Chapter 5
Dark Shadows

“But none of that explains him.”  Morena indicated the grey seal pup wriggling his way down the hall behind them.

Farren grinned, tossing a stray lock of white-blonde hair over his shoulder. “Well, after Helene took off for MI13, I went shopping.  I wanted to bring something back for you, so I headed for the penguin market.  And then I heard a noise like a lost puppy.  I looked and there was, um, Percy floating by on an ice floe.  I dove in, rescued him, and brought him home to you.”

 “Well,” Morena shook her head ruefully, looking down at Percy, “he certainly is cute.  Oh,” she looked up at Farren, “I meant to ask when we got back to the house, do you need to take a bath or anything?”

“Of course not,”  Farren raised a scornful eyebrow, “I stopped back at the house on my way to Bordertown and cleaned up.  What, you think I would show up to meet you looking like a skank?”

Morena chucked as she swung the heavy wood-bound door of the East Wing library open.  The scent of cedar and old books rushed out to greet her, and she breathed in a welcome breath of the dry air.  The East wing library had always been one of her favourite places in the house.  The tall rows of books coupled with the curving lines and the dark wood had always soothed her.  Moving to her left, she used her heel to push back one of the griffin andirons that flanked the fireplace onto its haunches.  Balancing on tiptoe, she reached into the small space that had opened in the wall above the fireplace and retrieved a bottle of wine and two round-bowled glasses. 

“There.”  She turned and grinned at Farren who had draped himself over one of the deep burgundy chairs that rested in front of the fireplace.  Placing the glasses on the smoked glass top of the table next to his chair, she proceeded to wiggle the cork loose. “so, from what I’ve told you, what do you think about the whole doorbell thing?”  She poured the ruby liquid into the glasses and offered one to Farren. 

“Well,” he turned the stem of the glass between his fingers, “it’s interesting.  A little weird, but interesting.”

“Weird,” Morena snorted, picking up her own glass and heading for the cushions of the window seat. “And 60 foot mechanical penguins are not weird.”

“The thing that seems the most weird,” Farren sipped his wine, ignoring her, “and the most threatening, is the mention of Akkash.”

Morena nodded, shoving another pillow into position behind her, you mentioned something about him at Fu Mar’s.” 

Farren nodded absently, staring at the painted clouds tracing their way across the ceiling. “Akkash…the Fallen.”

“Just how much do you know about him?” Morena joined Farren in his contemplation, mentally identifying the mythical creatures outlined in the clouds. The cloud-shapes were never the same twice, and on quieter days Morena could spend hours identifying their form, and then waiting for the room to change them again.

“A lot more than I was letting on back at Fu Mar’s.” Farren’s voice seemed loud in the quiet room.

“Why?” Morena’s brow wrinkled. “I though you trusted Fu Mar.”

“Oh, it wasn’t Fu I was worried about.” Farren shook his head, tracing the rim of his goblet with a finger, “Those dustheads who attacked you were way out of their territory…they were looking for you. Whoever is behind all this has connections, and even in Dragontown there are ears everywhere.” 

Morena shivered, feeling as though the day had darkened a shade “Do you think it’s this Akkash?”

“I don’t know…I hope not.”

“You said he was only mentioned in the annals.  How is it that you know about him?”

Farren lifted a shoulder, favouring her with a bright smile, his blue eyes twinkling. “A hobby?”

“Hobby?”  Morena cocked an eyebrow at him. “So you got hooked on the legends or whatever.”

“Stories mainly.” Farren shrugged, “I don’t think there was anyone in the Realm who hadn’t heard the legends of Akkash. I only half believed when I was told them. As you know, the history of the Realm flows in a Trueblood’s veins…but blood memories only go so far and oddly no one could seem to remember the time of Akkash. Those who weren’t alive then had no memory of it in their blood, and those who were alive then had conveniently forgotten.” Farren smirked, taking another sip of his wine, “It wasn’t until I stumbled across a couple of Scribe Annals that I learned he was real…”

“And you just stumbled across them?” Morena smiled thinly, “They just jumped out and…”

“Alright, alright.” Farren held up his hands in mock defence, “I was curious so I broke into the Tower, ok?” Morena shook her head, and he shifted in his chair to face her more directly, “But that’s not the point. The point is what I found out…”

“Which was?”

“Let me start at the beginning.”  Farren swallowed the wine remaining in his glass and, with a deep sigh, set the goblet on the table beside him, “Akkash was the lord of a highly respected family and one of the greatest mages and hunters in the Realm. In time, his deeds made him something of a folk hero and soon he was revered as the Queen’s champion. It is then that he embarked on his fateful quest.” Farren leaned forward, warming to his subject, “From the eastern kingdom there came reports that the last of the
Basilisks was afoot in the forests. Akkash took it upon himself to slay the beast, riding out alone. He told the court that he rode alone so as ‘to not needlessly endanger any lives,’ but a few suspected his motives. He returned on the next quarter moon, dragging the skeletal remains of the basilisk behind him. He was victorious,” Farren paused, biting his lower lip for a moment, “…but he had changed. Some said that the gaze of the basilisk had made him lose his mind, others said that darkness always appealed to those with the most power, but most said this…that alone in the seclusion of the wood
Akkash had drank deep of the beast’s blood.”

Morena’s let out a long, low whistle, “And at once gained the knowledge of centuries. Son of a…”

“Yes, but” Farren held up a finger, “basilisk blood also contains an immortal evil. Even as it enriches the mind it corrupts the soul, leaving the taker a dark mockery of the person
they once were. Such is the enigma of the blood, and such was the nature of the being that returned to the Court. Akkash gave himself fully over to necromancy and the other black arts, despite the Queen’s forbidding. The woods around his estate grew shadowy
and twisted and nightmarish shapes shambled and howled in the darkness. It wasn’t until after he had been thrown out of the Court that Akkash returned to the Queen, begging forgiveness. He claimed that the venomous bite of the basilisk had caused the change in
him, and that he had been able to overcome the evil poison. Under the watchful eyes of his peers, he was allowed to re-enter the Court. In the following years, it seemed that the dark powers surrounding his estate had apparently dissipated and all was returning
to normal…” Farren’s voice trailed off.

“And then?” Morena drew up her knees, hugging a gold-tufted pillow to her chest.

“He attacked at Samhain, leading an army of creatures so foul and hideous as to be unspeakable. He had hidden them in the caverns of the earth, waiting for the day when they would be strong enough to fulfil his plan. Many a Lord and Lady lost their lives as
they rode against the black horde, but in the end the defenders of the Realm were  victorious and Akkash’s army lay in waste. He was taken alive and placed in the dungeon of the palace as the Court debated what to do. In the end they decided it was in their best interest not to kill him.” 

“Of course.” Morena nodded, “He was a necromancer and a Trueblood. They knew that if they couldn’t find a way to destroy him completely – mind, body, and soul – he could return to the earth again; they might not recognise him until it was too late, and he wreaked his vengeance…” Morena’s eyes clouded over as she let herself be caught up in the tale.

“Exactly.” Farren nodded, “Exile was the fate that they chose. Permanent exile from the Realm into the Wastes.”

“The Wastes?”

“A dimension lacking any form or rules – the Trueblood way of speaking of the chaos at the edge of reality. They say it is the image of a nightmare through the eyes of a madman. Using a strong enough spell, a mage can create an island of reality in this swirling chaos and send others to an eternity of insanity. It is perhaps a fate worse than death.”

Morena nodded, “There are similar legends among my people. And so the Court enacted its judgement.”

“The Court gave its judgement, but to enact it they hired a mage from the mortal realms.”  Morena took a breath, and Farren lifted a hand, explaining, “They wanted someone who would use a magic unknown to those of the Blood. That way Akkash, or any followers that he had, could not break the spells that held him.”

“A mage…” Morena frowned, “A mage from here who could handle that sort of thing? What was his name?”

“That I don’t know.” Farren shrugged, “They kept everything very confidential – it was not even recorded in the Tower records. I do know this, however, whoever he was, he was extremely powerful, because Akkash would not have gone to the Wastes without a fight.”

“Makes sense,” Morena nodded, absently pulling on the tasselled corner of the pillow, “So the tale ends.”

“Yes.” Farren propped a leg up on the arm of the chair, “Akkash was gone to the Wastes, never to be heard of again except in legends. The Court considered the matter closed and began the process of restoring things to the status quo…something they are very good
at indeed.” 

Morena chucked wryly, “The establishment is usually very good at that sort of thing.”

Farren nodded, “Do you see why I said that people bringing up Akkash seemed rather threatening?”

“I would think so,” Morena shook her head slowly. “This whole doorbell thing gets stranger by the minute.”  She chuckled, “personally, I still like my original idea of heading over to Home Depot and picking up a replacement.” 

“Sounds good to me,”  Farren grinned, swinging himself to his feet, “so where do you suggest we go from here?” 

“Well,” Morena leaned her head against the window frame, “what we really need is information, and the most likely place to find that is the library.”

“It’s worth a try,” Farren conceded.

“In the meantime, though, we’re going to need food.  And,” she tossed the pillow across the window seat, “someone is going to have to look after Percy.”

“Speaking of Percy,” Farren leaned over, scanning across the expanse of patterned Moroccan carpet in search of a grey, fuzzy body “Where is the little guy? PERCY?”

With a small bark and a rustle of paper, Percy emerged from the alcove along the right wall of the library.  Dangling from his mouth was a much-mutilated copy of Snetterton’s Guide to Marine Mammals.

“Percy,” Farren shook his head as he crossed the room and removed the book from Percy’s moist grasp. “You do need someone to look after you, don’t you?”

“All right.”  Morena lifted herself out of the windowsill cushions, and busied herself gathering up the wineglasses, “Then you head to the kitchen for supplies, and I’ll go over to the library.  I’m pretty sure Dragon Mom will look after Percy, and that way you can get as much food as we’ll need.  If I go for supplies, we’ll end up subsisting on Ramen and tuna fish.”

Farren gave an exaggerated shudder, and then circled Morena in a quick embrace, kissing her gently on the forehead “Now I doubt that, but getting the provisions is a good idea, and,” he winked broadly, “I would probably get into an argument with that penguin-kissing librarian anyway.”

Morena laughed, smoothing Farren’s hair over his shoulder, “Rascal.  I don’t think you would argue with a librarian, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.  Meet me in the garden, near the Oak tree in the centre, when you are done, and we’ll compare notes.”

Pausing only to drop a quick kiss on Morena’s lips, Farren scooped up Percy and headed for the kitchen, leaving Morena once again standing on tiptoe, replacing the wine glasses in their hiding place. 

Meeting Places