[size=18]Prologue: Master of Puppets
Power intrigued Rainel. She wasn?t alone in such things, as could be witnessed by all who were present tonight. Power thrummed through the chamber deep beneath the tower of wind so thickly that a person would have to be dead not to feel its slow build. It began in the center of the chamber, rising from the artifact that stood there. For all that it resembled an anvil, Rainel couldn?t bring herself to call it that. It was more a work of art than some blacksmith?s tool. Its entirety was a carved scene from anvil to the base upon which it rested. It was sturdy enough to be utilized, she knew that it had been and more to the point that it would be again. Clearly it wanted to be used, though the relic was far from sentient.
Relic it was rumored to be, though Rainel had a problem believing that this particular object dated back to the moment of creation despite how vehemently Torquel insisted. He was after all merely a dwarf, no matter how ancient he proclaimed himself to be. Caretaker to the Forge of Creation indeed, superstitious drivel that he capitalized on to elevate his standing. Sure his beard was long, and his hair white, those lines in his face were etched deep enough to hide rivulets. He was old, but his eyes were too clear, besides Flint Shattersword looked only marginally younger than Torquel. Another dwarf, and perhaps not the oddest attendee tonight. Flint was different anyway, he had been called here, not by her of course though it was her right to do so as Mistral to the tower.
Different as he was, she wouldn?t have called him for this. She was still quite angry with him for a slight that he could barely remember. She remembered, or at least she remembered the argument that ensued afterwards, and she wouldn?t apologize until he did no matter what their relationship. Her mother had warned her that dwarven men made horrible husbands, telling her she?d be lucky if he weren?t out drinking to all hours, and lighting out on a whim towards the promise of treasure. Rainel had told her that he wasn?t that way, and she was right, though he had often gone on adventures he?d never left her behind to do so. That alone made him different if nothing else.
Rainel slid her fingers through her hair, tucking a few stubborn strands that had escaped the plait behind a pointed ear. They made an odd couple, and not just because she stood so much taller than he. They were an anathema to the standard hate shared for one another by dwarves and elves. It should have brought their people closer, but it only served to make things worse, not that either of them cared. She must have been staring, because Flint smiled at her. It was a confused smile to be sure, and even as he managed to finish the curl of those lips, by the light he was going to talk! Rainel turned from him coldly. He needed to know that she was still angry, and stop trying to break down her walls with those goofy smiles and that voice of his. She wasn?t ready to give in, perhaps in a decade he would come to his senses.
It was an elven tower, her tower, and yet she was in the minority of the gathering. Her gaze fell upon Georg Fenririst?, the tallest man in the chamber, though even he was dwarfed by the cathedral ceiling. He was well over six feet tall, and despite his age his hair remained mostly red. White had crept into his beard since last she?d seen him. He was by far the broadest of the gathered as well, wide shouldered and broad chest were accented by thick arms. Some would call him handsome when he smiled. Rainel never did like red hair though, not on a man at least. It always made them look awkward to her eye. Of them all, he looked most like a warrior. It was difficult to believe that his true strength lay in the manipulation of fire. He stood opposite her, across the room and on the other side of the artifact. His attention was rapt upon the thing, she had trouble discerning what his expression held. It seemed a complex mixture of fascination, and what she could only describe as disquiet, like he was watching carefully woven plans fray apart, but could do nothing to stop it or even look away as it happened. Ranel wondered what was going on in his mind, exactly what was it he was seeing that the rest of them seemed to be missing?
He would have much to say when this was over, speculations as to the implications, the man loved to hear his own thoughts spill out in his voice. Rainel sniffed her annoyance at him, even though he seemed completely unaware. Saida had noticed and she regarded Rainel even more coolly than the look Rainel had given to Flint. Saida may not have been the only other one to be called, but she?d had to come the furthest. If there were others, they?d either not understood or chosen to ignore it. Truth was that Rainel was surprised that Saida had made the trip. She?d stayed away from land as much as possible. What came as no surprise was how frozen the selkie woman had become. One couldn?t spend so much time with the sea and not pick up that look of uncaring disdain. That she was here at all had only to do with oaths sworn.
Sun bleached hair, and eyes the color of seafoam, Rainel had always thought Saida was a striking woman, and really that was saying something. Rainel lived among one of the most beautiful races known, and that wasn?t just elven pride. Her people honestly had little pride, it was all the other races who believed themselves above their stations. The elves simply recognized this and paid it no mind.
The call, it eluded Rainel how anyone could have missed it, or its significance. It had come to her as a clarion call, the tolling of a great bell inside her head that had rung so loudly that she?d found herself needing to haul herself off the floor. She?d thought it had to do with her proximity to the relic, she was the nearest of them after all, but from the little she?d managed to glean it had been the same for all of them. Well? except for Torquel at least, he was closed mouthed about the nature of the call to him. Part of her believed that he was at the core of the call. It had not affected him, because he?d been the one to initiate the summons, though to hear him tell it the artifact was the one rousing them all. She?d certainly come the moment she?d steadied herself enough, and found the aged dwarf standing there arms behind his back and facing the anvil. It had been a long time since she?d thought of the thing, longer since she?d seen it. Decades had passed since she?d made her way down to the annals of the tower. The reunion had mesmerized her much as it had the last time she?d come. She found herself marveling over the intricate detail work on the piece. The wooden base seemed to be carved of a single piece of wood, a wide cross section of tree trunk that had been painstakingly chiseled away to reveal the figure of a woman on her knees. Her body was arched backwards, hair spilling down towards the floor in waves. Her hands wrap around the base of the anvil, holding it in the center of her chest over her heart. She looked up at it with what could only be ecstasy.
The anvil resting on her was just as intricate, the figure of a man on bended knee, hunched forward and reaching downwards with one hand towards the woman. By his right foot lay a cross-peen hammer, discarded perhaps for some greater need. His left arm rested, bent on his upturned knee, the elbow forming the horn of the anvil. Upon his back a flat plate rested as though ready to take the weight of the world, or perhaps receive its punishment. The look he wore on his face was one of deep longing. The artist was trying, successfully so to Rainel?s mind, to make a statement, or perhaps many at once.
She?d had many opportunities to come down here since the calling, weeks had passed fortunate for the rest who?d had to travel so far. Flint had been the first to arrive, burn him for being so...arrogant! Their reunion had been a renewal of that old fight, what did it mean that he chose not to remember anyway? Wasn?t she important enough to be remembered by him? By the Gale, he would remember or she...no it wasn?t time for that. Georg had arrived next, and much faster than anticipated. It was almost like he?d already been on his way, but that wasn?t possible, right?
The most recent arrival, Saida had only just gotten here. She?d taken an hour to rest from her journey, but Rainel could tell by her eyes that being this close to the source had left her sleepless. It was only after she?d gotten there that the quickening had come. The chamber pulsed with power like a heartbeat. Was it possible that the placement of the anvil was no accident? It could be, perhaps, if Rainel weren?t such a skeptic it would be easier to believe. It had been so slow at first that she?d thought nothing was happening. The pulse swelled once every few hours and felt like a buildup of pressure behind her ears. Taken by itself, she?d have assumed she was falling ill. It quickened slowly at first, until Flint arrived that is. Then the pressure rose and fell two or three times an hour, though it held quite steadily. Every arrival marked a change in tempo, in that hour Saida had tried to rest it began to sound like a fetal heartbeat in Rainel?s head. The quickening is what called them all downwards, and each of them was startled to find the others at the door leading to the basement of the tower.
That had been hours ago, now the pulse of power was surging so quickly it was a palpable vibration cutting through the air. The intensity had started the anvil to sing, a sound like the deep toll of a large bell, but one that did not fade. Instead it grew in intensity until Rainel?s loose silk blouse began pressed against her flesh. Torquel stood closest to the anvil, the rest of them stood in a loose circle around the room like directional markers on a map. She was growing nervous, and had to fight the urge to sidle closer to Flint for comfort. Even he was licking his lips. This was not something witnessed often, certainly never by her. If Torquel were to be believed, there would be a moment when the strength of the call became so great that the entire relic would break through space traveling to the chosen. Why did that frighten her now? Could it be that underlying chanting she heard just beneath the whine of the bell? It felt so close, but she could seen that none of them spoke. There mouths all seemed the same right now, tight lipped lines that wouldn?t let air through, let alone words. The voice was disembodied, and all around them. As it rose in intensity, Raniel could see movement in the anvil they surrounded. The moment was so close now, and the power..such power? if only she could possess a tenth of it.
Outside a clock chimed, a dim echo of what she was hearing now, midnight. Hours had felt like minutes, the relic began to rise from the floor Rainel knew that it would be gone in a heartbeat. And then the scream came. Her hands went to her ears, as powerful as the constant toning of the bell was, as disconcerting as that voice had been this drown all out. She wasn?t the only one with hands over ears either, even Torquel had plunged pinkies into ear sockets. It likely helped as much as her own efforts, so not at all.
Rainel had heard screams before, men and women on a field of battle were the chirruping of a mouse by comparison. This voice was no man, or woman. She knew that it was that of a child, so much fear...and pain. It pulled at her deep inside, drawing tears that came uncontrolled to splash to the stone floor at her feet. She?d have tried to wipe them away, but blistering heat sucked the air from the room. She couldn?t breathe, her legs buckled and she went down bracing herself for a shock that never came. The stone floor was gone, beneath her was sand that absorbed the impact. The walls of the tower were gone as well, sunlight caressed her skin in a dry heat that had her gasping. Their circle still stood, though all of them were further apart than they had been. The anvil rested at the top of a low dune, standing over it a shadowy figure hulked still chanting. Much as she wanted to look at it, to identify it another figure stole all of her attention. It was small, but at least it did not stand in shadow. The Anvil was still humming away to the chants of the large silhouette, the small figure lay on the ground before it. A child dirty and wearing rags began to stir Rainel stared at it transfixed, another gasp forming as it began to rise and looked her way. It?s face was gone! Not gone, not really, it was engulfed in flames. She could smell the skin well enough that it reminded her of cooked ham yet there was no melting of flesh. One filthy hand rose searching for leverage with which to rise. It grasped the horn of the anvil, and the moment it flesh touched metal the anvil went dead still.
The chanting continued for another few lines, but it had lost its ominous power. The child had found his feet, his face still obliterated by flames, but in his hand was a tiny knife. Lines glowed across its surface to form words. Anima Vera, it meant something that nagged in the back of Rainel?s mind. True Soul? What was happening? Yes it was said that the anvil was meant for the master of spirits, or did they mean the master of souls? Was that why Georg held such concern on his face since arriving?
One by one they rose, even Torquel, self proclaimed caretaker to the forge of creation had to get off of his knees. His expression was far less haughty, the man was unnerved.
?How dare you!? The shadow figure had diminished with the loss of his chant, Rainel?s gaze whipped to him. He was pointing, but not at the child. He was pointing at Torquel? No something beyond him, beyond them all. They were not alone. Sand crunched behind her once and again, footsteps getting closer then passing her by. Another shadow, this one was not tall, but the spread of his shoulders and back made even Georg look average. ?It is mine!?
She could tell by the pull of the newcomer?s head that he could hear the voice, but he didn?t respond. He knelt before the child with the face of flames. ?It?s not your time. You need to run, boy. Find her, she?ll help you. Run and forget.? He put a large hand to the boy?s face, how did he not get burned by it? At his touch, the child seemed to come out of his daise. He turned and ran, though Rainel only saw the first step and the child was gone.
The figure stood in a single fluid motion, turning to face them all. ?This is not for you to see. Not even you, Caretaker.? There was movement in the sand, like snakes rising from burrows. Their heads gleamed steelly, not snakes? a shockwave hit Rainel and forced her backwards rising from the place where she stood was row upon row of weapon hilts. They circled the dune where the anvil rested. The man who had spoken to them had already turned away, even as another shockwave hit and more weapons grew from the sand. The anvil became insubstantial, a voice shrieked in the ever expanding distance. ?No! Nooo! It belongs to me!?
Darkness, cold, Rainel lay on the stone floor in the subbasement of the tower. Around her other forms stirred as well, two dwarves, a selkie, and one human. At their center rested an anvil. ?What in the nine winds was that?? She kept her voice low so as not to sound as frightened as she felt.
?I...I?m not sure.? The answer came from Torquel, and it gave Rainel no comfort.