Monday, February 18, 2008

Part 5: The Frozen Palace

Court was tossed as gracelessly as a doll against the half-sunken, cracked marble steps of the palace, landing with a splat on the snow-lined lips. His heavy, wet cloak clung to his thin frame while he clawed his way up to safety from the current threatening to drag him back down. He winced in pain from the bruising of his ribs, and rolled away from a broken stair that crumbled back into the water. Once he reached the top of the steps, he made sure his pistol was still dry. Adan and Cael followed suit, grumbling at their bruised sides. They joined Court near the top, below the massive white pillars and archways that seemed capable of housing a God.

They lingered on the snow crusted steps for a moment, clutching at themselves in a uselessly attempt to block the wind. Some of the structure had been damaged by cannon fire, where some pillars were actually broken or lying toppled over on their sides. Some areas of the palace walls were shattered, as if by impact. Under the huge, decorated archway above them, near the shaded walls were life-sized statues of crumbling, forgotten Gods, ancient guardians of the carrion debris scattered over the steps and down various hallways, rolling and tossing about in the wind. Rusted, brittle pieces of Nocturne armor lay everywhere on the steps, the grayish stone forever stained dull red by rust and blood. Tattered flags, pale and ghostly, flew from heights of the palace above them. Behind the pillars, the doors of the palace were cracked open just enough to see the dark hallways beyond, open like gaping mouths.

“This was once tall and proud Ilium Palace. Home of Aries Black.” Court said, lost in thought, “This was the seat of his power.”

Cold and worn, Adan and Cael could only listen, their sunken eyes taking in the sheer grandeur of the place. Court closed his eyes, focusing his senses, forgetting his shivering body that begged for warmth. Then came the haggard sound of his two companions breathing, shivering. He could hear the sound of metal debris rolling in the wind, the screeching suck of wind through the cracks in the doors before them, the stirring dust within. He heard the crashing waves of the rift behind and around them. And then to his dread, Court heard a whisper, a stirring, somewhere deep inside the palace.

“Quickly now, inside before we freeze to death.” Court nodded towards the doors.

The doors were wooden, splintered and green from the weather but heavy, riveted with black steel strips and bolts much like the larger gate to the fortress. It took two of them to heave the door open on its rusted hinges, and they were already exhausted. It opened with a shrill wail. As they stepped inside they were startled to see Court examining the walls just down the length of the hall. He was running his hand down an engraving, thoughtfully. They looked back to where he had been moments before on the steps, seeing nothing but the expanse of the rift beyond. Adan could only shrug his massive wide tattooed shoulders and whispered,“Garai magic.”

The palace hallways were made of smooth stone, well fitted with hardly a flaw. It was dry and dusty, with no wind biting at their already soaked bodies. A dim light filled the place, as if it were dusk. Lining the walls were large fresco engravings of the old Dukes of Nocturne, displayed at the head of their armies. Reflecting, Court began to wonder if long ago before the war, the Nocturne Empire had been rich in art and lore. Another scene seemed to depict a great battle at sea. That must be the first war between us, in the Archipelago of the Storms. Who could have foreseen our armies would be one hundred years at war, he thought.

“What do we do now?” Adan asked.

He didn't respond right away, but rather walked further down and inspected each engraving carefully, respectfully. Court's soaked black cloak left a long trail of water, mopping the dust as he went. He looked back at Adan and Cael, who were still shivering. They had seemed stronger before; now they slouched and grumbled. Perhaps the rift has weakened them, as it has me.

“There is a focal point for this disturbance, somewhere in this palace and I must find it, and stop it.” He said

“But you don't know what it is exactly?” Cael asked, then regretted it.

“No.” Court said, turning back to the engravings, “But it is close now. I can hear the voices of the dead wailing; they call me by name.”
“Well if you don't mind me saying sir, we can look at all this later...shouldn't we be moving along?” Adan pressed him.

“You're right, of course. It's just that I've waited my entire life to see the inside of these walls. We were so close that night. Now I am here in their palace, virtually abandoned.” Court said, a nostalgic gleam in his eyes.

They moved forward, into the heart of the palace itself, toward the voices Court heard calling him to come, come closer, you belong here with us...