Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Episode I - X Discovery

A Blood-soaked Legacy

(Full Chapter)

"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."

Tyverus remained just a few steps away from the crest of the bridge, holding his orb of light above him. He reached out a hand to Isilda so that she might walk toward him. The crystal lights above had already lost all of their energy. He didn't want to step forward and tempt their hunger once again.

Isilda gave a nod and took a step toward the bridge. She continued to hold the skull in front of her and stare at Tyverus with wide and ensorcelled eyes. It was obvious from the details of her face that she had seen something far beyond the ken of mere mortals. The frozen blood that had run down her cheeks glittered in the dancing light of Tyverus energy.

Tyverus turned his eyes away from Isilda to gaze at the darkness beyond her. There was something not right with the forming shadows and how they dancing in the guttering light. The shadows seemed to deepen and flow after Isilda as if she were walking through murky water. He didn't quite know if it was his nerves along with the tricks of light, or if it was something more. Some instinctual sense pulled at his gut and made him wave his arm and reach forward one more step, ushering the oracle to him.

"You can tell me all about it once we get out of here. Whatever entity commands this strange place is awakening. We must leave, now." Tyverus lowered down to reach his hand even further. He pressed his right foot sideways against the rocks of the bridge to keep him from moving forward. He held the light in his hand above and behind him, not wanting to tempt the crystals above.

"You have no idea." Isilda continued to stare at him with maddened eyes. "She showed me everything. Who knew that the dead could hold such secrets." She took a few more steps and a strange grin spread across her face.

The darkness behind Isilda grew into a large black blotch that seemed to swallow all light. It was hard for Tyverus to first notice it, yet he could see strange icy tendrils of light flowing out of the darkness above Isilda. At first, it looked like icy fog gathering, but the forms were becoming more pronounced with every pounding heartbeat. The tendrils flowed from some height far above to just above and behind Isilda's head.

"Please hurry." Tyverus was growing impatient at Isilda's dazed state. His arms and legs were straining to keep him still yet every thought was to lunge forward and grab the young woman, toss her small form over his shoulder and bound back to where Bhergom stood. He had just witnessed the very walls close in on him, who knew what other strangeness this place held in store.

Isilda was just three steps from the edge of the bridge now and no more than two dozen feet from where Tyverus stood. Her slow and plodding pace would seem normal under more calm circumstances, but with adrenaline coursing through his veins, this pace infuriated Tyverus to no small degree. She continued to stare at him with that wide-eyed and grinning look. The same look Tyverus had seen from blood-maddened warriors milling about on the fields of battle with their limbs severed and their life spilling onto the hungry soil.

Tyverus saw it now, a form flowing from the vaunted darkness above. It seemed almost like an illusion or a mirage at first, but within a moment it coalesced into the form of a woman. A dead woman with dimensions and details that terrified Tyverus to his core, and also brought pain to his eyes. This woman was not remotely mortal — she was no longer human and no longer something that merely existed as base matter — she was something wholly other.

"Isilda!" The word fell limp out of Tyverus' throat.

The form pressed forward with what could be described in only the haziest and most conceptual way as an arm. Then other arm reached out of the darkness at a lower angle. The first seized upon Isilda's skull and long fingers seemed to burrow into the very flesh and bone. The second arm seemed to come in and contact Isilda in the back.

The young woman froze in mid-step, her eyes widened even further, this time no longer with the crazed look of the mad, but with mortal fear. Her mouth opened to give a gasp of pain, but blood began to bubble up from between her lips rather than air. The blood began as a frothy dribble but soon began to spray forth in gushes as a few gurgles of screams erupted forth from her.

"Isilda!" Tyverus prepared to lunge forward, heedless of his earlier cautions. His right hand, driven by years of ingrained muscle-memory, went straight to the hilt of his sword strapped to his side. He flicked the first few inches of his blade up with his thumb. He jumped over the crest of the bridge, landing a few yards forward and began to run.

Just as soon as his feet hit the rock and his legs prepared to burst forward, he felt his body go limp. He felt the searing pain tear through his body once again, as the crystals above reached for his energy to fuel them. He could only muster enough strength to get to keep his knees on the ground, but otherwise, he was frozen with pain.

Before him, just out of reach, Isilda gave one more scream between the frothing gushes of blood coming out of her mouth. The sound of cracking followed by sounds like leather being torn apart came from her body. The alien hand grasping at her skull pulled upward with a sharp movement. The flesh of her neck tore away. Immediately after, another series of low and resounding cracks, like the striking of a smithy's hammer upon the forge.

Tyverus remained motionless. He couldn't turn off the energy he was supplying to the hungry artifacts above. He couldn't turn off the light in his left hand. Every muscle in his body thrummed with pain and the adrenaline of fear and rage was all that kept him looking forward.

With one last loud snap, the body of Isilda fell to the rock and frost-coated floor. Sprays of blood caught Tyverus in the face and across his front. The still-screaming, but breathless head of Isilda, with her spine, limply hanging, continued to stare at him in horror, pain, and longing.

Slowly, the crystal lights began to awaken now that they feasted upon Tyverus' energy. The silver-blue lights above began to slowly reveal the monster that stood behind Isilda's body. The dead woman stood almost two heads taller than the tallest man that Tyverus had ever seen. Her shoulders pressed forward as if she were some kind of feral beast. Even stooped, she was taller than Isilda had been.

The most striking features of the monster were her glowing ice-blue eyes and the blood-red hair that flowed from her skull. The face of the monster was barely recognizable as human. Almost translucent skin clung to a savage skull, which smiled at him with fangs that were barely recognizable as human teeth.

Her body was clothed in ancient tatters of fabric that didn't cover any of her form. The tatters seemed to blend in with the ephemeral tendrils of indigo energy that flowed around her. Her arms were bone-thin, yet revealed strange and inhuman power. Her hands were skeletal, with long fingers that seemed to end in long and savage claws.

Beneath her translucent skin, Tyverus could see black veins coursing with some kind of rotten ichor. Her skin and what bones could be seen beneath glowed and rippled with essential energies that pained the eyes. She didn't glow brightly, but there was something powerful in her form that made staring directly at her like staring at the brilliance of the twin suns in the sky above.

The woman's legs were thin and powerful, looking more like a beast's legs than humans. Her lifted ankles stretched into long and powerful feet of a predator. She looked like she might pounce forward at any moment. Her feet ended in blood-stained claws that seemed to float mere inches from the floor of the cavern. Some kind of dark energy kept her aloft and suffused her body with unholy power.

The monster lowered itself to Tyverus' height and met his gaze with her own. She gave a cruel smile at the emotion bubbling up out of him. The silver-cast human teeth in the front and the long fangs in the back glinted off of the growing crystal light above. The beast cocked her head to the side and then allowed her eyes to break from Tyverus' to look at the head she held still in one of her hands.

With the grace of a spider flexing its legs, the monster lifted all of her fingers up and let Isilda's lifeless head fall to the earth. She looked at the head impacting the ground and then up to Tyverus once more. Each movement was lightning fast, yet in the pain and rage that Tyverus held, it seemed to be a long and consuming dance. As soon as her eyes lit up, the shadows around the monster lifted her into the air and up into the pooling shadows that the crystal lights could not reach.

"Pitiful creatures." The monster spoke in the language that Tyverus knew, but the accent to it was alien and strange. For a moment, Tyverus was shocked, despite his pain, that the beast could actually speak. "You have become so weak in these ages. You soul-less little things can't even muster enough energy to..." There were sounds of claws and running across the roof above. "To turn on a simple light."

The crystals above soared to life now, with enough light to fill the entire chamber. Even with the pooled energy of the three earlier, the lights had never been this bright. Somehow this monster had reserves of energy inside of her to will them to life with a mere thought.

"Pests." The monster began to croon from the distorted shadows and crevices above. "You dare to walk into my resting place and steal from me." An inhuman laugh resounded throughout the immense chamber.

Tyverus could feel the drain on him stop. He was able to turn off the cantrip light in his hand and move once more. His body screamed at him, but he managed to pull his sword completely free from his scabbard and use it as a crutch to get back to his feet.

He kept his eyes trained on the limp body of Isilda in front of him. As he got to his feet, he shakily began to walk over to her. His legs felt like they were being torn apart from the inside by glass, but he forced himself forward until he got to the body of the Oracle.

As soon as he made it there, he dropped to his knees once more. He let his sword fall to the ground with the sound of metal on rock. With grasping and cloying hands, he reached out to seize upon Isilda's body. Her blood-matted hood covered most of the grotesque parts of her neck. He lifted her body up, like a parent might do with an infant and pressed his armored chest against her lifeless one.

He let the body fall from his grasp in front of him and with both hands reached to grab her head from the cold ground. He turned her head over and lifted her up. Her skull trailed behind like the body of a grisly snake. He looked down at her and began to wipe the blood from her face with his gloved hands. Her eyes were held open with a look of fear, and her jaw remained slack as if she were still screaming.

Memories of her welled up inside of him just as the tears that came to his eyes. He had only spent a few short months with her on this expedition, but it was enough that his heart had bonded to her. The time spent with her made this moment one of the most painful he had endured in his life.

He remembered the way she looked when he first met her back in Morrthault City. When the Paladarc of his regiment had mentioned the chance for him to go on an expedition with oracles, he had jumped at the chance. He fully expected them to be stuffy old scholars, but he was overjoyed to see her standing in the entrance chamber of his barracks.

The way the light from the doorway lit up her blonde hair made her seem bathed in a divine halo. When she turned towards him, he was awestruck by her eyes and the shape of her face. The minute she bid greetings to him, her voice seemed to resound like the bells of ancient temples. When he bid her greetings back, his voice got caught in his throat. He couldn't think straight, and she responded simply with a kind smile.

As their travels began, Tyverus had been unsure of showing his feelings toward her. The days and nights spent on the ship taking them to Oerstav Caelii had been incredibly long. Each day he wanted to let her know, but he always pulled back. As the days turned to weeks, he spent more time with her. He would make excuses to talk with her about lore and obscure bits of history just to be in her presence and hear her voice.

One of the best memories of that voyage was when he caught her one night on the deck of the ship staring off into the icy waters of the Heartsblood Sea. She stood with the light of Ishep reflecting off of the waters. He had inquired if she was alright and she had said she wanted him to stand with her.

The night was chill and he had covered her in his cloak. She took advantage of him being there and pressed into his chest for further warmth. He held her there as the ship made its way across the still sea. He remembered how striking the stars were that night, and how the Glittering Crown of the World danced. The elevated green, blue and orange flames slowly moving to the powers and songs of the gods far to the North.

She whispered to him about where they were going and why at that moment. He didn't hear all of what she said, as he was lost in her voice. The moments spent with her then seemed to stretch on for eternity. He wished they had, as anything was better than seeing her lifeless like this.

Most of the time they had together once they had reached the shattered islands were fleeting. Bhergom rode the expedition hard and always seemed to be present when Isilda and Tyverus had a moment alone. Vhoggli had a strange knack of always popping up at the worst of moments. Still, Tyverus took what moments he could.

Time spent by the fire-side telling tales, or the brief touches when he helped Isilda climb over rocks on their way. The ability to see the life and joy in Isilda's eyes as they neared their destination. She was always driven by a ceaseless curiosity about the past and her being able to be in the presence of such a place as this was what gave her life.

If only that same curiosity and that same joy could bring her back to life right now. Tyverus cradled her head in the elbow of his right arm while grasping at her body with his other. Some childish thought passed through his mind that if he could just put the pieces of Isilda back together than she might be alive once again. As soon as that thought came up, he dismissed it. He had seen so much death on the battlefields of the world, that he now felt stupid at the notion.

Tears continued to stream down his face as he clutched her body. He held her head close to him, brow to brow as if willing her spirit to enter him. He let her body return to the ground and while still holding her head. He reached up with his left hand to close her eyes with his fingers. He set her head and spine upon her body with a light and caring touch. He hoped that her troubles were over and her soul might be able to find rest.

The world around him had faded away. The voice of the monster continued to speak and taunt him, but he didn't hear a word. He reached slowly over to his abandoned sword and felt the weight of its hilt once again in his hand. He pushed himself up to a standing position. The pain he once felt was gone now, and a soothing numbness fell over his body.

He wiped the tears from his eyes with his free, gloved hand, and took in a slow breath. The fear in him hand gone, and now the sorrow turned to a dull anger. Within the span of a few heartbeats, the anger turned to rage. The rage inside of him boiled up, quicker and quicker until he could feel nothing but the desire to destroy this monster once and for all.

"I can smell your cowardice." The monster's voice continued to croon as echoes mirrored her voice throughout the chamber. "You pretend to have the powers of the oracles, yet you know nothing. I was once the most powerful oracle in this world and not even the worst of my students were as weak as you."

Tyverus turned to look back the way he had come. Bhergom stood on the other side of the bridge looking up at the ceiling in terror. His back was against the wall of the chamber. He clawed at the rocks and ice of sealed entrance and then turned back. A few steps away from the wall and then the old oracle dropped to his knees. He lifted his hands up as if in supplication to the monster above.

"W-we know not wha-what we d-do." Bhergom stammered his words and kept his eyes up to the ceiling. "Let us l-leave, and I'll inform my order never to return. I-I will re-retrieve what was taken. I w-will let you have the beast that tuh-took it."

That same horrible laughter echoed throughout the chamber, yet did not seem to betray the position that the monster held above. There was a sound like scurrying as claws chipped and dug away at rock, and then everything turned silent.

Bhergom reached up his hands, further away from his body, as if begging to whatever was above. His hands were upturned to the ceiling and the look on his face was one of awe and mortal terror. Some part of him thought he could rationalize with this thing.

As soon as Bhergom's quivering left hand reached out a few inches more to the ceiling, a sharp lance of rock tore upwards into the soft flesh and aged bone. Bhergom gave out a howl of pain and shock. The jagged stone had broken through his hand and tore it in half. He recoiled the mutilated limb back to himself, staring down at his limp fingers. The rock had shattered his bones, leaving his index finger and thumb on one half of the separation and the rest of this fingers dangling uselessly from the other. Blood began to patter on the ground.

Tyverus took a single step over the slain body of Isilda and made his way slowly to the bridge. He watched with uncaring eyes back to Bhergom as the old oracle clutched at his hand and pressed it against his chest. Tyverus' pace did not quicken, but with each step, the rage in him continued to burn hotter and brighter.

"I-I don't... Want tuh-to... Die." Bhergom continued to stammer above his winces and pauses from pain. The old oracle remained on his knees as he pushed back. Two more lances of rock shot up around him, missing him by mere inches.

Tyverus felt his heavy boots crunch on the rocks at the base of the bridge. He continued to march forward with his sword held outward at his side. He gripped the blade so tightly that the leather cover of the hilt began to groan under his strength. Each step he took was like thunder in his ears. His heart was like an engine of lightning sending adrenaline and waves of vengeance-fueled blood throughout his body.

Ahead, the same tendriled shadow lowered from the ceiling and took up perch behind Bhergom. He was unaware of what was happening and entirely consumed with his own fear and pain. With his still functional hand he pressed against the ground to push himself backward and as he did so he bumped into the reforming body of the monster.

Bhergom’s eyes went wide and he froze in place. He held his mangled hand against the robes of his chest and began to reach forward with his free hand to get up to his feet and get away. He wasn’t able to, as some unseen force held him in place. The veins across his face bulged out and his face turned red against the strain that was now on his body. He wanted to get away but the will of the monster behind him held him in place.

Like a rag doll being picked up to be played with by some child, Bhergom was lifted limply to his feet. Both of his arms shot out from his sides, his free hand grasping at the air while the mangled flesh of his other dripped blood upon the ground. His mouth formed words that held no sound and only a harsh set of gasps could be heard. Slowly he lifted into the air, looking suspended upon nothing like some traitor nailed to a board in the old cities, displayed for their shame and suffering under the whips of the commonfolk.

Tyverus continued his slow march towards the monster and the old oracle. Some part of his mind wanted him to hurry so that he might save Bhergom, but the grief and rage pulling at his heart blinded him to the suffering of the old man. His mind was consumed now with his rage at the loss of Isilda and the only thing tempering it was the coldness of his training as a warrior. His mind was blind to concepts of empathy and compassion, all that burned inside him was the desire to slay the beast, even if it cost him his own life in the process.

“I have the same powers within me as you claim to have.” The monster’s face manifested from the shadow to croon in Bhergom’s ear. “I can see into your soul and the rot of cowardice that exists there.” She moved fluidly from one of Bhergom’s ears to the other. Her clawed hands scraped over the flesh of his back like rakes through cream, ripping open his robes and causing bloody gashes. “They always say that a man’s mettle lies as much in his heart as the guts inside of him.” She pivoted once more and pulled back from the oracle. “Let’s see if my perceptions are correct.”

With a sharp movement, the monster impaled both of her hands through Bhergom’s abdomen from either side of his back. Skeletal and clawed hands erupted from the soft flesh of the old man’s belly. With jagged movements, the claws lavished his exposed skin with swipes and movements that sheared open his stomach. With another plunge, both hands erupted once more with their palms upturned holding the old man’s steaming intestines.

Bhergom’s mouth opened into a scream, yet now sound came out, save for the soft gurgles of blood flowing over his lips. He looked down with his horror and tear-filled eyes down to his stomach, taking in the savageness that the monster was doing to him. He shuddered in the air for a moment, and then blissful shock took over. His eyes lulled into the back of his head and his head went limp.

“Just as I thought, no mettle or courage to be found.” The monster’s eyes glittered in the supernatural crystalline light as she leaned over Bhergom’s shoulder to examine the gore she had wrought. “And you dared call yourself an oracle. Your powers were as pitiful as the strength of your character.”

With her amusement gone, the monster pulled her hands to the sides and tore through the rest of the old man’s body. She blinked once and cocked her head to the side. Her unholy powers relented and let Bhergom fall to the ground like puppet whose strings had been cut. She continued to stare down at his body with an inhuman look that seemed to be a mixture of rage, joy, contempt, and hunger.

“Merithault, the Mad.” Tyverus stopped as he got to the other side of the bridge. He dug his right foot into the ground behind a small rock to steady his pose. The monster turned her gaze to him and began a silent hiss at hearing her name on mortal breath. “They call you the Hag of the North. The Shattered Oracle. They speak of you in hushed whispers and ancient legends.”

Tyverus’ words seemed to flatter the beast as she lifted herself from her predatory stance to her full height. She held her arms, crossed at the wrists, in front of her as Bhergom’s blood and gore still dripped from her hands. Tendrils of indigo energy whipped at the air around her. The unholy aura she had burned at Tyverus’ eyes but he held them on her in defiance.

"If the legends are true, you have taken much from this world. They say you are the source of the strife and tumult that grips at us all. It was by your hands that the original Oracles of old died. You have fed upon this land like a parasite ever since.” Tyverus raised up his sword in challenge. He had to continue talking to see if he could prey on any mortal vanity the monster might still have. He could tell by the icy flashes in her eyes and the snarls she made, that he was hitting a nerve, no matter how atrophied. “You, who killed your own family. Who slaughtered her own children. You, who sold your soul to some unknown force. You speak of Bhergom’s cowardice, yet you are blind to your own.”

Two shadowy tendrils of energy whipped forth and cracked in the air beside Tyverus’ face. The energy in the attack sent ripples throughout the essence inside of the knight. Whatever gave life to those things was powerful indeed and could most likely flay the life force from a living creature upon contact. He did not flinch at this and remained resolute. He had nothing left to lose and escape was not an option. All he could do is continue to goad the beast with emotion, hoping she would make a critical mistake.

His energy was severely drained by his earlier encounters with the strange lights. He couldn’t depend upon his personal essence to keep going once the monster attacked him. It would cost him dearly, but he had to depend upon the powers imbued into his mantle. It was from this armored collar that all Guardian Knights drew their elemental magicks. Bonded right into his body and his soul, he would have to drain himself to the point of death. So be it, as long as he might have a chance at taking out this abomination before him.

Tyverus closed his eyes for a moment, reaching out with his energy to activate the emergency runes on his mantle. Green and red runes burned forth from the metal etchings around his neck and chest. He opened his eyes to see the world changed. He could see the flows of energy around him, all being tainted with black veins of ichor that sprouted from the undead thing before him. The colors of this bleak place blazed forth and a shot of pure energy crackled through his body. Pain and ache were replaced with renewed vigor. The emotions in him built up like static energy before a severe thunderstorm. Each thought he had was elemental now and the fury of the world itself was inside of him.

With the rush of the magma in his veins, he clenched a muscle in his arm which breathed fire into the blade he held in front of him. With a stomp of his boot upon the ground, rock and metal began to pool up from the ground like liquid mercury flowing through an alchemist’s contraptions. The rock coated his form and then began to harden in place over sections of his body like added armor. Within a scant few moments, he was almost unrecognizable as the young man he had once been.

Merithault grinned at the challenge in front of her. Her silvery teeth and fangs peeked through her translucent lips. The energy around her began to build up as well as she pulled from her pools of taint in this unhallowed place. With a sharp movement, she lifted one of her long legs up into a predatory stance. She almost looked like a monstrous ballerina pivoting on the shadows. With a flash of light in her eyes, she brought her clawed foot down upon the skull of Bhergom laying at her feet. The impact set off an echoing thunder throughout the cavern as bone exploded and sent chunks of meat and rivulets of blood across the stone ground.

“This mortal won’t die so easily.” Tyverus moved his body into an offensive stance. He held the hilt of his sword in both hands while letting the plasma flames of his sword lick at the metal and stone covering his face. With one more twinge of his thigh, he summoned the powers of the air and rushed at the monster while allowing the air in his lungs to come up with a howling fury.

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  1. I had a feeling I was on the money with the Berserk influences. This chapter seals it.

    Talk about a death toll, it's a regular Clive Barker fest in here. Still I should have seen it coming, and the proof that you really made those character likable comes in the fact that my hearstrings got pulled at the violence of their ends. I'm particularly sad for Isilda, cursed with knowledge for such a short time only to have her life ripped away so quickly and so savagely. Bhergom's cowardice showed in full force, and he somewhat got what he deserved. Still wasn't any less brutal in the process though.

    Now the question remains, even with his summoned air magic, can Tyverus prevail? I was under the impression that this was THE party, but it seems that's not the case.

    The story darkens accordingly.

  2. I had a chance to read a few more chapters. Damn... I'm no stranger to writing 'sudden deaths', but that was unexpected so early in this story. Don't know how I feel about it yet...lol. You did an excellent job of capturing Merithault's appearance from the shadows. I could picture it perfectly... and it was terrifying. Add in the characters' reactions and it just amplified that terror. Good stuff. Lots of emotion running in this chapter as well. I could tell mid-way through that you must have enjoyed writing this one and let yourself run with it. Chapters like this always stand out and are rewarding for all those hard work build-up chapters preceding them. There is a lot I've enjoyed about this chapter, and the previous one. My only critical observation at this point is after Tyverus watches Isilda die and then rushes to her remains, there is a whole lot of 'their brief life together flashing before his eyes' moments that, though endearing and heartbreaking to read, it does run a bit long, abruptly halting the pace of the conflict. I just wonder if less is more here? Don't get me wrong, those memories with her that he relives in a flash are outstanding... but it does slow things down considerably. In the end, I found the disruption forgivable... perhaps even necessary. Considering the shocking circumstances, maybe we all needed to process the loss of Isilda through Tyverus' memories in just the way you described it. Just wanted to point it out. Excellent story so far.