The House of Khol By Sonny Azeez
The House of Khol
By Sonny Azeez (Nigeria)
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Olacer fled down the winding staircase leading through the pitch-black tunnel he had grown to know like the back of his palm. The stairs led to several small rooms, which served the throne occasionally as storage facility for unwanted materials - absolute, outgrown, damaged or unused. However, after a chanced discovery on his 7th birthday, it became his refuge from the hullabaloos of the court. It became a large world to explore where he was free to roam, conquer without protest and possess without objections. His subjects did as he wanted them to, the boxes never moved from where he left them; nor did the dustpans or the sacks!
He never was a believer of utter trust in the loyalty of those around him. They all had minds just like he did and only the gods knew what manner of thought they harboured in the dark corners of their minds away from the light of the mind readers and the telepaths.
Nevertheless, of course that was the beauty of his loyal boxes, dustpans, sacks and the miscellany of abandoned and disused wares. They have no thinking faculty. They were his for his bidding only as long as he had the powers to make them move. They were as the little statuettes lay across the rank and files of a chequered board in those time wasting, but admirable games of strategic warfare. The elders claimed that mastering the skills of the board game was a young man’s first success to a formidable knighthood, winning the game in the presence of the court was a display of good military leadership, a victorious asset to the throne!
Yet, he failed to understand the emphasis on ‘patience’ as the masters of the game taught. All that was had been pre-destined to be, therefore there could be only one winner in a game of “winner takes all” and that person had being pre-destined to be! Patience was only a mindless waste of valuable time in a situation where the table could not be turned because none knew whose table it was! For all he cared, the game was only good for one thing - utter, manipulative power of all that was on his side of the board. The power to make sacrifices and redeem souls, capture set pieces and use them against their allies, promote a defenceless piece into omnipresence, and laugh as his “patient” opponents fell victim to the utter destruction of their “patience” game. Only during the game, had the Court caught a glimpse of the other side of him, the side that was capable of wanton destruction, cherish the sight of anguish in the eyes of the bereaved, selfish and ruthless.
The stairs stopped beside a strong wall with a jagged crack down the roof. On either side of the wall were latched, steel doors, some stacked high with disused goods. He was not interested in the doors today for he was not going to play alone.
The wall parted open at his touch, down the length of the crack. Aha, the powers these things had bestowed on him, he thought as he walked through the enlarged crack.
A soft green glow slowly filled the landing, emitting from the twin forks at the end of the tunnel revealed by the parted walls.
If only the others knew what dwelled beneath their roof and under their floors. If only they knew the state of denial, they lived in from these portals of overwhelming powers.
“Powers?” a soft voice called behind him.
He cast an apprehensive look behind and saw a piece of white silk glide to the floor, a piece of clothing he recognized as belonging to Arcius.
The poor boy had died miserably. He had died trying to tell the truth as it was, he thought, pathetic. The fool had been warned about his death. The little creatures in the darkness of the ruins of the temple had prophesised his death and warned him of fatality at the dinning table. Yet, he had gone ahead to attend the feast of a girl that was now a woman.
Yet, had the silk just spoken to him?
A thought hissed through his mind as he approached the end of the tunnel, pushing the silk out of his mind. The creature from temple was supposed to be in one of the rooms only, so what was the source of the second glow?
He quickened his stride as his mind grappled against the dark thoughts forming in his mind. Why was he suddenly afraid for the fond, helpless creature saddled in here? It was vulnerable and at his mercy, what powers had it especially within the grounds of the protected castle? By the gods, he thought, this was a sign of weakness. He never must think as such. He must perfect the powers of the manipulative control an all subjects as judged by the welders of that power. He would be known as the greatest, the birds of the air will sing his name, the fishes of the sea will bring tribute to him from the many shores across foamy waves of their habitant, the beast of the earth will tremble and bow to his name and the gods will be a witness to it all!
“It’s such a shame you wouldn’t live to see it happen,” greeted a strange voice from the fork on his right-hand side, “the ingenuity of power. It’s a woeful thing for such a little man as you to have this sort of fairness.”
Olacer turned towards the voice; the thoughts in his head became darker. He suddenly realized his foolishness as he stood staring into the dark, mean eyes of the origin of the voice. The truth drawn on his like a stick to the back of the head. He had been fooled, used by the ones he trusted! Everything they had taught and gave him, everything he thought he was in control of had been used to control him instead!
A greenish mist began to fill the room.
“We have come to take back all that is ours, Olacer.” the voice continued, “We’ve come to take all that is ours from this land, including your father and the seat of Khol.”
A small gasp escaped from Olacer’s lips as the ones he loved and given all his trust emerged from the green mist that had enveloped the forks, led by the one the rescued from he tangle.
They lied to him.
“We’ve come to take all we’ve given you, Olacer,” the creature informed, gliding towards him “perhaps if this be your last hour Olacer, know that my name is Pelit and you’ll find the companion of your brother very entertaining”
Suddenly, the mist disappeared into the walls, revealing a room he had no recollection of stepping into. The room, made from stone bricks of greyish matters, was bare of any furnishing, except for the fire burning in a crudely made fireplace at the far end of the room. The fire cracked and tongues of flame into the air as if in revolt against the squatted figure poking it.
“It’s very cold and lonely here,” the figure informed, turning it face away from the fire, it was Arcius. “And though I’m here with you, this is not where I am, until I know why I died or the house of Khol will live not to see the light of dawn.”
“Arcius.” was the only word he could manage to gasp at the scene of treachery around him before a rapidly growing dark patch began to stretch across his horizon and plucked out the glittering stars one after the other.
Iegon woke up with a jolt. He immediately sensed the presence of someone leaving in a frightening worried sense of state. From the ruffled noise of the cloth, he could tell it was made from a silky material and the sweet, musky scent that trailed the wake of the intruder spoke gaily about the personality of the intruder. He could have followed the trail anywhere without losing it, but he already knew who it was, though the visitation was unwelcome, he was not disturbed by it. Instead, the other one, the second intruder that had bounded his body to the seat and rendered him senseless in sleep, disturbed him. He wondered why it had attacked him, could the dead still reach out to the living, was Arcius spirit truly unrest?
He shot to his feet, recalling that any moment from now; there would be a called for every male in the household to proceed to lay Arcius body to rest. Then, his body went still.
Thenis bed was deserted, but the bedclothes showed signs of a hurried departure. The aura in the room disturbed him. The falsified sense of calm and the thick smell of the departed presences could only have been as a result of one thing; the House of Khol had served as a portal between parallel worlds and they were trapped in the middle of it all.
“By the gods,” he thought and ran out of the room. Something in the quietness of the hallway warned him of his cousin’s safety. He reached for the hilt of his blade, and then hesitated. His intentions could be misinterpreted with a drawn weapon, he reasoned, the best he could do was keep it within a second’s reach of it. Yet, why had Thenis disappeared? What had influenced him from his room and at the same time tried to suppress him?
Somewhere, something was not fitting in the way it should and he did not intend to know what it was or why, that was Khol’s problem, not his.
Tonight, he would make his exit from Khol, but first he must find that boy Thenis!
“We all have dreams young man,” announced the thickset voice of a wiry looking form in blue gown and hood. The voice seemed to emit from somewhere within the abdominal region of the body, instead of its mouth. “Some dreams begin at dawn and end at dusk, while others begin at dusk and end at dawn. The greatest dream is to know when all dreams will end and if it’s really the time to end”
“Who’re you?” Iegon asked coldly, tightening his grip on the hilt of the blade. The idea of anybody using the knowledge of the portals to teleport freely to wherever and whomever they wished, had lost its appeal to him. It was not the issue of privacy that bothered him. No, he was a guest here and anybody could spy on him as much as anybody wanted, rather it was the aura of the man that bothered him. It bore a faint resemblance to the suppressive force in Thenis’ room.
“Who am I?” the stranger repeated, laughingly. The mirth in the voice reminded him of the distant rumbling of a thunder, not a good omen at all. “There’s no telling who we really are, all we have are names to identify ourselves, if you can call it a name. Nevertheless, this is not my mission.”
“What’s your mission?”
“It’s simple, son of the night. Your presence is no longer wanted in Khol. You are not to return after Arcius’ burial and as for Thenis, you are not to speak of him again. It is in the general interest to understand we all have to make sacrifices, even for things we might not understand.”
It took Iegon a minute to digest the message - to leave Khol without Thenis? What did he mean not to return after Arcius’ burial? Where was Thenis?
“Let’s look at it this way, Iegon,” the man continued, “the days of this house are numbered. The equestrians will be more merciful than the ones whose hands will turn these walls to dust, but as long as your lips are sealed, you’ll remain accomplished in your task as Thenis’ guardian.”
“What’re you talking about? Where’s Thenis?” slowly, a maddening rage was beginning to creep over him.
“I’ll put it this way Iegon; you’ll never see Thenis again. It’s the sacrifice you’ve made.”
Iegon slowly let his jaw dropped. He need not ask if this was a joke or not, the truth was evident in the strangers voice. If he was never going to see Thenis again, why was it so? What had they done with him and not himself instead? What was the sacrifice all about? He wanted to know more, but he had learnt never to ask first as the son of night. He had asked the house for nothing, but had given it all he could - his love, trust, and had shield the darkness within away from them. Now, after taking everything away without a word of thank, they wanted the most precious thing in his world, his ward! By the gods, he wanted Thenis back!
A sudden outburst of wind lashed against his face, almost throwing him backward forcing his eyes close monetarily. For a moment, he felt quietness – a calming sense of being at peace with himself – by the gods, he could do without Thenis, he thought to himself, life would be beautiful without that troublesome boy on his hand. Then suddenly, the calmness was shattered by high-pitched shrieks and furious clashes of sword.
He opened his eyes and threw himself backward just in time to evade the path of three flying daggers. His finger shot to his side and unsheathed his blade. The blade was unlike any other, it had a silvery hilt with a double-edged bronze blade.
The stranger was no longer in sight.
He cursed under his breath. He must find Thenis; failure had never been in his family. The blade was all he had left, the blade of darkness.
He stuck the floor with the tip blade angry at being betrayed by those he thought he could trust and all the lights in the castle went out.
The sudden darkness that enveloped the castle did not disturb Glaphius as much as the form of the equestrian lying ten feet away from him.
Zikoh-lee held his blade like a firebrand, throwing a bright light around them and down the hall. The figure on the ground had aged a little since he last saw it, yet he would never mistake the jagged cut running down the left cheek of the face; his blade had done that, but what was he doing here, playing pranks or still in search of vengeance after all these years?.
“Is he dead?” Glaphius asked.
“If he is, does it matter?” Zikoh-lee replied coldly, keeping his eyes on the still form. His thoughts were in turmoil. When his father delivered his verdict of exile, he thought everything was lost, life, as he knew it as the son of the raging blade was over, and all he had left were the memories and the discipline of his father’s teachings.
“By the gods, it does!” Glaphius exclaimed, “That man’s Obion, son of Obibion, the usher of the presence of the Oracle! Obibion has dedicated his life to the serving of the Oracle and Obion had served the throne as my father, personal horse groom!”
Zikoh-lee remained silent for a while. “What scarred his face?” he asked.
“He was wounded learning the arts of your ways. You never met him?” Glaphius replied.
The ghost of a smile curled up Zikoh-lees face. The scoundrel had lied; he had concealed the truth again. He had told them what really happened the 3rd night of the fifth month, but he never told them the scar on his face was not a warrior’s cause, but a nefarious, cowardice act three months ago.
That night he had stolen through the cold and the slumbering city to Rahia’s room and one more night together before his inevitable draft into the Armoss Legion to command the largest army ever any in the history of his kingdom against any known foe. The date began at the table with a candlelight dinner, a slow dance across the floor of the parlour followed, then a warm bath together, many kisses behind the window facing the sea before climaxing between the sheets of her bed.
Unknown to them a pair of malicious, baby blue eye was watching them from its self-imposed confine in the wardrobe.
He had drifted off to sleep shortly after her melody began to fill his ears. Hers was the most soothing sound he had ever heard, but just as he was about dreaming of the expanse of water outside, a life at the bottom of the ocean, making marvels from the coral reefs around and paving the path to their home with gleaming mother pearls he heard her scream and was jilted back to life.
Standing over them was a masked figure with the brightest blue eyes he had ever seen brandishing a bloodstained dagger in the air. Beside him, Rahia was screaming from a deep cut across her chest.
A deep red patch had begun to spread across the bedspread.
Reaching for his weapon, his first impulse had been to severe the intruder’s head from its shoulder, but her plea had stalled his action and he regretted the delay as the edge of his blade sliced across the intruder’s face, ripping of the mask.
As the attacker’s shriek shattered the tranquillity of the night, the doors and windows flew opened and the royal guards stood over them, shocked at the sight of their master, a son of the raging blade, in bed with a woman of the street.
Obion lied about his intentions at the trail. With the aid of a strange mirror, which he called the mirror of all ‘truth’, he accused Rahia of witchcraft and assured the court his intentions was not to harm her, he had come to kill them.
He drew closer to the body. After all these years, two questions had kept on bothering him; who was he and what was his motive for the attack? Now that he really knew who he was, what was his motive?
“Why was his service not returned in the court?” he asked, sweeping the blazing blade across the corpse’s face.
“He-he became sick. His father demanded he be returned home and kept between the walls of their home under the protective spell of the Oracle.”
Obion’s eyes flew open.
“How very sick?” holding the light over the bright blue eyes as the face began to twist a wicked, mask-like grin flashing white, elongated sabre teeth.
“He murdered my father’s ceremonial train, our butler, my mother’s personal maid and burnt down my stable all for their blood!”
“But what’s he doing here? He was banned and bound by the Oracle’s spell…”
“This house is mine!” Obion declared, opening his mouth wide open to release a gush of wind that almost knocked Zikoh-lee’s head backwards.
The body slide from its dangerous position beneath Zikoh-lee’s blade and lunged towards the surprised Glaphius. “I’II be king!” he declared, just as the knight regained his composure and raised his weapon into the air.
There would be no delay this times, he thought, not a second hesitation or sway the aim of his blow. Would Rahia be happy seeing him strike down what she had tired to prevent? Of course, she never wanted bloodshed in her cosy home, the memories of his death would have scarred the walls and make everything within that wall abominable, including him. She would rather die than live to hate him for taking the life of another man before her eyes, that was why she tired to stop him –
“Son of the raging blade - Zikoh-lee, don’t!” a frantic voice cried behind them.
The warning came a second late as the blade swished through the air.
“Father!” Obion cried.
“Obion! Don’t!” Obibion cried, running as first as his aged legs could carry him through the air.
There was a high-pitched screaming and then a hush followed by a clatter as the blazing blade fell to the floor.
Elsa’s pace quickened as she neared the room where the remains of her son rested. She must hurry before the guardians came to take his body to rest.
Her breathing came in short pants, as she tired to move faster than her age, she cursed softly.
The guardians would be getting to the body soon, barely giving her enough time to imprint the picture of what her son looked like in death in her mind. It was all her fault, spending precious time hiding beneath Iegon’s seat, while those voices invaded his room and left with what was not theirs.
She knew Thenis had tired to keep the communication telepathic for fear of awaking Iegon. He was blinded of the third eye to see the slimy, green hands wrapt across Iegon’s, his protector’s body, subduing his senses of time and reality.
They had fooled Thenis too; speaking as one through the form of a projected hologram, they had fooled him with his greed.
Yet what if it was true, would he take up aims against his hosts for the throne? How, by striking through the heart of the throne? Killing something, somebody?
A small gasp escaped her throat. Could he have killed Arcius?
Her thought came to an abrupt halt as she neared the door. The only sound within her was the pounding of her heart.
The question was no longer a thought; it became the rhythm of her heartbeat.
Could he? Could he?
Her hand reached for the doorknob. The tempo of her heartbeat became wild. Suddenly, her hand froze over the knob. Something icy seemed to shot into her body and crept up her spin, altering her sense of space and time. Her vision blurred, her environment became a dark confined where her form was a bubbling mass in a body of water.
Gradually, there was a bright red flash as something, painfully heavy, was thrust into her chest and her feet knocked off the ground by a sweeping blow.
The door flew opened and slammed shut, but in that moment of revelation, she saw what was behind the door as her spirit sailed back unceremoniously into her body.
Twelve little green beings, barely measuring up to three feet, looking like gnomes forced through needle eyes to give then a wiry form were scuffling about the room, stark naked for all to see and carrying the magnificently wrapt remains of Arcius high above their heads.
“No!” she cried, frantically fighting against the force that was pulling her back into her body. She grappled the doorknob. Strangely, it felt solid against her touch, instead of allowing her form to shift-walk through the door.
The strange force grabbed her by the ends of her hair and pulled her backwards, threatening to snap her head off. She grunted against the force, but to her dismay saw, her hands gradually slip off the knob and a blanket of darkness stretch across her vision.
“Mother! Mother!” a harsh voice called through the darkness, “what’ve you done?”
Her eyes flew open and she saw herself lying on the ground, a numbing chilliness in her bones. Herta knelt beside her, sobbing as she gathered the fragment of something broken, but she was too tired to attempt to know what it was. All that was left inside her was a sense of emptiness and wretchedness.
“We’re not alone, Herta,” she whispered disconsolately. “They’re here with us. They’re watching us.”
Herta’s eyes widened in fear, “mother!”
“We’re no longer protected, Herta.” she continued her eyes, staring blankly across the room. Everything looked familiar; the walls, the paintings, the engravings, the statuette.
Of course, they were hers; this was her room!
Although she wondered, why did she feel so cold, lonely, and lifeless to all that was hers?
Was it her senses or had her daughter’s touch grown cold too?
“The equestrians,” Herta gasped
“No, not only them, my dear, it’s everything we’re being protected against; the equestrians, the serpentine hordes - everything we never wanted to encounter.”
“Mother,” Herta gasped and slowly let the fragments she had been gathering into the fold of her dress scatter to the floor once again, “It’s coming.”
The ridiculous thought that her mother had gone delusional became frightening as the lights slowly went out.
Olacer drew backward from the green mist, fixing his eyes on the ghost of his brother.
“Don’t think of running yet, Olacer.” Arcius informed a warning in his voice.
“My thoughts are far from that Arcius,” Olacer replied drawling the words.
“Really? How charming of you to pick up some courage when it’s so near the end of us all.” Arcius applauded.
Olacer swallowed hard and remained silent. There were times he wanted to be a chatterbox and talk his way out of threatening situations like this one. Yet, this was unlike any; they would see through his act like a clear, shallow stream and spear for whatever fish they saw in it. All he could do was to wait upon their mercies - and follies
“Fate has no mercy,” Arcius reminded. ‘She can only bring to pass what was meant to pass.”
“Why are you here Arcius? Why are you not where your kind belongs?”
“The question, Olacer, is where do I belong?”
“You’re dead Arcius, you belong with the dead?”
“I didn’t die Olacer. I was murdered”
“Does it matter? Murdered or not, the fact’s you are dead. Are you not supposed to remain that way?”
“Now that you mentioned it, I wonder why is it I’m here and when is it you that can converse with me or have you become what I’ve became?”
A sudden impulse made him reel backwards just in time to see his body being dragged across the floor by some members of the group he once called his family.
“What’re you done?” he cried.
“When I journeyed to the underworld, the keepers of the gates said it was not my time, and my fate wouldn’t only be determined by the death of another of me at my hands. Now that we’re same, let’s go know our fate for I fear what might befall us all and the house of Khol. I’II send for the robe of the twin peak mountains, your robe. Only with it can they divine our fate. Come with me to the keepers, they cannot be kept waiting”
Suddenly, a thought flashed across his mind. Why, there still might be hope to gain the powers he wanted on their sojourn to the gates. The dead could be his for the taking to do his bidding; would that not be the greatest victory, far outweighing and surpassing any before him.
“What’s it you think of?” his brother asked.
It would be magnificent but the gains of the living outweighed the dead. He would rather have men who knew how to dig well and probably mine precious minerals for him someday, than an army of scarecrows at the battlefield.
“I was just wondering if we should get the robe first,” he replied quickly, “it’s mine after all.”
“I want the power! I’ll get it!”
Olacer’s lust for absolute control was a weakness, readily exploited as long, as it would bring him closer to knowing whose fate this was.
“Go,” Arcius commanded but as soon as the word was uttered, he regretted it.
There was a loud hush and a cloud of explosion before Pelit and his family. When the dust finally cleared, and the light in the fireplace began to die, Olacer nor his body was nowhere in sight.
“Where’s he?” Pelit demanded, the dying light casting dark ominous shadow on his face “Find him you must all! Arcius?”
Arcius stared piteously at the dying fire, his face down cast. “It’s eternal,” he announced, “the fire is eternal but why’s is dying?”
Pelit’s eyes narrowed. There was a visible change in the form of the ghost standing in front of him, a frightening alteration in its mass, and shape. Something that reminded him of the way ice melts in a warm room.
“What happens when eternity dies?”
He looked lower and saw a growing, colourless pool around the hem of Arcius’ gown. The fire had died down to a flickering tongue of flame.
“I demand an answer Pelit!” Arcius cried, “ Why, have you suddenly grown taller in just a second?”
Pelit’s eyes widened in horror at the remains of the ghost whose influence had gained him entrance into the house of Khol. It was no more than a foot tall, swiftly, dissolving into a colourless pool.
“Pelit, what happens when eternity dies?”
The flame flickered one last time and died out.
“I don’t want to know standing here” Pelit replied, his voice shaking.
There was a loud yelp and the sound of scampering feet.
All he could hear was a howling noise in his head
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