The last of the notes rang out over the plain, a minor note, mournful and haunting, fitting, given the surroundings.
The Aaralyn Sisters, linked through holding hands, their auras overlapping, stopped their singing and pulled their minds back from the focused blast they collectively sent into the midst of the warriors bearing down on their surviving remnant.
In the waning state of their collective trance, they heard the bodies of men and horses falling, weapons clattering and clanging as they fell from the dead soldiers’ hands, or fell to the ground, tossed from too far away.
They heard the cries and gasps, curses and screams, as men, used to the power of their strong arms and cruel methods, fell like slaughtered bulls at a pagan feast before the power carried in the singing voices of women half their size.
In the moments that followed, as if from a dream, they opened their eyes.
Gradually, the effects of so great an incant took its toll: some collapsed, most began crying, some cheered, others embraced.
Singer Krista, the Elder among them, merely looked out over the carnage, and gave a deep sigh.
She had given everything, and in victory, felt as empty and afraid as when they began fighting.
The multi-sided attacks decimated their numbers, and there were things that now needed doing that took her beyond the immediate sense of relief and celebration.
The priests, the wizards, the witches, the sorcerers and sorceresses had all come a-killing, to take the voices, and power of the Aaralyn, because they dared not abuse it to rule the world.
The warriors were the last.
In not fighting, Krista knew now, the Aaralyn made the world think they could not.
They’d just proven the world wrong, though the cost was dear.
The sun was low in the sky, and the clouds were breaking.
In the distance, the birds began to circle.
“Is it finally over, Singer Krista? Do you hear anything?”
The speaker was young, new to them by two years, gifted, but untried, until now.
Krista turned weary eyes to her, and saw the young woman trembling, eyes wide, still fearful, full of nervous energy and adrenaline, but skittish now; the carnage had overwhelmed her resolve.
Had the battle continued, this one would have bolted, or died, but Krista could not hold that against her.
“We are all that remain, Singer Willow.”
Singer Willow embraced Krista tightly, needing something solid to hold onto, physically as well as mentally, and Krista returned the embrace, looking out on the carnage as the girl’s body shivered against hers, her quiet sobs muffled in Krista’s dusty robes.
She cries on me, for she believes me to be strong, but there is no one stronger to comfort me.
I hope the Victory Canticle is completed, or the last thirty years have been for nothing.
By the time they returned to Singers Hall, the snow was falling, and they had just made it in before the storm.
Baths ran long, wine flowed freely, sleep ran deep, and as the days passed, the sick were tended, the wounded bound, the dead buried, and those who needed help to deal with what they’d seen and done received it.
In the weeks that followed, as the snow melted, and the roads were muddy and troublesome, but passable, and the sea more or less temperate, if cold, some packed to return home, renouncing the elite sect of Singers.
Singer Krista bade them farewell, and wished them the best, and released them to their destinies outside of the Aaralyn’s ranks.
It was not a calling for everyone, and those who tried to force themselves to be a part of something that went against their better judgment, went against their own souls, were counseled to voluntarily leave.
They forcibly expelled those who did not take that option, but continued to struggle.
Singer Janis knocked on the door, and Krista bade her enter.
“How are you, Krista?”
“I’m tired, Janis, in more ways than I care to count, but we are here. The Canticle…?”
“It’s finished. I saw it personally, looked it over. We tested the incants, and they didn’t penetrate.”
“And the protection?”
“Made from the finest, by the best in the realm; it will be well protected.”
Janis turned to go.
“Stay a moment, Janis. I need to talk.”
Janis turned, surprised.
“All right.” She sat.
Krista sat up straighter, folded her hands in her lap.
“I’m disbanding the Aaralyn.”
Janis sighed, shifted in her own seat. “I was wondering…”
“You’re not surprised?”
“Not at all. I even understand why.”
“Our numbers are greatly reduced; we lost a lot of power in those battles. We need to replenish, and these young women can’t do that here.”
“Exactly. You do understand.”
“But they will marry common men; there’s no equivalent to our order among men.”
“True, but there is nothing to be done for it; the mothers will recognize the daughters who have the gift. We’ve had Aaralyn who’ve abandoned our ranks throughout history.”
“But as for the Canticle of Victory, I have a plan.”
And as the night unfolded, she told Janis about it.
“Seems a bit dramatic, Krista, but all right; you know that even crystal can shatter at the right frequency.”
“That may be true of ordinary crystal; this isn’t.”
“All of the factions have contributed, but we put in the final piece, the key that unlocks the Victory Canticle to draw it out, without shattering the container, and its protector.”
“And what is the key?”
“She hasn’t been born yet.”
“There’s something you’re not telling me, Krista…”
“There is, but see it done, Janis. Please.”
Janis took that as her cue, and rose to leave.
“I’ll see it done.”
Toward winter’s end, as the battle weariness began to fade, and the women began to return to a sense of life, if not normalcy, Singer Krista felt the time had come, and called a gathering in the ampitheater.
The Aaralyn came, curious, excited, and nervous, as they’d more or less passed the winter in idleness, left to their own devices.
Some practiced, some studied, some pursued hobbies, and there were the usual amounts of squabbles, clique fighting and infighting, but now they were eager to get on with things.
Krista and Janis had seen to the nobility that called on the Great Hall after the cleanup, seeking their alliance in gaining this throne or that throne.
Krista let it be known that having been attacked from all sides, they would take no sides, since they’d had no allies in their hour of need.
Soon, it wouldn’t matter.
The ampitheater carried sound, so there was no need for her to raise her voice.
When Krista took the stage, the ladies grew quiet.
“Welcome, Singers. There is no easy way to say this, but this will be our final gathering.”
There were some surprised gasps and cries, but the Elder put her hands up for silence.
“We’ve known this day was coming for some time.
“Look around you.”
She gave them a moment as they did.
“These are all that remain.”
She let that sink in.
“The time has come for us to rejoin the world.”
More cries of resistance peppered the air.
“Singers…sisters…we must be realistic; our times and purposes have been fulfilled, and the Aaralyn have emerged victorious.
“But we must ever be present in the world, lest these times come again.
“And for that, we need children, and for that, we must rejoin the world.
“My own time is past, my children long taken from this world at the war’s beginning, to break me. To stop me. And it almost did.
“But those of you who remain are young, fertile, and for the most part…”
There was a ripple of laughter, as intended, and she waited until it passed.
“And then, there are the Canticles.”
They once more gave her their attention.
“The books have survived, and been copied. There are compendiums, hidden, and individual copies, the ones you received. The ones you used to ensure our survival.
“When we depart, you will have these books among you, so they will be scattered throughout the world as we know it. Guard them well, with your lives if need be.
“But as you leave to start your lives over, and start your families, there is one Canticle that will remain here, buried and unmarked.”
Murmurs of surprise filled the theater.
“This Canticle will be used to defeat any more factions that may gather in the future; it is the most potent of all. It will supersede all others, even those written by the factions against us.
“It was worked on in secret by the most gifted Aaralyn, centuries before most of your births.
“We had to search for it, and in the searching, we lost more of us, even as we were devastated in the killing that almost consumed us.
“The remnant of factions against us that survive already works its opposite to counter, but as yet have not succeeded, according to such spies as remain among them.”
She noticed them beginning to shift, and knew she had to close.
“This is the last piece that needs to be done before we go.”
She removed from beneath the podium an ornate teak box with bronze reinforcements and locks.
Opening it, she removed a faceted crystal, light blue, with an opalescent vapor slowly swirling about within it.
The women admired its beauty as Krista held it in sure hands.
“This is the Canticle of Victory.”
She placed it back in the box, and removed another; this one was black with silver reinforcements and locks.
From that, she removed a coiled serpent, wrapped three times, also of crystal.
Some of the women murmured at that, some looked away.
She then took the crystal out again, and placed it in the serpent’s coils.
The opalescent vapor in the crystal came out, and entered into the coils of the snake.
As it filled, the snake’s hood spread, revealing it to be a cobra.
Krista could sense the repulsed fascination, and indeed, as Janis said, it was dramatic.
Her audience gasped.
“The Canticle of Victory is now sealed, until the next time it is needed. It will be left in a mountain cave with nothing to mark it, the passing of time burying it further still, but don’t worry, Singers.
“Whoever needs to use it, they will find it. She will be told of its existence, and if she is the right one, at the right time, she will find it on her own.”
Another silence, but this one was heavy, as the Elder began to weep.
“It has been my life’s honor to fight beside you.
“Your bravery, though unrecorded, will live on in the fact that the world still exists, tattered and bruised though it may be.
“Our power, and our unity, did that.
“The earth you now walk is the one you helped save, and as we depart from here…”
She sniffled, and dabbed at her eyes.
“May your daughters be blessed to fill our Great Halls once more with song, and our world with peace.”
“We are adjourned.”
She put the serpent and crystal in the black and silver box, and sealed it with an incant.
Her attendant came, took it, gave a brief nod, and left to start toward the mountain cave.
Applause thundered, tears flowed, cries, songs, and ululations rocked the ampitheatre as the women hugged, kissed, and embraced each other.
Krista moved among them, smiling, blessing, and as the sky darkened and the theater emptied, the sun set and the moon rose, and the chill winds blew snow from the peaks, the age of the Aaralyn passed into history, faded with time.
And the final notes of their farewells soaked into the stars above, to disappear in the light of a new dawn.
When Singer Lisa arrived at the cave, the moon was high.
The horse was somewhat winded, but she’d explored the mountains often as she hunted, and she’d remembered to bring oats, carrots, and let it drink from the stream where she’d spent many an afternoon poring over her Canticles.
With deft movements she exposed the cave’s covering.
When a gust of wind blew sparkling virgin snow, she placed her scarf over her mouth and nose as she retrieved a lantern from another pack she’d fastened to the saddle.
This needs to be done quickly.
She left the pack with the box on her back; she’d endured its discomfort there for the sake of its importance for the whole ride; a few more minutes wouldn’t make a difference.
She slipped inside the cave.
In the narrow tunnel she had to bend, but it would open back up to where she could stand again.
She reached the space, allowing the lantern light to fill the space and her eyes to adjust.
A figure in a black robe lined with silver sat on a rock, and turned to look at Lisa.
Its eyes were blood red, and glowing, and its skin white as the virgin snow surrounding them.
It stood up, and in its left hand was a walking stick of old bone.
Its lips were thin, and flushed with red as well, darker than its eyes, but stark in contrast against its face.
Langorously, it extended its right arm, and the hand, with long fingers and hooked red nails, was palm up.
It spoke to Lisa in a woman’s voice, low, almost sultry, belying its bizarre appearance.
“Ah, welcome, Singer…” it tilted its head a bit, “…Lisa, is it? I see you’ve come to return my pet.”
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015