|A day shy of a week ago Robotech Master was out on his e-bike when an SUV struck him and drove off. According to the most recent news available, he passed away from his injuries at around 2:00 this morning. I have kept some news up on his user page and, at this point, ask that anyone wishing to leave messages or tributes do so on either his talk page or another page that can be used for such things. His account here and all of the stories he has gifted the Shifti community with will be preserved in memoriam, as we also did for Morgan.|
User:Michael Bard/Kor's Journey
|No further updates are expected.|
- 1 Prologue: The Beginning
- 2 Chapter 1: The Theft of Magic
- 3 Chapter 2: The War of Magic
- 4 Chapter 3: The Silver Sword
- 5 Chapter 4: The Curse of Mortality
- 6 Chapter 5: The Birth of Kartan
- 7 Chapter 6: The World is Changing
- 8 Chapter 7: Kor’s Journey
- 9 Chapter 8: Morfranyn’s Dreams
- 10 Chapter 9: Anglyane
- 11 Chapter 10: Journey’s End?
- 12 Chapter 11: Morfranyn the Blooddrinker
- 13 Chapter 12: Arrival at Kyn-Tu
- 14 Chapter 13: Love’s End
- 15 Chapter 14: Kor’s Journey Resumed
- 16 Chapter 15: In Memory of Anglyane
- 17 Chapter 16: The Battle of the Bloodfilled River
- 18 Chapter 17: The End of the Quest
- 19 Chapter 18: Kor’s Return
- 20 Chapter 19: The Curse of Immortality
- 21 Chapter 20: The Truth at The Centre of The World
- 22 Epilogue: The End of All Things
Prologue: The Beginning
It is written that before the Gods came, the world was naught but chaos, with existence, but without form or order. Into this chaos came the great gods, Gaenan, the Earth Mother, who birthed the world; Kor, He who walks By Night, the God of the Dead, who helped Gaenan create the world - for without Death, there cannot be life. With them came the other great gods - Vashigan, the Sun, the King of the gods and the Judge of the Dead. Sheshanka, the goddess of Storms and the Ocean, the Destroyer of Valdanis. Alindor, the Father of Man, God of the Forge and Fire and his wife the beautiful Sildaya, the Tigress, Mistress of Love and War.
It is said that the Gods entered the chaos of our world fleeing from their own as it fell into its own fire. And it is written that they arrived in a monstrous sphere that still rests at the centre of the world.
The first to enter into the Chaos were Gaenan and Kor who consummated the new world with their love. In the flickering light of unreality they loved each other as the rest watched. And when the seed of Kor penetrated the womb of Gaenan The World was born.
In just nine days, Gaenan carried the world to term and screamed, in pleasure or agony none can say, as the world burst forth into reality. All at once the world burst out, but it was bare. And with the world was birthed Cernus, the Stag, the Hunter. And the gods watched as Cernus ran along the world, and watched as life, the plants and the animals, appeared wherever he went. And as Cernus finished his creation the gods looked at the world and were pleased.
But the world was still dark and without light. So Vashigan made the light. He become the sun and shone over of the world and the gods smiled as light bathed the animals and the plants. And the animals came to the gods and were blessed, and the gods walked with the animals and blessed the plants.
And then Vashigan returned from the heavens and the world was dark once again, for even Vashigan could not light the world for ever. And Vashigan spoke to the other gods. The world will not remain dark, he said. Although I can light the world, I can only light it for but half a day. The other half I must rest. And so Vashigan went to rest in mountains and slept that night. And the next day he awoke and again journeyed across the heavens. And thus came the day and the night. And so has it remained.
For an ageless time the gods wandered the world, together and apart. But eventually they came together and created a place in which to live. They called Vashigan and for two days the world was without light as the gods laboured. And when they were done they had created the Sun, the home of the gods. And together they set it above the world. And they went upon it and lived upon it as it journeyed around the world. And when it was above the world, Vashigan stood on its underneath and lit the world. And when it passed beneath the world Vashigan slept. And so has it remained.
Eventually the gods grew lonely. They wished for someone other than themselves to talk, to teach. And so they created the Faerie. Together they gathered vines and leaves, and the bark of trees, and together they wove it into a man and a woman. And then Gaenan took the forms into her and they remained inside her for 100 years. Kor also gave his seed unto the forms, for only the Gods are immortal. Then Gaenan birthed the new living forms and the gods saw and were pleased. And the gods took the first beings from the Sun and placed them upon the world.
And for ten thousand years the Faerie spread across the world. Their cities were beautiful beyond imagining. They created the Dragons as their allies to take them where ever they wished to go. The gods taught them much until they were almost as powerful as the gods. A few of the Faerie even became gods.
The goddess Luani earned the love of Vashigan and became his wife. She slept at night beside him and sat as his feet as Vashigan lit the world. But the longer Luani stayed with Vashigan, the more she came to gather his light. Her godly formed absorbed the radiance from Vashigan and she grew even brighter. Finally even the gods noticed, for where Vashigan would dim himself so that the gods could look upon him freely, Luani could not. Thus Alindor forged a silver boat for Luani and set it opposite the Sun about the world. And during the night when Vashigan slept, Luani slept in her boat and radiated the light she had been given by Vashigan during the day.
Another of the Faerie to become a goddess was the lady Tamiola, Mistress of the Trees. It is said that she was once a priestess of Gaenan and while worshipping her mistress in a grove was come upon by Cernus. And Cernus fell in love with her and could not wait until she had finished her rites but rushed upon her. Gaenan saw this and changed her into a tree to save her. But Cernus would not rest. And Tamiola grew to love Cernus as he spoke of his love for her beneath her tree self. Eventually the power of their love grew so great that Tamiola became faerie again during the night. Then Cernus made love to Tamiola and they birthed the Dryads. And Cernus pleaded with Tamiola to free his love. And Gaenan spoke to Tamiola and found that as Cernus loved her, she had come to love Cernus. Gaenan smiled and changed Tamiola back from the tree and made her into a goddess. And when she was transformed back, Tamiola found that she had powers over the trees and over plants, and that the Dryads were her priestesses. Thus Tamiola came to be the goddess of the forest and plants, and the wife of Cernus.
The final member of the Faerie to become a god was Tuomyn. Tuomyn was the greatest of the Faerie, and created the Dragons to serve them, and worship the gods beside them. As Tuomyn died, the Dragons would not let his spirit leave to be reborn. They refused to let Tuomyn die. Kor came to see why Tuomyn's spirit had not come to him and the Dragons would not let him approach. When Kor asked why, the dragons told him that they wanted their own god, and that they had chosen Tuomyn. They would all die before they let him go. Kor left and called the rest of the gods and told them and the gods talked. Finally the gods came down to the dragons and demanded they release Tuomyn. But the dragons stood firm. Sildaya rushed forward and struck a dragon down, but the rest remained. Then the gods smiled. Gaenan touched the head of the dragon Sildaya had killed and pulled the spirit of Tuomyn into it. And then they made him a god, and granted him both human form and dragon form. And the dragons worshipped him, and so did the Faerie.
And during the ten thousand years the Faerie lived, other gods came to be. For Sildaya and Alindor were not idle and birthed the twins Cerulan and Zandalee. The same day Zandalee was birthed she touched two sticks and they became the first Aulos and she played and the music was so wonderful that even Vashigan turned from the world and came to listen. The twins grew up together and were inseparable. Cerulan taught the Faerie to write and gave them language. Zandalee taught the Faerie music.
Vashigan and Luani also had their children. The first birth was that of the seven Olandas (the winds, the Seven Sisters), who were named Aeolina, Zephina, Maliona, Galian, Ariela, Serena and Pereana. Later Vashigan and Luani gave birth to the God of the Storms, Tarkrin. When he was born, even his father was hidden by his arrival over the world.
And finally, after ten thousand years of life, the Faerie grew envious of the gods. Why should the gods live eternally, when we must die? And the Faerie talked about this and grew bitter and jealous. Arguments grew into fights, and fights into war. Eventually all the Faerie and Dragons desiring immortality drove the others into hiding over 200 years of war. Then the victorious Faerie and the dragons asked the gods why the gods were eternal, and asked the gods to make them eternal, and were refused. Then they demanded the gods, but the gods did not answer. Finally, the Faerie began to cast a great magic, a magic aimed at destroying the Sun and forcing the gods to give them eternal life. The gods saw them chanting and turned away from the world. Vashigan left his post and the world fell into darkness.
Slowly the world grew colder and eventually it froze. The Faerie died, or fled into the chaos outside the world. Tuomyn put the few dragons who had remained loyal to the gods, and the few Faerie who had hidden from the rest of their mad race under the earth, asleep so that they did not die. Sheshanka took her chosen priests and priestesses and transformed them into the Sirenes, and kept them warm deep beneath the oceans. Cernus called all the animals to him, along with the few Faerie had who fled from the rest and secreted themselves in the wilderness, and hid them away from the world. And Tamiola put all the trees and plants into a deep sleep. One hundred years passed before Vashigan looked upon the world again.
And Vashigan looked upon the world and made the ice melt. The dragons and underground Faerie, who were now the Dwarves, were freed, Cernus brought the animals and the Faerie who had hid in the wilderness, who were now the Elves, back and Tamiola made the world grow green. Then the gods called the Faerie and their Dragon allies who had survived. All the gods stood before the last of the Faerie. You wanted eternal life, Vashigan said. Those of you who want it shall have it. The Faerie were pleased.
Then the gods cursed the Faerie with eternal life. They would no longer die, and if killed would be reborn with all their memories. They would exist unchanging until the end of the world, unable to create anything new, only able to copy past glories. And then those who wanted eternal life were cursed with it and banished beyond the world where they created the Faerie realm and still remain. Some have turned bitter and seek to cause evil, others seek to make amends and aid humans and Caldaya, but most just laugh and replay old glories.
And the rest? They remained upon the world as their own races, the Elves, the Dwarves, the Dragons. They would still grow old and die, but they could still grow.
So ended the First Age.
And then the gods created the fifth race - Man. They gathered clay and formed another man and woman. These were not as beautiful as the Faerie - the gods would not create such a race again. And again Gaenan took the forms into her and this time but 50 years passed before she gave birth to the first of the race of man. Kor also made this race mortal. And the gods took man from the Sun and placed him upon the world.
But the gods had learned. They would not teach this new race, but let it grow on its own. And they would not gift it with magic. They ordered Sheshanka to take magic away from her Sirenes, and she obeyed.
The gods watched and lived for another thousand years as man spread across the world. Alindor gifted man with fire and revealed to man the glory of the gods so that man would worship the gods. But Alindor, and the rest of the gods, would not gift man magic.
During this time the sixth race was created - the Caldaya. The first Caldaya were the children of Cernus and Tamiola. They spread across the world and learned to worship the gods. But they too were denied magic.
Humankind grew great and numerous and spread across the world, denied only the oceans where the Sirenes rule, and the great plains where the Caldaya would not suffer them. The gods mated with men and woman and birthed mighty heroes and heroines who were gifted by the gods. Nations grew and warred, and great cities were built along the coast of Pagania and in Valdanis. And the gods watched and were pleased.
And during this period, the gods had the last of their children. Hulvanes was born to Alindor and Sildaya. And Hulvanes became the messenger of the gods, and the god of travelers.
And also during this time, Sheshanka fell in love with Tuomyn and wooed him, but Tuomyn would not listen. So Sheshanka stole him away and hid him in the depths of the oceans where he is still imprisoned.
Chapter 1: The Theft of Magic
Colana walked along the beach at the base of the black cliffs. If she had bothered to look, she would have seen the massive, yet graceful, marble temple of Luani, the moon, brightly lit by Her light. But, although she was Luani's High Priestess, that night she didn't care.
She walked along the edge of the sea. It was still agitated from yesterdays storm, and waves of cold water swirled up the beach and around Colana's legs, gripping the sodden edges of her robe and trying to tug her into Sheshanka's realm. But she remained on the beach, only gifting the waters with stains of blood washed from her robe.
The waves shushed and rattled their agitation amongst the sand and pebbles; the winds tugged at her hair shining in Luani's light. But Colana was aware of none of these things.
All she was aware of was that her brother was dead.
He had been a fisherman, and had been out at sea when the storm struck without warning. His body had been found, washed up on the beach, bleeding and battered. He, and others, had been brought up to the temple in the morning light and Colana and the lesser priestesses had attended them. She and the other priestesses had used herbs and poultices, but to no avail. Sheshanka wouldn't let the fisherman's souls come home. When night had fallen and Luani had risen, she and the other priestesses had prayed, but only been answered by silence. With the blood of her brother on her hands and robes she prayed long after the others had left.
By dawn her brother was dead.
Still, she had prayed all morning, hate creeping in until it filled her prayers. But still there was no answer. She must have fallen asleep as she awoke in her chambers, still in her bloodied robes. It was dusk, and she had silently left the temple to walk along the shore.
She looked up into the silver orb that was Luani sleeping after a day with her husband. She looked up with her hate filled eyes and let her hatred fill her voice.
"Why?!" she screamed out at the moon. "In the Age of the Faerie there was magic and magic could have saved my brother. But you won't give magic to man. Why did he have to die?!"
Colana collapsed, cursing and sobbing, onto the beach.
Even though the goddess Luani was asleep, She listened to the prayers of Her priestesses. She awoke when She heard Colana's curses.
She had heard Colana's prayers yesterday. She had wished She could have helped then, but She was forbidden to use magic upon The World.
Luani turned into a gleaming silver wren and flew from Her boat and circled high above the world. Her eyes saw Colana cursing and sobbing on the beach. Then Luani decided.
After the Faerie had been banished and humans created, She had argued vehemently to give magic to humans. Her only supporter had been Kor. But the others were afraid and refused and She had been forced to go along with their decision. She circled and flew off to the sun where the rest of the Gods lived. She would find Kor and together they would do something.
Kor was awake in His high chambers that looked down upon the nations of humans. He, too, heard the prayer from Colana and watched as Luani left Her boat that was the moon and flew towards the sun. He knew why She was coming. He had expected it for a long time.
He closed His eyes and a second later Luani was on the floor, in front of him, back in Her human form. Her glow was somehow banished. She looked up into the black eyes of Kor. Then She bowed as a lesser to a greater.
He looked down at Her form, "I know why You are here. Are You ready to act?"
"But what can We do? Vashigan has kept the magic hidden where only He knows."
"I know where He hides it. I know how to get to it. But You will have to do it - I'm not trusted. You will have to steal it."
"But my husband will know..."
"Not if You are careful. There is much that is hidden from the others. This, too, We can keep hidden. You can give the magic to Your priestesses, but they must be told to keep it secret. They must only perform it in Your temples, and only at night. You must tell them this."
"Be still, I will give You the knowledge and skills You'll need." He walked up to Her and She bowed lower as He pressed both palms to the sides of Her head. "You will know what to do when You greet Him as He awakens to light the world." Kor's hands glowed black, hiding the light around them. The blackness flowed around Luani's head, and obscured it. Then it was gone.
Luani gasped as She felt the darkness enter her. When the shock had passed, She spoke: "I know what to do."
"Good. I will send you back to Your moon - nobody must know that You were here."
He closed His eyes and a second later Luani was gone.
Kor turned around and went back to bed. He sighed. He knew where this would lead. He knew the deaths it would cause. But, He was Death, so that should make Him happy, but it didn't. He went back to sleep, listening to the mumors of the few prayers that man made to Him.
Luani was back on Her moon, radiating the light She had absorbed from Vashigan the day before. She examined the gifts that Kor had given Her and shuddered. Tomorrow She would do the right thing. She leaned out of Her boat and looked down at Colana still cursing Her on the beach. Tomorrow night She would speak to her.
She spent the rest of the night watching Her priestess.
Luani's moon slipped below the edge of The World and started its journey in the sky of the Faerie. She waited until the gate formed before Her and stepped through and into the arms of Her husband, Vashigan.
They embraced and whispered sweet nothings. Then, as They had everyday before, They made love to reaffirm Their love for each other. They had done it so often that much of the love had gone out of it, but it still felt right to do it. Luani eagerly accepted Vashigan's seed into Herself.
Then they got up and Vashigan walked to His throne at the bottom of the sun and let His divine light shine brightly and illuminate The World. Luani sat beside Him as She did every day.
But this day was different.
As She sat, She let her mind slip out of Her body as Kor had shown Her. Her body was dead, but Kor would allow Her soul to return. She made Her soul into a tiny wren and flew around to the other side of the sun. The rest of the gods and goddesses were just awakening, but They couldn't see Her, and Kor's power kept Her soul hidden.
She slipped into Vashigan's high temple and into His secret vault. She had no trouble passing as She wasn't really there. She let herself drop down and landed on the ivory chest that held the magic now forbidden to mortals. It was so well guarded, that even Her soul couldn't slip through, but Kor had told Her how to open it.
She willed another change and Her soul was once again Her normal human form. She willed the tools and runes She needed into existence and used the skills that Kor had given Her to open the lock of the chest. It took hours, but finally She succeeded.
The chest could not be opened by anybody but Vashigan. Kor had shown Her how to use the seed that Vashigan had given Her to make the chest think that She was Vashigan. And the chest opened for Her.
Luani looked in. As Kor had shown Her, the chest was mostly empty, except for a pale leather pouch in the corner. She carefully picked the pouch up and slipped Her hand into it to grasp the spark of mortal magic. The spark licked Her hand like a happy puppy and then Luani slowly absorbed it into Herself as Kor had shown Her. When the pouch was empty, She used her own magic to create another spark. The spark looked and smelled right, but it wasn't Now Luani had the mortal magic.
She closed the chest and changed Her soul back into a wren, keeping the spark of magic hidden inside Her heart. She flew out of the vault and back to where Her body was sitting beside Vashigan looking over the world. She used the secret words that Kor had given Her and slipped Her soul back inside Her body.
She felt heavy and faint, and blinked Her eyes in shock. Vashigan didn't even notice. She felt in Her heart and felt the magic still sleeping there, warm and happy.
Luani smiled. Tonight She would answer Colana's prayers.
That night, after Luani had returned to Her moon, She changed into a silver wren and flew down to Her temple by the sea where Colana prayed. The journey was quick and Luani flew into Her temple and alighted upon Her statue. She looked down and saw Colana crouched at the statue's base, glaring her hatred.
Luani leapt off her statue's head and landed on the floor. Then, She sealed the inner temple from The World and changed back into Her human form. On silent footsteps She walked up beside Colana and placed Her hand on Colana's shoulder. She let Her divine glow fill the temple.
Colana spun around. "Nobody is permitted here..."
"Don't worry, we both are, my priestess."
Colana averted her head and bowed. "Forgive me, I didn't know what I was saying..." Her voice trembled in fear.
"Shh. It is you who should forgive me."
Colana looked up at the goddess. "But you are Luani, you are above reproach..."
Luani sighed. "Nobody is beyond reproach. I'm here to thank you, and give you a gift."
Colana just stared.
"At the end of the First Age, I argued that humans should be given magic. The other gods disagreed and I let their decision stand. Since that day humans have suffered death and disease which We could have given them the power to prevent. Your words last night showed Me what is right and what is wrong. I have corrected my mistake."
"The gods have decided to give us magic?"
"No. I have. That is why you must keep it secret."
Colana backed up a step.
"Don't be frightened, I'm the one who stole it. Any punishment will be given to Me. It's the least I can do to atone. Step forward and receive my gift."
Colana stepped up before her goddess and kneeled.
Luani felt for the spark hidden in Her heart and placed Her hands on Her priestess' shoulders. The spark leapt in eagerness to serve and a piece of it raced out of Luani and into Her priestess. Colana jerked away when she felt the magic enter her.
"It is done. But you must be careful..."
"What about my brother?"
Luani turned away, tears filling Her eyes. "We are too late for him, I'm sorry."
Colana raised her hands, but then let them drop to her side.
Luani turned around, tears still flowing from Her eyes and leaving splashes of silver on the marble where they touched. "You must keep the gift a secret. You can use it only in My temples where I can keep it hidden, and only at night. You can only use it to heal. I will give the gift to the other high priestesses, and give them the same warning. I just wish I had seen what was right sooner."
Luani's form shrunk down into a silver wren which flew off the floor and out of the temple. Colana collapsed to the floor, and cried for her brother.
Each night Luani visited one of Her temples and passed out a portion of the mortal magic, with the same warnings. Finally it was done and She watched, each night, the secret healings Her priestesses performed. And for the first time in a very long time, She was happy.
And so it went for three hundred years. But no secret can be kept forever. Eventually, one of Luani's priestesses, Byniana, was on a ship sailing across the sea to San-Tu. But a storm arose, and the Sirenes that served Sheshanka sang the ship's doom. Byniana panicked, and used her magic to heal the ship, and escape the Sirenes.
But the Sirenes knew what had happened. They told their goddess, Sheshanka.
And She told Vashigan.
Chapter 2: The War of Magic
Luani had spent another peaceful night dreaming the prayers of Her priestesses and feeling the healing they performed with the magic She had stolen for them. Finally, as Her moon slipped below the edge of The World, the gate opened and She passed through into the arms of Vashigan.
Except that His arms weren't open. And it wasn't His bed chamber.
Instead it was His throne room where He was seated upon His throne. The rest of the Gods were standing nearby. They were all staring at Her. Even Kor.
They must have found out.
She had thought about this possibility many times, and had always decided that if it ever came to this She would defend what She had done as the right thing, no matter what happened. She stood Her ground and waited. Maybe it was something else - She could at least hope.
Vashigan spoke from His throne: "We have been told that one of your priestesses used magic to save herself and the vessel she was on. Do you know anything about this?"
They knew. "Yes."
Vashigan frowned and stared at Her. She thought that She could see the tiniest bit of hurt in His eyes, but it was hard to tell. His face looked the same as it ever did. The same as it did even when They made love in the pre-dawn. As She waited for Him to continue She wondered what the mortals were thinking as night continued.
After a long pause Vashigan went on, "What do you know?"
"I stole the magic from You and gave it to my priestesses to heal. We never had any right to keep it from them." There. She glanced at Kor from the corner of Her eye and saw Him sigh and flash an expression of glee. Why?
Vashigan spoke and she forgot about Kor. "Take it back from them and return it to Me, and all will be forgiven."
She had rehearsed Her answer for centuries. "No."
Finally Vashigan's face changed. For the first time it showed emotion - surprise and disbelief. But it was only for a second, before the old expressionless look came back. Finally he spoke: "Then I shall take it back from them."
"No." She knew that there was no way She could defeat Vashigan, in fact She didn't even know if She could fight him. But She had long ago decided that if it came to this she would.
Kor heard Luani's answer and was divided between happiness and sorrow. She had shown more will than had any of the others, including Him, since the end of the first age. She was prepared to stand for what was right against all the rest. This could be the most fun He had had in ages!
"You defy me!", Vashigan bellowed out.
Kor smiled. That was the most emotion He had heard from Vashigan since He had judged the Faerie. This was looking more and more like fun.
"I stand for what is right!" Luani shouted back.
Kor watched the confrontation. Vashigan stood up from His throne and towered over His diminutive wife, a soft golden glow shining from Him over Her. But She didn't look small as She glared back at him. Her own silver light pushed back at His golden glow. It was time for Kor to feed the fire.
"She couldn't have done it without Me."
Everybody turned and looked at Him.
"How else do you think She could have secreted the mortal magic away?"
Vashigan turned to face Kor. "Then it is You who have defied me! Don't worry, my love, I know He clouded your mind. You are forgiven."
Luani's mouth hung open for a second, "It was I who brought Kor into it. It was I who asked Him. The fault is mine!"
Kor stood up and was suddenly beside Luani. "I aided her because I agreed with her. Besides, its been getting too boring around here."
"What?!" Vashigan roared and leapt at Kor. A gleaming golden sword appeared in His hand and He swung it.
Kor responded by summoning to His hand His own mighty, leaf-headed, black spear that dripped black light. He deftly blocked Vashigan's stroke and golden and black sparks flashed at the contact. Gradually Kor moved from the defensive onto the offensive but still neither could actually hurt the other - after all, they were gods.
The other gods remained, watching, impassive, as though the conflict didn't even concern them. Luani created Her own silver sword but remained apart from the combat.
After a while Kor became bored with the battle. It looked pretty, but nothing was actually being accomplished. He had been afraid the others might become involved, but glancing from the side of His eyes, saw that they weren't. He wasn't sure whether it was because of Luani, or because They didn't care. But, the weapon play was boring, so it was time to change the rules.
Kor began to let Vashigan force him back. It was difficult - their weapon play had turned into an elegant but repetitive game of grace and beauty - not really combat. Kor found it hard to break out of the rhythm to change the rules. But He managed, and began to back away from Vashigan.
It took Vashigan a minute to realize that He was suddenly winning and should change His tactics to press His attack. But He finally did.
Slowly Kor backed across the marble floor. He started slow, but then sped up. Finally He reached one of the pillars that held up the sky. He stumbled behind the pillar and changed.
When He leapt out the other side, He was no longer human, but instead caldayan, but still with His spear. He let out a blood-curdling roar from His leonine mouth and leapt with His four legs while cleaving the spear like an axe with both His hands. The force of the attack flung Vashigan's golden sword from His hand and made Him stumble backwards onto the floor.
Kor leapt onto Vashigan and raised His spear as Vashigan summoned His sword back into His hand.
"No!" screamed Luani and ran towards the two.
But Kor was oblivious. For the first time that He could remember, His blood was singing in His veins and He felt filled with life. His lungs pumped for breath and He exhilarated in the sensation. He started to thrust His spear down towards Vashigan's chest.
But Vashigan was not oblivious to His wife. He raised His sword to block the spear and then turned to Her. "I know it wasn't…"
Kor's divine strength pushed His spear down onto Vashigan's sword. The sword, held by Vashigan's own divine strength, deflected the blow. But Vashigan wasn't watching the blow and simply deflected the leaf-head of the spear through His own neck.
Vashigan's head rolled across the floor, leaving a trail of golden blood. The room was suddenly pitched into near blackness, lit only by the fading glow from Luani. She collapsed to the floor as Her husband's head rolled to a stop in front of Her.
Kor began to laugh, "Victorious!"
Tarkrin screamed “Father!” He leapt upon His griffon that suddenly appeared and leapt into battle with Kor. Sheshanka stalked behind him to kill the murderer. Sildaya moved to comfort, and defend, Luani.
Kor saw Tarkrin flying at him with His white lance and changed Himself into a dragon and leapt towards the on-rushing griffon and bathed it and its rider in flame. The griffon turned to ash, but Tarkrin landed on His feet and changed His lance to a sword and went after Kor. Kor ignored the sword strikes glancing off of His armoured hide and snapped with his teeth, black saliva dripping onto the floor. Sheshanka summoned Her spear of blue ice and flung it at Kor, but He saw it coming and whipped His head out of the way. The spear passed off the sun and fell onto the World, casting an erie blue light over the landscape as it fell.
The spear hit and shook The World to its core - the force was so intense that even the sun shook, but all were oblivious, all except Gaenan who started to bleed as though She had been struck by the spear. As Her blood dripped from her chest, it was She that ended the war once and for all.
“I command you all to STOP!” She opened Her arms and the marble of the floor stretched out claws and tentacles and entwined all three of the gods who were fighting. Tarkrin and Sheshanka were unable to even struggle, and Kor’s struggles achieved nothing.
Kor tried changing to a serpent, and then a tree, and finally back to a caldayan, but each time the marble tentacle changed with Him to never let Him escape. Eventually Kor stopped struggling.
Sildaya was still holding Luani’s sobbing form when Gaenan spoke again.
"Have any of you even considered what your actions might cause? Look!"
The marble moved its prisoners so they could watch as a disk appeared in the centre of Vashigan's throne room. It was a map of The World. But it had changed. Where once there were two continents, now there was only one. In the centre of where Valdanis had once been, a mile-high pillar of stone stretched out into the sky. It was still an icy blue but was fading to gray. On the other continent, the mighty city of San-Tu was being obliterated by massive waves from the Sea of the Pilgrims. The gods could see the millions of souls drifting up to the sun. Luani started sobbing again.
Kor just laughed.
Gaenan turned to glare at Him, blood still seeping from Her chest, running down her body, and pooling at Her feet.
"At least something different finally happened," Kor responded
Gaenan turned a lava red, and her blood turned black, and the marble released Tarkrin and Sheshanka. Tarkrin went to comfort His mother, but Sheshanka went and looked over the map of The World that was still changing.
"It's all their fault," She said. "They could have refused the gift."
"And then We would still be here as automatons. Don't you feel more alive now, than You have since We exiled the Faerie?"
"Why yes, mighty Kor. Yes indeed. So much more alive that I think I will teach the survivors a lesson." Sheshanka's eyes began to glow as She began to chant.
Kor knew that Sheshanka had always been the most volatile of them, and He suddenly feared what She might do. "Luani! You must defend Your temples against Sheshanka's power. Do it now before it is too late!"
Gaenan had calmed down and went over to help Luani - Kor could see Her begin to concentrate and send Her silver light to protect Her temples. Gaenan’s bleeding chest began to heal.
Then Sheshanka's chant reached its climax. "Survivors of Valdanis. I curse you. I curse you to forget your humanity and to envy those with it. I curse you to become small, stunted, a parody of your former selves. I curse you to shrivel and shrink, so that none shall ever forget the cost of crossing The Gods!"
Her body turned into a water filled shell and a blue radiance slowly oozed out of Her form, and began to roll across the throne room like a blue mist. It reached the edge of the sun near the ruins of the continent of Valdanis and first dripped onto The World, and then quickened into a flowing blue waterfall that swept down upon the survivors of the cataclysm. The blue lapped and covered all the islands, the remaining towns and cities, but could only lap around the silver and brown that protected the temples of the Gods. And gradually the glow sank into the ocean and the islands rose above its surface. And as it sank, the few survivors, once human, emerged. They had now shrunk to half their size. Their skin had become brown, and wrinkled, and hard. Their faces had turned into a parody of humanity. Their minds had gone away and they became as beasts, dedicating to fighting and struggling in a vain attempt to regain what the War of Magic had cost them. Only in the temples where the powers of Luani and Gaenan had held sway, did humans still survive amidst the ruins of the continent of Valdanis. Those living elsewhere on The World, the survivors along the Simbrani River, all would soon learn what had happened to Valdanis.
Luani collapsed from the strain and Tarkrin cradled Her. Gaenan, now Her normal earthy brown, and fully healed, turned to Sheshanka, but She simply turned to water and sank into the marble, and vanished, leaving behind only Her laughter. Gaenan just stood and watched.
"She's probably off to Tuomyn to show Him this latest example of Her power. We should have done something about Her ages ago," Kor said to Gaenan.
"And We should have done something about You ages ago too," Gaenan responded.
Luani had finally recovered. She was still unsteady on Her feet, but was able to stand up with Tarkrin’s and Sildaya's help. "What do we do now?" She asked.
"Let me go and I'll kill Sheshanka too. I could use some more excitement."
"Excitement!" Luani screamed. "Vashigan is dead! The World's source of light and heat is dead! Over half of humanity is dead!" She calmed down as realization hit Her. "And it's all my fault," She whispered.
"Alindor? Can't you make something to replace Vashigan’s light?” Kor asked. “You're the builder amongst us."
"I can try, but it won't replace him. At best it will be a temporary solution."
"Then go and do it. Then I can go after Sheshanka."
Tarkrin walked over and threw a lightning bolt into Kor's face. Kor just grinned. "Curse you! This is all your fault!"
"But it was Luani who asked me..."
"Because You put Her up to it!"
Kor straightened Himself, although He couldn't move much in the grip of the marble. "I did not put Her up to it, or influence Her desire in any way. I did not cause the storm that killed the priestess' brother whose death started all this. That was either You or Sheshanka. I simply helped a friend."
"You knew it might come to this, didn't You."
"I suspected, but life was getting so boring. We've all gotten tired of playing with mortal heroes. This will spice up the game."
Gaenan walked over to Kor, still held in the air, and looked up at Him. "The Game is now over. Forever. We will fix what We have done and We will let the mortals have magic to make up for it. Do any of you disagree?!"
The rest of the gods and goddesses bowed.
"Now, as to You, my former love, You must undo what You have done."
"But I told you I didn't put..."
"Try and find Vashigan's soul. Is it one of the ones passing up into the heavens? Is it still amongst us?"
Kor closed His eyes and concentrated. Then He frowned. "No," He answered confusedly.
"We have to find him. An artificial light won't last forever. And as You are the one who killed Him, it is You who must find Him."
“Not whatever!” She closed Her eyes and Her appearance wavered for an instant. “I have looked into the future. You will find Him upon the surface of The World. You must go there as a mortal.”
“Me? A mortal?!”
“And since You’ve chosen a form, that form shall You have.”
For an endless time Kor could think of nothing, could do nothing. All he could feel was warmth; all he could see was darkness. But, eventually, his world changed. He was squeezed and crushed and forced to move. All six of his limbs were pressed against his body as he was forced through a tiny hole. It seemed impossible, but eventually he popped out and could see a darkened hut with a roaring fire and a caldayan wearing a wooden, painted mask looming over him. But it was hard to focus. And suddenly he fell into the caldayan’s arms and felt the freezing air over his body.
All he could do was cry out his anguish until his mother held him so he could nurse.
Chapter 3: The Silver Sword
For the first years of his life, Bluefire, son of the tribe’s chief, Talyngul the Many Scarred, son of the High Priestess of Cernus and Tamiola, Mindola the Silver Haired, remembered nothing of his true soul. He was raised as the son of the chief, and taught to fight and lead. His mother taught him to respect the gods, and told him the story of the night of his birth, for it had given him his name.
The night had been quiet, but after Luani set, Vashigan never rose to shine across the plains. The dawn remained hidden and the darkness remained. There had been fear, and terror. Many had even fled when they saw flashes of gold and heard distant roars of laughter from the sun. Through it all, it remained dark.
Finally, the laughter fell into silence, and only the darkness remained, but only for a few moments. Then a huge shaft of blue flew from the sun and into the south. It disappeared from sight and everything remained quiet. Torches had been lit and the tribe had gathered before Mindola to pray for guidance. As they prayed a dull rumbling came from the south and grew louder, and louder, until even shouting could not be heard The rumbling was followed by a flash of light that blinded the tribe, fortunately for but a moment.
Talyngul had been facing away from the flash, and had looked up to the heavens, and it was he who had first seen the waterfall of blue fire from the sun. The waterfall lasted through an entire torch burning before fading away. And still, all had been quiet. Mindola had prayed for guidance and wisdom, but she had not been answered.
Throughout the whole day it remained dark, and through the night that followed. Even Luani was absent, as she has been ever since. But then, finally, the next day dawned, and Vashigan could be seen in all his glory. But, somehow, the glory seemed faded, and redder. And nobody knew why.
The first time Bluefire had heard the story, he thought he knew why Vashigan had changed, but, when he was about to say what had happened, the memory went away. He always hoped it would come back. But, meanwhile, life went on.
Bluefire was fast and strong for his age. He never had any trouble wrestling the other youths to the ground, or beating them in foot races and obstacle courses. He was the best spear thrower in the tribe almost from the day he was born, only his youthful strength preventing him from throwing further than the tribe’s warriors. His skills in swordplay were poor at first, but then suddenly he became a master and couldn’t be defeated.
And he was never humble about his skills. He knew he was the fastest, and the best, and he made sure everyone else knew. He made the other children look up to him, not by his leadership, but by the threat, often carried out, of physical force until the miscreant acknowledged his place. As soon as Bluefire’s supremacy was acknowledged, he always ended the punishment. His father was not pleased by this, as he was chief because of wisdom, not blind strength, and he wished he knew of a way to humble his headstrong son. But, by the time Bluefire was seven, even the other warriors couldn’t beat him. Groups of youths ganged up on him, but still Bluefire always emerged triumphant.
And unfortunately his pride carried over into his lessons as well. Although he had no trouble learning a warrior’s physical skills, he never paid attention to his other lessons. He ignored the history of the tribe, and of The World. He barely acknowledged The Gods. The tribal elders tried isolation and punishment, but Bluefire just laughed.
Longtail had been born before Bluefire, and before he should have been. He had been born small, and he remained smaller than the others. He had never disagreed with Bluefire, but, as he was the smallest, the others began to take their frustrations at Bluefire out on him. It started with little things, like being pushed to the ground, and like mock dominance battles until he bared his neck, but it gradually escalated into physical abuse. Longtail began to look ragged, and worn. At first he had fought back, but he had never even come close to winning. Eventually he simply ignored his tormentors until they gave up and left. Longtail had learned to be clever, to avoid the others when there were no adults in sight. But the longer he avoided them, the worse his fate when they finally found him.
One morning three others had ambushed Longtail. As he always had, Longtail surrendered and lay on his back. It was painful at his waist, but he could manage it for a long time due to lots of practice. One of the three was painfully nibbling on his tail, another was standing on his chest with his forepaws so that Longtail was having trouble breathing, and the third was digging his claws into Longtail’s neck. Longtail just lay there, fighting back tears of pain and anguish, and waited for them to get bored and leave. But this never happened as Bluefire announced his presence with an immense roar as he leapt onto the three bullies.
Longtail just crouched lower to the ground, ignoring the blood seeping from his throat and soaking his fur, and watched as Bluefire leapt into his three former tormentors. At first the three bullies didn’t know what had happened, but then they recognized Bluefire. Even though he was less than half the size of the smallest bully, they all turned and fled, two of them already showing the bloodied marks of Bluefire’s fore and rear claws. Then Bluefire turned and walked over to Longtail.
This is the end, Longtail thought. Bluefire’ll kill me now. Longtail pressed himself harder against the ground and tilted his head back as far as he could, praying that Bluefire would accept his submission. He closed his eyes and waited for the end.
And waited. But nothing happened. Finally he opened his eyes and looked up into Bluefire’s deep blue eyes that were looking down at him. He looked up along Bluefire’s muscular body and along the hand that had reached out to claw out his throat. But the hand had it’s claws sheathed, and then grasped Longtail’s hand and pulled him up.
At first Longtail was in shock - he didn’t know what to do. But Bluefire’s firm grip didn’t give him a choice and he was forced to stagger onto all four of his feet. Then he just stood there, panting to catch his breath, not daring to look up into the eyes of his rescuer.
“Why were they fighting you?” Bluefire asked.
Longtail didn’t know what to say. He looked up and into Bluefire’s eyes in shock.
“You’d submitted. Why’d they continue?”
Longtail sighed and looked down. “Because they can.”
“I’m smaller, so they know they can win.” Longtail could see Bluefire’s mane rising on end.
“It’s wrong! I’ll go teach them some manners.”
Longtail choked back tears. He knew that Bluefire would only make it worse. He couldn’t take anymore. Somehow he dug up the courage to grab Bluefire’s arm. “Don’t.”
Bluefire stumbled, and pulled his arm loose. He started walking away.
Longtail leapt after him. “You’ll just make it worse!”
Bluefire stopped and turned. “I’ll beat them up and teach them honour. Then they’ll leave you alone.”
Longtail snorted. “Until you’re gone. Then they’ll just take it out on me.” Longtail knew what would happen and couldn’t stop himself from beginning to cry. He was only six after all…
Bluefire didn’t know what to do. Things had always been simple. The strongest dominated, and the others submitted. That was it. It was strength, and skill, and honour that mattered. That should keep this from happening.
He looked down at the beaten and ragged Longtail trying to choke back tears.
This was wrong. But the strong had the right. They always had the right. That’s why he was strong. But…
Longtail lost his fight and started crying.
Bluefire wanted to go and teach the bullies their place. He had before. But was Longtail right? Beating the bullies would be easy, but would it change anything? He remembered in his distant past violence causing disaster. But he was only seven, how could he have a distant past? He took a step towards Longtail. If Longtail was right, then what was the right thing to do? The right thing to do was to help the downtrodden.
He crouched down on his fore legs and leaned over Longtail’s sobbing form and held him tight. He didn’t know what to say, but he knew that he was doing the right thing.
From that point on, the two became inseparable. Each seemed perfectly made to cover the other’s weaknesses. Longtail provided the cleverness and the wisdom, while Bluefire provided the strength and honour. Bluefire taught Longtail how to defend himself, and Longtail taught Bluefire the usefulness of knowledge and subtlety. Bluefire began to respect the elders and worked to learn the histories as Longtail taught him that they could be learned from.
Talyngul was finally happy as he watched wisdom blossom in his son. He often invited Longtail into his tent as an honoured guest, and silently blessed him for reigning in Bluefire when all else had failed.
The years passed swiftly as the two friends grew up together. Eventually Longtail could defend himself when needed, although he was never as skilled as Bluefire. But it was always Bluefire who led, and Longtail who tempered his rush forward with wisdom and caution. It was Bluefire who led them to explore away from the migratory camps, but it was Longtail who remembered the way back.
They had been friends for four seasons, when Bluefire raced from camp late in the day to explore an ancient cairn he could see in the distance. Longtail followed him. Both carried a child’s spear, but both were as skilled as the tribe’s warriors. And, as they were children, they had no fear.
Bluefire raced across the dry grasslands ahead of Longtail. He could feel the wind blowing through his mane, and could scent the dried grass above his own hot rankness. He could hear Longtail running behind him, gradually falling behind. Finally he reached the base of the cairn and let himself collapse on the ground, panting for breath.
“Hey, Longtail!” Bluefire gasped out.
“Yes…” Pant. Gasp. “…leader.”
Bluefire laughed as Longtail staggered up and collapsed on the ground. Longtail closed his eyes and gasped for breath.
“What took you so long?” Bluefire asked and grinned.
Longtail just glared at him while he gasped for air and recovered his wind.
After they had both rested and cooled, Bluefire stood up. “Lets climb to the top and look around. Maybe we can find out something about this.” He pointed at the grassy mound that made up the cairn.
“Are you sure it’s safe?”
“Of course it’s safe. Whoever’s buried here has been dead for ages. What can happen?”
“You always say that.”
“And does anything happen?”
They both laughed. Then Bluefire bounded up to the top, with Longtail racing close behind. It didn’t take them long, as the mound was not very high. Bluefire spun around and leapt onto Longtail as he reached the top. Longtail went along with the mock fight and soon both were rolling around in the dirt and grass. As always, it was Longtail who eventually bared his neck in submission.
The two collapsed, gasping for breath.
“Isn’t this the life?” Bluefire asked. “Just us and The World. Just…” Then the ground collapsed under him and he vanished from sight without a sound.
“Bluefire?!” Longtail carefully crept with his belly scraping the ground towards the gaping hole. He reached the edge and looked down. “Are you all right?” The hole wasn’t deep, only about four feet, and Longtail could see dirt and grass covering ancient stairs leading down. Dust was still settling. “Bluefire?!”
“This is great!” Bluefire’s voice could barely be heard coming up from further down the stairs. “You have to come down and see this.”
“It’s perfectly safe, my frightened little cub. I won’t let anything hurt you. Now, get down here!”
Longtail sighed. It wouldn’t be any problem leaping down, or back up, and the stairs seemed safe. But, just in case, he stuck his spear in the ground at the top of the mound in case someone came looking for them. Then he leapt down. He stumbled a bit upon landed and coughed from the dust.
“Hurry up! The air is cleaner further down.”
Longtail carefully moved down the stairs towards Bluefire’s voice. The light grew dim, but it was still easy to see as the light of Vashigan shone down the shaft. After a short distance, Longtail could see Bluefire. He stopped when he reached his friend and sniffed the air. It smelled earthy, but otherwise fine. Then he turned to see what Bluefire was looking at.
Bluefire had brushed the dirt away from a section of the wall and was examining the picture revealed. It was ancient, but beautifully done. Most of the colour hadn’t survived the ages, but hints of rich tones could be seen on the stone. Longtail moved closer to see.
The picture showed a group of two-legged forms, probably humans, facing upward towards the heavens. One of them, a woman, was walking up a staircase of light into the sun. Longtail looked closer.
“Bluefire?” he whispered. “Do you see the shape of the faces? Do you see the ears?” Longtail had no trouble seeing the large, almond eyes, and the tall pointed ears.
“So?” Bluefire’s voice seemed loud in the stillness.
“They’re fey. This must be a tomb from the First Age.” Longtail glanced down into the darkness. “Who knows what kinds of magics they used to protect this place. We have to leave…”
“What magics? The fey have been gone for ten thousand years. There’s nothing here that can harm us. Let’s go and see what else there is.” Saying that, Bluefire turned and ran down the stairs.
“Bluefire!” Longtail sighed, and followed, moving more slowly and cautiously.
The way grew dark, but Longtail could still see as the staircase remained straight. He could even hear Bluefire moving ahead of him, but the sound grew fainter. The odour changed too. The scent of earth slowly faded away, and the air began to grow stale. Longtail shook the dust from his mane and hurried after his friend.
Then the staircase ended is passage that went off to the left. Longtail looked down and could see pawprints in the dust leading off into the blackness. He turned to follow, lightly dragging his hand along the wall so he wouldn’t get lost. At first, it did get darker, but then a faint silver glow could be seen coming from further down the passage.
“Bluefire?” Longtail’s voice echoed down the hallway. He listened but heard nothing. But then he heard a voice, a woman’s voice. Longtail ran down towards the silver light. The voice grew louder, but couldn’t be understood. Finally the passage opened into a large chamber and Longtail stopped in shock, seeing a vision out of legend.
Before him was Bluefire, a black silhouette outlined in silver. And before Bluefire was a woman, a fey woman. It was she who radiated the silver light. She was unclothed, her only covering her silver hair that fell to her feet. Her eyes were black spheres, and the tips of her high, pointed ears towered above her head.
“…mortality?” she asked.
“How would I know - I’ve never had anything different,” Bluefire responded.
“Mighty Kor, He who aided Me in My Theft, have you forgotten who you are?”
Why was this woman mentioning the Trickster? Longtail watched as Bluefire stood taller and straighter. He also saw that Bluefire was holding a gleaming silver sword. Where had that come from? Bluefire answered, “My boyhood name is Bluefire. My warrior’s name will come when it is time. That is who I am.”
The woman shook her head. She sighed and looked around. “My parents were entombed here. I remember welcoming their souls and placing them in the heavens. And then you come here, seeking the Soul of Vashigan.”
“Goddess, Spirit, whatever you are, Vashigan is alive and shining above us. I am not Kor as you claim, I am simply myself.”
Longtail was too astonished to speak. A spirit thinking Bluefire was Kor? And the Soul of Vashigan?
The woman floated above the floor of the chamber and drifted over to where Bluefire was standing. “I have been sent to give you the sword you now have, and to give you your memories. As you aided Me in My theft, so now will I aid you.”
Longtail leapt forward into the chamber. “No spirit! Leave him alone! If you wish to take someone for defiling your rest than take me, for I am the one who put him up to it.”
The spirit stopped and turned to look at Longtail, as did Bluefire. “Who is your friend Kor?”
“I am not Kor, and my friend is Longtail. And any fault is mine, not his.”
The spirit suddenly appeared in front of Longtail and held his head in her hands. He felt his mane pushed aside by her arms, but couldn’t feel her hands on his face.
“It is sad,” she said, “sad that poor Kor has made such noble friends. Sad for what his crime will cost them.” She looked into Longtail’s eyes and he felt his soul being examined. He could see the shining stars of souls, and a hidden darkness burning, all within her eyes. “It is not too late for you to leave him.”
Longtail jerked his head from her grip. “No! I’ll never leave him!”
“Then may you enjoy your short moment in his darkness. But you must wait, for I must speak with your friend.”
Longtail was suddenly held motionless. He could breath, he could blink his eyes, he could feel the breeze of her passage on his cheeks, but he couldn’t move. He could only stand there, his tail half curled, one leg raised, his head pulled back, while she went back to Bluefire.
Bluefire had remained just where he was when the spirit had came to Longtail. Longtail never found out if it was by choice, or because Bluefire, too, was held in place. Longtail could only watch as the spirit placed her hands on both sides of Bluefire’s head, and then breathed a mist into his mouth. Although their lips never touched, a silver mist drifted from her mouth, and into Bluefire’s, until all the mist was gone. Bluefire shuddered and collapsed, the sword clattering away from him.
The spirit turned back to Longtail. “Enjoy him while you can.” Then she turned into a silver bird and flew up and away through the roof.
Then Longtail could move and he stumbled but he got his legs under him and ran over to Bluefire. By the time he reached Bluefire, he was moaning and coming around. His eyes glowed silver and as the silver faded, his eyes turned to a deep, midnight black.
“Who are you?” Bluefire asked.
What had happened to him? “I’m Longtail, you’re best friend. What happened?”
“Where is my throne? My powers? Why am I trapped like this?!” Bluefire threw Longtail from him and stood up, but then collapsed again.
Longtail helped him up. “You’re Bluefire, the son of Talyngul, the Many Scarred. We have to go from here. You need to rest.”
“I have memories, so many, many , many, memories. And all of this is my fault. The end of The World is my fault.”
“You’re making things up - the spirit has addled your mind. Lets get back to the camp so you can rest.”
Bluefire jerked himself free and walked over to pick up the sword. It was now the only source of light. He picked it up and it brightened for a second, and then went dark. The chamber went black.
“Bluefire, leave it. We have to get back before they worry. Make your way to the sound of my voice and we’ll feel our way out. And leave that sword, we’ve gotten nothing but trouble from this place.” Longtail felt hands on his back. “Bluefire, is that you?”
“Yes. Lets go. I need to think about the memories that Luani gave me.”
“Luani? It was just a ghost. Leave the sword and lets go. I have a feeling of dread from it.”
“No, I will need Luani’s Silver Sword in my search. But you’re right, let’s get back.”
What search? But there would be time for questions later.
Chapter 4: The Curse of Mortality
One night, a few years later, Longtail arrived late to see Bluefire, having been punished with extra running by the cubtrainer. Longtail had said that he had not been feeling well of late, but that had never been an excuse. He staggered into Talyngul’s tent and entered Bluefire’s area and collapsed. As was his wont, Bluetail was polishing his Silver Sword with an old piece of hide, working buffalo oil carefully along the blade. He stopped when he heard Longtail stagger in.
“Your old age catching up to you?”
Longtail had by this time managed to catch his breath enough to speak. “Not until I can beat you first.” But he still hadn’t completely caught his wind - he hadn’t been able to for months.
Bluefire sighed. “That won’t be until long after Vashigan returns.”
“You’re always saying that. But everybody can look up and see Vashigan every day.” Longtail looked over at Bluefire, his eyes asking the questions he no longer asked out loud.
“But doesn’t he look different?” Bluefire spat onto a patch of bare ground. “Of course he doesn’t to you, he’s always been like this. And the elders refuse to admit he’s changed.”
Longtail stood up. He was running out of time - he had to ask again. “What’s wrong with you? Ever since that spirit you’ve become more and more angry, and harder and harder to be with. What happened there? And why do you never use that sword?”
Bluefire corked the oil flask and carefully wrapped up the sword in soft leather. Minutes passed and neither spoke, until only the sound of Longtail’s heated panting could be heard. His shortness of breath had been getting worse over the last couple of months.
Finally Bluefire closed the ornate spicy smelling feywood chest that he kept the sword in and walked over and plopped down in front of Longtail. He sniffed his friend’s breath and jerked his head away.
“You smell like a ten day old buffalo corpse on a hot summer day.”
“You’re avoiding the question. I’ve waited five years.”
“And you can wait a little longer.”
Longtail sighed and turned away, his voice becoming a whisper. “I don’t know how much longer I can wait.”
“I’m starting to have dizzy spells, and I can never catch my breath. I’ve managed to keep it hidden from everybody, but I don’t know for how much longer. I keep waiting for it to heal…” He couldn’t continue - he didn’t want to die.
“I don’t believe you.”
Longtail turned to face his friend. “The cubtrainer didn’t. I didn’t either, until I talked to your mother. She recognized a fever, but told me it would get better. It hasn’t.”
“Didn’t she give you anything?”
“Of course. Herbs, potions, powders. They’re what have kept me going as long as I have. They should have healed it, but they haven’t. Now it’s too late.”
“Why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t you tell me!?”
“I asked her not to - I couldn’t bare your pity.”
“I won’t pity you, and I won’t let you die. Don’t move.” Bluefire stood up and leapt over to the feywood chest and flung it open with a loud bang. He pulled the Silver Sword out from its wrappings and held it before him as he walked to the entrance flap and opened it. Then, holding the blade above him, he turned it so that Longtail could see Luani’s boat reflected in its blade.
“Luani,” Bluefire whispered so that Longtail could barely hear him, “as I helped you, you must now help me. Come with your healing light and save my friend. Save him from the death that I once ruled and keep him with me. I, Kor, ask this of you.”
Kor?, Longtail wondered.
Then he just stared as the reflection of the moon in the Silver Sword grew brighter and brighter, and then changed into the same silver bird he had seen leave Bluefire in the cairn five years ago. He stared as the reflection grew brighter and bulged outward into reality. Finally it was real, and it sat on the blade of the sword.
“Kor, I have come as you asked,” the bird said.
Had the bird really been Luani? But that meant that Bluefire was Kor. But…
“Heal my friend.”
“That’s all? That is the only reason you summoned Me? You know that I will not always be able to come.”
“I ask you again to heal Longtail.”
Bluefire’s eyes went wide and he swung the Silver Sword into the ground with a dull chunk. The silver bird just remained, now sitting on nothing. Longtail watched as the bird watched Bluefire. Longtail watched his friend force his anger under control.
“Why?” Bluefire finally asked.
“We have all been forbidden. I have been forbidden explicitly. Do you remember Gaenan ending our Game?”
Bluefire just stared. Finally he spat out his answer, “Yes.”
“We can only interfere with mortals to undo the damage you did. Will healing Longtail help you find Vashigan’s soul?”
There was a long silence until Bluefire turned away. “I don’t think I can live without him at my side.”
“You must, for I cannot help you.”
“Then break your promise. Help me like I helped you!” Bluefire leapt and tried to grab the bird, but his hands just passed through it. He didn’t land, but just flopped on the ground. He didn’t get up, he just lay there. Longtail thought he could hear him sobbing.
The bird wavered and turned into the spirit form that Longtail remembered from the cairn. What if it really was Luani? She stood on the ground and gently cradled Bluefire’s head.
Longtail didn’t know what to think. Bluefire was Kor? Vashigan was dead? But he finally knew that it was Luani, a Goddess, here in front of him. Bluefire had beseeched a goddess for him. But, beyond this, Bluefire was crying. For him.
Longtail wanted to step forward, but was afraid. This meant that Bluefire was Kor. Luani was with him. He started to creep away.
“Wait!” he heard Bluefire, Kor, call out.
Longtail stopped and turned around. He could feel himself trembling and tried to stop, but he couldn’t.
“I don’t want to lose you.”
Longtail could see Luani behind Bluefire. “It is the Others who are taking him away from you. They know that he will interfere in your quest.”
Bluefire didn’t turn, or even move, but Longtail saw his eyes turn black. Then he watched as Bluefire turned around, moving one muscle at a time, slowly, stiffly. “Why?” he whispered.
Longtail heard eons of rage and anger in that single word.
“He is just a mortal. Just a piece in The Final Game. All that matters is finding Vashigan and restoring The World.”
Longtail watched Bluefire shake. Then, suddenly, his friend was still. “We all think that way, don’t we.”
“Why not?” Luani asked.
Bluefire glared at Luani. “Then go. Go now!”
Luani flashed into a silver bird and flew off into the sky.
Bluefire turned and carefully stepped towards Longtail. Longtail didn’t know what to do. It was just Bluefire, but now he knew it was also Kor standing before him. But Longtail had always looked into the heavens to show the Gods his soul as he prayed. So Longtail just stood and looked into Bluefire’s eyes. He watched as Bluefire walked towards him, Bluefire’s eyes changing from black pits into the more normal black they had become when they had seen Luani in the cairn. Bluefire stopped in front of him.
“I see fear in your eyes.”
“Are you really Kor?”
“I was, once. Eventually I will be again.”
Longtail was afraid to speak any more. He just waited.
The pause went on and on. Finally Kor swallowed and spoke. “I’m still Bluefire, your friend.” Kor reached out his arms in friendship.
Longtail just left his arms limp.
Kor raised a paw to step forward, but then slowly lowered it. “I would never hurt you.”
“Then why won’t you heal me?” The words burst out of him, fueled by months of pain and fear - Longtail wished he could take them back.
“Because I can’t”
“But you said you were Kor.”
“I am, but just my soul. I have none of my powers. I threw them away while playing The Game.”
Longtail suddenly realized what Kor and Luani had meant by The Game. He realized that he was one of the pieces in The Final Game. He took a step backward.
Bluefire stepped forward and grabbed Longtail’s arms. For an instant Longtail tried to break free, testing his strength against Bluefire’s as he had just yesterday, but then he remembered that this was Kor in front of him. Death. He stopped. He watched, as the small smile that had appeared on Kor’s face vanished.
Longtail was dying. But he had to know. “Was I just another piece, to be discarded?”
“No! You were never that. Even when I remembered who I was. This is why I didn’t want to tell you.”
Longtail felt bitterness harden his heart. “Because I was just a piece and you didn’t want to spoil The Game.”
“The Game is over! We’ve all forgotten what it’s like to be mortal. I’ve forgotten that mortals aren’t just pieces.”
“Then if I have value, heal me.”
Bluefire leaned forward and Longtail tried to back away but he was too late. Like he had for years, Bluefire embraced him. Longtail wanted to embrace Bluefire back, but remembered that it was Kor that was embracing him.
But then he began to feel Kor’s hot tears on his neck.
“I wish I could. I would do anything to save you. But I can’t. And now I’ve lost you. I’ve lost the only friend I’ve ever had.”
“But you’re a God. Everybody worships you, prays to you.”
“It’s different. They’re not friends. They don’t share with me like you have.” Kor stopped. “Why do you have to die?!” he begged.
Longtail felt his muscles began to relax. It was Bluefire, and his friend was in pain. But it was Kor. But he was going to die anyway, and Bluefire needed him. He clasped his arms around his friend’s upper body and squeezed. He felt Kor, Bluefire, squeeze back.
“Thank you,” Bluefire said.
“For being my friend. For being a companion in my loneliness. I never knew how lonely I was until I met you.”
“But you are, were, a God. How could you be lonely?”
“Power has no friends. Just fear and games. Please, just stay and hold me. It’s the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.”
After that Longtail weakened swiftly. Bluefire stayed with him the whole time. When Longtail could no longer more, Bluefire still stayed with him. Bluefire ignored the cubtrainer, ignored his father and his mother, ignored the rites of the Gods. When no one was around Bluefire whispered tales of his past, and of what it was like to be a God. What it was like to have all the power, and no restraints.
Eventually Longtail died in Bluefire’s arms.
Bluefire couldn’t stop sobbing. He had been alive for millennia. He had helped birth The World. He had helped his followers, and he had played The Game. But he had never felt like this. He had never felt so empty, so abandoned, so weak.
If this was what mortality meant, then it was no wonder the Faerie tried to take immortality from the Gods.
He lay against Longtail’s body and remembered all the recent memories of his mortal youth. The memories that were so much more precious to him then all the memories of all the time he had been a God. He remembered the past, and the distant past. He thought he could remember ancient days when he was different. But none of it mattered for his one and only friend was dead. And for all his power, all his victories in The Game that was now ended, his friend was dead.
Eventually Bluefire felt someone’s arms on his shoulders. He trembled and then tried to force his tears down, but they wouldn’t stop. He turned and looked up into the eyes of his father.
“He’s ready to pass on to the heavens,” Talyngul, his father, said. “We must free his soul to go on its way.”
Bluefire shook loose of his fathers grasp. If he hadn’t known Longtail, The Gods wouldn’t have taken him away. “He died because of me!”
His father stared down at him. “Don’t think that. Don’t ever think that. He died because it was his time. He died because the Gods willed his time upon The World to end.”
His father glared down at him, but then his face softened. “I know it’s hard, but you have to know that the Gods care for us and do what is best for us, even when it hurts us.”
Bluefire finally stopped sobbing, but he didn’t know what to say. Was this how mortals considered The Game? He wanted to tell his father the truth but stopped. Longtail had known the truth when Luani had returned his memories and the Gods had killed him for it. Bluefire started sobbing again.
Talyngul wrapped his arms around his son and clenched him tightly. “I know it hurts, but he will live on in our memories. Each night he will be in the heavens looking down and watching us. He will always be with us.”
Bluefire looked up into his mortal father’s eyes. He saw tears there too.
“Let us go and tell tales of our memories of him. The priests need to prepare his body for its final journey.” Talyngul stood up and reached out with his hand.
Bluefire slowly reached up and clasped it. “I will never forget him. Ever. Until The End of All Things.”
His father looked at him curiously for a second, but then the second passed. “None of us will forget him as long as we live, and as long as souls look down upon The World. Now come.”
Talyngul waited while Bluefire slowly faltered to his feet. Then Bluefire let his father lead him out of the tent and into the gathering where others were already telling stories of their memories of Longtail.
As they entered the circle, the voices stopped, waiting for them. Talyngul let Bluefire go and went inside the circle to tell of his memories; Bluefire just lowered himself to the ground. He listened as his father, and later others, remembered Longtail in his youth and his glory. He heard stories that brought tears to his eyes, and he heard stories that brought a smile to his face. The stories went on late into the night as the fire roared and sparked and crackled and filled the air with the sweet pine scent of its wood.
Eventually Bluefire was asked to tell of his memories. He got up but then just stood. He didn’t know what to say but the others urged him on. Bluefire wanted to tell about the cairn, about Longtail’s death, but he couldn’t. He felt tears start to form in his eyes and sensed the others quietly waiting for him. He looked for a happy memory, a safe memory. Finally he remembered when he had first met Longtail as a person and rescued him from the bullies. He smiled. And he told the others.
Once the first story was out, others tumbled after it. At first Bluefire told about the good times, only the good times. He told about training and practice. He told about games and running. But then other things came out. He told about struggles and anger. But always he told about friendship. He told about Longtail helping him and being there. He told about Longtail always being with him no matter what he did. He told how Longtail had taught him what friendship was.
The tales lasted all night, Bluefire’s longest of all, but there were still others who talked after him. He stayed awake and listened. Finally, with the pale dawn, the memories ended. All went silent and all turned and watched as the priests, led by Mindola, his mother, carried Longtail down to the prepared pyre.
As the priests passed, all waited for Bluefire so that he would lead the procession after the priests.
The priests put Longtail down and prayed to The Gods.
When the priests were finished, all were silent.
All were silent when Mindola handed Bluefire the torch.
And all were silent as Bluefire lit the pyre, tears slipping from his eyes.
He slowly let the torch drop from his hand, not noticing when one of the priestesses caught it. All he could see was the gray smoke rising into the morning sky. He watched the orange flames rise higher; and he inhaled the scents of the fire and the wood and the flesh as Longtail was consumed.
Chapter 5: The Birth of Kartan
For the rest of his childhood, Bluefire remained separate from the other youths. He always wandered alone, he always practiced alone, and he always succeeded alone. Talyngul was worried about this at first, but as his son still excelled in lessons other than combat, he let it go. He knew that his son needed time to mourn and only hoped that he wouldn’t mourn forever.
By the end of his childhood, Bluefire was the strongest and fastest member of the tribe, although not the biggest. He was the best warrior with all of his weapons, the spear, the sword, and his own claws and teeth. He knew all of the tribe’s histories, and the names of all of his forefathers back to the caldayan race’s birth from Cernus and Tamiola.
He was ready to become an adult.
With a few others, all older than he, Bluefire waited before Mindola the Silver Haired, his mother, but now the High Priestess of Cernus and Tamiola. Bluefire watched his mother, clothed only in her long, braided, silver mane, and wearing the horned mask of Cernus, carefully prepare the holy wooden bowl that she used to see the visions sent to her by Cernus and Tamiola. They waited in silence in the predawn darkness, the only light being a wooden torch that burned with a green flame, the flame sustained by the power of Tamiola.
“Shorttoe, step forward into the light of Tamiola.”
Bluefire watched as the eldest of the boys waiting stepped forward. He stopped in front of the bowl. Mindola bent her head over the bowl so that the stag’s horns from her mask encircled Shorttoe’s head.
“Shorttoe, look and see what you must hunt.”
Shorttoe looked down into the bowl. Bluefire could see ripples of green and brown flicker across Shorttoe’s face. Everybody waited in silence for a moment until the ripples passed.
“What did you see?” Mindola asked.
“I saw a herd of buffalo in the fading light of day. Leading them was a gray and scarred bull.”
“You have seen Cernus’ will.” She picked up a spear that had been hidden in the darkness behind her. It was newly made, especially for Shorttoe. The polished bronze of the spearhead gleamed in the green light; the three feathers tied just below the head could only be seen as black. It was Shorttoe’s first weapon as a tribal warrior. She used the spear to carefully cut two thin lines on his left cheek, then she held out the spear, blood dripping from its head.
Shorttoe grasped the spear. Then he turned and walked out on his warrior’s Vision Quest.
“Shorttoe is no more,” Mindala continued, “we await the return of a warrior.”
The ceremony continued, as each boy stepped forward to receive his spear and his quest. Shortnose had to find an antelope. Redmane had to kill a white coyote. Greeneye had to kill another buffalo. Finally it was Bluefire’s turn, only he and his mother remained.
“Bluefire, step forward into the light of Tamiola.”
Bluefire stepped forward and looked at the stag’s mask that covered his mother’s face. For a second he resisted, but then he embraced her over the vision bowl. Mindala hugged him back. After a long while, each slowly let go. Bluefire swallowed and looked into the bowl, out of the corner of his eyes he could see the stag’s horns to either side of him.
“Bluefire, look and see what you must hunt.”
At first the water in the bowl just looked like water, but then it began to turn a deeper green. The green changed to a lighter, brighter colour, and than turned to a gleaming silver. Visions began to flicker across it.
Bluefire stared as he saw darkness, like the night sky, but filled with streaks of colour. He could see some kind of massive metal structure hanging in the heavens. He remembered it, it was a base of some kind. He remembered it from so very long ago.
The vision changed and the field became a clouded sky, but the sky was flickering orange-red, and the clouds were endless streaks of brown. In the distance what looked like black, tailed blankets could be seen flapping. But although it looked like the sky, somehow Bluefire knew he was looking down from the sky towards the ground. He knew there was someone beside him.
The vision changed and became a silver room. There were others, all human, although somehow Bluefire knew that they had just taken that form by mutual agreement. In the vision he was embracing someone, a human. Their heads were turned and they looked out into a silver nothingness.
The vision changed and became a flickering, silver void. It looked silver, but it wasn’t. It looked bright, but it wasn’t. He was just hanging there, somehow kept alive in the chaos. How did he know that? And he was making love to the same woman.
The vision changed and Bluefire was looking down upon The World. But it was all white, frozen and covered with snow. He watched as the great cities and monuments of the Faerie were buried. He watched as the last of the Faerie froze.
The vision changed and Bluefire lit Longtail’s funeral pyre. He watched as the flames caught and roared higher and higher. He watched as the cleansing fire freed Longtail’s soul.
The vision changed and Bluefire was standing on the plains. It was cold, and the sky was dark. He was holding a spear and standing over the body of a sabretooth.
The vision changed and Bluefire saw a female caldayan and knew that he loved her.
The vision changed to a field of war. There was a river, humans, caldayans, and the countless dead.
The vision changed to different female caldayan giving birth to a golden light.
The vision changed to a silver sphere at the bottom of a lake.
Then, suddenly, the bowl shattered and the visions vanished. Bluefire heard a groan and looked up to see his mother collapse onto the floor. He leapt over the puddle below where the bowl had been and caught his mother before she could collapse. Unoticed, her mask fell off and thunked onto the ground.
“Are you all right?”
Mindala slowly opened her eyes and then gently shook her head. “Yes, I think so.”
“What in the name of all of the Gods happened?”
She looked down at the slivers of bowl, and at the damp earth where the water had fallen. “I don’t know. I have never seen, or even heard, of anything like this happening. Did you see anything?”
“I’m not sure. I think I saw the past, and maybe the future.”
“I saw no vision at all. All I saw was a flash of a silver. It seemed to take my mind and twist it. I tried to pull away and then you caught me.”
Bluefire looked into his mother’s eyes. He wanted to tell her, but he remembered Longtail. “I saw Longtail’s funeral. Then I saw myself standing over the body of a sabretooth. Then there were flashes. I saw a caldayan that seemed to be my love and I saw an immense battle between caldaya and humans.”
Mindala stood up and Bluefire let go but clasped her arms. “Normally the vision is solely of the warrior’s Vision Quest. I have heard an ancient tale of a warrior, the mighty Falyngar of the Two Swords, who saw the past, but he was killed leading an invasion of San-Tu.”
Bluefire nodded. He had heard the tales of Falyngar’s quest for his love, taken as a slave by the humans.
Mindala continued, “But I have never heard of visions of the future, which the rest seem to be.”
But then I am the first God to undertake a warrior’s Vision Quest, Bluefire thought. “From what you say, this suggests that I have a destiny.”
“Maybe. But we know that your quest is to kill the sabretooth. That is the most powerful Vision Quest I have ever heard of. Only Falyngar had that quest. And now, my son, you do.” Her eyes filled with pride.
“Then I must undertake what the Gods have shown me.” Inwardly Bluefire shook his head in sadness as he realized that the Gods were playing the last rounds of The Game with him as the piece.
“Then let me prepare you.” Mindala picked the mask up off the ground and carefully brushed the dirt off it.
Bluefire waited while she prepared. So, the others would send him to kill the sabretooth. But, the visions were supposedly sent by Cernus and Tamiola. They didn’t come from the beyond with the rest of them - Cernus was born with The World, and Tamiola was a mortal made into a Goddess as his wife. Neither had ever participated in The Game. So why the vision? Maybe it wasn’t The Game. Maybe…
Bluefire was interrupted as Mindala continued the ceremony, “You have seen Cernus’ will.”
Bluefire jerked his mind from his musings and looked at her. He watched as she picked up the last spear that had been hidden in the darkness behind her - he had watched his father make it for him. Because of his smaller size it was slightly smaller than the others, but no less deadly. Bluefire waited as his mother carefully scratched the two scars on his cheek. The scratches stung, but Bluefire had other things to worry about. He reached out and took the spear from his mother.
Bluefire could see his mother watching him through the mask. He wanted to hug her, to say good bye, but he couldn’t. Now, in the eyes of the tribe, he, Bluefire, was dead. He would return after fulfilling his quest as an adult, or not return at all. Bluefire thought he could see the glint of a tear in his mother’s eye.
He turned and walked out of the tent and the camp and out into the wilderness. He had only his spear and a pouch of medicine and tools.
For two weeks Bluefire survived in the wilderness, seeking the sabretooth. None had hunted near his tribe’s lands for over three generations, but tales were told of how the mighty beasts laired in the foothills far to the north. So Bluefire went north. He lived off the land, bringing down the occasional rabbit or rodent with his claws - his spear was to be saved for the sabretooth. Sometimes he would meet other hunters, but when they saw the three feathers they knew that he was on his Vision Quest so they left him alone.
One night he lay asleep in the darkness when he was awoken by the sound of hooves shushing through the grass. His eyes flew open and he grabbed his spear and looked towards the sound.
And looked straight up into the eyes of Cernus, the Horned God.
Bluefire slowly lowered his spear and waited and watched. Cernus just stood and looked back. He didn’t look like a god - there was no divine light, no divine radiance. Just the silent figure of a human torso on a stag’s body crowned by massive eighteen point horns. Bluefire remembered when he and Gaenan had birthed The World, and how Cernus had sprung from The World after it was born.
Bluefire and Cernus just stared at each other as the silence stretched. Bluefire had often wondered about Cernus. He had never talked to the others, or to Kor. And He had never participated in The Game.
Bluefire finally broke the silence: “Why?”
“I have come to see my father and my son before he finally grows up.”
Bluefire took a step back. He had been taught, and he knew as he was there, that the first caldayans were the children of Cernus and Tamiola. Thus all caldayan’s were his children. But the father? Kor and Gaenan had birthed The World, and The World birthed Cernus. Or…
“You are right father. I am the child of you and Gaenan.”
Bluefire nodded. “But the rest?”
“Tomorrow you will kill the sabretooth and you will finally no longer be a child. Tomorrow, after all the ages and cycles of The World, you will finally grow up.”
Bluefire just stared as Cernus kneeled before him and begged, “Please father, let me die.”
Bluefire remembered Longtail. Remembered the loss and the ultimate cost of mortality. Why would anybody want to die?
Cernus stood up and sighed. “Please father, let this cycle be The End. Please grow up. Go to The Beginning at the bottom of The Lake of the Goddess and end it.” Then Cernus was no longer Cernus, but just a great stag bounding off into the darkness.
Bluefire took a step forward, but then stopped. When he was victorious and restored to his divinity, he would talk to Cernus. Together they would live forever.
His thoughts were broken as he heard an almost human scream off in the distance, followed by the long and loud roar of his prey. The sabretooth had made its kill, and soon Bluefire would make his. Bluefire picked up his spear and crept off into the predawn light towards the sound.
As Alindor’s pale sun rose, it lit a day that was uncommonly cold, colder than it had been since the end of the First Age. Its dim light could barely be seen through the gray clouds that sheathed the heavens. But the light was enough, for off in the distance Bluefire could see the sabretooth crouched over its victim, gulping down the bloodied meat. There was no wind and the sabretooth was busy, so Bluefire began to bound towards him. After all, how could he fail, he was a God!
He got closer and began to scent the sabretooth and its prey. He recognized the prey as a stag. He stopped. That was odd. The sabretooth stopped eating and turned and looked at him. It roared its defiance and started walking towards him.
Bluefire crouched down and circled, letting the beast get closer so that he could leap onto its flank at the last moment. The sabretooth kept closing until Bluefire could see the drops of bloods on its two fangs. It was huge, more massive than Bluefire had ever imagined. It loomed over him before the rising sun, its massive maneless figure silhouetted. Soon Bluefire was entirely in the shadow of the monster approaching him.
It opened its mouth and roared, the sound causing Bluefire to flatten his ears against his skull. But he would not run. He readied himself. Then the beast leapt towards him.
Bluefire ducked to the left and flattened himself to the ground. He rolled to the left, trying to remain below the monster’s reach. But the beast still manage to rake one rear claw along Bluefire’s chest, digging deep, and drawing hot blood.
But Bluefire was oblivious. He completed his roll and leapt up at the beast, landing on its back as it was still landing. Now it was his turn to rake his claws into the beast’s back. But Bluefire’s claws weren’t long, and the gashes were shallow. He readied his spear, but the beast screamed its rage and pain and shook Bluefire loose, away onto the ground.
Bluefire staggered up and shook his head to clear it. He looked up and saw the beast’s head, as big as his chest, staring at him. He felt its hot breath on his face; he felt more than scented the smell of meat and blood and stag. The beast opened its massive mouth and roared, the sound of its anger shaking the ground before him. But Bluefire refused to flee.
This was what life was meant to be! The thrill of anger and pain; the challenge of combat and death. Bluefire roared back his glee and rage, but the sound was lost amidst the rage of the beast. Bluefire stared up into the face of the sabretooth, and the sabretooth stared back. For a moment both tails just lashed, and then both leapt.
Bluefire held his spear between him and the beast, planning to use the force of their combined leaps force it deep into the sabretooth. But the sabretooth had fought caldayan’s before. It was old and wary and knew that the spear could cause pain. At the last instant the beast twisted his neck away so that the spear only penetrated deep into his foreleg. The spear was ripped from Bluefire’s grip and he landed beside the beast, now armed only with his own fangs and claws. He spun around.
The sabretooth also spun around. It was a bit slower, but still fast enough to keep Bluefire from its back. But it was wounded. The spearhead was lodged in its leg, most of the shaft having been broken off when the beast landed. But the sabretooth had suffered worse.
Again, each stared at the other, but this time there were no roars. The battle had gone beyond that. Bluefire, though, still smiled. He was exhilarated, the most alive he had felt since he had fought Vashigan.
The sabretooth moved first, going towards Bluefire’s right. Bluefire recognized the move and twisted to avoid the sabretooth’s fangs, the force of his move flinging his pouch of supplies off into the grasses. He was successful, but was again raked along his other side, this time with one of the sabretooth’s forepaws. The wounds weren’t as deep as the earlier ones, but they still oozed blood. Bluefire forced his body to twist back around and grabbed a mouthful of the sabretooth’s hind leg. But his fang’s weren’t big enough, and all he got was a mouthful of hair and hide. But blood began to ooze from that wound too. The sabretooth spun back around to face him.
Now both were panting for breath, and both were wounded and weakening. The sun rose higher and light flakes of snow began to fall, the first snowfall on the plains in over a thousand years. The flakes melted as they touched the grasses but neither noticed.
For another moment each stared at the other, each panting and waiting for the other to move. Again the sabretooth moved first. Instead of leaping it just dove down into Bluefire with its jaws wide. Bluefire knew he couldn’t duck underneath, and didn’t have time to dash to the side. So he leapt up, as high as he could, and spun around in midair.
The sabretooth recognized this, but it was too big to move fast enough. Still, it clamped its jaws around Bluefire’s left foreleg and bit through to the bone. But it only got a fragment and came away with only flesh. Bluefire landed on the sabretooth’s back and wrapped his paws around its body as much as he could. He opened his jaws wider than he thought they could and clamped them around the beast’s neck. They couldn’t fit all the way, but this time they got flesh and muscle, and this time they kept their grip.
The sabretooth screamed its pain and tried to fling Bluefire loose, but its wounds had weakened it too much and Bluefire managed to keep his grip. The sabretooth rolled onto its back, trying to crush Bluefire beneath it and force him to let go, but Bluefire knew that this was his last chance. His blood sang with the glory. Even with his broken ribs, he would not let go. He dug his teeth in deeper.
The sabretooth kept trying. It rolled on the ground. It flailed its head and jaws. But nothing broke Bluefire’s grip. Blood began to flow from the sabretooth’s neck into Bluefire’s mouth and he swallowed the hot, salty blood. He would be victorious!
The sabretooth gradually weakened. It had lost. It knew it had lost, but it refused to just lie down and die. It fought and struggled until it could fight no more. It died, partially on its back, partially crushing Bluefire beneath it.
Bluefire felt the prey’s weight crushing him as he struggled to suck in air around his death grip. He weakened too, but his grip remained until the beast’s dying breath. As the sabretooth collapsed, Bluefire collapsed with it. His grip loosened. But the sabretooth was dead, and he lived!
It was still morning when Bluefire regained consciousness. Somehow he managed to drag himself out from underneath the dead sabretooth. The gashes in his sides had stopped bleeding, but blood still seeped from his forepaw, and fiery pain shot through his chest. He looked up at the dead corpse of the sabretooth and he screamed and roared out his victory.
He had won. He was victorious. Kor had won again!
He looked around and spotted his pouch off in the grasses. He staggered towards it and managed to grasp some soft hides which he wrapped around his bleeding paw. He gulped some water from the skin and turned back to his prey.
He roared his victory again. And then collapsed.
When he awoke it was dark. But he could smell others around him. He looked up.
“Who are you, who trespass in the lands of the Tribe of the Green Hills?”
In the dim light of Luani he could make out other caldayans. It must be a hunting party. But what could he tell them? He was no longer Bluefire, and he couldn’t use Kor. Then he had it. Kartan. It meant, roughly, Fated Slayer. Somehow he knew it was the right choice.
“I am Kartan,” by claiming a name, Kartan announced his adulthood, “of the Tribe of the Dusty Grasses. I have completed my Vision Quest.”
“Kartan, then accept the Peace of the Quest and be welcome among us as you heal.” The leader reached down to help him up.
Kartan remained with the Tribe of the Green Hills for a month as his body healed. The tribe took the carcass of the sabretooth and prepared the skin and the fangs. Kartan fashioned the hide into a cloak and drilled holes through the two fangs and tied them to his spear, which had a new haft fashioned for it.
Eventually he was able to walk, and he left his hosts and made his way back home in triumph. The others had all returned, except Greeneye who never returned. The tribe remained silent as Kartan walked up to his mother. He held his spear, and wore the hide of his quest. She waited while he knelt before her.
“A warrior has returned to his tribe, an adult,” she called out. “What is his name?”
“Kartan!” Kartan roared out in response.
And the tribe cheered and celebrated.
Chapter 6: The World is Changing
Three months had passed. Three months while Kartan performed his duties as a warrior of the tribe. During that time he had only hunted, but although game was becoming scarce as The World grew colder, Kartan was always successful. He returned late one day, dragging the carcass of a buffalo behind him in a travois when he was told that his father wanted to see him. He left the carcass and hurried into his tent.
Talyngul was there waiting for him, along with two other warriors, Cyndaltar and Adaryla, seated before him. Both of the warriors were older than Kartan, but not by much.
"Kartan, sit. I take it you know these two?" He motioned at the two warriors.
Kartan folded all four legs beneath him and sat. "Yes."
"Good. I want you to take them to the south and look for Sintylga who went south two days ago. She should have been back yesterday."
"She was just hunting?"
"Yes, but I also asked her to keep an open eye. A week ago there was some smoke in the sky far to the south and it didn’t look like a simple cooking fire. The Tribe of the Three Sisters that we should have met coming from the south three days ago has yet to arrive. I fear that something might have happened to them, and fear that the same thing may have happened to Sintylga."
Kartan bowed his head. "We will start tracking her at dawn." He turned to the other two. "Meet me in front of my tent at dawn. Be ready for a one week trip." Kartan turned and left.
Kartan woke before dawn and prepared. He took the polished sabretooth skull that he used as a helmet and grabbed two of his spears along with a scabarded bronze sword. He would have taken nothing else but he saw the feywood chest from the corner of his eyes.
“Take me…” a female voice whispered.
Kartan looked around but saw no one. In fact, the voice sounded like it was coming from the chest itself. It didn’t sound like any of the goddesses but they could have changed their voice. Or, maybe it was the sword… He walked over and opened the chest, grimacing at the sweet smell. It reminded him of Longtail - which was why Kartan hadn’t opened the chest since Longtail died. But now that he was here, better to take the sword now.
He picked up the Silver Sword and closed the chest and fled from its smell. Then he looked at the sword. It was still clean and polished as though it hadn’t been forgotten for three years. He checked and saw that it did still hold its edge. Shrugging his shoulders he removed the bronze sword and placed it on some furs and put the Silver Sword in its place. He went outside and waited. The other two arrived shortly past dawn.
Kartan looked up at the first two caldayans under his leadership. He would have to do this right. “We all know why we’re here. Once we find her trail I’ll lead as I’m the best tracker. Stay nearby but keep an eye out.” Kartan walked towards the south of the camp. He wanted to talk to the sentry there to see if he could point out where to start. The sentry could and did. Kartan found the trail without trouble and began to follow it. He checked to make sure the other two were behind him - they were.
As the sun rose higher, Kartan concentrated on following the trail - he didn’t want to disappoint his father. In fact the trail was easy to follow as Sintylga had taken no pains to hide it, although her scent was long gone and all that Kartan could smell was the dying grass. Gradually he began to relax, and began to notice the muttering from behind him.
“…just because he’s the chief’s son.”
Kartan pretended to concentrate on the trail while he listened.
“I should be leading,” Adaryla continued. “I’m the eldest and the most experienced. Sure he’s the best tracker, but…”
“Or I should. But not this runt. Just because he’s the chief’s son, he thinks he can order us around. Never needs to ask our opinion or advice.”
Should I have? Kartan wondered.
“He’s too arrogant. Just because he was able to kill the sabretooth, he has to show it off all the time. He probably had help.”
That was it. Kartan stopped and turned to face them. The two stopped talking, halted and glared. Kartan sighed and remembered his teachings - he would have to take care of this now.
“I killed the sabretooth on my own and without help. No caldayan would have helped me once they saw the spear, as you both know. If you doubt it again, I will challenge you to prove my honour.”
There was no answer.
“Yes, you are both older. But Talyngul put me in charge. If you question that, then you question him. However, you are older. Even though I spent two weeks in the wilderness alone on my quest, even though I am the best tracker, and have been trained by my father and the tribal elders through most of my life, it is possible that one of you should have been put in charge. But you weren’t. However, if you were in charge, would either of you have done anything different?”
They both looked down at the ground.
“A few minutes ago you seemed to have some ideas. Why not now? I’m telling you to speak your mind on this - anything you say will be at my request so I won’t hold it against you.”
There was silence until Adaryla finally spoke. “Why are you wearing your trophy?”
“Other warriors wear their honour - why shouldn’t I? However, there is a more practical reason. You heard Talyngul’s fears about the smoke. I wear the skull not for my honour, but as a weapon. If we meet anybody, they will see it and will know that I slew it. It will cause them to respect, and possibly fear, my prowess.”
Adaryla spoke again. “Why didn’t you ask us about other things? Why did you not give us better instructions and tell us what to do?”
Kartan sighed. “You’re both warriors. You both know how to move silently, and how to watch. Out of respect for your skills, I gave you general instructions so that you could use your own experience to follow them.”
Kartan waited but there were no more questions. Still, he knew this wasn’t finished. They did not respect him, they feared him. He would have to earn their respect through deeds. “Then lets continue.”
Kartan turned back to his tracking, but kept an ear open for their conversation. He heard them turn and move off through the dying grass to keep watch. Good.
They continued in silence until just past noon. The trail widened and turned into a torn up area of struggle and conflict. Kartan stopped to examine things more closely. He looked at the ground. There was blood, here and there. He sniffed some - some was caldayan, some was human. He looked around some more and found a few arrowheads and towards the south he found human shoe prints. But there were no bodies. Kartan listened, but could only hear the wind rustling the dying grass. He would have to send someone back to let Talyngul know.
“Cyndaltar, Adaryla, come here! You need to see this!” He waited until the two arrived and gave them a moment to look around. “This seems to be as far as Sintylga got. Here she was attacked by arrows from humans.” He paced around and pointed out the evidence. “This was not a coup challenge, or an honour meeting. This was an ambush for blood. None of the human tribes would do this.”
“Why not? Humans are the enemy,” Cyndaltar said. Cyndaltar had just selected himself as Kartan’s messenger.
“No. Although they are different, we and they have common laws. This breaks them. Cyndaltar, you will return and pass on this information to Talyngul.”
Kartan knew that he couldn’t tell him the real reason - his hatred for humans could cause him to start a fight when there was no need. Kartan was starting to realize what his tutors had meant when they had told him that he would have to lie to force the right thing. “You are the fastest and strongest of us. You are the best person to return with this information in case Adaryla and I fail to return.” He saw Adaryla open her mouth to protest, but then close it and smile. “Adaryla and I will follow the human trail south from here. Now go.”
“Yes,” Cyndaltar sullenly answered and then he turned and went. Kartan watched to make sure he kept going. He did, and at a good speed.
Finally he turned back to Adaryla. “Yes, you’re right. He’s not the fastest, or the strongest, but he is the best suited. If there are humans involved we need to talk to them to see what happened. He wouldn’t talk.”
Adaryla grinned. “Maybe you’re not so arrogant after all.”
Kartan laughed. “I’m working on it. Now stay close with me in case of trouble. Let me speak because I’ve been taught all the laws as the chief’s son. But be ready.”
Kartan turned and started to track the humans. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Adaryla follow and stay close. They both walked for a while, Kartan watching the trail and Adaryla looking to the south. Kartan noticed something about the trail.
“Adaryla? Look here.” Kartan pointed at a depression in the trail. “I’ve seen these every so often. It looks like they were carrying or dragging something heavy.” Kartan walked over and sniffed around. “It smells caldayan.”
“Maybe they were carrying her to be helped.”
“I hope so, but the attack makes me nervous. Still, I don’t know what else it could be. Lets get going.”
The followed the trail through the afternoon until late in the day Adaryla clasped Kartan’s arm.
“Look,” she whispered and pointed.
Kartan looked towards the south where she was pointing. There was a faint wisp of smoke, likely from a fire of some kind. It was quite close. “You didn’t see anything earlier?”
“No. Its like they just lit it.”
“That’s very strange, especially with the cold. And the trail appears to be leading us towards them.”
“Lets go openly, but carefully. Keep your weapons sheathed, but ready.”
The two of them walked through the grass and shortly arrived within sight of the fire. They could smell roasting meat.
“Hello!” Kartan called out. “Hunters request guest rights!”
“We grant guest rights! The Tribe of the Four Waters welcomes its guests!” somebody called back.
Kartan frowned. He had never heard of this Tribe of the Four Waters. It was possible that his tribe had never encountered it, or never encountered another tribe that had encountered it, but still… Kartan forced his thoughts away from that path. He had to respond first. “We accept the guest rights that you offer and approach with open arms!”
Kartan and Adaryla walked into the human camp. “Be careful,” Kartan whispered, “there’s something not right here. Let me do the talking but be ready for anything.”
A short time later the two of them arrived in the light from the fires of the human encampment. They were indeed of the plains tribes, but they were the poorest tribe that Kartan had ever seen or heard of. The skins that the humans had to wear were dirty and torn, and many had stains of blood. On every figure he could count the ribs and they stunk of disease. Almost all of the figures were at the edge of the firelight except for one young man standing in the centre, apparently waiting for them. Kartan and Adaryla stopped in front of him.
“We wait to offer our thanks to your chief in return for guest rights,” Kartan said.
“I am Orgeneth, Chief of the Tribe of the Four Waters. I await your thanks.”
He seemed awfully young to be a chief, but times were becoming hard. “I am Kartan, of the Tribe of the Dusty Grasses. I thank you for your welcome and share water with you.” Kartan pulled out his water skin and drank from it. He then handed it to Orgeneth.
“In the name of the Tribe of the Four Waters I accept your thanks.” He took the skin and gulped down the water like a starving man. By the time he handed it back the skin was empty.
Something was definitely wrong here.
Kartan took the skin and put it away. “We come as guests and to ask for your help.”
“Our help? For what? We’re poor…”
“No, nothing like that. Just information. We’re looking for one of our hunters, a warrior named Sintylga. She was hunting in this direction and hasn’t come back yet.”
Orgeneth frowned. “I haven’t seen her. But come to my tent and I’ll see if any of our hunters have.”
Kartan didn’t want to go, but as he had asked for, and been given guest rights, he couldn’t refuse. He and Adaryla followed Orgeneth. Kartan noticed that the tribesman stayed in the darkness, but followed them, surrounding them. He itched to grab the Silver Sword, but honour forced him to wait. He turned and saw that Adaryla was tense also - she was slowly reaching for her war spear but Kartan quietly grasped her hand.
“No,” he whispered. “We’re guests.” His voice turned quieter to make sure that only Adaryla could hear it. “But be ready.”
They arrived at the chief’s tent and entered. Inside were worn rugs and skins, and a firepit. There were some bones at the edges of the firepit along with skulls. Kartan swallowed - some were human, and one was caldayan. The scent of roasting meat was faintly present, but somehow it smelled wrong. He refused to believe what the evidence was telling him.
“Welcome to my tent as my guests. Stay awhile so I can check if anyone has seen the hunter you’re looking for.” Orgeneth’s eyes turned red and his voice rose to an insane screech. “In fact stay forever!”
Kartan drew the Silver Sword and he saw Adaryla whip out her war spear - just in time as humans began to pour into the tent. They were all dirty and bloody and half starved. They stunk of disease and death. Their eyes all glinted red in madness. But they made no sound.
Kartan spun around and glared at the chief. “You don’t deserve to live after the mockery you’ve made of guest rights.” His voice was quiet, calm. The chief leapt upon him with bare fingers and nails and Kartan used the Silver Sword to cleanly chop through his neck.
His head flew off and fell onto the ground with a soft plop followed by a thud as his body fell over.
Kartan turned to stand beside Adaryla as the others approached. The humans slowed down and approached warily.
Kartan spoke loud enough so that only Adaryla could hear, “We must escape and warn the others so that this abomination can be avenged. We fight our way to freedom and flee.”
“Yes! Duty is part of honour.” His voice changed back to a whisper, “We will come back.”
Then the humans were upon them.
Kartan had drilled and practiced for years. He had hunted and brought down all kinds of animals. But this was different. War on the plains had always been fought for honour. The skill was in touching the enemy, and taking a lock of hair or mane, or stealing feathers from a spear. This kind of fight wasn’t skill, it was numbers and butchery. The humans swarmed them, using swords and knives and numbers. The Silver Sword killed a human with each swing, and Kartan eventually forced them to keep a distance, but Adaryla needed room to use her spear and had none. Kartan saw her fall under a mass of bodies.
“No!” He tried to reach her, and managed to force a path with swings of the Silver Sword. He only killed a couple of humans as most had learned to keep their distance. He forced them back from Adaryla but he was too late. She was dead with a slit throat.
Kartan stopped and lowered the Silver Sword. The humans started to back away. Kartan reached to grasp Adaryla’s body, but then stopped. He couldn’t escape with her to give her soul an honourable release in fire. He would have to leave her here.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to her. “But I must warn the rest of our tribe. We will be back to avenge you.” He reached down and picked up her spear, and noticed human blood dripping from its blade. Then he turned to the entrance of the tent. He held Adaryla’s spear in one hand, and the Silver Sword in the other. He took a second to suck in air, and then he let out the scream that he had used to challenge the sabretooth. He leapt out of the tent.
But there was nobody there. Had they all fled? He looked around. They were there, in the shadows with bows. Gods! He roared again and rushed the line. Those in front of him fled, but others started shooting. In the darkness most missed, but some grazed him, and one sunk into his lower chest. Each breath became a pain, and all he could do was swing wildly in front of him. He roared again and fled into the darkness, away from the flickering light of the roasting fires; away from the bows he couldn’t defeat; away from the stench of death and roasted caldayan.
He knew it was the right thing to do, but he felt like he had betrayed everything.
He started panting for breath, but knew that he couldn’t stop. If they had horses they could pursue him and catch up. He kept running into the darkness, long past the time he thought he could, until, finally, he collapsed beneath the setting light of Luani.
“So, the mighty Kor flees from some starving humans.”
Kartan woke up. He could hear the speaker laughing, but all he could feel was pain. He turned around and saw, in the bright yellow light, that the arrow in his lower chest had broken off but blood still seeped out around the arrowhead. The rest of his body was sore and stiff and bloody and scarred. He reached behind and ripped out the arrow. His dark blood flowed freely, and than began to slow. He turned to look up at the person laughing.
It was Tarkrin. Sitting there on His griffon, surrounded by His divine glow. It was His divine glow that was lighting Kartan’s wounds.
“And here you are, half dead. Leaving your companion and follower behind to be eaten.”
Kartan just glared back.
“You must be so proud of yourself. Or does the mighty Kor actually feel some anguish?”
Kartan turned away and reached into his pouch for some herbs for the arrow wound which was still seeping blood.
“Listen to me when I’m talking to you!” The griffon screeched and Kartan could hear thunder in the heavens.
He ignored the sounds and rubbed some of Tamiola’s Breath onto his wound. Then he started wrapping a soft hide around his chest to protect it.
“You don’t feel any pain, do you? Nothing like the pain I felt when you killed My Father!”
Kartan finished wrapping his wound and put the rest of the herbs back into their pouch. He got out another piece of skin to wipe off the Silver Sword.
“You’ve known sorrow. I made you know sorrow. And all over a silly mortal. It can’t be anything like what you did to Me!”
Kartan finished and put the skin away. Then he looked up. “True, the sorrow I feel for Adaryla is nothing like the sorrow you think you feel for Vashigan.”
The skies thundered again and Tarkrin drew his sword. Then, with a visible effort, he forced down his rage. Kartan just waited. Finally Tarkrin lowered his sword and spoke. “And what about Longtail?”
Kartan stood up, ignoring the pain of his wounds, glad that he had the Silver Sword in his hand. “And what about Longtail?” he whispered.
“Who do you think killed him?”
Kartan shuddered as he forced back tears.
Tarkrin didn’t give him a chance to answer. “I killed him! I wanted you to start to feel the pain that I felt when you killed My father!”
Kartan clenched his hand tight around the Silver Sword’s hilt. “Is that why you killed him?”
For a second fear lit Tarkrin’s eyes, but then he laughed. “Yes! You killed him. You killed My father and that made Me kill your little friend.”
Kartan’s voice turned cold. He remembered Longtail’s slow weakening and eventual death. “You killed him just for Your own pleasure.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Just like you killed Vashigan.”
And Kartan knew Tarkrin was right. He remembered the glee and glory he had felt as Vashigan’s head rolled across the marble floor. Like when he had fought the sabretooth.
“Now maybe you can start to feel what I feel.” Tarkrin laughed and his griffon leapt into the air, the wind from its wings blowing dust into Kartan’s face, and they flew up to the heavens as Alindor’s dim sun slowly rose.
Kartan watched them go. No, he would never feel what Tarkrin was feeling. Like the rest of the gods, like Kor had been, Tarkrin played at feeling sorrow. It was a game, nothing more.
But Longtail was not a game. Longtail had been real. But then so had Vashigan.
Was this what Cernus had meant by him finally growing up?
But now he was an adult, and now he had to do an adult’s job. He carefully sheathed the Silver Sword and began to make his way back to the camp of his tribe.
And it was his tribe. He knew that, even though he had been a god.
And they had to be warned.
Chapter 7: Kor’s Journey
Kartan family made it back to the Tribe of the Dusty Grasses just as Alindor’s sun was passing beneath the edge of The World. Other warriors tried to help him and he accepted their help but kept making his way to his father’s presence. Mindala rushed up but Kartan waved her off. His father had to know first. Finally he reached his father’s tent. He drew himself up and stood without the aid of others and went into his father’s presence.
“By the Gods! Kartan…” Talyngul half stood up but then forced himself to sit down. The tribe came first, his concern for his son would have to come later. “What happened?”
Kartan let himself lie down on his lower chest and couldn’t help but let out a small groan. “Adaryla and Sintylga are dead. Their death was at the hands of humans.”
“These humans are no longer worthy of the name. I fear they consumed Sintylga and are doing the same to Adaryla now.
“What?!” Talyngul roared out. Two warriors rushed into the tent but relaxed when Talyngul waved them back. He forced himself to calm down. “Tell me what happened.”
Kartan told him. He told him about the meeting with the human chief Orgeneth. He told them about the camp and what he saw. The disease, the death. He told him about going into the chief’s death and seeing the skulls, and about the attack.
“They slew Adaryla, I couldn’t stop them. And I couldn’t save her. I had to leave her!”
Talyngul had never been prouder of his son than at that moment. He stood up and slowly walked over to him. Talyngul didn’t know if he could have fled like his son had. “You did what had to be done,” he whispered. “You did what I pray I would have the wisdom to do. She will be avenged.”
Kartan looked up at his father.
“Be still my son and rest. I will get your mother to look at your wound. Tomorrow we will wipe out this disease from the plains.”
Talyngul slowly got up and stepped back. Mindala was already in the tent, quietly waiting, and had probably been so for some time. Neither Talyngul nor Kartan had noticed her enter. Talyngul spoke to her, “Take care of him, but he must be ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow we will cleanse the plains.” Talyngul walked out.
Mindala walked up to her son. He was laying there, defiant, vengeful. She sighed.
“There is nothing wrong with crying. Often you need to cry to heal, and I think you need to cry now.”
“Mother, I do not need to cry. The dead are dead. We…”
“Stop it! Adaryla is dead, horribly. Imprisoning your sorrow will only make it worse.”
Kartan sighed. “Mother, I have seen more sorrow than you could ever imagine. Hers is just the latest in an eternity of death.” He closed his eyes and remembered all the deaths that he had caused playing The Game. Adaryla was only the latest, but why did it hurt so much?
“Kartan, I have seen more death than you. I have seen warriors become twisted shadows of their youthful glory because of the sorrow they kept hidden away. I don’t want to see it happen to you.”
Kartan couldn’t help but laugh. His mother reach down and hugged him against her upper breast. If only she knew - but he didn’t dare tell her. But it hurt. Was Tarkrin right? He felt his eyes begin to glisten and then he buried his head in his mother’s chest as he remembered Longtail.
mount up for war - not coup counting - go - camp is still there - armed group goes up to talk - explain the betrayal - nobody comes - instead greeted by arrows - father wounded - warriors attack
- father attacks with honour for honour - no tactics - this kills him
- warriors go through camp - kill any who oppose them - bloodlust - no horses, no cattle, no beasts of any kind - Kartan is attacked by a 10 year old human child who has only skins and bones left and can barely lift the sword - child can't hurt him but has to kill him in self defense - is this what his glorious combat with Vashigan has caused? - even the woman fight and claw - by nightfall the deed is done
- Kartan's father is dead - the humans are dead but there are prisoners - the camp is searched - find the half eaten remains of the tribe's warriors - too much - camp is cursed and must be cleansed - everything gathered in circle - including survivors - others want to burn alive - Kartan restrains them - quickly slits each survivors throat before the pyre is lit - everything up in flames
- can see his own human face laughing in the fire
- find evidence of Faerie cult?
- Kartan's father is cremated and Kartan is crowned as the tribal chief - describe ceremony in detail.
- Before the final rite, Kartan stands a watch along before a shrine to the Gods - he has a great deal of emotional turmoil - He remembers the humans and wants to hate them, but he remembers that he was human in form.
- Visited by Luani - talks things with her - where to go and what to do - Luani tells him that he must go to the northwest to find Vashigan’s soul
- But is that all he wants to do? Kartan decides that other things must be done too - He vows to lead his tribe to safety, far from these dry and dying plains.
Chapter 8: Morfranyn’s Dreams
Kartan leads his tribe and a journey west. After about a week's travel, they meet another tribe and, with some fear and caution, camp together to share tales. This other tribe is journeying to join Morfranyn who is gathering all of the Caldayan tribes to lead them from this wasteland to the wealthy human lands to settle and grow strong. The chief talks greatly about the glories of battle, and of the honours to be won. At first Kartan is eager to join, but as the chief goes on about the glories, he vows to leave the Morfranyn on his own and settle down peacefully. He refuses the journey but turns his journey northward to avoid meeting his horde.
Chapter 9: Anglyane
As the tribe journeys northward, then come across a battle between Caldaya and humans and intervene on the Caldayan side. The Caldaya were losing, but with the arrival of Kartan's tribe they are driven off or killed. The few Caldayan survivors of the other tribe are absorbed into Kartan's tribe. Their leader is Anglyane, the daughter of the tribal chief, and she convinces Kartan to let the tribes merge. Kartan is greatly impressed by her. Together, the tribes continue northward, and Kartan and Anglyane continue to meet, and gradually fall in love.
Chapter 10: Journey’s End?
Kartan falls in love with Anglyane and begins to court her. She is beautiful, strong-willed, intelligent, and a fanatical warrior. Write a number of small snippets depicting the growing love over the period of a year. Kartan forgets about his quest for Vashigan as his blood boils and his soul sings. Eventually they lead a hunt and go off together chasing an antelope. They kill the beast and consummate their love with its blood and fading life. They return to the tribe and are married.
Chapter 11: Morfranyn the Blooddrinker
The year continues to grow colder. Game becomes harder and harder to find and the tribe grows leaner. Some question Kartan's journey, but as most game is found north-westward they know that they proceed in the right direction. Anglyane becomes pregnant with Kartan's child and Kartan cannot contain his joy. One night, a pair of humans wander into camp and collapse. The are scared, weak and wounded. Most want to kill them but Kartan forbids it. They are given food and water and questioned. They reveal that they are refugees from Morfranyn "the Blooddrinker" who has overwhelmed all opposition. Thousands have died from both races, but the Caldaya seem endless. The one human who recovers resigns himself to his fate amongst the Caldaya. Most of Kartan's tribe wants to kill the human, but Kartan prevents them. They want to go join with Morfranyn but Kartan refuses. Look at how many have already died. At the end of this argument, half of the tribe splits off and journeys south.
Chapter 12: Arrival at Kyn-Tu
A few months later Kartan reaches the Silver River and journeys down it until he reaches the village of Kyn-Tu. He prevents his tribe from attacking it outright and meets with the human leaders. Eventually he forces them into accepting their settlement in the village and him as their overlord. He has to threaten them with conquest before they agree. His tribe begin building shelters and hunting for meat which they share with the humans. Kartan and Anglyane have to break up a number of fights.
Chapter 13: Love’s End
Anglyane goes into labour upon the last night of the year. Kartan summons the best mid-wives from both the Caldaya and Humans and watches and paces as they do their best. Unfortunately, their best is not good enough and Anglyane dies in childbirth along with her unborn son. Kartan almost kills all of the midwives, but stops himself when he sees their quivering forms and flees out into the snow, roaring with sorrow and rage.
Chapter 14: Kor’s Journey Resumed
Kartan flees into the winter roaring and crying. He flees far into the wilderness and slowly comes to terms with his sorrow. Anglyane is gone, and he can do nothing about it. Is visited by Luani and comforted - she won’t tell him what happened to Anglyane. But she does ask him “what now?” He looks around him and realizes the fate of the World and the fact that endless winter is almost upon them. He tries to come to terms with Anglyane's death, but fails. But he will not forget her. For her sake, he will create a mighty state, and bring Vashigan back. For her sake!
Chapter 15: In Memory of Anglyane
Kartan returns after an absence of two days and starts his plans. He founds a new city, Kyndar, at the joining of the Silver and Simbrani Rivers. He sends messengers south and north to gather what knowledge they can so that he can start the Library of Kyndar so that no more of the knowledge of the 2nd Age needs be lost. He journeys with many of these groups hunting for Vashigan's soul. He finds Gwyrdil in the village of Dashon, which her tribe conquered as the fled from the drying plains and recognizes in her the soul of Vashigan. He begins to court her. Then one of his messengers arrives in his presence. He made it to Mandalor which is under siege by Morfranyn and his hordes and has returned carrying quests for aid. Kartan wrestles with his consciousness. What is more important - Vashigan or peace. He comes to the conclusion that what good is a newly lit world if Vashigan lights only war and hatred. He gathers as much of his tribe as he can and journeys south. Other Caldaya that have settled along the river join him.
Chapter 16: The Battle of the Bloodfilled River
Kartan arrives at Mandalor and leads those he has gathered against Morfranyn. Puldar sees the attack and leads a sortie from the city. The battle ends with the Caldaya fleeing upon Morfranyn's death at Puldar's hands. Kartan negotiates the peace.
Chapter 17: The End of the Quest
Kartan returns are hero, loved of humans and those Caldaya that did not follow Morfranyn. He returns and marries Gwyrdil. He and Gwyrdil consummate the marriage, but Kartan can think only of Anglyane. After their first night together and Gwydil falling asleep, he goes out into the snow. He goes into the woods and in a clearing cries anew for Anglyane. Then Tarkrin comes to talk to him. It is Tarkrin and the gods who caused Anglyane's death so that Kor could find the right person and cause Vashigan's rebirth. Kor tries to kill Tarkrin but Tarkrin destroys Kor's spear with a lightning bolt and then vanishes. Kartan curses the Gods and their goals but refuses to let the World fall to their schemes. He vows to save it from his folly, and from the folly of the other Gods.
Chapter 18: Kor’s Return
Kartan returns in the early morning and prepares for his death when Vashigan is reborn in eight months time. He lays down the laws and rules for his "perfect" society. Then, again upon the last night of the world, he watches Gwyrdil give birth to twin sons, one of which ascends to the Sun and takes Kor with him.
Chapter 19: The Curse of Immortality
Kartan, now Kor, returns to his throne. Vashigan is made the judge of the dead - ceremony - sorrow - must go and do right away - visits with Luani - thanks - very wooden. Remembers that they are just journeyers - dives into the Lake of the Goddess, to the centre of the World - changes - find the ship.
Chapter 20: The Truth at The Centre of The World
Enters the ship - finds out the truth - sees the decaying and dead ruins of the computers - creates a vision of the world - the world is decaying. Tries to tell the others - nobody believes - refuse to see ship - turns away to spend the remaining thousand years as a mortal.
Epilogue: The End of All Things
Why was she awake?
She raised her snout and looked around, the water dripping out of her open mouth. It wasn’t day, but it wasn’t night either. Neither Vashigan lighting the day, nor Luani lighting the night, were in the heavens.
She stared up at the sky. It wasn’t dark. In fact it seemed to end. Beyond it there was only a silvery nothingness, that sparkled, or seemed to. But it wasn’t. Her mind couldn’t interpret what her eyes were seeing. But she recognized it. It was the chaos beyond The World. But how had it gotten so close?
And what had happened to the lake?
That was what had woken her up. Her sea dragon body needed water to breath. She finally realized that she was getting short of breath. In fact so short that her body was beginning to die.
She was a goddess. She couldn’t die.
She tried to shift to human, but her sea dragon body died. She, of course, didn’t. Instead she became a human trapped in the corpse of a Sea Dragon. There was no air there, either.
She ordered the dragon’s corpse to split open and release her. Dutifully it did. She pulled her naked and blood drenched body out of the cooling corpse and then stood on the dragon’s back and looked around. Blood and gore dripped unnoticed from her waist length hair.
Although it wasn’t day, and wasn’t night, it wasn’t dark. The light was certainly dim, but she had no trouble seeing. Her old body lay below her, long, covered in stony plates that were obscured by sea growths. Most of them were dead and dried out. The lower portion of her body was still covered in water to a depth of two or three feet and the legs and tail were still sunk into the lake bottom. She could smell the stink of her former body, but below it could scent the wonderful earthy smells of mud and decay.
She looked around. As far as she could see the lake was gone, only a little remained around her and the corpse of her former body. She had been asleep in the deepest depths of the lake but now all that remained was a shallow pond. What was going on? It was time to find out.
She changed into a golden crane and leapt off the corpse and into the air. She circled her former body, and then rose above the remains of the sea dragon. As she rose higher, the former lake bottom stretched out before her. It was dried out. She circled some more and off in the distance saw some lights.
They weren’t stars, and they didn’t look like magic. In fact they looked electric. My children have been busy, she thought. I wonder how long I was asleep?
She stopped circling and headed towards the lights.
It wasn’t long until she reached the lights and saw that they were, indeed, part of a city. The harbour, what was left of it, was long abandoned. There were pipes going out into the lake and ending in taps. But no sign of anyone.
She landed at one of the taps and willed it to turn. Some liquid dribbled out - she tasted it. It was thick, and nutritious, some kind of food. So that was what had happened to the water in her lake. But where was everyone?
She winged her way back into the air and flapped further into the city. Finally she recognized her temple. It was indeed the Holy City of Gandala. She could see the primal chaos already starting to engulf the city. But where was everyone? The streets were all empty. And why was the edge of The World so close?
She flew towards her temple. As she got closer she realized that the courtyard in front of it was brightly lit with a flickering light, from some kind of fire. Ah yes, my children have come to beg me for my help. She reached the edge of the courtyard, landed on the edge of a roof, and looked down.
The flicking wasn’t from torches, but instead from her temple as fire roared higher and higher to consume it. What are my children doing? In front of her temple, in the courtyard, she could see hundreds of humans in the flickering light. Most were naked, but a few wore jumpsuits. Most were covered and streaked in dirt and blood. Some were dancing; others were running and screaming. Many were copulating on the ground in groups.
She saw one woman run up and wrap some kind of wire around the neck of a man and cut off his head. She grabbed the it by it’s hair and held the dripping neck above her mouth, drinking down the blood.
My children are doing this?
She leaped off the roof and changed into an immense dragon, her scales an earthy brown. She glided down and over the courtyard.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”, she roared out.
Some people looked up at her. A few of those turned and fled. But most just went back to their revelry along with the majority who didn’t even acknowledge her existence.
She landed in the courtyard, oblivious to those she crushed beneath her. Her huge toes sunk into the soft flesh and she could feel the blood and gore oozing between her toes. But she was too mad to care.
She roared and exhaled fire high into the sky. A couple of humans were flying above her with some kind of belts and they dove into her flame and screamed in joy as the fire consumed them.
She stopped her flame, as one of the charred bodies fell onto her back and slid to the ground, and looked around. The revelry was continuing. She saw a couple of women throw a man onto the pyre of her burning temple. He wasn’t resisting.
What in heaven were her children doing?
She noticed a different light above and looked up at it.
Drifting in the sky above the courtyard was a giant neon sign: “Only 57 days left until The End of All Things”.
Then it mutated to change the day counter to 56 days.
There was a cheer from the crowd as they saw the sign change.
She looked back down and grabbed a man in her front, left talons and brought him up in front of her muzzle. Her huge eyes glared at him.
“WHAT IS GOING ON?!” she roared at him.
His hair was blown back by the wind of her words. “It’s the end of the world!”, he shouted out. There were more cheers from the crowd below. She sniffed him - she couldn’t smell the least trace of fear.
She forced herself to calm. She was the Goddess of the Earth. She was Gaenan. She would have control. Finally, she asked, “What happened to the Gods?”
“My parents watched through a telescope forty years ago as the edge consumed them. They watched as Vashigan was absorbed and the sun went out.”
She didn’t know what to say. Were all the rest dead? The human slipped from her claws and plummeted to the ground, screaming in delight. She reached out and grabbed a woman.
“What happened to the mages, the priests?”
The woman just laughed and shouted out in glee. She, too, tried to wiggle free but Gaenan wouldn’t let her.
She squeezed the woman until she stopped laughing. “I am Gaenan. The Earthmother! Answer my question!”
The woman laughed some more. “The gods are all dead. The souls of the dead are all gone, consumed by the chaos. I’ve seen tapes of the stars that were the souls of the dead winking out. Even the faerie are gone. Nothing matters, for we’re all doomed!”
“What happened to my priestesses?”
“There haven’t been any for decades. Why bother? The god’s are all dead. The mages all fled into their own little bubbles of reality in the chaos. Nothing matters anymore.”
Gaenan dropped the woman and dimly heard her splat on the pavement below. She leapt into the air. She had to get away from this madness. She flew higher, and higher. Then the world ended.
Her head stuck out into the chaos. There was no light, but no darkness either. It wasn’t warm, and it wasn’t cold. There was no air, but she felt no need to breathe. It wasn’t uncomfortable.
Then she was falling back into the world, her neck pulled back into reality as her body began to fall. She fell for almost a mile before her head cleared and she spread her wings into a glide.
So, what now?, she asked herself. All the rest of the god’s are gone. The world is being consumed. No. I am a goddess! I will save the world! I will return reality to the way that it was.
She stopped circling and flew off to the edge of the world, in a direction that felt right. As she got closer she looked. She saw a tree, naked of branches and dead, half in reality, and half out. She couldn’t see it being consumed, but if she looked at something else and then looked back she could see that some more of it was missing. She looked carefully. There was no life, no humans, no Caldayans, nothing.
She looked further and then she spotted him. A lion-centaur, a lone Caldayan, standing near the edge looking out. She landed beside him and changed back to her human form. She made sure that all the blood and gore were gone. She also remembered something else important - clothes. She created robes to dress herself.
“Gaenan I presume?”, the Caldayan asked. He didn’t even turn to face her.
He would give her the respect she was due! She willed him to turn around and bow before her, but nothing happened. Were her powers going too?
“Don’t you recognize me?”, the Caldayan asked, still looking out over the void.
“I am your brother, Kor. We’re the last.”
“Your lover, your mate, Death, the Trickster.” He finally turned around to face her and then he shrugged. “Take your pick.”
“Why are you still alive? What happened?”
“Our machines gradually broke down. The chaos reclaimed the reality we’d created. I saw it coming and left. The others had forgotten, they thought they were Gods and that they were indestructible. They were consumed by the chaos.”
She grabbed him. “It figures that you would survive. You never cared about anything!”
He sighed. You’ve forgotten too. You’ve been a God so long you’ve forgotten your origins.”
“We birthed the world together, you and I. We created the faerie, the humans. Of course we’re Gods!”
“No we never were.”
“Don’t you remember? It was, I think, 10,000 years ago. We fled the heat death of our own universe. In our ship we went beyond our universe’s edge into the primal chaos. We made our machines and created our own world. Eventually we created life for it and we became its Gods.”
“We formed out of the chaos and together we birthed The World.”
He turned away and looked into the chaos. “Its been too long. You had all forgotten. I had forgotten. The truth was gone, all that remained was the myths we had created.”
“If all this is true, then how come you remember?”
“Remember after I killed Vashigan, but before I brought him back?”
“I was forced into a mortal body, cut off from the machines while I looked for his soul. It was then that I remembered. I remembered my own mortality. When my Caldayan body finally died, I stayed away from the Gods for I finally remembered the truth. I tried to wake you from your sleep at the bottom of your lake - you fled there after we all swore never to interfere again. We were all bored. You hid in your dreams, and the rest gradually lost their minds and became automatons performing their jobs.”
She let him go. “Its a trick!”
He leaped onto her and together they fell to the ground. He remained on top. “Forget the myths! We loved each other once!” His four paws pinned her and he used his hands to grab her head.
She looked up into his leonine face.
“I will make you remember. I will give you my memories.” He closed his eyes and began pouring his memories into her.
“No!”, she screamed, but then she was overwhelmed with images. Planets that were spheres and orbited great balls of gas and fire. Massive engineering projects to create new stars that gradually faded and weren’t replaced as the hydrogen became more and more dispersed. A desperate plan to create massive gravity engines to collapse the universe, and the failure of that, and all the rest of the grandiose schemes. Groups fleeing into the non-creation beyond reality. She and Kor having the machines create their ship. Boarding with their companions. All of them trying various shapes and settling on human. Journeying through artificial wormholes to the edge and then beyond. The ship slowly disintegrating until she willed it to stopped. Their amazement as it did. Their creation of the energy lattices to make up the computers that could force a reality upon the chaos. The pushing of the button and the creation of the world. Her mind faded into unconsciousness.
She dreamed. She dreamed she was swimming through the clouds, circling around streams of orange, ropes of red mist. She could feel the hydrogen wind howling against her wings; she could feel the immense gravity pulling her down. But she and Kor just laughed and flung their love into the heavens. The tips of their wings touched, and their tails entwined and they began to fall to the heart of the world. But they had lots of time before they hit the boiling hydrogen seas, lots of time to embrace and mate with their passion.
Sometime later she awoke.
She sat up and looked around. Finally she saw Kor, now as a human, standing at the edge, watching it slowly being consumed.
She finally remembered it all. The computers, the dreams, the creation of life for companionship. The myths this life created. Battles of will against their creations. Ten thousand years of godhood. She stood up and walked over to Kor.
“Do you remember anything?”, he asked. He just kept staring at the chaos.
“I remember everything.”
Kor turned around. He reached over and grabbed hold of her hand and led her away from the edge. He made a cushioned bench appear and together they sat down. “Here we are, once again at the twilight of our universe.”
She just looked back at him. “Its been so long. How could I have forgotten my past?”
“It was a long time. We all did. I did.” After that they both remained silent. Finally Kor asked, “Why is it going to end like this?
“Another universe about to die. Entire races wiped out by the primal chaos…”
“Well fine, we’ll just fix the computers and restart everything. Bring it all back.”
“Why. It’ll just delay this point. Besides, the computers are junk.”
“What do you mean? They can’t be - I still have my abilities.”
“So do I. Why, I have no idea. I think that over the millennia our minds grew more, attuned?, to controlling the chaos. Now we can do it at will, all on our own. Unfortunately, like the mages, the affect is only local. Nowhere near enough to recreate our little world.”
“Fine. We’ll just create new computers then and have them do it.”
“But why should we. Another world. Another ten thousand years of life, of watching our creations live and suffer, and then we get back to this point. Who knows, maybe we’ve already done it a hundred times but have simply forgotten.” He sighed.
“Then what can we do? Shouldn’t we create a new world to at least save the survivors here?”
“But why? I put up the neon sign with the countdown to try and shock them to calmness, but it only made them more insane. And then, in 10,000 years, we’ll be at this point again.”
Neither spoke for a long time. They just sat and looked at the approaching chaos. The tree’s trunk was finally fully consumed, and the remaining branches, no longer supported, fell to the ground.
Finally Gaenan asked, “Are we finally ready to die?”
Kor turned towards her. “I’ve been, ever since I died as a mortal Caldayan. Shortly after my rebirth as a god I checked the system - even then the machines were failing and The World was starting to crumble. I knew then that my endless life would eventually end.”
“Why didn’t you tell us then?”
“I did. You just laughed at me.”
She began to cry. “I remember.” She leaned into him and let him hold her as she began to sob. Finally she was able to continue. “I think…”, she paused until she could go on, “…its time to die.”
“I wish I knew what would happen then. Probably nothing.”
“That’s all that science proved. Its why we came here and created our own little world in the first place.”
“Well, lets find out then.”
“Do you remember when we first met?”
“You were a Sembali. I remember changing into one of your race and swimming with you through the ammonia clouds of your world.”
Kor smiled at the memory
“Let’s do that again. Its how I want to die.”
She pointed out past the edge. “Out there. In the formless void. Let’s end our lives with our love.” She was silent while waiting for Kor to speak. Millennia of life certainly teaches patience.
“What’s the best way?”
“We run and leap off the edge, and then change. We hold and we love.”
“Yes, let’s. Right now.”
Kor nodded. They stood up, and then, with the knowledge of lifetimes of love, they both knew when to hold hands and when to start running. They ran across the dirt and stone, leaping over the logs of dead trees. They reached the edge and leapt over.
They could feel themselves begin to fall for a second, but then there was no gravity at all. It wasn’t warm, and it wasn’t cold. They couldn’t breath but they didn’t need to. She looked to where Kor was beside her and saw his form rippling and flattening. He became huge, monstrous, flattening into a monstrous ray. She laughed and followed suit and felt her form flatten and grow hollow, and then begin to blossom into a monster matching Kor.
They grew larger, and larger, eventually reaching their hundred’s of feet of wingspan. Their tails extended back into The World, and they could feel the ground underneath as their tails twisted and entwined. Then they laughed, and rubbed their wings together and sped out into the chaos.
They couldn’t fly like they had so long ago, but they seemed to. They seemed to remember the hydrogen wind against their vanes. Maybe they created the wind, maybe they just remembered the memories.
They embraced each other with their wings and their tails, and spiraled away into the chaos. They embraced with all the force of their ages of love, even though it had sometimes been forgotten, but never unremembered. They screamed out their love into the roaring hydrogen wind, and Kor pumped his seed into Gaenan’s waiting embrace.
Eventually the passion passed, and they loosened their grip on each other. Their tails remained entwined and they just drifted. They could feel the chaos starting to consume their forms, but together decided not to fight it.
They just thought of each other and remembered the past, and slowly let the chaos consume them. They were finally tired of life.