Lenny had knelt by his sister for some time, willing her to get up. He said nothing, but his presence was a comfort to her.
At last the girl forced herself up, remembering that theirs was not the only battle. She wondered what had happened to Ralph and Arim, Eben and Juthwara. And what in Madra had become of Mariel?
Cheryl was not feeling well. Her entire body ached from the assault of the Witch, and her head buzzed with exhaustion even though it was not yet midday. But despite pain and weariness, she was determined to finish their task.
"Lenny, are you all right?" She noticed he was more pale than usual.
His voice was quiet and sad. "I killed her, Cheryl. With my own two hands. I didn't think I was capable of such violence."
"Oh Lenny." She took his hand. "I don't think you are. I think the King's hands guided yours. And had you not slain her, I would be dead."
"I know," he whispered, squeezing her hand. "I wouldn't have been able to do it if she hadn't been attacking you. Even I could see you couldn't last long."
Cheryl glanced around. All that remained of the Witch was an iron crown and an empty robe with Morrévril still thrust through two large slashes in it.
"What happened to Ryoo?" she asked.
Lenny shuddered. "It was extremely odd. She just shriveled up to nothing in less than a second. Like what happens to the Katamobi, but much faster, and not even dust is left behind."
Cheryl nodded as she stooped to retrieve the eagle-sword and gently sheathed it, then looked around. The throne room was dark with its slit-like windows, and a sense of evil still bothered the girl.
"Something is wrong," she said in puzzlement. "Ryoo is dead, but her spells still remain, keeping captives and causing suffering. The Maker doesn't like it. He wants to make a new Galgolb, a new Kakon. And the first step is to destroy Ryoo's enchantments."
"What about the Hosridon?" Lenny asked.
At that appropriate moment Mariel appeared in the throne room, carrying the Book. Chumégal was thrust in her sash.
"Mariel!" both Bryants cried in delight.
She smiled and hurried towards them, holding out the Hosridon. "Greetings, my friends," she said happily. "See what has been released from bondage by the grace of El Shaddai!"
Before they could ask any questions Mariel continued, "And see what else has been set free by the same saving grace!" She turned and beckoned with her hand.
A young girl draped in a black robe appeared in the doorway.
"Hello, Cheryl." The words were shy, humble, as Sarah abruptly realized the pain she had caused her sister.
"Sarah…" Tears sprang to Cheryl's eyes. How she had longed to hear her sister speak in that tone, knowing it meant that she had accepted the Light at last! And now, for all her wisdom and love, Cheryl had no words, only tears. Tears of pain and heartache, joy and love. Sarah said nothing, but stood in embarrassment and indecision, unsure of what to do.
Quintálamus had sent Ralph and Arim to guard the dungeon door and see to it no Katamobi or Sleepwalkers got in to molest the Jubilee infiltrators. The boys could hear shouts of recognition and joy behind them as Quintálamus set free Ryoo's captives.
The door was open and Ralph's first instinct was to close it, but the boys couldn't budge the immense iron barrier. They struggled with it for several minutes, panting and sweating, but it stood solidly immovable.
"Forget it," Ralph said at last, sinking wearily down with his back to the door. "We'll just have to fight if any Katamobi get here."
"Not much chance of that," Arim said, pointing. "See how our allies have formed a line of defense between the dungeon and the main battle? Juthwara is deliberately protecting us."
Ralph scrambled to his feet as a certain skirmish in the action-filled battle caught his attention. A Jubilee warrior had fallen under the frenzied attack of several desperate Katamobi, and the demons were headed their way! The boys readied their daggers and ranged themselves in the opening as they faced the attack.
"Ralph," Arim whispered, scared nearly out of his boots, "what'll we do? There's four of them and only two of us, and they're a lot bigger than us and armed to the teeth, and we have daggers!"
"You think I haven't noticed?" Ralph hissed. The emeralds of Thoníphage shown from within, and Ralph was not afraid. "Don't forget what happened before. We're not helpless."
As the Katamobi drew nearer and then attacked, a kind of battle-frenzy fell on Ralph. But instead of the scene around him growing fuzzy and distant in a sort of red rage, everything became crystal clear, bathed in a glorious green and gold, like sunlight filtering through the leaves in the Bluewood or the soft green waters of a sunlit ocean.
His enemies seemed to move in slow motion, while Ralph moved with the grace of a dancer and the speed of an arrow in flight. He seemed to feel a strong hand over his own, guiding his actions, and when he moved, a new strength had been added to his young limbs.
In this slow-motion world the battle lasted several minutes. The air around Ralph crackled with electricity as he leapt. His dagger found its mark on the first monstrous Katamobe, then the next and the next and the next. Then just as suddenly as it had come the green-gold sheen faded, and Ralph was a regular boy again, panting with exhilaration and staring at the four lumps of quickly crumbling black dust.
"Wow," Arim said wide-eyed. "I could hardly see you, you were so fast, and I didn't even have time to move before they were all down."
"It wasn't just me," Ralph said. "Someone helped me."
Arim nodded. "I know. I saw him. It was Rhys, and Elinróme. But he wouldn't have been able to do a thing if your weren't so open and willing."
Eben led the way as they stealthily walked deeper into the cluster of ovens. He felt exposed and exposed, for there were myriad avenues between the gray edifices down which Katamobi could see them, then rush to attack.
The sounds of fighting had grown dimmer, but that only added to his trepidation. They were too far away for any help from their friends now.
Jeresíah still seemed confident that they were perfectly safe with Darin's swift arrow and Eben's ready long-dagger. The boy, in the rear with hunting knife held tightly, was beginning to get pale and sweaty as he peered this way and that down the dim, twisting paths between ovens, watching for Katamobi.
Darin's fears were justified when he was suddenly jumped from behind. The boy whirled and slashed up at his assailant's face with his knife before the monster could get its muscular arms around him. The Katamobe's roar of victory transmuted to a bellow of pain as Eben rushed to the rescue.
The demon's next swipe knocked the weapon from Darin's hands, but he ducked the blow and seized a handful of warm ash from a black oven doorway, then flung it into his adversary's three eyes. Eben was forced back by the monster's flailing claw-tipped arms as it reached blindly for the archer, roaring.
"Darin!" Eben cried in fear. "I can't get to you!"
The youth looked toward the warrior at the sound of his voice, and that proved his undoing. In that moment of inattention the unseeing talon of the monster made its mark, and the blow hurled Darin into the side of an oven, stunned.
Eben thrust out wildly with his dagger as the demon shook the ash from its eyes. It clanged against the bony exoskeleton, and the Katamobe turned its wrath to its new opponent. They traded several blows, the monster using its arm like a sword to block and strike. Eben's wrist, already badly jarred in the fight with Lunehyder, began to ache again, and he used the dagger two-handed.
At last he found a gap, and the dagger slipped through the Katamobe's guard. The monster fell back with a scream, and its returning blow caught Eben off balance and struck the dagger from his hand.
He rolled to reach it, stretched for it, and was driven back by the demon's foot, which just barely missed crashing down on the young warrior's wrist as he snatched his hand back. Dust raised by the Katamobe's landing foot sprayed into Eben's eyes.
Crouched by the oven, he frantically rubbed them, knowing he had to be ready for the monster's attack. When he was able to see again, he noticed in a flash that he was several yards away from where Jeresíah knelt by Darin, and through watering eyes he seemed to see a figure in a blue-green cloak leap out of an oven and attack the Katamobe.
Eben blinked again in confusion, rubbed the moisture from his eyes, and realized it was the elf-leader. "Juthwara!" he cried in relief and joy.
The elf spared a moment to grin at his young friend, then turned back to fight. Within moments the Katamobe was a crumbling corpse.
As soon as they were safe Eben headed over to where Darin slumped on the oven he'd been hurled against, deathly pale, his eyes shut. Jeresíah was kneeling beside him. Juthwara followed quickly.
"Lad, art thou well?" Jeresíah was saying anxiously. Eben realized that the dwarf's antagonism toward the young archer hid deep affection.
To their relief the youth opened his eyes and replied weakly, "I'm not much of a Katamobe-slayer, friend."
Jeresíah seemed to relax. "Ah, that is none of thy fault, Darin. And it matters little. I am glad thou'rt safe."
The boy sat up and groggily rubbed his eyes, then blinked. "Juthwara!"
The elf-leader smiled. "Yes lad, it is me. Are you well enough to walk?"
Darin was a little sore and rather dizzy, but when the Jubilee Guild leader asked something, he always got a brave and loyal answer. The young archer got to his feet. "Wherever you lead, I will follow, sir."
The elf smiled warmly. "Thank you, Darin." He glanced around warily. "Let us stick together, comrades. I saw several other Katamobi enter the cluster of ovens."
Darin picked up his hunting knife, Eben his long dagger, and they continued together down the serpentine paths between ovens.
The silence had grown uncomfortable. Lenny nudged his sister. "Cheryl, what shall we do? How can we break Ryoo's spells?"
Cheryl jumped as if startled, then turned to look at him. "We have to disperse them, of course. Where's the room she cast her enchantments in?"
Lenny shrugged, then noticed a huge slab of iron behind Cheryl. "To where does that door lead?"
"It leads to winding steps that reach the highest room of Castle Ryoo," Mariel replied. "It was the Witch's favorite perch."
"Excellent!" Cheryl said. "Let's go!"
It took all four of them to budge the door--the earthquake had stuck it fast--but at last they got it open enough to slip through. The sight inside made them gasp.
The entire tower had tilted on its side. Steps that once led up now led at almost a forty-five degree angle from the throne room.
"The earthquake must have knocked it over," Lenny said. "It might not be safe to traverse."
Cheryl glanced up the strange steps. The malevolent presence she'd sensed in the throne room was much stronger. Evil deeds had been done here, cruel spells and wicked incantations had been cast. Here a thoroughly dark heart had chosen to make its abode. She knew this feeling would only get worse the farther they went.
The girl also knew that it was absolutely necessary. If evil was more palpable here, good had more to do. And they were the agents of good in this black castle.
"Abba wants us to go that way," she said, "so I'm gonna go that way."
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," Mariel murmured.
"Exactly!" Cheryl said, smiling at her friend. "Where did you learn that?"
Mariel smiled back. "My grandmother."
Cheryl nodded. "You're absolutely right, Mariel. We need to go up these steps, and we'll leave our fates where they should have been all along: the hands of El Shaddai."
The battle was beginning to wind down. Most of the Katamobi were dust floating in the wind, though a few fierce hand-to-hand battles were still fought here and there. Ralph and Arim were beginning to get a little bored with nothing to do but watch, though occasionally they jumped up and yelled, "Good blow! Good blow! Follow through! Don't let him catch you off guard! All right, Jubilee Guild!" like spectators from the sidelines.
At last Quintálamus appeared in the open door behind them, scaring Arim half to death when he cleared his throat. The young Maychorian whirled, dagger ready.
The dwarf smiled at his jumpiness as Arim lowered his weapon with a slight sigh of relief. "Thou appeareth alert," he said. "I am glad for such ready sentries."
Arim shrugged. "I don't like being jumped from behind, and I didn't sense your approach. How goes the liberation?"
Quintálamus frowned. "We have freed all of the prisoners, but we cannot find the Princess Elladia. I was hoping thy unique abilities might assist us."
Arim closed his eyes briefly, listening to the whisper of spirits heard by few and understood by fewer. He blocked the excited aura of the Guilders and now-desperate evil stench of Kataphage's servants, bypassed the heavenly scent of the messengers from Hosiotos and the over-powering malignance of Kataphage himself. There remained one small human soul, terrified and suffering unspeakably, the glow of life all but faded.
Arim mentally jerked himself away, trying to keep the fear and pain from overcoming him. Tears filled his blue eyes, and he leaned weakly on the door.
Ralph's hand was on his shoulder, green eyes concerned. "You okay?"
The blond Maychorian nodded. He turned back to the dwarf. "I think I can lead you to her, but I can't give directions."
Quintálamus smiled of relief. "Excellent! Let us be on our way."
"I'll stay and guard the door," Ralph volunteered unhesitatingly. "Go ahead, rescue the Princess."
Arim nodded, then he and the dwarf set out.
Ralph sighed and leaned against the door. The battle was completely dead, every Katamobe slain, and now he was alone with no one to talk with.
Ralph sat up suddenly with interest. Who was that emerging from the smelting ovens, the ones all the Jubilee warriors were cheering?
He jumped to his feet and waved his dagger, sunlight catching the emeralds in flashes and arcs of joyful energy. "Hey, Juthwara, Eben! Over here!"
Eben looked up suddenly and noticed over the heads of the cheering crowd the boy at the dungeon door. "Juthwara, look who waits for us," he said with a grin.
The elf glanced up from his conversation with Láerkamai. He too smiled at the exuberant Terran. "I suppose you'd better go greet him. He might strain a muscle with all that jumping and waving."
Eben chuckled, then turned to the youth at his side. "Want to come with me, Darin?"
The young archer seemed surprised to be invited, but he nodded quickly. Juthwara gestured for them to go.
"I'll join you later," he said. "I look forward to hearing of Ralph's adventures in the tunnels. I'm certain they were as exciting as ours."
Ralph stepped forward a few paces to meet the young men coming his way, then paused, remembering he was supposed to be guarding the door.
"Hi, Eben," he said happily. "Who's this?"
"This is Darin. He's fifteen and a peerless archer. Saved my life back there."
Ralph grinned at the youth. "An archer, huh? Not me. I like Thoníphage just fine." He gestured with his dagger, then sheathed it.
Darin returned his friendly smile. "I keep telling them it wasn't me. Someone guided my hands."
"I know the feeling." Ralph shrugged. "I got a little help too. Ralph said it was a warrior-spirit named Rhys." He pointed to several small piles of black dust. "Otherwise I'd probably be dead. Arim too."
"Incidentally, where is our Maychorian friend?" Eben asked.
"Quintálamus needed his help to find Princess Elladia," Ralph replied. "They've been gone for a while now. You wanna stick around and wait for them?"
"To be certain."
Before long Juthwara joined them. Jeresíah had remained to tend the wounded, as Juthwara told the archer as he approached.
Ralph was delighted to greet the elf-leader. He liked the Elf more than a little (like just about everybody else). "Hi, Juthwara. Whatcha been doin'?"
The Elf grinned and gave a brief account of his part in the battle. "We met several other Katamobi hiding among the ovens," he finished, "but they were soon vanquished. How did you and young Arim fare?"
Ralph was more than happy to tell of his own side of the action and enthusiastically recounted his adventures. "I hope Arim gets back soon," he said at the end. "He'll be glad to see you. So will Quintálamus and Damaris and all the other Guilders, not to mention all the prisoners they've been setting free."
"Where are the other Guilders and released prisoners now?"
"I think they decided to raid the storerooms."
The truth of the boy's statement was soon proved when there was noise of a crowd in the dungeon behind them, and the Guilders and released prisoners appeared in the doorway and streamed outside. Men, Elves and Dwarves blinked in the brightness of the morning sun. Many were carrying boxes, bundles, barrels and bags taken from the dark storerooms inside the dungeon.
Everyone was talking and laughing, and it was rather like a party. Juthwara was glad to see the prisoners, many of them old friends of his stolen away by Ryoo.
With much joy and greetings and enthusiastic conversation, the elf-leader sent them all off in a procession back to Kakon, Eben and Darin at their head. The Jubilee warriors joined them. Jeresíah remained behind to converse with Juthwara.
"How many casualties, friend?" the Elf asked, bracing for the news.
The dwarf blinked. "That's the odd thing about it, sir. Only one warrior was seriously injured--a mighty Man named Zimri, on whom several Katamobi lunged in an attempt to reach the dungeon. He will be on his feet within a two-week, I deem. None were slain. Ten or eleven had minor hurts--scraped knuckles, strained shoulders, and the like. The elf-archer Gowaine had a gash in his forehead, but it will heal in six days, by my reckoning." The healer paused suddenly, cut off by Juthwara's chuckles. "Sir?"
The Elf laughed harder. "My friend, it is a miracle! Now go; join the rest in celebration. Darin will be glad of your company."
"I thank thee, sir. Fare ye well!"
And Jeresíah was gone.
Juthwara turned to Ralph. "Never underestimate the power of our King, young Lord."
The boy shook his head. "Never. Ryoo's dead, isn't she?"
Juthwara glanced to where they could see the high tower of Castle Ryoo listed dangerously to one side. "Is that what that means?"
"Yep." Ralph nodded, turning to stare in the same direction. "I hope Lenny and Cheryl are all right."
The Elf patted his shoulder. "I'm sure they are."
It was a long, exhausting trip up the spiraling steps. Its strange tilt made it even harder to make it, as the travelers leaned alternately against the central column and the outside wall. The torches were all smoldering or knocked entirely out of their holders, and the air was black and smoky, the stone beneath their feet like blocks of ice. Once in a while a step, loosened by the earthquake, would slip as they set foot on it, and this added to the fear.
The presence of evil hovered here. It was enough to make Cheryl hyperventilate, and the others were little better. Lenny was also somewhat frustrated, for though he held Chumégal clasped in his fist and the need for peace and healing was almost tangible, the amethysts did not shine. He wasn't claustrophobic, but the smoke made his eyes water, and sneezes sometimes punctuated the heavy silence.
It was ten times worse than the rotten spot. Rather, it was the origin of the rotten spot, and all the evil they'd encountered on their long quest.
At long last they reached the top and stepped out onto the slanting floor, panting and sweating. Lenny was taken aback by the shelves and shelves of ugly liquids in uglier jars.
"What's this?" he gasped. "I should think Ryoo has no need for such things."
"It's only an illusion," all three girls replied in unison.
For a moment they stared at each other in mute astonishment, then broke out into laughter. It was genuine and healthy, and the cheerful reality of it dealt the first blow to the brooding, forbidding atmosphere of Ryoo's favorite aerie.
"I guess they don't affect us then," Lenny said in a voice still suffused with laughter. He quickly sobered. "What is the next step?"
Cheryl peered around. From where they stood, the floor slanted up to the window. Through it they could see the bright blue sky of morning. It promised to be another hot, oppressive day in the capital of Galgolb.
Sarah kept her eyes on her black silk-encased toes. Seeing this room brought back dozens of memories, memories of learning to use the evil power of hate, memories of Ryoo, strong and evil and utterly overwhelming.
She shuddered, not daring to peek at the illusory shelves and jars. Not long ago, she had enjoyed making them disappear with a word and motion. Now she didn't want to, didn't even want to think about it.
Meanwhile Cheryl and the others had struggled up to the window. Shards of glass still littered the sill, and the gray-eyed girl carefully brushed them away before leaning over to look out.
The city below was dark. Dust rose from where many shoddy houses had been demolished by the earthquake. Vaporous fog formed in unhealthy clouds, rising from evaporation in the nearby Urnvile swamp to settle thickly on Kakon.
Cheryl sensed suffering and ignorance. Ryoo had done much harm, and they were here to rectify it. But how? She turned to her companions for advice.
"Perhaps the Hosridon holds the answer," Mariel suggested, holding the heavy volume up for them to see.
Cheryl gaped. "You lugged that all the way up here?"
The young woman shrugged. "Someone had to."
Cheryl grinned in admiration, then said, "Well, let's see what it says."
Mariel opened right to a prophecy. Though the gold was very bright, she could still read:
The color of Dawn is violet.
Mariel paused. "Is this what we were looking for?"
Lenny nodded. "It seems to refer to our situation. Notice Darkrender is mentioned, as well as 'the city of Darkness' and 'the baneful tower.' But I do not understand what we are expected to do."
"And what about that last line," she said in puzzlement. "It seems almost like a postscript. The color of Dawn is violet."
"Perhaps it refers to Chumégal."
"Of course," Cheryl put in. Instead of discussing it with the others, she had mulled it out until she was reasonably certain of the answer. She opened the locket of Morríenna and set the gray jewel with its tibian case and chain on the rough stone sill. "Remember when you healed a bunch of Elves, when Ralph killed the Katamobic dragon?"
"But it's morning now. What does dawn have to do with it?"
"It's only morning physically," she explained patiently. "Spiritually, it's the middle of the night."
"But a whole city?"
Cheryl shrugged. "Nothing is impossible."
His sister chuckled suddenly. "Oh, Lenny, you sound just like you did before you gave your life to God."
He paused, suddenly sheepish. "You're right." He sighed, then said with growing conviction, "Healing is definitely needed. After all I've seen here and in other places we've traveled through, how could I doubt anything?" Lenny peered out the window. In a city square far below many people gathered, bewildered and lost, some injured and recently made homeless by the earthquake. A few moved slowly, dazedly, victims of Ryoo's Sleepwalker spell.
Sudden compassion flooded the gray-eyed boy who watched them. He lifted the magnifying glass out the window and stood for a moment, hardly noticing the amethysts shine faintly from within. Lenny hesitated slightly, then pushed away lingering doubts and shouted firmly to the blue sky.
"By the Golden Eagle of Hosiotos, may this city be healed!"
The violet fireball of the gems nearly blinded the four in Ryoo's tower room, and the amethyst dawn was seen and felt for miles around. The jewels shining between the boy's fingers outshone the sun above and the healing light met and penetrated every barrier set before it. Hundreds of Sleepwalkers suddenly paused in their zombie-like movements and looked around, still rather dazed, but without the spooky vacancy in their eyes. In the procession of Jubilee warriors, infiltrators, and released prisoners, the wounded man named Zimri suddenly leaped from the stretcher with a whoop, completely healed. Gowaine put his hand to his forehead in astonishment, and the deep gash was no longer there. Everyone felt refreshed and invigorated.
As the violet Dawn slowly faded, it was replaced by ever-strengthening golden Day. The Book in Mariel's hands and the sword in Cheryl's fists burned ever brighter, as much more glorious than Chumégal as the sun than a star.
The spiritual Darkness was utterly consumed. Kataphage was completely defeated. The spells of Ryoo were dispersed, and the evil presence had fled. The shelves of ugly jars vanished. Everything was cleansed.
Cheryl smiled brightly, and it lit the smoky gray of her eyes, a warmth from within. "At last, we can go home," she said with contented weariness.
Victory was won.
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