Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Part 2: The Crevice

They trudged on, following their dark, haggard leader one by one into the large crack in the cliff wall, which was large and cavernous once inside. The last of the men hesitated, looking over his shoulder one last time at the sea. The entire sky was now hidden by cloud. Then he, too, slipped into the shadowy crack. Inside it was pitch black, so they carefully followed the sound of Court's voice and the scraping of his boot soles on the cave floor.

Court could almost hear their thoughts, what is this place...where in the name of hell are we? All these twelve men knew was that this was a place long feared by sailors and adventurers alike. They had heard that the rift had swallowed most of the Garai and the Nocturnals, bringing both armies to their knees. The few things they did know about this place were evil tales—that ghosts lingered here, that the rift was growing, and that to this day, no man had ever left the Island alive. Except Court. And what he knew, or had seen that last night of the war, none of them dared ask.

“We focused our cannons on the cliff wall. We thought to make a pass at weakening the foundations of the enemy fortress,” Court said to them, his voice echoing up into an unseen chasm above them. Court had halted to allow his eyes to adjust, holstered his silver pistol, and then continued, “but something was wrong...something has always been wrong with this place. Ten of our mightiest galleons could not splinter this stone by cannon-fire.”

The smell of damp earth was in the chasm's air, like a mixture of dour mold and ancient death seeping from the jagged walls. There began to be steps of a sort on the cavern floor, which all the men tripped over. To their annoyance, Court’s voice began echoing down on them, as he strode up and up.

“So we resorted to...other means. The will of my Masters was powerful enough to split the cliff, creating this very crack. The invasion wasn't easy...some opposing wizardry or war machine would come rising up against us. In the end, too few of us were left to continue the campaign, our ships lay scattered and burning.”

Court felt very alone, as if he had been cast naked into the darkness. He reached out to touch the cavern walls to steady himself, and felt cold damp stone. To his surprise the rock still softly hummed with the echo of the mind power that had carved this chasm. Court leaned against the rock while his men caught up. He allowed the vibrations of the War to seep into his spine. He saw flashes of the enemy: the army of Nocturne and their Duke—Aries Black. The enemy was formidable. The Garai fleet was burning, flagships were sinking off the coast in all directions of the horizon. The Garai Masters walked over the very waves, battling Nocturne war machines in a last desperate burst of their powers.

“Is it a crime to unleash the darkness in your soul," Court whispered in vague remembrance, “...to achieve a victory we had bled a hundred years for?”

For he suddenly felt the edge of the rift nearing, and it writhed and howled with the psychic torment the war had caused. Court's hands shook. It was growing colder...or was it another effect of the rift? He led the men further up and up, each step flogging at his soul. The men just below, staggering up the darkness after him could hear the heavy sound of Court's breathing.

In Court's mind, the psychic war flashes continued, until he found himself suddenly back on the night of the war's last battle, ten years ago. The stars reeled brightly overhead, and the bow of the mighty Garai ship Fortitude rose and sank while it prowled the waters off the Nocturne Island. The dark cloaked Garai soldiers stood at the ready, while cannon fire popped and burst like fireworks across the dark sea. The wind was steady, and Court’s long hair streamed with the breeze.

The Island was a towering black, jagged rock in the midst of a great rolling ocean. The lights of the enemy fortress twinkled with dozens of firelights, illuminating spiny gates and towers. It was virtually impregnable.

“He’s there,” Gage said, coming to stand beside his younger Brother, “planning his next move.”

“What about our next move?” Court asked impatiently, studying the older Brother’s graying face, noting that his expression was relaxed.

“Court, we have been at war for over a hundred years. We can afford to choose our next move as carefully as we please, now that we have them surrounded like caged dogs.” Gage grinned.

“So we’ll just sit here and wait them out?”

“No, no. At moon rise we will take our time hammering that damn cliff, until it and the fortress falls into the sea.”

“I doubt that the fabled Aries Black will fall so easily.” Court said glumly, looking out at the dark towers of the island.

“I hope not, I’ve been waiting for this a long time, Brother.” Gage smiled.

How those misgivings had proved tragically prophetic. And here he was, the last of his lineage and order, on the tenth anniversary of the wars ending. He struggled up the chipped, rocky darkness of the crack looking like a wraith of his former self, grasping desperately for a handhold to climb up to. Some of the more limber of his men had caught up now, as their eyes adjusted to the dark. Court glanced down, silently hoping the money was not all that was motivating the men. Still, he wondered if they had an inkling of the hell waiting for them just above. Worse yet was the evil fact that no one knew, not even Court, what had happened to the enemy forces, or even Aries Black himself after the rift had opened up.

To Be continued.....