6.09.2017

Short Story: "In the City of Eternal Night" (Part II)


Part II
By: Eve Estelle

Quick links: Part I | Part II

As he made his way down the rest of the trail that led to where Sylvaine was standing, a soft rustling in the leaves above alerted Shanahan to the owl's otherwise silent presence. When he came within speaking distance, he held up one of the small items in his hands.

"Don't know how much use it'll be, but I brought an old map that I had of the place."

"I thought no one ever went in there," Sylvaine pointed out, curiously. "How'd you get a map?"

"One of the few things I've been able to get my hands on over the years. Did Medwyn find a way in?"

She nodded, grabbing her bow from where she had hung it around a low-hanging tree limb. "Yes, and we should get going -- it might not stay safe for long." She began to lead the way through the thin line of brush, following a worn path to go around the quiet city's side.

Treading warily along the edge of the cold stone that whispered of the days from centuries ago, when behind its gray walls a lively world fit for wealthy lords and illustrious artisans stood tall and resplendent, they eventually came to a segment that had succumbed to the ages and caved in. Shifting a few small pieces of the rubble allowed them entrance into a large, empty room. Inside, the gray walls were given a hushed silver hue in contrast with the gentle dark blue that accented many of its edges and smaller features.

As the two looked around and took in the sight, Shanahan couldn't help himself as he went to closely examine one of the walls nearest him.

"Look at this scrollwork," he spoke quietly, gently running his fingers over the decorative stone etchings. Reverence filled his tone. "It's impressively simple, and yet... intricate. Done sparingly," he observed, "in a perfect balance of uncluttered elegance. Amazing craftsmanship."

"You don't see much of that on the outside," Sylvaine noted, thoughtfully.

"No. Faint shades of blue, maybe the occasional etching, if you're lucky. It's been much better preserved on the inside."

Sylvaine's eyes wandered from the smooth stone floor to the high ceiling. "What happened to it -- this place?"

"Just time," Shanahan replied honestly, standing up from where he had knelt down by the wall. "In time, even the greatest civilizations fall. Nothing lasts forever." He glanced up, looking through a small section of ceiling that had crumbled away, revealing a star-speckled sky. He sighed. "Except, it seems, the darkness."

A soft noise startled them then -- a handful of pebbles echoed as they bounced off of the floor and rolled a short distance, having apparently been tossed in their direction. But no one emerged from the doorless arch and the airy room beyond.

Shanahan eyed Sylvaine, who nodded, prepared to bolt for the hole in the wall if necessary. They both began to walk forward, beneath the arch and into an open, circular area that contained a glistening pool of still water sat in the middle behind low iron bars embellished with more fluid scrollwork patterns. Ancient benches were placed around the room's incomplete perimeter, which spanned the length of 180 degrees before opening up into a moon-lit arboretum. Wisteria vines climbed and wove themselves into nearly every corner.

"Can you see me?" asked a female voice, coming from an unknown location. The two trespassers jumped slightly as they turned and saw a woman dressed in beautifully unadorned robes.

"Can you see me?" she asked again. She appeared wraithlike; transparent, with a trail of vapor as the surrounding air was chilled. But even as a faint image, this long-lost lady appeared fully cognizant of her environment.

"Right, I'd say those ghost stories were true, then," Sylvaine breathed. Raising her voice slightly, she said, "We can see you."

"I am Lenore," spoke the woman, calmly, "and I was a citizen of this once-splendid city. I know your purpose here; I can help," she offered. "You seek to rid this land of its dark shroud."

Shanahan was watching the specter with curious interest. However, his response was careful, wary. "And how would you manage that?"

Lenore looked at him, and her expression was one tinged with regret. "I can't," she replied. "But you can." She paused briefly before continuing, watching them closely. "My people feared the rule of time," she said after a moment, "that unrelenting force that assured them just one thing -- an inevitable end." As she spoke, the cold vapor surrounding her slowly began to disperse, and like a vague wisp of smoke, her image faded from sight.

"Hold on now, wait," called Shanahan, extending his arm out to his side in order to stop Sylvaine as she tried to step forward. To the air, he said, "As everyone does. But we all have to face the ticking clock -- we all have our hour; a moment to stay, and a moment to leave. Can't fight it." His eyes were flicking around, aware of the empty space around them.

Lenore reappeared a short distance from where she had stood. "But we were thriving," she seemed to answer him. Her posture had not changed amid her reappearance. "Our learned society was a leader in every respect -- the arts, sciences... We had the best academies, the brightest students. We could not lose everything." She turned towards the arboretum and began walking, gesturing for them to follow. The two glanced at each other with uncertainty, but they were cautiously trailing behind her as she gazed back at them.

"We might not have much time," Lenore told them, her self-possessed demeanor never wavering. "Time makes even the most venerated king irrelevant; an existence destined for the fringes of memory," Lenore continued, leading them through. "They feared this, and they constructed a device that would tether us to this world, allowing us to remain, even after death. We would pull ourselves back into the world of the living. Never fading, never lost. Of course, this was all conjecture."

"Well, it obviously worked, somehow," murmured Shanahan, listening intently.

"Yes, but the device is failing," she responded, an edge to her voice. "It has been strained by our return, and worn by the centuries. My connection is strong, but soon every spirit in this place will walk and speak. As we become stronger, it grows weaker."

Sylvaine's face lit up with understanding. "That's why the town has been troubled, isn't it? The thing is failing, and now it's unable to sustain everything under its umbrella."

Lenore nodded. "It will worsen unless the device is destroyed. These are forces beyond our understanding -- I was one of the few who spoke out against its creation. Even the night was an unintended side effect." She came to a stop outside of another arch. "With the device gone, we will be freed from our tether here. The device will cause no further harm." She paused, her own uncertainty at last creeping onto her features. "But I guarantee you nothing else. I do not know what will happen upon its destruction."

"You just know that it has to be destroyed." Sylvaine rubbed her hands over her face. "Okay." She turned to look at Shanahan, who was watching her as she spoke. Directing the question at the specter, she asked, "Do you know for sure that the town will be safe? Say we get this thing -- and I see now this is why you got our attention in the first place; you can't damage it, so you need us. But what about everyone else, what happens?"

"The veil of darkness will be lifted, as there will be nothing left to generate it any longer. Your future generations may once again live in the light," said Lenore, a smile coming to her lips.

"And the present generation?"

Several seconds of unanswered silence followed, and Sylvaine gradually backed off.

Lenore looked into the room behind the arch. Beneath a midnight dome of stained glass, more glittering water encircled a large and dignified column, dark engravings covering its surface, and several mirrors reflected the moonlight shining down from above directly into holes carved out of the column. "It was designed to take in low amounts of light," she told them, "to convert that into a special form of energy. It won't take much to overload it now." She turned back to them. "This could save your people. But it will be at a cost -- I regret that I know little more."

Shanahan and Sylvaine exchanged glances. Just then, a commanding shout was heard from an unknown number of rooms behind them.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

To the ghost, Shanahan, his own face blanched in sudden dread, said hurriedly, "If we leave now, we may never get this chance again. No one survives if that device fails."

The thunderous footsteps pounded closer.

Sylvaine, a rush of adrenaline coursing through her veins, stared at the column, and then up at the stained glass ceiling. "What do we do?"

"Use your arrows," replied Lenore, gently. "Aim for the ceiling."

A guard emerged from the archway they had come through. "Halt! Don't move!" he yelled, his militant gaze landing on the three of them.

A silent fire burned in the wraith's eyes as Lenore watched him, and the sound of shattering glass caused the warden to pause in his running and look up, startled. He dropped to the floor as sharp debris began to rain down upon them all, and the room was flooded with star and lunar light.

A shrill scream started emanating from the column as the light reached it, the reflective water, and mirrors, increasing in pitch and intensity until a blinding flash, bright enough to be seen from afar, accompanied the deafening explosion of the column, dragging that side of the ruins with it.

Once the light and sound had ceased, the ruins were empty; an uninterrupted silence, not a soul stirring.

Outside, the sun was rising -- a deep pink and gold colored the horizon for the first time in several hundred years. The town beyond appeared to glow, bathed in its warm radiance. People slowly started to emerge from the comfort of their homes, cheering at the sky and shielding their eyes from the dazzling golden rays.

It was inevitable that, eventually, residents would give in to curiosity; and on that day, when they wandered along the trail to the magnificent city that they had long been barred from seeing in the light, where a largely forgotten world now sat partly exposed, they would discover a lost history. Relics and remnants of the past -- an era whose concluding word had now been written, and an era whose book might now be closed.


6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. :D Thank you for reading, Aneesa!

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    2. You are welcome my friend and welcome back!!! :)

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    3. Whoops, thought I replied to this yesterday. But thank you!! :) It's great to be back! <3

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  2. This is gold!! ^_^ you're a genius.

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    Replies
    1. Aww thanks, Vani! Glad you liked. ^^

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