User:Michael Bard/Lies and Truths
Lies and Truths
|Tales of the World story universe
Wulfstan awoke in a dismal clearing deep in a woods. He didn't know where he was, or how he'd gotten there. The last thing he remembered was slaying Sardynglyswal and being carried back into the city. Now he was here.
And he wasn't alone. The clearing was small, maybe 50 feet across, and it stunk of disease. It was filled with mist and was surrounded by the corpses of dead trees stretching their limbs towards Vashigan whose light could be dimly seen rising into the heavens. And every tree was covered in ravens. Hundreds and thousands of ravens. All sitting quietly and watching him.
But he felt fine. In fact he felt more right than he could ever remember feeling. Even though he was wearing nothing, he didn't feel warm or cold, just comfortable. Yet he could see his breath misting in the morning air. He looked at his arms.
They were no longer flesh. Instead they were covered in golden scales that glistened with the morning dew.
He jumped up and staggered backward. What had happened to him? He looked closer at his arms. His fingers had become more like claws; his nails more like talons. He looked down and saw that his legs had changed the same way. His feet were hidden by the mist but they felt different…
What in all the gods?!
He stumbled over a dead root and fell to the ground. But he didn't land on his back - he landed on something else. But he could feel the ground. He turned his head around - and was able to turn it all the way around. Then he saw his wings.
His huge, golden, leathery, reptilian wings.
"Welcome home my son."
He spun his head back around and looked into the eyes of an inhumanly beautiful woman. She wore a flowing black dress and had long flowing black hair, both of which faded into the mists behind her. Her face was narrow, her eyes large and completely black. Her ears were high and pointed, delicately rising above her hair.
One of the faerie! He grabbed for the Sword with No Shadow but grasped nothing. No! He wouldn't surrender to them - he would fight them with whatever he had. Even with his…talons?
The woman stopped about ten feet away from him. "I won't hurt you my son."
"You need to remember the truth and what the humans did to you. Let me awaken your memories…"
"No! No tricks! Don't come any closer!"
"I don't need to my son. I just do this, and now you remember your childhood…"
He was looking up at a human priest of Sheshanka who seemed to be holding him. He didn't recognize the priest but he looked old. Behind the priest's white-haired face he could see the sky and some clouds. He could smell salt - were they on the ocean?
The old man was speaking: "Great Sheshanka! We ask you to accept this changling sacrifice to the greater glory of all The Gods, and especially of Yourself. We ask You to take this cursed being from us and purify what human soul it may have. We give it unto You for we remain pure and loyal to Your glory!"
Then the old priest threw him into the sea.
He felt his back hit the cold waters, and watched them sweep over his face as he sank beneath the surface. Above him through the blue-green haze he could see bit of sky and the hull of a ship on the surface. He kept sinking, not panicking, and not making any effort to rise. Around him he could hear sounds, the shush and rattle of the waves against the ship on the surface, clicks and hisses in the distance, and a mournful groan that seemed quite close.
It grew louder and closer, and suddenly blocked his sight of the surface. He recognized it - it was a birdsnatcher, huge and ancient, scarred from harpoons and creatures of the sea. It swung its long neck down to look at him while its four flippers held it motionless. He could see its tail disappearing into the distance.
Strangely enough he wasn't afraid, he was happy.
He opened his mouth and giggled, letting air from his lungs bubble to the surface. But he didn't seem to be drowning.
Then the birdsnatcher opened its mouth and ran its long, rough tongue along his body. It felt rough, but somehow pleasant. The creature licked him again, and this time the lick felt painful. He could feel its tongue along his right leg as it tore the skin from it.
But even though it was painful, he didn't scream or cry. And he didn't need to breath as they both sank deeper.
When it finished with his right leg, which now felt short and wide, it started on his left. This time the action was quicker, but the same. They kept sinking, now through a cloud of twisted strips of bone and muscle the beast had licked off his legs. But, somehow, what the creature was doing felt right.
With both legs done the birdsnatcher's industrious tongue moved on to his torso. The licks were shorter, but harder. Now they felt more like they were stretching rather than tearing. He felt a tail form behind him.
By now the water was dark. He could see only a faint green outline of the birdsnatcher. And he still felt no need to breath. He giggled again, releasing more bubbles to the surface.
The beast switched to his arms and licked faster and harder. Soon they too were flattened into flippers. It moved onto his chest and back, rounding them so they looked like a miniature version of the beast's own. Finally it moved on to his head.
The licks were short and painful, but still he didn't cry. He felt his hair ripped out. He felt his face lengthen into a muzzle. He felt the licks stretch and tug his neck until it was long, and stretch and tug it until it was still longer, and licked and pulled until it was even longer. Finally it was long and thin like hers.
Then he, a young birdsnatcher, followed his mother back towards the surface to breathe.
"That was me saving you from death my son."
He shook his head to clear it. The memories felt like the truth. He thought back and could dimly remember growing up. He could dimly remember hunting for birds on the surface and snatching them out of the air with his long neck. What she said felt true, but some of it still felt wrong…
"I kept you alive while I adapted you to grow and live. I wouldn't let the humans or their false gods take my son."
He remembered his teachings. The faerie cults taught that they were the true gods who had been deposed and overthrown by their creation who twisted the truth to their own use. Of course that was false. So why was this woman lying to him?
Or had those who had taught him lied?
He remembered being taught by the priests of Sildaya. Being taught the rites of war, and the rites of worship. They had told him that he had been found with the Sword with No Shadow clutched to him. But if he had become a birdsnatcher, why had he become human?
He realized the woman was still speaking: "…stole you away from me. The servants of their false gods snatched you from my side and changed you to a human so that you would betray me!"
He dimly remembered being changed, but had no memories of this woman as his mother. He watched her calm herself down. The ravens were still sitting, silent, staring.
"Let me refresh your memories my son, so that you will know how they stole you from me."
One day he was watching the humans. They would come out in their ships, throw something at one of the other birdsnatchers. The birdsnatcher would swim around for a while, dragging the ship, until eventually it became tired. The humans would then haul it aboard and begin to take it apart.
Unfortunately he was finally large enough to be hunted.
He was so intent on watching a human ship that he didn't notice the other one coming up behind him, propelled by many men with oars. He first noticed them when he felt a prick in his back. Settling into the water, he turned his neck to take a look - there was something sticking out of his back and it stretched up through the water. He raised his head and looked up and saw that it stretched out towards the other human ship.
He dove and stroked strongly to get away, but he soon reached the limits of the thing in his back. It slowed him, but slowly he could pull it further. It was hard work and eventually he had to surface for air. He emptied and refilled his lungs and tried again. This time he couldn't dive as far. He went back to the surface and rested.
This continued, with him becoming more and more tired, and the distance he could swim becoming shorter and shorter. Eventually he was at the edge of the ship and was helpless as he was dragged aboard. His body felt heavier and heavier, and it became harder and harder to breathe. Finally he passed out.
He woke up feeling a cold wind on his chest, and feeling different. He tried to move his neck but it would only move a little bit. He was able to look down and saw that his flesh was naked and blood red. He could see that his flippers were now longer and thinner - they were clasped over his chest holding something dull and red-gray. Below that his lower flippers had also stretched and become thin. His tail was gone.
Someone threw cold water over him and he sputtered and gasped. He watched the redness wash off to reveal pale white flesh and dark gray metal.
The rest he remembered from his youth. He always knew that he had been found by some fishermen and given to the Temple of Sildaya because of the sword that he had with him. They had raised him as a warrior and inducted him into the Crimson Brotherhood and named him Wulfstan. They had also named the sword he had carried the Sword with No Shadow as it would not cast a shadow in any light. But he had always been alone, an orphan. He had been teased by other youths about his father and his mother, and what they had been. He had always wanted to know them, but for some reason had only dreamed about his mother.
"Do you remember my son? Do you remember how the false gods led the hunters to you, and then transformed your soul into a human so that you could be found and raised as a human?"
He looked back up at her. He was confused with all the new memories, but they all felt like they were true. They felt like things being revealed rather than created. But this woman - it was her that felt wrong. She felt evil, black. But if she wasn't his mother, then how could she awaken the memories that he had forgotten?
Finally he answered her. "I remember being captured and my human body being found."
"They turned you against me!" she hissed. "You, my son!"
She was only a few feet from him. He tried to crawl away from her, but the claws that tipped his wings were caught on some roots. He could see the ravens in the trees leaning towards the two of them, especially her. He could see her clearly now. She was beautiful, wonderful, but somehow her very presence made his skin crawl. How could she be his mother? He struggled and managed to get his wing claws free.
"They trained you to hunt and kill my followers. They made you destroy the followers of my sisters. You destroyed Forylmagalon's skeletons. You destroyed Sardynglyswal at the gates. Do you remember that battle, and the horror you felt at attacking one of your own kind? Remember!"
Wulfstan was swept away into his memories. It had been dawn on the last day of the year. Vashigan was just rising, revealing the ancient black and silver form standing before the gates of San-Tu. Wulfstan had volunteered to challenge the dragon, for he was the greatest of all the warriors in the city. It was his duty for the glory of Sildaya, and for the defense of the city.
He remembered standing vigil in Sildaya's temple the night before. He had never remembered the night clearly, but now he did.
Now he remembered what he had forgotten.
He was crouched in the temple before the statue of Sildaya, holding the Sword with No Shadow before him. It had been silent for hours while he held his sword and concentrated on making his soul pure so that he could bring honour to the Crimson Brotherhood, and death to the dragon.
"Wulfstan." It was a voice, quiet and female, but it seemed to have an underlying rumble, like a deep throated, but almost silent, roar. Wulfstan had no trouble hearing the voice. It seemed to be coming from the altar.
He clasped the Sword with No Shadow tighter and looked up. Wulfstan half expected the statue of Sildaya to be animate for he had heard legends of such things, but the statue was still painted and dark in the dim light. What was there, crouched behind the altar but facing him, was a huge tiger licking something from the bowl. Now Wulfstan could hear the lapping sounds, loud in the silence.
Wulfstan had heard stories of how Sildaya sometimes appeared as a huge tiger. So he asked: "Sildaya?"
The cat stopped licking and Wulfstan could see a few drops of blood fall from its tongue as the beast looked up at him. Its breath was hot, but smelled sweetly of flowers.
"Your mother is worried. She's afraid of what might happen tomorrow when you face Sardynglyswal."
"Do you mean the dragon?"
The tiger sighed in a low rumble. "In a sense he is your uncle or cousin, but you must not let any of these feelings stop you from doing what must be done."
"How can that be? I'm human."
"So you appear. Just remember that Sardynglyswal is one of the fallen that sided with the faerie when they fought the Gods. He was punished with the rest and has come to take out his rage and anger on you."
"But he's here to threaten the city - he's killed many of San-Tu's warriors already. How can he be after me?"
"He's after you to get to your mother for she was one of the few who remained true. But he will also enable you to help her finally find you. After the battle you must follow my instructions."
Wulfstan loosened his grip on his sword and waited.
"You will not be able to actually slay Sardynglyswal, but you can slay his mortal form upon The World. When he is dead you must do two things. You must drink of his blood, and you must eat of his heart. This will awaken your true form and allow your mother to find you."
"But beware, for others also seek you for what you have done. They sent Sardynglyswal and want vengeance for their sister. Beware the ravens."
"No more. I can give you two gifts to help you in your fight. Then you must forget this until the time is right. But you will remember what to do with the blood and the heart."
Sildaya leapt over the altar and landed in front of him. He tried to back away but couldn't move. She moved her head closer and licked his eyes and his ears. Her tongue was hot and rough, but somehow it felt comforting. Then she stopped and changed into an orange falcon and flew up towards the ceiling of the temple. There were no windows, but she seemed to grow smaller and smaller as though she flew higher and higher, much higher than the roof would allow. Finally the small dot that was all that Wulfstan could see vanished in the distance.
Wulfstan went back to his meditation and forgot about Sildaya, but he remembered legends of the powers that could be granted by ingesting bits of the great dragons.
In the morning the priests came and bathed Wulfstan in blessed waters and fragrant perfumes. Others of the Crimson Brotherhood helped him with his armour. They helped him into his bronze breastplate and his metal greaves. They helped him strap his huge round shield, its surface embossed with the head of a roaring tiger, onto his arm. And finally they handed him his bronze helm, with its red-feathered plume, which he placed upon his head. He slid the Sword with No Shadow into its sheath and led the procession out from the temple, down through the rings of the city, and to the great gate where Sardynglyswal was waiting.
Most of the city was crowded in the bottom ring and watched him as he reached the gate. As he approached it was opened and Wulfstan walked through the gateway and out of the city. He looked back and saw the city guard on the walls watching him. He swallowed and looked forward upon Sardynglyswal.
The dragon was huge, huger than anything that Wulfstan had ever seen. It stretched high into the heavens blocking out the sky. Its scales were a silver-black, glistening in the sunlight. The dragon looked beautiful and noble and wonderful, and for a second Wulfstan didn't want to fight it. But then he felt a wrongness, an evil, a betrayal. Sardynglyswal felt wrong, not like his mother.
Like his mother? But Wulfstan didn't know his mother…
"Is this your hero?!" the dragon boomed out. It laughed, sending gouts of silver fire up into the heavens.
"I am the one you want!" Wulfstan answered. "Begone, or meet your death!"
Sardynglyswal laughed more silver fire, and then, with a suddenness that bellied its immensity, it snapped its scaled neck down and bathed Wulfstan in fire.
But, somehow, Wulfstan saw the neck move before it moved, and hid behind his shield and was unharmed. When the flame stopped, he leapt forward with the Sword with No Shadow and easily cut through the massive plates on the dragon's leg and drew a silver-black blood that oozed out and bubbled when it touched the ground.
Sardynglyswal screamed in pain and shock, and then it snapped its head down and snapped its mouth shut around the annoyance.
But again, somehow, Wulfstan saw or heard the movement before it ever began, and was gone out of the way. And he struck again, and drew more blood.
Thus it continued. The dragon would make a lightning strike or breath its silver fire. Wulfstan wouldn't be there, somehow knowing where he should not be, or he would be behind his shield, safe. And then he would strike, and the dragon would bleed some more. The fight was over before it began, and by noon the mortal form of the mighty Sardynglyswal had collapsed, almost dead, before the gates of San-Tu, with Wulfstan standing on top of it.
He remembered the legends and picked up some of the blood on a finger and licked it off.
The blood was tasteless, yet burned like fire. Then it cooled down and felt like a lump of metal in his chest. But then it slowly dissolved and Wulfstan could feel it flowing through him. But he was oblivious to the rest as he hacked into the dragon's chest, and made his way to the still beating heart. He slashed it with the Sword with No Shadow until it beat no more. Then he cut off a small bit and ate that too. It didn't burn, but seemed to dissolve in his mouth and flow down his throat and into his chest. Then it left his chest and he could feel it burning and flowing through his veins.
He felt woozy and staggered away from the corpse, only to be caught by other members of the Crimson Brotherhood. He was carried by them through San-Tu surrounded by the cheering of the people.
And then he woke up here, with this woman who claimed to be his mother.
Wulfstan opened his eyes and saw the woman looming over him. But now his eyes were clear, and he could see her true form.
She was faerie. That much was true. But now where once her hands had been slim and beautiful, they were long and ended in thick, black nails. Where once her face had been human, it had become smaller, and the nose had become larger and hooked. Where once her black hair had been but hair, now it was a crown of black feathers that flowed off behind her into the mists. But still, somehow, he knew that her true form was hidden.
"Do you remember the horror that the humans forced upon you?"
Wulfstan paused. She was faerie, and she was not his mother. But she oozed power. If only he had the Sword with No Shadow… But then he felt it - it was still clasped in his claw - she must have hidden it from him. He smiled.
"No. I remember the sorrow at what had to be done. I remember the fact that Sardynglyswal chose his own fate long ago." He stared at her and, using one of the powers of the Sword with No Shadow, wished to see her true form.
Her faced turned black and feathered. Her eyes changed into slits of silver fire. And her arms changed into black feathered wings, with her hands changed into claws on the joint on the wings. She became hunched and ugly - a horrible cross between a human and a raven. But, still, she kept a remnant of beauty, just enough so that one knew what she had lost.
"The false goddess Sildaya talked to you, didn't she?" she rasped. "It was her power that enabled you to defeat Sardynglyswal so easily, that and the sword. She has twisted your heart and taken you from me."
Wulfstan whipped up the Sword with No Shadow and held it between them. She screeched and fell back. All around him Wulfstan could hear the thunder of wings as the ravens took flight. He could see them circling and moving towards him. And he could see the faerie look at him. Her eyes and face were filled with hatred, although Wulfstan could see that she was trying to hide it.
"I'm sorry my son," she whispered. "I can't let you continue as what they twisted you into. Forgive me."
"I'm not your son! I won't forgive you, but you shall fear me, for I shall destroy your form upon The World like I did Sardynglyswal's."
"So be it, son of Garcynglysganala."
She flapped her arms and rose up into the circling ravens. He saw her close her eyes and begin to pull strands of blackness out of nothingness with the claws on her wings as they flapped. She began molding the strands into a globe of blackness and evil. As the globe took form, it absorbed the light and shed darkness down upon Wulfstan.
If only he had a way to reach her, but he had only a sword. Then he remembered that he had wings too. He crouched and raised them. He didn't know if he could fly, but he would try. He would bring the death of her mortal form upon The World if he could, or die trying.
"Earynbra, you shall not take my son!" The voice roared and filled all of Wulfstan's senses. But somehow it sounded female, and it sounded desperate and full of love.
But the voice had said Earynbra - and that was the name of one of the most powerful of the faerie, one who pretended to be a goddess!
Wulfstan looked up and saw another dragon hovering above the clearing. But where Sardynglyswal had been tainted with black, this dragon was a pure golden yellow, gleaming brighter than Vashigan in the heavens. Her scales were golden, the same gold as his own.
The woman, Earynbra, opened her eyes turned to face the dragon. "So, Garcynglysganala, you have finally found your son. But too late!" And with that she spun back to face Wulfstan. The black globe was oozing and pulsing, dripping thick drops that faded before they hit the ground. "Die, slayer of Sardynglyswal, slayer of my brother's mortal form!" She flung the blackness down at Wulfstan.
Wulfstan held the Sword with No Shadow up between him and the globe. He watched the globe fall towards him, and saw behind it the sky fill with golden fire. The flames consumed the ravens and their corpses fell to the ground, but Earynbra remained unharmed.
The globe of blackness fell until it touched the tip of the Sword with No Shadow. Wulfstan tried to move the sword, to push the sphere, but the sword wouldn't move, and neither could he. The globe sat there, touching the tip of the Sword with No Shadow's blade. Slowly it began to sink into the blade, bleeding black oil that slid down the blade and dripped from the guard onto the ground to hiss and smoke. Wulfstan felt the Sword with No Shadow grow cold, and it began to suck warmth out of him. He felt himself able to move and fell to his knees, but managed to hold the sword above him and keep the globe balanced on its blade. The sword grew heavier and heavier, and Wulfstan strained to hold it up. His arms grew cold and he saw a shadow begin to form beneath the blade.
He was losing, somehow he knew that he and the Sword with No Shadow were losing.
But what could he do? Why the coldness, the weakness? Maybe the Sword with No Shadow needed help. But what else could he do? He had changed - could he breathe…?
He felt and sensed new organs in his cheeks. Carefully he felt them with his tongue and could feel them move as though they contained some kind of liquid. He could even feel his tongue on them. Concentrating, he could feel the muscles around the new organs moving. He pulled back his tongue and opened his mouth - now he could see his mouth, it had changed and was now long and flat and covered in golden scales. Then he twitched the new muscles and felt them squeeze and press. He felt a liquid flow out of his mouth and burst into a golden fire. He looked up and aimed the fire up and around the black globe.
He felt warmth start to flow into his arms and saw the shadow cast by the Sword with No Shadow fade and waver. He saw the black globe begin the quiver and shake and slowly shrink. He was beating it! He kept squeezing the muscles and breathing his fire.
Gradually the organs began to empty; the fire began to fade. The globe quivered and began to press down upon the Sword with No Shadow. But Wulfstan refused to die. He had finally found his mother and she loved him. He would show her his love and he wouldn't let her down! He kept squeezing and breathing the golden flames. He needed to stop, he needed to breathe air, but he wouldn't let himself until the deed was done. Somehow he kept breathing his fire as the globe shrank. Somehow he kept it up until the globe finally vanished.
He collapsed, gasping for breath.
"Wulfstan. She's gone."
Wulfstan shook his head on its long neck and looked up. The golden dragon had landed and its huge head looked down at him, love in its eyes. The ravens were gone, and with them their mistress.
"Yes Wulfstan. I've finally found you. After all these years…" Her eyes filled with tears.
"Was it you who saved me in the ocean?"
"Yes my love, it was I. Earynbra stole you from under my wing as I rested after your birth and changed you and gave you to the priests. She wanted vengeance on me for deeds done long ago. Eventually she fought me in person and I lost track of you. It was Sildaya who watched over you and transformed you to a human and gave you the Sword with No Shadow."
Wulfstan closed his eyes, dreading the answer to his next question. "Who is my father?" he whispered. He had never dreamed about his father, and he had often wondered why. Had he been a simple mortal? A faerie?
"Your father." She sighed. "I wish I knew. All I had were my wishes and my dreams, maybe they're what brought you to life. So many centuries wishing for a child…"
Wulfstan opened his eyes and looked into the eyes of the being that was his mother. He looked and saw, hidden deep within them, the loneliness and the despair of ages of pain. And, buried deep within them, he saw a glimmer of hope. "Can I stay with you mother? I want to know you." He couldn't face her anymore and turned away. "I've wanted to for so long."
She raised her head up high. "Then wait, and let me finish your transformation. Don't be afraid, for I would never hurt you."
Wulfstan nodded and turned and looked up.
His mother opened her mouth and breathed her golden fire down upon her son. Where it touched the ground it burned away the pestilence and death left by Earynbra. But where it touched Wulfstan it didn't burn, but instead felt warm and loving. He could feel it sink into him. Then he began to burn, but it didn't hurt, instead it comforted. His mother continued to breathe, her fire pouring its healing into Wulfstan, and then splashing out, bathing all of the clearing and burning out Earynbra's pestilence.
Wulfstan began to grow. He dropped the Sword with No Shadow onto the ground where grass and flowers grew around it and hid it until it would be needed by someone else. He felt his legs and arms lengthen and change and grow. He curved his wings to catch the fire and felt them grow and strengthen. He felt his tail grow. And he felt his head and neck grow as he rose higher and higher from the ground until he was almost as large as his mother.
Finally his mother stopped breathing. She turned and leapt into the air and her son leapt into the air and flew after her.