Chapter 8: END OF PEACE

"What's with the weeping stuff?" In the near silence of the great hall, Arvid whispers the question to Avdyra, who is sitting next to him. "Later" she whispers back. Her father stands up.

"My relatives and friends! Take heart! We are on the path of redemption. Remember this. There will still be suffering, there will still be death. But the day is dawning, and soon the shadows will flee. Take heart! We shall remember humility, but we shall also remember courage. A thousand years from now, bards shall sing of these days in which we now live, and they shall speak with awe of these times. Do not let your spirits be cast down. For the help has come, and in time all the land shall be healed. Now go in peace, my brethren. We have all worked hard today and need our rest."

And as he has said this, the children get up, and then the adults, and soon they start to leave the hall. Some go one and one, but most in small groups, families by the sight of it. A few stay behind to clean up. Marisfar and Avdyra walk around and put out the lights. He the torches, and she the lamps. It seems to Arvid that the two of them are just humming something and the lights go out. That probably makes sense, in a magic world. Of course, a central light switch would have been more practical, but it probably beats oil lamps. Eventually they take one torch and one lamp and beckon for Arvid to follow them. They walk up a flight of stairs, also in stone, seeingly grown from the same granite as the house. They enter a much smaller room, in which there are shelf-like hollows in the wall. In most of these shelves are scrolls.

Avdyra sets the lamp on the stone table, and Arvid finally gets a good look at it. The tripod seems to be made of ordinary wood, but the lamp is a stone. A brightly shining stone, yellow in color. Or it could just be the light that is yellow - it is hard to see anything clearly through it. Suddenly curious, Arvid holds his hand closer to the light. It is cold. Pure light, no heat. So! Perhaps it beats electric light after all. Certainly these shining stones seem to be eminently portable, working without wires of any kind.

His suspicion aroused, Arvid turns to the torch which Marisfar has set in a hole in the stone table, obviously made for just this. Right: The unflickering reddish-orange light does not come from a flame, but radiates from the red wood of a small staff, made from the same material as the wizard staff that translates their language. He remembers the dull glow in that staff when the magic started to work. This is the same, only much much stronger. Together, the stone and the wood light up the entire study as clearly as electric lamps would have done, or very nearly so. And a good thing too, for evening has fallen outside. He can see the darkness through the semi-transparent membrane in the windows.

Another suspicion is confirmed as the heavy curtain moves from the door, and the woman in the blue dress walks in. She settles without any further comment on one of the wooden stools around the table. In no way does she try to introduce herself to the visitor from the Dreamworlds. Yet he cannot say if it is hostility in her posture, or if she just deosn't care about the much-hyped "Genius".

"Arovid, I think you had a question." Avdyra gives him a sign to sit down, as the others do. He was not sure if the seats were reserved, but if so nobody seems to care right now. "Arrr-vid. Yes. Why the weeping after the story? And why did it end so suddenly?"

Marisfar clears his throat. He doesn't seem too far from weeping himself, now, suddenly. "Know this, Genius: The Serpents were indeed our friends and allies. In my younger days, the great Serpents of Slither Cairn were among my teachers, and their youngs would come to this village and play with our children. This did not happen long ago or far away - this was my life, and we thought our friendship would last forever.

"But then something happened. Nearly 19 years ago, one of the young serpents went wild and killed a little child. Soon after, the old serpents confided to my father that they were experiencing something untold of: They were having nightmares. Their language does not even have a word for nightmare, but that was clearly what they described. In their sleep, they saw a shadow coming from the east, and it radiated hate and fear. They woke up with the taste of this fear on their tongue. The young ones succumbed first to the madness. Filled with senseless rage, they wanted to attack the village, convinced that we were the root of this shadow. The elders restrained them as best they could, but when things grew worse, they understood the danger. Taking the whole Serpent tribe with them, they moved out of their caves in Slither Cairn and far into the broken hills. But eventually the madness claimed even the oldest and wisest. From then on, there has been war between us. The madness seems to have dulled their wits somewhat, so the attacks are haphazard and poorly planned. Often it is only one or a few Serpents who attacks, usually killing a child or two before they are discovered and killed - though some have the wits to escape and hide outside the village for another chance.

"Now for a generation this has been so, and more than half our children have fallen prey to the crafty Serpents. Our women are bearing more children than they used to, but the loss is hardest on them. Not even Vanyra can heal death." "Nor would I if I could" says the middle-aged woman plainly. "The dead are safe from sorrow. Against dying is my fight, not death. Against pain and fear, not peace."

"This, then, is why we weep, Genius. For there used to be another ending to the story, just like you guessed. In the past, he would then turn to the Serpents who were our guests, addressing them directly with honor and thanks for what they had done for our people. But today they are our enemies, and our children fear them like death itself - which they are. This is the Shadow that has fallen on our lands, the Serpent Shadow. And our only hope is to heal the madness with the Lore of the Blue Cache. And only a genius can do that." "Well, I don't know a thing about magic. But I'll certainly try if you show me this blue cache." "Uhm, there is one more problem. No one knows exactly where it is, but it is thought to be deep in the Serpent Mountains." "Oh." "In order to even arrive there alive, you will need powerful Lore and an armed escort." "Oops."

"This is what we plan to do, Genius. My daughter and I will teach you, and particularly Vanyra, who knows the Blue Lore better than most in these lands. I do not know how skilled you are with weapons - it used to be that we hardly knew what those were - but Arman is the leader of the Village Guard now and a capable weapons man. He will no doubt have word with you about any weapons you may need, and train you as needed. Then we plan to travel to Megenjor where most of your escorte will join us, before ..."

Suddenly there is this unnatural sound, reverbating through the room. Arvid stiffens in shock. It is a loud ringing that goes on and on and on ... and suddenly he recognizes the sound of his alarm clock. The world fades around him, and blows away like smoke. Confused, and suddenly dead tired, he wakes up in his own bed. The night is gone.


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