is none of those things,” he said soothingly, unrolled the brittle parchment and showed it to her.
         She stared at him, then took the parchment from him. When she looked up at him again, her violet eyes twinkled slightly. “This is not dark magic.”
         He shook his head. “It is a prayer to Zoratzu, asking for his blessing.”
         “And then it asks Naenia, goddess of rebirth, to show her mercy,” Twelve finished. “It does not even ask Korthin to release his charge – Seven, won’t this offend the god of the dead?”
         “Perhaps,” Seven replied. “But with Zoratzu’s blessing, Korthin has no choice and cannot retaliate. And since it is Naenia drawing her spirit out of the hereafter and not Korthin-”
         “She will be restored exactly as she was in life.” The magnitude of this was slowly sinking in. “But a catalyst is needed. Something so rare that Naenia can easily locate the spirit in question and open a conduit between the realm of the living and the Hereafter. And if I recall, Naenia favors-”
         Seven upended the pouch on the nearest of the sarcophagi, it’s glittering contents passing into the light like rain on a sunny day.
         “-diamonds.” She finished.
         “Naenia’s perfect and final creation,” Seven said softly. The prayer was simple enough to find, it was precisely where she left it,” he gestured toward the sarcophagus behind Twelve. “It was these that took me decades to find. But with no small sacrifice.” His voice was world-weary and sad, but Twelve paid it little attention. They had all of them given up everything for very little in return. All in the name of saving a world they could never live in.
         “Fine,” Twelve said finally. “If you wish to attempt this insane idea, I will not stop you. But if it does not work-”
         “It will not work should I attempt it,” Seven stated. Twelve stopped, his full intention washing over her. “The Dawnmaker no longer answers my prayers.”
         There was a moment of utter silence, even the rain seemed to await her response. She considered the scroll, then Seven, then the sarcophagus behind her.
         “I will need an hour to prepare,” she stated softly.
         Eight let out a resounding whoop, though Ten and Nine simply watched stoically. Seven swept the diamonds into the pouch and extended it to Twelve, but she shook her head. “Give those to Ten and inform him to grind all but the three largest into fine dust.”
         Ten came forward at the mention of his name and took the pouch, nodding at her instruction and moving away. The twins stepped in the room in the meantime and Twelve addressed them directly.
         “Eight, tend to Seven’s battle damage immediately. Nine,” she turned to the other twin. “Remove the remains from the sarcophagus and place them on the altar.” She turned from them and looked to the tunnel that lead to the cavern mouth. “I will be in my chambers presently. There is something I must tend to.”

Elsewhere in the Tomb…
         Twelve’s chambers were only slightly less sparse than Ten’s. The Boneguards needs were very simple, so simple in fact that chambers were really a formality. It was a place to keep their things. Over the last thousand years, many of the Boneguard had developed wide and varied tastes.
         Boneguard One collected poetry and made weapons in his chamber, though the forge had lain cold for fifty years. A large quantity of weaponry still lined his walls.
         Boneguard Two had a strange affinity for animals, and maintained a makeshift triage for injured creatures in her chambers – as well as a laboratory for investigating the bodies of the ones she could not save.
         Boneguard Three had one of the strangest collections of the Boneguard: He tried to collect the weapons used against him that did not kill him. As his method of attack tended to involve breaking the weapons of his foes, his collection was a wide assortment of destroyed weaponry.
         Boneguard Four had a collection of holy symbols, the kind you would wear on a belt, as a broach or attach to a weapon, she had created out of silver for each of the gods of light. Of course there being only three of these, she had numerous shapes and styles for each.
         Boneguard Five did not collect anything, but she wrote prolifically. Journal after journal lined her chamber walls on the shelves that Ten himself built. When she departed, she left it all behind.
         Boneguard Six researched and collected unusual spells, which he filled his grimoires with, though he swore he never cast them on himself. He took most of his favorites with him when he left, but there was nearly a thousand years of material, untouched in his chamber.
         Ten knew all of this because it had fallen to him to care for and maintain all of these things both before and after the elder Boneguard left. He never learned what Seven collected as Seven had never once requested that Ten serve him as the others had. At first, Ten had been a little hurt by this, but as years passed, he came to realize that Seven treated him (and the younger Boneguard in general) differently. Perhaps because the training of the youngest five Boneguard had fallen to him, perhaps it was that he had gotten to know them over the years, perhaps it was simply Seven’s nature, perhaps all three or none of these, but with one exception, Seven had earned the trust and gratitude of almost all the younger Boneguard.
         Eleven could not stand Seven. Ten did not fully understand why, but he had his suspicions. Eleven was practical and self-reliant, believing only in what she could touch, feel, and do. Seven  believed in a power greater than himself, even when that power turned away from him for the evil he had committed. Furthermore, Seven held a special power over Twelve because he had been her spiritual mentor for five centuries, and as strongly as Eleven and Twelve felt for each other, that was a part of Twelve that Eleven would never touch.
         Even as Ten ground the diamonds into powder (using a special tool belonging to Twelve that was made from the same metal that comprised Seven’s armor). Eleven and Twelve entered, lost in argument.
         “You should not do it,” Eleven was saying. “It is by design that Seven is incapable of performing the ritual himself, Charris sad-”
         “It is a prayer to Zoratzu, not a ritual,” Twelve interjected, moving to a makeshift coatrack and removing her ceremonial robes from it. “And Charris is not to be trusted. Especially after Six brought her back as that… creature.”
         Eleven gasped her by the shoulders. “Listen to me… When Charris saw that Seven had interred her body with the rest, she came to me and told me the truth as she had Seen it. The girl will bring an end to this world.”
         Twelve fixed her violet eyes on Eleven. “Did it cross your mind as to why Charris did not simply dispose of the girls’ remains herself before she left here?”
         Eleven released her and looked away. Twelve began to don the roes. “The girl was a protected daughter of Zoratzu, her spirit resides in his sunlight empire, and that which the Dawnmaker lights cannot be touched by the likes of Charris after she was raised. Because Lunora and Zoratzu may never consort again.”
         “Night chases Day chases Night,” Ten murmured. Eleven looked at him, perhaps only now realizing his presence, though he doubted it.
         “Lunora will never be caught in the Light,” Twelve finished the ancient verse and pointedly turned away from Eleven. Ten handed her the pestel of diamond dust, which she accepted and they both turned to leave. Eleven caught Twelve’s arm.
         “You are always telling me to believe in something,” she said softly. “I believe that this is wrong.”
         Twelve extricated her arm. “And as you have often said to me when I speak of belief: You are entitled to your opinion.”
         Twelve exited without another word, Ten trailing close behind.

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