The sight that greeted them from the other side of the heavy wooden doors was not dissimilar in nature to the War Room at Castle Fontanus. One wall of the long, wide hallway was clearly exposed polished granite that had been worked until it was a refined, smooth surface that almost reflected like Mythril. Spaced evenly down the hall were long, thin golden sconces that lit with golden LifeFire unexpectedly as the Brethren passed.
Their light shone brightly across the expansive and formal entrance hall, casting its golden radiance across the majestic Castle Keep. The shadows from the LifeFire danced up the walls, revealing extremely high ceilings in the hall. The floors were of a rich sapphire marble, speckled with the sparkle of unusual gold and silver metallic flecks. As they continued past the sconces, there were spacious and ornate arches that marked tunnels that wound deep into the darkness of the mountainside itself.
The outer wall, adjacent to the rock face that led down into the macabre ravine, was a most terrifically fantastic wall of stained glass. It appeared to feature, in splendid detail, the scene of a battle that had long ago been fought between Asband’s Wolf Clans and long-haired, fierce, white apes. In the moments when Asband’s sun dared to peek from behind the many clouds in its heavens, the sunlight danced along the multi-colored panes of glass, throwing dashes of rainbow to join the sparkle of silver and gold amidst the marble floors.
Velvet was tempted to ask Cana to honor them with the tale of the battle the window depicted, but saw the fleeting glimpse of another vanishing white shadow in a tunnel beside them, which stopped her cold before she started.
Standing partially ajar at the end of the incredible hallway were two more enormous, skillfully carved wooden doors. They showed a large crest that, when closed, would have been complete in its accurate representation of the crest they had seen emblazoned upon the sails of the giant ships in the distance from the Courtyard Overlook.
This crest was not unlike the House of Fontanus’ crest, with its majestic crown of laurel leaves and dueling, winged-lions. A two-headed dragon sat perched atop the emblem, each breathing a fire in opposite directions, which wrapped around and down the monstrous doors from the top, right to the floor. Clutched in the talons of the dragon was an immense breastplate that bore the obscure and archaic rune that they now knew stood for “the gift.”
However, it wasn’t the doors or the incredible stained glass of rainbow and crystals that made the biggest impression on the Brethren, nor the sheer feat of engineering that it would have taken to have built this elaborate Castle Keep. It was the image that met their eyes as they entered what appeared to have been the formal ThroneRoom of Syran the Just, that was perhaps one of the most disturbing they had encountered in Asband so far. It was an image that would plague their conscious minds for quite some time to come.
The Brethren stared in silence as they laid their eyes on Asband’s fair and kind ruler. They held their breath as an emotional shudder escaped audibly from Cana. They knew that until that very moment, she had been able to hold out hope that somehow Syran might have escaped like she did; that maybe he had gone on to have that family in another world. Now, the reality was cold and cruel in its revelation, and Cana seemed to simply disappear, retreating into the clouded depths of memories from a life once loved but now lost.
Syran was sitting atop a throne of remarkable multi-colored, hand-blown glass. He looked as though he had simply sat down and succumbed to the cold that had locked his Kingdom within a particularly horrifying moment in time.
His expression was almost wistful; his eyes full of a deep remorse and sadness at something lost, or perhaps even never known at all. He looked as though he had spent his final moments praying in hopes for something more that he knew could never be, as evident by the frozen tear, eternally locked in the trail on his cheek. His face was lined with sorrows and laugh lines that would never again smile. He had blue eyes that sparkled brightly, as did the golden locks that were his hair and tightly framed beard.
The tall, handsome, incredibly life-like, but frozen King sat staring wistfully down the Fortress Hall from his remarkable throne of colored glass. Atop his head was a crown very different than those worn by the Royal Brethren of the Ethyrean realm. He wore a band crafted from pure Mythril. Embedded in it were three solid, polished flat stones. They were green, red, and blue: the colors of his Brothers’ LifeBreath, but certainly, not of his own.
Clutched tightly in one of his hands was an enormous breastplate that bore the same emblem as the one upon his sails or on his ThroneRoom’s door. Curled tightly around his other hand was a single yellow satin ribbon. It was the same yellow as the breastplate’s crystal and as the crystal in his simple Reyan armband.
He wore an amulet that was almost identical to the one worn by Wrenzwyck. It hung from a simple braid of Mythril and Gold that was clasped tightly around his neck. Wrenzwyck was staring at him intently. Xandreus was unsure of whether he inspected Syran’s amulet, or the unusual, scarlet birthmark that was obvious on Syran’s neck.
The Brethren then noticed the ThroneRoom seemed to be located within a chamber that, in itself, was not unlike the underwater chamber of Malta. It appeared to have been carved out of a giant geode that had been discovered buried deep within the mountainside, and had been hollowed out and designed from within. Sparkling, the room and walls shimmered all around them as the sun dared to shine down on them, drawing their attention upwards.
Above them was a tremendous glass ceiling that allowed the brightly shining sunlight to glisten off the frozen wasteland as it reflected off the chambers walls. It rained its radiance from every direction on the incredible throne of glass.
Cana was speechless when she laid eyes on her Brother Syran for the first time in nearly half a century.
VelvetWind watched as Cana gently fingered the ribbon her beloved Brother had curled tightly in his hand. VelvetWind was overwhelmed by the weight of Cana’s sadness, and knew the sight was simply too much for anyone to be expected to bear.
Cana’s heart sank as her mind became lost to a sorrow filling her inside, much like a tide pool that drains and overflows with the ebb and wane of the waxen moon.
“Oh, dear Syran,” she said, clasping his hand. “How I wanted more for you than this.”
They were not insensitive to her touching and emotionally painful reunion, but the Brethren had more pressing matters at hand than helping Cana cope with her inordinate grief. They knew she struggled to accept her Brother was forever destined to stare down an empty hallway, filled with light and beauty he would never again admire or enjoy.
Their focus was no longer on Cana, nor the details of Asband’s Frozen King. Their backs were turned to them both in awareness that they were not alone. In fact, the Brethren were all too aware that they would soon be facing down something they did not see or know. A white shadow of movement that seemed to blow and move like wind itself had begun to fill the empty chamber and surround them where they stood.
“They move like smoke,” Mateas said, breaking the silence at last. “What should we do?”
Looking around desperately for a way out of the crystal chamber, Elrick was painfully aware that the room had no exits, no doors, and no escape.
Weapons readied, Cana reached out and took Syran’s breastplate from his icy grip. As she turned, she was completely startled to see the Brethren preparing to attack.
“No you mustn’t,” she said urgently.
“But there is no escape. They block the door, we have no way out,” Mateas argued.
“Oh Syran, what did you do?” cried Cana.