Mia and Gali
The five of them had been up half the night, just talking. Nonsense mainly. It was a subtle thing, but Mia always admired the way her friends could make themselves heard. Heero’s yapping eagerness, Hollo’s straightforward and concise viewpoint, Taltin’s never ending questions and Gali’s charismatic thoughtfulness. Each of them was contributing.
More likely than not none of them realised how profoundly difficult that was. Mia always thought that you could never understand something, never appreciate how difficult the small things in life were, until you were deprived of them. Maybe Heero was annoying in his enthusiasm, maybe Taltin’s stream of questions were irritating, maybe Hollo was prone to oversimplify things. Maybe even Gali was too prone to self-importance and condescension. They were contributing, however: they were leaving a mark.
The conversation had turned to The Dark Messenger. The man who would defeat Monrath. At night, to get her and her brothers to sleep, Mia’s father had told them stories of the Dark Messenger. He had told of adventures he would have, of adventures he might have. At many points he would just talk about the Dark Messenger, forgetting the stories and probably even the fact that he was meant to be soothing his children to sleep.
When Taltin asked how they knew it was two years (although back then it would have been four) until Monrath devoured the world, Mia wanted to say that it was because Monrath himself had delivered a speech to the people at the capital, Dalgeshi. It was after he had first arrived on this plane, his first victory over the people of this world, the first battle in a now almost-done world. Then Gali said that it’s because of the warnings of the Message Holder, the man who would usher the Dark Messnger into the world, and Mia thought that was probably right and she was glad she had said nothing. Best not to make a fool of herself.
Then Hollo made a comment about how bad luck it was, that the world depended so heavily one man. ‘I…’ said Mia. She was interrupted by Heero, wishing that it had been him who had been born with the message, him who could use words like magic spells. Then Gali turned to Mia and said: ‘Sorry, what were you going to say Mia?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘it’s nothing.’ She had been going to say that she didn’t see why they all had to depend on the Dark Messenger. This was all of their world, and Monrath had to be beatable by more ways than one. Even if he wasn’t, even if the Dark Messenger was the only man who could really defeat him, they should all still fight.
Later, Gali had spoken to Mia. ‘You shouldn’t worry about saying what you want to.’ He poked her gently on the temple. ‘There’s more in there than you let on.’ It astonished Mia that he was intelligent and he was confident, but he did not judge other people based on that. He did not just look at her and see someone stupid, someone who’s inability to string a sentence together lessened her. He saw her anxiety, her difficulties, as what she hoped they were: just small facets of a person who had much more to give. It helped a lot that someone else saw that in her as she was having a more and more difficult time believing it of herself.
Gali was probably the strongest person she knew. He could lead them through anything.
Monrath and The Grey
This is Monrath’s palace – an empty plain. Barren and dull. Go down.
On the first level under the earth were the quarters of his servants and his soldiers. This was a lawless place, self-governed by power. On the surface, in Monrath’s livery, a stony discipline was demand. They were to act like creatures of with a hive mind, never breaking their unity. Here, however, they could let out the stress and have fun. It was not a nice place. The low ceilings and lack of natural light was changing the people that lived there: Monrath was remoulding them.
Down another level and the last level that could access the surface directly. The war machines slept here, creatures of wood and steel and fire. Trebuchets like the wooden skeletons of prehistoric creatures, pots of oil waiting to boil, battering rams shaped like snarling monsters. All these weapons were still: they were like the grim the reaper, waiting patiently.
Below, the third level, was Monrath. The two levels above had been cut to look like rooms, shaped into an inverted palace, but down here it was a cavern. On a pillar in the centre of the cavern, a giant glass ball filled with poisonous looking purple mist dominated everything. This was Monrath. Trapped. No person had seen the dark god before, only the crystal ball that continued to function as his prison. When the whole of the world was his, only then would he be able to break free. That time was close now.
A man stood on the platform in front of the crystal ball. He was one of Monrath’s four chiefs, a swordsman they called The Grey, and he was speaking. ‘The reports seem good. The Dark Messenger has been killed. In Lil, in the county of South Betan, on the mountain of the same name. We have reports from the soldiers who saw him die. The Fourth have a good track record, lieutenant Tekless is a strong leader. They are unlikely to be unreliable. Our biomages are reporting that his signature has disappeared and our spies are saying he has not appeared at any of the hot points. At this point, it is safe to say he is dead.’
The body. The words appeared in the purple mist. Do we have it?
‘We’re looking for it – the people of the nearby settlements of Loid and Dai are like to prove unhelpful. Our influence there has always been limited. It may prove difficult to locate.’
Go personally. Find it.
The Grey reacted with surprise. ‘My lord?’
This takes priority. The Dark Messenger is not dead until his body is brought before me. You will obey me in this.
The Grey knelt on one knee and then stood again. His sword clattered against the ground as he did.
Go now. Waste no time.
The Dark Messenger is Dead
It was the death knell of a nation. ‘The Dark Messenger is dead.’
The people of Dai didn’t believe them. If they had they would have rioted, or argued, or cried. A reaction of some kind. Instead, the silence that greeted the news was as good as a declaration of disbelief. People just gave the soldiers a look of cowed cynicism. They thought it was a trick, propaganda. The captain wasn’t interested – Monrath had won, as he was always going to. They would see it sooner or later.
‘Back down the mountain,’ he told his soldiers. ‘What a waste of time.’
Gali by the Cliffs
Gali cut a mournful figure most nights by Herald’s Point. Mia found him on the fifth, just staring at the kingdom beneath a pink explosion of a sunset, perched on a fallen tree. She could not remember the tree having been fallen last time she was up here, and the storm that threatened to break for days had moved away without incident. How had gotten there?
She sat beside him. ‘Gali? I’m worried about you. We have to talk to someone about this.’
It took Gali a moment to respond. He did not look at her. ‘Why?’ There was a force of emotion in his voice that shocked her. This was unlike him. Mia knew she should be feeling sorry for him, sympathise with the fact that he had to sit and watch as someone died. Instead, she was just annoyed by the way he wallowed in self-pity, unwilling to do anything.
Mia found that she had found herself weirdly unaffected by his death. By all rights, she should be worse gone than Gali, but it did not feel like the world had ended. A man had died, and the world continued, yet to be devoured by Monrath. The fate of the world couldn’t just hinge on the actions of one person. She couldn’t bring herself to believe that.
Heero was dead. His body had been found the day after. That hurt. Every time she remembered turning to find him gone from the lookout post – she had had nightmares, watching from the tree as the soldiers killed him. Scenarios had played out over and over again and every time she had done nothing but gawk. Even thinking about his formerly omnipresent smile brought a pain in her chest. Gali had not talked to any of them about it. She hoped that was not because he was too obsessed with his own problems to care about Heero’s death.
‘He’s dead,’ she said, ‘we both know that The Dark Messenger is dead. We can’t just not tell anyone. We need to tell other people.’
Gali shushed her with a gesture. ‘Not exactly,’ he said. It took him a long time to elaborate on that, as if his mind was moving more slowly than normal. ‘I guess, I have to show you. Come on.’
Gali moved off into the forest, beckoning her to follow. He was not going back towards the village. Mia glanced upwards at the sinking sun. When night fell, it was easy to get lost. You could be ten minute from the village and spend an entire night without finding it. ‘Are you sure? Gali?’
He had vanished already into the undergrowth, but he was making enough noise that finding him was easy. ‘Just tell me Gali, what is going on?’
Past the painted rock by the main road, and down the drop it sits on the edge of, there’s an overgrown track. When they were younger Heero had stumbled upon it by accident. It had led them to a cave, and that had led them to an underground tomb. They had not spent long down there, the game of proving their bravery giving way fast as their courage was found wanting. Amongst the dank and the dust, Mia had found her imagination quickly made everything hiding in the dark appear laden with danger.
Tutor Gomi, her teacher, had told her that the Kingdom’s first ruler was buried there. He had loved the mountains, and when the rebels had beaten his armies he had fled and hid in the mountains. There had been a tradition, which had died out back in her grandparents’ time, that children would honour the first king by taking a gift to the tomb. Mia was disappointed that this secret cave was not actually some great secret, but rather a forgotten piece of boring history. She had never been back.
Gali had, however, and he was leading her to it right now. He did not even pause to find the path, knowing immediately where it was in the low light of twilight. Mia wondered if she should be scared for herself. Was Gali safe to be around now?
They reached the cave. ‘We can’t go in Gali, we won’t be able to see.’ Gali looked at her and then stepped into the darkness.
She looked at the dark gaping mouth of the cave. She didn’t have to go in. She could just turn round now, leave Gali to his brooding. Maybe talk to someone, to his master at the school. Gali was the apprentice tutor to Revina, Gomi’s successor. Gali had not talked to his parents for over a year now. There was always Hollo or Taltin. They knew, like her, what was wrong with Gali. Mia had found it hard to talk to them since and never really stopped wanting to. This was the first time she had talked to Gali since.
‘Are you coming?’ asked Gali, a disembodied voice from the cave mouth. Mia followed him. She wanted to understand, although she something told her she already did.
She had expected to step in behind Gali, following him, but there was no one to be seen in the chamber. Most of the light was not coming from the cave mouth – there was a source of light up ahead. The whole thing was one long corridor, graves of the king’s most trusted warriors flanking the path. It was not as long or deep as she remembered, her memories were of it stretching off into another age.
The light was a person, she realised as she got closer. ‘Gali?’
Gali turned. He was surrounded by a golden shimmer. Mia’s breath caught.
‘Do you see?’ asked Gali, ‘it’s not just me, right? I’ve not just went crazy?’
‘No,’ said Mia, ‘I…So when you said the Dark Messenger was not exactly dead you meant-’
‘This? Yes.’ Behind him was the altar of the first king, a stone carving of his likeness in front of the wall. It was taller than Gali, a stony face staring above his head. In a weird way it looked like Gali had a regal, dead shadow rising from the ground. ‘Mia, he told me the final message. It’s here, in my head. It’s as if I can feel it, as if it’s made of rock, sitting heavily in my head. What if I forget it? What if Monrath knows it’s here now? What if he finds out? I feel like I’m dead, like everything I wanted to do with my life or was going to do is gone.’
‘Gali,’ said Mia, ‘please stop.’
‘Heero’s dead you know,’ said Gali. He began walking towards Mia. Ugly he may have been, but she had always liked Gali’s face. It was welcoming, the strong sense of identity it lent him forced him to always be true to himself. In the golden tinted gloom he looked every bit the monster that people would often accuse him of being.
‘If I have the Dark Messenger’s powers, his message, then I am the most powerful man in the world. If I’m the most powerful man in the world, why shouldn’t I be able to save him?’ Mia saw that Gali had been standing in front of someone. A body.
‘Watch,’ said Gali, ‘live.’ Live.
Spasms spread through the dead body. ‘No,’ said Mia, ‘what are you doing?’
Gali kept moving towards her, slowly. ‘You don’t know what it’s like to have all of this, all of it placed on me! You want me to just sit by and watch Heero die-’
‘He’s already dead!’
‘Die without doing anything?’ Unsteadily, behind him, the corpse was picking itself up off the floor. It seemed uncoordinated, struggling. Mia could hear a low rasp, a shallow mockery of breathing.
‘Live!’ Live. The dead body was definitely Heero. He was small and wiry and Mia thought she could make out his face now. The soldiers had cut his throat. How had Gali gotten hold of his body? What was going on?
‘Please Gali, please stop this!’