The ones about Attrition 1-3Dreams of Attrition: 1 through 6:
. . .
goes the quill over the paper. The fine whisper over a black leather gloved left hand flattening an ancient page filled with ever shifting sigils. The scent of the ink in its pot nearby. The flickering of candlelight.
[The pain is so intense you instantly become aware that this is dream and you should have just woken up.]
The pain subsides. There's blood on the parchment. The quill is broken in the right hand. The brittle pages are crumpled from the clenching left.
The quill discarded, blood is wiped from the unseen chin, lips and nose. More blood. Gushing from the nose.
The gloved hand rubs at the base of the skull. Ineffectually trying to sooth.
The blood seeps into the parchment and, impossibly, disappears. All but for some words.
-You are so much more than them.-
The words disappear.
"You are not welcome in this world." The voice sounds tired, exhausted.
New words appear.
-Give them up.-
"Get thee gone, vile thing."
Standing up, the gloved hand planted on the desk now along with the bare hand, supporting. There's a slight quaver in the arms.
-Your Giri was complete the moment you knew they weren't worth saving.-
The blood writing fades reluctantly. The gloved hand lifts and smears it away helpfully.
Blood patters down to the parchment from the mouth and nose. So much blood.
-They don't deserve you.-
-It doesn't have to hurt any more.-
Through clenched teeth: "By steel; by reason; by magic..."
-There will be other worlds.-
Through clenched, hurting teeth: "Not for you."
Blood. Blood. Always more blood.
-There will be others to care for.-
"By steel, by reason, by magic, by fire."
-Just open up.-
"I vow to..." *gasp*
Skin seperates over the left ear like taught cloth touched by a razor. More blood.
"Protect and sanctify the world with my every breath."
-Let us in.-
Let the pur--AAAaaggg" *grunt and then gasp for air*
The humerus bone of the left arm snaps clean in two.
"Purity." Long inhale. "Of my body, mind and spirit sustain me in this quest." The bone knits together, unassisted. Blood dribbles constantly through a grin that is as much a rictus of pain as a promise of payback.
-Let our brother out.-
"This I swear by what was lost, by what-Aarrrrr-hhk-grrrrrrr"
Seven ribs buckle from an unseen blow. The right knee hits the floor. A fine mist of blood is coughed out splattering new words.
-This world is not worth saving.-
The ribs begin to heal. Trembling arms start to heave the body upwards inspite of the tearing pains.
-They have all betrayed your trust.-
-They won't fight.-
"By what can never be regained."
-They won't ever even know what you have done.-
"This is my oath."
-And you know, in your heart of hearts, that they can't even begin to comprehend what you are enduring for them.-
The legs give out as bones shoot out of place in the upper spine. Collapse. The pain is almost muted to numbness. Lungs aren't working.
No breathing. Drowning in blood.
-They resent you.-
All things are pulled unnaturally, painfully back to rightness inside. Rolling over, the blood is ejected from the throat and lungs.
-They fear you.-
"My life is sacrifice."
The hands press on the floor, shaky arms raise the body until the legs can gather again beneath.
-They hate you.-
"My sacrifice is for life."
The blood seeps into the paper leaving only red stain and no torment.
Wiping blood away, the chair is pulled back into place. A new piece of parchment and a new quill are brought out.
. . .
the world, all wrought in shadows and stark lights, reels. No. Spins and whirls. It's dizzying. Lovely and sickening at once.
Body breaks in a thousand places. Armor clatters and rattles all about. Hands fumble, groping for something. A staff. No spear.
Body crumbles to the ground next to a stalagmite. Can't really move. Ribs piercing lungs all over. Choking on blood. Have the spear.
Left hand flexes. Right hand grips the weapon tightly. Different plates of the skull are frantically realigning.
"Hhuuuuhhh." Air mingles with blood inside.
"YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!!"
The voice, so loud in this place that it actually disturbs the healing.
"YOU ARE THE PRODIGAL? THE ONE WHO HAS HIDDEN AWAY FROM US FOR SO LONG?"
Vision partly hampered by something - a helmet? Turning, see a giant made of stone. No, not a giant. A titan. A god. Black marble and sinuous glowing veins of corruption.
A hand the size of a grown man reaching out from the monster. Hear shuffling beyond. Small things moving in shadow.
"I'M GOING TO GRIND YOUR BONES TO MEAL. SO WHAT IF YOU'LL JUST COME BACK. I'LL DO IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN. WE'VE GOT TIME."
The hand snaps shut, making good on the promise. Things that should remain deep inside come surging upward, outward.
. . .
"Hhuuuh-hk." Can't see much. Too much residual blood in eyes. Probably worse than blood.
. . .
Cough out the refuse first. "Ahuh...heh...hyeh...huh."
"SOMETHING FUNNY, MEAT?"
Spear is little more than flinders spinkled all around. Armor's useless.
"HEARD YOU WERE ONE FOR TALK. TALK TALK TALK. NOTHING SMART TO SAY NOW THOUGH? LEAST YOUR BROTHER HAD THE ROCKS TO HIT BACK."
"Heh." The grin lets a mess of blood leak out the corner of the mouth. Everything hurts.
. . .
The great monster of earth is picking ribbons of flesh from between jagged stone fingers that probably weigh a three hundred pounds each.
"DID YOU THINK YOU COULD ACTUALLY INFILTRATE ANUTHE?"
Shoulder grinds painfully into place. Legs still aren't right yet, two displaced by the smashing hand.
"OR PERHAPS IN YOUR LEGENDARY CLEVERNESS YOU THOUGHT THAT BY DISTRACTING ME LIKE THIS SOME OF YOUR FLESHY LITTLE RANGERS COULD SNEAK PAST. IS THAT IT?"
Rolling onto stomach. Pretty sure there's a stray buckle from the armor lodged in between the ribs. Helmet's mostly crimped around jaw.
"Heheh." Spit blood.
"IS THAT YOUR BANTER THEN, ELDER? THE BEST YOU HAVE TO SAY?" It shifts. Stone grates on stone, echoing. "I AM NOT IMPRESSED."
Pelvic bone drops back into place. "Heh." Right hand planted on ground. Rising. Gathering feet beneath. "You're an idiot." Left hand up. Mangled gauntlet mostly gone. Fingers splayed, palm, black as sin, bare and facing the stone giant.
The monster collapses back into the volumnous darkness as if some great rope had cinched round its cyclopean middle and jerked it backward.
Standing. "You're nothing but a wall. Not even a particularly useful one."
"YOU WILL REGRET THAT!"
Earth and stone trembles beneath the onslaught of the monster's return. Not there anymore though. Left hand balled into fist and hidden behind back. Helmet pinching painfully. Right hand out. Shards of spear lift off the ground and reassemble all on the fly. Comforting slap as the wooden shaft locks into the right hand.
-What idiocy to fight a war within and without?-
The stone goliath clubs the spot so recently vacated. The earth bucks beneath flesh feet and legs like the pillars of a temple alike.
"Of my plans and my cleverness you are destined to never truly know."
Dodge another cruching blow. Spear up, out. Jump. Vault off wall. Tip on ground. Ride momentum. So much darkness. The sickly glow of the enraged monster whirling, trying to keep up.
"Over here, lumox."
"I WILL PULP YOU!"
Duck. Dust sifting down from above. Tuck. Roll. Leave bits of armor on floor. Leap a stalagmite.
"Done that three times now. Got a new strategy?"
The giant stops. Find the right spot. Plant butt of spear by right foot. Watching. Fresh blood dribbling down from ears.
"YOUR SORCERY WILL NOT SERVE YOU FOREVER."
-We will open a door for you.-
"It will serve me longer and better than your dim-witted brute strength will serve you."
Sickly feeling inside. Something breaking open.
-We will let you walk through.-
Giant tenses. Hesitating.
"Come now, Irrad. You can't possibly be afraid of your big brother."
"YOU ARE NOT HIM!"
-A door into a world not so far gone.-
Both fists, mammoth in size, titanic in strength, come smashing through. They find only the central pillar. A five millenia coupling of stalagmite and stalactite. The only thing holding the earth above up after the ruckus these past few minutes.
Mind right leg. Useless. Left and spear. Stumble. Head sized rock narrowly misses face.
Giant catches ceiling. Strength unparalleled. A god of stone.
-You could start sooner than in this world.-
Climb to feet. Weary. "Trapped by your own element." Spit a gout of blood and bile out. "Let it fall and you've no more convenient pass under the Crease." Shrug. "Hold it forever."
Turn. Limp away. Things churning inside.
"MY SOLDIERS CAN MOVE JUST AS SWIFTLY ON THE SURFACE," it threatens.
Snort. "Then why hold the rock up?"
-We are growing weary of making merciful offers.-
Grind teeth together. Whisper. "By steel; By Reason; By Magic; By Fire..."
. . .
blood fine silver chain links tiny blood dribbling chain floor black marble puddling chain pain chest restricted reflection blood pud-
Tetch tries to work past the phantoms of physical pain, the excitement of seeing her brother, the longing for his company, the pain of the loss she wishes he would be there to fill... she shoves it away, or tries... Memory... you will have better luck in this arena...
-dle seeping dying agony chain kneeling tethered blood shadows (warlord of air’s name) twisting silver splashed red plan pond weak blood games torture chain floor black white red life dr-
Memory awakens, steps up, leaves Heart near.. for this war will not be won without her.. Heart notes the pain, tries to take some for her brother.. tries, wishes, to give him strength... but refrains..
ipping voices would-be caught friends end chain blood pai-
< Quiet self, listen, add if you must.. but please, don't interrupt.. >
< Acceptance.. >
I'd welcome you to my upper consciousness but the gesture wouldn't ring true. This place is mine alone and you are not welcome here. But We are, each of us, imposed upon from time to time. Today is your time to impose upon me.
By now you're either so lost or so sure of what you're experiencing that I probably shouldn't bother to proceed. But here in my refuge the plan dictates all. And the plan dictates that I proceed despite the anguish. I am slave to my own crazy designs.
Tread carefully, wayfarer. My refuge is your all too brief sojourn. When I banish you it will be on you to determine reality from fantasy. And you must determine it. There will be truth on both sides. And there will be lies. For there are two who have drawn you to this battle twice before. And two who draw you today. And two who will draw you again and again and again and no more. Two. Dual. Duel.
One. Will deceive to protect the ultimate goal.
Two. Will deceive to protect the ultimate goal.
One. Will torture to achieve the goal.
Two. Will torture to achieve the goal.
One. Will destroy all opposition in his path.
Two. Will destroy all opposition in his path.
One. Will deploy decoys to distract two.
Two. Underestimates one.
Get out of my head.
. . .
From a bleeding man, to an armored champion in the dark, to the upper consciousness, to this...
What must happen when a man of learning battles with a god of deceit? Can you even tell the two apart?
The room isn't a room. It is merely a break in what appears to be a labyrinthine catacomb of bookshelves. It's as if the shelves took it upon themselves to leave some empty space. And the two combatants have taken it upon themselves to fill that space with their own brand of violence.
Insanity, or something very close to it, is the only possible explanation for this battlefield. Two men, mirrors of each other, perfect twins. They revolve around each other, playing games. Literally.
Can you imagine dozens upon dozens of gameboards on tables, on the floor, on the bookshelves, the ceiling. Even in the air? Hovering with not the slightest regard for gravity? And so many different games...alien contests.
Sudden movement. One of the two makes a leap. A leap which carries him to a board…checkers, you think… It’s upside down. The pieces don’t seem to care. He catches the edge of the board, and you think, surely it must dislodge sending the little chips flying through the air. But it does not budge. His gloved hand holds fast. The other hand darts upward even as his body sways below. Chips are moved with almost mechanical gestures.
“You are quiet,” the other Reeve remarks. He is perched upon the lip of a shelf, his hands flying over a complex box of pegs and strings.
The one drops from the checker board, landing softly on the ground. Is that the hint of a smile? He slips left, between two small tables. Both empty. There is a series of floating marbles just near the floor. He reaches down to touch one but stops.
The other watches patiently.
“My first is in sugar but not in tea. My second in swim but not in sea. My third in apple and also pear. My fourth in ring and also hare. My last in ten but not in herd. My whole a very complimentary word.”
The answer is Smart.
The world is very dark. There is movement, rustling. A spark flashes in the dark, ending. It is accompanied by the sound of steel on flint. Again. This time you catch the head of a torch in the briefest flash from the burning steel. The third strike catches in the pitch and rag on the brand. The fire grows and the glow extends, showing not one but two torches, and two identical men holding it. Both Reeve.
He leans closer to the mirror. The two faces lock eyes. It's a cave with a great mirror set into one wall. His eyes study his own reflection. After many long moments of scrutiny he seems to nod to himself.
"The beauty of doing for yourself what seems almost a play before an empty amphitheatre is that you, yourself, will always remember it. And if perchance you should find some way to convey that memory to another..." He shrugs, holding the torch aloft. "Then perhaps you can transmit to that person what you can never portray in front of an audience." He paces the length of the mirror, speculating.
"This evening is in the High Summer of 1003. In scarcely more than seventeen hours some northerners will fall into a trap laid here by the Enemy. I recognized the skald at once, of course. As I was meant to. It had to work in secret, plying on the fears and insecurities of one of the youngest and most vulnerable amongst the heroes of the Realms. She couldn't hope to spot its deception and so I was assured of her own safety."
He pauses, touching his chin with his left hand as he stares into the mirror. "The Mirror of Morchant." He paces again. "They say it can show you your soul, your reason for being, your... whatever." He shrugs. "I've read of it. But I've never questioned my purpose. I've never doubted my soul." He smiles faintly. "Many of you will link this artifact to the Erl-King. That is in error. This mirror appears infrequently throughout our world. The Erl-King seems to have merely expended some of his power to bring it here in this time. It's a reasonable lure. Only a fool or one who has already gazed into his own soul doesn't harbor some doubt as to his purpose."
"What I see is no surprise. But I didn't come here for me. At some point the others will be transferred. Something very crucial will happen. It will happen because their curiosity and courage put them at odds with the world. And that is where the Enemy will do his worst. The skald I saw with her is very particular. Not an assassin or a spy like most of the water elementals by that name. He is from the first brood, the First Storm. He is a world-hopper. He will come to be known as the Procurer. He facilitates certain movements and transactions and other business between the Erl-King and other deities. But, like any skald, he relishes the opportunity to let those afflicted by his business dealings know. So he will tip his hand at some point after it is too late."
"What, of crucial nature, will occur here at the Mirror is not fully known to me at this time. Where the heroes will find themselves is not so important as they might think. The Enemy is always steps or even battles ahead of them. But He is always with them too. Seeing to it that they keep doing the job they're meant to do."
He stops pacing and glares into the Mirror. "The dying world must die. But I already know that they won't learn that until much later."
He turns from the Mirror, waving the torch around the cave. The floor is covered in leaves and damp earth slowly decomposing. There are no signs of anything disturbing this place. "So something will happen here which the Enemy cares about, but will likely go entirely unnoticed by the adventurers." He turns back to face the Mirror. "Something in the shadows and the reflections. What will the Procurer procure for his Master tomorrow night?"
He shrugs and begins pacing again.
"That is all prattle. I am tasked with the larger picture. And so it is to that I must now attend." He switches the torch to his left hand. "There are so many things I can recite here by myself and commit to memory in this way. This perfect mirror with its perfect clarity..." He shakes his head, touching his brow with his right hand. "I shall start with the largest picture. The Enemy. The Enemy is Oblivion. Oblivion by way of Dissolution. Ehsar'Ektote. But these are vague human terms at best and occluded arcane concepts always. I can weave no metaphor that will adequately exhibit what is going on."
He holds the torch close to the Mirror so that the smoke stains the surface of the glass. He pulls it away and regards the black stain. At last he reaches up with his right index finger and traces the word "world" into the black stain. "That is what is at stake. But the word isn't enough. The word will most likely invoke a strange notion of a globe, of continents known and unknown with uncharted seas and cultures we'll never know."
"I can think in terms of possibility trees. That is starting with one path and at every possible choice having a branch in that path and all subsequent choices on all paths. This is but one starting point for infinity. But then why be egocentric? Take the possibilities back to the source. A soul, as most meditations hypothesize, is a collection energy in a precise pattern. No two are identical. Every last one is mutable and sadly mortal. But as flesh is not so sturdy as the soul, so too is the soul to the cosmos. An infinite stream of energy in patterns so complex or simple that one could go mad simply dreaming them up. Many have, in fact. Best not to dwell on that which can exhaust even a god's considerable power."
"Perhaps the Church of Darklore, however violent it may be, is partly right. That energy can array itself in so many different patterns is utter chaos. And that which they call the Dark One seeks to return all of that energy to the All. If I understand it correctly the All is entropy. It is utterly static. Potential untapped. Existence without rhyme or reason." He shrugs. "I'm not going to sermonize. I couldn't care less about the All, the Dark One, the Light or any dogmatic principles. But they have something right, at least. Entropy is a possible solution to the enigma of the world. But I'm talking about Oblivion. And that is a different answer."
He holds out the torch and hooks his right hand over his left shoulder, staring at the flame thoughtfully. "I cannot begin to postulate upon the impetus of creation. I can only expound upon the end of it. Entropy is not an end, in truth. Entropy is all things being perfectly equal, in perfect equilibrium. But at the boundaries of our world, of our universe you will find that there is no concept that can be wrought in the stuff of this world which can capture, contain or even hold back that which is beyond. Our world, the All, whatever...should be ever expanding or at least static in the case of entropy. But currently it is losing ground. Creation, it seems, is moving slower than the dissolution of it's fruits."
He frowns deeply, still regarding the flames of the torch. "You see we are the architects of our own demise. Before I can even come to the idea of Corruption, I must explain what Dissolution is. Down through the ages gods and men have risen and fallen. Empires have crumbled, continents have sunk, planes have collided or even been devourer. But these are mortal things. These are things which happen within. Our concepts of order and chaos, good and evil, hunger and satisfaction, learning and ignorance are all products of a self-contained environment. The gods, the heavens and hells, and all the nasty and beatific places and things that we dream of or run in terror from are among the highest ordered energies that we can conceive of, even if only vaguely. There's ever so much more to the world than that which humanity can imagine."
"But self-preservation is the defining line. That which seeks to perpetuate itself in one form or another is adding to the list of possibilities. While that which seeks to remove itself entirely is detracting from it. But here is the crux of the matter. Some things have been dreamed up which have fled or been banished to the boundaries of this world, where the hopefully infinite energies of the world seep away into Oblivion by way of Dissolution. Dissolution is the step that must occur in order for entropy to occur. But entropy is as improbable as is perfect goodness or perfect evil. Even evil creatures have a sense of self-preservation. And that is not against nature. But there are things which do not preserve themselves. More importantly, there are things that would see you taken down before they take themselves down. Murder then suicide."
"We call them the Kal kre Bain, sometimes." He turns to look back at the Mirror. "The four great entities which are nothing more than our cast down or even most coveted fears. They surround this world, living but a hairsbreadth ahead of the utter annihilation of Oblivion. And they have only one thing to them. No matter how many ways you personify them. They are hunger for the energies of this world. They will not shit out what they consume. There is no out. When they have consumed all they will consume themselves and die and then there will be nothing. Not even enough energy to take form in some complex pattern like satisfaction or regret. Oblivion."
"And the Erl-King? Corruption is the first and most potent weapon of the Four At the End. A spirit called Reup. A god by any measure. But one more entrenched in us, our actions, our societies and our fears than perhaps anything else. Of every lie. Of every theft. Of every murder. Of every doubt realized. We pay homage to the God of Dissolution. Corruption is many different things but it is the all-encompassing name we give to the breaking down of systems that must rely on force of will to maintain."
He looks his own reflection in the eyes. "And that I now exist is proof that the world has started to recede due to the Enemy's efforts. Isn't that Smart?"
You're not finished yet. I'm not finished yet. Go back.
Neither Reeve looks too happy. How often did he ever? Both are on the move. One (which one?) hops what seems to be a glass partition with all manner of scribbles on it. On the other side there is a chessboard over which he hunkers down.
The other is walking on the ceiling, He seems to be watching the other, as he turns cards over in a game of solitaire.
The chess player glances upward and then back at the board. He sighs and knocks the white king over. The board disappears. Across the room another one appears, fixed sideways to a column of stone. "Never was good in the late game." He glances at it, a bit taken aback.
"I get it now." The other places the fourth ace in its rank and sidles away from the deck, deftly dropping from the ceiling to a wall of shelving covered in books. "Neither one of us wants the visitors to know the truth."
"We both know that neither lies nor truth win the day." The one who forfeited the chess game stands up straight and points into the empty air. Six one foot long willow rods appear vertically in a row, each about a half a foot apart. "Not a one may be bent, broken or placed across another. Move them to show me nothing."
The one looks from the willow rods to the other upon the floor. "There are two answers. Here is mine."
He just took a pole and blackened the other's eye. the other solution may look like this
(as much like a circle, or zero, as can be managed.)
That seems too easy..
You have a better solution?
It's quiet and sunny. Pennants flap lazily from poles to either side. Reeve, clad in heavy black armor but with his helmet sitting on the parapet in front of him, leans on his hands, overlooking the main field inside a wooden fortress. There are dozens of men drilling with weapons off to the right in the corner of the wooden palisade. There is a burgeoning settlement in the other corner. Mostly, comprised of tents and lean-tos.
"Elder?" Another man joins Reeve on the parapet. He is younger. Probably not so much in years as it would seem. He is perhaps twenty-eight. Handsome even if worn by battles and responsibility. Where Reeve's own baldric is battered, stained with blood, this man's is crisp, unsullied.
"Rickard," Reeve acknowledges him. There is a peculiar flatness to his voice. Rickard is the same height as the Elder, but with dark red hair. He has a sparse beard, and green eyes. There's something calm and bright about him, like a man who's outlook is always good.
The two stare out over the fortress quietly for several minutes. "I'll need you to put your affairs in order here over the next two days. Then I'm sending you south."
Rickard nods, looking for all the world like he expected this. "I'm to take over Elder Arkan's Hunt, then?"
"Yes and no." Reeve gently places a hand upon the black helmet in front of him. "We'll see how things play out. Meet with each of his men privately. Get your bearings on their loyalties. Try and control them."
Rickard nods, his eyes narrowing. "Should I await further Orders at that time? Or do you have them for me now?"
Reeve's back straightens. "You'll have your orders from me now. By the time you've got control of the Hunt you are not to take any orders from me." Rickard blinks and looks sidelong at Reeve. "Your Orders for Arkan's Hunt are simple. Maintain and innovate. They grow restless in his prolonged absence. They are not...I repeat NOT to be swayed from Arkan by you. When Arkan returns you will stand down and return to aid Sarya."
"Understood. May I ask a question?"
Rickard sighs. "What do we know of Arkan's returning?"
Reeve's hand touches the pouch at his left hip. "Nothing at all."
"You're showing faith in him that you did not extend to others," Rickard says.
Reeve bows his head slightly, there is a trickle of blood trailing out of his nose and down his chin. "The circumstances are not the same."
"Alright," Rickard nods, trying to ignore the blood. "I accept it. He threw the baldric back at you. He walked on us."
"No, Rickard. No, he did not." Reeve picks up the helmet and puts it on. "Arkan walked on himself. And no man can do that forever. Even now nature struggles against anger and confusion. And the bad in that is directed at me and at himself."
"We have to trust him if he is to lead," Rickard deftly points out.
Reeve nods, the helmet bobbing slightly. "Yes." He turns and looks out over the fortress. "The truest test of power is the ability to give it all up. The truest power sticks with you, even free of your control."
"I'm not sure I understand, sir." Rickard shrugs. "I understand the orders though, and they will be carried out to the letter."
"Anything else or should I leave you?"
Reeve stands stock still, a armored soldier utterly out of place in the peaceful sunlight.
"You had your time of doubt during your initiation. You've been loyal to me ever since."
Rickard nods, though Reeve couldn't possibly see it.
"Arkan was denied such an opportunity. Do not fault him for taking advantage of it late in the game. He, like you, has to learn that trusting in self is a far more formidable weapon than trusting in me."
sigh you were right.. there is a better answer... NIL is also nothing...
No permission to retreat has been granted.
One Reeve is braced between a shelf and a column placing a puzzle piece into place. The incomplete puzzle, situated upon nothing, has no image upon it. It is merely a blank sheet of white. The separations between the pieces seem to have disappeared as each piece becomes surrounded by all eight adjacent pieces.
The other is holding a glass box with an internal clear maze of glass sheets with various holes in them. There is a steel ball inside which he is trying to maneuver through the labyrinth. He gives the cube a jerk and then a twist and the ball drops out into his gloved left hand. Ball and box disappear. He glances at the other working on the puzzle. Behind him a globe appears. It has interlocking plates over most of the surface. A single open space reveals another, smaller globe within of similar design.
"So many secrets we share," the one at the puzzle says mildly.
"And so many other things as well," answers the other.
The two move on to other games. The puzzler to a series of wooden blocks that look like they might interlock and hold together in some symmetrical pattern. The other leaves the place where he worked the maze and ascends a short series of steps before stepping right up into the air and turning sideways as if gravity had changed for him alone. There he hunkers down over what looks like a large parchment with dozens of nails in it and a pencil attached to a string which is wound through the obstacle course of tacks.
The one with the blocks frowns as he works the pieces. "Such tests. I think you are slipping."
The other, drawing some unknown pattern as forced by the tautness of the string running through the tacks, is smiling faintly. "I am looking for a thief. All of the evidence leads me to three people. The first, Merrick, says he is innocent and so is Mors. Mors says that Meribeth did it and that Merrick is innocent. Meribeth says she is innocent and that Mors did it." This Reeve glances cross-wise at the other. "If the guilty party lied and the innocent two told the truth who then is the thief?"
Only Meribeth says something that conflicts with the other two, by process of elimination, the thief would have to be Meribeth.. provided there is only one liar, one thief, and two innocents.
Reeve sits upon the floor of a cavern facing his reflection in a wide and obviously supernatural Mirror. His left arm is propped up on his knee while his right arm is planted on the floor. He is staring intently at the torch in his left hand, the only source of light.
"I often call it a war...the conflict between Corruption and the Realms. It's easiest for people to understand it in those terms. But no one wins a war. Well, no one that has self-preservation in mind, anyway." He twist the torch in his hand, watching the flames dance. "The Enemy understands our every weakness. It understands these things because we, that is everything in this world with a will to fight for survival, have contributed to the making of the Enemy. The enemy isn't simply built of what we fear. At its core there is a spirit that wants to end everything. It has a willpower all its own. But unlike we scattered individuals, it is one. One mind. One will. One purpose. Our end followed by its own. They say that it is impossible to stop an assassin so bent on killing his target that he will die for it."
The torch crackles and flares as he twirls it over in his fingers. "The Enemy must know something we do not. For it still builds strength. It takes slowly what it could take in greater chunks. Temperance is not something we're used to in the garden variety monsters we face from week to week." He looks up at himself in the Mirror and then back at the torch.
"It is almost dawn. Sometime soon the skald will come to prepare whatever twist he has in store for those entering this cave. And so I must complete my meditations and be off. And so I must move to one of the cruder but more effective weapons at the Enemy's disposal."
"Not quite twenty-one hundred years ago three kings lorded over much of what the story books call the Lost Kingdoms. There was Arvitt Garimaddon XI, of course. He was the one who oversaw the summoning of the Erl-King into this world. Whatever his plans may have been you can be sure they were not benevolent. There was King Dreyden Quinn de Tantarill. He was a devout man and exceptionally biased towards peace, though not without skill on the field of battle. There was also Iredann Ney'l Otann'i. Ixxen was the title the Sylvans took for this station. He was not precisely a king. He was more of a defender of his people. Similar, I suppose, in some aspects to the Guardians of the Northern Wilds. Arvitt, Dreyden and Iredann hardly knew each other. Tantarill and Sothron were perpetually at war. So much so that it was almost peaceful for the two had about worn themselves out on each other. Each of these three kings died in the weeks following the summoning. Arvitt on the night of the summoning. Iredann not so long after. It was Dreyden's death, as he stabbed in the back whilst praying before the alter of his god, that sealed the Erl-King's hold over the six aspects of creation and ended what is somewhat romantically called the Spirit War today. The Sacred Order of the Woods arose from the ashes of that war and kept its secrets for centuries. They called it the Spirit War simply because Tantarill had represented Spirit among the aspects of creation."
"A bit more than five hundred years later another king arose. A man who had traveled the length and breadth of the Lost Kingdoms and a good many other place beyond. His name was Benjamin Grans. He was an Elder of the Sacred Order of the Woods. The Forest Runners. What came before him is largely open to speculation, because before him most of the Forest Runners could not read or write. Things were left to story-telling. But Grans and others organized the Order. They made it mean something. And they showed what man can do."
Reeve's eyes flick to the Mirror again. "...what man can do." He frowns and looks at the ground between himself and the Mirror. "He arrayed an army the likes of which has never been seen since the glory days of Sothron. Men flocked to his banner because he bore the sword of an angel and was undefeatable in combat. There was a fervor in the Order, a fanatical following. Grans was a military leader, a charismatic leader, a Paladin. The truth is he wasn't a part of the Order for very long. It is even uncertain whether he was indeed an Elder. Nevertheless, he led an army of over eight thousand. And it is true that he carried a very special sword. But though he never met defeat in any other battle, when he invaded Fell Sothron his army was slaughtered. We do not have much in the way of accounts. Some suggest betrayal. Others claim the Lord of Corruption took the field himself and wiped the fields clear with the wave of a hand."
He shrugs disinterestedly. "Still, Benjamin Grans was a marvel. The sword he carried lent nothing to him but confidence in himself, as it had done for a frightened little girl on the shores of lake. He was a man, a king among men. And a leader who failed to accomplish his life's work, to defeat the Lord of Corruption."
"Grans was not a man to put trust in the arcane and the occult. His vision was narrow in scope. He thought that force of arms, swords in hand and shields on arms could clear away Corruption. He was as flawed as any king can be. And he was as noble."
"I know things that many people choose not to tell me for whatever reasons. For instance, I know that nearly two-thousand and one-hundred years the Sacred Order of the Woods has kept the remains of those three ancient kings safely away. And that some five hundred years and then some after they were brought, the body of Benjamin Grans was also brought there to rest. What not many know is that on the ceiling of that room an inscription was writ the day Gran came to rest there. None of the records points it coming from anyone within the Order. The inscription written in old sothrani low runic is poem. I also know that just last summer five northerners came into the south and unwittingly turned that poem into a prophecy."
He frowns. "I suppose I should admit that I knew they would. I knew their names and faces. I knew what they would do. And I knew that because of it those four ancient kings would rise as one." He looks at the Mirror, but not at his reflection. "The Champion of Corruption ought to be making his presence known within the month. He will start slowly. He is the knife at the throat or the knife in the back, depending on which way you're turned."
"It'll be easy enough for the northmen to figure out what hurts him. But not so easy, I'm afraid, to implement it to any great effect. You see, as with the Erl-King, the Champion will seek to deplete the resources of the north long before he ever touches his Master's. And the same schematic of warfare can be seen in his composition. Four in one. The good men are his armor. Arvitt rules by the dictation of the Lord of Corruption. His gift for the summoning, eternal warfare and the enslavement of his betters directly under him. Garimaddon was a proud fool who stood upon the achievements of his warlords and mages. But Dreyden, Iredann and Grans were men who died for a purpose. Men who stood for something. Garimaddon now lords over them. And he will leave behind the protection of his Master's lands to invade the north. He has no fear. Between the four of them all courage is defined. If you pool the four of them there is but one weakness."
"He is not among the living and never will be again. And the magic that binds him to his unlife is very old and very much of this world. Silver may hurt Garimaddon but it will not kill him whilst he still has the strengths of the other three. Each as his own weakness. But most importantly, each is present spiritually within Garimaddon. These men are not the sorts who forget what they were. Nor are they the sort who do well under another's authority. But it is not for me to tell you their weaknesses."
He looks over his shoulder. There is grey light seeping into the cavern. Climbing to his feet, he inhales and then exhales calmly. "It's funny how ancient things can stick around in severely changed forms. Honorable combat meant something to these men. Their armies had champions of their own. And demoralizing the enemy can be a more piercing blow than a thousand swords. If Garimaddon is not soon defeated he will ennervate his own minions chosen in the north. If he wins time and again the northerners will notice that he is having a severe effect upon their own ability to function. And if the northmen choose to take the fight to the source, the Erl-King? Well, while they're pursuing Benjamin Grans' folly, Garimaddon will certainly plunder their homes."
He steps forward, placing his right hand upon the Mirror. The light of the torch illuminates a dark smudge, probably a smoke stain. The letters W, O, R, L and D have been traced into the smudge.
"I think, perhaps, if one were to illicit the acceptance to honorable combat from one of subordinate spirits of the Champion it might be bound to stick to the terms no matter how ancient the magic of their bond to Garimaddon. Tricky. A Champion's game. I hope the champions know the game. So much hangs in the balance."
He wipes his hand down over the smudge, clearing it away. He turns as if to leave the cave but then stops. "I probably should have mentioned this, but Dreyden Quinn was run through from behind by his own daughter, Meribeth. He never saw."
That one was easy. Go back now.
One Reeve is picking his way carefully along a trail of games laid out on boards. Each like a stepping stone through mid-air. Although some are upside down, some on their sides, some even at angles. He is careful not to disturb those he does not stop to make a move upon. He is bleeding from the nose.
The other Reeve is walking on the opposite side of each of these boards. Always directly opposite. His right eye seems to be blackened and swollen mostly shut.
"Almost time to go," say the one with the bloodied nose.
"Almost time to finish," says the other.
"It's funny. I never cared for gambling." He wipes the blood from his nose and glances at it on the back of the hand.
"Spare me." The one with the black eye idly reaches out to his right and moves a piece on a board protruding from the ceiling as they both keep strolling.
"Spare you? Spare me." He crouches and moves a pawn upon the chess board which appeared earlier.
"I will consume you." His one good eye strays over the great puzzle of white pieces. He keeps walking.
"I like sequoia trees but not evergreens. Though I'm not fond of either I'll take pneumonia over influenza. I prefer to joke around facetiously, but never humorously. Do you suppose I shop at market stingily or abstemiously and why?"
The Reeve with the black eye closes his good eye, stopping on the edge of a green board with various white and black chips. It's hard to tell if he is smiling or grimacing.
Abstemiously, because like all the other words, is has the vowels aeiou in it...
It is dawn. It has been a long night. The bodies are many.
Reeve is kneeling in the meadow. His black, plated armor is battered, covered in filth and blood. His baldric is tattered, but the symbol upon his right shoulder is still clear. In his right hand is a wooden spear, point down. In his left arm he cradles his helmet. His head is bowed. His hair is lank, matted. More blood and filth.
He doesn't move when the column of water rises out of the earth and takes form amidst the unburned bodies of rotlings, and the shattered piles of rock that must have been wolds.
"Missing the old days?" the skald hisses.
Reeve's body sways ever so slightly as if he is falling asleep.
"You're not conditioned for war anymore. Can't go back to just being a soldier. Like the power too much." The thing of water stays in its elemental form, its terrible hateful face inscrutable.
A tendril of blood drools slowly out of Reeve's parted lips. Most of his face is one big mostly dried scab. He truly seems to be sleeping.
The skald turns to watch as two more of its kind appear, twisting out of the ground like glass stalagmites before growing arms, legs and terrible face.
"It was ordained that we not confront you until now."
Reeve still does not respond.
Two more skalds come out of the earth, already leering, staring hungrily.
"What will the hero do when the ring closes?" one of the new arrivals asks.
Reeve's head seems to droop even lower.
A sixth skald arrives, closing a circle around the Elder.
"She approaches fast," the newest says. "We should be finished as she comes into sight."
The others nod. Reeve sways slightly. The blood from his lips finally reaches his lap.
"The Sixth Storm has been held back for too long," the first skald says. "Let us announce ourselves with this mortal's death."
Reeve's eyes open. "Got your attention, have I?"
"It speaks," all six skalds smile.
"It dances too," Reeve smiles, showing bloody teeth. He deftly plants the helmet over his head even as he stands up.
"It is we who shall dance around you," they say. "Your precious Sparrow is even now flying to us. Worried for her love. Do you think she can still love a pile of stripped flesh and minced bone?"
Reeve leans the spear over his right shoulder. "Time to see if the Ring Skalds can shrug off what no other Storm has been able to defend against."
"And what is that, oh great and powerful sheriff?"
Beneath the helmet he must be smiling. "This."
Reeve flicks the spear up into the air, jumping up after and catching hold of the very butt of it. With all of his might he swings it back down flat upon the meadow. The ground trembles as if the gods themselves had smote the earth. Five of the six skalds vaporize in the shockwave, leaving blinding golden spots in their shapes to linger for just instants before disappearing as well. The sixth, the first to arrive, staggers, the smile wiped from his face.
"What was that?!" it growls.
"Discordance," Reeve looks up at it. "I've tested it on every type of brother you've got."
"Well all you've done is poured the strengths of my five into me. Didn't do your research on the Sixth Storm, did you?" It steps forward and then halts.
Reeve lifts the spear and plants the butt on the ground as he stands. "Admittedly, it didn't take you all the way down." He turns his back on the skald even as another Forest Runner sprints toward him from out of the trees. "But I'll wager you even are now realizing that you lost much of what you had in the way of souls, and got none from your brothers."
"You-" the skald makes to move for Reeve's back. The other Forest Runner, a young woman with a terrible scar on her face, lifts a hand-crossbow and aims it at the thing. "You cast those souls to Oblivion." It laughs. "Hundreds of mortal souls gone now. We still win!"
"Begone, wretched thing. I have had done with this trap. And you lack the ability to stop the Watchers I summoned here from gathering all the souls I freed. You failed to make a bold announcement."
The skald hisses and then splashes down into the earth, disappearing.
The young woman relaxes her aim and removes the bolt from the crossbow. She carefully and needlessly watches her hands do the work of stowing the bolt and the bow. Her eyes furtively shoot to Reeve who waits silently.
"Did my hurried approach have the desired effect?" she asks.
"So the spear works on all of the Storms then? At least to some extent."
"D-do you need anything?"
She nods, looking back into the woods from where she came. Her shoulders begin to droop.
"We don't have much time."
Reeve's helmet slowly turns towards her. She glances over her shoulder again, the livid scar up the right side of her face showing pale against her flushed skin.
"You and me."
"There is no you and me."
She turns to face him, advancing quickly.
"WHY!?!" She reaches up and snatches the helmet from his head. There is fresh blood leaking continuously from his nose. "Why isn't there? GIVE ME A GOOD REASON, YOU BASTARD!"
He stares back at her impassively. Furious, she throws the helmet away. "I DO NOT BELIEVE YOU!!!"
"Then why are you my most staunch and adept supporter? Why are you my most effective lieutenant?" His voice is so completely dull it's actually difficult to tell that he's asking questions.
She presses close to him and touches his cheek with her hand. "Because I believe in you. Because I love you."
Slowly, mechanically, he lifts his left hand up and takes hold of her wrist, pulled her fingers away from his face. They glisten with his blood.
"Summon the others, we need to do the burning soon."
"No." His eyes lock on her own, measuring the challenge.
"I said -"
"I heard you. And I'm not obeying. Does that get through to you?"
"We have a responsibility to fulfill. Summon the-"
"Why don't you hear me?" she says threw bared teeth. Her voice quavers with anger. "Why won't you answer?"
"Because you haven't asked the right question."
"FUCK YOU!" She seems fit to slap him, pushing away from him by a step. "I am not Arkan. I am not some stubborn initiate. I am definitely not one of those proud northerners."
"You are not those things. Summon the oth-"
"NO!" Her yell echoes. His mouth shuts. "You took me out of the rubble. You brought me up from nothing. You gave me everything to believe in. You are everything I believe in. Why can't you see me?"
"I see you."
"SHUT UP!" Tears start to brim in her eyes but impossibly she catches them and in one blink they're gone. "You are not always right, Reeve. You more than most people, who question more, delve deeper for more answers, calculate every possible variable...you are wrong more than most. And the worst part is that you know it. And yet in this one thing, in this one thing that is so important to me, to us, you will not see me. You will not allow that you could be wrong."
He watches here face.
"At every moment in your life," he says. "I have given you the choice. I have done the best anyone can do to let you choose with all the data at your disposal. And here, in this choice, this idle desire for that which you should not have, you choose against all of your training. In every tactic, there is a gamble but this...what you want...is insane. You know there is no gain. No satisfaction. There is nothing here for you."
His face snaps to his right as she punches him hard on the jaw.
Working his jaw as he slowly turns his head back to her. "I have never given you any indication that I am here for you in that manner. Your every instinct should tell you no. That, compounded by everything you've ever learned, should guide you from this disaster."
Her bottom jaw is jutting out. "You know, all the stories the men tell about you, about who you are and where you come from... I never spoke one word about them. I never added to them. Never asked. I believe in here," she pounds her chest with a fist. "That you have got to have come from us. That you aren't some inhuman thing just masquerading as one of us to make the job easier. I can understand the stripping away of all those things that make you fallible. But I don't have to like it. And I know you don't like it. I can see the human in your eyes."
"That is reflection." This time he catches her wrist before she can sock him again. She flings his hand off.
"Don't you play those games with me. I am not a child."
"You are not," he agrees.
"I tell myself, day in and day out, that I can live without that dream that has been with me since I can remember. Fuck you and anyone else who wants to say that I'm just in love with the only father I have. I've never looked at you like a father. NEVER!"
"I am not your father," he agrees.
"But I'm lying to myself all the time. I am terrified of what happens next. If you go -"
"When I fall."
"-IF- you go then that means the dream was only that."
"You have been ready to lead the Hunt for years now."
"I don't care." She stares up at him imploringly. "I do my duties and I'm happy for the good I do and the good we do together. And I can love you if I see you doing what you do. I can love you as you pour over maps or through books. And I can maybe even go on like that, even though you won't see me."
She holds her finger up warningly, silencing the words about to spill out of his mouth.
"I've spent almost ten years beating down the fear that this scar is the only husband I'll ever have. And you've helped me see past this outer ugliness. But the truth is you never stopped me fearing that there was a different scar that makes me ugly to you."
"You are not ugly to me."
"Shut. Up." Bodily shaking with rage, she purses her lips, waiting for him to disobey. He doesn't. "Is there some mark on me? Is that it? Did whatever happened before I can remember leave some hideous scar on my soul such that you cannot love me?"
"I cannot love."
A long silence settles over them.
"I hate you sometimes." Reeve steps away from her and picks up the helmet.
"Summon the others. We have work to do."
She folds her arms impudently and stares at him.
He moves to stand in front of her, leaning the spear against his right shoulder and carefully placing the helmet on his head. Afterwards, he pulls the right gauntlet off his hand and reaches out. Her eyes widen, but then she accepts whole-heartedly, letting his hand rest against her left cheek.
"Does this feel real?" he asks dully..
"It feels like I want it to." She almost smiles.
"That is because I can read what you want better than any lover should." His voice remains calm, collected. As if he were telling her the properties of ash. "Anything, like this, that I give you is artifice. And I know you would be happier living the lie than facing the truth. We all have our vices."
She pulls back from him. He calmly replaces the gauntlet.
"In another..." He pauses, choosing his words carefully. "For me it was once possible. And I would have done anything for that which you want from me. I do not scorn you. But there is as much chance of me loving you as there is of your crossbow loving you. A weapon. A tool. A thing that lacks the necessary spiritual properties for love. I do not underestimate the power of your feelings. But I will never use them for my own ends. Never against you. And I will never have them. I will never let you live a lie. That inability to betray your trust in me is the closest thing I can have to love."
"I don't believe you," she whispers.
I awoke at this point.
Created by Janna Oakfellow-Pushee at 05-28-14 10:32 AM
Last Modified by Janna Oakfellow-Pushee at 05-28-14 10:37 AM
Last Modified by Janna Oakfellow-Pushee at 05-28-14 10:37 AM