The Great Hall

Chapter Six of Gifts

Written by jrcsalter

The hair wasn’t red, but a dirty matted mess which looked like it was once blonde. Her clothes looked as if she wore them every day and never took them off. But it was the girl’s face, even through the dirt, she recognised. Looking into her eyes, she went forward to embrace Kate.   They stood in silence for a few minutes before Allison spoke into Kate’s shoulder. ‘Oh, I missed you so much.’   ‘Me too,’ Kate replied, pulling out of the hug and kissing her.   Allison almost forgot what Kate’s lips felt like on her own and rejoiced at being reminded. But they shook, like the rest of her body. ‘You’re freezing,’ Allison said to her. ‘Come inside and I’ll make you a cuppa.’   Allison led her into the living room and asked Atharron to make some tea. Kate looked suspiciously at the man.   Allison saw the reaction and laughed. ‘Don’t worry, he’s just a friend. Kinda. I’ll introduce you two properly later.’   She didn’t really want anyone else around to spoil this reunion, so she telepathically told Atharron to leave them alone for a few moments.   ‘I tried looking for you,’ Allison said. ‘Found your mum, and she said you ran away. I was left to run through the streets literally shouting your name. Don’t suppose you heard me?’ Allison said with a smile.   Kate returned the smile. ‘No, ‘fraid not. I take it mum told you about our argument?’ Allison nodded, ‘Well, I left, thinking I could find you, so I hitched up north, believing that’s where you went. Though I really had no idea of where to start. I was okay for a couple of weeks until I ran out of money. I tried to get some work. Held down a couple part time jobs for almost a year. I never earned enough to travel and couldn’t find a permanent home. I lived out of B+Bs occasionally, but that didn’t last long. Work soon dried up and I … I …’ Kate swallowed. ‘I had nowhere to stay. I couldn’t go back home, not after what I did to mum.’   Allison gripped Kate’s hand tighter. ‘You lived on the streets?’   Kate nodded. ‘Anyway, it was raining one day, so I went in a shop to stay dry and looked at some of the stuff. I couldn’t really afford anything. Not without going hungry for a bit anyway. But I thought I’d get kicked out if I stayed too long doing nothing. So, browsing in the CDs I saw your face. I didn’t believe it was you at first until I saw the band members on the back and all the names. I smiled. It was what you wanted. I bought the CD with what little money I had, it had been out for a while so it was down in price; I’m sorry, I couldn’t buy all of them.’   ‘It’s only the one at the moment. Second one’s being recorded.’   ‘I still have it with me, actually.’ Kate reached inside her coat and took out a battered CD case and handed it to Allison. She opened it up and found a well thumbed booklet. ‘I haven’t been able to play it though, but I enjoyed reading your lyrics.’   ‘Well, let’s put it on then,’ Allison said going over to her stereo and popping the CD in. Kate’s face widened as she heard the introductory overture. She let out a laugh and Allison saw the beginning of tears form in her eyes.   Atharron came in with the tea and went outside. ‘So who is he?’ Kate asked.   ‘I’ll tell you in a bit,’ Allison said. ‘You carry on first.’   ‘So anyway,’ Kate continued, ‘I stepped outside, and suddenly I found you everywhere. I saw your face on magazine stands, your name in headlines, the band on T-shirts. I was surprised I’d never noticed it before. I made it a priority to try to find out where you would next be. But most places were just too far from where I was and I couldn’t get there in time. But then I had a chance to see you when you performed in Cardiff. I managed to get to the crowds as you entered the venue. I shouted your name, but obviously I couldn’t get through all the other people doing the exact same thing. I tried to see you backstage, but the security wouldn’t allow me through. I got to see you a couple times after then, but still, you didn’t see me.’​—​Allison clenched her teeth at the fact she never saw Kate, but always saw Linda​—​‘And then I learned where you lived through a newspaper I found in the bin and came down here. Didn’t know the exact address, but I asked around and eventually got it. Now I’m here … And I ain’t gonna leave.’   ‘And I ain’t gonna let you.’ They kissed and Allison began to recite her story. She left nothing out.   Kate seemed to have a little more trouble believing than Rob did, but when she floated her CD case around, Kate opened her eyes wide. ‘That is so cool. It’s like you’re a superhero now.’   ‘Hardly. I haven’t done anything yet, and I still don’t know if I will. The only reason I’m training with Atharron is because he turns up anyway and starts attacking me until I defend myself.’ Kate laughed, ‘Anyway,’ Allison finished, ‘all that shit is over, I’m a stronger person now and only really have to contend with the weight of the world.’ Kate laughed again. ‘But first, you are going to have something to eat, you are going to have a shower, and then … we are going to bed.’

Allison stood on her balcony looking out over the moors; she took no notice of the coldness biting through her dressing gown. Watching the Sun rise, she smiled about last night. When she woke up this morning, it felt like a dream, but she looked beside her and saw Kate; proof she had not imagined it. It was the best night of her life. She drowned in the moment and released control of her powers; the lapse in concentration meant she had to clear up in the morning, but she didn’t care. Whatever would happen after today, life was perfect for the time being.   She turned around and saw Kate stirring through the French windows. She watched until Kate woke up properly, then walked inside. She climbed on top and they kissed. ‘Alayanaþa, Aiŋcænti-a. Æla weom ſhai-anſiðe tælar.’   ‘It,’ Kate said, ‘most … certainly is?’ she laughed. ‘Sorry, I have no idea what you said.’   Allison rolled off onto the other side of the bed. ‘Perhaps this will say it better.’ She reached into the bedside table and brought out a small velvet covered box. ‘I bought this last year. Just in case you showed up. I did consider throwing it away, but that would admit defeat, and I’m never going to give into that.’ She handed the box to Kate who opened it. Inside lay a gold ring topped with a small sapphire.   Kate stared at it and laughed, putting the ring on. She rolled over onto Allison and kissed her. ‘Yes! Yes, of course I will.’   Two hours later they were still in bed. Kate had popped downstairs to get some breakfast, and the plates lay on the bedside table, the remains of toast scattered on them. Allison picked up the remote to turn the TV on and heard the front door open.   A few seconds later, Rob’s voice shouted from downstairs. ‘What the hell happened to the living room?’   It appeared that Allison’s uncontrolled abilities had stretched beyond the bedroom.   ‘Allison,’ came Holly’s shouts from below. ‘Did you have a nightmare again?’   Allison burst into laughter.   ‘Who’s that?’ Kate asked.   Allison threw her covers off and grabbed her dressing gown. ‘Get up and I’ll introduce you.’   When Kate had also put her dressing gown on, Allison led her downstairs. She saw Holly’s exasperated face change to a curious one looking at the woman holding Allison’s hand.   As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Rob came around the corner and looked at Allison. ‘What happened last n…’ realisation filled his eyes and he saw Kate. ‘Oh.’ A smile flashed on his lips and he jumped at Kate, throwing his arms around her.   Kate’s surprised look made Allison laughed again. ‘Um, Holly, this is Kate. Kate, this is Holly.’ Kate waved from behind Rob.   Holly took a second to understand, but when she did, she gasped and raised her hands to her mouth, the glints of tears forming in her eyes. Allison looked back to Rob and Kate. ‘Rob. Do you mind letting go of my fiancée?’   ‘Sure,’ Rob stepped back and nodded to Kate. ‘Sure. Sorry. It’s great to see you again Kate.’   ‘It’s nice to see you agai—’   ‘Wait,’ Rob interrupted. ‘Fiancée?’   Kate nodded and showed him her hand with the ring on.   Allison’s ears rang with the scream that emanated from Holly as she jumped up and down in excitement.

With training, recording the new album, public appearances, and organising a wedding, Allison appreciated her rare afternoons off. In the last two months she only had about two or three. So she walked through Hyde Park, relishing the blissful calm that came with leaving her worries at home. The Sun shone in a cloudless sky, and a warm breeze rippled her blue skirt. The slightly yellowed grass tickled her feet through her sandals, the experience enhanced by the Pastoral Symphony filling her ears. Finding a large oak, she sat beneath it and closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of the Sun. By the end of the second movement, she was ready to fall asleep. Her vision darkened behind her eyelids, so she opened them to see what blocked the light.   Silhouetted in the Sun, she saw the shape of a woman. She could see no immediate and major details of her appearance, but as a breeze blew calmly past them, her hair flickered, and Allison saw red.   She woke herself up and stood, yanking out her earphones and faced Linda. ‘What do you want?’ she demanded.   ‘Same thing I always do, Sweetie,’ Linda replied stepping a little closer.   ‘Look, just go away will you? I’m tired of this.’   ‘I’m not.’   ‘I have had a few busy weeks and am taking a well earned break. You’re not going to ruin it.’   ‘You call it a break, but I’ve seen at least three photographers taking pictures and many people are now starting to realise you are here. They’ll be over for autographs soon. Oh, and I hear congratulations are in order. Everyone’s talking about it. We could make them talk even more if,’ she took another step forward and put her arms around Allison’s waist, ‘we gave those photographers something worthwhile.’   Allison looked into Linda’s green eyes and said, ‘Let go of me. Now.’ Linda only tilted her head, smiling.   Linda leant forward, but before their lips touched, Allison pushed her. Linda flew across the park and landed, not on grass, but on hard rock.   Allison looked around. The park had disappeared and in its place stood a gigantic hall.   ‘I think you’ll find we’re not in Kensington anymore, Sweetie,’ Linda said, getting to her feet.   The cylindrical hall was held up by four large circular stone pillars, each at least seven feet in diameter. Between the two pillars at the back​—​which stood closer to each other than those at the front​—​a set of arched double doors were shut and locked with a heavy chain. Allison looked at the other end and saw an enormous alcove, twice the size of the doors. A pale, white glow emanated from the alcove and bathed the hall in soft light. Surrounding the arch, many concentric circles carved the wall into what resembled the cross section of a cabbage.   ‘No way!’ Linda exclaimed, walking quickly towards the arched alcove. She travelled up one of the two ramps making their way into a smaller room at the very back. ‘That’s impossible.’ Allison followed her, admiring the massive throne sitting between the two ramps. When she reached the top, at almost two stories high, Linda had stopped.   ‘What’s impossible?’ Allison asked.   ‘Oh, Sweetie, that’s such a silly question,’ Linda said, turning to Allison. ‘The fact we’re here could be considered impossible. But what I’m talking about is them.’ She pointed her thumb behind her.   At the back, standing against the wall was a stone circle on a plinth. It held three small knives, arranged around the ring, with blades all pointing inwards.   To either side stood a tall figure on a stone dais. On the left was a man dressed in long black robes embossed at the hems with silver geometric shapes. Allison could not tell how old he was, but she knew him to be older than the thirty or forty he looked. His shoulder length hair matched the colour of his short grey beard, and his eyes, though glowing white, seemed to contain the knowledge of hundreds of years. He rested his hands on the pommel of a kingly sword with the tip between his feet. At over six feet tall and standing on the dais, he towered over both women giving Allison a feeling of insignificance.   On the right stood a lady wearing a white gown. In contrast to the man’s, it was embossed with flowing golden shapes. A wreath of flowers sat atop her long golden hair, and in her left hand, she held an elegant white staff. Like the man, her glowing eyes betrayed her age, contrasting with her smooth face, and while not as tall, she still had an imposing presence.   ‘They’re corporeal,’ Linda said.   ‘What?’ Allison said, annoyed that Linda knew more about this strange place than she did.   ‘They’re solid.’   ‘I know what corporeal means.’   Linda reached out to grab the hilt of one of the knives, but her hand went straight through it. ‘But we’re not,’ she said to herself. Turning suddenly back to Allison, she said, ‘Do you hear that?’   ‘Hear wh—?’ and then it came to her; a noise seemed to come from above the roof of the building. It sounded like a battle judging from the screams, the clanging of metal on metal, and the crashing of falling structures. ‘What is it?’   ‘Queen Siríla’s last stand,’ Linda answered, looking up to the ceiling with joy. ‘But if it is,’ she muttered to herself, ‘and the Guardians are still alive, then that means…’ She looked towards the giant doors, and Allison followed her gaze as they blew from their hinges and smashed to the ground near the ramps.   In the doorway stood a man dressed in battle damaged armour. A black cloak flowed majestically behind him as he made his way to their end of the room. He carried no weapon Allison saw, but, as he came closer, she saw his eyes. They frightened her more than any weapon could have. Saturated with malice, they glowed with a dark red light. He levitated gracefully between the ramps, over the throne, and landed in front of the Guardians. ‘Okay, Sweetie,’ Linda said, ‘if you’re a little squeamish, look away now.’ Allison ignored her. Now the man stood next to her, she saw something familiar about him. She felt he was a part of her, everything she wasn’t. She watched him with a curious foreboding.   The man dropped to his knees and bowed. He spoke Afirian in a pleading tone; Allison knew his humbleness to be false. And she felt he intended for it to be so. ‘Guardians of the Most Holy Foundation,’ the man said, ‘Eternal Keepers of the Sacred Halls, The Majesty of Calnissian legend, I have come to take the Knives.’   The female Guardian spoke first. ‘The Knives are forbidden to the Emissary.’   The man lifted his head and looked at the lady. This time, menace crept into his voice. ‘I did not ask you to give them to me. The Calnissians are losing. And when they do, my army will come down here. And you will die.’   ‘You are a fool,’ said the King. ‘No blade can touch us.’   The Emissary looked into the male Guardian’s eyes, red meeting white, and spoke with a coldness Allison felt chill the room, ‘Who said I am going to use a blade?’   Fearful realisation came into the eyes of the Guardians as the kneeling man raised his hands, fiercely clawing at the air. The male Guardian lifted his sword, ready to attack; then he screamed.   Scratches appeared and disappeared on the skin of both Guardians, tearing at their clothes as well. Allison knew the real pain to be internal as the Emissary tore apart their insides. Their skin slowly lost its ability to regenerate and the scratches became wider and deeper. Their clothes, ripped to shreds and no longer able to cling to their bodies, fell to the floor. Blood poured from their mouths, their ears, their steadily dimming white eyes. Through all this, they remained alive, soon losing the comforting power to even scream.   Tears fell down Allison’s cheeks as she watched the Guardians slowly die. ‘Oh don’t cry, Sweetie,’ Linda said putting her arms around Allison. Momentarily comforted, Allison returned the embrace. Seconds later, as the Guardians fell to the floor, Allison pushed Linda away, shouting, ‘Get away from me!’ She ran to the ramps, but Linda stopped her.   ‘There’s nowhere to run, Sweetie. You have to stay here until it’s over.’   ‘Get me out of here!’   ‘I can’t. You have to wait it out. Just watch.’   The killer of the Guardians stared at the knives. After a minute or so, he reached up and pivoted the top one so the pommel faced inwards. He then went to the other two, turning them as well. As if magnetised, the pommels flew towards each other and moulded together so the weapons were one. The single pommel extended to form a new hilt, and the left and right knives moved like hands on a clock to form a V shape, while the cross-guards merged with the central one. The Emissary wrapped his right hand around the grip and slid it from its home, the sound of metal scraping stone echoed through the hall at the sacrilege. He held it to his face and smiled.   The room began to shake and Allison fell to her knees. Linda, who seemed prepared for this, remained standing.   Allison scrambled to her feet. ‘What’s happening?’   ‘I don’t know,’ Linda shouted over the rumblings and crashes that came from overhead.   The man seemed to have no idea what was happening either. He held the sword firmly in his hand and ran to the opening of the alcove, jumping as he reached the edge of the floor above the throne. He flew towards the ceiling and crashed through it, causing portions of the roof to fall down. Two armed soldiers hit the floor with a sickening crack.   ‘Alli!’

‘Alli!’ Kate’s voice sounded over the battle cries and the screams of falling soldiers.   Allison opened her eyes and saw her fiancée looking back at her. A soft surface lay beneath her. She sat up and found herself lying in her own bed with Kate sitting next to her. ‘I was so glad when you started moving,’ Kate said. ‘I began to think you were never going to wake up.’ She took Allison’s head in her hands and kissed her.   ‘What … what happened?’ Allison said when they parted.   ‘I don’t know. Somebody found you passed out on the ground beside Linda. He rang an ambulance for you both, but no one could figure out what was wrong with you. You just seemed to be asleep. That was two days ago.’   ‘I’ve been out for two days?’   ‘’Fraid so,’ Kate said. She swallowed, and a note of hurt appeared in her voice. ‘What was Linda doing there?’   ‘Taking up her old habits. Or not. She may have been there for some other reason. We experienced a … vision … of sorts. I’m not sure whether she caused it, but she certainly seemed to know loads.’ Allison pushed her covers off and got out of bed. ‘I’ve got to find Linda and speak to her.’   ‘I … thought you didn’t want to see her again,’ Kate said, obvious pain in her voice.   ‘I don’t,’ said Allison. ‘But I need to know what happened, and she may be the one to tell me.’ She stepped towards her wardrobe and dragged some clothes out.   Kate stopped her. ‘Even if I let you anywhere near her, she was discharged from the hospital a few hours ago, and I have no idea where she is now.’ Allison sat back down. ‘Perhaps Atharron might know,’ Kate offered.   ‘You could be right,’ Allison said. ‘Especially considering what the vision was. I’ll phone him.’

Atharron appeared later that evening, dressed as usual but with no coat, and his half smoked cigar sat in the corner of his mouth. ‘Evenin’,’ he said as he stepped across the threshold. He moved into the living room and sat in an armchair. Allison and Kate took the sofa opposite, and told him everything.   Once Allison finished, he thought for a few seconds before speaking. ‘Seems to me, you had…’ he paused for a few seconds, and Allison moved forwards expectantly, ‘…a vision.’ he finished dramatically.   Allison slumped back down at the anticlimax and said, ‘Four and a half thousand years of knowledge, and that’s the best you can do?’   ‘Nah. In my opinion, you had a shared vision. Either you or Linda, not sure who ’twas meant for. Before hearing about the other girl, I would’ve said you, but since she knew more than you did…   ‘Anyway, what you saw sounds like the downfall of Calnis. I wasn’t there to see it, but from what I heard, Eand Siríla and her armies fought to reclaim the city from the Emissary’s steward. They drove the usurpers back to the insides of the palace, but there they met another army, lying in wait. They never stopped fighting, even though the Emissary’s forces outnumbered them four to one. With only a few survivors left, the Emissary slew the Queen and went down to the throne room. It had been locked ever since Cinund Afil began his occupation. As you saw, the Emissary killed the Guardians, of which I personally put in place, and stole the Knives, bringing about the beginning of the Forgotten War.’   Atharron sat back in the chair and looked thoughtfully into the floor. ‘I just don’t see what this has to do with you. I’ve read many prophecies regarding the Knives, but they never mention you. The Knives have always been connected to an Immortal.’   ‘But I am immortal right?’ Allison said, a little confused.   ‘We thought you were once. You have the healing abilities of them, and the strength. But you came back from the dead. It would seem you are a protected mortal and you will die like one. But what I am referring to are the Tarimain, like myself, who don’t age or succumb to disease and are very hard to kill. There is said to be ten of us, but only four are currently known to exist.’   ‘What are these knives then?’   Atharron sighed. ‘I hate to say it again, but I don’t really know myself. They’ve been around since before I was born and are supposed to bring about the end of the world. Which … they very almost did once. When I became King, I attempted to destroy them, and when I couldn’t, I made sure no one could get to them. Basically I suggest, if you want answers to this vision, you’d better ask Linda.’   ‘Oh, great. This means I’ve got to talk to her.’ Kate’s face dropped, and Allison turned to her. ‘I’ve got to, honey.’

The search for Linda proved unsuccessful. Phoning the hospital gave them no answers, and other than that they had no leads to go on. Not that either of the girls tried much, and Allison eventually gave up. She’d show her face sooner or later.   And sure enough, she did.   Kate found her, a week after the vision, lying on top of their bed in a pink silk nightie. Kate felt certain she wore nothing else.   ‘How did you get in here?’ Kate screamed.   ‘Rubbish security,’ the Redhead replied. ‘You really ought to get someone who can sense teleportation. So, where’s my Sweetie?’   ‘Not. Here.’   Linda slowly slid from the bed and glided towards Kate. ‘Ahh, that’s too bad. I sooo wanted to see her again.’   ‘Don’t try. It’s not working. You’re lucky Allison wants to see you, I’d have you out by now.’   Linda moved closer, pressing herself against Kate, a look of excitement on her face. ‘And you’re allowing this? I’m liking it.’   Kate looked her in the eyes and refused to move away. ‘Leave it. She wants to talk. Once she is finished, we’re going to call the police.’   ‘So you want me in handcuffs do you?’ Kate said nothing. ‘Oh don’t deny it, you want me just as much as she does.’ She moved her hands down Kate’s hips and to her rear, giving an exaggerated squeeze. ‘If you knew what I know, you’d have called the police already,’ Linda moved herself closer, until their lips almost touched, ‘but you find me just as enticing as she does; it’s not your fault, or hers. Few people can resist me. You want to know why we shared a vision? We’re soul-mates. It’s nothing you two could have done together. The combination of my knowledge and her amazing psychic ability, timed at the exact moment a knife was taken from Calnis, produced something I did not anticipate.’   ‘Calnis is gone,’ Kate said.   ‘Is that what you think?’ A noise of an opening door came from downstairs. ‘I think your bride to be is back.’   Kate heard Allison coming up the stairs, and took a step back from Linda.   ‘Hi honey,’ Allison said, walking into the room, ‘got something I want to—’ she saw Linda and rushed at her pushing her on the bed her hand around her throat. ‘Now, tell me! What happened?’   Linda laughed. ‘Ask Katie baby here, we’ve just been having a little chat and I think she’s worried.’ Allison looked behind her and Kate indeed looked pale. ‘Things are going to get interesting.’

Kate told Allison everything that evening. She didn’t cry, but Allison felt if she held an ounce less strength, Kate would have broken down. ‘I’m so scared, Alli,’ Kate said when she finished. ‘Those knives are supposed to cause the end of the world.’   Allison gently rubbed Kate’s shaking hand. ‘I’m calling Atharron.’ Kate nodded and sat in silence while they waited for Atharron to arrive. They told him what Linda said.   Atharron shook his head. ‘’Tain’t good. That’s for sure. I need to make a phone call.’ He whipped out his mobile and dialled a number. ‘Where are you? … Great, how far from the summit? … And have you seen any evidence the Key has been used? … Not just that. I believe she’s taken a knife. Get there as fast as you can. Close off the entrance and ensure no one else will ever be able to get inside.’   Atharron hung up and sighed. ‘I should have buried those damned things. Thrown them in the bloody ocean! At the very least I should have kept them apart.’ He threw his phone across them room and it smashed against the opposite wall.   ‘So this is bad?’ Allison said after a long moment of silence.   Atharron stood up and looked out the window onto the moors. ‘Not as bad as it could be, but one knife on its own is enough to devastate the world. And the fact that Calnis has even been opened … by Naomi of all people! I need to find her.’ Atharron made to leave the room.   Allison leapt up and grabbed his arm, turning him around. ‘Do you need any help?’   A slight look of pride crossed Atharron’s face for a second. Then it was gone. ‘Thanks, but you need to stay here. Practice what I’ve taught you. The time will come soon when you’ll need to be at your best.’   Atharron left the house and Allison turned to Kate who stared at the carpet. Allison went over to the sofa and sat down, putting her arms around her. ‘It’ll be fine. I know it will.’   Kate looked up to her. ‘How can you say that?’   ‘I’m psychic, remember.’ She smiled, but stopped after a look from Kate. To see her shaken up like this was almost too much. She had been strong throughout everything Allison had endured, and had kept a facade of strength for her benefit. But now that mask had crumbled. Allison didn’t know what to do.   ‘Anyway, when I came home I wanted to tell you something. I hope it’ll cheer you up. I’ve put my name down for the Zwei Mütter Program.’ Kate sat up and let Allison’s arms fall off her. ‘What? It’s experimental and may not even work. Or worse, it might work and we could end up with a freak baby.’   ‘Kate, they’ve done it with loads of other animals with a ninety-seven percent success rate. We talked adoption the other day, but never really did anything about it. And now we have the opportunity to have a baby that is truly ours.’   ‘I’d like that too, but if anything goes wrong, I’m not sure I can handle the consequences.’   ‘The doctor I spoke to said there was very little chance of anything happening. In fact it could be a healthier baby than normal ones. I told him that if we were going to do it, I would want it done after the wedding. There should be a few other couples who signed up and had healthy kids, maybe that should put your mind to rest.’   Kate sighed. ‘Okay. I’ll think about it.’

Cover image: by JRCSalter


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