Chapter 10 – The Dyás Catalysm
Mossreign Dale, Southern Dagger Fells Cord
The previous dawn, 1st set of Humility, month of Foundations 8178
Dawn was hinting at the sky, mists swirling over the river. Sahaan stepped next to Nelah, her eyes trained, intent upon the Shae knight. Seated on the rivers edge, hands on his knees, palms upturned, he was still as a carved icon. His eyes fixed on the mists.
~He’s not moved for an hour.~ The woman inclined her head. ~Perhaps, we should just go… leave him. I think he is mad with grief as it is.~
Sahaan’s lips pursed in disapproval as he cleared his throat at her. ~He is observing his faith.~
~They worship a goddess, not nature. Or is he pretending at Quirsahtha because that girl was his lov–~
~Enough. Their relationship is not our business, and this is not a Quirsahtha practice. Not even a bastardized attempt at one. He awaits the Mists of Naaris. His goddess gathers the worthy souls of the dead in her wake. I presume it is passage to some sort of afterlife.~ Sahaan crossed his arms and watched Zakeriel. ~The pius and mourning will often await the mists in hopes of catching a glimpse of their beloved ones. It is grief. How much more need you understand?~ He gestured toward the man with a hand and cast a disapproving look over her. ~Ask when you stir him. It is time to press on.~
The woman uttered a huff of indignation, then countered, ~The Jasuuk has not yet returned.~
Dipping his head to hide his impatient scowl, Sahaan turned and walked away to see if Paoel needed any help. He could feel Nelah’s glower boring into his back, but he would not be moved by her temperament today. While it was not entirely her fault that Atirian had left, she had not been even willing to extend him any courtesy on Sahaan’s own word of honor. Yet, she was being far more– moderately more– kind to this Shae. It felt like a slight to him, not genuine acts of comfort.
“Atirian–” Sahaan nearly fell backward in startlement as the dark-skinned Jasuuk stepped in his path. “Quirifen’s Light, man, you look terrible. What happened?”
The man forced a chuckle, “nice of you to say. Had a bit of a spit, some other unpleasantness. I think, I’m better now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, friend.” Sahaan glanced with worry over toward Zakeriel. “You handled that thing… this is not the sickness, is it?”
Although his immediate instinct was to object, the oddities of the taxing did concern Atirian.
“I don’t think so. Did he not say she was in contact with blood? I touched none of its blood.” Rubbing at his neck he tried to remember, then muttered an idle lie. “Just not used to uncooked fish.”
Seeing that he had shaken his friend, Sahaan rubbed his arm. “I am sure you’re right, it was just an off meal. If you’re well enough, the holt is not far now.”
“Yes, of course…” Atirian muttered, his eyes remaining trained on Zakeriel. He had questions for the knight that had yet to be satisfied.
– – – –
Calhalla Holt, Mossreign Dale, Southern Dagger Fells Cord
Mid-Day, 1st Set of Humility, Month of Foundations 8178
Twinges of guilt were all that dampened Zakeriel’s wonder as the Jaed knight stared. Nelah had refused to lift the Iripeth for him, so Sahaan had gently pressed a thumb beneath each of the Shae’s eyes, a drop of blood smeared onto his fur. The magic allowed him to see what was always there. Where he had seen only trees, trunks of the largest trees he had ever seen were sculptured, living structures, stairways leading upward or hollowed towers. The rock face mountains of the canyon were more than just a stone cliff. Exquisitely carved archways, balconies and chambers, an entire castle built into the mountainside, its entry formed of the largest, most ancient tree he imagined had ever grown. The trees were trained to bend and bow toward the stone, boughs interweaving with rock archways to create the most magnificent walkways lacing through the forest canopy and creating a web-work of masonry and topiary mastery in the sky.
“Why do the Jasuuk and Avali have nothing like this?” he gasped.
“They did,” Atirian replied with an acerbic grumble, striding past. “Your Jaed sits in it now.” Zakeriel blinked at him and colored in shame.
Sahaan rest a hand briefly on his shoulder as he guided him forward. “Come, Venerate Orahsi will want to see you all. I will happily give you a tour later.”
Zakeriel nodded in gratitude at the man’s endless kindness. Lingering a moment to stare up at the ornate palace city hidden in the forest, he was amazed that all this could be hidden by drops of blood and magic. Paoel hobbled up to his side and twitched his eyes up toward the sights then looked at Zakeriel.
“Is rocks and trees.”
The Shae looked down aghast at such dismissal. “Did Sahaan not lift the magic? Can you not see the palace?”
“Yes. Is rocks and trees made… locked. Is smart. Strong.” Paoel uttered a dooking sound that Zakeriel was coming to learn was a sound of approval.
“Very smart.” The man nodded then gestured for Paoel to join him at Sahaan’s beckon. “Let us hope this Venerate is as personable as her son.”
They were led through rows of trees which slowly became a wisteria covered pergola tunnel. When the tunnel opened out, Zakeriel was not sure if they were inside the mountain or still within the enormous tree. The inlay of carving was so intricate as to seem interlaced. Possibly it was both. He paused to examine a relief and Atirian paused beside him. Only a little less terse than before, Atirian murmured, “before The Rogalian, when the Cattedrale was formed–”
Atirian nodded toward the sculpted wall, “as this was Kyr ago. Magic users before that time, it is said, could shape the very nature of existence. Manipulate the stones and trees to their will. No chisel touched these walls. No mortar lay between stones of the Viridian. It was Erahs will that built it.”
“And Ganroth will that now tears it down…”
The Jasuuk’s jaw tightened and he gave no further lesson, walking away. Zakeriel studied the wall a brief moment longer before he was urged along by Paoel.
Light emanated from amber stone panels built into the walls. Much of the interior walls were covered in moss. Artistically arranged clumps of the bio-luminescent fungi Nelah had given them, dotted in just the right spaces, ensured the entire chamber maintained an eerie light in hues of gold and a color of light blue he had never known existed.
Guardsmen in armor, not unlike Zakeriel’s, lined the walls and clustering about in groups talking were Calhalla. While the Jaed Knight armor was made of metal scale, a quick, stolen glance at one guard confirmed what he thought was mere legends. The Erahs knights wore Pangolin scale armor. The slight bronze hue to the deep brown leather was natural. The scaly ant-eater like creatures were thought extinct, which led him to wonder if they bred them or the armor was just that old. If true to the tales, however, a Ganroth could take an ax to their chest and they were more likely to crush the poor soldier’s rib cage than to ever slice through that scalemail.
When the guard glowered, he turned his eyes away to survey the rest of their Calhallan hosts. Many were dressed in clothing made of what looked like finely worked leathers, but it was nothing like the utilitarian clothing of the Avali. Neither was it ethereal as the gown he had seen Khes and her groom– A sharp pang to his chest directed his thoughts away from the Avali.
Perhaps he had expected the extreme, almost primitive gear worn by Nelah and Sahaan. Although, still far less modest than the Shae and Ganroth of Ejade, the craftsmanship of the leather work was elegant and refined. Most wore variations of skirts and dresses, breechcloths and fine vests and blouses, but there was nothing primitive in it at all. Refined methods of embroidery, dying and adornment set apart styling that he wondered set status or preferred trends just as the Shae. By the garb of the guards, Zakeriel could see that they indeed knew how to make pants, it was simply not a fashionable garment.
Given Nelah’s opinions of Shae and Ganroth, the knight anticipated a cold reception. As they were led in, however, most eyes rush past him to focus on the hop-skipping Paoel. Those lounging on the cultivated roots, stood or leaned to a partner to whisper in startled gasps. Cliques too near the walkway stepped back and genuflected the Venerate’s son, but stared wide-eyed at the strange creature behind him.
At the front of the audience hall, Sahaan stopped and lowered to one knee. He touched his fingers to his brow. The others who were able, followed suit. Paoel, however, could only stand behind them. A woman stepped forward. Dressed to show status and standing to the Venerate’s right, she was clearly someone of rank or importance and carried herself with an expectant air that she be treated as such.
“Venerate Tyne Orahsi welcomes you home, son Sahaan Orahsi, and Eto Nelah tu’Adaar. Sahaan, speak. Announce your guests.”
To everyone’s surprise, Paoel slammed his tail on the ground and barked loudly, “BHENERATE ORAHSI!”
Several guards stepped forward with their weapons readied. Leaping to his feet, Zakeriel threw his hands in front of Paoel. “No, he’s not attacking! He is– This is how the Tok acknowledge those of royalty. Please! He is a Prince. Lalsamraat Paoel Gyreck! He cannot bow like you do with the hand gesture. It’s… he’s just showing respect.” Zakeriel panted, as he frantically gestured touching his forehead to demonstrate.
Sahaan gestured for the guards to relax then faced Paoel. “My apologies Lalsamraat. We were ignorant of your customs. Allow us to welcome you.” He looked about the room and flicked a hand for everyone to shout with him. “LALSAMRAAT!”
The attempt was awkward and lacked the enthusiasm of Paoel’s delivery but it was appreciated. The Tok uttered a soft dook and jerked his head in two sharp nods.
“That’s a good sound,” Zakeriel whispered in relief.
Relieved, Sahaan managed a smile and turned back to the Venerate. “Well, everyone has been introduced to the Lalsamraat Paoel Gyreck of Kedei. His Shae companion is a Knight of the Jaed, Captain Knight Zakeriel Téos of Ejade Capital City, and our Jasuuk cousin is my friend Atirien Vaeth. He is newly liberated of captivity from the capital. He saved my life and in return I have granted him asylum here with our people.”
“Without consulting the Venerate?” The formal secretary stepped forward with indignation, but the woman in question lifted a hand and touched her head. “But Venerate Orahsi…” She hung her head, then inclined it with a more conciliatory gesture. “Of course. My apologies.”
Zakeriel blinked at the secretary then leaned toward Sahaan. “I’m not hallucinating right? The Venerate hasn’t said anything yet?”
Sahaan just smirked and gripped his shoulder before walking forward and lowering to a knee closer to his mother. The man bowed his head and the elder Calhalla rest one aged hand on the top of his spiky head. Bronze tattoos glimmered on her skin, almost as if those parts of her skin were inlayed with fine lines of metal. Around this, her deeper olive skin was freckled with pale grey-green, like the lichen color of her tentacle crest. The eyes that turned to look at Zakeriel, however, were not greyed at all. They were a vibrant yellow-green like new sprouted buds in the green of Renewal. He felt as if she were looking through him.
“Venerate Orahsi extends the fullest condolences of the Calhalla clan and the Erahs people to you, Captain Knight.”
Zakeriel’s eyes snapped to the secretary. “I… to me?”
The woman nodded, “Yes, for the loss of your Jaed and the Teigne. She is also to understand that the young Erahs girl was special to you. She is grateful that you tried to protect her and heal her, and deeply sorry for your loss.”
At the mention of Khes, Zakeriel’s brow knit and he cleared his throat. “I, um… yes. Thank you.” Shaking his head he redirected his focus to the Venerate herself. “Thank you, Venerate Orahsi. It is very kind of you.”
The elder woman bowed her head ever so slightly, then looked to Sahaan briefly before her eyes fell on Atirian. Again the Secretary spoke.
“The Venerate would like to welcome you. The life of her son is irreplaceable. While we are a very guarded people, she can think of no greater due one could pay than this to earn you a place here.” The Secretary genuflected to Atirian. “Welcome, Erahnn Vaeth.”
Atirian bowed very low to the Venerate and spoke in a smooth baritone, “thank you, Kaurahsan.”
Resting a hand with an elegant flourish on her breast, the Venerate’s vocal assistant half bowed. “I am Secretary Besran tu’Furl. I will arrange for each of you to be given quarters during your stay. Erahnn Vaeth, you and I will speak tomorrow after you are rested so we may determine how you may best serve the community, and we will find you more permanent lodgings then.”
“Again, thank you, Secretary tu’Furl.” Atirien dipped his head, then stepped back in line with the others.
“For now, I imagine you are all extremely weary, and the clan would like to offer you all a proper reception. A feast is being prepared as w–” The woman’s rosy-brown skin blanched, her dark brown eyes widening in terror as the guards began to rush into defensive positions.
“What is it?!” Sahaan demanded, rushing toward his mother to protect her.
Zakeriel drew his blade and also turned toward the door in a defensive stance. “What is happening?”
When no one answered, the Shae gleaned that they were speaking in their silent-tongue again. Angered, he shouted, “I can’t help if no one speaks aloud!”
“Some… thing has broken the Iripeth. Two guards were knocked unconscious. A massive beast follows it. A wolf–”
Atirian’s head snapped to Sahaan. “A wolf?”
“Massive. They said an Alces, but that’s just mad–”
The doors of the audience chamber were not yet closed. Something so rarely done, the hinges creaked with effort. A wave of vertigo overtook all those near the portal, a gust of wind, white as if it blew in a flurry of snow, rushed upon the center of the hall. Behind it charged the powerful Alces wolf, its paws able to push the door back open as it leapt.
Guards fell back with a cry of terror, staggering to regain footing and scrambling to find their weapons. Those without swords or pikes ran for the walls and side corridors, but the wolf did not attack. It stopped short, behind the flurry of wind that was Khes.
Collapsing into a crouch, the Avali woman rest on one knee staring at the room, weapons raised, poised to kill her and her companion until in near unison Zakeriel and Sahaan both yelled, “HALT!”
“Stay your weapons!” Sahaan shouted at the rows of men and women that had encircled the Venerate’s throne. Off to their side was Atirian, fixed on the ghoul.
“The Venerate demands an answer.”
“I heard her,” Sahaan retorted with a glower. He raised a hand to Besran to indicate he did not yet have anything to offer.
“Well, this is unexpected.” Atirian’s voice quipped to Sahaan with no small amount of concern.
“Indeed, it is.”
Nude and crouched low as a foraging tree-baby, she trembled and panted. The woman’s hair hung about her face and shoulders in wet locks hiding her feral eyes as they scanned the room Erahs by Erahs. The tall membranes of her ears twitched in a minute flutter. She flicked them just enough, focusing to count the number of breathing bodies, to listen for voices, to home in on a single heart beat, a familiar thundering she could hear as near as her own.
“Khes…?” Zakeriel stepped toward her. Khes lurched back in a flash of white to crouch beneath the wolf’s front legs. A collective gasp swept the room, echoed by sputtering whispers.
“It is a Nelenr,” Besran announced on behalf of the Venerate, no small amount of fear and disgust in her tone.
Nelah spoke up from the Secretary’s side. “No… she was dead. I tended her body myself. This thing… it must be something else. Some evil conjured by a maleficium necromancer. It is a revenant, not a woman.”
Paoel hopped forward and sniffed toward her, his movement exposing Khes’ line of view to Atirian. “No. Smells same. Is Khes Adaia. Is same.”
The woman’s eyes snapped onto Atirian and her teeth bared in a snarl. A low growl uttered from her throat. Her haunches tensed. Raising a hand to assure the Jasuuk, Zakeriel lowered to a crouch at her level and tried to address her again.
Extending his sword hand out to the side, he aimed to lowered the blade to the ground. The gesture revealed upon his belt a familiar sheath. The Shae knight was thrust across the room, hitting the floor paces away with a bark of air, his sword clattering across the stones. Rolling to his side, he groaned as he strained to see what was happening to cause the renewed cries and screaming.
“Don’t!” Was his first thought. Don’t hurt her. Don’t hurt them. A simple plea for no one to do anything violent. Lifting his eyes, he saw this went unheeded.
The prospect of seeing Khes fight was something he had once looked forward to seeing. The sight itself was more terrifying than he had imagined. The distortion of time that blurred the room, sent shockwaves of vertigo through-out as the woman vaulted herself at Atirian. She was armed now. Zakeriel, seeing the flash of metal, slapped a hand to his hip in realization, only to find an emptied sheath.
“Khes, what are you doing?!” he screamed.
The illusion was one of Khes and Atirian tangling about one another in swift blurs of black and white, an electrical storm cloud of marbled grey with a whip of white lightening lashing across the room. No one else was ever assaulted save to be thrown free of them. No signs of another weapon surfaced amidst the flurry, only the silver slashes belonging to one Blade-Spirit. The dark grey shadow would meld with wintery wind then slip to a distant corner only to have the woman, a bolt of searing electricity, arc to him. And the violent storm continued, lightening and blackened storm cloud blurred by speed and the distorting glimmer of the Wavering-Spirit’s porting.
It was Nelah who first turned her eyes on Sahaan in accusation. “He’s a Nelenr too.”
“No…” he replied as he stared in shock. “He is Ndorinr.”
“How could you bring him here?!” Nelah screamed in horror. “They’re evil!”
“I didn’t know!” Sahaan shook his head in earnest, then turned to his mother. “I swear it. I didn’t know.”
The old woman’s eyes were cold and angry as she sat forward. Strained as it was, she gave her order aloud and by Elhia. “Kill them both.”
“No, mother, please!” Sahaan gasped.
Zakeriel turned and faced them a mere instant before noticing Atirian’s face blink past. The storm picked up speed as, suddenly it was Khes thrown forward through a side doorway. She stood and bolted and was slingshotted aside again. Both Jasuuk and Avali were gone. “NO! Where did they go?!”
The Wolf howled then bolted from the room as fast as it had come. The room gaped in silence, all holding their breaths, then slowly exhaled in collective relief.
“There is a balcony through that corridor!” A guard barked in realization they were free from the confined space and now loose in the holt.
“Atirian removed her from the hall–” Sahaan started forward, but his path was blocked by guards. He spun and glared at his mother with sharp rage, “Of course I told him! I’ll not have you slaying my friends without just cause! Without a trial at least!”
Secretary tu’Furl raised her voice in rage. “All but the guards are to leave- go to your homes and remain inside. Guards, ensure the clan is safely guarded in their homes then return!”
The room cleared leaving the small group to face the Venerate’s outrage. Zakeriel was having none of it, stalking before the woman and demanding answers. “The only one she attacked was Atirian – in fact, went out of her way to make sure no one else was in harm’s way! How dare you order her killed?!”
“Zakeriel,” Sahaan touched his arm to calm him, but the Shae jerked away.
“No! I want answers! Nelah behaved strangely when she spoke of Khes being Nelenr. Atirian never told you he was…whatever this Ndorinr is. And now this? What in tellorath is going on?!” The Jaed Knight glowered at Sahaan, his superior height giving him the first edge of intimidation he had ever possessed.
Sahaan put a firm hand to his chest. “First, calm down… or the Venerate’s guards will throw you in a cell and you will get no answers.” The men stared one another down with firmly clenched jaws. The royal heir was no less enraged and would not be bullied. Positions understood, both men stepped back and Sahaan turned to face the Venerate.
The passing silence, Zakeriel assumed was filled with the secret-chatter of the Erahs’Calhalla. It bristled his fur, and did nothing to calm him. Paoel, as well, was flicking his tail with impatience when, finally, the Secretary began to relay the Venerate’s explanation.
“Quirifen, the goddess, bore two twins–”
“Oh, it’s to be story hour…” Zakeriel threw up his hands with huff. Resting a hand on his shoulder, Sahaan gave a sympathetic nod.
Besran began again, louder, “Quirifen, the goddess, bore two twins… Ndor, the Spirit-Guardian and Nel the Spirit-Bearer. Ndor is the guardian of those in this life, but when one falls, Ndor passes judgment of who is worthy of ReBirth and delivers them to her brother Nel. Nel shepherds the essence of the dead through the Firetide to be cleansed for ReBirth. Or so the tales of today are taught. But they are wrong. The believers of Quirsahtha are wrong.” Besran drew in a deep breath and folded her hands in front of her. An awkward exchange of glances indicated the Venerate’s belief was not held without contention. Most in the Hall, regardless of her status, shifted in discomfort and cast their disapproving grimaces aside.
Sahaan inclined his head and looked to the Venerate. “Mother–”
One withered hand shot up with agitation, then waved for Besran to continue. “The truth is Blade-Spirit and Wavering-Spirit are far more terrible. The Kaudrhe blood, Erahs blood, is imbued with the Twin’s abilities. None but the Erahs have these Rare-Gifts, but it is tainted with evil. They feed on Life. They do not shepherd the dead. They are slaughterers. The Nelenr of legend- you have heard stories, I know you have, one warrior so great that her name means ‘blood.’ Thes tu’Iri. Thes of the Blood. It does not mean ‘of The Erahs People’ as is taught. That would be Thes tu’Erahtha.”
A static cold energized the room with discomfort. No one dared breathe as they listened. “A Blade-Spirit draws the power for such speed and strength from the life essence of every kill. They use that essence to bend time to their will. The more life they take the stronger their gift and power becomes. They are never sated. Thes tu’Iri was insatiable… a warrioress said to have leveled an entire battlefield by her dagger alone. Blood painted the field so thick that nothing grew for a century. This is the legacy of Nel, the black wolf, sired of darkness.”
Zakeriel tossed a hand toward the door, “she came with a white wolf–!”
The old woman’s stare, though wordless, cut to his core and he fell silent with a dip of his chin, though he bravely held her gaze with a scowl.
Besran continued with a shaky tone. “Ndor is no less insatiable, no less addicted. In fact, Ndorinr today is all but synonymous with assassin. Temporal space is their domain. Walls cannot limit them, chains and cells cannot bind them.” All three women turned their eyes on Sahaan. Atirian’s claims of slavery fell dead upon the floor at his feet. “Where Nel is swift, Ndor is devious, appearing and disappearing, the invisible wolf. There is no greater danger, however, than when they are rejoined.”
Sahaan spoke with more fear than Zakeriel’s silence belied. “What do you mean ‘join’?”
“The Seid is a vulgar faith to many, but it is ancient and wise to the World That Was. It holds knowledge of the Kaudrhe that the Erahs have long forgotten or turned their back to.”
“Besran,” Sahaan pressed, “what do you mean by ‘they join’?
The Secretary ignored his persistence and continued to dictate exactly as the Venerate spoke to her. “They remember the Kaudrhe as they were. They remember the Dyás. There is a reason the Witan have no female Nelenr. There is a reason. It is not that no female Nelenr are ever born.”
“Oh, Goddess… you slaughter them?” Zakeriel stepped back in horror. His eyes darted from the Venerate to Nelah. “And you call Ganroth monsters.”
Shaking her head in all seriousness, Besran insisted, “it is necessary. Do you not understand? The Felling… the Felling happened because Quirifen allowed the joining of Nel and Ndor… she created Dyás. If she had not allowed this, none of the other events could have come to play. The Dyás was the catalyst. The Cataclysm.”
“This is madness. You distort history to justify infanticide and murder.” Zakeriel shook his head and turned for the door. “I can’t stay and listen to this. I have to find Khes.”
Guards blocked the door. As he drew his blade, they drew theirs.
“And do what, Shae Knight? She threw you like a child’s toy.” Besran derided his impulse, then spoke more politely. “Your friend, Sir Téos, is dead. She has been dead. What came here is an animal… no longer whole. It is a husk seeking its other half to form a creature beyond your comprehension. But you are correct. It must be found. And it must be put down before it kills us all.”
Besran snapped her fingers and two of the guards exited the chamber. Her eyes lowered then to Sahaan, “Venerate Orahsi will allow you to accompany the search party if you choose, but neither of you are to be armed. She will not risk compassionate impulses overtaking either of you on behalf of your friends. She does, however, understand if you need a sense of closure.”
Sahaan’s upper lip twitched as he attempted to control a sneer. Bowing his head to hide it, he lowered into a genuflect. “Very generous, mother. Thank you. We will.”
At his agreement, guards approached to relieve him and Zakeriel of their weapons. Utterances of protest grumbled from the Shae, but he kept them low. When Paoel hopped defensively away, the knight cleared his throat and indicated that he should be cooperative. The Tōk barks and dooks were unintelligible to everyone present, but the general message was delivered well enough.
“I will see to it our Tōk guest is provided a room where he may rest. We will get a list of any meal or specific needs he may have,” Besran returned to diplomat mode, then gestured for the guards and attendants drifting into the hall to tend their duties. She turned her back to face the Venerate, the two deep in Elhia conversation.
As Sahaan and Zakeriel were escorted to group with the search party, the Shae growled, “this is insane. I’m not going to let them murder Khes.”
“Peace, friend… we shall see what we see. Do not discount my mother’s words until we see for ourselves what we find… who we find.” Sahaan’s brow was set low, his jaw taut and hands clenching at his sides. Zakeriel regarded him then stared straight ahead.
“How much of what Atirian told you was a lie?”
Sahaan’s jaw muscles rippled as the Captain of the guard direct her men with little more than a point. “Captain tu’Satin says they were seen going toward the river.”
Feeling wounded, though he had not been the one betrayed, Zakeriel muttered, “the sun is already setting. In the dark of the forest–”
“We have a scout who sees with more than his eyes.”
– – – –
This is an excerpt. You can follow the blog and read future full chapters here: firetidecomes.blogspot.com/