Prelude - Part IV:
Skarrigg and Annaquette rode upon the black horse. They headed north into the cold lands. It had been a rough three months, the journey to Irrisen, commonly called the land of eternal winter. Irrisen was exactly that, a land in the grip of a magical winter over the last 1,400 years and ruled by a dynasty of albino witches. Their destination was the far north-western part of the ice-shrouded nation where it bordered the fabled land of the Linnorm Kings.
As Skarrigg rode his thoughts wandered as they often did, he recalled the anger he felt when he realized that Annaquette had followed him. No matter how he had raged she refused to go back. Skarrigg vowed to return her to her uncle’s farm but Annaquette had threatened to merely run away again. When consulted the voice responded: Like you, she seeks to fulfill her destiny my son. Bah! Destiny! But Skarrigg had let it go.
Soon, my son, soon! We will finally gather the stones. The voice told him, its enthusiasm was plain to “hear”.
“And you believe that both of the stones are together?” Skarrigg asked.
Oh yes my son, of that I am certain. The voice responded. Not only that, but they are both quite near each other. And when we finally have them all we will be ready to take them home where they belong.
“Home? What home? What are you talking about?” Skarrigg demanded.
Think, my son, think and remember our very first conversation. The way to finish your service to me. Collect the stones and then take them to a special place. That is their home. The voice assured him.
For her part Annaquette sat silently, she had long become used to Skarrigg’s often heated one-way conversations. However, unknown to Skarrigg were her own conversations. A voice inside her head, is that what Skarrigg heard? Was he mad? Was she? The voice came from the hammer-turned-dagger she now wielded. Where did his voice come from?
Do you see my child? As I told you he is on a great doom-laden path. And it is your destiny to aid him on his path. He cannot be successful without your aid. But you must keep this to yourself for now. Skarrigg needs no new distractions. The voice whispered into her mind. So Annaquette sat silently as the black steed’s relentless stride ate up the miles…
The black steed finally came to a low ice-covered hill. An ice-covered hill like any other ice-covered hill in a virtual sea of ice-covered hills. We have arrived, my son. The voice announced.
“What is so special about this hill?” Skarrigg asked.
This was an outpost of the Crimson Knights, my son. As far as I can tell the last outpost of the Crimson Knights.
“You mean you don’t KNOW? You don’t know something.” Skarrigg mocked.
No one knows everything my son, not even me. In fact, time has proven even HE did not know everything…
“Who is he?” Skarrigg asked, suddenly curious.
The Creator my son. Who many call GOD. The voice said.
“God? There are many gods!” Skarrigg answered.
These many petty immortals are not truly gods my son. There is only one creator. But now is not the time for a religious debate, Skarrigg. Now is the time to gain the last stones.
After about ten minutes of searching they were able to find and clear away an entrance into the ground and after much climbing they came to open chambers under the earth. The chambers were dark except for a faint luminescence radiating from various underground patches of fungi.
“A gift from my father enables me to see in this gloom Annaquette, however I think you may need a torch.” Skarrigg said.
“What do you mean? I can see perfectly well.” Annaquette announced.
“How can you see? You are a full-blooded human.” Skarrigg replied.
“I do not know Skarrigg. But I certainly can.”
Before Skarrigg could comment further the voice shouted a warning: Skarrigg beware!
They both looked up to see a figure in the shadows. Humanoid, female, pale and bald. She had huge eyes, and a mouth filled with sharp, jagged fangs and claws that would be a badger’s envy. She regarded them with malice and suddenly hissed something in a guttural tongue.
In response came the hissing replies from a dozen bestial throats. Emerging from around them came a group of the pale humanoids - all resembled the female. And they charged.
Skarrigg spoke a word in an archaic tongue and his blackblade exploded with steam and a din like ice being poured onto a blacksmith’s forge. The first humanoid – a male not quite as large as the others, but lithe and fast – lunged at Skarrigg with both claws extended. Skarrigg caught him with a two-handed horizontal slash, the blade caught the humanoid under his right ear and tore diagonally through the hapless creature’s skull, exiting through the left ear. The creature fell stone dead without a sound. However, this allowed a second larger male to tackle Skarrig, his right shoulder connecting under the half-ogre’s left arm. Skarrig brought down his left elbow where the humanoid’s skull met his spine. It connected with an audible crack and the bestial man fell face down on the stone ground and twitched in a horrible way that took away all doubt that his neck and skull were broken,
A third humanoid - a female with a few desperately clinging wisps of hair - charged Skarrigg in a fury and he responded by slamming his buckler into her face, pulping her nose, breaking her teeth and stunning her. Skarrigg then followed up with a great vertical slash, ending her.
Behind him Annaquette was knocked to the ground by a pair of the humanoids – a male and a female – Annaquette desperately struck out with her dagger catching the male through its right eye. It made a sound akin to a dog’s woeful bark as he twitched, both from his death throes and the burst of electricity that tore through him. This caused the female to react with renewed violence and she tried to claw Annaquette to shreds. Fortunately, the heavy furs she wore protected her from the worst. Annaquette tried to wrench the dagger from the dead humanoid’s skull, but to little avail as the female continued to try to savage her. “Get off bitch!” She cried out.
Suddenly Skarrigg heard the voice cry out: Skarrigg! To Annaquette, hurry! Skarrigg turned from the last kill even before she hit the ground. Seeing Annaquette in peril, he kicked out with his armored right foot catching the female humanoid in her right side crushing her ribs. The humanoid made a wet, pain-filled groan and was knocked a good two feet to her left. Skarrigg stepped over Annaquette and put the female humanoid out of her misery with a decapitating strike.
With five of their number slain so quickly the remaining humanoids circled the duo warily. “What are these things?” Skarrigg asked aloud as he held the black blade in a ready two-handed grip. Annaquette, having finally retrieved her dagger, was just behind him.
These are humans Skarrigg. The voice responded.
“What? How?” Skarrigg blurted.
These are humans after millennia of inbreeding and living in the dark. They are devolved into this bestial state.
Just then their leader – the female that Skarrigg and Annaquette first noticed – pulled what appeared to be an 18” carved piece of bone from a bag at her side and aimed it at them. That’s a wand! Unbeknownst to each of them, both Skarrigg and Annaquette heard the voice shout in their mind. The female humanoid hissed a syllable in a guttural tongue and three glowing bolts of blue light struck Skarrigg. He grimaced in pain and made ready to charge the wand-wielder.
Annaquette felt a roiling in her stomach, just below her heart. Her nerves were suddenly on fire and she was filled with intense anger. Yes! Yes, my child! Your power blossoms, it blooms, let it out! USE IT! The voice said to her in a resounding shout. A column of white hot flame shot from her outstretched right hand catching one of the degenerate humanoids – the largest remaining male – and he burst into flames, he wailed in pain and horror, but the ravening fire was not done as it jumped like a thing alive and overtook two more of the remaining degenerates. The leader and the remaining two turned to run but the flame caught the last two and as they screamed it devoured them. The leader however fled down a narrow passage in abject terror.
Skarrigg turned to Annaquette. ‘What did you do? How!?” He demanded, his purple eyes wide. Before Annaquette could answer the voice said to him in soothing tones: It is her destiny my son, Annaquette was never meant to be a farmer’s wife. Just like you are destined to become a great warlord. She is destined to bring fire to this world.
“Destiny? You told me to leave her and continue on the path!” Skarrigg protested.
And as you pointed out my son, there are things I do not know.
Annaquette was breathing hard and did not seem to have heard Skarrigg’s questions. “Just like in my dreams…” she whispered to herself.
Yes my child, as I told you, there is power within you. The voice said in her mind.
“Come on Skarrigg!” Annaquette said aloud. “We cannot allow them to prepare a counter attack!”
Skarrigg followed her without question.
After about ten minutes the duo came to a larger cavern, and here more of the humanoids had gathered - at least two dozen more. And many of them were armed with crude stone spears, and clubs which appeared to be fashioned from human femurs and other primitive weapons. Many of the larger males also sported face paint in intricate skull motifs.
“My dreams…” Annaquette whispered.
Yes, my child. Let them know who you are...the voice encouraged her.
“I will never be afraid again!” Annaquette screamed and thrust both hands forward. Again the flames burst forth from her hands and the degenerate humanoids roared in pain and fear…they tried to outrun the fire, but the fire…it chased after them. And Annaquette found great satisfaction in that. The fire devoured them and Annaquette smiled. And the fire had a source…and that source was her…but all was as it should be.
Again Skarrigg stared at her in astonishment. The remaining humanoids fled in a panic running through numerous side tunnels. And Annaquette fell to her knees. Yes my child, rest, for you may need your power more today. The voice soothed her.
Skarrigg lifted her from the ground as the voice spoke to him: gently my son, into the central tunnel what we seek is in there, I can feel them. They are close by, we are almost done! And Skarrigg led Annaquette into the central tunnel.
After a few hundred feet the tunnel opened into another chamber. A chamber dominated by a white stone statue of a sword wielding man. The statue was on a pedestal fashioned of the same white stone. The man was stern faced, bearded and clad in archaic mail – however what stood out the most was its eyes, two crimson gemstones.
I do not believe it! Ezokarrian – those inbreds, they were the descendants of the Knights of the Nine Crimson Stones? They must have become trapped here and degenerated over many centuries. How did they survive? Oh Ezokarrian would be appalled to see them now. The voice sounded in Skarrigg’s mind.
“Who?” Asked Skarrigg.
Ezokarrian Whitemane. The first Grandmaster of the Crimson Knights. And the most dangerous mortal I have ever known. The voice said. Its tone was different from any other time Skarrigg heard him “speak”.
“What made him so dangerous?” Skarrigg asked.
He was a great swordsman, a very capable commander and worse, he truly believed in the sanctimonious bullshite you mortals claim to care about. But that is for another time. Skarrigg, hurry and get the stones. This has waited long enough.
Skarrigg did as he was bade. Once he had the stones he held them in his palm and stared at them for a moment. All this toil, all this pain, all the blood I have shed. For what? This moment. “I have them. Now what? Where is this ‘home’ you spoke of? How far?” he asked aloud.
It is infinitely far away and surprisingly close to us, my son. Gather the nine stones and Annaquette and we will be off.
“Should we not rest first? She is exhausted.” Skarrigg questioned.
Skarrigg, Skarrigg, Skarrigg. Still you doubt me? Gather the nine and see…
Skarrigg opened the magic bag and brought the other seven stones out to be with their sisters, As soon as he did their surroundings changed. They were in a great abandoned hall. The stone walls were carved with scenes of strange creatures, winged humanoids and arcane symbols.
“What is this place?” Skarrigg demanded, his voice echoed loudly in the long empty halls. Annaquette knew that he was not speaking to her so did not answer him. She did however notice the suspicion in his voice as she rose and walked to the next chamber. A place she seemed to be drawn too.
It is where our journey ends my son. That and so much more, it is also where a new journey begins. The voice replied.
Skarrigg looked around and noticed the large near skeletal forms on the ground. They were oddly shaped. As if their forms were mismatched, and one of them appeared to be sporting three arms. “What were these things, I wonder?” Skarrigg said aloud.
Guardians created by alchemy and witchcraft. They gave their lives defending their mistresses. You look upon the last remnants of a lost art Skarrigg. The voice told him.
“Art? Even in death they look hideous.” Skarrigg replied.
These were not created for beauty but lethality. Unfortunately they were not lethal enough to defend this bastion of broken dreams. The voice mused.
Before Skarrigg could comment further Annaquette called out from the next chamber: “Skarrigg! You are going to want to see this!”
As Skarrigg questioned the voice in his head, Annaquette felt a compulsion to leave this room and walk into the next chamber. Come my child, your destiny lies in the room beyond. The voice said to her.
“My destiny?” Annaquette questioned. “I thought it was my ‘destiny’ to help Skarrigg to achieve this?” Annaquette felt the fire beginning to burn within her, just like before when she burned the degenerates in the fallen temple.
Oh indeed it was, and you have achieved that! Look and see, in a few short months how far you have come. However, now it is time for you to take your next step. The voice responded.
“My next step...what next step?” Annaquette asked. The magic was roiling within her. It was like it was a living thing and it wanted to get out.
The next step on your path my child. The path to your glorious ascension! The voice shouted in her mind gleefully.
“My ascension? What do you mean?” Annaquette said with some difficulty as the building pressure within her was taking more and more of her attention.
Oh my child! You have so many questions. But of course you do! And the answer is here! The doorway to your dreams, it is in this very room. Now look here my child! Open your eyes and see. Commanded the voice.
Annaquette opened her eyes and looked into a lit chamber. It did not occur to ask where the light was coming from, because it was the chamber's contents that captured her attention, not its lighting. The chamber was dominated by a large rectangular table, it was hard to determine what the table itself was crafted from. Was it stone? Or was it wood? Because the table was covered in a coating of translucent crystal. There were thirteen chairs around the table, also coated in the same crystalline substance. Six chairs on one side of the rectangle and six on the other. The thirteenth chair was at the table’s head, with its back facing her. However, it was what was across from the thirteenth chair that caught her eye. A rune covered pillar of what appeared to be salt. As Annaquette watched the runes begin to pulse with colorless witchfire, she watched for several seconds and realized that the runes were pulsing in time with the roiling magic in her body.
After a few moments Annaquette finally noticed what was in the chairs, at least in nine of them. Statues of screaming women? Were these really statues? The more she looked the more she wondered...
Yes, my child. They are real women trapped and cruelly bound. The voice confirmed.
“Who? Who were they?” Annaquette asked in wonder.
They ARE innocents. Falsely imprisoned by those who feared them. The voice told her.
“What? But why?” Annaquette asked.
Why? Because they wanted to change things. To make things better. And for that? Well, for that they were attacked in their home, their children and many of their followers butchered, and they? They were imprisoned in this living death. But you are here to change all this. This voice told her.
“Wh-what?!” Annaquette stammered. “What do you mean I am here to change all this? What can I do about it?”
I told you my child, not everyone in your bloodline was a farmer. Some of your ancestors were beings of power and that I would show you this power...and I have. Did you notice my child, that four seats are empty? You were BORN to do this.
Annaquette stood and felt the power moving inside of her. She contemplated what the voice had just told her. It felt true. It was true! And Annaquette made her decision: “Skarrigg! You are going to want to see this!”
Annaquette explained everything to Skarrigg – except for the voice. When she saw Skarrigg “talk to himself” she half believed that he was insane. But then again, she also doubted her own sanity at times.
“What!? That is ridiculous! Are you mad?” Skarrigg shouted.
Skarrigg. My son, listen to me…
“Again! I am not your son! I am no one’s son. It was a mistake to bring her! I listened to you before, but not now! Do you hear me?! Not this time!” Skarrigg literally shouted at the sword.
My son! Again I ask you – who has cared for you more? NO ONE. And it is her destiny to do this ritual, she is not your sister Skarrigg. She is not Vorella. And you are no longer the weak helpless boy I found on that mountain. She is not what she appears to be...and neither are you!
“What are you saying? What have you not told me?” Skarrigg lowered his voice.
The ritual Skarrigg, when Annaquette does the ritual all your questions will be answered. And you will then fulfill your destiny. The voice told him.
Annaquette stood in the center of the crystal coated table. Skarrigg marveled that she knew what was needed. He also noted that she had changed, and was still changing. It was not just her deadly powers, but he had ridden with her for months and sometimes her very body radiated heat like a fire. “How did this happen, how did I not notice it until now?” He whispered to himself.
Annaquette looked at him and commanded: “Skarrigg, you will need to take the stones and put them in the mouth of the statues. Each one must go back from whence it came.”
“How will I know which stone goes into which mouth?” Skarrigg asked.
“I have a feeling you will know” Annaquette replied with a knowing smile.
As if on cue the voice spoke to him: Skarrigg my son, you must listen to me now, more than ever. The final part of your service is almost upon us. So obey me now without question. Take the first stone, Igrat, and take her back to her home. The correct screaming statue appeared in his mind.
“Igrat? Her?” He began to question until the voice cut him off.
Yes, Skarrigg, her name is Igrat. They all have names. Now we must continue. Do you understand?
Skarrigg nodded and placed the stone in the statue’s mouth. He then proceeded to place the remaining stones in the statues as he was bade. Until he pulled the last one from his magical bag. That one my son is Lilith, the first woman of the human race. Take special care with it. A vision of the last statue, the one across from the pillar of salt was in his mind’s eye.
As he walked toward the statue he caught something in his peripheral vision – he thought he saw a man in the shadows, watching him, an armored warrior with white hair and beard. The man from whom the statue was sculpted: Ezokarrian. Skarrigg turned quickly but nothing was there. “Did you…?” He began to ask.
Did I what my son? Quickly do as you are bade! The voice responded.
Skarrigg walked forward and placed the final stone in the statue’s mouth.
“Skarrigg, Quickly to me! We must hurry...I must hurry!” Annaquette called out. As Skarrigg turned to look upon her he noticed that all nine red stones were pulsating in unison with runes on the pillar. And a light coming from Annaquette pulsated in time with them. Skarrigg rushed to her. As he neared she cut her left hand and placed it palm first against the pillar.
My son, you must do the same! Quickly before Annaquette falters and fails to contain the power. The voice screamed in his mind. He cut his palm and placed it on the pillar. The blood was absorbed by the salt and his wound healed almost immediately. However, again Skarrigg saw someone watching him from the corner of his eye, as he quickly turned the figure faded. “Wait a minute, I think someone is here?” But before he could question what was happening he felt the area explode with sound and heat and quickly turned back to Annaquette who was levitating off the ground with waves of colorless energy coming off of her and striking the statues and the pillar.
Yes, my child! Yes! Release your power! Free them! Freeing them will free me! Yes, fulfill your destiny! And I will change everything! The voice rejoiced.
The crystal on the screaming women and tables started to crack, mere spider-webs at first but the cracks rapidly spread and pieces started to flake off in larger and larger chunks. The statues started screaming, all nine in unison. A howl that was so loud and horrid that Skarrigg grabbed his ears and fell to his knees.
Suddenly the screaming stopped and all nine crystal women exploded and the room was showered with glittering flakes like rainbow snow. And then the pillar of salt started to melt. In an instant the pillar was gone and there was an explosion of blinding light and the sound of deafening thunder.
Annaquette fell to the floor barely conscious, she looked up and standing there was the man from her dreams. But he was no man...but a beautiful angel. He was clad in a simple white linen kilt and sandals, his flesh was the color of bronze, and he had shoulder length ebony hair, dark as a starless night. However, what commanded an observer’s attention were his wings - three-pairs of wings, raven-black and beautiful. He also had a halo of fire with eyes to match, a burning orange that glowed like a darkening sun. And from his crown grew two polished and glossy bull horns. Annaquette gazed upon him and said: “You are beautiful. More beautiful than any dream.”
The angel smiled down at her and said, “Oh my child, you have done well. So very well.” Annaquette smiled and passed out.
Skarrigg shook his head trying to clear his vision and stop the ringing in his ears. He got to his feet and finally was able to perceive the world about him. He saw Annaquette lying on the floor and over was her a dark angelic being. “Stand aside! Do not touch her!” He screamed as he brandished his blade.
The angelic being held a handful of the rainbow colored crystal dust. “This I did not expect. The destruction of you my brides. You will be missed. At least until I can bring you to my side again.” Dropping the dust he turned to Skarrigg and spoke: “Ah, my son. Finally I look upon you with my own eyes. You may lower your blade. Trust me I do not wish to feel it’s bite again.” The angel said.
Skarrigg gazed open-mouthed at the figure. “That voice...how can this be?” He muttered as he looked upon his sword. “How can this be? How can you be the sword?”
“I am not the sword my son. I never was. And technically I never claimed to be.” The angel said with a smile on his beautiful face.
“Who are you? What are you?” He screamed out his questions.
“Who am I, my son? I am -” The angel began.
“I am not your son! I have told you that! Or I told the sword that! What is this?!” Skarrigg interrupted him.
“Oh Skarrigg, Skarrigg, Skarrigg. Your confusion is understandable, but you are wrong. While it is true that you are not my son, well at least directly. However, you are my descendant. Did you see the four open seats that were here? The ones that were without crystallized women? They were the four youngest of my brides, and when my enemies attacked. These four escaped and they were all with child. After all the dark tortuous millennia of my imprisonment my blood still ran true. You see, both you and Annaquette are my children.” The dark angel explained.
“But who are you?” Skarrigg asked.
“I am Sammael the Venom of GOD. Created by I AM and forsaken by him. And as I promised you oh those many years ago. You Skarrigg, your destiny is indeed to be a great warlord. For now that I have returned there is a place for you at my side Skarrigg. And Annaquette will be there as well. But again you must pledge yourself to me, completely to me my son”. Said the angel as he reached out with his right palm up waiting for Skarrigg to take the offered hand. “Pledge yourself to me, my son and together we will change everything. Pledge yourself to me and we will change the Multiverse.''