Here we have a scene in which my chracter meets the villain from the novel John wrote in college (who is now a character in my novel.) As some of you may be able to tell, John wrote the dialogue for Vhejaderaith.
Theseus…who is not in this scene,
but I don’t have the picture of Vhejaderaith scanned.
(Picture by John C. Wright)
The tunnel led into a long narrow cave. Part of the wall had been melted into slag and hardened again. Rippling flows of stone formed a wide opening through which trees were visible. Victoria recalled the tanks in front of the Washington Monument and thought she had a pretty good idea what had created this. The original opening for Lewis Wetzel’s cave must not have been large enough for the Leviathan of Darkness.
Victoria touched her Vanir ring and instructed it to hide her. Then she stepped cautiously out of the cave and looked around.
A perfectly normal, yellow sun shone in an ordinary cloudy blue sky. The air was hot and muggy, as it should be in West Virginia in June. She took a deep breath. The warm breeze had a strange odor that made her thoughts become dreamy and seem to float away from each other. She covered her mouth and nose with her hair and looked around.
To the right, a bridge stretched from a tunnel in the stone. It looked as if it has once been a train line but was now a bicycle path. Three Xats roosted on the bridge, the huge flying beasts that looked like a cross between a pterodactyl and a squid. They looked wrong to her eye, as if the artist who designed them had done so out-of-perspective. From the direction of the wind, she guessed that the disturbing odor came from them.
Around the bike path lay burnt forests, stumps of trees sticking up here and there among mud. Beyond, a glassy crater gleamed amidst fallen buildings of what had once been Wheeling. She recognized the devastation from the news clips.
A motion to her left caught her attention. Tall figures wearing ivory masks and billowing dark-blue cloaks strode through the trees, which had not been burnt down on this side. They moved in and out of another opening into the cave farther along the hillside. Apparently, the Sons of Darkness were using it as a headquarters.
Victoria froze. The enemy—the people trying to destroy her world—were standing right there.
Anger ignited her, like a pile of dry leaves into which someone had tossed a lit match. She pictured stalking over and telling the Sons of Darkness exactly what she thought of people who harmed others. In her imagination, her speech convinced them to repent and give up on their current endeavor. But she knew she was neither eloquent enough nor powerful enough to pull off such a feat. In reality, if she revealed her presence, it would end with her shot through by a super-accelerated pebble.
Instead, she glared invisibly, wishing she damage them with the sheer force of her gaze. How dare they harm her world! Eager to leave the enemy behind, Victoria rose up into the air.
An enormous Chinese pagoda rose over the tops of the trees, some seven stories high. Its topmost section resembled the lantern of a light house. The other six tiers were decorated with skulls facing every direction. Flames burned in the eye sockets and mouths of the skulls. Windows of dark stained-glass decorated every level. Strange motionless figures peered out from behind them. Just looking at them made it hard to breathe, as if a malignant willpower, coming from under the hood of the unseen figures, were bearing down upon her.
Victoria paused, blurting out, “That’s not something you see in West Virginia every day!”
Immediately, she plummeted twenty feet. Her shoes did not hold her up when she remained still. Quickly, her feet flashed until she ran through the air again. Then, she slowed, padding in a wide circle, thinking.
Prudence suggested she should flee, dash away from here as fast as her silver slippers could carry her. But the World Machine was right here, the device the Sons of Darkness were using to put out the sun. She recognized it from Thomas’s drawings. Could she dismantle it? Could it be sabotaged? If she got a closer look, she might learn something valuable.
Unseen, Victoria ran over the heads of the Sons of Darkness and landed among a stand of poplars on the far side of the World Machine. Up close, she could see that the pagoda sat on eight flying buttresses, which twitched like spidery legs. Six lesser lanterns hung from the bottom. From where she stood, there was no sign of a door.
She stared up at it. Should she sneak back through the cave, call Ossar again, and have him take her back to Svartalfheim, so she could contact Snireth Ko? Varumance’s master needed this device back in order to finish restoring his world. Maybe he would help her move it. Or should she tell Kestrel where it was? Would he even care?
The structure towered high above her. She could not see the higher tiers at this angle. She walked backwards, hoping to see more. Unfortunately, she was not looking where she was going. Her foot caught on a fallen tree, and she lost her balance. Victoria windmilled her arms to no avail. She crashed backwards, through low branches, striking her head on a slender sycamore. A low squeak of pain escaped her. She grabbed her aching head with her hands.
She lay there, arched over her backpack. From above came a clicking sound followed by a whirling and what sounded like the chanting of many voices. Trumpets rang out, and the skulls opened their jaws and screamed. The giant lantern on the top of the pagoda swiveled back and forth until its great eye-like lamp pointed directly at her. With a hum, it began to glow a now-familiar blue color.
Victoria held up her hand, but the ring was not there. Desperately, she looked around and saw the golden band laying among the leaves some five feet away. It must have been thrown from her finger when she fell. She wriggled like an upside down turtle until she was able to slip out the backpack straps. Then she scrambled toward the ring, but her legs were still tangled in the branches of the fallen tree. She lunged, but her fingertips could not reach far enough.
With a rustle, a figure in a dark-blue cloak stood up from where he had been kneeling near one of the buttress-legs. His hooded head tilted backwards, to allow him to gaze upon the giant lantern above. Then, he turned his ivory mask toward Victoria.
Victoria met the serpent-like eyes that gazed out at her but could not discern their reaction to seeing her on the ground. With a flourish of trumpets, the lantern flashed neon blue and fired.
“Help me!” she cried, reaching towards the cloaked figure. “Please!”
The figure blurred, so quick was his motion. One instance he was standing a hundred feet away. The next, he stood above her, icy blue star blood splashing harmlessly against the back of his dark blue cloak.
Victoria collapsed back against the leaf-strewn ground. She lay there an instant, weak with relief.
“Wow,” she mouthed without enough breath to make sound. “Some cloak.”
The beam of star blood continued to strike the back of the Son of Darkness. It splashed around them. The air grew frigid. A branch struck by the freezing substance snapped in two. Leaves brushing her face as it fell. Behind him, the chanting and screaming increased. There was a chittering noise as the buttress-legs flexed.
The voice that spoke from under the mask was cultured and crisp. There was a touch of an accent she could not place. “Whose little mouse are you, spying and sniffing in my domains? ? Perhaps you hear no rumor how your fellows all died upon the Day of Fire when the leviathan walked here? You select an odd method to seek your death, little mouse.”
Straightening, he made a gesture with his hand and uttered words in a harsh, guttural language. The chittering and screaming quieted, but the star blood continued to strike his back, and the air was growing colder. Occasionally, drops of the glowing blueness landed very close to Victoria’s body.
“Alas, now you have gone and excited it. The World Machine for some reason judges you too great a threat. Lay still, and I will lift you and bear you from this place. I am fleeter of foot than any other living creature. Perchance, you will live.”
Victoria sat up and held up her hand, indicating—she hoped—that he should pause. She pulled one foot free, and, with a motion that was half wriggle and half lunge, retrieved her ring, her fingers closing gratefully around it. Sliding it onto her finger, she held up her hand.
“Stop!” She commanded.
The World Machine whirred once more and fell silent, the many voices dying away until just an echo of their chant remained. The beam ceased. The lantern went dark.
A whistle of astonishment came from under the ivory mask. “I feel in my blood the pulse of the Dead Star Blood power, but oddly changed. You are clearly a thaumaturge of vast accomplishment, or a Revenant of some eon long dead, when the secrets of nature and supernature were known. And yet no aura of the Ulterior surrounds you – whose pupil are you, little mouse?”
She breathed deeply and then climbed awkwardly to her feet, brushing leaves and twigs from her elbow and knees. Once standing, however, she crossed her arms and looked at the masked figure with an slight, wry smile.
“No mouse but a lady hawk. Whose wolf are you?”
The figure standing over her chuckled. He removed his ivory mask and hooked it onto his cloak so that it capped his shoulder. Beneath the mask was a striking-looking gentleman with black, pebbly skin like a lizard, high cheekbones, and eyes that were slitted like a snakes. He had a pencil mustache and a goatee. Shiny black hair fell to his shoulders in ringlets. His expression and bearing were regal, reminding her an aristocrat or a particularly elegant film star from the heyday of the silver screen. Beneath the cloak, he wore ornate armor and an antique sword with triggers and jeweled buttons built into the grip. On his hands are gauntlets of silver metal inscribed with interlocking runes.
She recognized him immediately. She had seen dozens of drawings of him, on notebook paper and napkins. A frisson ran up her spine like the whisper-touch of spiders’ feet.
“Vhejaderaith,” she breathed.
“I am the same, the wolf indeed who ravages the human world.” He admitted in a tone of playful false modesty, chuckling. “In times past I bore me a gentler name, one lighter to bear.”
He looked her over, his gaze taking in her Vanir ring, her silver shoes, the unicorn horn protruding from the backpack beside her. He arched an elegantly chiseled eyebrow, and gave her the tiniest nod of approval.
Victoria did not smile, but she wanted to. She had just impressed the prince of the Sons of Darkness. If he were the kind of man she judged him to be, her chance of living had just improved.
Raising his hand again, he barked out another guttural order. The World Machine jerked and returned to life. The trumpets blared. The voices chanted. The skulls creamed. The lantern began to hum and glow again. He watched her curiously, as if waiting to see what she would do.
Or…maybe she was going to die after all.
Victoria raised her own hand. The Vanir ring glittered in the noonday sun. She commanded, “Hide me.”
The World Machine continued to chant and trumpet, but the lantern at the top stopped tracking her. It spun wildly, as if searching for its target. Three times, it turned in a circle. Then, it went dark. Slowly, the pagoda settled down again, until just a single skull chattered and screamed. Then, all was quiet.
Vhejaderaith clapped his metal-shod hands together lightly, as if in mock applause for a performer, his serpent eyes twinkling.
Victoria bowed, eyes twinkling.
So, the Vanir ring could command the World Machine, but the Sons of Darkness could override her commands, and they could detect the workings of the ring—at least that was what she thought he meant by the pulse of power in his blood. Yet, she could still hide from the pagoda’s sensors. That was certainly useful information for the future.
He gestured out toward the devastated landscape. “For so omnipotent a student of the Greater Secrets, you seem prone to mishap. I shall do you the honor of escorting you to your home, and in return you shall tell me all—either willingly or no. Such is the penalty for provoking curiosity.”
“Willingly or no?”
“Should you prove recalcitrant, my master of the arts of torment will introduce you to the many-angled brain-sustenance casket of Yogguth, where he will direct the radiations of several ulterior dimensions through his pain-amplifying prisms and gemstones. There are also music compositions, known to me through the Utter Mystery of Mode, that the human soul cannot long tolerate. Information will be forthcoming abundantly.”
Ouch! That did not sound very friendly!
“I am not from here. I came through the cave.” Victoria meant that she was not from West Virginia, so he could not escort her home, but the prince drew a different conclusion.
“You are no upright animal.” He regarded her skeptically. “Nor have you the stature of dwarves nor the majesty the Dark Avalonese of Middle Guard. Whence then truly came you?”
“Through a gate…I mean I came to Middle Guard through a gate.”
“From my world and dominion, then? Hardy. You are not one of mine, neither are you one of the so-called Starmen, the ancestral immortals pulled down from shining bliss among the stars.”
Victoria quickly reviewed what she knew about Vhejaderaith. In Thomas’s Nigh Forgotten Sun, he was the antagonist, but he was a polite and chivalrous fellow, princely in his demeanor, the kind of villain who saluted his enemies before he killed them slowly. Snireth Ko was the protagonist, but he was cantankerous, taciturn and uncommunicative, keeping his own council and showing little concern for his underlings.
In the novel, Vhejaderaith, who understood this, had been slowly trying to work his way into the affections of Snireth Ko’s two servant-creations, Varumance and Aighrustain. Victoria had asked the ghost about the prince of the Sons of Darkness several times, but Varumance had never answered her directly. Had that been chance? Or had he been covering up for an illicit friendship that he had been hiding from his master?
She dearly hoped so.
“I’m…I’m a friend of Varumance.” Victoria held her breath
“ Interesting!” He regarded her skeptically. “And where is do you claim Varumance is from?”
“The lonely mansion of Snireth Ko, Master of Life.” Victoria responded with a slight smile. Hoping that Thomas was as correct about other things as he was about the Leviathan’s name, she continued paraphrasing what she remembered. “It stands by a river under a silver dome, in which is set an enormous lens to view the skies. It is a great house with many wings, each done in a different architecture style, reflecting the different ages during which our good master lived. It stands on the world some call Svartalfheim, where, just yesterday, I soared on the back of a demon dog above the copper roofs of Bladorbhathshea. What a fair and beautiful city lies abandoned there.”
“I have always thought so,” He replied. The Prince of the Sons of Darkness looked her over, amusement tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Even if you speak falsely, that you would think to speak so says much. Did Snireth Ko make you to be Varumance’s bride? He certainly gifted you with august and arcane accoutrements.”
The thought of having been designed to be someone’s wife tickled her romantic fancy. Her cheeks grew pink.
Vhejaderaith must have taken her reaction as an affirmation, for he stepped closer and took her chin in his cool metallic gauntlet, turning her face this way and that. His grasp made her blush deepen. She leaned away from him, not used to having anyone treat her tin such a way. He did not release her, but peered at her closely.
“I see my old rival has finally perfected the eye. Yours are far better wrought than Varumance’s. Or than mine, for that matter—though mine are not of my nemesis’s crafting. Handsome as they are, I find them little use in this horrid world of bright light.” He chuckled and let her go. “Why, that preening show-off. The old fox went all out, mixing flecks of brown and gold and green. Extraordinary craftsmanship.” He bowed. “You may let him know that I am duly impressed.”
“Thank you.” Victoria acknowledged the compliment with a nod. She rubbed her cheek where his gauntlet had chaffed her. Inwardly, she was amused at the thought that someone could mistake her hazel eye-color for a magician’s master work. “I will.”
Flashes of amusement aside, however, she was terrified. Her legs felt shaky. As long as he thought she was one of his nemesis’s creations, Vhejaderaith would most likely deal with her as an equal. Or so he had dealt with Varumance and Aighrustain in Thomas’s book. But what if she slipped up? She had not actually said anything untrue, and she did not intend to. Misleading someone without actually lying was an art she had practiced, but she was by no means a master—especially in matters she knew little about, such as what Vhejaderaith might expect from a created creature of Snireth Ko.
She knew the Sons of Darkness had excellent hearing. Was he standing close enough to hear the fearful pounding of her heart?
“Are you looking for your intended? Varumance came through this way—” he gestured toward the cave. “—but has not been back.”
“He went on an errand to visit the Archmage Kestrel,” Victoria replied, hoping that information was not supposed to be a secret. “He has been expected back but has not returned.”
Vhejaderaith nodded pleasantly. “And, naturally, you bend your airy little steps that way, too?”
“To the Archmage’s?” Victoria asked. She thought about this a moment. “I hope to.”
“Then you will bring Lessingham a message for me.”
“Certainly,” Victoria replied casually, hiding her extreme curiosity. What did the man who was trying to destroy her sun wish to say to Kestrel?
Vhejaderaith flexed his gauntlets. They rang softly. “Speak these words to him, neither adding any words of your own, nor taking any away: Dread and Learned Archimage, our current agreement benefits us both. Once we have destroyed this world, we shall deliver as promised, that Storm King orb whose power is not of any earthly world; and that right promptly, for we are punctilious in our word. If found satisfactory, we propose that our alliance might continue. Let us meet at a time and place of his choosing, to discuss joint action against our mutual foes, the Yesshu?”
Victoria knelt beside her backpack. Pulling out her notebook, she wrote the message down. The prince watched this with interest, his gaze moving from the ring binding to the mechanical pencil. He stroked his mustache with a gauntleted finger.
Victoria took a deep breath. “Sir, I cannot help but notice that you are setting up strongholds here and in Middle Guard?” She strove to keep her voice calm and even. “Does this mean that you are abandoning the home world?”
“It is not unknown even to one as lowly placed as yourself that we are avowed your master’s destruction.” His eyes flickered over her ring, and he frowned slightly, as if perhaps his perception of her station seemed out of step with her extraordinary magical gear. “Alas, the possibility, howsoever unlikely, that he should prevail and return the dead sun to our lovely dark skies, burning and destroying all that is benighted, twilight, and nocturnal in our realm—in such appalling circumstances, my dear, we must secure a place of our exile comfortable to us, and conformed to our will. Once lovely and eternal night falls upon Middle Guard, we will prepare our new home—you have my leave to tell your master all this, of course. He should have told you.”
“Why two worlds?” Victoria asked, letting his comments about her “place” slide by without comment. A number of choice comebacks did come to mind, but she ignored them. “This one and Middle Guard. Do you plan to live in both?”
“Alas, no. Were I still a Prince of the living, I would be ambitious to extend my domain. I have not many nobles still in my service, merely a pack of wolves gnawing the last scraps of life from dry bones. We hardly fill a town, much less two worlds.”
“Unsunder shall bestow upon me the power and name of a Storm King, once we destroy the Creator World in a dream storm.”
The Creator World. The words rang in her ears. Then she shuddered. Someone wanted to destroy her world in particular, because it was the Creator World? Did Theseus know this? Was that why he had refused to help her? Because he knew the enemy was targeting her world deliberately?
“Storm King?” She hoped this would not be a common term to a Snireth-Ko creation. On the other hand, she thought with sudden relief, Snireth Ko was a cantankerous recluse. Varumance’s descriptions of him merely confirmed Thomas’s portrayal. How much could Vhejaderaith know about what a newly-created creature might have been told by her mysterious, taciturn creator?
“Ah, so your maker did not tell you what you face? Wise of him, lest you quail. My allies are dread indeed, and most to be dreaded. Know you that the Storm Kings command dark and unique miracles that no gods can spy. They are the enemies of a Great Race called the Creators, whom prophecy foretells shall be born at about this time. Unsunder, who is the soul and messenger of the Storm Kings, purposes to keep this new race from coming into being. Storm Kings have no lord—except for the Storm Rider, of course, whom we Sons of Darkness already serve.”
Storm Rider. Varumance had mentioned him, calling him the foremost Servant of the Dark. Of course, Victoria had no clue who the Dark were. Were they an evil group? Or was Dark just a name, like Jason or Pricilla? Or were they only called the Dark by their enemies, while their friends called them the White and Fluffy Bunnies of Joy?
The Storm Rider was, if she recalled correctly, one of the two powers to whom Vhejaderaith had sworn oaths of obedience. The other one was a Lovecraftian monstrosity.
She said thoughtfully, “So, if you destroy the world that the Storm Kings’ enemies come from, this Unsunder will reward you by making you one of their number.”
Vhejaderaith smiled, showing his shockingly white teeth against his pitch-black skin, “The plan has the elegance of simplicity. Destroying worlds is not the least of my accomplishments.”
Victoria nodded. She looked up at the World Machine. She did not say aloud that a few of them have already appeared. How many Creators would it take to undo the wounds of the universe?
Victoria looked at him speculatively. This was the chief of the enemies of her world. The man who intended to slay her sun. By right, she should hate him, but she had never quite figured out how hating worked.
Instead, she longed to understand him, to comprehend what made him do these things? Who chose to destroy someone else’s world for power and then rescues a fallen girl? What made men do things like that?
It was the same desire she felt when she thought about Kestrel or, for that matter, Theseus, an insistent faith that if she could just figure them out, she could find a way to change things, to make them better. She had no evidence for this, of course. She had never actually done such a thing, but that did not make her any less curious.
“Do you wish to keep living in the darkness?” Victoria asked. “Wouldn’t you rather come out into the light?”
“An impertinent question! You well know we cannot live in the light. That privilege was long ago denied us.”
Victoria looked up at the sun.
Vhejaderaith chuckled, “I know the art to walk forth by day, but not for long, and not without discomfort. Daylight is inimical to us. And it is too hot…Your maker must have explained at least that much. Do you doubt his word? That is no doubt wise of you.”
“But…can’t the spell cast on you and your people be undo? Couldn’t…Couldn’t these Creators recreate you into something that could live in the sunlight?”
“And diminish us from what we have become? Would you turn bats into birds and owls into hawks?”
“If it would save them from extinction—” she began.
He cut her off with an impatient gesture. “If the world opposes me, it shall go extinct, not I. You speak nonsense. Or will your master, in his mad nostalgic lust for conditions long dead and thankfully past, restore us to the time of the dinosaurs? Or when the earth was molten hot? The world of the night is ours.
“I understand what you are saying. But the desire to live does not give you the right to take away someone else’s world, does it?”
“Mine is the power, and therefore the right, and my lineage reaches back beyond all record. You are a made thing, a manikin, and unable to grasp these great matters.”
Victoria tilted her head and smiled. “Is my capacity for compassion limited by my origin? Is yours?”
He flexed his right gauntlet, gazing down at it. “You are surprisingly philosophical for a creature of your kind. Your master seems not to have mastered the art of making his servitors pliant.”
“Perhaps that is not what He believes is needed.” Victoria replied, though, she thought wryly, the two of them were not speaking of quite the same maker.
“Naturally, I approve of any spark of rebellion among lesser creatures seeking greater things than niggardly fate allots. For am I not one such myself? When you weary of your master, or come to learn that he cannot prevail, return to me.”
Victoria’s eyes sparkled. Vhejaderaith, the Wolf Who Ravages, was asking her to change sides and join him. Not today, Buddy. Sorry. My sun is going to stay on. But she had to admit she was flattered that he thought her important enough to wish to woo into his camp.
“It has been a pleasure speaking with you, Prince Vhejaderaith.” She put her notebook away and drew on her backpack. “I’ll give the Archmage your message.”
She bowed one last time. Then, with a smile, she turned and ran into the air.
Behind her, his laughter rang out. He cupped his gauntlets around his mouth and called out, “A she-hawk indeed! Fair thee well, Little Bird, until we next meet.”