The catastrophe of the e.., p.6
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.6

           LR Manley

   "Stand here" Mordalayn said as they arrived at the centre of the room. The two soldiers took up position either side on one of the dark tiles while Mordalayn turned around and stood behind Jared. "Don't be scared and don't worry. This is a short journey" he said gently. Jared felt his stomach lurch slightly as the tile began to move. The circular pattern of other tiles, identical to the one they were standing on, then flowed around and one at a time lined up in front of theirs. With no sound at all the tiles formed a line and then theirs moved forward. The tile in front of it slid underneath and replaced it in the first position and every time they cleared a tile the one ahead slid back to take its place.

   They moved towards a large gap between two small flights of stairs. Again the corridor was dark and at the end Jared could see bright light. As they entered the dark tunnel the tile they were standing on lit up slightly, illuminating the space around them. The walls here were smooth and black as ebony. Jared felt slightly scared but stood still as Mordalayn said. The tile continued on, its successor silently replacing the space it left as they carried on their journey. After a few minutes of travelling the tile reached the lit up area and Jared could see there was a vast wooden table in the middle. It seemed that wherever he was, the people here did not do things on a small scale. There were no doors and the room was dome shaped with only the table and the entrance they had come from. As the tile they were on stopped, the soldier at the front stepped clear. Jared glanced over his shoulder and saw that the corridor was pitch black. The tile itself had dimmed.

   "Don't step backwards!" Mordalayn warned gruffly. The guard behind followed them off silently and as they walked forward Jared looked over his shoulder and realised with shock that the tile had gone and the corridor had no floor, the blackness below was simply bottomless.

   They moved towards the table and the guards took up position either side of the entrance they had come through. Impassive, their spears held rigidly by their sides, they stared straight ahead.

   "It's ok, we are expected here" Mordalayn said.

   "Who’s expecting us?"

   "The council know we are coming.”

   Just then there was a crackling sound and Jared glanced across the large table to his right. As he watched, the air above and slightly behind it rippled. The ripples played in the air, making Jared's eyes feel funny. They slowly merged to a central point and, just before they closed in on each other completely, a bearded figure like the ones they had seen out in the main hall, appeared sitting in a large, leather backed chair. His body was see through at first but as the ripples finally closed in on themselves he gained solidity and stared around him quickly before letting his gaze rest on Jared and Mordalayn.

   "Ah, there you are" he said irritably, adjusting his white and gold robe and reaching into a pocket, bringing out a pair of spectacles and then putting them on.

   Mordalayn nodded at the seated figure and said respectfully, "as you wish Prime Guardian.”

   Jared looked around nervously, unsure as to whether they would be invited to sit or not.

   "Rancidrain has been received Takoba. He is persistently stubborn and uncooperative, as you would expect. We will assume you didn’t have him arrive five metres above the floor on purpose,” the old man added staring at Mordalayn over his spectacles.

   Mordalayn said nothing.

   “Hmmph!” the old man said loudly, and just then the air resounded with the same crackling sound Jared had heard before and then a third time. The rippling effect occurred to the right of the old man and around the table. As he watched various figures began to appear from out of the the air. Some dressed as the old man was, others in robes of red and then two women, middle aged in green dresses. One after the other they appeared in the seats.

   When the appearances had stopped, the table was now full of people facing them with the old man at one end and a vacant space with a much more ornate chair at the other. In front of Jared along the vast length were roughly ten people of various types. One had the head of a rat, the eyes piercing black. It was wearing a black tunic with bright gold-coloured buttons on it and what appeared to be medals on the left chest pocket. Another was a woman but she had only one eye in the middle of her forehead. They all greeted one another with curt nods.

   “Now then, let’s not waste time” the old man said. “We all know why we are here. Takoba, your mission appears to have been a partial success. The would be assassin is in chains. However you have brought this child here. May I ask why?”

   The assembled council turned to look at Mordalayn who replied. “This child is called Jared. He was in the room when I caught Rancidrain.” Putting his hand back on Jared’s shoulder he continued. “His intervention prevented a murder. However Rancidrain threw a tracker into him. I took him when Glavers attacked. Here our enemies cannot use Jared to find Our Lady. They are careless in their methods and risked exposure by such an open attack.”

   There was a murmur amongst the gathered people. The one eyed lady looked intently at Jared. A man on her right with closely cropped black hair and the biggest sideburns Jared had ever seen conferred with the rat creature, both staring intently at Jared who was now more uncomfortable than scared.

   The old man gestured to Jared to step forward. “Come boy, don’t be frightened. Tell us what you saw.”

   Jared started to reply but his mouth was dry. “Could I have a drink please?” he stammered after swallowing.

   “But of course. Excuse our eagerness,” the old man waved his hand and a jug of water and a tankard appeared. Jared gingerly reached forward and picked up the jug. It was cold against his fingers as he poured, splashing the liquid onto the floor due to his shaking hands. He raised the cup to his lips. It tasted of strawberries and was very cold. He gulped it down then replaced the mug.

   “Now,” the old man said gently. “Please can you tell us what you saw? Don’t be frightened.”

   “The man…thing….Rancidrain, whatever you called him. I heard him in the room of the hospital, Sophie’s room. I looked in to see what was happening and he attacked me. When I tried to leave he did something to block the door. Mordalayn saved me and there was a bright light and, and…”

   The council members looked at each other and then back at Jared. The rat figure then spoke, his voice deep and gravelly. “Did he say anything to you?”

   Jared thought and then added “he was just horrible to me and he was begging Mordalayn not to hurt him but....” Jared thought for a moment then added “before he knew I was there he said something about not wanting to do anything but ‘they’ had made him and he just wanted to be left in peace.”

   There was a murmur around the table. The man at the far end stood up. He was dressed in armour like the soldiers on the dock but the colours were purple not red. He glared at Mordalayn and Jared then said to everyone. “I believe we all know who is responsible for this!"

   The old man held up his hand. "Lighvoor while you are clearly angered over King James’s attempts to usurp our authority our entire standing army is only two thousand men. The majority are trained only in ceremonial duties.”

   “But Council this boy has heard…” 

  “Precisely nothing that can aid us in any way.” He turned to Jared. “Did Rancidrain mention any names that you heard?”

   “No sir, just that ‘they’ had made him do it. He said that more than once.”

   The old man turned back to the assembled council. “I believe the best thing we can do is keep the boy with us. We can find out whether he’s in danger and exactly what our enemies are planning to do. This attempt was deliberate and audacious. The fact that they sent someone as useless as Rancidrain makes it clear that they are unable to move en masse.”

   Mordalayn then interjected. “With respect Council, the creature had this on him.”

   He approached the table and placed a block of brown stone from his pocket on it.

  The one eyed woman gasped and there w
ere angry murmurs from the table. She leaned forward and picked up the rock. It morphed and changed in her fingers to the rainbow blade again, the lights bright and this time there were what looked like fireflies flashing above it, the colours lighting up her face and the wall behind her. 

  “So you think you have no proof” she hissed. “Who but an Anghofian assassin would wield a rainbow blade?”

   There were murmurs of agreement from the table. The man in the purple robes banged his fist on the table. “Since Our Lady was taken from us this…usurper of power, this, this hateful, ungrateful wretch...! We MUST act now, we have all the proof we need. We shall have more when Rancidrain has been questioned.” 

  The old man spoke again. “Lighvoor your passion for your given role is commendable but we need to know exactly what is happening. Any move or accusation against King James will only further convince his cautious allies that he is in the right. Further, Rancidrain is stubborn as he always was and may tell us nothing or a mixture of lies and half truths.”

   “He won’t if you give him to me.” 

  “Lighvoor, remember your place!” the Prime Guardian shouted, his calm finally cracking. “Our Lady granted this assembly temporary power in her absence, she did not give us the right to torture her subjects…regardless of the reason.” 

  Lighvoor sat down, still fuming and the old man addressed the whole table. 

  “We have, unfortunately let our guard down. Our rulers are immensely powerful and for that we never envisaged a time when they would be anything else. Our predecessors never, ever believed a moment would come when the power so carefully guarded would be trapped and impotent. He turned to Lighvoor. “When were your men last in battle?” 

  Lighvoor said nothing. The old man continured. “Have they ever seen battle? The answer is no. They are loyal men but they are no match for Anghofio’s soldiers. Again I tell you, their elite battalion alone numbers half our entire army. We have become complacent. None of us, in a thousand years ever believed we would lose the power of our rulers. Anghofio will not move upon us if there is the slightest possibility that the Emerald Queen could return. However they will try anything they can to find our secrets and to end her life.”

   Lighvoor looked away, his anger deflated and his cheeks flushed red.

   “There is a traitor in Alegria, someone who knows our innermost, most precious secrets and we need to be vigilant until such a time as Our Lady returns or...” and he paused at this time and looked around before saying slowly, “..or she dies and we need to re-elect.”

   There were murmurs around the table. Everyone seemed to be in agreement.

   Lighvoor sat back in his seat, tight lipped and looked at Jared. “So what about him? Where is he supposed to go?”

   The Council turned to them. “Takoba you are to take the boy and present him to the Brotherhood Orphanage in Arkale village. He will be safe there.”

   Jared spoke up. “I need to get home. My parents will be worried. That mess at the airport will have everyone looking for me.”

   The Prime Guardian shook his head sadly and added. “The magic to bring you here is ancient, precious and very, very rare. All the portals are closed now, bar Our Lady’s pathway. You cannot go home.”

   Jared’s mouth opened in shock and he looked around, almost in tears.

   The old man said kindly “You will not be missed as much as you think. Takoba Mordalayn will explain all this to you. Now, I believe we have covered everything. This meeting is over.”

   Without any further discussion the old man closed his eyes and from around his chest it appeared as if someone had dropped a stone in water. It was similar to when he’d arrived but in reverse. The air rippled in circular rings around him and as the ripples expanded he started to fade. Within a few seconds he was gone. One by one the other members of the meeting followed until only the rat faced figure was left at the table. He stood and addressed Mordalayn directly, ignoring Jared.

   “Takoba, be cautious. While this council appreciates what you have done and what you will do, you will be forever in danger now.”

   “Thank you Degrezen” Mordalayn said stiffly.

   Degrezen looked at Jared. “Boy, what city are you from?”

   “Warwick…sir” Jared stammered slightly, realising he was speaking to a rat faced man, who was speaking to a cat faced man.

   Degrezen widened its eyes in surprise. “Hmmm…that gives some explanation to….well, never mind for now.”

   He nodded to them both and then vanished, the air rippling around him.

   Jared turned to Mordalayn. “Where are you taking me now then?”

   “I promised you a full explanation and one you shall have.”

   “What did he mean I won’t be missed as much as I think?” Jared said impatiently, tired of all this waiting.

   “Time here is slower than in your world” Mordalayn replied. “Three days for us is a day on your side.”

   “But I’ll still be missed,” Jared said in exasperation. “Just for a day, not for a week.” 

  They walked back to the opening they had arrived by. The two guards still standing impassively and rigidly to attention. Jared jumped slightly as caramel coloured tiles on the floor of the room slid silently under his feet to line up at the entrance like last time. The soldiers took up position then Mordalayn and Jared stepped on. The other soldier took up the rear. Without any word the tile moved off down the dark corridor, its light illuminating the dark walls and emphasising the void they were over.

   “Why did they call you Takoba?” Jared enquired as Mordalayn faced away from him.

   “That is my rank,” he answered without turning around.

   “Were you in the army?” Jared asked.

   “I was.”

   Jared could tell Mordalayn didn’t want to speak any more so he fell silent.

   As the tile arrived back in the main hall they all stepped clear and walked back to the entrance. The area was still teeming with people and the light from the huge chandelier was dimmer than when they came in. On Jared’s left a team of short creatures were working on a statue. They looked like the irritable, long nosed one that had passed them outside, pushing a barrow. They were about 15 of them, using their noses to hold onto the cylindrical pillar at various heights while polishing the statue with cloths. Two nearer the top were chiselling away with tiny tools at the face of the statue. None of them looked happy to be there.

   “Come on” Mordalayn said as they moved towards the officers manning the entrance. The captain who had spoken to them when they came in turned around as they approached.

   "Takoba," he said, bowing slightly. "I trust your meeting was satisfactory.”

   "Yes, thank you.” Mordalayn replied. "I need transport to Arkale. Do you have something to spare?"

   "Of course,” the captain said and signalled to another of his men. 

  Chapter 6


  As Mordalayn and Jared got down from the cart the Caracalic was tight lipped and surly. A grocer’s cart had lost a wheel and was blocking their path. The driver of their vehicle reigned in his horses and watched as the irate owner yelling at his driver.

   “What’s wrong?” Jared asked seeing the look on Mordalayn’s face.

   “We should not be here,” he replied glancing around as if expecting trouble. “This village is too close to the border. The Council should have known that.”

   Around them people worked, unloading other carts or selling their wares in the street. A young man holding a tray of glazed fruits bowed respectfully at Mordalayn as the cat figure glanced towards him.

   All around people were hushed and obviously a little intimidated by Mordalayn’s presence. He took Jared by the arm, and then whispered urgently. “This area is safe if you do as I say. Do you understand?” Jared tried to smile, still feeling competely overwhelmed.

   They moved down the side of the street. People moving aside, bowing
their heads as they approached.

   “Why are they so nervous?” Jared asked quizzically, uncertain of why everyone appeared so awestruck.

   “Hush, wait till we are indoors,” Mordalayn snapped and Jared fell silent. He was getting tired of being told to wait for answers but was equally nervous by the reaction their presence was having on everyone.

   They stopped near a shop with pots and pans outside. The brassware shining brightly in the sunlight. Mordalayn checked the street and a rider on a horse saw that they wished to cross and gently tugged on his animal’s reigns, bringing the beast to a halt. All around them people waited, nodding or even bowing to Mordalayn.

   Just as they were about to move off, a figure ran round the corner looking over his shoulder shouting frantically. “Oh my! Oh my! OH MY!.” He was dressed in baggy red trousers and a pair of worn, grubby shoes, his toes poking out of the front of one. His shirt was torn and over it was a too-big green waistcoat. His hat was floppy and peaked, falling back over his scalp and his hair was shoulder length and looked filthy. As he hurtled towards them Mordalayn whirled and grabbed Jared, shoving him forward into the open doorway of a tavern. He landed with a thud, the air rushing out of his lungs. As Mordalayn turned the man collided with him and they both went sprawling into the road. A fine cloud of dust flew into the air as they skidded to a stop, the dried earth layering them both. Mordalayn tried to extricate himself from the wriggling man. With a grunt he shoved him off and stood up to dust himself down.

   The people watching them were silent for a few seconds then the man on the horse who had stopped to let them cross began to chuckle. “My, my” he said shaking his head. “Our Lady’s bodyguard seems to be not such a strong warrior after all.”

   Someone else laughed and soon three or four others had joined in. Jared staggered to his feet and put one hand on the door frame of the tavern, gasping for breath. Someone else piped up. “Yes, maybe he’s a spoon not a Takoba.” 

  Others began to join in. Their former respect of Mordalayn giving way to something sinister and nasty.

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