Chapter Nine

The Legend of the Sword

She remembered the black hood most. Her captors blinded her every step with it. She was tossed around like a rag doll, her senses dulled or all together taken away. McKenzie remembered the distant echoes of grunts and footfalls. At one point she had been in a long hall. Aromas were nonexistent except the faint stench of decaying dyed wool.

She was never allowed to feel with her fingers. Instead she was pushed and directed as need be by the large men. Her body hesitated more often; she tripped over her own feet. It wasn't until they hauled open a creaky door and shoved her in that the hood and binds were cut off.

Then she was left in total darkness.

There was a chill she hadn't remembered. It seemed to be colder in the cell than outside in the young winter's grasp. Her hands grew numb with pain and her nose began to run. She soon gave up searching for a door when her toes stubbed into something like frozen flesh.

For the longest time, McKenzie rested on her side shivering and thinking.

She had been in scarier places, she reminded herself. Once when she was seventeen, Alyshia convinced her to sleep in an alley. It didn't seem so bad at first, but the dirt and leaves, leftover garbage, and crawlers of the night had her squirming and kicking while she slept. Then the darkness added to the fear. Dirty old men tried to get them to strip down. Al called it 'conditioning for worse things'.

That was a time that seemed like ages ago. Alyshia stole away into the night not long after their daring city adventures. McKenzie kept to the inns and markets, never attempting creepy places like alleys and forests alone. She never had to see dead rats or crushed pipeweed in rotting gutters until Cyran found her.

McKenzie was unable to keep her mind from wandering to Cyran. She felt selfish and unfair, considering she had no idea if Vaan was even alive. Her fears for Cyran had multiplied the minute she realized they had been caught. If Syrusses ever found Cyran through McKenzie, dead or alive, she could never forgive herself. If there was the slightest chance that Cyran was alive, she would have to protect him and defy Syrusses no matter what.

Minutes passed by, mind and body began to grow colder. She began playing scenarios and outcomes in her mind. A pressing question began to torment her. Why did Syrusses want her? She assumed it was because of Cyran, but something deep in the pit of her stomach told her otherwise.

Syrusses wouldn't have destroyed her home if he wanted Cyran. Five years ago she lost her family in that fire, and her father, drunken and missing, was to blame. McKenzie knew with all her heart that Arthur, drunk or sober, would never have played with fire around his home.

Even when she closed her eyes to the blackness all around her, she still saw those treacherous flames raging and dancing like they were right in front of her.

Cyran had left her not three weeks before. She visited a specific hangout spot regularly where she could cry in peace. Cyran never once left her mind those days.

Her mother had told her to be back in time for supper, so McKenzie made her grieving session quick. She left early, distracted by the thought of Cyran's AWOL family. She happened across an old man lying helpless in the streets, his leg badly broken and blood spilling from a wound on his foot.

He cried for help. She remembered his face, his cry of anguish so well. She had to help him. It took her a long while to flag down help and find his home. He was so thankful! He hugged her and insisted on having his wife make her some dinner. He tried to so hard to make her stay put. He was so insistent. It was past sunset, long after twilight. It was like trying to rid herself of stubborn cobwebs, but she was finally running back to town.

Once she stopped for air. Two men were chatting calmly with one another, until a third jogged up and started blabbing about a fire. It frightened her, but she didn't think twice on it. She just continued through town.

Smoke rose above homes the closer she got. With every quick step her heart beat faster. McKenzie saw the flames soon, orange and yellow, licking the purple sky like a lover's caress. She was terrified before, but when she realized it was her own home, the world seemed to grind to a halt.

For the longest time she stood still, watching neighbors rush in a panicky haze. With her every heartbeat, her mind threw out horrible pictures of her mother's and Ben's faces. She saw her father's face behind a bright curtain of fire. She saw black, charred walls and the crumpled bedrooms of the home she once knew.

Someone knocked into her, and the images shuddered to ash. Sprawled on the ground, she glanced up in time to catch the familiar flash of Cyran's brother fleeing into the woods. All she could think to say was, "Wait!"

She spit dirt from her mouth and scrambled up from the ground. People cried, screamed for water. A lady was throwing her ground wheat at the flames.

Finally, a brave and mighty suck of fresh air filled her lungs and calmed her down. Ben wasn't outside. She hadn't seen him. Nor was her mother.

Carefully she searched the perimeters. Men told her to stay back while they doused the flames, but her only driving thoughts were find Ben, find Mother. She knew her father wasn't inside. She had seen one of his drunken friends stumbling away.

The fire scared her, but she was desperate. The memory of the smoke overcame all of McKenzie's senses. She burst through the front door. Smoke and ash swirled about her. Heat stroked her exposed skin. All she could see through the glowing red smoke was the immediate floor beneath her and the flaming rugs.

She dropped to her hands and knees and crawled towards the kitchen. Everything burned; even things that shouldn't burn.

She called for her mother over and over, and when she got no answer, she called for her brother.

The kitchen was nearly burnt to the ground, and her parent's bedroom was close to that point. She searched carefully and quickly through the front rooms and Ben's room.

Her hope was depleted by the time she crawled into her burning bedroom. She could feel burns forming all over her body. Fearfully, she made for the window, only to stop when something black and finished caught her eye.

The longer she looked at it, the more familiar it became. She made out legs, and hands, a sunken head and wisped of burning hair. The body itself was curled around one of her old wooden bows carved by her grandmother. Carefully McKenzie removed the hot, black bow from the body's grasp and held it to her chest. It was all she could bear to stand before the screams finally erupted from her sore throat.

She vaguely remembered the window shattering, hands reaching in to pull her out. People couldn't believe she survived the inferno. The whole city of Levi whispered about strange events.

And McKenzie was left alone with many healers, the charred body of her mother consuming her every thought.

(BREAK)

Hot tears spilled over her fair cheeks, warming her lips for just a second. The cold was the memory now, the heat reality, but it slowly started to fade and the cold seeped into her bones.

It was amazing to feel the time slip away. Surely Syrusses wasn't that discourteous to keep her waiting for so long. She managed to sleep for a few minutes, but the icy stones against her back provided little to no comfort.

Burning light filtered from the iron door. The shock came so rapidly that it sent her sprawling backwards in fear. Voices sounded and echoed. They sounded so foreign, but then McKenzie hadn't heard voices for quite some time.

Her eyes took their time adjusting to the building firelight. She felt the warmth of human presence touch her. She was nearly to rejoicing until a deep, familiar voice snatched her joy away.

"Dear me, why are you down here?"

McKenzie didn't know how to reply.

"This is no way to treat my darling little flower, you imbeciles." She blinked away the spots in her vision and made out Syrusses's entire figure.

He was veiled in black, from cloak to boots, with darkly colored leather and painted chainmail. The occasional blood red accent adorned his elegant fabrics and his shining silver sword hilt. His complexion, though dark and sinister, reminded her so much of Cyran. There was no resemblance of the green eyes she saw every day in the back of her mind.

A small twitch of the lips—his version of a smile—flicked across his otherwise blank and tight expression. He held his hand to her, inviting her to take it. The gesture left her confused and frightened. This entire time McKenzie thought of him as the villain, the monster. She trained the name to send chills down her spine.

But looking upon him for the first time in so many years, she saw only motive and determination within that calm aura of his. She saw nothing monstrous, nothing truly evil.

"That's because I'm not the monster here, sweet McKenzie."

Shyly, she whispered, "I can't hear your thoughts."

Hand still outstretched, Syrusses straightened his posture, "Cyran and I have much in common, but he is still so young. He hasn't learned what I have. That is what sets us apart. Come, I have a warm fire and sweet wine to save you from this frozen hell."

She still did not take his hand, and he realized his efforts were in vain. He withdrew and turned towards the dark corridor beyond. With her mind in a daze, she followed Syrusses through the winding tunnels. They passed so many different cells with thick iron doors and no way of looking in. She wondered if Vaan might be in one of them, how she would escape and get him out. Somewhere deep her in heart, she felt the small and concerning presence of someone else, someone from long ago, but she couldn't say who.

They ascended level after level until the grey, decaying surroundings morphed into that of elegantly trimmed and decorative belongings. The atmosphere changed and warmth returned, thawing her fingers and toes.

"This has been my home for four years. I'd rather you not ask how an old castle ruin fell into my grasp. It's a rather long and boring tale."

This new room her led her into sported plush red chairs and creamy colored walls lined with dark mahogany bookshelves. There was one great window curtained in black and red cotton. The hearth, built into a wall was hot and glowing, creating a cozy feeling to the entirety of the study. Next to it was a cabinet where Syrusses lingered. He withdrew a glass bottle with an old label. Wine glasses clinked together as he poured the red liquid into them.

"I apologize ever so tenderly for this mess Felix has gotten you in. You're one hard Elf to catch." His polite chuckle was false. He bore no amusement to match his comment. He gently handed her a glass and lightly touched her elbow. She flinched, but let him guide her to one of the chairs set in front of a large desk.

McKenzie curiously studied all the papers, books, weapons, artifacts, and unusual jars of unknown samples. Something about this whole extravagance should worry her, but the warmth was keeping her still.

"McKenzie?"

She whirled around at the sound of her name.

"You look exhausted. Please, sit down." He patted the chair's stiff back and drew up his own.

She took the seat timidly, questions popping in her mind.

"You can ask me anything, though aloud, please. I enjoy two sided conversations. It allows me to feel normal."

McKenzie scowled at him, "If it's Cyran you want, you ought to know that he's dead."

Unexpectedly, Cyran's brother began to laugh. "Trust me, I know so much more than you'd care to admit."

Frowning, McKenzie fell silent.

"Now, now, there's no need for hard feelings. Go ahead, ask your questions. I'll answer them honestly and entirely."

"I don't know what to ask."

He leaned towards her, "May I help you? You wonder what's become of your Dragling friend."

She automatically avoided his heavy gaze. "Let him go."

"I can't do that, but I can assure you he resides safely in one of my infamous prison cells."

She figured that would be the case. "If you don't want Cyran, then there's a reason why I'm here. Tell me why."

"That is no question. Merely a demand, but on the contrary, I do plan on telling you what I need in short time. Until then, I have a question for you." He stared her down, tempting her to defy him.

"Okay," She mumbled weakly.

"Do you know the tale of the Sword of Andine?"His eyes seemed to glow when they met hers. His voice grew low with the smallest hint of excitement.

"No," She breathed, feeling his emanating anxiousness.

"This sword…it's the key to life on Wvern. It sounds outrageous, I know. I had a hard time believing it myself. I've done some heavy reading, McKenzie. This…myth, if you will, has taken great lengths to be hidden.

"There's a saying here in Arcon whenever it rains, 'harvest, harvest, watch it come, thank the Council for the sum'—"

"The council?" McKenzie interrupted.

"The legend claims this council was composed of the very first beings to walk upon Wvern's soil. They were the one and only successful group to interracially work together in creating the planet. Elves, Dwarves, Men, Palestraleans, and Shadows.

"They each decided to forge a power into the sword to make it the ultimate sustaining life force for Wvern. It was one of the men who offered his sword. His name was Andine, and it was a very plain and normal sword.

"Everyone had a part to play. The Dwarves strengthened its blade. The Elves—Dark and High alike—offered the nature of life and the cycles of death to the sword. The Palestraleans forged their elemental gifts into its blade. Lastly, the Shadows bound the sword to Wvern and to the Shadow realm for security and balance.

"There was one Dark Elf who helped to create the sword. Her story, however, is much more important than the sword's tale of creation. At least to me.

"Tell me, McKenzie, why do you think I need you so badly?"

The depth in his eyes swallowed her confusion. "I don't know why."

"You won't believe me. You will deny it. But you are the last living descendent of this Dark Elf."

Anger spurred within her. She was no Dark Elf. Her bloodline was purely High and noble. She had talents that only High Elves were known to have. Nothing dark or decaying festered inside her. Even if she were to be related to a Dark Elf, Ben was still alive somewhere, so she wasn't the last.

"Ben is dead. Your family is gone." His voice was like steel slamming into her head on.

"Because of you!" She accused suddenly, sitting fuller in her chair.

A slight grin appeared, "I would never have done such a thing." The sick curling of his fingers said otherwise.

"The sword was to be secured somewhere far from any person or place in case someone had the means to steal the power for himself. Some say the council just took too long in deciding. Others say Lanaea was possessed by some evil demon. Whichever the case, she stole away with the power and hid it far away from any person or history book. It's said that she ran into trouble, almost getting caught by one of the council members. She got into a deadly brawl, leaving with a chipped piece of the sword's hilt and a mortal injury. She kept the chipped piece to herself and used it to heal herself.

"I've come across hints that spoke of great mountains and a dragon guard, but no one has thought to really search for this treasure.

"Lanaea was a sneaky one. For a time after relocating the sword, she settled down and raised a family so as not to draw suspicion to herself.

"By the time Lanaea Levithorn decided to use her broken piece of power, the world was too busy developing and growing, and soon all memory of the sword was gone. Now-a-days when people thank a sword, they believe it's the blade of a sword and its power to kill that gave them plentiful harvests or good fortune throughout life.

"It took her years to fulfill her want for godly-standards. She traced her own borders upon the Dwarvish lands of Arson. She created her own earthquake. So easily she broke apart and stole her own new island with panicking townsfolk and confused creatures.

"In cooperation with the sword itself, she sunk the entire island deep into the sea. Life was sustained somehow. It is still a mystery as to how she managed it. She named her new world Vorondil, where she created new races and breeds of animals.

"Now it is said that only Lanaea's descendants can unlock the sword from its resting place and unveil the island from its watery hideout. It's taken me years, but I've tracked Lanaea's family history by blood back to you.

Syrusses stood and wandered towards his desk. In the middle of the mess was an average sized book, thick with rotting parchment and worn red leather. His fingers stroked the spine before he looked straight at her. "You are the only woman in all of Wvern who has the power to wield the Sword, and I plan to take it from you."