Anudîn hated feeling vulnerable. His actions always consisted of a well thought out process properly timed, with all eventualities considered. But now, time was short at hand. Mind links were one thing, projecting yourself somewhere was an entirely different matter. Leaving your physical body and working fully off your will was a very exhausting process, especially if it consisted of facing someone as powerful as his brother, in his own territory. It was a risk worth taking, but only if it yielded some results at the end. And so Anudîn was planning his conversation flow, as his servant tied the chain to his hand. Once all was ready, Anudîn took a deep breath and started the ancient magic ritual.
“Ah, brother. I expected you’d come and see me. How goes the circle of winter and its lord?”
“You know as well as I how it goes, brother; for you can see what goes on there, as I am blind to what goes on here.”
“Is that why you’ve come, to check if I’m doing alright? If my subjects are suffering properly? Or perhaps you come to me to snoop about for a sniff of the essence and what I propose to do with it? Well Anudîn, unlike some other lords, you’re an intelligent one. Mayhap you already guessed what my intent is? Be forward brother, for I have other matters to look to.”
“So be it. I assume you intend to absorb the essence, open portals and conquer the realms. Your ambitions were never well hidden, yet as your brother and fellow lord, I must warn you. We are not meant for this. Do not unleash chaos and upset the order of creation.”
“You are as miserable as you were always, Anudîn. Tell me, oh so wise brother, what is the meaning of our long existence? Are we supposed to slurp on mortal souls till the end of time? There was once a time when I took what wasn’t mine by right, by force. I gave you a part of it too. You are where you are by my wish only. Join me brother, for I shall share each world and essence with you. This soul-bound mortal is just the beginning, once we conquer drakekin homeland, we’ll have arcane mages to hold portals to any realm we wish. So I say once again, as your brother, join me. Together we’ll be masters of all!”
“There is a natural order to all things. I am bound by my nature and duty to prevent the festering of chaos. Brother or not, consider this my final warning. Stop this madness before it consumes us all.”
“You dare threaten ME? You overstep you limits, Winter-lord. If you do not stand by me, you stand against me; as you always have. Do you believe me naïve enough not to know of your little plan, sending that creature up on surface? Fear not, for that one will not die, I require its abilities. Once it takes care of the mortal, my minions shall bring it back to me. As for you, dear brother, you shall enjoy some time on surface.”
So saying, Markerith bound Anudîn’s projection and flung it towards the surface. The force of the collision was strong enough to send shockwaves across Arda.
What Markerith failed to notice was that his brother’s projection was already bound to something else, in another place. This was a clever foresight on Anudîn’s part, for he slipped back into his circle aided by his servant. Kranch enquired if his lord was alright, because he looked a bit shaken. After assuaging his servant’s fears, Anudîn dismissed him, and started ruminating on his recent encounter with his brother.
Markerith will not be looking for him, he knew, for his brother was smug of his power and was already busy planning his next move; which Anudîn now knew. Markerith intended to let the drakekin kill the boy, absorb his essence as his soul flowed into hell, while his minions captured the drakekin. Once the essence is absorbed, he’ll overrun the surface and absorb all the mortals, then open a portal to drakekin homeland to further his conquest. He’ll use Anudîn’s arcane drakekin to secure the portal.
Anudîn shook his head wryly. His brother had truly gone mad. His plan entirely depended on foolhardy prowess, due to which he had failed to notice several loopholes in his plan. If the drakekin kills the boy, his essence may be fractured; moreover, the soul may flow into the winter circle. Also, he expected the drakekin to just go along with his plan? Anudîn realized he must not underestimate his brother, for he may as well have just fed Anudîn misinformation. His minions may already be on their way to kill the boy, ensuring his essence reaches Markerith and then capture the drake-kin. He must contact the drake-kin, now that it was all out war. And he must do it fast, before his brother realizes Anudîn was not bound to surface as he expected. Things were taking a turn for worse very fast and time was not on their side. He must act in haste before the ruin of all.
Water was never her strongest suit; Niyensi preferred having both feet on firm ground - the constant sway strained her nerves, despite having found a comfortable enough bed. She wasn’t hungry, nor was she tired, but the ship held little that was worth exploring. So there she sat, on her bed, looking out the window and mentally counting cycles until she reached the land. As she looked at perky fishes with large snouts jumping out of water, a slight frost started forming over the window pane. She realized this just as a cold unlike any on surface caught her skin. Before she had a moment to panic or react, a deep still voice froze her in place – “Calm, drakekin” it said. She looked back and saw a shadow darker than the unlit cabin she was in. “My lord” she muttered, words forming a twisted mist out her mouth. She refrained from saying or assuming much else. “Time is of the essence” the shadow warned, “Our enemies are readying to make their move; the awakening nears...” Niyensi considered this. She had assumed she was alone in hunting this human; she mentally smacked herself for assuming so much, again. “What would you have me do?” she enquired, trying to peer into the deep dark. “It is my brother, Markerith, whom we are up against. He is mad, but he is smart. And his cunning is surpassed only by his arrogance, which has grown unchecked since he conquered the Hells. He knows you are up here aiming to kill the mortal, but I suspect he’ll try to foul it up some way. Know that he needs you alive and if you fail in your mission, I may have to kill you, even if it would just delay him.” Niyensi quickly soaked all information, to be evaluated later, and asked a question of her own. “Understood. How many cycles before the Awakening? Why not kill the human before then?” The shadow answered, “The Awakening is now in a month, according to human time-keeping. And if you kill the boy before that, the soul would just rebirth for another Awakening. Listen carefully, the boy is well surrounded by Markerith’s minions. You must be very careful, for you shall receive no help when they try to capture you. You mission has been altered; Markerith expects you to kill the boy first chance you get, instead you must keep the boy alive as long as you can until I determine why. But he MUST NOT fall to any of Markerith’s minions; if it comes to it, do the deed yourself.” Niyensi answered in an affirmative and waited for the shadow to continue. The shadow seemed distracted by something, and then it murmured with amusement, “Food’s here!” All the cold vanished just as quickly as it came, and light seemed to blossom in the little room when a light knock sounded with a girly voice exclaiming from beyond, “Dinner, Madam!” Niyensi called her in and asked her to close the door before setting down the plates. “What’s your name, girl?” enquired the slightly old but beautiful human female form of Niyensi. “Suzy, ma’am. I’m from up North. Do you need anything else?” Niyensi studied the well-mannered form of the human and checked once more if she was hungry enough. “No, nothing for now. Thank you” and she dismissed the girl. “Am I coming to like these humans?” she thought to herself, “Maybe I’m not hungry enough” and chuckled as she wolfed down the meaty parts of her dinner and laid back on her bed staring through the porthole and thinking about the conversation she just had.
Anudîn’s faith in the drakekin was going to be sorely tested. Yet the more he considered the matter, graver it seemed; Markerith had him surrounded, despite his surface play. The Hell Lord’s minions could kill the human and capture the drakekin; Markerith would inevitably use her magic, whether she share it or not, and all would be lost. This was a pretty straightforward plan, so he knew that this was the least possible eventuality. Knowing Markerith, he probably planned to turn Anudîn’s plan into his own. Assuming the drakekin killed the human and its essence did not flow to him, he’d invade the winter-realms. He probably didn’t care if the essence was weak, must have something up his sleeve to counter that. Later, he’d grant amnesty to the drakekin to ensure its help. And he may just grant it, if it pleases him. So, one way or another, Markerith would have the essence AND the drakekin. Anudîn knew when he was backed into a corner, and the wheels in his mind were working faster than ever before. To outsmart his cunning brother, he’d have to use his arrogance against him; make Markerith think that Anudîn’s original plan was still in place, all the while playing an entirely different game. The game he devised hinged upon the support of his drakekin servant. He knew about the drakekin’s inclination to be free, so he decided to use that as a leverage. Anudîn never liked the drakekins’ presence in his realms anyway; now he had a real chance to send them all back home and restore the order. Finally, he made a decision to speak with the drakekin again, offer it freedom and share his plan and entire circumstance with it – this would ensure its utmost loyalty and provide clarification of its importance to it. He should do it just before the awakening though, for he could not underestimate Markerith’s reach anymore.
“Kirse qolat isde nashl niniye, lisir asul lisir asul…”
Let a connection birth betwixt the worlds, and so it be, so it be...
“What is happening?” he asked the demon monster that held him.
“You’re dying” it replied with a calm countenance.
He took a second to process that as he watched the hordes gather, then decided he didn’t care. He had never felt more alive.
He looked sideways to ask another question, but the thing was gone. An excited curiosity was swelling deep in his heart, as if his destiny was within his grasp.
The creatures started singing, and he recognized the words. They yearned for their home, a home they didn’t remember, didn’t know if it existed anymore, and didn’t know anything but the yearning to die in the soil of their birth. Or maybe just death.
The land cracked and spewed flames, but he knew it was okay. Once, the quakes would’ve frightened him to the bones, but now he knew, it was part of the plan. He didn’t run this time; he won’t let Sara down. He must embrace death.
“I wanted to tell you something. About the dreams – nightmares, which I’m having...” That was a week ago, so much had changed since then.
Kelly had told her everything, right from the beginning and Sara had listened to his every word with utter silence. In the end, she said, “My dad says, ‘sometimes, the only way out is through’; I can’t even begin to understand much of what you are dealing with, but know that you are not alone in this. I’m right here with you, always.” She gave a half smile – the one that never failed to elicit a full one in return.
“I just wish I could find my mom and dad, you know? I have so many things to ask. I don’t even know my real name! Why would anyone do such a thing?” he asked, not really expecting an answer. “Maybe we can go and ask in your orphanage? Certainly, you deserve to know, you can handle it now.” She countered. He looked at her with such strange eyes that she ended up asking, “What’s wrong?” to which he just chuckled and said “I’m such a doofus, what would I ever do without you?” She was only a bit surprised that he kissed her then.
The orphanage had changed much, but still remained the same. The people were different, the walls had aged, and yet there was a lingering feeling of lost souls and new hopes, of kids laughing and fighting, an elderly matron and the cleaners going about their ways, the smell of hunger and mischief, encapsulating the sadness and bitterness concealed in tender hearts.
Kelly introduced himself to the matron, for she was not the same as the one he knew. Yet she had the same motherly feeling about her, warm and firm brimming with efficiency. When asked if he could find who brought him here, she said “why not?” And so it was that he and Sara were standing in the ancient office while the matron was digging through the drawer archives. As she pulled out a file named “Kelly”, Sara’s hand took hold of Kelly’s. The suspense was palpable in the air; the matron almost seemed to revel in it, as her deliberate actions to dust off a small amount of dirt covering the desk suggested. She put the file down and opened it with careful fingers, Kelly held his breath.
“Sorry Kelly, there is no record of yours parents here” the matron said, and Kelly deflated like a balloon, “Although there is this note by Matron Ursla” She paused; Kelly dared to hope. “She wrote ‘Just after midnight, Mr. Krutz came calling. He had a baby in his arms. Although he covered his face as if to hide his identity, I would recognize his voice anywhere. He thrust the baby into my arms and told me to take special care of him. I asked him to come inside, he said no. I asked him if the baby was his, he said no. I told him where he found the baby, he almost said no. Instead, he said the baby’s mother left the baby in his care. I asked him who the mother was, but he was halfway gone by then.
I named the baby “Kelly” after my grandpa. I will try to find out more about his parents. I hope his mother gets some sense and comes to claim him.’ There’s more but it is all washed out, almost as if intentionally. Hmmm wonder why?” The matron was chatting some more but Kelly wasn’t listening. His whole life was falling apart like dominoes. Sara looked at him and understood; she took charge of the situation immediately by thanking the matron for her time and dragging Kelly out of the orphanage. She hailed a cab, got to the park, and sat down on the bench with Kelly, who hadn’t spoken a word so far. “What is it?” she dared to ask. “Mr. Krutz...” he whispered. “Do you know who he is?” she nudged him, “Mr. Krutz is... the bench... the hotel... he...” Kelly managed to blurt out; but he needn’t say more, she understood perfectly. They both sat there dumbstruck at the revelation.
Sara was in no mood for Rose’s childish reluctance which her friend mistook for suspense. “What is it R? Just tell me” she sounded exasperated – Sara was still reeling from yesterday’s adventure, yet she knew her friend didn’t need to be on the loop for that story, at least not for the time being. Rose didn’t stretch it this time, but seemed to collect her thoughts; in the end, she uttered “One sentence:” then whispered “Schmitt is a Prince and he wants to marry me!” and looked at Sara with twinkling eyes hoping for a ‘Huzzaaa’ or something similar. “What?” Sara intoned, the smile on Rose’s lips faltering as suspicion rose in Sara’s eyes; “He said he’s a Prince? Of what? From where? Marry you...?” Rose had been ready, she expected Sara to be... well, Sara. “He didn’t say that; he just said he wasn’t from around here, that he was here to do something and was waiting for a sign. Do you know what it means? He’s going ask me to marry him! So he could take me back to his kingdom up north; yes, I researched, there are still pockets of monarchy up there. Maybe he’s waiting for the right moment. Ohhh Sar what do I do? I mean... I like him and all, but...” Sara knew exactly what came after ‘but’ and she was still wondering how Rose inferred the prince thing from what he said, although that was usually how Rose’s train of thoughts went. “Well, where exactly is he from then?” she asked instead. “Oh, I don’t know. When I asked him that, he just smiled his usual cute smile (Sara imagined the ugly toothy grin) and said it was a secret! Anyway, I don’t care where he is from Sar, if he’s a Prince-” Sara didn’t let her finish that sentence “Prince or not, R, you wanted to know how I feel about it? Well, I’ll tell you: Say NO. We’re not ready for that yet, you know it as well as I do.” Rose’s smile had vanished from her lips by then, yet there was no anger in her eyes. They were just filled with emptiness. Sara knew Rose was going to say no for marriage either way, she just wanted to hear Sara say it. Besides, Sara knew that deep down, Rose knew what a creep Schmitt really was; Sara remembered how he demeaned Kelly... Kelly, whose life was turning inside out. Who was this Krutz anyway? What did he want with Kelly? Why– “You’re thinking about him again, aren’t you?” Rose asked, emptiness in her eyes replaced by genuine concern, “Is everything okay between you two?” Sara smiled and nodded. Everything was just fine.
“My lord, somehow they have all passed through into your lands”
“Is that so?”
“Yes my lord, but they seem hesitant to proceed further. What shall we do?”
“Nothing??? My lord they -”
“Do not make me repeat myself. Dismissed!”
As his servant retreated back to where he came from, Anudîn didn’t waste another thought on his impudence. After all, time was of essence and the game was afoot. He had new knowledge, not unexpected but surprised by the timing nonetheless.
So, all the drakekin had poured from outer circles right at his doorstep. Anudîn realized his brother had gone behind his back to the other lords of hell and mobilized all the creatures. What was his play here? Anudîn knew that the drakekin were a part of his brother’s plan, but what purpose did they serve here? A distraction? Perhaps. Or perhaps they too were lured by the promise of freedom and were standing forces right in enemy – his – lands. Either way, he was pushed against the wall. If he engaged them, distraction would be served. And if the other lords were with his brother, then technically, they were against him; so he would’ve started a war he couldn’t possibly win. ‘Nice move, brother!’
But then, his hopes were always on the surface. His thoughts returned to the arcane creature and its intelligence. He may have succeeded in stalling the flow but it was inevitable that the mage soul would mature in mere weeks now. The boy won’t be allowed to live – either by his brother or himself, yet he couldn’t just kill him. If the boy dies, Markerith would have his essence one way or another. To kill or not to kill...
A sudden thought struck his mind - Markerith’s arrogance. Yes, he could use that. His brother had him figuratively pinned down, but hadn’t made a single move against the drakekin on surface. Perhaps he thought it wasn’t significant or powerful enough to warrant his attention. Anudîn gave a slight smile - one that was last seen several mils ago when he had outsmarted a hell lord at the last minute in a negotiation of souls; an idea was starting to take form in his ancient mind.