Part One Prophecy
Chapter 1 Rain of Dreams and Death
She could hear waves crashing against stone and the soft crackling of raindrops hitting the ground. Only slowly did the darkness recede and reveal the scenery around her. Storm clouds loomed over a dark, angry sea. Her clothes hung wet and heavy and she shivered with cold as a chill gust caught her. This was no place she knew, no place she should be. Then, a faint sound echoed somewhere behind her.
She turned around and realized that a large structure towered over her. It was comprised of several even levels or stories on which a whole city had been built. The levels weren't as definite as a house's, though. There were main platforms and many smaller ones in between. Bridges and stairs connected the many platforms in a complex pattern like a chaotic net spun by a confused spider, all held up by thick pillars embedded between houses that apparently had been built much later. There wasn't even a main stairwell connecting all stories at once.
The city seemed desolate, no lights were lit to fight the darkness of the storm.
Ding. Dong. The faint echo of a distant, heavy bell tolling slowly.
She stood on the bottom story. A particular big wave smashed against the stone wall, showering her with spray. Before her was a market place left in haste, goods still orderly arranged on the stands, some baskets toppled over, their contents spilled on the cobblestones to rot in the rain.
Ding. Dong. The bell sounded again and Celebiel started to move, urged forward by the sad sound. She crossed the discarded market and began to climb the first set of stairs on to the second floor. The bell tolled again as she set foot on the first step, closer this time, from ahead. It tolled again as she reached the top. But this time, from behind. Surprised, Celebiel turned and gasped with shock when she saw the demon at the bottom of the stairs, looking up to her.
what are you?!' Celebiel exclaimed.
The female demon stepped closer and Celebiel realized that the demonic face wasn't an actual face. It was a helmet made in the shape of a demon's face, complete with horns and fangs. She couldn't see the eyes behind the mask.
'Watch,' the woman only said in a muffled voice and pointed behind Celebiel. Celebiel turned and the bell-ringing sounded again. She glanced over her shoulder and the unknown woman was gone. Facing the direction she had pointed at again, Celebiel saw a procession nearing slowly from her left. The people wore black raincoats and four men carried a coffin between them. As the group slowly passed her, they kept their heads bent; only a small person looked at her with eyes of mismatched color, tears running down her cheeks, mixing with the rain. Then, the moment was gone. Out of curiosity, mixed with a bit of concern, Celebiel followed them at a distance.
After following them for a short while along the edge of the story, they reached another short stairs leading up onto a smaller platform that seemed somewhat separate from the others. An open metal gate stood at the top of the stairs, rusted spikes thrust toward the heavens as if to warn everyone that they were unwanted. Celebiel stepped through the gate and shivered slightly when she saw that the platform was a real cemetery. Someone must have made the effort of carrying tons of earth up onto this platform so it could be used as a burial ground. It seemed off to Celebiel.
The procession had made a right turn and already stopped before an open grave some distance away. She slipped closer to the group of people, crossing a bridge over a drainage canal, and saw how they just bowed their heads and started to walk away. Just the small person from earlier had stayed behind. She threw something inside the grave and knelt as if to pray. Celebiel edged closer, trying to read the inscription on the ornamental gravestone that was already set up, despite the grave still being open. But, Celebiel couldn't read it. It wasn't that she didn't know the words, but rather the writing looked blurred, as if something in her mind couldn't comprehend the existence of those letters. In her frustration, the stone face carved into the top of the gravestone seemed to give her a mocking smile.
'That's her husband's grave,' suddenly a voice next to her said.
With a jump, Celebiel faced the apparition of the demon woman again.
She only received a nod in response.
'So then, who is she?'
Celebiel could hear a faint laugh from behind the mask.
'You shall find out eventually.' The woman stepped a few strides away from her. 'But first, know this: Great tragedy awaits those that walk the Path of Light. However, it is not your choice to make.' She paused for a moment. 'And one more thing. There are seven.'
'Seven? Seven what?'
'Time will tell.'
With these words, both the masked woman and the figure of the short widow faded to nothingness right before her eyes, as the bell tolled for the last time.
Celebiel was left alone before the grave of an unknown man, lost in confusion. Cawing sounds grew louder and Celebiel looked up. A flock of ravens was headed in her direction, flying swiftly despite the rain. It took her a moment to realize, but they were headed
directly for her! She tried to dodge and jump out of the way, but the ravens were to quick. Blinded by a flurry of feathers, she stumbled backwards as the birds hacked and pecked at her skin. Then, she stepped into nothingness. For a moment, she was weightless, floating in space, birds slowly letting go of her, then, she fell. Fast, down towards a black sea that would swallow her forever. She flailed with her limbs and
her foot collided with something soft. She heard a breathless gasp and something toppling over.
'Ouch!' she heard a muffled cry. Then, a voice mumbling 'Celly, the bad dreams you're having are giving me real-life pains.'
Only then did Celebiel fully wake. She rose and shook her head.
dream? But it felt so
real,' she muttered.
Beside her sleeping mat, Eíssa got to her knees and regarded her with a mildly annoyed look while rubbing her chest. She still looked sleepy and her unkempt hair stuck out wildly.
'You know, I think I'm lucky we have a big tent, or else it would've collapsed on us
' She sighed. 'Are you all right?'
Celebiel nodded. 'Y-yes, everything is fine now. I'm sorry.'
'Don't worry,' Eíssa only said and opened the tent flap to look outside. 'By the way, what was your dream about that it got you this excited?'
'It was about-' Celebiel paused. She thought she had had the pictures clearly in mind just a moment ago, but they were gone now. 'I
Eíssa chuckled. 'So all nightmares are the same. In that way, at least. They're gone fast.'
Celebiel looked down, fidgeting with her hands. 'I suppose.'
Eíssa let go of the flap and turned to Celebiel, smiling. 'The sun is going to rise soon. We should be on our way, Berilis isn't far.'
Liris Valley. In the mild autumn air, red and golden trees stand magnificently, making the forests of the valley look like the most precious carpet, glittering in the morning light. On the fields, people harvested this year's crop. It had been a good year, Celebiel had heard, people wouldn't have to starve this winter. Their destination was several miles across the valley and from their hilltop viewpoint, they had a great view on Berilis, the City of Canals, nested on the rising flank of the highest mountain of the continent, the Godspear. The city looked small and insignificant beneath the needle-like mountain jutting upward to unimaginable heights, far higher than the other mountains that made up the range.
Celebiel just stood and admired the wondrous sight, jaw hanging open a crack.
'You haven't seen something like that before, have you?' Eíssa asked.
Celebiel just shook her head, fascinated by the waterfall that plummeted from the very top of the Godspear, the water dispersing into fine mist on its way, creating wavering rainbows.
Eíssa took a step forward and Celebiel could see the back of her strange travelling companion. Short black hair hardly covered long pointy ears and her leather armor looked like it had seen many a skirmish. She was skinny and wore no jewelry at all, though she claimed to be a goldsmith apprentice. All those attributes combined had made Celebiel a bit apprehensive about letting her join her. But then she had seen her eyes, the eyes of a good heart. Though of different colors, they told her she was trustworthy. Later, she had shown Celebiel her goldsmithing tools.
Now, after two weeks of travel, she thought of her almost as a friend and she loathed that they had to part once they arrived at Berilis.
'I've never been to a great city like this,' she reluctantly admitted.
Eíssa turned in surprise. 'Really? No city at all?'
'Yes. I am kind of nervous and I
How to put it
I'd like you to stay with me, at least until I've learned my way around the city.'
Surprisingly, Eíssa smiled widely at her and simply said 'Of course. '
I kind of missed this city, Eíssa thought as they stepped from the shadow of the city gates into the afternoon sun inside the city.
Berilis was a city built for its resident's comfort as well as for efficient protection from sieges. The many canals brought in a constant supply of fresh water, fueled by the water that fell from the Godspear. During sieges and a possible breach of the city wall, the flat rooftops proved a great advantage for the archers of the city watch. Berilis had never been taken by force and it had witnessed four continent-wide wars, that was quite the achievement. At the far end of the city, the highest point, stood the High Council's palace, where the High Priestess resided and where the council met to decide the country's actions.
Anduria's capital bustled with activity. People hurried from one place to another, tending to their individual work or needs.
'So many people
' Celebiel whispered beside her.
Eíssa nodded. 'That's a city. Thousands of people crammed into one place with just enough space to breathe. Well, some claim they can't breathe.'
'I can see why,' Celebiel said.
Eíssa turned and took her hand.
'Don't let yourself get intimidated that easily. Come, I'll show you the main square,' she said and dragged Celebiel with her, uphill towards the higher parts of the city. Though there were many people on the streets, they managed to get to the market square quickly. They could smell bread and other food for some time before they arrived. Of course, other things were sold, as well: Jewelry and other things crafted from valuable metals and gems, clothing for any occasion and tableware, to name a few. Around the circumference, city watch guards eyed everyone for suspicious actions. Eíssa straightened her back; she didn't like being watched like that, probably the instincts of a thief.
They strode toward the square's central fountain, having to push away some people a few times. It was cooler near the water and Celebiel seemed to be able to breathe more freely here.
'Do you think you're fine on your own for a while? I have to go and look for a goldsmith to take me as apprentice.'
'I should be fine on my own, I think. Shall we meet again, once you've found what you are looking for?'
Eíssa nodded. ' We'll meet here at this fountain again in, say, three hours. Just don't get lost.'
Celebiel smiled at her. 'I won't.'
Celebiel had gotten lost. She hadn't thought that the city would be quite so big. To her, the alleys stretched forever in winding curves, disorienting her. Even though she knew that she had to go up if she wanted to get to the palace, finding a way doing exactly that was harder than it seemed.
And it started out so good, Celebiel thought. She had visited the great cathedral of Belísme, called "Ascension of the Just" and a monk there told her about Anduria's only religion and about their leader, High Priestess Serina Kol. She supposedly was a very nice woman who had been "found" as High Priestess among the middle class at the age of fourteen. Celebiel wasn't sure if she understood that reincarnation bit of the religion.
After the lesson, she had wandered off to just look around the city and its many churches. There were so many of them that she soon lost count, however, and had eventually ended up in the alley she now stood in. This wasn't at all like her home up north in Torenziel. She could find her way around a forest, but these buildings all looked the same. With a sigh, she put on a determined face and continued to walk. If I just keep walking, I'll find the market square again for sure.
She took another turn, now walking uphill again. This street was wider than the ones she had been in before and more people frequented it. It seemed like she finally found one of the main streets again.
Overjoyed with finally being able to return to the meeting point she already was late she didn't spot the dark, hooded figure until she felt something being pressed into her hand a hushed voice whispering 'Meet me at this location tonight. It's urgent and regards your safety.'
She turned, dumbfounded, but the person already was gone. I must've been mistaken for someone else, Celebiel thought. She looked at the thing she had been given and realized it was a folded sheet of parchment. Celebiel unfolded it and recognized it as a map of the city. She just had no idea how to interpret it. Some little area was marked with a circle and Celebiel assumed it was the meeting place. Eíssa will know how to read this. I have to return it in time so that the one who was supposed to get this can be warned in time.
'Eh?!' Eíssa still held the map with trembling hands. 'You've got a talent of getting yourself into trouble, I think.'
Celebiel shook her head. The market square was nearly empty now, the people returned home or gone to the taverns, so they could speak almost freely.
'I have to return this. Someone might be in danger.'
Eíssa just kept looking down on the parchment. 'You sure about this?' She looked up.
'I guess it can't be helped then. I'll show you the way.' I don't like this. At all.
They followed the map until they reached a little church crammed into the back of an alley. It had started to grow dark and red and orange light from the setting sun illuminated the front of the chapel, making it look covered in blood. Chanting sounded through the church's thin stone walls, a single female voice.
So you came despite your fears, Hannah. You're brave, Eíssa thought.
To Celebiel, she said 'Go on in. I'll wait outside.'
Celebiel just nodded.
When Celebiel had entered, Eíssa went to the back side of the church by a narrow way and scanned the place. Celebiel had entered the church through the main entrance, but behind the church was a bigger street. It was an old church and probably the city had developed around it, using it to seal off the alley, not caring that you could only see the back from the wider street. Sure, the church had a good-looking backside, painted so it stood out a little from the other buildings. But she didn't really care for that now. Her eyes finally found the ladder leaning against the side of one of the tenements, hidden in the darkness of another narrow alleyway. Further behind it, she saw the vague outline of a horse. She approached the alley quickly, dashing from shadow to shadow, her footsteps making almost no noise. When she reached the ladder, she immediately began climbing it swiftly, stopping just before the top to peek over the edge onto the roof. The soldier sat a few strides away, appearing only half-focused, his bow laid across his knees, the quiver beside him. He seemed to watch the sunset and didn't look her way.
Eíssa carefully climbed onto the roof, crouching down and moving toward the soldier silently from behind. While moving forward, she slid one of her short swords from its sheath. She took a deep breath, then grabbed the man by the hair, yanked his head backwards and slit his throat in a single, swift movement. He didn't have time to scream. With a gurgling sound, he fell, blood spraying from the gash in his throat, his heart frantically trying to pump blood, but making the inevitable only arrive quicker. Eíssa closed her eyes.
So, we're down to murdering again, are we? Her own voice asked her.
She shook her head. No, I have to do this, there's no other way
No other way
Eíssa took several deep breaths, then opened her eyes again, stooped down to close the soldier's now dead eyes and turned to climb down again. It would be hard, but there were two more soldiers on this side. She had to be quick.
Even though the church was small, it had a dignified aura about it, accentuated by the stained glass window above the entrance, facing west, catching the light of the setting sun, projecting the image of a stern-faced brunette woman onto the tiled stone floor. Her footfalls echoed from the walls, mixing with the chant.
She stood in front of the altar, her back turned on Celebiel. Her white clerical robe bore red markings along the edges and seams, identifying her as member of the Scribes. The last note of the chant still lingered on for a moment and as it faded, the brown-haired woman turned and beckoned Celebiel closer.
'Good thing you've come. My name is Hannah.'
Celebiel stepped closer and held up the sheet of parchment. 'You must have mistaken me. I have only just arrived in this city today. Please help the one that really is in danger.'
Hannah just shook her head. 'I didn't mistake you. You are in grave danger, but we don't have time. They're coming.'
Celebiel frowned. 'Who? Why?'
Hannah sighed. 'The Onguran Police. You're accused of assassinating a member of the Onguran Council.'
'What?! But I didn't do anything like that! I have to tell them that. I'm innocent, so there's nothing to fear,' Celebiel said, growing more and more apprehensive with each word.
Hannah quickly stepped forward and grasped Celebiel's hand. 'No! You don't understand! They don't come to catch you, they come to deliver the sentence!'
Celebiel was stunned. 'The
Hannah nodded, nervousness written all over her face. 'Death,' she whispered. She pricked her ears, obviously reacting to a sound outside. 'Come, quick!' she said, starting to pull on Celebiel's arm, as the first soldiers poured in through the gate.
At their lead, a big man in heavy knight's armor carrying a two-handed sword entered. He gestured toward Celebiel and Hannah with his blade, swinging it around with ease.
'Freeze, witch!' he bellowed.
Terror formed in Hannah's eyes as she continued to pull Celebiel and finally, Celebiel's senses returned and she ran. Angry curses and rattling steps sounding behind them, they dashed toward a door leading to the back rooms. Hannah shouldered it open and stumbled through into a small study that led towards the back entrance. No soldiers appeared to wait for them here. After virtually jumping across the room and forcing the door open with their combined weight thrown against it, they hurried down the stairs. Celebiel shot a quick look around and found Eíssa waiting for them with three horses.
Where did she get those? the part of her that didn't quite get the situation asked.
Halfway across the street, Hannah began puffing and slowing down a little, forcing Celebiel to steer a little to the right, now running next to her. She saw Eíssa's eyes grow wide and heard a yell behind her, then, suddenly, a blade erupted from Hannah's chest. Everything seemed to slow down. Celebiel looked at Hannah's expression, a mask of surprise with a hint of realization, she saw the enormous bloody sword push her body forward with its momentum and felt her own mouth form a scream of shock. She glanced over her shoulder and realized that the big man had stopped, his hands empty.
throw it? She thought in shock. But she didn't stop short in running. Hannah fell and with the leader's next growling curse, time returned to normal. After a few more meters at top speed, Celebiel jumped onto the horse next to Eíssa's and she urged them on, the horse's gallop soon bringing them out of sight of their pursuers.
Celebiel righted herself in the saddle and tried to comprehend what had just happened. Something cold and wet hit her cheek. She reached up to it. Is it starting to rain? Then she saw more droplets glitter in the fading light, flying past her into the beginning night. Eíssa was crying.