The Fire's Heart- Chapter Thirty-Four
10-30-13 08:18 PM
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Malum and Risus
“It’s cold here,” Malum noted, and shivered.
“Yes, indeed,” Risus agreed. “The Shadow Mountains can be brutal this time of year.”
“It’s the end of summer.”
“Not here.” Risus paused in his walking and turned back to face his counterpart. “Are you sure you want to go there?”
“Yes.” Malum’s teeth chattered. “I don’t have much time left.”
“That’s true. We have to fix things.” Risus glanced up at the sun, halfway up the sky. Fat clouds hung around it, white, bulging, and threatening to spill snow. Already, a steady, thin trickle of snowflakes drifted down in swirling patterns. One fell on Risus’s eyelashes. A quick blink batted it away.
“How much farther?”
“Nearly there. You can see it.” Risus pointed. The dim outline of a crumbling ruin was barely seen in the twilit light. “We’ll get there in a couple of hours.”
“Good.” Malum sighed. “Did I ever apologize?”
“For shutting you in there.”
“No.” Risus shook his head.
“Don’t waste your apologies on me. We’ve got other things to worry about.”
They neared the ruins near noon. The snow was swirling around them, forming thick blankets that were difficult to trudge through. The ruins themselves were covered in the fluffy white, with peeks of black, stained stone showing through. Wind blew snow and the ash of a fire long-burnt into their faces.
“This is the place,” Risus said.
“We were here before,” Malum whispered.
“No, we weren’t.”
“Not us two. Our people. I feel it.”
“They weren’t here either.” Risus sighed. “The only ones that trod here were the Entia Nocte- either killed that fateful night or banished at the conclusion of the war several years later, after the Victuran Extermination. Despite the large amount of Victurans killed, they weren’t content and kept pushing. Some say they were just looking for the one who destroyed more than two thirds of their race. This is their stronghold, and their ruins.”
“So what was the Fire to them?”
“How should I know?” Risus walked into the low-hanging atrium, which looked liable to fall at any moment. From there, he searched methodically for any sign of a secret passage.
“Hey.” Malum pointed to an unearthed trap door.
“How’d you find that?” Risus asked accusingly.
“Saw it,” he replied, his eyes twinkling. He tried lifting it, but it proved too heavy for him to open alone. With Risus’ help, he managed to flip it open and descended down the ladder attached to the bottom.
When he touched solid ground again, he was in a low, carved corridor with no light. Quickly barking the word for flames, torches lit along the wall, revealing the length of the tunnel that stretched forward in front of them. Risus joined him just moments after and gazed down into the depths of the tunnel. “Chances are it’s there,” he said.
“Of course,” Malum responded tersely, and started a brisk walk. Risus followed, unease painted on his face.
“This place… does not wish well,” he muttered.
“Of course.” Malum echoed his own words.
After five minutes of walking, they reached a hollowed cavern surrounding an underground lake that seemed to spread out for miles in front of them. A boat, old and wooden, was leaned up against the craggy rock wall. Without a word to his companion, Risus lowered the boat into the water and stepped in, then glanced expectantly at Malum. Sighing, Malum pushed the boat further into the dark waters, walking with it until it reached his knees, then hopped in.
“We have no paddle,” Malum said.
“We don’t need one.”
The boat glided in a perfectly straight line, seemingly navigating on its own. There was silence in the cavern, thick and surrounding, except for the lap of water against the sides of the boat. Risus closed his eyes, his face blank. “We have a couple of minutes until we get there.”
“Perfect.” Malum trailed his fingers in the lake, watching the ripples he created as the boat continued forward.
“So- isn’t it strange we haven’t met Mariale and Oleander’s dream selves? We’ve seen Catty’s, and Meagan’s, but not theirs.”
“Whatever.” Malum shrugged. “Maybe they don’t have one.”
“Maybe their dream selves are the way it’s supposed to be- part of them.”
“Then what about you?” Risus asked. “Aren’t you the one who wants to become his own man?”
Malum scowled. “I can be whatever I want.”
“Your body isn’t compatible with this world. You’ll eventually die. That’s why dream selves share the ‘base’ body when awake.”
“Yours wasn’t compatible in the dream world.”
“It wasn’t,” Risus admitted. “Who said I’m unscathed? You’re partially blind, and I’m not as whole as I appear.”
Silence. Malum then said, “Linius was trying to create the second half to the Heart.”
“But it wouldn’t have worked. He had too many diverse people.”
“It would have.” Malum shivered. “So Linius and Umbra drug the elf girl, and then Linius hires Tenebris to kidnap the queen- no, that was first, my bad- and they get Meagan’s cast-aside body too, along with Catty’s… to make a Heart.”
“How do you know all this, exactly?”
“He made me help him.”
Risus opened his eyes. “Where’s the original?”
“We don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No. Do you?”
Slowly, Risus nodded. “I do.”
“Then why aren’t we getting it?”
“I can’t.” He shook his head slowly. “I can’t do that.”
“Because it’ll kill her.”
The boat ground to a standstill. Without answering, Risus climbed out and walked to a granite pillar in the middle of the small island they had sailed to. The pillar, roughly five feet tall and three feet wide, had several glyphs in multiple languages scratched across its surface.
“How well do you read the common tongue?” Risus asked.
“I can speak it. Can’t read it,” Malum replied.
“How about elvish?”
“Looks to be about… fifth century.”
“Can’t read that dialect. The style’s too different.”
“Okay, then. Valkyrie.”
“I can take a look.” Malum bent near the runes and wrinkled his nose. “Ah, it’s the old alphabet. The one with the stupid amount of runes.”
“Is that bad?”
“No, that’s good. That’s the only one I can read. I haven’t learned the new one.” Malum dragged his finger along the words as he read them aloud. “ ‘Here was the place that we have first seen a consuming Fire, come to us in the form of a young boy. Babbling about seven parts, he died soon after.’”
“So one part’s already gone,” Risus interpreted. “That’s just six left.”
“I’m not done,” Malum sniffed. “It says, ‘However, the next day, a woman in town proclaimed the doom of the world through cleansing fire.’”
“So it transferred. What else does it say?”
“ ‘Seeing the evil of whatever it is that has taken those two souls, we sealed it here, to never be opened again except for the children of the Victor, should they ever alight on this earth.’ So somehow, someone released it, but who or why is beyond me.”
“But this timeline makes no sense!” Risus complained. “Children of the Victor… those were the Victura years and years ago, back when our civilization was young and in its infant stages. The Fire, according to you, didn’t manifest itself until after Cattallus unleashed whatever was in the Gate.”
“We’re looking at two malevolent things here,” Malum pointed out. “Whatever was in the Gate, and whatever the Fire is. For all we know, they could be the same species or have similar minds.”
“Is it possible that the Fire split itself across time as well as space?”
“Yes. It certainly had access to the River.”
“Why did it come out? Binding the Gate can’t have affected it as much as it claims.”
“That’s true. That’s a cockamaney story.” Malum sighed. “Who cares? I thought we weren’t going to interfere? We came here to find clues about making another Heart.”
“There aren’t any.”
“Nope. Wasted effort.” Malum groaned. “I don’t think I have much time left.”
“Probably not,” Risus admitted.
“How many?” Malum asked.
“How many what?”
“How many things do you think I’ve done to make me worth being my own person? All I’ve done is backstab you and all my friends to try and make myself not just a dream self, but my own entity.”
“I don’t know what you deserve,” Risus said. “It’s not my place to decide.”
“But if it was?”
“Then I’d say…” Risus shook his head. “It doesn’t matter anyway.”
“What would you say?” Malum demanded. “Tell me!”
“I’d say… nothing. I don’t think you deserve anything bad, but at the same time, you don’t deserve anything good.”
“Well, then.” Malum smiled weakly. “Better change that, hmm?”
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