Orphan-refugee Sigrun's 'pixies' have enemies; guilt and blame bedevil her adventures.
|Sigrun had been sleeping in the woods with her friends on a trek when she heard the tromp of footsteps and the crying of a young man.
She brushed the hood of her cloak out of her eyes and rolled onto one elbow. "What happened?"
"Travelling I was, to the faire with my daughter, Olivia, and I met with wiley brigands," he said, sobbing. "Only, they weren't robbers.
"How do you mean?"
"They spake that they were going to destroy the world, and before that, they would kill my daughter in a — " the sobbing choked off his voice.
"Go on." Sigrun affixed her sword to her belt where she lay, and ignored the smell of onion.
"I have to find the 'Whisper of Victory' or she will be murdered, they said." He groaned and punched the tree. "What does that even mean?"
She ignored the odd way he spoke, like someone out of an old tale. "That is my name, Sigrun."
"Can thee help her?" He put his fist to his mouth. "No, don't, surely they mean to kill you. She probably already is dead."
Sigrun frowned and nodded. "I will not lie to you, that is possible. But if she draws breath, I pledge my life to save her."
"Thee will? I can't pay thee much, but I ..."
Sigrun laughed half heartedly. "I am no soldier of fortune, my friend, but a hero of the calling. It is her survival that will be my reward,"
Oliver walked up to the man, and offered him a seat on their wagon. "You know your contribution would be welcome, of course. We do use money. However, our purpose is as she says."
Perrin poked his snout out and said, "Yes, Oliver we save people to save them and we do need money. Now stop wasting the girl's time, and find out where these cultists might be?"
"Urgan blackguard!" The man jumped up and stepped back, his mask of fear looking more like surprise or joy.
"You're more than far enough from him, my good man," Oliver said, patting the man on the back. "Pigface Perrin's only dangerous when you sneak up on him. Just stay out of his arm swing."
"You lot are a strange company, a mercenary that refuses money and an pig-face that works for good?" He put his head in his hands. "But you have offered to help, and I have no place to complain."
Perrin rejoined. "Right you are. Shut up and point us down the path."
Sigrun interjected, as she hooked the horse up to the wagon. "The rain left a muddy trail that will lead us to them, I think."
The man sniffed, and nodded. "All the way I was sinking an inch or two,"
Oliver offered the man a quill. "Did you see any identifying marks, strange symbols, or..."
He shook his head.
"They know us, Oliver." Perrin oinked in disdain. "They're not going to announce themselves that easily."
"I didn't hear you asking any useful questions."
"Can you go home?" Sigrun lay her hand on his shoulder, looking with compassion into his eyes for a second before she drew her hand away and made an unconscious mime of wiping grease from her palms. "—and wait for us there? Olivia will surely know the way."
"And, if she is dead? I want to know."
"If she is dead she will show the way that much faster." Oliver picked at a piece of chicken from his bag of goodies.
"I don't understand."
Oliver cocked his head back and beamed. "I am a wizard. You're not supposed to understand."
Perrin grabbed Oliver's hand, and pulled him away. "That pompous stuff? Doesn't play right when you do it."
"When I get older!"
Perrin nodded. "Not even then. I fear you'll be the old elf that steals the rich boys toys and gives them to the good ones. "
"San Nikklau? " Oliver laughed, pulling himself up to the place. "I doubt that."
"Surely I can help?"
"You can help by staying out of the way."
Oliver tossed the man a folded-up, bird-shaped piece of paper. "I'll find you, if we have anything to tell."
And so the three sped off.
They drove for only a few minutes, perhaps a turn, before they came to a run down citadel.
The place stank of ale and strange incense. The trail led, not to the scene of an ambush, but directly to the evil church. Though no explanation for this presented itself, Sigrun signalled her friends to get out and survey the situation.
"If ever there was a stage from which to launch an invasion from the planes of malevolence," Oliver said, "This would be it. I normally don't subscribe to such base observations, but..."
"Can it, Ol. We were led here for this confrontation. Sig, my girl, really wanna meet them on their high ground?"
"You see any choice." She omitted the inflection to create a question. A sense of dread and despair set in to Sigrun as she considered that this fell design came from higher than the people who tormented the young girl: an inspired evil. Her friends faces showed they felt the same.
"We'll knock on the door, then, I suppose." As Oliver tugged at his collar, he looked to Sigrun as he had since he was a small boy.
"Would be rude to do otherwise," Sigrun said, smiling wryly and the oily brown plank of the door. "Even evil deserves some respect."
She stepped forward and hesitated as the stench rolled over her, giving a disgusted look to her friends. Oliver's wide open eyes showed fear, and Perrin darted about as if on some enspelled to move fast.
She took a kerchief from a pocket and held it over her nose before knocking on the door. "How can you abide that smell?" she asked.
The others glared and shrugged. She proceeded to knock at the door. The wooden door noised mournfully, its report echoing through the sodden halls of the forlorn tower. A chill went through Perrin and Oliver, and Sigrun's empty stomach rattled in her belly. No voice or footsteps answered.
"Hello! Can you help me?"
The voice came from above, a young girl looking through a barred window.
"Yes, that is why we came, my child. Are you well?"
"I am not. The men here, they want to... eat me, feed me to their master! I don't think I'm going to survive the night unless you save me."
Sigrun stared into her soul, to detect the thing that she most prized - that spark of innocence. She found that the evil that surrounded her became so oppressive that no thing of goodness could be seen. "I shall endeavor to do just that, even at peril to my life and all that I hold dear."
"That is — very kind. You know, you shouldn't do that. It will — you will be made to regret it."
"My safety does not depend upon the survival of the flesh," Sigrun said, shaking her head. "Though it is noble of you to say so."
A smirk flashed across the little girl's face, hinting of pride. "I have always been a bit above my station, good Knight. But I fear I cannot reward you in the manner to which you are accustomed."
Oliver shivered as the little girl spoke.
"Nor am I here for reward. Your part is to survive and flourish, and live a good life," Sigrun said, looking about for something to bash at the door with.
At this point, Perrin carried a hammer from the truck. "Move aside, little humans. This is what Urgans were made for."
He swung the foot-thick hammer head as if it were made of eggshell after its shape, striking at the door again and again until it shattered.
The little girl above laughed. "Look at the pig! He's so funny."
Perrin smiled. The mirth complimented him, Sigrun knew — humans rarely found him funny — and the insult pleased his Urgan side.
Sigrun made a choking noise and said, "Well, let us proceed."
Each step of Sigrun's feet left sparks on the ground. Not so for Perrin or Oliver. Oliver nearly fainted dead away with fear, until he recited a small spell. Perrin found himself shaking with energy from the aura of the place - a throwback to the dark magics that made him what he was, and not a sign of his alignment with the place's power and purpose.
A huge shadow fell upon them. Sigrun doubled over and tried to vomit as a slug-bodied man-thing presents a huge symbol. In a second she turned and scrambled, on hands and knees, slipping and crawling away from the dungeon.
Whether minutes or hours later, it could not be certain. A cloud of darkness enveloped the tower now. Strange runes of fire and blood littered the landscape. The taste of blood and vomit sat upon Sigrun's tongue as she struggled for air and consciousness.
A familiar face looked down upon her, that of her personal emissary from the planes of malevolence: Viviancarla, demon or devil as the case may be. She smiled with pity on her 'friend' and client. "Barbaric, I know. Not all the branches of the forces of darkness play by the rules." She offered her hand to Sigrun.
Sigrun disdained it, and rose to her knees by force of muscle and will. "I care nothing for your rules, Vivianca."
"Ooh, careful, painfully close to my true name."
"So you say." Sigrun scouted the area with her eyes. "How did I get here?"
"Quite readily. You fled."
"I..." The thought offended her very nature. She would never abandon a fight, not when her friends or an innocent...
"Oh, don't worry about your precious honor. It's not like that. You were worse than dead, poisoned every moment by the soul of that place."
"Places don't have souls."
"The proper word escapes your vocabulary, but the spiritual essence of a place is palpable. Your trainers have been terribly, terribly remiss."
"I don't have trainers," Sigrun said, and shook her head, realizing that she intended never to dignify Vivianca's words again. She covered her mouth, and looked in. Sure enough, both of her friends lie unconscious in the hallway, at the very entrance of the tower. "How could I have fled?"
"Your soul would not abide your being there, would not abide such a taint as you were absorbing. Had you remained they and you would be in a far worse situation."
"Poppycock." She loved the word, a throwback to the age of Glass when humans reigned supreme. It fit everything Vivianca said - usually. Occasionally, Vivianca threw in enough truth to muddy the water. Sigrun feared this time might be one of those.
Oliver's coach would tell her that she should school her mind to forget everything that Vivianca said. She should - but even wizards could not manage such a thing. Sigrun had to rely on her moral compass, and hope for the best.
"I am telling you the truth. That child will not be saved by you. Not without my help."
"And why would you help me?"
"First and foremost, because we deplore the chaos of the rampant souls. Your crusades serve us in our Inquisition, by preserving those who have not proven vulnerable to temptation."
Same old same old, and true enough, Sigrun supposed. "But the real reason you are helping me, I mean, offering?"
"Because we very much want to alter you in the manner I propose."
A chill hit Sigrun's spine as she understood that this truth stood on it's own, pure and simple. "Why should I wish to be altered by you?"
"If you cannot tolerate the evil of that place, you will not have any influence in it."
Sigrun spat and ran to the truck/wagon. She rummaged through a few of Oliver's things, and began to read from a scroll. "This will protect me from whatever black magic exists."
Vivianca laughed. "Don't you think we know your petty protections? I would not pull such a simple trick on you."
"You would and you have," Sigrun said.
"Yes, and we have progressed beyond that level in our relationship, my dear." She sneered, the cold energy of the fires of her own personal perdition reflected in her expression.
Sigrun fumbled a few times before saying the spell correctly. Fortunately, it had been designed so that one need not know the basics of arcane magic in order to pull it down. A chill, protective shadow, some kind of wizard's sanctuary, fell around her.
"Please, Sigrun! You don't understand, this isn't some curse. It's desecration, an antisacrament. By going there, you choose..." Viviancarla silenced herself, in resignation as she watched the pitiful paladin trudge into the storm of unholiness that would torment her and drive her soul from her dying body.
Moments later Sigrun emerged. Dry heaves followed stifled groans. Her skin, covered in hives, cracked and bled as she crawled from the tower.
Viviancarla smirked down at her. "Believe me now?"
"I do not." She returned to her wagon, and brought out a shawl from Corielle. It had holy properties. She recited a prayer, asking for special protection, and returned to the scene of desecration.
A few steps into the place and Sigrun fell, flat on her face and stopped breathing.
She looked down at her feet, shocked to see her body twitching and breathless beneath her.
A friendly face, that of her Uncle Mack looked down on her. "She's telling the truth, you know, this time. You shouldn't keep trying to go in this place."
"I have to rescue the innocent. That little girl..."
"Some things are out of your control, Sigrun. Your oath is to do everything you can, and not one bit more."
"I cannot stop, even if there isn't anything I can do. I can try."
"There is no innocent for you, none that you can save here, save yourself."
"I"ll be the judge of that, Mack."
Mack smiles. "I know, and I'm sorry."
Now Sigrun found herself above the ground, shaking to life.
"How did I get out here again? Did I flee while I was unconscious?"
"I acted above my authority, if you must know. Empowered a ghost to move a few things."
"Your body was dead, twice over. It's really easy to possess the empty shell of a theal."
"Very nice." She looked around. "I see you didn't rescue my friends."
Vivianca stuck her nose up close to Sigrun's face, almost close enough for Sigrun to bite it."I want you to have some motivation, in case your vaunted 'devotion to innocents' falls short."
"Well, nice isn't the word for that." Sigrun brushed herself off. "At least you've told me the truth, though."
"And I will continue to tell you the truth. For example, you would be better off letting this one go."
Sigrun took a deep breath. "That's what I don't understand. The angels said the same."
Her arm shook as she waited for Vivianca's response. "I don't like it when you agree."
"Well, I don't agree precisely, but in the interest of truth, I have to admit that from your point of view, you will regret this mission sorely. Unless, of course...." Viv shrugged and smirked.
"Unless I admit you are right, change sides and adopt your improved, efficient methods of demon control."
"Ah, no. Demons are not to be controlled, that is a different thing. It is the rampant which we reign in."
Sigrun rolled her eyes. "Evil spirits inflicting harm on humanity are all the same."
Vivianca shook her head. "No, actually..." She paused, for effect, and sneered again when Sigrun wasn't looking. "But this is an argument, a lecture for a more relaxed moment, not the life-changing negotiation we are about to do."
"So what do you propose?"
"Your soul has not acclimated to normal ways," Vivianca explained, thumbing through an invisible book. "It has no intention of clinging to a body so contaminated as you intend to do to yours. In short, your soul will not abide in that chamber of horrors, in its current state."
"So, it would rather return to heaven than stay in a polluted body? I am that different from my fellows?"
Vivianca smiled. "More than that, my dear."
"Tell me your plan, so I can better reject it."
"Only that you allow me to help you in that regard. I could lower your natural level of being, make you a peasant, a normal human."
Sigrun sighed. "Now I see it. You lower me, destroy an enemy and open me to temptation."
"We would guide you in the greatest ways of goodness. Your soul will never be one of ours. Simply, you would not be quite so haughty, that's all."
"I thought you weren't allowed to lie to me."
"I'm not, exactly, lying. Of course much would depend upon you. That's the offer, take it or leave it."
"I'll leave it. I will save her on my own, or die trying."
"You would still be on your own, you would just have a chance of success."
Sigrun grabbed the bridge of her nose. She knew when Vivianca spoke the truth. This was one of those times. "Very well. How do you intend to do it."
"I have to contaminate you. First, I would ask you to designate a victim, someone to be injured with no deserving at your behest."
"I will do no such thing."
"It is not that we will harm them, only that you must choose the person to be harmed as a sacrifice. Then, we will perform a corresponding strike on someone you designate."
"So, you're not going to hurt them unless I say so. Very well, if I need to use your destructive power, I designate myself as the victim."
"But you mustn't..." Vivianca sighed, and moved an invisible quill on an unseen parchment. "Very good, you passed that test, unfortunately for us. We'll leave the slot 'undesignated.'"
"This isn't moving very fast."
"You're not cooperating. The next, is fraternization." Vivianca offered her hand to shake.
Sigrun squirmed as she took it, almost jumped away, then reluctantly grasped the demon's sultry talons.
"Has the stench subsided any?"
"It's grown worse," Sigrun said, running to wash her hands.
"Obviously your intentions are too pure. How about, true fraternization? And, for..."
Sigrun looked up from the muddy waters and frowned. "You want to go to bed with me?"
"Nothing so base. A simple kiss would suffice, if the passion were there."
"Sorry, I have no love for you."
"Ah, but that is not true. But lust is what we need, and it is lust you lack. I can, however, access the faces of your dreams."
Sigrun squeezed her eyes shut and bit her lip. "How exactly do you mean?"
She looked back with horror to see the bright blue eyes of Dust looking down upon her, as in a statue. She grabbed her sword, and rushed toward him, before realizing that it was only a mask upon the face of Vivianca.
She pulled herself short, holding the sword to Dust's throat, trying not to admire the sparkling white flesh, the golden hair and the world-quality armor. It always troubled her that a man so violent had not one single scar. "Very clever, but do you really think I have anything for Dust?"
"The man is the only one who could possibly be your equal. Battle lust and sexual lust are very well tied in you, my dear."
"And if I kiss this... abomination, you think this will darken me enough to enter the altair room and free the child?"
"It will," Vivianca proclaimed, then cleared her throat. "Bring you one step closer, at least, if you enjoy it."
"It would not be ... such a bad thing. It would not be an endorsement of his evil, after all. Just an ... indulgence."
"That's the ticket, my child. You must rationalize before you can enjoy.
"Do you always have to be so obvious?"
"No, most people are much further along. I need to coax you, to teach you evil." Vivianca shrugged. "It hurts, actually, to see a creature of nobility and duty — so much like us fall — the way you are about to do."
"I am sure you weep to see me fall."
"It's not without satisfaction as well, just a weltschmertz sort of satisfaction."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It's supposed to distract you, truly." Vivianca dusted her hands and sighed brightly. "Just an incredibly complex way of saying juvenile, romantic regret."
"I'm getting tired of looking at this boy," Sigrun said. "If I have to kiss him, let's be over with it."
"That is no way to romance, Sigrun. Tell me, Sigrun! Tell me how you feel."
A fire burned in her chest as she thought of the thousands of innocent urgans burned in Dust's games. "You ignorant, deviant beast." She walked toward him.
Vivianca's sneer fit perfectly on this young Ozymandias copy. "I knew exactly what I was doing, you simpleton. It was for their own good. They were stinking up the planet."
"That wasn't for you to decide! They were peaceful urgans."
Vivanca / Dust strode a step further, until their noses were almost brushing. "You know pure well! No waking urgan ever did peaceful. Even in their sleep, they menace themselves as much as us!"
"I wish I could beat the living daylights out of you!"
"You should try, you ignorant simpleton!"
Then, she reached her nose to the left and kissed the boy, deep and sweet and passionate.
"You know more about kissing than I thought," Vivianca said, drawing back for a moment, reverting to her normal form. She blushed bruisy purple all to the golden toenails sticking out of her sandals.
Sigrun blew purplish black smoke out of her lungs, and coughed. "The stink still hangs in the air."
"Will nothing ever stick to you?"
"Are you losing hope?"
"No. I am fallen; hope is forbidden."
"I think you enjoyed that more than I did."
"I have a certain latitude in my choice of victims, and I only choose those who are attractive to me."
"Sounds like that will be your downfall."
"It was, in another life history." She looked wistful for a moment. "I have even tried to tempt that soul, that came from me, all to no avail."
"I'm sure that you were adamant, having risen,"
"Yes, quite. Admirable, really, the way that she sacrificed everything."
"But this is getting you nowhere, and time is wasting. If I decide that the girl is lost, I will abandon this mission, and your foolish scheme."
"There is but one more way. You could consume me. If I possessed you, I could stand between you and the darkness, hold all other influences away from your body, and allow you to be free of the taint."
"What would I be? At your mercy, with you able to perform any evil in your name?"
"I would swear to do your bidding in all things, no matter."
"In a binding contract?"
"Indeed. My goal is to dampen your sensitivities, see that you adapt to this world the way you should have, if the Old Man Wolf and Father Highly had not intervened."
"What are you talking about?"
"Only that I wish to set right an old wrong, and put you where you belong. This will do that, yet allow you still to be the goodly soldier of the Gods that you strive to be."
"I thought there was but one supreme being."
Vivianca smirked mysteriously.
"And how do I take you in?"
Vivianca put out her hands, and an apple formed in between them. "An old symbol, not the way it really happened, but potent enough." Vivianca cringed, as she offered the fruit.
"I don't want you to bite into my flesh, to consume me like this."
"It was your idea."
"That doesn't mean I relish the idea, any more than you like your daily disciplines."
"I love my daily disciplines."
"But they would not work if you loved every piece of them, would they?"
Read on! "Windmill part II"