The Key of Spreading Branches

Read the previous stories about Klista here.

 

 

Bruce Riansson hung suspended in an abyss of blackness, a slender rope the only thing keeping him alive. He hated the dark and the oppressive, dead silence that he was forbidden to break. As he valued his life, he could not break it.

He was wearing bulky spectacles over his eyes. They were made to see in the dark but they could do nothing in absolute darkness and he was as blind as if he were not even wearing them. The spectacles were magic, of course. At least that’s what Klista said. Ever since he had joined her and she had whisked him away from Indrake and everything he had known, everything seemed to be magic.

Watch out for the moths, she had said, just before he had descended into the pit. They sense sound. Do not make a sound, or I will have to find another man with your abilities to help me. It was not very comforting.

The shaft had narrowed above and he had been forced to climb through, sweating and praying he would not trip or kick a rock into the chasm. He could hear the rope rubbing on the rock above him now. Scrap, scrap, scrap… It was a tiny sound, but it was magnified in the stillness of the cavern.

What am I doing here? he thought, not for the first time. I used to be an innkeeper. How did I ever get to this point? He remembered every step clearly, but it seemed so unreal—only a few weeks ago he had been a simple innkeeper in Indrake, and now he was breaking into an ultra-secure prison on another world to free a murderous, violent man.

There was a flutter of pale white in the darkness near his head. It was a moth, as big as his hand and faintly luminescent. It was beating its wings slowly, as if time had slowed down. Flap…flap…flap. More appeared around him, coming up from below, until he was surrounded in a cloud of white.

Bruce remained as still as a stone, trying not even to breathe. One of the moths landed on his sleeve and he saw its feet burn tiny holes in the fabric. A small tongue of flame came from its mouth and singed the cloth before it took off.

The moths swirled around him, but most did not seem to notice him. Bruce wondered if they were blind. They continued upwards in a shifting column of white wings until they were lost from sight. What if they were going for the rope?

At that moment, Bruce saw two small lights appear in the darkness in front of him—eyes, glowing brightly green through his spectacles. In their small light, he saw that he was hanging directly in front of a large cage. Inside stood a giant, looking out at him.

The rope shivered slightly. Bruce could imagine those tiny, burning feet walking along his lifeline as the fibers melted and popped. He held out his hand and the giant in the cage reached out towards him. Their outstretched hands were only a few feet apart. Desperately, Bruce swung his body, moving closer and closer until he felt contact and his hand disappeared inside the huge fist of the giant.

As he was being pulled towards the cage, he felt the rope give way above him. There was a jerk on his arm and a second later, he was being forced through the narrow bars of the cage. The giant man put him down and sat back, saying nothing.

Bruce saw now that the man was about eight feet tall, dressed in a dark-grey smock, with long, wild hair. For a moment, the two stood looking at each other until Bruce reached down into his bag and pulled out two circles of metal. He clasped one around his arm and gave the other to the prisoner, motioning for him to do the same. The man took it slowly and then opened it as far as it would go and slipped it onto his wrist.

“Can you hear me?” Bruce said, inside his mind.

“Yes,” came the deep reply, resonating inside Bruce’s mind. “How can I hear you if you not making any sound?”

Magic,” Bruce said with a smile. “Your name is Chirik? I am here to get you out.”

“And who are you?” Chirik asked. “Have the Feyluns sent you here?”

“I do not know who they are,” Bruce said. “I was sent here by a woman named Klista. She wants you to work for her. She said that if you agree, you would be free and would lead an army for her.”

Chirik looked steadily at Bruce and his eyes glowed a little brighter, then dimmed. “I do not know anyone named Klista, and I am a mercenary, not a general. Anyway, there is no way out of here. The bars are unbreakable and the only key to the cell door was destroyed. They pulverized it and blew the dust through the keyhole at me.”

“There is a way,” Bruce said, gingerly pulling out a large, metal key in the shape of a tree with spreading branches. “This key will open any door, Klista said. Put it up to the keyhole and it will do the rest.”

Chirik took the key. It fit inside his palm easily. He put it up to the keyhole and as the key touched the metal of the door, the spreading branches contracted and slipped through the small hole. There was a soft whine and then a loud clunk. Chirik pulled the door open.

“Magic, indeed,” he said through his thoughts. “I have sat here for time uncounted, hungering for a freedom I knew would never come. I would have killed myself if I had had the means, but instead I was left to be tortured in darkness and silence. Is this Klista a sorceress that she could find me here and find a way for me to escape?

“Possibly, but you will have to ask her that,” Bruce said. “She rarely tells me what she is thinking or how she does things, besides saying magic. She also told me to give you this.”

Bruce took out a bundle wrapped in cloth and gave it to Chirik, who unwrapped it. It was a hammer, about a foot long. Chirik held it up and as he did, it grew until it became a huge warhammer, taller than Bruce.

Chirik’s eyes glowed like white fire and Bruce could see the look of intense joy on his face. Suddenly, Chirik roared a battle-cry that echoed and re-echoed off the walls of the cavern.

“Get behind me and out of the way of the hammer,” he cried out loud—the words he spoke were foreign to Bruce, but the meaning came through to his mind. Chirik flung the door open and charged through, Bruce following as close behind as he dared.

They ran through narrow tunnels that got broader as they ascended. Bruce could only faintly see the path ahead of them by the light of Chirik’s eyes. A statue loomed up in the middle of the corridor but Chirik pulverized it with one swing of the warhammer. Another and another appeared in front of them, but all of them turned to dust a moment later. Chirik came to a huge door and started to pound on it with the hammer. After five hits, the door cracked, after twelve, it splintered, and after the sixteenth, Bruce was able to crawl out into the cool night air. A moment later, Chirik joined him.

The sky was dark blue and large red stars burned overhead, just as Bruce had left it less than an hour before. Behind them, a huge tower loomed up in silhouette against the night sky. The land about them was dead—no lights could be seen and only a faint wind sighed through the bare rocks.

“Why are there no guards in the tower?” Bruce asked.

“What guards there are, are usually sufficient,” Chirik said. He said this out loud, but it was still through his mind that Bruce understood the words. “Without your magic key and the warhammer of Clemin, escape would have been impossible.”

“I am glad to see again, Bruce,” another voice said in his head. Bruce turned to see Klista coming towards them, holding a glowing orb in front of her. She was dressed in her customary red cloak and smiling. “Chirik, my name is Klista. Remember it well, since I am your rescuer. Will you work with me?”

“You saved me from that hell,” Chirik said. “Whatever I can do for you, my lady, I will.”

“Good,” Klista said. “We have one more important person to get and then the great campaign begins.”

She touched both of them on the arm. A flash of light enveloped them and they were gone.

About David Stewart

I am a writer of anything quirky and weird. I love most genres of fiction and in each there are stories that I would consider "my kind of story". View all posts by David Stewart

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