The Mountain of Shadows
Sharrakor had been defeated. The Icecarls returned to their Ice, the Chosen returned to their Castle, and the Shadows returned to Aenir. The Veil was safe, and the Dark World was safe. But on the other side of the Dark World, a certain group of individuals was alerted by the fall of Sharrakor. And little did Tal or Milla know that this trial would be one of the toughest they had ever faced.
Tal Graile-Rerem, Emperor of the Chosen, was bored to tears. After the Icecarls left with Milla and Ebbitt, Tal had nothing to do but see to matters in the Castle. His family had been raised up to the Violet levels, because having an Orange boy as Emperor would raise some questions (not to mention resentment) among the Chosen of the higher orders. Korrek and Lallek had been demoted a level within Violet, and Ebbitt had been offered to be raised up to Violet, but he declined, merely wanting his old status back as Shadowlord of the Indigo, and Tal gave him the Title of Light Vizier for his assistance with the defeat of Sharrakor. Milla had been offered a position too, but as it interfered with her position as the Living Sword of Asteyr and War-Chief of the Icecarls, she declined. Besides, the Castle already had a score of Crones to communicate with the Icecarls from inside the Castle from the Audience Chamber. Tal also began the lengthy process of replacing the dead and dying Sunstones inside the Castle, like the ones in the Colorless Corridors, and in the molten crystal lake and suits. The main problem with the plan was the lack of Sunstones. The Sunstones were created by gathering Sunseeds from Aenir and left in nets in the sunlight to absorb the light and become Sunstones. With travel to Aenir forbidden, there was no way to gather more Sunseeds. But during his explorations in the lower Freefolk levels, he had found a back way out of the Cavern of the Freefolk which lead down to the lava pools which heated the Castle. In the rocks surrounding the pool, he noticed light glinting off something in the rock. After retrieving one of the molten crystal suits, he found a strange jewel embedded in the rock. Upon examinating the jewel with his Chosen Council, he discovered it to be a variety of Sunseeds, one that absorbed more light faster, creating larger Sunstones in a shorter time. After a more through exploration of the Seventh Tower, Tal came across a library, with books written in both Chosen script and Icecarl runes. In the books, he discovered that this was how the first Chosen had created the Keystones. They would have to be placed on the lower nets; otherwise, there would be hundreds of Keystones. There were also other secrets, such as how to create solid light, and how the Veil was formed. But now that all the work was done, there was nothing to do.
Nothing to do but check up on Milla and Ebbitt,he thought.
As he headed to the Audience Chamber, he thought of what he was going to say. After all, it had been a month since they last met. But if Tal known in advance how this discussion would turn out, he probably would have resigned from being Emperor then and there. But this discussion is going to take place, with interesting results.
As Tal entered the Audience Chamber, he found the Crones gathered in a circle.
"I need to contact Milla and Ebbitt immediately."
Malen looked up with her bright blue eyes.
"Of course, Emperor. We shall contact the Crones traveling with the War-Chief and the one you call Ebbitt."
"I told you, just call me Tal." said Tal. Truth be told, he didn't feel that he was the Emperor in anything other than name.
"As you wish, Emperor Tal." replied Malen.
Tal sighed. Some people never learn.
The Crones began holding their hands to their temples, and closing their eyes. Then Malen opened hers abruptly, but they seemed strangely clouded, like she was staring through the wall rather than looking at it.
Malen said in a strange voice, "Milla greets you, Emperor, and says that Ebbitt is unable to attend."
Tal frowned. "Is he sick?" Ebbitt had been in pretty bad shape last time they entered Aenir.
Malen shook her head. "Milla says that Ebbitt remained awake for many breaths past the time for sleep, conversing with the Codex."
Tal sighed a breath of relief. His great-uncle could be a nuisance at times.
"Ask how things are coming along with the Selski migration patterns."
Malen said, "She says that the expedition is successful so far, Emperor." Suddenly Malen frowned for a moment, and then her blue eyes opened wide.
"What is it?" asked Tal nervously.
"War-Chief says that the Ice just opened ahead of the ship! The ship turned aside in time, but other patches of open Ice are appearing in the Ice in that area, and the War-Chief says she does not see any Slepenish in the Ice holes. This is very strange…" Malen looked troubled.
Thinking back to his first encounters on the Ice, Tal remembered-vaguely-about Milla telling him about the Slepenish that broke the Ice and made crossing treacherous. But breaks in the Ice with no Slepenish? That was unheard of. At the same time, Gref burst in, yelling, "Tal! Dad says that the lava pools under the Castle have cooled! The whole Castle is going to freeze if we don't do something!"
"What!" yelled Tal. He thought quickly. They had about one hour before the Castle froze over. The Icecarls had been resisting the elements for millenniums, but they had heavy inner and outer furs, and the occasional Sunstone. The Chosen, on the other hand, only had thin robes of various colors, not nearly enough to hold back the cold. A blast of Red light, in the right strength and intensity, might re-heat the rocks, but a normal Red ray wouldn't be nearly enough to melt it!
Then Tal remembered that after the war on the Mountain of Light had ended, Milla and Tal had shared stories before they departed. In one such story, Milla mentioned her creation of her Violet Wave of Destruction. What if he created a Red Wave of Destruction instead of a Violet one?
With this in mind, he ran out of the Audience Chamber, across the hall, and jumped into the laundry shoot. The laundry shoot was a shoot that went from Violet one down to Red seven. It was a little big for the adults, but the children could use it, with minor damage to the soles of their shoes when they came to a stop. Tal jumped in and zoomed all the way down to Red 1, although his shoes were smoking by the time he reached the bottom. He quickly opened the hatch covering the exit and leapt out, closing it behind him. He quickly made his way down to the Cavern of the Freefolk, and got into one of the Sunstone suits. After that, he left through the back entrance and went down to the lava pools. As he entered the cave, he saw that Gref was right. The pools had completely cooled off. He raised the Violet Keystone and imagined what Milla had: an avalanche. He had never seen one, but he could imagine what it looked like from Milla's description. The light building, he quickly sent a wave of it into the pools, making the rocks go cherry-red, then start to melt. The pools of lava began to give off great gouts of steam. He left the pools and returned to the Cavern of the Freefolk. After he removed the suit, he climbed the Clear Ascendor stairway up to Violet One, and proceeded back to the Audience Chamber, where he was temporarily held up by Malen.
"Did you heat the pools in time, Emperor?" she asked.
"Yes, but now I have more pressing matters." He replied. "I'm going up to the Violet Tower."
Malen nodded and stood aside. Tal sat in the throne and directed a beam of pure Violet light at the Sunstones placed in a ring around the throne. The throne suddenly shifted, and started to rise into the air. The domed ceiling opened up, and Tal was admitted into the base of the Violet Tower. He quickly climbed the stairs to the ancient library. Inside he began his search for a book he had found a week or two ago, which had mentioned disasters vaguely similar to theirs. Once he found the volume, he opened it and began to read.
"Ice breaks….lava pools….it's all here." said Tal. "Let's see…it says that the events in those days were caused by….
Tal suddenly gasped and dropped the book like it was hot coal.
"Oh, gods." breathed Tal. "Milla is not going to like this."
Tal hopped back in the throne and sent a pulse of Violet light at the Sunstones in the floor, returning to the Audience Chamber. Once there, he jumped off the throne and ran over to Malen.
"Can you make it so I can talk to Milla directly?" said Tal quickly. "This would be better if she heard it straight from me."
Malen nodded as Tal laid a hand on her shoulder. Tal felt an odd feeling, like a slight ache in his head. He closed his eyes and shook his head to shake it off, and when he opened his eyes, he was-nowhere. All around him was nothingness. No light, no smell, no air, no nothing. The only thing in sight was a small figure in the distance, rapidly growing larger as it grew closer. When the figure was about ten stretches away, he recognized the figure as Milla.
"It has been a long time, Tal of the Chosen." said Milla.
"Yes, I know. It's good to see you again. But what I have to say is of the utmost importance."
Milla nodded, listening intently.
"You already know of the war between the Dark Worlders and the creatures from Aenir, and that the Dark Worlders created the Veil to keep the Aenirians out. But when the Chosen Castle was created, the creators realized that there can be no light without shadows. No good without evil. So the Chosen created another Castle, a Dark Castle, on what they called the Mountain of Shadows, a forgotten rock on the other side of the Dark World from the Castle of the Chosen. After the creation of the Castle, the Chosen then used their gifts with light magic to seal the Castle, and its Dark inhabitants, the Forgotten Ones, in a layer of ice."
"In stories told by the Icecarls that explored the Dark World, a few mention a rock covered in snow and ice that stands many stretches tall. They named it the Frozen Selski Peak, for its sheer size and coating of ice." noted Milla.
"I see." said Tal "but regardless, the danger remains. Just before our fight with Sharrakor, he shut down all the Towers supporting the Veil except the Red Tower, because the Keystone had been resealed by Lokar. During time that we were in Aenir, the Veil was weakened, letting a little light and heat into the Dark World for a few hours, melting the Ice in places and changing the migration pattern of the Selski. But since the place where the Veil had been crafted and shut down was at the Castle of the Chosen, the weakest point in the Veil is on the other side of the Dark World from the Castle."
"The Mountain of Shadows." breathed Milla.
"Precisely." said Tal "The Red Keystone can keep that Veil going for up to seven days on its own, but not at full strength. During the time we spent in Aenir, a small hole opened over the Mountain of Shadows, and began to thaw the ice coating it. In addition, I believe a few Aenirians escaped from Aenir and went to the Dark Castle while the Veil was still weak. Because of the return of our spiritshadows to Aenir, and the passing of Aenirians from their world to our world, the balance of light and shadow is uneven, and it's beginning to mess with the condition of the Dark World."
Milla looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said "If what you say is true, then how do we correct the imbalance?"
"Simple." said Tal "Since the weak point in the Veil started over the Dark Castle, it has to be fixed at the Dark Castle."
"You mean…" Milla said in an awed voice.
"Yes. We have to go to the Chamber of the Veil in the Dark Castle and shut it down from there."
Milla gave Tal an odd look, then said "So we would have to fight past the creatures of the Ice, the natural disasters that are happening all over the Ice, up through a Dark Castle full of rogue spiritshadows and Dark Chosen, and somehow figure out how to shut the Veil down from there?"
"That's about it." said Tal glumly.
Milla's eyes shone with a battle light he had only seen once before, when Milla had fought the spiritshadows of the Imperial Guard in Ebbitt's corridor. "And what happens to the shadows once we restore the Veil?"
"I suppose they would have to stick close to whatever Dark Chosen are left after the fighting." said Tal. If Milla left any behind at all.
"And the rest would fade away or return to Aenir?" Milla asked.
"This Quest will be sung for generations after. I accept this challenge. How will we proceed to the Mountain?"
"We will most likely go by sleigh, but first I need to see a certain whirlwind about the Dark Chosen."
With that, Tal withdrew his hand from Malen's. Malen asked, "How was the discussion, Emperor Tal?"
"It was…good, but I need to enter Aenir." Tal said.
"But…Emperor! Travel to Aenir is forbidden!" exclaimed Malen.
"Yes, but remember, I was the one who set that rule. I'll bend the rules just this once." he said.
With that said he lay down on a bed in a room behind the throne and spoke the way to Aenir, colors flashing before his eyes, enveloping him in a rainbow cocoon.
When he opened his eyes, he was in Aenir, in the desert near Kursken Corner, only yards from the Old Khamsoul. He took a few more steps, stopped, and said, "I wish to enter, so that I may speak with you."
A small hole opened in the winds surrounding the Old Khamsoul, and he heard a quiet voice say "Proceed." Tal entered the whirlwind.
When he entered the whirlwind, he was not on top of the stone tower inside the whirlwind, as he expected, but at its base, looking up at it.
How am I supposed to get up there? He thought. It's to steep to climb, and there are no handholds, and it's not like I have wings….
Wings. What if I make a Hand of Light and have it carry me to the top?
He focused on his Sunstone, making bands of Orange light, crisscrossing again and again until the Hand was formed. Making sure it was solid, he stepped onto it and rose to the top. Once at the top, he got off the Hand and dissolved it with a burst of multicolored light from his Sunstone. Then he turned to the whirlwind and asked his question.
"Old Khamsoul, how do I defeat the Dark Chosen of the Mountain of Shadows?"
A voice, quiet, yet somehow heard over the whirlwind, replied, "The Forgotten Ones cannot be defeated."
"What?" exclaimed Tal. "Then how can he shut down the Veil!"
The voice replied, "The Forgotten Ones cannot be killed, only blasted into motionlessness. If you damage their spiritshadows enough that they can no longer repair themselves, then the Forgotten Ones will be as drained as their shadows, unable to move until the shadows receive light."
"Light from where?" asked Tal. "The hole in the Veil is open, but the light doesn't leak into the Dark Castle, does it?"
"No," Khamsoul replied, "But the Dark Chosen, like the Chosen of the Mountain of Light, also have Sunstones that they have recovered from the Ice once they fell from the golden nets on the seven Towers."
"Great." muttered Tal.
"The Dark Castle is an exact replica of the Castle you preside over, Emperor Tal Graile-Rerem."
"Thanks." said Tal, and spoke the Way to the Dark World. There was a flash of rainbow light, and then Tal began to pass back into the Dark World. Before he left, he heard a voice saying, "Until we meet again, Tal."