Tag Archives: stories about spirits

The Tale of Two Mountains– Pt. 28

Burdens to Bear

“Young Isabella is still much too weak and disturbed. I had hoped to find her condition improved,” Edward sighed as Noel tossed himself down on the overstuffed sofa late that evening and pressed his palms into his eyes, rubbing out the exhaustion.  Knowing it would be hours yet before he would get any sleep, Noel pulled a piece of speckled fruit from his sleeve pocket, picked off the lint and popped it in his mouth.

The old man sat at his desk, his shoulders slumped.  Their work was beginning to take its toll on the elder.  Edward’s eyes, ordinarily bright and smiling, even in the most serious of situations, had the dull look that came from lack of rest and too many hours spent pondering things beyond his control.  If the look on his face was any indication, Noel was not going to like what his friend had to say about his meeting with Isabella Asan.

“Disturbed?” Noel jested gruffly, then swallowed, chuckling to himself.  He could think of several ways the woman’s possession of him might have been a pleasurable experience, if she weren’t, in fact, quite disturbed.  As it was, her irritation had only increased these past few nights, as Noel ventured further into the dark and winding tunnels, mapping out the edges of Moag, learning the path of his eventual escape.  The endeavor drained him, physically and mentally, and left him with the imminent feeling that part of him was slowly being siphoned away, though he had convinced himself this was just paranoia.  He could only imagine what Isabella experienced during these times, and he often wondered if, through their connection, she knew what he was doing and might one day tell someone, though he doubted anyone would believe her, considering her state.

Noel hoped the wards would help the both of them, but he had known Edward’s meeting with the woman would not go well the second the elder said he must check on her before they could proceed with testing the wards as planned.  Noel sensed just how poorly the meeting between the two had gone that day, the enervated buzzes coursing through his fingertips as Isabella’s mind raced from one extreme to the next.  Harvey had asked him twice what was wrong with his hand.  All he could offer in his defense was that he must have slept on it funny.  He doubted the man believed him.

Edward stuffed a wad of tobacco into his tiny pipe carved of bone. “She is not fully aware of what she is doing at all times, Young Noel. I believe it unwise, even cruel, to attempt what might further her injuries or worsen her hysteria.  The wards must wait until she is better.”  The golden glow of flame flickered momentarily, lighting up his face as clouds of slate-colored smoke billowed around his head.

Noel tightened his jaw, inhaled deep and let the breath out slowly through his nose, sitting up to face the old Mardraim.  What they had to do involved a certain element of risk, of course, but they both knew there was no other alternative to the wards, and surely it was a greater risk for him to continue testing the limits of Moag with Isabella unguarded.  Edward had spent hours scouring the pages of the book on possession for any hint of a chance at relief, to no avail.  It did not even mention the wards as a potential remedy for the possessed, which understandably made the elder leery of their use.  Noel knew he should be patient, for Isabella’s sake, but the wards were the only possible solution they had to any of the multitude of problems they faced.

“I no wish her harm, Edward,” Noel said, leaving off the fact he did not relish the thought of any harm coming to him either, though he was certain the empath could sense as much, as the old man raised a skeptical brow. “She feels Moag when I come here.  I feel her.  We know wards work.”

“We know wards, in some form, work for you,” Edward puffed at his pipe, grimacing as though aware this would not be enough for the Wanderer.  “We have no idea what happens to the girl during those times you are warded.  Her condition might worsen.”

Noel shrugged uneasily.  “We test them. We find out.”

“I am accountable to my people, Young Noel.  We will test the wards when I believe she is ready and no sooner.”  He let out a trying sigh and opened the book in which he had recorded in detail everything that happened so far.  “Until then, you must bear this burden.”

Bear this burden, Noel thought, grumbling under his breath.  He was not the only one who was bearing the burden, but as he looked back at the old man, prepared to argue his case for Isabella, he noted the deep concern that shadowed the man’s eyes and realized he was being a bit of a prat.  Edward was tired, and whether Noel liked it or not, the old man bore plenty of burden of his own, and his future depended upon him.  “What happened today?”

This had become an almost nightly ritual for the two, meeting in the Mardraim’s secret hold, discussing progress but making little.

The Mdrai had yet to discover anything new regarding the Last Hope prophecy, but it was early days yet, and Edward warned Noel from the beginning this would be a considerable undertaking.  The Hall of Records housed hundreds of thousands of books of prophecy, spanning the years.  The trouble was the books were not organized and cataloged for ease of use, when searching for a specific event.  Though most of the books had a name on the spine, if the identity of the individual was easily deciphered by the augurs, many books contained multiple lifetimes of the same being, allegedly reincarnated over generations, and it was often impossible to tell which incarnation would experience what prophecy, when.

As though rebirth weren’t enough to confuse matters completely, the books were written primarily to improve the study of the Veils, as given by Om to the seers, or Zhe.  To that end, they were arranged by prophetic relation to one another, which made sense if one understood that the prophecies were recorded by the Danguin people not so that they could control or even bear witness to the outcomes, but alone in reverence to Om.  In a long-forgotten past, the Danguin traded in prophetic wisdom, but they had not done so in thousands of years, certainly not since they began keeping written records of their knowledge, with the waning of their abilities. For their purposes, they had no need of understanding the vagaries of particular events or people’s lives, so the prophecies as written gave no indication of dates or times, places, or even races of their subjects, unless it happened that information was seen within the Veils. The factual basis of the prophecies as they unfolded out in the real world was relatively moot, so details were buried deep within the contents of the books, in their relevant prognostications, which meant all the Mdrai could do was pull random tomes from the shelves and pray they would quickly come across something that ruled each subject in or out, with regards to their search.  Under the circumstances, it could take them many months to uncover the Prophecy of the Last Hope among their records… if it existed in the first place… if it was not among the lengthening list of things Noel changed in coming to the mountain, Hope’s prophecies unwritten.

The names of the twelve nobles Noel gave to Edward proved mostly useless, except in confirming the fact that Noel had done more harm than good in coming there.  The Mardraim would not share with Noel any specifics of what he found among their prophecies.  The Danguin were guarded when discussing the knowledge of Om, even with each other, and after all, Noel had not come to the mountain to find out what his friends would do with their lives.  While he had hoped their books might help in the search for information about the Last Hope prophecy, it was enough to know that, although there had been several changes among the prophecies in the books of those twelve nobles, Noel had not managed to completely destroy all their foretold future.  Unfortunately, there was no mention of stones or of long-awaited heroines among their texts, though Edward assured him this meant very little, as many prophecies were relatively mundane in nature, and often it was only when an event passed that the augurs recognized a prophecy’s true significance.

It would take time, but once he had finished with Noel’s and his own books, Edward intended to reconsider all the unwritten prophecies in the books of Noel’s friends, in an attempt to decipher their potential meanings, as he and the Mdrai had done with the Prophecy of the Last Hope. Only when he was through would they discuss whether Noel should give him more names of elves, though Noel was concerned about giving away too much, and, disconcerting as it was,  Edward did not seem at all confident the answers would be found in the Hall of Records, even if they somehow managed to read every book available.

In his first week with Harvey, Noel’s use of the old language had improved somewhat, however he had learned nothing about whatever it was the man might be hiding, and in truth, he was beginning to think Edward was being a bit paranoid about his grandson in the first place, because so much had happened that was out of the ordinary since Noel’s arrival.  Harvey was as reluctant to talk of Moag as Noel, but if their experiences were anything alike, Noel could hardly blame him for being tight-lipped on the subject.  The younger Frank did not ask the many questions that Noel expected.  He did not ask about Noel’s meeting with the Mdrai, he did not ask of the prophecy in the Book of Ages, and he had not shown the remotest curiosity in what it was the Mdrai were searching for in the Hall of Records, but then, Noel thought, Harvey was an empath and, according to his grandfather, a terribly powerful one.  Perhaps he already knew all the answers or did not think Noel could offer him any useful information on the subject, which was probably true.  It seemed more likely that, motivated by the strict laws of his people, Harvey understood it was not his place, even as aspirant, to infringe upon the work of his Masters.  As far as Noel was concerned, withholding the truth from one’s grandfather was hardly a criminal offense, and though Harvey could be far too serious at times, Noel was beginning to grow fond of the fellow.

Harvey had begun teaching Noel the ways of Om and the deeply religious precepts recorded in the Mdonyatra, as well as learning English from Noel and teaching him the language of the Danguin, as the Felimi instructed him to do in Fkat.  Through this study, Noel was learning quite a bit, but not nearly enough to understand conversations between locals, and he had yet to learn anything at all of the Danguin system of writing, which meant he was no closer to discovering which books in the Mardraim’s retreat might contain forgotten Elfin magic, not that he had much spare time to search. Luckily, the books weren’t going anywhere, and neither was Noel…  especially not without answers, which seemed only to prove more elusive with each day that passed.

Noel listened as Edward told him about his time with Isabella Asan, though Edward warned at the beginning of his tale that he had learned everything he needed to know about her condition when he first arrived at her hut that morning and found her staring out the window in a catatonic state, unaware anyone was watching her, as she stood lost in whatever cracked world it was Moag left tucked inside her fragile mind.  His second knock on her door brought her around, and for a time she was up and alert, pretending as though everything were normal, or acting as normally as she could under the circumstances.  But there was nothing normal about her, according to the old man.

“There were moments when her demeanor was… frightening,” Edward said, leaving the word to hang on the air for a moment as scribbled notes on the day. “She lapsed in and out of presence, as though deep within her there is a place she retreats to that no one else can possibly reach, even through empathy.”  Here he looked up at Noel, as though he might ask a question of him, but instead he continued, “At times, in the middle of speaking she simply stopped—her words, her movement, her very breath becoming nearly imperceptible—and she remained in this state for anywhere from a few moments to, at longest count, nearly an hour before resuming where she left off, as though no time had passed for her, either here or elsewhere.”

A grim smile set on Edward’s face, a smile the likes of which Noel had never seen before.  “She had several wounds, on her face and her neck, that were not there when I last saw her,” the elder said, his voice pained.  “Her mother informs me these are self-inflicted, though I could have deduced as much from her behavior during the hours I spent at her side.  She clawed at the flesh on her hand, tearing the skin away until she bled.  This should have been painful to her, but if she felt anything at all, she gave no indication. In fact, she seemed completely unaware she was harming herself, though now and then she noticed the blood and would wipe it away on the front of her gown, before carrying on as though this action was separate from her in some way, as though the blood was not even there, not even hers.”

Noel suppressed the sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach and came to sit on the arm of the sofa, to face the old man properly.  “Which hand?” he asked, squeezing his fingers together into a fist in anticipation.

Edward nodded, a grave look in his eyes.  “The hand that decayed while you were still deep within Moag.”

Noel knew the old man was thinking exactly what he was thinking.

The past few evenings, he shared with Edward everything he remembered about his own experience within Moag, the facts of which the old man diligently recorded in the book he was now filling with notes from his visit with Isabella.  From the little the woman had shared when she first woke from her coma, they knew there were several parallels between Noel’s and Isabella’s encounters with Moag.  Both experienced the darkness speaking directly to them, as though in mocking.  Both were nearly drowned—Noel in sand, Isabella in water.  Both had brought about the other’s death in these visions—Noel by squeezing the life out of Issa, to keep her from struggling so he could save her from the quicksand, and Isabella by holding Noel under the flood, in order to stop him from calling the waters up from the Wellspring of Om.  Both had every intention of saving the other, though Isabella realized she had somehow become Noel in the process and actually drowned herself instead of him and ended up saving her own life, while Noel discovered Isabella was a decaying corpse, her rotting body spilling sand out of every orifice, at which point he panicked, tossing her withered form aside, before waking up from the vision only to discover none of it had been real, though everything about it had felt as real as that very moment.

Noel recalled now his sense of dread as he grabbed Isabella’s arm in that vision, trying to save her from the shifting sands, her terrified words, “Sim ofit osh,” you are killing us, ringing in his ears.  At the time, he believed those words were a plea for help, but if Edward was right, all of this, including those words, was some sort of prophecy born directly of Moag, foretelling the events that would unfold once Noel found his way through the darkness to the home of the Knowledge Keepers.  In his vision, he had grabbed hold of Isabella’s arm.  When he finally escaped Moag, he found the woman dead, her body—that very arm—already black with rot.  Ever since, Noel felt her presence stirring in his own hand, like some addict hallucinating a fragment of her soul like an insect crawling within his skin.  Now she had begun tearing at her own flesh, as if to try and rid herself of their connection.

How long could they allow her to harm herself before they would act?  “The wards, Edward…” Noel whispered, a broken, morose plea cracking through his voice.

“I need more time to understand,” Edward answered quickly. “I must continue to record the prophecies she witnessed through Moag.  We must make a record of all of this, if we ever hope to understand.”

“Understand?  Records no save her.  We not know this is prophecy,” Noel held his hands out in pleading.  As far as he was concerned, they had quite enough prophecy to be getting on with, just dealing with Om.  That they had to face a future ordained by Moag as well was impossible for him to fathom.  “I hurt her.  I cause this, Edward.”

“We must attempt to discover what will come.”  The elder’s sympathetic smile was marred with a painful truth, as though he understood Noel’s plight, but the prophecies Isabella brought with her from the depths of Moag were the best clues they had, and somehow that should make the nightmarish insanity of their ordeal bearable.  “I believe there is more she has yet to tell us. She is simply overwhelmed.  I can feel her mind struggling to release more.”

“You can feel?   Edward,” Noel sighed, losing his patience already.

But the elder raised his hands, nodding.  “I will tend to her daily from now on, however you must accept it could take years to learn everything she has to tell us.”

“Years?” Noel balked, imagining himself still sitting there years from now, the arm of the sofa warn down from waiting, himself an old man smoking from a pipe he had whittled in his patient hours, wondering if Edward was ever going to teach him anything useful, wondering if the Mdrai would ever find the right book among their records, wondering if he would ever escape the hold Moag still seemed to have on him, all the while caught in this disastrous flirtation with a woman who was, literally, tearing herself apart.

If the curious ramblings of Isabella Asan were prophecies designed by Moag and not the delusions of a mad woman, there was little chance of grasping their meaning and even less chance of doing anything about them by sitting still, trying to understand.  And she was a mad woman.  She was mutilating herself, for Christ’s sake.  Because of me, Noel thought, unable to stop himself from thinking that net guilty idea: Because I lived.

“We will find the truth, Young Noel,” Edward answered gently, laying his pipe aside.  “We will find your Hope. Have faith.”

Faith, Noel thought, getting up to pace the roomful of trinkets and oddities, looking for distraction among the shelves, half-listening as the Mardraim began listing the prophecies of Moag Isabella shared that day, none of them intelligible.

“…born a shelter…”

His lack of faith in the Prophecy of the Last Hope is what had brought him there in the first place and may have been responsible for the undoing of everything, including the destruction of Isabella Asan.

“…she swallowed it whole…”

Now he was supposed to have faith in himself and Edward Frank, faith in their ability to somehow, magically restore their destinies through patience and understanding?  It sounded like some parable out of scripture—some transcendental path to enlightenment he simply couldn’t walk down.

“… pages turned to ash…”

Could faith really be the answer?  Could faith in the revelations of Moag as seen through the mind’s eye of a broken woman save them?  He sincerely doubted it.  The things Isabella said were little more than white rabbits, and Edward was wasting his time chasing them.

“We never restore Om’s way,” Noel whispered.  “I change everything. Harvey said.”

“Mm, perhaps.  Young Isabella has twice mentioned a prophecy concerning the nameless child and myself, though I did not realize it was prophecy at first,” Edward said, ignoring Noel’s defeatism.  “She said, ‘I heard the infant crying for a soul when you put him back in Moag.’  I do not understand what this means.  I did not put the child in Moag.  Are you certain you saw nothing of a child while you were in the darkness?”

“I have told you everything,” Noel answered, tiring of Isabella’s prophecies, picking up an ancient dwarfish battle-ax from a shelf and giving it a hearty swing.  It rang out with a powerful burst of energy that reverberated through the air, knocking over several items on the shelves in front of him and causing Noel to stumble backwards.  His eyes grew wide, and he gingerly put the ax back on its stand, hurrying to set everything right again.

“She said the child had to die in order for the prophecy to be complete,” Edward muttered, distractedly.  “I wonder if all prophecy of Moag concerns death.”

“Bugger me, that’s a pleasant thought,” Noel glowered in English, figuring Edward was really not listening anyway.  “It’s enough she brought back prophecies from Hell, now we have to worry they all portend of death.  Please, dear God, let her have another for me, and let it come sooner rather than later,” he added, turning an electric toothbrush over in his hand, noting the wear of the bristles, wondering who it had belonged to and why the Mdrai had bothered to collect it.

“Language, Young Noel.”  The old man took up his pipe again, and gave it another spark, leaning back in his chair to consider as he smoked.  “I put him back in Moag…  I put him back…  What is the infant’s role in this?  The nameless child must be important somehow.”

“Why nameless, Master Frank?” Noel asked as he rested the toothbrush in its proper place and came to sit on the arm of the sofa once more, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly.  “Why you no give him name?  He could be Arles or Elijah.”

Edward gave an affronted grumble.  “To be named by Om is a privilege of the Children of Danguin,” he answered, waggling his pipe as though it were an accusatory finger, as if the very thought of naming someone himself was an affront to his morality.  “Om tells of our births, generations in advance.  The child should not have been possible.  The child was always without a path.”

Noel had wondered why so many of the Danguin had such common, modern names, but he assumed their parents had wandered the Hall of Records looking for ones that sounded prodigious enough.  Naming by Om, by prophecy, explained a lot.  It did not explain why someone did not simply offer the nameless child a name of his own.  What would they have done with him if the child had lived?  Called him You There for the rest of his life?

“Other books of prophecy have names,” Noel frowned.  “Om names others, like Danguin?”

“Not like Danguin,” answered the old man.  “Om may include the name of anyone within the Veils, but for each of my people the naming comes directly from Om as a prophecy itself.  Each birth is prophetic.  Each lifetime is known.  Om names them, ordering their lives.  This child…  He was…”

Whatever he was or was not, the old Mardraim did not say, but rather turned back to his book and his pipe, looking somber as he contemplated.

He was no one, Noel thought, shivering at the idea of what that poor child’s life might have been like in a place where he was the only one who was different, the only one whom their water god had ignored from the beginning.  Would his mother and father have cared for him?  Would he have been cast out from the mountain to be raised by wild yaks?  Or might his ironic fate, guided by nothing more than chance and a people who believed firmly in the destinies divulged by Om, have been even worse?

“The Felimi…” Noel said uncomfortably, knowing what he was going to say would not be an easy thing for the elder to hear, knowing the very idea went against everything the Danguin believed, against their Mdonyatra and their Ftdonya and all of the lessons the Felimi had ever thought to teach their children up at their cloister.  But Noel had spent his life in the real world, where people who believed firmly in the idea of good and right tended to do an awful lot of evil and wrong for whatever they might convince themselves were good or right reasons.  And since Noel’s arrival even the Felimi seemed to be having difficulty maintaining their tenets.  “The Felimi took him…  Then he died…  The Felimi—”

“No,” Edward gave a bitter frown, shifting in his chair but not looking up.

“They hide truth of Moag,” Noel whispered.

The old man shook his head, tapping the ash from his pipe into the rubbish bin that always remained empty.  “The child died when you came from Moag, Noel Loveridge.”

“They tell you this.  The old woman attack me.  You stop her.”

“Young Noel,” Edward sighed, though in the long pause that followed, as the old man caught him in his sights, his tired eyes shifting rapidly, Noel could see that the idea that the Felimi had something to do with the child’s death was not so far-fetched as the Mardraim wished to believe.

After all, Edward had propositioned Noel for help in trying to discover what the Felimi were hiding about Moag.  Noel had come through the darkness and changed things, yes, but if the Danguin were named by Om generations in advance, then nothing Noel could have done in his thirty-four years on this earth could possibly have reached back through the history of these people to erase a naming by Om, could it?  And someone had made it a point to remove the records of those Danguin who had fallen to Moag before, hadn’t they?  Noel could see Edward’s gears turning, and for a few brief moments, he felt the guilt he had carried around with him for days beginning to ease.

Maybe the child hadn’t died because he came through Moag.  Maybe…

But with a painful spasm of his fingers, he recalled his time in the Dreaming, or perhaps Isabella Asan recalled it for him, he wasn’t quite certain, as he winced and shook out his hand.  Harvey warned that Noel would change everything.  Perhaps he had changed even the past through his communion with the Wangarr spirit.  Perhaps his own prophecies and those of Isabella, Harvey and Edward had been unwritten years before, and no one knew it because no one had reason to read their books until Noel came.  Perhaps Om and Moag had always known Noel would enter the darkness and end up destroying the infant’s life, and that was why Om found no need to give the boy a name.  Noel had touched Creation, after all.  He had no way of knowing what may or may not be possible, where the Dreaming was concerned.

If he ever got out of there, he would find Taree and ask him.

Edward Frank shifted in his seat, leaning forward expectantly.  “Young Isabella?”

“Yes,” Noel hissed, anxiously rubbing a thumb into his palm to try and ease the cramp that has seized him, causing his fingers to curl up on themselves.

The elder eyed him for a long minute before adding in a serious whisper, “Do you have something more you need to tell me, Noel Loveridge?”

The old man had felt it, the secret Noel kept, the only thing he would not tell about how he came to find the mountain.  The elder had sensed the Dreaming.

“No,” Noel answered, shaking his head, getting to his feet again.  “No.”

Though Edward should have pressed the issue, and if he had, Noel might have crumbled and told him everything, the elder nodded and said, “The Felimi hid Moag’s existence from our people for a reason.  You are right.  We must still find out why.”

“How?”  Noel asked.  They had missed their opportunity to get fast answers from the blind Mothers at Fkat.

“I wish I knew, my friend,” Edward replied, shaking his head as he gave a grim chuckle.  “I wish I knew.  I can write of my time with Isabella later.  Shall we study more of your broken prophecies, to see what we can make of them?  Perhaps the answer will come to us.”

“Not tonight.  I go now, Master Frank,” Noel said, turning for the door, not knowing exactly how he felt about the old man’s intuition or how he might be useful, except to wander the paths around Moag, learning the way of his eventual escape, even though he was certain this harmed Isabella.

“Perhaps if you will allow me to examine your Book of Ages more thoroughly,” Edward said as Noel reached the door, “there may be more clues about your Hope to be found in this writing, which could help us uncover her book, if it exists.”

“You have Om and Moag and the Mdrai and Young Isabella,” Noel answered.  “You no need old book written by elves who know nothing but dreams.”

“Young Noel, you carry such guilt with you.  If this is all happening, not because of you, but rather through you, because of Moag, Moag is where we must look for answers.  If the prophecy in your book is not of Om, but instead of Moag—”

“You think Prophecy of Last Hope of the Elves from Moag?” Noel interrupted, shocked by the idea, mostly because he had not considered it himself and it was a good one.

“No,” Edward answered quickly, “but the Felimi do not know this.  Perhaps I can get them to speak with you again, if you will take your book—”

“You want give Felimi Book of Ages?” Noel scoffed.

“No. No,” the elder assured, but Noel was already responding.

“Book of Ages is story of my people.”

“Of course—”

“Felimi want know how I came here, want no one else come.”

“Yes, however—”

“They threat my life.  They threat my people.  No book, Master Frank,” Noel insisted, his jaw pulsing several times as he watched the old man’s eyes shifting back and forth again, searching him.

“No book,” Edward answered with a nod.  Then he let out a perilous sigh.  “Has young Harvey told you anything at all about what happened to him while he was in Moag?”

“He no speak of Moag, Edward.  I no speak of Moag.  May be nothing happen to him.”  Noel swallowed, knowing how unlikely this was, even as he said it.

“Still, he guards himself.  Something happened.  You must give him a reason to tell you the truth.  Use his friendship with Young Isabella to your advantage, if you can, but take care, Noel Loveridge.  Remember the promises you have made.”  Here the old man paused, looking grave as Noel rested his hand on the door frame, the thin barrier between this shelter of nowhere created of ancient wizarding magic and the cold hardness of the mountain tunnels, where Moag waited for him to wander.  “We will speak of the Felimi again soon,” he added.  “For now, you go.  I do not need you to sit with me while I work on our broken prophecies.”

Noel pressed his lips firmly into a grimace, then nodded, stepping out into the darkness— Edward, the light, the warmth of the fire, the smell of tobacco and books, all disappearing into the crack in the wall of stone.

____________________________________________

Tale of Two Mountains, Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5, Pt. 6, Pt. 7, Pt. 8, Pt. 9, Pt. 10, Pt. 11, Pt. 12, Pt. 13, Pt. 14, Pt. 15, Pt. 16, Pt. 17, Pt. 18, Pt. 19, Pt. 20, Pt. 21, Pt. 22, Pt. 23, Pt . 24, Pt. 25, Pt. 26, Pt. 27, Pt. 28

 

The Tale of Two Mountains– Pt. 27

isaandnoel

Prophet of Darkness

“They wear blood on their heads,” Issa whispered into the tiny hole in the reed. She sat cross-legged, with her nose and forehead pressed against the wall of her hut. She had spent the morning watching the transparent green worm as it gnawed its way inside the fibrous shaft. Now that its work was done, it would lay its eggs there and wait to die, to be the first meal for its newly emerging offspring. The creature was on its way to becoming something more, like everything else within Om was destined to do— except for Issa.

The idea made her breath catch in her chest as tears stung at her eyes, but she bit the inside of her cheek and tasted blood, which at least served to harden her resolve. Her own destiny, or lack thereof, did not matter right now. This little worm could be trusted to carry some of the truth into the next life, she thought, picking at one of the scabs on her fingers, causing it to ooze.

“Great cloaks of blood and nothing else, as the sun rose up setting the earth ablaze, the pages turned to ash that fell from the sky like snowflakes, she swallowed it whole,” she added, rocking back and forth as the words ruptured out of her.

She slapped her hands hard over her lips. It would not do to give the poor worm too much.

For the six days since she awoke from her dance with Moag, Issa had been locked up in her hut with little to do but try to spit out the poison of Moag whenever she recalled even the slightest part of it, telling it as secrets to the worms and the birds and the wind, if they would listen. No one else would. Her mother looked at her with fear in her eyes, though she tried to hide it. Her father rarely stayed long enough for her to fall into one of her fits of imbalance, as he called them. She had tried several times to tell Harvey of the things Moag had shown her, hoping he would understand, thinking perhaps he could help piece together the strands of her thoughts into something comprehensible, after all he had been there as well, but her persistence only seemed to make him angry. Harvey wanted her to pretend to be herself, to be his old Issa again, if only so she could get out of that hut and live and breathe, since she had been given this second chance at life by the wanderer. She knew she was too far gone now, and so was he, even if he was not yet willing to admit this about himself. The truth was there was so much there, such a cataclysm of ideas in her head, trying to be understood all at once, that her thoughts were like blinding currents, few ideas coherent enough to express, except where the wanderer was concerned.

“Ohamet,” she growled as she got from the ground and hurried to the window, knowing she would not be able to see him, but strangely drawn to look anyway.

Noel walked along the riverbank on the far side of the mountain, Harvey at his side. Isabella regarded with jealousy the warmth of the morning light aglow on his cheeks. He was content, if not happy, and if she listened carefully, Issa could almost hear the rush of the water drowning out their sentences. She could smell the damp earth on the air, intermingled with the tender bloom of wild thyme crushed under their feet. Noel walked with his hand outstretched, allowing the tall blades of grass to brush over his palm, and Issa knew each blade as though his hand were her own—as if she might rip the life up from the ground with ease. All she had to do was close her fist.

She clenched her fingers tight, and a drop of blood splattered to the floor, startling her out of her stupor.

This was her life now, no matter what Harvey wanted for her. She had no idea how long she had been standing at the window, holding her breath, gouging her fingernails into the flesh of her hand.

“Echteri amu schripat,” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes again, blurring the lines of the treetops against the sky. “Schripat. Schripat.”

He had to live. He had to change everything.

A knock on the door sent her thoughts of the wanderer adrift.

She wiped her bloodied fingers over her face, rubbing away the tears as the Mardraim entered, and she forced herself to smile. “My Mardraim,” she began, bowing her head politely, trying hard to control the quaver in her voice. He had not visited since the day she woke.

“I am sorry to disturb you, Young Isabella,” the old man answered gently, pausing for a moment with his back to her as he shut the door behind him. She watched his jaw pulse as his shoulders shifted, in preparation. “You are feeling better than last I saw you?” he added as he turned again, his face serene as ever, not betraying his initial aversion to the state in which he found her.

Isabella looked down at her nightgown, stained with blood, knowing there was nothing to be done about it, and pushed back the twisted locks of her hair. When had she last washed?

“I am well, yes,” she lied. She felt frenzied, constantly racing to hide from her own panic and the torrent of ideas that were not of this world. Her memories prior to her encounter with Moag still scattered and vague, she often got lost in her head trying to bleed the wanderer from her veins, so that time had become disjointed, and she had taken to numbering the days in scratches on the floor to try and keep count. Six. Maybe more. Perhaps less. But there were six marks, and she was fairly certain she made them all herself. She was hardly well. “Are you well?” she added casually, as though the two of them had met on the path, on her way to perform some duty of the aspirant, and the courtesy was only natural.

“I am concerned for you,” Edward Frank answered too honestly. He motioned to the table as a match for Issa’s solitary chair appeared there. They made their way to their respective seats, and the mardraim continued solemnly. “I wanted to give you time to heal, before I pressed you too much about the things you experienced these past weeks. I still lack a full understanding of the things that have gone on in our mountain, since Ohamet came, however I believe you can help me, if you are willing.”

He glanced down at the bleeding skin on her fingers, then back to her eyes, searching them for something he was not yet ready to voice. For a moment, she thought he would ask about the wounds, but instead he said, “The last time we spoke, you claimed to have received prophecies directly from Moag. Do you remember telling me this?”

“I do,” she answered, laughing quietly at the idea she might have forgotten something as important as the things Moag showed her, though she did not remember exactly when she had told the Mardraim about them, and she knew she could not remember everything she saw. No one could possibly remember so much. No one was supposed to know the things she knew.

“I would like to know more about these prophecies,” the old man said, folding his hands in his lap.

A spasm of agonizing glee coursed through her, as Isabella sat up straight, her knees bouncing, causing the table to tremor. If the Mardraim would listen, he could help her understand. “Echteri amu schripat,” she said before she knew what she was saying.

“The wanderer lives,” the old man nodded. “You have told me this before. If it is a prophecy, do you understand the meaning, child? I do not know Moag, as you do, and Om offers no guidance for understanding such things.”

“Om would not—” she began, but as if the words had opened the tap inside her, all the confusion flooded back, and Issa found herself drowning again. “The beast saved three, born a shelter, he knows where it belongs, blood on their heads.” Eyes wide, she clamped her hand over her mouth and held it tight, as she rocked back and forth on the spot, squeezing every muscle in her body , to hold back the torrent. It would not do to frighten the Mardraim away. He would help her. He had to help her.

The old man shook his head, concern and confusion weighing down his white tufted brow. “These are prophecies you witnessed in the darkness? Or are they a single prophecy? Isabella, do you know?”

She nodded excitedly, then shook her head, realizing she could not answer for certain, tears spilling down her cheeks again even as she let loose her mouth and continued, “I heard the infant crying for a soul when you put him back in Moag, she swallowed it whole.” She balled her fists in her lap, baring her teeth, fighting to hold herself still. “Swallowed it. Swallowed it… whole.”

“The infant? You speak of the nameless child?”

Issa nodded. The nameless one had died.

“The nameless child has a prophecy from Moag?”

Another nod.

“But the nameless child is dead,” the Mardraim frowned. “How can he have a prophecy if he is not living?”

“The prophecy could not come to pass if he were living,” Isabella answered confidently.

“What do you mean?

“I…” But she had no idea what she meant. That was why she needed the wind and the worms and the Mardraim.

The elder leaned forward expectantly, pressing his fingers to his lips, and allowed the moment of silence to pass between them, obviously hoping Isabella would somehow manage to gather some focus and reach an epiphany she might share with him. It did not happen. “Tell me again, Issa,” he whispered. “Try to go slowly, and I will do my best to understand. Tell me of the nameless one.”

The pity in his tired eyes was difficult for her to bear, but Isabella took in a steadying breath and did her best to speak slowly, as asked. “I heard the infant crying for a soul when you put him back in Moag,” she hissed then flung her hand over her mouth to stopper the flow.

“I put him back?”

“And I heard him crying,” she answered from behind her fingers, staring wide-eyed at the old man, willing him to make sense of just this one thing, or if not to make sense of it, then at least to take it away from her, so she did not have to know it anymore.

“But what could it mean?” he shook his head, getting to his feet. “The child is dead. He died the very day Ohamet came through Moag. He died, as surely as the wanderer brought Young Isabella back to life.” The elder was pacing now, speaking to himself. “We took his body from the cloister. We burned him, to set him free.” The Mardraim turned suddenly. “Is that what you mean when you say that I put him back in Moag? Is it to do with the burning?”

Issa shrugged and gave a quiet laugh. The providence of the nameless one had puzzled the Mdrai and Felimi for months. The fact they burned the infant’s body, rather than allowing him to return to the earth, could only mean they were so disturbed by his unnatural disruption of their order of things, as they understood Om, that they hoped to keep him from being born again. But they could not grasp that he was never of this order of things, never had a soul to begin with, so the fire could hardly keep him from coming back.

The Mardraim quickly retook his seat, inching his chair forward, leaning in conspiratorially. “You said I put him back,” the old man offered, fear weathering his face for the first time, and for some reason Isabella could not explain, that look of fear brought her a small sliver of joy. “Issa, did the nameless child come from Moag? Is that why Om gave us no prophecy?”

“Harvey…” she answered, though she knew this was not what she meant to say. She had meant to say she had no idea where the child came from or what Moag’s prophecy of the child actually meant, only that Ohamet changed everything, because he lived… because she had saved him. Everything else was just pieces of the unfathomable deep, and she, for whatever reason, had become Moag’s voice—this trumpeting prophet of darkness, filling the mountain with truths no one could possibly comprehend, until they all drowned in the blackest of black. “Harvey.”

She had watched him die, seen Harvey become a part of the never-ending shadow, a part of everything and nothing, all at once. How he survived Moag, she did not know, but she was certain there was something important she was supposed to remember about him, something Moag had shown her that was not of Moag itself, and not prophecy, but something else entirely, something much more powerful. It burned at her insides, looking for an escape, but would not come out.

The Mardraim drew in a breath. He got to his feet again and gave a few more turns around the room, contemplating what Isabella had told him as she looked on, knowing he could not understand, any more than she could, the frustration growing inside her with every moment that passed. This was all the wanderer’s fault, and she hated him for it, even though she knew this was the way it had to be. She had never hated anyone before, just as she had never truly loved anyone before, but it was as though Ohamet had planted within her a seed of humankindness the moment he set foot on that mountain, and that humankindness had taken root deep within her, and from it sprung this awful, tremendous fury for the elf and the hell he had brought down on her home. Then Moag showed her everything, and she knew now more than ever that Noel Loveridge deserved her hatred for what he had done to her, for the change he had wrought within her, even if all of the other changes that came with him were necessary.

After a long while, the Mardraim came to stand beside her, holding out his hand for her to take. Dutifully, Isabella reached up with still oozing fingers. He took them up, turning them over, examining her carefully, as though he hoped to find some physical explanation for how backwards she had become. The old man did not ask about the deep wounds she had given herself and did not move to dress them. He likely knew it would do her no good—her mother had stopped trying days ago. “Have you received any new prophecies from Moag, since you have healed?”

She had seen all Moag had to show her while in its depths. Anything that was left to show would come from Noel Loveridge. “No, but I can feel it still at times…”

She hesitated, not knowing if she should say more. Did the Mardraim know where the elf went at night, she wondered? She sincerely doubted she would ever be allowed out of her hut again if she confided in the elder that she could still feel the wanderer even while the old man concealed her so deeply from everyone else in that mountain. And Harvey had warned her the Felimi would not accept Ohamet wandering too freely, so while she wanted more than anything for the elf to be dealt with once and for all, the last thing she needed was for him to be locked up too, where she would be forced to commiserate with him and his own prison, the two of them waiting for death. Insane or not, at least she still had some sense of reason.

“When? How?”

“I do not know,” she lied once more, the lies coming easier with every lie she told. Strangely, there was little shame attached to them now. “Moag is there at times, waiting for me to return. It waits for Noel Loveridge and Harvey as well. It waits for you, my Mardraim.”

“I see,” the elder answered, taking a step back, though she was certain he did not see, not with any clarity. How could he?

Isabella often felt the darkness stir within her, calling her home, and she knew that the desire Noel Loveridge felt as he crossed the ocean and flew up the face of the mountain and clung in death to the shadow of this life, and the desire he felt for whatever it was he sought when he slipped away in the night and wandered the tunnels alone, was the same desire Issa felt to return to that immutable blackness where she now belonged. His wandering was a part of him, as the darkness was a part of her. It had consumed her to save him, but Noel had brought her back, when he should have left her to her end. So she suffered his wandering dangerously close to the fragile line between Om and Moag, and she knew he was desperately afraid of slipping into the darkness himself, but then he had so much left to do, so much left to change. As for Isabella herself, she suspected that one day, if she was ever allowed out of her hut again, allowed to wander freely, she would go there, to the place Noel went at night, and she would step into the shadows and feel nothing at all anymore, save perhaps an overwhelming sense of relief at finally finding the peace promised by that ultimate end, as she became one with the darkness at last. She could wander right into the folds of Moag and never know she slipped away. Noel, however, could not, for the wanderer lives.

“I want out of here,” she said suddenly, breaking the Mardraim’s train of thought as she twisted her hand free from his grip. “I want to return to my duties. I want to be myself again.” A part of her did want these things, desperately, but that part of her was overshadowed by the knowledge she had been granted and the understanding that she would never again belong in this realm. “I want to walk outside, to laugh with Harvey, to feel Om again. Please. Please, my Mardraim!”

The old man drew in a weary breath and offered her a pained smile. She expected him to give her some consoling answer reserved for those who were clearly out of their minds, but instead he whispered softly, “We are trying to find a way to restore the path of Om for all those affected by Young Noel’s arrival. I cannot promise we will succeed, Issa. I can only promise we are trying.”

“You should have killed him,” Issa stammered, shuddering even as the words escaped her lips. “He stole a piece of me, robbed me of my very existence. You will not restore Om’s way. You cannot. Schripat.” She spat on the ground, and the shudder quickly turned to convulsions, her muscles seizing up, bloody hands twisted with palsy, as an impossibly brilliant light filled her head and she felt her chair slip from beneath her and her body become a part of the ground.

“Come, young one,” the Mardraim said sometime later, lifting her up, curiously strong for one as old as he, she thought vaguely, as she began to wake to her surroundings. Her body was still and limp now, and the sky outside had begun to hint of twilight. She had lost consciousness again, she thought panting like the takin searching for water and shade, the searing pain in her head making it difficult to open her eyes. “You must rest now,” Edward Frank whispered. “I will visit again soon. Perhaps then I will have some answers for us both.” And he carried her to her bed mat and laid her down on her side, brushing the tangled mass of hair from her face as he tucked her blanket around her.

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Tale of Two Mountains, Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5, Pt. 6, Pt. 7, Pt. 8, Pt. 9, Pt. 10, Pt. 11, Pt. 12, Pt. 13, Pt. 14, Pt. 15, Pt. 16, Pt. 17, Pt. 18, Pt. 19, Pt. 20, Pt. 21, Pt. 22, Pt. 23, Pt . 24, Pt. 25, Pt. 26, Pt. 27