Hey everybody! Check out this new scene from my current WiP:
“Sire . . . I’m here, sire!” cried Valarys, lifting his arm and waving so that Evrin could see him through the drifting snow and the moonlit dark. “Is that you, your Majesty? I can barely see you for the snow!”
“Yes, it’s me!” said Evrin, making his way to the man. Gods but it was bitter cold here! The blizzard around them made it hard to see very far in any direction; all he could see for miles was mounds upon mounds of moonlit white powder. Where were they? Somewhere in Winterburn, that much was obvious. They had to be; there was no place else as cold as this in all the world, save for perhaps the far northland of Arctica.
“Your m-m-Majesty!” called Ibrahaim, his teeth-chattering as he got to his feet from where he lay. Evrin could make out that he was covered in head to toe in snow; he had probably landed head-first in a drift. He tromped over to where Evrin stood, rubbing his arms with his hands for warmth. “By the g-g-gods, where are we? It’s f-f-freezing!” He wrapped his grey cloak tighter about his body. Already, he was turning blue, as were they all; if they did not find shelter soon, they risked being frost-bitten—or worse.
“Where’s Albrecht?” cried Evrin, squinting to see as he looked around. His ears and cheeks burned in the crisp breeze. “Albrecht! Elric! Trevail? Did Trevail go through, too?”
“I’m here, sire!” came Albrecht’s voice. There he was—about twenty feet away, making his way toward them, huddled for warmth as he trudged through the snow.
“Yes, your m-m-Majesty!” shivered Elric, stumbling out of a snow-drift. “I’m h-h-here! And c-c-old, sire!”
“Your Majesty!” cried an unfamiliar voice; it was Arthur Trevail, stumbling toward him with his arms wrapped around him, shivering.
“Your Majesty, what is the meaning of this? Where are we? Who is
that woman? What the Trell is going on!”
They approached each other and then stood in a semi-circle, blowing on their hands for warmth. Approaching from a short distance away, Evrin spotted the Guardsman who had shown Elisira into the throne-room. “You there! Guardsman!”
“I never should have let her in, sire!” the man replied. “I knew it, knew it in my gut! But she did something to me, something to my mind. I don’t—”
“It no longer matters,” said Albrecht. “I suggest we all stick together, your Majesty. For warmth’s sake, sire!”
“Good man!” said Evrin. “We need all the heat we can—”
“Oh, whatever is the matter with you Humans?” came a chiding, womanly voice. “Can’t you stand a little cold?” There, about five yards away, stood Elisira and her six hooded companions, but the snow and wind did not touch them, somehow . . . rather, as Evrin looked closer, he could see that a shimmery sphere made of some mystical force—rather like a large, filmy soap-bubble with glowing edges—surrounded the seven of them, covering a ten-foot radius around them; the snow and wind bit at the edges, but did not penetrate the barrier. The emerald in Elisira’s staff continued to glow a bright green, causing them all to cast long shadows in the snow as they approached.
“Come on, men!” said Evrin, and made his way to the bubble and Elisira, and his companions followed. As soon as he crossed the threshold and entered the shimmering bubble of force—a tingling sensation went through him as he passed through its perimeter—he instantly felt himself warm a little, the cold and the icy wet snow left behind for the moment, though it continued to blow all around them just outside the sphere.
“Elisira,” began Evrin. “Where—?”
“Where have you taken us, demon-witch!” demanded Ibrahaim, rounding on her. “Where!”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” said Trevail. “Your Majesty, what in the name of heaven above—I thought you wanted to discuss my new invention?”
“It would take too long to explain,” grumbled Evrin. “Suffice to say that today is a day for legends coming to life, Master Trevail, and that our discussion has been tabled for now.”
“Your Majesty? I’m frightened,” said Elric, huddled up, rubbing his arms. “Who is this woman, where are we?”
“Easy boy,” said the Guardsman. “I’m certain answers will come. His . . . his Majesty knows what business he’s about. We’re just along for the ride.” He looked extremely uncertain about this, and his questioning gaze lingered.
“Legends? What legends?” asked Trevail.
Elisira smiled her usual smile. “To answer your question, your Majesty—to Winterburn. About four hundred miles east of your city of Aeòthánia. By way of what we call a Portal. And to answer your question, Philosopher—I am Elisira, of the Aletheion people. Here to tell Humankind that it no longer walks the path alone. And you needn’t fear, young one.” She placed a hand on Elric’s head; he instinctively drew back from her. “Be easy. No harm will come to you so long as you are in my care.”
“Aletheion, Aletheion . . .” said Trevail, appearing to search his memory. Then, the answer apparently came to him, and his eyes widened. “The creatures described in the Legendarium?” His voice shot up an octave on the word. “You mean the . . . the legends are true? But that can’t be . . . It just can’t!”
“It would appear that it can,” grumbled Valarys. “And it is. And I know one thing for certain: I’m too old for this shite.”
“The Philosopher is right; this isn’t happening,” said Albrecht flatly. He shut his eyes and muttered, “It isn’t. I’m safe in my tent, dreaming, and the men are just outside, standing guard . . .”
“Get a grip on yourself, man!” shouted Evrin. “All of you! That’s an order, from your King. Spines straight, eyes forward, men! Now, then. Elisira. Why have you brought us here? Are we to be your prisoners, now?”
“Heaven forbid, no!” intoned Elisira. “I brought you here so you could see something. Look yonder—and see where we have made our home these past ten centuries!” She gestured to her left, and Evrin could see now that they were standing near the edge of a cliff. Coming from just over the edge, he could make out a ghostly light, emanating from something below—something big. He walked to the edge—Elisira, the others, and the bubble all followed him as he moved—and there, looking over the cliff, he beheld an awesome sight.
There, rising up out of the snow like an oasis made of steel and glass and crystal, stood the ancient Iovan heaven-ship in all its elden glory, the golden spires on its towers of scaffold gleaming brightly in the moonlight, the smooth reflection of which played across the stark grey metal of the giant ring that formed the city’s foundations. The ship stretched on for miles, a titanic thing of metal and wheels rising up from out of the ice, slightly curving as it did. Legend had it that the ships were saucer-shaped, with the immense cities mounted on the backsides of huge circular plates, and what he saw now bore that out.
A jaw-dropping, gargantuan thing to behold, the old heaven-ship was an insanely dense, labyrinthine landscape of interconnected corridors, buildings, and vaulted walkways, all brilliantly lit by what must’ve been ten thousand points of light. Windows, thought Evrin. Windows and hearth-lights, that's what I’m seeing. Detailed networks of intricately-decorated domes, slanted metal rooftops, and towers made of scaffolding stretched on and on for miles, far off into the Winterburn waste for as far as the eye could see. It made one feel extremely small and insignificant, to stand before such a massive, forged artifact as this. And to think, the city below was actually a ship—one made to sail the very heavens!—buried here in the ice for centuries! And, it was not a creation of any “gods,” but instead that of a long-lost people! A people who must’ve once been, in their own time, at the same place in history where Humans found themselves now! Would the Human race one day aspire to the same astronomical achievements as the long-dead Iova? And would they too one day fall from grace, just as the Iova had, and into the same blackness of the soul as had once possessed them? The sheer scope of the prospect—that, and the years and feats of magic that it must have taken to build such a tremendous thing; the terrific might and power of the civilization that had created it; the sheer size and ancientness of it—it all left him dumbfounded. There were no words.
“Welcome to Thetanonica," said Elisira, standing next to him, with no small amount of pride in her voice. “Home of the Aletheion. Come, though. This is but a way-station for us, before we arrive in the city-proper . . . I just wanted you—all of you—to see this, to know that at least this much of your history is true, and that it is part of a history we share together. Seeing is believing, after all. It is as your Natural Philosophers say: ‘We do not ask for your faith . . . only your eyes.’”
“‘Eyes to see with are blind without faith,’” quoted Ibrahaim as he frowned, and Evrin felt himself smile a little. Some things would never change!
“Bless my boot-buckles!” whispered the Guardsman. “Why, I’ve never seen the like! Your Majesty—sire—what in heaven do we do now?”
“Dear gods, but it’s beautiful!” cried Arthur Trevail. He rounded on Elisira, his face full of questions. “Tell me—how many of you live there? And where does it get its power from?” He turned toward Elisira, who was smiling at him, her eyes twinkling with reflected light. “Tell me. You must tell me. The Guild must know of this place, so we can study it further!”
“In due time, perhaps they will,” replied Elisira. “But only in due time.”
“So you’re . . . you’re a witch?” asked Elric, turning to her, fear shining in his eyes.
“I suppose,” said Elisira. “Though I would prefer ‘conjurer’ or ‘mage’ or ‘thaumaturge.’ But ‘witch’ will do for now, I suppose. You mean it innocently enough.”
“So you brought us here to impress us with your city,” said Valarys, nodding. “Well done. To think that when I got up this morning, I told myself it was just like any other day . . . little did I know I that before it was over, I’d be cavorting with creatures out of legend, and seeing sights like this one!” He shook his head. “This will make a fine story for my grandchildren . . . if I ever see them again, that is.”
“I’ll second that, if I ever have any,” said Albrecht. “Provided I survive this.” He took a step closer to Evrin, and lowered his voice. “Your Majesty . . . that city is easily ten of Aeòthánia! The colossal power of these people . . . the awesome scope of their magic! It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen! Why, if they had wanted to, they could’ve reached out from here with their power and destroyed us all five times over! You, Ronel, the others—all of us, every kingdom at once! They could’ve swatted us off the map like flies if they’d wanted to!”
“And yet they chose to come in friendship,” said Evrin, thinking carefully, and in terms of strategy—as a king must always do. “Or at least, they say they do. I tell you, there’s some other motive, here, Albrecht. No one is this open, this altruistic at the outset of any alliance. No, Ibrahaim is right. There is a price hidden here, somewhere. They want something. It’s the reason they’ve acted with such respect and restraint thus far. We have something that they want, whatever that may be, and we are being wooed.”
“Yes . . . that would make sense. Very astute of you, sire. But, regardless . . . let’s say we do have something they want. And, let’s say we give it to them, whatever it is. What then? Ibrahaim may have a point—about where they come from; that is, about trusting them—and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be wary, but . . . if we could somehow ally ourselves with these people, gain their trust—”
“I was thinking the same thing just now,” said the king, nodding. “With this sort of magic on our side, Ronel wouldn’t dare oppose us. No one would. No one could. But then again, these Aletheion—they’re not stupid, Albrecht. Look around you, man! They would know of—and see through—such ambition! Perhaps that is the reason they brought us here to parlay with our enemies . . . because they know that theirs is too great a power to be wielded by any one people. Mine, Ronel’s . . . perhaps even their own.”
“You are a just and wise ruler of men,” said Albrecht, and clapped his hand on Evrin’s shoulder. “I do not think I myself could stand in the face of such temptation and not sway or give in!”
“Oh, my old friend,” said Evrin, smiling gravely as he eyed Elisira. He chuckled. “Do you really think our new friends would ever let it come to that?”
“Your Majesty!” cried Elisira, approaching them, using her staff as a walking stick, the emerald in its top still aglow. “Well, what do you think? Come. I’m opening another Portal, this time to the city-proper. Prepare yourselves, for there you shall meet old friends . . . as well as enemies. But take care that you do not draw your sword within city-limits, Majesty, not even in anger or as a reflex. Our Guards of the Citadel will not permit blood to be spilled on our soil, and they take their jobs very seriously. While here as our guests, you will enjoy a certain amount of ‘diplomatic immunity’ to our laws, but remember: Your laws are not our laws, and you are the rightful king of Lóeth-Lórica . . . not that of Thetanonica. Do you understand?”
“So be it,” said Evrin, nodding. He squared his shoulders and set his jaw. “You have my word on it; there will be no violence on my part. Now let’s get on with it.”