The Tale of Ander Collins--Chapter Twenty Nine

Fiction By LoriAnn // 2/19/2010

 

Celzara sat on an ornate golden throne, at the top of a marble dais. Her long, red hair fell in indolent waves down her supple body, shining in the bright light of the throne room like oiled brass. She was clad in a silken, russet gown that was trimmed in gold thread, and reached her feet. Her green eyes glinted in deadly annoyance.
“I had thought not to see you again, rat,” she said to Ander. He shuddered at the cold, sibilant voice that he remembered so well. “I must hire better Raiders, next time, if they did such a sloppy job as this.” Her hot, green eyes turned to Shyllen, who was still lying on the stone floor.
Ander, for a moment forgetting his fear of Celzara in the greater fear of how badly Shyllen might be wounded, stumbled to the dragoness’ side. He tripped over her outstretched claw, and tumbled to a stop beside her head.
“Shyllen!” he said, his mind flashing back to Ravin’s still, torch-lit form. Frantically, he wiped bits of broken glass from the dragoness’ purple snout. Her eyes, almost as large as his fist, were closed. But her scaly lips moved, and he bent close to hear what she said.
“I’m alright, Ander. I think my leg is sprained, but I’ll be fine. Celzara doesn’t need to know. Get up.”
Relieved, but trying to keep the emotion from his face, Ander pushed himself to his feet and rounded on the queen before he lost his nerve. “She needs help!” he pleaded.
The queen looked down her aristocratic nose at the two mortals who dared to face her alone. “She should have thought of that before she crashed through my window,” she said flatly. “I’m under no obligation to help those who would overthrow my rightful rule.”
Ander took a step toward the dais, his hands shaking in fear and anger. “You’re no more the rightful ruler than that gaudy chair you sit on is!” he shouted.
“Indeed. Stand down while you may, Celzara.”
Dorlan’s voice rang out powerfully through the throne room, and Ander turned thankfully to see his cousin, Thraluic, Jagsod, and a dozen others sweep into the room through the great wooden doors.
Shyllen, behind Ander, climbed stiffly to her feet favoring her back-left leg. Thraluic glared at her from across the room, but said nothing.
“You would oust me?” Celzara stood, her voice both incredulous and threatening. “You—a motley crew of weakened dragons, kitchen slaves and the son of a coward? Do not presume to stand against my power. I give you a final warning: leave this place now, and you may live. But take one step closer to me—“ her hands began to glow with a menacing green aura. “Take one step closer, and I will blast you all to cinders.”
For a second, no one breathed. Then, with a swallow of trepidation, Ander silently took a single step nearer the dais, lifting his chin in defiance.
“It would be nice to have a normal family reunion for once,” he said calmly, “Instead of a battle.”
There was a low ripple of nervous laughter from the Denwolders.
“You are finished, Aunt,” Dorlan declared. “Your men have turned on you: you have no army to fight with. And there are far too many of us for you to defeat on your own.”
The green glow increased, filling the room with an eerie fog that managed to block the sunlight. Celzara laughed—a dark, deep laugh that seemed to come from a much larger being.
“Oh, you puny mortals,” she sneered, her voice suddenly rising to a roar. “Oh, you sad, poor little creatures. I told you once—you have no idea what I can do!” The air seemed to explode with power as she flung her hands into the air and screamed something unintelligible.
Ander and the others stumbled as the floor under their feet trembled. Ander and Shyllen moved closer to Dorlan and his group, drawing their swords as they went, but it was too late.
With a sound like the very sky breaking in two, the air behind Celzara rent apart, exposing something raw and unmade—an un-void full of...something.
Screeching monsters flew from the rending, their toothy maws open and slavering. Bat-like wings sprouted from hairy backs, and every bone in the creatures’ bodies was visible under a thin covering of grey-red flesh. Eyes burning with mindless hatred darted around madly as the frights swarmed around Celzara’s outstretched arms. Flashes of lightning and red fire flickered like snake tongues from the slash, scorching the floor and outlining the queen’s form against the void. The atmosphere was suddenly filled with the scent of fire and ash.
Celzara clapped her hands, and a flash of green light—brighter than the sun—flared through the room, blinding the rebels.
Utter silence, as hard as stone, froze the air.
Ander pulled his hands away from his face and blinked wetly at Celzara, who stood on the dais with her hand resting on the head of a creature crouching at her side. There was a look of triumph on her deadly-beautiful face, and she scratched the chin of another fright as it twined itself around her shoulders.
 “These are my minions,” she said quietly, but there was a menace in her tone. “Far more effective than humans or ogres or Feielves that they once were.” she smiled. “I think I’ve made some real improvements, actually.”
Ander stared in shock at the gruesome fiends that fawned around the witch’s ankles. Around him, the others gasped in alarm as the realization of what Celzara had said sunk in. Jagsod actually took a step back, biting out a gruff ogre curse.
Dorlan hissed wrathfully. “These are my subjects?” he demanded, taking a step toward his aunt with his sword raised. “What have you done to them?”
Celzara shrugged prettily. “Nothing that they didn’t deserve,” she purred. “Most of them were traitors—trying to leave the forest, or threatening my rule.” She reached out to a particularly emaciated minion and stroked its skull.
Ander felt as though his lungs were frozen. He stared at the creature, mind whirling. The monster turned its eyes on him, and its gaze was full of hatred. There was nothing left of whatever it had been…before. Whoever Celzara had taken to create this warped, maddened horror, they were well and truly gone. Murdered.
“How could you?” he whispered, feeling as though he were going to throw up.
The queen laughed—a great, belling laugh that echoed off the stone pillars and filled Ander’s head with a loud buzzing. “Oh, how the mighty fall!” she crowed. “Your parents would be among them, kitchen brat, but proud Percival would rather die than be taken my prisoner. And as for my little niece Robyn…” she waved a hand imperiously. “Well, I only consider it a pity that she managed to hide her wretched brat before I killed her. Not that it did much good in the end, of course, but I will admit that you’ve been a perfect nuisance. I should thank that potbellied king in Kelner, though, for chasing you my way.”
Ander couldn’t move, staring at the monster that had once been a Feielve, or an ogre, or some other innocent creature. It glared back, clacking a fanged jaw at him.
Beside him, he felt a soft rush of air as Shyllen shifted down to her human form and took his hand. Roughly, he pulled away. He didn’t need reassurance—he needed Celzara defeated.
“You’re going to lose, Celzara,” he said in such a low, calm voice that the queen had to cock her head to hear. “You won’t win—you can’t. And when you’re dead, the world will be a much better place.”
Dorlan seemed taken aback by the quiet venom in Ander’s voice, but he nodded in agreement. “Stand down, Aunt,” he ordered. “You don’t hold that throne rightfully, anyway: you don’t have the Vial.”
“Oh, I don’t, do I?” she asked, reaching almost casually into her pocket.
Thraluic groaned under his breath. “I told you she was cunning—didn’t I say that? You know I said that.”
Celzara pulled out a small object and looked at it with mocking surprise. “Well, would you look at that?” she said. “Why, I’d say this was the Vial—and look at how easily I hold it? According to my mother,” she spat the word mother as though it were a dirty word, “that must mean that I’m the rightful ruler. What do you say to that, oh son of my lily-livered brother?”
There was a nervous shuffling from the Feielves and other forest dwellers that had followed Dorlan into the castle.
“It’s a fake!” Ander’s cousin cried defiantly. “See here, I have the true Vial.” He pulled it from his pouch and held the glistening thing up to the light.
The queen shook her head in apparent puzzlement. “Oh my,” she said sweetly. “How can this be possible? And if I do not have the real artifact, then how is it that I have ruled these last fifteen years, while you and your father have languished on some forsaken island?”
Ander could feel the sugared tones of her voice winging out over the crowd, catching the unguarded thoughts of the rebels in its sticky web. He shook his own mind free. “I touched the one Dorlan’s holding,” he said, his voice strained. He cleared his throat. “It nearly burned my hand off.”
The queen glanced down at his hand. “It looks fine to me,” she said. “Show us your scars.”
Flushing, Ander held up the hand that had been poisoned by the Vial. “There are no scars,” he admitted. “Thraluic healed me. But you know that he had the real Vial! You tried to steal it from his cave—you used me to try to steal it!”
Celzara shook her head in pity, while her minions clattered their wings impatiently. “You sad little boy,” she said. “If I were not the merciful queen that I am, you could be imprisoned for accusing me of such a crime.”
Behind him, Ander heard the uncertain murmurs of the Denwolders and felt the queen’s spell of persuasion strengthen its hold over their minds, just as she had done to him the very first day he had met her. They were beginning to believe her; to trust her despite all the warning signs.
“I’ll prove it!” he shouted above the noise. “Give me the Vial, Celzara—if it’s real, it won’t let me hold it. If it’s fake, I’ll be able to do whatever I want with the thing.”
Shyllen touched his arm. “Be careful, Ander. She’s too clever to be goaded like that.” Her face was worried.
He never looked away from the red-haired queen. “I don’t think she is,” he said. “It just might take a while.” Inside, though, he was pleased by Shyllen’s concern. If they lived through this mess…
Right now was not the time to think about that.
Celzara laughed again, but Ander thought that he detected a slight hint of apprehension this time. "And why, oh brave little kitchen rat, should I allow your grubby hands to touch my Vial?"
"What's wrong, Queenie?" demanded a rough, ogre's voice. Ander turned his head and looked in surprise at Jagsod. The ogre ignored him. "Afraid that we might see proof of your sham?"
The minions gave a collective scream of anger, echoing the ire that swept across Celzara’s face. “You dare to defy me?” she demanded
“We do,” Dorlan said with a small smile, nodding upward. “And so do they.”
Everyone in the room looked up, and Ander caught his breath as Celzara went white with anger. The entire, massive throne room was encircled by a wide, decorative ledge carved with grinning gargoyles and stone roses. It was wide enough for a man to stand on—or rather, wide enough to support the forty-odd Feielve archers who stood there, their bows drawn. Every point of every arrow was aimed straight at Celzara’s black heart, and Ander sincerely doubted that any one of them would miss his target.
“This is treason!” the queen gasped out, her powerful façade cracking at this unexpected threat.
“No, Aunt,” Dorlan assured her. “This is a rebellion. Archers!” he held up a hand, and Ander knew that when he dropped it, forty arrows would immediately be released.
“Wait!”
Everyone looked at Celzara, who suddenly seemed old and tired. “Wait,” she repeated, holding the false-Vial out toward Ander. “Here,” she snarled. “Take it, kitchen rat. I hope it rots your eyes.”
Ander swallowed and looked questioningly at Dorlan. His cousin nodded slightly. Stepping forward, Ander crossed the seemingly-miles-wide room, drawing ever nearer to the queen. She sneered at him as he came, but her brilliant green eyes snared his eyes—just as they had that very first day—and seared him with their emerald heat. Ander tried to stop, but found his feet moving forward of their own accord.
He halted, sweating, beneath Celzara’s haughty glare. She held out the mock-Vial to him with a silent glare, and he reached for it, not daring to look away from her eyes. She was like a cornered animal: one false move and he would be dead.
Suddenly, too quickly to be avoided, Celzara bent down, grabbing Ander’s outstretched wrist. Her lips—surprisingly dry and chapped—rasped across his forehead.
Ander yanked away, the mock-Vial held tight in his hands. He tripped over a loose flagstone and nearly fell, scrambling back to keep his balance.
Ah-ha! A horrible, triumphant voice shrieked in his mind. You are mine again, kitchen rat!
Ander shouted in pain. Before, when Celzara had invaded his mind, it had been like bees buzzing. Now, it was more like million crossbows being shot off inside of his skull. He clutched his head in his hands, trying to hold back tears of agony.
“Let me go!” he shouted at the queen, to much in pain to be dignified or heroic. “Let me go!”
“What have you done?” demanded Dorlan, stepping forward with his hand on his sword hilt. Celzara held up a hand and smiled grimly at him as her minions chittered threateningly.
“Once before, I have bonded my mind with your cousin, Prince,” she said. A look of distaste crossed her face, but Ander didn’t take offense. He was too relieved that she was speaking aloud instead of from inside his mind—the pressure on his brain eased for a moment. “He’s a filthy little vermin of a mortal, though there is a drop of pure blood in his veins. Your dragon friend there managed to break my hold before I had my way, but the link was still there. I have only renewed it.”
And aren’t you just thrilled, too? Her voice came again through Ander’s head, and he grunted, trying vainly not to let her see how badly it pained him. Stars danced across his vision, and he dizzily stepped backward. Thraluic placed a steadying hand on his shoulder, but Ander could feel the dragon’s hand shaking in anger.
“Release the boy,” Thraluic ordered, his voice ringing through the hall. “Or the archers will loose their arrows.”
Celzara laughed, and the mental echo racked Ander’s nerves. “You can do nothing to me,” she gloated. “Not unless you wish to also kill the boy. Our minds are bonded. If you kill me, he will also die.”
“Fiend!” Thraluic shouted, supporting Ander firmly. “Cowering behind a mere boy!”
She shrugged. “If you think to enrage me with insults, dragon, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. I will not be baited. Face it, my friends: you have lost.”
Murmurs of dismay ran through the crowd of rebels, but Ander heard none of it. He closed his eyes against the bright light streaming in through the broken window. Thraluic had broken the mind-bond before—it could be broken again.
When Celzara was speaking aloud, the voice in his head was silent, and he could concentrate. The pain seemed to explode from the center of his mind—he needed to find the source. But focusing on an immaterial space was difficult; every time he tried to grasp at it, the area he was aiming for slipped away like a bar of wet soap.
What are you doing? Celzara’s voice demanded. The bolts of pain shot off again, but this time, Ander saw where they had come from. Triumphantly, he grabbed at the white-hot globe.
I’m going to defeat you, he told her simply. Examining the shining globe, he saw that there was an even brighter blue spot in the very center, but a long green cord—like one of the poisonous vines he had learned of from Shyllen—had wrapped the spot in a stranglehold, a noose around his mind.
Easy enough to deal with. Shockingly easy, actually. With sudden clarity, Ander realized that Celzara was not nearly as strong as everyone thought her to be. Perhaps she had been at one time, but now her magic was waning—she was a withered remnant of what she had once been, and she didn’t even know it.
Ander grabbed at the green vine, ignoring the sharp jab it sent through his body as he touched it. With a grunt, her ripped the noose away from the blue spot and snapped the vine. It cracked away like a whip, and Ander heard the queen’s cry of pained shock with his ears as well as his mind. Then the link was gone.
He wrenched his eyes open, and jerked his body upright, even as Celzara stumbled weakly back.
“Loose arrows!!” he shouted to the archers. “Release at will!”
Forty arrows surged from their bowstrings and whistled through the air.

Comments

Ready...

Oh, nasty Celzara. I sense our time with Ander and co is rapidly coming to a close. Let me express my admiration at your persistance and skill to write this story

Julie | Sat, 02/27/2010

Formerly Kestrel

So exiting! Love it and I'm

So exiting! Love it and I'm going now becuase I see that you have already posted the next chapter! :)

Kay J Fields | Sat, 03/13/2010

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