The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 7
The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 7
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
The twilight drifted unconsciously into the waking hours and a thick dense cloud cover obscured what little light the season had to offer. It was especially cold and a stiff chilling breeze swept mercilessly through the camp. Not a murmur or stirring was evident, just the remaining embers from the Morlon fires pierced the sombre darkness.
High up in Mangarna’s fortress the torches had burnt throughout the twilight, occasionally revealing the master’s shadow through the window, as he moved around his chamber, busily working on his invention.
Arlin, Kaelin and Orla crawled up to the top of the ridge to view the morning ritual. The Terras had divided themselves into war parties and remained under cover at strategic positions around the encampment. There they intended to stay until the Morlons had descended into the mines. One group was assigned the task of containing the mineworkers, another to contain the Morlon camp itself and finally, the largest group would storm the stone fortress, seize Mangarna and the weapon. Orla was to give the order through a chain of signals to several strategic lookouts.
Arlin’s plan was simple. He would enter through the side rear entrance during the attack, find Norbit and with his help, free Desta. By then the Terras would have secured Mangarna’s chambers and if not, it would give Arlin a chance to finish the job. Either way, their plan seemed foolproof, with their sheer numbers and with the element of surprise, they were confident of triumph.
They all sat in silence ready for action, but the camp remained quiet, only a few souls had so far braved the morning. Arlin suddenly felt a cold, wet feeling on his hand and looked down to discover the white flakes had begun to fall. As he looked upward, masses of the soft white flakes were pouring down from the sky, the wind twisting and turning them, obscuring the clouds above. One second it was clear the next a blinding curtain of white was falling between them and the encampment below.
Arlin and Kaelin squinted trying to see what was going on, but this unexpected fall wasn’t helping visibility. Surprisingly, from what they did see, almost no-one had left the camp, certainly not gone into the mines.
‘What’s taking them so long?’ enquired Kaelin.
‘I’m not sure, but I don’t have a good feeling about this,’ replied Arlin, not knowing what to do next. A few moments later, Nolt scrambled up the back of the ridge.
‘They’re not going into the mines, hardly any of them have even left their huts,’ said Nolt worriedly. Arlin glared down at the camp. ‘This is not how it’s supposed to be,’ he said worriedly. Orla moved over to Arlin and smiled.
‘Nothing ever goes to plan, Arlin; life’s like that. If we’re going to do this then we should do it now, when they’re not expecting it. The element of surprise is all we need. If we place more warriors in the camp site as well as the group at the mine entrance, there should be enough to contain the camp,’ he finished. ‘It must be now.’
Arlin thought for a moment and realised there was no other choice.
‘This will not be easy. Containing them in a cave is easy, but hand-to-hand combat?’ added Arlin.
‘It’s what we do best,’ said Orla. ‘We are ready.’
‘I will organise the deployment,’ said Nolt, looking forward to the free-for-all and sliding back down the ridge to carry out his duty.
‘Get word to me when it’s done!’ shouted Orla. Nolt waved back in recognition.
They waited patiently on the ridge for the warriors to get into position and to receive the ready signal. Most of the Terras now surrounded the Morlon camp, weapons in hand and ready for the fight. They sat with gritted teeth, their eyes wild. After their long containment in the caves a good scrap was what they needed and they were looking forward to the release.
A small task force waited opposite the entrance to Mangarna’s chambers, and Arlin and Kaelin slowly made their way to the large clump of trees at the eastern end of the fortress. There they waited under cover for the final signal.
Then, when all were in their final positions, a waving torch came through the white curtain, alerting all to move in quietly, to get as close as possible before launching the offensive. Step by step they closed in on the Morlon camp, the squalling white flakes helping to disguise their approach. Then out of the silence came a panicked scream from the camp; they’d been spotted.
Suddenly, the camp erupted into a rabble of screaming and confusion. The Terras let out their exuberant war cry and rushed into the clearing, waving their spears and clubs over their heads. Embers from the fires were kicked into the huts and they exploded into flames, sending their occupants running for safety and creating even more confusion.
The sound of metal knives and spears clashing and clubs thumping echoed across the camp; the white fall only added further to the mayhem. The Morlons were huge creatures; their strength and prowess would be difficult to overcome. Once armed, they pummelled their way into the fray, lashing and clubbing at the Terra hordes. Warriors from both sides lay bleeding or dead on the white cover, but neither gave an inch and the battle raged on.
The smaller group rushed the main entrance and engaged the Morlon guards. They were particularly fierce and were holding their own. Mangarna, having heard the commotion, had one of the inside guards immediately bolt the entrance door shut. Mangarna then took another guard and rushed to seal the rear entrance. As they turned into the corridor Mangarna saw Norbit up ahead, unlocking one of the cell doors.
‘What are you doing?’ he bellowed. Norbit almost jumped out of his skin, completely taken by surprise. The guard grabbed Norbit roughly by the arm to contain him, while Mangarna gently opened the door.
‘Ah, what have we here?’ he asked, peering into the cell. Desta was hiding, hunched up in the corner. Mangarna turned and glared at Norbit. ‘You dare to betray me?’ he snapped. ‘Take them both to my chamber!’
Mangarna bolted the rear door and stormed back to his chamber, seething with anger.
Arlin and Kaelin had already crossed the roof and now peered down over the edge to the rear entrance. There was one guard at his post. Before they could do anything, two Terras burst around the front corner of the building, screaming wildly at the top of their voices. One engaged the Morlon with his spear, while the other approached from the side and swiped the poor oaf with his gnarled club, cracking his skull cleanly open. He fell to the ground with a thud, his eyes vacant and lifeless.
The tallest of the Terras looked up; it was Toran. Arlin smiled and he and Kaelin quickly jumped down from the roof. ‘Thanks!’ he said. ‘Help me get this door open?’
Toran and the other Terra began to barge the door, and it rattled under the strain. After about six assaults the door surround began to split, and eventually gave way, sending pieces of splintered wood flying and the door crashing to the stone floor.
Toran turned to Vard, the other Terra and told him to guard the door. He then followed Arlin and Kaelin into the dark corridor. As Arlin approached Norbit’s chamber he gestured to them to hold back and slowly crept toward the door. He peered through the cracked wood but no-one was inside.
‘Where are you Norbit?’ he whispered worriedly. He signalled the others to move forward and went to the cells beyond, to find Desta. The search however, proved fruitless, the cells were empty.
‘Something has gone wrong, Mangarna must have them,’ said Arlin, realising the possible result of their foiled plan.
They crept carefully down the corridor, deep into Mangarna’s chambers, until a bright light appeared up ahead. As they cautiously approached it, they stepped into what looked like the main chamber, a huge domed room, well lit with a large fire blazing. Arlin entered first.
Fifteen feet away on the other side of the chamber, stood Desta and Norbit. They were gagged, their hands bound and they were tied back-to-back with a rope around their middles. Arlin went to release them when a voice broke through the silence.
‘Ah, ahhh!’ said Mangarna, to his left. Arlin stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes turned toward Mangarna, who was standing behind a strange metallic object pointed at Desta.
Toran and Kaelin moved up next to Arlin and another Morlon guard stepped into the chamber poised ready to fight.
‘I’m glad you have come,’ said Mangarna. ‘You can be witness to my little experiment,’ he said sarcastically.
‘I wonder if Artec and Ellok will blend, or will their ashes simply fall to the ground in two neat little piles.... I wonder?’ he pondered.
Toran held Arlin back; he was losing control, his face red with fury.
‘Did you think a few simple creatures like yourselves could overpower me?’ said Mangarna with an evil glare. ‘Soon I will rule all of Thebos, and all who dare to oppose me will soon discover the darker side to my nature...Dust to dust!’ he shouted.
‘Let me demonstrate.’
Mangarna leaned over the weapon and clutched at the shielding discs to release the ray. Arlin, horrified, lunged forward toward Desta. Two of the discs came out cleanly but the third remained wedged in its slot. Mangarna growled with frustration as he pulled at the stubborn piece of metal. The weapon was pulsing frantically and as the last disc came free, a golden ball of energy gathered at its mouth then shot out towards Desta and Norbit. They helplessly closed their eyes, waiting for the impact.
Arlin was by now in midair hurtling toward them. Then, just as the ray was about to strike, he collected them, sending them flying across the floor. The ray struck Arlin on the chest and as it connected it split into smaller streams ricocheting all over the chamber.
The widest of the streams ricocheted back toward the weapon and struck it on the left side of its tip, sending it spinning sideways on its stand. Mangarna dropped to the floor just as the ray passed over him but the Morlon guard wasn’t so lucky, the ray striking him mid-flight and reducing him to a pile of smoking ash.
The weapon was still spinning, and tilted back and zapped across the ceiling, smashing the skylight above and raining dust and debris everywhere. The ray then swung across and struck the crucible, splitting into further streams. They ricocheted like hale stones in a torrential storm, their sound almost deafening. A few of the rays whizzed back at the weapon, charring the wooden stand and releasing one of the lynchpins. The sheer weight of the barrel was enough to detach the other pin and it toppled to the hard stone floor, splitting in two, sending pieces of the casing spinning across the stone. A mass of sparks spluttered from the weapon and then the ray ceased, leaving only a pile of smouldering metal and ribbons of fine blue smoke rising into the silence.
Arlin pinched himself to check that he was alive. He sat up and peered down at his chest. The silver pin that Magnus had given him sat hot and smouldering on his vest.
From the other side of the chamber a dark figure rose from the floor. Mangarna glared down at what remained of the weapon, his blood boiling. Kaelin and Toran had already gone to release Desta and Norbit, Mangarna paying them no attention. Arlin was all he wanted now.
Arlin moved toward Mangarna, their eyes locked in a battle of wills.
‘Now Artec, you will die!’ spat Mangarna, his eyes filled with hate and vengeance.
Arlin looked down at the remains of the weapon and opened the right palm of his hand in front of him. Suddenly there was a rumbling sound, the floor began to tremble and the weapon exploded into a cloud of dust. When the dust had cleared Arlin stood before Mangarna with the sacred crystals in his hand. Mangarna’s eyes widened, his image like the devil himself, shaking with the ferocity of his rage.
Mangarna opened his hand and glared at it, his eyes wild and glazed. A ball of fire began to manifest and with a bloodcurdling scream he hurled it toward Arlin. Unmoved, Arlin kept his composure, his eyes fixed on the wizard. As the fireball approached him it grew in size and intensity, flares of gold and blue streaming from its tail. Then, to Mangarna’s complete horror, the ball simply dissipated, the crystals having voided its power as they pulsed with a soft bluish glow. Mangarna growled with frustration, his arms reaching up to the heavens.
During the confrontation, Norbit had made his way along the wall towards a large table just behind Mangarna. On it, was the mystic book that he had stolen from the chambers of King Gob. Just as Mangarna had launched his attack on Arlin, Norbit quickly snatched the book and scurried back to the others.
As he returned, Mangarna saw him out of the corner of his eye and quickly launched another fireball in his direction. It hit the wall at great speed and ricocheted into the chamber, eventually scattering. Norbit rushed to Arlin and placed the book in his hand. Mangarna, realising what it was, screamed at the top of his voice. ‘No!’
Arlin took the book and carefully placed the crystals over it; he could feel himself being guided.
‘Undo what this creature has done!’ he shouted.
Mangarna clutched desperately at his heart as a pain deep within his being began to consume him. His body began to contort, his image strangely blurring in and out of clarity in the strangest of displays. Kaelin rubbed his eyes, not believing what was happening. They all watched with their mouths gaping as Mangarna transformed before their eyes. He twisted and turned, then hunched over and eventually slipped out of sight. There was a sudden silence.
Arlin gingerly moved over to where he had stood. There, behind the furnace sat Mangarna, a sad and beaten Terra-Theban. His once willowy frame had transformed into a short, stout and disproportionate one. His fine features and elegant form had disappeared and a face ruddy and bulbous remained. Mangarna sat there in rags, the wizard was no more.
Arlin looked down on him with pity. This misguided soul now sat cowering on the floor, humiliated and wretched. Arlin finally turned toward Desta. She stood by Norbit, with tears welling in her soulful eyes. Arlin smiled and she rushed to him and embraced him lovingly.
‘I knew you’d come,’ she whispered.
Arlin held her tightly. ‘I’ve been so worried,’ he replied, so relieved that she was safe. ‘I just knew you were alive, you had to be,’ he added.
Arlin held her for a long time, hardly believing he had succeeded, he had beaten Mangarna and saved Desta. He then turned to Norbit. ‘Thank you, my friend’ he said, sincerely. ‘And you, Toran. This is our day.’
Outside the fall had eased, the air was crisp and the white cover glistened under a clearing sky. Toran escorted Mangarna out of the building. Norbit followed with the book and Arlin and Desta arm in arm, made their way to the front entrance.
To their surprise, more than two hundred Terra-Thebans assembled before them, all standing silently. Orla, Nolt and Jaff stood proudly at the front. Arlin surveyed the crowd then triumphantly raised his hand above his head; the sacred Crystals of Ophius glistened in the light. Suddenly a roar erupted from the gathering, their cheers echoing across the cliff face. A sea of smiling faces confronted them, their spears and clubs bobbing rhythmically up and down as they revelled in their finest victory.
Then the cheering suddenly subsided and from the side of the crowd a large imposing figure came forward. King Gob, the powerful Terra-Theban leader stepped up toward the conquering heroes, his long red cape swept majestically across the clean white cover. He was much larger than most Terra-Thebans and had a strikingly handsome face.
The King turned to Norbit and spoke in a deep resounding voice. ‘I believe that book is mine.’
Norbit bowed humbly and handed the book over to the King then stepped back. Toran too bowed in respect and pushed Mangarna to his knees before the King. Gob looked down on him with contempt.
‘Mangarna, you have brought much dishonour to your people. Your greed and evil ways have so scarred this land, that it is my wish that you be banished forever, to a land harsh and cruel and far from Thebos.’ The King paused for a moment.
‘On the morrow, you shall be taken beyond the great river to the arid lands beyond. There you shall spend the rest of your days, repenting your sins against your own people and all the creatures of Thebos. May the great one have mercy on your soul.’
‘Take him away!’ snapped the King. His face slowly softened as he turned to Arlin.
‘You are a brave soul, young Artec,’ said the King with a pleased expression. ‘Your actions will be long remembered. This bond between our peoples strengthens because of you,’ he finished.
The King paused for a moment and looked toward the many Morlon captives, tied up and contained by their camp.
‘And what would you have me do with these creatures, Arlin?’ enquired the King.
‘They are foolish creatures; they too are victims of Mangarna’s treachery. I say let them live in peace,’ said Arlin.
‘Well said, Arlin,’ the King replied. ‘Set the Morlons and their families free!’ he shouted. The Morlons bowed their heads in thanks, relieved at their good fortune and the King’s mercy.
Gob moved forward, placed his broad hand on Arlin’s shoulder and peered down at the crystals. Then with his arm around Arlin he faced the crowd.
‘This twilight we celebrate!’ he shouted with a smile, and the crowd once again erupted into a rousing cheer. Arlin and Desta embraced with joy and were soon joined by Norbit and the others of the envoy.
That twilight there was a joyous celebration. Even the Morlons joined the feast and much frivolity took place. Arlin and Desta sat quietly catching up on all that had happened while Toran took Kaelin under his wing. He was determined for him to drink carna with them, but Kaelin had other ideas. He tried to drink it to satisfy his friend but it came out as fast as Toran could put it in. Poor Kaelin coughed and spluttered with each mouthful, screwing up his face with the bitterness of the brew. The Terras, amused, fell about laughing at Kaelin’s expense. The King was toasting everything, worthy or not, and all celebrated with endless enthusiasm.
Desta sat reflecting, wishing there was some way to contact her family to let them know that she was all right. Neither she nor Arlin could believe they had defeated the great wizard, Mangarna. Then, as if to answer, the words of the Diva himself returned clearly to Arlin’s mind. ‘When you place life itself before your own, the crystals themselves will show you the way.’ And so it had been. The power of the crystals in his hands had not only saved his own life, but had overcome the power of the wizard.
Arlin suddenly felt eager to return the crystals, as his thoughts turned to Pen, the Diva. He thought of how his life had all but slipped away, leaving him a mere mortal, old and frail.
‘We must return the crystals, and then return to Iba as soon as possible,’ he said to Desta in a concerned voice.
Arlin left her for a moment and approached the Kings table. Gob was enjoying himself, drinking and feasting to his hearts content. His overfilled, rotund belly bounced amusingly up and down as he laughed.
‘Excuse me, Sire?’ interrupted Arlin. The King took a deep breath and turned to him, containing his laughter enough to at least look like he was paying attention.
‘The quest is not over yet, Sire. We must return the crystals to the cave of solitude,’ he explained. ‘As soon as possible.’
Gob saw the anxiety in Arlin’s eyes and sobered himself.
‘And so you shall Arlin, at the end of twilight,’ said the King with a broad grin. ‘Orla, Nolt, Jaff and Toran will be by your side. Let them know of your plans,’ he finished, smiling then turning back to the feasting table.
Arlin, after telling the others, stayed only a little longer to enjoy the festivities. They all retired soon after to get a well-deserved rest before the long trek back to Iba.
The following morning was cold but clear, no further falls during the twilight meant at least the trek through the gully would be fairly straightforward. Arlin, Kaelin, Desta and the four Terras, all packed and ready to go, alighted from the entrance of the stone fortress. King Gob waited at the bottom of the stairs to bid them farewell.
‘Good luck, Arlin. All of Thebos is indebted to you. Soon the crystals will be back where they belong, thanks to your efforts,’ he said in a strong clear voice. Gob extended his hand to Arlin and he grasped it warmly in friendship.
‘We will meet again,’ added the King with a knowing smile. Arlin was impressed with this noble creature and happy that the rumours he had heard were all true. Gob was a great and virtuous King.
The four Terras turned and bowed before their leader, then left for the trail that led to the creek and then beyond toward home.
Norbit suddenly appeared and stood before Arlin and Desta. ‘I just want to say thank you, Desta,’ said Norbit, his head hung shyly. ‘You made me see the truth.’
Desta leaned over and gently kissed him on his large hooked nose and he blushed with embarrassment. Arlin smiled and patted him on the back.
‘Farewell my friend,’ he said warmly, taking Desta by the hand and following the Terras.
Kaelin was still adjusting his pack and hurriedly rushed out of the entrance. ‘Wait for me!’ he shouted, tripping clumsily on the step, then dashing after his friends.
The King watched them disappear into the scrub and on towards Iba, his chest stuck out with pride, never before feeling so confident for the future.
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