Sunday, September 14, 2014

Valhalla - V

This is an ongoing story between the wonderful Anuradha and myself. You can read the previous parts here:
Valhalla - I
Aurora - II

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He left his lookout point and stomped back homeward bound, muffled words of curse breathing out from behind his shaggy beard. As he walked down his oft-taken shortcut through the market, tired but beaming faces greeted him, bowing their heads slightly in acknowledgement. All he did was nod back at them and keep walking. But a few steps through a lane and across the main town square brought a familiar sense of calm about him. He looked up only to smile when he realized where his subconscious walk had taken him to. Up ahead stood a simple tall house, brown and yellow like the soil it stood on. A single lit lamp greeted the doorstep. There was nothing extraordinary about the house from the looks of it; although a row of holly and creepers had found their way around the walls, and wildflowers had grown abundantly from its walls. It quite gave the impression of a simplistically-made clay structure decorated by an eight-year old. But, as with all Earth Shifters, what's above the soil was just the beginning. From within, the soil had been tugged and turned and frozen in place by the fire-fans they used to dry clay, into unique, intricately detailed artworks drawn directly on the walls. The iron and copper in the soil had been manipulated to lend their colours to the art. A smooth earthen staircase lined with a soft carpet of moss and grass, lit by a row of wax candles led down and underground into the elaborate construct that they called home.
His father, although a soldier, had a keen sense of architecture, which he'd put into the home he had so lovingly built for his family. One flight down the staircase led the eye to the immense vastness of the room it opened up to. Ten feet underground and twenty-five feet wide, the living room was a combination of the brute power of shifting tons of earth and the delicate touch of a keen eye. This, like all rooms, were round, ensuring all the heat and wind stayed directed towards the epicenter of each room. Thin columns of shafts ran along the walls and all round the room, starting at just a few inches off the ground and broadening up at the top as they ran towards the central cortex of the ceiling and then straight up to the surface. One large column ran vertically from the surface to the centre of the roof, and through that shaft ran a large oval jewel. Smooth when it was dark outside, it was easy to miss the complex beauty of this curiously placed object partly jutting out from the roof. But when daylight hit the surface and poured down through the column and onto the stone, the complex network of leafy patterns that ran through the jewel refracted the sunlight and spread it across the room, lighting it up with a soft milky golden hue, just perfect to sit with his beloved wife and watch their children play. Rainwater accumulated through what seeped through the soil and into large vats that they used to drink from. The river-water, though, provided a year-long supply of water to whoever needed it, but as his father used to say, "There's something about the rain that quenches even the weariest of traveller's thirst without drinking a single drop."

He was just about to step into his house when something made him turn around, something that tugs at your stomach when you desperately need to do something and you're walking the other way, something he called his real gut feeling. 
He strode out his lane and turned right, towards the library. Something had struck him. Something that might change things forever for them. Maybe, just maybe this war could have been averted. And even if not, things could get a lot more worse if his hunch was true. He hurried up the broad white marble stairs and burst into the records room.
"Eleanor! Where are you?" he called out, the urgency in his voice cutting across the silence of the closed bookhouse.
A light, almost casual voice floated in from the northern end of the library, "Why do you always have to make so much noise, warrior? This is a house of knowledge, not battle. Calm your voice and tell me what you need."
He turned around to see tall figure against the large windows of the building, holding a candlestick and slowly stepping down the stairs. The light of the flickering flame highlighted the woman's deep-set cheeks, wrinkles of age not quite hiding the beauty of her features as they once were when she was younger. Thin-cut lips pursed in light irritation of being disturbed after dark breaking into a light smile at the sight of her visitor. He always had something interesting to say, this one. She looked down to avoid stepping on her heavy set pearl-white dress as it billowed around her feet as she walked. A pair of metal-bent spectacles set with tempered glass lenses hid the bright, curious green-gold eyes that were telltale of her clan.
"Eleanor. The stone." he said, hurrying towards her.
Before he could go on, she spoke with her calm demeanor, "I know. And it took you long enough to realize it. Come, we have much to talk about."
She turned without another word and gestured him to follow.
Far out in the darkness, the stone glowed ever so slightly, atop the Central Hall, A heartbeat was all he felt he heard within the silence of the library, but that fleeting moment caused him to turn around and peer in it's direction out the window.
Must have been my tired mind playing games, he thought and shrugged it off as he followed Eleanor into the inner chambers of the Library.

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