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Aleph-Null: The Awakening of The Celestial Heart

by Thomas James Donoghue 3 months ago in Fantasy
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Volume 1: The Weeping Woman & The Wild One. Act 1, Part 1- Outline

Aleph-Null: The Awakening of The Celestial Heart
Photo by Marko Blažević on Unsplash

Act 1 - Part 1

Chapter 1

We meet The Weeping Woman, Sophia Obrair, on the day she loses her husband, Cullen.

Cullen was a brave warrior who had only just retired from the Freeblade Knights the previous winter to live a simple life with his love.

Our story begins with a gang of bandits stealing into their village under cover of early morning dark.

When the townspeople wake and set about their business, they are greeted with beatings and thievery as these thugs invite themselves through the open thresholds looking for food, drink, and anything of value.

When Cullen stirs from the commotion, he immediately goes for his armour case and has Sophia help him dress to face these marauders.

The ruffian waiting at his door is stunned when a knight opens the latch in full plate and steps through with a heavy kick, landing the armoured boot square in his chest. Cullen follows through and stands on the man's chest, grinding his heel into the brigand's ribs. Cullen makes a sarcastic quip about how he and his dear wife were not expecting guests so early. The kettle had not yet begun to boil.

Cullen lowers the point of his sword to just below the man's chin and watches him swallow hard. He tells him he must meet the one who sent him to his door.

He holds the hapless man at the edge of his sword, walking him through town until he reaches the leader of these marauders.

As they come to a stop, Cullen kicks his hostage in the rump and sends him scurrying away into the ranks of his comrades.

Cullen greets their leader politely but with a streak of anger in his voice. He says that he cares not why they chose to come to his home and tells them that they should move along as quickly as they came. If they did, all could be forgiven.

He tells him that it would be best to leave the people of the village alone to do their humble work. They are not but farmers and artisans, living simple lives at peace here in the serenity of the valley. Only he among them was suited for combat. However, if the leader and his men had come searching for a fight, he was available, ready, and eager. It had been many months since his sword had rung out in the clash of combat.

The leader laughs aloud, saying that this fact is plain to see as Cullen's armour shines in the sun's early rays. He asks Cullen what he is proposing, waking up to three dozen men alone.

Cullen leers at The Band of The Bull. Its members have all come to see what was causing such a commotion. Cullen laughs heartily, saying that these men were nothing but sickly ragamuffins, wearing a few pieces of rusted and tarnished iron, carrying termite-bitten spears and swords full of chips and cracks with edges that would sooner break a bone than cleave it.

He tells the leader that his men need not all die. In fact, no one needs to perish. He challenges the leader to a duel, betting that if he can best the man and force him to yield, the band would leave their village immediately, never to return.

He also offers that should he be the one to yield, he would make no further trouble for them, offering to help organize the people peaceably, with no need for any bloodshed, until the band moved on.

The leader laughs again, commending Cullen on his nerve, and accepts his terms.

They part ways, and Cullen talks with the people of the village, reassuring them, while the leader goes to fetch his armour and weapon, calling his men with him.

A short time later, the two men meet in the village square as the sun reaches noon.

They are encircled by the band's members, forming a fighting pit.

The villagers watch outside the makeshift arena from the windows and balconies around the square.

Cullen stands to face the leader, a hulking brute wielding a two-handed warhammer and wearing a heavy helmet with horns like a bull. He also wears cuirass to protect his chest and abdomen, but no armour on his arms, thick as tree trunks, while he flexes, tossing his hammer and bouncing it in his hand.

Cullen is unimpressed by the scoundrel and his boorish display.

Cullen plants his feet and settles into his armour, tightened and secured perfectly by his beloved wife. His full plate shines a brilliantly polished white silver, fluted ridges streaking the plates, with golden inlays between. It is a noble set, elegant but stalwart protection that served him well over his years as a Freeblade Knight.

He flips his visor down and plants his banner to his side as he readies his blade, a two-handed greatsword with a rippling blade that increases the length of the cutting edge, ground down to a sharpness that could split a fleck of dust. He would take this brigand's arm for his insults before sending him running with his tail between his legs.

His plan of attack is set, bait a heavy attack and parry it with a flourish to send his weapon to the dirt while he spins to cleave the brute's arm from his body.

One question remains, though, how much will he leave the bastard? Shall he aim for the wrist, the elbow, or the shoulder? The answer will come to him at the moment.

The two men begin to round the circle, sizing each other up.

The wind picks up, setting Cullens banner flailing, the griffin emblazoned on it undulating violently.

As they complete a full circle of the arena, the Bull's lieutenant, an unassuming man with spectacles and a ledger, makes a quick flash of his pen.

Sophia notices this curious action and feels a deep worry well inside her. She can sense something sinister is afoot, but she cannot name this feeling in concrete terms.

As soon as the fight begins in earnest, three men level their spears and leap at Cullen, running the rusted points through his back with enough force to pierce the front plate of his armour.

He dies on his feet before he can swing his sword.

The Weeping Woman feels her heart shatter as he falls to his knees and collapses into the dirt.

She cries out to the heavens with the most profound anguish.

The members of the band join their leader in his laughter and mockery of the fallen knight.

The Weeping Woman rushes to her beloved, pulling the spears from his back and turning him over to take off his helmet.

She weeps over his body until the bandits pull her off, tossing her to the ground.

They wrap chains around Cullen's wrists and drag him through the square, tossing the lengths of chain over a branch of the tree at the heart of the village, hoisting his body up to dangle as a cruel message to everyone in the town that they were not to be trifled with.

Sophia looks on in horror, heartbroken, as her love swings in the wind, lifeless.

She kneels below him weeping, her broken heart pouring out its sorrow.

As the day continues, the bandits move on to their pillaging, leaving her to wallow.

As the sun sets, she can finally take a calmer breath.

She moves quickly as her misery turns to determination. She would not leave him here like this.

Sophia rushes home to grab a barrow, filling it with a few items she needs to lay her beloved to rest. She returns and breaks the bonds around his wrists with a dagger from his belt. Cullen's body falls on top of her as she tries to catch him, sending them both to the ground in a heap, letting out a clang as his armour rattles off the stone of the square.

She lifts his body into the barrow and covers him with his banner, then collects his sword that the bandits had planted in front of the tree.

Sophia begins the funeral march as the last light from the sunset fades, and the full moon rises.

The Weeping Woman drags the barrow carrying her love's body into the woods, heading for their favourite spot, an ancient tree high in the hills above the village hiding a hot spring in a cave beneath its roots. This is where they first met, where he had made her his bride, where they made their vows to be together for all eternity.

Chapter 2

Later that evening, the men who murdered Cullen patrol the village. They notice that his body is gone, and The Weeping Woman with it too.

They report to their leader and the lieutenant, the same scrawny, bespectacled man with his ledger, always writing and detailing the band's actions.

At first, the gang's leader thinks little of it, but The Scribbler bends his ear, telling him that she may be out for revenge, taking the body to the next village to rally support against them.

The Bull is swayed and sends the three men off to find and execute her.

The three men return to where Cullen had been strung up and notice wheel tracks in the full moon's light. The tracks do not head towards the road but lead into the hills, confusing the men and causing them to go back to the village for answers.

They find an elderly woman out late, fetching a bucket of cold water from the well for her sick husband to soothe his fever.

They interrogate the woman, out past the curfew the band had imposed, and demand to know where The Weeping Woman could have gone.

After a sound beating, the woman offers no information. When they threaten to finish off her sick husband, just as they had The Weeping Woman's knight, she finally breaks and tells them of the grove in the hills.

The men thank her with a kick in the ribs before they set off, stomping her bucket to splinters as they make their way to track The Weeping Woman.

The men follow the trail haphazardly, fumbling in the darkness and arguing along the way until they reach the landmarks the elderly woman described.

***

A hooded figure stands watching on a cliff overlooking the valley, cloak whipped by the alpine winds as he gazes through eyes burning with a white-gold light.

This is The Wandering Sovereign, called by the cries of true pain from The Weeping Woman.

He uses his vision to see into The Ether, the fabric of reality, the energetic flow that connects all things.

He instantly takes in the whole vista, seeing the bands of Ether from all living things reaching into the cosmos as they move along the lattice of reality.

He sees The Weeping Woman high in the hills, her light flickering between brilliance and despair.

He sees the three men hunting her, the malice in their hearts and darkness at their souls' core.

He brings his hands together, and in a flash of golden light that ripples through the valley, he vanishes, moving into the woods below to deal with the men hunting the woman whose call to the heavens had beckoned him.

As his form disappears from the clifftop, his words echo into nothingness, "Please hold on."

***

The Weeping Woman reaches the grove after a harrowing journey through the forest, faltering many times along the way, nearly losing her footing to be swept away as she crosses a river high in the hills, but she regains composure every time.

She must do this, even if it takes every last ounce of strength.

She looks to the tree, seeing their two names carved into the bark, etched on their wedding day, wreathed by an infinity symbol. She closes her eyes and lets out a deep breath before she begins to undress her beloved, taking off his armour and laying it with his sword and dagger against the tree.

She carries his body into the cave and washes him in the spring, remembering their love vividly as tears stream down her face.

The spring's water remains crystal clear, though she washes away so much blood.

She dresses him in his formal suit, the same clothes he wore at their wedding as she says a tearful prayer for his safe passage into the next world.

She clears a space between the tree's roots with a small shovel and lays him in the shallow grave, piling stones around and on top of him so that no creature could further mark his flesh.

As she lays the final stone and weeps over his grave, she hears a footstep, deadly close, just beyond the thicket on the perimeter of the grove.

She grabs her husband's dagger but is frozen in fear, gripped by her sadness. She is lost in her anguish. She clutches the blade against her chest, unsure which direction to point its deadly edge.

***

As The Weeping Woman performs her husband's funeral rites, the three men hunting her approach the glade, following the sounds of her sorrow.

They plan to split up and surround The Weeping Woman to spring a trap and cut off her escape.

When they have set off alone and spread out in different directions to ensnare The Weeping Woman, The Sovereign appears before them as a wisp of wind and a flash of light.

The first man ducks under a fallen tree, and as he stands, he finds himself face to face with The Sovereign.

The second man scrambles up a boulder to not make a sound in the undergrowth, and as he stands, he too finds himself face to face with The Sovereign.

The third man walks wide around the glade and watches The Weeping Woman as she piles the stones to make her husband's grave. As he goes to draw his blade, he feels it catch, he replaces it and goes to draw again, but this time feels it slam hard into its sheath. Confused, he turns to investigate and is face to face with The Sovereign.

The Sovereign raises a hand, cloaked in glowing etheric armour of golden crystal plate and plunges it into the chest of each of the men, gripping their hearts and tearing into their souls.

He delves into the depths of their minds, learning everything about each of them instantly, who they are, where they are from, and what they have done.

He sees the depths of their depravity, the evil at the core of their being and judges them irredeemable.

He sees that the first man, William, is a pervert and rapist, taking advantage of women and children and victimizing any who sparks his lustful desires.

The second, Oleg, is a cannibal, having developed a taste for human flesh that knows no satisfaction.

The third, Gareth, is a heartless killer, executing enemy and comrade without a single thought of remorse.

He speaks each of their names as their eyes roll into the backs of their heads.

He tells them, "Face your Judgement" before crushing their hearts in his hand.

Their bodies burst into Etheric flame before disintegrating into a fine dust that swirls into the void where their hearts once sat.

Chapter 3

The Weeping Woman kneels at her husband's grave, clutching his dagger to her chest.

She is paralyzed by her fear and despair, torn in two directions. Does she lash out against the men she fears have found her? Unleash her righteous fury upon them, send a message to those who would take true love and cast it bloody into the dirt? Or does she take her own life, join her husband in the next world, cut out her pain and float up to the heavens to be with him forever? She would be so light without this burden.

If she fights, she could very well lose, be slashed and beaten, taken by the men over and over and left broken and ghastly for the birds and the worms to pick at until she finally expires.

This would not be her fate.

As she turns the blade over in her hands, setting the point against her heart, she hears the footsteps closing in. She closes her eyes so tightly that she can not see the darkness and chokes back her final tears.

She lets out what she knows will be her last breath, and at that moment, when she is about to plunge the blade into her broken heart, she feels a hand placed gently on her shoulder.

A wave of serenity washes over her, and she drops the blade to the ground.

She opens her eyes slowly and finds that she is kneeling in the same grove, but somehow it is different. The grave before her is no longer there. Instead, it is a bright spring day, and she holds her beloved's hands as he kneels before her.

She weeps again, this time with tears of joy, and they fall into each other's arms.

***

After dispatching the three men hunting The Weeping Woman, the Sovereign steps into the glade as it is consumed by a swirling miasma of darkness and pain.

He can feel every tear the Weeping Woman sheds falling to the earth and shattering like glass against his soul.

Every whimper is a deafening scream of anguish that tears at his very being.

At the center of this void, he sees the light that is The Weeping Woman. Her love has been thrown into a torrent by her sadness and loss, creating this nexus in The Ether. A flickering crucible of light and dark energy threatens to swallow her and snuff out the brilliance of her light.

As the Sovereign approaches, the dark energy roiling around The Weeping Woman lashes out at him. The otherworldly evil that brought her to this point will not relinquish her easily.

The Sovereign materializes his etheric armour and steps through the inky black whirlwind, burning it away with the power of his connection to the source of all things.

He lays his hand on the shoulder of The Weeping Woman at the very last moment, breaking through the darkness and reaching her light, reigniting it and setting it back to its shine.

As The Sovereign forges his connection with The Weeping Woman, he unlocks her consciousness. He opens up a space within her mind where he can give her rest, suspend her consciousness for a moment, and perform the ritual to rebuild her shattered heart. In this space, time flows according to his will, and he can give her the peace she desperately deserves.

The Sovereign feels another spirit reaching out to him at this exact moment. It is her husband Cullen, the remnants of his soul still watching over his beloved.

The Sovereign offers Cullen a choice. He can shepherd the fallen man to the place of his ancestors and give him the rest owed to him by his honour and valour. Or he can bind his soul to his beloved, entwining their two spirits together for all eternity, using what remains of his being to repair her heart and forge a new unity more incredible than the sum of its parts. The latter option will see him losing his path to the afterlife until the moment of his beloved's passing, but together, through her, they can become something more powerful than either of them dared imagine.

The fallen man chooses to become one with his love without a second thought, just as The Sovereign had hoped, sure now that their love is true and divine.

The Sovereign brings Cullen into the space within Sophia's mind, offering them a chance to find peace and closure, to say their final goodbye as he unites their spirits, forging a tesseract of Etheric light around Sophia's heart in this merging.

This structure will catalyze her power, allowing her to reach The Ether through the depth of their transcendent love.

Sophia and Cullen have their moment in the space created by The Sovereign. They hold each other and say goodbye with a kiss that melts away all of The Weeping Woman's sadness and anger.

As the moment fades, Sophia feels herself coming back into her body, awakening into her power as the veil lifts, and she opens her eyes again, back in the grove, at her husband's grave, with The Sovereign kneeling beside her.

She feels his power radiating into her reforged heart as it thrums in her chest, filled with might and the love that will never fade.

She turns to The Sovereign, a stranger to her eyes. She has never known his face, but something in his eyes fills her with a warm calm, and bright hope. She feels his light running through her veins, igniting her Ether and bringing her into a new being.

Questions race through her mind, but before she can ask, The Sovereign begins to speak, and time seems to bend again.

The Sovereign explains, communicating with The Weeping Woman subconsciously, that he had heard her cry of true pain and had come to help her find her way out of the darkness.

He explains The Ether, its presence and power throughout the universe. He tells her that she has always been connected to it, as all things are. He has aligned her subconscious connection to The Ether with her waking mind. Bringing her light out from the void that threatened to swallow her.

He apologizes that he could not save Cullen, but the dark forces have ways to hide their intentions and cloud The Ether around their machinations.

He tells her that he had seen the two of them together, twin flames burning in harmony, growing stronger by the day. He had hoped and wished that the two of them would soon find their way into their power, becoming a force unto themselves that few could reckon with. Still, the darkness had come to them first, snuffing out Cullen's light and setting Sophia into a violent flicker between divinity and the void.

He explains that he has bonded their two souls forever, her and her beloved's, bringing an image of the tesseract around her heart before them. He tells her this will be her shield and righteous source of power. Their love together, made one, will bring her the strength to live on and face the world's evil.

He tells her of the abilities she can manifest, The Vision to see beyond. The Patience to find the calm within and make the right decisions. The Momentum to act with strength and precision. These abilities and their applications are only limited by her imagination, and she will discover how best to use them in time.

The blurred moment fades again, back to the normal flow of time and the two sit together as the sun begins to break through the leaves like blades of golden light.

The Weeping Woman thanks The Sovereign as her mind races, processing all he has said, but he is humble, saying that she is the one who is deserving of gratitude, for, without her strength, he would have never known how deeply true love could reach.

He tells her that there is nothing left in this reality or any other that she needs to fear. She has the power to conquer all and build a world of justice and peace for all living things. She must only listen to her heart.

The two stand as morning wakes the animals from their burrows and calls the birds to sing.

The Sovereign picks up the dagger from amongst the stones of Cullen's grave and turns it over in his hands before handing it back to Sophia.

He tells her to carry it with her, hold it as a relic of this day, for it is far more powerful than it may appear.

The Weeping Woman takes the blade in her hands, and a flash of light fills her eyes as the sun reflects off its surface.

She blinks for a moment, and The Sovereign disappears, slipped into The Ether and carried by the wind.

She looks back to the blade and sees a sigil etching in golden light onto the edge, an eye with a single teardrop falling from the right corner and wearing the symbol for infinity as a crown above it.

She knows instantly that this is his mark.

She sighs. She wasn't even able to ask his name.

The Sovereign's voice speaks from all around and within her. The etching on the blade flickers as the words resonate.

"My name is Luther Falstad, but there are those who call me The Wandering Sovereign. It pains me to leave you alone now, after such a night as this, but know that I will be watching, always."

Sophia smiles and offers her thanks to him again, running her thumb across the etching as it fades from brilliant gold to a simple silver.

She looks at the sky and feels The Sovereign smiling back at her.

She lays a hand on her chest and feels her beloved entwined with her very being.

She wipes the dried tears from her cheeks and takes a deep breath, listening to The Ether within her, tapping into her intuition.

She lays a hand on the tree, running her fingers through the carving. Her next actions come to her.

She adjusts her clothes for a long walk, lacing her sandals for support, hemming and tying her skirt for more mobility, and donning a few pieces of her husband's armour over her shirt.

She assembles his gorget and pauldron, along with the connecting plates, down to the left gauntlet. She armours herself and straps the dagger in its scabbard across her chest over her heart. She bundles Cullen's griffin banner like a cloak around her neck and lets it lie over her left side, covering her steel.

She lays the remaining pieces of armour on the stones of her husband's grave, and as she touches them, she pours some of her power into the metal, welding them together with the stones to create an impenetrable tomb over her beloved's body.

She grabs her waterskin from the barrow, the only provision she brought with her, hanging it from her hip before she moves the barrow to the far side of the glade; it is empty now, save for the blood-stained rags she had laid Cullend's body on and the shovel she used to dig his grave.

As she moves back through the glade, passing the grave one last time, she picks up her husband's flamberge, his mighty two-handed sword with an edge that twists and ripples like a flame. She finds it surprisingly light in her hands as she loosens the strapping between the parrying hooks and the guard, slings it over her back and sets off to begin her journey.

She feels a calling to the west.

Fantasy

About the author

Thomas James Donoghue

Fiction writer currently working on my graphic novel: The Weeping Woman & The Wild One.

This story and others still to come are part of the world I am creating: Aleph-Null.

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