Prologue – Part 2 of 6

The Wanderer threw the full force of his presence at the Rivener, piercing the barrier of the warlord’s Self.  No soul, including those of the gods of Ta’nar, possessed the ability to truly judge another.   For only those outcomes that express themselves in actions can be perceived by the world at large.  But those actions do not occur in isolation.  Each, traveling back along the strands of effect and cause, are predicated by a host of other external forces.  Yet even these events are not the sole foundation of a person’s decision, for deeds are the expressions of thought.  And the thoughts that make up a soul are based on the myriad events that have been experienced by or inflicted upon the quilt of a life.  And even if it were possible to unroll a life and see whole of a person laid out for inspection, could anyone, mortal or divine, have the compassion or selflessness to sunder their own sense of self and experience the entirety of another’s reality to truly understand them?   And through that knowledge be able to judge them?  The Wanderer, bearing the pain of creation’s assault, did not have the strength to cleave himself so fully.  Despite these limitations of the spirit, he stood at the eye of the Rivener’s tumultuous soul.  Scenes of memory tumbled around him, showing a life in bitter hatred of what it once was and of what it had become.

“Darkness fills your heart, Deveron Rotha,” he observed as the storm of the Rivener’s hate and rage manifested black voids of lightening, each bolt scarring the mindscape around its intruder, seeking to drive it out.  “It has fed on every bright spot that once resided inside you, consuming each possibility of who you might have been.  All but one.” the Wanderer declared softly as he saw the soft projection of a small tow-haired boy.  This fragment of the Rivener’s soul was hiding, independent from the storm:  a memory from when he was a child of no more than eight or nine years old, before the stream of his life carved out the path leading him to this courtyard in Rothin.  The Wanderer paused, a hair’s breadth from extinguishing the life force of this blood-damned warlord.  It was within in his power.  But in that instant, in the eye of a hate-filled storm, where an unexpected fragment of light lingered in the heart of darkness, the ache over all that had been lost to the course of the war, the ache which had fermented and soured deep within the Wanderer’s soul, evaporated.  Compassion welled from springs long thought dry, and the man who bore the weight of existence upon his shoulders remembered his calling.  Gathering his power around him, shielding himself from the warlord’s instinctual attempts to expell the foreign entity that had invaded his soul, the man known as the Wanderer sent a weave of magic into the soul of his enemy.

Light ripped violently through the soulscape, ignorant of the darkness’ attempts to defy it. This light arced around and through Deveron Rotha, forging powerful chains of sorcery that knit soul tightly to body, far more tenaciously than natural.  Pure ribbons of argent energy flowed from the Wanderer’s soul form and gave succor to the ember of essence that was the phantom of a young boy.  They lifted the small fragment, and the streamers of light slid over it and each other, layering into a protective cocoon of brightness.  As strength flowed down the link, the Wanderer spoke, not to the Rivener but to the man Deveron Rotha had been, might have been, and could yet be again. 

“You have damned yourself with the actions of a butcher, Deveron Rotha.  You have trod across the lands of this world, riven nations, armies, families and lives, and have exalted yourself in chaos.” The voice that spoke had lost any trace of compassion as its pronouncement was stabbed into the heart of the warlord.  But the man that spoke focused his words on the sheath of light he had woven around the boy who was not truly present, and their hard edge was lost.  “These actions require atonement.  There are those who would slay you, who would end your existence as you have ended others, and they would call it justice.  Even the hand of your master, bound as he is, seeks to end for your life, for he holds you in no special regard. I, too, sought this end for you.” The pause that followed was filled with hesitation. The light unwound from the structure of Deveron Rotha’s soul and Wanderer’s soul claimed its power.  This light now shone from the eyes and mouth of the Wanderer, who seemed transubstantiated from an old man.  Shining metal plate-mail was spontaneously created, encasing him in radiant armor releasing waves of light that broke on the soul storm and refracted back.  Each pulse carried with it the cumulative strength of the preceding upsurge, the breakers building on each other, to slam back the rage and hate of the maligned soul, even as its core was pulled in by the Wanderer’s light.  The essence of the Rivener struggled against the immutable lure of the Wanderer’s power and was drawn into the luminous cocoon.  “The geis of atonement I lay on you condemns you to a harsher justice, but it is one tempered with hope.” As he rent the final fabric of hate from the Rivener’s soul, the Wanderer’s hand reached out to touch the luminescent egg of light before him.  It contained the essence of Deveron Rotha. Though stripped of power and laid bare, it was protected, sheltered from its impending doom.  Such grace was undeserved for one such as he, but granted for the sake of a small child long ago cast aside.  “The chance for your redemption lies within your grasp, Deveron Rotha.  But you have annealed yourself with the blood you have spilt, scarring your soul until you are unable to grasp the necessity of feeling.   And without that knowledge, without that ability to feel, you lack the necessary weakness to receive absolution.”

Now that the storm was banished, the eldritch waves of light emanating from the Wanderer began to flow inward.  Into the now omnipresent calm within the warlord’s soul, the Wanderer’s magics pulled shades into being.  They appeared nascent, on the edge of the soul space, but each ripple of power brought with it new wisps.  They gathered on the fields of Deveron Rotha’s soul, a multitude beyond counting, an army of the warlord’s victims marshaled at the behest of one man.  Still caressing the magic of the shelter constructed for this piece of soul, the Wanderer spoke as he inspected his spell for flaws.

“These shades, flooding your anima, are the spirits of those you have slain through word or deed,” the Wanderer whispered to the essence that was bound within the soul cage.  The twin halves of Rotha’s soul were contained within.  The reality of who Deveron Rotha was, was tightly bound with the small boy who represented who he could yet become.  Even as the Wanderer spoke, hundreds of thousands had answered the Wanderer’s call, while Deveron Rotha railed impotently against the walls that bound him.  The bright egg of the prison was still bound tightly to the body of the warlord, and it served as a beacon for the dead to draw close to.  Souls from all walks, races, and peoples gathered.  And the vast multitude was not yet whole.  All bore the wounds of death fresh upon their scarred and tattered bodies. Soldiers marked the majority of those present, for the Warlord’s armies has known constant war for decades.   Their souls bled soft light from sword slashes, ragged limbs reduced to stumps, arrow perforations, and split skulls.  But men of war did not answer the summons alone.  Peasants shimmered into existence, still bearing the scripts of violence written on their flesh.  Merchants trampled under iron shod hooves appeared with ruptured chests, the soft gore of light slipping from mangled ribcages to disappear on the plane where they stood.  Priests burned, mages dismembered, kings and queens cast down, all gathered to mete out vicious justice against the man whose life had ended their own. 

“They call for vengeance, they call for me to cast your soul to this multitude for them to shred.  Their pain binds them here; their need for redress shackles them to the lands of their death.  The gods of the dead cannot appease this gathered multitude nor can their realms hold such rage.  It would rend the gates of death and overthrow its boundaries, if it were allowed to fester.  Perhaps your master’s plan all along?”  The Wanderer’s voice was a whisper but thrummed with power that rumbled through the throngs of gathered witnesses.  He again roused himself to action.  “But they are now gathered here.  Justice they shall have, but it shall be tempered with mercy.  They shall be the first step along the path: the bridge of torment that may cross the gap of inhumanity between who you are to who you might become.  And in return, you will take their burden upon yourself as penance.”  With a slight nod of initiation the first shade stepped forward out of the crowd.  A soldier marked with a cruel wound, ragged and deep across his chest, limping from a shattered pelvis, stepped up to the egg shaped cocoon.  His surcoat was blood-stained, the mist of his wounds obfuscating the heraldry of his liege.  His face was twisted, malformed by a malice that gripped the entirety of his being, preventing him him from moving on in the afterlife.  The Wanderer grasped the man’s hand, its splintered bones grinding against each other, feeling more like a sack of nails than a hand, and guided him to the soul of the Rivener.  Placing the spectral palm upon the enclosure, the soul of the Rivener and the soldier mixed.  Pain fell like rain upon the egg, ripping deep into Deveron Rotha’s soul inside as the pain of death left the soldier.  Memories of violation at the hands of the warlord’s army poured from the summoned wraith, the experience delving deep into the cocoon, and when it was over the soldier’s soul stood renewed.  Whole again, the wrath chaining him to this existence disappeared, and the soul faded from the gathering.  The power that had been infused tormented the soul of Deveron Rotha.  Trapped within the Wanderer’s complex spell, the essence of the warlord now experienced the pain of the departed soldier’s death, while the shade of the boy drew on the power.  The pain also stabbed into the callous surrounding the Rivener’s soul.  It was an insignificant scratch on the cold-hearted armor Deveron Rotha had forged about his spirit, hardly able to claim true damage at all.  But the multitudes gathered, each awaiting their appointed meeting with the soul of the Rivener.  And within the enclosure of power, the small light of a child, a light pure in its view of the world, in its need for protection and shelter, grew slightly more distinct.  Shielded and somehow empowered by the magic of what occurred, it briefly flared in answering the call of the slain. 

“For a hundred years you will bear the agony of those you have slain, experience the want of the helpless, and listen to the cry of the desperate.  At the end of which you will walk the dusty paths of this world again, drawn in death to the conflicts you craved in life.  When you fall, your soul will retreat here, to this struggle, while your body lays in a torpor.  The light in you may triumph over the darkness, allowing you to transcend your torment and emerge renewed. If you cannot, you will harden yourself and tumble into chaos.  The choice is yours.”  The next soul, a small girl, stepped up.  But the Wanderer’s power was spent, and the world screamed again. The distraction and exhaustion slammed him back into his corporeal form.  Everything was as he had left it; no time had passed in the world outside the soul of the warlord.  The Rivener’s men were still caught in the web of stasis.  The Rivener showed no outward sign of the torment now raging deep within the core of his soul, although the Wanderer could see the magic within burgeoning beneath the surface of the warlord’s skin.  The soul would remain bound to the body, but the body would rot and decay.  Bound as he was, the Rivener would slumber but not die, and every hundred years the wight would rise and perhaps be ready to seek redemption.  And when he was slain his soul, would find no rest, returning for another hundred years of the punishment the Wanderer had meted out before waking again.  The Rivener was damned to repeat the cycle until he found redemption or was condemned to his fate with the dying of all light within him.

The thar observed their master now, the beast’s heads turned back, mouths filled with cud, jaws working as they regarded the man who held their reins.  Giving the beasts a small, tired smile, the Wanderer snapped the leather, sending the cart forward with a groan of protest.  It maneuvered clumsily around the bodies in the courtyard, weaving through the retinue of butchers till it was free.  The thar, once again given leave to move, slowly following the broad street out of the city without any further direction from their master.  With only flames and ruin behind them, they yearned for air untainted by the smell of blood and ash.  As they pulled the cart past Rothin’s grand outer walls, the Wanderer was once again lost in his own thoughts:  thoughts of the Rivener, of a legacy perverted, and of the two prisons he had constructed this day. 

 

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