Sunday, 5 November 2017

Episode I - IX Places Lost to Memory

A Blood-soaked Legacy

Places Lost to Memory
(Full Chapter)

Isilda's mind couldn't take any more of the intense memory flashes coming at her all at once. Her own identity was eroding away under the onslaught of a dead woman's tragic life. The emotions that tore through her, the depths of painful sorrow and the unbridled tears of joy, were more than she had ever felt in her own life. Mysteries of ancient times and the complexities of a deeper culture than she had ever known cast her into the depths of a labyrinth she felt she could not escape. That one person could live such a life and command such power was unfathomable to her young mind.

Just as she continued to scream out in pain, the visions that assaulted her began to slow down. Like a frenzied beat of war drums slowing to a deeper and louder rhythm. A few more memories tore at her with thunderous command, each wrenching her physical form back and forth in a whiplash dance.

One more flash and one more resounding rumble of thunder then all turned to a brilliant white light. The brilliance overwhelmed her mortal senses and pierced into her soul. As soon as she began to grow accustomed to this endless space of white, she found herself falling into a physical form once again.

With a rush of wind and the sense of falling some terrible distance in a flash, she found herself standing in a room unlike she had ever seen before. Her soul was clad in flesh in this place, although the flesh seemed ephemeral and slow to react to her will. The senses reaching out to her mind were distorted as if she were in a waking dream. The air that touched her skin felt more like a distant memory and the light that met her eyes in this place fluctuated in brightness and tone like candlelight.

Isilda turned on her heels to survey the room she found herself in. The walls, roof, and floor were made of solid chunks of stone. Each section was perfectly formed with techniques that were far beyond anything she had ever known. Stained and ratted rugs warmed the floor. Behind her was an old bed with freshly cleaned sheets and a cover. She knew it was a bed, but it looked like something she had never seen before. There was no straw sticking out of the mattress, and no feathers peeking from the pillows. A single sheep-skin book sat near the foot of the bed.

To her left, opposite of the bed, was a small wooden writing desk. A parchment and writing stick were placed upon the desk. Across from her was a large wooden wardrobe with metalwork affixed to the wood. The strangest part of the room was the lighting. Strange rods affixed to the stone of the walls gave a purple-like glow that turned silver-white the further the light got from whatever created it. The light was dim but allowed one to see every detail of the room.

More light filtered in through metal and glass folding doors beyond the writing desk. Colors of dancing blues from ice and warm reds from magma glittered in from the balcony outside. Outside was dark despite the light coming in. The sky outside was made of ice and rock with a height that was farther than most clouds she had seen roll across the lands of her home.

Isilda took a few steps to the balcony doors. She placed her hands on the rusted metal and felt it groan beneath her grip. The tactile sensations from her hand felt like an echo in her mind, where she was aware of the sensation immediately, but the ramifications of her movements came a few moments later.

She turned her eyes to the cityscape before her. She was on a floor more than a hundred feet above the ground below. Other buildings of the same height stretched around her creating vast canyons and chasms of winding roads far below. She could see a slowly churning river of molten metal in the distance. Above her was the dark vaunted ceiling of this subterranean city. Pillars of ice twinkled like stars in the dark recesses above.

Throughout the city around her, torches of indigo and silver light lit up streets and other balconies. Torches tended not by human hands as there was no one in this city but her. Despite being alone, there was a feeling of immense serenity in this place. A feeling pressing in on her that called this place home. A pride to this place that made her heart long to be here once more.

"Breathtaking, isn't it?" A female voice that was as cold as it was soft came from behind Isilda.

She turned on her feet and stepped back into the room. She looked over at the bed and found the shade of Maenthrai sitting on the edge. The woman's face was half skeletal and half covered with the ephemeral, almost translucent, skin of her ghostly form. Her long, blood-red hair danced around her head as if she were floating in the depths of some frigid ocean. Her countenance was still as frightening as it was unearthly, yet she was not as terrorizing as she previously had been in the skull chamber.

Maenthrai reached out a skeletal hand to the book on her bed and picked it up. The bones of her fingers seemed too fragile to hold something of such weight, yet she held it with a gentle and steady grasp. She flipped through a few of the pages and found a piece of torn paper that was placed within as a bookmark. A smile crept across her ghostly face.

"He never got to finish this. I lent it to him and he promised he would." The dead woman was lost in her own memories for a moment. The smile dropped away and her ice-blue eyes raised up to stare hauntingly at Isilda. She placed the book back down on the bed and crossed both hands over her lap. "You aren't supposed to be here."

"What is this place?" Isilda avoided the anger in the ghost's eyes. She turned around on her heels and motioned to the room around her with outstretched hands. "This is remarkable and ancient. I have never heard of such a place in my readings."

"This is the refuge of the Azhemyra, the name of the city is not meant for your tongue and will be lost to the ages." Maenthrai kept her eyes on Isilda. The shade did not fidget or move like a living person might. The only movement from her corpse-like body was that of her hair flowing around her like blood in water.

"Who are the Azhemyra?" Isilda continued to wonder and play with the ghost to get as much information as possible. She refused to be unnerved by the dead woman's strange appearance, or the obvious hatred she projected at her from beyond the grave.

"They were a group that was as important to the Morthavi and Hoelatha cultures, as the oracles. The oracles made their home in the city of Neshran, my home. The Azhemyra made their home here among their enchantments, artifacts, and wonders."

"That must have been tens of thousands of years ago." Isilda's voice trailed off as she raised a single finger to her bottom lip. She began to chew on the tip of her finger as she slowly returned to the doorway of the balcony to stare outward. "Where is this place located? Is it still in Hoelatha lands?"

"This isn't for you to know." Maenthrai remained still on the bed. Her eyes narrowed and the faintest trace of a snarl was found on her ephemeral lips. "The knowledge would be of no use to you."

"Then why are we here?" Isilda turned back from the doorway and crossed her arms over her chest. She rolled her eyes and returned the snarl.

"This is a place of significance to me. This is where I made a great deal of my last memories. This is where I worked on creating the artifacts that your founder stole."

"You mean the Nesharite Spheres? By founder, you mean Vhaltenesh?" Isilda gave a laugh and cocked her head to the side. "You actually would claim that you, of all people, created some of the most important artifacts in the world?" She smirked openly and raised her hands to her shoulders.

"I did not craft them, but it was I who made them. Each of those artifacts hold a portion of my memory, my soul, and my power." Maenthrai got up from the bed to float a mere inch from the stone floor. "They were made to keep the power of the oracles alive when the world would slip into barbarity."

"Well, we are using them well, then." Isilda smiled broadly. "Our elders use them to guide our people. The powers of the Oracles survive to this day, thanks to Vhaltenesh, and my order."

"You do not use them well. Your order knows nothing of the true powers of Haeth." Maenthrai's eyes began to glow a freezing blue brilliance. "You are but children who have squandered the riches of the world. You are barbarous heathens, drunk on your own ignorance." The shade's voice began to blow through the room like a chilled gust of northern air.

Maenthrai raised her skeletal arms to her sides. Her long fingers seemed to stretch into tendrils that raked at the very air around her, tearing through the substance of memory that made this room manifest. Her rage made her form more vicious and feral. The curves of her bones seemed more jagged, and the ephemeral skin over her form seemed more demonic.

"We do what we can." Isilda stood her ground against the ghost. She crossed her arms once more and took two defiant steps forward. "You state that we are ignorant, yet we use the tools you left for us. You say we are barbarians, yet it was your people who stripped our culture bare. You say that we don't know the true powers of Haeth, yet it was the curse of your blood that killed the old oracles."

Maenthrai stood frozen in the air. She lifted her chin up while keeping her alien eyes firmly affixed on Isilda's. She remained silent and still for a moment further and then reached out to grate her claws across the gossamer substance of this world. With two gouges forming under her skeletal fingers, she tore through the fabric of reality and sent the tatters to fall into an abyss below.

Isilda found herself standing in front of Maenthrai still, as the world around them both fell away like fabric drawn into a black void beneath them. A wind whipped around this newly torn world, sending Maenthrai's blood-red hair into a frenzy along with errant strands of Isilda's own blonde hair from beneath her hood.

There was another brilliant flash of searing white light that blinded Isilda and sent her reeling upon the astral substance of this strange place. She felt disembodied for a moment and then slowly felt herself reform as the light faded away. Maenthrai was no longer in front of her.

She felt herself falling again, and with an abrupt tug upon her soul, she found herself standing in a well-kept yard. She was barefoot now, with cool and gentle blades of grass between her toes and cradling the soles of her feet. She could feel her breath steaming up into a chill night sky bare of any clouds. Glittering jewels of stars adorned the black-veiled heavens with the white, soft light of Ishep shone its light upon the cold world below.

On the far horizon, above a dense forest and the rising peaks of ancient mountains, the first bloody crest of the Celanna moon made its immense presence known. Forward and slightly to the left among the snowy peaks of the great mountains a glowing light of immense flame sat as a sentinel against the night. The light from this tower of flame held Isilda's gaze for quite a few moments.

"This is my home. This is where it all began. This is the land your physical shell now inhabits." Maenthrai's cold voice made its way to Isilda's ephemeral ears like a gust of frozen air. "This was the city of Neshran before my mother destroyed it and all who dwelt here."

Isilda turned around slowly, taking in the full view around her. On all sides of this yard stood the tall and strong trunks of ancient trees. As she turned to face Maenthrai, she saw an old wood and stone house. The design was ancient, yet the house looked in perfect condition. A three-floored manor of considerable size with a wide back and peaked roof. On each end of the house stood a wooden dragon, in the style of the old Hoelatha ruins.

Maenthrai stood silent, hovering a few inches over the grass. Her blood-red hair continued to cascade around her head, and the tatters of her robe that barely clothed her form trailed from her like chains and webs anchoring her into some non-physical medium. What could be seen of her ephemeral face was cast with sorrow and longing.

"This is Neshran before the cataclysm? This was your home?"

"Yes. Beyond the forest is the ancient city from my memories. This is the place I grew up. This is the place that I, my mother, and my family held by blood."

"Remarkable, to think that this place not only sustained life so long ago but was a thriving city. All we were able to see was ruins and devastation." Isilda turned away from Maenthrai to look back to the haunting light high in the mountains beyond them. "What is that place?"

"That is the Ullthosian Temple. That is the source of the power you call Haeth. That was the sanctuary of the very first oracles."

"There is something unnatural about it. It dominates this area." Isilda stopped for a moment and then remembered fully where she was. This was a place borne of a dead woman's memories. If such a place shone so vibrantly, there must be some importance beyond lore and explanation. "That place was important to you, wasn't it."

"Yes. Every night as a child, I would sit in my room, or come out here onto the grass and stare at that beacon light. The torch of Ullthos built into the sanctum. I longed to go there, for that is where my mother was."

"Why was she separated from you like that? Why were you never allowed to go there?"

"She was one of the most powerful oracles. It was her duty to forsake her family for years at a time to perform rituals and studies in that place. I was abandoned by her, left to the diligent care of my father. She chose the path of the Oracle over that of being a mother to me and my siblings."

"A sad state of affairs. Is that why you chose to become an oracle, yourself?"

"I did. Of a different order. I left my family with my brother, for Morrthault City in the South. I grew up there after my mother murdered my family and I turned my back on this forsaken place." Maenthrai stopped for a moment. She didn't need to take a breath as she was beyond such concerns. "I ended up doing the same thing to my own children. Abandoning them, just as my mother had abandoned and betrayed me."

"Why did you do that? Was it what you knew from your past?"

"My mother abandoned us because she was consumed with saving the world from the calamity that would come. She wanted to pierce the barriers of time so that she might save our culture from the fall. She sacrificed her own humanity, her sanity, and all those around her in her quest." Maenthrai stopped and floated over to Isilda. Her presence was cold against Isilda's back. "I was consumed in the same way. I abandoned my children with my husband so that I might seek out why my mother had turned into a monster. I found the source of her madness in the refuge of the Azhemyra years later. It was in that moment, that the Nesharite Spheres were created."

"Your mother had good intentions and was driven to evil by them. You had good intentions and fell to your own folly. I assume, given that I am holding your skull at this moment, that your mother caught up with you."

"She did. She killed me, as she killed the rest of my family." Maenthrai paused and moved from the back of Isilda to her side. She reached up into the night air with a grasping, skeletal hand towards the beacon in the distance. "My mother has been hunting down all that hold my blood. All of my descendants. In her insane state, she believes that the final destruction of this world will come by the hand of one of my blood. For millennia she has hunted down those cursed to carry my and her sins."

"The Witchlings? I have heard the tale, although we of the Authrakallin have only considered it a legend. It is said all those who are touched by Merithault, the Mad, can be found by having blood-red hair. It is said they are the most powerful oracles left in the world." Isilda paused for a moment while collecting her memories. "Grandmaster Toulam told me it was only a myth. Yet, I have seen him with a young woman recently. A child with red hair."

"Hold those thoughts to yourself; bury them deep within you; for my mother still hunts the last to carry my blood." Maenthrai pulled her hand back to her chest. "All those skulls you've found in these catacombs are what is left of my lineage. The dead reminders of lives sacrificed to her murderous impulses."

"I understand now." Isilda took in a deep breath, despite not needing such in the astral realms. The comfort of the chill air helped to ground her to the severity of her realizations. "When you found out what happened to your mother, you made your own path, didn't you."

"Yes." Maenthrai turned to stare deeply at Isilda. Her ice-blue eyes shone like unholy orbs in the night. "My mother decided to hunt down those of my blood to save the world. I knew better and have done what I can to save my descendants from her. She was driven to madness by Ullthos and turned into one of his servants. The revelations she had were corrupted. She believes one of my last descendants will destroy the world. I believe that they are the last to save what will be left."

"Then I know what I must do. Perhaps this is why Toulam sent us here." Isilda broke contact with Maenthrai's eyes to stare off at the rising blood moon over the distant mountains. "That young woman must be protected from your mother."

As Isilda focused on the blood moon rising in the sky, the world around her began to fall away once more. Blood began to seep up from the grass beneath her feet. The large trees surrounding her fell into themselves like decaying bodies slumping into a gore-filled sea. She turned her gaze away to look back at Maenthrai's ghost. What she beheld was a full sight of her skeleton reached toward her to tear her sight away.

Instead of brilliant white, the world was swallowed in blood. The blood grew thicker, higher, and darker with each moment. Before Isilda could take one last gasp to scream, the world faded into endless darkness.

* * *

"You managed to use your elemental magicks to blast through the ice before." Bhergom's voice was breathless and frantic from running. "Why do you not do so again?"

Tyverus looked over his shoulder to shoot a glare at the old oracle. "I fully intend to try, Master, but I would rather we make sure that Isilda is alright." The armored knight continued to press through the narrowing passageways, guided by the dimming light in his hand. "I would prefer us to combine our abilities to get out of here, rather than sacrificing it all so that you can escape alone."

Bhergom groaned through his labored breathing. He didn't appreciate having his cowardice brought up again, but he knew that the young knight was correct. He was fully intent on abandoning his apprentice if it meant that he could get out of this damned place alive. Some moral part of him agreed with Tyverus, but that part was diminishing by the moment.

"Good, the last room." Tyverus got another burst of energy as he pushed forward and to the right. He barreled through a tightening archway into the skull chamber beyond. Bhergom soon followed after as the rocks and ice moved in on his heels.

Tyverus stopped just beyond the entrance to the skull chamber. Bhergom fell into his back and pushed beside the knight. As the old oracle turned to look behind them, he saw the archway seal over. Whatever entity it was that controlled this area, seemed to have such powers that the very earth was at their will. This was more than mere magick.

"Well, boy, we haven't much time. We're trapped now. So go and get her." Bhergom turned away from the knight to stare at the darkening room around him. The lighting crystals were heavily diminished in power now. There was barely enough light, even with the knight's cantrip to see what was around them.

Tyverus took a few steps forward into the darkening hall. He held his left hand out like a torch and noticed as he did so that the light was guttering in his hand. He was afraid of putting any more energy into it as the hungry crystals above might drain him once more. He took a few cautious steps towards the bridge over the river at the center of the chamber.

"Isilda!" Tyverus' voice was shaky and less loud than he had wanted. "Isilda." He pressed to the bridge and took only two steps up. "Come to me if you hear me. We must get out of here, now." He wished she was alright. He could barely see over the bridge.

"I hear you." Her voice was distant but nearing. "I see you Tyverus. Please come closer."

Tyverus took a few more steps up on the bridge, near the crest. He made sure to stand clear of the area where the crystals drained him earlier. "Isilda, we have to go, now."

He added a bit more of his energies into his flame, willing to risk it so that he might find her in the dark. As he did, he could make out Isilda's form across the bridge. She was standing with something in her hands. He pushed a bit more of his energy into the orb.

He could see her clearly on the edge of the bridge. In her hands she held the metal-clad skull she was focused on earlier. Her hood was drawn over her head, but Tyverus could see frosted blood streaking down the young woman's cheeks. She was pale as a corpse as she stepped closer to him. She was still several dozens of feet away on the other side of the bridge.

"I saw what she wanted me to see, Tyverus. I know the reason we were sent here." A smile formed on Isilda's blood-stained lips. Her eyes looked up at him, half-crazed and spotted with blood. Her cloak few behind her on a soft gust of wind, yet she remained still as she stood with the skull in her outstretched hands. "We have to protect her. Toulam was right to send us. I know it all, now."

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X: Discovery

1 comment:

  1. So it seems that it all was leading up to this. Maenthrai has revealed the terrible truth, that the world destroyed holds a glimmer of her descendants in the present, and that it is now destiny for Isilda and her companions to protect said descendant from her murderous mother.

    Perhaps divination is not as peaceful and pretty as I previously thought. The descripton of her little mind-sharing with Maenthrai was particularly immersive, but I like that we're now finally reaching a point were a grand, overarching quest now presents itself.

    But will Tyverus, and less likely, Bhergom, be so willing to to take it? That is the big question right now.