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Chapter 2: Flame and Chaos - Knights: The Eye of Divinity

Chapter 2: Flame and Chaos



Though he knew Taris wasn't fooled, Lannon insisted he needed his friends with him in order to use the Eye of Divinity. But that wasn't stretching the truth to any great degree, since it was possible he would require their help at least in summoning the Eye. Lannon's confidence had eroded badly over the weeks, even as his unexplainable fears had grown more potent. His friends gave him a confidence boost--especially Vorden, who always seemed so sure of himself.

Taris reluctantly agreed to allow Vorden and Timlin--Lannon's fellow Blue Squires--to go with them to the Deep Forge. "It will put them in danger," he said, "but if you feel it is necessary, I will agree to it."

Lannon lowered his gaze. He felt cowardly for endangering his friends, but he needed their support. And he knew they would willingly--even eagerly, in Vorden's case--stand by his side.

The Deep Forge was located below the West Tower. Taris and Lannon stepped from the pine forest and back into the clearing where the huge Tower of Arms stood dark and imposing against the moonlit sky. Lannon's gaze passed up the wall of the stone keep that was circled by balconies and dotted with many windows, and once again he felt like he was being watched. The tower looked like a manmade mountain beneath the moon (though it was not as large as the North Tower that the Lord Knight of Dremlock, Cordus Landsaver, resided in). Lannon wondered how far down into earth and stone the Deep Forge lay, and if it was plagued by the same evils as other areas of the mines.

Two bearded, muscular Knights stood on either side of the twelve-foot-tall iron door. They pulled it open, and Taris and Lannon entered the Great Hall that was filled with life-sized paintings of Knights. The hall was warmed by a stone fireplace, above which hung a painting of the first, and most famous, Lord Knight of Dremlock--Kuran Darkender. The Squires were still eating at tables and celebrating Promotion Day. Taris motioned to Vorden and Timlin, and the two Squires hurried over.

"What's going on?" Vorden asked.

"Follow us to the Deep Forge," was Taris' only reply.

They passed beyond a door marked Armory Entrance and into a room full of many crates and racks holding weapons that gleamed in the torchlight. They followed a stone stairway that wound down into the earth beneath the tower and took them into a tunnel full of crates, barrels, and mining gear. Typically, the mines beneath Dremlock inspired dark feelings within Lannon, but this area seemed free of that heavy gloom.

At last, Taris told Vorden and Timlin what he'd told Lannon, and he made the Squires swear an oath of secrecy. Vorden beamed with excitement, but Timlin seemed close to losing his nerve.

"A demon?" said Vorden. "They actually exist?"

"Demons are very real," said Taris. "Sorcerers of Tharnin have enslaved them in the past and forced them to serve. The most powerful demons of all tend to dwell in the Paltos Wasteland for some unknown reason, which is a foggy, rocky valley in a stretch of mountains beyond Silverland."

Timlin hesitated, his face pale. "I'm not sure I want to go down there, Master Taris. I don't like the mines, and...and I don't think I want to confront that fellow. I just don't feel ready for it."

"I understand your fear," said Taris, "but if you're ever going to be a Knight, you need to stop letting it dictate your actions. Lannon needs you, and I must insist that you accompany us."

"Lannon doesn't need me at all," Timlin admitted. "He can summon the Eye of Divinity on his own."

"Timlin!" Vorden muttered, throwing up his hands in disbelief.

"Lannon needs you, regardless," said Taris. "It's simply a matter of having his friends with him for support."

Yet Timlin still didn't move. "I just don't want to go."

His face darkening, Taris seized Timlin's tunic sleeve. "I've had enough of you succumbing to your fears! You will either accompany us to the Deep Forge or you will be demoted to the rank of Orange. Is that understood?"

Timlin's eyes widened. "Yes, it's understood."

But Taris' piercing gaze lingered on him. "I don't wish to be so strict with you, Timlin, but Dremlock is no place for cowards. Fear or not, you must learn to act. Talent is not enough. Your attitude could put lives at risk."

Timlin swallowed, and nodded. His eyes narrowed. "I said I understand. So let go of my tunic."

"I'll let you go when I feel the need," Taris said coldly.

"Better watch yourself," Timlin mumbled.

Vorden and Lannon exchanged anxious glances, thinking that Timlin had just gone way too far and was about to lose his chance at Knighthood. This was the first time they had ever heard a Squire dare to threaten a Knight--and not just any Knight, but a member of the High Council who was outranked only by the Lord Knight himself. And this was Taris Warhawk--a sorcerer of unmatched skill and the last person at Dremlock one would want to threaten.

But Taris only laughed. "You think you can intimidate me, little man? You have no clue what trials I have gone through. You can't deal with your own fears, so you try to make others fear you. You have a dark side, certainly, and you feel perfectly justified in taking revenge on anyone who provokes you. But that's not the attitude of a Knight, either. You need to work on your character."

Timlin lowered his gaze.

Taris released him. "Build your character, or your flaws will cause you, and those around you, to suffer." With that, the Tower Master started off again.

Timlin glared at him from behind, but followed. Vorden sighed and wiped sweat from his brow, giving Lannon a relieved glance.

"That goes for you as well, Lannon," Taris said. "Like Timlin, you must learn to overcome your fear. I have seen far too many Squires and Knights fail because the terror grew to consume them." He paused and turned, his eyes shining like green fire in the torchlight. "The Deep Shadow is all about fear, my young friends. It will grow in your hearts and try to break your will. You must resist it."

"I'mnot afraid," said Vorden, raising his chin defiantly.

"I don't doubt your words," said Taris. "But you suffer from the opposite problem as Lannon and Timlin. You are arrogantly brave, and that could be your downfall. You Squires are a bit older and more seasoned now. It's time you started to confront your character flaws."

"I wish I was perfect like you, Taris," Timlin said, a hint of a sneer on his lips. "Maybe if I keep trying, I'll get there."

"How long have you been at Dremlock, Timlin?" said Taris.

"Almost a year," said Timlin. "Why?"

"Then you should know by now," said the sorcerer, "to always address me as MasterTaris--even when you're angry at me. You will show respect!"

"Sorry, Master Taris," Timlin mumbled.

"And I'm far from perfect," said Taris. "I've made many mistakes on the path to Knighthood, some that I deeply regret. What you view as perfection is simply the result of a lot of harsh lessons--like a blade that a blacksmith has had to hammer away at to smooth out the flaws. I wouldn't wish the troubles I have endured upon anyone."

"I thought we were on an important mission," said Timlin. "So why are we standing in this tunnel discussing character issues?"

Taris turned, glowering. "You're developing quite a bold tongue, Timlin. I'm not the only one who has noticed that lately. I can be very forgiving, but rest assured that there are plenty of Knights who have no tolerance for such behavior from Squires. And my patience is almost gone."

"He's right, Timlin," said Vorden. "You're going way too far lately. You're sure to get tossed out of Dremlock!"

Timlin seemed to be fighting his usual internal battle for control, his eyes smoldering. Finally he bowed his head. "I guess I'll watch what I say from now on, Master Taris. I apologize."

"We will discuss this later," said Taris.

Lannon gazed at Timlin with pity. Clearly, Timlin was deeply troubled, and Lannon couldn't begin to fathom what was going on in his mind. Timlin seemed to dwell in some tiny, dark world that no one else could peer into.

They passed through caverns stacked with crates and lined with racks of weapons and armor. A series of stone steps then took them deep into the earth and down into more stone tunnels.

The Deep Forge was a single large, hot cavern filled with the smells of oil, leather, sweat, and smoldering iron. Olrogs--the Grey Dwarves--hammered at weapons and armor. When they weren't crafting new battle gear, they were busy repairing damaged gear. They worked vigorously amongst the furnaces and water-filled barrels, their powerful bodies seemingly tireless.

The ringing of hammers against metal vibrated in Lannon's ears, and the heat quickly made him sweat. He leaned against a weapon rack to steady himself, but Taris motioned him impatiently along.

Cordus Landsaver, the Lord Knight of Dremlock, and Furlus Goblincrusher, the West Tower Master, were gathered near a furnace, where a curly-haired man dressed only in ragged trousers was chained to the side of it. The furnace was blazing, and the heat should have severely burned him, but he seemed relaxed and was actually smiling. On one of his hands, a bulky metal gauntlet gleamed in the torchlight, the fingers twitching.

Cordus nodded to Taris, then frowned. "Why are the other Squires here?"

"Lannon needs them," said Taris, shrugging.

Lannon shrank back. The fellow in chains was gazing at him with insane glee, while his bizarre metal glove wiggled its fingers. Lannon glanced at Vorden and saw that his face was pale. Timlin's body trembled, but he held his ground.

"You've brought the little fool," the chained man said. He threw back his head and laughed, then said, "Bring him closer."

"Stay where you are, Lannon," Cordus commanded. The Lord Knight's dark, tangled hair and beard seemed particularly unkempt. His face looked tired. He wore his shining breastplate which was adorned with an image of the three great towers that made up Dremlock Kingdom, and his sword was drawn. "I'm sure Taris explained to you that this man is possessed and very dangerous."

"The fire actually gives him strength," said Furlus. "Just so you lads know, we didn't chain him there to torture him. He seemed to be dying and kept pleading with us to put him near flame." The strongest Knight in Dremlock held his heavy battle axe in one hand, and his eyes never left the chained man. Like Cordus, he wore his armor in spite of the heat. His eyes--set beneath drooping brows--smoldered like the flames of the furnace.

"I cannot understand how he resists the heat," Cordus said. "Such power seems impossible. How can one withstand fire for hours at a time?"

Lannon struggled to steady his nerves. "What...what should I do?"

"Use the Eye of Divinity, of course," said Taris, "I'll see to it that no harm befalls you." He placed his hand on Lannon's shoulder.

"Yes, use your Eye," said the chained man. "I want you to use it on me. My name is Vellera, by the way. And you're Lannon--with the dramatic Knightly last name of Sunshield.Actually, it's kind of weak. Couldn't you have chosen Skullsplitter or Bonebreaker or something?"

"So why have you come to Dremlock?" Lannon asked.

Vellera winked at Lannon. "Death and destruction."

"We've already questioned him," said Furlus, waving his hand impatiently. "He won't tell us his true purpose."

"I won't tell you, ," Vellera said. "Your ugly beard and fat belly offends me. But I find the boy to be more of what I consider pleasant company." He focused his gaze on Lannon. "I came here to destroy Dremlock--and I did reveal that. But I have another purpose as well. My purpose is to destroy you, Lannon. That's why I want you to use the Eye of Divinity on me, so I can slay you."

"Maybe you're the one who will be slain!" snarled Vorden, stepping forward and raising his sword. "How dare you threaten my friend?"

"Vorden!" Cordus growled, shoving him back. "You shall remain silent and know your place, Squire. This is for Lannon to deal with."

"I'm sorry, Master Cordus," said Vorden.

Lannon's legs weakened beneath him. Somehow, he knew Vellera wasn't lying--that he did intend to kill Lannon. He glanced helplessly at Taris.

Taris squeezed Lannon's shoulder reassuringly. "Don't believe his lies, Lannon. This Vellera is a servant of the Deep Shadow. He is no doubt terrified that you will learn his secrets, and he is trying to frighten you into giving up. You think Vellera is speaking the truth about his intentions, but bear in mind that the Deep Shadow is working through him to convince you that his words are true."

"I understand," said Lannon. He did indeed understand, but that knowledge failed to calm his terror. "So why do you want to kill me?"

"The power you possess, of course," said Vellera. "You see too much. Therefore, you must die. Once you are slain, Dremlock will fall. The demon that rules over me grants me unlimited power, as you will soon learn. The Knights of Dremlock are no match for me. I will slay them all. And then Tharnin will deal with your so-called god, that pathetic creature you call the Divine Essence."

Lannon focused on holding his ground, on acting like a Knight and not a coward. It took all of his willpower, but he managed to fight off his fears and convince himself he would use the Eye of Divinity.

"You Knights have brought terrible suffering to my realm," said Vellera, his face contorting in anger. "How many tears have been wept over the actions of Dremlock? This kingdom, with its perverse god and murderous legion of Knights, will soon pay for the centuries of bloodshed."

"You speak of the killing of lowly Goblins," said Furlus. "Mindless monsters that refuse to let humans live in peace. We have no choice but to slay them."

"You have a choice!" Vellera shouted. "You could choose to let this world be absorbed by the realm of Tharnin, and then all would be peaceful. Instead you make war on us--endless, terrible war."

The metal gauntlet clenched into a fist. Two blue stones embedded in it glowed with a cold light. "But the war is coming to an end. Know this--I have become the Hand of Tharnin. Alone, I will crush this kingdom and leave nothing but bones and rubble."

"I've heard enough of this vile ranting!" snarled Cordus. "Lannon, summon the Eye and lay bare his secrets."

Lannon struggled hard to call forth his power, and at last he felt his consciousness divide in two. The Eye of Divinity surged forth and probed Vellera, but all Lannon could see was writhing darkness. He hesitated, unsure of what to do.

"Tell us what you see!" Taris said, clutching his shoulder.

"Nothing," said Lannon, shaking his head. "Just shadows."

"You must try harder," said Taris. "Focus!"

Lannon probed deep into the man, and the shroud of darkness fell away to reveal raging flames. Vellera was burning within, a fiery presence that emanated deep hatred toward Lannon. It was like a wall of flames engulfing something too terrible to imagine.

As Lannon watched helplessly, unable to move, the metal gauntlet burst through the wall of fire and closed around Lannon's throat. The gauntlet possessed a horrific strength that should have crushed Lannon's throat with ease, but he instinctively used the Eye of Divinity to shield himself.

For a moment, Lannon struggled fiercely to keep the metal hand from strangling him, but he was quickly losing ground. He could feel the fingers tightening down, closing off his windpipe.

Then a flash of light erupted and Lannon's mind was plunged into a darkness so heavy he wasn't sure he would ever awaken.

2014-07-19 18:44
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