Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Chapter 4 The Awakening

The Awakening

30 days had been and gone; deep in the wilderness as remote from civilisation as he could manage Norgarth had secreted away the two immortal organs from the Lich’s body. His trusted companions the Rogue and the Monk should have also performed their duties by now and would also be on their way back to the capital.  It had taken them years to track down the Phylacteries of the Lich, and many people had died in the quest to collect them so that Zhang could finally be destroyed. And yet still these objects could not be. This time there was no great history or legends to link his demise to them. Only they knew the true purpose of their quest and only they witnessed the final destruction of Zhang. He would take this secret to the grave, as would the other two. For the sake of preventing the return of this evil Haennah would never know.

Only once had Haennah questioned the absence of the other two heroes, paranoid that they were plotting her downfall, that they had gone back to Rathmore and somehow re-opened the portal and were already taking the power that was rightfully hers. Her raving had worried Norgarth for a while, but it had seemed to pass. Even so he had needed to remove the guard posted at her door, as she had started to distrust their presence 

‘They come into my room, I know they do, and whisper things in my ear while I sleep. My mind is like cake to them and their words are a knife. ‘

This suited some of the crew, who were uneasy being too close to a dragon blood Teifling who could turn invisible and immolate her enemies by Will alone.  ‘Best to keep it all calm and comfortable for the moment’ he mused.  ‘At least she hasn’t set fire to anything… yet…’

                *                     *                             *                             *                             *

Haennah apparated into her cabin, her bare feet inches above the floor, the silvery mist swirled momentarily about her before evaporating and she lightly touched down, holding her skirts above her angles. Her tail swished playfully. She was having fun. Time spent teaching Norgarth to read kept her mind at ease, and off the sounds. The weakness in her body had all but gone, though now and again her new heart twinged and pricked at her if she overexerted herself. Even so her magic was almost at full power....’In fact, little dove,’ she mused to herself while preening her hair in the mirror ‘we are feeling quite spritely... ‘

 She focussed inwardly and rose on tiptoe, her arms lifting like a dancer from her side.  Arcs of electricity started to crackle and split through the air, her heart beat quickened and the sparks became galvanised with greater force, and static filled the cabin like an audible buzz. She watched with an inner joy as the tin plate and cup from her last meal liquefied before her eyes.  She breathed out calmly and the tension in the room dissipated.

She stared hard at her reflexion again, the blue mist was still there deep in her eyes, distant yet present. ‘No pain that we suffer, no trial that we endure, is wasted…. We?’ She laughed out loud sharply and twirled around. ‘Me! ‘ She looked once more in the mirror at that distant mist in the back of her black eyes. ‘Thankyou….. For everything!’ she laughed.

*                     *                             *                             *                             *

The Petrified Gnome touched down within the city, children and adults had once again gathered to see the flying ship arrive. There on the dock stood the Rogue and the Monk, as Norgarth had promised. She ignored the sound of dripping water, the sky was perfectly clear. 

Haennah had nervously spent the morning trying to tidy herself up and look presentable. The goddess only knew why, but she left like she was on trial, being scrutinised by her companions. It was as if all eyes were upon her. She resisted the urge to reach up to her chest, even though her crystal heart was safely hidden behind the steel breastplate that identified her as Holy Paladin of Skythia. She’d almost forgotten about her holy duties for the 2 months she had been away. ‘This will not do little dove’ she thought to herself. ‘All we have done and endured has been for the will of the Goddess.’

As the two slowly walked up the gangplank to meet them, she scrutinised their faces, while trying to smile sweetly. ‘They must know, how can they not, they think I have betrayed them and they are here to cart me away to some oubliette to rot. She felt panicked.

Norgath looked up at her, ‘What’s wrong?’

Her mind swirled and she blurted out in a hushed voice ‘I... I hear his voice sometimes, distant, distracting, like rainfall at night. Pitter patter, pitter-patter.’

The End

Chapter 3 The Revelation

The Revelation

The days went by; it was clear to Norgarth that she had regained some of her strength, she seemed healed yet still she just laid there staring with her black eyes at the roof of the cabin. He explained to her slowly, said how it seemed that objects she was carrying, an eye, an ear and others had been pulled into the portal along with Zhangs body. The lie, he believed, was the only thing that could prevent the young sorceress descending into madness, and he hoped, evil.

As he spoke he watched Haennah’s blank expression change to one of pain, despair, longing, and anger.  Suddenly she grasped out at Norgarth and gripped tightly to his shoulders. Instinctively he braced himself and grabbed her wrists, preparing to kill her with his bare hands lest she conjure some magic against him. Yet there was no malice in her touch. She slowly wrapped her arms around the gruff dwarf’s wide shoulders and hugged him her head buried under his chin.

‘You saved my life Norgarth, and for what it is worth I will never forget what you have done for me’ For a moment he sat rigid, unused to such affection and vulnerability from a woman who had often argued and balked against  his opinions. As she gently sobbed , he uncomfortably pushed her down onto her bed. ‘Rest now’ He left the room as she fell again into exhausted slumber.

      *                                *                             *                             *                             *

Her head pounded, the ribs around her new heart ached, and she felt flushed. Even tight shut it was as if the morning light was scorching the back of her eyes. She opened them and stared up  in the soft light. Her head still pounded, and the ceiling made her queasy.   ‘Eyes shut !’ she thought. 

Her fingers ached on her left her hand, and then she remembered one was missing ‘It’s all in my mind, if indeed it still IS my mind.’  She lay there listening to two of the Templars outside the cabin. Their voices were low, a private conversation, but in the silence of the room  they filled Haennah’s ears.

‘Tis not natural’
‘Wat is these days brother’
‘I tell thee, I know the cap’n has his reasons but I for one would like to know what happened to her and why allofasudden ‘tis of such importance that we have to be flying ‘round keeping away from civilized places just for her sake.
‘You think too much. Remember before he was a Templar he was a trusted friend and protégé of our great fallen leader, may he rest in peace. It’s only right that another dwarf hero take up the mantle. ‘
‘Yeah but I’m not saying that’s not right, I’m..’
‘..And so before you interrupt again brother, if he has reason that the sorceress.. and remember they have knowed each other longer than we have knowed him… what was I sayin’ yeah his reasons must be good reasons. If she needs rest away from folks, and flying into the wildernesses as we are is what he says we must do then so be it.’
‘’spose… but tis still not natural. And her waking nearly ev’ry night screamin’ as she does, it’s creepy’’
‘Always one for lookin a gift horse in the mouth. How many of our brothers did we lose against those dragon creatures, and in the fire at the temple? I for sure am liking the chance of not getting killed at for a change.’
‘Again my Templar brother you misunderstand me meanings. I mean ‘she’ and all is not natural. You saw plain as day when he hauled her carcass on’t deck. Bloodied, flayed , and as dead as a doornail to all she looked. Yet now not a scar upon her….. except the ones she already had of course.’
‘Of course brother, and what precisely are you getting at?’
‘Well I mean, when we took that accursed dragon rod, remember. She went crazy mad and demanded it, cursing the Templars and threatening the wrath of her so called Goddess upon us if we didn’t give it back. And then when it looks like we gonna have to fight  her, us surrounding her wit swords drawn and shield raised we was, she just commands our knight to hand it , and he does so without question.’
‘Well it was either that brother, or end up frazzled to a crisp, you seen what magic she wields, never mind that sword of hers. Rather she be on our side than against if I rightly say so.’
‘That’s against the code and you know it.
‘I’m not saying she should join us jelly brain, merely she makes a better ally than an enemy, and I think Norgarth is thinking that too.  Anyway you is just scared of her, I saw you when you tried to move her clothes’
‘I had been asked to tend to her best I could, and clearly she was in pain, I merely offered to see what was ailing her.’
‘And then when she snapped at you nearly peed yer pants, yes we know. I don’t blame her, I wouldn’t want your grimy mitts pawing at me neither.’
‘I’m not used to Infernal speak, it startled me. Bloomin Teiflings , they is not natural.’

Haennah listened, part of her wanted to giggle at such silly boy talk, but she also felt unnaturally angry at what she had heard. Then her mind raced, her body became taught with rage ‘Foolish, feeble, floundering fools. What do they know of me, they think me unnatural? Pitiful mortals fear what they cannot comprehend and so they should. Their lives are but wheat sheaves in the wind compared to me. I have lived an age beyond men and endured. All life must end, yet I will live on, all will be judged unworthy and I will have my rightful prize for good or for evil. But in the name of my Goddess I will rebuke that evil and destroy its tyranny, yet they dare look upon me and say that I am tyranny and I am evil? 
What do they know of evil, I have seen true evil , I have been touched by evil the likes they cannot imagine. It has penetrated me, defiled me, yet I have survived. The dark power is defeated, and in its place a sorceress. Yesss,  Yet I shall not be dark, but beautiful beyond enduring,  worshipful and terrible as the Fire in the  Night, Dreadful as the lightning. All shall love me and despair.’

Strange sounds, like dripping water, broke into her rage, and she gasped shocked as she realized her own thoughts, and what she was about to do. The sparks of electricity that had danced along her arms, skittering across the floor, subsided. The two men outside continued to talk oblivious to what could have been.

She slumped back down on the bed and looked at the ceiling. ‘My mind is not my own it seems.’ She wiggled her fingers, muttered words and a spectral hand apparated and picked up the nearby looking glass. She studied her face, the small blue dragon scales highlighted her temples, belied her distant draconic heritage, seemed more prominent. She looked at her arms, calves, tail, and elsewhere. ‘Indeed my dear’ she thought to herself, ‘the legacy of my bloodline becomes stronger every day. I am pleased.’ 

She stared at the reflection of her eyes. She thought she saw something different in those solid black orbs, a distant wispy blue glow, like looking up from a deep well at a misty sky. ‘The dark well of my soul?’ She mused. ‘Or another’s? I have you in my eye and I shall keep you in my eye till you learn to behave. Yet am I in good spirits? Good or bad I must be in control of them!........I must make more of an effort to be well,  yet I am undone, or at least my clothes…. A spell of mending shall be of aid, and good practice.. little steps my little dove, little steps.’

The next day was bright yet the sound of rainfall from outside her cabin was a distraction . Her legs were unsteady as she padded to the door and opened it. ‘Where is the rain?’
‘Wha - What rain?’ answered the startled guard. He stepped back looking surprised as she gripped tightly against the door swaying slightly. ‘I thought I heard rain?’
 ‘Lady Haennah, you are not yet strong enough.’
‘Yes food , do you have any, we are hungry. Food and sunshine.’
She watched the man hurriedly walk towards the galley. Haennah stepped away from the door, felt her head swim and her legs buckle slightly. ‘So we will ,  I will,  crawl if need be.’..

Norgarth sat in the sun studying his book; he was at first puzzled at the sounds of a girl’s voice signing a sea shanty. He recalled how what seemed an age ago now,  Haennah used to sing it, and how her silliness annoyed him. He looked up and saw her crawling towards him a stupid grin on her face. ‘Feeling better it seems?’ He grumbled.

‘Whatya doooing?’

‘It’s no concern of yours girl’

‘The fact that its upside down from here does not hide the fact that  you are reading somatic draconic. And it is also a fact that I speak dragon quite fluently, plus you will never learn to read or write it properly from studying that.’

‘And what would you suggest I do instead then,’ he replied gruffly.

‘Why would you be wanting to learn to speak Dhovah anyway? You’ve never shown any interest bef….’ Her eyes widened in surprise as she spied the thin scaly tail of a dragonling wrapped around the dwarfs neck, it curled around  into his shirt and as she twisted her head to look she spied the balled up shape of a sleeping  hatchling copper dragon.
‘Oo Pahdul! Tol mii druv hi laan wah tinvaak Dovah. Fos brit Pahdul.’

‘Wait that’s too fast.’ The dwarf scowled ‘Did you call her Paddle? That’s not her name’

‘PAH – DUL! Dear Norgarth, it means baby. So what have you called her?’
When the dwarf pronounced the hatchling name Haennah could not help herself and laughed out loud. ‘You can’t call her that!’ she exclaimed ‘ while it may be a fine dwarven sounding name it means nonsense in Dhova.. in fact it’s even worse .. you basically named her toy-fox-brush. Dragon names all mean something. If she was hatched from the flames of the temple then Kiinnolyol would be suitable. It is an important part of their legacy.

‘And I suppose your name has some stupid dragon meaning behind it.’ He snapped angrily.

She looked solemnly at him before speaking, ‘Rei means Line, as in lineage. My family stopped using the first half... Monahrel .. it means……. Matriarch.’ She cast her eyes downwards ‘ I must find out..’ her voice trailed off.

‘The ghost dragon you said you saw’ his tone became serious. ‘Haennah?’

She looked up and gave a wry smile. ‘Scooch up and I will help you and Pahdul. Now first thing you need to know about the script of Dhovah is how it is formed, claws, wings, and tail marks…so …’

Chapter 2 The Nightmare

The Nightmare

The black gorge of her mind is shocked from its catatonia ‘You fell into my trap‘ From the mists of her memory the glowing orbs of those eyes come into view deep in her dream state. ‘ All life must end.‘ A dizzying visage of the clawed winged demon, its hooved feet stepping through the portal from the Abyss, she looks on through her own eyes , feels her body step forward and raise a finger. She speaks but it is not her voice. ‘And now demon.. you Will Die’

The demon falls slain by her magics, but it is not her. The power overwhelms her senses every nerve on fire , like an opiate it exhilarates and numbs her very soul yet she cannot hold onto it. Her body is not hers, her mind is ensnared, she is a chattel of some greater evil. She feels unseen claws pull her soul away from her body. That laugh, she is one with his thoughts, her body will be his new vessel upon the earth. She is dying .

She pushes back. Strange sounds like dripping water. The world spins and she looks down. Her hand claws at her chest, carves away the flesh. Her toes scrabble for the floor as her body levitates off the ground, standing exposed like a raw nerve before the gateway to the Abyss. Voices in tongues twisted and horrendous spill from beyond. She is dying.

There is one last hope. His mind is in hers and she knows his weakness. The crystal heart only has room for one soul, and his is weakened, complacent in his arrogance, she has a chance. Her body contorts with pain, she is dying.

Time eternal like an endless void overwhelms them both. ‘ I am not weak. You are the weak, Skythia is my shepherd, and I am her tyranny against evil and the bringer of death. This is my legacy.’ She pushes once more with all that she is. Feels her flesh tear, her skin flayed, her body scorched. And watches as Zhangs soul is ripped from her and pulled into the Abyss…

Haennah wakes from the nightmare, yet she cannot breathe, standing upright she grasps for the very air to fill her lungs. And with a rasping intake screams out the horror of her mind into the darkness of the room.  The door flies open and there is Norgarth, her head swims and her legs buckle beneath her, she feels herself being caught and then darkness takes her once again.
                 *                         *                          *                             *                         *

Strange sounds like dripping water wake her. She hesitates her mind fuzzy, such nightmares were beyond anything she could recall.  Her body felt weak, tired beyond measure as if it had gone through some great ordeal yet she couldn’t remember… wait…
She pushed herself up so she sat, she was in a bed , and on the flying ship. This made no sense… she couldn’t remember. … but wait.  

Slowly she reached up with her hand to her rib cage and froze. She felt a cold hard point and felt  a steady rhythmic pulse from an unmoving surface. The blanket slipped down off her shoulders as she lowered her eyes. Her mouth moved, repeating the same word over and over, but no sound came. Wetness landed upon her hand , one drop. She felt another roll down her cheek, it struck the keen edge of the jagged heart and splashed into tiny drops that scattered rainbow motes of light across the harsh black unforgiving peaks and canyons of the crystal heart.     ‘ no…… no…….. no no nO No NONONONONONOO. ‘

Her sobs racked her weakened body and she slumped back down, drawing her legs up and clutched at her chest. Her mind was overwhelmed with a tidal wave of horror, regret and panic, and it felt it would never end. Finally she sank once more into the oblivion of sleep.

Chapter 1 The Escape

The Black Crystal Heart

The Escape

Blood was still smeared across his armour. The wind continued to  howl, the treacherous unnatural clouds swirled and boiled as Rathmore slowly crumbled into ruin below him. It was as if the evil powers that had been awoken still clung to the earth, like a beacon of despair, despite their victory this day. With one hand the dwarf held tight to the rope ladder his other grasped the unconscious and wounded body of the sorceress as his Templars hauled him up to the deck of the flying ship ‘The Petrified Gnome’ .

He spied his companions the Rogue and the Monk, already small shapes in the distance, heading off to he knew not where, their deadly cargo hidden on their persons. Victory had been theirs but the costs had been dire, and it seemed  that danger was still upon them. Many of the dwarf’s companions had perished over the years, but now his thoughts turned to the present and the task he had sworn to do.

One of Norgarths men grasped at his hand to haul him the last foot onto the deck as the ship listed in the winds high above the ground. He shouted orders and the ship veered round and headed straight as a dart in the opposite direction from his companions. ‘MAKE HASTE MEN,… before whatever unnatural beasts arise from those ruins to take your lives!’He grabbed the bosons arm and shoved two objects into his hands and leant close ‘take them to my cabin and wait... AND no questions!’

The girl was still over Norgarth’s shoulder, her lanky frame was like a feather to the warrior. Her bloody fingers brushed across the deck as he carried her body to an empty cabin and shut the door behind him. He laid her down upon the rough linen and stared momentarily at the pained/horrified expression still upon the Tiefling girls’ face, no more than 18 years of age, yet it was unnaturally drawn and ashen.  Haennah’s breath came fast, shallow and laboured; her chest rose and fell in an uneven rhythm. Expressionless he steeled himself knowing what he was about to see, but he had to look again, to ensure his eyes had not deceived him. He roughly pulled her robes down off her shoulders leaving her bare to the waste.

Whatever foul magics that had ravaged her body had left its mark, her skin was scorched and looked half flayed off. And then there was that thing, Norgarth’s mind raced to try and glean how it could have happened, but this dread sorcery was beyond him.  It was only a few days since Haennah’s deceit had become known. She’d had on her person the Black Crystal Heart of the Lich Zhang all along. And then in Rathmore again took it from the mummified body of undead wizard. And yet somehow, somehow it was now embedded in her chest. Before they had left Rathmore he had tried to remove it but it was fused to her ribcage half embedded. But now it looked as if it had sunken deeper into her chest, the flesh had partly closed around it so only a third of the heart showed.

The pale skin around the edge was almost transparent ,the dark black of the human shaped crystal heart fading beneath the flesh. The light in the room reflected on the sharp edged faceted nodules that covered its surface, as if he was looking down from afar upon the black dread mountains of the Abyss. He grit his teeth as his gaze followed the black hair-line veins visible just below the surface of the tieflings skin and he could just discern the throb of the blood that passed from the crystal heart into its new hosts body.

There was a knock at the door,  ‘Sir are you ok? Is the girl?..’‘Yes fine! Leave me be!’ He hesitated, his free hand on the nearby blanket ready, and listened for the soldier’s steps to fade. He reached down and hesitantly touched Haennah’s new heart.. he felt a tingle of energy, like a beat pulse from it through his fingertips and into the marrow of his bones, the ache was painful and he pulled his hand back sharply. He placed a hand on her neck ,… the pulse was strong and throbbed at the same tempo he had felt from the heart.  Her breath still came in short sharp gasps but already seemed more regular. He threw the blanket around her and got up to leave. ‘If you live , so be it, but there’s nothing I can do for you now.’

A few days passed and Haennah remained comatose.  There was little that could be done other than keep her warm, yet the wounds she had succumbed to healed surprising quickly and without any scarring, yet still she could not be wakened.

Norgarth stood in the rain and leant against the rail of the prow looking out into the night sky as the ship continued on its journey. The body parts of Zhang that he had taken could not be destroyed so they must be scattered and hidden, and Haennah must never know.  He had seen her obsession twist the girl’s personality, it seemed that little of the naïve, overly chirpy tiefling was left and she had been consumed by an evil desire for power.  He hoped that by some miracle she had not succumbed finally to her own folly. Was the crystal heart actually evil and if so what would become of her?