sun dial

LAVISH TALE

By R. M. Hicks

            “It is this way every morning, the birth of light rising up languidly like a bubble of air in a vial of oil.  Every plant quivers minutely in anticipation of its promises.  Every artist who gazes at it finds the word ‘beauty’ clinging to his tongue.  And every prisoner who bears witness to it succumbs to despair by the lonely weight of monotony.
“I am a prisoner.  My crime is love.  My cell...is my life.”

*   *   *   *

wonderhorn

                        The infant sunrise sparked to life as a thin golden seam between the darkness of the sea and sky.  Warm gusts of air carom off the frothing ocean and forced the mighty eagle Wonderhorn to brace against their currents.  His talons tightened on the stone perch of the tower to resist the southerly winds lest they push him catastrophically into the frail scaffolding used by the Retainers.  He pecked a side of beef out of a trough, gnawed on it a couple of times squeezing the savory taste of blood throughout his mouth, then swallowed it whole.

            When the Retainers cranked up another portion, Wonderhorn felt a twinge of disappointment, for it meant he’d be flying inland instead of out to sea.  Out over the waters he was allowed to fish, hence a single serving of beef on those days.  Of course the Retainers recommended against it, fishing that is, citing safety concerns, dangers resulting from wet leather straps and rusted buckles and such.  But Wonderhorn’s current master loved the rush and the swoop and the spray of water on his face.  Normally, those ordained to the regal Order of Cloud Knights were older, stoic, and passionless men of honor.  To be assigned one with a tincture of youth and enthusiasm made Wonderhorn the envy of his brood.  The eagles have observed that the old men control conflict through authority; they watch battles from a surveyor’s distance signaling commands and implementing tactics.  Young men, on the other hand, control conflict by fighting.  Eagles live for battle. Wonderhorn has his scars; patches of feathers permanently and awkwardly askew, and he was proud of them.  He licked a squirt of blood off the sharp point of his beak and nodded his massive white head approvingly.

            The Cloud Knight, Sir Lavish Dn’Moore watched the Retainers hoist up the bronze trimmed crown, which was more of a windshield for him than a protective helm for Wonderhorn, and then returned his contemplations toward the distant glimmer on the sea.  His personal adornment consisted of a brightly polished, nickel plated helm, gold trimmed with a full-face visor and slender golden wings that splayed high off the helm.  On his shoulders were large pauldrons that sloped outwards so that at a silhouette’s distance, they too appeared as wings.  A swaying white tabard, immaculately embroidered with a swooping eagle, concealed a chain and leather tunic that, like his padded gloves and boots, was more for resistance to the cold of high altitude than for protection against arms.  Lastly, a long straight sword decoratively embellished with an elaborate hilt rested in a polished wooden scabbard, and this sword, beyond all doubt, was his most precious possession.

            The white robed Avian Keeper dutifully approached Sir Lavish Dn’Moore.  He bowed respectfully, performing a quick spin of the arms so that the hefty feather-rimmed cuffs of his robe wrapped once around his wrists and caused his silver ponytail to slide off his back touching the stone floor.  He presented Lavish with the black Rod of Delinquency, and for the first time in his five year tenure, Lavish declined inspection.

            Underneath the bushy brows and full beard of the Avian Keeper’s face the flesh scrunched in perplexity, then slackened with worry for it occurred to him that in his five decades of service in the aviary, only thrice before has he seen a Cloud Knight decline inspection.  Knights relied on such rituals, they were an integral part of discipline, and no knight survived without discipline.  Yet, on rare occasion, they disregard ceremonial custom and the Keeper never truly understood why.  It was as if they knowingly went off to death believing ritual will not spare them of what has come due.

            The Avian Keeper beheld Sir Lavish Dn’Moore’s hazel eyes in hopes of ascertaining some clue as to his intentions.  They were clear, emotionless and blank as the entire focus of the man was inside himself, the external world having been trivialized.  A gleam from the magnificent hilt of his sword drew the Avian Keeper’s attention.  That sword was the subject of much rumor and conjecture, possessing many, many secrets and none did Lavish betray.  To see that sword, to see him wield it, was to bear witness to irresistible death. The Avian Keeper made an assumption that he felt in his heart he knew to be true, that Lavish would not be returning from this mysterious journey. Should he inquire or urge reconsideration?  Absolutely not, for there is evil in casting doubt and if he were meant to know, he would already have been told.

            Lavish scratched at his red beard prodding his thoughts back to the present then climbed up the ladders of the scaffolding.  He paused alongside Wonderhorn’s massive head, looked into the eagle’s alert icy-blue eyes and smiled, “You ready boy?”  Wonderhorn replied with a short affirmative caw, so loud, that it forced the Retainers to press their hands to their ears.  They cranked down the catwalk extensions as soon as Lavish buckled himself into the saddle.  They lined up on the deck, feather collard coats and long hair ruffling in the breeze and to their surprise and amazement, Lavish unsheathed the sword he kept hidden from all eyes and saluted them.  They gasped at the brilliant blue gleam sparkling off the straight, double-edged blade.

            Lavish and the sword disappeared as Wonderhorn back-stepped off the perch.

*   *   *   *

            “She only sleeps.  I am always awake.  When I embrace her it suffers me for I find in her only dreams.  And the absence of her affection is the famine of my drought.”

*   *   *   *

            They flew out to sea anyway, but there would be no opportunity afforded for fishing.  Wonderhorn heard Lavish issue a triple chirp, an affirmation allowing him to fly as fast and high as he pleased.  His double hearts sent a tingle up to his head and out to his wings.  He squinted, even though the membrane over his eyes deterred most of the wind pressure, for this is how eagles smile.  Mighty cinnamon-red wings stroked the air furiously, the gales of which has torn banners from their place, ripped roofs off houses and sent men sprawling on their backs.  Sir Lavish Dn’Moore held the sword high, straight and rigid; its sharply honed sapphire blade brightened from the exhilaration of the rapid ascent.  In the stiff constant pressure of wind, his arm quickly wearied and when it began to tremble from the exertion he willed the blade to react.  Magical energies stimulated a mild electrical current to surge through his arm and shoulder locking the muscles up tight.  The wind would now have to tear his arm off in order to bring the weapon down.

            Memories of the first time Lavish held the sword occupied his mind.  An old hag presented it to him revealing the wonderful weapon under moldy wrappings of old leather.  Instantly he saw his face reflected on the mirrored silvery surface; only its edges gleamed with the transparent blue hue of sapphire.  At a glance he understood its craft to be of some ancient elvenkind.  The weapon was not made of gems, but from metals forged by magics and compression, mystical techniques unavailable to men.  That first time he looked upon the surface of the blade, his face, distinct and pronounced on the mirror-like surface, infused in him a notably ill feeling; for he didn’t have a full beard as the reflection showed.  The older-self unsettled him, then frightened him as he considered the implications of a future divined through this sword.  The hag who solicited the fabulous weapon wanted only bread and wine in exchange for it.  Sword in hand he watched the old woman lead her basket-laden mule into the woods.  She had done what she was obliged to do, and having completed it, having rid herself of the weapon, her life was no longer in peril.  Reflecting on the view of his older self, it occurred to him that fate was no longer as oblique as the black gaps in dreams.  Fate was now a swift current rushing him headlong....to the sea?  Over the falls?  At first these questions worried him, but that quickly faded for the fire and feistiness that was his nature reassured him.  He decided it didn’t matter where fate took him, as long as it stayed swift.

            A few years later, Lavish would be ceremoniously inducted into the honorable Order of Cloud Knights. He traded in a hoofed steed for an eagle.  He watched battles from high above the melee and could route a legion of enemy simply by having Wonderhorn pounce upon them. He grew a beard so that his face wouldn’t freeze off.

            In the long quiets of travel and sleeplessness, while idly enamored in the weapon’s craft, he felt the stir of consciousness.  He learned the sword had a name, Tumult.

            Over time he felt her in there and learned of a place important to her, the Bevora Isles.

            Fate’s tide rushes Lavish toward it now.

            Bevora is a place with many enigmatic names, the most common being the Lost Magical Isles thanks to savvy, nostalgia smitten bards, who claim the islands used to exist but has moved on from this world.  The Wyvern Isles is a favorite of leery, far-sighted sailors who claim to have seen flocks of wyvern in the skies over the vast sea, but never the islands.  Some say that it floats wandering about the oceans occasionally returning to its place of origin by chance of the currents. All of that, however, was mere fantasy and legend, the conjecture of imagination in a long history of fables and fairy tales. They were lost and magical thanks to a bizarre and impenetrable fog that surrounded them.  The isolation has turned them into a breeding ground for wyvern and other fiends.  The Order of Cloud Knights disavowed contact with it decades ago calling it a blemish and nothing more, yet Lavish discovered otherwise in Tumult.

            Altitude set, speed sustained by an occasional waft of wings, Lavish guided Wonderhorn into the necessary trajectory, as determined by Tumult’s assertions. 

*   *   *   *

            “Not so long ago, Bevora was an ancestral home to fairykin, those mischievous dabblers of the Art of Fates.  The fairies have this innate talent for harnessing the rawest particles of the Essence.  They constructed silver strands from the Slivers of Essence that had touched a person’s consciousness.  With these filaments they fashioned beautiful webs.  The webs grew on their own, attuned to the fabrics of time and light and soul.  These webs traced the life and revealed events of the persons whose consciousness they were formed from.  The strands grew toward other webs as people’s lives interacted.  Children formed new threads and then there are those persons whose authority and prestige is so great, that influence spun its own webs.  All these peoples’ lives are woven into one another’s web.  Web upon webs.  Whole sections of jungle became encased in these silver cocoons.

            “Many people, though, they simply give up.  They stop living.  Their filaments kink and curl and spin around itself, forming a little wad.  I think of what mine might look like now.  I think it to be an ugly, shapeless mass.  My life is stagnant.  My growth blunted.  Until I free her, I cannot live.”

*   *   *   *

lavish riding wonderhorn

            The sun loomed high and bright when, along the hazy horizon, Wonderhorn spied danger.  A chattery cluck rumbled out his mouth as a warning to his master.  At this far distance Lavish saw only indistinguishable gnat-like shapes flickering in and out of the low hanging cloud bank.  Slowly, they grew into lanky silhouettes, their slithering manner of flying betraying their genus....wyvern!  And quite unexpectedly, the Bevora Isles appeared as tall palisades poked out of the white haze.  Lavish heard the whining squeal of the seagulls that lived and mated amongst its sheer walls.  He heard the crash of the surf like a mellow tempo under the rush of wind, and distinct above the others, he heard the unsettling shrieking cackle of the wyverns.  Mythically they were the lowliest, most degenerate breed of pre-history’s dragonkin.  Their long snaky bodies, mottled green and brown, wiggled through the air with the aid of feathered wings.  Beaked maw, a spiky neck of horns and scorpion-like poison filled stinger, they will hunt down anything smaller than they are, gouge it, then follow it until it succumbs.  They could not have known Wonderhorn was immune to most poisons, including theirs, they only know he was twice their size and thus not to be trifled with.  Needless to say, they stayed far away from Wonderhorn neither hindering nor troubling him.

            Lavish speedily passed over several vast clusters of earth, their foundations laden by the heavy growth of tropical foliage.  The air around Bevora seemed thicker and denser than the norm.  Ruins of civilization littered the cliffs of the main island.  Vines lounged on the balconies, weeds rooted in the crumbling roads and the trees rose up through the roofs, their canopies hovering over the ruins as if protecting the broken and wounded buildings from the weather’s tyranny.  Further inland he ruins succumbed entirely to the jungle’s consumption and the island’s green floor stretched to the horizon in every direction.  Gradually, the elevation climbed until an enormous, gray, flat-topped mountain loomed in the distance.  He had seen the volcano before, Tumult showed it to him during dreamy meditations and he knew the destination she sought was nigh.  Wyverns nested all along its barren and shale neck.  Over the rim, the caldera fell deeply.  Its basin cooled by a pristine green lake.  Centered in the caldera a misshapen ivory dome poked out of the water and it served as a foundation for a sleek, white tower, crowned with many spires and turrets.

*   *   *   *

            “I believe in fate.  I know, without a doubt, that it exists.  Unfortunately, it is usually nothing more than the banal predictability of dust billowing up underneath the foot just prior to the stamp of the sole.  Some believe fate is subject to will.  But it is Not!  I have willed her release for so long now…. And all in vain.  Patience is a veneer, a garment I wear to disguise the temper smoldering inside.  It has come about that all things anger me.  Death I shall deal to any whose will objects to mine.  I shall kill them.  I shall break them.  I shall Burn them with Rage!

            “Anger....that’s fate….It changes everything it touches.”

*   *   *   *

            Their presence was no longer tolerable.  An enormous, brutish wyvern full of rancor charged headlong toward them, its beaked mouth opened wide and screaming defiance.

            Wonderhorn climbed avoiding contact as he was taught to do.  Warmth radiated through Tumult into Lavish’s hand and up his forearm, its eagerness coming alive.  Deep from the back of his throat, Lavish screeched like a falcon; the order for full contact engagement.  A sudden pivot and Wonderhorn launched into a dive.  The speed pressed Lavish firmly into the saddle filling his helmet with the sound of rushing air. 

            The bold wyvern suddenly thought differently of the situation seeing the big eagle speeding toward it.  It started breaking, forcing its fluid body to go rigid, but it could neither stop nor change course fast enough.  Wonderhorn slammed into it, snatched its head in his beak and tore it away.  Gray feathers littered the air while the body floundered before it settled into a flailing fall.

            Wonderhorn soared along the volcano’s rim gnawing on his trophy while its blood continued to flow out of the neck leaving a trail behind them like the macabre streamers on a necromancer’s banner.

*   *   *   *

            “The dreariness of a day dulls the luster of destiny.  An unbroken chain of empty days sours all destinies into remorseful tragedies.  The rich flavor of past victories stales, yet the sting of failure is poignant forever.

            “As such, tedium causes one to want to blasphemy against destiny, to repudiate and dispute its very existence.  But it does exist, forever cemented and embalmed by premonition.  To be specific, let your arrival serve as an example.  I knew at once, through the tensions and heightened agitation of the wyvern, that their distress was your doing.  Though it could have been anybody or anything; storms, earthly tremors, migrating sharks that deplete their favorite food, may even have been thieves and knightly fools with eyes lusting for glory and treasures.  They come infrequently, but they do come.  It could have been anyone, but I accepted premonition and knew it was you.

            “I am glad you have come, Tumult, for you provide me with a needed distraction from the toils of loneliness. 

            “Ah, such memories we have had!  If ever I had a nemesis of your equal I know not who.  Yes, you shall serve as an eager distraction, and an outlet for my frustrations.  I hope your host is not important to you because I am going to have to tear him from you.  Yes, rip him from you like a finger nail out of its cuticle. 

            “His fate is my anger now!”

*   *   *   *

            A deafening thunderclap shook the air with a ferocity that reminded Lavish of a rupturing smithy’s furnace unable to contain its heat.  He looked to the tower expecting to see it broken or blasted to rubble.  It was intact and perfect, but at the top of the tower appeared an expanding luminous bubble.  The bubble reminded Lavish of a mirage caused by searing heat from the way it rippled and grew with dazzling rapidity quickly engulfing the tower.  At the epicenter, a dark mass formed taking on a monstrous shape.  The shadowy mass sprouted a long neck of corded muscle and a mane of ivory horns, with two pairs of sinewy arms and legs, and a sleek tail that skimmed over the lake’s surface.  A gust of wind from its four wings dispersed the bubble and churned the lake waters.

            It was so immense; so grand and frightening was the dragon that it caused Lavish’s senses to falter.  Everything sort of froze as if time itself held its breath.   

            It’s after them.

            The ancient dragon flew swiftly and smoothly.  Its boney front wings, sheathed in a leathery membrane, moved forward and swept the air back like a rowing oar.  The second pair of wings, set further along the spine, were rounded and flapped downward.  The two sets of wings beat in perfect synchronicity.  Its many eyes glistened like polished black pearls and speckled its dark knobby maw like gems protruding from a lump of stone.  The pearls twitched, always keeping the sword in their focus. 

            Wonderhorn flew a broad upward spiral over the caldera then angled down on a hard right; time to test the adversary’s agility.

            Tumult’s blue glow brightened to a glare and forced Lavish to avert his eyes. 

            He heard the grumble of an earthquake, it was the dragon’s growl.  Its head lurched on that taut neck and opened a mouth beset with rows of sharp teeth that careened toward Wonderhorn.  The eagle quickly twisted avoiding the snap of its maw.

            Lavish’s stomach contracted painfully as if he had been kicked.  There was a loud crack and blinding flash of light as Tumult discharged a magnificent plume of energy.  Spots of afterglow, the wind and nausea confused Lavish.  Wonderhorn looped and he lost all notion of orientation.

            Liquid black dripped from gaping holes in the dragons face as it hovered in place, trembling from the pain and shock of Tumult’s bolt.  Wonderhorn zipped upward past the dragon, then spun downward and raked his talons on its wings; a tender spot that stung terribly.  The dragon’s head righted stiffly.  Its chest expanded sucking in air and it trumpeted out its pain in a concussive roar that hit Wonderhorn like an avalanche.  Wonderhorn smacked against the lake and nearly flailed into a deadly tumble.

            After a brief struggle of splashing and flapping Wonderhorn got himself out of the water, but stayed near the surface so as to keep as much distance between them and the dragon above.  Wonderhorn circled the lake to gain momentum while the dragon stayed in its dominate position.  The dragon seemed preoccupied and craned its head back arching its long neck.  The opportunity to escape was not missed by Wonderhorn who hastened toward the blue ceiling and out of the caldera.  Acceleration and gravity pinned Lavish to the saddle.  He heard a grumble and wrenched his head around over his shoulder.  He expected to see the dragon….he saw a wall of flame.

            “Dive!”  Lavish shouted.  The wind slammed his voice back into his face and he worried his cry was muted, but Wonderhorn’s keen ears heard him clearly enough and did exactly as commanded.  He tucked his wings, shifted and stiffened his tail and they swung down and forward.

            The sky exploded.  Heat and brilliance expanded over the volcano as vast as a sunset.

            Wonderhorn flapped, but continued in free fall, his wings finding no substance, as if the air had been burned up.  Finally, his wings caught a draft and spared him a painful collision with the stone slope of the volcano. The odor of heated metal and burnt feathers filled Lavish Dn’Moore’s nostrils.  He was ready to go back figuring this opponent wasn’t his for the taking.  Maybe not even the whole order of Cloud Knights could defeat this foe.  Could be some of them even knew it was here and that’s why they stayed away.  Then Tumult hummed with static fervor; apparently she wasn’t done and neither was Wonderhorn.  They circled wide keeping just above the jungle canopy, the torrent of his wings thrashed the hearty trees with a hurricane’s fury.

            Wonderhorn sped upward on the shale neck of the volcano like a circus chariot on a ramp launching the eagle into the heavens.  They came down even faster.

            Lavish’s head felt as if it were wrapped in ice.  The wind rushing past was as loud as a scream.  He felt something wet come out his nose and smear across his cheek.  Was it snot or blood?  He felt a sudden sensation of heat and feared a blast of dragon  breath  was about to slam into them. 

            Wonderhorn, anticipating the jet of flame, spiraled round the column of fire like a child sliding down a pole.  He passed right behind the dragon and latched on to its tail.  Talons and beak peeled off bundles of scales and long strips of meat and yanked the dragon out of the sky.  It collided into the tower demolishing a turret and sending cracks down the shaft.

            Wonderhorn, with practiced grace, leveled out and skimmed over the water.

            Another stream of flame blasted into the caldera wall just ahead of them.  It splashed like spurting lava and there was no way to avoid it.

            Tumult emitted a brilliant and blinding flash. 

            Then everything exploded into noise and light.

*   *   *   *

            For a long time nobody knew Lavish had Tumult.  He maintained her secrecy guarding her zealously.  Like a secret mistress, he only looked upon her in private fearing the envy and greed of others should they learn.  Her exquisitely crafted beauty captivated him and to touch her, warmed him, and how bizarre a sensation that was to feel the warmth of the living in an otherwise inanimate object. She reached out to him on some deeply profound emotional level and gave him comfort and encouragement.  It took him many seasons to learn to use her, to allow his own emotions to channel into her and fuel her power.  Her electric crackle spoke of eagerness and ambition.  Her strength, prevalent in the brightness of her flare, told of passion and yearning. The bond grew until they at last connected empathically and their triumphs and sorrows were then shared through a flood of imagery.

            Only in secret did he take her out to look at her.

            He’d marvel and she’d glow a pulsing gleam of blue.

tumult

            Lavish awoke with the afterglow of Tumult’s burst lingering in his pupils.  When the distortion faded away he found only darkness and vague outlines of silhouettes upon silhouettes.  Where was Tumult?

            She responded by providing a comforting blue aura. 

            He still held her, though he could not feel his hand grasping her.  His head throbbed.  Nausea and hunger urged him to just curl up, but he was still strapped in his saddle.  He felt himself rocking and swaying gently.  Was he on water?  He tried to speak, but couldn’t.  His whole right side appeared to be locked-up; Tumult had maintained a current.  He willed her to stop and she slipped from his numb hand.  Fool!  He panicked fearing she might descend into the depths and would have shouted, but couldn’t find his voice.  He heard her clatter on stone and sighed in relief.  A smile parted his parched lips as he realized the rocking motion must be Wonderhorn’s breathing.

            His helm stank of sweat so he lifted open the visor and breathed deeply the untainted, warm, tropical night air.  Thick gloves and muscle soreness made the unbuckling of straps a laborious and time consuming task.  Freed at last, he slid down Wonderhorn’s neck and crumpled up on the floor.  Stiffened joints and weakness in his muscles made it feel as though a hundred years had snuck up on him.  Tumult twinkled under the starlight and the moment he picked her up a word squirmed through the tension of his headache and into the forefront of his thoughts, “Down.”

            “Down?” He muttered, not understanding how the word forced itself upon him or what it even meant.  As he looked about, and his eyes began to distinguish differing shades of color in the darkness, he noticed the outline of a spire silhouetted against the night sky.  He was on top of Bevora Tower and facing one of its turrets.

            “First things first,” he said to himself and climbed up Wonderhorn’s neck to fetch a saddlebag.  There was a discouraging smell about the eagle, one of ash and raw meat.  He retrieved a large leather pouch, eased it down to the floor, then slid back down, cradling a hefty water skin in his arms.  He splashed water over his face and drank until full.  Inside the pouch, Lavish pulled out several items; a doeskin roll of smoked venison, a latched wood box with medicines and a sealed tube.  The lid of the tube easily popped open, it contained a small velvet sack and from that, he poured a silver chain and pendant into his hand.  After a few awkward minutes of humming, he finally got the pitch of his voice just right and the pendant emitted a pink glow that encapsulated him.  It didn’t actually have a source of light, it was more of a pink bubble that resisted darkness.  As useful as it was, Lavish always found the pink discoloration of everything a bit unsettling.  He inspected Wonderhorn’s seared head and touched the crisp frizzled feathers.  At the bald spots he noticed blistered flesh.  “Oh Wonderhorn....” Lavish moaned sympathetically, “I’m sorry boy.”

            “Down,” repeated the soundless voice.  He disregarded it and continued his guilt-ridden inspection of his beloved friend.  Blood had congealed in the groove between the beak and flesh.  He looked up into Wonderhorn’s glossy dilated eye and heard the eagle wheeze from pain.  “Wonderhorn first, so we can get out of here,”  Lavish said to Tumult then realized, that she had been sheathed.  Was this the first she’d interacted with him without being in direct physical contact?  Had it happened before and he simply didn’t realize it?  He stood there wondering how far the connection went, how deep did the bond seed and how much of her had seeped into him?  Being here was her intent.  The dragon, her foe – thinking of that savage and monstrous beast startled him with stabs of fear.  Lavish decided he had best make haste.

            He patted Wonderhorn gently on the beak then prepared a chunk of venison with some glowing green jelly from the medicine box.  The jelly was the only thing not colored pink and its formal name was in a language spoken only by alchemists and strictly for eagles, it was known to cause permanent blindness in men with a mere lick.  After feeding it to Wonderhorn he prepared a little something for himself; something to ease the stiffness, relieve his headache and a little something else to help keep him up and motivated.

            Speaking earnestly, yet with strictness in his voice, Lavish said, “Wonderhorn, my friend, I am going inside this tower.  If the dragon returns....leave.  That is my command.  You won’t be blamed or dishonored.”  He knew the eagle understood him, but didn’t know if it would obey; not even dogs are as loyal as eagles.

            Amulet in one hand, Tumult in the other, Lavish found an open panel in the floor, and squeezing past Wonderhorn, descended into the tower.  A set of stairs spiraled down into a circular room void of furnishings and its ancient wooden floor groaned under his weight.   Across from him, the dim glow of the night sky filtered in from a massive hole where a turret had once been.  He found another set of wooden stairs.  He heard their brittleness with each step, then he heard movement; shuffling and the patter of claws.  He peered suspiciously into the blackness outside the pink. 

            He heard a loud creak from the step underneath. 

            It broke, and so did the next and the next and the whole set of stairs cascaded into a heap leaving Lavish sprawled amongst the dust and debris.

            The air stank.  The fetid, musty odor of the place permeated the darkness like a thick smoke.  Wrenchingly putrid, it gagged him, yet on the positive it acted like smelling salts removing the achy lethargy of his limbs and smote his headache.

            Something tugged on his boot!

            Startled, Lavish kicked and leaped to his feet only to stumble on the broken steps.  On the cusp of the bubble a rat-like tail, as thick as a man’s leg, stirred the dust as it swept out of view.

            Movement and sound came from all around; scuttling, claws, tapping and squeals.  He saw a large face, vermin-like, mangy, but with no eyes!  It had a bizarre brain-shaped fungal growth on top of its head and large, flimsy, vein-strewn ears.

            Something grabbed him from behind and yanked him down.  He grunted and slashed at it.  Dozens of faces lurched at him.  Rats the size of dogs swarmed and engulfed him.  One knocked his visor down and saved his face from being chewed off.  Sharp needle-like teeth appeared in the eye slits as the vermin nibbled at the helm, ravenous for the fresh meat wrapped inside.

            Lavish tried to kick and twist, Tumult cut them with each touch, but she did not deter their hunger and their weight kept him pinned.  They chewed most of the leather from his legs and arms.  Their teeth pricked at his skin. He thrashed frantically!  Teeth grabbed hold of exposed flesh on his thigh and tore it away!

            “Tumult!” He yelled and she responded.  Her razor edge became honed to whole new degrees of sharpness by the ready current of electricity.  She carved through hide and organ and bone and met no resistance.  Lavish swung her in wide arcs slaying groups of vermin with each stroke.

            The tower became a raucous concert of eating, of lapping and of the occasional scratch of teeth on bone as the vermin cannibalized their dead.  Lavish broke free and found his way to a wall putting his back against it.  His tabard was shredded, smeared blood blackened his helm, and his boots and gloves were heavy from the grotesque saturation of it.  Lavish gagged, lifted his visor and vomited; mostly bile and a few chunks of venison.  “Rats’ll probably eat that too,” he huffed.

*   *   *   *

lavish the slayer

            “Even in this lake’s shallow depths, the sonic death screams of the tower’s vermin are softened into murmurs.  It now seems obvious why so many of my ilk chose to hibernate in the fathoms.  The blackness, the pressure, the melancholy groan of the world’s foundations, they are a soporific comfort.  I was asleep.  The vermin have awakened me and now I wonder about the motives of your ambitions.  I suppose I assumed you had come to torment me and that completed, I thought you would leave.  You have not.  And your host still lives.  A discharge of the magnitude it took to sunder one such as myself should have expelled all the life force out of him.  The static should have, at the very least, incinerated his brain’s tiny tendrils…..Well, that is what you did to my necromancers anyway.  But do you think I am slain?  Do you think me dead and the tower is now for your pilfering?  I doubt it.  Do you think me wounded, bleeding and recovering in the tower’s cellar so you hunt me there?  No, that doesn’t seem right either.

            “My wealth? Maybe.

            “The throne?  Perhaps.

            “Beware, Tumult, there is wickedness in my tower fouler than the rats.  Steal some treasures, sit on the throne, but don’t stay long and venture no further.

            “If you find her, I will rise.  I will borrow power from my mother’s bones to exterminate your honorable host.  And you don’t want to have to spend an eternity here with me!”

*   *   *   *

            As he stood at a delicate metal railing encircling a great void of darkness, which was the hollow of Bevora Tower, he felt the tension and stress of fear pass away from his body as his discipline restored calmness.  Born to war and bred to be dutiful, Lavish Dn’Moore was a veteran of many violent battles long before his companionship to Tumult.  Briefly, he reflected on what had just happened, and have no doubt, never did it ever occur to him that this quest might be a mistake. He trusted her. It might be easy for another to call him a fool, to claim this was a suicide errand, to assert that he had been deceived, or say Tumult might not be what he believed her to be.  The notion that this might be all folly and hoax were doubts Lavish did not possess.  He trusted, implicitly, and that whatever danger she obligated him to, it would result in his love being rewarded. He believed, unwaveringly, that the tribulations of this endeavor would result in union.

            Lavish leaned out over the railing, peered into the blackness below and felt the suck of gravity tug at him from the bottom of the tower’s belly.  Cautiously, he followed the railing until finding steps with a brocade of metal-wrought vines and fan-shaped leaves.  Tentatively, he tested the steps and their stability satisfied him.

*   *   *   *

            “There are thirty-six differing tales immortalizing my beloved Avaleen.  I know them all, word for word, from the beautiful ballads to the elegant epics.  I know them all, for they all are of my creation.  I sing them to my harpies who relate the arias over the ocean.  The notes resonate in sailors’ heads, their unconscious minds comprehending what their timid ears cannot.  And each tale has only fragments of truth.

            “I like to be the villain.

            “In the stories I am scandalous, craven....Evil.

            “But when we met,….. I was not.  I had abandoned my tyrannical enthusiasm and deigned such destructive proclivities as belonging to the past.  I was striving toward new beneficent ambitions.  Our relationship was mutual.  Avaleen sensed and wanted exposure to the power hidden underneath my Elven guise.  I wanted something innocent, something as beautiful on the inside as on the outside.

            “Avaleen had a guardian, a fairy.  The fairy loathed my kind.  The curse, it is the fairy’s fault.  The evil that followed, the destruction from my hand, it is the fairy’s fault!

            “Someday I will find this fairy and will no longer be bound to Avaleen, to this tower or this wretched island!”

*   *   *   *

            Lavish Dn’Moore’s legs had gone wobbly from fatigue and the weight of armor, still the bottom was nowhere to be seen, only blackness both vast and close.  The tower didn’t seem quite as big from the back of Wonderhorn.

            The rats followed him.  More accurately, they followed the dribble and puddles of blood that sponged out his boots, their squeals and claws that clicked on the metal steps filled out the absence.

            At last the steps ended at a smooth stone floor, yet disappointingly, the hollow continued.  Another set of stairs, these made of marble.  Elaborate stone railings secured either side of him and he noticed the frieze of their decor was of fish, squids and other exotic water creatures.  About two dozen steps later, he saw a pair of pillars whose sculpted walls were shaped into squid-like tentacles.  He found a new floor....it was made of gold coins!

            “Oh, Tumult.....is this….is this what we came for?  Is this what you sought?  Treasures?”  Lavish exclaimed, worried that wealth was perhaps the full and final extent of the adventure.  He was neither greedy nor hungry for loot, nonetheless, the wealth accumulated here was mesmerizing to behold.  Piles of coins formed chest-high swells.  Weapons, armor, statues and vases lay partially buried in those swells like villages consumed by desert sands.  Immaculate helmets plumed with exotic feathers spewed the coins out through the face, disturbingly reminiscent of those abandoned desert dwellings that had filled with sand until they popped.  The treasures seemed to be touched with a subtle glow, their sheen existing outside of his pink bubble and he realized that something else in this room was giving off light.  His eyes looked for a source and at the far end, stood a prominent cluster of silvery stalactites; no light was seen, yet their luster shown all the same.  Lavish moved toward it, hesitant and cautious at first, but then a yearning stirred in him and the quicker he moved the deeper he sank into the sea of gold coins until he had to swim through them as one might while struggling in quicksand.  At last he tumbled out of their swell and onto a soft padded carpet.  On his hands and knees, staring at the stalactites, he realized they were spires around the back and sides of a pure white throne. The base of the throne and its long towering back were fluted and oddly skeletal.  Its luster was of ivory, not metal.  The throne radiated a warmth soothing like bath water.  It radiated energy, Lavish felt it and he was no adept.

            He stayed there on his hands and knees, his gaze fixated on the throne, left hand impulsively kneading the lush rug, the other tight around Tumult.  He thought of Kings and Lords stiffly positioned on their thrones of wood, or stone, emblazoned with silver or gold.  Those thrones were mere stools compared to this. 

            Lavish’s imagination conjured dozens of opulent visions, all of them with him on the throne, relaxed and dignified, and Tumult laid ceremoniously on a velveteen pillow whose color and frills depended upon the sacred bearers’ masculinity or femininity, robed and/or armored.  This carpet remained but the treasures would be cleared out revealing….a tiled floor of glassy marble panels; checkered, he decided, the floor has to be checkered.

            Such were the imaginings running through Lavish’s mind and he was not one given to such flights of fancy….but Throne of Krakken had a profound and sometimes terrible impact on people.

            His mouth was dry, but he swallowed hard anyway.

            “This is what you came for?  This is what you want isn’t it?  Was this your home?  Were you once a Queen?  Queen Tumult, the beautiful Queen of Bevora.”  He held Tumult up before his face, a triumphant smile spread the red hairs thin along his upper lip.  Looking intently at her mirrored surface he sought confirmation, he found only anxiousness.  If felt like the static buildup of wool the way it tingled and tickled the hairs on his forearm.  Was the dragon still alive?  Did it still lurk here?

            Vivid recollections of sharp rows of teeth and its many beady eyes made Lavish shiver.

            The grinding of stone sent his hairs on end.

            He quickly scanned the darkness guessing at the sound’s location.  At the end of the carpet, just past its tassels, a block of stone began to rise. The carpet bunched up as a marble panel lifted out of its place and pale red light expanded into the hall.  Lavish sprung away from the gathering carpet. The panel stopped and the light shifted.  He stepped forward hesitantly, sword at the ready.  Horns appeared; gnarled, ribbed, stout and coiling back in upon themselves.  Between the horns was a spiky tuft of hair, then a glistening moist black nose poked out, a dog’s nose, that is if their snouts were as big as a wicker basket.

            Lavish heard a saliva-wet growl.  The horns and snout disappeared.  Lavish gripped Tumult firmly with both hands holding her high and poised in a striking stance.

            The horns and snout reappeared, suddenly, along with the whole head and torso.  Tight muscular arms suspended it in the hole.  It was wolfish, with small sinister lemon yellow eyes and a thick, bushy mane.  The hairs across its sinewy chest and taught stomach were short and gray.  Its vicious hungry snarl echoed through the chamber.

            Tumult urged Lavish not to stall.  He didn’t.  Lavish lunged forward slicing off the fiend’s arm before it could fully pull itself out.  The horns disappeared again, but the creature was fast, it grabbed Lavish’s leg and took him down the hole.

            The fall was a swift ten feet into another room.  The beast cushioned Lavish’s collision enough to prevent injury, but it still knocked the wind out of him.  Enraged with pain, the fiend kicked Lavish with its strong hoofed leg.  The blow sent him sliding cross the smooth stone floor until a pillar abruptly halted him.  Lavish glanced around at his surroundings.  The room was lined with arches and perched between them, on brick pedestals, slept hideous stone gargoyles. 

 

            Desperate gulps of air came hard and seemed as if they were blocked by the visor, so Lavish flipped it up, but it helped little.  The beast bit hold of him by his pauldrons, its teeth penetrating the metal.  The nose was cold and wet against his cheek.  It shook Lavish around like a doll.  His feet banged harshly on the floor until finally, the buckles and straps of the shoulder guard broke.  Lavish skidded and rolled to his knees. Black spots full of stars splotched his vision and made his head swoon.  Teeth thunked against his helm and with one swift jerk the visor tore away.

            The teeth lunged for his face, it ate Tumult instead.

            At last the air came as Lavish watched the vile fiend’s dramatic death.  The beast flung itself back and leaped into the ceiling several times before it crumpled down, trembling and lying supine on the floor and bleating hoarsely while it bled a pool of slick brown that could have easily filled a horse trough.

            Lavish lay there on the hard floor recovering and .....hallucinating.  It was like looking through an oracle’s crystal ball, the images clear, yet edged in a fog.  It appeared as though he were standing on a balcony with a waist-high wall.  The sky was dark from heavy bulbous clouds that pulsed with flashes of lightning.  Streaks of lightning flickered in front of the balcony.  They strike continuously, fervently, as if summoned.

            Next scene: Dusty birds-eye view of combatants struggling against each other at the base of some cliffs.  In the blue sky, wyverns approach, marshaled by the dragon; its double pair of articulate lithe limbs distinctly recognizable to Lavish.

            The dragon has a name, Karinko Roz.

            Tiers of crenellated brick walls atop the cliffs line the right of vision.

            The sky grew dark.

            The wyverns carry a package; ogres wielding double-bladed axes as big as mules.  If the wyvern survives a hail of arrows, it drops the ogre off on the wall.  Otherwise, ogres fall hard.

            Karinko Roz sears the walls with flame.  Sometimes he gets a wyvern.  Foolishly, he moves to close to the walls.  Ballistae unleash volleys of sharp harpoons with tails of chain.  For a moment, Karinko Roz looks like a puppet on black strings.  He tugs and chains snap, then the lightning strikes, a flurry of angry bolts.  It wrecked him, crashing him against the cliffs and cascading him onto the armies.

            Flash of brilliance, new scene: Karinko Roz laid out like a fish on a slab.  He’s held down by large stone blocks connected to chains.  Armored guards wielding tall pikes and heavy crossbows surround him.  Sorcerers take turns punishing him with painful jolts of electricity.  This punishment persists all day and night.  People came from all around to watch.

            Next scene: A crisp white world of an alpine winter from the top floor of a hamlet.  Tents of armies mixed amongst the clean snow like a rash on soft skin.  Atop a bristling green pine tree a hideous little bat winged creature carries a roll of parchment.  It’s an imp, an emaciated, blackened, fetal-looking creature with insect eyes.  The parchment said Karinko Roz was free.  It’s from Karinko Roz.

            Lavish knew this though he was ignorant of the language.

            Tumult will find out later that goblin assassins and mercenaries rescued him.

            A short time later, in the middle of the night, friends become enemies and Karinko Roz captures her.

            Orange torch light flickers over black hoods.  The hoods bob rhythmically, they may be chanting, there was no sound.  They may be human, or goblins or even demons.  They killed her slowly, bled her from the wrist and ankles.  When the last breath lingered in her throat, the necromancers worced their magic and grabbed her consciousness; a transparent blue oval wrapped in electric tendrils.  A sword, Lavish’s sword, was enveloped in a cocoon of delicate silvery strands.  It became bright and he felt chilled.

            Next, a ceremony honoring a squat, brutish, wide-jawed orc.  He’s a chieftain. Wears a headdress of red feathers and knife blades, a leather collar with bone spikes, and a lei of viper fangs.  Wrapped in black silk, Tumult was given to him.

            Tribal festivities now; big bon fire, hoards of naked, painted orcs, dancing, screaming, and rattling weapons at the blackened sky.  The chieftain stands on the backs of human slaves.  He holds Tumult to the stars, but she is not his, she is her own. She incinerates everyone.

            The hallucinations end.

            The room had no visible source of light, though its soft illuminations seemed brighter towards the far end where there was a magnificent four-poster bed.

            Lavish approached the bed apprehensively, making cautious glances at the stone sculpted demons crouched and catatonic on their pedestals.  Master sculptors chiseled the bed out of a solid block of green and red banded onyx.  Sheer sheets of white silk filled the gaps between glossy posts.  A sturdy chair faced the bed, its red velvet upholstery on the arms and seat were worn to a sheen.  The gossamer curtains were parted in front of the chair and Lavish saw long strands of hazel-brown hair spill like rivulets over a white pillow.

            Lavish used Tumult to widen the part.

            Her face was white, delicate, an artisan’s perfect mask of alabaster with long tapered ears.  Was she elven?  A succubus? The dragon?  No, definitely not, but important to the dragon he knew, the chair somehow confirmed that.  The chair and her slightly gaunt face of high, rounded cheeks and deep-set eyes, induced some distant notion of tragedy.  He felt a pervading sense of loneliness, real as cold, as if time and brooding somehow imbued the air with melancholy.

            “You, Tumult?”  No, her body was slain, she had shown him that.  “Who?”  Recollections of fairy tales lofted to the forefront of his thoughts; the Eternal Dreamer, a princess named Avaleen, cursed to sleep by a jealous sorcerer.  He thought the tale through, but couldn’t remember how it ended.  Happily?  Tragically?

            How did it end?

            Lavish realized he had Tumult by both hands, the hilt pointed above his head, the blade tip poised inches above Avaleen.  He heard the sound of stone crack and slide against itself.  He heard the thud and felt the tremble of the ground as the gargoyles awoke.

            How did it end?

            Tumult glowed blue and crisp lines of white rippled up the blade.  She urged him to plunge her, to impale Avaleen through the heart.  “No,….!”  He hissed out the word, his jaws were clenched tight by the electric charge she channeled to control his muscles.  “No, don’t!”  He fought, resisted, “Not with my Hand!”

            Sorry.

            The room glared with purest of brilliance as Tumult exploded.

            The drain of energy that she stole from Lavish was so severe that it paralyzed him.  The gargoyles easily pinned him, their solid granite bodies possessing the weight of boulders.  They crushed his limbs and he didn’t even feel it.  They pecked at the remnants of is armor.  They slid the gold feathers on his helm through their stone mouths like a preening bird. They poked holes in the helm then pealed it away.  They froze and craned their heads up when the tower began to shudder.

            For a brief moment Lavish Dn’Moore saw himself lying there, beaten, bloodied and hapless.  He was dead.  He was....dreaming.  He felt her more keenly and tangibly than ever before.    A sliver of his Essence was a part of her.  It may not be in the fullness and richness of reality, but they were together in a new way.  He was....dreaming.  And so would they be now and forever more.

            Underneath the dead lupus fiend the stone floor steamed, turned to lava and consumed the creature in a pyre of hissing smoke.  The lava swirled, rose into a cone and then a pillar.  It darkened, cooled and became a man.  He had a gladiator’s physique and the mutilated torso of a man that should be dead.  Blood dripped openly from pits in his face; a large chunk of missing flesh painfully exposed the rounded, pearly joint of his right shoulder. He looked at the pile of gargoyles and the man underneath them.  He looked to the blackened bed; there were no more curtains only shards of blankets and the skeletal remnants of Avaleen.

            “Did she know?!  Did Tumult know what she had done?!”

            The knight laughed.  It was cynical, triumphant and shrill.  It was feminine.

            “Noooo....!” Bellowed Karinko Roz.  His wounds steamed.  The air turned to flame and an inferno engulfed the room.  Gargoyles screamed a mute agony as their hides seared, redden then melted into molten lava.  Though made of unfeeling stone, their conscious manifestation therein was an animal’s Essence and it knew it was dying.

            Lavish Dn’Moore turned to ash and never felt a thing, for he was already gone.

            Little flames licked across the surface of charred stone.  Tiny particles of burning ash filtered through the air.  In a pile of blackened granite chunks and thick soot, Tumult glowed.
Karinko Roz picked her up with his left hand; the right was limp and useless.  He held her before him, his wounded visage grotesquely reflected on her unmarred mirrored surface.  “You believe you have imprisoned me the way I imprisoned you.”  His words were spoken calmly enough though the anger echoed in his throat and made it sound as if several large men spoke all at once.  Smugly, he added, “I think not.”

            Clearly, acutely, in his head, he heard Tumult’s voice, “Liar!”  Then she laughed, cynically, triumphantly.

            He wanted to destroy her, but he couldn’t.  He wanted to smash her, break her, he tried but failed.  He hurled her into the throne room where she ricocheted off of pillars and walls scattering treasures about.  In the quiet following the echoes of her din, in his head, acutely, clearly, he heard the victorious taunt of her laughter.

*   *   *   *

            The great eagle limped along on the airy currents of a stormy afternoon and stumbled onto the platform of the aviary.  The extreme nature of his wounds shocked all into states of concern.  His empty saddle turned the retainer’s gasps of worry into whispers of intrigue.  Was Sir Lavish Dn’Moore wounded and stranded?  Was he captured and imprisoned?  Was he dead?  He was dead, Wonderhorn new for certain, for he had smelled Lavish’s death. More precisely, Wonderhorn no longer smelled the living man, his scent was simply gone. A forlorn mew wheezed out of Wonderhorn’s soot blackened beak.  It was a heart wrenching groan. It was grief born of loss and a sense of failure, not of the physical pain that he endured. 

            The Avian Keeper took it all in quickly and instantly knew Lavish was dead.  Wonderhorn’s sorrow touched him, for such was an eagle’s despair that it would be decades before the eagle would again accept another master.  He knew this thing with certainty, yet all else was mystery, and would remain so, forever more.

THE END

 

Lavish Tale is copyright 2017 R. M. Hicks.

all rights reserved