Nariel’s Station Archives – Multiverse 163 – Ludger’s first meeting with a spirit

System Admin Note: Documents in this series come from translations drawn from the pre-technological societies in Multiverse 163, or the world from the station core’s Inkosi Tiikeri books. Please make certain you notate the date of retrieval, the initials of the data collector, and the date of publication.

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Ludger settled down onto the hard packed dirt floor near the hearth. The rest of the steading was gone – the men on their hunt and the women doing whatever it was they did when the men left. The only ones still inside were Ludger and his master, the broad shouldered shaman Halvdan.

The two sat facing each other in silence for several minutes. Finally Halvdan looked at him. “It is time for your first test,” he said in his deep, gruff voice. “To prove to me you are still a worthy student.”

“What is it you wish of me, Master?” Ludger asked. He knew he must sound a little sullen. The seventeen year old didn’t want to be stuck inside with the shaman. He’d been planning on joining the hunt until Ortwin stopped him.

Halvdan’s eyes narrowed. “Your test is to call to a spirit and see if you can coax it into answering,” he said. “If you can’t do that at your current skill you are worthless as a Shaman and will be sent back to your mother’s hearth.”

Ludger cringed. His mother was already displeased with him over his lack of progress. “Lazy, useless lump,” she often called him. Even when he tried to step into his missing father’s place, as the eldest son should, but Agathe wouldn’t let him. She was always pushing him away, trying to get him into trouble with both his teacher and the leader of the steading.

Ludger knew becoming a shaman was the only thing that would save him from banishment from his home and family, if you wanted to call this band of people who were, at best, disinterested in him a family. He took a few deep breaths and tried to settle himself into the calm that was supposed to come with summoning a spirit.

Ludger tried for several minutes but nothing happened. Halvdan sighed. “Perhaps you do not have the potential I thought I saw in you,” he began.

Ludger wasn’t paying attention to his teacher’s words. In the distance, he heard childlike laughter. He began casting around with his magic, seeking the source. A log in the fire broke and sparks flew out into the room.

One tiny, nearly invisible spark flew over in front of him. Ludger’s eyes were fixed on this tiny dot of light. He watched as it grew to the size of a small bird. It laughed again at him and introduced itself as a fire spirit.

“I have never seen anything like you before,” Ludger said, his voice barely above a whisper behind the tangle of his newly grown mustache. His thick, stubby fingers twitched as his desire to touch the spirit momentarily overwhelmed him. He knew better though and tried to settle down into some semblance of calm.

The spirit laughed again. “Fire” and “calm” were hardly synonymous with each other. “True,” Ludger replied with a smile. “However, if I cannot control myself I cannot speak to you like a reasonable person.”

The spirit inclined its head. It asked him what he was trying to accomplish. Ludger explained what his test was. He told it about how his future was no longer his own because the Fates put his feet on this path, and he didn’t want to disappoint the gods even though he’d never wanted to be a shaman to begin with.

The spirit asked him why. Ludger found it hard to put into words, so he allowed the little spirit into his mind. As it – she, Ludger realized, the spirit held a female aspect – rummaged around she made several unhappy noises at the way his mother treated him. She also gave him a good scolding for his thoughts on Halvdan, who was a mighty shaman and deserved more respect than he actually gave him.

Finally, the spirit withdrew. She was quiet for a moment, and then asked Ludger if he knew something of his future importance would he consider being a shaman a worthwhile position? Ludger snorted. “I’m the unwanted son of a foolhardy man who abandoned his wife and children. I have no status, and even as a shaman it’s doubtful I’ll have the kind of authority  you’re talking about,” he said with some bitterness. “How can my future be anything but one step above pure revulsion from those in my steading?”

The fire spirit asked him again if he wanted to see wanted to see a glimpse of his future. Ludger finally said yes. Images washed over him – pictures of a flame haired man and a woman with skin the color of coal; a towering set of gates that so repulsed him he felt like vomiting; a snowstorm that seemed fit to bury more than just the steading but everything in the whole land; a strange looking feline far more massive than even the largest wolves in the territory around the steading; and finally, the impression he stood beside that same flame haired man as an advisor and a friend.

“This is what the gods have in store for me?” Ludger whispered, awed by what he’d seen. The spirit told him they were possibilities, but only if he embraced the path the Fates put him on to achieve them. Ludger closed his eyes briefly and then opened them, the crystal green full of determination. “Then I will accept this path. I will see these people and do these things. I’ll be a powerful shaman and earn the respect of those around me, even if the steading never accepts me fully.”

The spirit told him that she was leaving him a gift and that he now needed to return to the Overworld. It took Ludger a moment to realize he’d been conversing with her in the narrow strip of existence between the realm of the gods and the mortal plane. He nodded and, with her help, sent himself back to his body.

“…Really don’t think you deserve to be my student, Ludger,” Halvdan was saying. “You cannot even summon a spirit.”

“Are you so certain, Master?” Ludger asked. He felt something in his hand and looked down. A fire opal the size of an egg rested in his palm. It was twisted by fire – the only way these stones could be formed – into the shape of a lynx roaring. He held up the token. “I have seen much, Master. I now know why the gods gave me my gift and the Fates put me on this path. I will not fail those who will come to depend on me. I will be a powerful shaman, and those who doubt me can rot in Helvete’s halls.”

Halvdan stared at the lynx in his hand. “You were granted more than just a vision, my student. You’ve been bound to a path by the gods and the spirits I do not think you’re prepared to walk.”

“That is why you are here, Master,” Ludger said. “To give me some guidance. Else I will falter and fail, and bring dishonor to myself.”

Halvdan raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you mean to yourself and your family?”

Ludger shook his head. “No Master, I don’t,” he said. “My mother considers me less of a man than my father, no matter how hard I try to help the family. So I will now no longer allow her to influence my life. I am a shaman, and as you’ve said on numerous occasions, shamans walk alone among mortals but in good company among the spirits.”

Halvdan nodded. “You are ready,” he said. “Tie that stone around your neck as a reminder of that path, of your oath to the spirits and the gods, and we will continue our lessons.”

“Yes Master,” Ludger said. He went back to his sleeping area and retrieved a long piece of leather thong and some smaller fire opal beads. It didn’t take long to wrap the stone securely in a web made of leather and beadwork. Agathe would most likely try to take it from him, but this was his first gift from the spirits. Only death would take it from him.

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Station Status Update – April 2018

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(No, I didn’t take this picture – but I wish I did. As always, any photos/images used here, unless directly stated, come from Pixabay.)

So it’s April.

Spring.

And I’m finding I don’t have a lot of energy to enjoy what few sunny days I see on the coast. Not just because of the hours I work, but because I’m emotionally drained a lot of the time due to stress. My husband is awesome, amazing, and I couldn’t do without him. However, my roommates…that’s a different story.

I’m not going to get into that right now though. I have to be at work in an hour (I’m at the library which shares the same parking lot) and I want to be able to put on my customer service smile.

For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook – which I’m guessing is the majority of you – I posted a huge announcement there that I’m also going to share here:

The Tiger’s Keeper will not be coming out until January 2019.

I’d love to see the first of the Inkosi Tiikeri books published this year, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s going to be possible for me to get it done. I’m just too tired, too drained, and have almost no time/energy to write anymore.

Though the “no time” will be changing within the next week or so. I got myself a refurbished Chromebook through Amazon and will be able to work whenever and wherever I want. I won’t be able to play video games – this one has a very limited amount of HD space – but I don’t care. The Chromebook isn’t for playing games. It’s for me to listen to music on, do research, maybe blog a little, and WORK ON THE DAMNED BOOKS I NEED TO WRITE!!!

Another thing I like about being mobile is that, once I get a vehicle of my own, I can just go. Losing steam at home? Back it up to Google Docs and head out to the library, or the coffee shop, or the beach, or…or…or… I miss Monstrosity (the huge Toshiba Satellite laptop I had for 5 years). Behemoth (my current desktop) is great and all, but I need to be able to get out and about and still work when I have the free time. Hand writing at work is problematic, especially since we have a snoop on our staff who likes to poke around at what you’re doing.

Anyway, here’s a ramble from me. Prepare to see more updated blog posts this month!

Oh…and keep an eye out on this blog for teasers and fun things from the Inkosi Tiikeri universe as The Tiger’s Keeper comes closer to being published. You’ll see all sorts of fun stuff.

Writing & publishing schedule update

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Hi everyone! Normally I publish at 8 AM. I know this. And I’ll get back to publishing at that time soon. I’m just trying to sort out my daily schedule right now so bear with me. I’ve got a lot of stuff to get done during the day so I need to work out how I’m going to do it all.

As the title suggests, I’m altering a few things with my writing projects for this year. First, before I start working on any of my serious novel work, I’m going to do little fifteen minute writing exercises. Just random little drabbles, maybe set in the worlds of the stories and maybe not. But they will be in the genres I write – fantasy and science fiction. I’ll be posting those here on the blog, very similar to what I was posting before I started putting Tiger, Tiger up here.

Now, I do still plan on self publishing a book in June and one in December. Tiger, Tiger will be published in June and Into the Flames will be published in December. I was trying to work on the two stories in alternate months, but it’s just not working. So I’m devoting all my time and attention during my writing times – except for the writing warm up exercises of course – to Lilavati and Manas. I’ve got a lot of work to do and five and a half weeks to do it in. I know I can do it in, but I’m going to be working really hard.

Once I’m happy with Tiger, Tiger – and get it beta read and edited – I’ll get back to work on Into the Flames. I’m struggling with it right now anyway, so restarting it probably isn’t a bad idea.

I’ve also decided to work as a plantser for Tiger, Tiger. I’m going to read through what I’ve got, pick out the main plot and the subplots and post index cards on my wall. Once I do that, I’m going to figure out how I want to address each plot point and just set up some vague notes on how I want to work those points in and weave them together. I’m also going to keep notes on the foreign words I use and the names of places/the meanings of the words because I kept forgetting the name of Lilavati’s home. 😀

So keep your eyes open here for further updates, and watch for Wattpad links. I’d like feedback on the new format and chapters as I post them there, so please leave me comments when I do a link post here.

Everyone have a wonderful day and I’ll see you when I get the next post written. (Hopefully tomorrow…and hopefully it’ll post at 8. XD)

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty nine

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Manas charged the tiikeri closest to Lilavati. It was thrown back several feet. He whirled around faster than the other could anticipate and slammed into it. The beast flew back to land next to its partner.

Manas moved over next to Lilavati. He rumbled at her and nudged her with his paw. She grabbed onto his fur and pulled herself up. Leaning against him, she turned to face her mother. “I have no sister-soul. This is true. As I said, I have something far more precious to me than a tiikeri female that would eventually abandon me in favor of producing cubs and leave me to find another partner. I have a husband, a soulbond, a lifemate who will never leave me. He will protect me when he can, give me aid and shelter when it’s available, and love me unconditionally for the rest of our lives. He is cursed, but living with him and his curse are worth every minute of the joy we feel when we’re together.”

Foolish child, Upsana spat. If you wish to be with him so much, you’ll share his curse. Can you abide by that? Be human by day and tiikeri by night?

Manas growled and whimpered, nudging Lilavati with his nose. She wrapped her arms around his neck, breathing in deep the scent of his fur and his musk. Could she do it? Could she accept the same curse he had? The pain would be intense. That she knew. Any child she bore him could be tainted the same way they were. Would it be worth that risk?

Katali, can you hear me? His voice was soft, a mere whisper in her mind.

Sikha? How is this possible? she asked.

Only here have the Grey of the Twelve granted me this gift, Manas said. What does she offer if you don’t take the curse?

Death, Lilavati said. Or a lifetime of servitude to one of these tiikeri. I wish neither of those, for my life is with you and Magda.

Don’t make this choice lightly, katali, Manas said. You don’t know how agonizing it is to shift from human to beast. You don’t know how lonely it is to carry the curse within you and yet walk alone among the world.

Yet I wouldn’t be alone, would I? Lilavati asked. I’d have you.

There was silence for a few heartbeats. You would, he said finally, a hint of something in his voice she couldn’t quite identify. As I have you.

Lilavati turned to her mother. “If I must become a cursed tiikeri by night and a human by day to stay with my beloved, to be the mother to my daughter, then I’ll do it. I’ll take on the curse.” She paused. “Curses can still be broken, mother. My beloved and I will never stop looking for a way to end this.”

Search all you want. You’ll search in vain, Upsana sneered. If your precious husband hasn’t found a way to break it, with all his years of trying, how do you think you’ll be able to do it?

“He didn’t have me to help him,” Lilavati said, smiling fondly at her husband. He was growling at the other two tiikeri who were drawing closer to Lilavati again. “Together the two of us will accomplish great things.”

So be it, Upsana said. She and her tiikeri disappeared.

Pain beyond anything Lilavati had ever felt ripped through her. Every bone in her body cracked and broke as joints separated and reformed. Fur the color of snow erupted from her skin. Stripes the color of her hair spread across her body. She became a saphaida tiikeri, one of the rarest of all. When she finished the change, she was the same size as Manas.

She flopped to the ground, barely able to breathe. Manas waited for her to stand again and the two of them walked towards the exit. They knew they couldn’t leave until they resumed their human forms, so they waited.

Dawn came and once again the agony returned, but Lilavati was prepared for it this time. Once they were in human form, they retrieved their cloaks – the only clothing to withstand the change – and stepped through the portal.

“Ama’ana! Father!.” Magda threw herself off the horse she was sharing with Christel and ran across the distance to them. Lilavati turned slightly so no one could see she was naked and scooped Magda into her arms. “You came back.”

“Of course we did,” Manas said. “Didn’t we promise we would?” His voice was gravelly and judging from the wounds on his body, he too had fought battles against the creatures in the mist.

“Great Lord, Great Lady, we’ll give you a few minutes of privacy,” Ludger said, a sad look in his eyes. “Then we must be on the road. The gate to Phiri Hu won’t remain open for long.”

Lilavati turned to look where he pointed. A great rectangular section of the bleak landscape was gone. In its place was a beautiful green and blue land with a shimmering white castle in the distance.

Manas sighed happily. “That’s home, katali. That’s Phiri Hu.”

Lilavati dressed quickly and took Magda up in front of her on the horse. She told herself it was to make the child happy. In truth it was to give herself something familiar to cling to. “It is unlike anything I have ever seen,” she said, reverting back to the language of the north.

“It’s going to be unlike anything you’ve ever dealt with too,” Manas said. “You’ll shake things up and we’ll find ways to compromise. I expect you’ll bring some of your ways to my keep, and we’ll teach you ours so you can become who you’re meant to be.”

Who she was meant to be. It would be interesting to find out just what that meant. She nudged her horse forward through the magical opening. The strong smell of sulfur and rust was replaced by one of wildflowers and fresh bread. “We’re home,” Magda said with a laugh. “We’re home.”

The End….for now

Oops! My apologies

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I know I posted that post that said Tiger, Tiger was finished and then I realized something. WordPress ate the final chapter. So I’ll post the final chapter tomorrow. I’m so sorry about that. I got locked out of my blog for some reason and it’s taken me this long to get back in. Again, my apologies and we’ll get you to the end of Lilavati and Manas’ story very soon.

*bows her head in shame*

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty eight

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Lilavati didn’t want to fight her mother. Lilavati didn’t even remember Upsana and now this was the fate the Twelve had forced upon them. The two tiikeri snarled and moved towards her, each coming in from a different angle.

Lilavati didn’t know what to do. She was unarmed, with no defender to aid her. She felt her tiikeri snarl in response to their presence. She used her to cry out for Manas, but she didn’t think he’d actually come.

The first of the beasts lunged at her. She dove to one side, and came face to face with a paw full of claws as the second one moved in for the kill. Twisting with the flexibility and grace of the feline inside of her, she slipped beneath it.

You’ve learned well, I see, Upsana said. She still stood in the same place she’d been sitting. Your sister-soul lives deep inside you. She gave you her life when she died so as to preserve your gift and your life. How interesting. I never knew that was possible.

“She’s done more than that,” Lilavati said, maneuvering out of the way of the giant cats once more. “She’s helped me protect those I love, help keep my beloved sane, and given me the ability to survive those things that would have killed those without my gift.”

Yet you have no combat skills, Upsana said.

“Had I a bow in my hands, I’d show you what I can do,” Lilavati said. “But with a blade? You’re right. I was never taught. I have a feeling it’s for the same reason father never let me develop my powers as inkosi tiikeri. He didn’t want me to become like you.”

Yes, and he succeeded. You’re nothing like me. You’re a weakling. A cub with no teeth and no claws, Upsana said. You have no future. You’re a drain on the gesin. You have no place with us.

“This is true,” Lilavati said, panting a little as she continued dodging the huge felines. “I don’t have a place with your gesin. I have my own that I need to get back to. I promised my daughter I’d return to her, and I won’t break my word. She’s had too much sorrow and despair in her young life and I won’t be the cause of more.”

You don’t have a choice,  Upsana said. You’re going to die here, defenseless and alone. You’ll have a broken promise dragging down on your soul. You’ll be an oathbreaker. The gods will bind you here as they did me.

“Why are you here, mother? I don’t see you as an oathbreaker, or something evil that needs to be punished,” Lilavati said. A stitch was forming in her side. She wasn’t fast enough to dodge one tiikeri and it managed to get a strike on her. She stumbled, blood seeping out of the shallow wound on her thigh.

I am here because of your thrice cursed father, Upsana said. Anup took the two of you home and called a healer-priest to make certain you survived. Now I know he also had your memories damaged in some way. He came out looking for me. I was still alive, Ishana. I was hurt badly, like I am now. But this was still something a good healer-priest could remedy. Instead he had a death-priest curse me in the afterlife to never-ending anguish and pain for what I’d inflicted on him for giving him a daughter with my same gift.

“I’m not Ishana anymore, mother. Ishana is dead. Ishana died when father stole the last of her childhood,” Lilavati said. A heavy paw slammed into her ribs. She was knocked to the ground. Lilavati gasped for breath. She tried to get back to her feet. “I am Lilavati now. Being graceful was the only worth I had to him, as I was too ugly with these scars to become a bride until my beloved came along.”

You lie, Upsana snarled. You are still my Ishana. You’re simply trapped in the body of a half crippled adult woman with no memory of her true childhood. I’d give you a few reminders, but you’re not interested in taking your place with me so you have to die. It would be pointless to tell you anything.”

“Tell me one thing, mother. Is it true that you tried to forcibly link to the male who attacked us? So that he would leave? And did that damage your bond with your sister-soul?” Lilavati asked.

Upsana jerked back a step. I thought you had no memories of those events, she screamed.

“I’ve had visions, mother. Vague memories that have surfaced in pain and fear induced dreams,” Lilavati said. The two tiikeri closed in. “I saw the male approach. I heard you tell father to take me and Nikitha back to the city. I know the male got away from you and attacked me. Then you tried again, and it confused him enough for your sister-soul to attack. Father came back for me and then everything went black.”

I had to order your father to come back for you, Upsana said. He was going to leave you to be devoured by the tiikeri. He is an evil man and will find himself a place here when he reaches the end of his life.

“You won’t hear me argue that point, mother,” Lilavati said. She laid on the cracked path. She couldn’t get up. She was sure she had a couple broken ribs and her leg was bleeding profusely. There was no longer any purpose to getting back up. Her life was over. Magda, she whispered to herself. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. She closed her eyes and waited for the final blow.

A new roar cut through the silence, a sound she was intimately familiar with. She opened her eyes and looked to her right.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty seven

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More spirits of those who died in her service appeared. The last to arrive was Vera, the arrow still sticking out of her chest. “I do not regret taking your life,” Lilavati said. “I never will. Nor will I forgive you for murdering Odilie.”

You’re a fool, Vera said. Do you really think you’re going to be able to pass Magda off as a legitimate child of the Great Lord?

“We will make every attempt to do so,” Lilavati said. “I will fight for her until I am no longer able to, even if it means I must go to the king of these lands and demand he name her my beloved’s trueborn child.”

You care for that sniveling little brat that much? Vera asked. She seemed surprised.

“I love her as if I had birthed her myself,” Lilavati said. “Why do you find it so hard to believe that someone could love that beautiful, intelligent, loving child?”

She is none of those, Vera spat. She is a lying, sneaking little manipulator who claims to have visions to force people to do what she says.

“She has proven to us both that she does have visions, Vera,” Lilavati said. “She knows far more than a child of her age has a right to, and has articulated what she has seen in a way that we can understand while using what vocabulary she has learned.”

Vera blinked. My sister, she said, glowering. That stupid bitch. She swore that she’d come back to help Magda, just not in any way I’d recognize.

“Go back to whatever hell the Twelve decreed for you, Vera,” Lilavati said. “I have no more time to waste on you.”

Vera smirked. You’ll wish you continued to banter with me when you see what’s up ahead, inkosi tiikeri. With that, she vanished.

Lilavati couldn’t move. How had the woman known those words? She was fairly certain no one but Theda, Ludger, and Manas knew them. Not even Ariane had heard them, unless Theda told her. Shaking, she started forward, her steps dragging as she moved along the cracked black path.

Two tigers, as immense as Manas when he was in his cursed form, lay on each side of the pathway. Sitting on the ground in between them, was a woman so manged by claw and fang, Lilavati couldn’t identify her at first. Then it finally came together with a sudden rush of insight.

“Upsana,” she said. “Ama’ana.

I haven’t heard that word since the day I died protecting your worthless father and the two of you girls, Upsana said. Though there was nothing left of her face and throat, her words came out clear and strong. Lilavati clung to the sound, as she did the beauty of her people’s language. I’m sure the others told you to fear me.

“I was told I’d face the greatest sorrow I’ve ever known when I came here,” Lilavati said. “It’s you, isn’t it? Or you have something to do with it.”

I do, Upsana said. You are inkosi tiikeri, as I was. But you were never meant to leave Pasir Naik. Your sister-soul waited in the sands for you for many years until she died of a broken heart. It wasn’t your fault, my Ishani. Anup broke his word to me. He knew what the marks on your face meant, your unnatural grace, the way the tiikeri were drawn to you as they’d been to me.

“Why would he keep me away from them then, if he knew I was destined to be with them?” Lilavati asked.

He hated my power, Upsana said. Hated and feared them. He’d lost his own twin sister to a tiikeri. He didn’t want anything to do with them, yet his father forced him to wed an inkosi tiikeri since it both carried a great deal of prestige as well as wealth since my father was one of the wealthiest men in the city at that time.

Lilavati felt a pang of sorrow, and a strong desire to know what would have been had she joined with her sister-soul instead of coming to the northlands. She shook her head. “I may have been destined for a soul-sister in Pasir Naik,” she said. “But here I’ve found more than just a piece of my soul. I’ve found someone who also makes my mind and heart whole.”

Upsana shook her head. Ishani, you can’t stay with him. You belong in the sands. I know you’ve bonded to him, and it’s going to be hard to break it. Especially since you claim to love him and that little cub he sired. But you don’t have a choice. You will take your sister-soul, who waits here with me, and return to Pasir Naik.

“How can I do that? I’ll be killed as soon as I set foot in the city,” Lilavati said. “Father was paid the highest bride price for a daughter not of noble blood. He won’t take it well to find me back on his doorstep – especially with a tiikeri at my side.”

It isn’t to him you must go, Upsana said. It’s to my father and brother. Hasn’t Anup introduced you to my family at all?

“No. He remarried, a woman who’s the epitome of spite and petty evil,” Lilavati said. “I’ve only ever known her as my mother since I believe he used some rogue sorcerer or one of the priests to either eradicate or at the very least block my memories of you and the way I got these scars.” She touched her face.

Upsana shifted her position. That thrice cursed son of a sandworm and a slime crawler,  she snarled, sounding very much like the tiikeri that surely lived inside of her as Lilavati’s did in her. He’s destroyed you, Ishani. He’s taken away the very things that made you special in the eyes of our people.

“Has he?” Lilavati said. She started pacing, something that disturbed the two very large tiikeri next to her mother. “It’s true he refused my bond to my soul-sister. That’s one of the cruelest things he could have done, to both of us. I would rather have bonded to her than anything else. However, I was given an education as no female child was ever allowed. I learned to read, write, and speak seven languages. I learned history and folklore for five different lands. I studied mathematics, science, and the stars. Up until I reached my adulthood, I was allowed to be a scholar. After I took my adult name, I was denied all of that. I was made useless, obsolete, a burden on the family as I waited for a proposal that would never come.” She smiled. “Then my beloved came and freed me.”

He’s imprisoned you, Upsana shouted. If you can’t see that now, then I must force you to, Ishani.

“I am not Ishani any longer, mother,” Lilavati said. “My name is Lilavati. I am a free woman, I am bonded to my tiikeri, cursed though he may be, and I will not give him up.”

So be it, Upsana said. She rose to her feet, as did the two tiikeri beside her. Now it’s time for you to die.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty six

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The two days sped by, too quickly for Lilavati’s peace of mind. Even Manas showed the strain of the upcoming resumption of their journey. The two of them spent as much time as possible with Magda during the day. They relaxed in peaceful quiet at night and in the mornings their desperate passion only heightened their fear that each time would be the last.

Ludger helped get the camp packed up again and they were back on the road. The storms were over and bright sunlight shone down on the rapidly drying road. The horses ridden by the anxiety riddled lord and lady knew something was wrong, and gave the two of them no end of trouble. Finally, Ludger gave them both a calming draught that allowed them to focus more on the road and less on their fears.

Three days were nothing but a fleeting glimpse of time soon to be lost. As they approached the gates to the Halls, a scent so abhorrent to her filled the air that Lilavati gagged. Everyone was doing the same thing as her.

“Fall back,” Manas called. He dismounted, handing the reins of his horse to one of his guards. “We have to go forward on foot, katali.

Lilavati slid off her horse. “I would not subject an animal to the horrors of such a place,” she said. She patted the horse’s neck. She glanced over her shoulder. Ludger, Dieter, and Ludger’s two chosen guards had all formed a protective ring around Christel and Magda. Christel knew of the plan, though Magda did not. At least, Lilavati hoped she didn’t. She was already anxious enough as it was. Fear of having to flee to a new land completely unfamiliar to her was something she didn’t need right now.

Manas took her hand. “Come, katali. Our fates await.”

The two picked their way across the increasingly rugged countryside until they reached a pair of gates that seemed to be made of bone and flesh. “What demon created these fell things?” Lilavati asked, holding one sleeve over her mouth and nose.

“It’s said this was actually created by the Dark of the Twelve,” Manas said, following her example and covering his face. “They wanted a place to test those who wished to serve them. When the rest of the Twelve realized what they’d created, they all imbued it with their own powers and it became the testing ground for some and a punishment for others.”

“How do they open?” Lilavati asked. “I see no latch or bar.”

“Those who seek entrance just touch them,” Manas said, his voice shaking. “If you’re supposed to go in, you’re dragged in. If you’re not, you’re teleported back to wherever you started from.”

“Then let us hope neither of us is sent back to Ludger and the others, for it will mean all visions were wrong and we will be alone and unaided in there,” Lilavati said.

Manas seized her hand. “Together then?” Lilavati nodded. “On the count of three. One. Two. Three.” They touched the horrifying gate at the same time.

A swirl of blood colored smoke surrounded them. Clawed hands made of bone seized hold of them and dragged them through a portal. Even though they struggled to keep a tight grip on each other, the bony appendages forced them apart. Lilavati was thrown one way as Manas was tossed another. Lilavati screamed his name before darkness descended and he was lost to her.

It was the cold that revived her. The cold and the damp mist that engulfed her. She pushed herself to her feet. Something that reminded her of blood soaked her skirt. Sieglinde appeared before her, flesh rotting and one eye hanging from its socket. All I wanted to do was save you from the curse he put on you, Great Lady, she wailed, the gaping slash in her neck spurting blood. Why did you slay me?

“You meant well, Sieglinde,” Lilavati said, trying not to retch at the sight of the dead woman. “I know you did. But the fell preester lied to you, and when you attempted to force me to leave him and I refused, you tried to kill me. I protected myself the only way I knew how.”

Do you feel no remorse? Are you so cold that you can’t accept the fact that you’ve deprived a mother of her daughter, a father of his beloved child? Sieglinde snarled.

“Do I feel remorse for your death? Or guilt? No,” Lilavati said. “I did what I was forced to so I might survive. Do I grieve for your family? I do, and though it will be of little comfort to you I fear, I shall do what I may for them when we return to Phiri Hu.”

You shall never reach the white mountain, Sieglinde spat. The blood of those you’ve murdered will drown you. The flesh of those who’ve died for you will suffocate you, for you are nothing without him. She vanished.

Lilavati shuddered and swallowed a few times to settle her stomach before moving forward. It didn’t take long before another spirit appeared. This one was someone she didn’t recognize.

He was dressed in the armor Manas’ soldiers wore. His stomach had been torn open and his intestines were pouring out of him in long ropes down to his feet. Blood trickled out of one corner of his mouth. Great Lady, why was I forced to die for an outsider who has no care that I’m dead? You don’t even know my name, let alone when I died.

“You are right in saying I do not know your name,” Lilavati said. “I grieve for that. You were a brave man, to face the abominations that attacked us. I do not know if this eases the pain of the dead, but you are responsible for my daughter surviving. For that, I will be grateful for all of my life in this world and the next.”

The soldier tilted his head to one side. You don’t know my name, but you know what battle I died in? he asked.  How is that possible?

“Your injuries,” Lilavati said. “I saw the dead, brave warrior. I know the wounds caused by the talons of those foul beasts.”

The soldier seemed more at peace, something Sieglinde hadn’t been. Great Lady, my name is Gerhardt. Please tell the Great Lord to let my wife know I fell in battle, and to please aid her and my infant daughter. He paused. Great Lady, a sorrow greater than any you’ve yet faced awaits you. I pray to the Twelve you are strong enough to face it. He saluted her and vanished. Lilavati took a deep breath and moved on.

to be continued…

Tiger, Tiger – Part eighty five

tiger-2406465_640

Manas stared at him, a stunned look on his face. “Three days? I thought we were at least a week out.”

Ludger shook his head. “As we no longer have to worry about Vera, and we have plenty of supplies, I’m taking us on a trail that avoids Hellhome,” he said. “That cuts three days off the journey. So long as no one takes ill or is injured, we’ll be there in the time I’ve given.”

“So we have five days’ grace before we must face what demons await us,” Lilavati said.

Ama’ana, will you be able to accept something sad when you learn it?” Magda asked.

“I will have no other choice, maliit na isa,” Lilavati said. “I have ever been one of the most accepting of disturbing truths all of my life. I will put that willingness to the test in the Halls if I must.”

“Great Lady, you know nothing of the Halls of the Damned if you’re saying that,” one of the guards said. “You aren’t presented with cold, hard facts. You come face to face with the worst emotions and most painful memories of your life. The sadness Lady Magda speaks of? It’ll be enough to drive you mad with grief if you’re not strong enough to cope with it.”

“He’s right, katali,” Manas said. “Now do you see why I fear facing my parents, who I am sure wait for me there?”

Lilavati drew Magda into her lap, pushing away the remnants of her poisoned breakfast. She held the girl tight against her, smelling the faintly floral scent of the girl’s soap. “I do not know then if I will be able to survive this with my mind intact,” she said slowly. “My own visions have nearly driven me to madness on this journey.” Magda looked into her face, fear spreading across her young face. Lilavati’s resolve hardened as she stared into the beautiful eyes, as she looked up and met the amber gaze of the man she loved more than her own life. “Then again, never have I had so much to lose should I fail.” She smiled a ferocious smile. “It will take much to steal my wits, and I will fight to the end to keep them.”

Manas wrapped his arm around her shoulders and took one of his daughter’s hands. “Magda, we will be together again once your mother and I pass through,” he said. “You’re worth fighting for.”

Magda’s eyes filled with tears. “You promise you won’t stop fighting? No matter what the evil spirits say? No matter what you learn while you’re in there? You promise that you’ll try real hard not to let the Halls destroy you?”

“I swear by the Twelve that I won’t give up,” Manas said.

“I swear by the Twelve, and all else I hold holy, that I too will not fail in fighting to the end,” Lilavati said.

“I thought you didn’t revere your gods anymore,” Manas said.

“I hold no care for them,” Lilavati said. “I never have.” She held up her arm, the charm dangling from her wrist. “This is one such image of a thing I hold sacred.”

Manas nodded solemnly. “Ludger, I’m entrusting the safety of Magda to you, to Christel, and to Captain Dittmar,” he said. He lowered his voice. “I expect you’ll be more useful than those two, but still, I want to cover all possibilities.”

“I’ll be at her side, no matter what happens, Great Lord,” Ludger said.

“Walther,” Manas said, getting the attention of one of his guards. “Go get Christel. I think it’s time for Magda to find something else to occupy her time.”

“Why?” Magda asked. “I want to stay with you.”

“Magda, it’s time for the adults to have some private conversations,” Manas said.

“May we have Christel bring her to us again for the noon meal?” Lilavati asked.

“I think so,” Manas said, smiling at his daughter. The smile was strained and didn’t quite reach his eyes. “We might even be able to play a game or two before dinner, if we resolve everything before then.”

“So if I go now I can play with you after lunch?” Magda asked hopefully.

“Yes, maliit na isa,” Lilavati said. “If we are finished with our business.”

“We’ll still play with you even if we’re not done,” Manas said. “It’ll just take us a little longer to get ready for it.”

“All right,” Magda said.

Walther returned with Christel on his heels. Manas gave his orders and the young nursemaid carried the reluctant child away. Manas turned to Ludger. “Old friend, I want you to take two guards, Dieter, and Christel and flee to wherever you think you’ll all be safe if the worst happens,”  he said. “I don’t completely trust my neighbors and you know how I feel about my advisors.”

“Why not any of the others?” Ludger asked.

“Too large of a party will be easier to spot,” Dieter said. “Though a giant, a pair of servants, and two soldiers with a girl with two colored eyes are still going to be noticeable.”

“Not if I do things right we won’t be,” Ludger said. “It won’t look like I’m using magic either.”

“I can think of no lord who’d give us shelter, Great Lord,” Dieter said. “Not with the history Christel and I carry. And not with Magda’s eyes.”

“Then we’ll go north, to the edge of my people’s territory,” Ludger said. “There are villages there that are in areas that aren’t so cold that you’ll freeze to death in the winter, but are remote enough that anyone searching for us will have a next to impossible task.”

“Will the guards here be able to hold their tongues on what we are discussing?” Lilavati asked suddenly. “The most unfortunate thing to happen would be for our enemies to learn of our plans and thwart them.”

“Don’t worry, Great Lady,” Ludger said with a wink. “I’ve taken care of that.”

“As I knew you would,” Manas said. “Katali, Magda will be well cared for if we fall victim to the demons within the Halls. Dieter, I’m charging you with writing the chronicles of everything that happened – both when my parents ruled as well as during my days as lord of Phiri Hu.” He paused. “Should we come out alive and well, you’ll begin this saga when we return to the keep and continue it until such time as our son – or Magda’s husband – takes lordship in my place.”

Dieter blinked at him. “Great Lord, Master Chronicler is a high position. I’m just a scribe. You can’t believe I’ll be a good fit for that.”

“I do believe it, and I’m sure my lady does as well,” Manas said. Lilavati nodded her agreement.

“Very well then, Great Lord,” Dieter said. “The Chronicles will be written.”

“Then let us spend what time we have left in the company of loved ones and friends,” Lilavati said. “For we do not know if we will see each other again.”

to be continued…

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