Chapter 20: The Heart of Ivakilnah
Ivak was in darkness, nothing at all was visible, not even his own nose.
Quil was in darkness, she could not even see the tips of her little feet.
They were both in darkness, a thick heavy darkness. They were in the same place, they were together and yet they were separate, when one called out, the other could not hear.
Before them appeared a being that seemed familiar to then even though they had never seen it before, or seen its like before.
It was an obsidian figure, they could see it quite clearly in spite of the dark. It had four black goat heads, each one pointed a different direction, but only one neck. Its skin looked like tar. It wore a suit, or perhaps the suit was part of its body, a strange affair with a few too many collars and buttons, buttons that glinted like silvery eyes. Instead of cloven hooves for feet or even feet at all it had a pair of hands it stood on, extremely hairy hands. The being did not however have any hands at the ends of its arms, indeed while its sleeves seemed filled out, fit to burst their queer seams, it appeared that there was nothing up them at all, not even a dove or a card.
“What are you?” Ivak asked.
“Where am I?” Quil asked.
Quil knew what the being was as soon as it spoke, for it spoke with a wobbly dry voice.
-I am the heart of the castle- One head emitted.
-You are in the castle- The next bleated.
-As in the castle as one can be- Said another.
-You shall undergo the trial of ownership, as you have touched the orb with the desire to own the castle, and not simply use it- Finished the one pointing away from them.
“What form do these trials take?” Ivak asked.
“What if I don’t want to take this trial of yours, huh?” Quil pressed.
-The trial will take many forms- One head emitted.
-It will continue until you satisfy the requirements- The next bleated.
-It will also end when you give up, or are broken- Said another.
-If you do not take the trial, you will be banished from the castle and marked so that you may never return- Finished the one pointing away from them.
“What exactly happens when one wins the trial?” Ivak asked.
“What happens if you fail the trial?” Quil worried.
-If one wins, that being has dominion over the castle until their spirit ends- One head emitted.
-If one loses…- The next bleated.
-Judgement- Said another.
-Now answer, be banished or risk the unknown for the trial- Finished the one pointing away from them.
“It was mine anyway, after this trial, it will be mine in full” Ivak declared.
“I won’t give up this safe place, I will take the trial”
-Ah… good, right then- One head emitted.
-For the purposes of the trial, you need to consent to have your awareness manipulated- The next bleated.
-So that your actions, choices, words, may all be more honest- Said another
-Agree or be banished- Finished the one pointing away from them.
Ivak didn’t much like the sound of that, but he agreed all the same, as did Quil.
With that, the heads of the avatar of the castle pointed upwards, then they noisily folded into each other with a clashing and bashing of rock. The noise did not end as the rest of the spirit’s body folded up and away.
Then Ivak and Quil were together, alone in the darkness once more.
Ivak was in a deep arena, like the many arenas beneath the cityland of Leon-Ard, where merchants would bet on the fights. The arenas on the surface and the upper levels of the underground were quite humane, it was rare for someone to die. The lower one got however, the more death had a hand in the fights.
Guttering red torches ringed the ring, but they failed to give off any good light, the spectators were jeering shadows Ivak could not make out. There was one thing Ivak could make out, and that was the black cloaked form of his opponent, there was two blue eyes on the shoulders of the cloak. A towering giant with a helm. In spite of the helm opening into a t-shape before the face, Ivak could not see the face of his foe at all.
Ivak had no more time to consider his foe as the warrior struck out from his cloak with a sword that seemed more like the leg of an insect than a weapon. Still, it left a deep gouge on the ground. Ivak had handily avoided it. He thrust in with his own sword, which seemed more like someone had slotted a metal pole onto a hilt and grip, popped a spearhead on the end and called it a day.
His sword went deep into the folds of the warrior’s cloak, but if it did any harm, the warrior gave no sign of it. Instead the giant pushed his muscled arm from his cloak and took a slow swipe from the side at Ivak. Ivak ducked under the blade, and the leapt up, stabbing the warrior deep into his helmet. Ivak leapt away.
The warrior was unharmed.
Ivak decided to try something different, he moved about the warrior, dodging blow after blow, sometimes running here or there to another location, then dodging more of the warrior’s blows, which while at first had been slow an ponderous were becoming faster and faster, it would soon be the case that Ivak could not dodge the blows.
Ivak did not need more time. He stood before the warrior and called forth his crest, his eye shining, the crest flapping behind him. The warrior was in a moment sucked into the carved image Ivak had manipulated the fighter into making with his sword.
Ivak stood behind the walls of his castle, shouting at the rider to go faster. It was however no use, the shadowy goatish hordes were too close, Ivak had to make a choice, if he kept the drawbridge down, the goatish hordes, under the banner of two blue eyes would surely get in. He though of how many soldiers he still had. He sorrowfully made his choice and called for the drawbridge to be raised. Then he called for those he still had alive who could fire arrows and cast spells.
“We do not have enough people to push the hordes back, but stand and fight, we shall kill as many as we can from here, and we will never forget your sacrifice or our failure, but we shall make them pay.”
The rider gave bitter look to his king, then a resolved one. He turned and awaited the hordes under the shadow of the wall.
Ivak pushed against the green winds, again they threatened to bowl him over, it was bad enough that they stabbed into the core of his being with cold and wrenched the breath from his lungs, but they were also hitting him as a person might hit a nut to crack open and eat the insides.
Yes, Ivak felt for sure the winds wanted to tear him apart and devour him.
He pushed on.
They tore at him, growing fiercer with each step. His walking stick was yanked from his hand and reduced to splinters. His coat was torn and the remains lifted from his back.
He pushed on, it would have been easy to give up.
Each step brought further strength to the winds, which brought further destruction to his clothes.
He pushed on, but before long, he was naked to the rending wind.
It scoured his flesh. He was covered in wounds, but he continued. As he struggled through it devoured him, but he did not submit, he paused a few times and it seemed like an age before he moved again, but he did move again.
He pushed on, though he was nothing but a skeleton, picked clean.
He pushed on.
“I have your people are in my chains, submit and hand your castle over to me, I will release them without harm!”
Thus cried the blue warlord.
It was a vile thing to hold someone’s kin hostage, but the blue warlord was a man of his word. If he said he would release them, he would. There was nothing for it, Ivak would have to give up the castle, so did Ivak think.
But then he thought that it could be ill to leave his people without leader, so he decided to ask something of the blue warlord.
“Will you permit me to go in exile with my people?, If you do, I shall hand the castle over to you, and I shall keep my people from coming against you, we shall leave your lands, and what was once ours”
The blue warlord’s beetle mount shifted a bit to swallow up an errant chicken as the blue warlord pondered Ivak’s counter offer.
“I will agree to it”
So it was that Ivak lost the castle, but to his mind, there was no helping it. To him, his people were of more worth than a land or castle, and they had been defeated, it would have been another story if they had not been crushed.
Ivak, Master of the Castle walked through the squalid dark streets, dark broken forms huddled away from the sight of him and his entourage. The dead and the dying laid together with the living. It was in these streets that his daughter was murdered. Among these people. The murderer of his flesh and blood was among them. Ivak’s heart was filled with fury. He glared at those around him. Then his gaze softened. He let out a deep breath. He cried.
“The castle halls are empty, fill them with those that suffer here” Ivak said, wiping his tears.
A number of his faceless soldiers marched off.
“Milord, there is more here than will fill the halls” A shadowy advisor said.
“Then we take those that need shelter the most”
One of the soldiers came back.
“Milord, some of the people refuse to come, shall we force them?”
“No, take those that are willing, leave the others”
His heart raged, but he could not follow it.
If he did, the street would become a river of red.
They were beset by all sides, the neighbouring nations had already decided how to carve up the kingdom. Ivak looked once more at the map. All his political manoeuvring, in the end it would be for naught. He and his people would be subject to another ruler.
He stared at the map, then out to the sea beyond his window. It was over, his people would be as slaves, scorned and spat at. He felt like this had happened before. The right thing to do was not to resist, not to shed the blood of his people. It would be peaceful to give in.
Or was it?
“Go! Call our mages, we need not submit yet! We shall tear the castle from the ground! We will find our freedom in the sea!”
Ivak went through situation after situation, each prodding his mind, his self, slowly drawing out a answer from him.
Finally Ivak found himself before a shadow of himself, fully aware once more. Both he and the shadow were before easels facing each other, pallet of paints and paintbrushes in hand.
The Shadow moved to paint, Ivak quickly realised that it was going to paint him, he feared what would happen if it did, so he resolved to paint and seal the shadow. He furiously painted, but the easel was slow to accept paint and the shadow was far faster than he was.
Then Ivak had a thought of some clarity. He picked up his easel and he threw it at the shadow, then he rushed over to it and began punching and clawing at the shadow. He did not stop until it was reduced to nothing.
Ivak sighed. It was over. He could feel it was over. He remembered all the situations he had been through, but they were as one remembers a dream.
All at once everything became bright and the avatar of the castle was there before him clapping while glittering red confetti fell down.
-Well done- One head emitted.
-Congratulations!- The next bleated.
-You have met the standards set by this one’s maker, Ceilron Shail- Said another
-Thus you are now the owner of the castle, others may still use it if they touch the orb, but you may call the orb to your side no matter where you are- Finished the one pointing away from him.
-Not only that, but you may banish whoever you wish from the castle- One head emitted.
-You messed up on a number of the situations- The next bleated.
-However, you were close enough to the ideals- Said another
-Relatively speaking at least. Now back to the castle with you- Finished the one pointing away from him.
With that, Ivak found himself back in the orb room, where he was quickly smothered by a distraught Claroosa.
“Oh you’re all right, praise our crest you are all right, you aren’t hurt anywhere? Oh my you look so haggard, what happened to you, nevermind, everything is fine now, I am so sorry I failed in protecting you” She said hurriedly.
“Am Fanh, Ifs awligh.” Ivak said, trying to escape Claroosa’s protective embrace and get air.
Claroosa drew back from him, noticing she was suffocating him.
“Sorry milord” She said, regaining her composure.
“Everything is fine Claroosa. I now truly own this castle, the orb” Ivak said.
“Well, that’s good, I’d be in a right fix if you hadn’t come back, wouldn’t get all of the payment for my services. Hmm? What happened to the thief?” Fatho wondered.
“Where is she, where is my sister?” a voice cried out.
Ivak looked at the wee folk huddled away from Fatho, Claroosa and himself. They looked back fearfully, but at the same time a bit defiant.
“Give her back, give me back my daughter”
Ivak looked away.
-Castle, what happened to the pixie?- Ivak thought to the castle
-Why she is stuck master, she cannot escape, in time she will end-
-Can nothing be done?-
-She can be helped. You need only touch the orb again and wish for it, if you do however, you must give up your ownership of the castle-
Ivak made his choice, he turned to the wee folk.
“You all can stay in the castle and… I will bring your daughter back to you”
Before anyone could stop him, Ivak touched the orb again, and right before their eyes vanished.