Half Blood Part XVII-The Answers

Submitted by Heather on Sat, 05/15/2010 - 16:50

 ~*~I have some good news! I finished Half Blood, which puts me with three "finished" (read: unedited/in the process of being edited) novels!!!! Hope you guys enjoy this installment--and I think that from now on I'll try to post Half Blood at least twice a month~*~


Varian couldn't deny the tight knot of concern in his gut as he saddled Fleet. But he forced it to the back of his mind. No one spoke as he mounted and Fleet took off with the same gut-wrenching leap.
A few miles away, Mount Arborn jutted into the air, pocked by ledges and caves—the homes of the dragons. Rusty veins of iron streaked through the mountain's face like old scars. Here and there, a few trees and twined their roots into the sheer cliff, and gray-green lichen hung like curtains from some of the ledges. But for the most part, the mountain stood gray, fierce, and invincible in the mid-morning sun.
Fleet was paying good attention to the drafts and currents this time. Varian could feel the difference in the dragon's relaxed muscles and quick, easy reflexes. Nevertheless, every time a hard blast of wind hit them, he tensed and dug his fingers into the saddle.
Fleet cleared his throat. "None have ever scaled these walls without a dragon."
"Then how did Danilos expect his son to steal whatever it was he wanted from the
Great Dragon?"
"Even then there were traitors who would have aided him."
Varian took a deep breath, released his grip on the saddle-front, massaged his aching hands. It only took minutes to traverse the few miles to the Dragon-mount. As they entered the mountain's gloomy shade, he shivered. For a moment, Varian felt as if he was violating a place where no man had stepped for a thousand years.
Fleet spiraled upward, his long neck twisting and turning as he searched for Archflame's cave. He threw his head back and loosed a sharp note, then layered a deep one on top of it. An answer echoed from one of the caverns.
Varian grabbed the front of the saddle again and squeezed his knees around the grips as Fleet dove for the ledge. Then Fleet seemed to remember their recent trouble, for he slowed and his dive leveled a little. They touched down without incident. Varian swung his legs over the saddle and hopped to the ground.
Fleet jetted a flame at a hollowed-out spot on the ledge. The cold stone crackled. When the spot was steaming, he settled himself in it. "I will wait here."
"You're not coming?"
"No one enters the Great Dragon's cave without an invitation."
Varian sighed and turned to the cave opening. Beside the yawning black mouth, there was also a brass gong set into the side of the mountain. He could see a dim flickering in the depths of the cave. He took a step back. Why am I willingly stepping into a dragon's cave?
Fleet nudged him from behind. Varian turned, and the dragon pressed his snout against his forehead. "Go in Orkanalia's peace and find your destiny, my battle-brother."
Varian smiled, though he wondered what Fleet's words meant. Then he walked forward, letting the darkness of the cave swallow him.
Onna crouched in the alcove hidden behind a wall hanging and peeked through the slits cut in Erlbrac the Great's eyes. Thank goodness no one but her knew about the secret little passageway from the back of her herb room to this little hidey-hole—it was giving her quite an insight on Danilos.
The man had been pacing ever since the Council meeting had started, but he had yet to come up with any real details. Phraseology like "We need better guards along the border" and "We should step up actions against the Highlanders" had been predominant.
Onna leaned back on her heels and sighed. Then she glanced over her shoulder, the faint light showing a glimmer of the wooden door's brass binding. Beno was in her herb room, sleeping, which was a good thing considering he had a badly bruised side and one cracked rib.
"Danilos, would you just come off your high horse and tell us what's going on?"
Onna put her eyes up to the peepholes as another counselor agreed. "Why did you drag us out of bed this early in the morning to ramble about the situation between the Highlanders and us? Blast it, we already know this!"
Danilos stopped pacing and stared at them. Onna shivered. There was something about him that was different. It made her nervous. What was it? His robe swayed around him, as usual unfastened at the front so that it showed his rumpled shirt, tunic, and trousers. It was around his face that the subtle change occurred. But she still couldn't put her finger on it.
"I bring you grievous news from last night. A group of Highlanders, aided by a few in this castle, attempted to kidnap our king last night." Danilos held his hand up to discourage startled questions. "We were unable to capture them, but Jevran has, on my suggestion, gone into hiding so that any other attempts will be unsuccessful."
The counselors could no longer hold in their questions.
"What are you talking about?"
"Why didn't we hear of this sooner?"
"Where is he?"
 "He requested that I, and I alone, be his contact with the outside world."Danilos clasped his hands in front of his robe.
"That's ridiculous," a counselor said. "We're his advisors—we should be allowed access to the king."
"And yet, he has forbidden it." Danilos took his seat.
The other counselors glanced warily from face to face. Onna took a deep breath, waiting for the storm. It wasn't long in coming.
The council room exploded I voices of outrage. "What purpose does that serve?"
"He can't block us that way!"
Danilos let them rave as his eyes roved over the room. He gave the tapestry a passing glance. For the first time since she'd settled in, Onna saw his eyes clearly. She clamped her hands over her mouth. Danilos' eyes, once a clear ocean blue, were now a dull coal-black.
With her gasp as muffled as it was, Danilos' eyes still shot toward the tapestry. Onna stood and backed away, feeling for the door handle behind her. After a long moment her fingers closed over the icy metal. She shoved it open, wincing at the sound of the tiny creak she'd never noticed before. They had to get out of the castle—Beno's wound notwithstanding. She hurried through the passageway, noisily bursting open the door. Beno started up from his pallet and winced.
"What's the matter with you?" he growled.
She hurried to her medicine cabinet and began jerking things out of it, stuffing them into her herb bag. Beno's pallet rustled behind her.
"Onna? What's going on? You're acting like a hellhound is after you."
Onna whirled to face him. "That's exactly what I saw."
"Danilos' eyes are black."
Beno blanched. "A Kamaril sorcerer?"
Onna threw a final packet into her bag and nodded. "Of the worst kind."
The flickering light grew as he walked through the cavern. From the reflection of the light off the walls, Varian thought that the passageway seemed barely large enough for a dragon of Archflame's monstrous size to get through. Soon, he stepped into the main cavern.
Varian stepped back and threw his hand in front of his face. The cavern's light blazed back at him, many-colored. When his eyes got used to the light, he could see the walls of the cavern were hung with costly tapestries with silver and gold thread in them. Racks filled with gleaming, precious-gem encrusted weapons stood in ranks along the walls. Other shelves, dusty but still shining in all their gold glory, revealed small weapons; bracelets, necklaces, anklets, and rings in display cases; and armor chased with silver and gold filigrees.
"Welcome, son of Ramius."
Archflame's deep voice rumbled through the cavern. Varian could feel it reverberating through his chest. He stepped forward in the aisle flanked by the riches. A large fire was burning in the grate at the far end of the cavern. Beside that, he could see Archflame's black reclining form, huge and knotted with muscles.
With a twitch of his front claw, Archflame indicated a shiny, well-worn section of tree-trunk upended in front of him. Varian sat and drew one knee up to his chest. The only sound was the crackle of the fire as Varian stared into the ancient, golden eyes of the dragon. Archflame stared back, tendrils of smoke curling from his nostrils and mingling with the smoke of the fire.
"Jokk told you of your family?"
Varian jumped. Archflame's scaly brow rose in amusement, and he chuckled deep in his throat.
"You do not have to be so jumpy, my friend. I am only dangerous to those who come to steal."
"Like Danilos' son."
"Yes. But, before we start on that tale, you must answer my question."
"He told me."
"And your thoughts?"
Varian drew a deep breath, held it, and slowly let it out. "When I first came here, I dinnae understand why the Highlanders were so certain of war. But I see now that they were wise for preparin'. Everythin' that Jokk told me shows me that. Danilos hates us so much that, given the slightest chance, he'll jump on it again like he jumped on it when his son died."
Archflame's voice took on the tone of a death-knell. "Yes."
Varian shivered. So much menace hung in that one fatal word. "Why?"
"Why? That is the question of the ages, Varian. It is always why. Why do men kill other men? Why were the First Father and the First Mother deceived so? Why is it that Orkanilia allows such pain and suffering come to his creation, his children? It is always the word why, and sometimes we may never know the answer…"
Archflame stared into the flames, then rolled his shoulder and smiled. "Forgive me. I am much more a philosopher than a warrior."
"Are ye related to Flameclaw perchance?" Varian asked.
"I am his sire. Oh, you noticed the family tendency, did you?" Archflame chuckled. "Yes, we are philosophers all. But on some have fallen the destiny to become more. Why does Danilos hate the Highlanders? Because they guard the dragons, and the dragons guard the Great Dragon, and the Great Dragon guards something that Danilos lusts after, something that he wishes with all his soul to possess.
"I do not think that Danilos hated the Highlanders and the dragon at first. I think he worked himself up to that, after I killed his son and foiled his attempt to steal the most precious treasure that I guard."
Varian looked around the room. Now that he was sitting by the fire, he could see more of the wonderful treasures. Closer to them ranged stacks and stacks of wooden chests, some open and overflowing, some tightly locked. "What treasure of your's did he try to steal?"
"It is not mine, Varian. It was only given to me to guard, until the time came again to place it with the right man." Archflame reached to the side and lifted a chest in his massive paw. He set it between them on the stone floor.
Varian slid off his perch and knelt in front of the chest. It wasn't large, perhaps five feet square. He ran his hand over it, feeling the smooth, knotty cedarwood; the firm square edges; the thick metal hinges and padlock. It was a chest built to last ages.
Archflame reached into the fire and stirred the coals. Then he pulled his paw out, with a strong, thick skeleton key hooked over one claw. Varian could feel the heat of the key as Archflame set it beside the chest.
"The key was forged of strong steel, and though my fire burns day and night, it never gets hot enough to melt it. It does, however, come in handy to deter unwanted treasure-seekers."
Varian smiled. "A perfect hiding place for it."
Archflame tapped the key, then picked it up and inserted it into the lock. As he turned, they heard a snap and the lid popped up. Archflame set the key down and, with one claw, flipped the lid of the chest back.
The inside of the chest was simply furnished—cerise-blue velvet, faded with time, formed into a mold that reached halfway up the sides of the chest. But in the depression in the middle lay a blazing, polished crown.
Varian started to reach for it, then pulled his hands back and looked up at Archflame. The dragon nodded. Varian picked the crown up, the smooth metal cooling his fingers. The crown was a perfect, thin circlet, made from vines of gold and silver twined together.  Leaves etched in the metals were startlingly lifelike—Varian thought he even saw them moving, as in a slight breeze. At the front of the crown, tucked into a next of leaves, blazed a deep emerald.
"What is it?" Varian found he couldn't speak above a whisper.
"That is the Crown of Ages."

Author's age when written


Heather, I stand totally amazed!!! This story is like....like...PERFECT! When do I get a hardback copy?!?! :D

"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

A weasel, a snake, and a sorceror. That takes skillz.

lol, I agree with Sarah.

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Sarah: *cough cough* probably. But it sounded so cool I couldn't resist...

Ariel: well, you're going to be astounded...I didn't write this story for publication. I just started it as a fun story for AP. I'm considering creating a section on my blog for it. But when I read your comment to Justin last night, he gave me a funny look and said, "WHAT? You're not going to publish Half Blood? You're crazy, girl!" So...I might reconsider. :0)

LoriAnn: Thanks! Can't wait to say the same for you w/ Ander!

Anna--yeah, my bad guys can be over the top sometimes--but doesn't it make just hate him all the more? :0)

Kyleigh: it gets worse...

And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

A sorcerer?  *shivers*  Danilos gets creepier by the minute.

I love how you describe the Crown of Ages..."Leaves etched in the metals were startlingly lifelike -- Varian thought he even saw them moving, as in a slight breeze."

And congratulations!!  You finished! :D  Big thumbs up!

"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." -Bilbo Baggins [The Lord of the Rings]