Extended Ending, Chapter 42

Chapter Forty-Two

The Power of Forgiveness


A thin film was all that separated Arius from the world of the dead. It was bright behind the film, and soft music resonated from a thousand harps and lutes. Blurred images danced behind the translucent barrier, welcoming him to join them in their revelry. His finger was almost on the membrane, knowing the slightest puncture would allow him to pass through, when a voice rang through his head: Arius.

He drew back his finger from the pulsating film and scratched his chin. Arius, the voice said again. Arius opened his mouth and then closed it. Arius! the voice said a final time. Then Arius’ eyes widened.

Guardus! he remembered, his life returning in waves. A splitting headache drove against his skull as he was dragged upward and away from the thin veil. The music faded to nothing.

He was in his body again, lying on the floor in Contemno’s castle. His face was pressed against the maroon carpet, the red fibers glaring around him. The color of blood, he thought. He lifted his head and was ready to scream in pain. He bit his tongue until it bled, staying silent. Not twenty paces away, Tialdo and a group of elves prepared to launch a magical attack against Contemno. The king was quivering, his face a mask of simultaneous terror and hatred. The spell! I must say the spell! Guardus!

The dragon answered him instantly. Arius! We are ready to destroy Contemno. Just stay where you are!

No! Arius yelled. He can be saved! Hold your attack.

It is too late. We attack now.

Howling in frustration, Arius launched a mental probe toward Contemno’s mind and screamed, “Fa’mi sovernum alto del vadoro!”

Contemno suddenly stopped shuddering. His face went slack, and his body crumpled to the floor. Arius lifted his arm and watched as Contemno’s arm lifted as well. Arius smiled, but just as the smile reached his mouth a force knocked against his mind, emanating from Contemno. “You will not take this from me!” a raspy voice seethed.

“You are Contemno!” Arius realized. “You are the rangūn that possessed Cotias!”

“Ah, so you are a smart one,” the rangūn laughed, still using Cotias’ mouth to communicate. “But I do not think you will be able to defeat me with cleverness alone. I have been accruing power for decades, power that dwarfs any strength you may have attained.”

Arius swallowed. “But you have forgotten one thing.”

“Oh? And what might that be?”

“The might of the Ryù!” Arius cried. “Now, Guardus!”

Anticipating his rider’s command, Guardus linked with Arius, and together they pushed all of their might against the creature in Cotias’ body. The rangūn shrieked, and fought back viciously. Arius felt as if his head were in a metal box that squeezed tighter and tighter. Only Guardus’ strength kept it from crushing Arius’ mind altogether.

The elves joined Arius and Guardus, but even with the power of all the magicians in the room, they still could not force the rangūn out of Cotias. Arius fought until his entire body trembled, but Contemno retaliated with just as much energy. The elves’ faces were strained, but Contemno only laughed. “I am superior! You all will bow to me! I will make you my slaves!”

The metal box clamped tighter around Arius’ mind. He forced his eyes open. Cotias’ face was drawn and gaunt. Then Arius thought, It was not Cotias who committed those treacherous acts. It wasn’t his fault!

Contemno was a moment away from crushing Arius’ mind and the minds of everyone in the room. With a strangled voice, Arius cried, “Cotias, I forgive you!”

The rangūn suddenly stopped and wailed. Cotias’ face grew brighter, and he moved his mouth. His lips formed a smile. In that instant, when the rangūn’s control over Cotias was weakest, Arius tripled his efforts, united with Guardus and the elves, and forced Contemno out of Cotias’ body. A great explosion shattered all the windows in the throne room, and a bright blue light flashed from Cotias. At the same time, the Morgat waiting in the corner imploded, leaving only a plume of acrid smoke.

The shadow spirit was flung from Cotias and spiraled in the air. “Ahhhh! What have you done?” It dove at Cotias, but a shield protected the elf from the rangūn’s attacks. “My sorcerer! My body! You all will pay!” As if in answer to its claim, a black wind whipped into the hall, swirling around the pillars in a frenzy.

Guardus looked at the shadows on the wall and shuddered. The other rangūn has found us.

A maelstrom howled through the room as the second rangūn joined the first. “Brother,” it proclaimed. “Who knew the search for my summons would lead me to one of my kin?”

The rangūn named Contemno smiled, if a shadow spirit could smile. Its red eyes glistened brighter against its black cloud form. “I thought I was alone,” it cackled. “I would have rescued you sooner if I had known you existed. I managed to escape the Ryù’s notice by hiding in that one.” Its insubstantial arm pointed toward Cotias, lying prone on the floor.

“Is he available?” the rangūn named Thorbal asked gleefully.

“Unfortunately, no,” Contemno sighed. “But we have a whole world of subjects to choose from!”

“And we will,” Thorbal agreed. “But first I must retrieve my summons. It lies in a book carried by that man.” He pointed to Gerad.

“You think we will let you leave this room?” Arius snarled.

Contemno laughed. “You may be able to stop us from feasting on another’s mind, but you can do us no harm!” The rangūn dived at Arius.

The Ryù leaped out of the way, drawing his sword. The rangūn turned sharply and chased after him, teeth bared. Arius swung at the rangūn but missed. Contemno cackled. “Your speed and agility fall short against my prowess!” It dove again.

If it grabs hold of me, my hours will be numbered.

He ran, relying on his legs’ muscles to carry him far enough away from the rangūn’s next lunge. He tried confronting the demon directly, but his sword could not make contact. The beast was too fast. The elves tried to help, but Thorbal stayed them with a black hex. Even Guardus was halted. Will we be locked in a perpetual battle until I die? Unless

Arius planted his feet and didn’t move as the rangūn dove once more. When the creature was almost upon him, he held up the Sword of Aeild with the point directed at the creature’s chest. Contemno screeched, but couldn’t stop and collided with the blade. The steel pierced the spirit’s torso, sizzling as it entered. The rangūn pulled away, a viscous black liquid trailing on the floor from the wound.

“The Sword of Aeild! But all the swords of power were destroyed!” it howled in pain.

“This one survived,” Arius stated. Linking once more with Guardus and the elves, he pointed the sword at the two rangūn. A cone of pure white light billowed from the sword’s point, striking both creatures in the chest. They howled, their forms bubbling and puckering as they fled through the shattered windows. After they passed the threshold, the white light from Arius’ blade winked out, and only the orange glow of the lamps lit the room.

Gerad held the book of histories in his hand. “I think it was after this,” he said quietly.

Arius looked to him sadly. “I asked you to stay behind. You promised that you would, and yet I see you here.”

“I am sorry, Arius.” His eyes closed. “But I could not stop thinking of my family and of the insatiable rage that burned through my veins! I just could no longer control myself. I considered leaving your bag with someone else, but feared that if anything should happen to it, you would blame me. So, as it was my responsibility, I kept it.”

Tialdo added, “He was a marvelous fighter, Arius. He slew as many soldiers as any elf, if not more. Perhaps the thought of any harm coming to your belongings made him fight all the better.”

Then Tialdo beckoned to Gerad and asked for the book of histories. When it was in his hands, the elf dropped it to the floor and drew his sword. He swung down with enough force to cleave a man from head to foot, but the metal rang off the book with a shower of sparks, jarring Tialdo’s arm and flinging the sword from his grasp. Arius jumped

“Of course it could not be that easy,” the elf mused. “There must be a way to destroy the summons. It hasn’t been done for ages, and the exact technique has been forgotten. But before we can destroy the summons, we must discover how to destroy the book. I fear that if the book cannot be destroyed, then the summons will endure indefinitely.” Lifting the book, he weighed it in his hands. “We may have to seek its creator. Whoever made this will have the answers.”

Cotias groaned. Tialdo handed the book back to Gerad and ran to the elf.

“Cotias?” Tialdo’s voice was soft.

Cotias stared into Tialdo’s eyes. “Where is my niece?”

Tialdo beckoned Kyra to Cotias’ side. “Explain yourself,” Kyra demanded.

Cotias began to weep. “Oh, child. When that demon possessed me, I went mad. I remember every vile act that fiend committed through me, but I was powerless to stop it. He killed my family and tried to kill your mother, Seta, but the other elves smuggled her out of Exoter and into Farahdin. The beast tried to find her, but she used an elf’s tricks to remain hidden. She was always strong in magic.”

A flow of tears dripped down his cheeks. “Eventually, the rangūn learned that she was in Halderon. She had fallen in love with your father while he was a prince, and they married. I don’t think he ever knew she was an elf. When Contemno took me there, she had just given birth to you. Her ears were rounded; I assume she used magic. Contemno was weak, and we existed only in spirit form, but the creature had just enough energy to kill Seta and return to Helsguard. Your father must have thought she died giving birth to you.”

Kyra fell to her knees. “So I am part elf?” she asked.

Tialdo appraised her. “I can see it now,” he said, “when I know to look for it.”

Kyra asked Cotias, “Why didn’t you recognize me when I was your captive? Why only now did you recognize me as your sister’s daughter?”

“After so many years, my spirit was overpowered by Contemno. Only when Arius said my name did I awaken from the depths of my mind into which Contemno forced me. I used every ounce of my strength to speak to you while the demon was still inside me. I feel that the rangūn’s effects still cause me fatigue.” His head fell back to the floor.

The elf’s words rolled in Arius’ head. Kyra, a princess and an elf! His eyes rested upon Cotias. His hair was returning to its silvery sheen and the blackness of his eyes had vanished, replaced by light blue. The facial hair Contemno had displayed crumbled into dust, and his ears were slowly regaining their tell-tale points.

Arius asked Gerad for Galeru’s flask. Walking over to the elf, Arius knelt and said, “Take a sip of this. It will replenish your energy.”

Cotias took the flask with gratitude and smiled as he swallowed the droplet.

“I am sorry for all the pain I have caused you. I am sorry for everything that creature has done through me,” Cotias apologized. His black clothes hung loosely around his chest and arms.

Arius was silent for a time. “You were not yourself,” he finally answered. “Now that Contemno has left you, you can renounce your sorcerer ways and become an elf again.”

Cotias nodded. “I know it will take time for me to undo what I have done. Perhaps some things cannot be undone.” He looked toward Justis, whose body was being covered with a tapestry from the wall. “But I will try my hardest to regain the respect of my people and the respect of the Ryù. And,” he added, “the love of my family.”

A tear dripped from Kyra’s eye. “Of course, my uncle. But for now, you must rest and regain your strength.”

Arius inclined his head. “Yes, do as your niece says. We have two rangūn to fight, and we’ll need every elf to do it. But before you go, we must ask: where are the dragon eggs that Contemno hoarded in the castle?”

Cotias was silent. “I…I can’t remember.” His face turned red as he strained his memory. “I recall Contemno’s using my body to collect and store the eggs, but exactly where they are…I am sorry. Their location escapes me.” He shook his head.

Arius sighed. “I’m sure we will find them eventually. There are only so many places they can be. Tialdo, do you remember the room where you found Guardus’ egg?”

Cotias answered before Tialdo could respond. “Contemno has moved them since then and has hidden them with sorcery. That much I can remember. He was furious once he learned an egg had been snatched from him.” He managed a small chuckle, but then coughed violently.

Tialdo intervened. “Rest, Cotias, and perhaps your memory will return soon.”

Cotias smiled as two elves carried him away to more comfortable quarters.

After he had gone, Tialdo examined the throne. His eyes widened as he lifted an object wedged in the frame. Tialdo held up his discovery: the Scepter of Dragons, as brilliant and magnificent as it was in Arius’ vision.

“This must be taken to Eldro,” Tialdo said. “As Keeper, he is the rightful guardian.” He pointed to a captain of the spellcasters’ division. “Take this to Eldro, and hurry. Tell him to keep it hidden until we return to Sartanae.”

Turning back to Arius, he said, “Let me explain what happened on the battlefield.”

He ran a hand over the beveled surface of the throne’s armrest. “We battled the soldiers without pause for almost an hour. We lost approximately five hundred fighters, mostly swordsmen, but several archers and spellcasters as well. Ultimately, it was the Morgat who troubled us most. But with our numbers, even they fell to the spellcasters’ enchantments. We paved a way to the castle and encountered a hex that prevented us from entering the throne room. But when the spellcasters linked, they were able to destroy the enchantment. That is when we joined you here. The generals from the field tell me that any soldier still standing has surrendered and that the Morgat vanished some time ago. Apparently, as soon as Contemno lost his host body, his power diminished. Perhaps you could clarify what happened here?”

Arius nodded and told his story, honoring his word by skipping the conversation with his father. He told of his own efforts to bring Cotias out of his demonic stupor. He explained how close he had been to death, but only superficially narrated his actual experiences. “I can testify that your words were true, Tialdo. I nearly paid the ultimate prezzo di vitale. How I am still alive, I know not.”

Guardus nudged his arm and clarified whatever relevant facts Arius had missed.

When the dragon was finished, Arius looked to his father’s lifeless body. A tear glistened in his eye, and he said, “I only wish I could have gotten to know him. I was so close to rescuing him, but he refused to let himself be used as ransom.”

“So the Summoner of Dragons was your father,” Tialdo said. “I’m truly sorry for your loss. Justis was a good man.”

“Well,” Arius said, wiping away his tears, “I suppose we should be happy. Helsguard is now under benevolent control! Our objective has been accomplished!”

Tialdo smiled. “Already the skies return to normalcy. We will help the people choose their own king, as in Haldor’s time. As for the two rangūn, we will deal with them as did the Ryù of old. But it is not something to concern ourselves with at the moment. We will rejoice! The elves will stay in Helsguard until it is refurbished and the displaced citizens have been returned to their homes and their lives. The slaves Contemno kept in this castle will be freed, and those he has forced into military service will be released.”

At that moment, an elf leading a squadron of Contemno’s soldiers entered the throne room. Tialdo glanced at the elf, who said, “My lord, these men have denounced Contemno’s forced service and wish to join our army. They have lost their families and their homes and wish to become members of the Guild…although the Guild’s original purpose is now void.”

Tialdo replied, “The Guild’s ranks will remain as peacekeepers of the land.” The soldiers were middle-aged men, weaponless and without expression on their faces. The hardship of loss wore on their frames, and there was no motivation in their posture. Then Tialdo nodded. “Aye, we will welcome them among our numbers.”

Wan smiles spread throughout the squad, and one man spoke, “Thank you, my lord. We will serve you well in whatever way you choose. The fifty men you see here are but a small number of those willing to join the elves to restore Farahdin to a prosperous country. We will rebuild what our late king has destroyed and make Farahdin the land of our dreams!”

Appraising him, Tialdo answered, “You may start by freeing the slaves. I presume you know where they are chained?”

“Yes, my lord. I will free them right away!” He turned on his heel and led the other soldiers out into the hall. The elf who had brought them to the throne room followed in their wake.

Arius patted Guardus’ shoulder. We can take a breath, my dragon. There are trials in the future. I have no delusions about that. But for now, the dwarves are recovering, the people of the kingdom no longer must worry about an evil tyrant, and Farahdin is at peace, however fragile that peace may be.

Guardus concurred silently. Arius looked out the window. The sky was turning a brilliant blue as the sun rose and Contemno’s fire and ash dissipated from the clouds. The heavens agree with you, Arius, Guardus commented as he too reveled in nature’s beauty. As Mashal said, we must live in the present. And right now, the present is ours to savor.

Arius looked to Kyra and smiled, then hugged his dragon, letting the azure sky wash him in waves of optimism. A golden ray of sunlight broke through the glassless windows and held Arius in its warm caress. We are the burning ember, he said. And together we will ignite a conflagration across all of Farahdin! 

We will, my rider. We will. And he roared, a bellow that reverberated over the hills and plains, sweeping over the land like the rumble of an ocean wave. 

The End

The story continues in Book II. 

Read the prologue for the sequel  

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