The grandest hour of spring arrived with vigor. A vast sea shimmered on the horizon. Birds flew in the clear sky above the orchards. Flowers bloomed in the tall waving grass. Sunshine bathed the meadow as a breeze swept the hill. A procession hiked upon this hill. Tiny bells adorning their ankles rang out with each steady step. Festive wreaths and ribbons crowned their heads. Bright banners wavered in the air. Their solemn expressions faced their destination.
Atop this hill stood a cave, marked by a lone bare tree. The man leading this somber march stopped at the tree to face the people. His hair, white as fresh fallen snow, framed his unwrinkled face. The gray robes he wore barely moved. Sunlight gleamed on the hilt of his long sword. His milky blue eyes, watery with time, sought the end of the line.
Several heads shorter than the leader, stood a young woman. Barefoot, she wore only a simple white gown. The air toyed with her ebony hair. Her light brown eyes offered warmth and comfort to her grieving family. She looked at her mother weeping in her father’s arms.
They should be happy. Sabaki thought. I will not fail.
“Sabaki,” the leader said, “Come closer, my child.”
Her head held high, she stepped forward. In every sixth generation an oracle was born. A venerable priest came from afar to lead this oracle to the Path of Fulfillment. For generations those before her failed.
Failed at what? Sabaki wondered. Becoming one with Terran?
You are already one with me, whispered the breeze.
As a child, Sabaki believed that earth spirits spoke to her. On a day like today, she still believed.
The tribe broke out into an ancient wordless song, luring her to memories. She taught the children the traditions of the people with her grandfather. Sabaki guided the planting and harvesting of their crops with her father. She tended the herds with her brothers. She conducted marriages, aided the birth of babies and eased the hearts of the dying with her grandmother. Sabaki tended the sick and less fortunate with her mother.
Aren’t I fulfilling my duty? Her heart asked, What else is there?
Protecting the people, the voice in her head whispered.
Sabaki left the tribe behind to follow him inside the cave. The smooth stone of the tunnels shimmered with a soft light. Father Peccant lead Sabaki to a wide chamber carved out by time eons ago. A slab of clear crystal laid in the center of the floor. Around the chamber, archways opened to more tunnels.
The heart of the world, Sabaki thought.
Father Peccant hung a thick chain of heavy brass around her neck. Dangling from it, the pendant seemed to absorb the light in its carved symbols. Its hollow pentagonal center glowed.
“What’s this for?” she asked.
“To bind you, my child,” he answered as her head swam.
The chain grew heavier as Father Peccant aided her to the slab. Her back felt the cool surface of the crystal as the light blurred her vision. His words sounded far away, their meaning lost to her. A sinking sensation came upon her as she closed her eyes.
A point of light dimmed as another of Terran’s chosen pulled away. Reaching for this light, it felt weaker. The only answer it got was flickering from the dimmed point of light.
Sabaki, Terran mourned.
Over the generations, Sabaki’s tribe abandoned the ancient ways. Without an oracle to bring peace, warfare erupted amongst its children. Terran sealed its heart to protect Sabaki’s body, hoping she would awaken. Time ebbed and flowed. Each generation festered in contention. Terran languished until another bright point of light was born. In hope, it began to reach.
Edu, Terran’s heart whispered.
Rain pounded the grass down as lightning cut through the sky. The wind tore at the flowers. A tall man, wrapped in a gray hooded cloak, placed his hand on the barren tree. Unaffected by the storm, he waited as his student trudged up the hill. In ragged steps, Edu reached the top of the hill. His pale shoulder length hair plastered his skin. Leaning on his slender staff, he shivered under the tree in a vain attempt for shelter.
“Edu,” the man said, “Come closer, my boy.”
“Is this the heart of Terran?” Edu asked, pointing at the cave.
Yes, his mind whispered.
“Master?” Edu asked, looking up at his mentor.
“Indeed, it is and I want you to go inside,” the man said, pulling back his hood.
His hair, white as fresh fallen snow, left an after image in Edu’s sight with each flash of lighting. The man’s milky blue eyes stared at Edu. Although the master’s gaze was distant, Edu felt naked before him.
“Find your way through the tunnels until you reach a wide chamber. Inside that chamber you should find a chain. Bring me that chain,” the master’s voice grew stern, “Fail I and I will feed you to my sword.”
Goreblighter, Edu blanched at the thought. That sword harbored a blood demon. Those vile creatures hailed from the dark realms of shadow. According to legend, such a demon was forged into a terrible weapon. People whispered his mentor wielded this blade. Edu believed them and had no desire to feed that cursed thing.
“I won’t fail you, Master Peccant,” Edu promised and hurried into the cave.
With his hand on the wall, Edu followed the tunnel. After the first bend, darkness completely enveloped him. A few more turns later, Edu realized he was lost.
“I won’t fail you,” he mocked himself, “I don’t know which is worse, dying in this rock or being food for that damn sword. I bet there isn’t even a chain in here.”
He stopped as he heard a faint whispering, Edu.
“Who’s there?” he asked.
The whispering didn’t stop, change or get any louder. Edu sensed someone or something watching him. Searching for the source, he hurried through the twisting tunnels. He slowed as he felt the earth tremble slightly. Gripping his staff, he saw only a faint light up ahead. Edu followed the light into a small cavern. Across from him stood a carved set of steps leading up to a crystal doorway. The light pulsed from it.
Come here, Edu, the whispering said.
Edu leaned his staff against the stone and climbed the steps. He placed his damp hands on the crystal. He was sure the whispering came from the other side. Failing to find a way to open it, he rested his forehead against it in thought. He wondered about this chain and its importance.
“And why do I have to fetch it?” Edu asked, wishing he could be free from that man.
Every six generations, a nomadic wizard came to Edu’s village to choose a student. The students never returned home. It’s believed the students became nomadic wizards, fated to wander the world. About four years ago, Peccant selected him to be his student. Edu left his village and all he knew in the hopes of becoming a hero. However, the master taught him only enough to be a useful servant. Whatever else he learned, he picked up from watching his master. During their travels, Edu saw the world in ruins. Fields were dying. Plagues afflicted people and herds alike. In exchange for a human sacrifice, Peccant brought rain and healed the sick.
False hope, Edu thought.
In frustration, he pounded a fist on the door. His fist sank in. The force of it pulled him through. Edu stumbled into a warm and brightly lit chamber. The stone here shimmer on every surface. Around the chamber, archways opened to more tunnels. A crystal relic stood in the center of the room.
It appeared to be a woman lying on a slab. He ran a hand across the detail of the simple gown. This work of art looked almost real like a real woman. Around her neck rested a thick brass chain with its pendant on the chest. The chain looked heavy and cumbersome. His fingers lifted the round pendant, freeing a gem from its metal.
Pentagonal, it was the clearest and brightest gem he had ever seen. From each facet, he saw a spark flickering inside it. He frowned at the pendant. Edu knew what the carvings were.
“A transmutation circle, but this hollow,” he said, tracing his finger inside it, “What’s it for? Making gems like this one?”
He studied the statue again. The woman looked delicate with an air of nobility. He touched a cheek with his fingers. For a moment, he thought he saw the statue breathing.
Help her, Edu, the whispering said.
Gingerly, he removed the chain and stepped back. Edu stood there, waiting for some sign of life but none came.
“Boyhood dreams of heroism,” he mused, looking at the gem before placing it on the statue’s chest.
Fatigued, he dropped the chain and knelt beside the relic. Edu laid his cheek on the stomach of the statue and closed his eyes. Warmth slowly spread through his body and he welcomed it as sleep took him.
Sabaki gazed at her sleeping visitor. His head nested in her lap. She stroked his soft hair. It reminded her of sunlight. The black tunic and leggings he wore saw better days. His sandals were worse for wear. She traced a finger along his muscled arm.
The chain on the floor caught her eye. It reminded her of Father Peccant and the ceremony. During the long sleep that followed, Sabaki became aware of Terran’s presence in her dreams. She now knew the earth spirit did speak to her as a child. It was with her all along. The ceremony was fake.
“But why?” Sabaki wondered, touching the stranger’s hand, “And who is this?”
The stranger moaned, closing his hand around hers. She gasped and he fell backwards with a start.
“Who are you?” they asked.
A terrifying wail ripped through the tunnels, jumping them to their feet. Weakness washed over her. Edu quickly steadied her and helped her back to the slab. She leaned against him, catching her breath.
“Stay here,” Edu said, touching her face, “I’ll come back for you.” He left her sitting on the slab as he snatched up the chain and ran through the crystal door.
“Wait!” Sabaki cried, struggling to follow him.
Instinctively, she drew strength from the earth spirit. She couldn’t let Edu face whatever was out there alone.
“At last,” Peccant said, “Did you get it?”
“I got it,” Edu said, handing the chain over.
Peccant grabbed it. Rage contorted his face. “The stone! Where is the stone?”
Edu clutched his staff, keeping his face blank. “What stone, master?”
“Do you take me for a fool?” Peccant said, pointing his sword at Edu’s neck.
Lightning hit the ground just behind the tree. Peccant’s formed loomed over him. As darkness returned, Edu swung his staff.
“I will have that stone, boy!” Peccant said, slashing his sword toward Edu.
Sparks of energy flew as Edu parried. Thunder rumbled over the hill. Bolts of fire burst from Peccant’s hand. Edu blocked them with a shield of air.
“Never!” Edu shouted.
Peccant pressed forward. His sword became a flurry. Edu parried the strikes. Nicks formed on Edu’s arms and legs. His back hit the tree.
“Where is it?” Peccant demanded, pushing his sword into Edu’s staff.
Edu pushed back. His feet slipped in the mud. He pushed harder. The cold rain sapped him of his strength. He couldn’t push much more than this. Lightning struck again, revealing Sabaki’s silhouette at the cave’s entrance. He closed his eyes. She shouldn’t have come.
“You!” Peccant snarled.
“Father Peccant,” Sabaki wailed, “Stop!”
She ran forward. As Peccant swung his sword at her, Edu jumped in the way. His staff fell from his hands. Peccant drove his weapon deep into Edu’s chest. Edu grasped the blade as he folded to the ground.
“Keep Sabaki safe,” Edu whispered.
“No!” Sabaki screamed as she picked up Edu’s staff.
Peccant pulled on his sword but Edu’s hold on it was too tight. Sabaki charged as Peccant threw fire at her. The flames dissipated before reaching her. She slammed the staff into the ground. Mud rose around Peccant, solidifying as she struck him with the staff. Crushed by the weight, Peccant fell. His blood washed away from the soil in the rain. Oily darkness expanded from Peccant’s crushed body.
“This isn’t over,” hissed the shadow.
Edu watched it take flight and disappear in the storm. He grimaced as he pulled the sword from his chest.
“Edu,” Sabaki sobbed, dropping the staff to kneel over him.
“I’m not dead yet,” Edu coughed.
Her eyes widened as the wound healed, leaving a nasty scar.
“How?” she asked.
The sword resonated in his hands, transforming into a simple staff.
“Not sure,” Edu said, looking up.
The storm cleared, unveiling a full moon. Sabaki gasped.
“Edu, your hair and skin have turned white!” she said.
“It’s the curse of Goreblighter I think,” Edu said, gripping the metal staff, “Let’s go.”
Sabaki helped him stand up and nodded. Together, they walked back to the chamber in silence. After stepping through the crystal door, Edu leaned the staff against the wall. He sat on the slab thinking about their next move. When Sabaki sat next to him, he saw her tears.
“Are you okay?”
“Peccant was a spiritual leader for our tribe. He brought me here. He left me here. Sealed me away from my family,” Sabaki took an unsteady breath, “Said it was for the good of the people. Peccant lied to everyone! Why Edu?”
“I don’t know,” he said, wrapping his arm around her.
Edu remembered the chain, its pendant and the gem. He wondered what happened to the gem.
It was a mere drop of Sabaki’s soul, Terran answered, Once freed, it returned to her.
Harvesting souls? Edu wondered.
He looked at Sabaki’s sleeping face and felt his own fatigue.
“We’ll find a way to stop him,” he promised, closing his eyes.
Time ebbed and flowed. To preserve its chosen children, Terran transformed them to crystal. It watched as the Soul Eater devoured life across the world, driving the surviving children underground. A new nightmare unfolded as Terran waited for a third light to be born.
“The time of the Culling is nearly at hand once again,” intoned the priest, “We must all pray for salvation.”
He stood much taller than the rest of the people as they knelt to pray. His hair, white as fresh fallen snow, framed his unwrinkled face. Milky blue eyes watered as he gazed across the great cavern.
The warriors knelt before him. Acolytes chanted on each side. On the ledges above them, the rest of the small tribe prayed. This was all that remained in the world. Wraiths drove these people underground. Warrior men trained to protect the tribe while the acolyte women brought light to the caverns they now called home. Every six generations the Wraith came seeking life.
“Behold, my children, another soul is ready to embark the Rite of Passage and obtain a Stone of Promise!” the priest announced, “Come Rue, stand before us all.”
Reverence filled the air as the praying and chanting stopped. Taller than the others of the tribe, but not as tall as the priest, Rue rose and took the winding steps down. Knee length auburn hair, tied back with a string, gleamed under the steady light orbs. Wearing the gray tunic and leggings of a warrior in training, Rue set a slow pace across the cavern. Pale skin flushed as the warriors cleared a path through their ranks. Rue’s unique eyes, one blue and one amber, looked only straight ahead. The tribe looked on as Rue stood before the priest.
“Father Peccant,” Rue said, “I’m ready.”
As the crowd broke out into cheering, Rue sought out Alder and Jude. Black haired and brown eyes like the rest of the tribe, their red Stones of Promise shone brightly upon their pale foreheads. Alder’s wiry form bounced in time with Jude’s portly figure.
My only friends, Rue thought, if only they knew.
Rue wasn’t anyone’s son. Although trained as a warrior like all men, Rue was a young woman. Through all his teachings, he never explained the lie she lived. Father Peccant often told her she was his best student, praising her mastery of the sword and elements. However, Rue learned more from the whisperings in her heart as she trained and meditated. As a child she came to trust this voice, but she never told Father Peccant.
Everyone has secrets, Rue thought.
The acolytes led her away from the cheering crowd. They directed her through the maze of tunnels. Entering the Room of Prayer, Rue looked around her. Carved into the floor was a complicated symbol. Just beyond it, a set of steps led to a seamless crystal door. Guiding her to the center of the symbol carved into the floor. Light orbs glowed among the tapestries but the lines of the symbol seemed to absorb the light. Each line drew the light to the pentagonal center she stood in. Unease settled in her as the acolytes anointed the light orbs and her forehead with scented oils. A sickly sweet smell swirled in the air.
Transmutation? Rue thought, Why?
“Offer your secret to the Mother of Light and Life in prayer until you have obtained the Stone of Promise,” instructed an acolyte as they left her.
“Or die trying,” muttered Rue.
Failure to offer an acceptable secret resulted in starvation. Many have been carried away from here for their Final Rites. If the secret offered was accepted, a stone would form. Its color designated the owner’s position within the tribe.
Determined, Rue sat on the floor to meditate. She couldn’t just offer any secret. Seeking to increase personal strength or status, some challenged the secrets of another. Once exposed, the Stone of Promise dissolved. The owner would die and the life energy became part of the victor’s.
Self defeating, Rue thought, but knew she couldn’t change traditions.
The heady scent of the oils caused her head to swim as she thought. Offering her gender as the secret was risky at best. Women were forbidden to train as warriors. It wouldn’t be long before this secret would reveal itself. An execution would result. Rue hadn’t endured this lonely life just to die in the end. A different secret would at least grant her a fighting chance. The oils had long since lost their scent as Rue continued her meditation. Each measured breath dried her throat more with nothing to offer as a secret.
I don’t need a secret, she decided. This is so stupid. My true strength comes from within me.
The sensation of a presence surrounded her. It beckoned deep within her. She opened her eyes to see the crystal door pulsing with light. Drawn to it, she left the symbol and stepped up to it. Placing her hand on its smooth surface, she felt it resonate. Her hand sank through it. Curious, she placed her other hand on the crystal and watched it sink through as well.
“Interesting,” she said and stepped through.
She looked around the chamber. It glowed with its own warmth and light. Around the chamber, archways opened to more tunnels. Rue stepped closer to examine the detail. It was of a man comforting a woman as they sat on a slab. They looked tired and sad. Rue couldn’t think of a legend or myth to explain this statue. She touched the smooth surface of the man’s arm, appreciating the craftsmanship. Resting loosely inside the crook of the arm was a plain metal staff. Rue slid the staff out to get a better look.
The metal hummed in her hands as it transformed into a sword. Long and slightly curved, the blade had a single edge. She tested the slender blade with a swing. It sang through the air. She checked its sharpness with her thumb, quickly drawing blood. Although the cut wasn’t deep, blood flowed freely. The metal absorbed the blood as the cut healed.
“What’s this?” Rue asked.
“Through blood I bring power!” the blade said dramatically.
Rue dropped it and stepped back.
“Oh hell no,” its sizzling voice warned, “Ya get yo tiny butt back here, girl!”
She backed away from it through an archway to stumble into a hot spring. She sputtered, wiping the water from her face. Rue slogged out of the water. Cursing its dead weight, she wrung out her hair.
“I owns you!” the blade called.
“I have gone mad.” Rue shook her tunic then hollered back, “I belong to no one!”
Its metallic chuckle rang through the air, “I like ya, girl!”
Rue snorted as she retrieved the blade. Holding it with both hands, she looked into its metal. The metal emanated energy. She felt its hunger. This demon seemed vaguely familiar.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” she raised an eyebrow, “why me?”
“Let’s just say this girl never forgets a bloodline,” it answered, “Tell ya what, sugar, do me a teensy weensy little favor and I’ll serve ya until the end of yo days.”
Rue sat in thought, unsure of what to say.
“Be careful,” a new voice spoke, “That weapon harbors a blood demon.”
In a single, smooth motion Rue stood up, swinging the blade and stopped at the speaker’s throat. She stared at a pair of intense violet eyes. His soft hair brushed his shoulders, shining like moonlight. Rue paused, confused.
The statue? Rue thought, turning her head toward the slab.
The crystal couple was gone, leaving the slab bare. Standing next to it was a young woman with ebony hair. Her light brown eyes met Rue’s with calm.
“Please don’t harm him,” she said.
Rue lowered the blade and asked, “Who are you?”
Rue closed her eyes, searching inside for the source of this voice. The presence she felt before returned and swelled. Ancient and enduring, this presence embraced her.
“You are the earth spirit, Terran, from which all life is born in this world,” Rue recited.
Yes, Terran said.
A quiet sort of joy filled Rue, but something felt amiss. “What’s wrong?”
I am dying, it said, It is up to the three of you now to protect my children. I bestow you all that I was, am and could have been. Time has no meaning for you. Use this gift wisely.
Rue looked at the others as Terran’s voice fell silent.
Maybe the last, Rue mourned.
Edu spoke softly, “Terran is just resting.”
“Meanwhile, I’m still here,” the metal dripped with sarcasm, “waitin’ for an answer!”
“Goreblighter talks?” Edu asked.
“Hello,” it said, “slicin’ and dicin’ aren’t my only talents, thank ya very much!”
“Rue, that thing is cursed!” Edu fumed.
“Oh no you didn’t!” Goreblighter said, “Honey child, get yo ass trapped in this shit. Then talk about being cursed!”
Clamoring bells cut through the air. The blade in hand, Rue ran past the confused pair.
“The Wraith are coming!” she shouted.
Unearthly wails filled the air as the people herded pass Edu. With Sabaki’s help he guided them to the safety of the tunnels surrounding Terran’s heart. Edu spotted Rue’s head over the crowd. She headed for the front lines.
For a moment, time stood still in his mind. He took an odd note of how the entire tribe resembled Sabaki. It also struck him how different Rue was from the rest of them. The timeless moment shattered as an oily darkness seeped from the shadows into the great cavern.
War cries shook the stone. Weapons rose. One after another the Wraith devoured souls, shredding the bodies. They left carnage in their wake. The Wraith swirled around the warriors in a screaming mass.
“We have to help them,” Sabaki said, handed him a stray staff.
“You should stay here,” he said.
Scowling, she raised an open hand upward. A great ball of light shot over his head, breaching a form of darkness just behind him. He ducked as black slime splattered the stone.
Sabaki’s skin glowed with a fierce light as she looked over her shoulder to shout, “Bring forth the light and aim at the Wraith!”
The acolytes obeyed. Explosions of light filled the hall as Sabaki led the way.
“Okay, maybe not,” Edu said, rubbing his head.
Amidst the chaos, something caught his eye. A man stood serenely upon the dais. He faced the cavern ceiling with his eyes closed and arms wide. Currents of energy tugged at his gray robe and fluffed his hair.
White as snow…? Edu thought, Peccant!
He fought his way to Sabaki and Rue. He took his place between two young men that fought at their side.
“Alder and Jude,” Alder said, fending off a creature.
“Focus damn you!” Jude whimpered, blasting it with fire.
“Please do,” Edu panted as he finished it off with a bolt of light.
Rue flanked him to slice through another screaming shadow. “Peccant summoned the Wraith.”
“Peccant is the Wraith,” Edu corrected, as Sabaki hurled whistling balls of light over them, “They’re just copies of him.”
Rue danced around him to protect Alder. The blade sang through the air. Slime spurted as another Wraith was felled. Jude ducked. Rue split open two more. Sabaki threw up a shield of light as Edu decimated one as it swooped at them.
“What are we going to do about it?” Sabaki asked.
“I have a plan,” Rue said with an upward slice.
They followed her lead as the number of the Wraiths dwindled. As they reached the center of the cavern, the shadows suddenly retreated. Their unearthly screams trailed behind them. Peccant still stood upon the dais, untouched from the battle.
“Well done, my children,” Peccant praised, “We have survived another Culling!”
Cheers arose around them. They found no joy in the victory as Peccant’s watery gaze fell upon them.
“It’s not over,” Rue said.
It wasn’t the first time Father Peccant had been challenged. Rue remembered the whispered legends. She intended this would be the last.
“My best student,” he said to her, “I should have known it would be you.”
She recalled how he personally taught her. He probably groomed her to become a perfect feast in his sick game. She could feel Goreblighter thirsting for Peccant’s blood. Hatred swelled from the blade into her as she sliced the palm of her hand.
“I challenge your secret Peccant!” Rue shouted, pointing at him.
“Step up, you lily ass pansy!” Goreblighter taunted, “I got yo number!”
As Rue mounted the dais, Peccant said, “I see you’ve found my creation.”
Streams of elemental energy purled around them as they faced each other.
“Too bad you lost it,” Rue said, assuming a fighting stance.
“Too bad it has a mind of its own,” Peccant replied, drawing a long sword.
“Hells yea!” Goreblighter added, “Bring it bitch!”
Goreblighter sang as it lunged. The long sword greeted it. Metal struck metal. Peccant pushed Rue away. Fire seared the air. Metal struck metal. Wind ripped the earth. The stone fell from the cavern ceiling. Blood peppered the sand. Sabaki shielded her eyes from the chains of lightning arcing above the dais. She couldn’t keep track of who was doing what.
“Isn’t there something we can do?” she asked.
“No one can interfere with a Challenge of Secrets,” Jude said.
The long sword sliced Rue’s arm. Blood flowed down over her hand. She let Goreblighter drink it. Her wound healed as she slashed him across his chest. Rue whirled around him, cutting into his leg. Peccant swung around. The flat of his sword struck her back. She skidded into the sand.
“Seems the two of you get along quite well,” Peccant said.
“We have things in common.”
Rue sprung from the ground. Goreblighter sang, finding its target. It feasted with relish.
“We both hate you.”
She pushed it deeper. Peccant chuckled. Rue kicked him away.
“You think you can beat me that easily?” he scoffed, discarding his robe, “Let’s play.”
His wound healed as he charged. Rue dodged, slashing his ribs. His sword cleaved the sand. Rue shot spikes of ice. His fire bolts melted them.
Sabaki watched as their deadly waltz continued. They were evenly matched and she feared the worst. Edu, Alder and Jude stood next to her in silence. The four of them weren’t the only ones watching. Every able tribe member surrounded the dais. Transfixed, they witnessed the challenge. Beads of sweat glistened on their waxen skin. Suddenly Alder blanched and collapsed. Many more did the same.
“Edu,” Sabaki pleaded, “do something!”
“The stones,” Edu said, “He’s draining them to death.”
Edu placed his hand on Alder’s forehead. Light flickered between his fingers. As the stone dissolved, color returned to Alder’s face.
“I’ll shield the people,” Sabaki said, “Get rid of those stones!”
Edu nodded and set to work. Sabaki stepped close to the dais. Her arms outstretched, she willed a dome of light to form. Allowing herself and the two combatants only to occupy the dome, she protected the people from Peccant. She summoned every ounce of energy she had to hold that shield in place.
Sparks flew as their weapons met. Electricity arched between them. Rue kicked him away. Peccant drove his sword downward. Rue rolled aside, carving into him. His blood flowed freely. Goreblighter’s feast empowered her. She was one with this blade. Nothing could stop them now.
Sabaki shrieked. Rue looked up to see her in the clutches of Wraith. Sabaki’s body pulsed with light as they tore at her limbs.
“I’ll tear her souls to shreds!” Peccant shouted, turning to face Sabaki.
Trusting Goreblighter, Rue drove it into herself and fell.
“I want,” she murmured, coughing up blood, “Peccant dead in every possible way.”
“Done deal, girlfriend!”
Rue’s heartbeat echoed in her ears. Not a drop of blood was spared as it drank. The blade dug into the roots of her being. It sank deeper than her connection with Terran to her home world and family. Here, the blade found a heritage that spanned beyond mortal dimensions.
Edu pounding on the dome of light. He watched black flames consume Rue and the blade. Her scream shattered the dome. She became the flames. The Wraith dropped Sabaki and returned to Peccant’s body. The flames took shape. Peccant faced a new Rue. She loomed before him as a dragon of shadows.
“Let’s play,” Rue said.
Peccant dodged her foot. Sand sprayed as white flame blasted. Walls of glass entombed him. She screamed. Shards of glass showered. His sword struck Rue. Her claws ripped him. She flapped her wings, blinding him with glass and sand. Her tail smacked him. He slid across the stone. White flame broiled him. She snatched him up with her teeth and devoured him. Rue screamed again as the dragon form evaporated. Flickering out, the black flames left her lying on the stone with only her now white hair to cover her.
Edu ran to Sabaki. Alder ran to Rue.
“Are you okay?”
As they each stood up, Alder said, “Holy Mother, Rue is a woman!”
The earth groaned, cracked and shifted.
“Peccant deceived us!” Rue shouted,
“He is the Wraith!” Edu explained.
“Because of him,” Sabaki added, “Terran is tearing apart!”
“Everyone must get to the sacred chambers for safety!” Rue shouted.
Rocks fell from above. The ground shook harder as they led the tribe to Terran’s heart. They ran as the stone split and parted. Reaching the crystal door, Sabaki waved her hand to dissolve it. Everyone was ushered in while the trembling and groaning increased.
Alder tossed Rue his tunic, “It may be the end of the world but you still need to wear something.”
Rue put on the tunic.
Jude handed her Goreblighter. “Are we going to die?”
The ground shook hard enough to knock everyone over. Children screamed as the earth groaned. Shifting, the world came apart. The deafening sound filled the air. Quakes tossed them in pulsing waves. Suddenly the commotion came to a halt.
“Are we dead?” Jude whimpered.
Mostly children, the huddled tribe looked up.
“Let’s look?” Alder suggested.
“This way,” Sabaki said pointed to a tunnel.
Rock jutted from the floor and walls of the tunnel. They traveled in pairs through the passageway. With some climbing, hoisting and an occasional jump, they reached the end. The tunnel gave way to a small cave that opened to the surface.
“Shame we didn’t get to see it,” Alder said as he stepped out, “before the end of the world.”
They followed him. They didn’t see a vast horizon. There wasn’t even a blue sky. Instead, a turgid miasma of random hues swirled above them. Only a couple of mountains remained. A small lake in the valley below was the only body of water. No green plains or forests dressed the earth. The only tree they saw stood at the entrance. All around them the landscape ended abruptly at the miasma. Sabaki cried softly on Edu’s shoulder.
“We’re dead, aren’t we?” Jude quavered.
“No,” Edu said.
“Just floatin’ in the Sea of Chaos,” Goreblighter added.
“That reminds me,” Rue said to the blade, “Do you still need a favor?”
“Ya done did that favor already!” it said, “And with the way ya handled Peccant’s sorry butt, ya best be believin’ I’m followin’ yo ass ‘til the end of time girl!”
“I guess that settles things between us then,” Rue smiled slightly.
“What do we do now?” Alder asked.
“Start a new life for now,” Rue answered, pointing at the valley below, “What else is there?”
Weary, they went down the hill as a hopeful wind swept across the arid plain.
I hope you have enjoyed this tale. It is but a small part of the Tales of the Phoenix anthology.
Many of the events and characters cross over in addition to cross referencing between the series of the anthology.
Comments, questions, concerns and suggestions are welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read this work!
Archived LiveJournal Comments
toadie_odie Mar. 23rd, 2006 10:19 pm
This particular piece proved to be terribly problematic. I guess that’s what I get for taking inspiration from a dream!
At first all I did was jot a few notes down and promised myself I would write it “later”. I had hoped with this piece I could finally explain the origin of Haven Hearth.
When I signed up for the creative writing class on campus last spring I decided to finally write this piece. I ended up with SIXTY handwritten pages. It was supposed to be a short story. So… when it came time to type it up, I butchered it. I managed to condense it down to 36 doubled space pages.
I appologize for its length. Looking at it after it was graded I saw AT LEAST 3 separate stories in this piece, maybe more to get it all told correctly.
In fact, some elements have been woven into the “Room for Me” arch. In Card 1 the reader meets the Phoenix for the first time and is shown the Sea of Chaos, the Tree of Life, the Universes of Law and the Stream of Life. It is also shown there is no place for the lost souls. A new character, Anuran/Toadie is introduced into the plot here. In Card 2, Sabaki is introduced and the reader gets to know about Anuran/Toadie more. Much of Sabaki’s PoV from Three of Swords crosses over here into Anuran/Toadie’s PoV.
The other thing that is still plaguing me about this piece is the voice of Goreblighter. He isn’t from the world depicted in the story. In fact he is supposed to be a demon from our world, Earth. I just can’t seem to make him sound right. I’ve actually entertained the thought of making him speak in net slang.
I don’t want Three of Swords to be completely disolved and integrated elsewhere. That strange dream is still fresh in my mind and there is much of that I want to preserve.
So if you, as the reader, made it all the way down here to my comment I have simply a few questions to ask.
1. What works in this piece?
2. What doesn’t work?
3. What do you think the piece can do without?
4. What do you think the piece needs?
5. Goreblighter ~ Should his voice be in net slang?
toadie_odie Mar. 23rd, 2006 10:23 pm
Pronunciation of character names:
I think that’s all the names that might be a bit confusing to say out aloud.
Originally published on LiveJournal. Archived here on 03/07/2022.