Chapter Eighteen: Our Unlikely Hero

They say the evil man speaks and talks with his fingers – the evil man uses deceit to bewitch the unwary . . .

     The bloodless sunset turned to dusk, the dusk turned to night, the night . . . We ventured to find my friend Leon, to avenge his brother’s death . . . if only he were not in his sullen stupor, I thought, thinking of the various elixirs he had, in addition to the wines . . . those horrid women . . .
     It was easy enough to find him.  Our unlikely hero was charging about a wastrel’s bar, under the pleasure house he oft frequented.
     Raven shielded me from seedy glances and ignored various taunts coming his way, regarding the aspect of his heritage and noble visage.
     Leon, sitting at a table, drowned in his drinks, feeling sorry for himself once more, not even noticing our approach.
     “Say man,” said Raven quite directly, “put the foul elixir away, we have work to be done and you shall assist. Your lady friend here insists.”
     I smiled at him sadly.
     Leon, noticing me now, apologised and asked me to sit near him.
     “What, where . . . explain, as I do not know what you mean.  How goes it with the evil Lynoria?”
     Raven explained.  He also noted how his brother was now a captive of that vile sorceress . . . and that we needed his help desperately to beat our foes.
     “Ah, my poor brother . . . it should not have been him . . .”
     I lowered my eyes.
     “You see I am but a shadow of my former self as well; for Stephane though, for his sake, I will help you as best I can . . . I must . . .”
     “Yes, to free his soul, for he sleeps in a web of lies, a dreamland, but full of pain and fire,” said Raven.
     Leon looked at us both, one to the other and nodded.
     “Like Thomas, my brother has become captive to her – has become her lowly slave.  Let us go then.  Give me but a day’s rest, for I am not quite up to par at the moment, as that is plainly seen . . . but I shall help you.”
     “Thank you,” said Raven.
     “Yes,” I followed.
     “But, what of the Lynoria, she without mercy?” asked Leon, “Just how do you suppose we shall beat such a powerful opponent?”
     “We know what to do now.  We can put her dark forces to rest now and forever,” Raven assured.
     And so it was, our unlikely hero came to join our ranks.  And our number increased by three; we felt at least insured that it would be far less difficult to proceed with at least three of us gathered, and less difficult to fall . . . but Leon, yes, he did need some rest first, that was most definitely a must.

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Chapter Seventeen: The Crystal Ball

     We decided to invoke the powers of Madame from Inferias, for even Raven, with all his knowledge, did not know how to defeat the powers of Lynoria, nay, we had no recourse but to attain a vision by the mystic.
     “Lynoria,” said the seer in her glassy-tinged voice, “is not who she appears . . . for I see many visions of different lives lived by she, and each somehow different . . . she has traveled in time for centuries.  No man has been able to stop such strength.”
     “Do you see anything at all that could pertain to some inner weakness?” I asked.  “And if she was or is so powerful how was is it that her ruthless husband was able to chain her, and take her captive across the seas?        Mysterious eyes peering at me, the mystic nodded.  Now the crystal ball glowed with an opalescent fire, and so she began to speak.
     “She did love him, even in brutality and violence, he nearly was her equal you see; save her arts were far less obvious.  To be sure, Lynoria did not know then . . . she has lived in a veil of darkness for many years.  Her lives, uninterrupted, have passed as in a bottomless sieve . . . her bloodline, her brood, helped her, to remember.  A rite was performed, and thus, she grew stronger, took her claim as the family matriarch.  Her powers grew terrible.”
     And now the mystic looked at me.
     “My dear, she means to divert you.  She desires multiplicity.  Beware.  I see her intentions in a double form. It is you she seeks now.  To have a sister would increase her strength, a unity in thought, action, spirit . . . two wholes, functioning as one . . .”
     “How can we stop this?” asked Raven.  His eyes danced with fire.
     “Destroying her with flame and burying her heart is not quite enough.  You must take the dust of the heart and keep it in a flask.  In this flask add blessed water.  Bury it beneath cathedral stones.  Have a priest incant over it . . . it must never be found nor removed.  Heed this.”
     Raven nodded.
     “We must find the two men you speak of,” he said to me, “then Lynoria; Mystic, do you know where she sleeps?”
     “Ah, she never sleeps.  She travels at will as storm or fog; spray on sea; as bat or snake; she can take form of many an evil and pitiably dreadful thing . . . hangman’s noose, bloody coffin, a dead body . . . but . . . to find her in her weakest moment, always be early light of day, as the others.  She will be most difficult to kill, but it is not hopeless to try.  I would say at this time that Elvira is her greatest diversion, for she seeks her soul, and wishes most intensely to entrap it.  Greed is her weakness.”
     Madame L’Enfer shut her eyes and began to sleep . . .
    “She has done all she can; she sleeps now; too much has been seen . . .let us leave her be . . .” said Raven.
     I looked at him and took his hand in mine.
     “We should pray; you to your God, and I to mine . . . strength in our own unity, against chaos and pain.”
     Raven looked and agreed silently.
     “Yes, and Lynoria is Godless, and fearless; thus, her strength is futile . . . her mistake is her audacity . . . arrogance . . .”
     With that, we both looked outside the window to sea and sky, and looked towards our invisible deity . . . relinquishing our wills for the greater cause . . . knowing this was our fate and our only recourse now.


Chapter Sixteen: Fire with Fire

     I was found by Raven the next morning.  He had found me as he walked the shores with his pets.  He carried me up the hillside into a field of flowers, my favourite place.
     My story sounded incredulous, but he believed it nonetheless.
     “Stranger things happen, I can attest to it.”
     I felt better when he said that, for I believed myself losing my mind.
     I also told him about everything that had happened on my voyage, and that I was shown, in the broken mirror, that those evil ones were nearing closer.
     “What will we do?” I asked.
     First, he was concerned that I was becoming quite frail.
     “The ghosts come to you now, feed on your aura, and your fears, for spirits can and will do such things.  The spirit in the water perhaps was benign, but may not have been your . . . friend, but an apparition created by evil.  It cannot be certain.  But now that those creatures you reported are coming here, we can at least defeat them.  Lynoria, however, she will be the most difficult.”
     He and I walked to his home and he offered, again, to help.
     “I can come with you, guard you; this bow of mine you see, and this arrow of daub can be set aflame.  When they come closer, I will destroy them.  I am well practised in both arts of magic and combat.  Then we will only have Lynoria left to worry about.”
     I agreed, and he looked at me strangely and saw that I wore both the cross at my neck, and the charm he had given me.  He smiled.
     For days we waited for them. Waited for them to appear at our shores.
     One night, on the night of the Old Ones (for the twin moons had appeared, stained with crimson), Raven motioned to me to be very wary and not to wander; I had been sleeping and woke to find him looking at me, and put his hand on my shoulder as I woke.  The night of the Old Ones was a very ancient day, said to be when the spirits roamed freely.  Raven was very concerned for me and stood guard outside while I slept.  
     He lit his arrow now with a seemingly magical light and let it fly to hit its target.  Something was hit, for a creature screamed, and now ablaze, we could see its shape, that of ghastly Esmeralda.  But Josue was too quick and disappeared just as I had begun to light my lance.
     Raven stilled my hand and broke an arrow in two, then led me to the screaming body, too horrible to behold.  The broken wood of the arrow was stuck deep into its ugly heart.
     “Let us find the others,” he said.
     We walked very quietly to the mansion that night, his hand pulling on mine.
     “I can see something,” he said, leading me away from the front entrance.
     I kept close to him.  He led me into the old iris garden, with its gurgling fountain.
     “No, they’ve gone back in.  Look, up there!” I shouted, muffling my excited voice somewhat.
     “That pale and morbid face in the window. It is one of them.”
     So up and up the stairs we crept, until we reached the room in which I had spotted the dreadful visage, the largest bedroom, unused in years.
     But all did not appear as it should have.  The room, once pale and grey and neo-classical, was now magically transformed into a red nightmarish fantasy, a fantastical Andarian harem.
     A strange perfumed mist surrounded us and Raven seemed perplexed.  I felt dizzy now.  Small bells, for they seemed soft and tinkling, were heard, and a white hand appeared in the mist, holding a tambourine.  In the other, a peacock-feathered fan.
     The hands played, soft entrancing sounds, and a rustle of silks.  In the centre of the room stood not a stately bed of classical design, but an array of dazzling silks in shades of golds, reds, oranges, and yellows.  The tambourine struck.  Raven closed his eyes and seemed to breathe for air.  I gasped.  I tried to hold him close but he disappeared, and I could no longer move.
     The dancer emerged from scarlet-tinged darkness.  She danced slowly around Raven, her body wrapped in translucent silks, seemed to poison Raven with her suggestions, then looked at me with a wicked glare.  She danced around him as a snake lost in the endless pattern of the arabesque painted on the walls; her hair, plaited with golden snakes; her eyes, burning with red fever . . . her eyes . . . betrayed what she would do next, take a bite out of Raven.
     I shouted at him not to look into her eyes.  With that, Lisbetta blew a fine gold dust at me.
     “The sleep of death,” she whispered.
     I fell to the rose-petaled filled floor and shut my eyes, did my best to try and not listen to her.
     Groping, I felt the pouch of arrows at my waist; I looked up now and saw Raven sleeping on the silks.
     “No!” I shouted, and found myself in the trance of a dream.
     The dancing odalisque encircled us.  Gold, dusty gold, fell from her now nude, white body, her every movement.  She seemed to come and go, and I could not tell what was real or not.  I feared I was still under the influence of that strange golden drug and felt myself quiver.
     Raven opened his eyes.
     “The light . . .” he muttered.
     I looked toward where he pointed, a row of candles, easily reached, the light from the candles there, set the arrows to burn, and Raven took out his bow.  I passed the arrows to him as he sprung them from his bow, and the dancing form was lit as if from inside, translucent skin crackling.
     Raven was able to regain himself, and, breaking another arrow I had passed him, took it and plunged the dark heart of the abysmal creature.
     It . . . screamed.  Face and flesh melted. Body turned to burnt stone.  I gazed away.
     “How many more?” asked Raven.
     “Two. Not counting Lynoria.  Two men, one is the father, or so I was led to think.”
     Raven pulled me to him and whispered.
     “We must leave for now, hunt by day . . . they are less wicked then.”
     And so that night we slept in a bed of leaves and soft hide blankets, covered by the light of the crimson moons.
     Grotesque images haunted my sleep and I was rather glad when daylight came, despite our horrid task at plan.


Chapter Fifteen: The Blue Knight

     Truthfully, I did not know how to react towards such news, such sudden and deep regret.  I put away the letter, picked up a candlestick, and wandered down the hall.  Passing by the hall of portraits, I felt her eyes glowering, the image of Lynoria, lit by the phosphorous gloom of crackled lightning.
     Was all lost?  I felt the cross at my neck.  It seemed useless now.  I also felt another bauble at my neck — the little charm given to me by Raven, and I felt something well up inside me, a deep sadness.  I tugged at it, felt the chain about to snap, as I heard a strange sound . . . something outside.
     Wind whistled through broken rafters, that is all.  Or so I thought.  I now wandered aimlessly and felt all alone.
     Where, where would I go?
     I passed by the spinet and the mirror.  There.  I stopped.  She was me.  Lynoria.  I was her now.  I screamed and smashed the mirror with my own hands, bits of glass stuck in my skin.
     “Lynoria!” I shouted.  “Leave me, now!”
     I stumbled, prayed to God.  On my knees I felt blood welling up beneath them from the glass on the floor, and a halo of glass arcs cut my clasped palms.  No, no escape.
     It was well past late afternoon when a strange sound again returned my attention, and I saw the ghost of my missing beloved, Stephane, standing by the broken mirrors.
     “They are coming,” he said. And he showed me, in the broken pattern of the mirror shards, the images of the the vampires of Andarian crossing the sea.
     “Come to me now Elvira,” he said, “I am coming for you.”
     At this, I felt that something did not seem right.  t was as if I could hear Lynoria’s voice mingled with his now.
     I backed away and ran down the hall.  I ran until I reached the front of the mansion, then I ran to Raven’s path, towards the sea . . .
     I would wait for them there, I would fight, I would not surrender.
     The sea was restless.  Blue and restless.  The late hazy sun still shone and I felt a strange unease, like a spell of sleep.
     Was I dreaming?
     Beyond in the distance, a gleam in the froth of water.
     I stopped, my bare feet in the soft sand.
     It was . . . a helmet.  A figure neared now.  A clamoring song like dulcimer struck my ears — rang in my head like bells, a droning toll, mesmerising . . .
     The figure appeared closer.  It was a shiny shape, like metal, like blue metal, either reflecting sky, sea, or water . . . it did not matter now.  I only stared, could not speak.
     I watched, this metal thing, it was clearly visible now, a knight.  A knight in armour.  He reached out to me; now he was hip-deep in water.
     Through the open visor I saw his eyes, blue as the sea.  I recognised him, or thought I did.  He spoke to me now, in garbled underwater tongue.  Around him were strewn seaweeds, and flowers of a field . . . flowers from the forest . . . blue periwinkle, lavender . . .
     “I’ve come for you . . .” he said, “I’ve come . . . for you.”
     In his eyes I saw reflected back the image of myself dressed as a bride in white, waiting for him, at the banks of the Rhennish river. And I wept.
     He reached towards me, and I know then it was Stephane, come back for me in this ghostly form.  I took his armoured hand, entered the salty brine sea.
     The dream called life was over. I was going home . . . under the depths of the grave called the sea.


Chapter Fourteen: My Return

     By the time I arrived back home, I really did fear Leon dead.  And I was embarrassed at the state I was in.  Of course, with a little money I was able to procure a new set of bags and a few new scraps of clothing, but still, I felt painfully aware of he state I was in.  I felt like a beggar.
     Instead of traveling the same way, my friend Raven had shown me, I decided to take a coach back, for my state of dishevelment was already too far advanced.
     At home, a bath was procured, and a proper breakfast.  Silence, golden silence, was mine now, not the horrid babble of foreign tongues or the unbearable climes of some Andarian-tainted land of Estampiel; not even the Rhennish country appealed to me now, rather I was appalled by my once innocent flights of fancy.  Just the knowledge that a part of my lineage descended from those evil ones sickened me outright.
     I split an orange after the bath to eat.  The clock ticked, ticked.  It was now late in the year, but not quite winter — the bees were disappearing and this was the last of the fruit of the tree.  A cold mist surrounded the land, and rain, soft rain, pattered the windowpane.
     Then, the door rattled. I jumped with a start, but my fears were extinguished.  It was the servant with a letter, written with tremulous quill.  It must have been important as he had forgotten to knock, so I forgave him, and took the letter . . . from Leon!  Oh!  It began . . .

“Dearest Elvira:

It pains me greatly at the suffering you must have encountered, and the shock of what you discovered.  Pray, I hope you are to be found well upon your arrival.

Meanwhile, do not fret about those wicked souls you were besieged by.  It is quite possible that they may follow you here, that in fact, they planned already to begin a new chapter in our world . . . perhaps it is easier here, to blend in, for as you said, the peoples of that arid Estampiel feared them already — and it would be much more amiable a place in our new world of sweet southern soil, to begin anew . . .

But do not trouble yourself dear.  You have done enough and all that you could.

As for my brother, I am afraid I have some unpleasant news. He was found, not too long ago, on the shores of our town.

I cannot bear to tell you this dreadful news, but, you must know, he is dead.

It appears that he heard of your leave taking.  How he found out, I truly do not know, but he left a letter, speaking of his search for you, that it was his fault, that . . . and according to some who recognised him, he took a ship, but, shortly after, it was reported by frightened passengers that he seemed to argue on deck one gusty night with an . . . invisible person . . . and, he seemed to grow frenzied and desperate, so much so that he then threw himself overboard.

He left that letter, that note, scrawled before his unfortunate death, a note scrawled and what appears to be a poem, a poem that sounds suspiciously like that of Paine’s from one of his long lost books of old shadowy tomes dedicated to a mysterious ‘L.d.R.’. :  Lynoria.

I do believe that in the very recesses of my already damned soul, that Paine had possessed my brother by the time — as if in some trance, some interconnection between he and Lenora, which had grown stronger with time. Her will, also stronger.

I beg of you dear Miss, do leave that house.  We are powerless to fight this evil.  Even your friend Raven you told me about, with his strong and practised magic, cannot untaint spoilt blood . . . or tame such a terrible curse.

Leave dear Elvira, and be forewarned that Lynoria is everywhere, and all-knowing. Her knowledge of the transmutation of life is greater than many magicians and sorcerers combined.

 Regretfully,

Leon.”


Chapter Thirteen: The Sea

     It seemed forever and a day that it took to embark back. Much travel had ensued, and I was supremely wary.
     Would this fatigue never end?
     Despite my complaints, I was rather grateful for my escape . . . I cannot bear to imagine the consequences had I been the victim of the foul creatures, things, I was unfortunately related to.
     And now, I slept to dream, the sea a gulf between myself and the horrid past.
     But would I escape it?
     From what it appeared, those horrible creatures, things, protected her tomb against me, almost as if she were to be guarded for their own safety.  Was she perhaps, their Queen?  Did she then, being so powerful — have the power as well to travel at will, to drift phantom-like, from sea to sea?
     I prayed then, that she was not on the same ship with us.  But then again, Lynoria always was.  She had always been here and already somehow cast a spell on my beloved, whom Leon had been searching for. I wondered now about him.  Leon would be waiting for me at the house as we agreed, and of course, Raven . . .
     I slumbered. The rolling waves eased me to sleep.  It was better to lie down than fight the nausea . . .


Chapter Twelve: The Rhennish River

     We traveled through the white-capped Albinis peaks, those cold fortresses that seemed to border and block the very heat of the dying sun.  I  was glad to leave and move onward.  As we passed architectural geometric puzzles of the Andari people, the mid-eastern remnants that dotted the valley, I sighed.  I was finally leaving this old home I never knew, and did not care to know.
     The hot sun of of my ancestral homeland was occluded now and I arrived in Swabilis, then the heart of the old Rhennish river and its dewy green mountains.  Meanwhile, I bought stationary and wrote to Leon of all I had seen.


     “Raven had said that Lynoria must be destroyed, but I have learned she is not the only one.  I was lured here by those vile creatures, who, I assume, knew something in the timing of the matter, knew that somehow Lynoria was being prepared to be revived fully — and I somehow have to play a part in it.  They know.  Those relations of mine are proof that such soulless creatures exist, and we are all in danger now.”
     I believe, no, I am convinced that they plan to cross to New Estampie, to claim some new ground . . . to destroy new peoples . . . I have seen it . . . in the eyes of envy and hatred that have been shown to me — they desire life, new life, to escape, as I now escape from their archaic world. They wish to become a part of  a ‘modern world’ and I am afraid they will come to us and destroy us all.”
     “As for their father, he is a gallant, a fop.  And dangerous.  No doubt all of their kind who worship evil will be looking for me now; already Lynoria haunts me; already she seeks my soul . . . to destroy . . .”

     I trailed off . . .told him I was now in the old Rhennish land, that I would visit the famous river and then seek return home via the Frochardian border where the ships sailed daily.
    “Please, do not leave me,” I added, fearful that he might be dead from the various drugs he was addicted to, or dead-drunk from his intoxicating elixirs — both the same.    needed him conscious, to be fully prepared for what was to come. I would not be able to fight this alone.
     I sealed the letter. I clutched the silver cross from one the dreary sisters back at the convent.  Soon, I would be returning home.  I could not but dream of it.
     The deep blue waters of the Rhennish River were as I had once dreamt.  We sailed across the river in a somber haze.  Old turrets, abandoned ruins, nestled out of green hills . . . the spires of a great cathedral caught the light, a beacon seemingly from heaven.
     As we drifted, I heard the old songs of a thousand years drift . . . the ghosts of the dead slept beneath us, the smooth glass of water, while sea maids, magical creatures, gazed out from between hair drenched with salty sea, tails fanning against their lily pads of stone and rock . . . and the old story goes that a bride died here long ago, and she still weeps . . . a woman who died young, tragically, like Lynoria.
     As if in a trance, I had visions . . . in he mirror of water I saw a knight and his sad bride.  Who were they?  The river broke and all seemed cold now.  The Rhennish was dark and shadowy.  Sea maids were predatory, and the spirits were unhappy, ignored for far too long now.
     I shivered.  Something was amiss.  A melancholy of unknown sources caused my spirit to plummet towards grim reality.  Where was I going? The sun would soon set and I must return home . . . home at last.  Tomorrow I would embark on that trip, and I hoped to God that Leon was still alive, that his brother had also been found.