Red Dragon Inn
Dreamweaver's Lair => From the Dragon's Mouth => Sweet Crusades => Topic started by: Nazareth on September 20, 2015, 09:33:43 AM
[size=24]The sun was balanced[/size] upon the crisp ridge of a far-away peak when Nazareth took her first rest. It was huge and lovely, its fiery halo scorching the sky, burning all the clouds black and leaving them scattered like strips of charred cloth. The girl was not tired, her legs did not ache. Instead she took this reprieve to admire this region of land, one she had never seen before. Remeer was inside the barrier territory known as, The Rim, which was an ambiguous band that acted as the balancing point between The Bride Empire and The Greater Dominion. But there was nothing Great about it anymore; what few Dominion still resided there moved like blind, lost poltergeists with horrendous, oversized fears beating in their chests always, for all understood capture and indenturement awaited them should The Empire?s scouts happen upon them. Such it was in this age, the final age of The Dominion; no one wrote of it, no one sang of it; it simply was: their stain on great Gailey would be washed away completely, and very soon at that.
But whereas The Rim was a place of dunes and sand, this new area, this uncharted chain upon which Nazareth walked, was rocky; the ground was completely solid. It made her smile. Ahead of her there was no blinding storms, no ugly, rolling hills of malleable sand: no, there were mountains, sharp, jagged gullies and trenches, carvings in the very world itself that bewildered her. The sky was vibrant and true and pulsed with colors she?d never seen before. Her body was filled with excitement, for whatever lied in this new land was under none?s jurisdiction but her own; she was staking claims with each stroke of her eyes.
The farthest one there will be, ?Forez?s Peak?------The mountain range itself. . . Well, I?ll call it ?Reika Range.? That?ll do just fine.
Satisfied with her kingdom, the young Dominion, draped in red and barefoot, pushed herself up and continued onward. She walked along the shelf of a cliff that rose high above a snake-like ravine. The canyon?s depth and width was immense; Nazareth figured it nearly a kilometer deep, and if a bridge were to be suspended across from where she stood to reach the canyon?s parallel, it would stretch nearly a kilometer as well. Looking down, her shadow leaking down the rocky gully, she pondered on its purpose, for the way the canyon twisted, the smoothness of the stone, the variances in the color of the rock, layer-by-layer: something mighty once surged through it. For once in Nazareth?s life her curiosities demanded the expertise of Judace. ?Perhaps a good mood will grant me the patience to ask,? she thought.
For two more hours the girl walked. The only guidances granted were the passages spoken by her mother on two separate occasions: ?Follow the dunes north,? which she was told earlier this day, and, ?You will become captivated by the scent of the sulfur pits, where the master Reika smiths brought their fantastic minerals to be bathed in the land?s fire many ages ago.? This passage was from a conversation she had with her mother over a year ago, when her heart was first treated to the glorious first sisters of the order: Forez and Bith. Although a great many questions had been asked, when inquiring on Darkoukka?s location, she informed her mother a year ago, ?I do not know what sulfur smells like.? Her mother smiled and replied, ?And when you finally do, you will be jealous of the words you just uttered.?
She continued until the sun melted away. The sky darkened and darkened until the humming light of that liquidated sun diminished and furious stars dolled up in the blue night to replace it, as if it had been shattered into these million little pieces of light. Nazareth had moved away from the canyon, as it bent westward. The young girl?s mind was stirring. Images of Darkoukka were burned into her, overtaking the ruling senses, drowning her in a forgotten majesty of her own insensible design. Ahead of her a crooked peek curled over the nightime-blue rockfloor like a cane. Its strange shape jerked her out of introspection. Something hit her; she paused; a sense: a smell. The bold scents of the earthy rock and gravel were being cut by a sweetness, the smell of food, of something boiling over a cauldron. Nazareth squinted ahead, at that curling formation that hung jaggedly maybe two kilometers away, for she pinpointed the aroma?s origin there. The girl applied a fierce grip to her weapon, made herself low and bolted towards it, those powerful legs propelling her like a rocket across the stern, cracked earth.
Within a kilometer, Nazareth?s eyes widened. She shoved her feet into the ground and a mighty burst of smoke and gravel exploded from below them, as this braking maneuver required great force to impede her unnaturally swift movement. Below that strange twist in the mountain, she spied a light. The smell had grown; she could even hear the cracking of the heated water. It was repulsive, something she?d smelled before rising over the Dominion labor yards: Spinner Stew. Young Nazareth was a girl who feared not a man, not a country nor king; but spinners??with their hairy, bulbous thoraxes weighing as much as fifty kilograms (as a wealth of nasty fluids were housed within it), eight legs, half-meter long pincers and twelve marble-like eyes, all the size of adult fists??were heinous abominations from the void?s darkest pits. Cold blood coagulated in her veins.
If there?s a stew. . . this is an area spinners are indigenous to.
It was no time to fear the fauna, she knew. Spinner stew was a delicacy of roaming Dominion, had been for ages. The glands in the thorax were poisonous to the meek Brides: it would probably take a seasoned legion of them to slay one, and even then there would be casualties, figured Nazareth. No, this little hole in the mountain belonged to a nomad; no one to fear, but one that she was intrigued enough to investigate, for her interactions with members of her own race had been limited strictly to family. Curiosity had again reared itself within the girl, she whom was rarely curious about anything; this was a day of firsts.
To present herself as less threatening, the red-cloaked girl removed her hand from the hilt of her weapon, for she knew an old, feeble roaming man would be shaken to bits at the sight of a fine specimen such as she, and especially with her blade at-the-ready. She wanted to be an ambassador of sorts; a mediator between the fine, civilized world her mother had created for her and her siblings, and this rough, beastly old fool who was probably daft to the fact that their species was being systematically eradicated by a much inferior one. Nazareth had made herself angry at the thought, but quickly calmed. She took a step forward, then froze mid-stride. Something rushed over her, something like a static wind, quick and powerful and sleek. Strange pressures thumbed into her temples. Sweat collected on her body; she felt drenched. Her reaction was to draw her weapon, for whatever this phenomenon was, it did not seem natural. Little was detected visually, nothing besides a wisp of sand out of the corner of her right eye, a little smudge in the air that reminded her of a stray arrow. Nazareth wrapped her hand around the handle of her weapon and began to pull it out of its scabbard. A torrential knot of fire contorted in her belly when, looking down at her own hand, she saw another: another hand; another arm, long and darkly fleshed. It moved so much faster than her own, or rather hers seemed to be moving impossibly slow. This rogue hand affirmed itself upon the pommel of Nazareth?s weapon, grasped it then pushed and what little of the blade had been drawn was quickly shoved back into the sheath. Everything still moved slow, as if her senses, her mind, had been heightened to an unfathomable level, but her body remained in laborious normal-time. She was trying so desperately to swivel her head around, to see who this attacker was, but it would simply not move fast enough. At last the fear of second contact was confirmed when another arm laced around, this time from her left, and took-hold of Nazareth?s neck. She tried to shriek, but her windpipe was depressed. Whomever it was, they were absurdly strong. Suffocating, the young girl?s eyes squirmed around beastily and in utter terror. All the strangled movement, all the groans and erratic eye movement seemed an eternity to Nazareth, but it was several seconds only. And after the expiration of the fifth, a voice from behind, a tough, crackly voice, and that of a woman, of a woman who had a flat tongue of granite and a throat that housed a smoked-out voicebox, asked with cool, amused inquiry, ?And what have we here? A peti diano? A peti diano with a funny weapon.?
After the woman spoke, she released Nazareth, and the young Dominioness spun around at-once, her hand of course necking the hilt of blade, to get a good look at just who, or what, had materialized behind her:
No one is that fast. Not even mother.
Although the night was deep and the moon was but a shard, Nazareth?s eyes were great: she had no trouble detailing the woman who stood opposite. She was tall, about her mother?s height at just over 187 centimeters. Her hair was short and completely white, with sharp bangs that fell over her face like pearly knives. Just a single Dominion eye of red sparked in the darkness, for separating the flesh of her forehead from her hairline was an angled strip of white cloth that completely covered the woman?s left eye. She wore a high-collared coat of black, thickly lined and falling down well past the knees: something for long desert expeditions. Nazareth?s mind was moving very quick, but somewhere in the mess there was an admiring thought: she liked the dramatic flow of the longcoat. But most notable, and that which widened Nazareth?s eyes to levels of absurdity, was the rezormora (the authentic onyx pommel that glistened in the blue night the tell of all tells) sheathed at her side. With her jaw slowly slacking, the girl looked up and into that single crimson eye with an expression that asked, How?
The woman?s mouth stretched far to the corners of her face into a fiend?s grin, menacing and crazed. ?Something the matter, peti diano?? she asked. ?Thought this big world was dead and empty? Thought it all your own? Thought you could march on my mountain with that little twig between your pretty fingers, fearless and absolved? Well, child,? and she closed that eye and erased her smile, ?I don?t know what is taught in this age, or who or what does the teaching, but in my time there were rules; there was respect. You?re trespassing on lands I deem sacred. Leave, or I?ll remove you in pieces, peti diano.?
Teeth grit furiously, the flesh above her lips rippled and hoisted, Nazareth barked, ?Just who are you! This land is supposed to be aband??
?Mine,? interjected the tall woman. Like a fireball, that solitary eye flamed in her head. ?I asked once??A courtesy I rarely extend. You are Dominion, and a woman at that: a rarity in this age. I would regret ending you, but I?ve long-since abandoned my foolish loyalty to the greater blood; only that which coursed through my mother, and that which courses through me and my child matters now. The world you come from is alive, but raped and mutated. Mine is deceased, but pure. I know not why you came, but I do not care??I won?t allow the perversion of your present-day culture to infect this place.?
Nazareth was taken by the woman?s pledge. It would have been natural to feel insulted, but she could find no invalidity in her claim. It was for that reason she (hesitantly) announced her journey?s purpose: ?I?m simply on my way to Darkoukka. . . I wish to stand where Forez stood. That is all.?
Ravenous laughter was the woman?s reply. Shock was what Nazareth wore initially, but as the laughter dollied on, the girl?s mood spoiled. While Nazareth was readily forming a shout, the woman, still chortling, raised her palm to pause the girl?s coming words. She mockingly began, ?Darkoukka? Is that so, peti diano? You wish to ?stand where Forez stood?, yes? How delightfully absurd. With that knowledge, I have even less reason to allow you passage.? Severely: ?You are unworthy of stomping your pretty, pampered little feet atop the graves of Reika. Especially with that plaything strapped to your hip. Did you purchase it from some Bride antiquitor??
With great fury, Nazareth tore her weapon out of its sheath. The blade low at her side, her eyes shrunk and sizzling like coals, she challenged her mocker with a combative stance. She was not ignorant to the fact that her sword was not authentic, but with each taste of flesh, each stroke, each sample of blood, it was of her belief that she would one day make it truer than any that had been forged before. ?Do not mock me,? the young girl hissed. ?I was born in the wrong age??I cannot help that. But know this: I?ve slayed forty men with this blade, and I?ll slay many more times that before the void takes me. Their bedamned emperor will be skewered by it, this I promise you, woman.?
Save the tender rushing of thin wind over smooth rock, there was silence. The woman did not emote; Nazareth was unsure if she were respectfully contemplating the murderous accomplishments of which she had just spoken, or disregarding them. The sound that slayed the silence was the swift draw of woman?s sword; she ripped it out of the scabbard with such fluid speed that a thin tracer was cut into the rock, cut by nothing but the wind it rejected as its flawless edge soared over it. Such sharpness brought with it a ringing, like a bell, and so it did as the woman held the weapon straight-out at her side like a thin wing: it hummed mystically. Nazareth was fully engaged; were she not so impressed with the rezormora, she may have found time to be frightened of its bite.
Her lone eye again closed, her head dipped solemnly, the woman calmly spoke: ?If this meeting was an age past, I would be impressed child, because we were at war, then. You are young, and if what you say is truth, which I believe it is because you are spirited and mean, then I suppose you deserve the merits of your slaughter. But Brides are like water, and water does not sharpen the blade, it warps and foils it. Slay them until there are none left to slay if it satisfies you, but your prowess as a warrior will not improve this way. Even if you have killed all that there is to kill, you have not achieved victory; victory is combating and defeating one?s self, and you are many ages away from that. Although I have witnessed horrors that a child such as you was raised on as simple fact, I do not envy you. I do not because you lack opponents of quality. . . because of this you will never be what it is you wish to be: Reika. And I know this because even I, who was birthed in a fine age and locked swords with many women who were equal, and sometimes superior, to myself, I was unable to achieve their famous power. They say that Forez could move so quickly that she could slip between strikes of lightning; they say that Bith was so powerful, that her blade was infused with so much of her own essence that she could divide entire mountains with single, graceful swings. It is of my belief that they were able to achieve this because their age was one of contentedness: there was feuding and bloodshed, as there always was and always will be, but there was not war. . . Brides created war, they turned combat into sensibility and a game of numbers. They are smarter than us, and this is because they forsook the soul of combat, for it offered them no tangible gain. Perhaps they are not wrong, but I say now: they are most certainly not correct. And I mock you now because your exploits are private wars, are games of numbers, and are waged with silly goals in mind. You, peti diano, are as much a Bride as the cretins your blade has kissed.?
Nazareth lowered her head and a gleaming clump of whitegold hair spilled over her face. The hand that held her weapon rattled with inexorable anger. The little mess of molten blonde and chattering bones demanded in a cut-up whisper, ?Take that back. Take it back, or I?ll hurl you into the void. Damn you. Damn you, damn you.?
The arm of Nazareth?s attacker dropped limply at her side, as if suddenly liquidated of bone. Her face seemed dead. ?My observations are my own, girl. Agree with them or dismiss them, or choose to be furious like a beast if the emotion is glamorous to you. I cannot say if they?re right or wrong, I can say only that they are true to me. But I say this, and it is true to us both: you cannot best me; you could not hope to even injure me, not with your inexperience. Slaughtered forty Brides you say? I slayed ninety-five on the first day of their little war, so I know what it?s like fighting them: their eyes fire and they scream, stand like fleshy targets and let you strike them. I wager you?ve never combated a Dominion woman, child?? Her eye also asked this question. She then smiled. ?No, you have not. Well, this will be good for you, then. Or perhaps fatal. But regardless, I want this sortie to be true: tell me your name, girl.?
?An unusual name, but a fine one.? The woman drew her blade across her chest and bowed. When she opened up, a quick, charmed smile flittered across her sharp chin. ?Melia of Porta.?
This was a name Nazareth had heard before, but unlike Judace her mind was not an ordered temple of perfect index. It floated around between her ears, and on its wings the origin was blurred. Melia of Porta??Melia of Porta. Nazareth flicked her head back and the hair that had fallen over her face flew back, suspended in the air momentarily like a shattered plate of gold. She pointed her weapon at Melia. ?Don?t underestimate me,? was all she said. Melia nodded. Nazareth flipped the blade in her hand, held it reverse so that her thumb rested near the pommel and the curved, black steel edge stretched towards her flank. On bent knees, she began to circle Melia, both of her eyes slender and piercing, examining all she could about her opponent. But the tall, single-eyed woman offered no stance; there was no technique to decipher and understand. This annoyed Nazareth. So she struck. With a forceful thrust off the ground, the young girl soared over the rocky terrain towards Melia with her weapon drawn back. When she swung at her opponent, the thin silver tracer that shined on the sharpened end of her weapon flickered like the tail of a fallen star. Melia turned on her toes and slashed at Nazareth?s attack, and when steel-met-steel the severe impact was heralded by an explosion of orange sparks, a metallic ring and a kicking of dust. Stymied, Nazareth hung in the air a moment, her blade locked with Melia?s, like a desert ornament. The muscles in the girl?s arms screamed; she grimaced: this was a force never felt before.
Like a dancer, Melia revolved on the tips of her toes, and with the tenderest flick of her wrist, she repulsed the airborne Nazareth, threw girl?s blade and body away. Nazareth adjusted in air with a swift backflip, landed on her feet and growled. Melia was examining her blade at-length; the expression she offered was boredom. She said, ?I felt your body tense when our weapons met. It is unfortunate. . . . Unfortunate that I may have won with a counter so simple: your bruised muscles will make for slower and much-less powerful swings.? That beaming eye hooked around, found Nazareth and thinned. ?Are you done, peti diano??
Answering with a crouch, and that same reverse-bladed stance, Nazareth shook her head once. ?Shut up,? she croaked with a leviathan fury rumbling in the basin of her insulted tenor. She rushed towards Melia again, but with the understanding that leaving her feet was an ineffective tactic. She lanced to the left, then back to the right, lowered her body then jetted forward, using every bit of her leg-power to achieve the greatest speed possible. When in range she uppercutted the blade in an attempt to catch Melia?s neck. The terror felt when they?d first met, when Melia?s hyper-fluid movements rendered her own dumb and labored, shocked her body a second time. In horror the girl watched as her blade moved upwards in slow-motion. Melia, outside timelock, simply lifted her chin to avoid the strike, slipped to the left, snapped her hand and wrapped her wickedly long fingers around Nazareth?s weapon. An easy tug jarred the hilt from Nazareth?s hands. The girl stumbled, scrambled, cursed herself softly then collided with the ground.
Nazareth felt mocked by history, for the sight of Melia?s hand bleeding around her captured blade reminded the girl of the scene on the porch from earlier in the day, when it was her mother who had effortlessly stolen her weapon away. A deep, caustic hatred infected her.
?Your rezormora is a replica of Forez?s,? Melia said while admiring it. ?Did you know? There are of course several styles of rezormora; some of the designs were impractical absurdities, but the design of the two originals are those that continue to stand the test of time. You see,? continued Melia, discarding Nazareth?s weapon with a disrespectful toss to the side. It rattled across the rock after impact. ?Forez forged hers with that slight curve at the end, like yours??she did this because it gave the weapon a superior slicing angle, and allowed it to pass through the air with less resistance. She was a smart woman, Nazareth, you are wise to admire her. With that being said,? bringing her own weapon up, ?my mother preached to me the importance of power. This is a weapon from a disciple of Bith?s school: they nicknamed it, Noramora, because it resembled the straight, pike-like horns of the great Nora beasts that, unfortunately, have been extinct for eight ages. Do you see the difference? A noramora is straight; no curve. It rises,? guiding her eye up the wonderful, smokey steel, ?and at its peak, the slender edges fluidly slide and eventually intersect. Because it is straight and solid, it boasts incredible striking power. Like a rezormora it is sharpened on one-side only, which is strange for a straight-sword, but this styling allows for the application of advanced technique. Like when I countered your first blow: did you know I swung at you with the blunt side? Of course not, child, you fight in but a single dimension.?
Throughout the sermon, to which she was involuntarily present, Nazareth kept her eyes locked upon her discarded weapon. She was no fool: this fight could not be won. Yet she paid no mind to resignation, for intoxicated on the glory of death by an opponent of such skill, under the blade of this Melia, she felt no indignity, which was her greatest vice: she was being blessed with dignity in defeat. When she pushed herself up the muscles in her arms felt like lazy bundles of loose, stringy rope. Damages; a first, but she did not find the pain unsatisfactory; it was not a lesson, it was a trophy of sorts, one awarded when the battle was true. So she believed.
Once on her feet (but in a stricken hunch), Nazareth glanced over to Melia. ?I don?t care about the design of your weapon, woman,? said the girl, short-of-breath. ?I don?t care about what your mother taught you. Mine taught me that my blood was of the highest of caste, bloomed from the greatest seed. That one fate of mine was to restore the order of our race through discipline and power.?
Her piece was unfinished, but her opponent had begun to chortle girlishly. Nazareth?s body became hot.
?One fate of yours?? Melia asked in amusement. ?Have you more than one? My, my, you are indeed a special thing, peti diano.?
?None but Brides and fools lock themselves within a single fate!? Nazareth screamed, tears slickly shining on the fringes of her wide, red eyes. She pointed to Melia. ?If you?ve so-chosen to waste away here in this range of nothingness, then sobeit; clearly your mother instilled no sense of heritage within you.?
It was a wound to feel her own tears. Each blink moistened her pretty lashes, and filmed her view until the world was a glob of silver and a glob of brown flooded over a landscape of black. At once she streamed her eyes across the length of her arm to wipe the tears away. When the world was clear, it was very clear: Melia was gone. Nazareth's eyes burst; her jaw fell apart. She tore her head to the left, to the right, but found nothing. She flipped around 180 degrees, but before the turn was completed, she was lassoed at the neck and thrown to the ground. Her light body crashed with the weight of a boulder; her insides felt like an overturned drawer of knives and spoons: bent and scattered everywhere. But Nazareth?s vision, although slightly blurred, remained. Melia was above now, her blade cast down so that its point pricked at the pristine flesh of the young girl?s neck.
In an arid, whistled tone, like that of dry air cutting through the cracks of a broken ceramic pot, Melia asked the girl, ?Who is your mother, Nazareth? Your face is familiar, but my lone eye sees not with definition anymore, I sometimes believe I see what my mind commands.?
The girl on the ground, with her loose, broken-feeling arms outstretched, looked off to the side. Scars of brown powder that had bloomed from the rocky terrain upon impact ran across the girl?s cheek. A ribbon of blood flailed out of her right nostril. She did not want to answer, for Melia?s question was not asked out of courtesy, but rather out of necessity, and Nazareth felt not the desire to abide by her assailant's needs.
Melia?s wrist twitched and the tip of her weapon drew a little red line into Nazareth?s neck. ?Who, girl; tell me or I will do much worse than kill you.?
Eyes closed, Nazareth smiled a funny smile. The title she was given as conclusion to their introduction: Melia of Porta. Of Porta. Finally, she remembered why the name glimmered in the back of her mind.
?Now I get it,? whispered the broken little girl. ?You?re one of them. . . you were. . . you were a sister of The Gail. Mother must?ve known. . . No: I?m certain she did. Hah??I think she sent me here to die. I think she. . .?
Before her vision cut away, there was silence. Whether this darkening phenomenon was unconsciousness or death indeed was unknown to young Nazareth. But when her body became still, it did so with a smile imprinted upon its lips.
[size=24]Spinners were not always a delicacy[/size], but they had been, and were now to even seasoned Dominion huntresses, creatures that demanded caution on approach. Many, and Nazareth especially, wondered what manner of heinous weaver would design a beast so grotesque, fearless and violent. Judace told his sister that everything had a purpose, even the ugly and unsightly; even spinners. Their webs could be used a variety of ways, twine and tapestry the most conventional, and the pungent fluids packed in their thoraxes were rich with proteins and vitamins. Nazareth?s hatred for the beasts dismissed this logic as a defense of the obscene, which was a generally accepted pastime of little Judace, but she did not injure him for his input, for if Dominion had reduced such a monster into a utility the fact shined as but another evidence, in a driving score, of her people's superiority.
When finally Nazareth?s mind moved again, her senses were assaulted by the presence of spinners and, utility or not, her every nerve fizzed and wriggled, like millions of icy hairs below the soil of her flesh. Slowly her eyes opened; her vision was blurred. Rendering occurred slowly, but clarity of eye helped not, as whatever dank space in which she now resided was pitch black, a cave maybe, she thought, cold and empty with little to see besides a film of mist that rose up from the negative to envelope her ankles. After several adjustment blinks, groans and cusses of abnegation, the girl tried to move her arms, but they would not budge; she felt bound; tied-up. Violent struggle, thrashing, grimacing and kicking, filled the time it took to heat her mind, and once hot and cognitive, Nazareth was able to accurately process her predicament. Fear followed. She found both arms were stretched completely out at her sides, and beginning at the wrist, and traveling up her arm to the elbow were the thick, distinctive ropes of the spinner. Her head slashed downwards to check her legs, for they also felt tied-in-place. Although her ankles were lost to sight in the mystic silver syrup of an unknown mist, she was able, with tiny movements, to feel the grip of her bindings, was able to discern the completion of her entrapment.
Like the sweet vibrations of music through harpstring, Nazareth felt playing in the ropes in her wrists and ankles. These nasty manacles were of course attached to the greater-web; she?d happened across the carcasses of creatures that had been victim to spinners before, and she recalled a pattern similar to that which currently imprisoned her: lacing of the arms and feet, with a wide bedding of sticky web behind. Nazareth could not feel any webbing on her flanks, but she could not, however, turn her head far enough around to deny its presence. With the vibrations in the thread increasing ever-still, young Nazareth turned her eyes up, and there she saw, peering down from a throne of thick, knotted web, twelve adult-fist size eyes of violent, angry purple. Half-meter long pincers wide apart, its foremost legs, out of the collective of eight, kneading together grotesquely, Nazareth?s body chilled as she swallowed her own heart while bearing witness. A bundle of words, caught in her throat like a winded sphere of terrified, yet essential vocabulary, tore up her trachea and ripped over her tongue only to evacuate as ribboned, formless cries. Like an infant she spewed fearful nonsense as those twelve amethyst eyes began to descend. When the pointed, blade-like tips of the monster?s legs made progress down the net the vibrations that tickled the silk wrote words in Nazareth?s head: the words she felt, words felt as breath over her hot, terrified brain, greeted:
Nazareth began to riot in her bindings. Arms tugging, legs snapping, neck twisting, yet every time she felt as though the sticky web would tear, it would rebound and bring her and her exhausted muscles back to their prison. And the octave of legs kept singing:
The closer the beast came, the more it secreted: strings of saliva hung before Nazareth?s face like a cage, their bulbs fat and heavy, the tethers thin and ripped like acid-eaten tissue. The tender little vibrations of its steps graduated into pounds, into slams. Each progressing gesture now vibrated Nazareth?s entire body. She could look up no longer; her body was powering down. Every organ felt as though it had burst, every bone powder. Her legs were liquid. The beats of her heart became so rapid that it came to simply hum: It will burst??My heart will burst!
?Beasts should consume only prey,? a cool, firm and oceanic voice called from the mists, from somewhere beyond Nazareth?s range-of-sight. The girl?s eyes burst open. ?Should this circle complete,? it continued, ?everything I?ve worked so hard to erect will crumble, child. Beasts should not consume beasts. And you are, daughter, a beast if I?ve ever seen one.?
The speaker vented through the fog until whole: cloaked in white and most definitely feminine, her face covered nearly completely by an overdrawn hood. Only a smile, red and lavishly lipped, was seen in flesh. The woman in white raised her hand high over her head, and the pincers that carved out from the maw of the hissing, drooling spinner that loomed above, curled away. The sounds the great arachnid now made seemed to be out of fearful obedience. The woman took a step forward, lowered the hand she had raised and took Nazareth?s chin in her grasp.
?It ruins the chain, daughter,? said the woman. ?Beasts pursue prey: any deviance from this sullies that which I worked so hard to erect. If this pretty monster,? she uttered musically while indicating the retreating arachnid with a slight jerk of her chin, ?were to consume you, a pretty monster yourself, then the vermin you were created to eradicate would flood the world in furious pursuit of some unknown destiny you were charged with denying. I cannot allow that.?
Nazareth?s vision was muddy. Tears enveloped her eyes, but she needed them not, for this voice was not foreign. In shock, her trembling lips allowed a breathy passage: "Mother??
A smile. ?Of course, daughter.? she said. ?I never enjoyed interfering with the fates of others. Yet if one were to call my reluctance a ?credo?, then it is a code I have betrayed countless times, for I am here again trespassing against it. But I must say that I am awfully curious! Just how did you, a little thing with so much power and ambition, end up in captivity? So often have I heard you boast about how you will accept no death other than a warrior?s. It saddens me,? she said through a frown, ?that you were two thumps of a heart away from being picked off the bone.?
Nazareth shrieked, ?Mother!? Thrashing about with silver sickles glistening below her crimson eyes, the young Dominioness cried on repeat, ?Mother, mother, mother!?
?Silence,? commanded the apparition. ?It?s unbecoming to holler so. My presence alone was enough to vanquish that petty creature.? The fingers that gripped her daughter?s chin tightened. She leaned forward; their lips nearly met. ?What it is you need to understand,? the woman in white now whispered, ?is that what you seek means nothing??Reika? Laughable. The stories you?ve spent your childhood idolizing are exaggerations. Surely you know this? Surely you cannot believe the power you seek shines somewhere in the desert; in some cave, some valley, upon some peak; you cannot believe it awaits discovery? That it will illuminate your bones, seer your spirit and set your blade ablaze??
Outloud did Nazareth now cry. No longer could her eyes remain completely open, for the tears that streamed from them burned like acid. Both cheeks were plump and red and the falling streams that ran over them felt also like straights of liquid flame. Without a reason to keep her head up, Nazareth resigned her chin, and the apparition?s fingers slipped off. And with that hand free, the woman in white issued the Nazareth?s cheek a sharp slap. She cried, ?Fool!? before slapping her a second time. ?Enough!? Again. ?Enough!? Again. ?Hush! Hush!?
Each time the hand came around, it darkened Nazareth?s already soaked, already blurred vision. It was as if she were being bludgeoned into a coma. What felt like the twelfth strike neutralized her eyes completely. But the thirteenth brought light. A tiny little needle of light, a fire deep in a pitch black cave. The little fire became wider with the fourteenth slap, and the fifteenth turned it into an inferno. Inside the ribbons of flame, Nazareth recognized objects. Queer a concept, she knew, but the girl was certain: things stirred within the rippling fire. She noticed a wall of rock; a large black pot; a face. A face with a single eye of red.
The mystic flames blasted over Nazareth until the world rippled no longer; she now lay, or had always been laying, on an uncomfortable bed of wood without cushioning of any kind, save the bundled-up cloak of red that was placed under her head like a makeshift pillow. Above was Melia, seated over her, that eye poking out, her hand off to the side, recoiled from the sixteenth slap.
?Aye!? shouted Melia in anger. ?Ya? pricky bitch, your nightmares will wake the mountain itself.?
Dumbfounded and cradling her resonating cheek, Nazareth sprang upright. The space in which she now sat was a cave-turned-dwelling, as had been depicted in pieces within the mystic flame that had flickered in her subconscious while unconscious, for the realization of what it was she had just experienced, with her mother and the web, was beginning to clarify. A fire was built near the far wall, a black cauldron heating over it. Above, the natural ceiling of the cavern was carved-out, just above the fire, as ventilation; clumps of translucent smoke battered up into the vacuum. There was a second bed several meters away from the one Nazareth was seated upon. Unlike hers, it had several hand-woven blankets strewn across it, and a big, horrendous pillow that looked more like a woven brown sack than comfort item; the blankets were stirred and untidy, as if they who had lied there had gotten up abruptly. To her right, Nazareth could smell the sweet night air streaming in: this was the exit, which was worth noting as she could not yet discern if she were guest or captive. The stern look on her better?s face (not that one with but a single eye had an easy task at appearing jovial) made young Nazareth anxious.
Intensifying the young girl?s fears, Melia and that sole glaring eye moved closer. Melia asked dryly, ?Are you simple??
Her cheeks red, embarrassed and angered both, her eyes scrunched, Nazareth defended, ?I am not! You are simply rude.?
Melia laughed and agreed, or so it appeared, by nodding three times. ?Aye,? she said, smiling. Attention no longer paid to Nazareth, the woman relaxed in her skinny wooden chair. She sighed with satisfaction, and nodded once more while staring off into the wing where that luminant night air swept in. Her left leg folded over the right, Melia produced a slender fluted rod of wood: three ports on top, and three more on the side. Melia bit-down on the end of the flute, then, out of the pocket from which the rod had came, retrieved a cylinder that appeared to be made out of mended sides, a top and bottom, of smooth blue stone. Melia began unscrewing the top piece while speaking: "It's best to speak as one fights; you do the same without even knowing it: your voice is loud and your rhetoric is untrained and complies to an archaic formula of which you have only basic understanding. Learn from me," she remarked with a grin. When the lid of the canister was completely removed, the fire-lit cavern that was Melia's residence was invaded by a pervasive odor, one that instantly created a freshet of crinkled flesh along both sides of Nazareth's nose. The noxious fume was unfamiliar to the girl; it smelled earthy and stale like old, trampled soil, with a higher note that sang sour: it was this rogue agent, this little something that made her skin crawl, that caused her head to retreat away, that made her squint, made her cringe.
When Melia stuck her middle finger into the mysterious canister, Nazareth made a disgusted face. ?Just what is that? The odor is unbearable.?
Melia?s first reply was a grin. After a bit more dabbling with that finger, she said, ?It?s a little something of my own design. You see, in the past the spinner was a creature that, while fearsome and hideous, provided for our people. One cannot make leathers from its hide, one cannot use its bones for it has none, but the fluids it carries both hydrate and nourish."
?I?ve heard,? Nazareth said, pulling her eyes away. ?But they are simply too horrible. And if you are going to ingest that. . . fluid, I will not sit and bare witness.?
?Oh?? The woman?s single eye opened like a sail, caught all of Nazareth?s dissatisfaction and powered an amused expression with it. Laughter followed, cool and deep. ?You?ll do as I command, pretty devil. Have you any pride in yourself, as one such as you should claim to have in bunches, you will accept my hospitality, thank me for not severing your head, and smile like a child whenever I ask. I was the best this day, child. You do not look as though you?ve experienced defeat before. Realize it is not the end of all things, and that if you last even a solitary second longer in combat the next time you and I cross blades, appreciate that you gained from loss. This is paramount.?
The order was tall in many respects, but Nazareth fulfilled it. She did not smile (and if queried, she would insist she never truly was asked), but sat herself up tall, placed both hands upon her proper-square thighs, and did not a thing besides observe. Melia?s smile dissipated as her little chemistry became more involved. A sticky dab of the opaque syrup glued to the middle finger of her left hand, the woman pulled the fluted rod up and positioned the drop over the middle port. She glided it in. A glance up. ?Above you,? she said to Nazareth. ?The plants I have hanging in the net, do you see? Yes, yes??the one with the red bulbs there. Pluck one of the larger leafs, but do so from the stem, do not rub your fingers across the flesh of the leaf. You?ll spoil it.?
A cruel twist later, Nazareth snapped-off a leaf she favored, shaped like a green, serrated dagger, then handed it over carefully. Melia nodded her thanks, accepted the bud and placed it atop her thigh temporarily. Continuation of the science fluid, she next placed the pipe down upon a little wooden table that stood on her right. Without spoiling the leaf with skin contact of her own, the woman carefully folded the dagger-like bud in half horizontally using the stem, then artfully, with just the bridges of her sharp knuckles, bent it vertically up the middle. She repeated this process once more: the leaf was now a green pebble.
Curiosity overtook Nazareth?s earlier ugliness. From a veiny forehead that was creased with disgust came open, crested eyebrows set apart in wonder atop very wide and nearly-enthused eyes. ?Can I ask what it is you?re doing? Is this a. . . food of some kind??
A little hiss skirted under Melia?s front teeth, through something of a friendly smirk. Her eye lit Nazareth up. ?Food? No, child, I am not going to eat any of this. I had a meal two days ago, my body is very much nourished. This ritual is. . . well, not something traditional among Dominion. The Brides were the first to introduce us to the concepts of narcotic, and intoxicants. They warm themselves with fiery water that fills their heads with madness and their stomachs full of a courage they could not possess otherwise. Have you heard of their spirits??
Nazareth shook her head. ?Oddly, no; odd because my brother adores cultural absurdities, as well as history for he his too weak to attack the future. He's constantly lecturing??
?The question was simple, child,? Melia sliced in. She shook her head. ?This continent is now a confusing place because at some point, in some hectic age not many years removed from today, everyone decided it righteous to beautify simple questions with confusing answers. There is no progress in complexity. None that I have found, at least. Simplicity is beautiful."
?I?m sorry,? said Nazareth with a bowing of head. ?Tell me then. Spirits? I assume you are not referring to their religion; to their petty Arias??
?I am not,? replied Melia with a shake. I know little of their beliefs. Bride spirits are drinks that blur the mind. I once had a bottle, and I can say from my experience that there is at least one thing in this world that Brides have a higher tolerance for than we: spirits. I?ve seen them drink bottles and bottles at a single fire-sitting, and while they do become rowdy and oafish, they can consume otherworldy amounts of the poison without sickness. Dominion have zero tolerance for it: after only several mouthfuls I became violently ill.?
Disproportionate eyes queried Melia. Nazareth asked, ?This is a??battle ritual of some kind? It fills them with courage, yes? That is what you said??
?Hardly. It is recreation. Now hush for a moment. I haven?t spoken this much in ages. My mouth is as a desert now, and I am in no mood to fetch water.?
With silence agreed upon, Nazareth scooted backwards until her back came to rest against the wall. Melia reverted to her concoction. The fuzzy tufts of firelight that bent across the rocky walls and roof like flaming arches dripped over the sharp, superior angles in Melia's face. Nazareth found most things about the woman sharp and blade-like: Her short fangs of hair, ridged cheekbones, that crimson knife of an eye with the lightning-strike wrinkles flashing out of the corners. She was a woman post-middle age at maybe five ages (250 years), or so said her hardened, unglamorous flesh, that which was very tan and parchment-like. Even the smile she now smiled, with sharp teeth running through, was like a curved blade of opal.
With notice taken, Melia remarked out of the corner of her mouth, "You're gawking, girl." Nazareth jumped. "An easily excited thing you are, hmn? Didn't see you as the type to become enchanted so easily, pretty devil.?
?Just??What does that mean?? Nazareth?s head canted ever-so in question.
?What it means? I?d like to ask you the same, child, for I do not think it proper for a youngling to become enchanted by a much older woman. Although I am admittedly striking.? Melia waved her flute around in the air playfully.
Nazareth?s flesh, from her cheeks to slender arms, pulsed red. ?You?re mocking me,? the young girl said, her head limp and face embarrassed. ??Devil,?? Nazareth promptly clarified as her angered curiosity dispelled her shy red. ?I?ve never heard that word before.?
Melia placed the fluted pipe in under her top lip and bit down upon the smoothed mouthpiece. The little green pebble was dropped into the lowest of the ports. The woman stood. ?The devil??? she mumbled around the pipe on her way across the room. Near the snapping fire, another rickety table of thin, dark wood stood. Upon it was a ceramic dish with a candlestick wedged in the port, as well as several slender sticks of varying length; their ends were burnt. A little dip into the big flames sparked the wick. Melia returned to the chair at Nazareth?s feet, her candle carrying fire. ???was a misunderstood creature from previous world, child.?
The girl thrust herself off the wall and came to an expectant rest on the bed?s edge. With excitement: ?This is the old Dominion tongue! It is a story of the old world??
Melia shook her head. The woman picked out one of the burnt sticks on the plate and bathed the tip in fire. It caught. Drawn over the middle port (the one holding the caramelized spinner fluid), Nazareth?s wide eyes watched in something of horror as Melia used the flamed tip of the twig to coal the sticky substance. Melia took a quick draw and the port boiled to a fierce glow; the smoke that she inhaled was musky, and the smoke that she then exhaled in big, bold waves of cottony white curdled Nazareth?s nose. The girl found the procedure incredulous, appalling and unbelievable. But before she could rebuke Melia, the woman answered the girl?s question. ?No,? in a soothed, drunk voice. ?the story of The Devil precedes even the Old Dominion, child. A very good friend of mine told me the story some age ago. I found it fascinating, which is incredible considering my hatred of history. And I cannot understand why, but I see the embodiment of the beast?s story in you.?
Intrigued with eyes thin, Nazareth read closely the stories on Melia?s bladed face. ?In me??
Melia roasted the third-seated bowl, with the green pebble. The scents in this smoke were herbal and sweet and not nearly as offensive to Nazareth?s keen nose. Her words barraging the smoke fuming from her lips: ?In time, perhaps, I will elaborate. I am not a keen storyteller. In my mind, I can see the meaning in what I just spoke?about you embodying the story?but I am unsure whether or not I could accurately articulate it. You see, The Devil was a beast written with one-thousand different faces. That is what I was told, meaning his origin and purpose varied greatly from sect-to-sect. The best I can gather was that he was as ambiguous as he was omnipotent: his mystery his greatest power. You do not possess mystery, Nazareth.? Usage of her name widened the girl?s eyes. With an expression severe, Melia hoisted her chin. ?Not yet, at least.?
?And is ?mystery? a great quality of yours, Melia?? asked Nazareth; her chin was raised, her smile cunning. "You remind me of my brother more and more. And perhaps my mother as well??-the both of them speak nonsense, coat it in majesty, or what-have-you, smile at me as if I were a fool, then leave before any sort of rational explanation. Did you not just speak to me on the values of simplicity??
Melia smoked while Nazareth spoke. When the girl?s speech ended, Melia tinkered with the mouthpiece of her pipe. ?I?m not sure how I feel about those words,? said Melia. She looked up. ?Your jab aside, I?m speaking on comparisons to your mother??-to Maetron.?
Both of Nazareth?s barefeet stomped the rocky floor. ?And just who are you to suggest??
?Enough,? boomed Melia. She pointed at the bed Nazareth had leapt off of with her pipe and made her eye skinny. The girl sat back down. ?I smelled your mother on you the minute you stepped foot on my mountain, Nazareth. I only asked because I did not want to believe it. Over time my feelings for her have become splintered. Once a woman I revered as a God, I now think of her as a lunatic idealist with ideals she has little interest in sharing. We all did her bidding once, and it lead us to the gates of The Void. I say now that I am ashamed of the fact that I held her even above my own mother for a time.?
?So I wasn?t wrong,? whispered Nazareth; she spoke to herself.
Melia heard. ?No, pretty devil, you were not: I was indeed a Sister of The Gail. One of the fabled four. Yes, yes, yes. I was pried away from my own dreams to help your mother fulfill hers. I was young then, and thought only of the stories they?d tell of our conquests. A joke.? She laughed. ?Yes, yes. The greatest comedy.?
Nazareth laid upon the uncomfortable bed. A bold streak of shadow engulfed her face and most of her torso. She crossed her legs and peered up into the sharp raises in the stone cavern. What she saw was her mother?s face; she saw it in most things. Everything watched, perpetually. Minutes of silence broken by a tenderly spoken question: ?Will you tell me about them? About The Four Sisters??
Melia rose. Again towards the crackling fire and the formless shadows that flickered like spasming old ghosts on the rockwall behind the flames and cauldron, she took the wooden handle of the long ladle that stood up in the sticky stew between her fingers and took a deep breath. The woman's spiky hair appeared pinned back when her chin raised. "Your mother and I were the first," Melia began. "We had no name, no objective really. Simply, we traveled together. I lost my mother, so yours took me in. I always wondered if she did it of her own volition, or if my mother begged the favor, for Maetron and she got along, which was uncommon: my mother, Torrea, had not many tolerances in regards to personality. That?s not to say that she detested expression, but she preferred more?sensible and ordered women: Your mother was, and surely still is, many things, and many of them great, but ?ordered and sensible??---no.? Glancing at her audience, Melia found Nazareth?s red eyes sparking in the darkness. ?In any case, your mother expressed interest in continuing her idolship after my mother?s death. I, on the other hand, had absolutely no interest in being her liaison, her understudy: I was thirsty for vengeance.?
?Vengeance?? asked Nazareth with excitement.
Melia nodded. ?Aye. To take the heads of those that had wronged my mother. But revenge is a. . . filthy hobby. I don?t think there has been, nor will ever be a person that thinks spilling blood for the blood spilled will refill them in any way. It is vengeance?s path and the black light it?s bathed in that makes the task glamorous. Sadism is. . . sexual, I think. It?s filth excited me, as I see it excites you. I?d warn you about the emptiness of vengeance?s success, but you will not listen.
?But I will condense the events that began it all: a boy that I fancied, a boy from a clan ours? did not sing well with, was killed during his Evening. In a rage, I killed the young man that was responsible with all the eyes of the world watching. The clan he belonged to demanded my head. My mother refused to give it to them, and offered her own. Seeing that my mother, the fiercest bit of woman to ever live in those walls, was hated by everyone outside of our clan, hated because her rivals were weak and fearful, the deal she proposed was accepted. They put her to the pole. And so I was set loose on the world with a bellyful of emotions I could not, in my young age, come close to understanding or accepting. I lost a boy I truly adored and watched my mother hang as retribution for my own foolishness. I not once tried to argue with her. At the time I rationalized it; I told myself, ?Mother?s orders are final; mother will never come free of a decision when her mind is made up.? And, truthfully, I was not kidding myself?there was no way I was going to back her off her decision. But I should have, for my own sense of pride, tried, I suppose. All protests would have been ornamental, would have seemed patronizing to my mother, but those are not excuses. I was very much scared. I was very much the coward. My mother knew this about me, and that is why she let her bones bleach in the desert: to give me strength. Honestly I will never know if I became the woman she wished me to be, but I have, since the day she and I last spoke, done all I could to transcend her. She would have wanted that.?
Melia stole a final puff from her fluted pipe; her eyes were closed. Over to a table that stood in the fiery wash of the cauldron?s flames, she came to a ceramic bowl of ancient brown and smacked the flute against the bowl?s corners. Nazareth watched as thin, silky ash slipped out of the ports that had once held Melia?s serum and Melia?s leaf.
?And so I grew up with Maetron as my surrogate mother,? Melia continued, still standing over the table and bowl, her eye thin and trained in the middle slot of her pipe. ?She is a woman that is exceedingly talented at making one feel both loved and alone at the same time. Most of my life I understood it as a difference of intelligence; that she was simply older, wiser, more learned than me, meaning that any inferiority felt was but a collateral injury that was not intended. But??but, Nazareth, your mother is much, much more than some talented historian.?
Slowly, Melia turned until her palms and flank were pressed into the edge of the tableface. She looked into Nazareth now. ?All of this happened ages ago. When we first met, Maetron laid her time at four ages old?so you tell me how now, at what would make her close to nine ages, she has a daughter that is but a darling? What is she? What desires does a woman of her kind even have??
Eyes open wide as they received, Nazareth slowly shook her head. ?Truthfully,? the young girl began, her words tentative and testing, ?she has told us??told us that she is closer to twenty ages old.?
Melia laughed. ?Oh, what a tale! And yet, I do not doubt it. I could not: she is an anomaly, as true as she is crooked, and that is the root of her enigmatic charm. From first glance, and most certainly after the first conversation any woman or man may be lucky enough to have with her, it shows clear that you are looking upon, or speaking with a deity: Maetron is no Dominion. I don?t know what she is, little darling, but I know enough about our blood to know when I am speaking with a foreigner.?
Nazareth let her legs hang over the edge of the bed. Smoothing out the coarse fabric of her sooty tan dress, she asked Melia, with her eyes low as to avoid, at all costs, the answer she sought, ?If that?s true, what does it make me?? She looked up; her face was torn and upset, with cheeks and nose red and lips moist and spread-wide. ?What am I if she is not Dominion, Melia? And just what could my mother be, if not Dominion??
?Oh, enough. enough, little darling,? Melia assured. She ventured back over to the chair near Nazareth?s bed and seated herself. ?You are as Dominion as they come. After the many years she and I spent together, I learned this from your mother: it matters not. What we call ourselves, what we believe??it?s inconsequential, I?m afraid. Although in the end she may have trespassed against all that she preached, I didn?t allow her treachery to invalidate the wise things she?d stitched into me. And you, regardless of where you end up, should never abandon the dreams you hold now. You are but a child, Nazareth, and as you mature your ideals and adorations will as well, but the things we burn for while young are to never be put out by others. I can say with absolute certainty that I did not fail my younger self. See that you do the same.?
With a shrug, Nazareth wept, ?And if I don?t know what I want? I feel??? the girl opened both hands and looked into their plain, ivory palms. ???as though my soul is pure fire. Everything I touch I wish to burn. Everything I see I wish to envelop. I don?t know the meaning of ?satisfaction?. I want The Brides to burn. All of them. That is the only dream I have.?
A deep, long sigh evacuated Melia?s thin lips. She reclined. To the ceiling her single eye went. ?I will tell you now the story of The Four Sisters, Nazareth. Perhaps you will find meaning in our exploits. I pray that you do.?
Melia rose before speaking a word. Her face, torn between an exquisite pain and exquisite joy, held all of Nazareth?s attention. Melia gestured towards the funneling night winds. ?Outside,? she said. ?I don?t want to tell it in here.? Quickly on her feet, Nazareth lined up at the woman?s flank. Melia turned her head in such a way that only her aquiline nose and the blocking cloth that quarantined the vacancy in her head showed. The elder grabbed the collar of her thick coat, but Nazareth shook her head. She said, ?The cold here is different,? and Nazareth, with her nose scrunched and eyes little, sprinted back to the naked bed, retrieved her cloak and swiftly pushed her thin body into it.
The corridor that lead outdoors was but a few-dozen meters of curved rock. To Nazareth the cave?s mouth and the corridor that both women now streamed through seemed unnatural; cut; but she could not fathom, to-use put every brilliant node in her brain, just how one would go about pulverizing into a mountain, and yet, there carved as proof were the scars of a blade, the indents of an elbow or knee, as each knick lining the tunnel ate just a bit of the cold blue moonlight that flooded shyly in from the corridor?s mouth.
Melia was the first lit in the full-night, Nazareth secure in her shadow. The woman?s bare, pallor feet turned blue outdoors. The night?s fleet was ablaze: One-hundred-million pins of silver, all, seemingly, orbiting a cracked moon vested atop a monstrous peak that eliminated the uniformity of the black, splintery mountains that built the night?s horizon. ?I scaled it once,? Melia said, the words whispered but sharply, accurately, as if aimed at the peak where they would be intercepted, hopefully, by echoes she perchance left behind. ?One can see a great deal from atop. Westward is Ionosis. You live very close to their city, yes? And yet you?ve never been there? Never even seen it, have you? I know you have not. I know this because had you you certainly would not have made this journey into The Great Nothing. I will tell you, it is a spectacular thing. It?s perhaps a triumph.?
?Their city? Explain how thousands of fools mended together is a triumph??
?Oh, but it is,? Melia said, her eye still grafted to the towering peak. ?Only a fool would think otherwise?-their city is a triumph because it is a victory over the land. Dominion never achieved this.?
?Hush. To our eyes, their city is impossible?you,? her eye hung over the girl, a smile stretched across her jaw, ?should admire it for that. But even from the peak, you cannot see its glory absolute. On the side-cliffs of Roan, where The War?s last blood was shed, or so within the boundaries of the accord that ended it, I was within eight kilometers of it. I am ashamed to admit to you that as I stood and watched the bonds of our Dominion?s last clan burn to ash, some of me was obsessed with the city that hollered and cried and sang below the cliffs upon which we warred. Did you know that the counties that surround the inner-walls of Ionosis-proper are many times larger than the city itself? Yes, yes, the cities outside the walls reach around the sand hundreds of kilometers in every direction. The main city itself, the towers behind the wall, is not open to just any Bride. Only their greatest??-merchants and scholars and artisans??-are allowed within the towers. So much life, devil. So much, so close.
?But that?s where we ended. We began in a place that was considered perverse to many Dominion, for the same reason Ionosis is perverse to you: Porta. Porta was the only city in our people?s history that functioned below clan representation. This is also where I began. Devil. My mother was killed and I was small-toe away from the void.
?I had confined myself to my mother?s chambers. I was a weak child: Without a superior to idolize, I was devoid of purpose. The old stories, those that you yourself worship, died in me. I resisted all the attempted stimulation, all the ?wisdoms? and vocal fodder. I felt it was owed to me, the isolation and the longing. The night it happened I was awake. I rarely slept. I heard the shuffling steps of barefooted huntresses. From beneath the luxurious layers that made up my mother?s bed, I watched as the poor, copper light of the hall slipped into the room from the slowly separating chamber door. A woman of shadow, visibly equipped, stood in front of the light. She did not remain idle long; She lunged. She was allowed only a brief moment of definition. I saw the veiny threads of her stealthy cloak and the red of her eyes, tines of white hair and flesh crinkled like discarded parchment. She hated me. I?ll never know who she was. Why she hated me was not a question. But she was a person; a Dominioness, and she hated me so much that she was set to accept the Void the same instant as I, for surely she did not care about escape.
"Her movement through the air as she lunged towards me suddenly, and violently, reversed. Reversed as if the great forces that keep our feet planted firmly upon the very world then refused her. She was tossed backwards by something so swift and so powerful it actually frightened me: frightened a child who craved darkness.
?After a violent ricochet off the wall, the woman laid upon the cold stone floor of the hall, completely lifeless. I crept from the bed?s edge. Because of the wicked speed of the event, my mind span in bewilderment. It was then, when I was mere centimeters from the final length of the bed, that I saw she who wielded the ferocious force that had snatched my assassin out of the air.?
Melia paused and quietly smiled with private amusement. Young Nazareth, now seated upon the cold rock of Melia?s mountain, let her little chin into the palm of her right hand. Eyes low, she said tenderly, ?Mother was watching over you. That?s right, isn?t it??
?Aye. Maetron herself in all her mystic chaos. My life was saved, and by personal tenant, a debt had to be paid. I had been a wild one, devil, as wild as you are now. Your mother was known as the greatest Idol of this or any generation, a woman with a reputation so pristine and indomitable she could have woven together every bedamned clan in our world and ordered them all to swap their blades for thimbles and she would have been obeyed absolutely. But, I was wild, yes? My blood was always hot, devil, always. I didn?t want to be a traveling historian?s aide, no, not in the slightest. What did I want? Of course I wanted what you want: I wanted invincibility and a mind of sword-technique. I wanted such prowess that I could make-obey even my most fiercest critics with just the notion of a challenge. But, most of all,? Melia said, her eye turned up to the night, ?I wanted to tear Venzis asunder. I wanted to drive a blade so deeply into her I would extinguish not only her life, I would cut all notes of her existence off the threads of our hearts and minds.?
?Who was this woman?? Nazareth asked.
?Leader of the Uegodora clan, weaver of falsehoods and queen of the modern cowards that now-mother the mongoloids that saunter around Bride streets at their beck and call.?
?It isn?t fair to call them that. They?ve known nothing else?-?
?Unfair as it may be,? Melia said, ?it is most certainly true. I must ask, Devil?how many siblings have you??
Nazareth lifted two fingers.
Following a quick nod: ?Then, with the exception of three, it is my displeasure to inform you that every carrier of Dominion blood in this most current generation has been bred into servitude and that alone. Dominion are a very impressionable species, Devil. My mother was a genius warrior, and so I knew nothing else. The mothers of this generation were made to labor for the Brides, and so their children know nothing else. But you? Just what is it in Maetron that made you this way? She?s no advocate for Bride holocaust.?
?I just am,? Nazareth said. ?I was told to be strong for my siblings. We were four not too long ago. I was told it was my job to keep them safe on their travels. Pilot. . . she despised me, I think. Out of all of us she was the most distant. When she?d walk, she?d do it alone. And when I followed, she knew and would turn back before leaving the grounds. Weeks ago she finally managed to make it past the trees without my knowing. It ended up being the last thing she did.
?But, my infatuation with Reika comes from literature. My mother has amazing books on their history, books she transcribed herself from ancient tomes.?
?I too read on them as a child,? Melia said. ?My mother had tomes. Your mother had many more; she gifted them to me once I fell into her debt. You are ferocious and intelligent, Devil?it is Forez you most admire, correct??
Proudly, Nazareth nodded.
?An error,? the woman said, bending all the way over so that her nose almost pecked into her young counterpart?s as she did: Nazareth?s wrinkled in response to the crudity. ?But, not a critical one, child: Although I believe most absolutely that Bith was the, is now and always shall be, the strongest Reika in the discipline?s history, present and future, I can say also in full confidence that there would be no Reika without Forez The Storm. She was the first to introduce form and phrasing to her combat style?she was the first to have a style. And if the creation of such a peerless art was not genius enough, she found ways to dismantle and incrementalize her motions so that it could be taught easily to disciples. Both Bith and Forez were the greatest of us, I believe. Your wide eyes inform me of a shared sentiment, hm? But, that was not the story we came to hear, no??
The younger shook her head. Upwardly grinning, she said, ?You were talking about murdering a woman. Ven. . . Ven??
?Ah!? Melia burst, that eye wide. ?Speak not the beast?s name, child. I?ll return to her when the story calls. As far as the formation of The Four Sisters, it begins, as I said, with my leaving Porta. Your mother gifted me books on the Reika, as I said, and was granted permission by Torrea, my mother, to take ownership of her Rezormora until she saw me fit to wield it. I thought of nothing else, Devil. I thought of nothing else. I?d held the weapon once, you see. Between my fingers, oh so sweet a cut, so unbelievable a balance. It makes barely a sound when it drives through flesh. In fact it does so with such incredible ease you feel as though its a waste of the tool. One could carve faces into the very stone of this world with a Rezormora, child. You should be honored to be seated so close to the one on my belt. Hah, calm yourself. Your mother has given you no readings on ?comedy?? That pretty little face of yours is destined to die in a thick of thorny wrinkles without a laugh now-and-again, Devil.
?It was during a busy noon through the loud, heated streets of Porta, that your mother and I departed Porta and set out for The Reach, the sparsely populated and unforgiving mountainous region southeast of here. Your mother told me little until about a week had past. She mentioned a woman by the name of Erinseph who headed a clan by the same name. Although I was young and hardly a noteworthy student, I was aware of the fact that only The Sombeer named their clans after themselves.?
?Sombeer?? Nazareth asked.
?Aye,? Melia said. She nodded slowly, distantly. ?I knew of The Sombeer, but even in that age, when Dominion were many, their existence was doubted. Sombeer were known to be keepers of the old ways. and they who first began the idolships, who first made it their mission to keep the word of our people flowing through the steely fibers of time. Sombeer were told to be tall, to be so dark of skin that their flesh rivals a midnight?s blue, and to have lovely eyes of piercing orange?almost like those of your mother.?
?My mother is???
Melia laughed and was laughing still when she began to speak: ?No, no, no, Devil, your mother is not Sombeer. Do you not listen with those perky ears of yours? Sombeer have dark skin, child. Not tanned; not weathered: black. And smooth like polished onyx. Although your mother does indeed have queer eyes, they are not not flagrantly orange. But there is more.?
Melia lifted her right hand, and the index finger upon it. Through her single-sight, she wedged her long, bony digit into the crest of the nearly extinguished moon. It had traveled some, even in their brief time out. Her finger measured the traverse. ?Sombeer have curiously beautiful features,? Melia said. ?The bones of their cheeks are wide and strong. Their chins are narrow like blade-tips. Their ears sweep back regally and their hair is the purest of white: no gold; not a lick. And although I?ve only met two Sombeer in my life, I noticed that their eyelids hang always heavy over those pretty evening-suns. They have a weariness about them. A sadness, a loss, a hopelessness. I adored their countenance, those faces that seemed like locked chests bearing treasures both priceless and useless.?
?So you did meet them?? Nazareth asked. ?They did exist? What secrets did they hold??
?Aye,? Melia said. Her arm dropped. ?What secrets they held were of no concern of mine. Still are not. I do not care. I wanted power. If the abilities I sought were ancient, then I would observe and idolize them. The fact that they were old was happenstance and little else. Like you I admired the Reika, but when the fates axed my lineage I saw them as little-more than stories for little girls with dreams of the hunt running through their knotty, golden heads. I wanted results, not stories. So I went into the meeting with my expectations low, for I did not believe the decrepit old woman your mother introduced me to could possibly offer any advice in the way of combat. Yes, Erinseph?she was very, very old. Ten bedamned ages old, to be exact. There is merit in that of course, as we all live lives of strife, but I was falsely righteous and angry then, Devil, so my lack of trust was little more than ignorance.
?We had been in The Reach a week before arriving at their camp. It was neat, but unglamorous. I had lived in Porta, of course, so the rural rock and great wide everything was borish. Erinseph stood outside of an abode made of clay; its shape was strange: spherical and precise, but very old: the surface was cracked along much of it. There was a fire built outside. It was post-twilight. I remember the night was very blue and bright. It was cold in The Reach. The Lightning Lands were only just over the last form of mountains, east of Erinseph?s camp, and the closer you get the more icy the air becomes. I did not enjoy it.
?Erinseph wore plain brown robes. Her eyes were asleep, her hair was long and white, her braids loose and defunkt. Many ornaments, beads of hollowed stone, gems, glittered in her hair. She was an artwork, the Brides would say. Perhaps she was. But her face was brutal, devil. Never I had I seen flesh so wrinkled. While standing beside the fire the battering orange light of the flames filled them: she looked as though one-hundred rivers of liquid flame ran up, down and across her black face of stone. A large staff, much like a ritual band, held her up.
?As your mother and I approached, the stoic woman?s body language began to change. From a distance she seemed wary, as one could say, and be correct, that her senses were not what they had once been: we were strangers in a long forgotten place, she was right to be wary. But when we were no longer secrets, Erinseph placed her right hand over her mouth. And when Maetron and I were lit also in the flames of her built fire, she tossed her stick aside and threw both of her arms around your mother?s neck. They were close. They had a past.?
?Erinseph,? Nazareth recited. She turned her eyes up to the night. ?Erinseph.?
?You know the name??
The girl shook her head. ?No. I don?t think so, at least.?
?Still so tightly locked,? Melia said, smiling. ?Secrecy is an illreputable deceit, they say. I believe your mother has made it an incredible ally, like no one has ever before. But, let me return before the night begs my leave: It has become late. During their embrace, Erinseph turned those old, orange eyes on me. I remember being unable to sustain the gaze. When the women untangled they spoke in whispers for a time. I was the subject of their eyes intermittently. This, combined with the cold and topped by my impatiantness, made me sour. Your mother noticed, of course. It amused her, I think. I think she let the hushed conversation between she and the old Sombeer run awry simply to irritate me.? Melia bent into a deep nod. ?It worked. Devoid of the respectful niceties I had been raised to adhere, I approached the women. I moved quickly. Only Maetron turned to look, and I remember she looked not in my eyes but at my dirty bare feet as they stomped and groaned across the cracked rock. When I was finally close enough to decipher the whispers, I heard only one word from the old Sombeer before she cracked me across the jaw with her staff. She didn?t even have to look at me, and not a single of my sharp, seething senses raised an alarm. My head rung in pain. It rang in disbelief.?
Nazareth was smiling. She asked, ?What was it? What did she say before she struck you??
??No?,? Melia said. ?She said, ?no?, then whipped me like an unruly beast. But, an unruly beast I was. Maybe still am, Devil.
?After that. . . there was much??-motion. Erinseph turned her back on me and began hobbling away, favoring a weak right leg. Your mother followed her as she moved along, begging a point it seemed. It was the only time, as I recall, I ever saw your mother ask anyone for anything. It was all over her body language: Erinseph did not owe your mother anything. How strange it was to see.? Everything about Melia seemed to scatter with those words. Her return came in moments, and when it did she laid her eye into Nazareth. ?How so much stranger it is now with the knowledge I keep today. Come. Come, now, Devil, I take to rest early.?
?No, you mustn't!? the girl whined. ?Please, Melia, please: Please finish. My body doesn?t need the sleep. I hardly rest.?
?Then don?t sleep, Devil? said Melia. ?And hardly rest outdoors.?
Scornfully, Nazareth?s eyes bore into the retreating Melia The girl leapt to her feet. To the woman?s back she hollerd, ?You?re afraid?you?re afraid to tell me how this story ends! I?ve seen it in your face since first you began.?
Her long-fingered hand balanced alertly upon the pommel of the blade still strapped to her hip, Melia, that eye turned over her shoulder to combat fiercely a young set she?d understood to be constantly aflame, said, ?Careful, child. Erasing you would not wound me that deeply, I assure you.?
?Then why run now? You?re not so old that you need to rest so frequently. You have regrets. I?m not so foolish,? the girl said. Wiry muscles burst from arms that hung little, white fists. ?I know this story ends in humiliation. I know it ends with you all bowing to Brides you could have easily slaughtered. That?s why I need to hear it, Melia. I need to know why my mother made you all lay your blades down. I need to know if she did it for us.?
That long-fingered hand rose from the smooth onyx ornament and pushed into the dry, jagged hair that hung from her head. When at the neck, those fingers took hold and the woman?s chin rose, her eye closed. Melia whispered, ?She did not.?
Melia put both hands into the pockets of that thick, long coat. Sidelong, Nazareth admired the woman?s tall, slim profile. Upon that worn, pretty face with the fine, charming wrinkles, the long, prolific mouth and single ruby eye, Nazareth found, solved from the reflective pieces of that well-woven enigma of viscosity and sarcasm, melancholy. The ferocity and juvenile jovialness she had wielded moe divinely than the blade had been shaken off. What was left, what now stared back, was dead. And the corpse continued, in a voice that sounded as though it had spent a millnea in the dry belly of the chasm from atop they stood, ?She did it for her, Nazareth. Your mother offered the blood of every last one of us to the Brides. It was contractual. I know very little about it, but I know enough about it to consider her the greatest coward and traitor in our history. If that angers you, I?ll accept terms for a duel when you?re old enough to stand a chance.?