The Quartz Cross

August 4, 2008
Avaline Iarlhaith paced through her late mother’s crystal garden. Columns of sapphire, beds of violet shards, and ruby over-hangings glowed in the light of the sun. She glanced at the crystal around her. Her mother had studied crystal, had grown it for a garden; it was a mystery, her mother had shown her, for it was very fragile and yet its shards could pierce even magicked armor. She came to a plinth of white marble. Set in the marble was a cross of quartz marking her mother’s grave.

She heard the crunch of crushed crystal and turned around. Who dared to enter her mother’s sanctuary? A thin man came into view. He looked young with curly brown hair and pale ice blue eyes. He was Sithamar, the royal physician, Avaline’s adversary. Sithamar’s eyes fell upon Avaline, and he smiled.

“Your highness’s color has waned since you mother passed on,” he said quietly, caressing each word as he let it slip into the air. Avaline looked at him, cold fury in her eyes, but she answered calmly,

“A treacherous physician, it is said, is just an unofficial poisoner, Sithamar.”

“Indeed? You father disagrees,” Sithamar whispered, smiling. He drew his cloak around him. A strong sickly odor came from its folds to Avaline’s nose, tearing through her senses. She looked at Sithamar, and her stomach jolted as he turned to leave. For a moment, she had thought that he had had fangs.

There was a masquerade that night, and Avaline prepared quietly. Her maidens garbed her in a gown of white, arranging diamonds in her long hair and fixing white wings upon her back.
Few spoke as Avaline entered the dance hall. The minstrels began to play, and the guests moved to the center of the hall. Immediately, a young man garbed in armor approached her. She curtsied. He bowed, taking her hand and kissing it.
“Angel, who has come to give light to this dark chamber, would you grant me this dance?”
“Yes,” she said, color gathering in her cheeks. He took her hands and led her swiftly into the growing throng. Avaline let him lead her. As they danced, he put wings to her feet and did not let her fall.
“Your highness is beautiful in white,” he said,
“And you are very gallant,” Avaline replied, “May I enquire as to who you are, aside from my dance companion?”
“Ilarious, my lady, a prince from another kingdom, awed by your presence,” Avaline looked away, heat rising in her cheeks.
“Its a beautiful name,” she said.
“I am glad that it pleases you.” A change in the dance occurred at that moment and Avaline, blushing scarlet, switched into another man’s arms, but her relief withered swiftly.
“Your color has bettered, your highness. The garden does possess strange abilities; perhaps its presence aided you. Perhaps I shall go to the garden myself after this dance.” Avaline knew those ice blue eyes behind the black mask.
“Let me be, black heart; I would not go to my garden if I were you,” she answered quietly. Was that fear welling inside her?
“Threats, highness?” Sithamar said, smiling, bringing her around, his cloak following like a mourner’s shroud. Suddenly the odor that Avaline had smelled earlier came to her nostrils, stronger and more nauseating. She felt her vision begin to swim, and dizziness took hold of her. She swayed, her insides churning. She tried to pull away, but Sithamar’s grasp was like iron, and instead he pulled her closer, wrapping her in his cloak. Avaline tried to struggle, but instead her body seemed to go limp. “Hush, highness,” Sithamar murmured.
At that moment, Avaline heard the ring of a sword being drawn and the music ceased. “Release her Highness, Sithamar,” Ilarious’s voice cried out so that all present could hear.
Sithamar looked, and beheld him. “Ilarious, prince of the undying,” He replied coldly, smiling, “You recognize me.” As he spoke, darkness began to form behind him, and many guests stepped back with cries of alarm. The candles that lit the hall suddenly dimmed.
“Yes, bringer of death,” the prince replied calmly, “I recognize you, disguised as you are, your scent is the same, vampire.” In one smooth movement he brandished his sword, and as he did so, it seemed a bright liquid gold light flowed down the long blade, and from Ilarious’s very armor, a halo of fire shone. “Release her,” Ilarious said.
“No” Sithamar said, a sneer on his face now, the smile forgotten, and from his side he drew a sword, upon which the shadows that had been gathering behind him flowed, making the metal a poisonous shiny black, and darkness surrounded his body and armored him in what looked like solid darkness. “She’s mine, and your weapons can’t pierce me,” as he said it fangs shining silver became visible and his eyes went scarlet. Wings of darkness seemed to rear from his back as Ilarious charged. The clash of iron echoed and reechoed, Ilarious using his shining two handed sword, trying to avoid hurting Avaline while trying to deal a mortal blow to the vampire, Sithamar fighting with one hand, trying to use Avaline as a shield.
To and fro the duo fought, swords clashing, both seeking victory. But as Sithamar parried a blow, Avaline’s weight set him off balance, and he fell to the ground. Casting Avaline away, he rolled over to duck the golden sword. Suddenly, the hall was swallowed in shadow except for Ilarious, and all of the windows shattered as something past out of the hall. Sithamar had fled. Ilarious ran to where Avaline lay as servants scurried to relight the candles.
“Quick, help me to the crystal garden,” Avaline said urgently, her voice shaking, “He fled to the garden!” Ilarious nodded, sheathing his sword. Taking her easily in his arms, he moved out of the hall.
“I’m a mage, and so easily recognized him when he began to dance with you,” Ilarious explained as he ran, armor shining, “I was hunting him for two months after he came to my palace in disguise. He is one of the vampire kin, and they can disguise themselves well, except for their scent. Nothing can smother that odor. He must have thought you to be a good prize. Likely he is your mother’s murderer.”
“He is. My mother was poisoned a month after he first came. I suspected him, but none believed me,” Avaline said.
“Many prefer to study appearances. Vampires are skilled in making comely disguises.”
They had reached the garden. Ilarious set her down and Avaline rushed in, Ilarious following speedily after her. Swiftly they came to the queen’s tomb.
Sithamar was crouched next to the quartz cross. He looked frayed, yet darkness still clung to him. But before Ilarious could draw his sword, an ear-splitting shriek split the night in two, and to Avaline’s horror, a great shattering sound accompanied it. All of the crystals around her shattered; shards went flying everywhere. She felt Ilarious trying to shield her, felt his grip on her tighten as shards pierced his armor again and again. Days seemed to pass as she listened to the roar of collapsing crystal, until it was reduced only to an eerie tinkling. She looked around tears in her eyes.
The garden was gone. All around her shards and splintered crystal reflected eerily against the full moon. Sithamar stood still next to the still standing quartz cross, drinking in her grief. She looked around for something to defend herself with, but she could not pick up one of the large shards for fear of cutting herself deep in the hand. Ilarious was limp beside her, unconscious, his armor pierced in it seemed, hundreds of places, blood was gathering in a pool on the ground. As she bent over Ilarious, her body shook with her sobs as she slipped off his gauntlet to check his pulse. Faintly it beat like a dying bird. Her hair came undone and fell down her shoulders shrouding her face and hands as she wept brokenly.
Sithamar just stared down at her, but no smile was on his lips. Finally he said, “Your prince hangs between life and death, highness. Your garden is broken, and your mother is dead.” Avaline said nothing; her hair hid her face from view. Sithamar slowly came forward, his face imploring, his eyes earnest. He could sense her grief, her fear, and her indecision, feasted on it, knew that she was helpless. “I can mend all of it, and more, for a price,” he whispered softly, coming still closer. “I can make you great,” now he towered over her, bending toward her slightly. For the first time, she looked up, but her face was not terrified. Instead her eyes burned with fury, as she said,
“You sad, evil fool. Go to the pit prepared for you.” and in one fluid motion now gauntleted her hand drove a great crystal stake into the vampire’s heart. Sithamar stared down at the wound, shock edged on his face. He gave a long inhuman scream, clawing at the shard, and fell dead upon the shard-strewn ground.
Avaline stood up; her eyes transfixed upon Sithamar’s corpse as behind her servants came running. “Take Ilarious to my father, I think that he can be saved,” Avaline said, not turning around. Soon, silence came again. She looked at the tall quartz cross, and something inside her unknotted. Ilarious would live; she knew it. Slowly she turned and departed from the broken garden.

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