(Note: Kelly is written by Kelly Blanchard, and Aerellius is written by Matthew Dale. Aerellius is the antagonist in Matthew’s story ‘The Apostate Saga’.)
Aerellius paced the halls of his palace, waiting impatiently. He was nervous, more so than he was willing to admit. He had little time for distractions with war on the horizon, but this needed to be done. His guards exchanged nervous glances; they had never seen him like this before. He waited outside the door to the Catacombs, for his appointment to arrive. “Why am I so nervous?” he whispered to himself. The guards kept their gaze fixed in the distance, trying not to betray their concern of his unusual behavior.
He heard footsteps coming down the hall. She had arrived. He could feel energy bristling off of her. Intelligence, passion, strength, he had clearly underestimated her. “Guards, leave us.” He ordered, waving his hand to dismiss them as his appointment rounded the corner. Aerellius centered himself. He was ready.
Kelly walked with briskness in her graceful step—shoulders back, chin held high, and eyes taking in everything. Here was a castle—not unlike what she had seen before, but each such place had a different personality, and that personality depended entirely on its lord.
She kept her gaze on the man before her as she drew closer. Already she sensed a bit of apprehension from him, but he appeared composed otherwise.
At last, she stopped before him. They stared at each other.
Finally, Kelly decided to take the gracious approach and smiled at him. “Thank you for agreeing to our meeting. I’m certain you are quite a busy man.”
“That I am, however, my Patron has strongly suggested I take the time to speak with you.” He bowed. “I’m called Archon Aerellius, you may address me by either name, or title.” His tone was curt, but not openly hostile. “And you would be?”
“Kelly Blanchard—the Muse, but you may call me Kelly.” She continued to smile as she bowed her head to him. She was a bit surprised Matthew hadn’t told his character her name. Regardless, she looked at the door behind him then nodded to it. “And where exactly might we be?”
“Ah…yes. I remember, now. Forgive me, I’ve been distracted of late. To answer your question, we are going down into my catacombs. I was told you wished to learn about me. I figured this would be the best place. If you would follow me please, and do stay close.” He turn, taking a torch off a sconce on the wall, and opened the heavy oaken door.
Kelly said nothing as he opened the door, but she did as he suggested and stayed close. Already she could feel the dampness of the air down here, but there was also a chill. She wasn’t sure if it was a real chill or something darker than that, but she wasn’t concerned. If Aerellius decided to lock her away down here, he would be in for a very rude awakening.
Dismissing these thought, she followed him. “Why this place? Of all places?” Something about the catacombs made her speak quietly the question—not out of fear, but rather it just seemed appropriate.
“This place, is the focal point of my power.” He said, leading her down a spiral staircase. The walls were lined with innumerable skulls, some that had been there since many centuries before his own birth. “Some kings have thrones, others, council chambers; these catacombs are where I draw my power, and assert it.”
“Ah magic.” Kelly understood but then furrowed her brows as she caught sight of the skulls pocketed away on their own places in the walls. If she touch any of them, she would know their full life story and their death, but she kept her hands to herself and glanced at Aereillus’ back. “Do you draw your magic from the dead? Or something else?”
Aerellius chuckled. It was a good question. “Both. Throughout the years, I’ve become quite the accomplished necromancer. I can draw the life from a person to fuel my own magic, and can channel it into the dead at will to reanimate them for a short time. But there is something else in these catacombs…” He paused as the stairs ended in a long corridor. An unnatural, dim light waited at the end. “This hallway leads to the Nexus, the gateway to the Void…are you sure you wish to see where my power really comes from?” Aerallius asked.
She smiled at him. “I appreciate your concern, but if you will show it to me, then I will see it.”
“Very well. Follow.” He walked to the end of the hallway. It opened into a massive cavern that extended in all directions as far as the eye could see. An alter sat at the end of the floor. A young soldier, with a sword in each hand stood on the alter. Aerellius set the torch down and stepped up onto the altar. “You know what this entails?” He asked the soldier. The young man nodded. Aerellius smiled. “You have served me well in life. Serve me as well in death.” Aerellius produced a dagger with lightning speed and slit the soldier’s throat. Pushing him off the alter into the darkness below. After a few seconds there was the splash of a body hitting water. The cavern began to glow green as Aerellius absorbed the soldier’s soul. He turned to Kelly. “My research and years of practice have allowed me to consult with the denizens of the Void. They have taught me how to feed on the souls of those who serve me.”
Kelly fisted her hands but willed no emotion to on her face or to flicker in her soul, but how dare this man kill someone in front of her? She spent her entire life helping others blossom, encouraging others, and inspiring them, but without a second thought, this man ended the life of another for what? More power for himself. This, in and of itself, revealed something of him, and she crossed her arms and stared at him unimpressed, “So you must feed on the souls of others, or else what happens? Your own power diminishes?” She raised her brows.
“I gain increased vitality from absorbing souls, it is true. It keeps me young and energetic, though this is not the only reason I do this.” He said, gesturing for her to step towards the alter. He pointed out into the darkness. “The soldier I sacrificed was a volunteer. He was dying and wished to continue his service to me.” Below, the body of the slain soldier emerged from the water, the swords he carried had replaced his hands. “I have a legion of warriors like him, ready to be unleashed.” He turned to face Kelly. “So, shall we continue, I imagine you wish to leave this place, and you likely have more questions, I’m sure.” He picked up the torch, and began to walk towards the stairs.
Pocketing away that fact of how he did this to remain young, Kelly suspected he was then much older than he appeared, and if his source to this power was ever cut off, he might age at a rapid pace. However, she kept this to herself as she followed him.
“I have no interest in your dark deeds or your cruelty. Everyone says you’re an evil and dark man, and what I just witnessed only confirmed that.” She jabbed her thumb over her shoulder. “However, I think you believe you are doing what is right and what must be done, so what are your motives? Your grand plans? What is the one thing you believe is truth but no one has ever believed you?”
Aerellius paused. Contemplating her question. “I know what I’m doing is right. The methods may be extreme, and distasteful, but they are necessary.” He said, ascending the stairs. “To the north is a kingdom called Veridia. A kingdom that fears those born with the gift of magic, and seeks to subjugate them. This is not opinion, or a matter of perspective. It is fact. I’ve seen it. I’ve born witness to it. I’ve suffered first hand at it. I seek to bring them to their knees, and ensure that no one born with magic will ever be forced to endure their bigotry.” He caught his hand shaking and willed himself to control it, hoping Kelly didn’t see.
Kelly didn’t need to see his hand shake. She sensed his entire being tremble with fury, but still she remained steadfast. “And you know what? They think they’re right just about as much as you do. And I have the feeling both of you are wrong, but alas, it is not my place to determine that.” She shook her head. “So were you born in Veridia? Or how did you witness their horrible actions toward those with magic?”
The door to the main palace opened and this time, Aerellius stopped. “No…I grew up here in Tallar. I studied magic in one of the best schools.” His tone had shifted from anger to sorrow. “Tallar has always been at odds with Veridia. The occasional border skirmish. You know how it is with rival kingdoms.” He smiled, remembering a time when he was younger. “My wife and I trained together at the academy. We fought alongside each other countless times. She saved me when I was young, and foolish. I bit off more than I could chew with a summoning spell, and she rescued me. She was alway a stronger spell caster than me. We went into battle one day, and were overrun. I escaped, she did not. For months I waited for word of her. Then, the Veridians did what they usually do. They offered an exchange of prisoners. We traded our captives for theirs. My wife was among them. She had apparently put up too much of a fight, and they stripped her of her magic. She barely spoke a word after that…” He trailed off for a moment. “Does that answer your question?”
It did, so Kelly nodded, but it immediately prompted another question. “So your motive is revenge?”
“Punishment. Justice. Revenge is so base. I wasn’t aware of how they treated magic users until my wife returned. They deserve to answer for what they did to her, and others like her.”
“So…you create an army of zombies?” Kelly arched her brows but then shrugged. “Well, that’s certainly one way to approach it, I suppose. And I hear you have sons—the younger of whom displeases you. Why?”
“He should be spending his days training. Studying tactics, swordsmanship and politics. He prefers to spend his time in the libraries, among the artisans, and in brothels. He has no sense of direction or purpose. He always was a softer spirit than his elder brother.”
Kelly halted in the corridor and let him walk a few steps ahead before he realized she wasn’t following him and turned back at her. She then folded her arms and gave him a look. “He got that from his father, didn’t he? At least, when his father was younger.” She then approached him and looked up at him with a slight smile. “Perhaps all that carelessness had captured your wife’s attention when you first met? You don’t want him to be hurt like you were, and so you treat him like the lesser son. Or am I wrong?” She stared at him, seeing the way he set he jaw and narrowed his eyes upon her, and without even looking, she knew he had clenched his fist at his side. But she didn’t break eye contact.
Aerellius stormed towards her in a rage, stopping when they were eye to eye. “You!” He tried to find the words but couldn’t. He took a step back. “You are remarkably perceptive for one so young. Yes, I was not so different once.” He opened a door leading into his private library. “But I was foolish. And that foolishness cost me a lot.”
“And it will cost him,” Kelly called after him before trailing him into the library and glimpsed around. It wasn’t huge but still had a majestic feel to it. However, she kept her focus on him and went on to speak, “But then he’ll become just like you—driven, undeterred from his path. Isn’t that what you want in your son?” She watched as he moved through the library.
“There are other ways to become driven and undeterred. I would rather not see my son suffer as I do.” He said, wandering the shelves.
“So you would rather be the one to cause his suffering?” She lifted her brows but didn’t really expect an answer as she meandered through the room, her fingertips skimming across the edges of the shelves. “And what of your other son? Are you proud of him?” She cast him a glance.
“Better I be the one who hurts him. At least I can control that. As far as his brother. He is better suited to rule, I will say that. He has taken to his birthright, but he has much to learn yet.”
Kelly halted at what he had said about the younger son, and she finally turned to face him completely, crossing her arms. “Seriously? You would rather be the one to cause your younger son’s suffering because you can control it? You’re totally not winning Father of the Year Award.” She tsked her tongue as she shook her head. “Once upon a time, there was a king, but when he was a prince, he was as reckless as your own son, visiting brothels and living a drunken lifestyle. This enraged his father who tried to control him, but the son would hear none of it. And then, one day, the father died, and the son became king. Do you know what happened?” She waited for him to shake his head before continuing. “The prince was crowned and became a good and great ruler. Why? Because he understood what it was like to be a commoner, to walk in their steps, to feel their hardship, so when he finally became king, although he had to shed his commoner lifestyle and lived in the court, he did not forget the common man, and they fought for him because they believed in him.”
She paused for a moment then shrugged, “…or you can just go about this whole ‘hate-my-father’ rage and ‘woe-is-me, let me summon an army of loyal zombies’.” She shook her head. All this seemed so ridiculous.
Aerellius allowed her words to sink in. “And what would you suggest I do then? Should I ignore the crimes of the north? Ignore the recklessness of my younger son? No…a firm hand is better, and Veridia must be taught to respect magic. You may disagree with my methods, and my treatment of my sons. But this is the way it is.” He reached and took an old, dusty leather bound book off the shelf
“Of course,” Kelly said smoothly then smiled, “I’m not here to change anything—only to get you to think that there is another way…although I don’t expect you to really consider it. You’re quite set in your ways.” She then nodded to the book in his hands. “What is that?”
“Before I answer that. Do you have anything else you wish to ask me?” Aerellius asked. Walking across the room to stand in front of her once more.
“Yes.” Kelly nodded, pulling back her shoulders to meet his gaze without flinching. She knew he wouldn’t like her next question. “Your wife—does she still live?”
Aerellius visibly sank. “I wish I knew. You are not the first to object to my methods. She tried to convince me to stop all of this. She always was better than me. I refused, and she tried to poison me with the same concoction the Veridians used on her. She failed, and in my anger, I lashed out. When the smoke cleared she was gone. My magic is powerful, but not strong enough to destroy someone without a trace. At least as far as I’m aware…”
She felt his pain in her own soul. He hoped beyond hope that he wasn’t that powerful, but he knew deep within himself there was a terrible possibility he had grown that strong. If he had, he wouldn’t forgive himself for harming his own wife, and Kelly knew she might be treading on dangerous ground, but she slowly approached him and chose her words with care. “And if you are that powerful? If all that feeding on others’ souls have made you powerful enough to completely destroy someone without a trace…is it worth it? Would your own selfish gain and determination be worth your wife’s life because you were so blinded by a hunger for even greater power?” Never once did she raise her voice but kept each question calm and measured as she watched each word pierce his soul. She wanted him to think.
Aerellius did not respond. He just stood there, remembering that night. He didn’t respond, only extended the book to Kelly. “This, is a book of poetry. It was one of my favorites growing up, My wife’s too. If you would, I’d have you take it. You may not think highly of me, but hopefully, you will remember me.” He placed the book on a small desk next to them and turn from Kelly. “Now. If there is nothing else, I believe it is time for us to part ways. I have battle plans to draw up.” His voice was barely a whisper.
Her fingertips traced the leather inscription of the book, and then she picked it up. She heard the softness in his voice and knew she had struck a cord. He might not acknowledge it now, but at least he would ponder her words. She nodded, satisfied with that and made her way to the door, holding the book close to her chest. “Thank you for this…and for your time.” With that, she opened the library door and slipped out, closing the door quietly behind her.
Note: Aerellius is the antagonist from Matthew Dale’s fantasy story, ‘The Apostate Saga’, which he plans to have completed by the end of the year. To support him, you may follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
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