Appendix A: Chapter 30

[Editor's note: Chapter 30 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland pulled his cloak tighter around himself as he walked through the plains east of Doomhammer. The torch cast a pale circle of light around Roland, revealing the barely perceptible path through the tall grass. The path was not strictly necessary; Roland could begin to see the faint outline of the small, squat building that sat at the end of the path. And even if that were not the case, having made the journey once a year for each of the five years following the First Doomhammer Conference, he figured he could probably follow it from memory.

The outline against the stars resolved itself into a small wooden house as Roland approached. Outside, illuminated only by a fire burning only slightly more than a smoulder, stood a pair of astronomers hunched over the telescope they were calibrating.

The site had been established in the Doomhammer Accords as a joint endeavor between Telerand and Lantaria, a symbol of the spirit of mutual trust and cooperation that the treaty attempted to codify in the aftermath of the incident five years prior. As the kingdoms’ respective kings had explained at its signing, the tiny observatory was to serve as a model for future cooperative efforts.

In particular, the Accords called for an annual event where representatives of the two sides would come to the observatory to witness collection of a new set of data for a study on the long-term movements, if any, of the stars. In practice, at any other time of the year the observatory was staffed only by a few astronomers from the Independent Principality of Doomhammer.

The building served as storage for astronomical equipment and a few beds for whoever might be working there at any given time. It was just large enough to accomodate everyone attending the night’s ceremony, though if previous years served as any indication, all of the witnesses would choose to leave as soon as possible instead of staying the night.

Roland passed the pair of astronomers without a word and entered the building. He was met by a guard from Doomhammer wearing a suit of armor.

“Name?” the guard asked.

“Roland, paladin third class of the Order of Yssindria, Kingdom of Telerand,” Roland replied.

“Weapons?”

Roland unhooked the sword from his belt and laid it on a nearby table.

The guard then picked up a small piece of paper rolled into a tiny scroll and handed it to Roland. “You may pass,” he said.

Roland nodded and walked through to the next room. The carpet which normally lay in the center of the floor had been rolled back, and the floor boards it would have covered had been removed, revealing a ladder leading down into a tunnel.

The facility underneath the observatory’s house was only mentioned in Appendix A of the Doomhammer Accords. The content of Appendix A, as well as its very existence, was a closely-guarded secret known only to a handful of individuals.

Roland climbed down the latter into the tunnel. The walls, ceiling, and floor were made of loosely packed dirt, held up by a series of interconnected wooden braces spaced just far enough to prevent the tunnel from collapsing. The tunnel itself was just wide enough for two people to walk through side by side, which made it easier for Roland to walk down to the other end without accidentally brushing against the wall and triggering a collapse.

At the end of the tunnel stood another guard in front of a opened door. The guard took no notice of Roland as he passed through. The walls of the chamber he entered, as well as the door itself, consisted of a layer of the same fractilicite-based alloy used to make Roland’s sword, sandwiched between two layers of stone. Inside were the three other witnesses of the ceremony. Tateweil, dressed in a gray robe, paced back and forth along the stone floor. Dalton and a man Roland only new as another representative of Lantaria leaned against opposite corners, watching each other suspiciously.

“Ah, welcome back, Sir Roland,” Tateweil said when he noticed Roland’s arrival.

“You’re late,” Dalton muttered, keeping his eyes fixed on the other man.

“No matter,” Tateweil replied, “the man of the hour has not yet arrived anyway, so there is nothing to do but wait. Which reminds me, Sir Roland, have you heard of any news of locating a successor for him?”

Roland shook his head. “Not that they’d necessarily tell me if they did. How about on your end?”

“I am afraid not. One might suspect that in a land where magical prowess is cultivated, we ought to have had some success by now. But alas, magic is still a poorly understood thing, even in Lantaria.”

Roland sighed. Having only one person capable of performing the rite was problematic. If something ever happend to him, Roland didn’t want to consider the consequences.

“Tell me, Sir Roland,” Tateweil continued, “aside from that, how go things back in your homeland? Well, I trust?”

“Same as usual,” Roland said vaguely, not wishing to get dragged into another round of smalltalk with Tateweil but seeing little alternative if he didn’t want to appear rude. “You?”

“Oh, can’t complain. They won’t let me, you know,” he said with a chuckle. Tateweil was the only one who seemed to find humor in their situation. “And how about yourself?”

“I’m not used to not having my sword with me,” Roland said, his hand resting where its hilt ought to be.

“Ah, but you know the rules. No weapons allowed in the sanctum, lest–”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Roland said, waving his hand.

Appendix A laid out strict rules for security precautions for the event. It was what required four witnesses, two from each kingdom, to be present. It specified the design of the sanctum and the tunnel leading into it, and required the placement and duties of the guards from Doomhammer.

Roland heard a creak from down the tunnel as the fifth person descended the ladder.

“Finally,” Dalton said, taking a step away from the wall. The man opposite him grunted in agreement and did likewise.

“Hello, Roland, everyone,” Derek said as he entered the sanctum.

“Hello,” Roland and Tateweil said in unison.

Derek stepped into the center of the room. Roland noticed the young man grew another inch taller every year. “Are we all ready to begin?” Derek asked the group.

“Whenever you are, kid,” Dalton said. Roland and the other two nodded.

“Guard, we are ready to begin,” Derek called out.

The guard gave a loud shout down the tunnel, and a few seconds later the guard upstairs shouted a reply. Roland knew that was the signal for the astronomers outside to record the positions of a few key reference stars in the sky, and thus establish the precise time the ceremony took place.

“You all remember the procedure for when you’re done, right?” the guard asked.

“We do,” Tateweil said.

“We did last year, and the year before, and the year before that,” Dalton muttered.

“Very well,” the guard said. “You have ten minutes.” The guard swung the heavy door shut, and Roland heard it lock into place.

Derek took a deep breath, and began, “You would think the Demon King would be clever enough to figure a way out of this trap by now, but that’s just the latest in a long list of failures….”

At the Second Doomhammer Conference, one week after the destruction of Doomhammer Hall, a closed-door session was held to discuss how to defeat the Demon King once and for all. There had been no clear evidence in the ruins of the building to determine whether or not the Demon King had survived, and given his revival then, the attendees had to work under the assumption that he still existed.

The question of how to kill something with no true physical form, and which could hop from host to host seemingly at will, stymied every mind they set before the problem. Ultimately, they concluded the only weapon they had against the Demon King was the same which had apparently been the true reason for his defeat in the Demon War: summoning him through time, thus effectively banishing him from existence over the interval in between.

The site Roland and the others were in existed solely to summon the Demon King at regular intervals in as safe and controlled a manner as possible. The idea, described in Appendix A, was to repeatedly summon him once a year, so that he only existed for a few seconds before being pulled forward through time again. The sanctum where the rite took place was completely sealed, and openable only from the outside. The walls, ceiling, and floor were lined with the fractilicite alloy, in the hopes that it had an intrinsic ability to smite evil. But in case it didn’t, the guards outside would collapse the tunnel after ten minutes without the all-clear signal from inside. The collapse would be explained to the public as a sinkhole that opened without warning beneath the observatory, and some scheme would be put in place to prevent anyone from approaching the area. Meanwhile, Roland and the other four would quickly suffocate as the breathable air in the room was defeated, leaving the Demon King trapped forever with no escape and no one alive to possess should something go wrong.

And if another summoner couldn’t be found, eventually something would go wrong.

“… and can’t do anything without relying on some sucker to do all the heavy lifting for him…. He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” Derek finished.

The all-too-familiar swirling mass of darkness hovered behind Derek a few seconds. It reared back as though ready to strike before quickly fading into nothingness.

Tateweil breathed a sigh of relief and knocked on the door. “All clear,” he said. He then unrolled his strip of paper and read aloud, “Password: lugubrious salad.”

Roland and the other two in turn each approached the door and did likewise, reading their own passwords from the papers they had been given. All four were needed before the guard would open the door. Had something gone wrong, they were supposed to immediately light the paper on fire, preventing it from being read.

The door creaked open, and the five filed out, one after another.

“Remind me to thank you sometime for ever having dragged me into this,” Dalton said to Roland as they walked down the tunnel.

“Another successful ceremony,” Tateweil said cheerfully as he walked in front of them. “Nothing to complain about with that.”

“Except that we have to do it again next year.”

“Better than the alternative. Ah well, see you all next year.”

Chapter word count: 1,786 (according to wc)
Total word count: 54,808 / 50,000 (109.616% complete)

Comments are closed.