Nariel’s Station Archives – Multiverse 163 – The Legend of the Wailing Oak

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(Author’s Note – If you’ve ever heard Peter Hollens’ version of The Hanging Tree from Hunger Games, that’s what semi inspired this legend. I’ve also been reading a lot of folklore about vengeful ghosts and mourning lovers who died without getting any peace in life. So that’s where this bit came from. And this is NOT a nice story, and I’ve told it in exactly the same way a blunt old sage would. So there’s no softening of any of the events.)

Manas looked at Lilavati. “Are you certain you want to hear this tale, my dark scholar?” he asked. He was pale and shaking. “It’s not a pretty story, and it has to do with my parents’ crimes against the people of Phiri Hu.”

“The mere mention of the tree has sent you into a near panic, my living flame,” Lilavati said. “I feel I must know.”

“Manas, you’re still not recovered from your fever,” Ludger said. “I know the story as well as you do. Let me tell her while you try to rest a little more.” Manas nodded and Ludger moved closer to the pair.

“Great Lady, has Manas told you about his parents?” Ludger asked.

“A little,” Lilavati said. “Enough for me to know that I am grateful they no longer exist in this world.”

“All right,” Ludger said. “Then I won’t need to explain the whole of it. The Wailing Oak is a massive tree, far more ancient even than the stone walls of the barrier wall that surrounds Phiri Hu. It was used for many purposes over the years, but the most common was to hang condemned prisoners.”

“Hanging is a terrible way for anyone to die,” Lilavati said.

Ludger nodded. “I agree. Now, this tale actually comes from before Manas’ great-grandparents were born. This was during a time when magic users walked freely among the people of Hiilguus, before they all vanished into the temples.”

“Or worse,” Manas muttered.

Ludger ignored him. “There was a sorcerer whose power was feared in the land. He could summon the dead from their graves and command them to do his bidding. He would twist the minds of those around him until they practically worshiped him. Everyone was frightened of him and refused to stand up to him until the day he decided that Lady Princess Renata was his predestined bride.”

“What did he do?” Lilavati asked.

“He used a spell to get one of his servants into the castle. That servant drugged Renata and carried her back to the sorcerer’s citadel,” Ludger said. “There he used all manner of methods to break her mind until, at last, she became his most devoted follower. Now, the king and queen knew where she was and were plotting with their court magicians to get her back. Then the sorcerer walked boldly into the palace with Renata on his arm. She proclaimed loudly that she loved him and had wed him so he was now the heir to the throne.”

“That could not have gone down well,” Lilavati said.

“The king declared that he wouldn’t recognize the marriage and then named Renata’s younger brother Gerhard the true heir in front of the entire court,” Ludger said. “The sorcerer reminded the king that he’d been able to get an agent into the castle to take Renata, and that young Lord Prince Gerhard would be an easy victim of his assassins since the boy was barely five years old. This pushed things too far. The court magicians, the Royal Guard, and several noblemen attacked.”

“What happened?” Lilavati asked when Ludger paused.

“Renata was pulled to safety, though she kept screaming for her husband,” Ludger said. “The sorcerer killed several people before a nobleman – Manas’ ancestor, in fact – managed to get in close enough to knock him out. The court magicians bound him in so many spells the man could barely walk on his own, let alone use his magic. He was pronounced guilty of multiple crimes, including the torture and mental manipulation of Renata. He was sentenced to die, but the king couldn’t do it in the capital. He was worried that the man’s death would destroy property. It was a valid concern, given how much magic the man was rumored to have.”

“So what did they do?” Lilavati asked.

“They took him to Phiri Hu,” Manas said, his harsh voice full of anger. “They took him to the great oak and hung him. He swore he’d never rest in peace and that his soul would forever live within the tree, turning the spirits of all those executed there into demons. My ancestor and his house magician took him seriously even when no one else did. They put their heads together and found a way to bind the tree so even if he could do as he claimed, no evil spirit would ever leave.”

“That isn’t the worst of it,” Ludger said. “The Wailing Oak gets its name because of Lady Princess Renata.”

“What do you mean?” Lilavati asked.

“Renata went mad with grief,” Manas said. “She escaped her watchers one day and somehow made her way to Phiri Hu. The sorcerer was still hanging from the tree even though it had been nearly a month since his execution. No one wanted to pass through the barrier placed around the tree to retrieve the body. Renata did. She laid his body on the ground, took the same rope he’d been killed with, and hung herself.”

“It is her spirit that wails in the branches of the tree,” Ludger said. “She refuses to leave, to relinquish her mindless haunting of the oak tree. There have been many preesters who tried to release her. Some went mad. Others left the tree with scars on their minds. And there were some who took the rope – it still hangs off the branch and is as strong as the day it was first woven – and hung themselves in despair, adding their souls to the number collecting in the tree.”

“What does this have to do with my lord’s parents?” Lilavati asked. Ludger shared a grim look with Manas before explaining exactly what had gone on so many years ago.

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Nariel’s Station Archives – Multiverse 163 – Valeska arrives in Phiri Hu

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If you remember way back, you got to meet Ludger. Valeska is his servant/student, and you meet her in the first book of my current series as an already established member of the household. Here is how she arrived at the keep and met both Manas and Ludger – and how she made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere.

Valeska stared at the rugged stone edifice in front of her. She swallowed past the lump in her throat and rubbed the back of her neck. She tossed her braid back over her shoulder and tucked the few strands that had escaped behind her ears. The spirits guiding her faded from her sight and the sense that the Fates loomed over her shoulders vanished. This wasn’t what she’d wanted to do with her life, but as her first teacher had said – “When the Fates say walk this path, you obey.”

She took a deep breath and started climbing the path. She shuddered at the sight of the bloodstained stone. She could hear the screams of the dead as she moved along the well-kept cobblestone road. They were old, these deaths. Far older than the young lord who now ruled Phiri Hu.

The chill morning air didn’t help the feeling of foreboding as she approached the blood soaked keep. She finally reached the main gate. Two soldiers dressed in crisp uniforms were standing at the entryway. They stopped her, hands on their blades. “What is your business with our lord?” one of them asked.

Valeska took a deep breath. “My business is not with the lord of these lands, but one of those who serve him,” she said, her Hiilguusi heavily accented.

One of the guards frowned. “Who would that be?” he demanded.

“Ludger Vilhjalmsson,” Valeska said.

“And who are you?” the guard asked.

“I am Valeska Groos. I have come from his homeland to speak with him,” Valeska said.

“I’ll go see if he’s willing to talk to her,” the second guard said.

“Will you pass on a message for me?” Valeska asked.

“I suppose so,” the second guard said.

Valeska pulled a small note out of one of her pouches. “It’ll be easier if you give him this to read. It’s in our language and I don’t know if you can repeat what I’d have to say or not,” she said.

“Since I don’t speak the Northern tongue this will make it simpler,” the second guard said, taking the note. He walked inside the keep.

A short while later he returned. “Ludger says he’ll see you,” he said with an amused smile. “Don’t be surprised if he sends you packing immediately though. He’s not in a good mood after reading that note.”

“I was not expecting him to be,” Valeska said. “Where will I find him?”

“I’ll take you to him,” the second guard said.

He led Valeska through a few winding corridors until they reached a room with a heavy wooden door. She could sense the power within it even as the guard left her there. Valeska took a deep breath and knocked.

“Get in here, girl,” came the gruff reply. Valeska opened the door and entered the room. It looked very similar to a room she might find in a shaman’s hut in her home village. “Don’t bother putting your pack down because you aren’t staying. I don’t care who sent you. I don’t need a servant or a student.”

Ludger was a mountain of a man, broad of shoulder and chest, with white shot through his black hair. His agate gray eyes were hard as stone. He glared at her from his chair.

Valeska dropped her pack on the floor and put her hands on her hips. “You’ve definitely lost your sense of courtesy by living down here all these years,” she said bluntly. His eyes narrowed. “And you can stop trying to impress me with your powers. I’m well aware of your strength. I could feel it long before I ever reached the keep. I’ve been ignoring your presence for a while now.” She was proud of the fact that her voice remained steady in spite of the fact that she was shaking inside. “Let me be plain. I was told by the gods, the spirits, and my former teacher there there was nothing I could be taught back home. I was also told that my teacher would be the only shaman to leave our homeland. My teacher did a Sending and found out it was you. He wasn’t thrilled with sending me down here because you were essentially exiled, but he and I agreed that if the gods and the spirits were screaming at me to be down here I had better get my arse on the road and down here immediately.”

“You really expect me to believe that?” Ludger asked.

“Why else would I have left my family, my home, and my status as a shaman?” Valeska asked. And my daughter, she added silently, a stab of pain running through her.

“What else did you sacrifice when you left our homeland?” Ludger asked sharply. “I can sense your pain.”

“I left behind a three year old daughter,” Valeska said. “She now lives with my sister, who will raise her as her own daughter. My child will never know me as her mother because the gods willed me onto this road.” Her temper flared and the fear she felt vanished. “Do you truly think I’d have left Elfriede there, alone, without me if I’d had a choice? What mother abandons her child on a whim? My teacher, my parents, my sister – they all tried to talk me out of it. At least they did until my former teacher did his Sending. Then suddenly everyone was fine with me leaving.”

“I see no marking on here as to who your former teacher was,” Ludger said, looking at the note in his hand again. “Who was he? And why didn’t he sign this?”

“He didn’t sign it because he knew his name would prevent me from even being allowed to see you,” Valeska said.

“Who was he?” Ludger asked again.

“My former master’s name was Halvdan,” Valeska said.

Ludger turned red. “That old man is still alive?” he asked, his voice deadly quiet.

“Unfortunately yes,” Valeska said. “And I was forced to become his student in spite of the fact that he has the penchant of raping his female students. He was the only shaman in the steading.”

Ludger blinked. “You are from Nosktens?” he asked, fingering a fire opal lynx hanging around his neck.

Valeska pulled her token from the spirits – a stylized feline shaped from an ice opal – out from under her tunic. “Yes, I am. I was born and raised there, and heard much of you.” Her lips quirked. “Halvdan didn’t have many kind things to say about you until my token appeared. Then he got very…quiet for several days. When he recovered he started teaching me again but he treated me with less care than he did his other students. When he had the Sending that brought me south I was thrilled, even if it meant leaving Elfriede behind.”

“Why would you leave your daughter behind?” Ludger asked. “She’d be safe here.”

Valeska looked down at her spirit token. “My path is not one a child should walk, though I will be forced to walk it at the side of a girl-child not my own,” she said softly. “I don’t know who this child is, why I will follow her, or who the other person who wanders that path with us is. But the ice spirit who gave me this showed me that a great lynx will give me the knowledge I need to walk with them.” She looked up. “You are the Great Lynx, Ludger. You are the only shaman who holds the aspect of a lynx, and you are the one I was commanded by the Fates to find.”

Ludger got to his feet. “Then I suppose I have a servant and student rolled into one,” he said. “Come. You need to meet the lord of these lands. He is a good friend to me, and one I am soul bound to protect.” He met her gaze. It was refreshing to stand almost eye to eye with someone instead of being taller than most. “You too will be bound to that same promise, though not to the same degree I am.”

“Then I will be bound to protect him and his bloodline,” Valeska said.

Ludger beckoned with one thick fingered hand. “Then come, let me introduce you to Manas, High Lord of Phiri Hu.” He led her out of his room.

Manas was in a library seated in a very shabby looking chair. He looked up from a book he was reading when the two of them entered. Valeska bit her lip. He was attractive enough for a Hiilguusi, but she saw the curse sitting over him. She couldn’t see what form it took but the darkness was there.

“Old friend, who is this?” Manas asked in a rough voice.

“This is Valeska Groos,” Ludger said. “She’s come this far south to be my servant and student. I thought I’d bring her in and introduce her to you.”

Manas raised an eyebrow. “Do I need to know the whole story?” he asked.

“No. There’s nothing to worry about. She’ll serve me and stay out of your way,” Ludger said. He paused. “I’ll have to tell her about your difficulty though.”

“I can see it, though I don’t know the whole of the situation,” Valeska said. “Great Lord, I will serve my master but I am bound now to serve you as well. My gifts, minor though they are, are now yours to command – so long as my master approves.”

Manas looked at Ludger. “You can explain the whole thing to her,” he said. He went back to his book. “As well as figure out if you want to risk trying to get the Grand Arbiter to approve her use of magic in Hiilguus.”

“I’ll take that into consideration,” Ludger said. He looked at Valeska. “Come, girl. We have much to talk about.” He led her back out of the room and down to his chambers.

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.

Nariel’s Station Files – Amberwoods Station Part 4

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Anila leads you down another corridor to a pair of double doors. “This is our biggest lift,” she says. “It can hold up to one hundred people. We can get as many as five hundred visitors on the days the station is in full swing, so they’re usually in demand.” She glances over her shoulder at you. “There’s only about a dozen of you, but none of our other lifts are big enough to get all of you to where we need to go.”

“Where are we going now?” the woman who was missing her daughter’s wedding asks.

“To the next level,” Anila says. “You need to see the whole station, not just the docking level.” She presses her hand with its long, delicate fingers against a panel set into the bulkhead. The panel lights up and you hear a faint whoosh. The doors slide open and Anila gestures for you to precede her into the lift.

You do as she says, though you hear a few of your traveling companions whimper. Apparently they don’t care for elevators. “Is there no other way down?” the teenage girl with the fascination with Twilight asks. “I don’t like elevators.”

“Sorry sweetie,” Anila says gently. “We don’t have stairs and the teleporters are broken again. We’ve asked the repair techs from Multiverse 23 to fix them, but they’re swamped. The central core’s processors have degraded and she’s really upset. She has a deadline and she isn’t able to work. So they’re trying to figure out what’s going on with them.”

“Child, you should be grateful we’ve been granted this opportunity by God to experience such a momentous journey,” the priest says pompously. “Fear nothing. Embrace everything.”

Anila snorts. “Your god doesn’t exist on this station, priest. I’m not entire sure he exists in any of the Multiverses either. He might exist in Multiverse 243, but Khey Lan and Khyle don’t believe in him and those two have been around long enough to know if he exists or not.” She pauses. “The core doesn’t believe in him either. She’s closer to the gods and goddesses of the Multiverses than the god she was raised to believe in.”

“Is she your god?” the priest asks with a sneer.

Anila’s eyes turn solidly black. “My god is pure death, mortal,” she says in a voice that echoes eerily. “His touch withers. His breath freezes. His very presence draws the life essence from everything.” A moment later the blue returns to her eyes and she smiles cheerfully. “The station core isn’t our goddess. She’s our creator. She’s the one who brought us into existence. Of course, our Multiverses have creation myths. It’s only natural she’d put them in there. But in reality she’s the whole reason we exist.”

“She sounds interesting,” you hear yourself saying.

Anila turns that sparkling smile on you, though you can’t shake the feeling you just had when she channeled whatever it was that turned her eyes black. “Oh, she is. I think you’ll like her. And if you like it here on the station, she might even put you in one of her Multiverses. Or even create a new one for you to inhabit.”

“Can’t she send us back to our own?” the woman whose daughter was getting married asked. “I want to be there to see my grandchildren be born.”

Anila smiles sheepishly. “I, uh, I don’t know. I don’t remember this ever happening. Then again, I’m not the usual greeter. It used to be done by a woman named Liliana, but she got written out of her primary story and moved to another part of the Multiverse so there was a personnel shift. We’re kind of short handed at the moment even though the station core is trying to get all of her new creations placed here.” There is a wry quirk to her lips as she adds, “Personality conflicts are a real problem, along with those from fantasy realms coming in contact with technology from the technologically advanced realms and this station.”

“This station isn’t like any I’ve ever seen or read about,” a young man says. He’s one of those who has, up until now, remained silent. You glance at him. He’s wearing a D20 t-shirt and a pair of ratty jeans. His tennis shoes are Pink Floyd themed Chuck Taylor All-Stars that are in better condition than the rest of clothes. “And I’ve seen just about every sci fi movie and read just about every sci fi book out there.”

Anila laughs as she makes sure everyone is accounted for before pressing a button on a panel in the lift. “I’m not surprised. This station is a mixture of magic and science. After all, the station core doesn’t create one over the other. She plays with both technology and magic quite freely. In fact, there are a few worlds she’s created that mix them both. Those are Multiverses that many of us try to avoid. They’re…not pleasant.” Anila shudders. “To be honest, there are Multiverses that she’s created that scare everyone but her. She revels in playing in them when she’s in the mood. Those are the days where no one goes into her rooms. It means something’s going on that’s got her to the point where – if she’s disturbed by any of us – she’ll kill us in our Multiverse. If she does that, and doesn’t bring us back right away, we fade and disappear. Our existence will only be remembered by Nariel and the station core.”

“She sounds awful,” the teenage girl says.

“She’s a creator, and sometimes a creator must kill their creations,” Anila says. “You don’t want to know how many incarnations I’ve been through before she came to my present character.” She laughs. “My original format was a human noblewoman named Anne who was rescued by her childhood playmate – who happened to be the Prince of Vassa – from a most Cinderella like fate. That was my form, hm, 19 – maybe 20 – years ago.” She gestures to what you now see is form fitting leather armor and her petite form. “This is what I am now. I’ve been a mostly blind elf, a human, a half elf, even a Majiin.” She shudders at that last. “Hope we don’t run into any of those meandering around the station. I can’t do anything against them and even the station core has issues controlling them. If one of those – creatures – should take an interest in you, you’ll disappear and the core might be able to save you. Then again, she might not.”

“If they’re her creations, she should be able to control them better,” the priest says.

“She doesn’t control any of us,” Anila says. “She lets us know what she wants, but we don’t always listen. She loves it when we take her places she didn’t expect, though she often gets frustrated along the way. That’s half the fun of being her, well, I suppose you could say we’re her children. We give her the excitement of getting to know us while leading her down paths she never expects. Sometimes we’ll do what she wants though because it makes the most sense. We’re not idiots. We do know what’s in our best interest.”

The doors open and you step out onto the next level. The corridors are much broader than the previous floor and the ceiling higher. As you start walking forward, a creature you’ve only seen in movies and storybooks appears. Now you see why everything is so much bigger here. “Anila, these aren’t the guests we were expecting,” the dragon says, her dark red head lowering to where she can look at the short elf with greater ease.

to be continued…

Amberwoods Station – Part 3

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Anila leads you down the hall to a door. You hear a few gasps at the Gothic style wooden aperture. “I told you he’s a vampire,” she says. “But this is more for show than anything else. He’s actually a lot older even than the stories of Dracula. I don’t know how old he is, though a few of the people from his Multiverse do.” She knocks on the door.

“Come in Anila,” a deep, rich voice says.

Anila sighs and pushes open the door. “Maverick and Wyld Kard did come remind you of the rules, right?” she asks.

“Yes they did. I’m rather displeased that Nariel felt it necessary to send those pests to harass me, but I suppose I do have a tendency to ignore the directives of the station’s central core.”

The speaker is probably one of the most gorgeous men you’ve ever seen. His black hair is short and neatly trimmed. The beard on his face looks a little rough but is still well kept. He’s sitting with his shirt open showing off a magnificently well built body.

Anila sighs again. “Khey Lan, you know you look a little silly, right?”

Khey Lan grins, flashing a set of fangs. “I’d say our unexpected guests are pleased by what they see.”

Anila glances over her shoulder. She rolls her eyes. “Don’t get too enamored with him. If you’re not careful he will put you on his dinner menu.”

“You’ll ruin my fun if you keep this up, elf girl,” Khey Lan growls. Even that sounds sexy, and it goes deep into your soul.

“Get on with it, Khey Lan. I need to show the rest of the station to our guests and they need security clearance,” Anila says. “I also want to introduce them to the station’s core.”

“She’ll just love them. She always loves visitors to her domain,” Khey Lan says, his smile back. “Now then, let me see here. Which Multiverse are you from?”

“Nariel says they’re from 218,” Anila says.

Khey Lan raises an eyebrow. “A Multiverse where no magic exists? Where creatures such as us don’t exist as anything but stories?”

“Yes, and some rather poor ones at that,” Anila says. “I hope this will wake up their imaginations a bit more. I’m sure the station core would appreciate it.”

“You talk about this station core like it’s alive,” the priest says.

Khey Lan growls, this time without the sense of amusement in the last one. “She is alive. She is the creator of this station, and our Multiverses. You’ll be respectful or, rules be damned, I’ll tear your throat out.”

“Khey Lan, security clearances,” Anila says. “I’ll deal with this.”

“Fine.” Khey Lan presses something on his desk. Where he touches lights up, as if he were typing on a keyboard built into the surface. “They’re set. Go ahead and finish your tour. Watch out for Vixen. She’s on the warpath again. I think someone just killed one of her children.”

“Another one? How many does that she-wolf have?” Anila asks.

“I’m not sure,” Khey Lan says. “Last count was nineteen, but you know she’s virtually immortal. It doesn’t help that she’s one of the core’s first discoveries.”

Anila nods. “She is rather overpowered compared to the rest of us.” She turns and looks at all of you. “Let’s go. I can take you around safely now.” She leads you back out the door.

“Who is Vixen?” another passenger asks. “And why did you call her a she-wolf?”

“Do any of you know what a dire wolf is?” Anila asks. Several of your companions say yes. “She’s a shapeshifter from a multiverse named Dykaithra. She goes from a rather tall woman to a dire wolf. She’s extremely powerful and not easily killed. So far she’s ‘died’ twenty three times and has managed to return each time.” She shrugs. “That’s the core’s gift to her, though I’m wondering if it’s more of a curse these days. She’s watched three husbands die and, as you heard, multiple children. Also her best friend abandoned her several years ago so she’s really testy.”

“I am not testy.” A heavily accented voice echoes down the hall. A Japanese woman who looks like she easily stands over six feet tall stalks towards Anila. “I am angry. I am bitter. I am cynical. I am jaded. But I am not testy.”

“I was being polite, Vixen. I didn’t want to call you a raging bitch from hell, but if you want me to I can,” Anila says.

“That fits better anyway,” Vixen says. Emerald green eyes fix on you and you see your death in them. You shudder and swallow hard. “Who are these people?”

“Guests,” Anila said. “I just got them security clearance.”

“Well, keep them out of my way,” Vixen says as she continues past you. As you turn to watch her go, you see a katana and a wakazashi strapped to her back, and two more blades that look like long knives attached to her belt.

“Before you ask, she’s a ninja trained by two very elite ninja clans,” Anila says. “I’m not going to give you her whole history. It’s in the archives if you want to see it. Now, let’s keep moving. The station is huge and we have a long way to go before we get to the core.” She starts moving forward again and you have no choice but to follow her.

to be continued…

Amberwoods Station – Part 2

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As you follow after the petite young woman, you hear one of your traveling companions squeak, as if she’s choking off a scream. You look over at her and feel your blood run cold. There’s a window right next to you. As you look out it, you see what you would swear is a bridge leading to Mars. Yet the sky doesn’t look quite right.

Anila comes up and looks out with you. “Oh for…” She pulls a tarnished silver mirror off of her belt. “So glad these things became so much useless junk a long time ago,” she mutters. She rubs her finger across it in what might be a pattern, if only you could wrap your mind around the view you’re seeing.

“Anila, I thought you were on guide duty,” a soft, lilting feminine voice says.

“I am,” Anila says. “But we have a problem.”

“What kind of problem?” The soft voice grows sharp.

“Bridge 273 came disconnected from Multiverse 14 again,” Anila says.

The voice, still quite soft, swears just as fluently as anyone you know – yet none of the words are familiar. “Who’s on maintenance in that sector? Do you know?”

“No,” Anila says. “I asked Donnevon who the security commander for this sector is and he suggests the Silver Wolf and Crimson, but I don’t know if that’s true either.”

“Give me a moment. I’ll be right there,” the soft voice says.

Anila grins. “You’re going to love this,” she says. “I hope you’re not afraid of ghosts.”

“They don’t exist,” one of your traveling companions says with a sniff. A quick glance shows he’s a priest of some sort. “I should know. I deal with the dead every day.”

“You deal with the corporeal dead,” the same soft feminine voice says from just behind you all. “You do not deal with those who pass on the Net.”

When you turn, you’re confronted by a beautiful Romani woman. She smiles sadly at you. “Anila, Donnevon was wrong, as usual. I swear Lia needs to keep a closer eye on him. His memory is going.”

“She says it’s just fine in their part of the Multiverse,” Anila says.

“That’s because he has access to the central cores of all their ships through that armor of his,” the woman mutters. She looks at you. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I always forget this part. My name is Nariel.”

“Who – what – are you?” the priest asks.

Nariel smiles. “That’s something you’ll have to visit my little piece of the Multiverse to find out. I wouldn’t recommend coming if you’re a technophobe though. It won’t be for you.”

“Nariel, focus. Do you know who’s in maintenance so we can get that fixed?” Anila says, pointing out the window. “Or who’s in charge of security on this level so I can get these poor people cleared?”

Nariel blinks. “Oh, no wonder I’m confused. These aren’t the visitors from Multiverse 618, are they?”

“No. 618’s guests got crossed with this group’s plane. I’m guessing 618’s passengers landed on whichever 21st century Earth this group came from,” Anila says.

Nariel looks at you, but it’s almost as if her eyes aren’t seeing you. Then she blinks. “Maverick says they’re from Multiverse 218.”

Anila cringes. She looks at you. “You might be better off staying with us. I’ve seen all of the news reports from your Earth. So many governments in chaos, war looming in so many places. At least this place is sometimes peaceful.”

“Don’t poach, Anila. You know we’re not allowed to do that,” Nariel says with a grin. She blinks again. “Maverick says our resident security manager for this area is…” She pauses with obvious glee. “Your favorite vampire.”

“You expect me to take them to see him?” Anila shrieks. “Every time I get anywhere near him he starts talking about how good I smell.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve sent the other two ahead to remind him of the rules. You’re off the menu,” Nariel says. She sees a few frightened looks and the priest starts fingering his cross. “First, my friends are taking care of the whole ‘if they walk they’re food’ thing with him and second, that cross won’t work, priest. When here, forget everything you think you know about vampires. Not all worlds in the Multiverse work that way, and if you try to act like they do you’ll get killed.” With that cheerful bit of news, Nariel waves and vanishes.

Anila sighs. “Well then, let’s get moving.”

“What’s so wrong with vampires?” a teenage girl asks. You look over and have to keep from groaning out loud. She has a copy of a certain book in her hands. It’s obvious it’s well read judging from the broken spine and well worn pages. “Vampires are cool.”

Anila looks at her, sees the book, and starts laughing. “That book doesn’t even have its own Multiverse, it’s so bad,” she says, still laughing. “Little girl, if you believe that tripe, you too will be in for a rude shock. No vampire anywhere in any of the multiverses that connect to the Amberwoods Station are like that. If you even try to compare them to those things in those books? I’ll let them eat you.” She skips a little before resuming her brisk pace. “This way, please. I’ve got a lot to do today and I need to make sure you’re all settled before I can do any of it.”

You hear the teenage girl sniffle as she tucks her book back in her bag. The others are all looking at you and each other, confusion obvious. A few steal glances out the window at the free floating bridge. You decide that all you can do is follow along and see where this goes. Perhaps you’re all dead in a plane crash and this is a delusion brought on by your brain starving for oxygen. Or, just maybe, this is going to be far more interesting than that boring conference on index card manufacturing your significant other finally got you to agree to meet them at.
to be continued…

Amberwoods Station – Part 1

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(I know I said no more novels. Believe me, this won’t be one. I hope. XD Amberwoods Station is the name of the online store that will be centered around me and my books that I plan on eventually starting. I may even do a couple more little stories from it once I finish this one. Who knows?)

“Welcome to Amberwoods Station!” As you debark from what you THOUGHT was an ordinary airplane, you’re greeted by a cheerful young woman with almond shaped blue eyes flecked with black who stands at around the height of an average woman’s shoulder. Her blond hair is pulled back in two braids so you can see the elegantly pointed ears adorned with some very ornate gold jewelry.
“Anila, make sure you show them around this time,” someone calls. He’s tall, taller than anyone you’ve ever seen. His hair is the color of ink, and he is blessed with one amber eye and one green. His distinctly Asian look is at odds with his muscular build, and the military uniform he’s wearing doesn’t look like any you’ve ever seen.
The girl he called Anila sticks her tongue out at his back before turning back to you. She’s still smiling, but there’s something more in those blue eyes. The black seems more prominent and there’s a lot of pain and sorrow there that wasn’t there a moment before.
“Oh, you want to know who that was?” Anila asks, and the pain is gone. “That’s Commander Kuen Nakano. He’s part of the Sector Military Strategic Command.” She tilts her head and smiles. “If you want to know which Sector, you’ll have to wait to enter his universe.”
]
Universe? What the hell is going on here?
Anila smacks her forehead with the heel of her palm. On her wrists you can see odd marks, almost like writing but not in any language you’ve ever seen. “I really hate when the multiverse shifts like this. I wonder where the poor sods who were in the transport that was supposed to come here ended up. I hope they’re having a better day than you are.” Anila takes a deep breath. “Guests, you’d better follow me. There’s a lot for you to learn, and you’re going to be here for a while.”
“Anila, you were told to show them around.” The man who’s speaking now is shorter than Anila, but he appears to be built like a rock wall. He’s wearing some kind of high tech armor that looks well used. As you look, the armor moves as if it’s alive. You take a step back and his head snaps around. “Are they a threat? Do I need to eliminate them?” The armor begins to creep up his neck.
“Donnevon, stand down,” Anila says firmly. The man’s eyes go blank, and then his armor settles back into its old position. “There was some kind of error with the transportation system. I need to report this and have our new arrivals cleared for further exploration of the station.” She pauses. “I’ve never had this happen before. Who do I talk to?”
Donnevon looks at her. “I would say your best bet will be the Silver Wolf and his breeding partner,” he says. “I believe they are the security commanders of this level.” He pauses as well. “Or there is always…her.”
Anila blanches. “I’m not taking them to her unless I have to,” she says. She turns back to you. “I’ll take you to Gar and Lira. He’s one of the Wolves, and she’s a Wilding. It’s really funny. They’re both extremely low tech people. I mean, they come from a land even more primitive than mine. At least our magic is capable of making our lives simpler, much like your technology. In their home, magic is still very much a frightening thing and only a very few are allowed by law to use it. Lira’s one of those. Gar is her husband. Ignore the whole ‘breeding partner’ thing from Donnevon. There are no actual marriages in his world, or so he claims.” Anila shrugs. “His world is way more high tech and bloody than I can handle. So I only peek through the gate when it opens as someone travels through.”
Finally, one of your traveling companions gets the courage to speak. “Young lady, this game has gone on long enough. I’m going to be late for my daughter’s wedding,” she says.
Anila raises an eyebrow. “If your daughter lives in the mundane reality of 21st century Earth that I’m guessing you’re all from? You’ve most likely already missed it. Time here is, um, tricky. I think it’s only been a day or two since your vehicle disappeared, but I could be wrong. That’s something someone in Multiversal Space and Time Management should be able to figure that out for us.” She turns and starts down towards what you swear is a corridor in a space station. “Come on, this way!” She beckons and slowly all of you follow her.

Writing prompt #6 – Black sails of despair

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Writing prompt #6 – Lovelorn

Osgar stood on the dock, watching the horizon. He heard a snort behind him. “You need to stop this, Osgar,” a rough voice said.

Osgar looked over his shoulder. His cousin Abbas was just out of arm’s reach, hands on his hips. “Why should I?” Osgar asked.

“The fleet was lost. They’re not coming back,” Abbas said. “Besides, you know she doesn’t love you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Osgar said, feeling a stab go through his heart. “I still want her to come home safely. Not to mention my younger sister is in that fleet, as are your three sisters.”

Abbas scowled. “That’s true, and my parents and I have accepted the fact that they’re not coming back. Your parents have accepted the fact that Echo isn’t coming back. Why can’t you?”

“I can feel it in my soul,” Osgar said. “They’ll be home soon. I just know it.”

Abbas laughed. “Osgar, you traded your soul away long ago for the power to woo women. She’s the only one immune to the power you gained after that bargain.”

“There was no bargain, Abbas. You just don’t have any refinement in your interactions with women,” Osgar said, returning his focus to the horizon. He frowned. “Abbas, does that look like black sails to you?”

Abbas walked up next to his cousin. Osgar could see it in his posture that he was only there to humor him. Suddenly Abbas stiffened. “By the Sea Gods, Osgar. Those are black sails.” Abbas scratched at the scraggly beard on his chin. “But we don’t have any ships out right now.”

“Except for the lost fleet,” Osgar said pointedly.

Abbas turned and bolted back for the village. Osgar continued watching as the ships grew closer and closer. As they drew even with the docks he saw just how much of a miracle it was that they’d even made it home.

Great gaping holes showed in the worn gray wood hulls. The black sails were in tatters, and some of the masts were held together by metal bands. The women on the ships gave a ragged cheer as the men and children came running down to greet them.

Gangplanks were lowered to the docks by most ships. Those that didn’t have one anymore dropped rope ladders. The women abandoned the ships and ran into the waiting arms of their families.

Osgar bit his lip as Nadire, the object of his unrequited desire, limped off her ship. She was followed by Anara, Osgar’s younger sister. Anara saw him and flung herself into his arms, sobbing and shaking.

“It’s okay, little sister,” Osgar said, stroking her hair. “You’re home safe now.” He looked up at Nadire. “Welcome home, Captain Nadire.”

Nadire looked over at him. “Thank you.” She frowned. “Are you Anara’s husband? I don’t believe I remember seeing you before.”

Osgar’s heart broke. “No, Captain. I’m her older brother. I’ve spoken with you a number of times in the village.”

Nadire shrugged. “I speak to so many people I hardly remember any of them.” She strode through the crowd gathered towards the village and, presumably, her house.

Osgar continued smoothing Anara’s hair as his family joined them. His parents were crying, trying to pull Anara into their arms. She released Osgar and collapsed into their embrace. Osgar started crying himself. Everyone thought they were tears of joy, as theirs were. His were the bitter drops of a devastated heart.

Writing prompt #5 – Blood is a prison

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Writing prompt #5 – Captive

Ezras paced around the small tower room. He went to the door and tried it, but it remained locked. He kicked the door a few times but it remained stubbornly intact and the only thing he did was bruise his foot.

He resumed his pacing. How long had he been trapped in this tower? A year? Five years? Ten years? He growled, flexing his fingers. Once again he attempted to cast a spell to blast through everything to get to the stairs. The bindings on his wrists and the chain between them glowed and pain shot through his hands and arms. The spell faltered and died.

Ezras looked down. The scars from all of his previous attempts had protected him from serious harm, though there were the usual blisters forming. He shook his hands, listening to the chain clank, and resumed his pacing.

He went to the narrow window, barely more than an arrow slit in the gray stone wall, and prayed to the gods in what little he could see of the sky. He begged them to curse his sister and her line for the cruelties they’d heaped upon him at the death of his father, the rightful king of Praetoria. Ezras was the heir chosen by their father, but Efrosyni had other plans. No sooner was their father entombed with the rest of the sorcerer-kings of his line when she and her Bloodmancer husband wrested control of the grieving kingdom from Ezras.

Ezras was confined in the tower with only the barest of necessities and a handful of books as company. He’d been sealed inside and left to rot while Efrosyni and her husband polluted the land, murdered the common folk to fuel their power, and destroyed the thousand year legacy of peace and prosperity their ancestors had fought to protect.

Ezras started pacing again, noticing for the first time the smoothness of the wood where he’d worn down the floor from his footsteps. His circuit of the room brought him near the door. To his surprise, he heard voices – unfamiliar ones – outside on the stairs.

He stepped back to the center of the room and waited. He heard a key turn in the lock and the scraping of a heavy metal bar. The door swung open and he found himself face to face with a group of men and women in mage robes, but of a design he’d never seen before.

One of them – a woman who appeared to be in the latter years of her life – gasped. “Prince Ezras?” she asked.

“I am,” he said. “Who are you? How long have I been in this accursed tower? What has happened to my demon spawn sister and that inhuman beast she married?”

The woman smiled sadly. “I’m not surprised you don’t recognize me, Your Highness. The last time you saw me I was only a few years older than you. I am High Magus Sung-Hyun, though when you knew me I was just a Journeywoman.”

Ezras narrowed his eyes as he thought. “Yes, I remember you,” he said. “You were the precocious elementalist with the rare talent for combining two opposing elements.”

Sung-Hyun smiled. “Yes, and that ability – which you encouraged me to explore and embrace rather than hide – earned me my place in the Mage Council, where I’ve been for the past ten years.” Her smile faded. “Your Highness, I don’t know how to say this gently, so I will be blunt. Efrosyni sealed you in here with a mixture of time and blood magic. While you may not have recognized the full passage of time, it’s been sixty years since you were deposed.”

Ezras leaned against the door frame. “Sixty…years?” he asked weakly.

“Yes, Your Highness,” Sung-Hyun said. “Efrosyni, her husband, and her entire line were eradicated only five years after your imprisonment, but even at the end no one would tell us where you were. This tower was invisible to us until a few days ago, when the most recent mage storm tore the last of the old palace down.”

Ezras put his shackled hands to his chest. This was becoming more and more disturbing. One of the other mages motioned to a soldier with them. The soldier struck the chains from Ezras’ wrists. “Sung-Hyun, what are mage storms? The old palace? What’s happened?”

“Come back with us to the council hall and I’ll explain,” Sung-Hyun said, holding out her hand.

“High Magus,” one of the younger mages said, a look of contempt for the disheveled prince. “You have better things to do with your time than to talk to a prince from a bloodline we’re better off without.”

“My time is best spent comforting an old friend and helping him adjust to a world that would never have been if his sister hadn’t destroyed the natural balance of things with her madness,” Sung-Hyun snapped. She turned that same, sad smile she’d worn a moment before back on Ezras. “Please, Your Highness.”

Ezras took her hand, though his heart was heavy. He knew he was trading one prison for another. His sister’s chains were broken, but the bonds of the past and his own blood would weigh him down for eternity.

 

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