Koriszegy Keep - Epilogue
It had been an uneventful two day trip back along the Westron Road to the capital. The handful of days they had stayed at Radlebb Keep had been equally unremarkable. There hadn't been much to do but given their state of fatigue they had all needed a great deal of sleep anyway. By the time they felt ready to depart, regarding one another through eyes which were still bleary, they had managed to readjust to waking and sleeping at regular times. Drewen was tired but it looked like his wounds were on the mend. Piotr was barely able to sit his horse. By Lana's assessment it would take him a long time to recover and he would require clerical healing too.
The events of the recent past weighed on Lana in particular. When she dreamed it was of the Keep; nothing specific - she simply saw it sitting empty in the moonlight. The days were warm and bright - a little too bright for her liking. She had taken to seeking out shade whenever possible. As they shared a last breakfast with the troops, she remembered how glad she had felt to not be eating the troops' miserable fare again. Nothing she had eaten in the past few days tasted good and she had been left feeling hungry.
Two days later, arriving at the Hall of the Order of the Griffon it became clear that the companions' achievement was a matter worthy of the attention of the Master of the Order himself and so it was to Patriarch Olliver Jowett that Piotr made his report but not before the aged cleric had seen to the worst of the party's wounds.
Jowett inspected the sword. "This lay beneath the vampire's coffin? The Light of Traladara? That is... familiar somehow."
He murmured some words and nodded. "No taint of that place's evil lies upon this blade; it is a worthy weapon for a paladin of our order. From this land's past shall we draw the strength to shape its future."
Despite the tremendous fatigue inflicted by the vampire's touch, Piotr bristled with pride and a sense of accomplishment.
Then the Patriarch looked at Lana and a shadow passed across his face. "But you Lady Budanter. I am sorry to see that you have brought evil with you. It hangs from you like the robes you wear."
"My Lord?" Taken aback, Lana put a hand to her chest. She took a step back and tensed as if ready to flee. What could he mean, she wondered? She recalled Koriszegy falling upon her in bestial form, his claws seeking her flesh. She had been sure she'd got away safely. But then... the brightness of the light at Radlebb Keep... had... was she... surely the Patriarch couldn't have healed her if... unless...
She put her hand into her bag, meaning to draw forth the black book but stopped herself.
What does this old fool know? she thought. The book is mine. I suffered for it and now he wants its power.
She shook her head and became aware of Piotr, Drewen, Jowett and other attendant members of the Order of the Griffon staring at her.
"You don't..." She found herself unable to think clearly. "I..." She shot a fleeting glance at Drewen. Everything she had thought about before re-entering the Keep came back to haunt her. All her failings of varying magnitudes. Smiling familiar faces. A smoking shell where there used to be a busy inn. A coronet, a village two or three times more populous than it used to be. History repeating itself. The sound of her scream as ten years of life were ripped away. Her enemy raising a glass and mocking her, listening as she paid lip service to bravery, as if they both knew she might only dream of being his worthy, canny, successful adversary.
Those whom we kill...
"If I am weak," she declared with a sense of unease, "I am nothing."
She brought out the book but clung to it, clutching it to herself in a manner which Piotr and Drewen were aghast to note bore similarity to how Koriszegy had treated the wreck of his coffin. Her eyes narrowed to slits as she warned those present against trying to take her prize from her.
"Lana," Piotr stepped forward, sounding shocked but with compassion in his voice. "You are anything but weak."
"Pah." What did he know? She dismissed him with a look.
Olliver Jowett's voice remained calm.
"Yes Lady Budanter. There is clearly a great evil about that book. What is it?"
There was a roaring inside Lana's head. She felt faint. She hadn't been eating properly she knew. But nothing had tasted good. She was so hungry.
"Lana?" said Drewen in a worried tone, "are you going to answer the Patriarch?"
"What is it? It is power," she savoured the delicious sound of the word, the shape her mouth formed to speak it, "and control. The means to no longer be vulnerable."
Her lips formed the broadest and most indecent smile Piotr or Drewen had ever witnessed - shocking in its brazenness. In that moment she stood tall before them all, her head high and holding herself with poise as a Queen might. The book pulsed in her grasp, radiating heat which filled her with strength.
"Why should it not be mine?" she demanded, thinking herself entirely rational. "Who else will do what must be done? Who else has gone forth from safety or attempted to step up to the plate?"
Again her mind turned to feeding. She found herself longing to sate herself, ready for the feast...
There came alarmed rumblings from assembled members of the Order. Several of them were familiar faces. For the briefest moment an uncertain look flickered across her face. She realised her smile was such that she had been baring her teeth at the Patriarch.
Olliver Jowett however appeared controlled.
"I believe that is the book speaking with your voice Lady Budanter. The young woman who risked her life entering Koriszegy Keep was noble in spirit, not just in title. It is that woman I am addressing - one, as Sherlane Halaran," he placed heavy emphasis on the name, "once told me, who seeks power not for its own sake but to protect the weak and to further her knowledge. That woman is loved by many Karameikans from the humblest militia soldier to the Princess Adriana. Her courage is such that even our neighbours in Darokin look to her as an example."
He raised his palms.
"Please hear me Lady Budanter and tell me what is in that book."
As Lana stared at the Patriarch her expression softened and her stance relaxed. His words mollified her to the point where whatever force had taken hold of her might have weakened and slipped away. Gradually she asserted her former self. As she did she became aware of there being more people present than she would have liked.
She thought of the sword - representing Karameikos' past and, in Piotr's hands, ready to play a role in its future. Could she benefit from the book, she wondered, without succumbing to a similar fate as befell Koriszegy? Was it worth risking? Or should she continue on, fatigued and vulnerable as she was?
"Forgive me Your Lordship," she hung her head, shamefully. "I have not opened it therefore I cannot say for certain. I suspect it may be Koriszegy's grimoire."
The Patriarch smiled in a kindly fashion. "I am glad to hear you have resisted the temptation to open that cursed tome. I may yet be able to dispel its evil influence." Continuing to hold his hands out towards her, he bowed his head and in a voice remarkably powerful for his age, began an incantation.
The roaring in Lana's head threatened to drown out the Patriarch's words and she had fragmented visions of the Keep at night, a table set for a feast, a dark ceremony, lightning, fire and blood.
Suddenly she felt fully herself once more.
"Whatever hold the book may have had on you is gone for now but it is an evil thing and I urge you to destroy it."
"Begging your pardon... but I mean to open the book. As the sword was brought from darkness -" she gestured toward Piotr, "- I believe the book may grant the wherewithal to do good. A sword can harm but in the right hands is not always evil in itself."
The look the Patriarch gave her was severe. "The decision of what to do with the book must be yours. I would not touch it but I no more know what it might contain than you do."
She eyed the Patriarch and nodded.
"Begging your indulgence, my Lord, would you stay by my side while I read from it?"
Quietly so that only he might hear, she spoke other words in a whisper. They did not carry to Piotr or Drewen or anyone else who was present.
With a weary sigh, the Patriarch nodded his assent. "If there is anywhere it may be safe to open that book it is here among the most valiant servants of our Order."
Seeing what was about to happen, those spectators who were able to do so quickly cast spells to protect themselves from evil influence.
With trepidation Lana opened the book. On the first page was a Traladaran inscription written in a spidery hand and almost certainly inked in blood. The pages that followed were the same - spidery - bloody - Traladaran. Lana could not understand all the words but the illustrations were clear enough - depictions of unspeakable violations of the flesh and abominable acts performed upon humans, demi-humans and common beasts.
A cluster of words at the centre of one page had been circled by symbols and diagrams. Scrutinising them, she realised with a jolt that she grasped their meaning. They were significant, after all. It was as if they had been burned into her memory some time before and now she remembered their meaning:
The Lord of Koriszegy Keep shall be
There were other arcane symbols and diagrams but she could no more make sense of them than she could the rest of the Traladaran script. They would need time and focussed attention to decipher.
She turned to the sea of expectant faces.
She smiled. Pleasantly. Meekly. Without semblance of a personal agenda. "Alas the script is such that I cannot grasp its meaning. The hour is late and I have taken up too much of your time. My gratitude for your indulgence - to all of you."
Drewen and Piotr exchanged uneasy looks.
It was late. She would pursue the matter in the morning. The book was centuries old, after all. It could wait a while longer.
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