Writing Excerpt: The Death of Tol Aerolus

The following scene comes from book nine of my the Word and the Sword saga. In the scene, Finian has been shown a memory of what happened to the legendary Nulorian King, Tol Aerolus, said to have defeated the Dark Lord sixty years before. Here Finian watches a part of that confrontation for himself.

And here’s the musical score I wrote it to.

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It was then that Finian noticed the clouds above them. They broiled a deep black, though it was not night. A strange, foul wind battered at them, stronger and more insistent than it had before, coming from a different direction entirely. The seas rose and fell with tremendous swells, the ship anchored in the distance lurching wildly against the storm that seemed to be raging.

The wind tore across the mountain peak so fiercely that the lone figure who walked there had to fight to keep his balance, lest he be tossed over the cliff’s edge and lost. The wind, catching in the many turns and crags of the maze, screamed and howled as Tol Aerolus strode slowly toward the entrance to the cave he knew was close by, a silhouette against the darkness gone to meet his fate.

He found the spot without difficulty and slipped down through the crevice into the darkness below, hefting his torch in front of him as he pressed on into the unknown, down paths long lost. The going was slow, the tunnel narrow, the footholds treacherous, but he traveled on for what seemed to Finian to be many long minutes, descending further and further into the heart of the mountain.

Without warning the tunnel opened up into an expansive cavern, filled with a giant pool of water. On an island, far from the shore, was a pedestal of sorts, where a translucent fiery-gold glow lit up the quiet dark surrounding it.

Aerolus plunged into the pool, stroking powerfully across the underground lake towards the island. He reached it without difficulty, surged onto dry ground once more, and sloshed his way to where a great stone pedestal sat in the midst of the island. A small staff was set in the pedestal, and at its tip there burned a great and terrible flame.

“The Torch,” Aerolus breathed. The entire mountain shook without warning, and Tol Aerolus glanced back at the tunnel he had already passed through. Finian did not need to be told to know that Vyrazkan was coming, and quickly.

Aerolus knelt before the Torch, then rose quickly and pulled it off the pedestal where it sat, and hurried to the side of the island furthest from the tunnel. He dove into the dark waters and was lost from sight. Finian stood on the edge of the rock and watched the glow of the Torch grow dimmer as the image of Aerolus sank further and further away from him. The glow finally disappeared, and then all was silent. For many long minutes Finian waited, peering down into the water, expecting to see his return. He did not, and gradually Finian realized that he had sacrificed his life to hide the Torch from Vyrazkan.

The water exploded, and Aerolus’s head and shoulders burst into the air. Finian felt a surge of excitement as the King gasped for air, struggling to shore and crawling out of the water. Panting, Aerolus glanced down at the water, then stood on shaking legs and staggered against the pedestal.

Aerolus gasped, panting, completely exhausted, and Finian watched him shaking and trembling from the cold of the water. Or was something more at work? His body seemed thinner, somehow, less full. Now that Finian came to look at him properly, he could see his face was deeply lined with age, the cheeks thin, the skin pallid and the flesh wasted.

Dread seemed to fill the gigantic chamber, and the sense that death was drawing close, accompanied by the smell of rotting flesh. From the gloom of the cavern emerged a darkness deeper still, flowing through the air towards them like a levitating serpent, and Finian knew Vyrazkan had arrived. The Dark Lord’s figure sank to the edge of the island facing Aerolus, his robes billowing around him. He regarded the shivering man before him for a long moment, inhaling a slow, languid, rasping breath.

“Tol Aerolus,” Vyrazkan said, and the words boomed in the dark, though the Dark Lord had not shouted. Aerolus, barely able to stand, tipped his hand to Vyrazkan in a sort of salute. The Dark Lord drew nearer to Aerolus slowly, softly, his every move deathly precise.

“You have hidden it, then,” Vyrazkan breathed. It was not a question.

Still panting and shaking, Aerolus shrugged. “It was the least I could do.”

Vyrazkan gazed around at the subterranean lake surrounding them, then laughed softly to himself, a harsh, grating sound that echoed wildly around them, ringing from the vaulted ceiling above them. “Yet you arrived here only moments before myself. Not much time to devise a well-protected place for it. I wonder if you have placed it somewhere at the bottom of this lake?”

Vyrazkan moved towards the water.

“Feel free to go in the water,” Aerolus said with a great, hacking cough. The force of it bent him double over the pedestal, and several spots of crimson blood peppered its surface. With a gasp, the King straightened again. “It’s been enchanted. Only the pure of heart can go as far down as I’ve gone and live to get that Torch back to the surface.”

Vyrazkan did not move, did not raise his eyes to regard Aerolus. His sickly, deathly gray head was bowed, almost reverently, as he gazed down into the dark water. So lost in thought was he that Finian believed he might have forgotten Aerolus was there.

“And you, Tol Aerolus,” Vyrazkan said, still not looking at him. “You are dying, are you not? Are you not pure of heart, then?”

“My heart’s purer than yours.” Aerolus said, his voice weak.

“Then you are no longer necessary,” Vyrazkan said, and, with a cry of rage, he struck, lashing out with the speed of a serpent, his mouth wide in the midst of a chant, his hand outstretched, fingers splayed, the deathless, rotted face contorted with rage. There was a thunderous blast of light, the whole chamber shuddered, and then Vyrazkan was shrieking, screaming in agony as stone and rubble fell away from the ceiling into the waters below with great fountains of spray. Barely able to stand on the lurching island, Finian caught sight of Aerolus on the ground, staring at the ceiling with sightless eyes, saw Vryazkan reeling, a dagger buried in his chest, hurled with Aerolus’s final burst strength—and then the scene dissolved once more.

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