The Branch that Beareth Not, Part IV

Sunday February 15, 2004 @ 01:28 PM (UTC)

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The great doors, cast in the shapes of bare, intertwining branches, opened before Anthea and her companion, as behind them, the lesser servants of the Deathlord’s house glided unbidden to unload the carriage. With the unnatural quiet of their work behind her, Anthea stepped over the threshold of the dark palace.

The wide corridor was floored with smooth, cold stone, and the walls rose in striated shades of grey and white. From them, graceful arms extended, holding tapers whose wicks burned a cool blue and did not consume the wax below. As the softly chiming form of the Dancer whispered by with Anthea drifting by her side like a captive blossom, the arms slowly moved to better light their way.

“We have been expecting you,” the Dancer of the Silent Grotto said to her charge. “My lord Mask of Winters is most pleased at your coming, and will doubtless wish to speak with you immediately.”

Anthea did not respond at first, as they had passed into a great open chamber, where the light of the tapers was augmented by a soft glow from the marble underfoot, casting dark, angular shadows up to the vaulted ceiling. On either side, the walls were marked with intricately carved doors of dark wood, between which, every now and then, a shade moved with a tray or a chest, in Mask of Winters’ livery. They were marked from the living or even the grosser dead by a certain paleness, as if they were traced with watercolors where the world was painted in oil. At the far end of the hall, a wide, torch-lit stair in vertebral white spiraled upwards, flanked by liveried guards.

The Dancer saw Anthea’s abstraction, and smiled, “Is it not lovely?”

“It is beautiful!” Anthea breathed. “Never have I seen such a place. But I am a poor friend,” she made a rueful moue, “for I little attended when you spoke just now.”

“No matter,” the Dancer replied, “I said that my Lord Mask of Winters has awaited your coming, and will wish to speak with you. You are a most fortunate girl.”

“Forgive my ignorance,” Anthea faltered, for the beauty and richness of her surroundings had quite cowed her, and her new friend was likewise awesome, “but who is this lord? I have heard…” she frowned for a moment, “I have heard someone speak of him before, I think, but I cannot recall who he may be, nor guess why he has condescended to honor me so much.”

“All this land is his,” the Dancer waved her pale, beautiful hand, “by right of conquest. He is a Deathlord, come with fire and war to release this land from its living torment. His citadel, the undead warbeast Juggernaut, you may have seen betimes. Its pale mass rests outside the walls of Thorns. This,” and again she spread her hand with a graceful gesture, “is his other home, a place for retreat and meditation, where the emissaries of living lands can, for a moment, forget his might and see instead his majesty.”

Anthea nodded gravely, “All this I should have seen, dear friend, but it does not explain why such as I should attract his notice.”

The Dancer’s smile was piquant. “My dear, were you not told you were bound for a wedding?” and with that, she swept on to the staircase, and Anthea followed in a dream of excitement, drawn along by their interwoven arms.

Part V →


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