Kalaena took charge. While the others liked to grumble about her, the Swordsister knew no one else was up to the task. This was because she was the only one in the group who'd received formal leadership training. Her order was first and foremost a militant organization. The Swordsisters were often called upon to train peasant militias. It was what they did. It made them popular with good lords--and immensely unpopular with bad ones.
The Vōzniacs seemed to think the team was replacing Lord Tchimiri. Kalaena didn't correct this misperception until the dark master's guards were unarmed, then she announced she was passing control to the peasants. They would need training, of course, but by the time the airship took flight, there would be a militia in place and never again would men from the castle dominate their weaker brothers. The tribe would be a free people now. She would help them remember.
Before her training regimen could begin, though, the island's wicked heart still had to be pierced with light like its master's had. That would be Kuthaan's job, though. Even Ruadd was hesitant to enter the depths below the castle without the wild man beside him.
The peasants were organized while Kuthaan rested. Tchimiri's henchmen were locked in a tower for now. Daiza explained to the people that when the sun came, they could safely excavate the prison-caerns. Once the daylight touched them, the horcha would become corpses again, and rest.
The serfs were glad they could finally bury their sisters and daughters, but their thanks to her was more than a little sad. Perhaps they had still hoped for a cure.
But there was no cure for such a paradox. Only the sun could quench the vortex inside a horcha--and in so doing, the creature would be destroyed.
The next day, when Kuthaan was rested, the group assembled by the cold black doors behind the dais.
"I will go first," Kuthaan said. He held up one calloused hand and a burning white orb appeared over his palm, a sun in miniature.
"I will join you," Ruadd announced, pushing his way to the front.
Reluctantly, Kalaena took up the rear. She didn't trust Syll back there.
The raven-haired woman knew it, too. She winked at the Swordsister. "Gonna stay back with me, huh?"
Kalaena could swear the other woman was sashaying her hips as they advanced--just to irritate her.
Once organized, they descended. The black tunnels ran deep and sinister through the island. This was the dark master's true abode. The castle above was for Tchimiri's minions. In this winding warren, they found his laboratories--some with experiments still in cages. Ruadd destroyed the ones too far gone, Kuthaan healed the rest and sent them to the surface with Gillion.
The little man was always ready to help young maidens, Kalaena observed with a scowl.
Past the laboratory was his study and library.
Daiza suddenly pushed by everyone and ran through the venerable stone archway. Kalaena was about to call out to Ku and Ruadd but they were already after her.
When Syll and Kalaena came through, the two men were berating the girl already. She had her head low. She was biting her lip to keep from responding.
Kalaena looked around. Books lined the walls. They ran all the way to the ceiling--bindings of every imaginable cover and color. Spidery runes were gouged into their spines, some glittered gold in Ku's light. Others were so faded that they were little more than yellow scars.
"So much knowledge!" Daiza whispered.
"Terrible knowledge," Ruadd growled. "It must all be destroyed."
"Just look at this place," Kuthaan said, pointing to Tchimir's desk.
The candlesticks were carved in the shape of writhing, tortured women and he had been using a human skull as a paperweight.
"You don't want any of his spells," the wild man finished.
"Not all of it's dark stuff," the maiden objected. "You saw him in the throne room--he used other spells, too."
Ruadd turned and Kalaena actually felt sorry for her sister. The Knight-Seeker, even wearing his helmet, could look terrible when angry.
"Were we to let you do what you ask, I might very well be coming for you one day."
Daiza refused to meet his gaze. She blinked her eyes fiercely and said nothing.
Kalaena bit her lip.
"Why don't I take lil' sis topside?" Syll asked.
"She should watch you guys break the center," Kalaena objected. "It would be valuable training, wouldn't it Ku?"
Kuthaan studied the girl. "No. It would be best if she leaves."
At that, Daiza didn't even bother to hide her tears. She hugged herself and fled the room.
Ruadd and Kuthaan exchanged a glance. Kalaena saw the regret which passed between them.
Did Daiza, though?
Kalaena could only hope that one day, she would have the wisdom to understand.
"Wait up," Syll called, running after.
The Swordsister turned back to the men. "Let's get this over with, guys."
Daiza stumbled into the passage, blinded by darkness and tears. She leaned against a wall and let her hatred for Ku run hot in her mind. Ruadd was a fool and a fanatic--he would never understand how valuable those books were. But Kuthaan should know better. In the right hands, some good could still be wrung out of Tchimiri's experiments.
A cool, slender hand touched her shoulder.
"Please don't fry me, you wicked witch. I didn't mean to startle you."
Sniffling, Daiza raised a hand and with a whispered chant, produced a light of her own. It was a sputtering orange flame--not at all as powerful as Ku's--but it did the job.
"There," Syll said, smiling at the warm little ball. "And you did it without using any baby souls. Imagine that!"
Through her tears, Daiza managed a laugh.
Syll grinned. "C'mon, lil' sis. Let's go see the sun again." She slid her arm around the girl's waist.
Daiza nodded and started walking with her.
"Funny how men who preach humility suddenly know everything when a bad book gets found," the dark-haired woman mused. "Still, they've only got your best interest at heart, right?"
Daiza grit her teeth and said nothing. The flame-orb wavered.
Syll stopped and made a face. "These skirts are the devil, aren't they? I can't wait to wear breaches again."
Daiza sniffed and said nothing.
"Feels like I got something stuck in 'em--since you got the light anyway, could you check for me?" She turned and wiggled her rear at Daiza.
The light nearly went out.
Instead of two soft round cheeks, Daiza could make out rectangles--rectangles about the size of books.
"Got another couple up front," Syll said. "Don't ask how they got there."
Daiza let the light go out and gave Syll a big hug.
The older woman hugged her back with gusto. "I'm afraid I'm not much for spell-reading, so I just grabbed four at random. Hopefully they're all grimoires and not--I don't know--pornographic studies of undeath."
When Daiza relit her orb, she found Syll was pursing her lips.
"Actually, a dirty book might not be unwelcome. Do you think Lord Tchimiri was into that kind of thing? I mean, he said he was lonely."
Daiza shook her head and started up the passage, suddenly anxious to get back to the ship. Kalaena would be busy for days training the militia--not that she could tell one book from another anyway.
"I realize you'd rather have spells, but personally, I wouldn't mind a trashy novel, the kind with heaving bosoms and throbbing--"
"You're the best, Syll."
©2015 Christopher Beats. All Rights Reserved.