Chapter 9 – Conscious Aesthesia
Mossreign Dale, Southern Dagger Fells Cord
The Previous day, Midnight, 1st Set of Integrity, Month of Foundations 8178
Aggressive licks of crimson and orange fire whipped and snapped at armor and fabric. The heat discolored the plate armor as flame consumed the Teigne’s garments. Fur was already singeing away, curling like blackened lashes. Slowly exposed flesh was seared, pale skin glaring red. Still the flames licked, suckling at the corpse, peeling it like fruit and devouring it with a feverish drunkeness.
Though light once emanated from his very pores, Nahiet’s body was now consumed by it. A living blaze surrounded him as a lusty aura, effulgent and resplendent as ever the Jaed should be. Each lap of the feiry tongues gorged in ever increasing portions until burnished red shifted to charred black. Waves of heat danced up into the darkening sky, casting aloft a confetti of glowing ash. A chorus of cracks and pops sang the royal into oblivion, accompanied by the melody of songbirds, the whoosh and roar of the conflagration.
Brittle logs snapped and crumbled into loose coals as the pyre began to collapse in on itself. The blackened tissue and exposed bone of Nahiet’s corpse, dressed still in a soot-coated breastplate, shifted in the descent. The man’s once handsome features and glorious halo were a visage of decay and ash. Limp limbs sagged over the charred remains of the pyre. What warmth remained would smolder, snuffing itself out when no traces of fuel still littered the crematory altar.
No life essence remained, treasured by a thief addicted to precious power not bequeathed to him. What power tingled in the air, like the static before a storm, had been expelled by the Erahs man himself. Life energy once stolen as the assassin killed, then released, free to pass on through the ether. It mingled amongst the dying flames. It danced on the warm breeze wafting the smoky air. It cavorted with fireflies and ruffled the Alces wolf’s fur like a companion, until it too felt the pull that had terrified Atirian.
Deep in the nothingness a gravity clawed at it. Hunger, like an ember desperate to claim another tinder, evoked the power to bewitch its kindling near. Then, like the vortex of a whirpool, sucked it down into a pit of flame for consumption. Burning the essence away, the nothingness was suddenly filled with sensation. It was the the raw essence of The Rogalian, if the ‘Firetide of Creation’ had a sense of being. Its animus was a heat so intense, pain registered as cold until sensation was simply blinded; an ecstacy of sensation so pleasurable the mind was overwhelmed to fear and panic. It registered pain in desperation to make the sensations stop. The Rogalian, embodied, was all emotion captured in a moment and seered upon the soul, rending the flesh irrelevant, then tears of the overwhelmed animus were poured into a quivering vessel.
Searing into pale flesh, like a burning ember, the ruby orb of Zakeriel, Nelah and Atirian’s blood became a stain, a permanent mark on snowy-white Erahs skin. From a single drop of crimson at the base of Khes’ throat, red tendrils began to creep out, darkening veins meant for a lavender shade of blood. Shooting along beneath that translucent skin, angry, insatiable sanguine vines branched out reaching faster, further, deeper. The red glowed like smoldering coals, burning deep into Khes’s flesh, every branch radiating out seeking more and more tinder for consumption. A fire raged within her blood, an ecstacy of creation stirred.
Lustful vascular rivulets enveloped the Erahs’s body until a fine lace of claret adorned her like a brand. Wolfsbane flowers of a deep blue seemed to be woven into the faintly glimmering splendor. Khes’ muscles began to quiver as electricity crackled through revitalizing flesh. Tangible in the air, palpable on the tongue, energy consumed the lingering Death. A firestorm of renewal, vitality consumed stagnant, necrotic waste until the grey pallor of extinction flared to new ardor, exploding in a discordant roar of anima.
Spasming with vivification, slender pearlescent limbs jerked as Khes curled in on herself. The fetal convulsion was a mere second before the young woman’s body was sent into throes of agony with curative vigour. Sanguine lace faded beneath her alabaster skin. Lavender blood rushed through revitalized veins, but the blue undertones had been tinted with hints of pink. Erahs blood was now…more. Something new, neither Erahs nor Shae.
Screaming with all the passion stifled at death, Khes filled the night sky with the high-pitched aria of rebirth. Bones knit, muscles strengthened and blood flowed freely and faster than any river rapids. Warm humid air laced with smoke filled her lungs with the stabbing of needles, lungs whose last breaths were near tundra air and beneath water. Seizure-locked limbs fought for control as the tiny woman’s body convulsed on the forest floor. Back arched and head back at a torturous angle, Khes’ eyes snapped open. Onyx irises dilated to reveal newly reshapened pupils, circular apertures tearing into vertical slits from which emanated an unearthly blue-white flourescence. The brilliance lasted a brief moment, illuminating the branches high above her, then dimmed to an incandescence akin to the glowing fungus left by Nelah. Her eyes became a luminous hematite rather than the glassy black of obsidian.
Khes’s pain began to ebb like a receding tide. Only small surges lapped at her, the strongest sensations receding. Shuddering into the cold quiver of a newborn infant, the woman sagged into the mossy bed with deep, heaving sobs of confusion and misery. Emotions, for which she had no understanding, flooded her. Intense amalgams of fear, anger, sorrow and finally a sense of abandonment. Recoiling into a protective huddle, the young woman, newly awakened to a strange place, alone and untended, wept into her arms, mewling and choking with unchecked dolor.
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Mossreign Dale, Southern Dagger Fells Cord
Dawn, 1st Set of Humility, Month of Foundations 8178
Consciousness dripped sensation into the body with the thick, stagnant crawl of sap. Entirely foreign, the body seemed more like an encasement. So long had a corporeal form be an unknown, but not to this One. She understood its trappings. She need only remember. As if she were the skeleton within a dead bear she attempted to lift its head then limbs. Khes tried to take ownership of the flesh, to feel less a master and puppet, and simply be. Eyelids finally peeling open, the woman gasped at the faint trailing of light. Dawn had long come and the golden glimmer on tree leaves was mesmerizing.
Twice now she had awakened with no understanding of how she had come to be unconscious…and naked. The implication was terrifying and all too familiar. The bed upon which she lay, however, seemed funerary, too pretty and staged to be anything else.
Focusing all her senses, Khes searched for signs of such strange abuses. What else would one label death? Her muscles ached, but it did not seem to be a bruising pain. She smelled fire and the perfume of flowers. Fingers and tongue worked together to remove the bitter taste in her mouth, a Wolfsbane blossom. Ears twitched as she gathered sound, heat, moisture. Erahs ears evolved to see without eyes. She sensed the presence of another. A rustling.
A dark form lingered just outside her peripheral view. Turning slowly, vertigo swaying her, Khes fixed her eyes on the massive Alces Wolf. He was white, alight with gold and amber. A flourish of snowy fur flicked at the end of its reddish-gold tail. She had never seen the like. A spiritual guide perhaps, for she remembered Death.
No breath. People screaming.
Zakeriel. Paoel. Nahiet.
Death chasing. Hunger pursuing. Overwhelming.
Blood pumped in painful throbs.
Ice cold torrents hardened muscle and bone.
Tearing. Rending. Agony.
Piercing. Ripping. Torment.
A presence emerged from the nothingness. Pulled at her. Tore her apart.
Gravity. Like falling forever, never landing. Faster, faster, until the falling itself was pain, was draining.
Light. Wisps between the spaces. Heat. Flames. Blazing sensations.
Her soul on fire.
Cold. Instant, crippling cold. And…loneliness.
New breath. New light. New fire to fill the emptiness.
Not her fire. Someone else’s… but hers. Stolen. Returned.
All the universe had held her up. Cradled her. INFUSED her.
Kissed by The Void.
Empty. Alone. Mourning her own Death.
Like an infant mourning the loss of a womb.
Although only the Erahs had Elhia, Khes sat staring at the Alces Wolf unable to reconcile the sense that those memories had flooded through him.
No. Not him, from her. Something even deeper than herself, darker, hidden. He had… watched and protected, guarded her during unconsciousness as she healed.
Jace. Healer. Not an Eto, a healer of the flesh… but something… greater, something more profound and universally spiritual. A conduit of Jaa, youngest offspring of Quirifen. Jaa the Spirit-healer, whose guidance leads the Erahs in mindfulness, brings wisdom, who appears in times of great need, to those of piety or importance. Piety had waned, but perhaps he had come to give her this as well.
Although Khes received no answer, she felt that was the Wolf’s purpose. If he stayed, she would call him Jace. Perhaps it was he who resurrected her after all others abandoned her.
A sense of wrongness hit her like a cane to the back. She fell forward, catching her weight on all fours with an agonized cry. Fingers clawed into the moss.
Wavering-Spirit. Thief and Benefactor.
Slaughterer and Savior.
Tearing, pulling, gutting her from somewhere so deep within.
Hollowing her being, trying to claim that which was ‘She’.
Thieving from the Void, a battle lost, a portal opened.
But through this, Death defeated. She clawed her way free.
Quivering and cold with a fresh sheen of sweat, Khes collapsed to her side with heavy pants of renewed terror. Weary eyelids lifted half way as she looked to her guardian for answers.
Dipping his head, the bear-sized canine lifted a tuft of fur from the ground and carried it to her. His answer was, eat.
Khes’ arms shook too violently to push up to a sit, She resorted to merely reclining on her side. The gift was still warm, the throat still bleeding out. Any previous day, Khes would have eaten with gratitude. This day, she quickly rolled away and vomited at the smell of blood.
A moist nose bumped her thigh. The wolf shook its head toward the river, then walked to the water’s edge. Managing little more than her hands and knees, Khes crawled to the riverbank then collapsed to drink with voracity. Though the water filled her and soothed her, she felt a hunger, one that dead hare would not fill.
The end pulled at her.
That face. His face.
Black and beautiful.
As the water refreshed her, the hunger grew and a singular need began to blind her with blood lust. The other end of the tether was bound to another.
Pushing back onto her haunches, the woman scanned the forest. A bestial snarl quivered her lips as her luminous eyes saw with a new clarity. She was yet to be whole and the thief had left a trail too easily followed.
Vaulting to her feet, Khes took to a run, then burst into a sprint that rustled the foliage in a passing wisp of pale wind.