Assassin’s Chronicles: Chapter 24
© 2012 by Lootah Akecheta
Warning! This story contains physical violence, strong language, and bloodshed. It is not intended for the faint of heart. Read at your own risk
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Iago and I walked hand in hand down the beach. He is such an inquisitive little squirt. There were jellyfish lying stranded on the beach and the boy just couldn’t leave them well enough alone. He’d prod one with his finger. He’d flip another one over with his toe to study the underside where all the tentacles were. He knew they’d sting so he tried avoiding touching the pinkish translucent strands of goo that bunched up under the dome hood of the creatures. Unfortunately his efforts were to no avail because he got stung a couple of times. Even I felt the bite of the poison where I accidently stepped on a stray tentacle. It felt similar to the sting of silver so I was pretty much used to the feeling after so many years. Little things fascinated the hell out of him: seashells, not matter the size, were an endless source of entertainment. Odd shaped stones warn by the constant abrasions of the waves caught his attentions too. Often he’d pick one of these up and carry it for quite a long time before he’d just drop it when something else caught his attention. Tidal pools offered the most adventures for him though. I truly believe he could squat for hours watching the different life forms trapped in these pools by the outgoing tide. Although his attention was never fascinated by any one thing for long, eventually something like a seagull, or some other type of bird, for which I have no name, would catch his attention and off he’d run.
We continued walking down the beach and Iago drew my attention to dark clouds milling in the distance. I could make out the dark sweep of rain as it obscured the line between sky and water. As we walked I studying the storm and each time lightning would flash I’d count the seconds to when thunder rolled over us with his booming, ominous voice. The time was decreasing at an alarming rate. “Maybe we should head back son.” I said.
“No please. Let’s walk some more, just a little way?” He pleaded and of course I gave in even against my better judgment. As we walked the foul weather rolled closer. We weren’t too far from the lodge where we were staying while in Dominica so I figured we’d get back before the tempest struck. I hoped we would anyway. Iago pulled his hand from mine and ran down the beach. I started to yell for him to come back but he stopped a couple of hundred feet away and bent over a large seashell – a Chank shell to be precise. What I could see of it, it looked in pretty good shape. He picked it up and smiled back at me holding it high above his head in triumph.
I smiled and strode up to him looking at his discovery. It was empty – thank the gods. “Hold it up to your ear and listen to the surf.” I instructed him.
His eyes lit up in delight when he pressed the opening to his ear. “WOW!” He exclaimed.
I smiled and tasseled his hair. “Keep it and you can hear the ocean whenever you want.”
“Cool!” With this he held it up for me to listen.
I bent down to press my ear against the shell. In the background I heard thunder over the surf sounds of the shell. I looked up at the approaching storm and shook my head. “We’d better head back son. That storm doesn’t look good.” He looked at the dark clouds and didn’t protest when I pulled him back towards our lodge. Darkness filled the sky as the storm raged over us. I’ve never seen a storm move so fast in my life. Wind driven rain beat against our backs so I picked Iago up to make a mad dash back to protection. Before I could get a good start though, a particularly powerful gust of wind ripped Iago from my arms and rolled him over the sand. I ran after him but each time I drew close the wind rolled him just out of my reach. I watch in horror as it turned and pushed him into the surf. As I dashed into the raging waves to rescue my son a vicious undertow ripped him out of my grasp and out to sea. I watched helplessly as Iago disappeared under the violent waves. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I screamed in frustration and despair.
I woke for the hundredth time this night shivering in a cold sweat. Trembling, I looked through the room. It didn’t take supernatural hearing to tell the weather was about as ugly outside as it was in my dream. The winds howled and rain lashed against the side of our cottage. I got up and slipped as quietly as I could to the porch where I watched the gale rage. Clouds boiled over the sky blocking out the sunrise. I had to believe it was past sunrise because even in this tempest I could make out the waves crashing against the beach and seawall. Angry gray and black clouds swirled and clashed with each other. Wind kicked up ocean spray from the surf and filled the air with a taste of salt. However the most unnerving of all were the trees thrashing around as if in the grip of a powerful cyclone. If I hadn’t known better I’d swear a hurricane found our little island during the night but there was nothing in the weather reports to suggest anything of the sort. In fact even this squall, gale, or whatever it is, wasn’t forecast either. The small hairs on my arms and at the nape of my neck stood on end. I had a feeling this was no ordinary storm but one conjured up either by spell craft or some sci-fi level of technology that shouldn’t exist in today’s world, at least not yet.
The weather may have had something to do with my lack of sleep, but I can’t really blame it all on nature and her tantrums. Yes I heard the wind and rain in my sleep but didn’t really give it much thought. What plagued my night were nightmares like the one I just described. Every time I drifted off I’d start dreaming about one monster or another ripping Iago from my arms. In one, a strange wereanimal in half beast form, who looked like a mix between a werewolf and a spider, stole him from under my nose while I slept. I could see it happening but I couldn’t wake up enough to stop it. When I finally shook off the grogginess of sleep my son was gone. Thank the gods he was still wrapped up snugly in the middle of our kitten pile when I woke for real and looked over to make sure. In another dream an enormous snake swallowed him whole in front of me and I was powerless to stop it. Its fangs were so large, so enormous, they dwarfed his small body. Every time I attacked the snake he simply wasn’t where I thought he’d be. In another dream Iago walked off into the ocean and didn’t stop or come back when I called. I tried to go after him but some invisible force or barrier kept me from reaching him as he continued until the water swirled over his head obscuring him from my sight. No matter how hard I ran I couldn’t catch him because my feet were stuck in mud, or glued to the sandy beach, or roots and unseen hands grasped my feet preventing me from moving. You know the quicksand feeling dreams have? You try and try to move but the more you struggle the more trapped you become? It is such a frightening and frustrating feeling. All I could do in that dream was stand there and watch him drown.
Each dream felt as though some sinister presence watched and manipulated events. I couldn’t see what or who it was but the creeping feelings that goose-fleshed my skin seemed familiar, a ruffling scent that I couldn’t place but nagged the tip of my tongue. Regardless of how much effort I excreted I couldn’t see, or really even sense, who or what this presence was. In my waking moments between dreams it was clear this presence was Denogoth, but I couldn’t remember his name in the dreams. Not being in control is typical of a nightmare, which is after all what makes them frightening. No matter what you do or how hard you try you cannot escape the feeling of helplessness. Try and run and your feet turn too led. Try and hide and the boogiemen always find you. Try and scream and you have no voice or everyone around you is deaf. I woke shivering with fear and panting breathlessly after each and every nightmare. Every time I woke I’d look over to make sure Iago was safe and sound wrapped in his brother’s arms and only then would I sigh in relief.
Like the previous night we all piled up in a mass of living bodies on the floor to give Iago the best protection possible and still allow most of us to sleep. Unfortunately my mind was plagued by these nightmares. Eventually I decided it would be more productive to just get up, take a hot shower, and pour a cup of black coffee. The coffee tasted wonderful and melted most of the lingering cobwebs of nightmare away. While I sat sipping the hot brew my eyes kept wondering to my sleeping lunar-sons. Iago slept soundly curled in the spoon crook of Pumar’s body, whose arms wrapped protectively around the boy. I sighed and swallowed a little too much coffee burning my tongue. It really didn’t hurt but it made me cough a little waking Isaac. He gave me a sour expression. He must still be unhappy with me from last night. I gave him dead eyes back, a stare so blank it’d make a murderer flinch. It’s the look I give right before I tear someone’s throat out. He sighed and climbed out from the tangle of bodies and limbs joining me in the kitchenette area.
“Are you thinking about killing me again?” He didn’t look happy. I’d pissed him off with the way I handled my first face to face with Denogoth. I really didn’t care.
“No, just don’t give a damn what you think about it anymore.” I took another sip of my coffee while we eyed each other.
“I’m right and you know it.” He said. “You may have ruined any chance we had at offering a peaceful alternative to this creature.”
“You didn’t see the look in his eyes Isaac, I did! There is no way he’s going to give up any chance to take Iago. It’s not just the need for a new host that drives him. Believe me I know what I’m talking about. It was a predator’s look. There is nothing short of his death that will stop him from taking Iago if he gets the chance. The fact that we want to protect him so much, that we actually pose a real challenge, excites something deep inside the bastard Isaac. It intensifies the hunt and makes the victory that much sweeter.”
“Emu said he doesn’t like the way he harms his host. I don’t think he’ll turn down a chance make his host immortal Galin. I really don’t.
“Well, this time you’re wrong. I saw it in his eyes. He may have started out repentant of the parasitic affect he has on his human hosts, but maybe, just maybe, he’s had to do it for so long that he’s grown to enjoy it. I saw his eyes Isaac, he’s psychotic.” I nursed my coffee, taking small sips letting the scalding liquid roll over my tongue irritating the burn. Most lycans enjoy a little pain. I’m no exception. I have quite a number of friends both in my clan and outside it that wear silver jewelry. They like the constant, tingling, burning pain of the silver.
“Maybe you’re right. I just hate that we may not have that card to play anymore. I hoped we could entice him with it.” Isaac sat down in a dining chair.
“I really don’t think we ever had it to play in the first place. It only works if the customer desires what we sell. He’s not buying. He likes it too much.” I said looking into the dark depths of my coffee.
“He enjoys the hunt. He gets off on the capture and the helplessness of his victims. He loves his affect on his host, what he does to them. I’ve seen the same look often enough in rogue lycans not to recognize it.”
“I’m not sure I want him within a hundred miles of me again. I’d rather not come under his scrutiny.” I said.
“Why on earth would you not like Daveeda? He is a good man, a very good man.” Isaac studied my face and I realize he really didn’t get it.
“I’m an assassin for fuck’s sake. What if he decides the just and proper thing to do is to take me out, you know, level his justice on me? I’ve killed my share of innocent people over the years. I’ll grant you, most of them deserved to die, but not all.”
Isaac studied the sleeping shapeshifters and the little boy piled together only feet away from us. “I have a feeling if that were to happen, it would have already become an issue.” He looked at me before asking: “Is there anymore of the English Breakfast Tea?” I nodded my head and reached into the cabinet retrieving the teabags, handing him one. “Thanks.” He stood up and took a kettle from another cupboard and filled it with water to heat on the stove. Once it was ready he steeped his brew in a cup of hot water. Rain pelted the windows facing the Atlantic. “A real nasty day it is.”
“Yes, rotten weather, will this change our plans?” I asked looking outside at the wind driven rain pelting the window so hard it sounded like sleet or small hail peppering the glass.
“No, I need to get the Valgeld as soon as possible. The longer I wait, the more my spell will erode and place Iago in danger. When I have both pieces of my father’s artifact I’ll be able to make the spell stick and even Denogoth will not be able to break through it. Though, I would rather find another solution.”
“Why? If your spell can be fortified by the Valgeld and keep that demon away from my son, then I’m all for it.”
“Don’t forget that you are obligated to turn him when he comes of age Galin. This spell in its permanent form may prove harmful in the long run. I’m not sure what reaction it would have with lycanthropy. It could be like mixing two medications with horrible side effects. If in its permanent state it has a negative reaction then you could harm or kill him when you give your gift.” I stared daggers at the elf because I had no idea what to do. Again that helpless feeling washed over me. I wanted my son protected from the danger Denogoth poses, but I have no choice but to give Iago lycanthropy when he turns seventeen. I’m not sure what I would have said to this because stirrings from the pile of shapeshifters in the middle of the room caught my attention. Iago was awake and listening to us. The others were stirring as well and stretching before getting up.
Pumar rolled onto his back and stretched like the really large cat he is only it looked slightly awkward in his human form. He rolled back over to his stomach so fast I almost missed I before springing to his feet with an amused smile on his face. In short order he crossed the space between us and tickled me until I was nearly crying. He hissed in surprise and pain when I spilled my coffee on him. “Serves you right kitten,” I chided. Really, I didn’t mean to do it.
Jacob walked out of the bedroom a few moments later and into the kitchenette where he poured a cup of hot coffee. “I have an idea. What if some of us take Iago on the Obsession and leave the island? Some could stay behind with Isaac to help in his search for his father’s amulet and the rest can protect Iago. That would at least get the kid out of Denogoth’s clutches and still provide protection for Isaac on his quest to retrieve what he lost.”
I gave the thought about half a second to register before turning to ask the elf for his opinion. Isaac nodded and smiled. “That is certainly a good thought Jacob if we can pull it off without Denogoth learning of it. I’m not sure what he would do if he thinks he may lose his chance at the boy.”
“About four of us could watch after Iago, sail out about fifty miles or so, and hold position until we hear from you that it’s OK to return.” Jacob added.
“Klaus, Pumar, Shea, and Toby should be enough to protect him out there and the rest can go with us to find the Valgeld.” I suggested.
Jacob frowned at me. “Actually I was thinking about going on the Obsession. I’m not able to keep up with you guys on a hike like this.”
“OK, that makes sense. You, Pumar, Shea, and Toby can watch Iago well enough. It’s not like you will have much to do out there and we should be calling you by tomorrow at the very latest.” I agreed.
Pumar frowned, “Why me?”
“You don’t have to go Pumar, but I’d rather you or Killian go because Iago trust and likes the two of you. I’ll let you, Killian, and Iago decide who goes and who stays.” I said looking at my lunar-sun.
“How long do you think it will take to retrieve your lost medallion? Pumar directed his question to Isaac.
“It’s not lost. I simply need to retrieve it. It will take a little time but no more than one day at the most. First we’ll have to hike to Dragon’s Pit. It’s only about three miles past the Boiling Lake and then we’ll have to get past the guardian I charged to protect it. Other than that it should be a piece of cake.” Isaac sipped from his cup of tea and closed his eyes enjoying the flavor.
I studied Jacob’s expression while Isaac talked. Something seemed odd but I couldn’t place my finger on it. For the briefest of moments his expression was almost eager before settling back into a mask of disinterest. “Then it’s settled.” Pumar said. Shea, Toby, Jacob and I will take Iago out on the boat and wait for you to call us after you get the Valgeld.” I nodded in agreement and shivered a little. The dreams must still have me shaken up a bit.
Pumar and I looked at each other and it was settled so we went about preparing for what we needed for the day. Finally, about thirty minutes later, everyone was ready to go. Since Shea and Toby were already on the boat, Pumar and Jacob were charged to take Iago back to the south side of the island to disembark on the Obsession until further notice while the rest of us dressed for hiking. I opted out of wearing hiking boots since I didn’t have any and chose instead to go barefoot. I planned on changing forms once we got out of sight of the main trail, so shoes would only add to the problem of hiding my clothes or carrying them. At last we set out. Pumar, Jacob, and Iago road with us to the Boiling Lake’s trail head and then continued on to Roseau. We decided to keep phone silence until they got to the city – just to be on the safe side. Shea and Toby could dingy over and pick the boys up after they get there. None of us wanted to risk Denogoth or Angela finding out our plans. Separating forces is seldom a good idea but there are times when it is necessary. I’ll admit that leaving Iago to go with my Lunar-son without me was hard to do. I never dreamt I could grow so attached to a kid so quickly. In fact, I never thought I’d ever want to be around anyone younger than Pumar, but Iago and I became attached in a crisis that was the crucible that forged us together. Also, in truth I’m glad Jacob is going with them on the boat. He’s been acting more honorable, but he still gets on my nerves so I was all for him being out of my way.
Before long I learned that the hike would distract me from my worries. It’s not that difficult a hike for a wereanimal. However I’d hate to be a human making this trek. For the less gifted it could be hell. I looked out the windows of the shuttle bus at the dark clouds and pelting rain and wondered, not for the first time, why we were doing this on such a stormy day. Yes, Iago’s safety is important to me and to all of us but something about this storm didn’t feel right to me. The idea of the others going out to sea on a day like this brought its own worries. The Caribbean Sea is bound to have a small craft advisory on a day like this. The buss bumped and swayed and in a matter of moments we exited the relative safety of the shuttle bus and stepped into a torrent of wind driven rain. “Are you sure this is a good idea Isaac? I mean we can hardly see twenty feet in front of us.” I shouted over the tempest.
“If we are to have any chance at all of protecting your son from Denogoth, then yes, this is a must, today. Besides, it should pass before too long. It’s not a hurricane.” Isaac reassured me. “I don’t like it any better than you do my friend, but once we get there the rest will be inside. The cavern is about three miles past the Boiling Lake. There are no trails and we’ll be going over extreme terrain to get there. But once we are there, we’ll be able to dry out and rest a bit before continuing on.”
I shrugged down huddling in on myself. We just stepped out of the bus and already we were drenched to our skin. Not good. “OK, you’re the boss.” I finally said slapping him on the shoulder.
The trip didn’t take us that long. When it became clear the weather wasn’t going to let up anytime real soon we realized the likelihood of meeting people today was very slim, we all shifted form and set out at a much faster pace than even we would have managed in our pure human form. Isaac had no problem keeping up with us. He bounced along on the balls of his feet so lightly that he left only the slightest impressions on puddles as he skipped over their surfaces. Personal note: Never take on an Elf again. If he is any indication of what they are like in their true form, then the thought of fighting one of them is daunting at best. I can only surmise the reason I beat him before was the element of surprise. I’d ambushed him and had him tied up, gagged, and knocked out in the bottom of a fishing boat. By the time he woke up we were miles out to sea and I didn’t untie him before I ripped him to pieces. To be honest, I’m not sure he really suspected that I would actually kill him until the end. He didn’t even try to escape and that bugs me even to this day. Most people would at least have tried. What if he allowed me to do it to him on purpose? Maybe it was time for him to ‘die’ and be reborn?
It is rather disconcerting when you can only see about fifteen or twenty feet in front of your face. Visibility was poor even with our eyesight. The trail, if that’s what you want to call it, was a series of boardwalks and steps over the more difficult areas accentuated by a muddy and rocky trail that became incredibly slick with rain and mud washing down it. At first the jungle crowded in on all sides so thickly it deepened the already dark day into night. By the time we climbed high enough for the clouds to thin, the typography changed to scrubs and grasses growing in and around the volcanic crags of rocks jutting out viciously from the lush green flora. Rain morphed into mist but was just about as drenching as the torrents further down. Wind blew harder up here and dropped the temperature about twenty degrees chilling our wet skin. Improved visibility was the only real advantage we gained.
Our pace slowed down to a mere walk as what the locals call the Valley Of Desolation stretched out before us. It’s not large but it is a geological pot of boiling mud caused by the ever present geothermal activity from the eleven volcanoes on the island. Sulfur stench overwhelmed me in this form because a wereanimal’s sense of smell is a LOT stronger than human normal. The ‘pot’ was full of slick looking gray mud boiling and rolling. The ground around it was yellow and brown-orange with slicks of iridescent rainbows swirling around in the more docile areas. The valley is a desolate and alien landscape compared to the lush jungle we’d just come through. “The Boiling Lake is just up ahead and then we’ll be traveling from my memory. There is no path leading to where we’re going.” Isaac said cheerfully. I was so going to have to find a way to get even with the smug bastard for putting us through this punishment. Only an elf could be cheerful on a hike like this under these conditions.
Isaac was right though. The Boiling Lake was just up the hill and over a small ridge from the Valley of Desolation. It was a decent sized pool of opaque water with clouds of steam billowing up from it. The steam seemed to emanate from a relatively small area of the lake’s surface where the water boiled like a pot over high heat. I couldn’t help but wonder exactly how deep the water is. How far down does it go before it comes close enough to the molten rock to boil water in the open like this? I’ve heard some people swim here, but I’m not sure I’d risk it. Even with our healing abilities, burns don’t feel good.
As we skirted the lake’s edge a scent sliced through the air and we all stopped. It was cat, but one I’ve never smelled before. It had to be another lycanthrope because I doubted seriously any natural large cats prowled this small island. We looked upwind and saw a man squatting on top of the rocky crags overhanging the far side of the lake. He raised a hand to us in salutation. I waved back but I noticed a large number of us did not. He stood and jumped into the lake, quickly swimming to our side and climbed out onto the bank. I watched him closely as he stood and approached slowly. “Greetings.” He said in a smooth, deep, almost smoky voice. His waist length hair was yellow and burnt sienna but the colors were so subdued they seemed to blend perfectly into each other as though they were natural human hair. His eyes though gave him away as a werecat. They were a most beautiful shade of gold I’ve ever seen, a color never seen in human genetics but often seen in lions and occasionally other large cats. There was a dark ring of burnt sienna around the outside of his iris. The largest part of the iris was a true molten gold, and then a narrow ring of brilliant canary yellow framed the inside of his irises before the plunging into the deep black pools of his pupils. They were beautiful and they lent him an air of mystique.
His scent was no cat I’ve ever smelled and I’ve met members of just about every lycanthrope species. The smell was close enough to a tiger’s tingle, oh so tantalizing, that it caused something deep inside me to squeeze down tight sending shivers up my spine. His metaphysical energy was vast. It rolled off him in waves. This kitty was one powerful son of a bitch. He stood about six feet tall and had the build of a man who keeps in shape from hard manual labor. I doubted he ever stepped foot in a gym. His skin was tanned a light golden brown and his bone structure looked American Indian with the high cheekbones and straight high brow. His thick gold eyebrows arched over his eyes giving him a wizened appearance. Manicured nails nestled in his long delicate fingers. It would take a very straight man indeed not to be attracted to him. I’m bisexual and I thought he was beautiful. He looked to be close to my age when he became a lycanthrope – maybe somewhere between twenty to twenty-six years or so.
“Greetings.” I responded amiably. Of the lycans in our group I was the most dominant so it was up to me to greet this stranger. I shook his hand before pulling him in to sniff his neck. He did the same to me. The power rolling off him enveloped me and we both knew who the dominant was here. I hoped he’d stay friendly because none in our group, not even Klaus or me, was strong enough to take this guy on. When we stepped back I held onto his hand feeling the role of energy pouring off him. It was nearly intoxicating. Slowly I let his hand drop and introduced us all to him pointing out Isaac last since he was not a shapeshifter. “I am Galin of the Moondeath Clan of Weretigers. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“I am Léhanghang Hingské of the Mammoth Hunters Clan, some call me Long Fang. That’s how my name translates to English.” I had an idea but just as quickly dismissed it. There was no way he could be a Saber Toothed Tiger, could he? I wondered how I could ask without being rude. As it turned out I didn’t have too because Killian beat me too it. Léhanghang Hingské didn’t seem to mind though. “That is what I am and yes. Saber Tooth Tigers are my people.”
I smiled. “That’s amazing!” I said. “When I was a child I spent hours daydreaming about Saber Tooth Tigers. They captivated my imagination like no other great cat. Though, I never thought I’d get to see one of you in life. It is truly an honor Léhanghang Hingské. It would be an honor to hunt with you sometime if you would like?” I stammered.
“The pleasure would be mine.” Long Fang said taking a bow from the shoulders.
I continued the introductions. “This is Killian of the Moondeath Clan of Weretigers.” I clapped my lunar-son on the shoulder. “He is my lunar-son.” I introduced him next instead of Klaus because he’d spoken up and in a way, kind of introduced himself. After the introductions we all stood about making small talk.
“How old are you?” Killian asked.
“Killian, don’t be rude son.” I warned. Doesn’t he understand this guy is powerful enough to wipe the hills with our hides if he chose?
“No, I don’t mind the question.” The new tiger said. “If I had to guess I’m only about twenty two or three thousand years old, but my species is all but extinct. To the best of my knowledge I’m the last of my kind.” He looked quizzically at my lunar-son. “You are no tiger. I smell wolf on you.” A flash of mistrust washed over his face and just as quickly disappeared.
“Killian is my adopted son. He’s a werewolf. The pack he belonged to was very abusive to him and I adopted him when his old master died. Now he is a part of my clan.” I explained.
“I see. The rest of you are cats of some species or another except for Killian and this one.” He pointed to Isaac. “I’m not sure what you are Isaac. You’re not human or wereanimal that much I do know.” Léhanghang Hingské widened his eyes as he inhaled deeply scenting the tall man and I saw a hint of recognition sweep through his eyes and just as quickly was replaced by doubt.
“You’re right, I’m neither.” Isaac said extending his hand to the stranger. “I am… complicated.”
“You smell familiar. I’ve scented you before, a very long time ago, but it cannot be.” He seemed to be talking to himself in reflective thought. “How long have you walked this plain?” He shook the elf’s hand as he asked the question holding on to it as though sensing more through the touch.
“I have walked this earth for at least as long as you have Léhanghang Hingské. I am what your people called “The Old Ones.” Isaac said.
The color drained from Léhanghang Hingské face and he dropped to his hands and knees raising one hand in supplication as any submissive wereanimal will do to an angry dominant. To my surprise Isaac allowed a glimpse of his true identity to flash. “Have mercy upon me my Lord. It is an honor to be in the presence of one of the Courts of Old again my Liege. If I may be of service to you and yours in anyway thou see fit, then I am yours to command. I shall serve thee and protect thee by flesh, blood, or with my very life until thee see fit to cast me aside.”
Isaac extended his right hand for Léhanghang Hingské to kiss. “My true name is Laas Lórien – a Lord of the Tuatha de Danaan Court, I accept your offer Léhanghang Hingské of servitude until I choose to free you of your duties. I will hold you to your oaths of old and woe be unto you should you fail your obligations a second time.” I had no idea what Isaac was talking about but the Saber Tooth Tiger seemed to and he took the proffered hand and kissed it crying as though he were a wayward child accepted back into his father’s good graces.
“What was that all about?” I asked Isaac after the man released his hand and stood back up. The weretiger looked positively beatific in his adoration of the elf and took a stance behind him and a little to his right.
“Léhanghang Hingské was not his name of old. I think it is one he must have chosen later in life, after his disgrace, but he used to serve my father a very long time ago. I didn’t recognize him at first after all these years. Twenty thousand plus years is a very long time.” He said in explanation as though we’d understand. I thought elves had infallible memories, but I guess I was wrong. “He and his brothers betrayed my father and our people in our time of need and was banished from our lands, cursed to roam the earth for eternity. The curse may only be lifted by one of my lineage and only after Findaráto Teleperiën, for that is the name by which he is known to my people, proves his loyalty to our family. Three days after their banishment our seer saw a vision where he, Findaráto Teleperiën, would be given a second chance to restore his and his brother’s honor and repay their debt to my father’s court. They were not lycanthropes at that time but mere humans. That is why I did not recognize him at first.”
Marqita looked about as confused as the rest of us but she observed the man with a quire light in her eyes. “Maybe Isaac will explain better what exactly this is about later, but I have to ask. If you are so lonely and the only one of your line left, why haven’t you made more? It must be lonesome to go through this life with no one of your kind to be with?” She added.
“It has everything to do with the curse my Lord told you about. I am disgraced. I have no honor because I ran at a crucial moment on the banks of a lost river in the heat of battle. I failed my station and my oaths to my Lord Laas Mailarran. My brothers and I stumbled aimlessly for days until we were near death. We refused to eat or drink as punishment for our disgrace and in my desperation I made an oath to whatever gods were listening that I would be granted the opportunity to lift this curse, to be given the chance to restore my name and the names of my kin. I swore that I would walk this earth alone and friendless until I could make amends to my King and his family. Thant night we were attacked by a group of what we thought was demons. Later I found out what they were and what I was from then on. All of my brothers perished that night. Therefore I’ve never brought anyone over in all these years for I am not worthy to be the teacher and leader doing so would require.” He looked at Isaac again. “My Lord, if it pleases you, I would be honored to go wherever you go, protect you from anything that may harm you, and keep your companionship in your darkest hours. Please take me with you and give me the opportunity to right my wrongs to your family.” He said bowing again.
Isaac bowed only his head but it seemed to me to hold the weight of a full bow for the Saber-toothed Tiger. Léhanghang Hingské leaned into the elf and rubbed his cheek upon the back of his hand as though he were cat scenting it. “This is the only chance you will be given to restore your honor Findaráto Teleperiën. On behalf of my Lord, my King, and my father Laas Mailarran, I accept the renewal of your oaths. I also release you of your ‘self imposed’ punishment of walking this world alone. When your task is done and you have been restored in good faith to our people and our King, then if you find some who is worthy and willing, you may build your clan back to its former glory. From now on you will be known by your real name Findaráto.”
Findaráto threw himself at Isaac’s feet weeping as though a ton of weight rolled off his shoulders. “Thank you my Lord.” He said over and over again until the elf had to pull him to his feet. The weretiger threw himself into Isaac’s arms hugging him tightly weeping freely against his chest. I would never have thought of Isaac in this light before. For the first time I began to understand exactly who Lass Lórien is: not just a High Elf of old, but an Elf Prince, son of King Laas Mailarran.
Findaráto eventually composed himself and looked around at us as though the sun shown for the first time in eons. “It’s been so long since I’ve been around other lycanthropes. For years I always shunned the company of others until I grew so old that the young ones shy away from me. I look forward to the opportunity of spending time with you.” He said smiling. “You’re tiger, but I’ve never seen a black one before. Are the black tigers rare?” He inquired.
“There are almost no black tigers in the natural world anymore and even in weretiger circles we are pretty scarce.” Rakish said extending his hand to shake the new tiger’s. “It is an honor to meet you Findaráto.”
“The pleasure is all mine. Even though my Liege declared that I am to be known by my former name, the name his father gave me when I was accepted of old into his servitude, if it pleases my Lord I would prefer to be called Saber. It is shorter and easier to pronounce.” He asked looking towards Isaac but not meeting his eyes as though he couldn’t believe yet that he has been granted a second chance.
“If it pleases you, my companions may call you Saber. It is easier to pronounce and they are not familiar with my language. Saber, these people call me Isaac and while we walk this plain, you must call me this also.” He smiled at the man and was rewarded with grin so fierce with joy it almost hurt to look at it. I can only imagine what wandering nearly twenty thousand years alone and cursed must be like. I can’t help but wonder how a second chance after all that time must truly feel, the kind of joy being forgiven in the face of eternity? I’m not so sure my psyche would survive it. “We are on our way to visit Dragon’s Pit.” Isaac continued. “I remember the way but it has been nearly three hundred years since I’ve been there. If you know the way I would appreciate it if you would lead us there.”
“I’ve lived on this island for nearly a hundred years and I do know of this place you speak of my Lord. I would be honored to escort you there.” Saber hesitated and a moment of unease passed over his face. “My Lord, are you aware of the guardian who protects the pit? He is quite fearsome.” If Saber seemed frightened at all he didn’t show it. Maybe twenty thousand years is long enough to find one’s courage?
“Yes my friend I am well aware of Mosork the Red. I am the reason he is protecting the cavern.” Isaac said. “Again Saber, please call me Isaac, not my lord, or any of the old titles and names. It is important or I wouldn’t ask it of you.”
“Yes my Lor… um, Isaac. I will do my best to remember.” The cat stripped out of his clothes and shifted to half beast form like quicksilver and just as smoothly. I’ve never seen anyone shift as effortlessly as him. I have to admit, if the full beast form is as impressive as his half beast, I look forward to seeing his full transformation. Before us stood one of the most handsome creatures I’ve ever laid eyes upon in my life. He stood a good foot taller than me and his shoulders were broad, very broad. The hair on his chest and stomach was pure white and thin enough the skin was visible under it. The hair covering the rest of his body was a tawny yellow, the color of the dry savanna, mixed with barely darker burnt sienna stripes that looked like shifting grasses swaying in the wind as he moved. His teeth were impressive. Those canines were at least ten, maybe eleven inches long and protruded far below his lower jaw. He was nude in this form just like the rest of us and even I caught myself staring at his endowment. In human form he was impressive; in this form he was downright distracting. His tail stretched out behind him in a graceful downward arch curling up at the end. It was tipped with a tuff of white fur. I decided to show a more submissive attitude until I got to know this new member of our party. Being top cat is not worth my death. Once I get to know him I may be more dominant, but until then I’ll play it safe.
It took us all of about forty-five minutes to reach the Dragon’s Pit. In this form we sprinted the whole way climbing where we needed to and jumping over crevasses and narrow canyons. “Stop here a moment.” Saber said. He looked at us all in turn. “How good are you all at jumping straight down?”
“How far down?” Trent asked. “It’s very dark down there, so I cannot tell the distance.”
“It’s about twenty-five meters.” Everyone nodded they could manage it and agreed to go on. “Very well, we jump.” Saber approached the edge of a canyon wedge that gaped before us like a yawning mouth. Along the edges were sharp serrated jags of basalt which for all intense and purpose looked like the jagged teeth of a dragon. Ah, Dragon’s Pit. I said mentally.
Yes, I see where it gets its name now. Rakish thought back to me. How clever!
We scrambled down a small embankment and then dropped to a gravel strewn floor wet with water spray. The gravel was large and round but irregular stones about the size of a Ping pong ball. I looked around taking in the beauty of the place. It was vast. The mouth we jumped through was about two hundred feet long and about seventy-five feet across, but the cavern, for that is what this grotto is, was simply spectacular. Long fronds of moss and fern stretched down like rotting arms of flesh hanging from the mammoth dragon teeth of the open maw above. On second look I noticed they were roots and vines stretching down in tangles and it was on these the ferns and moss grew so thick it looked solid. I would like to see this place on a sunny day. A waterfall spilled out from the striations between the rocks somewhere near the opening and poured down in a beautiful wash to splash against a rocky spear. This stone ‘tongue’, for lack of a better description, split the waterfall in two with each half descending another twenty or thirty feet before splashing violently in an almost perfectly round pool about eighty feet wide. Some of us hit the pool and so had a much softer landing then the rest. Where I stood I was in about knee deep water that was so icy it bit and bit hard.
Isaac sprinted around the pool and in two quick bounds stood on top of the tongue like crag that split the waterfall. A wind generated by the falling water buffed his hair so it fanned out behind him as though he stood in a stiff gale. “Ah yes, this is it. The years have dimmed my memory of this place. I forgot how breathtaking it is down here.” Isaac admitted. I had to wonder if he truly finds this beautiful. I mean it is beautiful, no doubt about it, but how much more breathtaking is his home? I couldn’t imagine elves’ living anyplace that wasn’t amazing and awe inspiring.
Before I’d even noticed Saber moving he stood on the stone beside his prince. I strained close to hear his warning over the den of the falling water. I heard every word, although barely. If he hadn’t shouted to be heard over the falls I wouldn’t have caught it. “My L… Isaac, no one has been in this place in many, many years. It is a cursed place. The local people avoid it with sincere deliberation. I must warn you that you are in danger here.”
Isaac slowly walked towards the falling water and Saber followed him. “I am well aware of everything about this cave Saber, for it is I who cursed it. The hex is designed to keep people away from here and I’m glad to see my wards are still intact.” Isaac stopped just short of the rushing water. He had to be getting wet. Of course he was already wet so what did it matter? He stood still as though listening to things the rest of us could not hear and then began a low chant while moving his body in intricate patterns that looked remarkably like Tai Chi. A few moments later and a great wind whirled around the two of them and ripped at us who stood off at quite a distance. It howled around the water fall and the water stopped flowing as if someone turned off a spigot. One moment it gushed out of the rocks and the next nothing, not even a trickle – only the occasional splatters as the remaining water dripped off leaf and fern.
Isaac seemed satisfied with his work and sat down cross legged on the spur of stone taking the stance of a Buddhist monk meditating. We all watched impatiently as he sat for what seemed an eternity. Saber stood guard with one wrist clasped in the grip of his other hand protecting the elf’s back. He spread his legs apart as though he expected to need to spring into action at any moment. To my surprise he stood with his back to us and faced the cave entrance in front of him and Isaac. It surprised me because I couldn’t think of anything that would be in this cave worth worrying about. The opening of the newly revealed cave, revealed only after the waterfall stopped flowing, looked like a large black eye – narrow at both ends and wide at the center. It was eerily similar to the gaping dragon’s mouth entrance we all jumped through but without the teeth. Water splattered upon the rocks where it dripped like rain drops off the tips of leaves from a jungle’s canopy after a shower. I listened to the myriad of trickling sounds as many small rivulets of water made their way into the rocks pulled ever downward by gravity through the cracks and crevices on its way to the pool’s embrace below.
I started to approach the stone when I heard him call in a clear, piercing voice. “Mosork the Red, I beseech thee. Mosork the Red, I calleth thee. Mosork the Red, come hence and share council with me Lass Lórien.” It surprised me he spoke English or maybe I’d gained the gift of tongues, na that’s just ridiculous. I closed my mouth to swallow realizing it’d been hanging open the whole time. I closed my mouth and stood very still. The scent issuing from the cave’s mouth sent shivers over my skin and made the pit of my stomach tighten with fear and dread. It smelled of brimstone and fire – like the infernos from the very pits of hell. Then the heat came followed by the light of a thousand torches welling up inside the bowls of the cave growing brighter and brighter until I could scarcely look upon it. There was a moment when I saw the gaping maw and glistening red eyes of an enormous serpent before fire rolled up and upon it obscuring my view. The flames roiled as though buffeted by winds from every direction and a violent rumbling sound filled the underground chambers echoing in the closed space like a great cacophony. Then all was quiet.
I had to blink my eyes to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. A fair skinned man stood in front of the elf and Isaac stood to greet him. They clasped arms the way two knights of old might. Mosork the Red’s serpent eyes were the most brilliant fire-red-orange I’ve ever seen. His auburn hair showed coppery in the overcast light and cascaded like silken water over his shoulders. His skin was such a pale pink it resembled white alabaster tinged with just a touch of blood. He wore a black leather vest style jacket over his upper body that only came about midway down his torso. Very intricately embroidered designs in red and gold threads adorned the leather. It was not designed to fasten down the front and therefore hung loose separated by a couple of inches. His pants were dark, almost reddish brown or oxblood red, made of leather and they tapered tight against the contour of his legs. Knee high leather boots of the same color as the pants shod his feet. When he spoke his voice fell melodious through the small grotto and sounded like several voices talking in harmony at once. We stood mesmerized – every last one of us except Isaac and Saber. If Mosork the Red wanted to kill us, I don’t think he’d have a hard time of it. “You have returned Lass Lórien. Have you brought me these delicious morsels as payment for trapping me here for three hundred years?
“Greetings to you my old friend. No, they are not for you to eat. They are members of my quest. I’ve come to take back that which I have left in your guardianship. Let us pass and when I return with the Valgeld you may be free of your obligations to me.”
“You must first answer a riddle before I let you pass.” The man studied us for a moment with hunger plainly etching his face. He reluctantly returned his gaze to Isaac. “Water washes over me but drowns me not. Air lifts me upon its tender bosom and on high I soar. Fire consumes me, and Earth may bury me, but from my ashes I rise anew. What am I?”
“You are the Phoenix.” Isaac says without hesitation.
Mosork snorted smoke out his nostrils as though he took a long drag upon a fag. “I must be losing my touch. You used to have a lot more trouble answering my riddles.”
“My brother, I am well aware that dragon’s minds never become befuddled. I would be a fool to underestimate you, so why have you decided to make this challenge so simple?” Isaac inquired with his head cocked to one side like he truly couldn’t figure out the dragon’s reasoning.
“You warned me it may be a long time. You warned that I’d be trapped here without food, without the freedom to hunt, or mate, and I accepted my plight because of the debt I owed you. However three hundred years is a very long time: A very long time indeed when I was forced to stay in one place and not even lure wayward travelers into my lair. With the wards you cast upon this prison you trapped me and kept prey away preventing me from slaking my hungers. I’m starving, I’m tired of my confines, and I want this over, so go get your damned trinket and then we’ll take the time to negotiate and discuss strategies or old times – whatever suits us best. The way I see it you now owe me.”
“Very well, will you wait our return?” Isaac asked.
“NO!” Mosork responded heatedly and I could feel the mistrust and malice rolling off him. “There had better be no tricks up your sleeves this time elf or you will have hell to pay. Put it frankly, I do not trust you. Therefore I will accompany you until this is done.”
“I give you my word that I have not come to trap you again and I wish to play no tricks against you. You have served me well. You may come if you like, but I warn you, it is not a place dragons like to go.” Isaac motioned for us to join him and once we all stood upon the spit of stone with him Mosork moved out of our way and bowed to Isaac as we passed. I noticed the elf didn’t turn his back on the dragon until we were several hundred feet into the depths of the cave. I glanced back only to see the dragon/man standing where we left him. His gaze followed us suspiciously but he made no move to follow. I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of place would cause a dragon fear, or make him feel uneasy enough to not enjoy it. Things were changing so quickly and people seemed to come into play so mysteriously – thinking of Saber here – that I felt as though I’d missed something. I didn’t expect the dragon, but Saber’s presence really puzzled me. What are the odds that a twenty something thousand year old wereanimal would inadvertently wonder upon his lost liege right in the nick of time to join in on said liege’s quest? As much as I liked Saber, I still didn’t trust him or the circumstances by which he came to us. I don’t believe in coincidences – at least not much. And the dragon? Dragons were things of legends as far as I knew before we struck out on this ‘quest’. I’d only met the spirit dragon when Isaac retrieved his father’s staff. Until then I didn’t think they existed and even after then I figured it was a true spirit and not a real dragon. Now here I was face to face with a real, live, and fire breathing, dragon. What the fuck else is going to pop out of the bowls of fantacy?
Dark doesn’t cover the passage we more or less stumbled down. There is nothing on this planet darker than a cave. It is so dark that even our eyes see nothing and that is saying something since they are permanently stuck in our animal form. But then I saw a red glow emanating from deeper down the corridor. Humans would still be stumbling around in the dark because this glow was in the infrared spectrum because what caused the light was fire and we picked up the heat from the flames first. It soon morphed into the ultraviolet spectrum though.
The tunnel surprised me. It was well worn and the sides, all of them including over our heads and under our feet, were smooth like they’d been melted and formed into something unnatural. It was large enough to drive a semi truck through. When we rounded a curve in the passage I noticed crystals protruding from the walls at regular intervals, all about four feet from the ground, and they were the source of the light. Heat radiated from them as though they were on fire and I noticed a faint undulating flame dancing slowly across their surface. “Do not touch them.” Saber warned. “Even our healing energies will not help you if you burn yourself with dragon’s fire.” The look I gave him must have been enough to prompt more. “Galin, I’m old enough to have experienced many things. I’ve met our illustrious host’s kindred before. His fire is most terrible. It took me three months to heal a burn from a dragon’s breath and my arm still gives me grief at times even though it’s been nearly a millennium ago when I gained this unfortunate experience. There aren’t that many dragons and to have met one in a lifetime is something to write home about. I’m not sure I ever want to meet any more. They are easy to anger and their wrath is not a fate I would wish on almost anyone. Mosork’s kind has the ability to make their breath a gentle warm breeze or hotter than hell flame that will melt granite. They can even make their fire burn as though you fell in molten lava without causing any physical harm at all. What you feel is an illusion but it may as well be real because it feels like your body is boiling. They only use this if they are angered enough to torture instead of outright kill or if they’ve been coerced into doing it.” I decided to take my elder at his words on this one. You are bound to learn a LOT of things over twenty thousand years. The walls, floor, and ceiling lent credit to his words at least on a dragon’s ability to melt stone. All surfaces ran into one another as though Mosork melted and shaped it with intent.
After about fifteen minutes the corridor started a downward slope. It wasn’t a sharp decent at first but angled sharper as we went until the smooth stone surface of the tunnel floor juxtaposed into large irregular steps. “This was not here the last time I visited.” Isaac whispered. “Mosork must have been board, very board to mold and shaped this passage over the last three centuries.”
I had no idea why he spoke so quietly but I followed his lead. “So it was Mosork who decorated the cavern?” I asked.
Isaac gave a harsh, abrupt, and almost contemptuous laugh. “Who else do you suppose ‘decorated’ it if not him. Of course he did. If anybody and I mean anybody, even a lycanthrope, ventured into this cavern, he’d have devoured them without a seconds thought. I can assure you Galin; nobody has an appetite like a dragon especially when he’s in his true form. What you saw today is NOT his true form. That is how he chose to manifest to us. I think he thought it wouldn’t frighten you off if he appeared to be as human as possible. I have a feeling he really thought I’d brought you all as a peace offering. He probably thought you were human at first and didn’t want to frighten you away before he had a chance to lull you into a false sense of security. Dragons don’t care much for the taste of shapeshifters.”
“What’s to keep him from coming after us now that we’re trapped down here? After all, it would be a perfect place to seek revenge if that is his want.” Klaus asked.
“He will behave himself and he is not after revenge. He owed me a favor and now that favor is paid in full. Besides, I told him you were with me and that you are under my protection. I meant it when I said he doesn’t care for the taste of lycanthropes. Your magic, the power that makes you shift shape, doesn’t mix well with his own power. It gives him somewhat of a metaphysical sour stomach. Moreover he will not go against me. He doesn’t want to owe me another favor. Dragons are free spirits. The last three centuries were probably very uncomfortable for him. Having said this – I wouldn’t get lost if I were you. You are safe so long as you are with me. Away from me and you may become dragon fodder, indigestion or no.” Isaac said in a whisper.
“He’s behind us, following us, isn’t he?” Killian observed.
“Yes.” The elf fell silent for a bit but after a few moments he continued. “You can trust a dragon to do exactly what he says he’ll do – nothing more and nothing less. So long as you are precise in your choice of words dealing with him you are safe. If you choose your words carelessly, he will devour you. I cannot die, but I can live to regret being careless with a dragon. If you are careless with him, you will suffer a dreadful fate.”
“So if he gives his fealty to you, then you can count on him to be at your back through thick and thin?” I asked.
Isaac laughed again and this time it really sounded amused. “Yes young one. This is certainly so, but in all my long life I’ve never heard of a dragon swearing fealty to anyone besides other dragons.” He thought for a moment. “Except for Threndon the Savage.” He didn’t continue.
“Who is Threndon the Savage?” Asked Rakish
“He was my cousin.” Mosork’s melodious voice echoed down the cave from behind us. “He disgraced our race and it is a curse to speak his name.”
“Yes, but he held true to his honor. If any dragon makes an oath, he will see it through.” Isaac replied. “The dragons may think of him as a traitor, but you cannot fault him for disloyalty.”
“We can fault him.” Mosork’s voice boomed in the echoing chamber. His fist hit his chest in contempt. “His first obligations were to his family and his kindred. Any oath he made to other species, no matter how honorable, comes second to that. He declared his allegiance to a mortal man, a king of men to be sure, but a man nevertheless. He did this because he fell in love with this mongrel’s daughter. He chose mortality in the end because he couldn’t bear to see her die and leave him to roam the earth for an eternity mourning her. In the end he betrayed us.”
“This sounds like a delicious romance story.” Marqita said.
“Aye, a beautiful and tragic romance it was. It was a true story to rival Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.” Mosork said looking at the woman as he stepped into our midst. “Their love was forbidden by both kith and kin on both sides. If you love such stories, I would love to tell you the tale sometime my dear lady.”
Marqita bowed her head to the dragon. “I’d love to hear the story seńor. But if it is a curse to speak his name, then why do you offer to tell me the story?”
“I hold no personal hatred for Threndon. I know how he felt for I too have loved and lost but if you meet others of my kind it would be very wise never to mention his name. Most of my kind views him as a traitor and they have forsworn to kill any who speak his name. But as soon as we have the time I shall regale you with tales of the scoundrel Threndon the Savage and how he fell.” Mosork’s eyes twinkled with delight. I had to wonder what he was up to. After what Isaac said about dragons, I’m not sure I’d trust him as far as I could toss him.
Trent stepped up to the other side of the dragon as we continued walking deeper into the cavern. “I’ve heard a dragon can make others like him by the same methods we use. Is this true?” He asked.
“Not really, no.” Mosork responded. “We can take a pure human and our bite can transform him into something else, something more, but not a full dragon. Our minions, those we choose to be our warriors, our troops, our protectors, and our cannon fodder, are humans we transform into paulo dracones, or little dragons. Paulo dracones are humanoid shapeshifters that are reptilian in nature. Where dragons are true immortals like elves, paulo dracones are like you, only immortal so long as they are not outright killed by other forces.” As he explained what dragon’s can do to humans we approached a large stone door for lack of a better word. It looked more like a large cathedral window since it stood a good two feet above the melted floor. Forty feet tall at least and nearly fifteen feet across, it was immense. The top came together into a point like the front doors of a cathedral or a window like I just mentioned. The stone had no definition to it except that unlike the stone around it, it wasn’t melted. Being unmarred is the only reason it stood apart. Apparently the dragon’s fire had no effect upon it.
I heard a soft chuckle come from Isaac. “So you found my door Mosork, but could not open it or melt it away.”
The dragon stepped silently up beside me and gave a small angelic shrug as though to say “So what if I did?” It was the most graceful and sarcastic, yet inoffensive gesture I’ve ever seen anyone perform.
“You know full well dragon’s fire cannot destroy the strands of a well woven spells, and especially so a spell woven with words of true power. Why did you even try?” The elf pointed at the stone that looked like melted candle wax surrounding the towering door shaped stone.
“Because I could and I wanted to test my prison. You know you cannot blame me for trying.” The dragon winked at the elf and Isaac scowled back.
“What kept you from just melting your way around it and into the corridor behind?” I asked Mosork.
He gave me a small patronizing smile. “It is not a door shapeshifter, it is a portal. I could have melted the stone surrounding this ‘door’ completely and it would still be exactly where it is now and nothing would have been gained. Even if I’d vaporized the stone on all sides this portal the stone you see here would float in space and time defying reality.”
“If you had succeeded in breaching my magic somehow Mosork, even your immortality may have been sorely challenged.” Isaac turned to the door and raised his right arm in an almost parody of a Nazi salute except he held his hand up and spread his fingers. “Seth-no garoth, pińo-sinisad.” Flashes of silver light traced through the stone with lightning speed creating a very intricate pattern. The image it produced was a mix of Art Nouveau and Celtic designs. It was breathtaking. After the pattern traced over the stone’s surface, a brilliant light shown around the outer edge of the door. Without a sound it shimmered and vanished leaving an enormous gaping black hole before us. The blackness was pitch, eternal, primal. It was a darkness to make the bone marrow and very blood in our veins freeze. Malice, death, and every evil thought humanity has given life too throughout the ages manifested in corporal form in this darkness. What frightened me the most about it though, was that I couldn’t even see one inch into the dark depths. If it had been a natural dark, I’d have seen the first few feet of stone flooring at least. What’s more though, the darkness seemed to breathe like a living beast. I heard it sigh and watched the darkness swell with that sigh.
All of us seemed nervous. Looking around I saw that nobody wanted to go anywhere near it. In fact most of us backed up several steps away including Mosork. “If you have true faith in yourself, if you have no ego to get in your way then you have nothing to fear from this.” Isaac said looking at all of us in turn. “If you harbor falsehoods in your heart, if ego rules your spirits, then this passage will devour you. I leave it up to each of you individually if you will take this step and venture further with me. None of you are obligated to follow me further. You may take this step and venture on or you may stay here and wait for our return. Only you can make this decision.” With this he stepped into the darkness and was instantly swallowed from sight. Mosork took a deep breath and, cursing under his breath, followed with the same result. The rest of us looked at each other not sure what to do. I decided I would follow Isaac’s lead and stepped into the mouth of hell but I didn’t walk this path alone, beside me Saber stepped into the darkness at the same time as I. As the darkness enveloped me a shiver ran through my body chilling me to my core. I saw nothing. I heard nothing except my heartbeat. Even that was faint as though echoing from a long way off. Every fear I’ve ever felt, my deepest darkest fears and insecurities seemed to come alive bombarding me with doubt and indecision. It threatened to overwhelm me. No matter how hard I tried, I could see or hear nothing except for my own heartbeat. I took another step, and then another, followed by yet another. I feared I would stumble, fall, and lose my way. But just when I thought despair would consume me the darkness dissolved into light every bit as overwhelming as the darkness was but a moment ago. I blinked over and over again trying to see through this brilliant light. I still had no sense of direction, but the fear of the night passed replaced by a warm, soft, and comforting feeling of goodness.
Eventually a plateau overlooking a beautiful valley focused into clear sight. Isaac and Mosork stood in front of me. The former glanced at me and smiled before turning his attention to Saber who followed me out of the Great Divide. Mosork’s attention was riveted on a floating citadel about four miles directly in front of us.
I studied the dragon closely. He looked startled. A flush colored his paste white skin. “Mother of the gods” He swore! “You surprise me Loss Lórien. No one in their right mind seeks to come to the Valley of Records in flesh and blood. To do so is madness.”
“Now you understand why I warned you not to try and force your way through the portal yet you did not listen. Surely you know after all these years never to question the reasons of the Tuatha de Danaan.” Even in English there was a great deal of power to Isaac’s words and I could have sworn I saw Mosork flinch at the name of the Elven High Court. Isaac stepped forward and the rest of us followed. A gentle relief washed through me to notice everyone decided to step into the darkness and through the light. Finally I understood what the darkness is. It was not magic cast by a spell caster. Isaac did not create the darkness we just traveled through. It is the primal darkness that all must go through before they can endure true enlightenment. The darkness that envelopes you and washes you clean of all illusions, all ego. It is the Great Void, the Void Pass Not, so immense and intense it can drive you mad if you harbor false ideas of whom and what you are. Shapeshifters, in our shifted form, can see the infrared spectrum but even that proved to no avail when I stepped that darkness. It made me feel good to know that I held no pride or illusions of myself and my spiritual state of being. It also made me feel good the rest of us made it through as well. It made me see them all in a different light. One thing all creatures are capable of doing is to evolve past the illusion of self. For shapeshifters it can be a humbling experience to realize we are not the greatest and best because our human side sees the changes in our physical bodies, our strength, our speed, and our ability to shift form. It makes us think of ourselves as superior to mere humans. And it sometimes blinds us to what is important. It blinds us to the fact that the self is an illusion. We are not an end unto ourselves but a part of a much larger body of consciousness. Unfortunately not all of us learn this lesson; one person in point of example would be Shredder, Killian’s former master and lunar-father. The fact that all of our party has learned to be humbled by the sheer power the moon has over us filled me with a great deal of relief.
I smiled at my friends before returning my attention to the valley that stretched before me. The valley appeared small, short enough to see both ends and seemed to be more of a canyon than a true valley. A canyon opened on one end and closed on the other. Up near the head of the canyon were large cliffs circled around the end a very tall waterfall fell gracefully into a beautiful lush jungle. About one quarter way down the valley the terrain changed to rolling hills and scattered forest with lush green fields swaying in gentle breezes. Halfway down the canyon changed again to a savanna like one may find in Africa with dry grasses dotted with an occasional lone tree or small clusters of trees. The last quarter was pure desert very similar to the Sahara with rolling sand dunes and not a plant in sight. Beyond that was dark and indistinct. Isaac pointed to the citadel floating just above the valley floor at the junction where savanna met rolling hills and I caught enough of his conversation with Mosork to learn this was our destination.
At first I thought the valley was small and it surprised me to find the ‘small’ citadel wasn’t small at all which made me reassess my original perspective of the valley. Above us stretched the canopy of the sky at twilight. Floating in the darkening sky was a moon, stars, and two planets, one with rings like Saturn. They looked surreal and enormous floating in the ultramarine sky. Even my naked eyes could discern details that normally required a powerful telescope to reveal here on Earth. The dazzling colors of the planet’s rings inspired awe and I found it difficult to keep my eyes on the path before us for there were colors in the rings that I’ve never seen before. Colors I cannot even began to describe. Winds blew through the valley and over us, and I was glad they were warm, almost hot, like an Appellation summer. I found the place dazzling, mesmerizing, and enchanting.
We approached the citadel and it looked as though someone ripped a mountain top from its flanks. Upon this mountain top sat a castle that was black and white and glistened like glass or diamonds in the sunlight shining from the horizon over the desert. It dawned on me that glass was right. The citadel was constructed of black obsidian and topped with translucent mother of pearl. It looked like jewels adorning a queen’s crown. In the center of the castle, where a monarch’s throne room would normally sit, a very plain dome of enormous proportion towered. As I thought about this strange construct it became clear to me this was the Hall of Records. It rose high above all the turrets and battlements of the castle below. The base wall of this temple was black obsidian and the dome, mother of pearl. It looked too large for the castle within which it nested. Set in the obsidian around the parameter of the dome’s base were small windows that looked out over the castle and the valley over which it floated. Multicolored light pulsed from these windows at odd intervals almost as though they broadcast messages in a mysterious code. A brilliant white light split the top of the dome and speared off into the darkening sky above. “What is that?” Estephan asked pointing at the dome atop the citadel.
“That, my dear jaguar, is the Hall of Records. Some call it the Akashic Records.” Isaac answered without hesitation.
“You mean THE Akashic Record, the knowledge of everything that has happened, is happening now, and may yet occur should people or events continue on their present path?” Trent asked awed. I’ll admit that I was surprised he knew what the Akashic Record is. I knew of it through discussions with Rōk, after all the concept started in India.
“Indeed, that is exactly what I mean and the Hall of Records is our destination.” Isaac said pointing towards the citadel. “I will only be able to take three of you into the hall with me when I go. I would like for one of those to be you Galin. The other two will be Mosork and Saber. The rest of you will need to wait outside the hall for our return.” As Isaac explained this we neared the edge of the colossal city floating above us. If anyone seemed upset about his decision to take only Mosork, Saber, and me with him, no one showed it. In fact most people seemed to be a little afraid of it. We came to a stop and I saw what looked like a flying carpet slip from the lawn next to the castle and float down to us wafting with the breezes. When it grew close and settled down in front of us I saw that it was a blanket of grass, or sod, and it was the perfect size needed for all of us to fit on. We stepped upon the sod and sat down cross legged. Immediately it shivered, lifted off the ground, and flew back to the citadel floating above. It felt spongy and insignificant as though it couldn’t possibly support our weight but it rose in a spiral into the air taking us with it. When we approached our landing site I saw a patch of raw earth the perfect size and shape of the sod upon we sat. It rejoined the the lawn seamlessly.
We stepped off the grassy lawn and onto a cobblestone road that surround the battlements of the fortress. Isaac and Mosork lead the way and we soon found the front gates, which stood open and welcoming. Before the gates and off to the right hand side were tables full of all manner of foods including fruits, vegetables, and many types of meats all roasted and presented on platters. These included fish, beef, pork, and a number of others I couldn’t identify. To the left of the gate was a pasture where a number of heads of cattle grazed peacefully. A woman in white robes stood at the head of the tables. Her gown was made of silk or finely woven linen that clung to her body as the breezes blew against her. A gold sash was tied at her waist forming a bodice and skirt out of the fine cloth. A separate piece of blue cloth draped over one arm, around her back, and finally fell over her other arm. This blue cloth was trimmed in an inch wide a gold boarder. The boarder was made of intricate designs and patterned embroidered in the fabric creating the edging. White ivories that resembled chop sticks held her silken gold hair up in a bun at the back of her head. Ringlets of golden hair hung down framing her face but left her neck bare. She had a beautifully long neck which added grace to her appearance and movements and helped to make her whole body appear slender and elegant. She wore sandals on her feet that were as white as the cloth of her dress but had blue sapphires embroidered into the fabric straps holding them on. At the juncture where her bodice tied at her shoulder a large peacock broach made of blue sapphires and diamonds held the garment together. It was beautiful.
Beside the woman stood a man so robust he looked like a bodybuilder and at first I thought he was a guard, but as soon as I thought it I saw the truth. He was her equal, her consort so to speak. He was a god to her goddess. His clothing was a flowing robe not much unlike what men wore back in the Classical Period of Greece. It was a tunic that covered him from one shoulder to his feet leaving his right shoulder bare. The garment was fastened with a large broach made of an enormous single red ruby facetted with clusters of black diamonds over his left shoulder. The fabric was made of a similar material as the woman’s garment, but died a black as dark as the obsidian which flanked the base of the castle battlements behind him. Around its edge were the same intricate designs on the woman’s garment except they were embroidered in red threads. His hair was so black it shown with blue highlights. He had a square masculine face that sported a black goatee trimmed to hang several inches below his chin. The look was startling. Upon his feet he wore black sandals made of the finest leather but otherwise unadorned. He carried no weapons that I could see and somehow as soon as I thought it I knew he had none hidden either. I had to shake my head because it startled me how I knew this without any doubt but had no explanation for it.
To either side of this pair, and spread out so they flanked us, were a company of soldiers all dressed in black like their Lord except their tunics were trimmed in red and each held a shield and either a sward or spear in his or her hands. All of them, the soldiers and the two monarchs standing before us, radiated. They had the ears of an elf like Isaac in his true form, but they were no elves. The woman smiled and I saw dainty fangs like those of a vampire, but she was no vampire either. When she looked straight at me I saw the eyes of a weretiger, but she was not a lycan of any kind. In the company of soldiers all the men had jet black hair and all the women were golden blonds. They smelled delicious and alien at the same time and the scent confused me. On the one hand I wanted to hunt and eat them and on the other I wanted to roll on them like a cat scent marking. “Greetings Loss Lórien of the Tuatha de Danaan. Welcome to the Citadel of Records.” I wondered why they appeared to be Greek when the idea of the Akashic Records originated in India. One would think they would be natives of India. As soon as I questioned this the answer popped into my mind. They appeared to each individual in accordance to how that person thought they should appear. To Rakish they looked Indian. Hearing this in my mind, Rakish added. Actually son, they look like the Hindu God Chitragupta, the records keeper, and the Hindu Goddess Saraswati, the Lady of wisdom, arts, and who is considered to be the River of Consciousness. Through his mind I caught glimpses of how he saw them. They were both dressed in the finest silks and decked in gold and strings of jewels. They were beautiful and it made me want to visit India again. It’s been a very long time since I’d been there. As I thought this, I realized, for the first time, that I’ve not returned there since I became a weretiger. Maybe it’s time I return? Maybe my lunar-sons would like to visit the country of our origin? I’d have to ask them.
Isaac bowed low before these two. When he stood he addressed them. “Greeting my Lord and my Lady of the Multicolored Road. It is an honor to be in thy presence again. May Knowledge and Wisdom forever flow free and unobstructed before thee.”
The woman bowed to us in acceptance of Isaac’s greeting. “If any of you hunger, eat and be satisfied.” The man said to us gesturing to the tables laden with food. My stomach grumbled and I realized just how hungry I was. Yes I saw the food before and my stomach rumbled then too, but my attention was irresistibly drawn to the man and woman and the company of soldiers around them. Now that they pointed out the food to us my attention was fully focused on the tables stretched out before us laden with every imaginable delicacy one might wish for. “Mosork the Red, if you prefer, we have prey provided for thee to hunt in the valley below.” With this the man gestured towards his left and when I looked I could see a small herd of some type of animal in the grasslands. Upon thinking of it I simply knew they were a herd of wild cattle, no that’s incorrect. In my mind’s eye I saw water buffalo.
The dragon bowed his head to the Lord of the Multicolored Road. “It has been long since I’ve had fresh flesh therefore I believe I will take your offer my Lord.” With this Mosork stepped away from us until he stood clear by a hundred yards or more. He seemed to compress in upon himself and the air around him ignited, shimmering like a hot asphalt road in a desert does at high noon. Fire leapt off the dragon engulfing the area surrounding him. It blazed and swelled to an enormous size before it solidified into his true form. The red dragon was immense. Each of his leathery wings had to be at least fifty feet long and at the tip of each bony ridge that supported the wings was a gold tipped claw. Beautiful emerald eyes with vertical slit pupils studied us with interest and I came to understand how a dragon can be so captivating. His gaze was downright hypnotic. His body seemed enormous to me. Even a hundred yards away he toward over us and his color was that of bloodstone – the dark red stone from which Native American’s make their peace pipes. On closer inspection each of his scales were edged in gold. The belly scales were large plates of gold like the bands scales on the underside of a snake. A horny spine ridge adorned his neck and went from his head to the base of his withers just above his shoulders. His back was smooth but three ridge rows lined with small spikes edged his tail, one on top, and one on either side of that. His tail was tipped with a mace of spikes. Each spike, or horn for that is what they were, blazed the same bloodstone red as his scales and they were also tipped with gold. He had incredibly powerful hind legs which ended with a five toed foot with an opposing toe that allowed him to grip with is feet as well as with his hands. Each toe was tipped with a gold claw. His forelegs were also powerful and each of his hands was also five fingered with opposing thumbs and gold talons that looked sharp sabers tipped each finger. He lifted his head to the sky and bellowed belching a cloud of smoke and fire before turning towards the savanna.
With a mighty sweep of his wings he leaped into the air and soared out over the valley quickly shrinking to a small figure. I marveled as the sunlight glittering like fire off his scales. He looked ablaze as he flew. “How does a creature that large and heavy fly?” I asked of no one in particular.
“With brute strength and a touch of magic.” Isaac answered.
Isaac turned his attention to the rest of us and gestured toward the Lord and Lady. “My friends, this is Lord Aran and Lady Bereth, or that is at least what the elves call them. They are the watchers of the Akashic Records.” He studied us for a moment. “If you are hungry then I advise you to eat. We are likely to be here a few hours and then we have the return trip.” I had trouble paying attention to the introductions because I still looked out over the savanna at Mosork’s dwindling image. Gods, it would be an awesome adventure to ride upon a dragon’s back. I thought.
Indeed son, I would have to agree with you. It would be an adventure to remember. Rakish answered my musings.
None of us needed to be told twice about the food. Approaching the table, I picked up a plate made of what I thought at first was silver but changed my mind when I sniffed it. These plates were made of platinum, or so it appeared. Whatever it was made of I proceeded to load it with all kinds of food. I topped it off with a matching goblet of Honey Mead and then made my way out toward the edge of the citadel. Sitting down on the cliff’s edge, I watched Mosork hunt while I ate and sipped my mead. When I first sat down the dragon was grounded and I assumed gorging on a fresh kill. It made me hunger for the hunt and fresh blood filling my mouth as the life pumped out of my prey. While I watched he leapt into the air and circled until he climbed to a considerable height before soaring out over the savanna in search of more prey. I watched in amazement as he folded his wings and dove straight down. At the last moment he snapped his wings wide and snatched another victim from the panicked herd. With his kill clutched in his talons, he swooped high again and soared back to where he’d eaten the last kill. The food I ate was delicious and filling, but it was cooked. Sniffing the air I thought I caught the wonderful tang of fresh blood, faint but there. It’s been too long since I’ve been able to hunt. Pretty spectacular sight, isn’t it? Killian said as he sat down beside me, his plate full to overflowing.
Yes it is. I wonder how many he’ll eat before returning. I asked smiling at my lunar-son.
How many has he already eaten? I’d bet there won’t be much of a herd left once he’s finished. He snickered. I wish I could be out there with him.
Yea, me too. I agreed wistfully. So far I’ve counted two. I’ll bet he’s already eaten a couple while we filled our plates. I grinned. Damn, I need to go hunting. I felt the beast inside me stretch as a growl escaped my lips. It’s an odd feeling, especially at first. The beast inside us can certainly make himself known by stretching or rubbing against the inside of my body as though my human form were nothing more than a hollow cocoon waiting for the finished beast to break its way out.
After we all ate our fill we met at the gates again where Isaac, Mosork – once again in human form, Saber, and I prepared to go in. That is Saber and I prepared to go in. Apparently the other two have done this before and knew what to expect. Also, the two of us that were lycans had to change back into our pure human form from the half beast we were before. Without our fur covering us we needed clothing, so Lord Aran gave us black tunics that matched the soldiers’ clothing to put on. Dressing proved to be a challenge for me since I’ve never even seen one of these garments before. I had no clue how to get the damn thing on and stay put. Everyone seemed to derive great amusement at my expense until finally Saber had mercy and helped me dress. I appreciated his expertise. He threw an extra length of the material over my arm and told me to hold it there. “You look stunning for a Greek man my friend.”
“Thanks.” I said a bit sourly because I wasn’t sure I liked the clothes or not. They were plenty comfortable, but I wasn’t used to wearing them. For some reason I felt more exposed in this garb than I did naked.
“Well, maybe next time I’ll let you struggle with them.” Saber said mistaking my tone.
“It’s not that. I really appreciate your help. I simply don’t know about these clothes. I’m not used to them and I’m not sure I like them yet.”
He smiled and softly chuckled. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t really like clothing of any kind but as far as clothes go, these feel good once you get used to wearing them.”
“Indeed they do.” Isaac said before turning to the others. “The rest of you must stay out here and wait. It may be possible for you to go to the valley below and hunt if our host will permit, but under no circumstances are you to kill without their permission. If they say you can, then it is alright.”
Lady Bereth arched her eyebrow and I saw a small smile curve the edges of her lips. “Loss Lórien, it grieves me that we did not think about the needs of your companions to hunt as we knew Mosork the Red would have such need. It has been a very long time since a shapeshifter of any kind has graced our dimension. Dragons we knew of old, but I cannot remember the last time a lycan has crossed over. I extend my apologies for this oversight. Hunting is certainly permissible to all of your people, but since we abhor waste, let them wait until you are ready to leave to do their hunting for maybe one beast will feed more than one.” Turning to the rest of us she added. “Time here is like most dimensions of power behind the veil. In truth time does not exist for us. Hours may seem like minutes and seconds like years. By the time your companions have returned to you from the Hall of Records, most if not all of you will be hungry again. You may hunt on your way home.”
“It is most appreciated Lady Bereth.” Saber said bowing low before the two dignitaries. “It has not been that long since I’ve hunted, but I see the hunger for the hunt in my fellow shapeshifters. It shows in their eyes and their stance. This is especially so with the young ones who’s control is not as well refined.”
The Lady bowed her head in acknowledgement to the eldest of our kind and with that turned her attention to Isaac, Mosork, Saber, and me. “I wish for you have the blessings of Akasha, Loss Lórien, on your quest to retrieve what you have left in our care.” We bowed to her and stepped through the gates and into a most unique city I’ve ever seen.
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This concludes Chapter Twenty-four. Please feel free to write to me to share what you think about this story so far. I'm not sure how long I'll make it, but I will continue as people express interest in the story. Again constructive criticism, comments, complements, or even courteous complaints are welcome, but if you just want to flame the story, then I respectfully ask you to keep your opinions to yourself. I may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and also at: http://www.facebook.com/lootahakecheta1964.